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"What the hell is going on with you?" Billy demanded of Jaq. He had pulled her aside after she'd voiced her intentions of riding to the concert with Tal the black pixie, on his motorcycle. It was the morning of the concert, and the two were standing in the hallway of Buckingham's house.
Billy was gripping Jaq's arm, and she shrugged him off. "That hurts," she said.
"I don't want you with that thing," said Billy.
"No, listen to me. I thought you were dead. If I found out that alghul ate you . . . I couldn't handle it if you died again."
"Jesus. He's not going to kill me. Tal is a really great guy."
"Who eats people."
"Not all the alghuls kill their victims. Some just, you know, taste."
"What the hell are you talking about? Listen, while you were gone, I did some thinking. Your life is fucked up because of me. It's my fault you were in jail. It's my fault that there's a court order for your execution. I'll be goddamned if I stand by and watch you get killed."
"It's not your fault. You don't run my life. I made choices, you asshole. I got myself here, not you."
"But it was me that made all those things happen. If I hadn't—"
"You're exonerated, all right? All responsibility for my life you had or thought you had is over. Now fuck off." She started back to the living room, where everyone else was gathered.
Billy grabbed her arm. "Wait."
"Don't touch me," Jaq warned.
Billy released her. "I didn't mean for it to come out like that," he said. "I was trying to apologize."
"You really suck at apologizing."
"It's okay. Like I said, you didn't make me do anything. No one makes me do anything."
"I really don't want you to ride with the black pixie."
"You're still going to."
"You got it."
Billy shrugged. "Okay. Well, take care of yourself."
Iris was already in the city, at the hotel where Satin Blades would be staying. She'd beaten the tour bus there, and now she was just waiting. A little magic had made the concierge want to tell her where Rhett's room was. A little more had made housekeeping want to let her into the room. She now sat at a desk in the empty hotel room, nervous as hell. The hotel room itself was nondescript, same as any hotel room she'd ever seen. Two double beds, a desk, a table with two chairs, and a mini-bar. Satin Blades hadn't made it to the point in rock and roll stardom where they got VIP treatment, but still, things were different. She hadn't seen Rhett in a year, and she didn't know what it would be like to see him now. Especially since he was involved with Ros now. Ros probably didn't like Iris very much. And the guys in the band were going to think Iris was nuts. Not that it totally mattered. If they didn't want to go through with her plan, she'd make them want to. With magic. This was important. She'd do what she had to do.
The worst thing about waiting was that she kept thinking. Her thoughts went wild with worry. And the worst thing about worrying was that she kept escaping from the worry by thinking about Billy. Which was stupid. Obviously, he'd only kissed her because he was distraught. Now that Jaq wasn't dead, he didn't need Iris' comfort. It wasn't as if there was anything between them. Besides, a relationship was really the last thing she needed or wanted. She was way better off alone. And she and Billy weren't even right for each other. Still, she kept thinking about him. What was he doing? Probably getting back together with Jaq, she told herself. She and Billy didn't mesh. They'd tried it, and it hadn't worked out, end of story. But she kept thinking about that kiss. It had been so sweet. It had felt so nice. And his arms had been around her tight, and she'd felt so safe there.
Which was exactly why she needed not to be with Billy. He would make her weak. She'd look to him for safety, not to herself. And then, when Billy got sick of her and left, she wouldn't know how to take care of herself anymore, because she would be so used to Billy taking care of her.
Damn it! She needed to stop thinking about Billy. She tried to focus. What was she going to say to Rhett? She yawned. She was tired. She and Scott had been out all night, searching graveyards and morgues and bars. Scott was sleeping right now, the bastard. Iris laid her head down on the desk. She was just going to shut her eyes for one minute . . . .
She awoke with a start to the sound of the door opening. Iris sat up, straightening her outfit and checking her face for drool. Ros entered the room first, followed by Rhett. She dropped her luggage and turned to him. "What's she doing here?"
"I, um, don't know," said Rhett. "Iris?"
"Get Lucian and Max," said Iris. "I need to talk to you. All of you, including Ros."
"Um, okay," said Rhett. "I'll be right back." He left.
Ros came into the room and sat down on the bed. "You don't get to call me Ros."
"I'm sorry," said Iris.
"Are you here about your royalties again?"
"I was never here about my royalties."
"But I know you've been bitching about them."
"This isn't anything personal, Rosalyn." Yep. She'd been right. Ros hated her.
Ros rolled her eyes. She went to the minibar and got herself a drink. Iris checked her watch. It was a little after noon. Iris had partied with the best of them, but even she thought it was a little early. However, what with Ros hating her and all, she figured it was best to keep her mouth shut.
