Authors: Scott Rhine
Book Three of Temple of the Traveler
by Scott Rhine
Copyright 2012 Scott Rhine
To my wife, Tammy, who reads everything and makes it better.
Thanks, also to my line editor Katy Sozaeva, and my readers Jennifer Mingee and Weston Kincade.
Cover art by http://www.thecovercounts.com
Pinetto’s Map of the Outer Islands
– a collection of islands in the Outer Islands to the south of Zanzibos known for its pirates.
– a small, fertile kingdom in the southeast known for its wine and the Great Library.
– plague-lands adjacent to Zanzibos and Archanos.
– the country to the northwest, known for its swamp-gas lights and intrigue.
– the fallen, mountainous kingdom of the far north, known for its mines and forges.
– the country to the east known for its cattle and grain.
– the country to the northeast, known for its trees.
– the large country to the southwest, bordered by desert to the west and plague-lands to the south.
– the last warlord of Myron, a marquis whom Pagaose battled at the Final Temple.
Anna the Brewer
– a former slave who first proclaimed Pagaose emperor.
– the archfiend Tashi inadvertently released from his servitude.
an Imperial general and council member.
Baba Nesu –
a black-market alchemy dealer known to be a smooth talker.
– a Dawn creature with the head of a black panther.
– the last of the Messenger bloodline, a smith belonging to the Brotherhood of Executioners, and bearer of the sword called the Defender of the Realm.
– the daughter of the Mandibosian ambassador.
– the oldest Imperial general, the only one who has read the
Book of Dominion
– an Imperial noblewoman of the first tier with ambitions for her daughter Nightglow.
– a retired military Imperial related to Niftkin.
– a princess from Intaglios attending wizard school in Center.
Hindaloo the Despised
– a green-eyed plague-runner and child abuser.
– a half-Imperial widow of the greatest necromancer and underworld kingpin in the south, pregnant and willing to do anything to put her child on the throne.
– the former consort of the Pretender, now the mistress of Onira.
– the new king of Kiateros, a philanderer.
– a tall, half-Semenosian ward witch with glasses.
– a half-Babliosian candidate for the Dance.
– a gamekeeper, tracker, and water locator.
– the last emperor of his dynasty, who precipitated the Scattering.
Navara the Ferret
– chief inquisitor and whip of House Kragen.
– head of the Imperial honor guard, descended from a famous pirate.
– young Imperial aristocrat woman of the highest rank, scarred by pox.
– the Governor-Regent of Zanzibos.
– a priest called Jotham who was transformed into the newest emperor.
– an Imperial aristocrat in charge of the purity committee, council member.
– an Imperial astronomy student become wizard, betrothed to Sajika.
– secret policewoman from Bablios, named ambassador to Kiateros.
Sandarac the Pretender
– self-proclaimed emperor of the north. Lame and infertile.
Sarajah the Seeress
– half plague-lander, high priestess of Archanos, formerly possessed by the vampiric high priestess of Sleep.
– the female dragon allied with Sandarac the Pretender and his bride Humi Kragen.
– the abbot and blind sage of Muro, head of the church of Osos, and council member.
– former sheriff of Tamarind Pass and student of Jotham, transformed into a half-troll, in love with Sarajah.
– head of the Imperial Observatory, council member.
Pagaose, the divinely ordained Emperor of the Inner Islands, paced while locked alone in the royal bedroom. His new body, taller than any of the Imperial race who stood guard outside, longed for action. The bedroom was luxurious: palatial by definition. His captors had provided every amenity, even a scabbard for the One True Sword; however, he hadn’t come all this way to be sequestered while the powers-that-be decided his fate. The walls here, instead of being rice-paper screens, were solid wood.
Water finds other ways to overcome obstacles, he thought.
Striding to the opposite side of the room away from the carved, teak doors, the new emperor stepped out onto his balcony—the panorama of Mount Pankara was breathtaking. This was the pinnacle of human civilization. On the opposite side of the rim of the dormant volcano, he could see the grand observatory, its marble gleaming in the sun.
