Was he growing horns? Motherfuck, he might be growing horns.
Sean gingerly touched the throbbing flesh of his forehead while he tried to keep from swaying. The fever of yesterday had returned in full force. Wandering through the freezing cold city while lost in Noct District wasn’t helping anything. He finally found Mystic Highrise, but Sean couldn’t bring himself to actually approach the building.
Sean groaned as his forehead pulsed painfully. He was either having the world’s worst headache, or he was growing horns. Fuck, he didn’t want to be here.
He was at what he hoped was a safe distance, ducked behind the fountain in the courtyard. Sean stared up at the dark, towering building, and if ever a building could stare back, Mystic Highrise did. The skyscraper was huge. It was taller than any other building in the area and had Gothic flourishes hidden among the gargoyles that perched on its ledges. The numerous windows were tinted black, and their mirror smooth surface reflected the red and purple sky that was growing darker as each second ticked by.
It was sunset and a quiet, rather brilliant voice inside Sean whispered he should wait a little longer. If Magnolia were dead, she wouldn’t need rescuing. If she died, he wouldn’t need to go running into a building full of terrible witches and their pet dragons to save her. It would make everything so much easier.
Unfortunately, Sean made a habit of ignoring the brilliant, if not dickishly selfish voice inside him. He leaned down and dipped his hands into the fountain and took another pass at his face with the chilling water. Eddy, the guy from the alley, had been kind enough to lend Sean his shirt for as long as he might be alive to need it. It was so generous during a time he expected the worst of people, Sean was still reeling from it. It almost relieved the awkwardness of being caught painfully hard in an alley while streaked in blood. Almost.
Eddy might have thought he had a shot at him. Fuck, if his tentacles were really tentacles, he just might. Even with Eddy’s weird hair, intimidating height, and double-pupil eyes, Sean couldn’t help but check the guy out. He was hot, and built, and clearly up for sex. His hair was too short, but if those tentacles could do even half the things Soot’s tails did…
Sean stifled a groan and threw more water on his face. It had to be the demon blood. Sean hadn’t felt right since Soot fed him his blood. He was so horny, and the world kept slipping by like maybe he was drugged out his mind.
The shirt was nice, at least, if not a bit too big. It was a stylish gray button down with a few burgundy diagonal stripes that cut across his chest and shoulder. It had readily come off of Eddy after Sean explained how his demon of a boyfriend ditched him in an alley over some stupid argument. For some reason, learning Sean was dating a demon had been interesting to Eddy. Apparently paranormals thought the humans who dated demons was a thing. Like to date a demon was the wildest kink of the underworld, and anyone who did meant they were up for anything.
Sean had to admit, the preconception might not be wrong. After everything he’d been through with Soot, he’d been craving some weird sex. Tentacle level weird.
Sean made sure his skin was clean of blood before combing fingers through his hair to pull the messy locks from his face. The shirt wasn’t exactly warm, but his fever seemed to be helping him not care. What really mattered was he looked presentable enough to get into that building. He needed to look normal, like a professional and not a desperate slob off the street looking to save a witch so he could get his life back.
He didn’t feel normal. His heart was pounding in his ears like a drum. He wanted to blame it on fear, on the very obvious likelihood this was going to get him killed. Fuck, it seriously was. He was totally going to die trying to get into that building. Still, it wasn’t enough to send Sean running in the opposite direction. It wasn’t enough to stop him from feeling like he was one more chilling breeze away from running into the wilderness and never coming back.
Soot. He needed to find Soot. The fucker did something to him and it was only getting worse.
Sean slumped forward with hands braced on the fountain’s edge as another wave of heat him. His gums pulsed around his new fangs. His throat was unbearably dry no matter how much he drank, and his muscles were tight and straining in a way that made him feel puffy and feverish. Crazy. He felt crazy, and pissed off, and so freaking horny. The bastard left him hard and aching in an alley with no relief. Worse, he didn’t come back. Sean was lucky he hadn’t fucked Eddy. Shit, he wanted to fuck Eddy. The guy had a gorgeous, hard body. And those tentacles in his hair… It would have been hot. Freaky sexy. Sean was pretty sure anything would be hot if he could just get off already and feel some relief, which Soot would have realized if he stayed. But no, Soot just up and vanished.
