Five Broken Blades

Read an Excerpt From Mai Corland’s Five Broken Blades

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Mai Corland’s Five Broken Blades, an epic fantasy debut publishing with Red Tower Books on May 7th.

The king of Yusan must die.

The five most dangerous liars in the land have been mysteriously summoned to work together for a single objective: to kill the God King Joon.

He has it coming. Under his merciless immortal hand, the nobles flourish, while the poor and innocent are imprisoned, ruined…or sold.

And now each of the five blades will come for him. Each has tasted bitterness—from the hired hitman seeking atonement, a lovely assassin who seeks freedom, or even the prince banished for his cruel crimes. None can resist the sweet, icy lure of vengeance.

They can agree on murder.

They can agree on treachery.

But for these five killers—each versed in deception, lies, and betrayal―it’s not enough to forge an alliance. To survive, they’ll have to find a way to trust each other… but only one can take the crown.

Let the best liar win.

Chapter One

City of Umbria, Yusan

Gold for blood—that’s my advertisement and the words I live by.

The merchant slowly counts out gold mun, his gloved hands shaking as each coin lands in his palm. He’s a little taller than me, but my shoulders are twice as wide.

“Hurry it up. I don’t got all night,” I say.

My deep voice startles him, and two bronze mun clatter onto the ground. He lets the coins roll away but pauses to consider chasing them down. Ten Hells. This is gonna take two lifetimes.

Finally, he slips the money into my hand, paying for the broken nose and leg. Then he darts away, fur-lined cape flapping in the night breeze. It’s not a noble living, being muscle for hire, but the upper class ain’t great neither.

I count my gold as I lumber between the soot-covered buildings. All there. I put the money in my coin purse and tuck it into my inner jacket pocket. Behind me, my latest victim whimpers in the darkness of the alley. If he keeps up that noise, the hael birds will peck him clean before morning. And the rich merchant prick didn’t pay for a kill.

“Can you stop that racket?” I say.

The whimpering dies down.

“Thank you,” I say. He’s silent—shut up by my manners or his pain.

I think about going back to help. I always think about it. But it’s none of my business. It’s not my problem, what happens after my jobs are done. Or why the merchant wanted to send a message in the first place.

Those are roads that lead nowhere. And I’ve got somewhere to be.

I blow a warm breath in my gnarled hands. This fucking cold. Frost shines on the cobbled streets, and the runoff has already started to freeze. What trees there are in this cramped city are long bare. Winter comes quick in Umbria. But then, death always does.

I should probably buy some warm gloves, but my stomach tightens at the thought of parting with even one silver mun. Every coin counts, and I don’t really need posh shit anyhow.

When I get to Inch Street, two well-dressed couples split around me. They’re all fur muffs and expensive, feathered hats. Swells. They give me a wide berth, then scurry away like I’m contagious or something. I guess if my size don’t intimidate people, the scar dividing my face does the trick. People stay away.


With a grunt, I shoulder open the heavy wooden door of Butcher & Ale. I’ve been in cleaner, nicer places with better grub, but those pubs don’t fit me. The tavern is warm without being hot and noisy, without being loud, and that’s all I need. Butcher & Ale is home. It’s where I started doing business ten years ago. Right after I turned fifteen, I set up shop in the corner—forty pounds less muscle with no scar on my face. They know what I do here, but I keep the place safe, so they look the other way.

I sit on my usual stool at the end of the bar. Yuri sees me and pours me a pint. He could be forty; he could be sixty. Who knows with that bald head. But he’s not the chatty type, and I like that.

He slides a beer across the worn wood. The glass is mostly clean. “Someone’s been looking for you.”

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Five Broken Blades
Five Broken Blades

Five Broken Blades

Mai Corland

I raise my eyebrows and chug a gulp of ale. Somebody’s always looking for me—to fight, to hurt, to kill. This ain’t news. “Why should I care?”

Yuri puts the bar towel over his shoulder and leans forward. “It was a girl.”

I stop drinking. My heart thuds and then lodges in my throat. I will it back down and play it cool. “What’d she look like?”

