He was still muttering her name, and literally cursing her, when the world suddenly drowned in fear. It was as if terror could become air and you had to breathe it in or you would die, but breathing it in was dying, too. It was all death. All fear. It roared through my head, thoughtless, formless, fear so pure that it stopped my heartbeat for a second, a hesitation, as if my heart would simply stop from fear. Dying of fright wasn't just a saying. There was a breathless moment where I waited for my heart to decide whether it would beat again, or whether silence was better, anything to escape. Anything.
The support of Richard's arm vanished, and I was left with the cold press of glass behind me, as if he'd closed the door to support me, so he wouldn't have to touch me anymore.
My breath came out in a rattle, and my heart leaped in my chest, and hurt as if it had bruised itself against my body. My chest hurt, my throat hurt, and still the air was fear made real. Every breath seemed to draw her in deeper. Because it was a her. It was Nemhain, Moroven, Damian's maker, and Perrin's. It wasn't just a superstition that you did not speak her name. Her name had conjured her power, brought us to her attention. I expected a voice to match the terror, but there was silence, a silence so loud that all I could hear was the beating of the blood in my veins. My heart thundering inside my body. Then I heard another heartbeat, faster, more frightened even than mine. How could he live so afraid?
I turned my head slowly, because I couldn't do anything else. I made myself turn through the fear and look at Nathaniel. His eyes were so wide they flashed white, and he was gulping at the air as if he was having trouble breathing it down. As if he would choke on the fear.
Damian lay like the dead in my lap. His eyes were closed, and he wasn't breathing. There was no heartbeat to hear. The thought came, She's taken what she gave him, but on the heels of that thought came another. He's mine. I make his heart beat. I make the blood move in his veins. He's mine. Not yours. Not anymore. Mine.
Nathaniel's fingers dug into my arm, and he was gasping as if some invisible hand were choking off his air. I didn't think that was really happening, but he was choking on the fear. Choking on her power. I met his terrified gaze and tried to say his name, tried to say anything, but no sound came out. I tried to call power, anything, but I couldn't think. Fear had stolen my thoughts, my logic, my power. No, no, some small part of me knew that wasn't true. She was just another vampire. Just another vampire. I was a necromancer. She could not do this to me. Part of me believed that, but most of me was fighting too hard to breathe to think at all.
If I'd had air enough, I'd have screamed. Not my fear, but my frustration. I didn't know how to fight this. She wasn't trying to mark any of us as servants, or seduce us, or control us. She simply had sent terror like some invisible wind to kill if it could, or not. She didn't care. There was no malice here, no strong emotion of any kind, except the fear, and the fear was a sending. She felt nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I didn't know how to fight against nothing. I didn't know what to do. We were dying, and I didn't know what to do.
Jean-Claude called in my mind, "Ma petite," but the fear swelled upward and covered his words. I knew he was talking in my head, but I couldn't understand what he said. The fear was drowning him out like one radio station overwhelming another. His words were like the ghost sound of a distant station, just under the sound of the terror, but all I could hear, all I could feel, was Moroven's fear.
Nathaniel collapsed against me, mouth still open, gasping as if the air were too thick to breathe. Me dying was one thing, but it wouldn't just be me. Nathaniel and Damian lay across my lap, their hair mingling like bright and dark ribbons.
Gregory knelt in front of me; I'd almost forgotten he was there. I usually had trouble reading his face when he was in half-leopard form, but this face, this face I could read. Even under spotted fur and yellow kitty-cat eyes, the hunger showed through. Not lust, hunger. He said in that growling voice, "They smell like food."
"I know." Richard's voice, and it turned me to him. I stretched my hand out toward him. He'd dragged us out of Damian's memory, maybe he could drag us out of this.
He looked... unhappy, angry. I let my hand begin to fall, but he took it, at the last minute, he took my hand in his. Instantly there was the sweet scent of forest and the musk of fur. The fear receded a little, like a wave of the ocean pulling back, but there was another wave just off shore, and you knew it was coming.
I could talk now, and what I said was, "Help me."
Jean-Claude's voice swelled inside me, pushed back the fear enough so I could hear his words. "You must raise the ardeur, ma petite, you must. She does not understand a clean lust, free of pain and terror. Use our Richard, and I will be able to join my powers to yours, and we can defeat her."
I stared up into the face of the man that Jean-Claude had so casually called "ours," and knew he wasn't. I could smell that wonderful musk, the calm of pine and leaf mold, but the look on his face was anything but calm. His brown eyes were full of a fine, shimmering anger. Touching his hand like this, I should have felt that anger dance over my skin, but I didn't. All I could feel was Moroven's power like a storm hovering over me. The only emotion left in me was terror.
"Ma petite, can you hear me?"
"Yes," I managed a whisper.
"Then what is wrong?"
I wanted to ask him, What am I supposed to do, wrestle Richard to the floor and ravage him? But all that came out was, "Can't, I can't."
"Can't what, ma petite?"
"Can't feed off Richard." It seemed silly to say that out loud while staring up into that handsome, angry face, but I couldn't concentrate enough to say it silently in my head. Talking was hard enough.
"Richard has agreed to this, ma petite."
I shook my head. "Don't believe it, he's angry."
Richard looked even angrier, but he said, out loud, "Jean-Claude's telling the truth, Anita, I agreed to feed the ardeur." His face was dark and frowning with his rage. He'd agreed, but he didn't want to do it. Come to think of it, neither did I. I did not want to go down this metaphysical path again. We'd worked so hard to separate ourselves out, and sex with Richard would bind us close again. I didn't want that, wasn't sure my heart would survive being broken again. There's only so much emotional super glue in a person's soul, after that everything just stays broken.
"I cannot hold Moroven's fear off forever, ma petite, you must act before my strength fails us all."
"Easy for you to say," and it almost sounded like my own voice, not breathy with terror, but nicely sarcastic. Good. "It's not your lily-white ass on the line."
"If I could fly to you, I would, but it is broad daylight, and I cannot. You and Richard must do this, for already I am losing against Moroven. I can feel her nightmare coming closer, and when it comes close enough, I will flee and save myself, in hopes that when darkness falls there will be something left to rescue. But if you and Richard do what I fear you will do, then darkness will come too late, too late for Damian, too late for Nathaniel, and if you do not survive the deaths of your servant and your animal, then Richard and I may never see moonrise again. Is it so horrible to feed from our Richard, ma petite, is that a fate worse than death?"
Put that way, no, but... damn it. Why did it always come down to sex? Why wasn't there ever another way to fight?
Jean-Claude answered inside my head, "Because we can only fight with the tools at our command. I am an incubus, ma petite, and seduction is both my curse and my greatest power. If I had another magic to offer you, I would, but it is what I know. It is almost all I know."
"If the only tool you've got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail," I said.
Jean-Claude started to ask something, but he was swept away. Everything was swept away by terror. My heart was in my throat like I'd swallowed a fish. I was choking on my own heart. My skin was cold with the iciness of her power. So afraid, so very afraid.
Richard jerked away from my hand, stepped back from me, and I couldn't read his face now. It wasn't anger.
Gregory knelt closer to us and stretched his upper body out, over Nathaniel and Damian, stretched out until his half-leopard face was only inches from mine. He sniffed the air in front of me. "Smells, so good, so yummy. Fear and flesh," he let out a long sigh that tickled his breath along my skin, "fear and flesh."