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The Reluctant Assassin

The Reluctant Assassin

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Book 1 of the Reluctant Assassin series

Zayn Carter joins the Academy of the Subtle Arts, where the best assassins are trained, driven by the urgent need to save his family from an ancient evil enslaving his hometown of Varna with a deadly poison. Facing a perilous dilemma where killing the malevolent Lady means dooming the townsfolk, Zayn is determined to overthrow her reign, even at the risk of his own life.


The best assassins learn their magic at the Academy of the Subtle Arts. Everyone joins for their own reasons: to give death her proper due, to acquire outrageous fortunes, or to know that history bends to their blade.

Zayn Carter joined the Academy to save his family.

In the sleepy town of Varna, an ancient evil lurks, preying on the townsfolk and keeping them enslaved by her poison. This arrangement has lasted for centuries because to kill the Lady is to guarantee the death of every man, woman, and child in the town. Faced with this impossible conundrum, Zayn vows to take down the Lady, and all that support her. He'll save his family from this horrible fate—or die trying.

Chapter One Look Inside

Chapter One
Tenth Ward, September 2013
He wasn't a commando

After spending three days surviving the Merlin Trials—the grueling entrance exams to the Hundred Halls—Zayn Carter was ready for anything the Academy of the Subtle Arts could throw at him: disarming magical traps, sneaking through minefields, or escaping from murderous manticores—even a mage duel using only the Five Elements. Zayn was ready for anything...anything except what actually happened.
Zayn and twenty-nine of his fellow first years—including his cousin Keelan—stood in two uneven rows in an empty Wizard's Coffee while Carron Allgood paced before them in his heavy brown duster, slamming his claw-ended staff on the tile floor every other step for emphasis.
The mage was not an unfamiliar figure to Zayn, as he'd been coming to his hometown of Varna, Alabama, for as long as he could remember to recruit mages for the Hundred Halls, the only magical university in the world. What was unfamiliar was the level of anger directed at them.
"Let me ask again," said Allgood in a growling tone, "who the idiot was that used faez when I explicitly told you that there will be no magic today. Period."
Everyone glanced around, hoping that someone might admit it, and release the tension from the room. Faez was the raw stuff of magic that mages molded into spells. Any mage with the ability to get into the Halls could sense its nearby use. A slight metallic scent tickled the back of Zayn's tongue. It hadn't been a lot, but it'd been enough to get Allgood's notice.
"If no one's going to fess up, then I'll have to pick whoever I think it might be," said Allgood, glowering at them. His face had more nicks and scars than a blind man's cane.
As he walked by, hot breath steaming from his nose, Zayn sucked in his gut, hoping to avoid his attention. The instructor walked past, and a sense of relief flooded into Zayn. He wasn't sure who'd used magic, but he knew it hadn't been him.
Allgood stopped at a spot on the end of the line to Zayn's right and shoved his finger into someone's chest. "You're the maggot that can't listen, aren't you?"
Zayn leaned forward, only to see that it was his cousin, Keelan, whom Allgood had picked. Zayn and his cousin looked a lot alike, same tight Afro, same wide smile, except Keelan's skin was a little lighter, more cocoa than black coffee.
Before Zayn could control his mouth, he blurted out, "It wasn't him."
Allgood was in Zayn's face so fast, it felt like he'd teleported.
"Did I ask anyone to tell me who they thought it was? No. Because I don't care. I wanted to hear one thing and one thing only, for someone to admit that they listen like a log," said Allgood.
Zayn's gut twisted and his heartbeat pounded in his ears as Allgood focused his attention on him. He could sense him making a decision, and he didn't think it would be good.
"So tell me...Zayn."
Zayn nodded.
"Why do you think you're so smart that you know it wasn't him?" asked Allgood.
"Because that's my cousin, and I know what his faez smells like," said Zayn.
Allgood snorted. "Knows what his faez smells like. Doesn't that sound like a load of bull. I think it was you that did it, and you just felt bad when it was your own flesh and blood that got blamed."
He put his calloused hand on Zayn's shoulder. It felt like a truck backing onto him. "Everyone, this is Zayn. Zayn doesn't know how to listen. Don't be like Zayn." He patted his shoulder twice. "Is that right?"
Zayn responded, "Yes, Professor."
This set Allgood off again. "Professor? I'm not a damn professor. I do not profess. And I do not teach. I mold and shape. So you'd better learn to be malleable. But since I'm not a total monster, and so you assholes don't start calling me Mr. Allgood, or some crap like that, you can call me Instructor, or Instructor Allgood. Got it? Good."
He surveyed the room before pointing at Zayn again. "Since you think you know better than everyone else, I'm going to make this a little harder on you." He snapped his fingers. "Remove your clothes, everything but your underwear, assuming you're wearing any."
"Wha...?" Zayn started to say before he remembered what talking out of turn got him.
"It appears Mr. Carter is learning," said Instructor Allgood.
The other first years glanced at him, while keeping their eyes generally faced forward.
"Did I not enunciate enough for you?" asked Instructor Allgood, pointing his claw-ended staff at him.
Zayn pulled his shirt off and tossed it onto the nearest table. He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the window as he unbuttoned his jeans and shimmied out of them. His chest had never filled in like it had for Keelan, who could have played football in high school, so he felt ridiculous standing in the middle of a Wizard's Coffee in his boxers surrounded by his fellow first years.
He heard a few snorts of laughter, which judging by the instructor's expression was encouraged. It took all Zayn's self-control not to cross his arms. He tried to tell himself that this was no different than going swimming with the other kids behind the Castlewood trailer park, but his face betrayed him, growing so warm with embarrassment that it was hard to pay attention.
"Today we're going to learn a little something about each of you," said Instructor Allgood, taking up position at the front of the room. "Passing the Merlin Trials was quite an achievement, one that earned you a place in this hall. But magic is a tool. Even the student with the highest capacity for faez will not last long unless he learns to use this." He tapped on the side of his head while giving Zayn a side-eye. "So today, you're going to scurry out these doors on a mission. This is the tenth ward in Invictus, a moderately prosperous section of the city. A proper member of the Academy of the Subtle Arts can turn any difficult situation into a boon. So that's what I'm asking today. I want you to go out into the city and bring back something of value.
"Remember your challenge is that you cannot use magic. Not one iota. If I find out you even used a simple back scratching spell, you're going to wish you were back home with mommy and daddy."
Instructor Allgood glared at them for a long moment before pointing to a stack of papers on the table.
"These are the locations in the ward that you will stick to. So you're not teaming up, or falling all over each other, everyone gets their own area. So on your way out the door, grab one. Be back here at five p.m., and don't be late!"
There was a general push towards the stack of papers, while trying to stay as far away from Instructor Allgood as possible. Zayn lingered near the back, delaying the journey outside in his boxers for as long as possible.
The last few first years glanced back at him with smirks on their lips, except for a shorter Latino girl who looked on him with pity.
He hesitated at the door, with the sheet of paper in his fist. When he looked back at the instructor, he was studying him as if he were trying to read his mind.
"Go on," said the instructor, motioning towards the door.
He glanced back at his clothes draped over a chair.
"Don't worry. No one wants your clothes. We've got the shop all day. They'll be here when you get back, unless you'd like to give up now," said Instructor Allgood.
Zayn took a deep breath, opened the door, and wearing nothing but his boxers—and under explicit instructions not to use magic—walked into the city of sorcery.

Main Tropes

  • Urban Fantasy
  • Magical Academy
  • Found Family
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