The Dubbel Mountain Twins, Part 1: Dubbel, Dubbel, Toil and Trouble (Chapters 13-16)
Joe was standing inside the glass walls with Dubbel, Rada, and the three hired casters (though technically Maggie was working Pro Bono), as well as Efex, Chief Warlord Kristin, and a few warlords. He could see Arthur and Lancelot near the pond, arranging his Camelites behind ranks of shield bearing Camelots. He knew Loxley was below the tower on the Indigo Plateau, setting up a huge force of archery.
As his eyes settled on the young prince, Joe could see Dubbel was worrying about the Warlord. Bodkin Loxley was a trusted colleague and had quickly turned into a dear friend of Dubbel’s. He had been by the Dittomancer the whole time the expedition was going on, and he had rushed to his aid the instant his Life had been threatened. The archer had been on board immediately when Efex and Joe had decided to help Dubbel excel. And now he had volunteered to help lead the most exposed part what was likely to be the center of the fight.
It was obvious Dubbel was fond of the man and did not like to think of him in trouble. Joe could see the Love written all over his face as he looked down, trying to catch a glimpse of his companion. The Chief could not tell what manner of Love it was, but it was not his business anyway.
As the enemy formation closed in, Efex highlighted their abilities for everyone present, just as Joe had coached him. Kristin was Chief Warlord only for her Leadership bonus. She was not happy about it, but in order that they might survive she was forced to give tactical control to Efex, who was in better combat practice and had the trust of the army.
The enemy force almost definitely had the capability to strike the capital. They would certainly take it if they had a couple decent casters up there, but they would pay for it heavily once the arrows hit the airspace. The head of the pack was riding a long, powerful Quartzecwatl with his stack and had several flights of smaller Cwatls in tow. Around him were some other Quartzes, all boasting a full stack of what looked like Knights. There were also a number of Gwiffons and Dwagons, spotted with a few Megalogwiffons full of Infantry.
This guy had come prepared for everything. His flyers had breath weapons, good capture abilities, and the long, feathered Cwatls would not respond to Thinkamancy or Foolamancy. The Quartzecwatls were a serious threat. They sported the length of a Megalogwiffon, but were more agile and had a solid shell of crystalline feathers. They had excellent combat capabilities up close, but could also withstand Archery for an impressive length of time because of their Special: Bullet Catch.
Even though Joe was too cool to buy it, Efex managed to make each of these units sound like certain doom, and then casually went on to point out that the guy had also brought enough ground troops of all classes to make short work of the Garrison if the flyers cleaned up the tower and the walls.
As they neared the tower, there was a brief impression of claws and teeth, crystalline and razor sharp. When the flight came in, they rose steeply before reaching the tower, Quartzecwatls screening for everything else. They were followed by hundreds of nocked arrows, waiting for any signal at all.
And they just continued on, straight out the southern border of the hex.
The nocked arrows following them had been replaced by dumbfounded stares, and only Home and Dr. James were moving within the tower.
“Come on, Home. We were only contracted for one engagement. Let’s get paid and get out of here before those guys change their minds.” The Healomancer was gathering up scrolls, but Joe watched as Home had just limped onto the southern balcony wordlessly. He was staring into the next hex, where the enemy was still visible, barely listening to his companion.
“This is wrong... James, we’re missing something. They had a good shot at a win here. Why just pass straight through?”
Meanwhile, Kristin was rooted to the ground muttering in barely coherent thoughts. “How did... They’da flattened... I just can’t...” She took a moment to gather herself and looked at her sister. “If they had been coming here, I would have lost that battle.”
If there was any vindication for the near-treason the Chief had been party to, that was it. Joe rarely cared about the approval of others, but Kristin had been good to him and his. It had not been without reservations that he resolved to turn on her. Her acknowledgment of her flaws in this moment made Joe feel cool all over.
“All due respect, Highness, but you’re crazy if you think they won’t be back.” James was still stashing scrolls in his pouch as he spoke. “If they were going somewhere else, they woulda gone around the city instead of risking their transport above all your archers. This is not over... But our job is. So we’ll go ahead and get out of your hair now.”
