Chapter 178: Shahin
You could say I'm a little bit crazy
You could call me insane
Walkin' 'round with all these whispers
Runnin' 'round here in my brain
I just can't help but hear 'em
Man, I can't avoid it
The first Sunday in April
Shahin lay in bed, once again between her husband and their Kept, idly stroking the scales on the back of Xaviera's neck while the girl slept. She'd been sleeping less and less lately, woken by strange nightmares and stranger dreams. This last one, that had woken her this morning… the details were already fading, but she thought it had involved fighting at the side of Ib and a strange, lovely woman, herself wielding a long, black sword against a creature that looked like a demon.
He'd shown up a lot, lately, that demon. Skin like coal and fire, muscles bulging, horns curling back from his head, down his back like a strange cloak, his smile black and fierce, his grip… she had nightmares about the way he grabbed her arms.
Being awake was better. When she was awake, she could feel Emrys beside her, feel her son inside her, pet Xaviera until she calmed down. She enjoyed, she'd found, the way the girl's scales felt under her fingers, the smooth coolness, the faint texture.
She tried to be quiet, but the pain was getting to be too much. She hadn't had anything to drink in days, because she couldn't make it to the bucket on the other side of the room. Her skin hurt growing in. It hadn't done that the first few times, but by now, she could barely walk.
She needed to get out. She knew she'd die here. She knew that gangrene would set in, and she would slowly rot away, even after they amputated her legs. Her mistress had told her that, long ago. She'd thought she was lying, but deep inside, she'd always know this was coming.
If she waited until they amputated, she'd never make it out. She had to move now.
Shahin pulled her hand away from Xaviera, shuddering. She hadn't seen anything like that without intentionally willing it in months, long enough that she'd begun to think she was over her "I see dead people" problem, long enough she'd almost forgotten how harsh her death visions could be.
Not death, she realized; this one had taken a turn from her death vision, and had suggested a possibility that Xaviera might survive her fate. Not avoid it altogether, more's the pity, but at least live through it.
My visions can be changed? Or maybe, my visions can change the future. After Steve, she'd thought that was impossible, thought that her visions were fixed in time. If they weren't, if she could change the future… That makes everything more bearable.
She should go talk to Professor Pelletier about this. She'd been reluctant to do so up until now, still thinking of her visions as her private freak-parade thing, almost shameful and certainly gruesome. But if the future was malleable…
She pulled herself into a sitting position, one hand on Xaviera and one on Emrys for support. She should go talk to the Professor. She should…
Crawling through the woods, knowing all the dirt was only making things worse, but what else could she do? What else was there to do but get away, try to get away. And then, in front of her, boots. Boots connected to legs, that was not a good sign. Scaled-skin boots….
The spear went in, even as he lit it on fire, shoving its way between two ribs, thrusting into him, the demon on the other end of it laughing, ignoring the burning. "Do you think you can hurt me with fire? Do you think you can TOUCH me with fire? I AM FIRE!" The voice echoed against canyon walls, and boomed back against Emrys. His chest was on fire, all the way through. Rowan? The fucker had stabbed him with rowan? He took a breath, and found even his lungs were burning. Shit, the spear had pierced… No. He couldn't lose consciousness. He couldn't pass out here. If he passed out, nothing would stop the de-
She pulled back, staring at her husband. She hadn't seen a vision like that in ages. Not since… not since the vision she had thought was of the future, the one that had ended up being in that monster's cabin.
Neither husband nor Kept had woken up yet. If she was careful… yes. She slipped out from between them, over Xaviera, whispering, "shh, go back to sleep," as the girl stirred. She could be out and back, if she was lucky, before they noticed she was gone.
She dressed hurriedly in a wine-colored wrap dress and her thinnest mitts, carried her shoes, and snuck out into the hallway.
She had just gotten her shoes on and started to have second and third thoughts (and a bit of trouble standing back up) when Mabina-and-Cassidy came around the curve of the hallway, pushing their twins in a double stroller. "Here, let me give you a hand," Cassidy offered. "Where are you off to this early?" He caught her arm, between the mitt and the sleeve, to help her up.
Cassidy stared at Diarmaid. Diarmaid stared at Mabina, both women's hands on their hips and identically stubborn expressions on their faces. Mabina wasn't looking at their daughter, though, but at Bathshira, who was staring at Cassidy, waiting for him to say something.
"No." What else could he say? Three women he loved in very different ways…
"Not an option, Father Dearest. Never been an option, and you're a fool to have ever thought it was." Diarmaid's voice was entirely devoid of compassion or affection.
What was worse, what was worse by far, was the silence from the bond. Fifty-seven years. Fifty-seven years, and she hadn't a word to say in his defense.
Shahin took her arm back as quickly as was polite. "Thanks," she stammered. That hadn't been a death. That had been…
The death of a family, brilliant.
"Is everything all right, then, Shahin?" Mabina's gaze, as always, seemed to pierce right through all her pretenses. "Not having trouble with the baby?"
"Mm? Oh, no, he's fine." She cupped her stomach thoughtfully. "I just thought I'd take a little walk…"
"Before the family is up?" Surprisingly, her gaze was sympathetic. "It can be hard to get a moment of peace around here, can't it, with everyone all packed in like sardines? We'll leave you be, then. Come on, Cassidy. You have a nice day, then, honey."
"Thanks." Wondering if something was up, or if Mabina was just being genuinely kind, Shahin hurried to her Mentor's office. Why were the visions flooding back like this? What did all of this mean?
Professor Pelletier was, luckily (or presciently) in her office; she ushered Shahin in and poured her a glass of water. "What's wrong, dear?"
The fingers on her arm were, once again, enough.
Shira stayed home, though the demons were at the door of Addergoole. She had a daughter, a grandson, and a great-granddaughter to watch, all still in diapers. She couldn't risk herself on the front lines.
But he did. She knew he was out there, Knew it and rode along with him as long as she could, muttering the Workings to protect the school, to protect the Village, to protect her lover.
And so she Knew and knew and, with a pain unlike anything she'd felt in centuries, knew when the dragon attacked him. And she knew when he fell, fell, fell from the air.
"The visions," Shahin gasped. "They… they're back." She sat down hard in the closest chair. "I mean…" Pull yourself together, woman. She took several slow, deep breaths, until she felt as if she could speak clearly again. "I hadn't had that many visions, not since my first month here. A couple sporadic things here and there - at the wedding, when Emrys proposed to me - and when I called on it specifically, such as when I challenged Xaviera. But not like this. Not just touching someone." She ran her fingers over the arm of the chair. "I woke this morning, and I saw Xaviera escaping from the people who had been skinning her. Trying to escape. I saw Emrys…" She caught a sob before it could be voiced, and continued slower, and lower. "I saw him stabbed by a demon. Everyone I touch, I see something. Some pain, some horror in the future."
"Everyone?" the Professor asked sharply.
"Everyone," Shahin agreed quietly.
"Well." She steepled her fingers and regarded Shahin over her painted nails. "This is a very good thing."
"It is?" Shahin had not thought she could feel even more unnerved, but that seemed to do the trick.
"It is," the Professor nodded. "The pills that you were forced to overdose on seemed to have… shall we say, clogged the vision tubes, although that's a horribly inaccurate way of phrasing that. Now that the residue is out of your system, or nearly out, your visions are coming back.
"Your father has always been very prescient in his namings," she continued. "He named you Merlin for a reason, Shahin, his little dark mage." The teacher smiled warmly. "I know, I was there. And it's past due time for you to come into the birthright he saw for you."
Copyright © 2009-2012 Lyn Thorne-Alder. All rights reserved.
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