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"Let's see, where did I ... ah yes!" Miss Sophia reached below the altar and returned with a thick length of rope. "Don't wiggle, now," she said, waving the knife in Luce's direction. Then she set about securing Luce to four holes drilled into the altar's surface. First each ankle, then each wrist. Luce tried not to writhe as she was tied down like some sort of sacrifice. "Perfect," Miss Sophia said, giving her intricate knots a firm tug.

"You planned all this," Luce realized, aghast.

Miss Sophia grinned as sweetly as she had the very first day Luce had stumbled into the library. "I would say it's nothing personal, Lucinda, but actually, it is," she cackled. "I've been waiting a long time for this moment alone with you."

"Why?" Luce asked. "What do you want from me?"

"You, I just want eliminated," Miss Sophia said. "It's Daniel I want freed up."

She left Luce on the altar and moved to a lectern near Luce's feet. She hoisted the Grigori book onto the lectern and began rapidly flipping through the pages. Luce thought back to the moment she'd opened it and seen her face next to Daniel's for the first time. How it had finally hit her that he was an angel. She'd known next to nothing then, and yet she'd felt certain that the photograph meant she and Daniel could be together.

Now that felt impossible.

"You're just sitting there swooning over him, aren't you?" Miss Sophia asked. She smacked the book closed and banged her fist on its cover. "This is precisely the problem."

"What's wrong with you?" Luce strained against the ropes binding her to the altar. "What do you care about what Daniel and I feel for each other, or who either one of us dates in the first place?" This psycho had nothing to do with them.

"I should like to have a word with whoever thought putting the fate of all of our eternal souls in the hands of one lovesick pair of infants was so brilliant an idea." She raised a shaking fist high in the air. "They want the balance to be tipped? I'll show them tipping the balance." The point of her dagger gleamed in the candlelight.

Luce drew her eyes away from the blade. "You're crazy."

"If wanting to bring to a final head the longest, greatest battle ever fought means I'm crazy" - Miss Sophia's tone implied that Luce was dense for not knowing all this already - "so be it."

The idea that Miss Sophia could have any say in ending the battle didn't add up in Luce's mind. Daniel was fighting the battle outside. What was going on in here couldn't compare to that, Regardless of whether Miss Sophia had crossed over to the other side.

"They said it would be Hell on earth," Luce whispered. "The end of days."

Miss Sophia started laughing. "It would seem that way to you now. Is it such a surprise that I'm one of the good guys, Lucinda?"

"If you're on the good side," Luce spat, "it doesn't sound like a war worth fighting."

Miss Sophia smiled, as if she'd expected Luce to say those very words. "Your death may be just the push Daniel needs. A little push in the right direction." Luce squirmed on the altar. "You - you wouldn't hurt me."

Miss Sophia crossed back toward her, and brought her face close. The artificial baby-powder old lady scent filled Luce's nose, making her gag.

"Of course I would," Miss Sophia said, bobbing the wild silver fizz of her unkempt hair, "You're the human equivalent of a migraine."

"But I'll just come back. Daniel told me." Luce gulped. In seventeen years.

"Oh, no you won't. Not this time," Miss Sophia said. "That first day you walked into my library, I saw something in your eyes, but I couldn't put my finger on it." She smiled down at Luce. "I've met you many times before, Lucinda, and most of the time, you're a downright bore."

Luce stiffened, feeling exposed, as if she were naked on this altar. It was one thing for Daniel to have encountered her in other lives - but had others known her, too?

"This time," Miss Sophia continued, "you had something of an edge. A genuine spark. But it wasn't until tonight, that beautiful slipup about those agnostic parents of yours."

"What about my parents?" Luce hissed.

"Well, my dear, the reason you come back again and again is because all the other times you've been born, you were ushered into religious belief. This time, when your parents opted out of baptizing you, they effectively left your little soul up for grabs." She shrugged dramatically. "No ritual to welcome you into religion equals no reincarnation for Luce. A small but essential loophole in your cycle."

Could this have been what Arriane and Gabbe had been hinting at in the cemetery? Luce's head began to throb. A veil of red spots took over her vision and she heard a ringing in her ears. She blinked slowly, feeling even that tiny brush of her eyelids closing like a blast through her whole head. She was almost glad she was already lying down. Otherwise she might have fainted.

If this was really the end ... well, it couldn't be.

Miss Sophia leaned close to Luce's face, sending spit flying with her words. "When you die tonight - you die. That's it. Kaput. In this lifetime you're nothing more than you appear to be: a stupid, selfish, ignorant, spoiled little girl who thinks the world lives or dies on whether she gets to go out with some good-looking boy at school. Even if your death wouldn't accomplish something so long-awaited, glorious, and grand, I'd still relish this moment, killing you."

Luce watched as Miss Sophia raised the knife and touched her finger to its blade.

