“I'm better.”

“No, I'm better.”

Her friends were at it again. Constantly arguing which was the better strategist. First one would win, then the other; first one would have a good streak, then the other. There wasn’t a dagger’s difference between the two of them (or between any of the three of them, really, just different styles.) She never inserted herself into this argument though, nothing to win. These arguments were starting to get in the way of their True Calling, though.

“Simple examination shows you victories are statistical anomalies!”

“And yours are pure luck!”

Erf sighed. She had finally had enough. “Why don’t we test this? I mean really test it, once and for all.”

“Huh?” Numbers and Fate stopped their argument and with one voice grunted their surprise. Erf had never interrupted their argument before.

“What exactly do you mean, ‘Test’?” Numbers asked.

“We work on other people’s systems—maintaining them—that’s who we are.” Erf replied, “Let’s make one of our own, a system to test this silly argument of yours.”

“Errm, that doesn’t sound like such a good idea.” Fate said, “We maintain systems, like you said. That’s what we do, that’s what we are. We’re not Makers, we’re titanic forces. We might get in trouble—or worse—it could be unlucky.”

“But we can do it.” Erf pressed. “The three of us working together—really together--have the power to create a system. We wouldn’t have the power if we weren’t meant to use it.”

“Or that ability is simply a side effect of us using our powers properly.” Numbers objected, “A cheat, so-to-speak.”

“Look. I’m tired of listening to you two argue.” Erf stood up and put her hands on her hips. “This stupid argument is getting in the way of our real work. It has to stop. There’s not a bit of difference between you two. And I’ll be playing too. You might both be wrong about who's better.” She stared at each of them in turn. “How would you like to both lose?”

Numbers and Fate looked at each other and shrugged. Then, as one, they said, “OK, bring it. Let’s get started.”

“Let’s get started.” Erf smiled. The argument was over, this would be fun.

 



Erf was happy. The three of them were working together as a team again. There were disagreements about how the system would go together of course, but that’s all they were, disagreements, not arguments. It was just part of working out the balance of world-building. It was so wonderful; it was like back in the old days, before those two started arguing about who was better. Her idea was brilliant. They even managed to surprise her by naming the system Erfworld in her honor.

“OK, everyone, the system’s done, the world's seeded, we are good to go. Does anyone have anything else to say before we get started?” Erf set her hand to the switch that would start the system.

“I still think Deletionists are OP.” Fate immediately replied.

Aaand Numbers replied back just as quickly. “They are not OP. We’ve all checked the stats, they’ve got just as many hits as any other unit. If anyone's OP, it’s those Carnies of yours. Cheating should not be a mechanic.”

“Pfft, you just don’t like them because they’re mine.” Fate brushed off Numbers’ objection. “Do you have any real problems? I’m willing to pass on the Deletionists if that’s all you’ve got.”

There was a long pause before Numbers replied. “I think I dropped an extra gem somewhere. My count is off, and I don’t know where. I want to find it before we start.”

“One extra gem?” Erf shouted, “That's it? That’s all, one gem?” There had been normal delays starting up, but this was ridiculous.

“Well, it changes things.” Numbers protested.

“And even small changes can change the fate of whole sides.” Fate agreed.

“That’s ridiculous. We don’t even know if it’ll be found. I’m starting the system up.” Erf threw the switch and Erfworld's first turn began.

 



“This is boring.”

“I told you Deletionists were OP.”

“Deletionists are not OP. They hardly ever cast a spell.” Numbers and Fate had found something to argue about again.

“Of course they don't.” Fate replied sarcastically. “They’re nearly worthless out of combat, so they can’t level without it.” He went on more earnestly. “In combat they're so effective that every side’s first tactic is ‘find and kill the Deletionist’. There’s even sides that make most of their Shmuckers by hiring out as assassins to croak other sides’ Deletionists. And don’t forget Prince Mock a Velly. He got two allies to go to war with each other just by spreading rumors in each kingdom that the other had just popped a Deletionist. Then his father swallowed both when they were weakened from battle. You may not believe they’re OP, but I do--and so do the units.”

