Trixie

Virga: Act 2A

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 2a: OF VAMPYRES AND GENIES

Bizarrely, I found myself standing in an office. And not Melissa’s office either.

Feeling momentarily disoriented, I took a half step back before evaluating my surroundings. Large wooden desk, coat rack, filing cabinet, no obvious windows. That is, the door had a window, but the glass was frosted. Had I just been magically teleported somewhere? If so, it wouldn’t have been the first time.

Lacking anything better to do, I moved to open the door and peer outside.

On the other side of it was Amy, although she seemed to have purple hair. Like in one of her reviews, except it didn’t look like a wig, the colour looked completely natural. She looked equally startled to see me.

“James?” she said in confusion. She looked down at the rather familiar knife in her hand, then back up. “Did I summon you here? Because the private investigator I was hiring a minute ago just seemed to vanish on me when I turned–”

And then just like that, I was back in the hotel.

“–like an idiot,” Trixie concluded.

“Whoa, what?” I placed a hand to the side of my head to steady myself.

“I said you could actually suggest pertinent details from Amy’s recurring dreams, or continue to stand there like an idiot,” the redheaded witch reiterated without missing a beat, still scrolling through the internet using her electronic device.

“I think I just saw it,” I admitted. “She was with a private investigator.”

“Vampyr PIs, okay, that narrows it down to Moonlight, Angel, Forever Knight, maybe True Blood – no, wait, Blood Ties…” Trixie stopped and looked back up. “JUST saw? Wait. Were you also holding onto the talisman when Amy fell asleep?”

“Yeah.”

Trixie stared. “Huh. That’s either brilliant, or idiotic. I know which direction I’m leaning, but then again, maybe you do have some usefulness after all. Go fig.”

She finally lowered her keyboard to continue. “Look, there’s a good chance Amy’s dreams were being used as a kind of self insertion fanfiction. Can you recall anything more about a dream motif on her end that might lead us towards the kind of vampyr we’re dealing with?”

“Uh…” I tried to recall some of the information I’d previously passed on to Melissa. “The theme was often film noir, so not a lot of sunlight.”

“Yeah, but no vampyre types like sun, it doesn’t even kill all of them, and right now it’s 11 PM, so Missy can’t use that. Next?”

“Okay, euh… oh, countdowns. There was almost always a countdown to some event or other celebration in a lot of the dreams Amy could remember.”

“So now we’re leaning towards the more OCD vampyres, like the ones from X-Files or the Count from Sesame Street. Better. More?”

“I…”

With a slight ping in my ears, I was back in Amy’s dreamworld again. This time I was standing in a lobby. It seemed likely that I was in the same building that the PI’s office had been in during my last trip, as I saw Amy walking across the open area, towards the front doors.

“Amy!” I called out to her, hurrying to catch up. “Where are you going?”

She turned. “James? You’re back! I… I was thinking I should be somewhere surrounded by people. Or should I just wake up? I mean, if the investigator was Charlie, and he’s not here any more?”

“No,” I said hastily, which I then attempted to clarify. “There’s been complications. What I need to know is –”

How could I put it incredibly succinctly? There was no telling how much time I had left here! But just like that, I had it. “Is there anything that you particularly enjoy in real life, that you never, ever, remember having or seeing while you’re inside of these dreams?”

Amy blinked, and her brow creased a bit as she looped a bit of purple hair back off her ear. “Wow, no pressure, huh? Um… oh! Would garlic bread count? That and bruschetta, it’s never on the menus in the restaurants which–”

“–are being increasingly unhelpful,” Trixie concluded in annoyance, as I adjusted to my return to reality.

“Garlic,” I said firmly. “Garlic’s been absent from Amy’s dreams. It must be a particular weakness.”

“Says who?” Trixie said dismissively. “Vampyres have heightened senses, which are irritated by items like allium sativum.” Then her head canted to the side, one of her two red twintails swishing over her shoulder. “Unless?”

