Dance Across the Hungry Jungle, Part 1
By Spicymancer (Tipped by 2 people!)
Part 1: Promotional Material
As a newly promoted warlord, Marco Voyager felt like he'd been popped anew. His armor was upgraded, there was an extra spring in his step, and everything that was familiar felt new, while things that were once confusing, now strangely familiar. He was walking the route to Count Black Friday's office with Lucy Charms, just gawking and staring at everything and everyone he came across, much to the surprise of more than one infantryman. Among the changes, he could now see the Points and Specials on units, and was closely inspecting everyone who crossed his path to see their Stats.
Lucy Charms wasn't even trying to hold in her amusement, and laughed often as she walked with him. It was an endless source of myrth and wonder to see the constant, subtle readjusting Marco was having to do to compensate for his newly stronger arms and legs, courtesy of the Warlord bonus and boost in stats. He'd tripped a few times on stairs, and absently slammed a door so hard nearby units drew arms from the commotion. His hurried «It's okay, you can drop your arms!» delivered as an Order, reflexively made the now doubly confused infantry literally drop their weapons.
What she found the funniest part came after Marco realized he'd gained instinctive knowledge of the city's layout and his place inside it, which he tested out walking to the count's office with his eyes closed. His third un-Luckamancy break came after successfully navigating the third hallway; just rounding the corner he'd casually tackled a patrolling macheteer by accident.
«It's not uncommon for promoted warlords to feel a little... over vigorous, laddie» grinned Lucy as he helped the knocked over macheteer back up.«You'll get used to your new strength soon enough. After all, it's not like you're some kind of Twoll-sized Heavy Warlord, knocking over mountains willy-nilly.»
Marco blushed and offered an apology to the bewildered macheteer. «Frankly Lucy, I feel about as graceful as a Red Bullseye in a pantry right now. But still, it's amazing!» In demonstration, Marco leapt two and a half feet up, and managed to bat at the bottom edge of a pennant in Tar Zhay's teal and cyan colors suspend from the ceiling. «That’s a half a foot higher than I could jump this morning!»
Lucy gave him a polite clap that was somewhere between appreciative and bemused. «Impressive. Just remember not to let it go to yer head: other warlords can be just as strong, or stronger. And those who popped as warlords will have an innate grasp of their strength and Specials.» She hooked her diminutive arm in his and casually steered them toward the Count's office, taking care to walk them through the crowds to avoid any more distracted run-ins.
Which was a good thing. Marco's mind had gone somewhere deep inside the jungle of his memory. «Yeah. It all feels different inside my head, too. It's weird. It's not so much that I'm smarter, but I know and understand so much more now. Tactics, formations, Language even! Looking back on everything Zheng and me went through in the jungle... something as simple as not engaging a unit... not engaging now would be so easy, but back then I barely even understood the concept.»
«Mmm.» Hummed Lucy in agreement. «You really should have a good sit down to get used to your new faculties before leaving on whatever assignment the Count may have for ye, dear. Talk with Zheng about it, he may be able to offer you sage advice. After all, he's probably got a good hour head start on you, promotion-wise.» She winked at this, much to Marco's chagrin. «Besides, you're both clever lads, I'm sure ye might even be able to appreciate the change in ways those who've had the Leadership special all their lives may not.»
And that gave Marco something to think about. He'd accomplished much more than he thought possible already as a simple piker. Now that he was a Warlord, he'd have to be that much sharper to make his Side proud. Before he got to mull the thought over much more, they'd reached the Count's office.
The doors to the office were closed, so Marco rapped his knuckles on the heavy mahogany. He could faintly hear a conversation on the other side, and then a much louder «Enter!» followed by the heavy click of the door's lock opening. Looking down at the door, on some basic level he now understood that the door lock also obeyed orders, and that the count must have Ordered it open.
