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= LANTERN ROAD =

a novella in the Empire of Time series

by John Argo


1.

title by John ArgoHardly anyone noticed a disheveled and breathless young man stumbling along the cobblestones of the Obayyo, the great imperial highway that ran in perpetual night around the island of Oba like a glowing ring of myriad lanterns.

For most of its length, the legendary Obayyo ran up into black mountains on one side, and down along the sea glittering in fog on the other side, always with a damp wind that was cold and cutting.

Anything could happen along the thousand klix of the Obayyo—so what was one more disturbance, one more running felon, one more pack of pursuing policemen in gleaming brown armor and elaborate helmets?

The Obayyo, or Lantern Road, crawled with an endless traffic of souls both human and Shurian, high born and low born, from lowly cargo bearers to traveling ladies and lords, knaves and thieves and murderers, clowns and fools and pilgrims, spies and merchants and priests.

Every ten klix was a police station manned by Shurians in brown armor with swords and shields. Every hundred klix the Obayyo passed through the gates and walls of an imperial district prefecture—a vast and grim fortress with dark towers and curving roofs. Dotting the mountainous countryside were villages where smoke curled from chimneys and wan light made tiny windows glow. Even less accessible were the mountain castles of local princes and lords, not to mention the distant forest haunts of robber barons. Life on Oba might center on the imperial palace, but all life circulated on the Obayyo.

The long ago sage had written:

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