Ethereum: day seven

By Twofer Comments (31) (Tipped by 14 people!)

Part 9 of 20 in Ethereum

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Mewlin made the long walk alone with his thoughts. He had the distinct impression that things were spiralling out of control, even after yesterday, or maybe especially after then. He had to cross through Portal Park if he didn’t want a lengthy detour, and that meant passing by Ethereum’s portal. It was an unpleasant reminder of everything that was going wrong.

 

It was innocuous, its bright green denying any threat. Nothing to see here. It didn’t even have a crowd around it any more. They had settled down after the first few days as they gradually realised it wasn’t particularly comfortable to stand around arguing when they could do the same thing either in the Hippiemancers’ Glade or inside Ethereum itself; they allowed visitors and had beanbags atop their tower. They were especially popular among the poorest casters; to his knowledge, they hadn’t taken any on since the level one Croakamancer girl, but the fact that they had hired so many casters of the least employable disciplines meant that they were ahead of most sides, and ahead of the guilds.

 

He also knew that a few casters with fabrication magic, two Dollamancers and a Changemancer so far, had had the idea to do their work atop Ambese Tower, where they got a bonus; only towers in cities gave bonuses, so even the Dirtamansion couldn’t compete with that. Miles was letting them borrow the bonus for free, and even use raw materials supplied by the city at cost, including popped provisions. It was obvious to Mewlin that they would begin charging rent when they had a large enough clientèle, and were just buying goodwill until then. He was seriously worried that someone would get murdered when that happened. The guilds were planning to embargo Ethereum for their use of non-guild labour, and if unaligned casters bought materials or bonuses from them, the embargo would have to apply to them too. Someone would eventually think to smuggle goods out, and someone would wind up with a hoboken to the back of the head.

 

The one thing that had stuck with him and made it all real was a Date-a-mancer he’d passed by the portal two days before, and the way her eyes had burned when their gazes met. He didn’t know her by name, had only seen her with Daisy and had the impression of a sweet, innocent level two who literally couldn’t hurt anyone given the Hippiemancy penalty to combat checks, but there was so much raw fury in her face that if she’d been a Shockmancer he wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d taken a shot at him.

 

He knew exactly why she felt that way; for the less useful casters, upkeep was life, and Tom promised plenty of both, although it remained to be seen how much of either he could offer after his initial loot ran out and the spending spree ended. The guilds were known to be making life difficult for them, although they hadn’t declared it outright. It was a terrible situation all round, but Ethereum represented an existential threat; there was more at stake than a handful of destitute Hippiemancers. He shook his head and pressed on to Knocks Bank.

 

Railgun met him outside. He smiled into his beard as she waved to him. She at least was dependable. She had an unshakable sense of justice, of duty and loyalty with lower-case letters, and fully deserved her Qualification. The Bank paid her to keep the octant safe for visitors and especially clients. As she was only level five, ruffians sometimes took her for an easy target; it wasn’t uncommon to see blackened, unconscious bodies lying by the roadside, reeking of smoke and ozone. Only a Fool would take a Shockmancer head on, and with her Lookamancy-imbued goggles, even that was unwise.

 

Good morning, Railgun,” he said. “How are you today?”

 

Good morning, sir,” she replied. “The other guild heads are already inside; shall I show you in?”

 

Please,” he said.

 

She was a welcome contrast from the other Shockmancers. Being a hot discipline, they tended not to live long and were lucky to pass mid-level; she was currently the third-ranked free Shockmancer, after Volt Eyre and Tom the Marvel (who was generally considered free rather than sided) and ahead of too many to list. Unlike them, though, she was respectful and helpful, where almost all the others were iconoclastic and chaotic. It couldn’t be helped; Shockmancy was a very limited discipline compared to Thinkamancy, but it was what it was, and very few people were willing to argue with a Shockmancer to their face.

 

She led him into the bank, waved her way past the tellers and down a hall and a private conference room. She opened the door and motioned him in.

 

The Great Minds Who Thought Alike were one of six guilds united against Ethereum in general and Tom in particular, and representatives of the other five were already seated on the plush chairs around the round table. On his left was Penny Arcane, one of the chief executives at Knocks Bank, a russet-haired woman with a very sharp suit; Daisy Chain, the Grand Abbie of the Florists, still smelling of the mushrooms she was so fond of; Revolver Oscillate, head of the Turnamancy guild, with one of Volt’s wands at his belt; Seed Rick, prefect and champion of the Findamancers, tall and handsome and wearing a limit wand; and Lady Jasmine, spokeswoman and implicit ruler of the Dirtamansion, with a regal green gown that went perfectly with her dark skin and long black braid.

 

You’re late,” Daisy said with a pout.

 

A Thinkamancer is never late,” Mewlin replied gravely.

 

Jasmine rolled her eyes, because he was always late and said the same thing every time, but Daisy snerked as he moved forward to take his seat.

 

Good afternoon, everyone,” he said. “Before we begin, does anyone have anything they want to get out of the way?”

 

We do,” said Jasmine. “We are … less than impressed with yesterday’s ‘investment’.” Penny nodded.

 

For the record, Mewlin waved his hand, conjuring a fast-forward video of it: Pro Toast’s assault, the uncroaked defence, the uncroaked/daemon/caster counter, cornering the casters, the withdrawal.

 

We lost,” Penny said. “Spending that much money, we had all five of them and the city, no question. There was no way they could have won there against those odds. And yet they did. Why?”

 

Mewlin’s image changed to Lisa, bluffing the warlords below.

 

Lisa Holmes,” Seed said. “A level four adept Thinkamancer, if I remember the notes right, and a former Great Mind.”

 

Jasmine nodded. “As one of yours, she’s responsibility to deal with,” she said to Mewlin.

 

She was expelled,” he replied.

 

All the more reason for you to have plans to neutralise her. Thinkamancy has efficient means of cancelling its own magic, does it not?”

 

Mewlin sighed. The Great Minds certainly could have sent a remote suggestion to trump Lisa’s, if they’d had a mind to; off-hex suggestion was difficult, but they had almost fifty times as many levels between them than she did, and it was easier to unravel a spell than to cast it. The problem was that it would reveal too much about Thinkamancy’s true powers, and make them targets, so the Great Minds had decided in advance to rely on mundane methods instead. They’d simply told Pro Toast to warn their new warlords not to listen to anything told them by a blonde Thinkamancer under any circumstances and to always engage her in pairs or more, which should have worked; it hadn’t occurred to them that she might claim to be a Changemancer. It was sheer Luckamancy that Charlotte also happened to be blonde and female and that he’d warned them there was a chance she’d be there, because she was one of five casters not accounted for. The Great Minds had begun a discussion to try to decide whether to amend their resolution and help the warlords, which had reached yes just as the Pro Toast division had left the hex and rendered it immaterial.

 

That isn’t quite fair,” he said aloud. “There were discipline-specific reasons for her expulsion which don’t translate well to Dirtamancy, but there was no crime against the Magic Kingdom itself, so we had no recourse to an Enforcement Council or to do anything beyond declare her baddie.”

 

They had struck a deal with Lisa when they threw her out. The main terms were that they wouldn’t cold-counter all of her magic or broadcast to every side in Erfworld that she was a lying little snake, and in return she wouldn’t directly tell anyone that the Great Minds were capable of limited mind control whenever they sent a Thinkagram. Their spy had reported that she was treating that rule as more of a guideline now that she had a long-term contract, though, and the Great Minds had agreed to no longer hold their end of the bargain if she wouldn’t hold hers. However, the other guild heads wouldn’t appreciate being told that the Great Minds could have salvaged the situation but hadn’t due to excessive bureaucracy.

 

On this one occasion, there were exceptional circumstances preventing our intervention,” he said half-truthfully, “but in future, we can guarantee a counter to any Thinkamancy she casts.”

 

Well and good,” said Jasmine, “but it was still your inaction that brought that victory down from five casters and a city to just one caster. Tom will raze the city on his turn. May I remind you that it was my guild that paid for most of those troops.”

 

Two points,” Mewlin said. “One, it was still a victory. We only need one witness to testify about the assassination and secure a verdict. Two, the other four casters haven’t escaped yet. The knights slew their mounts, remember?” He conjured a map of the battlespace to emphasise the point. “High mountain hexes are between them and the rest of their army; they have no line of retreat and no reinforcements. None powerful enough to defeat those knights, at any rate.”

