ladydeathfaerie: (Jean Claude)
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Title: The Mary Sue Virus: Beyond Death
Chapter Thirty Nine: Children of the Velvet Night
Fandom: Anita Blake universe
Rating: 18 and up
Warnings: graphic sex and violence, language, anything else i can toss in.
Disclaimer: the recognizable characters and places contained herein are the property of LKH. i'm merely borrowing for the sake of entertainment. no money is being made from this venture. the Sues are the sole property of their originators, Ginevra, Dazzledfirestar, Nanaea, SilverFoxChan and ladydeathfaerie. the concept and title of The Mary Sue Virus are used with permission from Dazzledfirestar.

Author's Notes: this is the first of three chapters written because of the bunny that wouldn't quit eating my brain. i really hope that they translate to something enjoyable and readable.

The Mary Sue Virus: Beyond Death - Index Link

"There is no God." The voice wasn't one he'd heard before. It prompted him to pause in his prayers and he lifted his head to stare at the individual before him. It was one of them. The undead. He almost sneered at her, but stopped himself and took a moment to study her. The vampire looked decidedly unhappy, her gaze filled with emotions. Something told him that it wasn't because he'd been praying to someone she didn't believe in.

"Of course there is. And He will reward me when I join Him at His side in Heaven."

"You're wasting your time and your breath. If God does exist, He doesn't exist in this place. He answers no prayers uttered here."

"You're not my usual baby sitter," he commented, ignoring the woman's words. She was a heathen and her soul had been doomed to Hell the moment she'd let someone take her blood.

"Baby sitter," she echoed, voice suggesting she was considering the word and what it meant. She shook her head. "I am not that. I only stopped in because I heard you praying. I have not heard prayers in a very long time. No one here prays. No one here believes they will be heard or answered."

He detected a hint of an accent in her voice. And a touch of what he thought might be regret. What could this creature have to regret? Did she honestly think he was going to buy her act? The vampires were Godless heathens, little more than minions of Satan sent to lead the world astray. He was not going to buy her lies.

"Where is my usual baby sitter, then?" he questioned. Not that he cared. The woman who was apparently in charge of looking after him was as unpleasant as they came. To be honest, he was glad she wasn't there. She scared him. Just a little bit.

"She is busy running the Master's interests for him. Because he had a party to attend." The last of her words were sneered, suggesting she was displeased with that for some reason.

"A party? Let me guess. You weren't invited."

"I would not have gone, even if I had been asked to attend." There was such vehemence in her voice that he couldn't help but be intrigued.

"Why not? Do you not like parties?"

She sniffed disdainfully, leaving him staring for just a moment. It was the reaction of a jealous woman, something she did upon learning the object of her affections was busy with someone else. Her next words proved his thoughts true. "I should be at my Master's side. No one can love him like I do. But he has taken her to this party. She does not deserve him. She despises him. She whores herself out to other men, but he's claimed her as his own."

There was hatred in the creature's voice. The kind of hatred that had had years to build. The kind of hatred that could lead to pain and misery, perhaps even death. He considered her a moment. "You hate this woman that much?"

"She does not want to be his servant. Still he treats her as if she is the most precious thing on the planet. She is little more than his whore," the woman spit. "A redheaded whore who wants nothing to do with him. And yet, he keeps her. Because she has power. I would kill her if I could get away with it."

If anyone had asked him what kind of conversation he'd have with a vampire, he'd have said none. He'd never imagined anything beyond laying waste to their kind. They were a plague upon the world, one that he was sworn to end. But here he was, being held by the city's head blood sucker and having a conversation with one of the many undead under his command about her hatred of another woman. It was... surreal.

"Why can't you kill her?"

"He would do me harm," she admitted. He heard the fear at the back of her words that said she knew exactly what kind of harm the undead bastard would visit upon her.

"He's harmed you before?"

She pinned him with a glare. "For trying to harm his last servant. He locked me in a cross wrapped coffin. It was hell. I refuse to allow him to do it to me again."

Curious. "Tell me about his servant. What makes her so special?" He really wanted to know, in spite of himself. Then again, he spent most of his time praying and, as yet, God had not answered any of his prayers. Maybe he could find a way to convince this creature to help him.

"She has powers over the dead. It has been said she inherited the powers of his previous servant upon her death. I say that it is impossible. But this power enhances his own. With her at his side, he is capable of almost anything." The woman snarled something in another language, one he didn't understand. But he could understand the tone of her voice and the hatred that echoed in her words. She despised the undead's servant whore as much as he hated the undead. Perhaps he could use her to his own ends? He'd have to play the game slowly, go easy. Earn her trust and then use her to accomplish what no one else had been able to manage thus far.

"Can she use her powers over the dead on you? Or your master? Maybe she's already used them to convince him to keep her at his side," he suggested lightly. The woman's eyes narrowed on him, as if he'd done something extremely interesting. He was of the opinion that she hadn't considered such a thing before. Now that he'd planted it in her head, he was sure she was giving it some deep thought.

"I... I do not know. I have never seen her use her powers on a vampire. But that does not mean she is not capable of doing so. Deceitful little bitch." The creature's hatred was deep. It was a pool so deep, he could swim in it and never find the bottom. He was fairly certain that the creature before him was as mad as a hatter. But she also struck him as smart and cunning. She would be a worthy ally. And if she got killed permanently because she got caught conspiring with him, it wouldn't upset him too terribly. All he needed to do was bring her around to his way of thinking. It would take time. But he was sure he could do it. Maybe he should make an offering.

"You know God listens to me," he said.

"I told you. God does not live in this place."

"God listens to me," he repeated firmly. He gave her a considering look. "Maybe I can put in a good word for you? Ask God to give you that which you want most."

She watched him with narrowed eyes. As if she was searching, looking for the lie. He did his best to appear sincere. Waited for her to say something. Or do something. At best, she'd fall for it and he'd reel her in. Slowly. At worst, she'd see the lie and leave. Never come back. No skin off his back if that happened.

"Why would you do that?"

"Because I want to. Because you look like you need God to help you."

She considered it. Really considered it. He could tell by the look in her eyes. And she wanted to say yes. He could see that in her eyes, too. But she frowned suddenly and turned for the door. "I must go," she announced before leaving him alone.

