Thursday, August 29, 2019
Succubus Revealed Chapter 8
It was hard to believe that in only a couple of days I'd gone from doubting my transfer was real to suddenly signing on to be in a Las Vegas stage production. Things happened so fast that it was easy to get swept along, and Bastien and Phoebe's gleeful encouragement just made things happen that much more quickly. Shape-shifting took care of my clothing problem, and Bastien soon left us, allegedly to go get a drink and try his hand at the blackjack table. Once he left the theatre, though, Phoebe leaned over to me conspiratorially and whispered, Ã¢â¬Å"Here's a wager for you. How much do you want to bet he comes back with a glow?Ã¢â¬ I laughed and whispered back, Ã¢â¬Å"I won't take that bet. Are you sure you haven't worked with him before?Ã¢â¬ Admittedly, an incubus looking to get laid wasn't that far of a stretch, but I liked how adeptly Phoebe was able to pick up on my old friend's personality quirks. Ã¢â¬Å"Nah,Ã¢â¬ she said with a smile. Ã¢â¬Å"I've just known his type.Ã¢â¬ Other dancers began trickling in. Phoebe introduced us as they arrived, and most were friendly and excited to have someone new in the group. They weren't yet at their full number needed for the show, so everyone was anxious for that to happen. I brought them one step closer, though it surprised me they were still short. From my experiences, there were always groups of girls lined up to try to make it in show business. Phoebe confirmed as much. Ã¢â¬Å"Oh, yeah, tons have tried out. And you should have seen them at the beginning, when they first did the open casting. Matthias is just really selective, that's all. Cornelia Ã¢â¬â the head choreographer Ã¢â¬â is just as bad.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"And yet he took me on a five-minute audition,Ã¢â¬ I pointed out. Phoebe grinned. Ã¢â¬Å"Sweetie, he just knows talent when he sees it. Besides, he's in charge of this gig. If he says you're in, you're in.Ã¢â¬ Matthias wasn't the only one running the show, of course. Along with the dancers came other management and staff, like the aforementioned Cornelia. Everyone had a part to play. The rehearsal was fast-paced and aggressive Ã¢â¬â but also lots of fun. Phoebe hadn't been joking. The other dancers were good Ã¢â¬â really good. It had been a very long time since I'd danced with any sort of group, even longer since I was with one of such caliber. I was used to being the standout at anything dance related, and it was a surprise Ã¢â¬â a good one Ã¢â¬â to find myself surrounded by so many equals. I had to work to keep up with them on the first day, and even if I didn't walk out as an instant star, I left confident that I'd held my own. Before I could go, one of the show's costumers asked to take my measurements backstage. Phoebe told me she'd go hunt down Bastien and meet me at the casino's central bar. The seamstress appeared with her tape measure, and I made a mental note of my height for future shape-shifting. Matthias came by, carrying his notes, and paused when he saw us. Ã¢â¬Å"You did really well today,Ã¢â¬ he told me. Ã¢â¬Å"It's like you've been with us from the first day.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Hardly,Ã¢â¬ I said. Ã¢â¬Å"I've still got a lot to learn. Especially in the fourth song. The steps are deceptively simple . . . but there's a certain attitude you've got to hold to pull them off. No, maybe not attitude. Grace? Vibe? I can't explain it, but the simplicity's what makes it so genius. It seems like such a basic pattern, but how it's executed is what truly brings out the beauty.Ã¢â¬ I was thinking aloud, just sort of rambling, and realized that I sounded kind of ridiculous. Ã¢â¬Å"Sorry. That probably doesn't make any sense.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"No, no.Ã¢â¬ Matthias stared at me wonderingly. Ã¢â¬Å"That's exactly it. That's how I intended it. I was inspired by watching classical ballet, how all the moves are amplified by the emotion put into the routines. Cornelia said it was crazy to try to think that deep for a show like this, but it just felt right.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"It's beautiful,Ã¢â¬ I said honestly. Ã¢â¬Å"I can absolutely see where you were going with it. Reminds me of something from La Bayadre.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You know La Bayadre?Ã¢â¬ he asked, wide-eyed. Ã¢â¬Å"Of course,Ã¢â¬ I said. Ã¢â¬Å"It's a classic. Who doesn't?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You'd be surprised.