Authors: Unknown Author
Tags: #Don Bassingthwaite
Where he went to another group of Cultists. Tango grimaced. It was exactly like Riley. He might have gotten away with it, too. “So he broke your decree. Why won’t you try to find out what happened to him?”
“He disobeyed me!” Duke Michael rapped the butt of his pool cue on the tiled floor. The sound snapped through the still air of the dark hall. “He disobeyed a direct, very simple command.
Stay away from mages.”
He glared at his courtiers and servants. “Dexter?
Sinister? Epp? Lucas?” He glanced at the troll. “Slocombe? Is that unreasonable?”
Not even the troll answered him this time, but he didn’t wait for a response. “I’m more than tempted to let Riley be. Whatever has happened to him, he probably deserves. Except...” He broke off his words and angrily began to dig balls out of the pockets of the pool table, racking up for a new' game. None of the Kithain of his court moved.
Tango took the balls out of the pocket closest to her and handed them to him. “Except,” she said, completing his thoughts, “that you have given him the honor of organizing Highsummer Night, and an honor like that can’t be taken away lightly.”
“Oh, it can be taken away!” The duke’s eyes flashed in the light of the lamp above the table. His voice dropped down to a cutting whisper. “But Highsummer Night is only a week away. There is a great deal still to be done. Riley wasted a lot of time. That’s why Dexter brought you to me when you asked about Riley. When Riley didn’t return on schedule...” He bared his teeth. “Let’s just say he had stern words coming his way even before you told me about the mages in San Francisco. I think you see my dilemma, Tango. The most fitting punishment for Riley is to leave him in the middle of whatever trouble he is in -— at the risk of losing everything that has already been planned for Highsummer Night. But if I find Riley in order to salvage Highsummer Night, I compromise my own authority.”
The duke lifted the rack away from the balls on the pool table and passed it to the satyr. Walking around to the end of the table and settling his cue across his
hand, he lined up for the break.
Tango turned away with disgust. She could catch the next flight back to San Francisco. She couldn’t have cared less if Duke Michael’s Highsummer Party came crashing down around him. All she wanted now was to find Riley — and to get away from the sidhe. “Thank you for your time, Your Grace.”
Epp flung out an arm to stop her. “I have a suggestion, Your Grace.”
The duke’s break was clean and smooth, but that didn’t seem to improve his mood. “What?”
“Tango has told us that she is the manager of a nightclub. Presumably she knows something about organizing parties. Also, as Riley’s invited guest, she could be made to stand in for him. Make her your Jester and let her organize Highsummer.”
Duke Michael straightened up again without shooting and regarded her from across the table. “That’s an excellent idea, Epp.”
Tango blinked. “Hold on a minute!” she protested. “I can’t stay here. Riley could be in real trouble! I have to look for him. Can’t Epp organize your party? Didn’t you say she’s been doing it for twenty years? She must be good at it by now.”
“Only my Jester can organize my party. Epp’s a boggan — the spark of a good party just isn’t in her nature.” Tango caught a fleeting look of frustration as it crossed Epp’s face. Boggans were generally very dull, stolid homebodies. She could see the duke’s point, but to throw it into Epp’s face was... was exactly like something a sidhe would do.
“Then hire a human,” Tango suggested angrily. “There are places that specialize in planning parties.”
Dex snorted. So did the satyr. The duke’s smile was deprecating. “Humans? What could they understand about Kithain? How could they create a suitable party for Highsummer Night?” He came around to stand in front of the pool table. “Besides, some of the plans are already in place. You should be able to work from what Riley left.”
“1 told you that I can’t stay! Somebody has to find out if Riley’s in trouble!”
“Somebody else.” Duke Michael’s smile vanished. “That will be half of his punishment — to suffer the consequences of his disobedience. The other half will be the shame that a friend was forced to work in his place.”
He spun the pool cue in his hands, a flashy move that made the cue shimmer with Glamour. If he had held it like a scepter before, now he held a real scepter, a narrow rod of gold and onyx. The duke himself became taller and even more handsome as Glamour suffused him as well, drawing the mortal seeming away from his true Sidhe form. Tango’s breath hissed between her teeth. “You can’t do this!”
