Chapter 5:

His second turn, Dubbel had waited all day.


In the morning he had gone to the Throne Room with Efex to request permission for his reward, which was denied out of hand.

However, once Efex had explained to the Queen about his promise to the troops and why it needed to be fulfilled, Dubbel had been ordered to retreat to the Antechamber. He was to wait there for summons and told food would be brought up for him. In moments, Rada was rushing past him, no doubt summoned by direct order. Around lunch time, a Courtier had walked out of the Throne Room, nodded curtly, and continued on his way, only to return a couple minutes later with Joe in tow. Just like Efex had said.


Joe stopped and flashed a grin, never taking his eyes off the door in front of him. “Well, if she’s callin’ for me it ain’t goin’ too bad.” The idea was that the Queen would only call for Joe if she had agreed they could go and was now negotiating terms.


At the end of the turn, Dubbel had been summoned into the Throne Room and informed that the outing would take place on his fifth turn. His mother had told him that Efex spoke very highly of his initial abilities and that she would now only have high expectations for him. “Punishment will be swift if there is any harm to the side,” she concluded sternly.


“The side,” smiled Dubbel, “will have nothing to punish, dear mother.” He swept a bow as he finished because he felt a need to be much more formal with his Queen than Efex was.




Dubbel’s third turn was spent in the library studying every book Efex threw at him, from “Among the Dunes: Biography of Herbert Frank” to “Zealous Ruingoers Beware!” by Louisiana Joan. He packed in terrain hazards, likely weather effects, information on exploring and finding items in ruins, and a list of ferals encountered on the island during the reign of Queen Kristin. He wanted to be as capable as possible, and once he had read about the devious combat used by ferals in desert hexes he was glad he had prepared.


Efex had insisted he study if he was going to go on this outing. Most of the soldiers got to fight ferals from behind the walls for several turns before being sent off to fight a more dangerous battle. It turns out Dubbel had misread the sands beyond the city wall. They were not boring and static, but ever-changing and treacherous.


But a journey to two hexes away was still not something to fear. Dubbel studied diligently, because he desperately wanted nothing to go wrong, but he also felt they were taking an excess of precautions.


Not that he was complaining.




Turn number four was very painful for Dubbel. Joe had set one of the Camelots the task of training Dubbel with the tribes reinforced bamboo javelins. Because it was essentially just a quarterstaff, Dubbel picked up its simple usage easily enough, but he would have to quickly make peace with croaking someone if he wanted to use either of the viciously pointed ends. The Camelot training him taught him a great deal and he learned to trust his mentor’s words. Gawain knew how to fight, and he was an expert on the Motion of the body, which is why he was both training the young prince and coming on the expedition the next day.




The Prince had high hopes for his fifth turn.


At dawn others started to show up at the gate, and found that Dubbel was waiting. The Dittomancer had been so excited he never asked what units they had been approved to take, but he was thrilled about what he saw.


Efex was a Level 7 Chief Warlord, and with Joe at Level 5 and Bodkin Loxley at Level 2, they were very well covered for a feral hunt. The group that Efex had requested consisted of four Camelots, including Gawain, wearing their black leather jackets and dark glasses and riding on Rocking Horses. Both the Mounts and the Knights on them were able to benefit if Joe started to Rock Out.

On top of that, Joe had used his leverage and his silver tongue to secure ten more units. There were four first level and two second level stabbers, all of whom wielded spears, accompanied by four second level archers, selected by Loxley as his personal stack for the turn.


The group had a simple breakfast of fruit and breaded fish which Joe had been thoughtful enough to have prepared, then they walked out the gate and into Dubbel’s first big adventure.





Chapter 6:

The expedition had a slow morning.


The Knights had given up their mounts immediately to Dubbel, Efex, Loxley, and Joe. They had started out leading the Rocking Horses, but before long Dubbel was back on the sand following Gawain around as the Camelot collected some food from the first hex they entered. Efex slowed the group to wait for them as Gawain explained which cactus plants held good water, or which rocks may have a Scorepion behind them.


