Ethereum: day five

By Twofer Comments (16) (Tipped by 11 people!)

Part 6 of 20 in Ethereum

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I think it’s past time we tried to class up. We’ve come this far as a mixture of mostly novices and adepts; how much further could we go if we were all masters?”

 

Tom and his assault party had taken breakfast in Wolf’s Lair’s courtyard, an open brick affair whose red colour scheme had gone out the window with the addition of Ethereum’s black and green. Charlotte had used a few drops of juice to make wooden tables and chairs for them to sit at. May was beside Tom, as well as Lisa, Belle, and Riley. Jess had a more crowded table, with Charlotte, Loony, Koume, Gus, James, Flacutono, and Grim. She’d stowed her wheeled chair but still had Charlotte on her lap. Arthur, NV, Lecter, Cruller, and Pete were in a third group with Mal, who seemed to think that she was in charge of them. Tom, being Tom, had everyone’s attention.

 

What, by swapping epiphanies?” NV asked, raising his eyebrows. “I know Jessie thinks it’ll work, but I thought you had to be level three and six to class up. I mean, great for you and for me, but that’s not exactly ‘all’ of us.”

 

No, you don’t,” Loony said, examining her fingernails with an air of deep fascination. “I reached adept at two. I took quite a long time to level; I didn’t cast very much while I was with my old side, so I had a long time to think before then.”

 

Exactly,” said Tom. “Cold casters usually class up at lower level than hot ones. I think it’s not an actual rule, that it’s just a coincidence that the time to reach adept-class is usually the same as the time to reach level three to five. In the Magic Kingdom, the guilds control trade secrets, but I’m a sovereign; they don’t give orders to me or my units. What if it’s possible to bypass all that and unlock our true potential by just communicating?”

 

The other casters considered this.

 

How are going to do this?” Gus asked. “Are you going to tell us your insights, or …?”

 

Tom smiled cynically. “I’d rather like to reach master-class myself, thank you. Besides, even if it works perfectly, that’ll only bring everyone here up to adept, not master, and I’d like to have more than two of those. No. Everyone contributes.”

 

That’s,” Gus said, picking his words carefully, “fair, but I put a lot of work into classing up. I know we’re all on the same side, but …”

 

But you don’t want to give up something precious and uniquely personal while everyone else here classes past you, making you look so incompetent by comparison that I expel you to the Magic Kingdom, after which we’ll see how well the guilds treat someone who helped Ethereum survive its critical first battles?”

 

I don’t –”

 

I don’t want that either,” Tom said pleasantly. “I’m not going to order anyone to give up secrets without getting something just as valuable in return. This is how it will work. We get into a circle. Everyone writes down one insight, puts the paper upside-down, then passes left, reads, then it’s passed and read again, so that two people have read each. They both vote on it, either yes it’s worthwhile or no it isn’t. If you write down something stupid and both people who read it vote no, you’re eliminated and don’t get to read anything beyond the two you voted on; otherwise, all insights are revealed and everyone who’s still in reads everything. If everyone else disagrees with how you vote on other people’s insights, you’re eliminated too. We repeat until no-one can think of anything else.”

 

He’d spent a large part of yesterday trying to work out a system whereby he would get what he wanted – more power for himself and more competent underlings – without bruising anyone’s ego or sense of fairness. Other than Riley, they weren’t formally loyal units and could leave in response to any slight, real or imagined. They seemed to be particularly uncooperative about helping other casters of their own disciplines. May had sort of taken the other two Dollamancers on as apprentices, but in practice just had them dumping their juice into fabricating or repairing golems of her design without teaching them how the designs actually worked. NV and Flacutono had barely spoken, Jess seemed to think Samedi was useless, and Mal looked at Charlotte like something she’d scrape off the underside of her shoe. Hopefully they’d be more sharing across discipline lines, where they were complementary rather than competing. It shouldn’t be too big a problem for purposes of classing up; Tom had the impression that that usually required integration with other disciplines.

 

So,” Lisa said, thinking it over, “we all have to give it our A-game, or we’ll get eliminated and miss out. We have to vote honestly for the same reason.”

 

Uh,” said Pete, “I don’t think I have any insights. I’m level two.”

 

You and Riley get free admission,” Tom ruled. “Level threes and level four novices stay till the end if they give at least two good epiphanies.”

 

I don’t think I need any insights,” Mal said waspishly.

 

Tom took a moment to think how to deal with her. Mal was power-hungry and had joined in the hopes that, when they reached the diminishing income point and split into two sides, she would be the ruler of the new side. She was one of his heaviest hitters, second in level only to May; she wasn’t a bruiser exactly, he was confident he could beat her in a caster duel, but she made up for it with strategic and tactical flexibility. In short, she wasn’t indispensable, but she was invaluable. Unfortunately, her pride manifested as keeping anyone from surpassing her, rather than something useful like helping others be more effective. He predicted she’d eventually stab May in the back to leave herself the strongest caster on the side, but until then, a level seven master Changemancer was nothing to sneeze at.

 

There was another thing that occurred to me,” he said. “There are three classes: novice, adept, master. What if there were a fourth, but no-one had ever reached it? And what if it were possible to reach it if you pooled the combined wisdom of twenty different casters of twenty different disciplines?”

 

Impossible,” Mal scoffed. There was a range of reactions from the others, ranging from scepticism from NV to thoughtfulness from May to awe from Charlotte.

 

Tom rather agreed with Mal; it wasn’t inconceivable, but there was no evidence for it. It occurred to him to wish that he had a normal side, where it was possible to get people to cooperate without needing to manipulate them with promises of things you were fairly sure didn’t exist.

 

Then you’re excused,” May said sweetly, infusing it with an order and the authority of Chief Dollamancer in a side where that made her the second-in-command. “But I think I’d like to see how this plays out.”

 

Mal hesitated. It was less about giving up her own knowledge and more about jealously trying to keep anyone else from reaching her class. “You’re giving up your secrets for nothing,” she said.

 

And is that alright with you?” May asked syrupily.

 

Mal scowled, kicked her seat back, and stalked off.

 

A shame,” Tom said mildly, watching her approach the tower. “I’d think a Changemancer would be particularly useful here.”

 

Changemancy was generally agreed to be the most versatile discipline. Rather than having one or two things it was very good at, like Croakamancy or Hat Magic did, it had about eight things it was pretty good at. It followed that Mal could probably teach them a lot about integrating different disciplines. It tended to be less useful for a side with lots of other casters, because for any given task there was another discipline that could do it better; Tom had taken two anyway, partly because Mal was strong and Charlotte was a package deal with Jess, and partly because they had limited powers of Dirtamancy and Carnymancy, both of which he didn’t expect to have other access to.

 

His eyes flicked to Charlotte, who blushed and looked down. Then she took his silent order and used the last of her juice to refashion the tables into one large one, so they could form a circle. A few people glanced after Mal, but nobody else left.

 

Yesterday afternoon, Pete had turned five former Bell-End stabbers they’d found in the dungeon. Tom sent them a silent order to fetch pens and paper and distribute them, while he and the other casters sat around the table. May sat on his right; Lisa slotted herself in on his left, where she’d get first look at the two strongest casters. Riley and Pete stood outside the table, looking on curiously.

 

Tom tapped his fingers for a moment, thinking, before writing. His critical insight had been that units weren’t simply bundles of stats, that they were intricate machines made of Life, and that, like all machines, one didn’t need to bludgeon them to bits with brute force when one could simply pull out the linchpin. His bonus was the ability to focus energy to increase critical hit rates, of which the logical extreme was his signature instacroak spell, by targeting weak points, rather than simply pouring in more juice.

 

He wrote a few lines, flipped the paper upside down, and passed left. Lisa finished with her own paper, gave it to Lecter, and read Tom’s, her eyebrows rising. May slid her paper along to him.

