Ethereum: day three

By Twofer Comments (25) (Tipped by 12 people!)

Part 3 of 20 in Ethereum

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Let’s get down to business to defeat Pro Toast!

 

Did they send me courtiers when I said ‘a host’?

 

You’re the saddest stack I’ve ever met, but you can bet before we’re through,

 

Mister, I’ll make a man out of you.”

 

They sang along with Gus as they rode or – in her case – rolled along in a column. She and the other casters were in no particular formation in the centre, surrounded by a diverse collection of daemons, golems, tamed ferals, and the freshly-popped Chief Warlady, Belle. They were mounted on the tougher daemons (most of them weren’t actually mounts, but Loony had somehow fixed this), or in James’ case on a honey rider that Sharkey had spotted for him that morning.

 

Two thirds of them had come along; the slowest daemons were staying in the city with their five coldest casters, plus Pete, who would accelerate the city’s production if he stayed in it for another turn, Hedera, who couldn’t help with a battle of annihilation, and Samedi, who was basically lazy. Other than the force they were going to wipe out, they were pretty sure there were no enemies within a turn of their city, but there was a fine line between optimising firepower and overextending. Still, Tom, the Dollamancers, the Foolamancers, Lisa, James, Arthur, the Changemancers, Lecter, Gus, Koume, Loony, and she herself would be more than enough to finish off one hex.

 

It was lovely terrain, open fields which her chair could traverse easily, full of flowers and minor ferals, the kind that popped every other hex and which she had never thought of as anything more than high-effort breakfast for archers, things like nibble vermin and gobblefiends. James still threw a little juice at each one, and they joined the column. Jess had no illusions about their chances of surviving the turn. They had one hit apiece and zero combat; cannon fodder at its finest. Loony was picking flowers and putting them in Jess’ hair as they went, still wearing that absurd hat on her head. She had a surprisingly good singing voice.

 

Jess had popped barbarian, hundreds of turns ago. She was captured by a raiding party before her second turn; they dragged her to a city and a Turnamancer forced her to join the side. She’d been an oddity, a unit with no move or combat stats but who could conjure weird and wonderful monsters beyond the others’ imaginations or understanding. Even when she was taken to the capital and met the Shockmancer and Chief Dirtamancer, she was always an outsider. She was the barbarian, the Life user, the one who’d been a drain on one of the others just so she’d be able to move at all. The nonmagical units barely ever even spoke to her.

 

After that all ended and she, in an uncomfortable hurry, entered the Magic Kingdom for the first time, she learnt the hard reality of life as a true barbarian. She might have thought that, being surrounded by other casters, it might be a bit less lonely, but things didn’t work out that way. They weren’t friends there; they were associates at best, rivals or even enemies the rest of the time.

 

Tom had been her first real friend. He told her he saw her real potential, that she mattered; he inducted her into his network, found her work, taught her about the world, told her his dreams. He introduced her to Charlotte, her second real friend. Then, two turns ago, he told her that his crazy ideas had actually worked.

 

It was better than she’d dared hope. Back in the Magic Kingdom, she and Mal and Grim would have been competing with each other for a contract, trying to cut the others down. Now, they were singing together while Loony put flowers in her hair. It was like the easy camaraderie the other units of her first side had had with each other. It was fun. She would have been happy just to roll along forever.

 

It wasn’t to be, of course. Tom gestured to Gus as they crossed the fourth hex boundary, and the Rhyme-o-mancer moved into a coda and finished his song. They assembled into four stacks in a semicircle around the Overlord.

 

We’re almost there,” he said, sitting astride his daemon. “Thursday’s gang is two hexes ahead.” He smiled. “Not for long. We’re easily strong enough to wipe them out. However, we’d lose too many troops in a frontal assault.”

 

They had begun with a hundred and twenty thousand shmuckers. The first wave of daemons had cost just under forty, and the replacements had put the total up to sixty. They’d spent eleven on their upkeeps, three buying the infantry last turn, and sixteen thousand between other upkeeps and repairing the city walls. They couldn’t afford to repopulate their allies again, and they needed a full army to take their second city.

 

They’re badly wounded from yesterday. The main problem is Thursday herself. Her leadership makes that hex twice as strong as it ought to be. The first wave is going to take her out surgically. Capture, not croak; we’ll give her to Pete.”

 

Capture Lady Thursday?” said James, quirking an eyebrow.

 

I wanna do it!” Charlotte piped up.

 

Let’s draw straws!” said NV.

 

Tom said, “We should do it together. Sharkey says that she’s brought forward some of the garrison from Wolf’s Lair as reinforcements, so she has plenty of infantry, but only one stack of archers; she thinks she wiped out our air power when she shot down Mal’s dwagon.” He smirked. “So, all we have to deal with is a single stack, and then our flyers can take her at their leisure. After that’s done, the rest of us will wipe out her troops.”

 

They nodded, and those of them who could create flyers took the implicit order. Jess shut her eyes to focus on finding something suitable.

