Dance Across the Hungry Jungle, Part 5

Part 5: Ironic or appropriate?

 

«The way I look at it, as a Dirtamancer, I build cities and bodies! I’m a real body-builder, y’know?!»

 

Lucy was finding that holding a conversation while flying midair wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Which is to say, it sounds like gales of onrushing air with regularly beating wings and mooing Bullseyes. Still, they weren’t moving at too fast a clip, and flying close together Venice and Lucy had managed to strike up a conversation amid the clouds, with the rollicking jungle rolling by beneath them.

 

Venice bellowed on. «Though honestly, most of what I do for the side has been city leveling, upgrades, and some listening posts. Not a lotta good places to quarry for rock and metal, so I only get to build Golems every once in awhile, if monsoons dredge up any interesting rocks into the river beds from the northern mountains. Thank the Titans there’s enough other work around for me to avoid makin’ craps.» Lucy noticed him sigh less because she heard it, but rather because of the very visible heaving of his very visible chest. «Work’s got me flying so much I barely touch the ground!»

 

Lucy chortled at that, and squinted into the wind as she yelled / asked in reply «Was it ye who made the Dog House?»

 

«Yeah! You like it?» He asked, turning in his saddle.

 

«It’s impressive! Worthy of an air power based side!»

 

«Thanks! Amicus drew up the design for it, and I put the muscle and juice into building it. Signamancy’s good for showy stuff, but Dirtamancy’s really good for big stuff! Using his Blueprint helped me cut down some of the juice cost and make it all pretty-like. Still, a lot of my best work’s underappreciated... because it’s underground! Is that ironic or appropriate? I can never tell!»

 

Lucy laughed into the wind. «Lad, at your size, it’s whatever ye want it to be!»

 

Venice joined in and laughed with her, big and loud and happy and... something about the earnestness of it made Lucy feel he didn’t do it too often. She started to wonder just how sincere he had been with his quip about being warned about her sense of humor. Were the rest of the Komissars really too dour to crack jokes?

 

Having finished showing the wind who was boss with his raucous laugh, Venice confided with Lucy in a discrete holler «I lobbied pretty hard to get this mission approved. The other Komissars, they were all like: “It’s too risky, Venice”, “the upgrade’s probably unsalvageable, Venice”, or “You’ll never get the city rebuilt”, and my favorite “We already have the optimum number of cities for Shmucker production, Venice, this’ll just drag our finances down” Pfft. Bette can be such a stick in the mud.»

 

«Bette? She’s our... Moneymancer, right?» Lucy ask/yelled into the wind.

 

Venice nodded and adjusted his weight on his struggling mount; without hair and with only his tight tank top on, he really did seem completely unaffected by the wind. She thought absently that Marco would probably have to fight an Incapacitation effect at the sight of him. While Lucy was appreciating the scenic view of peaks and mountains flying beside her, she was jarred back into the discussion when Venice roared conversationally «Yeah! Bette Coin. She runs the finances committee, has a seat in the city planning one with Amicus and me, too. She’s a good friend, but when Shmuckers are involved she's no fun! … »

 

Venice went quiet for a moment, then rumbled on conversationally. «I figure Luckamancy’s probably a lot like the underground side of Dirtamancy, y’know? I mean, whenever you cast and bring luck to the side, we do good, but there’s nothing like, really visible to prove it.»

 

She nodded her head, a bit uncertain of where the conversation was going, and then realized he wouldn’t necessarily have seen it, so she shouted «In a sense, aye! Though the units I bless would have plenty of good things to say: lots of battles won, lives saved!»

 

«Yeah, ‘course! I’m not saying you wouldn’t help the side» he went on, a little nervous. «It’s just... I don’t know how it was in your time, but now? Luckamancer’s aren’t exactly very popular in the MK, or in a lot of sides. Lotta them are really hard on luck (uh, no offense) for making ends meet in the MK.»