“What units think is irrelevant.” Numbers said, “And what you say is just jealousy. Even if what you said was true, we're still too evenly matched. Sides rise and fall, but there's nobody actually winning. I have an idea to really change things up. I’ll even get rid of the Deletionists if you want--but you have to nerf the Carneymancers. They can cheat, but not as cheaply.”

“Change things up? How?” Erf spoke up at that comment. The two would always find something to argue about, but if there was a chance to stop an argument, well that was too important to pass up.

“I want something OP. Genuinely OP---game-changing--something to trim down the number of sides. We started with too many sides, and then they split up as they eliminated others. The mechanics we used are keeping sides from getting too big. It keeps things too even.” Numbers said. “I want to destabilize things, to remove plenty of sides. We can drop a couple of Tools.”

“Tools?” Fate was confused. “Tools aren’t OP.”

“Our Tools are.” Numbers grinned.

“What? Our Tools?” Erf asked, “Do you really want to see what would happen if we let one of your pet Mathamancers have your Calculator?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that, just say, the Shoes, for example.”

"I’m good with that, go on.” Fate said.

“And the Hammer and the Pliers.”

“And the Saw, too?” Erf asked.

“Ah, no. As tied up as it is with Deletionism, if we're taking that out, it would just confuse the units. I was thinking the Dish.”

“The Dish? Really? And you don’t think that’s too OP?” Fate tilted his head.

“Plus,” Erf asked, “How are we supposed to do this?”

“Here’s my plan.” Numbers said, rubbing his hands together, “We get rid of Deletionism and replace it with Retconjuration--the power to change things retroactively.”

“And you didn’t think Deletionism was OP?” Fate exploded, “This is even worse!”

“No, no, don’t worry.” Numbers backed up at his friend's fury, raising his hands, “We just set the system to never pop a Retconjurer and to never let it be studied--well, not usefully--they can study as long as they want, but no unit will ever cast a Retconjuration.”

“I don’t like it.” Fate said, his arms crossed and his eyes slitted. “They can find a way around it.”

“That’s the beauty of it.” Numbers said, “If they do, then we just Retconjure a patch so they never could have in the first place. I’m not saying I want to use it willy-nilly, but it solves the problem. We can even publish holy books that say it’s so horrible we hate using it. Have you seen them down there; they practically worship us. We can turn that worship to practical use.”

“I’ll do anything to get you two to quit arguing, and Numbers is right about one thing, Fate. We designed the system too well. It’s too balanced; none of us can get a leg up as things stand.” Erf decided it was time to step in and end it.

“OK, I’ll go along.” Fate replied. “But absolutely no Retconjurers--ever.”

“No Retconjurers. And I still want those Carneymancer nerfed.”

Rather than just give the Tools to their favorite sides, they had planted them randomly in the system and Retconjured legends about them. Now all the sides were franticly looking for these Arkentools. And completely failing to find them. The Retconjuration of the Deletionists had been a complete success; now there was no single combat tactic, some sides attacked quickly, some slowly, but they were all different. Even Numbers had had to agree that the Deletionists had been OP--somewhat. Fate had grumbled about nerfing the Carneymancers, but he had gotten over it. Numbers had lost and entire branch of magic, while Fate just had a weakened one. Things were still too chaotic though, no-one was winning.

 



“Now I’m bored.”

“Bored? What do you want?” Lightning bolts and fireworks? Give it time.”

“I’d almost rather you were winning than this mess.” Fate whined.

“Very well, let me create an avatar.” Numbers replied smugly, “You want to watch me win? I’ll win.”

They had agreed early on—or at least Fate and Erf had agreed and forced Numbers into it—that avatars word not be allowed. An avatar would be a unit especially built up and powered by one of the Titans themselves, and very likely cursed by the others. Fate argued that it was a move away from strategy, toward one overwhelming push early on, while Numbers argued that it was both that and a perfectly valid strategy.

“No, you won’t, the fate of all sides is more powerful than the power of one side, no matter how powerful it is. I just haven’t figured out which of my sides is fated to win yet.” Fate argued back. “An avatar can’t win you the game.”

“Watch me.”