 

People talk as though we have multiple abilities, but we really just have different expressions of one ability. (Let me explain that out loud, I don’t think expression is exactly the word.) It’s not that Dollamancy can make golems OR it can make clothing: I make dolls, and I can decide how much they move by themselves and how much they can be worn.

 

I see,” he said, mulling it over. So she could make something which could … what, alternate between being a golem and being raiment? How would that apply to him? Shockmancy was in many senses the most direct discipline there was; you came, you saw, you Shocked. It had some flexibility of application: single-target damage or area effect, for example. He supposed that he Shocked things, and could decide how diffuse it was and how targeted. It would cost too much to instacroak an entire stack, but there could still be an intermediate option; perhaps a mass instaincapacitation spell, using weak crits … “Pass again.”

 

Cruller hadn’t wanted May voting on her offering, perhaps reasoning that a master-class Dollamancer might judge it harshly, and had sat on the opposite end of the table; instead, Koume sat on May’s right. He unfolded her paper.

 

Dittomancy is connected to Rhyme-o-mancy and Date-a-mancy through the Matter element and Numbers axis, specifically the number two. There are two strong beats to a common bar and two partners to a common date. It means that all three disciplines are reflections of different elements, so they can be combined easily and effectively: Dittomancy through music and a relation with whoever is being Dittoed yields twice the power for half the concentration.

 

“…” said Tom. The number two was intermediate between single-target and mass. He could twincast, a single attack with two targets. Doing the same motions twice would be barely more complex than once, while allowing attention impossible for an area effect spell, exploiting symmetry for efficiency. His mind was filling in the blanks, sketching the juice channels and somatic components, form intertwined with function to inflict the maximum damage from the minimum focus. At the same time, the intersection of Shockmancy and Erf clicked into place, and designs for wands and traps flooded his mind. They weren’t Dollamancy or Dirtamancy; they were just alternate expressions of Shockmancy, put into small objects, intermediate between casting directly and putting it into a tower and writing scrolls. Not as powerful as hot casting, or as rugged as a tower, or as flexible as a scroll, but storable, mobile, and efficient instead. Other ideas coruscated at the edge of his vision, new kinds of incapacitation, new ways of channelling juice, tastes and shapes of spells which he couldn’t describe in Language.

 

Uh, Boss?” Lisa said.

 

I … left thumb for the first one, right for the second,” he said, trying to keep the mental image in mind and give orders at the same time. He turned up both thumbs and shut his eyes, letting the visions burn themselves into his mind without distraction. When he was done, he opened them again, Tom the Marvel, master-class Shockmancer and ruler of Ethereum.

 

That was apparently much easier than for anyone else. No-one else had the look of Eureka; he was the only one who had classed up. He was high-level enough that he was about due anyway.

 

Most of the others had both thumbs up, with a few exceptions. The only two adjacent thumbs down were those of Jess and Charlotte, who had both read Cruller’s insight. Cruller was glaring.

 

His instinct was to order May to handle things while he brought out some prisoners as test subjects, before he remembered that, as a sided unit, he couldn’t cast until it was his turn again. He mentally swore. Still, it was his idea, so his responsibility. “Jess, what was it?”

 

She took the paper back from Charlotte to read it aloud. “‘Dollamancy and Signamancy are opposites. One affects your appearance, the other the appearance of your clothes.’ It’s trivial from elemental analysis.”

 

How dare you,” Cruller began, her voice rising.

 

I dare by being a high-level adept who figured it out in two rounds ages ago despite being neither a Dollamancer nor a Signamancer nor even Fate-aligned,” Jess interrupted evenly. “Charlotte dares by also having figured it out, despite most of the same handicaps and only being a novice-class herself.”

 

Well, what did she put?” Cruller said, pointing at Charlotte. James, who had read her insight second, opened his mouth to read it aloud.

 

Tom snapped his fingers for silence. Charlotte was useful, and if she became stronger, she would be a rival for Mal, either forcing her to play nice or allowing him to replace her when she didn’t. She was also the darling of Jess, who was one of his most important assets; there were very few people with all four of loyalty, brains, the ability to work well with others, and raw power. She was maybe his number three after May (he chose not to tell this to Mal).

 

Unfortunately, Cruller was May’s minion. If he disciplined her, he risked antagonising her or May, and in any case he actually wanted her to class up. On the other hand, he’d undermine his own authority if he let her stay after he’d made the rules himself, and he already had two better Dollamancers; she was perfectly serviceable working off May’s designs. Maybe this was why no-one made caster sides before: barbarians so often had so much ego, and the well-adjusted ones joined guilds rather than go off on crusades.

 

We’re sharing knowledge so that others can class up,” he said aloud. “What you wrote isn’t going to help anyone do that. Say something else.”

 

That’s not fair!” she said. “Then I’d have to give up two secrets, when everyone else has only done one.”

 

She was a level three novice and not exactly bright. Reading between the lines, she probably didn’t actually have any real insights. It wasn’t entirely fair to demand one of a novice: if she had any good ones she’d be an adept. Still, when he was level three, he’d at least had ideas.

 

Secrets,” Jess said in a deadpan that really ought to have been accompanied by air quotes. Gus snerkled.

 

Unfair is me giving you a second chance when I told you the rules ten rounds ago and they mentioned no such thing,” Tom said, to frame the situation as her being at fault. “Contribute or leave.”

 

She opened her mouth, perhaps to protest that she was too young to have anything real to offer, but she shut it, stood up, and left, following Mal’s path to the tower.

 

May, I assume you already know everything she could have told us and have for a very long time?” Tom asked when Cruller was out of earshot.

 

May sniggered. “I’m triple her level. I keep her around as spare juice.”

 

Grim gave her a put-out look which May ignored, but she was smart enough to know that she was going to stay an underling until she got stronger.

 

Then we’re not missing anything. Good. Everyone, reveal.”

 

NV, James, and Gus had all put variants of Koume’s insight. Lecter and Arthur, interestingly, had both written that it was less about your actions than it was drawing out the innate tendencies of the bodies to act upon themselves, respectively to restore hits or restore Motion. Riley bounced up behind those two, clearly fascinated, to Lecter’s obvious irritation. She’d spent last turn’s juice practising on a few Pro Toast prisoners, but it was good to see her taking an interest in her formal education as well. May was scanning everyone else’s suggestions, managing to look both smug and unimpressed without her smile slipping for a moment. Pete was reading May’s paper over Lisa’s shoulder as she passed it along and swapped it for NV’s piece. Then Lisa frowned and caught Tom’s attention.

 

Sharkey wants a full Thinkagram,” she murmured. “I’m low, but I can manage a short one.”

 

Because Thinkagrams cost juice but use of their message hats was free, Tom had given orders not to pester Lisa unless there was an urgent message that couldn’t be conveyed with writing, leaving her with juice to try to talk Pro Toast’s other neighbours into joining the war. Persuading them to attack what had recently been a very powerful side was turning out to be harder than they’d hoped. “Patch him through. Everyone else, be quiet!”

 

Lisa drew a rectangle in air, and a grainy image of Sharkey appeared. He was in the top tower room at Ethereum City; Tom could see Hedera in the frame, looking annoyed, Samedi, who was bored, Akira, who seemed to be enjoying a spot of schadenfreude at Hedera’s expense, and Miles, who was rolling his eyes.

 

Lord Tom?” Sharkey said.

 

Spit it out, words are juice,” Lisa said quickly.

 

Sharkey narrowed his eyes, but stepped to one side and motioned behind him. The viewing angle lurched as he and Lisa mentally bickered, before they settled it on Sharkey’s crystal ball.

 

He had set it to scry on one of the farms, which Samedi had taken the turn before, directly after the Alliance’s third turn had passed and Roham was no longer in any position to take them back. This particular one was a pig farm, and had eight at various stages of growth, joyfully gambolling in the mud. Lisa cussed quietly and twitched a little, trying to remove artefacts from the double transmission, but it was still in greyscale with flickering visual noise.

