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Witches of Ash and Ruin
By E Latimer
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- Hardcover $18.99 $24.99 CAD
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Modern witchcraft blends with ancient Celtic mythology in an epic clash of witches and gods, perfect for fans of V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.Seventeen-year-old Dayna Walsh is struggling to cope with her somatic OCD; the aftermath of being outed as bisexual in her conservative Irish town; and the return of her long-absent mother, who barely seems like a parent. But all that really matters to her is ascending and finally, finally becoming a full witch—plans that are complicated when another coven, rumored to have a sordid history with black magic, arrives in town with premonitions of death. Dayna immediately finds herself at odds with the bewitchingly frustrating Meiner King, the granddaughter of their coven leader.
And then a witch turns up murdered at a local sacred site, along with the blood symbol of the Butcher of Manchester—an infamous serial killer whose trail has long gone cold. The killer’s motives are enmeshed in a complex web of witches and gods, and Dayna and Meiner soon find themselves at the center of it all. If they don’t stop the Butcher, one of them will be next.
Copyright © 2020 by E. Latimer
Designed by Phil Buchanan
Cover design by Phil Buchanan
Raven and stock photo – KHIUS/SHUTTERSTOCK
All rights reserved. Published by Freeform Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Freeform Books, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
To the witches: Rebecca, Kayla, and Tiffany. I love you guys.
And to all the women out there who have a little witch in them.
Don’t ever forget you’re magic.
The best way to hunt a witch was to look for patterns of three.
Three stones set into a wild, overgrown path. Three chimneys sending twisting ribbons of smoke into a clear sky. Three gates before the inner sanctuary—each more heavily spelled than the last. Find the house of threes, and you’d find the coven.
Dubh had traveled for days. In fact, he’d almost driven past the place. His tourist map was filled with colorful pins at every stopover—Kiss the Blarney Stone! Visit the Irish National Heritage Park!—but this miserable little village didn’t warrant a mention. He’d blown past the welcome sign without a glance, almost continuing into County Wexford. Almost. Something had pulled at his insides as he’d reached the village limits, tugging painfully at his guts. He’d turned the rental car around and followed the sensation down a rambling back road that twisted endlessly through green fields, leading him to this driveway in the woods. And there it was. A farmhouse with three crooked chimneys, windows shuttered against the dark forest.
The witch hunter watched the house. There was something unnatural about how still he was, the type of stillness reserved for death, or very deep water. He set his back to one of the oak trees lining the driveway, an ashy cigarette hanging between two fingers. The ember burned orange in the darkness, sending a thin spiral of smoke trickling up. At his feet, spent filters scattered the ground.
He knew why he’d been called. There were too many witches here for one small town. They were gathering.
In his pocket his cell phone buzzed violently, and Dubh shut his eyes. He raised the cigarette to his lips and took a drag. In, burning his lungs, filling his insides with fire. Out, tipping his head back, blowing smoke onto the breeze. He knew who was on the phone.
It rang again.
His brothers were in town. Soon they’d be reunited. After years of faded recollections and fuzzy, half-dreamed memories, he hadn’t been sure they were real. And yet he did not wish to speak with them before it was time.
Eventually the phone went silent.
Dubh watched the house. Minutes passed. Flies buzzed around his head with the smoke, and his left arm ached. When he glanced down, four long scratches trailed along his forearm.
The women had all felt the same until now, a fleeting enjoyment. They’d stirred feelings in him, fire and righteousness. The way they stared at him, dark eyes, pale faces. Their hair caught in his fingers, their screams in his ears.
This morning had been enough to sate him temporarily, but he was never fully satisfied. He hadn’t known what he was looking for. Hadn’t remembered.
There was a little witch in every woman, but not every woman was a witch.
This would be different. The power rolled off this house in waves. It raised the hairs on the back of his neck and sent goose bumps up both arms.
These witches would give him the first real fight in years.
He ran his tongue along the inside of his teeth, feeling the jagged edge of his right canine.
Not yet. He’d attend to the others first. His sword was ready; Witchkiller would taste blood again.
In a few weeks he’d return. Push his way through the middle gate, the one with the black iron that curved into sharp fangs at the top. Something to look forward to, to make the days go by faster.
He always saved the best for last.
It was two o’clock in the afternoon, in the middle of a particularly monotonous lecture on particle physics, and Dayna Walsh was about to have a panic attack.
