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. She’d done enough roadwork to know that she’d probably maintained a five-minute mile the entire time. And now, 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 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 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 O’Thonkian.”
Krul’Dar rode to a solitary 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 the least bit chintzy.
“Greetings, my liege.” Wodec extended his arm, bent loosely at the elbow, fingers curled.
Holly stared at it. It was an odd way to solicit a handshake…a second later 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-browed gaze widened 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 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 Atherton’s 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.
“Krul’Dar mentioned your trial in the desert. He said you had forgotten much of your past.”
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. Wodec 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 fury.” 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 through planes, but ’tis a perilous prospect. Many have tried, few have succeeded. The reason is simple: our environments 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 in order to—”
“The separation between self and environment is an illusory construct; you are as connected to your surroundings 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 do what?” Wodec asked, a little too innocently.
“Forget it.” Holly met his gaze. “There’s a faster way. I know it.”
“There is,” Wodec replied. “The Eye of Scylish is capable of twisting space and time—it can transport beings 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 magic mirror that never sullies, never ages. Alantil Fairwind had it last, but no one has seen him in o’er a decade. He is rumored to frequent the Southern Reach—the stretch of territory beyond the Ankaran Mountains. You must first cross the mountains, then the Shattered Territories. You will find what you seek inside an ancient pyramid. Its original name is lost to time.”
“The Southern Reach…” Holly murmured. Her annoyance faded as she thought it over.
“The mountains are controlled by Flaysac Chinsay, a consummate killer and strategic genius. His men know every nook and cranny of those treacherous peaks—should you 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 turned toward her Chief Chronicler. “Who is in charge of war-time matters?”
“Volcasian Firehand, the 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.
He turned away and headed for an expansive yurt. 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 on the Captain of the Guard, 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 that because of his smug smile, or the cagey way he’d danced around her questions.
It was because right before he’d turned away, he’d thrown her a wink.