Part 18 of 20 in Ethereum

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The probabilities behind caster pop rates are largely unknown even among Mathamancers, but the Book of Canon’s Book of Balance states that they rapidly decline with the number of casters a side has previously popped. Because of this, Tom hadn’t bothered popping any more warlords after Riley, instead picking, rather ironically, basic infantry in most cities; they really were excellent value, much easier to build strategies around than the selection of rather average factionals they had inherited from Hiller, and they comboed well with a number of casters, especially Croakamancers.

 

After ten turns’ production, Mal’s magic, and less the two stacks of knights they’d sent ahead to pad out Tom’s strike force, the capital had accumulated twenty-four knights, eight each of scouts and longbowmen, and sixteen of pikers (Mal insisted that her juice would be wasted promoting the pikers and scouts). Chief Warlady Thursday was stacked up with seven knights; Warlady Belle had three more knights and four pikers, which was supposedly a famous defence/counterattack formation that had been popularised by some legendary conqueror a thousand turns ago.

 

What are we supposed to be looking for?” Lisa undertoned to Akira.

 

Shut up,” Akira murmured back.

 

In between bouts of terrorising hapless infantrymen with whatever the flip it was that Riley had cooked up, Sharkey had spotted the elves marching forward last turn, ending in forest within eight hexes of Ethereum. Because Miles had confirmed that they had eight move apiece, the intent was obvious. Akira had suggested they inspect their troops before the battle.

 

I just don’t get what the point of all this is,” Lisa whispered. “We already knew their stats, Misty’s done the Mathamancy.”

 

Akira sighed. “Dismissed; man your posts,” she ordered the troops. “Split between the walls, garrison, and a reserve.” Thursday glared daggers at her – in literally any other side on Erf, no caster would ever dream of giving orders to mundane units in front of the Chief Warlord (Thursday had been appointed Chief for the battle to maximise her bonus), it was a brazen breach of etiquette – but Akira wasn’t paying attention, instead pulling Lisa along, to where their menagerie of daemons was lazing around. “Didn’t you ever pay attention to your pop side’s military at all?” Lisa shrugged. “I did. Most people here come from sides that fell; mine didn’t, it’s probably doing just fine.” Shortness of last syllable, word choice ‘just’: self-esteem issues, thinks maybe it’s doing better without her.

 

When she first met Akira, she’d had the impression of a cold-blooded psychopath, and she stood by this diagnosis, but somewhere between then and now, the Luckamancer had begun to care about other people. Not much, and not many people, but she was improving. Lisa had been rather self-centred too, but some long-buried part of her psyche wanted to see how much the Luckamancer could change, and maybe whether she herself could become a better person, too.

 

We had a Changemancer who liked making knights, too. Out of everyone here, I know best what a successful knight-based defence looks like. I’m walking around to see whether what we have looks like what Wi Xu had.”

 

And does it?”

 

Akira did a half-shrug. “It’s small. There’s something called the fifty/five hundred rule, that a garrison should be the equivalent of fifty stabbers per city level or five hundred if it’s your capital; any less than that and it’s an easy target for ninjas, anything more and you’re paying too much upkeep. We just aren’t old enough to have built up those numbers.”

 

Most established sides employed the doctrine of overdefence, whereby the capital would be defended by more units than its income could cover, and other cities by less, to make up for the capital being such a high-value target, housing both ruler and treasury. This wasn’t really viable for Ethereum, partly because they didn’t really have any sleepy little cities to provide the income, partly because Ethereum City was already well-defended on two sides by a contract and the treasury wasn’t much anyway, and partly because Tom had no interest in sitting in a capital city; it made more sense to defend him because he was actively seeking trouble.

 

Actually, Wi Xu only had four stacks of proper defenders, on my perfect sister’s order,” subconscious emphasis, contempt, weaker than usual: residual bitterness, slowly getting past it, “so I wasn’t too worried yesterday. What I forgot was that she’d picked them out of our top knights and warlords; the weakest were level four. The point of inspections is to notice things like that we’ve only got level ones.” Lisa frowned. “It’s still no big deal. We’re under-strength, but there aren’t that many elves. Kismet’s Numbers are fine.”

 

Mmph,” Lisa said. “I really wish I’d done more Em Kay damage control after Gus, tried to contest the blacklist. This would be the perfect time to sign up another Shockmancer or two.”

 

Akira shrugged. Lisa envied the insouciance of the gesture. “Turn’s ending soon. Let’s go back.”

 

Gave up too quickly, spent too long talking. Wasn’t really looking for anything. Only came out to try to look professional in front of me. Hasn’t boasted. Trying to make me feel better.

 

She smiled and followed her friend up. Turn ended just as they reached the top.

 

On most turns, there was no urgent demand for a cold caster’s juice, so unless they were needed for remote support for a battle somewhere else, they wandered in and out of the towertop common room as they pleased. With an imminent battle likely, the others were waiting, getting restless and fidgety. Sharkey and Cap were on one sofa near the Lookamancer’s crystal ball; Samedi had a beanbag; Miles was pretending to read a book; Cruller was pacing; Misty was in the pantry again; Mal had picked an armchair.

 

I spy with my little eye something beginning with b,” said Sharkey.

 

So help me, Titans, but if it’s your crystal ball again I will feed it to you,” Cruller said.

 

“… I spy with my little eye something else beginning with b,” he said, scowling at her.

 

Everyone, shut up and listen,” Lisa said, which was something of a customary greeting they all used from time to time. “We’re about to be invaded by a flipton of angry midgets. Misty, you’re certain we’ve got this?”

 

What do you mean, certain?” Misty said, rolling her eyes. “We can always roll a thousand critical fails in a row.”

 

No, we can’t,” Akira said.

 

Misty shrugged. “Whatever. I’m certain that our odds are over 99.9%.”

 

That’ll do, I guess,” Lisa said.

 

Hrmph. I’m not sure anyone but me understands this, but the odds we win and our units’ expected survival rate are different numbers. We’ll win, but take heavy losses. We could lose half our troops.”

 

That’s one thing I’m not worried about,” Lisa said. She went over to the workbench and picked up the Croakamancy scroll. “With Kira-chan here, nobody important will croak. This’ll tide us over until we pop replacements, and anyways, the A-team is going to solve the problem permanently tomorrow morning.”

 

Misty grumbled about non-Mathamancers and conjunctive statements, but left it at that.

 

Mal cleared her throat for attention and got to her feet. “The elves are arriving soon. It’s time for our places. Cruller, Cap, head down.”

 

They’d spent a few minutes picking out deployments yesterday evening, or rather Misty had pointed out obvious positions for them all. Cruller was to defend the gate with the cloth golems and Cap with some sort of hat-based shenanigans Lisa hadn’t cared about, and Samedi would send his projections down to help as soon as the elves entered the hex and he could cast. None of the rest of them was really much use in a fight, so they were all standing by in the tower, ready to head to wherever they were needed. Mal had taken their only Shockmancy scroll; she was both the self-declared leader and their mobile heavy reserve, ready to cast any of a dozen different spells depending on how the battle unfolded.

 

It probably wasn’t the best arrangement, since so many casters were so far from the action, but no-one wanted to give up the tower bonus before they had to, and it gave them an excellent view. From up here, they could see as those two Archons who’d been trashing their farms each turn floated into view. One made an obscene gesture at the tower; the other glanced at their defences, nodded, then turned around and beckoned to the obscured far hex. A few minutes later, stack after stack of elves marched into view. Lisa did a rough count; they were mostly in eights, ten stacks across and eight deep, with some missing here and there. Five or six hundred.

 

So, uh,” Misty said, “I said that our odds of winning were 99% against three hundred elves. Against five hundred and seventy-six plus two Archons …”

 

Lisa turned her head very slowly, which would have been an excellent way to build drama, if Akira hadn’t jumped in. “You forgot that natural allies breed up?! How do you forget that? That’s literally all they’re good for!”

