Holly had 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 four-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 busy repairing fixtures, transporting supplies, or herding raptors by their leathered reins.
Krul’Dar pulled up beside Holly and addressed the troop. “Tend to your duties.”
They responded with grunts and wandered off.
The Chronicler nodded at the hive of activity. “They have all been tasked with a specific chore. Right now, our enemy is complacency.”
Holly studied the bustling acropolis. 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 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 yurt ringed with totem poles. He dismounted, opened the flap, and ducked inside. A minute later he emerged with an older barbarian whose beard shone with polished baubles. Some glittered and caught the light, others swallowed it in their dark-sheened curves.
“Greetings, my liege.” Wodec extended his arm, bent loosely at the elbow.
Holly stared at it. An odd way to solicit a handshake…then she realized he was offering his forearm.
She squeezed it 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 had hijacked the intercom and read a passage from his favorite book series: The Dark Tower. He’d thrown in some other stuff (an acapella rendition of the Star Wars Attack Theme, a handful of porno moans) before Principal Leguizamo had cut the speakers.
“Krul’Dar says 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 against his heart. “I meant no offense.”
Holly gritted her teeth. He’d just made her shit list; she’d find a way to make him suffer. “Tell me what you know about interdi—tell me what you know about travelling between worlds.”
“A fascinating subject, my liege. Why the interest?”
Her lips tightened. “Never you mind. Now speak, lest you rouse my fury.” From the corner of her eye, she saw Krul’Dar regarding her with clear suspicion. Apparently, her behavior was uncharacteristic of Kor’Thank’s.
“It is possible to journey through different planes, but ’tis a perilous prospect. Many have tried, few have succeeded. The reason is simple: our physical environs are tied to our psyches. To change the outer, you must first change the inner.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Holly stated. “Why would I need to change my mind so I can—”
“The separation between self and surrounding is an illusory construct. You are indelibly connected to all you observe, as your shoulder is to your arm and hand. In order to traverse the bleed between worlds, you must train for a lifetime to see that—”
“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,” he affirmed. “The Eye of Scylish. It can twist space and bend time—transport its master into any conceivable pocket of existence.”
“Where is it?” She tried to keep the excitement out of 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 Shattered Territories—the stretch of land beyond the Ankaran Mountains. To reach the Eye, you must first cross the mountains, then journey through the Territories. You will find it inside an ancient pyramid.”
“The Shattered Territories…” Holly murmured. Her annoyance faded as she mulled her next step.
“The mountains are held by Flaysac Chinsay, a consummate killer and battlefield strategist. 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 in the past that you will leave Flaysac be.”
Holly canted her head and addressed the Chronicler. “Who is in charge of war-time matters?”
“Volcasian Firehand, Captain of the Guard.” Krul’Dar’s jaw tightened with anger. By the look of it, he grasped the meaning behind her question.
“Shall I summon him, my liege?” Wodec asked.
The mage headed for an expansive yurt. Piked skulls led to its entrance.
As Holly waited, paranoia rattled her mind. Wodec knew she wasn’t Kor’Thank, but for some reason, he’d kept it a secret. She hadn’t concluded this from 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.