Part 1 of 6 in New Beginning

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 Prince Ray's eyes popped open.

 

He took his first breath, and looked around. The sky was blue, the city was Level Five, there was an ocean hex visible behind him, and he could hear something roaring. It was the start of the day.

 

"You don't look like much."

 

Around him were two stacks. One was of thirteen infantry, all girls, and giggling. The other was two men and a woman, all casters. It was the caster woman who'd spoken. She had a guitar on her back.

 

"I'm… sorry?" he tried, speaking for the first time, tasting the words as they left his mouth.

 

She sighed, put upon. "Well, you're all we have. Congratulations," she said, obviously not meaning it, "you're now Chief Warlord of Anima. We'd better go. Stack up." She broke stack with the other two casters, and merged with Ray.

 

"Go where?" he asked, following her out of reflex. She didn't reply. He heard the roaring again and looked up. What looked like a Man flew overhead, with rockets for feet. Huh.

 

She led him down the city streets, to a stables guarded by another all-female thirteen-stack that saluted as they entered. Inside was an assortment of creatures; Ray, who had popped only minutes ago, knew none of them. She took a Turnamancy item for herself and wheeled it round. "Ride Victory," she said, indicating a large moth-like beast. "I made him all-terrain awhile ago."

 

"I see," he lied, but he approached Victory anyway. It gave him a quizzical look, but didn't make a fuss as he went around behind it and climbed atop. "You haven't told me your name. I'm Ray Icarus."

 

"Haru Kohi," she said grudgingly. She mounted her item and kicked it; it began humming. It was a vehicle; her move quadrupled. "Mononoke." He blinked in surprise: she had gained forest- and swamp-capability, just like that. "Come on."

 

He leaned forward on instinct; Victory obediently followed Haru as her vehicle rolled out of the stables, out of the city limits, and into a forest hex. Victory technically wasn't a flier, but his move still only dropped by one. He leaned forward to draw level with her.

 

"Where are we going?" he asked. "I don't know anything about Anima."

 

She rolled her eyes loudly. "We have three cities right now, all on an island. That was the capital, Subdub. Ova is inland, north and west of here. We're going to Toe Quay. You're supposed to lead its defense."

 

As a Warlord, he had an instinctive grasp of combat. "Okay. What defenses do we have, and who's attacking?"

 

"It's a three. Other than you and me, we should have thirteen Mahou Shoujo there right now."

 

"What are they?"

 

"Those stacks you saw back in Subdub. Attacking is Groan and some allies. We don't know how much they have, but they've just come from conquering a bunch of our other cities, and they had about four thousand infantry then, loaded onto ships."

 

Ray blinked. "We have fifteen units defending… against four thousand?!"

 

"Shoujo aren't Stabbers. They're almost as strong as Archons when they Change."

 

"What are Archons?"

 

Haru huffed. Ray waited for her to go on, but they passed into two more forest hexes without her saying anything. He got the feeling it wouldn't matter anyway; even Archons surely weren't strong enough to fight infantry at over two hundred to one.

 

"That was pretty cool, how you gave yourself forest- and swamp-capability," he offered, trying to get her talking again.

 

"Well, of course," she said, trying not to look pleased with herself. "I'm Chief Weirdomancer. It's all about modifying units' specials."

 

They crossed into a swamp hex, again costing them only one move each. Victory hovered over the mire's surface; her vehicle skimmed over the top without sinking.

 

"Were you the one who gave that unit the ability to fly?" Ray asked, thinking of the Man with rocket feet.

 

Haru scowled again. "King Astro. He made me give him the special permanently. I usually only cast temporarily."

 

"Why?"

 

She gave him an are-you-stupid look. "Because it costs less juice that way, and doesn't affect upkeep."

 

He took this as a hint that he should drop magic. He had the feeling he wouldn't really understand anyway. "What reinforcements can we get before Groan arrives?"

 

"Whatever we can pop," she said. "In about two turns. We could have hired mercenaries, I know there are two groups in the area, but someone took the past sixty turns popping, so we're low on cash."

 

Ray frowned. "Sixty turns? How long do other units take?"

 

"One turn for a Shoujo, or six Stabbers or eight Redshirts per turn. Two turns for any other Warlord," she added.

 

He gasped. "But that's almost five hundred Redshirts! What are we popping now?"

 

"Shoujo in every city."

 

"Rather than eight Redshirts? Would the Shoujo win in a fight?"

 

"Well, not in a fight," Haru said, as though the idea were beneath her, "but they have magic. They're better."

 

"Well, we're about to have a fight, so magic can wait," Ray returned. "I'm changing it."

 

She pursed her lips but said nothing.

 

"Is there anything else?" Ray asked, well aware that sixteen more units wouldn't make a difference against four thousand.

 

"Why don't you ask your Redshirts?" Haru suggested.

 

They rode in silence the rest of the way.

Part 1 of 6 in New Beginning

Comments

    • HighJumper

      Just found this, and am enjoying it so far. Icarus sounds nicely foreboding. :)

      I'm glad there's another Weirdomancer to read about, too, since I enjoy the idea of changing specials. And it's a nice touch to have "there's no other Weirdomancers" be an erroneous perspective of Loony rather than fact, even within your own writing.