Island of Exiles

Title: Island of Exiles
Series: The Ryogan Chronicles, Book 1
Original Release: February 2017
Re-release: June 2023
Ebook ISBN: 979-8-9884387-0-0
Paperback ISBN: 979-8-9884387-3-1

Buy it from: Amazon

Add this book on Goodreads.

In Khya’s world, every breath is a battle.

On the isolated desert island of Shiara, dying young is inevitable. Only the clan of Sagen sy Itagami can offer protection against enemies and elements. That is why the safety of the clan comes before one’s self, and why Khya is a warrior above all else. But when obeying orders could cost her brother his life, her once safe home becomes a deadly trap.

The council she hoped to join has betrayed her, and their secrets, hundreds of years deep, reach around a world she’s never seen. Only Tessen, her lifelong rival and the boy who challenges her at every turn, is willing to help her. 

To save her brother’s life and her island home, her only choice is to trust someone she once considered an enemy, turn against her clan—a betrayal and a death sentence—and go on the run.

Starred Kirkus Review   

"Readers won’t be able to put this book down, as the excitement begins from the first page and only grows from there. Cameron expertly blends worldbuilding and intriguing characters with page-turning action scenes and a story that builds in tension and complexity.

The novel’s commitment to diversity adds new dimensions to the story, as the cast is entirely nonwhite, and the clan recognizes nonbinary gender identities and complex sexual orientations. The lexicon of unique terms and concepts may be intimidating to some readers, but the vocabulary adds fantastic texture to the world without distracting from the plot.

This is rare gem of a book that has a lot to offer readers, including magic, action, and intrigue on the edge of a knife. A fresh, original series starter, bolstered by a dynamic protagonist and a welcome sense of depth."

Erica Cameron's ISLAND OF EXILES is a remarkable achievement: a fantasy world so richly imagined, so finely detailed, and so strikingly original, even the most incredible elements feel totally real. The energy of the desosa will tingle along your skin as you race through this amazing book, and at journey's end, you'll long for the sequel so you can immerse yourself once more in the mysteries of Itagami!

—Joshua David Bellin, author of the Survival Colony series

I was consumed by the savage mysteries of Cameron's harsh and haunting fantasy world. A story of love and loss as searing as the desert heat."

—Diana Peterfreund, author of For Darkness Shows the Stars

A beautifully wrought fantasy filled with magic, rebellion, and romance, plus a strong, butt-kicking heroine to root for!

—Lea Nolan, USA Today Bestselling author of Conjure, Allure, and Illusion

Harrowing and heartfelt. The intricately-realized world of ISLAND OF EXILES crackles with harsh magic and gripping suspense.

—Alex Kahler, author of The Immortal Circus series

ISLAND OF EXILES has everything I've been looking for in a fantasy--powerful characters, magical powers that make me itch with envy, and a spoken language that is as intrinsic to the story as it is beautiful.

—Amber Lough, author of The Fire Wish and The Blind Wish

Island of Exiles is imaginative, bold, and as electrifying as a Shiara storm.

—Lori Lee, author of Gates of Thread and Stone and The Infinite 5 stars:

"I got the chance to read an early version of this book, and it absolutely blew me away! I can't wait for the release date so I can reread it - and so I can have other people to fangirl with!!"

 Brett Jonas, 4 stars.

"Island of Exiles is a rich and epic fantasy, incredibly detailed with superb world building. I am picky about what fantasy novels I read, but this one far surpassed all my expectations and I am now eagerly awaiting book two in the series."

 Madison, Madison's Library 5 stars. 

"The story is engaging and satisfying with high adventure, subtle yet steamy romance, and beautiful, diverse relationships. Key to this book are the well-developed characters. They give you a glimpse into this world so different from ours by feeling the beats of the story alongside the characters and learning about their society and place in it. Altogether, it's really good read."

 Hannah Brauning, Goodreads Reviewer 4 stars.

"The author didn't just create a place, or a group of people, she created a whole world, complete with customs, language, traditions, and so much more. It's basically the definition of rich world building."

 Shannon, It Starts at Midnight 5 stars.

"Island Of Exiles is most definitely already one of my reading highlights in 2017! I can recommend this book to everyone, who enjoys a thrilling story with heaps of action, great characters and a touch of a teasing love story between the lines."

 Jenny, Book Treasures Between Wallabies and Palm Trees 4 stars. 