 

She generally gave the impression that she created her projections from scratch, that she chose the stats and specials, and a commensurate amount of her juice was sculpted into a single unit which she could control until it took too much damage to maintain cohesion. This was functionally accurate, but fundamentally false. In reality, she indicated what sorts of qualities she wanted, then searched through neighbouring universes for units like it, found one that was close enough, brought it to herself, and controlled it. Possibly she only acquired a ditto, she wasn’t sure. Samedi’s shtick was to find a stack of weaker units and field them all at once, but she preferred to pour all her juice into finding a single top-level behemoth, especially ever since she realised she could find units with magic of their own, albeit weaker than hers. The epiphany had pushed her from novice to adept.

 

She peered into the space between worlds, trying to look to the skies for an airborne unit, one that was powerful and strong, one that was fast … no, she decided to be creative and go for one with low-end Predictamancy instead; it had been too long since she’d been able to push herself. Mixing disciplines was rumoured to help for gaining masteries, and she’d be more useful if she understood her own limits better. Besides, it would help round out the side to cover one of the disciplines they lacked.

 

She searched, finding and discarding forms that were too delicate or weak or slow or stubborn and those that she knew she didn’t have the juice to bind fully, which might escape her control prematurely and fizzle or even turn on her and her side. She discarded entire realities, ones where nothing at all could fly, where everything was tiny and feeble, where everything was too strong …

 

she homed in on a conceptual pocket, one full of strange flyers and Predictamancers. At the top of the sky was her unit, beautiful, terrifying. She weaved strands of juice around it, binding it, bringing it back to Erfworld.

 

It manifested slowly, first a single perfect alabaster foot, then the calf, with a wing growing from just under the knee, a thigh, pelvis, the other leg, the slender but resilient waist, arms folded across her breasts, a graceful neck, the blank, mask-like face; wings modestly furling around her, sprouting from her entire body, even from other wings. Jess entered and expanded her awareness, inhaling her new body’s senses.

 

Hopping into new forms was a rush she was certain no other discipline could match, not even Dittomancy, although Charlotte came close. Flyers were the best. Merely riding one was extremely uncomfortable for her, given her permanent incapacitation, but actually being a flyer meant that she got their instincts. She could rise and glide and swoop as easily as she could walk, without leaving her stomach behind. This one’s Predictamancy would have thrown her if she hadn’t inherited the intuition that went with it. She didn’t see, or perhaps even exist, in a single moment of the present; she existed on a continuum of time, now and a few rounds into the future.

 

She saw NV whistle a few moments before he did, saw that event slide back into the present and then her memory. Mal was already in her favourite black dragon form, next to May, astride their flying cloth golem, but Tom would wave her off it in a moment. Loony cast over six of the levelled daemons, causing incongruous wings to sprout from their backs, then mounted one and gave it her hat; Flacutono took another. Jess watched them ascend, experimenting with their newfound ability. She saw her regular body, insensate in its chair, then looked further, saw herself point to Lady Belle, and Belle mount the biggest daemon and stack with them. The moment moved backward through Jess’ perceptual space into the present.

 

Let’s fly!”

 

Pro Toast had limited and only partly correct information about what casters with what disciplines they were up against. Hopefully, most of their notes were something like ‘Ethereum does a lot of strange things that we don’t really understand’ rather than an explicit roster that would let them try to formulate a strategic counter. Tom had ordered them to halt two hexes away from Thursday mostly for that reason, so she wouldn’t see them casting and relay the message back; it also meant Flacutono could veil them without her seeing.

 

They entered the intervening hex in a loose stack, led by Lady Belle for her bonus. Mal did a barrel roll, swooping under them, practising her flight. Jess saw herself twist acrobatically, spinning through the air, and felt the rush as it played through. Belle, who was atop a winged purple snake thing, would try her own loop; Loony serenely watched from atop her bone-headed mount, but Flacutono would do a pointlessly showy roll and pretend that he meant to almost crash. Then they would cross into Thursday’s hex.

 

One feature of Findamancy was that projections were wholly expendable. At yesterday’s battle, she had stacked with the Dollamancers and their golems to hold the line against the brunt of Pro Toast’s assault, going toe to toe with their top units with no regard for self-preservation. The Dollamancers had poured their juice into keeping the golems stitched, and both had survived, but her projection had drawn heavy damage and been knocked out quickly.

 

As a result, she hadn’t realised just how ragged Pro Toast’s group was. They still had eight stacks’ worth of heavies, but most of them were badly mauled, down to just a few hits. Another fifty or sixty pikers stood around, and one lone archery stack.

 

Thursday had been expecting another veiled attack, and spotted them as soon as they crossed the hex boundary. Jess would have rolled her eyes at Flacutono, except that her current body’s eyes didn’t have pupils.

 

Archery!” Thursday shouted. “Set! Serve!”

 

Obliviate,” Loony said absently, waving her hand at the archers with a subtle flare of juice.

 

Fire!”

 

Some of the archers obeyed, but their shots went hilariously wide, while others just lowered their bows and stared quizzically. Jess wasn’t sure exactly what the Weirdomancer had done, but for the next few rounds at least, those archers wouldn’t hit a thing. Thursday motioned them to take cover behind some larger heavies, and for one to break stack and come to her to confer.

 

Is that it?” Belle asked.

 

They won’t interfere,” Loony said.

 

Fine. Everyone, break that screen!” Belle cried, and swooped.