It didn't matter. He'd seen the momentary hesitation. She'd wanted to say yes. It had been on the very tip of her tongue to go ahead and say yes. He didn't know why she hadn't. But he knew, without a doubt, that she'd be back. She'd come back and, when she did, he'd hook her. She'd already taken the bait. It was only a matter of time before she set it and found herself caught on his line. And when he reeled her in... Together, they were going to destroy the Master of the City and his entire coven of undead creatures.

He held back the smile. Just in case someone was watching. He took a moment to simply breathe and consider. Then he bowed his head and returned to his prayers. God would help him. God would grant him the ability to destroy his enemies. And, when he was done, he would return to his father and prove to him that he was committed to the cause.

~*~*~*~*~

It was disconcerting to see the cameras flashing, the large group of real reporters and stalking paparazzi lining the drive into the park. It didn't seem to matter that the windows were up and tinted darkly enough that no one could see who rode in the back of the limousine. The gathered masses clicked photos relentlessly in the hopes that they would be the one to capture that elusive shot of the Master of the City. Wouldn't they all be disappointed to know that he wasn't in this car?

Nathaniel seemed indifferent to the throngs of people on either side of the road. His expression was distant and almost unfocused, his attention seemingly turned inward. Still, as if he knew what this spectacle was doing to her, one of his hands held hers in a loose, warm grasp that went a long way toward soothing her anxiety and mild panic. Then again, Nathaniel was used to having the public looking at him. And he was absolutely used to Jean Claude's idea of a party. Every last bit of this was new to her. To be quite honest, Rhiannon was a little apprehensive about the whole thing.

It had been almost two full weeks since Jean Claude had announced there would be a party, that Masters were coming in from all over the country. Rumor was that there might even have been a couple of Master coming in from overseas. Rhia didn't know if it was simply that, a rumor, but she had to admit to being interested in finding out for sure. If only there was a way to manage it without having to attend Jean Claude's event. She was not a people person in general, and certainly not a fan of large groups particularly. It didn't help that she'd been having some odd dreams the past couple weeks. Dreams that had left her unsettled and slightly unfocused.

The limo pulled into a large tent set up some distance up from the park's entrance and the flaps were dropped into place so that none of the cameras could get a shot into the interior to see what was happening or who was getting out of the car. As soon as the flaps were down, the door opened and someone was reaching in to offer Rhia their hand. She let them pull her out and found herself face to face with an absolute stranger. "Right this way, miss," he said and began escorting her to a second set of flaps. Nathaniel was trailing behind her and a glance over her shoulder showed that he was wearing a bemused look.

The stranger led her through the opening in the second set of flaps and came to a stop. They were in a second tent, this one brightly lit and brimming with people. There were garment bags hanging on racks alone one wall and dressing tables lining another. Rhia's escort took her to a woman who stood in the middle of the chaos, issuing orders as she stared at the clipboard in her hand.

"Rhiannon and Nathaniel," her guide said, then offered her a smile before dropping her hand and hurrying away.

The woman took one look at Rhia's outfit and turned to glance over her shoulder. "Bring me the green dragonfly wings. The iridescent ones."

One of her assistants rushed to do her bidding and soon came over to them with a pair of delicate looking wings in hand. "Turn around, dear. Let's get these on so that you can make your entrance with your young man. Don't the two of you look absolutely darling together?" the woman said even as she was turning Rhia around. She was silent as she worked the wings into place on Rhia's back. She found herself facing the long row of dressing tables, each one of them topped by a lighted mirror. Each one of the lighted mirrors showed Rhia what she looked like in her costume. It was an amazing sight.

For lack of a better word, Rhia looked like some kind of pixie or forest spirit. She supposed what she was wearing could be called a gown, but that wasn't quite the right word. She wasn't sure if she knew what the right word was supposed to be. Either way, it was stunning and she felt as if she maybe shouldn't be wearing it.

The bodice was made up of mostly nude mesh, with only a couple of well placed lines of leaves and flowers in green and blue and pale yellow and lavender to leave her decent. She thought she should feel more exposed than she did, but the applique that had been done did a very good job of providing cover. Every last leaf was textured, as were many of the flower petals. Each one bore a different design and height, and it was layered one piece on top of another to give the work on the bodice depth. Many of the blue flowers were created through the use of blue gemstones, and each one flashed when it caught the light. Some of those same blue gemstones climbed up the mesh to create swirling designs to draw the eyes to each bit of the detailing. The yellow and lavender flowers were small silks that had been lovingly nestled amongst all the green, each one sporting a sleek white pearl at its center.

The skirt had a high hem in the front, only coming down to mid-thigh, while the back was long enough that a few inches of material dragged the ground. It was made up of various shades of green and yellow, again layered to give the impression of depth. The material was sheer enough to see through where it wasn't layered, with crinkles and jagged ends to give it a leafy kind of feel. The same applique that had been used on the bodice lined the waist of the skirt like a belt. Vines of flowers emerged from the waistline to run down the skirt in various places. Those same sparkly gems that had been applied to the bodice adorned the skirting so that she flashed and sparkled with every turn.

It didn't stop at the dress. She wore pair of wide net stockings in green with the ensemble, ivy vines and leaves and tiny flowers climbing up the net to continue the nature theme. Her shoes were soft, tooled leather slippers that only looked like leaves if you glanced at them directly. And the wings that had just been put in place were green and iridescent, very much like the wings one saw on a dragonfly. There were veins to create many different panes in each wing and they were so light, Rhia wouldn't know she was wearing them if she couldn't see them spreading out over her shoulders and from behind her arms.

To complete the outfit, great pains had been taken with her hair and makeup. A very soft pink gave a rosy blush to her cheeks, and glitter sparkled along the line of her cheekbones. Her lips were a frosty mint green. Green stones had been nestled in her brows, providing random flashes of color when the light caught them. Her eyelids had been done in shimmering forest green and a pale gold that swept out to the corners of her eyes, where ivy leaves began erupting en masse. The leaves followed vines down the sides of her face. They raced back to her hairline, where actual leaves and blossoms had been woven into her curls. Said curls had been fluffed up to give them a wilder, fuller look, and the stylist had spent quite a bit of time weaving vines, blossoms, and leaves into them.

If everyone else was dressed as spectacularly as she was, she was pretty sure Jean Claude must have hired every costumer in St. Louis to do the clothes for this party.

