Shadows of the Evergreen - Part 2
It had been the most unusual movement for Warlord Shades in all his hundred turns. He had ridden his Bluebird out of Everglade, but the flight route he'd been ordered to take didn't have him go directly northwest towards Everclear, the true capital of the side. He'd been instructed to take a more circular move further north, closer, but not into, Wherever. There, in the air over the trees, had been another Bluebird waiting for him out of Wherever, this one a light green. His orders had him change mounts and fly due west, until he'd found another mount, and repeated the mount change. A trip that would have taken four turns via high level Bluebird was completed in only one, but a total of six high level Bluebirds from four cities had been required, and the ones without the movement to get back to a city were left behind, vulnerable and unprotected. It was the fastest Grey Shades had ever traveled, but as a Warlord, potentially squandering those military assets felt... wrong somehow. The entire journey, Grey had been pondering the implication of the pluses and minuses of such a means of travel. The limited numbers such a method could afford to transit, the potentially lost units through ambush or natural predators, the upkeep costs for mounts being away from stables...
But every thought in Grey's mind stopped dead as the city of Everclear began to crest the forest canopy. On approach, Grey could only watch the structure of the city coming into view. The capital's main tower rose first, the spire gleaming from the white marble and light grey slate roof shingles, rising so high and thin that one might think it could break off in a storm. And from that needle like tip, came a flight of stairs revolving around and around the tower, the tower growing thicker and sturdier at every landing in that endless flight of stairs. Various rooms and chambers were in active use, not a one was left for pure decoration, but they were all magnificently built and maintained, even the high level roosts for the air forces. And from the larger of these chambers came other smaller spires. There were nearly ten spires in all coming from the intricately simple spiral structure of the main tower, and Grey had been assured that each one was capable of firing off spell defenses, though in a more limited quantity than the main spire, and could act as a vantage point for archers.
Closer to the base, on the fourth through sixth floors of the tower were spaces large enough for artillery emplacements with catapults installed there. The munitions for them were not visible however, kept inside holds in the tower itself that were covered by removable tiles so as to not interfere with normal foot transit. There were also gapless railings along all the sweeping edges for archery units to form up behind, going all the way to the top for additional range to their attacks. But the most beautiful feature was the flowing water.
Using some method far beyond his understanding, there was a large natural fountain contained in the very top spire of the tower, and the excess water from that fountain flowed out into a series of channels to make a series of flows, falls, and rivulets spider-webbing down the length of the tower, with more and more fountains adding to the quantity of water so that the building itself looked like a terrain feature formed by the Titans instead of the work of a Signamancer's hands. The beauty of such a sight was undeniable, but the utilitarian practice was to have readily available water for every unit, no mater their placement, for quenching thirst or for fighting fire attacks. There were also methods for flooding individual pathways in the case of a fighting retreat up the length of the tower itself to slow enemies and sap their combat bonuses. Either way, the tower had long served as a place for units to have trysts during the night when the requirements of Duty were far less pressing.
The rest of the level 5 city was less impressive, but only just. The same sweeping, rounded, outspreading, water abundance which made the tower such a joy to behold. Tall buildings with domed roofs and openings for flying units were spread around the town, with an uncountable number of fruit trees along all the walkways, in the parks, training areas, sluice canals, and even next to the latrines. The entire city was filled with the smell of flowering, budding, or ripe fruit trees and clean, clear water. In fact, the site was named for the ever clear water, and the way in which the city reflected off the surface of the gently flowing, giant river, as it was doing right at this moment as Grey looked upon it. In this moment, Grey recalled the words that their Chief Signamancer had said while looking at the city from afar after it had finally been "completed."
"It really is like looking at a slow motion daydream," agreed Grey in a whisper to himself.
And then the explosion occurred.
With an echoing boom, a tongue of fire expanded out of the natural cave on the far side of the hex on the eastern bank of the river. The feral Doombats that lived there came out screeching in anger and alarm, and proceeded to flap around in circles, lost in the mid afternoon sun. It looked like Alfred was in the cave again, working on his experiments. Well, that's Caster business.
With his mind returned to his approach, Grey gave himself the luxury of a full circuit of Everclear, flying first over the western bridge leading out of the city, the West Bridge, and then over the eastern one, the Adam Bridge, skirting the slowly dissipating cloud of Doombats. During his approach flight, Grey looked over the wall of the city. Great, curved, right against the water, and thick as a Warlord could ever wish. Which meant that without an impractically large naval force navigating an inland river the only practical approaches were the Adam and West bridges. With their thick, wide, and sturdy construction, the bridges could certainly hold a siege laden invasion force, which was why Everclear had means to collapse them at will via Shockamancy. Any invaders would have to construct their own bridge, under fire from catapults and archers from the walls and tower, and then face the flood traps built into the thick gatehouses in addition to the ranged units fire. Which left the final option of an air assault against the multi-point Shockamancy enchanted spell defenses while fighting the airborne Knights.
Warlord Grey Shades felt a swelling of pride at the reconfirmed sight of these defenses, which made Everclear one of the hardest and hardiest defensive positions in the world. A level seven or eight by proxy, and a place where he always felt a comforting sense of coming home whenever he entered it. At least until he got into the presence of the nobility.
The final approach to the main aviary of Everclear was quick, uneventful, and completely unremarkable for the garrison of the capital. But even so, there was already a security team entering the building when Grey was just dismounting his Bluebird, and handing it's care over to a Stuffed Shirt. An incredibly simple cloth golem used for the large amount of labor the capital required to stay so pristine, and for a far cheaper upkeep than having dedicated servant class courtiers doing it. The Stuffed Shirts were useless for combat purposes, but it kept the real combat units at training rather than mucking the stalls. As the polka-dotted humanoid shaped Stuffed Shirt led the jet black Bluebird away, Grey was approached by the welcoming party consisting of four Stabbers, and four Eager Elves, of whom one was the dirty blond haired Chief of the tribe, and charged with the security of the capital.