"The way that Erica Cameron creates a world that takes you away from the one you are in and makes you feel like you are a part of the one she is writing about is quite an accomplishment. I have never felt so involved in a story while reading before."

Melanie, Goodreads Reviewer

Read chapters 1 through 11 for FREE on Wattpad!

Chapter One

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; I pull 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

Testing the scents in the air is always harder through the filter of the atakafu, but I breathe anyway. On the wind, there’s a heavy scent of salt and brine. 

We’re too far inland for the smell of the ocean to be this strong. 

Miriseh save us. Even the briefest of storms will flood the area in minutes. Trapped here, the high walls of the ravine mean death. 

At the narrow ledge near the top of the rock wall, the wind tugs at my hood and flattens the bottom of my tunic against my thighs. I stay low and pull Rai up after me. 

“Why are we risking making ourselves dinner?” Sunlight glints off the iron blade of the tudo strapped to Rai’s back, and it brings out the rich red undertone to her brown eyes. Before I can answer, her head snaps up, her gaze pointed north. “Oh.” 

Bellows and blood, I wish I had been wrong. 

The barren plain is drenched in light, soaking up the heat from the sun and releasing it in waves that distort my vision. At high noon, there should be at least one pack of teegras roaming, their red scales glowing like embers. There should be colonies of mykyn circling above us, too, waiting to pick the bones of the teegras’ abandoned kills. 

The expanse is empty. The animals have dug deep into their dens or hidden in their caves by now, fleeing the coal-black clouds about to make landfall. 

“Bellows,” Rai breathes. “It’s too early for a typhoon.” 

The desosa’s needling prickle flares, cutting enough to make me flinch. A bolt of blue-white lightning rips the dark mass of clouds in half. The thunderclap that follows is distant, a sound I feel more than hear. Despite layers of cloth and padded armor, the hairs on my neck and arms rise. 

This storm will rip apart everything in its path. 

“We need to find the others.” I’m glad Yorri hasn’t earned the right to train outside the city. My younger brother is safer inside Sagen sy Itagami. Only the city’s tall, thick walls and the network of caves underneath it will protect us from this. 

If we can reach it in time. 

No. Not getting back to the city alive—back to Yorri alive—isn’t an option.

Rai lowers herself over the ledge and reverses the climb. I slide down with far less care, my bare hands and feet gathering scratches and scrapes, and Rai does the same before pushing away from the wall six feet above the floor of the ravine. As soon as our feet hit solid ground, we run, cutting through the maze of trenches and boulders toward the rendezvous point. 

The gusts are almost strong enough to lift my feet from the ground, but running with the wind gives us the speed we need. 

When we turn into a narrow pass, the gale comes at us crosswise, sending my loose hood flapping. I keep my feet. Rai grunts when her shoulder slams into a solid wall. She recovers but falls behind, more careful now. 

I push faster. 

Ahead is the mouth of the wider canyon, the red-and-gray rock walls almost a hundred feet high—our rendezvous point. Nyshin-ma Tyrroh is there with Nyshin-pa Nyshin-ma Tyrroh is there with Nyshin-pa Daitsa, his second-in-command, and Nyshin-ten Ryzo, the command trainee a breath away from a promotion. Tyrroh tenses as soon as he spots me. I yank the atakafu away from my mouth.

“Storm!” I call. Protected from the gusting wind and unable to see the ocean, neither one of them could have noticed the impending danger yet. “Typhoon from the north.” 

Tyrroh pulls a horn from his belt, brings it to his lips, and blows three quick blasts. When Rai and I reach Tyrroh, pausing for breath just off Ryzo’s broad shoulders, I search the horizon for the return of the others. 

I can’t keep still. 

We have to wait for the rest of the squad, but the longer it takes for them to return, the more likely it is we’ll all be caught by the typhoon. I shift from foot to foot. I itch to run. To fight. The brine-laden wind blasts into the canyon, heightening the sting of the desosa. It pelts the edges of my mind like hail. Drawing in power that unstable is risky. I have a tudo blade strapped to my back, but what good is a blade against wind? 

Nyshin-ma Tyrroh eyes the horizon like an enemy he has to defeat. A ravine may be the deadliest place to get caught, but the open plain between the Kyiwa Mountains and the Itagami mesa won’t be much safer. We’re several miles away from the city, and the clouds loom closer every second. 

