ladydeathfaerie: (Jean Claude)
[personal profile] ladydeathfaerie posting in [community profile] marysuevirus
Title: The Mary Sue Virus: Beyond Death
Chapter Forty: Children of the Rising Sun
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 second 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

"Stop fidgeting with your mask, Richard! You look wonderful." Constance poked her finger into his side to emphasize her point. He gave her an indulgent smile and tried to ignore the way the mask limited his field of vision. A noise to his left reminded him that Rafael was still with him and was amused by his discomfort. Then again, Rafael wasn't wandering around in next to nothing. Richard would never understand a certain vampire's unending love of showmanship. Especially when it spilled over into things that made Richard uncomfortable.

"I'm having a hard time seeing with the mask on, Constance," he replied, making sure to keep exasperation and annoyance out of his voice.

"You're the Green Man, Richard. The mask is important to the look," she told him without missing a beat. Said mask engulfed nearly all of his face, leaving only his eyes, mouth, and chin visible. It had a base of leather to which a multitude of leaves in varying shades of green and acorns had been added. The leaves were a mix of maple and oak leaves, crafted of finely tooled leather and attached to the base in such a way that they stuck out around his face in a manner similar to a halo. The acorns were real, glazed with something to give them shine. There were a few bits of curled vine here and there. Richard had looked in the mirror and had to admit that the craftsperson who had created the mask was extremely talented because it looked real. And it looked as if a face was staring out of some dense foliage in the middle of the forest.

The rest of his costume was nothing more than a pair of leather pants and a vest. The pants were kind of a dappled brown, darker in some areas and lighter in others, to give the impression of tree bark's texture. They were form fitting and moved as easily as he did. Which, he supposed, was a plus. The vest was cut from the same leather as the pants. But it had leaves attached to it, all of them made to match the leaves on the mask. The leaves didn't cover the entire vest, so that a person caught flashes of brown amidst the green. Also, because the vest had no way of being held closed, people caught flashes of his skin as he moved. Richard understood that Jean Claude liked to play up people's advantages. But he had issues as being seen as a walking piece of meat.

Constance had fared far better than he had. She wore something loose and flowing, in pale peach and yellow, that left only her arms and shoulders bare. Her hair was a riot of curls that had been adorned with a crown of ivy and left to hang around her shoulders like a cloak. Tiny flowers crafted of sparkling seed beads added life and depth to the gown, the colors chosen to match her eyes and the rosy glow riding her cheeks. The same kind of flowers, only this time made of silk and more or less glued to her skin, framed her eyes in the form of a mask. The gaps between the flowers was filled with a shimmery powder that was the same shade of peach that ran through her gown.

Shang Da and Jamil wore something similar to Richard, though their vests and masks were less leaf intensive. Shang Da's leaves were done in paler, silvery greens while the leather pants had the appearance of birch bark. Jamill wore leaves that were the deep purple of a Japanese maple. The brown of his pants was somewhere between the silvery white of Shang Da's and the dark brown of Richard's. Neither of his men seemed put out by their costumes, but they were good at keeping their emotions hidden. Richard couldn't be sure what they felt about being walking trees. And given that the two of them followed him at a respectable distance while still being close enough to perform their duties as his guards, there was no chance to make small talk unless he put his back to the crowd. Which neither of them would like at all.

"I look like a walking tree," he grumbled. Constance smiled at him and laid her hand on his bare arm.

"You look handsome. You look like a walking sex god. Stop being a butt and quit fishing for compliments," she told him sweetly before giving his arm a pinch. "And stop acting like its so horrible that you have to be here. You're an important part of Jean Claude's power base. Its expected that you'll be here."

"I am not any part of his power base anymore," Richard muttered.

"Just because you aren't his third? Seriously? Are you still moping about that? Would you want to be tied to him and Aedan with Anita hanging over all your heads the way she is? I know you cared for her deeply. You loved her and wanted to marry her once upon a time. Stop acting like you don't have any importance in Jean Claude's world just because she's gone. You're powerful. And you're compassionate. And you're capable. You have amazing people under you. And you have the support of the most talked about, most feared Master vampire in the world. You're a fucking rock star."

Richard shot her a look. "Most feared? Don't you think you're exaggerating that one? Just a bit?"

Constance motioned around the park with one hand. "You tell me of any other Master who could survive the death of someone as powerful as Anita and come out still on top, still smelling of roses. And more powerful than before. I don't know if the ancients can lay claim to such a feat."

"You really think they're afraid of Jean Claude?" Richard asked

"Of course they are. No one knows what he's going to do. He acts like he's content here, but they're all wondering to themselves if he really is. They're all wondering what will happen if he decides he wants to make a move on another territory. We all know that he's happy where he is. But none of them want to buy that image. Because what vampire doesn't desire power? What vampire doesn't want to rule the world, even if its in secret, through puppets and players that do the vampire's bidding?" She paused and took a good look at the glittering throng of people around them. "Look at how well his people get along. Not just with the mortals, but with each other. Look at the coalition. He gave his full blessing on that one and its done nothing but make his people happy. Done nothing but bring a sense of community and welcoming to St. Louis. Look at Wicked and Truth. Look at the people he's taken in that no one else will. No one sees those as acts of kindness. Not in his world. They all feel he's amassing an army with which to take over their world. You can bet your tight ass they're afraid of him."

Constance fell silent and continued to stare at a small gathering of vampires not that far from them. Richard took the opportunity to really consider her words. His gaze slid around the groups of party goers as he did so. She was, of course, right. Everything Jean Claude had done had the public appearance of being a means to strengthen his hold. Consolidate his power. Make himself practically invulnerable.

Richard leaned over and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "How did you get so smart about vampire politics?"

