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Black Magic Sanction

Black Magic Sanction: Page 77

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Al's posture was again his completely proper British nobleman, and I wondered if I'd been seeing him as himself earlier - which just made me wonder all the more. The tin opened, and the smell of burned coffee drifted out. Al's back to us, he measured a portion of the grounds and tapped them into a dry coffee press.

"Bis, this is Treble," he said, and the large gargoyle hissed all the louder. "When you're older, she's going to teach you how to properly jump the lines. Until then, you stay out"

"Why not now?" I asked, feeling betrayed and disappointed.

"Teach him? Never, never!" Treble protested, tail whipping almost into the fire. Her Voice had that same deep resonance that Bis's did, but was more musical. Glaring at Bis, she spread her wings and hissed, her long, forked tongue raised aggressively.

The air seemed to crack, and my mouth dropped open when ever-after cascaded over Al to turn him clawed, winged, and blacker than sin. Treble cowered, abasing herself and going utterly white. I pressed back into the chair with Bis, horrified.

Like Dante's demon, Al stood over her, wearing nothing and his well-endowed privates not so private anymore. The hint of hard muscle I'd seen under his shirt was like sheets of obsidian, throwing back the firelight in gleams of red. He blinked, his red, goat-slitted monstrosities chilling me. Was this what he really looked like, or was it simply what scared Treble the most? On my wrist, Bis shivered, stinking like cold iron.

"You refuse?" Al hissed, his new forked tail shifting like it had a mind of its own, curling about to tuck under Treble's chin and lift it. "Why do you think I let you live this long?"

"Oh God, no," Treble whispered, her wings spread so the tips came to a point past her bowed head. "If I teach the young buck, you'll kill me!" she added, squirming to get out from under him, her skin a pale white. "Like you did my mother and brothers!"

"Kill you?" Al said, his voice like gravel and his tail whipping back around himself. "No. I want you to teach Bis so he can teach her. Look at them. Tell me I lie."

I shrank back even deeper into the burnt-amber-smelling cushions as Treble sent her golden eyes over me. They flicked to Bis, and her lips pulled back from her pushed-in face, and she smiled wickedly. "Fortunate, fortunate witch," she said slyly. "But teach him? Why? The little gravel pit has no finesse, he's tearing holes every time he jumps." She turned her gaze on Bis, her skin darkening. "Don't think we can't hear what you're doing, stumbling into lines, breaking songs and rhythms, making everyone else step to your stumbles!"

Bis lowered his ears, and I put a hand on his shoulder. God, Al looked scary. Hung like a horse. No way was he getting anywhere near me.

"That's why you're going to teach him... Treble," Al said, his voice precise and so low that it was almost hard to hear. "We can't have a repeat of this evening." Looking like the devil, he turned his goat-slitted eyes to Bis in recrimination, and Bis's breath caught.

"Don't worry, Bis," I said, putting a hand on his clawed foot. "You can't know how to do it right unless someone shows you properly," I said pointedly. Clearly Pierce hadn't.

His gaze fixed on Al, Bis crawled up to my shoulder and wrapped his tail around my neck. Treble gave him a yellow-eyed stare, and I almost choked when his grip tightened.

"The lines are still ringing from his latest jump," Treble said caustically. "He's thicker than a rock. And too young. Can't even stay awake when the sun is up. I wouldn't teach that pebble if he was the last living 'goyle in either plane," she said disdainfully, then glanced at Al. "Unless I was told to."

"Well, I'm telling you," Al said, his features melting into his familiar vision of himself in lace, clothed once more. "You weren't any older when I stole you from your mother."

My shoulders dropped, and I exhaled, surprised that the crushed green velvet and lace that had once terrified me had become not only familiar but welcome. And yet, if I squinted, there was a hint of that black monstrosity in the curve of his shoulders, the depth of his chest.

Treble crouched, her skin darkening. "Right before you killed her. Bastard."

Treble's words were harsh, but her tone was bland, like a response in a play that has run too long. Al wasn't really listening either as he took the steaming kettle from the fire and poured the boiling water over the grounds. Even Bis had relaxed his death grip on my throat.

"So you'll teach him?" Al asked, the hidden threat obvious.

