Holly covered a dozen miles, a good amount of it over soft sand. She ran regularly for cheerleading, so she knew she’d probably maintained a five-minute mile the entire time. And now, after twelve fucking miles, she was barely sweating. None of the others had raised an eyebrow.
Whoever this Kor’Thank was, he must have been a goddamn beast.
Ug Rung, the Indashi Kingdom’s royal encampment, was a vast assemblage of hilltop yurts. Everyone was working—repairing fixtures, transporting supplies, or herding raptors by their leathered reins. Krul’Dar pulled up beside her and addressed the troop.
“Tend to your duties.”
They responded with grunts and went their separate ways.
The Chronicler nodded at the hive of activity. “They have all been tasked with a specific chore. Right now, our enemy is complacency.”
Holly examined the acropolis with a thoughtful eye. She needed a way to return to Earth. but she couldn’t just come out and say it.
“I need to uh…” she scratched her temple. “I am interested in…in the idea of traveling between worlds. Is this possible?”
“You would have to ask our High Mage: Wodec O’Thonkian.”
Krul’Dar rode to a small yurt ringed by gem-encrusted totem poles. He dismounted, opened the flap, and ducked inside. A second later he emerged with an older barbarian whose beard shone with polished baubles. Some glittered and caught the light, while others swallowed it in their dark-sheened curves. None of it looked the least bit chintzy.
“Greetings, my liege.” Wodec extended an arm, bent loosely at the elbow, fingers curled.
Holly stared at it. An odd way to solicit a handshake…until she realized he was offering his forearm.
She grasped its corded length and squeezed firmly. “Mage,” she grunted in her best man-voice. Wodec squeezed back. His snowy-browed gaze widened in surprise, then narrowed in suspicion.
“You are not yourself today.” His weathered eyes searched her face.
Holly froze. “What do you mean?” It took conscious effort, but she forced her voice to remain even.
“I think you know.” He smiled slyly.
“Speak plainly, bondsman.” She remembered that word from a couple years back, when Peter Lee had hijacked the intercom and read a passage from his favorite book series: The Dark Tower. He’d thrown some other stuff in (an acapella rendition of the Star Wars Attack Theme, a handful of porno moans) before Principal Leguizamo had cut the speakers.
“According to Krul’Dar, you have forgotten who you are.” There was a hint of teasing in his tone.
Was he toying with her? Holly’s fingers twitched involuntarily. They wanted to ball into fists and bludgeon his face. “I remember enough,” she said coldly.
“Of course.” He bowed slightly and thumped his fist on his heart. “I meant no offense.”
Holly gritted her teeth. Wodec had just made her personal shit list; she’d find a way to make him suffer. “Tell me what you know about interdimension—tell me what you know about travelling between worlds.”
“A fascinating subject, my liege. Why the interest?”
Her lips tightened into a thin, white line. “Never you mind. Now speak, lest you rouse my fury.” From the corner of her eye, she saw Krul’Dar regarding with her clear suspicion. Apparently, her mannerisms were uncharacteristic of Kor’Thank.
“It is possible to journey through planes, but ’tis a perilous prospect. Many have tried, few have succeeded. The reason is simple: our physical environs are tied to our psyches. If you wish to change the outer, you must first change the inner.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Holly stated flatly. “Why would I need to change my mind so I can—”
“The separation between self and surroundings is an illusory construct. You are as connected to your environment as your shoulder to your arm. In order to traverse the bleed between worlds, you must train for decades in order to—”
“Unacceptable,” Holly snapped. “There’s a faster way—there has to be. It took me less than a second to—” she closed her eyes and took a breath.
Easy, Holly. Close to the vest.
“To what?” Wodec asked, a little too innocently.
“Forget it.” Holly met his gaze. “There’s a faster way. I know it.”
“There is,” Wodec affirmed. “The Eye of Scylish can twist space and bend time—it can transport its master into any conceivable pocket of existence.”
“Where is it?” Holly tried to keep the excitement from her voice. She only partially succeeded. “What is it?”
“A magical nexus with an ever-shifting form. Alantil Fairwind controlled it last, but he hasn’t been seen in o’er a decade. He is rumored to frequent the Southern Reach—the stretch of land beyond the Ankaran Mountains. You must cross the mountains, then the Shattered Territories. You will find what you seek in an ancient pyramid. Its original name is lost to time.”
“The Southern Reach…” Holly murmured. Her annoyance faded as she mulled her next step.
“The mountains are home to Flaysac Chinsay, a consummate killer and strategic genius. His men know every nook of those treacherous peaks—if you choose to assault them, their sides will run red with our soldiers’ blood.”
Krul’Dar sidled closer. “You have declared on multiple occasions that you will leave Flaysac be, milord.”
Holly canted her head and addressed the Chronicler. “Who is in charge of war-time matters?”
“Volcasian Firehand, Captain of the Guard.” Krul’Dar set his jaw. By the look of it, he understood the implication behind her question.
“Shall I summon him, my liege?” Wodec asked.
The mage headed for an expansive yurt. A rough walkway—it was lined with piked skulls and polished halberds—led to its entrance.
As Holly waited, paranoia raced through her mind. Wodec knew she wasn’t Kor’Thank, but for some reason, he’d kept it to himself. She hadn’t concluded this because of his smug smile, or the cagey way he’d danced around her questions.
It was because right before he’d walked away, he’d thrown her a wink.