"My aunt has spent a lot of time around them. She taught me a thing or two." The smug look on her face made him chuckle. That prompted him to look to where Rafael stood with Dr. Lillian. Somehow, the two of them had avoided the more intense versions when it came to Jean Claude's idea for costumes. Both wore black, as did the rats that surrounded them. Rafael was in a pair of plain black trousers and a black vest that was embroidered with raven and peacock feathers. The thread was metallic, so that every move caught the light and flashed like fire. Beside him, Lillian wore a simple black dress onto which the same pairing of feathers had been stitched around the neckline and the hem. Each of the people with them were in black, as well, with more of the feathers embroidered upon their clothes. Richard was perhaps a little jealous that they'd been allowed to wear mostly normal clothes.

Lillian gave him a smug smile that looked almost exactly like the one Constance had given him. Obviously, the niece had learned more than vampire politics from her aunt. He smiled at Lillian, inclining his head her way, before turning back to Constance to find her watching him intently.

"Apparently," he replied. He had to admit, he'd never really allowed himself to think about what vampire politics must entail. Especially to the vampires. Not that he was about to soften his attitude where the city's undead were concerned. But understanding them might make it easier to deal with them when the need arose.

"Speaking of vampires..." Constance's soft murmur brought him out of his thoughts. He watched as her head nodded toward a small cluster of people heading their way. He counted four vampires, six humans, and two lycanthropes. She must have sensed his hackles rising, because Constance put her hand on his bare arm and gave it a squeeze. A silent warning to be nice to Jean Claude's guests.

"Everard. Master of Paris," Jamil said from behind him. He didn't bother lowering his voice. There were few in the crowd who wouldn't have heard him anyway. "He's not quite as old as Jean Claude. Word on the grapevine is that he's trying to be the European version. Contacts have told me that he's been searching for the right person to become his human servant. The problem is, there's no one who fits the bill. And he has no known animal to call."

"There's no way he could ever be the European version of Jean Claude." Like Jamil, Rafael didn't bother lowering his voice. "He doesn't have Anita Blake. She was one of a kind." The last was said just as Everard and his entourage stopped before Richard and everyone in his group. The vampire turned a look toward the rat king before shifting his focus back toward Richard.

"She is dead, no? And a pretender takes her place. Perhaps it is not so impossible for me after all," Everard replied. His intention was obviously to start some kind of petty arguing or something. He had the air of absolute boredom surrounding him, as if he was only there because there was nothing better for him to do. It was painfully clear that he felt this whole thing was a farce. Which made Richard wonder why he'd bothered to accept the invitation in the first place. "You are Richard. I've heard about you. Jean Claude did always like the pretty ones."

The comment was meant to get a rise out of him. And maybe, as little as six months ago, it would have succeeded. But Richard was working hard not to be that man anymore. So he just smiled and gave a nod of his head. "There are a lot of pretty ones in his kiss. And every last one of them is deadly."

"Is that meant to be a threat?" the vampire asked. There was nothing in his voice with which Richard could judge his mood. But that didn't matter. As far as he knew, he wasn't under any orders to not piss off the guests.

"No. Just a statement of fact." This from Rafael, as he moved forward to put himself next to Richard. The vampire's gaze drifted to him, taking note of the crown branded into his arm. When he returned his attention to their faces, the look he gave them was thoughtful.

"How intriguing. The Ulfric and the Rom. Leaders of the two more powerful preternatural groups in the city. Chumming about together. It is as if Jean Claude wants us to believe he is as powerful as rumors state." The vampire's doubts were plain to hear in his voice. Ah. So that was why he'd accepted the invitation. He was in the camp of people who thought it was all a big lie. "Perhaps he simply surrounds himself with the deadly ones to hide the fact that he is weak and a coward."

"Weak?" Richard asked.

"A coward?" Rafael echoed. The two men looked at each other, then burst into laughter. Everard gave the impression of gathering up his outrage and anger for a dressing down, but the moment was ruined when a waiter stepped into the middle of the group with a tray in hand. There were several flutes of champagne on the tray.

"Would anyone care for a drink?" he asked, appearing completely unaware of what he'd walked into.

"None for me, thank you," Constance responded. Similar comments were made by the still breathing members of both parties before the waiter moved off. Richard gave brief thought to the oddness of his interruption, but pushed it aside when he took note of Everard working himself up again.

"Believe what you want. There will be a demonstration of his power later. Until then, enjoy your evening," Richard said, then offered the visiting vampire a smile. It was more wolfish grin than human gesture. And he started Constance away before the other man could say anything more about threats.

Deep down in his heart, Richard hoped the man ran into Aedan and made such suggestive comments after she'd had a bad day. He'd pay good money to see her take him down a few pegs.

~*~*~*~*~

He couldn't believe how many people were present for the undead creature's party. He hadn't really thought there would be such a large turn out. Certainly not for an over the top thing thrown by a depraved monster who lived by destroying others. And yet, the park was filled with attendees. Some of them were undead, like the party's host. Most of them were like his sweet sister. Little more than ravening beasts merely pretending at being human. What shocked him, though it shouldn't have, was the number of humans who had come. He worried for those poor souls, so obviously under the control of the undead.

It was a good thing he was here. He was going to do whatever he could to free them, to give them their lives back.

He'd been all over the park, watching people. Looking for the perfect opportunity. Waiting for the moment to present itself. He knew what he wanted to do. But he needed the right moment, and the right target, so that every last one of the undead and beasts knew they were not safe from him. He would punish every last one of them, purge them from the face of the earth for the sake of humanity. And he was going to start by punishing her. He was going to destroy her chosen family and he was going to start that here. He was going to show her that she wasn't anyone special.

He'd been waiting for this moment ever since he'd seen the story on the news a couple weeks ago. The excitement and anticipation had grown a little more over the course of the passing days. It was now at a fever pitch, humming and buzzing under his skin. It was all he could do to keep his thoughts from straying. The moment they did, he'd find himself hard as a rock and that would give him away in a heartbeat. Composure was his best friend, his greatest weapon, his secret to survival. Later, when it was done and there was blood on his hands, he'd return to the hole in the wall he shared with his sister and he'd fuck her until she screamed herself hoarse begging him to stop.

For now, it was a waiting game. So he watched them all. Plotted the demise of every single one of them. Savored the terror and pain he would inflict upon them. Reveled in the fact that none of them knew.

