November 4, 2012 by Lyn
Friday, October 31, 2003
“You don’t have to come if you’re not going to have any fun.” Brenna was getting better at this not-letting-Hera-run-all-over-her thing. Noam wondered how long it would be before the tiny martinet had had enough.
Not today, it seemed. Brenna was still all she had. As far as he could tell, nothing had ever come of the almost-a-challenge with Quintus and Lee, but if Hera wasn’t beating people up, she certainly wasn’t making herself any friends, either.
“I’ll go. Someone ought to keep an eye on you. I just don’t understand why this dance. Why Hallowe’en?”
“I like dressing up.” The way Brenna said it, Noam wondered if she’d been made fun of for it, or if maybe, she just expected Hera to laugh.
“You can dress up for a normal dance. You’ve seen the poofy things some of the pretty people wear.”
“Yeah, but not like this.” She was hiding behind a screen, which left Noam and Hera looking at each other uncertainly. Noam wasn’t in costume yet – Brenna had thought it might ruin the surprise of her outfit – but Hera had gotten done up as a bloody Raggedy Andy doll. It was, Noam had to admit, quite the look, and really worked for her, though the cardboard knife sort of threw it. He’d thought she was one of Akatil’s best students.
“Not like what, Bren? What did the idiot talk you into this time?”
“I asked you not to call him that, Hera.”
“Fine, what did the pretty-face talk you into this time?”
“Actually, this one was her idea.” Pretty-face wasn’t as bad as idiot, but it still irritated him enough to break his self-imposed “don’t engage the cleric” rule. “I just asked her what her favorite Hallowe’en costume ever would be, and then we made it happen.”
“The Store accounts aren’t unlimited, you know.”
“I know. It’s why I got a job there, so I can cover stuff like this. Besides, I’m pretty good with Unutu.”
“Hrmf. You’re a novice at best.”
“Well… yeah.” He could hear Brenna getting ready to step out and show herself off, and he couldn’t help but bragging a bit. “But I’m really good with a needle and thread.”
“He really is good.”
Noam felt a stupid smile tugging at his face, and he let it come. Hera wasn’t going to change her opinion of him, and Brenna…
…Brenna looked lovely. He’d started with some off-the-shelf things, but it wasn’t that hard to Work and sew them into something that looked absolutely beautiful. The tiara had been the hardest part – that, and convincing her that she was prettier, far prettier, with the Mask down.
Hera, he noticed, was making gaping noises like a fish. “What… what?” If she made fun of Brenna, if she squelched this, Noam was going to drop her in a pit trap so deep nobody would ever find her body. And he knew who to ask for help, too. “How?”
“I’m a Princess of Atlantis.” She gestured Noam behind the screen. He didn’t want to go – she looked better than he’d thought she would, even, with all that blue hair braided up around the tiara, little curls softening the edge of her face and brushing over her gills, and the blue dress floating at the bottom like she was walking through the waves. But he had to get dressed, too. “Isn’t it neat?”
Behind his screen, Noam stripped quickly and pulled his costume on even faster. He wanted to get back out there before things went bad. He wanted to slap Hera fast before she said anything too bad.
“It’s awesome.” Well, that wasn’t the response he’d been expecting. Maybe she wasn’t a complete monster. “You look awesome, Bren. You clean up really nice. This was the pre – your Kept’s idea?”
“Kinda? I mean, what he said was true. He asked me what I wanted to be for Hallowe’en, if I could be anything at all.”
But I’m a monster, she’d said. Not for the first time.
Forget about that for a minute. Coaxing her took patience. Patience, and a willingness to repeat himself. Pretend I’m right, and you’re beautiful. What do you want to be for Hallowe’en?
“And I told him… well, that I’d always wanted to be a princess. But he did most of the work.”
Was that a good thing, or a bad thing, in Hera’s view of How Kept Acted?
“Hrmph. Really, even the sewing?”
“Even the sewing.”
“And what’s he going to be, then, a starfish?”