He grabbed Home and tried to drag the perplexed Shockmancer toward the stairs.
“Not if you wish to be paid, Doctor.” Rada was Looking around the airspace frantically, but her voice was rigid and imperious. “The engagement you are being paid for is still in progress. Somebody is still in this city.”
Joe had never stopped watching the Shockmancer on the balcony. Something was odd about his stance. He was expecting something, but Joe couldn’t figure out what that might be.
Home suddenly reached out to snatch a white gossamer sheet out of the air, then held it out for Efex to examine. The warlords all processed the symbol and let out a collective sigh of relief.
There was a momentary, hopeful silence, shattered by a mind-rending screech like a thousand Orlies screaming in a thunderstorm. Behind the sheet the enemy was returning, and as if this was the moment he had been waiting for, Home took control of everything. “They’re still packing all those heavies, so I’ll take the Tower. Your Majesty, stay behind the warlords. Everyone else, find the big Quartz. It never left.”
“Never left, but they called for parley. That one must have dropped the flag. They don’t wanna fight, and they could help us beat the Cult. Shouldn’t we be welcoming them?” Dubbel was looking around at the group, and Joe could see the confusion in his eyes. Understandable. He had never seen pitched combat between sides. He did not understand the subtleties.
The Shockmancer, who was making a round of the Tower to check that his partner had put everything back, paused in front of the young prince and said something similar to what Joe would have. With pity all over his face, he stated softly and simply, “Whenever you face an enemy, be aware of something, Prince. From what I’ve heard, I thought you’d have learned watching your family: Everyone lies.”
With a roar, the large Quartzecwatl dropped from its concealment on the roof of the Tower to land behind the group on the northern balcony. The Noble warlord, screened by his stack of seven Knights, disembarked immediately and one of them grabbed Kristin by the arm, pulling her back into their midst. She was not captured, but they forced her to stay engaged in such a way that she could not retreat.
“Nobody engage, or the Queen croaks painfully.”
The enemy commander stepped forward and put his buckler away, laying his huge, double-headed battleaxe on the ground. Meanwhile, his army spread out around the airspace, a cloud of doom waiting to descend.
Joe could not deny it. The guy had style. He was totally cool. It hurt Joe to admit it to himself, but maybe the guy was even cooler than the Camelite Chief at the moment.
“Now you don’t know it, but the side of Broadcast has met some of you before. I’m Monty, and out there my friend Stefan is ready to drop into your midst. Many hundreds of turns ago I swept into this city and croaked a king, and you know I can do it all again. Make no mistake. I will if I have to. So, now you know what’s behind door number one.” He grinned winningly and gestured toward Kristin with a broad sweep of his open hand.
“Let’s make a deal.”
Monty gave them the specific details of the coming armada. Given that the Cult’s naval force was at least as powerful as the flying army they currently faced, there was no choice if they wanted to survive.
After his Chief Mathamancer gave them the figures, Monty’s bargaining position was incredibly strong, even though he did not have the current Ruler at his mercy. Their Mathamancer had been brought so that she could figure what was needed for both sides to continue their existence. The first flyover had been so that she could get a good picture of the Numbers she was dealing with. Broadcast would almost certainly win a battle, but in every scenario it was a narrow victory.
As Efex and Rada wheeled for ground, something became clear. This was Broadcast’s last gambit.
Apparently this was almost the entire army of Broadcast. Even though the Cult had been carrying on numerous small skirmishes with the Archipelago, and fighting a full war with another neighbor, they had still been constantly pushing back Broadcast and had gained a lot of territory. Once the Cult was sure the smaller side would obey, they strongarmed Broadcast into acting as cannon fodder. On the way home last time, the diminished strike force had been attacked by a couple ships full of Cult harpooners and only Monty had been captured to be ransomed back to his side.
However, the Cult had apparently learned a lesson as well. In this round, they had planned to leave no delay between the weakening strike and the final blow. Last time Kristin had been given just enough time to pull in every spare unit, leaving all the other cities practically undefended, and the resulting army had boasted dozens of ships and an unbroken sea of archers and pikers on the walls.