It started the same way it always did. Some small shift in the air around her. Subtle, but enough to make her breath catch. Suddenly it was all she could think about.
Her chest tightened, and Dayna curled her fingers around the edge of the desk, leaning forward, concentrating furiously on the front of the room. A muscle twitched in her jaw, and she scowled at the whiteboard. Of course it would happen in the middle of class.
The OCD could get especially bad at school. With nothing to draw her out of her own head, it was easy to get caught in the obsessive spiral. To zero in on her breath, how it entered and left her body.
Mr. McCabe’s voice droned on, the marker squeaking across the surface of the whiteboard. Morgan Brennan’s acrylic nails clicked sharply on her phone as she shot off text after text. Dayna’s ex, Samuel, leaned over his desk beside her, dark hair falling over his eyes.
One breath in. Two. Three. Shit. Stop counting.
Dayna wrapped her fingers around the pendant on her necklace, letting the points of St. Brigid’s cross dig into her palm. The conversation with her father this morning had kicked it off, so if she ended up having a massive panic attack in the middle of the classroom, she had the reverend to thank for it.
Not here. Not here. Not here.
Her mind kept swinging wildly from what he’d said earlier—Your mother’s back in town, she’s finally coming home from camp—to her breathing. If she could just fixate on something else, like the second hand inching across the white clock face, or the cringe-inducing marker shriek on the board….
It was no good; her mind kept looping back.
Now she was forcing each breath, drawing it in, pushing it out. It felt unnatural. Wrong. Her chest ached, and the low buzz of panic surged, twisting her stomach.
Fiona Walsh had been at church camp for years; Dayna didn’t even remember what she looked like.
Even the mere thought of Camp Blood of the Lamb made her pulse stutter, and she shifted in her chair, trying to force herself to think of something, anything else.
In front of her, Mia Blake brushed dark hair over her shoulder, and Dayna made herself focus on the way her hair fell in waves halfway down her back. Her own hair was only the tiniest bit wavy. Maybe she should curl it….
God, this was stupid. And it wasn’t working.
She smoothed a hand over the base of her throat, breaths coming short and fast.
There was a soft hiss from beside her, and she glanced over. Sam was leaning sideways in his desk, a scrap of paper in one hand. She could make out his blocky writing from there.
Someone forget to tell Mr. M it’s the last day?
She grimaced at him, nodding. Every other teacher played games or watched movies the last day before summer, but Mr. McCabe decided on a lecture.
Sam tucked the note into his desk and glanced over at her again, brow furrowed. “You look pale,” he whispered. “You all right?”
Most definitely not all right. “I’m fine.”
The classroom dimmed suddenly, as if the sun had moved behind the clouds. But darker.
Dayna frowned, turning for the window. Beyond the green stretch of schoolyard the sky was speckled with black. It blotted out half the sun, a cloud of…what were they, bugs?
Murmurs started up around the classroom. Everyone was staring now.
“What is that?” Morgan Brennan shot out of her seat, her phone hitting the desktop with a thud. A second later someone cried, “Birds. They’re birds!”
As if the revelation had cleared her vision, she saw them. Flock was the wrong word for this, there were too many. It was an approaching storm cloud, casting the school into shadow.
Nobody moved as the birds drew nearer.
She could make out more every second. A blur of coal-black feathers and wickedly sharp talons.
They were impossibly close.
The muffled screams of the birds reached through the windows the second before it happened, and someone had the sense to yell, “Get down!”
There was a rapid thud, thud, thud as feathery bodies hit the windows.
Shock rooted Dayna to the spot. She felt each impact through the soles of her feet.
The sound of shattering glass jerked her awake, and she dove for the desk as a blur of smoke-colored feathers hurtled toward her. She scraped the heels of her hands on the carpet, hardly registering the pain. From there she could see Morgan’s legs, hear her screams. Students were falling, birds clawing their faces, wicked talons tangled in hair extensions, tearing at designer T-shirts and hoodies, bloodying faces.
Something hit her desk with a thud, and Dayna scrambled back. Her elbow smashed into the chair leg with a bone-jarring crack, and she gasped, blinking tears away as a bird glanced off the desktop beside her.
This was a nightmare, some bizarre dream. She’d wake up any second now.