Animals can be outsmarted. Enemies can be fought. Storms can only be survived.

Even the strongest mages and fighters in the clan are helpless in the face of a storm, and I hate that. I hate the fear chilling my skin and clouding my thoughts, and I hate that I can see all of those fears reflected in Nyshin-ma Tyrroh’s eyes. “Go now, Khya. Take Rai and run.” 

I look toward Itagami. That way lies safety, and leaving now might get me there before the worst of the storm strikes. Staying, though… If the desosa remains this sharp, this dangerously electric, it’ll be stupidly risky to channel that power into my wards. 

It’d be safer for Rai to make it back to the city before the storm hits, but it doesn’t matter, because she won’t go back alone. She definitely won’t go back without Etaro. Risk or no, neither of us will abandon our squad if there’s a chance we can help protect them. 

The safety of the clan comes before our lives. 

Yorri is one of the only people I’d ignore that conviction for, though Rai and Etaro are tied for second, but running ahead to get back to Itagami first won’t make it any more likely that I’ll arrive alive. My best chance is with the squad, and their best chance is with me. 

I shove my panic aside, squaring my shoulders and planting my feet. “I’m not leaving you all behind.” 

Tyrroh has been my commanding officer for more than a year. This is the first time I’ve dared disobey an order. He nods once, his dark eyes crinkling at the corners like they do when he smiles. That smile falls as the other six squad members appear over the rise. I fix my hood and reknot my atakafu to keep it in place over my mouth. As they approach at a run, I ready my wards; the invisible shield won’t save us from the wind, but it may at least keep us from literally losing our heads to a barreling piece of debris. 

Nyshin-ma Tyrroh barks orders, and the squad forms a tight column behind Rai and me. When we move, we move fast.

The first mile is protected by a narrow canyon, then the south wall tapers off to nothing. As the blasts of wind grow stronger, I watch the air as much as the ground, ready to deflect rocks carried by the currents of air. Soon—too soon—we have to turn east and leave the shelter of the high stone walls. 

Each step becomes a battle. There’s still daylight, but the normal blinding brightness of the desert at noon is gone. The storm will have swallowed the sun by the time we reach the narrow, winding path up to Itagami’s gates. Even in daylight, that path is treacherous. But in the dark while fighting the wind?

I dig my feet into the hard-packed ground and push faster. 

Someone shouts, but it’s distant over the rush of the wind. How far back have they fallen? I look. Tyrroh is dragging Etaro up until ey is on eir feet again. 

My stomach flips when Etaro cradles eir arm. Did I miss a piece of debris? I pay more attention to the sky, but I don’t stop running. I might’ve been able to prevent whatever struck Etaro, but nothing I’m capable of will help the ebet now.

The Itagami mesa is dead ahead of us, and the fires in the watchtowers are beacons guiding us home. It’s a safe haven that the Miriseh carved out of the rock for our ancestors, but it’s too far away to do us any good. 

The clouds are almost over our heads when the desosa flares again, the power so electrified by the storm that it nearly burns me. So electrified that it nearly burns cold. 

Blood and rot. I’ve felt this before.

Years ago, Yorri and I stood on the north wall of the city to watch a storm, the wind whipping our skin like a lash. An arc of lightning had streaked through the sky, striking the exterior wall not twenty feet from where we stood. 

It’s happening again. Siphoning as much of the dangerously strong desosa into myself as I can bear, I bring up my wards and dive for Rai. 

Miriseh, bless me; I hope this works.

Lightning tears through the sky, the flash sunlight-bright. It strikes exactly where we’d been standing. Even warded, the heat is like standing inside a forge. It’s agonizing. Almost too much. I bite back a scream and grit my teeth, pulling in more of the unstable desosa to reinforce the magic. 

Never draw power from unstable desosa. You’ll burn out. Overload. Die. 

My training master’s warnings roar through my mind. 

Too late. I’ve already ignored them all. 

The lightning disappears, leaving only the rumbling, echoing thunderclap behind. My vision is washed out in red-tinged white light. I lose hold of the desosa. My wards drop. 

Hands wrap around my shoulders. Someone hauls me to my feet. 

Move!” Tyrroh orders, gripping me by the waist and keeping me upright when my knees buckle. Two of the others do the same for Rai, pulling her forward. 

I did it. She’s fine. We’re both okay. 

