Chapter 7 part 2

In which Nica finally takes the stage.

For the next song, the guitar cued before the dancers appeared on stage. It was only as it started to reach a fever pitch that Emily and Lena stalked onto stage in matching black, semi-sheer halter tops and pants. Their hip scarves were a deep black with deep red gems that would catch the light. As Nica recognized the song as “Vampyrica Erotica”, the mimicked blood drops made more sense. Nica frowned slightly. She didn’t mind the taboo nature of the song, but any mention of Satan almost always brought the fanatics knocking and she didn’t like bringing that negativity down on her nest. But she preferred her dancers pick their own music, so she would deal with whatever minor inconvenience the choice brought.

Nica did wonder if this was the dance Emily had just mentioned – if it was, it was odd that they would have put it in the line-up with the dancers still so unsure of it. As the driving beat began, she kept an eye to their movements with a slightly more critical eye.

Naj felt inverted.

While Naj himself had never understood the The Church and its new religion, it was impossible not to know something of its doctrines. It had rolled over the world like an unstoppable juggernaut, driving even the Dai out of power, or at least, out of obvious power. After the wars and the burnings, everyone who survived adopted enough of the doctrines to function in society, driving the already secretive shapeshifters groups deeper into hiding. Celebrating such a hateful time, such music was an …odd choice, to say the least.

He turned to Nica for answers, his frown only deeping as he took in her own. Their eija wasn’t happy with the piece either. He couldn’t quite read her emotions– she was too intently focused on the dance itself, not her own personal reaction to it– but the general “no” was clear. Still, she let them continue, so Naj sat back and watched, curious to see how it would all play out.

The girls mimicked the drums with their hips, focusing the audience on the glinting drops of blood and what was promised beyond. The two of them wove a seductive dance, designed to entice the audience even as the lyrics were designed to draw on subjects that should repel them. The movements drew the audience in and then the girls would switch, using aggressive movements to push the audience away. It was an intense dance, the base of which Nica remembered helping them build, though they had used a different song at the time.

Her frown grew when she noticed a misstep, not a large one, but it didn’t quite fit the flow of the dance. She suspected they had added it to better fit the current song, but the odd pelvic thrust that followed it the second time nearly threw off the rhythm they’d been building.

Nica caught Emily’s eye – it was clear that the girl was frustrated and looking to her. Nica raised her hand, halting the music. Travis flooded the stage with better light in response.

Naj blinked in the sudden light and silence. He’d been so focused on the dance, trying to place exactly what was wrong with it– it was familiar, but not, odd, but not, fitting but somehow just …wrong. He scrubbed at his eyes, feeling utterly drained. If the goal of the dance was to unsettle, they’d certainly succeeded.

Nica stood and approached the stage, though she didn’t step up yet. “Can I see that last bit again?”

Dutifully, both of them repeated the steps, but without the build up to prep them for it, it looked as out of place as Nica had though. Neither of them looked happy to do it and she couldn’t quite fathom why they’d branched out to include it.

She hummed softly as she watched, then motioned for them to do it again. Finally she simply asked, “Why that particular motion?”

Emily and Lena exchanged looks, then shrugged. It was Lena who sighed and admitted, “Dev thought it would make the dance sexier.”

“Dev should stick to the books and leave the stage to the dancers.” The words came out sharper than she’d meant, but it was an old argument between the pair of them. Dev knew sex, Nica knew dancing. Still, the admission made both girls smile, driving away some of the downtrodden feel to their auras. Fate only knew how many times Dev had henpecked the pair of them over this dance.

“And the song change? That was also Dev?”

They nodded and this time it was Emily who added, “Dev didn’t think the old song pushed enough buttons. She suggested we just change out songs and it seemed easier at the time.”

Nica hummed again. That sounded like Dev, to take the easier route. “Mhmm. Well, remember that what sounds easy in practice often isn’t – With a song it’s much easier to simply start from scratch. Remember, l’mn esen’ta l’cre,  music are like lovers, each one wants to be special from the rest. So we start with the original song that this was designed for. We’ll work from there to make it something Dev won’t throw us all out for, alright?”

Watching Nica work was like watching the tide. Her easy command did much to soothe this agitation, and the other dancers’ as well. Her confidence spread through the nest like a ripple, easy and natural as water. He wasn’t certain how he felt about her comments on Dev, but he was willing to admit he didn’t know much about nest dynamics yet. It wasn’t unheard of for a nest leader to butt heads with village leaders who butted in where they didn’t belong. And everyone knew the more things changed… Best to watch and learn.

