At first, Roman didn’t know what to do after getting ready for the day. He started heading for Mr. Garretson’s office.
Before he’d even left the hall, Treaver called his name. He was coming towards him, looking ready to go out on the cold winter day with his sweater.
“You doing anything important, right now?” he asked.
“Not really,” Roman lied.
“Great! Chris agreed to take us to Starbucks next weekend, so do something important today!” he smiled.
“I’ll probably be free anyway. Think he’s still sore about last night?”
“Probably. But today Tyler’s doing a WUC with us, so he won’t be in our shadow for too long.”
“Right, have you seen Sarah anywhere?” Roman wondered, wanting an excuse to get away from Treaver and see Mr. Garretson.
“Oh, she’s probably in the lounge or her room. It’s raining again, so she wouldn’t be outside.” He raised his eyebrows. “Why do you need to see her?”
“She, um, wanted to know about the timed-essays we’re doing in English class.”
Treaver narrowed his eyes and his smile grew wider. “What are you two up to? Knowing Sarah, she’s up to something if someone has to make up an excuse for her.”
“We’re not up to anything,” Roman insisted.
“You’re such a horrible liar,” Treaver chuckled. “Come on, I want in.”
“There’s nothing to get in on,” Roman said.
Treaver scratched his chin. “You weren’t lying that time. Well, like I said; she’s probably in the lounge. So, since there’s nothing to get in on, I guess I’ll go with you.”
They didn’t need to go far to find Sarah, as she’d been heading up to her own room on the fourth floor from the lounge. When Treaver was satisfied that she knew nothing, they both turned mercilessly on the new recruit.
“You’re nervous,” Sarah said.
Treaver speculated. “Roman, if you don’t tell us, then we’re going to get it out of you somehow.”
Roman bit his lip, knowing that he was completely giving away that he was hiding something.
“We promise not to tell,” Sarah coaxed. “Please tell us. What’s bothering you?”
Roman was shocked by how sincere she sounded. He wished that he could read eyes, to know if she was really that concerned.
He sighed. “Fine. But don’t tell anyone. Once a secret’s out, then it’s for all to hear.” Roman had forgotten where he had heard that from, but he’d kept it close for a long time, for many reasons.
Roman tapped on the door to Mr. Garretson’s office, which was new for him, considering that Mr. Garretson normally saw him coming before he had gotten within a meter of the door.
“One minute!” came Mr. Garretson’s hoarse response.
Roman stood there for a moment, trying to find something interesting to focus on. He could faintly hear Gabriel shouting from somewhere below. For some reason, the smells of bacon and pancakes in the morning never wafted to the fifth floor. The fifth, and occasionally the fourth, always smelled like paint and laundry detergent. The fifth level always gave an aura of a business office that made Roman feel uncomfortable. He shifted his feet.
When the door opened, Mr. Garretson seemed slightly different. He had on a bit of aftershave and also had bags under his deep brown eyes.
“Uh, hi,” Roman greeted him awkwardly.
“Come in. There’s something we need to talk about.” He slipped his head back inside.
Mr. Garretson sat down in his swivel chair and propped his feet on the desk. His laptop was closed at the edge of the counter, with the statuette now something that looked like a mix between a Cheshire cat and a rattle snake. There weren’t any papers on the desk, leaving it with an eerie reflection.
As beat-down as he looked, Mr. Garretson’s eyes were bright as he watched Roman.
“I need to tell you something about the dream last night,” he said, clasping his hands together and leaning forward, like it was some sort of business talk.
“So you do remember?”
“Oh, yes. And I assure you, all of the questions you asked will be answered. Eventually.”
“But for right now, there’s only one thing you should know about what I saw. You are destined to do something very important. Something that no one else here would be able to do.”
“What?” was the only word Roman could choke out.
“You’re special, Roman,” Mr. Garretson responded. “I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but you could see into my dreams, and I’m still convinced that there’s a reason why you could.”
“Wait,” Roman interrupted. “How could there be a reason for you and I having the same dream? It’s not like someone can just, like, decide these things and just push us towards something, right?” He’d meant it as a joke.
There was silence when Mr. Garretson didn’t reply.
“Right?” Roman repeated, his voice rising.
“I know somehow that that question will be answered along with, ‘Who are they?’”
Roman sighed, “Just continue before I faint.”
“You’ve already started having the nightmares.” Mr. Garretson smiled a tired smile. “But Roman, I won’t tell you exactly what I saw, but I will tell you the sum. You’re going to be some kind of hero.”
