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Black Magic Sanction

Black Magic Sanction: Page 41

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I may as well let him know I looked at everything. Slamming the drawer shut, I stomped to the table and sat down, exhaling to get rid of my tension. The gun was uncomfortable, and I put it on the table, not caring if it looked funny next to the domesticity of plates and pancakes.

"Don't worry about it," I said as I put my napkin on my lap. I couldn't meet his eyes as I poured the corn syrup over the very brown, almost burnt, pancakes. They were kind of tough to cut with my fork, but when I took a bite... "Hey, these are good," I said, feeling the different texture on my tongue. "This isn't from a box."

Pierce smiled as he sat across from me. "No. The fixings were here. Nick has more than eggs and beer, though he might know naught about what to do with them. I've made a feast on less than he has in his icebox. Uh, fridge," he amended, frowning.

He saw me look at the patch of skin at his neckline, and his smile deepened, becoming almost devilish, which for some reason made me flush. I'd seen him naked in the snow at Fountain Square; why this little bit of skin was so eye catching was beyond me. God! I was not going to do this. Pierce was off-limits. End of story. Not going to happen. Blow the ship up and maroon the crew on Celibate Island.

Pulling the plate closer, I started shoveling it in, the clicks of my fork mixing with the ticking of the four clocks. I glanced at one like Cinderella, wondering if I was going to be jerked across the continent when the sun fell below the West Coast horizon. True, Nick was here - unless he'd hopped a plane back to San Francisco - but lots of people knew Al's summoning name. The council had deep pockets. Not to mention an island full of demon summoners. Dangle a get-out-of-jail-free card in Alcatraz, and I bet someone would jump at it.

My chewing slowed, and elbow on the table, I eyed Pierce past my hanging fork, worried. This wouldn't be a problem if I could line jump. "How hard is it to travel the lines?" I asked him, and he sighed. "Give me a break, okay? I'm tired of being dragged around."

"I like coming to your rescue," he said. "You're such an independent filly. It does a man good to know he's needed - upon occasion. No. Al said not to teach you."

"Oh, I thought you did what you wanted?" I said, and he chuckled, knowing I was trying to goad him into it.

Head cocked, I put down my fork and leaned back with my coffee, a silent statement that I'd not eat any more of his pancakes until he talked to me. My eyes went to the clock on the stove, and back to him. Newt had said it took a long time to learn, and apparently a gargoyle was involved. "Bis said you used him to hear the lines," I prompted.

Pierce's smile faded, and he eyed me from around the loose curls hanging in his eyes. "You're going to get me in trouble with Al," he muttered, gaze dropping.

"So? You got me in trouble with him. Teach me," I dared him.

"I can't," he said as he hid behind a sip of coffee. "Only a gargoyle can teach you how to listen to the lines, and none has the learning anymore."

Listen? That was curious. "You taught Bis in a day," I prompted.

He didn't even look up from shoving food in his mouth. "Bis is a gargoyle. If you could see ley lines in your mind, you could master it in a day as well."

Stymied, I fiddled with my fork. "Fine. I'll ask Bis the next time I see him."

Alarm made Pierce tense. "He's not skilled enough to teach you. He's a baby."

"Nice of you to notice. That didn't seem to bother you when you used him to find me."

Grimacing, Pierce set his fork down. "I know how to jump, Rachel," he said, a touch of irritation in his voice. "Bis was safe with me. A very old gargoyle taught me before she made a die of it. I think she only taught me because she knew she wouldn't last the winter. And before you go climbing any steeples, demons killed every last free gargoyle who retained the knowledge of line jumping when the elves migrated to reality."

"That's convenient," I said, and his brow furrowed.

"No, that's a fact. The only reason the gargoyle who taught me survived was because they thought she was too young to know."

He was starting to look angry, and I wedged a triangle of pancake free. They were too good to boycott. "You could try to teach me," I said, pitching my voice high.

Pierce glanced up and down, making a little huff of amusement. "I'll allow you're smart as a steel trap, but it's not book learning, it's learning on one's own hook that gets you there and back. And for that, you need a gargoyle. An experienced one."

