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Black Magic Sanction: Page 52
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This had to work. I wanted it done, and done now.
Grunting in acceptance, Al balanced a narrow shaving of redwood atop the pyramid. It was a small relief that this, at least, was unchanged. Al took off his glasses. Arms on the slate table, he leaned over the spell, now ready for the focusing objects. Expression eager, he handed me his ceremonial knife.
"Can I use the other one?" I asked, looking in distaste at the curved blade and the image of a tormented, naked woman writhing about the handle, hands and feet bound and mouth open in a scream.
I took a slow breath. Just do it, I thought, touching the blade to my finger.
"There is no almost when it comes to magic," Al said, and adrenaline surged when his hand clamped down over the knife and pressed it against me.
I jerked, my hand suddenly warm and slick as I pulled away. Pain was a pulse behind it.
"Damn it, Al!" I shouted, staring in horror at my bloody palm, then the knife in my other hand, slick and gleaming. My grip tightened on the handle. Frightened and angry, I looked at Al, but his hand was even worse. When Td pulled away, I'd cut him deep. Most of the blood on me was his. I think.
"I thought your blood wasn't an accurate focusing object anymore," I said, and the demon met my gaze, having been eying his palm with interest as to which lines I'd cut across.
"It wasn't - until you set it back to zero with that little stunt of yours," he said, holding his hand over his end of the balanced stick. "All together now... "
My heart was pounding, and my hand shook as I set the knife down. Black magic. Just do it. Finish it. Shivering inside, I held my bleeding hand over the stick, and with a few rubs at my finger, the blood started to drip. Al squeezed his hand until a red rivulet started down the inside of his fist. Three drops to mirror mine hit the stick, and his bloodied hand opened.
He made a pleased sound, and the scent of burnt amber rose to mix with the scent of redwood and wood smoke. Almost done. "Finish it," I said, then jerked when he leaned over the table and grabbed my wrist with his bloody, sticky fingers, yanking me half out of my chair. "What are you doing?" I demanded, scared.
"Relax," Al said, smearing our blood together on the last candle. "Count yourself lucky I don't want to share the twisting another way."
He meant sex, and I tugged my hand from Al's, only to find it recaptured and pressed against the candle again. "Try it and you'll be walking funny for a week," I said, glaring.
"One night, itchy witch, you'll come to me," was all he said. Still holding me halfway across the table with my arm outstretched, he smiled and whispered, "Evulago"
My hand in his grip, I stared. My heart hammered, and the wax beneath our fingers became warm. That was the word that would start it all, the one that registered the curse and made it stick. And through my hand touching his, I felt a sensation of disconnection, as if the floor wasn't quite under me. If I closed my eyes, I wasn't sure if I would be here when I opened them, or if I'd be lost in an open, whispering space of the collective where everyone was talking and no one listened. But this time, when Al's word echoed in my head, it was as if someone paused.
Al glowered. "You've been recognized. This is exactly why I didn't want to do this."
His hand let go, and I eased away. Immediately the feeling of the open room and vertigo faded. Nervous, I picked up the white cloth he had thrown at me earlier and wiped my hand as clean as I could get it before tossing it into his hearth fire to burn. I'd not leave it around with the blood of both of us on it.
As the cloth caught, I could feel the curse winding its way through me, settling into my bones, becoming a part of me. My vision was blurry, and I realized I was seeing Al's aura, untainted and unsullied by his millennium of ever-after imbalance. Lips parted, I shifted my eyes from his to mine, also visible as we did the curse. Al's aura was a freaking gold. It was shot through with red and purple, but it was gold, same as mine. Same as Trent's.
The demon saw my shock, and he smiled. "Surprised?" he said softly, voice low and seductive. "Funny how these things work out. Doesn't mean anything though. Not really."
"Ye-e-e-eah," I drawled, gaze flicking behind him to Pierce. Either he was still out, or he was faking. Al's eyes were on mine when I turned back, and I felt cold as I recalled him tasting my aura after I did a spell to see the dead. "Can we finish this?" I said, uneasy.