 

Revolver considered this. “Their juice will refresh, but none of them has many useful spells,” he said. “The Dittomancer could make some trouble, but without leadership, any dittos she makes will be no match for the knights if they reprise their attack in earnest.” Mewlin nodded and dismissed the map.

 

Given what happened last time we assumed our allies could take the city, perhaps we could arrange a contingency plan?” Jasmine said.

 

Already taken care of,” said Revolver. “To indict Tom, we only need one witness. Suss gave Gus a ride in her busemann; we’ll have him turned before you know it.”

 

Didn’t Jasper refuse to send his Turnamancer out there?” Seed asked.

 

Also not a problem,” Revolver said, not elaborating.

 

So, assuming this all works out, we’ve made a little progress,” Jasmine said. “What about those Foolamancers, though? One is a master, we don’t know where the other is, both have those absurd flying mounts, and another three or four casters are unaccounted for. Including that master-class Findamancer of theirs. Speaking of which,” she added to Seed, “if Mewlin thinks he can stop Lisa, can’t you do anything about Genesis?”

 

Seed shook his head. “I’m sorry, no. Findamancy is hot; the nearest thing we have to a ranged counter would be to enter Pro Toast and send a projection of our own there, but not at this distance, they’re hundreds of hexes away. Mewlin, can’t you do anything about the Foolamancers?”

 

Yes,” he said. “We have enough master-class Lookamancers and Foolamancers to spot their veils, even from here. It’s expensive, but we can search through a few hexes, and with those mountain hexes and all the Pro Toast warlords searching too, we only need to search through a few. As for the other missing casters, one is Saito Pomp, but given the uncroaked at Maria Avenue, she’s almost certainly there; and the others are Charlotte and the Weirdomancer, neither of whom is a major combat threat.”

 

Back up,” Seed said, frowning. “Loony might seem like she has a weak powerset, but I get the feeling we’re underestimating her.”

 

Gifting any special to any unit,” Daisy said thoughtfully. “But the spy says she can’t affect stats, and can’t seem to do much of anything like dwagonbreath or bowsing. She’s mostly done mounts so far. Why do you think she’s strong?”

 

Because Tom has taken five cities,” Seed said, “and other than the first, all of them were only possible because of her giving the mobility to move his army faster than expected. I can’t see how she could be useful here, but, well, of course I can’t. She keeps surprising us; isn’t that enough reason by itself?”

 

They looked at Revolver, who as a fellow Spook was the best qualified to talk about her. “She’s the only Weirdomancer we have any real information on,” he said, “and the biggest thing we know about her is that she was holding back before she joined Ethereum. We thought she just made people fly. The trick with the cripple, those mountable orly daemons, whatever it was she did at Wolf’s Lair, she never even hinted to anyone that she could do any of those.”

 

And what about what she did to the Hinden Barrens?” Seed said; Revolver raised an eyebrow. “They had the strongest aerial armada in the world. She was hired by their enemies, and destroyed it with a single spell. She never even talked about it; I only even know because I listen to gossip. She’s probably done other things like that that nobody knows about. I’d hate to see what she could do if ever she reaches master.”

 

Revolver and Seed were peripheral members of their group of six, brought in as mercenaries because their guild monopolies were badly threatened, and as such they weren’t privy to the spy’s unfiltered reports. Mewlin, Penny, Daisy, and Jasmine exchanged glances.

 

She already has,” Daisy said.

 

What?!” said Revolver.

 

Just the turn before last. And yes, she’s still a four,” Penny said. “Somehow, Tom’s found a way to cheat the rules about class levels.”

 

Seed frowned. “He couldn’t have hired a Carnymancer on the sly, could he?”

 

It was a disquieting thought, because while they already had an explanation for how Tom’s followers were classing up so quickly, it seemed too easy to be possible, and it would be wholly in character for both Tom and Carnymancy to be using magic to cheat at magic.

 

The how doesn’t matter,” Jasmine said, “but the what is that he has a mid-level master Weirdomancer of whose abilities we have only a very incomplete picture.”

 

Has Tagg said anything about her?” Daisy asked Mewlin. “Or anything else, for that matter?”

 

Nothing,” he said, shaking his head.

 

Who’s Tagg?” Seed asked; Revolver nodded.

 

He’s … a special informant,” Mewlin said carefully. “Even these ladies don’t know his true identity, only me. He has information even more sensitive than the spy can give.”

 

Not hard, given that one’s fallen silent altogether,” Penny noted.

 

What sort of information?” Revolver asked.

 

Classified,” Jasmine and Penny said in unison.

 

Yeah, we get that a lot,” Daisy said.

 

You know, for someone who supposedly knows so much, he sure never seems to tell us anything useful,” Penny said to Mewlin. “I’m starting to think he might be playing us.”

 

Of course he’s playing us,” Mewlin said wearily. “We’ve known he has his own agenda since Ethereum’s first turn. But his information is always perfect, even if it isn’t as complete as we like.”

 

I don’t suppose you could just call him?” Seed asked. “Or do some sort of … Eyemancy trick to track him down? Or ask the Predictamancers?”

 

We’ve tried,” Mewlin said. “Frequently. Whoever he really is, he’s extremely hard to catch.”

 

Ethereum’s turn has begun,” Revolver interrupted.

 

The hundreds of sides of the world generally had their turns one after another, each lasting hours, and casters could enter any side at any time, and yet the days within the Magic Kingdom were no longer than anywhere else in the world, where the limited number of sides per battlespace limited the amount of time spent off-turn. The relative passage of time was a headache, until one learnt to stop worrying and just roll with it. Turnamancers were particularly good at picking out when important turns begun.

 

Mewlin, a master of all Eyemancy, conjured a real-time image of the battlespace onto the table. With the new turn, Ethereum’s new units had popped: archers in Maria Avenue, pikers in Ellesstee (did Tom seriously think they could hold that city?), nothing in Wolf’s Lair (perhaps the first turn of a warlord, hoping for another caster), and scouts everywhere else. In Hedro Skedda, the fresh daemons popped in a huge wave, dozens of them.

 

Seed put two fingers on Hedro and separated them to zoom in, letting them see the daemons in more detail. “Daisy, you have an adept rank in Signamancy, right?”

 

She nodded. Daemons were renowned for their variability. All daemons cost two hundred and forty shmuckers to pop, but they weren’t all worth that much. The majority were actually worth much less, weak little rat and fish and bat monsters with bad odds against even basic infantry, but there was perhaps one chance in ten of getting something stronger than the cost would indicate, and one in a hundred of getting something massive, worth more like five thousand shmuckers. Ethereum had got one on their second turn, but Thursday had targeted it and brought it down before it did too much damage.

 

Most of these are the usual,” she said, looking over them and panning around the image of the city. One combat, two combat, a handful of hits. “A few heavy units, some fast ones, some flyers. It’s about the same as the first time, I think … Oh dear.”

 

The image had appeared over NV, who was walking to one daemon in particular, and even the other five instantly knew they were looking at the cream of the crop. It was a massive flyer with craggy grey skin, a square underbite, and sawlike teeth larger than a Man’s fingers. Its triangular tail whipped behind it as NV approached, smiled, and hopped onto its back. A saddle popped underneath him with a ten shmucker kaching.

 

Heavy flying mount, obviously,” Daisy said. “It looks a lot like a dwagon in the important aspects. Perhaps slightly higher combat and defence and a bit faster but fewer hits. I don’t think it has a breath attack, but with that skin, I’d think it probably has damage reduction instead.”

 

Powerful,” said Seed, with a professional air, “maybe equal to two knights in a fair fight. But not much compared with a projection, or Ethereum’s other units. If he flies up to Ellesstee, he won’t make the difference if Pro Toast attacks again.”

 

Are they doing anything anywhere else?” Penny asked.

 

Mewlin zoomed out, then panned over to Wolf’s Lair. Tom was on a Thinkagram, talking very quickly; Pete was scribbling down dictation and stuffing sheets of paper into a clunky magic hat. The Dollamancers were watching with concern.

 

He knows he’s screwed,” Daisy observed.

 

Jasmine just gave her a look, like what a peasant.

 

Okay, while we have a moment because they’re not doing anything except panicking, I have a question,” Seed said. “I know Revolver and I are mostly just hired muscle, so I understand that you haven’t told us everything, like how you’re being cagey about who your ‘spy’ is.” He grimaced as he said it: he had a strong sense of fair play. “I think I’ve figured out something about this Tagg person, though. He’s the real reason you’re all dropping everything to stomp on Ethereum.”

