Ethereum: day two

By Twofer Comments (31) (Tipped by 15 people!)

Part 2 of 20 in Ethereum

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Lisa, Jess, Charlotte, and Akira lounged around a kitchenette in their nighties, coffee, tea, cheesecake, and cookie dough in their hands. Hiller had apparently been kind enough to fill the larder before he croaked, so they had a decent supply of snacks, which would hopefully tide them over until Hedera had the spare juice to get her garden up and running.

 

Lisa could in theory have had a decent life without joining Ethereum. Rulers and warlords understood the value of communications when coordinating alliances, so Thinkamancers and Hat Magicians were among the most-demanded casters, alongside Dirtamancers, whose abilities could be converted more or less directly into shmuckers whenever a side decided to upgrade a city, and Dittomancers, who could just copy whatever the most profitable magic was. However, that would have involved her working more or less as a messenger orly, which was not her style at all.

 

One of Thinkamancy’s many abilities was a sort of enhanced perception of other units’ thoughts. Lisa was fascinated by it, had a knack for it, and wanted to see how far she could take it. However, the Great Minds had been furious when they found out how much she was abusing it, and had declared her baddie in punishment. She could probably have made it up to them by pinky swearing never to do it again, but flip that. She could also have joined some side to get out from under their collective thumb, if she was the sort of person who went for that, but the problem was that non-casters were so boring. She could deal with them for a few turns if she had to, but eventually she’d start throwing suggestions around just to liven things up, and ever since Jones City, she’d been reluctant to go down that road again.

 

So, if we’re going to be on the same side, I think we should get to know each other a bit better,” Akira said, with a mixture of sugar and bossiness. “Where we’re from, how we all fit together. Don’t you?”

 

Lisa spent a few droplets of her spare juice analysing Akira’s underlying thoughts. She’d done it enough that she could almost instinctively match thoughts to body language even without the juice. Tone, body language, word choice: looking for emotional vulnerabilities. Sadistic tendencies. Social climber; will try to gain perks. Given her discipline, probably hoping to run this or another city. Useful to know.

 

Lisa, why don’t you go first?”

 

Me, not either of the two who came together: hopes to isolate. She had three choices: to deflect, to make stuff up, or to counterattack. Making stuff up was risky, because she’d told parts of her story to other people before, and not all of those people were still friends.

 

Hey, now,” she said, giving a vulpine grin. “We were all barbarians, right? And we didn’t pop in the MK. Either our sides fell or our rulers thought we weren’t worth the upkeep. And some casters’ sides fall again and again, and they get captured each time. You know the story of the Wandering Doctor?” According to legend, there was a Healomancer who’d been captured and turned sixteen times before he’d tricked his captor into letting him visit the Magic Kingdom ‘to buy supplies’. Several turns later, he was hired to heal a mortally incapacitated prince, and was promptly captured again. “Not my idea of a fun time. Let’s save the origin stories until we’re properly drunk, right?”

 

Oh,” Akira said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realise it was such a sensitive topic for you.” Sensitive: trying to bait me into admitting weakness.

 

No worries, it isn’t. Thinkamancy is normally cold, you know? I spent most of my time in the capital. Only captured once, when the ruler and heir both croaked afield and we went neutral, so the portal shut on me when they came to mop us up. Luckamancy is cold too, isn’t it? So you would have lived in a capital too.”

 

Hot and cold were caster slang for magic which had to be worked on or near a battlefield, as opposed to that which worked just fine cast from the safety of a city fifty hexes away. Thinkagrams were classic cold magic, as was making golems or items; hot spells were things like suggestion and most of Shockmancy and Healomancy. Cold magic tended to be less dramatic for the juice and to yield slower levelling, but you could do it indefinitely without risk of croaking, so cold casters tended to reach higher levels than hot.

 

Ooh, yes, but I was never captured,” Akira said. “It’s like Tom always says. They didn’t appreciate me there. Mommy was ever so proud of my sister the warlord princess because she croaked lots of pikers, until one day when her luck ran out. After that it was just boring for everyone, so I left.” Inflection on word ‘luck’: possible sabotage. Minimal loyalty, extremely spiteful.

 

Huh. This was potentially dangerous. “So what can you do with Luckamancy, Kira? I’ve heard of some pretty crazy things, like letting stabbers solo entire stacks of knights, but I’ve never seen it myself.”

 

Of course you haven’t seen it, Thinkamancy’s cold,” Akira said deftly. “And as it happens, Luckamancy can do just that.”

 

Word choice, can: has never done it herself. Phrasing, as it happens: incomplete truth. Word choice and stress, just that: exact words. Possible, but with major drawback.

 

Sounds like a pretty powerful spell, for a cold cast. I’m guessing only a master-class could pull that off, right?”

 

Nope,” Akira boasted, “I’m level three and I can do it. It’s easy.” The drawback isn’t excessive juice cost, then. Backlash. Luckamancy-based backlash. Can boost individual units’ luck at cost to others. Like Moneymancy: can’t create money from nothing, can redistribute it as needed, maybe increase rate of production or something. Easy to sabotage allied units: give their good luck to other allied units.

 

Knowing was most of the battle. She could just tell Tom. If Akira knew he knew she could do that, she’d know she’d be held responsible if ever a caster croaked. Of course, if she knew Lisa was the one who’d cost her her autonomy, they would be enemies by default, which was unlikely to end well. She could try to tell Tom indirectly, but Akira was good at manipulating people; she’d follow the trail back eventually. The obvious approach would be to tell an infantryman to tell Tom, because she had a good idea of a stabber’s life expectancy under Tom.

 

All of this assumed she wanted to solve her problems by running to someone else for help. It would be much more satisfying to do it herself. A well-placed suggestion could do the trick. It would be even more satisfying if she could manipulate Akira without even casting.

 

Of course, that overlooked the fact that the entire side was liable to fall if Tom didn’t understand what his most important units could do. Normally, Lisa didn’t care too much about details like that, but this side promised to be different, to respect her and let her practise her craft as she saw fit. She wasn’t entirely sure she believed that, not until she’d lived in it for a while, but she would never find out unless it survived long enough.

 

So, we have a walking messenger hat and an overpowered boosting caster,” she said aloud, indicating herself and Akira. “How about you girls? What do a Changemancer and a Findamancer bring to the table?”

 

Ehh,” Charlotte said, finally putting her cake down. “Changemancy does a little bit of lots of things. Me and Mal spent last turn’s juice on the walls, doing Dirtamancy stuff, although an actual Dirtamancer would’ve been better. Or we can transform units into stronger forms, or harden equipment, or fabricate small items. Lots of stuff. We can’t heal incapacitated units, though,” she said sadly. Hesitation: other skills not listed. Healing: this was a problem for her earlier. Her ruler was incapacitated and brought back to the capital for her to heal; they didn’t have the money to hire a Healomancer or designate an heir.

 

Changemancers are good first casters for a side,” Jess said. “You know how a side’s entire strategy can depend on what magic they have? Changemancy can do anything pretty well. It helps that it has both hot and cold spells.” Protective of Charlotte: Charlotte is more innocent; Jess is more dangerous. Jess was barbarian first, and took Charlotte on as a partner? “Findamancy’s the opposite; we do one thing really well. The basic spell template is projection.”

 

That’s that golem thing from yesterday?” Akira asked.

 

Not a golem. It’s … complicated. I create a new unit or stack, but it only lasts until the start of the next turn, and I’m it until it expires. I control it, see what it sees, and gain any XP it would, but if it’s croaked, I’m fine. It’s channelled, so I can’t do anything else with my real body without, er, disbanding it first. The catch is that the spell doesn’t give any XP by itself, I have to croak enemy units to earn it. Usually I’m hired to help train royal warlords, especially heirs, you know, project and let them croak me so they’ll level quickly. And it works, it can lift a level one straight up to three. But it feels really weird, and I never level. I’ve been stuck on five for three hundred turns.”

 

Lisa didn’t need juice to know that this was incomplete, but she was more interested in a sudden insight. She hadn’t thought about it at the time, but now, having their powers laid out explicitly, she realised that Tom had withheld his grand designs from them all. In this room alone was enough magical power to rival a side of ten cities, and they were together only a sixth of Ethereum’s casters. The total would be more than six times as much due to synergy, and he had implied he wanted to recruit even more. It didn’t make sense to gather so many mostly-mercenary units just to take a few cities, or even a side large enough to reach the diminishing income point. He wanted to conquer Erfworld.