 

Jess saw herself extend a leg to bounce Belle’s mount off course and high; a bear swiped through where she would have been about to be, with what looked like a crit. Flacutono threw on a more resilient baffle; Mal inhaled and breathed green fire; Loony’s mount dropped a piece of battlecrap that was somehow bigger than the daemon itself was; the other daemons dived to engage the scorched bears and trade blows. Unflinching, Thursday ordered a counter; one bear landed a serious hit on a daemon, which wheeled up and out of range, unwilling to try again and risk croaking.

 

It was vicious. Thursday’s group was badly hurt, but not beaten, and if they couldn’t take her out, any victory would be pyrrhic. Thursday kept her head and ordered her heavies to screen and bat off the daemons whenever they got too close; with her leadership, they had a chance to one-shot any that got too close, although it was hard with the baffle. Mal kept breathing, exceeding her form’s natural number of attacks and pouring in juice to make up the difference. Thursday responded by ordering six fresh heavies in, restacking, then dismissing the damaged ones; Jess managed to coup de grâce one with an attack of opportunity, but they were still outnumbered.

 

Belle motioned them to break off the attack and climb. Three of the daemons had been hit but not croaked, and were nursing injuries. “This isn’t working,” she said. “We need a better plan.”

 

Mal growled. Jess moved a hand over her mouth, indicating muteness. Flacutono’s daemon flapped forward. “This challenge … it is beyond us all!” They gave him a look. “What do you think, too melodramatic? Give me some feedback!”

 

Loony hopped onto a flying red fish that was down to two hits, and broke stack. “I’m out of juice,” she said. “Breath specials are hard. I’ll fetch Tom; he said he wanted to stay in reserve, but I think we need the help now.”

 

Jess pursed her lips as best she could in this form, but there was nothing else for it. Admitting failure was bad, but nothing like if they failed, wasted all their juice, and got their support croaked. They said nothing as Loony left the hex.

 

Below, Thursday and Friday were restacking again with three big Turnamancy constructs and two knights. Jess Predicted the next several rounds. With a flash of insight, she claimed command of the stack, and dived to engage. She silently ordered Flacutono to displace them.

 

Hey!” said Belle, annoyed, but she followed, sword high.

 

They zoomed toward Thursday’s stack, then peeled left, changed directions, and feinted once more, before one of the knights crackled and morphed into Tom. He pointed at Thursday from behind, and a lance of red light tagged her between her shoulder blades.

 

Thursday, who had previously been perfectly poised throughout everything, let out a shriek, and collapsed, incapacitated. Friday whirled on Tom, and came face-to-face with Thursday.

 

Wait, don’t do it!” she cried.

 

Friday hesitated for just long enough for NV to crit him between the ribs with a concealed dagger, his veil fizzling.

 

With both commanders down, the rest of the hex rushed to attack their only targets. Tom raised a hand, and arcs of energy crackled around him; it knocked the three constructs back and threw sparks and foul-smelling smoke. Jess was already on the ground, screening him from a stack of pikers; Tom and NV mounted two daemons, and they leapt into the air, out of range of pursuit.

 

NV cackled. “Oh, man! I can’t believe those worms fell for that! Warlords are such pathetic units.” With a pang of envy, Jess noted that he’d levelled to six.

 

Thanks for the distraction,” Tom told the casters and Belle. “She knew we had a Foolamancer; she didn’t know we have two. Now, it’s time for the finale.” He pointed the hex they’d come from; on his Ruler order, the other ten casters and their other units approached. Beneath them in their own hex, the infantry and heavies were stomping around, agitated, but now they were disorganised, forming haphazard stacks with no real order, blocking one another’s lines of movement. “We’ll finish that three-stack before the others get here.”

 

Without a warlord coordinating the remaining units, Jess could dodge every attack with ease, using her last juice to merge seamlessly around Flacutono’s and NV’s veiled swipes and Tom’s high-efficiency precision shots. She had just finished off the stack when Ethereum’s ground forces arrived.

 

May wasted no time in breaking ranks and tearing through the best cloth golems; the others autoattacked her, but her speed boots let her selectively engage and disengage, and she ran rings around everything she couldn’t hack to bits. Behind her were the daemons.

 

Last time, the heavies were well-led and had the initiative and all their hits, and the casters had each been doing whatever seemed like a good idea at the time, frequently getting in one another’s way, failing to coordinate. This time, Tom had gone over it properly, even briefly consulting Marvin, and found that Charlotte, James, Gus, and Koume could all layer bonuses, on top of the passive bonuses Akira and Marvin supposedly provided. With their Chief Warlady in the hex, they gave the equivalent of something like plus twenty to three whole stacks. They had had to trade three daemons for one heavy before. Now, they could just about trade three heavies for one daemon, or, more pragmatically, trade two and then withdraw the daemon or have Lecter heal it.

 

The Pro Toast infantry were even weaker; where the heavies were levelled veterans that had obviously fought through a long campaign, the infantry was a holding force of untrained level ones. They formed outsize stacks with no bonus, autoattacked, and were cut down. Where Pro Toast looked like managing a breakthrough, James threw in his ferals; they fell to bits at the first hit and had no real chance to deal damage of their own, but they were only supposed to draw fire away from wounded units while they cycled out, and they did that just fine.

