Debut author Jenn Lyons has created one of the funniest, most engrossing new epic fantasy novels of the 21st century in The Ruin of Kings. An eyebrow-raising cross between the intricacy of Brandon Sanderson’s worldbuilding and the snark of Patrick Rothfuss.
Which is why Tor.com is releasing one or two chapters per week, leading all the way up to the book’s release on February 5th, 2019!
Not only that, but our resident Wheel of Time expert Leigh Butler will be reading along and reacting with you. So when you’re done with this week’s chapter, head on over to Reading The Ruin of Kings for some fresh commentary.
Our journey continues….
2: The Kazivar House
Of course, I took the stone back; it’s my turn to tell your story now. Why yes, I do so get a turn. Why should I not? It amuses me, and you’re in no position to argue. Since you don’t wish to start at the beginning, I shall do so for you. There’s no point in you trying to keep parts of your tale from me. You aren’t protecting anyone’s memories, not even your own. So, I will tell you your story, because I want you to remember how it went, seen through someone else’s eyes. Indeed—through many eyes, from many points of view; for that is what I am now. No one can change that. Not even you, my love.
Stop struggling. The bars are stronger than your skull.
Let me tell you a story about a boy named Rook.
Ah. I thought that might catch your attention.
As you know, his real name was Kihrin , but he liked the name Rook because it was both his aspiration and occupation. Rook was a burglar: a very special burglar, a Key. He loved to perch, fingers clamped to the highest ledges, alone with the birds, his thoughts, and his crimes. He dreamed of soaring, freedom, and a world where no one would ever chain him.
Alas, we rarely get what we want, do we?
He was fifteen years old: not yet an adult in Quur, and yet too old to be properly called a child. Like all people caught between two worlds, he hated and longed for both. He hadn’t considered himself a child since he was twelve, when his teacher had died and he paid his first dues as one of the Shadowdancers’s Keys .
Perhaps Rook was even right, for no one stays a child in the slums of the Lower Circle for long. Those poor waifs who hitched themselves to gangs like the Shadowdancers grew faster still.
Rook’s methods possessed one flaw, one misstep that would spell his doom.
He was curious.
Rook had spent almost a week planning the best way to rob the house of a wealthy merchant in the Copper Quarter. The merchant would be away for two weeks, attending his youngest daughter’s wedding, giving Rook all the time he wished to explore the vacant house.
Except when Rook arrived, he discovered someone was already there, someone with motives very different than his own.
If you asked me today if there was a single action, one event, which might have changed the course of what followed, I will unfailingly point to this: the day you broke into that Kazivar House and let curiosity bid you stay, when a wiser man would have fled.
But you did not, and so I call this the beginning.
The young man stifled a curse, balanced himself on the edge of the windowsill, and scanned the bedroom in the faint light. There was no sound save that of screaming coming from inside the house. After a pause, Rook remembered to breathe. He dismissed the tingling in his fingertips as fear and finished sliding through the narrow opening of the villa’s upper window.
As he entered, he tucked the key ring of strips back into his belt. Most of the strips were made from wood—bamboo, mahogany, cypress, even distant, exotic woods like pine and oak—but a few rectangles were also crafted from glass and ceramic tiles from Atlas. Using those strips as a guide revealed if a house was enchanted, if someone had spent metal to hire Watchmen to spell windows and doors against intrusion. Keys like him practiced no magic of their own, but they could see beyond the First Veil and divine if a door, a lock, or chest was more than it seemed. For a thief, such knowledge was the difference between success or an ugly, short end to a criminal career.
The window frame was carved teak, the panes made of cloudy glass.
Perfectly normal. No traps, no enchantments.
The screaming though. The screaming from inside was not normal.
Someone inside was in pain, such that even a Key-thief like Rook had never known in all his fifteen street-smart years.
The young thief closed the window behind him and let his eyes grow accustomed to the dim light. He wondered who was being abused. Was the current resident (that merchant what-was-his-name?) the one being beaten? Or was he the one handing out the awful punishment, his trip north to Kazivar nothing but a convenient alibi for satisfying a fetish for torture or worse?
The bedroom Rook entered was large and daunting, filled with the ostentatious filigree and tile work for which imperial craftsmen were famous. Cotton sateen covered the massive bed, tapestries lined the walls and divans, and elegant figurines of heavy bronze and jade sported across the boudoir countertops.
The north wall was open and a giant balcony overlooked the covered courtyard in the center of the villa. The screams came from the courtyard garden, on the ground floor.
