had always had an affinity for wolves. Nothing could make his breath catch like the unexpected sight of one of these formidable
predators on a moonless night. A solitary wolf loping through the dense outer forests was a spectacular thing to behold. Their
prowess and graceful beauty intrigued him. To him, wolves were as alluring as they were fearsome; as keenly intelligent as
they were primevel. They should be revered.
it was with a heavy heart that Jean-Claude gazed down at the broken body of the ensnared white wolf. The heavy metal jaws
of the trap had captured the animal's midsection and had embedded its teeth well into the wolf's ribcage. Its legs were splayed
against the forest's floor at awkward angles. The weight of the trap pinned the wolf's chest to the chains which tethered
it to the ground. Blood colored the animal's thick fur and bubbled out of its nose with each labored breath it took.
to the injured wolf soothingly, Jean-Claude dismounted from his horse. He pressed his thumb into the mare's right flank and
sent her away into the trees. He knew the smell of blood frightened horses and the wolf was bleeding so profusely, the scent
hung heavily in the damp night air. He didn't want the horse taking flight in a fit of panic before he had finished here.
white wolf peered up at Jean-Claude as he approached. It licked its teeth repeatedly and growled threateningly, choking on
the blood dripping from its mouth. It coughed and its body spasmed, causing the animal to emit several piercing whines of
in its dire agony, this animal still posed a significant threat to him. It would surely tear him open if he got as close to
it as he intended. This is utter madness, Jean-Claude thought, but it didn't dissuade him from taking another step forward.
Surely if left alone, the beast would die on its own before the night was through. Even as he told himself these things, he
still felt the need to help it in some way. Any way he could.
wolf snarled fiercely at the figure approaching it and tried desperately to pull its legs underneath it. It managed to stand,
but fell heavily back to the ground in a matter of seconds. The blood poured from its mouth now. It gagged and pawed at its
jaws, smearing the blood on its long white legs.
knelt down where he was and locked his eyes on the wretched animal, using his power to reach into its mind. The wolf was nearly
insane with misery and its mind had shifted away from cognitive thinking into pure survival instinct. Probing deeper in the
clouded recesses of its consciousness, Jean-Claude's power brushed the animal's awareness and found the remnants of its inherent
intelligence. Immediately, the wolf quieted and turned its pain-glazed eyes towards him. Jean-Claude smiled sadly.
was not certain my power would work on one such as yourself," he mused. "I am happy we have reached an understanding of sorts."
Keeping his gaze fixed on the wolf, Jean-Claude folded his arms loosely around his bent knee. "You and I are not so different,
mon frere. We are both ethereal and elegant creatures. But we are also resourceful predators, who strike fear in the hearts
of men--depised and hunted for our sins against humanity. It is with such empathy, I offer my assistance to you in your...unfortunately
Yes. The wolf knew it was dying, as much as it understood the concept of death. Being free of pain was all it could think
of, but it didn't really believe escaping would free it of pain, so it battled with its intinct to try to survive. Yes, it
would rather just die.
sighed. "You will not survive your wounds. You will expire before the break of dawn, you understand? Until then, you face
hours of torment. Best your instincts, mon ami. I know the pull of an instinct so deeply embedded into your psyche, it is
almost impossible to ignore, but ignore it you must. Do not let your instincts drive you to such an end. If you will allow
me to approach you, I can take your life now and quell your pain."
vampire rose slowly, keeping his eyes on the wolf's. The animal tried to crawl away from him and whimpered pitifully, but
Jean-Claude could tell it was also struggling to subdue the fear it felt towards him. It kept its eyes steadfastedly on him,
and lowered its head in a submissive gesture. When Jean-Claude reached out for it, it licked his hand.
his long fingers through the wolf's pelt soothingly, Jean-Claude drew up behind the animal and lowered himself to his knees.
He caressed the wolf's massive head and bent to rub his cheek along the soft heated fur between the wolf's folded ears. Pleased
by the wolf's obvious comprehension, Jean-Claude poured his power over the beast's mind once more, and used it to alleviate
the animal's fear and pain, much in the same way he rolled the minds of his prey. He marvelled at the wolf's ready submission.
No animal had ever responded to his power this way before. It both thrilled and grieved him.
the animal's head on either side, the vampire placed a soft kiss on its domed skull and took a deep breath.
revoir, mon frere," Jean-Claude whispered into the wolf's fur. With that he wrenched the animal's neck completely around,
snapping it in two. The wolf went limp against him.
chuffing from his mare drew his attention away from the dead wolf. Jean-Claude rose to his feet and looked in the direction
the sound had come from. The horse's head was up, small pointed ears pricked forward. Her nostrils flared as she repeatedly
blew air forcefully from her lungs. She had caught the scent of something, and Jean-Claude was sure it was more than the wolf's
blood that had startled her.
the thick shadows beyond the trees, the vampire saw several shapes materialize from the darkness. Several pairs of eyes were
looking at him. Low gutteral growls filled the stillness of the night.
wolves. Drawn by the scent of blood perhaps and the fear they sensed in the horse. They were circling her. They were hungry,
but cautious, holding back at the unexpected sight of the man before them. They knew men and they feared men.
edged towards his horse, hoping she would not bolt in blind terror at the wolves approach. At that moment, he wished he could
touch the mare's mind the way he had the dying wolf's. He could have calmed her and assured her she would be defended.
not trouble my equine companion, mes amis," he murmured, using the power in his voice to emphasize his threat. "I forbid it."
if understanding his words, the wolves turned away from the horse and peered curiously at the vampire.
occurred to Jean-Claude then, he might be able to communicate with these wolves through his power as he had the white wolf.
It was worth a try. What did he have to lose? Perhaps he had only been able to touch the white wolf's mind because he was
dying, weakened, and afraid. These wolves were not, but they were focusing entirely on him now. At once he knew their minds
were sharp and calculating, and their bodies were strong and healthy. There was a connection there. He could feel it.
out towards the pack with his vampiric powers, Jean-Claude called the alpha male forward and once again became aware of several
things at once. The alpha male was dead. He was the one in the trap. This was his pack. The alpha female had taken over the
pack in his absence. They had only just found him.
gray wolf stalked towards the vampire, keeping her head low, growling softly in her throat. She walked hesitantly past Jean-Claude
and sniffed at the carcass of her mate. She looked up and whined, an expectant _expression in her eyes.
reached out and touched the wolf's muzzle. She curled her lip back, flashing her fangs instinctively, but clearly influenced
by the magic he poured over her.
sorry, my lady," Jean-Claude whispered. "But I know there are many fine young wolves left in your clan to take his place.
Your children will not go hungry."
gray wolf dropped to her stomach and rolled over, her eyes ever locked on the vampire above her.
smiled. He knelt down and languidly scratched her chest. She snarled again, but remained submissive.
ma belle loup, you are mine now," he told her, triumphantly. His heart was beating wildly as his mind began to comprehend
the significance of this newly dawning ability he possessed. He raised his head and gazed towards the remaining pack. "You
are all mine. Show yourselves. Come to me."
cautiously, the wolves materialized out of the shadows. There were sixteen of them altogether. Seven young males and nine
females. Soon, they were pacing around Jean-Claude in an agitated, eager swarm. They didn't understand the power overtaking
them and they fought it, reacting aggressively towards each other at first. A couple of fights broke out among the younger
wolves and several snarled menacingly at the vampire.
drew more power to him and sent it out over the pack. They quickly calmed and many became as submissive as the alpha female
had, creeping closer to him on their bellies.
me, mes amis, this is new to me as well," Jean-Claude stated softly. He stretched out his hands and touched the wolves nearest
him. Some growled, but most just licked his fingers and whimpered.
vampire straightened and looked around him at the milling wolves. Overjoyed, he raised his face to the night sky, wrapping
his arms around his body in a tight hug, and laughed in sheer uninhibited delight.
knew what this meant. His powers were such now that he had finally become a master. His increasing independence as of late
had hinted as much, but this, this confirmed it. He was a master vampire and he had the gift to call an animal. That animal
was the wolf.
strode purposefully through the underground passages of the Circus Of the Damned towards Jean-Claude's luxuriant living room.
