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Join Lucas Soul on his quest to become a warrior.

1624. Edo period. Japan.

When hunted half-breed immortal Lucas Soul hears tales of legendary samurai Musashi Miyamoto during his travels in the Far East, he sails to Japan to meet the great man and convince him to take him on as an apprentice.

Musashi refuses to agree to his request, leaving Soul with no option but to shadow the samurai and repeatedly challenge him to duel, in the hope of proving his worth. But things takes a sinister turn when Soul stumbles upon a plot that threatens the life of Musashi’s son.

Can the immortal rescue the young man in time and change the master’s mind?

Join Soul as he embarks on an exciting adventure that sees him grow as a warrior and gain the respect of the greatest samurai who has ever lived.

Dancing Blades is a short story set in the riveting world of A.D. Starrling’s award-winning supernatural thriller series Seventeen.


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Hunted (Book 1)
First Death (Short Story 1)
Dancing Blades (Short Story 2)
The Meeting (Short Story 3)
Warrior (Book 2)
The Warrior Monk (Short Story 4)
Empire (Book 3)
The Hunger (Short Story 5)
Legacy (Book 4)
The Bank Job (Short Story 6)
Origins (Book 5)
Destiny (Book 6)


November 1624. Edo. Japan

The katana hummed through the air, its curved edge heading inexorably toward my chest. I dove to the side. Wisps of black drifted from my temple where the sword sliced through my hair. Cries erupted from the crowd gathered in the fish market, shock and delight displayed in equal measure on the faces of the spectators.

I landed on my back with a harsh grunt.

A sandaled foot stamped on my right wrist before I could move. The man looming above me kicked at the sword in my hand. It skittered across the cobbled square and came to rest at the feet of a wide-eyed little boy. He leaned down to touch it but was yanked away by his anxious mother before his fingers could make contact with the metal.

Something sharp dented the skin at the base of my throat. I froze and stared past the gleaming, steel edge of the katana at my attacker’s inscrutable face.

‘Do you submit?’ he said calmly.

I studied the man for a moment, admiration darting through me despite the sword pressed against my neck.

Dressed in dark blue hakama trousers and a grey hitatare vest, Musashi Miyamoto cut an impressive figure even for a samurai. Taller than most of his countrymen by a good few inches, he had a broad physique and sinewy arms that spoke of his skills as a martial artist and swordsman. Dark strands had escaped his topknot and framed his rugged face, giving him a wild look.

I smiled faintly. ‘Yes, I do. It still does not change the fact that I want you to be my teacher, Miyamoto-dono.’

He frowned. Although none deserved to be called a master more than he, Musashi was a modest man and loath to be seen as anything other than a humble warrior. It was one of the things I liked about him.

A figure moved behind the samurai. I glanced at the young boy who stood watching us with a grimace.

‘Greetings, Iori-kun,’ I said lightly to Musashi’s adopted son.

Iori Miyamoto narrowed his eyes. ‘I would appreciate it if you would not address me in such a familiar fashion, you crazy nanbanjin.’

I grinned; I had gotten used to being called a “southern barbarian” ever since I landed at the Port of Nagasaki a few months ago. Despite the fact that I now dressed like the locals and had grasped their complex language, there was no disguising my Caucasian features and blue eyes.

This was the fifth time I had challenged Musashi to a fight since I arrived in Japan. It was the fifth time I had lost to the great man. I voiced the same request I had made on the previous occasions I had faced him.

‘Let me be your apprentice.’

Musashi sighed. ‘No.’

* * *

July 1625. Osaka. Japan.

Carts rattled across the wooden bridge spanning the river, another noise among the myriad others rising from the bustling streets behind me. The gates and turrets of an imposing castle towered against the skyline to the south, its forbidding stone walls marking the low hill that formed the center of the sprawling metropolis.

It had taken me just over a day to travel here from Kyoto. I had followed the Uji River as it meandered through the flatlands of the Yamashiro Basin and spent the night at an inn in one of the villages dotting the green valley. Although the innkeeper observed me with a healthy dose of suspicion, he did not turn me away. A dawn mist still hung over the rice fields when I departed the hamlet this morning, an uninterrupted vista of ghostly grey stretching out to the mountains to the west.

I leaned against the bridge railing and watched the riverboats crisscrossing the wide waterway below.

Like Nagasaki, Fukuoka, Nagoya, and Edo, Osaka made for an impressive port city. As an immortal who had travelled half the world, I could see why the islands of Japan held such a strong appeal for the Europeans wishing to expand their trading routes to the Pacific, foremost among them the increasingly powerful Dutch East India Company.

