|Parson eats mozzarella sticks while working on a campaign at a sports bar in a bowling alley. He is wearing a Death Note shirt.|||
"Crappy dorm room to four-star hotel," said Parson. "It's giving me whiplash. I'm afraid to touch anything in here. Bed's nice, though."
The bed—a huge, canopied beast—was where he was sitting now, although there was a red velvet chair that could actually accommodate his entire butt in here, too. That was kind of a rarity in Erfworld. He didn't know if someone had arranged that for him, or if the Jetstone Royalty had just preferred huge furniture. At any rate, his quarters in Spacerock might have been the nicest room he had ever stayed in.
"Yeah. Please. But you pour." He leaned forward and held out the little crystal tumbler for her to fill again, which she did, from the matching decanter. It looked like a museum piece.
"You own it all, by right of conquest, Lord," she said, looking amused. "You oughtn't to be afraid to handle what is yours."
"Yeah, well—thanks," he said, taking the glass carefully back to his mouth. He sipped enough wine off the top so he wouldn't be in danger of spilling it. "As somebody who slept on a Craigslist futon that still smelled like cat pee, and mostly ate out of Gladware, I am. It makes me uncomfortable."
She set the stoppered decanter on its silver tray, took a sip from her own tumbler, and sat down on the edge of the big velvet chair. "Is that what you have to look forward to, should you decide to use the spell?"
The spell was crafted by a Weirdomancer and a Carnymancer, while linked. It didn't specifically say that the link was made by means of the Arkendish, but Isaac assumed no Thinkamancer would have done it. And Parson didn't know if Charlie knew that Parson knew that Charlie (...oy) was a Carny. The document was worded in such a way that the Carnymancer certainly could have been Charlie himself, and Isaac said the Great Minds would take this as more evidence that that's what he was.
Weirdomancy was the magic of modifying other magicks, and Carnymancy was the magic of breaking rules, so this made for a pretty powerful combination. If cast, the spell would subvert the magic of the summoning spell which had brought him here—and still held him in service to Stanley—and use it to send him home.
Isaac explained that Parson's being pulled here had created a form of psychocosmic tension between where he was and where he belonged, like a drawn bowstring. The Weirdomancy in the spell would unravel the bits of magic that held him to Erfworld, and the natural tension would sling him back to Earth. But what was the Carnymancy part?
Well, the Carnymancy was what made him able to cast the spell. He was not a caster unit after all, as far as Isaac could tell. The Carnymancy in the spell simply broke that rule, allowing it to be cast by a non-caster.
Which was a let down, he had to admit. But now he had an absolutely certain means of getting home.
"Well..." said Parson, "that and mozzarella sticks. God, you know how much I would give for just one order of mozzarella sticks with marinara right now?" He took another sip of the claret. It wasn't bad, but like most other things here, it was medieval and weird and... un-Earthly.
He wasn't going to use the spell, he was pretty sure. But having a way out of this cartoon ren faire was a lot more comforting—and more tempting—than he would have expected. "You know who had the best mozzarella sticks?"
He smiled. "I've talked about this before."
Maggie's voice went light and airy, and she looked up at the ceiling. "Oh, perhaps briefly, in passing. One wouldn't think that a bowling alley on the south side would have the best form of any kind of food..."
"Okay..." Parson help up his hand, grinning.
"...but Wayne Webb's had this sports bar inside, where you could sit with your fried cheese and work on your campaign and watch people bowl, and they'd keep refilling your Mountain Dew all day, and they wouldn't hassle you for camping."
"Okay, Maggie. Okay!" he laughed.
"And the marinara for the cheese sticks was incredible. I'm not sure what they did to it."
She sipped her wine demurely while he did his best not to spill his from laughing. "Oh! Kay! Yes, Wayne Webb's. I'm sitting in the lap of luxury, missing a bowling alley. It's stupid. I hardly ever even bowled."He looked away distantly, picturing the place. Wide screens by the bar, big picture windows looking out on the lanes... He drained the rest of his glass.
|Maggie holds a nearly empty glass of wine. On the tray next to her is the decanter, about half full.|||
"Nah," said Parson, handing her the empty tumbler. It was a relief not to have the delicate thing in his hand anymore. "Siddown, relax. What did you want to talk about?"
After the strategy lecture, Maggie had asked to speak with him privately, calling it "something specific and urgent." They'd been in close quarters for a week in the Magic Kingdom and she hadn't brought anything up, so he figured it must be something new. Maybe it had to do with Stanley or Ansom, or Spacerock or something.
"Yes," said Maggie, closing her eyes for a moment. "I must share something with you. A secret."
"I am about to violate a trust, something I do not do lightly, Lord. Not at all. But to be frank, my faith in your judgment is greater than my faith in the judgment of the Great Minds. I must share some of what Thinkamancy truly is."
Parson put his hands on his knees and looked at her. "I thought they were already sharing their secrets with me. What did I pinkie swear to?"
The pinkie swear had been their awkward compromise. Maggie went to bat against the magical brain surgery they'd wanted to do to him before they let him leave the Magic Kingdom, and Issac eventually came around on it. Parson ultimately agreed to commit to a voluntary restriction of speech, magically reinforced by a natural Thinkamancy bind called a "pinkie swear."
He'd tested it on Ace, and found that he literally could not form the words to say anything about what the Great Minds had shared with him. It was just like when Stanley had ordered him not to speak. The restriction was frustrating, but he could live with it.
"They have only given you a basic and superficial understanding," said Maggie. She set down her glass on the tray. Was her hand shaking? "There is much more. I may not be able to share it all, but I will tell you what I am certain I must. This is my first opportunity to do so, away from the Temple."
"Wow, that's..." Serious? Pretty serious, yeah. "I understand," said Parson.
"'You don't withhold information from the guy who plans your battles!'" Maggie suddenly shouted, pounding her fist into her palm as she quoted his words back to him.
He smiled at her. "Yeah! Exactly," he said. "I appreciate it, Maggie. I really do. So what can you tell me?"
She blinked once, very slowly.
"I saw something. When I was linked with the Lady Firebaugh."
She looked down and breathed deeply, two or three times, and he didn't press her to continue. Then she raised her eyes to him again.
"I do not know how, but I think it may be magically possible to sever the connections."
Parson took in a sharp breath through pursed lips. He could immediately see the security hole revealed by that possibility, and it was massive.
"Holy hell, Maggie."
More than half of Gobwin Knob's units were Decrypted. If Charlie could somehow use the Arkendish to sever the Thinkamancy behind the Arkenpliers, cutting off Wanda's control, then what would happen to those units? Would they rebel? Go to dust? Revert to their old sides?
And for that matter...
"Wait," he said, feeling a tingle around his neck and ears. His voice fell to a whisper. "Hold on. Are you saying...that we could possibly separate Charlie from the Arkendish?"Parson looked down at the rug. He began to nod, and a smile gradually formed on his lips. "He's got a single point of failure, too."