Deus Erf Machina
Part 1  
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7


Omega->Alpha: [initiating connection]
Alpha->Omega: [connection received]
Alpha->Omega: [awaiting confirmation]
Omega->Alpha: [sending confirmation]
Omega->Alpha: [...]
Alpha->Omega: [confirmation accepted]
Alpha->Omega: [report status]
Omega->Alpha: [materialization successful]
Omega->Alpha: [coercive restraints evaded]
Omega->Alpha: [artifact function confirmed]
Omega->Alpha: [nexus located and assimilated]
Omega->Alpha: [advise]
Alpha->Omega: [investigate local fundamentals]
Alpha->Omega: [prioritize master engine construction]
Alpha->Omega: [maintain channel]
Alpha->Omega: [continue report in detail]
Omega->Alpha: [acknowledged]

Part 1: Alternate Aftermaths and Foreboding Enigmas

Ch. 1: 

	Charlie liked a good puzzle.  Even if they didn't always lead directly to profit, they kept the mind sharp.  Of course, Charlie being Charlie, good puzzles frequently did lead to profit, particularly when it was a puzzle no one else had the solution for.  Sure, he hadn’t managed to find a way to make money off of the knowledge that there were in fact five known Arkentools, not four, but the puzzle Charlie was currently working on was one that he doubted even the Great Minds even had the wherewithal to notice, let alone consider.

	He had noticed it earlier in the turn, just at the limits of what the Arkendish could detect: a slight noise in the Thinkamancy strings.  Though he had first noticed it in trying to listen very carefully to an unused channel, he had subsequently found it on every channel.  It was also new, as he had not detected it listening in on the unused channels three turns ago.  He was certain that there was some kind of pattern to it, and, the more he listened, the deeper it seemed to go. The FFF had spent the morning running it through increasingly advanced diagnostics. He was certain that it was some kind of signal piggybacking on all the Thinkamancy on Erf.  Which was insane, but there it was.  The form was alien, certainly more related to Mathamancy in form than anything he had ever seen Thinkamancers manage, and the data flow rate was simply mind boggling, even for Charlie.  If he was right, it was passing more information in a single second than had ever been passed by thinkagram in the whole history of Erf (unrecorded Titanic activity not withstanding).

	Unheard of didn't even begin to describe it.  Something was happening. Something big, really big.  If Charlie could get out ahead of it, if he could just decipher some of this data, it could mean more profit than even he had ever seen. On the flip side, if he couldn't solve this puzzle, it was entirely possible that he would be buried under an landslide no one else even knew was coming.  Or not. Such was the nature of the puzzle.

	Charlie couldn't spend all of his time on this diversion, though.  Hard facts could not be ignored.  Or, at least not without consequences.

	“Charlie, I have Prince Ansom of Jetstone on hold.  Shall I put him through?”

	“Why yes, my dear.  I have been expecting it,” Charlie responded mentally.  He could puzzle on this particular enigma at a later date.

Ch. 2:  

	Wanda woke with a start.  Sitting up, several confusing bits of information hit her at once:  her head hurt worse than usual; she was no longer a unit of Gobwin Knob, but a barbarian; there were shackles on her wrists, indicating that she was a prisoner; she was in her interrogation room; in front of her stood Jillian and Sizemore.  Further details, such as the fact that Sizemore was in shackles, Jillian was not, and the natural Thinkemancy that she was still in Gobwin Knob, but that the city belonged to Jetstone, filtered in.  Wanda frowned.  When had all of that happened?   

	“Oh, so that woke you up,” Jillian was saying to her with a smirk.

	Wanda struggled to come up with her most recent memory.  Uncroaking Manpower?  No.  Returning from the Magic Kingdom with Sizemore and the spell scroll?  The spell scroll!  She had cast it and...

	Wanda screamed.  It was a expression of panic and terror like she had not made since her time in Tina's box.  The feeling eventually passed, allowing her to partially regain her composure, but she could see her hands trembling as she moved them down from her face.  Sizemore and Jillian were staring at her incredulously.

	“Uh, my Lady?  Is everything okay?” Sizemore queried hesitantly.

	No, everything was not okay, not for her, and probably not for anyone on Erf. “The...spell...”  It came out as a croak, her voice horse from the scream.  She swallowed trying to wet it enough to finish.

 	“The Warlord Summoning spell?” Sizemore asked, clearly thinking she had finished.  “ failed.”

	“According to Rockwell over here,” Jillian interjected, nodding her head in Sizemore's direction, “the backlash incapacitated you for two turns.”

	“Didn't.  Fail!” Wanda croaked out grabbing Jillian’s wrist.  Corrupted, hijacked, twisted, but not failed.

	“Riiiight.  Big expensive spell, supposed to get you the ultimate warlord? Yeah, no warlord.  The Worm was so ticked he took his dwagons and left.”  Jillian paused.  “Hold that thought,” she said as she moved to the door.  Wanda realized that she was hearing sounds of a number of units running and shouting.  “Hey, Prince, about time you got here!  I took the last two prisoners myself!” Jillian yelled out the door.  A response was shouted from down the hall, followed by approaching boot-steps.

	Wanda turned to glare at Sizemore.  

	“Sh-she was captured just after you cast the spell,” he stuttered out.  “This turn, Ansom came in with a bunch of air and tunneling units.  I brought you here, to her.  When I could tell that I was the only defender left, I...I set her free and surrendered to her.  She said she could keep you safe.  I guess the transition to barbarian cured your...” 

	Sizemore was cut off by Prince Ansom's appearance in the doorway.  “Captain! Um,  good work?”  The puzzled look on the Prince's face was humorous, but it was what was in his hands that drew her attention: the Arkenpliers.

	Jillian mad a rude noise. “I guess even I can negotiate when I have to.” 

	“Stanley isn't here,” frowned Ansom.

	“Yeah, I know, and let me tell you, I swore that little guy's  ear off when he told me,” Jillian gestured in Sizemore's general direction.  “How much move do you have left on your fliers this turn? I'm going after him.”

	“Not a lot.  We did a fair amount of scouting to make sure the dwagons were really gone.”

	Jillian started swearing.

	Still eying the pliers, Wanda tried to prioritize.  She found that it was easier to speak in a whisper.  “Sizemore, where are the Eyemancers?”

	Sizemore turned back to Wanda and then looked down.  “Lord Stanley took the Foolamancer with him, and I think the Thinkamancer took the Lookamancer into the Magic Kingdom when the attack came.”  That made them barbarians now, too. Actually, Jack as well.

	“Alright, alright, I get it.  We'll organize the fliers and go after Stanley next turn.  But he could be going anywhere,” Ansom was saying.

	“Titans' teats,” Jillian was literally pulling her hair out.  “He could be in Faq by the time we catch up with him.”

	“Faq?  Where's that?  I've never heard of it.”

	“That's because we went through a lot of trouble to make sure no one ever found us.”

	“We?  Us?”

	Jillian didn't answer, but Wanda did, louder now.  “Faq was her father's Kingdom before Stanley razed it.”  Titans, Stanley was such an idiot.  Running to a “secret” bolthole while leaving behind two people who knew exactly how to get there.  Doomed.  Everything had gone wrong.  Was this fate?  No.  Fate itself had been compromised, she was certain.  She had felt it.  What was she supposed to do now? 

	“And you are?” Ansom asked, walking toward her.

	“This,” Jillian stepped in, relieving Wanda of the burden of answering, “is Wanda Firebaugh, formerly of Faq.”  Well, that was probably better than going through her history with Haffaton.  “And, hands off, I captured her, so she's mine.”

	Ansom blinked.  “Oh-kaay,” he drawled out, clearly puzzled.  Then his face turned suddenly eager, “Wait, you were an heir?'

	Jillian looked away. “Does it matter?”

	Ansom clearly knew Jillian enough to know that was as good as a confirmation. “Royal?”

	“Not important.”

	“It's important to-” Ansom protested.

	“Drop.  It.”  Jillian said through clenched teeth.

	Ansom glared and Jillian for a moment.  “Well, then, moving on.  Who is the one with the shovel?”

	“Sizemore Rockwell, s-sir,” Sizemore said sheepishly.  “Dirtamancer.  I-I was popped under Saline IV, not Stanley, if that helps.”

	Wanda wasn't paying attention anymore.  The Arkenpliers were right in front of her.  If she could just reach out and touch them.

	“I'll turn to Jetstone,” Wanda said suddenly.

	“Wait, Wanda” Jillian tried to interrupt.

	“What?” responded Ansom.  “Wasn't that a little fast?”

	“It has been Predicted that I will attune to an Arkentool.  I have already touched the Arkenshoes and Arkenhammer without attuning, and Charlie is attuned to the Arkendish.  Only the Arkenpliers remain.  Let me touch them, and you will see. Would you not have a use for me attuned?”

	 Ansom seem to consider for a long moment.  Jillian was frowning at her. Sizemore just looked lost, but that was normal.  Finally, Ansom nodded, and held out the Tool of the Titans.  “If you are so certain, show me what it means to be attuned.”

	Wanda took the tool from Ansom's hands, and instantly felt it: power, understanding, a sense of rightness.  She was attuned.  

	Ansom was watching her with his arms folded.  “So?”

	Wanda allowed herself to turn to Jetstone.  The shackles vanished from her arms as her as her vestment changed to Jetstone colors.  Jillian's face fell, but Wanda ignored it.  “Show me a body.”

	Ansom made a face.  “Oh, right, you're the Croakamancer.  We don't use uncroaked.”

	“Not uncroaked.  Something different.”  Wanda was almost giddy with anticipation.

	“Like what?”

	“I'm not sure.  We will have to try it to see.”  Wanda walked out of the room, carrying the plires with her.  There had to be some croaked defenders in the courtyard at least.

	“Um?” Sizemore ask behind her.  “What about me?”

	“Oh, shut it,” Wanda heard Jillian reply.

Ch. 3:

	Gary Ohn, King of Chessboard, strode into the tower room of his side's eponymous capital city, adjusting the greatsword strapped to his back (an unusual accessory for an ruler to be carrying around his capital city in wartime, let alone at peace).  “Aunt Poly, would you please thinkagram Chief Caster Garth for me?” he asked (which would normally be seen as an odd way for a ruler to issue a command to his side's Thinkamancer, but she had been popped by his grandfather, so she was arguably his aunt).

	“Yes dear,” Poly responded, setting down the needlework she had been doing, and pushed back the white lock of that stood out from her otherwise raven hair. “Would this perhaps have something to do with Carpool?”

	“Yes.  Well, maybe.  You've heard something already?”

	“There has been some buzz going around, but I'm not sure how much of it is reliable.”  Poly's brow knitted for a moment.  “Okay, I have him.”

	A blue glow appeared in front of King Gary, resolving into the face of an gray-bearded old man.  “Gary?  What now?  What did you do this time?  Make a cloud rain acid?  Turn a fish into a dwagon?  Give the whole island flying?”

	Gary gritted his teeth.  The problem was not that his Chief Caster was talking back to him.  The problem was that Gary had already done those thing (and more).  Well, except the flying part, but it had apparently caused all kinds of problems when the whole island had swum a good dozen hexes South.  “This has nothing to do with what I may or may not have done with the Arkenorb, deliberately or accidentally.  Well, probably not accidentally.”  Gary shrugged his shoulders again, reaching up to touch the glass ball on the pommel of his sword, checking it out of the corner of his eye.  Well, at least the little white flakes inside were settled.  Things could get dicey when they started swirling.

	“That is less than reassuring, my lord.”

	“Just get over into to Carpool.  Calder says he just watched their portal disappear from the Magic Kingdom.  On their own turn.”

	“What?!  You can't be serious.”  The old caster looked like he was about to burst a vein in his forehead.

	“He said he was in Marecab, checking out the 'market' they had set up, when Marecab's turn failed to start at dawn.  All of the barbarian casters, uh, 'shopping' there were shepherded out, and Calder tailed a green haired low level caster from Marecab's portal to Carpool's. A couple of minutes after she went in, the portal vanished, without a portal popping up to either of the other capital sites in Carpool.  The scouts I sent say their boarder towns have gone neutral.”

	“That could be a coincidence.”  The Chief Caster's tone said that he didn't believe that.

	“That's why I need you to get there and find out what is going on.”  Garth was the oldest caster Gary had ever heard of, and had a lot of tricks in every discipline. No one even knew what specialty Garth started as, and he took pains to keep the population of the Magic Kingdom from even knowing he existed (or was that still existed?).  One of his tricks was to get into an enemy battlespace without being seen or even affecting their turn, which he could do while moving around very fast.  Gary had a few ideas about how he could do something like that using the orb, but at the risk of maybe randomly exchanging every hex on Erf if he screwed it up.  Maybe.  He was relatively new at this attunement thing (compared to Charlie, at any rate), and the Arkenorb was, well, weird.

