IPTSF Text 5
She stacked with him, sticking close to the leathery flank of his enormous brontosword. They were boxed in by powerful knights who seemed uncertain how to behave around a Caster/Lady/sister-of-the-chief, and began the trip on their best behavior. They rode in respectful silence, avoiding any eye contact.
In the first hex beyond the capital, though, Tommy burst loose with a bit of trail Rhyme-o-mancy: a lurid ballad about the Bawdy Elves. The burly, armored men (and two women) shifted uncomfortably in their saddles, and decided by unanimous silent glance to leave the Chief Warlord to solo it.
He seemed perfectly pleased to do so, grinning back at Wanda, trying to make his little sister blush. He huffed out the most offensive punchlines in theatrical clouds of breath, to hang in the frigid air. His sister tilted her head attentively and met his comical leers with no discernible reaction at all.
But on the fourth time around, in an alto voice like a fine reed instrument, Wanda picked up the chorus.
Wanda smiled demurely as the knights roared with laughter. Before they crossed another three hexes, she had memorized every verse of the song and was learning another, about a twisted Dirtamancer who falls in love with his own crap golem. “That’s the dirtiest one I know,” Tommy smirked.
As he sang it, they rode easily onward. Goodfinger was down in a valley, and the road wound steadily downhill, through great boulders and tall pines. In the treetops, gray and black birds objected noisily to her brother’s singing, and the brown lump of a colesloth watched them pass by with bright eyes.
Bright blue, human eyes...
Wanda stood straight up in the stirrups and put the heels of her palms together. The sawhorse seemed to understand her intent. It nickered and slowed. A ball of juice formed between her outstretched fingers.
The hoboken is the basic offensive spell known to almost all casters at the time they pop. This one cost her the last vestiges of the juice she had remaining for this turn, after hanging a small new defense spell on Minnow Tower with her brother’s permission (and over Delphie’s muted objections). So it was not the first spell Wanda had ever cast, but oh, it felt wonderful to unleash her power directly upon the enemy.
The Haffaton scout was probably not hurt much from the blast, not more than a hit or two. But it had the effect of knocking him from the tree. Tommy’s mount screened her, and one of the more alert knights croaked the man by trampling before Wanda could even see where he had landed.
That night was spent in a kind of vigil.
When they rode, she'd stayed closer to the supply wagon than to Tommy. When they made camp, she'd ordered her tent pitched around the wagon. At the meal and the counsel fire, she'd tried to stay focused and contribute, but Tommy could see her glancing at the tent every time he looked. He freed her early “from all this boring warlord business,” and Wanda slipped inside.
The scout’s body had been crushed and scuffed pretty badly by the hooves of the nickelhorse, but it remained a beautiful piece of work. She hung an oil lantern at each tent pole, and for perhaps forty minutes she just looked at him in the flickering yellow light.
Here was a complicated bit of Matter. Once it had possessed Life and Motion, but those had been taken away from it. And though only the Titans could restore Life to it, she could give it Motion again, once she had the juice. That would happen at start of her turn.
For now, she could study him. She had senses that she did not yet understand were unique to Croakamancers, and she used them on the fallen scout. His bones she could feel without touching him. She knew which ribs and teeth and vertebrae were broken. There would be some craft to this uncroaking, as not all of the original muscles and sinew could be counted on to perform their original functions.
That was not a problem. That was what Croakamancy was for. Where a knee would no longer bend, where a bicep no longer existed to flex an arm, the Croakamancer made magical Motion to move the Matter.
At one point, Tommy came into the tent for something from the wagon. Wanda was furious enough at the interruption that she moved all of the contents of the wagon except her prize out into the cold night air beyond the tent wall, in case anyone needed anything else.
She cursed herself for having no juice left to conjure even a temporary powerball, as she began to strip off the scout’s gear. He was wearing a very good scouting veil; she was very lucky to have spotted him in the tree. But such items are fragile, and this one had been destroyed in the melee.
Below the veil, he wore dark brown leggings and tunic, with a brown cotton shirt beneath. Brown was not Haffaton’s emblematic color, but the crest of Haffaton was embroidered into it in brown thread. There was no doubt that the enemy would be expecting their attack tomorrow.
The light was so poor. When she had removed all of his raiment, she still could see better with her natural Croakamancy sense than her eyes. She took off her gloves and felt his cold, rapidly stiffening flesh. This is a calf muscle. Strong and intact. Lift the leg. Feel how it anchors to the shin. This is a foot. Ankles in the air!
Had it not been so bitter cold, she would have removed her own clothes, to compare her living flesh to the specimen in front of her.
When she could barely keep her eyes open, and with her lanterns sputtering, she opted to sleep at last. Seeing no sense in losing heat to the bare ground, she rolled the bedroll out in the wagon, and bedded down beside the body.
His eyes were wide open, his head tilted toward her.
She looked at them, from inches away, in the light of the struggling lantern. Tomorrow, she would make those blue eyes see again. She closed her own, and slept with profound peace.