Previous Chapters:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

 

The secret tunnel sparkled around Rip, with what he assumed was reflective mica embedded in the stone. As he descended, the glowing bits grew larger, until he realized that the walls themselves were casting off light. Luminescent crystals in the rock glowed with a yellow illumination bright as day.

 

After a short distance the tunnel flattened out into a large cavern that surprisingly was also a garden. A huge flower bed stretched out before Rip, tulips, daffodils, and carnations of every color, punctuated by a rose bush here and there. A thin layer of dirt had been spread on top of the cave’s stone floor to hold the thousands of blossoms. The ceiling above was a dazzling geode surface, jagged spikes of glowing golden crystals piercing the gray-blue stone.

 

It was beautiful, but something felt a little off. Rip only smelled was stale cave air, without a hint of floral scent. There was no sign of water to nourish plant life. Rip reached down to pluck a pink tulip and it pulled free of the soil without resistance. The flower had no roots. The petals were soft to the touch, a real flower, but a dead one. All these flowers were cut long ago, somehow magically preserved in lifelike beauty, and then replanted in a simulacra of a living garden.

 

Red terracotta stepping-stones formed a path through the not garden. Rip followed it to an uncroaked cherry tree, forever frozen in eternal bloom. Its branches hung over a shallow stone depression, as if a small pond had once been there and dried up long ago. Beneath the cherry tree was a marble park bench, and on that bench sat a woman.

 

It was Magnon’s beloved, his sweetheart from the mosaic. She was beautiful and dead. Raven dark hair spilled down the sides of her heart shaped face, her pouting lips were ruby red, and her eyes were two Xs. A sword slash had cut her across the belly, leaving a diagonal red line from left hip to below the right breast. Her sky blue dress was stained with blood around the wound.

 

Around her neck was a curious piece of jewelry, a small pendant in the shape of a severed hand. It was only two inches wide, but looked fleshy and realistic. The tip of each tiny finger had a burning flame that seemingly gave off no heat, flaming brightly while leaving the corpse uncharred.

 

Rip grabbed the pendant for closer examination, lifting it without taking it off the woman’s neck.

 

“I’m sorry,” said the woman.

 

Rip yelped and dropped the pendant. He swung up his sword.

 

“Crow, I don’t know if you’ll live to hear this message,” said the dead woman. “If you do, just know this, my beloved. I wasn’t trying to croak you. I would never try to croak you. I only wanted you incapacitated so I could steal the Arkenhammer. I was going to lift the curse afterwards, I swear. I didn’t expect you to resist the spell and fight back. I deserved to be croaked for my betrayal. However what I did, I only did for the greater good. There is a prediction that a croakamancer will attune to an arkentool, and use its power to bring peace to Erfworld. I knew that you’d willingly share your empire with me, but the hammer you’d only give up through force. I had no choice. However, when I touched the Arkenhammer I didn’t attune! I was so certain of my purpose, that Lucy Football would be the tool of fate to heal this suffering world, but fate has no plan for me. I have ruined everything, and for naught. My death is near. All I can do now is cast upon myself, and use my art to apologize from beyond death. Forgive me.”

 

Lucy’s uncroaked corpse stopped speaking. Before talking it had been a mere object, but now it was a unit with visible points, a level 11 uncroaked croakamancer. The X’d out eyes had turned into dull and glassy blue orbs. Rip assumed it was some kind of delayed reanimation spell, triggered to go off when someone disturbed the body.

 

“Hello?” asked Rip. “Can you speak, Lucy? My name is Rip.”

 

Lucy said nothing. Apparently that speech was a one-time only prerecorded message. Rip noted that her points listed her as a neutral unit, formerly of Magnon, and theoretically still allied with Delorean. He wondered if he could claim her as a Delorean unit, the same way he had claimed the rest of Magnon’s army.

 

“Lucy, I hereby declare you to be a unit of Delorean,” announced Rip.

 

The uncroaked caster stood up and stacked with Rip. She was now one of his subjects. Her blue dress was repaired and now displayed the sigil of Delorean across the chest, two parallel streak of dwagon fire woven in red sequins.

 

He was still curious about the flaming hand pendant around her neck. “Lucy, give me your necklace. Unless you need it to stay animated,” said Rip.

