Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower) – Episode 036
Diecast was nothing much to look at from above: brown bricks, round turrets, squat buildings, a couple vegetable gardens, and one unremarkable tower with an onion-domed lookout post at the top. Level 2 cities weren’t built to be pretty, and this one had the Signamancy of neglect all over it. It looked like one forgotten lump of a city, in a side too big to care any more. On the tower spire, a square standard in Haffaton’s black-and-white colors snapped in the breeze, bearing some emblem with pink in it.
Jillian led her WRECD crew in a slow, non-belligerent circle around the outer walls. No units were visible there, or anywhere in the city. Chip honked out a hailing call on his sheep horn. There was no reply. Her warlords pulled their gwiffons into a tight line with hers, and held their reins in hand.
“Well, we’ve let them know we’re here. This is already incredibly dangerous,” she told them, staring at the tower intently for any sign of life. The lookout post had thin windows with smoked glass panes, shaded—almost lidded—by the overhanging edge of the dome. The interior of the post was in shadow. Hadn’t she spotted something inside there from one angle? She couldn’t see anything now. The sky was overcast, and the wind here was surprisingly chilly.
“I know,” said Hedda, “I love it! If we take this city and raze it, I’ll love it that much more.”
“Unless we do actually attack them, we’re not in too much trouble yet,” said Chip. “We’re real far from home, so it’s not like we’re tipping our hand by being here. They did offer us work. Maybe, y’know, we’re just here looking for that.” They all stared down in silence for a while. “I say let’s at least enter the airspace,” he added.
He didn’t have to mention that entering the airspace would trip any of the city’s automagical defenses, or that they’d be that much more likely to be identified as hostile. Jillian squinted. She didn’t think the tower looked rigged to shoot, but without a caster along, you never could tell.
Bart, the junior level 1 warlord, offered absolutely nothing. He was looking intently all around the city. Jillian had been hoping for more of a contribution from him, but she had to remind herself that this was the first enemy city he had actually seen from this close. Level 1 is a rough time for a warlord. All too often, it’s the only level they’ll ever know.
The breeze blew Jillian’s hair around, and reddened her cheeks. All right, so she had to think this through. If this city was truly undefended, then just landing in the garrison would be enough to take it for Faq. What then?
Then...they could raze it for about an 8500-shmucker boost to the treasury, and bug out. They could get pretty far away from here with all the move they had left. Haffaton would know that a side called Faq had taken one of its cities, but she had never revealed that name to the Haffaton warlord.
She had carried out raids like this several times before. It was completely possible to do it and get away with it.
“I don’t want to do this,” she said, after long moments of thought. The feeling surprised her. Usually she looked at danger with the same kind of gleeful anticipation that Hedda was bubbling with. She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. She didn’t know... No, she did know why Haffaton was so frightening.
It was the same reason they had to attack right now. “But I think we have to. They’re not just our enemy. According to Sister Marie, they’re our future conqueror. It’s inevitable. Anything we can do to hurt them or preemptively gain from them probably buys us some time. Plus...we’re not making money any other way. Right?”
There were nods from Hedda and Chip. Bart simply looked at her respectfully, awaiting his orders.
“Restack in screens for shockmancy defense,” she said. “Hedda, your stack will take point.”
They entered the airspace without incident. No arrows flew from hidden croak-holes, no alarms were called, no bolts of enemy magic were thrown their way. The only sounds were a rustle of wind and the lonesome caw of a black pillcrow or two.
The party flew in close to the tower, and could now examine the emblem on the standard. It was strange: a circle around a badly-decayed uncroaked unit wearing a garland of pink flowers on its bare skull. There were two more pink flowers on either side of the circle, separating the words “HAFFATON” at the top and “PEACE” on the bottom, in highly stylized block letters.
The Faq warlords peered in through the windows. It was dark, and nothing within it was moving. Jillian kept inching around, trying to see in. She was pretty sure she had seen something in there. And if you were going to have any units in the city, this would be the place you’d deploy them.
