Chapter 3 (Unwanted news)
Kkaj shoves past a pair if guards as he rushes into the royal palace. Am I late?
Usually, palace staff scrambled through the halls like a swarm of scorpiocats. When the nobility from around the country came to visit, walking through these halls was worse than trying to bathe in the white rapids of the Lokab river. So, with foreign dignitaries who were there to be far more boring than the nobility, why was this stretch of the palace deserted?
His heart raced, and he bit into his lower-lip. Where is everyone at? He shuffled past a pair of ancient, useless suits of armor.
The gold-framed paintings that lined the hall stank of mildew and dried cheese. Disgusting. The oppressive silence almost drowned out the scents of JemKej paint, but the nose burning smell still managed to turn his stomach. Why wouldn’t the king have these remade using modern RulFer paint?
Kkaj continued down the corridor at almost a run.
The patter of feet on the deep purple and blue carpet told him that Saffer and Roffor weren’t too far behind.
A thumping headache pounded against his skull, and crocobears snapped at his stomach. Was he nervous? He turned the corner and flicked a deep purple and blue curtain out of the way. Why did the king have to decorate everything in the gaudy royal colors of JemKej?
A short man with a balding spot that made his thin blond hair look more like a tiara stepped from a room just ahead of Kkaj. He waved.
Kkaj brushed past him and up a flight of stairs. Had the tournament already started? Was that why no one but the royal steward roamed the halls? A sigh slowed Kkaj as he reached the top of the stairs. It’s faster to go straight through the private tournament grounds, but if the fighting has already started … . He took a left at the next intersection.
“Excuse me,” the steward said, “Master Kkaj —”
Kkaj increased his pace to a quick jog and burst through a pair of large double doors. Why would such a small tournament start so early?
A pair of large, burly guards wearing leather vests stood between Kkaj and the stairwell to the fifth floor that led to the royal seats. Were they new despite their gruff, scared faces? A silver pentagon shaped pin above their left breast caught the light and sparkled. Fire. Weather. Earth. Water. Metal. Each side of the pentagon carried the elemental symbol. They weren’t just strong Drunkzards as the silver pin indicated, they were strong Pentas.
“Move. I have to get to the meeting before it ends.” Kkaj stepped forward.
Both guards reached into their leather vest. “No can do.”
Kkaj ground his teeth then fumbled through the small pockets of his Drunkzard vest. He pulled out his Penta pin and held it out for the guards to see. The gold reflected the sunlight.
Their eyes went wide, and their mouths worked.
“As you can see, I’m one of the elite. The difference in our power is grander than a trader’s caravan.”
Both guards gulped.
“Master Kkaj!” The steward’s voice carried past the guards like a bullet.
A shiver raced down Kkaj’s spine.
The guards looked between him and the steward then licked their lips. Together, they said, “Kkaj?”
“The Kkaj?” They asked.
Both guards stepped aside before saying, “That golden pin is a lie. You are as far above golden-pinned Pentas as they are above us.”
He grinned. “I know. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go meet with —”
The steward grabbed Kkaj by the sleeve.
Kkaj turned and jerked his arm free. “Stop delaying me. I —”
“They’re not here,” the steward said in a rasping voice.
“The tournament and meeting is being held at the coliseum.”
Scraping beyond the doors ahead of him. Excited chatter between the two guards. Two sets of boots from behind the steward. No grunting. No woofs of power. No screams of pain.
Kkaj chewed on nothing, forcing his mind to work.
If the tournament were moved to the coliseum, it would be a full tournament rather that a royal display of fighting. Outside the standard circuit — two tournaments in each city each year — the coliseum only housed qualifiers, unranked tournaments and public events. The citizens would be allowed to attend what should have been a private affair. Someone more important than a foreign noble would force the king to change his plans.
A lump swelled in his Kkaj’s throat, and the narrow hallway around him spun. “Which monarch showed up?”
The steward wrung his hands as Saffer and Roffor arrived. He glanced at the two women then back to Kkaj and said, “All of them.”
Kkaj found himself staring up at the ceiling with the two guards standing above him. They pulled him to his feet, and he massaged his temples.
Saffer rested a hand on his shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
“Everything.” Kkaj took a deep breath and steadied his legs. He turned and bowed to the guards. “Thank you.” Then, he walked back down the hallway he had come from. “With the other monarchs here, the king is going to be in a mood. On top of my request not following decorum, the news of the desolation will reach the city before the other monarchs leave. Beyond embarrassing the king, this will hurt our trade position.”
“Oh,” Saffer said, trailing behind him.
“So,” Roffor said in a high-pitched, excited voice, “you mean he’s not going forbid us from going to the Lucidity distillery?”
“He doesn’t have the power to forbid me from doing anything. But he can deny me access to the map.” Kkaj burst out of the palace and into the street. As he waved down a carriage, he looked back at Roffor. “And don’t sound so cheerful.”
Next: Chapter 4