Rook relaxed as he realized he couldn’t be seen from below. This was important, because tonight anyone but his blind father would be able to see: all three moons were out, adding their glow to the violet, red, and shifting green aurora of Tya’s Veil. It was a sorcerer’s night. A night for working magics or sneaking past them, because Tya’s Veil appearing in the night sky meant it was easier to “see” past the First Veil into her realm .
The bed chamber had been used recently. Perfume lingered in the air and on sheets tossed back and rumpled. Discarded clothing spoke to an assignation gone very wrong.
None of his business.
His expert eyes sought out the money and jewels tossed on a bedside table. He placed each item into his belt pouch while he listened.
There were voices.
“It’s so simple. Just tell us where the Stone of Shackles is and your pain will end,” a velvet-smooth male voice said.
Sobs filled the gaps between speech. “I… oh goddess!… I told you… I don’t KNOW where it is!”
Rook wondered if it was a woman’s voice. His eyes narrowed. If they were beating a woman… he stopped himself. So what if they were beating a woman? he thought. He told himself not to be a fool.
“The stone was last seen with the Queen Khaeriel, upon her death. It was never recovered.” A different voice spoke: a colder voice. “Her serving girl ran off with it, but it’s no longer in her possession. Did she smuggle the stone back to the new king?”
King? Rook thought. Queen? Quur had princes and princesses in plenty, but no king, no queen. Quur was the greatest, largest, mightiest empire that had ever existed, that would ever exist. Quur had an Emperor—immortal and powerful as a god. He suffered no “kings.”
“I don’t know! No one’s seen Miyathreall in years. If she’s still alive, how would I know where she is?”
Rook changed his mind: the victim was male but his voice was high pitched. The thief almost dared to steal a glance, but forced himself back. It would be insanity to intervene. Who knew who those men were? They didn’t sound like folk to be trifled with.
“Do you take us for fools? We know who you work for.” The first voice growled, heavy with anger. “We offered you money and power beyond your wildest dreams. You refused our generosity, but you’ll tell us everything. We have all night…”
Rook heard an odd gurgling noise before the screaming resumed. A shudder passed over him, then he shook his head and continued his work. It wasn’t any of his business. He wasn’t there for charity.
He continued looking beyond the First Veil. It muddied his normal vision with rainbows and bright scintillating lights, as if he’d pulled the aurora down from the sky. He had no talent for reaching past that barrier and forcing change, as wizards did, but looking was often enough.
Seeing past the First Veil allowed him to distinguish materials from each other with great accuracy, even in the dark. Gold had a particular aura; silver, a different one; diamond, yet a different aura still. Gemstones shone as if reflecting a light even when in darkness. A Key could walk into a dark room and unerringly find the single gold coin hidden under a pillow, every time, which was the other reason mundane thieves so coveted their skills. There was nothing to keep him from tripping over a rug and breaking his neck, but that was remedied by watching his step.
Rook’s eyes picked out the rainbow glimmer of mineral wealth from a dark corner of the room. A few treasures had been tossed and forgotten in a corner: a drussian dagger, a pouch of herbs, an intaglio-carved ruby ring.
Rook also found a large rough green stone on a silver chain. Something like silver wire wrapped around the unfinished green gem, but his sight told him the metal was not silver and the stone was not emerald. The thief stared at the green stone in surprise, and then looked over his shoulder to where he imagined the three men were having their “talk.” He left the herbs, but snatched up the necklace and ring before tucking the dagger under his belt.
And there it was again: Rook’s curiosity. In all his years of thieving, all the jewelry stolen, he had never seen a necklace like that one… except once.
He pulled its mate out from under the collar of his shirt. The stone he wore was an indigo blue that looked like sapphire but was not, wrapped in a yellow metal that looked like gold but was not. Both faux-sapphire and faux-emerald were rough and unpolished, with sharp crystal edges and smooth facets. The two necklaces were different in color, but in theme and design, they were identical.
He could no longer resist the urge to satisfy his curiosity.
Rook inched himself over to the balusters, crawling on his stomach, until he gazed into the courtyard garden. He let the Veil fall into place and waited for his eyes to adjust to the change.
Two men stood. The third sat, tied to a chair. At first glance Rook wondered if he had been wrong to think the victim was male, and even more wrong to think him human. The seated figure had tightly curled hair, layers of fluffy spun sugar. The color was completely unnatural: pastel violet, like the edge of clouds at sunset. The victim’s features were wide and delicate, but contorted in pain and smeared with blood. Still, he was piercingly beautiful.
