From a human perspective, time appears constant. But we only have to look beyond our blue-green mud ball to see it is anything but; the gravity of stars (along with their solid offspring) distort causality in ways that confound and befuddle our order-bound minds. Not only that, but the context of events seems to speed or slow the pace of our lives, depending on how much pain or pleasure we happen to experience. Time feels different to the bored and enthused, the bedeviled and blessed.
Holly didn’t know it, but her interdimensional passage had disrupted the causal links that bound existence into a smoothly functioning clockwork. Consequently, time on Elithia had greatly accelerated relative to Earth. In the two weeks that Kor’thank had lived as Kora, Holly had spent two months as a barbarian king.
During her tenure, she’d tripled taxes, ramped up training, and instituted the beginnings of a slave economy. This was all basic stuff she’d learned from cheerleading—homogenize followers, promote conformity, and designate an enemy to unite your subjects. Appeal to the group’s 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, weighing her speeches with soft-spoken warnings about the weaklings in their midst—how they would become increasingly jealous, and eventually sabotage the virtuous few. At this point, all of her vitriol was directed at non-Indashi.
It wouldn’t be long before that changed.
She didn’t have time to build 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 get yourself a gun and shoot back.) No, in Holly’s mind the fastest, most efficient way forward was to stoke the fires of hate and elitism. She needed a posse of hardcore minions, 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. “There are those among us who hold us back. They keep us from fulfilling our true potential.”
The Chronicler cocked his head. “Whom do you speak of, my king?”
Holly strode toward the entryway. “Attend me.” Krul’Dar followed dutifully behind.
She pushed aside the door-flap and walked out into Ug Rung. Scores of Indashis fell to a knee. All activity ground to a halt as a wave of subservience rippled outward.
“Rise,” she boomed.
The barbarians stood and resumed their duties. This was calculated. The command rise was an implicit reminder that the Indashi were on an upward trajectory, and that Holly 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 hint of a smile tugged at her lips.
She secretly hoped he’d put up a fight.
She made her way into Volcasian Firehand’s war-yurt. As she entered, the Captain of the Guard looked up from an intricately crafted terrain map: the Arcana Strategica. Its enchanted components could interact with a series of user-intuitive gestures. The troops, waterways, and landscape were all rendered in painstaking detail, and the weather was reflected in real-time. Right now the moon was barely visible—a fist-sized orb shrouded in fog, hovering at roughly shoulder level.
Volcasian lowered to a knee and placed his fist atop his heart. Everyone in the yurt did the same.
“Rise,” Holly intoned. (It never got old.) “What have you arrayed upon the Strategica, Volcasian?”
The weathered Captain pushed to his feet. “We have erected prisons at these locations,” his gnarled finger pointed at varying sites, pausing briefly at each one, “all staffed with a contingent of guardsmen. Half are in range of a quick-response troop, should they require reinforcements. I have charged Sword Master Yin-Skythe with overarching command of the prison collective.”
Holly folded her hands behind her back. “Impressive. Unfortunately, I bear news of an additional complication: my plans call for ten times the capacity I see before me.”
“I would need a Writ of Construction and Allotment. Signed by you and the Chief Justicer.”
Holly turned slightly to the side, catching Krul’Dar in the periphery of her vision. “Fetch him.”
Krul’Dar stepped close, bringing his mouth to her ear so he could whisper an objection. “My liege—according to history, any society with a focus on imprisonment shall make an enemy of its own populace. 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 you should update them. Or maybe I should burn them. Away with you.” Holly waved a dismissive hand.
Krul’Dar placed his fist atop his heart and slipped out of the tent.
She turned back to Volcasian. “A good start.” Her eyes flicked down to the Strategica. “But not good enough.”
“When the Writ is signed, I will expand the holding capacity, my king.”
“Very well.” Inwardly, Holly smiled. My king.
Her mind drifted to one of her favorite songs—a 90s classic from the Office Space soundtrack:
Damn it feels good to be a gangster.