The army was pouring eastward, high-stepping soldiers in lock step, the thunderous hooves of the cavalry kicking up dust. Eastward, through the lush, rolling hills of Southern Ohio into the ear-popping elevation changes of the Appalachians. Eastward, where the Purple Hoard awaited.
A column broke off due north to finish off the Lakesmen. Miles of barren field, abandoned farmhouses with sun-bleached facades. Their savoir had proved a false one, receded into the lake as quickly as he had appeared.
To the northeast streamed the reserves. The Steel Empire was under his heel, but one could never be too careful. The mighty river sat tucked under hills dotted crimson and gold by the chill. The season was changing, and still they marched on.
The coach poured over his fabled map, first nudging on his figurines then growing more animated. He leaned over the board, chest pressed against the cool wood. With both hands he swept his ranks toward their destinations.
“Now. We must strike now,” he growled to the bare walls. “This land is ours for the taking—all of it.” One by one, the cities were sacked. AJ the Conqueror stood in triumph atop the heap.
“Onward, onward, no time to rest,” the coach commanded. He had learned that painful lesson once—never again. Onward they pushed, a smile spreading across his face. By the time his armies reached the Maryland border, the expression, the contortion, looked manic.
He had never felt more in control, felt it coursing through his veins. The division was his for the taking.
He picked up three emblems, each signifying one of his major enemies, each a reminder of past failures and battles lost. He closed his palm tightly, felt the groaning of the wood. He could feel them beginning to crack, felt dust pouring through the gaps of his fingers.
His grip continued to tighten.
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