The third series in The Six Thrones world is the Shadow Witch. This Count of Monte Cristo inspired revenge story is filled with action, romance and just a few twists. My hope is that each series (BLACKBIRD, THE BANISHED PRINCE and THE SHADOW WITCH) all act as entry points into the world of The Six Thrones, meaning you can read them in any order. This series isn't yet published, but please feel free to let me know what you think!!

Chapter 1 – Leigh

Death was merciful—it was easy. Vengeance was much more difficult, but it was what I sought. My life had been taken from me, my mother killed, because I once trusted and loved the wrong people. Now, I would take their lives. I would take everything they held dear, just as they took mine. I wanted them to suffer—needed them to suffer—because death was too good for them. These were not good people.

The boat I sailed in drifted slowly through the calm water leading to the palace. Instinctively, shadows swirled around me, cloaking me in darkness. The closer I got to the palace the less my magic would work, and the shadows would fall, but for now—they comforted me.

Walls of stone crept up the sides of the channel, slowly curving overhead like a drooping willow. The moon shone bright against the black night sky and stars looked like little dots against the clear canvas. My pulse remained calm, my breathing steady. It had been almost two years since I stepped foot in the Kingdom of Lachlan, since I left in tears and chains. I’d returned only a few months ago, preparing for this night painstakingly. Tonight would be the first time I entered the City of Lyra since it all happened. Tonight, I returned dressed in black like the Grim Reaper—though death was not what I’d take—it was everything else I wanted. A life for a life.

The long cloak and hood shielded my face, but it wouldn’t matter. I’d been careful to adjust my features so no one who once knew who I really was would recognize me. They all believed me dead, or imprisoned, or being used by the man they betrayed me to. Not one of the four souls I sought had any idea I was back, and that fact brought a smile to my face.

The boat moved into a building submerged in the crystal blue waters that covered most of the city of Lyra. Once a chapel or church, stained glass still hung beautifully on the walls, depicting the gods and their victories, dark shadows of death. The roof peaked in the middle, so high I had to tilt my head up to see the intricate patterns carved into the stone there. Only small flickers of light from torches along the walls showed me what was there, a snake crawling across the surface about to feast on the lambs.

A small wooden dock sat at the end of the structure. As my boat slowed to pull up along side it, two guards dressed in navy blue and white uniforms stepped forward.

“This area is closed to guests,” the first guard said. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

I stood, the boat steady under my feet. One hand reached for the hem of my long dress, while the other stretched out for the guard. He hesitated.

“Ma’am,” he said. “Did you not hear me? You must leave.”

I pulled back the hood of my cloak. Instinctively my fingers brushed the pendant of my necklace, while my magic flowed around me. It was a simple trick, one I’d used many times, making my features resemble someone else—even say, a Queen? The men gaped, eyes widening.

“You were saying?” I cocked my head, keeping my voice cold and harsh just as she would have.

“I’m so sorry, your highness.” The first guard sprang forward, capturing my hand and pulling me out of the boat in one strong, swift movement. “We didn’t realize…”

The second guard looked down at the boat, only just noticing I was alone. “How did you…?”

The men exchanged a look, one of understanding. It didn’t take them long to figure it out, that the Queen would never arrive to her own gala through this passage, on a boat alone without her personal guards.

They reached for their swords as they spun back on me. “Who are you?”

“Who do you think I am?” I asked, one sharp eyebrow cocked as a small smile spread across my face.

The first guard stuttered, his eyes growing wider. “You’re…you’re the…” He was too afraid to say the word—too terrified to speak out loud what I was.

I winked. “Ah, so you do know of me,” I said quietly, my hand reached into my cloak, brushing against the hilt of the dagger at my side. “I really wish I didn’t have to do this, but I’d like to keep my secrets to myself—for now.”

My hand thrust out, slashing through the air across the two stunned guards’ throats. They didn’t get another word out; they hadn’t even unsheathed their own blades fully. Their eyes went wide as they grabbed for their throats, the blood spilling over their white gloves, staining the pristine uniforms. I stepped past them, hearing the splash of water as they tumbled off the dock, just as I reached the stone staircase that would take me up to my intended destination.

Death was not something I shied away from—I’d been trained just as my brothers were, to kill and fight when needed, but the four souls on my list didn’t deserve death. They deserved something far worse.

I reached a landing just above the rooftop of the building I’d entered in. The entire city of Lyra sprawled out before me. Even at night, the human city in the norther realm of the Kingdom of Lachlan was stunning. Waterfalls cascaded from the sides of buildings, polished stone surrounded the city like a wall of white snow, and rivers wound and bent through pockets of buildings. Bridges spanned over the wide gaps, connecting the city built around the Hestian Falls. The break of water crashing into rocks soothed me—just as it had for the year I’d lived here. Building a home. Building a life. That life was gone now, and this was no longer my home, but all would be righted soon.

Stairs travelled up the outside of a white stone wall. My hand brushed against the smooth surface as I travelled up and up. A sharp cliff on the other side of the narrow stairs forcing my attention to remain fixed on each step, my hand grazing the wall at my side. I’d gotten past the easy part; the city guards were not protected under the palace wards and much easier to trick. Closer to the palace the Queens Guards grew in numbers and skill. I couldn’t trick them into believing I was the Queen, but I could still alter my appearance enough to be safe. I doubted many knew what I looked like, what my real face was, but there were four people present tonight who would and I had to remain unseen by them.

