Striker Gryphon has lost his position of honor among the Ram, and is now a hunted man. A traitor.
Zo, the object of his affection, was murdered by members of his former clan. To honor her memory, he journeys to the highly secretive Raven “Nest” to warn strangers of their impending demise—though it could cost him more than just his pride.
He doesn’t know that Zo is very much alive and in another part of the region assisting Nameless refugees over a mountain swarming with wild men known as “Clanless.”
As each struggle to make sense of what their lives have become, they fight and claw to reach the Allied Camp, their last hope in bringing peace to the region.
But the road back to one another is treacherous and uncertain. And freedom will come with a price.
About the Author
Jennifer Jenkins is the cofounder of the Teen Author Boot Camp and a proud member of Writers Cubed. She had every intention of teaching teens to love George Washington and appreciate the finer points of ancient battle stratagems (seriously, she's obsessed with ancient warfare). However, life had different plans in store when the writing began. She is the author of Nameless. She lives in Sandy, Utah.
Read an Excerpt
By Jennifer Jenkins
Month9BooksCopyright © 2016 Jennifer Jenkins
All rights reserved.
Gryphon never thought he'd die at the hands of the Ram. Of course, he never thought he'd become a traitor to his clan, either.
He awaited a likely public execution, sitting in a patch of mud outside the walls of Ram's Gate, his clan's stronghold, as rain filtered through the trees overhead. Bristled ropes rubbed raw his bound ankles. Iron manacles secured his wrists behind his back. Gryphon clutched the hidden key to his restraints inside a bloody fist and glared at a man he never thought he'd call an enemy.
Zander, Gryphon's captain, stood at attention as the rain rolled off his brown hair and banked along the harsh angles of his cheekbones and jaw. He held a seven-foot spear like a walking stick, the blunt end buried in the mud at his feet. His short sword was sheathed at his hip, his round shield slung across his back. The perfect Ram warrior, and one of the best swordsmen Gryphon had ever known.
The fifteen members of his mess sat like stones in a field, unmoving but hard and very present. Most of Gryphon's former mess, including his best friend, Ajax, kept their backs to him, as if his treason were contagious. Some slept under thick wool blankets that repelled the rain while others stewed with the restlessness that plagued so many warriors.
No one bothered to light a fire. Whether they were too impatient to find something dry enough to burn or felt they deserved the cold, Gryphon didn't know. Ram were experts at self-discipline — not to be confused with self-control.
Inside Ram's Gate, Gryphon grew up training every day until his body ached. On days he struggled to do everything his leaders asked of him, he would sentence himself to mountain sprints until he literally passed out from exhaustion. Like every other Ram boy, he willingly walked into scheduled yearly beatings that were meant to train his body to block pain, making him nearly invincible on the battlefield.
A little rain was nothing.
Sitting cross-legged in the mud with his hands chained behind his back, Gryphon let the rain muffle the sound of his struggle to insert the small key into the unseen lock of his manacles. Each metallic scrape wound his nerves that much tighter. His wrists burned from bending at an awkward angle and his shoulders strained as he struggled to keep his face a mask of indifference.
Zander watched him, barely blinking. Gryphon needed to distract him — to break his intent focus.
"Why do you think they haven't let down the rope ladder?" Gryphon asked, speaking as though his impending execution meant little to him.
Zander's lip raised in a snarl. "Barnabas has the Raven invasion to prepare for, the gate to repair. He will deal with you in his own time."
Gryphon adjusted his grip on the key to approach the lock from a different angle.
"It seems Barnabas is content to let you sit out in the cold for the night. Do you think you'll lose your command over this?" Gryphon raised his chin and smiled.
Zander drew a knife so fast Gryphon fumbled with the key.
"Barnabas ordered you brought back alive, but I don't think he'd mind if I took out your tongue."
Gryphon had been trained to use the emotions of his enemies against them. People made mistakes when they weren't stable. Plus the conversation muffled the sound of the key scraping futilely against the metal lock behind his back.