A deep breath is barely enough to clear my head, but I manage to find my stride again. 

We’ve almost reached the bottom of the path to the city’s gates when the clouds unburden themselves on the sunbaked desert of Shiara. Sheets of water drench us to the skin as we run up the narrow winding path cut into the sandstone. 

The higher we rise, the stronger the wind gets. My hood fills with air and flies back off my head, pulling so hard it chokes me. Someone almost goes flying off the ledge. Rai tows them back just in time. I tuck my hood into my tunic as I press against the wall, moving as quickly as I can while hugging the stone. 

The wet rock is slick under our feet. I slip, catching myself on the cliff. Wind rips strands of my dark hair from the twin braids keeping it tight to my scalp. Pieces stick to my forehead and cover my eyes. I wipe them back and keep moving. 

Two hundred yards to safety. 

Someone else gets too close to the edge. The gale rips them into thin air, but Ryzo catches their wrist. 

One hundred yards. 

All the muscles in my legs burn. Rai falls. Tyrroh barely catches her tunic in time to save her. 

Fifty yards. 

Ever-more-frequent lightning strikes light up the path, gleaming off Itagami’s iron gate. The guards at the gate are shouting. Though the words are lost, the message is clear: Run, run, run

I sprint, diving under the protection of the wide stone archway. As soon as the last of the squad is inside, the guards heave the massively heavy iron doors shut. The gate’s groaning protests are lost to the storm, but the thud of it locking reverberates through my chest. 

Miriseh bless it, we made it back alive. 

Laughter bubbles up from my chest, relief leaving me light-headed and exertion leaving me too weak to stuff it away. Closing my eyes, I collapse against the wall of the archway until I can trust my unsteady legs to support me. 

Stepping into the open, I pull my atakafu away from my mouth and turn my face to the sky, opening my mouth and swallowing as much cool, fresh water as I can. If we’re lucky, this will replenish all of the pools in the underground caverns. Off-season rain is so rare that even the shortest of unexpected droughts leaves us teetering on the knife’s edge. This storm might’ve nearly killed us, but it also might give Sagen sy Itagami enough water for us to survive another half a year. 

“Ryzo! Get Etaro to Hishingu Hall for healing. Everyone else retreat to the undercity,” Tyrroh bellows. I watch Ryzo help Etaro into the city, biting my lip. I should have been paying more attention. If I’d been faster, more alert, Etaro wouldn’t have gotten hurt. 

“Move, Khya!” 

I jump, yanking my attention away from Etaro, and follow the squad. 

The undercity is so massive I’ve gotten lost in its network of caves more than once, but Itagami couldn’t survive without it. Partly because of things like the iron and crystal mines, the mushroom farms, the bathing pools, and the small spring of fresh water. Mostly, though, it’s because of days like today. The undercity is our escape when a tornado, a typhoon, or a dust storm tears across the desert. Wind may keen and wail as it whips through the crevasses in the rocks, but the damage can’t reach us here. We’re safe. 

As safe as we can ever be. 

When we reach the caves, I turn toward Yorri’s usual hiding spot. Rai stepping into my peripheral vision stops me. Her hand is raised to silently ask permission to touch, and she’s staring at me with bone-deep relief in her expression. Water drips over her round face and into her eyes, but she doesn’t seem to notice it. The fingers of her raised hand twitch and I nod. Only then does she place her hand on my shoulder.

“Thank you, Khya.” She pulls me into a hug, and I don’t have the strength to fight the embrace. I don’t want to, either. If I had been but a hair slower, that strike would have left blood burned into the scorch mark the lightning left behind. 

“Don’t stand in the way of lightning.” I hope it sounds like a joke and not a plea, but I don’t know what I’d do without her. Rai and Etaro are the only reasons I don’t drive myself to distraction during most of our long shifts on the wall. Clearing my throat, I disengage from her clinging hug. “Next time I might not be there to ward you.” 

Rai laughs, running a trembling hand over her face. What can I say to bring her back to herself? 

“Nyshin-ten Khya, a word.” Tyrroh’s timing is wonderful. I want to hug him for keeping me from saying anything too unbearably sentimental. Rai smiles at me and inclines her head to our nyshin-ma before she leaves. 