Jamil and Shang-Da followed closely behind him, eyes sweeping this way and that in careful scrutiny of their surroundings,
ever on the alert for possible threats to their Ulfric.
abruptly just outside the living room and held up his hands. Jamil and Shang-Da exchanged glances.
Richard said and took a deep breath.
placing his hands on his slim hips. "Do you think that's wise? Confronting him alone?"
his head, his long brown hair dancing around his face with the force of the movement. "I'm not confronting him. I just want
to talk to him." He looked from one bodyguard to the other. "Even if I was confronting him, Jean-Claude knows better than
to try to hurt me, gentlemen. Such a thing would be...self-defeating." He forced a smile. "And if there is one thing Jean-Claude
is not, is self-defeating."
Without a second
thought, Richard pushed his way past his bodyguards and into the vampire's living room. He had walked all the way into the
middle of the room before he realized no one was around. He stopped and sighed heavily, thinking he should have called first.
Jean-Claude wasn't one to sit around at home on a Saturday night when he was the owner of three very successful night clubs.
In fact, ever since Anita had left, Jean-Claude made a point of being out almost every night.
"Damn it!" Richard
swore, dragging his hand roughly through his hair. He stretched out his power, feeling his way along the metaphysical link
which connected him to the Master of the City. There was a distinct sense of his presence. Jean-Claude was here after all.
came a sudden, unexpected voice from across the room.
It was familiar,
but it startled Richard nonetheless. He whirled around on his heel to find Asher walking slowly towards him. The tall, blonde
vampire seemed to have appeared out of thin air. Only seconds ago, there had been no one in the room.
Richard said, his frown deepening.
only made Asher smile. "A little on edge tonight, are we, mon ami?"
"I'm fine. Where's
Jean-Claude?" He glanced around the spacious living room once more before focusing his attention back on Asher. When he did,
he noticed to his surprise, the vampire was now standing so close to him, their bodies were almost touching.
"He is around,"
Asher answered, waving his hand through the air in a noncommittal sort of way. "Perhaps there's something I can do for you
in his stead?" He reached up and suggestively traced the line of Richard's unshaven jaw with his index finger while placing
his hand in the center of the Ulfric's chest. His power slid coolly over Richard's body.
away from him, then shot Asher a menacing glare. "One of these nights, you're going to push me too far. You know I don't like
you coming on to me, yet you persist. I think, just to annoy me."
back his head and laughed. "Is that what you think? I can assure you, I do not...'come on to you' just to annoy you. But forgive
me such ill regard for your sensitivity, mon ami. I cannot seem to help myself around you."
folded his arms across his chest impatiently. "Where is Jean-Claude? I need to talk to him."
as if in slow motion, Asher turned slightly and gestured towards the short hall leading back to the bedroom. "He's coming,"
Asher said with several breathy pants. He offered Richard a small, sly smile.
At first, Richard
didn't catch what Asher was insinuating, and readily started towards the bedroom. When it finally did strike him, Richard
abruptly stopped. He turned to face Asher, knowing his _expression betrayed his shock and disbelief.
chuckled deeply. "Don't look at me like that. I implied no such thing." He paused and smiled wide enough to show the pointed
tips of his fangs. "But at least I got you thinking about having sex."
his head. "There's something definitely wrong with your wiring, Asher," he mumbled and stalked back over to him. "You know
you don't have a chance in hell with me. Why do you keep trying?"
his hands in a gesture of innocence. "It is partly because I know my teasing gets the most exquisite rise out of you, and
it is partly because you are so very handsome, I get a little rise from it as well." He raised his brow provocatively.
glowered at the vampire which only made Asher laugh more. Asher walked up to him and threw his arm amiably around Richard's
"Let me apologize
again," Asher went on. "I am harmless, really. You know you are like a little brother to me."
"If that's the
case, you really are twisted," Richard began, his voice deepening some as he allowed the vampire to steer him towards the
sofa. "You know, I have a theory about you."
his full lips and considered this for a moment before replying. "A theory? By all means, mon ami, do tell."
out from under his grasp and sat down. He looked up at Asher and cocked his head. "One night, when I'm in a better frame of
mind, I'm going to surprise you and put this theory of mine to the test."
his hands behind his back and gazed down at Richard with an open _expression. "You think I am only bluffing, but when you
do decide to make me your test subject, I may surprise you as well, Monsieur Zeeman," he muttered under his breath.
his eyes on Asher's, and sunk himself deeper into the couch cushions. He smiled slowly. "Maybe. Maybe not. We'll see."
to have something to look forward to," Asher said and sighed rather wistfully. He bowed slightly. "Until then, mon ami."
realized Jean-Claude had entered the room. He was fully dressed, and in an outfit far too pristine and elaborate to have been
engaged in what Asher had hinted at earlier. The Master of the City also looked somewhat perturbed and preoccupied.
He had several
papers and a leather document folder in his hands. His eyes scanned the length of a few pages before glancing up.
"See, I told
you he was...coming. And here he is," Asher declared and laughed lightly.
Richard shot him a scathing look.
furrowed his brow, not comprehending their peculiar exchange, and looked from Asher to Richard and back to Asher again. Both
merely stared up at him innocently. Finally, he sighed heavily, but apparently decided not to pursue the matter, and returned
his attention to the documents he held.
He must have
sensed the tremor in the connection he shared with Richard when the werewolf reached out with his power to search for him.
The master vampire certainly wasn't surprised, or particularly pleased, to find the Ulfric in his living room.
"And to what
do I owe the honor of your presence here tonight, Richard?" Jean-Claude asked flatly, still reading.
to his feet and approached Jean-Claude. He neither bowed, nor greeted him in any way. He only stood before him and frowned.
If this lack of respect upset Jean-Claude, he didn't show it. Jean-Claude didn't bother extending any formal courtesies either.
At one time
Richard's Ulfric had given him to Jean-Claude on loan. A token of the pack's on-going amiable relationship with the Master
of the City. Now Richard was Ulfric and considered himself equal to the master vampire in more ways than one. The triumvirate
they had formed with Anita had further instilled this belief.
looked up at him finally. "Has Asher been pestering you again? You have that...'put off' look on your face." He spared a quick
admonishing glance at his friend.
"I need to talk
to you. I've got a little problem brewing in the pack," Richard began, ignoring his question. "I...need your help."
looked back at Richard, the faintest smile playing on his lips. "Only a little problem, mon ami? Yet something so minor, forces
my rival to my door, and subjects him to seek my assistance with his pack?" He shook his head and clutched the black leather
portfolio to his chest. "Something tells me it is more than just a little problem."
his lips and looked away momentarily, trying to collect himself. "Don't try to start anything with me, Jean-Claude," he warned.
"I'm not your rival anymore. We both lost. She doesn't want anything to do with either one of us right now. So, can we stop
dancing in circles, and get down to the point? Are you willing to help me or not?" He put his hands on his hips.
gave the Ulfric a rare exasperated _expression. "You are the one waltzing around the room, my friend. I am standing completely
still, and entirely unenlightened." He put up his hand to quiet Richard's impending outburst. "The pack is yours to deal with,
Richard. I cannot interfere with any of your internal strifes. Besides, do you truly expect me to pledge to you my assistance
without knowing the kind of assistance I'm expected to give?"
are your problems, Jean-Claude," Richard shot back. "The triumvirate made sure of that."