 

Interesting.

 

Overlords tried that sort of thing all the time, of course. They found some artefact or unit combination which seemed unbeatable, and pushed it as far as it went, until they ran into a hard counter. Her personal favourite was the Hinden Barrens, which had exclusively used heavy flyers, reasoning that they could attack anyone they wanted, withdrawing if they picked a city that was too hardened and hitting a weaker one instead; if they had enough heavies to wipe out an entire max hex of infantry without losses, no enemy could hope to attack their cities in retaliation. They won a lot of major victories, until they attacked a capital whose ruler had hired a Weirdomancer the turn before. The Weirdomancer waited until the flyers were all within the city walls, then cast a mass remove flying spell; most of the heavies croaked from fall damage, the rest to the city’s garrison. The Barrens hired Lisa to sue for peace the next turn.

 

Ethereum didn’t feel hopeless like that, though. Tom’s entire premise was to find units who knew they had been undervalued; logically, a side which used them more should be more successful. If they could make it out of their current corner, they could be successful enough to expand and, who knows, eventually start making colonies. Tom was smarter than most rulers. Maybe he really could take over the world. And if he did … well, maybe it was a really good thing that she had got in on the first recruitment wave.

 

Lisa?” Akira asked, with false concern. “Are you still there?”

 

You weren’t so cocky eight turns ago on the Short Pier, twit. “Just thinking,” she said, flashing her vulpine grin, which she knew annoyed people. “About who will join us later on. Tom tried to get one caster of each discipline, cover all the bases, right? But now that that’s mostly taken care of, it makes the most sense to take casters who’d be likeliest to disband for lack of upkeep, you know, save the most lives. You might have some competition soon, Kira,” she said lightly. Akira’s eyes widened in momentary panic. “Hey, don’t worry about it. You can make stabbers beat knights. If you can keep all us casters alive – should be easy, we’re not even mêlée fighters – you’re golden.” She stood to leave. “It’s just about dawn. Sorry, girls, but the Boss wants to see me as soon as the turn starts. Catch you after our turn ends.”

 

That should hopefully keep Akira from doing anything stupid, at least for a while. As long as she realised she was replaceable, she’d probably reserve her true nastiness for rival Luckamancers, making it officially not Lisa’s problem. She filed the thought away for later, and climbed the spiral staircase. Tom had taken the highest usable room for his quarters. Kind of egotistical, but you can get away with that sort of thing after you solo a level five city.

 

As she pulled on her black and lavender raiment, it struck her that they really needed to name the tower. It would probably be their major social hub. Casters generally liked perching atop towers because of the bonus; mechanics aside, it was a bit of a rush. She’d have to think of something decent to call it, or it would eventually get stuck with some stupid nickname, like Gwiffon Door.

 

The pokédaemons roared, yowled, and shrieked when the turn began. A Fugly Burger popped in Lisa’s hands. She smiled. You didn’t get food like this in the Magic Kingdom; she’d forgotten how much she’d missed it. She rapped on the elderwood door, knowing what the response would be, unwrapped her burger, and bit down with relish.

 

Five minutes!” Tom called.

 

There was something deeply satisfying about the hearty, greasy food cities gave you, compared with the stuff she’d spent so much time buying from the Hippiemancers. Perhaps it was psychological, the knowledge that your upkeep was already paid in full. She took her time with it, and was just swallowing the last mouthful when her Lord Tom opened his door. She tossed the wrapper away carelessly and belched.

 

Morning, Boss,” she said, grinning. It wouldn’t do for him to start thinking of her as an inferior. “Morning, May.”

 

May poked her head out of Tom’s four-poster’s curtains and grinned back. “Heya, Lisy-poo. Have you seen my minions?”

 

I think they took over a workshop in the west wing last night,” Lisa said. “They were talking about a big project when I passed them …”

 

The coat must be perfect. We need 101 dollmatian corpses before we can even begin.”

 

That Seems Impractical Given Our Current Tally Of Zero Corpses Dollmatian Or Otherwise”

 

“… and it sounded like they’d be awhile.”

 

May blew a kiss in thanks to both her and Tom, and vanished. That girl was scary fast and quiet.

 

So, Lisa,” Tom said. He set off to the top of the tower and motioned her to walk alongside. “You said you could do two Thinkagrams a turn, didn’t you?”

 

Sure.” She held off on her psychoanalysis spell; she didn’t have the juice to spare. “One little thing, though. You don’t want me to just be a Thinkagram with legs, do you? Because I’m thinking, that’s the obvious half of Thinkamancy, the stuff warlords like because it’s convenient and simple for them to understand. A real caster side should think about the other half too, don’t you think?”

 

Of course. This is just for the next one or two turns, while we have urgent diplomacy to deal with. Once that’s out of the way and Doffer fixes us comms hats, and we’ve had time to plan it out, I was looking forward to seeing what you could achieve with links.”

 

Oh. Uh-oh. “Uh, Boss? I hate to say this, but if that’s an order, I’m refusing it. I meant more like suggestion spells, I think I could use them well on a battlefield. Trimancer links are dangerous. The risk is too high, it’s not worth it. The MK Thinkamancers can bail each other out, but they don’t work with baddies. If an adept-class breaks a Trimancer link without help, there’s a major risk of instacroak or incap that I’m pretty sure a Healomancer can’t fix, for me or the others. Even with a two-caster link, sometimes.”

 

Tom’s face flickered. Having used her abilities to put thoughts to faces to often, she had a good instinct even without using juice. She was abrading his good mood a little too quickly. “Then why do Thinkamancers ever even suggest it?”

 

Masochism. Links terrified Lisa: the subsumption of identity, the loss of self, the fact that there was a good chance she’d have to croak the person who was part of her mind just to become herself again … even under the best of circumstances, it gave a killer migraine. “Duty. Links can save a side. But unless you’re faced with imminent conquest and have no other options, it’s just too risky.”

 

Tom thought about this. He wouldn’t risk croaking a caster. Ideology aside, his followers would desert him in droves if that happened. “What if Koume Dittoed your magic to unravel it?”

 

Flipping Dittomancers. No matter what you did, you could never outshine them. “Maybe for a two-caster link. I’d want a minimum of two adept-class Thinkamancers to disengage a Trimancer link, and even that’s pushing it.”

 

Tom thought. “We have a Luckamancer.”

 

Lisa tried and failed to think of someone she’d trust less. “I’ll ask her whether Luckamancy works on backlash,” and pray to the Titans that she says it can’t, “after we’re done here. Right now, who should I call?”

 

Prince Pasta, although we’re still waiting on some others first. I talked with Theoham by hat yesterday, after the parley. He said he would accept peace with us if Colesworth did first. Miles has peace treaties drawn up for both of them.”

 

Lisa grinned. “So we’re hoping for war with the Toasties so we can take a city and get some real upkeep? Huh, I’d figured you’d go after Colesworth. They’re the epitome of infantry hordes. Do they even have any casters?”

 

That’s politics. Colesworth and Roham like each other more than Pro Toast; it’s easier to only declare war on one at a time. Besides, Marvin crunched the Numbers yesterday, and they’re best that way.”

 

You and Akira will get along like a forest on fire. “Fair enough.”

 

Presently, they heard footsteps: NV, Miles, and Samedi. Lisa raised an eyebrow; she hadn’t thought they’d get along with each other. Then again, she wasn’t a Date-a-mancer.

 

I thought I told you to be ready at dawn,” Tom said, irritated.

 

Sorry, Your Honour,” said Miles. “I had a last-minute idea about that problem you mentioned yesterday. We had to find Samedi to check whether it’d work, and it does. I’ve made a caveat emptor. We should be able to get the farms.”

 

Oh,” Tom said, brightening. “Good work. Does it affect the plan for Colesworth?”

 

Not a bit, as long as you can persuade them to stay out of the area.”

 

Excellent. NV?”

 

The Foolamancer snapped his fingers, and Tom turned back into the crowned warlord he had been yesterday while pretending to not be a mid-level Shockmancer.

 

Lisa?”

 

On it.”

 

She sought out the G-strings, took Tom’s in one thoughtspace hand, took Pasta’s in another, and poured juice on until they intersected. In meatspace, a blue image of Pasta’s face appeared before Tom.

