Chapter One

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Beyond the desert's burning sun, 

Beyond the perilous sea, 

The verdant shores of Ryogo wait 

When Shiara is done with me. 

Miriseh bless the life I've lived, 

The battles I have won, 

And send me on to Ryogo 

When death can't be outrun.

                       — Blessing of the Miriseh, a prayer of Sagen sy Itagami  

I press as close as possible to the sandstone wall of the ravine, trying to shove my whole body into the narrow strip of shade on the rising slope. A few feet below, Rai does the same, pulling the canteen of water from the pack strapped to her thigh, loosening the atakafu cloth covering her mouth and nose, and sipping slowly. The sight makes my mouth feel drier than ever.

My hand falls to my own thigh pack, and I toy with the ties holding it shut. There isn't much water left in my canteen, and I don't know how much longer we'll be enduring the brutal, dehydrating heat of the desert sun. The hunt has been longer than we expected and far trickier than it should be.

Pulling my hand away from the temptation, I search the path above us for any sign of our prey. There isn't anywhere else the teegras could have gone once they entered the ravine, but we haven't spotted a single trace of them since— Wait. There.

"Rai, look." My murmured words are muffled by the atakafu, but it's enough to draw her attention to fresh claw marks on the red sandstone.

She's already put the waterskin away, so she lifts the atakafu back over her nose and cautiously climbs until she can see the marks for herself. The corners of her round eyes crinkle with a grin as we cautiously hike up the steep ravine, moving as silently and steadily as we can.

We've barely gone thirty feet when the wind shifts. The gust presses my tunic tight against my body and nearly rips my hood off, but that's not what makes my pulse falter.

The desosa, the elemental energy in the air, has sharpened. It's carrying the tingling burn of electricity, but this is the wrong season for a typhoon. The first storms shouldn't hit for another moon.

"Do you feel that?" I don't look at Rai, keeping my eyes on the sky instead.

"No. What— Khya!" She tries to grab my ankle when I turn away from the narrow path, pulling myself up the wall of the ravine instead. "What are you doing?"

"Trying to figure out why the desosa just changed." Shifting my weight and ignoring a sharp rock that cuts into my bare feet, I look for a handhold that will get me to the top of this wall. I need to see the horizon.

"Rotten, obstinate, idiotic desosa mages," Rai grumbles as she follows me up the wall.

"You're a desosa mage." She's a kasaiji; she uses the ambient energy surrounding us for her fire magic just as much as I use it for my wards.

Rai grunts. "You know I can't feel it like you can."

"Then you'll have to shut up and trust me, won't you?" I place my feet carefully to avoid disturbing loose rocks. If the teegras are closer than we think, attracting their attention could be deadly. Those vicious scaled cats are a danger only for my squad. If I'm right, what's rolling in off the northern sea will threaten every man, woman, ebet, and child in the city. It'll threaten Yorri.

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