The master vampire
took a deep, measured breath. "Ah, if that is so, mon ami, then shouldn't my problems concern you as well? Yet during the
territorial dispute I had last month, you were no where to be found. I could have used you then. I called my wolves to me
for a show of support, but you were not to be counted among them."
his hands on his hips. "You knew I wouldn't come. You knew I couldn't allow myself to be seen in such a public place with
Jean-Claude finished for him. "Soon, hopefully, you will come to terms with who and what you are. Until then, that should
be the only problem you struggle to solve. For that is the single stock root which nutures the vines of all your other...little
his head slowly. "I should have known better than to come to you for anything," he mumbled. He turned around and started towards
lowered his head wearily and rested his chin on the folder he held. He closed his eyes and moaned audibly. "Richard, Richard,
Richard. What am I to do with you?" He opened his eyes and saw Asher coming to stand beside him. "It is a two-way street,
mon ami!" he called after the Ulfric, and glanced over Asher.
your case, it's a three-way overpass," Asher said.
and looked over his shoulder. "Yeah, well, our third isn't exactly available at the moment. And like Jean-Claude with his
territorial disputes, I need a show of support."
began massaging his eyes as if he suddenly had a nagging headache. "You are being challenged again, aren't you?" Jean-Claude
surmised. "The third time in four months?"
over at Jean-Claude. "That has to be a record somewhere, I am sure."
"I'm not being formally challenged, but my authority is," he explained, then laughed humorlessly. "I have the most dissatisfied
pack in werewolf lore. It doesn't seem to matter I best my challengers time and time again." He looked distractedly about
the room as he went into a litany of grievances. "My power in itself, doesn't impress them anymore. They could care less about
my ability to actually organize and lead them. They just don't like my politics. And my lupa is nowhere to be seen. The changes
I'm trying to bring about are too radical. But then I haven't killed anybody yet. I'm too civilized for their tastes."
took a deep breath and walked over to his sofa. He tossed the leather portfolio on his coffee table and motioned for Richard
to sit down as Asher dropped into a chair opposite them.
of us are too terribly good at politics, mon ami," Jean-Claude grumbled. He gestured at the various documents he had been
reading. "Ever since I extended an open invitation to shelter vampires within my borders in exchange for their loyalty, I
have been inundated with requests. They flock to St. Louis en masse. Even vampires nearly equal to my power base seek my protection.
In my humble opinion, many are just biding their time before they put my authority to the test."
thickly and hesitantly sat beside the master vampire. "You think vampires are entering the city illegally? To challenge you?"
sat forward slightly and shuffled through the documents. "I know they are. There are vampires milling about in my lands who
have not yet pledged their allegiance to me. I can feel them, but there is no way for me to monitor them all."
back at Jean-Claude incredulously. "What are doing about this? At least stop the influx of new vampires."
A shadow of
a smile passed over the master vampire's face. "Under normal circumstances, I would not have a problem. After all, the Executioner,
a powerful necromancer, is my human servant. My triumvirate is the rarest and one of the most powerful unions ever forged.
No master vampire would dare challenge me. But word is spreading that my triumvirate has failed--that I am weakening without
Anita. As you are aware, she is blocking us. She has effectively severed her connection to us. I cannot even tap into her
power when I need to. Our triumvirate may not have failed completely, but it certainly is not functioning the way it is supposed
to. The truth of the matter is, you hate me and Anita has rejected me. It is only a matter of time...before I am challenged
once more myself."
his head. "I don't...hate you. I may have once, a long time ago, but we're too much a part of each other now for me to keep
hating you." He looked up and fastened his gaze on Jean-Claude. "Sometimes, I feel as if you are the only one I can turn to--the
only one who will ever understand me."
His eyes searching
Richard's _expression, Jean-Claude peered back at him questioningly. "Am I to believe your concern for my well-being stems
from more than the metaphysical connection we share?"
slowly licked his lips. "You can believe me. There's a lot of reasons, besides how your death will effect me, why I care what
happens to you."
grinned. "I can taste the truth in your words," he stated. "I must say, I am surprised and quite touched."
Richard scowled. "Then put an end to this open invitation of yours. Stop bringing new vampires into this city. You're tempting
fate, if you don't."
exchanged looks with Asher before facing Richard once more. "Ninety-six percent of them have valid reasons for wanting to
come here. Many are oppressed by their masters and seek refuge with me. These I do not wish to turn away."
is a lot of oppression going on out there," Asher added. "Jean-Claude has a reputation now of being despotic, but fair."
against the sofa, Jean-Claude shrugged slightly. "These vampires prove to be the most devoted. They benefit me. It is the
other four percent which concern me. They seek complete freedom from all masters, as I have. They've no wish to submit to
another, no matter how 'fair'. Instead, they want to be me. They want my city." He paused and shifted his body to better face
the Ulfric. "I have ordered my vampires to seek these beings out and bring them before me. Then I give them an ultimatum.
They will either become my subjects, leave my territory, or be killed. Seven have been found so far. Two chose to leave, four
decided to submit to me, one forced my hand."
his hand through his hair and exhaled his breath forcefully through his nose. "I...didn't realize." He looked back at Jean-Claude
sympathetically. "I guess your knee deep in it yourself, aren't you?"
smiled slightly and gave him the barest of nods. "You could say that."
Asher made a
scoffing noise deep in his throat. "I have said this before to no avail. But if Anita's absence is so vexing, why don't either
of you try to contact her? If you cannot reach her through the marks, at least pick up the phone, and give her a call. If
she knew what was going on here, surely she would come to your aid? Or at the very least, lower her shields so you could utilize
Jean-Claude exchanged dubious looks. Both lowered their heads and sighed simultaneously.
his head. "Am I missing something? Isn't she supposed to be in love with both of you? Anita has always struck me as being
a very generously giving and protective soul towards those she loves." He stared unblinkingly at Richard and Jean-Claude.
"Looking at both of you now, one would think otherwise."
looked up sharply. "You will not condemn her for doing what she believes is right. Anita needs to find herself, and learn
to control her powers before she can offer those powers to us. You saw what she did with the munin. You know it destroyed
something inside her to unleash that kind of power. She knows what she is now, and wisely seeks the counsel of another to
better understand her abilities. We will not speak of contacting her again."
Asher rose to
his feet and started pacing around the room in exasperation. "Fine. Then you both need to find a new power source in each
other. I think the time for a little cooperation is at hand." He pointed a long slender finger at Jean-Claude. "It took a
lot of humility for Richard to come to you for assistance, mon ami. Do not turn him away. Especially after the way he has
confided in you. Anita is not here, so you are the only one who can give him what he so desperately needs."
by Asher's support, Richard turned towards him and inclined his head in a gesture of thanks. He had expected Asher to side
and offered Richard a small bow in acknowledgment.
frowned. "My little tale of woe was not relayed solely for your amusement," he began. "It was to convey the fact I have no
power to spare, so to speak. Soon I will be forced to resort to measures I swore I would never consider, just to maintain
the status quo."
"But don't you
see," Richard countered. "If we pool our resources instead of trying to go at this alone, we can draw from each other. Neither
one of us can afford not to at this point."
has not rendered us completely powerless. Her absence only makes us not as powerful as we have been, or could be," Jean-Claude
his head. "Our powers, combined with Anita's, damn near make us invincible, and it's not as if I believe your powers and my
powers are anything to scoff at. But if we continue to avoid each other, we will eventually weaken. You know that as well
as I do." He moved a little closer to the master vampire. "Surely just having me next to you strengthens you. My power is
not as influential on you as Anita's, but I know you can use it like you use hers. I want to use your proximity in the same
way--to increase my power. That's all I'm asking."
blinked several times as he studied Richard's _expression. "And when I am in need of your proximity, will you stand by my
side as well, mon ami? Will you let me take from you what I need to best my opponents?"
Richard openly poured his power over the vampire beside him and drew Jean-Claude's power back into himself. "That's only fair,"
he whispered. He raised his hand tentatively and offered it to Jean-Claude. "Feel it, Jean-Claude. This is what we have to
give one another. If we combine our strength, our individual powers double. We can put a stop to these challenges once and
An awed _expression
settled over the master vampire's face as he took Richard's hand in his and reveled in the powers they shared.
Jean-Claude stated. "We will put these rumors of weakness to rest once and for all. I may not have my servant beside me, but
I will have my animal to call. My pack's true Ulfric. My...friend."
grinned and nodded. "Yes. Your friend. Finally, your friend."