“Pretty,” Yuri says. Not the most helpful description. I curl my hand into a fist and stare. His eyes widen, and he rubs his nose somebody else broke a while ago. Then he starts yammering. “About my height, big brown eyes, kinda short black hair. Around your age—like mid-twenties. Red velvet cloak.”

I swallow, digesting his words. A tall, twenty-something girl asking about me is unusual. And I guess “pretty” makes a difference—can’t remember the last time a pretty girl looked for me. Maybe she wants an old boyfriend taught a lesson or revenge on another girl. I don’t hurt girls, though.

“She’s staying at the Black Shoe Inn,” Yuri adds.

The nicest joint in maybe all of Umbria. So she has money and she’s not from here yet somehow knew to look for me. Here. This reeks of trouble.

“Not interested,” I say.

Yuri shrugs. “Suit yourself.”

He wanders down the bar to serve another customer. A guy looking old for his age sits on the stool four paces down from me. He only makes eye contact with Yuri, so he’s also here to drink alone. Sometimes it feels less lonely to drown your sorrows in a shared barrel of ale. To vanish in the pub crowd. Even if you don’t say a word to nobody. Most nights, that’s me.

But I can’t disappear tonight. I know in my guts it’s going to be one of those times when I can’t forget no matter how much I drink. So why give myself a headache that’ll hit behind my eyes tomorrow?

I down my beer, leaving the dregs. I push back from the bar, the legs of the stool scraping the sticky floor. “I’m outta here.”

Yuri’s bushy eyebrows rise. It’s like what he didn’t get on his head went to his face instead. “Already?”

He’s right to be surprised. I’m normally good for a few beers as I take up my corner and wait for my next job to come in. Trouble always has a way of finding me. Usually it’s quick, but sometimes it takes four beers. Tonight, it’s just the one.

“Headache.” I tap my temple like he don’t know where my head is. But it’s a lie. And from his beady eyes going side to side, Yuri doesn’t believe it for a second.

But he nods. “Night, Royo.”

I take a step to leave, and something strange happens. An off feeling hits me, like a heart skipping a beat. Out of the corner of my eye, I swear there’s a blur of red. I blink hard, look around, then glance into the bar mirror. Nothing. Just my scarred face and shorn head looking back at me. Nothing red in sight. I shake my head. I’m real off tonight. Best I leave now.

I trudge my way out of Butcher & Ale and back onto the frigid street. I’ll need to repair the laces of my boots soon, probably patch the leather again—they still got some wear left.

I swear it got colder when I was inside. My exhale now makes little fogs in the air. I blow a hot breath into my hands again as I walk.

Five blocks in the wrong direction later, I pass the Black Shoe Inn. I can’t help but slow down and stare at the lamps glowing in the windows. I wonder… then shake my head.

What am I doing? What am I even looking for?

I walk double time to get away. It’s too suspicious. Too off. My instincts are always right, and the scars I bear are reminders of the times I’ve ignored my gut. The last time cost me everything. I’m not doing it again.

It’s about a fifteen-minute walk along Avalon Road to my shack on the cheap end of town. The buildings get more run-down, smaller, as I leave the business district. Umbria’s been going downhill since King Joon rose to power back when I was a kid. The whole country has.

The road bends, and then I have the river on my left. You’d think being near the water would be nice, but not in Umbria. The only waterway we got is the dirty Sol River. People empty chamber pots and dump trash right into the thing. And it’s even colder, the bone-chilling kind, when you’re close enough to hear the water lick the filthy shore.

I try to stay aware of my steps, my surroundings. There are too many dangers in Umbria from gangs, from men like me, from the hael birds, to be caught sleepwalking. But I’m off my game. Distracted.

I blame Yuri. He’s a barkeep, not a messenger. He could’ve kept all that noise to himself.

But I’m not really mad at Yuri. Truth is, I’m thinking about her. When Yuri said it was a girl, I hoped. And hope is a jagged knife. Hope pieces together dreams out of broken glass only for reality to come and smash them all over again. Hope is the cruelest punishment of them all. Because without hope, I know: it’s not her, you fool. It can’t be. It can never be.

Because I killed her.

Excerpted from Five Broken Blades by Mai Corland. Reprinted with permission from Red Tower Books, an imprint of Entangled Publishing. All rights reserved.

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