Ug Rung now looked spiky and forbidding. To complement her army’s grim appearance, Holly had done her best to approximate the Orcish architecture from the Lord of the Rings films, then amped up the evil as much as she could. Her engineers were constantly adding spikes, skulls, or extra jags of bladed plating. It was a never-ending process.
During her first year on Elithia, she’d managed to transform the Indashi kingdom into an oppressive, brutish society. Now that she’d taken care of the big stuff—turning a nation of freethinking independents into a gang of malicious, tribal-minded thugs—she was ready to focus on the smaller things. Specifically, executing anyone who voiced the slightest objection to her draconian policies. Deep down, she knew that an army of yes-men wouldn’t make for the best military, but her need for control would always come first.
Peter Lee had seen to that.
Peter, she thought, her face curving into a sadistic rictus. I’m gonna cut out your ass-pucker and turn it into a leathery medallion.
At that moment, Captain Megamore Bliktuk walked into her tent.
“Our forces have surrounded Krul’Dar’s rebels. They await your presence.”
“Good.” Holly lowered a black-steel helmet onto her head, and buckled its argythe-hide chin strap across the bottom of her jaw. She rose from her chair.
“Let’s show these bitchfucks the meaning of justice.”
Holly hopped onto her mount, a war-raptor whom she’d decided to call “Gucci.”
None of her subjects had questioned the name; she’d eliminated nearly every dissenter from her army. Accordingly, she’d let herself relax. Even though she’d learned to employ Indashi mannerisms (they were of great value when she was addressing a crowd, or presiding over a formal execution), she felt much more at ease when she was speaking like her Earthling self. Many of her servants had even begun to imitate her.
She pulled back on the reins, halting Gucci in front of her generals: Nyrock Hellscythe and Yinhalka Thorkblade. They dropped to a knee and placed their fists over their hearts.
“Rise,” Holly commanded. “Status?”
Both of them rose. “We have them cornered.” Yinhalka turned and nodded at a spare, rocky gully, a hundred yards to her rear.
Krul’Dar and his rebels were inside the canyon, surrounded on all sides by thirty-foot cliffs. They had bunkered down in an encampment of lightly armored tents. Holly’s bowmen had posted along the edges of the chasm, hemming the traitors in from all sides. Down below, a single, treacherous trail led into the center of the crevasse.
“Get your ladders ready,” Holly ordered. “Smoke them out with a volley of fire arrows, but hold off on edged missiles. Have your bowmen cover your skirmishers when they they make their descent. Pass the word: blunt weapons only, with the exception of your blocking force. I want to capture as many as possible. But if any of them look like they’re about to escape, split them open from asshole to belly button.”
“So the blocking force will employ edged weaponry,” Nyrock said.
Holly looked at him, annoyed. “Obviously, dumbass. Now fuck off and bag me some dipshits.”
The two generals started walking away, but Holly reached out and grabbed Yinhalka by her shoulder plate. “Wait.” The cheerleader jerked her chin at Nyrock, who had turned around as soon as she’d spoken. “Not you. Prep the attack.”
Nyrock strode away.
“What do you think of him?” Holly searched Yinhalka’s face.
Her response was prompt: “He’s a foam-faced jerkoff. His inability to grasp your intent was absolutely ridiculous. You provided every detail, yet he still required further clarification.”
Holly smiled. Yinhalka was pandering to her, but she didn’t mind. “Foam-faced jerkoff—I like that. Go and make sure that he doesn’t fuck up.”
“Yes, milord.” Yinhalka placed her fist over her heart and walked away.
Outwardly, Holly appeared silent and impassive. Inwardly, she was pleased and excited. Everything seemed to be falling into place. When she’d first started enacting her plans, all she could think about was getting back to Earth and destroying Peter Lee. Now, things were different. She was really enjoying herself—being a fantasy world despot wasn’t half bad.
Still—she had unfinished business back on Earth. Maybe not as violent as what she was doing here, but just as brutal, in its own way. There were legislatures to compromise, corporations to empower, debt structures to foster…
The skirmishers had filtered into the gully and formed into lines. Good. She squeezed her thighs and urged Gucci forward, edging closer to the embankment.
“Krul’Dar!” she shouted. “We’re gonna burn you out, unless you order your troops to stand the fuck down! Think about their families!”
Krul’Dar walked out from the central tent, surveying her forces with a grim eye.
“O’er a year ago, you told me you weren’t Kor’Thank. Back then, I didn’t understand what you truly meant. Now I do.”
Holly scoffed. “Dude, what are you talking about? I’ve been anointed king by your holy pedo, Asslick Fuckfinger, or whatever the hell his name—”
Krul’Dar cut her off. “This is part of your becoming, Holly Dent. Wodec informed me that things will be much easier if you—”
Holly’s grip tightened on her reigns. “Wodec?” she sneered. “That cocksmear…bring him out—I’ll set his ass straight.” She was trembling with excitement. Finally. She hadn’t forgotten about High Mage Wodec.
