Her name was Adelei.
She was a master in her field, one of the feared Order of Amaska. Those who were a danger to the Little Dozen Kingdoms wound up dead by her hand. The Order sends her deep into the Kingdom of Alexander, away from her home in Sadai, and into the hands of the Order’s enemy.
The job is nothing short of a suicide mission, one serving no king, no god, and certainly not Justice. With no holy order to protect her, she tumbles dagger-first into the Boahim Senate’s political schemes and finds that magic is very much alive and well in the Little Dozen Kingdoms.
While fighting to unravel the betrayal surrounding the royal family of Alexander, she finds her entire past is a lie, right down to those she called family. They say the truth depends on which side of the sword one stands, but they never said what to do when all the swords are pointing at you.
About the Author
Award-winning and bestselling speculative fiction author Raven Oak is best known for Amaskan’s Blood (2016 Ozma Fantasy Award Winner and Epic Awards Finalist), Class-M Exile, and the collection Joy to the Worlds: Mysterious Speculative Fiction for the Holidays (Foreword Reviews 2016 Book of the Year Finalist). Raven spent most of her K-12 education doodling stories and 500 page monstrosities that are forever locked away in a filing cabinet.
When she’s not writing, she’s getting her game on with tabletop games, indulging in cartography, or staring at the ocean. She lives in the Seattle area with her husband, and their three kitties who enjoy lounging across the keyboard when writing deadlines approach.
Read an Excerpt
The Boahim Series Book One
By Raven Oak
Grey Sun PressCopyright © 2014 Raven Oak
All rights reserved.
Aruna, Sadai; 255 Agaen 20th
Murder was a crime against the Thirteen, punishable by death. What I do, I do for the Little Dozen and all its people. Anur's blessing upon my hand. The invocation wasn't required before a job, but Adelei felt better having said it and swung first one leg and then the other over the ledge of the windowsill. She stiffened as her feet touched the wood floor. Sweat trickled down her face and neck but left no trail in the dark ebony grease smeared across all visible skin.
Don't get caught, her master had warned her — not that she ever had — but as she waited in the darkness, she remembered.
Her roommate. Her friend. Sent outside of Sadai to the Kingdom of Alexander. A bitter taste tinged her tongue at the image.
Limbs cut from her friend's body and tossed across the border, where they had lain rotting in the Sadain Desert sun until a merchant's guard had found them. He had uncovered the head a mile later and had recognized the tattoo at her stubborn jaw line.
They'd said she'd be safe in Alexander. Adelei squeezed her eyes shut a moment; outside the open window, someone kicked a stray stone. It clattered across the cobble in the darkness, and she leaned against the wall, using the flapping curtains to hide her. Not that the child below could see her in the dark room, and he didn't look up as he hummed his way across the alley.
I am honored, Luthia, for your blessing of silence. The child rounded the corner, moving out of view. This Amaskan needs all the help she can get tonight.
Amaskan — in the old tongue it meant assassin, though Adelei doubted many knew more than a smattering of the old language. Besides, the term wasn't exactly accurate. A closed-mouth grin crossed her greased face.
She waited ten heartbeats after the child had passed, alert and ready as she stood one shadow among many. Tonight her orders had come from the King of Sadai himself, though evidence to the fact would never be found since the Order protected its clients. If caught, no one would come to her defense. Or her rescue.
Tonight of all nights, she had to be careful. To be sure. To be safe.
Adelei listened again for signs of an awakening house, and her eyes scanned for a shift in the shadows. A fine layer of dust coated the silk bed sheets, and a heavy iron candelabra hung from the unusually high ceiling.
Rich enough to have smooth wood floors but not wealthy enough to invest in enough servants to clean unneeded rooms until necessary. The knowledge matched what the Order had told her about the Magistrate. With hope, the map was just as accurate.
Adelei pictured the map of the house's interior. Two rooms to the left and through a sitting room. Across the hallway and through the fourth door on the right. That room would be the library. She'd take the back exit and go down the hall. He would be in the first room on the right.
