Down the stairs, into the hallway, and finally entering the kitchen Roman saw that almost everyone was already up, except for the elementary-schoolers.
Roman spotted Chris eating about ten pancakes. Sarah didn’t look very troubled by her lack of sleep or the fact of whom they were about to go to school with. Danny and Cole were playing with something that Roman hoped was silly-putty. Jacob was sharing some sort of pastry with Ellenore, who was a tall, thin girl with curly brown hair and deep green eyes. When Roman had been introduced to almost everyone by Chris, Treaver, and Sarah, on his second day at the mansion, he had been informed that Ellenore and Jacob had been dating for almost half of a year now. Mary Beth was discussing something with Jill not too far down the left side of the table. Tyler was sitting next to Stacy, Sarah, and Jasmine, who all looked slightly annoyed. Jasmine was supposedly Roman and Sarah’s age, though they’d had to guess. Jasmine had been dropped off at the mansion gates as a baby with nothing but a basket and a name-tag. She was African American with dark brown eyes and long, thick black hair. Rebecca and Ringo were not in the kitchen, and most likely not at the mansion. Most students, aside from Mary Beth, did not come to the mansion before school if they didn’t live there.
Roman snatched Sarah away from her companions and headed out back. They found Treaver next to the fountain and began discussing their options pertaining to last night’s discovery. After much getting off of topic and mulling it around in their heads, they were forced back inside by Jace’s call for the bus.
Roman packed his backpack as quickly as he could, wanting to get to school to get his mind off of things. On the Talisman bus, there would be no privacy for talking. Out of all of the solutions that they had considered, the most obvious option was that they should speak to Mr. Garretson about it. The only arguments against this were of Mr. Garretson’s emotional status and a question: If the visions had meaning, and Mr. Garretson had had dreams like this for some time, then why hadn’t the dream come to him? Surely he could’ve asked one of the students if they knew Chrith and the boy. If Roman and Mr. Garretson could have the same dreams, then why only Roman?
This might be easier if he had answered my questions! Roman growled to himself. And then I’d know how we get the dreams in the first place.
Inside the bus, the seats were black leather, and the black floor looked the same as any other bus Roman had seen, except much cleaner. The white ceiling wasn’t curved outward like most school-busses, and instead lay flat. There were the usual emergency exits, along with a small compartment in the back of the bus, behind the last seats, where they kept a few knives. Roman didn’t think that it was a good idea to bring knives to school, whether they were going inside or not, but they were never inspected by anyone or anything.
Roman, being the new kid, and this being his first time, sat alone near the front. He had at first tried to sit in the back rows, but everyone knew each other and sat in the same seats every day. The eldest kids had the first choice of seats, as it was on the regular school buses. Roman wasn’t at the very front of the bus, but he was closer than any other. Treaver and Chris sat together, Sarah and Jasmine, Ellenore and Jacob, Jill and Tyler, and without surprise, Danny and Cole. Stacy was lucky enough to be only thirteen and sitting in the very back with Tyler and Jill, since those seats were slightly larger. The other middle-schoolers tried their best to keep Roman in the conversation, but it was more difficult when he was a row in front of them.
They were mostly discussing things that Roman wished he understood. Not only were they exchanging fighting-strategies, but they were also talking about creatures, people, and things that Roman had never heard of. Jasmine claimed that she’d figured out how to create a few batches of ‘teleliquid’ without Jace, Mr. Garretson, or any of the younger teachers finding out. Treaver seemed convinced that some people called ‘The Hochbringers’ wanted to help him invent some sort of communicator to help on missions. And Sarah continually tried to share her theories on ‘hytbeauxes’ with the others, to no prevail. Anytime that one of the others students paid attention to Roman long enough for him to ask his questions on what they were saying, they were pulled back into their chatting when someone asked a more interesting question.
Roman thought that he would be more relaxed when he arrived at school. But as it turned out, when Mr. Garretson said that everything would be cleared with the Haldriges, it was also evident that that included mentioning Roman’s adoption and somehow connecting it with his disappearance. Since Caleb walked to school in the mornings, he was one of the first there that day. And since Caleb became excited very easily, he had mentioned Roman’s adoption to quite a few other students. So, even though the Talismen bus arrived before any other bus, the majority of the sixth graders already waiting to be dismissed to their classes in the cafeteria knew about Roman leaving St. Jefferson’s. Many kids congratulated him when they saw him, some of whom Roman didn’t know. Roman, knowing of the Talismen kids’ odd reputation, mixed with the fact that many others were interested in his new home, snuck away from the others as soon as he’d had the opportunity.
