Chapter 127: Shahin

The dark sorceress really was a good look on her, Shahin mused as she studied herself in the hotel room’s full-length mirror. As it was properly Halloween now, they were all changing back into their costumes for a night out on this small town. Some of the students made noises about trick-or-treating being kid stuff, but everyone agreed that getting out in the fresh air after the all-day bus ride was a good plan. It had been Valentina’s plan, in fact; the dryad-like woman was accompanying her cy’ree as a chaperone of sorts, and another woman named DJ was riding herd on the other group. Doug was the only other adult in their party; he was ostensibly their driver, although Shahin thought it obvious that he was the group’s real leader.

He had ushered them all onto the bus at eight o’clock, an ungodly hour for a Sunday morning, and the ensuing hours were an endless blur of corn and soybeans, until they pulled into this quiet village to find food and lodging.

The food had been tolerable, the lodging decent – the rooms at Addergoole were better, and they were bunking two to a room – and everyone was glad to be off the bus for a little while. Shahin, who was trying not to think about Emrys and mostly failing, distracted herself by focusing on her roommate instead.

Callista was dressed as Kali, with a garland of small skulls around her neck and an array of swords and sabres ready at hand. She cut a decidedly disturbing figure, the six-armed incarnation of the death goddess showing a glimpse of what might have been, had her circumstances been otherwise.

“Nice,” Shahin murmured appreciatively. “That’s a good look on you.”

“Thank you,” the emaciated girl mumbled, shifting her stance to pose a bit more in the thin strips of faux - that was faux, right? - tigerskin that passed for her actual clothing.

“Shall we go shock and awe, then?” Shahin quipped, trying to cover her discomfort. She wanted to hug the girl, but with that much hardware, it seemed unwise.

“Alright,” Callista nodded with a faint smile. She hesitated a moment, then spoke again, uncertainly, as if fearing rebuke. “It’s nice to not have to pretend, for a day.”

“It is,” she agreed. She held the door open for the other girl, worrying already about her. “Although I suppose I have less to hide.”

Callista only nodded again, her conversational skills apparently exhausted, as they made their way to the lobby. A ragtag collection of costumed - and somewhat uncostumed, as Callista was - students awaited them.

Shahin gravitated towards Kailani, dressed in a Dorothy Gale that seemed a bit adult for the story. She was hiding uncertainly behind a Tin Man Taro; of everyone here, she and Nydia were the only ones un-Changed. “Is everything all right, Kai?” she murmured. The girl had seemed okay on the bus – better than many of them, staring with apparent interest at the endless fields of grain and chatting with whoever would listen about their destinations.

“Oh, yes, I’m fine, Shahin,” Kailani replied. “It’s just a little odd, wearing these costumes without our other halves.”

Shahin winced. “It is,” she admitted. Other halves. How stunningly, painfully accurate. “At least you have Taro here?”

“I’m a prop now?” Taro grumped, but it seemed to be a good-natured sort of complaint.

“Well, you are just tin,” Kai smiled. “It looks like everyone’s here now, though; are we ready to go out?”

Now that she was engaged in conversation, Kailani was covering her nervousness with a bustling, jovial energy; Shahin had seen it enough times to recognize it instantly on the transparent girl. It wasn’t, as defense mechanisms went, the worst one, but Shahin wondered why she was so anxious.

She stuck close to her friend as they headed out onto the small-town streets, their proctors hanging behind discreetly. They were quite the little gaggle of girls, she noted, with Carter, Nikolai, and Taro the only male students that had come along. Nick, if she recalled correctly, had a girlfriend, and Taro, it seemed, had Mea, but Carter…?

He associated primarily with Abe and Lydia, she recalled, and they were clearly a couple, so he was probably single. She wondered for a moment if he just hadn’t found anyone, or if his prior experience had turned him off completely.

And if it had, what was he going to do? This damn school. She wrinkled her nose in anger. Poor Ayla, who didn’t want to be near guys… and Vi, and if that biker Aelfgar knew, somehow, that his children tended to be gay, then wouldn’t Regine know as well? And there didn’t seem to be any allowances for that sort of thing. Shahin glared angrily at nothing, her fists clenching. She’d gotten lucky.

Beside her, Callista quietly edged away, so subtly that she barely noticed before the girl was gone. She wasn’t a literal empath, but she must have developed a talent for reading others also; she probably needed it. The thought didn’t make Shahin any calmer. The sapphire tattoos under her gloves began dropping in temperature, and she rubbed her wrists surreptitiously.