Asher said from across the room. "Now that we are all one big, and oh so happy family, what, specifically, would you have
us do for you, as a 'show of support'?"
pulled free of Jean-Claude's grasp and rose to his feet, keeping his eyes fixed on the Master of the City. "I want you to
come to the lupanar this Thursday. I need you to help me impress the hell out of my pack again. I have a plan in mind--a bluff,
actually. I need your power, but I also need someone of your...unparalleled deviousness to pull it off."
Flashing a toothy
grin, Jean-Claude leaned back into the sofa cushions and spread his arms out along the back. "I am truly flattered, but your
wolves will not appreciate my presence there, Richard."
won't like it, but that's the point," Richard went on. "My wolves are your wolves too, Jean-Claude. You will be there by my
personal invitation. Maybe, with a blatant display of our solidarity, my opposition will think twice and back down. Maybe
I can stop the bloodshed before it begins."
"How very conscientious
of you, mon ami," Asher proclaimed somewhat sarcastically. "If your wolves confront you, you are deluding yourself thinking
there will be no bloodshed. Especially with an army of vampires by your side. No matter how much power we exude, we'll be
the first ones your revolutionaries attack...beside yourself, of course."
his head and started pacing a small circle beside the sofa. "That's why I don't want anyone with me but Jean-Claude. He is
their master as much as I am. They wouldn't dare try anything with him. I'm not asking him or his minions to fight my battles.
I only want his support--his power behind me. If he comes to my lupanar with a hoard of vampires, it'll send out the wrong
message. I don't want it to look like a declaration of war. Besides, I can't vouch for the safety of any other vampires."
Asher was beside
Richard in the blink of an eye. Like a flag in the wind, his power unfurled from him with an almost audible snap and made
Richard unintentionally step back.
hissed. "He is not going alone. Don't be foolish."
said. His voice was deep with unspoken warning.
The blonde vampire
turned to face him, his eyes flashing with anger. "You cannot be seriously considering it," he spat, then faced Richard accusingly.
"You would risk his life so ignorantly for your principles?"
closer to Asher and lowered his voice soothingly. "He'll be with me. I'm not going to let anything happen to him." If he couldn't
reassure Asher, he stood a good chance of losing Jean-Claude's faith in him as well.
Asher spun away
from him and knelt entreatingly at Jean-Claude's feet. "Jean-Claude, please." He placed his hands on his friend's thighs and
looked up at him anxiously. "Despite Richard's assurances, you could be putting yourself directly in the line of fire. If
a challenge is issued, there will be blood spilled. And then he will be far too busy fighting for his own life to look after
you. If you want to show power, then do it. Call your vampires. Bring them with you. Surely, the sight of hundreds of vampires
will deter his malcontents from acting irrationally far better than you alone could."
"I will not
be alone. Richard will be with me. It's not my power as much as our power we need to show." Jean-Claude reached
out and stroked Asher's hair. "You were the one who so adamantly encouraged me to help him," he pointed out and sighed heavily.
"I would not
have said anything if I knew I'd be compromising you."
With a slight
shrug of his shoulders, Jean-Claude grimaced. "The very first time I used my power on a pack of wolves, I was entirely alone
and far less powerful than I am now. But I still controlled them. I touched their minds and spoke to them. I eased their fears.
They were ready to kill for me before the night was through."
into Jean-Claude's hand and closed his eyes. "These are not merely wild wolves, mon ami."
"I am very aware
of that, Asher," Jean-Claude replied. "But it makes no difference. Richard is right. His wolves are my wolves. They will kill
for me if I command them to. Or they will give their lives to defend me." He dropped his hand, and peered up at Richard, but
continued addressing Asher. "His ideals may be somewhat naive, but if we are to make this triumvirate truly work, we must
strengthen our bond and spread the power base equally. I cannot rely solely on Anita's power to support me, and neither can
he rely solely on her to support him. We must use each other as well. This will be a true test, not only of our connective
power, but of our newly forged friendship as well." He paused and faced Asher again, his _expression softening. "I must show
him I trust him, don't you see? Or how can I ever ask him to trust me?"
futility of his pleas, Asher stood up and shook his head forcefully. "This is wrong," he said to Jean-Claude before turning
once more to Richard. "You're wrong." He strode past the werewolf, brusquely bumping his shoulder, and continued towards the
at Jean-Claude, but the master vampire made no move to stop his friend's departure. Now Richard felt inclined to try to stop
him. Despite the way Asher flirted with him, Richard knew the tall blonde vampire was in love with Jean-Claude. His fear for
his safety was understandable and made Richard's heart go out to him. He couldn't let Asher just leave, knowing how upset
Richard called and held his breath. He was relieved to see the vampire stop to hear him out. Richard cleared his throat. He
was feeling more than a little emotional at the moment.
"Asher, I swear
to you," Richard continued, walking slowly towards him. "I won't let anything happen to him. I will give up my life to defend
him if need be, and he won't have to take my mind for me to do it."
turned to face the Ulfric and forced a thin smile. "As it should be, mon ami. After all, you are his animal to call." He stared
piercingly at Richard, letting his startlingly pale blue eyes speak volumes of discontent, before continuing on out of the
living room, and disappearing into the hall.
Jean-Claude," Richard murmured, feeling suddenly deflated. He gnawed his lower lip and furrowed his brow. "I didn't mean to
pit Asher against you. I'm trying hard not to be selfish. I don't want to endanger you or your vampires or my wolves. I'm
actually trying to save lives."
Taking a deep
breath, Richard finally pivoted around and looked at Jean-Claude, still reclining casually on the couch. The master vampire's
face was completely void of _expression and Richard couldn't help but wonder what was going through his mind, if perhaps he
"You look like
you're miles away, Jean-Claude," he stated quietly. "Let me guess. New Mexico?"
glanced up at him and offered him a congenial smile. "To be truthful," he began, his smile widening, "I was merely wondering
what to wear."
Standing a short
distance from the ancient throne which served as the focal point of the Thronnos Rokke Clan's lupanar, Jean-Claude looked
past the assembly of werewolves gathered before him to the shadows of steep hills beyond the clearing. He then gazed up into
the night sky at the crescent-shaped moon nestled among a dazzling array of glittering stars.
With Jamil and
Shang-Da at his left side, Sylvie on his immediate right, Richard took his place on the throne. Jason stood beside the black
curtain behind the throne, keeping his eyes determinedly on Jean-Claude. Despite the fact Jason was a young werewolf Richard
had personally mentored, Jason was here tonight for Jean-Claude, not his Ulfric. In many ways, Jason belonged more to the
master vampire than he did to Richard. Tonight, that arrangement might prove beneficial, so Richard was not about to begrudge
Jean-Claude the young wolf's loyalty.
was divided between watching Jean-Claude's silent scrutiny of the moon, and the packs' agitated rustling. On any other night,
most of the lukoi would be up in arms by now over the inexplicable delay of the meeting, but tonight, the pack stood before
their Ulfric, merely watching and waiting.
wary, inquiring eyes shifted from their Ulfric to the master vampire in their midst. As expected, Jean-Claude's presence had
both unnerved and excited them, but there were none of the usual aggressive displays or angry outbursts Richard had anticipated
Jean-Claude's presence might have provoked. In fact, it seemed the vampire's presence was actually deterring it--but with
power, not intimidation or awe.
There was no
doubt in Richard's mind each individual pack member could feel his increased power tonight and had rightly attributed it to
Jean-Claude. Jean-Claude's link with the lukoi and Richard, enhanced their links to each other. Richard had never felt this
kind of unity with his pack, even when using Anita's power. The fact the wolf was Jean-Claude's animal probably had something
to do with that. Richard could combine his power with Jean-Claude's in a precise, perfect blend that touched the lukoi on
a different plane. That combined power flowed throughout the lupanar in a permeating wave, tying them all together as a single
entity made up of many harmonious powers and one collective mind.
