Princess Jillian and the Triple Crown Steaks
Author's note: This story was written in response to Page 145 of Book 3. Or more accurately, to the comments in the reactions thread for that page. A few commenters expressed a desire for stories written as though they were the tales Jack made up about the "treacherous" Jillian Zamussels. Of course, I immediately thought this was a great idea. As such, events, characters, and details herein will not accurately reflect Erfworld canon. Call it a "mirror universe", call it Foolamancy ... or just call it a story. Hopefully the result will be entertaining, at least a little bit.
Also, the mechanics may not exactly match Erfworld canon. I'd like to claim it's for the same reasons, but really, I'm just terrible at keeping all the rules straight. I am not a rules lawyer And along with that, this story wouldn't have been possible without the wonderful Erfworld Wiki. Many thanks to the contributors there.
Also also, it's 1 am here & I didn't feel like editing, so, mistakes will abound.
Jillian actually had to struggle to keep her balance as the large yellow creature beneath her shook, it's armor rattling in protest. The megalogwiff had hit the hex boundary at full speed, and been stopped solidly. The mount still had a couple move left—more move than hit, at the moment—which meant Prussiamall had ended turn. Without consulting her, of course. Stupid. This gig was becoming more of a hassle than it was worth, she thought.
No, she corrected herself, this cluster-boop of a job was always more hassle than it was worth.
The job had started like all the other jobs Faq took: Some side in a war—usually the losing side—needed an advantage to overcome its opponents, so they hired the most ruthless mercenary they could. Hiring Faq wasn't easy. Faq had the seemingly-unique trait of being a bubble kingdom, despite its status as a mercenary side. Or, perhaps, because of it. King Banhammer of Faq was a fierce warlord king, notoriously vicious to any outsiders who dared trespass into Faq's battlespace. Combined with Faq's master-class Foolamancer and Lookamancer, even the existence of the small side was little known in Erfworld at large.
Still, Prussiamall had managed to find the right channels to contact Faq, and had agreed to Faq's (admittedly-high) price. The employment offer had come with a few conditions. Normally, Banhammer would have told King Frederick to go boop himself, but even the most ruthless bubble kingdom is still a bubble kingdom. The sheer amount of effort Faq put into remaining hidden meant, by necessity, that mercenary jobs were few and far between. And the current dry spell had been the longest in three hundred turns. So Banhammer accepted Prussiamall's terms and sent Jillian and some troops to help Prussiamall turn the tide of war.
One of the conditions King Frederick of Prussiamall insisted on was that Faq formally ally with them. Frederick seemed to think that was some guarantee against Faq being hired away by one of the other sides. King Frederick's naivety was quite likely a major cause of his current military difficulties (Charlescomm would have drawn up a contract). The most immediate consequence of this alliance, for Jillian, was that the Megalogwiff's move had dropped to zero at a very bad time. She ordered the mount to turn around so she could see the opposite edge of the hex. Sure enough, the units from Volley Forge, a max stack of mounted archers, were crossing into her hex. Goodness, that side had a lot of archers.
Jillian look down at the creature she rode, and then down at the terrain far below. The mega, imposing at it was, had been whittled down to a single hit point. She had encountered the Volley Forge mounted archers in every single hex she had flown through. If one of those archers managed to hit her mount...she definitely did not want to fall from that height. Her plan up until then had been to use the megalogwiff's high move to blow past the Volley Forge units all the way back to Prussiamall. But then her allied side had ended turn, and now she was stuck. She glanced up at the archers, then back down to the ground. She might not be able to cross into the next hex, but she could at least land her flying beast.
Jillian ordered the yellow behemoth to land as fast as possible. Thank the Titans, she managed to get to ground before the Volley Forge units caught up to her. Barely. She ditched the mount & ran into the woods. Her second bit of luck was that she had been flying over a forest hex—perhaps she could manage to hide from Volley Forge until natural Turnamancy ended their turn. She knew she would lose the mount, and sure enough the archers were in range & croaked the creature no sooner than she had landed. The loss stung, but at least it was a chance to live. Still, it was a shame to lose her last unit. Those booped archers had taken out the whole stack she had flown out with. Titans, but there were a lot of them. Plus, Jillian really liked megalowgwiffs.
Jillian ran blindly into the most heavily wooded patch of the hex. She could hear the archers pursuing her on the ground now. Any advantage her headstart had given her was gone now. She tried as best she could to keep the voices behind her and step as quietly as she could.
