Part 1  
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

 

Part 5: Erf War T

Ch 21

	Calder was really out of his depth.  As Chessboard's Signamancer, his primary purpose was to spy on the Magic Kingdom, and he had a number of ways to change his Signamancy and obscure his level to accomplish just that.  He could play an independent but honest Moneymancer, an unscrupulous Hat Magician, or (his personal favorite) a first level Croakamancer on his last turn.  At this point, though, the Magic Kingdom was little more than an isolated one-hex island with a few hundred casters stuck on it.  The fact that the Flower Power garden was gone, as Florists were no-where to be found, just made things more dire.

	The Thinkamancers maintained some semblance of contact to the outside world, and the hat magicians were setting up a business of exchanging scrolls, magic items, and gems with the outside world, but everyone had been physically stuck here the moment all the portals had closed.  There were all kinds of rumors going around, everything from it being the end of the world to the return of ancient gods that had been defeated by the Titans.  The only thing everyone was certain of was that it was the end of the Magic Kingdom.

	Poly had been able to confirm that the closing of Chessboard's portal had something to do with the city itself becoming active and aware.  Calder's bet was that it was the same for everyone else, and what he had been able to get from his Eyemancer contacts more or less confirmed it.  There were all kinds of implications to the end of the overlord and heir system, with intelligent capital cities themselves taking over governance, but Calder's utility to Chessboard was somewhat limited if all he was able to do was report the slow disbandment by lack of upkeep.  

	Which is why Calder perked up when a caster ran through the Carnymancer's camp shouting about a portal in Portal Park.  A scattered few feigned cynical disinterest, but everyone else got up and moved to the center of the island at one speed or another.  Calder made sure he was in the middle of the pack, and was scanning faces as he went.

	Sure enough, there was a portal open in Portal Park.  The crowd around it, however, was making no move to enter.  For good reason, Calder thought, though his curiosity had him itching to try it.  A few casters stood right in front of the portal, daring each other to go through first.

	It was the portal to Carpool.

	


Ch 22

	Smod understood Language.  He could speak it, in fact.  But he didn't think in it.  It didn't matter to him that his master was known as “Gobwin's Knob” by the Language speaking sides of Erf.  Nor would he care that the three sizes of red dwagons that composed his army, small, medium, and large, might be described as stabber, knight, and warlord equivalents respectively (though it would be some passing interest to him that the speakers of Language were generally only familiar with the medium variety).  Smod only really cared that the small ones needed to be led, the large ones could do the leading, and that, the bigger they were, the higher their stats were.  Even the fact that each size class was approximately double the length of the size class bellow it, or that their bodies got more angular and less round with size, were little more than useful Signamancy.  Though it did matter to him that he himself was twice as long as the large size dwagons. He was particularly fond of the large twisting horns that swept back from the top of his triangular head.

	In the turn after being popped during the fiery awakening of his volcanic master, Smod had personally taken six of the minor Uniroyal cities in the surrounding area.  It turned out to be quite easy for him to fly into the poorly defended level 1 and 2 cities, and simply burn them to the ground.  The units croaking in the infernos he created with his breath had been good for experience, and their meat had been good for upkeep.  Once he had captured each city, his master had ordered it to become a dwagon lair, a spire with interconnected caves that were only accessible from the air.  By the time enough turns had passed for the chewy little bipeds to understand what was going on, let alone mount a counter attack, Smod's dwagon army had grown into the hundreds.  Ten turns later, he had fifteen lairs, had razed another five cities that he hadn't liked the locations of, and was burning down the Uniroyal city of Unabrow.

	It had been quite well defended, and Smod had lost a number of his lesser dwagons to it's air defenses.  Resistance had crumbled, though, when he had personally roasted the stack screening Uniroyal's Chief Warlord and plucked her from the tower.  She had been royally tasty.  Now, all that was left was to clear the table scraps.  
	
	Unabrow was a large city, so Smod was taking part in burning it down, swooping low between buildings.  Under his breath, even the streets caught fire. As he passed a particularly tall structure, he barely caught sight of a red-haired Uniroyal unit leap from it, her sword aiming for his neck.  Almost negligently, he changed his path just enough to let her fall past him and into the flaming street. He would see what she tasted like after she had time to cook a bit.