 

You don’t think we’re just trying to get justice?” Penny said. “We all know that Tom murdered Lord Hiller, even if we can’t prove it. If he gets away with that, others will try, and if rulers find out, it could lead to the end of the Magic Kingdom.”

 

Seed shook his head. “It’s a serious threat, but I don’t think you’d be throwing this much time and money at him if that were it. You’re tapping into your savings in a big way to bring him down, much more than for anything else requiring enforcement. I think it’s because of the information that Tagg gave you. What was it? Why are you so afraid of Tom?”

 

Mewlin, Penny, Daisy, and Jasmine exchanged looks. “We’re not afraid of him,” Jasmine said carefully. “We are concerned.”

 

It’s the same thing,” said Revolver. “Your threat estimate is obviously higher than ours is. We’re trying to protect our members, but that’s just business. That doesn’t even apply to you; our disciplines are marginal enough that we need to organise so we can pay our members living wages, but you’re all rich enough that you’ll survive either way.”

 

Perhaps not,” Mewlin said. “If Tom is successful and brings about caster control of the world, there won’t be much demand for Thinkamancers. Rulers will be able to simply step into the Magic Kingdom and talk in person to their heart’s content.”

 

Uh-huh,” Revolver said sceptically. “And the rest of you?”

 

Moneymancers are risk-averse by nature,” Penny said. “And this would be an inconceivably large economic shock.”

 

It could only happen after a long war,” Daisy said. “Of course the Hippiemancers are opposed. Except some of the Date-a-mancers; I suppose I can’t blame them, they don’t get many opportunities.”

 

We Dirtamancers are simply Royalists,” Jasmine said. “This rubbish about Magic Is Might – it goes against the Titanic order. We have enough money, and no better use for it than the service of the Titans. Not that we enjoy wasting it,” she added with a nasty look at Mewlin.

 

Revolver and Seed exchanged glances, both of them obviously seeing through this but realising that the other guild heads weren’t going to tell them any more.

 

I have another question, then,” Revolver said. “Let’s assume a perfect outcome. We get Gus back here in the Magic Kingdom, he testifies, and the Enforcement Council rules Tom an outlaw for assassinating a ruler trying to hire a free caster. How does that defeat him? He’ll just stay out of the Magic Kingdom, and he still has a powerful side. I’d give him even odds against Pro Toast as is. Especially if he can pop more casters. They say that the Titans send rulers what their hearts desire, and it’s pretty clear he doesn’t desire warlords; he got that disgusting girl on his second try.”

 

They all winced, thinking of the flesh golem. Riley had apparently petitioned Tom and actually forbidden a handful of units from turning, because it would have consequences for morale if she made the next one from their own units.

 

Perhaps, but it weakens him substantially,” Mewlin said. “Remember the second Croakamancer? Right now, Tom can acquire casters, worth at least ten thousand shmuckers apiece even at low level, for nothing more than the cost of their upkeep. He can cover every discipline, except those whose guilds are able to stop him. He has the right to contract with unaligned casters, buying spells and reagents at will. He’d lose all those advantages, but Pro Toast would retain them. Even if King Jasper isn’t inclined to pay for them, we’re willing to provide them at cost if necessary.”

 

I see,” Revolver said. He looked down at the map. “NV’s vanished.”

 

That monster daemon, too,” noted Penny.

 

Defending Ellesstee, fleeing, or chasing after Gus?” Seed wondered. “Oh! Would you look at that. Findamancers represent.”

 

What looked like an animal skull but the size of a twoll, with a long shadow trailing behind it, had materialised out of thin air north of Mount Everer in one of the forest hexes. Mewlin zoomed in so they could watch as Loony appeared from under a veil, cast some shimmery spell over the skull, and climbed aboard, demurely sitting side-saddle; it took off at a good pace, heading toward Ellesstee.

 

That’s one of Genesis’ projections?” Jasmine asked.

 

Yes,” said Seed. “She prefers to call herself Jess, you know.”

 

What do you think about the projection?” Mewlin asked. “Daisy?”

 

It looks high-level but mundane,” she said, letting her Signamancy senses loose. “No specials, I think. Fast, obviously, that looks like, uh … fifty-four move. Eleven combat before bonuses, twelve hits.” She shook her head. “I can’t get used to it. You Findamancers make big units. That thing could tear an überlisk apart.”

 

That’s actually weak for a level six projection,” Seed said. “Even factoring in how fast it is. Jess always went for brute force; she’s probably out of practice with going for speed builds.” It crossed onto a hill hex without slowing. “And it’s mountain-capable. I’d bet that’s Loony, not Jess.”

 

Why bother getting such a fast unit?” Penny asked. “She didn’t need fifty-four move to reach the city. Is she going to drop Loony off and try to attack the knights herself? Even that’s excessively fast. And it’s big, but not big enough to beat so many led knights.”

 

Findamancy isn’t so precise,” Seed said. “It’s like … you want a unit with at least fifty move, and the first one you find has fifty-four, so you have some left over. It’s still way more than she actually needs, though.”

 

It’s a combined assault, I’d think,” Revolver said. He was the most martial of them. “Between her, Loony, the other four casters, NV, and that daemon monster … could we get a Mathamancer’s opinion? Seed, you’re a novice at that, aren’t you?” Jess and Loony crossed onto low mountains as he spoke.

 

I’m not sure of all the levels, but that looks bad for Ethereum,” Seed said, dribbling a little juice into the calculations. “Even with the knights being wounded, and counting that Luckamancer of theirs. Lisa, Loony, and NV are all very weak here. Jess is strong, and she and Lecter would normally be effective, but they don’t have the units to screen or cover their flanks. Ninety percent in favour of the knights, and even then they usually lose at least one caster.”

 

Tom has a Mathamancer too,” Mewlin said thoughtfully. Jess entered a hex of high mountains, again without breaking pace. She was taking the most direct path toward Ellesstee.

 

Can you do anything about that Luckamancer?” Jasmine abruptly asked Penny. “I assumed Tom only took her on in the first place out of pity, or maybe so he wouldn’t seem like a hypocrite when he goes on about the good of casterkind, but she’s making an actual nuisance of herself. How many normal sides let their ruler and so many casters fight on the front lines, when a single unlucky arrow or a natural one could end it all?”

 

That’s even harder than Seed neutralising Genesis,” Penny said. “Not only do I not know any Luckamancy, and I don’t know anyone who does, but even if she were to have an unfortunate accident, Tom could just hire another. There are enough unemployed Luckamancers out there that it wouldn’t be hard. I think our only choice is to power past her and trust that she won’t have that large of an impact; there’s a reason nobody relies on Luckamancy.”

 

She shook her head and looked back at the map; Jess had entered the crater lake on the mountain’s western side, skimming across the surface of the water with barely a ripple. Loony took off her shoes, tied them together and hung them from her neck, then happily dipped her toes in the water, making a bigger splash than the heavy. “What is she doing? It would have been a detour of one move to go around that lake, and saved however much juice water-capable costs. What could she need one more move for?”

 

Is she just insane?” Jasmine suggested. “Or maybe she just wanted to see a water hex up close? Mewlin, see if they have anything else going on.”

 

He panned across the other cities. At Wolf’s Lair, May and her little factory had climbed to the top of the tower and were churning out black robes; Tom and Pete were somewhere out of sight. At Bell-End, Mal was directing a pair of press-ganged scouts into drawing architectural lines atop the tower, preparing to put juice into building it up; Sharkey was gazing into his crystal ball; Miles was sketching a tattoo on Akira’s back; Cap Doffer seemed to be rumpling a bizarrely tall top hat; the two free Dollamancers were sewing a kimono and a pair of gloves; and the free Changemancer seemed to be making a strange black box with two slots. The Maria Avenue group, more interestingly, had left: Saito, Riley, the warlord, and James were riding his octopussy south on a heading with no apparent goal. The Ellesstee group didn’t seem to be doing much at all. Arthur had apparently executed the prisoners they’d inherited, as he had a stack of fresh uncroaked.

 

No cute tricks anywhere else,” Revolver said.

 

I really dislike May,” Jasmine said.

 

Personally or strategically?” Penny asked.

 

Both, but I meant strategically. Shockmancy armour? That suggests they’re planning to attack cities by air. That goes right past the walls and just about every kind of trap I can make. Can’t any of us counter her somehow?”

 

She’s cold,” Penny said. “You’re right, and I especially don’t like that the only free Dollamancer who’s stronger refused to take work against them, but there’s nothing we can do about her. Let’s worry about what we can do for now.”