Wodec emerged from a tent and halted next to Krul’Dar. “Holly Dent.” He parsed her face with a pair of snowy-browed eyes. “The aetheric authorities have instructed me to deliver this message: acknowledge who you are, and you stand a chance. Continue as you have been, and you will increase your suffering by orders of magnitude.”
Holly drew her sword and leveled it at Wodec. Muted sunlight glanced off its serrated black edge. “Surrender right the fuck now, or I’m gonna pike your bodies right through your turd cutters. So unless you want a giant spear shoved up your gray-haired asshole, I strongly suggest you stand the hell down.”
Wodec smiled. He said nothing.
Holly snorted in disbelief. “Y’all are some retarded-ass bitches.” She turned to Yinhalka. “Burn them out.”
Yinhalka called: “ARCHERS!”
Dozens of arrows—each one was tipped with a cotton head that had been soaked in pitch—drew back on their strings. Light-men (younger soldiers who had been tasked with setting fire to the arrows) scurried through the lines, holding torches up to the nocked missiles. One by one, they caught fire with a nerve-jangling WHOOMP. Any warrior with the least bit of experience would recognize that noise for what it was. It promised fire, helplessness, and the screams of friends as they burned to a crisp.
As far as Holly was concerned, it was music to her ears. For some reason, it reminded her of when she’d briefed her cheer squad on her plan—how they were going to drop Lizzy Prendergast right on her stupid fucking head.
The cheerleader lifted a hand, ready to slice it down and loose the first volley. The air became still. A galvanic tingle ran from her crotch to her neck.
Wodec called: “Wait!”
“HOLD!” she yelled, annoyed and thrilled at the same time. Her order ran through the ranks; calls of HOLD! resonated throughout the gully. She was eager to kill them, yes, but she was really enjoying this; she welcomed the excuse to draw it out.
“Something you wanna say, fuckface?” she asked.
Wodec walked forward, his totemic staff thumping the ground in time with his steps. When he’d placed a dozen yards between himself and the tents, he halted.
“Your salvation lies in abandoning your designs, Holly. ‘In sterquiliniis invenitur’—that’s a saying from your world, and in your case, it couldn’t be any more accurate.”
Holly scoffed. “I’m about to fuck you with an enormous spear, and you’re spewing quotes from a long-dead language. How about some begging, dickcheese? I might shorten your torture if you—”
Wodec grinned. “In sterquiliniis invenitur means ‘in filth it shall be found.’ Examine your ignorance—you will see the light by plumbing your darkness.”
“Enough psychobabble.” Holly’s arm sliced downward. “LOOSE!”
Fire-headed missiles leapt from their strings, marring the air with a quick-shrinking ring of flaming dots. Before they could hit, Wodec closed his eyes and muttered something sibilant. Blazing blue tendrils leapt from the bottom of his staff. They swirled outward in a luminous cyclone, tossing the flame-tipped arrows into an orange-dotted gale. Krul’Dar and Wodec’s shoulder-length hair whipped and lashed around their faces.
“WIZARDS!” Holly roared, shielding her face with a gauntleted forearm. “YOU TOLD ME THEY’D BE—”
And before she could say “powerless,” Wodec and Krul’Dar stiffened and froze. Their feet turned a rocky, dusty brown; the same shade as the scrub-marked ground. The transformation crawled up their legs, changing them from living men into earth-formed statues.
A second later, the wind died down.
Holly slid off her mount and leapt into the gully, landing amidst a line of skirmishers. Her right knee protested—a painful POP sounded from its cap— but she paid it no mind; she was too goddamn angry.
She shoulder-checked Wodec, breaking his likeness into a cloud of dried, fragmented sod. Before the first chunks could hit the ground, she spun around, drew her sword, and scored Krul’Dar’s statue with a dozen cuts. Due to the keenness of her blade, the Chronicler’s replica remained still and unmoving; she’d sliced through it so damn cleanly that it remained completely intact.
“FUCK YOU!” she screamed, soccer-kicking the statue between its legs. It burst apart in a dusty puff of roots and sediment. She stomped the decapitated head, obliterating its features, then sprinted into the nearest tent. She knew what she’d find, but she had to be certain.
Dim spears of light shot through netted-mesh windows, illuminating a legion of still, silent warriors. Krul’Dar’s rebels had been turned into statues, just like their leader.
Holly threw her arms out to either side, and let loose with a long, anguished howl.
The cheerleader darted from tent to tent, pulverizing each and every statue. Once she was done, she walked into the gully, covered in dust and crumbly grit. Her shadowed gaze was dark and foreboding. She climbed up a ladder and out of the chasm.
As she passed by Yinhalka, she hissed, “Burn it. All of it.”
“ARCHERS!” Yinhalka roared. “SET FIRE TO THESE WHORES’ DENS!”
After the light-men relit another volley, the archers loosed their arrows with a resonant twang. Black fumes poured from the tents, filling the gully with a giant cloud of acrid smoke.
Holly rode away on her raptor, backlit by the glow of rising flames. For the last two weeks, she’d fantasized about getting her hands on Krul’Dar and making his know-it-all cock into a grisly necklace. Instead, that shit-dicked wizard had pulled some eldritch bullshit right out of a goddamn Harry Potter movie.