Holly had covered a dozen miles at a dead sprint, a good amount of it over soft sand. None of the others had raised an eyebrow. Whoever this Kor’Thank was, he must have been a goddamn beast. Holly had done enough roadwork to know that she’d probably maintained a five-minute mile the entire time. And now, even after she’d covered twelve fucking miles, she was barely sweating.
Ug Rung, the Indashi Kingdom’s royal encampment, was comprised of a vast assemblage of sturdy yurts, built atop a grassy hill. 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 promptly dispersed.
The Chronicler nodded at the hive of activity. “They have all been tasked with a specific duty. Right now, our enemy is complacency.”
Holly examined the acropolis with a thoughtful eye. She needed a way to get back to Earth…but she couldn’t just come out and say it. “Can I talk to a wizard?”
Krul’Dar cocked his head. “To what end?”
“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.”
Krul’Dar rode up to a yurt ringed by gem-encrusted totem poles. He dismounted, opened the tent flap, and ducked inside. A second later he emerged with a barrel-chested, older barbarian. Wodec’s beard was threaded with baubles. Some glittered and caught the light, while others swallowed it in their dark-sheened curves. None of it looked chintzy.
“Greetings, my liege.” Wodec extended his arm, bent loosely at the elbow, fingers slightly curled.
Holly stared at it. It was an odd way to solicit a handshake. Then she realized he wasn’t offering his hand—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 brows rose in surprise, then narrowed in suspicion.
“You are not yourself today.” His weathered eyes ticked back and forth across her face.
Holly froze. “What do you mean?” It took conscious effort, but she forced her voice to remain calm.
“I think you know.” He smiled slyly.
“Speak plainly, bondsman.” She remembered that term from a couple of years back, when Peter had hijacked the intercom and read a passage from his favorite book series: The Dark Tower. He’d thrown some other stuff in there—an acapella rendition of the Star Wars Attack Theme, a handful of porno moans—before Principal Leguizamo had cut the speakers.
“Krul’Dar mentioned your trial in the desert. He said you had forgotten much of your past.”
What the fuck was he up to? Was he playing with her? Holly’s fingers twitched involuntarily. They wanted to ball into fists; they wanted to bludgeon his face with a storm of blows.
“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. This guy had just made her 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 does it interest you?”
Her lips tightened into a thin, white line. “Never you mind. Now speak, lest you rouse my temper.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Krul’Dar gazing suspiciously at her. It was clear that her disrespectful mannerisms were uncharacteristic of Kor’Thank.
“It is possible to journey across different planes, but ’tis a perilous prospect. Many have tried, few have succeeded. The reason is simple: our outer environments are tied to our psyches. If you wish to change one, then you must change the other.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Holly stated flatly. “Why would I need to change my mind in order to—”
“The separation between self and environment is an illusory construct; you are as connected to your surroundings as your shoulder is to your arm. In order to move between planes, 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.
“Took you less than a second to do what?” Wodec asked, a little too innocently.
“Forget it.” Holly met his gaze. “There’s a faster way. I know it in my bones.”
“There is,” Wodec replied. “The Eye of Scylish is capable of twisting space and time—it can send its owner into any conceivable pocket of existence.”
“Where is it?” Holly tried to keep the excitement out of her voice. She only partially succeeded. “What is it?”
“A magical broach, with an enchanted emerald mounted in its center. Alantil Fairwind had it last, but no one has seen him for o’er a decade. He is rumored to frequent the Southern Reach—the stretch of territory beyond the Ankaran Mountain Range. You must make cross the mountains, the Shattered Territories, and then you will enter the Reach. There is an ancient pyramid there. You will find what you seek inside the pyramid.”
“The Southern Reach…” Holly murmured, her annoyance fading as she thought it over. “How do I get there?”
“Through the mountains, but heed my warning, my liege. The peaks are controlled by a formidable bandit-lord: Flaysac Chinsay, a consummate killer and strategic genius. Our forces trump his in strength and number, but we cannot engage him in a frontal assault. His men know every nook and cranny of those treacherous slopes—their sides would run red with our soldiers’ blood.”
Krul’Dar sidled closer. “You have declared on multiple occasions that you will leave Flaysac alone, milord.”
“It’s time to change things up,” Holly locked eyes with the Chief Chronicler. “Who’s in charge of war-time matters?”
“Volcasian Firehand, the Captain of the Guard.” Krul’Dar set his jaw. By the looks of it, he understood the implication behind her question.
“Shall I summon him, my liege?” the High Mage asked.
Wodec turned away and headed for an expansive yurt to Holly’s left. A ring of corded hide connected its walls to a sloped roof. A rough walkway—it was lined with piked heads and polished halberds—led to its entrance.
As Holly waited for the Captain of the Guard, paranoia raced through her mind. Wodec knew she wasn’t Kor’Thank, but for some reason, he’d decided to keep it to himself. She hadn’t arrived at that conclusion because of his smug smile, or the way he’d danced around her questions.
It was because right before he’d turned away, he’d thrown her a wink.