“Roman! ROMAN!” Caleb called out when Roman entered the cafeteria. He was sitting at the closest table to the windows, where Roman was reluctant to sit because of the crowd that was sure to gather at the windows in hopes of another snowfall. Rachel was already sitting next to him.
“Roman! Why didn’t you call me afterwards?” Caleb wondered.
“I was kind of busy getting settled in,” Roman explained. “And it’s a pretty big house. Lots to explore and easy to get lost.”
“You’ll have to invite me over sometime,” Caleb said. “You owe me after the thousands of times that I’ve invited you over.”
“I’d have to check with my new step-parents,” Roman dodged. He was positive that he would not be allowed to let Caleb anywhere near the mansion, and Roman was afraid that Caleb might tell others that he was living with the Talismen. Roman had no trouble with lying to Caleb, but found it slightly disturbing imagining Mr. Garretson as his ‘new step-parent’.
Rachel seemed to enjoy hanging around Caleb. She would try to get his attention in the hallways and Caleb claimed that she volunteered to be his science partner, despite the other students’ warnings of Caleb’s bad grades. During first period math, they worked on adding positive and negative numbers, which was perhaps the most boring math lesson they had executed all year. Then, for their project partners in second period science class, Roman had been forced to pair up with Eric, who would not cease talking about games online. By third period reading class, Roman was very annoyed with his school day so far. Since the later classes were behind on lessons from school being dismissed early the previous Friday, his reading class had a day watching a video. Roman was glad to have time to nap from the long day he’d had so far and from his lack of sleep the previous night.
Roman lay his head down, almost immediately drowning out the noise of the class talking through the movie. He had not been expecting to revisit the conscious dreams any time soon after it had been revealed that Chrith was a Strayer.
Roman was lying on something cushioned. It felt like an air-mattress. He tried to open his eyes, but all that they met was darkness. Roman tried to smell or hear something, anything. The only thing that he could smell was dry, cool air that burned his nostrils. He suddenly was very thirsty, and wished that he hadn’t fallen asleep. He tried to move, but he could not. His face felt like it was still buried in the invisible air mattress, and his limbs felt frozen, like when he awoke in his bed from a nightmare.
The only thing left to do was to focus on whatever noise there might be. His ears felt cold, but they should’ve been able to hear. At first, he thought that he was hearing things back in the classroom, and that perhaps he was waking up, but then the noises came into focus.
“What is it that you want?” called a booming, echoing voice. It belonged to a man. “You are not to enter here!”
“I can do whatever it is I want,” came another hiss, except this one was fainter than the first.
“Get out before we make you get out!”
The second voice laughed. “You can’t force me out! Not unless you find a better way to share your information without frightening your victims.”
“My son is not a victim!” the first voice howled. Roman felt himself shake from the power that rebounded over to him. In his previous dreams, he couldn’t feel anything. Roman felt the hair on his neck raise when he realized that in his other dreams he couldn’t feel the cold that he now felt. He tried desperately to move again in vain, wanting very much to wake up.
“Oh, isn’t he? What about the other two? Not them, either?”
“You know that I changed my mind! I settled down with Kasumi and I meant everything that I told her!”
“Is that so? Then I guess that you won’t care for this one. I wonder what would happen if he had a small…accident.”
“YOU DARE TO THREATEN ME?”
“You’re old. You’ve lost your edge,” the second man laughed a high, cold, piercing laugh. “YOU’RE SO OLD, YOU’RE PRACTICALLY DEAD! Hahaha! You brought him here to tell him not to tell. Well, I would conduct my little experiment on him, if I didn’t agree with what you were thinking. And so, once again, you’ll have no choice but to give me what I want.”
There was a pause in which Roman felt his hairs tingling with the static of the heated conversation.
“Very well. But if you want me to carry out what I want, then why come here in the first place?”
“You still don’t get it, do you, old man?” the second voice taunted, “Tisk-tisk-tisk. And to think that you taught me everything I know. Well, almost everything. And I didn’t learn everything that you tried to teach me. Well, I’m sure that your brother will be able to figure everything out. If anything, you should be thanking me for showing your son in the first place. Of course, you know that you nearly killed my cousin, so I almost killed your son. But I succeeded in killing your first love. Although you succeeded with my family, I didn’t care for them, and you failed to kill me. I might actually thank you for ridding me of that burden. It makes things much easier. So until you think on that, as far as you know, I’m here to taunt you. It’s quite fun actually. As you would say: treason and truth are the one and the same.”
