Auggie and Jean-Claude clung to me, afraid to let go, afraid not to let go, I think. So much power, so much that it began to leak through into the other two vampires. The moment it touched them, they both understood. Merlin wasn't going to break me, we were going to eat him.
He must have figured it out at the same time, because he tried to stop the power, just cut it off. But I had the taste of him, and I didn't want it to stop.
The torrents of invisible birds slowed, but didn't stop. Obsidian Butterfly's power called to them, helped me know sweet words to use, to coax that power. The power kept coming, and I felt the flash of fear. It was sweet, and good, and I longed to taste the sweat on his skin. And I could, I licked down his skin, where he watched from the shadows.
He stared at me with dark eyes that held crimson like a pinpoint tear inside them. I'd seen eyes like that before. Never were human, were you? I thought.
He tried to break the contact, and he couldn't do it. Not with Auggie and Jean-Claude hooked up to me. He was big and bad and powerful, but he was not a Master of the City. He was not two Masters of the City, and he didn't know what the hell I was; in that moment neither did I.
I smelled jasmine and rain. I smelled a tropical night that hadn't existed for thousands on thousands of years. A voice rode the smell of rain. The Mother of All Darkness whispered, "I know what you are, necromancer."
I didn't want to ask, but it was as if I couldn't stop my mouth from forming the word. "What?"
I SCREAMED, AND I shut it down. I shut it all down. No more birds from Merlin. But in my panic, I shut down the tie with Auggie and Jean-Claude. For an instant, it was just me and her inside my head. I felt rain on my face, cool and warm. The moon rode full and bright, and I was too tall, and too male. I thought it was Jean-Claude's memory, but the hand I could see was too rough, too dark. Whose memory was I trapped in?
"Mine," she said again.
Oh, yeah, her. So why was I inside the head of the man she was about to eat? Why wasn't I inside her body?
Something moved in the moonlight. Something huge and pale, like some muscular ghost, sliding along the ground toward me. The head moved, and the eyes caught the moon, shining at me. I stared into the face of that great cat, and knew that nothing like it had walked the earth for thousands of years. "Cave lion," I thought, "huh, they were striped." The cat crouched to spring.
A wolf appeared between me and it. A white wolf with a dark saddle and head. Me, my wolf. This was a dream, which meant I was unconscious. Weird.
The wolf's hackles rose, and it gave that low, bass growl that all the canids use when they aren't kidding anymore. The wolf looked fragile beside that crouching figure. We were out of our weight class by a few hundred pounds.
I smelled wolf. I smelled pine, and forest loam. I smelled things that never grew here in this land, where the Mother of All Darkness had taken Merlin, or whoever he'd been once. I smelled the trees of home, the earth of pack land. I smelled the soft musk of wolf.
The cave lion tensed, and I knew this was it. The wolf braced for the spring, and the body I was wearing readied a spear that would not help.
Something touched my hand. I grabbed for it, without thinking, and the night exploded into white, hot light. Light, and pain, a great deal of pain.
Voices. "Let go, Anita, let go!"
Hands touching the pain. I tried to jerk away. It felt as if the blood in my hand had been replaced with molten metal. I knew that pain. A different voice, "Anita, let go!"
"Open your hand, Anita, just open your hand." Micah's voice.
My left hand was a lump of agony. I couldn't even feel my fingers. How could I open it, if I couldn't feel it? All I could feel was pain. It made me open my eyes. My vision was ruined, spotted, gray and black and white, as if I'd looked into a bright flash of light.
I had a moment to see the ring of faces: Micah, Nathaniel, Jason, Graham, and Richard. I saw them, but all my attention went to the agony that was my left hand. I looked at it, and on the outside it was fine. A thin gold chain trailed out of my fist. My hand looked fine, but I knew it wasn't.
There were heavy drapes behind us. We were still at the Fox. They'd just carried me out of the box, and put me somewhere where the audience couldn't see. I knew why there were no vampires kneeling with us. The Mother of All Darkness had tried to take me, again, and some fool had given me a cross to hold.