Samuel was there suddenly, his arm warm against Dayna’s skin, his back to the chaos as he tried to shield her. His eyes were wide, one hand clutched over his mouth. He gripped her arm, and she didn’t pull away.
Something crashed to the floor behind Dayna, and she jerked back, nearly knocking Samuel over.
A crow lay on the carpet.
Although…not a crow, she realized. It was too big.
The bird struggled, wings flapping, beak open in distress. A jagged piece of glass was embedded in its chest, glittering under the fluorescent lights. One shiny black eye blinked at Dayna. It seemed impossible the bird should focus on her, but it locked on her face and stayed there, shining with a kind of intelligence that made her stomach squirm. Its chest heaved once and then fell still.
A second later the classroom went abruptly silent. Some of the students had fled, others stayed huddled under their desks. Most of the ravens seemed to be dead or dying.
Dayna edged her way out to stare at the bird, her heart drumming hard against her rib cage.
The raven’s eye had never moved from her face. Like it had been fixated on her right up until the moment of its death. Her hand shook as she let it drift toward the raven’s chest, over the glass embedded there.
It looked peaceful in death, and strangely elegant. Long and sleek with coal-black feathers. The way it had looked at her…as if it meant to say something but hadn’t had the chance.
Tears prickled the backs of her eyes. She knew Sam was watching, but she clasped her hands in the air over the bird anyway. Pulling them back, spreading them in a T-shape before her heart. The sign of the battle sword.
Ravens belonged to the Morrigan, and a witch could not allow their souls to pass this way, panicked and alone.
Dayna stayed beside the raven, curling her knees to her chest, blinking back tears. Her throat felt tight, and she wasn’t sure if the tears choking her were over the shock of what had happened, or the sight of the dead bird at her feet.
At least she hadn’t thought of her breathing this entire time.
She had to force down the hysterical laugh that threatened to bubble up.
The classroom was growing steadily colder now; the wind rushed in past the broken windows, and the teacher was rounding up the remaining students, ushering them out into the hall.
A thought kept coming back to her, and as strange as it was, she couldn’t shake it.
What did the ravens want?
“So the sergeant is there now? Or did they send animal control?”
Reagan Etomi’s voice came from the passenger seat, a little fuzzy through the speakerphone, but Dayna could still hear the amusement in her best friend’s voice.
“Or what passes for animal control in this town,” she replied, easing up on the gas as she turned the corner.
“So…two guys and a butterfly net?”
Dayna snorted. “Hey, by the way, you know Morgan Brennan?”
“Like, Bible-study Morgan?” Reagan’s voice was scornful. “The one who read your journal and spread your sexuality all over the school Morgan?”
“That’s the one.” Dayna grinned. “Is it awful to enjoy the fact that she got her face all slashed up?”
“Hell no, that’s just karma. You’re allowed to enjoy that.”
Dayna smiled. Even though her hands were still shaking on the wheel, and she kept seeing flashes of black feathers every time she blinked, she could feel her shoulders relaxing.
“But you know what the others will say, right?” Reagan’s voice grew serious. “It’s definitely an omen. You’re a witch. There’s no way they crash into your classroom and it’s a coincidence.”
She sighed. Another uncanny habit of Reagan’s: saying exactly what Dayna was thinking. “I know.”
“We can do a reading. But you’ll have to stop by Sage Widow; the aunties are out of tea. Bronagh says you should pick some up.”
Dayna groaned. “Fine. I’ll grab it on my way.”
It wasn’t that she minded the errand. It was that she’d have to go by the church on the way there.
The Church of the Blood of the Lamb was her father’s territory, and it wasn’t just because he was the reverend there, but because he seemed present in the very structure of the building. It was constructed of blocky gray stone and loomed above every building in the village. Its lines were perfectly straight, and the stained-glass windows of the tower were done in muted purples and blues.
This was a no-nonsense building. It did not tolerate revelry or foolishness.
It made her wonder what camp was like, if it had the same somber, prisonlike feeling.
The idea made her feel slightly nauseous.
There was a billboard at the bottom of the church lawn. Every week someone arranged the letters on it to spell a different message. Today it said, Try Jesus. If you don’t like him, the devil will take you back.
It wasn’t the billboard that made her nervous, though; it was the crowd gathering around it. The people at the bottom of the slope held an assortment of cardboard signs. One woman in a long flower-patterned dress held a sign that proclaimed, Repent, Pagans! Another wore a makeshift sandwich board with red marker across the front: Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live, Exodus 22:18.
