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Excerpt: The Discord of Gods by Jenn Lyons

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The Discord of Gods marks the epic conclusion to Jenn Lyons’s Chorus of Dragons series, closing out the saga that began with The Ruin of Kings, for fans of Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss.

THEIR CONFLICT COULD END THEM ALL.

Relos Var’s final plans to enslave the universe are on the cusp of fruition. He believes there’s only one being in existence that might be able to stop him: the demon Xaltorath.

As these two masterminds circle each other, neither is paying attention to the third player on the board, Kihrin. Unfortunately, keeping himself classified in the ‘pawn’ category means Kihrin must pretend to be everything the prophecies threatened he’d become: the destroyer of all, the sun eater, a mindless, remorseless plague upon the land. It also means finding an excuse to not destroy the people he loves (or any of the remaining Immortals) without arousing suspicion.

Kihrin’s goals are complicated by the fact that not all of his ‘act’ is one. His intentions may be sincere, but he’s still being forced to grapple with the aftereffects of the corrupted magic ritual that twisted both him and the dragons. Worse, he’s now tied to a body that is the literal avatar of a star — a form that is becoming increasingly, catastrophically unstable. All of which means he’s running out of time.

After all, some stars fade — but others explode.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of The Discord of Gods by Jenn Lyons, on sale 04/26/2022.


Precis

Our story starts a little over four months previous. Also, four years previously. And four hundred years previously . . . and four thousand . . . and fourteen thousand.

Let’s work our way forward.

Fourteen thousand years ago, human settlers invaded this dimension from another, fleeing the death of their universe. They were ill-prepared to deal with a world where magic existed and where they could neither easily die nor reproduce. They survived and made a home here, but it’s most important that you know this: two of the settlers were brothers named S’arric and Rev’arric. S’arric was popular. Rev’arric was smart. Eventually, Rev’arric came to loathe that difference.

Four thousand years ago, a second invasion occurred, this time by a race of telepathic, incorporeal monsters who thrived on pain and fear. This invasion damaged the barrier between this world and its twin, a shadowy Afterlife from which all souls came and eventually returned. Now humans could be killed and could have children, but this seemed an ill reward for being slowly destroyed by demons they couldn’t fight.

Rev’arric, smart man that he was, figured out a way. He devised a ritual to empower Eight Guardians, giving them godlike powers and the ability to follow demons even into the Afterlife. But he assumed he’d be one of the people picked for this, and when his brother was chosen instead, Rev’arric was overwhelmed with jealousy and hate.

So, when he discovered that the dimensional breach the demons had created would eventually annihilate the universe, he didn’t hesitate at a solution which required his brother’s destruction. He tricked his brother into participating in a second ritual, meant to elevate Rev’arric and turn his brother into a thrall under his control. Instead, it turned Rev’arric and the eight other participants into insane dragons and turned S’arric into a horrifying monster under no one’s control. This obliterated their country, formed the Blight, killed millions, and created both the Cornerstones and the sword Urthaenriel. Their people, the Voras, eventually imprisoned S’arric (now called Vol Karoth) at the cost of their immortality, but not before he killed the rest of the original Eight Guardians. One of the Cornerstones, the Stone of Shackles, was used to bind the demons, effectively ending the war. But it was too late: the Voras had been plunged into a dark age from which they never recovered. A cycle in which Vol Karoth’s prison would weaken and could only be repaired by the sacrifice of an entire people’s immortality would repeat several times.

Over four hundred years ago, Vol Karoth’s prison weakened once more, but this time he woke. The Eight Guardians (now called the Eight Immortals) had been resurrected, but none of them were prepared to fight their former leader. Worse, upon waking Vol Karoth broke the sun, turning it from yellow to orange-red. After repairing Vol Karoth’s prison, the Quuros emperor, Kandor, invaded the Manol and was slain. Kandor’s wife, Elana, snuck into the Blight to stop the morgage. She also remembered that she’d once been S’arric’s lover, C’indrol, and so tried to separate S’arric from “Vol Karoth.” She succeeded, after a fashion, sending fragments of S’arric’s souls into the Afterlife, where he slowly healed. S’arric, Kandor, and Elana would all later volunteer to be reincarnated to stop Vol Karoth, joined by the first emperor of Quur, Simillion.

