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Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower) – Episode 023

Out in the field, monotony was ice and rocks and endless road. At home, it was stairs.

Wanda and Clay trudged up them in silence. All Wanda could think to say about Clay's confession-under-duress was, "That is likely something you should keep to yourself, Luckamancer." It wasn't what he had wanted to hear.

Un-Tommy was waiting for Wanda at the base of the tower, having been recalled from the outer walls by her silent order. Her former brother stood motionless on the cobblestones beside her equally motionless former snow golem. Together, staring dumbly at nothing, the two made quite a pair.

Or was it three of them? Slouching there, indifferent to the cold wind, Clay looked almost as lifeless.

Was this what she did to people? Perhaps she should order un-Larry to report here, to complete this set of empty shells she was creating.

"Continue on up to your quarters," she ordered Clay. "Order the Lady Temple to meet me at my suite in one hour."

"Yes, Chief," said Clay. As shame-faced and longingly as he looked at her, he seemed relieved to be leaving her side.

She had animated him well, but un-Tommy was beginning to show small signs of decay. They'd seen no action here, and sought none afield since the air battle that ended their alliance. She knew that unlike Tommy, un-Tommy would be perfectly willing to stand there for all his remaining turns, then blow away to dust.

She put the uncroaked unit through some paces, to see what his capabilities were, and to give Clay time to get a few floors ahead of her. Then she ordered un-Tommy back to his post, and climbed up the stairs, stairs, stairs. Each dull step was a small moment lived, unremarkable and meaningless, but necessary to the progression of the climb.

---

Up in her small suite near the top of Minnow Tower, Wanda unpacked her new raiment and laid it out upon the bed. Teddy Clothespin, the Dollamancer who had sold it to her, had helped her create something out of the depths of her own desires and imagination. She looked at it, wondering if she even dared to put it on.

"Olay," she said, casting the minor Dollamancy spell that Teddy had taught her. The wrinkles in each piece went smooth, as the garment was restored to its new-turn condition.

Double-checking that her door was locked, Wanda stripped out of the suit she had worn since Goodfinger. She still loved the outfit for its elegance, and for its utter lack of resemblance to Goodminton's sombre raiment style. But it had been Olive's. And once she had it off, Wanda was sure she would never again put it next to her skin. Perhaps Teddy would buy it from her.

She pulled the white tights on first. Then she slipped the light, airy chemise over her head. The Dollamancer had modified her old riding gloves into long, chamois evening gloves with stealthy riding grips sewn into the palms. Her clunky boots he'd turned into shiny black thigh-highs topped with lace, but still reinforced in the feet and ankles for combat riding.

The entire outfit followed this philosophy of applying maximum possible style before function started to suffer. The slate blue jacket was cropped in length, with sleeves short enough to let her swing a staff in a fight. The bodice (which she now laced and pulled into a tight cinch around her waist) would keep her straight in the saddle. Even the decorative chain around her waist could be used as a bolo weapon if needed.

She stepped to the mirror to have a look.

The Wanda in the mirror needed a comb. Her hair seemed to have fallen limp after the warmth and humidity of the Magic Kingdom. No, better than a comb: a hat. Teddy had urgently wanted to add some headgear to the ensemble, but she had already spent more than was justifiable. Father had granted her a favor after they'd won the battle, and she'd asked for new raiment. But the treasury was dwindling. Shmuckers were tight.

She felt through her satchel, looking for a clip or tie-back. Her hand fell on the message hat, shrunken down as small as it would go. Hm. She took it out and resized it to fit her head, and it looked much worse than nothing. A top hat with this dress took all the femininity out of it, and made the whole outfit absurd. The obnoxious Foolamancer she'd met in the Magic Kingdom couldn't have picked a worse match to wear. She threw the hat on the bed, and looked at mirror-Wanda ruefully.

But a weird thought emerged out of her frustration. She picked the hat back up, resized it to the dimensions of a teacup and saucer, and stuck it to her head at a jaunty angle.

It worked. Mirror-Wanda knew it worked. The hat even knew it worked. It stayed right in place via the natural Dollamancy (or was it natural Hat Magic?) of just belonging there.

Mirror-Wanda turned her head with a sly, approving smile, and Wanda felt she had taken one further step toward becoming that woman. Yes, her brother was lost, and her side was still friendless and desperate. The fact that she had acquired new clothing was unremarkable and meaningless. But it was another small, necessary moment lived in the progression of the climb.

There was a knock upon her door.

NOTE! My friend since college Barb Fischer is the writer for the roller-derby webcomic Sledgebunny. She's also done costuming. I had to bring her in to help with this update because I am clueless about women's clothing.

Xin came up with a Gothic Loli outfit for Wanda, but neither of us knew how to describe it. Xin drew the exploded diagram above for Barb, who wrote me a paragraph describing this outfit. I almost completely rewrote the paragraph, but I couldn't have done this update without her help. Xin will probably kill me for posting the sketch here, because it definitely wasn't drawn for the public. But I had to split this update and I didn't want to tease the outfit too much. The next update will be the conversation with Delphie that this one was supposed to be, with the illustration that was supposed to go with it.

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