IPTSF Text 4
"Oh now!" said Delphie, sounding stung.
"It's not that bad, Father," said Tommy. "I think she opens up some new possibilities for us."
Her father's eyes released Wanda at last, as he trained them on Delphie with sudden venom. "You Predicted a warlord!"
Firebaugh clenched a fist. "We gave up a great many units that could have popped here, waiting for a warlord. We lost Goodfinger in that time! And the battle to retake it was planned around having the new warlord this turn. We are supposed to sally now!" He leaned an elbow on his desk and pointed at Wanda, while speaking tersely to Delphie. "Am I meant to put this pretty little thing into the fight in his stead?"
"Oh, no, Lord!" said Delphie, shooting a worried glance at Wanda. "No, she's far too valuable to risk in field action."
"Well...we can take back Goodfinger with the forces we have on hand," said Delphie. "In fact, we can commit more of them to the fight, knowing there is now one more caster on hand to defend the capital."
Firebaugh's gray head swiveled to Tommy. "Yes?"
Tommy considered it for a moment. "Yyyes... It'll be more costly. But we could comfortably spare some more archery if we have Wanda here at home. And Father!" Tommy punched his palm excitedly. "'Costly' isn't so costly now! We have a Croakamancer!"
Firebaugh narrowed his eyes, but nodded slightly. "We can animate the casualties."
"Their units and ours, if we take the city!" declared Tommy. "That is what I have been saying. It could actually mean a net gain in units for us, in the short term." He seemed quite energized by the new strategic possibility.
Firebaugh folded his hands. "Bodies of croaked units decay the next turn. So we would need her on the battlefield."
"Not necessarily," interjected Delphie. "Goodfinger is a turn's ride away, by our fastest mounts. She could stay here and ride out after the battle."
"Our fastest mounts are also our best ones, Caster," said Firebaugh irritably. "We'd have to withhold some of them from the fight, for her."
Delphie did not have an immediate answer.
Tommy cleared his throat. "You know I'd, ah, I'd actually like to hear what my little sister thinks."
Firebaugh raised an eyebrow and looked at Wanda. So did the others.
In her first two hours of life, Wanda had felt incompletely formed. Seeing herself in the mirror gave her a kind of anchor and chain, a self to pull herself toward. The woman she must be possessed power and grace, understanding, endurance, and above all else, unflinching competence.
She didn't know if she really had all of that within her. But she knew this much about herself: to be Lady Wanda Firebaugh was not to fear, but to execute.
She took a moment simply to stand before them with poise, unshrinking from their expectant looks, like she belonged here. Perhaps she had something shrewd to say; she didn't know yet. She supposed it would come out of her mouth when she spoke her mind.
She turned to Tommy.
"The enemy," she said with gravity, "is one turn from right here?"
Tommy looked pained. "Well, not for most units' move. But yes. We had some recent trouble with our allies guarding our flanks..."
"Send me into battle," she said to Firebaugh suddenly. She took a step forward, toward his desk. "Father, I popped in the war room. And I will be the field commander that Goodminton requires."
"Ha!" exclaimed Delphie. "Very nice, Wanda. And I'm sure your zero leadership would be a great asset in battle, until you fell. And if you think the turns to pop her were wasted before, Lord, just wait until--"
"I would have a leadership bonus over uncroaked units, Lord," interrupted Wanda. "For which I only require the bodies of enemy soldiers."
She stepped closer to Tommy, and smiled up at him.
"Big brother," she said sweetly, taking his hand, "would you make some for me? Pleeease?"