I reached the top of the stairs to find it opened to a long stone walkway. I had spent over a year in Lyra, but never once had I been to the palace. Music was already filtering through the air, mixing with the sound of voices and water crashing. I moved toward it. The sounds brought back sudden memories, flashes of a life I once lived. I steadied myself, taking a deep breath and pushing forward. Death be for the cruel and weak, vengeance be for the wise and cunning.

A short set of stairs brought me to where a band played soothing music and people sprang to life. A courtyard spanning three levels, wide stairs leading from one to another, looked like a grand hall placed under the stars. Green vines snaked up the sides of walls and large bowls of fire sat at the center of each courtyard. Men and women in their finest danced and feasted, all unaware who watched from the shadows. If there weren’t wards protecting it, I would have snuck in here cloaked in those very shadows or in the blink of an eye. But the magic surrounding this place made it impossible. Not only that, but tonight I needed to ensure my magic had altered me enough that those I sought wouldn’t recognize me. Tonight was a test, one I had to pass if I expected to finish the job I came here for, but it wouldn’t be easy.

Two guards stood at the entrance to the gathering, the Queens Gala, an event to celebrate the human Queen of Lachlan. The male guard assessed me as I approached, while the female guard’s dark cold eyes roamed up and down my body.

“Your invitation, my lady?” The male guard reached out a hand.

I hesitated, swallowing down any fear trying to fester inside of me, and fixed my face with a neutral smile. “I seem to have forgotten it, how silly of me, but surely you recognize me?”

The guard crossed his arms, his eyes narrowed. “No,” he said simply. My tricks would not work on these guards, they saw through every bit of it, which meant I was just me now, and somehow that made me feel lesser—incapable. I prayed silently to the gods that the small bit of magic I could feel swirling in my veins kept others from seeing the true me.

“My name is Lady Saldora, surely you have heard of me?”

“We have not,” the female guard replied, her voice clipped as she narrowed her eyes. “We must ask you to leave.”

I released a steady breath and my hands balled into fists at my side. My blade would be no help here, not if I wanted to avoid a scene. My shadows which didn’t even flicker in the presence of the palace. I felt the prying eyes from nearby patrons fixed on me, overhearing the exchange and moving closer with curiosity. I had to hurry.

I gritted my teeth, hating the word I was about to use. “Please, sir, if you could just have another look I am sure you will find I am permitted to be here.”

The male guard stepped forward, grabbing my arm hard. I winced. He moved to pull me away and my hand slipped into my cloak, brushing against the dagger, when someone stopped him. We froze.

“She’s with me, Petro,” a smooth male voice said.

Instantly, the guard released my arm. He turned to the man standing behind him. The man was tall, with white blond hair falling softly over his brow. His grey blue eyes were bright against the moonlight and fixed on me with a spark of curiosity. I recognized him immediately, everyone knew the Prince who would not be King, but he did not know me—that I was sure of.

“I’m sorry, your highness,” the guard said, stepping back so I could pass.

The Prince held out a hand for me, a brow raised as he waited to see if I’d take it. Reluctantly, I took it, tentatively moving forward. Why would he say I was with him? Who does he think I am?

“It was my mistake,” the Prince said, keeping his eyes locked on mine as he spoke. “I must have forgotten to let you know she was coming. I won’t let that happen again.” He turned, leading me quickly into the crowd of people, gripping my hand tight enough I couldn’t pull it away.

People were still watching, staring at the woman dressed in black, holding the Prince’s hand. That wasn’t all they stared at. As we rushed through the crowd the hood of my cloak had been pushed back, and now my sharp pointed ears screamed to everyone what I was. High Fae, moving through a swarm of humans, with the human Prince leading the way.

We reached the far side of the first courtyard and the Prince pulled me into a less crowded area, leaning against one of the stone walls surrounding the courtyards. They were short enough I could peer over the side and see the steep, deadly drop to the sharp rocks below.

The Prince finally let go of my hand, but remained uncomfortably close, his lips quirked into an amused smile.

“You’re welcome,” he said.

I narrowed my eyes. “I didn’t ask for your help.”

“The correct reply is thank you.”

I released a heavy breath, rolling my eyes. “I had everything under control.”

“Did you?” He leaned closer, tilting his head to the side. “Because from where I stood it looked as if you were being dragged away, rather forcefully, I might add.”

“I am not some damsel in distress for the Prince to save,” I snapped. “You drew every eye to me, everyone saw, and that was the last thing I needed.”

“They were already looking.” The Prince shrugged. “And it’s Klaus.”

“What?” I half turned to him, finding his face only inches from mine. I took a step back, but he matched it and remained close enough to whisper and be heard.

“My name is Klaus,” he said, his gaze flickering to my lips for only a moment, but long enough a stir of emotions, mostly rage, flooded through me.

“Well, Klaus, now that you’ve completely ruined my plans, I’ll be leaving,” I said, pushing off the wall. “Next time, don’t try and save me, and quit looking at me like I’m a piece of meat for you to devour. I can assure you I am not.”

His chuckle was the last thing I heard before I stalked into the crowd, pulling my hood back over my head.

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