Rendezvous With Destiny – part one

C-10

 

Warlord Taylor (max to his friends) looked on his companion with a wry smile. "I don't think I've ever seen you so eager for a mission briefing!" he said. His companion walked silently for a few minutes, the only sound their loud, lonely footsteps on the huge, deserted barracks of the capital city of Shelby. "At the moment any diversion is welcome, max. It helps taking my mind off our situation." Taylor laughed, like he didn’t have a care in the world. "Healomancer gold, you're that squeamish of a little croaking?". "I'm already used to thinking about it" said David Gold, sighing. "it's the thought of ME croaking that seems to weigh heavily on my mind…"

 

In a few minutes the pair got to the briefing room, a huge room that could accommodate scores of warlords. David Gold, level 5 Healomancer for the Estaduniz federation, remembered how splendid it looked just 40 turns ago, when chief warlord Smith finally got permission to field and personally command the last of the federation's land units for the long awaited strike against the cursed Tebtonian empire and their thrice cursed Foolamancer. He stood there, splendid in cavalry pants and his personally crafted cavalry sabre, and received king Eisen's personal command to march to war. David remembered him leaving the room to the parade ground, Chief Dirtamancer Pillar at his side, where they watched the long lines of heavy, armored cavalry that were chief's smith pride and joy, while in the sky a line after line of fast Crested eagles, powerful Harpy eagles, and the Black Hawks flew into the hex boundary. He would have given anything to have them back here now.

 

King Eisen sat in his high seat, with Mathamancer Allen by his side. He looked when the pair entered the room, and smiled warmly at them. David's heart lifted as he saw him – the gaunt frame, the noble face, but mostly his eyes – King eisen's signmancy reflected his many years as a quiet, but successful chief warlord. Less brilliant perhaps that chief smith, but no less competent.

 

"Welcome, friends" said king Eisen. "Luck is a fickle ally, and right now it looks like it's against us. We are in a difficult position, as you know, with those accursed Teutobodians laying siege outside our walls, and more of them coming. But despair not! Chief Pillar upgraded our fortification so that a dozen stabbers and a drunken elf could hold it! Remember, while there's units with loyalty in their stats, Estaduniz will not fall!"

 

Difficult position – that's one way to call it. Estaduniz was part of a grand alliance with Blight Kingdom and Sandany against the teutobodian juggernaut, supplying reconnaissance and raids with its' crack air units, but her allies were taking a beating. With most of its' ground forces busy with skirmishes with the Cerasus empire to the southwest, and another army already far afield, chief Smith pressured for a third army to be sent. "Estaduniz has never been attacked by ground forces!" He said. "We are protected from the mainland with an impassable mountain range, and any army that will attempt to invade will be spotted by our eagles dozens of turns ahead!" King Eisen, however, was loath to leave Shelby without protection. Even when Sandany's capitol Lumier was captured, and King Philip was forced to live at blight's capital as a barbarian, he refused permission. But when a huge army was seen on its' way to Blight's capital, the long awaited order to march was given. Everyone's hearts lifted, thinking that this will be the battle that will end this horrible war. But euphoria turned to puzzlement 3 turns ago, when Smith's 3rd army finally joined Blighty's forces and marched to meet their foes, only to discover that they were only Foolamancy decoys! Then, on the next turn, their hearts turned to despair when the real Teutobodians army was discovered, within walking distance from Shelby, with Smith's army tantalizingly close, but beyond unpassable mountain ranges.  It was true - Shelby's fortifications were immense, but with only a handful of units behind the walls there was only one way this siege could end. In 10 turns, Shelby will fall, and with it the entire Estaduniz side.

 

King Eisen continued: "We recently managed to procure detailed and Foolamancy-proof information through a third party. We now know the composition and whereabouts of all the enemy's units, and we can see a way to lift the siege! However, these plans need a few turns to mature, and a new danger comes our way. The Teutobodians are sending a tremendous amount of siege units our way. They are one turn away from Shelby, on the other side of a small level 2 city named Bastnach. With them arrayed against us, the walls will fall in just three turns. Gentlemen – These units must not reach Shelby, or all is lost!

 

Your mission is to take a squadron of our best infantry, the Screaming Eagles, all the remaining Black Hawks can carry, and recapture Bastnach. Bastnach is only lightly defended, so that shouldn't be very hard. Then you must hold your ground for as long as you can. Bastnach must not fall!"

