This is an exclusive sneak peek of BLACKBIRD, a YA Fantasy loosely inspired by King Arthur but set in a Japanese Culture with Fae, Samurai, Dragons an a kick-butt assassin. This is an early draft, so please excuse any typos/errors. Let me know what you think! And if you love it, please share!!
Chapter 1 – Avy
Only one name—that was the single rule I’d given the citizens of Mioto. One name presented to the Blackbird to decide if they were worthy. Not for glory or riches—for death.
I’d sat on the rooftop silently watching my mark for two hours since Kotori had delivered me his name. The black bird flew through the night sky, nearly invisible, before landing on my shoulder with a neatly folded piece of parchment tucked in her beak. That sheet was now crumpled in my hand.
The name was familiar. And the scent wafting from it was also known to me—the person who had written the name. It was the only ability I had as a lesser fae, giving me a slight advantage against my mark. The ability to pick out scents specific to each person. Everyone was different, something unique setting them apart, and I picked out the hint of citrus from the parchment in my hand.
Now, from the tiled rooftop where I sat in the upper part of Mioto—the richer half of the city—I stared through the window where Mr. Lin had been pacing for nearly an hour, unaware of my presence.
Kotori had followed, as usual, and tilted her head side to side, a beady eye staring at me as she waited for her reward.
“Greedy as always,” I mumbled, reaching into my pocket and dumping a handful of birdseed onto the rooftop.
I inched closer to Mr. Lin's window. A cool breeze pushed my hair back.
“How many more men do we need,” a male voice filtered through his open window. “We found what he asked us to, and lost a lot of good men in the process. How many more can he possibly want?”
“All of them,” Mr. Lin replied, his voice deep and gravelly.
He was a large male, tall with broad shoulders—a High Fae—known to many as simply The Boss. Any who grew up in the slums knew him, we’d all been affected by Mr. Lin at some point. He practically ruled the slums with an iron fist and I'd been expecting his name to show up one day.
“Can we spare them all for some old tale that probably isn’t even true?” the other voice asked.
“It wasn’t a request, it was an order,” Mr. Lin growled, turning on the man whose identity remained hidden by the wall.
I slunk back into the darkness, pulling the black hood of my cloak over my head, covering the long dark hair sliding down my back. I could only see Mr. Lin from where I hid, but I knew many of his associates, and I was sure the other voice would find his name in my hand one day, if he wasn’t careful.
The city below was beautiful from up here. Lanterns and a few torches dotted through windows, the moon and stars were partially hidden by spares clouds, and the night was quiet. From this height, the valley between the two mountains made the city look small, spreading up both sides of the mountains in a wide V. I couldn't hear the rushing river curving through the heart of the city, but I could smell the salty ocean water the river drained into. I took a deep breath, let the warm summer air fill my lungs and calm the restless energy building inside of me.
The curve of the rooftop of the home next to where I hid kept me veiled from anyone still out this late, including my mark. Even if I was seen, no one would suspect who, or what, I was. All the citizens would see was a seventeen-year-old girl out past curfew. Little did they know I was the assassin known as the Blackbird. It was far too late for many to be out, so I wasn’t worried, but my gaze flickered across the river, to the House of Air and Water at the top of the mountain overlooking the city. The palace was the only building lit at this time of night, the personal residences of the Emperor Souta, and for some reason the sight sent a shiver down my spine.
Kotori nibbled at my fingers with impatience. I looked away quickly. “Yeah, yeah. I'm going,” I grumbled, shifting back to the edge of the roof top again.
Mr. Lin had turned his back to the window once again. My feet were silent and steady over the blue clay tiles.
“The men grow restless after what they saw,” the other voice said, tight and hesitant. “They wish to know more.”
I couldn’t hide my surprise, or curiosity, at the man’s words. Not many questioned The Boss.
“They will know more when I choose to tell them more.” Through the window, Mr. Lin braced himself on a dresser and stared at his reflection in the mirror. His features were dark, his skin bronze from years in the sun, and his grey eyes held no warmth. “Leave me,” he ordered.
A door closed from inside the room and I smiled as I stepped to the edge of the rooftop. Finally.
I glanced below to the small walkway between the two houses. They were close enough the leap to the windowsill wouldn’t be a problem. The narrow street was empty, only a single light from the kitchen shone into the dark alley, likely a servant already preparing breakfast for the morning that would break soon.
I steadied myself, peering through the window. Mr. Lin had his back to where I hid. I jumped. My feet didn't make a sound when they touched the wood surrounding the window, and Mr. Lin was unaware of my presence. I crept into the room, two daggers slipping into my hands. Thin wooden panels covered one wall leading to a hallway. An oversized bed with red silk sheets sat at the center of the room, while sheer curtains hung from the ceiling, draping over the bed. A second door lead to a private bathroom I knew was unoccupied. It was just me and Mr. Lin.
I was small compared to The Boss, which made things a bit more difficult, but I enjoyed the challenge. I’d been trained for it. I was careful to hide out of view of the small mirror, tip toeing across the patterned rug, keeping away from the light so even my shadow remained unseen.
