Malachi sat huddled in the corner, knees pulled up to his chest and arms crossed in front of his face. Muddled purple and red skin crept out from under his sleeves, signs of the onslaught he had received. I was selfishly glad that was all of the bruising I could see.
Malachi sat rigid until I pushed through the last door and entered the cell itself. My gut twisted at the sight of his swollen, mottled eye, and the angry cut that crowned it. He only looked at me for a second before turning away.
“I’m surprised you made it back down here.” His voice was rough and gravelly, tinted with misery.
“Listen, we need to talk.” It seemed much too mundane of a sentence for the circumstances.
“Yeah, sure we do.” He growled. I couldn’t imagine I was about to make him any happier.
“What are you?”
He just grunted.
“Malachi, I need to know! I want to help, and to do that I have to know what’s really going on. I can’t just sorta know.” I started pacing. “My father said something about dream guardians. Is that what you are?”
The hatred in his eyes hit like a physical blow, pushing me back against the wall. After a second it faded, fighting with self-control and understanding.
“Malachi, please. I’m a part of this now. How am I supposed to help if I know less than my father does?”
“Then ask him.”
“I’m asking you.” I crept over to his corner, hesitantly crouching beside him. Tiny lacerations smattered across his upper arms became apparent, and I had to resist the urge to touch them. I opted for setting a hand gently on his shoulder. “Please.”
His chest rose and fell with a deep breath, followed by the unfolding of his arms and legs. I slide to a seat beside him.
“Yeah, that’s what some people would call me. A dream guardian, or a dream traveler. Sometimes a wraith, although true wraiths are much different. I can move between people’s dream. I can see the dreams people are having, change them. Sometimes I stop nightmares, usually I just wander.”
“So you just watch people in their dreams, like movies.”
“A 3D movie. I can move around, either without actually being present, or as my physical self.”
“Did you… did you visit my dreams?”
“I’ve been watching yours as long as I’ve been here. It was a lot harder while I was drugged, I had less control, but I could do it. At first I didn’t realize why you weren’t sleeping in the middle of the night, but after I woke up and saw you, I put the pieces together.” He shifted, holding his left arm across his chest gingerly.
“The night after my dad found us, I dreamed I was sinking into mud, and you pulled me free…”
“That was me.”
“Oh.” I couldn’t help the blush that rose to my cheeks. I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d stumbled into some of my more private dreams. “But what does any of this have to do with what my father’s doing to you?” The cuts on his arms—no doubt from the cuffs—caught my attention again.
“I store energy. That how I can do what I do; I soak up energy and use it to travel and effect dreams.”
“And He wants to harness it,” I concluded.
“What’s better than a clean power source that only needs a meager amount of food and a bit of persuasion, right?”
“Get rid of the pity. If you want to help you’re going to have to be willing to face it head on.” He said forcefully, staring me dead in the eyes.
“Well, come on, let’s just go.” I climbed to my feet and started towards the door. I stopped at the sound of his laughter.
“If just unlocking all of the doors would have worked, I would be long gone by now.”
My cheeks started to burn with embarrassment. “Why not?”
He twisted around and pulled the neck of his tee shirt down over his shoulder, exposing more mottled flesh and a rectangle of enflamed, raised skin. “That’s a GPS tracking chip. They’d know anywhere I’d be able to run. And a press of a button causes the little delight to release a neurotoxin strong enough to kill me within the minute.”
“Oh,” I offered weakly. “I didn’t know…” I sheepishly took a seat. I wondered if naïveté would ever leave me. “Do you watch other’s dreams, like my father’s?”
“At first. He’s a twisted man. I got sick of watching him fantasize about turning me into a soulless lab rat.”
“I watch your cook’s too. She worries about you a lot.”
“I know.” I felt guilty for distressing her, and I know it spilled over into my voice. “She doesn’t understand what’s going on. She thinks I should apologize to my father.”
“Maybe you should,” Malachi offered blatantly.
“What?” I stared back at him, desperately trying to read anything from his face.
“Do you really want to help?”
“Then working with your father if probably the best thing you can do.”
“You can’t mean that.”
“If you oppose him he’ll lock you out. He thinks you’re a nuisance, but something that can be handled. If it seems like you are being handled, he’ll let you in. Then you’ll have a better chance of being able to help.”
I’d always known that my father didn’t understand me, but it hurt to hear that he thought of me as nothing more than a problem to be dealt with. But the pain was quickly overridden by disgust.
“I’m not going to help them hurt you!” I cried.
“Don’t worry, they do it well enough all by themselves.” I squirmed at the thought. “But if you seem like a team member, you’ll get more chances to ruin what they’re doing.”
“How do you know they’ll trust me?” I countered weakly
“I can read them.”
“Dreams are housed in the subconscious. The subconscious doesn’t disappear when a person wakes, just quiets. I can read that. They’ll believe you. If you can seem genuine. Tristan already believes no one can resist him, so he won’t be hard to fool, and your father will see it as one less problem to deal with.” He shrugged, like he was discussing the weather, not carefully calculating my double cross.
“I don’t know if I can…” I whispered.
“You have the easy job.”
I tried to avoid Drew’s gaze as I slipped back into the lab proper and towards the exit. I fumbled with my security card, wasting time at the stairway door.
“Scarlett,” Drew bemoaned. I stiffened, forcing myself not to turn around. “I really am sorry… I am.”