A few of the heads in the wet camp turned to watch the exchange.
Zander leaned back, battling with his composure. "I might lose my command, but I'll return to my bunk with our brothers of the mess and rest well after seeing your body hang from a noose." He shook his head. "I knew you had a strange fascination with that slave — that Wolf. I just didn't realize your treason extended to all the Nameless inside the Gate."
Just yesterday, Gryphon had inadvertently helped hundreds of Nameless slaves flee the massive walls of Ram's Gate. To slow the Ram pursuit, he disabled the only exit — a gate so large it required forty Nameless to open it. Even though only a fraction of the Nameless slaves escaped, it would be days before the chain connecting the gate to the counterweight could be repaired.
The key finally slipped into the lock. Gryphon let his head fall back, just a fraction, and closed his eyes in relief. Zander's hate-filled gaze greeted him as he opened his eyes, but that didn't stop him from turning the key. The lock clicked open, the sound lost in the rain.
With one hand free, Gryphon still kept both hands behind his back, though he relaxed his shoulders some to alleviate the ache from being bound. The metal key in Gryphon's hand was warm. The grooves pressed uncomfortably into his palm, but Gryphon didn't loosen his hold, refusing to let go of the hope Ajax had given him.
Not only was the key his only chance of escaping the certain death that awaited him inside the giant walls of his clan, but it also represented a dim hope that Zo was still alive. That Ajax — Gryphon's best friend — hadn't followed through with Zander's order to find and kill her and the others after Gryphon's capture.
The vivid scenes of the morning replayed in Gryphon's mind again and again. Everyone asleep under the tree, except Zo and Gryphon. Ram circling the perimeter of the giant fir like bloodhounds sniffing out prey. Zo taking his hand, pretending to be brave even though her eyes — they were always so easy to read — proved it a lie. Her warm lips. The feel of her body pressed against his ...
A shudder that had nothing to do with the cold ran up Gryphon's back. He'd been captured not far from the tree, trying to lead the Ram away from the people he cared for most.
If only he could ask Ajax if they were alive, though the chances were as likely as staying dry in this storm. Ajax had a family to protect, and the penalty for deceiving his captain was as deadly as deceiving Chief Barnabas himself. Dangerous.
Lightning struck not far away, brightening half of Zander's face in the fast-approaching darkness.
"Come back to me," Zo had said, just before she'd leaned into him, touching her soft lips to his.
Gryphon slid the key into the second lock.
He chewed on the inside of his lip until he tasted blood. He fought the urge to spit in Zander's face, to unlock the chains binding his wrist and strangle him with his bare hands. He was sure he could finish the job before he took a spear to the gut. It felt like the only way to quench the hungry blackness that consumed his insides.
Gryphon hung his head, remembering the promise he made to Zo before they separated. Whether Zo was alive or not, he needed to survive to warn the Raven Clan of an impending attack. Countless lives would be spared if the Raven had time to flee the Nest before the Ram arrived. Getting himself killed wouldn't serve them, even if it meant an escape from the overwhelming ache in his chest.
Thunder rolled again. Zander stared. Gryphon prayed for a miracle ... and hoped he deserved one.
He turned the key.
The lock clicked open.
But his manacles clattered to the ground before he could catch them.
* * *
"We're not waking him." Zo's head throbbed as she held Joshua's wrist to check his pulse for the tenth time in as many minutes.
The boy lay unconscious, but his heart beat a steady rhythm. Zo needed to feel that pulse; it was her tether to sanity. The sound of Ram fists connecting with Gryphon's body ... the muffled grunts betraying his pain ... they still echoed in her mind when she didn't check her thoughts. From her hiding place, she hadn't seen Gryphon's capture, but she had heard. She'd wanted to run out and fight alongside him. Even though she had Joshua and Tess to think of, her inaction tasted like betrayal.