And over what, exactly? He just said TJ’s name, the fucking emo dumbass. It wasn’t like he even had a chance with TJ. It wasn’t like it was ever going to be anything more than his pathetic crush. It wasn’t a reason to run off. It wasn’t a reason to… Fuck, TJ was hot. Like begging for dick, on his knees hot.
Sean groaned. Fuck, what did that damn demon do to him? He was aching all over, and now he was bombarded with images of fucking TJ. They were dirtier than Sean’s normal fantasies. Crueler and dominating. He wanted to do so much to TJ and the hunger burning in him was only transforming his unrequited feelings into something dark and twisted. Oh, but it was a sexy twisted.
The fountain danced before him as water flitted human shapes that twirled and spun in a cascade of magic fueled movement. Sean’s stomach churned warningly and he hunched and closed his eyes until the world stopped rocking.
Sean wasn’t sure how he was going to find Soot, but when he did, he was going to beat the fuck out of him. Soot didn’t just ruin his stuff, no, he destroyed his body and his brain. He changed his DNA. He stripped his humanity away like it wasn’t his to begin with. Not okay. Seriously, not okay. Yes, Sean might have some issues with relationships but he could honestly say he’d never stolen someone’s humanity away before.
The sun was a mere glow on the horizon behind the wall of skyscrapers. It would be nothing to just wait it out a little longer. Sean glared at his glossy reflection in the water, unable to ignore the strange sharpness to his pupils he could see far too clearly while during twilight and without his glasses. If he let Magnolia die—pain in the ass that she was—he’d never get back to normal. Either she had a spell to reverse what happened, or she’d help him track Soot down. There was no way Sean would be able to find the demon if he left the planet and returned to whatever pit in hell he crawled out of. No, he had to do this.
Damn it, he never should have left his apartment. It was like his subconscious fucking knew the moment he went outside, his life would turn to shit. Damn that cat.
Sean walked stiff-legged from the shelter of the fountain and moved across the concrete courtyard. The wide stairs led up to a disconcertingly symmetrical front entrance where flowering bushes, statues, and even the grass all mirrored itself too perfectly. Sean’s eyes darted as he furtively watched the gargoyles who were hanging on the side of the towering building. They twisted and breathed, clearly spelled to ensure no one was confused the stone guardians were indeed alive and dangerous. Most of the gargoyles were shaped like exotic serpentine dragons with tongues and tails that constantly undulated but never tangled. A few hulked, brutish gargoyles lurked at the top of the building, their shapes just barely made out in the fading light. Their dark presence was a weight waiting to fall, crush and maim whoever dared to come too close.
Dead birds littered the pavement at the base of the building, proof of the gargoyles indiscriminate protection. It was hard to stare at the lifeless bodies and not imagine being among the dead. Even wings didn’t allow those broken bird the power to escape the magic of this cruel, oppressive place. What little hope did he have?
Sean stopped his cautious steps before the four sets of gold-trimmed glass doors. A gargoyle crouched above the entrance, and gravel sprinkled down as it slashed razor sharp claws into the stone for purchase. Eddy promised that just having held a witch’s wand that day would be enough to get past the magical guardians. It sounded possible at the time. Sean’s back pocket still vibrated like he might be slightly radioactive from holding Magnolia’s wand for so long. Now though, while staring at a creature with fangs longer than his fingers and far sharper, Sean wasn’t so sure. For all he knew, Eddy thought a nerd being eaten alive by a swarm of gargoyles was the funniest joke ever.
This was such a bad idea. He had no plan, no clue. Sean fidgeted nervously and looked back the way he came. Well, fuck, what was he really going to do? Like he could go back to his trashed apartment, grab what scraps were left of his life, and move in with TJ? Yeah, that wasn’t fucking happening.