 

Lucy removed her necklace and gave it to Rip. The tiny hand felt like real skin and flesh, not just a piece of art. It was a magical item, so Rip resized it larger, and discovered that it was in fact a real severed hand. Its skin was green-gray and pickled through some unpleasant embalming process.

 

“Huh,” said Rip. “You have a strange taste in jewelry, Lucy.” He put the hand around his own neck, half-expecting some sort of horrific magical curse to be unleashed. Nothing happened.

 

There were footsteps from the tunnel. Enemy reinforcements had finally arrived. Rip had tentatively hoped that this secret cavern contained a way out of the hex, a hidden escape route that Crow Magnon had kept private. Unfortunately, the tunnel he took in was the only passage out. Rip was finally cornered, and about to meet the enemy face to face. He prayed that Elle cast her spell soon, or it would be too late.

 

---

 

The findamancer and thinkamancer faced each other across the roof of Biff Tower. Lorraine stared curiously at the barbarian caster that had just tried to croak her.

 

“Who are you?” said Lorraine.

 

Now that Elle had seen Lorraine cast, she could identify the magic she had been sensing. The enemy was a thinkamancer, which was really bad news. Thinkers were tough bastards in a fight. If Elle didn’t neutralize her quick, the thinkamancer could sound a telepathic alarm, or mentally incapacitate Elle in any one of a dozen ways. Maybe she was broadcasting a cry for help right now.

 

“Hoboken!” cast Elle again, this time adding a bit of extra juice to increase the projectile’s speed and damage.

 

“Teflon!” The energy bolt bounced off Lorraine’s nose without leaving a scratch. “You know the definition of insanity is trying the same thing twice, and expecting different results?” said Lorraine. “Linklater!”

 

Elle’s mind crumbled. Where was she? Where was Prince Diego? Diego was dead, she was allied with Delorean now. Who was Delorean? No, not a who, a where. Delorean was a city. A lost city. She found the lost city and met Rip. That had happened. Who had met Rip? Elle Dorado. That was her name. She was Elle Dorado and she was on her knees.

 

The black floor was hot beneath Elle’s hands. The floor was a roof. Tower roof. Tower. Biff Tower. In Casino Royal. She was fighting someone on a tower. A thinkamancer. The thinkamancer was in her mind. However, she was also in the thinkamancer’s mind. A mental link is a two way street. There was a crack in the thinkamancer’s willpower, a flaw in her mental defense. The thinkamancer wanted to die.

 

Elle couldn’t cast a spell. Not in this condition. She reached out to probe the psychic weakness with her bare findamancer senses, hoping to learn why the thinkamancer was this miserable.

 

“George,” gasped Elle. “You love George.”

 

Lorraine stopped her mental assault, eyed the findamancer with wary consideration. This was an enemy caster, sneaking to the top of the tower in the middle of battle. No doubt on a mission of utmost importance, to cast a spell with the potential to seriously hurt Tannenball. To seriously hurt Biff.

 

Duty prevented Lorraine from thinking about killing Biff. She was his obedient caster, his slave, and it hurt to even consider betraying him. Instead she fantasized about an assassin killing Biff, and her trying and failing to protect him. Lorraine spent all day every day thinking about the many ways she could fail to protect Biff, and the many different agonizing deaths he would suffer as a result. That’s was the funny thing about Duty. You couldn’t fight it, but sometimes you could trick it.

 

“This is all a distraction,” declared Lorraine. “You are trying to distract me so Delorean can steal the almanac.”

 

“Almanac? What almanac?” asked Elle blearily.

 

“Give me an excuse not to croak you,” said Lorraine through gritted teeth, clearly struggling with herself. Her words weren’t a threat, but a literal request.

 

Elle didn’t know what was happening, but she was going to play along. “Yes! We are trying to steal the almanac. I am distracting you. This is a distraction.”

 

Lorraine walked to the stairs down from the roof, leaving Elle where she lay. “The almanac takes priority. I must protect it,” said Lorraine.

 

As she walked down the stairway, her Duty started to nudge her. Warn King Biff. He must know that an enemy caster is on the tower.

 

“The almanac is in danger,” recited Lorraine to herself, beads of sweat forming on her brow. “I must conserve juice in case the enemy is there.”

 

The dutiful part of her mind wasn’t quite buying that. Juice cost would be minimal. Biff must know. WARN BIFF.