Ã¢â¬ I realized then that the seamstress had left, having achieved her goal. Matthias was still regarding me in amazement. Now that they weren't focused on the clipboard, I was able to see how blue his eyes were. They were like the sky on a clear, crisp day. Ã¢â¬Å"Are you busy tonight?Ã¢â¬ he asked a few moments later. Ã¢â¬Å"Would you . . . would you like to go get dinner? Or even just a drink? I'd love to talk dance more with you.Ã¢â¬ For a succubus, I could be surprisingly na?ve sometimes. Because for half an instant, I almost accepted. I was so keyed up after the rehearsal and so excited to talk more about the show that I actually briefly thought that was all he wanted to go out for. Now, I don't mean to imply that his motives were totally base either. He wasn't using this as a ruse to simply get me into bed. But he also wasn't treating this as a meeting of colleagues. Bottom line: he liked me. I'd peaked his interest, and he wanted to go out on a date. Normally, that wouldn't have been a problem . . . except, there was something I sincerely liked about him. He was cute, and I found his passion for his work endearing. I loved how he kept getting wrapped up in it, totally consumed and distracted like Ã¢â¬â Seth. And there was the problem. This guy was the choreographer version of Seth. A one-night fling with some sleazy guy who meant nothing wasn't cheating in the eyes of our relationship. But for me to go out with a guy I liked, that I found intriguing and attractive in the same way I found Seth . . . well. That was wrong, especially since Matthias was obviously interested in me. It was a strange situation to be in, one I hadn't expected. Ã¢â¬Å"Oh, that would be great, but my friends and I already have plans,Ã¢â¬ I told him. Ã¢â¬Å"We're trying to make the most of my trip since it's so short.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Oh.Ã¢â¬ His face fell a little, then brightened. Ã¢â¬Å"But you'll be back for tomorrow's rehearsal, right? It'd be great if you were able to get in the steps one more time before you left town. You know, give you something to practice.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Sure,Ã¢â¬ I said. Ã¢â¬Å"That'd be great.Ã¢â¬ The rest of the evening went by in a blur of activity. Phoebe joined Bastien and me in a whirlwind tour of Vegas highlights, which included a lot of casino and club hopping. Phoebe and I both donned skimpy, glamorous dresses, playing up our succubus sex appeal to its maximum. We draped ourselves on Bastien's arms, and he swaggered around even more than usual, smug with the envy he got over showing us off. After hours of this, I was ready for some downtime. Phoebe and Bastien had a quick consultation and decided that if we hurried we could make the late performance of a magic show they knew. Ã¢â¬Å"Magic?Ã¢â¬ I asked, more than a little tipsy from vodka gimlets. Ã¢â¬Å"Don't we live a magic show?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Damn near,Ã¢â¬ said Bastien. He was ostensibly still being gallant in offering me his arm, but it was unclear who was really holding whom up. Ã¢â¬Å"There's something special about this show, I've heard.Ã¢â¬ There was a mischievous glint in his eyes. The three of us made our way to a modest, off-Strip hotel I'd never heard of. It still had alcohol and slot machines in its casino, which was probably all that mattered to most of its customers. Bastien bought us tickets to see The Great Jambini, and we hurried into the small theater Ã¢â¬â which was about half-full Ã¢â¬â just as the lights went down. A mediocre comedian did the warm-up act, and soon the star attraction himself came out. He had graying hair and a bright purple silk turban, along with a sequined cape that could have come straight from the wardrobe department at Sparkles. He kept tripping over its hem, which led to my first observation: he was totally drunk. A second observation soon followed, once I realized there were more immortal signatures in here than just mine, Phoebe's, and Bastien's. The Great Jambini was an imp. He started off with some standard card tricks, receiving half-hearted applause from the audience. These were followed by juggling, which I found remarkable simply because of the concentration it required from someone so obviously intoxicated. He didn't miss a move. I think the other members of the audience shared my opinion because their applause warmed up. Inspired by this, Jambini then made a great show of setting his juggling pins on fire. This brought the applause to a standstill, and some of the people in the front rows shifted uneasily. Ã¢â¬Å"Is that a good idea?