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Excerpt: The House of Always by Jenn Lyons

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For fans of Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss, The House of Always is the fourth epic fantasy in Jenn Lyons’ Chorus of Dragons series that began with The Ruin of Kings.

What if you were imprisoned for all eternity?

In the aftermath of the Ritual of Night, everything has changed.

The Eight Immortals have catastrophically failed to stop Kihrin’s enemies, who are moving forward with their plans to free Vol Karoth, the King of Demons. Kihrin has his own ideas about how to fight back, but even if he’s willing to sacrifice everything for victory, the cost may prove too high for his allies.

Now they face a choice: can they save the world while saving Kihrin, too? Or will they be forced to watch as he becomes the very evil they have all sworn to destroy.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of The House of Always by Jenn Lyons, on sale 5/11/21.


1: A Kind of Rescue

Talea’s story

Twenty-four days after the Battle of the Well of Spirals

The Main Island of Devors, Quur

The emergency bells rang out all over the island, fast and loud, magically amplified. Talea regarded the Devorans running from the dining hall, noting how unprepared the priests all seemed to be. These people had been so certain of their fortress library’s inviolate, impenetrable defenses. They’d grown sloppy.1

Now the priests would pay for it. Everyone would pay for it.

Talea found little satisfaction in I told you so. She’d have gladly traded gloating opportunities for a little more serious preparation. For example, the panicking priests, monks, and assorted scholars running around like shocked rabbits weren’t paying attention to Talea’s group. Personally convenient, yes, but it demonstrated a fundamental flaw in training. When being attacked, the first thing one should always do was secure any unknown variables.

Talea being the definition of unknown variable.

She rushed to the ramparts along with everyone else. Tempest rains left the stonework slick, visibility shuttered to vague shapes crawling in the distance. The rains hadn’t muffled the sound of fighting, the retort of the scorpion war machines, the screams.

The Lash’s attack on Devors had begun.

“She got here faster than we thought,” Galen said, exhaling.

“Didn’t they say this was impossible? What of the wards?” Sheloran D’Mon whipped around as she scanned the defenses. Her expression suggested she wanted to conjure the abbess through pure indignation to begin scolding her.

“Someone must have disabled them,” Talea said, “but I don’t know where they keep the controls.”

“I do,” Janel Theranon said. She stood behind the assembled group, arms crossed over her chest, an unamused scowl twisting her mouth. “I know where they are.”

“Really? How?” Sheloran squinted at her, eyes narrowed with suspicion. Which made sense. If you’d never seen a Joratese person in your life before, let alone a Joratese person dressed like a vané knight, then Janel would be strange indeed.2

“Because I used to be married to the man who created them,” Janel answered. “Assuming they haven’t changed the location in a few centuries, it’s this way. Come with me.” She headed into the complex without checking to see if anyone followed.

Talea raised an eyebrow at Teraeth. He stared at her with a face wiped clean of emotion. “Wasn’t me.”3

She wanted to stop and talk to the man. Talea wasn’t stupid enough to ask why Teraeth’s manner suggested a thread pulled taut enough to snap; she knew what had happened to him at the Well of Spirals. Years wouldn’t be enough time to recover from being forced to kill your own mother. He’d had weeks at best.

But there was no time to talk, not even if Teraeth had been willing.4 Not with the bells ringing and Janel running. They followed her, joined by Thurvishar. The rest trailed behind like dangerous little ducks who’d imprinted on the wrong mother.

Janel ran to a large room off the main courtyard, where the warding array had been hidden under mosaic tile flooring. Kalindra Milligreest stood in the center, staring down at the broken tiles. Clearly, she too had known where the controls were kept. The woman was still dressed in Quuros mourning clothing appropriate for the High General’s daughter-in-law, now laughably unsuited for a siege. What Kalindra wore wouldn’t have stopped a gentle winter shower, let alone typhoon rains and sword blows.

Kalindra startled as everyone filed in. “I came here as soon as I heard the bells,” she said. “Someone sabotaged it—” She pointed to the discarded pickax left behind.