The hallway outside the door remained silent. Some grease from her pouch applied to the door's hinges helped prevent any noise as she squeezed it open enough to slither through. In the corridor's darkness, her black silk clothing clung to her body and hid her lithe frame, but even with the disguise, she trod carefully — each step placed with great care. Adelei counted the doors as she made her way through the house fifty times the size of her room at the Order.
The pig lived there alone, except when he had "visitors." Her lips curled in a grimace at the thought. It wasn't his solitude that made him a mark, but his enjoyment of children — particularly young, defenseless children.
Most criminal activity in the Little Dozen Kingdoms of Boahim fell under the jurisdiction of local constables. If necessary, a kingdom's guards might bring the crime before the King. But a crime against the Thirteen meant the involvement of the Boahim Senate. Not even royalty could escape punishment.
If caught, that was where she'd end up, assuming they had the balls to do it. The hinges of another door bore the hint of rust, and she rubbed more grease across them before testing it. A small squeak echoed through the library, but the only response was from the mouse that scurried across the woven rug near the entrance.
The Order of Amaska had escaped their wrath thus far, though how, Master Bredych wouldn't say. Her hand touched the wooden door of the library's exit, and she flinched as another mouse squeaked in protest at her sudden appearance. Such a creature shouldn't have startled her. Focus on the job. Politics later.
The job is the life. The life is the job. Taumen.
A single candle burned toward the hall's end, its wick drowning in melted wax, and her footsteps carried her to it. She didn't have to pinch the candle as the wick dipped under the weight of the flame. Black covered her as she paused outside his door to listen.
The Boahim Senate couldn't touch the Magistrate. Something about his uncle. The fools. Not-so-delicate snorts and grunts from one sleeping with a head cold issued forth. Probably from taking too much Vrint. While the herb would certainly help him with his particular proclivities, it often led to congestion if used too often. Adelei smirked but allowed no laugh to escape her thin lips.
His door opened readily enough, and once inside, she casually observed him and the room for a moment. A doll collection rested in the corner, which he claimed had been passed down through the family.
Only if his particular avocation was a family hobby as well. Adelei slid a small dagger from its sheath at her waist. Three more blades adorned her body — two throwing knives hidden in the bound sleeves of her tunic and another dagger tucked into the top of her boot. She easily could have used the throwing knives — quick and efficient in their entrance through his more than ample body — but her orders were to make it slow.
"Make sure he knows he's dying." Her orders from the King himself. "What he did to my niece — make him hurt, Master Adelei."
She shouldn't relish his fear, but he was a monster. This deserved justice. She gripped the plain dagger's hilt, sliding his bed sheet away from his face to expose a chest of curly red hair. From the small pouch at her waist, Adelei removed a pinch of Ysbane and sprinkled it on his naked flesh. Boiled, the drug released a potent toxin that caused the body's muscles to relax.
Adelei swallowed against the bile in her throat. It wasn't the job — she'd outgrown that phase long ago — but the vile concoction she'd swallowed to counteract any Ysbane was pitching her stomach about. Standing over him, she sent a silent prayer that the man was stupid enough not to have taken the same measures. His frame sank a touch more heavily into the feather stuffed mattress, and she leaned over him, one hand holding the dagger while the other clamped strong fingers over his fat-lipped mouth. His sea-blue eyes popped open, and he twitched. Many of his muscles were unresponsive to his brain's commands. With a huff, the Magistrate tried screaming, but her hand muffled it.
He spotted the simple circle tattoo that marked where her jaw met her ear, and the muffled screams multiplied. "Shhhhh ..." she whispered, and she tightened her grip as he tried in vain to turn his head. "Moving won't help you now."
Magistrate Meserre's gaze moved across her body — a solid sheet of black from head to toe. Her tanned skin was revealed only on her fingertips, which were still pressed against his mouth. The whites of his eyes stood out against the rosy tinge of his cheeks. He tried to roll his body away from her, the veins across his neck and forehead bulging with the effort. Sweat beads peppered his forehead as he caught sight of her dagger, and an acrid odor hit the air as he wet his own bed.
