The immortal mages have risen, and they're out for blood.
Khya arrived at the Ryogan coast too late to stop the invasion. Now, cities are falling before the unrelenting march of an enemy army, and Khya's squad is desperately trying to stay ahead of them. Warning the Ryogans, though, means leaving her brother imprisoned even longer. Time is running out for everyone.
But how can her squad of ten stand against an army of ten thousand?
Calling in help from every ally she's made in Ryogo, Khya tries to build a plan that won't require sacrificing her friends or her brother. It's a tough balance to find, especially when the leadership role she thought she wanted sits heavy on her shoulders, and her relationship with Tessen is beginning to crack under the strain.
The end is coming, and there's no way to know who'll be left standing when it hits.
The Ryogan Chronicles are best enjoyed in order.
Book #1 Island of Exiles
Book #2 Sea of Strangers
Book #3 War of Storms
About the Author
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Rido'iti is burning. And all I can do is watch.
We're on a ridge overlooking the city and the ocean beyond, a seemingly endless stretch of white-capped water so dark it's nearly black. The position is a hundred feet up and half a mile away from the city, and we've barely moved for the last two hours. Sanii is as mute and still as the nearby Zohogasha, the statues of the Kaisubeh standing sentinel on the coast. Etaro holds Rai tight, face turned against her shoulder. Nearby, Sanii, Zonna, and Natani stare at the city below us, unblinking. Tessen leans against me, his breathing shallow and too quick, his body trembling.
When Varan's army landed, I stayed because I needed to see what he would order his nyshin mages to do. And if they would listen. A small part of me had hoped, despite knowing exactly how well the citizens of Sagen sy Itagami unquestioningly follow orders, that those I once called clan would look at where they were and see that the city they'd been commanded to decimate was defenseless, its people weak and unprepared. I'm too far away to see faces or watch individual reactions, but the army didn't seem to hesitate before the slaughter of Rido'iti began. Now, only ruins, blood, and ash remain.
I barely blink as my gaze traces the narrow, twisting streets dividing the tightly packed, sharp-peaked buildings of stone and wood — or the lines of what's left of them. We reached this height while the Itagamin army was still marching across the ocean, and then the wide thoroughfares were nearly empty; the raging storm had driven everyone indoors. Even in the darkness of the storm and with my vision blurred by pounding rain, I could see the bright paint on the structures and count the trees lining most roads. It's easy to imagine what this place might've looked like on a sunny morning with a harbor full of ships and a city full of life. I'll never see it like that. I will only ever see it in flames and ruins.
Fire has engulfed most of the city, crawling from building to building with the help of brutal gusts of wind. The flames are so thick and hot not even the rain can put them out. It'll extinguish itself eventually, but only after everything it can consume is gone. No one is here to douse the flames anymore. The citizens have either fled or died, and the Itagamin army is already leaving the chaos behind to move north, away from the roiling ocean and into Ryogo.
"How many do you think died?" Etaro asks.
"Too many." I close my eyes. Acrid smoke burns my nose, the scent full of burning wood, roasting flesh, and singed hair.
At least the screaming has finally stopped.
"What do you want to do, Khya?" Tessen's voice is so low that I might not have heard the question if he hadn't rested his forehead against my temple. "We need to go, or we'll get caught by their scouts."
I nod to let him know I heard, but I don't move yet. We were so close. After four moon cycles in Ryogo, hunting secrets and building weapons, we had finally been about to get on a boat and sail home. When we reached Rido'iti, we found an army instead of a ship. There's no way for us to get back to Shiara — for me to get back to Yorri — now. Even if there was a ship in the harbor that hadn't been broken into pieces by weeks of vicious storms, we can't leave Ryogo to the revenge of the bobasu. But that doesn't mean I have the first clue how to stop them.
We never planned for this. And it's ridiculous that we didn't. Or maybe the others have been considering this kind of failure and I was too focused on saving Yorri to worry about the rest of the world. Even now, if I found a ship, I'd be tempted to leave this place behind.
Love is pulling me to cross the tumultuous ocean to save Yorri.
Duty is pushing me to get ahead of this army and destroy Varan.
Choosing one means turning away from the other, and though I'll hate myself for failing Yorri again, I won't be able to live with myself at all if I leave Ryogo to die. I thought Varan wanted to take over and put himself in the Jindaini's place. That's hard to believe after Rido'iti. Looking down at the smoldering city, it doesn't seem like he wants to rule the Ryogans, he wants to rule Ryogo. Even if there's nobody left to follow him.
I watch the last squads of nyshin leave Rido'iti as I step backward toward the tree line. "We'll head north and try to catch up with Wehli, Lo'a, and the others before they get too far inland. Whether we find them or not, though, we have to go to Jushoyen."
Jushoyen, the city at the center of Ryogo, is where their leader lives.
"It won't be an easy trip. We'll have to cross half the country." Round face pinched and spattered with mud, Rai looks between me and Etaro, who's still pressing close for comfort. Then she tilts her head to the north. "It's going to be especially hard if we have to move fast enough to stay ahead of them."
