Excerpt Reveal: The Sky on Fire by Jenn Lyons

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Excerpt Reveal: The Sky on Fire by Jenn Lyons

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The Sky on Fire by Jenn Lyons

Enter a world ruled by dragons…

The Sky on Fire is a daring new fantasy heist adventure that will thrill fans of Temeraire, Fourth Wing, and Dragonriders of Pern

Anahrod lives only for survival, forging her own way through the harsh jungles of the Deep with her titan drake by her side. Even when an adventuring party saves her from capture by a local warlord, she is eager to return to her solitary life.

But this is no ordinary rescue. It’s Anahrod’s past catching up with her. These cunning misfits—and their frustratingly appealing dragonrider ringleader—intend to spirit her away to the dragon-ruled sky cities, where they need her help to steal from a dragon’s hoard.

There’s only one problem: the hoard in question belongs to the current regent, Neveranimas—and she wants Anahrod dead.

From Jenn Lyons, the acclaimed author of the Chorus of Dragons series, this soaring standalone fantasy combines conniving dragons, lightning banter, high-stakes intrigue, and a little bit of heat.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of The Sky on Fire by Jenn Lyons, on sale 7/16/24


HELL

 

Skylanders had another word for the Deep.

Hell.

A more appropriate brand, without question. The Deep was too bland a label, applied so vigorously to any land ranging from sea level to five thousand feet above it. Skylanders felt secure in the label’s accuracy only because they measured from altitudes so much higher. Whereas Hell, as a place of punishment hot enough to scorch, occupied by monsters and the damned, served as a far more accurate warning. Those people
who made their homes in the Deep had their own feelings on the matter, but their opinions were never consulted. If Skylanders considered the Deep a punishment, then it was also true that one could, by effort and necessity, learn to love Hell.

Anahrod had.

The Deep bore no resemblance to the indifferent mountaintops or the apathetic sky. The Deep demanded focus, insisted on attention. Anahrod might fear and hate her adopted home, but she couldn’t deny that every part possessed a wild beauty, a riotous curve of unmolested nature too rebellious to be conquered, too perilous to be ignored. The suffocating, sticky air and the boiling heat were a mild irritation compared to the Deep’s genuine threats: explosive oceans, howling storms, and giant, carnivorous animals.

In the Deep’s jungles and savannas, its deserts and forests and violent, evershifting green waters, dwelt every monster unfriendly to humanity. The worst of which—Hell’s true demons—would always be humanity itself. A point Anahrod considered as she stared down the two Scarsea recruiters. The Scarsea eschewed the green body paint worn by most jungle tribes in favor of shadow-valley violets. Ocean-green spikes thrust out in all directions from the shoulder plates strapped to their arms, lest one make the error of thinking them too friendly.

Anahrod had neither asked for nor been given introductions. She’d decided to call one man “Braids” because of his hair. Anahrod nicknamed the other one “Scratch” since he kept picking at his paint, the cracked mud flaking away from one arm to reveal brown skin underneath. “We won’t make this offer again.” Braids tightened his hand on his sword pommel. As they “wouldn’t make this offer again” on the last four occasions the Scarsea had found her, the threat’s value had begun to wane. She allowed silence to be her answer. If they decided her consent was no longer necessary, Overbite waited, hidden behind a nearby hillock.

They didn’t seem inclined to press the issue. Still, Scratch wore a sour expression, the look of a man trying to understand why Anahrod wasn’t leaping at the opportunity offered. “Your refusals have grown tiresome, but if you return with us now, His Majesty won’t hold a grudge.”

“Sicaryon, you mean?” She’d heard far too much of Sicaryon lately, none of it good. Not so long ago, he’d been “Chief ” Sicaryon, after killing his uncle for the position. Then he was “warlord,” gobbling up neighboring tribes with frightening speed.

Now he was “king.” Anahrod avoided Scarsea territory, but what did such matter when they sought her out instead? “King Sicaryon,” Braids corrected. He clearly expected her to be impressed. She leaned forward as if to share a confidence. “I must know. Does he really have forty spouses that he keeps imprisoned by the sea?” Scratch sputtered. “What? What rumors—”

“I know,” Anahrod agreed. “The idea is ridiculous. Why would I think Sicaryon could handle forty husbands and wives when he couldn’t even handle—”Anahrod paused. She felt a spike of concern from Overbite, whose senses far surpassed Anahrod’s own. “—me?”

Sharp, high-pitched screams echoed from the jungle. Not human sounds, but she recognized them. Rock wyrms. Hunting. A half second later, rock wyrms began calling to each other. Anahrod drew her sword—but it was a pointless gesture. Rock wyrms grew to over fifteen feet long, with tough hide and razor-sharp teeth. They used four of their legs for running and the remaining two limbs, which each ended in sharp, spiny points, to impale their prey. The females were solitary, but as there was no justice in the world, the males traveled in packs. Anyone hunting rock wyrms used spears, arrows, pit traps, or best of all, sorcery. They didn’t use swords. Swords weren’t long enough to scratch a rock wyrm’s hide before the monster was close enough to impale the wielder. “You’re the sorceress who can control animals!” Scratch snapped. “Can’t you
do something?” Something ugly and bitter twisted her guts. So Sicaryon had told them what she was. “Yes. One at a time.” Anahrod pointed into the jungle with her blade. “So, flee.”

Scratch started to follow her order, which would’ve been hilarious in other circumstances. He caught himself, a stubborn look finding root on his face. “I’m summoning my titan drake,” Anahrod elaborated. “Run!”
Braids grabbed Scratch’s arm. “Let her deal with them.” He pulled the other man into the underbrush. More baying sounded, but none in the direction the two men had fled. The two recruiters might yet escape.