“Um, listen, I gotta go.” Dayna jammed her foot down on the gas, alarm prickling through her.
There was a pause on the other end, and then Reagan said slowly, “You’re sure you’re fine? You’re not driving like a maniac, right?”
“I’m fine. Listen, I’ll see you soon, okay? Bye.” She waited for Reagan’s grumble of affirmation and then hung up before easing off the gas pedal. It should have been disturbing that Reagan knew her that well, but she was used to it.
Anyway, the sign was probably nothing to worry about. Even though it shook her, she knew it had nothing to do with her coven. Judging by the slogans, they were going after Metaphysical Gifts, the store on Main Street that touted itself as a “Pagan gift shop.”
Over the years, her father’s church had begun to stray into strange territory. Likely they no longer qualified as Catholic. As far as she could see, they did what the reverend told them to. Picketing, protesting, ruining people’s lives and businesses…
They couldn’t be going after Sage Widow.
The very idea made her tighten her grip on the wheel, anger sparking in her chest. They couldn’t. She wouldn’t let them.
Thankfully there was no one there when she pulled into the parking lot, no mad-eyed worshippers with angry cardboard signs.
Sage Widow was her second favorite place in town. It had started out as a tea shop and slowly, over the years, morphed into something more. Something exciting.
Of course, there was no Witches Only sign, and it was visited by a fair number of patchouli-burning hippies and vegan football moms from the next town, but this was the only place with the ingredients for most everyday potions, so Dayna knew a good number of the clientele at least had witchy tendencies. It was a small, dimly lit shop that often smelled strongly of basil, and the sign over the door hung slightly crooked, but there was a special sort of magic to it despite this. Or perhaps because of it.
The bell jangled as Dayna pushed her way into the low-light interior. Instantly she was hit by a wall of fragrance, a mixture of herbs and incense so strong it made her eyes water. Margery, the woman behind the desk, eyes fixed on the TV, gave her a cursory wave as she came in.
Dayna moved farther into the shop, past shelves of talismans and teas, wooden symbols and stacks of pewter bowls. As she made her way under the wooden sign hanging above the aisle—Herbs & Oils to Bewitch the Senses!—her cell phone chimed.
She grimaced down at the screen. It was Samuel.
Hey, I’m still shaken up about that weird crow thing. Are you okay? We should get a coffee. Tomorrow?
She sighed and shoved the phone back into her pocket. That was all she needed right now, on top of everything.
It had been three months since they’d broken up. Since she’d insisted she needed her space because of the rumors flying around the school. She didn’t know how to talk to him now, how to deal with the shame that flared up and made her stumble over her words.
One day no one knew a thing, and the next, the entire school was whispering: Dayna Walsh is a lesbian. Dayna Walsh is bisexual.
No one seemed to know or care which one it was, just that she was hiding a secret that must be discussed, picked apart, delivered to anyone who didn’t know.
Now every day at school was pure misery. It was walking down the hallway trying not to make eye contact or accidentally brush past someone. Every second was spent overanalyzing everything.
All of that was precisely why Sage Widow was one of her favorite places. Here, there was no way she would see anyone from school. And the church didn’t seem to know about it. No one knew she was a witch, outside her coven, and she intended to keep it that way. Her father could continue believing her overnight stays with Reagan had been full of rom-coms and popcorn instead of spell books and cauldrons, that the summers had been beaches and barbecues, not nights of memorizing protection prayers and learning counterhexes. When she was very small she’d begged her father to let her be homeschooled with Reagan. She could think of nothing better than to quit private school and learn magic with her best friend. Of course, since Reagan and her mother weren’t Christian—Yemi went to the mosque in Waterford once a week—the reverend had shot that down fast.
She moved through the aisle, looking over boxes of crystals and jars of clover and cardamom. It was tempting to buy something for her stash beneath the bed….
But she was here for Bronagh’s tea.
She reached for the tea chest, directly beneath the black-and-white television on the top shelf, currently playing some kind of catchy jingle. She was mostly ignoring the commercial, but the words Struggling to catch a breath? jerked her upright. The woman on TV smiled wide, saying something about medication. Dayna staggered back, already fighting the first wave of panic, struggling to remember the cognitive behavior therapy she was supposed to be using.
One. The tea chest in front of her.