Four years ago, a street thief named Kihrin stumbled upon a demonic summoning, gaining the attention of a particular evil necromancer named Gadrith, a particularly evil demon named Xaltorath, and a particularly evil Quuros prince named Darzin. The later snatched the boy up, claiming to be Kihrin’s father. In reality, Darzin’s master, that necromancer, Gadrith, wanted an artifact that Kihrin unknowingly wore: the Stone of Shackles. Kihrin ran away, and while he technically escaped Darzin, he didn’t escape being sold into slavery and auctioned off in a far-away land. There, he was almost bought by Rev’arric, now cured of his insanity, passing himself off as human, and going by the name Relos Var. Instead, Kihrin was purchased by a cult working for the Goddess of Death, Thaena (one of the Eight Immortals). Kihrin spent the next four years on a tropical island, training. Also falling in love, having his heart broken, running afoul of a different dragon, discovering he was the reincarnation of S’arric, and trying to convince himself that his feelings for Thaena’s son, Teraeth (the reincarnation of Kandor), weren’t romantic.

Four months ago, Kihrin returned to the Capital City with Teraeth and a weather witch named Tyentso, in order to stop Gadrith’s plans and free Gadrith’s son Thurvishar (who was the reincarnation of Simillion). Instead, Gadrith captured Kihrin, gained the Stone of Shackles, sacrificed Kihrin to Xaltorath, sparked a Hellmarch, and swapped bodies with the Emperor of Quur. But Kihrin didn’t stay dead, and he found what Gadrith had been seeking first: the god-slaying Urthaenriel, which Kihrin promptly used to kill Darzin, Gadrith, and break the Stone of Shackles. This broke all the gaeshe that kept demons under control, unleashing chaos. Also, Tyentso ended up becoming the Empress of Quur.

Kihrin fled the Capital, hoping to find an ally against Relos Var in the form of a mysterious figure called the Black Knight. This turned out to be Janel, the reincarnation of Elana. She’d fought her own battles against Xaltorath and Relos Var, but now wanted Kihrin’s help killing the dragon Morios, whom she believed would soon destroy the Jorat capital, Atrine. Although this threat was real, it was also a trap set by Relos Var, meant to separate Kihrin from Urthaenriel. It worked. It also woke Vol Karoth and damaged his prison.

Four fortnights ago, the Eight Immortals dispatched Kihrin, Teraeth, Janel, and Thurvishar to the Manol in order to make sure the last immortal race did their part to repair Vol Karoth’s prison. The vané king said “no”—by drugging the four and leaving them in the Blight to die. In the aftermath, they realized the situation was more complicated than they’d realized, and that the Eight Immortals weren’t pure of intentions. When Thaena proved willing to murder her own son and destroy an entire nation to fix Vol Karoth’s prison, Kihrin was forced to ally with Relos Var to stop her. By the time the dust settled, four immortals, including Thaena, were dead. Kihrin decided on a rash course of action: to merge back with Vol Karoth in the hope of ruining Relos Var’s plans to replace the Eight Immortals with himself.

Four days ago, Relos Var’s apprentice Senera switched sides. She kidnapped a dozen people during a dual kraken/dragon attack on the island of Devors and took them to a magical lighthouse where time ran fast. She’d hoped that Kihrin’s loved ones would help him fight off Vol Karoth, but the group realized it was the wrong approach: Kihrin and Vol Karoth were no longer separate entities. The only way to “win” was to help Kihrin—and themselves—overcome his trauma.

