Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower) – Episode 044
Chief Jillian was learning things today, many fascinating new things.
Some of those things were immediately useful, such as the fact that the stone garden where she had been held was adjacent to the capital city of Haffaton.
...and that the city was apparently situated at the mouth of a navigable river.
...and that boats of various sizes were docked there now.
Other new information would be useful only if she could ever get herself home from here. The fact that this city was woefully undefended, for instance. The whole area around it was practically empty. Oh, if she could have taken the casters...
She would. She would.
The open field between here and the stone garden had been without so much as an uncroaked infantryman to spot her. Her shackles had fallen off and vanished as soon as she’d entered a new hex. Barefoot and chilly in her prisoner’s garb (a light cotton chemise and shorts), she’d crept her way through a grove of apple trees that grew up against the city’s north wall.
She declined to steal any of the apples.
After a treacherous three-story climb, she’d pulled herself up to an unmanned arrow slit. Jillian then chipped at the mortar with the tip of her sword, loosened and removed two stones, and managed to squeeze her way inside. Inching around the castle corridors, she saw exactly one enemy unit—an uncroaked guard manning a parapet—and was not spotted by it.
Now the fugitive Princess crouched in the shadows on the city docks, trying to decide which of these Haffaton vessels to steal.
To be allowed to walk in the stone garden had been Jillian’s first victory. Still in chains, still under heavy guard...but the Croakamancer allowed Jillian out of the box as a small reward. Prisoner and captor were talking often now. On the surface, they still played a game of slips and a-has and gotchas. Sometimes Jillian was still punished.
But the Croakamancer seemed to feel that her prisoner was coming around to the proper understanding. The barest degree of trust was forming between the two of them. On the next morning that her captor was called away, she unexpectedly told Jillian, “Until I return...you may rest. Think of another you have lost, and tell me when I return.”
She would not be allowed out of the box, but boredom was to be her only suffering.
She was not bored, though. Something she had seen among the stones had given her a dangerous idea. She spent lots of time thinking it over.
Standing with their white boots upon the wood planks of the dock, a level 2 Haffaton warlord casually talked with a single soldier. The warlord had a sword, sheathed and buckled, and the soldier only a dagger. No other enemy units were within her view, not even any crew upon the decks of those boats.
They wouldn’t be a problem.
Jillian had her own sword. Bart’s, in fact: a plain but serviceable weapon. She’d struck him down with it, after overpowering him and wresting it from his weak grip. By then, his face was mostly missing, and his perfect teeth grinned in approval as she smote him. Yes, this is what I would have wanted. Goodbye, Chief.
“I’ve thought about it. And I think I should tell you about Kiln Kenny, Faq’s Dirtamancer,” said Jillian, when Lady Firebaugh had returned.
“Oh? You lost a caster?” She had her captor’s full attention. Each time Jillian had parted with the story of someone from Faq, the Croakamancer had spent time making a stone for them. It was proving to be a much easier way of buying time than staying silent.
“Mm. Very tragic story,” said Jillian. She went on to explain how Kenny had loved stone and ceramic ware, and had made all the fine tea sets for the Court of Faq. He’d lived in pursuit of ever more beautiful and elegant dining and drinking ware, made of ever harder and stronger ceramics. His works were prized above all physical possessions by those at Court, but he had perished in a terrible mining accident, while attempting to dig out a band of special clay for his greatest tea set ever. They kept a broken sugar bowl in his memory at court.
“Which, I suppose, is the closest we have to a monument like these,” said Jillian.
Lady Firebaugh looked distant, perhaps even deeply moved.
Without a crew to command, her choice of boat was narrowed down to two. There was a small sailboat that could handle open water. If she wanted to try her hand at sailing to safety, that would be the way to go. But home was not over the ocean. Home was inland, and that meant heading up the river in the paddlewheel barge.
She really wanted to try the thing, anyway. You rarely saw self-powered vehicles—only a Turnamancer could make one—but they were incredibly useful, and highly valued as trade items. They had many of the benefits of constructed units like golems, but they functioned as items. Stealing this one should put it under her command. She thought.
Well, she hoped...
Although she was not allowed out of her box when Lady Firebaugh was not present, they were sometimes separated on the grounds of the stone garden. Jillian often lingered near Kenny’s stone, while the Lady Firebaugh fussed away at some other monument.
She’d made a big deal out of Kenny’s stone, daring to criticize it twice as inadequate to his memory.
“The way we remember him at Court is better,” she’d said. “More appropriate. He would appreciate it more.”
Finally, the Lady Firebaugh had destroyed the first design, and replaced it with a marble pedestal with a broken porcelain sugar bowl atop it. Jillian declared it perfect.
Today, while her jailor was out of eyesight, she took her prize.
There would be two more stones in that garden soon. The Haffaton warlord never even got his weapon unbuckled, never saw the blade of his own sword again. He only got a very brief, very close look at Bart’s.
The soldier actually nicked Jillian’s arm with his dagger before she had a chance to swing and put him down. She imagined the two of them standing side by side and explaining themselves to the Titans. That soldier would be able to make the better accounting.
She took time to grab the best of their gear. The paddlewheeler was unmanned.
In the course of her life, Jillian had owned and used many weapons. Of all of those, the porcelain chip she’d smuggled into the box between her toes, that she held in secret for four long days and nights, was her most treasured.
“I must attend to certain matters. Until I return...you may rest,” the Lady Firebaugh told her on the fifth day.
“Yes Mistress. Thank you, Mistress.” and when you return, I hope you scream loud
And in the course of her life, Jillian had struck many blows. None were ever sweeter than when she placed the chip, the glass-breakingly hard chip, into the palm of her hand, and smashed through the glass ceiling.
Kiln Kenny, had he ever existed, would have been proud.
And too, in the course of her life Jillian had headed out on many mounts, pursuing many missions.
But this slow, churning paddle barge toward home...this was the sweetest. She willed it up the river, and ducked out of sight.