 

Venice flew closer and yelled a little more quietly «I mean, me? Every Komissar is practically begging to get me assigned to their pet project, because what I do is real obvious and easy to explain. But I gotta be honest; when Bette explained it, it sounded like Luckamancy’s all a wash, that all the good luck gets balanced out by bad luck somewhere else. And it's just... other than the immediate mission, no one really knows what to ask of you long term. And since we don’t have a Mathamancer or a Predictamancer, we can’t do the usual Luckamancy based strategy of having you tip important battles for us.»

 

Lucy fought to keep from rolling her eyes, but let an exasperated sigh leave her lips and get taken prisoner by the rushing wind; it’s kidnapping went by unheard.

 

Looking at Venice’s face, she could tell he was being honest, but there was something bothering him that was motivating his question. It wasn’t hard to guess that Venice must have been present for some rather heated debates about her, and was sharing some of the things he’d heard out of concern. Maybe they’d asked him to have this conversation with her, or maybe it was his own initiative, so he’d have something positive to take back home.

 

He had a point though. “In her time” as Venice put it, the Barbarian community in the Magic Kingdom was still young, and even then it had had no shortage of petty bickering and pointless feuding. She’d begun to experience first hand some of the prejudices she was assuming had blossomed (or festered, really) regarding casters like Luckamancers.

 

One such nasty rift had happened within the Clevermancers. Moneymancers (and to an extent Healomancers) had taken offense with Luckamancers for a variety of reasons and perceived slights against Clevermancy itself, as if it were a Unit to take offense! They “cavorted with Carnies” went the accusation, “cheated Numbers”, and were just generally (gasp!) poor, with sides less willing to hire them out.

 

«How lucky can they really be?» went some nasty gossip of the time «They let their sides fall, only to slink here in disgrace as barbarians, and then they disband because they never find work!»

 

Remembering it now, the jeer hit a little too close to home. Lucy had no idea whether Bette’s objections were genuine (which was worrisome, but could be dealt with) or based on some uncroaked permutation of that ancient feud (which might mean a hard fought battle up ahead). Regardless, she felt the urge to defend her discipline.

 

She decided, for Venice’s sake and anyone he spoke to later, to keep it practical. «Venice, Luckamancers and Dirtamancers have the same axis in common, aye?»

 

Venice arched an eyebrow in curiosity and confusion. «Well, yeah. We’re both aligned on the Erf axis.»

 

Lucy nodded «Absolutely. We both deal with the physical Erf, but with different focuses. You mold it directly, and I deal in what it can do, can’t do, and might do. For example, take one of your golems.»

 

«Okay...» hemmed an unsure Venice.

 

She smiled a bit as she built up her scenario «Now, imagine you put it on a boat to get it across a river, and it fell off and hit the bottom. Would it drown?»

 

Venice actually snorted, arching his head back and making his mount heave to compensate. «Drown? Pfft. No way! It’d just walk across the bottom to get to the other side. Might lose a point of Move. Worst case, it gets stuck in a sand bar and has to be fished out. Hmm... Craps might dissolve though.»

 

Lucy grinned conspiratorially and went on quickly, to keep him from getting sidetracked. «So, what d’ya think would happen if I cursed it to keep falling off the boat, and we tied a rope to it? If every piece ‘a good luck brings bad, then...»

 

«Oh... clever! It’d make every other unit on the boat less likely to fall off!»

 

«Aye! By cursing specific actions rather than using a generic one, a single “bad spell” can protect dozens at the “expense” of a little inconvenience for a unit that won’t even get hurt, really. Same's true for blessings, even.»

 

Venice seemed really interested in the concept, seeming to think of the potential applications. «Is that what you did for your old side?»

 

«Well, we had a Croakamancer and a Healomancer, which everyone was shocked over. Then I came along. No one really thought there’d be much synergy ‘tween us three. But... !» And she leaned in close; talking at a normal volume at this height, with that much rushing wind, she might as well have been whispering.