	
Ch 23

	Jillian was staring intently at the glowing rectangle in front of her.  It resembled the kind of Thinkamancy (or was it Foolamancy?) displays that Archons could bring up between their fingers, but was floating in front of her with no visible means of support.  Of course, it wasn't just her: everyone around her at the fortress, from Ansom on down to the Saras, were looking at his or her own “menu” and reading what it said.  Not every unit, though.  The golems, regardless of type, were just standing around waiting for orders.

	The previous two times the Erf had changed, Jillian hadn't noticed until one of the consequences of that change had reached out and smacker her in the face. Having her move decrease when she hadn't crossed a hex boundary had been kind of subtle, but suddenly loosing her overlord senses and being talked to by the city had not been.  This time, though, the change came with a “ding!” and the appearance of aforementioned menu.

	The menu turned out to be self-explanatory.  Literally.  All she had to do was point to something she wanted to know more about, and another little rectangle would appear that explained what it was.  Many of the items in the rectangle would bring up other rectangles when she pressed on them.  The one labeled “STATS” had immediately drawn her attention; pressing on it had told her that there was more to this change than just the glowing rectangle.

	Her stats were now much more complex than just level, attack, defense, hits, and move.  There were now subsections – Combat, Leadership, Casting (?!), Support, and Specials.  Combat seemed to more or less contain attack, defense, and hits, but with a whole slew of other stats: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and a complicated chart that was supposed to cover the interrelated weapon skills, all of which combined in situation dependent ways to determine combat outcomes.  Hits were still hits.  Move was divided into different types of movement (walking, flying, swimming, tunneling, etc.) and then subdivided into hex types.  Inherent move and equipment bonuses were displayed separately.

	Leadership was split into Squad, Tactics, and Strategy, which translated to the leadership bonuses granted to your stack, hex, and side respectively.  Strategy only applied if you were Chief Warlord, but Tactics applied if you were the one in charge of combat in your hex, and Squad applied to your stack if you were leading it.  They all stacked, but you could only receive one of each type of bonus.  Jillian was satisfied to see she had a 12 in “Squad” and was surprised to see that she had an 8 in “Tactics”, but the 1 in “Strategy” came as a shock.  She had just finished reading that last explanation when she felt Faq relieve her of her position as Chief Warlord. It came with something of an unspoken apology.  When she had realized that Ansom was now Chief Warlord, she had ducked her head over to look at his rectangle: his leadership bonuses were 10, 4, and 4. Somehow, that had managed to embarrass both of them, but she had to admit the city had made the right choice based on the numbers.  The resulting change in bonuses all around verified that the rectangles were at least telling the truth about that.  Ansom, in turn, had designated her the battle leader of the units in this hex.

	Specials was pretty straightforward, just a list of permanent and temporary specials (her wings showed up here).  Support was kind of a list of things a unit could do outside of combat, from hunting and foraging to cooking to various kinds of fabrication, along with proficiency levels for each.  Jillian's list reflected her lifetime of camping out.

	Which left casting.  That particular item had an “alert” attached to it. Inside, there was a numerical representation of Juice, and two more stats, “Intelligence” and  “Wisdom”, which were supposed to measure knowledge and understanding of Casting respectively.  The less said about those numbers, the better, as far as Jillian was concerned.  There was also a diagram of interlocking circles that represented the eight classes of magic, with the Erf, Fate, and Numbers subclasses accessible for each.  There were aptitude and skill numbers for all 24 casting types.  The alert popped up a message: “Congratulations!  You have gained enough casting knowledge to gain novice status.  Please select from one of the highlighted Caster types.”

	Which was why Jillian was studying the screen.  Only one caster type was highlighted:  Predictamancy.  Jillian stared at is skeptically.  Again, she snuck a peek at Ansom.  Interestingly enough, he had been given the same option.  Well, not quite the same: he was given several choices.

	“So, which are you going to pick?” Jillian asked him.

	“Well,” Ansom considered.  “Dollamancy would give me a leadership bonus when leading Ace's golems, and let me heal them.  Dittomancy has a lot of useful combat effects.  Hat Magic was handy for communication, but...”

	“But what?”

	Ansom gave Jillian a look.  “Have to seen the 'Chat' option yet?”

