Authors: Unknown Author
Tags: #Don Bassingthwaite
Tango worked a kenning, a tiny, simple enchantment that brought the fae seeming of people and things into focus for her. In the mirror, her reflection shifted. Her hair became wild and pale, her eyes dark and beady, her teeth crooked and her features rough, an exaggerated red sausage of a nose against apple cheeks. Her hands, holding the mirror, became tough and callused. Her arms and legs grew gnarled, and she became even shorter than she normally was. She grimaced at herself, almost sure that the mirror would break. This was her true face, the face of her kith or faerie race. Riley was a tricky pooka. Tango was a dour nocker.
But not even nockers were grim and grouchy all of the time. They were the descendants of earth faeries, the miners and smiths of the Kithain. In the modern age, their magic had also come to include machines, so much so that most nockers were more skilled with machines than they were with other Kithain, Still, they had their social moments. Kithain blood called to Kithain blood. And in spite of the way she felt about Kithain, Tango was more social than most nockers — maybe because her magic was weak and any knack for machinery almost nonexistent. She liked being around people. Her own crooked nocker face was, aside from Riley’s, the only Kithain face she had seen in a long time. Seeing a few more for just a short while wouldn’t hurt her, would it? It would be nice to spend more time with Riley.
Thirty years of Kithain life had left her with a lot of dark memories. Riley’s offer was waking some of the brighter ones.
A stirring in one corner of the office drew her attention away from the mirror. The shadows in that corner were momentarily alight with a glow that only her kenning allowed her to see. Tango smiled. That was another reason to accept Riley’s invitation. The glow was Glamour, the energy of magic and wonder — and lifeblood to the Kithain. Tango rose and walked over to the struggling shimmer. She dipped her hand into it, letting it tingle like saltwater across her skin. Stories said that Glamour had been everywhere once. Now it was rare, and clung to the real world in only a few places, like Riley’s apartment building, filled with the creative energies of artists and musicians, or Pan’s, enchanted by Aaron with his human magick but attracting a thin kind of Glamour as a side effect. The Glamour around Kithain freeholds and courts was usually thick, however. Part of Tango craved that density of Glamour, cried out to be submersed in it. Just as part of her craved the company of other Kithain for
just a little while.
And she did have a few very fond memories of Highsummer Night.
Tango walked back to her desk and considered Riley’s paper again. Maybe the pooka was right. Maybe it was time for her to go back to Kithain life, at least for a little while. It probably would do her good. She might even find that the years had taken away the disgust she felt for Kithain society and that she could stomach the company of other Kithain again.
If she didn’t, at least Toronto had plenty of humans to hang around with.
She reached for the phone and dialed Riley’s hotel. It was a good hotel; even at this early, early hour, there was a night clerk on duty. The giddy anticipation of Highsummer was already creeping up on her, and she briefly considered having the clerk ring Riley’s room. She would enjoy waking him up. Instead, though, she just left a brief, anonymous message.
Let’s tango in Toronto.
“He’ll know what it means,” she told the clerk.
* * *
Getting a ticket for the 9:30 flight to Toronto the next night was as easy as Tango had anticipated it would be. Riley had written down his seat number, and with a little smooth talking Tango even managed to get the seat beside his. There was no return call from Riley, but that was nothing unusual. Riley had never returned a call on time since she had known him. So Tango packed her bags, promised to call Alan with Riley’s number in Toronto as soon as she had it, and drove herself to the airport. She would rent a car in Toronto. There were very few lines at the airport. Not even the departure lounge was particularly crowded.
Which made it abundantly clear that there was no sign of Riley.
That wasn’t especially unusual either. Riley was about as punctual as he was prompt in returning phone calls. To judge by the desire that he had expressed last night in Pan’s to have her come to Toronto, though, she would have expected to see him waiting for her anxiously. But maybe not. Tango bought a cheap, trashy novel at a terminal convenience store and settled down to wait.
When preboarding was announced and Riley still had not appeared, she began to worry. Going to the desk, she caught the attention of one of the attendants. “I’m supposed to be traveling with someone. Can you tell me if he’s checked in?” •
“Certainly. His name?”