[Overbite, sweetheart, I need you. We’ve work to do.]

Anahrod used a root vine to pull herself onto a branch. It was always easier if she kept herself tucked out of the way. Not safer (because rock wyrms climbed trees), but at least she wouldn’t be underfoot. Behind that hillock, the titan drake called Overbite pushed herself up on six thick legs. She was a massive specimen: twenty feet at the shoulder and fifty feet long. Striped scales camouflaged her in the dappled light of the jungle canopy. Despite her bulk, she moved with barely a rustle of foliage. A perfect hunter with teeth the size of swords, she could take down anything smaller than a grown dragon. In the Deep, that was everything, including most other titan drakes.

[Let’s hunt.]

Overbite tossed her head in excitement. She was always eager for a hunt, even if she wouldn’t technically be the one hunting. Anahrod slumped back against the tree branch, body abandoned. Transfer-
ring her consciousness to an animal felt like swimming through an ocean of sap to gasp at clean air. Rising from the depths and taking in a deep breath of new reality. Her senses expanded as she settled into Overbite’s mind. The world transformed into a tapestry of colors, odors, sounds. The nearby dama trees, the rock wyrms, the flowering coremfells—and the nasty stench of humans. Her hearing became hyperacute, distinguishing rock wyrms from birds, humans, and other predators. Anahrod would’ve given Overbite her lead if the men had run farther, but they were too close. She had no faith in her pet’s ability to control her hunting instincts. If it ran, Overbite would chase.

The rock wyrms loped into the clearing on four legs. They all stiffened and raised their heads, scenting a larger predator. Anahrod stood to her full height, or rather, to Overbite’s full height. She advanced on the pride, a lethal monster who had nothing to fear. The rock wyrms turned to face her, heads down and growling. Which wasn’t the correct response. The wyrms should’ve gone after the weaker prey, fled before the stronger. They should’ve chased the Scarsea, allowing Anahrod to pick off the rock wyrms from behind.

She was committed now. Anahrod ran into the clearing, straight at one of the “little” monsters. She sank her teeth into a rock wyrm neck, snapped the spine. Hot blood flooded her mouth as the creature let out a pitiful yowl. She smelled something new then, something familiar: Scratch’s scent. That wouldn’t have been so special, but the scent was on this rock wyrm. Along with many other human scents, none of which belonged. When would a Scarsea soldier have had contact . . . ? She studied the wyrms a second time. Ropes. Scraps of leather. The clink of metal rings slapping against thick hide necks. This wasn’t a wild pride.

These were . . .

These were trained animals.

She tossed the rock wyrm corpse to the ground as she searched for the warriors. She still smelled them, so where had they gone? The pride was attacking. She roared, the sound vibrating through her borrowed body, barely audible to humans but a thunderclap to Deep animals. She bit a rock wyrm, gouging out a giant chunk of his flank. The rock wyrms encircled her. She heard metal clang against stone, followed by cursing.
When she turned, she saw the little Scarsea bastards hadn’t fled. Instead, they’d circled around to the tree where Anahrod had hidden her body. Scratch carried Anahrod’s unconscious form slung over a shoulder. Her sword had caused the warning sound as it slid free from its sheath and hit a rock on the jungle floor.

Anahrod growled. Sicaryon had told them everything she could do. It felt like a betrayal. Braids rushed back to retrieve the sword. “Go!” he screamed at Scratch. “The others are waiting!”

The others.

Her pulse thundered in her ears. This encounter had been a trap from the start. Sicaryon had no intention of suffering a fifth refusal. This wasn’t a recruitment: it was a kidnapping. A rock wyrm took advantage of her distraction to stab both spear arms into one of her—one of Overbite’s—legs. She twirled, swept aside that attacker plus several pack mates who failed to dodge. But the damage was done. Anahrod felt the icy sting of blood flowing too fast. She kicked out with a middle leg, caught another wyrm in the ribs; she was rewarded with a satisfying snap of bone.

Another rock wyrm tried the same trick, stabbing at Overbite’s front legs. She wasn’t distracted this time, whereas he’d just wandered into the reach of her jaws. She savaged his neck and tossed the corpse to his pack mates. Perhaps she could’ve fought them off, even outnumbered, but more humans approached. Likely the other Scarsea soldiers, coming to finish the job. The implications made her gut clench: Sicaryon had learned to train rock wyrms. His great successes against so many tribes became easier to explain. Worse was the certainty that she knew where her sword-brother had come up with such an idea: from her. The scent of fresh blood swelled in the air. Human blood. The smell confused both her and Overbite’s lurking consciousness. No humans had been hurt. Yet the unmistakable, caustic scent of human blood flooded her senses.

Scratch stopped running. He, too, seemed confused. He dropped Anahrod’s body in an ungraceful heap. She winced: that would bruise. Anahrod still saw no sign of injury, even if Overbite’s nose screamed
otherwise. Then Scratch made a choking sound. Blood poured from his eyes, his nose, his mouth—from every orifice.Not a trickle, but a gushing exsanguination. His partner, Braids, shouted something at Scratch. His real name, perhaps. She had no idea why Scratch had died in such a way, but she could guess.

Sorcery.

That was when Anahrod scented the new arrivals. Not the second Scarsea group. These were something else. They smelled of perfumed lye soap and clean skin, weapon oil and writing ink, but it was the scent of spiced musk and hot metal that raised her frills. Overbite knew that scent too well, because it belonged to her only natural predators.

Dragons. Copyright © 2024 from Jenn Lyons

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