The final deal was a raw one, but Monty could destroy them on the spot if he wanted, or at least ensure their destruction. His position, on the other hand, was that he needed money in order to keep his side going for the next few turns, and he did not wish to attack and leave himself vulnerable as well. But he sincerely believed that if they worked together, both sides could survive and the Cult could be forced back into a more humble position.
For starters, he was willing to sell his Dwagons, Gwiffons, and Megalogwiffons, which were not native to his side. He was charging ten turns’ worth of upkeep per unit, and in three turns, the Archipelago had to sell them back for one turn’s upkeep per surviving unit. By doing this, he would be able to circumvent his contract with the Cult, which was preventing Broadcast units from entering into combat with Cult units. The Archipelago would gain a better means of attacking the incoming ships, and some element of surprise, since it was known they did not widely use flyers.
The other way Broadcast was going to help with the coming battle was to have their Luckamancer use all his juice to boost the city so that every unit present would get a small boost in the next engagement.
In return, Monty demanded that his side receive the Archipelago’s northernmost city, which was one of their best. It was a Level 4 on an island of mountain hexes with several mines, and was therefore the best income source of the Archipelago. Additionally, he wanted all the units currently on the island with the city, and he would not return the units when the city was given back after twenty-five turns, but Broadcast’s Dirtamancer would upgrade it to a Level 5 before they returned it.
Next, as ransom for the ‘Queen,’ he had pushed for a magic item. Joe was reluctant to give up any of the tribe’s assets, but Maggie had offered to cover this demand by making a pair of dual-use message hats for Broadcast, at the expense of the Archipelago.
Lastly, Monty was insisting on fifty turns of non-aggression, during which time no offensive action could be initiated, even by proxy. This came with a hefty penalty and was a condition that nobody felt inclined to fight anyway.
So the Archipelago was footing the bill for Broadcast’s survival in exchange for aid in a single battle. Their income would be crippled for the next couple dozen turns, but they had a hearty treasury from a couple hundred turns of mining and trade. Through that trade, they had also managed to maneuver for peace in the south and east of the island Queendom, so they should not have to worry about an attack on their weakened fronts.
After the ‘agreement’ had been reached, Monty had taken his flyers back to the north on a path to avoid the Cult, leaving behind his Gwiffons and most of his Dwagons. Despite the Mathamancer’s insistence that it was not enough, they had not purchased any Megalogwiffons or the yellow and pink Dwagons. After all, they had never revealed Dubbel’s powers, and the calculations had excluded Home and Dr. James, whom Rada was hoping to give an extended contract.
Now Dubbel was in the War Room with his brother and Kristin, looking at the updated map tables while up above, Rada and Maggie renegotiated with the mercenaries.
The small scale map had been reset to show West Point instead of Oasis, and nearly all the figures had been removed. The ships would not be able to reach the capital due to a severe lack of Seafarers, a problem which was widespread enough to prevent ships from any city reaching Oasis. Instead, they had been filled up and sent straight north to avoid the assault. The Elite Four had been brought back by cigarette boat relay, but there was only one cigarette boat remaining in the city to start the trip, so only a few other units could come.
The Warlord Duke of West Point had insisted on remaining in the city where he popped. He was instructed to exhaust all possible defenses when attacked but to focus on concentrated trebuchet strikes. If he could bring down a single ship, he would be changing the odds. His other job was to report the assault style the fleet used.
Meanwhile, the detailed view of Oasis had been rearranged to account for a number of changes, and Kristin and Efex were still pushing pieces around while debating the merits of different setups against different assaults.
When the turn had been ended, Rada came down to inform them that Home would be renewing his contract and letting them use the Ram-Bow, about which Efex was very excited. Dr. James, on the other hand, had decided to return to the Magic Kingdom along with his personal scrolls, and he and Home had bickered through the ceiling of the War Room as the Healomancer started down the Tower.
“C’mon Wilson! The odds are so much better now. That Mathamancy quack didn’t calculate for us being here. And you gotta admit it’s interesting.” James was trudging down the stairs with a satchel full of his personal scrolls and shaking his head.
“I don’t care. If we had fought that first battle, we’d have croaked today. You dragged me into that, and you knew nothing about it.”