 

Hail, Prince Pasta,” Tom said.

 

Pasta was sitting at a table of warlords. There were eight visible. “Hail, Lord Godwin,” he said, smiling affably. “A Thinkamancer, too? I was wondering what your last caster was. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

 

I’ve discussed our situation with my advisers,” Tom lied; he planned almost everything out by himself. “We have no interest in hostilities with Colesworth, but we still want to reserve our independence. I’d like to propose a pact of mutual isolation between our sides, sealed by my Signamancer.”

 

I see. Well, war with Ethereum isn’t in Colesworth’s best interests, either, and isolationism is straightforward. What terms do you propose?”

 

Arkham River is a natural border between our territories. Neither side may move any units onto or past it without permission for the next sixty turns. South of its lower limit, both sides are unrestricted, and either side can field ocean units north of where it feeds into the sea. The penalty for any trespass is for the offending unit to automagically turn. Colesworth has three turns to withdraw; for that time, there’s instead a truce, wherein any unit to engage the other side automagically turns with a ten thousand shmucker penalty.” That was about the harshest penalty Miles could impose at his level.

 

Pasta rubbed his chin. “Equitable, but those terms favour Ethereum. You’re a smaller side with less power projection, so that’s less onerous for you. Losing access to your territory affects us for other reasons, too, like scouting or launching counterattacks on third parties. Besides, you should be more afraid of war than we are. Duty compels me to demand more.”

 

Very well. Name it.”

 

Any territory within … twenty hexes of the river’s east bank is considered Colesworth territory, not Ethereum. We also have unlimited permission to scout with, say, stacks of not more than two units and not more than one stack per hex, so we could send riders. We’re allied with Roham; we require full permission to send troops to and around their cities, including any they capture after Signing, and any truce must be invalidated if you and they go to war. After you sack your first city, we receive a one-time payment of twenty thousand shmuckers. And the agreement is of course invalidated if either side is conquered.”

 

Tom steepled his fingers. “If I may speak plainly, you hope for Ethereum to be a strategic buffer against Pro Toast, correct?”

 

Without saying either way, I could see why that sort of thing might be in my side’s interests.”

 

We can’t be effective against them if our treasury is drained. Scratch that condition.” Pasta shrugged, having said it only so that Tom would refuse it and thus need to accept most of the others. “Twenty hexes is too close to Ethereum. I want an exclusion zone of eighteen hexes around each of our cities. And the scouts … if you’re worried about certain third parties, we have a Lookamancer. What if we offer an information exchange?”

 

The exclusion zone doesn’t cross onto our side of the river. And you’re in no position to demand any intel from Colesworth; you wouldn’t be able to scout our territory either way.” Tom didn’t deny it. “We want a full sweep of any exclusion zone every three turns, with all unit sightings reported. Also, a report by end-of-turn whenever you gain or lose a city.”

 

OBJECTION!” Miles interjected. “That’s subject to force majeure. Thinkagrams cost juice.”

 

Pasta raised his eyebrows at the outburst. “True. Then make it whenever your Thinkamancer has juice at end of the day. Or send a courier within three turns if you lose him for whatever reason.”

 

That’s acceptable,” Tom said, glaring at Miles for quiet.

 

Lisa grinned. If she had a Thinkagram’s worth of juice at end of day, she was doing it wrong. If nothing else, she could always dump it into a scroll. Caveat emptor indeed.

 

One other thing,” Pasta said. “You wouldn’t know this, being newly popped, but when launching an invasion of annihilation, a side such as Colesworth pops nothing but infantry; they have the best battle stats per turn of production, especially after bonuses.” Lisa huffed. This lecture was costing her juice. Pasta didn’t notice or didn’t care. “If the war on this front is over, then we have over a thousand level one infantry left over, with no battle experience and, frankly, not much value to Colesworth. It would be bad for Loyalty to disband them, and a waste of upkeep to march them back across our territory rather than pop new troops in our further cities. How would you feel about buying some of the surplus? We would of course extend a heavy discount.”

 

Tom thought about it. It wasn’t that he hated infantry, he hated them having power over him. He was fully aware that they could fight as well as anything else per shmucker, and he had casters that could multiply their power; in particular, Arthur could reanimate Men, but not most daemons. Frankly, Pro Toast’s army was stronger than theirs, and they needed the help. “We have only three thousand shmuckers to spare this turn, of course.”

 

Of course. A stack is worth a thousand to you, compared to what you’d get from popping more daemons, and perhaps negative two hundred to us. Why don’t we split the difference? Four hundred per. Seven and a half stacks of basic infantry. Two and a half each of stabbers, pikers, and archers. Fifty-five units.”

 

Done,” said Tom. “I’ll have my Signamancer write up the contract and send you it.”

 

Very good. Best of luck, Lord Godwin. Break.”

 

Unseen by Ethereum, Princess Pastry gave Pasta an uncertain look. “Is it wise to ally with a side that’s liable to fall within the next few turns? Pro Toast won’t let them live.”

 

Pasta grinned in response. “Duchess Potatoes, I want a message drafted to send to Warlady Thursday of Pro Toast, giving her a courtesy notice that we’re arming Ethereum as quickly as they gain the income, and an offer to sell her twenty stacks for nine hundred apiece. Princess Pastry, I want a message drafted for Father, requesting that he breaks our alliance with Pro Toast immediately, and that he sends forward any units that can reach Ethereum within two turns. Have them carry any magical gear that might help defeat an army of badly wounded heavies in a city which will probably be level two by then. Earl Grey, I want our column arranged such that all units are within one turn of Ethereum, and such that Arkham Bridge is within two. Count Carbs, I want a message drafted for Roham, apprising them and requesting that their forces remain within one turn of Ethereum.”

 

He went back over the tally. It was enough reinforcements to induce Pro Toast to attack, but only barely enough to let them win, and they would be down most of their hits. Their natural turn was after Colesworth’s, so they wouldn’t heal. The fifty-five infantry would be equally effective against Pro Toast with Ethereum’s city defence bonus as with his leadership, and this way would keep three thousand shmuckers out of Pro Toast’s treasury, while forcing them to wreck the city walls, leaving them unfortified after. And if Ethereum somehow managed to win, he was guaranteed that they couldn’t get revenge on him for arming their enemies, plus he’d still get twenty-one thousand shmuckers for basically useless units. He should trade pointers with Charlie sometime.

 

Meanwhile, Tom stretched and smiled. “Exactly as planned. Next, Roham. Miles, you said you can get the farms off them?”

 

Assuming they accept more or less the same deal Colesworth did, yes. We offer to include the farms hexes as parts of their territory. That effectively gives them permanent control of the farms, because if we marched a unit into one to capture it, it would immediately turn to Roham and they would capture it back. However, we can cheat with our Findamancers. Projection is a channelled spell. If you try to turn a projection, it instantly disbands. So if a projection enters a farm hex, we capture the farm, the contract turns the unit, and it disbands before it can give the farm back to Roham. Then the same clause stops them from taking it back, because they can’t reach the farms from their territory; any units that try will have to cross our territory and turn to Ethereum instead.”

 

Does that work?” Lisa asked, curious. “Won’t the contract turn the projections before they can capture the farms? Or won’t they recapture the farms for Roham before they disband?”

 

No,” said Miles. “Timestamp rules say that capture occurs before any contracts, and channelling is a state-based effect, so that has priority.”

 

Right, of course,” said Lisa, who had never heard of either rule. How on Erf did he figure those rules out? Is that in the Book of Canon somewhere? Has he done that exact same trick before? “Uh, there’s another problem. That call ran longer than I’d expected; I’m low on juice. Could you just hat Roham with their treaty? Or send an envoy?”

 

Miles and Tom exchanged frowns. A call sent the right message, that you thought they were worth spending juice on. Hats were so utilitarian. Actually visiting in person wasn’t very casterly, but Tom was already dressed for the part, and they had a few daemons with the move; Tom had been pleased with a pair of horse daemons with limited Shockmancy, although he’d been less impressed by the male milkbeast thing. “Fine. NV, Miles, let’s go, and we’ll get May to sign. Lisa, next time, give me a hand signal when you’re low on juice. It would’ve been a disaster if you’d run out.”

