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Black Magic Sanction


Black Magic Sanction: Page 19


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The kid could, and did, sleep in the snow.

"Mmmm-hmm." My misery was temporary. I could endure it.

"I can help," he said, and a dull red warmth blossomed in the dark, lighting my cell with a weird shadow glow as his skin turned pink. He was glowing like an overheated rock, his gray, pebbly skin taking on a luminescent sheen. Bis's big tufted ears were back like a scolded puppy's, and his pushed-in, ugly face was pinched in worry. His tail, too, was wrapped around his oversize feet to make himself as small as he could. "Bis, you are a wonder!" I said, holding my hands out until I pulled them back from the sudden heat. My shins, too, were getting warm.

The teenage gargoyle blushed, sending out a wash of heat, but then his big ears pricked and swiveled, his eyes following a second later. The sound of a buzzing alarm came faintly, followed by a key in my outer door's lock. Shit. Was it time for my interrogation already?

"Hide," I said, and he immediately dampened the heat and the light with it. "Don't do anything unless they try to take me to the hospital wing. They might give me a lobotomy."

"I won't let them" came his voice from the dark ceiling, and the faintest scratch of nail on metal sounded. The memory of him was a glow on the back of my eyelids, fading when the first door creaked open and harsh electric light made a long rectangle, shining on my untouched salad and my swollen knees.

I blinked, trying to move as a guard opened the inner door and stepped back. I couldn't get up the normal way because of my knees. Above me, Bis clung to the ceiling like a cat-size bat, my protector in case things went from bad to worse. My pulse hammered, and using my hands and the corner, I managed to wedge myself to my feet with my shaking arms. I would not go to the prison hospital. I'd die fighting first.

A shadow eclipsed the electric lights. The scent of roast pork slipped in, and my stomach growled. "I'm not going in there," came Brooke's voice, sour and slightly supercilious, and the light returned to the floor. Brooke? Brooke wanted to talk to me?

My chest hurt. It wasn't the medical people, at least. Maybe the dissension I'd seen in the coven chamber was deeper than I thought. A three a.m. meeting couldn't be sanctioned. She was here on her own.

"I'm not going in there," Brooke said, louder this time when a guard protested. "Bring her out. I'll talk to her in that excuse of a library you have."

There was a moment of muted conversation, then a masculine, "She is your boss's boss, you cretin! Get her out!" echoed dully.

A flashlight panned over me. "Out," someone ordered, and I shuffled into the light, feeling very... orange. The dried coffee on my jumpsuit looked like old blood, and I lifted my chin when Brooke looked me up and down, lingering on my swollen, cuffed wrists. The sprig of heather in her Mobius-strip pin had wilted, and I felt a pinch of worry when I noticed the same shape embroidered on all the guards' collars. Jeez, they had their own prison?

"Can you walk, Rachel?" she asked.

"It's Ms. Morgan, if you don't mind," I said, leaning against the wall. My stomach hurt and I was almost dizzy from the pain in my knees.

"The inmates aren't allowed in the library, Madam Coven Leader," one of the guards protested weakly, and she spun, giving him a nasty look.

Tm not going to sit on your ugly little chairs and talk to her through plastic. The woman is cuffed. She is wearing charmed silver. She isn't going to hit me or take me hostage. She can hardly stand up, thanks to you. Rachel, this way."

"I told you, it's Ms. Morgan." Head down and my lank hair falling into my eyes, I shuffled after her. Crap, I could hardly move, and a sudden nausea made me glad I hadn't eaten. It would have been nice if someone had offered me a pain amulet, but we were surrounded by salt water. Besides, it would ruin the beating they'd given me.

The guards were not happy, but one jumped to open doors and clear the way. I looked back at my cell to see if Bis was still in there. Someone had tacked sunshine over the door. Ha, ha. "What time is it?" I asked Brooke as she waited for me to catch up. I felt as if I was a hundred and sixty years old, but the hope that I'd shortly be in Ivy's black tub full of hot water kept me moving.