There was a popping noise that hurt Roman’s ears. A silence followed for a moment as he wished that he knew what the two men had been talking about, and hoped that someone would wake him up telling him that the bell was about to ring.
But when the silence ended, what Roman heard was not the other kids in the classroom talking. It was some of the words that the second man had said to the first, repeating over and over again, overlapping as if reflecting off of the walls.
Tell him not to tell, tell him not to tell, tell him not to tell, it continued. Each time that it sounded Roman’s head pounded. Roman tried desperately to think of something besides the words, his headache was so horrible.
The words finally stopped when he spontaneously remembered that the dreams he had were visions that so far had applied to important things that had or would happen. All of the conscious dreams meant something. When Roman realized that this had stopped the words from pounding in his head any longer, and that he couldn’t get that thought out of his head, he tried speaking, hoping that he wouldn’t be heard back in reading class.
“I—I won’t tell him,” Roman gasped. The coldness started to lift, though Roman could tell that he wasn’t waking up. He tried being slightly more convincing.
“I won’t tell him,” Roman said forcefully. Gulping, knowing what this meant, he finished the sentence. “I won’t tell Mr. Garretson about my dream.”
Good boy, something whispered back softly.
Roman woke up in a cold sweat.
“Are you all right?” asked Ms. Auster, whose desk just so happened to be next to the spot where Roman had fallen asleep.
“Y—yeah. Just had a bad dream.”
“Have you considered watching the movie?”
“Erm, I’ll—I’ll go do that.” Roman got up and moved to the corner of the room where some kids had taken out a deck of cards to play with. It took a while for Roman’s heart to stop thumping so hard that it hurt.
His newly found dream brought up an inevitable issue. Now it was clear that telling Mr. Garretson about the discovered Strayers, along with Roman’s other dreams, was not an option.
Tyler called Roman aside after he’d set foot inside of the mansion, while the rest of the students were still finishing their conversations started on the bus.
“Hey there, larva.”
“I thought that I was ‘maggot’,” Roman said irritably.
“Treaver’s ‘maggot’. Anyways, Mr. Garretson wants to know how you’re settling in.”
“Fine. Why can’t he ask me himself?”
“He’s been called off to Poland for some baby whose mom had some sort of heart disease. They want the kid looked at. So he’ll be back in a few days, and Jace is going to call him later.”
“How do you know all this?”
“It’s called breakfast. Where were you this morning, anyways?”
“Outside,” Roman replied vaguely.
“Whatever. The PCG’s at six. It’ll be boring, so eat something beforehand. It’s torture having to sit through an actual class without any dinner.”
Tyler disappeared into the lounge as Roman remembered that PCG stood for Physical Characteristics of Gemstones. He quickly scanned the hall. Sarah, Treaver, and everyone else that had walked in had successfully disappeared. Roman cursed under his breath. At least the elementary students wouldn’t be back with Jace for another half-hour. Roman was lucky to find Sarah watching TV on the couch in the lounge, ignoring Tyler, Cole, and Chris playing hacky-sack next to her.
“Hey, Roman!” Chris called out when he saw Roman enter, “Wanna play?”
“Aw, come on,” Cole complained. “He’ll fail faster than Mary Beth would criticize me on my knife skills!”
“I’m busy, anyways.” Roman said.
“With what?” Tyler chuckled. “You middle-school kids have it easy.”
“None of your business,” Roman retorted. “Sarah, can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Oh,” Tyler, Cole, and Chris all smiled at once.
“Smooth as sandpaper, Roman,” Sarah sighed.
“Yeah, we know Sarah better than to hear the words ‘none of your business’ and then talking in secrecy and not suspect anything of her,” Chris explained.
“Well, you’ll find out soon enough,” Sarah promised them, which set Roman’s stomach turning.
“Trying to get the new kid in trouble? You can count me in,” Cole told her.
“Shouldn’t you be kicking puppies with Danny right about now, Cole?” Sarah demanded.
“Couldn’t find ’im,” Cole smirked.
“Even after sitting with him on the bus?”
“I turned to say something to Mary Beth when she pulled into the driveway and then he was gone. He’s probably planning something big,” Cole boasted.
“A shame that he decided not to include you, don’t you think?”
“He’ll get me involved,” Cole objected indignantly.