Once the wings had been added to the costume and last minute tweaks had been made, the woman was ushering them none too politely toward a flap in the tent wall. As soon as she and Nathaniel drew close, the flaps parted and allowed them out into the park, where the party was already in full swing. Rhia stopped short when she realized she was facing a sea of people.

Nathaniel's hand on her back was a warm, welcome weight that helped bring her back to the here and now. He leaned toward her and brushed a gentle kiss against her cheek, careful of the glitter clinging to it. "You look lovely, Rhia. You're going to turn every head in the park tonight."

She wanted to argue with him that she would do no such thing, but faces were already turning toward them. Given the low light, it was hard to tell what kind of expressions people wore, but they were staring. And if she took him at his word and she looked lovely, then he looked absolutely amazing.

He'd been dressed as a satyr, with a pair of fur pants that rested rather low on his hips. She knew from experience that an inch or two lower and they'd be obscene. The pants must have cost someone a fortune to make because it wasn't that really crappy fake fur that you found at most craft stores. The fur looked so real. It was smooth and pleasant to the touch. The kind of fur that a person wanted to touch. And it was molded perfectly to Nathaniel's legs. Right down to the hooves, which were not the size of his feet. Rhia didn't even want to begin to guess how he was walking in them.

His chest was bare, save the few vines that had been twined around it. Leaves were sprinkled across his torso and along his arms. So was glitter. It was green and had been liberally dusted across his skin, creating a lighter, second layer of color over darker, solid patches of green. It even framed his eyes. Glitter sparkled on the upper curve of his cheeks, covered his eyelids and crossed the bridge of his nose. Extended back to his hair, which had been left to hang long with exception of a series of thin braids worked in at random. Leaves and tiny blossoms grew out of the braids. Topping his look off was a pair of small horns. They were a couple inches long with sharp points, and they seemingly sprouted from the top of his head.

"You look very handsome," she replied softly. Nathaniel offered her a smile and nudged her forward. She allowed him to steer her along, relying on his touch at her back to convey where they were going as her gaze slid over the spacious park and the growing crowd.

There were so many people milling around, and every single one of them was clad in some kind of flowing robe or gown. There were tunics and leggings and boots. And there were what were obviously meant to be dresses, crafted of flowers or leaves or moss. Some wore wings and some went without. There were elaborate hairstyles and simple hairstyles. There were masks of cloth and leather and metal. There were swords strapped to waists. There were crowns and tiaras and sparkling gems that drew the eye. There were so many colors that it felt to Rhia as if she was staring at the physical embodiment of a rainbow. There were greens and blues and reds and pinks and yellows and oranges and golds and silvers and blacks and browns and every color in between. They came in jewel tones and pastels. They were muted and they were bright. People strolled under the canopies of trees or they stood in place.

Conversation floated on the air, some of it soft and whispering while some of it was loud and boisterous. She saw humans and vampires and lycanthropes, all clustered in groups and acting as if something like this was an every day occurrence. Some people held crystal champagne flutes in their hands. Some had plates of food. Some held nothing while others held hands.

Rhia was sure she'd never stop staring at the gathered party goers and their elaborate costumes. It was all too fantastic to take in. But then she spied the tents that had been created for the event and found her attention diverted. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to create tents that looked as if they'd simply sprung from nature and the ground. The poles at each corner looked like thin trees. More specifically, a quartet of trees sort of clustered together to create a natural looking canopy. Each corner post was designed to look like a tree trunk. Branches sprouted off the trunks, extending toward each other on the insides of the poles to create a canopy of leaves that looked very real. More branches stuck out in the other direction, creating a leafy overhang on the exterior of the tent.

Closer examination showed Rhia that the leaves were in various shades of green with touches of yellow here and there. Each of the trunk-posts had been wrapped with ivy and blossoms in a multitude of colors. And someone had woven twinkling lights into the canopy, soft golden lights and illuminated the table and chairs that had been set up under each tent. The tables had been covered with gossamer cloth in shimmering greens and golds. It even looked as though the tables and chairs were made to look as if they'd come out of a forest setting, the wood carved with vines and leaves and blossoms and even the faces of mythical, magical creatures.

There were a couple of larger tents set up in what was nearly the center of the clearing, one for the string quartet that had been hired to play for the guests and one to house the refreshments for the living. These tents had been created using a single, central pole that gave the appearance of being a real, thick tree trunk with a billowing canopy of branches overhead. In the case of the refreshments tent, it was several of these large tree tents set side by side so that the canopies overlapped and intertwined to create a continuous, single canopy. The tables that held food and drink were set up around the trunks to give the appearance of a single, long surface instead of many. As with the individual tents, the trunks were strung with lights and vines and looked organic to the park setting.

The actual trees, which Rhia could feel by nature of her magic, had been decorated up along with the tents. They were strung with lights that twinkled gold and blue and white. Someone had taken the time to wrap vines around some of the trunks, and there were flowers hidden among the leaves. Wrought iron torches were scattered around the park's lawn, lit with LED lights that offered up a cool blue glow. Ribbons and flowers and ivy vines had been tied to each one.

A handful of the torches lined the shores of a lake on the other side of the park, the gentle ripples of the water's surface reflecting the blue of the lights. It looked like the light was dancing on the water's surface, and Rhia was made to think of pixies as they hovered and flittered about.

In fact, the entire park looked like something out of a fantastical land, filled with magic and myth. It was beautiful in a kind of ethereal way, a place that had simply appeared out of nowhere and would disappear again when no one needed it. "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" Rhia whispered.

Nathaniel smiled at her. "Yes. Shakespeare. With a touch of Venice's Carnevale for good measure." She watched as his eyes drifted across the shifting throng of party goers. She wondered if he saw it the same way she did, or if it glittered more. If his gaze was sharper than hers, if the lights twinkled brighter and the colors were more intense. "I am impressed that he pulled this off. I've seen a number of his productions and this one... This one takes the cake," Nathaniel told her.

She shouldn't have been surprised that he'd gone all out on this one. The outcome of this party was far too important for it to be a simple affair. Still, it seemed as if he'd gone above and beyond. And she had a niggling feeling that something was not right.

"Drink?" A young man in what Rhia took to be the catering team's uniform asked as he approached the two of them. His shirt was pristine white, the sleeves to the wrist. She expected his buttons were done up neatly, but the sapphire blue tie he wore hid them from view. His uniform was finished up with neatly pressed black dress pants and shiny black shoes.