"Easy or not, we need to go." I turn north, drawing my wards in tight to make it easier for us to pass through the dense forest. The magical shields will not only keep off the driving rain, they'll keep my friends safe if we run into trouble.
"But, Khya, we can't —" Sanii cuts emself off, but I hear what ey didn't say. Sanii's the only one as horrified by the thought of missing our chance to go back to Shiara as I am.
I'm making the right decision to head inland and warn the Ryogans, but seeing the lines of strain marring eir long face makes me wince. My heart cracks, and my resolve weakens. I remember Yorri and the others trapped on those platforms on Imaku, and I've been desperately trying to avoid picturing the awful places Varan could've shoved my brother. All the agony and indecision I've been trying to squash since we first saw the empty harbor and the incoming army rises and chokes me.
Yorri is my brother, but he's Sanii's sukhai, eir soulpartner. To me, missing him is like missing half my heart; for Sanii, being apart must feel as though it's slowly eroding eir soul.
Swallowing hard, I step in front of em, stopping only when we're so close the toes of our boots are nearly touching and I'm looking down into eir big eyes. "I know. I know, and I hate this, but what — When I think about what Yorri would do if he were here, I can't believe ..."
Ey flinches, eir hand pressing hard against eir chest as eir small frame seems to collapse in on itself. "You can't believe he'd leave when he might be able to help. Because he wouldn't."
"Especially not when he had a way to know without a doubt we were alive." Which all sumai partners do. As torturous as it must be for them to be apart, Sanii told me moons ago that so long as ey was focused and functional, Varan hadn't found a way to kill the immortal born. I would know Yorri's life had ended the moment ey dropped to eir knees, keening and begging to die. It hurts to even allow for the possibility, but I've already proven immortality has limits.
Sanii looks south, across the towering waves toward Shiara and Yorri, and rubs eir hand in circles against eir chest. Then ey nods. Determination settles over eir face as ey turns north. Rai and Etaro, still holding hands, follow em into the forest.
Natani, who's been nearly silent for hours, gives me a long look, the expression in his dark eyes unreadable. "Do you really think we can make a difference against an army?"
"No, but I don't plan on stopping the army. All we need to do is destroy the bobasu." And all I have to do is find a way to make that happen.
I have to find a way to make that happen.
Blood and rot, how am I possibly going to make that happen?
But Natani nods like he expected my response, and then he trudges after the others. Zonna, though, is watching me, his expression carefully blank. The raw pain that's burned in his eyes for the past five days is now banked and hidden behind a wall as impenetrable as my wards.
"I don't know what I'm doing." The words tumble out before I can stop them. Thankfully, only he and Tessen are close enough to hear me; admitting the depths of my uncertainty feels like quitting. It is, in a way — it's giving up a lifelong goal — and I hate myself for it despite knowing how poorly the reality of my old dream has settled on my shoulders. "I don't want this. I thought I did — growing up, I always wanted to be a leader one day — but now ... Zonna, it should be you. You have the seniority. You have the experience. You know so much more about, about everything, and I think ... "
Something flickers in his eyes, sadness, but not the deep loss that's been consuming him. This seems more like empathy. "You think what?"
"There's only a few of us against ten bobasu and an army of thousands, and we're relying on a weapon we don't know how to deploy." I grind my teeth, frustration and fear mixing painfully in my stomach. "I think you are our best chance at getting to Varan."
"You're fooling yourself if you think anyone, even me, can get to Varan without going through his army," Zonna murmurs. "And in five hundred years, I've never seen anyone rattle Varan's foundation the way you have, Khya." He steps closer and reaches out, but he doesn't put his hand on my shoulder until I nod. "I'm not the person who needs to be leading us. You are. Even if it seems impossible right now."
Tessen huffs. "Telling Khya something's impossible is the fastest way to make it happen."
I don't think that's true this time, but his faith is heartening. I reach back and brush my fingers along the back of Tessen's hand. It's a shame I can't absorb the confidence he has in me as easily as I can soak in his body heat. To me, it feels like I've been stumbling along ever since Sanii discovered Yorri had been captured instead of killed. Even though we've made it this far, I feel like I've failed far more than I've succeeded. The costs of those failures outweigh anything we've gained. I don't think there's anything I can do to make it up.
And now no one who's able is willing to take this responsibility from me. Not Zonna, and definitely not Tessen. I glance at Tessen anyway, and his smile is grim and stressed. "I'll follow you anywhere, Khya, but I'm not a leader. I never wanted to be."
Biting back everything I could say to make him change his mind, I follow the others.
