Blast From The Past - Part 6
By Omnimancer (Tipped by 8 people!)
Rip wondered if his beard would grow back. If it were lost in battle, say if a fireball burned it off, it would heal at the start of turn. However cutting it with scissors was a deliberate alteration to signamancy, and those could be permanent. Rip wasn’t sure he had even liked the beard, the waist length curtain of hair that had appeared on his face when Delorean was unfrozen, but he had gotten used to it. Now he just had a rough patch of unkempt stubble and fuzz, whatever Elle had missed.
He then chided himself for thinking about personal vanity at a time like this. They were in the midst of battle, marching through the heart of an enemy capital. A tight circle of dwagons surrounded Rip, lifting their flightless wings in a protective tent to shield their ruler from arrows. He had chosen to remain on foot, and remain lower to the ground to have even more cover.
The incapacitated Mac Fly lay slumped over the saddle of an adjacent green. They had tied his belt to the dwagon’s saddle so he wouldn’t slip off. Rip had no way of healing the knight’s fatal wounds, and if Elle’s plan ended up working Mac would die anyway. It would have made no real difference for Mac had they left him at the casino, but it seemed wrong to abandon him. At least this way he would die with his men.
They met light resistance along the way, a few stacks of Tannenball soldiers here and there, but nothing tough enough to slow them down. Most of the enemy army had been stationed to block them from leaving through the walls to the south, east, and west, or to defend the castle itself. The enemy had left an open path to the impassible cliffs north, knowing there was no escape that way.
After Mac’s incapacitation, knights Bill and Ted had become Rip’s defacto seconds-in-command. They were only mid-level, but both had served in Mancave for dozens of turns before being transferred to Delorean to be frozen. Mancave had a completely different layout than Casino Royal, but the hex’s terrain had stayed the same, which made the two knights invaluable guides, leading the way unerringly towards the cave.
“Not much further,” said Bill.
Rip had hoped to explore Casino Royal at his leisure, after the city had been conquered. Examining Crow Magnon’s cave while fleeing a stronger enemy army wasn’t ideal, and yet Rip found himself eager to arrive. The fate of his long dead king weighed heavily on his mind, and perhaps now he’d finally get some answers about why Delorean’s army had been abandoned. Or maybe he’d find an empty dusty cave and get croaked there.
“Something’s wrong,” thought Danny of Glover. The thought wasn’t just a thought thanks to Lorraine’s thinkamancy hookup. Danny was at the city wall, Biff in his battle room, and Lorraine atop the tower, but they had open three-way mental communication. A small part of Danny’s focus was in thinkspace, inside a mental recreation of Tannenball’s battle room, a glitzy chamber of shiny black tiled walls and mirrored pillars. Psychic projections of Biff and Lorraine stood over the map table, which had been set up to show Casino Royal and all the troops within. The thinkspace map data was drawn from Biff’s view of the actual table, and updated in real time as his aides moved pieces around. This kind of unparalleled tactical coordination was one of the biggest things Danny missed about having Lorraine on his side.
“The Deloreans aren’t heading to the wall,” think spoke Danny. “My scouts say they’re going north.”
Biff narrowed his eyes. “North? Why would they do that? There’s a mountain to the north. They can’t escape that way.”
Lorraine gestured and lit up one section of the map table, a black spot in the north of the city. “They might be heading for the Morlock cave.”
“Morlock cave?” asked Danny.
“When the almanac led me here to found a new side, the city had been ruined for a long time,” explained Biff. “Hundreds, maybe thousands of turns. Ruined, but not abandoned. A feral tribe of lazy elves were occupying the valley, but these beast men morlock things kept spawning in the cave and coming out to eat them at night. The elves offered me an alliance if I could clear out the cave, which I did. My men swept the cave and slew every last morlock. Then we lit the whole thing up with powerballs, so they couldn’t spawn again. Turns out morlocks only can pop in darkness.”
Danny hadn’t noticed any elves among the Tannenball forces. “What happened to the lazy elves?”
Biff grinned. “Lazy elves are lazy and worthless. An alliance would have just been a hassle, so I wiped them out too.”
Danny frowned in distaste, but managed to prevent his thinkspace projection from frowning as well. “This cave, does it have any tunnels out of the hex? Could the enemy escape that way?”
Biff shook his head. “I told you, my men swept the cave. They found no other exits. There’s nothing in there but old ruins. If their ruler enters the cave, all he’s going to do is corner himself.”