And in a few minutes, Kihrin—once called Vol Karoth, and before that, S’arric—will break free from his prison. Janel and Teraeth will return to the Manol to reclaim a throne. Thurvishar and Senera will try to recover Urthaenriel. Empress Tyentso will struggle to save an empire that’s always hated her. Relos Var will begin his final plans to control the dragons, enslave Vol Karoth, heal the dimensional breach, and make himself a god. And Xaltorath will attempt to steal enough energy to unravel the universe.

And here we go.

1. Step One: Gather Information

Kihrin’s story

(in which Kihrin’s plan is revealed to be exactly the opposite)

Wandering in the Blight

The day of Vol Karoth’s escape, just after dawn

I’d started contemplating next steps before I’d freed myself from that ever-solovely prison in Kharas Gulgoth. Or what had been my prison. The Korthaen Blight looked much the same as it always had, or rather, as it had since everything had gone wrong.

In some ways, it was worse to remember what it had been like, before. When this had been a garden full of life and beauty, growing wild and lush under a yellow sun. When the city of Karolaen was a wonder—even if it had ultimately been a refugee camp for the voras as we ran from Nythrawl and the demon invasion.

Now, it was a corrupted, ruined landscape. The devastation was so total that it had fractured the earth itself, creating a hot spot that fed toxic thermal springs and sulfur-laced fumes, which poisoned the ground so utterly that it was a shock that anything had ever been able to grow here at all.

Korthaen meant “the Land of Death.” Perhaps not the most original of names, but certainly accurate. It still amazed me that the morgage had found a way to survive here at all, but they’d been extremely, extremely dedicated to keeping people away from Vol Karoth’s prison.

Of course, that had been before Vol Karoth had woken. Afterward, even the morgage had been forced to flee.

It wouldn’t have been safe for them to return either. Much as I wanted to think that everything would be fine now that I was “whole” again, that just wasn’t true. I couldn’t hold so much as a stone picked up off the ground without it disintegrating in my grip. I kept trying. It was a problem I’d need to solve.

Before I’d escaped (back when we were all still in that strange liminal space that was both Kharas Gulgoth and the Lighthouse at Shadrag Gor),1 I’d given the others all manner of tasks to accomplish: we’d discussed strategies, how to keep Relos Var from discovering what we were up to, and how to avoid the people who might cause problems. I’d gone out of my way to make sure everyone knew that I had a solid plan for what to do, a definite scheme, even if I was being cagey about the details. S’arric the general, leader of the Guardians, could naturally be counted on to formulate a battle plan for fighting the enemy, right?

I hadn’t been lying exactly . . .

Okay, fine. I was lying. There was no plan. Nothing even resembling a plan.

Rather, I had a plan for making a plan. A real and proper plan would be impossible while there were so many unknown variables beyond my control. I was going to need information and a lot of it before any such strategy could be formed.

Senera had used the Name of All Things on every question I could think of before she’d then used the Cornerstone to cure Drehemia’s insanity, destroying it as a result.2 But even such an artifact had limits. It couldn’t answer every question. It especially couldn’t answer questions about events that hadn’t yet occurred, that had occurred before its creation, or that might have occurred in an alternate time-line.

As far as the strategy itself, well . . .

I had no intention of behaving the way S’arric would have. Relos Var knew his brother far too well. No. I planned to take my cues from a more recent mentor: my adoptive mother, Ola. Who had been by her own admission a crook, a schemer, a rogue, and a swindler down to her core. Relos Var thought of his brother as being first and foremost a soldier: I had no intention of behaving like one.

Ola Nathera always used to say that the key to a good con lay in three factors: organization, execution, and finding an utter bastard.3

Whether said bastard was the con artist or the mark? Ah, now that was flexible and, depending on the answer, required a different approach. Once you figured out which was which, the rest was a matter of logistics.

Either one made for a successful con, but most of the time, it was safe to assume the “bastard” in question would be the con artist themselves. That’s because most of the time, the mark wasn’t a bad person.

