It’s that time…Black Friday is here and we’re discussing the season with Erika Cameron’s Khya & Yorri from War of Storms, the third book in her Ryogan Chronicles series.
Zunoato’s market spreads out before us like a multi-colored vine, spreading through the streets in every direction from the port. Traders call to passerby with booming voices, music from at least three sources clashes in the air, and the scents from countless vendors of food assault my nose. It’s an overload of sensation after the relative calm and quiet of the voyage to Ryogo, but I, at least, have seen Ryogo before; this cacophony isn’t entirely unfamiliar.
Yorri is silent, wide-eyed, and in awe.
“Regretting your decision to come?” I ask my brother.
“Not even a little bit.” His response is immediate, and his voice far more certain than I expect. It makes me smile. This trip is mostly work and duty for me, filled with meetings to renegotiate trade agreements with the Ryogans and the hanaeuu we’la maninaio, but for Yorri this is a long-awaited reward—his first sight of a land other than our island home of Shiara. This is why I made sure to arrive earlier than we needed to for the scheduled assemblies.
“Here.” I hold out a small bag I’ve been saving for exactly this moment. Yorri glances at me quizzically before offering his palm, but his focus shifts to the bag which clinks and rattles when I drop it onto his hand. “This is what the traders here take in exchange for their goods. I think we should bring something home for everyone who had to stay behind, don’t you?”
A grin slowly blooms across his face, and even as his hand closes tight around the bag, his attention is already ahead of us, searching the stalls and shops for anything that might be worth carrying across an ocean. Although we’re not alone on this trip, many of the friends who traveled with me last time I was here are still in Shiara, including Tessen and Sanii. The others are on their own expeditions into Ryogo, exploring in whatever direction their curiosity takes them, but I’m more than happy to let my brother’s whims lead me around this time. It’s much better than being shoved and forced along by the desperate pressures of war.
The streets are crowded, and this isn’t Sagen sy Itagami—there, even when gathered in large groups, people are careful not to infringe on others’ personal space too much. Ryogans don’t seem to think about it all. They bump and brush against us constantly, almost intentionally, and instinct has me bringing up my wards. Yorri tenses the first time someone touches him and takes a step away from the center of the aisle, but as soon as my wards are up, the magic gives us at least a few inches of space. After several seconds, Yorri glances back at me, his thick eyebrows raised in question. I lift one shoulder, suppressing a smile, and he smiles back. The set of his shoulders immediately relaxes, and we press through the crowd a little easier.
Yorri leads us up one narrow street, pauses at the intersection, and takes a left at a much wider thoroughfare. It’s easier to avoid people here, but there’s so much more to see. In addition to the street stalls, there are more on the first level of the buildings lining either side. The buildings are a white so sharp it reminds me of freshly fallen snow in Nentoado, but the sharp-peaked roofs capping the walls are painted black, a strange opposite of the mountain range. Most of the color in the city comes from the wares in the stalls, the people’s clothes, and the red Kaisubeh Tower soaring stories over every other building in the city.
We come around a corner, and suddenly we’re looking up a broad lane that runs straight up to the bright, fourteen-story, fourteen-sided monolith dedicated to the gods. Yorri stops suddenly, transfixed. Only my wards keep those walking behind us from slamming into us and knocking us over. I grab the sleeve of Yorri’s tunic and pull him
“You described some of this, but it was so hard to imagine.” Even though he’s speaking Itagamin, he keeps his voice low, as though he doesn’t want anyone to overhear. “Pictures weren’t the same, either. They’re just too…small.”
I nod. “The difference between looking at a mark on a map and standing at the foot of a mountain.”
“Yes. Exactly.” Yorri frowns, his gaze jumping from one spot of bright color to the next. “I don’t even know where to start. What does any of this even do?”
“I honestly don’t know. There wasn’t much chance to see a city in this condition when I was here before. But there’s one good rule to follow—if you can’t identify it, don’t get it.”