Elle Dorado hid in a tavern and waited for Tannenball’s army to surround the building. She was crouched behind the bar, in case anyone peeked through the door, but she needn’t have bothered. The enemy was wholly focused on traveling north and didn’t bother scouting any of the buildings along the way.
While Elle waited, she uncorked a bottle of top shelf Biff Perignon champagne and took a deep swig. Not enough to get tipsy, but if she was going to croak this turn she wanted to have one final pleasant moment. After a few minutes she heard the tramp of boots and saw the blurry outlines of pikers marching past the bar’s frosted windows. It was time.
She opened her backpack and examined the three glowing scrolls inside. Two were from the Magic Kingdom, a red shockamancy scroll and a purple foolamancy scroll. When Elle set off on her quest to find the mythic city of Delorean she hadn’t known what threats she’d encounter in the wild. There were a lot of dangers for a lone caster, ranging from feral beasts hungry for a meal, to hostile sides who would love to enslave a barbarian caster. The two scrolls were her preparation for whatever conflict she couldn’t avoid on her own, a veiling spell to hide from foes, and a magic missile spell if battle was absolutely necessary. Fortunately, she hadn’t needed to use either of them.
The yellow third scroll had been scribed by Elle last turn. She hadn’t performed any magic during Delorean’s string of conquests, and instead poured an entire turn’s juice into the spell. A pathfinding was one of the most basic findamancy spells, with the simple purpose of orienting the caster towards their destination. For a novice findamancer, it wouldn’t do anything more than point towards their goal, little better than a magical compass. Elle however was a high level adept findamancer, able to incorporate predictamancy and mathamancy into her magic for greater effect. When she cast a pathfinder spell with a full turn’s juice, it wouldn’t point towards her goal. It would point towards the best route towards her goal, which was a subtle but important difference. An advanced pathfinding could automatically predict threats before they manifested, calculate hypothetical probabilities of possible dangers, and steer you away from obstacles you’d never even know you avoided.
Elle cast the pathfinder spell on a small y-shaped stick from her bag, a dowsing rod that would further improve the spell’s accuracy. “Garmin!” She focused on her destination, the pinnacle of Casino Royal’s black tower. Elle was pleased when the stick immediately twisted in her grip to point at the foolamancy scroll. It had been her plan to cast it next, and it was good to know that the pathfinder spell approved with her course of action.
“Karma karma karma karma karma chameleon!” Elle veiled herself as a level 1 Tannenball soldier, the most nondescript unit possible. Her body looked the same, but her clothing now appeared as the black livery of King Biff. On her chest was a pool ball sigil, with the eight replaced by silver B. The dowsing rod in her hand had become a small rolled up piece of paper, the kind of letter that a lowly messenger might be ordered to carry back to the castle during a battle.
The stick twitched and led Elle out the back door of the bar into an alley. Left out into the street. Forward past several stacks of archers, who ignored her as they ran by. Right to briefly hide in a butcher’s shop as a level 2 Tannenball warlord passed, leading a stack of knights mounted on charley horses. Hide behind a lamppost. Go one block forward. One block backward. Left. Right. Left. Left. Right. The stick tugged wildly back and forth in her hand as it plotted a safe course, predicting which enemy units would see through the veil and never giving them a chance to spot her.
Straight. Right towards a huge force of humanoid rodents from a side called Glover. The same side that owned the weirdomancy straightjackets. The dowsing rod urged Elle to walk directly into an approaching line of mousketeers in red and white soldier uniforms and plumed caps, that were marching towards her in a neat formation. Each mouse carried a shockamancy blunderbuss over its shoulder, a powerful weapon with a painfully slow cooldown between shots. Behind the mice lurched eight immense mallrats, twoll-sized heavies wearing spiky goth collars and novelty T-shirts. Most alarmingly, the pack was led by a red-headed caster, likely some kind of hippiemancer. She would have an excellent spot check against the foolamancy veil, and yet the dowsing rod urged Elle to walk past her.
The findamancer passed through the ranks of mouseketeers without incident, but one of the mallrats, a brute wearing a ‘Female Body Inspector’ tee, bent down to growl at her. “I smell. A rat,” said the rat. Elle froze in panic. Her veil was visual only, it couldn’t fool a keen nose. Her cover was blown! She reached towards the shockamancy scroll in her bag, a desperate last resort…
“Come on Smell, leave the lady alone,” ordered Willow. “She knows you’re a rat, and she’s not interested in a man with a tail. Sorry about that miss, mallrats have no manners.” Elle nodded demurely, in the way an embarrassed low level soldier might acknowledge an apology from a high-ranking commander.