The attendant entered the name in his computer terminal, then shook his head. “I’m sorry.”
“He hasn’t checked in yet?”
“There isn’t anyone by that name on this flight.” Tango bit her tongue. Riley could be traveling under a false name. The long-lived Kithain did that fairly frequently. She hesitated to ask any further questions in case he was. It could make things awkward for both of them, especially if Riley was carrying the kind of “party favors” that the mages of the Cult of Ecstasy usually made. “Thank you,” she said politely. One of the other attendants called boarding for her row. Tango took out her boarding pass and got in line.
“Gate H,” said the attendant mechanically.
Tango followed the other passengers almost numbly. There was late, and then there was Riley. And then there was
late. She could imagine him rushing through the airport as though he were a character in some travel comedy, the kind where tickets get left behind and overpacked luggage dumps clothing in the middle of the terminal. She hoped he made the flight. She had been looking forward to having a good talk with him during the trip. Once they got to Toronto, she was sure that she would lose him to his duties as organizer of the Highsummer party.
She found her seat, on the aisle, and stashed her carry-on in the overhead compartment. Just as she was settling into her seat, a tall woman with platinum-blond hair and an expensive jacket stopped in the aisle. “All right, Cheryl,” she said to a small girl with her, “you have the window seat. If you need something, Mommy will be right behind you.”
Tango glanced up. “I think there must be some mistake. I’m waiting for a friend.” She touched the seat beside her. “This is his seat.”
The woman glanced at the row numbers overhead, then at her daughter’s boarding pass. “6A? No. It’s ours.” She flashed Tango a dazzling, perfect smile that spoke of long hours of adult orthodontics. “Excuse us.”
“Yay!” squealed Cheryl, clambering around Tango. “Wait!” Tango stood up. “Let’s check with an attendant. There’s been...”
“There’s no mistake.” The woman’s mouth compressed into a hard line of displeasure. “I requested a seat reassignment when we checked in. This is the seat they gave my daughter.”
Tango took a deep breath and resisted the urge to give the woman reason to spend even more money on corrective dentistry. “If you don’t mind,” she said smoothly, “I’d just like to check that myself.” She flagged down an attendant and explained the situation.
The attendant disappeared toward the front of the plane, then reappeared a minute later. “I’m sorry,” she reported with a smile, “but the seat assignment is correct.”
The platinum-blond woman gave Tango a smug smile and settled into her own seat. Tango choked back a snarl. What kind of parent brought a kid on a night flight anyway? “What happened to the person who had the seat before? Has he been bumped?”
“No. The seat was never sold. If you will take your seat, we’re ready to start taxiing to the runway.”
Tango blinked and sat down in surprise. And an unpleasant thought occurred to her. A thought that made her hands itch to be around Riley’s scrawny throat and squeezing.
Pookas took immense delight in playing pranks — one reason they loved Highsummer Night so much. Riley hadn’t played a serious prank on her in years. She had thought their friendship was past that.
“Hi!” Cheryl said brightly. “This is my first time flying at night.” She shoved her skinny little arm under Tango’s nose. There was a gaudy gold charm bracelet around her wrist. Cheryl indicated a charm shaped like a star. “Mommy bought me a new charm. See?”
One of the plastic covers on the armrests cracked under Tango’s grip. Cheryl glanced at the broken plastic, then up at Tango’s face. Tango didn’t look back at her. She was concentrating on breathing slowly and steadily, smoothing out her black anger at Riley.
Who knows upon what soil they fed Their hungry thirsty roots’
Matt walked down the steps of the fraternity house as if he belonged there, as if he were just another frat boy going out for the night. Miranda looked up at him. “Finished so soon?” she asked sarcastically.
“I hate summer,” Matt complained. “Practically everyone’s gone away. There can’t be more than a handful of frat boys left in the city.” He jerked a thumb at the dark bulk of the frat house behind him. “This is the third time this week I’ve had to come here.”
