Read an Excerpt From Blade Breaker

Andry, a former squire, continues to fight for hope amid blood and chaos.

The fate of the world rests on a blade’s edge in Blade Breaker, the sequel to Victoria Aveyard’s Realm Breaker—out from HarperTeen on June 28th. Read an excerpt below!

Andry, a former squire, continues to fight for hope amid blood and chaos.

Dom, a grieving immortal, strives to fulfill a broken oath.

Sorasa, an outcast assassin, faces her past when it returns with sharpened teeth.

Valtik, an old sorceress, summons a mighty power.

And Corayne, a pirate’s daughter with an ancient magic in her blood, steps closer to becoming the hero she’s destined to be.

Together they must assemble an army to face Queen Erida and Taristan’s wicked forces. But something deadly waits in the shadows, something that might consume the world before there’s any hope for victory.


 

1

NO CHOICE BUT DEATH

Corayne

The voice echoed as if down a long passage, distant and fading, difficult to make out. But it shuddered within her, a sound as much as a feeling. She felt it in her spine, her ribs, every bone. Her own heartbeat pounded in time with the terrible voice. It spoke no words she knew, but still, Corayne understood its anger.

His anger.

Dimly, Corayne wondered if this was death, or simply another dream.

The roar of What Waits called to her through the darkness, clinging even as warm hands pulled her back to the light.

Corayne sat up, blinking, gasping for breath, the world rushing back around her. She found herself sitting in water up to her chest. It rippled, a dirty mirror reflecting the oasis town.

The Nezri oasis had been beautiful once, filled with green palms and cool shade. The sand dunes were a golden band around the horizon. The kingdom of Ibal stretched in every direction, with the red cliffs of the Marjeja to the south, the waves of the Aljer and the Long Sea to the north. Nezri was a pilgrim town, built around sacred waters and a temple to Lasreen, its buildings white and green-tiled, its streets wide enough for the desert caravans.

Now those wide streets were choked with corpses, coiled serpent bodies, and broken soldiers. Corayne fought back a wave of revulsion but continued to look, her eyes passing through the debris. She searched for the Spindle, a golden thread spitting a torrent of water and monsters.

But nothing stood in its place. Not even an echo.

No memory of what existed a moment before. Only the broken columns and shattered causeway remained in testament to the kraken. And, Corayne realized, the bloody ruin of a tentacle, cut neatly from the monster as it was forced back into its own realm. It lay among the puddles like a fallen old tree.

She swallowed hard and nearly gagged. The water tasted of rot and death and the Spindle, gone but for a fading echo like a ringing in her ears. She tasted blood too. The blood of Gallish soldiers, the blood of sea serpents from another realm. And, of course, her own. So much blood Corayne felt she might drown in it.

But I am a pirate’s daughter, she thought, heart pounding. Her mother, the bronzed and beautiful Meliz an-Amarat, grinned in her mind’s eye.

We do not drown.

“Corayne—” a voice said, shockingly gentle.

She looked up to find Andry standing over her. The blood was on him too, smeared across his tunic and the familiar blue star.

A jolt of panic shot through Corayne as she searched his face, his limbs, looking for some terrible wound. She remembered  Andry fighting hard, a knight as much as any of the soldiers he slew. After a moment, she knew the blood was not his own. Sighing, she felt some tightness lift from her shoulders.

“Corayne,” Andry said again, his hand working into hers.

Without thought, she tightened her grip on his fingers, and forced herself to stand on shaking legs. His eyes shone with concern.

“I’m fine,” Corayne bit out, feeling the opposite.

Even as she caught her balance, her mind spun, the last few moments washing over her. The Spindle, the serpents, the kraken. Valtik’s spell, Dom’s rage. My own blood on the edge of the sword. She sucked down another gasp of air, trying to center herself.

Andry kept his hand on her shoulder, ready to catch her should she fall.

Corayne would not.

She straightened her spine. Her gaze flew to the Spindleblade, submerged in half a foot of corrupted water, gleaming with shadow and sunlight. The current moved over the sword until the steel itself seemed to dance. The old language of a realm long lost ran the length of the sword, etched into the metal. Corayne couldn’t read the letters, nor pronounce the words. As always, their meaning lay just beyond her grasp.

