Reckoning and Retribution

The Collector - Book Four

by Mathias G. B. Colwell

With the menagerie destroyed and Helmsted in flight, Philip, Alayna, Beathan, and Azir set their sights on a new, and even more dangerous objective. An uneasy truce exists between them, but will the tentative trust between Philip and Azir continue to grow or will it vanish completely as the company forges an alliance with deadly enemies?

Meanwhile, finally reunited, Philip and Alayna struggle to discover if the pieces of their hearts still fit together. Are their emotions still bound to one another or have prior events changed them irrevocably?

Old and new bind together, as this journey culminates where so much of it began. It is a story of transformation and retribution, a tale of renegades and deals with darkness. More than anything it is an example of how far the bonds of friendship will go to keep each other safe.


Chapter One


Philip felt the bite a split second before he awoke, sharp teeth sunk deeply into his forearm. An instinctual reaction led him to yank his arm away as he opened his eyes. Dark eyes glittered above him, reflecting the flickering light of a midnight fire. A pale, regal face outlined by silken-black hair atop a lean frame, hovered above him. Mischief and malice mingled in equal parts in the vampire’s face.

With a roar of anger and pain Philip thrust himself upwards to his feet and eyed his attacker. They circled each other warily with cautious eyes. The night-dweller darted in for a few lightning fast feints, but Philip was too experienced a fighter to fall for them. The vampire was quick enough to land a few blows, however, and Philip felt his eye swell, and the slash of what had to be nearly claw-like fingernails on one of his arms. Philip closed the distance and landed a few blows himself. His knuckles were calloused like only a long-term fighter’s could be and he could hear the pain in the vampire’s grunts as he connected, even if the creature danced back out of range with an eager glint in its eye.

Philip had had enough of this. He was a direct individual and he fought like it. He tackled the night stalker. A moment of surprise flecked the vampire’s eyes followed quickly by its own deep-seated rage before the two bodies collided. Philip bore the vampire to the ground in a brawler’s tactic and tried to force him down with his own body weight, landing a quick, forceful blow or two as they scuffled. The vampire was not weak, however, and turned the tables on Philip, forcing his own body beneath the weight of the attacker.

The vampire soon lost all sense and appearance of regality as it clawed, kicked, and bit into Philip’s shoulder and neck, with a vicious desperation—a desperation likely born from Philip’s change of tactics, a switch from landing awkward blows to a steadily-tightening constrictor’s grasp.

Philip ignored the pain bites and squeezed even harder, forcing air out of the vampire’s lungs until it stopped biting and began struggling just to catch its breath. Its angry scrabbling turned anxious in a bid to escape. Blood welled up from tens of bites across Philip’s shoulder and arm, but he ignored the wounds. He healed even faster than he used to these days. They were of little concern.

One last jerk of my arms. That’s all it will take. The thought came and he eagerly sought to pursue it. He had the vampire where the creature was least effective, on the ground, in a vice-grip, where its speed and agility could do it no good. One titanic tightening of his powerful arms would be enough to break its back. Troll blood infused into Philip’s body as a child would enable him to accomplish such an act. As well many other feats.

He coiled to make it so, to end the fight, when a voice cut through the night. “Stop! Philip, stop!”

Alayna’s melodic voice rang out singsong into the dark, even if it was filled with concern. She spoke again.

“I said stop. Both of you. Philip, Azir, you’re being childish. Stop the fighting at once!” she finished with an imperious toss of her strawberry-blonde hair. Only the slight crease of her forehead betrayed the depth of her worry.

Philip weighed her request only for a short moment before expelling his breath in a huge sigh and letting go. He released his grip and rolled away quickly into a prepared fighter’s crouch, mimicking what the vampire Azir had done. They eyed each other warily, coals from the fire illuminating their faces. Philip saw hate there, an emotion he was sure the vampire could see reflected in his own eyes. However, the vampire was noticeably the worse for wear compared to Philip. Azir was trying to catch his breath and slightly twisting and stretching his back as he watched Philip, no doubt attempting to undo the damage Philip had begun to inflict during their conflict.

“Stop, doesn’t just mean quit fighting. You’ve both got to relax around each other. And stop preparing to fight as well. You’re so on guard that the slightest thing sets you off.” Alayna’s exasperation did little to make Philip feel guilty. He maintained a wary gaze on the vampire.

Azir transformed at her words. He straightened and smoothed the anger out of his face. “Of course, Alayna. Of course.” He nodded courteously to her. “I was merely defending myself from attack.” His thick eastern accent was mitigated by the way he pronounced every single syllable that he spoke completely and clearly.

Philip rolled his eyes. “He bit me. He took a chunk out of my arm.” Philip wiggled his forearm up in the air for all to see. He hated the plaintive note he heard creeping into his voice. Hated the way he felt around Alayna and Azir.

“That is only because you pulled away so violently.”

“I pulled away because you bit me. You were drinking my blood. You were eating me!” Philip’s outrage grew.

“I suppose I was. But only a little,” the vampire smirked.

Philip shook his head and was about to reengage the fight, Alayna’s wishes be damned. He saw Azir’s muscles tense and eyes narrow as he saw the flickers of danger in Philip. But before he could attack Alayna intervened again.

“I said enough! You’re being childish. Both of you.” Her frustration cut him.

Philip couldn’t hide the hurt on his face. How could she take Azir’s side in this? He might have technically started the fight, but he never would have been pushed to do so were it not for the actions of the vampire. However, a subtle, angry glance at the vampire showed that Azir’s face reflected almost what he would have guessed his own did; annoyance at being lumped in by Alayna with the other.

Everything had been strange in the week that had passed since they left the Manor. Philip had gone from believing Alayna was dead—killed by Collectors—to going half-mad with grief, then removing the trace with the help of The Alchemist, to wanting revenge on the Guild, before finally discovering Alayna was actually alive. It had been a whirlwind of emotions spanning a short period of time, and he was still recovering from it. It hadn’t helped that upon discovery of Alayna, he had also encountered Azir with her, a character he had whole-heartedly hoped he would never see again upon leaving the shores of England. And yet here the vampire was, healthy, whole, and somehow having managed to worm his way deeper into Alayna’s affections than Philip would have ever thought possible. Philip didn’t know where he and Alayna stood. Their hurry to put distance between themselves and the carnage left behind at the manor and the menagerie had left little time for discussion. It had certainly been a confusing week.

The fourth member of their party stepped in between Philip and Azir to create a physical barrier between them. Beathan, the half-fairy, half-human put a hand on Philip’s chest and pushed him away from the vampire.

“Walk it off, mate,” he murmured with his Irish lilt. “But don’t stray too far, the Transylvanian woods are no place t’ be alone for long.”

Philip shrugged his hand off but acquiesced to the advice. Blood still dripping from cuts, he stomped away from the coals.

“Philip, let me tend those bites,” Alayna’s voice took on its first sound of care since she’d broken up the fight. For some reason it annoyed him, and he ignored her to walk deeper into the forest. He’d probably regret it later. They had to talk eventually—things couldn’t go on as they were—but for now, ignoring her felt like the easiest option. Or the most satisfying at least. He walked into the darkness of the night and pulled the chill air around him like an imaginary frozen cloak. The snow on the tops of tree branches and the soft blanket of snow on the ground calmed him and he soothed his anger and pain with the cool balm of late-winter, and reminded himself of home, of the north.

"Reckoning and Retribution" by Mathias G.B. Colwell



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