DRAFT SCENE SEVENTEEN
Eddy did indeed know where the Mystic Highrise building was. At six feet seven and 255 pounds of solid muscle, he had just gotten off work and was rushing home so he could meet his girlfriend in time for their date later that evening.
In less than fifteen minutes, Eddy offered Sean his dress shirt, wrote down directions to Mystic Highrise, and even spelled up a charm to keep the gargoyles from hassling him. Sean was stunned and more than a little cowed to have thought the worst of the man by appearance alone. He was intimidating, certainly. The muscles bulging from every angle were just as overwhelming as the strange tentacle hair and colorless eyes with double pupils. But the more Sean spoke with Eddy, the more he realized how foolish it was to be afraid of him. He was normal. Terribly normal. In a lot of ways, his weirdness was part of how normal he truly was.
Eddy stared at numbers all day and let the computer do the calculations while he dreamed of a future where he could do his job out in fresh air. He was lucky enough to work in an office with magic buffering over in Noct district. His power wasn’t strong enough to send unbuffered tech into a shower of sparks and melted metal but he could warp a television worse than a magnet on an old CRT TV if he was feeling emotional enough. Which was why he worked out a lot; to help him find positive channels for his energy. Eddy was also a bit of a gym rat and a nerd when it came to scrabble.
Sean left Eddy with a grin on his face and the promise if he survived the night, he’d return his shirt and buy him a beer. He felt nearly himself as he stepped down the streets which only grew more sparse of occupants once he stepped into Noct District. The shirt was a little large but when tucked in, he no longer looked like he just escaped a psych ward or was about to go rescue maidens from monsters. Even if that was his goal. Magnolia verse a dragon hadn’t turned out the way he would have assumed the powerful witch would deal with things. It would likely be far worse when he showed up without her wand.
He tried not to think of Soot, not the handsome human, the fluff of a cat, or the demonic version. Every time Sean’s mind slipped, he felt his chest clench and then anger swiftly rise. The bastard. The freaking bastard.
Really, how dare he do this? How dare he come in here and heal him and be adorable and sexy and the strangest, most fascinating and utterly silent person he’d ever met? How dare he hurt him like that? Like none of it meant anything? Like his heart wasn’t breaking?
Damn it, what had he done to fuck it all up?
The city landscape went by in a suspiciously damp blur as Sean failed not to think about the damn little sootball. He hated cats, he hated men, and a combination of both was the epitome of cruelty. It wasn’t until he was a building away from the towering, corporate, gargoyle laden Mystic Highrise that Sean could pull from his emotions enough to realize where he was. That was also when he noticed the sky.
It was dark. Holy shit, it was nearly night.
Sean hunched forward and tried to pull what little warmth he could from the over-sized dress shirt Eddy loaned him as he hurried forward across the concrete expanse of manicured bushes and brick formations. There was a giant fountain in the circular courtyard in front of the building and in the dim light it was easy to make out the magical display. Shapes of elegant people formed from water danced atop the pool surface, spiraling and twining as mystical lights shimmered and bounced off in dazzling reflection. Sean’s feet paused and he couldn’t help but stare a moment. It was beautiful. The dancers would twist and morph in and out of reality before his eyes, and soon his stomach was churning just as awkwardly.
He should have eaten. He should have grabbed the wand from Soot before he ran off. Fuck, he should have just left the second Magnolia offered him that job.
He was going to die. This was going to kill him.
Sean forced his feet to move past the fountain and he walked stiff-legged up the many wide stairs that led to the front entrance of the building. He furtively watched the gargoyles hanging on the side of the tall building as he hurried along. They twisted and breathed, not as wildly as the dancing fountain, but certain enough to remind him they were alive and capable of violence. Most were shaped like exotic serpentine dragons, tongues and tails constantly undulating but never knotting.
He flinched as he approached the four sets of gold trimmed glass doors and the closest gargoyle’s claws bit into the top of the door frame where it was clutching for purchase. Sean gripped the charm hanging from his neck and held it up even as he refused to meet the gargoyles dead eyes. The magic must have been enough because the gargoyle didn’t move otherwise besides the warning slash of its tail as Sean paused beneath it.