“Some kind of hero?” Roman echoed. Then something occurred to him. “You said going to. You saw the future!” he guessed.
Mr. Garretson nodded grimly. “That was one thing that I always hated about my first power; the visions. It may seem like a rare gift, but it’s a curse. My brother knew that more than even I did…”
“Your brother?” the first vision came back into his mind. The child cowering at the feet of the man. The person had said he knew that Trent had seen something, that he was going to be powerful. “Mr. Garretson, when did your first dream take place?”
“When my brother and I were kids at the mansion. The same thing has happened every time. The vision freezes, and I never know what happened when the other kids ran. I wasn’t there at the time.”
“Trent was your brother?” Roman breathed, astonished. “Treaver told me about…” he let his voice trail off.
“Yes, the sweet little kid playing rugby turned into the leader of the Strayers. I’m convinced that the dream is about why he joined in the first place, but I’ve never managed to see or hear it for myself.”
“And Trent could see into the future?”
“Many powers among families are similar. I had dreams, he had day-dreams. The powers have certain significances to them. Sometimes when someone dies, another completely different person gets the same power. Sometimes family members have totally different powers. They just are that way.” He stood up. “That’s all I wanted to say. Just remember to train hard, Roman.”
Then he shuffled Roman out of his office.
“You’re serious?” Treaver whispered.
Treaver and Sarah sat across from him at one of the tables in the center of the library. They had been waiting patiently in such area during Roman’s conversation with Mr. Garretson.
“Why would I make something like that up?” Roman demanded. “And then he just shoved me out of his room.”
“Hmm.” Sarah was being less skeptical than Treaver. “Hopefully you’re destined to be the big hero that stops the Strayers. Forever, if we’re lucky. You should be proud.”
“You’re not honestly buying this, are you?” Treaver whispered to her. “Mr. Kyle’s never talked about his brother to anyone! Why would he tell Roman, who hasn’t even been here two for days?”
“Didn’t you hear the part about being the chosen one?”
“He never said that!” Roman snapped, still keeping his voice down. “He said that I do something important, that’s possible, right? No one said anything about defeating the Strayers.”
“Roman, didn’t Mr. Kyle say that he’d had dreams like that before?”
“He also said that he didn’t know why Trent joined the Strayers. You never told him what the man said.”
Roman stared at her. She had a very good point. Why hadn’t he told Mr. Garretson? “I didn’t think about it.”
“So let’s go tell him.” Treaver started to back up, but Sarah stopped him.
“There’s something you guys seem to be missing.”
“Huh?” Roman and Treaver wondered at the same time. Sarah sighed and rolled her eyes.
“You told us exactly what he said, right? Repeat his exact wording.”
Roman wasn’t famous for remembering things, but this traumatic vision of his was most certainly engraved in his mind. “Bad times are coming, kid.” he started, feeling awkward, “Your entire home, your family, and the world as you know it will be ours.” He closed his eyes, concentrating. “But you can avoid it. You’re going to be very powerful. I know that you’ve seen it. You will help us or everything, even the thing closest to you, will be destroyed.
“So he joined them to protect something?” Roman had started to see what Sarah meant when he was repeating the final line. “He had to join, didn’t he?”
“As far as I can guess,” Sarah shrugged.
“How does this keep us from telling Kyle?” Treaver questioned.
“Because we don’t know exactly what happened, or what he was protecting. If we tell Mr. Kyle, then he’ll go berserk. If we can’t give him all the answers, then who knows how that’ll affect his brain? From the way you described the way he looked…One dream did that, Roman.”
“So we’re not going to tell him at all?” Roman spat.
“Not unless we find that last answer first.”
The rest of the day flew by. Roman felt refreshed by the three-day weekend, though he still wanted more time off from school. The fact that Sarah and Treaver expected him to have another odd dream was not helping with his anxiety. Tyler’s weapons-use class had not been fun, but Roman had learned to keep the end of his hoody out of the nose of blankers.
Roman collapsed in his bed, wondering what would happen in school tomorrow, and immediately fell asleep.
Great, pop quiz, Roman muttered to himself.
He was in eighth period Spanish class.
His teacher, Mr. Sapling, passed out the sheets. This was definitely going to be hard. They were covering the body parts right now, the one subject Roman wasn’t grasping.
Roman stared in horror when he saw that the “quiz” somehow had forty questions. He felt like his head would burst when he saw that the class only had twenty minutes left before the bell.
Roman looked at question number one:
1.) Eyes ___________
Simple enough. Ojos.