When she lifted her gaze to his face, it was to find herself staring at a rather generic looking young man. Something about him struck her as familiar, and she might have trailed after that thought, but it was shoved aside when a shiver of premonition slithered up her spine. But before she could explore that, Nathaniel offered the waiter a smile and shook his head. "No, thank you. Not right now."

The man stared at them a moment, then gave a single nod. "Good evening." He moved off into the crowd without another word.

"Is anyone else here?" Rhia asked, pushing the weird feeling from her mind. She wasn't sure it was legitimate because she couldn't pinpoint its source, nor could she figure out what it was trying to tell her. And the feel of Nathaniel at her side, combined with the tingle of nature against her skin and the mingling mass of bodies around her, brushed all of her concern away. The soft strains of strings filled the air as the quartet started playing and couples started dancing. Rhia let her gaze scan the crowd, looking for a familiar face.

"Not yet. We're the first members of the kiss to arrive. The others will come behind us. As will the members of the pack who are invited. And the pard, the rodere... Groups will be arriving at intervals. Jean Claude and Aedan will come last."

"What is everyone else dressed up as?" she asked. Nathaniel only smiled and tugged her into his arms. She was surprised by his fluid motions as he spun them into a slow dance that followed the rhythm of the music being played by the quartet. She shouldn't have been. But she was.

"You'll find out when they get here. For now, Rhia. No more questions. Just enjoy the party."

His tone was filled with coaxing and the warmth of his hands against her back helped chase the questions away. She wasn't much of a dancer by nature, but his natural grace and gentle lead made her feel like she was the best dancer in the world.

Thoughts and cares and concerns fell away from her as she and Nathaniel swayed together. The night air was cool, but not cold, and it smelled sweetly of flowers. Soft chatter underscored the strings but didn't overpower them, and the natural energy of the earth rose up to twine around her and make her feel at home.

~*~*~*~*~

"People are staring at us," Isis whispered. She knew it was stupid, given the enhanced hearing that most everyone in attendance had. But she did it anyway. Damian cast his gaze around the milling crowds for a moment or two before returning his attention to Isis. He offered her a soft smile.

"So what if they are? You are a beautiful woman and I'm incredibly lucky to have you on my arm tonight." She blushed at Damian's words. That didn't mean she couldn't feel all the eyes that landed on her. No doubt word had gotten out that the St. Louis pride had a vampire as a Rex. No doubt there were individuals present who were wondering if they could take the pride away from that vampire. If they tried... Isis hoped they didn't try, because she really didn't want to do any damage to the beautiful costume she was wearing.

Layers of lace and tulle and organza flowers made up the costume, with some mesh and chiffon thrown in for good measure. The bodice was mostly flesh colored mesh with swirls of flowers in pale pink and dark red that covered her breasts and trailed twin lines down to the waist of the gown. From there, more of the flowers dotted the skirt, tiny blossoms that had opened up in long lines down the length of the front and back. Said skirt was a dark, dusky pink at the top that darkened into a deep red that was almost the same shade as Damian's hair.

The waistline was asymmetrical, with a layer of tattered tulle at the very top. More tulle flowed down to the ground, along with layers of chiffon and mesh. Gossamer faerie wings of some iridescent material seemed to have sprouted from her back as if by magic and the skirt dragged the ground as she walked.

Her hair had been worked into a pair of braids, on atop the other. The top one had been created by combining a series of small braids into one larger braid that was only done halfway down. The ends had been curled and left to hang over the second braid, which started under the first. It, too, was secured in the middle with the ends curled and left to hang against her back. Tiny flowers had been woven into the braids, as well as hints of baby's breath. The look was finished off by a mask made of starched lace that fit against her face comfortably. More of the flowers that decorated her dress had been embroidered into it and, like the ones on the dress, had had small pearls sewn into the centers. She felt like an honest to goodness faerie princess.

If she was a faerie princess, Damian was her woodland prince. He was shirtless so that his arms were bare. He wore a green sleeveless vest that perfectly matched his eyes. It had gold and red embroidery on it in the shapes of lions and flowers and it was held closed by loops of material strung around large wooden barrel-shaped buttons. His breeches were form fitting and of a forest brown velvet. Brown boots completed the look. Other than a pair of warrior's braids worked in near his temples, his hair had been left to hang long and straight. Someone had placed a crown of ivy on his head and the belt at his waist held two large daggers in sheaths. Isis had the sneaking suspicion that they were for more than show.

"As I am lucky to have so handsome a man escorting me this evening, my lord," she smiled and laid a hand against his chest. His heart was beating for her, and the feel of it beneath her hand made her feel special.

His smile was slow and lazy and warm, the kind of smile he seemed to have reserved explicitly for her. "Let us go to the refreshment table and find you something to quench your thirst. Then perhaps we'll dance."

"Are you sure you want to dance with me in public? I'm afraid I have two left feet. I'll only embarrass you."

"I have seen you move, Isis. I know that you are as graceful as the lion you become," he replied.

"Sweet talker," she replied. Another look around showed her that people were still staring. Right. They could take a flying leap. She was not going to let them keep her from enjoying her evening. "A drink sounds lovely. And so does dancing."

"Very good," he nodded and motioned toward the refreshment tent. Isis was still amazed at how organic the tent, all of the tents, looked amidst the trees. Someone had outdone themselves on this one and she suspected that this whole evening had cost Jean Claude a pretty penny.

Before they could start toward the refreshment tent, a member of the waitstaff arrived carrying a tray of drinks. He silently offered Isis a flute of champagne and she took it with a smile. His eyes held hers as she took her first sip, prompting her to give him a nervous smile. "Thank you."

"Enjoy the evening, miss," the man finally said after several long seconds. Then he disappeared into the crowd and Isis felt herself take a breath. She hadn't realized she'd not been breathing. Inside, her lioness paced back and forth, eager to be set free.

"That was weird," she said quietly.

"I do not like the way he looked at you," Damian told her. She looked up to see that he was tracking the server's path through the crowd and one hand had dropped to rest on the hilt of a dagger.

"You're the one who said people would be staring. Don't worry about it. I'm here with you and I know you would never let anything happen to me." She inched closer and pressed a champagne flavored kiss to his cheek. The gesture eased the tension that had risen to pull his shoulders taut. She put her hand on his chest. "I thought you wanted to dance."