Splashes of color drew my gaze to the wharfs and docks lining the closest bank. Dyed banners and painted lanterns dotted the walls and terraces of the houses and shops crowding the water’s edge. I had been told of the upcoming Tenjin Matsuri by the Kyoto merchant who gave me directions to Osaka. An annual festival dating back over eight hundred years to the Heian period, the Tenjin Matsuri was dedicated to a local patron god of learning and art and was apparently celebrated with great zeal by the Osakans over a period of two days.

I had a good feeling about the upcoming festivities. I could not help but sense that my long-held goal of becoming Musashi Miyamoto’s apprentice was finally within reach. Of course, I had been wrong about that before.

After my fifth defeat at Musashi’s hands in Edo nine months ago, I had shadowed the Miyamotos while they travelled across Japan as part of the samurai’s ongoing musha shugyō, a warrior pilgrimage similar to that undertaken by medieval knights to prove their chivalry. I challenged the man to a duel four more times and lost every single one of those matches.

‘This is becoming a tedious routine, Soul-san,’ said Musashi the last time we fought. The man thrust his sword into the scabbard in his belt and folded his arms across his chest. ‘Why do you still choose to pursue this hopeless dream? Most people would have given up after their first defeat.’

I wiped my bloodied lips and pressed a hand against the shallow cut he had inflicted on my shoulder.

‘I am not most people, Miyamoto-dono. Besides, your reputation precedes you. You are one of the greatest sword masters alive in the world today. As such, I want you to teach me all that you know.’

Musashi frowned. ‘Why? What is it that you wish to achieve with these skills?’

I hesitated. ‘I want to learn how to survive the battles that will come my way.’

Musashi had watched me warily then. For the first time since I met him, I felt he had glimpsed my unearthly nature.

I was born in Prague in 1560, the half-breed son of a Bastian and a Crovir, two races of immortals who have walked the Earth since the dawn of mankind and possess the capacity to survive sixteen deaths. Two races forbidden from union that might result in offspring deemed an abomination.

Knowing I carried a death-sentence from the moment of my conception, my parents fled the immortal societies and hid from the men assigned to execute me. Shortly after my tenth birthday, they finally tracked us down. That day, the Hunters murdered my father and mother before my very eyes and I suffered my first death. How I escaped further deaths and survived remains a mystery to me.

It was several decades before I realized that I would not be able to escape my fate as the most hunted immortal in the world for much longer. With that in mind, I set out to hone my fighting skills in my own version of a warrior’s pilgrimage.

I first heard of Musashi Miyamoto when I was traveling through China. Fascinated by the tales of the samurai who had never lost a single duel and who had conceived a deadly two-sword fighting style known as the Hyoto Niten Ichi-ryu, I came to Japan with a view to learning this new art from the man himself.

I frowned at the dark waters below. So far, my attempts at convincing Musashi to take me on as a student had failed miserably. I had not taken into account the complex nature of the man; that and the fact that he was as stubborn as a mule when it came to his custom of not taking on disciples he deemed unfit to train.

A voice interrupted my contemplation. I looked up from the busy riverscape.

‘Would you like some choboyaki, friend?’ said a wizened old man with a toothless smile.

I studied the steaming, grilled batter balls in the street vendor’s two-wheeled pushcart. My stomach rumbled. The old man’s grin widened.

I recalled what the man in Kyoto had told me about the inhabitants of Osaka. According to him, they were friendly, laid-back, free spirits with the single-minded focus of cut-throat merchants.

‘Your status as a foreigner will mean nothing to them as long as you show the color of your coins,’ he had said.

He was proved right when I became the happy owner of six choboyaki balls a moment later.

‘Some sake?’ said the old man. He uncorked a clay bottle.

The strong smell of fermented rice hit my nostrils.

I glanced at the late morning sun. ‘A bit early for sake, is it not?’

The old man tut-tutted. ‘It is never too early for sake, young man. ‘Specially if this is your first time to our fair city.’

I ignored the “young man” comment, pulled more coins from the money pouch secured to my belt, and accepted the small cup of warm alcohol he handed me. At the ripe age of sixty-five, I still had the appearance of an eighteen-year-old.

‘By the way, where would be the best place to find samurais here?’ I asked, casually downing the drink.

The old man cocked his head to the side and observed me with a shrewd expression, his rheumy gaze flicking briefly to the katana at my waist.

‘The samurai quarters are to the east of the city, stranger-san.’ He paused. ‘Are you looking for anyone in particular?’

‘Yes. I seek a man by the name of Musashi Miyamoto.’

The toothless grin returned.

‘You’re in luck,’ the street vendor said with some glee. ‘He happens to be staying at the castle.’ He indicated something over my shoulder with a tilt of his chin.

My heart sank. I turned and stared at the rooftops of the extensive fortress on the other side of the river.

‘That castle?’

The old man nodded. I swore. He chuckled, uttered a parting, and wheeled his pushcart across the bridge.

I stood and frowned at the formidable towers in the distance.

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