Authors: SM Reine
OTHER SERIES BY SM REINE
Want to know the instant I have a new book out?
and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
This book is sold DRM-free so that it can be enjoyed in any way the reader sees fit. Please keep all links and attributions intact when sharing. All rights reserved.
Copyright © SM Reine 2016
Published by Red Iris Books
1180 Selmi Drive, Suite 102
Reno, NV 89512
, the Voice of God, is due to marry the Prince of the Autumn Court by the end of the week - assuming that the world's preternatural leadership doesn't have anything to say about it. They plan to strip Prince ErlKonig of his title, ensuring that Marion can't form a god-forbidden treaty with the angels.
Still injured from his final fight in Sheol, Seth Wilder is seeking a way to stay alive. If he dies, he'll lose more than his life - he'll be slave to the gods' whims for all eternity. He's ready to take drastic steps. Maybe even make a bargain with the vampires. But what the gods want, they get. And they don't appreciate being defied.
* * *
Líbera me, Dómine,
de morte ætérna,
in die illa treménda.
, Nevada—September 2013
Seth Wilder died for the first time because his lungs had been turned into stone by a cursed demon-sword.
He’d almost drowned once before that, in a pond. He’d gotten trapped in murky, sludgy mud, unsure of where the surface was and incapable of getting there. After that, he never forgot how it felt to inhale water. It had been very much like having his chest squeezed by a werewolf’s jaws—another unfortunately familiar experience.
Lungs turning into stone had been worse than both.
He had looked down at himself to see demon ichor spreading over his flesh, radiating from a blade jutting through his body, and he’d known instantly that it was the end.
The woman who had been holding the other end of that sword was Elise Kavanagh: at the time, a demon herself; the fabled Godslayer, slayer of Adam and Lilith; legend upon Earth and friend to Rylie Gresham.
She had killed Seth by stabbing him with a cursed sword, and his body had turned to stone, and there had been no way to stop it.
He believed that he’d died the moment his lungs were taken. His heart had gone a moment later, but he’d been dead by then. It was a mercy. He hadn’t felt it crawl over his face, locking his features in an expression of pain.
A year passed like that.
Seth had felt nothing.
There was a funny thing about being turned into stone by demon powers. His body had been dead, but his soul had been preserved, and souls were not meant to be preserved. They were meant to return to the cauldron from which all life sprang. Within hours of death, his soul should have been mixed up and spit out again as a new soul along with fragments from thousands of others.
It wasn’t reincarnation. It was recycling.
Seth had been jerked away from the natural cycle of death. Elise had preserved him as surely as she had murdered him by stabbing him with that sword.
She had felt guilty about it, James later told Seth. James Faulkner was Elise’s husband. She had dragged him into eternity as well, ensuring that she could spend the remainder of existence with the man unlucky enough to love her.
“After you died, Elise carried your body throughout Hell,” James had explained. “For weeks, she bore your weight in search of a cure that could never be found, dragging you through battles and mourning in her way.”
And when she had become God—because that was what the Godslayer had become by the time James told Seth the truth—she had decided to bring Seth back to life.
That would have been fine, in theory, if Elise hadn’t decided to bring Seth back like
There were always three gods. A human. An angel. A demon.
Elise had been human again, and James had always had the blood of an angel.
That had only left one role Seth could play.
Resurrecting him had satisfied Elise’s guilt, and it had damned him for eternity.
He’d have rather stayed dead.
* * *
, The Winter Court—December 2030
There was a day that Marion spilled so much blood that she couldn’t stand.
The wards of Niflheimr required blood. Soul links, they were called. A strange kind of magic with origins predating Genesis, bearing all the dark potential of that era.
By bleeding into the wards, Marion gave herself to the magic, and the magic gave back exponentially.
Establishing a strong connection was difficult for a mage with no sidhe blood. The altars acknowledged her authority—she was steward, after all—but all the raw power in the world could only go so far because it was the wrong power.
So Marion spilled blood. A lot of it. And she’d only had so much to give, because she had already bled for other purposes in recent weeks: bleeding because Arawn’s Hounds had tried to kill her, bleeding because Seth had drunk from her sleeping throat.
She gave all she had, though.
Niflheimr stood strong in thanks.
She needed days to recover, and she spent those days in bed, drinking endless amounts of water and taking lengthy naps. During that time, Konig handled political issues. The business of becoming a royal family couldn’t be put on pause, even for such necessary evils as blood magic.
There was one day that Konig took off, though. Meetings were canceled or delegated to Nori. He crawled into bed with a bowl of soup he’d made himself—which tasted wretched, though Marion was so touched that she drank it anyway.