The last of his dark mood fell away at her actions and he offered her a gentle smile before sweeping her into his arms and then into a waltz with actions so smooth that her drink barely shifted in the flute she still held. "As my lady wishes."

They had never danced before. There had never really been occasion to indulge in something that seemed so... non-essential. In the weeks that had passed since she'd become Regina, Isis had been thinking only about leading the pride. Keeping her people alive in the face of the threats to the community that had been uncovered. Getting to know Damian more intimately. Dancing had been kind of frivolous in the face of a life or death situation. But now, here in his arms, she could see that maybe they should have danced once or twice.

His movements were so fluid. It was obvious he'd learned to waltz when the dance had first come into popularity all those centuries ago by virtue of the ease with which he slid from one step into the next. The agility and grace she'd been granted by her lycanthropy made it easy for her to follow his movements so that the two of them flowed together seamlessly as they whirled and turned around the grassy dance area.

The night air was just the right amount of cool without being too cold. It felt good against her exposed skin. So did the hand Damian had rested on her hip. His green eyes stayed focused on her face, making her almost believe that the two of them were alone. It was hard to completely block out the scents of the people around her, the soft chatter of conversation, and the clinking of utensils that competed with the music of the string quartet playing off to the side. But she still felt like she and Damian were the only two people there as he moved her expertly through the dance.

Of course she saw people out of the corner of her eye. There were so many people wearing so many colors that they were actually kind of hard to ignore. At one point, she was sure she saw Rhiannon and Nathaniel as they walked along together. The long, auburn cloak of his hair is what caught her attention because she had yet to meet anyone with hair the same color and length as his. So far, if according to what she'd been told, she and Damian and Rhiannon and Nathaniel were the only higher ranking members of the kiss who had arrived.

Naturally Jean Claude had a grand plan with regard to his grand party and he'd planned for everyone to make an entrance. Which meant the ranking members of his kiss, and St. Louis' preternatural community, were showing up in pairs or trios or groups, with specifically timed gaps between them to make the biggest impact. When she and Damian had stepped into the park, she'd immediately felt all eyes turn their way. No doubt the rumor mills had been busy.

She wasn't surprised when she noticed someone moving straight toward them. It wasn't hard to miss the small group heading in their direction. Her senses told her that at least one of them was some type of shifter. She was surprised that it had taken them this long to make their move. And, if Damian's sudden shift in posture was anything to go by, there was at least one vampire in the group. He turned her so that his back was facing them. "The Master of Seattle is among those coming our way. She can call lions." It was meant to be information as much as it was meant to be a warning.

And then they were turning to face their visitors, the dance ended and her good mood evaporating.

The visiting vampire was of average height, with a slightly plump frame and coal black hair pulled into some kind of updo at the back of her head. There was a cascade of ringlet curls hanging down around her neck and shoulders. Her skin was pale as marble and her eyes were an intense tawny color that reminded Isis of her lioness' coat. There were four people with her. Three of them were lions and the last one was mortal. The lions were all men and a glance their way showed her that they all thought they were dominant enough to best her. Each man had bronzed skin and dark hair that was kept short so that it curled riotously around their heads. While their mistress wore a golden sheath dress that looked like something out of ancient Rome, the lions wore tight breeches and nothing more. The human with them was a woman, a submissive thing who refused to meet Isis' eyes. Her chocolate brown hair hung long and helped hide her face from the others. She wore a dress similar to the vampire that clearly marked her as the undead woman's property.

"Welcome to St. Louis, Astoria," Damian said, voice deep and filled with respect. He swept into a courtly bow that had fallen out of fashion hundreds of years ago, then motioned to Isis with one hand. "This is Isis. The Regina of my pride and mate. Isis, this is Astoria. Master of the City of Seattle."

"Charmed, I'm sure," the vampire replied. Isis felt like she was anything but charmed.

"Its a pleasure to meet you," she told the others even as she silently worked to settle her beast. Her lioness did not like the vampire and was ready to start a fight.

"I have heard rumors, Damian." Astoria began, her attention focused completely on the man at Isis' side. It was obvious that she was going to act like Isis was even there. A few glances at the men with her showed her that they were silently taking her measure. As if they planned on starting trouble.

"What kind of rumors, Astoria?" Damian asked. His arm slid around Isis' waist, pulling her into his body so that it was plain to see by one and all that she belonged to him. It also brought Astoria's attention back to her. And the focus of the lions with her was shifted to Damian.

"That you have been made Rex of the local pride. That you fought for, and won, the position of Rex. Such a thing is impossible." The tone of the woman's voice told them both loud and clear that she didn't think Damian was capable of such a feat. Well, wasn't she going to be disappointed?

"Nothing is impossible, Astoria," Damian returned quietly. His hold on Isis tightened, as if he was anchoring himself. She wondered at his actions even as Astoria turned that cold tawny gaze her way. The woman studied her as if she was some insect pinned to a board and kept under glass.

"I find myself unable to believe it. No vampire has ever been mate to a lycanthrope." There was something about the disbelief in the woman's voice that rubbed Isis the wrong way. This felt almost like a fishing expedition, as if Astoria was looking for some specific piece of information.

"Believe it. Damian is my Rex. He lords over St. Louis' pride," Isis said before Damian could open his mouth.

"Prove it," the vampire returned simply.

"We need prove nothing to you. But trust me. Jean Claude will explain everything later. After he's arrived." Isis made sure that her voice told them they would have to wait, just like everyone else, to hear the story.

Astoria watched them a moment, eyes narrowed. Obviously not what she'd wanted to hear. And though her face showed nary an emotion, it suddenly hit Isis why the woman was talking to them. Her gaze slid from Astoria to the trio of lions crowding her, then to the human who was still avoiding looking at them. When she finally turned her gaze back to Astoria, she offered the woman a smile. "You want to know how Damian became Rex because you want the ability to be your pride's Regina."

Damian's hold tightened just a bit, the only sign he gave that suggested he was either proud of or worried about Isis. A glance at the three lions showed a hint of shock on their faces. They apparently hadn't been expecting Isis to be intelligent. Which made her wonder what they thought of Damian. "Such a thing is impossible," Astoria repeated. It sounded as if she did so more to convince herself than to convince them.

"When Jean Claude makes his explanations later this evening, Astoria, you will find that anything is possible." Damian dipped into a bow once again before righting himself. "Please. Do not let us keep you from enjoying the party." It was the politest dismissal Isis had ever heard.

