Dance Across the Hungry Jungle, Part 24

Part 24: Get a clue

 

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«If you’re quite done croaking each other, I’d like to request a parley!»

 

Zheng’s voice reverberated through the glass window of Beholder Tower, and he also visibly gestured for parley just in case.

 

Marco was shocked, relieved, and incredibly confused to see his perfectly healthy, living brother flying on some kind of giant tamed flying serpent on the other side of the window.

 

A new pair of knights came and restrained Marco and Annie while the court reared in shock. Marco didn’t care, and yelled. «Zheng, you’re alive! But how?»

 

Zheng smiled and raised an eyebrow «It’s good to see you too brother! But what do you...» until he followed Marco’s gaze and found out why he’d been so surprised. His half decayed “severed head” still lay on its ear on the ballroom floor. «What is that?»

 

Their exchange went mostly ignored in the commotion, during which Marco half heard several rapid, rushed conversation around him.

 

«How did he get here without warning!?»

 

«Did he fly over the cloud cover?»

 

«Impossible! The Crows should have spotted them!»

 

«Screen! Screen for the Overlord!»

 

«Without his ring?! You mean to croak him!»

 

«What, no!»

 

«Blast the Tizzy!»

 

«No, we should capture him!»

 

«Wait, lets see what he wants first!»

 

Finally, Boss Hugo composed himself and yelled for order. «Silence! Elvie, get some dolls up here to screen for me, and get the Crows to start scouting the airspace! Selena, man the tower defenses. Guards, secure Voyager and put that scarred freak in the dungeons! And Prezi, deal with that one!»

 

It took a few moments, but the Overlord’s court fell in line, infantry and Warlords forming a front screen between him and the circular window, and courtiers spread huddling a judicious distance behind. To help with the “Parley”, a manservant unlatched and opened the glass pane Zheng had been pounding on before quickly retreating.

 

Chief Warlord Prezi opened the negotiations. «I am Chief Warlord Prezi. Unless you wish to be shot out of the sky, you will land your-- mount-- on the courtyard below and surrender yourself to us!»

 

Zheng nodded cordially, completely unphased at the threat upon his life. «Good morning, Chief Prezi. I am Lieutenant Zheng Voyager, special diplomatic envoy for the Empire of Tar Zhay. And If I were afraid of your air defenses, I would not have announced my presence in your air space.»

 

Wow. Marco was impressed, Zheng’s expression never wavered from mild disinterest. He was going for the full blown Tar-blasé effect.

 

He did however gesture to his “severed head” on the floor and noted drily. «Though it does seem you already know of me.»

 

Marco suddenly had a thought and turned to Elvie. He caught the Dollamancer’s eye and she shrugged resignedly, saying «It was a prop to help you turn, okay? Just a custom Doll head I made after I saw this guy through the Crow.»

 

His brother was not particularly impressed. «The accuracy of your likenesses is truly shocking, Dollamancer.»

 

Marco chuckled. Trust Zheng to find a way to be sarcastic at a time like this.

 

Prezi scoffed. «Your quipping is cute, Lieutenant. You have our attention, for the moment, so you’d best remain interesting or we may decide watching you Fall will be more entertaining than hearing you prattle.»

 

Zheng answered neutrally. «I’ve come to offer you surrender terms.»

 

Gasps, a huzzah, and excited chatter from the courtiers at a real version of General Tso’s earlier feint.

 

The Chief Warlord chuckled. «Well, it took you long enough. We were starting to think your side wasn’t even capable of Diplomacy. Now, first, you must declare an unconditional surrender and order all your remaining commander units to--»

 

«You misunderstand.» Zheng cut Prezi off with a patient tone. «I’m here to offer you a chance to surrender.»

 

The court didn’t know how to take this turn, so Prezi laughed to try and bolster morale. «Oh, that is amusing, coming from a side that’s lost so many of its cities and warlords to us.»

 

The court laughed halfheartedly with Prezi as he asked. «And what, pray tell, are your demands for our surrender?»

 

«Everything you’ve taken from us, starting with him.» Demanded Zheng while pointing at Marco «And every other warlord and city of ours you’ve captured. Along with extensive reparations for the loss of cities and units you’ve caused. Signing a permanent non-aggression treaty. And Boss Hugo’s immediate abdication in place of a trustworthy heir.»