The whole group stared. The shattered stonework revealed elaborate glyphs, ruined. Entire sigil sections were missing, making it impossible to know the original pattern’s form.

“Is there any way to repair this?” Janel asked Thurvishar.

“Possibly,” the D’Lorus wizard said, “but the damage is already done if the goal is to keep out attackers—I have my doubts it was ever going to be capable of keeping out a kraken.”

“I’m going down to the docks.” Galen unsheathed his sword. “You’re welcome to join me.”

“Just try and stop me.” Galen’s wife, Sheloran, smiled as she spread her metal fan—her personal equivalent of drawing a blade.

Janel nodded but made no move to follow. “Teraeth and I will stay here. We’re going to guard Thurvishar until he’s repaired these wards. Then we find out whether or not Thurvishar is wrong about the kraken.”

Teraeth’s scowl turned murderous. “Do I get a say in that?”

“If you’d rather stay near the fighting—” Janel glanced at him, expression uncertain.

Teraeth snorted. “If I want to stay near the fighting, I’m sticking near you. Don’t pretend you’re not chasing after that kraken the moment he’s finished.”

Talea couldn’t tell if the man was angry or proud.

“Never killed a kraken before,” Janel admitted, trying to smile. “Today’s a good day for it.”

That seemed to satisfy Teraeth’s expectations.

“I’m with the kids.” Talea pointed toward the door the others had taken. Qown had already sneaked through; Talea was willing to bet metal Janel hadn’t even noticed he’d been there. She’d barely looked away from Teraeth the whole morning.

Talea left without waiting for Janel’s acknowledgment. As she stepped outside, a cask hit one of the towers with explosive force. The Lash’s pirate ship, the Cruel Mistress, had turned its own war machines on the monastery.5 Talea didn’t understand why the harbor defenses weren’t responding in kind. Clearly, something had gone wrong there too.

It had to have been an inside job, but they’d need to survive it before they could ferret out their saboteur.

The real problem became obvious as soon as they reached the docks: the initial dead pirates, sailors, and assorted sea life had all climbed ashore with murderous intent. Everyone they killed promptly animated and joined their side.

Galen and Sheloran began fighting from the start. All three—Galen, Sheloran, and Talea—had an unspoken agreement to keep any stray blades, claws, or teeth from reaching Qown. Talea reminded herself, again, that she needed to teach the healer to fight, but this wasn’t the place to learn. Battling the roaming dead required beheading and amputation; her sword suited that need perfectly.6 Galen’s did not. Talea found herself rescuing the D’Mon prince as often as she guarded his healer.

The rain made footing on the docks slippery, although that worked to the disadvantage of the dead husks too. Everyone was soaking wet, miserable, and fighting for their lives. To make matters worse, a huge shadow had fallen over the docks, visible through the downpour, which could only be the kraken herself. Any moment, Talea expected a tentacle to smash through the wooden planks and stone pier foundations.

Then it would really be a party.

A space formed around them, a gap between waves of undead. Talea knew right away that this wasn’t a lucky break. Just the opposite.

Xivan walked into view.

Talea’s ex-lover looked angry. Xivan had changed clothes for the occasion too. She wore silk, gold-embroidered lace, jewels; some irreverent prankster must have convinced the Lash all good pirates dressed to make a Quuros high lord blush. Talea’s traitorous heart warmed to see her.

Xivan spotted them, sighed, and strolled in their direction. She wasn’t in any hurry.

“Take Sheloran out of here,” Talea said to Galen.

“Oh, I think not,” Sheloran responded.

“Please—” Talea started to say.

“No, Talea, dear. I mean the way is blocked.” Sheloran gestured backward with her fan. Several lines of husks—Devoran priests and Quuros soldiers this time—lay between their position and the stairs.

“Hand over Sheloran D’Talus,” Xivan said. “The rest of you may leave.”

“Sheloran D’Mon,” the princess muttered. Galen flashed his wife a smile.

Talea stepped forward and unbuckled the spare sword. It was now or never. “Is this you or the Lash talking? Or Suless?”

