By: Jennifer Jenkins

For Mom and Dad--

Who taught me to live without fear.

Chapter One

Twenty-three days.

Tomorrow, twenty-two.

The day after, twenty-one.

Gryphon shut his eyes to force away the unwelcome thought and placed his uninjured hand on his knee, doubling over while pulling air through his lungs. He did this less because he needed the air and more to reassure his body that it wasn’t suffocating. Zo had led their eclectic company through a narrow slot canyon. The vertical mountain peaks dividing this remote camp from the rest of the region made access to the Allied Camp impossible. Zo claimed the slot canyon was the only way in and out of the Allied Camp, unless you wanted to loop around and approach it from the south. Gryphon might have admired the strategic location if his heart rate wasn’t still beating in double-time.

Twenty-three short days. Every minute speeding by like fine sand between wide-spread fingers. Too fast. Too far beyond his control.

Her gentle hand rubbed small circles on his back as she whispered a blessing. The aftereffects of the claustrophobia caused his head to pound, but even with the high-pitched ringing in his ears, Zo’s voice brought him comfort. It wasn’t long before all dizziness left him.

“You going to make it, soldier?” asked Zo. Her smile reached her eyes, making them more clear and beautiful than ever. He’d give anything to see her smile like that every day, from now until fate took her from this world.

But he only had twenty-three days. And though he and Zo had spent the better part of a week together finishing their journey to the Allied Camp, no amount of pretending everything was fine could make him forget the promise he’d made to his best friend, Ajax.

The first time Ajax begged Gryphon to turn himself over to Chief Barnabas, Gryphon had refused. Gryphon had only just gotten Zo back and was already making plans to spend the rest of his life with her. He’d asked if he could claim her as his and by the grace of the stars, she’d said yes.

He didn’t understand the traditions and customs of her people enough to make such a claim. But she’d said yes, and on that very night, as they fell asleep in each other’s arms, Ajax had appeared.

Chief Barnabas, Gryphon’s former leader, had banished Ajax and the rest of his mess brothers from the Ram Clan because of Gryphon’s flagrant betrayal. Ajax had knelt at his feet on the soggy forest floor and wept, begging Gryphon to turn himself over to Barnabas for execution in only four weeks’ time

As ashamed as Gryphon was to admit it, he had been willing to sacrifice his brothers’ lives to be with Zo. He’d already abandoned his dreams for advancement within the Ram Clan for that one chance. But when Ajax’s begging had turned desperate, pleading for not just his own livelihood, but also the welfare of his wife and newborn son, Gryphon couldn’t refuse his friend. Couldn’t allow his own desires for a life with Zo to trump the welfare of so many.

When Gryphon finally agreed to turn himself over to Barnabas, he learned that the Ram Clan, including the Nameless slaves, was leaving the Gate once and for all. The fabled Great Move was under way.

The Ram wouldn’t survive another season inside the Gate. Depleted soil and minimal game had been their plight for decades, forcing them to rely on plundering the other clans for food. The legendary grain stores of the Raven had been the Ram’s last hope, but when those were destroyed by fire—the work of Gryphon’s own hand—it left the Ram with no other option. The Ram would have to migrate south.

And in twenty-three short days, Gryphon would meet his people where the rivers Iiná and Totoom converged, just outside the entrance to the Valley of Wolves.

Gryphon took hold of Zo’s hand that had been rubbing his back. He brought it to his lips and kissed it before pressing her palm to his cheek.

Serenity. The peaceful feeling emanated from her hand. Another healing blessing.

It seeped from her fingertips, healing all of the dark and broken places inside him. It also seemed to numb the lingering pain of his arm—an injury sustained when he had used his forearm to block a killing blow from his ex-unit commander.

Had Zo always been so powerful? The gift of healing was very rare and usually passed down the maternal line. Healers, with their potions and herbs, worked miracles on dying men, alleviating their suffering and speeding the healing process. While fighting the Clanless, Zo had tapped into a new kind of healing power. A power she promised to explain to Gryphon once she was ready—whatever that meant.