Cast in Hellfire: An Urban Fantasy Romance (The Mage Craft Series Book 2)

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Cast in Hellfire
The Mage Craft Series
Cast in Hellfire
The Mage Craft Series
S M Reine
Red Iris Books

T
he characters
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

tmcs02-v1.0v

Published by Red Iris Books

1180 Selmi Drive, Suite 102

Reno, NV 89512

ISBN: 978-1-937733-33-9

About Cast in Hellfire

M
arion Garin is
the teenage daughter of Metaraon, the former Voice of God. Now she's also the steward of the Winter Court, which has been in anarchy since a revolution five years earlier.

Problem: Marion still doesn't remember anything that happened before two weeks ago.

Seth Wilder has a lead on her memories. Whoever stole them and sold Marion's essence to a demon lord in Sheol. Marion wants to help steal them back, even though that means abandoning the Winter Court to war. And Seth can't seem to tell Marion no.

He wants Marion nearby. Very nearby. Possibly in his teeth. See, Seth has this little problem where he's developing a killing urge, and it seems to be centered primarily on the half-angel girl who adores him. It conflicts with everything Seth believes himself to be: a moral man, a doctor who heals instead of hurts. Yet he's obsessed with Marion. She wants her memories, and he wants her to have them as much as he wants her blood.

They'll work together to make Marion whole, come hell or high water. Even if it means war. Even if it means Seth might hurt Marion. And damned be the consequences...

In tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres,

et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Duat

1

N
ovember whispered
cool air over the Mojave Desert, sending dust devils swirling through the sagebrush to blast into Seth Wilder’s face. He was lying atop a ridge under a veil of gaean magic, hiding from surveillance, but he couldn’t help coughing.

“There,” said Brianna Dimaria. “Beyond the Joshua trees.” She handed the binoculars down to Seth. She had brought a lawn chair to the stakeout, refusing to get in the dirt like Seth did. The tie-dyed canvas was plastered with so many illusion spells that it seemed to vanish every few seconds, even from within the magic circle.

He looked in the direction the witch had indicated. She’d spotted another pile of rocks that was too uniform to be natural, stacked into a symmetrical, three-sided pyramid. Its unnatural evenness would be obvious from the air, assuming that one was flying low enough to see such a small formation; Brianna had managed to spot it from half a mile away on the ground. She had good eyes for stakeouts, if not the temperament.

The fact that they needed to have a stakeout was ridiculous. The target that Seth intended to rescue never should have been moved to the detention center in the first place. If she’d been given a trial, any judge would have happily released her.

But no matter how much time passed or how many government regulations were forced upon the Office of Preternatural Affairs, they still had a nasty habit of imprisoning people without due process.

On the bright side, it meant Seth felt no guilt about breaking the law to free said prisoner.

Seth set the binoculars down. The sun was dropping low. It was almost nighttime, which meant that shifts would be changing soon. He needed to move in. “You can head out.”

“How will you escape without my help?” Brianna asked.

“Not your problem,” he said.

Seth jumped over the edge of the rocks. He slid down the steep slope, knees bent, arms stretched out to balance himself like a surfer in the desert. Pebbles sprayed behind him.

The messiness of his entrance blew the secrecy of the illusion spells, which was exactly what he’d intended to do.

Men appeared in a desert that had, until that moment, appeared empty. They stepped from behind the trees, stood behind sagebrush. They were dressed to be as obvious as Seth in their own way. Their black clothes leaped out against harsh yellow desert painted violet by sunset.

Much like the signs that had warned Seth that he was entering a restricted zone, the agents were meant to send an obvious message.

Turn back or be shot.

Seth drew his gun. Three agents closed in. Their chests, heads, and shins were protected by body armor, so he fired three gunshots aimed for their unprotected thighs.

He hit with every single bullet.

They weren’t killing blows, but they hurt. It would take people trained better than American government employees to absorb that kind of gunfire without falling.

These guys fell.

When they tumbled, there were others behind them. Another three—no, five. Several more than Seth had expected to find at the facility. He only had so much ammunition, and only so much time.

Seth aimed again but didn’t get a chance to shoot.

Magic sizzled over the desert, reeking of burned hair. Brianna whipped a dust storm through the valley that froze the sweat on Seth’s skin.

Her magic caught the agents up, lobbed them into the air. Random gunshots thunder-cracked high above and echoed off of the hills.

Seth had to trust that she caught them on the way down. He didn’t have time to watch.

