Krul’Dar had spent several weeks watching Kor’Thank from afar. A few days ago, he’d lost track of him in a blinding downpour. The desert storms could strike with alarming speed—clear skies one moment, slashing tempests the next.
Krul was the only Indashi who cared for the king. The rest thought of Kor’Thank as the ultimate warrior; he would conquer any and all obstacles with consummate ease. Kor recognized this rationale 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 loudly. “Look to the west!”
Krul’Dar swiveled his velociraptor mount thirty degrees left. A lone figure was running across the sands. The Chronicler leaned forward and squinted his eyes. Definitely male…the same build as Kor’Thank…could it be?
“Steady on my heels!” Krul’Dar shouted. He squeezed his thighs, urging his mount forward. His barbarian troop followed behind, 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 raced through 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, clearly puzzled. “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 lower. The king was savage, yes, but he’d never been deceptive outside of battle. 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 your…”
“You are my king,” Krul’Dar said in a neutral tone.
“Your king…” Kor’Thank surveyed the troop. “So that means you serve me. All of you.”
“That is correct.”
“Can I ride a dinosaur?”
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 one you’d like 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 barbarians headed home, Krul’Dar’s unease blossomed into a heavy, cold dread.
What the 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 enough. She didn’t want to tip her hand—trying to ride one of those dino-thingies would be a definite hint that she wasn’t their king, and that might fuck with her long-term plans. If she could return to Atherton with an army of dino-riders at her beck and call, then Peter Lee would be in for a world of hurt.
But she had to play it close to the vest. That’s why she’d decided to run, instead of ride. No need to direct their attention to the glaringly obvious fact that she was a body-switching impostor. As ridiculous as it seemed, running alongside dinosaurs wasn’t an issue. Thanks to the copious amounts of wormy-squirmies she’d eaten an hour ago, she was barely sweating. She felt like she could out-squat the Rock, and then take first place in the Boston Marathon immediately afterwards.
She let a few minutes pass, then decided to open with a half-truth: “Cruller. I’m not the person you knew.”
The guy named after her favorite kind of donut glanced down at her from atop his seven-foot dinosaur. “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, exactly, 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 magician.”
It took deliberate effort, but she managed to keep her face blank. Magician. Apparently, magic was real here. She struggled with the concept for a couple of seconds, then she realized it made perfect sense—she was in someone else’s body, after all.
Either that or she was still tripping balls.
“Magician. Right.” She continued springing effortlessly 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.” The suspicion in his eyes was still there, but that was okay—winning hearts and twisting minds was second nature to Holly Dent.
“My kingdom—how far does it extend?”
Krul’Dar’s mount leapt over a cactus, and a bright spear of sunlight glanced off his wrist brace. “From the Desolate Shoals to the Glimmering Reef. About eight hundred keldins from coast to coast.”
“Eight hundred kel—what’s that in miles?”
Krul’Dar wrinkled his brow. “You’ll have to ask Hunbo, your Chief Mathemateer. ‘Miles’…that’s a term I haven’t heard in quite some time, but 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 southward incursions are limited by the Ankaran Mountain Range. Our supply trains are unable to traverse it en masse, as the terrain is rough and tricksy, and Flaysac’s bandits have fortified the passes. ’Tis not a concern—there’s nothing there except for blood and ruin.” He shot a quick glance at her, afraid he’d overstepped his bounds. “Or so you’ve told me on multiple occasions. It was not my intention to place words in your mouth.”
“That’s okay,” Holly replied, gazing at the desert expanse looming before her. “I don’t have much to say.” There was a long, pregnant silence.
Then: “Not yet, anyways.”