Going in, he couldn't help but notice the office was stately, which wasn't surprising considering Dis was a level 5 city. But it was also very homey and worn in. Marco's gaze drifted up the tall ceiling, with an impressively preserved taxidermy Conchordion suspended from it by rope. It was in a pose of mid-flight with its long neck/torso fully extended, as if ready to contract and fire off a sonic Polka blast at uninvited guests.
The actual office though was very lived-in. It had several comfortable dark leather lounge chairs, some with raiment carelessly strewn on them, an open armoire with field and Komissar uniforms peeking out, a map table with a large selection of units laid out, and paperwork littering the Count's personal desk in the kind of chaos that hinted at deeper patterns.
There were four teal and cyan pennants hanging from pillars at each corner of the office. But most impressively three of the office's four walls were glass, with slatted, movable shutters that could allow the Count a clear view of the Garrison and most of the surrounding hexes. It was in front of one of these windows that they found Zheng and the Count, talking and pointing at things out in the courtyard.
«... and you've really been able to Order units in the courtyard? From this distance?» asked Zheng of Count Black. It seemed they'd walked in on a conversation. «Yes, the trick is having a line of sight, and good Datemancy with the unit. A strong personal relationship allows you to send... Ah! Marco, Lucy!»
Zheng smiled as they came in, and he and the Count turned to greet them. Marco saw Zheng was now in an upgraded warlord armor perfectly matching his own. It had been upgraded with a dark cyan shoulder sash, and teal trim along the boots, sleeves and collar. He still had the Navatari spear strapped to his back, a counterpart to Polo. It suited him; he looked every bit the young officer. His stance and poise even made the red bandana on his top-knotted head look natural rather than clash with their side's colors.
For his part the count was still a tall, black-clad bundle of energy and movement. He quickly crossed the office and beat Zheng to greet his guests, clasping Marco's arm. «Congratulations on your promotion. I'm happy to tell you it was one of the few motions in the past dozen turns to go through the Komissar council without objections. You and Zheng are both now Lieutenants, junior grade.»
Marco had only just learned about how the Komissar council truly ran the Side, and he felt duly honored by the Count's news. Only... "A dozen turns"? The Komissar council must have some pretty heated debates. Marco decided to add that thought to the growing pile of questions to follow up on. «Thank you sir, Major Raquel said you had orders for Zheng and me?»
Zheng walked up to them at that point, joining the discussion. «Indeed, I'm rather curious what new role the side has for us.»
Count Black nodded at that. «Of course, but please, have a seat all of you, won't you?» He motioned to the stately chairs arranged around a coffee table.
They all sat in the dark brown leather chairs, Marco and Zheng had to lean their pikes on their chairs, and Lucy actually had to hop into hers. It was Marco's turn to chuckle when he caught sight of her buckled shoes barely peeking out of the chair's seat. She shot him a look that implied a nasty bad Luckamancy hex was in store if he kept it up.
Ignoring the laughter, the Count idly tapped the armrest of his chair as he spoke. «The Komissar council may take its time in deciding on things, and for that I apologize. One of the downsides of so many units actively debating and voting on their side’s matters. The joke among some of the Breakfast Club is our side is a real "Them-or-crazy" because of it.» The count gave a short chuckle, with Marco and Zheng exchanging a quick (and confused) glance and polite chuckles themselves. Marco guessed this was probably an in-joke in they'd eventually appreciate.
The count went on. «Anyway, we have your orders now, and I think they're good ones.» The count turned to Marco, speeding up the tempo of his finger tapping «Given your recent history, and current developments in the war with the Banana Republic, the Komissar council is tasking you with negotiating an Alliance with the Guewilla Cheeses.»
