Book 2 – Text Updates 032
In Jitterati, Duncan had rarely used mounts. In fact, until he had been captured by Queen Jillian herself, he had never once even flown.
But he liked these monsters. The whole set of stacks felt powerful, majestic, as they cut through the clean air south of Stanley's city of Progrock. His own mount was a solid mass of armor and attitude. Unstoppable.
Except, of course, by command. The Queen signaled a halt, and Duncan's mount braked to a stationary hover, far above the fields below. They were a hex away from the city now. At a glance, it looked thoroughly unprepared for a force of flyers such as theirs. Jillian was pulling her mount up alongside his own.
What a day. On some level, Duncan was aware he should have been croaked and re-animated by now. Shouldn't he? Yet why had he never felt any fear, staring that Croakamancer in the face, squaring off against her overwhelming force? Why did it feel so natural that they should have escaped with Gobwin Knob's Chief Warlord, and not a scratch? That was Fate, he supposed.
Jillian dismounted and leapt onto the armor plating of Duncan's megalogwiff. She shooed away her own mount until it (and the prisoner) was out of earshot. He knew she would want to discuss an attack plan for the city, which was all well and good. But then she turned to him, scowling.
"We have to go back to Jetstone," she said. Her tone was a little choked and low, her face serious.
"Do we?" said Duncan. "How pointless. Why?"
"I don't know," said Jillian.
"Allllright," Duncan said carefully. His suspicions were immediately raised. "I think a move like that should probably have some kind of strategic logic behind it, though. Don't you?"
Jillian stared down at the megalogwiff's armored plates.
"So, uh. Anything strategic you'd care to share with your Chief Warlord..."
The Queen held her chin and mouth pinched tightly in thought.
"Also," said Duncan, raising an eyebrow, "you just came off a Thinkagram. Was that with Charlie?"
Jillian nodded, still concentrating her gaze downward, toward the megalo's hindquarters.
"Okay. You might recall that you've ordered me to watch you for any signs of magical suggestion..."
Queen Jillian turned her head quickly and met his eyes. "It's not a suggestion," she said sharply. "Charlie had some intelligence about the battle. That's all. He says we're needed there."
Duncan nodded. "I see. What specific intelligence, Queen?"
"He didn't give specifics."
"Right," said Duncan, holding her gaze.
"It's not like that," said Jillian. But then she shook her head. "Or you're saying that's...that's what I would say...?"
Duncan took a breath, and let it out through his lips slowly, never letting his gaze leave her face. "I'm not saying anything at all, Queen. What did Charlie tell you?"
"That Jetstone is going to lose that battle if we don't return," said Jillian.
Duncan felt his mouth pop open a crack in mild disbelief. He blinked twice in the breeze. "Then they deserve to," he said.
"They would deserve to! If they can lose a battle like that? Where the enemy's key forces are helplessly cornered, at the point of Jetstone's greatest strength? Then they deserve to be conquered. I can't imagine how they could lose it."
Jillian shook her head. "Charlie says they can. He's really mad at us for leaving."
"We have good reasons to, my Queen. We are a long way from home." She looked out at the horizon as he spoke, pointedly leaning forward in his saddle. "We should return to Faq, and geography allows us some beautiful targets of opportunity along the way. Gobwin Knob is very vulnerable behind their front lines, and we are poor. We can make a lot of money razing their cities on the trip back."
"I know," she said.
This was odd. Most of the time, his Queen Jillian would present him with a foregone decision, allow him to argue in futility for a bit, then shut him down. But something seemed to have sent her away, into quiet introspection. He decided it was a good time to press.
"We will need the money, Queen. We will have the upkeep of the heir soon. My replacement," he said. "And I consider it my primary Duty to preserve the side until he or she pops. We don't have that many turns to go. You'd make my job easier and more pleasant if we could only play it reasonably safe until then."
"I know," she said again. She glanced at him, "you think I'm under Thinkamancy? Really?"
Duncan shrugged. "Well. I suppose, if you feel like disproving it..."
Jillian's face bloomed with a wicked grin. "Yes. Yes! Easy enough, right?" She drew her sword from its shoulder scabbard and tooth-whistled an ear splitting command to her mount. The megalo, with Ansom's little head poking out the front, hove in close and pulled aside.
"You're right, Duncan. Absolutely right." She turned on one planted foot. "We attack Progrock, one-stack screen, on my command!" she shouted, and took a running leap. She landed in a perfect sword-up crouch on the plates of her own megalo, and scrambled into the saddle. "Then towards home!"
Duncan shook his head at the strange sensation of having won an argument with his ruler. He would have to try to remember what he said.
That suggestion stuff was apparently a real sore spot for her...