He knew it gave
the wolves the same sense of unity he felt, and served to strengthen their own powers. Apparently, for the time being, they
were too preoccupied with soaking it all in to be 'up in arms' about anything.
was still staring up at the moon. Richard turned his gaze towards the moon as well and his mind immediately flashed on a darkened
wood of poplars and wild ash trees that was at once both familiar and unfamiliar to him. The forest's floor was thick with
fallen black limbs and decaying yellow leaves. They crunched beneath the paws of several large gray wolves as the animals
paced to and fro. Richard could see the wind ruffling their fur, hear their excited whines, and smell each individual wolf's
musky, gamey scent. In the sliver of light from that crescent moon, a man's slender, pale hand extended towards them, palm
upward in offering. A small cloud of breath billowed from his parted lips in the sharp coldness of the night as the wolves
rushed forward to greet him. The sensuous sound of Jean-Claude's distinctive laughter filled the air.
looked back at the master vampire in front of him. Slowly, as if sensing his gaze, Jean-Claude peered over his shoulder at
the Ulfric and smiled astutely. It made Richard wonder if he had purposefully shared that memory with him.
"I see many
new faces," Jean-Claude told him. He made a sweeping gesture with his hand over the assembled werewolves. "The pack has grown.
There are some here I have yet to meet."
Gazing out at
the lukoi, Richard realized how true the vampire's statement was. The pack had grown so fast since he'd become Ulfric, even
he didn't know everyone on a close personal basis yet. He was hoping Jean-Claude could use this time before the meeting began
to bond with the pack. If they knew who, and what, he was to them exactly, it might sway their loyalty in the right direction
when the time came.
"Do you want
me to formally introduce you?" Richard asked Jean-Claude, with a shrug of inquiry.
shook his head slowly. "There is no need for formality," he responded, dispelling the notion with a quick wave of his hand.
"But an introduction would be nice."
up. All eyes were immediately drawn to him. He cleared his throat.
"For those of
you who may have been sleeping under a rock for the past three years," the Ulfric began facetiously, "this esteemed person
standing beside me, is Jean-Claude. He is the Master of the City. He is your master, as I am your master. We are his animal
to call." Richard glanced over at the vampire. "Jean-Claude and I are one person tonight. If any one of you tries to harm
him in any way, it will count as an act of agression against me personally, your Ulfric, and will be a challenge to my authority.
Hear this, all of you. I will not hesitate to punish...or even kill, anyone who causes him injury." Richard paused to scan
the startled faces peering up at him. "I'm not speaking metaphorically either. What harms Jean-Claude harms me as well and
"How is that
possible?" someone asked to his left.
one of his newer members. "Jean-Claude and I are part of a triumvirate of power. Both of us share our power with Anita Blake,
your lupa, in a forged, metaphysical link."
"How does it
work?" another voice called out.
see who it was, but turned and faced the direction the inquiry came, then peered over at Jean-Claude. "You could probably
explain it better than I could," he stated.
The master vampire
smiled, but shook his head. "You're doing just fine. Keep going."
briefly, then continued. "The triumvirate lets us draw power from each other to increase our own. Liken this exchange of power
to a river current, running back into the same sea which fed it at a different geographical point." The Ulfric licked his
lips nervously and looked back at Jean-Claude for reassurance.
merely nodded. "That is the way a triumvirate should work anyway," he added, flatly.
and faced the lukoi once more. "Jean-Claude has graciously consented to share his power directly with me from now on. Before,
I've only tapped into his power through Anita. I'm sure many of you can feel the affects Jean-Claude's direct power has on
There was a
low murmuring among the pack as they commented on that aspect with each other. Richard saw Stephan heading towards him and
gave him his undivided attention.
Jean-Claude personally. He worked at Guilty Pleasures and served as one of the vampire's flunkies from time to time. So, it
didn't surprise Richard when the young werewolf directed his question at Jean-Claude.
"But why are
you here, Master? Physically here, tonight?" Stephan began hesitantly, as if unsure he was allowed to question Jean-Claude
about such things.
eyes flicked to Richard's briefly with unspoken inquiry, before answering Stephan's question. "Proximity to each other enhances
our power even more," Jean-Claude replied ambiguously, clasping his hands behind his back unobtrusively.
The look on
Stephan's face told Richard that wasn't the answer he was hoping for, but Richard was grateful Jean-Claude did not reveal
their intent for the evening. Richard stepped forward and held up his hands.
"Just know this,"
he declared. "Jean-Claude has agreed to be here tonight because having him close to me increases my power, just like he said.
Exactly why he is here, is between Jean-Claude and myself. The meeting will begin shortly. We shouldn't have too much longer
to wait." With that, Richard resumed his place on the throne and took a deep steadying breath.
Out of the corner
of his eye, Richard spied a woman making her way to the front of the pack. It was one of the newer members of the Thronnos
Rokke Clan, Paris. Richard couldn't help but notice she was wearing a flimsy white blouse so sheer he could make out every
detail of her white lace brazier, and red capri pants so tight, they left little to the imagination. Richard tried not to
stare at her, but she was a very attractive woman and she knew it.
to think her position in the pack was above that of her true status because she believed Richard was attracted to her, and
therefore, her opinions mattered far more than they actually did.
admit to finding her intriguing, and too often tolerated the prerogatives she thought that gave her, but he also found her
utterly irritating at times. Now, as she continued forward, smiling with a cloying sweetness and bearing a single long-stemmed
rose in her perfectly manicured hands, Richard shook his head subconsciously. He had enough things to deal with tonight without
having to fend off Paris, but as it turned out, Paris wasn't approaching him after all. Her sights were fixed on the vampire
standing rather inconspicuously on the fringe of the assembly. Well, as inconspicuous as Jean-Claude could be, Richard noted,
in black leather and crepe.
turned his attention fully on Paris as she came to stand before him.
"There was a
rumor circulating that you might be here tonight, Jean-Claude," Paris began in a soft, coy voice, respectfully keeping her
head bowed. "I've always wanted to meet you, but have never had the chance to before. My name is Paris." She curtseyed rather
melodramatically and then extended her hand, offering the vampire the white rose she held. "May I personally welcome the Master
of the City to our lupanar."
accepted the rose from her, Paris looked up at him and smiled.
of you, Paris, to welcome me so intimately," the vampire replied in a sultry, breathy voice. "I speak of intimacy because
I have quite a penchant for roses, did you know? And because your gift speaks to me with a personal language. A language of
the heart." He paused and studied the flower with a savory finesse. "A white rose is symbollic of passion. How appropriate
your choice...for I can tell you are a passionate woman." He brushed the rose petals across his lips, inhaling its fragrance
deeply, then reached down and trailed the rose bud slowly over Paris' flushed cheek. "Merci beaucoup, ma cherie." The vampire
layed the rose carefully on the smooth stone at the top of the back of the throne.
his eyes, finding it hard to believe women really responded to that kind of condescension. When he looked out at the mesmerized
faces of the women in his pack, however, he realized not only did they respond to it, they reveled in it. Exuding his charm,
Jean-Claude had cast a spell over them as effortlessly as if he'd used his vampiric powers. With Paris, Richard could almost
understand, but how Jean-Claude had ever gotten Anita to fall in love with him using so much drivel, was one of those unanswerable
mysteries of the universe that would forever plague mankind.
Paris batted her eyes and took a deep, ragged breath before turning somewhat reluctantly to face Richard.
"Won't you tell
us why Jean-Claude graces us with his presence tonight, my Ulfric?" she addressed him, her voice seductively dropping an octave.
efforts were spent on Richard. His lupa was A.W.O.L. and Paris was ambitious, to say the least. What she hoped to gain from
currying favor from the vampire, Richard couldn't say.
brow, Richard cleared his throat. "He's here because I wanted him here," he stated, a little more harshly than he had intended.
only smiled, reaching up to caress her cheek where Jean-Claude had touched it with the rose. She stood staring up at the vampire
with blatant adoration as more of the lukoi drifted forward to greet him. The master vampire stretched out his hands, exchanging
small touches and soft words with them, pouring his power over them while basking in theirs.
annoyed, Richard had to admit, the master vampire was suave and romantic, and some women were simply drawn to that sort of
thing. Richard had just never personally seen anything to this degree before, and it made him think about Anita again. He
and Jean-Claude were polar opposites, yet she claimed to love them both.
