In Which Gladys Appears
As weird as it might have felt to go back to our side of Harlowe and just get ready for the costume party like nothing had happened, there wasn’t really anything else to be done. We’d gone over to make sure that Steff was being taken care of and she was.
It seemed like much of Harlowe shared our plans. On our way down the boys’ side we passed a few guys who were carrying garment bags and things that were obviously costume props. One of the other canids whose name I didn’t know had evidently decided to highlight his appearance by dressing up like a stereotypical werewolf. In the girls’ stairwell, we passed Trina… dressed like a faerie princess, complete with wings and sparkles in the air all around her… and a girl I’d never seen before, who seemed to have painted her entire body with gold and green paint. There was only the faintest outline of pasties over where her nipples would be. You could only just barely make them out if you looked really closely. I wasn’t sure what she was going for with the costume, exactly, except for “sexy mostly naked girl covered in body paint”.
I had to admit, it worked.
“Oh my kosh, Gladys, did you see her checking you out?” Trina said once they were a flight down. So that was Gladys. I wondered what her racial background was… she’d looked human enough, except for maybe being bald. Though it was possible that might have been a skull cap… I hadn’t been paying that much attention.
“Man, did you see her eyes?” Ian asked.
“Um, what about them?” I asked. I hadn’t really noticed anything out of the ordinary about them.
“They weren’t there,” he said. “She had like an illusion effect or something… it was like you could see straight through to the wall behind her, like she had a chameleon spell just in that spot. Or those spots.”
“That’s weird… why would she do that?” I asked.
“Maybe because she couldn’t paint them?” Amaranth suggested. “I mean, maybe she wanted her costume to feel complete?”
“I don’t know why she wouldn’t just use glamour for the whole thing,” I said. “That paint had to be a hassle for whoever helped her put it on…”
“I don’t know about that,” Ian said.
“…and it’s probably going to make a mess everywhere she goes,” I said.
“Maybe she’s glamour-resistant?” Amaranth suggested.
“I don’t think anyone’s specifically resistant to glamours,” I said. “Except in the ‘able to see through them’ or ‘dispel them through contact’ senses. It’s nothing more than an alteration of appearance. I suppose if somebody were resistant to alterations, or to magic in general, that might make it harder to apply a glamour, but anyone or anything that has an appearance is equally susceptible to having that appearance manipulated.”
“Well, then it’s probably a tactile thing,” Amaranth said. “She was feeling very sexy, and very confident in her sexiness. I’d imagine that if she were just wearing a skimpy bikini and had her skin glammed, she might feel more exposed compared to the feeling of the paint against her skin. It could be her way of being both daring and coy, by covering herself and revealing herself.”
“It’s kind of a weird costume, though,” I said. “I mean, she’s not really going as anything, as far as I can tell. She’s just going as herself covered in paint.”
“I think it’s a bold choice, and I hope I have a chance to tell her so at the dance,” Amaranth said.
“Are you kidding?” I said. “That’s Trina’s friend she’s reflecting to every minute of every day with the latest up-to-date reports on every tiny little thing anyone does.”
“Yes, well, we can hardly judge her for that,” Amaranth said. “I mean, you’ve never heard her side of those conversations… maybe she just tolerates Trina’s gossipy ways because she wants to be a friend to her?”
“Okay, I don’t exactly have a lot to go on here, but from my one almost-run-in with her, I’m pretty sure it’s a mutual relationship,” I said.
“Well, I’m withholding judgment,” Amaranth said.
“That’s a shocker,” Ian said.
“Oh, hush,” Amaranth said.
There was a strong breeze and a high-pitched buzz when Amaranth opened the door at the top of the stairwell.
“Whoa,” she said, laughing and rocking back a little. She stuck her head into the hall, then laughed and stepped through. Ian and I followed.
The hallway was pretty busy. Mariel the sylph was zipping around like a hummingbird on haste. She stopped in front of us… well, hovered might have been a better word since she didn’t actually stop moving. An incomprehensible torrent fell out of her mouth in Amaranth’s direction, though her eyes kept darting over towards me. From the look she was giving me, I thought she was complaining, but Amaranth just said, “Yes, please, if you aren’t too busy.”
Mariel’s four delicate arms moved like a tornado, and a wash of rich woody color spread over Amaranth’s skin while her hair darkened and turned green.
“Thank you!” Amaranth said. She dropped a few coins, but Mariel had already zipped off… though she zipped back and caught them before they hit the floor.
Leda was out and about, dressed as a prima ballerina. She was talking in low tones with a tall, athletic human girl who looked a little familiar. She didn’t seem to be in costume, though from the way she kept staring at her hands like she was on something, I almost wondered if it wasn’t Celia in a really elaborate illusion. Celia would have been probably the second last person to dress up like a human, but she might have done it for irony purposes.
“Yo!” Celia called from by her room, dispelling that theory. “Can I get a little help?”