 

It look less than a minute to climb the stairs down to the vault level, the hardest seconds of her life. This was the longest she had ever been disobedient, and it was more painful than the worst tortures of Casino Royal’s dungeons. It took every thinkamancy trick at her disposal to keep lying to herself. When those failed, hate sustained her, but even hate has its limits.

 

Lorraine reached the bottom of the stairs, clutching the railing with white knuckles, and stared down the hall. The two knights stood by the vault door, same as always. There was no threat. No reason not to sound the alarm.

 

Her duty was now clear. She warned Biff.

 

-----

 

Danny stood in King Magnon’s throne room, staring down the secret passage. The long abandoned room was filled with Glover’s units, stamping their footprints into the cobwebs and dust.

 

“He’s right there, chief,” said Sid. “My leg golem is watching him from the entrance. It’s just him and one other unit.”

 

“Boss, you shouldn’t fight him,” said Troy. “This whole thing is sketchy. He battled his way to this cave, to this secret passage, for a reason. As traps go, this is so obviously a trap, it’s not fair to call it a trap. There’s probably some ancient super weapon hidden down there, and he’ll blast you the second you walk through the door.”

 

“He’s a ruler,” said Danny. “It wouldn’t honorable to send infantry rather than duel him myself.”

 

Troy threw up his arms in disgust. “And you think we’re crazy!”

 

“Also, our King wanted me to question this Rip fellow before croaking him,” said Danny. “Perhaps convince him to surrender, if possible. I know it’s a trap, but I have you Troy. Your magic and your imagination. Buff me up for anything he could have planned.”

 

Troy smiled at the rare compliment from his usually surly chief. “Yessir!”

 

The weirdomancer began layering defensive specials onto Danny. Armored skin to minimize damage rolls and resist crits. Evasion to apply his dodge roll to almost any attack type. Fortitude for extra health. Zen to resist mental attacks. Burrowing in case they collapsed the cave on him. Theme song to have his own never-ending battle music.

 

“Oh, come on. Not the song special. That one is so annoying,” groaned Danny as music began echoing through the cave.

 

Troy shrugged. “It’s a good bonus.”

 

You’re the best! Around! Nothing’s gonna ever keep you down…

 

-----

 

 

The music was uplifting and ominous. Rip knew that it was enemy rhymamancy, boosting their rolls and chipping away at his. If the enemy was buffing up for a tough fight, they needn’t have bothered. He was level 1, and his uncroaked caster was just an infantry unit with no weapon proficiencies.

 

“It’s a shame you can’t cast anymore, Lucy,” said Rip. “That would be really useful, don’t you think?”

 

Lucy said nothing. She stood in front of Rip, his mute bodyguard.

 

They watched as Danny of Glover strode into the garden. Sparkles of light danced across the warlord’s skin, indicating the many enchantments on his body. He was stacked with and screened by seven mouseketeers, and flanked by a pack of Sid’s smaller golems. The nightmarish dolls ran around the edges of the cavern, completely encircling Rip in a wide perimeter.

 

“Croak the uncroaked,” commanded Danny.

 

The mousekeeters assumed a firing pose, four mice standing, three crouched in front, and shot off their bayonets. Seven bolts of white shockamancy struck Lucy and ripped her to pieces. Scraps of corpse flesh rained onto the flowers.

 

“Viceroy Rip Encino of Delorean, I presume,” said Danny.

 

---

 

King Biff was annoyed with his thinkamancer. She had been incommunicado for almost a minute, which wasn’t unusual for Lorraine. The caster was always in one of her moods, coming up with excuses to avoid Biff unless explicitly ordered otherwise. He was willing to tolerate a little moodiness, she was a broad after all, but to go offline during a battle, that was just grossly irresponsible. After this was over he’d probably have to throw her back in the dungeon for a little bit, and use the torture chamber’s natural turnamancy to beat more duty into her noggin.

 

“I’m not being unreasonable here, right?” Biff asked one his aides, a courtier tasked with moving pieces on the map board. “She’s treating me like I’m some sort of bad guy, when I’ve been nothing but patient with her.”

 

The aide nodded enthusiastically. “Yes sire, you’ve been nothing but patient.”

 

Enough was enough. Biff sent Lorraine as strong and direct a mental order as he could muster.

 

STATUS?