 

Different disciplines had different extents of organisation. The six of them had some of the most cohesive guilds; by contrast, Dollamancy was almost completely fragmented. There were workshops where low-level Dollamancers sometimes collaborated for big jobs, but those were more shared spaces than factories. The only free level eleven Dollamancer had declared strict neutrality regarding Ethereum, refusing any work with anyone in the battlespace; if they wanted to match Ethereum’s sixteen Dollamancer-levels head-on, they’d have to hire many lower-level casters, and that was like stacking cats.

 

Mewlin panned back to Jess’ projection as it crossed the final hex of low mountains and entered Ellesstee’s hex, parking just outside the walls.

 

Okay,” said Revolver, “is she collecting them for an attack, or …”

 

There was a flash as dirt flew everywhere. The walls tumbled down, buildings fell apart. In moments, the city had turned into a smoking crater.

 

That’s twenty thousand shmuckers’ credit we’re not getting,” Penny sighed.

 

The four casters walked out of the wreckage. Lisa gave a manacled wave to Jess and Loony. Loony visibly got upset and snapped at the others. They argued back and forth, then Jess thumped her skull on the ground, making it shake and causing everyone else to stumble. They half-heartedly argued some more, and a minute later, Lisa’s shackles vanished, and all four of them climbed up beside Loony, spreading out over the skull and nearest part of the shadow.

 

Wait, what?” said Penny. “How’s she taking more than one rider and a passenger?”

 

There’s a mass mount special,” Seed said. “That octopussy has it too, right? I think they can carry up to eight units.”

 

Mewlin set his lips. He’d never sat down to catalogue all specials before, and he was getting the feeling that there were a lot more than he realised.

 

Once her passengers were comfortable, Jess, rather than attack the knights, turned around and headed west, crossing the mountain hexes with no difficulty or move penalty. Mewlin zoomed out and counted hexes: from the projection’s initial position to Ellesstee to Wolf’s Lair was fifty-four hexes.

 

“… That’s it, then,” Seed said, watching her go. “They’re playing it safe and withdrawing. After this, they’re not going to split up again; they’ll stick to one max stack full of casters and special units. With that Luckamancer, nothing short of a TPK will even hurt them.”

 

Penny frowned. “This deal is getting worse all the time,” she muttered. “Seed, how did you not see that coming? You’re the Findamancer.”

 

Because Findamancy doesn’t – it isn’t used to do that,” he said, frowning and shaking his head. “As a guild, we do whatever our clients pay us to do. They don’t hire us to move units around; they pop mounts for that. Findamancers are hired to fight, because projections are good at that and we don’t ask for much danger pay, or to feed experience like you’ve had us doing for the past few turns. That’s what we’re used to doing. Jess didn’t think of it, I’m certain. If Weirdomancy is so good at mobility effects, I’d bet it was Loony’s idea.”

 

So, basically, they’re smarter than you,” Penny said.

 

Knock it off,” Daisy said tiredly.

 

There was a pause.

 

You would at least win if it came down to a fight, couldn’t you?” Penny asked.

 

Eh, I can take her,” Seed said. “She was one of my best students, but she was still just a student. I’m two levels higher, and I have this.” He patted his wand at his belt. “It’s best if we don’t have to fight in the Magic Kingdom, though. There are … good reasons why that should be avoided if at all possible.”

 

What are we going to do now?” Daisy asked the room at large.

 

On the map, James had found and tamed a trio of ferals, of which Mewlin recognised the volpe and the derval but not the third; there were hundreds of species of aquatic ferals, and Mewlin, old as he was, had never taken the time to learn them all. James, his ferals, and the women were now in a single powerful stack heading east to the coast.

 

The priority has to be on retrieving the Rhyme-o-mancer,” Penny said. “Fortunately, that shouldn’t pose much of a problem. Tom doesn’t have the ability to project power that far, he has almost no very fast units.”

 

What about NV?” Seed asked. “Suss has a head start and it’s her territory, but Daisy said that that monster daemon is fast. It’s going to take a miracle to spot it with a master-class veiling it when there’s so much space it could be, and miracles don’t happen when the other side has a Luckamancer. If he catches her on an open hex …”

 

I wouldn’t worry about it,” Revolver said meaningfully.

 

Jess loped up to Wolf’s Lair’s east gate and slowed to a stop as it automagically opened. Her passengers dismounted, and her projection depopped. Loony led them into the city, Lisa half a pace behind her, the other three scowling at Lisa’s back.

 

Revolver, this is more your field than mine,” Mewlin said. “Those three seem angry with her now. Could we leverage this? Perhaps have our mole have a chat with them, make them see things from our perspective?”

 

Revolver considered this. “Perhaps. It depends on how this all plays out.”

 

Tom, the Dollamancers, and Pete were waiting atop the tower; the others climbed up to meet them. They began talking; it quickly grew heated. Mewlin gave a look to Daisy, who could read lips.

 

Koume and Arthur are describing what happened at the battle, with the hoboken,” she narrated. “They’re demanding that she be punished. Koume says she should be disbanded; Arthur’s saying she should at least be released back here. Lisa’s saying it was an honest miss. Koume’s replying that –”

 

Loony’s serene façade abruptly shattered, and she snarled at Koume, jabbing her chest with a finger and shouting, incongruous in her stupid hat; she might possibly have given herself some sort of strength-boosting special, or Koume might understandably have forgotten the grappling rules, because the Dittomancer went sprawling. All the others took a step back in surprise at her unexpected ferocity.

 

Daisy blinked, taken aback, then spoke quickly to catch up. “Um, ‘Lisa’s won two battles and saved your skins again, so you should be grateful instead of blaming her for your screw-ups’ – Titans – Gus’ fault for running out like a nincompoop, would have got them all captured or croaked – she’s really angry, I’ve never seen …”

 

Koume got to her feet and said something back, Arthur nodding agreement. Lisa gave a retort which simply reeked of smart-aleckery, and Lecter made a cutting observation of his own; Cruller said what was probably a general insult, Koume did the same, Loony shouted again, and both women looked quite ready to throttle the other.

 

Tom nodded to May, who stepped forward, a broad smile fixed on her faced. She flipped Loony over her shoulder and into a table, smashing it to bits, then turned and shoved Koume down the stairs. Lisa took another half-step back, raising her hands in surrender, and May spoke.

 

“‘As Chief Caster, this is actually my decision,’” Daisy read. Lisa checked on Loony, who was punch drunk and down a few hits but not incapacitated; Grim and Lecter went down to make sure Koume was fine. “‘Gus is still alive, and NV’s going to get him back, so no harm, no foul. But suggestions clearly aren’t that useful in the field after all, and Hedera says she wants to come out and play, so you can return to the capital in her place.’”

 

Banishment,” Jasmine murmured.

 

Lisa and Arthur both opened their mouths at once. “Uh, Arthur says it’s not enough, Lisa says the entire reason she joined was so she could –”

 

May moved faster than the video’s frame rate could track; one moment she was in the middle of the room, the next she had backhanded Lisa, sending her bouncing off the far wall.

 

That would be a no,” Penny surmised.

 

Loony had recovered by now; she gave Lisa a distressed look and opened her mouth to protest again. Lisa shot her a blink-and-miss-it half-grin and wink, before her expression went back to hurt and angry. May either didn’t notice or didn’t care; she gave a chirp, and Lisa, now sporting a hand-shaped red mark on her face, gave a shrug and a wave goodbye to Loony and Pete, and set off down the stairs. Loony followed her out.

 

And Loony just said she’s going to give mount to a scout, to get her halfway there and let her arrive within the turn,” Daisy concluded. “That’s going to look weird.”

 

What do you think?” Mewlin said to Revolver.

 

The Turnamancer shrugged. “No weirder than the daemon birds.”

 

I meant, about turning any of them.”

 

Oh. There’s definitely an angle to work there, but I can’t turn anyone from here. I could do something if you told me exactly who the spy was, or if we could call the other casters, but you said Lisa forbade that. You know, we’d have a much stronger position if we could work around her. Have you considered offering an amnesty?”

 

No.”

 

Hey,” Jasmine said, narrowing her eyes, “we Dirtamancers have had to make sacrifices. So has Penny, and Daisy’s flat out keeping the peace here. Don’t try telling us that it would be too inconvenient for guild rules to make an exception.”

 

Mewlin considered and discarded three responses in rapid succession, before shrugging. There was no cost to an offer that would not be accepted. “Suit yourself. I’ll call her just as soon as she leaves the hex, in fact.”