This whole idea that you can’t con an honest man? Nonsense. Most cons don’t exploit greed or lust, despite what you always hear. Most cons exploit benevolence. They appeal to the sincere desire that most people genuinely have to help someone in need, then lure them in with the revelation that such assistance will also reward the mark for their altruism. What could possibly be more appealing than a charitable deed and profit wrapped up in a single act?4 These people want to help, and knowing that there’s literally no downside makes it an easy decision. It makes the entire situation fair to everyone involved so that ultimately everyone wins.

At least, that’s the sell. I would argue that it’s not greed but this desire for equity that takes most marks by the hand and leads them those final, fatal steps into the trap.

And then there’s the other kind of bastard.

That’s when the mark is someone who doesn’t give a shit who needs their help. Helping others isn’t a persuasive motivation, not even if they’ll be rewarded for it. They are, in fact, suspicious of such rewards, more likely to leave such a situation alone unless they can verify and double-verify. No, what they need is a situation where someone else is vulnerable. Where they, the mark, believe they’re in a position to exploit that vulnerability. These are the bastards who can be convinced to betray confidences, take advantage of the weak, leave their partners out to dry. They don’t fall prey to the con because they’re good people but because they thought they were smarter than the con artist. Smarter, wickeder, and more cunning. They assumed that because they were hunters, they would never be prey.5

If there was any lesson that I’d learned at Ola’s knee, it was that sooner or later, everyone was prey.

I always preferred the second kind of mark, because I’m not a complete bastard,6 and I always felt bad about exploiting the first kind of mark. Even in a city as notoriously corrupt as the Capital, however, that second variety was harder to find. A con man might approach a regular person out of the cold, beg them for aid. A bastard, on the other hand, needed to think they weren’t helping; that they had in fact gotten the drop on you, that you needed them far more than they needed you. They had to think that they had all the power. A bastard was too suspicious of the darker aspects of humanity to accept that anyone was free from ulterior motives. A good con made them think that they were the ones taking advantage of the con artist, rather than the reverse.

All of this was a long-winded way of explaining that Relos Var had always been a strange mixture of both. While it would be easy to say that Var was a bastard and leave it at that, I was fully aware that by Relos Var’s standards, he firmly and genuinely believed that he was saving the world (with the side effect of becoming its kindly if tyrannical god) in what might be described as the ultimate expression of “rewarded benevolence.”

Plus, a further complication: Relos Var was already involved in his own scheme. Conning certain types of people—other con artists, spies, smugglers, almost any royal—was made more difficult because they were people with agendas, people on missions. The only way to distract one of those groups was to present them with something better than what they already thought they were getting. Otherwise, there was simply no motivation to their old schemes for new ones.

Considering Relos Var was attempting to destroy the other Immortals and rule the world (after he fixed it, to be fair), I was finding myself hard-pressed to describe what “better than he was already getting” might look like. Especially when I had only the faintest idea how Relos Var planned to accomplish it.

Normally, a con artist either picked a scam and found a mark that fit, or picked a mark and tailored the scam accordingly. In this case, there was really only one option. I couldn’t sub in my own game pieces until I understood Relos Var’s better. Fortunately, there was someone I could ask.

Although perhaps ask was the wrong word.

Still, I had to find it just a little hilarious—downright ironic—that in order to mess with Relos Var, I’d first have to mess with Xaltorath.

If I were being honest with myself, I was even looking forward to it.

So with that in mind, I escaped my prison and set out in search of an old friend.