	“Chat option?”  Jillian looked back through her rectangle, finding “Chat” in the outer menu.  According to the explanation, she could now do the equivalent of a thinkagram to any unit she knew, on command, for a handful of shmuckers from her personal purse.  She had to try it.  A few selections and a couple of seconds later, Wanda's face appeared in the rectangle.

	“Yes,” Wanda said.  “Can I help you?”

	“This thing really works?” Jillian exclaimed.

	“Apparently so.  Did you need anything?  I'm a bit busy here.”

	“No, I was just checking this thing out.  That's all.”

	“Good,” Wanda said.  “Oh, and whatever you did that lowered your Chief Warlord bonus, don't do it again.  Keep it how it is now.  I'm going to need it.” With that, the transmission ended.

	“Okay,” Jillian asked, “what is the point of Thinkamancy now?”

	“Not sure,” Ansom replied.  “But I think I'm going to go with the last option,” he said, turning back to his Casting choices.

	“What's that?” 

	“Healomancy,” he said, selecting that type.  His eyes widened and he stared at nothing more a few moments.  “Wow.  That was interesting.”

	“So, can you heal hits?”

	“I know a spell that is supposed to,” Ansom said.  “Actually, I think I could sense lost hits if anyone here was missing any.  It's...different.  What about you?”

	“I suppose I might as well,” Jillian said, letting out a breath.  She selected Predictamancy and braced herself.  The sensation started out almost like free-falling, but then suddenly felt like a spike had been driven through her forehead.  The pain blinded her and brought her to her knees.  She thought she heard the laughing of a jester as her vision cleared.

	“Are you okay?” she heard Ansom ask.

	Jillian let Ansom help her to her feet.  She looked at him, looked around at all the Archies and Saras standing and flying around the fortress.  Everything both looked the same and totally different.  Just by looking, she felt she knew what things had been touched by fate, and which had not.  There were different colors attached to the things that were fate-touched.  Jillian remembered something Garth had said: multiple Fates.  She could almost see different Fates competing with each other.  She didn't really know what any of it meant yet, but she could see it.

	It was while Jillian was considering this when she learned what it was like to receive a “Chat”.  Basically, her rectangle, which had vanished while the mysteries of magic had been flying a megalo through her skull, popped up again with a chime, telling her that Vinny was requesting a chat.

	“Hey, Boss,” Vinny said when she accepted.  “Is this thing working?”

	“Yes, Vinny, it works.”

	“Oh, right.  Anyway, they're on the move.  At least thirty warlords, twice that number of Skanks, and what has got to be something like a thousand doombats. Caesar is with them.  They should get to you shortly.”

	“I'm sorry Vinny ,” Jillian said.  “If any of them leave bodies, we'll get them to Wanda.”  Which was unlikely.  Whatever it was that had driven all of Transylvito nuts (and let them turn units with just a bite), it caused them to dust when they were croaked. “Um...Jillian out,” she finished, ending the chat.

	“Gabe!” Jillian shouted out to her oldest Archie.  Well, Faq's oldest Archie. They really weren't hers anymore: even that unfair bonus she had given them had vanished when the city woke.  “Pull the flying infantry stacks back behind the fortress golems.  Provide supporting fire as you can, but the leakers are your priority.”  Gabe took off and waved the flying stacks into the air behind the fortress, spreading out between the steep high mountain slopes on either side of the fortress.  About a third of the Saras reached up into the air as they went, summoning their bee-effgies, bulky two-handed lances that could shoot out energy bolts and gave their wielders the archery special.

	Jillian turned to Ansom, who was checking the new stats of the Action Figures.  Standing almost ten times as tall as Jillian, the flying plastic golems were more imposing than their stats had really justified, but they were heavies loaded with enough accessories to make them as dangerous as any unit Jillian had ever seen.  They also flew ridiculously fast and could carry two passengers.  “How do they look?”

	“About the same, I think,” Ansom said without looking up.  “Their move is still sticking it's tongue out at me, but the weapons are all listed, including the portable Dirtamancy traps.  I think we would need Ace and Sizemore here to say if their effectiveness has changed significantly.”

	“I've got a faster way,” Jillian said.  “Mount up.  We're going to take the Figures out now, drop the traps, and then kite the enemy back here.  We'll have the speed to stay out in front of them while firing almost constantly.  Then we re-stack with the turret golems on the wall, and stop them here.  I don't want any of them near our new farmers.” 