The woman's low heels clicked as I followed her into the main building. "A little after three," she said, sniffing. "God, it stinks like bad sushi in here."

Most of the inmates we passed were either in bed or sitting on top of their covers waiting for lights out. A whisper went out like a wave among them as they saw us. If it was after three here, then it was after six at home. Take into account the difference in latitude, and the sun was indeed about to rise in Cincy. A quiver of anticipation shot through me, and I walked a little straighter. The lines in Cincy were about to close to summoning, though if you knew how, you could still jump them no matter what time of day it was.

A quick look up assured me Bis was still with me. He was crawling on the ceiling, and I could see him only when he went over a metal bar, his skin not adapting quite fast enough. When he was older, even that wouldn't show. He was a good kid.

The whispers grew to soft voices as word traveled from block to block. Alcatraz was kind of like a one-room schoolhouse. If something happened, everyone knew it in three minutes. I walked slowly to hide my pain, forcing my shoulders back and my head high as we entered the library, enclosed with a ceiling-to-floor fence. There was an oblong coffee table with several cast-off chairs around it in a cruel mimicry of a bookstore lounge. As luck would have it, I could see my empty cell, Mary, Charles, and Ralph. Mary looked shocked, her soulful eyes wide as she sat on her bed with her blanket pulled to her chin.

"This looks... comfortable," Brooke said dryly as she took off her coat, hesitating briefly before gingerly draping it over the grimy chair and sitting on it.

I looked at my equally dirty chair, knowing I wouldn't be able to get out of it once I was down. The promise of a soft cushion was irresistible, though, and I almost fell trying to sit without bending my knees. The jolt was enough to bring my eyes shut for an instant, and I gasped, taking in the scent of musty fabric and discarded books left to the elements.

"How pleasant," I said so she wouldn't see Bis crawl past the windows. "What do you want, Brooke?" I said, tired. If it was three here, it was six at home, and way past my bedtime.

She shifted, steepling her fingers and eying me from behind them. "They told me you didn't eat. Good. Don't eat anything unless it comes from me."

I uncrossed my arms from around my middle. "You know about the food?"

The woman smiled, showing me perfect teeth. "Isolating that amino acid is expensive, but we've been using it for centuries. It has an excellent success rate."

I thought of Mary starving herself for another thirty years, and I unclenched my jaw.

"Not everyone thinks you should be castrated," she said as she adjusted her skirt over her ugly knees. "Magically or otherwise. I'm your friend, Rachel. You should trust me."

Oh. Yeah. That's a good idea. I looked at the ceiling, not seeing Bis, then back to her. Damn Trent back to the Turn. This was his fault. Didn't tell them, my ass.

"I alone believe that you don't need such harsh treatment," she continued. "If you can invoke demon magic, you are - "

"A tool?" I interrupted. "A weapon? Have you ever fought a demon, Brooke? You were stupid to have risked it trying to catch me. The only reason I keep surviving demons is because they want me for other things."

I shut up, not wanting to hurt my case any more than I probably just had, but Brooke was smiling her West Coast smile.
"I'm trying to help you, Rachel."

"Ms. Morgan, please." I flicked a bit of dried egg off myself, almost hitting her.

"Mor-r-r-rgan," Brooke drawled, bringing my attention back. "I don't want you to become the property of a fucking elf in your efforts to survive."

Ohhh, potty mouth! I thought, smirking. "No, you'd rather see me become your property. The coven's secret weapon. No thanks."

The woman's tan darkened as she flushed in anger. "He can't protect you from us. Never. You think you're something special for surviving an I.S. death threat? Where do you think they get their charms from? The ones we don't keep for ourselves? We get what we want, Rachel. Always"

I stifled a shiver as I recalled Vivian's charms, technically white but with devastating results, all invoked without fear of repercussion, and then Pierce, one of their own buried alive because he'd stood up to them and said that even white charms weren't enough. A fear born out of self-preservation slipped through my anger.

"Sign this," Brooke said, confident as she brought an envelope from her purse and set it on the table between us.

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