 

Right. See you soon, Boss,” said Lisa, waving them off, neglecting to mention that she was still half full, she just thought it was a dumb idea to waste juice showing off when Pro Toast still had a sizeable army just a few hexes away.

 

She stretched, popping her spine, and looked around. She’d expected the tower to be crowded, but apparently everyone else was content to sleep in today.

 

In the Magic Kingdom, if you had juice left over or your purses was full, you might spend a turn here and there working on personal projects, such as trying to learn new spells or other magics or, if you had any fabrication magic, making special gear for yourself. That was fun, but it was nothing compared with what one could pull off with a side paying one’s upkeep and finding reagents, with only a vague rule that it had to be useful for preserving the side. The tower’s bonus would make it the logical place for most projects. Perhaps the others were still planning things out. Walking back through the tower, Lisa only saw Cap Doffer, who for some reason was busy gluing three tentacles and two sails onto a brightly coloured hat; Sharkey, peering into his crystal ball and marking the updated positions of the enemy troops while fiddling with his beard and running his tongue over his teeth; and Pete, who had recruited their Mathamancer to help drag Lord Spear upstairs. That one looked promising.

 

Leave him here,” Pete said. “This’ll do.”

 

The Mathamancer, whose name Lisa had forgotten, let go of the warlord’s shackles like they were a huge weight. “Of course. ‘Take the prisoner up the tower.’ Brain the size of a planet, and that’s what you tell me to do. No, don’t mind me, maybe I can lift something up, move it, and put it down again for you later.”

 

Ta,” said Pete, not paying attention. “On three. One … two … Dope, Jessica, Thalia, Liejacker!”

 

There was a flash and figurative smell of burning juice, and Spear’s livery switched from neutral grey into the sloshing glass.

 

Booyeah!” Pete cheered, pumping a fist. “Level two, baby!”

 

Nice,” Lisa said, getting a pang of discipline envy. Turnamancers could permanently and completely gain enemy units; at high level, they could theoretically snatch a chief warlord off the battlefield and use him to take out his own hex, or snatch half the hex and use that to take out the chief warlord. All Thinkamancers could do was suggestion, and while it was much cheaper and she liked to think she had finesse, she was well aware of her lack of raw power. “So, you’re basically in charge of getting mileage out of prisoners.”

 

Yeah, I guess,” he said, bopping from side to side with euphoria. “That’s actually my first successful spell ever. How does levelling work? Do I get XP even if a spell fails?”

 

Lisa shrugged. Some people in the Magic Kingdom had been trying to work out how experience worked for hundreds of turns, maybe longer. They’d been at it for a long time and had interviewed enough units from enough sides to have a pretty thorough picture. However, they’d cast a paywall around it, and she’d never seen the need to cough up. She’d level when she levelled, after all. “Depends on the spell and I don’t know Turnamancy, but usually some, with a bonus for success. It’s best to stick to magic you probably won’t fumble. So, what, did you pop in the MK? I didn’t think that was possible.”

 

Pete shook his head. “No, I popped in Okkerham. In the city of Vernon, by Mount Durr, with all the storm hexes on the other side, do you know it?”

 

There are hundreds of sides, and thousands of cities,” Lisa said. “Unless they’re really special and interact with casters a lot, like Charlescomm, no-one’s going to have heard of them.”

 

Oh.”

 

It was kind of pathetic, seeing kings proudly introduce themselves as King Fisher IV of the Kooky Burrows, as though that meant she should know or care who they were, like there weren’t over a hundred identical kingdoms of six to fifteen cities the world over. They got offended if she didn’t act impressed, though.

 

Are they really special, or have much to do with casters?”

 

Nothing, they don’t use us at all. They only want warlords. When I popped, they were angry about it. I was lucky they loaned me a mount to get to Okkerham so I could go barbarian in the Magic Kingdom. That was the turn before last.”

 

That’s flipping tragic,” Lisa said, meaning it. He was also lucky to have found whoever loaned him the money for yesterday’s upkeep. Probably a Hippiemancer, they were saps. “Kind of ironic, too, given that you’ve already turned a warlord for us. Speaking of which, are you just going to stand there?” she asked Lord Spear.

 

I’m not really sure what I should be doing,” he said. “I’ve just turned, I have no orders.”

 

Well, go manage the city, then,” she said. “And after you’re done, find your old ruler and get him to show you the ropes. He’s higher-level than you, so I figure he’ll stay in charge until he decays.” Normally sides preferred living chief warlords, as they were sentient and so could give orders, but they had plenty of commanders and not many troops to give those orders to. Maybe Spear could take lead of the stabbers Tom had just bought. When he became Chief, it would be nice if he had levelled so he’d give the entire side a better bonus.

 

Spear mouthed her last three words silently, but said, “Yes, ma’am,” and marched off.

 

And what about you?” she added to the Mathamancer, who was standing in a corner, staring at the wall.

 

I think you ought to know I’m feeling very depressed,” he said.

 

That’s great. Say, if you’re not busy, can I ask something?”

 

I could answer it, but you wouldn’t listen. No-one ever does.”

 

Sure, because I always go around asking questions just to hear the sound of my own voice,” she said, annoyed.

 

I once saw an archer shoot an orly,” he said idly. “I hate archers.”

 

We can get you a new one later,” Lisa tried.

 

You’ll fetch me one, won’t you? That horrible Date-a-mancer is probably out looking right now. It will sit on my shoulder. ROFL, it will say. BRB.” He paused for effect. “I hate orlies. I hate them even more than I hate archers. I hate them more than any living being has ever hated another.”

 

Pete opened his mouth, then shut it again.

 

Lisa took a moment to compose herself. She was good at what she did. This pest wasn’t going to get to her. “I want to know a battle probability. Can you calculate it?”

 

He gave her a dead-eyed stare. “Can I. A Mathamancer, a profession dedicated entirely to calculating probabilities. Calculate a probability.”

 

Don’t sell yourself short. You were pretty sharp at dragging that warlord up here,” she said, deadpan.

 

The Mathamancer just stared. After eight seconds, she made to repeat her request; at 8.01 seconds, he said, “Yes, I can answer your question.”

 

Supposing we hypothetically had another fifty-five basic infantry here, and Pro Toast attacked on their turn. Would we win?”

 

He gave her a look. “Hypothetically, are we staffed by twenty-four competent, coordinated casters?”

 

As opposed to?”

 

Why don’t you go upstairs and ask that question to the man trying to fabricate the Ultimate Hat?”

 

Suppose you were directing the battle.”

 

Why would I want to direct a battle?”

 

Perhaps, Lisa reflected, this was why no-one had ever made an all-caster side before. Once they got past four or five, the odds of getting someone like this became too high. Infantry didn’t show much initiative, but at least they were quiet about it. “Suppose I was directing it.”

 

He gave her a long look. “That question depends on precisely how awful a lot of very awful people are. But,” he continued over her exasperated huff, “assuming you’re all about as loathsome as usual, 89.185723%.”

 

Seven two three?” she said. “Not seven two four? I was really counting on that one chance in a hundred million. Well, whatever, have a nice day.”

 

He gave her a look of deepest, deepest contempt, before turning back to the wall. Lisa nodded to Pete and led him downstairs.

 

Yep, think I’ll try to stay in the field as much as I can,” she said. Between him, Akira, and the Hat Magician, she could see herself going swiftly insane. She glanced at Pete. He was only a few turns old. She couldn’t help feeling a little protective of him. “Come on, let’s check out the city. There might be magic items stashed somewhere that no-one’s looted yet.”

 

Tom wasn’t a Dirtamancer, but the city reflected his mindset, with the high tower at its very centre. The other buildings lay around it, fewer and smaller than for most level threes, except the walls, a row of thick crenelated stone, with stairs leading to the ramparts from inside the city, and a single wooden gate. Mal had toughened it with small towers to give extra defence to archery; Charlotte had studded it with rock candies to harden it against siege. Lisa and Pete explored the little garrison, the library, the vault, and the slowly-greening patch of land that Hedera had set aside for a pumpkin patch. They had only just fled a wine cellar where James and Hedera were sharing an intimate Martini when the turn ended.

 

Aren’t we supposed to have hours left?” Pete asked.

