Cast in Balefire

An Urban Fantasy Romance

Book Cover: Cast in Balefire

Half-angel mage Marion Garin has become Queen of the Unseelie, but she can’t hold the faerie courts without convincing everyone she’s in love with her cheating, abusive husband—the beloved King ErlKonig. Rumor says Marion’s in love with the God of Death. The unseelie are revolting. And it wouldn’t be so hard to fix if the rumors weren’t true…

Excerpt:

Niflheimr, The Middle Worlds

During her idle moments—of which there had been few—Marion had tried to learn about her absent mother. There hadn’t been much information to gather. Ariane Kavanagh wasn’t a popular character in Marion’s multitude of personal journals, so she had largely been mentioned when Marion was complaining.

Marion had been willing to filter that information through the understanding that Marion, pre-memory-loss, hadn’t been a popular character either.

Ariane might not have been as bad as the insults in Marion’s journals posited.

She couldn’t have been as vain as Marion painted her. She wasn’t self-centered but simply withdrawn. The preferential treatment Ariane seemed to give Dana had been the perception of a girl suffering ordinary sibling rivalry.

There was most likely a great reason that Ariane hadn’t made contact when Marion had gone missing, reappeared, or gotten married.

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Marion was ready to believe the best about her mother until the moment she realized that Ariane Kavanagh was colluding with the goat-demon who had stolen Marion’s memories.

Maman,” Marion whispered, reverting instinctively to French. She only took one step down her throne room’s stairs before stopping herself. She cleared her throat. Raised her voice. “Ravens! Heather!”

“Don’t do that,” said Onoskelis, the goat-demon.

The Raven Knights didn’t come even though someone should have been in earshot.

Marion was alone in her throne room. Freshly wedded, absolutely miserable, and cornered.

“I’m not one for the Middle Worlds, so let’s keep this meeting short.” Onoskelis hiked her robes high enough to flash cloven hooves as she clattered up the stairs. She settled into the stenographer’s empty seat, producing parchment and a fountain pen. “Do you prefer Garin? Kavanagh? You can’t take Konig’s last name. They never do last names in the sidhe courts.”

Marion was speechless.

“Why?” she asked after some moments of uncharacteristic floundering.

“For the contract to return your memories,” Onoskelis said.

“You took my memories. You were there that night, at Original Sin, and you took my memories!”

“It was not necessary to take your memories as I had copied them prior to that night. I only went to Original Sin to bear witness to a critical moment in time,” Onoskelis said.

The demon’s words passed by Marion unabsorbed. Her gaze was magnetically drawn to her mother’s. “And you’re behind this?”

Ariane tipped her cheek to her shoulder in a gesture that was too girlishly cute for a woman approaching fifty. “Frowning creates wrinkles, my little sweet.” She spoke in French too.

So it was true. All of it was true. Ariane was as horrible as Marion had feared.

“We arranged this meeting between the three of us before you lost your memory,” Onoskelis said, dashing out a few lines of text onto her parchment. “You insisted on having a mortal witness. Your mother volunteered.”

“Volunteered to witness…what, exactly?” Marion asked.

“The contract.” The goat-demon’s impatience made her hand scratch more aggressively across the page. “You have to do what I tell you in order to get your memories back.”

“You have to do a series of tasks, to be clear,” Ariane said.

Marion dug her fingernails into the arms of her chair. “I can’t believe you’re making demands of me after such a protracted absence. You missed my wedding. Where have you been?”

“You of all people should understand that life gets in the way of our best intentions. But I’ve been nearby, even if I haven’t been able to make contact.” Ariane swirled the large glass vessel cradled in her arms. It took a full-body motion, almost like a dance, to get it sloshing. Sparkles erupted from its bubbling surface.

“Should I recognize that?” Marion asked.

Ariane stopped swaying. “You would if you hadn’t lost your memories.”

“Which I’d really like to get on to fixing.” Onoskelis’s head was bowed so that her furry goat muzzle was millimeters from the papyrus. “Marion Garin or Kavanagh?”

“Garin,” Marion said distractedly. “Mother…the potion?”

Ariane set the glass vial on a table framed by velvet curtains. “It’s similar to the magic we embedded in the honesty bracelets. I was asked to use the potion on your behalf to sway the votes.”

That was why the group had voted for Konig to keep his title. Marion had unwittingly benefited from magical coercion.

“Who asked you to do that?” Marion said.

“Adàn.”

He was the stag shifter leading Los Cambiasformas Internacional, the alliance of Western European gaeans. Marion had never heard him addressed informally before. Nor had she seen anyone smile at the thought of Adàn Pedregon.

“How do you know each other?” Marion asked, though she suspected she already knew.

“Intimately,” Ariane said. “I’d have helped even if Adàn hadn’t asked the favor, but gratitude is a flattering look on him. Regardless, I’d planned to intervene in order to keep things on track.”

Marion was feeling lost again. “On track?”

“There’s a plan to all of this—a greater design.” Onoskelis waved at the throne room with her pen. Crimson ink splattered on the icy floor and began melting through. “You, Marion Garin, Queen of the Unseelie, have willingly shouldered the task of intervening where deities cannot. You must perform a series of labors I assign to you, each of which is intended to keep Events aligned with the Meta. When you’ve completed the tasks, you’ll have your memories restored.”

