Phineas would have smirked at the queen's naïvety, but the situation was still dire. Traz's transient army was not coming to offer negotiations for his return. They had already given him up for croaked. No, they were coming for the final showdown.
"You two," Queen Chevron addressed the two warlords who were still on top of the tower. "One of you go lead half the archers out to the gatehouse walls. Don't attack until given the signal. The other, escort me to one of the lower tiers. There we will await parlay among the rest of the archers. Casters, keep an eye on the prisoners here and don't engage unless the enemy does first. And if they do, show no mercy." With that the queen lead the way down the tower stairs and Phineas and Bub were left in the company of Ponchovilla's Findamancer and Shockmancer.
"What do we do now?" Phineas asked Bub.
"Watch and wait, I suppose. And croak these two if you get the chance."
"Shut up," the Shockmancer said flatly. She was gorgeous but in an untouchable sort of way. "Sit quietly or I'll make you be quiet." She held up a fist. "Incapacitation isn't fun, I'm told. Just relax and watch as the last of your side evaporates before you."
Phineas glared at her but complied. Bub seemed more amused than anything, but he held his tongue as well. It wasn't long before the mothras in the distance carried their riders to the hex boundary, just outside the city, each followed by an imp. At this distance Phineas couldn't even make out the commanders' faces, but he still recognized the forms of Wally, McFeely, and Princess Eliza. They looked formidable in their own right, but there is no way they could hope to win here. Not with all of Ponchovilla's air defenses. They would almost have better luck trying to fight their way in on the ground.
"Why do they hover so?" Whitebeard mused. "Why do they not signal for parlay?"
"They're probably afraid," Lady Smith surmised. "Can you blame them? As soon as they enter the city they are as good as gone and they know it."
This time Phineas did
smirk at their naïvety. Sure, the casters were probably right, but they didn't know the whole picture. And that picture was marching out of the bog and into view at this very moment.
"What on Erf!" the look on the casters' faces was priceless. A stack of topiaries marched out of the bog, lead by Seymour Bouté the Florist. And next to it was a small battalion of cloth golems lead by Duke Chu Fuman. They both directed their forces immediately toward Ponchovilla's main gate. At the same time Eliza signaled for her forces to engage the units on the gatehouse wall. Somewhere down below, on one of the lower tiers of the tower, Phineas heard the queen shriek with rage.
"This should not be possible," Whitebeard tried to reassure himself. "A barbarian should not be able to support this many units. Upkeep must be paid. Even if your heir was level 20 he could not hope to sustain this number."
"Sustain? No." Phineas wasn't sure he should speak up, but at least he would be drawing the casters' attention away from the battle for a moment. "Commander Chip could never sustain this number."
"Then why are there so many units knocking at our gate?" Lady Smith asked.
"Because their upkeep isn't being paid by Commander Chip. Not most of them anyway." Phineas smiled at the confused look on their faces. "When we left Donegal, every commander in our column had a full purse, and nobody spent a single shmucker before we became barbarians. And as barbarians, a commander pays the upkeep of all units in his or her stack. So instead of having Chip pay for everyone's upkeep, we split the cost."
Whitebeard seemed to accept that explanation, but still wasn't satisfied. "Even so, how do you expect to support all the units we see?"
"We don't, Pale-'stache," Bub interrupted. "Weren't you listening? We spent it all!"
Phineas nodded. Their side would not last another turn. But still, by draining the purses of one ruler, five warlords, and three casters, they were able to give a surprising number of units one more turn of existence. They had to disband their dolls and scarecrows, and the hermits opted not to join them in this fight, but very few other units had needed to be sacrificed.
"So..." the Shockmancer seemed to be forming a thought. "What you are saying is that since this is your side's last turn to exist, even as barbarians, this isn't an attempt to defeat us or fall back. It is a campaign to defeat us or croak trying?" Phineas had said too much after all. "The queen should know this. Lord Whitebeard, watch them until I return."
Lady Smith started toward the tower steps, but to Phineas's surprise, Bub hopped in front of her, arms and legs still bound by rope. "I'm afraid I can't let you do that."
"Out of my way prisoner. Or I'll cook you like an overdone omelette." She held up a fist to threaten him, but Bub didn't move. "Fine. The queen was going to croak you anyway. Taranee!" At the invocation of her spell, the Shockmancer's fist burst into flame and she punched Bub in the side of the face. He toppled over, enveloped in tongues of fire.
Lady Smith turned her gaze toward Phineas. "You going to try and stop me too, Carnymancer?"
He stared in her direction, but his focus was not on her face. It was on the figure rising from the floor behind her.
"Anna, behind you!" Whitebeard shouted. She turned around but it was too late. Bub snapped the now-charcoal ropes around his wrists and clasped his hands over her ears. White lightning arced between his fingertips, the Shockmancer cried out in agony, then slumped to the floor.
"Immunity to Shockmancy