	“Sounds good,” Ansom said, as his Figure lowered it's huge hand to lift him to his seat.  

	For reasons Jillian didn't understand, the emblem on his figure was a skull and cross-bones on a black background.  Jillian flew to the seat of her own Figure, which had her blue gwiffon emblem.  As the canopy of her Figure closed, she put on her helmet and ordered her stack to take off.  Of the eight Action Figures Ace and his helpers had managed to produce to date, Jillian and Ace split them evenly between them.  

	“All right, hotshots,” she said, “show me what you got.”

	

Ch 24
Wanda stood in the tower of White Castle, reviewing the city's defense plans. The third change of the rules had taken her by surprise, but had ended up benefiting her considerably. Her “Combat” stats were still as unimpressive as you would expect any caster's to be, but she now had “Leadership” scores of 8, 4, and 2, to add to the Croakamancy and Artifact bonuses she gave the decrypted. She was becoming increasingly certain that she would need it. She had managed the capture of White Castle with the freak show of decrypted units she had gotten from Charlescomm. From poisonous man-tickers to screeching hawpies, winged elefumps to flying woozles, fragile zewoes to armored cwoks, and smart looking tie-flitters to scruffy why-wings, her air force had been perfectly miss-matched, and quite useful. A pity she had lost most of it in the fight. The city had practically been emptied of defenders in Transylvito's made rush north into the formerly Jitterati cities held by Faq, but the unexpectedly strong spells on the tower had dusted much of her collection on the way in. Since taking White Castle, she had been trying to reenforce it by flying in decrypted infantry by the megalo. When the cities had awakened, Faq itself had made some kind of deal with the city of Jitterati, giving the other side back some of the northernmost of it's old cities. Because the decrypted were one of the few living units that didn't turn when the new Transylvito units bit them (Saras and Archies were also immune), she had been pulling them out of the northern cities and into the southern ones. Knowing that there was a second wave of (formerly Metroland) Transylvito units coming made the prospect of defending this city dubious, but there were also waves of decrypted marching south as reinforcement. There had been a lot of debate about what the new Transylvito units were. What was known was that, if one of them bit an infantry unit, there was a very high crit chance, and any bitten unit that was subsequently brought to zero hits would rise again as Transylvito units. The turned units' Signamancy was completely changed to conform to Transylvito, gray skin, fangs, red eyes and all, and same thing happened to any infantry unit those units bit. Wanda could tell that they weren't uncroaked, even if they dusted when croaked. They sort of resembled decrypted in some ways, but, instead of being loyal to the Arkenpliers, they mostly seem to act on an insatiable desire to drain hits off of other units. Survivors of their assaults on cities had described to her how they would scramble on top of each other until there was a pile of bodies big enough to crest the city or garrison wall. Which is what Wanda was expecting here. She had gone out to take White Castle specifically because it was difficult to take from the ground and offered a good base to atrit the Transylvito units from as they tried to travel north. She had not expected that the enemy infantry would burn their move in mountain hexes to converge on White Castle. The first unled stacks had already been dusted trying to climb the walls or bash through the gate, but at some point leadership had shown up and started collecting units for a massed strike. She was just seeing off a megalo after it had dropped it's load of troops when the alarm sounded. Pikers rushed to the walls as Wanda watched. There were hundreds of enemy infantry, and, in deed, they were rushing the walls, simply stacking on top of one another. Her pikers stabbed with their pikes, but faster than Wanda imagined, there were Transylvito infantry swarming over the wall. Instead of rushing along the wall, the enemy units were actually jumping down into the city. Caught by surprise, many of her stabers were taken down in unled stacks. She gave orders to restack and retreat to the garison, but the sheer volume of enemy troops pouring over the walls cut her forces off. She had her remaining air units swoop down to engage, but they were quickly covered with biting infantry units. It was when her last decrypted flying unit croaked that the Transylvito warlords came over the walls, flying. She loosed the spells she had stored on the tower, but some of them got through. Too late, Wanda realized that she should have stationed some of the archers in the tower – as it was, those that remained were being chased around the city by packs of Transylvito infantry. She ran toward the door to the interior of the tower, but a flying warlord tackled her before she could reach it. She and the warlord struggled for a moment before he sunk his teeth into her neck. She felt the hits draining off of her as she tried to pull away, but the warlord lifted her into the air. Kicking her