Journey through the hungry jungle, part 11
Part 11:Up the long ladder
«I... don’t know how long we’ve— I’ve been down here. Turns work differently when your side ends, time only passes when enemies are in the garrison. I haven’t slept, haven’t had rations pop. It feels like I’ve been awake for three weeks straight.» Lucy had taken a while to calm down, and once she’d finally let go of Marco there had been an awkward moment where they both realized he was naked.
Marco had taken the opportunity to get dressed, it was slow since his broken leg made it difficult. She’d pulled out a handkerchief from somewhere and washed her face with some water from a pail. Without the grime and shadows, she was actually rather pretty, with a round friendly face and pug nose, though the ash-gray complexion made her Signamancy seem older than she really was.
«Sorry about... well...» she had begun.
Not one to let a good joke go to waste, Marco quipped «Stripping me naked and trying to make me spill my guts? Give me a few pints of ale and we’ll call it even. Heck, it’d have the exact same effect anyway.»
She gave short giggle at that, then looked a little wistful. «I get visitors every so often. Usually it’s just one of those aquatic allies entering the airspace... or waterspace at this point, or getting curious and going into the garrison or tower from underwater. They rarely come up to the dry floors, and never engage, so all that means is I get to stay awake a few more hours and stare at the walls. But six or seven times actual units from a side have come in.»
Marco dug through his pack and pulled out a ration of Tony jerky, then handed it to her. «Here, it’s some prepared rations. Tony jerky.»
«Thank ye dear.» Her voice had a light, lilting quality when she wasn’t trying to be intimidating. It still had a weird slurr and jaggedness, but he guessed the sleep deprivation was the reason. «Only thirty or so of us survived the flood, and what infantry made it out alive was the first to croak fighting the “visitors”. Frankie Uncroaked them and the invaders, but with no start of turn? No new juice? No new pops? We were just prolonging the inevitable.» She sniffled.
She took a bite and chewed slowly through a piece of Jerky, savoring it. She wasn’t lying about not eating; she closed her eyes and let out a small contented sigh before continuing. «General Mills was the first commander to go. Frankie Berry, our Chief Caster, was devastated. Poor dear had to Uncroak the man she loved. She kept on though, but even with her bonus more were dusted, and then she was croaked.»
Lucy absently picked up a piece of Jerky and pointed at the Mummy with the pale blue jacket. «Her sister Boo Berry was next. What good is a Healomancer when all your forces are Uncroaked? I think the lass just wanted it to end, she’d said “I can’t take it. It’s either all or nothing” and she just jumped into the fray. Guess it was “nothing”.»
«Then it was just me. The Luckamancer. And... them.» She motioned to the Mummies. Lucy hadn’t ordered them out, Marco wasn’t sure if it was because she didn’t trust him yet or some other reason. They still freaked him out. «Yeah. They’re... something else. Did you really believe they’re your friends?»
Lucy looked at the floor for a long moment before meeting his gaze again. «Yes. No. I... it was easier to pretend they were, instead of being alone. At first I thought maybe some of them was still inside, but it was just them following my Orders.» She didn’t speak any order, but suddenly Boo walked over to Frankie and awkwardly, mechanically, wrapped her arms around her in a crude imitation of a hug. «Like that.»
Marco suppressed a shiver.
«Frankie taught me enough Croakamancy that I’ve been able to keep these three going, but that’s all. Everything else I tried just dug us in deeper.» She gave out a short, bitter laugh.
She was just opening up, but Marco didn’t want her to get too morbid. There was still a chance this could all go sideways. «Maybe you did help, maybe you didn’t. But I’m betting you didn’t cause the hopeless battle. Trust me, when you’re in a Fu Bar situation just surviving is an achievement.»
She looked at him a bit oddly, then Marco realized she wouldn’t know the story. So he explained that he and Zheng had taken to calling going unprepared into a really messed up situation after their former Lieutenant.
She smiled sadly and sweetly. «Yes, I suppose it was pretty “Fu Bar”, but I’m not without blame. When our queen asked us if…» She stopped mid sentence and looked at Marco askance. He couldn’t help but become acutely aware that he was still unarmed and injured.
Finally, she broke the silence. «Don’t take this the wrong way laddie. I think you’re an exceptional Piker; this is probably the longest I’ve ever talked with a common infantryman. I think I’m even starting to trust you. But. I don’t know your side. Are you Royals or an Overlordship? Do you act with honor and keep your word, or rampage through the jungle? We considered ourselves a powerful Side, and though we fell the secrets I know could make your side a terrible force for destruction in Erfworld.»
Lucy focused intensely on Marco, and despite her size he was remembering just how intimidating she had been only an hour ago. «Marco, I want... I desperately want to leave this city, this croak box. But I won’t do it if it means I cause another side to fall. I would rather the secrets of my side croak with me than ever leave this place. So... tell me about your side. Tell me about you. Convince me I can trust Tar Zhay enough to turn.»
