The Last Turn - Part 2
“It started with Third and Second Army two turns ago.” Gout pointed to the map and tapped a set of hexes on the plains. “Lost contact with ‘em and every single warlord. Wiped out in a single turn – not even a message of what was hittin’ them. Same turn, we lost two cities.”
Turing stood in the vast war room of Brashball and stared down at the map of the surrounding hexes. He tried to focus on his Ruler’s words but his mind was spinning.
He was alone with King Gout in the war room, a giant circular room at the top of one tower that was devoted solely to the single round table and large map placed on it. It was here that Osnap’s strategy was planned, usually by at least six Warlords and Gout himself.
Right now the room only held two units, and even if one of them was Gout, it was cripplingly empty.
That was half of why Turing was so rattled. The other half came from the giant Chief Warlord bonus hanging in his mind. He couldn’t ignore it. It hung over him and even the city, a glaring reminder that he was the Chief Warlord now.
And he was completely unprepared for the job. If it weren’t for the scraps of his pride, Turing would have screamed or run around screaming incoherently. If he were in private he might have. He couldn’t command. He’d only led a stack of units once, and that had been hundreds of turns ago.
He’d never been in the war room. Ever. Gout had never summoned him as part of any strategic discussions of the side, and the only maps he was used to looking at were the ones Curbstomp drew in stone.
Lord Turing’s panicked thoughts ground to a halt. He jerked his head up and saw his ruler staring at him.
“Over here.” Gout pointed to a hex on the map. Turing willed his feet to walk over.
“My apologies, Lord. What was it you were saying?”
Gout glanced over at Turing. His rubbery cheeks wobbled as he eyed Turing beneath his layered brows.
“Don’t matter,” he grunted. “We’ve got time. Ain’t like our Turn will end if we take too long. Look here.”
He stabbed his finger down at a hex. Turing looked. It was between two of Osnap’s cities. Well, former cities. The two little cites on the map had been knocked over to indicate they’d been razed and they were different colors now. Turing knew the colors of the other sides around Osnap. This was a completely different side’s color.
“Right here is where we thought the other army was hidin’,” Gout said. “Forces probly split up and hit Unprep and Offgrd before regrouping, see? So I sent a message by Thinkagram. Hadda pay a lot of Schmuckers to do it, but got in touch with both the First and Second Army and let them know ‘bout the enemy army.”
Turing nodded. It was a good decision. The Third and Fourth Armies weren’t nearly as strong as the First and Second. Even if they were superior, at least some survivors should have been able to retreat.
“Curbstomp got my message and went out to investigate,” Gout continued. “He was wary. First Army was twice as big and twice as leveled as both Second and Third army combined, but he was ready to fall back to the capital if the enemy looked too dangerous. He began marchin’ towards the site of the battle two turns ago. This turn he and the entire army croaked.”
Silence fell over the room. Turing felt his stomach twist itself another knot.
“Are there any survivors?”
“None,” Gout said flatly.
Turing studied the map. He couldn’t think of anything else to ask.
“Any—any intel on what the enemy is?”
“Last message I got was from our warlord in Holdout. Thinkagram. He told me the enemy’s got a lotta units. Not too clear on the details but they’re mostly low level, which ain’t bad. No heavies or siege to slow them down so they move fast, but that’s about it. Normally we’d crush them in an instant but—”
Gout fell silent.
“But?” Turing asked when the silence grew too painful.
“The real threat’s their main stack. They got their Chief Warlord leadin’ them, and a Caster too. She’s a
Turnamancer. Probly Master-class. And the warlord, well, the warlord’s worse.”
Turing knew he shouldn’t ask. But Duty compelled him, even if he thought he was running out his Luckamancy by saying it.
“How much worse, Lord?”
Gout looked up at Lord Turing. His sunken eyes held not a glimmer of hope in their green depths.
“The warlord’s Level 13.”
The ground lurched around Turing as if he’d been hit by a Dirtamancy trap. He found he was sitting and couldn’t remember doing so.