“Then you won’t have much time for what we’re doing, now will you?” Sarah sneered. “See you guys later,” she said, turning to follow Roman out of the room. “Oh, and don’t forget to save me a spot in the game for later.”
“Don’t be late, then.”
“Uh-oh,” was the last thing that Roman wanted to hear as a response when he told Sarah the message from his vision. “We’ve got to find Treaver.”
They couldn’t find Treaver until the elementary school kids arrived, when he, accompanied by Jacob, appeared to greet Millo. Roman and Sarah quickly ran over to Treaver, pulling him aside.
“Treaver, we need to talk right now.”
“Oh, hey guys. What’s up?”
“It’s about our little project,” Sarah whispered.
“Oh yeah. Jacob knows, by the way.”
“What?” Roman felt his stomach drop out.
“Well, he was wondering why we weren’t at breakfast today and—”
“Roman, we need to get Treaver and Jacob somewhere private where we can talk about this. Treaver, we’ll explain later, but don’t tell anyone else about this, all right?”
“Erm, slight problem,” Treaver whimpered.
“Jacob and I came out here to tell Millo.”
Roman turned around with his eyes closed, hardly daring to look for fear the memory of his dream would come back to him. When he opened them, Jacob was with Millo, who had a look of horror and fear across his face. Roman could easily guess that Jacob had just told Millo. Sarah, knowing this as well, quickly ran over and steered Millo in their direction, with Jacob following confusedly.
“Study rooms.” Sarah ordered through gritted teeth, “Now.”
Sarah quickly shooed the paper pets off of the fifth floor and ushered the others inside of one of the farthest study rooms.
“Millo, do you have any homework?” Sarah asked once the door to their study-room was closed completely.
“Only math…” Millo whimpered.
“Get it out, please,” Sarah requested softly. “That way if anybody comes here they’ll think we’ve been helping you with that.”
Millo obediently took out a worksheet on simple area equations.
“What’s the big idea?” Jacob demanded, frowning. “And what’s this Treaver’s telling me about a girl at your school being a Strayer?”
“Okay, look. Yeah, we have one identified Strayer and one that we might have the chance of seeing, but there’s a bit more to it than that. But, Treaver, quick note; DON’T TELL ANYONE ELSE!”
“All right, all right,” Treaver muttered. “I figured since no one could think of anything else we could use some help…”
Millo and Sarah sat down in two of the black, plastic chairs while Jacob and Roman stood. Roman rapidly explained in as little detail as possible his first three dreams, then, with everyone listening intently, he described in greater detail his most recent dream. Millo and Jacob were excellent listeners, and didn’t ask any questions during Roman’s elucidation. Millo seemed to grow more and more apprehensive as Roman continued, and Jacob seemed to be curious for as much as possible.
“So we’re basing our every move on your dreams?” Jacob inquired when Roman was done clarifying their situation. He leaned against the wall of the room with his arms crossed.
“But they’re so real! And even Mr. Garret—”
“I wasn’t being skeptical,” Jacob added swiftly. “Just checking.”
“Well, yeah then,” Sarah said.
“Then we shouldn’t have to worry about what we do next,” Jacob stated. “We just wait for Roman to have another dream.”
Roman shuddered at the thought.
“All of the dreams have been in the past,” Millo spoke very quietly. “Even the dream at the theater. Wouldn’t the next dream be of something in the past, as well?”
“We can’t be sure when the last dream took place,” Treaver mumbled. But Millo had a point. What if they did rely on another dream to tell them something, and then nothing came? Roman didn’t enjoy the prospect of having these dreams every night, especially if they were anything like his latest. But he also didn’t enjoy the prospect of futilely trying to figure out a solution. Roman imagined telling Mr. Garretson. A simple thought flashed through his mind with the force of a missile, though it was very brief. What if they told Mr. Garretson and it turned out that there was some unknown reason for not telling him? What if they were missing something, and then disobeyed the dreams? Whoever Mr. Garretson had implied was controlling the dreams, they seemed to know more than Mr. Garretson, who already knew more than all of the Talismen students combined on the matter. Mr. Garretson trusted the dreams, and the dreams had told Roman not to tell Mr. Garretson.
“It’d be disobeying Mr. Garretson if we told him. Whatever’s going on, Mr. Garretson obviously doesn’t know the whole of it. And I don’t think he’s supposed to.” Roman was talking to himself, but mutters of concurrence came from the others, even Millo.