It was easy to hide among them. To move among them. No one suspected he was anything beyond a mere human, here to do a job. They would know, though. They would see him for what he was when he took action. They would know he was a soldier, in a war to save humanity from their own stupidity. He would destroy all of the foul creatures that threatened the world. And he would be their savior. They would thank him when he was done. They would get on their knees and worship him as a god.

And, when it was all over and they were all destroyed, he would see her on her knees before him. He would mete out her punishment with his body. He would violate every last inch of her until she was utterly and completely his. He would do what the other had failed to do before him. He would break her mind, crush her spirit, and bend her completely to his will.

It took everything in him to quell the fires that had sprung to life in his body. The last thing he needed to do was parade around a bunch of deviant creatures smelling of lust and hatred. There was no reason to invite suspicion. No reason to see his plans destroyed before he could put them into action.

He took a deep breath. Cleared his mind. Plastered a bland look on his face. And then he started another circuit around the park. All he could do now was bide his time.

His moment would come. He could feel it. He knew it as well as he knew his name. All he had to do was wait.

this will never end cos i want more
more give me more give me more...


~*~*~*~*~

"I'm terribly surprised that you are here with him, Asher. That last thing any of us knew, you despised Jean Claude for allowing the death of your human servant." The woman, Anastasia, was trying to get a rise out of him. Janika was almost certain of it. There was some hint of mockery behind the sweet, clueless tone of her words. The man with her, Anders, was watching Janika like a hawk, as if he expected her to do something funny. She almost wished she had a stake. She'd show him something funny. His own face as he died.

"Jean Claude and I have made our peace. He is my friend, after all," Asher replied. If he was aware of the intentions behind her question, he gave no sign. But there was a hint of tension in his hand where it rested against her back that said he was not as at ease as he wanted them to think he was.

"I have a hard time believing that. We all know how you mourned the death of Julianna. How you hated Jean Claude for years after. It was a tragic death, after all."

"Maybe you should try it sometime. I hear its a real gas," Janika replied in her own sweet voice. It drew Anastasia's attention her way.

"Your human is precious, Asher. Its lovely to see you spending time with a mere mortal. But aren't you worried that she'll be in danger here. After all, there are plenty of beings here that are stronger than she is. Any one of them could mean ill intent."

"I can take care of myself, thank you very much," Janika assured the woman. She felt Asher's pride in her through their shared link, letting her know that he was not bothered by her words thus far. That could change at a moment's notice. For now, it seemed he was willing to let her handle this. She'd be sure to thank him for that later.

"You said your family name is Odon?" Anders asked, voice and face suggesting he was lost in thought. She was willing to bet that he'd been biding his time, waiting for what he felt was the appropriate time.

She wasn't sure what he was planning or where he thought this conversation was going to go, but she went ahead and answered his question anyway. "Yes."

"You wouldn't, by chance, have family in Hungary, would you?" He asked it innocently enough, but she was more than capable of seeing that there was some kind of intent or ulterior motive behind his words.

"My family is from Hungary, yes."

Anders nodded in what was supposed to be a thoughtful manner. Janika suspected he was simply pausing for dramatic effect. That, more than anything else, told her she was probably not going to like whatever came next. "There are rumors and stories of a family named Odon who hunt vampires. That wouldn't be your family, would it?"

"My family has long hunted your kind. For centuries."

"Oh. Oh, my dear. I am so sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your family used to hunt vampires." He made sure his voice sounded appropriately mournful as he delivered the news. Janika was sure it was nothing but an act. "They chose to hunt a vampire who was far more capable than they expected. I'm afraid they were all slaughtered."

She might have taken his words as a lie, but he chose that moment to lay his hand on her arm in a gesture meant to be sympathetic. Her arm was bare, so skin touched skin, and images slammed into her brain with all the force of a Mack truck hitting a wall. If not for Asher's hand on her back, serving as an anchor, she might have stumbled and lost herself in the vision. But he kept her grounded, kept her from giving herself away. His touch allowed her to sort through the images with a good deal of calm and rational thought.

What she saw told her that Anders wasn't lying. She saw three man sized shapes on the floor. Their bodies were battered and bloodied and broken, skin rent apart by deep gashes in some places and littered with ragged bite marks in others. There was too much blood to clearly see faces. But there was an image of a gnarled hand curled loosely around an ancient sword. The hilt was decorated in flecks of gold and tiny winking gems, and a large ruby had been set into the end of the pommel. She didn't need to look to know there were more than thirty of the smaller gems in all, in green and amber and blue and red, or that they were set into the shape of a rampant lion. She knew that sword, those gnarled hands, as well as she knew her own name. Her father had told her the story of how the Odon clan had come into possession of the sword many, many times in her youth.

And she saw one more thing. She saw a hand, the same hand that rested on her arm, coated red as it reached down and plucked the sword from her father's hand. It was careful to touch only the hilt, as the blade was coated in silver. It hefted the sword up so that she could see the owner's reflection in the blade. Anders' grin was almost maniacal. The light in his eyes definitely was. And the red smeared around his mouth... It was proof of his crime.

The son of a bitch was going to die. And he was going to die by her hand. She was going to get that sword back. It belonged to her now.

Anders took his hand back, allowing Janika to breathe again. She was careful to keep her face neutral, careful to keep the knowledge and the hate from her expression. The vampire still wore the same expression of sadness that he'd adopted when he'd put his hand on her arm. She managed a small, pained smile that was not faked at all. "I didn't know. I haven't spoken to my family in some time."

"I am so sorry, Miss Odon," the vampire repeated. She almost believed him, his tone making it sound like he really meant the words. Maybe, in some twisted way, he did. She was going to love shoving that empty apology right back down his throat later.

"It is the nature of hunting, unfortunately," she replied quietly.

"Of course, my dear. Please. Do let me know--" Anders began, but Anastasia cut across him.

"Really, Anders. The child doesn't know you. And she's just been delivered the worst possible news. Allow her to grieve before you shove your way into her life." While Anastasia had a neutral expression on her face, Janika got the impression that there was more to her words. She wasn't saying something aloud, but the other vampire seemed to understand what she was talking about because he gave a brief nod of his head, then stepped back a pace or two. Janika hadn't realized he'd gotten so close.