 

The half hearted laughter in the ballroom had escalated with each demand til it became a genuine roaring collective guffaw, up until Zheng reached the last point. Then, you could have heard a pin drop.

 

«That includes you, too.» And here Zheng gestured dismissively at General Tso, who had been “bravely” cowering in a corner for much of the morning once the Dance Fight had broken out.

 

Prezi managed to somehow widen the sneer on his face. «Lieutenant… I’m afraid you’re no longer amusing. You’re in no position to demand an armistice, let alone our surrender, and never under those terms.»

 

Zheng nodded minutely, but didn’t seem surprised. «We thought you’d refuse. Even so, Tar Zhay is still a Royal side, and that requires we at least attempt to offer mercy.»

 

Prezi raised his arm, ready to signal for the Overlord to Order Selena to fire off the tower defenses. «It’s nice to know Royalism has no regard for intelligence when it comes to idiotic acts of Nobility in the face of danger. If you survive your crash landing, you can tell us all about Royal customs in the face of failing at the game of war.»

 

The unreadable expression Zheng had worn up to now gave way to a raised eyebrow. «Chief Prezi, we are Tar Zhay. We have ethics, values; and upholding them doesn’t make us weak or foolish. While it took us a while to figure out your game, we were never playing it. Instead, we’ve been playing ours, under the table, and I’m afraid you’re about to find out how badly you’ve lost it.»

 

With a wink and a silent order to Marco, Zheng kicked the sides of his feathered snake, only for rider and mount to go into a free fall. Prezi lowered his arm and turned to the Overlord, and a huge blast of cyan colored light burst above the tower, only for arcs of blue Shockamancy to lance downward after Zheng.

 

Prezi and his warlady aide rushed up to the window to see if he’d been blasted or had crashed, only for both to jump back as he flew up in a spiral sweep that avoided the blue blasts of Shockamancy lighting all along his flight path.

 

«Is Selena missing him on purpose?! How is he -- » the Chief trailed off as his aide tugged on his sleeve and pointed at the jungle beyond.

 

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Inname Only had a very well manicured flower garden.

 

Any jungle plants growing in the space between the hex boundary and the city’s outer wall were aggressively chopped down. In their place, gardeners tended to and grew the many varieties of blue and yellow flowers they’d often use in decorations and for parades.

 

This had caused them quite a bit of grief with their Elven natural allies the Navatari, who refused to garrison themselves in the city, and only chose to bear the butchery in exchange for steady upkeep.

 

But all the same, Inname Only was completely surrounded by a Cloud Forest subtype of Jungle Hex, not a Rainforest. And on most turns mist would leak across the hex boundary and into the garden.

 

And it was in this mist that shapes began to resolve. Hundreds. The huge and yellow outlines of Guewilla’s in the mist began to materialize and cross into the hex, followed by dozens of Grosscarts, hundreds of stacks of Macheteers, some led by Warlords and ladies.

 

Many had infiltrated through the jungle using Guewilla help to hide in the trees, following the stolen map Ray and Marco sent. But the vast majority had been allowed right up to Inname Only’s doorstep under the full knowledge of Boss Hugo and his warlords. They were the men and women in Tso’s army; and over the march they’d been re-recruited and reeducated by infiltrated Tal Shiar agents, or kept in line with orders from Komissars.

 

And so today, for the first time in the garden’s history, Tar Zhay’s boots and furry paws began treading on the flowers, making them the first casualties of the assault on the city.

 

The defense trumpets blew, guards lowered the main gate, and archers formed up on the outer wall per their standing orders.

 

The pounding of so many feet along the wall caused a deep rumble in the smooth white marble, much like the city’s heartbeat quickening at the coming battle. It wasn’t surprising then that few defenders noticed when another, deeper rumble started to well up out of the ground in the eastern hex, much like the jungle were a Sleeping Lion growling before pouncing.

 

And then the jungle roared.

 

All at once, a geyser of strange grey gas shot up in the eastern hex, and the din of dozens of birds and ferals flying and jumping for their lives followed as a half dozen trees creaked and fell like dominoes.

 

Whatever blue bonnets, buttercups and daffodils had survived being trod upon were soon leapt upon by wet webbed feet as Smackers entered the hex from the new, underground waterway Venice beach had just connected to the surface.

 

The garden was now brimming with teal, cyan, cheese yellow and green, just waiting to charge.