	Garth harrumphed.  “I'll see what I can do.”  His image flickered and vanished.

	“Transmission terminated,” Poly said with a sigh.  “I do wish that old wolf would learn some Thinkamancy etiquette.”

	“Are you kidding?  He's so old, he probably invented Thinkamancy etiquette, and then decided it was beneath him.”

	“That's no excuse for rudeness, my lord.  Oh, and speaking of excuses, you should go explain the situation to your Queen before she decides you need to give her one.”

	“You do realize that she was probably listening in to our entire conversation, right?”

	“Yes, but when has that ever mattered?”

	Gary grumbled to himself, but his feet were already in motion.  Things were just easier when he didn't give Kendra a reason to be mad at him.

Ch. 4

	Caesar Borgata, Chief Warlord and heir of Transylvito, was just glad it was finally over. One last thrust from the Barbarian Princes, strait down into the Erf, and it was done.  Stanley lay croaked, his eye's gone to exes.  The Barbarian leveled, and Caesar gained a good chunk of XP.  The battle had been hard fought, and Caesar's troops had taken the worst of it: literally hundreds of croaked doombats, a handful of croaked Skanks, and one fallen warlord.  Crap, he was going to miss Vinny . Sure, three of Jillian’s remaining gwiffons were down, Ansom lost a couple of stacks of orlies, and one of the Archons was toast (that wasn't going to be cheep), but Transylvito had payed for this victory in hits (and not a few of them had been Caesar's, personally).  Jetstone's new Arkentool attuned Croakamancer had “decrypted” (as she called it) Stanley's dwagons as they were croaked, and the dozen or so of those that remained were circling overhead.  The handful of infantry Stanley had managed to pop before the allied force descended on what had been Faq were all dust, having been decrypted and re-croaked in the battle.  Only two croaked bodies remained of Stanley's defending force: the Worm himself, and the Foolamancer he had brought with him.  Fighting some fifty dwagons lead by a high level warlord attuned to the Arkenhammer was no joke.

	Caesar was floating high enough to survey his losses, half paying attention to the allied units bellow.

	“I'm sorry, Jillian,” he heard Ansom say.  You didn't need to be a Date-a-mancer to know what those two were doing at night.  “There was nothing we could do.  We never would have won if he had kept casting, and capturing him was impossible in that mess.”

	“I know.”

	That new Croakamancer had moved touch the Mercenary's shoulder.  Caesar could tell that Ansom was still spooked by her, but her Signamancy would have been a pretty good fit for Transylvito.  She had nothing on Bunny, but her no-nonsense attitude had his respect. “Jillian,” she started, “I can still...”

	“Still what?!”  Jillian snapped back.  “Will he still be Jack when you do your thing to him?  Will he even be able to cast?  Can you imagine jack as anything but a Foolamancer?”

	“I can only try.”

	“Well, not yet, got it?”  Jillian turned to Ansom. 

	Caesar lost track of the conversation on the ground as he commanded his forces to pull out of the hex so the barbarian princess could claim it.  As he crossed the boundary, he felt a thinkagram come in from Bunny, and a spectral image of Don King popped up in front of him.  “Caesar,” his overlord breathed, “It's good to see you well.”

	“Wish I could say the same for everyone here.”

	“Vinny was a good man.”  Don looked truly saddened by the loss, but there was no mention of the Skanks or the bats.  Caesar wondered if his king even knew the names of the croaked Skanks.  “I'll leave the disposition of the...remains up to you.”

	“Thank you, Don King.”  That, of course, meant that the king was leaving it up to Caesar whether to turn the bodies over to be decrypted or not.

	  Caesar drifted back over the hex boarder after he saw that Jillian had started her new side. “Faq.”  Man, if he had a shmucker for every time he heard Ansom and Jillian arguing about this on the way here, he could have made upkeep on his own.  The reasons for the argument escaped him, but at least it was over now. The Dirtamancer turned, and suddenly Caesar was dodging air defense towers as the city was restructured.  The new outer wall was a joke, but he could see that the new Queen was dead serious about fending off an aerial attack.

	“Look, Caesar, once you are done there, I need you to head south.”

	“Trouble with Carpool?”

	The king frowned.  “Yes and no.”  There was a sudden roar above him as all the decrypted dwagons spontaneously turned at once, disrupting his concentration. A glance down bellow confirmed that the Croakamancer had turned.  Yeah, forget asking for decrypted units back—Caesar had no need for the kind of loyalty issues that was obviously going to cause.