Home was yelling through the War Room ceiling at his friend’s back as he approached the door. “Oh that’s rubbish. I knew we’d be fine. Worst case we could have ditched out through the Portal when it looked like things were going south.”
“Goodbye, Home,” were James’ last words on the subject.
Presently, the hat that the Professor had left on the table shook and Kristin retrieved it.
“Mark Read.” She rolled her eyes upward as she pulled out a slip of parchment and showed them an image of a single lantern over a battlemented wall with two black bricks in the bottom row. “Oh Titans, it’s combat, not subterfuge. Duke Revere says he got two small ships and that they came with siege, but the ships carrying siege landed in another hex to disembark. You were right, son. I’m glad we spread out the Dwagons so we could hit their fleet, because they will likely do the same here. They’re going to try to preserve the fleet to go claim our other cities, because they assume we are weakened for a fall.”
In each of the other hexes on the island, there was a low-middle level warlord mounted on a Gwiffon, leading a mixed bag of seven Dwagons with riders. Their primary job was to stop as much siege as possible before being eliminated, with a secondary objective to ruin ships. They were already represented on the map, along with the two three-masted ships that were waiting in the Docks ready to fire beam-weapons over the walls at any small ships trying to land in the capital hex.
Now the three of them began to place the other pieces.
As the prudence of Rada’s betrayal became more tangible, Kristin’s mood had improved immensely. Now the small family were planning strategy on equal footing, with everyone’s voice being heard.
“So boys, what is our overall strategy here?”
Kristin stood by in the position of adviser. She was no longer skilled at coming up with new ideas, but she did have a knack for spotting holes in her sons’ plans. The previous day, they had discovered that while Dubbel could not grasp the concept of a city-wide battle going at full tilt, he was very good at pointing to a small section and making it much more functional with minimal changes.
So Efex spoke first, and his mother and brother watched while he placed the majority of the pieces onto the table.
“First things first. Home will be controlling the Tower, and Rada will be up there as well to use scrolls at her own discretion. Mother, you and a contingent of our Knights will be stationed with them. This is for the protection of the Tower, and of your Leadership bonus. Now we know they have several flyers with them, but hopefully Joe’s Lancers and Knights on Gwiffonback can stop them getting to you while we fight.”
The Interim-Chief nodded slowly as her other son started to speak. “We fight in one of two formations. I will begin combat on the walls, but in all likelihood I’ll be back to the Plateau early on, after Dittoing Leadership. In this case, pikers and some archery will be on the walls with the Tail Kites, under the command of our sisters and a few leaders from the lesser cities. Once I arrive I will come to the Tower just long enough to Ditto your Leadership, Mother. Then I return to the Plateau to help Efex and the Ram-Bow take down siege, benefiting from your boost.”
Since Interim-Chief Kristin had not yet spoken to give approval to the plan, Dubbel pressed on. She was listening.
“The other plan is pretty experimental. I will first attempt to Ditto an attack by a flight of Tail Kites, kinda like an arrow volley, but bigger. A lot higher damage. If it works I’ll be staying on the wall for most of the early fight and spending almost all of my juice and several scrolls... very quickly. When I fall back I will be almost spent, but I will be directing Tail Kites, stacked with Leadership, to high value targets outside the walls. A couple Tail Kites can be scary. If this works, a score of them would probably be terrifying.”
When he looked up, Kristin said, “And what about the flyers? They could just stop and make a hole on the wall. What if they hold one small section with landed Knights on Heavies? The walls are pretty poor for a Level 5. Your grandfather built this city with a mind for the Tower. They gather tight enough, they can certainly hold off Joe’s lieutenants long enough to punch through. And what of the city-wide boost to my Leadership in this scenario? You could boost me first. What do you think?”
Dubbel and Efex had decided that this would be the best order because there would be a swift increase in power on the walls a couple minutes after the battle started, hopefully surprising their confident foe. But it was not condescending. She was smiling, and she spoke like Dubbel had never heard her speak. She was just asking, double checking their plan.
She was trusting them.