Rain fell all around them, but they'd managed to stay mostly dry beneath the skirt of a giant fir tree.
"This is insane," said Eva. She had the long nose of her Ram ancestors, set off by a thin mouth. "Do you have any idea what will happen to us if the Ram come back here?" Eva lay flat on her stomach — all leather and long legs — as she scanned the ground outside their fir tree haven.
Even with a full moon, it was impossible to see far beyond the confines of their shelter. "They have Gryphon. They'll know you and Joshua are close." Eva ran her hand over her cropped hair, oblivious to the action. "If I were tracking us, I would have found us hours ago."
Eva was a Ram, just like the soldiers she feared. She'd fled the Gate with Zo for the sake of her unborn child. A baby who would have been killed at birth because it belonged, not to her betrothed, but to a man in the Ram's slave class known as the Nameless.
Zo gazed up at the tree trunk, hoping to inhale a bit of patience along with the strong scent of pine. "We wait until Joshua's ready, Eva. Not a moment sooner."
"But the Nameless will be miles away by now."
Zo conceded the point. At that moment, hundreds of escaped slaves traveled to get as far from Ram's Gate as possible to protect their newfound freedom. They didn't know how to find the Allied Camp. Zo had told Stone, Eva's lover and the leader of the Nameless rebellion, it was south of Ram's Gate, but that was the extent of their knowledge, and it wouldn't be enough to find the slot canyon that led to the Allies.
The Nameless needed her. So did her little sister Tess, Joshua, and even Eva. None of them would survive without Zo's ability to lead them to the Allies. But it didn't change the fact that all Zo wanted to do at the moment was sprint up the mountain to Ram's Gate — the place from which they'd just escaped — and demand the release of the young man she'd come to care for. The man who'd saved her life and the life of her sister, even though doing so had caused him to lose everything.
Zo's little sister, Tess, sat like a watchdog beside Joshua's head, playing with the boy's red hair. In the low light, she looked even smaller than her eight years.
"Zo's smart. She knows what to do," said Tess. Dirt smeared across her nose and cheeks. Her blond hair hung in tangles. She glared at Eva with her giant blue-green eyes, almost daring her to contradict her big sister.
Zo hugged her knees to her chest, fighting a sudden surge of nausea, hoping Tess was right to trust her so completely.
"Someone's coming," Eva hissed. She pushed up onto her knees, wielding two deadly looking knives. At the same time, Zo yanked Tess to the ground and threw herself over her and Joshua's body. It was a futile effort to save them, but fear took over all rational thought.
Soft footfalls crept outside their shelter, each step marking the final moments of their lives. Zo glanced around for some kind of weapon or stick to help defend the two people — two children — for whom she was responsible. All she found in the darkness was a bed of dry pine needles and her medical satchel — nothing to defend them against fighters from the deadliest clan in the region.
The footsteps came closer, muted by the soggy earth. Eva moved from her knees to the balls of her feet, a compressed spring ready to fly into an attack. She adjusted her grip on her knives.
Hope fled. Zo couldn't catch her breath. Tess. Joshua. Eva. The Nameless. Dying today under this tree meant the deaths of so many others as well. Gryphon's sacrifice had been in vain.
Large boots stopped mere feet from Zo's hiding place. Boots she'd recognize anywhere.
"Don't," she cried, trying to stop Eva before she attacked.
But her warning was too late.
Eva sprang, blades in hand, aimed at the intruder's chest.CHAPTER 2
Gryphon tensed when the manacles fell, but Zander didn't give any indication that he'd heard the clanking metal over the pouring rain.
Behind Zander, Ajax met Gryphon's eye.
He'd likely been listening for the slightest sound of metal since he was the one to risk his life by giving Gryphon the key.
Gryphon had to remind himself to exhale and inhale at a normal rate, even though his heart thundered in his chest. Freeing his hands was only a small step on the path of not dying today.