Two. The pink-jeweled mirror on the wall beside the shelves.
Three. Someone’s hand. Slender fingers, short nails. Black polish—
Dayna’s head snapped up as the owner of the hand came into view. The girl reaching past her was tall, nearly six feet. She was sharp-featured and pale, with dark brows and eyes. The black lines of a tattoo snaked up from the collar of her jacket and onto her throat. The girl’s hair, wavy and just past her shoulders, was so pale blond it was nearly white, and one side was shorn just above the ear. The effect was striking, and for a moment Dayna only stared, which gave the other girl enough time to turn away, and Dayna realized she’d taken the last satchel of Ceylon black tea.
“Um,” she stammered, caught between feeling foolish and indignant. “I was reaching for that.”
The girl turned, and her dark eyes flicked over Dayna from her shoes to the top of her head. The light caught the ring in the center of the girl’s lower lip, automatically drawing Dayna’s eye. When she looked up, she felt herself blush nearly to the tips of her ears.
“Were you, now? Seems to me you were staring at the TV with your mouth hanging open.” The girl’s voice was low and a bit husky. She looked amused, which sent a flare of irritation through Dayna.
“I was distracted for a moment.” It came out more defensively than she meant it to.
The other girl shrugged, hands tugging at the edges of her leather jacket in a way that was somehow dismissive. She turned on her heel. “You were too slow.”
For half a second Dayna only stood there, stunned. Are you kidding me? And then as the girl began to walk away, she shook herself and followed. “Uh, no. That’s my tea.”
She didn’t even turn around. “Doesn’t look like it.”
“Are you serious?” Dayna doubled her pace to catch up to the girl.
It wasn’t like she was looking for a fight, but she wasn’t going back without that tea.
She rounded the shelves, and there were suddenly three women staring at her. Dayna blinked, feeling ambushed.
“Made a friend in the tea section, have you, Meiner?” The girl on the far left crossed her arms over her chest. She was short, with straight blond hair and glasses, her skin tanning-booth bronzed. Her tone was inquisitorial, almost demanding, and the way she looked at her friend made Dayna wonder if they were an item.
“Not exactly.” The other girl—Meiner—gave Dayna a wry look over her shoulder. “She’s accusing me of tea theft.”
“I’m sorry, but I was reaching for that.” Normally she would have backed down. Been too shy to face off with a stranger as intimidating as this white-haired giant. But this was important.
Bronagh was waiting for this tea, and she’d be damned if she let some creepy frost giant–looking girl take it from her.
Okay, maybe she was looking for a fight. Just a little one.
The girl’s other companion, an elderly white woman with steel-gray hair, seemed to be muttering to herself. “Should have known not to trust her with anything.” She didn’t look at Meiner or Dayna, glaring at the shelves around them. “What the hell is this place?”
As Dayna watched, the old woman fished into her pocket and pulled out a thin silver case.
Meiner looked irritated. “Gran, you can’t smoke in here.” She turned back to Dayna. “Listen, we should check with the store. Maybe they have more tea in the back room.”
Dayna frowned, still a little indignant. “I suppose—”
“Here.” Meiner started forward, suddenly so close that Dayna jumped. She was tall enough that Dayna had to tip her head back to meet her eyes. She froze as Meiner seized her wrist, pressing the tea into her hand.
“Go on, then, it’s yours.”
For a second, the taller girl held on, fingers loosely wrapped around Dayna’s wrist, and Dayna blinked up at her, startled. Then the girl let go, stepping back with a smirk.
“Uh, thanks.” Dayna held on to the tea a little tighter than necessary. She hadn’t expected Meiner to give in so suddenly, and now she felt a bit silly. She’d really been ready to fight with a stranger just now. Over tea. What the hell is wrong with me?
Her face felt hot, and she opened her mouth—she wasn’t sure what she planned to say—but Meiner was already turning away. The others followed without a backward look.
Praise for Witches of Ash and Ruin:
"...the action sequences are cinematic in scope, and rich interior characterizations add depth to an arresting story."—Publishers Weekly
"A suspenseful supernatural story."—School Library Journal
"Fast-moving, frequently funny and full of the kinds of supernatural shenanigans that have made books series such as Leigh Bardugo's Grishaverse novels and streaming series such as the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Shadow Hunters popular."—Vancouver Sun
- On Sale
- Mar 3, 2020
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers