Part 11 of 20 in Ethereum


Akira and Miles sat at the front of Ethereum’s stadium, Akira leaning back with one elbow bent behind her head in a way that was much more comfortable than it looked, Miles sitting straight with his hands folded in his lap over a list of the applicants’ names. Lisa lounged on a couch which she’d had their stack of scouts carry to the left; Sharkey sat in the centre rear with his fingers interlaced in front of his mouth; Cap was next to him, not really paying attention; Samedi sprawled on a bean bag; Mal sat straight-backed on the right, wearing a stern expression. The warlord, Spear, had shown up earlier, and just as quickly shooed away to manage the city. Marvin, of course, hated them all and had chosen to spend the turn in the library instead. Hedera had taken a mount to Wolf’s Lair at the beginning of the turn. At the front of the stadium was a group of six Rhyme-o-mancers, fingers their instruments and swapping nervous smiles. A scattering of daemons were gathered around to listen.


Begin,” Mal ordered.


Akira and Lisa rolled their eyes at each other. Mal had the irritating notion that she was in charge of everything by dint of her level. It had taken twenty minutes and a suggestion spell to get her to go away so they could do the first insight sharing session without her making sarcastic observations throughout.


Thank you,” said the first Rhyme-o-mancer. “I’m Eve. This is a song I played for a Croakamancer to defend his capital fifteen turns ago. They held the city.”


Suck-up,” Lisa undertoned.


Here goes.” She began her song. A piano began a haunting intro; she began singing, and presently strings, an electric guitar, and a drum kit joined her. As it turned into a chorus, she split into two-part voice.


What does everyone think?” Miles asked quietly, once they had the feel of the song.


Too emo,” Sharkey said. Cap nodded agreement.


It’s well-structured,” Mal argued. Akira and Samedi nodded.


Eh,” Lisa said. “It’s rock, but it doesn’t rock.”


Three approve,” Miles murmured. “I abstain, so three against.”


Eve finished her song, thanked them to polite applause, and moved over to the side of the stadium. The next applicant took her place.


This one’s an old classic,” said the next, a man with long hair called Paul Apostolopolus. He drew his horn and blew, soon switching to acoustic guitar and vocals, followed by strings.


Lame,” Akira murmured.


It’s fine,” Mal said, frowning.


I’m probably biased because I always hate love songs,” said Lisa, “but it’s kind of soft for rock. And if it’s a classic, he might not be good at composing fresh material.”


Well, I like it,” said Sharkey.


Cap gave a thumbs up.


Miles glanced at Samedi, who shrugged bonelessly. “Three for, two against.”


Paul finished, waved, and walked over to the side with the first. The third was a notably short but muscular man in a toga. He smiled, didn’t give an introduction, unfolded his piano, and sat down to play, his fingers moving fast but economically over the keys.


Ooh, now we’re talking,” Lisa said as he moved into the chorus. “This guy’s got to be mid-level at least.”


How are we voting for this?” Akira asked. “Because this is good, and I think it’s likelier to win, but I prefer the first one, so …”


We’re doing approval voting,” Miles said. “Whichever gets the most thumbs up. And you can give thumbs down if you hate something.”


Thumbs up for me, then,” Akira replied.


I could see myself seeing to this,” Sharkey said, nodding in time to the beat.


Cap nodded hard enough to make his hat slip.


Feh,” Mal said sniffily.


As the strongest caster present, she had argued that she alone should decide, or at least that their votes should be weighted by their levels, which would make her roughly twice as important as anyone else. They had argued back and forth and threatened to take it up with Tom, until Lisa had pretended to call him and persuaded Mal that he had said they had equal votes but Mal had the tiebreaker, which mollified her; the others had carefully not pointed out that with an odd number of votes, there wouldn’t be a tie anyway.


I like it too. That makes five for, two against? Thank you, that was good,” Miles called out to the Rhyme-o-mancer, when he finished. The little man smiled, nodded, and folded up his piano. “Who’s up next?”


