Dear Mistress Turner,

I consider my humble self among your most ardent admirers. Recently, a tale has come into my possession that, I am quite sure, would be among those you would be interested in setting to paper. Rather than merely passing it along, I strove to ape your most wonderfully un-Erfly style and tell the tale myself. I would hope that you would be kind enough to give me your opinion on this work and let me know your thoughts upon my future endeavors.

Sincerely,

Rhyme-o-mancer Thaddeus of Thorn Hill

 

The Signamancy of Daring Gray

Part the First

I bring you a sad tale. A tale of woe. A tale of evil. A tale of the love of a ruler for her heir sadly gone astray. The tale of Daring Gray.

It started not long after the final, fabled fall of high Haffaton. Or maybe just before, I’m not really sure. These legendary tales get muddled together sometimes. Anyway it was about that turn or so. Charlie had already established himself as a procurer of special mercenary needs. He figures in to it, but only in the beginning, and only indirectly. He’s never directly involved in anything after all, is he? He makes his shmuckers from other sides' struggles.

It was a dark and stormy turn when Daring Gray was popped. This was not unusual, every turn was dark and stormy in the hex containing the capital city of Night in the Kingdom of Shadows. A hundred turns before his own popping, Daring’s older sister, Warlady Gothheart Ravenblack had been croaked by the neighboring side known as The Flouncy Biscuits. Their mother, Queen Nyx, took time to properly chastise the offending side before popping a new heir. They are now no more.

Prince Daring Gray popped into existence like a beam of light shining into that gloomy place. If male units could be archons, all would have said he had their Signamancy. He had silver flowing hair that curled around his shoulders and framed his soft features. His smooth, creamy skin had neither wrinkle nor blemish, and his perfectly oval face had only a hint of the tightness that shows that we are all made by the Titans to croak or be croaked. His gaze as he popped was without the confusion that most units have, but with a transcendence—as if he were gazing at the Titans themselves.

Instead of the usual polished black metal armor customary to the units of his kingdom, his was of a translucent pearl gray. When you looked straight at him you could tell it was gray, but in that place, with those around him, he shone like a bright, white light. The weapon which he held free and easy in his hand was a stick—a staff. It was polished smooth and tapered slightly at each end, letting you know it was not some Signamantic emblem of weakness showing he needed support nor was it a caster’s tool. This was a weapon, designed to spin and thrust, to crush and croak, all without breaking skin or revealing blood.

The entire Court of Shadows looked at Daring Gray and immediately loved him. From Queen Nyx herself down to the newest stabber, no-one could take their eyes off of him as he walked forward from where he had popped and saluted his queen and mother. He was the most beautiful thing in their sad and gloomy land. They truly adored him, one and all. Especially the Signamancer, Apprentice Basal Halfgood.

Basal had popped in the little town of Foghorn near the end of Burnt Biscuit War. The chief warlord had taken one look at him and said, “Huh, that one's for the court.” Chief Warlord Nightwing sent Basal off before the caster even knew what war was. For the best, really, only the cleverest Signamancers make combat casters and clever did not exactly describe Basal. Basal was an artist. When Basal poured his juice into a painting everyone around became like a Signamancer. Any who looked at his paintings, caster, warlord, or lowly infantry could see the true meaning behind what he painted--half the time. He was only Halfgood after all.

When he saw Prince Daring for the first time, Basal knew he had found his muse. He begged permission to paint Prince Daring immediately, with the glow of the Titans still on him. The queen also wished to preserve this sight, and also saw how useful such a painting would be for her heir, so she readily agreed. Even before he had had his first weapons practice, Prince Daring was posing for a picture, unaware of how it would change his life.

This painting was everything Caster Basal and Queen Nyx could have wanted. Not only was it a work of art, but Basal learned so much from its construction he became an adept upon its completion. Everyone who saw it, saw that units are a gift to rulers from the Titans. Prince Daring merely bore more evidence of that than the usual unit. Queen Nyx and Adept Basal could see the glow fading from his shoulders, and they could not abide it, so they hatched an evil scheme.

As I have said, by this turn Charlie had established himself as a mercenary contractor, one who could Get Things Done©, one who Had the Right Contacts©—For the Right Price©. Queen Nyx contacted Charlie to get a link-up between her Signamancer and a Carnymancer. Where Charlie found a Thinkamancer willing to link a Carnymancer no-one can tell. Where he found a Carnymancer who can keep a secret is equally difficult to imagine. At any rate, he found them. The Queen's plot was as simple as it was Hellabadacious.