 

An Overlord can end turn early, and Tom’s just got back, I forgot to tell you. There’s not usually much advantage to ending early. I’d guess he expects an attack, and wants everyone to save their juice.” She’d seen people filtering toward the tower, so maybe he was right to fear they were going to burn it all on long-term projects like stupid hats, and get rushed this turn. It still felt rushed and disorganised. Why couldn’t he have just told them to hold off for the turn before he left?

 

There was a screech from overhead. Their flying daemons had spotted inbound.

 

Do you think he messed up negotiations?” Pete asked, anxious.

 

She felt fifty-five allied basic infantry march through their gate and turn. Colesworth wouldn’t have finalised that deal if they were worried Tom would sic them on Roham. “He didn’t. Want to meet the meat?”

 

They set off, but before they got more than a few paces, there was a second screech. She didn’t sense friendlies this time.

 

They scrambled up atop the walls to get a better look. It was Pro Toast. Thursday had come, and in force. Not only were more than ten stacks of veteran heavies at her back, but three times as much infantry as they had, too. Tom stood atop the walls for parley, stacked with May, NV, Spear, uncroaked Hiller, and their biggest daemon, a dirt/rock snake thing with an impressive level one eight defence and twelve hits.

 

Pasta, you magnificent butthead,” Lisa murmured.

 

We can still win, though, can’t we?” Pete asked. “The Mathamancer gave us ninety percent.”

 

Before we knew about her having an extra hundred and fifty units.”

 

They’re just basic infantry, though, aren’t they?”

 

Lisa was no warlord, but she was well aware that even basic infantry could inflict major damage when they had stack and chief warlord hex bonuses and enough siege heavies to flatten their walls. Tom wasn’t going to back down; he couldn’t afford their upkeep with just one city. Thursday wouldn’t give them any more time; she had to know that they’d bought more units and would buy more later, or that they would make more golems or otherwise keep getting stronger.

 

Okay, since everyone who actually knows anything about combat is busy standing around talking rather than getting us organised, I’m just going to step in here,” she said, more or less to herself. “Pete, you’re out of juice after that spell, aren’t you?”

 

I’m sorry, I put everything into it.”

 

It’s fine. I want you to go into the armoury and fetch all the Shockmancy scrolls you can carry. Then wait in the portal room until the all-clear.”

 

You want me to go back to being a barbarian?”

 

You’re out of juice and you’re probably worse at combat than a stabber. What else are you going to do?”

 

What about you, then?”

 

Just get the scrolls, okay?”

 

As he hurried off, she Thought out orders for Tom to stall for time and for everyone else to assemble in the courtyard, just inside the main gate, and set off for there herself. When she arrived, the hundred and fifty daemons were grouping around the perimeter or circling overhead, instinctively forming stacks based on type, like flyer or natural Shockmancy user. The other casters were filtering in, slowly and with no organisation or real cohesion. A few were stacked with their golems.

 

Why on Erf didn’t we drill for a battle before now? I don’t know a quarter of what these people can do. “Alright, listen up!” she shouted. “Tom named me Acting Chief Warlord, and we’re probably about to be attacked by Pro Toast. We need a plan. You!” she said to the Mathamancer, who was now trudging in. “What’s our optimal deployment for maximising odds of victory and minimising risk of loss of any casters?”

 

I’m feeling very depressed.”

 

Okay, two things. One, shut the flip up, and two, you’re on hoboken duty.” She looked around. The bulk of their army was the daemons; anyone who could give them bonuses should be her top priority. “Uh, Rhyme-o-mancer. Can you lead a dance fight?”

 

Nobody rocks out like Gus Tone!” he declared.

 

Fantastic.” She cursed herself again: she’d never learnt the dance-fighting rules, beyond that there was some kind of bonus or malus involved, and enemy leaders tended to soften its effect somehow. “Does that only work with infantry, or can you do daemons too?”

 

Either or both,” he said, giving her what was supposed to be a charming smile, “but it works best against unled infantry. If that chief warlord weren’t there, I could win this battle myself. We should take her out first.”

 

Oh, you’re right. Great idea.”

 

I know,” he said smugly, her sarcasm whooshing right over his head.

 

She thought for a moment. Thursday would lead from the rear, they wouldn’t reach her easily. Or if she decided to be brave, Tom would just shoot her. “As soon as the battle starts, target infantry, ideally unled. Use our infantry before the daemons. Arthur, as soon as there are enough corpses, do your thing.”

 

Off-turn?”

 

No, wait until tomorrow of flipping course off-turn. There’ll be an enemy army in the city, it’s all copacetic. Can anyone else give bonuses to minions? Great. Do that. Everyone else … okay, screw it. Anyone who can punch through a screen, go for Thursday; anyone who can help with a mass battle, do that. Everyone else, we’re getting Shockmancy scrolls in a moment; wait here, and –”

 

May zoomed into the courtyard, leapt, and landed on Lisa’s shoulders. She was light enough that Lisa only stumbled.

 

Pro Toast is visiting!” she chirped. “Let’s go say hi, okie-dokies? Come on, don’t be slow!”

 

And she leapt back off, the recoil knocking Lisa to the ground with a cry. Around her, the assembled army flowed toward the walls.

 

She tucked her legs in until everyone had passed. Only Sharkey, Miles, NV, Hedera, and Cap Doffer were left. There was shouting from the walls, and screams and crashes of magic.

 

We’re out of juice,” Miles said, of himself and Sharkey. She nodded: two big contracts in one turn would do that, and Sharkey had probably surveyed most of the battlespace.

 

I’m our ace in the hole,” NV said. “That moron Flacutono’s going to waste all his juice at once.”

 

I can talk to plants,” Hedera said.

 

Cap Doffer held out the hat that he’d blown all his juice on. Lisa took it and checked it out. Plus two temporary hits, minus two hundred permanent dignity. Cornucopia of Dumbflippery.

 

Pete trotted up, a pack full of scrolls slung over his back. “Are we late?”

 

Lisa pushed herself to her feet and checked the pack. “Yes. Eleven scrolls. Everyone, take one or two. Go for Thursday’s screen. Fire, then withdraw to the MK when you’re done.” She rubbed her shoulder; May had almost taken off a hit.

 

The other four stacked and went ahead; Lisa stacked with Pete and followed behind. They arrived just as a giant four-legged Turnamancy construct knocked down the gate. So much for Charlotte’s work.

 

The walls were slightly shorter than a battle bear, revealing a thicket of them outside. Most of the other casters stood atop the walls, along with the archers, some daemons, and their handful of other assorted units, all trading fire with Pro Toast; a hail of arrows flew past them, taking out infantry and daemons. Enemy infantry scrambled up the backs of towering heavies and onto the walls in a max stack, swarming the defenders.

 

Tom was near the front, now with a stack of heavy daemons and Lecter, who was letting them soak up heavy damage without falling. Tom was carefully picking out Pro Toast’s top living heavies, those too large to be screened and too powerful to fight conventionally, and instacroaking them. The enemy cloth golems were holding back; May and the other Dollamancers were stacked with their own golems to heal and lead them, plus a monstrous thing with far too many segmented legs and a poison attack that had to have been Jess. Mal touched a spare archer once, and it Changed into a lizard monster with plus five, then again, and it turned into a dwake, and a third time, and it morphed into a black dwagon that took to the air and sprayed green fire past the walls.

 

Lisa shook her head in disbelief as she cast her scroll, blasting the construct that was mangling the gate. Thinkamancy was great, but when it came to a fight, she wasn’t in the same league as the people who could just walk up to a mêlée and solo multiple elite heavies without breaking a sweat.

 

Half a dozen magical effects flashed from the wall towers, but Pro Toast was still making headway by sheer force of numbers; they had six infantry for each caster, boosted by Lady Thursday, and heavies tearing down the fortifications. A giant loafer kicked through the stretch of wall adjacent the gate, knocking down a tower and letting more units pour in. They cut down the last Ethereum infantry, and tore into the daemons. Five volleys with Thursday’s leadership punched the dwagon out of the sky; it turned back into an archer and croaked before it hit the ground. Tom broke stack, his juice exhausted, and fell back.

 

There were two chords and a pause, and the battle quieted for a moment, as both sides fell back to figure out what was going on. The same two repeated, then a third and forth time, then flowed into an electric melody. Gus Tone was Rocking Out, and Koume lost no time in moving to his side and backing him up, singing an octave above. At the same time, Arthur gestured, and about half the casualties got back up and into the fray, wearing Ethereum livery. The Changemancers and Loony the Weirdomancer cast, layering effects and turning the uncroaked into meaty poisonous knight-class gremlin monsters, and they moshed into the Pro Toast lines, backed up by chaotic, disorganised, but energetic daemon stacks.

