By the Titans!  Here was a finely-crafted instrument.  Smooth lines, no sharp edges, at least a three-octave range, and those dynamics!  Powerful, hex-filling sound.  Perfect tone, and perfect responsiveness under Amadeus’s skilled fingers.

 

Lady Blunt was surely an instrument carved by the Titans.

 

---

 

Breathe deep the gathering gloom,
Watch lights fade from every room.
Bedsitter people look back and lament,
Another day's useless energy spent.

 

---

 

The Changemancer Seelow had truly done a masterwork job on Amadeus’s new instrument.  It’s various buttons and knobs allowed him to pick and choose any number of instrument sounds, both real and synthesized, to be played at once.  A touch-sensitive area on the neck allowed bending pitch, as if he were playing an un-fretted lute or guitar.  The keys were weighted perfectly, and unlike the original clavier, he could control the relative volume just with the force of his fingers.  Perhaps the greatest feature of all was that it contained an entire percussion section that he could record and play back in a loop, allowing melody to be played over top.  With this instrument, he was a one-caster orchestra.

 

The road from Capitol to the Stockwood would take at least 10 turns, which gave Amadeus plenty of time to experiment with different sounds, different song structures, and different effects those songs could have on the troops.  During the day, it was mostly marches, steady drumming with martial horns blaring a warlike tune to keep the column motivated and moving in time.  This gave their lowest-move footmen an extra move per turn, as well as boosting morale and comradery.  In the evenings, it was mostly soft rhythms, easy listening to keep the mood light and everyone’s spirits high.

 

Their journey took them from the heart of Beemgee out to the very outskirts of their territory.  Gobwin Knob had been cutting a path through the Stockwood and the Fleetwood, and the plan was to meet army-to-army just inside the Red Plains.  This would give Lady Blunt and her Buffalo Soldiers the biggest advantage, as the beasts couldn’t maneuver well in the forest, but they could charge over open ground with frightening speed and power.  The main road also took them past Emerson Lake and Palmer, two level twos where they could restock supplies and sleep in real quarters instead of making camp in the open field.

 

Amadeus hadn’t really seen battle, but from what he could gather on the road to it, he didn’t think he’d like it very much at all.

 

---

 

Impassioned lovers wrestle as one,
Lonely man cries for love and has none.
New mother picks up and suckles her son,
Senior citizens wish they were young.

 

---

 

It was no secret, but Lord Molitor had been noticing the sidelong glances and flirtatious language between Amadeus and Lady Blunt increasing the past few turns.  He didn’t usually allow fraternization among the ranks when on the march, but even as Chief Warlord there was hardly anything he could say to his second-in-command and the only caster they had with them.  All he could do was advise caution.  He took an opportunity when Amadeus was alone to ride up next to him.  Sitting straight and tall, he kept his eyes forward as he spoke.

 

“Lord Wolf, I understand your…desire, but please bear in mind we are marching to war.  I don’t need Lady Blunt or you distracted during the coming battle.”  He paused to let the reminder sink in before softening his tone a bit.  “She is truly worth it, and feels the same way?”

 

Amadeus broke into a wide grin.  “Have you ever been with a warrior woman?  I’m telling you, Leonard.  I want to write a song to honor her and her soldiers.  Something like…  She was a Buffalo Solder…  Then, um…s-something about…”  Eh, nothing was coming to him.  “What do you think?”

 

Lord Molitor cracked a rare smile as he cracked his riding crop to move to the front of the column.  “Let’s go, loverboy.”

 

---

 

Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colours from our sight.
Red is grey and yellow white.
But we decide which is right.
And which is an illusion?

 

---

 

“I can feel it in the air tonight,” Lady Blunt remarked on the night before battle, while Amadeus was playing an ethereal, soft synth background music to calm everyone’s nerves.  They were a just a few hexes from the end of the Red Plains, and the increasing tension around the campfires had been palpable.  Amadeus had been introspective all day, singing moody blues instead of playing marches since they didn’t need the extra move.  Though Lady Blunt’s comment wasn’t directed at anyone in particular, Amadeus replied by slamming into a hard drum fill, and keeping a harder beat going afterwards along with a heavier bass.

 

“Everyone alright?” Lord Molitor asked as he approached the leadership campfire after doing a final evening round.  Lady Blunt and Amadeus were sitting quietly with five other warlords.  After all the planning, preparing, and rehearsing, everyone just wanted a little quiet time to eat some rations and think to themselves.  “Repeat it once more, Lord Wolf.”