"Brink! Nice to see you again," exclaimed Grey as he reached out to grab the red garbed Elf Chief's forearm in a friendly greeting. Friendly due to the two of them having known each other for a while. Eager Elf Chiefs tend to croak quickly compared to other natural ally tribes due to their drive to be in the thickest of battle, and Brink was about the thirtieth Chief since the tribe allied with Everclear. Far more competent and reliable than the last one, Stink. But Brink had held the Chieftain post for several hundred turns, which was quite possibly an Erf record.
"Grey, welcome back," replied the elf, returning the grip and shaking. "How long are you going to be with us this time? Do we need to see about vittling right away?"
"Honestly, I don't know. My orders only have me rushing on site," said Grey, walking out of the exit on the first level of the long aviary's structure with Brink and his stack following as an escort.
Brink immediately turned his head to one of the other Eager Elves and nodded upwards slightly, and the unit broke stack and rushed off. A subliminal order to take care of vittling just in case, no doubt. Brink had always been serious in his watch dog role, which just made him all the more valuable as a natural ally. Brink then turned back to Grey, and said, "To the tower it is then. Is it an audience with the king, or the Chief Warlord? Both maybe?"
"Dunno, Brink. Order was just the travel path and court summons. No specifics."
At this point the group walked under an apple tree with ripe fruit hanging from the branches. Though the fruit would pop in the larder in another turn, there was a fruit grabber, a metal netted do-dad on a wooden pole, sitting at the foot of every tree's trunk, including this one. Grey paid it no mind and just threw one of his daggers up as he passed underneath, striking a large red apple dead center with enough force to break it off the stem and fly up in a tight arc before coming back down into Grey's hands. Grey was one of the few units popped that had the Throwing special, and he greatly enjoyed using it in an utilitarian manner and not just for combat "It seems to me you'd be in a position to know more about what's happening than I would, Brink. You want some'a this?"
"I'll take half, yeah. As for what's happening, I have no idea, but the royal family seem worried about something."
Grey twisted the knife in the apple, bisected it, and gave a half to Brink before taking a bite of his own. The stack, now including Grey, walked on in silence as the ones who were allowed to speak chewed their fruit. The silence only lasted for two bites though, interrupted as the stack passed by the archery range, where the garrison archers practiced in competition against the Shady Elf tribe that were Everclear's second, and last, natural allies.
"Why, Grey Shades. I thought that was you I saw on that Bluebird."
The voice was low, feminine, and somehow managed to sound bored and enticing at the same time. The voice was also quite familiar, and caused Grey's bite of apple to go down in a harder lump than it should have when he swallowed it. The apple forced Grey to clear his throat before replying, giving a note of vulnerability to his reply that the other party did not miss.
"Oh, Lydia, it's nice to see you again."
She stood a full head shorter than Grey, with hair darker than black bundled into a stylized mess on the back of her head with half hanging down her neck in bunches. The high cheekbones and deep brown eyes somehow caused her to look cute and pretty at the same time as she looked Grey in the eye through her long eyelashes. And as the Chief of the Shady Elf tribe, her clothing only added to her presence. Lydia wore a baggy black sweater dress with loose cuffs around the hands, but the leather armor around her body highlighted her figure and the thick slanted black on red spiderweb patterned belt highlighted her hip line. The sweater dress showed a lot of thigh for ease of movement, and black transparent tights stretched over what wasn't covered by the long black leather boots. And somehow, the various tiny skull decorations about her failed to make her look dangerous, but only added to the over all blending of cute and pretty. But her bodily mannerisms showed her to be both a quiet and unassumingly confident unit, as well she should be, considering the fact that Lydia Doe-Ryder's the longest living Shady Elf in Everclear, and another survivor of the Everlong War.
"Hmm. I believe you," said Lydia as she closed the distance between them, ignoring the rest of the stack Grey was in. "How long are you in the capital for this time? It's really been too long since we've had a chance to... catch up."
The slight lift of the eyebrow missed no one's attention, and as innuendo it certainly hit the mark. Grey and Lydia had been with one another on many an Order over the hundred turns, and had been close with one another nearly from the start. A casual kind of closeness, though, never really crossing from convenience into serious territory. Grey felt his role with her constantly crossed back and forth between being a friend with benefits, to being a plaything for her amusement. But since Lydia was never nasty with their relationship, Grey was perfectly okay with playing his part all this time.
"I, uh, don't rightly know yet, Lydia. I'll make sure to let you know when I do, Duty allowing."
"Make sure you do, Grey," said Lydia, as she reached over to pluck the half apple from Grey's left hand, and took a very slow and modest bite right over Grey's own bite mark. Lydia then returned the apple to Grey's petrified hand, purred a "Delicious" and slowly sauntered her way back to her girls to once again oversee the capital's combined training.
After some time, Brink finally cleared his throat bringing Grey's mind back down to Erf.
"Oh, yeah, uh- what were we doing?"
"Walking," said Brink quietly, self amused.
"Right, let's get back to it then."
It was another hundred paces before Grey remembered he had an apple in his hand that needed to be eaten.
Artwork by ElvenAvariel. Gallery and Shmuckers Jar located here.
I just have to say this again, a big thank you to Rob for allowing ElvenAvariel and my work to grace the ComStream. I hope this will inspire others to create and share content as well as act as an enjoyable read.
And I'm loving ElvenAvariel's work. He made both Brink and Lydia feel real to me, like, really real. And that little badge on Brink's chest just slays me every time I look at it, it's too Erf-Perfect for words.