“What do you think I did with my juice from yesterday? I knew we would be fighting, so I made my first scroll ever.” He pulled it out from the back of his belt, smiling proudly. It’s green glow was so pale as to be almost white as he set it on the table. “Aunt Rada will cast it if I stay out there.”
“And don’t you worry about the Gwiffon riders Milady.” Joe strode into the room, wearing faded blue pants made from some kind of cotton, and a black vest. He had on a battle helmet of long brown hair, in the light armor style of the tribe. “At the start of the battle, Rada’s hitting me with some sort of Foolamancy that’ll make the whole hex hear me Rock Out. Plus what Knights I don’t have in the air, they’ll be with me at the stage we just put up by the pond. They’ll be using their Rocking Horses to keep time for me and the boys.”
The hat trembled and Kristin pulled out a message. She read it once and laid it on the now full table.
“Ruins. Got wl, ship, 2seige, and some inf. 2R, 1G, 1P left for next strike. Burning hat. Goodbye.”
The city was surrounded.
Upon receiving the message from the ruins, everyone had dispersed except the casters, Efex, Kristin, and the units there to guard them.
Dubbel watched as the enemy had spread out and entered through all three land hexes. Meanwhile, the Docks were being watched by four ships, one with four masts, two with three masts, and one with two. With the Cult’s ships were a number of Shootsharks, Blasturtles, and the flyers Monty had warned them about.
When these entered the hex, they faded into existence like they were coming through a dense fog. They were flying Knight-class unit with a myriad of specials. They wore tattered robes and each wielded a huge curved blade at the end of a pole. The Broadcaster had told them what to expect, but that hardly helped when they arrived.
Nothing could have prepared the Dittomancer for his first sight of a Weaper.
Once he saw them, Efex muttered something to Home, who limped off with a scroll. Dubbel was looking over his brother’s head at the phantoms outside the walls. Rada’s eyes were glowing a bright sky blue in his periphery and he knew she was Looking at something, but he could not tear his gaze away from the contingent of floating Life-suckers. Mother was on the balcony, talking to Lancelot on his Gwiffon.
The prince could think of nothing but his terror. If one of those units touched him, it could easily drain his hits to restore its own. The only weapon he could use was the tribe’s double ended javelin, and the scythes of the enemy would cut that to tinder. They could also render a unit paralyzed with fear merely by looking at them.
He did not like his odds on the walls all the sudden.
Dubbel could hear his brother shouting at him and knew he needed to move, but he just could not do it. Maggie was shaking him softly, but he was not responding. Even when Home returned and gave him a little Shock on the wrist, he just stared at the closest enemy and continued to meet its glowing red gaze.
“C’mon Dubbel, don’t fear the Weapers.” A green-hatted head blocked his view. Loxley was staring right into his eyes, speaking calmly.
“Fear the Weapers... Bodkin?”
“Dubbel, take my hand and don’t fear the Weapers.” The shaking prince grasped his friend’s hand slowly and felt his fear ebbing away. He realized he had fallen victim to the enemy’s Gaze Attack even as he was thinking about it.
“The Weapers! How long have I been useless? I have to get to my place!” Lancelot was walking toward them.
“We’ll be able to fly, if you don’t-.”
“Don’t fear the Weapers. Yeah, I’m your man.” The warlord was smiling at Dubbel encouragingly and he found he could go on. He grinned back and let Lancelot help him onto the mount.
“Our times may have come,
But hope’s not yet gone!”
Joe started singing onstage as Dubbel flew down to the wall and he looked up at the young prince and winked cheekily. Around him, the ground was thundering under the hooves of the Rocking Horse cavalry. Dubbel made it to the wall and he had already sent his Gwiffon back before he realized that Loxley had come with him.
“Titans don’t fear the Weapers,
Nor do the Queen, the Prince or Cool Joe. You can be like we are!”
“Are you mad, Bodkin?! You’re supposed to be on the Plateau with the main archery force.”
“Be cool, Dubbel, cuz I’m not going anywhere. When I hit Gwiffon-back, your brother nodded, and I don’t have any orders to return. So they want me here watching you.”