"I hear you like little girls." Her voice scratched the air like gravel beneath her horse's hooves as she spoke. What few muscles worked twitched in response, and his eyes blinked in a rush. The Magistrate slid his gaze across the flat chest and narrow hips before him. When he tried to smile, the Ysbane twisted his lips into a half-snarl, and she forced a laugh at the grotesque expression. He gargled something incoherent before his body shook, the movement more of a convulsion.
Adelei's stomach churned at his reaction, but she played her part as she studied him. "Or maybe you only like little girls of the blood. Like Ereina Lhordei."
Despite the Ysbane, a slight bulge rose beneath the sheet for a moment before it, too, relaxed. His reaction was enough. His jerky twitches stilled as the realization swept across him. Adelei leaned closer, her skin inches from his. "By the Order of His Hand, King Monsine of Sadai, you are hereby sentenced to death for crimes of ... oh hell, being a sick, perverted bastard who likes to break little girls like Ereina."
Magistrate Meserre floundered in his sheets as the drug reached his internal organs. His breaths came in muffled gasps as he struggled like a fish buried in sand, and Adelei leaned away from the sight of his efforts. No sign of guilt crossed his bloated features, just fear. Not that it mattered. He was a monster. He deserved it. If he were repentant, he'd get on with it already and die.
"I am Justice: Amaskan judge in the face of your crimes. I seek justice for all those harmed by your sins," she whispered the words from the Book of Ja'ahr. He smiled at her, though how he managed through the drugs, she didn't know, and she placed a hand on his hardening stomach. "You laugh, Magistrate, but today is special. Today, I am also Vengeance. Did you know it was the King's own niece you broke?"
A gargle and then a hiss issued forth from his throat. "Yes, His Majesty sent me personally to ensure that your death is slow. Painful. Well, not that slow by the look of things. Maybe I used too much." She laughed at him, but inside she wanted to flee.
It wasn't right. Amaskans weren't murderers; they weren't common assassins seeking vengeance. Watching him fight for each gasp of air was difficult, and her stomach heaved, leaving behind the putrid smell of bile to tickle her nostrils. Magistrate Meserre watched helplessly as her knife moved across his skin, marking his body with the sigils of the Thirteen. Whoever found him would know his crimes and know justice had prevailed. The release of blood heralded the release of his bowels, and after too short a time, the release of his soul.
If the bastard even had one. Adelei wiped the blood clean from her dagger with the Magistrate's own white silk sheets. Bastard had died too quickly.
She'd been ordered to make it last, but it seemed he'd been a coward to the end. Adelei closed her eyes a moment and whispered, "Anur, forgive me my vengeance."
Risky to take the time to pray, but her conscience required it. She crossed the room and listened again for sounds though she expected none. Several minutes' walk had her free of the house and down the back alley, the sight of his body burning fresh in her mind.
At the street corner, she ducked behind a bush and pulled a moist, white rag from the bag she'd tossed beneath the bush earlier in the evening. She clinched her eyes shut as she scrubbed her face and ground her teeth from the burning sting. Odorless though not painless, the oil on the rag removed the grease from her face and hands.
She continued scrubbing until the white fabric's corner came away clean, although she left a smudge or two on her forehead and cheek. Too clean a face and she'd stand out in the dirty cloak she had retrieved from the now empty bag. Goat piss stained the cloak's bottom corner. Adelei's nose twitched as she drew it closer to her body and raised the hood to cover her bald head.
Adelei didn't hide as she made her way across town toward the inn, but she didn't advertise her presence either. She took notice of the boot heels scraping on the cobble or a cough from an ambling night guardsman. Anything that meant someone other than her was out and about in the predawn hours. As she passed through another dark alley, her footsteps echoed, and she slowed her pace. The echoes slowed, but a moment too late, and Adelei ducked around the corner of the bakery, dropping to her heels in one swift motion. The crates out front masked her shadow, but the second shadow didn't join her. Instead, whoever followed her stopped just out of sight around the building's brick edge.
A black pebble skittered across the road and came to rest three inches from her feet. A second one and then a third joined it moments later. Adelei leaned against the crate beside her.
