Chapter 7: ShahinDiscuss
And no more gods
"You have a lot of clothes."
Aelgifu was looking through Shahin's closet while Shahin got changed for dinner, Yngvi having begged off with an excuse of homework.
"I do. I made most of them myself, too," she admitted shyly.
"Really? Wow!" She studied the pinstriped skirt in her hands. "It looks really good."
"It's the only way to get the look I..."
The deep, hollow sound of a giant door slamming closed stopped her mid-sentence. The path behind her was irrevocably gone. There was no going back. She sat down abruptly as vertigo overcame her, the sensation of spiraling downwards into a deep, deep cavern.
"Shahin?" Aelgifu's voice was concerned, so she forced herself to look up at the other girl –
- only to find her friend surrounded in a nimbus of burning golden light. She blinked, trying to clear her vision. The nimbus faded, but looking down at her was the most glorious, golden, entirely sexless angel heaven had ever sent, and she, Shahin, was standing in the fire but unburnt, the black-and-purple flames dancing around her but ice-cold.
Always ice-cold, no matter how hot the passion. She gasped, the pain suddenly too much to bear. Was she doomed?
"'Sheen?" Aelgifu's hands on her shoulders brought her back to herself, and she looked up cautiously at her friend. The blonde girl looked humanly pretty, and the golden light, the black fire, were gone. "Are you okay?"
Was she? She took a few very carefully measured breaths. "Yeah. Yeah, thanks, Ayla. I..." She shook her head. "I'm fine."
"If you say so." Her look was doubtful, but she didn't push the point, instead simply offering Shahin a hand up. "You should probably finish changing before dinner."
She looked down at herself, still half in her gym clothes, and smirked wryly. "You may have a point." She dressed hurriedly, glancing at the clock as she did so. Five minutes until dinner. She tugged off her sweaty wrist-warmers and pulled on a new pair with her back turned to Aelgifu, made a passing effort at her hair, and posed. "Good?"
"Good." There was something shadowed in the girl's eyes, as there seemed to be more and more, but she smile she gave was genuine. "You look understatedly elegant."
"Thanks." She couldn't help the shy, dorky little smile that seemed to want to take over her face for a moment, so she focused on straightening the line of the lace pattern on her wristies. "Ready to go?"
"Waiting for you, as always," she teased. "Let's go."
Yngvi had saved them what had become "their table" in the dining hall, along with Melchior and Nikolai from their Trig class. Shahin smirked at him as they walked in.
He nodded unrepentantly. "We're working on Trig. Melchior knows most of this stuff already."
"Only because this is my second time taking the class."
"Really?" They had arranged themselves in a V shape at the table, so she sat down between Melchior and Nikolai, letting Aelgifu sit next to Yngvi.
Melchior nodded. "I'm just not very good at math," he shrugged. "I like history a lot better."
Whatever thought Shahin had in response to that was lost in a sudden stomach-twisting vertigo as Doctor Regine swept into the dining hall, followed close behind by the gorgeous Middle Eastern boy that seemed to be her constant companion. In a flicker of not-vision, she saw a long ephemeral train flowing behind the school's director.
The room fell silent, every student and teacher turning to watch Doctor Regine and her escort proceed down the wide aisle between the tables. At the front of the room, she turned, and smiled at the gathered group.
"First, the important news. As we have done every year so far, we will be hosting a small dance – a ‘club night,' if you will – in the meeting hall every second Saturday night from eight until midnight. If you believe you don't have the wardrobe you need for such, our school store has a wide selection of clothing, and your parents have deposited money into your school accounts."
A few cheers went up from some of the older students. Shahin wrenched her gaze away from the Director to glance at Aelgifu, who was looking wan and stunned. She couldn't understand why the perfectly blonde and good-looking girl had such an issue with school social events, but something had to be done. She reached across the table and squeezed her friend's hand.
Aelgifu looked as if she was going to say something, but Regine continued speaking, and the girl's mouth snapped shut.
"As I told you all on your first day here, Addergoole is an experimental school, and, as such, there will be a number of things that will seem very strange to you. Now that you've had a chance to settle in, things will be getting progressively stranger over the next week or two. Please be patient, and try not to let anything you see or hear alarm you."