Head bobbing once, Al reached out and simply spun the stick a hundred and eighty degrees. "Omnia mutantur," he said firmly.
All things change, I thought, then blinked when Al shuddered. His eyes closed, and he breathed deeply, as if tasting something on the air. I'd never seen him with his eyes closed like that, and I noticed the faint lines at the corners. "I take this," he mouthed, not a sound coming from him. I remembered the imbalance hitting me when I did the curse. It had hurt like hell until I accepted it. For Al, there had been no pain - but he hadn't tried to avoid it either.
My head was hurting, and after glancing at Pierce, I breathed, "My mark?"
Al's eyes opened, landing immediately on mine. There was nothing in his expression. "It's gone," he said simply, and a thrill spun from my head to my toes.
I scooted my chair back and fumbled at my boot. "I said it was gone," Al said indignantly.
"I believe you." Heart pounding, I wedged my boot off, and it hit the floor with a thump. Fumbling with the sock, I peeled it off like a snake-skin and twisted my foot up and around. Tears filled my eyes, spilling out and down in a warm trickle. The underside of my foot was smooth and unbroken. The raised circle with a slash through it was gone. It was gone!
Blinking furiously, I smiled. "It's gone," I said, letting my foot go. "I did it!"
"Yada yada yada," Al said sourly. "You tricked the big bad demon. Congratulations. The only way I'm going to save face is by snagging some excellent ley-line witches. Coven quality, you say?"
My exuberance died. "Al, wait," I said as I set my foot on the icy floor, feeling the cold soak up all the way to my spine. "Do you know what they will do to me if you show up and try to snag them?" I'd known this was a possibility, but at the time, it had been me or them, and me always wins when the them is a bully.
Al stood, strutting over to Pierce and looking down at him, nudging him with a toe. "Do you know how rare it is for a coven-quality witch to summon me? Raw and untutored in the art of containing a demon? They kill their own if they become skilled in the dark arts, don't they, Gordian Nathaniel Pierce?" he said to the unconscious witch. "If you can get out of their circle, Rachel, I can, too."
My face skewed up in worry as a sheet of ever-after coated him, and suddenly it looked as if I was standing above Pierce, far too sexy and slim in my working leathers, my hair wild and my lips parted. Oh. Shit.
"My name is Rachel Morgan," Al said, mimicking my voice perfectly. "I like black panties, action movies, and being on top."
My jaw clenched, and I wondered how much I was going to pay for getting my name back. "I'm never going to get my shunning removed if you do that," I said as I shook my sock right side out again.
"I don't give a flying damn." Looking like himself again, Al shifted his shoulders as if trying to fit back in his skin. "I don't know why you even care about your shunning," he said as he returned to the table and began gathering things. "I've told you you'd be welcome here. Have a name that is respected. Have I not proved we can work together? That I can honor my word?"
"Only when I force you to."
"That you're safe, protected?" he continued as if I hadn't said anything as he slid his pyramid away and shut the cupboard. "Why do you fight this, itchy witch?"
I tugged my sock back on, eyes downcast. "I'm not a demon. You said it yourself." Lee thought I was, though.
His lips curved up in a nasty smile, and he tossed the used candles into a bin. "Perception is everything, determining how others treat us. If enough people think you're a demon, you are."
Snatching up my boot, I glanced at Pierce and away. I was eager to get home, even if I was loath to leave Pierce. He wasn't my responsibility, but that didn't mean I didn't care. I was going to have to make a call. The coven still had my old cell phone. Maybe if I warned them, I wouldn't get blamed when someone ended up dead or snagged. Maybe. Maybe not.
"You really should stay," Al said mildly as he put the ashes back in the box he kept them locked in. "Your friends are all going to die."
"Not today they're not," I said, feeling my anger rise
Al turned to look at me. "No," he agreed. "But they will. Eventually. You won't. Not anymore. Unless you're stupid about it."
My pulse hammered, and I stared at Ah Was he kidding?
"He's going to hurt you," Al said, looking at Pierce.
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