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Black Magic Sanction


Black Magic Sanction: Page 22


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I didn't have time for a relationship, and not with a self-oriented, black-magic-using, intelligent... demon killer wannabe who thought I needed babysitting.

"Rachel," Pierce said, shoes grinding on the salt as he came forward after a nod to Ivy and Jenks, and a flash of anger at Nick. His smoothly shaven face was creased with worry, and when he took my hands, I pulled away. Had they really made Al send him to watch me?

"Is she all together? Is she all right?" he asked Ivy, unsure at my reaction.

Ivy nodded, her eyes edging toward normal, standing with her arms across her middle as if holding back her instincts. "As much as she ever is," she said sourly.

Tm of the mind that she's not." Pierce tried again for my hands, keeping them this time. "I've a powerful notion to fix their flint. Did they... Rachel, your wrists," he said, aghast as he turned them over.
"They shackled you?" he asked, voice shaking in outrage.

I took a breath, but my harsh words hesitated. He'd crossed a continent to find me. Resolute, I shoved the feeling away. "Al sent you?" I asked, and he knelt to put us on eye level. "Pierce, tell me this is a joke and that Al is going to show up come sundown and drag you back."

Pierce smiled, gaze flicking to Ivy and Jenks. "Newt told the collective that Al nearly let you kill yourself, and that I kept you alive until she could save you."

"Newt?" Jenks shrilled, coming close. "You didn't say anything about Newt!"

"Yow?" I echoed, and Nick scowled. "You're the one who got me in trouble!"

Pierce, though, was still grinning. "The way she remembers it, I saved you. She made an almighty wrath, convincing them that you're too accident-prone to survive without supervision."

"I could have told them that," Jenks smart-mouthed, and Ivy waved at him to be quiet.

"Since Al can't abide here come sunup," Pierce continued, "it was either send me or give you to Newt."

"I thought you said you were the only familiar cheap enough that Al could afford," Jenks chimed in, and Pierce's lips twitched in the beginnings of a frown. Ivy, too, didn't look pleased.

"Nice," I said, yanking my hands from his. "You get yourself out of the ever-after, but I'm the one who looks like an idiot. Thanks a hell of a lot."

But instead of reacting in kind, Pierce's entire demeanor shifted to one of concern. "You're shivering," he said, glancing at Nick as if it was his fault. "A body would suspect someone would have drawn you a warm bath by now."

Suddenly I felt a hundred times filthier, but then my eyes widened at my sudden urge to sneeze. Shit, not again, I thought when it ripped through me to clear out my lungs and send a stab of pain through my knees. But it was different. There was no accompanying pull. It was just Al trying to contact me, and I looked at Pierce sourly. Al had sent Pierce to watch me, eh? Yeah. We'd just see about that.

"Tink's a Disney whore!" Jenks swore, darting down to the center counter and the open bookshelf under it. "Ivy, quick! Get her calling mirror out. It's Al."

"Rachel, no!" Nick exclaimed, eyes wide as he realized what was going on.

Jenks flew up, his sword bared to make Jax dart back. "Shut the hell up!" he shouted in frustration. "Open your mouth again, and I'll jam a spider's nest in your ear so they can eat that crap you have for brains! You don't know shit. You dont know shit!"

"Al will kill you, Rachel!" Nick insisted as Ivy silently moved to get the mirror.

"It's a little late to be afraid of Al, Nick," I muttered when Ivy slid the smooth, plate-size scrying mirror onto my lap and backed up, wiping her fingers nervously on her pants. She didn't like my magic - didn't understand it - even as she respected it. My knees hurt under the mirror's weight, even with the pain amulet. "What they didn't say was that I am his student," I said bitterly as I put my hand on the mirror in the cave of the pentagram. "I'm not saying I know what I'm doing, but I know who I can trust. And you're not on the list, so shut up I want to talk to Al. See what's going on." Get my summoning name back. I am not going to do this again.

I glanced at Pierce as I said the last, seeing no fear, just a confident satisfaction. I knew I should be glad he was free of Al, but it hinged on my not being able to take care of myself. Sighing, I looked at my swollen knees and my orange jumpsuit. Maybe they were right.

