Holly had been on Elithia for over three years. Most of that time, she’d been at war. She barely remembered what life had been like before she’d laid siege to Flaysac’s outposts.
Several months ago, she’d almost been successful; she’d mounted a super-aggressive push, spearheading the attack with an elite cadre of light-armored shock troops. Unfortunately for her, Flaysac had reached out to his peers: a fiercely independent handful of bandit-kings. They’d set aside their rivalries to defend the Ankaran Mountain Range. Control of the peaks were crucial to the Bandit Alliance (which is what these cock-snacks called themselves); they needed the mountains to secure their freedom of movement, and consequently their freedom of trade.
According to Holly’s advisors, Kor’Thank had left the bandits alone. Aside from the occasional chest-thumping rabble-rouser, the bandits were—by and large—a collection of well-intentioned merchants. Holly gathered that Kor’Thank actually admired them for it. Not openly, but through begrudging comments here and there.
Which was batshit fucking crazy, as far as she was concerned. He’d allowed independent operators to set up shop in his back fucking yard. Unacceptable. Unac-fucking-ceptable. You couldn’t trust people to police themselves. No—you had to make them fall in line. With force, if need be.
(And if she was being perfectly honest, it was way more fun when you did it with force. Therapeutic, in fact.)
Unfortunately, her brute-force approach wasn’t working. This was really pissing her off; it had worked when she stole toys and milk back in preschool, it had worked when she’d driven several of her enemies to alcohol and Ritalin back in eighth grade (one of them had become pregnant at the tender age of twelve years old—a rousing success in her vengeance-twisted mind) and it had worked when she’d climbed the hierarchy of Atherton’s cheer squad, finalizing her place as Head Bitch In Charge when she’d arranged for Lizzy Prendergast to get dropped on her head. Being a horrible cunt had been a gold-star stratagem; it had always, always worked.
Yinhalka rode up to Holly on her war-raptor, coated in fresh streaks of blood and mud. A small force of shock troopers had snuck past the guards and attempted to assault the royal tent. Yinhalka had spotted them during their approach, and made short work of them. Typically, she would have imprisoned or killed the complacent guardsmen, but the fighting was costly; they needed every arm that could swing a sword. As a substitute punishment, she’d sent them up to the front line.
“Yinhalka.” Holly turned toward the Indashi general. An ominous boom sounded from above. Rain began to sprinkle down. “Any news?”
The excitement in her face was unmistakable. “We’ve flanked them at seven different junctures. In the last four hours, we’ve taken twelve of their outposts. They’re no longer fighting as a unified force; they’re divided into scattered pockets.”
“What about reinforcements? Can they shore up their—”
Yinhalka shook her head. “We’ve established a series of heavy blocking elements. Any terrain that’s easily traversable has been loaded up with skirmishers and cavalry. Our archers have the high ground; if they try and infiltrate through alternate routes, we’ll easily be able to pick them off.”
“No reinforcements…which means we’ve cut off their logistics as well.”
“Correct.” Yinhalka grinned—the smile of a handyman who’d spent long hours on a stubborn project, and was seeing the end come into sight. “Two of our battalions have just arrived. Once we deploy them—”
“They’re receiving their orders as we speak. They’ll be joining the assault within the hour.”
Holly’s lower lip trembled. At last. At long last.
“Holly?” Yinhalka’s voice had turned tentative; she wasn’t sure what was going on.
“Nothing, it’s just…” Holly’s voice cracked. She cleared her throat to try and cover it up. When she regained her composure, she said, “It’s just been so long, and I’ve worked so hard to…never mind. Keep me posted.”
Yinhalka bowed her head. “As you wish.”