“Is everything okay?” Kai asked. She might not read social cues, but the girl didn’t miss anything. Shahin forced herself to calm down a bit.

“Yes,” she nodded. “I was just thinking about… babies.” Babies seemed innocuous enough.

“I guess they’ve been on everyone’s mind, lately.”

“Yeah?” She glanced over at the other girl thoughtfully, while trying to keep an eye on Callista at the same time. “Did you ever find out..?”

“Yeah,” Kai nodded quickly, answering both the spoken and unspoken questions as she rested a hand on her stomach.

“Mm.” She could ask her for details later; she clearly didn’t want to talk about it now. “Hey,” she offered, with an amused smile at herself. “I suppose I could turn my knitting to something more domestic than the norm and learn to make baby clothes.”

“Little black and grey baby clothes?” Kailani giggled.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that,” she smiled back at her. “But I was thinking maybe a bit of baby-blue, as well.”

A soft smile began to displace the girl’s nerves. “Yeah? Is... is it a boy, then?”

“So says Emrys,” she smiled, ignoring the twinge that went through her at his name. “And am I knitting pink or blue for you?”

Red, if the sudden color in Kai’s face was any indication. “Both?” she squeaked.

“Both? Twins?” The poor girl, but lucky Tolly, if he’d managed to get her doubly pregnant.

“Yes. Well... yes.”

“Talk about it later?” she offered, giving her a way out. A couple of the others were looking at them oddly, and they had reached trick-or-treating territory.

“Later,” Kailani agreed faintly. “Look, our first house. Who should...”

Taro was already approaching the door to knock, before Kai even finished.

Hallowe’en was, D.J. had explained, while dropping her own Mask, a special night for Ellehemaei. Normally, true humans, she said, couldn’t see them for what they were; only those with some of the blood of Ellehem would see them as anything other than human, even with their Masks down. But on Hallowe’en, as with only one other day of the year, something in the world thinned, and ordinary humans could see them for what they were.

It made trick-or-treating especially fun, and it made Shahin, whose Changes were so mild, ache even more for her demonic-looking Emrys.

With their glory revealed, as they moved from house to house, the majority of the populace were duly impressed with what were widely considered to be the best costumes ever, particularly in cases like Callista and Wren. Their loot bags filled up rapidly, and the pressures and concerns of their intense lives faded in a night of childlike revelry.

Shahin made sure to hug Kai before heading back to her hotel room that evening, the two of them still giggling at the strangers they had awed and shocked. “I’ll see you in the morning.” She hesitated, then added, “be sure to lock and deadbolt your door, okay?”

Kai was startled a bit, clearly having not even thought about that, as accustomed as they’d all become to the unlocked-yet-secure nature of Addergoole’s rooms. “Yeah. But... is there a special reason?”

“Two pretty girls in a strange town?” Shahin asked dryly. “Not all the monsters have scales.”

“Right,” Kailani gulped, before scurrying off to her quarters. Shahin hadn’t meant to scare the poor girl, but none of them were really used to dealing with ‘normal’ people anymore, and it was a sobering thought.

She made sure to lock her own room, when she got back, making sure Callista was in there. If the dragon found her here… she stifled the thought and looked instead at her roommate. Callista had divested herself of her skulls and weapons, and sat perched on the edge of her bed, gazing uncertainly into the depths of her bag of candy.

Oooh, dear. Images of the six-armed girl bouncing around like a sugar-rushed five-year-old flitted through Shahin’s mind. She pulled up a chair near the other girl, carrying her own bag. “Whatcha get?” she asked, consciously imitating her younger self.

“Candy, mostly,” Callista replied without looking up. “Do you want it?”

She studied the girl’s body language for a moment before she tried answering. “If I let myself,” she admitted, “I’d eat my whole bag. Why don’t we each have one… two… two tonight, and two in the morning?”

“I don’t eat candy,” Callista shrugged.

“Mm.” Shahin wondered if there was an order in there, but pulled a peanut butter cup from her bag and offered, gently, “just one? I won’t feel right eating it if you’re not eating, too.”

“I...” Callista bit her lip, glancing about nervously as she lowered her voice to a whisper. “I guess maybe, if you don’t tell anyone?”

“It will be our secret,” she murmured. “I promise.”

Callista took the candy from her with the smallest of smiles as the tiny pop of air broke the ensuing silence.


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