"Of course. I forgot myself. Forgive me," he said politely enough. Janika watched as his eyes tracked someone moving behind where she and Asher stood and knew what was going to be said before he next opened his mouth. "If you'll excuse Anastasia and I? I've just seen an old friend and we should catch up."

"It has been a pleasure to see you again, Asher. And to make Miss Odon's acquaintance." This from Anastasia.

"The pleasure has been all mine," Asher replied, though even Janika could hear it for the absolute lie that it was. No doubt Anastasia and Anders heard it, too. If they did, they said nothing. They both wandered off and Janika could finally breathe again. She wasn't even aware she was shaking until Asher gently urged her down into a chair. She couldn't remember being anywhere near a place to sit, letting her know she was much more disturbed by the news than she'd admitted to herself. "Waiter. A glass of champagne."

Asher's tone was almost imperious and that, more than anything else, really caught Janika's attention. She watched as a waiter who looked absolutely unfazed by anything approached them. Asher scooped a flute up off the tray the man carried, then made an imperious gesture to send him away. The waiter shot him a look that she suspected no one was meant to see, then he turned and hurried back the way he'd come without a word. Janika might have thought the encounter odd, but she was still reeling from the news about her father and brothers.

The man at her side pressed the delicate stem of the champagne flute into her hand and silently urged her to have a sip of the bubbly golden liquid. "You have gone pale, mon ange," he murmured, gaze sliding around the park slowly.

"I'm going to kill him, Asher."

"Janika," he began. She shot him a look that stopped whatever else he might have said. She suspected he was going to tell it was a bad idea. Or something.

"He killed my father and my brothers. I saw it. I'm going to return the favor," she told him, voice low.

Asher was silent a moment or two, then nodded and reached up to lay a hand against her cheek. "I will help you in whatever way I can. But there will be no more talk of killing people tonight. It is much too dark a subject for someone who looks so fair."

She felt the blush rise to her cheeks. "You're just saying that because you're hopelessly in love with me."

"I am saying it because it is the truth," Asher replied, a hint of humor in his voice. Then his gaze intensified, darkened with something primal, and she felt heat follow after the blush. "You are the most beautiful soul here this evening and were it not so important to our standing in the community, I would whisk you away and show you just how truthful my words are. And how much I love you."

As if to prove his point, his gaze roamed the length of her body. It was a slow, careful, sweeping look. His eyes were filled with hot desire. Seeing that look sent a shiver of need through her. Janika had to admit, she'd thought the costumes were a little over the top. Leave it to Jean Claude to go with such an ambitious theme as A Midsummer Night's Dream and all that entailed. But Janika would admit that she honestly felt like a faerie princess in the gown that had been selected for her.

The base was a rust colored silk that normally wasn't a color she associated with the Fae. However, the amazing seamstress who had created the dress had softened the severity and darkness with layers of tulle that shifted from gold to copper to cream to create a layer of mist around the dress. There was sweetheart bust and straps of tulle covered silk that rose up over the shoulders. Pale gold lace decorated her waist, while flowers sprouted from the gown in various places. They edged her bust and shoulders, circled her waist, and trailed down the skirts. The flowers were in cream and rust and icy blue and pale pink with touches of cream here and there. Gems like dew drops created soft flashes as she moved, embedded in the center of the flowers or simply trailing gracefully down her skirts. They were pale gold and icy blue and bright silver. She knew from a turn in the mirror that there was lacing down the back in rust and gold that held the dress snug to her body. Tulle in pale gold was attached to the bust and the back so that it draped over her arms before cascading to the ground like a pair of twin waterfalls.

Wings had been affixed to the back of the dress once they'd arrived. They were beautiful butterfly wings done in gold and cream, with touches of black and rust to them. A stylist had spent an ungodly amount of time on her hair. The top had been pulled back into a very loose bun, some of the strands woven into tiny braids that created an almost knotwork effect to the bun. The ends hung down her back in fat sausage curls while thin, curly wisps framed her face and rested against her forehead. It made Janika think of the Grecian styles she'd seen in books and movies and even on statues. Her make up was flawless, with soft pinks and pale peaches as the base colors. At the corner of each eye, the shadow used on her lids blossomed into identical hibiscus flowers in gold and rust. Thin vines spread out from the flowers, drifting up to her temples and down the sides of her face. A few tendrils had been painted across her cheeks and forehead to create a delicate mask. The vines' leaves had been spotted here and there with small gems that winked and flashed in the soft lights.

She made a point of returning his gaze, letting her own eyes rove the costume he was wearing with unmasked appreciation. He was dressed like a noble, in a copper brown velvet tunic that hugged his frame lovingly. It was embroidered with leaves and vinework, the colors shifting between green, gold, and silver. A pair of rust colored leggings clung tight to his thighs before being swallowed up by the brown leather boots that ended just below his knees. With it was a brown cloak made of the softest velvet. It was lined with a burnished gold silk that only served to enhance the natural color of his hair. He wore no mask, his face bared to the gathered throng. Someone had put a single, thin plait into his hair and had tucked tiny blossoms in it. She reached out a hand to touch one of the little flowers.

"You look amazing yourself," she told him quietly. She was going to have to say something to Jean Claude about his impeccable taste. "And when we get home tonight, I'm going to show you how amazing you look."

His smile came easily. Readily. It filled her heart with joy while heat flooded the rest of her body. "I am looking forward to it, mon ange," he told her softly. The faint touch of passion in his voice almost made her drag him behind a convenient bush and have her way with him there. But heads were turning and the area had gone quiet, letting her know that the main event was about to start and she was going to have to put her wants on hold. For just a little bit longer. She let her gaze slide to the tent through which they'd entered the park and she waited, breath held.

She could only imagine what kind of costumes Jean Claude had picked for Aedan and himself.