"I'll teach him. I'll teach him for her." Laughing at the pair of us, Treble did a little half hop toward the table. I could smell coffee, and my head started to hurt. "If anyone can teach him, I can. I know the taste of all lines on this continent," the gargoyle said in pride, her claws going silent on the carpet. "Even the shattered badlands where the great wars were fought."

Bis was listening intently, but Al wasn't, his thick fingers pressing the plunger on the coffee press to make swirls of denser brew rise and fall, unvoiced thoughts making him grim. Still silent, he poured two cups of coffee into twin, tiny white cups he took out of the cabinet. His mood was guarded, but it seemed he'd forgiven Treble as he placed a cup and saucer before me, then slid the soggy coffee press to Treble. "I think we should have Dali look at you, Rachel.
Just to be sure you're not damaged after sliding into reality like that."

Dali? My fingers reaching for the cup drew back. "I'm fine. It just hurt is all."

Bis twitched his tail. "I'm sorry, Rachel."

Grimacing, I touched his flank. "Neither of us knew what we were doing. Don't worry about it." But wed done it

"Still... " Al exhaled as he sat in the chair across from me. His shirt was open, showing a sliver of smooth flesh. "Pushing through a line is like scraping your bike on the pavement."

Treble had a thick claw delicately in the coffee press as she plucked out a tablespoon of the wet grounds and ate it. "I'll say. She made one hell of a ley line, dragging her sorry existence a full twenty feet as the earth turned under her until she got out."

I made a what?

Al choked, setting his coffee down and dabbing at his lips. "Treble, leave."

She glared at Bis. "And you left her there!" she berated him, making his ears droop even more. "Ignorant pebble. Stay out of the lines until you're taught, or I'll stone you myself!"

Bis was trembling, unable to look up, and I had my hand atop his back. Yd made a ley line? No freaking way! "You need to lighten up," I said, and she hissed, her tail lashing as she started jamming coffee grounds into her mouth as if she'd never see them again.

"Rachel, don't threaten the gargoyle; they bite," Al said, his furrowed brow giving me the impression the gargoyle had let slip something Al hadn't wanted me to know. "Treble, leave."

"Well, she did!" Treble protested, grounds spilling from her mouth.

Al's skin tone went black, and I swear, a hint of horns appeared. He was halfway between himself and that vision of a demon god. "Leave"

Sullen, the gargoyle hopped to the fireplace, hanging by the mantel with her wings wide to block the heat. Folding them, she scuttled up the flue, making bits of mortar fall into the fire. Bis's claws relaxed, and I yelped when they dug into me again when Al said, "You as well, Bis. Let me jump you home. No need to make any more holes, yes? I want to talk to Rachel."

"Uh," I stammered, trying to get Bis's claws out of me as my thoughts flashed back to the vision of Al naked before the fireplace as a black-skinned devil.

Al smiled at Bis, playing the good cop as his skin lightened again to its usual color. The demon appeared relaxed, resting easy in his chair in a soft white shirt and with a tiny cup of coffee. "You should tell Ivy and Jenks that Rachel is okay. I'm sure they're worried."

Since when was Al concerned about Ivy and Jenks? Bis shook his head, but scary visions of a naked big Al aside, I wanted him out of here so I could hear about the ley line I'd made. No. Way. "Go on, Bis," I said, unwinding his tail from me. "If I'm not back by sunrise, have Ivy summon me home."

Al grunted, a ripple on his cup giving away his surprise. Clearly he'd forgotten about that. 'Course, he could summon me back. He'd had my name for almost six months.

Bis eyed me with big, sorrowful red eyes. "I'm sorry," he said for the umpteenth time, and after nodding to Al, he vanished with a soft whisper of collapsing air.

A sigh slipped from Al, and he pinched the bridge of his nose again. I figured it was an act to lull me into a relaxed state, but he'd pinned me to my chair not five minutes ago and I wasn't buying it.

"You're lucky, you know," he said as I sipped my coffee only to spit it back out. My God, it was awful. The taste of burnt amber made it rancid.

"I'm like a freaking rabbit's foot on fire," I said dryly, setting the cup down.

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