Phineas and Eliza broke the water's surface, gasping for air. The weight of the princess's armor threatened to pull them back down again, but the kelpie soon arrived to assist. With it's help, the caster and warlord managed to pull themselves out of the dungeon that was now overflowing with water.
On his hands and knees, Phineas took a moment to spit out a mouthful of dirty river brine before standing up and offering a hand to Eliza. All enemy units in the garrison were now croaked or captured. The city had fallen. They had won.
Or at least, they had not lost. The Carnymancer was having trouble feeling victorious with all they had to sacrifice to get to this point. After retrieving his hat from where it floated on the water, he looked over to where Chip lay slumped against the wall on the wet floor. His arms and legs lay limp, but the man still managed a broken smile. "We d-did it," Chip said with some effort. Phineas couldn't help but smile back, even if only weakly.
There was a span where nobody spoke and everyone soaked in the moment. But there were still things to be done and Eliza eventually broke the silence. "Seymour, go tell the battle bear to stop its pouring and go await new orders in the courtyard. Kelpie, topiary, go to the courtyard too. Chu, find a place for the prisoner and make sure he remains secured."
"Wait," Phineas interrupted. He had left his sword underwater, but he grabbed a loose dagger from the training room floor as he approached the captured Signamancer. Pinning the caster to the wall and pointing the dagger at his throat, he asked, "Tell me truthfully, are there any Healomancy scrolls in Ponchovilla?"
The man stayed as far from the dagger point as possible and struggled to shake his head. "No. None that I am aware of." Phineas touched the dagger point to his skin. "Queen Chevron didn't like to spend shmuckers on scrolls that her own casters couldn't make. Thought she might get cheated."
"If I find out you are a liar, I swear I will set your pants on fire," Phineas warned. "To withhold this information would be a grave mistake."
"There are no mistakes. Only happy accidents," Lord Ross said like a true Hippiemancer. "But I assure you, I have not caused a happy accident in my pants."
Phineas studied his face for a while, but soon gave up and handed the caster back to Duke Chu. "Why help us so willingly, if what you say is indeed the truth? We just conquered your side. All field units now disbanded and all Ponchovillan cities rendered neutral."
Lord Ross shrugged. "My side was destroyed by Ponchovilla first, when they claimed this capital site. Queen Chevron broke off from the kingdom of Dinoco when she conquered this city, and I was just one of her prizes. In fact, after capture I was planning on turning to the side of my conquerer's conquerers, once they had a side to turn to."
Phineas raised an eyebrow in disbelief, but the claim would be easy enough to test. "Hold him here, please," Phineas requested. Chu grunted in response and held the Signamancer tightly.
Turning to head back over to Chip, he was surprised to see Eliza kneeling down on the wet floor talking to him. They were speaking quietly so Phineas couldn't hear what was being said, but Eliza looked upset. As he approached, Eliza stood up and looked at Phineas. Her eyes were teared up but all she said was, "Commander Chip would like to speak with you." Then she turned away and marched hurriedly out of the room.
Phineas watched her leave before kneeling down next to Chip himself. The caster said nothing as he waited for Chip to speak his mind.
"Phineas," Chip said, struggling with the word. The Carnymancer was surprised his name, and not his title, had been used to address him.
"Yes Commander Chip?"
"I-" Chip coughed a couple times involuntarily. "I n-never liked you." Phineas chuckled lightly even as Chip tried not to do the same. "Still don't, in f-fact. But you n-need to do me a favor."
Phineas was now confused. "What is it?"
"I need you to w-watch after Aunt Eliza w-when she becomes queen."
Phineas's jaw dropped before he managed a response. "What, why? Claim the city and you can be king! Then I'll go to the Magic Kingdom and get a Healomancy scroll for you."
"N-no. The dungeon is full of w-water. The city must be upgraded first." It was true, of course. At best it would be terribly risky to try navigating the dungeon halls while they were still flooded. They would need to upgrade or wait a turn before the water would disappear. And if they waited, Chip would croak from his incapacitation.