She pressed her gwiffon’s flank against the bricks, pinning her leg, and put her forearm on the glass as a shade. There was something, wasn’t there? Yes, there was a figure standing inside the room. It turned its head.
“Something in there is looking at me,” she whispered. The other warlords drew their swords instinctively. Chip pulled to the window and shielded his eyes over the glass.
Jillian was looking right at it now. It was man-sized. It had a head. And eyes. The eyes were looking at her. That was all she could tell about it in the gloom.
“I think I see it. That’s not a unit,” said Chip. “Can’t see a level or points on it. I don’t know what it is. Just a statue or a decoration or something.”
“No, it moved,” said Jillian. “Watch.”
“It’s not moving now, that I can see,” said Chip after a while. Jillian felt she was locking eyes with whatever it was, but with the glare on the window and the darkness inside, she kept losing her focus on it. Half the time she felt like she was remembering, rather than seeing it.
Bart pulled closer and looked in, too. Hedda scooted her gwiffon back and forth nervously through the air, guarding them as they peered. For many long seconds more, they watched. Jillian pressed her face so close to the glass that it fogged up, despite the wind. For a room with this many windows, it was incredibly dark inside.
Jillian took her fist and pounded on the glass pane. “Hello?”
The figure did nothing.
“Chief, you sure you saw it move?” asked Chip. “I think you probably saw a reflection of one of us moving in the glass.”
Jillian said nothing, but watched the figure. She would wait it out until it moved it head again. The chill breeze kept blowing, while her soldiers sat on their mounts in silence.
“Chief if there’s something in there, then I think we should just land and see it from inside the tower!” snapped Hedda.
Jillian stared a few seconds longer. Eyes. A head. No motion. What was it?
“Yeah, all right,” she said at last. “Let’s land.”
The modest tower had no landing space for flyers. They helixed down slowly beside it, watching the rest of the dreary, empty city disappear behind the brown bricks of the garrison walls. The courtyard below was composed of a grassy drill-and-muster area, some small outbuildings, and an overgrown garden along the north wall.
As they prepared to touch down, Jillian looked up at the battle standard, flapping high in the air above them. If there were no enemy units in the city, then it would change from white to green as they touched down.
She felt a bump, and the body of her gwiffon sank and sagged. It peeped gratefully, glad to be grounded again after so long.
The banner atop the tower waved white, black and pink.
“Enemy archery!” shouted Hedda, and Jillian snapped her attention back to ground level. Hedda had her boots on the ground already, and was pointing a sword at the north wall. Something zipped by Jillian’s head, as fast as an arrow, only not one.
It was the size of a large insect, and green, she looked where Hedda was pointing.
The garden itself was shooting missiles at them. A half dozen of the plants had reared up and were slinging or...spitting round green projectiles. There were the enemy units! The green balls pelted a couple of the gwiffons, and Jillian could immediately see they were doing about 1d6. Nothing to panic over. Almost enough to laugh about.
“Charge ‘em!” snapped Jillian, jumping to the grass. The order was somewhat retroactive; Hedda was already pounding turf with the infantry of her stack. The green balls were flying, but the fighters covered the open ground fast, swords flashing to the ready. This would be quick work, if they avoided any crits...
“Enemy infantry!” shouted Bart from the rear. Jillian pivoted and brought her sword up in guard.
Emerging from the blockhouses to the south were several heavily-decayed uncroaked stabbers. No more than an eight-stack, and not actually even stacked. They were slowly shambling over the lawn toward them. No threat there, either.
“Yours, Bart!” she ordered. Good time to give him some play. As she watched Bart lead his reserve stack in his first ever charge, one of the uncroaked was actually struck by a green projectile from the garden, and disintegrated.
“This is the side we’re so afraid of?” she asked, to no-one in particular. The chill she'd felt at the tower top evaporated into euphoria. They were finally attacking Haffaton, and winning. They'd raze Diecast and be long gone. Maybe they'd even find another soft target in this paper-doll empire that defended its cities with bone-puppets and vegetable gardens.
“Aw, you guys...” she said, thinking of the Court of Faq, “We should’ve gone for the headshot.”