 

This has already happened at the others,” Sharkey said. “Blue livery.”

 

Two Archons flew into the screen and began talking, a blonde and a noirette. Sharkey’s scrying didn’t have sound, but Miles provided a voiceover in a squeaky voice.

 

May the thunderous Shockmancy from these holy, delicate maidens strike down upon you with great vengeance and furious anger, shattering your loathsome impurity and returning you from whence you came! Repent, motherfudgers!

 

They swooped, pumped shockguns, and blasted the pigs into smithereens of bacony goodness. The surviving pigs ran around in helpless panic while the Archons methodically wiped them out.

 

Okay, gotta say, Sis, pig sticking is actually seriously lame,” the blonde said as they finished up. “How much more do we still need to make before we’re allowed back to Charlescomm?

 

Tch,” said the other; Miles switched to an even sillier voice for her.You wanna know so badly, you can ask Jeebie yourself. Two hundred thousand something.

 

Fuuudge me.

 

Yeah, maybe next time try saying that to someone who isn’t the boyfriend of the guy we’re supposed to be working for, when he’s got a Date-a-mancer who can tell just by looking who you’ve been screwing and who you are also screwing. Just saying.

 

The Thinkagram cut out. Lisa sucked a finger. “Sorry. I’m out of juice.”

 

Tom’s face was very smooth, as he cursed himself for an idiot. He’d sent Miles and Akira last turn knowing full well that they wouldn’t get the loan, because he’d wanted to signal to the guilds that he was almost broke; he’d calculated that they would try to persuade Pro Toast to withdraw from and sack their outer cities. It was rational to withdraw the forces as soon as possible so as to maximise the chances they’d escape, but to hold the cities at full level until his forces were only one turn away, so as to maximise the revenue they provided; between Loony and the Foolamancers, he was confident he could attack before they were ready. Troop withdrawal would therefore amount to giving him three or four mid-level cities without a fight, meaning his forces could split up and take them faster. That might still work, but he hadn’t considered the farms at all; without their provisions, he was still on the verge of bankruptcy. They might have some other kind of financial attack he hadn’t thought of, too.

 

I know those Archons,” James said. “We were both hired by Fallange, which is just east of here, a hundred or so turns ago. They might even border Pro Toast now.”

 

They do,” said Lisa, raising an eyebrow, but it wasn’t that big a coincidence: with twenty-four barbarian casters, statistically speaking they had to have had someone who’d worked in just about every battlespace before.

 

That job was a mess from the start,” James continued. “The entire side is dysfunctional, I’m surprised they haven’t been conquered yet. The Archons are both level five with at least two ranks in Shockmancy and one in Dollamancy apiece; I know they have at least one rank in leadership, dance-fighting, and Thinkamancy. They’re dysfunctional too. The blonde told me that they’ve been sent further and further from Charlescomm because they keep causing too much collateral damage for their clients, and they’re not allowed back until they make good on the costs.”

 

Uh,” said Pete, “this might be a stupid question, but what are they?”

 

Archons of Charlescomm,” said Jess. “A mercenary side and pain in the behind. Ballpark those two as equal to at least ten baseline stacks between them in a fight, probably more, with good mobility and some magic.”

 

I thought we were only at war with Pro Toast. Why are they here?

 

Charlie got paid,” eleven people chorused.

 

Tom’s eye twitched.

 

Our contract with Roham,” Lisa said to him, “did Miles put a nondisclosure clause on that?”

 

No,” Tom said through gritted teeth, “he did not.”

 

Because if they told Charlie about it, he knows we can’t send anyone to chase them off for another fifty-something turns. They can camp there and pillage our other farms too. We also can’t send Samedi out to search those ruins or they’ll just pick him off, and we can’t leave anyone else in the field –”

 

I know, Lisa,” he growled. He shut his eyes to think. “What can we do about them?”

 

Why is everyone looking at me?” Jess asked. “Findamancy is an offensive discipline, not defensive. James, if you’re friends with them, can’t you Date-a-mance them into going away?”

 

We’re each partially responsible for getting the other fired. ‘Friends’ isn’t how I’d put it.”

 

Another message from Sharkey,” Loony said. “The Archons are staying there. And they’ve ended turn; it’s the Alliance’s turn now. I think they probably know about the contract.”

 

Could we leave an ambush in one of the farms here?” Charlotte suggested. “I can make basic traps, and we have Foolamancers.”

 

Archons can spot veils,” NV said. “And I doubt you can make a trap clever enough that Charlescomm won’t see through it.”

 

We could leave some of the daemons as guards,” she pressed.

 

Yeah, and if we left enough to more than inconvenience two Archons – assuming they don’t get reinforcements – we’d need so many that their upkeep would cost more than the farms are worth. Forget about it. Nosy or I could escort a group in the field or Samedi to the ruins, but it’s not worth sending two whole casters for whatever he’d find.”

 

May gave a little cheep that served as clearing her throat. “I can’t attack them where they are,” she said, “but if Archons are going to be making pests of themselves, I can make gear that resists Shockmancy.”

 

Magic body armour?” Charlotte said. “Isn’t that illegal?” Everyone gave her a look. “Oh. Right. Forgot we’re not in the Magic Kingdom any more. Carry on.”

 

It won’t be strong enough to stand up to a heavy assault,” May warned, “just enough to make a battle be a bit more fun for us. I’ll need a few turns without having to heal or make golems. We have sixteen levels; it won’t take too long. I can make some other gear while I have the time off. Ooh, can I borrow Charlotte or Mal and maybe Koume?”

 

I’d rather use the Changemancers for city upgrades, if they’re not doing hot magic,” Tom said, not opening his eyes. “Koume –”

 

I’m best with the other Numbers casters,” Koume said firmly.

 

The light flying daemons are fast enough to go between our cities in one turn,” Loony observed. “Or to the ruins and back, from Ethereum City.”

 

That’s fantastic,” NV said, “and if they desperately need a few stacks of two-hit scouts in a city that already has a Lookamancer, I’m sure it’ll be very helpful, but it doesn’t help with the farms, ruins, or anything else.”

 

Not the farms, no, but I think it helps with the ruins.”

 

What – how does that help? Those Archons can croak anyone who ends turn in the field, armour or not. How do we use a few wannabe orlies to beat that?”

 

We fly, of course,” she said.

 

Tom’s eyes snapped open. NV and most of the others were staring at Loony.

 

You can make the light flyers into mounts,” Tom said.

 

Mount is a special,” she explained. “It won’t be much of a fighter, you need stats for that, but Samedi isn’t supposed to be fighting anything anyway, is he, if he has the move to reach the ruins and make it back to the city in one turn?”

 

Tom looked at the tower. One daemon heeded his silent order to swoop down and perch on his arm.

 

Pidge,” it told him irritably.

 

You can give this mount,” he said.

 

I made some daemons mounts the turn before last. You rode one. Why do you all seem surprised about this? It’s harder to make mounts permanent, obviously, but I never said it was impossible.”

 

This is about one thirtieth of my size,” he said patiently.

 

Oh, is this a Signamancy thing?” she asked. “I don’t know much about that, to be honest. Is it very important?”

 

Apparently not. Fine.” He shooed the daemon away; it flapped back up to the tower. “When turn starts, pick the weakest flyer with at least twenty move, make it a permanent mount, and send it back for Samedi. If he can find gems there regularly, we’ll just about be stable, even without the farms. Thank you.” Loony smiled vaguely.

 

That’s great,” Jess said, “but no-one’s bothered to ask why they’re here.”

 

I asked –”

 

Who paid Charlie? Roham didn’t do it to get the farms back; they wouldn’t have pillaged.”

 

The guilds,” Tom said. “I suspected they would work against us from the beginning, and Miles confirmed it yesterday. They have Moneymancers who can guess at our treasury and figure out that it’s low; they’re trying to starve us out. They can spare a thousand shmuckers a turn better than we can.”