"You heading to the inn?" a voice hissed. The Amaskan stepped around the corner, his hood casting deep shadows across his face. He angled his pointed chin to expose the circle tattoo at the jaw joint. Neither his voice nor the marking told her his identity, only that he could be Amaskan.
He studied her as much as she did him: both stood with more unease than their relaxed shoulders conveyed as they stood feet apart with their weight resting on their toes. Their dark-colored outfits appeared identical, though his sleeve bore a slight tear near his wrist, and his hand, curled up within the layers of his breeches, surely must have rested on knives of his own. When their gazes met, neither smiled.
"Anur's blessing this night," she said. The hand on his blade twitched, but he said nothing, and she repeated the question, this time with the correct deity. "Asti's blessing this night."
"May blades find evil in its height."
Three tests passed. Adelei removed her hand from her pocket and suppressed a chuckle as he mimicked her action. Across the street, a dog barked. Someone shouted, and the sound was silenced. "Why are you here?" she asked.
"There's been a change in plans." Adelei frowned, and he continued, "Is the job done?"
She dug the heel of her soft shoe into the dirt at her feet. Great. The King must have sent him to ensure the Magistrate had died slowly. A bead of sweat on her forehead trickled down the side of her face, but she made no move to wipe it away. Instead she ignored it completely and cast a bored look down the street toward the inn.
He caught the motion and nodded in the inn's direction. "You're to return to the Order at once."
"Too risky to travel at night. Leaving town now will draw only unwanted attention."
When his hand reached for his belt pouch, she tensed. Adelei ignored the piece of parchment he retrieved, and her gaze moved directly to the gold coin between two of his fingers. Not merely gilded as some Sadain coins were, but solid gold and bearing only circles in the markings. When he held it up, she swallowed hard.
He was an apprentice to the Masters. Why was he sent way out here? Why was he sent after her?
"Your orders are to return at any risk," he said and palmed the coin. Adelei took the parchment and unrolled it with unsteady hands.
Return with all haste. -B.
One simple line in handwriting she recognized. Master Bredych. She nodded to the man and muttered, "Anur's blessing."
Her nerves itched to shoot down the road at a dead run, but that would bring more attention than her exit already would. Instead she snatched one of the discarded broken bottles from the bakery's porch and tucked herself back behind the stack of crates.
Why risk two Amaskans in town just to get her home a day earlier? Out of sight, she unwound the wrapped fabric from her waist and arranged it as a veil, wrapping it around her head and chin. The corners were tucked into the top of her skin-tight tunic, and she dragged her fingers across her jaw to make sure her tattoo was well-hidden from view. She gave her head a good shake and adjusted the veil until convinced it wouldn't come loose.
Swift fingers removed a crimson sash tucked into one of her boots, which she wrapped around her waist to give her outfit some color. She couldn't do anything about the tunic's tightness — she'd have to hope nobody paid it much mind with the noise she was making. She would have changed clothes anyway as the streets grew too wide to hide in, even at this hour, but she hated the next part. Drawing attention to herself was not her strong point.
She'd arrived in town a regular sword-for-hire. It was how she had intended to leave as well. Adelei stepped out from behind the crates and mimed taking a swig from the bottle. There were eyes on her, but she didn't know if it was the Amaskan or someone else.
For all she knew, the apprentice was off checking her handiwork. She swallowed hard and wished the second swig of air she took from the bottle was something real, something potent to drown the confusion she felt.
Excerpted from Amaskan's Blood by Raven Oak. Copyright © 2014 Raven Oak. Excerpted by permission of Grey Sun Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
If George R. R. Martin wrote Tangled, it might be a bit like this. --Noor Jahangir, author of The Adventures of Some Kid
An exciting epic fantasy filled with intrigue and layers upon layers of well crafted secrets and lies. --Stephanie Hildreth of 100 Pages a Day
With a ferocious-yet-fragile heroine, resonant themes, and a sweepingly gorgeous backdrop, Amaskan's Blood delivers food for thought and frank enjoyment. --Maia Chance, author of the bestselling Fairy Tale Fatal series