~*~*~*~*~

She looked ridiculous. She didn't care how many times Jean Claude had informed her that she did not. She looked ridiculous. There was no way she'd ever figure out why he'd thought something so... sheer and fluttery would look good on her. And everyone was staring. She was so tempted to just pull away from Jean Claude and disappear back into the tent. But the strength in his hand where it curled around her elbow told her she'd never accomplish it. She fixed a faint smile on her face and allowed him to escort her into the midst of the crowd. "If I trip over my skirts, I'm taking you down with me," she told him sweetly in her head.

Her answer was a tickle of amusement down her spine. It did not sit well that he found her amusing in the middle of all this shit. She was still mad at him for so many things. She wasn't even going to touch upon her own feelings. Being outed like this was the last thing she wanted to be part of. But no one was going to take her thoughts on the matter into account. So she'd be polite to the guests. Play happy, doting human servant. But she was going to be such a prickly bitch to him in private...

Her thoughts were cut off by the silky touch of his voice at the back of her mind. "You look beautiful, ma poupette. A fitting Titania for our little soirée."

She would admit that the dress was stunning. Whoever had made it was a genius with a needle and thread. And, apparently, metalwork. The dress was strapless, held up by chains and pure magic. It was done in three colors, layered one over top of the next, with the layer on the bottom a velvety black taffeta that made faint rustling sounds with each step she took. Laying over it was a sheer layer of silvery material that had been heavily embellished with three dimensional lace. Said lace clung to the bottom hem in a kind of filigree pattern that morphed into vines and flower blossoms. Those climbed up the length of the skirt toward the waist but stopped short of reaching their goal. More of the lace decorated the bodice. The topmost layer was crafted of ruffled strips of sapphire blue silk that fluttered and shifted with each step like the leaves on the trees when the wind blew through them.

Then there was the metalwork. Someone had wrought filigree pieces that had been attached to the gown at the top of the bust and around the waist. They were silvery, but not silver, and made to look like interwoven vines that had grown wild and free. There were leaves and little curlicues everywhere. The piece on the bust followed the cut of the gown to end just where Aedan's arms would be when at rest. The piece at the waist acted as a belt, circling her body to cinch the gown in slightly and give the skirts a bit of flare. Chains were connected to the top of the metal at her bust. They climbed up around her neck, then came back down to reconnect with the filigree piece. A second set of smaller chains stretched from the filigree work to shoulder guards, one on either shoulder, done in the same filigree vine work. A trio of chains draped across her bared back, while three more hung from each guard to lay against her arms. All of the metal pieces had had stones embedded in them. The stones flashed blue and white and black in the lights, while more stones dangled from the chains across her back and arms. A single, large stone in blue hung from the center of the belt. More of the sapphire silk strips had been connected to the shoulder guards, in front and in back, creating faux sleeves that drifted to the ground.

As if the gown itself wasn't enough, she wore a crown of filigree metal and crystal points. There were seven of them, the tallest front and center and made of raw, uncut sapphire. The two on either side of that one were clear quartz, shorter than the middle one. The next two were shorter again, this time of onyx. The last two, shortest of the bunch, were the same clear quartz. Between them were finely wrought silver tree branches that grew from one crystal to the next. Small chips of each stone dotted the base of each crystal in little clusters. Her hair had been styled around the crown, the ends on the sides pulled up to cover the base and hold it in place. There were a pair of braids that wound around her head like a pair of headbands. The second one rested right in front of a nest of carefully created curls that sat against the back of her head. Both braids were dotted with pearls. Neither one was actually made of her hair. In fact, a lot of her hair wasn't her own. The rest of her hair was left to hang long in sausage curls, while some shorter strands had been left to hang in ringlets beside her face.

Her face. Ugh. She'd sat in a makeup chair for the better part of an hour while someone dabbed color here and there. She knew that they'd used sapphire and cobalt blue on her lids, then had created a kind of butterfly wing effect on either side of her face with the same two shades, as well as some silver and black. They'd even applied rhinestone chips to her skin to add a flash or two of color. And then had come the mask, which was made of black metal filigree and studded with its own gems to flash in the light. She wasn't sure why the makeup artist had gone to such great lengths to do her eyes, only for the effect to be hidden behind a mask. Whatever. She wasn't paying for any of this stuff, so it wasn't like it mattered what she said or thought.

Of course, if Jean Claude said she looked beautiful, he looked positively gorgeous in his costume. He was, naturally, the Oberon to her Titania and he was dressed in the same colors as she was. His coat was black brocade, with silver, blue, and gold accents that created a floral pattern. It had a set of long, rectangular tails in the front that hung past his knees, while the hem on the sides sat at his hips. The back had a pointed waist, with a trio of tails in varying lengths hanging from the waist on either side of his spine. The panels laid over top of each other and shifted with every move he made. The sleeves were done in two parts. The top half was tied to the shoulder of the coat, while the bottom half was tied to the top. Both parts were held tight against his arms by lacing and left the elbow gaped to show the silver silk shirt he wore beneath the coat. His leggings were blue velvet, his boots black leather. His hair had been left to hang long and untamed, his curls a riotous fall around his face and down his back. He wore a mask, too, made of silver looking filigree metalwork and topped with a pair of long, black horns that curved back at the tips.

Okay. She could admit it. He looked good enough to eat.

Jean Claude's hand on her back gently urging her forward brought her out of her thoughts to find that everyone was still staring at her. Well, at them. The entire park was silent and heavy with anticipation. She made sure her smile was in place and waited for the man at her side to make the first move. He did. "My friends. Welcome. Enjoy the evening and the festivities."

And just like that, the world started turning again. The moment Jean Claude finished speaking, the noise picked back up and people began to once more move around the park. As if he'd bespelled them and only his voice could break the spell. Aedan shot him a brief look, then took time to ensure that her smile was fixed and didn't feel terribly fake. There were far too many people in the park. More than half of them were human, which should have been comforting. But it wasn't. Because there were still lycanthropes and vampires present. And she was weaponless. Not even the metal on her dress could be used to protect herself. There wasn't any silver present. She had to take Jean Claude's word for it that none of his guests would attempt anything. If they did, it would be a blood bath. And she'd blame herself for not being able to stop it.

