A trio of casters were sitting next to each other at a table and had been listening to the performance of a young, sided Rhyme-o-mancer who had been spending a lot of time in the Magic Kingdom lately. On the right was a man with dark, perfectly quaffed hair wearing a cheap-looking white tank top that exposed way too much of his salt-and-pepper chest hair; in the middle was a woman with tanned skin and long brown hair, also wearing a gown that exposed too much chest for her Signamancy; and on the left was a larger man with close-cropped black hair, thick-rimmed eyewear, and what looked like a hairy caterpillar nestled under his bottom lip.

 

“That was, without a doubt, the worst performance I have ever heard in my life,” said the first man.

 

The woman in the middle was bawling, and through her tears said, “Oh honey…oh, that was so beautiful…so amazing. You are truly gifted…”

 

The man on the left simply raised a fist and yelled out, “That was hot, baby! My DOG! DOG POUND!”

 

-----

 

Nearly a hundredturn had passed since his evening with Rufus, but Lord Amadeus Wolf still looked back on it fondly. Since then, Rufus had become a great friend, advisor, and musical improvisation partner, and was always equipped with lighthearted relief if King Joe ever became too insufferable. To the King’s credit, though, he had slowly come to accept the utility of what his Rhyme-o-mancer could do for the side and, with Lord August West’s help, its intangible benefits to one’s heart.

 

Amadeus’s greatest challenge had come in convincing the King to let him write an epic based on Beemgee’s founder, King Juan I. The only problem was that he just wasn’t great at the Language part of Rhyme. The solution woke him with a start in the middle of the night: link with another Rhyme-o-mancer who was great at it, leaving him to concentrate entirely on the music. Simple! Lord West was thrilled at the idea and made preparations to go to the Magic Kingdom at once. He knew exactly the man to get – Rhyme-o-mancer Lorenzo “The Bridge,” Master of the arts.

 

Of course, the expenditure for an epic alone would have been difficult enough for the King to accept, taking at least twenty full turns of juice. So it was some kind of miracle when he actually agreed to hire two Masters from the Magic Kingdom and dedicate so many resources to this single spell. But now that Amadeus thought about it – had Lord West winked at him while handing His Majesty his morning tea…?

 

-----

 

“It’s better than an epic, Majesty. It’s something new. I call it opera.”

 

The act of completing an epic has a component of Natural Signamancy which automagically publishes the resulting volume in the side’s library and also makes it available as a random book for other sides thereafter. King Joe leafed through this large new tome wearing a frown Amadeus hadn’t seen in some time. “It isn’t even legible – there is only a single line of Language at the bottom of each page. What is the rest of this nonsense? Young man, if you have wasted my time and money…”

 

Every page of the book was filled with circles and dots, lines and squiggles, bars and other strange symbols, each resting on row after row of parallel horizontal lines. It seemed perfectly legible to Amadeus. “No Majesty, of course not! I can read it; it tells me how to perform the music!”

 

Of course, Amadeus could only say this with so much confidence. Evident to everyone was that the spell had not been better than a regular epic. It still only conferred a single extra level’s worth of Chief Warlord Molitor’s side-wide Leadership bonus. Amadeus knew there was more to it, but just couldn’t see what it was.

 

It was a number of turns before the King even acknowledged Amadeus’s existence, having sent him to stay in the Magic Kingdom in part to try to learn more about what he had done, but mostly just to get him out of sight after such a disappointing outcome. It wasn’t until the King had softened back to something like normal that Lord West ventured to broach the subject at court. “We did spend all that time on it. Wouldn’t you at least like to hear it, Majesty?”

 

-----

 

Though it came as a response to an overpriced and underwhelming experiment, Amadeus’s time in the Magic Kingdom became the best turns of his life. Here were like-minded people of all kinds – familiar and foreign, breezy and brusque, courtly and crude, handsome and hideous, talkative and taciturn. He had always been a quick study, and here he could immerse himself in the collected knowledge of the entire world, with access to the greatest living Masters of the day.

