The Skull Throne: Book Four of The Demon Cycle

About the Book


The fourth volume in The Demon Cycle, the powerful saga of humans winnowed to the brink of extinction by night-stalking demons, and the survivors who fight back, from New York Times bestselling author Peter V. Brett

The Skull Throne of Krasia stands empty.

Built from the skulls of fallen generals and demon princes, it is a seat of honor and ancient, powerful magic, keeping the demon corelings at bay. From atop the throne, Ahmann Jardir was meant to conquer the known world, forging its isolated peoples into a unified army to rise up and end the demon war once and for all.

But Arlen Bales, the Warded Man, stood against this course, challenging Jardir to a duel he could not in honor refuse. Rather than risk defeat, Arlen cast them both from a precipice, leaving the world without a savior and opening a struggle for succession that threatens to tear the Free Cities of Thesa apart.

In the south, Inevera, Jardir’s First Wife, must find a way to keep their sons from killing one another and plunging their people into civil war as they strive for glory enough to make a claim to the throne.

In the north, Leesha Paper and Rojer Inn struggle to forge an alliance between the duchies of Angiers and Miln against the Krasians before it is too late.

Caught in the crossfire is the duchy of Lakton—rich and unprotected, ripe for conquest.

All the while, the corelings have been growing stronger, and without Arlen and Jardir, there may be none strong enough to stop them. Only Renna Bales may know more about the fate of the missing men, but she, too, has disappeared. . . .

Includes a bonus Demon Cycle novella: Holiday in Tibbet’s Brook

Look for Peter V. Brett’s complete Demon Cycle:
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Praise for The Skull Throne: Book Four of The Demon Cycle

Praise for Peter V. Brett’s novels of The Demon Cycle
The Warded Man
“There is much to admire in Peter Brett’s writing, and his concept is brilliant. There’s action and suspense all the way.”—Terry Brooks
“[A] fast-paced and thoroughly enjoyable dark fantasy.”The Miami Herald
The Desert Spear
“Inspired, compelling, and totally addictive: the most significant and cinematic fantasy epic since The Lord of the Rings.”—Paul W. S. Anderson, director of Resident Evil: Afterlife
“Fans of epic fantasy in the tradition of Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin will enjoy the arrival of a strong voice in multivolume epic fantasy.”Library Journal
The Daylight War
“Highly entertaining, fast-paced, and action-packed.”—SF Site
“[Brett is] at the top of his game.”Tordotcom

The Skull Throne
“Heart-thumping, adrenaline-pumping . . . The crescendo is near perfect.”—Book Frivolity
“As soon as we dive into The Skull Throne, it quickly becomes obvious that Brett knows exactly what he’s doing. . . . Brett is setting up his world and the characters in order to tell his epic fantasy tale in a way that is both personal and global. It’s a page-turner, and quite possibly the best so far.”Starburst Magazine
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The Skull Throne: Book Four of The Demon Cycle

Chapter 1

The Hunt 333 AR Autumn

Jardir woke at sunset, his mind thick with fog. He was lying in a Northern bed—one giant pillow instead of many. The bedcloth was rough, nothing like the silk to which he had become accustomed. The room was circular, with warded glass windows all around. A tower of some sort. Untamed land spread into the twilight, but he recognized none of it.

Where in Ala am I?

Pain lanced through him as he stirred, but pain was an old companion, embraced and forgotten. He pulled himself into a sitting position, rigid legs scraping against each other. He pulled the blanket aside. Plaster casts running thigh-to-foot. His toes, swollen in red, purple, and yellow, peeked from the far ends, close, yet utterly out of reach. He flexed them experimentally, ignoring the pain, and was satisfied with the slight twitch that rewarded him.

It harkened back to the broken arm he’d suffered as a child, and the helplessness of his weeks of healing.

He reached immediately to the nightstand for the crown. Even in day, there was magic enough stored within to heal a few broken bones, especially ones already set.

His hands met empty air. Jardir turned and stared a long moment before the situation registered. It had been years since he had let himself be out of arm’s reach of his crown and spear, but both were missing.

Memories came back to him in a rush. The fight atop the mountain with the Par’chin. How the son of Jeph had collapsed into smoke as Jardir struck, only to solidify an instant later, grabbing the spear shaft with inhuman strength and twisting it from his grasp.

And then the Par’chin turned and threw it from the cliff as if it were nothing more than a gnawed melon rind.

Jardir licked cracked lips. His mouth was dry and his bladder full, but both needs had been provided for. The water at his bedside was sweet, and with some effort he managed use of the chamber pot his searching fingers found on the floor just underneath the bed.

His chest was bound tightly, ribs grinding as he shifted. Over the bandages he was clad in a thin robe—tan, he noted. The Par’chin’s idea of a joke, perhaps.

There was no door, simply a stair leading up into the room—as good as prison bars in his current state. There were no other exits, nor did the steps continue on. He was at the top of the tower. The room was sparsely furnished. A small table by the bedside. A single chair.

There was a sound in the stairwell. Jardir froze, listening. He might be bereft of his crown and spear, but years of absorbing magic through them had remade his body as close to Everam’s image as a mortal form could be. He had the eyes of a hawk, the nose of a wolf, and the ears of a bat.

“Sure you can handle him?” the Par’chin’s First Wife said. “Thought he was going to kill you out on that cliff.”

“No worries, Ren,” the Par’chin said. “He can’t hurt me without the spear.”

“Can in daylight,” Renna said.

“Not with two broken legs,” the Par’chin said. “Got this, Ren. Honest word.”