Jean Claude's hand brushed the bare skin on her back, effectively pulling her out of her dark thoughts. The cold power of death swept up her spine, twisted around a shock of cool electricity. She hated that he could do that to her so easily. No doubt he'd employed the tactic explicitly to drive her thoughts away. She ignored the desire to look up at him and instead let her gaze sweep the park, making note of every little detail. Jean Claude had gone above and beyond with the party's theme. It was hard to tell the real trees from the fake trees. Faerie lights winked cheerfully from their spots nestled amidst the leaves. There was a string quartet that had dressed in loose, flowing garb that could have been either Elven or Fae. Every single guest she saw was in some kind of costume, many so elaborate that it must have taken them the entire two weeks between invitations going out to the night of the party to have them made. The only people she saw who were not in costume were members of the serving staff.

"Jean Claude, I must say. You have managed to outdo yourself with this affair!" Augustine, Master of Chicago, looked like Legolas. Right down to the pointy ears and the hair. Aedan stifled her amusement and tried hard to look as if she wasn't going to burst into laughter. Auggie was not a bad looking man, but he was no Orlando Bloom. "And Aedan. You look positively ravishing this evening."

The vampire had come out of the crowd to join them, a human woman trailing along beside him. She was dressed as some kind of nymph, her gown so diaphanous that it was plain to see she was wearing a flesh colored leotard beneath it. She gave Aedan a faint smile, then turned a brilliant one on Jean Claude. Aedan was willing to admit she was feeling peevish enough that she inched closer to the vampire at her side and made sure to press the side of one breast against his arm. Auggie's human frowned and kind of faded back. But she was forgotten the moment Auggie took hold of Aedan's hand and lifted it in order to place a kiss on it. "The loveliest creature here tonight."

"Careful, Augustine. The human tagging along with you is shooting daggers. I don't know which one of us she wants dead more. You might want to sleep with one eye open tonight," Aedan replied and gently pulled her hand from his grip after a reasonable amount of time had passed. The vampire grinned at her, then shot a look toward the human with him

"Talia is merely jealous because she has been told no touching tonight. She was telling me just moments ago that she would love to find out what kind of under garments you are wearing with that gown." Augustine seemed so sure of himself. A glance at Talia suggested he was wrong.

"I am afraid Aedan is not available. She has already been spoken for," Jean Claude replied. His arm slid around her waist and pulled her into him, which she allowed for the sake of appearances. And while his words were directed at Talia, his gaze was locked onto Augustine.

Augustine lifted an eyebrow at that, obviously certain that Jean Claude was lying. Aedan snuggled close, offering the other vampire a smile that was entirely insincere. "I'm so sorry, Augustine. He's right. I am spoken for."

"I see. Then perhaps I should tell you both that there are those here tonight who would spy on you for the council."

"I am aware of who has come tonight, Augustine. But I thank you for the warning." Aedan had a clue who they were talking about. Not that anyone had bothered to inform her about anything that could pose a danger to everyone present. As a member of law enforcement, it was Aedan's job to protect every single person at the party. And she couldn't do that without a gun. And if she was right about who she thought they were talking about, it was even more dangerous that she was unarmed. "And thank you for attending tonight. I fear it would have been dreadfully dull without your presence."

Aedan couldn't tell if it was a serious statement or if Jean Claude was giving Auggie a ration of shit. The other vampire chose to take it as a serious statement and nodded his head. "Thank you for sending an invite my way. I don't think I would have missed this for the world. You are going to shock so many people when you introduce Aedan."

"Or, you know, maybe I'll be the one doing the shocking. Since I'm the one being revealed like a secret ballot or some shit," Aedan interjected. Talia gave her a look that suggested she thought Aedan was uncivilized. Jean Claude's hand at her side squeezed briefly in warning. But Augustine only smirked a moment, then started chuckling.

"Yes. You are right. You are absolutely going to be the one doing the shocking. And I am going to love every last minute of it." Augustine's smile was too wide. Too genuine. Too familiar. Too... frightening. She did her best to quell the niggling feeling that something terrible was going to happen. But nothing she did drove that feeling away until she was sure it was going to drive her insane. As if he sensed she needed grounding or reassurance, Jean Claude's hand casually grazed a bit of bare skin so that his power could bleed into her body. She wasn't sure what affect he'd intended by the touch, but it proved to be the one that she'd needed. Calm washed over her, bringing her once more back to the here and now as the idea that something terrible was going to happen faded into nothing.

"Jean Claude. Tell me you did not invite Martine to this affair?" Augustine's question came from over his shoulder, his attention given to a tall, willowy woman headed their direction. She was obviously a vampire. Even if her pale complexion and million mile stare didn't give it away, the aura of power that haloed her was more than enough to say that she was one of the undead. Aedan watched as Jean Claude's gaze moved to the woman coming toward them. The hand that touched Aedan suddenly felt heavier. There was possession in his touch, but there was also something else. If Aedan didn't know any better, she'd say it was fear. Auggie turned wide eyes toward Jean Claude, his expression clearly stating that he was shocked by this turn of events.

"Oui. I invited Martine to this affair."

"You are either very brave or very foolish," Augustine shook his head, then reached behind him for Talia's hand. "And, no matter which it is, we must take our leave. I will seek you out later, after the party is over. I look forward to your announcement and the subsequent ripple it will cause in our world. Aedan. A pleasure to see you again."

She expected Augustine to take her hand and attempt to leave a kiss on it. He did no such thing, surprising Aedan. Instead, he inclined his head, then turned and headed off into the crowd. Talia followed after him, barely able to keep up with his rapid pace. Aedan had to wonder just what kind of person this Martine was to evoke such a response in someone like Augustine. She watched him hurry away from them, then gave her attention to Martine and the group of people who followed after her.