 

Lisa couldn’t see Thursday from the ground, but the woman had nerves, and didn’t break off her attack. Her junior warlord, a two or three, led a stack of seven living heavies into the breach, and weathered Ethereum’s attack. Then he shouted an order lost of the din of battle, and his stack wiped out everything within arm’s reach. Lisa felt a swooping in her stomach as her bonus vanished: he’d dusted Hiller. The Pro Toast heavies gave a roar of victory and rushed in.

 

Heavies generally had better combat stats, but most telling was their increased hit pool. Where a daemon might croak a piker in about three hits, an odalwa or a goht could absorb that with only moderate damage, croak the daemon and the one standing next to it, cycle out, and be replaced by another at full hits. As Gus had said, if it weren’t for Thursday, they might have the numbers to overwhelm them, but they didn’t have the firepower to break her screen and take her out of the battle, not without real leadership of their own. The uncroaked fought viciously and exacted a toll, but they were simply outclassed. Pro Toast methodically dusted them all, then turned to the daemons.

 

Lisa looked around, spotted NV and Hedera standing off to one side impotently, and Thought them over.

 

It was fun while it lasted,” NV said, gesturing at the battle. They were down to about ninety daemons, but most of them were wounded, and had only survived so long because of magical bonuses, which were wearing off. As they watched, Jess’ monster depopped, as did Samedi’s second-last shadowling. Dr Lecter broke stack and fell back; his daemons quickly fell. “Portal room?”

 

We’re not beaten yet.”

 

What’re you stupid? Look!”

 

You know, there’s a whole lot of things that really annoy me, but calling me stupid is at the very top of the list. So stack up, veil us, and do exactly what I say, ‘kay? You too, Hippie.”

 

A pair of battle bears tore a big chunk of wall from the other side of the gate, letting them bring more forces to bear. Tom was trying to lead a fighting retreat, but it was obvious that whatever his strategic talents, he’d never led units through a battle before. The Dollamancers were covering him; with three casters leading and healing two golems, they still had enough juice for a few rounds. The other casters were either trying to hold the line – she saw Gus furiously Rocking Out, Akira throwing a hoboken, James switching two daemons’ targets and taking down both heavies, before the daemons were themselves overwhelmed – or fleeing to the portal room, their juice depleted. Dust was thick on the ground. Lisa put the stupid hat on a promising-looking yellow daemon and approached the enemy. Under the veil, they picked their way through the great press of heavies, around or even between their legs, past the wreckage of the gate and wall, past the unled reserve stack, and found Lady Thursday. She was surrounded by a personal guard of knights and heavies, shouting orders.

 

Lisa nudged Hedera. The other caster nodded and stepped forward.

 

Peace on Erf!”

 

There was a ripple of silence, as if gravity had tilted a few degrees, and everyone needed a moment to regain their balance. Two things happened at once. One was that Thursday had been removed from engagement for the turn, which also meant that she couldn’t stack or give her bonus. Her army stumbled. The other thing was that she turned toward the source of the spell and blew Hedera’s veil.

 

Peace out,” Hedera added.

 

This left her and Thursday disengaged and adrift in a sea of mostly-wounded heavies. The knights pressed around, trying to restack with Thursday and to capture or croak Hedera, with no success at either. There was a cry from the city; Ethereum had noticed the drop in leadership and rallied to counterattack. Lisa honestly wasn’t sure whether they had the troops to win now, but from the sounds of it, they were trying.

 

What did you do?!” Thursday yelled.

 

Kiss me and I’ll tell you,” Hedera said coquettishly.

 

Thursday glared, but Hedera stood her ground.

 

I have the patience of a redwood,” she said.

 

Enough,” Thursday said. “Restack! Form eights!”

 

Lisa wasn’t sure whether Ethereum could win now, but she was very sure that they could win if they could fully heal, replenish juice, finish popping their warlord, and hire replacement daemons. She motioned NV to go with her as she moved in front of Thursday, conjured a pinch of powder, threw it in her eyes, and ducked into thoughtspace.

 

« Your troops are pretty much all down to their last few hits. Why not pull out and finish this next turn instead? You’ll be able to heal and win with no further losses. »

 

« Can’t … Ethereum will heal too …»

 

Suggestion required finesse to use right. You could basically mind-control sufficiently stupid units, but even moderately intelligent ones had to be manipulated; suggestion only made it a bit easier. Of course, it was difficult to reach high level without being smart, or having a very benign Fate. She’d have to emphasise everything except Ethereum’s option of counterattacking next turn.

 

« Sure, but they’re mostly packing daemons, which have fewer hits. They’ll heal less. And you can be on guard for that veiled caster next time, and keep your bonus. Right now, most of your guys are unled and getting torn apart. »

 

« Ethereum has lots of casters … juice …»

 

« They’ve mostly run for it. They were mercenaries, right? They’re not going to stick with a side that’s barely lasted two turns, not if they know they’re going to have to face the same army next turn, with their own army cut by more than half. » She really hoped she was wrong about that.

 

« Repair … walls …»

 

« With what money? They only had it in the first place from sacking the city; they can’t afford to rebuild. More likely, their Lord Godwin will see that it’s unwinnable and offer surrender terms. Instead of breaking the last of your troops against his walls, you’ll be able to use them to block Colesworth and Roham from attacking your side. »

 

There was a pause, then Lisa felt the spell knit itself home. She gave a vulpine grin and broke out of thinkspace.

 

Pro Toast!” Thursday shouted. “To me! Friday, rearguard, and cycle out! Fall back!”

 

Lisa and NV moved to one side, as the enemy army trampled past them, Ethereum in hot pursuit. Hedera pouted. “On second thought, you’re way too old for me!”

 

May zipped around them and chopped the now-exposed cloth golems to bits: one, then another, before giggling and dancing out of the way as a goht tried to engage her, then dashing around to the other side of the retreating army and bisecting a third. Probably that was the last of her juice, because she darted back to the Ethereum lines, restacked with her golems, and took down another Turnamancy construct. Lord Friday’s stack held back the charge of the last mostly-intact daemons while the wounded heavies escaped the hex, then turned and ran after them. In a minute, it was over. Ethereum had won.

 

Its fortifications had been caved in, its infantry and chief warlord were croaked and dusted, half its daemons were gone, the rest and all their golems were at low hits, and their casters, their real assets, were all completely spent. But they’d won. The casters jumped for joy, threw their fists in the air, hugged each other. Lisa and NV exchanged grins, and he cancelled the veil.

 

Akira was preening. “Do you see any wounded casters? No, you do not, not a single one. Aki-lucky!” she said, with a wink. “And where were you all this time?” she added to Lisa.

 

So that’s why our troops kept getting slaughtered in spite of the bonuses. And why I wasn’t spotted. … Thanks. “Busy winning it,” she said out loud. “I’ll tell you later.”

 

One of the junior Dollamancers was switching between her outfits and having trouble finding one that wasn’t spattered with construct ichor or soiled by dust; the other was checking out the fallen heavies, looking for raw materials. Arthur was beside her, wistful that he couldn’t reanimate any of them. May had her arms around Tom. Gus Tone and James were bragging to Hedera, who looked receptive to both. The Mathamancer was still slumped over in depression. Pete was next to him; he caught Lisa’s eye with a grin. Doctor Lecter was bickering with Samedi, who’d come down from the tower ahead of Jess; Jess waved to a bizarre clown snake unit, which promptly Changed back into Charlotte and ran to hug her friend. Mal, the senior Changemancer, cracked her knuckles in satisfaction. Loony had taken the ridiculous hat for herself. Flacutono was cracking jokes with Koume, Miles with Sharkey. They swirled around, cheering at their first victory.