Marco was stunned, this was a huge responsibility. And while he relished the chance to prove himself, he was both excited and a little apprehensive at the thought of meeting Chief Viet again. «Well thank you sir, I'm sure I'll--»
«Wait a moment.» The count interrupted, with the edge of something hidden inside the sentence. «While you will be conducting the negotiations and Signing the agreement for Tar Zhay, the mission will be led by General Franco, to whom you will be assigned as a lieutenant.» Marco felt a little relieved at not going in alone, but (surprising himself) also a little disappointed. Then he noticed something. During their Erfabits lessons, Lucy would had called it subtext, something underneath the literal meaning of what he was reading. Marco noticed there was a sub-speech beneath the explanation, it was an Order. «Watch.»
Count Black shifted in his seat. «This is a high priority mission, you are to follow the General's lead, while he will defer to you in the negotiations. We're hoping your personal relationship will help win them over. We could use Allies to counter the newly allied Navatari to the Banana Republic.» It was hard, listening to what the count was saying and what he was SAYING. Which was «Watch for trouble, from inside.»
«There is a second objective to your mission. Not everyone may be comfortable with the alliance, and it's vitally important that our forces get along with the Guewilla's and vice versa. So please, discretely speak to as many units as you can and gauge their feelings, where their loyalties lie in this matter.» The subtext / Order here was crystal clear. «We suspect a mole. You are to investigate everyone, including the general.»
His throat dry at the implication, Marco managed a «Yes sir. About those orders... » and Marco did his best to infuse a need for guidance into it. The count stopped tapping his arm rest and began swinging a foot. «Of course, diplomacy is tricky business. Major Raquel can help explain the specifics of the Signamancy contract and any other... Details.» The unmistakable subtext here was «discuss this only with her.» Boxes within boxes. Marco intuited that the count wanted to keep this search secret, but to investigate a General?! He'd find a private place and thoroughly exhaust all his questions with the Major.
«And you» said the Count as he turned to Zheng and Lucy «also get to revisit old haunts. You are ordered to stack with Sky Captain Crunch and escort Lucy and Dirtamancer Venice Beach to the lost city of Olmecca to study the unique improvement it has, and see if it can be viably claimed and repaired, replicated, or at the least cheaply rebuilt. You will also independently be negotiating an alliance with the "Smackers", we believe them to be compatible with the Guewillas based on their Signamancy.»
Zheng nodded. «Will we be expecting run-ins along the way? Our last flight wasn't very smooth.» For such an impassive man, the Count had surprisingly even delivery. «Our intelligence says that we've managed to secure the area around Olmecca, the risk should be minimal this time. But this is jungle warfare, as you've experienced first-hand battle lines are hypothetical and territorial integrity extends only so far as you can see.»
Lucy piped in this time. «If I may, count. I can offer more aid in this mission than Spell-Checking for Venice. Apart from boosting units or cursing enemies, I can see hidden paths, lucky paths. Now, I can't say it'll be trouble free, but if we follow one we'll get where we're going, and maybe find something interesting along the way.»
The count arched an eyebrow. «The briefing on your capabilities said something along those lines. While I’ll leave that up to Sky Captain, I'd be curious to hear how this path finding turns out.»
«As will I» said Zheng, with just a hint of curiosity and worry in his voice.
Lucy laughed «Oh don't fret. It's just like chasing a rainbow! Completely... Well, mostly harmless.» Marco tried not to let a smile creep onto his face at Zheng's discomfort.
Count Black laughed too. «All right, if there are no more questions, you're scheduled to leave at turn's start tomorrow. I suggest you spend the rest of the turn getting your mission details. Oh! And even though it's past start of turn, swing by the library. Some of the local Breakfast Club is sure to still be there.»
After the three had filed out of the count's office, they turned to each other.
«Looks like we've got different journey's». Said Zheng evenly, with a sad smile playing on his face.
Marco would've denied he felt a little sad, but he didn't care to hide it. «It's only for now brother. We're doing things we never imagined.»
«Trust in the Titans. I'm no Predictamancer, but I'm sure we'll see each other again soon.» finished Lucy. «Now come on, before the Breakfast Club turns into the Brunchmas Club.»