Jean-Claude had stolen half of Anita's heart and held it captive under lock and key. The only thing Richard could think of
was, there must be some secretive side to Jean-Claude that only Anita knew, that Richard had yet to see. Some complex part
of himself the vampire normally kept hidden away that had made her respond to him--that made her fall in love with him.
loved him too, Richard told himself, as he watched Jean-Claude at the forefront of the pack, mingling with his wolves; men
and women alike now.
It was hard
to forget the bitter rivalry Anita's divided heart had forged between them, and even harder to actually join forces with said
rival. Passing his hand over his face, Richard told himself to calm down. The rivalry was over and had been for a long time
actually. But the way the lukoi interacted with Jean-Claude now filled Richard with an ironic sense of that old jealousy.
hoped Jean-Claude could win them over this way. He would need their loyalty as much as Richard did. Jean-Claude was their
master just as Richard was their master, but the wolves seemed almost eager to accept the vampire's authority over them. The
look in their eyes told Richard they would die for Jean-Claude if he asked them too. It had been a long time since Richard
had seen such devotion for him reflected in the eyes of his pack.
glanced over at Richard and smiled triumphantly. It suddenly occurred to Richard that perhaps that was the point of this patronal
display. Perhaps Jean-Claude was trying to teach him a lesson.
Richard called out, swallowing down his suddenly flaring temper. "Enough already. Back off."
The master vampire
faced Richard again, surprise flickering in his dark eyes. "Whatever do you mean, mon ami?" Jean-Claude replied quietly, reschooling
his _expression into one of complete guilelessness. "I seek only to soothe and commune with them. It is within my right to
do so. Their animals recognize me and respond to my power."
to his feet and was standing before the vampire in the blink of an eye. "You heard me," he said through gritted teeth. "You've
proven your point. I see how they submit to you." He grabbed Paris and hauled her away from Jean-Claude despite her hiss of
protest, dispersing the others with a forceful wave of his hand. "They're responding to your power all right. Look at these
women. They're ready to fall down and worship you."
fought a smile. "I can assure you, I have done nothing supernatural to cause that," he confessed with a smug arrogance, placing
his hand over his heart to emphasize his earnestness.
the urge to reach out and grab him by the throat. That kind of aggression would certainly shatter any pretense of an alliance
he had hoped to project to the pack, but it was tempting. Besides, he never said anything about him hurting Jean-Claude.
"Enough is enough.
Whatever you're doing. Stop it now."
master vampire turned away from the lukoi and focused on Richard. "Why are you so...offended by what I have done?"
Biting his lower
lip to keep from saying what he truly wanted to say, Richard leaned closer to Jean-Claude. "These are people. Don't treat
them like animals."
narrowed his eyes slightly and frowned. "Oh, but half of them are animals, mon ami. Just as you are half an animal. You deal
readily enough with their human halves while choosing to ignore the animal inside them. That kind of policy will never work
with werewolves." He paused and gestured out at the assembly. "You must recognize both the person and the animal."
So this was
a lesson after all. Richard closed his eyes and counted to ten before replying. Unfortunately, he didn't feel any calmer when
he reached ten. "Listen to me," he glowered at the vampire. "I'll deal with my pack in my own way, thank you. I will lead
them, Jean-Claude. Me. Not you."
"Then lead them,
Richard," Jean-Claude snapped back. He shifted his weight to one leg and planted his hands on his hips letting his posture
convey his frustration and confusion at Richard's fractious behavior.
his head forcefully. "I won't let you take my pack from me like you took...." He abruptly stopped, but knew he had already
given himself away. He turned and stalked back to the throne. He dropped into it and roughly massaged his eyes.
At first, Jean-Claude
looked genuinely startled, then he purposefully softened his _expression, and walked slowly over to Richard. He moved to stand
directly in front of the throne and bowed his head.
"Is that what
this is all about, mon ami?" the vampire inquired, his voice barely audible.
to deny it, but then looked up into Jean-Claude's eyes and felt his resolve slip away. There was a quiet comprehension in
the vampire's steady gaze that made Richard ashamed of the ill-will he still harbored towards him. He nodded reluctantly,
swallowing down the uncomfortable thickness in his throat.
confessed and quickly looked away.
With a theatrical
flourish, Jean-Claude dropped to one knee in front of the wolf king, which drew a collective gasp from the assembled lukoi,
as well as Richard.
"I will not
take your wolves from you, my Ulfric," he began, keeping his voice soft and toneless. "We share them...as we unavoidably share
many things which make us more alike than I know you would prefer."
"Like our powers?"
Richard concluded hesitantly, not sure where this conversation was going or what point the vampire was trying to make. He
was still too shocked by Jean-Claude's little show of submission in front of the pack.
eyes, Jean-Claude smiled up at Richard, and shook his head slightly. "I was speaking of our love for Anita. We share that
and something else. Or have you forgotten, mon ami? We share her rejection. Anita has banished me from her life as thoroughly
as she has banished you."
A shadow of
pain darkened the master vampire's eyes, and in that instant, Richard knew how much Jean-Claude loved Anita. He had always
believed Jean-Claude was simply infatuated with her, and only professed to love her, so he could utilize her power. Richard
had never truly believed the vampire really loved her as he did. And clearly Jean-Claude was just as hurt by what she had
done, as he was. Something else they shared, Richard noted dismally.
Richard murmured. "I tend to get a little overly possessive sometimes, as I'm sure you know."
heavily and forced a smile. "Next time just tell me to stop being such an ass and face the fact we're in this together, like
it or not."
cocked his head. "I would not put it quite so crudely." He smiled again, then rose fluidly to his feet and resumed his place
behind the throne.
A ragged snarl
suddenly cut into the ensuing silence. "I don't believe this!" an angry voice rang out from the assembled lukoi. "What is
he doing here? How many more outsiders do you plan to saddle us with, my Ulfric?"
Jean-Claude turned as one to face the figure pushing his way to the front of the pack. Richard tensed with recognition.
Now the meeting
could begin. Jacob had finally arrived. The proverbial thorn in Richard's side. Jacob contested and disagreed with Richard
on nearly everything he proposed. He was far from declaring himself Fenrir, but he was splintering the pack in two, pulling
those down with him who shared his disenchantment. If Richard couldn't rein them in, Jacob would try to stir his supporters
to revolt without having to challenge Richard directly himself. But if Richard got in his way tonight, there would be a challenge
issued, and Richard would be the one to issue it. If he really got what he wanted tonight, the mere threat of a challenge
would keep a real challenge from being declared.
seemed to fill the air, skewering the flow of power which had unified the pack moments before. His power pelted everyone close
to him, and several of the werewolves immediately began to shift. Deep growls and piercing howls soon split the night air.
The ones who remained in human form shouted and snarled and grumbled in as gutteral a language as their lupine counterparts.
The pack physically split in two, many rallying around Jacob as if he were their risen savior. Many rushed forward in a surge
of emotion, waving their arms and gesturing to stress complaints lost in the swelling tide of noise.
looked up at Sylvie who immediately stepped forward, raising her hands for the pack's attention.
she shrieked at the top of her lungs. "You'll get your turn to speak in time!" She managed to quiet the wolves directly in
front of her who turned to hush the ones behind them. When silence had fallen on two thirds of the pack, Sylvie tried again.
"Let's have order! Your Ulfric wishes to speak!"
his hand, effectively bringing a noticeabley higher degree of silence over the lukoi.
"I realize some
of you are new to this pack," Richard began, carefully keeping his voice level, but still projecting it across the clearing.
"We do things a little differently here, a little more democratically than what you're used to probably. Remember what I said
earlier about challenging my authority? Well, tonight, I propose we vote on whether that kind of defiance be dealt with as
a formal challenge. Are we agreed?"