 

Loony cast over one of their scouts and gave Lisa a goodbye hug. Mewlin had expected the scout to give her a piggy-back ride, but no; a saddle popped on his head like a hat, and Lisa vaulted up onto it. The scout self-consciously set off west, apparently unaffected by encumbrance penalties or neck strain.

 

Mewlin dismissed the map and sent a call; Lisa waved to Loony until the scout took her out of the next hex, where she was no longer visible from the city, before accepting. He made it a nice proper audio/video call, so they could talk normally; she smiled broadly. “Mewlin. Long time no see. How’ve you been, buddy? It feels like we never talk any more.”

 

Our guild is doing well, thank you. We –”

 

So, I can’t help but notice that you just happened to call me right after I left everyone’s company except the scout, who won’t report it if I tell him not to,” she said.

 

I wish I could say you were wrong,” the scout said sadly.

 

I’m sure you do, buddy. I’m sure you do.” She turned back to the Thinkagram. “Calling me now by chance is pretty unlikely with all that time dilation crap in the Magic Kingdom, meaning that you have at least one Lookamancer watching us. And it’s possible for Signamancers to read lips. Interesting thought. I’ll have to get the Dollamancers to make masks or something. We wouldn’t want anyone eavesdropping on our plans, after all, they might try to ambush us. Anyways, you were saying?”

 

He’d forgotten how aggravating she was. She’d likely guessed that already, and told Tom in Thoughtspace, having him refrain from saying anything strategically critical aloud, and only said it now to Mewlin to get under his skin. “We were wondering whether you’d realised that Tom isn’t giving you what he promised. You’ve done everything you promised him, and yet you’re still getting scapegoated for others’ mistakes. If –”

 

Oh, that’s adorable. You’re trying to manipulate me into changing sides! It’s like if I picked a duel with Tom. Did –”

 

Manipulation is your speciality, not mine, Miss Holmes. I facilitate honest and open communication.” Rather than no-holds-barred verbal warfare.

 

If you want to talk, that’s fine,” she said, frowning, “but if you’re going to talk over me, I’m dropping this call. I’m not interested in a lecture.”

 

He kept his face smooth. She’d cut across him first, probably specifically so that he would return the favour and she could tell him off for it, but there was no point calling her out on that; he’d initiated the call, so she could dictate terms. A moment later, her frown reverted a smirk.

 

Did your spy put you up to this? I wouldn’t listen to him if I were you. He’s already been compromised; Tom and I figured it out ages ago and confronted him. That’s why he hasn’t been giving you any decent intel. But you already guessed that, didn’t you? After all, you’re resorting to expensive and questionably legal scrying hacks rather than just waiting for him to finally take your call.”

 

Mewlin motioned the others to be silent. Lisa always tried to cold-read her marks, taunting them with just enough truth and guesswork to trick them into admitting things she didn’t actually know. If she actually had made the spy, she’d say his name, just to rub it in. “Believe what you like. The fact remains that you’ve been blamed for something that wasn’t your fault, and if you’re content to spend your time working at Thinkagrams, there are better environments than Ethereum for that.”

 

She stretched and leaned back. “You know, I did a lot of thinking last night. And I realised I was going about it all wrong. It’s not that I like doing suggestions and hate Thinkagrams. I just like the thrill of the hunt. Pitting myself against the toughest challenges, proving that I’m the best. Suggestion does that in an obvious way, but that just shows that I was limited, not Thinkagrams; I didn’t realise that a true player can win even without using powers.

 

Messing with warlords who have no idea how to fight back, well, it’s fun for a while, but it’s not top-level play, you know? For that, one has to be up against real opponents, ones who know the rules of the game, ideally multiple stronger ones who have tricks of their own, and still win. If I switched sides, I’d basically be forfeiting to play an easier game. No thanks, bro.”

 

You’re declaring war on the Great Minds?”

 

I’m a loyal unit of Ethereum now. All I’m going to do is protect my side’s interests. If you get in the way of that, I’m pretty sure that counts as you declaring war on us, not the other way round.”

 

That depends on whether your interests involve the violation of ours.”

 

Lisa snorted. “There’s nothing cuter than someone who claims what isn’t his, like, say, the loyalty of all Thinkamancers, including ones from other sides, even after you leave us to disband, and then act affronted when everyone else ignores him. Whatever. Believe what you like,” she said, mimicking him. “But I don’t need our deal any more, so there’s nothing stopping me from letting your little friends there know just how much of their agreement to your plans is really theirs, if you catch my drift.”

 

Do you honestly think I could organise an alliance like this while withholding such information from crucial, trusted allies? I’m not you.”

 

Lisa half-grinned triumphantly. “I think you’d do whatever best suited your machinations, but that was interesting, it felt like you were telling the truth just now, or most of it. But they haven’t told all of their followers everything, you wouldn’t let them give everything away. So the million-shmucker question is, what would happen if I told all of the junior guild members that their leaders were working with a cabal of mind controllers, and hadn’t troubled to let them know anything about what they can do, or how to stop them?”

 

Drop the call,” Jasmine said. Mewlin scrubbed it, leaving a momentary afterimage of Lisa’s mocking face.

 

There was a long pause.

 

It would be too inconvenient for guild rules to make an exception,” Mewlin said blandly.

 

Oh, shut up,” said Jasmine.

 

Daisy pulled out a bag of mushrooms and handed them around. Wordlessly, everyone took one. They needed a minute to settle down.

 

She was lying, right?” said Seed. “Guessing things, trying to unsettle us …”

 

Yes,” said Mewlin. “Suggestions aren’t as powerful as she thinks they are. Among others, Turnamancy can trump it, and Flower Power can nullify it. They’re only really effective against people who either don’t know what they can do, or as a terror tactic against those who don’t know their limitations. It would still be annoying if she drew attention; it would be inconvenient to have to demonstrate our exact capabilities, and, knowing her, she could sow paranoia even if we did.”

 

They sat back to chew their mushrooms and think.

 

Say, I’ve had a thought,” Revolver said. “Not related to that rogue Thinkamancer. Can you show us where the water group was? James and the others?”

 

Mewlin resumed the map again, but James and his ferals and allies were nowhere to be seen.

 

Veiled,” Penny said.

 

I thought so,” Revolver said, nodding. “No other reason for them to head to the coast but to pick up Flacutono and the others, thinking they’d be safer on the water; Pro Toast doesn’t have any ships. Meaning there are half a dozen casters on water, in range of those two Archons. No city bonus or anything, and Jess has already used her juice.”

 

The other guild heads exchanged glances. That would be devastating for Tom. Jess, both of his daughters, and four other casters, all lost in one action. Mewlin stroked his chin.

 

No,” he said. The others gave him a look of surprise. “They knew just how exposed they would be, and they know that we’re working against them. They are prepared this time. If Loony didn’t leave Jess with a scroll of mass submarine or remove flying or some other special none of us has even heard of, I’ll eat my staff. And don’t forget, they have a Foolamancer who will spot the Archons’ veils, three Dollamancers who’ve been making gear that just so happens to be optimised for fighting Archons, a Healomancer, a warlord, four strong ferals, some daemons … no. This is reckless. The Archons will remain where they are, sabotaging Ethereum’s food supply.”

 

The other five frowned at this, but accepted it.

 

They spent the rest of the day planning other joint operations. The fundamental problem was that Tom was right about Magic Is Might on a factual level; casters were considered critical strategic assets for a reason. Worse, to achieve anything at all, the guilds had to work at long range from the Magic Kingdom, or from Pro Toast, which had a whole host of its own problems. Seed and Jasmine had the resources to substantially harden Pro Toast, but King Jasper was reluctant to allow too many foreign casters into his capital, even when they were trying to help.

 

As the sun neared the horizon, Mewlin felt a tingle. One of the Great Minds was directing him to Look toward the World Stage. He conjured an image of it and quickly found the interesting sight: Miles and Akira. Akira was spinning a large, gaudy gem atop one finger; the free casters from the Stage and surrounding areas like the Carny Vale had paused packing up their stalls for the night, attracted to the promise of money. Then Akira crushed it with a resounding kaching, adding its value to her treasury.

 

“‘That was worth four grand,’” Daisy read, “‘Samedi found it just this afternoon. We have three things we’re supposed to do here. First, we need another Rhyme-o-mancer; Gus insisted on being on the front lines, but Tom wants a music bonus in the capital, for all us cold casters, because there are so many of us. We’re going to hold auditions tomorrow afternoon.’” A segment of the crowd began murmuring with interest; it probably wouldn’t pay much more than upkeep, but a gig’s a gig.

