From a human perspective, time appears constant. But we only have to look beyond our blue-green mud ball to see that it’s anything but; the gravity of stars (and their solid offspring) distort causality in ways that confound and astonish our order-bounded minds. On a subjective level, the context of events seem to speed and slow the pace of our lives, depending on how much pain or pleasure we happen to be experiencing. Time feels different to the bored and enthused, the bedeviled and blessed.
Holly didn’t know it, but her interdimensional passage had disrupted the links of causality that bound the multiversal planes into a smoothly functioning astral clockwork. Consequently the relative pace of time on Kor’Thank’s homeworld had been greatly accelerated. In the two weeks he’d lived as Kora, Holly had spent two months on the plains of Elithia.
She hadn’t been idle; she’d raised taxes, ramped up training, and instituted the beginnings of a slave economy. This was basic stuff she’d learned from cheerleading—homogenize followers, promote conformity, and designate a convenient enemy to unite your followers. Appeal to their collective nobility, then slowly but steadily point out the misfits, the dissenters, the eccentrics.
She’d hit the campaign trail with relentless enthusiasm, riding from town to town, outpost to outpost, waxing poetic about the need for conflict, about the need to purify the body, mind, and spirit. She would weight her message with soft-spoken warnings about the weaklings among us—how they would become increasingly jealous, and how they would seek to sabotage the efforts of us virtuous few. At this point, all her vitriol was directed at non-Indashi.
It wouldn’t be long before that changed.
She intended to assault the Ankaran mountain range as soon as possible. She didn’t have time to dick around and gather consensus (that soft-ass bullshit was for namby-pamby ghetto whores who lived in roach-infested neighborhoods where kids named Laquisha or D’Shaun died from stray bullets. Jesus Christ—if you’re getting shot at, then find yourself a gun and shoot back.) No, in Holly’s mind the only way forward was to stoke the fires of hate and elitism. That meant consolidating a posse of hardcore minions who were willing to crush anyone and everyone who got in her way.
“Krul’Dar,” she rumbled from atop her throne, which had been carved from the femur of a black-scale dragon. “We must police our own. There are those among us who hold us back…that keep us from achieving our full potential.”
Krul’Dar cocked his head. “Whom do you speak of, my king?”
Holly rose from her throne and strode toward the entryway. “Attend me.” He followed dutifully behind her.
She pushed the door-flap open and walked out into Ug Rung. Rows of Indashis stopped what they were doing and fell to a knee. The entire outpost ground to stop as a wave of subservience rippled outward from a single human epicenter.
“Rise,” she boomed.
The barbarians stood and resumed their duties. This was a calculated ritual. Holly was a master at communicative dissonance—butter people up by yapping about equality and nobility, but subliminally, prep them with etiquette and tradition that reinforced their deference. The command she’d given—Rise—was an implicit reminder that the Indashi were on an upward trajectory, and that she was the one who drove their ascension.
Krul’Dar rose with them, but he was a split-second behind. She didn’t fail to notice. A slight smile tugged at her lips.
A secret part of her hoped he’d put up a fight.
She walked into Volcasian Firehand’s war-yurt. The Captain of the Guard looked up from an intricately crafted terrain map: the Arcana Strategica. Centuries’ worth of magic had gone into its design, and as a result, its adjustable components were capable of interacting with a series of user-intuitive gestures. The troops, landscapes, and waterways were displayed in painstaking detail, and the weather was reflected in real-time. Right now the moon was barely visible—a fist-sized orb shrouded in ghost-like fog.
Volcasian lowered to a knee and placed his fist over his heart. Conversation ceased as every Indashi within the yurt followed his example.
“Rise,” Holly intoned. (It never got old.) “What have you arrayed upon the Strategica, Volcasian?”
The weathered Captain pushed to his feet. “Our engineers have erected containment facilities at these locations.” He pointed a gnarled finger at varying points across the breadth of the kingdom, pausing briefly at each one. “All are staffed with a contingent of guardsmen. Half have access to a quick-response force, should they require immediate reinforcements. I’ve given command of the facilities to Lieutenant Sword Master Yin-Skythe.”
Holly clasped her hands behind her back. “Impressive. Unfortunately, I bear news of an additional complication: my plans require ten times the holding capacity I see before me.”
Volcasian’s eyebrows rose high on his forehead. “To increase our holding capacity, I would need a Writ of Construction and Allotment. Signed by you and the Chief Justicer.”
Holly turned her head slightly to the side, catching Krul’Dar in the outer edge of her vision. “Fetch him.”
Krul’Dar stepped close, bringing his mouth to her ear so he could whisper his objection in a respectful manner. “My king, it has been shown throughout history that any society which focuses on imprisoning its populace will inevitably make an enemy of its people. These facilities could hold every bandit in the Ankaran Mountain Range three times over. Why would you need—”
“Best to be prepared, Chronicler.” Her voice turned cold. “Did your dusty tomes not tell you as much? Perhaps they require updating. Or maybe I should burn them.”
“Now away with you, bondsman—you test my patience.” Holly flipped a dismissive hand in his general direction.
Krul’Dar placed a fist against his heart and slipped out of the tent.
She turned back to Volcasian. “A good start.” Her eyes flicked down to the Strategica. “But it’s not enough.”
“I will make preparations, my king.”
Holly smiled. My king. Her mind drifted back to the refrain from one of her favorite songs—a 90s classic from the Office Space soundtrack:
Damn it feels good to be a gangster.