 

A flurry of activity followed these words. Orders were issued, weapons and provisions gathered and secured for the long flight, and all soldiers were mustered. David even managed to convince king Eisen to promote a few of their Healomancy-capable allies, the eerily named corpse men, to Screaming Eagles. During a rare lull in the activity, David managed to go to the situation room and see a map of bastnach – a city that sat in the junction of many mountain passes and on the only road to Estaduniz. David wondered why a city that was situated in such a place could be so insignificant, but the answer was readily apparent- it was in a Rain hex, even though "Snow hex" would have been more appropriate that high up in the mountains. Cursing his luck, David grabbed all his scrolls, dug up his heavy fur coat, and ran to make sure all the units had their winter gear on.

 

The Hawks managed to take off from the city without attracting too much enemy fire. Rising slowly, the black hawks climbed higher and higher, and then suddenly started gliding away, south by southeast. David was sitting with the leading stack on the black hawk, clutching the rope that secured him to the great beast, and peering into the horizon. He was sitting near warlord Taylor, but the rushing wind made conversations near impossible.  It was easier "listening" with his Healomancer's senses, feeling the pull of the hits of all the units around him – great and small, from the massive hawks to the relatively frail corpse man. The air turned cold, and then colder, and the clouds came closer and closer. They were flying through the mist, when and suddenly the hawks drew their wings and began their dive attack.

 

David took part in a few screaming eagle attacks before, if never on one so critical. He knew how they were supposed to go – The mad dive to the garrison, muscling through any air defenses, a quick dismount and then - the rush to capture the garrison before the enemy could send reinforcements, and capture the city while engaging only a fraction of its' defenders. He knew immediately something was wrong – The dive wasn't ending with a landing, but with a swoop above the city. He sensed Hits dropping all around him, as arrows and Shockmancy bolts were falling among them. David turned to max and shouted: "What is happening?!" Max pointed his finger and shouted: "look!"

 

David looked, and felt his jaw drop. They were flying low across the city, with the garrison's floor a few feet from them, but at the same time, the floor looked like a LONG way down. Max shouted in his ear: "I can't find a place to land! What’s happening?! Is this some king of magic?!" David looked again, and began to understand – someone tinkered with the natural Shockmancy of the city zone! Every attempt to cross zones from the air to the garrison would count as a fall, and a long one at that. Mustering his courage, David got to his feet and shouted: "Warlord taylor! Order your men to jump!" and before the amazed max managed to turn his head, David Gold cut his ropes and jumped the 3 feet that separated him from the ground.

 

It was a LONG 3 feet. It actually felt more like 30 feet. But at the end of it was the ground, waiting to remind him the folly of all those trying to fly without the flying special. It seemed like suicide – but it wasn't. While falling, David concentrated on his own body.

 

Everyone thought they understood Healomancy. After all, it's just throwing heals around, replenishing a units' Hits. One of the best kept secrets of Healomancy was both simple and profound – There are no hits. Once a units is really hit, it is croaked. End of story. Healomancy can't give you more life – how could it? It wasn't on the Life axis. It's just Clevermancy. No Healomancer in the world could stop a crit. But when a unit "took a hit", it just meant that unit was convinced it's a little closer to croaking. That's why units gained hits when leveling, without gaining more life – It was their will to resist the illusion of damage that increased. All the Healomancer could do is persuade the unit that the hits they took weren't really real. However, the same thing could be applied to different kind of damage. The body could be persuaded that the fall didn't really hurt. It took concentration, and quite some juice, but it could be done.

 

David rolled off the floor, and quickly looked up. Max trusted him, apparently, because he was approaching at almost terminal velocity. Concentrating fiercely, David made sure max's landing was as soft as his was. He couldn't do the same to all their comrades, though – it took too much concentration, and required too much juice – juice he knew he would need very shortly. All he could do was try to feel his friends hits, and attempt to bolster their perception of them as much as he could. Eventually, only 4 units were croaked, and 10 more disabled. Grieving for his failures, David quickly healed all the units around him, and at max's command quickly restacked.

 

The rest of the battle was easy. Clearly not expecting their opponents to jump, not to mention survive the jump, the garrison was soon overwhelmed. David and the rest of the Eagles took defensive positions around the town, and king Eisen ended their turn. They won, but David knew this was the easy fight. They were surrounded by mighty enemy forces, cut off from reinforcements or supplies. Most of their gear was destroyed along with their hawks. And even if they somehow managed to hold on to bastnach, what hope was for their side? Only one thing comforted him – They could not be attacked by air!