Joe’s song was jarring against the grinding wheels of approaching siege. Behind Loxley, Dubbel could see a tower full of Gobwins gliding slowly toward the wall. They were hopping about excitedly, waving axes and picks. The warlord put his hand on the prince’s shoulder. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you. Forget the fact that the side absolutely needs you for Leadership boosts in this fight. I won’t lose my friend if I could have done something to save him.”
“To save him, you’d give yourself up.” Dubbel took his friend’s hand and looked at him softly. “I get it, Bodkin. You’re cool. But you’re my best friend. You’re vulnerable here, and you can’t help against the siege that much. I wouldn’t see harm come to you, Bodkin. If I croak, you’re safer back there.”
The siege was growing closer, nearly upon the wall.
“Let’s be honest. If you croak, Dubbel D, we’re all totally ruined. The boost to Kristin’s Leadership will buy us some time either way, but if your gambit out here fails, our only hope is to have as many arrows in the air as we can. Either you do your damage here, or once they breach. No matter what, given our current layout, we’re dead in the water without you.”
Loxley drew his bow and stood tall. He was a loyal soldier, willing to give his Life for his side, but Dubbel saw something else at play here. His friend’s Loyalty to the side was clearly being superceded by his Loyalty to Dubbel himself.
Unfortunately this train of thought was interrupted as Loxley spun around and fired swiftly into the approaching tower.
After a deafening burst, Loxley’s next arrow struck and the dent from the first arrow became a hole in the main panel of the siege tower. On his third arrow, which struck slightly lower, the panel was blown off completely. Dubbel saw it was also a boarding platform designed like a drawbridge and he realized that this tower was now, in essence, completely impotent to its purpose.
Loxley spun and grinned, as there was now security on this chunk of the wall.
“But Efex also tossed me this, Yer Highness.” As he held it up, the Ram-Bow was obvious now that Dubbel was not distracted. “Unfortunately, I don’t know what your plan was, and this is only good for siege today. So uh... They’re getting pretty close. You might want to stop arguing and do your part, Dittomancer.”
There was no time to argue, so Dubbel did the only thing he could. He called every Tail Kite in the area. By the time they arrived, the prince had spotted the siege commander and he silently ordered the Kites to dive-bomb the stack he was with.
A score of living white javelins dropped out of the sky.
The warlord had managed to dive out of the way, but several of his soldiers had been fatally speared.
Dubbel had been watching carefully and it was just as he thought. This attack style used Numbers in exactly the same way as a volley from the archers. So he waited a moment for the rest of the light flyers to gather and he ordered them to drop in two waves. When the first wave dropped, their Numbers were Dittoed and this time there was nowhere for the warlord to dodge.
The second wave finished the entire stack off.
The friends laughed as they glanced at one another, then took off in unison, heading for the gate. It was the weakest point in this city and if they could hold it, they would buy time to thin the horde before the Rocking Horse cavalry was forced to engage. The two could not be everywhere at once and the enemy was going to break through eventually. They would not be able to save the whole wall, but they could pick where the enemy would not be allowed through.
“Titans don’t fear the Weapers,
Nor do the Queen, her Sons or Cool Joe, you can be like we are.”
The singing reminded Dubbel that they were also trying to give Lancelot and Home time to finish the air battle while Joe could still Rock. If they could clear the Airspace before the walls were breached then they would be free to help in other areas.
With the help of Princess Shift and her pikers, Dubbel and Loxley secured the gate swiftly. The siege lay destroyed and the stack of Leadership that had been supervising the assault was completely routed.
Unfortunately, this tactic turned them into targets and the Weapers were heading their way, eyes glowing menacingly.
Loxley was nocking his second arrow when they saw the first one get stuck in the robes of the nearest Weaper without doing any damage at all. Its laughter echoed out of nowhere, high-pitched and piercing, to drive eerily into the minds of every unit over the gate. The archer looked at his friend, pallid and terrified. Their army’s vast majority was made up of archers.
“Special: Bullet Catch... But Monty... What else hasn’t he told us?” He was panicking, so Dubbel decided it was his turn to play support. His hand rested softly on the side of his friend’s head.
“He told us they would have Specials from a set. Be cool. We knew there were unknowns from the start. They’re just units. We can do this, my friend.” To reiterate his point he had silently ordered a large force of Tail Kites into place over the Weapers. He did not know if his own juice would be enough to Ditto them, so he pulled out a scroll.