 

Can we try telling them that the first Rhyme-o-mancer was captured?” Penny suggested.

 

It would be a bad look for them, but it won’t really matter for one staying safe in the capital,” Mewlin said, thinking. “We should still do it, but we’ll need to think how to do it without admitting that it was our –”

 

Shh,” Daisy hissed. “‘Second, we’ve figured out a way to easily class up to adept and even master. We can give cross-discipline classes, too.’”

 

Oh, no,” Seed said. “They’re going to tell everyone. There’s a reason you’re not supposed to reach master before level five at the earliest! Half the new magic you unlock takes more juice than a mid-level caster even has, they can lose control of it!”

 

Miles’ and Akira’s audience was talking all at once, perhaps asking whether it was really true. Akira smiled coyly, waited a moment, and talked over them. “‘We did it today. Miles here got a novitiate in Flower Power. We’ve made eight classes across the side so far and we’ve only just started. We’re having another session tomorrow morning. We especially want Luckamancers and Lookamancers, because that might help me and Sharkey, so we’ll pay them, but anyone is welcome to come along.’” She smiled and let the free casters chatter for a minute, before continuing. “‘The third thing is that we’re supposed to buy wand cores.’” She pulled out a shopping list. “‘Crystal, oak, twinitite, pyrite, three of yew, and one copper. We’re supposed to get the crystal and the first yew by start of turn, but the rest can wait.’” Shopkeepers raised their hands and voices, promising the cores for the best prices. “Does anyone here know which disciplines use which cores? I never bother with wands.”

 

We use crystal,” Seed said. Hot casters tended to know more about wands. “I’ve never heard of anyone using oak, so I’ll guess that that’s Weirdomancy. Twinitite is for Dittomancy, pyrite is Foolamancy, yew is Shockmancy, and copper is Thinkamancy.”

 

They considered this.

 

Oh, dear,” Penny said.

 

 

 

AN

 

I’m not particularly happy with this one, but real artists ship.

 

The idea that casters might rent workshops atop high towers for the bonus is one of many economic points whose neglect only really makes sense if sides are either extremely paranoid about free casters or just arbitrarily spiteful toward them. Since I’m fairly sure Rhyme-o-mancers can boost other magic, hiring one is a sensible addition, especially for a side with half a dozen cold casters of their own. Tom would be afraid a free caster would seize the city the same way he did, but that would be very difficult with so many defenders and witnesses; the attempt would have to kill a lot of casters, and, as my mother always says, any plan that involves killing everyone who notices you killing people is a bad plan.

 

Now that the turn order rules have been elaborated on, we know that Ethereum should go after PT. It’d definitely be too much effort to retcon now; let’s pretend that there’s some obscure rule that if a barbarian captures a capital, they inherit the old side’s turn position. It’s a rare enough event that it probably wouldn’t come up in normal play; what sort of an idiot loses their capital to a barbarian?

 

For anyone who missed it, there are now cast and mechanics pages up.

 

Does anyone particularly want a cameo, as a caster or not? I wasn’t sure whether to offer this, but if you’re familiar with stories like Worm and Madoka and wouldn’t mind showing up in a story written by a fan of both, it’s an option.

Part 9 of 20 in Ethereum

Comments

  • GrayMatter

    I'd be down to cameo. Familiar with Madoka, big semi ironic fan of Homestuck, this has been my first exposure to Worm.

    I'm really enjoying Ethereum, it's been great. Thank you so much for putting in the effort to make this happen.

  • tomaO2

    It may not follow canon, but you've done the most impressive job of world building I've come across and it's sure as heck harder than anything I managed. The focus on so many casters, SO MANY, it's crazy. Honestly, it feels a bit too ambitious, because the cast is incredibly large and you have to put a lot of work into them because they are frikken casters. Coming up with how their powers work, how they play off of each other, how they might trick their caster enemies by combining in strange ways. It makes things hard, much harder then if you wrote about a more normal side like Evergreen, especially when balancing issues are clearly important. Not only the protagonists but the casters they are fighting against too, I was surprised by how much time they were given. You seem to be pulling it off, for the most part, though. How long is this story by now? These posts are huge. Really popular too, the comments are pretty large. You've really done well with this.

    I was surprised that you made Lisa a Great Mind. The way Maggie talked, I got the impression that there were some requirements to join, other than being a barbarian. Seemed to me that the title of GM was reserved for the leaders of the organisation. Satina seems to be the only listed member that isn't a master, and she was level 6, which is fairly high.

    I feel a bit unsure about the need to say that you can cast long range suggestion spells though. Thinkamancy is, hands down, the one magic type that we have the most information about and there is nothing in canon about being able to cast suggestion spells at anything other than close range, and, even for that, you also need dust. The great minds have so many secrets, why not use one of those instead?

    My favorite idea is that a low caster level means that you are extremely inefficient with doing master class spells. That makes a lot of sense to me. 

     

    PS. A cameo? Having a commentator name would be a little weird, I think, and why do they need to be a fan of Madoka and Worm? Is Grey Matter suddenly going to become a magical girl caster or something if you allow that person to join? Or are you implying that you need to horribly traumatize someone instead and are looking for volunteers? Are you planning on making a commentator into another one of Riley's "experiments"? I'd personally suggest people stay away from this, it can only end badly. :/

  • Free Radical

    Seeing it from the perspective of the MK Conspiracy was interesting, and I really liked that sudden realisation at the end of what the list of wand cores they were purchasing meant. So, Lisa convinced Mewlin to back down from the ranged Thinkamancy attacks and has already managed to become a Master as well! Just as she planned by being sent home. And if they're paying for Lookamancers and she has Sharkey to talk to, she has a good chance of getting a Novice in Lookamancy soon too, like Miles just did with Flower Power.

    It amuses me as well that a Foolamancer's wand is made from Fool's Gold, and the scout with the mount special having a saddle on his head was brilliant. Was Jess' giant mount a Morsmordre/Dark Mark from Harry Potter?

    May is going to be making cloaks and masks, for entirely sensible reasons, that are going to make the Casters look like Death Eaters. Have to say, that worked out neatly!

    Hm... and Lisa seemed a lot more interested in making sure Gus got rescued last Turn, and nothing seemed to be happening about that here. I wonder if the MK conspiracy isn't missing a plan that's going on here. If Loony didn't, for instance, give Jess a scroll that would give all of James' aquatic ferals a Tunneling special to quickly move them up to support a rescue, or if razing Ellesstee wasn't merely NV's Foolamancy (Pro Toast intended to raze and retreat anyway... so if they see a razed city there, they're not going to try to claim and rebuild, they're going to pull back), and if Lisa was actually the only Caster who went back with Jess' summon. Seed Rick thought it was a weak summon for a level 6 too. I wonder if Jess spared enough juice to make something else?

    Wow. When you start piling Casters together, the crazy plans just write themselves, don't they?

    "The idea that casters might rent workshops atop high towers for the bonus is one of many economic points whose neglect only really makes sense if sides are either extremely paranoid about free casters or just arbitrarily spiteful toward them."

    I have been attempting to write a story myself where this exact idea was going to come up, but I had thought up a couple of additional considerations - the Free Casters would probably need assurances that the side wouldn't attempt to capture and Turn them (less of a worry with Ethereum, where Tom's views are widely known in the MK, and where being banned from the MK would genuinely hurt them than with a side that might decide that having, say, an extra three Casters on their side right now is worth sacrificing the ability to use the MK in the future), and the side would probably need assurances that the Caster wouldn't be selling information about the side's capital (might be less of an issue for Ethereum as well, since they're already being spied on, but in general if you're a poor Caster and you're getting a free look around someone's capital, it would have to be tempting for some of them to sell on the information).

    Ethereum also has a Signamancer to get around those problems, of course, if they're even issues for them.

  • Free Radical

    Oh, also!

    When Mewlin thinks it was sheer Luckamancy that Lisa claimed to be a Changemancer when the Pro Toast had been warned about a blonde Changemancer, I wonder if it actually was?

    Clay Dice described his boosts as the boosted unit "choosing well", so maybe Lisa's choice to claim to be a Changemancer actually was effected by Akira's boosts? Luckamancy seems like if you pick exactly the right thing to boost at the right time it could be really, incredibly effective...