1 The two locations were merged thanks to Senera.—Thurvishar

I’m honestly unsure whether it would be better or worse to confess that I didn’t do it on purpose.—Senera

2 Technically speaking, the Name of All Things wasn’t destroyed, simply merged back with its paired dragon, in exactly the same way Grizzst merged Cynosure and Relos Var in order to cure Relos Var’s insanity.—S

3 Which Kihrin absolutely is, at least in terms of birth, if perhaps not personality.—T Oh, I think he might qualify in personality too.—S

4 A great many of the scams common to the Lower Circle hinge on some kind of “reward” that the con artist offers to share with the victim in exchange for a small favor or concession, which either is the whole point or which opens up the victim to blackmail later.—T

5 The citizens of Eamithon even have a phrase for this: The hawk hunts the mongoose that hunts the snake.—T

6 Except by birth, as established.—S I don’t believe that’s technically true any longer. After all, by all accounts I’ve been able to discover, S’arric and Rev’arric’s parents were married, while Kihrin’s birth form (we need a better vocabulary for this type of discussion) is no longer being used.—T That’s a good and annoying point. Stop it.—S

2. Dreams of Sins Past

Tyentso’s story

The Soaring Halls, the Upper Circle of the Capital City of Quur

The day of Vol Karoth’s escape, just after dawn

The sunlight was a flare of hot red, glinting off the rolling waves with mirror brightness. Tyentso already had a headache from the reflection, and she wasn’t even manning a position on deck. The splash of waves created a steady background roar against the ship’s hull, counterpoint to the blinding glare. Counterpoint as well to the sound of groaning slaves down in the hold of the ship.

Wait.

She glanced around, blinking as she tried to make some measure of sense out of her view. This was the Misery. She hadn’t been back on board the Misery in years. The Misery didn’t even exist anymore, long since destroyed in a tug-of-war between a kraken and a dragon. But that had never stopped the nightmares. This was all too familiar.

Except in the important ways that it was not.

Except in the important ways that it was not. Kihrin sat on one of the water barrels, watching men work who either couldn’t see him or chose to ignore him. The Stone of Shackles shone a deep blue against his bronze skin. He looked older than the sixteen years he would have been in her memories, with less baby fat in his cheeks and infinitely older eyes.

Normally . . . Normally in her dreams, he’d be tied to the mainmast by this point, back washed crimson from the cat-o’-nine-tails the first mate, Delon, had used on him. That particular nightmare always started off in those moments when Captain Juval had been forced to choose between killing Kihrin and something arguably worse. When he’d demanded Tyentso summon up a demon to section off a piece of Kihrin’s soul and gaesh the boy as a compromise.

Captain Juval always picked a death sentence in her nightmares. Always ordered her to be the one to carry it out. Every time, Tyentso would know with absolute certainty that if she didn’t carry out the command, she would take Kihrin’s place. And every time, Tyentso killed the boy. No matter how much she screamed inside, she always made the same choice.

She’d always done whatever it took to survive.

“Do you always dream about this?” Kihrin turned his head to stare at her, and instantly, she knew this wasn’t a normal dream. That this wasn’t a dream at all in any typical sense of the word.

“Sometimes I dream about the Academy executing my mother for witchcraft,” Tyentso admitted. “Or my father Gadrith murdering me. Or . . . Well. My life is a fertile spring for spawning nightmares. Plenty of fuel for any number of horrific scenarios, replayed nightly for my amusement.” She paused, an ugly twisting in her gut. “I dreamed you died, you know. A few weeks back. I dreamed that mimic, Talon, had put her hand through your chest.”

A part of her whispered that she shouldn’t be talking about this. That someone might have found a way to intrude on her dreams and use it to ferret out secrets. But she quieted that voice. She knew this was Kihrin. She could feel it.

Kihrin coughed out an awkward laugh. “You know, I really should have expected that you’d sense that.”

Tyentso’s heart lurched in her chest, knocked against her ribs. “What? Scamp.” Tyentso loved the damn kid in her own way, but this was nothing to joke about—

He shrugged. “What can I say? Talon put her hand through my chest. I kind of died.”

Tyentso stared harder. “Was this before or after Thaena’s death?”

“After. It’s part of why I’m here.”

“Tell me you didn’t use Grimward. Tell me you’re not a damn vampire now, Scamp.”

