Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower) – Episode 018

The numbness was strange, almost worrying.

Fritz wailed over Tommy's chest. Mack felled a pine sapling with one stroke of his claymore, screaming out in rage. Cakes turned away, sank to his knees beside his nickelhorse, and wept into a snowbank. Even Tommy's great brontosword hung its head and tried to sniff at his boots.

Wanda only stepped backward and looked up at the snowy tree-tops for a moment, drawing in a deep breath. The cold air was a blade to her lungs. She turned to the nearest knight, who was staring slack-jawed at his fallen leader.

"Encamp," she ordered, snapping his attention to her. "Give priority to my own tent. Pitch it where the Chief has fallen."

Fritz would not leave Tommy's side at first, but Wanda managed to get him to his feet. "There is a war to fight. Stand up. Stand up, Warlord!" He was her superior officer by level, but she said it with the force of an order anyway, and he complied. She took the silk top hat from where it had been folded inside Tommy's coat, and handed it to him. "Get instructions from Father," she said. "He may want to make you Chief."

"Yes Lady," Fritz managed hoarsely.

Wanda assisted with the raising of the tent, then ordered all units away from it. Under the canvas, she rolled out her bedroll on the bare snow. With a drag of his boots and a big heave by the armpits, she laid his body to rest upon it. His face was swollen, his eyelids and bluish lips were closed, but his expression was one of peace.

Peace.

Sitting on the edge of the camp stool, she brushed the snow from the sleeves of his coat, removed her glove and touched his icy cheek with the back of her hand. No wounds was her first thought.

The first thing to determine in uncroaking a body is what took its life, because that was where the most repair and attention would likely be needed. Attention was the key. A simple or a mass uncroaking took no more attention than lighting a candle, with the Matter of the body representing the candle wax. The body would move as it could, and take simple orders until its fuel was exhausted a few turns later.

But the craft of the Croakamancer was to understand the body's condition, its functions, its strengths and weaknesses. The Croakamancer could conserve the fuel of the body by focusing her juice upon the mechanisms of its movement, repairing and augmenting them with magic. An expertly uncroaked unit could function almost as well as it had when alive, and last for perhaps dozens of turns.

So. If this body had no wounds, then what croaked it? Sensing her way through the architecture of his insides, she could not immediately say. Something about the muscles was familiar, though. She had uncroaked the victims of critical hits before. A crit to the head would cause the muscles to seize at croaking. But one to the heart left the muscles starved out, relaxed and unable to contract. Tommy's were like that.

So she focused on his heart. She tried to make it beat once, and knew something was wrong. One tells a muscle to move by means of the nerves, and reconnecting nerves by magic was one of the trickier parts of an attentive uncroaking.

There were almost no functioning nerves in Tommy's heart. Or...his stomach, or most of the rest of his internal organs. He probably had not been in pain, but he must have known something was very wrong.

She had never seen one before, and she did not understand how it worked, but this was certainly a poisoning. And poisons, both natural and magical, were Flower Power.

Wanda sat up straight on the stool. "I make you no promises about the future," Olive had said. That would have voided her pinky swear not to poison him, wouldn't it? She'd also asked him to kiss her. So she did not initiate an engagement in the city.

He'd done it; he'd kissed her. He trusted her.

Because he loved her, which was probably her doing as well.

Wanda removed her other glove. It was bitterly cold inside the tent, with no fire, and bare snow still beneath her boots. But that was not the reason for her numbness. She could not say why she was not crying for Tommy, but it troubled her. She worried that tears might never come. What would that mean?

"Stupid," she whispered to him. "How could you fall for that?" Tommy's peaceful face was perfectly still. There was unthawed snow in his beard.

But the words sounded hollow to her, because one thing Wanda understood about her own heart was exactly how someone could fall for Olive. She put her hands into the pockets of the suit. Olive must have recognized her raiment, but she never remarked on it. What was this woman? What kind of a monster fights with peace?

Wanda didn't understand. But she realized that it was her job to. In her mind, she saw the Mirror Wanda saying, "You couldn't protect him, because you don't know your magicks. What a terrific Chief Caster. You didn't know what you were up against. Did you? He trusted you, too!"

She reached out and took his cold hand, placed her other hand over his face, and began to cast. No, she did not know enough. She'd waved away Delphie's Predictions. Her eyes had glazed over at Clay's explanations of Luckamancy. And she hadn't seen Hippiemancy as anything but the magic of harmless perversion.

That would change, starting now, starting with this uncroaking. Tommy's body deserved her very best work. She would try Rhyme-o-mancy, the way Olive had used it.

A poetic incantation could settle the mind, focus any caster on their work. Even warlords could use Rhymes in leadership, for morale and focus, and in dance fighting. Those bawdy trail songs of Tommy's were crude, but effective on the units under his command. Her singing along with the knights had likely helped her spot that scout on her first day. Songs and poems held great and mysterious power.

But to use Rhyme-o-mancy in casting, it must be quick and clever, and it must rhyme. If she flubbed the rhyme, the spell would weaken or fail completely. She had yet to try to put two lines together, but she was already casting. It was now or never. She incanted:

Skin, to muscle, to sinew, to bone.
My brother-protector, you've left me alone.

Naughtymance, bodymance, fleshmistress, I
Take this gift you've bequeathed me, in place of good-bye.

The attention of an entire day was collapsed into those few seconds. Wanda reconstructed, reconnected, and reanimated everything inside Tommy's body, undoing all of what Olive's life-draining poison had done to him. He was a huge, strong man. He was a warlord. He would stand again, and fight against the side that had taken his life.

After hours of subjective effort, she felt her work coalesce in him. He was a unit, the most powerful she had ever raised up. The spell faded. She became aware of the tent again, and the cold.

"Stand up," she said. The unit opened its eyes, and obeyed her order. She had never made one so beautifully preserved. The bloating in his face faded, as some slow circulation of the blood was possible in this one. She was overjoyed at the results. Almost everything a living unit could do, this one could...

And then, like the tent coming back into her view, so did Tommy.

This was her brother. Her brother. This was Tommy!

And it was not. Tommy was gone.

She looked at the unit's face, feeling her own grow hot. "Tommy..." Her voice sounded strange. "Put... Put your arms around me."

The beautiful, triumphantly perfect uncroaked unit followed her order. His arms, like tree branches, encircled Wanda. His barrel chest was ice cold at first. But soon it was warm and wet with tears she that worried might never stop.

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