 

Without her precognition, Jess was still a formidable unit, but her instinct for self-preservation had been eroded from being croaked repeatedly. She moved to flank a stack that daemons were swarming, croaked a dodongo, traded powerful blows with an iron knuckle, and abruptly she was back in her normal body, two hexes away.

 

To go from a beautiful flying heavy like that to a body which could barely crawl was always a comedown. Charlotte was gone, having run off with the daemons in her clown snake form. Jess let out a long sigh and took a moment to centre herself while her adrenaline rush wore off.

 

While she was a projection, her normal body wasn’t very relevant. Certainly, if it were harmed, she could croak, but since she could cast from off-hex, that was rarely a consideration. The only real effect was that her projections got a level bonus; this was constant and uninterruptible, so she never paid much attention to it, and hadn’t noticed when it ticked up to six.

 

Hah! Flipping finally!”

 

Oh, have we won?”

 

She twisted in her chair in surprise. Apparently she wasn’t alone in the hex after all: Loony was sitting in the grass behind her, now getting to her feet. Her wounded flying fish daemon was beside her, looking quite gormless.

 

No, my projection croaked. I must have been hit from behind. I finally levelled. What about you? What are you doing here, why aren’t you with them?”

 

Weirdomancy is only sort of hot,” Loony said. “A bit colder than Findamancy. Lukewarm, really. I can give units specials, but I don’t need to stay in their stack or hex, so I cast everything I could from here and left them to it. Like you.”

 

You won’t level,” Jess pointed out. Well, she would, but it’d take ages.

 

Loony shrugged. “I thought someone should stay with you.”

 

It’s our turn.”

 

You might have been lonely.”

 

That was … unexpectedly sweet.

 

We should follow them,” Jess said, taking a moment to get her bearings. “We’re probably about to win; Tom’ll want to say something after.”

 

Loony stacked with her and the fish, took the handles at the back of her chair, and pushed. “Can I ask about this, or would that be rude?”

 

The chair? I’m permanently incapacitated. I popped this way; it’s not an injury, so Lecter can’t do anything about it. I’ve tried with other Healomancers, in the Magic Kingdom. It’s fine.”

 

Loony was silent for a time. Since she was behind the chair, Jess couldn’t read her expression. “If it’s fine, why did you ask them to try to change it?”

 

Jess wondered whether she was dim, or just incredibly undersocialised. “It’s not that I like having to have this thing. It’s annoying, obviously. But I can’t do anything about it, and I’m used to it, so I’m not asking for sympathy. It’s just a thing I have to put up with. James has to put up with having a crap discipline; I have to put up with staying at the bottom of staircases. That’s life.”

 

Loony hesitated. “Do you know much about Weirdomancy?” she asked.

 

I don’t think anyone does, really,” Jess said, raising an eyebrow at the seemingly unconnected topic. “You guys are about the rarest discipline there is, not counting Retconjuration. I can’t think of any other Weirdomancers I’ve ever seen. Well, there was one called … Haru?”

 

Oh,” said Loony. “Do you know where she is now?”

 

It was hundreds of turns ago, and she was just visiting from her side. I didn’t ask for any details. Sorry.”

 

Loony shrugged. “It’s fine. It’s just that I’ve never met another. I don’t know why there aren’t more of us; I suppose we just don’t pop as much as the other disciplines. But it means that no-one else understands how it works.”

 

It’s something to do with movement, isn’t it? You made those daemons mounts and let them fly.”

 

It’s the magic of specials.”

 

They crossed the hex boundary and saw Thursday’s hex, or rather, Tom’s, because her army was gone. His army stood in its place, celebrating. May and her Dollamancer minions were scavenging swatches of cloth and stitching them back together; Arthur had mass-uncroaked the basic infantry and assembled them in an outsize stack, and was inspecting Friday’s corpse; Charlotte, back in human form and perched atop their battle bear, saw Jess and waved; Gus played a nine-note victory fanfare. Tom watched everything with satisfaction.

 

We can give and take specials. Flying is popular, I was hired for that a lot, although I don’t really like it myself. Some sides with lots of forest around their capital sometimes ask for forest capability. Some people want to remove specials from enemy units. It can be any special, except that I can’t permanently add or remove magic.”

 

A shiver went down Jess’ spine. That implied she could temporarily remove magic. A hard counter to any caster. No wonder Tom had wanted her: it meant Pro Toast wouldn’t be able to hire her. If they went up against another Weirdomancer, would they cancel each other out?

 

I don’t mean to be rude, but where is this going?”

 

You know how lots of disciplines give extra senses? Weirdomancy gives a sense of specials. So I already knew that you’re not wounded. You have the permanent incapacitation special. Healomancy can’t remove specials, so of course Lecter can’t change that.”

 

Jess blinked. “But … you can?”

 

Well, not right now. I already used the last of my juice on these,” she said, indicating the fish. “But I’ll have more juice tomorrow. It shouldn’t be too hard, I think. I’ve never done permanent incapacitation before, but I’ve never found any special that I couldn’t remove.”

 

Can you do it permanently?”