They spent that entire day in bed together, fully clothed, beneath a suspended cage of ice sculptures. They were warmed within the canopy of veils by their breaths and combined body heat, creating beads of condensation like diamonds shivering on the tips of icicles.
Konig whispered their history on her fingertips while her arm was coiled around his jaw to stroke his cheek.
“We met because you came to the party to celebrate the Alpha’s reelection,” he murmured, “and you wore a white dress.”
She almost remembered it when she stared hard enough at the icicles. Even if memory failed her, she could use his words to construct the memories out of ether. What a shock it must have been to see a face as perfect as Konig’s among the crowd of politicians and celebrities and members of the mainstream media.
“There were people between us. Knots of them. I knew they were gathered around somebody I couldn’t see, and my friend told me it was you. The bodies parted, and you were there. You wore a white dress.” His breath fogged between them. Marion scried through the abstract shapes—the crowd, the white dress, and then Konig, angular and slouching and graceful. A rock star. A prince.
“We kissed the first time that same night.” His fingers played through the folds of her skirt, letting it fall from his hand like autumn leaves from the branches.
Konig continued to speak throughout the day, illustrating the moments that formed the foundation of their relationship.
He described the breakfast they’d shared after their first night together. Konig and Marion had gazed at one another in wonder from chairs that had felt positioned too far apart, wondering if there were any way that the others in the court wouldn’t be able to feel the chemistry between them.
Their second night had been better for both of them. Their bodies had remained mysterious and new, but Konig had already known that Marion liked it when he touched her throat. When he explained that, he stroked the lacework of veins under her skin. Her pulse responded by beating against his thumb.
He progressed to when Marion had next seen his parents at court. She’d known them longer than she’d known Konig, working with Violet and Rage as a peer despite their disparate ages. She’d returned as the lover of their son and they’d known, instinctively. The sidhe knew nothing better than sex.
“So awkward,” Konig said, and they giggled at each other, curled up in the sheets together.
It was a wonder, this recreation of their love. They’d gotten so few idle moments together that stealing an entire idle day felt like sin. Old history made new.
They kissed while they talked, tangled in each other. Lips on forehead. Lips on chin. Lips on fingertips.
Marion could see why she had fallen in love with him. She fell in love with him again.
The idle day ended. Marion recovered and politics returned.
There was no resurrecting the romance they’d lost, but Marion felt the ghost of it living on in Konig’s heart. As long as he remembered, that was all Marion needed. Knowing their love survived in him made meetings with enemy states so much warmer.
Marion and Konig loved one another, true love, in the way of epic poems—love that could have shattered worlds. More powerfully still, they loved each other in the way of a teenage boy and a teenage girl for whom reality was more tenuous than the future they imagined together.
Soon to be King and Queen of the Winter Court.
Married until death parted them.
, Montana—January 2031
The last time that Marion Garin had been in a hospital, she’d had several intrusive tests performed. She’d been asked to spill quantities of blood minute in comparison to what soul links required. She’d also had to lie within a rumbling MRI machine for long, aching minutes. And she’d been forced to sit in a room alone, waiting for results from those tests.
It turned out that the intrusion had been to no avail. Marion had only learned she was a half-angel.
She’d also learned that she desperately, urgently needed a man named Dr. Lucas Flynn in her life. At the time, she hadn’t known
she needed him. She hadn’t known much of anything, in fact. What few memories she possessed had been formed in the weeks following the hospital.
Marion still had far more questions than answers.
She entered Hitchens Valley General Hospital to get a few more answers, though they wouldn’t be produced by having her blood drawn or her body scanned.
These answers, she hoped, would come from a man named Geoff Samuelson. He was a werewolf who had been considered a John Doe until his photo pinged government facial recognition software. Two months earlier, he’d been found comatose outside of a club called Original Sin. He hadn’t woken up since then.
She slipped into his hospital room to find the lights dimmed and his immobile form swaddled in blankets. The bed sighed as it inflated and deflated in turn. That function was intended to prevent bedsores in patients who would likely remain hospitalized indefinitely.
“Hello, Geoff.” Marion sank onto the edge of his bed, the voluminous layers of her red dress billowing around her legs before coming to rest like a fog of blood.
“Do you need anything?” Nori Harper, Marion’s cousin and her shadow as of late, was hanging back in the doorway.
“Privacy, please,” Marion said.
Nori stepped back and shut the door.
Marion leaned her weight on one arm as she studied Geoff Samuelson’s face. Unconscious, the werewolf was unassuming. The doctors had estimated that he was a man of roughly forty years, and the many healed fractures in his skeleton suggested previous military service. That may have been true, but Marion suspected some old wounds had been incurred in his work as a mercenary.