Could Tar Zhay be trusted? What a question! It was like asking if it was good to breathe. Marco wasn’t sure how to even engage the question; his first instinct was to laugh and make a joke, but she was disbanding serious. So he thought about it. She was being clammy all of a sudden, would telling her about his side be a risk? Probably, but then he realized that he actually wanted to help her.
There really was only one place to start. «Have I told you about my stackie Zheng? He must be worried sick by now.» And so he did.
He told Lucy about his first turns, about training. About what little he knew of his side. They were a Jungle Empire, they had no allies, a kind and mysterious Emperor and his Komissars. And other than the current war with the Banana Republic, no real enemies either. He told her about their journey and its adventures, the heartbreak and success.
By the end, she seemed satisfied. «Well laddie. Your side could be a lot worse. I think... I think I’ll take a chance and hope my Luckamancy has changed. At least it’ll be nice to see the sun again.»
Marco let out a relieved breath. «You won’t regret it, we’ll get you home. Is there anything you want to bring? It’s going to be at least a couple dozen turns before we get there.»
Lucy gathered up some supplies and personal effects. She got a lot of what Marco could only assume were magic items, including several brightly colored objects she called her «Lucky Charms.»
Marco winced as he got up off his chair, and she stopped him before they went up to the eye room. «Raise your pant leg and hold still dearie.» She pulled out some of the orange, pink and purple linen cloth from a bag. Marco sucked in a breath.
She clucked at him «Oh don’t worry, this won’t turn you into a Mummy. It’s actually a... think of it as Healomancy in cloth form. Put it on a unit, any unit and it heals a few Hits. Boo and Frankie invented it. But if a Croakamancer uses it when Uncroaking a unit, she can upgrade it to a Mummy. It consumes the bandage instead of Matter, so it—» And here Marco’s mind sort of unfocused and what she said glazed over, it was like the times he went to the Knight, School’s, classes. Was this how all casters talked, or was he just not able to get it?
But it worked. As soon as she finished wrapping it, a few blue sparkles shone and the pain left his leg! «Titan’s blue suede shoes, this is amazing!» He hopped about to test his leg. «Thank you so much! Now I just have to worry about attracting a swarm of starving Trixies.»
Lucy’s laugh was light and musical, a rare bird popping for the first time in dozens of turns. Time to let it fly.
They made their way up to the head, pausing for a moment to dislodge a few Powerballs from the chandeliers behind the eyes. At the top before the hidden door, Lucy put a hand on Marco’s arm.
The hand on his arm was cool and trembling, Lucy was shaking. «Give me a moment.» She looked down the crumbling spiral staircase at the Mummies below. «Please forgive me for failing you. For living. For... for leaving. But I can't stay. Goodbye.» She closed her eyes briefly, and they filed down to the floor below without a moan of protest.
She wiped the edges of her eyes with a sleeve before looking up at him crisply. «You need to take me Prisoner, Marco. It’s the only way I can leave the temple.»
He took in a breath and held her gaze. He’d never taken a Prisoner before, he wasn’t even sure unled units could. «How do I...? I mean, I don’t want to hurt you.»
She smiled and held his hand, then said «It’s easy. I surrender.» A pair of manacles appeared around her wrists, and he instantly got a sense of her.
Move: 7 (Prisoner of Tar Zhay; Guard: Marco Voyager)
Special: Caster, Luckamancer
«Woah.» Was all Marco could think. Was this what all commanders could see? He realized he was staring and cleared his throat, saying «Come on, let’s get you some sunshine.»
Marco pulled open the hidden door, and they were both dazzled by the golden light of sunset reflecting back from the lake. Marco stepped forward and pulled her out gently. Sunset was approaching and the sun was behind them, illuminating the whole jungle.
«Zheng! I’m out! Where are you?» Marco belted out, hoping his friend was in earshot.
«I’m right here.» Zheng’s soft and intense reply came from a very much unexpected direction: up. Marco looked up and saw Zheng and Lily were crouching just above the headdress, Zheng with his pike poised to shishkebab Lucy from the head down.
«Wait, no!» Marco moved to try and Screen Lucy from being skewered. She didn’t have to be told to get behind him, and she was probably thankful for her small stature making her easy to Screen right about now.
Zheng didn’t relax his posture, he looked ready to jump down there and shove him out of the way «It’s okay Marco, drop the Screen, we won’t let her keep you prisoner.»
«Actually, it’s the other way around.» Marco took one of Lucy’s hands and raised her arms to view, revealing the shackles. Zheng widened his eyes dramatically in surprise. «I think we’ve got a new travelling companion.»
I wonder if their Ruler is watching these guys. Taking a Caster prisoner would be enough to make me think "What the BOOP"? I'd be promoting them both to Knight just to see what they do with the power.
Then again, they've been foraging so much, maybe not popping their rations de-couples them more than usual from Ruler sense- and two pikers would be pretty faint anyway.