Death’s Collector: Sorcerers Dark and Light
Book 3 of the Death’s Collector Novels
A banished demigod abducting children. An underpowered sorcerer forced to fight. An impossible battle for a virtuous cause.
Bib has retreated home, wracked with grief. After dooming his own daughter, he’s unwillingly dragged into a conflict with the demonic son of the God of War. And though he saves his town from the petulant deity, his tragic miscalculation allows the sadistic fiend to make off with a hoard of kids.
Enraged and determined to right his mistakes, Bib must once again negotiate with the gods for enough power to overcome his sinister foe. And if that doesn’t work, then he’ll just have to summon the dead…
Will Bib defeat the snarky Goliath and save the children from a horrific fate?
Death’s Collector: Sorcerers Dark and Light is the third book in the hopelessly irreverent Death-Cursed Wizard fantasy series. If you like warped insults, inventive magic, and complex characters, then you’ll love Bill McCurry’s bloodstained quest.
“I hadn’t become the oldest sorcerer alive by jumping in front of arrows or failing to run while everybody else was getting killed.”
– Bib the sorcerer
Sample from Chapter 1
Every girl has accused somebody of ruining her whole life, and my little girl said that to me too. Not every girl gets stabbed to death by her father, though, not the way I killed mine. Wise and good people told me she was too dangerous to let live. They said I had done the right thing, but I loved her and could never think it was right.
I killed Manon in the thickest part of winter, which then shuffled on like it didn’t care. I rode west, away from the city of Bellmeet on the Great Empire Road. Five hundred miles ahead of me, the road was a heroic, paved thoroughfare, but at piddly Bellmeet, two farmers’ carts could hardly squeeze past without a fist fight.
I rode for two months, flung my sword in the ditch twice along the way, and went back for it both times. When the Great Empire Road thawed to a thousand miles of mud, I stopped in Bindle township and fell into habits that I figured would attract vermin. After the first week, everybody in town knew where to find me at anytime. That’s how four frilly dead men came to be standing in front of my sad, swayback cottage, muttering among themselves about killing and thievery.
They did not believe themselves to be dead, of course. Young men can’t comprehend a world that might exist without them. They had followed me from the tavern with plenty of life left in them, trailing fifty paces back, hands on their expensive swords, speaking rash words and giggling like girls. When I paused to straighten my cloak, they stopped too and stood by the muddy lane as innocent as fence posts. One of them had told me a joke in the tavern yesterday, laughed until his tears ran, and bought everybody drinks. I would kill him in a few minutes.
The idea was pleasant. My purpose in Bindle was to kill foul sons of bitches, the kind who would try to murder an old man for gold. I lured men like that by showing the gold around, a lump the size of a toddler’s fist. I would cut off a sliver to purchase my meal before thunking it down on the scarred table in the tavern. Then I’d let it lay there while I ate and ignored every avaricious eye in the room. My hair had gone gray early, and I could appear so feeble that a child might knock me over with a fart. All the foul sons of bitches knew where to find me, so they followed me home, or to the privy, or to the stables, and that’s where I murdered them.
I waited just inside my door in the first bits of twilight. The four ambitious thieves whispered and shuffled in their soft leather boots. Their cloaks were cut for style, not warmth. They didn’t even need the damn gold. The porch groaned when I stepped outside. The young men jerked and gaped as if their ma had caught them stealing pies.
Hell, I couldn’t just walk over and kill them for making a bad decision. I yearned to, but they looked too stupid and pitiful. One had cheeks shaved so pink he looked like a baby. I swallowed hard and waved the back of my hand at them. “I just sanded my floor last week, and I don’t intend to let you boys bleed to death on it. You go on back to the tavern and get drunk. It’s healthy. Healthier than this.”
I think they may have walked away with a few curses and a bad gesture or two if it hadn’t been for the short, gawky one with a chicken neck. He poked his tall, homely friend on the shoulder, and the tall man forced a smile. “Toss over the gold, Papaw, and don’t fuss. I could break you the way I’d do a stick.”
I sighed and didn’t gut the insolent tadpole. “I don’t have that gold anymore. Lost it between here and the waterfalls. You’re welcome to search for it.”
The tall one sneered. “You horrible, old liar. It’s right there in your pouch, bulging. Isn’t it?”
I touched the faded green pouch on my belt and nodded. “Let nobody say you’re too stupid to piss downward.”
He snorted, but his eyes were wide and he shuffled his feet.
Rather than kill them, I shoved my sword hand behind my back and grabbed my belt. “Boys, my only treasure is wisdom, earned with bruises and broken hearts. Go home, marry rich wives, make a bunch of fat babies, and spoil the shit out of them.” I nodded toward a couple of shabby houses across the lane. “Forget all this. You can tell people how you faced down death in the wild lands.” Bindle was no wilder than a billy goat, but compared to a wealthy Empire borough, it was a battlefield.
