"I suspect you don't got a lotta money right now, Kingpin," the wiseguy had told him. "Fortunately for you, ya got somethin' I want real bad. I'll cop to that. So it's a good time ta make some demands. Money, guns, it's all on the table. Whaddya want? Surprise me."
Don had stared at the little blue face, at the smiling projection of what might well be a Titan. Charlie had certainly just admitted (or at least claimed) a Titanic power; he could advance thirty turns of production? That was unheard of. And all Don would have to do was release Vanna, and hire her on for one turn.
He'd waited a long time before giving his answer. "Arright," he said, in careful measure, "as a precondition to any further negotiations, I demand to know why you want Lord Gotti to bad."
The little head between Bunny's fingers had stared back at him, the fake-smile mask remaining uncracked. "Demand somethin' else," said Charlie.
Don only stared some more, letting the silence do battle for him.
"Information like that, it's real expensive." The Overlord finally had the good grace to drop the smile, and to look a bit uncomfortable. "Y'know?"
"Yeah, I know. So's my time," said Don, "Bunny, break the call."
She did. The image vanished. It happened a little quicker than he'd expected, given that he hadn't said it as an actual command. Properly speaking, she should have looked at him first for a confirmation. But that was okay. A surprise break in this negotiation served his purposes fine.
Bunny's shoulders sagged. Turning to the chair that Ben had been occupying, she plopped her butt down, and stared at the carpet.
"He's gonna call us right back," he'd told her, gently.
She closed her eyes and nodded "He already is, Your Majesty."---
In contrast to the grandeur of the rest of the palace, the walls down here were filthy.
The Signamancy of dungeons was universal and intentional. If you were here, then red velvet and gold leaf and black marble were not meant for your eyes. You were supposed to feel bad things. You were in trouble.
The topic of the city dungeons rarely crossed Don's thoughts. By custom, prisoners were brought before the King and not the other way around. Yet here he was, descending the steps to meet a prisoner, for the second time in just three turns.
And Signs certainly pointed to trouble.
The last Ruler to imprint his Signamancy on the capital in a big way had been King Corso the Dog, who'd lived two kings and a queen ago. He'd given the palace four dungeons: the locker, the cellar, the tower and the hole.
The one Don was now gracing with his regal regard was the cellar lockup, where his wine lived. Once in a few tenturns, he would be moved to order Bill out, and come down here to pay his respects to the casks in person. Hello, my nostrum. I have come to suck the blood of my enemies, through your oaken skin, he would tell it. To the older vintages, he would speak as if talking to the King or Queen under whom they were vented.
Well. No time for such discourse now. He barely spared the barrels a nod, as he tramped on by the vintage where the grapes of past were stored. There were currently three prisoners in the cellar lockup. He didn't need any of them to hear him taking to his wine.
Why four dungeons?
Whyfor, indeed. Don did not know. Transylvito's Rulers had a notable talent for staying alive, so "two kings and a queen" was a pretty long time ago. And during his reign, Corso had done selfishly little writing.
But maybe the Dog himself couldn't even have said why. Signamancy was like that. It happened. Maybe the guy's own heart was a kind of dungeon. Don could sorta relate. Just like the dungeons, recent events had served to remind him that he also still possessed a heart.
He'd found it to be a similarly neglected, filthy, and unworthy place. And if you were in there, you were in trouble.
"Hello, spy," he said, as he reached the cell he was seeking.
There in the shadows, the Turnamancer raised her face to him and wept.---
"I need him gone because his presence in Erfworld upsets an important balance."
Don had raised his eyebrows at the little blue Charlie. "'His presence in Erfworld.' Didja write that yourself? 'Cause it's a pretty poetic turn of phrase for a ten-Shmucker mook like you. Almost like you were writin' Scripture or something."
"I wuddn't bein' poetic," the Overlord scoffed. "He's not from this world."
"Really." Of late, there seemed to be a lot of this going around. "And what world is he from, Charlie?"
"Ehh, you wouldn't believe it. And I ain't gonna swear on it, so forget it."
"Nah, go on," Don had smiled. "Surprise me."