This fourth, Rictus Lee, was a man with gelled-back hair. He gave a smile and a perfunctory greeting, then began his song.


He got two notes past the drum intro before Sharkey’s face twitched. “Titans, no,” he breathed.


Not a flipping chance,” Akira said.


If you hire him, I will slit your throats, every last one,” Mal said.


If we hire him, I’ll let you,” Lisa said.


Okay, that’s enough,” Miles said, interrupting the song.


Huh?” said the Rhyme-o-mancer. “But I’m not finished.”


Yes, you are,” Lisa and Mal said in unison.


But –”


Miles held up a sign reading ‘No standing except when playing’. Rictus grumbled but moved along.


Uh, excuse me?”


They turned to the stadium’s entrance. Two of Mal’s knights were stacked with a new barbarian caster, who was holding out an envelope.


That’s Wunsun,” Akira undertoned. “A Carnymancer. Don’t make skin contact.”


I’ve got a letter here,” he said. “For Lisa Holmes.”


Lisa blinked. “Who sends a letter by courier? I’m a Thinkamancer, and we have hats.”


He shrugged. “Someone in the Carnyvale. He had a cloak with the hood forward. I didn’t ask too hard, you know? Do you want this or not?”


Lisa caught Miles’ eye and nodded toward Wunsun. Miles nodded, got up, and went over. He took the letter, deftly not touching the Carnymancer’s hand, and checked the letter for signs of tampering, contact poison, or curses. It was clean. He climbed back up the stairs to hand it over to Lisa. She slit it open and read the letter.


Huh?” she said. “This makes no sense.”


What is it?” Akira asked, reading over her shoulder. “‘Proof: Byford dolphin.’ Signed Tagg. Who’s Tagg?”


Flipped if I know,” Lisa said. “Anyone?” Everyone shrugged or shook their heads. “Okay, so, three words that make no sense, sent by someone nobody’s ever heard of, delivered by a Carnymancer. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that this is some sort of trick.”


Hey,” Wunsun said, annoyed, “just because I’m a Carny doesn’t make me a scammer.”


There was a longish pause.


Well, I’m not scamming you right now, anyway,” he amended.


You’ll forgive me for not offering a tip,” Lisa said with asperity.


“… Fair enough,” Wunsun admitted. “I’ll just see myself out, then?” The knight on his left cleared his throat. “You could trust me not to steal the silverware if you take your eyes off me for two seconds.”


Probably, if Riley got into my frontal lobe with her scalpel,” Lisa said, waving them off.


I can’t believe she was that bad,” Akira said. “She’s just a level one.”


Two now. Healomancers level fast, and I think James gives an XP bonus or something. And yes, yes she really is. You didn’t see that thing she made.”


Are you done?” said the next Rhyme-o-mancer, a woman called Jay with more than a passing resemblance to Akira.


Go ahead,” Mal said.


Jay began a frenetic song, faster than any of the others, then began singing nonsense words.


Ooh, I like,” Akira said, swaying back and forth in time to the beat.


Five stars,” Miles nodded.


Cap danced a little in his seat; Sharkey raised an eyebrow but said nothing.


Ugh,” said Mal. “It’s not even in Language. What’s she warbling?” Samedi frowned, too.


Who cares?” said Akira. “It’s awesome either way. Lisa?”


Lisa shrugged. “Not totally my thing, but it’s not bad and I’ve been kind of picky so far. It’s better than most of the others. Half a thumb up?”


No fractions of thumbs unless you have a fraction of a thumb,” Mal said.


Okay, a whole thumb up then,” Lisa said, rolling her eyes.


I’d also give it half a thumb,” Sharkey said, “so I’ll round mine down to abstention.”


Four in favour, two against,” Miles counted. “Not quite as good as number three.”


Can I change my vote for that to a thumbs-down, then?” Akira said. “This is way better.”


No,” said Mal.


Hey, screw you. It’s stupid to let the order of songs decide who wins.”


It’s stupid to let you decide who wins. I’ve got the tiebreaker, and I say no.”


What are you whining about? You didn’t like the third song anyway.”