 

I can’t know until I try, but I should think so; permanent incapacitation isn’t magical. Shall I try it just for a turn tomorrow, and then make it permanent if you like it?”

 

I’d like that,” Jess said. “Please. Thank you.”

 

You’re very welcome,” Loony said.

 

She walked in silence for a while, pushing the chair.

 

Loony,” Jess said. “Why did you decide to join Ethereum? I don’t get the impression that you care about Tom’s ideals, and you aren’t in it for the XP. You don’t want revenge on anyone, and you don’t need the upkeep if you’re the only Weirdomancer for hire there is. So why?”

 

There was a long pause. Jess almost thought Loony hadn’t heard, or perhaps had got distracted by something else.

 

Weirdomancers are very rare. I’ve never met another, no matter how hard I look, although sometimes I meet people like you who have. I’ve been trying for a while. If I were you, I could just go to the Findamancers’ Sett and meet lots of others, but there’s no guild of Weirdomancers. You can’t really have a guild with only one member.

 

Tom he said he wanted to take as many casters as he could. Ethereum’s sort of like a guild, in that it’s a lot of casters working together, and it accepts every discipline, so I can join it. But that means another Weirdomancer might join too, someday, if we do well. If ever there is another barbarian Weirdomancer, I think this is where they’ll look, for the same reason I did.”

 

Jess blinked again. It struck her that she’d been rather self-absorbed. She’d complained about being lonely, because she had popped barbarian, and had ‘only’ befriended Tom and Charlotte and later Lisa and maybe Akira and now Loony. She’d had plenty of people she could relate and talk to; she’d fixated on the one thing she didn’t talk about, magic, and convinced herself she couldn’t, but she absolutely could have, she just hadn’t, out of … why, exactly? Stuff that.

 

That’s a good plan,” she said aloud. “You know what, though? You’re luckier than you think. This side’s better than a guild.”

 

Oh?”

 

Guilds mostly exist to help organise work. Whenever a ruler wants a Findamancer, they tell the Thinkamancers or the message board or a hustler or whoever, it gets back to Seed, the guild leader, he decides whether we’ll take it, and if he says yes, it’s offered to whoever’s up next on the rotation. In return, you have to pay a cut and follow guild rules; no working for anyone blacklisted, no taking pay below a certain amount, that sort of thing. With me?”

 

That sounds fair,” Loony said. “What’s wrong with that?”

 

What’s wrong is that that means that we’re all enemies, because only one of us can get any given job. Seed tries to get us being friendly with each other, and he makes the Sett look nice, we have the best furniture of all the guilds, but that doesn’t change the fact that none of us actually likes anyone else. We never work together or do anything to help each other. My best friends are cross-discipline for a reason. Out here, though, we’re all on the same side. If I can project something and you can give me some good specials, we’re both stronger for it; we both want to increase the odds that the side survives.” She paused. “Wait, can you give my projections specials? I can do it myself, but it burns like a fifth of my juice for something like flying.”

 

Loony turned wide, protuberant eyes on her. “Oh yes. It costs much less than that with Weirdomancy. Especially if it’s part of a mass spell.”

 

Well, that’s a case in point. Sure, I can’t teach you about Weirdomancy, but nobody at the Sett ever tried to teach me anything at all, or if they did, there were strings attached. After turn ends, let’s sit down together with Charlotte and talk about what we can all do and how we can work together. In fact, Weirdomancy is Spookism with Numbers, isn’t it? Let’s get Grim and Koume in too, and they can talk about that with you and Charlotte.”

 

I,” Loony said quietly. “That sounds lovely. Thank you.”

 

Jess paused, as an even bigger idea hit her. “Titans, but adeptness and mastery insights include cross-discipline magic. No-one in the guilds ever helps with insights, you don’t want more competitors for jobs demanding a high-class caster, but out here …”

 

They finally crossed the hex boundary. Charlotte was waiting for them, and hopped up onto Jess’ lap. The daemons were frolicking and preening; the other casters had assembled with Tom. Jess also saw Belle and the two golems, standing guard over Thursday’s prone form.

 

This is outstanding work, all of you,” he said, smiling. “With this, in just three turns, we’ve crushed an entire mundane army without taking a single loss. We didn’t even use our full force, and we’re stronger now than we were back then.” A few people nodded; Jess wasn’t the only one to have levelled. May was smirking; with all those cloth golems, she’d made it up to nine. “I think this is all the proof anyone needs that Ethereum is more than a match for anything the rest of the world can throw at us. We have one real enemy, and we humiliated them today. We can win.

 

But we’re still in danger. As a few of you have pointed out, our treasury is critical, only thirty thousand now, and our upkeep is higher than our income. Pro Toast will muster another army soon, and if we have to repopulate our allies again, we will go broke. That means we have to go on the offensive before then.

 

One more turn from here is Wolf’s Lair, a level three. Sharkey has already scried on it; there is one warlord and a hundred and twenty basic infantry defending it, no heavies, and no reinforcements. They thought the war was over, so they moved their troops back from the front to defend their other new cities.” He grinned. “So here’s the plan. We’re going to go over there next turn, and explain exactly why they’re wrong.”