 

How would they know about the contract with Roham?” Jess asked sensibly.

 

If they wanted us to lose, they’d try to bribe the Alliance into attacking us. When Roham refused, they probably offered to pay for a copy of the contract, to see if they could find any loopholes,” he lied glibly.

 

Beside him, Lisa gave an understated smirk. He hadn’t told her that Miles and Akira had guessed that there was a spy, or that he had in fact known more than that beforehand, but she had apparently worked it out anyway, somehow. She was annoyingly perceptive. He probably ought to tell her everything, just so that she’d know what she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone else.

 

Are we going to go back to the Magic Kingdom and tell them to stop?” said Flacutono. They started; he was usually quiet.

 

No point,” Lisa said. “Charlie always includes nondisclosure. If we can’t prove it was them, they’ll just tell us to fl–”

 

If you swear in front of my daughters,” Tom said, “I will tear –”

 

Fly away on our inexplicably mountable miniature daemons,” Lisa amended, not bothering to point out that they had just heard Miles transcribing the Archons. “With neutrality, there’s not a lot we can do to stop them either making money or using it to hire Charlie.” She blinked. “Uh, speaking of things the guilds can do to s– scuttle our plans, though, I just thought of something. Has anyone here received a Thinkagram from the Great Minds since the side began?”

 

There were a few guilty looks. Lisa locked gazes with Jess, who shifted uneasily.

 

I got a call last night from Seed Rick, the prefect of the Findamancy guild,” she said. “He told me that the guilds decided as a bloc to blacklist Ethereum for hiring unsanctioned casters, and that my membership would be cancelled unless I returned to the Magic Kingdom. I told him to go” her eyes flicked to Riley “ahead and do it; I’m a sided unit now, I don’t need them. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t think it mattered; Miles already found out that they were embargoing us.”

 

Lisa nodded. “You’re half right. The information was worthless; they aren’t going to tell us anything useful for free. What matters is the suggestion they embedded in the Thinkagram.”

 

“… Last night, we were here, not in the Magic Kingdom,” Jess said. “They couldn’t …”

 

Implant suggestions across hexes?” Lisa said. “I can. It eats juice, but it’s possible. The Great Minds absolutely forbid anyone from actually doing it or anything else that would let outsiders know that it’s possible, because as soon as that becomes common knowledge, we’re going to be about as popular as Carnies. I was declared baddie because I kept doing it anyways.”

 

Am I suggested right now?” Jess asked, distraught. “Can you tell?”

 

Lisa shook her head. “I can and you aren’t, no-one here is. They might not have put one there at all, maybe they were just harassing you normally or, heck, maybe it was an honest courtesy call, Seed’s supposed to be chivalrous like that, but it’s a risk. Maybe they were establishing behaviour patterns; they get you used to taking calls, and they drop a suggestion in later.”

 

Can we trust everyone here?” Tom asked, layering it with a silent order.

 

Yes,” Lisa said. “That sort of magic is obvious to me from a glance. We’re all clean, and I could break it anyway. Don’t worry about anyone knifing you in the back or anything dramatic like that. Suggestions are subtle. If I were them, I wouldn’t try to make anyone do anything, because they know we have a Thinkamancer who’d stop them. My guess is that if they did anything at all, they asked for information. That’s usually pretty easy to get. Assume they know everything. Of course, they already knew most of it because they know who joined us and they have Lookamancers, and it’s not admissible to an enforcement council anyway, so it’s not a huge security leak.”

 

Being a baddie known for mind games, Lisa had been harassed by enforcement councils enough to have a working grasp of the law, at least as it affected her.

 

Are you sure they’d really try it on us?” NV said. “Kind of goes against the idea of keeping it secret. Can they, even? We’re casters, not warlords, that’s got to give us resistance, and if they never do it, they can’t have any practice at it.”

 

Lisa shook her head. “I can do it, and I’m a level four adept. The Great Minds are led by Headmaster Mewlin Pendwagon, a level thirteen, and I’m pretty sure they have two level ten masters. They don’t need practice or finesse with that sort of raw power. And they can do links. I’m a specialist in head games only, so I don’t know what that would give them, but if they used one master to link another with a Carny or something …”

 

How do we defend against it?” Tom asked.

 

Don’t accept calls. Ever, no exceptions. They can’t implant suggestions from outside the hex if you don’t. If it’s actually important and you refuse, like if they’re going to kick you out of a guild or something like that, they’re legally required to run it through me, your side’s Thinkamancer, before they do anything about it. I can tell if they try anything, and either firewall it or drop the call.”

 

That just means we need to trust you rather than them,” Flacutono pointed out.

 

I trust her,” Tom said. “And I promise you, I don’t trust people without a very good reason. If you trust me, then you trust her too.”

 

This caused enough of a pause for Lisa to pull him into thoughtspace inconspicuously. « Do you actually? No offence taken if not. »

 

« It helps that I have enough Thinkamancy that I could tell if you tried to cast a suggestion on me or any of my lieutenants, and I know exactly how much you’ve been using it to read between my lines. So I know you know I know there’s a spy, and I know it’s not you, because you were a baddie long before Ethereum came along. »

 

« I might have sold you out to be reinstated. »

 

« If that were all you wanted, you could have had it a hundred turns ago by promising to stop casting suggestions. They’d make you do that anyway if they did reinstate you. »

 

Excuse me?” Loony said, holding out a parchment from her hat. “We’ve just got another message.”

 

Tom gave an exasperated huff. “Oh what now?” It was one thing after another.

 

It’s Prince Baconmer. He wants to know why his bacon rations from our farms haven’t popped.”

 

Of course he does,” Tom said, rolling his eyes. “Tell him that we are altering the deal, and to pray we don’t alter it any further.”

 

Miles can do that?” she said, surprised.

 

No,” he said, “but if we’re very lucky, he’ll take us at our word and we’ll get some free flying pigs out of it.”

 

I guess you could say you just told a porker,” Riley said, putting on a pair of sunglasses Grim had made for her last turn.

 

Yes. Yes, you certainly could. Everyone, calm down. No-one is under any Thinkamancy, and won’t be; no-one will take external calls, because I will hold you personally responsible for anything that goes wrong because of it. The Archons won’t attack us head-on while we have so many hard counters to their magic. We’ll forget these farms and just take some more instead. Strategically, we should be advancing anyway. The Archons can’t raid too far afield, or they won’t be able to make it back to the farm hexes, and if that happens, we can crush them. What?” he snapped at Charlotte, who’d raised her hand.

 

Um,” she said, “I don’t actually care about farms or strategy or any of that. I just wanted to know whether we could keep doing the insights thing, because May’s insight looks like it could be really important for me but she said she had to explain it out loud, so …”

 

Tom shut his eyes and counted to three. “Yes. Do that. We’ll finish that now, and worry about everything else later.”

 

As the morning and the Alliance’s turn wore on, it became apparent that however classing up worked, there was some underlying mechanic that they didn’t understand. It wasn’t by level, because, to everyone’s surprise, Loony was the second person to make master, despite being only level four; this at least supported Tom’s theory that there was no hard level restriction.

 

Good job,” Charlotte said, giving a side-hug. “I’m so jealous!”

 

Me too,” said Jess, standing up to hug Loony from behind; Loony blushed. “What does a Weirdomancer get from mastery?”

 

N-new specials,” Loony stuttered. “I know some that I’ve never heard of before. I’m not sure that there are any natural units that have these; has anyone ever heard of blibbering or crumple-horned? Um, I can make wands, of course. I might be able to make jewellery that grants specials.”

 

Really,” said May. She could also make gear that granted a narrow range of specials; hers also improved stats, but took up an item slot.

 

There was a rumble from Loony’s hat. She took it off and conjured from it.

 

It’s Roham again,” she said. “They’re demanding their farms back, and they say we have a flying pig and a rider that was theirs, too. It’s worded rather strongly.”

