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Black Magic Sanction

Black Magic Sanction: Page 50

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Damn it, this was hard, and I exhaled when I finally got everything in place. "Al!" I shouted, touching my awareness to the ley line out back. Power flooded into me, and I gasped. "Ooooh, that feels good!" I said, and Pierce flushed.

"Al!" I called again, glad the others were safe in a circle. "Get over here or I'm going to come over there and kick. Your. Ass." Stupid, dumb demon, I thought, pressing my hand into the mirror. Trying to weasel out of our deal. "Talk to me, Al!" I demanded. "You slimy little no-good son-of-a-bastard demon!"

My eyes widened, and my pulse jerked faster as I felt my mind expand when Al picked up. A shot of clarity struck through, showing me with a frightening sureness how stupid I was being. Shit. What in hell am I doing?

Good God, Rachel, cant you go five minutes... sweet sticky hell on a stick! the demon exclaimed, his thoughts reeling from anger to concern as he realized I was hopped up on something. Where... Your church? What are you on, itchy witch?

"I want my name back, and I want it now," I said aloud. "And take your damned mark off!

"Hey!" I yelped as Al suddenly vanished and I was thrown back into the muzzy slop of my drugged haze. Putting a hand to my stomach, I set the mirror aside and used the table to pull myself upright. I didn't feel so good anymore. "He's coming," I said. Whoo-hoo! Here we go!

Al popped in as if he belonged, used to my kitchen almost as much as I was to his. He frowned at Pierce, then did a double take at Ivy and Lee, safe in the protection circle. "Stanley Saladan?" the demon purred, smiling evilly, and the man's face went ashen.

"Still think I'm skeerylike?" Pierce muttered as he tucked his shirt-tails in and tried to look more presentable.

"Lee doesn't owe you anything!" I said. "Off-limits."

A trace of irritation crossed the demon's face; then he smiled as if it didn't bother him. "Rachel, my itchy witch," Al said as he tugged the lace at his cuffs. "We've talked about this. You simply must stop collecting nasty little men. How many do you really need, love?"

My knees were sore, and they were shaking. "Brooke summoned me again!" I exclaimed, pointing, then shifted my arm when I remembered where the university was. "I told you she would. She had a rolling bed with straps. I want my name back now\"

Al made a puff of air, but he was coming at me, and I backed up.

"They drugged me," I said, trying to smack his reaching arm away only to find myself picked up and plopped on the table, sitting on some of Ivy's papers. "In my leg," I continued as he smelled my breath and peered over his smoked glasses at me. "Shot me twice. I want my name, or I'm going to start charging you a fee every time I field something for you. And it's going to be expensive. I'm Park Place. Bud-dy."

His red, goat-slitted eyes squinted at me from over his smoked glasses. "You're more like Oriental Avenue right now, dove. What are you on?"

I pushed him away, catching Lee's awe that I was not only standing with a demon outside a circle, but that Al was treating me like an equal. Or maybe a favorite pet, I amended as Al caught me when I started to tilt. "I want... " - I panted as he held my shoulder with his white-gloved hand and kept me upright - " name. Right now. This is crap! I mean it!"

Al glanced at the two people behind him, safe in a circle, then at Pierce. I wrinkled my nose at the burnt amber flowing off him, and he let me go. With a yelp, I slid from the table to land in a crumpled pile at his feet. "Ow," I muttered, seeing his cute little buckled boots. No one wears buckles anymore, and I decided to get him some real boots next winter solstice. Some sexy guy boots. Yeah. Fumbling, I reached to find the top of the table, and I pulled myself up.

His goat-slitted eyes narrowed and he turned to Pierce. "You're supposed to watch her."

"I am!" Pierce said, his own anger showing. "In all my born days, I've not seen a woman more prone to trouble, and your almighty refusal to settle your hash is making things plumb impossible. Give Rachel her name or I'll tell Newt I can't do this."

"Yeah," I said as I wove on my feet, trying to focus.

Al was silent, his jaw clenched as Pierce arched his eyebrows in challenge. "Come along, let's go," the demon abruptly said. "Pierce, stay here. I'll send her back before sunup."