She resumed tapping at her keyboard.

“Unless?” I prompted after a second or two.

“Culicinae realm,” the redhead muttered. “It fits, but realistically there’s no way Charlie would know about it. Still…” She punched a final button, then spoke into her phone. “Rixi, garlic cloves.”

“All right,” the device intoned back. It didn’t sound like Siri, the voice was an electronic variation on Trixie’s own voice. “Accessing.”

Having backpedalled a step or two at the sound, I stepped forwards again. Only to take another step back as a small globe of light appeared, hovering over the screen. Inside the glowing sphere, what looked like a few cloves of garlic appeared; Trixie grabbed them, which dispelled the light.

Sensing (or expecting?) my amazement, the young witch shot me a knowing grin. “My own personal Siri, connected to my magical hammerspace. Did I mention I have an IQ of 151?”

“Um, no,” I said. I supposed I could believe it, she seemed to know exactly what she was doing. “And why do you have a hammerspace full of garlic?”

“I’ve had to eat Missy’s cooking,” Trixie said with a shrug. “Remind me to impress you more later, for now, we’d better get this to my cousin.” She strode over towards the door – which I now realized had been partly ajar throughout the whole conversation – then looked back at me expectantly.

“Trixie, I can’t leave Amy,” I pointed out, gesturing at the bed.

At that moment, my Asian friend stirred a little, and I found myself standing outside on a street, no doubt in her dream again. However, this time, before I could even get a handle on exactly where Amy was, I was back in the motel room, so all that really happened was I missed the gist of what Trixie was saying. Something about driving.

“Sorry, mentally absent again,” I apologized.

Trixie pressed a palm to her forehead, and then spoke with deliberate enunciation. “Me no license. Cannot teleport somewhere new. Car faster than broom. You drive?”

“I can, but someone has to stay with Amy,” I reiterated. “If she gets in trouble in the dream, someone may need to wake her up.”

“Seriously?” Trixie made a bit of a pouty face as she stared at me. Just as I was wondering if her interpersonal skills were really any better than Melissa’s, she reached out to grab my hand.

“Fine,” the redhead said, handing over the garlic, along with another object that she pulled from her pocket. “Skeleton key,” she explained as I looked down at it. “It’s how I got in here.”

She then rattled off an address and apartment number. “But hurry up,” Trixie finished. “While I’m sure my cousin can hold her own, it’s better for all of us if she doesn’t get bitten by any lurking vampyres in the process, hm?”

Given how it had already been close to five minutes since I’d sent the text, and from what I recalled of the town’s road map, it was liable to take me another five to get over to Melissa’s location… I hurried up.

***

For her part, Melissa hadn’t wasted any time in shutting her phone completely off after receiving my message. She even admitted later that she hadn’t fully read what I’d sent, so perhaps I could have texted anything. For the sake of the narrative, I’ll give you the gist of what happened here, as I was talking with Trixie.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

Focused on the task at hand, Melissa began by using a picture of a key (and a little magick) to trip the lock on the apartment complex. When that worked, she decided that the complex itself wasn’t housing a lot of witches, or at least that there was not liable to be any magical protection outside of Carlie Halko’s apartment.

Melissa then proceeded up the stairs and to the apartment door in question, taking just a moment to listen against it, figuring it was possible that Charlie wasn’t alone inside. As it turned out, she was correct in that, though not in the typical sense.

Hearing nothing, she gently tried the door – locked, eliminating the excuse of meaning to have gone next door – and proceeded to knock.

Some might find this tipping of her hand to be a curious decision, but understand that Melissa had held some hope that Charlie would be reasonable when confronted with the truth of the situation. Plus there was always the chance that she and Trixie had been wrong about his involvement, and on top of this, Melissa says deadbolts are a pain to deal with, even using magick.

There was no answer, but my former roommate later indicated to me that, at this point, she thought she heard someone moving around inside. Melissa then tried to open the door using the old trick of sliding a piece of plastic between the lock and the doorframe. (Well, it wasn’t plastic per se, but you get the gist.)

