LIAB Text 30
Ace stopped his pacing for a moment, and leaned with his rear end against the table full of accessories. He looked out the window at the enemy flyers, floating slowly by at eye level. "Let me tell you a little story, my friend," he said through clenched teeth.
Cubbins arched his eyebrows, and his mouth tightened into a little line. "Is it, um, the same story you always tell, Ace?"
Ace snapped his head around and glared at the little Hat Magician over one powerful shoulder.
"That's right," he barked. In the stone-walled room, his words rattled the air like the beats of a corporal's snare drum. The squad of elite archers in the corner glanced at him in cowed silence.
"It's the one story I got. The story I gotta live with. My origin story." He crossed his enormous, muscular arms and smiled a narrow-eyed smile. "Only this time, Cubbins, this time, for the first time...it's got a happy ending."
He threw his head back and aimed his words at the ceiling. He wanted the archers to hear this, though he wouldn't give so much as a boot-rag for any three of 'em. "This is the story of Holly Shortcake, Chief Dollamancer of Jetstone."
Cubbins frowned. "How can that story have a happy ending?"
Ace grinned like a bobcat. "Well for her it can't. Hahaha!" He pounded the hardwood table, making some of the implements on it jump. "I meant happy for me. This is a great day!"
"Oh," said Cubbins. He set one of his hats, a silk top conjurer, on the table. He was careful not to let it touch Ace's things.
"I never met her," said Ace, "and it's just as well, 'cause I hate her all the same. And you know why."
He turned his head and scowled at the archers. "You all know anything about Dollamancy?" They stared at him dumbly, or looked at the floor. Some mumbled quiet negatives. "Course not. You don't know. Cubbins here knows, 'cause he's a smart Caster. Right, Cubbins?"
Cubbins cleared his throat. "There are different applications of Dollamancy," he told the men, his tone reserved and apologetic. "Lady Shortcake was fond of fashioning cloth golems. She was very imaginative."
"Precious, puffy-looking animals," sneered Ace. "The hit of the parade. And when she wasn't doing that, she was always designing new raiment for the changing fashions at court! So of course, all the Courtiers loved her. N'you know what I think of Courtiers, right?"
Cubbins forced a tight little smile. "Yeah, Ace."
"Yeah, you do," said Ace. He pointed a finger to the air. "And so do they! Anyway. She made lots of these adorable lumbering cloth creatures, most of which I guess were okay in battle, too. But she didn't really give a crap about stomping the enemy flat! She worked plush! And glass!"
Ace's jaw set sternly for a moment, and he looked around the room. "Look, there's a lot you can do in Dollamancy. It's fabrication with a motion element, right? If we want. But that's way over your heads, ain't it?"
The archers stared.
"I'm just saying, it doesn't have to be all raiment and animal golems. It can get really good!" He punctuated this by punching his open palm. "You got all kinds of Stuff you can do. I do plush, but I don't like it. I don't like dolls, either. That pervert they got in Transylvito...eesh. That ain't me, all right?"
Ace stared into the distance for a moment. Then a movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention and he snapped his head around. One of the archers had a hand half-raised.
"Um, sorry Lord. What happened to Lady Shortcake?" said the man. A couple of his comrades looked at him askance.
"Oh right, the story. Eh, you don't need the long version," said Ace. "Basically, she went out on a mission to deliver some Battle Bears. They went into the woods, but they were in for a big surprise. Ambush. Not even her disguise saved her."
The archer looked saddened, but said nothing.
"Apparently all of Jetstone mourned her, though. They had a parade, the works, et cetera. King Slately was at a loss for what to do without a Dollamancer. They were all set to rewrite the side's whole strategy. When bam! I popped in Dhrystone."
Ace stood up and resumed pacing the room. "Dollamancy is Fate magic, so I know something about that. Jetstone must've been fated to have a Dollamancer. But I ain't like that broad they had before!" He stalked over to the archer who had asked the question and pointed at him. "You! What's my title?"
The archer swallowed. "Lord Hardware."
"That's right!" barked the Dollamancer. "And that's what I was popped for! Not golems, not dolls, not scarecrows. Action figures! And not raiment. Accessories! Hardware!"
His fists were clenched at his side. His rippling back muscles tightened, making the enormous multi-bow accessory he kept harnessed there rise up a few inches. His voice became quietly harder.
"But they didn't see it that way."
He turned and walked back to the table. "I've served under four Chief Warlords now. The first two had me making Cloth Golems and Tchotchkes under Holly Shortcake's designs, and the rest of my juice goes for raiment. Only Ossomer let me spend any real effort on what I was meant to do. And then only accessories! I made him that bracer blaster, with force beam action, that really lights up! And he loved it! He was gonna let me do more of that stuff, but the war hasn't been going so great..."
Ace looked up and seemed to notice Cubbins for the first time. His shoulders slumped and his fists unclenched. "That's where you've helped me out, buddy."
Cubbins smiled a little, and Ace turned back toward the archers. He pointed at the Hat Magician. "This guy... I woulda gone crazy without my friend Cubbins here. You know that? Cause he saw I was hurtin'. He could see it. And one turn he said to me, 'you know, I can do some small object conjuration for you. You just have to tell me what you need.'"
Ace gestured at the wooden table, full of hooks, rope, looking glasses, backpacks, chains, horseshoes, bows, missiles, and odd parts. "Almost everything you see here, Cubbins helped me put together in our spare time. Some of it's unfinished junk, but most of it works and you can take it into battle. Which today, this turn...we're finally gonna do. This is a great day! A great day!"
He slapped the table with an open palm, then turned to pace again.
"We're gonna show Prince Tramennis how useful the right kind of Dollamancy can be. Let's make him an accessory special to this fight." He suddenly ran up to Cubbins eagerly. "Whaddya say! You wanna?"
Cubbins shrugged. "We haven't been ordered..."
"Come on," begged the Dollamancer. "For me, Cubbins. I need this fight! It's a lock we'll win it. But this is my one chance to be in a battle with the new Chief Warlord."
"Ehhh..." Cubbins tilted his head dubiously.
"C'mon, pal! It's how I can get my happy ending. I gotta show him just how helpful Ace Hardware can be!"
Cubbins smiled slightly, and nodded even more slightly.
"Okay, Ace. What do you need?"