The image is black and white. Dollamancer Bill is standing at the threshold of the doorway of Transylvito's Portal Room. Two dolls are partially visible on either side of him, facing into the hallway. Bill is holding his goggles in front of his chest with both hands. His expression is apprehensive. |||
Maggie couldn't specifically recall if she'd ever stacked with a warlord as high as 9, but she felt like a suit of plate mail with no knight inside. Sturdy, hardened, empty... like a hollow stone golem, or an unstuffed leather doll.
"Watch them dolls," Caesar had said. The suggestion became an order once she and Jack stacked with the ruler. Maggie watched the Makaleka intently. It stood with its back against the black marble wall, returning her gaze. In posture and expression, it seemed quite content with itself.
Given her own vacant, torn-out feeling at the moment--empty of juice, empty of purpose--Maggie couldn't escape the nauseating thought that perhaps the doll was filled with her. Whatever piece of her string the loathsome Dollamancer had stolen might now be the only piece of her that remained.
Since Lord Parson has come to the world, she'd discovered a new vitality. But now he was lost, banished, defeated. She couldn't think of him. She also couldn't think of anything but him.If she had juice, a Thinkamancer could manage such contradictions. How, then...was she managing it now?
The image is in black and white and is an edited view of the original image from Hvs.tCF 301:11. It shows Bill and Charlie in Thinkspace. The scene replicated Bill's location at the time, at the top of a set of stairs, in a hallway of Transylvito's tower. The perspective is from the front, slightly to Bill's right. Bill is dressed as usual in his black lab apron, black gloves, and black boots, but is not wearing his greensight goggles, which are not visible at all. Charlie is shown from the rear, wearing a suit merging imagery from crash test dummies and the motion capture suits used in filming movies. The main difference in this image and the original is that Bill is standing tall with his left arm bent at the elbow, his hand raised in defiance and both fists clenched, as though he is standing up to Charlie. Charlie has also changed his pose to a defensive one, leaning slightly backward, away from Bill, with his hands slightly raised about waist high in front of him, palms down, in a nonthreatening gesture. |||
"I'm here. I'm sorry, Caesar. I'm really sorry." The Dollamancer stood with goggles in hand at the entrance to the portal room, panting and sweating. He'd been ordered not to cross the threshold. Maggie had never seen Bill's small, red eyes before. He was a misshapen, pig of a man.
The Caesar of Transylvito did not fly. His boots remained planted on the strip of red carpet that ran the length of the portal room. He took a final drag of his smoke, blew out a pale cloud through pressed lips, and absently flipped it away.
"What are you sorry for, Bill? Whyon'tcha tell me everything?"
This must have also been an order, because a confession immediately came gushing out of him. "I broke your orders! I spied! I... thought... thought I was helping. I helped... her."
The Dollamancer extended the hand that held his goggles, pointing into the room to where an unconscious Turnamancer lay splayed on the marble floor, right beside the body of her co-conspirator Roger. One of her co-conspirators. "I helped Vanna."
At the edge of Maggie's vision, Jack shifted his stance. He and Maggie both stood beside the Moneymancer, directly behind the warlord. That was no small thing, to be screened by the ruler of a side with no heir. If Caesar fell, all of Transylvito would fall as well. Would Stanley the Tool have done the same for a pair of foreign casters? Well, perhaps. So that no-one could block his view.
"Helped them--they wanted that... warlord gone." Bill looked at the floor. "I mean... I can see why. There's the treasury... There's a lot of money now, right, Chief? Nineteen million." He raised his head, looking to Benjamin for affirmation. "It's all from Charlie."
The Dollamancer shook his head and jowls emphatically. "No! No, uh-uh, Caesar! Actually, um, Charlie said... they did it." He gestured with the goggles at Jack and Maggie, only meeting her eyes briefly. Then he seemed to notice the Makaleka and the guard dolls standing up against the wall. "I think she controls that one. And... and maybe it... gave orders to the other ones? I think it did. I think they croaked Roger. He said they attacked all the Great Minds.
A treacherous silence now hung in the air. Maggie knew what it might mean for her and her side if Caesar believed this fresh lie from Charlie. But did it ultimately matter? Whatever Charlie's gambit of the moment, the dreadful fact was that he'd already won. He could lie and lie, until his lies were believed. In a world without either the Great Minds or Parson Gotti, there was no counterforce left that could stop him.