Behind Shahin, a door closed very quietly. Two footsteps nearly echoed in the silence of the room.
"Fifth Cohort, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask a teacher or a member of staff, but the students of the first four Cohorts have been through all of this already, and I encourage you to talk to them about anything out of the ordinary you may see or experience."
There were no more footsteps, and Regine did not seem to acknowledge the new presence in the room. Curious, Shahin turned to look behind her.
"By the end of next week," Regine continued, "we will be assigning Mentors to each of you."
Luke stood in the doorway, leaning against the heavy wooden doors nonchalantly. He looked much the same as he always did – maybe a little taller – except that massive wings stretched out from his back across the wall, completely blocking the doorway.
"If there is a teacher or staff member you feel a particular rapport with, please talk to them before the end of classes on Thursday."
The wings, bat wings, really, were a deep, mottled indigo blue at the top edge and near his back, fading to a light slate grey at the outer edges and the bottom. Were they real?
"Otherwise, we will attempt to assign based on your interests and talents."
Luke caught her eye and, very deliberately, winked. The wings folded in against his body as he stepped away from the door, half-turning so that she could see the way they joined to his back. Yes, they were definitely real. How had she missed those?
"That is all for today. Please enjoy your dinner. We will see you at the dance tomorrow night."
With a pop like a rubber band snapping, the silence in the room broke. Shahin realized she was still holding Aelgifu's hand, so she squeezed it lightly again. Her friend looked at her with the same sick, horrified look.
There was a man with giant bat wings standing behind her, but suddenly Aelfigu's upset entirely trumped Luke's appendages. "Ayla... what's wrong?" she whispered.
"I hate it. I hate dances. They're just these glorified meat markets, with everyone staring at you."
"Well, yeah..." she frowned. "Ayla, you're lovely."
"I know," she wailed. "Sometimes I wish I was ugly! Sometimes I wish someone said, ‘Aelgifu, you're brilliant,' or ‘talented' or anything! Even ‘interesting!'"
"'Interesting' is a two-edged sword," Shahin answered dryly. "Usually it just means ‘weird.'"
"'Weird' is at least something you did," Ayla wailed. "Something you decided to be! It's not just good genetics and a tan! It has something to do with who you actually are!"
"Well, maybe." Anxiety disorders were inherited, after all, although her mom had always blamed her unknown sperm-donor father. "Look, you don't have to go. It's not a class."
"You're going, though, aren't you?" she sniffled.
"Well, probably, yeah." Although she was beginning to understand why she hadn't been able to get a rise out of people here.
"Well, it's going to be pretty lonely just hanging out in... Shahin. Luke has wings." In the course of her nervous chattering, she had been looking around, while Shahin had deliberately not been. Now, Shahin kept her eyes on Aelgifu.
"I know. They're... kind of pretty, aren't they?" She couldn't quite manage nonchalant apathy in the face of her friend's expression of terrified awe.
"Wow..." She gulped. "Yeah, yeah, they are. I guess this is what Doctor Regine meant by 'strange things,' hunh?"
"I'd guess so, yeah." She looked around slowly. Luke's was the only set of wings in the room, but she caught sight of a set of cute little horns on one of the older students, and a tail on another one. And – her eyes sought out Emrys without really consulting her brain. He looked much the same, although there was something strange about his eyes that she couldn't quite place
He caught her looking at him, and grinned. His eyes were red, that was the problem, a deep blood red. He held up one hand, flat-palmed, so that she could see it. His grin grew wider, a little wickeder, and the red in his eyes flared to life, as a small flame flickered into life and rose, reaching for the ceiling, from the palm of his hand.
"Oh. Wow." It took Herculean effort to keep her face a mask of polite disinterest, with one eyebrow raised, but Emrys didn't seem to appreciate her effort. He simply grinned a little more wickedly and bowed, a short little gesture that somehow also vanished the flames.
"Yeah," Aelgifu murmured as Shahin turned back to her. "Yeah, you're going to the dance."
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