The dateamancer snapped at two other mallrats in the stack. “Reek! Stench! My eyes are up here! Ugh, you guys really are vermin.” Elle breathed a deep sigh of relief as the rodent army marched away.
Onward to the tower. Left. Left. Right. Left. Forward.
The cave mouth was a beak. The massive head of a cawing crow had been carved into the stone cliff, and to enter the cave you walked down the bird’s gullet. Glowing powerballs lit the tunnel until it curved out of view.
“We’ll hold the tunnel as long as possible,” said Sir Ted. “And when we can’t, we’ll have the purples collapse the entrance.”
Rip stood on the sharp peak of the crow’s lower beak and stared out back at Casino Royal. Regiments of black clad Tannenball soldiers streamed up the hillside towards them.
“You should go, viceroy,” said Sir Bill.
Rip saluted his knights. “Thank you, all of you. I have let you down as a ruler. This trap was avoidable, had I been wiser or stronger. Your sacrifice is giving me a second chance, giving all of Delorean a second chance. I won’t waste it.”
The knights raised their swords as one. “Encino!” they cheered. Rip spared them one last look, then ran into the depths of the mountain.
Enemy horns sounded, clear and grim. Hundreds of black spears tilted downwards and the Tannenball army charged. The dwagons breathed in deep, readying their breath attacks.
Bill turned to Ted and gave him wistful smile. “Looks like this is the end, old friend.”
“We couldn’t ask for a more noble fate,” said Ted. “Death will be an excellent adventure.”
Rip walked through vaulting chambers that were partially formed by melting limestone, then carved and expanded by ancient Magnon diggers. A flat beveled path wove between hulking stalagmites and dripping stone formations. The deeper he ventured into the cave, the less natural and more polished the rooms became. A thick layer of dust and cobwebs had popped over everything to indicate the cave’s long disuse, but the splendor of Magnon still shone through.
Eventually he reached the throne room, the same red and black stone hall Rip had seen in the thinkagram all those turns ago. Some of the pillars had collapsed, and water dripped from a crack in the arched ceiling, and the bone throne had dissolved into white splinters, but it was King Magnon’s throne room.
The wall mosaics had survived relatively unscathed, or at least they had had until someone had written “BIFF” over them in sprawling red graffiti. One mosaic showed Crow Magnon triumphantly stealing the Arkenhammer from a sacred shrine as horrified monks pleaded for mercy. Another showed Magnon taming a red dwagon with the hammer while simultaneously quaffing an entire keg of beer. Another mosaic showed Magnon holding a twoll chieftain in a headlock atop a pile of dead twolls while a crowd of women in bikinis applauded. Rip was starting to notice a theme to the artwork. Although Rip would forever be loyal to Crow Magnon, he had to admit that his king had been a little bit full of himself.
The last mosaic was curious in how simple and sweet it was in comparison to the others. Magnon was in it, of course, but rather than perform some outrageous feat of heroism he was simply holding hands with a dark-haired woman. The two lovers smiled calmly at each other as the sun rose behind them. Rip walked closer to examine it.
Then the entire cave shook as the entrance collapsed.
Danny puts his sword through the last dwagon’s eye. It was an act of mercy at this point, after Sid’s golems had sunk their hooks and claws into the purple’s body.
“That was fun!” exclaimed Sid as he surveyed the field of corpses.. The Delorean army had been completely wiped out, and thanks to Glover’s assistance the losses were light on Tannenball’s side. “Did you see how my spider baby golem was like ka-chow, and the dwagon was like rawr and then my leg golems were all like…”
“Yeah, Sid, it was really cool,” said Danny wearily while cleaning blood off his sword.
Danny walked forward to examine what had been the entrance. The crow’s head was now a pile of compacted rubble blocking the passage. “Troy, can you clear the way?” he called out to the weirdomancer.
Troy Abed flexed his long brown fingers. “Can I clear the way? Can I? What a question. It’ll be so easy, it’s boring I have to do it at all.” He gestured at a stack of mouseketeers. “Tonka! There, they all have the digging special now.”
Willow pointed at the collapsed cave. “All right, mice. Dig in!”
The eight enchanted mousekeeters strapped their blunderbusses onto their backs, then started attacking the fallen boulders with bare hands. The stone parted beneath their fingers like soft butter.
Elle walked through the pyramid’s main gate and was completely ignored by the archers on the battlements. No arrows flew at her. No hot oil splashed on her head. She wasn’t an enemy barbarian caster, just a humble Tannenball messenger on an assignment.
