Jean-Claude's voice breathed through my head. "He is not breathing, but his heart still beats."
I said out loud, "We're out of time."
"Yes," he said, and I think that was out loud. He reached out to me, not with his hand but with his power, and this wasn't the warm living power of the lycanthrope. The cool grace of the grave touched me, and it flared that part of me that raised the dead. I suddenly knew how I'd cut him. I suddenly knew how it worked. It was like a puzzle box in my head, and suddenly I knew just where to press and just what it meant. Slashing from a distance used the beings' own magical aura against them. It turned their magical shielding into a slender invisible blade that could be turned against them. Jean-Claude had known what it was and how it worked for centuries, but he'd never been able to do it himself. He knew the how, but could not do it. I could do it, but didn't know the how. Together we suddenly had it covered.
My goal was not to kill Primo, but to make him let go of the man. I held my hand out toward him, and he still didn't look scared.
"Do you think your little cuts will stop me?" he demanded.
"No," I said, and I threw power at him, almost like throwing a ball, and that ball caught against his aura, his shielding, like a burr on a piece of cloth. But the ball didn't stay a ball, and it didn't exactly pierce Primo's shielding. It was as if the ball melted onto it, and where it melted, it invaded the shielding, became one with it, and turned that protective coating into something long and slender and sharp. I visualized that sharpness cutting across his belly, and his shirt split like a skin to show white flesh and blood.
It was a bigger wound than the other two, and his hand went to it, as if it hurt, or as if he wasn't sure how hurt he was.
"How do you like that one?" I asked. "Big enough for you?"
He snarled at me, flashing fangs that looked too big for his mouth.
It had done exactly what I wanted it to. Thanks to Jean-Claude's centuries of frustrated study, I had a new weapon. I'd been afraid before to hit too close to the victim. All it would have taken was the vic to have a little psychic gift, and I could have done more damage to him than to Primo. But now I had it, I knew it, I felt it.
I flicked a hand at the arm that held the man, and that arm split open from elbow to wrist. Blood spilled down his arm in a crimson wash, if his heart had been beating enough, the blood would have jumped out of his open arteries, but he didn't have the blood pressure for it. Not anymore.
"Do you seek to save this?" he lifted the man by his twisted collar. "It is dead and only meat for the animals now."
"His heart still beats," Jean-Claude said.
But we had only moments before mouth-to-mouth wasn't going to save him from brain damage. I threw both hands up, and I cut him. I tried slicing his arm like you'd bone a fish, but I could not break the deeper tissue. I could cut his skin and meat away but the ligaments held, and that was all Primo needed to hold the vic until he died. Stubborn bastard.
"If you do not drop the man now, Primo, I will see this as a direct challenge to my authority."
"See it any way you like, but I will not be a whipping boy for this," and he pointed not at me, but at the men that lay unconscious around him, at Buzz who stood near, but not too near. We were out of his league, and he knew it.
"So be it," Jean-Claude said. In my head he said, "Ma petite, it is not a knife, it is not a single blade, it is magic. If you can turn one small piece of his power against him, then why not all of it?"
I started to ask, what did he mean, then he showed me. It was like my mind was a wall, and he'd just plugged that bit of answer directly into my brain. I understood, and I didn't hesitate. It wasn't in me to hesitate when lives were at stake.
I didn't point or throw up a hand. It wasn't a game of ball. I could affect his shielding, and that shielding covered his entire body. I thought at that skin of magic, I threw power into all of it, and when I felt all of his shielding, as if I was caressing that invisible skin with my hands, I turned it all against him. I turned it all into inward-pointing blades. It was as if Primo were suddenly standing in the center of a reverse porcupine, a porcupine with spines the size of daggers.
Every inch of his skin I could see was just suddenly covered in blood. He screamed, screamed with a mouth that poured blood, screamed with a throat that was pierced in a half-dozen places. He screamed, and he let go of the man.
Clay and the dark-haired werewolf grabbed the man and dragged him over the bodies of his friends, and away, just away. I wanted to watch, to make sure they got him breathing, but I had other problems.
Primo started to charge us, but he stumbled and fell to his hands and knees. I realized in that moment that I'd blinded him. It wasn't permanent, but it was permanent enough. For tonight he was blind.
He roared at us and yelled in a voice that sounded like he was trying to swallow broken glass. "Damn you, Jean-Claude, damn you. You are not vampire enough to do this. You were never vampire enough for this."
"Did you come to St. Louis to destroy me and take my place?"
Primo raised his bloodied face toward the sound of Jean-Claude's voice. "Why not? Why not be Master of the City?"
"You cannot even be master of your own self, Primo, that is why. Power alone is not enough to rule this city."
I wanted to look behind me and watch him speak, but I didn't need to. In that moment I felt closer to him than if I'd stood holding his hand. I knew then what I'd known before, but only in the back of my mind. He'd used the vampire marks between us more openly, more intimately than ever before. I should have been angry, but I wasn't.
One of the waiters was bending over the man Primo had tried to kill. The waiter had bent back the man's head and was breathing into his mouth. The man gave a sudden jolt, and his first gasp of breath was loud.
The dark-haired werewolf that I could give no name to raised a thumbs-up. The man would live. He would be alright. No amount of muscle that we had here would have freed him in time. Nothing else would have freed him without killing Primo, though I wasn't sure that was a good thing. I thought we should kill Primo, and do it now, before he recovered.
Jean-Claude's voice whispered in my ear, "If someone dies, I will have much more difficulty convincing them all that nothing bad happened here."
I shook my head and thought, there aren't enough vampire mind tricks in the world to blank the mind of an audience this big. Not about something this traumatic.
"Do you doubt me, ma petite?" He was suddenly standing just behind me. His slender white hand appeared on my shoulder, a spill of white lace around it, and a flare of black velvet sleeve framing that lace.
I raised my hand up to touch his and found his skin cold, as if he had not fed or had used a great deal of energy up. There was more warmth to the velvet as it brushed my fingers than to his skin. He was drained. How much energy had it taken for him to talk mind to mind with me, or had things been happening that I didn't know about yet?
The rest of the black-shirted security began to move, slowly, stiffly, as if things hurt. Primo seemed to sense their movement, because he said, "Even blind, I am their match."
He moved into a crouch on the balls of his feet. The movement must have hurt like hell, but he never winced. He put one big bloody hand on the floor and the other in the air, as if he were sensing movement. It was too close to a martial arts move for comfort. He was huge, a vampire, nearly impervious to pain, crazy, and trained in the martial arts. It didn't seem fair.
Nathaniel came to my side, and he had my gun. He held it out to me wordlessly, exactly the way I'd taught him, butt first, fingers well away from the trigger.
I gave him half the smile he deserved, because I was still keeping an eye on the bloody giant on the floor. I clicked the safety off before I holstered it. Call it a hunch, but when Primo rushed us, I wouldn't want to waste that second. I'd need it.
But he didn't rush us. No, Primo had a much more interesting idea in mind. There was something about being this hooked up to Jean-Claude that made me feel safer, and that sense of safety was a type of arrogance. Arrogance made me forget that a really old vampire can do more than just hurt you physically. Jean-Claude's arrogance made me forget.
Primo didn't move a muscle, but he thrust power at us, poured his rage like flinging a red hot bucket of boiling anger on us. There was no time to shield against it. No time to do anything but take it. Jean-Claude tried to let it wash over him, but I felt that awful rage trying to find a place to grow inside him. The Master of the City consumed by rage would be a very bad thing. But I understood anger, and I wasn't Master of the City.