Mariel flitted over and buzzed angrily at her.
“Hey, slow it down,” Celia said. “I don’t speak bumblebee.”
“…have time to slow down I have people waiting on other floors and I thought you said you didn’t need my help and anyway I know you don’t have money to pay and I’m not doing this for my health and…”
“Please help her out,” Feejee said from within the room. “I’ll pay for her.”
Mariel sighed, then went to work on Celia. Her pink skin tinted itself orange and slightly metallic. The texture changed, looking leathery and scaly.
“Can you do wings and a tail?” Celia asked. Mariel exploded into another hypervelocity outburst, and then flitted away towards the other end of the hall.
“That would take an illusion,” I said.
“Yeah, I thought so,” Celia said. “That’s why I told her I didn’t want her weaksauce glamour in the first place. Oh, well… I guess I can use this as a base and whip up the full effect at key moments.”
“Hello, Mack!” Feejee said, sauntering into view of the doorway.
She was wearing a chef’s hat, a long white apron with a barbecue fork, a basting squirty thing, a brush, and a squeeze bottle of some kind in the pockets. That was all she was wearing. She’d gone the opposite route of Celia, melting her scales into mammalian-looking flesh.
“Wow,” Ian said.
“Oh, do you like it?” Feejee asked, leaning against the doorframe and striking a pose. “I’ve been watching a lot of cooking shows lately. Something about the look just appealed to me.”
“Well, I think you look just great, Feejee,” Amaranth said.
“What do you think, Mack?” Feejee asked.
“I… uh… I have to get my own costume on,” I said.
“I look forward to seeing it,” Feejee said, and she turned and headed back into her room.
“I don’t know who she thinks she’s fooling,” Celia said. “That girl is so queer for you.”
“Seems that way,” Ian said.
“Yeah, um, let’s get changed,” I said, and I started heading down the hall… though I stopped outside my room when I saw Honey’s outfit.
She had let Mariel tinge her skin a mottled goblin green. Her curly hair was pulled up into three short spikey pigtails. Her dress was kind of an approximation of something that Oru might have worn, though the top came up much higher and the skirt went down much lower than was the goblin style. She was wearing Oru’s lock necklace around her neck.
“Um… have you seen Shiel?” I asked her. What I really meant was, had Shiel seen her.
“Oh, Shiel can go soak her fat head,” Honey said. “We’re just having good clean fun. It’s Hazel who should be ashamed of herself. Her costume doesn’t hide anything. You can see the shape of her legs, all the way up.”
“Go soak your own head!” Hazel yelled from down the hall… from the door to my room, in fact. Her hair had been glammed blonde, and she had vaguely runic-looking letters stenciled on her forehead that said “TFH”. “There is nothing wrong with my costume.”
As far as I could see, she was right. Far from being more revealing than Honey’s, hers actually covered more than her cousins. She was wearing a pair of jeans and a fuzzy sweater. They maybe clung to her small form a bit more snugly than her everyday clothes, but that was the look she was evidently going for… everything Two wore was pretty perfectly fitted to her.
It was a little shocking to see Two’s friend in anything other than an earthy shapeless house dress. I’d seen Hazel in the showers before, so I knew that she’d been hiding a mature woman’s body under those dresses, but this was a whole new context to process it in.
“Hazel, you forgot the band,” Two called.
“I didn’t forget it, love, I just had to straighten my cousin out a little,” Hazel said.
“If you think I’m going to let you walk out of the hall dressed like that…” Honey said, her bare feet slapping the tile of the hallway as she stomped her way past us towards her cousin.
“Let? I don’t at all hate to tell you this, Miss Honey Callaway, but you are not my mother,” Hazel said.
“No, but it’s her I’m thinking of,” Honey said. “What do you think she would say, if she knew her only daughter was strutting about in trousers, like the commonest trash that ever floated down the river?”
I braced myself for an explosion, but Hazel just drew herself up to her full height… she seemed to be an inch or two taller than Honey, though I’d never noticed before… and said, “I don’t know, Honey. Maybe she’d say, ‘That’s my daughter’.”
“I can’t believe that even at her…”
“At her what?” Hazel said.
“Most rebellious,” Honey said. “I can’t believe that even at her most rebellious, she would have countenanced her daughter gallivanting around in trousers, with her feet shoved into shoes.”
“They’re sandals,” Hazel said, and I realized that was the source of Hazel’s elevation… I hadn’t registered the unusualness of a shireling with footwear because the clunky wedges she was wearing went with the rest of her outfit. “And they’re just part of the costume. Golems don’t go around bare. They’ve got regular feet of clay.”
“They’re shoes, Hazel, whatever you want to call them,” Honey said. “May Owain the Merciful have mercy on your soul, because Owain the Just probably won’t.”
“I don’t see what’s…” I started to say, but Amaranth reached out and shushed me with her finger.