 

Are we going to lose our capital?!” Miles asked.

 

No! It’s fine. They’re all level one and have no leadership –”

 

Other than the Archons.” That was bad. Shockmancy tended to be more effective against small numbers of large units than the reverse; the normal counter was to drain a caster’s juice with waves of expendable units, but almost all of their combat capability was concentrated in the knights.

 

“– and we have a pile of advantages. The numbers are still our way, and with Enjo Kosai here” Akira glared daggers at her “that’s all we need, we won’t have a run of bad rolls. It just means we’re going to have basically no defence left after. And I didn’t forget; you asked whether we could beat what Sharkey saw, and I answered that.”

 

Lisa let out a long sigh which didn’t relieve any tension at all, and looked out over the tower balcony. They’d have to repopulate the daemons again to tide them over. Tom wouldn’t be happy; that’d probably cost most of the money they’d get from taking Pro Toast. One step forward, one step back. Below her, the elves advanced. “Here they come.”

 

They felt the gentle but unmissable throb as the first elf crossed the hex boundary: they were under attack, and could cast. Samedi lay back and shut his eyes; moments later, four of his customary shadow-thing projections appeared around him, and set off down the tower. Battle cries echoed up, as the Boring elves dug into their walls, and their vanguard knights slashed down at them. The Archons blasted down at them; in turn, the longbowmen returned fire, fizzling their displacements. The four shadow-projections reached the walls and stacked with some daemons for the bonus, before moving to engage.

 

Do you know, I was never very impressed by Mathamancy,” Mal said conversationally. “I’m sure its sums are correct, but they’re only ever as good as your intelligence. Fate Magic is more reliable. For example, a Predictamancer could tell that your enemy will have more troops than you know about … or that you will have fewer.”

 

Several things happened almost at the exact same time. There was a gentle crunch; Samedi’s projections all blinked out of existence; the livery vanished off the cloth golems and half the knights; the city gates swung open; and the +8 bonus from Thursday vanished, with a sensation like that of the sudden fall from not realising that one was walking into a stairwell leading down. Lisa whirled. Mal, her livery gone, stood over Samedi’s body, which was unconscious rather than trancing, and she unrolled the Shockmancy scroll, ready to cast; the others gaped at her.

 

Treachery,” Miles breathed.

 

Lisa wasn’t a fighter. Where mundane units often talked about the excitement of battle, for her it tended more to a dry mouth, clammy hands, and a lack of clear thought. Only one fact shot to the top of her awareness: this is hopeless. With Thursday swapping sides, the elves were effectively twice as strong, while they were just as badly weakened. That didn’t even factor in Mal or Cruller or the loss of the walls.

 

Indeed,” Mal said with a smile. “I have an arrangement with Pro Toast. You might all be willing to ignore everything wrong with this side, but some of us can think a little longer-term than the next few turns.”

 

Akira’s hands crackled with juice. “Well, that’s funking good for you, but you’re not going to live long enough to –”

 

Whoa whoa whoa, hold fire, hold fire,” Lisa said, her heart skipping a beat on seeing Mal’s eyes dart down to the scroll and her mouth open. She wasn’t sure exactly what was on the scroll, but Tom had more than enough firepower to take them all out with one spell. “We’re not enemies here, we’re just surprised because of how sudden this is. Let’s just take two seconds to talk this over instead of croaking each other, yeah?”

 

Her eyes ranged over the others in the room, and she opened a simplex Thinkagram broadcast. « I’ve got a plan. Get to the portal room. I’ll buy time. Trust me. »

 

You expect me to believe you’re not just trying to save your own skin?” Mal asked. “You’ve been Tom’s lapdog since the first turn.”

 

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’d rather serve him than the stuck-up, sleazy princelings a Baddie Thinkamancer normally gets saddled with,” Lisa said, walking in a wide circle to draw Mal’s gaze from the stairs and dropping a lesser suggestion to keep the Changemancer’s eyes on her. Her heartbeat slowed. Combat terrified her, but if the name of the game was fast-talking, that meant she was the one in control. “The Great Minds bad-mouth me to every respectable ruler and the other barbarians, so I only ever got the ones who couldn’t get either the Minds or Charlie to do their Thinkamancy. Trust me, that’s not prime clientèle. Next to them, Ethereum’s been copacetic.

 

But that doesn’t mean I’m actually loyal. I’m still only aligned, not a member of the side. Speaking of which …” She unaligned; her livery vanished. She began weaving more suggestion into her words, keeping it subtle, because Mal knew they were her weapon of choice. “You remember how I wanted to see if I could be a hot caster, that was the entire reason I joined in the first place? That thug May hit me and sent back here for no reason after that idiot Rhyme-o-mancer got himself captured, and then it was too late for me to leave, because of a crime that Tom committed before I even joined. That’s crap, and that sort of thing’s been going on all the time.

 

When it comes down to it, though, pragmatism is the only thing that really matters. We both know how dumb it is to have a hot caster, never mind a Shockmancer, as Overlord. Tom isn’t a strategic genius, he doesn’t have divine mandate or anything, he wasn’t even a master, it’s just that he was in the right place at the right time and blasted the right guy. I was willing to put up with him as long as everyone else was and it was easy, but when you get down to it, it hasn’t been easy at all, it’s been nonstop war against a stronger enemy. I’d thought we were just dealt a crappy hand, maybe it was always a bad idea for us to come out here in the first place, but you’ve managed to cut a deal with them without even visiting. I mean, what were we thinking, letting a Shockmancer decide our diplomatic stance. If we’d had a cold caster in charge from the start, there never would have even been a war.

 

So if you want to start over with a clean slate, and set up a side which doesn’t punish one person because another screwed up, which doesn’t keep its ruler on the front lines, which keeps a little class when hiring instead of taking literally every hard-luck case who Tom feels sorry for because he’s just a Shockmancer himself? Of course I’m with you on that, all the way. Long live Overlady Mal. I only wish you’d told me in advance, so I could’ve talked the others round.”

 

Mal suddenly looked around. “Where are the others?”

 

There was a pause.

 

Oh, crap,” Lisa said, thinking fast. “Akira has a Changemancy scroll hidden in her quarters, Charlotte wrote it, it’s a tower down spell. She’s going to crush us all.” Mal moved for the stairs. “No! I know her. She’s crazy enough to croak herself, but only if she can take you with her, she hates you. Get to the air and transform into a dwagon.”

 

I will teach that girl respect,” Mal said.

 

Oh, take her and welcome, she’s a psycho, but she’s a psycho with a croaked man’s switch. I can trap her in thoughtspace and hold her until the elves arrive, then you can do whatever you want with her.”

 

Without giving Mal an opportunity to respond, she dashed to the stairwell; behind her, she felt the sub-bass sound of expanding flesh, as Mal shapeshifted into her black dwagon form. Lisa ignored it and slid down the bannister. Akira and Miles were waiting two landings down.

 

What took you so long?” Akira asked. “And what happened to your livery?”

 

Buying time and burning her juice. I don’t want to find out what sort of barricades a master Changemancer can conjure. And I had to roll about four bluff checks in a row. Permission to realign?” Akira nodded; Lisa’s Ethereum livery reappeared. “The others went ahead?”

 

There was a faint chime in her head; a mental order from Tom. What the flip is happening there? What are you doing? She replied with a minimum-juice Thinkagram: Danger. Will talk when safe.

 

Yeah, they’ll’ve made it out by now. What’s this brilliant plan of yours?”

 

Run for it,” she said. “This place is finished.”

 

There was a feminine “Repent, motherflipper!” from outside, followed by the POW of Shockmancy hitting home. Other than that, the noises of battle were quieting. There were still a few cries, but it sounded more like a clean-up than a battle.

