“No,” I said. “I’d like to try dinner. We have reservations, remember?”
We waited for traffic to slide by, then crossed the street to the car. Zayvion walked around to the passenger’s side with me even though the car was still unlocked.
“Hold on,” I said. I took a few steps away and wiped my boots on the patch of grass near the sidewalk before getting in the car. Zayvion shut the door behind me before walking around to the driver’s door. He got in, started the engine, and pulled out into the street.
After we’d driven a while in silence, I finally spoke. “Should we call the police?”
“I already did.”
“Really?” I turned in my seat so I could better see him. “I didn’t think you much liked the police.”
Zayvion shrugged one shoulder. “I have no problem with the law.”
“What did you tell them? A mutant man-dog was on the loose?”
“I told them there was a mess in the alley. Animal cruelty, criminal mischief, and magic. Stotts’ people will deal with it, make sure there are no magical contaminants in the conduits and cisterns. Make sure there aren’t any hot spots.”
“That makes sense,” I said. Hot spots of too much or too little magic disrupted the power grid and caused problems with city services that rely on a steady flow—places like hospitals and penitentiaries.
“So what was that thing?”
He frowned as if trying to decide how much he should say.
I gave him my best I-can-take-it look.
“It’s a problem,” he said.
“I got that part.”
“The stolen disks—the ones Violet and your father were developing so that magic could become portable?” He paused.
“Yes.” I still had my memories about the disks. It was one of the magic-technology integrations inventions Violet had been working on for my father’s company. A portable way to carry magic. And once carried like that, magic had much less price to pay. It would revolutionize how magic was channeled, networked, piped. Like a wireless phone, it would make magic more mobile. There would no longer be dead zones. Magic could be taken where technology could not, and the theory was, great good would be the result.
It would also put magic, literally, into the pockets of any person who wanted it—and let them use it with hardly a price to pay. Unfortunately, it was becoming apparent great bad could be the result of that.
“The disks can be used for changing the boundaries of what magic can do.” At my blank look, he added, “Allie, those disks can make magic break its own laws.”
“That is a problem,” I said. It explained a few things—like how Bonnie the Hound had teleported herself and Cody off Nola’s farm. Not that I remember that happening, but Nola had told me about it. “So, the thing back there?”
“We think it’s a Necromorph—a magic user who has used some kind of magic, blood magic, death magic, to transform their natural state into something . . . dark.”
“Think? I thought you Authority people were good at this secret magic stuff.”
“We are.” He flashed me a half smile. I liked what it did to his eyes. “But we haven’t caught it—him. We don’t know who he is, or who he may be working with. We are certain he has access to the disk technology. If he were Proxying the price to hold his body in such a mutated state, we’d know about it.”
“Why would anyone do that? He didn’t even look human.”
It felt like the temperature in the car fell ten degrees. I mean, sure, I use magic. We all use magic. But this was like something out of a horror movie. Some person was using magic to make himself inhuman. On purpose. And it scared the hell out of me to think about what he could do if he could make magic break its own laws. I rubbed at my arms, trying to dispel the chill.
“Why did he kill the dog?” I asked.
Zayvion drove a little while. The tension in his shoulders, the tightness at the corners of his eyes told me the answer was not pretty.
“Transmutation. He was either trying to use magic and the life force of the dog to change himself, or he was trying to use magic and his own life force to change the dog.”
“I don’t know. Whatever he’s trying to do, he hasn’t been successful yet. We’ve only found his . . . failed attempts.”
“And how long has this been going on?”
“A few months.”
He shrugged again. “Things are on the brink in the Authority. A very dangerous brink. Light and dark magic.” He shook his head. “We’ve been busy.”
“And . . . other things.”
“Don’t tell me there are more things like that on the streets.”
“Okay,” he said.
I thunked my head against the headrest and watched the foggy city go by.
He glanced over at me. “Not exactly the kind of conversation I planned to have tonight. I was leaning toward suave and mysterious.” He said it quietly, with a smile.
I rubbed at my eyes with the fingertips of my gloves, remembered I was on a date and wearing makeup, and placed both hands in my lap. “I’d be on for a change of subject.”
“We’re almost there. Have you ever eaten at the Gargoyle?”
“No. It was made into a restaurant while I was under my dad’s thumb in college. Have you?”
“Been in college or eaten at the Gargoyle?”
“The last thing.”
“I’ve been there.”
“Nothing wrong with waiting tables.”
“Good for spying on people?”
“Do I look like a spy?”
“No. You don’t look like a waiter either. Perfect for a spy.”
“Perfect for a lot of things,” he said.
“Is that the suave or mysterious part?” I asked.
The fog got thicker as we wound our way up the West Hills. Wooded neighborhoods wherein mansions lurked passed by to the left until there, up ahead on the crown of the hill, the flickering lights of the Gargoyle, which was once one of the grandest mansions in Portland, pulsed through the fog.
Sweet hells. Even from this distance, I could feel the massive amounts of magic being drawn upon and used by the restaurant. Those lights glowing up the road ahead of us flickered lavender, midnight blue, then slid to red, copper, and on to plum. Not electric. Not neon. Magic. So much magic that even in the enclosed car, I could smell it—deep, rich notes of vanilla and caramel. My mouth watered, and my stomach rumbled. Whoever set the spells on this place was good. Very good. I was already hungry, and we still had half a mile to go.
Three more blocks and the magic shifted, becoming less sweet, more savory. The scents tempted with salt and spice and thick cream sauces. I shook my head.
“How do they afford that kind of Proxy?” I asked.