Then her hand plunged into the water, closing on the hilt of the Spindleblade. The sword splashed free, cold and dripping. Her heart faltered. There was no blood on the sword, not anymore. But she could still see it. The kraken, the serpents. And the Gallish soldiers, dead by her own hand. Mortal lives ended, cut in half like the Spindle.

She tried not to think of the men she’d killed. Their faces came anyway, haunting in her memory.

“How many?” she said, her voice trailing off. Corayne didn’t expect Andry to understand the broken musings of her mind.

But pain crossed his face, a pain she knew. He looked beyond her, to the bodies in green and gold. He shut his eyes and bowed his head, hiding his face from the desert sun.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I will not count.”

I have never seen a heart break before, Corayne thought, watching Andry Trelland. He wore no wounds, but she knew he bled within. Once he was a squire of Galland who dreamed of becoming a knight. And now he is a killer of them, a killer of his own dreams.

For once, words failed Corayne an-Amarat, and she turned away to stand alone.

Her eyes roved over their surroundings, taking in the destruction fanning out from the center of the town. The oasis felt eerily quiet after the battle. Corayne almost expected some echo to remain, the cry of a kraken or a serpent’s hiss.

She could hear the old witch Valtik as she wandered through the limestone ruins, humming to herself, skipping like a child. Corayne watched her bend a few times, collecting fangs from the serpent corpses. There were already a few teeth braided into her long gray hair. She was her strange, bewildering self again, just an old woman puttering around. But Corayne knew better. Only moments ago the Jydi woman and her rhymes had driven the kraken back, clearing a path for Corayne and the Spindleblade. There was deep power in the witch, but if Valtik cared or even remembered, she did not show it.

Either way, Corayne was glad to have her.

The Ibalet sun continued to rise, hot against Corayne’s back.

And then suddenly cool, as a long shadow fell over her.

She looked up, her face falling.

Domacridhan, immortal prince of Iona, was red from eyebrows to toes, painted in swaths of blood. His once-fine tunic and cloak were ruined, torn and stained. His pale skin looked rusted, his golden hair gone to fire. Only his eyes remained clear, white and emerald green, burning like the sun above him. His greatsword all but dangled from his fist, threatening to fall.

He heaved a rattling breath.

“Are you well, Corayne?” Dom said, his voice grinding and strangled.

Corayne balked. “Are you?”

A muscle flexed in his jaw.

“I must make myself clean,” he murmured, bending to the water. Red clouds bloomed from his skin.

It will take more than that, Corayne wanted to say. For all of us.

All of us.

Corayne jolted, a sudden shock of panic arcing through her.  Her eyes darted, searching the town for the rest of the Companions, heart in her teeth. Charlie, Sigil, Sorasa. She did not hear or see them, and fear churned in her gut. So many lost today. Gods, don’t let us lose them too. As much as her own sins weighed in her mind, their lives weighed more.

Before Corayne could call out, yell their names across the oasis, a man groaned.

She snapped to the sound, Andry and Dom flanking her like guards.

Corayne exhaled when she saw the Gallish soldier.

He was wounded, crawling through the water now steadily draining into the sand. His green cloak weighed him down, slowing his progress as he slithered forward, pawing through the mud. Blood bubbled from his lips, his only words a gurgle.

Lasreen comes for him, Corayne thought, naming the death goddess. And she is not the only one.

Sorasa Sarn abandoned her shadows, stepping into the light with the grace of a dancer and the focus of a falcon. She was not as bloody as Dom, but her tattooed hands and bronze dagger dripped scarlet. Her eyes fixed on the soldier’s back, never wavering as she followed him.

“Still alive, Sigil?” she said, calling out to the bounty hunter. Her manner was easy even as she stalked a dying man across the town center.

A hearty laugh and a scuffle of feet answered from a nearby rooftop. Sigil’s broad frame appeared, wrestling with a Gallish soldier in broken armor. He raised a knife, but Sigil caught his wrist with a grin.

“The iron bones of the Countless will never be broken,” she laughed, snapping his hold. The knife fell and she hoisted him over her shoulder. He wailed in opposition, fists beating against her leather armor. “You cannot say the same.”