He was so screwed. Fucking cats. Fucking men. The combination of both in one beautiful, chaotic demon was the epitome of monstrous. Damn, he hated all these feelings. Once again his heart fucked him.
Sean squared his shoulders and turned to meet the gargoyle’s suspicious, empty eyes. “Hey, I gotta get into that building. I have an appointment with a witch.” Or whatever. It was the damn help, after all, if even that. The gargoyles were more like over-sized guard dogs, really. He wasn’t even sure the spelled creatures had the brains to understand language.
No response came from the stone dragon, and Sean shrugged and reached for the nearest door handle. A mistake, he quickly realized. A hiss cut through the air, and Sean gasped as something cold and heavy coiled around his shoulders. He froze, and all the breath rushed out of him at once as he felt the deadly power contained in the tail. His mind raced valiantly as he tried to think of a proper lie to keep him from being pulled up into those deadly jaws and crushed.
Sean yelped as he was propelled sideways without further explanation. He caught himself on the tinted glass and blinked up. The gargoyle had already turned away dismissively and its tail flicked back and forth in sweeping arcs. Sean came back to himself, snatched the door handle, pulled, and scurried inside the building. He exhaled heavily when the door shut behind him and he remained alive and not remotely maimed.
Crazy. This was utterly crazy. Just what the fuck was he planning on doing?
Sean pushed off the door and looked around as he tried to get his bearings. Mystic Highrise was like the majority of office buildings he’d been in, except this felt more like the lobby of an expensive hotel than a place of business. The floor was made of black, glossy tile with glittery gold grout. There was a bank of golden elevators to the left behind a reception desk surrounded by huge vases of elegant black and purple roses. Sean bit his lip and stilled when he noticed the three receptionists across the room standing at the desk.
It would be impossible to slip past them without being seen. Not that he knew wherever the fuck he needed to go. Without Jamie to call, he was absolutely out of his depths.
There was no point turning back now, right? Well, not unless he wanted to jump back outside with those giant stone monsters and see if they thought he still smelled like magic. Crap.
Sean’s footsteps echoed uncomfortably loud in the large entry hall as he slowly crossed to the desk. He needed a plan, some sort of brilliant lie, but his mind kept drawing a blank. He needed to find a way to get to Magnolia and… and what? He had no wand or way to contact Jamie. He wasn’t even sure what was going to happen to the witch. Did draining magic actually kill a person? Was it like stealing blood?
Sean readily admitted he was terrible under stress. This always happened to him. He didn’t test well, and all his arguments turned into huge freakouts because he could never keep his shit together. And really, why should he expect this to go any better? He was dressed like a vagabond while in the middle of professional luxury. He was covered in wounds, dirt and blood, and he was totally going to be thrown out by security. That, or shot… spelled? Witch security probably spelled. It probably even more. So he was going to be spelled and kicked out on his ass, and while he was being eaten alive by those gruesome gargoyles, Magnolia would be drained. Game over. No respawn. No do over. The End.
“Can I help you?”
“Uh, what?” Sean started and blinked rapidly. At some point he must have made it to the receptionist desk. The scent of roses was a noxious perfume as his eyes fixed on a twenty-something, impeccably groomed man behind the desk. Fuck, he was so under-dressed for this place. Jeans were not the right choice for saving a witch from Mystic Highrise. The receptionist’s young age might have set Sean at ease, except he was standing stiff as a board while wearing a suit. There was a headset attached to his ear and Sean had a moment to wonder if security would be called as the guy’s expression soured to impatient the longer Sean floundered for words. His critical stare of Sean’s state of being wasn’t helping.
“State your business,” the receptionist snapped impatiently. “Hurry up, now.”
The guy was hot. Like, if he didn’t have a stick up his ass and look like he wanted to hit him… Hell, Sean wasn’t feeling picky at the moment. The guy was hot enough even if he didn’t have weird tentacles or a tail or five.
