Authors: Unknown Author
Tags: #Don Bassingthwaite
The Bandog, of course, were scattered and frightened, some misled or pinched painfully by Kithain cantrips as they fled. The cult was broken. Solomon and David had been taken into the custody of the Kithain court. Tango had looked around for Jubilee, to thank him, but the old mercenary was gone.
Epp was being loudly feted the next day by the Kithain. After its timely arrival at Union Station, the court had ridden back up Yonge Street amid the last ragged pockets of the riots to the hall that Epp had rented for a feast. They were about forty-five minutes late, but Epp had somehow managed to keep everything on hold until they arrived. The Cornish saffron buns, it was said, were especially wonderful, as rich and sweet as pieces of the sun. After the feast, many of the Kithain had wandered off, although they had gathered again down by the lake to watch a magnificent display of fireworks as the sun peeked up over the horizon.
Tango had seen none of that. She had taken Miranda back to Riley’s apartment and held the shaking vampire throughout the night in a room that blazed with light. Shadows frightened Miranda. She panicked every time something shifted. When her eyes were open, they darted back and forth nervously. Sometimes, instead of merely holding her, Tango had to hold Miranda down, talking her out of her wild fright. With the rise of the sun, however, she had finally relaxed, falling into daytime sleep with a blissful smile on her face. The poison of the Kithain blood had passed out of her. Tango had hung two heavy blankets over Riley’s bedroom window, blocking out the daylight, then collapsed into bed beside Miranda. Sleep was a welcome balm.
Dex came for her late in the morning, hammering on the door until she got up and answered it. She almost tripped on Tolly in the darkness of the bedroom, but there was no sign of Riley anywhere. The pooka had apparently not come home. She opened the apartment door and stared blearily at the golden sidhe. “Get dressed,” he told her shortly, “and come with me. The Nephandi are going to be judged at noon.”
Tango dressed very quickly and went with him. His white Mustang waited outside the door, a car once more. “Dex,” she asked as she got into it, “have you seen Riley?”
“He’s with the court.”
They drove north, the wind and sun streaming in Tango’s hair. Eventually, Dex turned off the street and into a grand old cemetery. He parked. On a beautiful day like this, Tango would have expected to see other people in the peaceful, parklike graveyard. There weren’t. They were alone. They walked across the green lawn, with its shallow depressions and clustered, weathered gravemarkers, back into the oldest part of the cemetery. Huge trees cast deep shadows over the Kithain clustered there. More of the court had discovered the true purpose of the Ride during the night’s feasting, and they wanted to watch as judgment was passed on the mages who had terrified Toronto. Sin, Marshall and Slocombe stood guard over Solomon and David with naked swords. The two mages were still dressed as they had been last night. Dex joined his brother and the other guards. Tango looked around for Riley. She spotted him on the other side of the court and started toward him.
He slipped away, avoiding her.
She clenched her teeth. Was he afraid of talking to her? She had told him and Duke Michael the truth about the Bandog last night at Union Station. She had, however, lied a little bit to the duke about why Solomon and David had staged the riots and the false ritual — to rebuild the Bandog’s faith in Shaftiel, she had said, after the unfortunate deaths of three of their number. She hadn’t said exactly how the three Bandog had died. Riley had still gone pale for a moment. He knew, and he knew that she did now as well.
Tango stepped around the crowd of the court again, making sure Riley saw her move, then ducked down behind a tall memorial when his eyes were off her. She waited several minutes before peeping out again. Riley was about ten feet away from her, scanning the crowd nervously. Tango sprinted out of her hiding place and seized his arm.
He flinched at her touch and tried to bolt, but
Tango’s grip was too tight. Inexorably, she dragged him back over behind the memorial. She stared into his frightened eyes. “Why, Riley? Why did you have to kill them?”
“We didn’t have a choice, Tango!” The pooka shivered and looked away. “We had to try and shake the Bandog. It was the best way we could think of. We chose the ones we killed carefully. If you knew what those three had done....”
Tango seized him by the shoulders and wrenched him back around so sharply that he yelped. “That doesn’t make it right.”
“What would you have done, Tango? Sat back and let Solomon grow in power?”
She froze. What would she have done? She shoved him away. “You had Tolly, didn’t you? And your contacts, like DeWinter? Couldn’t you have found some other allies to help you?”
“I’ve known Tolly for a long time — since before the Sabbat made him a vampire. It’s not easy to make allies in Toronto.” He sighed and slumped to the ground, leaning his back against the cold stone of the memorial. “We did try other things. I tried to get... close to Solomon.” His face twisted.
Tango squatted down and put her hand on his knee. “I know.”
“I couldn’t give him what he wanted. Then Miranda joined the Bandog, and Solomon didn’t even bother with me anymore. He had another toy.” Riley plucked a blade of grass out of the ground and cupped it between his hands. “I never even suspected that David was a mage, too! He never seemed to be more than Solomon’s servant.” He brought his hands to his mouth, blowing across the blade of grass and making it whistle hauntingly.
“How did you find out about the Bandog in the first place, Riley?”
He looked up at her harshly. “One of the Bandog hurt someone he shouldn’t have. Solomon was good at attracting people with some very unpleasant desires and pastimes to the Bandog. He promised them all kinds of rewards. Money. Youth. Protection from discovery. More of what they craved.” His face darkened. “Some of the Bandog figured Shaftiel rewarded those who rewarded themselves. Tolly and 1 started investigating. We found out about the Bandog. I ended up joining to find out more — and to try and stop the cult from the inside. That didn’t work.” Riley flicked the grass away. “I’m not proud of what I did, Tango. It’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life. But I don’t regret it either. I know I did it for the right reasons. I don’t know if you can understand that.”
