I was shielding as hard as I could. I did not want my abilities, not as Jean-Claude's servant, necromancer, or whatever the hell I was turning into, getting in the way. But some things are too powerful to hide from. Some things are too much a part of who you are, not to feel them. The lights dimmed, and I felt... vampires. Felt them through the shields. Felt them through Damian's sudden reach across the table, so that he could help me shield, help me control myself, help me not be overwhelmed. Jean-Claude had my other hand, but the tension in him wasn't helpful. He was excited.
I took my hand out of his with a smile, and clung to Damian. I needed something cold and calm, not nervous and excited. Damian wasn't excited, he was scared. I'd been nervous about all the masters coming to town, but not the ballet, itself. It was just a ballet, just a performance. The reactions of the two vampires let me know that maybe I should have worried about it more.
I glanced at Asher sitting so close in the next box. His froth of hair hid most of him, but there was a tension to him, too. What was about to happen?
I heard something, though that wasn't exactly it. It was as if I heard it with something deeper inside my head than my ears, or maybe felt it, and my mind could only translate what was happening into sound. I don't think they actually made any noise, but I heard a soft rustling, almost like birds.
I dropped the tiniest edge of my shields, like peeking over it in the midst of battle. I was holding hands with a vampire, surrounded by them, and sometimes when I was that wrapped up in vamps it was hard to sense other vampires. But not this one; this one was someone I didn't know. It was vampire, but unlike anything that had ever touched me before.
I glanced at Micah on the other side of Damian. Micah was shaking his head like a fly was buzzing him. He looked at me. "What's happening?"
I shook my head. "Vampire shit." Beyond that I truly didn't know. I looked over and found Nathaniel's face peaceful, waiting, as the lights dimmed. Jason's face lost its fight, too. I glanced at Damian, and his eyes were wide, a little panicked almost, then his face went peaceful, as well. I looked at Jean-Claude. He whispered, "He will try to make humans of us all."
I actually understood what he meant by that. The vampires at Guilty Pleasures and Danse Macabre would sometimes use group mind tricks to make performers appear in the midst of the human audience. Magic. Whatever vampire was doing this was trying not just to roll the human audience, but everyone. He was trying to cloud the minds of the other master vamps, so that his "performers" could appear like magic.
The theatre had gone eerily silent. There was no rustling, no movement below us. The humans had all had their minds rolled. Next would come the wereanimals, and then the vampires would fall. At least most of them would. I had never felt anything like this.
I drew my hand out of Damian's; he didn't seem to notice. He just kept staring straight ahead. I glanced behind at our bodyguards, and found Claudia staggering. Lisandro was just standing there, all peaceful. Shit, so much for the guards.
I looked back at Micah. His eyes were starting to unfocus. I grabbed his hand, and thought, No. No way. I pulsed a little power down his hand. My leopard flowed down my hand like warm water, spilling over his skin. He looked at me, eyes wide.
"Power up our cats," I whispered.
He nodded, closed his eyes, and I felt my leopard slip away, and follow his down the metaphysical lines to the other leopards. We had two leopards among the bodyguards.
"Ma petite, what are you doing?"
"Fighting back," I said.
My leopard began to swell upward, and I reached out to Richard. He was there in the crowd below with his date, a prof from a local college. He couldn't afford to be outed, but we couldn't afford not to have him here. He'd impressed the hell out of the prof by having tickets to tonight's gala event. I brushed his energy, and he whispered through my mind, "What's happening?"
I called my wolf, and the leopard quieted, but I could feel Micah reaching out further, finding the leopards. My wolf rose, and I saw through Richard's eyes. His human date stared at the stage, waiting, unseeing. My wolf touched his, and I thought what I wanted him to do, and I felt his energy, our wolves circle out from him, seeking. Where our energy touched, the wolves woke.
Having the vamp roll the Masters of the City was impressive, but rolling the guards was dangerous. I didn't like that at all. I looked behind, and found Claudia still struggling. She fell to her knees, struggling hard not to lose herself to the power. I had no tie to the rats, but it couldn't hurt to try. Besides, my wolf was starting to rise. I didn't need that.
I got out of my chair and knelt beside Claudia. Her eyes were terrified. She reached out. I grabbed her hand. I thought, Power. Her eyes cleared, and she gripped my hand so hard it almost hurt. Suddenly I felt Raphael. Not like I could feel Richard, or Micah, but I felt his power, like a scent on the air. Through Claudia's hand, his rat's hand, I offered power. Power enough to free his rats, who were most of our guards.
He took it, used it, and I felt it like a rock thrown into a pool. Out and out, leopards, wolves, rats, awake, alert. Pissed.
If there'd been a werehyena close enough, I'd have tried with them, too. Helping the rats had quieted my beasts. The power was awake, but they weren't trying to tear me apart. We were all waiting for the big, bad vampire to appear. We knew he was out there. We could feel him.
Jean-Claude's power flexed, suddenly and so strongly that it bent me over, nearly sent me to the floor. Claudia caught me. "You okay?"
Jean-Claude was waking up his vampires, but he needed my necromancy to do it. He'd borrowed without asking, but I was okay with that. There wasn't going to be time to ask nicely about a lot of things tonight.
I glanced at the box on the other side, away from Asher's box. It was Samuel and his family. Samuel looked at me. Thea glanced in our direction. His sons were lost to the magic, as were his two merpeople at his back. Whoever this was, was going to succeed at rolling everybody but the masters themselves and maybe one or two powerful servants. Impressive power, that. Impressive and scary.
Claudia helped me stand, and the curtains opened behind us. It wasn't Truth or Wicked, but a vamp I didn't know. He was tall, and meaty in an athletic sort of way, not fat, just physically bigger than I liked my men. Tall and broad the way Richard was, but unlike Richard, this one knew he was big and liked it. He moved in a glide that was already a kind of dance. Most of his body was nude, just enough covered by his leotard to not get him arrested. His upper body was beautiful even by my standards. Careless blond curls covered to just below his ears, framing a face that was more handsome than beautiful. He put all that beauty into his face so that the gaze of it was like a blow, or that's what he tried for. Claudia made a small, helpless sound. He'd rolled her, that quick.
I dug my fingers into her arm, and that didn't free her. I looked into his pale eyes, and felt the weight of his power. It said, See me, I am beautiful, I am desirable, you want me.
I shook my head, and had to flex power like unsheathing a blade not to fall into that gaze. Auggie hadn't been able to roll me, but this one could. I actually dropped my gaze, rather than fight it. The moment my eyes weren't being bored into by that pale gaze, I could think. Jesus, he was good.
I saw his hand coming. Claudia tried to stop him. I think he just looked at her, and she stopped moving. Lisandro tried, too, but again, a glance, and they seemed confused. The hesitation was enough. He had the time he needed to touch me. Touch makes it all worse, or better. He wanted me to look up, and I did.
I met his gaze, and again, his face was like a beautiful weapon. He leaned over me, his face painted with the stage makeup. He leaned in, as if he'd kiss me, and some part of me that was still sane knew that if he kissed me, it would be bad.
I smelled Jean-Claude's cologne, and the scent of Richard's neck. Jean-Claude had opened the marks wider. It made me startle, and take a step back, away from the blond.
I reached backward, and Jean-Claude took my hand. The touch of my master, and I was proof against the pale-eyed blond.
He smiled, an arrogant curl of lips. The smile said it all: I almost had you. He was right. He had almost had me. And still there was a breathing presence of power out there in the theatre, flowing over the crowd, and that power wasn't the blond in front of us. There was still something even more powerful waiting in the wings. Something even more powerful that we'd invited to our town. Sweet Mary, Mother of God, what had we done?