“OK.”

They both looked at Erf. She just shrugged. It was turning from a contest of who was the better strategist into who could annoy her more. As always, they were dead equal. “Fine. I’m OK with it. Let’s see what happens.”

So, Numbers created an avatar, and just to irritate Fate, he made him a Carneymancer, but one who could work the odds. And Numbers’ Carneymancer certainly could work those odds. He started winning immediately. And then fate stepped in. Or Fate. Neither Erf or Numbers was sure, but they didn’t really think Fate cheated—not really. The two sides in either direction from Numbers’ avatar found their own Tools. One the Dish and one the Shoes. And then they started winning. Fate was getting so smug about this that Erf decided to team up against him with Numbers.

She had finally gotten interested in the game and decided to take both of them out. Erf decided to create an avatar also, a Hippiemancer, and she put it right in Numbers’ avatar’s kingdom as his daughter. It was probably the biggest mistake of the game.

 



“That’s not fair, teaming up against me like that.”

“Well if you hadn’t merely given those tools away, she might not be helping me.”

“Excuse me? Please? I can give my own reasons and defend my own self, thank you very much.”

“Sorry.” Numbers said, ashamed.

“I've gotten to like playing the game, I’m not trying to prove something.” Erf went on. “I just felt with the way your two sides were ganging up on his one, he could use some help.”

“He had two sides.” Fate said, “He just absorbed one. He picked a bad strategy and started losing because of it. But that’s not what really worries me.”

“Oh, what is, then? Surely you don’t think the total lack of morals in my avatar is a problem, do you? She’s just a unit, after all.”

“No, no, it’s not that,” Fate said, “It’s not even the way they two of you won that area, two on one was a losing battle. It didn’t matter though, I knew you wouldn’t stick together long.”

“Sure,” Erf said, “I broke it up after you backed off.”

“You mean after you broke me.” Numbers said.

“Shush. This is war. Besides your avatar got out of it alive.”

“Just barely.”

“That’s still not the real problem though.” Fate said.

“Oh? Then what is, pray tell?” Erf asked.

“It’s the way those avatars of yours are acting.” Fate interjected.

“What’s the problem?” Numbers said confidently, “I’ll beat you anyway.”

“The problem,” Fate said, “Is how things are spinning out of control.”

Numbers threw his hands up. “What do you mean ‘control’? There is no ‘control’, there’re only statistical averages.”

The old argument was starting again.

“Look at the ID on the result of that ‘Perfect Warlord’ spell they did.” Fate said.

“What about it?” Numbers asked.

“It’s not one of our units.”

“…”

Fate went on. “That unit got summoned from outside the system.”

Erf let out a low whistle. “Now that’s OP.”

“So what?” Numbers asked, “It was just some Kansas farm girl.”

“Not just any Kansas farm girl.” Fate shoved some data in Numbers’ face.

“This is Dorothy. This is Baum’s Dorothy.” Numbers said with a low whistle.

“Yes, that’s right, Dorothy.” Fate rattled the papers. “This unit is from a whole different system. And because she was fated to be Dorothy, she warped the world around her to fit what Baum had made for her. Four sides--two on two? She destroys one right away? Gets controlled by another? Takes a bit longer to croak a third? And your wizard has to flee to points unknown? Things are not the way they should be. Things are going according to her system’s fate, not this one."

“She’s been changed—she’s a unit now.” Erf said, getting back in the argument. “Things will go back to normal again.”

“They can’t go back; they’ve been changed. That’s the problem; ask Numbers about chaos theory.” Fate started pacing back and forth. “Now I don’t know where Numbers hid his avatar, but I’m making my own and croaking yours.”

“Hey, that’s not fair.”

“All’s fair in love and war.” Fate said, “Look at it as just another strategy.”

“That's pretty vicious of you.” Numbers broke in. “You can have your avatar, but I’m making sure she’s got some heavy debt against her.”

“How did you know it was going to be female?”

“Probability.”

"You mean luck."

 


 

“I think I made a mistake making my avatar.”

“You think? I’m glad she's dead.”

“I'm with him on this one, she warped both of our avatars badly.”