They found no ferals of any kind in the first hex, so they stayed there for some lessons. Efex was taking this trip very seriously. He evidently believed that it was his job as the oldest to teach Dubbel how to survive, but he had actually taught Dubbel nothing himself. It was like he was trying to build distance. In fact Efex had only ever taught Dubbel one thing.


He had taught him how to talk to Mother.


But all knowledge that did not pertain to the family came from proxies. The young caster had instead read books, trained with Gawain, and learned some theory from Rada. Dubbel did not know what to make of this line of thought, but he resolved to discuss it later. After all, they had to camp at the ruins for a couple nights in order to turn up all the treasure the site would offer. At any rate, the rest of the group, more suited to being on the move and doing something, was beginning to get twitchy. The comforting rhythm of the Rocking Horses’ hooves (somehow audible, and sometimes loud, even on the dunes) was deteriorating into a clatter as they became restless.


Dubbel ended the lesson in this hex. He did not want to become an object of resentment with these troops. They were making this trip for him, so he would do his best to make it as fruitful and stress-free as possible.


They moved into the next hex, which had the city on their left and the ruins on their right. There was another desert hex if they followed the city wall, and that was exactly the plan. The desert was harsh on move, but every unit had the move to make this side trip and get into the ruins. Some of the pikers, and Dubbel himself, would just make it that far, but they resolved to do it this way to eliminate surprises. Dubbel suspected that Efex was also doing this simply because there was nothing better to do with the rest of the day.


This hex looked just as uneventful as the last, and so Efex sent Dubbel off with a javelin to employ what Gawain had taught him. He sent Loxley and his archers along in the stack, just to be safe but there was nothing to fear. Dubbel returned to the group just as they reached the far desert hex and revealed his spoils. He had a knapsack full of a fruits and roots, and he had even managed to spear a rabbit, though he never would have seen it in time if Loxley had not said something.


Gawain was proud of his protege and he grinned, lifting up his dark glasses to survey the take. “Very cool of you Prince. The Chief here supplied breakfast, so you brought in lunch.” He winked, then looked up at Efex on his mount. “Lettin’ your youngers put you to shame, Chief.” Efex merely rolled his eyes and stuck out his tongue. The whole group laughed. Somehow Efex had built a rapport with his followers in which being good at your job was expected, but not under circumstances of competition. Dubbel knew he had gathered the materials without thought of how they were used, but apparently everyone else knew it too.


It was not actually lunchtime, but the group was munching on cactus fruits as they crossed into the third desert hex, and this time everyone was going to spread out and gather a couple things. This hex would be covered quickly and they would head back and into the ruins. Dubbel was watching everyone hustle around, and they looked twice as fidgety as before. Perhaps they had not been impatient with his training session, but edgy for the advent of battle. Indeed, as he looked around, the first level soldiers were checking their weapons and the higher-ups were beginning to get excited as well.


Dubbel had wandered away from Loxley and toward a clump of spindly cactus plants. As he approached them and wandered around the dense group he heard an unfamiliar sequence of clicks. In the shadow of the cacti, which was just as solid as that of a large rock, was a Scorepion. It was the size of a small mount, with twenty armored legs and a vicious tail hovering at head level. According to his books, that sting could incapacitate at a touch, almost without fail. Scorepions did not eat a lot at a time, but they liked their meat fresh.


Dubbel took a slow step backwards, and when the creature moved, the prince threw his javelin, knowing he would not be able to hit the thing in any meaningful way. Afterwards, he took off around the clump yelling for Loxley. Everyone else was most of the way across the hex and only Loxley’s archers would be able to engage in time. The warlord rallied his troops and they fired a volley over Dubbel and onto the bunch of cacti, which the Scorepion was coming over, legs keeping the spines from harming it.

Dubbel looked over his shoulder and subsequently went sprawling in the sand.


Loxley’s volley had been true, but the arrows were bouncing off the enemy’s armored body. The colossal black bug was bearing down on Dubbel and he noticed he had actually managed to score a minor hit on one of its front legs.


