Book 2 in the Deviations series. Don't miss Covenant, Destiny and Bloodlines.
The Covenant has been destroyed and Crossroads' way of life along with it. The Masari face starvation in the depth of winter. Without Crossroads' tithes, the Basc Yata are equally helpless. In the midst of famine, Promontory and Destiny Farm prepare to conquer the valley. A secret and uneasy alliance remains the only option. Unwillingly thrust into power, HigherBrook must now trust Gria, the very person who had led the massacre of Crossroads' hunters. Another partnership proves even more disturbing. As Gria and TripStone plot to destroy Destiny Farm, what began as a fringe militia has expanded into a fullblown Yata army. Destiny Farm's meat keeps Crossroads alive, but every sale bankrupts Crossroads further and increases the risk of Basc's Yata becoming livestock.
Broad and deep, the steps in Alvav swallowed Piri's tiny feet as she hoisted herself up the rock wall. Ghost watched muscles jumping in her calves and buttocks, her shoulders tensing beneath her pack. He climbed behind her, his long legs negotiating granite with ease. The overhangs accommodated his height. The distances fit his stride.
He cast a worried glance at the chiseled stone, at passageways too narrow for Yata to pass abreast, yet too cavernous for one. This route was designed for Masari bodies.
"These steps are not sized for Yata," he called to her. "Be careful."
Piri pointed toward a high ledge, where sentinels paced back and forth behind a low marble balustrade. Their smooth skin held a warm glow against the silvery stone. Their black hair gleamed in the light. They appeared small, but that could be a trick of the distance. Many more steps remained.
The clouds were gone, but now the wind picked up. The stairway became more recessed, carved more deeply into the mountain to protect climbers from the elements. Ghost rested his palm against deeply-scored rock that felt cool even at midday. Iron spikes jutted from the walls.
Piri grabbed one, hauling herself determinedly up the giant steps. Ghost frowned at the goosebumps raised on her arms. Climbing behind her for so long, he realized with a start that her pale hair now hid most of her branding.
They advanced in silence. Occupied with her ascent, Piri's fingers were too far ahead of him to drum any messages. At last, passing back into crisp open air, Ghost could tell that the sentinels were indeed Yata. They ringed the top of the stairway, their stance protective, curved knives belted to their waists. Jeweled chains sparkled around their necks.
Piri lifted her head and beamed a smile at them.
They glanced down at her with raised eyebrows, joking amongst themselves in their own lilting tongue. One waved Piri forward with a gesture that was more challenge than welcome.
"Something's wrong," Ghost whispered. "Let me squeeze past you and go ahead."
Piri shook her head, quickening her pace.
Ghost's heart lurched. If he overtook and stopped her, where then would they go? These men were the first Yata she'd seen outside captivity. Their language was foreign to her, but it was her language, nonetheless.
It was foreign to Ghost as well. His family, tillers of the soil, had no need to learn Yata. He couldn't understand the guards' banter.
But he could read cruelty.