We shall see, Par’chin.

There was a smacking of lips as the son of Jeph kissed his jiwah’s remaining protests away. “Need you back in the Hollow keepin’ an eye on things. Now, ’fore they get suspicious.”

“Leesha Paper’s already suspicious,” Renna said. “Her guesses ent far from the mark.”

“Don’t matter, long as they stay guesses,” the Par’chin said. “You just keep playin’ dim, no matter what she says or does.”

Renna gave a stunted laugh. “Ay, that won’t be a problem. Like makin’ her want to spit.”

“Don’t waste too much time on it,” the Par’chin said. “Need you to protect the Hollow, but keep a low profile. Strengthen the folk, but let them carry the weight. I’ll skate in when I can, but only to see you. No one else can know I’m alive.”

“Don’t like it,” Renna said. “Man and wife shouldn’t be apart like this.”

The Par’chin sighed. “Ent nothin’ for it, Ren. Bettin’ the farm on this throw. Can’t afford to lose. I’ll see you soon enough.”

“Ay,” Renna said.

“Love you, Arlen Bales.” “Love you, Renna Bales,” the Par’chin said. They kissed again, and Jardir heard rapid footsteps as she descended the tower. The Par’chin, however, began to climb.

For a moment Jardir thought to feign sleep. Perhaps he might learn something; gain the element of surprise.

He shook his head. I am Shar’Dama Ka. It is beneath me to hide. I will meet the Par’chin’s eyes and see what remains of the man I knew.

He propped himself up, embracing the roar of pain in his legs. His face was serene as the Par’chin entered. He wore plain clothes, much as he had when they first met, a cotton shirt of faded white and worn denim trousers with a leather Messenger satchel slung over one shoulder. His feet were bare, pant and shirt cuffs rolled to show the wards he had inked into his skin. His sand-colored hair was shaved away, and the face Jardir remembered was barely recognizable under all the markings.

Even without his crown, Jardir could sense the power of those symbols, but the strength came with a heavy price. The Par’chin looked more like a page from one of the holy scrolls of warding than a man.

“What have you done to yourself, old friend?” He had not meant to speak the words aloud, but something pushed him.

“Got a lot of nerve callin’ me that, after what you did,” the Par’chin said. “Din’t do this to myself. You did this to me.”

 “I?” Jardir asked. “I took ink and profaned your body with it?”

The Par’chin shook his head. “You left me to die in the desert, without weapon or succor, and knew I’d be corespawned before I let the alagai have me. My body was the only thing you left me to ward.”

With those words, all Jardir’s questions about how the Par’chin had survived were answered. In his mind’s eye he saw his friend alone in the desert, parched and bloodied as he beat alagai to death with his bare hands.

It was glorious.

The Evejah forbade the tattooing of flesh, but it forbade many things Jardir had since permitted for the sake of Sharak Ka. He wanted to condemn the Par’chin, but his throat tightened at the truth of the man’s words.

Jardir shivered as a chill of doubt touched his center. No thing happened, but that Everam willed it. It was inevera that the Par’chin should live to meet him again. The dice said each of them might be the Deliverer. Jardir had dedicated his life to being worthy of that title. He was proud of his accomplishments, but could not deny that his ajin’pal, the brave outsider, might have greater honor in Everam’s eyes.

“You play at rituals you do not understand, Par’chin,” he said. “Domin Sharum is to the death, and victory was yours. Why did you not take it and claim your place at the lead of the First War?”

The Par’chin sighed. “There’s no victory in your death, Ahmann.”

“Then you admit I am the Deliverer?” Jardir asked. “If that is so, then return my spear and crown to me, put your head to the floor, and have done. All will be forgiven, and we can face Nie side by side once more.”

The Par’chin snorted. He set his satchel on the table, reaching inside. The Crown of Kaji gleamed even in the growing darkness, its nine gems glittering. Jardir could not deny the desire the item stirred in him. If he’d had legs to stand, he would have leapt for it.

“Crown’s right here.” The Par’chin spun the pointed circlet on a finger like a child’s hoop toy. “But the spear ent yours. Least, not ’less I decide to give it to you. Hidden where you can never get it, even if your legs wern’t casted.”

“The holy items belong together,” Jardir said.

The Par’chin sighed again. “Nothing’s holy, Ahmann. Told you once before Heaven was a lie. You threatened to kill me over the words, but that doesn’t make ’em any less true.”

Jardir opened his mouth to reply, angry words forming on his lips, but the Par’chin cut him off, catching the spinning crown in a firm grip and holding it up. As he did, the wards on his skin throbbed briefly with light, and those on the crown began to glow.

“This,” the Par’chin said of the crown, “is a thin band of mind demon skull and nine horns, coated in a warded alloy of silver and gold, focused by gemstones. It is a masterwork of wardcraft, but nothing more.”

He smiled. “Much as your earring was.”

The Demon Cycle Series

The Skull Throne: Book Four of The Demon Cycle
The Core: Book Five of The Demon Cycle
The Desert Spear: Book Two of The Demon Cycle
The Daylight War: Book Three of The Demon Cycle
The Warded Man: Book One of The Demon Cycle
The Demon Cycle 5-Book Bundle

About the Author

Peter V. Brett
Peter V. Brett is the internationally bestselling author of The Demon Cycle, which has sold more than four million copies in twenty-seven languages worldwide. Novels include The Warded Man, The Desert Spear, The Daylight War, The Skull Throne, The Core, and The Desert Prince. He lives in Brooklyn. More by Peter V. Brett
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