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Black Magic Sanction


Black Magic Sanction: Page 60


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At a loss, I collapsed on the couch, pulling my knees to my chest and trying to find something to ease the ache. Sniffing back a tear of frustration, I thought of Al's kitchen and the hours I'd spent there in front of the smaller hearth, in the quiet with Mr. Fish and my own thoughts to keep me company. There was a peaceful security there, with the world pushed to the edges as I learned something new, gaining satisfaction and a grudging "passable" from the very demon I'd once been terrified of. I still was, but it was an old terror now, like growing up thinking you weren't going to see the next spring.

There was a scuffing at the top of the hall. Forehead on my drawn-up knees, I didn't look.

"Rachel?"

It was Pierce, and my head started to hurt. "Go away," I said. It had been his idea.

"I'm sorry," he said softly, and I lifted my head when he started to walk away.

"Wait," I blurted out, remembering the sorrow in his eyes when he had suggested the curse. He'd used it before. Maybe he knew how to justify it. "Don't go," I whispered.

Slowly he turned. Heartache showed on his pinched brow. For me? I wondered. For his part in helping me lose my innocence? The question of whether I'd use black magic to save those I loved had been answered, and I didn't know how to feel about it.

I watched Pierce's grace as he came back and sat across from me, perched on the edge of the chair with the coffee table between us. Exhaling, he put his elbows on his knees and looked at his hand, burnt and sore. I could smell the garden on him. It mixed with his redwood-witch smell, strong for just having done high magic - black magic.

"Is everyone okay?" I asked, guilty for thinking only of myself. "Bis? Jenks's kids?"

Pierce tossed the hair from his eyes. "Three of Jenks's kids were savaged but will mend. Jenks is death on as a strategist."

I put my feet on the floor and heaved to a stand, tired. "I should see if I can help," I said, even as I dreaded going back out there.

Pierce rose with me. "They're fine," he said, taking my fingers with his unburnt hand to give his words more strength. "It's you I'm powerful worried about."

The concern in his eyes caused my eyes to well. Damn it, I wasn't going to cry - even if I'd almost wiped out an entire clan of people. Pierce reached out, and I drew back. I needed something, but not that. I didn't deserve the comfort of another person. And not him. It would be too easy, and it might not be real.

Pierce's hand dropped, his expression becoming even more concerned as he saw my fear. "Talk to me," he said simply.

That... I could do, and I looked at him miserably as the band around my chest tightened. He was probably the only person who might understand. "I don't know anything anymore," I whispered. "I almost killed them. Pierce, what am I doing7. I am exactly what they call me. A black witch. Maybe I should just go with it. Go hide in the ever-after with Al. Leave my friends... " The tears started to well again. Leaving was not what I wanted.

Smiling faintly, he sat down, pulling me down with his mere presence. He didn't say a thing as I sat across from him and pulled my knees to my chin, but just that he was listening without judgment was enough to make me cry. I knew Jenks had killed before to protect his family. Ceri was a bloodthirsty savage despite her elegant charm and beauty - and always had been. Ivy was Ivy. I wasn't going to pretend that Pierce wasn't capable of killing someone. It was the thought of me killing someone I couldn't handle.

"I didn't want to be like this," I said softly.

"It was a decision," he said, safe and nonconfrontational.

"A decision to kill someone," I said bitterly. "With magic." That's all the curse did. There was no pretending that it was to heat bathwater or start the grill. It was able to break through an aura to burn someone alive - black magic no matter how you looked at it.

"You saved Jenks and his family," he offered. "Would you rather they be dead?"

I pulled back, not liking what I was feeling. "There had to have been a better way," I said dryly, my gaze going past him to the burnt pool table.

"Perhaps," he said slowly. "I swan I wouldVe killed them straight out to keep Jenks from making a die of it and you safe. I still think allowing them to live is a mistake. It remains to see if you are strong enough to see it through. And how."