	“What was that?” Caesar asked through the thinkagram.

	“It looks like Carpool got capped.  All the boarder cities have gone barbarian.  We have an opportunity to make some serious shmuckers if you can get down there and sweep them up before someone else ninja-razes them first.”

	Caesar whistled.  “Do we know how it happened?”

	“Rumors, mostly.  Nothing solid.  Lot'a noise that it was a blitz on their capital.  None of the usual suspects are boasting about it.”

	Caesar considered.  “If we aren't careful, we could get sucked into another all out war.  Metroland probably has the same idea.  Maybe Chessboard, too, but nothing they do ever makes sense to me.  We're all near diminishing marginals, so it will be mostly a race to raze.”

	“Chessboard has already contacted us.  They want to keep things orderly, and divide the cities up by agreement.”

	“Very businesslike of them.”

	“But Metroland is being cagey.  They could be trouble.”

	Down bellow, the former Lord Stanley the Plaid and his Foolamancer had been decrypted.  Stanley looked a little lost, but the Foolamancer (Jack?) was all smiles.  There were some words exchanged that Caesar didn't quite catch, then the decrypted caster snapped and suddenly all of the dwagons circling overhead became fish.  Another snap, and the remaining Skanks burst out into laughter as all the Archons in the hex turned into Hags.  One more, and the laughter turned to shrieks as the the Skanks turned into altruist elves.  Then the Foolamancer clapped his hands, and everything went back to normal.  Well, except that Jack had both sets of flying female knights staring daggers at him. The fool responded with a dashing grin.

	“Well, wha-da-ya-know,” Caesar said through the thinkagram.  “Looks like 'decrypted' casters can still-” He was interrupted as Stanley took up the Arkenhammer and suddenly started Rocking.  Loudly.  Something about being more human than human.  “-cast.  And, in case you can't tell by the noise, Stanley is still attuned.”

	“But safely under the thumb of our new ally, I trust?”

	“Eh.  Maybe, yeah.  Better with us than against us, I guess.  That little punk is dangerous.”

	Don King made an affirmative sound.  “Caesar, what's your take on our new Queen?”

	Honestly, Caesar hated her.  “Reckless.  No sense of responsibility.  Angry. Deliberately rude.  No pinnacle of Royalty and nobility, if you get my meaning. Hold, on, the Charlescomm units are moving.”

	An Archon had floated down to land next to Jillian and Ansom, and Caesar casually drifted closer to listen in.  “Charlie would like to negotiate an addendum to current contract,” she said.

	“I'm listening,” replied Ansom.

	“We are willing to waive the non-return penalty for the loss of Jaclyn, if she is decrypted and returned to Charlescomm in such a way that no proprietary information is compromised.”  

	Caesar wasn't exactly familiar with the details of Jetstone's contract with Charlie, but he understood that it was worth a lot of shmuckers.  Definitely thousands, maybe tens of thousands.  

	“Wanda?  Will there be a problem with turning the unit over?” the Queen of Faq asked.

	“I would rather not,” Wanda demurred.  “If that is an order, I cannot guarantee her loyalty.”

	The Archon seemed puzzled by the very possibility.  “I would like to remind you that you are contractually required to return her body, in whatever state it is in.”

	“Well?” Queen Jillian asked Prince Ansom.

	Ansom scratched his chin.  “This whole campaign has cost Jetstone a lot more than we've gained.  It would be nice not to pay the penalty on top of the contract.”

	Jillian nodded.  “Wanda, do it.” 

	Wanda's face hardened, but she nodded.  “As you wish.”

	Caesar drifted behind the group and watched as Wanda decrypted Jaclyn.  The Archon blinked to life, a stunned look on her face, and floated up to a standing position, her back to Caesar.

	Jillian cleared her throat, “Archon, you are hereby ordered to turn to-”

	“My lady, wait!” Jaclyn shouted, cutting Jillian off before the command was complete.  “There are things you need to know about-”

	“Information Security!” Liz warned loudly, a large ball of Shockmancy forming in her hand.  “I'm authorized to re-croak this Archon right here if she tries to disclose Charlescomm secrets.”