 

Amadeus sighed deeply.  He had recited his general orders dozens of times already and knew them backwards and forwards.  He knew what to do if he were engaged, what to do if he found himself unstacked, what to do if they had to scramble, what to do if, Titans forbid, they had to call a surrender, what to do and who to talk to when they eventually squashed the enemy.  But he had never seen battle, and Lord Molitor knew what could happen upon first seeing the horrors of war firsthand.  Plus, everyone knew the surest way to make Fate laugh was to tell it your plans.  So, they had plans for when the plans failed, and more for when those plans failed.

 

“We will be waiting here, at the edge of the Plains.  Gobwin Knob’s turn comes first, at dawn, and they will enter the hex and engage.  We will be, effectively, trapped.”  He sighed again.  “And I’m okay with that.  I will be casting, providing bonuses for us where I can, and penalties for the enemy when possible, all while staying out of actual combat.  I will assess the veracity of the claims of the enemy warlord’s musical capabilities, and counter if possible.”

 

“Good,” replied Lord Molitor.  “And if the enemy manages to—“

 

“Enough, Leonard.  He’s gone over it enough,” interjected Lady Blunt.  “Give him a night to breathe.  You can’t force good decisions on the battle field.  I hate being over-rehearsed anyway.  Need room to be creative.”  She threw a smile over to Amadeus.

 

Lord Molitor’s expression remained stoic.  “I believe you can never be too prepared, but fine.  Take this final night to prepare, or not, how you will.  I do trust you all.  Now, we should all get some rest.”  With that, Lord Molitor stood and excused himself to his tent, as did the rest of the warlords except Amadeus and Lady Blunt.

 

“You’ll be fine,” she comforted.  “If anyone’s gonna win a battle involving music, it’ll be you.  There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

 

Amadeus smirked.  “Except stage fright.”

 

---

 

One song, glory, one song before I go
Glory, one song to leave behind
Find one song, one last refrain
Glory, from the pretty boy front man

 

---

 

At the head of the column the next morning, Lord Molitor took one final count of his army, possibly the last he would ever lead.  Oh, but it was a good one, yes, and it should do quite nicely.

 

Up front were two stacks of Lady Blunt’s Buffalo Soldiers, knight-class mounted lancers riding fearsome half-ton heavy beasts that were best in a straight-line charge, perfect for breaking opponents’ front lines.  Following them would be Molitor’s own four-stack contingent of knights, who wore the shimmering, pearlescent white armor of the King’s honor guard.  The visual effect in direct sunlight gave them their nickname – the Knights in White Satin – and with Lord Molitor’s direct bonuses, each was more than a match for three stacks of standard troops.

 

Another Warlord, Reuben, led a stack of knights that had managed to survive many battles together.  Shirley, Keith, Laurie, Danny, Chris, Tracy, and Ricky even bore their own crest: a single partridge above a stylized cracked egg.  Warlord Reo had been on scout duty, taking his speedwagons in each of the three forward hexes before returning to report throughout the turns.  For the battle, he was tasked with attempting to flank the opposing army, one wagon carrying two stabbers in each of the automated, bright red carts.

 

Behind the knights were the main contingents of troops.  Warlord Blink’s 182 archers; Warlord Hexum’s 311 pikers, and Warlord Apollo’s 440 stabbers.  Exactly 117 stacks of infantry plus the 7 stacks of knights, including 7 warlords for leadership.  With some juice and that instrument, Lord Amadeus could make the thousand of them sound like ten thousand maniacs.  Ah yes, Amadeus…their wildcard.  Almost as if he were popped specifically to win this fight.

 

“Let this heretic warlord come, let him wield his disbanded ‘tool, and let him face the might of Beemgee!” Lord Molitor cried to thunderous cheers.

 

---

 

Find glory in a song that rings true
Truth like a blazing fire, an eternal flame
Find one song, a song about love
Glory, from the soul of a young man

 

---

 

They came slowly at first, appearing in the distance with a translucent shimmer as they crossed the hex boundary.  Hideous spidews, with fat bodies, skinny legs, and twitchy movements, were carrying axe-wielding hobgobwins on their backs.  One stack, then two, then four, and they kept coming.  Chief Warlord Molitor didn’t flinch, even as the buffalo were stamping their hooves and starting to kick up a low cloud of dust.  Eventually, from his vantage point, he counted a dozen stacks of hobgobwin-mounted spidews, supported by a dozen or so stacks of hobgobwins on foot, and a couple dozen more stacks of men and gobwin pikers, stabbers, and archers.  He didn’t see the warlord with the Arkentool, though there was a group of hobgobwins near the middle thrusting their weapons in the air repeatedly in unison.  Is this it?  Is this all you can conjure, Gobwin Knob?  It looked like less than half of what Beemgee had brought.

