Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower) – Episode 064
Jillian was blind, her target had a head start, and that target was flying. There was no obvious way to catch the Overlady, but there was nothing else to do but try. Her hunter’s-instinct demanded pursuit of the prey in flight.
“Jack, run behind me!” Chief Jillian ordered. “Look up ahead, up the hallway!”
She planted a boot to the left, turning on strict guesswork, and began a shuffling walk, leading with the tip of her sword to the floor. She moved as quickly as she dared to into empty space...or space she hoped was empty. She tried to keep in mind that her boot steps were real, but the view in her head was not.
That view shifted wildly in response to her command, but it was now looking back behind her to the dais. She saw her father kneeling there over the fallen form of Brother Orwell. He looked up...Titans, was he crying? Why? The caster wasn’t even croaked! They could still get him healed if they’d just pull together and win this battle.
Eyes ringed in red, her father stared at her bleakly for a moment. No...stared at Jack. Jack must have been looking to the King for a countermanding order. But Banhammer only dropped his chin to his chest and turned his gaze away.
The sight of Orwell on the floor, robes and belly sliced through, did bring to mind one critical tactical detail that Jillian had overlooked. “Claim him as a prisoner!” she shouted over her shoulder, giving it the verbal heft of an order. “C’mon Jack, let’s go!”
It was the first time she’d ever ordered her father to do anything, a rare Chief Warlord’s prerogative reserved for times when the stakes were at their highest. The King’s response seemed automatic, almost mindless. He touched Orwell’s shoulder, and steel manacles appeared on the fallen Lookamancer’s ankles and wrists.
She took another step, dragging her feet along so she wouldn’t trip over anyone. But someone nearby—Marie or Wanda—suddenly gasped, and Jillian halted in her tracks. She raised her sword and tilted her head back.
Brand new information about this city was flooding her mind: Level 5, +1 garrison walls, a dungeon zone, +2 ...farm? oh, the garden, +2 tower but no spells left on it... And even with Jack’s crazy Foolamancy view, she could see that the color in the Wizard’s Hall had shifted. The floor was still black, but the puke-emerald was all gone. The curtains hung in proper green, Faq green.
Her side had a capital. They had a home, a place to defend! And a treasury! And a portal...they could bring in the other casters...
She turned to look at the others, but only saw an odd, reverse-mirror view of herself as Jack peered her way. Stranger than flower-dreams, this was. Could it be one? Had she finally slipped out of reality and into the world of the bud? No, if that were true she wouldn’t need a bud so badly right now.
“We’ve won,” said a breathy, frail voice. Wanda’s. Jillian’s view shifted toward the Croakamancer, as Jack looked that way.
Jillian almost objected. It took a moment to understand that the Lady Firebaugh’s “we” meant “Faq,” the side to which she now belonged. Jillian shook her head slowly, thinking it through.
Olive had left the garrison. That was the only explanation. After Jillian destroyed the golems, Orwell must have been the only Haffaton unit in Efbaum’s garrison. Therefore, when the Overlady fled to the airspace, the city fell to Faq.
“We’ve...won the city,” she said. “We haven’t won the war. We didn’t get her yet.”
“She hasn’t had time to leave Efbaum,” said Wanda, smiling slyly. Jack’s view focused on the Croakamancer, walking up to where Jillian saw herself standing. “She must still be in the airspace.”
“She was panicking,” said Jack. The view wobbled, as if nodding.
Jillian’s mouth opened. “She’s our prisoner!” When a garrison fell, the remaining units in other zones of the city were captured automagically.
“Mm. Well, she’s in shackles, I assume,” said Wanda. “But of course, shackles didn’t stop you.”
“Right,” said Jillian. “Fugitive.” The target was still a commander, able and expected to escape. She was neither guarded nor imprisoned. She was mounted.
The hunt was still the hunt.
“Let’s go get her.”
There were three women within Jillian’s view. The figure in the center was herself; its steps matched what she felt in her legs. Her control over that body clicked into place once more. Wanda was a few steps behind, Marie was even farther back (though closer to Jack’s view) and to the left. They were all hurrying down the grand corridor.
She dared to break into a full run, controlling her movements from behind as if working some huge puppet. She’d been through this hallway once before, so at least she knew the marble floor was trustworthy and even. There should be nothing to trip over, as long as she could run halfway straight.
Time to think battle tactics. The prey was in the air, so she’d need a mount, first thing. The gwiffons were hovering at the tower top. She could order them down from here, without having to climb the tower. But was there even time for that?