Kihrin’s mouth twisted into something a little too sarcastic to be a proper smile. “No, I didn’t use Grimward.” He gestured toward the hold, toward the source of that faint, painful noise. “How many slaves do you think you helped Juval deliver to the auction block? You did this for something like twenty years, right? So it can’t be hundreds. We’re talking thousands, aren’t we?”

Tyentso felt her stomach flip, the knots tangle. “Scamp, I’ve already done my absolution for that.”

“Yeah, but said absolution was with Thaena. And for some reason, I don’t trust the judgment of a woman who was willing to wipe out the entire Manol vané population just to keep”—he paused—“Vol Karoth imprisoned for a few more decades. I wouldn’t trust her to even understand what the word redemption means.”

“So what are you saying, Kihrin? I’m not done atoning?” Tyentso wasn’t sure if she was angry or just frustrated. She wasn’t proud of what she’d done, but damn it, she’d been trying to survive . . .

“You already know the answer to that, Ty. Or you wouldn’t be still having the nightmares.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “Believe me, I know something about committing sins that you know you’ll never make right. It gets easier—it really does—but you’ll never be able to proclaim yourself innocent.” He glanced at her, for just a moment, but it was enough for her to be certain that he must have heard about what she’d done in the Capital. What she’d done to the high lords.

No. She was definitely not free from sin.

Tyentso felt herself frowning. “When did you stop being younger than me, Scamp? You used to be a lot younger. I could see it in your eyes, in the way you gazed out at the world. But now—” She stood. “You’re not really Kihrin, are you?”

He just chuckled and patted the barrel next to him, inviting her to take a seat. “Relax, Tyentso. I really am Kihrin.”

“But why—?”

“I’m also S’arric,” he said. “And, uh, much as it pains me to use the damn title, I suppose from a technical point of view I’m also Vol Karoth.1 Which is why we’re meeting in a dream instead of in person. It’s kind of difficult for me to be around people at the moment. At least, it’s difficult for me to be around anyone I care to keep safe.” He made a sweeping motion with his arm. “We’re also having this chat in a dream because Relos Var has a couple of ways to eavesdrop on people, but as far as I know, not a single one to spy on a dream.”

Tyentso didn’t sit on the barrel. Instead, she stood there and contemplated with a feeling of absolute dread itching through her veins as all the color washed out of the world.

Vol Karoth? What the fuck had happened to Kihrin while she was busy playing emperor?

Her fingers began moving, almost of their own volition, the desire to do something so intense that she couldn’t resist it. She wasn’t sure what good casting magic inside a dream would do, however.

Kihrin smiled at her. “It’s still me, Ty. Same soul. Same memories. Just more of both.” The corner of his mouth twisted. “The body’s new. Or should I say really old? The original, as it were. Can’t say I don’t miss the newer version, though, because boy, do I ever miss the newer version.”

Tyentso took a deep breath. He sounded like Kihrin. Sounded like Kihrin in a way she had a difficult time imagining Vol Karoth ever would. The ship seemed to tilt, and she realized it was just that she’d sat down on the barrel, after all.

“Fucking hell, Scamp,” she muttered. “Does Teraeth know about this?”

“He does,” Kihrin admitted, after a beat of hesitation that spoke volumes about how well that conversation must have gone. “Has anyone gotten around to telling you he’s king of the Manol these days?”

Tyentso blinked, then shook her head and looked away. “I guess I’ve missed a few things.”

“But not Thaena’s death.”

She scoffed. “No, not Thaena’s death. I felt that one.” She’d nursed an ugly, hollowed-out feeling ever since, all the purpose and clarity that had been there for her for the past few years evaporated like seawater on board the Misery’s deck. Nothing left behind but stains and salt. “I don’t even know what happened to her. It wasn’t you, I hope.”

“The short version is that Thaena insisted on the vané conducting the Ritual of Night, only it turned out that the vané were never a separate race. They were just humans with a much better educational system. So it didn’t work. Apparently, Doc had known and kept it from her, and she was so angry that she murdered him—”

“Fuck,” Tyentso muttered.

