The boys' choir had begun its practice when Lillet Blan left the Archbishop's offices. Behind the cathedral's thick walls and heavy oaken doors she'd been unable to hear it, but their song now rose from the choir loft through the sanctuary. The words were a hymn of praise, but the melody was slow and gentle, almost a lament, and the combination lent the sentiments a poignancy that mere spoken adorations lacked.
Amoretta was waiting for her. She was seated in one of the pews, her head bowed in prayer, her long ash-blonde hair spilling across her shoulders and down her back like a golden mantle. The soft click of the door closing into place as gently as Lillet could was still enough to catch her attention. She turned and looked up with that sweet, shy smile that meant, I'm happy to be with you.
Lillet went to her and Amoretta rose in greeting. Their hands joined, almost of their own accord, and as she so often did Lillet was amazed by how soft and cool Amoretta's skin felt. After all, Amoretta wasn't human but a homunculus, alchemically created life built around a core that was the spirit of an angel pulled down from the skies. Lillet hadn't made Amoretta, but she had loved her, and in so loving had given the homunculus a reason for her existence.
"You look happy," Amoretta said. "Did things go well with the Archbishop?"
"It did. We don't agree on a lot of things, but he's a reasonable man." As Mage Consul for the kingdom, keeping good relations with the Church over the role of magicians was one of Lillet's responsibilities. "He believes that trying to push magic out of the open only emphasizes its darker aspects-and to drive magicians into becoming enemies of the Church."
Outside it seemed a cloud had moved, for Amoretta's face blazed up in a riot of colors, red and yellow, shining gold and rich bronze. Lillet turned in surprise towards the source of the sudden light and found herself facing a high, arched, stained-glass window brilliantly backlit by the late-morning sun.
The artistry was beautiful, as befitted the Grand Cathedral, but that was not what took Lillet's breath away. Rather, it was the subject matter of the piece. The deeper colors came from the sky, streaked by dawn or by sunset and close enough to darkness that the light blue shaded into violet and red and pink. In that sky flew a multitude of the heavenly host, angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim. Each was robed in garments of flowing silver, and the feathered pinions arching behind them were shown in pearlescent white or lustrous bronze or in a gold so bright it seemed as if molten metal rather than glass occupied the pane. Their mouths were open as if their voices were raised in song, and it seemed for a moment as if the choir's hymn came not from the boys at all but was given voice by the host of angels.
Most of all, though, what moved Lillet was that the artist had somehow given the glass faces an aura of transcendent joy, the kind of happiness that not only infused the moment, but was a deeper feeling experienced not just as an instant but ongoing as a base state of being. It was, she thought, what Heaven was supposed to feel like.
That was when the guilt came, a sickening, twisting feeling in the pit of her belly, a creeping anguish at her selfishness, at the wrong she was committing. Lillet shivered slightly with the force of her sudden emotion, and wetness caused her sight to blur.
Then Amoretta's arms were around her, holding her tight, pressed up against Lillet's back.
"Don't worry," she said, gently but matter-of-factly. "You have nothing to be guilty for."
How did she know? Did she deduce it from Lillet's actions, the direction of her gaze and the expressions crossing her face? Or was just she just so attuned from years together with the one she loved that somehow she instinctively understood?
"I feel like that already, Lillet. That's the Heaven your love brings me."