I woke in my bed, my entire body aching. This was getting to be a bad habit, waking in bed after nearly dying in battle. But I was pretty sure I was alive.
Audric was stretched beside me, my head on his shoulder. Cradling me, Rupert snored softly, one arm thrown over my waist. A pale sun lighted the loft as dawn brightened the sky. I stretched slowly, trying not to wake them. Rupert rolled over, his back against my thigh. Audric simply opened his eyes and studied me. There were fresh scars across his shoulder and along his neck, scars that matched the claws on the hands of the succubus queen.
’’We survived,’’ I said, my voice wispy. ’’How long was I out this time?’’
He gave me the ghost of a smile. ’’Good thing you got yourself some decent champards. We've guarded you for two days.’’
Over his damaged shoulder, my seraph appeared. Raziel was in human guise, his face emotionless. But his scent flowed across me like a bakery and flowers. Like a sleeping cat, mage-heat stirred within me. His ruby eyes studied me, considering. ’’You charged Minor Flames to do your bidding. You commanded seraphs and the wheels of the cherub. You broke the binding of a Major Darkness, saving the cherub Holy Amethyst. Omega Mage,’’ he said formally, the words spoken in caps, like a title. ’’You are in great danger.’’
’’Of course I am,’’ I said tiredly, rising up on my elbows. ’’What else.’’
Beside me Rupert sat up. The covers fell away and I saw that I was wearing an unfamiliar long-sleeved silk night-gown. Its scooped neck had small, buttoned straps that secured my amulet necklace in place. I took a moment to wonder where it came from before Rupert said to Audric and the seraph, ’’Tell her.’’
Audric sighed and sat up as well, plumping my pillows behind his back. His dark-skinned chest gleamed in the dull light, crisscrossed with new scars. ’’Omega Mages have the power to command seraphs in battle. There have been others. None have survived for long.’’
’’Absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely?’’ I quoted, not liking this at all.
’’They were tempted to use the seraphs of the Most High for their own purposes,’’ Raziel said. ’’They were destroyed. I can save you from such a fate if you desire it.’’ He extended an amulet, a wing-shaped ruby the size of my fist. To humans it would have been priceless. I was afraid of what it meant to a seraph. ’’You accepted merging with me in the river of time to save us. If you accept a binding with me as well, you will be safe. The seraphs you commanded on the Trine will not touch you.’’ I waited, and he went on. ’’They will not destroy you, for you will not be allowed to overstep your bounds.’’
’’You'll be bound like me,’’ Audric said. His voice was carefully toneless, but his eyes held a note of warning. ’’You'll be a slave to the seraph Raziel. As such, the revealer of the rock will have all the power of an Omega Mage.’’
Which would move him up in seraphic hierarchy. Gotcha. ’’And if I refuse?’’ I asked.
’’You will be watched.’’
That didn't sound so bad. Long as I was a good little mage, Big Brother would leave me alone. I thought about my options as the seraph considered me. ’’Before I decide, will you answer a question about my sister Rose?’’
’’Yes,’’ the seraph said, his ruby irises glowing softly.
’’Is she alive?’’
Raziel thought a moment, his face pensive. Slowly he dropped the hand holding the amulet to his side. ’’She is.’’ He added, ’’Rose is yet a captive.’’
Shock whispered through my system at his words. My eyes locked to his, I said carefully, ’’I refuse the offer of binding and protection at this time.’’
He bowed slightly and said, ’’I am yours to call, now and always, as I promised, in life and battle and love.’’ Light flashed and he was gone.
Far south, in the New Orleans Enclave, the priestess Lolo raised her head from her conjuring bowl, eyes alight. With a lifted finger, she broke the circle and stilled the musicians. The drum and flute fell silent. The old, old mage took a breath, filling her lungs with the warm, moist heat of the Louisiana air. ’’Ahhh,’’ she breathed out.
From outside her window, massive wings beat the air, creating sultry eddies. Mage-heat drenched her, her heart fluttering painfully with the surge of want. Pressure, heavier than the weight of decades, constricted her chest. Outside, excited voices raced nearer, but they would not enter without her permission.
Gasping, breathless, suddenly too weak to rise, she watched the doorway as shadows shifted. Her left arm too heavy to lift, she raised her right fingers, holding a branch of lilacs.
Silver hair caught the sunrise as the seraph entered the room and knelt at her side. One hand stroking her forehead, his wings draped over her and to either side for privacy. ’’My love,’’ he said. ’’She came. She freed me.’’
Lolo's eyes widened. Her breath caught. ’’No,’’ she whispered. She clutched her throat, the lilac falling away.
’’Yes,’’ he said, and stood, his smile revealing small, pointed fangs. As the morning sun came through the window, his eyes glowed red.