“Uh, I’m Sean Slater,” he finally managed to blurt out around his messed up thoughts. Sean’s eyes widened immediately after, and he clicked his mouth shut. He hadn’t wanted to tell anyone that. He was there to rescue Magnolia, and giving his name was totally going to put him in danger if the police became involved.
Would the police be involved? There was a dragon. The police should be involved, but then, hadn’t Jamie said something about a body needing to be found first?
Oh shit, would it be his body?
“And what do you do, Sean Slater?” The receptionist sighed when Sean stared back blankly with panic clear in his green eyes. “State your business. Are you looking for a mage, a sage, a necromancer? What do you want?” he practically growled. “You do have an appointment, correct?”
Death. This was totally going to lead to his death. “IT.” Sean coughed awkwardly, his voice a rasp of nerves. “I’m with IT.”
“Oh.” The receptionist blinked pale eyes and raised his hand to touch a finger to the headset hooked to his ear. He fixed his sharp gaze on Sean as he listened to whoever was talking on the other end.
Sean’s mind raced as he tried to think of something to follow up with. Being there to save Magnolia seemed a little too on the nose. He needed to speak to Divia? He wasn’t sure who the enemy was just yet. If he gave away…
“Mr. Slater, we’ve been expecting you.”
“What?” Sean took an involuntary step back. He looked to the other two employees, a woman and an even younger man who was glowing with magic, to see if they were already calling for backup to capture him. Sean’s pulse calmed a little when he saw they weren’t paying him any attention but instead staring at screens as they typed away.
“We’ve been waiting on IT for over two hours now. Becky, ring her up.” The receptionist’s voice turned clipped as he addressed his colleague and moved out from behind the desk. “With me, Mr. Slater. Hurry up. Time is of the essence. It does not do to keep her waiting.”
“Her?” Sean parroted as he got his wobbly knees to work enough to follow after. He wasn’t fully sure his brain was working as it should. Everything was too hot, and his headache was much worse when he moved.
The receptionist stepped briskly to the set of elevators, and Sean did his best not to stare at the guy’s ass. He was losing his mind. He was certain he was facing death at every turn, but that fear had no power over Sean’s dick.
“She’s in a foul mood, so don’t get too chatty.” The receptionist stopped and pulled a key from his pocket, which he inserted it a slot above the elevator buttons. “The tech has been iffy all day, and no one can get a signal in the building. It’s thrown off schedule of everything.” Pale eyes pierced accusingly, as if Sean first destroyed all their tech just to come in and fix it. Sean would have taken it personally, but it was not the first time he’d gotten such looks. People got really pissed when they couldn’t get Internet.
The elevator chimed open, and Sean stared into the small, golden room. “Uh.”
“She’s expecting you.” The receptionist glared when Sean refused to move. “It took you two hours to get here. The least you can do is actually get the job done,” he muttered under his breath as he shoved Sean by the shoulder and pushed him into the elevator.
Sean grabbed the elevator wall before he could slam his nose into it, and whirled with eyes wide. The condescending look on the receptionist face didn’t alleviate his fears of having just entered the gaudiest coffin ever. Sean watched as the young man reached in and pushed a button and withdrew his hand. The doors began to close, and Sean fought a whimper.
“Wait. Where am I going?” he asked desperately.
The hand returned as did the scathing glare of the receptionist as he held the elevator open. “Are you insane or just stupid?”
“Uh…” Sean wasn’t sure how he wanted to answer such a question. He was feeling pretty damn crazy at the moment. “I’m new?”
“Of course you are. Fucking cowards.” The receptionist moved on before Sean could ask what he meant. “Mr. Slater, the union will protect you from being killed by someone like me. It doesn’t mean Divia will put up with any nonsense. Do your job and get out.”
“Divia?” Oh, fuck. Sean bit his lip. “Do you mean…?”
“There is only one Divia, and I have no interest in being at the wand end of her bitch rant just because you want to blather. Go. Now.” He released the elevator door. Sean lunged to stop it from closing but was too slow. The elevator lurched, and he grabbed the wall as it began to ascend.
Crap. Crap, he was so screwed.