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Black Magic Sanction

Black Magic Sanction: Page 95

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Once I felt the hardness of ground under me and smelled earth, and then nothing until I realized I wasn't moving anymore, and I woke up.

It was quiet. It had been for a while, I realized, feeling a pleasant warmth flowing through me. That was wrong. I'd been suffering from hypothermia. I should be shivering, and I wasn't. There was the strong scent of river, wet leather, and... redwood. My eyes opened.

I was lying on my side on a dirt floor with a dirt wall rising before me within arm's reach, going only four feet before turning into a dirt ceiling. A small globe of green-tinted light rested in a wooden lanternlike affair in the corner at my feet. It looked old and dusty. There was a scratchy wool blanket over me - and a masculine arm.


My pulse quickened, but I didn't move. Pierce spooning behind me would explain why my backside was so warm. I'd not felt the comforting heat of a real body next to me since Marshal, and I missed it. Careful to not move my head, I looked at his arm, seeing it through his thin white shirt. It was a nice arm, settled perfectly at my waist so it wasn't squishing me. His soft breathing told me he was still asleep. Why he was spooned up against me was obvious. The cold of the river had nearly brought me down, and there was no other way to warm me. This must be his hole in the ground. I hadn't thought it would be a real hole. Safe?

I didn't move, wanting to pretend that I had a right to enjoy the sensation of having another person this close, the comfort of just being together, the trust. I was deliciously warm, almost as if I was in a ley line, and I couldn't help my sigh.

"For land's sake!" Pierce exclaimed, pulling up and away from me. "You're awake!"

The warmth cut off, and I felt the energies in my body jump, feeling the lack of what had been a ley line running through me. There was a scrabbling of noise, and my back went cold as Pierce's light flashed an alarmed brightness. I sat up, grabbing the blanket and skittering to the other side of the small underground room to stare at Pierce in the green light.

That had been a line! Had he been pulling a line through me? While I was unconscious? Not a power pull since my chi was empty, but something else? Who did he think he was?

Pierce sat with his head a foot below the ceiling, his back to the opposite wall, one leg bent on the earth, the other propped up. He was fully clothed, but wearing almost nothing - his coat and clothes were hanging on pegs hammered into the wall with a puddle of mud under them. A white shirt and matching trousers covered almost all of his skin, but I could see the outline of his body well enough.

"I'm sorry," he said, his expression alarmed and his eyes wide. "I didn't take advantage of you. Rachel, you were cold. I was trying to warm you up. It wasn't a power pull."

"You were pulling a line through me!" I said, angry. "I was freaking unconscious! What in hell is wrong with you!" Sure, I'd been dying of cold, but I didn't even know what he'd been doing. It sounded close to what a witch did with a familiar.

Pierce looked at the ceiling. Now that the light was brighter, I could see it was of wood so old that roots were coming through it. "It wasn't a power pull. Lower your voice."

"I will not!" I shouted, starting to shiver. "I'm not your freaking familiar! Pull a line through me again, and I'm going to... sue you!"

His lips tightened, and he frowned. When he shifted as if to come closer, I flung out a hand in warning and he rocked back. "You have a right to be in a fine pucker, but I'd sooner die than impugn your honor.
I didn't pull a line through you, I simply included you in my communion with one. I'd never seen anyone in all my born days as cold as you, and it was to warm you. It was a mistake to take you into the water. I didn't know you were susceptible to cold. And lower your voice. There are dogs in the woods."

At his last words, my attention slammed to the ceiling. Fear plinked through me, stealing my breath as the memory of Trent's hounds tracking me hit a deep chord and resonated. Dogs. There were dogs in the woods. The same ones who had tasted my scent. The same who had run me through Trent's beautiful, silent, and deadly woods.

In a heartbeat, the memory hit me of being unable to breathe because my lungs hurt so badly, my legs leaden and scratched, the water I'd splashed through making me slow, and the mud mixing with my tears as my breath rasped. I had never been hunted like that, chased by an animal who single-mindedly thirsted for my death, eager to tear my flesh and take joy in burying its nose in my warm insides. And now I was in a hole in the ground, helpless.

