|Two Archons are talking to Queen Jillian. The one with a brunette bob of hair winks and clasps her hands in amazement of how she likes trees.|||
“Bup-bup-bu-bu-bup!” she shushed, holding up her hand urgently. “Please, Your Majesty. No communications. We’ve been informed that you are operating under silence, and we were instructed not to communicate with you in any way.”
The Archon and her two wingmates hovered near Duncan’s megalogwiff, where he had positioned himself to screen her as soon as the Charlescomm units had entered the hex. It was morning, on Charlie’s turn. Faq’s army was coiled to strike. Everybody was on edge.
All of Queen Jillian’s flyers and riders hovered in formation above the pine trees, with the giants and men standing in stacks below. The City of Gobwin Knob was just within reach this turn, and they’d made it this far without being spotted. But right now was when it was most likely they’d be discovered.
So what was this encounter about, and why did she need it? Was this Archon admitting that she was violating orders? Violating Charlie’s orders?
She goggled at the prim little thing in blue, and gestured with the tip of her sword as if to say, then why the flip are you talking to me now? Duncan looked back over his shoulder at her like, right?
The Archon gave a shy, embarrassed smile and said, “But, well...I love trees.”
For a moment, the only sound was from the chill mountain wind rustling the pines. Maybe they appreciated the compliment. Jillian only stared.
“Don’t you?” The Archon held up her hand quickly. “Don’t answer that. I’m sure you do, too. Well, we were passing through the area. And I just had to tell you that the foliage two hexes northeast of here? Is simply divine. If you do appreciate the beauty of trees at all, then you should go out of your way to have a look. I promise, you’ve never seen anything like it!” She clasped her hands together in front of her, with a gushing grin. “Well, we really must be going. Goodbye!”
The three of them fled the hex.
Her Chief Warlord held up two fingers. “There were two,” he said with great emphasis, “trees in that hex.”
“I thought so!” Jillian blurted out, in vindication. Okay. She still knew this terrain, after all. That particular hex was still a barely-passable bald mountain, just like it said on their maps. Just like she remembered. Foliage?
Duncan crouched behind his saddle perch and opened the hatch. “This was at the base of one of them,” he said, withdrawing a bulging duffel bag made of light blue canvas. It bore the gold crest of Charlescomm.
With their ground move restricted and the possibility of this being a trap, Duncan had ordered her to stay put, while he scouted that hex by air.
Jillian was not worried about a trap. Charlie had his weird and secret agenda. Trying to guess at what he was up to gave her a literal headache. But it was clear enough to her that he was backing Faq pretty hard. Whatever this was, it wasn’t an attempt on the Queen of Faq’s life. She was, however, painfully eager for battle. And it was certainly an assault on the Queen’s patience.
Duncan pulled the drawstring and withdrew from the bag a black steel staff of some kind. From the way he handled it she knew it was a weapon. He was a warrior, one she respected very much, and although she did not recognize it, this was a weapon he respected very much.
With the staff in one hand, he took a calculated leap from his mount to hers, and landed with a clack of steel boots on horn plating.
He rose and presented her the staff. “Take this, Queen,” he said with a distant smile. “Touching it makes war a different thing.”
The rifles made their plan a different thing, anyway. Originally, Jillian had the giants going into the hex and up the mountain first. She’d lead half the flyers with them in support, with Duncan holding the rest in reserve. From there, it depended on the enemy’s response.
If there were a lot of dwagons, she’d keep to the hex periphery, trying to draw their fire and lure them out. She’d want to establish control of the airspace without approaching the garrison, in order to minimize the effectiveness of their tower. She knew firsthand what it was like to face this city’s tower, and it would be fully spelled-up. Stanley had more casters than ever, disband him.
If the city seemed undermanned (which it wouldn’t be, because Ansom), or if the defending warlords overcommitted to the outer walls, then her flyers would make a show of aiding the fight at the main gate. That would be a feint. Duncan and company would then loop around through adjoining hexes and attack from the northeast, pouncing on the tower and hopefully taking the garrison before the enemy knew what hit them.
If the city turned out to be packed with defenders, or they weren’t biting at the bait, or if she couldn’t gain the airspace, then the flyer reserves would have to join the main gate assault. Her own flyers would screen for the siege while Duncan raked the walls clean of defenders.
When they got a breach, they’d go to ground and dismount. Everybody, all ground units. A boots-on conventional assault on the garrison gate wasn’t really her style, but she had giants now, and it was the giants’ style. They were pretty vocal about that.
It was a good, solid, well-laid plan. And she was more happy to ditch it for a better one, which they made up in just a few minutes.
Because of Ansom, this fight—and everything else in her life for the last three or four hundredturns—was going to be harder than it needed to be. And like everything else with him, in the end it was probably her own fault.
