Several conflicting thoughts tore through my head in the wake of the little floating man’s words.
The door nearest to me was closed and locked. It would take extra time to escape that way. James was in the way of escaping the other way. The floating man was tiny, which was good. He was also glowing, which was not. He had angel wings, so that wasgood. Evil things loved to appear in forms that got you to let down your guard though, so back to bad. I was probably going crazy, bad. Or this was a residual spell or trick of the Shadow Court, also bad. He looked tiny enough to smash, good. Which would be really gross, bad.
In the end what kept me calm was the sincerity in his voice. Granted it wouldn’t take a trickster god to fool me. I’m fairly smart, but that just means I knew I was out of my depth and didn’t have enough real information to work with. So I went with intuition. It’s a terrible thing to rely on but sometimes it’s the best you’ve got to work with.
With slow, deep breaths I forced the flood of panic and surprise down into my stomach where it could have a little party with the cafeteria food from lunch. That discomfort aside, I felt the rest of my body relax slightly.
“Thanks!” the little man said, visibly relaxing as well.
I nodded at him and waited to hear what he had to say.
“First things first; you’re not going crazy, I’m real but you’re the only one here that can see or hear me. Oh and I’m not with those magiclings that you encountered before.”, he said.
I raised an eyebrow, wondering if “magiclings” meant the Shadow Court.
“Next, I’ve got confess, it’s probably my fault they were here. I can’t explain too much without putting you in danger, and I’m sorry for the danger I’ve put you in so far.”
“What do you mean danger?” I wanted to ask him but refrained from saying. James and the cops would go right for the straight jackets if I started talking to myself at this point.
“Well, see, a lot of things would like to get their hands on….wait a minute, how did you do that?” the little man asked, looking as shocked as I felt.
Of course I couldn’t answer him with a “Do what?” so I just glared at him and thought it really loud.
“That! Talking to me! You’re…oh man.”
“You can read my thoughts?” I spoke the words in my mind to see.
“No, I can’t. But you can apparently dreamspeak them just fine.” he answered.
James nudged me.
“Spacing out on me again?” he asked.
“What? No. Just a little freaked out.” I told him, keeping my eyes on the little glowing man. I heard James laugh.
“No worries.”, he bopped me on the shoulder as reassurance, “This kind of thing doesn’t take too long.” he said, referring to the police questioning I guessed. I looked over at him and frowned. How would he know? We could be there all night if the cops felt like keeping us.
“And you can still hear the waking world? That’s…interesting.” the little man said.
“You said we were in danger?” I thought-asked him, irrationally worried that I’d let him out of my sight for even a moment. On the other hand, I knew I’d have to at some point. People would get a little concerned if I kept staring at an empty point in space.
“Yes. Not at the moment though! That’s why I’m talking to you now.”
I looked back over at James to confirm he wasn’t seeing or hearing any of this.
“Think we should tell Mom?” James asked, apparently clueless about the other occupant of the car. I noticed we were moving. Seems I was bit clueless too since I hadn’t noticed when we took off.
“Mom?” I asked. I was distracted by the two conversations and I hadn’t been thinking about how our parents factored into this at all.
“She’s going to flip when she hears about it.”, he said, “I mean, we could just tell Dad and let him tell Mom.”
“What kind of danger is it?” I thought-asked the little man. If it was something that was going to come after my whole family they deserved to know too.
“Nightmares.” he answered.
I breathed a sigh of relief. Bad dreams I could handle. No need to tell Mom either!
“Think we can get home before they notice we’re late?” I asked aloud to James.
“I mean Nightmares that can enter the waking world.” the little glowing man clarified.
“What?” I blurted aloud. James looked at me like I’d grown another head, but then smiled.
“You know ‘what’.”, James laughed thinking I’d been reacting to his expression I guess, “Can you imagine what would happen if we didn’t tell them and they found out from the cops?”
I flushed a bit and shrugged in agreement feeling like an idiot for slipping like that.
“Sorry. I’ll leave as soon as I can, and if I can stay hidden till then nothing should be able to find you or me.” the floating man replied to me.
“What do you mean hidden? Why are you here? Why are you talking to me?” I thought-asked feeling frustrated and afraid.
“We don’t have long, and I can’t go into the all the details. Also you’d be a lot less safe if you knew them all. The short form of the story is this: I don’t come from this world. I’m more alien than anything you’ve ever seen or heard of in fact. That means there’s a lot of things in this world that would like to get their hands on me. I’m tough to find though because, as you can see, I’m very small. I’m also tough to find because at the moment I’m embedded inside of you.”
“Inside of me? How..”
He cut me off before I could continue.
“Not physically inside of you. I’m inside your dreamworld.”
“You’re in my mind?”