Well that was nice. He had hit something right before losing the Life he decided was worth fighting for.


The trembling Dittomancer turned around and scrambled as quick as he could toward the archers, vaguely aware that Joe and his Knights were just now turning the Rocking Horses to come his way. It seemed like it had been so long already, but the archers were just readying their second volley. It was like time had Dittoed its self just for him. Dubbel watched them aim low, and knew the Scorepion must be nearly on him. Just as Loxley ordered the volley, Dubbel dove into the dirt, yelling as he went.


The last thing the archers heard was, “Control See!” yelled as loud as Dubbel could. Their arrows left the strings and went straight into the Scorepion, shattering it’s armor, and ending it’s Life. The beast’s momentum carried it forward onto Dubbel and he was immediately incapacitated. He flailed wildly because he had not seen the effects of the volley, and thus he was completely panicked when the archers sprinted up to see if he had croaked.


They dragged the Scorepion off of him and helped him up, just as the Knights arrived. Dubbel was a little freaked out, but he insisted on only taking Gawain when he went to retrieve his weapon.

He felt like the rest of the group was laughing at him, but Gawain assured him that was not the case. They had been laughing, but it was not at his expense. Dubbel did not believe him, but Gawain just held up his hands and concluded, “Hey, be cool Dubbel D. Just talk about it with Cool Joe while we walk.”


Dubbel was seething, but he rode up next to Joe while they headed for the ruins.


“Joe, while we walk I got a question about what just happened.” Joe just turned his head a bit and nodded, so Dubbel continued, “How much of a fool does everyone think I am? I know the Knights were laughing as I got my weapon. I mean, Efex won’t let me go off alone ever again, will he?”


Joe burst out laughing, and suddenly Dubbel had exactly what he did not want. Everyone was aware of the conversation, and on top of that they were near the hex boundary, so the group was consolidating and everyone could hear.


“Well Prince, ya asked that real cool, ‘specially considering how freaked to Hellabad you really are. But I think you mistook us. Yeah, it was funny to see a guy who just won his first fight stuck under his enemy. Yeah, you freaked out good after and even you will laugh when you remember it later. But here’s the thing Dubbel D. You lived, and everything was only funny cuzza that. You made the right choices, and it was still funny, or you would be dead. If you hadn’t dove at the end, you mighta been hit. And if you hadn’t cast, Loxley’s men never woulda broke that armor. You boosted his Leadership just in time. But furthermore, you could have Dittoed the wrong thing, and you didn’t. Why not double the number of shots and hope for a crit?”


Dubbel looked around and saw all eyes were on him. He did not know what to say. He had just acted. “I dunno Joe! I’m not a warlord or anything... I guess I just figured they didn’t need more chances to hit. They all hit the first time, just not hard enough.”


Loxley brought his mount over and patted Dubbel on the shoulder. “Listen guy, if you hadn’t found that thing one of my men would have, and with no boost, we might have lost someone. He coulda hit one of us with that tail and carried them off in his claws. And you made the right call. The Arrow Cap here gives my led units a bonus to their chance to hit, but not to the effect of those hits.” He winked at Joe, “Course I only get to wear it when your mom won’t find out. Point is, you were cool even though you thought you failed.”


Dubbel was constantly amazed by this group. Rada had led him to believe he would get no respect, and here he was, being treated like any useful member of the group. They respected what he did right and understood that it could easily have been one of them in the same position.

Efex broke up the happy moment, but not until Dubbel had seen him smiling broadly. “Alright, that was a clean victory, with no hits taken on our side, but there will probably be heavies in here so let’s set up with Knights on the horses and stacked with Joe. I will stack with the first level stabbers, and Loxley and his archers will stack with Dubbel and the remaining stabbers.”


They set up and went through the boundary.





Chapter 7:

Dubbel felt his move drop to zero at the same time he was able to clearly see what the ruins looked like. It looked like a perfect replica of the Oasis had been destroyed by weather and thousands of turns. There was even a pond in the middle, and a circle of palms that looked to be growing out of control, but the dunes had taken back many of the building foundations.