 

The enemy army had been gaining speed as more of them entered the hex, and by the time they were all finally through they were in a full charge.  It was time.  Then the Chief in his stack said, “Everyone attack!” and then it turned into an all-out blitz.  “All-out blitz!” shouted the rest of the Knights as they charged forward.  Horn and hoof met poison spit and twitching mandible, lance met broad-axe, and for a moment it was slightly organized chaos as the two armies became one writhing mass amid a growing cloud of dust from the dry plains.

 

Amadeus had never been in the thick of a battle so large, or any battle for that matter, and his senses froze.  It was at once terrifying clangs of sword on shield, polearm piercing armor, and screams of both orders and agony, and yet a silent series of stills as he saw a cloud of arrows here, a head on the ground there, and Lady Blunt dismounted in the dust between buffalo and spidew.  Lady Blunt!  No!  He had to help her, but how?  He adjusted the strap of Liberation around his shoulder and raised it and his voice high into the air:

 

Skewer, skewer, skewer, skewer the ugly spidews!

 

Well that was…absolutely terrible, like something a first-level bard would come up with.  And yet his mind raced, and was frozen, and everything in between.  It just didn’t make sense – how could this be the work of the Titans?  How could they have created music, and love, and the night sky, and songbirds, and marshmallow, and then go and create spidews, and war, and death, and hate, and asparagus?  Asparagus?!  Was that really his Chief Concern at a time like this?

 

And then, like a beam of light cutting through a thick jungle canopy to reach the floor below, he heard it: a single warbling note of electric sound piercing the din of battle, and a single voice in an impossible falsetto screaming, “YEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”  It blasted all thoughts of love and hate and peace and war and marshmallow and asparagus right out of his muddled mind, leaving only awe.  Awe, and understanding.  This was it, this single note was the first droplet of water finally weaving its way through a crack in a dam, which was now ready to burst.

 

“ARE YOU READAAAAYYYY?!” the falsetto voice continued.  A chorus of shouts and cheers from a large group of hobgobwins rang out as the other sounds of battle began to subside to see what was happening.  The group began stomping each foot in turn followed by a single clang of weapons against each other.  Stomp, stomp, clang.  Stomp, stomp, clang.  The chorus of shouts turned into a unison chant of “We will, we will, rock you!” repeated over and over.  The single electric warble was also growing louder, and when it finally reached a fever pitch it exploded into a power chord so triumphant it shot bursts of blue Shockmancy up into the air, followed by the dirtiest, crunchiest, marshmallowy-est guitar solo Amadeus had ever heard.  The dam had burst, and Rock was now washing over and through him as though the Titans themselves were shining their radiance upon him.  This was the music of the Titans, the kind of music he had been searching for his whole life.  He had been close, sometimes, in his dreams, but never quite there.  Now it was filling his ears and his head and his mind, and he knew this was it.

 

The hobgobwins had formed a chaotic yet choreographed line and were inching forward, churning through any troops in front of them.  Amadeus now had a clear line of sight to the enemy warlord, and knew this incredible music was coming from the otherworldly-looking yellow Arkentool.  It was now or never, as the enemy was now making incredible progress forward.  “Lord Molitor!  Get your knights around me, quickly!” Amadeus shouted.  Lord Molitor obliged, and as the knights filed in around Amadeus he pushed the buttons to set his instrument to cello-only and began to cast with clarity of mind he hadn’t felt all day.  “Toppinen, Lötjönen, Lilja, Manninen, HARMAGEDDON!”  High-pitched squeals filled the air, snapping the enemy warlord’s attention directly onto Amadeus as the two men both now understood that the true battle was just beginning.  Amadeus launched into his own dirty, crunchy, fast-paced chords with a clear melody ringing out above them.  The Knights were compelled to an organized line of their own and met the hobgobwins head-on, swords swinging frantically but with a fierceness and preciseness they had never known.

 

At this, the rest of the battlespace calmed, all eyes now on the center of the field where the Rhyme-o-mancer who didn’t rhyme and the tiniest warlord with the biggest ‘tool were having a duel of Titanic proportions.  After only a short time, the Knights and hobgobwins had either been felled or blown out of the way of the two music-mancers, who were now only yards apart and exchanging screaming licks on powerful magic item and Titanic artifact.  Blue Shockmancy bolts were shooting out wildly from the glowing yellow ‘hammer, then white bolts from the gleaming black instrument.