 

Several infuriating seconds passed before she responded with a curt audio-only thinkagram. “Alert: Enemy caster is on the tower roof. Recommend croaking her immediately.”

 

Biff was furious, but punishing Lorraine would have to wait. Tannenball didn’t have many fliers, but their handful of whirlybirds and wingmen were deadly. They had been staying out of the way of the aerial battle so Glover could do their thing, but at Biff’s command they converged on the tower roof.

 

It would take a moment the fliers arrive, long enough for the enemy caster to wreak whatever damage she had planned. Biff remembered he had some units already on top of the tower. Lorraine, who he wouldn’t risk in battle, and the two elite knights guarding the vault. They were picked from his best and highest level warriors, only given the reward of guarding the almanac after proving their skill in the field. Biff touched their minds with his orders.

 

GO TO THE ROOF. KILL THE CASTER.

 

---

 

Elle knew that her time was limited. Whatever had happened with that thinkamancer was a miracle from the Titans, too good to last long.

 

She took a piece of purple chalk from her backpack and drew the two overlapping circles of a Venntagram. One circle for the seeker. One circle for the sought. In the center, at their meeting, was where the summoning would occur.

 

The most powerful and terrifying spell a findamancer can cast is a summoning, with the power to instantly conjure anyone from anywhere in all of Erfworld. Even more horrifyingly, it could summon creatures that were outside Erfworld, alien beings from bizarre realms untouched by the Titans.

 

Many findamancers refused to cast summonings on principle, viewing it as a sacrilege of the worst order. The act of finding was holy. Two things that belonged together were separated, and through findamancy gradually were united according to the Titans’ plans. It was the magic of order, rearranging the Erf of the world into a more organized and purposeful form.

 

A summoning was a violation of that Titanic plan, wrenching things together through brute magical force. It was findamancy without finding. Having without seeking. The search was often more important than the attainment, for what mortals wanted to find was not necessarily what they were fated to receive. By summoning instead of searching, a caster would get what they desired, but miss what they should have found.

 

Elle wasn’t sure if she believed all that, but it was true that summonings could be very dangerous. If normal findamancy was like trying to spot a fish in a lake, a summoning was sticking your arm shoulder-deep into the murky water and trying to pull the fish out. Unless you were perceptive and strong, you’d likely grab nothing. If you were particularly unlucky, something might grab your arm and pull you underwater. There were numerous stories of findamancers vanishing after botching a summoning. If you were exceptionally unlucky, the consequences could be far worse than the loss of the findamancer. There were legends of cities, even entire sides, being wiped out after they accidentally summoned something wrong, some aberration that never should have existed in Erfworld.

 

Summoning Rip hopefully wouldn’t have any of those dire consequences. There were many factors reducing the difficulty of the spell. She was only transporting him within the same hex, not across Erfworld or between dimensions. Rip was a small easily graspable fish, a mere level 1, without the complications caused by summoning high level units. He was an ally who wanted to get summoned, not an enemy who would get a saving throw to resist. Most importantly of all, Elle had a focus, a piece of Rip’s body. For a findamancer, there was no easier way to locate a unit than using a former part of them. The severed piece practically screamed for its missing owner, and the findamancer merely had to listen.

 

Elle took Rip’s beard out of a small pouch on her backpack and raised the auburn locks above her head. “Google! Yahoo! Bing! Alta!” Lightning began to crackle around Biff Tower, raw shockamancy unleashed by the hole in reality she was tearing.

 

“Vista!”

 

-----

 

“Surrender or be ended, lord of Delorean,” said Danny, hand on the hilt of his sword.

 

“If I surrender, what of my subjects?” asked Rip. “What will become of them?”

 

“That is for my liege King George to decide,” said Danny. “However, I will say this. He is a just man. Not a wise man, not a sane man, but he is fair. You could be at the mercy of far worse rulers then him.”

 

“Perhaps we can strike a alliance,” said Rip. “I’ve done Glover no wrong. Break your alliance with Tannenball, and I’ll help you capture the city. We can divide their territory.”

 

“You don’t know how tempting that offer is, but fate has other plans for us.” Danny drew his sword. “This is your last chance, Rip. Surrender.”

 

Rip considered this. “No, I will believe in my friend. If she cannot save me, then it would be better for Delorean to fall then live in chains.”