“Every time I think you can’t surprise me, something like this happens.” He’s almost smiling at me, and I suppress the urge to shift under his penetrating stare. His hood has been pushed back and his atakafu unwrapped. Rich brown skin worn by the sun, scarred by battle, and wet from rain gleams in the firelight. “This squad owes their survival to you.” 

I bite the inside of my cheek, trying not to grin. Nyshin-ma Tyrroh does not impress easily. To have him in my debt? It’s a heady thing.

“Didn’t your blood-parents have a second child?” Tyrroh’s words catch my attention. It’s not surprising that he remembered; more than one child from the same set of blood-parents only happens with sumai bond pairs. He looks pleased when I nod. “Miriseh bless us. If they have even half your instincts, they’ll be a gift to the ranks.”

More than one person has joked that if our blood-parents had a third child—unlikely as it is—they would have ended up with one offspring of each sex. Whether another child had been born ebet to round out the set or not, I doubt it would have mattered. I can’t imagine a third sibling fitting in the bond I have with Yorri.

This time, I let myself smile at Tyrroh. This time, the expression is a lie.

Tyrroh inclines his head with the same respect Rai had shown him and then leaves, headed for the bathing pools. Though I’m sure Tyrroh means well, his words have started an avalanche inside my head.

What moon cycle is it? We’re three moons away from the rainy season, so that means… Bellows and blood. I’d known it was coming up, but I hadn’t realized just how soon it was. 

Yorri will face the herynshi in one moon.

Reminding myself that this is a rite of passage every child of Sagen sy Itagami faces doesn’t warm my chilled skin. It doesn’t slow my stuttering heart at all, because the herynshi is the night the Miriseh decide if we’ll have the full rights and honors of a nyshin, linger with the city guards as an ahdo, or spend our lives toiling in obscurity as a yonin. There’s no comfort thinking that the fourth outcome is rare. There’s never comfort in death. 

Surviving Shiara’s deserts takes iron, will, and magic, and sometimes even those aren’t enough. It’s why the Miriseh use the herynshi to test our skills, and it’s why the magic-less yonin don’t ever leave Itagami. 

I found my magic when I was twelve. Our blood-parents Anda and Ono both discovered theirs at fourteen. Yorri will be sixteen in one moon cycle, and there’s been nothing. Not a single hint of power. But if he can’t display his power at the herynshi, he’ll spend the rest of his life as a yonin, working in the mines, the farms, the forges, the kitchens, the nursery, the—

No. Shuddering, I try to breathe. 

A hand locks around my arm, and Yorri spins me around. His dark eyes search me for injury, and I find myself doing the same to him. 

Though he’s a year younger than me, he’s taller now, his nose level with my forehead. When we were little, people had a hard time telling us apart. Both of us have the same lean build, sharp features, brass-flecked brown eyes, and dark hair. Yorri’s hair has grown longer than he usually wears it, long enough to cover the tips of his ears and brush the top of his neck; it’s almost as long as mine.

“I wasn’t sure you’d make it back in time.” Yorri’s voice is shaking. From fear? Relief? 

“I’m fine. My legs feel like they’re made of overworked leather, but I’m fine.” 

It’s cooler in the undercity, where the sun can’t warm the stone, and I’m soaked to the skin. That’s why I shiver. Not because there’s only one moon cycle until… 

I force a smile, trying to reassure both of us. 

Lips pursed, Yorri tightens his hold on my arm and turns toward the bathing pools. “Come on. We need to get you warmed up before you get sick.” 

Every few seconds he glances back at me, as though to make sure I haven’t disappeared. That familiar action, and the concern that goes with it, both soothes and unsettles me. It’s his empathy, his sometimes overflowing mercy, that has held him back his whole life. 

The faintly steaming water filling the massive cavern always smells of sulfur, and it’s unsurprisingly crowded with citizens carefully wading into the waist-high water. On the wide ledge surrounding the central pool, piles of tunics and pants to be cleaned are growing fast as every man, woman, and ebet strips to the skin, naked except for the band of leather around their left wrists, the one that bears the wardcharm showing their citizen class. 

I watch them as Yorri and I soak in the warm water. Their battle scars are slashes of pink, white, and beige against varying shades of brown. The marks are badges of battles Itagami’s nyshin and ahdo citizens have survived. Will Yorri ever bear similar scars? He won’t if he truly doesn’t have magic. They’ll never let him out to earn any.

Clean and no longer shivering, I walk toward the ledge, cautiously maneuvering around the others. 

