For the last three weeks, Krul’Dar had observed Kor’Thank from afar. A few days prior, Krul had lost track of the king in a blinding downpour. The desert storms could strike with alarming speed—clear skies one moment, slashing tempests the next. Thankfully, he was able to find his trail the following morning.
Krul was the only one who cared for Kor’Thank. Everyone else thought he was invincible. Krul, however, recognized this attitude for what it was: complacency. Sadly, it came as no surprise—bellies were full and roads were safe.
Only Krul’Dar, Chief Chronicler, heeded the lessons of those before him.
Fortunately, his position came with a fair amount of influence. He’d persuaded Volcasian Firehand, Captain of the Guard, to lend him a forty-man detail. Volcasian had relented, albeit grudgingly; a request from the Chronicler was no small thing.
“Ho, Chronicler!” Orcasi Kylen, First Sword of his ten-man skoold, called. “Look to the west!”
Krul’Dar swiveled his raptor mount. He spotted a lone figure running across the sands. Definitely male…the same build as Kor’Thank…
Could it be?
“Steady on my heels!” Krul shouted. He urged his mount forward. His troop followed, spreading out into an arrowhead formation. Seconds later, Krul’s heart leapt in his chest—it was him! Whole and unharmed, praise Akanax!
But when he halted before the king, a flash of doubt crossed his mind. There was something off about Kor’s expression…and the way he held himself…
“My liege? How fare you?”
Kor’Thank looked him up and down. “Uh…do I know you?”
Krul’s heart sank in his chest. “ ’Tis I—your Chief Chronicler. Do you not recognize me, Kor?”
His eyes flashed with devilish calculation, causing Krul’Dar’s heart to drop a notch further. The king was savage, yes, but he’d never been deceptive off the battlefield. He had an aptitude for strategy, but ironically (and blessedly, in Krul’Dar’s opinion) his guile had never bled over into personal dealings. This was different. This was—
“My Chief Chronicler,” Kor’Thank said slowly. “So that would make me…”
“You are my king,” Krul’Dar replied in a neutral tone.
“Your king…” Kor’Thank surveyed the troop. “So you serve me. All of you.”
“That is correct.”
“You’re all on dinosaurs…do you have one for me?”
Krul’Dar wrinkled his brow—what the blingcock was a dinosaur? “If you wish for a war-raptor, indicate which steed is to your liking and—”
Kor’Thank flapped a hand, a gesture that said not now. “Maybe later. I’m enjoying my run. Good cardio, you know? Lead the way, Cruller.”
As they headed home, Krul’Dar’s unease blossomed into dread.
What in the Seven Hells was a cardio?
Holly didn’t know who these roid-monkeys were, but they were willing to serve her, and that was what mattered. She didn’t want to tip her hand—riding a raptor like a complete noob would be a glaring hint that she wasn’t their king.
As ridiculous as it seemed, running with dinosaurs wasn’t an issue. Thanks to the wormy-squirmies, she was barely sweating. She felt like she could out-squat the Rock, then take first place in the Boston Marathon.
She let a minute pass, then opened with a half-truth: “Cruller…I’m not the person you once knew.”
The guy named after her favorite kind of donut glanced down from his raptor. “You’re not?”
“Pieces of my mind are…something happened to me out in the desert. I’m still confused as to what it was, but…” She shook her head. “I need your help. To remember who I am.”
Some of the tension bled from his features. “I suspected as much,” he said. “Perhaps you were ambushed by a rogue sorcerer.”
It took deliberate effort, but she kept her face blank. Sorcerer. Apparently, magic was a real thing here. She struggled with this concept for a couple seconds, then realized it made perfect sense—she was in someone else’s body, after all.
Either that or she was still tripping balls.
“Sorcerer. Right.” She continued springing across the sand. “I’m saying your name wrong, aren’t I? It isn’t ‘Cruller.’ ”
“Krul’Dar.” He pronounced it slowly, placing emphasis on each syllable: Krool Dahr.
“And you’re my…Chief Chronicler, was it?”
Another nod. “That is correct.”
“My kingdom—how far does it reach?”
As Krul’Dar’s mount leapt over a cactus, sunlight glanced off his left wrist brace. “From the Desolate Shoals to the Glimmering Reef. About eight hundred keltins from coast to coast.”
“Eight hundred kel—what’s that in miles?”
Krul’Dar wrinkled his brow. “You’ll have to ask Hunbo, our Chief Mathemateer. ‘Miles’…that’s a term I haven’t heard in quite some time. I’d say…twenty-four hundred, give or take?”
Holly couldn’t keep the surprise off her face. “Twenty four hundr—” Almost as big as the United States. She cleared her throat and got herself together. “East to west or north to south?”
“East to west. Our northward incursions are limited by the Icy Breaks, while our southward travel is cut short by the Ankaran Mountain Range. Indashi supply trains are unable to traverse it en masse, as the terrain is rough and tricksy. Not only that, but Flaysac’s bandits have fortified the passes. ’Tis not a concern—there’s nothing there aside from blood and ruin.” He shot a quick look at her, afraid he’d overstepped his bounds. “Or so you’ve said on many occasions. It was not my intention to place words in your mouth.”
“That’s okay,” Holly gazed at the desert expanse looming before her. “I don’t have much to say.”
There was a long, pregnant silence.
Then: “Not yet, anyways.”