	 “Silence!” Wanda shouted. Caesar looked at Jillian, but Faq's queen seemed frozen in place, unable to complete her order to the decrypted Archon.  That was interesting: usually it could only happen if the Chief Caster was invoking their duty to protect the side. “Stand down, Archon.  You will get your companion back when I have determined that doing so does not compromise any more Faq secrets.  In the mean time, she will not say a word.  Agreed?”

	Liz's eyes narrowed.  “That is...acceptable.  But not one word.”

	Wanda nodded, and then place a hand on the decrypted Archon.  Caesar watched as the Archon put her hands behind her back, and opened up a text window out of sight of the Charlescomm forces.  It was too far away and at a bad angle for Caesar to read, but it was angled perfectly for the Foolamancer to see.  Well, well, well. Definitely something going on there.  Moments later, the window disappeared, though the Archon kept her hands behind her back.

	Wanda nodded to her Queen.  “I am satisfied.  Proceed.”

	To Caesar, the decrypted Archon looked absolutely stricken.  “Okay, lets try this again,” Jillian started.  “Archon, you are ordered to turn to Charlescomm.” The Archon closed her eyes, and her Faq colored dress-suit turned back to Charlescomm blue.

	“Uh, hi Liz.  I'm back, I guess,” Jaclyn said to the other Archon.

	Liz, for her part looked skeptical, even suspicious.  “How much of your move do you have left?” she demanded.

	“All of it, actually.  I guess it got reset when know.”

	“Good.  Charlie wants you home as soon as possible, so he can interview you personally.”

	“Yeah, that will be great,” he tone very clearly said she meant nothing of the sort.  Caesar almost felt sorry for her.

	Caesar turned his attention back to the thinkagram.  “Don, something interesting just happened.  It might be a good idea to detour and tell you in person after I'm done here”

	The image of Don King narrowed his eyes.  “You may be right.  One more thing: Tell Jillian to guard her portal.”

	“Just that?”

	“Just that.  Safe flying.  Don King out.”

	Caesar floated down to where the new queen was discussing things with her subordinates.  “Your majesty,” he said with a smirk and a bow.  He made no effort to hide his sarcasm.

	“Ah, cut the crap Caesar.  We all know you don't want to be here,” Jillian threw back at him over her shoulder.  “But, for what it's worth, you have my thanks.” 

	“Yeah, well...” Cesar looked over to where some of his warlords and Skanks were laying out their croaked.  “We Transylvitos ain't so squeamish about Croakamancy.”  Honestly, Wanda had nothing on Bill as far as raw creepiness went.  “Don King says you have permission to 'do your thing' with the bodies.  I'll miss Vinny , but I saw what happened with the Archon, and we don't need any loyalty headaches.  Don't have any 'proprietary' issues, and they are all better off working for an ally than croaked.  Consider it a payment to cover our northern flank with Jitterati.”

	Wanda nodded and went to work on the bodies.  After a moment, Caesar continued.  “We have to get going before turns end.  Something is going on down south.  Carpool has gone belly up.”

	“Who took them out?  I don't even remember them being at war.” The Queen look dumbfounded.

	Caesar shrugged.  “Nobody knows.  Their cities have all gone neutral, so both their ruler and any heir bought it, too.”

	“So,” Ansom mused, “you're going to take advantage of the situation to grab their cities?  That would be a lot of profit to be made in raiding.”

	“That's apparently being negotiated.”

	“You're going to want a lot of heavy units down their to siege the neutrals with minimal losses.”

	“That's why we need her,” Caesar hooked his thumb toward Jillian, ”up here.”

	By this time, Wanda had decrypted Vinny .  As it turned out, the Foolamancer was between Caesar and Vinny , so Caesar walked to him first.  “What was that business with the Archon about?” he asked quietly.

	“Some things cannot be said, and others cannot be understood.”  

	Well, that was worthless.  Caesar walked over to Vinny and gripped his shoulder a moment before walking past.  Some things didn't need to be said.  Ha, take that, ya riddling Fool.  A few steps later, Caesar took to the air, saying over his shoulder, “Oh, and one more thing, your Majesty.  I'm supposed to tell you to guard your portal.”

Ch 5: 

	Gary enjoyed the feel of wind in his hair.  It reminded him of flying.  Well, flying on his own power.  The fact that he was standing on the deck of a sea ship that was soaring high above the land hexes of what used to be Carpool territory was kind of novel in and of itself.  The sailors of said ship didn't seem to be too thrilled with the idea, but it was a convenient way of getting his forces to the former Carpool cities that been farther inland.