Rhett returned with Max and Lucian. They were happy to see Iris. There were hugs all around and then everyone settled on the beds.
"So what's up?" said Max. "Why are you here?"
"Rhett told us something weird about Mischief and monsters and sacrifices," said Lucian. "Does Rhett need a psychiatrist?"
Iris laughed. "Probably, but not because of what he told you. That's my fault."
"Oh," said Rhett. "That reminds me. I got those papers you wanted from Snake." He got them out of his suitcase and handed them to Iris.
"Thanks," she said. "God, I totally forgot I asked you to do that." She put the papers in her satchel. She'd let Buckingham look at them later. "What Rhett told you is true. Mischief is planning to offer all the people in the stadium to an ancient monster called Zain tonight."
"Well," said Lucian. "They are assholes."
"Yeah," said Max. "But that's kind of hard to swallow."
"I don't have time to convince you," said Iris. "I just need your help."
"Help?" said Rhett. "With an ancient monster?"
"Nothing dangerous," said Iris. "I just need you guys to play another set tonight."
"Is she crazy?" said Ros. "Can you tell me what you saw in her, Rhett?"
Rhett turned to Ros, a pained expression on his face. "I thought we'd decided not to drink before a show, honey."
"The show's in eight hours," said Ros.
"It's just once you start, you have a hard time stopping," said Rhett.
"Get off my back," muttered Ros.
"Another set?" said Max. It was clear that he and Lucian tended to ignore Ros' outbursts. "We haven't rehearsed another set."
"Nothing complicated," said Iris. "I put together a play list." She got it out. "Mostly covers. Like what we used to do when we played bars."
She handed the list of Rhett.
He scanned it, nodded, and passed it to Max. "We could handle this."
Max nodded. "Sure. Shouldn't be a problem." He handed it to Lucian, who agreed as well.
Lucian started to hand the list to Iris, but Ros snatched it out of his hands.
"I don't know these songs," she said.
"Oh," said Iris. "None of them?"
"No," said Ros. "Why can't we just play Satin Blades songs?"
"We do most of them in our first set," said Rhett.
"Yeah, and we want it to be different so that the audience will follow you," said Iris.
"Follow us?" said Max. "We're not going to do this at the stadium?"
"No," said Iris. "We need Mischief to go on as scheduled."
"Why don't you sing with the band?" Ros said. "For the second set?" She gulped at her drink.
"Well, I need to be doing . . ." Iris considered. "I guess I could."
"How are we going to move our equipment?" said Max.
"Just bring the instruments," said Iris. "I acquired some speakers and microphones. I'll have it set up."
Max just looked at her.
"And drums," said Iris. "I acquired some drums."
"Where are we going to play?" asked Lucian.
Iris smiled. "Lucian, you'll appreciate this. I know you admire the Beatles."
It was nearing dusk, and the sky was a purplish color, undercut by the orange glow of the lights of the city. Billy, Jaq, and several alghuls wormed their way through the crowds into the stadium. To the concert-goers, they were invisible, and as they moved, numerous guys in Mischief t-shirts and holey jeans turned to yell at whoever had jostled them, only to find no one there. Inside the stadium, it was hot and packed with sweaty bodies. Satin Blades was on stage, nearing the end of their set. Their singer was a far cry from Iris. She was fall-down drunk, and she slurred more than sang the lyrics.
For Billy, Jaq, and the alghuls to do what they needed to do, they needed to be as close to Mischief as possible, so they squeezed through the bodies to get closer. At the stage, they walked right through the ring of security guards. A quick look around confirmed Buckingham and his pixie police deserters were all in place. They were scattered about the stadium, each cradling his gun. The concertgoers couldn't see them either, thanks to an illusion from the alghuls. Billy looked at Jaq.
She smiled at him. "We can do this," she said.
He read her lips, because he couldn't hear her over the closing strains of "Livin' in Sin." Satin Blades' lead singer stumbled back from the microphone, and Rhett took her place. He was a good-looking guy. Billy wondered if Iris still had feelings for him.
Rhett waited until the applause and cheers had died down. "Thank you," he said. "Listen, if you liked what you heard, we're playing across the street. Get the hell out of here and come watch us. Mischief is going to feed you to an ancient monster."
The crowd cheered.
Glam metal fans were so weird.
"I'm not kidding," said Rhett. "If you stay in this stadium, you will die. Leave, and come watch us."
Already, Billy could see that people were leaving. Then he felt it. It was as if a wave of longing to go see Satin Blades washed over him. Damn. Iris had done good.
