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READ CHAPTER ONE

Gray Witch, Good Witch: The Craft of Vengeance (Manberry Witches Book 3)



Chapter 1


“I’m sorry, child, but we have to leave.” Hattie’s voice breaks through the onslaught of emotions that fill me as she holds her leg and stands. “They’ll sense the magic soon enough, and we can’t be here when they track it.”

Following Hattie’s lead, I push myself up from the cold floor of the shed. The aftershocks of the magic transfer continue to wrack my body, almost as much as the reason for the transfer.

My family is dead. All of them. And I’m the failsafe.

The need to stay and fight, to go back and look for survivors, weighs on me. But that’s just my instincts fighting what my mind already knows. No one survived. I felt every single one of my coven as their magic entered my body, the last pieces of their life rushing to find me, their final protector against those who sought to steal my family’s magic.

There’s no going back, and Hattie’s hurt. One of our attackers shot her in the leg to slow her down so he could take her heart. My mind shies away from the image of Travis’s dead face staring up at the ceiling, killed by the scissors I hold. His blood sticks them to my fingers, and I force myself to slide them into my pocket before I focus on Hattie. She needs medical attention, and we aren’t safe here.

I scan the shadows of the shed one last time for anything we can use to help us in our escape. Nothing stands out. The truck bed is already filled with gardening materials and other nick knacks where people used it as a storage vessel when nothing else was available. Something in there could help us down the road.

Striding to the passenger side of the truck, I pull on the handle, and a soft rush of magic flits through my fingers. The lock on the door clicks open. It’s been my one trick my entire life. No one’s been able to explain how someone as horrible at magic as me can be adapt at opening a lock, any lock.

Placing my hand on Hattie’s elbow, I guide her to the passenger side and help lift her into the truck on her good leg. I grunt at the extra weight of her hand to my shoulder as I provide support.

Once I secure Hattie in the cab, I race around the front of the truck to the shed doors. The latches on the inside slide out easily, but a key lock connects the doors from the outside. I place my hand over the seam of the door, right where the lock resides, and imagine it opening. With a snick, the right side opens enough for me to push both doors outward.

Adrenaline pumps through my system as I run back to the truck and hop into the driver’s seat. The dark witches didn’t kill us, but my lack of driving experience may. I find a spare set of keys in the visor and shove it into the ignition. My fingers shake as I fumble to turn it, but Hattie’s hand on my shoulder stops me.

“Sabine.” Her grip tightens until I turn scared eyes upon her. “You can do this. The brake is on your left and the gas on your right. You will only use your right foot to drive. Start with your foot pushing in the brake as you turn on the vehicle. Once it’s running, you’re going to release the brake and slowly press on the gas pedal.”

“Brake left, gas right. Got it.” Nodding, I turn back to the key and start the truck. As the old engine roars to life, my heart stutters, and I scan the outside.

“Don’t worry. While you were opening the doors, I put an enchantment on the truck to mask the sound and the sight of it. It won’t last long, though. I’m too weak to perform a proper spell, so I need you to hurry.”

With the reminder of her wound, my sweaty palms grasp the steering wheel as I take my foot off the brake and push down on the gas. The truck lurches forward, and I back off quickly, pressing more lightly this time, which enables me to manage the truck as I get used to the controls.

“Since the house is filled with dark wielders, let’s take the back drive off the property.” Hattie grunts as she points to the left. “Luckily, it’ll take us closer to the safehouse, but the path is harder to traverse. I have faith in you, though. Just take it slow, and we’ll be fine. Once we make it to the main road, you’re going to head right and up the mountain.”

With my heart in my throat, I drive down the meandering path. In some parts, branches and shrubs scrape the worn paint off the truck where the path narrows, not quite wide enough for us to pass.

The path turns into little more than a narrow strip of dirt mostly covered by dry grass and leaves, and I slow down to a crawl. Ahead, a stump blocks the right side where a tree fell. I swerve to the left to avoid it, which causes the tires to hit a dip in the dirt. The truck jerks farther to the left, and I almost hit a tree.

I slam on the brakes in time to save us, but I nearly choke as the seatbelt locks against my chest with enough pressure to squeeze the air from my lungs. A frantic check of Hattie reveals a pale face, with sweat beading on her brow and upper lip. Despite her obvious pain, she gives me a nod of encouragement and walks me through the steps of backing up and finding the path once more.

After what feels like hours—but is probably only thirty minutes—the tires hit asphalt, and the road smooths out. Even with the easier drive, my hands clench around the wheel, forcing the truck to continue on its path.

My desire to turn around and check on my friends and family resurfaces. With everything that happened, from the accusations of dark magic and my fight with my mom, we didn’t part on good terms. And now, I’ve lost my chance to atone for my mistakes and figure out why I’m cursed with a dark magic cloud shadowing my every step.