 

OBJECTION!” Miles said. “We’re wanted for complicity in assassination there.”

 

Yeah, isn’t that insane?” Akira asked. “We’ll all be executed.”

 

Lisa raised a finger. “This city will fall. Most of the side will disband. The hot group will survive, but with empty purses. They’ll attack Pro Toast City tomorrow, if only to make upkeep. If Tom wins, and he’s very good at that, he’ll get their portal and a new capital. The guilds want him, not us, so they’ll keep us as hostages, at least for the turn. He can’t afford to lose us, so he’ll come in.”

 

And do what?” said Miles. “We’re guilty. Really, really guilty. No jury in the world would acquit.”

 

Lisa gave a half-grin, one rather less mocking and more predatory than usual. “I’m guessing we’re being spied on right now, so I’d rather not say. Trust me on this.”

 

You’re not exactly the most trustworthy person,” Miles said. “In fact you’re probably the least.”

 

Then trust that I’m not dumb enough to do something that would get me executed.”

 

Akira and Miles exchanged glances.

 

I really hope you know what you’re doing,” he said. Akira nodded.

 

Always.”

 

They hurried down the spiral stairs to the basement, where the portal room was, and skidded to a stop. Misty was kneeling by one wall in manacles. In between her and the portal was the stack of Mal’s knights they’d set to guarding the portal, six from one stack of stabbers and two from another. They had all defected along with their mistress.

 

Nice plan,” Misty said, clinking her chains.

 

“… I can’t believe we forgot about those guys,” Lisa said, wondering whether she could suggest them. Probably not all at once. The easiest people to manipulate were complete idiots, and those who thought they were smarter than her but who weren’t; knights were smarter than basic infantry, but they knew they weren’t as smart as a commander.

 

Surrender,” ordered one of the knights, pointing at her with a very long and sharp sword.

 

Why are you asking us to surrender? We’re on your side,” Lisa tried anyway, bringing a hand up to hide her livery.

 

Yeah, not buying it,” said the knight.

 

She sighed, lowering her hand. “Can’t blame me for trying.” She looked at the Croakamancy scroll still in her hand, which she’d picked up earlier and held onto without thinking. Useless without corpses.

 

Akira rolled her eyes and stepped forward, rolling her shoulders and cracking her neck left and right. “You might all be happy to be useless as usual, but I’ve still got a full Luckamancy charge. Haven’t you been wondering what I can do with it? I know I have.” She brought her hands together with the burning-cordite smell of juice. “Pyro Luck!”

 

On the second syllable of the incantation, one knight yelled “Spell!” and the stack charged.

 

Akira finished with a flash of blue light, then threw a hoboken. One knight ducked under it, tripped over a second knight’s foot, sending both careening into a third and knocking the sword from her hand; it whirled through the air and into the fourth’s crotch. The hoboken whizzed overhead and critted the fifth. The sixth knight took a horizontal swipe at Akira; she stepped into the blow, twisting the sword from his hand and into the seventh’s sternum. The eighth jump-slashed at her, missed, and instead chopped into the sixth from behind. Akira used her foot to hook the seventh’s sword into her hand, and ran the eighth through. From outside came another crash of Archonic Shockmancy; bricks and mortar dust fell from the ceiling, one piece braining a fallen knight. Akira dashed forward and coup de grâced the last few while they struggled to their feet. There was a gentle chime as she levelled.

 

The others stared.

 

Could … could you have been doing that this entire time?” Miles asked, stacking with Misty to banish her manacles.

 

The blue glow faded. “If I’d had unlimited uncroaked to siphon luck from, sure. That really goes through it.” She sinuously stretched toward the roof. Lisa had to admire her grace.

 

So, what’s the plan?” Misty asked.

 

Run into the Magic Kingdom,” Akira said.

 

Misty glanced at the portal. “Ask a stupid question. Aren’t you all worried about being executed?”

 

No,” said Lisa. “It’s a long story and we don’t have much time, so just trust me on this.”

 

Oh, I’m not worried,” Misty said. “I still haven’t done anything illegal. Just wondering.”

 

Great. Where’s Sharkey?”

 

He went out after Cap.”

 

Lisa opened a Thinkagram. « Cap, Sharkey, whatever you’re doing, drop it and get to the portal room, now. »

 

« Good afternoon, Miss Holmes, » the voice of Mewlin Pendwagon replied pleasantly.

 

She swore and broke the connection.

 

The drawback of specialising in suggestions was that her Thinkagrams were clumsy and, apparently, hackable, at least by a Headmaster probably doing one of those super-disturbing higher-order links with a pile of other masters. It had to cost him ten times as much juice as her to intercept and was very illegal, but with his minions, he had thirty times as much juice, and they’d left the law behind some time ago.

 

She discarded that line of thought and considered just running out after Sharkey and Cap. Casters were precious, and those two were unsung cornerstones of the side’s strategy, and would be hard or impossible to ever replace. On the other hand, there were hundreds of enemies more than they could possibly beat out there. Never leave a unit behind. This was the classic Dirtamancy-free tar pit trap: taunt your enemy into sending people out to rescue people who got caught trying to rescue people. If they seized Pro Toast and Mal became an enemy, depriving her of two casters would be invaluable. She didn’t even know where to look for either of them, despite having both a Findamancer and Lookamancer in the hex.

 

Lisa?” Misty said. “Probability we can find them without being intercepted is 5.3%.”

 

That settled it. Any decision which had only one chance in twenty of working had better have a payoff twenty times as good as the cost of failure, and this did not. “Forget it. We’ll portal out to Pro Toast tomorrow afternoon, ride back here the long way with Tom and the gang, and prise them out of Mal’s cooling fingers. Let’s see her beat all twenty-something of us with just –”

 

There was a patter of feet. On reflex, Lisa skipped to the side; Cruller charged through where she had been and turned. Three cloth golems were stacked with her, blocking them from the portal.

 

Note to self: do not gloat in a contested hex.

 

I’m sorry, girls –” Cruller said.

 

Hey!” said Miles. Nobody cared.

 

“– but I’m not going to be Chief Caster over just those other three idiots.”

 

Cruller,” Akira said. Her face twisted with fury, all traces of beauty vanishing in an instant. “You slimy slit-sucking sneakslag, you double-crossed us!”

 

I didn’t double-cross us, I did it for us! Tom’s a fine fighter, but he should never have been a ruler. Even with your magic, ruler in the field is stupid, you know this. We go through this, the others will come back or we’ll find more from the Magic Kingdom, and in a few turns we’ll be stronger than ever. With you and me, and Mal in charge, we’ll be a hundred times better than under Tom and May!”

 

Okay, three things,” Akira said, counting down on her fingers. “One, there’s no ‘we’. I pretended to be your friend to get free clothes. Two, you’re actually a funking joke of a designer. The first dress was nice, for something free, but Titans, you have no imagination, and you think we won’t realise you’re compensating for a lousy colour sense by sticking to monochrome. And three,” she snatched the Croakamancy scroll from Lisa’s hands, “Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen –”

 

Akira,” Cruller said, reaching toward her.

 

Clariel!”

 

Red energy flowed through the chamber, dragging the fallen knights back to their feet. Akira jabbed a finger toward Cruller, and they stacked and attacked. One cloth golem stood down three, the others two apiece. The eighth knight lurched around, raised its sword, and ran Cruller through. She gave a little half-cough and fell, her eyes crossing out.

 

Yep, there goes the diplomatic solution. “Come on,” Lisa said, taking Akira’s sleeve and pulling her around the mêlée as the knights finished off the unled golems.

 

One moment,” Miles said, taking one badly-damaged uncroaked. “Peace out!” There was a flash of light and the smell of burning juice. To Lisa’s questioning look, “A little trick Hedera taught me. Mal can’t croak it now. The city will stay in our hands until dawn.”

 

It would give Tom enough time to stack properly and avoid anyone from his group disbanding prematurely. She nodded approval.