It was not far to fall, only two stories, but the water was shallow. He broke his neck with a wet crack.

Corayne did not flinch. She’d seen far worse today. Slowly, she blew out a breath, steadying herself.

As if summoned, Charlie stepped out into the street. His eyes fell on the body, his face devoid of emotion.

“Into the hands of mighty Syrek go you, son of Galland, son of war,” the fallen priest said, bending over the body.

He brushed his ink-stained fingers through the water, touching the soldier’s unseeing eyes. Corayne realized Charlie was giving him as close to a godly burial as he could offer.

When Charlie stood again, his face was blank and pale, his long hair free from its usual braid.

Alive. All of them.

All of us.

Relief surged through Corayne’s body, swiftly followed by exhaustion. She flagged a little, her knees going weak.

Andry moved quickly, bracing his hands against her shoulders.

“It’s all right,” he said softly.

His touch was almost electrifying, hot and cold all at once. She jumped away and shook her head.

“I will not mourn them,” she muttered sharply. “I will not mourn men who would have killed us. You shouldn’t mourn them either.”

Andry’s face tightened, his lips threatening a scowl. Corayne had never seen anger on Andry Trelland, not like this. Even the shadow of it stung.

“I cannot do that, Corayne,” he  bit  out,  turning  away.

Corayne followed his gaze, a flush of shame crossing her cheeks. Andry looked back to Charlie, now making his way through the dead, blessing the Gallish corpses. Then his eyes went to the soldier crawling through the muck.

The Amhara stalked him still.

“Gods damn you, show some mercy, Sorasa,” the squire barked. “Give him an ending.”

The assassin did not break her gaze. She was trained too well  to take her eyes off an enemy, even one so wounded. “You may do as you like, Trelland. I won’t stop you.”

Andry’s throat bobbed, his brown skin bare above the collar of his tunic. His fingers grazed the sword at his side.

“Don’t,” Corayne said, grabbing his bicep. The flesh felt hard beneath her fingers, tight as wound rope. “Don’t give this man mercy if it means losing another piece of yourself.”

Andry did not answer, but his brow furrowed and his face grew grim. Gently, he shrugged Corayne away and drew his sword.

“Andry—” she began, moving to stop him.

Then a ripple went through the water and something splashed, its skin coiling and scaly.

Corayne froze, heart pounding.

The serpent was alone, but still deadly.

Sorasa stopped in her prowl, drawing up short. She watched with her glowing tiger eyes as it unhinged its jaw and took the soldier’s head in its mouth. Corayne could not help but be darkly fascinated, her lips parting as the serpent ended the soldier.

It was Dom who finished them both, his greatsword cutting through scale and skin.

He leveled a glare at Sorasa but she only shrugged, waving him off with a swipe of one red hand.

Corayne turned away, shaking her head at the two of them.

Andry was already gone, his footsteps squelching through the wet sand.

 

While Sorasa and Sigil searched the oasis for survivors, the rest of them waited on the outskirts of the town, where stone road gave over to sand. Corayne sat on a windblown rock, thanking the gods for the blissful shade of a few palm trees. Somehow she was grateful for the heat too. It felt cleansing.

The others were silent, the only sound the two horses pawing the ground. Andry kept to the sand mares, brushing them down, tending to them as best he could with what little he had. Corayne knew by now it was his way of coping, to lose himself in a task he knew. A task from his old life.

She winced, eyeing the squire and the mares. There were only two horses left, and only one of them still had a saddle.

“The Spindle fought hard,” Dom muttered, following her gaze.

“But we’re alive, and the Spindle is closed,” Corayne answered. Her lips pulled into a tight smile. “We can do this. We can keep doing this.”

Slowly Dom nodded, but his face remained grim. “There will be more portals to close. More enemies and monsters to fight.”

There was fear in the immortal. It flashed behind his eyes, drawn up from some memory. Corayne wondered if it was her own father Dom thought of, his body broken before the temple. Or something else, something deep in the centuries, from the time beyond mortal reckoning.

“Taristan will not be defeated so easily,” Dom murmured.