Suddenly, the trees simply stopped, and Jillian found herself smack up against a clearing containing three units. Jillian silently thanked the Titans for giving her the presence of mind to move stealthily—her caution had been the only thing keeping her from running right into the clearing unprepared. The warrior princess studied the three units. They all wore the livery of Meatshield, the other side that Prussiamall was at war with. Two of them were low-level stabbers, with a high leadership bonus. Which meant that the third unit was a warlord, or—no.
"That can't be right," Jillian muttered to herself. The third unit was Queen Patsy, ruler of Meatshield. A ruler in the field, stacked with only two stabbers for protection? Were all of the rulers in this conflict completely incompetent? She squinted and double-checked the stats on the three units. Something was buzzing in the back of her mind, but she couldn't place it. Could be foolamancy. Still, this was an opportunity. She could capture Queen Patsy and force Meatshield to ally with Prussiamall or risk ending as a side. Then send a message to Volley Forge that they faced two sides and force a surrender. It was a desperate gamble, and she'd have to use Charlescomm to send a thinkagram (which was expensive), but then again, she was desperate. Jillian unsheathed her unnecesarily-large sword, and sprang from the trees.
The princess croaked the first stabber and had her weapon at Queen Patsy's throat before the other stabber had even realized something was happening. To her credit, the Queen of Meatshield remained calm and composed. And then Jillian realized what was bothering her about the enemy's stats:
They had move.
"You're allied with Volley Forge!" Jillian exclaimed. It was an expression of realization, not an accusation. That's why the queen was out here: neutral ground. Which meant that King George of Volley Forge was probably somewhere in one of the neighboring hexes...that explained the presence of all the archers. It also meant the hexes on the other side of this one were likely just as packed with Meatshield's units.
The hexes she had almost flown into.
If she'd have been able to keep going...Titans.
The Queen's reply snapped Jillian back into the moment. "Yes, we are allied now," Patsy said calmly, "And I have an heir, so killing me won't end my side, which means if you do kill me, you'll have two full sides hunting you down." Jillian pressed her sword tighter against the queen's neck. Jillian wanted this woman to be afraid of her, but she wasn't, which annoyed Jillian. Unperturbed, Queen Patsy continued, "However, I believe I have a solution which might be ... mutually beneficial to us both." Jillian wanted to take this woman prisoner, or even croak her on principle, but she could hear the Volley Forge units getting closer.
"What do you suggest?" Jillian asked cautiously.
"I know who you are," the Queen responded, still unflappable, "Princess Jillian of Faq, and you've been causing quite a lot of trouble for both Volley Forge and Meatshield. We are not amused. But if you were to...assist us instead, it could turn the tide and end this conflict. Break allegiance with Prussiamall. Ally with Meatshield."
When Jillian did not answer, Patsy added, "Faq would be well compensated. Why don't you think it over? Join me for dinner tonight, a Guest of the Crown. Simply release me, and be my guest for a meal, and I'll have George call off his dogs."
Jillian grunted, but moved the sword away from the old lady's throat. Faq could use the schmuckers. After all, she did need a new mount.
Jillian detested court dinners. Detested. Her place was on the battlefield, not in the court. Even the war-court of Faq was boring to her. Still and all, Jillian had to grudgingly admit the food was good. Queen Patsy served cowbit steaks. Really good cowbit steaks. "The best of the crown's larder," the Queen had declared.
The meal was a formal court dinner, with all the pomp and circumstance required by that distinction. Announcements of each court member as they entered the hall, knight-class units in full armour at the entrance, the Royal Fool providing sub-par entertainment. The presence of the Fool, of course, reminded Jillian of Jack, the Fool of Faq. Jillian sighed. Jack... She longed to be back by his side, to listen to his voice. At her thoughts of Jack, Jillian felt that familiar stirring——
"Jack!" said Parson again, more forcefully, his eyebrows still raised. "Dude!"
"Hm. Apologies, lord," said Jack sheepishly, and continued the story.
Conversation lingered on longer than the food did, but as the night went on, the Nobles of Meatshield did finally begin to excuse themselves. Eventually, Jillian was left alone at the long table seated to the right of the Queen's larger chair at the head of the table. Well, alone except for the two knights, reminding Jillian just how fine of a line separated her status of "guest" from that of "prisoner."
The Queen seemed to ignore Jillian as she sipped wine from a golden goblet. Yet as she sat the goblet down, Patsy broke the heavy silence and addressed the warlady. "I trust you have enjoyed the hospitality of the crown?" The intonation was that of a question, but Jillian understood it to be a statement: I saved your life, this was some booping-good steak, and you'd better have appreciated both.
