Chapter 10: Shahin
Shotgun opera, lock and load

Dr. Regine's aide-de-camp was blocking the doorway when Shahin, Yngvi, and Aelgifu came to the auditorium for the dance, although the Director herself was nowhere to be seen. His back to the hallway, he seemed oblivious to those behind him, even when Yngvi lightly cleared his throat, so Shahin set her hand on his shoulder to get his attention -

- and got hit with a miniature storm, a five-second rush of hot wind and electricity like late-August lightning that threatened to knock her off of her feet.

He turned towards her, an unguarded look on his face that scraped her nerves, although she couldn't understand it, a look that seemed one moment to be pleasure and the next to be fear, and then, as he looked at her gloved fingers on his shoulder, the look was gone entirely, replaced with one she couldn't read at all... and she found herself wanting that first look back, the naked one.

Her skin felt warm and prickly with goosebumps, as his gaze traveled up her hand to her arm, and from there to her face, but she managed to make a polite "Pardon me" come out without incident. With care, she moved her hand from his shoulder, and the heat vanished suddenly, so quickly that she shivered - and so did he, the little involuntary spasm going through his entire body.

"No pardon is needed," he said, with a small but visible effort to pull himself together, as he turned to gesture into the Hall, his half-bow making it so they'd have to walk right past him to enter.

She smirked lightly at him, the tiniest twitch of her lips upward, and walked slowly past him, letting him get his fill of her while she looked him up and down... and, though she and her friends had dressed to the nines for tonight, it was possible she got the better end of the deal, still.

He was beautiful. In his normal place behind Doctor Regine, he seemed to fade into the background; here, alone, he shone. His black jacket and crisp white shirt served by contrast to add colour to his fair skin and dark hair; his high cheekbones and puckish smile lent a fae cast to his features that was almost edible. The hint of tattoos peeking out from under his shirt made her want to push the shirt aside to see the rest...

Yngvi cleared his throat again, and Shahin realized that she had paused, staring at the man. She let her smile grow a tad wider, meeting his eyes and making sure her face was nothing but amused, and continued into the hall.

They made quite an image themselves, she knew. When it had become clear how much Aelgifu hated being on display at dances - nearly as much as Shahin relished it - and had been equally clear that she insisted on coming "to see what happened," Shahin had come up with a plan.

Now, stepping into the Hall, she was flanked by two handsome blond boys, Yngvi to her right and a very carefully dressed Aelgifu to her left. Yngvi had turned out to have a flair for fashion, and with some work and judicious use of an ace bandage, Ayla looked like Vee's longer-haired mirror image.

To their golden-sunny brightness, Shahin was a nighttime shadow, her black dress backless and Grecian-inspired, falling in graceful lines to the high-heeled sandals that, like the dress, gave the tiniest nod to Greek influence. Her only jewelry was a silver bracelet over one black fingerless glove, and her hair fell out of its updo in long ringlets. She knew she looked properly cold and dark without looking as if she were trying too hard to be different - obviously wasted effort in this place.

They drew looks. Her friends were gorgeous, and she'd spent two hours putting every stitch in place on her own outfit. Shahin schooled her face to a polite, non-committal near-smile, and let her gaze sweep the room.

As with meals, the older students - now so much more easy to pick out - cliqued up in groups of four or five, while the newer students milled uncomfortably, a few seeming to get gathered in to the cliques.

The Hall itself wasn't even decorated, and no music was playing yet, although a DJ was set up on the stage, a boy looking entirely normal and forgettable and human.

He looked back at Shahin, catching her look at him, and something in his eyes - they were without pupil or white, entirely a bright kelly green - drew her in, sucked her in until all she could see was his eyes, was a world of green.

She stumbled, and reached out both hands blindly for support. Yngvi on her left and Aelgifu on her right caught her hands and held her steady, and she managed to pull her gaze away from the green black hole of the DJ's eyes. She turned to Yngvi to offer a grateful look, still holding tightly to both hands.

