IPTSF Text 19
The gray sky above the City of Goodminton was dark with the forms of "allied" flyers, separately huddling in two large storm clouds. Two warlords were engaged in parley by the tower top; one was mounted on a fat Buttress and the other simply had the flying special.
The great iron-bound doors parted inward, and Wanda rode home through the city gates.
She was not alone. By unit count, her party was considerably larger than the one that had departed Kiloton. Notably, it included new Chief Warlord Pom Fritz, and a former enemy warlord named Larry Ansell.
But the group's size was no indication of triumph. Hamfurter and Frankburg had both been retaken by Haffaton in the last two turns. They'd lose Goodfinger soon as well, or Father would order it razed. And only Lord Firebaugh's cleverness had kept the capital from falling before now.
Mounted upon the same brontosword as Un-Tommy, Wanda followed Fritz through the cobblestone streets, nodding at occasional salutes from troubled-looking infantry units. Her sawhorse had been lost in a Haffaton raid the morning after she had uncroaked her brother's body.
It had been a fierce and desperate skirmish in the woods. Larry came after them with a vengeance, as if he had something to prove. Olive was not with him in the raiding party. The Haffaton forces would have been strong enough to overwhelm Goodminton's, if not for Un-Tommy (who'd been brilliant in battle), and the bonus provided by Fritz's swift promotion to Chief Warlord.
But rather than strike the croaking blow, he sheathed his sword and called her by name. "Lady Wanda," he said, almost mournfully, "you shouldn't run. You should be with us. Come on, now. You're hurting my feelings!"
Wanda had only been winded in the fall, but she could not move and could barely breathe. Lying there beside Uggymug's body, in the ice and snow and jagged rocks, she looked up and saw Larry's hands. The net he held looked like Fate itself, preparing to drag her to Olive's side whichever way she tried to go.
Re-attaching the head during the uncroaking process had been an interesting new challenge. But if she had made any careless errors in the process, Larry seemed disinclined to complain to her any further.
Between the combat and all of the uncroaking she'd done, Wanda had leveled up to 4 on the journey home. But she considered it less of a personal advancement than the discovery that she could use Rhyme-o-mancy. Her mind was now open to the possibilities of using other magical disciplines. And even though that remained a disturbing (even frightening) idea, she was determined to push herself to try. She would not be blindsided by an enemy this way again.
One of the units in the group, for example, was a snow golem. It was a terribly crude thing, made of only three large balls of snow she had rolled up, with sticks for arms and small black rocks for features. It moved lurchingly forward and was almost useless as a unit. But as abominable as it was, she was quite proud of her first attempt at hat magic.
"I think, perhaps, we're not in need of... him, at this point," said Fritz, indicating Un-Tommy. "He may be, er... a distraction?" The new Chief was a practical man, and if he'd been bothered at all by the presence of an uncroaked version of his old friend, this was the first indication of it. "To the Overlord, I mean," added Fritz.
Wanda, who had just dismounted, looked up at Un-Tommy. Yes, Father would not be so dispassionate about the matter. Fritz was just being practical again. She nodded, and ordered Un-Tommy to lead a stack in the courtyard, in case the enemy broke alliance and landed.
The snow golem she ordered to stand sentry at the base of Minnow Tower. Then she took the silk top hat from its head, reducing it to a mere ornament.
Father ended his parley, and came in from the frigid parapet. His cheeks were rosy, his eyes dour. Two attendants shut the double doors behind him, leaving only the light of blue powerballs, and the fires in the twin hearths.
"Daughter," said the Overlord, "I'm grateful to see you again."
Wanda wanted very much to embrace him, but Delphie and Clay's presence made her hold fast to decorum. "As am I, Father." She tried to let her smile say it in place of her arms. "What have they said?"
Father removed a pair of thick woolen gloves and handed them to an attendant. He smirked in amusement. "Well, they figured it out. They were almost exactly as dumb as I expected them to be. They've got an agreement, now. So, we've got til turn's end."
Father's stalling gambit was to offer both Frenemy and Quisling an exclusive contract entitling them to two thirds of Goodminton's treasury, payable on the condition that the other broke alliance first.
This had the effect of putting them in a position of being unable to make good on their threat to attack the city. One of them had to be the first to break alliance with Goodminton, which would put the treasure in the other's hands, and mean that they would be fighting in the sky instead of attacking the ground.
In correspondence she'd exchanged with him from the road, Father had indicated to Wanda that he only expected this to work for a few turns. Then Frenemy and Quisling would write their own agreement to automagically split Goodminton's payment to the second side to break alliance.
"They're ready to attack us, but I told them we'll meet their demands," he said. "I take it we are ready now?"
Delphie looked like she wanted to answer, and Wanda nodded her assent. "Yes, Lord," said the Predictamancer. "Spells are on the tower, and I am boosted with Luckamancy." Clay nodded as well. They both looked terribly serious. Wanda reminded herself how little combat they had each seen.
Firebaugh raised his head and looked at Fritz. "I'd like to stack with you, if you can bear the risk of it," he said. "It's been a long time since I've been in a fight."
Fritz simply shrugged and pointed at Delphie. "Don't ask me, Lord. You've a Predictamancer. Will he croak, Lady Temple?"
Delphie looked at her Overlord and squinted a bit, examining him. Wanda could sense that she was using a kind of magical sight like her own Croakamancy senses. She'd asked Delphie a raft of questions about Predictamancy in correspondence from the road, as they'd worked out this plan. She knew Delphie was now intuiting something about Father's near-term outcomes.
She smiled nervously. "No objections, my Lord."
Wanda held the scroll she had sent Delphie to buy this morning. It felt strange and dirty, tingling with a magic she had barely even thought about.
Firebaugh smiled, for once a warm and genuine look of relief. He looked eager to act. "Oh excellent," he said. his voice both soft and intense. "Won't this be interesting?"