BLACKBIRD - Sneak Peek

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 will be the second series in the world of THE SIX THRONES, but each series is meant to be an entry point into the larger world, meaning they can be read in any order! Let me know what you think by commenting below!

Chapter 1 – Avy

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.

The night was dark and cloudless, masking the black bird flying toward me in darkness, rendering her nearly invisible. She landed on my shoulder with a neatly folded piece of parchment tucked in her beak—my next mark. I only had to read the name once, recognizing it immediately, before crumpling it in my hand and taking off. The Boss was well known to all in the slums of Mioto. I’d been expecting his name one day.

I silently followed his scent, picking it out like a string in the air tied among the others, to a rooftop across from his home. The scent lingered in the air, filled with a musky odor instantly causing my hands to curl into fists, a thirst for vengeance sparking. The ability to track down my marks through their scent was the only advantage I had as a lesser fae. It was rare, for a lesser fae to possess any magic, and I’d once thought it made me special—I now understood it simply made me a weapon. One that was sharp and precise, unforgiving and vengeful.

I watched The Boss through an open window, waiting for an opportunity to make my judgement. He was clearly agitated tonight, and I was only going to make his evening worse. A small smile spread across my lips.

Kotori, my little black bird friend, hopped down from my shoulder to the tiled rooftop I knelt on. The small claws on her feet clicking as she nudged herself closer, tilting her head side to side as she waited for her reward.

“Greedy as always,” I mumbled, reaching into my pocket and dumping a handful of birdseed onto the rooftop. She began devoring them immediately.

I inched closer to The Boss’s window. A cool breeze pushed my hair back. My hands gripped onto the slick tiles as I leaned forward.

“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, he can’t possibly think we’ll give him more?”

“All of them,” The Boss replied, his voice deep and gravelly.

He was a large male, tall with broad shoulders—a High Fae. He’d received his title, The Boss, through the blood and sweat of others and owned most of the slums in Mioto. Any who grew up there knew him. We’d all been affected by The Boss at some point. He practically ruled the slums with an iron fist, one I’d felt often as a kid, so I'd been expecting his name to show up—had been waiting for it to show up.

“Can we spare them all for some old tale that probably isn’t even true?” the other voice asked. It was one of The Boss’s associates I recognized but couldn’t recall his name. “We’ve searched the mountains more times than I can count for the Sleeping Dragon, it doesn’t exist.”

“It wasn’t a request, it was an order,” The Boss growled, turning on the man who I couldn’t see from where I watched.

The Sleeping Dragon? I’d heard stories as a child, of a royal bloodline who once controlled dragons—but they were tales, fabled stories parents told children. I was inclined to believe The Boss’s associate…searching for the Sleeping Dragon would be futile.

Kotori nibbled at my fingers impatiently. “Yeah, yeah. I'm going,” I grumbled, shifting closer to the edge of the roof top, my feet silent and steady over the blue clay tiles.

“The men grow restless after what they saw,” the associate said, tight and hesitant. “They wish to know more.”

Through the window, The Boss braced himself on a dresser, watching his own reflection in the mirror. His features were dark, his skin bronze from years in the sun, and his grey eyes held no warmth.

“They’ll know more when he chooses to tell them more.” His body trembled with rage, the message clear—conversation over. “Leave.”

A door closed from inside the room and I smirked as I stepped to the edge of the rooftop. Finally.

I glanced below to the small walkway between the two houses. The homes in the upper half of Mioto were larger, triple the size of my own shack I shared with my mother and grandmother. Built within a valley along the sides of two mountains converging on a winding river in the middle. Mioto was beautiful, especially at night. Dots of lights spread down the steep incline. I could see the river from where I hid, could smell the salty ocean it flowed into, and the silence and stillness here filled my lungs with a calm coolness I craved.

I steadied myself, peering through the window. The Boss had his back to where I hid, still leaning against the dresser. I jumped. My feet didn't make a sound when they touched the wood windowsill and The Boss remained unaware of my presence. I crept into the room, two daggers slipping into my hands from the sleeves of my cloak. A hood covered my features, pale skin under dark black hair. I was a shadow—invisible. The room was large, a bedroom twice as big as my entire home, and covered in paintings and glass figures worth more than I’d ever make for any job I completed as the Blackbird. 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 leading to a private bathroom was unoccupied. It was just me and The Boss.