The pyramid was huge and filled with luxurious pleasure rooms. She passed through dimly lit lounges, past heated swimming pools, walked by baccarat tables, and through billiard halls. If not for the pathfinder spell she would have gotten lost, but the stick led her towards the tower without fail. Once she found the tower’s stairway it was just a matter of climbing up.
Biff Tower had over fifty floors so it took a bit of climbing, but the stairs up were free of enemy units. The stairway ended at the top floor, not the roof, as she had hoped. Unlike most cities, the top floor of Casino Royal’s tower didn’t have a casting room. Instead the entire floor was taken up by an immense steel bank vault, the circular safe door guarded by two elite knights. The dowsing rod pointed right past them, down the hall towards another doorway at the opposite end of the tower.
Elle’s findamancy senses practically screamed when they saw the vault, telling her that there was something really worth finding inside. The guards were too strong for her to croak by herself, but she was sorely tempted to use the shockamancy scroll on them and open the safe to find out what it contained. She could do it too, it was a combination lock, which meant that she could crack the code with a bit of findamancy and mathamancy.
However, it would also be suicide. If she used the shockamancy scroll now, she’d have no way of dealing with the straightjackets. No way of escaping the hex. Elle smothered her curiosity and walk down the hall past the guards, praying that her veil held up under their spot checks, and that they didn’t think it odd that a messenger was heading to the tower roof.
One of the knights gave Elle a small nod of acknowledgement as she walked past, and she saluted back. She reached the doorway at the end of the hall and climbed up to the roof of Biff Tower. It was a completely flat black rectangle, emblazoned with a large white B landing pad for flyers. The city of Casino Royal spread out in all directions below, plumes of dust rising here and there from buildings damaged in the fighting.
Elle wasn’t alone on the roof. A woman in a sequined cocktail dress was leaning on the railing, staring out at the Delorean dwagons still flying in the hex to the south. Elle couldn’t see the woman’s face, but sensed some kind of ongoing magic radiating off of her.
The enemy caster was distracted, and leaning above a fifty-eight floor drop to the ground. A force blast to her back in just the right spot might send her toppling over the edge. The enemy ruler would notice when their caster got croaked and send units to investigate, but hopefully Elle would have enough time to cast the spells she needed.
“Hoboken,” shouted Elle as her veil melted away. A shockamancy blast leapt from her palm right at the enemy caster...
“Piazza!” Lorraine spun around and caught the blast in one hand, negating the damage with a protective spell.
Danny entered the cave, the Glover and Tannenball armies following behind him. The place was a labyrinth, a mixture of naturally formed chambers and sculpted rooms branching out in all directions. Delorean’s ruler could be hiding anywhere.
“Sid, have your golem scout ahead,” commanded Danny. “Let’s find their ruler.”
“Awesome, this is gonna be sweet ” said Sid.
Sid Vicious was erratic, but he always obeyed an order to play with his toys. Hunting an enemy ruler in a badass cave, that’s the kind of games he made his monstrous golems for. Best of all, Sid could see through his golems’ eyes, giving him a front row seat to all the action.
His mangled creations scuttled ahead, running into the cave with the clattering of many legs.
Something was bothering Rip about the last mosaic, as if he had rolled one point too low on his spot check and couldn’t quite glimpse something important.
Crow Magnon and his beloved held hands, staring adoringly at each other. Rip looked closer at the artwork and noticed the tile. It was right where their hands joined, colored with both their skin tones. The other tiles were small squares and rectangles, but this one was heart-shaped, and slightly raised. How odd.
There was a metallic clattering from the hallway. The enemy had finally found him. Rip drew his sword and hid behind one of the remaining pillars. Peeking out, he saw a truly horrific golem. An immense baby head, with a single blue eye, ambled through the throne room on metallic spider legs. Two steel claws clicked and clacked in front of it as it searched behind every hiding place. It was coming his way.
Rip picked up a pebble and tossed it to the other side of the room. The spider baby turned towards the sound, and then Rip sprinted towards the mosaic. He pressed the heart-shaped tile and the wall slid open, revealing a hidden passage sloping downward into darkness. Rip stepped inside.
The spider baby swiftly rotated itself and lunged after Rip, leaping forward with its claws. THUNK. The golem’s head was too large to fit in the tunnel. It snipped helplessly at Rip, who was just beyond the monster’s reach.
Rip stared into the baby’s eye. It had a glint of intelligence that no golem has, as if someone was watching him through the doll. A defiant impulse made Rip wave hello to the golem and give it a smile. Then Rip turned around and walked down to discover whatever secret had been hidden in Crow Magnon’s cave all those ages ago.
End of Part 6