 

What truly opened his eyes was the absolute pervasiveness of music in the world, across disciplines, rank, levels of mastery, and turns of age. Music was everywhere, bubbling under the surface, poking its head up in unexpected and wonderful ways. It was not purely the domain of Rhyme-o-mancy, not at all; it belonged to the whole of Erf. And with his magical senses, Amadeus could see it influencing people’s moods, their decisions, and even, to an extent, their physical health. It was more beautiful than he could have imagined. Beautiful, too, was the range in style, speed, instrumentation, musicality, affect, rhythm... The Magic Kingdom was practically a never-ending master class on the composition and performance of music.

 

Amadeus began his study with his own kind, the Stagemancers: lyrical composition from other Rhyme-o-mancers; from those in the Carnyvale, the playing of lutes, bodhráns, dulcimers, and other instruments similar to those he was already familiar with; he learned blues from a traveler with a bandolier slung across his chest holding over a dozen small mouth-operated instruments; he learned humor from a duo who was, in contravention to its provocative moniker, fully-clothed men. The Hippiemancer’s Glade provided nightly lessons in complex rhythms with their drum circles; two Florists named Bret and Michael taught him what they called “power ballads,” though he thought the songs about roses and their thorns were a bit obvious. The Thinkamancers focused less on melody and more on intricate rhyme and heady subject matter, and claimed, repurposed, and now wore the once-pejorative term nerdcore proudly.

 

Some music had more immediate, practical benefits. Gregg, Benn, and Budd, three Dittomancers, taught Amadeus a repetitive chanting technique that he found could calm, entrance, and even heal. Truly extraordinary. The Shockmancer Billy Gilmore used music with lyrical vulgarity to stun and disorient opponents; another group of Shockmancers who called themselves the Deadmau Five used a steady, up-tempo beat – using beeps and boops, fake-sounding strings, horns, and percussion, and other sounds that could surely be made from no physical instrument – in order to lead dance fights. Amadeus didn’t want to like it, but couldn’t help himself from nodding his head and tapping his feet.

 

He even came across two casters who had once been rulers of their own royal sides, and had found sanctuary in the Magic Kingdom just as their own kingdoms were falling. The Date-a-mancer Shah Dey was an exotic woman of intoxicating beauty and taught Amadeus of the power of love songs: the ability to fortify a commander’s connection with those under his command and grant Leadership bonuses. The Mathamancer King Crimson showed Amadeus how stacking different meters, fluctuating time signatures, and using the underlying Numbers of music could apply multiple effects at once.

 

It was a whirlwind, and overwhelming, and wonderful, and Amadeus wanted to start putting everything he had learned into practice, and notified all those with whom he had studied of a performance he was planning that evening. It was a revue of sorts, a collection of the different styles and techniques he had learned over the past tenturn or so. It took a whole turn’s worth of juice, but went incredibly well, garnering a standing ovation from all those in the audience. Amadeus felt a confidence he never had before.

 

Later that night, while in deep reflection in a trance-chant just outside a drum circle in the Glade, it happened. He was thinking about the clarity of mind and purpose experienced during his time linked with Rhyme-o-mancer Lorenzo and how, even though his opera was his greatest masterpiece to date, his time in the Magic Kingdom had expanded his mind beyond what he thought was possible. He was thinking about the relationship between music, lyrics, and performance; the interplay of many disciplines working together as one; his magical senses of the effects that music in particular and Rhyme-o-mancy in general had on people and places and actions. And then it all came together, coalescing into coherent consciousness, focusing in his mind like a beam that brightened all the best bits of his brain: he became a Master. And he knew exactly what he had to do.

 

-----

 

In his relatively short time in the Magic Kingdom, Amadeus had made many friends, mostly due the connections brought by the shared love of music. Yet it was still a surprise to him that he was able to assemble an entire cast of other Casters to perform his opera, free of charge. Surely His Majesty couldn’t argue with that. The only convincing came in gathering all the top commanders in the city, plus other troops to fill the pews of Warner Chapel as an audience.

 

Don Juan was truly an epic masterpiece, at over three hours, in two acts with twenty-seven original compositions, and comprising comedy, melodrama, violence, tragedy, and Predictions of doom. It tells the somewhat-embellished tale of Beemgee’s first monarch, an arrogant man who was known more for his promiscuity with his courtiers than effectively managing the side. He makes enemies on all sides, thinking himself untouchable. The only voice of reason is his loyal servant, Leopold, who tries to get him to change his ways. The two get into many escapades with women, confrontations with leaders of other sides, and encounters with the supernatural. In the finale, Don Juan is given a final chance to change his ways by the specter of the defeated ruler of an opposing side taking the form of a rock golem. As he refuses, he is carried away to Hellabad by a chorus of daemons. It ended with the not-so-subtle moral of "This is the end which befalls to evildoers."