 

After a moment of stalemate, the enemy warlord lifted the ‘hammer to his head and began twirling it around his neck, and roared another guttural scream.  Dropping it back into a low-slung position below his waist (which, honestly, wasn’t that far from his head), he cried out “BLUE LIGHTNING!” and careened into a hard-hitting, grungy metal solo that was suddenly backed by the fastest, hardest-hitting percussion Amadeus had ever heard.  The sound was thunderous, and most of the troops in the hex had to cover their ears.  The blue lightning that had been shooting outward started curving back inward, forming a sphere of crackling electricity around the warlord and lifting him into the air as he shredded his way up and down the neck of the ‘hammer.  Blasts occasionally shot outward, taking out two to three Knights at a time.

 

Amadeus was undeterred.  Pressing a myriad of buttons and levers and turning the largest knob to eleven, he began channeling juice again.  “Majic, Connor, BACH ROCK!”  His eyes rolled back as he threw his head up to the sky and let the Titans guide his fingers in the fastest playing he had ever done.  Backing percussion of his own joined in, and his white lightning blasts also formed a surrounding sphere that lifted him up to meet the enemy warlord’s.  Shockmancy bolts tore into the spidews and hobgobwins, scoring direct hits to their faces, gruesomely melting them off where they stood.  Soon there were few enemy forces left in the battlespace.

 

All remaining eyes were on the two veritable Titans of Rock as they continued to clash.  So it was that nobody had noticed that, one by one, feral dwagons had been entering the hex, drawn by the thundering sound echoing across the plains and into the Stockwood.  They had been forming a semi-circle around the enemy warlord, swaying their heads and tails in a trance as he shredded up and down the Titanic artifact.  It wasn’t until at least a dozen of them all roared in unison that all other sound in the hex stopped and the two Titans fell to the ground as the spheres of lightning crackled out to nothing.  The entire battle field froze, unsure of what to make of this unprecedented development.  The enemy warlord looked scared for the first time since entering the hex, until the tiniest light bulb sparked and he slowly broke into a grin of realization.

 

“FURY OF THE STORM!” he screamed as he leapt to his feet, before twirling the ‘hammer around six times and breaking into an impossible twin-guitar assault, the force of which blasted away everything within ten yards of him, including a stunned Amadeus.

 

We are riding for the battle field in force tonight
Fury of the darkest evil cry for war
Far beyond the boundaries of hellabad and starlight
On the road to lands unknown forever more

 

The dwagons let out deafening roars before swooping down into the Beemgee ranks.  This was their song, and it was now their battle field.  Lord Molitor was swallowed whole by an enormous blue, while reds and greens in concert were melting the white satin armor of the remaining knights and yellows rained down battle crap above the low-level stabbers and archers.  It was total devastation.  A retreat was called, but for nearly the entire Beemgee force it was too late.  Amadeus had luckily been blown clear of the battle entirely – nearly to the edge of the hex – since he was the closest to the enemy warlord’s explosion.  Drained completely of juice, his body battered and broken, all he could do was watch dwagons circle above, swoop down, then lift back up with mouthfuls of doomed troops.  As he closed his eyes, he smelled charred wood and lacquer and tasted seared flesh.  It tasted like asparagus.  Thanks, Titans.

 

After only a few more minutes, the enemy warlord stood alone in the middle of the battle field, surrounded by scorched erf and more pairs of X’s than he could count.  Nothing was moving except the feral dwagons circling above, occasionally letting out a short roar of victory.  He sniffed once, then twirled the ‘hammer around his finger before holstering it back on his belt.  Satisfied that he and the dwagons were the only ones left alive in the hex, he ended turn.

 

Amadeus was nearly passed out when he felt two powerful arms scoop him up and throw him over a shoulder.  He opened his eyes just enough to catch a glimpse of a curvy, firm bottom and pair of legs dashing through tall grasses.

 

“Mary… Mary Jane?”

 

“Baby,” said Lady Blunt, “I was born to run.  And I’m getting you back to the capital.”

 

---

 

Time flies and then
No need to endure anymore
Time dies

 

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Epilogue

 

The newly-barbarian Rhyme-o-mancer stepped into the opening of the Hippiemancer’s Glade.  Sitting on a log facing a small pond was a familiar-looking mane of shaggy white hair perched above a large tie-dye shirt.  The man was lazily poking a stick into the water, quietly singing to himself.

 

Cold mountain water, the jade merchant’s daughter
Mountains of the Moon, bow and bend to me
Hi-ho the carrion crow, fol-de-rol de-riddle
Hi-ho the carrion crow, bow and bend to me
Fol-de-rol, fol-de-rol, fol-de-rol de-riddle
Hi-ho the carrion crow, bow and bend to me

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