Xivan’s eyes widened. “How do you know about—” Her gaze slipped past Talea. She let one short, mocking laugh escape. “Oh, I see. Hello, Qown. I didn’t recognize you back there. Having hair’s a new look for you.”

“We know it’s not your fault,” Qown said, “but what happened isn’t Sheloran’s fault either.”

“Oh, I know that now,” Xivan replied. “If only I had a choice.” She frowned as Talea tossed a sheathed sword down to the wooden dock. It skidded to a halt at Xivan’s feet.

“You dropped this,” Talea chirped.

“What’s this?” Xivan scowled.

“I’m returning your sword,” Talea clarified. “I asked Sheloran to fix it. I know I’m sentimental, but I thought, hey, if the woman I love is going to kill me, she should at least do it with her own sword. It’s . . . you know . . . tradition.”

“I don’t want to kill you,” Xivan said. “Please get out of my way. Please.”

Talea smiled. “We both know that’s not going to happen. Pick up your sword.”

Xivan looked heartbroken. “I told you—I don’t have a choice. This isn’t like a gaesh, Talea. She can make me do anything she wants. I can’t even kill myself resisting the order.”

Talea set herself into a proper dueling stance. “Pick up your sword,” she repeated.

Xivan kept her eyes on Talea. She stepped on the scabbard’s edge and levered it into the air so quickly, it looked like she’d kicked the sword into her hands. She glanced down at it. “Nice scabbard.”

“Do you like it? I had it made just for you.” Which was even true.

It was, in fact, the whole point.

Xivan looked like she might cry. She tossed her old sword aside and pulled out the new one, which came free from its sheath with a satisfying ring.7

Talea hadn’t told the others that the odds of Xivan keeping the scabbard had only been 26 percent. Most people would keep the sword and toss the sheath, especially if they already wore one. Xivan’s preferred fighting style needed both hands free.

“Please,” Xivan pleaded, “just hand her over.”

“You have to fight the Lash’s control. I know you can. You’re stronger than this.”

Xivan tucked the scabbard—scrimshaw carved with red roses, impossibly beautiful, because damn if Sheloran didn’t have standards—under her belt; Talea exhaled.

Talea wasn’t sure if this was a situation like being gaeshed, where the broken control would be obvious, or if Xivan would only gradually realize the Lash no longer held her strings.

But Talea was out of time: Xivan attacked.

Talea easily avoided the first slash, deflecting the blade as she stepped to the side, but she wasn’t naïve enough to think it would be an easy fight. She was fighting the woman who’d taught her everything she’d ever known about swordplay. Talea didn’t hold back. Easier to do when Talea knew Xivan would shrug off most attacks short of decapitation.8 But it wasn’t a worry— Talea wasn’t anywhere close to getting through Xivan’s defenses.

Maybe Xivan wondered why the others weren’t interfering with their duel. Maybe she put it out of her mind as a distraction.

Then something terrible happened: it stopped raining.

Since it was the rainy season, Talea hadn’t considered that this rain might not be natural. In hindsight, it made sense; cutting off long-distance sight worked far more to the Lash’s advantage than to the Quuros soldiers defending Devors. Rain made spotting with Quuros scorpion war machines impossible.

The rain had also blocked Talea’s view of the Lash.

Talea had underestimated the kraken’s size. She was simply enormous, so huge that the sea monster’s body pushed her pirate ship to the side. It slammed against a dock, shattering both.

Talea could only stop and stare.

A sharp, cold pain blossomed as Xivan’s sword slammed into Talea’s stomach. Xivan pulled the sword back in shock, but it was too late. The pain was incandescent, terrible. Talea fought not to drop her sword and curl in on herself.

Talea took a wobbly step backward.

“What have you done?” a voice thundered above them, deep and vast.

Talea smiled through the pain. The Lash wouldn’t complain about Talea being stabbed. So all odds pointed to the same result: the Lash must have tried to control Xivan using the Cornerstone Grimward. And she had failed.

