Chapter One - Midnight Wings

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***PLEASE NOTE: this is only a sample of ECHO OF THE WITCH. At my new publisher's request, only the first 4 chapters are allowed.

This book is being released on March 1st 2016!

The silver-haired woman ran out of her house and down the worn trail into the woods, lifting her heavy skirt above her feet to keep the snow from dampening it.

"Mom?" Onyx called as she chased her mother through the trees. "What's wrong? What did you see?"

The woman had no time to answer. She was already summoning the crow.

"Bird of night,

bird of strange,

come to me.

I ask you to take flight

on your sacred wings of change."

Onyx followed her mother deeper into the forest. "Mom, tell me what's going on."

"Darling, shh," her mother whispered. She stopped, her gaze searching the canopy of bare branches above their heads. "Listen."

A flutter of wings echoed through the forest, and soon they could see the bird which responded to the call.

"Welcome," the old woman said, stretching a bejeweled arm out to greet the creature. It landed on her wrist obediently, under her spell.

Onyx watched as her mother gently touched the tip of her index finger to the crow's head, and it closed its eyes. She had seen her mother do the ancient ritual before, and its beauty never ceased to touch her heart. But, as beautiful as it was, Onyx knew it meant something was coming. By the way her mother had snapped out of her vision and ran out of the house in a panic, Onyx knew it couldn't have been good.

Whispers left her mother's lips as she told the crow what to do. A moment later, the bird took flight once more, soaring up into the sky as it left to deliver its message.

"Sova," Onyx said, using her mother's name to show her she was serious. She reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Please."

"Echo and Wren are in danger," she explained, her gaze still glued to the bird shrinking in the distance.

"Is it..." Onyx paused as a chill ran down her spine, not from the frosty air biting at her skin, but from the question on her lips. "Have the shriekers found them?"

"Not yet. But they will soon," Sova said. "I just pray my warning arrives before it is too late." She turned on her heels and started back through the woods the way she came, and Onyx hurried to keep up with her.

"How can we help them?" Onyx asked as she linked her arm into her mother's.

"We have done what we can, for now. It is in Echo's hands, and the decisions she makes in the next forty-eight hours will seal her fate, and ours. All we can do is prepare."

They walked silently back to the village, and both mother and daughter knew everything was about to change.

* * *

The icy wind fought against me as I trudged through the three-day-old snow on the sidewalk. The chattering of my teeth drowned out the car horns and conversations of the city street. It was early morning, and New York was alive and buzzing. I hurried through the crowd as people poured out of apartment buildings and into coffee shops and subway stations on their way to work. I pushed my gloved hands deeper into my jacket pockets. It didn't feel like spring just yet. At above zero, it was the warmest it had been in months, signaling the end of the time of year I so adored. Despite the gray skies, freezing temperatures, and everlasting snowstorms, winter had a charm which I cherished.

It allowed time for solitude, for introspection and stillness. It meant my sister, Wren, and I could spend all day in our shoebox-sized apartment, watching movies and playing old video games without feeling like we were wasting the day. It meant I could wrap myself in layer after layer of warm clothing, creating a much-needed barrier between me and the strangers I rushed by on the street. I felt hidden under all those layers, protected and invisible as I buried myself into my padded, soft jacket and faux-fur hood.

I let out a long yawn and rubbed my tired eyes as I stepped up to the entryway of the teeny-tiny bookshop. Slipping my rusted key into the paint-chipped door, I hoped to have another quiet, customer-free day. I was the only employee, and it wasn't unheard of to only have one or two customers a day—just how I liked it. The more time I had to dive into books and disappear into another world, the better. My world had been far too frightening, and spending more than a day without the escape of a good book was enough to make my mind overflow with bad memories.

As I entered the store, the morning sun cast my shadow over the faded carpet, making me jump in fright. "Jesus, Echo," I said to myself. Even my own shadow scared me now. That had to be a new low.

I shrugged my jacket off and threw my gloves and scarf on the counter before taking a seat behind it and picking up my latest read: Girl, Interrupted. The pages were faded, and the corners were wrinkled from the dozens of times I'd read it before, but I liked it that way. I liked seeing books with frayed edges; it showed that they had been loved, that they had fulfilled their purpose. I wished it could be the same for people. I felt frayed at the edges, but I knew it wasn't because I'd been loved or fulfilled my purpose. I was frayed because I'd been hurt, because I'd lost people to the same creatures I feared would one day come for my sister, for me.

Nowhere was safe, no matter how many times I double-checked the locks on our doors and windows—or how much I told Wren we were safe every time she woke up from another nightmare. At eleven years old, she was still young enough to believe me when I told her they couldn't find us, we were safe. But after what I felt, I knew safety was nothing but an illusion, a story we told ourselves to make us feel better. It was no more real than the fairytale my mother used to tell us every night.

A crow landed on the windowsill of the store, startling me. I frowned at it as the memory of my mother's voice ran through my mind: "A crow brings the message of change. It's calling you to step into your true self, my love. Do not fear it." She said those words to me the last time a crow had visited us—the day before she was taken.

"Shoo!" I said, standing up and going to the window, but it didn't budge. I waved my hands at it, trying to scare it away, but it just stared up at me, cawing at me through the glass.

I glared at the dreaded messenger, its midnight wings shimmering in the morning sunlight.

I hoped it wasn't a sign of things to come.

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