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Black Magic Sanction

Black Magic Sanction: Page 80

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That's where he was when I threw them at him."

I couldn't help my smile as I crossed the room. No wonder Al had been ticked.

"There's nothing funny about destroying my kitchen," the demon said as I used my foot to feel the crumpled tapestry and look for the metal candle holders. I didn't want to touch the oily fabric that had been hiding a melted wall.

Finally I found one of the holders, and using a chunk of burnt firewood, I levered the tapestry up, shuddering when the colors shifted to hide underneath. I wasn't going to reach under there, so I flipped it over.

"Got em," I said, breathing easier as I picked my way back across the broken room. Al had placed our chairs back where they belonged, an expanse between them to show where the table ought to go. He had already started a fire in the small hearth, and he tossed the table's legs into the larger, central hearth, adding torn cushions and whatever else he didn't want before muttering in Latin and exploding it into flame.

The light from the two fires was brightening the room to where his dim globe was inconsequential. Without direction, I set the black candles in the holders and lit them myself. I felt kind of bad about the mess, and I swooped about, finding ley-line equipment and trying to put things back to rights. The clatter of Al doing the same seemed loud. It might sound funny, but I'd spent a lot of time here, and seeing the mess Pierce had created made me feel... violated.

Al noticed what I was doing, and with another sheepish look, he touched his dimly lit globe and the light went out.

"Why didn't - ," I started.

"I just make a brighter light?" he said, head down as he fingered his five-sided pyramid. Eyes meeting mine, he held my gaze. "It's glowing brighter than the sun," he said. "That's all the light that can get through the smut."

I couldn't hold his gaze, and I turned away. "Sorry," I whispered. "I didn't know."

"No worries, lovey," he murmured, his gloves showing the black of ash as he set the pyramid away. "It's a small thing."

"I meant about Pierce trashing the kitchen," I said, not wanting him to think I cared.

His eyebrows were raised. "As did I." Spinning to make his coattails furl, he crossed the cleared floor to an intact cabinet. "We will find Nicholas Gregory Sparagmos most easily by way of his demon mark," he said as he opened the cabinet, reaching into the back of the clutter for a folded bit of paper. "And for that, I need this."

He turned, handing it to me triumphantly. It was a page from a spell book, the charm handwritten and smelling old. There were spots of black on it, and with a start I realized that they weren't drops of ink, but blood. Nick's blood. My thoughts zinged back to his demon mark, and I looked at Al. "This is from the basement library," I said, and he smiled with his flat, blocky teeth. "From the night you tore my throat out, then sold us a trip to the church to save my life."

"Two demon marks in one night, yes. Clever, clever little witch for you to guess! Capital good instincts!" he said, just about bursting. "What bit of bloodied thing do you have of Trenton to find him? Nothing?" he almost drawled. "What a shame. You should rectify that. Give him a bloody nose next time you see him, and save the hanky."

I sighed, wondering what bit of bloodied thing in that cabinet was mine. There had to be about fifty things in there, all from people halfway belonging to Al.

"Now, we have to do this a little backward," Al was saying, pulling me to that ugly face he used as a landing pad and having to kick the tapestry out of the way. My face went cold, and I looked to the other side of the room. I knew it had been over there.

"Wait. Wasn't that over there?" I said, hesitating, but Al yanked me forward, pulling me to stand right next to him.

"Probably," he said, kicking backward at it again. "I can't pop into reality uninvited unless I'm checking on you. I'll get you there, and you summon me. Immediately." His eyes narrowed, and I shoved his tightening grip off my arm. "It's that trust thing you've been whining about," he growled. "I trust you to bring me along."

"And I trust you not to throttle him," I said, and he made a pained face.

"Abso-o-olute-e-e-ly," he said, so slowly I doubted him. "Tap a line, Rachel."

Doubt or not, I tapped the line, feeling the curious ache of using a line this side of reality. My eyes widened when the bit of paper flamed up in Al's white-gloved hands. "You can only do this once?" I asked, amazed as he breathed in the smoke, eyes closing in bliss, but my shock redoubled when I realized the paper wasn't being burned.