Noam stepped out from behind the screen with a dramatic swish of his cloak. “The rogue, of course. Do you want me to touch that knife up for you, Hera?”
“I know Unutu!” She clutched the blade to her chest.
“Of course you do. You’re a whiz at controlling and building machines. But I’m really good at making things glitter and shine. All show-biz stuff.”
Coax, prod, cajole. Brenna wasn’t the only one that took patience.
“Well, when you put it that way… guess a pretty boy like you would be good at making things pretty, hunh?”
“Yep. Good at the shiny things.” He took the cardboard knife from her and muttered a couple Workings over it. Turn it into cheap metal, turn the marker-drawn blood into a thick, viscous plastic blood…do the same for the “stains” on her outfit. “There. You are the world’s second-creepiest doll.”
“Have you met Lolly?”
“Hrrm, you have a point. She’s not as bad as this other one – she came back last year to whine at her parents – Agatha. Creepy dolls run in the bloodline.”
That, that was a pretty weird thing to say. “You know Lolly’s bloodline?”
“Well, it’s sort of mine.” Hera shrugged. “If you ask the Director’s secretary, Hayley, or Dr. Caitrin, she’ll tell you. They have everyone’s genealogy on file here.
“Let’s talk about that later.” Something else that made Brenna uncomfortable. “Do I really look okay?”
“You look gorgeous.” Noam brushed his hands down her sleeves because he could.
“Bren, you look great. Your pretty-boy sets you off pretty well, too.” Hera plucked at her own costume. “I’m going to look stupid, next to you two.”
“Don’t be silly, Hera.” If Brenna told her she looked pretty, Noam was going to have a hard time keeping a straight face. “You look terrifying. And it serves everyone right who called you a doll, doesn’t it?”
Hera grinned. “Yeah, it does. Your boy’s right. I’m the second-creepiest little doll out there. And maybe, by the time the night is over, I’ll be the first.”
“I didn’t make the knife real…” Should he have? Half of the people who bothered Hera were real assholes who were mean to Brenna, too. On the other hand, the other half were Noam’s friends.
“I don’t need a knife to be scary. Neither does Bren, does she? Get your Mask up, let’s go if we’re going to do this.”
Noam surreptitiously took Brenna’s hand. They’d practiced this part. They’d been doing a lot of that, lately, acting out scenes first.
She squeezed his hand, but far less tightly. She was getting pretty good at doing this sort of thing on her own. Pretty soon, she might not need his coaching at all.
He tried not to think too much about that one.
“I think I’ll leave it down. The costume works better without it.”
“Oh.” This could go either way. Noam was as tense as Brenna as they watched Hera process that. “Well. If we’re going for creepy, then… maybe I should drop mine, too.”
Now Brenna’s claws bit into Noam’s skin, and she glanced at him, as if she was worried he’d spook. He hadn’t spooked at her Change – but he was Kept by her, and he liked her.
“Come on, pretty boy, scared to look?”
Of course he wasn’t. Noam squeezed Brenna’s hand back, and looked at Hera with her Mask down for the first time.
“Who’s the scariest doll now?”
“Well.” Her look wasn’t as ethereal as Brenna, but he wondered if they were related. How did those things work, anyway? She was definitely green, though, and definitely aquatic. The fake blood dribbling down her face, over her gills, and onto the side of her costume looked realer against the hue of her skin, too. What to say? “I guess that depends on what’s under Lolly’s Mask.”
“That’s the fun part,” Hera crowed. “What under her Mask? Nothing.”
“That’s your costume?”
“Why not?” Wylie smirked at Niassa. He had gotten brown clothes – close-fitting shirt and pants, the same color of brown as his tail and ears – and was holding up a sign that said “Eep.” “Look. My dad thought it was a brilliant idea to name me Wylie… I turned into a coyote-boy… Why not?”
“Because I,” she answered, with a tone that was ominous with finality, “am not going as the Roadrunner.”
“Oh.” He grinned, he’d almost been expecting that. “Then how about Dorothy and Toto?”
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