“It worked!” Talea said, triumphant. She held a hand over her wound, feeling the warm blood wash over her fingers. She hoped she didn’t spill her intestines all over the dock. It would be so inconvenient. She was so happy the injury almost didn’t hurt. Almost.

Actually no, it really hurt. A lot.

“Help her!” someone yelled.

Xivan shook her head. “You little fool. Why did you—?”

“Xivan, why can’t I see through your eyes anymore?”

Xivan turned around. “What?”

One of the kraken’s arms smashed a ship. Just smashed it to tiny pieces as though it were a toy.

“Oh, that is—” Teraeth’s voice came from somewhere in the back. “That is quite a bit bigger than the last kraken I encountered.”

“Talea!” Janel’s voice.

“You can’t see through my eyes—what a tragedy. I guess I’ll fix that right away.” Xivan gave the sea monster a rude gesture, sheathed her sword, and pivoted back to Talea’s group. “We need to leave.”

“Are you still trying to kidnap me?” Sheloran asked.

“No,” Xivan said. “No, absolutely not. But Suless is here somewhere. She wants to kidnap you, if not worse, and I can’t stop her.”

“Talea told me Suless is a demon now,” Sheloran pointed out. “Aren’t demons just souls? Couldn’t you simply eat her?”

Xivan stared at her, mouth agape.9

Qown ran over to Talea’s side. “I’ve got you. Let me see your wound.”

“Not here,” Xivan said. “We need to—”

Magical energy formed a wall over their heads just as one of the Lash’s tentacles slammed against their location.

“I can’t maintain this for long!” Thurvishar shouted as he trembled from the strain. “Might I suggest a retreat?”10

“I’ll delay her.” Janel started walking forward toward the end of the dock.

Which was the moment the whole world went dark. The Lash roared with a combination of confusion, anger, and, strangely, joy. Massive wings flapped over everyone’s heads.

Drehemia the dragon, lady of secrets and shadows, had arrived.

“I take it back,” Talea muttered. “It can get worse.”

“You never said that,” Xivan told her.

“I thought it, though,” Talea admitted. “My bad. Can you see?”

“Not a bit.”

“I can,” Galen said. “Talea, here. This is Xivan’s hand. I’ll grab hers—”

“This is a terrible idea,” Xivan muttered.

“If you have a better one,” Galen said as he started to pull them in a direction Talea assumed led to the stairs, “you’re welcome to try it.”

Apparently, Xivan didn’t have a better idea.

As they formed a chain, a bright light appeared overhead, cutting through the darkness. Thurvishar’s voice rang out: “Turn that off! Don’t draw the dragon’s attention!”

But it was too late.

Talea looked up. The dragon had landed on the top of the cliff, claws clutching at the crumbling monastery walls. She was beautiful in the light— dark purples, indigos, and deep sea greens rippling over her scales. Her eyes were the night sky, black and full of stars. Somehow, even as a dragon, Drehemia managed to convey a sense of complete insanity.

She opened her mouth and screamed. Talea didn’t know what the shadow dragon would breathe at them, but she knew she wouldn’t like it.

“Drehemia!” the Lash’s voice cried out.

The dragon’s head whipped around; she growled at the kraken.

“Stop this,” the Lash ordered. “Please, darling. Talk to me. Remember me?”

Drehemia spread her wings and flew down to meet her lover, claws extended. It didn’t at all look like Drehemia intended on giving the kraken a loving embrace.

“Oh,” Talea said absently. “This seems familiar.”

Xivan’s hand tightened in hers.

“Run,” Janel said. “Everyone run, right now.”

Talea felt light-headed. She didn’t want to run. She wanted to lie down on the floor, maybe take a nap. She could feel—oh, but it hurt. Qown hadn’t had a chance to do anything to help. He’d probably been the one to make the light. Despite Thurvishar’s warning, Talea was glad he hadn’t dropped the spell. She shuddered to think how difficult escaping would have been otherwise.