Rook almost cried out when he realized the victim was a vané. He had never seen one before.
However, the vané’s torturers were very much human. Compared to the vané, they were ugly and unclean. One had the grace of a dancer, solid muscle under watered blue silk. The other dressed in strange, heavy black robes that contrasted with his odd skin—not the healthy brown of a normal Quuran, but pale and ugly as scraped parchment. They made an odd pair. From the embroidery on his shirt and breeches to the jeweled rapier at his side, the first man was a devotee of worldly comfort; the second man a follower of ascetic reserve .
The hairs on Rook’s neck rose as he watched the pale man: something was wrong with him, something foul and unwholesome. It wasn’t his crow-black eyes and hair, which were normal enough, but something intangible. Rook felt as if he were gazing at a dead thing still walking— the reflection of a corpse with the semblance of life, not the truth of it.
Rook dubbed the two men Pretty Boy and Dead Man , and decided if he never met either of them face-to-face, he might die happy.
He dreaded what he might see with his sight, but after a second’s hesitation he looked beyond the First Veil again. He winced. It was worse than he’d feared.
Both men were wizards. They both had the sharpened auras that Mouse had taught him was the hallmark of magi—men to be avoided at all costs. Pretty Boy wore plenty of jewelry—any of which might serve as his talismans.
Dead Man’s aura matched his appearance: a hole in the light around him.
Rook’s skin prickled as the urge to run hit him hard.
Pretty Boy picked up a stiletto and plunged it into the vané’s stomach. The prisoner arched up and tore against his restraints, screaming in such anguish that Rook gasped in sympathy.
“Wait,” Dead Man said. He motioned Pretty Boy aside and pulled the stiletto out of the vané, who collapsed into desperate sobbing.
Dead Man cocked his head, listening.
Rook began the mental recitation of the mantra that had saved his life on more than one occasion: I am not here. No flesh, no sound, no presence. I am not here. No flesh, no sound, no presence. I am not here...
“I don’t hear anything,” Pretty Boy said.
“I did. Are you sure this house is empty?” Dead Man asked.
The young thief tried to melt back into the shadows, tried to quiet his breathing, to still it, to be nothing to see, nothing to hear. How had Dead Man heard him over the screaming? I am not here. No flesh, no sound, no presence...
“Yes, I’m sure. The owner is marrying off his daughter to some fool knight in Kazivar. He’s not due back for another two weeks.”
This seemed to satisfy Dead Man, who turned his attention back to the vané. “I believe this one has told us all he knows. It is time for our contingency.”
Pretty Boy sighed. “Must we?”
“I was rather hoping we might save our new friend for a rainy day and I wouldn’t have to do the blood ritual again. Talon can’t be everywhere—or imitate everyone—at once. People will ask questions if too many of my family members go missing without explanation.”
“Then you’re lucky you have a large family to sacrifice. Do you have enough information to find it?” Dead Man directed his question toward the shadows in a corner of the courtyard.
Horrible, nightmarish laughter echoed through Rook’s brain.
***OH YES. I HAVE SEEN IT IN HIS MIND .***
Rook bit his lip to keep from making noise. That voice hadn’t spoken aloud, but thrust, unbidden, inside his thoughts.
Dead Man’s expression didn’t change as he reached out a hand toward the vané. Somehow, his gesture was more menacing than Pretty Boy’s actual torture. A fine flow of energy began to leak from the vané’s eyes, from his forehead and from his chest—flowing through the air to form a glowing ball of pale violet fire in Dead Man’s fist.
As the last bit of the vané’s soul was pulled from his body, his eyes widened and then stared, unseeing.
Dead Man tucked something hard, amethyst, and sparkling into his robes.
“What about the body?” Pretty Boy asked.
Dead Man sighed and gestured one last time. There was a crackling, crashing noise as energy flowed from the Dead Man’s fingertips this time, radiating out toward his victim.
Rook gagged as he watched the flesh melt off the vané’s body like water, leaving only bloody clothing and a strangely clean skeleton.
The gore whirled in a red miasma and hovered around the bones for a few eternal seconds. Then it flowed toward the shadows, swallowed whole by the gigantic mouth of the demon that stepped out of the darkness.
“Shit!” Rook cursed between shaking teeth, and knew he’d made a mistake—probably a fatal one.
Dead Man looked up at the balcony. “There’s someone up there.” “He’ll get them,” Pretty Boy said. “You. Fetch.”
Rook dropped all pretense of stealth and ran for the window.
Excerpted from The Ruin of Kings, copyright © 2018 by Jenn Lyons.