“’S what I thought too.” Gout turned back to the map. “No wonder Curbstomp lost. ‘S probably their Chief Warlord too, so the leadership bonus’d win half the battle by itself.”
Turing looked at the map of the surrounding hexes blankly for a moment. Four cities. Unknown number of turns before an overwhelming attack. Level 13 warlord. Turnamancer.
It was a hopeless battle. A classic, hopeless battle. Right out of the books he loved to read so much. And now that he was faced with one, he hated it.
It wasn’t fair. Turing was no battle-seasoned warlord who could take command of the side in a situation like this. He was a Warlord who spent most of his time in the library, for Titan’s sake! All he did was read strategy books and dream of one day leading a stack of his own.
He cleared his throat nervously.
“What—what is it you wish me to do, Lord?”
Gout looked at Turing and shrugged his massive shoulders.
“Yer the Chief Warlord now. Lead our stacks. What’s left of them, anyways. Only got a few stacks of pikers and stabbers in each city and a couple a’ Gwulls.”
“But Lord,” Turing pleaded. “I’ve never commanded more than a single stack since I was popped! I can’t lead a side just like that!”
Again, Gout shrugged. He avoided looking at Turing. “Your Duty calls. Ain’t like you’re my first choice other, to be honest. But yer my last warlord.”
“I’m a Patrollord!” Turing shouted at Gout. Then he slapped a hand over his mouth. But the words were spoken and there was no disengaging now. He tried to speak more calmly, but his voice still shook. “I’m only good for reducing the upkeep of the city. I’m no great warlord. You’d be better off promoting a field unit instead. They have some field experience, at least.”
Gout nodded heavily. He eyed Turing silently, and chewed at his lip in thought. Then he spoke.
“I know. I know you ain’t seen real battle before. But yer better than a field unit made warlord. Before he left, Curbstomp was askin’ me about makin’ you a proper warlord with a field command again.”
Turing looked up in surprise. Gout nodded.
“He says all them books you like reading every turn makes you a better warlord than he is. My other warlords said you weren’t worth the upkeep I pay, but aside from the one time you ain’t been a bad unit. You’ve saved the side thousands of Schmuckers and done your Duty. ‘Swhy I’m gonna take a chance on you. I think you got something in that head a yours. Curbstomp thought you had somethin’ worth listenin’ too as well. He always asked you to help with the strategy behind my back.”
Turing nodded reluctantly. Curbstomp had come to him for advice many times in the past. Back when he’d first popped he’d made a point of seeking Turing out, and then as the Chief Warlord had risen in level the two had spent more time talking about strategies Turing had thought up or read about in books, implementing them, discussing their results.
Half the time Turing’s plans failed and Curbstomp had to fall back on the good old fashioned poke-and-croak strategy he was so good at. But he’d always come to Turing for advice. Always. It had made Turing’s confinement in the city much more livable. But Curbstomp was croaked, and all his experience went him. Titans, why was he alive and Curbstomp croaked? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? What could he do that Curbstomp couldn’t—
Something tickled the back of Turing’s mind. A plan. It was hazy, idiotic, but it called to him. He was no warlord. He had no idea how to win a real battle. If the Titans wanted him to fight like a warlord, they’d be sorely disappointed. But what if the Titans didn’t want a warlord for Osnap right now? What if they wanted a useless warlord who read books? What could he, Turing do for his side that a real warlord would never think of?
“I ain’t expectin’ you to win this,” Gout said. “’Swhat happens to all sides in the end. Not like the Signamancy wasn’t here anyways.” He gestured to his own corpulent form. “A side that doesn’t expand much is gonna fall sooner or later. All you need to do is do some hurtin’ on the enemy. Take out some units, maybe even croak a warlord or two before we fall. All I’m askin’. We lose either way, but we take some of them out with us.”
“It might not need to come to that,” Turing said slowly. An idea was forming in his mind, a crazy one. “There could be a way out of this situation.”
Gout looked at Turing in surprise. “You gotta plan? All of them books of yours tell you how to get every unit to crit? ‘Cause that’s what it’d take.”