 

There was a patter of feet by the entrance. A stack of knights and two of elves appeared.

 

See you in about ten turns,” Akira said to them, waving with a beatific grin, and she and the other three casters ran through the portal while the invaders dusted all but one of their knights.

 

There was a moment of sudden peace and light, like when one dives underwater and then breaks the surface, a stark contrast with the dark portal room, littered with corpses and dust and scraps of cloth. The sun was shining brightly, there was the exciting, charged smell of copious amounts of magic, and free casters were happily walking to and fro, chatting with their friends. One of them happened to be Railgun, Knocks Bank’s top enforcer, who did a double-take on seeing the four Ethereum casters.

 

Lisa was sorely tempted to try suggesting her, ‘these aren’t the casters you’re looking for’ or something, but the Great Minds were watching and would counter, so instead she went with a broad smile and wave, trying to attract attention because she was better at dealing with large numbers of people than any Shockmancer. “Yoo-hoo!”

 

Railgun blinked and walked over. “Um, hi,” she said.

 

Hi,” said Lisa.

 

You probably already know this, but there’s an outstanding warrant for the arrest of any and all Ethereum casters.”

 

Miles opened his mouth to say something lawyerish; Lisa shook her head with a motion she could have passed off as turning to look at him. He knew the law, but she knew how to mess with people.

 

There was a sudden susurration of people stage-whispering ‘Is that Akira Tsu?’ and ‘Ethereum’s here’, expanding outward like a ripple in a pool. Lisa half-grinned. Shockmancers might be the best fighters, but in this sort of engagement, Railgun didn’t have a prayer. Hesitation, delayed eye contact; guilt. Marvin. That would do nicely, for an opener.

 

Of course we know. We have a Lookamancer; we saw exactly what you did to the last one of us who set foot here.” She put a subliminal stress on the word ‘you’; Railgun took half a step back as though slapped. “Hey, no hard feelings, really. You were just doing what you had to to make upkeep. Who hasn’t ever been there? Honestly, that made me like you more, not less. It’d be pretty messed up if someone who’d never had to make that decision was passing judgement on the rest of us.”

 

Mewlin’s voice whispered in her ear. « Stop trying to subvert her. »

 

« Um, no? » She dropped and blocked the connection.

 

Railgun bit her lip. “Why are you here?”

 

A crowd was forming around them. Judging by how people were bunching up either behind her or Railgun, she estimated that they were split evenly between supporters, opponents, and the undecided. The best answer would be one that upheld Ethereum’s rep, meaning that they couldn’t admit that they lost because of another screw-up, and the best excuse is always to blame someone else. “Because someone remote-turned three of our top units during a capital battle.”

 

Impossible,” said one caster from Railgun’s side. “Remote turning? That’s ridiculous. If that were possible, nobody would bother with wars.”

 

She chuckled. “Well, you’re half right. It’s not possible, not for a lone Turnamancer. But with a tri-link with, say, a Carnymancer to break the rule about needing to engage a target to cast on it, things are a little different. And how many sides have those three casters? None in our battlespace, definitely none with the additional high-class Thinkamancers you’d need to unravel it safely. I should know. Ergo, it wasn’t done by a side in our battlespace. I happen to know enough about Carnymancy to know that it’d be hard to remote-turn someone in a different battlespace, so …”

 

There was a bustle, as the crowd around Railgun parted to let Mewlin through. Stacked with him were Penny Arcane, owner of Knocks Bank, and Red Catchem, master-class Findamancer and second-most powerful in the Sett. Lisa curtseyed to Mewlin in greeting, looking like the equivalent of a champion knight saluting his opposite number before a duel, but actually more like kicking sand in his face; under guild rules he wasn’t allowed to publicly acknowledge a Baddie unless absolutely and immediately necessary, but to onlookers who didn’t know that (and the rule was secret), he’d just look rude.

 

We heard a commotion,” he said. He pretended to only just notice Lisa and her stack. “Aren’t you four wanted for a capital crime?”

 

OBJECTION! Leading the witness,” Miles said. “It’s an alleged capital crime.”

 

Also, it would be those three,” Misty corrected. “I didn’t do anything.”

 

Akira gave them a look.

 

I’m just saying,” Miles said, but he and Misty shut up.

 

Let’s leave that for the courts, shall we?” Lisa said, ignoring them. “It’d be pretty sketchy to execute someone without giving them a fair trial first.”

 

If you’re referring to Marvin –” Penny began, annoyed.

 

Most of the time, Lisa found that seizing the initiative was the most important part of winning any argument. The Great Minds were more hampered by her Baddie status than she was; their by-laws against talking with her crippled their ability to cut her off, but she had no such compunctions. Penny didn’t think as fast as her, and Red never said anything, she thought he might even be mute.

 

If I can refer to him purely by describing a gross miscarriage of justice, that really says something about what happened, doesn’t it? Speaking of courts, Headmaster,” she said this as politely as she could, “I don’t suppose you’d happen to have any impartial witnesses about where you were earlier this turn? You wouldn’t have been somewhere quiet and isolated where, hypothetically, you could have safely done a tri-link, could you? A link with, say, a member of a friendly guild with a mortal grudge against Ethereum, as well as someone willing to do anything for money, even if it broke the rules?”

 

Mewlin hesitated. He knew an ambush when it stared him in the face; he was probably waiting while a Thinkamancer/Lookamancer/Signamancer trio relayed her earlier words to him. “If you’re insinuating that I linked to bring down your side, I never needed to. Your Changemancer turned against you all on her own. She was never a loyal unit, was she? I can only assume that life under Tom’s thumb wasn’t as pleasant as she’d imagined.”

 

Not hearing a no there.”

 

He raised an eyebrow, and then his pinky. “Would it make a difference to you if you did, or would you make something else up? You’re rather good at that, I must concede it’s impressive.”

 

Pinky swears are inviolable natural Signamancy,” Miles admitted.

 

Oh? That’s a rule, is it?” she asked. “So, something else a Carnymancer could subvert?”

 

Everyone’s gazes pivoted to the side, where a Carnymancer named Wunsun happened to be standing. He looked around nervously.

 

I can neither confirm nor deny that,” he said.

 

Charlie, you beautiful bugblatter. There probably wasn’t even an NDA, Carnymancers avoided legal matters on principle, but it was because of Charlie that he could get away with it. And because everyone hated Carnies, that meant that she’d get away with it, too. She could see the undecided casters nodding in her favour. Mission accomplished.

 

Well, like I said, let’s save that for the courts,” she said with a half-grin that signalled to the onlookers that she had at least one other ace in the hole. “Double jeopardy, and all. Right now, we have stuff to do.” She made to leave.

 

I think not,” said Penny. “There’s still a warrant from a Quorum of the Qualified for your arrest for violating a cardinal rule. Whatever you think you’re implying about Mewlin is irrelevant to that. Railgun, take them away.”

 

Railgun hesitated. Sensing an opening, Lisa swooped in. “No matter what you say, Arcane, we’re not criminals. Of course we’ll abide by the warrant and stand trial.” Akira, Miles, and Misty exchanged glances. “Two little things, though. Our first witness is going to be our overlord, Tom the Marvel. The trial can’t really start until he’s here.”

 

We’ve already given him a summons,” Penny said. “Via you, in fact. I don’t need to remind you that he’s failed to appear, do I?”

 

No, but apparently I need to remind you that it’s copacetic, hot casters can stay in the field during a campaign without incurring contempt, but that campaign’s wrapping up one way or another within a few turns. So don’t worry your pretty little head about that. He’s coming. The second problem is that accused are held at the Dirtamansion, but we happen to know that they’ve been working pro bono for Pro Toast. We’re not going to go quietly with anyone allied with the side that’s wanted to exterminate us since day one. We’ll only go with someone neutral.”