Astoria stared at him a moment, then narrowed her eyes and huffed before turning to march off. The three lions and the human trailed after her. All of them were silent. Isis stifled the urge to giggle as she turned to face him again. "Where did we leave off?" she asked.

"Right here, I believe," Damian replied as he once again swept her up into his arms and spun them back into the waltz.

~*~*~*~*~

"But how does it work?" the young woman, a werewolf from Louisiana named Cecily, asked for the fourth time. Minette resisted the urge to roll her eyes and kept quiet. It was better that Micah explained it to the woman anyway, since the coalition was more his thing than hers.

"It just does. The community has learned to cooperate with and talk to one another. Each group has a representative working at the coalition so each group has an equal voice. Its not so cut and dry for anyone who doesn't have a pack or pard or equivalent group, but we do our best to hear every voice. We take all complaints seriously. And we work closely with Jean Claude to address problems, to try and make things better for everyone." She admired Micah's patience. Had it been her, Minette would have already told the woman to get a clue and then flounced off to find the nearest server with a tray of drinks. She couldn't really get drunk, but that initial buzz of alcohol as it hit her system was always a welcome feeling.

"And Jean Claude doesn't force you to work together? He doesn't threaten you with painful punishments if you don't play nice with each other?"

"That isn't Jean Claude's style." This came from Jason, who had far more experience with the master vampire than Minette or Micah did. "He knows that pain and punishments don't achieve the goals he has in mind. They only breed hatred and contempt. He leaves the running of the coalition to us, hears our complaints and suggestions, and acts accordingly. That's really all there is to it."

"You see, Cecily, the coalition is meant to act like a round table discussion. No one is denied a voice. Everyone's concerns and complaints are given equal consideration. Jean Claude understands that his city is happier and looks more appealing if his people are happy. He is a mindful master and he genuinely cares about everyone's thoughts and feelings."

Okay. That might have been taking it a little too far. Minette had to force herself not to snort at that statement. Obviously Micah hadn't been stuck in the middle of Jean Claude and Aedan the past two weeks. There was some serious animosity and tension going on there. The two of them left Minette with a headache most days and she was on the verge of grabbing them, shoving them together, and ordering them to kiss. Maybe having the two of them climb into bed and fuck like mad little bunnies would cure some of what ailed them.

"It is by no means a perfect situation," she heard Jason add, which brought her out of her thoughts. Tonight was not the night to consider her best friend's apparent stupidity. "Squabbles still happen. People still get hurt because of some misunderstanding. But its a far sight better than it used to be, when it was more or less every group for itself. Now, with the coalition in place, we actively try to understand and help each other. It honestly makes for a better, more harmonious preternatural community in St. Louis. Which is better for the mundanes in the city. Because there are less likely to be incidents where someone gets hurt and then one of the lycanthropes gets accused of said incident."

Cecily watched them for a moment, her dark eyes intent and considering. "That's amazing. That the coalition can bring the preternatural community together like that."

"It helps. But the coalition isn't the only reason St. Louis stays safe for us," Minette chimed in. The woman gave Minette her full attention, curiosity lurking in the depths of her gaze. "Crime still happens. And there are people who will still lay the blame at our feet simply because of who we are. The coalition can only do so much in the face of such lies. When it can't help, we turn to the authorities. The RPIT squad is really good at their jobs. And we have a bonus in the form of Jean Claude's human servant."

The woman nodded her head. "So I've heard. She's being called the next Anita Blake."

To Minette's absolute surprise, it was Micah who gave the woman a shake of his head, the smile on his face turning just a touch brittle. "Don't let her hear you say that."

Cecily blinked. "You think she'd take it poorly?"

"I think she'd find some way to seriously hurt you for it," Jason responded. Everyone knew how much Aedan despised being compared to Anita. Micah and Jason just happened to know it better than the others.

Cecily stared at them a moment, her face striving for an empty expression and not quite making it. Minette could tell she was trying to figure out whether or not Micah and Jason were serious. And, if they were, what kind of hurt Aedan would bring. Minette knew the moment the other woman decided she didn't want to know, her face going just a touch pale. Then she turned and walked away without another word. Jason actually chuckled.

"You didn't need to scare her like that," Minette chided, her comment directed at both of her companions.

"Yes. We really did," Micah replied. She's going to go tell her people that Aedan is not afraid to inflict a little pain on people who cross her. It will definitely help Jean Claude in the end."

"By having people think she'll inflict pain just for pissing her off?"

"Yes," Jason nodded. Minette gave him a look that spoke loudly to her skepticism. The wolf gave her a knowing smile. "Trust us on this one."

"That's enough about Aedan for now," Micah announced, taking hold of Minette's arm to steer her toward an unoccupied table. Jason took up position on her other side, the two of them silently proclaiming their ties to her. Not that their garments wouldn't have done the same thing, but their clothing did so in much subtler ways. "Let's just enjoy the peace and quiet, the company, and the beautiful setting."

He was right. It was a beautiful setting. The park was lovely on its own, filled with tall, lush trees and thick grass and the sweet, subtle scent of night blooming flowers. All of the additions that had been made to make it more enjoyable for the guests were amazing. They were so organic that it felt like they'd always been part of the park and Minette had to keep reminding herself that the tents were just that. The trees that made them up all seemed so very real. Whoever had designed them had done an amazing job.

They found an empty table and Jason held out her chair while Micah helped her down into it. Minette was mindful of the wings on her back as she sat. The two men with her took seats on either side, scooting their chairs closer to hers so that they were almost touching. She was, for some reason, ridiculously grateful for the action. To be honest, the whole evening was pretty fucked up when she thought about it. It was a wonder people hadn't been shot or worse over the course of the last two weeks. And that wasn't even taking into account what someone else might have done.

Her thoughts were chased away by the soft hum of conversation, those people who had accepted Jean Claude's invitations either occupying their own tables or milling about on the soft grass in groups. Some of them were dancing a waltz to the soft strains of the piece the string quartet was playing. She saw Damian's distinctive red hair in the crowd of dancers. Isis was in his arms when he turned and she could see them both in profile. Even across the distance, Minette could see how lost they were in one another, how absolutely in love they were. She smiled softly.

"Champagne?" a man's voice asked, cutting across her thoughts to abruptly pull her out of them. She looked up to find a server standing before their table, his expression a curious mix of polite and blank. She found that odd because it was almost like there was no life in the man at all.