Nica moved as she spoke, lighting the three steps up to take the stage with the girls. They moved back to flank her instinctively, each one beginning to warm with excitement. It was contagious and soon Nica found herself grinning in return.

“Let’s have…” Her brows narrowed, not remembering the original song after so many years. Nica glanced to Emily, who called out, “Incubus Sucubus ‘Vampyrella’.”

“Alright,” Her attention fell back to the two girls. “What I want is for both of you to start the dance as is, remember to feel the music, let it move you. I’ll jump in here and there, but mostly I want to watch how you move to this music before we make any changes.”

Nica raised a hand, studying the postures each girl took. Without the intro of stalking on stage, they’d both lowered their heads and shifted their weight to one foot so the other could pose on point. It was a good posture and she suspected it came from the original version of the dance.

She twisted her hand, letting it fall as the music began.

This time, as the girls danced, Nica occasionally paced around them, seeing the piece from all sides. The pair of them ignored her, falling back into the easy habit of years before. As they came to the part where the dance began to fall out of sync with the music, Lena glanced to Nica, then Em. Em stopped, and so did Lena.

Nica held a hand up and the music stopped as well. “It’s a good start… I’d like to make an adjustment to the opening posture, but keep the song essentially the same – this time I’ll show you what I would do with the trouble spot and we can take it from there, alright?”

As the girls nodded, Nica moved back to the front of the stage, facing them. Normally she didn’t like dancing without a stretch first, but this particular dance wasn’t too strenuous – especially after Ariella’s demanding practices. This was positively languid in comparison. She settled for stretching her arms over her head and following the stretch down the length of her body.

When she was ready, she lifted her hip and framed it with her hands. The girls mirrored her posture and she was pleased to see that the angle of the bodies drew the eyes to the glittering jewels. The dancers became background, so that the focus was entirely on those drops of blood. A good place to start.

Nica nodded and the music began again.

She held the first counts as the music started, leaving a feeling of anticipation building until the first beat fell and so did her hip.

Even though the dance stayed essentially the same through the beginning, Emily and Lena watched Nica for the cues that would change the routine. They took their movements from hers rather than from memory and it thrilled Nica to see that they hadn’t lost the habit. It built her confidence in them, and in return, they took theirs from her. She gave herself over to the music, letting it speak through her, and trusting that her dancers would follow.

The change was immediate. Not just the change in song –the two were actually very similar, to his ears anyways- but the entire feel of the piece and dancers shifted. Nica was at home on that dias, and she owned every inch of the space she moved through. The other girls had seemed at the mercy of the music before, and lyrically that was a very disturbing song to be at the mercy of. Here, the words gave more power to the dancers, and they used that power to weave a spell over the audience. Yes, it was promising pain, but a beloved pain, one to be desired, inexorable. That was a feeling Naj knew very well.

This song was a little more sedate than the last, but Nica built the power and hunger that was lacking in the other dance, letting her hips roll and carrying the motion up into her chest until it ended in her neck being bared. At parts, she raised her hands in a classic pose, wrists crossed high above her head as she rose up on the balls of her foot, exaggerating her undulations before sweeping into a wide and low bow that ended with her on one knee. She returned to dropping her hip while arching her back, then sweeping back up into the main movement of the song. Somehow the movements were both violent and sensual, designed to fill the audience with foreboding and desire.

As the music finally stopped, she dropped her hands to frame her hips again.

She let the music fade completely from the air, savoring the echo in her own pulsing blood. Nica finally rose in a languid motion, feeling strangely lazy after the sensuality of the dance. The other dancers stood as well, tell-tale smiles already in place.

Nica couldn’t help but smile back. “That felt better?”

Emily’s smile split into a grin. “Miles.”

“And it won’t be any trouble following it?”

They glanced at each other, then shook their heads.

“Alright then. If you can drill it enough to have it down by tonight, then that can replace the previous act, but otherwise, we’ll find something to fill the slot. Don’t worry over it.”

It was Lena who spoke up, glancing to Emily for agreement. “I think we can have it ready.”

“Totally. It isn’t that different and it definitely feels more natural.” Their voices faded as they stepped offstage together, already lost in their thoughts of the new performance.

Nica smiled, then stepped off the stage herself. She’d thought about calling to them to let her know if they needed any more help, but didn’t. Emily had already made it clear she was willing to ask for it if she needed it. As Nica sat again, she saw Gwen looking to her expectantly from the wings. The tigress was perfectly poised as ever and Nica nodded to her. It was a little gesture, but the fact that she had still looked to Nica before she took the stage was comforting. It was Gwen’s own way of welcoming her back. For the usually stoic tigress, it said quite a lot.

Nica settled back into her seat, feeling a sense of peace steal over her.

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