“—then she used an enchantment to force Teraeth to carry out a ritual that would have killed every citizen of the Manol to gain the power she needed. She intended to use that power to recharge the faulty control crystal keeping Vol Karoth’s prison intact. Of course, a bunch of folks went to stop her, and it was big and it was nasty.” He sighed. “Taja died. Argas and Galava too. And at one point, Thaena picked up Urthaenriel. A huge mistake: it broke the enchantment she had on Teraeth. So when she tossed the sword to the side in order to better concentrate on killing me, he picked it up and killed her with it.”

The whole world seemed to just go dark, the breath freezing inside her lungs. She ground her teeth and covered her mouth with a hand. She couldn’t imagine it—and yet she also absolutely could. There was never any anger worse, any betrayal worse, than the ones committed by the people who were supposed to love you.

“Oh,” she said.

“So a few things. First is that it’s apparently possible to be a demon without being evil, although currently there are only two examples of the not-evil kind, and they’re both children of Qoran Milligreest, so I’m not sure what that says about the Milligreest bloodline.”2

Tyentso blinked at him. “What.”

“Janel and Jarith are both demons. In Janel’s case, you probably wouldn’t even notice because she’s possessing her original body, but Jarith’s a different story. And I’m explaining this to you because it’s rather important that you not kill him.”

She couldn’t quite believe what she was hearing. The idea that Janel had been infected was bad enough—she’d liked that girl—but Jarith? How was she supposed to believe—her brain latched on to a more immediate issue. “That implies I’ll have the opportunity.”

“Contacting me is tricky at the moment. Jarith can manage it. And it’s difficult to stop him from going wherever he feels like, which makes Jarith my official go-between. If you need a message to reach me, all you have to do is tell him.”

“You’ve got to be fucking joking.”

A flicker of irritation crossed his face. “Trust me, he’s not terribly happy to be a demon either, Ty. But it is what it is. And there’s an excellent chance you will need to be able to send messages to me. In the meantime, I’ve asked him to watch your back.”

“I don’t—” She closed her eyes. Tyentso didn’t even really know Jarith Milligreest. He’d been born after she’d been exiled from Quur.

Poor Qoran, though. He’d be devastated once he figured out what had happened to his son.

Kihrin took her silence as an opportunity to move on to the next topic. “The second thing is that soon you’ll be receiving the news that Vol Karoth has escaped his prison—broken free entirely. I’m sure Relos Var felt it as it happened, and if Xaltorath doesn’t already know, they will soon. So I figure both will start their endgame scenarios. In the case of Xaltorath—” He shrugged. “I suspect Xaltorath’s just looking for power at this point. Tenyé and as much of it as they can manage. Which obviously we have to deny them.”

“Obviously,” Tyentso agreed, numb.

Kihrin grinned at her. “But the bigger problem is Relos Var. I know what he wants, but I’m less sure about exactly how he intends to get there.”

“Okay, I’ll play. What does Relos Var want?”

“He wants to puppet-walk my ass into the Nythrawl Wound and use me to seal it from the other side. For the moment, he thinks he needs Urthaenriel to do it, because when last he checked, Urthaenriel could be used to control Vol Karoth.”

Tyentso narrowed her eyes. “And that’s no longer true?”

Kihrin grinned, wide and bright and achingly mischievous. “That’s no longer true. But don’t tell him. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.”

Tyentso snorted. “And I assume this is why you’re coming to me. You know you made me promise I wouldn’t return that stupid sword to you just because you asked, right?”

“And that hasn’t changed,” Kihrin said, “but it does mean that Relos Var is going to be coming for you.”

She scoffed. “Why? He shouldn’t have any idea that I have it. I haven’t told anyone.”