I suppress the urge to turn back to seek the answers I need and continue to forge ahead, instead. My two goals are to get us to safety and help Hattie with her leg. The smell of iron permeates the cab of the truck as a reminder of her injury. The rest will have to wait, and I have to accept that I may never find the answers or peace I seek.

A cough from Hattie pulls me back to the present. “You’re going to need to slow down some. There’s a hidden drive up on the right. You won’t know it’s there until we’re almost on top of it.”

I glance quickly at Hattie before focusing back on the road, not needing us to wreck because I’m distracted. “What’s this place we’re going to?”

“Years ago, the gray witches set out to assert their rights as witches. Neither communities of witches, black or white, wanted to have a middle ground where witches could be themselves. As you’ve encountered, the white witches believe that pure thoughts and actions, along with a conservative use of resources, is the best way. Black witches push to get what they want. If the resources are there, they should be used to their greatest extent, which is why the gods created them.”

This lesson has been drilled into my head since I was born. Caring for the world, its inhabitants, and the bounty the earth provides is our duty as white witches. “Right. That’s our foundation. What did the gray witches want to do?”

Hattie closes her eyes and leans her head against the seat. “My coven wanted the right to be able to do a little of both. To us, everything should be available in moderation, and witches should be accountable for their actions. The Witches of the Night take things too far and take what they want by any means available, but on the flipside, Moon Witches step back and let those bad things happen, just like at our home. The gray witches wouldn’t actively take things they didn’t work for, but they wouldn’t have sat back and allowed for that senseless destruction. There’s always a middle ground, and that’s what we fight to preserve.”

My fingernails dig into the cracked leather of the steering wheel. My family didn’t have to die if we would have been taught how to protect ourselves. “Will you continue to teach me? I want to learn.” I take a deep breath and glance at her quickly. “All of it.”

***

After Hattie shows me where to turn off the main road, I put all my focus on the narrow, winding path up the mountain. Dusk turns to full night, and only the truck’s headlights offer visibility out here. If I thought the back access from the manor was bad, this is awful. Overgrowth covers the way, indicating no one has traveled this path in a long time.

The mountain flattens out before it opens into a clearing. Well, clearing might not be the right word. Plants and low shrubs cover the area, but the trees back off to form a large circle around a trailer. With stars as the only light because of the new moon, the truck’s headlights illuminate Hattie’s safehouse.

It looks to be the same length as our truck, if that, with a single set of wheels set slightly off-center and a large, metal tow bar propped up on a stump at one end. Two propane tanks sit on top of the tow bar, covered in moss and likely rust. Dirty blinds mask the two visible windows on one end, and more moss coats the white siding.

Just behind the trailer and off to the left appears to be an opening to a cave, and hope fills me that it contains dried storage items because I hold little hope for the dilapidated trailer.

“Our new home. It isn’t much, but we’ll fix her up.” Hattie’s face droops as she takes in the area. As she shifts her legs, a grunt escapes her, and her eyes tear up from the pain.

“First thing we’re going to do is fix up your leg.” I pull as close to the front door of the trailer as possible and park the truck, leaving the headlights on. “Stay here for a moment while I make sure we’re safe.”

I hesitate before climbing out. Loose strands of silver-white hair escaped from her bun during the struggles of the day, and I brush them away from her sweat-soaked forehead. Her skin feels clammy and cold beneath my touch, and fine shivers shake her body. She needs to lie down soon. I just hope the trailer holds emergency supplies and a way to boil water. We can’t risk infection right now, not when going to a hospital might bring us to the attention of the dark witches.

Stepping out of the truck on shaky legs, I scout the perimeter first. Since we were little, my mom taught each apprentice, plus many of the older coven members, how to track animals. The coven aspired to be as self-sustainable as possible, so not only did we raise our own chickens and hunt our own deer and rabbit, we also utilized every part of the animal, down to the bones and sinew which were used in spells and potions.

My heart tightens as I remember my mom and family, but now is not the time to focus on them. Hattie’s injury will get worse if not taken care of, so I put my head down and study the outskirts of the property. No other breaks in the tree line allow for vehicles, and the only crushed vegetation came from our entry into the clearing. I breath in the air, testing for hints of wood smoke or human waste, but all I smell is clean greenery, earth, and the exhaust brought in by our truck.

Once I’m confident nothing has been here in months, if not longer, I head to the small, white, utilitarian trailer. The front door opens easily for me, and I climb the single stair to enter the dwelling.

A rush of warm, stale air hits me just as pinpricks pierce my skin. Magic like I’ve never encountered before attacks me, and without thought, I flee from the trailer and back to the truck.

At my panicked expression, Hattie shoves the truck door open. “What’s wrong?”

“We can’t go in there. Magic protects it.” My heart pounds, and I scratch at my burning skin, panting from the adrenaline rush. “My skin feels like I’ve been stung a thousand times.”