Jillian opened her mouth to answer, but before she could remember the "courtly" reply she was expected to give, the Queen of Meatshield continued talking. "Now about our offer. Have you considered it? The offer really is most gracious, and beneficial to all. In the field, Prussiamall is no match for the combined forces of Meatshield and Volley Forge. Yet taking the city of Prussiamall itself has proved ... difficult. The terrain is ... somewhat inconvenient to mount a proper siege."
Jillian agreed with that assessment wholeheartedly. The sheer strategic challenge of the terrain around Prussiamall's hex had impressed Jillian immediately when she'd first gone to meet with King Frederick. She strongly suspected the luck of the terrain was the only thing keeping Prussiamall from having been conquered many turns ago.
"You, on the other hand," the queen continued, "have access to freely enter the city, even the tower. You are a mercenary. All you need do is act like one. Break alliance, ally with us, and kill the king. Myself and King George will be waiting nearby to claim the city. We ... disagree on which side may claim the capital once Frederick has been croaked."
The queen finally turned her head to look directly at Jillian. It was the first time Patsy had looked directly at Jillian since meeting her, and it was clear that the Queen was ready for whatever argument Jillian had ready. Jillian, being Jillian, surprised the Queen of Meatshield with her answer.
"A double-cross?" asked Jillian Zamussels. "Sure. No problem. Just need a few turns to walk back there."
Both women smiled, and the temperature in the room dropped.
The trip back to Prussiamall was uneventful, exactly as promised by Jillian's unofficial allies. Of course the trip took longer because she was on foot, but that couldn't be helped. Explaining to Frederick why she'd come back on a sawhorse or a unipegataur instead of her megalogwiff would have been awkward. The man was inept as a ruler but he wasn't completely stupid. So Jillian found herself traveling on foot, through a series of forest hexes "fortuitously" devoid of enemy units.
As part of the alliance with Prussiamall, King Frederick was covering the cost of Jillian's upkeep, and she had the standard rations of Prussiamall pop for her each day: a sandwich of sliced cowbit with melted cheese, and peppers and onions. The "Crown Steak of Prussiamall" wasn't as good as the cowbit steak she'd had in Meatshield, but it was a nice change from the unchanging rations of sushi that popped for her every day when Faq was covering her upkeep. Still, Jillian was a field unit, and she foraged out of habit. Lean times were common for Faq, and any food she found reduced her upkeep cost. Since Prussiamall was covering her upkeep, she didn't technically need to worry about the cost, but habit is what it is. Besides, it might help to allay suspicion of her impending betrayal.
Not that Jillian needed the help...Jillian was a mercenary; she played for whoever paid. Betraying her clients was second nature to her. It was second nature to all mercenaries. Charlescomm might bend over backwards to stick to the letter of their infamous contracts, but Charlie had ways of screwing his clients over at the same time he was "helping" them.
So Jillian ate her Prussiamall Cheese Steaks, but she continued to also eat food from the forest. Apples, especially. Forests always seemed to have apples. The Titans must have really loved apples, Jillian thought.
Not needing to worry about enemy attacks, Jillian took the most direct route back to Prussiamall, hampered only by her limited move on foot. She knew several stacks of units from both Volley Forge and Meatshield followed just a couple hexes behind her. By night, Jillian bivouacked out in the open. Unless she was in a rainy hex, she rarely felt the need for a tent. Underneath the stars, Princess Jillian Zamussels slept peacefully, her conscience untroubled by the double-cross she planned.
As she slept on the third night of her trip back to Prussiamall, one more turn's move away from the city, Jillian was awakened by the sound of a branch snapping. Instantly awake, she instinctively sprung up and reached for her sword. Even in the dark, the warlady's sword was drawn and poised at the intruder's neck before the intruder could spout out the feeble cry that came from his mouth.
"Don't kill me!" Jillian heard. The whiny voice sounded familiar. Jillian bent down and reached into her pack, retrieving a powerball, still keeping the sword pointed at her mystery "guest." Jillian activated the powerball; it's dim light revealed the face of King George of Volley Forge. Jillian had been introduced to the king while she was in Meatshield. She had taken an instant dislike to the little man. "Smarmy" was the word she used most for him. "Creeper" was a close second. Wandering hands and suggestive comments had reinforced that view. For the second time since losing her megalogwiff, Jillian Zamussels found herself holding a sword to the neck of a Royal ruler and seriously considering regicide. King George wasn't looking at the sword; he was looking at Jillian. And he was licking his lips.
Jillian made a noise clearly indicating she was disgusted; the seedy king didn't seem to notice, or if he did, didn't seem to care. "What do you want?" she asked him. He'd obviously gone to great lengths to arrange the meeting, and to do so unseen. He'd entered her hex after Prussiamall had ended turn, and then had his chief warlord end turn, and waited until night to sneak up beside her. Jillian kept her sword at the small king's throat.
