Dollamancy had come late in Tondelayo's career. She'd hit level 8 while leading the Battle for Yeagerbom, and she remembered being depressed for a tenturn that she hadn't gotten a third point of leadership instead. She danced at two, fooled at three, led at two…and now, stitched at one? How useless.
When Charlie had bumped her to triple-A after her big win, it only numbed her spirits further. The promotion had come with a long, dull stint on 40. She spent her turns selling drinks to casters and plying them for intel, and trying (unsuccessfully) to stay out of tower politics. Only desperate boredom and a need to be away from Bonnie and that crowd had led her into making etsies in her quarters at night.
As it turned out, she had a knack for it. But only for the useless crafting part. An etsie was really a juice sink. To make one, you had to spend a full turn's worth of juice stitching it together, and then you only got one chance to turn it into a unit. Once in all of twenty tries would the thing actually spring to life (or more properly, Motion). The rest of the time, you'd be left with a worthless little decorative yam totem. (It was tradition to save your failures until you got home. There were shelves full of about thirty thousand of them in the outer walls of the city.)
So you only got the chance to make an etsie if you could stitch, and you hadn't spent your juice on anything productive for the side that day. Even then, Archons with Dollamancy often made nonmagical raiment and accessories instead. At least if you fabricated yourself some new panties, you were guaranteed to have a new pair of panties.
Tondelayo went for etsies because at least they had a function for the side. They could not deal damage, they took only one point of damage to destroy, they had no specials and no move, yet Charlescomm had accumulated more than twelve hundred of them, each costing the treasury a single Shmucker per turn in upkeep.
That was because the one thing they could do—that any unit could do—was croak. Unled non-scout units that encountered an etsie in the field would auto-attack it. Archons were too expensive to patrol all of the vast, empty lands of Charlescomm territory for ground units, especially up in the mountains. And even with the gobwins and hobgobwins out there now, they couldn't watch all possible tunnel threats. So etsies were located in all kinds of inaccessible spots, a network of early-warning sentries.
Plus, it was a badge of honor in the sisterhood to have at least one of yours out there in the field. She hadn't realized it until her Dollamancy special came, but any other stitcher you met would quickly find a way to ask how many "kids" you had. Saying you didn't have any got you tsked at.
So she made a new failure every night. She made yarn Archons that looked like friends she missed. She made beast units like elephinos and no-eye deer. One night, she made an adorable little bumbleboar, with a snow white beard. The whole time she was crafting it, she talked to it.
"Aldus," she told it. "Your name will be Aldus. You are magic. You will come to life. You will buzz and grunt and fly around the room."
But when she cast the last of her juice, Aldus did not fly around the room. Or buzz. Or grunt. It joined the other lifeless knots of string on the shelf in Tondelayo's quarters.
One evening, at the end of a brain-numbing shift, after another dash with that disbandedly dense double-A Bonnie over something petty, Tondy almost went to bed without trying again. She couldn't think of an idea. She wanted to curl up on her bunk and cry.
Well, maybe she'd crochet herself a little crying teardrop of infinite pathetic sadness, then. But she was one of Charlie's Archons, and she couldn't sleep if she wasted a turn's worth of her juice. The guilt would do her in. Just like when she'd thrown that egg, as a Level 1.
So, lacking any other bright ideas tonight, she'd made an egg. She made that egg, the one that was going to hatch in the morning if she hadn't chucked it across the coop. She crocheted herself a figure of a hatching white egg, with the chick's legs poking out the bottom, and its yellow face staring out at the world. It wore the top part of the egg as a hat.
And when she was done with it, it simply came to life and peeped at her. She fell in love with it at once.
"I paid it back," she said softly to herself. "Charlie, I paid for the egg."