“Neither will What Waits.” Just mentioning the hellish god put a chill in Corayne’s skin, even against the desert heat. “But we’ll fight them. We have to. There is no other choice.”

The immortal nodded forcefully. “No choice for us, or for the realm.”

It was past noon, the sun high, by the time Sigil and Sorasa rejoined them. The bounty hunter cleaned her ax as they walked, the assassin her dagger.

The oasis was empty of all enemies.

The Companions were the last ones living.

Charlie followed the women, half-bent, massaging his lower back. Too many bodies to bless, Corayne knew, glancing away. She refused to think of them. Instead she glared into the hard sheen of the desert, at the miles of sand. Then she looked north. The Aljer was close, a gleaming ribbon where the great gulf opened into the Long Sea. It was lightning in her blood.

What next? she wondered, feeling equal parts thrill and fear.

She eyed their number, sizing them up. Dom had washed as best he could, and slicked back his wet hair from his face. He’d exchanged his ruined shirt for what he could find in the abandoned homes and shops. He looked like a patchwork of different places, with an Ibalet tunic and embroidered vest over his old breeches. His boots and cloak of Iona remained, scrubbed with sand. Though the cloak was half ruined, the antlers were still there, embroidered at its edges. A little piece of home he refused to give up.

Corayne wished for her own tattered blue cloak, long since lost. It used to smell of oranges and olive groves, and something deeper, a memory she could no longer name.

“The danger has passed, Corayne,” Dom said, watching the village like a dog hunting for a scent. Or listening for trouble. He found neither.

Indeed, the waters of Meer, the realm beyond the Spindle, had drained back into the sand or burned away beneath the fierce sun of Ibal. Only puddles remained in the shade, too shallow for serpents to hide in. The lucky ones were already gone, following the short-lived river downhill to the sea. The rest cooked in the streets, their slick skin cracked and drying.

As for the soldiers, Sorasa and Sigil had already put any enemies to their final rest.

Corayne pursed her lips at Dom. Her chest still felt tight. Her heart still ached.

“Not for long,” she answered, feeling the truth of it in her belly. “This is far from over.”

Her words echoed over the outskirts, a heavy curtain to hang over them all.

“I wonder what happened to the villagers,” Andry mused, grasping for something to say.

“Would you like my honest opinion?” Sorasa answered, striding into the palm trees.

“No,” he was all too quick to reply.

Though he was a young man, Charlie groaned like an old crone as he rejoined them. His red, burned face peered out of his hood.

“Well,” he said, glancing between the carnage and the ferocious sun above, “I would prefer not to stay here any longer.”

Sorasa leaned back against a palm tree with a smirk. Her teeth flashed white against bronze skin. She pointed back to the oasis with her dagger.

“But we just finished cleaning up,” she replied.

Next to her, Sigil folded her great arms, her ax stowed away on her back. She nodded in agreement, pushing a lock of raven hair out of her eyes. A burst of sunlight filtered through the trees, dappling her copper skin, making her black eyes gleam.

“We should rest a while,” Sigil said. “There’s no danger in ghosts.”

Charlie quirked a grin. “The iron bones of the Countless can’t break, but can they get tired?”

“Never,” the bounty hunter snapped back, flexing.

Corayne fought the urge to scoff. Instead she drew herself up, sitting straighter in the shade. To her surprise, all eyes flew to her. Even Valtik, counting serpent fangs, looked up from her work.

The combined weight of their eyes fell heavy on already-weary shoulders. Corayne tried to think of her mother, of her voice upon the deck. Unyielding, unafraid.

“We should keep moving,” she said.

Dom’s low rumble answered. “Do you have a destination, Corayne?”

Immortal as he was, one of the ancient Elders, he seemed exhausted.

Corayne’s confidence faltered and she picked at her stained sleeve. “Somewhere without a massacre,” she finally offered. “Word will get back to Erida and Taristan. We must keep moving.”

A chuckle escaped Sorasa’s lips. “Word from who? Dead men don’t carry news, and there’s only dead men behind us.”