 

Sharkey had scried on Pro Toast City a few times to check whether they had additional unknown casters or other surprises, and had observed extensive erfworks bearing the telltale marks of caster make. It could have been paid for, sides often did because Dirtamancers charged less for certain upgrade scrolls than it cost to do it normally, but safe money said they didn’t have a receipt proving it.

 

Penny’s eyebrows beetled. “I know you haven’t been to the Magic Kingdom in a while, but the way it works here is that people on trial are not the ones allowed to decide the circumstances of that trial.”

 

True, I’m rusty on my law. But laws are for the benefit of the people, aren’t they? So why don’t we ask them?” She turned to the crowd.

 

It doesn’t work like that, Thinkamancer,” Penny said, cutting across. “The law applies to everyone, no exceptions, and if you don’t like it, the time to lodge a protest and propose an amendment is sometime before you assassinate a ruler, not after.”

 

Does it apply to everyone, though? If one of Lady Jasmine’s personal friends were locked up, are you really claiming that they’d get the exact same treatment that any of the rest of us would?” As she spoke, she made eye contact with people in the crowd whom she personally knew had been arrested and mistreated.

 

A Croakamancer Mewlin vaguely recognised came up and offered him an envelope on which Mewlin Pendwagon had been written in familiar handwriting. He took it, handed her a rand as a tip, slit it open, and read the letter inside, tuning Lisa and Penny out.

 

Tom is planning to demand a mistrial and the invalidation of all evidence. I guarantee that a majority of the Quorum will find against him and vote guilty, but key members will change their minds if these four are kept in the Dirtamansion; further, it would needlessly damage your reputation. I also guarantee that they won’t escape the Magic Kingdom before Tom either croaks or comes in person to retrieve them.

 

Tagg

 

Let them go,” Mewlin said aloud. “They can stay wherever they like.”

 

He was rewarded by a look of shock on Lisa’s face. Penny stared. “Mewlin, you’re the one who told us how dangerous she is, and you want to just let her loose?”

 

It’s fine,” was all he said.

 

Well,” Lisa said, smoothing her expression out, “that’s that, then.” She gave another curtsey. “If you’ll excuse us, we need to find lodgings.”

 

Hey, Lisa,” called a free caster. Medium purple hair with a headband, level two, blue skirt, white shirt. Lisa recognised her from earlier Thinkagrams as Undine Eros, free Date-a-mancer. “Me and some friends have a place. It’s in the Naughty Corner and kind of cruddy, but …”

 

That will do nicely,” Lisa said.

 

Lisa and Miles had spent some of their juice each turn reaching out to free casters, offering small payments that they called non-exclusive retainers but really buying contacts and positive publicity. The theory was that goodwill had already given them over twenty casters worth the better part of a million shmuckers, so spending a few thousand extra to keep the option open was well worth it. This was one of the things they’d argued about with Mal, who’d insisted it was a waste of money and that it would be smarter to just hire casters as needed and get their services immediately; in hindsight, because she would have got their service, when now she got their enmity. Undine was the de facto leader among their sympathisers; she wasn’t the strongest, but she did believe in the cause, and as a Date-a-mancer she had caster senses that helped her deal with the others.

 

Four other free casters were stacked with Undine. She broke and joined the Ethereum stack; the other four took point, leaving the confrontation. As they left the crowd behind, one of her casters pulled two item pieces out from his coat and screwed them together, assembling a collapsible miracle pole. “We heard what happened, we have a Lookamancer who’s been commentating your battles. He doesn’t get sound and we can’t really tell what spells are being cast, but we get the general picture. Sucks about Sharkey and Cap.”

 

Word.”

 

What happens now? The city hasn’t fallen –”

 

That was me,” Miles said proudly.

 

“– but whatever spell did that won’t last forever, will it,” Undine said, ignoring him. He wilted.

 

No. It’ll fall at dawn. Speaking of which, I guess our treasury will go with it, might as well spend it all while we can. We’ve got a few ten thou left; you guys want to fill your purses?”

 

Wait, what?” Undine said, freezing in shock. Their other stack turned to stare in awe. Purses had capacity for a thousand shmuckers per level, but few casters ever had more than a few hundred at a time, or equivalent rands. Their treasury was almost two orders of magnitude above that. It wasn’t even very high; most sides had ten times as much as them.

 

We’ve razed or sacked like four cities,” Lisa said. “Even after expenses, it adds up.”

 

Uh, Lisa?” Miles said. “Don’t you think ten thousand shmuckers for a night’s room is the sort of thing one normally gets a by-your-leave from one’s ruler for?”

 

There was a pause.

 

Oh, flip me, I forgot to call Tom,” she said.

 

Remind me why we think she’s the smart one?” Miles undertoned to Misty.

 

What do you mean, we?” she replied.

 

Give me a minute.” « Tom? »

 

« What on Erf is going on there? I know some from ruler senses, but it makes no sense. »

 

« Need preserve juice, keep brief. Coup. Mal, Cruller, Thursday turned during battle. Bluffed to escape to MK with Miles, Akira, Misty. Samedi, Cap, Sharkey captured. Cruller croaked. City spelled, won’t fall until dawn. We’re house arrest until you enter. Can cast. »

 

Tom paused to digest this. « Understood. Have Miles filibuster. Stand by. Will capture PT and enter soon. »

 

« Roger. Permission for bribes? »

 

« Better you than Mal. Leave enough for upkeep. »

 

She gave a mental thumb-up. « Break. » “Yeah, we’re good. Help yourselves.”

 

You know, Lisa,” Miles said, “I wish you’d talked over the point about not staying at the Dirtamansion with me. Plenty of people have disagreements with a Dirtamancer; that made us look petulant, like we were asking for special consideration. And it’s not like they would have murdered us in our sleep; you said they wanted us as hostages.”

 

Two reasons,” Lisa said. There were actually three, but nobody except her needed to know the third. “One, I was asking for special consideration. We’re a major power bloc here, a sovereign side with twenty … twenty-one, now? Whatever, with a lot of casters. And we help support more,” she indicated Undine and the other stack. “We should assert ourselves more, rather than let the guilds dictate the laws.”

 

Another strategy is to not double down when they already have us at a legal disadvantage,” Miles said. “You should have asked us so that we could have talked it over and considered everything before going on the offensive. You went with that because it fits your personality, but you’re not the only one on trial here.”

 

There wasn’t time,” Lisa said. “Besides, point two. The Dirtamancers wouldn’t have murdered us, no, but they would have put us in shackles. Our juice would zero, and I’ve been conserving mine this turn.”

 

You want to cast?” Akira asked, surprised. “What can we even do from here, except pray to the Random Number Titan?”

 

You three? Nothing. We’re all going barbarian before the battle, that rules you out if you can only cast during combat and on allies, and no-one else will be too useful without Sharkey to show you what you’re doing. But Misty only said Tom had good odds for tomorrow with the force balance as is, meaning he’ll lose if Pro Toast gets reinforcements. Such as, say, the six whole guilds who can just walk through their portal.”

 

That’s legal, though,” Miles said. “Half the Kingdom’s hot casters get upkeep protecting capitals. You’re never going to get an injunction against that.”

 

Oh ye of little faith,” Lisa said.

 

Here we are,” Undine said.

 

The Naughty Corner was the most desolate of the Magic Kingdom octants. It was always going to feel abandoned because Naughtymancy was the class with only two disciplines, but very few of either of those could make upkeep as barbarians and so had a low population. On top of that, it was home to the Shockmancers, and while the self-disciplined ones like Railgun and Tom could be real terrors to their enemies, most were simply terrors to everyone, prone to picking fights and escalating them at the drop of a hat. The leaves on the trees were angry hues of red, and the trees themselves and the ground were blackened with scorch marks that had ingrained themselves into the area’s Signamancy and never faded. The few Croakamancers who could make upkeep lived in other octants, mostly the Carnyvale, leaving the area home to nothing but random encounters with roving Shockmancers letting off steam. Luckily, it was late in the day, so the most aggressive ones would have tired themselves out by now; and in a group of nine and with a miracle pole, the remainder would hopefully leave them alone.