“Thank you,” I murmur to the yonin who offers a drying cloth when I step onto the ledge that borders the pool. The taller one standing behind offers a jar of oil that we dip our fingers into and rub into the leather cuff on our wrists, keeping it from cracking when it dries. They nod acknowledgment when I give them a small smile, but say nothing. 

Wiping my skin dry, I head for the shelves of clean clothes and take a breast band, a loincloth, a pair of the wide-legged pants that bind tight from ankle to calf, a high-necked sleeveless undershirt, and a long-sleeved hooded tunic. Yorri holds out an atakafu for me, already knotted to fit loosely around my neck since I don’t need to wear it over my face in the undercity.

“Ready?” He places the circle of nyska cloth and silk over my head. When I nod, he leads me into the tunnels of the undercity, turning away from the central cavern where most of the clan congregates during the rains. There’s a narrow alcove that’s close enough to the clan to hear orders, but far enough away to make us feel alone.

It’s a hideaway we’ve used for years, not a secret by any stretch of the imagination, but a space small enough no one else ever bothered squeezing themselves into it. It’s where Yorri keeps the odd little treasures he collects, things no one else in the clan has any reason to want or need. He used to store them in the doseiku dorm, but the other trainees kept mistaking his projects for misplaced junk. It’s all safer here.

“Sit,” he says once we’re settled into the familiar space. “Do you want one braid, two, or many?” 

“Two.” He kneels behind me and cards his fingers through my damp hair, pulling the short strands tight. My eye catches on an unfamiliar shape, something that looks like a tangled mess of scrap metal the size of two closed fists. Did he make another puzzle?

I reach forward, trying not to move my head. Catching one of the metal pieces with the tip of my fingers, I drag it closer. The pieces are interconnected in a pattern a lot more complicated than the last puzzle he created. I couldn’t solve that one. This one looks impossible.

Yorri’s nimble fingers quickly separate my hair, plaiting it into a pattern that lies tight against my scalp. I can’t ever recreate his braids; they’re almost as complex as his puzzles. 

I idly turn his creation over in my hands, but my mind isn’t focused on untangling the linked metal. Tyrroh’s words and my own worries are taking up too much space. 

“You’re quiet,” he says a few minutes later. “Even for you.” 

I run my thumb along one of the puzzle’s curved edges and shrug. 

Yorri has always been different. His hands and his mind are as quick as a lightning strike, but when he has a weapon in his hand, something holds him back. He’s slow to take advantage of a moment of weakness or a mistake. He never seems to understand how to predict that moment when his enemy’s guard is down and he can strike a killing blow. He leans toward mercy, and mercy has put him flat on his back staring at the tip of a sword more times than I can count. Mercy is weakness. Hesitation means death. He cannot give in to either if he means to make it through the trial as a nyshin. 

No matter how much I want to, the herynshi isn’t a fight I can save him from. Everyone enters alone, and the rank they’re placed in is based entirely on their merit. For doseiku who’ve already found their power, it’s our chance to impress the Miriseh with our skill and control. The Miriseh push those who haven’t passed their own limits, giving them one last chance to escape the drudgery of life as a yonin, but the chances are good that if a doseiku walks into that ordeal with no power, that’s exactly how they’ll walk out of it. 

The thought forms slowly, trickling into my head in bits and pieces until I’m holding my breath at the idea. Stupid and dangerous. 

Yorri secures the end of the second braid and moves to sit against the opposite wall, watching me carefully as he does. His head is cocked and his stare intense. It’s strange to think that we were never supposed to know each other like this—blood-siblings aren’t usually placed in the same nursery. We’re close enough in age that we trained and learned and practiced together for most of our lives. I’ve watched over him as best I could since he looked at me when he was five years old and told me, with absolute certainty, that I would be one of the kaigo council members one day. Since the day one of the yonin nursemaids smiled at me and said, “You take very good care of your brother.” 

Your brother. 

Yorri had been mine—the first and only thing that had ever belonged to me more than the clan—and I promised to protect him; I swore it on blood before I knew how tightly those vows bind. Now, imagining life without him opens a sinkhole in my stomach, leaving me gasping and hollow. Now, he’s the only thing that I value above what’s best for Itagami. Above the future position in the clan I’ve imagined for myself since I first learned the legends of the Miriseh. 