I was small compared to him, which made things a bit more difficult, but I enjoyed the challenge. I’d been trained to kill for four years at Shikaku Academy. Now, I used the skills I’d been taught at the assassin school for my own purpose, and I was good at it. I was careful to remain out of view of the small mirror, tip toeing across the patterned rug, keeping away from the light so even my shadow went unseen.

I lunged, moving behind The Boss, pressing one dagger under his ribs and the other to his throat. He froze, but he didn't startle. He must've expected someone would eventually give me his name.

“You have two choices, life or death.” I kept my head down, the black hood shielding 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,” The Boss 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’d continued for the money I was promised to do the same for others, but that wasn’t what it was about anymore. Now, it was about justice, and doing what was right when no one else would—when no one else could. 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 live, to keep whatever scraps you have in this house, but you will make no more money by the hands of others. Do you agree?”

The Boss 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.

The Boss stilled. His thick jaw tightened. “Is what I do so different than this?”

“I only take names that are worthy.” I leaned in closer, whispering, “And trust me, you are more than worthy.”

I shifted my weight, anticipating his attack next before he’d even moved. They always tried to fight when bargaining failed.

The Boss drove his elbow back. 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 as I twisted the hilt before he bellowed. The thin walls of the room would not silence his screams, but The Boss had just ordered his associate to leave. No one would hear him tonight—no one who cared anyway. The flash of red disappeared.

The High Fae were harder to take down, but the iron blades of my daggers quelled their magic enough for me to finish the job. Stealth and speed were the skills I controlled; ones ruthlessly trained into me. I had little to combat magic if it came to that, my ability to track scents only got me to my mark, it didn’t help me win. So, iron would have to do tonight.

The Boss 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 dryly. “Do you agree to them?”

“I... I have a family to take care of. And these men need me. They need a leader.”

“They'll do just fine without you.”

I didn’t give him another chance to barter. I’d made up my mind before I stepped in the room and nothing he would say could change it. I was certain he’d made his decision too—he would never give up the power he’d attained, and he’d never stop using lesser fae for his own gain. Judgement had been made.

My blades sliced simultaneously. The dagger at his side twisted up and under his rib cage, while the knife at his throat silenced any screams, sliding across his neck. Warm blood spilled on my hands. I stepped back, wiping them on my cloak as The Boss dropped to his knees with a thud. He 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 my hood back. Recognition flashed across his face, staring at the young thief, the insignificant nothing—or so everyone believed—who had been the one to take him down. “You have been found worthy,” I said, my voice low. “Worthy of death.”

I didn’t wait to watch him die. I stood, replacing 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. and my feet moved the second I hit the ground. Kotori followed from high above, scanning the night sky and directing me away from any guards still patrolling the city.

I remained veiled by darkness, hidden from anyone still out this late. 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.

The streets weaved in and out, a steep decline back down to the slums which had my legs fighting for purchase and my muscle screaming, but it made me feel alive. My adrenaline 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. They paid for my skills.

It didn't take long to reach the river’s edge. Icy mountain water flowed calmly over a rock bed near the shore. The moon reflected off its surface, waving gently with the current. Kotori took up her spot on a perch overlooking the river at the center of a courtyard in the slums. A small copper pan hung 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 goodbye before stepping onto the wood bridge spanning over the deeper part of 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 wide river, were fishermen preparing for sunrise, which was only hours away, when they would sail out into the Black Sea. No one saw me—they never did.

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. Tiles were broken from the corners of roofs and patched up holes were covered with whatever could be found. Flowered curtains floated out of an open window, and I pushed them back in, closing the shutters. Before I opened my door, I ran my blood-stained hands through the clean river water, drying them with the edge of my cloak and stashing my weapons 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, but I did it all for them. So, I could pay back a debt both with money and blood, and to ensure those who would harm them never got a chance. This wasn’t the life I had planned for myself, not when I joined Shikaku Academy at the age of twelve, but it was my reality now. Death, vengeance and blood was something I was finally good at, finally proud of. Guilt didn’t stir up nightmares as I fell into bed, quickly falling asleep—it never did.

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