For the last three weeks, Krul’Dar had watched Kor’Thank from afar. A few days ago, Krul had lost track of him 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 pick up his trail the following day.
Krul was the only Indashi who cared for Kor’Thank. Everyone else, though they might not say it in so many words, thought he was invincible. A god made man. Krul, however, recognized their attitude for what it truly 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 who had come before.
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 grudgingly relented; 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 velociraptor thirty degrees left. A lone figure was running across the sands. Definitely male…the same build as Kor’Thank…could it be?
“Steady on my heels!” Krul’Dar 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’Dar’s heart sank in his chest. “ ’Tis I—your Chief Chronicler. Do you not recognize me, Kor?”
Devilish calculation flitted through the king’s eyes, 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 said in a neutral tone.
“Your king…” Kor’Thank surveyed the troop. “So you serve me. All of you.”
“That is correct.”
“You’re all riding dinosaurs…do I get one too?”
Krul’Dar wrinkled his brow—what the blingcock was a dinosaur? “If you wish for a war-raptor, any one of us would gladly relinquish our personal mount. Indicate which steed is to your liking and—”
Kor’Thank flapped his hand, a gesture that said not now. “Maybe later. I’m enjoying my run. Good cardio, you know? Lead the way, Cruller.”
As the men 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 ready to serve her, and that was all that 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. She had to play it close to the vest.
As ridiculous as it seemed, running beside 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 the concept for a couple of 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 extend?”
As Krul’Dar’s mount leapt over a cactus, a glint of sunlight glanced off his 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 regained her composure. “East to west or north to south?”
“East to west. Our northward incursions are cut short by the Icy Breaks, while our southern travel is limited 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 besides blood and ruin.” He shot a quick look at her, afraid he’d overstepped his bounds. “Or so you’ve told me 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.”