"Minette?" Micah asked.

"Not right now. Maybe later, when the festivities get underway," she shook her head. Micah glanced past her to where Jason sat. He shook his head in response to the silent question.

"No, thank you," Micah responded. The server gave them all a look, then nodded his head and walked away. Minette watched him go, a faint frown marring her face. There was something about him that rubbed her the wrong way. But before she could really chase after the thought and figure out why it was, a shadow fell across their table.

"Finally. A familiar face!" Rhiannon was wearing a soft smile, her face glowing in the dim glow of the faerie lights overhead. Minette offered her a smile and made a motion to Micah. He moved his seat without saying a word, allowing Minette to leave her seat and step around the table so that she could very, very carefully give Rhiannon a hug. Nathaniel took a moment to greet both Jason and Micah before returning to Rhia's side.

"Damian and Isis are dancing," Minette informed her, one hand motioning toward where she'd last seen the two of them.

"Nathaniel keeps trying to convince me to join them. I'm not quite ready for that yet." Rhia stepped back and let her gaze sweep across the three of them. No doubt she was taking in the costumes Jean Claude had picked for them.

"You'd have every eye on you in no time," Nathaniel replied.

"Yeah. Because I'd fall on my face!" Rhia told him, the laughter in her voice cutting any of the self-deprecation from her words.

"No. Nathaniel's right. You'd have all eyes on you. Because you look amazing!" Minette proclaimed. "You look just like a forest pixie who's been caught frolicking in the meadow by a mischievous satyr." Her gaze slanted Nathaniel's way on the last, letting him know that she thought he looked handsome.

"Me? Look at you! You're like some faerie princess come straight from the pages of a book," Rhia told her. Then she turned and looked at the man beside her. "Doesn't she, Nathaniel?"

"She looks beautiful," he agreed. Minette rolled her eyes at him. Of course he'd agree. Rhia would never let him live it down if he didn't. And Minette was his Nimir-Ra. It was likely he felt he had to say something nice about her. She would agree that she looked nice. But not beautiful.

"She doesn't believe you," Jason replied. How he knew, she wasn't sure. But she'd stopped trying to figure out how Jason knew things he wasn't supposed to a long time ago. Continually wondering about that would only drive her mad. She shot him a look that said he could keep his helpful comments to himself. That earned her a grin from him.

"I'm sure you'll convince her," Nathaniel returned. Then he took Rhia's hand and gave it a tug. "Come on. You're the one who said she was hungry. You're the one who wants to get something to eat. Let's go do that before your stomach starts attracting attention."

Rhia shot him a look, then turned a smile to Minette. "I'll come back after I've checked out the refreshment tent. I am a bit peckish and I could stand to nibble on something."

"Go. Don't let us keep you," Micah smiled at her. Rhia waved goodbye before allowing Nathaniel to drag her away behind him. Minette watched them go, glad to see that they were enjoying their time together. When she returned her attention to her companions, it was to find them both staring at her intently.

"What?"

"Rhiannon's right. You look beautiful. Just like a faerie princess," Micah said. Minette wanted to shake her head, but Jason took her hand. It saw her turning her attention his way.

"You do," he confirmed.

She was willing to admit that the dress she was wearing was amazing. The person who had crafted it was some kind of witch or something. The gown was in two shades of green silk, darker at the bust and bottom and lighter in the middle. The darker color had been perfectly matched to Micah's eyes. It was strapless, with a sweetheart neckline and tiny pleats or tucks across the bust. Intricate lace of gold in a kind of scrolling tree branch and leaf pattern edged the bust and the waist. There were flashes of silver and blue from the lace where tiny gem chips had been sewn in. The lace was elegant and ethereal and stood out against the green silk. A sash came around her waist from the back, the ends caught together by a slide made of worked gold. Four pearls decorated it, one set into each of the scalloped points.

It came with a cape made of silk chiffon in the same colors as the gown. The cape draped delicately over her arms while leaving her shoulders bare. It was held in place by a collar of dark green that closed in the front with an intricate clasp of gold and pearls. More of the delicate, beaded lace decorated the collar. It dipped down onto the cape where it had been attached to the collar. There were two ends in the front and one in the back, right in the center over her spine. Though that was hard to see through the fall of hair that raced down her back. It had been left plain while the top had been pulled up into a woven knot at the back of her head. Crystals had been worked into the knot to give her hair a little flash.

The wings at her back were kind of jagged and spiky, reminding her of the edges of maple leaves or some other sharp pointed leaf. They were mostly green, with touches of brown in them, as well as hints of gold and blue and silver. Minette wasn't sure what they'd been made of, but they were light and moved as she moved. The finishing touch was the mask, which covered the upper half of her face. It was a soft, supple, molded leather that looked very much like leaves.

Leaves that matched what Micah and Jason wore. Jason had been dressed as Puck, with a kind of shirt that was made up of sheer leaves. His arms were bare, save vines of ivy woven around his biceps. He wore fur pants that were extremely soft to the touch and somehow, he was walking around on hooves that she was sure made his feet hurt. Small horns jutted out of his hair, so natural looking that it was almost as if they'd always been there. And Micah...

She had decided that Micah was a cross between some kind of forest spirit and an animal. Where Jason had small horns, Micah wore a curling set of ram's horns that looked as if they should be super heavy. His torso was bare, covered only by leaves that had been crafted of fur. They should have looked kind of ridiculous and fake. But they didn't. They looked like real leaves. And his pants... They were made of material, but they looked like they'd been made from the bark of a tree. Both men had been sprinkled with green and gold glitter and they looked good enough to eat.

"How can I not be? I'm dressed in an amazing gown and I'm spending the night with the two handsomest men in the world. It can't get any better than this."

Better? No. But it was definitely going to get worse so she was going to enjoy it while she still could.

~*~*~*~*~

He couldn't recall ever being around so many vampires or lycanthropes in his life. At least, not all in one place. It was maybe a touch disconcerting to see so many preternaturals gathered together in the same location. And it made him wish he was carrying more than just the half dozen weapons he'd hidden on his person. The big, ancient looking hunting knife didn't count, as it wasn't exactly hidden. But given the get up he was wearing, it didn't really matter. Most of the party goers would likely think it was only for show anyway. They'd all be wrong right up to the moment he used it to cut their heads off.

