THE BLOND FLUNG himself over our heads, and out into the air. The air was full of vampires. They had flown up and over the audience, and in that instant the vampire let them go. He released his hold on the audience and they were left gasping, shrieking. Not at the fact that their minds had been messed about with, because they didn't know that, but at the vampires suddenly appearing above them like magic.
Jean-Claude helped me back to my seat. I needed the help; my knees were shaky. I looked around at all of us, and only the vampires hid their fear. The rest of us were wide-eyed and a little pale.
I leaned into Jean-Claude and whispered, "Did they do that every show?"
He shook his head, and spoke mind-to-mind. Yeah, maybe some of the other masters could overhear us, but we knew for dead certain they'd hear us whisper. "He bespelled the humans and some of the wereanimals, but he did not try for the vampires. He left them alone."
"Why now," I whispered, "why tonight?"
Of course, he didn't know. That didn't make me feel any better, strangely.
Claudia asked permission to check on the other guards. I gave it. I, like Claudia, wanted to see for sure that the other guards were up and running.
Lisandro was cursing very softly under his breath. "Fuck, f**k, f**k," over and over, like he said it with every breath.
He'd taken the words right out of my mouth.
The vampires danced on the air, at least a dozen of them. They defied gravity, and made it look effortless. It was beautiful, but I couldn't enjoy it. I was too scared.
The blond hovered in front of our box for a moment. He blew me a kiss. I smiled sweetly and gave him a one-fingered salute. He laughed, and flew away.
Other vampires flew low over the crowd, and they blew kisses at other women and other men. There were three or four women among them. It was sort of the reverse of most ballet companies, where there seemed to be more women than men.
The drapes at the back of our box opened, and it was Auggie. I got a glimpse of Pierce and Octavius on the other side of the curtain with Wicked and Truth. Auggie didn't look any happier than I felt.
He leaned over us, smiling, pretending he'd just come to say hi. "He did not do this in Chicago."
"Who didn't? Who's doing this?" I asked.
"Merlin," Auggie said, "troupe leader, dance master. The blond is Adonis. He used to be Belle's. Now he belongs to Merlin."
I felt that power breathing back on the air, like the smell of smoke drifting through the forest, when you don't know yet from which direction the flames will come, but you know they're on the way.
Auggie touched my bare shoulder. His power slid over my skin like a fall of silk. He offered his hand to Jean-Claude. "You rolled me; use it now."
Jean-Claude took his hand. To a casual viewer, they were shaking hands. Auggie's hand tensed on my bare shoulder, touching the edge of scars where a vamp had once worried at my collarbone like a dog with a rat. I wasn't entirely sure what Auggie meant for us to do. But Jean-Claude was sure, and you only need one driver on the metaphysical bus. Jean-Claude opened the marks between him and me, opened them wide. If it had been me, I couldn't have opened them that wide without involving at least Richard, but Jean-Claude had centuries of control under his belt. He used his free hand to touch my arm, and that was all we needed.
It was as if he pulled aside a curtain, a thick, velvet curtain. I could almost feel it sliding through my body, and then my necromancy flowed out from me like a chill wind. His power met mine, and the cold grew. But not the cold that blankets and coats would cure. This was the cold of the grave, spilled down our skins. Jean-Claude took that cold power and poured it down our hands and into Auggie. His power burst over Auggie, sudden enough that he had to close his eyes. His power was warmer than Jean-Claude's, warmer than my necromancy. He tasted not just of vampire, but of lion. More than any vampire I'd ever touched, he was also his beast. Interesting.
His cold warm power rose up, then spilled down his body to meet ours. It was a rush of power that tightened my throat, clenched my hand tight on Jean-Claude's. Only feasting on Auggie earlier let me know how small this power rush was compared to what we could do with him.
My lion tried to rise to roll his power. It was Auggie who soothed the lion, like a hand to stroke her quiet. But his power, far into me, found something else to rise. The ardeur started to flare, and it was Jean-Claude who rode it down, dampened those fires. He took the power, firm and hard, in his hand, the way he could suddenly take charge during lovemaking. You go from it being a team sport, to suddenly having him on top, and holding you still, so he can do exactly what he wants, in exactly the way he wants it, giving you more pleasure than you could have found on your own. He rode the power, and Auggie and I were just along for the ride.
The audience below us was oohing, aahing, giving little fake screams. It sounded like a crowd at a fireworks display, except this display was whirling, floating, diving bodies. I watched the dancers distantly. Their beauty no longer moved me. The power that Jean-Claude was building was the only thing that truly touched me.
But I heard the rustling of birds again; that got through the power haze. Merlin was about to pour power over the crowd again. He was going to hide the dancers, so they would vanish again, poof.
Jean-Claude used our power like a slap, a feint to let the other vampire know to back off. I heard birds flutter, as if they'd been disturbed in their sleep. I whispered, "Birds," and I couldn't tell if I said it out loud or not.
"His animal to call," Auggie whispered back, and that was a voice in my head.
I felt the power pull back, as if this Merlin had taken a deep breath. I had a moment to think he'd gotten the message, but the next moment that breath came back at us. Power poured over the audience. I felt the humans snuff out like matches, one by one. Vampires are allowed group hypnotism, because group mind tricks aren't permanent. Once the power is over, no harm, no foul. But this felt different. This felt like something that would linger, and change what it had touched.
"What's he doing?" and that was aloud.
Jean-Claude's voice breathed through my mind, "He is going to try to take us."
"What is he doing to the crowd?"
"He's trying to take us, all of us," Auggie said, "and that's too much power for the humans."
"He'll own them," I said.
"No," Jean-Claude said, "they are ours." He didn't try to fight for the minds of the crowd; he went straight for the source of our problem. He used the power of the three of us to smash into that mind.
The power staggered, as if we'd hit him, then the sound of birds filled the theatre. Twittering, crying, fluttering; the sound of hundreds of birds. The sound was so real that I searched the theatre for the flock, but there was nothing to see.
Nathaniel said, "I hear birds."
I didn't have time to wonder why he could hear them, too, because the birds were upon us. Feathers everywhere, touching, beating at me, trying to get me to move, to run. Jean-Claude's hand had a death grip on mine. Auggie's fingers dug into my shoulder, and the pain helped. It helped chase back the beating wings. I remembered the last time that a vampire's power had beat against my body like wings. Beat against me, not to frighten or make me run, but to be let inside. The power had cried in the dark, to be let inside me. Obsidian Butterfly, Master of the City of Albuquerque, had found her way inside me. She had filled my eyes with the blackness between suns, and the cold light of stars. She had also shared her power with me. That power came again, as if the touch of wings had called it.
Auggie cursed under his breath, his hand desperate on my shoulder. Jean-Claude said, "Ma petite, do not..." But whatever I wasn't to do he never said, because Obsidian Butterfly's gift dropped my shields and cut me open for Merlin's power. That metaphysical wind of wings and twittering calls poured inside me. The power poured inside me and I felt Merlin's triumph like the scream of some huge bird of prey. He thought he'd broken my shields, broken our shields, but he was wrong.
Jean-Claude and Auggie clung to me, trying to shore up what they, too, thought was a break in our power. But it wasn't a breach, it was a mouth.
It felt as if my body were a cave, a fleshy, soft cave, and the birds that I had heard and felt poured inside me, as if they'd found a home. I swear I could feel the brush of feathers, tiny bodies, fluttering, diving, filling me. Merlin's power poured into me, and tried to find Jean-Claude and Auggie. The power tried to find a way out of me and into them. Merlin poured more and more power into me, and I swallowed it.