Red and white flashed behind Corayne’s eyes, a memory as much as a physical presence. She swallowed, fighting back the dreams that plagued her more and more. They were no longer a mystery. What Waits, she knew. Can he see me now? Does he watch us? Is he following me wherever I go—and will Taristan follow too? The questions overwhelmed her, their paths too fearsome to follow.

“Even so.” Corayne forced her voice to turn to steel, channeling a bit of her mother’s strength. “I’d like to use whatever head start we have to get away from this place.”

“Only one gone.” Valtik’s voice was a scratch of nails on ice, her eyes a vibrant and impossible blue. She shoved fangs into the pouch at her waist. “We must keep on.”

Despite the Jydi witch’s constant and insufferable rhyming, Corayne felt a smile rise to her lips.

“At least you aren’t entirely useless,” she said warmly, dipping her head to the old woman. “That kraken would be terrorizing the Long Sea by now if not for you, Valtik.”

A murmur of agreement went through the others, except for Andry. His eyes trailed over the witch, but they were far away. Still with the Gallish bodies, Corayne knew. She wanted to tear the sadness right out of his chest.

“Care to explain exactly what you did to the sea monster of another realm?” Sorasa said, angling a dark eyebrow. Her dagger slid home in its sheath.

Valtik didn’t reply, happily rearranging her braids, plaited with fangs and old lavender.

“Suppose krakens hate her rhyming too,” Sigil replied, chuckling through a crooked smile.

Charlie smirked in the shade. “We should recruit a bard next. Really round out this band of fools and sing the rest of Taristan’s monsters back home.”

If only it were so simple, Corayne wanted to say, knowing it was not. But even so, hope fluttered in her chest, weak but still alive.

“We might be a band of fools,” she said, half for herself, “but we closed a Spindle.”

Her hands balled into fists and she stood, legs strong beneath her. Determination replaced her fear.

“And we can do it again,” she said. “As Valtik said, we must keep on. I say we go. Head north to the Long Sea, hug the coast until we reach a village.”

Sorasa opened her mouth to argue, but Dom cut her off, rising to his feet at Corayne’s side. His eyes were on the southern horizon, finding the red line of the Marjeja and the once-flooded plain of gold.

Corayne turned to smile up at him, but stopped short at the sight of his face.

Sorasa saw the fear in him too. She flew to his side, shading her eyes to match his stare. After a long moment of searching, she gave up and turned back to the immortal, glaring up at his stone-blank face.

“What is it?” she bit out, breath ragged through her teeth.

Sigil’s hand went to her ax and Andry roused from his dreamlike sorrow, whirling from the horses. Charlie cursed down at his feet.

“Dom?” A swoop of terror dropped in Corayne’s stomach as she abandoned her shade. She eyed the horizon too but found the glare of sun and sand unbearable.

At last the immortal sucked in a gasp of air.

“Forty riders on dark horses. Their faces are covered, their robes black, made for the heat.”

Sorasa kicked at the sand, hissing to herself.

“They carry a flag. Royal blue and gold. And—silver too.”

With a will, Corayne racked her memory, trying to remember what those colors meant.

The assassin knew.

“Outriders of the court,” she snapped, looking for all the world like she might breath fire. There was fear too, hiding behind her frustration. Corayne saw it glimmer in her tiger eyes. “Hunters for the King of Ibal.”

Corayne bit her lip. “Will they help us?”

Sorasa’s hollow laugh was brutal. “They’re more likely to sell you to Erida, or use you as some bargaining chip. You’re the most valuable thing in in all the Ward, Corayne. And the King of Ibal is not a fool with his treasure.”

“What if they aren’t after Corayne?” Charlie piped in, his face drawn in thought.

Sorasa’s eyes narrowed, some doubt clouding her face. Whatever words she wanted to say died in her throat.

“I will take Corayne and the blade,” Dom said heavily, turning from the horizon. Before Corayne could protest, she found herself in the saddle of a sand mare. Dom mounted up on the only other horse, ignoring the lack of saddle. The Elder did not need one.

Corayne sputtered, fighting the reins being pressed into her hands. To her surprise, Andry appeared at her knee, tightening the girth of the saddle. His fingers closed on her ankle, forcing her foot into a stirrup.