5.) Cabeza ____________
It went on like that for some time. Mr. Sapling decided to pass out the English papers, which was very unlike him. First of all, he was the Spanish teacher. Second and last, why during a test?
Roman got back his timed-writing paper. He’d gotten a sixty-eight! He hadn’t even finished half of his paper!
Wait, he thought, we aren’t supposed to have our final grade until Friday.
Roman lifted up his hand and moved his fingers. He couldn’t feel them.
Roman glanced to his right. Danny was in Cole’s seat. Roman smiled, getting up out of his seat. Danny glanced up as he approached. Roman grabbed his arm and pulled him out of his seat. Danny looked confused for a moment. But the confusion disappeared when Roman kicked Danny as hard as possible in the shin.
Then the room started waving like a funhouse mirror. All around Roman were the same purple and black swirls he had seen when he was with Mr. Garretson.
Worth it, Roman tried to be smug.
Then, slowly the swirls receded. He was standing at a construction site he’d seen on his way to the Cinemark. It was a long and wide section between two roads. A man dressed like a green-blue Statue of Liberty held up a sign for a carwash.
All around Roman were piles of sand, dirt, and puddles of collected rainwater. There weren’t any bulldozers. Most people thought that the construction site was abandoned. It had been so still for years that, every day at sunset, birds would rest on the dunes of gravel and sand. He looked up at the sun. It was high-noon.
Next, the sounds came to him.
All of the mid-day traffic was suddenly whizzing just behind and twenty meters ahead of him. It was warm, but there was a cool breeze that indicated it was still winter. There was barely a cloud in the sky.
He wrinkled his nose when the smell erupted from his conscious dream. Now he smelled gasoline, dirty rainwater, smoke, and various exhausts from passing trucks.
This dream was just like the ones that he’d had last night, just as strongly detailed, and just as unnerving.
At first, the only movement in the intersection was the dazzlingly shiny ripples in the puddles that reflected the sunlight. Then Roman’s eye caught a flash of gold.
He glanced over at a half-finished building structure made of metal support beams. He spotted the movement again, just a slight shadow slipping through a pipe tunnel built under the nearest dirt pile. He followed, instinctively being quiet. The tunnel was dark and damp. The gravel taste faded away when the smell of dirty rainwater strengthened.
At the end of the pipe was a seven foot drop into a little ditch. Roman stuck his head out to look down into the ditch. The light hit his blue eyes like a speeding truck. His head should have made a shadow easily noticeable. But he wasn’t really there.
What he saw didn’t make much sense to him. The flash of gold was curly, honey hair, shimmering in the brilliant light. The hair belonged to a girl. She was wearing a peach uniform that almost blended into the sand, and she held binoculars up to her eyes while she peered over the side of the ditch.
Someone else was crouching next to her. It was a boy a few years younger than Roman, possibly Renaldo’s age, wearing the same peach uniform. He had brown, almost auburn, hair. Roman couldn’t see his eyes.
Darn, I’m stupid. Why am I hiding?
Roman climbed out of the pipe and dropped onto the gravel. He instinctively tucked in his head, expecting to get scrapes from sliding along the coarse ground. But he was just a ghost, looking in on the memory of someone unknown. The girl said something. Roman didn’t quite catch it.
He slunk closer. He found it hard to walk casually toward two strange kids that were obviously spying on something. He glanced at where the girl was pointing her binoculars.
The Cinemark was on the other side of the street that rested a matter of feet away from them. A car was pulling into one of the empty parking squares near the building. Roman recognized that car.
It belonged to Mrs. Haldrige.
Roman, Caleb, Kayla, and Mrs. Haldrige had pulled up at the exact same time, with the exact same car, into the exact same parking space. Roman was watching the day he had met the Talismen.
“Let me see!” the boy complained. His voice was high-pitched. He grappled for the binoculars.
“Quit it!” the girl snapped.
Roman froze. He knew that voice. And he knew exactly who it belonged to.
He stepped carefully in front of the pair, which was still wrestling over the binoculars. He looked at each of their faces.
The boy’s eyes were pale brown, and they looked dull. They were unfocused. He had freckles on pale skin. Roman thought he looked oddly familiar, but not as familiar as the girl. He immediately recognized the hazel eyes he’d seen more than he would’ve liked to.
Chrith Vladimir. The same Chrith from his school.
Roman tried to calm himself down. He hadn’t realized that he’d stopped breathing. But now he was breathing very quickly.
I haven’t seen them at the mansion, so what are they doing spying on me?