And then there were the Dune Bugs that crawled all over it. They were long worms with a giant opening in one end that was used to consume whatever they wanted. They kept diving under the dunes and surfacing a short distance away, sometimes before their tail had even vanished. Dubbel could not quite tell, but it looked like there were at least five of the creatures, and a few small men covered in fabric suits.


Joe had said that they might encounter Freemen, a Natural Ally that sometimes popped in deserts, and that having the Camelites along made it a sure bet they would attack on sight. Indeed, it was almost the same moment they entered the hex that two of the men ran toward the Dune Bugs and each jumped onto one. Efex began bellowing orders.


“We weren’t expecting leadership with our heavies boys. Restack! Joe stack with Knights and all the stabbers. Screen for us til I take out leadership! Loxley! Hit the Freemen not approaching. Can’t risk them hitting us with those stone things!” He turned to Dubbel, smiling in anticipation. “You said Loxley needs a new bonus since you only cast for one engagement. Cast again, then save your Juice to Ditto my shots. I am aiming for the two that are mounted.”


Dubbel muttered “Control See” one more time, and Loxley nodded at him. He then turned back as Efex landed his first arrow firmly at the feet of the first mounted Freeman, who was on the third Dune Bug in the row. The Camelots braced for the worms, and Loxley’s group fired a volley that found one of the Freemen on the battles outskirts, but the other three launched bolos of stone and vine at the troops. Dubbel was too focused on Efex to see the consequences of those weapons.


When next Efex fired, the Dune Bugs had fallen into a rhythm of approach that was predictable, and were close enough it would be the last shot before melee was joined. Dubbel figured his brother could hit, but he let the shot go because he wanted to save his Juice for the guy that looked like a Chief, who was next in line. The enemy ran into the Knights, who held fast and were bestowing many hits on the leading Dune Bug. At this point Dubbel noticed that one of the Stabbers had been brought down by the bolos, but he returned his focus to Efex just in time to see the shot he had been saving his Juice for.




As the arrow flew, it suddenly had a second arrow following it. The first arrow threw the leading Freeman on his back, and he tumbled off his Dune Bug. The second arrow barely missed him as he dropped, and instead continued on to bury its point in the shoulder of the Chief. Dubbel cheered out loud momentarily before he saw that the front Dune Bug had managed to pull the Rocking Horse out from under one of the Knights. On the other hand, apparently Loxley’s men had made short work of the rest of the throwers.


As the leading worm rolled onto its side, croaked, the Knights redirected toward the second and Loxley refocused his men on the now riderless third, which was pulling up and about to engage the Knights and divide their attention. Dubbel had been distracted, and he did not see Efex aim, but he saw his arrow soar high as the Chief’s worm suddenly dove, taking it’s rider with it. It was a unique trick of Dune Bugs and the tunnel capable Freemen.


Efex kept his eyes peeled for the surfacing enemy, and with no other targets available, Dubbel decided to help the Knights. He did not have the Juice to Ditto Joe’s Leadership, so instead he Dittoed Loxley’s volley, “LaserJet!” and with that the third worm went down, at the same time as the one the Knights were targeting. Apparently Dubbel had miscounted, because there were two Dune Bugs yet to come, in addition to the one that was still hiding under the surface.


He had the juice to Ditto one more arrow.


There was no evidence that there had ever been a fourth Rocking Horse, but the rider had been mostly unharmed. Mercifully he had taken only a couple hits and was now standing beside the four remaining Open Range Stabbers ready to face the next wave. Both worms hit the line at once, and immediately a Knight was pulled off the back of his mount. He disappeared down the throat of the worm and his Rocking Horse reared up to kick at the hide of the enemy. The other Dune Bug had eliminated another first level Stabber, and both of them seemed to be faring better in general than the first wave.