I lunged, moving behind Mr. Lin quickly, pressing one dagger under his ribs and the other to his throat. He froze, but he didn't startle. He must've expected I would come one night.
“You have two choices, Mr. Lin.” I kept my head down, the black hood covered my features, but I didn't bother disguising my voice. He wouldn’t recognize it anyway. I’d spent most of my life unnoticed—unheard—and now it had become my greatest strength.
“I will double whatever they're paying you,” Mr. Lin said quickly, before I could continue.
Everyone thought the same thing—this was just about the money. I became the Blackbird for vengeance, and it was true I had continued for the money I was promised to do the same for others, but that wasn’t what it was all about anymore. Now, it was about justice, and doing what was right when no one else would. So far, no one had put a name in the pan for the Blackbird who didn’t deserve punishment, but I always gave them a choice.
“You will release all the men under your service. Every business you own will be given to someone of my choosing. You will be allowed to keep whatever scraps you have in this house, but you will make no more money by the hands of others. Do you agree?”
Mr. Lin tried to glance back, shifting over his shoulder to see me, but I moved with him, remaining hidden. “Who the hell do you think you are, girl?” he barked. “I've earned everything I have.”
“By threats and force, using others as pawns,” I hissed, pressing the dagger at his ribs a little firmer.
Mr. Lin stilled, his thick jaw tightened. “Is what I do so different than this?”
“I only take names that are worthy. And trust me, you are more than worthy.” I shifted my weight, anticipating his attack next, they always tried to fight when bargaining failed.
Mr. Lin’s elbow drove back and I twisted out of the way before it broke my nose. A red spark, like a small flame, flickered in his hand and I pressed the dagger at his side deeper. He let out a wheeze of air and I twisted the blade before he bellowed. The thin walls of the room would not silence his screams, but The Boss had just ordered his associate to leave, and so no one would hear him tonight—no one who cared anyway. The flash of red disappeared.
The High Fae were always harder to take down, but the iron blades of my daggers quelled their magic just enough for me to finish the job. Stealth and speed were the skills I controlled, ones ruthlessly trained into me, but as a lesser fae I possessed no magic. Outside of the abilities all fae possessed—quicker healing, longer lives and sharper senses—I had little to combat magic. My heightened sense of smell would help, but not in a fight, only to track down my marks. Iron would have to do, tonight.
Mr. Lin stopped fighting, and moved on to the next phase, begging. “Please, what do you want? I'll give you anything.”
“I gave you my terms,” I said smoothly. “Do you agree to them?”
“I... I have a family to take care of. And these men need me. They need a leader.”
I leaned in close enough to whisper in his ear. “They'll do just fine without you.”
My blades sliced simultaneously. The dagger at his side twisted up under his rib cage, while the blade at his throat silenced any screams. Warm blood spilled on my blades. I stepped back, letting his body fall to the ground, his hands clutched his throat, as if he could stop what was coming.
I crouched down beside him, his eyes widening at the sight of me as I pulled back the hood from my face. “You have been found worthy,” I said. “Worthy of death.”
I didn’t wait to see him die. I stood and replaced my daggers in their sheaths and slid back through the window, jumping gracefully into the alley between the two buildings. My black cloak fluttered behind me like a bird on the wind. Kotori followed from high above through the night sky as I made my way back home.
The streets weaved in and out, narrow in some areas so only one person could pass, but I was alone in the darkness. The steep decline back down to the slums had my legs fighting for purchase and my muscle screaming, but it made me feel alive. My adrenaline was still pumping. At night, even unknown, I was important. Unlike in the daylight when all these people saw was a lesser fae scum—a thief and a liar. I was still all those things when the sun set, but suddenly they needed my skills.
It didn't take long to reach the river’s edge, icy mountain water flowed calmly over a shallow rock bed, and the moon reflected off its surface. Kotori took up her spot on the perch overlooking the river, a small copper pan hanging from the outstretched limb of her pole where more names would one day be presented for the Blackbird. Coins rattled at the bottom of the pan as a light breeze caused it to sway, payment from the citizens of Mioto in hopes the Blackbird wouldn’t seek them out, or for a job completed. Kotori was like an idol to them—a God—and my identity remained unknown.
I whistled a goodbye before stepping onto the wood bridge spanning over the river. The docks swayed with the water beneath them, held down by weights below the surface, challenging my balance. Farther down the docks, lining both sides of the river, were fishermen preparing for sunrise which was only hours away, when they would sail out into the Black Sea. Their boats stirred in the distance where the river widened and deepened. They didn’t see me—I always remained hidden.
Crossing the river I reached the homes on the other side. Small buildings only one story high and so close to the river the wood was warped and smelled of mold. Flowered curtains floated out of an open window, and I pushed them back in and closed the shutters. Before I opened my door, I ran my blood stained daggers through the clean river water, drying them with the edge of my cloak and stashing it all under my arm before sneaking inside.
It was quiet in my tiny home. Mother and Grandmother both already asleep, used to the late hours I kept with the fake job I claimed to have. Neither knew what I really did when the sun set. I slid my cloak and weapons into the hiding spot under my bed before I plopped down, exhaustion pulling at me. Guilt didn’t stir up nightmares as I fell asleep—it never did.