King George raised his hands apologetically. "Just to talk," he insisted. "I have a proposition for you. We—"
"Not interested," Jillian said quickly, interrupting. Best to shut this down, and shut it down *hard*.
The king of Volley Forge took on a pained expression. "Nothing like *that*," he insisted—and then tightened his lips in a crooked grin that failed to look like a smile, adding, "Unless you ... want to?" Jillian pushed the sword harder into his neck.
"Or not," George said quickly, "or not. That's not what I came here to discuss. Actually," he lowered his voice to a whisper, "I want to make a deal," he said conspiratorially.
"What kind of 'deal'?" asked Jillian cautiously.
"I want you to break alliance with Frederick like you planned, but then switch allegiance to Volley Forge and off the old hag from Meatshield, too. I have archers in place that can take care of her heir, but the Queen will be beter guarded than she was in the forest. And of course Faq will be well compensated." The oily king's grin expanded to a smile that looked suspiciously like bared teeth.
"A double-cross to the double-cross? You'd have to beat Meatshield's offer by fifty percent," Jillian demanded. It was a bluff; she'd have done it for even five percent more. Truth be told, Jillian admitted to herself, she'd have agreed to the offer even if it was the same amount with a new megalogwiff thrown in.
"Done," agreed King George, rubbing his hands together. He stood there in silence for another moment, looking like he was going to say something more. But then he thought better of it, turned, and walked back into the night, cackling softly.
Before Jillian had put the powerball away, the king had returned.
"Are you sure you wouldn't be interested in ... more?" he asked hopefully. "If you were my queen, you could dine on cowbit steaks every night, you—"
"Yeah, yeah," Jillian said, cutting him off again. "The best steaks the crown has to offer, right?" She reached for her sword. "Not...interested!" she said firmly, drawing the large blade from its sheath to punctuate her
"Absolutely not!" yelled the King of Prussiamall. "Do you think I've got megalogwiffs popping every turn? Those mounts don't pop on trees, you know! The only one I have left is my own personal mount!"
Jillian sighed. She'd hoped she could get the king to give her a new mount before she croaked him. But he wasn't having any of it. When she'd returned to Prussiamall empty-handed and having lost the entire stack she'd commanded, the king had been furious. He'd yelled at her for nearly fifteen minutes about Duty, military discipline, resources, and strategy, before storming out of the room and refusing to talk to her at all for a full turn. When he'd finally agreed to see her again, the second thing she'd done was to ask for Prussiamall to give Faq a megalogwiff.
He'd refused, and now he was yelling some more. Jillian decided to take a different tack. "What if I just ... borrow ... your mount? You turn the megalogwiff to Faq, so that we'll pay it's upkeep for the duration and take three percent off your bill for the 'inconvenience' and then turn it back to Prussiamall once we've finished our services. Besides, it would make our plan easier if I attack while mounted."
The king calmed down. He was, after all, a practical man, even if a bit naive. And besides, the princess had informed him of not one, but two offers to croak him. He was still alive, thanks to her sense of loyalty.
"Alright," the king agreed after a minute. Frederick sent an order to his personal mount. A couple minutes later, the megalogwiff appeared, draped in the ceremonial red and yellow livery of Prussiamall. A minute later, its livery was Faq green. Jillian smiled.
"Now," Frederick said gruffly, "Faq will break alliance and meet with King George and Queen Patsy. Once you are within striking distance, you will ally with Volley Forge and slay Queen Patsy. Once Volley Forge has croaked her heir, you will break alliance, re-join alliance with Prussiamall, and slay King George."
"Right," agreed Princess Jillian enthusiastically.
The King of Prussiamall clasped his hands eagerly and smiled for the first time that turn. "So be it!" he said.
"On behalf of Faq, I hereby break alliance with Prussiamall," Jillian said, and the official alliance was dissolved.
"Good hunting!" offered King Frederick.
In response, Jillian drew her sword and spun quickly, decapitating a thoroughly shocked King of Prussiamall.
"Yeah, that's the plan," Jillian said, "Break alliance, kill a naive ruler. Repeat twice," and then calmly walked over to her waiting mount. She sheathed her broadsword and flew off to meet with two more rulers.
Hovering on her megalogwiff high above a forest hex that held the ruins of the former city of Volley Forge, Princess Jillian Zamussels of Faq wrote out a brief message to her father.
"Status report: Conquered three sides this turn. Each side had only one city. No casters in MK to worry about. Razed all three cities. Returning home."
The princess put the message into her hat and repeated the sending word, and then flew home.
(NOTE: User was awarded 40 Shmuckers for this post. -Rob)