The glass of the door was tinted black but he could make out the interior a little to get the impression of an open space lined in tile. Sean shivered as he glanced up to a shower of granite from deadly talons. He couldn’t help but imagine those deadly claws tearing into his back. He was certain if he actually tried to step inside, the gargoyle would pounce in a heartbeat.
It was already dark, or damn near so. Magnolia was probably dead. Why was he doing this? Was it worth his life?
Damn it, he really didn’t want to die.
With a quick breath for courage, Sean snatched the door handle, pulled, and scurried into the building. He exhaled heavily when the door shut behind him and he remained still alive.
Crazy, this was crazy. Somewhere in the building was a dragon and the witch who controlled it. He was going to die.
Sean looked up and turned his head as he tried to get his bearings. It was like the majority of office buildings he’d been into, except this one felt more like the lobby of an expensive hotel. The floor was made of black, shiny tile with gold grout. There was a bank of golden elevators to the left and a reception desk surrounded by elegant, black and purple roses. Sean bit his lip when he saw the three receptionists at said desk. It would be impossible to get past them without being seen. Not that he knew wherever the fuck he was going. Without Jamie to call, he was absolutely out of his depths.
His steps echoed uncomfortably loud as he stepped toward the desk. He needed a plan. He needed a brilliant lie. His brain remained blank. The harder he tried to think of something the more his brain refused to work.
He was shit under stress. This always happened to him. He was dressed like some vagabond, covered in wounds and dirt, and was going to get thrown out by security. That or shot. Spelled? Witch security probably spelled—it probably hurt more too.
Dear fuck, what the hell was he going to do? If he couldn’t save Magnolia, he was screwed. No rent money, no apartment, no business, no boyfriend—damn it, Soot, why? Why did he bail on him like that? How could…?
“Can I help you?”
“Uh… what?” Sean started and blinked rapidly. At some point he had walked up to the receptionist desk. The scent of roses was a noxious perfume to his nervous senses as his eyes fixed on a young, impeccably groomed man behind the desk. His age might have set him 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 receptionist’s expression soured to impatience the longer he 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.”
“Uh, I’m Sean Slater,” he finally managed to blurt out. 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; 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, hell, would it be his body?
“And what do you do, Sean Slater?” The receptionist sighed when he stared back blankly. “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 death. “IT.” Sean coughed awkwardly, his voice a rasp of nerves. “I’m with IT.”
“Oh.” The young man blinked and raised his hand to touch a finger to the headset attached to his ear. He fixed sharp eyes on Sean as he listened to whoever was talking on the other end. Sean’s mind raced uselessly as he tried to think of something to follow up with. I’m here to save Magnolia seemed a little too on the nose. He wasn’t sure who was the enemy 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, a young woman and one who was clearly a witch, to see if they were already calling for backup to capture him. His pulse slowed a little when he saw they weren’t paying him any attention, but 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. The receptionist moved briskly to the set of elevators. When he stopped, he pulled a key from his pocket and inserted it a slot above the elevator buttons.
“She’s in a foul mood, so don’t get too chatty. The tech has been iffy all day and no one can get a signal in the building. It’s thrown off schedule of everything.” Dark eyes pierced Sean’s, accusing as if he first destroyed all their tech just to come in and fix it now. 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 he 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.
Sean grabbed the elevator wall before he could slam his nose into it and whirled, his eyes wide. The condescending look of the receptionist didn’t alleviate his fears of having just entered the gaudiest coffin ever. He 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 before the doors could close.
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. “I’m new?”
“Of course you are. Fucking cowards.” He continued 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?” 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 because you want to blather. Go. Now.” He released the elevator door. Sean lunged to stop the door from closing and ask if he was being sent to see Divia, but he was too slow. The elevator lurched and he grabbed the wall as he began to ascend. His stomach twisted in sympathy.
Crap. Crap, he was so screwed.