She’d been drilling the assault force out in the field, just on the friendly side of Doak Pass, and some little intuition told her she should have been bivouacking out there as well. But Duncan wanted her behind walls on the enemy’s turn. And she wanted her big, stupid, comfortable queen bed (that was giving her a big, comfortable Queen’s keister). Stupid, lazy princess...
And alright, she also wanted to check on Albert. Although she barely talked with him, she had a strange compulsion to return home each night and hear Vinny talk about how her son the future tyrant was doing. And Vinny had become a comfortable feature of that comfortable bed. Lately she’d been mulling a plan to get him to turn to Faq...
Then, Ansom. Ansom had flown in to Faq the only way he could have. The sentinels gave her the warning, but he flew right through.
The giants were massed just behind them, preparing to march on Gobwin Knob at start of turn. He saw everything in place. Ansom was a 10. He certainly knew an assault force from a defensive camp. And Gobwin Knob had a Thinkamancer. He would have called it in. So even with him in the dungeon, they would have had a two-turn notice that she was coming.
And the disbanded giants couldn’t even shoot him down.
He’d come in low and slow at first, they reported. When they started banging boulders at him, he took it high and outside, and juked his way through the pass. That trick that Western Giants do...launching rocks by hitting them with their clubs...it’s a pretty scary anti-flyer defense. In her mercenary turns, she had faced it a few times herself.
But it was nothing that a high-level, experienced flyer like Ansom couldn’t handle. Bottom line, it’s just not that hard to fly through a mountain pass, even if it’s full of giants.---
|Queen Jillian Zamussels is sitting at the table in the throne room of the city of Gobwin Knob. One of the large windows is broken and a parked riderless Faq megalogwiff is seen through it. Another two megalos with Duncan Scone and some other warlord are seen through the other windows and two gwiffons are parked in the room. Jillian has her feet on the desk, her Three-Edged is lying on it, and she's having a Thinkagram with Charlie who is represented as a jigsaw puzzle piece.|||
Under their new and improved five-minute battle plan, Faq’s ground units marched into the hex and up the switchback road to Gobwin Knob, taking only one flyer along. Chief Duncan went in on his megalo, staying low enough that he could remain stacked with the main force and lend them his bonus.
And that was not all the help he could give them. Heavy siege units typically cannot use siege towers for shelter, but when a few exploratory arrows sliced through the air and indicated they were in bowshot, Duncan hooked his feet into the sockets of the saddle perch and ordered the mount to suck in his boots up to the ankles.
He looked down (or up), and saw their helmets almost close enough to touch. With several tons of goo above him, he hoped the Queen would take the garrison before his megalo croaked, because this would not be a fun way to fall.
She did not arm herself with a rifle. Although the power to take aim like an archer and instantly croak a target was something profound, it didn’t feel like Jillian’s kind of weapon. And with only eight in the duffel bag, it was better to turn one of her first-level warlords into an army of one. She probably didn’t need the boost.
Maybe she was being stupid, though. These weapons raised some questions that were worth getting a headache over, the biggest and most immediate one being, “Would the defenders have rifles, too?”
But there were others, such as, “What were rifles, really?” “Where did they come from?” and also, and again...“Foliage?”
When Charlie had given her the funds to breed the giants, it had come with a weirder than usual request for secrecy. “Whatever you decide to do with this money, Jillian, you have to tell nobody your plans ahead of time. Especially when you’re in the field, and especially not to me.”
A request like that probably meant he was under some kind of Signamancy restriction. But she hadn’t tried to figure out what that meant, because it was a pain to think about, and she really didn’t care.
Now she cared. He wanted her to knock off this city, she guessed, but he could not be seen helping her. That meant he had a contract with Stanley, or maybe Wanda or someone else on the side of Gobwin Knob. Did he give her the guns just so she could win a quick victory? Or was it to even up a gun ambush he knew was waiting for her?
She shivered on her saddle perch, up in the cold, dry mountain air. Every battle could be your last, and maybe she was about to catch a bullet and go to the Titans without knowing...much of anything. For once, she kind of wanted to understand the larger picture, the whole political mess and everything everybody was doing.
As much as taking this city meant to her, it wasn’t even a letdown. She never cursed an easy win.
But bits of the battle were conspicuously too easy. The tower had sent no shots her way. The few units she encountered in the fight had run away from her, or stood there and let her dust them. Something fairly weird was happening here, when it was over, she was going to find out exactly what.
Because it seemed very important. And she was starting to understand.
When the city fell, Jillian did not impose new Signamancy on it. But she did give it a new name.It was a meaningless gesture, since they would raze the city for treasury money tomorrow. What they did after that would depend a lot on her call to Charlescomm, but based on the name that had come to her, she figured she already knew. Her troops would spend the night in I’m Coming For You Stanley, ransacking the larder and taking souvenirs, and be on their way next turn.