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Black Magic Sanction

Black Magic Sanction: Page 78

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He looked at the cup, then me. "Very few demons can survive getting out of a line when they've not been taught."

"Really?" My stomach rumbled, but I wasn't going to drink the "coffee.

Who else can do it?" Please don't say Newt...

His eyes almost appeared normal in the dim light as he stared at nothing, his white shirt with lace at the cuffs and collar making him look like a tired British lord at the end of the day. "Just the handful of demons still in existence."

Oh? Pierce had said demons had flung themselves back to reality after stranding the elves, accidentally scribing the ley lines and stabilizing the ever-after. Which meant that Al had been there. Survived it. And the gargoyles who then taught them how to do it without hurting themselves were either killed or enslaved. Nice.

"I'm not a demon," I said. "And I'm not going to use Bis like a familiar either. It's wrong!"

Cup perched in his fingers, untasted, he said, "Rachel, if you would be patient and listen to me, you wouldn't have to make the same mistakes we all did."

Crap, he was starting to sound like my dad. Another man who, the more I knew, the more I didn't know. Leaning back, I crossed my knees. "Which line did you make?"

Al's eyes squinted. For a moment he just stared; then he set his cup down and rose in a rustle of fabric. Fine. Dont tell me. "Treble doesn't like you," I prodded. "You trust her?" What I really wanted to know was if that black monstrosity was really him.

"Absolutely." Al unwrapped a cloth-covered basket and brought out half a loaf of bread.

I snorted, earning a dry look, and then I asked, "How come Bis has to teach me? He's a good kid and all, but wouldn't it be easier if Treble did it?" He was stalling, trying to keep me ignorant, and I wasn't going to let him.

"Treble?" Al carefully cut perfectly equal slices off the loaf, one by one. "She can't get through your aura like Bis can."

"Bis can get through yours. What's the difference?" I almost accused him.

"Bis is young." Al turned with six slices of bread in his hand. "He'll be able to cross any circle until he bonds himself to an aura. He seems to like you, but even so, you'd better be careful or you'll lose him to Pierce. And there you'll be, forced to steal another baby from the basilica and having to wait another fifty years to learn how to jump the lines."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. What's this 'bond' thing?" I asked, worried. Gargoyles to witches, as pixies are to elves? "Bis is not my gargoyle," I protested, and Al chuckled as he pierced each slice of bread on a set of long forks.

"I wasn't too keen on Treble either," he said. "Still am not. But once a gargoyle takes to you, it's not as if you have much say. It's in their makeup, you see. Engineered in."

They had made them. Demons had made gargoyles, creating the ability to hear the lines and the need for them to bond so they wouldn't run off and teach us poor witches and elves. No wonder free gargoyles hung out on churches. Oh, this wasn't good. Bis and I needed to talk.

"Done and done," Al said with a tone of finality as he propped the six slices of bread on their toasting forks against the heat. "I believe you didn't help Pierce, Rachel Mariana Morgan. Tell me your plan to get the coven off your ass and Nicholas Sparagmos into my kitchen."

Apparently we were done talking about gargoyles, but at least I knew he believed me. My sigh of relief was loud, but then I tensed. "I never said Nick in your kitchen was part of the deal - ," I started, but my words cut off when he turned, a big-ass knife in his hand.

"Rachel, we've been over this. This is what I do," he said, crumbs of white cheese falling from the knife. "Find a way for your lofty, unrealistic ideals to deal with it."

"But I'm the one who gets blamed!" I exclaimed, frustrated. I knew Vivian was going to ask me to rescue Brooke or get caught trying to do it herself. Then I'd get blamed for that, too.

"So stay here with me." He was slicing more cheese, his broad back to me as he worked. I could almost imagine sharp-edged, shiny wings. "I'm touched that you came to my rescue. And with nothing but a pain amulet. You are either truly overconfident or truly stupid."

"I didn't rescue you," I said quickly.