Dubbel just managed to notice that Efex was spinning around, and he followed his line of sight. The Chief was emerging behind the group, and Efex was already loosing his first arrow, which lodged inside the mouth of the giant worm. Dubbel focused and waited, and as Efex fired his next shot, Dubbel started to cast.


“Mim..” He noticed too late that the shot was going to miss and the worm was going to plunge down and remove his brother from the field. He had already started and if he did not finish, the Juice would be lost anyway, but he was scared. It cost him a second before he was barely able to mutter resignedly, “-eo.”


The Dune Bug dropped its head right after Efex’s second arrow went into the mouth uselessly, and Efex was not going to be able to dive aside in time. Suddenly the enemy had no Leadership bonus and Efex took a lot fewer hits than he was capable of sustaining, even though he was picked up in the creature’s mouth.

Dubbel’s arrow had been a moment behind Efex’s, and so as the Dune Bug dove, it put its rider’s head directly in that path. Dubbel watched horrified as his brother was held by the monster.


He had no idea what was going on behind him, but Joe’s voice was ringing out in time with the Rocking Horses’ hooves. “The heat is hot and the ground is dry, but the air is full of sound...”

All he knew was that he had to do something. His brother had had so much faith in him. He could not let Efex down.


He ran at the beast knowing nobody else had noticed it yet, and he yelled as he drove one end of the javelin into the distracted beast as far as he could... which was not very far. The next moment Efex was shouting as he flew straight into the air, and the Dune Bug was diving at Dubbel. He had lost his weapon and all he could do was dive hard backwards, which was also downhill. The worm’s head crashed into the sand so close it would have had Dubbel’s legs if he had not drawn them up.

“We came to the desert and it poured when it rained...”


Then Efex landed on the worm, his big bow tossed aside in favor of the hatchet on his belt. Dubbel watched as his big brother ran up the creature toward the head, hacking into its flesh as he went.

“But now it’s good to get out of that pain.” Joe’s song drew to a close as the combat sounds died out.

When Efex jumped off the creature to land by Dubbel, the Dune Bug had one hit remaining, and the Chief Warlord handed Dubbel the javelin he had pulled out along the way. He was smiling again as he gestured to the now silent area behind Dubbel, and Dubbel was not expecting the pat on his shoulder by Gawain.


“Go on then, Prince. You earned it. I think you might even level.”


Dubbel looked up at his brother, who nodded, then pressed his weapon into the Dune Bug, feeling the level as he did.



That night as they camped, they gave a short toast to the Stabbers, and the Camelot, Percival. There were a few smiles of remembrance, then everyone moved on. Dubbel had assumed they would be angry about the losses they had incurred on his behalf, but reality was much to the contrary. They were hailing him as the hero. They gave him credit for the Scorepion, for the Chief, and for two Dune bugs: The one he had helped Loxley’s archers with, and that last one, which they insisted would have croaked Efex, then even more of them, if Dubbel had not removed the Leadership.


At the evening meal of bread, raw fruit, and rabbit stew from Dubbel’s afternoon hunt, the Dittomancer reflected on his day. He was exhilarated by the fight, and he felt the joy of leveling, and he resolved to try to fight alongside his brother more. There was no blame in this group. There was only acceptance of what had happened, and recognition of what had gone well. Mistakes were only talked about in the form of a joke. Everyone had already learned from their errors and probing any sores further would only lead to resentments.


“Yeah Bro, of course you did the most damage to the Chief’s Bug. You put two in its mouth aiming at the rider! Were those supposed to be appetizers for the main course?” The group laughed and Efex took his lumps as well as everyone. It was their way of admitting there was room for improvement, without making it ugly. They kept it harmless ribbing among friends and that was what made it really cool.


Everyone was tired from the brief but vicious fight, and after a few mouthfuls of rum chased by cactus fruit juices, they started to wind down for the night. At dawn they would be up to search the ruins, then another night of camping and back toward home, but not before Dubbel had that talk with Efex.





Chapter 8:

In the morning, Efex sent the Knights back to the city to relay a message that the group planned to conduct their search today, then tomorrow they would be picked up by Cigarette Boats and spend some time on the water fishing before returning to the Docks in the Capitol. The Knights were told to get some rations from the city and that there would still be food when they returned as well.


