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Black Magic Sanction

Black Magic Sanction: Page 51

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"I knew it. Little runt!" he whispered, bolting across the room.

I stood as Pierce popped into existence before the small hearth, right into Al's grip. "Got you!" Al snarled, a white-gloved hand around his throat. Pierce's eyes widened, then he screwed them shut - right before Al shoved his head into the stone mantel. Mr. Fish splashed at the ugly thump, and Pierce grunted in pain. Pierce's hand flung into the air, and the coffee mug from Nick's apartment rolled off to shatter on the hard floor.

"Watch out for Krathion!" I shouted, seeing the bottle tip, but it rocked back, safe.

"That's for threatening me with Newt," Al said. "I own you. Don't forget it."

"Al! Stop!" I cried as Al shoved Pierce's head into the mantel a second time. "You're going to knock Krathion off!"

"And that's for not staying put when I told you to," the demon snarled, but Pierce couldn't possibly hear him. His eyes had rolled back and he had gone limp.

"Al!" I shouted, and he opened his hand to let Pierce slump to the hearth, out cold.

The demon turned to me, and I skidded to a halt beside the table, frightened by his seething anger. Behind him, the low fire burned. At his feet, Pierce lay, unmoving.

"What is your problem!" I asked, wanting to see if Pierce was okay, but Al's eyes were evaluating me from over his smoked glasses, and his white-gloved hands were in fists.

"The only reason you're still standing," Al said, his voice whispering an echo in the dark, high ceiling, "is because you didn't put him up to it. I will not be threatened by a familiar."

My mouth was dry, and I dropped my attention to Pierce for an instant before returning it to Al. "He keeps trying to protect me. Damn it, Al, I didn't ask for this."

His posture easing, Al dropped his gaze to look at Pierce. Using the toe of his shiny buckled shoe, he edged Pierce's coat away from the fire. I took a slow breath, thinking the worst might be over, but still my heart was pounding. "Maybe Newt was right," Al said blandly.

"About what?" God, he'd just knocked him out. Pierce could be bleeding inside his skull and we'd never know.

But Al didn't answer me, instead going to a cupboard and leaving Pierce crumpled where he lay. "Move him," he said, his back to me as he rummaged. "Unless you want me to do it?"

No, I didn't want Al to do it. He'd likely pick him up and throw him across the room. Knees protesting, I knelt on the hard marble floor. My jaw clenched as I turned Pierce's head to me and lifted his eyelids to make sure his pupils were dilating the way they should. He looked like he was sleeping, but there were twin lumps under his hair when I felt for them. The softly curling black was like silk on my fingertips, and I sat back on my heels and exhaled. He was probably going to be okay.

"Now, Rachel."

Giving Al a nasty look, I stood and grabbed Pierce under his shoulders. Straining, I shuffled backward, dragging him past the table and across the expanse to the fire pit. There was no way I could get him off the floor and onto the bench, so I left him there, taking a moment to arrange his arms and legs. Where did Pierce get silk socks?

"I can't believe you knocked him out," I said, then ducked when Al threw something at me. I spun to see a heavy copper pyramid thunk into the wall, leaving a dent.

"I told him not to come," Al said with an empty, vaguely jealous slant to his eyes. "I don't want him seeing this. Forget the fire. You won't be here long enough to get cold."

I glanced at Pierce, seeing his slow, even breaths. Mood sour, I picked up the heavy pyramid and set it on the table with an attention-getting thump. "I hate you, Al," I said, but he only started to hum as he sat on his stool with a flourish and began arranging things. "I really do," I offered again. "What if he's seriously hurt?"

Al calmly looked at me over his glasses. "Then I'll fix him after our chat and before I send him back to you. We don't want Newt saying I left you with an inferior chaperone. He'll be fine. Sit. Unless you want to keep my name?"

My heart gave a thump, and I eased into Ceri's chair, wondering if I was following in her footsteps and would spend the next millennia thinking this thing before me in lace and velvet was my world.

Seeing him busy with the bag of salt, I reached for a gold candle. Al slapped my hand, and I scowled at him.