That would explain why no one else could see him I supposed. And why he could hear my thoughts.
“It’s a little different than that, but sure, we’ll go with that for now. The important thing is while I’m with you, I’m camouflaged. Anything that looks for me will see you instead. Kind of like disguising a needle as a piece of hay in the haystack.”
“I think you rescued me.”
The dream from this morning came back to me. Flying through a staggeringly well rendered skyscape with a glowing pendant in my hand.
“You’re…you’re the pendant?”
“A pendant? Hmm, I guess so. I don’t remember. I was in pretty bad shape at that point.”
“What are you?” I demanded. The glowing man sighed.
“I can’t tell you…”, I glared at him but he continued before I could say anything, “…because I don’t remember it all myself. Again, short form, I’m a fragment of someone a lot more powerful than you can imagine.”
“I’ve read about all the metahumans in the last hundred years, I can imagine a lot.”
“I’m starting to see that.” the glowing man said, tipping his head to the side appraisingly. His gaze made me feel like a science project that was behaving in a puzzling way.
“How long will you be…hiding?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Not long though. Maybe three nights? Like I said, I’ll leave as soon as I’m strong enough to.”
“And we’ll be safe till then?”
“If I leave you before I’ve finished healing I’ll unmake – meaning I’ll fall apart on such a fundamental level that it will be as though I’d never been here. I don’t want to disappear like that. As far as I know, I’m the only part of me that’s left, so I hope you understand what it means when I say this: No matter what it takes, I won’t let you come to harm.”
“Hey, no snoozing, we’re here.” James said, nudging me as the car came to a stop in the parking lot behind the police station.
“I have to hide again.” the glowing man said.
“Wait, what’s your name?”
“Umm…I guess it’s ‘Pendant’.” he replied with a shrug.
“Yeah, I think I lost my old one, and ‘Pendant’ is what you called me, so that’s what I’m stuck with for now until someone gives me another one.” With that he was gone.
I blinked and then followed James out of the car. I felt light headed. Or in shock. It was hard to tell. It would have been nice to be able to doubt the conversation had been real but I had to be honest with myself. I didn’t have a history of mental illness. The Shadow Court leaving behind an agent like “Pen” was possible but wildly out of character from what I knew of them. Most of all though, weird things happened sometimes.
Pen might be a monster of some kind, but, as I thought about it, I realized he’d passed one crucial test. He hadn’t asked me for anything. He hadn’t even really asked me to believe anything. I wasn’t sworn to secrecy, and I didn’t have to do anything for him.
I believed him when he said he would protect me, or at least I wanted to. That could be dangerous, but some tiny little part of me was already telling me that it could be something more too.
“So are you going to tell them?” James asked as we walked into the police station, and for a second I thought he was asking if I was going to tell the police about Pen.
“I can talk to Dad if you don’t want to.” he added, making me realize I’d forgotten about the conversation we’d been having in the car.
“How about you take Dad and I’ll take Mom?”, I offered, “I think she’ll freak out less if she can grill me immediately.”
James laughed, “You’re braver than I am sis.”
“I don’t know, you’re pretty calm about talking to the cops, I’m jumping out of my skin.” I admitted.
“They’re not so bad. They just gotta follow procedures.” James shrugged.
“I’m not looking forward to ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ I guess.”
“Pfff, trust me, they’re not going to be like that.”
“Like you’ve ever been brought in for questioning? What did Dad have you hauled down here the one time you got a ‘B’ so you’d be ‘scared straight’?”
James just rolled his eyes.
“No, really, have you met these guys before? It looked like you and Officer Smalls knew each other.” I asked, wondering where our Officer escort had gotten to.
“Nah. Just nice to see a black guy leading a case like this.” James lied.
I don’t know how I knew he was lying, or why he was lying, but the heightened awareness I’d had when the Shadow Court showed up was back and it was clear.
I felt a surge of panic hit my nerves. If I was entering that state again something horrible could be nearby. I couldn’t sense any immediate danger so I settled for looking around carefully as we got to the main desk. James caught the clerk’s attention.
“Officer Smalls asked us to check in. He needs to question us about the incident at the library.” my brother explained.
“He’s supposed to bring you in himself.” the clerk noted unhappily.
“He said he’s setting up the wards on the room, he wanted to get started as soon as possible.” James informed him.
“That’s fine. Just take these and fill them out while you’re waiting.” the clerk passed over some forms in the perfectly normal way a perfectly normal visit to the police station would go.
So why was I in hyper-aware mode? I looked at the clerk, but he was boring and normal. I looked at James, but he was my brother. Not boring, but not a threat either. I looked at the room we were being directed to. Live magic and technology playing together. Amazing stuff, but also run of the mill and boring somehow.
Then I looked at the door leading out and saw her. The girl from behind the library.