“I can. I am lord here.” Duke Michael held the rod over her head. Glamour seethed in the air. Sidhe knew powerful cantrips of command. Duke Michael could indeed compel her to stay! “Before this court, I take...” With Dexter on one side of her, Epp on the other, Tango could only throw herself backward, away from the duke. One heel lashed out, catching Dex on the back of the calf as he turned to grab at her. The blond sidhe howled in pain, leg suddenly numbed. Tango sprinted toward the door, dodging the other startled Kithain.
A pool cue thrust between her legs stopped her and sent her tumbling across the floor. “I don’t think,” suggested Sinister, as he grabbed her arms from behind, “that you should refuse the duke.” He pulled her to her feet.
The sidhe was tall, with muscles on his arms that probably took a daily workout to maintain. But if sidhe magic dealt with command, nocker magic dealt with the things of the earth. Tango’s own skills with cantrips were about as developed as her skill in kenning. Still, what she could do with her limited magic, she could do very well. She spat twice on the floor, an invocation, and drew
on the Glamour that pooled in Duke Michael’s court. It rushed up through her legs and all through her body like electric adrenaline, like the spirit of the earth coursing along her limbs. Tango’s small size belied what her magic could do.
She shook off Sinister’s grasp as though it were the grasp of a child. She could have broken his bones if she had wanted to. A squeeze of her hand around his wrist would have rendered his hand useless. Instead, she shoved him away from her, one push sending him sprawling.
Sinister rolled with the push and came up with a narrow grin on his face. Eyes sharp, he reached to his side and pulled a key on a bright, silvery chain from where it had been tucked between his belt and his waistband. The Kithain around him stepped quickly away.
With a flare of Glamour, Sinister’s key grew into a shining sword.
Tango reacted without really thinking. Swords such as Sinister’s were like dreams woven out of the Glamour. They couldn’t kill, but they could harm, and Tango was in no mood to be stopped by a sidhe. On one finger of her gnarled, nocker hand, she wore a silver ring with a simple cruciform design engraved into it. She folded her hand around it and, abruptly, was holding a deadly knife.
There was no Glamour involved in the transformation. Sinister’s eyes became as narrow as his grin. Several courtiers hissed in alarm. The knife was no Kithain weapon. It could kill.
But that wasn’t what Tango intended. She didn’t even want to hurt Sinister if she could help it. She just wanted out. She backed toward the door — or tried to. Sinister began to circle her, forcing her away from the door. Her chances of escape, Tango decided, were definitely shrinking. Sinister’s sword flicked out. She caught it awkwardly with her knife. Sinister was lefthanded and that gave him an advantage as well. She feinted, then tried to slip under his guard. She was willing to cause the sidhe an injury if she had to.
She didn’t get the chance. Two huge, callused hands grabbed her from behind. “Enough,” said a rumbling voice. Tango struggled, but couldn’t break free. Her nocker magic might have made her strong, but she had forgotten about Slocombe, the troll who had stood near the duke, and trolls were naturally stronger than her magic could ever make her. Sinister plucked the knife from her grasp. In his hand, it became a ring again. He strode back to the front of the court and showed it to the duke.
The black-haired sidhe snarled in anger. “Mage work! You’ve had dealings with mages!”
Tango struggled as the troll carried her before the angry Kithain lord. “So what if I have? I’m not one of your subjects!”
“But you’re in my domain!” Duke Michael dropped the ring. It fell to the tile with the chiming clatter of a much larger object on marble, then rolled away. The duke touched his rod directly to her head this time. “You are my Jester,” he said sharply, his courtly words gone. Tango felt a tingle as Glamour moved in the rod, an enchantment that bound her as a servant of the court. She ground her teeth. “You have the responsibility of planning the Highsummer Night party for this court until Riley returns to resume his duties. Obey me in all things.” He held the rod to her head a moment longer as he leaned forward to whisper, “And
make me angry again.”
The sidhe enchantment prompted her to respond. “I am your servant, Your Grace,” she spat unwillingly. Had Riley had to go through this, or was the magical treatment reserved only for the duke’s reluctant recruits to the court? She forced her anger back. It was too late for rage now. The loathing she felt for the duke, for the other sidhe of the court, for other Kithain in general, subsided to a churning like dull knives in her heart and soul.