Martine was fair, with long golden hair that hung in gentle waves to mid-thigh. Even across the distance, Aedan could see that her eyes were deep green, like the finest emeralds the earth had ever seen. Said eyes were focused on the two of them so intently that Aedan could feel their weight against her skin. The female vampire was clad in something as willowy as she was, a dress that caught the light as she passed, that sparkled like it had been sewn entirely of diamonds. A golden chain rested low on her waist, the ends dangling daintily down the front of the gown to end near the woman's knees. She looked like she'd stepped right out of the pages of some fantasy novel. She was a very beautiful woman She was...

"A former girlfriend," Aedan said softly just as Martine came to stand before them. The woman looked her up and down with a very bland expression on her face.

"Jealous, mortal?" she asked, voice empty. "Or worried that I will take your place?

"Hardly," Aedan replied with a smile. "I like to think that Jean Claude's taste in women has expanded past frigid bitch into something a touch more human."

"Perhaps. But if the rumors I have heard are true, you are hardly human."

"Maybe not," Aedan conceded. She was starting to realize that she never really had been human. She was something else entirely. "But I'm a lot warmer than you are. Do they put you in a freezer when you're not in public to keep your heart from melting?"

"She is quite quaint, Jean Claude. Where ever do you find someone so... insulting?" The woman asked, turning her attention his way. Aedan stole a glance at him to find that he'd put his blank mask on for the encounter. It told her that he was not comfortable with her presence. Which made her wonder what had happened between them.

"It seems to be a unique talent of mine," he replied. It was a pointed barb. If it struck home, Martine did not let it show. Aedan schooled her face so as not to laugh in the face of someone who was stronger than she was.

Yes, Martine was strong. But she wasn't as powerful as she wanted people to believe she was. It was an odd thought to have popping into her head but once it made itself known to Aedan, it wouldn't go away. In fact, Aedan could feel the vampire's age rubbing against her bones like a metaphysical cat. Martine was old. But she was no where near as powerful as Jean Claude. Intriguing. "She isn't as powerful as you are," Aedan told him through their link. "Maybe she was at one time, but she isn't now. You could squash her like a bug with little effort."

The touch of his hand against her back conveyed some of his pleasure at her words, a rush of his power skittering along under her skin to leave her feeling a little soft and hazy around the edges. "It was good of you to come, Martine. I know you rarely leave Berlin these days. I am honored that you chose to attend my party."

Martine's gaze flicked Aedan's way for a moment or two, studied her dispassionately, then returned to Jean Claude. "But of course. The entire vampire world is aflutter with the news of your human servant's death and how you somehow survived her passing. I had to come and see for myself how such a miracle could have transpired."

She was fishing. Aedan was sure of it. The entire vampire community knew of Anita Blake's powers and how they had benefited Jean Claude. No doubt they were trying to figure out how he'd managed to survive her death without taking both a physical and metaphysical hit. Aedan wasn't sure how he planned to make the announcement earlier, but she really hoped he had no intention of mentioning that she had been given Anita's powers upon the other woman's death. That would, in no uncertain terms, spell trouble for the lot of them. And it would no doubt mean a death sentence for Aedan. The council didn't like people who were strong enough to destroy them without really trying.

"All shall be revealed in a short while," he assured her. "But before we can do so, there is more mingling to be done. I have many guests here this evening. They have come from all over the country and the world. I should hate to disappoint them." It was a blatant dismissal and it left Aedan wondering just what had gone between the two of them in the past. He started leading Aedan away.

"You do not wish to cross me tonight, Jean Claude," Martine's voice stopped them. Aedan shot him a look before they turned to face the other woman. If anything, her face had gotten colder in the few short moments of their conversation. "I am here on the behest of the council. My word will decide your fate."

"You always did like your threats, Martine. This is why we drifted apart in Paris."

"You were sleeping around with a whore while you were supposed to be at my side. That is why we drifted apart in Paris. You have a deep love for whores. Be careful that it does not get you killed."

"Are you making threats?" Aedan asked softly. Martine blinked and shifted her attention, as if she'd forgotten that Aedan was there.

"I do not make threats. I make promises. And those promises extend to you, mortal. Watch your tongue, lest it cost you your life."

"Oh, dear. You're threatening to kill me. Whatever shall I do?" Aedan asked. Her voice was filled with faux melodrama, as was the way she moved her arms. Then she leveled the woman a cold look and made a point of letting her eyes rove up and down Martine's tall frame. "Maybe now would be a good time to remind you that you are not as powerful as you want everyone here to believe you are. You certainly aren't as powerful as Jean Claude. In fact, most of his kiss is stronger than you are. Be careful who you dare threaten, lest they cost you your life. Because all you need to do is give me one good reason and I will end you."

Martine laughed, a lilting, musical sound that somehow managed to grate on Aedan's nerves. "You're threatening me, child? What on earth could possibly make you feel you could threaten me and get away with it?"

It was obvious the woman had no clue who she was talking to. Aedan flicked her gaze to Jean Claude, looking for some sign from him. To her surprise, there was smug satisfaction on his face. He gave her a brief smile that she took to mean she could handle this situation anyway she chose. So she turned back to Martine and drew herself up to her full height and allowed just a tiny bit of her power to leak past her personal shields. "You might be a vampire, Martine, but I am still your worst nightmare because I know sixteen ways from Sunday to gut you and make you suffer before I kill you for good. So before you go around threatening people, it might do you some good to take a moment to find out just who the fuck you're threatening because I will goddamn end you in the blink of an eye."

Martine gaped at her a moment or two before finally collecting herself. Apparently no one in the woman's life had ever spoken to her in such a manner before. Aedan was mildly pleased that she'd been the first. "I apologize, Jean Claude. I meant no disrespect," the woman said quietly before she turned and stalked away. Her small retinue followed behind her, obviously trying to figure out what had just happened. Aedan got the feeling she hadn't heard the last of Martine just yet. It was a good idea to remain vigilant.

"That was beautifully done, ma poupette," Jean Claude said softly, a good deal of pride and petty enjoyment in his voice. She gave him her full attention.

"You planned on that happening, didn't you?" Sneaky bastard.

"I did not plan on that happening. But I know how much you dislike people making assumptions. And Martine loves to make assumptions. I was merely hoping you would be more than willing to put her in her place."

