Silence and blindness can bring a kind of serenity.
But only when you know you are safe. If you lose your senses in a moment of insecurity, then you have to fight the natural tendency to panic.
Since that was the only thing he could fight right now, Charlie was doing so. And since he was himself, he intended to win.
For input, he had only his blunted physical senses and his Carnymancy left. His five meats weren't telling him very much. Pain was a constant and meaningless noise, of course. His hearing gave him the crumpling of the wind rushing past his ears. His filmy sight showed him dim sections of steel tube whizzing by. His neck-up touch indicated a cold breeze upon his scalp.
Correlated, this information only indicated that Queenie and Tondy were hauling the wheelie and his bloated carcass straight up through Boltshaft Prime, about as fast as two Archons had ever flown a load.
This, he already knew.
Carnymancy sense gave him the warm feeling that his Archons both believed in him. They were perfectly certain he would salvage this, if they did their part. It was what he'd expected to feel from them—however much crap they liked pretending to give him—but he found this enough to raise his comfort level back up to a 2, anyway.
He supposed that he still had his baseline Ruler channels as well. With so much amplification and sensitivity lost, it was almost like not having them at all, but he could issue orders if he wanted to. He didn't want to. The orders currently in place—don't target Lilith, do shoot Parson if he takes this opportunity to come through—would do for the thirty seconds or so they would need to reach Topstation and hook in.
So then, since he had a spare moment for thought… what had Lilith done to his tower?
He'd know the precise answer to that question soon, but the critical datum, of course, was already known. For the first time in ages, Charlescomm now stood at Level 4. This meant she had passed the threshold for doing material damage to his city, and his treasury had not automagically received a full 500,000 Shmuckers in compensation. Nowhere close.
Therefore, he had a new claim to present.
"Okay, ten points off my man card?" said Parson, "but I've never actually held a gun before. Dad wasn't real big on them." He frowned down at the AK-47 (or whatever it was) in his hands. "I wonder how it works."
The thing looked unreal. Not that it was un-Erfly like the Arkenpliers or the 'hammer, but it looked like a movie prop. Just like the Stupid Meal and his cereal box had, this gun didn't feel like it belonged here. It reminded him of home.
Actually, it reminded him of some things about home that he hadn't thought about in a while. Home wasn't all White Castle sliders and Pez, was it?
He stared at her blankly. "You do?"
She tugged on something along the side of hers, said, "safety levah on." Then she fiddled with something near the trigger, "release the catch, pop the mahgazine…" She pulled the banana-shaped black clip off and eyeballed it, then showed it to him. "Yes, it's loaded, see? Slide the bolt, check the chambah…" She drew back the bolt lever and looked inside. "Nothing in the chambah." The lever snapped back. "Reattotch the mahg." She clicked it into place. "Safety off…" He could see now that the safety was a thin black lever above the trigger, which she now pushed to a down position. "Pull bock," she drew the bolt lever back forcefully, "and release," it snapped back into place. She held up the gun with both hands, aimed skyward and in the direction of the portal. "Ready to shoot. You know how to do thot, right?"
"Aim and pull the trigger, I assume," Parson said sheepishly.
"Squeeze," she said. "Don't pull."
He blinked at her. "How do you know that, Marie?"
Marie shook her head. "I think the rifle tells me. I guess maybe it doesn't tell you." She gave him a distant look, as if those white circles she had for eyes were focused on the horizon far behind him. "So this changes most everything. Doesn't it, wahload?"
Parson nodded, and took the heavy canvas shoulder bag, which Jack was holding up for him. Wanda was back on the grass, studying the half-corpse of an Archon which had come flying through the portal along with the guns, while Jack had gathered up everything weapon-y from the grass and stuffed it into the convenient sack. They were all hoping that more stuff might come through, but nothing else had.
No new explosions either, though. And hadn't that been a nasty surprise?
From what he knew of portals, it shouldn't've been possible. Arrows and other projectile weapons were always supposed to stop at the portal surface, the way they did at hex boundaries when you were off-turn. Also, when he'd stood next to Spacerock's portal while the city was burning, he'd felt no heat. So whatever bomb went off in Charlescomm just before the weapons came through, it wasn't a normal trap effect.Gingerly, Parson pulled on the safety lever of his rifle to make sure it was up as high as it could go. Then he stuck it butt-first into the sack with the other two rifles and the pistol.
He knew that he should probably be keeping the gun at the ready, but he didn't trust himself to remember Marie's 10-second tutorial just now. He should probably be handing these out to his warlords right now, too. Hopefully the rifles would speak instructions to them as well. Or did you have to be a caster?
"Yeah, it does," he answered Marie at last, "it's huge."
Gobwin Knob had just acquired five guns. Ace could probably make copies of them. And if they needed gunpowder to make bullets, then that would probably be something Sizemore could do, now that he had a sample to work with.
He turned to Jack, who was the only person here that he'd ever been able to talk strategy with. "Do you get the feeling," he said in a low voice, "that Charlie could have won Erfworld any time he wanted to?"
"If so," said Jack, in dark tones, "I fear we may provoke him into changing his mind. It will be interesting to note what he presents as a claim. Are you prepared for that?"
Parson raised an eyebrow. "No," he said, "how does that work?"
The Foolamancer gave Parson his typical expression of detached amusement for a moment. He tilted his head and raised his eyebrows in expectation, as if looking for a sign that his Chief Warlord was joking.
"Yeah," said Parson grimly, "I guess I should've asked that before…"Jack's little smile crumbled and fell. "Oh, dear."