"You watch," he said as I shoved my stinging hand under my arm. "I'll tell you when I need you, not before."

"Fine with me," I said tightly. I glanced at Pierce, but his eyes were still shut.

Still humming, Al opened the small black bag. White glove gone, he reached in and removed a handful of gray grit, tracing a foot-long Mobius strip on the slate between us. The greasy dust sifted from him as his humming took on the sound of a chant. Low and tonal, the sound struck deep in my primitive brain and made me sit straighter. It was like the chant of Asian monks, the foreign power of something else, mysterious and alien. Though nothing changed, Al looked utterly different, sitting before me with words I'd never understand coming from him.

"That's not salt," I said as the last spilled from his hand and he wiped it on a white cloth that he pulled from an inside pocket.

"I'm not going to use salt," he said, and tossed the soiled towel at me. "What do you take me for? It's cremation dust." Al's gaze went distant. "She died screaming. I was inside her at the time. God, I could feel everything. It was like I was dying with her."

What am I doing here?

Repulsed, I leaned away, my breath hissing in when Al reached over his glyph and put his hand atop mine. I pulled back, but he gripped me harder, forcing my hand to the table. His gloves were still missing, and his skin was darker than I would Ve thought. A tingle was spilling from him to me, and I yanked out from under him, thinking it shouldn't feel that good.

"It's power, Rachel," Al said softly, gaze fixed to mine. "Thinking that it's evil is only because of your bad upbringing. You should go with your instincts and enjoy it. Gordian Nathaniel Pierce does." His hand returned to his side of the table, and I remembered to breathe. "Give me the pyramid."

I couldn't get the frown off my face, and I stared at Al. He was waiting, confident that I'd reach across the table and hand it to him - when he was closer to it than me. The drug was completely out of my system and I felt drained. Al's gaze slid to Pierce in a silent threat, and I reached for the pyramid. To show defiance now would only hurt Pierce more.

Al's thick lips parted in a smile as my fingers pressed into the warm metal, finding purchase on the engraved figures. It was heavier than it looked, and I could feel my arm take the weight, but I hesitated as I looked at the odd writing on it that my ley-line pyramid lacked. The metal, too, wasn't friendly copper like I'd originally thought, but something denser, darker, feeling like salted iron to my fingers.

It was hard to explain, and I reluctantly set it on Al's waiting hand. His palm was crisscrossed with heavy, distinct lines where most people had only a few. I'd never seen his palm before, and he frowned when he saw me scrutinize it.

Al curled his fingers around the pyramid and placed it in the middle of the figure eight where the dust lines crossed. His chanting started up again, and I stifled a shiver. Naked fingers reaching, Al set the gray candle in the cave of the figure eight nearest me, and the gold one before him. I caught the placing words ipse and alius among his monotone mumbling.

"You're doing it wrong," I said, and Al's chanting ceased.

"I'm doing it properly - student," he said as he took up another handful of dust.

"But my aura is gold," I protested. "Why do I have the gray candle? "

"Because I say so. You're gray, Rachel. Grayer than fog, and just as dense. Besides, I'm always the gold candle."

It wasn't a reason, and I wasn't going to let him screw this up on purpose.

"Light your candle," Al said. "There are tapers in the can."

I glanced at the jar of thin strips of wood beside his hearth fire, then jerked when he snatched my wrist, forcing my palm up and dropping a handful of dust into it. It felt alive, greasy and staticky. If only to get rid of it, I sifted it around the base of the unlit gray candle saying the setting word, ipse, then grumbling that I should be the gold, not him.

"Ipse" Al echoed, mocking me as I set my candle with the same word he used. His fingers pinched the cold wick, and when they parted, the candle was lit. Smirking, I did the same, whispering ipse again. The candle might be gray - which was not a good choice - but I'd set it twice with the proper word. If the spell failed to work, it wouldn't be my fault.

"Who taught you how to light candles from your thoughts?" Al said, his goat-slitted eyes on Pierce.

The man was still out cold, and I shrugged. "Ceri," I said, but my gut was tightening.

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