Chapter no 4

Heir of Fire

Manon pulled her bloodred cloak tightly around herself and pressed into the shadows of the closet, listening to the three men who had broken into her cottage.

She’d tasted the rising fear and rage on the wind all day and had spent the afternoon preparing. She’d been sitting on the thatched roof of the whitewashed cottage when she spotted their torches bobbing over the high grasses of the eld. None of the villagers had tried to stop the three men—-though none had joined them, either.

A Crochan witch had come to their little green valley in the north of Fenharrow, they’d said. In the weeks that she’d been living amongst them, carving out a miserable existence, she’d been waiting for this night. It was the same at every village she’d lived in or visited.

She held her breath, keeping still as a deer as one of the men—a tall, bearded farmer with hands the size of dinner plates—stepped into her bedroom. Even from the closet, she could smell the ale on his breath—and the bloodlust. Oh, the villagers knew exactly what they planned to do with the witch who sold potions and charms from her back door, and who could predict the sex of a babe before it was due. She was surprised it had taken these men so long to work up the nerve to come-here, to torment and then destroy what petri ed them.

e farmer stopped in the middle of the room. “We know you’re here,” he coaxed, even as he stepped toward the bed, scanning every inch of the room. “We just want to talk. Some of the townsfolk are spooked, you see—more scared of you than you are of them, I bet.”

She knew better than to listen, especially as a dagger glinted behind his back while he peered under the bed. Always the same, at every backwater town and uptight mortal village.

As the man straightened, Manon slipped from the closet and into the darkness behind the bedroom door.

Mu ed clinking and thudding told her enough about what the other two men were doing: not just looking for her, but stealing whatever they wanted. ere wasn’t much to take; the cottage had already been furnished when she’d arrived, and all her belongings, by training and instinct, were in a sack in the corner of the closet she’d just vacated. Take nothing with you, leave nothing behind.

“We just want to talk, witch.” e man turned from the bed, nally noticing the closet. He smiled

—in triumph, in anticipation.

With gentle ngers, Manon eased the bedroom door shut, so quietly the man didn’t notice as he headed for the closet. She’d oiled the hinges on every door in this house.

His massive hand gripped the closet doorknob, dagger now angled at his side. “Come out, little Crochan,” he crooned.

Silent as death, Manon slid up behind him. e fool didn’t even know she was there until she brought her mouth close to his ear and whispered, “Wrong kind of witch.”

e man whirled, slamming into the closet door. He raised the dagger between them, his chest heaving. Manon merely smiled, her silver-white hair glinting in the moonlight.

He noticed the shut door then, drawing in breath to shout. But Manon smiled broader, and a row of dagger-sharp iron teeth pushed from the slits high in her gums, snapping down like armor. e man started, hitting the door behind him again, eyes so wide that white shone all around them. His dagger clattered on the oorboards.

And then, just to really make him soil his pants, she icked her wrists in the air between them.

e iron claws shot over her nails in a stinging, gleaming ash.

e man began whispering a plea to his soft-hearted gods as Manon let him back toward the lone window. Let him think he stood a chance while she stalked toward him, still smiling. e man didn’t even scream before she ripped out his throat.

When she was done with him, she slipped through the bedroom door. e two men were still looting, still believing that all of this belonged to her. It had merely been an abandoned house—its previous owners dead or smart enough to leave this festering place.

e second man also didn’t get the chance to scream before she gutted him with two swipes of her iron nails. But the third farmer came looking for his companions. And when he beheld her standing there, one hand twisted in his friend’s insides, the other holding him to her as she used her iron teeth to tear out his throat, he ran.

e common, watery taste of the man, laced with violence and fear, coated her tongue, and she spat onto the wooden oorboards. But Manon didn’t bother wiping away the blood slipping down her chin as she gave the remaining farmer a head start into the eld of towering winter grass, so high that it was well over their heads.

She counted to ten, because she wanted to hunt, and had been that way since she tore through her mother’s womb and came roaring and bloody into this world.

Because she was Manon Blackbeak, heir to the Blackbeak Witch-Clan, and she had been here for weeks, pretending to be a Crochan witch in the hope that it would ush out the real ones.

ey were still out there, the self-righteous, insu erable Crochans, hiding as healers and wise–women. Her rst, glorious kill had been a Crochan, no more than sixteen—the same age as Manon at the time. e dark-haired girl had been wearing the bloodred cloak that all Crochans were gifted upon their rst bleeding—and the only good it had done was mark her as prey.

After Manon left the Crochan’s corpse in that snow-blasted mountain pass, she’d taken the cloak as a trophy—and still wore it, over a hundred years later. No other Ironteeth witch could have done it—because no other Ironteeth witch would have dared incur the wrath of the three Matrons by wearing their eternal enemy’s color. But from the day Manon stalked into Blackbeak Keep wearing the cloak and holding that Crochan heart in a box—a gift for her grandmother—it had been her sacred duty to hunt them down, one by one, until there were none left.

is was her latest rotation—six months in Fenharrow while the rest of her coven was spread through Melisande and northern Eyllwe under similar orders. But in the months that she’d prowled from village to village, she hadn’t discovered a single Crochan. ese farmers were the rst bit of fun she’d had in weeks. And she would be damned if she didn’t enjoy it.

Manon walked into the eld, sucking the blood o her nails as she went. She slipped through the grasses, no more than shadow and mist.

She found the farmer lost in the middle of the eld, softly bleating with fear. And when he turned, his bladder loosening at the sight of the blood and the iron teeth and the wicked, wicked smile, Manon let him scream all he wanted.

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