The lights went out.

Somewhere behind them, someone screamed, high-pitched and startled.

A low bass beat began to throb, seeming to come from all around them, shaking the floor.

A single dim, red light flickered on, illuminating the DJ's stand, where a creature from Hell stood where the green-eyed boy had been a moment before. Huge horns twisted back from his head, and leathery wings moved as if in a lazy breeze; his skin, in the red light, looked black and slick, and his hair was sleeked back against his head, his goatee long and braided; his eyes were the same radioactive green. He was naked to the waist, and leering at the crowd.

Behind Shahin, more screams cut the air, as the creature grabbed the mike in front of him.

"Welcome..." His voice was a low hiss, his grin full of sharp, sharp teeth. He was eating this up, the moans of the crowd, their fear and awe. Lucky man.

" the Underworld!" He threw a giant knife-switch next to his turntable, and the music roared to life, angry guitar chords cutting across screams of the crowd.

Slowly, to the heavy, pounding beat of the music, lights flickered on, a few in the ceiling, a few footlamps along the edges of the floor.

As the music reached its way into the deep places of her mind, quieting the demons the way it always had at home, Shahin relaxed, slowly letting go of her friends' hands to look around, her body beginning to move to the music.

The Hall had changed. Not just the lighting and the heavy, angry music, but the walls themselves had rearranged, pulling closer in places while the ceiling rose higher. Thin moonlight shone down on the DJ from high clerestory windows, and the central room opened into a maze of small rooms and alcoves.

To the far side of the hall, a girl with six arms stood behind a bar, pouring drinks for the gathering crowd. She, Shahin noticed, was wearing a collar, smooth and silver with a single ring hanging from it; all six of her wrists bore bracelets to match, the rings rattling as she poured, reflecting light wildly across the room. Her magenta hair, the same shade as her small halter top, was pulled tightly into a bun at the top of her head, pierced with two sharp needles of steel.

At the center of the bar, a red-lit black ponytail caught her eye. She took an involuntary step closer to the bar, and stopped herself, her heels seeming loud on the hardwood floor even over the music.

He turned, as if on cue, and caught her eye, his own eyes flaring crimson. Emrys. His lip curled up in a knowing smile as he met her eyes, and a cold breeze made its way down her back. Still, she smiled back at him, all polite ice, and sketched the tiniest suggestion of a curtsey.

He responded with a wider smirk and an obvious look up and down her, and turned back to the bar, turning his back on her.

"That... man!" Shahin muttered under her breath. She turned to see how Aelgifu was doing, to see her friend smirking at her; Ayla tried and failed to get the smile under control.

"I’m sorry, Shahin," she said, chuckling softly. "It’s just kind of cute. Both of you trying so hard to be tough and aloof about the whole thing – and you’re both just falling head over heels."

Shahin frowned. "I am not ‘falling head over heels’ for that… that jerkwad!" She glared at Aelgifu, then turned her glare on Yngvi, who was trying with slightly more luck than Ayla to hide his smirk, but their mirth was really too much to try to out-glare, and finally she slumped, chuckling a little. "All right," she said, giggling a little, "’jerkwad’ was a little silly. And he is... kind of tempting, isn’t he?"

"Not my type," Aelgifu said, straight-faced and serious again, "but it’s pretty clear he’s yours. Even if he is a little brutish."

Shahin frowned lightly. "Does it show that badly?" She thought she’d had a better check on her emotions than that.

"Just to us," Yngvi said gently. "He’s too full of himself to see what you’re feeling."

"Shhh," Ayla scolded, "he’s coming over here!" Shahin turned, faster than she wanted, to look, and Emrys was indeed making his way through the crowd towards them, carrying a tall frosty glass in each hand, one full of something clear, the other a strange minty green. His gaze was on the glasses, so he didn’t see them looking at him.

"He is rather handsome," Yngvi allowed; Shahin spared him a glance to see if he was joking, but he appeared straight-faced.