Tango struggled to find her voice. Her throat felt thick suddenly. “I can,” she said finally. “If it ever stops haunting you, though....”
Riley considered her for a moment. Considered her with the most serious expression she had ever seen him muster. He looked away, then commented, “I knew that Solomon and Shaftiel didn’t seem to be living up to their promises. Maybe Tolly and I should have guessed that it was all a fraud. It seems so obvious now.”
“Does it?” Tango shook her head and stood. “It’s more comfortable to believe in a demon that inspires inhumanity than it is to recognize inhumanity in other people. Or ourselves.”
From the other side of the memorial, a murmur rose from the court of the Kithain. Tango glanced around to see what was happening. Sin and Dex were bringing forward the Nephandi. The other Kithain were drawing back from the duke, leaving an open space around him and the two mages. Saeeda the eshu had set a wide, shallow dish of age-darkened brass on top of a low gravestone just behind and to one side of Duke Michael. Tango reached dow’n and pulled Riley to his feet, dragging him up to watch.
Saeeda scattered reddish cedar chips into the brass dish, then broken scrolls of cinnamon and cracked, golden crystals of resin. Over these, she sprinkled liquid from a little crystal flask. Tango could smell alcohol. Saeeda nodded at Duke Michael.
The sidhe lord looked out across the gathered court, his hair rippling slightly in the breeze, his jet-black false eye glittering. “These mages,” he pronounced without preamble, “have committed acts of great evil. Who shall judge them?” He pointed at Dex and Sin. “You hold swords, the steel of justice. Will you judge them?” “No.” The twin sidhe sheathed their swords. “We shall not judge them.”
Tango’s fingers almost clenched around her knife-ring, retrieved from David last night. Riley squeezed her other hand. “What did you want them to do?” he whispered to her. The nocker didn’t reply. She saw Solomon sneer.
Duke Michael gestured to the court. “You are the people. Will you judge them?”
“No,” murmured the court in unison, then asked in return, “You are the lord. Will you judge them?”
“I am a lord of the Kithain,” replied Duke Michael. “I will not judge them. What right have I? Who has
the right to judge them?”
“They have already been judged.” Saeeda draped a scarf across her face. “Fate has judged them.” Blindfolded, she dashed a handful of silvery powder into her brass dish.
Flames flashed, blue and green, crackling and fragrant, gossamer-thin in the shadows.
“Step forward,” she called. “Step forward and look into the fiery face of what will be. Know your Dan, then go from this place, judged by Fate and punished.”
No one moved. Then Dex gave David a push forward. The blond mage stumbled as though he were asleep on his feet. Dex pushed him again. David’s eyes fixed on the flaming bowl and he began to shuffle toward it. Riley leaned close to Tango. “They say your trick with Miranda last night drove him mad as well. He hasn’t spoken since he stopped screaming, around dawn.”
David looked down into the flickering, burning depths of Saeeda’s fire.
His face twitched once. His mouth jerked. “So,” he said simply. A smile spread across his face. He turned and walked away from the fire, past Solomon toward the open space of the cemetery.
“David!” Solomon called after him, half-turning. Sin grabbed Solomon’s arm, though, thrusting him toward Saeeda. Solomon glared at the sidhe. Sin glared back, and half-drew his sword again. One eyebrow rose, challenging Solomon to try something. The Nephandus glared for a moment longer, then turned and limped toward Saeeda. The crotch and legs of his pants were stiff with dried blood. .He glanced at Tango and flushed angrily. He glanced at Duke Michael as well, but the duke refused to look back at him. Blindfolded, Saeeda was oblivious to his gaze.
Solomon stood before the flames. Then, without looking down, he spat into the bowl.
His saliva sizzled. The fire turned blackish-red and began to smoke. “A mage,” he hissed to Saeeda, “makes his own fate.” He spun around and marched defiantly after David. Every step, Tango noticed, brought a wince of pain to his face.
He was on the edge of the court when Saeeda called after him. “Solomon!”
“Not even a mage can avoid
The eshu’s face shifted under her scarf, smiling mockingly. “Not even magick can restore all wounds.”
Solomon snarled and stalked away.
* * *
“They let them go?” Miranda asked in disbelief. Tango gave a little grimace, but nodded. “Kithain judgments may not always seem fair or timely, but when
is invoked, justice is inevitable. Solomon and David have been punished.” '
“No,” Miranda spat. “The duke should have been...” “What?” Tango looked at the vampire. Her mouth twisted. “What did you want him to do?” She snorted. “Riley asked me the same question.”
Miranda bit her tongue. Tango had told her about the judgment of the Nephandi when she woke at sunset. The changeling had also asked her how she felt -Miranda shuddered at the memories of last night, the feel of David’s mind riding hers, the sweet burn of
Tango’s blood against her tongue. The raging fire of madness searing inside her. The changeling blood had battered away the mage’s hold, but it had also attacked the darkness inside her, her vampire nature, burning it bare.
The shadows that had terrified her so much had been her own. But Tango had been there. She had kept the shadows back. Miranda smiled at the changeling and took her hand, gripping it tightly.
Tango squeezed back for a moment, then let go. She flipped down the top of her suitcase and zipped it shut. The other things that she had brought back to Riley’s apartment at sunset were two first-class reservations on a night flight to San Francisco. For tonight. “Are you sure there’s nothing you want to take with you?” Tango asked. “No souvenirs of Toronto?”
“No,” Miranda said, surprised at how good that made her feel. There really was nothing she wanted to take with her. She had said goodbye to Tolly, and that was enough. The mad vampire would be staying here, along with Riley, for a little while longer, then they would be moving on as well. “Nothing. I’ve got everything I need.”
Tango’s mouth twitched. “What is it?” asked Miranda.
“Nothing.” Tango grinned. “Just suddenly, I feel about fifteen years younger.”