This being a more conventional way to break and enter, it could have tipped her off as to the extent of actual magical protection on the door, as well as informed her as to how much force she might need to use on a more unconventional attempt.

However, with a click, it felt like the door completely unlocked at this one attempt.

That immediately ramped up Melissa’s level of concern. Either Charlie was way too overconfident, or he was forgetful, or… he was otherwise prepared for this sort of eventuality.

She turned the knob slowly and pushed the door open.

At that point, all Melissa could register was that it was dark. Even the curtains leading to the small balcony were blacked out, meaning the only light spilling in was from the hall.

Committed now, Melissa took a step or two, attuning her senses to the talisman that Amy had, looking for a trace of it to pinpoint the Somnalibus as soon as possible.

The door swung shut.

Melissa ducked instinctively, having caught sight of movement out of the corner of her eye. The frying pan whizzed over her head, and the person swinging it was put off balance. (Of note, her small stature can be an advantage at times like this.)

During Melissa’s initial scan, in the available light from the hallway, she had remembered seeing a light switch, and dove for it now. Hoping to gain the advantage, given that Charlie’s eyes were obviously attuned to the darkness, while she had the opposite problem.

But despite flipping the switch, no light came on.

Melissa hadn’t brought a flashlight; she doesn’t like to weigh herself down with useless items. So her backup plan became a lamp on a nearby table.

Ducking again and heading over, she didn’t even fumble for the lamp’s switch, instead reaching out to touch the bulb, then calling, “Luminarium!” The lamp switched on, revealing… a lot more lamps.

As far as layout went, Charlie’s apartment door opened into a main living area and kitchen. Apart from the closet (where Melissa deduced that her assailant had crouched when she knocked), there were two other doors. But what really drew her attention now was how a lot of available space was taken up with lights and lamps.

Ones that Amy had reviewed in her online web series.

Of course, Charlie was also visible now, brandishing the same frying pan which he’d swung earlier. He was of medium build, with short dark hair, wearing a button up shirt and pants.

“Witch!” he called out, recognizing the use of a spell (and not, presumably, fumbling a ‘b’). He flung his frying pan right at Melissa’s head, despite blinking to adjust to the illumination.

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Virga: Act 1F

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 1f: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS

I realized I must have vocalized that last thought aloud. “Oh, uh, it’s just, Melissa, she’s so well organized. She’s picked her calling in terms of supernatural balance, she’s observant to the point of being able to anticipate events surrounding it, she often seems to have an answer for everything… she knows what’s coming.”

“You once told me she’d be broke by now if it weren’t for you helping her plan out some investments,” Amy pointed out.

“Well, there’s that. No one’s perfect.”

“Also, she’s rude and insensitive.”

“Not out of spite. You just have to get to know her.”

Amy continued to look at me quietly for a moment. “You talk a lot about Melissa,” she said at last.

I blinked. Did I really? “Oh. Um, sorry?”

Amy shook her head. “Don’t apologize, it’s just… I don’t know. Never mind.”

Amy pulled away and rose off the bed again. “I should probably get ready to sleep,” she concluded, moving towards her overnight bag. Setting the knife on the side table, she stretched her arms over her head before reaching down to pick her bag up. “Now, no peeking,” she added, teasingly waggling a finger.

“Of course,” I retorted, pressing a hand to my chest and looking indignant as she vanished into the bathroom.

Though, truth be told, I was still a little hung up on Amy’s prior remark. With her out of the room, I used my eidetic memory to flash back to a few of my conversations over the last three weeks. Melissa had, in fact, come up in a lot of them, in one form or another.

Was I really living a life without Melissa? And was that really what I wanted?

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

For a minute, I worried that I had turned into one of those guys who’s always obliviously droning on about his ex-girlfriend. If that was the case, why hadn’t Amy said something sooner? After all, Melissa sure would have said something if… damn it, there she was again.