When Jean Claude had contacted him about this gig, he'd been tempted to tell the other man to go take in the sunrise. Hanging around one of the vampire's affairs was not Edward's idea of a good time. But the urge to tell him to sit on a stake had died fairly quickly after Jean Claude had explained why he wanted to hire Edward for his party. Given the sheer number of Master vampires that were in attendance, Edward was kind of flattered that Jean Claude had thought of him first. The only issue he'd had so far was that he'd had to come in costume. Just like everyone else.

He'd seen the costumes of each member of Jean Claude's kiss as they'd arrived, made note of who was wearing what. And it made him grateful that Jean Claude had allowed Edward to go with something more along the lines of one of Robin Hood's merry men. His costume was all browns and greens, what most people would consider traditional hunting clothes of the time. He'd been iffy about the leather pants simply because he'd thought they would be too tight for ease of movement in the case of an emergency. But the leather was like butter and moved like a second skin. The boots were the same shade of brown, the two blending seamlessly into each other. The tunic was green, though it was a muted hue when held up against the green he'd seen on several of the people present when they'd passed his location by. Over the tunic was a sueded vest, in nearly the same brown as his pants, with an attached hood. Edward liked the hood because it hid his face from the crowd.

Thus far, he'd seen Nathaniel and Rhiannon when they'd arrived. The same with Isis and Damian and Minette, Micah, and Jason. He'd even seen the vaudou priest arrive, clad in swirling, colorful robes that harkened back to Africa and its singularly unique culture. The man had carried his staff in hand and had given the appearance of being at ease, of being at the party to have a good time. Edward's research told him that there was an altogether different reason. The man was there to look for clues, to seek out evil, to protect his city. It was a duty he took very seriously. It was a duty that had prompted him to visit Animator's Inc. and Edward could make an educated guess as to why the priest had gone there.

Which brought his thoughts around to why he'd actually taken this job. Aedan.

There was something going on with her. He knew it the same way he knew that the sky was blue or that water was wet. What he didn't know was what, exactly, was going on with her. And it had obviously been going on for some time. He'd noticed that she wasn't quite herself when he'd called her a couple weeks back to ask about the fire bombing incident at The Church of Eternal Life. There had been something lacking in her answers. Hell, there'd been something lacking in her voice. He wanted to ask her about, but he knew from experience that asking would see the woman clamming up tight. And, oddly enough, Edward wasn't sure he was ready to put his interrogation tactics to use on her just yet.

So here he was at this over the top party, waiting for Aedan to make her appearance with Jean Claude. Waiting to see if she'd give something away. Just waiting to see what would happen. He normally didn't have problems with the waiting. He was used to it. He hadn't managed to survive doing what he did as long as he had without developing patience. It was the one thing that could keep you from getting killed when the odds were stacked against you. But he knew that he wasn't going to be able to relax until he had a visual on Aedan. Which meant waiting for a while longer because someone had to make a fucking grand entrance.

He knew the schedule. Because of course Jean Claude would have a fucking schedule. Each of the most important members of his kiss and the community would be arriving in small groups and at intervals. To make an impact. And that meant that Jean Claude and Aedan would be the last ones to arrive. It made Edward antsy. He couldn't effectively do his job if he didn't have his eyes on target.

He wasn't stupid enough to think that Jean Claude had hired him as insurance, to keep the visiting vamps and their people in line. Even though that's how the man had more or less phrased it. No, Edward was there to specifically keep an eye on Aedan. The fact that the vampire suspected someone to try something made Edward think better of him. Maybe it was a little bit of paranoia left over from Anita's death. Aedan swore up and down that whoever was responsible for Anita's death didn't want her dead. And maybe she was right. However, that little bit of paranoia would go a long way toward keeping her alive.

It was just really goddamn hard for him to do his job if he had to wait for his assignment to arrive. Still, he supposed Aedan would be safe enough with Jean Claude back at the Circus. Assassins would have to be mad to try and go after her in the Master of the City's lair. Especially if the Wicked Truth was on hand. Unless said assassins were part of The Harlequin. Rumor had it that some of them were in town. Same with a spy or two for the council. It made Edward wish Jean Claude had picked a more controllable location for his little get together. If there were assassins and if they tried to hit the party, Edward would be hard pressed to keep Aedan safe when the attacks could literally come from any and all sides.

He was pulled from his thoughts by the passing of one of the wait staff. Not unusual in and of itself. Several of them had passed him by since he'd arrived and started keeping watch. They came by fairly regularly. This one, though. There was something about him that Edward couldn't immediately place. Something that felt off. It was nothing in the man's face or how he carried himself. Not really. There might have been a bit of aggression in his stride, but some people who felt they had something to prove walked like that all the time. A way to tell people he would fuck them up if they got in his way.

No. It was nothing physical, nothing that anyone could see. It was just a feeling Edward had. Instinct was telling him that the he should keep an eye on the server. Which meant he'd have to move to a more central location. Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. It would give him an opportunity to check the whole thing over anyway. See if anyone looked like trouble. He liked having all his ducks in a row before he started lopping off their heads.

Putting aside any thoughts that would distract him from his job, he pushed away from the tree he'd been lingering under and started meandering. No time like the present to get those ducks lined up...

(no subject)

Date: 2017-05-26 12:44 am (UTC)
nanaeanaven: Dolls of all my sues (animated) (rhiannon)
From: [personal profile] nanaeanaven
That was simply faboo, hon! You did an amazing job of describing the costumes. I think I might be a little bit jealous of Rhia. LOL Nathaniel as a satyr. *drifts off into fantasies* Mmmm... I loved the reference to A Midsummer's Night Dream too! So apropos.

Micah and Jason putting the fear of Aedan into that poor shifter? Too funny!

That waiter is already giving me the creeps. *shivers* I'm glad Edward is there and keeping an eye on him. Line that duck up, Death. ;)

Seriously awesome. And, damn, shit is gonna go down isn't it?

(no subject)

Date: 2017-05-27 02:03 pm (UTC)
ginevrasm: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ginevrasm
Oh wow. What a beautiful setting! I love all the descriptions. And that server is definitely creepy.

"Maybe having the two of them climb into bed and fuck like mad little bunnies would cure some of what ailed them." -- loved that bit. And I'm sure it's true. Maybe they should be locked in a room together until the Arduer rises...

Good work and worth the wait.
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