Peeved, I stared at him, waiting. Pierce ate three forkfuls, each one getting a harder stab than the one before. My foot began to bob.

Making a rude noise, Pierce pushed his plate aside. "It takes a body a year of line theory to even hope - "

"So give me the basics," I interrupted. "Something to chew on. Al won't object to that. I mean, you're not teaching me anything. Just talking shop."

Taking a slow breath, Pierce brought his coffee into his hands, holding it to warm his fingers as he gathered his thoughts. "I've heard it said that a body would do well to think of time much like a stream, and we are flotsam, buoyed along," he finally said, and a surge of anticipation brought me straight up in my chair.

"Got it," I said as I stuffed another triangle in my mouth. "Next big idea," I mumbled.

Pierce's eyebrows rose. "Now you're being evil," he accused, and when I smiled and shrugged, he took a last bite from his plate. "The ever-after is said to have found its beginning when a considerable calamity struck across time, splashing a chance amount over the banks, as it were." He hesitated; then as if I wouldn't believe him, he added, "It's not really a bank, more like a straw, the insides held within it by the same fixative that holds the stars to the heavens."

I scrunched my face up, trying to put that into modern terms. "Uh, gravity?" I guessed, then added, "What makes things fall down but keeps the moon up?"

His eyes going wide, Pierce blinked at me. "To put it in a pie, yes. It's gravity, and a potency I'm constrained to call... sound?"

I licked corn syrup off my finger, wondering how sound had anything to do with gravity, space, or anything.

"Old sound?" Pierce tried again. "The word of God, some say."

Word of God. Old sound. I'm not getting this. "Oh!" I exclaimed, brightening. "Sound! Like the big bang that started the universe!"

"Explosions have naught to do with it," he said quizzically, but I waved my fork at him.

"Some people think the universe started with a big explosion," I said. "And everything is still moving away from it. They say space is still ringing from the bang like a big bell, but we re so small we can't hear it. Like us not being able to hear all the sounds elephants make."

He didn't look convinced. "Do tell. Students of the arcane, ah, some people believe that such drops of time that are flung near enough slip back like water drops, leaving a body with the sensation of deja vu, but if they are large enough and are flung far enough apace, they're constrained to dry up and vanish, leaving unexplained lost civilizations."

His eyes were alight. I'd seen that look on college students debating such ridiculous stuff as how the world would be today if Napoleon hadn't stirred that misaligned spell and won Waterloo, or if the Turn had never happened and we'd gone to the moon instead. "Okay, I got that," I said, and Pierce pushed from the table to take his plate to the sink.

"Are you sure?" he asked as he worked the taps and squirted soap into the empty batter bowl. He must have seen Ivy and me do it a hundred times.

"I saw a movie about it once," I said, and he turned to me, eyebrows high.

"You are a clever woman, Rachel, but I'm not sure you comprehend the complexity," he offered over the sound of running water. But at my frown, he cautiously took my empty plate as I extended it and continued. "The ever-after is believed to have its origins in such a calamity," he said as he rolled up his sleeves to show nicely muscled arms, darker than that spot of skin at his throat. "It was orchestrated by the demons to kill the majority of the elven population during their yearly gathering. An almighty span of time was spelled from its course, landing it too far to rejoin yet being so considerable that it didn't vanish straight on, lingering enough such that the no-account makers of the curse could return full chisel to reality, leaving the elves to make a most horrible die of it."

"Demons," I said, and Pierce nodded. Demons and elves. Why did it always come back to them fighting their stupid war?

"Demons," Pierce agreed. "Upon banishing the elves, they flung themselves back to reality, their tracks scarring time and making ley lines."

"Demons made the ley lines?" I interrupted, surprised, and he nodded.

"And such was their downfall, for not only did the lines continue to funnel potency, ah, energy, into the ever-after and keep it from vanishing, as they had schemed, but it also fixed the demons to the very place they sought to escape.

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