"You call this
a democracy?" Jacob grumbled, pacing a short distance from the throne. "Did I miss the vote about letting a vampire in our
midst? When was this decided? Tell the truth, Richard. We only vote on matters you do not want to take responsibility for."
"Do you have
something against vampires, Jacob?" Richard taunted and sat forward as something suddenly occurred to him. Would he be talking
about Jean-Claude in such a derisive tone if he knew who he was exactly? Or was he really that audacious? "Are you aware of
who he is?"
"I know who
he is and I know who he isn't," Jacob muttered. "You're Ulfric here, Richard. Why do you think you need the likes of him beside
He was that
audacious, Richard concluded and sat back. He licked his lips before answering.
"If you're so
certain I'm Ulfric, Jacob, why are you belittling my attempts to lead democratically? Voting on proposals allows everyone
to have an equal voice."
"The fact that we vote at all shows you've no backbone for that throne," he shot back, his dark eyes glittering with anger.
"A true Ulfric tells the pack this is the way it is going to be. The only law we need is our tradition. It has served our
kind for centuries. Who are you to declare it unfit?"
at the werewolf, his hands balling into fists on the armrests of the ancient stone chair. "If that's the way you prefer things,
why are you getting all bent out of shape about my decision to bring Jean-Claude here tonight? We didn't vote on that, as
you so eagerly pointed out."
"Like I said,
we only vote on things you don't want to feel guilty about later."
chorus of agreement sparked through the assembly of lukoi.
hardly believe his ears. Jacob was definitely testing the limits. His power was radiating from him like a withering heat.
He'd instigate a rebellion tonight, if Richard could not put a stop to it soon.
touched Richard's face on either side, gathering his long hair together behind his neck. Richard jumped slightly, somewhat
startled by Jean-Claude's unexpected caress. But the power between them mingled and rose, pushing Jacob's back with a forceful
shove. Richard realized the vampire was creating a physical connection to reinforce his power against Jacob, and relaxed.
Jacob must have
felt their infuence because Richard noticed he suddenly seemed to withdraw into himself and look around warily.
rose along with his power. "So tell me, Jacob, if I up and order you executed for your constant insubordination without first
putting it to a vote, would that make me more Ulfric in your eyes?" He struggled to tamp down his temper and took a deep calming
breath. "The old laws may have served our kind once but we're not barbarians anymore," Richard continued, addressing all of
the lukoi. "We're shopkeepers and waitresses and businessmen. We don't kill our own simply because we don't agree with them.
We hear each other out. We compromise. And yes, we take a vote."
tapped Richard on the shoulder. Richard turned slightly and peered up at him. The vampire subtly bent forward, keeping his
eyes on Jacob who was pacing in front of him.
"How'd you guess?"
Richard replied quietly.
personage to keep around," Jean-Claude murmured. "I would not wait too terribly long to deal with him."
"Hmm, my thoughts
exactly," Richard grumbled and glanced at Jacob. "A bluff, Jean-Claude, that's all. No bloodshed."
"And if your
proposal succeeds and he calls your bluff? What then?"
get the chance to answer Jean-Claude. Jacob was speaking again. Both the Ulfric and the Master of the City turned their attention
back on him.
sputtered mockingly, gesturing at Jean-Claude and Richard, but clearly addressing the lukoi. "The real power behind Richard's
throne revealed. The message tonight is clear. With Richard we get a package deal. Two for the price of one. Not his lupa,
a human, who has all but abandoned us, not even a Geri or Freki. But a vampire who means to enslave us!" He pointed at Jean-Claude,
but turned to face the lukoi. "To him we are nothing but mindless fodder, for tainted sex and supernatural blood. Is this
what you want? Richard would have us ruled by a being who feeds on us!"
happened at once after Jacob's outburst. At first, the most noticeable thing was the shocked silence that fell over the lupanar
as Jacob's supporters edged slowly away from him. As Richard had hoped, Jean-Claude had garnered their respect before the
meeting, if not their undying devotion. They seemed to know Jacob had overstepped his bounds this time and were not about
to side with him against the master vampire.
bolted forward, his eyes fixed on Jacob with murderous intent, clearly feeling the sting of a personal insult. Jamil and Sylvie
sprang after him, and had to hold him back. Paris took the opportunity given her and rushed Jacob. She cursed at him and spat
in his face for deriding her newfound lord and master.
had stalked out from behind the throne and was now heading towards Jacob, his power swirling around him like a cold wind.
Richard shot to his feet and seized the vampire by the shoulders.
snarled in his ear, feeling Jean-Claude's power shoot through him with the physical contact. "They're just words! Inciteful
words. That's what he does. I told you that!"
raised his hand, and Richard was hit with another blast of power that made him catch his breath. His own power flared in response
and crashed over Jean-Claude like an ocean wave breaching the shore.
pulled Richard's power into him, his body shuddering as he did. He stood staring sightlessly for the span of a few heartbeats
as he allowed himself time to adjust to the melding of such force. Then he faced Richard with eyes that had bled to a solid
released the master vampire and moved to stand beside him.
please," Richard entreated, a little breathlessly, as he struggled to ride the power as well. "You have a right to be pissed,
but don't kill him."
took a deliberate, menacing step forward and smiled when Jacob gave him ground.
Jean-Claude whispered thickly. He glanced back at Richard and shook his head. "Do not fret, mon ami. I will not take someone's
life for just committing a mere faux pas," he assured. His deep velvety voice was laced with sarcasm. "After all, that is
not the way of your pack, but I do believe a little discipline is in order."
as Jean-Claude turned his attention back on him. He seemed to know he was in deep trouble this time. Everytime Jean-Claude
stepped closer to him, he took another step back. Jacob narrowed his eyes and growled low in his throat at the vampire.
"Don't you dare
hurt him, Jacob," Richard growled back, his mind readily recalling his pledge to Asher. "You hurt him, I'll kill you. You
even try to hurt him, and that will be considered a challenge to my authority, which we will be voting on whether or
not to make that kind of challenge dealt with like a real one. So either way, you're dead." Richard motioned sharply to Shang-Da
and Stephan, who were standing on either side of him. They seized Jacob by the arms and dragged him up before the vampire.
three of Jacob's staunchest supporters were moving forward to aid their friend. The Ulfric wasted no time in intercepting
them. He grabbed the wolf closest to him by the forearm and wrenched it behind his back, driving him to the ground on his
knees in front of him. He pushed him forward into the other two who caught him and quickly pulled him away.
"I mean it,
damn it!" Richard snarled. "If any of you so much as scratch him, I'll kill you!" He gestured back at Jean-Claude. "He has
every right to exact punishment on Jacob. Jean-Claude does not tolerate the kind of disrespect I have put up with time and
time again. Well, this is the end of it. I'm not putting up with it anymore either."
The Ulfric turned
and went to Jacob's side to address him, and pressed his shoulder up against Jean-Claude's arm for physical contact. He pulled
the vampire's power back over his own, and sent it raining down on the hapless werewolf before him to help emphasize his point.
"I am your master
and Ulfric. You need to start recognizing authority, Jacob, whether you like who wields that authority over you or not. Jean-Claude
is your master as well. You are his animal. Accept that fact and give him what he wants."
his head, fixing his eyes on his Ulfric in desperation. "Please, please," he begged over and over again. "Stop him, Richard.
Don't let him bite me!" He screamed suddenly as if overwhelmed by the thought and struggled harder against his captors. "Don't
let him bleed me!"
Jean-Claude was doing 'something' to Jacob by the way the vampire's power was flowing around him, but was hesitant to try
to stop him. He had to admit, it was good to see someone as powerful as Jacob cowering and begging for mercy for a change.
Jean-Claude wasn't really harming Jacob, just bullying him in a way Richard personally never would. Maybe it wouldn't be so
bad for the pack to think of Jean-Claude as the 'power behind the throne'. It would only help bolster Richard's bluffs if
they believed he'd sic the Master of the City on them if they gave him too much trouble.