Charlie had then claimed that Parson Gotti was a fallen hero, a warlord yanked unnaturally from the afterlife by a spell created by Charlie's enemies (Stanley's allies) in the Magic Kingdom. He was at war with Gobwin Knob, Charlie said, primarily because he was on a holy mission to return poor Mr. Gotti to the City of Heroes, and right the universal injustice he represented. He said Gotti himself might not be aware of his own origins.
Some part of that story was not only a wagonload of dwagon dung, but some serious heresy. Scripture said it was both impossible and—in a contradiction that had always troubled Don—expressly forbidden to return to Erf. Ray 3:14-15 Don't you come back no more. No more, no more, no more.
And of course, Charlie had an Arkentool. And either he was attuned to it or he was a Titan, wielding it as a Titan naturally would. Charlie would never admit to any specific powers the Arkendish gave him, but some of what he said contained dark hints.
At one point in the conversation, Don had asked, "So how do you know all this, wiseguy?"
He'd expected more evasion. But the Overlord's eyes went narrow. "When Gott got yanked into this world?" he confided, "I heard him scream."
"I'm only here to help yooou!" she sobbed at him, through the bars of her cell.
Don regarded the prisoner. Her hair was disheveled, her prison clothes pitiable. This woman had been popped a Duchess to the Royal court of Unaroyal. Even after the fall of Bea, Vanna still wore the Signs of poise and beauty. He knew what she had done, what she could do. Yet her nature was self-evident and unimpeachable. She was Noble in countenance and power.
"So you have said," Don told her, with his arms folded across his belly. "And so others have said on your behalf. You are certainly here to spy on Transylvito for Charlie." She shook her head and began to object, but he swept forward. "But you have a heart as pure as moonlight! Your intentions are as Noble as any first Princess of the Ninety-Nine! You have only my best interests in mind, is that not so?"
Her sob swiftly transformed into a pinched little pout. "Don't mock me, Your Majesty," she said. "It's truer than you know."
Don smiled at her. "That is a slip of decorum," he said, "insinuating to a Sovereign's face that he may be ignorant of something crucial."
It was meant as a jest. She looked back at him through the bars, with no immediate sign of lightening up. Nor did she offer an apology. He waved the matter away his hand. "I am willing to be enlightened," he said, with a little head-bob that invited her to speak her mind.
"Bea loved you," said Vanna. "And I loved her. All of Bea's subjects loved her. By serving you, by fighting Stanley, I am serving her. I can't speak of everything that brought me to Transylvito, but I am here to pop your prince. That is the truth, Don."
"Another breach of decorum," he said, referring to the term of address she had only previously used in the bedroom. "And if that is the truth, then it seems also to be a breach of Turnamancy. It seems to me that Tumamancers are not well-acquainted with the truth."
"It is true," she scowled. "And don't mock my discipline, either."
"For both our sakes, Duchess, I do hope so," Don said nodding thoughtfully. "But suppose popping Transylvito's heir is your mission, at least as far as you know. Yet when the time comes, Charlie changes your orders to cast a different spell. Let us say, a spell to paralyze Transylvito for a turn, while Charlescomm invades.."
"Not possible," declared the Turnamancer. "I take orders from Queen Jillian only."
The King kept a silent gaze on her, until she realized that he meant "or whoever you answer to, including Jillian." Her expression went stony.
"As a free caster and a daughter of Unaroyal, I would break my contract with Faq, rather than bring you such grave harm." She enunciated each word, just like reciting an oath. Then she stood there in silence.
In the dimness of the prison cell, her frazzled golden hair almost glowed. He beheld her. Yes, she was a poisoned gift. The poison of her magic, whether Turnamancy or just her charm, already coursed through his veins. But in the black and empty dungeon of his heart, this apple shone in rose gold.
He cleared his throat. "Vanna, I respect the power of Turnamancy more than you seem to believe. It is why I am here before you. I have need of your services, your counsel, and your companionship," said Don King.
He held out his hands for her to take, if she chose. She looked at them."Duchess Vanna, I would offer you my sincere and humble apologies. I hope that you will forgive me for your treatment and I hope, too, that you will consider and accept my petition. By your own pleasure and choice, I hereby request your pledge of permanent allegiance to the side of Transylvito, my kingdom and home."