August 3, 2016 by Lyn
Year Five of the Addergoole School, at the time of Book Eight and Nine
If it seemed as if cy’Pelletier had quite a few more meetings than any other cy’ree, nobody was really surprised. Professor Pelletier could lean on her authority as Mentor to her Students to call them to her, giving the ones that needed it a quiet place.
Shahin didn’t need it in the way some of her cy’ree-mates did, but she appreciated it nonetheless. She’d grown to enjoy the quiet meetings, and the subtle instruction that Professor Pelletier worked into their conversations.
Thus when she stepped in to the Professor’s office Friday, she was surprised to see only Kendra and Channing sitting there. “Come in, Shahin. Have a seat.”
“Professor…?” She sat down in the indicated chair – a soft one, she noted. They seemed to save it for her, and she appreciated the gesture.
“I’ve been remiss in teaching the three of you to Mask, and, if you win the challenge, you will need to Mask for the outside world. So we’re going to need to learn. You, Shahin, could get by as you do now…”
“She’s Changed?” Channing asked, turning to look at her, her spikey hair rising up slightly in question. Kendra, too, turned to look, her mousy nose twitching.
“A while ago,” Shahin admitted. “Before, ah, the abduction.” She pulled back her gloves, feeling uncomfortably naked. “It’s not much of a change, not compared to a lot of them around here, but…”
Her wrists glowed blue, the letters shining like shards of sapphire. “Oooh,” Kendra breathed. “Just there?”
“There and my scars,” she answered cautiously. “They glow sometimes.”
“Some people have all the luck,” Channing muttered.
All the luck? Shahin raised an eyebrow. She’d gotten the cosmetic advantage, perhaps, but, as far as she knew, for all she was cy’Pelletier, Channing wasn’t even Kept. “Do your spines rise up when you’re upset?” she asked, rather than retort.
“My… oh, my spikes. Yes.” She smiled ruefully. “Rand found that out when he tried to Keep me.”
“A defensive Change. That’s pretty neat. Are you poisonous?”
“Only a little.” But she was smiling now. “I could stand being pettable, instead, like Kendra.”
Kendra’s nose wrinkled, and her round, mousy ears twitched. “Pettable?”
“Well, soft and fluffy and cute. Neither Shahin nor I are really fluffy and cute.”
“I’d rather be sharp,” she whispered. Then, flushing, she looked at her feet.
“Well,” Professor Pelletier interjected gently, “we have yet to discover exactly what triggers specific Changes, but we do know that they are not, generally, mutable once they have occurred. What we can do, however, is learn to Mask.
“At first,” she continued, “your Mask will look like your human appearance. It’s the easiest Mask – it’s what you’re used to yourself looking like. With practice, you may be able to shift this to look like just about anything.”
“Anything?” Kendra asked quietly.
“Anything. It does take quite a bit of work. The best at Masking here, in Addergoole, are Tya and Magnolia, if you’re looking for pointers beyond what I teach you here, but neither of them often choose to shift their appearance that far from its base. Here.”
The Professor dropped her Mask. The first thing they noticed, indeed, the most striking thing as the Professor’s appearance shifted, was her neck – elongated, and, near the neckline of her shirt, spotted, with irregular mahogany-hued spots slipping under her collar.
Her ears pointing out of her curly bun were just as noticeable, perky, gazelle-like ears that swiveled towards each of them in turn.
“You see?” she murmured. “This is what my ‘base’ appearance is.” As she spoke, Shahin picked out more details – the way her hair wasn’t grey anymore, the way the few artistic wrinkles around her eyes had vanished. She looked happier, too, which made Shahin curious why she Masked at all.
“And this,” she nodded her head nearly to her chin, and then looked back up at them, the ears vanishing as she did so, “is my Masked appearance.”
“And this,” she added, and her skin darkened, her hair went grey, and the wrinkles thickened, “is one I use when I am with people who knew me several decades ago. That is something you may have to keep in mind.”
“‘May?'” Shahin asked sharply, and was rewarded by a brief flinch from the Professor.
“May,” she recovered quickly. “Professor VanderLinden, for instance, simple refuses to appear old; as I understand it, she simply moves to a new town whenever her appearance would be too notably ‘well-preserved.’ This grows harder and harder as the world grows smaller and more connected, of course. And… well, you are all cy’Pelletier for a reason.”