"I just put my ass on the line with a vampire who is twice your age," Aedan said softly.

"And who is, as you so helpfully pointed out, much weaker than she makes people think she is. She will not want her secret to come out. Keeping her territory depends upon it. Attempting to assassinate you would only lead to her secret being discovered. Because I have every faith that you would prevail in a fight with Martine."

Oh, that was just what she wanted to hear. "Tell me there are no more jealous ex-girlfriends here that I'm going to have to contend with," she muttered.

"None that I am aware of," he replied. "Do not tell me you are willing to fight them for me."

She knew he was teasing, but she was still so wound up from everything that had gone on the past few weeks that she couldn't let herself react to it as a joke. Instead, she shot him a dark look that told him exactly how she felt about his last statement. Then she gave her attention to the party going on around them. A young woman with a tray of champagne trailed past and Aedan reached out a hand to snag a glass without even stopping the woman. "Let's just get this night over with because I'm already fucking bored."

She had a moment to feel a twinge of regret when a touch of his disappointment reached her. But then it was gone and she was left with a blank wall where he usually was. It shouldn't have bothered her the way it did. But it bothered her and she wasn't about to get into why. So she screwed that fake smile back on her face and allowed him to show her around the park. Holy shit, just let them get through the night because she wanted as far from all this shit as possible.

It wasn't until a few hours later that Jean Claude finally had enough of showing off. He casually escorted Aedan to a small clearing near the string quartet's tent. And though no one had said anything, the park immediately began quieting. Voiced died out one by one and Aedan saw that the members of Jean Claude's kiss were moving closer to the edge of the clearing on one side, which would put them all together. She suspected he'd either arranged it ahead of time or he'd simply sent mental messages to one and all. Either way, she stood at his side and let her gaze sweep over the party-goers, realizing once again just how many vampires were there. Just how much power she could feel on the air.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him remove his mask and hand it to someone on his right. A weight dropped into her stomach and she suddenly felt very much on edge.

"My friends, thank you all for coming tonight. I know our world is abuzz with rumors and gossip about Anita's death. I am here to put an end to those rumors and set the story straight." Jean Claude's voice carried across the park with ease, every last unimportant noise having died down to nothing. Not even insects were chirping, as if they knew better than to do so. A sea of eager faces stared back at them, leaving Aedan slightly uncomfortable in the face of so much scrutiny. She really wanted to give the vampire council a wooden stake enema for putting her on display like this.

"No doubt by now you have all heard so many tales that you do not know which ones to believe. The truth is, Anita was murdered." He fell silent, which allowed the crowd to murmur softly among themselves. No doubt people were trying to figure out who would have done such a thing. And why. After several moments, Jean Claude lifted his hands again and brought the crowd to silence. "And the truth is, she chose someone to take her place. I will not bore you with details of her death. Her loss still pains me and you all know I am not one to share my pain. Just know she died protecting people, the job she did with no regard to her own safety. And know that, as she lay dying on the road that night, she passed her legacy on to her successor. The woman at my side."

It was then that he turned toward her. Aedan did the same, shifting position until she looked up at his face. She wasn't sure what expression he was wearing, but she saw what she took to be tenderness there. And fondness. Anything else was lost when his hands came up, reached behind her to find the ties that held the mask in place. "Relax, ma poupette. Everything will be fine."

Easy for him to say. Panic rose up in her as the mask fell away and the cool night air hit her face. Then he was turning to face the crowd again. Aedan mirrored his actions so that everyone in the park could see her. It was then that she realized the purpose behind the double mask effect. Everyone there would see her face without actually seeing her face. Jean Claude had obviously done what he could to protect her identity. If only for a little bit. "Aedan Kinkade is my human servant, given the position by Anita upon her death. She is as precious to me as Anita and she has not only stabilized my power base, she has added to it."

A murmur rose up again, this time louder than the previous one. Aedan watched as people whispered to one another, as they debated and argued and considered. She watched as they came to the same conclusion almost all at the same time. That Jean Claude was lying. And she knew without a doubt just what was going to happen before the night was out.

"We do not believe you, Jean Claude," a voice called out. Aedan tried to figure out who it was, but there were just too many people present.

"Why would I lie to you? What could I gain from lying about the situation?" he asked the crowd lightly.

"There is no way you survived your human servant's death unscathed. The entire world knows how she was bound to you and your kiss. If her death did not harm you, it harmed someone she was close to. Lies and deceit to try and convince your enemies that attacking you would be a bad idea!" This from someone else in the crowd. Aedan sighed and made ready to make a spectacle of herself. She was sure that a display of her abilities was next on the agenda.

"We want proof, Jean Claude." And there it was. She was so tired of being treated like a fucking party favor.

"What proof can I offer that will appease all of you? What hoop must we jump through to prove that my words are the truth?" he asked them, his tone rapidly losing its pleasant timbre. "Aedan is not a pet, trained to perform tricks upon command and it is unfair of you to insist she do so. My word should be more than enough proof."

Someone called out a suggestion, but Aedan had stopped paying attention. She'd noticed a familiar face in the crowd, moving toward them intently, and had shifted her focus entirely to them. It couldn't be... She had a moment to question whether or not she was seeing things before it became obvious that that familiar face was moving toward someone. She followed the face's progression, a sense of foreboding growing in her chest with each step closer to the center of the gathering the face got. She was moving toward the spot in the crowd where the face would break through before she even realized what she was doing.

And that's when all hell broke loose.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-05-26 01:44 pm (UTC)
nanaeanaven: Dolls of all my sues (animated) (rhiannon)
From: [personal profile] nanaeanaven
Well, shit. I guess I'm going to have to make time for the next chapter yet today because that is one hell of a cliffhanger. *holds everyone close and thinks happy thoughts*

Another great chapter, hon. I enjoyed all the interactions, especially Aedan's prickly bitch self. LOL Though, I'm really surprised that she doesn't have a weapon stashed somewhere on her person. However did JC convince her to do that? She must feel naked. Let's hope Death has some spares for her.
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