When he reached the unnatural cairn of rocks, the door at its rear was still open. It was only open for fifteen minutes a day in five-minute spurts, allowing changing shifts to enter and exit. The door, ordinarily cloaked by magic similar to Brianna’s, was clad in steel and lit by red warning bulbs that flashed every second. They reminded Seth of the lights along runways that guided airplanes to takeoff.

He leaped through the door and plunged into cool darkness while the agents were still screaming in a dust storm five hundred feet above the desert.

Seth landed at the bottom of stairs with his gun raised.

It didn’t take much time to get his bearings, even though he’d never been in that particular place before. Once you’d visited one building designed by the Office of Preternatural Affairs, you’d visited them all. They were hideously uniform in their narrow lobbies and sterile furnishings. White walls, blue carpet, furniture from Office Outlet. The government agency with most of the defense budget should have been able to hire better interior decorators.

Two agents leaped to their feet at Seth’s entrance. They must not have seen much action at an OPA installation in the middle of the Mojave—they weren’t ready to be attacked. They didn’t even have sidearms. With all the agents guarding the surface, they shouldn’t have needed them.

Both had security badges with their surnames and photos on them. The man on the left was named Stalwart. The man on the right was Hanes.

Seth was on the guy on the right in a heartbeat, arm locked around his throat, Beretta pressed to his temple. He wouldn’t shoot, not ever, but they didn’t know that.

“Open the cells,” Seth said.

“Do what he says,” whimpered Hanes, his captive.

Stalwart backed away, looking bewildered. “But the revenant isn’t drugged yet and—”

“I’m not making a request.” Seth shoved the gun hard enough into Hanes’s temple that his neck bent. “Open the cells.”

Stalwart bolted for the stairs.

If he thought he’d be able to escape like that, he was probably right. As soon as he hit the surface, he was going to enjoy a flight courtesy of Air Brianna.

“Damn it,” Seth said. He stared at the control panel behind the desk. It was a mess of runes, switches, buttons, and security monitors. If there was an easy way to let himself into the cells, he didn’t see one. “How do I get in back?”

Hanes answered by kicking out. His heel caught the control panel, flipping a switch.

The door behind the desk unlocked.

Seth tossed the agent back into his chair. “Stay here.” He plucked the security badge off of Hanes’s lapel.

“No,” the agent protested weakly. He didn’t care all that much, or else he would have surely tried to fight back, rather than remaining limp in his chair like Seth had sucked all the energy out of him.

It wasn’t Seth who had weakened him like that.

His heart was laboring to beat.

Seth stopped by the door behind the desk, gripping the handle, as he stared at Hanes. It was like a black cloud was descending on the man. He was sick, his arteries clogged with plaque, inadequate oxygen reaching his organs.

Special Agent Hanes was dying. He needed prompt intervention.

It seemed unlikely that he knew.

“What are you waiting for?” Hanes asked nervously when Seth didn’t move.

That was a great question.

Seth wasn’t working as a doctor at the moment, and he wouldn’t have been treating OPA agents at the facility if he were. There was someone nearby in much more dire need of help.

Seth pushed the door open and faced a hall so long it might have been endless.

“If I were an OPA paper-pusher, where would I hide a revenant?” he muttered to himself.

There were steel doors on either side of the hallway, each of them equidistant, none of them labeled. It was a prison, of a sort; a simple prison, and one that looked unremarkable despite its insidious purpose. Those doors led into rooms where the OPA intended for people to vanish without due process.

Five years had elapsed since the OPA’s habit of detaining people without observing their constitutional rights had been revealed in an expos?, but the wheels of justice were slow. Preternaturals who got arrested still had too good a chance of disappearing down hallways like these, never to be seen again.

Seth propped the door open with his foot. The lock clicked repeatedly, unable to secure itself while he was in the way. “Where’s the revenant?”

“I don’t know.” Agent Hanes was sweating so hard that it dripped down his neck. His heart thumped unsteadily in his chest. “I don’t assign the rooms.”

Rooms
. It was a nice thing to call the caskets of this veritable mausoleum.

Thumping echoed from upstairs. More agents were heading into the facility, which meant that they’d escaped Brianna.

Seth needed to find that revenant.

He let the door fall shut behind him. The lock clicked.

With the door closed, it was eerily silent. The only sound that followed Seth deeper into the hallway was the beat of his footsteps against carpet. It was only once he was a dozen doors down that he realized the hallway was dipping lower, slowly dropping deeper into the desert.

It could have been endless for all Seth knew.

How many preternatural prisoners was the OPA detaining under the Mojave Desert? The revenant had been arrested less than a week earlier. New prisoners could have been miles deep.