As they fought their way through the dock area, a new enemy arrived. These were Quuros, just as the animated dead had been, but living. They were also bestial, lost in rage. They attacked anything around them, including each other. And those they killed were promptly animated by the Lash.

Drehemia. The dragon had to be responsible for this.

“Where to?” Kalindra yelled out.

“Somewhere underground,” Galen said. “Away from the darkness and the Lash!”

They smashed their way through the lines of dead and mindless. Talea noticed quite a few of their enemies spontaneously lit on fire, which she assumed was Janel’s work. Halfway up the stairs, Talea stumbled. Xivan picked her up and carried her after that.

They ran up several flights and then through a service tunnel. They exited into a larger room, a storage space for supplies.

“Where’s Nikali?” Galen asked Kalindra.

“With his grandfather,” Kalindra said. “I don’t know where they went! I need to go find him right now!”

“Who’s Nikali?” Teraeth asked.11

“My son,” Kalindra answered. At which point, she kept running, serious about the find him right now part.

Janel said, “Let’s go,” and ran after her.

Everyone else followed Janel, until the entire group exited into a large open courtyard filled with statues and perfectly groomed hedges.

And looming over all of it, Drehemia herself.

“Shit.”

It might have been Qown who said that, but Talea wasn’t positive.

The dragon perched on the wall surrounding the courtyard, her attention focused on the Lash below. She faced the other way. Or at least, she’d faced the other way when they’d all run panting into the area and found themselves a dozen yards from her twitching tail. She must have heard them. Drehemia’s head whipped around to stare.

At that exact moment, a gate opened in the courtyard.

“Damn it,” Talea murmured. “I already admitted it could get worse.”

Senera and a Yoran woman Talea didn’t recognize stepped through the portal. The other woman saw the dragon first and yelped. Senera glanced up above, did a double take. The wizard uttered a single emphatic curse and then shook her head as if the dragon were someone else’s problem.

Talea was more than reasonably sure Drehemia was everyone’s problem.12

Then, Senera gestured, forming an ornate yellow series of glyphs and sigils in the air. The arcane symbols expanded in an eyeblink to fill the whole courtyard, then sank down to ground level, still glowing.

Talea had seen that before. So had Janel.

“No, stop!” Janel shouted.

Relos Var had used that trick before. It created a gate entrance. Under everyone’s feet.

The entire group fell through, and the portal shut over their heads.

1 In their defense, they hadn’t been attacked in over a century. But one would think the people screaming that the end of the world is nigh would be the ones most prepared for their world ending, yes?

2 I have to assume she’d been taking advantage of the fact that Teraeth is technically still king of the Manol and presumably has access to all the best armorers. And his predecessor’s wardrobe, which was considerable.

3 The “husband” referenced must have been Terindel, to whom Janel was married in a previous life. He rarely used magic. That is not the same as not knowing any magic. Honestly, though, I never would have guessed the Devoran Library wards had been placed by none other than Terindel the Black. I have . . . questions.

4 He wouldn’t have been.

5 It really is one of the most infamous pirate ships ever documented. Accounts of ships being attacked by the Cruel Mistress, helmed by the Lash, go back centuries, but I had assumed—like everyone else—that it was simply a title and ship’s name being handed down from one pirate to the next.

6 Talea and Xivan both use a Khorveshan curved sword known as an imchii. They are slicing weapons made from folded metal, and exceedingly sharp.

7 You know, if Talea had simply glued that sword into its damn scabbard, this all might have ended right there, but no one had asked my opinion. And I had no idea this was happening.

8 I’m not sure about decapitation. I suspect that would mostly be inconvenient.

9 Perhaps she could, yes, but I am reminded of the Zheriasian proverb about the hungry beggar and the beached whale.

10 Considering how immune most kraken are to magic, that you could maintain it at all is nothing short of extraordinary.

11 Given that Teraeth’s father Terindel had used the name Nikali as an alias for decades, it was a reasonable question.

12 As you will see, I wasn’t planning on staying that long. Still, my heart did skip more than a few beats.

Copyright © Jenn Lyons 2021

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