The ridge had been rocky and stable underfoot. Between the trees, that solidity vanishes and the mud gets deeper. It sucks at my boots and makes each step an effort. I shiver and pull my damp coat tighter around my body. It wasn't this cold here moons ago, so the storm must've brought the temperature down. The boots and the layers of thick, padded cloth took some getting used to, but I'm glad Soanashalo'a found them for us. Even with them, the damp and the cold seep through and bite at my bones. Has the air gotten colder or am I getting worse at handling it? It's not like my wards help with this; they don't contain warmth unless I make them keep out everything, including air. I thought immortality would make me nearly invulnerable, but even though I know the cold won't kill me — not much can anymore — it doesn't seem to make a chill any easier to handle.
"You can't get warm, can you?" Zonna climbs over a fallen tree, his gaze flicking back to me. I don't answer as I follow him over the massive trunk. He nods as though I did. "This is something you'll have to get used to."
"Feeling everything fresh." He looks at his hands, flexing and clenching them as he talks. "Pain is usually sharper the first time you experience it, isn't it? Most people I've met can brace themselves for certain kinds of agony, push the feeling aside and ignore it. That's because their body adapts and their mind adjusts. They learn to handle misery." Then he drops his hands and lifts a shoulder. "Or that's what it seems like they can do. I can only guess."
My stomach drops as another shiver rattles my bones. "It never gets better?"
"It won't anytime soon," he admits. "You can train your mind to ignore certain signals, but it's not easy, and it won't happen quickly."
I fold my arms, hiding my clenched fists and trying not to clench my jaw, too, but it doesn't stop my anger from spreading. "So, suffer in silence. Is that what you're saying?"
"No, I'm just trying to explain what's happening and why. If you don't understand, the sensations are going to distract you when we need your attention elsewhere."
Because you aren't willing to take over and give me a minute to breathe. The thought is uselessly spiteful. I bury it and consider what he's saying instead. It makes sense and it doesn't, especially considering I've trained myself to work through pain once already. "It hurt every time an Imaku-stone arrow hits my wards, but I got past it and learned how to block them. Why can't I do the same with cold?"
"Because it's physical, Khya," Zonna says over our squelching steps. "The arrows are different. What you feel when one of those pierce your wards seems like pain because your mind can't understand it any other way, but it's not physical because your wards aren't. Those will feel the same as before. The only difference there is that the well of energy you have to draw from will be deeper."
"At last. Good news," I mutter. It is good, I just wish someone had warned me sooner. Though, to be fair, I'd been dying when they gave me the susuji. There hadn't been time for a breakdown of penalties and benefits.
"There's always more good news eventually." His voice is soft and low, barely carrying over the sound of the rain. "It may not come often, but I promise there will invariably be more."
It sounds like a meaningless but reassuring adage, but the look on his face is too intense. This means something more coming from him, and I slowly realize it means something more to me now, too. The timeline of my life has the potential to stretch for ages, but my mind hasn't adapted yet. I'm still thinking in months and years instead of decades and lifetimes. Maybe I don't yet fully believe I have that much time.
But that's not what I need to focus on now. "So what else should I watch out for?"
"Hunger will hurt, but you'll never starve," Zonna says after a moment. "You can go about two weeks without sleep before you begin to see things that aren't there, and close to three before your body shuts down and makes you rest. No injury I've seen can kill you, not even losing a limb. Suzu once regrew a finger after it was sliced off in a sparring match. Every hurt will feel like the first you've ever experienced, and it'll take you a long time to get past that because all of it will be more painful than you can understand yet."
He's right — I don't understand yet. I'm also not looking forward to the day that I do.
I don't know what to say, and he doesn't add anything else. Moving faster soon takes all our concentration, fighting through the tightly packed forest and against the thick mud. The wind is at our backs, but instead of urging us onward, it feels like the breath of a bellowing beast chasing us deeper into Ryogo. The thunder's cracks and rumbles seem like its growl as it hunts.
The comparison should be ridiculous — overwrought in ways that only breed fear and end with death — but it's all too apt. We are in the forest with a monstrous beast, it's just one with twenty thousand pairs of hands and feet instead of four, and ten thousand bodies instead of one. If it catches us, we'll be consumed, and no matter how much I've learned in Ryogo, I'm not sure my wards are strong enough to protect us.
I pass Etaro first. Then Rai soon after. A few minutes later, I realize I haven't picked up my pace much, the others are slowing down to let me overtake them. It makes me grind my teeth in frustration when each of them gives way, but there's no point in protesting. Someone has to take charge if we plan on surviving the day, and right now that someone is me.
Keeping us traveling the right direction isn't easy, but I head northwest along the coast until I spot a rock formation I remember. It marks a turn. Earlier, it'd taken us maybe half an hour to get from here to the cove west of Rido'iti, but the journey back has been at least twice that. Maybe longer. It's frustrating, because Rai was right — we have to move fast to stay ahead of the army and away from its scouts, and my decision to act as witness for Rido'iti instead of running as soon as we spotted the invasion has cost us precious time. Now, downed trees, sagging branches, thick debris, and deep mud keep slowing us down.
My choices have put us in danger yet again.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "War of Storms"
Copyright © 2018 Erica Cameron.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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