“Mimeo, Steno, Litho.” As the Kites dropped out of the sky he shouted the last words. “Rinse and Repeat!”
The Weapers had no place to go as dozens of Tail Kites plummeted like spears. Dubbel flashed a smile at Loxley then grinned triumphantly up at Lancelot for a moment. The Knight was waiting to engage once the enemy crossed over the wall, but he was not returning the prince’s smile.
When he looked back, he saw a nearby Weaper cutting the last Kite to ribbons with its scythe. The creature looked at Dubbel next, its laugh reverberating out of nothingness once more. It was close enough that he could see the fingers holding its weapon, pale as cream and almost skeletally thin. Its eyes twinkled maliciously as it drifted toward him.
The weapon was approaching Dubbel’s eyes quickly and he was not moving away. Very soon it would slice him up just like the Tail Kites now laying in front of the gate. It continued to close in and suddenly Dubbel’s vision was gone. He assumed the attack had come so fast he was blind and just had not felt it yet. Fate had come calling.
He had never guessed that blindness would look so yellow.
Lancelot was gone.
Before the scythe had cleaved clean through his mount, the Knight had shouted a warning that the enemy was not just a Weaper. After that, Joe’s selfless lieutenant had tumbled off the wall with only the long lance he had chosen as a weapon for that day’s air battle, and Dubbel knew he would never see the brave tribesman again.
“It’s a Gwim.” Loxley was watching as the enemy returned to it’s companions, laughing all the way. “Lancelot was warning us. A Gwim Weaper. When we asked if they had any, Monty said no...” He trailed off and signaled Dubbel to make for the Tower.
It was not until Loxley had started for the stairs that Dubbel saw the rank of Camelots facing the approaching Weapers. What he saw made him angry. He had never seen it before and it needed to stop. Those were good soldiers, who made a rule of kindness, and never striking unprovoked, and now they were leaderless against a terrible foe.
They did not deserve to be afraid.
“No more. Titans that is really uncool.” The Dittomancer issued silent orders and started running. By the time he got to the edge he had grabbed two bamboo javelin from a pair of soldiers and one of the ropes that had been coiled and tied to the wall.
He jumped wide so that he would swing almost parallel to the wall, and his first pass knocked a bunch of soldiers away from Lancelot. This group had barely reached the Knight, and with only his long, heavy lance, he certainly would not have survived long except that area immediately around the gate had been cleared by Dubbel’s trick with the Tail Kites. When he returned to Lancelot a moment later, Dubbel had lost three hits and the Lancer was shouting.
“Get Arthur out here now!”
The brave lieutenant had already grabbed one of the weapons from Dubbel and was dealing out punishment to a group of unled infantry right in front of the gate. Loxley was leading a stack of archers from the wall to suppress enemy fire, and a group of low level infantry had followed the prince. Some of them had used ropes and the rest had relied on the Luckamancy gift from Broadcast to save them in their fall. Mostly they were alright.
Dubbel had also received orders to get back on the wall before the enemy closed with him, and return to the Tower. That meant Rada was Looking in on him. She knew he had space, but she may not know they would never get over the walls past enemy arrows. He made a couple quick gestures she had given him to indicate emergencies and simple strategic words. By necessity he abbreviated Lancelot’s request.
To make a bad situation a great deal worse, the enemy had just gotten Leadership. Before long Dubbel and the group of soldiers were pressed back to the gate and the infantry were not going to last very long.
And they had gotten no help.
Arrows were raining from the walls into the nearby soldiers, but Loxley’s archers also had to dodge frequently. The enemy could risk a lot more soldiers at this phase, and the plan was to take as many as possible before the walls were breached. The long game was a risk the Cult could take, but it was not helping Dubbel’s current predicament.
“Titans curse their screened Leadership!” Lancelot was now in the second rank. He had retrieved his personal lance and was jabbing it between the shoulders of the Open Range infantry to devastating effect. “No offense Dubbel D, but you ain’t cuttin’ it on the frontline right now.”