The archers made some biscuits from Joe’s supplies while Efex prepared sliced fruits and laid out the plates for everyone. The biscuit recipe was a form of Flower Power that was natural to the Camelites, and it simply needed to be mixed with a liquid ingredient and poured on a cooking surface. They were called Wake and Bake Biscuits because of the ease with which they were prepared and these were the reason the Knights would be motivated to get to and from Oasis in a short amount of time.


Dubbel took Loxley and two stabbers and went around the boundaries of the hex, just to make sure no barbarians had popped. The hex edges were very sandy and covered in shells and there were small fish in pools in the few places where it was rocky. The hex was beautiful.


By the time they returned to the fire the Knights were back and laughing with Joe about the previous night. Apparently they had really been in a hurry to get their biscuits. The Dittomancer caught some chatter about Joe winning a game the previous night, but he was more concerned about breakfast.


Dubbel grabbed some more fruit and a biscuit and wandered off more or less alone, just to look around a bit more closely at the ruins. As he wandered around inside a collapsed structure and smelled the age of the place, he could hear there was someone else in the building with him, but they must have entered after him. He was examining the beauty of the repeating brickwork and laying his hand on the wall when he rounded a corner and nearly bumped into Joe.

Joe, on the other hand, seemed to have known that Dubbel was coming and immediately stopped him with a gentle hand to the chest.


“Whoa there... Ya know, even when everything’s cool, a Prince shouldn’t wander alone, Dubbel D.” He was munching on a biscuit he had pulled from his pocket. “Thought I’d give ya an escort, maybe talk to ya about yesterday. ‘Bout how ya did.” He tossed Dubbel one of the two javelins he had brought along. Obviously he did not believe the search had been thorough.


Dubbel had been hoping it was Efex, so he could find out if his brother was keeping from direct contact, and why, if that was the case.


“How I did?” No. That was not quite the relevant question. “How did you find me, Joe? I just wandered into a random building, and not one by camp.” Dubbel really was confused by this. Joe always seemed to know exactly where everything was, and he never seemed to be surprised by anything, even when he could not see it. Nobody was that cool.


“I got ways man. Tell you what. Let me come along and watch ya, and I’ll tell the secret. Might even lead to you finding what’s here, I think.”


Dubbel thought for a moment, then smiled. He could trust Joe. “I think that’d be great Joe. After all, a Chief like you needs to be protected for the good of his tribe.” He winked cheekily and Joe looked over his glasses in mock sternness before laughing.


“Alright. Wanna know the trick then?” He tossed his sunglasses to Dubbel, and by the time Dubbel caught them, had a different pair on. He just always had to look cool.


Dubbel put the glasses on and looked around. His mind was very confused at first, but it began to resolve what it saw into a logical image. He was looking at the room, but also Looking beyond it. He could Look through walls and he could see things much better, including the ease with which ration sources and other people could be spotted. Objects were outlined in color, even through walls, and when he looked at Joe, the Camelite grinned.


“Now don’t get no ideas. They don’t work on raiment. Get used to ‘em and let’s go take a look around.”


Dubbel was already wandering off to explore other buildings. “Look around, Look into, more like. Did you find these here, Joe?”


It turned out Rada had made the Looking Glasses as a condition of the tribe continuing to work with the archipelago after King Chris passed. Maybe Kristin’s policies on magic were less stringent than even she imagined.


After a long time exploring, Joe and Dubbel ran into Loxley and his archers, then met up with Efex and the stabbers. The Knights were off duty for the day, having done their part in the expedition by fighting the heavies. There was only one building left and when Dubbel looked at it, he signaled to Efex and they stopped.


After a murmured conference, in which they each wore the Glasses, Dubbel entered the ruins with Efex and Joe. The Dittomancer led the way to the faint blue outline he saw through the glasses, ignoring the red shape-outline shifting minutely in the corner. The others stayed by the door, and the moment Dubbel was near the artifact, the shadow charged.