 

The keyword is ‘was’,” Tom said. “Ignore them. I’ll bring the pig up on our turn.”

 

Mightn’t they go to war with us?” Pete asked.

 

So?” May said.

 

The third person to class up was Riley.

 

What,” NV said. “You’re less than a full turn old. You’ve never even cast a spell. How are we both the same class.”

 

I’ve cast before,” she said. “With the prisoners yesterday.”

 

Yes,” Lisa said, exchanging haunted looks with Jess. “We heard.”

 

Don’t be like that,” Riley said cheerfully, patting her scalpel. “It was just some armless fun.”

 

No, seriously,” NV said, pointing to Arthur and Lecter, who both looked annoyed, “they’re still novices, and you used their insights to become an adept. How does that even work.”

 

Oh, this is so cool!” May said, hugging her. It struck Tom how similar they were: both curly blondes, lively, lovely, powerful, and with charming personalities that masked psychopathic amorality about extreme violence and cold-blooded torture. He couldn’t be prouder. “Adept on your first turn! I’ll make you an apron as a reward, so you don’t get piker on your shirt next time.”

 

Aw, shucks!” said Riley, flicking the offending meat away and returning the hug.

 

So, what did you learn? Or do Healomancy classes only give bonuses?”

 

No, no. I have this idea which is sort of like what I was doing yesterday but way cooler. Can I borrow the prisoners again? Maybe a knight? Pretty please?”

 

Well …” said May, as though she wasn’t obviously going to say yes. “Daddy would be upset if you croaked any by accident …”

 

Daddy actually didn’t care. He had more prisoners than he knew what to do with; losing one or two would if anything be a good thing since it would save their upkeep. Besides, it might induce the others to turn more quickly.

 

That’s the best bit, if I have at least an eight-stack, they’ll all survive and I can do it again tomorrow!”

 

Does anyone else get the feeling we’re cheating?” Gus said. A few people gave him a look. “Don’t look at me like that! Just, a level one adept? That’s … wrong.”

 

Tom snapped his fingers for silence, letting an iota of juice discharge between them theatrically. “False, and you really, really don’t want me to hear anyone repeat that sentiment ever again. What is wrong is forcing casters to be weak for hundreds of turns, so that the guild elites can hold power over us, when it’s this easy to become adept or master. Forget what the guilds and royal sides have told you about right and wrong. From now on, anything that makes Ethereum strong is your new right, and disband anyone who says otherwise.”

 

I wish it really was easy,” Pete said, still a novice. “Levelling, too.”

 

So put in the work,” Tom said. “Do you have any idea how many people I had to croak to get where I am today?”

 

Word,” said Koume, high-fiving him.

 

Classes apparently didn’t require levels, but they did seem to help, because Jess and Charlotte both classed up next, followed by NV, before the Alliance ended turn.

 

Ow, disband it!” Jess exclaimed, as her permanent incapacitation returned and her balance shifted, banging her knee against a table leg. Tom glared at the swear. “Loony?”

 

My juice is back. Shall I remove it permanently this time?” she asked.

 

Yes. Please.” Jess shook her head. “The Titans may have granted me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, but there was a line in there about courage, too.”

 

It wasn’t the best use of juice when they had another busy turn ahead of them, but Jess was valuable enough to be worth giving the odd reward. “Go ahead,” he ordered Loony.

 

She skipped over. “Alistair,” she said, touching one of Jess’ legs, “Amelia,” the other. “That should do it.”

 

Jess slid her chair back, stood, shifted her weight from leg to leg, then hugged Loony, who went pink again.

 

Belle?” Tom said quietly. “Six scouts should have just popped in the garrison. Can you fetch them and give them their duties?”

 

Yes, Father, I’m sure I can manage that,” she said, not bothering to hide her annoyance. He’d ignored her all morning and was now treating her like a servant.

 

I want one as a lackey for each of Jess, Loony, Koume, NV … and one for you, and one for Mal,” he said. Hedera and Samedi had been complaining about needing minions, and it struck him that they would make a decent reward for good service. They could also make a good bribe for smoothing ruffled feathers.

 

Oh,” Belle said, her pique forgotten. “Don’t you need them for scouting?”

 

Not when we have a Lookamancer. He’ll give us our report in a moment.”

 

Ooh, before I forget,” Loony said, calling down the daemon Tom had summoned earlier. It settled on her arm and glared at her. “Pidgewidgepchooooo,” she told it, spattering it with juice. “He’s a mount now.”

 

He Doesnt Look Very Mountlike” observed Grim.

 

Loony motioned to the daemon. It hopped over to Grim and pecked her, making her jump; the daemon darted around and headbutted her knees, making her sit on it, her legs hanging between its head and one wing. It flapped, lifting the Dollamancer into the air, like a feathery cushion.

 

Um” Grim said, sitting ramrod straight for balance. “What”

 

It’d be embarrassing if she fell and croaked,” NV observed, playing with flickering images around his fingers.

 

Hypothetically,” Riley began.

 

No,” said Lisa.

 

Riley pouted and flounced off to the dungeon. Pete started, realised he was supposed to be working there too, and hurried after her.

 

The daemon did a loop of the courtyard before setting Grim down again.

 

I Stand Corrected” she said. She stood and drew a saddle and some reins in thin air, then attached them to its back.

 

He’s so cute!!” May squeed. Tom was fairly sure she was being sincere, but could never tell when she was only plastering it on so that people’s reactions would be funnier when she skewered someone with her half-scissor.

 

Message from Sharkey,” Loony announced, presenting a map with notes pencilled in. “It’s the intelligence update.”

 

Wolf’s Lair was in the middle of a bridge of land ten hexes across which connected Ethereum and Pro Toast’s territory. To its north was an ocean inlet between them and Maria Avenue, a level two; to its south a wide ocean with an archipelago geography type which Tom wanted to avoid, having no clue about naval warfare; to its east was Mount Everer. There were two roads going round Everer in either direction. The north road branched to Maria and a city on Everer’s northern edge called Helyo Sentry. The south road followed the beach to a port called Hedro Skedder. A steep, winding road connected Helyo and Hedro, passing by a hardened level three called Ellesstee atop Everer. All four cities were within thirty to forty hexes of Wolf’s Lair. Between the detours and bad roads, a normal force would expect to take three to five turns to reach any of them. With Loony giving mountain or water capability and mount to their fastest units, they could do it in two.

 

 

And, once again, Miles hasn’t bothered to fill in the legend,” NV said, rolling his eyes. “Or include the farms and mines, or say what these random letters mean.”

 

Hiller had had a respectably detailed and wide-ranging world map, of which Miles had made several copies before they left. Rather than repeat every geographical detail or even hex boundaries, he was now sending sloppier copies hand-drawn with only tactical information pencilled in. It was anyone’s guess what he was doing with the juice he saved, most likely his hair.

 

There’s a note here,” Loony said, pulling one out of her hat. She scanned it. “Oh, he wanted to explain properly without drawing all over the map. Sharkey can’t scry over such a large area properly; he has to skim, which doesn’t always find everything, and of course he can’t see everything in cities. Marvin has something he can do; he said he was confident that Sharkey found every hex with at least two stacks, and that he could guess what the true numbers are, but he might be off by a few units. Um …” She skipped over what was probably a paragraph or two of long-winded invective. “The cities are each defended by two stacks of pikers, except Ellesstee and Hedro Skedda, which also have archers. The spot marked A contains a warlord, a knight, and two stacks of infantry. B has a warlord, two heavies, and four stacks. C has two and a half stacks. D has five stacks. Um, Sharkey isn’t sure exactly what kinds of infantry, but he and Marvin think there’s one stack of archers in each group and the rest are a mix of pikers and stabbers. E is a feral octopussy,” she finished.

 

They’re pulling almost everything out,” NV noted. “Why don’t they just raze the cities?”