Amy was right, I couldn’t get her out of my head.

I forced myself to calm down and assess things a bit more rationally. It wasn’t quite as bad as it seemed. Yes, Melissa had come up in conversations, but usually only in passing, in connection to a topic already being discussed. I wasn’t purposefully mentioning her name, or drawing comparisons between the two girls, like an idiot. Melissa had simply been THERE the entire time I was in university.

Consider that game ‘Taboo’, where you have to make a person guess a word without using any of five words associated with it. Not as easy as it sounds. In the same vein, Melissa couldn’t help but be associated with a lot of words in my life. So to speak.

However.

It finally dawned on me that I’d been treating the last few weeks almost like a vacation, like “down time”. But a vacation from what? Was it in the back of my head that I’d be going back to Melissa’s agency?

Also, while I’d been enjoying my time with Amy, I hadn’t felt like she needed me the way Melissa did. Oh sure, I was helping Amy out, but I’m she could just as easily have found someone else to be a bodyguard. Could the same thing be said of the help I gave to Melissa? Because honestly, I didn’t mind helping her with organization or finance. It helped give me purpose, and she was appreciative.

Also, what of the way Melissa had been helping me to see the world?

One other point of comparison flashed into my head then, as Melissa had predicted three weeks ago. For the record, I’m not exactly proud of what I did next. When Amy came out of the bathroom, dressed in her pyjamas, I moved in close… and kissed her.

This wasn’t completely out of left field. We had almost kissed on one prior occasion, a goodnight kiss when dropping her off, and I’d been the one to turn away at the last moment. Which might be why Amy went along with it now, not shoving me or saying “what the hell?” or anything.

No, she simply kissed me back for a second or two before marginally tilting her head away.

“Why James, what prompted that?” she said coyly, slightly raising an eyebrow.

“I…” Words failed me. ‘I wanted to see if I’d enjoy a kiss with you as much as I had with Melissa’ was definitely the wrong thing to say. I wondered if Melissa would have said it anyway. “I wanted to make sure you had pleasant dreams tonight,” I managed.

I think Amy sensed there was more to it than that, but either she didn’t want to confront the issue, or she didn’t want to admit it to herself. Instead, she smiled. “Works for me!” Giving me a quick hug, she then went back over to the desk to pick up the knife, meaning she was facing away from me.

I brushed my fingers against my lips. Had Amy’s kiss been better? Worse? Well, it had been different. And maybe, in the end, that’s what was at the heart of the matter. Did I want new and different, like Amy? Or back to more of the same with Melissa? Not that any of Melissa’s cases could ever truly be called “the same” as another.

“Would you mind holding this until I actually fall asleep, then slipping it into my hand?” Amy requested, turning back and holding the knife out. “I want to minimize the chance that I’ll roll over and accidentally impale myself.”

I latched onto the change of subject. “I wouldn’t mind. But it might be that you have to be holding it when you nod off. I don’t want to be responsible for screwing up the enchantment.”

“Huh. Well, at least hold my hand too, until I’m sleeping then?”

“I… sure,” I agreed after a momentary hesitation. After all, after having kissed, that seemed like a perfectly reasonable request.

Amy got under the covers, with the exception of the arm holding the knife, and I stretched out next to her on top of the sheets, reaching over to clasp the knife along with her, as requested. She then activated it using the trigger word. The knife seemed to glow momentarily.

“Hopefully after tonight, we can put all this supernatural craziness behind us,” the dark haired girl finished with a sigh.

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t answer. Because to hear her say that finally helped me realize that I didn’t WANT to put it behind me.

I didn’t want to go through life doing a mundane job with normal people. I wanted life to be a little adventurous, a little crazy, a little… Melissa. And as far as the romance angle went, sure, Melissa only had two settings. Hot and cold. While Amy, she had layers. But with Melissa, you always knew where you stood.