The fire snapped as he wiped his fingers on a white towel, casual and totally out of character. There was enough cheese for two, and I eyed it hungrily. "Looks to me like you did," he said. "It has been untold ages since I worked with anyone like that. I'd quite forgotten. It does give one a thrill, not knowing what might happen."

My held breath slipped out, and I frowned. "Okay, maybe I did," I admitted, "but I did it because I need you to find Nick, fast. Can you give me a locator curse?" I asked. Crap, this was risky. Asking Al for help was easy, like a wish, and you always paid for those in the ass.

Al tested the toasted bread between a finger and a thumb. "Rush, rush, rush. You have no need for haste anymore. Tell me your ideas while we eat. There's always time for coffee."

I grimaced at my cup, and he put the fork back, clearly not happy with the brownness of the bread. I didn't say anything, and he finally rose, standing so the flames warmed him. "It's been a bitch since Pierce left to watch you. I've had to do my own cooking. I hope you don't mind cheese sandwiches. It's all I know how to make."

With the toast done on one side, I thought, eying it as my stomach rumbled again, and I sat up to hide the sound. Elbows on my knees, I hung my head, going over my plan and trying to decide how much to tell him. It was Trent's idea, thanks to his Pandora charm. "I need to be charged with a crime," I started.

Al laughed as he shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked on his heels. "I can think of a few. Let's start with uncommon stupidity for jumping the lines untrained."

My head came up, and I frowned. "I managed it, though, didn't I? I'm serious. The press is always watching me, so I may as well use that to my advantage. I need to be caught at some crime that is both spectacular and relatively harmless, something that people will fall in love with, maybe see as noble. Nick is the perfect choice."

"Noble," Al said, taking up two of the forks. "Like a new modern-day Robin Hood."

Yeee-haaaa. "If the press is paparazzing me, the coven can't tuck me away in Alcatraz."

Al layered a slice of cheese between two pieces of toast and set it on a black plate that hadn't been there a moment ago. "Ahhh...," he said as he quickly made three sandwiches, divvying them up between two plates. "If they give you a trial, what you are comes out, and where all witches have their beginnings. Or they leave you alone and pray you don't cross them. Or they try to kill you without the press knowing. Double jeopardy?"

I nodded, eying the two sandwiches on that second plate. "It's worth the risk. Either they let me go when I promise to be good..."

"Or they kill you."

The cheese smelled all melty as Al slid the plate with one sandwich in front of me beside the nasty coffee. I looked at it. Al made me dinner? "That's why it has to be spectacular," I said. "I want Trent involved. He started it. He's going to have to call them off. He doesn't want me dead. He wants me to work for him." I thought of that paper he wanted me to sign, wondering whether I'd do it now if given the chance.

Al sat at the far end of the long table, pulling his plate closer and picking his first sandwich up with a napkin that appeared from nowhere. "I've never agreed with this long leash you're giving your familiar. See what he's done? In a mere six months? Bring him in. I can whip him into shape in half that time. Give him back to you as a present. I'll put a bow on him and everything." Al quit waving his toasted sandwich and took a bite.

"Trent is not my familiar." I leaned over the plate and picked up my sandwich with my bare fingers, wondering why Al didn't want to touch his. "I don't need one, okay? This entire mess is because of him thinking I might use him as a familiar."

Elbow on his knee, Al leaned forward, chewing. "So I gathered."

I watched him for a moment, then looked at the sandwich. It smelled wonderful. "Thank you," I said, then took a bite. Oh God, it tasted wonderful.

Al seemed pleased when I followed my first bite with another. "Why do you want Nick?" he asked. "Not that I'm agreeing to help you... yet."

I looked for a napkin, hesitating when one misted into existence under my fingers. "I know him," I said, dabbing my lips. This was really weird. Dinner with Al? Kind of like tea in the Sahara. "He's a thief, and a damn good one. Mmmm, this is tasty." Flattery is always good.

The demon's smile widened. "Trading him in for space would get a fine room for you."

My chewing slowed. " 'Scuse me?"

"Your pet rat. I can get you a good price for Nicky. Trade him for a very nice starter room connected to my space.

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