 

As the court and nearly every off-duty soldier was standing and applauding and Amadeus and the cast were taking their bows, the King, all his top commanders, and the whole side gasped slowly in unison: they had just received a second leadership boost from the performance of the opera.

 

-----

 

“They’re using music to win battles?!” It wasn’t a surprise to Amadeus that the magical effects of Rhyme could swing an encounter, but he wasn’t aware any nearby sides had a Rhyme-o-mancer. He knew other disciplines could lead special kinds of dance-fighting, but this was different.

 

Lord West was grim. The skirmishes along the Stockwood border had been, until recently, relatively benign. Gobwin Knob, their neighbor, would hit a city or two, raze for funds, pop a cheap level 1 for a few turns of production, and pull most of their troops out, leaving the cities poorly defended. Beemgee would then send its troops back in and do the same. The net effect was a steady but tolerable fluctuation of the treasury, more than made up for by being able to concentrate on more important fronts. It was an unspoken, mutually beneficial arrangement. But things had changed. Gobwin Knob’s offenses had turned from limited smash-and-grabs along the border to full routs heading directly toward the center of Beemgee territory.

 

“Yes, Amadeus, and that’s why we’re going to see His Majesty right away. We need you on the front lines.”

 

Amadeus couldn’t imagine how he could be of more use on the front lines than back at the capital, Capitol (as a Rhyme-o-mancer, this name was absolutely infuriating to him, but he did his best to put it out of his mind). The second Leadership bonus provided by the opera performances only lasted about 5 turns and took a full turn of his juice to refresh, and he either had to be physically sitting at the large pipe organ in Warner Chapel or they had to hire out more casters to give a full performance, which was costly. Plus, as it turned out, everybody liked the music but nobody really liked going to the opera, and they had to have a decently-sized audience to get the effect. This meant it was significantly easier just to have Amadeus spend every fifth turn holed up in the chapel, which meant he could never really travel far afield.

 

When they arrived at the throne room, the King was ready for them, as were his top commanders: Chief Warlord Molitor, Warlady Blunt, Warlord Macdonald (back from retirement), and General Kyd.

 

“Thank you for coming, Lord West. Amadeus…” The King gave an almost imperceptible nod. “I gathered you all here to answer the threat of our enemy, brashly cutting through our territory unchecked. Reports indicate Gobwin Knob has a new warlord with power beyond anything we have ever seen.”

 

Lord Molitor added, “We have yet to win a single engagement in which he was present. Our scouts report he has found an Arkentool, and somehow it uses the power of music.”

 

The room was silent for a moment, and Lord West seized the opportunity to propose his plan. “We need Amadeus on the front line, Majesty!” He looked to each of the warlords in turn. “We need to get him out there with an instrument, a magical one, and face this warlord head-on or there may be no stopping the enemy advance! The opera bonus is great, but we need to focus on a single decisive win in order to break this onslaught!”

 

“And what would you send him with? One of the violins? A lute?” said the King with a scoff. “What can we do to stand up to this power?”

 

“Not a lute, Majesty. I have something else in mind.”

 

-----

 

“Thank you for coming, my friend.” Lord West met Seelow in the Magic Kingdom, just outside Beemgee’s portal. “I know you have a busy schedule.”

 

The Changemancer chuckled warmly. “I do, but I was so intrigued by your request I couldn’t refuse. Plus, a chance to see Prince Varius’s collection? How could I pass that up?”

 

The two men entered the portal and walked through the Beemgee hallways toward the Grand Hall just before the start of turn, taking a detour in an old storage room containing many of the instruments that Amadeus had been cleaning, organizing, and cataloguing. There were dozens of violins, violas, cellos, lutes, small harps, as well as unfinished parts of all these – blocks of wood that never got the chance to fulfill their Duty. But Seelow would see the wood would today. “Do you mind if I take some of these pieces?” he asked.

 

“Please, take what you need, whatever you think will be required.”