Blinking, I stared at him. "Go? Go where?"

Al looked back to Ivy, Lee, and Pierce and sniffed. "I'm not going to twist curses in front of an audience." Al grimaced, looking pissed.

I suddenly realized that Pierce had done it. Al was going to live up to our deal. It had taken me being dragged around, drugged, and headed for a lobotomy, but I was going to get my name back. Teeth gritted in a weird smile, I looked at Ivy. It was going to be a good day.

"Hey!" I exclaimed, stumbling when Al pulled me to him and a puff of burnt amber rose. "Why can't we do it here?" I asked, but with a gasp, I found the air crushed from my lungs. We were gone.

My lungs rebounded, and I felt myself slip; then I jerked upright even before flesh had reformed to separate Al from me again. Pulse hammering, I staggered when Al let me go, narrowly avoiding a fall to the slick black stone engraved with that same pattern of intertwined icy-white-edged circles that the coven had. Wincing, I tucked my fading pain amulet back under my shirt. I leaned to snatch Pierce's hat off the floor, and my hip protested. It was probably black and blue by now.

Al had his back to me as he poked about in one of the tall cupboards, the old glass in the wooden frames making his face a blur. "Make up the fire if you're cold," he said, tossing a palm-size bag at me.

I scrambled to catch it, knowing he'd smack me if it touched the floor. The bag was squishy, probably holding coarse salt. Feeling achy, I crossed the room to set the black silk bag on the corner of the slate table standing between the smaller hearth fire cheerfully glowing and the huge - but dark - circular fire pit in the middle of the room. With a sigh, I dropped Pierce's hat on the bench surrounding the central fire. The drugs were wearing off, and, arms around myself, I weighed the trouble of starting a fire in the main pit with simply being cold for the time it would take to do the curse. My God, he was finally going to do it.

A soft glow blossomed in the six fixed globes when Al pulled a book from an unlocked cabinet to check on something, barely illuminating the slate table before the smaller hearth. There were two chairs at it, one at either end - the first with padded cushions and arms, the second a simple stool. It had shocked the hell out of me the first time I'd tried to sit on the stool and found myself smacked halfway across the room. I was supposed to use Ceri's comfortable chair, apparently.

My thoughts drifted back to my own kitchen and I sighed, not for missing the gleaming counters and bright lights, but for the people I'd left behind. "You know I can't start a fire to save my life," I complained as I gingerly picked out some thin sticks from the basket of kindling. It wasn't that cold, but if I was trying to light a fire, he'd stop throwing spelling equipment at me. "Don't you have some Logs-o-Fire or something?"

Al didn't even look up from his collection of knives in a locked case. "Then we'll be cold until you learn. Try not to use all the kindling. It's expensive." Seeing me stirring the ash at the center of the pit for signs of life, he crossed the room to set that ugly ceremonial knife with the writhing woman on it beside the bag.

"Can't you just turn up the heat?" I complained. His receiving room looked like a mansion, the mundane kitchen where Pierce slept was modern, and I'd never seen Al's bedroom, thank God, but here, he went rustic.

"No pipes here," he said, voice faint as he thoughtfully fingered his stash of candles.

My head bobbed. Duh. Even a hastily set circle would be secure. I glanced at the mantel where Krathion still sat next to Mr. Fish, and I shivered. How often was I going to need protection from a banshee, anyway?

Al shut a drawer hard, then set a small, thin plank of what was probably redwood out with the salt and candles. "Feeling more yourself?" he asked slyly.

Again my head nodded, and I dropped a chunk of wood in the pit to serve as a heat trap, snuggling it into the ash. "Yes," I said shortly, thinking the ash on my hands smelled better than the burnt amber that permeated the place. I was going to have to shower when I got home.

"Pity." Al turned away, scanning a shelf of metal objects and plucking one at seeming random. "I liked you drunk. You're more fun. Can I make you a cake, love?"

He was grinning evilly, and I grimaced at his ruddy face and his goat-slitted eyes.
They looked almost normal in the dim light. I took a breath to tell him where he could shove his cake, but he jerked, his eyes going to the hearth and an eager light coming into them.

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