I followed that scent upward, as he pulled my head backward with my hair. Joseph stood above me, his hair golden, his eyes already the deep, perfect amber of lion.
The man at my feet wrapped himself tighter around me, not kneading me with his fingers now, but clinging. "No," Haven said, "no, she's mine. Mine!"
"Not yours," Joseph growled. He drew his wrist upward and my body followed the line of his skin. It wasn't Haven I wanted, it was lion. Would any-one do? Maybe. It wasn't a person I chased, but a scent.
Haven came up off the floor in a movement too quick to follow. He was just suddenly moving, and Joseph was there, and the next moment they were across the room, crashing through the drapes into the stone wall beyond.
The drapes cascaded down around them, so that half the living room wall was ripped away, revealing the bare stone and the torch-lit corridor beyond.
The guards waded in, trying to separate them. I was left standing, staring, not entirely sure what had happened, or why. Joseph had saved me, from something, something...
Cloth ripped, loud and violent. Haven came up, out of the ripped drapes, and sailed across the room, to find the drapes at the other side. They collapsed around him, but he never tried to rise. He was just a shape under the cascading cloth.
Joseph stepped out of the fall of white and gold cloth, half his shirt ripped away. His hands were half-clawed, and his face was beginning to lose its human shape, like his body becoming soft clay. His hair was lengthening, starting to form the golden halo of his mane.
Auggie stepped to the edge of the spilled cloth around him, and his voice echoed through the room like the whisper of a giant. Intimate, soft, and thunderous all at once. "Lion, I am master here, not you."
Joseph growled at him with teeth gone long and dangerous. His voice was so low and growling that it was hard to understand. "I am the Rex of the St. Louis Pride. I was invited to see the lions you brought, and I have found them wanting."
Octavius came up beside Auggie, laid a hand on his back, and the power level rocked off the scale. It was like a metaphysical earthquake, except nothing moved, nothing you could see anyway. But it stumbled me on my high heels. Joseph staggered back a step from it. The others turned startled faces toward Auggie, but they weren't as affected as Joseph.
"Have you ever met a master vampire that could call your animal, Rex?" Auggie asked.
Joseph was breathing harder than he should have been, but he managed to growl, "No."
"Let me show you what you've been missing." He didn't gesture, or speak, but suddenly the air was hard to breathe. The air was so heavy with power that we should all be choking on it. But it wasn't meant for us.
Joseph collapsed to his knees, snarling, fighting, but he could not stand against it.
"Let me see your human eyes, Rex."
The growing mane began to shrink. The fur that had been climbing over his skin began to be reabsorbed. His face was reshaping itself. Only when he was Joseph again, fully human again, did the air ease a little.
"What do you want, vampire?" Joseph said, in a human voice that sounded breathy.
"Obedience," Auggie said, and there was nothing friendly about that one word. The good-natured man was gone, and the master vampire was revealed. "Come to me, Rex, crawl to me."
Joseph fought him. You could watch the struggle of it on his face, but finally he dropped to all fours.
"Stop it, Auggie," I said, "leave him alone."
"He is my beast, not Jean-Claude's. There is no tie between my host and the lions."
"There is tie between me and the lions. I invited Joseph here tonight."
He never looked at me, but Octavius did. He put those perfect chocolate eyes on me, and his face held nothing but arrogance. Which pissed me off. Anger is bad, but sometimes, well, it has its uses.
I moved toward them. I put myself between them, blocking his view of Joseph. It was like I'd taken a punch. Nathaniel was there to grab me, and the moment he touched me, I felt better. He was my animal to call now, not just my type of animal, but truly my animal to call, as Richard was to Jean-Claude. It was sort of like a furry human servant, and it gave some of the benefits. Power, extra power.
"Joseph and his people are our allies. My leopards and I have a treaty with them. To harm one is to harm both."
Auggie looked at me then, his eyes swimming gray like clouds with lightning caught inside them. "If Jean-Claude had made this treaty I would have to abide by it, but you are a human servant, Anita. You do not bind me, as your master would. Just as, if you visit us in Chicago, deals made by Octavius alone are not binding on your master."
"So you'll hurt Joseph because why, because he stopped me from doing some metaphysical shit with your lion? Is that it?"
"He is lion, and no lion can resist me."
"He is the Rex of St. Louis, Auggie, you have no authority over him," I said.
"Would you challenge me with Octavius at my back? Would you set yourself against me with your master busy elsewhere?"
I nodded. "Yes."
"I will punish him for his insult to me and mine, Anita. I will do it. You can either allow it, gracefully, or you can force me to control you, as I control Joseph."
"If you think you can control me, Auggie, knock yourself out."
It was suddenly harder to breathe again. Micah came in at my other side. He was my Nimir-Raj, and it helped me think, but it didn't help me fight. "Graham," I said.
He came to my reaching hand, and the moment I touched him, I could feel the wolves. Feel the tie through Richard to the pack. That neck-ruffling scent of wolf. The green peace of woods and fields, and...
I staggered, and only Nathaniel and Graham's hands kept me on my feet. Pierce the werelion was at Auggie's side.
I wanted to call Jean-Claude, but was afraid to. Auggie was his friend, but what I was feeling pushing against me, filling the very air, was more powerful than anything I'd ever felt from Jean-Claude. If I lost to Auggie, then I lost. But if Jean-Claude lost to him, then there was a chance he would be defeated as Master of the City. And right there, in that moment, I saw the real reason I hadn't wanted these bastards in our city. I hadn't trusted us to be strong enough.
I would not cost us the city. I would not be the ruin of us all. I would not. I was trying to fight him as if I were another master vampire, but that wasn't what I was. I was a necromancer. I was supposed to have control over all the dead. We would see.
I let go of the men who held me up. I took a step away from the hands of the living, and opened that part of me that I always had to shield. That part of me that was like some great closed fist, tight, tight, or who knows what we could do, by accident or by design.
I almost never unleashed my necromancy outside a cemetery. But there were no dead bodies for the power to find, there were only vampires. My power blew out from my body like a chill wind, and it found its mark.
"What is this?" Auggie asked. Octavius's face didn't look so arrogant over his shoulder. Pierce moved away from him as if something about my power had made it hard to keep touching him.
"If being human servant or Nimir-Ra gains me nothing, then there are other titles, Auggie. Other powers to be invoked."
He licked his lips, a nice nervous gesture. "What is this power?"
"Haven't you heard, Auggie, I'm a necromancer."
"There are no true necromancers," Octavius said, but his voice didn't sound so certain.
"Have it your way, but you will leave Joseph and his people alone while you're in my city."
"Or what?" Auggie asked, his eyes still full of gray light.
"I have another title among the vampires; do you know what it is?"
"The Executioner, they call you the Executioner."
"Yeah, they do."
"Are you threatening to kill me?" He managed to sound amused, even with my power breathing around his body.
"I am telling you the rules. You do not mess with our people. And all the vampires, all the shapeshifters, and other supernatural to be named later, qualify as our people."
"We were attacked," Octavius said.
"Fine, you've proved your point. You forced him to swallow his beast. I say it's enough."
"I am a master vampire, a ruler of a city; you do not dictate to me."
"If you're vampire enough to make me back down, then come and get me, Auggie. I stand here alone, no animal to call, no Nimir-Raj, no vampire at my back. I stand here with nothing but my own power. Are you vampire enough to do the same?"