The doctors knew very little else about Geoff. The only reason Marion knew more was because her adopted sister, Dana McIntyre, got around in mercenary circles. Dana’s dossier said that Geoff’s lycanthropy predated Genesis. He was bitten—a cursed werewolf—unlike many shapeshifters, who had been changed by will of the gods or born preternatural.
Marion could see the silvery-white scarring from Geoff’s original werewolf bite when she tilted her head. She wondered if the violence of the change might have tipped him over the emotional cliff that had led to his assassin work.
He’d been hired to kill Marion. The money must have been good, if not good enough to risk losing his life to a coma.
Marion hooked her forefinger in his nasal cannula and extracted it from his nostrils. Oxygen breezed over his upper lip. “Time to wake up, Geoff.”
She rubbed her hands together while summoning magic. Marion had forgotten all her magical abilities along with her memories, but she’d flung herself into studying the matter as only a half-angel could while bed-bound with anemia. She’d read every book and internet article she could locate on the subject. Luckily, since Genesis had forced even generations-old covens into the public eye, the amount of information available was truly staggering.
Marion’s studies had revealed that normal witches—people who were fully human—could gather magical energy from nature’s bounty. They preferred focused energy from herbs and crystals, but anything in the world would do. For a half-angel mage like Marion, her options were endless.
There were plains outside of Hitchens Valley: seemingly endless miles of rolling grass inhabited primarily by cows. That was where Marion drew from.
She inhaled the life energy from the plains, the sun beating upon the winter-chilled snow, foxes darting through tunnels in the soil.
Her hands glowed.
“Geoff,” Marion called, reaching into his mind. “Come to me, Geoff.”
Magic of the mind couldn’t be learned on the internet. It was something she drew from within herself, tapping into the wellspring of ethereal blood that flowed through her veins.
She extended her reach into the core of Geoff’s unconscious mind.
Memories swirled under the matte wall of unconsciousness. They were wisps of smoke from an extinguished candle. At least he had those wisps. Marion had nothing but holes.
She reached past the memories and tapped his gray matter.
Life sparked through his mind.
The doctors had been unable to determine a medical cause for his coma, and that was because there was no medical cause. Geoff had been turned off like a computer with the plug yanked out the back. Marion couldn’t tell if the cause was magical or something godlier. It didn’t really matter. Once she found the place where consciousness had been disconnected, it was easy enough to reconnect.
Marion plugged him in.
Geoff’s eyes opened. He sucked in a breath that made color flush his cheeks. He clawed reflexively at the starchy bed sheets, the monitors on his chest, the cannula now tickling his chin.
“Hush, you’re okay.” Marion kept stroking his forehead.
He honed in on her voice. His golden eyes focused on Marion’s face, and recognition struck moments later. “Shit!”
“Hush,” she said again, pressing her hand to his chest. “Give yourself a moment to relax.”
He shook his head wildly and pressed his back against the mattress, fingers clutching the sheets. “You’re—it’s you—you’re the target who—”
“Yes, I’m the woman you tried to kill. Consider yourself forgiven.”
Confusion contorted his face. The lines were deeper than they should have been at his age. He’d lost weight from being fed intravenously, and it aged him relative to the OPA’s photos. “I’m forgiven?”
“You didn’t succeed,” Marion pointed out.
He still didn’t relax, nor could he escape. Even a werewolf with preternatural strength seemed to have suffered atrophy from his coma. “What do you want?”
“I want to talk.” She took a cup from his bedside, filled it with water from the sink, and dabbed a sponge in it. She stuck it between his lips.
Geoff sucked mistrustfully. “I don’t know who put the hit out,” he said when she set the cup and sponge down again.
“That’s not what I want to talk about.” The hit was old news at that point. The leader of the angels, Leliel, had happily claimed responsibility for the bounty. Leliel had hoped to prevent Marion from sharing the will of the gods with the world. She’d failed as surely as Geoff had.
“I don’t know anything about
,” Geoff said.
“You know more than I do. You know what happened that night outside of Original Sin because you were there.”
“So were you.”
“Indulge me, please. Tell me what you remember.” She couldn’t help but utter the last word with some longing.
Geoff lifted a hand as though to rub his face, then stopped. He couldn’t move that far with the IV in his wrist. “I took a train to Billings. Me and Vasicek, we took the train together. Wait—Vasicek—is he—?”
Geoff didn’t look disturbed. “We found you because you’d emailed another woman about meeting her.”
Marion knew that part. She had gone to Original Sin to talk to Nori in neutral territory. Vasicek had fired into the crowd in order to drive Marion into the back alley, where Geoff had been waiting to kill her. Nori had been able to relate all the details up to that point.
After that, things became fuzzier.
