Home > The King of Koraha (Archives of the Invisible Sword #3)

The King of Koraha (Archives of the Invisible Sword #3)
Author: Maria V. Snyder

 


One

 

 

Ever since Shyla was six circuits old, she’d wanted to visit all the vast underground cities of Koraha. At that time, her world had been very limited. Raised in a monastery by the Monks of Parzival for eighteen circuits, she’d only ventured out to the nearby city of Zirdai on the rare occasion. Her desire to travel never dimmed as she researched the history of each city, their various famous and infamous inhabitants, and catalogued the underground wonders of Koraha. In her dreams, she’d plan her visits, listing the sights that shouldn’t be missed.

It was a nice bit of dreaming that failed to factor in one crucial detail—visiting those cities required traveling over the hot sands of the desert for far too many sun jumps in a row.

Far, far too many.

Now, Shyla trudged up yet another sand dune, hot, sweaty, and tired of the unending vermillion sands that stretched out in all directions. They were endless, rippling out to the horizon and beyond. As Shyla followed a step behind Lota, she wondered, not for the first time, how in the seven hells the caravan owner knew where she was going.

According to Lota, there was a road underneath the layer of sand. And Shyla had to admit—grudgingly—her dillo leather boots didn’t sink in quite so deep. A good thing, as walking would require more effort if she sank up to her calves with every step.

Shyla glanced back at Lota’s caravan trailing behind them. It was considered an average size, with fifteen wagons filled with goods and one for Lota’s family. Each wagon had its own driver and was pulled by two gamelus. Then there were eight extra people that Lota referred to as her “muscles.” They performed various jobs like taking care of the gamelus during stops and unloading and loading merchandise. There were also eight guards, counting Shyla and Rendor. Actually, as a captain, Rendor should be counted as three at least.

Opposite her point guard position, he marched in the rear guard location, scanning the sands for potential threats, but he caught her gaze and smiled. The warmth inside her heated, and it had nothing to do with the sun jumping toward apex. She returned his smile, wishing for the millionth time they could have some privacy. But the travel shelters along the route only supplied protection from the killing heat and the freezing darkness, with nothing fancier than a communal scattering of cushions.

There were two ways a person could travel across the vast desert that blanketed Koraha. Either you hired a guide, who arranged everything and escorted you safely to your destination, or you signed up with one of the many caravans that crisscrossed the world. Hiring a guide cost an outrageous amount of osmiums so only the deep-level wealthy could afford it. The second option gave you two choices: you either accompanied the caravan as a passenger or you joined as a worker, the latter being the cheapest way to travel and the easiest way to blend in. Too bad it was almost impossible for Shyla and Rendor to travel incognito.

As a sun-kissed, she stood out. Her sun cloak’s hood helped hide her blond hair and kept the harsh rays of the sun off her golden-brown skin. However, she’d decided before this trip that she’d no longer worry about what other people thought of her. She hoped the citizens of Qulsary, the capital of Koraha, no longer believed that sun-kisseds must be sacrificed to the Sun Goddess right after birth. The new Heliacal Priestess of Zirdai had already outlawed the abandonment of sun-kissed babies on the sands.

Thinking about the new priestess, Shyla grinned. Not only was the woman a sun-kissed, but she was Shyla’s mother. A pulse of love swelled in her heart. After circuits of thinking she had been abandoned and rescued by the monks, Shyla now had a family. Which she’d promptly left behind in Zirdai. Not because of her desire to travel. No. Because the King of Koraha had ordered her to report to him in person.

The knot in her stomach tightened and her gaze returned to Rendor. He too failed to blend in. At one hundred and ninety centimeters tall, Rendor was broad shouldered and pure muscle. And he was all hers. His solid presence helped steady her nerves but couldn’t banish her fears completely.

What if the King had her arrested as soon as she arrived? There was nothing Rendor could do in that situation. She and her Invisible Swords had overthrown Zirdai’s Water Prince and Heliacal Priestess—two very corrupt and power-hunger people who deserved to be usurped. Unfortunately, two hundred and sixty-four people died during the defeat—many of them Shyla’s good friends.

Was the King worried her organization would set their sights on him? As far as she knew, he wasn’t a despot. He was over eighty circuits old and preferred to rule from a distance, keeping an eye on the cities through the monks. The King only interceded in a city’s politics when their tax payments stopped. Then he would send his legendary soldiers to deal with the problem. Otherwise, he seemed inclined to leave the cities alone, which had been unfortunate for Zirdai when it desperately needed his help.

To keep from fretting, Shyla concentrated on the fact that the King’s emissary had investigated the events leading to the change in leadership and had approved Jayden as the new Water Prince and Kaveri as the new Heliacal Priestess. Yet Shyla’s thoughts kept circling back to why the King wanted to see her.

Perhaps she should be more concerned about the sun nearing the danger zone. They had usually found shelter by now. If they were caught on the surface between angles eighty and one hundred, they’d be cooked alive. A few of the drivers muttered unhappily as other members of the caravan exchanged worried glances.

Shyla scanned the pink sky, searching for flocks of velbloud. The fuzzy white creatures rose into the air about twenty angles before apex to escape the killing heat, remaining attached to the sands by their long tethers. Tethers she’d used once in desperation to ascend with them. If it hadn’t been for them and Zhek’s healing goo, she would have died and joined the Sun Goddess.

“Beacon spotted,” Yegor, Lota’s husband, shouted. The tension dissipated as everyone relaxed.

“’Bout time, Yegor,” one of the drivers called in a teasing tone. “Thought you’d gone sand blind.”

“I wish,” Yegor shot back. “Then I wouldn’t have to see your ugly mug every sun jump.” Laughter rippled through the caravan as Yegor urged his gamelu team to pick up the pace.

Yegor drove the first wagon, which contained his and Lota’s two children. Actually, “contained” wasn’t quite accurate as the little boy and girl rarely rode inside, preferring to either cling to the sides, lie on the roof, or ride one of the gamelus—which they had all named.

Shyla squinted through the brightness. Good thing they hadn’t depended on her to find the tall obelisk that marked the entrance to a travel shelter. Even though they rose high above the dunes and had been built of black granite to contrast with the reddish-orange sands, they were still hard to find.

Lota led the caravan over to the beacon. As soon as they reached it, everyone burst into action. The gamelus were unhitched and brought over to the stone corral. They were given water and brought under the massive sun shade made from velbloud skin that the muscles erected. The gamelus were well equipped to handle the killing heat during the danger zone, however, due to the extra effort they expanded pulling the wagons, the shade allowed them to recover from their exertions faster.

Once the animals were settled, everyone climbed down the ladder into the shelter. Before joining them, Shyla scanned the horizon one more time, using the power of The Eyes to sense if there was anyone nearby. Not that she expected attackers to be hiding in the desert this close to the danger zone, but the shelter only had a single exit, and if it was blocked, they would be trapped. When Shyla had mentioned this to Lota and the other guards, they’d shrugged it off, unconcerned about the possibility. Only Rendor had understood the danger.

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