When no one else seemed wise to Gryphon's partial freedom, he focused on the next step toward escape: the ropes binding his ankles. The men in his mess sat too far away for Gryphon to easily steal a blade.
Ajax stared up into the branches of the tree above Gryphon's head. He gave someone in the branches a subtle nod. Then, without bothering to keep his movements quiet, he abruptly stood and walked away from Gryphon and the others, drawing Zander's attention for a fleeting moment before the mess captain realized Ajax only left to relieve himself.
But just as Zander looked away, a slight thump sounded next to Gryphon's hands. At first he thought it might have been a pinecone loosed by the rain. He felt around with his unbound hands, careful to keep his movement to a minimum, and then his fingers grazed something hard and familiar — the hilt of a small dagger.
How was it possible? He forced himself not to look up into the dark branches. Hope he hadn't dared feel surged through him. It must have been Zo's friend, Gabe, though why the Wolf would linger to help him, he didn't understand. He should have been running north to warn the Raven of the impending Ram attack.
Unless Zo put him up to it.
Ajax walked back to the mess and dared a glance up into the high branches of the tree over their heads. Rain pelted his face. He wiped it away before looking Gryphon in the eye. What his old friend tried to convey in that shared glance, Gryphon couldn't be certain. But he had a feeling it was important.
Ajax frowned and looked down at his hands as he repositioned himself on the wet ground. He grit his teeth and grabbed hold of his pant legs. He seemed to flex every muscle in his body. Then he nodded, jaw tensed in anticipation. The familiar zipping sound of an arrow flew down from the tree. The arrow sank deep into Ajax's thigh.
Ajax rolled and wailed, pointing in the opposite direction of the arrow. "Raven!" he half shouted, half growled.
"Link!" Zander called his men to order, as they all searched the trees in the opposite direction. Metal and wood scraped together as round shields were raised to form a perfect wall of defense.
I could kill Zander, thought Gryphon. I could end him like he ordered Ajax to kill Zo. He wanted to kill him as much as he wanted his freedom. But right now he couldn't have both.
Gryphon took his chance. Using the dagger gifted to him by the hidden ally in the tree, he sliced through the tight ropes around his ankles in one fluid motion and jumped to his feet.
Gryphon leapt over a bush and raced around a tree. Then another. He didn't get more than twenty strides before Zander shouted, "Stop him!"
Gryphon took off at a wild sprint into the dark forest. A spear shot past him within inches of his head. Arrows flew behind him, likely Gabe helping to cover his escape. Men shouted in pain. Gryphon didn't turn around. He ran as hard as he'd ever run, pushing through the absolute darkness as if the wings of hell beat at his heels.
After a couple hundred yards, the earth fell out from beneath him and he plummeted, rolling down the sheer side of the mountain. Rocks bruised his body. Brush and foliage scratched wicked gashes into his skin. He used his arms to protect his head as he tumbled, end over end, into the belly of a rocky gorge.
He landed hard in a freezing stream of mountain water that came up to his waist. In the distance Zander wailed with frustration. The ghostly sound cut through the pouring rain and echoed off the walls of the gorge. It was no small miracle Gryphon survived the fall. Now Zander's men would have to backtrack half a mile to a nearby ridge to get down into the ravine. He struggled to his feet then fell back into the water after his first step, clutching his head to clear away the dizzy spell that robbed him of precious time.
He lifted a hand to the back of his head and found a lump forming. He must have hit it in the fall, but didn't remember.
He pushed himself up onto his battered hands and knees and crawled through the stream until the dizziness in his head cleared. Pulling himself out of the water, he collapsed on the black soil to catch a couple of breaths, then forced his weary body to stand. He kept his pace slow but consistent, heading northeast in the direction of the Raven settlement even though he wanted nothing more than to run back to the tree to see if Zo was alive and to check on Joshua and the others.
Excerpted from Clanless by Jennifer Jenkins. Copyright © 2016 Jennifer Jenkins. Excerpted by permission of Month9Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.