Fourth volume in the Deviations Series
Elissa Malcohn: The Deviations Series
Destiny Farm has fallen. Promontory's people must hunt down the escaped "Farm Yata" or starve, but they must also integrate with the Skedge Yata or their industries will fail. Their very independence relies on dangerous compromises.
Enter Jirado, a Skedge Yata and valued employee of the now-destroyed Destiny factory. Her kin, captured by the Farm before its fall, might yet be alive. But they are at risk unless she can destroy Promontory's hunters. The drive toward integration gives her an opening she cannot resist, and her first target is TripStone.
The other end of the region begins to crack under its own tensions. Crossroads and Basc struggle to maintain peace through controlled predation. Ghost's quest to end Masari dependence on Yata flesh leads to new avenues of cannibalism, while specially-trained Yata soldiers hunt Masari down in the far woods. But their rules of engagement begin to crumble, and a rogue element brings the valley to the brink of all-out war.
The Central Valley: Alvav
“Be careful you don’t fall over the edge, Governor.”
Brick-colored chops twitched. HigherBrook suppressed a wry smile at the deputy’s dry warning. _Like you, Shabra?_
No, that was unfair; they’d all fallen over the edge. His diminutive host had merely expressed concern for his personal safety, resting tapered, bronze-hued fingers on his thin linen sleeve. He was surprised he could hear her at all, given the shouting around them and the weapons fire far below.
The leader of Crossroads backed away from a milky balustrade that ended at his hips. Beside him the Cliff’s deputy clutched the same marble at waist height and shrieked at combatants deaf to her encouragements. Her long black braid swung out above the carnage.
A high sun baked the battle. The Games raged in full view across the clearing and continued hidden inside distant thickets. Two fighters separated from ringing metal and gunshot and clashed by the river separating the Yata territory of Alvav from the Masari town of Rudder.
A collective cheer erupted from the balcony as rifles and armor fell on meadow grass, revealing bound breasts and glinting machetes.
Shabra chuckled. “I’ll bet you don’t see _that_ in your valley.”
Even if she were offering a real wager, which she might well have been, it wasn’t worth taking. HigherBrook shook his head. “That would be suicide in the far woods.”
“It’s an act of honor here.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Though I’ve heard your people _are_ committing suicide in your so-called sacred hunting grounds.”
HigherBrook didn’t answer. He raised his handheld clarifier to his eye, thankful for the little tool. It saved him from having to compete with revelers mobbing the larger scopes cemented into the balcony. Dizzy, swiveling lenses.
The two women by the bridge circled each other. They’d have both been picked off by now if this were a hunt in Crossroads-Basc. Or they’d have called for assistance. They would not have dropped their firearms unless they were courting death.
“The people in my valley fight for survival,” he murmured.
Shabra’s amused voice intoned, “Ours fight for immortality.”
“Ours have already attained immortality.”
“Through _what_?” She paused as another pair separated from the battle, Yata against Masari. “Through insipid drivel in dusty books?”
Hammered goblets clinked on the balcony before the shouting picked up again. HigherBrook glanced at the knucklebones strung around her neck. Large bones, Masari from the look of them. Didn’t she ever bet in favor of her own kind? “Our ‘drivel’ will be remembered long after your drinking songs have disappeared.”
She purred, “Would you care to place a wager on that?”
_Yes, I would._ But which generation would survive to collect?
He’d had too much to drink, himself. Empty bottles of goldberry brandy gleamed at his feet, including the one to which he’d laid claim an hour earlier. Around him Yata and other visiting Masari tipped flasks to their lips when they weren’t screaming adoration or passing coin from smooth-skinned, coppery hands to pale, furred ones and back again. The rarefied air around him fruited, the bouquet of well-aged liquor competing with rising metallic stench.
Thank the gods Izzik was here. The comely Yata from Basc leaned far over the balustrade, scribbling notes on parchment. His traveling clothes looked regal against the local citizens’ wrinkled finery. With their system of slavery so recently collapsed, the masters hadn’t yet learned how to tidy up after themselves.
A small crowd pressed around the young man, drawn by his earnest sobriety as much as by the bloodletting beneath them.
_He’s doing his job. I’m not._
Easier to vie with Shabra for bragging rights than face the Yata bodies being piled on transports for the trip into Rudder, or the Masari corpses being hauled past the Marsh’s immense, open gates. Beyond the gates a paradise sparkled, waters swelling beneath piney ribbons of boardwalk.
HigherBrook re-focused his clarifier and watched squabbling geese inside the former prison turned walled city. Closer to the fighting, well-organized teams of Yata tended wounded comrades and dissected the dead.
What was Izzik recording? Was he sketching battle formations, comparing the strategies here with those at home? Or was he studying the choreography of hand-to-hand combat, weighing Masari bulk against Yata quickness? What improvised weapons and ingenious traps could be adapted for their own valley’s controlled war?
HigherBrook focused on the fighting again, struggling to remain detached. No such luck. Whenever he tried to picture the warriors as game pieces instead of people his vision blurred.
Ghost had stood on this spot a half-year earlier, numb with horror. Crossroads' lanky scientist could afford that luxury.
_You can’t, Governor. Not any more._