He saw a dark figure like a shadow, almost pitch-black, even in the intense light. It was making its way on top of the roof of the Cinemark. It disappeared over the side of the building.
Then the dream changed again. Roman was at the same spot where Sarah, Danny, and Jace had first explained everything to him, with the helicopter just landing. The thrust of the wind did not affect Roman, though the grass looked ready to rip itself out of the ground.
Sarah and Danny jumped out of the helicopter as soon as the door opened. They both looked at the Cinemark. Sarah’s face was grim, while Danny resembled a kid in a candy store.
“Don’t mess this up,” Sarah growled to Danny. “Mr. Kyle said that the Strayers might be on the lookout for him.”
“I am not blind!” This was definitely not Danny’s voice.
“Are too!” Roman was back at the construction site. He was beginning to get annoyed with flipping back and forth between visions.
“I can see colors,” the boy insisted. He had been the one called blind by Chrith.
“Not the colors normals see. Besides, that’s just your first power. If you were a normal then you’d just be blind and helpless,” she taunted. “And colors don’t count; you can’t judge distances. No tripped-out glasses are going to fix that.”
“Some people who can see can’t judge distances,” the boy countered.
Chrith ignored him. “We’d better get him out of there soon, or we’ll have to explain to Emote. He’ll have our heads.”
The dream began to fade.
Roman awoke in his room, with the red light from the computer charger blinking in his eyes. He felt like he was still dreaming, like nothing he saw was real. He didn’t feel tired in the slightest bit. His alarm clock said it was around three-thirty in the morning. His alarm would be ringing to wake him up for school in about two and a half hours. And then he would get ready, there at the mansion, where he was safe with his friends. He would arrive at school on the Talismen’s special bus. And he would be at school, with one of his newly-adopted mortal enemies.
Chrith, a Strayer.
Roman didn’t feel like going back to sleep, and probably couldn’t have if he’d tried. Instead he decided to talk to Mr. Garretson about his most recent dream.
He was halfway down the hallway in his pajamas when he remembered that they weren’t supposed to tell Mr. Garretson or Jace about their little investigation. So he crept back and knocked on Treaver’s door, right next to his. Tap, tap, tap.
He tried again, knocking harder.
Roman climbed the stairs to the fourth floor and made his way down the hallway to the second to last room. He knocked timidly on the door.
At first, there was no reply. Then he heard footsteps.
“Roman, what are you doing here at three in the morning?” came Sarah’s groggy voice.
“I had another dream. It’s big.”
“Okay, give me a second, and then you can come in.”
A minute later Sarah opened the door. She had on some blue, fuzzy pajamas. Her red hair was tossed up and frizzled in some places. She had her glasses on. Her skin was paler than usual.
Roman hadn’t been in very many rooms in the mansion, including Sarah’s. Her room had a few pictures on the wall of friends, parties, other special events, and some of random times at the mall or at school. Her walls were a royal-blue color and were partially decorated with pictures of tigers. The ceiling was the same white as Roman’s and every other room that Roman had seen. The curtains covering the window were colored rainbow to turn the morning sunlight different colors. There was a computer on top of her desk. The desk had sketches all over it, not only drawn on papers, but etched into the beige wood. There was a radio on a small table in the corner, next to a cage. The cage was too big for a hamster or a mouse. There was a small, plastic, green castle in the middle.
Sarah’s bed had fuzzy, purple sheets, as did her four pillows and blanket. The carpet was thinner in this room than in the hall in and Roman’s room. There was a swivel chair at her desk and another revolving one next to the TV, which looked similar to Roman’s television.
The door to the bathroom was closed. There was a wooden wardrobe next to the entrance. A short bookshelf to Roman’s right had a clear, plastic, pink piggy-bank on top. The shelves underneath it had different kinds of knickknacks and books.
“What’s in the cage?” Roman asked.
“A chinchilla. His name’s Alejandro.”
Alejandro the chinchilla stirred as his name was spoken, poking his head out of the castle. He had dark gray fur and small paws, and was roughly the size of a fat Texas squirrel.
“Go back to sleep, Alejandro,” Sarah said as she settled down in her revolving chair.
Alejandro’s head disappeared back inside his little home.
“He understands you?”
“Of course. I had Treaver help me train him.”
“Right, the animal-talk thing.”
Sarah said, “Enough small talk. I didn’t get up at three-thirty-five just to talk. What was your dream about?”
