Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower) – Episode 054
Jillian descended from dreams again, a hard and sudden fall this time. She wasn’t able to hold on to any specific memories, other than a feeling of warmth and light that she immediately longed to return to.
“-involved in its construction. But I don’t remember enough from the link-up.”
She landed on her feet, without even a stumble, and found herself walking on the yellow road again. She’d been walking there for some time, it seemed, but how she got there was lost in a yellow haze of mixed images and words.
The Lady Firebaugh was still talking. They were in the middle of a conversation, she supposed, but she couldn’t recall the start of it. “And it is beyond my current grasp of Turnamancy to repair the glass ceiling you broke through.”
“Thought you were a Croakamancer,” muttered Jillian.
“That is what I am telling you,” said Lady Firebaugh, “I am what I am needed to be. Or I try. I often fail. I could not use the box to turn you, for example. And I cannot repair it. Though, absent the help of Maxwell, it might well have been beyond Tina’s abilities.”
Jillian looked at her bare feet, moving along the road. It was pretty tough, trying to think in words instead of dreams. “I don’t think I know who that is,” she said.
“Maxwell was Haffaton’s Thinkamancer. You might have seen his stone. We suffer from his loss, and Tina’s as well. And Barton, the Dollamancer...Maya, the Predictamancer, Komatsu the Dirtamancer. And others. Some before my time. So many cuts, so many losses here. I have tried to fulfill the unmet needs, but Maxwell held everything together. Much of what we’ve accomplished rests on his shoulders.” She looked distant. “Haffaton has not been the same. We have seen better turns than these.”
The Croakamancer was leading her by her arm, toward the green city looming ahead. The pink buds were everywhere.
Jillian resisted the impulse to say, “Good.” If Haffaton was in decay, then that was nothing but the Titans’ own justice. Did the enemy caster expect her to sympathize?
She didn’t feel like starting a fight right now, though, so instead she said, “Stop. I need one.” She threw away the flower from her hair, and stooped to pick one of the larger blossoms.
“Already,” said Lady Firebaugh. “That is unfortunate. You will be permanently afflicted very soon, if that hasn’t yet happened.”
With a practiced hand, Jillian snap-pinched the flower from its stem and raised it to her head. But Lady Firebaugh took her wrist firmly and held her gaze.
“Can you wait, Jillian?” she said. “If only for a few minutes? There is much worth discussing. Something we should talk about, while we have the chance. Please.”
Jillian really wanted the bud. But the Lady Firebaugh’s sudden kindness had its own weird attraction. She stood up and held the flower in her palm, feeling some mild effects from it already.
“‘Please?’ Really?” she said, shaking her head. “What happened to, ‘Call me Mistress?’”
The Croakamancer stood in the road and drew her arms to herself, a meek figure in a field of flowers, so hard to reconcile with the cold tormentor who had kept her imprisoned. If anything, the enemy caster looked ashamed.
“I learned that method from Tina,” she said. “First as prisoner, then as her pupil. Or, I tried. It didn’t work on you, obviously. Come to think of it, it also didn’t work on me. It was Olive, and the heroine buds... The box was intended to change—” She took a deep breath and sighed through her nose. “Suppose...suppose that you call me ‘Wanda?’”
As Jillian’s head cleared out, a part of her very much wanted to haul off and slug the Croakamancer. She thought she could act like, what...friends now? After what she did to Bart, Hedda... War was war, but the stuff she had done went beyond.
Jillian had to wonder if this wasn’t all just another dream. Somehow, it was both too real and too unreal to be one. She clutched the flower in her hand. All around, a sea of pink flowers bobbed in the warm breeze. “You conquered Faq? I mean, you, personally?”
The Croakamancer nodded. “Yes. As I said, I am what I am needed to be. Even a warlord. I am usually needed at the scene of a conquest, to uncroak the casualties. We dug a tunnel through the mountains. It wasn’t a difficult fight, once we had the access.”
No, it wouldn’t have been, but as Chief Warlord, that still stung. She sighed. “Yeah, I guess you were Predicted to. Did any casters stay? Did you capture any?”
The Croakamancer’s face changed. “I was what? No, there were no casters. What do you mean I was Predicted?”
Jillian rolled her eyes. “Sister Marie told the Court that Haffaton would conquer Faq. Our Predictamancer. I hate that stuff, but that’s what she said. And I guess she was right; you did. Or at least, you got our cities.”
“She said that Haffaton would conquer Faq? Or that I would?”
Jillian frowned, thinking that she was probably saying too much here. She looked away.
“Please, Jillian. It’s important.”
“It’s important to you. It’s not real important to me, considering.” Jillian looked at Lady Firebaugh, trying to keep her contempt alive. But there was very little of “Mistress” remaining in the woman she was looking at. With the gauze and the thorns, she looked naked and wounded.
“She said that Haffaton would conquer Faq,” Jillian said, trying to think back that day at Court. That was several lifetimes ago, seemed like. What exactly did Marie say? And wasn’t croaking Banhammer part of that Prediction as well? Yeah, best not to include that part, if her father was still alive out there. “But I think she only Predicted that when she heard your name.”
Lady Firebaugh nodded solemnly. “This is what we must talk about. Predictamancy. We had Predictions about you, too. I was told that someone had popped who would become very important to me. A Warlady.”
The Croakamancer shook her head. “Not that specific.”
The flower in Jillian’s hand pulsed comfortingly. She really wanted to put it in her hair now, but she resisted. “Was that Lady Temple’s Prediction?”
The Croakamancer’s eyes went wide, and her thin lips parted in surprise. “It was Maya Calendar’s. How do you know about Delphie Temple?”
Jillian didn’t much feel like telling her about the note she’d found in Goodminton. She shrugged.
The Croakamancer shook her head disbelievingly. “This is difficult. I feel that we both know important things about one another. I can’t blame you for distrusting me. This isn’t how it was supposed to be. I shouldn’t have tried to turn you. But you must turn, eventually.”
“Because of what you are Fated to do.”
“Wanda...” Okay, Wanda. “I gotta tell you. The Fate talk gets me mad. If this is all you want to talk about, then I’m gonna sit right here with a bud in my hair.” She raised the flower to her head.
“You are Fated to croak the Ruler of Haffaton,” said Wanda.
It was Jillian’s turn to look surprised. She lowered her arm.
Wanda nodded. “Olive is heir designate, and she knows about Maya’s Prediction. But Duty forbids her from harming Judy herself, so she brought you here. I think she wonders why you haven’t done it already.”
“I like Judy,” said Jillian, thinking how stupid that sounded. “I don’t think I like Dame Branch.”
“Fate is fate,” said Wanda, and although they were alone in the vast field of flowers, she lowered her voice conspiratorially. “But there may be an alternative path. Tell me what you know about Delphie, and I will tell you what I learned from Barton.”