I then wondered whether a mild form of Stockholm Syndrome could have been involved.

I took more time to turn things around in my head again, as Amy slowly nodded off. But ultimately, I arrived at the point where you entered this story. Looking down at my childhood friend, then at the knife, then towards the window, I realized that Melissa Virga was the one for me. Or at least, that she was the one for me at this point in my life.

At last, I had a pathway forwards.

Noting Amy’s regular breathing, I carefully pulled my hand away from the knife, pulled my phone from my pocket, and texted Melissa that Amy was asleep.

About two seconds later, the motel room door flew open, revealing a freckled redhead, sporting two twintails. She was dressed in a sleeveless collared shirt, which was grey with blue highlights, along with a short skirt and matching stockings. The outfit screamed “schoolgirl”, but while she looked sixteen, I found out later that she wasn’t much younger than I was.

The first words she hissed at me were, “Don’t send Melissa a message.”

***

The redheaded teenager’s voice clicked right away. I realized we’d spoken on the phone once before. “Trixie?” I said uncertainly, and quietly, so as to not wake Amy.

“Duh,” Trixie retorted, her voice similarly muted. “Oh, wait, let me guess, my cousin didn’t mention that the two of us had taken a room at the motel too?”

“No,” I admitted, rising gingerly from the bed to approach. I glanced at our motel room door. “Also, I was sure I’d locked that.”

Trixie made a show of waving her palm in a large arc in front of her. “Hiiiii. Witch. Locked motel door, not a problem, they open for anyone with a ‘key’.”

She paused, then canted her head to the side in a way that I can only describe as being remarkably cute. “So, you’re James. Wow, you’re a LOT more drab in person. Missy is actually terrible at disseminating information. Why did you leave her, exactly?”

“Hey!” I protested. “I didn’t… leave her. Not really. I just needed some time away.”

“Psssh. You don’t hire your cousin to handle your technology if you think your ex-boyfriend is coming back. Not that I care about your relationship, you realize. I simply wish Missy could’ve shut up about you for longer than five minutes.”

That remark caught me off guard. “Mel used to mention me?”

“Duh, she sure did. It’s partly why I was interested in meeting…” Trixie’s voice trailed off and her eyes narrowed. “Are you having second thoughts about her? Oh lordy, you are. C’mon, you’re not THAT plain. You could do SO much better than Missy. Even within the magick community. You know that, right?”

“What?”

“There are witches who do tech, y’know. For example, there’s me! A witch who’s nearly twenty, and who can actually carry on an intelligible conversation on Skype.” She smiled and clasped her hands behind her back, leaning forwards alluringly. “I dress better than Missy too, hmmmm? You like?”

“Uh, yes. I mean, no. I mean, you dress different, but why are you even dressed that way?”

I was a little troubled in the way my eyes responded to her lean by slipping away from her face. I registered only that Trixie probably had the ability to do bikini modelling the way Melissa could model jeans, before forcing my gaze back up. In my defence, I was tired.

“I like keeping people off balance,” Trixie answered, flashing a smile. “Also, if someone’s talking to my chest, they’re not noticing the evil look in my eye.”

I felt like this conversation was going off the rails. “Look, Trixie, why exactly should I not have sent that text to Melissa?” I questioned.

Her eyes widened. “Sent? Past tense sent, as in she’s about to attack the vampyre, sent?”

“Yeah, uh… vampire?”

Trixie strode forwards and smacked the back of my head. “Idiot, when I tell you not to send a message, don’t let me flirt, tell me right AWAY that it’s too late,” she muttered.

She then pulled a small device out of a pocket in her top. It looked sort of like a cellphone with built-in keyboard, as in an old style Blackberry, but it seemed to have a glowing red crystal embedded in it. Trixie began to poke at the buttons with her thumbs.

“Sh-Should I wake Amy up?”