“The Cinemark. Remember the day we met? Well, at the construction site I saw two people scouting out the scene, saying that some guy named Emote wasn’t going to be happy. Just in time, too. You and Danny were just getting off of the helicopter.”
A look of shock slithered its way across Sarah’s face.
“That’s not all. The boy and the girl there watching another person sneaking into the theater? The girl was Chrith.”
“Who was the boy?” Sarah asked him after a silence. Like every other sixth grader, she knew perfectly well who Chrith was.
“I don’t know. He was blind. Well, mostly. He said something about being able to see colors. According to Chrith, it’s his first power. But who’s Emote?”
“No idea. But this is still the best lead we have yet.”
“Yeah, you were right about the dream.”
She grinned. “I’m always right.”
“Well, it doesn’t look like there’s much we can do, for now,” Roman admitted grudgingly.
“We could hire a few eighth graders to dump Chrith in a garbage can,” Sarah suggested half-heartedly.
“What about Victoria?”
“Who can say for sure that she’s a Strayer? Just because she hangs out with Chrith? Arnold and Sadie sit with them at lunch, and we’re not suspecting them.”
“Because she copies Victoria in every way. She would probably notice if Chrith disappeared off the face of the earth to go training.” Roman felt oddly powerful about his suspicion. It was as if he knew for certain that Victoria was up to something, Strayer or not.
“She could still be an innocent bystander. Danny’s been talking to those two since he met them.” Sarah pointed out. “And he’s a Talisman.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” But at the same time, Roman felt an icy cold feeling creep up his spine. “Let’s hope that we don’t have a Strayer living with us, shall we?
“Of course that would explain all of the weird stuff that’s been happening lately,” Sarah said, not indicating any special significance in her words.
“Weird stuff? Here? Naw. We’re talking about capturing a pretty little girl to question her to convince our secret society’s leader’s brother to stop being an evil tyrant. Let’s face it; our whole lives have gotten weird.”
“Not funny this time, Roman. Lots of things in the lab have been going wrong with no explanation. And our funding is disappearing off the record.”
“We have funding?” Roman asked.
“Wrong word for it, sorry. Mr. Kyle’s savings from his days as a heart surgeon, along with the stuff he keeps from his appointments nowadays. The other Talismen around the continent don’t do much to help us.”
“Mr. Garretson said that those dreams counted as visions because they had meaning. So that pretty much settles the fact that Chrith and that boy, whoever he was, that were sneaking into the building are—”
“Wait, sneaking into the building?” Sarah interrupted.
“Well, yeah. I think I already mentioned that.”
“Damn it!” Sarah cursed. “A Strayer sneaking right out from under our noses.”
“Oh, um… It probably won’t happen again,” Roman said lamely.
“If they didn’t have their SRP’s then it wasn’t our fault. But this also means that the Strayers were after you before we found you.”
“Then how do we keep them from killing me?” Roman demanded.
“They don’t normally know the exact identities of Genedeaues, only their parents and how they were when they were babies. The fact that you’ve known Chrith for a long time and they haven’t gotten to you yet helps. But if you want, like Stacy, you could have a bit of a makeover…”
“It sure worked for Stacy,” Roman commented. “Treaver and Tyler keep drooling over her. But if the Strayers knew Stacy’s parents, then what happened to them? It’s clear that my parents aren’t in danger.”
“They were killed,” Sarah sighed sadly. “It happened with Jacob and Millo, too. But they don’t like to talk about it. No one likes to talk about their parents dying. Stacy’s parents were just about to be re-located to the mansion for safety, when the Strayers found them.”
“What about Jacob and Millo?” Roman asked her.
“That’s a really sad story. Their parents split up ten years back when Jacob was five and Millo was three months old. Millo had gone with his mother to France while Jacob stayed with his father in Ohio. Two years ago, Jacob’s dad died of cancer and Jacob joined the Talismen. After another year, Millo came when his mother was killed in the crossfire when the Strayers had tried to recruit him back in France. We’re lucky we got to him. He wouldn’t join them and they’d almost killed him by the time we got there.”
“No wonder they’re so quiet,” Roman commented breathlessly.
“Not once you get to know them. But we’ll talk to Treaver about your dream in the morning.” Sarah told him, “Get some sleep, we don’t want you tired while you’re going to school with Strayers. I’m starting to have doubts about not telling Mr. Garretson, though.” She got up from her chair and opened the door for Roman.
Roman somehow managed to fall asleep again that night, but had a nightmare about his “makeover”, and woke up in a cold sweat to his alarm.
Time for school. I’ll have to get Treaver in on this.