The baby-faced one backed up a step, but the jovial one held his ground. The short one edged forward and glanced at his tall, mouthy friend. “If you’ve gone all shy about cutting his head off, Conor, let me have him.”
Conor waved him back like he was a pushy little brother.
We had collected spectators. Three men wearing yellow sashes had appeared from around one of the dirty, plastered houses across the lane, almost as if they’d been waiting there. A big man and two boys trotted up the lane from the direction of the tavern, one boy pushing a wheelbarrow.
Conor shouted, “Stop slumping on your butt, old man! Give it over, or I’ll carve you right now!” He shook his sword hand, wiped his palm against his trousers, and didn’t touch the sword again. He didn’t want to kill me any more than he wanted to eat glass. His pissant friends were pushing him into it.
I pulled a silver coin from another pouch and tossed it to Conor, who fumbled and dropped it in the mud.
“Go have a little fun,” I said. “If you had all that gold, you’d debauch yourselves until your dicks fell off. I’m offering you a kindness.”
None of them bent for the coin that would have fed a family for a month.
“Go on!” I bellowed.
Conor jumped and staggered back, and his friends flinched. I opened my mouth to yell some abuse at them and shame them into going home, but Conor’s chicken-necked friend drew his sword. “Give us that gold, you old fart!” Then he stood there like he was waiting for inspiration.
I had grown to become a mature gentleman in part because I didn’t allow people to point weapons at me more than once. I assumed that if they threatened my life once, they would be pleased to do it again sometime. I considered this rule to be inviolate, or I did in those days.
I charged the short one, and my blade was in his heart before the others had armed themselves. I withdrew, and he fell straight onto his face. The fellow to his left was drawing his own weapon. He was the happy young man who found himself so funny. I opened his throat with a compact slice, and he staggered sideways, blood spurting.
Conor and his baby-faced friend had drawn their swords by then. They both ran at me as if they were an avalanche that could plow me under. I cut Conor deep across the thigh, and he flopped down while I dodged his friend’s blade. Then I cut the friend so viciously on the shoulder that his arm dropped limp and his sword fell. He staggered back until he hit the bare plum tree.
The young man resembled a scared, bloody boy leaning against the tree trunk. He stared at my face, maybe waiting for whatever I was about to say. He looked shocked when I stabbed him in the heart without saying anything. Maybe he thought I was going to invite him inside so we could reminisce about the time I almost killed him.
Conor was staggering away when I turned to him. He glanced back. “No! You don’t have to! I’m sorry! I really am!” He tripped over a root sticking up by an oak stump, but he rolled faceup as quick as a fish. “No! No!” Conor screamed like a child, and he was still at it when I stabbed him through the right eye. He shuddered and went slack.
I gazed around at the bodies and beyond. Blood had sprayed on me, the daylight was draining away, and I would have murdered a dozen virgins for a drink. Well, I would have called them names until they cried. I scanned the area, past the spectators, in case these four sad thieves had any friends, and I hoped to hell I’d get to kill them too. However, they seemed to have been friendless.
It was unneighborly to leave dead men lying about in front of one’s house, but I didn’t need to worry about that. I sat down on the front step with my sleeve dripping blood onto the sprouting green grass. My hands started shaking so hard I dropped my sword, and I let it lie there. I wanted to damn Harik, God of Death, a being so foul and boring that when he walked past a songbird, it could never sing again. I wanted to, but this slaughter was as much my fault as his.
I sat for a minute with my head down. Manon’s hands had shaken like mine were shaking now. That didn’t mean anything. It just made me think of her.
The big man and his two boys had begun stripping the dead and piling everything valuable onto the wheelbarrow. I watched him cut loose Conor’s purse, empty it into his hand, and chuckle. “You shouldn’t have acted like pricks, fellows.”
The scavenger’s name was Whistler. He sat in the tavern almost every day, drinking ale, scowling at people’s jokes, and mooning over the bar girl, who wouldn’t look at him. She didn’t find his big nose, small chin, and brown teeth beguiling. I had killed two thieves near the stables one day, and Whistler arrived to rob the bodies and carry them away. By the end of the week, he had acquired a helper, and the next week, he started bringing a wheelbarrow.
I rarely spoke to the man. I acknowledged he was doing me a service by tidying up after my murders. He acknowledged that he was the only one making money from this whole tragic business. During the third week, two rough men set themselves up to compete with Whistler, threatening to break his neck if he didn’t give over the monopoly. That afternoon, I saw Whistler trundling their swords and boots along in his wheelbarrow.