 

Danny nodded respectfully, accepting Rip’s decision. Then he lunged forward. Level 9 versus level 1. When their blades clashed Rip almost had his weapon knocked from his hands. It was like trying to fence an avalanche, or parry a tidal wave. Danny’s sword was a dancing blur, forcing Rip to continually retreat backwards to avoid being skewered.

 

Blue lightning began to crackle on Rip’s skin. A metallic tang filled the air. So Delorean did have a secret weapon after all! There was no time for honor when unknown magic was involved.

 

“Croak him! Quick!” shouted Danny. Golems rushed in from all directions.

 

Rip shouted the incantation Elle had taught him, the chant to help guide her summoning “Beam me up, findy!”

 

He vanished.

 

-----

 

Two Tannenball knights ran out of the stairwell onto the roof of Biff Tower. The enemy caster was there, standing behind a chalk rune she had drawn on the floor.

 

The knights screamed a battle cry as they ran at her with their broadswords, and noticed too late that the caster had a stacking bonus. Rip had been waiting behind the stairs. His sword chopped one knight in the neck, instantly croaking him with bonus ambush damage.

 

When the other knight swung around to face Rip, Elle fired a hoboken into his back. The knight stumbled forward, and Rip plunged his blade through the knight’s heart. There was the rush of XP and Rip reached level 2.

 

“How are you feeling, Rip?” asked Elle “They say that summonings can be pretty disconcerting for the target.”

 

“Other than experiencing my first headache ever, I think I’m okay,” said Rip. “You should cast the scroll.” He pointed.

 

A stack of whirlybirds were closing in on their position, large gray falcons with four rapidly rotating wings. A Tannenball knight was mounted on each one.

 

“I need to see the straightjackets,” said Elle.

 

“Dwagons, to me!” cried Rip. His order reached the mind of every dwagon and knight in the adjoining hex. As they crossed the hex boundary and rushed towards the tower, the straightjackets swarmed them. Dwagons began plummeting as their flying specials were stripped away.

 

Elle held the shockamancy scroll in her hands, felt the spellcasting bonus of the level 5 tower beneath her feet. It was a feeling that barbarian casters seldom enjoyed. “Bee Ef Gees!”

 

She fired a shimmering white orb directly upwards into the sky, a disco ball made of pure crackling shockamancy. It flew up two-hundred feet and then exploded, blasting beams of searing energy in all directions. The incoming whirlybirds and their riders were incinerated into skeletons. A wide beam swept over the straightjackets and dwagons, only dealing 1 or 2 hits to each unit, friend or foe, which was inconsequential to the dwagons but turned most of the insects to ash.

 

Most but not all. A few straightjackets had evaded the beam, and dwagons were still plummeting here and there as stray bugs stung them.

 

“Get us out of here, now!” ordered Rip. A red dwagon landed on the tower and the warlord and caster leapt on. Delorean’s air force rushed for the hex boundary and passed through, safe and sound outside the city.

 

---

 

Rip was not celebrating his escape. He stared back down across the hex boundary, at the battle-damaged streets of Casino Royal. Another 14 dwagons had been stung in the rescue attempt. 6 dwagons and 8 riders had survived the fall. He felt the lights of their existence get snuffed out, one by one, as Tannenball units croaked them. Yet another sacrifice his units paid to save him from his folly.

 

“Where did you get that Hand of Glory?” asked Elle.

 

“Oh, this?” Rip had completely forgotten about the creepy severed hand charm dangling around his neck. “I was wondering what it is.” He took a moment to explain his adventures in the cave, and his encounter with uncroaked Lucy.

 

“A Hand of Glory is a pretty rare thing,” explained Elle. “It’s a magic item that can only be made by a croakamancer who knows adept level dollamancy.”

 

“What can it do?”

 

“Buncha stuff. The illumination it casts can only be seen by the wearer, kind of like having the darkvision special but with the range limit of candlelight. You can use it to make paralysis touch attacks. It opens any lock it touches.”

 

“It’s a valuable treasure, but the answers Lucy gave me are even more precious,” said Rip. “I finally know what happened to my side.”

 

“Can I see the hand?” said Elle. Rip passed it to her.

 

The moment Elle’s fingers touched the hand’s pickled skin her eyes widened, and she gasped in shock.

 

“What? What is it?” said Rip.

 

“Rip… Crow Magnon is alive.”

 

END OF PART 7

Blast From The Past - Part 8

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