Among the many institutions that existed in the Magic Kingdom, the Foundation was unusual in that it was not tied to any particular class. If anything, it rather defied the traditional division of casters into classes and disciplines by specialising in magic that required the cooperation of casters from different disciplines. Politically this is a somewhat precarious position, because the guilds like to keep their secrets (some guarding them more forcefully than others), but there is generally also a curiosity regarding the capabilities of neighbouring disciplines, so the Foundation was tolerated as long as it could maintain a balance between these two interests.

An important prerequisite for this position was that the Foundation could not have the appearance of keeping secrets on its own — a superguild harvesting the secrets of multiple disciplines would definitely threaten the existing power structure in the Magic Kingdom, and thus be crushed by the powers that be — so instead the Foundation worked on a principle of extreme openness. One of its branches was the library, where all the Foundation's magics were documented in detail, in records that were open to all, on only one condition: that any caster having made use of knowledge gained (directly or indirectly) from the library to carry out some magic were by pinky swear required to disclose this; not necessarily the magic cast (even though this was encouraged), but merely the fact that the caster had taken advantage by knowledge provided by the Foundation. Use of the library was free of charge, but it was also made clear with Signs that patrons were expected to provide some donations (suggested amounts depending on wealth by level and discipline, with novices explicitly exempt from having to donate) to help fund the continued operation of the Foundation.

What took most of these shmuckers was the Foundation's other branch: to fund research into new magic utilising two or more caster disciplines. Sometimes this involved paying upkeep for casters; like the hippiemancers, the Foundation had at times effectively helped casters avoid disbandment, although not in so large numbers as few of the casters that were facing disbandment from lack of upkeep had the mindset to go directly from poverty into research. More often this involved paying for materials or services, where the most sought-for was thinkamancer assistance for linking. Since the services of thinkamancers are however also among the more expensive, the Foundation could only fund a small number of these. (There was ongoing work on the approach of using sided rather than barbarian thinkamancers for the actual linking, since sides could sometimes trade service for other service rather than service for shmuckers, but supply was unsteady and for unlinking backup one still had to involve the Great Minds.) The three person committee in charge of evaluating link-up proposals was therefore one of the most powerful bodies in the Foundation.

At one particular meeting, the last proposal was a mathamancer–carnymancer link-up. "I recommend we decline this proposal," said the Fate seat holder, master healomancer Louis Luc. "The utility of 'An Intrickate & Well-balanced Game of Cards, both Educational & Entertaining, for groups of 1–9 players (possibly more)' is dubious at best, and the proposal fails to explain why this requires a link-up. I might suggest the applicants submit a revised proposal without the link-up aspect, but frankly I'm worried that the whole thing is just the carnymancer trying to extract some shmuckers."

"You've always had a horn in the side for carnymancers," replied the Erf seat holder master florist Madfern Lupin, "and I fear you're letting it colour your judgement. I recommend we accept, even if that just adds it to our long backlog; the aim may not be extending our understanding of fundamental magic, but it is a reasonable result of combining these two magics, and we don't have any previous records of this combination. Sometimes gems are found in unexpected places."

"Putting us as one to one, making the vote of our elder member the deciding one. I suspect the carnymancer planned on this, teaming up with a mathamancer," Louis sighed. "No offence meant," he added after a short pause, having realised that this could be interpreted as criticism of the third committee member. However the Numbers seat holder, master mathamancer Sophus Nils, seemed to have other things on his mind.

"I believe you are both right, Sophus began, "from which however follows that you are also both wrong. That harbours danger, because this is not a matter to be taken lightly. To begin with, a game of cards may sound like a trinket, but it could well be the greatest contribution to the general well-being of units on Erf that this foundation would make in many hundredturns; it might not advance magic, but that does not mean it would not be worthwhile. On the other hand, I too suspect that the application may have been crafted specifically to play on the imagined allegiances of the committee members — the justification of the method has strange gaps, even if cleverly smoothed over."

Thus far, the reply had been on a par with Louis's and Madfern's expectations — their colleague had a habit of going "on the one hand" and "on the other" for a while before arriving at a conclusion — but what came next surprised them. "However none of that matters, because the method is too dangerous. We are not ready to deal with mathamancer–carnymancer link-ups, so the proposal must be declined," Sophus concluded.

"How can a mathamancer–carnymancer link be dangerous?" Madfern asked. "Neither are 'hot' disciplines, and neither can do much with Stuff."

"It is dangerous" Sophus replied, "because mathamancy is the magic of exposing remote consequences of the rules, whereas carnymancy is the magic of breaking rules — in many ways direct opposites. When combined they amplify each other, allowing great effects to be reached with little expenditure of juice. Effects that are easily too great for us to manage, in certain cases too great for this Erf!"

"Hmm… I see," Louis said, "you have a point that the synergy between these disciplines could be considerable. Still, it seems a hyperbole to call it dangerous, given the passive nature of the two disciplines."