Luce's mind reeled. All day, there had been so much she needed to process, so many people telling her so many different things. Now the dagger was poised over her heart and her eyes grew fuzzy once again, She felt the pressure of the blade's point against her chest, felt Miss Sophia probing along her breastbone for the space between her ribs, and she thought there was some truth in Miss Sophia's maddening speech. To place so much hope in the power of true love - which she felt she was only barely beginning to glimpse herself - was it naпve? After all, true love couldn't win that battle outside. It might not even be able to save her from dying right here on this altar.

But it had to. Her heart still beat for Daniel - and until that changed, something deep inside Luce believed in that love, in its power to turn her into a better version of herself, to turn her and Daniel into something glorious and good -

Luce cried out when the dagger pricked her skin - then in shock as the stained-glass window overhead seemed to shatter and the air around her filled with light and noise.

A hollow, gorgeous hum. A blinding brightness.

So she had died.

The dagger had gone deeper than it had felt. Luce was moving on to the next place. How else to explain the glowing, opalescent shapes hovering over her, descending from the sky, the cascade of twinkles, the heavenly glow? It was hard to see anything clearly in the warm silver light. Gliding over her skin, it felt like the softest velvet, like meringue frosting on a cake. The ropes binding her arms and legs were loosened, then released, and her body - or maybe this was her soul - was free to float up into the sky.

But then she heard Miss Sophia bleating, "Not yet! It's happening too soon!" The old woman had torn the dagger away from Luce's chest.

Luce blinked rapidly. Her wrists, Untied. Her ankles. Free. Tiny shards of blue and red and green and gold stained glass all over her skin, the altar, the floor beneath it. They stung as she brushed them away, leaving thin trails of blood on her arms. She squinted up toward the gaping hole in the ceiling.

Not dead, then, but saved. By angels.

Daniel had come for her.

Where was he? She could barely see. She wanted to wade through the light until her fingers found him, closed around the back of his neck, and never, never, never let him go.

There were just the living opalescent shapes drifting toward and around Luce's body, like a roomful of glowing feathers. They flocked to her, tending to her body in the places where the shattered glass had cut her. Swaths of gauzy light that seemed to somehow wash away the blood on her arms, and on the small gash at her chest, until she was fully restored.

Miss Sophia had run to the far wall and was pawing frantically at the bricks, trying to find the secret door.

Luce wanted to stop her - to make her answer for what she'd done, and what she'd almost done - but then part of the silver twinkling light took on the faintest violet hue and began to form the outline of a figure.

A bright pulsing shook the room. A light so glorious it could have outshone the sun made the walls rumble and the candles rock and flicker in their tall bronze holders. The eerie tapestries flapped against the stone wall. Miss Sophia cowered, but the shuddering glow felt like a deep massage, down to Luce's very bones.

And when the light condensed, spreading warmth across the room, it settled into the form Luce recognized and adored.

Daniel stood before her, in front of the altar. He was shirtless, barefoot, clad only in white linen pants. He smiled at her, then closed his eyes and spread his arms out at his sides. Then, gingerly and very slowly, as if not to shock her, he exhaled deeply and his wings began to unfurl.

They came gradually, starting at the base of his shoulders, two white shoots extending from his back, growing higher, wider, thicker as they spread back and up and out. Luce eyed the scalloped edges, yearning to trace them with her hands, her cheeks, her lips. The inside of his wings began to glow with velvet iridescence. Just like in her dream. Only now, when it was finally coming true, she could look at his wings for the first time without feeling woozy, without straining her eyes. She could take in all of Daniel's glory.

He was still glowing, as if lit from within. She could still clearly see his violet-gray eyes and his full mouth. His strong hands and broad shoulders. She could reach out and fold herself into her love's light.

He reached for her. Luce closed her eyes at his touch, expecting something too otherworldly for her human body to withstand. But no. It was simply, reassuringly, Daniel.

She reached around his back to finger his wings. She reached for them nervously, as if they could bum her, but they flowed around her fingers, softer than the smoothest velvet, the plushest rug. The way she'd like to imagine that a fluffy, sun-drenched cloud would feel if she could cup it in her hands.

"You're so ... beautiful," she whispered into his chest. "I mean, you've always been beautiful, but this - "

"Does it scare you?" he whispered. "Does it hurt to look?"

She shook her head. "I thought it might," she said, thinking back to her dreams. "But it hurts not to."

He sighed, relieved. "I want you to feel safe with me." The glittering light around them fell like confetti, and Daniel pulled her to him. "It's a lot for you to take in." She bent her head back and parted her lips, eager to do just that.

The loud slam of a door interrupted them. Miss Sophia had found the stairs. Daniel gave a slight nod and a blazing figure of light darted through the secret door after the woman.

"What was that?" Luce asked, gaping at the trail of light fast fading through the open door.

"A helper." Daniel guided her chin back.

And then, even though Daniel was with her and she felt loved and protected and saved, she also felt a sharp stab of uncertainty, remembering all the dark things that had just happened, and Cam and his thundering black minions. There were still so many unanswerable questions running through her mind, so many awful events she felt she'd never understand. Like Penn's death, poor sweet innocent Penn, her violent, senseless end. It overwhelmed Luce, and her lip began to quiver.


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