"I'd be of a mind not to tell Al you were in prison," Pierce said as he leaned into the wall and crossed his arms. He was smug, and I didn't like it.

"Why?" I said, immediately wanting to do the exact opposite. "You afraid it might make you look bad?"

Pierce shifted his weight to one foot and balanced his free foot on a toe. "If you get into too much trouble, Newt might revoke your reality privileges, me here or not."

"Oh, and you'd love that, wouldn't you," Jenks exclaimed, wings humming.

I sneezed again as the cool weight of the scrying mirror sank into me. Tell Al about Alcatraz to get my name back and risk being yanked to the ever-after forever, or stay silent and risk the coven summoning me again and giving me a lobotomy. No contest. Pierce might know his magic, but I knew Al, and Al wouldn't tell Newt anything.

The onetime ghost sent his eyebrows high when I simpered at him, clearly not knowing where my thoughts lay. Feeling better, I looked at the elaborate glyph reflecting the world back to me with the rich hue of wine. The symbols I'd etched on it glittered like blood diamonds. Much as I hated to admit it, the thing was beautiful. It let me talk to demons, and I thought it was beautiful. I am so screwed.

Resigned, I reached out a thought and touched it to the small ley line that ran through the churchyard. I kept my attention narrow, allowing only the barest slip of energy into me, not wanting Al to get more than a hint of my emotions. The connection completed, I focused on Al, shivering when his domineering, alien presence seemed to melt into me, expanding both our awarenesses in a curious feeling of lofty enlightenment. I couldn't read his mind, and he couldn't see into mine, but focused thoughts could be exchanged. That, and emotion.

"Why is Pierce here?" I said aloud so that Ivy could hear at least half the conversation.

Not my idea, Al started, and I could almost see his white-gloved hands clench into fists. That's why I called. That little runt of a witch is dangerous. He manipulated Newt like a damned demon suitor. It was either send him or give you to her. Which would you prefer?

It had been mocking, and taken aback, I glanced at the ring of faces watching me. That Al wasn't happy either somehow made me feel better. "So take him back. I won't tell," I said, and Al snorted even as Pierce huffed indignantly.

Maybe if you could go one week without becoming shunned or put under a death threat you might be considered smart enough to be on your own, the demon muttered. But no-o-o-o-o, you had to try it on your own. I told you to wait.

"Hey! I'm not the one trying to put Krakatoa into my soul!" I said loudly, face warm.

Not Krakatoa, Krathion. And I wont take the blame for you prematurely invoking a curse when I told you to wait for me! he said, and I was silent, fuming. I'm trying to downplay the situation, Al thought, his emotions slowing. In the meantime, if he teaches you one thing, one thing, Rachel, you'll be wearing his guts as hair bands. Got it?

I glanced at Pierce, and he blinked at my sudden interest. Pierce could teach me something? "Sure... ," I said, starting to see the possibilities. If I could learn how to jump the lines, no one would have to watch me at all.

Rachel? Al growled, not detecting any sincerity in my thoughts.

"Got it," I reaffirmed, then took a deep breath. "Hey, along those lines, I need my original summoning name back. Like now."

From my peripheral sight, Nick blinked, almost mirroring the shocked emotion I felt from Al. Now? Al thought, and I felt him start to sever the connection. You want to play in the collective when everyone is watching? Damn my dame, you do need a babysitter, Rachel. No.

"Al, wait!" I shouted, pressing my hand harder into the glass until it felt like I'd made a soft indent in the mirror. "I just spent a day in Alcatraz after being summoned into a closed trial called by the coven of moral and ethical standards." I didn't look up, but I heard Pierce sigh because I hadn't listened to his advice. "They weren't after you, they were after me," I added.

Al laughed, and I looked past my stringy hair to Nick. He was staring at me, long face aghast. Across the kitchen, Pierce held himself still, eyes dark from behind his mop of loose curls and his hat back on his head. Jenks faced me from the counter, spilling a red dust that puddled on the floor, and Ivy stood almost in the hallway, her black eyes fully dilated.

Nice try. But no one in that pantywaist coven knows my name, Al was thinking.

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