Sophus's reply was quick, and uncharacteristically sharp. "This danger is no exaggeration, nor mere hypothesis. A mathamancy–carnymancy link created the Hept!" Having said that, Sophus went quiet, and suddenly looked very passive.

A slight twitch had however revealed to Madfern's hippiemancy senses that the silence was not voluntary, but rather seemed to be enforced by contract. A non-disclosure agreement? "Sophus, what is this 'Hept'? Can you tell us?" The wording was carefully chosen to probe the boundaries of the suspected contract.

"You… have a need to know," Sophus began, suddenly only whispering, "but I cannot tell you now. Could we perhaps continue tomorrow?" As an afterthought he added, "and perhaps in a more secure locale?"

"I can make arrangements," Madfern assured him.


***

 

When they reconvened the next turn, Sophus had regained his voice, but still appeared a bit shaken. "For good and for worse, this is going to be a long tale. When I left you yesterturn I was a bit ashamed that my … situation would force you to delay everything an entire turn, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that this is really an origin story, that needs to be told in full. It is moreover a story about the origins of several things, and each should be told in its right, so let me begin with the first: myself.

"Like most casters, I was popped sided, and like most barbarian casters, my side of origin no longer exists. Its name does not matter, and to be frank I'm no longer certain what its name was; several sides with similar names have since risen and fell, and back in those days I paid little attention to names, as I saw things mostly as their Function: the ruler was The King, the chief warlord was The Chief Warlord (also Heir), the only other caster was the Chief Lookamancer, the capital was The Capital, and so on. I was aware that units had attributes beside their Stats and Specials, but the other parts seldom seemed to matter.

"As one might expect, I was put to work managing the cities of the side, and in hindsight I was quite good at this, since our wealth grew considerably; we added as many city levels during my time at level 1 as there were in the entire side when I popped. On the other hand managers level slowly, so most of my turns as sided were at level 1. I was still prone to contemplating the difference between my old stats at level 1 and the new 'vastly improved' stats I won when reaching level 2 when the attack of the Horde changed everything.

"They probably weren't named that, but this is what we called them. They were not one of the neighbouring sides, so their attack was completely unexpected, and their gross offensive strength was superior. I suspect they were up against Diminishing Returns, because they showed no interest in holding cities; instead they razed the first city they captured for shmuckers. They also happened to croak the Heir in their first attack, and I suppose this may have gotten the King a bit unhinged. 'So they care only for shmuckers?' he said 'Then it is shmuckers we shall deny them! Make it so that they shall have no gain from their attack on us.' He might have thought about it only as a declaration of resolve, but he made it an Order, and as a result I was moved from production to the war room.

"The new Chief Warlord probably had the idea that I should merely optimise production to aid the war effort, but as the inexperienced caster I was I took the king's words literally, and drew up plans to optimise the objective he had named: reduce the gains of the enemy. This is not the same as increasing one's own gains, even if there often is a correlation, and in the game of Optimisation it is the stated Objective that counts, not what common sense suggests. My plan would for example call for preemptively razing our own cities rather than letting them fall into the hands of the Horde (obviously not immediately since that would not be Optimal, but rather as late as could be safely done to let us take advantage of the last few days of production). Engagements would only be entered where we could be sure of a victory, since otherwise we would provide the enemy with Experience; at times the only way to ensure this was to Disband our own units. The warlords were appalled, but the king approved; he might not have envisioned what his strategy would entail, but he stuck with it.

"The plan would not have worked even half as well, had it not been for our Chief Lookamancer. He would relay to me the exact positions and compositions of forces, after which I would optimise our operations, and finally the king would Order my plans executed, directly to the warlords out in the field. In some way I must have counted as the effective chief military commander of my side, because even though I never left the capital tower, I levelled twice during that campaign; even diluted through the chain of command, the number of deaths that came to be on my order seemed to please the Titans.

"More important than reaching level 4 was however the terrible insight that dawned on me when I became Adept: that we would lose. I had been steadily improving our effectiveness at draining the enemy resources, although those improvements were declining, and I found myself wondering whether there was a limit to how much better we could get. As it turned out, such a limit could be formulated, and it was too low; the Horde would end our side well before their strength was depleted, no matter how cleverly I deployed our troops! 'There is no combination of our units that will hurt the enemy enough to defeat him,' I explained to my King and my Chief. 'We will be conquered, quite possibly within a tenturn.' But the chief begged to disagree. 'What about casters?' he said. 'We have only two casters, who are fully accounted for;' I replied, 'one cannot force production of new ones.' 'I meant hiring casters, from the Magic Kingdom.' This possibility had not occurred to me. Indeed, I had never been to the Magic Kingdom, and whereas I knew the properties of unit types on my own side inside and out, I knew almost nothing about the capabilities of casters. 'I am confident that our odds can be turned around,' he said, and went through the portal to engage on a veritable hiring spree.