 

Undine’s group happened to include a Changemancer, but he was only level one and couldn’t spare the juice to build a proper hideout for them, so it was really just a small tent village surrounded by lightning rods and barbed wire hung between trees. A magically binding NO TRESPASSING sign adorned the front gate. Two more free casters had stayed behind as sentries.

 

Undine,” one said, waving. “How’d you get them here? I thought Railgun was going to shoot them all for sure!”

 

Are the hot casters coming?” asked the other, looking disappointed. Those were a lot flashier than cold casters; it’d figure that they’d have more fans.

 

Maybe Railgun isn’t so bad,” Undine said. “I still don’t know why Mewlin let them go, though. Do you?” she added to the Ethereum group; they all shrugged.

 

Can I have somewhere quiet for a moment?” Lisa asked. “I need to send a Thinkagram and I really can’t afford any distractions; it’ll be wordy and I’ll need all my juice, and if I slip up, the Great Minds might notice and disrupt me.”

 

You can borrow my tent,” Undine said, pointing to a green one in the centre.

 

Slight tint to cheeks: infatuation. Is a Date-a-mancer: knows I know.

 

That was a consideration for another time. “Thanks; I’ll come out and we can talk more when I’m done. Don’t distract me.”

 

It was quite cosy inside, with a very comfortable sleeping bag stitched with nyancat patterns. It struck her that this group probably didn’t have one let alone four bedrolls to spare. Also a consideration for later. She rehearsed a few phrases that were likely to come up, unaligned again, and cast.

 

« His Majesty King Jasper of Pro Toast? »

 

« To whom am I speaking? Thinking, rather? »

 

« Lisa Holmes, master-class Thinkamancer and alumnus of the Great Minds That Think Alike. I just wanted to confirm that you were keeping your portal clear for us to use tomorrow. » Lisa figured there was about a sixty percent chance he already knew he was going to be attacked, and about zero that he could do anything about it now, since his turn was almost over. Letting him know was fair ante. « We’ve got a big project lined up, lots of people and magic. If everything goes right, you should be able to wipe Ethereum off the map. »

 

« You know I haven’t allowed any of your ‘associates’ through since you lost me my Foolamancer. If you have something you need done, you can push a scroll through and Malcolm can cast it, like I already told you. »

 

Really. He already mistrusted them and didn’t know much, except that the Great Minds were keeping things from him. They really had to learn to stop doing that, it was so exploitable.

 

She was running low on juice, but she still found a few droplets to push a thought into his head: Wait, didn’t Mewlin say that Lisa Holmes was the name of Ethereum’s Thinkamancer? « That’s been fine before and we respect that, but this turn we’re going to need casters in person; we have a few very special spells that have to be hot-cast by people of the right discipline. You know, Findamancy doesn’t really do scrolls, we have golems to send through and they’ll get a level bonus when stacked with the corresponding caster type, even a tri-link is a possibility, that sort of thing. »

 

« I see, » he replied neutrally. « And why do you need golems with a bonus in my city tomorrow? »

 

She picked her words carefully. « Because Ethereum’s going to attack your capital. You might have enough forces to beat them as is, but you’d take a lot of losses and there’s a chance they’d win. But if we were there to help with the fight, it’d be a very different story. »

 

Because people often took her for a pathological liar, Lisa had sometimes been forced to pinky swear that she was telling the truth. Because she was in fact a pathological liar, she had therefore had to learn how to mislead people with exact words and lies of omission, but this wasn’t actually very reliable in practice. This was the first time she’d reversed it and tried to make someone disbelieve something that was mostly true. It was much easier; she just had to sound like someone who was trying not to giggle at how clever they were for not specifying which side she was on or would be helping.

 

« Miss Holmes … I’m a young king. Pro Toast was created scarcely a hundred turns ago, during Shakepikee’s war with the tyrant Hiller. We were born into a war with a powerful adversary, so it was only fair that my father, King Austin, gave me three cities and a third part of his army to command. Since I was between him and Hiller, I took responsibility for waging the war, but Hiller was still very strong then, I couldn’t do it alone. Father had to keep sending me money and additional battalions.

 

« Then this strange but powerful side Ethereum arose from Hiller’s ashes, and defeated Chief Warlady Thursday, and I again needed assistance. From you and the other barbarian casters, from Father. And even with it, I could still only slow them down. So now you tell me that I can defeat this one enemy, some glory at last to my side, something to my name finally within my grasp, and you want to take that away? »

 

People often unknowingly gave her openings, but rarely did they thrust them into her arms with both hands. He half-mistrusted her, half was too proud to accept help. The second point would be easier to work on. « Ah … that’s certainly a valid interpretation, I can see why you’re keen to stand on your own feet for your most important battle, but my priority is making sure we get the outcome we want, honour or no, so it’ll be best if we send in reinforcements. »

 

« Yes, but honour is a part of the outcome I want, and last I checked, it was my portal. »

 

« You – you mean you’re going to refuse us entry? Your Majesty, I must strongly advise against this course of action. It could mean the difference between whether Pro Toast stands or falls. »

 

« I’m sure it could. That’s a risk I’m willing to take. »

 

« I … I see, and of course that’s your prerogative, Your Majesty. My associates have been assuming you would grant permission, so another Thinkamancer may attempt to call you later today and expand upon the reasons why it’s absolutely vital that you let us through tomorrow. » She’d pay good money to hear a transcript of that conversation; Mewlin could pick her story apart with ease, but he didn’t know it and Jasper wouldn’t recount her ominous-sounding exact words in sufficient detail, and would probably drop the call before long. She figured it’d take them slightly longer to sort it out than for Tom to arrive.

 

« I see, » he replied with a satisfyingly obvious lack of interest.

 

« I hope to hear your final decision soon, your Majesty. Break. » She laughed and fell back onto the sleeping bag. “Six guilds with one spell; that’s up there with Loony’s record.” She stretched. “Well. It’s all up to Tom’s group now.”

 

 

 

AN

 

While it’s easy to poke the plot hole of why do people almost never hire MK casters (special mentions for a Turnamancer when they first captured Jillian, a Lookamancer for dwagon-taming, a Hat Magician for anti-Archon Thinking Caps, a Carnymancer for figuring out what they’re even dealing with, and a Luckamancer for a cheap but versatile pile of combos and saving throws), from the beginning this story was actually supposed to be a patch. My first workable idea for why do sides not hire more (or why those that do don’t take over the world; and why, when it’s possible to capture and turn other sides’, does this not lead to runaway growth) was that they tend to be prima donnas, especially at higher level, and so there are eventually power struggles acting as a soft cap.

 

Like Mathamancy, Signamancy is one of the disciplines I found hard to balance because it doesn’t seem to have anything that you can’t emulate with natural abilities. Everyone has some ability to read others’ Signs and it doesn’t seem very useful anyway, and you can handwrite contracts and pinky swear over them. (I never like cheap truth magic; I can’t think of anyone who’s ever written it without giving someone an idiot ball.) One really has to make up extra abilities to make Signamancy not awful; restriction signs are one proposal. Miles used one flippantly at the Rhyme-o-mancy audition; it hasn’t otherwise come up because there hasn’t been anyone to use them on, and also it took me a surprisingly long time to think to offer saving throws to keep them from being horribly OP.

Part 18 of 20 in Ethereum

Comments

    • falcore51

      As always twofer love your work.  

      • Free Radical

        I think Lisa's chapters are my favourite. Her mind games and plans are always fun.

        Have to say that the moment Mal Turned and it became clear just how much of the capital's defence was based directly on either her magic or Cruller's was really cleverly done!

