Ivan Poe adjusted his goggles. In the magnified view, he watched a tiny trickle of dust grains spilling down from an overhead beam. Puff-puff-puff-puff-puff...a rhythmic disturbance at a recognized frequency: exactly the same as a tripod's rate of fire.
There were guns on the island. Guns. On. The island.
Of course there'd been guns here for a long time. Ivan kept an arsenal, way underground. But nobody but Claud Gauntlet was even supposed to know the word "gun," let alone what one was.
Now there were guns out in the open. In Portal Park. Being fired. Croaking casters, maybe. Not good. Charlie probably screwed something up. Broke something major. And Charlie was going to need it fixed.
Ivan was pretty sure there wasn't another client in the world that could pay him as well as Charlescomm did. So even if he hadn't been contractually obligated to respond to this crisis, he would have come to help anyway. Charlie was worth saving because this gig sure was.
Fortunately, he was also pretty sure that there wasn't another client in the world who prepared himself to be saved as well as Charlie did. Contingencies within contingencies had been worked out.
Ivan's being here now, beneath the portal to Spacerock, was the core of one such contingency plan. Delta had called to let him know Gobwin Knob troops were gathering at the Charlescomm portal, and from that moment, Ivan had been on the job.
He'd taken the rail cart straight to Portal Park and got right to work with his Wonky Wrench. This was a huge metal gripping tool that was actually a Carnymancy/Dirtamancy item he had helped to forge, in a link-up with the big man.
From practice, it required about a third of his juice to Carny-dig through the "impenetrable" bedrock, climb up, and fill in the hole with more bedrock. If he wanted to leave here by rail, therefore, then he should not spend more than another third of his juice in this operation.
Ivan scratched his temple with a gloved finger, beneath the rim of his yellow helmet.
So what should he do?
When Bonnie had reached an altitude where she could see every portal in the park, she slowly spun in place, looking down. After a moment, one green rectangle in the multicolored jumble somehow commanded all of her attention. That was the one. Mission objective in sight.
Never mind that this mission was of her own making. If she didn't believe this was her true Duty, then she wouldn't have been able to touch the holy Arkenpliers, let alone feel the teeth-tingling joy of gripping them in her hand now.
She dropped into a straight-line glidepath for the portal to Spacerock. By odds, her veil would be detected by at least a few of the casters below, or maybe even one of the fliers. If there were Lookamancers among the partisans, then it was all but guaranteed. Maybe they'd shoot her down, maybe they wouldn't. That's war.
But she carried two items that were each worth a thousand times her own considerable value as a fighting unit, and she had a headful of priceless operational intelligence about Charlescomm to boot. She shouldn't stay here right now, and there was really no point in taking anything but the shortest route home.
Adjusting his goggles once more to see in greenlight, Ivan looked around the dark tunnel. This illegal construction had been made by Sizemore Rockwell, Gobwin Knob's own Dirtamancer, during Parson Gotti's second incursion. It lead from beneath the Spacerock portal to a dead end where the portal to their eponymous capital used to stand.
It was dark down here because free casters had ripped out all the powerballs. But so far nobody had sprung for the Rands to pay a rocker to fill it back in. Ivan had helped set the price of the job too high to be worth it. This tunnel was useful. He was using it now.
Baseline plan said that he was supposed to bury the Spacerock portal in dirt, cutting off the retreat for any Gobwin Knob forces, and blocking any reinforcements from coming through. As a temporary measure, this would not violate any major conventions of the Magic Kingdom. It was his preferred contribution to the cause.
Mere dirt would not stop a Dirtamancer. He would need something tougher. A trap, maybe.
But not a trap he'd have to explain. Nothing fancy. Nothing routed to the portal column, like he'd done at Charlescomm, because not even the other rockers knew that was possible. And nothing too explosive, because imprecision in demolition near a population causes indignation.Hm...
Some shouts from the grass below seemed to indicate that Bonnie had indeed been spotted.
She did not linger to see who it might be. She was gaining airspeed and shedding altitude, bent on hitting the green surface of the portal at top speed. She could take the fall damage on the other side if she crashed into walls or floor. Even if she critted and dusted, at least the rifle and the Arkentool would be safe in Gobwin Knob's possession.
But as she neared the ground, a nagging thought--a tidbit of that valuable operational intelligence she was carrying--bubbled up in her memory.
Gas and fire had the same problems with collateral damage that explosives did. Goo would use too much juice, as would any creative or exotic type of trap. Lava was not possible on the island. So that really only left pits.
With the tunnel here, a pit-trap was half dug already. He could save a lot of juice. And if he did poisoned spikes, then a shallow pit would even work on Sizemore.
Yeah. A spiked pit would work on everything except fliers, and Ivan was very sure that Gobwin Knob had no fliers on the island. As he understood it, the whole side had only one talking flyer left at all, and that was a Decrypted Archon who was Charlescomm's prisoner.
Plus, a spiked pit was less obvious than a wall of dirt. It would stay hidden from anyone in Portal Park except a Dirtamancer or a Lookamancer, who'd notice only if they were looking for it. He could even trigger it to portal activation. This was, after all, just a contingency. If nobody tried to pass through the portal, then nothing would happen and he'd never have to explain.
Seconds before portal entry, Bonnie frantically scanned the nearby ground for Ivan. His Signamancy was distinctive enough. He wore goggles and a yellow helm and carried a black metal scepter. His most prominent feature was his freakishly long neck.
But she did not see any sign of him, and her way was clear. At top speed now, she trusted Fate, closed her eyes, and crashed the green rectangle.
Turning the goggles to magic detection, Ivan inspected his work. Although this trap was a deviation from Charlie's plan, Ivan was pretty proud of the improvised pit. He wondered why they hadn't thought of it before. Whatever was happening in the park right now, this should cover the escape route more than a mere wall of di--
Dirt, rocks, timber, and sod came crashing down into his pit from above, as someone entering the portal triggered the trap. His helmet magically shielded him from the cave-in, but sunlight now streamed down from above, making beams through the dust-cloud.
The portal still shimmered from a recent entry, but there were no units--croaked or alive--in his pit. He stepped up on a pile of rubble and poked his head up into the sunlight, startling a couple of nearby casters, and looked around.
"Nope," said Ivan Poe.