Ã¢â¬ I murmured to my friends. Ã¢â¬Å"It never is,Ã¢â¬ remarked Phoebe. Ã¢â¬Å"What do you mean nev Ã¢â¬â Ã¢â¬Å" Within thirty seconds after lighting the pins, Jambini had begun juggling . . . and promptly set his cape on fire. People gasped and screamed as he flung it off him onto the stage. Considering its cheap material, I was kind of surprised the cape hadn't ignited faster. He stomped on it until the flames were out, and I saw a few stagehands on the periphery ready with fire extinguishers, just in case. Once the cape was a black, smoldering mess, he lifted it up. A dove emerged from underneath it, flying up into the air, much to the awe and delight of the spectators. Ã¢â¬Å"It was part of the show,Ã¢â¬ I breathed, equally impressed. Ã¢â¬Å"Yup,Ã¢â¬ said Phoebe. Jambini reached for the dove, which just barely slipped past him. It circled around the room, then swooped low into the audience. Along the way, it sideswiped a woman whose hair was elaborately French braided. The dove's foot got tangled in her hair, and it soon became trapped, beating its wings frantically to escape as she leaped up and began screaming. Ã¢â¬Å"Was that part of the show?Ã¢â¬ I asked. Ã¢â¬Å"No,Ã¢â¬ said Phoebe in awe. Ã¢â¬Å"But it really should be.Ã¢â¬ Within seconds, the stagehands were out in the audience, where they were able to remove and confine the dove. They escorted the woman off as well, heads bent low as they murmured apologies. The Great Jambini made a flourish-filled bow, much to the delight of the crowd. Everyone loves a wacky mishap. He performed a few scarf tricks, most of which went off without a hitch, and then came to stand in the center of the stage, face grave. Ã¢â¬Å"For my next trick, I need a volunteer.Ã¢â¬ His eyes fell on our corner. Ã¢â¬Å"A lovely volunteer.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Oh, he noticed us,Ã¢â¬ said Phoebe, with a sigh. She raised her hand, along with others in the audience. When I did nothing, she elbowed me until I raised my hand as well. After a great show of examining all the volunteers, Jambini strode up to our table and extended his hand to me. Bastien and Phoebe whistled and cheered, urging me up. I was a little nervous about being set on fire or attacked by birds, but it was hard for me to refuse an audience. I accepted Jambini's hand and let him lead me up to the stage, while thunderous applause rang out around us. Ã¢â¬Å"Just shape-shift into any outfit that comes to mind,Ã¢â¬ he muttered in my ear, his breath heavy with the scent of gin. Once we were on center stage, he took the microphone and kicked into showman mode. Ã¢â¬Å"Now, my lovely assistant here . . . what is your name, lovely assistant?Ã¢â¬ I leaned toward the microphone. Ã¢â¬Å"Georgina.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Georgina. What a lovely name. And so, lovely Georgina, all you have to do is allow yourself to be receptive to the awe-inspiring, truly mystical powers of my magic. If you do, wondrous transformations will occur.Ã¢â¬ I nodded in agreement, and more cheering ensued. Jambini walked over to his prop table and returned with a curtain attached to a hoop and a handle. When he held it up by the handle, the curtain hung down in a way that created an enclosed cylinder, completely concealing the person inside. I obligingly stepped forward, letting the folds of fabric hide me while Jambini gave a Ã¢â¬Å"magical countdown.Ã¢â¬ In those brief seconds, I shape-shifted my sparkly cocktail dress to the first thing that came to mind: my green foil elf dress. Jambini whipped the curtain away dramatically, revealing me in my new attire. People gasped and clapped with delight, and I gave a bow almost as showy as his. Encouraged by the response, Jambini declared, Ã¢â¬Å"One more time.Ã¢â¬ I stepped back into the curtained enclosure and changed this time into black jeans, a silver-sequined top, and a woman's tuxedo jacket. When he pulled back the curtain, the applause faltered a little bit before increasing to a frenzy. I'd seen these types of tricks performed before among those not gifted with shape-shifting, and usually performers simply shifted between loose dresses, items easy to get on and off. My choice of clothing kind of defied the logic of those familiar with how the trick worked. But, hey. This was magic, right? Ã¢â¬Å"Show-off,Ã¢â¬ Bastien told me when I returned to my seat. Ã¢â¬Å"Hey,Ã¢â¬ I whispered back, watching Jambini attempt to swallow a knife. He'd gotten about a third of the way there before he started coughing. With a shrug, he finally gave up and simply bowed to delayed applause. Ã¢â¬Å"These people deserve something for their money.