 

The cheered again, and set off for the next hex, and their destiny.

 

 

 

Ethereum 

 

Map by Twofer. Ethereum’s livery by DoomBlahSong.

 

 

 

AN

 

This is pretty much the entirety of why I had Findamancy be about summoning rather than location. Ethereum didn’t need more intel but they did need more firepower to credibly fight off a conquering army, and the summoning mechanic is more varied and therefore interesting than yet more duplicate Dollamancers or Shockmancers, which is what Tom would have taken instead.

 

For Loony’s purposes, the most interesting specials from canon are dwagon breath and the double eagle’s Luckamancy reserve, because they indicate that there are lots of regional units with signature moves. If she’s read and explored a lot, she probably knows about an awful lot of different specials. Her spells today were giving mount, flight, and dwagon breath, and removing archery. Weirdomancy isn’t powerful per se (removing archery is rather lame compared to what a second Shockmancer would have done, namely, blasting the stack), but it is effective for utility work, combos, and teaching enemies not to be cute.

 

In canon, novice/adept/master-class mostly seems to act as an emphatic of level. Here, they’re perks from epiphanies about magic and yield extra powers, things like letting Jess find units with their own magic. Normally they occur around levels 3–5 and 6–8, but there’s no rule, most casters just happen to think about magic and level up with it at around those rates. Casters normally keep their insights to themselves, more out of jealousy than anything else, but there’s no reason they have to, it’s not like they’re DRM-locked.

 

If the map is unclear, blame Hiller for not buying one with a legend. The vertical lines are stacks (length indicates size), pokéballs are daemons, seven blobs is a farm or farmlike object, and the grey hex with the squiggles is a ruin hex. That little island side in the corner is just these guys Hiller knew awhile ago, not part of the Alliance. They’re definitely not going to have any real importance. I think I might have made everything too crowded, most cities seem to be further spread out, but selective reading suggests that fifteen hexes happens sometimes.

 

Most infantry and other ground units have eight move. Slow units like siege towers have six or even fewer, fast ones have twelve to sixteen at level one. Flyers have twenty-four at the very slowest. (Loony’s daemons are an exception: she gives specials but can’t modify stats.) Before anyone points out that Thursday’s reinforcements didn’t have move to reach her hex from Wolf’s Lair, they actually began eight hexes along the road and could have joined in yesterday’s assault; Thursday wanted them fresh to hold the city against Prince Pasta’s inevitable double-cross. Given that, you can probably guess the rationales for all the different positions and formations.

 

Part 3 of 20 in Ethereum

Comments

  • tomaO2

    This continues to be an interesting story. Look forward to see how this new country progresses. 

    One thing, it's always been my head cannon that another feature of turnamacers is that they can cast on all allied units in a hex to reset movement back to full, meaning that a unit can go twice as far as normal, if they first use up all their movement before casting happens. Something like that would give a LOT of mobility options to the army.

  • Veryfuzzylogic

    The map is really cool.  What I think is particularly interesting is that if they wanted to take Arkham later, they could bypass the army guarding the bridge without alerting their opponent by Loony giving them all whatever the water/swimming special is, or flying of course.  Diplomatically, that isn't a great idea for now, but with the lack of understanding of wierdomancy and the lack of casters on the other sides it is a nice trick in their large bag of them for the future.

    Do the pokeballs represent leadership in the hex?

    I absolutely love the lead-in to more potential cross-discipline discussions and how the side is becoming more of a cohesive team each time they fight. Also love Jess's perspective and the development of her and Loony's characters.  Looking forward to seeing who narrates the next chapter and what happens next.

  • Free Radical

    Weirdomancy and Dittomancy seem like they'd have a very interesting synergy. It's been mentioned that Dittomancy can double specials, and it's been mentioned that some units have big situational bonuses - gobwins have big bonuses to tunnel fighting, say.

     

    I'd guess there are similar bonuses for fighting in forests or mountains or open plains or cities (maybe particular parts of cities instead, like dungeons or city walls) or many other types of terrain, so Loony could pile on the appropriate bonus if she knows it, and have Koume double that bonus. Add that to a proper Chief Warlord bonus once they turn Thursday and some of the other bonuses... they could be looking at some truly ridiculous unit strengths soon.

     

    Speaking of Thursday, I wonder how strongly a Turnamancy spell would hold her? It's one thing for Warlord Spear, with his single turn of previous loyalty to a dead side, but Thursday was heir to Pro Toast and would be forced to fight against them with only a level two Turnamancer's spells to ensure her loyalty? Probably not even given any respect by her new side with Tom's apparent disdain for Warlords. That could be interesting.

     

    That ruin on your map also looks interesting. Searching a ruin for magic items seems like Natural Findamancy. I wonder what a real Findamancer would make of it?

  • DrDM

    ...did Jess just puppet the Simurgh?

     

    That's awesome!

  • Twofer

    @Toma: That's … actually not a bad idea. I reject most suggestions because it's hard to make ones that accord with the author's mechanical and narrative balances when the reader doesn't fully know either, but that fits pretty well with both. I'll handwave that Pete doesn't know that spell yet (cold level ones should be weak and inflexible; they learn new spells and gain more juice on levelling/classing up) and that Tom wants him to turn units for now rather than hacking movement (the juice mechanic means that casters can fight one battle well per turn and then are basically spent), but I think I'll keep that one, thanks.