“Andry—stop it. Dom!” she protested, kicking her boot free. She made to slide off the mare’s  back, but Andry held her firmly in place, his lips set in a grim, unyielding line.

“We’re not abandoning you,” Corayne said, half wild.

The Elder grabbed for the bridle of Corayne’s horse as he tugged his own mare’s mane, forcing both mounts along. “We have no choice.”

“You have no choice but to wait, Elder.” Sorasa remained still, but her voice carried fiercely. She put her back to the horizon. Over her shoulder, the dark riders appeared out of the gleaming line where plain met sky. “The outriders of the king have no equal on sand or road. You might outlast them for a day, maybe. But even you will be run down, and an ocean of blood spilled for nothing.”

Dom snarled as if he might run her through. “The coast is less than a day’s ride, Sarn.”

“And then what? You wish to face the king’s navy instead?” Sorasa scoffed.

Corayne could not help but agree. The Ibalet fleets were unmatched.

“You don’t even know which direction to go,” Sorasa added, casting a hand at the distant bay and Long Sea beyond. “But be my guest.”

It was Andry who growled, the anger in him taking Corayne aback.

“So it’s no choice but death, then?” he said, brow set with fury. Even in battle she had never seen him so enraged—and so hopeless. “For Corayne, for the Ward?”

Sorasa barely batted an eye, crossing her arms over her chest. There was dried blood under her fingernails, gone to rust.

“No one said anything about them killing you, Squire,” she answered wearily. “Me, I’m a marked Amhara. Might not fare so well.”

“Uh, wanted fugitive here!” Charlie piped in, raising a finger.

Sorasa’s braid snapped like a whip as she turned her head, sneering at the Madrentine forger. “The Ibalet king hardly gives a shit about some errant priest with nice penmanship.”

He recoiled into his robes. “Gods willing.”

“Then you go,” Corayne offered, trying to dismount again. Andry remained firm, blocking her way. “Run. It’s us they want.”

The assassin waved away the offer with her usual smirk, as good as any mask.

“I’ll take my chances with the outriders. You’ll certainly need me too,” she added, gesturing to Dom still glowering in the saddle. “I don’t expect this one to be negotiating anytime soon.”

Corayne set her teeth, feeling the familiar sting of frustration. “Sorasa.”

You must run, she wanted to say.

Next to her, Dom slid from his horse. His face was stone, unreadable.

“Sorasa,” he growled. “Take her and go.”

The assassin’s mask slipped, if only for a moment. She blinked furiously, a flush rising in her cheeks. Beneath her steady confidence, Corayne saw doubt. Doubt and fear.

But Sorasa turned away, her expression clearing like a slate wiped clean. She refused the waiting horse with a wave of one bloodstained hand and faced the horizon again. The riders were nearly upon them, the pounding hooves of forty horses thundering over the sand.

“Too late,” the assassin muttered.

Dom bowed his head, looking as he had in Ascal, a hole in his ribs, bleeding out his life as they ran for the gates.

But even in Galland, we could run. We had a chance. Corayne felt herself slump in the saddle. She was suddenly glad for Andry’s closeness. Only his hand on her ankle kept her steady. The squire did not let go, nor did he look at the approaching outriders. They could hear their voices now, yelling in Ibalet, calling out orders.

“You think he won’t feel it?”

Andry’s voice was soft, nearly inaudible.

She glanced down at him, noting the set of his shoulders, the tightness of his fingers. Slowly, Andry raised his eyes to hers, letting her read him as easily as she would one of her maps.

“You think he won’t feel the Spindle is gone?” Andry murmured.

Despite the outriders bearing down, Taristan filled Corayne’s vision. He bled to life in front of her, blotting Andry out, until there was only her uncle’s white face and black stare, a red gleam moving behind his eyes. She turned away before he could swallow her whole.

Her eyes trailed back to the village, her gaze weaving among the ruins. Back to where the Spindle once burned. Even as the outriders closed in, their voices growing louder, Corayne felt herself drift further away.

“I hope not,” she whispered, praying to every god she knew.

But if I can feel its echo—and its absence—

I’m certain he does too.

And so does What Waits.

 

Excerpted from Blade Breaker, copyright © 2022 by Victoria Aveyard.

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