My God. I had to get out of here!

"Rachel, you're all right," Pierce whispered, inching awkwardly across the dirt floor to me, his heels in the air and toes shuffling. "Please, you're safe. Be still. There's a hole for air, and enough to breathe. The walls are firm."

Images of being pulled from the ground and ripped apart mixed with the reality of having been chased before. "I have to go." I lifted a hand and felt the ceiling, bits of it falling on me. I had to run!

"Rachel, be still!"

Frantic, I stood, crouching, putting my back and shoulders against the ceiling to push. I had run before. I had run and survived. I had to run now!

Pierce shifted forward, and I grunted, head thunking the wall when he was suddenly on top of me. "Let me go!" I shouted in panic. He didn't understand. He didn't know! I tried to shove him away, but he caught my hand. His grip was tight, and I went to kick him.

Wise to it, he dodged, pinning me to the wall with his weight. My air huffed out, and I wiggled, trapped. "Let me go!" I said, and he covered my mouth with a hand smelling of dirt.

"Shut pan," he hissed, his body covering mine. "I know you're scared, but you're safe from all creation. They'll be gone like greased lightning if you would just be still! Couldn't you have stayed asleep but a hooter more?

A horn sounded, faint. Panic jerked my eyes to the ceiling. They were above us? Right now? Again the horn came. And dogs. Baying for my blood.

Fear hit hard, and I struggled. He pulled me into him, his arms

wrapped around my body, his legs around my waist, and his hand over my mouth as I fought. I was crying, damn it, but he didn't understand. Dogs never gave up; they never quit. They sang for your blood as you ran, heart pounding and lungs burning, until they clawed you down and tore you apart and your screams mixed with their snarls for your blood. I had to get out of this hole. I had to run!

"Go to sleep, baby, Mama will sing. Of blue butterflies, and dragonfly wings," Pierce sang in a whisper, his lips by my ear, and his hand clamped over my mouth, hurting me. I fought, and he squeezed me harder.

"Moonlight and sunbeams, raiments so fine. Silver and gold, for baby of mine."

He was rocking me, his hand hurting, and his arms too tight. My sobbing breath came in through my nose, and I began to shake. He wouldn't let me go. I couldn't run. I was going to die. I was going to die right here, and it would be hisfaultl

"Sing with me, Rachel," he whispered, eyes on the ceiling. "Go to sleep, baby. Sister will tell, of wolves and of lambs, and demons who fell."

I didn't know the words, but the tune plucked a faint memory. Sing. Why do they always sing lullabies? Stupid asses.

A thumping cadence came right overhead, and my eyes shot to the ceiling. Terror filled me, and I whimpered behind Pierce's hand, pressing into him.

Pierce's singing cut off. "Sweet mother of Jesus, protect us," he whispered.

My heart pounded so hard I thought it would kill me outright. A dog bayed, muffled but clearly right over us. I jerked, Pierce's grip tightening even more. I started to shake, my eyes clamped shut as I remembered the crashing of branches and the sound when the horses and dogs grew close as I had tried to escape. I couldn't outrun them, but the horror of being torn apart alive had pushed me through the brambles and across swales of thorns. I trembled in Pierce's arms. We should have run. Tears leaked out. I couldn't breathe. Oh God, we should have run.

A horn blew more distantly, and the dogs answered. My eyes flashed open at the soft patter of dirt falling on my face in time with the thumping of horses' hooves. And with a rapid cadence... they were gone.

My gasping breath came in around his fingers, wet with my tears. Pierce's arms wrapped around me eased. He didn't let go, shaking himself as his fingers fell from my mouth and I took a clean breath of air, almost a sob.

"I opine that was as near to death as I'll get afore I make a die of it again," he said softly.

They were gone? I sat there, not believing it. I shouldn't be here. There had been dogs, dogs tracking me. I had survived?

Breath fast, I looked at the wall, not understanding as reason started to trickle back.

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