    @Fuzzy:

    [nods] Weirdomancy is a fun toolkit discipline. It can't brute force battles like the hotter casters can, but it undermines the assumptions behind a lot of otherwise solid strategies, terrain choke points being a big one.

    Pokéballs represent daemons, edited. CW has a stack of elite fighters with its leadership (if daemons are highly variable, it follows the best ones are very strong); E left its slow ones in Thursday's hex and took the fast ones forward.

    @Radical: I didn't think of that, but it works. My HC for terrain capability is 'This unit gets a level bonus in that terrain and move cost over it is reduced to 1'; Weirdomancy can't give multiple copies of a special to one unit, but Dittomancy can double the specials' magnitudes, which I rule makes it a 2*level bonus (the move part is 'reduced to' not 'reduced by', so no effect to dittoing that).

    @Dr: Her previous summons have been an unnamed Nilbog spawnling and Crawler respectively. There's a minor city to hit next and she's levelled, so I'm thinking Bohu. Behemoth would be more chronological, but one does not field the Herocroaker for anything less than a capital fight.

    Also, DoomBlahSong, a fan artist, drew Ethereum's logo! I hereby declare that the dark version is now canon, and if ever I figure out how to add pictures, I'll put it into Day One.

  • DunkelMentat

     Loving this! Excited to see what they can come up with using weirdomancy. I have always thought that was the most interesting magical class.

  • DunkelMentat

    For whatever reason this isn't on the page when you click "community" which is why I didn't see it right when it was published. I've been looking for it. The only reason I saw it was published at all was when I went to part 2 for a re-read and saw a "next" link.

    I like any logo that has a glass for a good drink in it.

  • GrayMatter

    I really am enjoying this fic. I'm pumped for the first battle of conquest!

    Now that Looney knows about it, permanent incapacitation could be a real good way to avoid a Jillian style fugitive situation with a high level (female hier) Warlord you were trying to turn.

    I thought Wierdomancy was the magic of modifying other magic?

    Giving Jess's projection Dirtamancy, either from her or Loony next time and burrowing through a wall would be sweet.

  • Twofer

    @Dunkel: The way it works is that when I submit a post, it's placed in the submission queue, the second subheading in the community tab. It then sits there until, I assume, Team Erfworld reads through it for profanity and spam. I can't do anything to expedite this, and Rob (or whoever does it) sometimes takes a while. (I'm not a fan of this system.) I have a personal rule that I only submit on Fridays sometime before the strip comes out, so if you want to see my work as soon as it comes out, that's the only time you need to check.

    @Gray: Yeah, I was thinking along the same lines (well, I was mostly thinking of going down the wiki entry on specials and noting which looked most exploitable). My take on Weirdomancy is fun because of how many different options it gives; none of them is particularly strong (compared with, say, Shockmancy simply blasting its target), but a little force with a long lever is more interesting.

    I'm pretty sure that Weirdomancy is the only discipline of which we've never met a single practitioner even in passing, so I have a bit of leeway. I know of three references to what it does: the dispel effect from Dismiss Perfect Warlord, hypothetically giving and removing flying, and making gumps grow radishes. An idiot who knew nothing about magic proposed the last one, so it may not actually work like that (I'd think that might be Flower Power). Giving flying isn't really modifying other magic (if natural flying counts as magic, then what doesn't, and Weirdomancy becomes "the magic of modifying anything"), and I can't see much of a connection between that and dispelling. The best I could come up with is to say that it works with specials; magic is a special, so Weirdomancy can modify that. Its power to affect other magic is mostly limited to counterspells and redirection rather than enhancement, though, for the same reasons why I don't like Trimancer links.

  • GrayMatter

    Yeah I'm enjoying your take on Weirdomancy 

    Oh shit, what about giving all the pokedeamons the siege special! Although maybe it would be better to focus more on another discipline for the first big city fight?

  • DunkelMentat

    Oh hey. Shouldn't Pro Toast's heavies have healed completely at the start of this turn? I mean, for one thing that was part of the rational for Thursday pulling back. Also all units are healed at turns' beginning.

  • Veryfuzzylogic

    I assumed that Ethereum had their turn first, so ProToast didn't get to have their start-of-turn refresh yet.

  • Twofer

    @Gray: Not a bad idea; I'd probably do it myself if she were the only caster there. With all the others, though, and mechanics I haven't gone into, there's some fairly broken synergy options. Weirdomancy is all about synergy and anti-synergy.

    Should I actually post my mechanics at some point? I always find it frustrating not being able to quantify things when trying to speculate. I haven't posted them before because I don't enjoy reading others' detailed head canons when I'm trying to read a story, only the minimum needed to sustain its plot, and it would clutter the narrative (imagine a thirty minute discussion about bonuses and expected casualties), but I could put it in a dedicated post if people really want.