 

 

 

AN

 

Gus’ song is Placebo’s Scared of Girls, which is quite a bit more modern than most Erfworld fare, but I never got into classic rock, and it suits his character. Dance-fighting is one of the harder mechanics to reverse-engineer: it seems like it’s powerful, but people sometimes don’t do it even when they can, and we have very little data. I assume there’s a drawback to using it, but I can’t imagine anything both parsimonious and flavourful, so, rather than try to explain why the Archons didn’t dance Slately out of the sky or why Jetstone does not rock, I’m just going to say that there’s an unknown but significant malus that doesn’t affect real Rhyme-o-mancers. When Gus does it, it gives his choice of +level to dancers or -level to their enemies, level+1 if it’s Rock; it’s therefore roughly equal to additional leadership. It’s especially effective against unled infantry, because you can reduce them to zero power and mop the floor with them. With Koume as backing singer, he can give both the buff and debuff at once.

 

Does the Foolamancy/Flower Power/Thinkamancy trick work? No idea. It’s very powerful, but the alternatives actually seem worse. If disengaged warlords can continue to give a bonus, that gives a huge advantage to disengaging your own. It’s implied that warlords gain XP when their stack wins an engagement; your warlords could be used with impunity to yield almost all their utility for no risk. I’m not sure about whether suggestion would be allowed: does it count as engagement? There’s circumstantial evidence either way. I’m allowing it, partly for narrative convenience, partly because it feels like a corner case (how often do those three specific casters triple-team a single keystone target like that?) in a setting which encourages exploitable corner cases, partly because it’s not unbeatable (keep several warlords together and require limited consensus), and partly because it’s about an order of magnitude less dramatic than the volcano trick.

 

I assume you can’t hire natural allies off-turn. I don’t think it’s been declared in canon, but if you could, GK could have just anticlimactically hired a pile of them at Spacerock. Much more balanced is if you can buy arbitrarily many but only at the start of your turn. Tom didn’t hire more because he’s overconfident and not actually all that rich; he’s already digging into savings for the casters’ upkeep, never mind allies.

 

I don’t like prolonged introduction scenes and dumping key info into author’s notes always feels like a kludge, but at this point I’m just being stubborn, so here’s a list of Ethereum’s casters, ordered by discipline. Expying characters was quicker than coming up with that many puns, and I don’t know celebrities. I left most of the levels vague in my notes as a narrative fudge factor and at least one levelled today, but I’ll at least ballpark them.

 

Discipline

Name

Level

Find

Genesis ‘Jess’

5

Find

Samedi

4

Math

Marvin

?

Doll

Harriet-May

8: Chief Caster

Doll

Grim Virgo

~4: May’s Minion #1

Doll

Cruller Twist

~3: May’s Minion #2

Turn

Pete Gyro

2

Weird

Loony

~4

Change

Mal

~7

Change

Charlotte

~3

Ditto

Koume

~6

Look

Sharkey

~3

Think

Lisa

~4

Fool

NV

~5

Fool

Flacutono

~3

Flower

Hedera Thurman

~3

Sign

Miles

~3

Date

James

~4

Shock

Tom the Marvel

6: Overlord

Croak

Arthur

3

Hat

Cap Doffer

~2

Rhyme

Gus Tone

4

Luck

Akira

3

Heal

Dr Lecter

~4

 

Part 2 of 20 in Ethereum

Comments

  • Neceros

    Love this fic!  I was very happy to see a new chapter!

  • DrDM

    Fantastic  to see things from Lisa's perspective, but even more fantastic to see this fic being continued.

     

    So many reference-characters!

  • Veryfuzzylogic (Tipped by 1 person!)

    I think this story is absolutely amazing and I look forward to more.  That said, there are a lot of different casters of different strengths and specialties and it would be really awesome if you could give a summary of the known ones at either the beginning or end of each chapter for ease of reference.  They each have their own interesting personalities and wonderfully unique and varied names, but I'm losing a little of the effect when I think that a changeamancer is a turnamancer or that the high level/adept is the low level/novice or vice versa.

    I took the below table of the different magic specialties and went through the story so far and tried to identify everyone that was mentioned. If the name is a ?? there was mention of more members of that specialty than there were names that were specifically attached to them. If the class is a ?? the name was mentioned, but it was never specified what class they were. I also included placeholder rows for classes that were specifically mentioned to not be there and at the bottom are the non-casters and other units I wasn't sure about.  Please let me know if I got anything wrong or if you want to give me any corrections/more details!

     

    Life Motion Matter Class Erf Fate Numbers
      X   Spookism Turnamancy Dollamancy Weirdomancy
        X Stuffamancy Dirtamancy Changemancy Dittomancy
    X X   Eyemancy Lookamancy Thinkamancy Foolamancy
    X   X Hippiemancy Flower Power Signamancy Date-a-mancy
      X X Naughtymancy Shockmancy Croakamancy Retconjuration
    X X X Stagemancy Hat Magic Carnymancy Rhyme-o-mancy
          Clevermancy Luckamancy Healomancy Moneymancy

     

    Name Specialty Casting Rank Level Side Rank Notes
    Jess (Genesis) Findamancer   5   Friends with Charlotte
    Samedi Findamancer        
    None Predictamancer        
    Marvin Mathamancer        
    Pete Turnamancer Novice 2   Just cast his first spell.
    May Dollamancer   8 Chief Caster Grand Couturier. Magical half-scissor weapon. Whisperfeet shoes (quiet and luckamancy boost). Other enchanted garb.
    ?? Dollamancer        
    ?? Dollamancer        
    Loony Wierdomancer       Magic hat +2 hits, -dignity
    None Dirtamancer        
    Mal Changemancer       Senior Changemancer
    Charlotte Changemancer       Friends with Jess
    Koume Dittomancer       Kotake is her sister (or ditto clone?)
    Sharkey Lookamancer        
    Lisa Thinkamancer       Acting Chief Warlord (tactical) / Baddie - Specializes in Suggestion spells
    NV Foolamancer        
    Count Flacutono Foolamancer        
    Hedera Florist        
    Miles Signamancer        
    ?? Date-a-mancer        
    Tom the Marvel Shockamancer   6 Overlord Very basic knowledge of Thinkamancy
    Arthur Croakamancer        
    Hannibal Croakamancer        
    None Retconjurer        
    Cap Doffer Hat Magician        
    None Carnymancer        
    Gus Tone Rhyme-o-mancer       Dance Fighting - Rock
    Akira Luckamancer   3    
    ?? Healomancer        
    None Moneymancer        
    Kotake ??       Koume is her sister (or is she a ditto clone?)
    James ??       Switched the attacking unit's targets
    Dr Lecter? ??       Daemons?
    Lord Spear Warlord N/A 1 Warlord Turned from Bell-End (the side Tom killed to create Ethereum) Most likely spawned as a piker and then promoted out of desperation.
    Lord Hiller Uncroaked N/A 3 Chief Warlord The Overlord of Bell-End before Tom killed him and took the city.  Dusted in the 1st battle with Pro-Toast.
    Pokedaemons Natural Allies       Indeterminate number remaining.
    Cloth Golems Dollamancer Led        
    Other Golems? ??        
    AV Club Thinkamancer Great Mind     Did not join Ethereum?
  • Veryfuzzylogic

    Lost a row on the first grid somehow.  Here is the full version:

    Life Motion Matter Class Erf Fate Numbers
    X     Hocus Pocus Findamancy Predictamancy Mathamancy
      X   Spookism Turnamancy Dollamancy Weirdomancy
        X Stuffamancy Dirtamancy Changemancy Dittomancy
    X X   Eyemancy Lookamancy Thinkamancy Foolamancy
    X   X Hippiemancy Flower Power Signamancy Date-a-mancy
      X X Naughtymancy Shockmancy Croakamancy Retconjuration
    X X X Stagemancy Hat Magic Carnymancy Rhyme-o-mancy
          Clevermancy Luckamancy Healomancy Moneymancy
  • Twofer

    Thanks, guys.

    @Fuzzy: Fair enough, I added that to the end. Your table's good. James Dates, there's no Hannibal, and Lecter's a Healomancer, but otherwise perfect for the information I gave, I think. 

    Seventy-odd daemons remain, but Tom will just hire more at dawn tomorrow to cover the losses. There are two cloth golems: a bear and a flying coat thing of May's design, both of which survived courtesy of massive leadership and ~15 levels of dedicated healing; also a few plant critters (ineffectual) and a hat golem (ignominiously destroyed). AV, being a canonical character, wasn't considered for the regular cast (it'd mean I could never credibly threaten to kill her off); in-universe, the Great Minds don't consort with baddies or anyone who hires them, and they're nervous about Ethereum, fearing it could ruin the MK's reputation.