Turing shook his head. “We don’t need to take them head on. No one could win an engagement like this – you’d have to be the greatest warlord ever to do it. But there’s winning, and then there’s surviving.”
For the first time this turn Gout’s eyes focused on Turing with actual interest.
“’Splain that to me, Turing.”
Turing cleared his throat. He felt terribly nervous. This wasn’t like talking over another one of his ideas with Curbstomp. Here he was talking with his Ruler about the fate of his side. But Duty compelled him to speak.
“I read a book by a king called Banhammer. He founded a hidden side that existed for over two thousand turns before it fell.”
Gout looked impressed. “That’s a long time.”
“It is,” Turing nodded in agreement. “But what’s even more impressive is that his side barely had any units. They had only a few stacks of units and handful of warlords, and they managed to go hundreds of turns without ever fighting a battle within a hundred hexes of their city.”
Goat gaped at Turing. His fat mouth exposed gaping red gums, and unchewed food. Turing looked down at the battle map in self-defense.
“That ain’t possible. No way. Any side’d take their city in a heartbeat.”
“You’d think so. But from what I can gather between Banhammer’s long arguments of philosophy, his side was isolated in a hard-to-find hex, and protected by a Master-class Foolamancer and Predictamancer. They’d hide the cities whenever an enemy unit came near while their warlady fought as a mercenary and earned upkeep for the side.”
Gout stared at Turing. Then he leaned back in his chair. Turing heard the wood splinter and break, but his ruler ignored the sounds.
“We ain’t got a Foolamancer or a Predictamancer. But I get what yer sayin’. You want us to find another city and hide the side there?”
Turing nodded. His heart was beating out of his chest with anxiety.
Gout chewed over the thought, puffing out his cheeks and staring up at the ceiling. Finally he looked down and shook his head.
“I don’t like it. ‘S dishonorable. I’d rather fight and croak as many of the enemy rather than hide.”
Turing’s heart sank. But his lips moved before his brain could formulate a response.
“You may not like it, but Duty compels me to pursue this option.”
Turing was surprised by the words that came out of his mouth. “It may not be honorable, but the side can survive if we find a hidden capital site within a few hexes. It might take a thousand turns, but we could rebuild and pop enough units to retake our cities in time if we conceal ourselves well enough.”
He clamped his mouth shut. Where had that come from? Well, obviously his Duty. But he wasn’t sure that he liked that he’d said it anymore than his ruler. He eyed Gout apprehensively as his giant king’s face frowned.
“Hrr. So. That’s what my Chief Warlord’s tellin’ me to do, is it?”
Turing nodded. Gout sighed and shifted in his seat. Again the wood shrieked.
Lord Turing sat and waited for his ruler’s response. Gout sighed, rested his fat head on his fat hand, and closed his eyes. Eventually he opened his eyes and stared long and hard at Turing. He didn’t looked happy.
“Fine. I’m givin’ you permission to go ahead with yer plan. Go ahead and tell me what you need.”
For a moment Turing was lost for words. He stared at his ruler in amazement. His plan had been accepted. He was walking on a cloud hex.
Just as quickly he crashed back down to earth. Suddenly the audacity of his plan landed on Turing’s shoulders, and he felt the real weight of his duties as Chief Warlord hit him. But this was his Duty, and his only chance. He took a deep breath.
“For the first step we’re going to have to pop as many units as possible,” Turing explained. “From every city we’ve got until they fall. We’ll rally them all here, but we need to pop as fast as possible. And they need to all be the same type.”
“We’ve got the Shmuckers,” Gout said. “What kinda units do you want?”
Turing took a deep breath. His side’s future lay on the choices he was about to make. With such a small army at his disposal, the next few turn’s popped units would surely decide whether they survived or all croaked.
“Pop me Gwulls,” he said. “Make them all Gwulls.”
The Last Turn will update (at least) once a week if all goes well. I also write a bi-weekly fantasy web serial. If you liked this story, check out my web serial, The Wandering Inn!