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 rule. One name given to the Blackbird to decide if they were worthy. Not for glory or riches. For death.
I sat on the rooftop silently watching my mark for two hours, ever since Kotori had delivered his name. She’d flown through the night sky, nearly invisible to all but me, landing on my shoulder softly, a neatly folded piece of paper tucked in her beak. That sheet was now crumpled in my hand.
The name was familiar. And the scent that wafted 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 that gave me a slight advantage, 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 paper in my hand. The person who had written down the name, Misah Ryo, was one of the workers in the fish market. Most assume a person’s scent was connected to what they were around most, but it was actually more about what they treasured in life.
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 no idea I was watching.
Kotori had followed, as always, 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.
“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 owned the entire slums with an iron fist, and I'd been waiting for his name to show up.
“Can we spare them all?” the other voice asked.
“That wasn’t a request, it was an order.” Mr. Lin turned on the man, hidden by the wall, and glared. I slunk back into the darkness.
The stars and moon were bright tonight, sparse clouds spread over the small city like wisps of smoke, but surrounding houses hid my presence. It was still warm mid-summer, but with the sun gone a cool reprieve had taken away the heat at night. I shivered, pulling my black hood over my head, covering the long dark hair that slid 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, but 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 that ran through the heart of the city, right down the middle, but I could smell the ocean salt water that the river drained into. Taking another deep breath, I settled the beating of my heart.
Kotori nibbled at my fingers with impatience. “Yeah, yeah. I'm going,” I grumbled, shifting closer again. My feet were silent and steady over the clay tiled roof.
“The men grow restless,” the other voice said. “They wish to know more.”
I didn’t need to see the tension to know it was there, not many questioned The Boss. The curved overhang of another rooftop kept me hidden from anyone still out this late. The buildings were tightly packed, tall and skinny, lining the steeply inclined mountain on either side of the river. The only building lit up in the dark of night was the House of Air and Water, the Emperor of Mioto’s personal residence. It sat at the top of the mountain across the river, overlooking the city below.
Even if I was seen, no one would suspect what or who 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.
“They will know more when I choose to tell them more.” Through the window, Mr. Lin braced himself on a small dresser and stared at his reflection in the mirror. His features were dark, his skin bronze from years in the sun, but 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 that the leap to the windowsill would not be a problem. The narrow street was empty, only a 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 me. 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 slid into the room, two daggers slipping into my hands. Thin wooden paneled covered one wall leading to a hallway. An oversized bed sat against one wall, red silk sheets fell across it while sheer curtains draped down from the roof. A second door, leading to a private bathroom, was unoccupied. It’s 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 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 out of sight.
I moved behind Mr. Lin quickly, pressed one dagger just 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—that this was just about the money. At first it was, we needed it, my family. But 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 that 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 digger at his ribs a little firmer.
Mr. Lin went still again, 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 expecting him to attack next, they always try to fight back 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 fire, flickered in his hand and I dug 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. The flash of red disappeared.
The High Fae were always harder to take down, but the iron blades of my daggers quelled their magic enough that I could finish the job. Stealth and speed were the skills I possessed, ones that had been ruthlessly trained into me, but as a lesser fae I had no magic. Outside of the abilities all fae possessed—quicker healing, long lives and sharper senses—I had little to combat magic. My heightened sense of smell would help, but not tonight. So iron would have to do.
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 onto my hands. I stepped back letting his body fall to the ground, his hands reached for his throat as if he could stop this, stop me.
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 at my side 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 the night sky as I made my way back home.
The streets weaved in and out, narrow 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 the muscle in my legs 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 sunset, but suddenly they needed my skills.
It didn't take me long to reach the river’s edge, water flowed calmly and the moon reflected off its surface. Kotori took up her spot on the small 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 the breeze made the pan sway, payment from the citizens of Mioto in hopes that the Blackbird wouldn’t seek them out. Kotori was like an idol to them—a God.
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. Fishermen were awake at this time of night, preparing for sunrise which was only hours away, when they would sail out into the Black Sea. Their boats stirred in the distance. 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 were both already asleep, used to my late hours and 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. I was fast to sleep.