Here was an excellent moment in time. So much to see. So much being seen by important players.
Jack didn't wish to miss a detail. He took three steps back and threw open the gates of his Foolamancy senses, filtering nothing, allowing all impressions to enter his mind like a horde of soldiers storming a palace.
Sensation flooded the entire volume of his head. He could not analyze. Meaning was plain enough for him to perceive, but impossible to assign. This experience was purifying, a bit terrifying, and clearly necessary in such a moment as this one.
The Thinkamancer lay in the grass, insensate, surrounded by red combat boots. She observed nothing, but would remember it all, in a fashion.
Sister Wanda knelt nearby, her attention divided, holding the Glory in her left hand, and the hand of the partial Archon in her right. Clearly she was tempted to re-pop the body now. She was profoundly conflicted. She waited in paralysis.
Within himself, he sensed an emptiness akin to the absence of food in one's stomach, where the comfort of a Chief Warlord's bonus had resided until moments ago.
Other nearby faces reflected a similar sense of that loss: the warlady, some of the infantry. Many soldiers did not comprehend, but the two warlords were heedful, conflicted, looking to one another for help in assessing a sudden indeterminate threat.
The free caster, the former Sister, brandished the steel staff. She was confident it held decisive power, but perhaps uncertain she could employ it. Her wounds troubled her, but did not limit her motion. Jack sensed that she actually resented having been injured, and so she ignored her own pain and damage out of spiteful disregard for it.
Past the perimeter of soldiers, other free casters spoke and gawked. He observed the spectrum of shades in their concern: there had been an explosion, a unit had appeared, a warlord, the warlord. Wearing Charlescomm livery two or three of them found most disturbing. Counted among that group was the Carnymancer, who stood veiled and lurking behind a not-too-nearby portal.
In this mode of observation, no detail was particularly important. But with the focus of so many actors upon one spot, so many vantages and impressions and emotional associations being linked to one player, what might charitably be called Jack's attention in this state could not help but be drawn to the perfect warlord at the center of the scene.
The warlord's expression was that of a mountain which was surprised to find it had been moved. Jack knew that this face masked a greater mind than his own, so reading it was always a ticklish proposition. But it seemed that the perfect warlord was momentarily shocked out of all his frames of reference.
He began to speak now. Voices reveal much. Jack listened.
"That gun is Charlescomm property, actually," the perfect warlord said. "I'll need it back."
"Findahs keepahs," said the caster with the weapon aimed at his head. "You could maybe have one bullet, though."
The perfect warlord let a bare hint of a humorless laugh creep into his voice. "Are you… fated to kill me, Marie?"
His expression said that he considered the question a clever and perhaps conclusive one. The tone, however, betrayed his fear that his question might be answered affirmatively, with violence.
The former Sister's face was another story. A blink, a breath out of rhythm, and the flattening of her lips by a bare degree might as well have been a full confession. The question had struck her deeply. She knew something. She knew enough to be certain she should not attack him.
"Nevah made that Prediction," she admitted, still menacing him with the rod. "But like you said, wahload. We have the 'pliers. I think maybe we can cheat a little bit with you."
The perfect warlord's attention followed the former Sister's gesture. Then he seemed to notice the scroll that was poking out from a pocket in her silk sash. A sudden smile indicated another gambit he considered clever. "So is that who the scroll's for? Me, after you shoot me?"
The caster grimaced at another rhetorical hit. Her scroll did have a specific purpose, something other than what he had just described. "Maybe," she bluffed. "Bettah if you just tuhn back, though. Don't you think?"
Here, the perfect warlord's face did something truly interesting. He fashioned a sneer that was meant as dismissive, derisive. But his shoulders tensed a bit too much, as if flinching from a blow. The furrows of the sneer ran too deep. Something painful was associated with the words he now spoke."I can't turn to Gobwin Knob; we're under truce. It's a violation." He turned his head toward Jack with a wry grin, with a hint of a gloat. "Think about how it works, Jack. If I turn, then the Knob just gets dinged for another half million, and Charlie claims me back. We could be here all day, dude! Think about how it works."
As the perfect warlord said his name, Jack's state of pure observation crumbled apart and collapsed. Bird calls and voices at the edge of his hearing faded out. He no longer saw each leaf on each distant tree as a distinct, fluttering thing. He could prioritize his impressions, assign meanings to things.
In short, he could think again. Which was quite well, because it seemed the time for it.
Parson Gotti was saying that he could not be turned back, and that it pained him. The contract was the obstacle. He might still be Loyal to Gobwin Knob, but his Duty to his once-and-future side would prevent him from turning back and incurring a penalty to the treasury.
"I haven't got any plans," Jack said, feigning a casual shrug. "Haven't got a Chief Warlord to give me any."
Parson Gotti did not laugh at the jest. He folded the arms of the incongruous suit of clothes he was wearing. "Okay, well I have plans. I'm going to Charlescomm. Those are my orders." He indicated the portal at his back. "Are you going to shoot me if I try, Marie?"