After Charlie had been paid (because nothing ever happens until after Charlie has been paid) Charlie’s Archons took Basal to a secret location where he formed a link and scribed a scroll. He took this scroll back to the Kingdom of Night and cast it upon his Prince in the presence of the painting. And nothing happened. Nothing that anyone could see, but the spell had been cast. The prince was changed forever. From now on he would keep the Signamancy he was popped with, while the painting would change as he would have.

Instead of the prince’s Signamancy showing his soul, the painting would. The Titans have made our Signamancy a reflection of our soul. The ruler who focuses on war takes a warlike cast to their face, the one who is a negotiator looks more thoughtful. If a unit is inactive, they may gain weight or lose muscle tone as the Titans decide. Long turns spent unchanged will wrinkle the skin and silver the hair. These things are a sign to the units around us to let them know who they are dealing with--if they will but see the Signs.

Prince Daring was now encouraged to begin his normal training routine. Things went normally for several turns, the Prince grew stronger and more skilled in the use of his staff and learned both from his mother, the queen, and from histories in the library how to prepare himself for that fateful turn when the Titans called her onward. Then one turn in practice something evil happened. Prince Daring lost his temper.

Chief Warlord Nightwing was training him on how to defend against the pike when the Chief Warlord managed to roll a critical success to strike at the same time Prince Daring rolled a critical fail to dodge. They were merely using practice weapons with full armor, so it was well short of incapacitating—but it smarted. And everyone laughed.

Prince Daring was so furious about the humiliation that he picked up his war staff and attacked Nightwing without warning and landed his own critical blow. This strike was incapacitating. Nightwing fell to the earthen practice pit floor, unable to attack for the remainder of the turn. And the crowd laughed again, both to see a newly popped level One warlord beat the chief warlord and to see their Prince, whom they loved, show such success. After all, it was just practice. Chief Warlord Nightwing would heal. And Prince Daring was such an inspiration to gaze upon.

The only unit that wasn’t laughing was Signamancer Basal. With his Signamancer's sight, he could see why the Prince had thrown that blow, and it wasn’t boldness or courage or fortitude in the face of failure, it was ill temper at being bested. But the Prince's Signamancy had not changed at all. The thought of what this meant made him rush to the Queen's chambers where his great painting of the Prince was kept. When Basal got there, he was both relieved and horrified to see that the spell he had cast had worked perfectly as intended. The image in the picture had lost the transcendent gaze that made the prince so special. The image was still lovely, but not--special.

Adept Basal pulled the painting from the wall and threw a sheet over it as he carried it to his quarters. His Duty both required him to protect the Queen from this sight and prevented him from destroying it. He hung it in his own quarters while he pondered what to do over the next few turns. When the Queen asked after the painting, he merely let her know that there were problems with it that he had not foreseen and that he would have to study it further. Since she could see her darling heir shining like a sunbeam every turn, Queen Nyx saw no need to dispute his action. She merely instructed her Signamancer to be thorough with his studies. And thorough he was.

Over the next several tenturns Prince Daring learned and practiced and grew into his name. He was taken to a few border skirmishes to prove himself and to gain experience, and this he did, attaining level two in a commendably short number of turns. It was the dawn of his life, taking joy in the battlefield, unknowing that he was only being placed against enemies that he could both be challenged by and defeat. Queen Nyx had no intention of making her new heir a toy, but certainly none of losing him so soon after popping.

He returned from the border with the final glory of a third level and a captured town. The neighbors had sued for peace and offered land and shmuckers to avoid attack by this new beam of light out of the night. A treaty was signed, and this border would be quiet for a hundredturn. Prince Daring returned to the capital in glory, riding a captured Screwworm with his battle-worn staff under one arm. And he looked exactly the same as the day he was popped.

The painting, however, did not. The Prince there was stronger, harder, fiercer--and crueler. There were certain things he had done during the war, captive enemies he had croaked for XP, units of his own he had allowed to croak because it was too much trouble to reinforce their positions, jokes he had told, things no unit should be proud of, but many units do--things that scarred his Signamancy ever so slightly. All we do shows in our Signamancy, in Prince Daring, it only showed in his painting’s; his was the same transcendent gaze he had popped with.