  • FuzzyZergling

    Amazing, this is definitely my favorite Erf-fic as of this moment.

    Loved the Worm/Homestuck/Harry Potter/etc references!

  • Veryfuzzylogic

    I guess the below from part one was referencing Dr Lecter.  That makes sense since he is a healomancer. I think I had been confused by the prior instructions to Arthur when I read it, but with that frame of reference it's much clearer.

    "So here’s the plan. Arthur, you do the corpses. Pete, see if you can turn that warlord. Hannibal, make sure he survives, please, either way; we can turn him tomorrow if we have to."

  • Veryfuzzylogic

    Also, thanks a lot for the reply and explanations.  It helps a lot for how I have things arranged in my head.  I really look forward to seeing where this goes!

  • Twofer

    Oops, Hannibal was a typo. Fixed.

  • Snowbody
    Snowbody

    I think that the "Peace on Erf" is a bit overpowered. In order to take a single unit out, you need to engage it or be physically adjacent, but screening is an issue (unless you can challenge that unit to a duel and it accepts). Thursday was still effectively screened. So Hedera would have had to cast on the whole stack -- doable, but more juice. That removes all the units from the engagement, but they can unstack to get out of it. This gives a small window for a veiled Lisa to sneak in and put the Suggestion on Thursday, similar to how Vanna engaged Vurp with Binding Arbitration in Hvs.tCF 16

  • JBeshir

    Lisa's perspective was brilliant. Combined with Tom, they could be pretty scary as a team. I'm wondering where things go from here in coordinating everything and paying everyone's upkeep.

    The Wright/Homestuck references were fun. Gus Tone was hilarious to imagine. Have shmuckers!

  • GrayMatter

    God damn I'm enjoying this fic. I'm really excited to see where it goes.

  • Twofer

    Snow:

    I worry a lot about balance, because without playtesting and seeing how the metagame develops, I'm going to do something OP sooner or later. In that particular case, though, it's actually Foolamancy that's the problem: a lone unit can sneak attack from under a veil and have a chance to bypass a screen, depending on distraction and other variables. (I'll think about rewriting to make that apparent.) Flower Power is still lame. (Maybe that's not fair. It's just less combat-oriented.)

    In general, veiled sneak attacks are hot magic which seriously risk the Foolamancer and whoever deals the death blow (someone good, if they can one-shot a chief warlord, even with a sneak attack bonus). Compare to a Shockmancer just zapping everyone in his way: Tom has the raw power to do much more total damage, whereas NV can assist a surgical strike on leadership or another priority target. It feels roughly balanced, maybe, although I haven't gamed enough stealthers to be confident.

    Name, Gray: Thanks! I'm thinking of switching perspectives each time; as is, most of the characters are underdeveloped. One of the Findamancers is up next.

  • DunkelMentat

    So, so great.

    I think I found a typo: "the high tower at its very centre. The other builds lay around it" shouldn't that be buildings?

    I'm thankful for the chart at the bottom too, a lot of named characters in this. Fave fanfic going right now. You should be proud. Is Loony getting the hat a reference to Luna Lovegood?

  • Twofer

    @Dunkel: Thank you. Fixed that. Yeah, Loony's Luna; there's a blink-and-miss-it reference to her earrings in the first part. The hat's from Homestuck, but as I recall she was never very choosy about her millinery.

    If anyone else notices typos, please tell me. Or flow problems, or if something's ambiguous or if you're curious about background or whatever. That's where that table of disciplines came from, after all.

  • DunkelMentat

    You should find someone on here who does art and have them make a map. It's hard to keep the relative positions of all the sides around Ethereum straight in my head. Tom needs to find a thinkamancer who gets of on links.

  • Veryfuzzylogic

    With a Baddie on the team I think that future thinkamancer recruitment will not be terribly selective and I do not find it surprising that Ethereum would attract casters who aren't interested in the normal applications of their disciplines.  

    One of the many appeals of this story in that it provides believable opportunities for the various types of magic to be applied in new ways that may never be seen in cannon, but aren't likely to be directly disproven by cannon either.  

    Plus, no voluntary linking is more reasons for them to continue to innovate within their own disciplines or to learn more about each other's abilities.  Imagine having NV learn novice thinkamancy from Lisa's skewed perspective.  

    Foolamancy+novice suggestion is way more exciting to me than a dollamancer+dittomancer link up to create magic items and/or cloth golems faster, for example.

    That's not to say that they may not end up with a thinkamancer who is a Baddie specifically because they like to link in order to fully take over the minds of, or imprint their identity upon, the other casters in the link rather than allowing their identity to be suppressed like how it is usually done.  That opens even more interesting, if somewhat disturbing possibilities.

  • ArtyD

    Considering everything is happening in one hex so far we don't need a map.  Perhaps a city view.

  • Twofer

    @Dunkel, Arty: I've thought about drawing some of that stuff myself, but I'm a pretty slow artist, and I'd rather spend the time writing. They're going on a field trip presently, so I might tack a sketched map on to chapter three.

    If anyone is a decent artist and wants to volunteer art for this, though, hit me up, and I'll PM you whatever notes you want. Not just for maps: I was thinking about drawing a picture of all the casters lined up in one big shot like they do for football teams, but it would have taken ages to do all twenty-four, what with the composition and getting all their Signamancies and everything, especially if I also had the city in the background and maybe some daemons and golems or similar.

    @Fuzzy:

    Sharp observation. For a few reasons that'll come up later, Tom's almost exclusively got oddball casters who don't like to play by their disciplines' and guilds' rules. Lisa's typical of Ethereum that way; she's atypical of Thinkamancers. Tom would love another, because that'd give him a ridiculous number of Trimancer links, but she was the only unaffiliated one he could find, and the Great Minds won't help Ethereum, for more reasons than just refusing to cooperate with a baddie.

    From a narrative perspective, I'm not happy with links, because they skirt dangerously close to the edge of dei ex machina. We have a pretty good idea of what most disciplines do, but when links occur, suddenly they can do all sorts of weird and wonderful things with pretty tenuous connections to their component parts, and which can single-handedly win entire campaigns. No matter what odds they go up against, you'd be expecting a volcano or a turn stop at every battle. If they're forced to use non-link synergy, their power is both limited and well-defined. It also forces them to form relationships with each other.

  • DunkelMentat

    Man I love this shit. Twofer if I was an artist I would draw these things. As it is, I make cells do certain things, and that's basically it. Your explanation there about narrative reasons for avoiding links makes a ton of sense. I think that's really going to keep this thing grounded. I mean shit maybe a 2-caster link could give you the Imperius curse; shit is way too OP.

    Found a typographical error. "They had only just fled left a wine cellar where James and Hedera were sharing an intimate Martini when the turn ended."

  • GrayMatter

    Any idea how long we're gonna have to wait for chapter 3? No pressure, I'm just really excited to see where things go from here.

  • Twofer

    @Dunkel: Thanks, fixed.

    I was thinking about Lookamancy/Shockmancy: could you do an artillery-type thing with remote strikes? It seems like a logical thing to get from mixing those two, but it instantly and uncounterably ends any side without an heir (an heir buys an extra turn). Or Healomancy/Dollamancy making a vampiric weapon: seems fine, until you realise that if you give it to a unit with enough buffs, it can reasonably expect to solo an entire army. But if you can only do things like making stealthed units (rather than, say, just giving a veil cloak to a spare piker) or towers that narrate drinks recipes, it's not even worth linking. Flavourful and cool, but not worth three casters.

    @Gray: I'm currently at 2,500; these two chapters have been around 9k–10k. Much of the work is non-writing, though, plotting and so on. I'll make sure to put it up on a Friday, hopefully the one in eleven days.

  • Dormninja

    You have a lot of different things going on at the same time, and a lot of ways that they could be confused but are managing to not be. It's reminiscent of reading the Wheel of Time, except I don't have to skip past all the boring Elayne parts to get to the good stuff with Mat.

     

    Admirable! Impressive. Have a tip.

  • happyturtle

    My husband and I just re-read Hitch-hikers. Marvin the Mathamancer is just about perfect - bringing up Orlys at random, only to say how much he loathes them made me laugh.

  • Nightseraph

    Really love the description of hot/cold casters. An excellent way to put it.