Miranda shrugged. “Kidnap him. Keep him on ice.” “Yeah, sure. And what happens when he’s gone? Do I just get another one?” Matt wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his varsity jacket, leaving a dark streak glistening on the blue leather. Miranda wasn’t sure if he’d ever really played rugby, but Matt liked to cultivate a style he called “collegiate gone savage.” The jacket was worn and stained, the jeans he wore with it tom. Matt seldom took the jacket off, even on the hottest of summer nights. “These boys have parents, Miri, who miss their babies when they’re gone. And they have friends. Too many frat boys go missing or die suddenly, and it gets very hard for me.” He grimaced. “You’re ■■
lucky. You can feed wherever you want to.”
“Cry me a river,” she replied. Matt glared at her angrily. Miranda returned his glare, meeting his gaze coolly and directly. For a moment, their wills clashed: Matt seeking dominance, Miranda denying him with the arrogance of experienced, rightful power. Finally, with a snarl and a flash of bared teeth, Matt looked away.
“Where are Tolly and Blue?” he asked in a hiss.
“Following someone.” Miranda led him to her car, a black sports model parked down the block, without saying anything else.
Miranda remained silent and inscrutable as she started the car and pulled away from the curb. She was more than aware of Matt in the seat beside her, fuming and waiting for her reply. She left him hanging for a few minutes longer. The car slid through the hot Toronto night, whispering from one pool of light below a streetlamp to the next. Like a shadow. Miranda was a shadow, too, tall and lean. Matt might affect a look that recalled the university student he had once been, but Miranda chose to embrace what she was now. She wore black. Black jeans, black, high-collared shirt. Her long, black hair was pulled back and tied at the nape of her neck with a knot of black velvet. A gothic cross cast in dull pewter hung around her neck, her only ornamentation. Her eyes were intense, dark, drowning pools in a strong face that still retained its cafe-au-lait skin tone even after years of death.
She was a vampire. Why pretend otherwise?
She had known Matt back in university — they had both been taken the same night, reborn into the world of the Kindred in the same cemetery. Sometimes she wondered if he remembered her from then, when he was important and popular and she was nothing. Maybe that was why he always seemed so jealous of her now. Maybe it was because he would never be able to match her acceptance of the cruelty that their new existence demanded.
Miranda parked the car on Beverley Street, just south of Dundas. Matt glanced at her. “We’re going down to Queen? Just the two of us?”
“Does that frighten you?”
Matt snorted and swung his door open. A small group of people was just walking past, heading south, laughing and discussing some art movie they had seen. Matt’s door opened right in front of them, forcing the young man who was in the lead to come to a sudden halt or run into the vampire. The laughter stopped instantly. For a moment the young man stared at Matt, his expression neither angry nor frightened, but simply blank. Then he said, politely and automatically, “Excuse me,” and stepped around the open door.
One of the young man’s friends laughed again, a brittle laugh. The group sluggishly resumed its movement and continued on, down toward Queen Street. Matt sneered after them. “Too terrified to recognize danger.”
“They aren’t the only ones.” Miranda got out of the car as well. “We’ll go down to Queen Street as a pack.” Blue was waiting for them on a bench in the park across the street. The rest of the park was empty except for the few streetpeople who slept there, too desperate or too deranged to go elsewhere. “Tolly?” asked Miranda.
“Keeping an eye on our boy.” Blue rose to meet them. He was big, and the shirt he wore, flannel with the sleeves torn off, only emphasized it. If Matt hadn’t actually played rugby, Blue probably had, dragged into it because of his size and build. He still looked like the cop he had wanted to be: square-jawed, short-haired and grim. He seldom smiled. The fangs of other vampires might extend only when they were angry or hungry, but Blue’s were always visible. Miranda liked him, maybe because he was more like her than any other member of the pack. Not entirely like her, of course. Blue might have been a predator, but it was instinct that drove him. A vampire had to think, as well. “He went into Calais — no telling if he’s still there. He might have moved on. Tolly will stay with him.”
Miranda nodded. “So then we have to find Tolly. Matt?”
In the shadows, she could only make out. the ghost of a smirk on his face. Miranda longed to wipe the smirk off his face. But she didn’t. They needed him, and he knew it. “Well?” she asked again.
“I can do it,” he said confidently. Almost cockily. Miranda refused to give him the response that he was looking for. She simply turned and walked into the darkness of the park, leading them south.