Ug Rung now looked spiky and forbidding. To complement her army’s appearance, Holly had done her best to approximate the Orcish architecture from the Lord of the Rings films. 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 people into a gang of tribal-minded thugs—she was ready to focus on the smaller stuff. Specifically, killing 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. Her lips curved up into a sadistic rictus. I’m gonna cut out your ass-pucker and make it into a leathery medallion.
Captain Megamore Bliktuk walked into her tent, interrupting her brutal reverie.
“Our forces have surrounded Krul’Dar’s rebels. They await your presence.”
“Awesome.” Holly lowered a black-steel helmet onto her head and buckled its argythe-hide chin-strap across her jaw. She rose from her chair and grabbed her sword.
“Let’s show these bitchfucks the meaning of justice.”
Holly walked outside and hopped onto her mount, a war-raptor whom she’d named “Gucci.”
None of her subjects had questioned the odd choice in name; she’d eliminated nearly every dissenter from her army. Accordingly, she’d let herself relax. She still employed Indashi mannerisms (when she was addressing a crowd, or presiding over a formal execution), but she felt way more comfortable when she was speaking like an Earthling. Many of her servants had even begun to imitate her bitch-queen dialect.
She pulled back on the reins, halting Gucci in front of two of her generals: Nyrock Hellscythe and Yinhalka Thorkblade. They dropped to a knee and placed their fists over their hearts.
“Rise,” Holly commanded. “Status?”
They both rose. “We have them cornered.” Yinhalka turned and nodded at a spare, rocky gully, a hundred yards behind her.
Krul’Dar and his rebels were inside the canyon, surrounded by thirty-foot cliffs, bunkered down in an encampment of lightly armored tents. Holly’s bowmen had posted along the edges of the chasm, hemming them in from all sides. A single, treacherous trail led into the center of the crevasse.
“Ladders,” 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 make their descent. Pass the word: blunt weapons only, except for the 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.”
As the generals started walking away, Holly reached out and grabbed Yinhalka by her shoulder plate. “Wait.”
Yinhalka turned back around, curious. The cheerleader jerked her chin at Nyrock, who had also turned around. “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. 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. Make sure he doesn’t fuck things up.”
“Yes, milord.” Yinhalka placed her fist over her heart and walked away.
Outwardly, Holly remained silent and impassive. Inwardly, she was pleased and excited Things were starting to fall into place. When she’d first arrived on this godforsaken shithole, all she could think about was getting back to Earth and destroying Peter. Now, things were different. 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, 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. She urged Gucci forward, edging closer to the embankment.
“Krul’Dar! 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. He surveyed 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 meant. Now I do, impostor.”
Holly scoffed. “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 has stated that things will be easier for you if y—”
“Wodec?” she sneered. “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 stood beside Krul’Dar. “Holly Dent.” He parsed her face with his 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 now, or I’m gonna pike your bodies right through your turd cutters. Unless you want a giant spear shoved up your gray-haired asshole, I strongly suggest you stand the fuck down.”
Wodec smiled and said nothing.
Holly snorted in disbelief. “Y’all are some retarded-ass bitches.” She turned to Yinhalka. “Burn ’em out.”
Yinhalka called: “ARCHERS!”
Dozens of arrows—each one tipped with pitch-soaked fiber—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 knew that sound; it promised fire, helplessness, and the screams of friends as they burned to a crisp. For Holly, however, 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 downward and loose the first volley. The air became still, and a galvanic tingle ran from her crotch to her neck.
Wodec called, “Wait!”
“HOLD!” she yelled, simultaneously annoyed and thrilled. Her order ran through the ranks; calls of HOLD! resonated throughout the gully. She was eager to kill them, but she was really enjoying this; she welcomed the excuse to draw it out.
“Something you wanna say, fuckface?”
Wodec strode forward a dozen yards, his totemic staff thumping the ground.
“Your salvation lies in abandoning your designs, Holly. ‘In sterquiliniis invenitur’—that’s a saying from your world. In your case, it couldn’t be any more accurate.”
Holly’s lip curled with disdain. “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 come to the light by plumbing your darkness.”
“Enough psychobabble.” Her arm sliced downward. “LOOSE!”
Fire-headed missiles leapt from their strings, marring the air with a quick-shrinking ring of flaming dots. Before they struck, Wodec closed his eyes and muttered something sibilant. Blue tendrils leapt from the bottom of his staff and 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 pushed it from her mind; she was too goddamn angry.
She shoulder-checked Wodec, breaking his likeness into a cloud of dried, fragmented sod. Before the first chunks 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 head, obliterating its features, then sprinted into the nearest tent. She knew what she’d find, but she had to be sure.
Dim spears of light shot through netted-mesh windows, illuminating a legion of still, silent warriors. Every rebel had become a statue.
Holly threw her arms out to either side, and let loose with a long, anguished howl.
The cheerleader darted from tent to tent, pulverizing statue after statue. Once she was done, she tromped into the gully, covered in dust and crumbly grit, her shadowed gaze 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!”
The light-men relit another volley, and arrows loosed 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 making Krul’Dar’s cock into a grisly necklace. Instead, that shit-dicked wizard had pulled some eldritch bullshit right out of Harry goddamn Potter.