Cold Days
Page 14

 Jim Butcher

  • Background:
  • Text Font:
  • Text Size:
  • Line Height:
  • Line Break Height:
  • Frame:
And partly it's because of their magic. The Sidhe use magic the way the rest of us breathe, instinctively and without thinking about it. I'd fought them before, and their power was largely invoked through simple gestures, as if the spells had been hardwired into their motor reflexes. For them, movement was magic, and at no time so much as when they danced.
Their power didn't come after me, specifically-it was more like I had plunged into it, as if it were a pool of water occupying the same space as the dance floor. It subsumed my mind almost at once, and it was all I could do to grit my teeth and hang on. Ribbons of colored light flared in the air around the dancing Sidhe. Their feet struck the floor and their hands struck upon bodies, their own or otherwise, adding rippling layers of syncopated rhythm to the music. Gasps and cries joined with the beat and the melody, primal and fierce, echoing and challenging one another from all quarters, as if they'd practiced it. They hadn't. It was just what they were.
Sound and rhythm struck from either side, thrumming against my ears, disorienting me. Light danced and fluttered through the spectrum in subtle, seductive patterns. Bodies twisted and strained in inhuman artistry, their very grace an assault upon my reason. Part of me wanted to just stand there and drink it in, gawking like some ugly, clumsy behemoth among the Sidhe. Plenty of mortals had been lulled into tearful rapture by such dances-and generally speaking, it hadn't ended real well for them.
I put up every mental defense I could, reaching for that core of cold, clear power that had been within me since the night I'd murdered my predecessor with Medea's bronze dagger. I hadn't even realized what was happening to me at the time, since other things had been on my mind, but I now realized that the power had restored my shattered body, and given me strength and speed and endurance at the very limits of human ability-and maybe past them. I felt it only when I sought it out, but apparently my instinctive need to survive had been enough to tap into it back when I'd set out to rescue my daughter from the late Red Court of vampires.
Now it poured into my mind like an ice-cold breeze, and withered away the bedazzlement the Sidhes' dance had wrought on my thoughts. I started forward through the throng, and for a few feet I tried to skip and slip and duck my way through the moving crowd without hitting anyone. Then I realized that even with whatever I had gained from becoming the Winter Knight, I was still hopelessly dull-witted and slow-footed when compared to the Sidhe.
So I just started walking and left it up to them to get out of the way. It kinda fit my mood better, anyway. They did it, too. None of them were obvious about it, and some of them came within a fraction of an inch of striking me with whirling limbs, but none of them did.
The Sidhe are tall, generally speaking, but I'm NBA tall, and I could see over the crowd. I spotted the red ball cap and a flash of Sarissa'swide eyes and went after them. I caught up to them near the back wall of the cavernous chamber. The Sidhe who had grabbed Sarissa stood behind her, one of his arms wound around her neck, the other around her waist, holding her back against his chest. Her eyes were wide now. I could see deep red flushing on the skin of her wrist, where bruises were already starting to form in the shape of the Sidhe's fingers.
I found myself clenching my hands into fists and growling deep in my throat.
Without any evident forethought to it, the dance floor for ten feet all around any of the three of us became clear of moving bodies. The Sidhe had made room for the confrontation. Jewellike eyes glittered and watched intermittently while the dance continued.
"Sir Knight," said the Sidhe holding Sarissa. He had straight black hair beneath the cap, and cheekbones so high that they needed to wear oxygen tanks. He was smiling, and there was something particularly vulpine in it. His canines were just a little too large, a little too sharp. "What a pleasure it is to speak with you."
"You aren't going to think so in a minute," I said. "Let her go."
He leaned in closer to her and inhaled through his nose. "Odd," he said. "I don't smell you on her. You haven't claimed her as your own."
"She's not yours, either," I said. "Let her go. Don't make me say it again."
"She's just a mortal," he said, smiling. "A mortal of no station here in Arctis Tor, at court. This place is not meant for mortals. Her body, her mind, and her life are all forfeit, should we decide to take them."
"We just decided to let. Her. Go." I began walking toward him.
Something feverish came into his eyes and I could suddenly see every bone and tendon in his hand, tight against his skin. His nails seemed a little too long, a little too heavy, and a little too sharp to be normal. Sarissa tried to speak, but only made a choking sound and went silent.
"You keep coming," the Sidhe said, "and I'll keep squeezing. This game is terribly interesting. I wonder how hard I'll have to squeeze to crush her windpipe."
I stopped, because I knew the answer to his question: not very hard. It's only a little more pressure than you need to crush an empty beer can. It's sort of scary how easy it is to kill someone once you know how to get it done.
"What about Mab's law?" I said.
"I'll not shed a drop of her blood," he replied smoothly. "When I cut off her air or break her neck, she'll simply cease-which is a waste, but the law is the law."
And I got a sudden sinking feeling that the Sidhe in front of me, in his black leather jacket and his red cap, knew how to get it done. "You're not a Cincinnati fan, are you?"