“But what if it’s perfect?”
I roll my eyes, swallowing a laugh. “Yorri, I gave you the bag for a reason. It’s your first time here. The decisions are up to you.”
He takes a deep breath, and although he seems overwhelmed, he begins to move again, walking a meandering path toward the city center, passing from one side of the street to the other. I stay a step behind him, but once Yorri begins searching in earnest, I let myself watch the city more than him. It’s hard to reconcile the Zunoato before me with the cities I saw last time I walked on Ryogan soil. The storms drummed up by Varan’s magical manipulations swallowed Ryogo not long after we arrived, and I was never able to walk through one of their cities when it was full of light and life.
“Look at this,” Yorri murmurs wonderingly.
I glance at the table and blink in surprise when I see what’s caught his attention. He’s running his fingers along a shimmering bolt of fabric that has clearly been woven with magic. From tales told by the traders who sail into the newly constructed port on Shiara, I knew the Ryogan distrust of magic was beginning to lose its grip on the people but seeing proof like this for myself is different. I hadn’t quite believed magic had worked itself into everyday life like this so soon. Magic almost destroyed Ryogo. Again. Then again, it was magic that saved it, too.
Yorri buys a whole bolt of the fabric, a gleam in his eyes hinting he already has a project for the lot of it, and moves on to the next stall. That spark only grows as the morning continues. We find a set of small metal balls with tiny bells inside them for Etaro, a crate of spelled fireworks for Rai, several ingenious moveable dolls for Ahta, books on magic for Sanii, and a sampling of Ryogan delicacies for Tessen—the ones that will keep long enough to survive the voyage home, at least.
None of this is necessary, and several years ago, it never would’ve occurred to me that my friends might want things like this. Then again, a few years ago I never would’ve guessed anything like this existed. The longer we wander through Atokoredo, the more little trinkets and gifts we find to bring home. Yorri is delighted by it all, and his innocent pleasure in every new discovery is catching. He’s so enraptured, he never notices the puzzles and games I slip into our collected purchases, each of them a gift to give to him on the trip home. It’ll be something to keep his active mind occupied on the long, and incredibly boring, journey.
By the end of the morning, we have more boxes and bags than even Yorri can carry. We have to give a child a few coins to watch the growing pile until we’re finished, but despite growing the pile ourselves all day, I’m still surprised by the size of it all in the end.
Looking over it all, Yorri shakes his head. “I may have gone too far.”
“It’ll be a long time before we’re able to come back here. If we don’t do this now, when else is it going to happen?”
“I guess the more important question is…” He bites his lip and glances at me. “Do you think they’ll like it all?”
“Yes.” It’s easy to imagine Etaro’s delight at the music ey can create with those bell-filled balls, the fun Rai will get out of new ways to play with fire, the fun little Ahta will have with the dolls, the hours Sanii will gladly devote to studying new spells, and Tessen’s pleasure at dissecting an array of new flavors. I smile, looking over the bright city and the pile of gifts we’ll be able to bring back to our friends. It’s a symbol of more than simple delights, it’s a promise of growth and a sign that we’re finally progressing beyond simple survival. We’re beginning to truly live.
“Yes,” I say again. “I think they’ll love all of it.”
Meet Erika Cameron!
After a lifelong obsession with books, Erica Cameron spent her college years getting credit for reading and learning how to make stories of her own. Erica graduated with a double major in psychology and creative writing from Florida State University. She’s worked as a dance instructor, research assistant, pointe shoe fitter, pizza delivery girl, editorial assistant at a yachting magazine, bookseller, and English literature teacher at a residential rehabilitation center for teens. Now, she has written several series for young adults and contributed to various online blogs and publications. She is also an advocate for asexuality and emotional abuse awareness. She currently lives in South Florida.
If you haven’t read Erika Cameron before, here’s what you’ve been missing:
The Ryogan Chronicles