They came to us from Ryogo, from the haven we all ascend to when death finally takes us. For centuries the immortal Miriseh have protected and guided us, passing on their wisdom and showing us how to live honorable, loyal lives to earn a place in the afterlife. They gave up paradise to lead the clan, so in return we do what we can to serve them. 

Now I’m actually contemplating risking our lives and a dishonorable death. I’m risking our chance at Ryogo just to hope that Yorri won’t have to face the herynshi disadvantaged. 

“I’m in.” 

His voice is so low and his lips so still that, for a second, I’m not sure he spoke. Then one of his eyebrows rises; he’s waiting for a response. 

“In what?” I ask, my voice just as quiet. 

“Whatever trouble you’re planning.”

“How do you know I’m planning anything?”

The corner of his lip quirks up. “You may be able to hide it from everyone else, but I know you, Nyshin-ten Khya. I know that look.”

“It’s a bad idea. Dangerous.” I look at him now, needing to know he’s marking my words. “And it might not work. It might not be worth the risk.”

It definitely won’t be worth it if it doesn’t work.

“I already said I was in. You can’t change your mind now. Besides, if you’re willing to risk trouble, then it has to be trouble that’s worth getting into.” Even in the dim light cast by the oil lamps, I recognize that look. Merciful my brother may be, but he’s still my brother. Our stubborn streak runs deep and strong. 

Groaning, I drop my head back until it thunks against the stone behind me. 

After a moment I meet Yorri’s eyes. He relaxes and smiles.

“You’ll conveniently forget you said that as soon as I try to drag you into my plans.”

“Probably,” he agrees easily. 

“Rot-ridden pest.” I shove his legs away with the flat of my foot, but I can’t erase my smile. “Show me how to solve that ridiculous puzzle before I lose patience with you and leave.” 

Yorri rolls his eyes, but he’s grinning when he takes the puzzle from my hands and starts explaining how he pieced it together. It’s comfortingly familiar, something we’ve done together ever since we were kids, but it’s not enough to stop the thoughts and plans and fears spinning in the back of my head like a tornado. My brother is so lost in his explanations that it doesn’t seem like he notices my tension. 

But that’s why I have to push him. I can’t let him walk into the herynshi without magic, or he’ll walk out of it as one of the yonin. He’ll never rise through the nyshin ranks, following me higher until we can take our blood-parents’ places on the kaigo council. 

If I don’t find a way to trigger his magic, I’ll lose him to the undercity. Our lives will diverge, and that gap will eventually become impossible to bridge.

I cross my arms, tucking my clenched fists out of sight. Listening to Yorri verbally disengage the various pieces of his puzzle, I focus on my own challenge. 

One moon. It might not be enough time, but, Miriseh bless it, it’s all the time I have.

Itagamin Glossary of Terms

Ahdo – Second citizen class of Itagami 

Ahkiyu – A longbow 

Ahuri – A fruit of the desert cactus that is eaten and used to make wine 

Anto – The style of dagger used on Shiara

Atakafu – Headscarf worn in Itagami as protection from the desert winds 

Bikyo-ko – The armory and the barracks for the two councils within Itagami 

Byka – A caffeinated bean given to those on long missions to help them stay awake 

Denhitra – Clan that lives in the southern mountain range on Shiara

Desosa – The ambient elemental energy of the world

Doseiku – An Itagamin clan member under sixteen who hasn't faced the herynshi yet 

Ebet – The sex designation for those neither male nor female 

Gasuren – A sugar-like sweetener extracted from the desert plant of the same name

Gensu – A woman's monthly menstruation 

Herynshi – The trial undergone by all Itagamin citizens the moon of their sixteenth birthday 

Imaku – The black island off the northern coast of Shiara 

Isagysu – A formal greeting of respect and deference 

Kaigo – The council that serves directly under the Miriseh 

Kaigo-sei – The candidates chosen from the nyshin as potential future kaigo council members 

Kamidi – A large lizard with venomous spit 

Khai – A relationship chosen specifically to produce children 

Kujuko – The empty realm between our world and the afterlife 

Kyiwa – The run of mountains and cliffs that border the eastern coast of Shiara 

Miriseh – The immortals who lead Itagami

Mykyn – A large bird with sharp teeth and vicious claws 

Niora – A mountain lion 

Nyska – One of the tallest shrubs on the island, which bears pods that can be dried and used to make grain; the plant itself is also used to make cloth, bowstrings, paper, and other useful items 