Richard said, folding his arms across his chest in an attempt to appear casual. He waited until the master vampire looked
at him before continuing. "Don't bleed him, okay?" Richard noticed his eyes were back to normal, but he still looked intimidating.
Jacob's fear was a thick bitterness in the back of Richard's throat.
nodded. "As you wish," he consented, but not before facing Jacob and licking his full lips with a decided savor. "Be still
now. I've no intention of hurting you."
He reached up
and stroked the side of Jacob's face, but Jacob flinched at his touch, looking like he was being attacked more than caressed.
He struggled against the wolves who held him again, trying to break free of their grasp. The vampire admonishingly clucked
his tongue at him, and took ahold of the back of his neck to keep him still.
"Why are doing
this?" Jacob gasped, leaning as far away from the vampire as he could.
rubbed his thumb over Jacob's cheek. "I know you meant to insult me," he duly informed him. "But instead, you have insulted
my pomme de sang--which I find far more offensive." He paused and glanced back at Jason, who was still being subdued by Jamil
and Sylvie in front of the throne. Jean-Claude took a deep, measured breath. "Jason means much more to me than what you have
so crudely implied. You will apologize to him now to make amends." The vampire signaled to Stephan and Shang-Da to release
Jacob. They did, and Jean-Claude immediately drew him forward.
tried to push away from him. He turned his face to the side, determined not to look the vampire in the eye if he could help
"And if I don't?"
Jacob snarled. "Everything I said was true, you can't deny it!"
smiled, as if pleased to be given another opportunity to show his nefarious side. He wrapped his arm around Jacob's back and
crushed the werewolf against him. Then he slid his fingers through Jacob's hair and jerked his head back, exposing the long,
line of his bare neck.
his terror, combined with Jean-Claude and Richard's consolidated powers, held him all but paralyzed in the vampire's arms.
Richard almost told Jean-Claude to release Jacob, but forced himself to let the vampire finish what they'd started.
"If you do not
wish to make amends, I cannot force you," Jean-Claude continued softly. "But know this, my wolf. I may not be allowed to taste
of you this night, but there will be other nights my hunger will burn. One of those nights, I will seek you specifically to
slake my thirst, and I will take no measures to make it pleasant. Do you understand?" He smiled again, this time purposefully
flashing his fangs. As Jacob squirmed in his arms, Jean-Claude leaned forward to whisper in his ear. "Best to just apologize
now and put it all behind you."
Jacob hissed through his teeth.
"Not to me,"
Jean-Claude stressed with feigned exasperation. He all but threw Jacob at the foot of the throne in front of Jason. "Him."
heavily on his knees and wisely chose to stay there. He glanced up at Jason hesitantly and shook his head.
Jason. I'm sorry, all right?" He paused and squeezed his eyes shut tight as if apologizing was actually painful. "I wasn't
talking about you specifically...I swear it." Jacob's body unclenched, and he exhaled forcibly as if in relief. He slumped
against the ground and cradled his head in his hands.
questioningly over at Jean-Claude, who stood staring down at the errant wolf passively. Chills rippled down Richard's spine
and he felt his power settle over him again with an unnaturally cold rush of air. Whatever the vampire had been doing to Jacob,
he had apparently stopped.
acceptance of Jacob's apology, Jason glanced up at Jean-Claude with unspoken gratitude, and shrugged out of Jamil's grasp.
nodded benevolently back at him, and stepped around Richard to resume his place behind the throne.
to be everyone's cue to go back to where they were moments before. Richard slumped into the throne with relief and dragged
his hand roughly through his hair.
shakily to his feet and pushed his way back among the other pack members.
Jean-Claude closer, and the vampire readily leaned towards him. "That worked even better than what we had planned," Richard
relayed quietly. "He played right into our hands."
nodded. "Yes, I believe we put on a rather effective demonstration of our new alliance. If anyone chooses to defy your authority
in the near future, I will be very surprised." He lifted Paris' rose from the back of the throne and sniffed it delicately.
Something in the distance seemed to catch the vampire's eye, and he looked up into the black hills surrounding the clearing.
A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "If you feel you are no longer in need of my service, mon ami, I think I will
take my leave of you."
Jean-Claude's gaze into the hills and spied a solitary figure, barely visible in the thick shadows of the craggy rocks. The
figure moved and a single sliver of moonlight fell upon his hair. With that flash of gold, Richard knew it was Asher. He sighed
"How long has
he been up there?" he asked Jean-Claude.
the vampire replied.
how Jean-Claude had been staring into the hills before the meeting.
Richard replied. "You wouldn't let him be with you tonight, but he couldn't stay away either. He cares about you too much."
answered softly, carefully keeping his face free of _expression. "I know." His eyes brightened as he turned his gaze back
on Richard. "He cares about you as well. He's been watching over both of us tonight."
help but smile at the thought, but forcefully shook his head. "He's there because he loves you. He lusts after me."
regarded the Ulfric with an amused look. "You are rather handsome, mon ami. What do you expect?"
"Yeah, so he
keeps telling me." Scowling with feigned indignation, Richard held up his hand and clenched it into a tight fist. "I'm warning
you, Jean-Claude, if you don't keep him off my back, one of these nights, I'm going to slug him."
the master vampire began solemnly. "I was under the impression you had yet to allow Asher on your back."
Since his delivery
was so perfectly deadpan, it took Richard a couple of heartbeats for Jean-Claude's teasing to sink in. When it did, the werewolf
cringed and made a face.
"Ah, good one.
I walked right into that didn't I?" Richard said, and started to laugh. "Now I know where Asher gets it from." He gazed up
at the vampire who was now grinning mischievously and felt the first real stirrings of friendship for him. This might just
work out after all, he thought.
up and took Jean-Claude's wrist, pulling him down closer, his _expression sobering.
"I want to thank
you," he whispered in his ear. "If you hadn't made a point of acknowledging my authority, none of this would have made any
shrugged. "I told you, I have no desire to take your wolves from you. You are their king. When it comes to the pack, your
authority stands above mine. I would have submit to your will, even if we had not been trying to make a statement tonight."
his brow. He hadn't expected Jean-Claude to say anything like that, and it filled him with pride. He had learned a lot about
the master vampire these past few days, and was beginning to get a glimpse of what it was about him that made Anita fall in
love with him.
"You know, I
could do this; I could be Ulfric if I wasn't forced to shed blood all the time. If I had someone as devoted and powerful and
intimidating as you for my second-in-command, like you have Asher, I wouldn't have to compromise my principles. I wouldn't
have to give up my policies." Enthused now, Richard sat up a little straighter and angled his body to better face the vampire.
"We didn't draw blood tonight, we didn't hurt anyone, but what we did sent a powerful message to the pack. If you could act
as my enforcer--"
shook his head, cutting him off. "I am sorry, mon ami, but I have my hands full enough as it is with my vampires. Surely there
is someone close to you who fits the bill." He absently toyed with the rose he held, thinking long and hard. Finally, he peered
down at Richard and smiled. "Perhaps our little Anita would be interested in the job...when she finds her way back home."
gave Richard pause. Anita, of course. Jean-Claude was right. She'd be perfect for the job.
we ready to discuss the remaining concerns of the pack?" Sylvie inquired, breaking Richard out of his reverie.
her. "Yes. Yes. Of course. Let's begin." He looked out over the assembly of wolves and raised his voice slightly. "If there
is anyone else who would like to challenge my authority first, let them come forward, if not, let's get down to more mundane
Of course, no
one came forward. They all merely stood staring up at Richard expectantly, their eyes shifting every once and awhile to the
black-clad vampire standing behind him.
and looked up at Jean-Claude. "Go on. Asher is waiting."
inclined his head respectfully. "Merci et bonsoir, mon ami."
He watched as
the vampire stepped towards the gathered lukoi. They parted to make way for him as he glided through their midst, reaching
out and touching his wolves as he passed them by. His wolves.
Jason hesitated only a moment before stepping around the throne, and following Jean-Claude. Together they made their way towards
the hills beyond.