"It wasn't a mistake," I said, affronted, and he sighed, burnt hand held loosely in the other as he looked down at them. Okay, maybe it was a mistake, but f d make it again in a heartbeat. Or maybe find another way to begin with. There just wasn't an answer that I liked, and exhausted in mind and body, I said, "They're right." Pierce's eyes met mine, and I added, "Vivian. Brooke. Everyone. I'm a demon. I deserve what they're trying to do to me." I raised a hand and let it fall, staring at it on my lap and wondering if I could smell burnt amber on it. "I'm filthy."

Pierce only smiled as if I was endearing, making me want to smack him. "You're not," he said, softening my anger. "Surviving the decision of letting such ornery people live will be its own punishment. Don't look to add to it."

"I don't want to be this person," I said, frowning when I heard Ivy come in and go to her bathroom. Getting something for the scratch on her bicep, probably.

"But this is who you are."

"Only because people keep throwing this crap at me!" I said loudly. "If everyone would leave me alone, I wouldn't have to do this stuff!" Ivy's bathroom door creaked again and she moved to her room. Cant I have one conversation without everyone listening in?

"The council will come after you now," I said, feeling better for some reason. "They know you've been helping me."

His gaze was in the rafters. "They'd do that anyway. I was never officially shunned because I was coven and it would've been embarrassing. Shortsighted pig farmers. That I dealt with demons in order to kill them meant nothing. What they think isn't worth a picayune."

Focus blurring, I thought about the very powerful charms, no, curses, that I'd seen him twist, and then the conversation we'd had at Nick's place. How come I couldn't not care about what the coven thought?

"Just exactly why were they so hot to kill you, anyway?" I asked. I had to know. I'd seen what he was capable of, and I had to know what he'd done.

Head bowed, Pierce looked at his hands. "My situation wasn't much of a circumstance," he said sourly. "I held trust with demons to kill them, but you can imagine that didn't mean a hooter to the coven. They were a sight more skerry of demons than they are today."

The coffee table was between us, but my skin was tingling. "That's why Al thought you'd kill me," I said. "Because you kill demons, and I'm a student of one?"

Pierce shook his head. "I wouldn't hurt you, even if you were a demon yourself."

The back door slammed behind Ivy, and I jumped, having forgotten she was in here. "Good," I said, a tad more bitter than I had intended, "because I probably am one."

But Pierce only touched his nose and smiled. "You're feeling better," he asserted.

Yeah, I was. Suddenly nervous, I stood.

"It's not what you are, but who you are," Pierce said, and when he stood as well, I started edging into the hall. "I saw you when you had just tipped the scales to womanhood, and I can tell you that you're much the same in your mind now as you were then."

"And what is that?" I asked from within the dark hallway.

Pierce was silent until he stopped right before me, his face showing an unreadable emotion. "You're firm in will, pure in intent, strong in magic. But now it's tempered with wisdom, and you're more beautiful and brilliant yet." I went to turn away, and he pulled me back. "You are shades of gray swirling, balancing needs and desires," he added, watching me. "You are good, Rachel. No matter what your choices lead you to, you will remain such."

My eyes warmed as my emotions tipped back the other way. Damn it, this was exactly what I needed, but I knew better than to trust fairy tales. "Is it harder to be good when you know too much, or is it that your mistakes make bigger messes?" I asked, miserable.

His hand fell from me. "You're moved by love. That means everything. Take it from one who's lost all and then gained more."

I dropped my head, feeling the weight in my chest start to lift. Exhaling long and slow, I realized I'd found my comfort in his words. Calm took me. Ivy and Jenks. His family. My church. Even Nick. Maybe Trent. They were all important to me. So I lived among savage people with a thin veneer of civility. Who didn't? I knew them. I loved them.
I'd fight for their survival, and worry about the rest later.

"You're back," Pierce said softly. "You find your feet so fast, mistress witch. What are you going to do about the fairies?"

A faint embarrassment warmed my cheeks. "I thought we'd just let them go if they promised to leave us alone," I said as I started for the back of the church.

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