 

«Frankie, our Chief Croakamancer, would uncroak infantry, and Boo, the Healomancer, would keep our regular units alive. While I would curse the uncroaked to get all sorts of nastiness to happen to ‘em. Simply “horrible” things like get bitten by venomous snakes, falling into rivers, ambushed by tigers, failing Crits, or getting limbs lopped off.» Here she mimed getting an arm lopped off for effect. She could tell Venice was keeping close attention.

 

Lucy shrugged as she went on «Sure, we lost a lot of Uncroaked, but they decay anyway! And most of my curses would be lethal for living units but only mildly harm uncroaked, and with Frankie or a warlord leading them, the bonus would mostly cancel my hexing. The clincher was for me to bless our living units, especially the Walords, with boosts to Crit rates, and then mix some uncroaked with them or use them as a first wave: the uncroaked would probably all croak for real in battle, but most of our living troops would survive, level, and leave a battlefield of bodies for Frankie to uncroak.»

 

Thinking it over, Venice cut in «That’s... really, really clever! Even if you three weren’t with a given army, your Luckamancy could still affect them for a few turns after.»

 

Lucy smiled and went on «Aye. In the long run, it meant we had much lower attrition, so we had a higher level army of living units with a canon fodder corps of corpses. When Frankie and Boo invented the Damage Undoing Clevermancy tape, or D.U.C. Tape, for short, we could even keep a full standing army of specialty uncroaked for ages at a fraction of the cost of a regular one during peacetime. Do ye think we could try something like this with your Golems or other Tar Zhay units?»

 

Absently, Lucy noted they were flying over a grove of mango tress, which Miss Snuffles was eyeing with ingestible interest. Even with the leisurely pace of their flight, they must be getting close to Dis’ tracts of land.

 

Venice lowered his head for a moment, mulling the strategy over, when he looked up with a frown. «While we could definitely do the Warlord blessing, I’m not sure we can do something similar using my Golems. I haven’t made nearly enough of them to really take advantage of tactics like that. Even if I had, most Golems are heavies and kinda on the “you break em you bought em” side, y’know? So I’m not sure the other Komissars might like to try this.»

 

Lucy deflated a bit and looked down at the rolling scenery. She’d been putting some thought into how she could help Tar Zhay ever since she’d turned, and this was one of her best ideas. This failure reminded her of a common complaint among Luckamancers: that the biggest drawback of Luckamancy isn’t Luckamancy repayment, but a lack of imagination. Not necessarily the Luckamancer’s (though that’d be no less tragic) but of the units on their side. And to this she’d added her own bit of wisdom: that Luck and Luckamancy are amplifiers of existing strategy and hard work, not substitutes for it. So what could she do for Tar Zhay?

 

She had been thinking of making more of her Lucky Charms, but that required a complicated set of Luckamancy, Signamancy, and Dollamancy (or Hat Magic) spells to create the special Signamancy bearing Erf to store the Luck. Not to mention, she'd still need to get that Luck from somewhere... or someone. The cost in Juice, Shmuckers, and effort behind them was not trivial. 

 

She looked up at Venice’s expectant face, and out of some mix of habit and curiosity, tuned in her Luckamancy Sense. Her breath caught in her throat, and for once she was glad at her chalky skinned Signamancy, because otherwise Venice would have seen her blanch. Still, he must have noticed her expression change because he asked.

 

«What?»

 

What indeed! The lad was shimmering; attracting a dozen rainbow paths from ahead of them as they flew, like a flying Hooverbird just breathing them in. But as they sped past them, each lovely strand would grow taut and pale, only to snap and thin out like a broken chimney exhaling burning Fruitloop wood. And each strand... each beautiful, incandescent strand led somewhere down to the Erf beneath them.

 

Finally breathing again, she asked «Venice... when was the last time you actually walked anywhere?»

 

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Part 4: Close encounters of the Luckamancy kind

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Part 6: I know why the caged bird squawks

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