Nyshin – The highest class of citizens within Itagami

Patsu – A lacrosse-like game with two teams in which each player wields an iron pole with a net on one end and a blade on the other

Pira – Vicious, sharp-toothed fish 

Ryogo – Although Itagamin citizens believes this to be the name of a paradisiacal afterlife, it is the name of the country from which Varan, Suzu, Tsua, Chio, and the other Miriseh came

Sagen sy Itagami – The easternmost city on Shiara, it was created by carving out the center of the largest mesa on the island; the name is often simply shortened to Itagami 

Saishigi – The last rites for citizens of Sagen sy Itagami 

Shiara – What those from Itagami call the island itself 

Suesutu – The pass southwest of Itagami between the larger of the Kyiwa Mountains 

Sukhai – A bondmate/lover

Sumai – A deep bond/partnership/love; can be anywhere between entirely platonic or very sexual 

Suraki – A weapon with a blade on one end, a weighted, sometimes spiked ball on the other, and a five-foot chain connecting the two 

Surnat – A date-like fruit that grows on low bushes on the island

Teegra – A large, scaled cat 

Tokiansu – The fighter's dance 

Tsimo – Westernmost clan on Shiara

Tudo – A long, curved, narrow sword 

Ushimo – Someone who is asexual or falls on the asexual spectrum 

Yonin – Lowest citizen class of Itagami 

Zeeka – A slightly curved short sword with a narrow blade 

Zekiyu – A short bow 

Zon – A district or zone within Itagami

Ranks of Sagen sy Itagami

Highest rank listed first Miriseh Kaigo Nyshin-lu Nyshin-ri Nyshin-co Nyshin-ma Nyshin-pa Nyshin-ten Ahdo-na Ahdo-mas Ahdo-sa Ahdo-po Ahdo-li Ahdo-va Yonin-na Yonin-mas Yonin-sa Yonin-po Yonin-li Yonin-va

Magic of Sagen sy Itagami

Soyiji Mages – Elemental Manipulation

Ishiji – Stone Mage – Ability to reform, lighten, move, and meld stone Ryiji – Earth Mage – Affinity for plants and soil that helps these plants grow in the desert Kyshiji – Water Mage – Ability to find, clean, and sometimes manipulate water Myiji – Weather Mage – Extremely rare ability that can manipulate wind and detect or, sometimes, call up storms

Desosa Mages – Energy Manipulation

Assistive: Dyuniji – Kinetic Mage – Ability to use their own kinetic energy, or sometimes someone else’s (for example, blows landed during battle) to augment their own strength Zoikyo – Augmenter – Ability to boost other people's powers by funneling desosa to them Hishingu – Healer – Ability to use the desosa to heal themselves and others Ward Mages: Sykina – Ability to use their own energy and the universal desosa to shield themselves from other magic Fykina – Ability to shield themselves and others from both magic and the physical world Offensive: Kasaiji – Fire Mage – Ability to use the desosa to create sparks and/or fire Ratoiji – Lightning Mage – Ability to use the desosa to create lightning

Okajin Mages – Enhanced Humanity

Physical Abilities: Kyneeda – Enhanced strength, stamina, and endurance Ryacho – Enhanced speed and ability Kynacho – Enhanced speed, ability, strength, stamina, and endurance Sensor Mages Uniku – Enhancement of a single sense, usually either vision or hearing Oraku – Enhancement of three senses: sight, smell, and hearing Basaku – Enhancement of all senses, plus the ability to sense magic, and, rarely, the impact emotions have on the desosa

Shinte-kina Mages – Psychic Abilities

Rikinhisu – Telekinesis – Ability to move objects or people without touching them Rusosa – Mental Manipulation – An uncommon ability to create, among other things, illusions in other people’s minds Akuringu – Scrying – Ability to use a reflective surface to see across great distances or, rarely, a short period of time into the past or future

Follow the blog tour here!

Curbing curiosities, an interview on Bibliobibuli YA

An interview with Heather Eagar on My Trending Stories

An interview on Adventures in YA Publishing

Series secrets on YA Series Insiders

Romance, Sexuality, and Fantasy - an essay on Fresh Fiction

Five Reasons to Read Island of Exiles on Fine Print

A Multi-part Review of Island of Exiles by Alexa on Verbosity Reviews