Iris stood on the roof of a nearby building, watching the crowd below her grow. They swarmed, moved together in a large mass. It was a lot of people. She'd never played for so many people before. She sent out a huge wave of magic, urging them to want to be here. She could feel Scott and the group of ghouls they'd gathered the night before adding to the magic, drawing the people away from Mischief and away from danger. Ghouls were in the stadium. Ghouls were on the streets between the stadium and the building. All of them were concentrating their unique power, manipulating the desires of concertgoers. Iris had never felt so powerful. She couldn't believe it was working so well. They might actually empty the stadium.
Behind her, Rhett and the boys were plugging in and tuning up.
She grabbed the microphone and addressed the crowd. "Are you ready?" she cried.
The crowd roared a definite affirmative.
"I said, 'Are you ready?'"
Louder this time—applause, cheers, whistles.
She backed away and turned to the guys. "Are you ready?"
They nodded, grinning. She nodded back.
Max banged out time above his head with his drumsticks, then launched into a familiar drum beat.
Iris threw her head back and caressed the microphone. She took a deep break, and then she urged the crowd, she made the crowd, "Cum on feel the noise."
Shivers went all the way to the ends of her hair.
The stadium was three-quarters empty by the time Mischief took the stage. The hard-core Mischief fans seemed to be holding out, but Billy could tell that it was difficult for them to resist Iris' magic. Many were looking over their shoulders at the exits and whispering among themselves.
The band stood on stage, legs spread, guitars strapped to their chests. They were obviously very angry. Behind them stood a tall, wooden box. Snake slithered up to his microphone. Snake was the lead guitarist, but he, not Rizzo the singer, always did the talking at concerts. "We may be under attack," he growled. "But we're still gonna rock tonight. We're gonna rock hard."
The remaining members of the audience cheered, but it was a paltry sound compared to the cheer they'd all heard a few moments ago from outside the stadium.
"This song," said Snake, "is dedicated to someone I thought I knew. Someone who betrayed me. This one's for Billy."
Snake's eyes met Billy's from the stage. Billy swallowed. Snake began the guitar solo that opened the song. Ah. That one. Billy had always thought that song was about him. He smirked and gave Snake the finger.
Suddenly, he couldn't breathe.
It was as if his lungs didn't work, like they'd shriveled up inside his body. His eyes wide, he looked around the stadium again. The pixie police were all on their knees, their hands at their throats. Their guns seemed to have disappeared from their hands. Oddly enough, the audience members were unaffected. They were dancing and singing along. Billy struggled for air. This wasn't what Buckingham had said would happen. He'd said Mischief would kill everyone in the stadium. Why weren't they killing the concertgoers?
Billy stumbled. The world was going black at the edges.
"Livin' in Sin. Livin' in Sin," the crowd chanted from below.
Iris felt like a goddess or a victorious warlord. They were winning. They were doing it. She could still see people from the concert pouring out into the street below the building they stood on. There was no way Mischief was going to have enough people for the sacrifice. No way. And now the crowd was begging for her song. A song that Rhett and the guys had just played a few minutes ago in their last set. Breathless and excited, she laughed into the microphone. "You just heard 'Livin' in Sin.'"
The chanting continued.
Iris shrugged at the guys.
They shrugged back.
"All right, all right," said Iris.
Jaq's face filled Billy's vision. Her lips were moving, and he could hear her speaking the words of the magic gathering spell, but they sounded tinny, as if they'd been forced through a bad sound system. Slowly, Billy remembered the plan. They needed to gather as much magic as they could in order to break Mischief's illusion. Even though his lungs refused to draw in air, he forced himself to speak. His voice joined Jaq's and concentrated on summoning magic to himself.
Mischief was using so much magic that the room was thick with it. As he began to speak, he could see it. The air shimmered with magic the way air does on a hot day over a grill pit. He and Jaq drew the magic to themselves. It swirled around them and entered their bodies through any available orifice. Magic seeped into his nose, his eyes. He opened his mouth and drank it.
Magic filled his body. Air filled his lungs. He could feel power growing within him, and as it built, Mischief's illusions began to seem almost transparent. He could still feel and see them, but he also sense the reality beneath them. He could breath again. He knew he'd been breathing all along.
He took Jaq's hand. The first thing they did was give breath back to the pixie police. The second thing they did was restore the pixie police's guns. Then, together, they faced the stage, and they peeled back Mischief's illusion.
The music winked out. The instruments disappeared. The members of Mischief melted away and in their place stood five tiny pixies squinting in the bright stage lights.
Jenna Murphy and the camera crew were coming up the aisle. Jenna was narrating quickly, her voice panicked. The pixie police raised their guns and, in a explosion of gunfire, the pixies fell, their blood spattering the stage.
In the distance, Satin Blades was playing "Livin' in Sin."