    @Dunkel: Fuzzy's right; you heal at the beginning of your own turn, not at dawn. Ethereum had their next turn before PT did, so it works mechanically. Tactically, withdrawing was stupid because it gave E the chance to do what they did; Lisa had to spend half her juice mindjacking Thursday into forgetting they could do that. Or not quite forgetting, suggestions are subtler than that, more re-prioritising the information below other considerations such as that she'd be able to re-stack to give her bonus and that her own damaged units would heal.

     

  • Nightseraph

    Keep them coming! I'd love a legend for the hexes on the map. Had they been producing a Warlord since they took the city or was Belle a one turn pop? I'm trying to gauge how good a turnomancer Ethereum has, because either seems a bit quick.

  • Harmless

    Fun read, my only draw back so far is there is a very substantial amount happening, lots of pieces in play, the action sequences get a bit tangled for me (personally).

    Great insight to the disciplines and i love the individual perspectives (Lisa simpson was perfectly adapted)

  • Twofer

    @Seraph:

    Warlords normally take two turns to pop, longer if royal or heir; Ethereum has been doing warlord since the get-go. There's an old thread trying to figure it out; I went with 2 because it yields the fastest-paced and therefore most exciting gameplay. Their combat bonuses aren't actually all that great; the first warlord is usually worth it for the tactical options they give (targeting high-value enemies, cycling out wounded, etc) and the CWL bonus, but subsequent ones are not except as backups for when the first is inevitably dog-piled. A side's first few are very worth it because of the chance of getting OP casters; their deeper value requires a bit of an essay on mechanics and strategy.

    Pete is level two, tied weakest with Cap, who is somewhat more experienced, and more valued because Hat Magicians are less replaceable. Turnamancers passively increase a city's production by 50%, regardless of level; he can make 3 WL in 4 turns. I'm not really happy with that ability; it makes balance hard, but it seems to be canon, so oh well. In return, he's not very good at turning prisoners or much of anything else until he levels some more. (Two turns to gain a semi-loyal level one warlord, after someone else did the hard work capturing him? Wanda made sixty-six temporary units at that level including a warlord, and gave them a leadership bonus. He needs the production bonus.)

    @Harmless: Thanks! It's a difficult premise to resolve; normally stories introduce characters one or a few at a time, and I'm trying to do that without having "And the other twenty casters helped off-screen", but I've still left a fair amount of clutter. Ah … that was actually Lisa Wilbourn from Worm.

  • Free Radical

    Hey, since Warlord Belle was popped in the capital, does that make her Tom's daughter?

    Wanda wasn't popped as an heir, but she still counted as Overlord Firebaugh's daughter, after all.

  • ShaneTheBrain

    and making gumps grow radishes

    That still fits with specials! That would just be bolting on a rather unusual "Produces Rations: Vegetables" to a unit that maybe sometimes has "Produces Rations: Fruit".

    I like this take on Weirdomancy a lot too. It reminds me of the feel of blue mages, or maybe Gau from the Veldt who can take on properties of monsters and do them himself. Weirdomancers would have an interesting motive most other casters don't- to see, touch, and maybe even feel specials they'd never seen before. It almost feels like once they'd manipulated a special once, they'd understand it. Or maybe each special would have an XP bar that fills up the more they use it, and when it's full they've mastered it. It would probably take awhile to master a Double Eagle's Luck Manipulation.

    I can picture Weirdomancers asking their rulers "Sire! Sire! You have GOT to ask that side if they'll trade me one of those units! I simply must study its special!"

  • ShaneTheBrain

    I also like the idea that units have a certain amount of Special Slots, that increases as they gain levels.

  • Twofer

    @Radical: I missed that, but yes, she is his daughter. He wanted a caster, but it is nice to have at least one loyal warlord, and she's much smarter than Spear.

    @Shane:

    Gump radishes fits as a special, and it helped plant the thought in my head. I just don't like basing something like her abilities off something said by Topotato. Not when the flying point is more or less the same thing.

    When Loony worked as a barbarian, she would often hire out to a side for one turn to permanently give their CW flying or something like that. This involves them sprouting wings; she would therefore ask to see what sort of flyers and other units they had 'so that she could make the Signamancy match'. She only needs to see a special once to learn it (in person, not from a book). The entire build is supposed to encourage exploration and creativity.

    There aren't hard slots, but there are soft ones. The cost of adding a special increases with the number of specials already on a unit; making a piker tunnel-capable is easy, making a dwagon the same on top of its flying, heavy, mount, and breath attack is harder, and also requires adeptness. Only a master could make it permanent.

  • ElKingo

    "Gus played a nine-note victory fanfare"

    1.8 trillion hypothetical quatloos says that's the victory theme from Final Fantasy VII

  • BOOR

    I think there's missing sth: "I," said Loony

    Unless she just stops, but it looks unsatisfying?

    Can't paste on my tablet...

    Great tale!

     

     

     

     

     

  • HighJumper

    @ElKingo: I might be slightly biased from playing it in my high school pep band, but McDonald's "I'm Loving It" is the nine-note jingle that popped into my head right away.

  • Finn MacCool

    "Jess would have rolled her eyes at Flacutono, except that her current body’s eyes didn’t have pupils."

    isn't Parson the only unit in erfworld to have pupils?

  • Finn MacCool

    okay, there appear to be a few more. i wonder what that feature depends on, though. fate?