“Right now I’m trying to save you against my mother’s orders. Just think about that Lance.” Meanwhile the stabbers protecting them were fading fast. “But, uh, yeah. I prolly just got us both croaked instead.”
As the soldiers dwindled, a very fat warlord with a hammer pushed his way through the enemy ranks. “Hey boys! I learned this joke from a dead Broadcaster named Fat Lou. Well... he wasn’t dead when I met him!”
“Name something you’d never want to be in all your Life. Show me...” Three of the stack suddenly ran out of hits as he swung his hammer, and Dubbel was forced into the corner as the remaining group closed ranks to protect him and Lancelot. “A useless soldier of the Open Range, number two answer. Now, show me...” He swung again and another soldier collapsed. “A useless prince of the Archipelago!”
One last soldier was blasted aside and Dubbel was, in fact, revealed. For the second time in as many days, he was sure his Luck had run out.
Suddenly a bunch of enemies looked up and took a step back. The stabbers took advantage and silently killed six enemies with five desperate, newly precise attacks.
Rada had finally finished casting Dubbel’s scroll.
Like a gift from the Titans, the younger of Kristin’s daughters dropped onto the warlord’s head, her spear leading the way.
“Know what I would never want to be? Number one answer on the board, Buster: Croaked leading a capital strike.”
Shift Doppler had a small group of soldiers with her, and when they landed, they backed up to shore the line. The Leadership bonus of having Lancelot and the newly leveled Shift leading the stack, plus that of Kristin’s Dittoed Leadership, meant that even the nearly-croaked stabbers were now more like Knights.
And now the gates were opening slowly as they pressed backwards through, with Shift guarding the rear.
“Well you did better than I guessed. You lasted exactly two minutes before I showed up to save you, and until I got down there I thought you were a goner. You must have used a lot of our Luck.” Shift spoke directly to him for the first time, and when he was about to respond he could tell from the look in her eye that what she said was completely true.
She was staring off into the distance and leaning forward.
And falling into his arms as he backed up so the gates could close. When he grabbed her, he could feel the arrow in the base of her skull. In one hit she had been croaked, when all those who survived had been almost unscathed. Even the Dittomancer’s three hits had come from the wall and the ground, and that was probably pretty low for the recklessness of his jump.
Dubbel had never even properly met his sister, and now she was just a heap of Matter. All the Numbers with any meaning had left her when her Life did. Just his Luck.
His orders were hovering in his mind. It was getting harder to stay away from the Tower, but the order had not been reinforced, so he decided that it was in his Duty to use his initiative if there was advantage to be had.
“Our Luck is not spent yet.”
Dubbel had laid his sister’s Matter gently in the courtyard and was walking with purpose toward the pond and Joe. Loxley was still over the gate, and the prince signaled him to help hold the walls. He also gestured to Lancelot and Arthur so that they would meet him at the stage. He wasted no time.
“We can win this, boys. We can win it right now with the Knights, or we can fight for a few more hours and scrape by with a win if our Luck holds. Whaddya say?”
“Well I say you’re probably crazy Dubbel D.” The chief was kneeling at the edge of the stage for this conference. “I mean you saved Lance and all, but that looked pretty rough.” His lieutenant was nodding his agreement. “It’s a Numbers game, Prince. We can’t hit ‘em hard because they can just take us down with an overwhelming force.”
The Dittomancer felt extremely insulted by this insinuation. “I know I’m really young Joe, but are you actually going to stand there and argue Numbers with a Dittomancer.” He was losing his cool, and the others could see it. They were all shifting uncomfortably. “They have a lot of soldiers, but that’s just one set of Numbers guys. Right now we have almost all the other Numbers.”
“You know something we don’t, Yer Highness?”
Dubbel was staring at his sister’s body across the courtyard. He thought about everything that had happened in the last five minutes. They had almost lost so much because of him, and maybe they had lost more than he would ever know in Shift. However, in the end they had, in fact, gained an advantage. Well that was a Luckamancy boost, according to Aunt Rada.
“Yeah. Shift just croaked Buster Diz VII, Chief Warlord, and the guy who was currently leading the Cult’s feud with us. So boys, tell me if I still sound crazy.”