“I told you that our patrols are too small,” Shedakor snarled. “We’ve lost two more in as many days.”

Sshkkryyahr’s face remained unchanged. She let the lava elf vent.

“We need to double their strength, at least… and we need to increase their frequency, too.”

“For what end? What is your end game?” Sshkkryyahr asked.

Shedakor blinked at her, bordering on disbelief. Exasperation was clear in his voice. “To not needlessly slaughter my countrymen. To not lose control of our borders at the fringe. We are wasting the lives of soldiers by sending them out in such small numbers…”

“That is not an end game,” the drider said coolly.

Her consort growled something unintelligible.

“You are reacting,” Sshkkryyahr hissed. “Reacting to an opponents moves is not a winning strategy. It only bides time.”

Shedakor crossed his arms. “Morehl soldiers are dying—and we’re no closer to locating Iluchus or her community despite the number of lives lost. Every time our scouts believe they find a human caravan they slip away before we can mobilize an attack force!”

They are fast, if nothing else,” she stated admirably.

“And that’s why we must double the size of our patrols. It will help us mobilize larger numbers of forces faster.”

Sshkkryyahr stared down her nose at him. “Do you truly think you can exceed the speed of the amazoninan chariots in open flatlands?” She raised her eyebrows. The real question—the one behind her words—were clear. Are you a fool, Shedakor?

“We’ve got to do something,” he insisted.

“And we are. We are moving pawns. There is a master plan.” She looked down at the map that tracked the movements networked scouts and patrols. Slate stones with chalk symbols drawn across the smooth counters represented their forces.

Shedakor frowned at the layout. He eyed the slate tile from their most recent casualty and plucked it from the board. The gunslinger spat to wet it and then wiped the marker clean before dropping it back onto a pile of blanks.

As he stared at the map Sshkkryyahr reassured him, “There are parts of this plan which you do not yet understand.”

Laid to the side of the map, Shedakor noticed several stones he did not recognize. They had new symbols written on them. They waited to be placed.

“There are new pieces yet to be played?”

Sshkkryyahr bobbed her head. “In due time,” she hissed softly. “As soon as the timing is right… once Charbann finally returns.”