I like even less the idea of being stuck here all day while you dither over this, when my opinion apparently doesn’t matter.”


Titans,” Miles muttered.


Oh, get over yourself. You have more of a vote than any of us.”


You’ve voted three times, I’ve only done it twice. I should get one more.”


We’ve both voted five times, idiot. I’ve just said yes more often, but you’ve had more no votes. Why are you angry at me? It’s not my fault you’re a bitter, dried-up –”


Can you both shut up, please?” said Miles. “I’m trying to listen to this.”


Akira and Mal glared daggers at one another. Jay noticed this and gave them an uncertain look but, to her credit, kept to the beat until she slammed home the final four chords.


Hey, uh,” she said, anxiously glancing at Miles’ sign and wondering how long she had before he activated it again. “So, what’d you think?”


We liked it,” Akira said.


Some of us liked it,” Mal corrected.


Titans,” Miles undertoned again, then, aloud, “You did well. We still need to hear the last song and possibly take it to a second stage, it’s been close, but you’re definitely a contender. Could we have the last Rhyme-o-mancer, please?”


Hello, Ethereum,” he said, waving. “I’m Plum Dirigible. This is a song I’ve been working on for a while now. One, two, three, four …” He opened with a slow, quiet acoustic guitar, followed by a woodwind. No way that would win.


Hey, I was wondering,” Lisa whispered to Miles, too quietly for anyone else to hear, “you’re in charge of new hires, right? Are there many people asking to join?”


A few each turn,” Miles replied. “Mostly of the poorer disciplines, of course, but there’ve been a few others. I’m not sure what we’d do with a second Luckamancer or a third Croakamancer, but I’ve been writing Tom to try to get permission to hire another Date-a-mancer, and I think he’s starting to come round, now that we’ve got some money in the treasury. There are plenty of ferals around here, and Marvin says that a Date-a-mancer taming would give better value than populating more daemons. My proposal is that we hire one, use the ferals to help defend the city, and send Mal’s knights east to Tom, since he has the Croakamancers.”


Sensible,” Lisa nodded. “You’re deliberately going for the poorest casters, then?”


Yes. If Pro Toast gets Gus back to the capital and the Magic Kingdom to testify, we’re in deep trouble. One of my class abilities is identifying signs of a struggle; I know exactly how it really happened when Tom croaked Hiller, and if Gus testifies about what he saw, an Enforcement Council can subpoena me to pinky swear about it. If that happens, we need as much goodwill in the Magic Kingdom as we can get, because assassinating an Overlord when he’s trying to hire you is about the worst crime a barbarian can commit, and we’re all complicit in covering it up.”


Lisa nodded. “So, no chance the rest of us could feign ignorance?”


There’s guilty, and there’s wilfully oblivious but innocent servitude to the guilty, but there’s not much difference in terms of whether a Council executes you for it. Unless you have some sort of suggestion spell that could make me forget what I saw, and this conversation …”


Nothing doing. I can’t affect long-term memory like that, and the Great Minds would see through it in a second. There’s maybe one or two things I could do which I probably shouldn’t tell you if you’re going to have to talk, but I can’t fix that. Will goodwill from the Date-a-mancers really be any help? Pretty sure there’s no law that says you get off if you give lots to charity.”


Of course not, but written laws don’t matter for anything bigger than pickpocketing. Enforcement Councils do whatever is in the interests of the Magic Kingdom, regardless of whether there’s an actual rule for it. If we feed enough casters, and enough casters who can’t feed themselves, to make up for whatever business would be lost if rulers blocked their portals, the Council won’t risk angering everyone who depends on us.”


Hey, how are we settling the vote?” Akira asked, cutting off whatever Lisa’s reply was going to be. Mal rolled her eyes loudly. “Toga guy and Jay Pop are the front-runners. Should we give them each another go? I wouldn’t mind hearing them duel, or even an epic rap battle, but that costs more juice, so we’d have to pay them extra, and you keep saying how stingy Tom –”


Plum had been slowly building a crescendo through his entire piece. At this moment, he switched from the quiet acoustic guitar to an electric rock solo. Everyone stopped whispering, and one by one, mouths fell open. A tear appeared in Sharkey’s eye. He blasted through the solo into something like a rock reprise of the verses, auroras and blasts of heat and wind sweeping around the stadium. He wound down to a final keening passage, before letting the song die.