Mercifully, it seemed that there was nothing else she was required to say. The duke lifted the rod away. “Epp,” he ordered, “give Tango your key to Riley’s apartment. Sinister, take her there. If I wish to see her again before Highsummer Night, I will summon her.”
Tango choked back a sour laugh. She had come to the court hoping to find Riley’s apartment. At least she was finally going there.
Their offers should not charm us
Their evil gifts would harm us.
Sinister rode a motorcycle, a sleek, shining black beast of a machine. The sun was just beginning to set by the time they left the Unseelie court’s pool hall and returned up the narrow stairs; Ruby gave Tango a sympathetic look as they passed by her. The motorcycle waited for them like a shadow behind the hall. Sinister had a helmet for himself, but when Tango asked him for a second, he just shook his head. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Maybe I want to. What’s the fine for riding without a helmet in Toronto?”
“No one will bother us. If they do...” He shrugged. “They’re only humans. What are they going to do to us?”
Tango wrinkled her nose in angry frustration. “I’m more concerned with ending up smeared across the pavement.”
“I haven’t wiped out yet.”
“That’s good to know.” Tango watched Sinister slide across the seat of the motorcycle with a whisper of denim on leather, then settled herself behind him. “Where is Riley’s apartment? I have a rental car and
luggage in a parking garage downtown.”
“You won’t have too far to go to get it. Riley’s apartment is on Jarvis.” He took out his key on its silvery keychain and started the motorcycle. The machine came to life with a velvet growl. Tango tapped his shoulder before he could put on his helmet.
“What do you do if you need your sword while the bike is running?”
Sinister grinned as he dropped his helmet into place. Reaching forward, he tugged on the keychain. It became the hilt of a sword in his hand. He drew several inches of shining steel out of the motorcycle’s ignition as a knight might have drawn a sword from a scabbard on a horse’s saddle. The bike kept running. He shoved the steel back again. The hilt became a keychain. “Oh,” he added, “here.” He held out his hand. A plain band of silver rested on his palm. Tango’s ring.
“Thanks,” she said grudgingly. She took the ring and slipped it onto her finger. For a moment, she considered Sinister’s back.
“I wouldn’t,” the dark sidhe advised her. “Remember who’s driving.” He flipped up the motorcycle’s kickstand with his heel and pulled out onto the street.
The character of Yorkville had changed as the sun went down. After dark, the area regained some of its youth. Most of the older tourists had gone, along with the men and women in business clothes. The crowds were now composed mainly of younger people in expensive, tasteful outfits. The air was still hot, but a cooler night breeze was beginning to blow. Small lights had come on above the sidewalk and rooftop patios. For the first time, Tango noticed the little clubs and trendy bars that nestled among the shops and restaurants.
Buskers had appeared on the sidewalks and in the shadows: a man playing blues trumpet, two girls with flutes, and, almost out of place, a smattering of women sitting behind folding tables with candles, crystal balls and decks of colorful cards. Fortune-tellers?
Tango realized. Young people were as obsessed with the future as their elders.
Sinister turned onto Yonge, Toronto’s main street, with its mix of vibrant energy, colorful lights, and depressing, sleazy desperation. High-tech electronics and expensive club-fashion stores existed cheek-to-cheek with sex shops and discount stores. There were no buskers here. Tango watched streetpeople panhandling for spare change from pedestrians who walked past as if they saw and heard nothing at all. One man stood on the busy corner of Yonge and Bloor, drifting back and forth to catch the people crossing either street. They just walked around him. At a theater a little farther down Yonge, moviegoers lined up obediently behind a sign reading “Ticketholders,” coldly staring down anyone who tried to butt into the line. A theater attendant had nothing to do but keep begging streetpeople from bothering the waiting patrons.
People didn’t linger on Yonge Street as they did in Yorkville. The only people laughing and talking here were small knots of people on their way to somewhere else. Sinister turned onto a cross-street at a corner where, even after dark, a hot-dog cart competed with a vendor of knock-off souvenir T-shirts to attract the attention of passersby. There was another hot-dog cart on the next corner when they stopped for a red light. Tango could see Hopeful a couple of blocks down past the cart’s greasy umbrella. The light changed, and