Ours was not a morally defensible arrangement, but it worked for us.
The three sour-faced men with sashes had watched the little fight from across the lane. Now they crossed toward me, and one shouted, “Those snippy boys might have killed you, Bib. If they had, I’d have paid them in gold.” He gazed up and down the lane as he raised his voice. “If anyone kills you, I’ll pay him in gold, and he can keep the gold lump. You bar the door to your shitty little house tonight, Bib.”
I raised my head and grabbed my knees so he couldn’t see my hands shake. “How much are you paying, Paul? I might decide to kill myself, although I lack experience. Why don’t you go first so you can give me some pointers?”
Paul was the town burgher, sort of a headman and peacekeeper, and he looked at me like I was a pile of turds on his clean floor. He thought I was a threat to peace and orderliness. I knew he thought that because he said it to my face at least once a day. He was right too. Paul was a young, fit, brown-haired man, so handsome he was almost as beautiful as a girl. The townswomen pined for him openly, and they passed vile gossip about his wife.
Paul’s thugs each toted a bladed club. Tettler stood on the left, just a hair shorter than Paul, twice as old and five times uglier. On the right, Sam stood hunched, favoring a poorly healed leg. A man in his prime, he hid his bald head under a peaked, woolen cap. He stared at me with intelligent eyes full of disgust, and he spat on the grass near the lane’s edge. “Burn and die, you rotten fish!”
Sam was my wife’s brother.
Their faded yellow sashes showed they were important men. When they stepped off the lane, I picked up my sword, hands steady. They faltered thirty feet from me. Paul cleared his throat. “If you insist on remaining around here, you will suffer Bindle’s judgment. You must swear you’ll come to the town square tomorrow at midday! For judgment. Swear it!”
My face heated, and I almost jumped up to put my sword through his neck. I clenched my teeth against such a pointless display of anger. “Sorry, Paul, I prefer to enjoy the noonday sun while relaxing at the top of the falls, naked.”
Sam sneered and swore at me using three parts of my mother’s body.
Paul put a hand on Sam’s shoulder. “Bib, if you don’t swear, we’ll lock you in the temple cellar. Lock you.” He glared at my eyes for a second before blinking and glaring at my shoulder instead.
“Where are the rest of your faithful retainers, Paul?” I knew he had ten men working for him.
“Can’t find ’em,” Tettler grunted.
Paul hissed at Tettler and then shrugged at me. “It would be convenient for you to know where they are, eh? They could be anywhere, couldn’t they?” Paul shook his head, his long hair waving. “No, you have to swear to appear, otherwise you must come with us.” Sweat ran down both sides of his face.
They didn’t seem all that dangerous. That meant that I should have killed them without hesitating. I have learned to heap suspicion upon those who don’t seem dangerous. Paul was a snobby twit, but brave. I didn’t have to kill him today. Maybe another day. Maybe never, who could tell? “All right, I swear.”
“What?” Paul said, his eyes wide.
I pointed my sword at the sky. “I swear by all the gods and their private regions that I will call upon you and the other decent citizens of Bindle tomorrow at midday. At the town square. Should I bring anything? I could purchase the whole damn bakery if I wanted to.”
Paul breathed deep. “Good, then . . . no, don’t, I mean don’t with the bakery, but fine with the square, just be there. Fine.” He led his men at a fast walk up the lane.
I turned and found that my blue front door had closed. I pushed against it, but it didn’t budge or even make a sound. Leaning my shoulder against the door, I murmured, “It’s getting dark, the night’s colder than walrus whiskers, and I’m covered in blood. Can we wait until morning for his shit?”
The door eased itself open, as slow as cold grease. As I walked inside, it slammed shut on my left foot.
“Damn you to eat hot coals in hell!” I hobbled around the main room. “I’m going to smash all your doors to splinters and use this place to store horse turds!”
Carpenter’s tools, lumber, paintbrushes, and two lanterns lay clumped where I had left them around the main room. I snatched up a short board and hurled it at the blue door, maybe the most ridiculous act I had ever undertaken. I turned away from the door to cover my embarrassment, which was the second most ridiculous.
Although the fire was well-banked, building it up sounded like more work than building the whole damn fireplace. The fire remained un-poked by me. I ignored the bucket of water and the clean clothes beside it. My lanterns were useless without fire, so I trudged into the bedroom mostly by feel.
The new bed had cost as much as a wagon filled with pigs, and the new glass window should come next week. I felt a flash of rage that I had to wait. It flashed and left behind nothing much at all, so I lay down on my pallet with my sticky sword and started to ask Manon if she was cold. Instead, I closed my eyes and hoped I’d fall asleep sometime before sunup.