“Come on, baby, don’t put yourself in the middle of this,” Amaranth said.
“Yeah, I have to side with her,” Ian said quietly, drawing me towards my door. “This is cultural and it’s family… you really don’t want to get involved.”
We ducked into the bedroom while Honey and Hazel continued to quarrel loudly in the middle of the hall.
“Hi, Mack,” Two said. She was wearing a human-sized copy of one of Hazel’s dresses. Her runes had been masked over, and her hair was curled and chestnut color. “Hi, Amaranth. Hi, Ian.”
“Hi, Two,” I said, along with the others. “Wow, you guys really went all out.”
“Yes,” Two said. She scowled. “My clothing is not indecent. It’s just regular clothing. And it’s pretty.”
“Oh, honey, Honey’s just from a different culture,” Amaranth said. “She has different values.”
“Well, her values are wrong,” Two said. “There is nothing wrong with girls wearing trousers and there is nothing wrong with the shape of my legs, so there is nothing wrong with letting people see them.”
“She’s not talking about you, sweetie, she’s talking about her cousin,” Amaranth said.
“She’s talking about the way I dress,” Two said. “She just won’t say it to me because she knows it’s none of her business.”
“Well… it isn’t,” Amaranth said. “So don’t worry about it. It’s her culture and her values, not yours, and so whatever she thinks, it doesn’t really hurt you, does it?”
“No,” Two said. “She’s still wrong, though.”
“Well, let her be wrong,” Amaranth said.
“Okay,” Two said.
“Are you done getting ready?” I asked. “Because Ian needs to get changed.”
“Yes, I’m done,” Two said. “I think you are the last one on the floor to get ready.”
“Well, we’ll take care of that if you’ll just excuse us for a few minutes,” I said.
“Okay,” Two said. “I have to go to the bathroom, anyway.”
“Thanks, Two,” Ian said.
“You’re welcome,” she said, and she left the three of us alone.
“Man, if I could attract girls the way you seem to…” Ian said, leaving the sentence hanging unfinished in the air.
“What?” I said.
“I’d attract a lot of girls?” he said, pulling off his jeans.
“It’s not all great,” I said. “Believe me, some attention is not worth the trouble it causes.”
“You’re talking to the human guy who’s dating a half-demon,” Ian said. “When you’re sexually involved with someone who might occasionally look at you like you’re a tasty snack cake, then you can talk about trouble.”
I would have liked to change the subject, but what could I say to that? Some dramatic irony we’ve been having lately, huh? So instead I just let it hang awkwardly, while I kicked off my shoes and pulled off my shirt. We got changed in silence, Amaranth helping me get the bikini top on.
“I am going to freeze to death,” I said, looking at myself in the mirror. It was amazing how my boobs seemed to have stayed just as tiny as ever while my tummy was starting to hang out and my ass had blown up like a pair of balloons. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“You can put an insulation spell on the cape,” Amaranth said, holding it up. “The fur… even if it’s fake… will be good for that, right? And of course, you can wear your coat on the way there… I’ll take it when we get inside.”
“Looking good,” Ian said. He took a step back behind me. “You know, I’m not even sure you need the cape.”
“Oh, I am wearing the cape,” I said, grabbing it from Amaranth. “I can feel myself hanging out in back.”
“While I agree she looks better without it, Sooni might feel put out if she doesn’t wear the cape after she took the time to fix it up,” Amaranth said. “The poor girl tries so hard to be a good friend, and I think she actually came pretty close here. It would send the wrong message to reject that.”
“Thank you,” I said, though I suddenly felt a lot less sure about the cape. I’d forgotten Sooni’s part in it.
“You’re welcome, baby.”
I finished decking myself out with the accessories. The boots, which were fuzzy inside, were a big surprise… not only did they fit my feet snugly, but they were pretty damn toasty inside.
“Oh, wow,” I said. “I am so keeping these boots.”
“Feel free,” Ian said. “I rescued them from the garbage… I mean, I saved them from going into the garbage. I didn’t rescue them from out of the garbage.”
“I think I’d probably wear them anyway, as long as I’d already put them on before you told me that,” I said. “I think they’ll even kind of go with my coat, as long as the color change is permanent.”
“With that coat, I don’t think it would matter if they were hot pink,” Ian said.
“Can I put making fun of my coat on the black list?” I asked Amaranth.
“The important thing is that you like it,” Amaranth said.
“I think the important thing is that it keeps me warm,” I said. “That’s what a coat does. That’s what it’s for.”
“Who’s dressing up as a golem, again?” Ian asked.
“I’m just saying form’s not as important as function. If it keeps me toasty on a cold night, it’s the most beautiful thing in the world by default.”
“The most beautiful thing?” Amaranth repeated, arching an eyebrow at me.
“Uh… well…” I said, starting to shrink down inside myself. I recovered, though, and slipped an arm around her. “That criteria isn’t just for coats.”