Chapter 26: Halloween Ball
Corrie felt all the blood rush to her face. For a moment she could do nothing but stare, astonished. Then she began to recognize others in the ballroom. Professor Strega. Professor Rook. Professor Shannon from the philosophy department. And, strangely enough, her history teacher, Professor Drehmer, dancing an elegant waltz with a black-haired woman nearly a foot taller than him.
What were they doing here? She’d thought that they hated each other—at least that Professor Lal and the court faeries hated each other. She’d said something to that effect, hadn’t she? Corrie racked her memory but now, when it was important, she couldn’t recall. She could only remember Professor Lal saying that the court faeries had a strange definition of “harm.” She hadn’t said that she disliked them.
But these were the people who had poisoned the trees, who had kidnapped Annie, who had tried to steal Edie. Professor Lal had saved Edie’s life. She couldn’t really be working with them, could she?
Corrie closed her eyes for a moment and looked back at the crowd. She looked for Mardalan, Belara and Feloc, but couldn’t find them. Of course, everyone was glamoured; that was, all the professors she recognized were glamoured, though less than half the crowd looked human. She reached into her pocket, doubly glad she’d prepared, and grabbed her four-leaf clover.
Instantly, the walls vanished, the lights faded to glimmers, and the crowds changed. Corrie shrank back behind her tree, breathing hard. With the glamour out of the way she felt much more exposed. But could the dancers see through the glamour? If the group was all made up of faeries—and human captives—there was no point in using a glamour if they were all looking through it. So many of them had elaborate glamours on (like Professor Lal’s spangled dress) that it had to be for each other’s benefit. There was no audience. No one but Corrie.
Hands shaking slightly, but empowered by her ability to see the truth, Corrie scanned the crowd again. Professor Drehmer looked no different. Professor Lal’s black eyes and sharp teeth were visible; her real dress was long and black, but plain. Now she could find Belara, the snake-woman, and Feloc, with his fox’s face, though Mardalan wasn’t visible anywhere. Corrie hoped, vengefully, that Mardalan was still hurt.
She watched the crowd for several more minutes, as the dance changed. They took different partners and used different steps, though she didn’t recognize the dance. It wasn’t important. She was trying, desperately, to find someone she could trust—which narrowed it down pretty quickly to Ever, or Leila as a last resort. Unfortunately, neither of them seemed to be there.
When she was sure she had scanned her eyes over everyone in the clearing at least three times, she slid down beside the tree, sighing as quietly as she could. Ever wasn’t there. Neither was Leila, though she hadn’t expected it. Her best chance was to talk to Professor Lal, who she didn’t think she could trust anymore.
Her hands fell into her lap as she remembered what had happened when Mardalan had tried to kidnap Edie. Ever had helped them. She’d snuck out of the main group and waited at the borders. Maybe that’s where she was now, if she wasn’t dancing. Corrie scrambled to her feet, then froze behind the tree as the music changed again. The dancers mixed themselves up, choosing partners, but she still didn’t see Ever.
She took a deep breath and began to move, as slowly and carefully as she could. She winced every time her foot crushed a leaf or cracked a twig, but the music seemed to be loud enough to drown her out. She kept glancing over, checking the hedge that bordered the clearing and kept in the crowd, but no one seemed to so much as glance in her direction.
Corrie was shaking and sweating with the exertion of stealth by the time she reached the other side of the front of the clearing, where letting go of the clover let her see the huge front doors. There couldn’t be anyone concealed there. It was too exposed. And she would have to find some roundabout path to get back to campus. That seemed to be her only choice now. She couldn’t find Ever and she wouldn’t be able to find Leila, and there was definitely no way she could go into that dance. They would never let her leave.
She sat down behind another tree to get her breath back, feeling defeated and useless. She’d left the safety of the dorm and not accomplished anything to help Dawn. Maybe she would be awake by the time Corrie got back. When her breathing was even again, she rose to her feet, gripped her clover, and started forward, keeping out of the circle of light.
Twenty feet further on she stopped short. There were eyes staring out of a tree, right at her.