        That uncroaked unit can't be croaked (or captured, presumably), but I wonder if there are workarounds to capture the city before the spell fails? Mal doesn't seem the type to be good at thinking up ways around it, but wouldn't there be a few non-engagement ways around the spell? Build a fire under the uncroaked maybe, and let it take environmental damage until it croaks, or just push it out of the garrison (there should be a few non-engagement ways of managing that), and capture the city that way.

        “Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen –” “Clariel!”

        ...And I've just learned that one of my favourite series has a new book that I missed. Thanks for that!

        If you're having trouble coming up with ways to make Signamancy not terrible, maybe think of it as Signamancy going both ways. A Signamancer can tell a lot from the way something looks, but they can probably also make something look a particular way to also give it a bonus at doing some particular task - artfully arranged cities that produce more shmuckers per turn or reduce upkeep of units in the cities by more than usual, or Signamancy changes to your units that give them a fighting bonus or camouflage bonus, or things like that.

        • dsollen

          Great chapter as always.  I don't think I've ever pipped in to say this, but this is by far my favorite fan fiction.  I may like it more then the erfworld comic itself, so thank you for writing it.  I just got around to reading chapter 13 yesterday so I was shocked when I found 14 up today, but happy for it :)

          I thought “Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen –” “Clariel! was pretty obscure, though it was nice to see the series referenced.

           

          As to how to make signmancers stronger, I had a few ideas.  One i liked was that signmancers could enhance existing units & buildings by improving their signmancy.  Cast on a bank building in the capital to make it look cleaner and nicer and for the next X turns you make more smuckers until the signmancy wears off etc.  Signmancy based warpaint already does this for units, so makes sense that it would apply to buildings as well, and there was already a chapter somewhere that referenced how nice a side looked that had a signmancer in it (think when jillian returned to FAQ) which fits with signmancers cleaning up a place to increase bonuses they offer.

           

          Of course it's probably too late to throw that into this fanfic, you would have to retroactively imply that miles had been doing that sort of casting while in the capital and hope no one asks why you never mentioned it before.

           

          As to pinky swear, I dislike it for much the same reason.  But one option is to limit what one can pinky swear on.  That swears can handle only unambiguous truths and not more complicated situations, such as someone saying their motive is X when X is when of a dozen motives or they are conflicted themselves.  Also pinky swears can't impose the same automagical penalties and only apply to a unit, not a whole side.  Basically there are lots of things a signmancer can do that pinky swearing is too weak to do.

          • Count_to_10

            Well, at least Lisa didn't have to give herself a tracheotomy this time.

            • thatonesungod

              Another wonderful chapter of my favorite erfworld fanfic, thanks twofer

              • DunkelMentat

                So. So. Good. My wife was trying to get me to help her with something and I refused but she understands that have my erfworld needs. I didn't mention it was a fanfic because I don't feel that way about Ethereum anymore. In my head, this is all cannon. You rock Twofer.

                • Dewey the Signamancer

                  One suggestion for more powerful Signamancers (that I might have made before) is that just like having a Dirtamancer in a city when upgrading it reduces costs, having a Signamancer in a city when the Ruler changes it to pop different Units than previously reduces the time-to-pop penalty that you get for altering what type of Units you pop that way. So for example if Side A pops High Horses in City A9 which is next to a lot of forest hexes with little mountains or tunnels so they decide that they would rather pop Gumps instead. Gumps seem to need 3 Turns to pop in a high level city going by the wiki/Ossomers text update so normally when a Ruler alters a city to start popping Gumps when it didn't before it now takes 6 Turns instead. With a Signamancer present however that penalty is reduced, a novice Signamancer in the city when the Order is given reduces the penalty to 5, a an Adept reduces it to 4 and a Master reduces it all the way back to 3. In other words a Master class Signamancer is so skilled that the Signamancy of a city they've altered and a city that pops units naturally is indistinguishable. Pair a Signamancer with a Dirtamancer or a Turnamancer in a Trilink and they can even make it so that the Gumps pop in 2 Turns instead.

                   

                  This is all based on Signamancy apparently being what decides what kind of Units a Side/City pops. 

                  • Twofer

                    Thanks, everyone!

                    @Radical:

                    Oh, that's reassuring to hear. I'm always anxious writing charisma-based characters, because it's hard to tell how convincing one's own arguments are and it's excruciating to read 'intelligent' characters getting persuaded by unconvincing arguments. Lisa gets a bit of a pass because magic, but I really hate to lean on that.

                    I'll rule that disengagement is pretty much airtight (other than to a Weirdomancer or possibly a Carny), mostly because Flower Power is already feeble and the last thing it needs is a straightforward hard counter. Disengagement, like most interesting effects, is usually worse than just blasting them, or using Healomancy if it's an ally; if it doesn't even stick, it becomes downright embarrassing.

                    @Dsollen:

                    [nods] There are a few ways to nerf pinky swears, and restricting their scope is probably the best. The thing is that nerfs are by definition a refutation of canon, and I'm trying to avoid that; canon hasn't mentioned any restrictions, and that would be literally the first question anyone would ask, so my hands are kind of tied.

                    You might not be able to get full automagic, but you can get a 90% solution by "I swear that my ruler pinky swore that he will obey this contract if your ruler does too" plus some fiddling so that both know that both have agreed. It's not perfect, but the question is whether there are enough downsides to justify not having another caster instead.

                    @Signamancy:

                    My HC of Signamancy is that it's all about signifiers rather than modifiers. It can't boost cities or units, except mostly-weak morale bonuses; to actually change underlying stats takes Changemancy. I probably didn't have to have that distinction given how much other stuff I gave Changemancy, but I wanted to give Changemancers shape-shifting, and that looks so similar to Signing bonuses that it would have felt like a cop-out to give basically the same effect to two different disciplines, especially when there's already a lot of other slight variants on buffing allies.

                    The theory behind all that sounds good, but it doesn't change the fact that Signamancy comes across as weak and needs additional vaguely-specified powers to pass the 'no disappointment' test of caster balance.

                    • Mellhurst

                      Perhaps Signamancers lead to more fundamental changes rather than temporary buffs (or the buffs could be strong but just for traits they already have)? Or hidden traits, simply discovering that the change was in you all along... cliche, but it could work well I think, stylistically like self help books or fortune telling. Similar but different to predictamancy, you can act on it but it has to be there in the first place, and it takes massive effort unlike fate.

                      Fashion, morale bonuses and such could also be mainstays.

                      • WurmD

                        Twofer, friday when I logged in, I went directly to the submission queue, instead of looking for a new canon page :)

                        and by golly was I taken for a spin! Great job man! Way unexpected!

                        Now, I don't get one thing, what's with the mentions of casters not being able to cast off-turn unless if being attacked? Is that based on cannon? Is that your own?

                         

                        And final comment, :O! Akira doesn't have sharkey to look at Tom's battle! How will she protect him from lucky crits?? (is she just giving a few luck points for defense for each battle before-hand?)

                         

                        Cheers!!

                        • Twofer

                          Mellhurst:

                          Changemancy already has permanent buffs, knighthood being one (there are spells not specific to basic infantry that just haven't come up). Self-help has good flavour, but I should think that it would play about the same mechanically: one parks one's caster in the capital and has him boost each new unit as they pop. It could work if there were some extra mechanic, in the same way that using Dollamancy to buff gear isn't a duplicate because items are transferable but knighthoods aren't.

                          I actually rather like prohibition signs. They have good and quirky flavour, a unique and interesting playstyle, and they feel like they could be reasonably balanced with good play from both sides. I just don't like having to make them up; new powers often detract from a story, it's usually better to stick with the existing corpus.

                          @Wurm:

                          :D Thanks!