"Yes," said the Predictamancer, immediately and with confidence.
From her posture and voice, Jack was certain Marie did not want to shoot, but that she absolutely would. She knew something vital (oh, didn't she always?), but she did not know what to do with the information.
"Okay," said Parson Gotti, glancing around. He looked into the distance, as if scanning for something in particular. His eyes darted. After a moment his head made a slight jerk, then he looked down at the grass and nodded.
"Um. Charlie says he will disband me, rather than allow me to be shot and Decrypted," he said, with a forced smile. "So I guess that's two guns to my head. Anyone else? Wanda? Artemis? Angry bystanders? Everybody form a line."
No-one spoke, including Sister Wanda, who glared up at the big man. Her grip on the Glory suggested that she considered attacking Parson Gotti to be within her range of immediate options.
With the barest gesture of his hand, Jack cast a tiny spell, placing a question in Marie's ear, in his own voice.
"Who is the scroll for, Sister?"
The Predictamancer glanced at him in surprise, then indicated the portal with a tilt of her head. "Your Archon," she mouthed subtly.
It took conscious effort to mask his surprise. Archons could not pass through portals, he was certain. "Here?" he sent. "Soon?"
Jack stroked his chin and sorted through all the impressions of Parson Gotti he'd gathered in his observational reverie. Raiment and livery notwithstanding, this was his friend, a man he well knew. He'd spent many enjoyable hours with the Good Warlord, as they'd amused themselves and one another by supposing this and that absurdity about a battlefield.And for all his recklessness with Language, Parson Gotti had a way of speaking that was deceptively precise. He only repeated himself when he felt he was not being properly understood.
Think about how it works. He'd said it twice. He'd said it the way he'd often talked when setting up a new puzzle.
"It" being the contract, "how it works" then meant that when one side damages the other's units, they must pay. The Archon Lilith likely was not currently wounded, or else the treasury would not be empty. But she would be wounded, because she would need Healomancy. And she would come through the portal, because how else could she arrive here "soon?" It was Predicted.
He glanced at the portal, wondering if perhaps there were a scene just on the other side of it which made for an equally excellent moment in time…
"Well!" said Jack, quite loudly. Most eyes turned his way, but he focused his own on Artemis, the warlord ostensibly in command here. She hadn't spoken a word, to this point. "As we're under truce and without a Chief Warlord, I can't suggest anything that Gobwin Knob can do to stop you. But perhaps Sister Marie might be persuaded to let you be on your way as well."
Artemis nodded uncertainly. Marie gave him a quizzical look. "Oh?"
"Yes, the answer is obvious," said Jack. "I suspect that if you were to cast about it, you would see that he's simply Predicted to pass through this portal." He glanced over to Sister Wanda, worried that she might see him as trespassing on her philosophical grounds, but she actually looked fractionally amused.
Sister Marie narrowed her eyes at Parson Gotti. "You don't move, okay?"
The warlord (enemy warlord, hmf) raised an eyebrow. "What if my nose itches?" he said with a little smirk.
"Then I shoot it off yah face. Quiet now," said the Predictamancer. With seeming ease, she kept the weapon pinned against her shoulder with her right hand, keeping her eyes and the rod trained on Parson Gotti's head. With her left, she withdrew the scroll from her sash and tossed it blindly to the grass. "Wanda, take it."
Sister Wanda rose and picked up the Healomancy scroll.
As her left hand became free, Sister Marie waved it and said, "Kremna." Her eyelids fluttered.
Jack watched Parson Gotti closely. His posture and gaze indicated that he was considering taking the opportunity to flee through the portal, but could not justify the risk. Then he looked to Marie, sizing up his chances to steal the weapon.
Jack twisted the cap of his staff slightly and began to cast a baffle spell to throw the warlord off the mark, if he attempted any move against her.
Sister Marie's milk-white eyes went wide, and her gaze darted around, glancing at the warlord, the portal, a soldier, the near ground, then the far ground. Her head shuddered slightly, and Jack deduced that the vision of the spell had cleared.
"Yah. He goes through," she said distantly.
"Well," said Jack, interrupting the assembly of his spell. "You of all people should know the folly of delaying the inevitable."
For three heartbeats, she said nothing. Then she tilted the rod upward and pulled it close to her body. "I'm keeping this," she said.
Parson Gotti pressed his lips together and looked around for a long moment, "checking for traps" as he would likely put it. "Okay," he said, "I'll be in touch."
He turned around and stepped through the portal to Charlescomm.
…But not before Jack could complete the baffle spell, and throw it the warlord's way. After all, he hated to waste juice, almost as much as he hated that wretched suit of clothing the warlord was wearing.
Well. Whatever sort of moment they were enjoying on the opposite side, that ought to make things a little less perfect."Jack! Wanda! Move!" cried Sister Marie, the moment Parson Gotti was gone. "Everyone… down!!"