 

Because they think they’ll see us coming,” Tom said. “Sharkey didn’t see any scouts, but sides always leave a few in the field. They think they have at least three turns before we can reach any of those cities with more than outriders.”

 

Which would probably work, if we didn’t have Loony. We have like four people here who could solo two or three stacks of basic infantry. I’m a master now; basic infantry literally can’t spot my veils any more. We can ride in on the fast daemons and surprise them. In fact … could we theoretically hit all four cities at once?”

 

« Lisa? »

 

« Yes, Boss? »

 

« Can you block any Thinkagrams into or out of a hex for one turn? »

 

« Worried that the traitor will tell our plans to the guilds and Pro Toast? Remind me why we aren’t just demanding fealty or disbandment of our little renegade right now? »

 

« Because if everyone else realises there was one traitor, they’ll keep worrying about there being another, and they’ll stop trusting each other, and then we won’t be able to get everyone to master-class. It’ll work better all round if we win this one over without a confrontation. It’s bad enough you mouthing off about suggestions. »

 

« Would you prefer I had said nothing and let the guilds know everything? »

 

« I would prefer if you’d told me in private, so I could think of a way of breaking the news which didn’t make everyone paranoid. »

 

« I see. Well, I can’t block Thinkagrams between other units, but I can think of another way of using my art to deal with it. Leave it to me. »

 

« Make it happen. »

 

Helyo and Hedro are pushing it,” James was saying to NV. “36 and 39 hexes away. Our fastest daemons could make it, but only a few people could make it, and Pro Toast could counter.”

 

I’m not a fan of splitting up at all,” Arthur said. “I can mass reanimate one hex, but we’ll waste corpses if I’m not there.”

 

Another option,” Jess said, nudging them away from the map, “I could take and raze Ellesstee or Maria right now. We’d spook them and they’d raze the other cities, but a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, right? They might raze them all this turn, especially if the guilds warn them we have a Weirdomancer.” She paused. “Loony, do they actually know what you can do?”

 

I think it’s common knowledge that I can make flyers and terrain capability,” Loony said to Jess. “I don’t think many people realise I can do almost any special, or how many things count as specials. I’m not sure about mount. It’s not very popular, so I didn’t usually advertise it when hiring out, and the guild masters might have forgotten.”

 

They were interrupted by a scream from the direction of the dungeon, sounding something like “WILHELM!”

 

May twisted around in her seat and shouted. “Riley!”

 

The little Healomancer’s voice came back. “They’re all still alive!” Then, quieter, “Ish!”

 

Just keep it down in there!”

 

Sorry!” The screaming cut off.

 

I think I could make sound insulation?” Charlotte offered.

 

That’s a good idea,” May said, making it an order. Charlotte hopped off her seat and scurried off.

 

Ignoring this, Gus came up behind Jess and put a hand on her waist. “It’s a nice idea, sweetheart, but Ellesstee is twenty-nine hexes away, even crossing that mountain, and Maria is thirty. We don’t have anything that fast.”

 

She slapped his hand away. “You do realise who you’re talking to, don’t you?”

 

A girl who’s twenty-nine hexes away when the fastest units we have are those twenty-four move scouts, and there are mountain hexes in the way?”

 

A master Findamancer, idiot. Projections have move.”

 

Tom smiled. This was the exact reason he’d tried to get one caster of each discipline. Normal sides often had three or so casters, and had to contort their strategies to capitalise on their strengths and work around their weaknesses. He had twenty-five now, and at least one was strong in almost every situation. It was expensive, but he had an answer for everything Pro Toast could throw at him. “How much move?”

 

Stats are trade-offs. It takes more juice to find a fast form, leaving less for power. I could reach it from here if Loony gave it mountain capable, but I might not be strong enough to finish off the defence, with the city bonus. ItXd be best if I rode out as far as I could and then found a slower, tougher body. I’d want Loony along to give my projection mountain-capable and siege, and Charlotte so she can boost me; we’d be left in the field with barely any juice, so it’d be nice if we had a Foolamancer or some other backup.”

 

She traded looks with Tom and May, the highest-ranked people there, tacitly asking permission.

 

Either way, my minions and I are are going to be busy making Archon repellent,” May said. “We should make more of my flying golems, too, if we’re going to be attacking so fast.”

 

It struck Tom that Dollamancy wasn’t built for this sort of blitz attack. It normally took a long time to conquer a side; cities were usually sufficiently well-defended to cause heavy losses to an invader, either by defence or by counter, so even a winning side had to play it slow to pop replacements. Dollamancy was well-suited for that sort of war, because it could make golems and gear that tilted the odds of each battle a little each time for a huge cumulative advantage. With so many casters, though, they could burn juice rather than lose units, letting them push the offensive, and May didn’t have the time she needed.

 

Of course, she was never really intended as a front-line fighter for anything more than a stopgap. She was crucial to his endgame, although it would be best if nobody figured out quite why just yet. He burnt a little juice isolating himself from Lisa Thinkamantically. “Worry about the Shock absorbers first. Reinforce them or make spares, too. I wouldn’t put it past the guilds to hire Charlie to attack us directly. For everyone else –”

 

Riley came bouncing out of the dungeon, grinning from ear to ear. “I just finished!”

 

Finished what, exactly?” Lisa said, her voice thick with apprehension.

 

Come see!”

 

A protracted groan emanated from the dungeon.

 

This will give me nightmares, won’t it,” Jess said.

 

I’m right in the middle of something,” Tom said. “I’ll be over in a few rounds.”

 

But –!”

 

I’ll do it,” May said, getting out of her chair with a graceful twist that didn’t require her to push it back. She snagged Grim by the collar. “Come on!”

 

Can I go when we attack again?” Riley said, leading her back to the dungeon. “I really want to level. I only had enough juice to use five limbs, it was such a waste.”

 

Tom sighed. Maybe this was why there were no other caster sides. If he just had a dozen warlords here, they wouldn’t be doing anything more complicated than haggling over leadership bonuses and the optimal ratio of pikers to knights. “For everyone else, NV’s right. We can take four cities in two turns. Either it takes them by surprise, and the war is practically won, or they raze their cities first, and then they have no city walls; we crush their field units and claim every mine and farm in the battlespace, and rebuild the city sites anyway, before they can get reinforcements here.”

 

How, exactly?” Lisa asked, looking over the map. “We have the fast daemons with up to twenty-four move, but we only have I think six of them. Five if Loony sends that one back to Samedi. If she has to go with them to make them mounts –”

 

I don’t,” said Loony. “I can make my spells last for more than a turn without putting in all the juice to make it permanent, ever since I became an adept. If I don’t have to cast too much else or do it for too many at once, it should be fine.”

 

“– then that would make things a lot harder than they actually are. Fine. We know we’re strong enough to take, what, ten stacks of infantry, but we have only five mounts to reach them with.”

 

Not necessarily,” said Jess. “We also have a bunch of terrestrial daemons with fifteen or more move. If Loony goes with them and gives them mount and mountain, we can send an entire stack to take Ellesstee. Or Maria Av, with water-capable. We have twenty-odd casters, but most of us are supporters, with a few heavy hitters. Me, Tom, Mal, we could each take two or three stacks of basic infantry.”

 

Tom nodded. “Here’s the plan. Flacutono goes with Jess and whatever backup you want under veil; you head north-east on two-turn mounts. Next turn, the backup captures Maria. Flacutono, Jess, and Charlotte go east on three of the flyers, and Jess razes Helyo; it’s too far away for us to hold. Meanwhile, I go east with NV, Loony, and the other hot casters, along the road to Hedro. That leaves us fifteen hexes from Ellesstee, just close enough if Loony gives them mountain-capable and they cross the mountains, and twenty-four from Hedro, which I can make on the fourth flyer. I bring the daemon chief with me on the last flyer and use the cash from Helyo to pop reinforcements. We consolidate and decide whether to hold or keep invading.”

 

I have to say, I’m iffy about the thought of our ruler soloing a city,” Lisa said.

