The Witch Collector (Witch Walker #1)

A thought flutters through my mind. I flex my fingers around the scythe and stiffen my spine. We’re so close, the Witch Collector and me. Only a few feet between us.

And he’s distracted. I could kill him now, a blow from behind. Rid the world of his dreadful presence.

With my jaw clenched tight, I take a step closer. Another. And another.

A girl points at me, and my last step comes up short. The Witch Collector twists in his saddle and meets my gaze.

I swear the air between us becomes electric.

Heart stuttering, I freeze as his attention drifts to my scythe. He spears me with a piercing look and tilts his dark head. Those green eyes narrow, shining under the blazing torches and bonfire light. I’ve never seen his face. His head is always shielded behind the hood of his cloak. Even if I could have, I’ve always been too afraid to look him in the eye.

Helena was wrong. He’s so much younger than I imagined, less than a decade older than me. He wears a short, neat beard, and his face is all dangerous edges and sharp lines. He’s handsome in a wicked, dark way. Beautiful, even. He must’ve been younger than me when he took Nephele.

The moment stretches between us—whisper-thin, taut, and unbearable. His stare is so penetrating that it’s like he’s peering into my soul, prying through the cobwebby corners I show no one. I blink and remind myself that he’s the enemy and that he’s right here, within my reach. One swipe to his neck is all that death requires. He’d never take from us again.

Reality washes over me. The king will replace him, and if we live through this night, I will have murdered my only way to find Nephele. More than that, the Witch Collector is trained, a warrior with a weapon, and thus very likely our best defense.

Survival must come first. Revenge later.

Resigned to fight at his side, at least for now, I form the sign of peace against my chest. He can’t know what it means, but he nods like he understands.

I take a step back and lay the scythe at my feet. Turning toward the western hills, I close my eyes in prayer and lift my hands to sing, forming every lyric, careful to make no mistakes.

The Witch Walkers’ voices raise, loud as they can manage. I focus on Mena’s words which radiate the clearest, until I feel the wall of magick rising over us.

My movements slow, my fingers relax, and I open my eyes. A dome of protection hovers above, glittering beneath the moonlight. In that heartbeat of time, I feel safe, believing that we can keep the Eastlanders from entering Silver Hollow with just our song.

But the first flaming arrow soon arcs across the sky and pierces the veil. Then the next, and the next, until hundreds of balls of fire fill the night.

The black sky shifts, as though darkness can come alive. From within that darkness, a swarm of crows descends, followed by arrows stabbing into the cottages’ summer-dried thatching, setting our village ablaze like a pile of parched kindling. With them comes a horde of Eastlander’s on horseback, carrying death in their eyes.



I should take Raina. Take her and run.

I glance beyond the demented birds raining down on the village to where the enemy’s hoofbeats pound loud and sure and where the first fires catch hold and flare. It’s a single moment of indecision, but when I turn back, Raina’s gone.

“Damn the gods!” I jerk Mannus around and swing my sword at crows, looking for her. That long hair and blue dress. Those sapphire eyes. It’s like she vanished.

I face west where the Eastlanders charge straight for us, the darkness that lives inside me swelling like a storm. I long to let a fraction seep out, let it settle over me—a second skin. Magickal armor. Such a thing is impossible, though, and even if it weren’t, it’s been so long since I’ve tasted that power.

I might kill everyone.

Instead, I draw my sword, the ring of metal sending a rush through my blood. The man in me will have to be enough.

Eastlanders blow through Silver Hollow like a flaming wind, too numerous and fast on their mighty horses for the wardens who never made it to the stables. I slice my weapon across one Eastlander’s middle, spilling his innards, then plunge my blade into another’s mouth before yanking back to land a fatal hit across the throat of one more.

All around, villagers fight on foot, struggling to hold off the crows and Eastlanders at the same time. Witch Walkers run and fight and chant all the while, but it’s no use. The Eastlanders’ arrows, cast with a magick strong enough to penetrate the veil, strike many and kill them in a manner I’d been too panicked to notice at the other villages. I tell myself it couldn’t have happened there. Surely I would’ve seen such terror.

Beside me, a man falls to his knees. A fiery arrow sits lodged deep inside his abdomen. Flames billow unnaturally from his mouth and eyes, melting skin and sinew from bone—burning him alive from the inside out. Crows gather and pick at his flesh before his body explodes into dust like he’d been made of ash.

Fire magick—the devastating kind only ancient Summerlanders like Fia Drumera know. It’s happening everywhere, one after another, villagers shot down and incinerated. Even the children who didn’t manage to leave are not spared.

“Watch out!” A young man holds a wooden platter in front of me, catching a fired arrow before it penetrates my chest. A small girl clings to his leg as she sobs with fright. Weaving around them both is a small dog, barking and yipping in fear. The young man glares at me. “You don’t deserve to live, you big son of a bitch. But I’m giving you a chance for redemption. Now, you owe me.”

I narrow my eyes at the brave little bastard. I’ve seen him and the girl before—the blacksmith’s kids.

The boy tosses the platter aside. With one protective hand clutching his sister, he swipes a dagger at an approaching Eastlander with the other. He misses and drops his blade.

A colorful curse leaves his lips, and fear twists his face as the Eastlander lunges.

I slice a diagonal, cutting the warrior in half before it’s too late. With a stunned look fixed on his face, the Eastlander’s body slides apart, the two pieces falling to the ground.

The little girl screams a painful shriek that splits the night. The smithy jerks her into his arms, hiding her face in the crook of his neck. He looks up at me, eyes wide and wet, chin jutting out, his fine moss-colored tunic and dark britches painted with the dead man’s blood.

“Now we’re even,” I grit out between clenched teeth.

I don’t know what it is about this kid, but I can’t decide if I’m impressed by his bravery or if I can’t stand him.

“We’ll never be even.” His dark face hardens, and he’s shaking, from fear or anger—I can’t tell which. He glances around, desperation in his eyes, then exhales a trembling breath and adds, “I tried. I did. But I must get my family to safety.”

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