From a human perspective, time appears constant. But we only have to look past our blue-green mud ball to see that time is anything but; the gravity of stars (along with their solid offspring) distort causality in ways that confound and befuddle our order-bound minds. On a subjective level, the context of events seem to speed or 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 passage between dimensions had disrupted the causal linkage that bound existence into a smoothly functioning clockwork. Consequently, the 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 an enemy to unite your followers. 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, delivering riveting diatribes about the need to purify the body, mind, and spirit. She would weight her message 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 her vitriol was directed at non-Indashi.
It wouldn’t be long before that changed.
She intended to assault the Ankaran mountain range, and 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…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.” Krul’Dar followed dutifully behind.
She pushed the door-flap open and walked out into Ug Rung. Scores of Indashis fell to a knee. 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. Holly was a master at communicative dissonance—buttering people up by yapping about equality and nobility, but subliminally prepping them with etiquette and tradition which reinforced their deference. The command 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 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 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.
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. “Engineers have erected containment facilities at these locations.” His gnarled finger pointed at varying sites, pausing briefly at each one. “They are all staffed with a contingent of guardsmen. Half are in range of a quick-response force, should they require reinforcements. Sword Master Yin-Skythe has command of the facilities.”
Holly clasped her hands behind her back. “Impressive. Unfortunately, I bear news of an additional complication: my plans call for 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 periphery of her vision. “Fetch him.”
Krul’Dar stepped close, bringing his mouth to her ear so he could whisper an objection. “It has been demonstrated throughout history that any society which focuses on imprisonment will 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. Now away with you—you test my patience.” 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.”
“I will expand our holding facilities, my king.”
Holly smiled. My king Her mind drifted 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.