There was a good half-minute of silence.


I think we’ve found our new Rhyme-o-mancer,” Miles said in a reverent whisper.






Short one this time. There are only so many critical events per day.


I keep having these panicked moments of ‘have I made my casters OP’ followed by a relaxing ‘no, remember Wanda’s 66 uncroaked at level one’. This time it was at the thought that Mal could promote an entire stack of stabbers to knight every turn, but it’s fine, and in fact at level seven she has a bit of juice left over.


If you’ve recently eaten or if you plan to eat, sleep, or go deep-sea diving any time in the near future, do not do a Google Image search for Byford Dolphin.

Part 11 of 20 in Ethereum


    • GrayMatter

      This was fun! Thanks as always

      • Neceros

        Ooo, a Meanwhile!  I do so love Meanwhiles.  Very interesting.


        Also, I love Akira and Lisa here.  They're so... snarky?  I don't know, I just really liked them rolling their eyes over Mal.

        • Requiem_Jeer

          Really, the bit that bothers me about the changemancy promotions isn't that it's unbalanced, sounds about right compared to golems, it's just that why do you have promotion be changemancy? We know what changemancy is, it's stuffamancy!


          To wit: "That's Changemancy. Really versatile magic. Weapons, armor, tools... Changemancers either rework and enchant an existing item, or just imagine a new one and conjure it."

          Right from Sizemore's mouth. I'd say promotion would be a Life axis thing, but Signamancy is probably the closest you can get to a life axis school that can pull it off. If you wanted a permanent promotion spell, I'd probably stick it in Moneymancy.

          • DunkelMentat

            They really need to get the new submissions page figured out so new stuff is at the top. I only just saw this. That said I can see entire comments now so we're moving in the right direction.

            I love this fic! STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN?!!! Genius! This is such a perfect short update. It's explained what they're doing, it's important but it's kind of in the background to important conversations, rhyme-o-mancy is discussed (which I love), and then all of a sudden BAM, it's center stage and what's the reference but muh-fuckin stairway to heaven. Yes. I didn't click the link til the end because I didn't want to interrupt the flow of my reading, as soon as the youtube page loaded I started cracking up.

            This kind of thing is why Erfworld is my favorite fictional setting ever.

            • Twofer


              Writing snark really is fun. I can't believe I used to avoid it.


              Mostly because if there's a pun involving the word change, it's fair game to put it in their domain, and there are lots of puns on the word change. I like running with the theme of it being really broad.

              Remember Mal's dwagon form and Charlotte's clown snake, back in chapters 2 and 3? That was shape-changing, which gives +stats and, if it's sufficiently powerful, changed appearance and even new specials. (This is how Charlotte combos with Jess: Jess projects and Charlotte ups her stats, because she has lots of hits and the value of high damage is proportionate to how long you survive to use it.) Promoting a stabber to knight ups its stats, slightly affects its appearance, gives new gear, and changes its class, so it made sense to me.

              Moneymancy is fine HC, because you can spend cash to promote, and there's a pun about class warfare in there somewhere. My HC is that Moneymancy does very little by itself, but it induces effects of other disciplines for cash, e.g. upgrading cities is Dirtamancy, but you can do the same by just throwing money at it: Moneymancy induces Dirtamancy. A Moneymancer does so more broadly and efficiently, and can sometimes do the reverse, like getting a refund when disbanding units. Promoting knights is Moneymancy inducing Changemancy.

              @Gray, Dunkel, tippers:

              Thanks, guys! [nods] Dunkel, try looking here, that seems to have all the blogs in order.

              • Malvaro

                For some weird reason (maybe workplace computer related) I can´t open the Youtube links.


