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Digdoug – Episode 18

King Posbrake slowly drew his sword, his face still lacking all color. Peck’s weapon was already drawn and ready, and Creen’s captains stood at either shoulder to their Prince, in fighting stances. Digdoug, with no weapon and no juice until start of turn, simply stood at His Majesty’s side. He was prepared to throw himself at any threat, but he didn’t understand just what was happening here.

“Transfer of power...” said Posbrake. Digdoug looked down at the King’s grip. His knuckles were white on the hilt.

“I shall be King of Homekey,” said Creen in a bored and nonchalant way, as if he were telling his manservant I shall have watercress sandwiches for tea.

Chief Peck took two steps backwards in silence, pulling in closer to screen the King from the sixteen drawn bows behind the Prince and his captains.

“Regicide,” said Posbrake, his voice a dry whisper. “You mean to execute me, brother?”

Creen closed his eyes and shook his head with a little patronizing smile. “Have you been so uncivilized, for so long, that you need ask me such a question?” Creen looked Posbrake in the eye with a critical squint. “Imagine if you will, brother, a proper King on a proper throne, one who actually values his own family, a King who would neither execute his own son, nor trade him away as chattel for the likes of a dung-shoveling Dirtamancer.”

Digdoug swallowed as Prince Creen flicked the tip of the glowing red rapier to indicate him. That weapon had something greater than an ordinary enchantment on it. It looked quite thoroughly evil.

“That would be our father, His Majesty King Minus. He is the sort of King that I shall become, and that you ought to have been. You should be very grateful he is not the sort of Royal-in-name-only that you are. In that case, I might have a different answer to your question.”

Creen’s eyes darted to the tower’s edge, where Homekey’s few remaining archers had gathered into two stacks of four each, and drawn their bows on the Prince. Peck or Posbrake must have issued them a silent order. There were sounds of mustering in the blockhouse, too.

The Prince chose to ignore these developments. “As it is,” he continued, “the answer is no. Stand down, and no-one need perish today. You will become the Chief Warlord of Homekey, and even this one,” he indicated Peck, “won’t be spent. He’ll scurry off to the front to continue fighting Numloch. Charlescomm shall arrange a personal contract for you, whereby you’ll agree to appoint me heir—at Delkey’s expense—after I turn. Then you must abdicate the throne, after which I shall appoint you my Chief Warlord and begin popping an heir. You see? Hhrnn. Entirely civilized.

“Although the options if you do not stand down,” he added, raising the red sword a degree or two higher, “are less so.”

“What right have you?” said Posbrake, his sword-point trembling slightly, “to claim my throne and the lands that I have won, after these hundredturns of loyal alliance?”

The Prince flashed another bored, insincere smile. “Loyal? Really Posbrake, you stretch the definition past any sensible meaning. Tell me, which was your finer act of loyalty: violating every promise in our terms of alliance, or using Carnymancy to conceal what you’d done?”

The chill wind on the tower top picked up a bit, as King Posbrake stood there mutely. A knot grew in Digdoug’s stomach. Delkey knew everything, and he couldn’t even begin to grasp what that meant. Had Dove been playing them after all? Disband it, he should have gone back into the Magic Kingdom and asked someone about Carnies...

“These things would not have been necessary,” said Posbrake at last, “if Minus would only have listened to reason.”

“These things would not have been possible,” said Creen contemptuously, “if you had a shred of Royal honor. ‘Reason!’ Hhrnn. Yes, you so often make your appeal on that basis: that your filthy ways of fighting are winning ways. But you should know there are higher ideals than mere conquest, Posbrake. You’ve forgotten. The Titans expect more of our behavior. Winning means nothing if you must deceive your family and pollute the world to do it. If you must discard your own son! Can you imagine?” The Prince shook his head in a smile of disbelief. “Brother, if we win that way, then how are we any better?”

There were more noises in the blockhouse, and two stacks of Homekey stabbers emerged, spears in hand. They marched almost ceremonially to either flank of the Delkey archers. Then they lowered their weapons to stomach height, training them on the “allied” soldiers whose bows were still drawn upon the King of Homekey.