“Damn,” Seth muttered.

But he heard a thudding when he passed one room—a fierce banging like claws against metal.

He stopped, backtracked. Returned to that door.

It was only two-dozen, maybe three, doors away from the lobby entrance. Too close to the surface to have recently confined anyone there.

Agent Stalwart had said that the revenant hadn’t been drugged yet, unlike the other prisoners.

“Charity?” Seth asked, pressing his hand to the door.

A distant lock clicked.

The door to the lobby opened again. At least two agents were on the other side—probably more, but Seth couldn’t see them. It was a narrow entrance.

He swiped Agent Hanes’s badge and pushed the door open.

The room on the other side was too dark for Seth to distinguish anything beyond the first few inches of concrete floor. It wasn’t carpeted for sure. No bland office decorations for detainees.

A tall, slender figure emerged from the darkness, shimmering with rage.

The revenant.

Seth backpedaled. It felt wrong going deeper into the hall, like he was headed in the wrong direction. He should have been escaping. Going toward the surface. But now the revenant was between him and the guards, so there was no way to escape.

The revenant studied him with unrecognizing eyes like sunken pits. She was a lanky creature with pallid skin, bony joints, and a black tongue so long that it dangled from the gash of her mouth.

Seth tried not to lift the gun. He had to rail against every instinct that told him to flee or attack or
something
because his life was in danger.

He pointed a finger. The revenant turned to see what he was indicating. Those hollow eyes fixed on the agents. Her mouth opened to release a furious hissing.

Seth leaped back as the revenant launched at the agents.

He’d been reading up on the species in the last few days. Revenants were similar to vampires: creatures who had been human until death, then resurrected as something else. What was unique about revenants was that it wasn’t the body that returned. It was the soul. So they weren’t exactly tangible in the way that vampires were, nor were they as vulnerable to flame or wood.

In short, revenants were big, angry, and difficult to kill.

And he’d just released one that was especially vengeful from her cell.

She moved in a flash of colorless flesh and smoke. Her foggy form obscured the agents, so Seth could only hear the screaming.

He hadn’t meant for them to die.

“Wait!” he yelled.

By the time he raced up behind the revenant, she was done. She stood, hunched, over a pile of bleeding agents.

The revenant had gone easy on them.

When Seth had first seen her attack, she’d decapitated a man with her bare hands, wrenched his jaw out, and scraped the meat of his tongue off with her teeth. So the fact that only one agent was little more than a collection of limbs and a crushed skull… Well, it could have been worse for them. Most looked to have died instantaneously.

A ragged gasp drew his attention into the lobby again.

Agent Hanes had fallen from his chair. He gripped his left arm, cheeks reddening, sweat pouring from his forehead.

Seth elbowed past the revenant. He kneeled over Hanes, rolled him onto his back, tipped his chin back to open the airway.

Dying
.

The revenant hissed again behind Seth. Bodies crunched wetly.

She was feeding.

Agent Hanes’s panicked eyes were fixed on Seth’s face. His mouth open and closed wordlessly.

The scent of blood was thick in the air. It sent Seth’s heart pounding, being trapped within such narrow confines with that stench. He caught himself staring at the spread of murky black blood through blue office carpet.

It slurped under the revenant’s feet when she shifted her weight, trickling into the shallow gouges left by her toenails. Every motion seemed to waft more of that coppery odor toward Seth.

So much blood.

If Agent Hanes was having a heart attack, what was Seth supposed to do?

He’d been a doctor for a decade. Saved thousands of patients. Spent thousands more shifts working in the emergency department.

The medical knowledge had fled from him.

Seth’s entire awareness had narrowed down to the pinpoint flickering of Agent Hanes’s fading life.

“Charity,” he said. “Nurse, help me.” His tongue was thick in his mouth. He was salivating, becoming nauseous.

The revenant’s hands trapped another man on the floor behind Seth. It was Agent Stalwart again. His coworkers must have dragged him back into the facility, and he hadn’t died yet.

He emptied his gun into her body, but he must have been armed with something like iron or silver: excellent for taking down the common preternatural species, but useless against vampiric breeds. The bullets punched through Charity’s revenant body, shredding flesh to tattered ribbons, exposing dusty-dry bones. Holes exploded in the drywall.

Even being so close to gunshots wasn’t quite enough to clear Seth’s head.

Agent Hanes wasn’t struggling to breathe anymore. As Seth held him, his heart stopped beating, and the blood stopped flowing. The life faded out of him.

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