“You wanted me to inform you that these tasks are all in the service of the greater good, and your safety is ensured when you follow them,” Ariane added. “Onoskelis is making a generous offer. Take it and don’t look back.”

The back of Marion’s neck prickled unpleasantly. “First of all, I won’t be told what to do by someone who’s been absent since my initial abduction, and gods only know how long before that. I am not your property. I’m not a child. I’m Queen of the Unseelie, and you’ll speak to me with respect.”

Ariane stepped up the first stairs, approaching Marion. “What’s the second thing?”

“It’s impossible for me to get my memories back. They were destroyed in the Canope.”

“The originals were,” Onoskelis said without looking up from her writing. “I have copies. I am a Librarian.” She said the word without a hint of self-importance, but the sound of it resonated, as though plucking at Marion’s soul. “Librarians chronicle everything that happens throughout every genesis, and I’d never allow the pages from the notable book of your mind to be lost.”

“Bold claim,” Marion said. “Too bold. I’ve heard enough. Raven Knights!”

“They won’t come.” Onoskelis set her pen down and scattered sand over the page to dry the ink. “I’ve paused time.”

“You’ve paused…?” Marion swept off of the throne, flinging aside curtains to look outside.

The Winter Court had evolved in the hours since Marion’s wedding. The Autumn Court’s eternal sunset shone gold on the horizon, creating silhouettes of the mountains. Light had never touched the Winter Court, not once. Not until Konig began ruling it.

The snow eternally blasting through the lightened sky was not moving. The swaying trees had gone still. Even the shivering towers of Niflheimr were still.

Onoskelis had paused time.

“You can’t do that,” Marion said.

The goat-demon lifted a second page she’d been writing on. “Words are miracles, every one of them. Books open more doors than you can imagine.”

“You have no clue how many doors I can imagine.”

“I’m privy to the Meta, which means I know everything about you and everyone else I encounter. What that must happen, will happen.”

“Then I don’t need to sign any contracts,” Marion said.

Ariane took the paper from Onoskelis and transported it to Marion, who reluctantly read. The contract didn’t list each of the labors Onoskelis intended for her to perform. It said nothing about how long those labors would last, either.

The terms more or less said that Marion was promising to behave herself, like a naughty student who signed a contract promising to do her homework. But she had no clue what the homework was, and she had no proof that the teacher across the desk was legitimate.

Damn it all, Marion was a queen, and they wanted her to promise to be obedient.

“You’re too late to offer this to me,” Marion said. “I don’t want my memories back.”

Ariane’s cheeks paled. “You don’t—?”

“I’m a better person without them. I was a wretched, loathsome child on a power trip.”

“Sweetheart…” Ariane moved to touch her cheek, but Marion swept out of range.

Onoskelis’s oval pupils, veiled by thick eyelashes, focused on Marion’s face. “You haven’t been able to reach out to the gods since losing your memories. You’ll know how you used to reach them.” Her ears flicked within the hood, stirring the heavy cloth. “You’ll be able to speak to Death.”

The floor dropped out from under Marion’s feet, and there was nothing underneath her except a yawning chasm of grief. Wretched misery tasted like the brimstone that had devoured Seth.

Marion tossed the contract to the table. “Prove you can hold up your end of this.”

“Very well.” Onoskelis turned the contract over and wrote a couple quick lines on the back. “Sign this.”

It was a truncated contract offering Marion a “trial” of memory restoration. She plucked the pen from Onoskelis’s eerily child-like hand and signed it.

“I’ve restored a handful of nonconsecutive hours to you,” Onoskelis said. “For instance, the speech you gave at the shifter academy while running for student high priestess.”

Marion remembered.

It wasn’t like having missing moments replayed. There was simply new information available—recollections of standing under searing lights with confidence she was going to win.

“You’ve had some magical knowledge restored too. You’ll discover other memories as time goes on,” Onoskelis said, “but I’ll return them all to you once you’ve completed the tasks as dictated by this contract.” She flipped the page back over and shoved it under the nib of Marion’s pen.

She’d sign no such contract.

Those recollections weren’t the only things restored. They’d dragged wisps of Marion’s personality along with them, shrouding her in arrogance and affront.

Marion was a queen, gods damn it all. Onoskelis was withholding access to Seth. And Ariane was complicit.

She flung the pen to the table. “Who do you think you are, to hold my memories hostage? To blackmail me, Queen of the Unseelie?”

The goat-demon took dainty wire-framed spectacles off the end of her nose, folding her arms with cherubic fingers. “You’re the one who wanted me to make a copy of your memories for safekeeping.”

“You approached her,” Ariane agreed. “You asked me to insist on your compliance.”

Marion whirled on her mother, fist clenching as she lifted it.

Electric-blue magic lanced over her knuckles.

Ariane didn’t look nearly as surprised as Marion felt. Onoskelis had restored more than a few memory scraps—she’d returned some of Marion’s magic. She’d only needed to reach instinctively into the cables of energy that flowed through the universe and seize them.

“I’ve reached the limits of my tolerance for Niflheimr,” Onoskelis said, casting an annoyed side-eye toward Marion’s hand. “Tell Ariane Kavanagh once you’re ready for the first of your labors, and she will pass it onto you.”

The Librarian vanished.

The Raven Knights erupted into Marion’s throne room moments later, bows raised, looking for a fight that was long gone.

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