“Well,” said the Prince, continuing to disregard the maneuvers around him, “the task is mine to remind you by example. Under my rule, you will be reminded who you are, and how to behave appropriately to your station. The time has come to correct a grave mistake. King Posbrake, by my order, you will kindly offer me your sword, and submit to terms as stated. These shall supersede and nullify all prior terms of alliance between Homekey and Delkey.”

The King raised his chin. For once, he spoke as formally as his brother. “If you wish to end our alliance, Prince Creen, then we can certainly do so peaceably. I grant your forces permission to withdraw from Homekey territory without harm. But you have no authority to claim my throne, nor to issue me an order within my own capital. Begone, then. Go home.”

“No such, hhrnn, middle ground exists, I’m afraid,” said the Prince. “If one of us breaks the alliance without new terms, then it shall be war between us. Instant and messy. I’m sure Numloch would like nothing better.”

As the Prince spoke, Chief Peck turned around and threw Digdoug a quick and meaningful glance, laden with silent orders: move the golems to the fore, use the scroll.

The gray stone forms moved, nudging their way past the Dirtamancer who created them. They took up a shoulder-to-shoulder screen with Peck. If Posbrake hadn’t been a tall man, his view of his brother in this parley might have been blocked out entirely by his screening units now.

“You cannot win a war with us,” said the King, shaking his head. “We’ve grown too strong.”

“We can win that war today,” said the Prince, glancing toward the river. “Here, and now.”

Digdoug was not particularly tall, and the golems offered him pretty good concealment as he pulled the scroll from his belt and slipped the band of ribbon from it. The awful fear and confusion that had filled his head since Creen drew his red sword receded in the face of a problem he could actually solve: a Dirtamancy problem.

What kind of trap, and where?

With this scroll, he could probably take out all sixteen archers at once, by placing almost any kind of wide pit directly beneath them. A water trap with a sluice like the ones he’d built in Weatherbug could even shunt them all through the tower’s wall and out into mid-air, adding severe fall damage from the plummet to the cobblestones far below.

“You most certainly could not,” said Posbrake.

Prince Creen gestured with the glowing blade in the general direction of Delkey. “Leaving aside Charlescomm’s flyers, I have also amassed eleven hundred units within three hexes of this city. That is more than enough to seize your capital, and end your reign by violence. End it in peace instead, and you may step to the front of the column and lead those troops into battle against Numloch.”

But the important target had to be Prince Creen, didn’t it? Whatever his plan involved (Digdoug had stopped paying attention to what he was saying), Creen couldn’t seize the throne of Homekey if he was croaked, or captured.

“Brother,” said Posbrake, “if you want my sword, come forward. I will give you the working end of it.”

Well, there were two kinds of pit traps that could reliably harm a flying unit on the ground: tar and lava. Lava did heavy damage with a minor chance to incapacitate/croak/destroy, while tar was near-certain incapacitation with minor damage. So put a puddle of lava below Creen’s feet and he’d either escape (with serious wounds) or be pulled in (and croak). Make it tar, and he’d be stuck there in place, as if hit by a pink dwagon or a tape duck.

“I imagined that would be your answer,” said Creen. “King Minus thought otherwise, but he sees much in you that clearly isn’t there. I did promise him I would try. Another mark of Noble behavior: we are supposed to keep our word to one another.”

As quietly as he could, Digdoug unrolled the scroll and began to read it. His mind was instantly focused on the words he had inscribed there, unbinding them from the page and activating their power...his own power, stored for him to use. The magic of an active casting filled his senses again, blotting out his awareness of his eyes and ears, although something made it through even so...a horn.

He was full of juice. Homekey’s turn had started!

In the sensory muddle of mid-casting, he knew that things were happening around him. More words were exchanged, and more horns blew. Someone was shouting. Something moved. He had to keep reading, to keep freeing the spell from the page, he was almost done...

And then he knew something had truly gone wrong.

A sensation came to him that he’d never felt before: it was now not Homekey’s turn any more. He had move, but he couldn’t use it. There were enemy units in front of him...the Delkey archers and warlords. Delkey had broken their alliance! And because their natural turn occurred first, Homekey’s turn was now suspended.

He kept reading, even as the arrows zipped into his stack, peppering the screening units. The golem directly in front of him fell to its knees and shook the floor.

He made it to the final sentence of the spell and finally looked up, with the trigger word hanging on his lips.