“How about we just wait for tonight before we stress over this?” Jacob and Sarah suggested at the same instant. They stared at each other for a moment before turning to Roman.
“Why are you looking at me?”
“You’re the one having the dreams,” Treaver snorted.
“Sounds reasonable,” Roman concluded. “Not pleasant, but reasonable.”
Millo looked very sullen. Roman wanted to comfort him, but had no idea how to do so. He hadn’t known Millo for very long in the first place, and Jacob seemed to have much experience with him. When Jacob led Millo out of the room, Sarah stared after them. Once again, Roman wished that he had Sarah’s power, wondering what she found in other people from their eyes.
He had only been at the mansion for a few days, and he was already more deeply involved than most of the students that had been there for years. But that did not keep his head from hurting by the end of his PCG class that afternoon. Normally, the PCG classes would be held down in the lab, but there had been another malfunction, causing Jace and Tyler to be late to the fifth floor conference room. Jace had come back inside complaining to Tyler that they would have to make more liquid nitrogen, since their current supply had been turned back into gas.
The conference room contained mainly a large, oval-shaped, wooden table with plush, blue chairs placed around its perimeter. In one corner was a potted plant and in another there was a portrait of Mr. Garretson. To Roman it resembled a room for corporate CEOs to meet, but to Treaver all it meant was a nap.
“I’ve already covered all of these classes,” Treaver told Roman with his head buried in his arms. “Let me know when it’s over.”
“Don’t count on it.”
To Roman’s surprise, Tyler did help explain the lesson almost as well as Jace. They covered how every single gem was unique, along with a few other things that had already been explained to Roman, and much of how trips to the Island worked. Much of the material didn’t involve the physical aspects of the gems or even gems at all, and the name had been kept only through tradition. But with both of the teachers and the student being Genedeaues, nearly fifteen minutes was spent trying to stay on topic. At one point, Jace had gone from explaining how the Bermuda triangle corresponded with the ancient Greek myths to discussing with Tyler how the metric system worked. Another time, when Jace told Roman how they would all be plummeted into unconsciousness once they passed inside of the Island’s barrier, Roman started daydreaming about bringing a large packet of candy in for lunch, now that he could get them, and using them as tokens in a game of slapjack. Roman had missed something about gremlins and stupidly asked something that Tyler and Jace had apparently spent three minutes explaining and debating.
Once the lesson was over, Roman woke Treaver. It felt as if someone had taken his brain and hit it with a mallet. The concepts were unusual, though not difficult to grasp. But Roman’s attention span seemed to have gone on vacation without him.
Roman followed Treaver down into the kitchen. Even though Roman had had a bowl of spaghetti before the lesson, he was famished. But when Roman headed into the pantry to get some rice, he forgot why he was in there, stepped out, remembered his rice, stepped back in, and then forgot again. After a few minutes of this, Roman decided to grab a few slices of cantaloupe from the refrigerator, and then nearly ate the crust.
“Dude, if you don’t get in your bed soon then you’re going to drop. And if you hit your head too hard when you do, there’ll be too much paperwork,” Treaver told him.
“I’m not tired, just…lots to remember from that training session.”
“I’d hardly call it training,” Treaver snorted. “But you look ridiculous with that glazed look in your eye. Uh…your cantaloupe’s dripping onto your shirt.”
Roman looked down and quickly put the cantaloupe onto the table. Roman then realized that he had neglected to get a plate. Roman rubbed his forehead.
“Roman, this is pathetic. ’Sides, we’ve got school tomorrow. The more sleep the merrier.”
“Whatever. I’m going into the lounge.”
“Didn’t you hear a word I just said?” Treaver shouted as Roman was walking across the hall. It didn’t occur to Roman that he had left his cantaloupe on top of the table until he was on the couch. Jacob, Stacy, and Chris were at a table in the corner, watching Ellenore levitating three textbooks at once with ease. Now that the elementary kids were in bed, no one was occupying the television. Roman noticed that the remote was on top of the TV. He thought vaguely of getting up and taking it, but couldn’t manage to make his arms and legs move.
Roman didn’t want to go to bed. The odds of him dreaming when he was asleep were better than him dreaming when he was awake. This did not seem to be working out for him, though. Roman could hardly keep his eyes open. His left eye kept going cross whenever he blinked. Roman started hearing vague voices, like he was already dreaming. He tried closing his eyes and taking deep breaths, though he stopped taking deep breaths almost immediately when he drifted off to sleep.