 

Why? I’ve done it before, and this one doesn’t even have a warlord.”

 

We think it doesn’t,” she pointed out. “And because if you flip up this time, everyone in the field will disband. Why not send Mal?”

 

I wanted her to ride back to Ethereum this turn. She can spend a few turns building up the tower, and that’ll boost everyone in it.”

 

Point of order: ordering us out into the field when you’re planning to do something that will get you croaked isn’t hugely different to ordering us to do something that will get us croaked, what with the fact that we literally will. I don’t mind you being part of an army that will screen for you, especially when we have Akira, but this isn’t a calculated risk, it’s reckless.”

 

I can take Hedro,” NV suggested. “Send five others to take Ellesstee, they can manage three stacks. If there’s no warlord at Hedro, they’ve got nothing that can even touch me.” He morphed into the spitting image of a Pro Toast stabber, before turning back to his normal self. “I’ll take them out, hold the city, and pop reinforcements with the daemon chief. If there’s more there than Sharkey’s found, I ditch the daemons and just walk away. They’ll never find a lone Foola–”

 

May appeared behind them all. “Helloo!” she sang, making them jump. Tom made a mental note to ask her for more of those boots. “Tom, you really should have a look at this. She’s made a golem.”

 

What?” Jess said. “What on earth would a Healomancer use to make –” Lisa kicked her, hard. “… I can’t believe I almost finished that question.”

 

Tom took a deep breath, then pushed his chair back. It was just one thing after another. He was a Shockmancer, and craved battle, but he was also a ruler, and had to rule. Today would be a ruling day. He could put his juice into the tower … or, on second thoughts, a Shock wand. He had to prepare for the endgame too. “Send a message for Miles,” he told Loony. “That Croakamancer he found? Tell her she’s hired. Do we have any mounts there that can make it here in one turn?”

 

A few people grimaced at the thought of another Croakamancer. The uncroaked hadn’t actually achieved much, they’d fallen too quickly; most people didn’t realise Akira was actively siphoning their luck away, keeping their daemons alive. Still, they’d certainly made fine fodder, which was their entire purpose, and they’d held Thursday off for long enough for Lisa to turn her around altogether, which had earned the discipline some goodwill.

 

No,” said Lisa. “Riley and Pete had to walk here, remember?”

 

Fine. Mal can ride back on one of the mounts and the Croakamancer can come here next turn, then switch mounts to join Jess’ support group.”

 

What do we need another for?” Arthur asked, frowning. “I can uncroak an entire hex by myself.”

 

Yes. One hex, and they all expire next turn. She can do Maria, and later on, one of you handles the mass uncroak and the other does the knights to make them last longer. Jess, you’re in charge. Find a plan, check it with Marvin, confirm it with me, and head out. I want those cities.” He stood up and followed May.

 

 

 

AN

 

We know of two wand types: the Shockmancy ones common in the MK and Pierce’s briefly-mentioned wand of cure incapacitation. This suggests that they’re canon but rare among sides, and I can’t think of any wholly convincing mechanic to explain why. My model is that wands hold many charges and can be recharged cheaply, but only masters can make them and they take several turns’ juice; they’re better value than scrolls, but there’s a high up-front cost, so it’s hard for casters to persuade their rulers to buy them. One often only needs one use of a spell anyway, so a ten-charge wand of fireball is likely less useful than five scrolls of different spells. However, twenty ten-charge wands of different spells are probably more useful than one hundred scrolls, so Ethereum has reason to invest in them, now that they have a few masters.

 

I wasn’t really happy with exchanging insights to class up for a variety of reasons, but I couldn’t think of a good reason why it wouldn’t work; if classing requires introspection specifically, it’s basically a duplicate mechanic of levelling up with cold magic. I’d prefer to have classes be a benefit of unlocking achievements, since that’s a quantifiable mechanic which rewards casters for getting out of their comfort zone and which can’t be so easily hacked, but the insight rule is more canonical.

 

The notion of mastery giving more casting options is more interesting than a simple bonus, but it’s hard to write for and balance. Flesh golems don’t really feel canonical, but the ability fits Riley’s Signamancy and Ethereum’s character, and it’s less dull than ‘she can heal more hits or unit types’. I figure class perks vary depending on the specific insight; hers involved Croakamancy, so it’s unusually morbid. The other option I thought of was to crib off Team Fortress’ medic; übercharging and overhealing would work for both mechanics and flavour.

 

If Tom’s plan sounds dangerous, bear in mind that he’s not actually a tactical genius. He’s a reasonably smart person taking a calculated risk: with Sharkey, they probably have a turn’s grace before any counter, Pro Toast still doesn’t know the full extent of their capabilities, and they have enough magic to deal with most contingencies.

Part 6 of 20 in Ethereum

Comments

  • Free Radical

    Even as a Master, I think Mal was making the wrong decision. Even if there's nowhere further to go in Changemancy, insights that might extend to the Erf or Numbers axes to pick up a Novice in Dirtamancy or Dittomancy would be useful. Koume is right there to learn from, too!

    Loony's tiny mounts, and especially the casual "that would be a Signamancy thing" were hilarious.

    I wonder if Riley's idea with the 8-stack was just cutting off pieces and healing the unit, or if it was literally having the prisoners stack up to give them bonuses so that they'd be strong enough to survive what she was doing. Either way, it kind of reminds me of Dungeon Keeper, where you could torture captured enemies to make them turn. The torture could kill them, but if you kept casting healing spells on them while you tortured, they'd stay alive long enough to always turn. Between Riley and Pete, I can see their dungeons quickly becoming very efficient at turning captured soldiers...

    Is that more ruins on that island and up near Helyo Sentry? Jess might have the opportunity to search some ruins after razing the city.

    Can James tame that Octopussy for the attack on Maria Avenue? I'm imagining it's a heavy sea unit, which would probably do some damage dock-side.

  • Salvage

    This story has been great so far. Thank you for all your hard work.

    I like the Healomancy golem. Healomancy, like all disciplines, has stereotypes that are based on misperception and rumor. A Healomancy that finds pain interesting is more than plausible. Imagine if a healomancer cast a contagious flu spell on a group if enemies. Two turns contagious. Two turns suffering disease penalties. A whole side could be hindered with a little luck during the contagious phase. I suspect most Caster types could make some sort of Golem I'd they thought about it right. 

     

  • GrayMatter

    Shit there's an endgame

  • DrDM

    Charlie got paid,” eleven people chorused.

     

    XD

  • DunkelMentat

    This story rocks. The stupidworld references were all awesome and it's interesting to see Charlie join the game here. Excited for the next one!

  • Twofer

    @Radical

    One rule about hot magic is that it has to be cast hot to give XP. Tom doesn't get XP from Shocking at the air or trees; he has to croak or capture units for it to work. Jess gets nothing from projection; she has to fight with it. Riley can't throw heals on units at full hits; she has to find someone with injuries or, in this case, inflict them herself, and it's bad for morale if you vivisect your own troops. As for the flesh golem, I don't think there's any one human organ where losing one eighth of its mass is necessarily fatal within 24 hours if there's a good surgeon handy and blood loss isn't a concern, and it saves juice to let injuries heal next turn.

    It's a crawl dungeon, not a ruin, although the ideas are similar enough that Hiller had them marked with the same glyph. It's full of monsters and small amounts of loot; it amounts to a stochastic training ground, giving much more XP with the cost that it's out of the way and there's a good chance your units will die instead. It's still a good deal for a Findamancer, who can basically ignore those drawbacks and who gets a bonus to loot, and a good deal during peace, when one has time to replace losses.

    James and Sharkey have a system akin to Parson's Archon/dwagon/Arkenhammer idea which they've quietly been doing for the past while, where Sharkey notes one or two big heavies nearby for James, who takes a detour to tame it. On level ground or with a Weirdomancer, a unit with m move can reach 3m(m+1) hexes, and a dwagon has one chance in 200 of popping in the Minty Mountains; there's therefore usually something big within range, and a level four Date-a-mancer has a very good chance to tame a dwagon under my rules. An octopussy is somewhat tougher than a dwagon, with lower mobility and utility, and could solo two stacks if it weren't for city and stack bonuses.