Her boots thudded on the polished floor, carrying her puppet body through the darkness. They’d passed two of the hallway’s powerballs so far. Now three. Wanda had caught up and was running beside her. Lady Firebaugh...the Faq unit. Unbelievable. But also weirdly natural and comforting, as if she’d done things right for once. She didn’t know what it meant, or how she could use a Croakamancer in this fight, but she was really glad Wanda had joined them.
Jack and Marie were a few steps behind. She needed a plan before they got through the main archway and outside. Think it through, think it through... Wow, did her head ever ache. And her ribs. A fresh bud to take this all away would be so nice, wouldn’t it?
No. Forget it. Think. Okay, say she failed here. If Olive did get out of the city, then...what? The Overlady would get clear away, because she had move and Faq didn’t. Her shackles would be gone as soon as she was out of the city. She’d likely meet up with the nearest Haffaton unit and be rescued.
They could try hunting for her when their turn came, but the head start would be...however much move that broomstick had in it, plus the Overlady’s own move. She didn’t like her chances of finding a Florist in the forest. Nature was on Olive’s side.
For resources, she had a Predictamancer, a Foolamancer and a Croakamancer. Kind of a ridiculous luxury, having three casters in battle. And more were coming. Somewhere in this building was a portal they could use to bring in the rest. But she’d still trade them all right now for one mount with move. Where was Crapsack when she needed him?
Six powerballs, and the archway. Daylight streamed in through the enormous pearl-inlaid wooden doors Dame Branch had thrown open on her way out. This was it now, plan or no plan. You fight with what you’ve got.
She burst out into the paved street, foolishly looking up at the sky but seeing nothing other than herself out in the street. You’re still blind, you dope.
Jack’s view followed her through the big doors, and suddenly her mind was flooded with daylight. She squinted hard, but this again had no effect on what she saw. Her view shifted skyward, swinging around crazily in all directions. The tall towers blocked much of the sky, but amazingly, Jack found the tiny form of the Overlady almost immediately. There she was, barreling northwestward. Jillian wasn’t sure she could have spotted such a tiny target from here at all, let alone as fast as he had.
Just as amazingly, the view switched to something much larger, as if they had leaped into the air halfway toward the target. She could see the glint of manacles where Olive clutched the broomstick. The Jack had powers of observation that she’d never known about.
The target was far gone, almost to the walls already. If she took the time to get a mount, she’d never catch her. The gwiffons were in the airspace, though...
“Veil the gwiffons,” she ordered.
“I’ll have to stop casting on you,” came Jack Snipe’s voice.
“That’s fine, go ahead,” Jillian told him, and the morning’s light instantly vanished. Great, back to helplessness. She sheathed Three-Edged, drawing a sharp breath in pain as the big dent in her chestplate rubbed against her cracked rib.
“It’s done,” said Jack.
Well, not really helpless. She was still in command. “Unstack and pursue!” she shouted up to the air. “One, climb! Two and three, stay low and put the sun behind you!” Whether or not the gwiffons could actually hear her from down here, they would still follow the intent of her orders.
“They are pursuing,” reported Jack. “But they can’t catch her before she leaves the airspace.”
“What else can we do?” said Jillian. “Can you confuse her? About what direction she’s going?”
“I sh’ll try,” said Jack, his voice absent with concentration. “But my juice is low, and there isn’t much to work with up there.”
A moment of strange serenity followed. Although the future of Faq was on the line here, for Jillian there was only silence, darkness, and the slight chill of morning. She thought she could smell heroine buds on the breeze. She reached up and touched the wilted bloom still in her hair. As useless as it was, she couldn’t bring herself to yank it out. One way or another, she was going to get a replacement flower soon.
Wanda cleared her throat. “We do have the tower,” she said, in a low voice.
“No, there’s no spells on it,” said Jillian. “You already shot them all at us.”
“I can put one on it,” said the Croakamancer.
“Oh, one? Against a high-level caster? I mean...” Jillian couldn’t see what harm it would do. “We can try it,” she said. “But it would have to be one really lucky shot.”
“Luck would matter only if the shot didn’t,” said Wanda.
“Mm,” she heard Marie grunt in assent.
Jillian sensed some deeply-frustrating caster nonsense behind that grunt. But she had to bite. “Whaddya mean?”
“I mean that it matters to Fate whether I hit Olive or not,” said the Croakamancer. “Fate will borrow Numbers from somewhere. With your permission, I will place the spell on the tower. Then the Predictamancer will cast. Sister Marie will let me know when I am meant to shoot.”