“No, idiot, that just means Missy wouldn’t know what object to destroy. Assuming she even can, given how she’s not expecting to have to fight a vampyre to get to it… you know, maybe I CAN see why you ended up stuck with Melissa for four years. What’s going on in your head, James?”

“Trixie, please back up, when exactly did vampires enter the picture?”

“Vampyres, elongate the i. And they came in about five minutes ago, when I finally clued in as to the nature of the phrase Charlie Halko uses in his .signature file.”

“Okay, so, Charlie’s a vampyre…?”

The redhead continued to tap away. “No, but he’s gained the ability to emulate one. Which is surprisingly unhelpful given the twelve dozen or so vampyre variations there are out there. I’m trying to narrow it down.” She turned her screen briefly to allow me to see it. “See? TV Tropes, Our Vampires Are Different.”

The screen of her device was faintly glowing red, as opposed to blue. My best guess was that the red crystal was giving Trixie internet access via a nearby wifi. Whether she had a password or not.

“I’d better text Melissa again,” I realized.

“Oh sure, because Missy’ll drop everything to read a TEXT,” Trixie said, rolling her eyes in a good imitation of her cousin. She was immediately back to her web surfing. “For that matter, why not just PHONE Missy, alert EVERYONE to how she’s breaking and entering? Man, just when I thought you couldn’t be even more of an idiot.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do?” I demanded, starting to feel panicky but still wanting to keep my voice down. Behind us, Amy let out a little moan and twisted a little in the sheets.

That’s when things got really crazy.

END ACT 1

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Virga: Act 1E

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 1e: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS

The whole investigative process took us about three weeks. The first of those were merely to determine the guy’s online alias (which involved a few false starts, as to begin with we hadn’t even known Amy’s crazed fan was a ‘he’), then there was one additional week for Melissa to pinpoint his location. Though… perhaps I shouldn’t have said ‘us’.

As Melissa had suggested, I spent all that time with Amy, after moving back to my hometown and staying with my parents.

The justification was that I was keeping Amy safe, being a sort of bodyguard, as well as gathering information. Which was partially true – I did get some hints about pieces of dreams, and information about fans who had sent her messages in the past, all of which I relayed on to Melissa.

Yet at the same time, I couldn’t deny that I was also taking the opportunity to see what life would be like without the presence of supernatural investigating. What life would be like without Melissa.

It wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be. On some level, that worried me.

I thought I’d be yearning for Melissa’s arms. Instead, I was realizing that half the time my interactions with her had involved me trying to make sure she had an income, and was functioning in modern society. The other half of the time had been spent trying to figure Mel out – her deductive skills, her thought processes, her romantic preferences, et cetera. For the first time in a long time, I no longer felt like had to concern myself with those things.

I DO grant that part of the trouble there could have been my balancing all of that with university classes as well. We all need some downtime, and I hadn’t had any of that in a long time either. Now I had both downtime, and time away from Melissa.

However, in a related note, I wasn’t seeing supernatural events everywhere, which others were writing off as natural phenomena. And that had been one of my other big concerns. Had Melissa known that I needed to experience this?

Finally, there’s the fact that Amy was kind of fun to be around.

I watched her do one of her online episodes, and helped to lay some of the groundwork for her newsletter. We went on what some might classify as dates, though neither of us admitted to each other that that’s what a dinner out was. (My parents, you might imagine, had no problems with the label.)

I also watched Amy sleep, in what we assured ourselves was a purely professional capacity, to see if there were any clues to be garnered there. There didn’t seem to be. (Note I didn’t actually share her bed, and I tried to behave in as much of a non-creepy way as possible.)

Then, I got the phone call.

“Amy’s stalker creep is Charlie Halko,” the female said on the other end of the line. “Missy wants you to bring Amy to a motel just outside the town where he lives. Within the next two or three days, if possible. I’ll email you the info, it’s not overseas or anything. Alright?”

I stared at my phone. “W-Who is this?”

“Trixie. This is James, yeah?”

“Yes… um, you’re working with Melissa?”