Yet she was buoyed by an undefinable sense that this was not the case. The war was not over, and what happened her did matter, she felt. The scene in this room had her full attention, but her attention was overfull. One of the parts of herself that she was used to tuning out, an annoying and emotional part, was busy fighting a pitched battle for Lord Parson's safety. How that could be, Maggie did not know. She was most likely experiencing a form of denial, but she allowed those extra thought bubbles to keep fighting.
When at last the Caesar spoke, he spared only two, softly spoken words.
The sense of danger in the room now tilted toward the doorway. The Dollamancer shrunk into himself once more, hunching his shoulders and looking at the floor. "Um. Yeah. Charlie sent me a Thinkagram... on the stairs just now."
With his head and fists, Caesar made a motion that looked as if he were thinking of taking flight, but his boots remained planted on the carpet. "Just now. You took a call from Charlescomm on the way to this room."
"To any side," Benjamin added, in a warning tone.
Caesar took a breath, reclaiming whatever small speck of composure he'd let slip. "Yes. He is."
"But, he's not," said Bill, shaking his head at the carpet. "Like, all that money he paid us, the nineteen million--"
"He'll take back," said Jack, which surprised Maggie. It was not Jack's place nor hers to interject in what amounted to a high-level matter of the Court of Transylvito, even with Gobwin Knob's enormous stake in the matter. But Caesar only jerked his head back in Jack's direction, to indicate his agreement.
"He can't!" whined the Dollamancer. "It's in the contract."
Another laden silence followed. This time, the Dollamancer broke it himself. "He can't attack any of our units for a hundredturn or they have to pay us like another million Shmuckers," he said. "And anyway, he doesn't want to. He's friendly." Bill stared into the room for a moment, and made another gesture at the floor. "She knew that! Vanna knew Charlie's a good guy.
Caesar glanced back to Benjamin. It was the first time he'd released the Dollamancer from his glare. "I mean..." he said under his breath, "Don was talkin' about gettin' a unilateral truce out of a deal, too."
The Moneymancer was doing Bill no such favors. Benjamin kept his gaze locked straight ahead. "Charlie's a good guy. Charlie can't attack us," he said sourly. "According to Charlie, according to Bill."The Dollamancer nervously shuffled his feet. "Well, he's sending you a copy of the contract. And, uh... some clips. For the rifle? Just as, like, a goodwill gesture. He said we can keep the rifle, even though it's stolen." He licked his lips and squinted at Caesar. "He might've already sent it. I guess I thought you'd be wearing the crown. Where is it? That's cool raiment, though. What's the pendant do? Um, can I come in?"
At some point, Maggie understood that this was the fight they'd lost. The one in this room. Jack made an attempt to protest, but his words seemed unusually ineloquent and distracted, and Caesar was answering everything with, "Okay, I hear you. We'll see. We'll just see."
The other fight, though... in the part of her that believed Lord Parson could still be saved... whatever was happening there seemed increasingly important. Perhaps she was only losing her mind, escaping into a fantasy, but it seemed terribly necessary to pay attention to it.
Her awareness of the goings-on in the room dimmed and faded. She lost the particulars but remained vaguely sensible of the generalities. Caesar allowed Bill to enter the room, and she kept her distance as much as possible from him. The Signed contract and the ammo clips had reportedly been received in Don King's crown, wherever that was. A warlady was bringing them here. Caesar ordered the dolls to carry Vanna to her quarters, and to store Headmaster Roger's body instead of destroying it, in case Decrypting him became an option.
Maggie did not know what kind of battle she was fighting in. Rather than swinging or stabbing at something, she was pulling as hard as she could. Juice flowed into her from somewhere. It felt like filling up at start of turn. But she was spending it instantly, in a manner she did not understand. At certain points, it very much felt as if Jed were involved. But he never spoke. And she was not in contact with the Makaleka. She was (on Caesar's polite order) not allowed to touch it.
Neither was Bill. He instead examined Caesar's pendant, cast something on it, and reported that it offered protection against critical hits or something. Caesar and Benjamin asked him questions about Charlie, to which he mostly said "I don't know" and "I'm sorry." Jack stood off to the side of the room and stared into the portal.
The pulling contest reached some climactic moment, and Maggie's awareness of her physical surroundings dropped to almost nil. If she had been pulling as hard as she could before, she somehow found it in herself to redouble her efforts and pull with all her Thinkamatic might. (If indeed this was even Thinkamancy she was performing.) Maggie's side was beginning to win. In the bits of her mind which could see and hear things that were not sights and sounds, she distinctly heard Lord Parson screaming.
Because the walls were shaking.And... changing.