“I don’t think that matters,” Kihrin said. “Look, I realize that we’ve all been raised on stories of Godslayer, or Urthaenriel, or whatever you want to call the damn sword, and so we all know that you can’t use magic to find it, but”—he gave her a sharp look—“that’s not entirely true. I could sense that sword even when I was mortal. And I don’t think it’s just me. I’m willing to bet metal that nine dragons out there, including my dear brother, all share that same connection. The first time Relos Var dropped by the Upper Circle to have a drink at the Culling Fields, he knew exactly where Urthaenriel was hidden.”

“No,” Tyentso protested. “No, that doesn’t make any sense, because if that were true, Kaen wouldn’t have been hunting the four corners of the globe for the thing. He just would have asked his court wizard, Relos Var.”3

“Why would Relos Var volunteer that information to Kaen before he was ready? More, why would Relos Var remove the sword from a location where it was both secure and where he could retrieve it anytime he felt like it? That sword was hidden in the perfect place. But now? Now we’ve put Urthaenriel where he can’t reach it anymore. That’s going to be a problem for him. A problem he needs to fix. He will make a move against you. He has to.”

That made a certain ugly sense. And it would certainly put Relos Var in a spot, wouldn’t it? Kill Tyentso and the Crown and Scepter reverted back to their “base” positions in the Arena until the next Contest. That meant weeks, at minimum, before a new emperor was crowned, and until that happened, the Vaults were closed off to everyone but the Immortals themselves—who hated Relos Var.

Depending on what Xaltorath was up to, Relos Var might not have weeks.4

“Wait. Who has the Stone of Shackles?” Tyentso asked. That was how her father, Gadrith, had gotten around the situation before, after all. He’d just switched bodies with the current emperor, neatly giving himself a throne in the process.

Kihrin said, “Not Relos Var.”

“Thank fuck.”

“Oh, my sentiments exactly,” Kihrin said. “I figure that means he either has to bribe you, enchant you, or extort you. That last one probably by threatening someone you care about. You know how he loves moving at people through their families.”

Tyentso let out a bark of laughter. “People I consider family is a fucking short list, Scamp. And something tells me Var can’t threaten you any harder than he already is.”

Kihrin didn’t respond for a moment. He was staring out at nothing—or maybe he was looking at the spot on the mast where they’d whipped him. It was hard to tell. “You mean to tell me you wouldn’t care what happens to Qoran Milligreest?”

Tyentso’s gut clenched. She wanted to tell herself that she wouldn’t care. It had been over between the two of them for a very long time, and the relationship hadn’t exactly ended on good terms. Even so. “Shit.”

“Told you.” At least he didn’t sound smug about it. Mostly resigned.

It still made her defensive. “We didn’t become lovers again, you know. I’d have sooner chewed out my own tongue. He broke my fucking heart, Scamp. I have no desire to let him stomp on it a second time.”

“That doesn’t change my question. You would care, right?” He glanced over at her.

“I’d be really sad at Qoran’s funeral, Scamp,” Tyentso snapped. “But I wouldn’t give Relos Var a fucking thing.”

Kihrin smiled, although if he was impressed or just hearing what he’d expected was more difficult to gauge. “Fortunately, it won’t come to that.”

“How do you figure? If you’re right, it’s either this or try to sway me with an enchantment, and knowing that bastard, it’ll probably be both.”

“Because it’s part of the plan. He’s going to come at you for Urthaenriel. And I want you to let him succeed.”

1 Few people have even heard the name Vol Karoth, and fewer still understand that it’s a title, not a name, meaning simply “King of Demons.”—T Somewhat ironic, since he’s not a demon.—S

2 Nothing. Jarith was targeted because of his relationship with Janel. It had nothing to do with any lineal inheritance.—T

3 Just a reminder that Relos Var served as court wizard for Duke Azhen Kaen for a number of years, and Duke Kaen did indeed want to locate Urthaenriel, for a number of reasons.—T See: The Ruin of Kings and The Name of All Things for more information.—S

4 As it turns out, he didn’t even have days.—S

Copyright © Jenn Lyons 2022

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