Joe stuck out his javelin and tripped the enemy while Efex trained his bow upon it. Dubbel grabbed the soft leather pouch and held it up, walking back toward the subdued opponent. It was a feral Sand Doller, and in the corner was a half completed golem. The odd crablike creatures used their legs and spittle to form figures that could then animate to protect the Sand Doller. They had entered before it could finish its doll, so the fight had been simple. According to Joe it could have been quite difficult, as the sand golems often proved near impossible to damage. Most weapons just passed straight through them and they repaired their wounds behind the strike.


Once it had been tripped and was cowering from the bow, Joe bent down and fed the creature some fragments of a biscuit. It scuttled up closer to him looking for more, and ignored Efex’s bow completely. Suddenly Dubbel saw the creature as an allied unit, belonging to the tribe, and he smiled. He tossed the small pouch to Joe and bent down to pat the now friendly creature.


He could not get over how cool it was to work with this group and see their respect for everything they encountered.




That night as they gathered around to enjoy dinner, orders came from the Queen that they were to return first thing in the morning. Under no circumstances were they to attempt their outing on the water. Dubbel did not get more than that, and when everyone was informed of the change by Efex, the mood was one of concern, not disappointment. The Chief Warlord did not look happy, and everybody bedded down somberly as Efex called Dubbel, Joe, and Loxley a bit away from the fire. There would be no games tonight, no drinking and merriment.


Dubbel was confused again. The previous night they had celebrated, even as they lost men for no profit. Tonight they had nothing but gain and they were going to bed sad and nervous just because mother did not want them going out on the water. Dubbel reached the others before he had come up with anything that made sense.


“All I really know is that there will be enemies in the battlespace tomorrow. No numbers but the Queen says it may be a capital strike. Rada probably spotted something way out at the end of turn, too low on Juice to glean details. It may be nothing and they go right by, but we’re gonna go back and spend the turn prepping anyway. Hopefully they don’t have the move to reach us in one turn.”


He looked at each of them in turn, smiling a winning smile at each.


“We did everything we planned to on this trip, and the tribe has gained a friend and an artifact. Loxley, you saved my brother from a Scorepion, not without his help.” He clasped Dubbel’s shoulder and looked right at his brother. It was a unique ability of the Chief Warlord that he could be obviously flattering and morale boosting, and yet still telling the complete truth. “And you saved my life, brother. You did very well. I hope you don’t mind I stayed back. I wanted to see what plans you came up with on your own. I had to fight the urge to stay at your side to protect you, but you made me think maybe I need to start keeping you with me for my own safety. The three of us have decided to talk to Mother tomorrow. If there’s gonna be a fight for Oasis, I plan to have you in my stack.”


It was everything Dubbel wanted to hear. Fighting alongside his brother had made him happy. He felt at home in this group. He wanted to fight and be useful to the side.


Efex released Loxley to sleep and Joe headed off as well. Dubbel lingered for a moment.


“In my stacks yesterday I kept wondering why you didn’t want to be near me. I can’t help being afraid that Mother is going to decide I’m not allowed to do anything for the side if something goes wrong.” He laughed as he said it, thinking about how paranoid he had been.


“Be afraid. I’m afraid she might do that anyway.” Efex was looking anywhere but at Dubbel. “And that actually is part of why I’ve kept you at arm’s length. The warlord you replaced was my best bro, and I’m scared to lose another one. I’m sorry about that.” He finally looked at his brother and Dubbel could see he was ashamed. “I know it’s seriously uncool.”


Dubbel stood there with his mouth open as his brother turned away. “Get some sleep, Dubbel. We’ll find out tomorrow.” Efex started to walk toward his bedroll and Dubbel stood on the sand feeling his fear return, only now it was Dittoed.


“It is uncool bro, but I get it.” Efex turned when he heard and watched Dubbel go to his side of the camp and lay down. Nobody ever mentioned that the Chief Warlord had tears on his face.




The turn did not start at Dawn.