"It's not real flame," Al said, then gave me a shove. "Go!"

"Hey!" I shouted in protest, but my lungs compressed and the line took me. With an almost absurd quickness, I popped back into existence in a dark, low-ceilinged room. It was stuffy, with the light coming from a bank of electronic equipment. I could smell stinky socks and what seemed like too much occupation. The walls were painted cinder block, and there was the tang of mold. Flat brown carpet lay over what felt like cement. Metal and wood racks made aisles from floor to ceiling, all holding wooden crates wired shut.

Oh. My. God. Am I in Nick's mother's basement? But then I decided that it was more like one of those bio shelters they made during the Turn with filtered air and bottled water.

"Al, I summon you," I mouthed, and with that tiny bit of invitation, I felt his heavy presence mist into existence beside me. He made a low growl of sound, pleasure and satisfaction. It went right to my middle and burned. I knew what he was feeling, and I cursed myself. It was the thrill of not knowing if he could trust me.

"Are you sure this is the place?" I breathed, feeling small with Al beside me.

Al raised his hand, a steady finger pointing out a rumpled shape sleeping on an old military cot. "Go get him, itchy witch," he breathed in my ear, and the burning sensation in me redoubled. "Let me see you make your first kill."

I knew he was speaking metaphorically, but I couldn't help being reminded of Jenks's wildlife programs of a lioness wounding prey to let her cubs practice bringing it down. My jaw clenched and I shoved the thought away. Nick had lied and tried to scam me in what would have put me in jail after I saved his ass from militant Weres. I didn't owe him anything, not even my respect. It wasn't as if I was going to snatch him.

I crept forward, my sneakers silent on the musty carpet. Nick was snoring. I stopped when he took a deep breath, a frown line showing as his eyes opened, not moving as he stared at the ceiling. "Shit," he breathed, and I realized the reek of burnt amber had given us away.

Pushing myself into motion, I jumped for him, landing on his bed and pinning him there. It would have been a simple matter to throw me off, but he didn't, staring up at me in shock, his brown eyes wide. "Hi, Nic-k," I said, hitting the k hard. "How's it hanging, buddy?"

Hidden by the covers, I felt his hands move, guessing that he was angling for something. "You," he said, his eyes darting behind me to Al.

"Me," I drawled, shifting my weight to stop his motion to his pillow. "That's Al, and you, of course, are the rat." I leaned in, inches from his face. "Isn't this nice, all of us here together? Do me a favor. Don't get up. Just sit there and listen, and maybe I can convince Al not to steal everything in your little rat hole here."

"You bitch!" Nick spat. "You did it again! You brought a demon into my home!"

My face twisted. "Yeah, but this time, I did it on purpose."

I could hear Al humming "Tiptoe Through the Tulips," punctuated by little mmms of discovery as he unearthed who knew what from the crates behind me. I'd seen Nick's apartment. What he had here in his last-ditch hidey-hole was probably priceless.

"How did you find me?" he said, anger creasing his brow.

I pushed his hair back to run a finger over the scar Al had given him. "How do you think? He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake."

From the corner, Al shifted his tune. "So be good, or I'll rip your fucking head off."

Nick sat up, shoving me back to a stand. In his hands was an amulet. Al hissed, but I was way ahead of him, snatching up the clock and swinging it by the cord into Nick's fist.

Swearing, Nick dropped the amulet and I kicked it away. "Don't touch it, Al!" I warned when the demon went for it, and Al stopped, looking at me indignantly, until a demon-size bubble rose from it. If he'd been anywhere nearer, he would've been caught.

"I knew it was a trap, itchy witch," the demon said, but then a flash of white exploded against the inside of the circle. I felt the bubble go down, leaving a white disk of ash where the carpet had burned away. "But I didn't know it was a lethal one," he continued, and I fought the urge to smack the sniveling human.

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