The world was dark, a clouded, cold, empty place. I stood in a meadow, a glen, my dobok whole, my hair free and blowing in a chill wind, my cloak tied around my shoulders, my amulets throbbing with power. My blades, the longsword and the kris, were crossed before me, steel on steel. I was scarred, my face disfigured with a tracery of glowing white, stark, yet beautiful.
’’Help me, little mage’’ a voice belled. But the sound fell away. Holy Amethyst's voice, caught once again by the heart of the mountain that trapped her.
Malashe-el stood before me, smiling, older, darker than it - he? - had seemed once. Its hair whipped back in an unseen wind, free of its braid, flying and tangled and lustrous.
’’You survived. You will be called,’’ Malashe-el said, its voice a lower tone, abrasive and coarse. ’’You are desired. You will not refuse. I have your blood.’’ Turning, it raced away toward the night.
I have your blood.
In the vision, feathers and down brushed along my sides, down my legs. A hand cupped my head and lifted my lips for a kiss. Raziel peered through his wings and smiled at me. And I have your heart.
* * * * *
Three days later, I woke. I eased up on my elbows and looked around. No cell. No hot pincers. My loft was as neat as a pin, clean, windows sparkling. Outside, a snowstorm howled, but inside, gas logs whispered and fans circulated warm air overhead. Scented candles burned, flickering in glass votives.
I had been bathed, shampooed, slathered with sage-scented unguents. Despite a strange, hollow ache though my torso, and an empty stomach that growled its displeasure, I felt... pretty good... nearly ducky.
I had survived. On a mountain, at night, in a battle with the AAS and Darkness. And... wheels. Amethyst's wheels. And a burning river. But the river seemed to slide away, hard to hold on to, impossible to recall with any detail. Stranger and stranger.
I inspected my hand. I expected to see a stump. Instead, four fingertips and a thumb, red and delicate with new skin, peeked from a gauze dressing. I flexed the hand. It hurt, but not like I expected. My fingers moved, bones and tendons contracting painfully. Seraph healing here, combined with mage-conjure.
Mage-conjure... Like the links of a chain. Mole Man's chain. And the Mistress, injured, in pain, still trapped below-ground. I tried to hold on to them, but the thoughts slid away. I flexed my hand again.
Above the scent of candles I caught a whiff of something sweet. Vanilla and caramel, brown sugar and just a hit of ginger. Kylen. My belly did a little dip and curl. The susurration of cloth on cloth drew my eyes to the rocker. Thadd sat slouched in it, his hands draped over the carved lion-claw arms, legs outstretched, his head rocked back, mouth slightly open. He breathed slowly and steadily, the sound not quite a snore. A bruise colored his cheek, and both eyes were black fading to green. His knuckles were scabbed over. I wanted to reach out and touch him, but he looked so tired. I dropped my head back to the pillows, hearing a soft clink.
Around my neck hung my amulets. I had muzzy memories of seeing them each time I woke. On the steel chain were new talismans. I picked them up, letting them dangle. A half-melted silver and gold crucifix, a burned wooden cross, a second cross so disfigured I didn't recognize it.
An additional amulet hung with them, touching the mended prime - a four-inch ring of watermelon tourmaline. Surprised, I lifted the ring and studied it. ’’Seraph stones,’’ I whispered. It was a sigil, a carved and shaped article of intent. On its surface were runes and characters that flamed like torches and ran like water. The flames were characters of a once-dead language, saying three numbers and one word. 106 ADONAI.
The angel of punishment had ordered me to wait for him.
Almost afraid to look, I lifted my left wrist. On it was a solid copper and gold bracelet, one too small to slide off over my healing hand. It too was inscribed with 106 ADONAI.
Glory and infamy.
106 ADONAI, carved into a stone of promise, and a metal band of bondage. They were the sigils and GPS locator device of a licensed witchy-woman. I had been given one year.