“I’m sorry, child. The last time I was here, no wards were in place. It’s just a warning system. Had you been here for ill-intent, those stings would be thousands of tiny razor cuts.” Hattie swings her bad leg out of the cab and motions for me to stand closer.

Still scratching, I walk to her side.

She places her hand on my shoulder for support while she climbs down. “I’ll take down the wards, but you need to collect us some wood. The tincture to fix my leg needs to be steeped over an open flame.” Hattie points to a five-sided, brick firepit not far from the trailer. “I’ll grab the pot and ingredients while you setup the fire.”

I find a pair of battery-operated lanterns behind the seats, turn them both on, and pass one to Hattie. Crawling back into the truck, I shut off the headlights and pocket the keys before I walk to the back of the truck.

Clippings from a ground clearing still fill the bed, and I pull out enough fodder to make a fire while Hattie limps over to the trailer. With a watchful eye on her, I use the scissors I took from the house to whittle down one of the larger pieces of dried brush to create kindling, shaving off the dried leaves that still cling to it, then build a pyre around the small pile. Without ceremony, I use the lighter in my pocket to ignite the kindling.

The door to the trailer bangs against the wall, and I jerk upright in alarm, only to find Hattie leaning heavily against it. She can’t make it into the trailer on that leg of hers.

I rush to her side. “Just tell me what you need.”

Tension fills her face, and she pants quietly before giving a grim nod. “There should be purified water under the sink and herbs in the cupboard above it. Amaranth, bay leaves, and eucalyptus. And there should be a cast-iron pot.”

“Okay, let me help you to the fire, then I’ll go in and get what we need.”

When I hold my hands out toward her, she waves me off. “I’m injured, not dead. I can get to the fire on my own.”

Reluctant, my arms drop back to my side. My skin still itches, but the sensation faded while I built the fire. It doesn’t make me want to go back into the trailer, though, and I have to force myself up the steps.

The light cast by the lantern throws strange shadows over the interior, but I find everything where Hattie said it would be. I stack it all into the small cauldron and haul it back outside, where I find Hattie now poking at the fire.

I stumble over to join her, the cauldron a heavy weight in my arms, and set everything at her feet.

Despite her injuries, Hattie assembles the brew quickly, and soon, the potion simmers over the fire. The dried herbs worry me, as they don’t work as well as fresh ingredients, but Hattie seems satisfied with her concoction.

While we wait, Hattie uses one of the bottles of purified water to clean the blood from her leg. Her mouth flattens into a thin line as more sweat breaks out on her brow, but she stays silent throughout the process.

After fifteen minutes of simmering, Hattie murmurs a spell over the mixture, and the boiling stops.

“Sabine, hand me that cup, please.” She points to a small handkerchief where a crystal glass sits. “And grab that cotton.”

I hand Hattie the items and sit back on my log.

She takes a ladle and pours some of the steaming liquid into the glass, then she tips the glass back and drinks down the mixture. Next, she speaks a few more words to the iron kettle, and the concoction solidifies into a paste. Once she’s happy with the new state, she takes the ladle and brushes it against the top of the jelled form before she coats her leg and the cotton with it.

“Dear, help me wrap that scarf around this to hold the cotton in place.”

Quickly, I hop up and grab the scarf, folding it at the corners so it creates a triangle. From there, I fold from the point up at about two-inch intervals until I have a long tie to use. The scarf easily fits around her thin, frail leg.

“Thank you. I’m going to go rest now.” She puts her hand out for assistance up. “Will you put the rest of this into a glass jar and make sure the lid is sealed tight? You never know when we might need more.”

I help her up and into the trailer, her steps slower as she drags her bad leg. As soon as she shuffles inside, I return to the firepit to clean up.

Trying to be quiet, I find sterile jars in the kitchen next to the herbs and take one outside to fill it with the remains of the potion. Setting it aside, I use more of the purified water to clean out the cauldron, then use it to put out the fire, stirring the embers to make sure it’s out.

Returning to the trailer, I store the salve away in the bathroom.

Shutting off my lantern, I leave it by the door, then head back outside once more.

The thickness of the moonless night weighs on me. My mother believes—no, believed—in symbols. The new moon benefitted the dark coven. They were able to harness the power of change that we so desperately tried to cling to.

With nothing left to distract me, grief takes hold, and I slump to the ground, curling up into a ball. No tears will come, though.

A small part of my brain wants to believe this isn’t happening. I’m just out here with Hattie on a training expedition. But the new magic that swims inside me keeps me locked in reality. All my life I wanted to have the magic everyone else in my coven took for granted, and now that I hold it, I realize the cost was too high. I would give it all back in a heartbeat to see my mom again, to explain what was really happening to me to see if she could help.

My hands cover my face as the tears swell and spill over. How many things would I change just to be with them again?


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