"If you like the sort," Aelgifu agreed, but then Emrys had made his way past a girl determined to show off her 6-foot-wingspan butterfly wings to their best advantage, and was in front of them.

"Come on, Ayla," Yngvi said, a hand on her shoulder to steer her. "Let's investigate the drinks." He directed her towards the bar over her murmured protests, leaving Shahin alone in front of a smirking - although the smirk looked the tiniest bit strained - Emrys.

Before he could say something clever and superior, she gave him a bright, pleasant smile, and raised an eyebrow at the drinks he carried. "For me?" The aw, how sweet was unspoken, but it still hung in the air between them.

She saw a scowl trying to overtake his smirk, but he managed to continue smiling, albeit with a bit of a snarl to the curve of his lips. "For you," he agreed. His voice wasn't as smooth as Ambrus', but there was something pleasantly gravelly about it. He held out the mint-green drink to her. "No collar tonight?"

She was not going to blush, damnit. "No collar," she agreed smoothly; "I didn't want to send the wrong message." She reached out to take the glass from him. Her fingers brushed his as he passed it to her, and she nearly lost all poise as a wave of warm air, furnace-hot, brushed over her, carrying the scents of a hot summer day with it.

She brought the glass to her face to mask her expression, sniffing lightly at the green drink, watching his face. He, it seemed, was as taken aback as she was, and with less skill at hiding it than she had. "What the fuck?"

She tilted her head, doing her best to look innocent, and took a small sip of the drink. Minty, creamy, with just the slightest hint of an alcoholic burn. "What?" she asked, both to maintain the upper hand and because she really wanted to know.

He took a long swig of his drink, eyeing her suspiciously. "When we touched..."

She shifted her drink to her left hand, and held out her right hand, palm-up. Still eying her with some distrust, he rested his hand on top of hers, gingerly, fingertips to palm and palm to fingertips.

It was not the wooosh the first touch had been, but rather a slow growth of feeling, a warmth, at first pleasant, and then overbearing, until her fingertips felt as if they were on fire.

They broke at the same moment, pulling their hands back, she to wrap hers around her icy glass, he rubbing his hand against his pants as if to clean something off. "Like ice," he muttered, then glared at her. "What the hell was that?"

His eyes were glowing red, and his glower was furious. She should have been afraid, she realized, but, instead, she felt a bit of cool glee; he was scared. "I don't know," she admitted calmly, and was rewarded by the spark in his eyes flaring and a pleasantly startled expression on his face. "It never happened before I came to Addergoole, and it only happens here very rarely." Only with him and one other person, so far.

"Maybe it’s a sign," he smirked, clearly recovered from his surprise.

"A sign?" She layered all the doubt she could into those two words, and sipped her drink again as he laughed.

"You know." A deep swig of his drink. "You, me, stars aligned, the very elements singing in our favor, that sort of thing."

"Ah. Destiny." A light sip of her drink to give her a moment’s pause, because the idea did have its draw. "Do you really think –" careful, she didn’t actually want to insult him here – "we’re compatible?"

"All the better if we’re not," he grinned back. "Fire and ice, water and oil, star-crossed lovers..." he drew out the last word like it tasted rich and delicious on his tongue, and then chased it with another quaff from his drink.

She laughed, light and pleasant, though she could taste it on her tongue as well, far richer than her drink. "Don’t you think you’re getting a little ahead of yourself?"

"I'd rather get behind you." His voice was deep and husky now, full of promise. Too self-assured.

"And what if I don't like being manhandled?" she asked him archly, hoping to knock him down a peg or two.

It didn't work; he only grinned all the wider. "And what if you do like it?"

And what if she did, indeed. Yngvi and Aelgifu were heading back towards her, giving her an easy out. She didn't want to give him the upper hand by fleeing again, though.

And what if she did want him to win?

She smiled at him, all cheerful dissimulation, giving away nothing.

"And what if I do?" She raised an eyebrow, making it a challenge, and walked away.


Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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