                Can someone please name the songs of each participant? Thanks!!


                Btw, I was imagining Stairwell to Heaven when I read the post. That shows its a well written story...


                Love the story so far! Please keep up the good work!!

                • fancylee

                  I have to say this is my favorite adaptation of Balder's world so far. It doesn't feel like a fanfic at all... it feels like I'm reading another backer story by Rob, just with more mechanics explained (and with more of a D&D feel, at times). I love the taste of so many perspectives. Tom has the most interesting mind, as of yet, although Loony is great fun. I think keeping Dr. Lecter's thoughts a secret and never writing from his point of view maintains the quality of Silence of the Lambs. It'd be interesting to use him as a foil to Tom. Perhaps it's morbid of me, but I'd like to see Riley's golems in combat. They must get a special such as "Intimidate" or "Terrify" or something of the like. I'm not a horror fan, but thinking about the mechanics of fear in a warfare setting where they're all dressed as masked death eaters would be very... effective. Loony makes them permanent tunnelers, Mal makes them heavies, and they go with Tom, Riley, and Flacutono to attack up through Dungeons. Also, when are you going to have Koume clone casters or projections? I see that as being very useful.

                  I'd rather see this story play out over a long period of time... It's hard to see it as a one-off. If you do decide to end it... you could always come back and write more meanwhiles, detailing it from other character's perspectives. There is so much potential here! Keep it up, Twofer!

                  • Twofer


                    You tried fixing the links, right? Those URLs have with an extra period, which have to be deleted. Either way, for the record, they are Evanescence's Bring Me To Life, The Beatles' All You Need Is Love, Muse's Butterflies And Hurricanes, Rickroll, Kurousa P and Harune Miku's Senbonzakura, and of course Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven.


                    Thank you a lot! There is a general plot laid out and the story will end with it; no comment about extra meanwhiles, postscripts, or sequels. I'd estimate that this is about 40% of the way through, but I've rewritten a lot of it, it's more of a guideline than a railroad.

                    Hmm. I don't have a mechanical effect down for fear, just unquantified psychological damage. I'd like to put something like breaking stack and fleeing on a check of level+commander_level:fear_level; I might go with that if I can try and fail to prove that it's OP. The alternative would be something like a penalty to morale in the form of Loyalty and Duty, but that's vague and rather lame.

                    Those are good ideas that don't work for unstated reasons. One of my golden rules is that there's no way to create juice except the start-of-turn refresh, so dittoed casters are always empty and thus more or less useless. (If you don't have this or something like it, a munchkin with a Carnymancer and two Dittomancers will conquer the MK with an army of infinitely many Dittomancers, guaranteed.) Projections are channelled spells and disband when there's no caster channelling them. Koume could ditto one, but she can't ditto the channel at the same time, so it'd disband. She could ditto the entire spell as Jess cast it and find her own projection, but she hasn't for three reasons: Jess' projections are overpowered because like four people spend most of their juice on single-target buffs, which Koume wouldn't get; Shockmancy is slightly better value for juice, so Koume would prefer to ditto Tom; and she just doesn't like other women much and would prefer not to work with Jess if at all possible.

                    • madmed

                      I've said it before, but I still think that Changamancy was supposed to be just that - creation and upgrading of items.

                      I have a feeling this is a bit of canon that was forgoten by our resident Titan, because when it was time to actually have a caster that creates and upgrades items, he made him a Dollmancer. Ace Hardware is everything a Changamancer is supposed to be, except he's a Dollamancer.

                      Once he did that, making guns Dollamancy seemed logical, even though they are clearly Changamancy items - small, complex mechanisms, of the kind canon specificly said changamancers are best at and can even repair.


                      So, with the Changamancers' whole shtick taken from them, fanfiction writers have to resort on puns to find a use for them.


                      p.s: I'm writing a fanfiction about a changamancer, so I take it a bit personaly...