Marion only knew that someone had killed Vasicek, disabled Geoff, and stolen her memories. She didn’t know who or how. “Someone attacked me after you left, and I believe you saw it. You’re the only one who may have seen it.”
“I did, but she didn’t attack you. All I saw was that you talked to her.”
Her heart leapt. She had begun to suspect who might have taken her memories weeks earlier, when she’d returned from the Nether Worlds. Who would have had the strength to defeat Marion? Who could have excised her memories and jammed them into an artifact like the Canope?
Probably the same people who had sent Marion after Seth Wilder—the man who was most likely the third god of the triad.
Geoff’s use of a female pronoun made Marion think specifically of her half-sister, the woman who had once been Godslayer. Elise Kavanagh.
“Tell me everything you saw,” Marion said.
“I saw…” He stared blankly at the ceiling. Words failed him. He shook his head. “I don’t know what I saw.” Thoughts flickered over the surface of his mind. He knew what he saw. He just didn’t want to say it.
“Tell me,” she urged.
He shook his head again.
Marion glanced at the clock at his bedside. She was too busy to coerce honesty from a petty mercenary. As a half-angel, she should have been capable of simply plucking the knowledge from his mind, but she had overextended herself waking him up. She was still weak from the sanguine needs of Niflheimr’s wards.
Luckily, Marion had access to some enchantments she’d cast before losing her memory. She extracted a metal bracelet from her pocket and clasped it on Geoff’s wrist. Magic sparked.
“Tell me what you saw,” she said again.
Spells seethed within the atoms of the bracelet, shooting swirling tendrils into Geoff’s mind. That magic was capable of compelling truth from anyone who wore it.
Even petty mercenaries.
“A goat,” Geoff said.
“A goat? Not a woman who looks like me, but with redder hair?” Marion asked.
“She was the size of a child, with creepy little human hands, and a goat head. I know it sounds stupid. I feel stupid saying it. You’d just thrown me across an alley with lightning, so chances are pretty good I was imagining stuff, but that’s what I saw. A goat-woman.”
He couldn’t be lying. The bracelet made that impossible.
But a “cloaked goat-woman” was impossible, too.
Nobody should have been able to defeat Marion except her godly half-sister.
She slipped the bracelet from his wrist again, and only then did Geoff seem to realize what he had done. He looked angry. “You happy?”
“I’m grateful.” She pocketed the bracelet. “Thank you, Mr. Samuelson. You’ve been most helpful.”
“Get me doctors,” Geoff said. “I want out of here. I want my family.”
“You’ll be out of here soon enough.”
Marion didn’t shut the door behind her when she left.
There were agents from the Office of Preternatural Affairs waiting in the hallway with Nori. They were easily distinguished from hospital staff by their all-black clothing, lapel pins with the sword-and-shield logo, and their enchanted guns.
Marion had been forced to call in several favors to get access to Geoff Samuelson before his arrest. They’d given her five minutes—generous, considering they’d owed her none.
“You can have him now,” Marion said to the nearest of the agents. “Thank you for your help.”
The woman in charge, Agent Bryce, didn’t meet Marion’s eyes. Like most people, she seemed to find the ice-blue of angelic irises unsettling. “Thank you, ma’am.”
Marion stepped aside to let the agents move into Geoff’s room.
Nori rose from a chair, wringing her hands together. “Did you learn what you needed?”
“Yes,” Marion said. She wasn’t wearing the bracelet, but that was the truth.
Marion had learned what she needed, even if the information wasn’t exactly what she wanted.
* * *
ori carried Marion to Niflheimr
, arriving on the landing pad that they’d chosen as the safest point of entry into the world. It was the most intact balcony they’d been able to locate in the sprawling towers, and reasonably near to the throne room. They’d placed plywood across the holes in the floor for safety’s sake, but Marion still shuddered when she reappeared with her toes inches from one edge. She took a hurried step back.
Niflheimr had been grown through magic, and that meant the balcony was at a height only reachable through magic, too. If Marion fell, she’d have a long time to regret it before smashing into the frozen ocean.
Nori whipped furs out of a chest just inside the tower and settled them over Marion’s shoulders. “Five minutes. Do the wards quickly.”
“I don’t need to be reminded,” Marion said without any anger. She didn’t
to be reminded, but it didn’t hurt these days. It was impossible to tell what Marion would know and what she didn’t. Part of her had been killed in Sheol and could never be resurrected.
Nori’s reminder helped on another level. It was tempting not to refresh the soul-linked wards even though they’d placed an altar on the balcony to make the ritual as convenient as possible—which was not convenient at all. There was nothing convenient about having to bleed every time she returned to the Winter Court. When Nori prompted Marion, she couldn’t pretend to forget.