"Sides close to being ended are typically low on funds, but thanks to my unconventional plans (especially the razing) our treasury was rather at an all time high, so paying for casters (even the most expensive ones) was no problem. Convincing casters to come was trickier, but the Chief knew how to make deals. In particular his own skills as a lookamancer were essential for getting hires to accept missions that went beyond the capital; it's less of a worry to enter a battlespace when you have an immediate portal to the safety of the Magic Kingdom, but if the road you'll be taking in the field has been found clear of dangers then some extra pay will often seem worth it. The awe I felt when I witnessed what these casters could do is by far my most vivid memory of these turns; for example I remember a team-up of two naughtymancers, one croaking the enemy and the other then uncroaking them, as making a spectacular impact. It seemed that every round someone would do something new and completely (at least by me) unexpected! But this also meant that my new role as tactician was lost; since I did no longer know what the units could do, I could no longer plan how to make best use of them. Instead I had to be content with the Duty of keeping score.

"Did the casters make a difference? Yes and no. The fundamental nature of our plight did not change: we would still be conquered. The enemy were however reaching their limits as well; reinforcements were not arriving as fast, if they came at all, but we could not beat them alone. This could be the time for diplomacy, as together with a coalition of our neighbours we would have been able to beat the horde, but diplomacy failed, and in retrospect perhaps it had to. Our neighbours could doubt our words that the horde was almost beaten and only needed one more push, because wouldn't it be foolish to enrage an enemy that the last time they looked was very strong? If we fell and the horde was not interested in taking more territory, then a number of city sites would soon be up for grabs! Our neighbours could alternatively believe that the horde was almost spent, but that was in a sense worse: the longer they waited to attack, the weaker the horde would be, at no cost for them. Possibly the horde would have been open for diplomacy, but we had no clear lines of communication, and they were so deeply invested in conquering us that they couldn't afford to stop for less than the contents of our treasury, which was precisely what the king wished to deny them. That is at least the mathamancy of the matter; I've learnt since that diplomacy sometimes makes irrational jumps, and I was not involved in the actual negotiations that were made, so maybe there was still a way out at that point. But it was not to be.

"The development that set the endgame in motion was the croaking of the Chief Lookamancer; he was critted during a simple air raid. Without him, the boost of casters hired from the Magic Kingdom dwindled, and the enemy prepared for the final attack on our final city. Unknown to me, the king and the chief had however agreed upon one last plan to thwart the enemy: a hired moneymancer would convert the entire treasury to gems, which the chief would carry into the Magic Kingdom; even if the side fell, the wealth that our enemy had sought would be denied him! Without the chief, that task now fell upon me. It seems the enemy only understood what was happening when we sacked our own capital down to level 1, shortly before the moneymancer and I went through the portal. Not long after arriving, the portal closed and I became a barbarian.

"On that turn, I experienced many sensations which each would qualify for being remarkable: my first visit to the Magic Kingdom, the loss of my Side, and becoming a Barbarian; but somehow what struck me the most was the loss of my Duty. Before, I had to work for the betterment of my side, to carry out the orders of my Ruler, but now there was nothing. Or, upon much closer inspection, there was one small thing: I had to keep living, so that some remnant of my side of origin would continue, as a marker that the horde had not won. It was an easy calculation to verify that the fortune I had brought with me would last a very long time indeed — likely longer than my expected life, should I choose to just sit around and do nothing. (Inactivity decays one's signamancy, and one may indeed croak from doing nothing for too long, but that takes a long time.) This was of course assuming that I could hold on to the fortune — the worth of an entire, rather prosperous, side — but luckily the moneymancer that had accompanied me alerted me of the risk, and I was able to deposit it in the moneymancers' bank before anyone else took notice.

"Thus began a carefree period of my life. Not having to follow a ruler's Orders, nor forced by necessity to acquire upkeep for my next barbarian turn, I was free to do whatever I wanted, and early on I did a great variety of things, which are of little relevance here. What eventually became clear to me was however that I most of all wanted to travel the Erf and learn the details of the different types of units found thereon. That meant going through portals, which more often than not required hiring out to the Side beyond, so I began to peruse the job boards, raising more than a few eyebrows regarding which jobs I took or did not take: seldom those that paid well (even if that happened), but rather those that allowed me to visit regions different from the places I already knew. Juicing up a non-capital tower in a side with no or few casters is shunned by most barbarian casters who have a choice, but to me it was close to ideal: I would spend turns not only in the City in question, but also on the road there and back, with plenty of chances to see new things and learn about them. I sometimes had to hide that I was a mathamancer, since my employers would otherwise view me as overqualified, but on the whole it went well, and anyway I spent most of my time in the Magic Kingdom.

"It was on the job board that I found the note that would again change the course of my life:"

 

Skilled mathamancer wanted

for groundbreaking work on side defence project.

Triple upkeep for employment duration,

plus bonuses for attained milestones.

Entails 3-caster link-ups.

Direct enquiries to: Lady Frigg (thinkamancer)

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