It looks human: all the clever monsters either do that or are human in the first place. Rotund, balding man in a tweed suit with thick glasses, sweat-stained armpits and a beard and moustache that almost covered the lack of a nose and rows of teeth that weren't human at all. I've seen monsters do many things over the years, but teaching elementary school hadn't been one until today. I half-wonder if it feels at home with children, seeing them as kin.
It looks up as I walk into the classroom and smiles wanly, teeth hidden behind lips. "Can I help you?" in an accent no one would be able to precisely place at all. "The parent-teacher interviews were last night, but I can make an exception."
"I imagine you can." It pauses at something in my voice. "May I ask where you got your teaching certificate from if not from the Unseemly School?"
The monster ceases putting papers into a brown briefcase, hands trembling. I've never been to the School but I know it exists: some creatures who watch us from Outside get fascinated with humanity in non-lethal ways and the school teaches them how to fit in. I figure I can sleep better at night without knowing who or what the teachers of it are.
"Your internet allows many things. I wished to learn from a place without agendas," it says, phrasing the word carefully. "You are all so different, burn with so many colours. Just as stars all sing different notes, so you."
I let out a breath. "And you eat what?"
"Small rodents. Mice. A deer once a month. For meat."
"And no humans? Not even small, juicy ones?"
It straightens a little. "No." It weaves no power into its words, doing the opposite: The truth, a desperate hunger to understands, bursts forth. It is/not a flower, too big to see, almost too much to feel. Somewhere there is a city of glass and butterfly wings that isn't a city at all and is too full to be so empty.
I make a sound and it falls back inward, still holding a human seeming. For something from Outside to imprint that firmly on the world takes terrible power and risk both. "You're here enough to bleed."
A nod. "Some day I hope to dream, if the children can show the way."
"Okay. Okay." I hold out my right hand. "I bind you," I said, and it goes terribly still. "I bind you to your word given now and against unbinding."
It blinks, the hint of something Other in its eyes fading, then reaches and shakes my hand clumsily. "You surprise me, magician."
"Sometimes I surprise myself too."
I walk out the back entrance and wrap trees and nature and birdsong about myself. It leaves an hour later, not seeing me. I wait another hour before I speak wards to earth and stone, enjoining them to watch and guard. I can trust, but only to a point. I let out a breath after, tired and sore, and walk away slowly, keeping my seeming about me.
I pass it a handful of minutes later watching the school from behind protections of its own. Layers of unreality shimmer to my gaze. I continue, not looking over, and am not certain if it does me the same favour in turn.