The first thing he saw was Chief Peck, lying in two even pieces beside the fallen golem. Each half of him was riddled with arrows.

Digdoug couldn’t spare a thought for it. The spell he was holding back demanded a target, and he scanned for one. Some of the enemy archers were kneeling and nocking, while others were grappling directly with Homekey spearmen. But those unled stabbers were being cut to ribbons by the flashing blades of Creen’s two captains.

His chosen target, the Chief Warlord of Delkey, was nowhere to be seen.

Something red struck one of the other golems, which simply fell apart in a heap of rubble. Then six of the archers rose in unison, drew their bows, and loosed a volley at Digdoug faster than he could apprehend. He turned sideways in a flinch, but the arrows did not hit him.

They were aimed just beside and behind him, at King Posbrake, who stood stock still with his sword out. Digdoug turned just in time to see him struck, and to see wooden splinters flying, as the projectiles exploded on contact with his body. One piece hit Digdoug in the cheek, just below his right eye.

But the King looked entirely unharmed. He held his sword ready, looking up at the sky.

“Sire...” said Digdoug. A shadow crossed over the sun, and a stroke of something like red lightning came down from overhead. It struck Posbrake’s sword out of his grasp, and suddenly there was a scarlet-coated form wrapped around the King’s upper body. His arms flailed, and he stumbled backward to the edge of the tower.

Far too slowly, Digdoug lurched forward to try and grab Posbrake’s feet. His hands grabbed only empty air, as the flying Prince dragged the struggling Ruler of Homekey over the wall.

“We are at war, Posbrake!” he heard Creen shout. Digdoug rushed to the edge of the tower to see the two brothers hanging in the air, perhaps ten feet out of reach, and slowly rising. Creen had the King in a two-armed headlock. He must have dropped his sword. Yes, there was a tiny red slash lying on the stones, ten stories below. “But I’d still rather keep you than—hrnn!—drop you!”

The spell bulged inside Digdoug’s head, pressing against his forehead and demanding a target. But you couldn’t cast a pit trap in mid air! And he couldn’t cast anything else unless he dumped it.

“Who needs to listen to reason now?” Prince Creen shouted into his brother’s ear. “Tell me! Submit and serve your side, your cause, your family! Are you truly so—hhrnn!—stubborn? Are you?”

Digdoug looked around frantically for anything he could do. Without Peck, the fight on the tower top was going badly. One of the Delkey captains was chopping up his last golem, and the other Delkey archers looked ready to shoot at him within the next couple of seconds.

And at the edge of his vision, a few dozen blue dots were speeding through the airspace, toward the tower.

“Yield!” shouted Creen. He had hauled Posbrake about twelve or fifteen feet above the tower’s edge, where everyone could see the red-faced King that he carried by the neck. “Give the order!”

Digdoug looked up at his King helplessly, and saw him almost imperceptibly nod. Digdoug instantly felt the truth of a new order in his head and heart: disengage and stand down, all units, by order of King Posbrake.

“Ho! Yield!” came the shouts of men behind him. The clatter of weapons fell off. Prince Creen adjusted his grip a bit to take Posbrake partly by one arm, allowing his brother a breath, and began to descend toward the tower’s edge.

Then light from just below Digdoug’s feet lanced out, and Creen was struck with a bolt of lightning squarely between the eyes.

Whatever instinct took hold of his feet and hands in that moment, Digdoug couldn’t have explained. He leaped to grab the King’s body as he fell past, felt the touch of one cotton sleeve but could not grasp it. Then his momentum carried him off the edge, and he himself vaulted into empty space.

Once again, a strange natural Turnamancy seized the world around him. He seemed to have time enough to study every stitch and seam on Creen’s scarlet coat, or to compare the shoes of the two men falling beneath him. He was diving head first for the ground.

There was only one thing to do, of course. And however much time he seemed to have, the urgency of the pit trap spell bursting in his head made him cast it at once. Not tar, no. Certainly not lava. He reached his hand out toward the ground.

“Splash page,” he said.

A deep pool of dark green water yawned open below, pushing aside the stone pavement. He saw the Prince’s sword fall into it and vanish.

And far sooner than he expected, the surface of the trap rushed up to meet all three of them.

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