"Open your hand, Anita, please." Micah whispered it again, stroking my hair.
I found my voice, and whispered, "Can't."
Richard cradled my hand in his, and started trying to pry my fingers open. He peeled a finger up. I whimpered, then bit my lip. If I started making noises, I'd end up screaming, or weeping, loudly. They'd managed to hide me away from the crowd. If I started screaming that would all be for nothing.
"I'm sorry, Anita, I'm sorry." Richard whispered it over and over as he pried my hand open.
"Curse if you want to," Jason said.
I shook my head. Bad burns hurt too much for cursing to make anything better. I forced myself to feel past the pain. I could still feel my hand, but distant, as if the hand around the pain were almost asleep. The pain overrode everything else--as if the nerves just couldn't handle it all so they transmitted the important parts, that it f**king hurt, all else was secondary.
Richard made a sound and it made me glance at him. The look on his face made me look where he was looking--my hand.
Most of the blisters had burst, so that my palm and fingers were a mass of ruptured skin and clear fluid. But the glint of gold in my palm was buried inside the mass of torn flesh. The cross had melted into my hand.
I looked away then; I didn't want to think about what was going to be needed to clean it up.
Nathaniel leaned over me, blocking my view, which panicked me. I pushed him away, so I could see what Richard was doing by my hand. No way was that cross coming out without medical help. Painkillers, good painkillers, yeah, that was the ticket.
I reached my good hand back up to Nathaniel. He leaned over so I could whisper, "Doctor." I whispered because I was afraid if I talked any louder, I'd start yelling.
He nodded. "Dr. Lillian is on her way."
I nodded. Not caring how the doc was getting into the event. For once in my life, I just wanted the help. Most pain you can ride out, but burns just seem made to eat the world. The pain eats everything else. You can't think about anything but the pain. The grinding, biting, aching, nauseating pain. I'd had burns before, but this one was going to be the worst. Weeks of recovery, and depending on how deep the cross was embedded, maybe permanent damage to the hand. Shit, f**king shit.
Dr. Lillian came into sight. I didn't recognize her at first, and it wasn't just the pain. Makeup had softened her face, brought out what she must have looked like ten years ago. The soft blue of the dress complemented the soft gray of her hair, and the pastel shades of lipstick and eye shadow. I didn't look at her and think, She must have been lovely a decade ago. I looked up at her and thought, She is lovely now.
She shook her head. "What am I going to do with you people tonight?"
I swallowed hard. "Didn't do it on purpose."
She lifted the long skirt enough so she could kneel comfortably. "I would say not." Her face was neutral, pleasant, a good doctor's face. She started to reach for my hand, and I jerked away.
She leaned back, giving me a little smile. "If you promise to do everything I tell you to do, exactly the way I tell you to do it, I'll shoot you up with a painkiller before I touch your hand."
"Your word of honor that you won't argue with me, Anita. That you'll just do what I tell you to do?"
If I hadn't been out of my head with pain, I might have thought harder about her wording, but all I could think about was the pain. I nodded, and whispered, "I promise."
She smiled at me. "Good." She looked behind her. Claudia came into view, kneeling so the other woman could whisper to her. Claudia nodded, stood, and left.
Lillian turned away to get the shot ready. Normally, I made a fuss about needles. I was almost as phobic of needles as I was of flying. But tonight, I'll wasn't complaining. I was too busy fighting off the urge to start screaming, Make it stop, make it stop.
Lillian made Richard move, so she could kneel by my injured hand. Micah cupped my face so I couldn't see the needle. He knew how I felt about them. I let him do it, but I wasn't sure that I'd have cared tonight. I felt the pressure of the needle, then it was as if she shot hot water directly into my veins. I could feel it spreading liquid through my body. It was the oddest sensation. I'd never had anything that I could trace through my veins like that. My upper body flushed with heat. Then it was hard to concentrate, and I was dizzy. Even lying flat, I was dizzy. I started to ask if something was wrong, then the pain just washed away. The drugs bathed the inside of my upper body in hot water, and the pain just washed away.