Ã¢â¬ Jambini Ã¢â¬â or Jamie, as I later learned he was really named Ã¢â¬â was much more appreciative of my performance. My group met up with him in the hotel's drab bar after the show. Ã¢â¬Å"Switching to pants was genius,Ã¢â¬ he told me, knocking back a glass of gin. I had a sneaking suspicion that the show's actual performance was the longest he went without a drink on a given day. Ã¢â¬Å"People are going to be scratching their heads over that one for days.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Maybe too much,Ã¢â¬ warned Bastien. Ã¢â¬Å"You'll make mortals suspicious.Ã¢â¬ I shrugged, unconcerned. Ã¢â¬Å"This is Vegas, baby. No one'll question it. Besides, weirder things happen all the time.Ã¢â¬ Jamie was nodding along eagerly. Ã¢â¬Å"And that tacky holiday dress too? That was great. Really god-awful. You know, if you're moving here, I could totally hook you up with a job as my assistant.Ã¢â¬ He chuckled. Ã¢â¬Å"People would probably get more out of seeing you than my tricks.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"That wouldn't surprise me in the least,Ã¢â¬ said Bastien, straight-faced. Ã¢â¬Å"Well, thanks,Ã¢â¬ I said, Ã¢â¬Å"but I think I've got more jobs than I need. Phoebe already set me up with something.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Poacher,Ã¢â¬ said Jamie. The other succubus laughed as she stirred cherries around in her cocktail. Ã¢â¬Å"Hey, I can't help it if I Ã¢â¬â Ã¢â¬Å" A familiar aura spread through the room, and Phoebe fell silent. We all turned as one, watching as Luis entered the bar. Even mortals, who couldn't feel him like we could, paused and watched him stride through the room. There was just something that powerful and compelling about his dark presence. Ã¢â¬Å"Boss man,Ã¢â¬ said Jamie, holding up his glass in a mock toast. Ã¢â¬Å"You just missed my amazing performance.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I've seen your shows before,Ã¢â¬ said Luis, sitting down and beckoning the bartender over. Ã¢â¬Å"I don't think I really missed anything.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Georgina was his Ã¢â¬Ëlovely assistant,' Ã¢â¬ teased Phoebe. Ã¢â¬Å"Oh?Ã¢â¬ Luis paused to place his order and then turned toward me. Ã¢â¬Å"Pray tell, what did you do to wow them? Set some scarves on fire?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Just some run-of-the-mill shape-shifting,Ã¢â¬ I said modestly. Jamie started in on his second gin glass. He'd ordered two when we sat down. I guess he didn't want to risk waiting the extra few minutes it would take to pour another. Ã¢â¬Å"That trick is always best with succubi. Even with a plant and a prepped costume, it never goes off quite as well. I used to have this girl who worked with me when I lived in Raleigh, and she did okay, but you could tell people knew how the whole get-up worked.Ã¢â¬ Alcohol was buzzing through me pleasantly, and I'd slowed down my consumption so as not to lose my head. Somewhere in that warm haze, Jamie's words tickled a memory. Ã¢â¬Å"Raleigh . . . when were you in Raleigh?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I moved from there a few years ago. I was there about . . . oh, I don't know.Ã¢â¬ He took a sip of gin, perhaps to help his math skills. Ã¢â¬Å"Not that long. Twenty years. I did some good soul brokering, but really, my talents were better appreciated here, you know?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"When you were there, did you know a vampire named Milton?Ã¢â¬ I asked. Remembering my conversation with Hugh while I was in the middle of a cheap Vegas bar was weird Ã¢â¬â but no weirder than hearing Raleigh mentioned twice this week. Ã¢â¬Å"Milton?Ã¢â¬ Jamie's eyebrows rose, and some of his good humor dimmed. Ã¢â¬Å"Yeah, I know him. Scary son of a bitch. Looks like Ã¢â¬â Ã¢â¬Å" Ã¢â¬Å"Nosferatu?Ã¢â¬ I suggested. Jamie nodded solemnly. Ã¢â¬Å"How anyone as blatantly vampire as him got by as a covert operative is beyond me.Ã¢â¬ Phoebe frowned. Ã¢â¬Å"Did you say Ã¢â¬Ëcovert operative'?Ã¢â¬ The waiter appeared then with Luis's drink. Luis motioned for him to stay and glanced around at the rest of us. Ã¢â¬Å"Refills? Another gimlet or cosmo? Jamie? You're drinking Tanqueray, right?Ã¢â¬ Jamie looked offended. Ã¢â¬Å"Beefeater.Ã¢â¬ Luis rolled his eyes. Ã¢â¬Å"That's ridiculous and disgusting. Bring him some Tanqueray.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"No!Ã¢â¬ exclaimed Jamie. Ã¢â¬Å"Beefeater. I'm a purist.