A pause. “O. M. G,” the female said at last. “Four years, FOUR FREAKING YEARS with my cousin, and she NEVER mentioned me?”

I did a quick scan back in my semi-photographic memory. “No…?”

Come to think, Melissa had never mentioned any relatives at all, not that I’d ever asked. But I suppose it stood to reason that someone within her family would have made a good replacement for me.

“Missy is SO going to hear from me about that!” came Trixie’s sharp voice. And she hung up.

I never got the email, instead getting the particulars from Melissa herself, when she called me an hour later. Apparently Trixie had told her to “send James the info your own damn self, he doesn’t know me”. More on Melissa’s cousin later.

Amy and I met up with Melissa Virga two days following, at the motel she had recommended.

***

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

“So here’s the thing,” Melissa said, pacing back and forth in front of the motel room window. (I’d drawn the curtains, of course, so no one could see us. For all I knew, this Halko guy had magical means of knowing Amy was in town, and was looking for her.) “Charlie must be using some kind of item to control the Somnibulus. Problem: I’m going to have no way of identifying what that object might be, and defusing it, unless it’s active.”

“So you need me to fall asleep,” Amy deduced. She was sitting in the only chair in the room, at the desk near the television. I was sitting on a corner of the bed.

Melissa made a little gesture, indicating agreement. “You released a new episode two days ago, and James told me that you’ve had the most difficulty getting a restful sleep in the days after a publication. Plus it’s now Friday night, a good time for Charlie to stay up, so you’re liable to be targeted. Which brings me to our next problem: To have the Somnibulus demon release you of his own free will, we need to make your dreams less hospitable to him.”

I blinked and exchanged a glance with Amy. “How do we do that?”

“Lucid dreaming,” Melissa clarified. “That is, becoming aware of the fact that you’re in a dream, and taking control of it. It’s the best way. Somnibuli hate that, they basically become at your mercy rather than the other way around.”

“I’ve heard of the concept,” Amy agreed. “But I have no idea how to do it.”

“Oh, I figured as much,” Melissa said offhandedly. She finished her most recent bout of pacing over by a small bag she’d brought with her, reaching in and pulling out an ornamental knife. “That’s why I’ve enchanted this object to act as a focus. Upon seeing it in your dream, you should realize the truth of your situation and be able to act as you like.”

Amy’s eyes went a little wider. “Okay… one, what guarantee do I have that your focus will show up in my dream at all, and second, why a KNIFE of all things?”

I found myself answering. “It makes sense that if you go to bed holding it, the enchantment will take effect, bringing it into the dream with you. As to the object itself, either the knife was particularly easy to enchant, or Melissa was considering the need for self defence. Or a combination of the two.”

“That’s pretty accurate, well done,” Melissa said, lightly tapping the fingers of one hand against her other palm in light applause. “You haven’t lost your edge.”

“No, wait, hold on,” Amy protested. “Are you saying I’m actually going to have to FIGHT this demon thing??”

“Doubtful, but you may need to bare your teeth a little, yes.” Melissa extended the hand holding the knife.

Amy continued to look at it a bit nervously. “Okay, no, wait, I need a moment here,” Amy said at last, sliding out of her chair and away from Melissa’s arm. “Why didn’t you warn me it was going to come down to this three weeks ago when you first diagnosed the problem? Isn’t there some other way to handle these demons?”

“No. And I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to risk your dream reactions tipping the demon off, otherwise Charlie might have shifted his target to someone else. Making it impossible for me to locate this fan and solve this problem,” Melissa said, her tone casually dismissive. “Besides, it’s not like you could have prepared.”

Amy made a face. “You don’t know that. Also, I’m not good with knives. What if the demon takes it, or otherwise manages to get control of the dream away from me?”

Melissa sighed. “I don’t know, but according to James, the demon hasn’t been giving you images of anguish and torture to this point. Why would he start now?”