  • thatonesungod

    A Caster named railgun, who is level 5 and the third strongest. someone has watched a certain scientific railgun. BUT SHES A BADGUY NOO!!!!!!!!!!

    i volunteer as cameo. if caster #carney, else go wild

  • Veryfuzzylogic

    I understand the artist can be frustrated with their art, but I agree with the others that this story is an amazing undertaking and you are doing a fantastic job of keeping so many plates spinning so smoothly at once without dropping any.  

     

    It will be interesting to see how much of the MK leaders' observations were an act put on for their benefit and how much was really as they saw it to be.  They clearly aren't fools, but they do suffer from severely limited perspective coupled with inconsistent and unreliable information.  The kind of raw power they have with their limited ability to apply it really requires some solid intel to make adequate use of.

     

    I think it would be really cool to get something from a lower ranking/newer caster in the group, like maybe the new croakamancer.  A less sophisticated grasp of the internal politics and manipulations at hand could provide a completely unique perspective and might catch opportunities that are so obvious as to be completely overlooked by those with more devious minds.

     

    I've read Worm and I loved it.  If you wanted to do something like Dinah as a predictamancer and/or mathamancer for me as a cameo I would be thrilled.  Call her Misty Kismet? :)

  • cu

    Nice story, but the cast is so large that every time a new instalment comes out I have forgotten who most of the characters are. Then it gets hard to properly follow the dialogues and plot, and having to refresh my memory going through the cast list feels like a chore. I think I'll wait to read any more chapters until the story is complete. Great job, keep them coming and thanks for sharing.

  • falcore51

    Amazing story so far really enjoying it.  I would love a cameo if we could work something out.  Anyway keep writing, loving this.

  • Cayzle

    Excellent as always, though I would have liked more moneymancy in an April 15 update! :-)

  • Requiem_Jeer (Tipped by 1 person!)

    I do love this story, but I would like to make a few criticisms about your interpretations of magic:

    First, as a reminder, we DO know that Findamancy can find the locations of things, as it's how Wanda found the Arkenshoes. But casting disciplines don't have to be one-dimensional, see Turnamancy. It can do both.

    Second, the reason why Weirdomancy can mess with specials is because specials are NATURAL MAGIC. The very first time we were introduced to natural magic in Paron's klog flying was given as an example of natural magic. That is the glue that holds the 'dispel magic' concept and 'grant/remove flying' concept. But again, disciplines don't have to be one-dimensional, see Turnamancy. It can do both.

     

    Otherwise, you're doing great! I love all the Worm references.

  • DunkelMentat

    This was totally worth the wait. I really loved how you've dealt with the question of why other casters aren't sharing secrets to class up. Totally believable, even realistic in the context of the setting. Going to be very interesting to see what "out of control" looks like for magic. Seriously digging Lisa right now.

    I will volunteer for a cameo. You have an idea of my political activities and background from a conversation we had and I'm also a professional brewer/beer scientist (former neuroscientist). If you're interested in playing with that stuff have fun.

    Also, a typo I think: you are switching between pronouns. You see how you go from "his" to "you" to "him"? Am I reading this wrong?

    “There’s nothing cuter than someone who claims what isn’t his, like, say, the loyalty of all Thinkamancers, including ones from other sides, even after you leave us to disband, and then act affronted when everyone else ignores him.

  • Twofer

    Thanks everyone for all your support! It really means a lot to me.

    Okay, apparently cameoing is actually popular. It might take a while to work in; the next chapter is going to be in the overworld. But, uh, by liking Worm and Madoka, specifically I meant that you wouldn't be too indignant if your character were to witness an emotional moment like that time when Alec broke up with his girlfriend on his trip to India or when Sayaka got depressed and took it out on Kyoko. That sort of thing can be hard to bear, even if it isn't happening to you personally.

    @Toma:

    Yeah I put too many in. The original idea was that Tom would get one of almost every discipline, you know, try to cover all bases like any rational person; I probably should have given him a smaller initial windfall, so he could only hire a few. I hoped I could leave half of the characters undeveloped and have it be tacitly understood that they were doing their thing in the background, like, "They have uncroaked? Oh right, whatshisname does that," but in hindsight it doesn't work perfectly because the cast keeps talking about Arthur and Saito. Part of it was that it bothers me in stories like Harry Potter where everything revolves around a handful of protagonists, and the other 800 people do nothing at all, but apparently there's a good reason for that trope. Lessons learnt.

    They're an average of 8,525 words apiece, 59,675 in total, counting ANs and I think ellipses and N-dashes, not counting non-chapters.

    You're half right that Lisa shouldn't be a Great Mind so young (she was a level 2 novice when she was accepted, and adept 3 when tossed out). Maggie is stronger than that, and if GK had fallen instead of the volcano spell and she'd fled and begged membership, I assume she would have been refused. There's an important bit of context missing. It'll be cleared up properly a little later.

    I think ranged suggestion is canonical. Possibly I'm reading too much into the visual of Slately becoming a pawn, but between that, the time when Maggie warned Parson of it, and the fact that Slately then did exactly what Charlie wanted despite not trusting him in the slightest, it seems reasonable. Charlie and TGMTTA almost never use it, because it would destroy their comms businesses if it got out; note that Charlie is only using it on someone he's manipulating to his death anyway, and Lisa exploits the fact that TGM or Charlie will smooth things over for their own sake.

    I wouldn't want to be a cameo either, but apparently it's a thing. Remember those two guys from LiaB? Both of them presumably died in the inferno five minutes later, but nobody complained. Go figure.

    @Radical:

    Lisa's fun to write. I probably go overboard with her, but 18 INT, 18 CHA, and like 10 WIS is a very workable combination.

    Jess' summons are all shout-outs to Worm. That particular one is Moord Nag's pet.

    The obvious ones to want to rent are fabricators (Doll, Hat, Change if you go with my rules), since it doesn't really matter where they do their work, but Lookamancers are possible, Thinkers, Predictors, and maybe Mathamancers. Another option than renting with cash is to pay in kind; I have it that spells are 25% stronger atop level 5 towers, or cost 80% as much, so a side could ask the casters to tithe their juice to tower defences or whatever else.

    Lisa did get some help from Akira, good guess. Realising that this sort of thing is possible is the kind of insight that helps with classing up.

    @Fuzzy:

    Next chapter's finally from Loony's perspective; she's not an idiot, but she's also not Machiavellian, which will be novel. I'll think about putting Saito in later.

    Hmm … there usually seems to be a One Steve Limit, but Misty the Lookamancer only lived briefly and it's probably fine to recycle the names of the deceased. Misty Kismet works.

    @Sun:

    It's interesting that so many people think of Ethereum as the good guys and the guilds as bad; being the protagonist is awesome. I'm going to have to differ on this one, though: she's a cop, not a crony. She's not even a formal member of the Bank, just an enforcer they have on payroll, who's stayed out of politics so far.

    @Cu:

    Fair enough. It might work better with video; putting names to faces would make it easier to remember. Or if I'd bothered to introduce everyone properly.

    @Requiem:

    I'd forgotten how Wanda found the Shoes. I made up projection because it's easy to balance (if casters are worth $1k/level-turn, they get a monster that can kill that much of enemy units) where location isn't (how often are the Arkenshoes hidden in your capital?), but it could maybe work if the world map had lots of hidden secrets. Ruins are a big obvious one, or they could pair with miners for gems, or go looking for wand core trees.

    I also forgot that flight counts as natural magic. You're right, but the term is almost synonymous with special, and Loony has good reasons not to correct anyone on that detail. That's a pretty good justification of the counterspell effect though.

    (A 1-shmucker tip is my equivalent to a fencer declaring touché on the opponent scoring a hit.)

    The MASH story's a good alternative use of Weirdomancy though.

    @Dunkel:

    Thanks. Magic usually doesn't go out of control, because they have the good sense to not push themselves too hard, and Akira helps, but assumptions are made to be broken.

    Not quite a typo, just misspeaking. Lisa's trying to be sarcastic, but there's an undercurrent of wrath there that bubbles to the surface when she forgets about it. Imagine her voice is normally haughty and lecturing, then dipping half an octave in the middle of the sentence, then changing back as though nothing had happened; you get the impression she'd quite happily knife him. Either that, or she's putting it on to screw with him; seeing a normally ice-cool façade crack and show a hint of derangement directed at you personally can be disturbing if played right.

  • DrDM

    I'd love a cameo-character. If you know of Firnagzen's Quest "Puella Magi Adfligo Systema" over on Sufficient Velocity, then Sabrina would make for an excellent new caster. Probably a Weirdomancer, or whichever discipline you think would be most likely to be able to directly affect juice itself.