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You have no discrimination,Ã¢â¬ countered Luis. He looked back at the confused waiter. Ã¢â¬Å"Bring one of each. We'll have a taste test.Ã¢â¬ The waiter looked relieved and hurried off before someone else contradicted the orders. Ã¢â¬Å"It's a waste of time,Ã¢â¬ said Jamie. Ã¢â¬Å"No offense, boss man. You'll see.Ã¢â¬ Luis was unmoved. Ã¢â¬Å"Beefeater's for peasants.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Jamie,Ã¢â¬ I tried, Ã¢â¬Å"about Milton Ã¢â¬â Ã¢â¬Å" Ã¢â¬Å"Peasants!Ã¢â¬ I don't think Luis could've insulted Jamie more if he'd called his mother names. Ã¢â¬Å"Beefeater is a refined drink, for a refined palate. You know I have infinite respect for you, but clearly, despite your years of worldly experience . . . well . . .Ã¢â¬ Jamie drunkenly groped for an eloquent way to finish his speech. Ã¢â¬Å"You're wrong.Ã¢â¬ Luis laughed, something I couldn't help but think Jerome most definitely wouldn't have done if one of his subordinates said he was wrong. Ã¢â¬Å"We'll see, my friend. It's a complex matter really, coming down to an analysis of both base ingredients and the distillation process.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Jamie Ã¢â¬â Ã¢â¬ I attempted again. Ã¢â¬Å"That,Ã¢â¬ declared Jamie, Ã¢â¬Å"we can both agree on. And Beefeater is vastly superior in both.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Give it up, Fleur,Ã¢â¬ Bastien told me in a low voice, eyes twinkling. Ã¢â¬Å"You can't compete with gin. Better luck tomorrow.Ã¢â¬ I started to protest, but further listening to Luis and Jamie's debate told me Bastien was right. Jamie was so fixated on defending his gin's honor that I doubt he would've even remembered me asking about Milton. Ã¢â¬Å"Will he be sober tomorrow?Ã¢â¬ I asked skeptically. Ã¢â¬Å"No,Ã¢â¬ said Phoebe. Ã¢â¬Å"But he's usually a little less drunk during the first half of the day.Ã¢â¬ The gin arrived, and Luis and Jamie became totally consumed with conducting Ã¢â¬Å"scientificÃ¢â¬ examinations on it, involving scent and surface tension. I didn't really see how the latter made that much of a difference in a taste test, but they seemed to think it was a pretty serious matter. Ã¢â¬Å"Dear God,Ã¢â¬ I murmured, amazed. Bastien finished off his cocktail. Ã¢â¬Å"When things turn serious, it's time for me to leave. What do you say, ladies? Would you like to go search out the clubs for some companionship ?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I've got an early day tomorrow,Ã¢â¬ Phoebe said with regret. Ã¢â¬Å"I should probably just go home now. But you'll be at practice tomorrow, right?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I guess so,Ã¢â¬ I said. Ã¢â¬Å"I told Matthias I would.Ã¢â¬ Despite ostensibly being involved in liquor analysis, Luis glanced over at the sound of the company manager's name. Ã¢â¬Å"Oh? Did you arrange the introduction?Ã¢â¬ I nodded. Ã¢â¬Å"Phoebe got me signed on.Ã¢â¬ Luis looked pleased. Ã¢â¬Å"Excellent. Are you happy with it?Ã¢â¬ The question surprised me, but then I remembered his earlier comment upon my arrival, about how he wanted happy employees. Ã¢â¬Å"I think so. I think it'll be a lot of fun.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Good. And what did you think of Matthias?Ã¢â¬ That one was really a surprise. Ã¢â¬Å"I thought he was nice. Do you know him?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Only by reputation,Ã¢â¬ said Luis. I was about to use the interruption to ask Jamie about Milton again, but before I could, Luis effortlessly slipped back to gin science, effectively blocking me from the imp's attention. Tomorrow, I decided. Ã¢â¬Å"You know,Ã¢â¬ said Phoebe slyly. Ã¢â¬Å"I could help you find Matthias if you wanted to see him tonight.Ã¢â¬ Even afloat on vodka gimlets, I still knew the right and wrong surrounding any sort of casual romance with Matthias. If I was going to hook up with anyone while I was here, it wasn't going to be anybody I would ever consider seriously. I flashed her and Bastien my best saucy succubus smile. Ã¢â¬Å"Nah, too tame. I'm not here to settle down yet. Let's find something wilder and do this Vegas weekend right.Ã¢â¬ Bastien whooped with joy and caught hold of my hand. As he led me away, telling me about Ã¢â¬Å"this perfect dance club,Ã¢â¬ I caught sight of Luis's face. He was nodding at Jamie, still seemingly interested in their debate . . . but there was something about the satisfied, knowing smile on Luis's lips that made me think it wasn't just the gin he was so happy about.