feet, Wanda caught sight of a single arrow reaching the peek of it's ark, and she watched as it turned over and dived down into the warlord's back. Whether it was a stray shot from an unled archer, or someone had actually intended the hit, it critted the warlord. As his body dissolved into dust, Wanda fell into the melee below. A building broke her fall, it's roof collapsing under her, but the impact stunned her. She could feel something, some kind of corruption, spreading from the bite wound in her neck, stealing her body's functions way from her. She was left staring up at the sky as enemy infantry smashed through doors and windows to get to her. Which was why she saw the moment the sky irissed open, revealing an enormous cone with dark recessed grooves spiraling out from the tip. She watched as a unit as large as Ace's Action Figures, but black, with a single long spike on it's forehead and large bat wings on it's back, descended from the object. It crashed into the ground, crushing the Transylvito units near her, and cupped her protectively in it's hands. Breams of light lanced out from the cone in the sky, striking the ground all around her. Everything was heat and light and explosions and units turning to dust all around her. Then her vision went dark as the corruption robbed her of her consciousness. Ch 25 Chief Warlord Bear stood on the bridge of the Seabird, the largest ship in the Chessboard Navy. That his ship was flying through the air was a bit new and unnerving to him, but stranger things had happened in King Garry's rule. Actually, the fact that Garry was no longer king was probably more unsettling. Who thought he would be answering directly to the Capital City itself? According to Chessboard (to the extent that Bear could understand the city when it “spoke” to him), the awakening of the capital cities had made Transylvito dangerous. His scouts had reported how swarms of Transylvito units had suddenly overrun the neutral former Carpool cities (which had previously been left unclaimed in Transylvito's war against Metroland and Jitterati), emerging with as many as double the number of units they went in with. There was something going on there, and Bear wasn't about to disagree with his new city overlord's command to take raze the capital city of Transylvito. The only thing that had kept his forces from having to go up against that rampaging army is that they all tried to get into Carpool by attacking the wall around it. By all reports, there had been no survivors. Bear had the whole fleet, every ship Chessboard owned, all of them permanently spelled into flying machines and given some kind of magical protection by Gary and his Arkenorb. Sailing (flying?) in formation, they had bypassed Transylvito's subordinate cities and gone straight to the capital. For some reason, the region around it had been covered with a dark black cloud, forcing his fleet to make the last few hexes of travel in twilight. Transylvito, however, was impossible to miss. Evil looking towers thrust up into the sky, looking like so many claws and fangs. The mountains made navigation around the area difficult, even for flying units, but his path was fairly straightforward. He wasn't going to try to do anything fancy. The airspace above Transylvito was thick with bats, Goyles, and probably a few warlords. Bear simply took his fleet into the hex and commanded it to fire at will. His people knew what to shoot at, and their bows and beams chewed through the defenders. A huge volume of fire exploded from the tower, and Bear winced as he saw three frigates and two cruisers go down in flames. He wasn't sure what the rules were for units riding a “sunk” flying ship to the ground, but he commanded a few ships to provide support for any survivors. Transylvito was supposed to have a lot of dolls on the ground for defense. However, once the Tower had blown it's wad of spells, the outcome had been decided. The Chessboard fleet was simply too big. The defenders were swept from the sky in short order, and then the ground forces were smashed. After that, it was down to the systematic destruction of every building in the city. There would be no capture, as the city was too dangerous to hold. Bear watched as the tower fell and the garrison collapsed into rubble. In the end, the city was reduced to a ruin, only the dungeon remaining. He had the fleet blast the outer wall zone just to be thorough.

 

Comments

    • HighJumper

      So I'm quite sure even on rereading that I don't know enough of your source material to really understand this story, but I liked one part of it, the magic diagram, enough to try some modeling. My ideas got a bit tangential, but I was wondering if the "diagram of interlocking circles that represented the eight classes of magic, with the Erf, Fate, and Numbers subclasses accessible for each" that Jillian saw in her menu in Ch. 23 in this part was intended to look more like a simple Venn diagram or more like the Zohar devices used in the rest of your story. 

      Both possibilities are conceptual, not as refined as the menu would probably be, but I'd be interested in knowing which was closer to your original idea(although the Zohar would have connections between circles/spheres that I wasn't sure how to include):