“Wait until you’re inside.”
He turned the car down the winding driveway. Waterfalls flowed over stones carved into mythic creatures, some as small as my hand, delicate insects with batlike wings, and wide, scowling features. Some the size of dogs, hunched, muscled beasts with too many teeth to fit in a comforting smile. The creatures grew larger and larger, three feet, six feet, twelve feet tall, Gargoyles carved out of slick marble in blacks, grays, whites, and bloodreds, looming behind and hunched beneath the rushing fall of water.
The gargoyles were strangely lifelike—or maybe not so strangely, considering how much magic was being consumed at this place. Even through the veil of fog, the creatures’ eyes followed us, glittering like precious stones; wide batlike wings stretched, flicked, catching and shifting the flow of the waterfalls to reveal glimpses of faces. Taloned hands reached out; heads swiveled; mouths opened and closed; eyes narrowed, went too wide, blinked. Creatures shuffled, moving in the moonlight as if chained down by one ankle, a slow, swaying dark dance of bodies, of wings.
I could smell the magic on them, dank and earthen, cold as a grave. I could smell their hunger, their fear.
“Cold?” Zayvion asked.
“No. Just . . . those statues. After the alley. Just a little too real.”
“They are meant to look real, but they’re not,” he said. “The stones are chosen for their ability to foster the magic they are infused with.”
“A master Hand carved them. A Savant of art and magic combined. Lead and iron and glass are worked into the stone, carrying, supporting the magic. The glyphs worked in the stone with the lead and glass resonate with the naturally occurring magic pooled beneath the hill like two strings tuned an octave apart. It takes very little magic, and really no spells, to give them that sense of . . . life.”
Looking at the gargoyles, arms stretched upward and faces tipped to a sky they would never reach, made me think they weren’t too happy about being tied to the magic that made them never quite real enough. Not that I thought statues had feelings. I’m not that crazy. But every line and edge of the stone beasts spoke of a captured melancholy. Power denied, hopes quenched.
I wondered if they’d look happier in the sunlight.
We reached the front of the restaurant and Zayvion slowed the car. A valet wearing black and gray from head to foot appeared out of the fog, and opened his door.
“Ready?” Zayvion asked.
“I am if you are,” I said.
My door also opened, another black and gray held his hand down for me, and I took it, even though I didn’t really need any help getting out of the car.
Except my skirt bunched up beneath my long trench when I pivoted in my seat to get out. I got one boot heel on the pavement, and flashed calf, knee, and a hell of a lot of thigh.
The valet, male-model handsome, let just the corner of his mouth rise in appreciation. But when he looked away from my thigh back at me, I gave him a glare that would freeze his keys.
Undeterred, he bowed his head slightly and stepped back, allowing me to move and actually stand.
And right there, behind the valet, stood Zayvion. The man was darkness against stone-gray fog, his gaze burning with a heat that seemed impossible for anyone to contain.
Never looking away from my face, he offered me his hand.
I took it, and the moment we touched, everything else faded. I did not notice the valets, did not hear the car being driven away, did not even hear my own footsteps as we crossed the remaining few feet to the wide, carpeted entrance to the Gargoyle.
The two-story-tall doors, glass, gold, and rare imported hardwoods, opened at our approach. I briefly noted the attendants at the doors, black and gray with a touch of bloodred. And then the magic of the place surrounded and overwhelmed me.
Unlike the heavy scents that wafted to me in the car, the magic here was designed to stimulate every sense.
The dining area was huge, at least three stories high, with a domed ceiling where winged figures wheeled in the ever-shifting lights. I blinked, and the room seemed smaller, intimate, as if the restaurant ended a comfortable few yards ahead of me. We stepped in, and I was suddenly very glad to have a hold on Zayvion’s hand.
Magic pressed like soft hands against my boots, then up my thighs, my hips, my stomach, feathering out at my breasts with just the softest breath across my cheeks. Intimate, but unintentionally so, like a lazy summer breeze following the music that played, low and soft, the rise and fall of sweet strings over the haunting, distant rhythm of drums.
A woman framed by an arch of gold and colored glass smiled and stepped forward.
“Good evening,” she said, in a voice I was sure was either classically trained or had an Enhancement spell that made her sound like the lead alto from a choir of angels. “How may I help you?”
Zayvion, who seemed a lot less dazzled by the overload of magic, said, “Reservations for two. Jones.”
She blinked, and her eyes shifted from green to blue, then settled on a hazel too bright to be natural. Her hair shaded a little darker as she smiled up at him “Our pleasure, Mr. Jones. Ms. Beckstrom. Please, follow me.” When she motioned with her hands for us to follow her, she held herself taller. She was wearing boots a lot like mine.
Illusion, Glamour, Enhancement. Seemed like a hell of a lot of pain to pay for this woman to undergo subtle, and what she must assume were pleasing, transformations for her customers.
We followed the woman, who looked more like me than she had just a minute ago. I watched Zayvion’s body language to see if he noticed. If he did, he didn’t look impressed.
She led us between candlelit booths with subtle Shield spells that obscured the occupants as if a sheer curtain had been pulled. It begged the question: why didn’t they just curtain off the booths? Why make someone pay for the illusion of privacy?
Answer: decadence. This blatant overuse of magic was obscene, unattainable, forbidden. For every spell used, someone was paying the price for it in pain. In the approved penitentiaries, or maybe in the lucrative Proxy pits, where people hired themselves out to bear the pain of others’ magic use. And the only thing the diners had to do to enjoy this magical excess was pay a fortune in money.