"Ok, so you claim the city, upgrade, then use what is left to buy Healomancy. It would be cheaper than promoting Eliza to heir." Phineas was trying hard not to let his emotions get the better of him.
"It is also less certain. I want to be p-positive our side survives the turn. After what we went through, I d-don't want to leave our fate up to the generosity of H-healomancers." Chip gave the Carnymancer a determined stare. "My decision is f-final."
Phineas sighed. He now understood why Eliza had been so upset. "Alright, then answer me this. Why have you not yet claimed this site?"
Chip grinned even as he lay prone. "Because, Carnymancer, first we need to think of a new name."
* * *
Twelve turns later, Phineas walked out onto the tower top of his new capital, Mizmaze. The city was truly a sight to behold.
After the city had been claimed and their new side established, the casters were ordered to use Polly's Moneymancy scroll to help rebuild the city, using all remaining funds available. Seymour tried to convince Phineas to cast it, but the Carnymancer refused. The one who cast from the scroll would be the one to set the city's design. He had told Seymour, "This is to be our home now. The place we must defend with our lives. You must make it the more defendable than any place you have ever seen so that nobody else ever ends up like King Alec, King Chip, or most of all, Polly."
Looking out over the city, Phineas saw that Seymour had done great work. Inspired by their side's name, Seymour had made the courtyard into a large labyrinth of hedges. An invading army would have a difficult time navigating it, especially if they encountered the new topiaries hidden within. The courtyard walls themselves were towering stone structures, covered almost entirely in vines.
Beyond the courtyard walls was mostly water, like before, but now the water itself had an outer wall around it with only a single entrance. Sure, the wall was little more than a mound of dirt with stick barriers and little trees growing from it, but it would stop enemy ships from sailing directly to the garrison. The Signamancer, who had lived up to his word, called them "Happy little trees" and claimed they were a sign that their side would remain safe until it had time to mature.
The tower wasn't much to look at. Kind of boxy and short. But every window had a large flower box next to it where Seymour could plant defensive units, and the large windmill would help to confuse enemy fliers. The dungeon was basically the same as before, other than the fact it now had a room for growing mushrooms. That and there were drainage holes so it couldn't be flooded as it had once been.
Ever since the fall of Ponchovilla, after Queen Eliza reluctantly came to power, she was busy finding ways to increase their forces. She had Seymour creating his units every turn until his juice was depleted, and he gladly complied. Phineas himself was sent out into the field with Chief Warlord Duke Chu Fuman in order to search for units to tame. Just this turn they had returned with a bevy of schwans.
Lord Ross had been sent out with a stack of topiaries and freshly popped infantry to go claim Donegal. The Red Baron was returning the conquered city to them without contest. He offered to give them Stashburns too, but Queen Eliza declined, saying it was a gift for all Pizzazzerazz had done for them. Phineas questioned the decision, but Eliza assured him that the choice was more for political reasons rather than combative strategy.
They recently received word that General Millie of Pillsbourg managed to take two Ponchovillan cities near their kingdom, and that Overlord Archi of Pelago recaptured one of his island cities to the north. King Rex of Dinoco knew the sort of person his daughter had been and didn't condone her methods, but did not want to see her go just the same. He was not happy that his daughter had been croaked, but seemed content to leave their budding side to itself for the time being. He claimed none of Ponchovilla's former city sites.
Mizmaze was gearing up to make their own expansions as well. Now that they had two cities popping units, and two casters contributing units, they would soon have enough forces to defend their capital. As soon as that happened, they would make plans to take whichever cities were nearby, starting with Junco. The city they had passed by on their way to Ponchovilla. They were still a small side, and would be for quite some time, but they were growing fast.
Phineas took in a deep breath of the evening air as he contemplated these thoughts atop the tower. Then, satisfied, he turned and headed down the stairwell. Their turn was over, the sun set, and today's chapter was at its end.