 

Amadeus met the pair in the Grand Hall just as they were arriving. He was curious to meet the Changemancer who Rhymed and worked with musical instruments, and who had done a wonderful job on the violin that Lord West presented him in his first turns of life. That violin was now part of Lord West’s plan to make a magical instrument that Amadeus could carry into battle. The whole idea was exciting, frightening, and more than a little upsetting that he would be losing a beautiful instrument.

 

“Why don’t you play me something?” said the Changemancer with a grin.

 

“Well, I could play the violin, but my real forte is the clavier.” Amadeus wouldn’t admit it aloud, but he felt his nerves well up inside him. Is this a test? Will this impact what he will do this turn? He also couldn’t help but feel a sadness that maybe he would never get to play this clavier again. He began to play a slow elegy in D minor, which Amadeus found was the saddest of all keys; people weep instantly when they hear it.

 

After a minute Seelow held up his hand. “Ok, that’s enough. It’s clear this should be the main body of the new instrument.” With the sound of a post horn ringing clear in the morning air (Amadeus’s doing – an excerpt from a Serenade of his), the turn began and Seelow’s upkeep was paid from the Beemgee treasury. “Well. Let’s get to it.”

 

Seelow placed his hands on the clavier and closed his eyes, concentrating on each material within it. “Hm, yeah. Oak, iron, bone. Nice. Pine, brass. This is very nice work. I can definitely work with this.” He began chanting under his breath, and the clavier’s legs began to shorten, until the main body was lying directly on the floor. It also shrunk in both width and depth. Using his juice, Seelow fashioned a thick canvas strap attached to either side.

 

“Oh!” said Amadeus with a start. “It looks like a small orphica! Brilliant!” Any doubts or anxiety he had minutes before were suddenly washed away and replaced by pure excitement. “This is wonderful Master Seelow!”

 

Seelow smiled at him and said quietly, “Just wait, we ain’t even close yet. Hand me that violin.” He removed the strings first, then separated the fingerboard, with tuning pegs and scroll, from the main body. He attached the fingerboard to the side of the clavier, sticking out sideways, while he squared off the main body and attached it to the back side opposite the keys. With some of the spare wood he had brought from the store room, he filled in gaps, attaching some to the back of the fingerboard to widen and lengthen it. It looked like a monstrosity now, and Amadeus couldn’t help but trade in some of his excitement for bewilderment.

 

“What…wh-what is that, Seelow?” It looked like some kind of instrument golem, made of wood and bone and metal, parts jutting out in all the wrong places, like a…clavi-lute-olin.

 

“Hush, man, just wait! Patience!” With this he began channeling all the rest of his juice, incanting loudly enough to hear: “Roland, Yamaha, MOOG!” The harps-iola-chord-ophone-thing glowed white hot with magic, forcing both Amadeus and Lord West to shield their eyes from the brightness. When the light dimmed, they both ventured an uncertain look.

 

The new instrument now had a much slicker form, all smooth lines and curved edges, a single molded piece instead of many smashed together. It was covered in glossy black paint and layers of lacquer, and the keys too were glossy black between sheer white. Where the violin’s fingerboard was, a long smooth handle was now perched. And on it…were those small buttons and knobs? The most confusing part was where the body of the violin had been attached. In its place was now a massive array of tiny knobs, levers, and buttons. Yet it still contained recognizable pieces of what it once was: the violin’s scroll at the end of the new handle, the plaque reading “The 25th Magic.” Amadeus was astonished. He had no idea what it was, but it was the most…awesome thing he had ever seen.

 

“Why don’t you give it a try?” said Seelow, exhaustedly, before sitting back on the clavier’s (now unnecessary) bench.

 

Amadeus took the instrument in his hands, feeling the weight of it, and slung the strap over his shoulder. It looked good. It felt good. It felt right. One hand on the keys, the other wrapped around the neck, he played a note and it magically filled the room with more sound than the large pipe organ in the chapel. Crying out in joy, he launched into the beginning of his very first Sonata, from all those turns ago.

 

Lord West was amazed. “This is it, Seelow!” he yelled over the bellowing sound of the music, while clapping his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “You’ve done it! This is the instrument that will free us from the tyranny of our enemies! This is our liberation!”

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