“Because now I’d be actually trying to annoy him!” Amy pointed out. She shuddered, wrapping her arms around herself, and it was again obvious to me that she hadn’t been kidding about getting flustered by the unexpected. “I’m not sure I’ll even be able to fall asleep at this rate.”

Melissa now let out a sound of exasperation, while rolling her eyes. “Well, I’m sorry this doesn’t fit in with your world view. But look, James will be staying here with you! Right? The way he has been for the last several weeks, to keep you out of danger, and to wake you up if necessary. All better?”

Both girls turned to look at me at that point. Amy’s expression was almost pitying, as if it was dawning on her that Melissa really was a heck of a roommate to have had for four years. Melissa’s expression… was, as always, harder to read, but it seemed almost… wistful? Could it be that she’d hoped to bring me along with her to Halko’s?

I decided I was merely seeing what I wanted to see.

“No, not all better, but with James here, I suppose there’s a better chance of me enjoying myself tonight,” Amy said after a moment. Her tone now struck me as petty, but again, might have been imagining it.

I also nodded agreement, though I’d kind of expected that I’d end up staying behind anyway. So I wasn’t upset with Melissa having volunteered this duty on me. Heck, it would hardly have been the first time she did something like that, usually my own safety being part of the equation.

“Just one more thing though,” Amy said, finally taking the knife and holding it gingerly. “Is it true that if you die in a dream, you die in real life?”

Melissa merely rolled her eyes again before looking at me. Which, I must point out, wasn’t a denial.

“James, to activate the talisman, just have Amy say ‘Incipio’,” Melissa said. “Oh, and send me one of those text things once your friend’s fully asleep. That way I’ll know it’s time to break into Charlie’s apartment. Got it? Good.”

She headed out before waiting for a response, though I suppose my not protesting or calling her back was response enough.

With that, I turned my attention back to my former schoolmate. “Let’s focus on positive thinking at this point,” I suggested, knowing Melissa had utterly failed to address Amy’s concerns. “From what I’ve read about the Somnibuli, this guy will take one look at the knife and run. No problem.”

I managed a smile, and she smiled back.

“Thanks, James.” Amy then glanced idly about the room, as I stood and went to lock the door for an added show of security. “You know, in under a month we’ve progressed from dinner to checking into a motel together,” she said. “At this rate, people will talk.”

The thought hadn’t even occurred to me. “Uh, yeah. Guess it’s a good thing you’re not famous enough yet to have paparazzi?” I fired back. Then, seeing her smile vanish, I back-pedalled. “Sorry, that sounded better in my head.”

Amy shook her head. “Oh, it’s not that, it’s just… well, I suppose in a way it is that.” She stood herself, moving to the bed and curling her legs up. I rejoined her, again sitting on the edge.

“It seems to be a human thing,” she continued. “To want to be popular, to want to have our fifteen minutes of fame, huh? Yet now here I am, a borderline celebrity, and look where it’s got me. Attacked by a crazed fan with a pet demon.” She shook her head. “And if I get any more popular, I may not have a life of my own to look forward to… or not a private one, anyway. Do you think people would be trying to dredge up gossip on me?”

“Uh, I don’t know.” I tried to think of something cheery to say. “At least you’re not an author, like me. We’re pretty much disregarded, barring the off chance of a story being turned into a movie or a television serial.”

“James…”

Making light of the situation obviously wasn’t helping. “Sorry,” I said again, this time reaching out to put my arm around Amy’s shoulders. She leaned into me. “You don’t have to keep doing your lamp reviews, you know,” I pointed out.

“Oh, I know,” Amy sighed. “But I enjoy it And I don’t want to disappoint the few fans I have. Of course, being a part time waitress to help pay for it, that I can do without. Maybe I should have aimed for better than a three year degree.” She shook her head. “I guess my life just isn’t going quite how I pictured it would.”

“Life never does,” I granted. “Unless you’re Melissa.”

Amy turned to look at me, her expression hinting at a frown. “What?”

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