    If you know the quest, then I'm Godwinson over there, and me pointing that out for my cameo should make a lot more sense.

  • Free Radical

    @Twofer: Besides the fabricators, anyone who decides to work on a scroll for the Turn would probably benefit from the boost as well.

  • hajo4

    It's nice to see the action from another viewpoint, and how team MK

    can hardly come up with useful ideas, despite their superior intel.

    Apparently nobody is used to casters working in teams.

     

    I don't quite get why "A Thinkamancer is never late”, maybe simply arrogance ?

     

    Other than that, I don't know half of the creatures that appear in the story,

    so some illustrations and/or links to source-material would be welcome.

     

    When Erfworld started, I thought it might be interesting to build an erf-mod

    for one of the existing strategy-games.  But there were too little hard facts

    known (such as attack/defense/move/costs etc.), so it would be hard to do.

    That situation hasn't changed much, and about many caster-types,

    we still know very little.

     

    With that in mind, I'm really impressed with this story, the worldbuilding /

    blankfilling (and all that with an eye towards game-balance),

    and the impressive cast of characters and personalities.

     

    I'm really curious how the story will develop further.

    So thanks, and good luck !

  • DayDreamer

    A lot of unfortunate signamancy, here. Especially Tagg. He has a pretty messy death.

    That said, Tagg's a bit of an odd choice for the name of a super secret spy. In Worm (where he's from), Tagg was the director of a region's PRT (Parahuman Response Team to those who haven't read Worm, basically the governmental organization that deals with everything superhero/supervillain related). Leads me to suspect he's someone high up in Etherium's organization.

    I am kind of curious now, given the number of Worm characters you've introduced, if Taylor/Skitter/Weaver/Khepri is ever going to make an appearance. I have no idea how you would convey her power in Erfworld mechanics... maybe a Warlord with some kind of special that lets her tame bugs and insects, running a Transylvito-style swarm build? Or a Carnymancer, just for her ability to change the rules of the game?

  • wih

    @hajo4

    "A Thinkamancer is never late” is a reference to "A Wizard is never late [...]" from Lord of the Rings.

  • Twofer

    @DM:

    I'll have to think of another way to interpret that. I have an iron-clad rule against creating juice outside the beginning-of-turn refresh (unless that or something basically equivalent is limited, someone will go infinite sooner or later), and Weirdomancers are ultra-rare. Sabrina's powers seem to overlap with Find, Predict, Change, Shock, and Rhyme-o-mancies; I'll have to think about it. Changemancy is the classic mahō shōjo discipline, though.

    @Radical:

    I can't remember whether I have it that there's a tower bonus to creating scrolls or to using them; it's not a major difference to a well-balanced ruleset either way. It would matter a fair bit for that one situation, though.

    @Hajo:

    Thanks. I noticed that in canon; I expect a side would normally find duplicate casters disappointing, but the MK seems to congregate by discipline. Nowhere does anybody systematically try to combo powers. Even Jess with Charlotte seems exceptional. By my mechanics, Jetstone's four should have had especially insane synergy, but they clearly hadn't even thought about it, let alone experimented or rehearsed.

    Casters' special units are mostly references to creatures from that caster's home Verse, such as James' Bond Girls and Jess' Worm monsters; see the cast page. Other than that, daemons are all pokémon. I'd prefer to avoid drawings of my own; I'm a passable artist, but slow, so it would cut into my prose.

    @Dreamer:

    Giving the name to that character will make perfect sense in a while.

    Taylor won't be showing up. I considered most of the cast of Worm; it's large enough that I could afford to be picky and only take those who fit the Erfworld magic system well (or, in Jess' case, define it). She doesn't fit anything well; as Director Tagg noted, she ranks a 2 in everything. Maybe a polymath caster like Wanda is, but I'm trying to downplay that.

  • DayDreamer

    @OP

    Makes sense. I could actually see Taylor working pretty well as a Warlady rather than a caster, which could be an interesting story (Tom's attempts to marginalize and sideline her because she isn't a caster versus Taylor's borderline suicidal but brilliant tactical victories where she keeps escalating somehow). In some ways she fulfills the same role as Parson. That said, such an arc would require a lot of time, words, and focus to get right, and likely come at the cost of pretty much everything else you're trying to do. Taylor is character who's very greedy for screen time.

     

    I do have a somewhat related question though: sides with very strong signamancy sometimes seem to get specials on their regular units (every Transylvito character has the flying special, along with some kind of bloodsucking ability), along with slightly different rosters of units (Spidews in the case of Gobwin Knob, Doombats in the case of Transylvito). Etherium looks to be doing something similar with the massive focus on casters. Are you planning on having there be some kind of shift to the types of units they can field because of this?

  • Veryfuzzylogic

    @DayDreamer

    Are you thinking of something along the lines of the capitol changing its popping options, perhaps after an upgrade or dirtamancy improvement or even after capturing a specific other city?  Tom doesn't seem to be relying much, if at all, on the side's popped units aside from the casters/warlords, but if the side suddenly started popping something that related to the side's specialization he might have a different perspective.  I can't think of much from cannon that fits though.  

    I don't think they'd naturally pop fliers, but maybe a tall land mount (stag, giant snake, patronus?  What was the big V's patronus, did Rowling ever say?) that provides a small casting bonus to the rider similar to a tower?  Maybe a ranged unit that uses weapons similar to wands instead of bows, but have the difference only be aesthetic rather than functionally different or have the only functional difference be that Tom has special insight into how their attacks work and could train them in different specialized versions of their attack on level up? Perhaps a melee unit with fabrication special or that has a bonus vs dollamancy constructs like their chief caster?  

    As interesting as those options are, those things aren't really Etherium's "theme" now that I think of it more.  The side's focus is magical synergy and sticking it to the normal order of things.  The mount idea still sort of fits, but the other two not as much.  What kind of unit says "screw you, casters rule!" without being meaningfully more powerful than a standard template melee, ranged, or mount type unit?

  • DayDreamer

    @Veryfuzzylogic

     

    Some kind of very expensive demi-caster who can only do one or two spells and can't improve? A magical adept who can store juice that other casters can tap? Elementals or golems that can be healed through shockamancy or dollamancy respectively? If the aesthetic of Etherium ends up like Dalaran, pretty much every one of those fits the signamancy.

  • WurmD

    "“It would be too inconvenient for guild rules to make an exception,” Mewlin said blandly."

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

     

  • WurmD

    "May is going to be making cloaks and masks, for entirely sensible reasons, that are going to make the Casters look like Death Eaters. Have to say, that worked out neatly!"

    Indeeed! + fricking 1 man! :D

     

  • hajo4

    Etherium has mounts and mobility pretty much covered, as well as intel/lookamancy.

    Same for big monsters (flying and melee), golems and daemons with misc. magical effects.

     

    But they only have very few personnel, so any small loss will hurt much.

    Also, finances are tight, no friends in sight, and diplomacy is hard.

    Maybe just pop some harvestable beasts, to make snacks to save upkeep ?

     

    Reliance on magic-only might also be a big weakness, if somebody in team MK

    can come up with a nasty surprise.

    Like Vanna's turn-stop, or a thinkamancy-blackout, or no-juice-refill-this-turn,

    some remote-desummon, an anti-magic-shell, or just a swarm of shockproof bats :)

     

     

  • Twofer

    @Dreamer, Fuzzy:

    When it comes up, I plan to give Tom his allies from the books: twolls, spidews, giants, derivatives of giant snakes and Dementors and banshees.

    It would be thematic to give him casting factionals. In an early storyboard, I had his natural allies be witches (Charlotte was one). The original reasons I didn't were mechanical: he'd be happy to use 100% casters and their special units, but he needed mounts and damage sponges, which witches aren't built for, and in any case he can get casters units basically for free from the MK. Other reasons are that battles and the cast page are already badly cluttered, and I'm paranoid of anything that could make it look like he's winning because the author wants him to win rather than because he makes good decisions.

    I'm also specifically leery of anything that synergises well with casters. If they're balanced, they should be under the curve with no casters and over it with them; but that means I'd be giving him OP units.

    @Wurm:

    :)

    @Hajo:

    I have it that basic infantry are the best value units in the game, especially with people like Arthur and Akira; Tom's popping mostly them, bulking up his army. Natural allies have high upkeep; the general idea is to keep a small army during peace and have positive cashflow, and when war or a new offensive breaks out, burst-hire allies, then trade them off while popping stabbers for the second wave. They'd also be good to prevent your concerns of an anti-magic trick: item #23 on the Evil Overlord List.