Between Pagaose and the observatory lay the Scar, a hole in the very heart of the world. The Scar was technically a wash of lava and mud that had spilled over the crater wall and leveled everything below. Philosophically, the Scar embodied the destruction or burial of the empire’s former glory. The tendrils of devastation covered a full eighth of the island in gray rock and reached out into the sea. The farthest finger had to be marked with a new lighthouse, lest ships rip themselves open on the new land.
By contrast, every bit of the outer slope below him was covered in landmarks: the zoological gardens, the amphitheater of the gods, and several lavish aristocrats’ homes spiraled downward from the summit. The oldest homes had red, tile roofs, but the newer ones on the border of town were kiln-baked from the omnipresent, blue clay. However, there was no path for him to reach the rooftops safely, because there could be no way for the masses to reach him.
Home to the famed College of Wizards, Center was the most populous island in the Inner Sea. At the lowest level, by the marsh, stood huts on stilts. The docks buzzed with activity even on a holiday like today. On the mud flats along the bay, he could see polka dots of deeper water, more evidence of the destruction that had rained down from the sky. The brilliant blue-green of the pools shimmered like a necklace of jewels around the port. In the distance, he could see the old lighthouse that still guided commerce in.
He’d seen the maps of the palace years before. Pagaose had felt the pride of the cartographer when he’d touched the paper with his bare hands. After a bit, he returned to his room with an idea. In passing through the Doors to Eternity the first time, he’d gained the ability to sense things about the former bearer of an object. The skill made him an unrivaled historian. He used his talent to probe the elegant panels of his chamber to see if any of them had been touched by the former emperor.
Gliding his hands over the paneling, he detected not one, but two potential passages. One was behind the headboard of the bed, and the other near the balcony. The balcony route proved easiest to open. Releasing a catch on the trim above that only he could reach, the panel swung open. The hidden passage was half-a-pace wide and dotted with peepholes on each side and on the floor.
Curious, he uncovered and peeked through the floor hole into a room with a large table at the center—the council chamber. The table was inlaid with a map of the known world, with Center and the Compass Star at the heart. He could hear two men arguing but couldn’t make out their faces; they were blocked by the latticework that prevented council members from noticing the peephole. The emperor pressed an ear to the hole.
“Your job was to
situations like this man from occurring.”
“Excuse me; the supernatural is
purview. How was I supposed to stop him from dropping naked from the sky into the throne room? He has six fingers on each hand! Show me that in the orders and I’ll fall on my sword.”
Pagaose had to bite his lower lip to keep from laughing. The military man had a rumpled uniform shirt. This meant that he was an officer, or the infraction would never have been tolerated.
“Why didn’t you just kill him outright?” demanded the wizard.
“Too many witnesses. The brewer woman spread the word too fast.”
“Yes. When she goes home later, arrange an accident.”
The emperor wanted to cut through the thin ceiling with his sword and confront this snake; however, he didn’t dare show his hand yet.
The officer nodded. “He’ll be easier to discredit without her testimony.”
“Round up the other seven deans of the college.”
“Won’t be easy. Last night was the biggest party of the year. Most of them are passed out drunk.”
“Start with the sage. He’s hardest to please and stone sober. Then we’ll take turns interrogating the candidate. If he fails to meet with our approval, we can kill him as an impostor.”
“Sir, no one would meet with
Pagaose used the sound of the door opening to cover the listening hole. He had to reach Anna before they did.
Glancing through each of the other peepholes, Pagaose couldn’t find the woman; therefore, he ran back to his bedroom to experiment with the second passage. Sitting on the elaborate, covered bed, he determined that he needed to slide the panel upward into a recess.
Moving the panel up just enough to glance through, he could make out another bedroom on the other side. A short woman in a ruby-red dress lay on the bed, napping. Pagaose was wearing her matching shawl as a loincloth. If he called out, someone else might hear; therefore, he stepped through the secret passage, and then he slid it shut silently. The emperor crept up to her bedside, examining her as he did so. Anna wasn’t a classic beauty: she had short, curly, black hair. The length was a concession to her life as a tradeswoman, while the rest was due to a dollop of Kiateran ancestry. On the plus side, she had a kind face, followed the old ways, and she wore his magical tuning fork on a leather thong around her neck. His eyes lingered overly long at the décolletage between her large breasts, and he had to shake his head to clear it.