“Support group,” Channing coughed, making Kendra twitch her ears and hide her face in her paws – hands, in her hands.
“That as well. But a propensity for precognition on some level as well. And the future – Channing, Shahin, you’ve both mentioned visions.”
“Yes,” Channing said, turning pale, her spines puffing outwards.
“Yes,” Shahin agreed quietly. “So there may not… may not be enough of a world to worry about it, you’re saying?”
“There may not. Although it may be very useful to learn disguise abilities, as well. So we will focus first on a generic Mask – Masking as yourself. I’ve found most people are more comfortable with some sort of gesture as a focus.” She tilted her head to her chin again, and came up un-Masked. “As such.”
They all studied her. “But there’s no Word?” Channing asked cautiously.
“No Word,” the Professor agreed. “Simply a focus, mentally, on what you want to look like. Picture yourself the way you looked before your Change.”
Kendra, suddenly brave, went first. She brought her hands up to her face again, a gesture she’d been using quite a bit since her Change – or maybe since Ofir Kept her. Shahin was pretty sure the two had been, if not concurrent, very close to it. She wiggled her mousey nose, and the ears slimmed back into human ears. Another wiggle, and the nose was human.
“Very good, Kendra, but don’t forget the tail.”
She nodded her understanding, and stood, twisting around to look at her tail, then twisting again. With the second revolution, the tail vanished.
“The mirror’s right there,” Professor Pelletier pointed.
Kendra scurried over to look, and then surprised them all with a delighted giggle. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she gushed, hugging the surprised Professor spontaneously. “Thank you so much!”
“Don’t like the mousy thing much?” Channing asked sympathetically. “I think it’s cute, but I can see how it might get to be too much.”
Especially, Shahin thought cynically, if her Keeper hadn’t wanted a mouse. She wondered how many bad habits Ofir had learned at Agatha’s hand last year.
“I don’t like the spikes, either,” Channing admitted, “although the colors are sort of nice.” She focused, her eyes squeezing shut. All of her spines puffed out, and then settled down, vanishing into her skin. “Ah,” she smiled, looking at herself in the mirror. “That’s better.”
They were both pretty girls, Shahin was surprised to notice; the Changes had given them an exotic otherworldliness that was attractive, but without their shimmer, the girls looked like someone you’d see next door, or in a catalog. Normal. Sweet.
Normal. She looked down at her bare wrists, and, slowly and uncertainly, mimed putting a pair of gloves on. The tattoos faded, but did not vanish.
“Close,” Professor Pelletier murmured. “Shahin, you’re very used to sticking out. Can you think of a situation where you wouldn’t want to be noticed? Where you’d want people to think you were just another girl?”
If a Dragon was in the room. She was suddenly cold, and naked without her gloves. She didn’t want to be naked. She wanted to be covered, hidden. She wanted to be invisible.
“Very good, Shahin. Very good.”
Good? She looked in the mirror, and suppressed a giggle. She looked pretty. Ordinary, if you ignored the dress. Even the dress looked less exotic than it had when she put it on this morning. Brown-haired, brown-eyed, her skin a normal human color. Catalog-pretty.
“Very good, all of you. And now we’ll drop the masks, and practice putting them up again.”
The next hour was like doing magical jumping jacks – repetitive and somehow tiring. By the time they finished, however, Shahin was confident that she could raise and lower her Mask on command. The other two had the hang of it as well, and were both very happily Masked and hiding their Changes.
Professor Pelletier looked back and forth at the three of them. “There is, you know, nothing to be ashamed of in your Changes.”
“Then why do you Mask?” Channing asked tartly.
“I’ve found that my un-Masked appearance can be distracting to the learning process. And, as with most of the professors here, my purpose is to teach. To educate.”
“Most,” Shahin sniggered. She could think of one or two who had other purposes.
“Most,” the professor agreed with a smirk. “Although even those you’re thinking of – even they do their best by their students. We all want to help you.”
She shook her head, clearing that uncomfortable moment. “Now. Let’s go through it one more time, and then we can have some ice cream.”