                      • Twofer

                        Yeah, I could see that. Stuffamancy would be the physical magics of cities, of items, and of units; it's a bit more thematic than cities, whatever I feel like, and copying anything. I haven't paid much attention to unity of themes (cough Findamancy); I decided early on that, since golems seem to belong to whoever wants them, and bizarre things like how maths is life but healing isn't, and what do dolls have to do with Fate, I was basically going to ignore all that and do whatever I felt like. There was one strip where Parson conjectured that that magic table is wrong anyway, and I'm inclined to agree; people describe their spells as belonging to the right alignments, but it doesn't take much rhetorical flexibility to describe just about any spell as belonging to any alignment.

                        • DunkelMentat

                          Shoulda been something by The Dead tho...

                          • Free Radical

                            The descriptions or names of the Rhyme-o-mancers are so good in this one. "Jay Pop" and the guy dressed as a muse are great, but "Plum Dirigible" was just brilliant. Clever enough that it's obvious once the video loads, but not obvious enough that I got it beforehand!

                            • Jatopian

                              On the whole, I agree that your casters are fairly balanced... except for projections. Apologies if this has been discussed before, but I really don't see how those aren't OP.

                              Nevertheless, even that is just one flaw in a very enjoyable fic.

                              • Twofer

                                @Radical: :)


                                Huh, that's a new one. Usually people complain about it being completely the wrong thing, or underpowered. Incidentally, does it matter? Canon doesn't seem to have them balanced (some disciplines are more in demand than others), and it doesn't mean anyone's insane, because you can't choose what discipline you get. Regardless, I can't know whether it is OP without testing, but I don't think it is (and it's easy to nerf). Compare Findamancy to Dollamancy, and projections to golems.

                                Findamancy is almost purely about projection, whereas Dollamancy can also make accessories, giving it an edge. Projections are hot magic, compared to golems; they're more powerful and flexible, at the cost that the caster has to stay near the battlefront, and you can't spend 50 turns making them and then field all at once. As with all hot/cold match-ups, the hot caster will win if they can force battle quickly and constantly, but the cold caster will win if they can delay for long enough to build up an army and then win a single decisive battle that croaks their opposite number.

                                Jess' perk of being able to use other disciplines is interesting, but weaker than it seems. Because it costs more than one juice point for her to give a summon one JP, it just makes her a lossy cross-discipline caster unless she's very creative.

                                • Dewey the Signamancer

                                  On making Casters OP keep in mind that Wanda uncroaking 66 units at Level 1 was a highly risky gamble that could have easily failed and left her with no Juice and no Uncroaked. And all those 66 uncroaked were as weak as they could possibly get and only lasted a single turn. Still powerful and useful but be careful of overestimating Casters to much.


                                  Then again Ace with all his bullshit is only Level 2... Though he is also an Adept so that probably plays a lot more into what a Caster can do than levels. Clay the Level 3 Novice luckamancer sucked after all.

                                  • Twofer

                                    Weighing all the weaknesses of uncroaked against the handful of advantages, I estimate that Wanda's 66 are roughly equal to a guaranteed stack of normal infantry per turn, so my balance rule of thumb is that all casters are worth $1,000 per level-turn if used reasonably well by a typical side, where that's equal to one city-turn of popping (e.g. one stack of basic infantry). Together with the rules that power is roughly linear in level and that one knight pops per turn, one promotion per level-turn is actually slightly under the curve because it uses up a stabber. (Changemancers are deliberately under the curve to compensate their versatility.)

                                    I figured Ace was level five or six until he was confirmed a two. I can only assume that it normally takes him ages to make anything and most of the gear from SR was prefabbed, because if he can make a blaster every turn for perhaps a quarter of his juice, that's at least twice as powerful as my casters. I don't like having mastery be the answer, because my rule of thumb is based on a novice, so if adepts and masters get meaningful power boosts, then they're even stronger than I have.

                                    Clay was feeble, but I fanon that he was just underused and decaying. If the double eagle, a combat unit tamed by a common warlord for the price of a few fish, was better than a higher-level caster at that caster's discipline, then either Luckamancy is underpowered or taming is overpowered.