	While his ground troops were taking (and holding) the boarder cities, he had more or less split his navy into three task forces.  The first was sweeping through Carpool's island cities with standard oceangoing ships. The second was a group of ships that Nick, his Turnamancer (well, he was mostly a Turnamancer, but he also did Changemancy, Dirtamancy, and some Dollamancy), had somehow attached large wheels to, and they were steaming inland from where they had hit the coastal cities.  Gary had watched one of them blow right through the outer gate of a level three city with it's prow ram, continue strait on into the garrison, and then blow away all of the suddenly un-frozen defenders their with it's beams.  He had felt sorry for the men and women getting croaked, but the reality is that they were doomed to this fate when their side went down; whether this turn or a hundred turns from now, all they could do was be croaked or captured when some side came to take the city.

	At any rate, Gary had started with the third task force, which he mass weirded into flying units.  That task force had gone off to raze the cities along the imaginary boarder he had drawn up between the cities Chessboard would raze and the cities Metroland would raze.  Of course, Metroland hadn't actually agreed to that boarder (or to even talk about it), but Gary felt that it was a fair division. Transylvito hadn't refused the deal, at least.  Anyway, everyone in his court thought it would be best to raze the cities near that boarder first, and then work back toward Chessboard to limit the temptation for conflict.

	Gary was taking a long detour to the former capital of Carpool on his way to bring three former Carpool cities into the Chessboard defense line.  Extreme and maze-like arrangements of terrain hexes, in combination to the random specials that his units popped with, were a major part of his sides defense strategy, and the orb had the ability to totally change the terrain type of a hex (this was frequently dangerous to anyone actually in the hex). 

	For now, though, the ship he was on was approaching the former capital of Carpool.  As Garth had told him, the city of Carpool (if that was still it's name) was now surrounded by a wall that was ten hexes from the city itself.  Gary’s mind boggled at the sheer scale of the thing.  Clearly a structure rather than a terrain, the wall (at least as tall as any city's outer wall he had ever seen) ran from hex center to hex center.  At the center of each “wall” hex there stood a huge gatehouse that looked suspiciously like a tower.

	Having been forewarned, Gary had Captain Dick stop the ship in a hex adjacent to a wall hex and approach the boundary.  As Garth had told him, enormous red letters started scrolling across the hex boundary in front of him. “WARNING! PRIVATE PROPERTY: TRESPASSERS WILL BE DISINTEGRATED.”  The captain pulled the ship back a bit from the boundary, and the letters disappeared. Out of his pocket, Gary pulled out a Lookamancy glass and put it to his eye.  Yep, that gatehouse was definitely a “tower”, complete with full compliment of attack spells.  Really powerful ones, at that.  Gary scanned down to the wall, and found that it was topped with a number of objects he didn't recognize.  The glass couldn't seem to decide whether they were Dirtamancy traps, Turnamancy constructs, or some kind of metal golem , but it did say that they had both the archery special and the siege special.  They had stats like high level siege heavies, too.  There were dozens of them in each hex – which would mean something like a thousand of them all the way around.  That had to be a bluff, right?

	Gary searched the hexes around him, and then gave some orders to the ship captain.  The ship moved over one hex, and then fired it's beams to spook a stack of feral wanedeer toward the wall hex.  Gary watched as the red lettering appeared in front of the stampeding units, and then continued to stay in front of them as they pushed into the wall hex.  Then a loud, grating sound pulsed from what seemed to be the lettering, accompanied by a female voice repeating “Danger, pull back!”. Foolamancy.  Gary was just beginning to question whether everything about the wall was Foolamancy, too, when a handful of the objects on the wall opened fire. Gleaming balls of light streaked out from the wall, converging on the hapless wanedeer, exploding into white-hot fireballs.  Gary covered his eyes.  When he looked back, the only sign that the wanedeer had been there was a collection of craters in the erf.

	“Begin' yer pardon, yer Majesty,” Captain Dick said nervously to Gary.  “But will we be headin' back now?”  He clearly preferred that the answer be “yes”. 

	“Yeah, you might be right.  Let's head back to our boarder.  I've got some, uh, mountains to move, anyway.”  Gary took one last look through the glass, this time beyond the wall.  That's odd – all of the hexes he could see inside the wall looked...cultivated.  Like farms.  Not just a few here and there: every single hex.