    @Salvage

    Huh. A plague is an interesting idea. I was wondering what a master Healomancer should do, and Riley's namesake liked her bioterrorism.

    Golems and other permanent unit acquisition like taming are a nice ability template because they're so easy to balance, compared with things like Eyemancy or even Croakamancy (how much of a discount for units that decay in a few turns that you need corpses to make?). I have it that a few disciplines have as-yet unrevealed abilities along those lines.

    @Gray

    Every good player knows to plan more than one war ahead. Of course, that rather assumes he'll win without losing any key assets, and no plan survives contact with the enemy, but he's pretty good at improvisation.

    @Alii

    Thanks for the support!

  • DunkelMentat

    I'm really digging the insight sharing mechanism. Super cool idea and a fun way to explore disciplines. It's also gonna make a hell of a selling point to casters in the MK for joining the side. "Hey, wanna become a master? We've got low level masters! We figured out how it worked! Come one come all!"

  • DunkelMentat

    Are the last 4 paragraphs supposed to be in italics?

  • DunkelMentat

    Also from here: 

    They were interrupted by a scream from the direction of the dungeon, sounding something like “WILHELM!”

     

    To here:

    It’d be best if I rode out as far as I could and then found a slower, tougher body. I’d want Loony along to give my projection mountain-capable and siege, and Charlotte so she can boost me; we’d be left in the field with barely any juice, so it’d be nice if we had a Foolamancer or some other backup.”

     

    Everything is in italics and I can't see why, and there are some variations in font size as well.

  • Twofer

     @Dunkel: The second paragraph too. I don't know why either. My master copy is fine, but when I copy-paste that into the text box, it appears with the glitches. There's also colour and font variation; the font part is the most annoying, because I use Liberation Serif, which isn't one of this site's options, so I can't fix it properly. I'll see what I can do.

  • madmed

    Once again - great story!

     

    I realy like the unruly archons - a type of unit we havn't seen before :)

     

    And in this story, as in everywhere else, Lonny steals all the spotlight, and we love her for it! :)

  • amnimatchen

    Greate story. 

    Flash golem from living people? that gross, where do you get this Idea? (please don't answer)

     

    about other ideas for healomancy bonuses, here are a few: 

    1) the ability to heal "clinic death". 
    2) the ability to transfer hit points between units (blood donation...)

    3) the ability to store hit points between turns for short times (again, blood donation)

    4) the ability to use dead bodies to boost healing (planting a new kidny from a freshly dead unit)

    5) cast a regenerate spell - where the target regenerates over time

    6) cast a "drain life" spell

    7) "Inflict wounds" spells like in D&D

    As for leveling to master - don't you make it a bit too easy? 

    Hearing someone else's insight probably helps - but you should retrospect about it a lot. Maybe cast a few spells, before suddenly understanding what the insight is really about. otherwise any group of friends with some adept would emidietlly transfer to master hood. Probably like in real life, your friend can tell you insights about how to best raise your children, but you don't really get it even if you understand it, then one day you argue with your child, and then suddenly you understand how to avoid the fight alltogether by use of your friend's advice - at that moment your really understood.

  • hiramarchibald

    I will love you forever if anyone can create a forum and/or wiki that lists the classes, levels and friendships/enmities between the cast of characters. Having a hard time tracking it all by Day 5... :

     

    "May was beside Tom, as well as Lisa, Belle, and Riley. Jess had a more crowded table, with Charlotte, Loony, Koume, Gus, James, Flacutono, and Grim. She’d stowed her wheeled chair but still had Charlotte on her lap. Arthur, NV, Lecter, Cruller, and Pete were in a third group with Mal"

  • ShaneTheBrain

    As for wands, I assume the crafting system says you have to find some pretty tedious materials to make one, like eight Sulfuron Ingots or Ender Pearls and Golden Apples for the raw materials. Plus my gut says they can be Melted Down and "razed" into Schmuckers same as popping a gem, so brutish Warlords and Overlords are regularly breaking them for cash every time they plunder one.

    I really like the Insights system. I am picturing it as a mixture of an "Insights XP" bar, and a one of those "network map" systems like Final Fantasy or Path of Exile where you can draw your way to different skills if you fill in enough of the intermediate nodes. There could be all kinds of insights- Level 1 Numbers, Level 2 Matter, A Level 5- Dittomancy-Shockamancy chain, from general to specific. The more nodes you have filled in already to the Insight, the better it is. (Too many empty dots between you and it means the insight is beyond your understanding even when you're looking right at it. Too few means it's trivial.) If you have been doing work to find Achievements/Lore Objects in the world and fill up your Insights Node network, then the odds of a new Insight piece finishing a Constellation and granting you a boost improves. If you've just been brute force grinding spell XP by the numbers and raw casting and aren't close to critical mass, then you won't get much out of this system until you fill in more of the missing nodes.
     That would mean that it's difficult, but possible, to work your way across the map and maybe even learn some completely disparate discipline. Like making an Adept Dirtamancer/Novice Rhymeomancer.

  • ShaneTheBrain

    For those who haven't seen it, here's what Path of Exile's skill tree looks like. I'm sure Erfworld's total magic tree would look something like this. An insight could be one little dot, or maybe even a bigger circle of dots.

    "Classes" start in a general area, but you can expand into other classes with enough leveling and hybridize.

    Path of Exile's giant spell skill map

  • Twofer

    Thanks for the support, everyone!

    @Mad: Loony is fun to write. I kind of regret having Weirdomancy be a designated support discipline; it's hard to put a chapter in which she's a really key player, so as much as the one who makes sure that there are no problems with minor details like city walls or oceans.

    @Amni:

    You probably shouldn't read Worm then. I liked it, but flesh golems would be lucky to make its top five grossest ideas.

    Not bad ideas. I use #2 in the next chapter, and I have an idea sort of like 4 for later on. I might give 3 and 5 to Lecter. I'm definitely not using anything that can fix death, though, and 6 and 7 are a bit too much like Shockmancy for my tastes.

    It's vastly too easy by Stupidworld standards, where no amount of listening to other people talk about something can make you a master by itself. As a game mechanic, though, I could easily see myself putting "whenever you gain a useful insight, you have a (num_insights in 20) chance of classing up" or similar without worrying too much about exploits, especially given it's not that big a power-up. As a world-building question, I get the impression that casters don't talk much shop with each other; think how Clay said he thought he wasn't supposed to tell how Luckamancy worked, and how much of Thinkamancy is still secret. Between their natural reluctance, sides keeping enemies in the dark, and guilds trying to preserve trade secrets, it's conceivable that they simply don't communicate properly. On top of that, there were 16 people there, 14 of them sharing insights, going multiple rounds, and only 6 of them classed up, most of whom were about due anyway; it clearly has low odds of success each time, so under normal conditions, it probably wouldn't work.

    @Hira: Fair enough. I put the Signamancies too, and their favourite tactics.

    @Shane:

    Needing inconvenient ingredients for wandcrafting works; I think I'll go with that. In the MK it's not a big deal because you can buy goods from anywhere in the world, but sided casters a) need to think it's a good idea themselves, b) need to convince their rulers it's a good idea, and c) need to pay the merchants' mark-up to buy the reagents, all on top of the other requirements. It's not a huge problem for Ethereum: the guilds can't control the markets, including contraband.

    PtE is fairly similar to what I had in mind, yeah. I think I'd put a limit of novice outside a caster's class, or some sort of penalty, and say that new abilities are at least partly governed by what that caster was thinking about when they classed up; Riley was focused on Croakamancy, so she can make pseudo-uncroaked golems, but Lecter won't get the same ability.