                          Casters "can't" cast off-turn, it was mentioned in TBfGK when Parson first heard about veils, but there's a whole host of exceptions. You can do Thinkagrams, golems, scrolls, anything if there's an enemy in the hex, Turnamancers get more exceptions, etc. Because there are exceptions for almost everything that you'd actually want to do off-turn with no enemy in the hex, it's a forgettable rule.

                          Akira had been switching luck from the escort to the casters; an arrow meant for one of them would hit an uncroaked instead, so they could take horrific losses, but as long as it wasn't a TPK, the casters would all survive and regroup. (When Gus was captured, there were literally no other units left to sacrifice.) She can't do that now, because when the capital falls, Ethereum will cease to exist as a side, they'll all go barbarian, and Luckamancy can't affect non-co-sided checks in other hexes. They're on their own.

                          • Count_to_10

                            Wasn't the exception for off turn casting enemies in the battle space, not enemies in the hex?

                            • aquileia

                              I was delighted to see a bonus Ethereum post - your story is far more gripping than the main campaign!

                               

                              "Lisa gets a bit of a pass because magic"

                              Akira probably buffed most of her bluff rolls this turn as well, after all, it's in her own interest not to be convicted.

                              Actually, if you need any reason for Mewlin to fail in his checks to detect Lisa's thinkagram or convince King Jasper, you can always spend a few points from her luckamancy well; with the added benefit of making suggestions less OP.

                              • aquileia

                                Oh, and with

                                6+2+2+9+4+6+3+6+5+6+3+3+3+4+6+3+2+4+4+4+4 = 89

                                caster levels of the 21 remaining Ethereum casters, + 5 sponsored casters, they can carry over 90,000 schmuckers in their purses... I doubt there'll be anything left at dawn for Mal.

                                • NoteToUrist

                                  An epiphany swap in the Naughty Corner would be a smart thing for Lisa to organize, just to show weak undecided casters how beneficial Etherium could be.

                                  • lone_war

                                    Twofer,

                                    About Signamancy, you could also have it be able to "Activate" potential latent Specials of units. Sort of a Reverse of Changeamancy which buffs low powered units (Turning Stabbers into Knights, adding stat points to low level units, etc), Signamancy could bring out the potential of high level units.

                                    Let me explain with an example. An Archon has like 9 different Specials that they could potentially pop with. Normally they get one per level; however, an Adept Level Signamancer could Temporarily "Activate" one more of those potential Specials per level.

                                    At Master Level they gain the ability to Permanently "Activate" any potential Specials that a Unit may have.

                                    So our Archon who popped at level one gain Shockamancy as their Level 1 Special. A Level 3 Adept Level Signamancer could also Temporarily grant it Leadership, Dance Fighting, and Thinkamancy. A Level 8 Master Signamancer could grant that Level 1 Archon ALL of the potential Special Abilities that it could get naturally permanently at Level 1. BUT that Signamancer could NOT grant them say Tunnel Capable as that is NOT in the Archon Unit Special Ability Pool.

                                    Signamancers could also have the ability to "Maximize" any special that a Unit currently has to the Limit of that Units Level or the Casters Level, whichever is lower.

                                    Lets take that Archon and Level it to Level 4 now. It Naturally acquired Shockamancy 2, Dance Fighting, and Foolamancy as it leveled. A Level 3 Adept Signamancer could grant it any 3 more Specials that had in its "Potential Pool of Specials" OR it could raise existing Specials by up to 3 Levels, but NO higher than Level 3 or a combination of the two that is limited by the Caster Level of 3 New Abilities or 3 Enhanced Abilities.

                                    At Master Level, with enough time and levels, a Signamancer could have that same Archon have maximum potential with ALL of their Potential Specials with each level as the Signamancer Permanently Granted and then Permanently Boosted those abilities to the lower of either the Caster or Targets level.

                                    Yes, this is weaker than either Weirdomancy and Changeamancy that can grant any Special; however, I figure it would be cheaper to cast as a Signamancer.

                                    For a Fanan Reason for this abilities NOT showing up in the regular comics, we can point to the lack of Weirdomancers and high level Signamancers. It doesn't really tread on Changeamancy as Changeamancy buffs low level units to be better. A Signamancer couldn't do anything with your standard Stabber as there are NO Latent Specials for it to Evoke. Changeamancers buff cannon-fodder, Signamancers buff Elite Units.

                                    Also, as a Hidden Mechanic within your Insight System for Cross Classing and Classing Up, a Signamancer could grant hidden bonuses to successfully Cross-Classing or Classing Up if they are with the group doing it and are actively casting to "Enhance" any latent abilities of the group as they are sharing the Insights.

                                    • fluxus

                                      Here's a thought: Signamancy is the knowledge of the Essence of Things. And also a way of patching smaller Essences into bigger Essences.

                                      Examples, perception:
                                      1: Recognizing what other units are and their softer stats such as alertness, purposefullness, tiredness, depresssion, (luck, fate?)
                                      2: Being able to tell non-verbal cues apart through body language (Miles in Magic Kingdom)

                                      Examples, manipulation:
                                      1: Contracts, Miles (that -is- what he is doing, right? Basic lawyering, writing things up the rules then powering them by pouring juice into Signing over mutual agreement)
                                      2: The disguising of Railgun - Ozec Shéol doesn't magically change Railgun as such, he teaches her how to change her perception of herself so that she is capable of being that person for a while. No juice cost, but actually a potentially powerful effect, dependent on circumstances.
                                      3: Wanda's manipulation of Jillian. It could be said to be Thinkamancy as well perhaps, with their suggestions, but Wanda is not keeping herself distant from Jillian - it's a power struggle, yes, but Wanda involves herself, intertwine the two of them into a braid of her liking. Or, as I put it above, she patches the Essence of Wanda together with the Essence of Jillian, gets a Wanda/Jillian relationship that affects the both of them but mostly in Wanda's favour. It's subtle, but it's also long-distance and semi-permanent.

                                       

                                      This can be used for other stuff.

                                      Recruitment:
                                      By comparing a side's Signamancy with that of a potential recruit, I should think a Signamancer would be good for pairing like with like.
                                      Date-a-mancers are good for perceiving if people are compatible, whether or not they will like each other and work well together.
                                      For Signamancers it's different; what I'd suggest is that they can tell some of people's intentions and ambitions from their Signamancy - it's what they perceive and it's what they need to know in order to be able to patch their Essences and align them with each other. Weaker and more subtle than Duty, but important none the less. Being able to align an entire side to move with one purpose and lessen conflict is a huge benefit and optimization to a side, even if it's not really perceived as such by a run-of-the-mill warlord.

                                      Pop rates:
                                      In the story of Edelbert Spore, Edelbert finds a library. Books pop in libraries if it's in good condition.
                                      What if a Signamancer, being able to perceive the Signamancy of such a library, fine-tuned it to a specific vibe.. so that the popping books would fit into that theme, in essence deciding what books would pop?
                                      In for a room, in for a building: In combination with Changemancy, change a Ruin or other mob-popping building to get the kind of units you want.
                                      Also, in for a building, in for a city; and in for a city, in for a hex.. all random pops tweaked to give you the kind of units you like; optimization not quite on par with Moneymancing.

                                      Contracts:
                                      People and Erfworlders are thinking of this purely as a form of lawyering. Really, I don't think there is any such limit.
                                      You should think in terms of demons.
                                      What is mutual agreement, really?
                                      And what desperate measures might a prisoner go to in order to avoid being croaked? If the prisoner sees his survival as important to his side, won't a little spying on the side make sense, really.. a temporary setback, but a net gain? If it's a net gain, won't Duty require of him to accept the terms of the contract rather than be croaked, or (worse from the side's point of view) turned?

                                      Lisa thinks that the other two casters are useless at this point in the story. I disagree. They are in a caster-rich environment, they have oodles of money compared to most other casters, and Miles can draft up arbitrary contracts that are magically binding.