“That’s why I think I made a mistake.” Erf said, ashamed, “I think I unbalanced everything. Now neither of your avatars is interested in conquest, his is just hiring out his units for mercenary work, and yours is happy as the girlfriend of another mercenary.”

“Mine's obeying her ruler.” Fate protested. “It's her king that’s not interested in conquest. Doesn’t matter though, she’s got a Fate, she’ll be involved in conquest eventually. I just have to get her out of there.”

“Meanwhile, my avatar is acting like the score is based on shmuckers rather than land.” Numbers added.

“Yeah, and he’s winning that way--winning by a lot.” Erf replied.

“No, he’s not.” Numbers frowned. “Shmuckers are just a resource, they’re not the goal. We don’t have a cap on shmuckers. That means it’s not a zero-sum game--no-one can win.”

“Well then, influence him.” Fate said. “Get him out of his rut.”

There was a very uncomfortable pause before Numbers answered. “I can’t. I’ve tried. He won’t move. Any orders I give him he reinterprets as from you, even when I hard-code them. He’s convinced that anything except what he wants is you trying to destroy him.”

“Well, that’s just great.” Erf stood up and turned around disgusted. “I’m making another avatar and the two of ours are going after your little rebel hard. If he can disobey orders he’s a genuine threat to the integrity of the system.”

Fate hunched his shoulders and leaned forward with a worried look on his face. “This really scares me. He’s not just a threat to the system; we could just call it a fail and dissolve it right now. This is an existential threat. What does it mean that a mere unit can disobey our orders?” He looked up, his worried look apparent to all. His friends had no answer.

 



The three of them decided to try to work it out within the system. While they could have just dissolved the system, that would trigger a formal review, and they would all have to answer some pointed questions they really didn’t want to.

Erf created her new avatar, a simple piker this time. She enjoyed promoting and playing with underappreciated units, and pikers were barely more specialized than stabbers. She was careful not to put more than minimal points into intelligence or free will, concerned about what had happened with her and Numbers’ avatars. The piker fought well, was promoted to warlord, and eventually to heir. Along the way he managed to find the Hammer, which helped him immensely. Then Fate triggered a few orders and the two avatars were on the same side. Meanwhile, Numbers created a coalition to destroy their side.

 



“Why did you do that? I thought we agreed your avatar was a threat.

“He is, he is. But if I let you take him out unopposed, you’ll have two Tools, and I’ll have none. As much of a problem as he is, he’s still only part of the system. I still don’t want to lose.”

“You don’t have zero Tools.” Erf broke in. “You have one.” She was getting so tired of interrupting their arguments. "And now we're losing. How are we going to destroy your avatar if we have to start over again?"

“Your'e a fine one to talk.” Fate said turning on Erf, “Why did you make your avatar such a flaming idiot. We’d be winning instead of almost gone if it weren’t for how stupid he is.”

“I didn’t want him getting out of control.” Erf said sullenly.

“Fair enough.” Fate laughed bitterly. He turned back to Numbers. “Which side is your rebellious avatar backing?”

“Mine--partially, but he’s still being completely mercenary. He’s got an instinct to work against the two of you together, but he doesn’t want to help me outright.” Numbers shook his head.

“Well,” Fate said, “I’m reminding my avatar about the Perfect Warlord spell. Your avatar isn’t the only one who can create it.”

“My old avatar.” Numbers sighed. “I’m sorry about what happened, I really am. I think if we all join the same Side we can call this one a draw and try some other time with a new system with better controls. Go ahead and cast that Perfect Warlord spell--I’m taking him or her for my avatar. Then we’ll wipe this coalition and then destroy my old avatar.”

“Very well.” Erf and Fate nodded.

 



“WHAT IS IT WITH YOU AND REBELLIOUS AVATARS? NOW WE HAVE TWO OF THEM TO DEAL WITH!”

“What do you mean me? I didn’t know he was going to do that! Besides, you two summoned him!”

“Ohhh, I wish I’d never came up with this stupid idea.” Erf groaned.

 

 

(NOTE: User was awarded 25 shmuckers for this post.)

 

 

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