 

DJ Sir Larry walked in with a guitar, part of a stack of knights wielding instruments: guitars, banjo’s, an accordion, drums, even a poor fellow lugging a chelo. They set up rapidly and hummed their instruments to life, waiting to grant a live performance boost for their lead Dance Fighters.

 

Archduchess Sa Shay walked in last, arm in arm with Count Black, temporarily promoted to Chief Warlord. She wore a comfortable teal and cyan gingham dress, and strut in like she would soon own the city of Inname Only.

 

She looked up at the flash of cyan light above the city, and saw the rapidly climbing figure of Zheng Voyager and his Queso Coatl, chased by the tower’s blue blasts of Shockamancy. She smiled in satisfaction as the arcs of lighting consistently failed to strike true, even when his dodging on the Heavy Flyer seemed to falter.

 

And a moment later, when the tickle of a Thinkagram confirmed the Spell had been cast successfully, she breathed in and sang, kicking off the energetic bluegrass.

 

«'Cause I know the Titans have numbered my days
And I'll go along with everything they say
But I'll ride home laughing, look at me now!

The walls of your city, they come crumbling down!»

 

Siege Song started, the battle began.

 

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The Macheteers dance-advanced in, Screening sporadic arrow fire for the Guewilla’s, each of whom carried a Smacker on their back. Once the first wave was halfway to the wall and taking arrow fire, the Guewilla’s leapt, reaching perhaps halfway up the outer walls… and the Smacker’s leapt off of them mid flight and clear onto the ramparts.

 

The plan was for the Smackers to swarm around the wall defenders by the gate, intent on seizing the gate’s sub-area so the Grosscarts and Guewilla’s wouldn’t take arrow hits or have to waste time and take hits destroying it, when something very curious happened.

 

Waterway-delver was one of the Smackers popped since the alliance with Tar Zhay, he’d gotten his name because he was one of the Smackers who’d helped Venice chart / explore / discover the underground waterway route to Inname Only.

 

He blinked more than usual, unused to so much light, but he nonetheless nailed the landing on the tower parapets in a low crouch. He blinked rapidly in anticipation / excitement / nervousness; there were several stabbers and archers here for this smacker to croak.

 

Seven other tribe mates landed next to him and stacked, and the stack began leap-smacking off the dry stone toward the gate to join the main action.

 

Waterway-delver yelled «Geddem!» as he spied the first defenders on their path, but they didn’t draw their weapons, didn’t charge them. They yelled in Language and waved for parley.

 

Waterway-delver was confused, he wasn’t a Chief, and he had no Orders to, or even the ability to properly parley. He decided this was a trick and moved in, Battlespoon at the ready.

 

The Smackers stopped, however, when the Stabbers threw down their weapons and knelt.

 

When words failed, Smackers understood intent, and the intent behind those actions was clear as rainwater. They were asking for mercy / pity / rescue, they wanted to surrender / defect / survive.

 

Waterway-delver blinked slowly to his fellow Smackers with new understanding. These units were like them; popped somewhere they didn’t belong, and they suffered. He gestured, and three Smackers moved quickly, capturing the stack of defenders.

 

The defenders didn’t resist. Because much like with the Plus Models being put on the front lines, all along the Banana Republic the “ugliest” units in city garrisons were put in the positions of most danger: guarding the outer walls. Croaking to siege and opportunistic ferals. And Marco had taken the time to “trade” for many of these units, using Edna and Ibid’s list and his winnings from the rigged wager.

 

Over several sneak rendezvous at the Bates Motel, unable to give them orders, he gave them a simple suggestion that slowly grew, and fully bloomed in the cyan burst of light from the tower; that they could better serve the Banana Republic by living. That until he was properly given command of them and could protect them, they should keep themselves alive and not take unnecessary risks, even surrender, and he’d come free them.

 

So all along the front gate, variations on this same scene played out.

 

As Waterway-delver and his tribe mates went on, he managed to hear and understand the last word of a “thank you” the captured Stabber yelled out.

 

And with that, Waterway-delver was now also “Blinker”, and Blinker and his tribe charged to finish seizing the gate.

 

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Lucy rode anxiously on Ms. Snuffles back, well above the low hanging clouds over Beholder tower. Behind her, Tar Zhay’s terse Thinkamancer Jintao was sitting very still.

 

He was in deep concentration, following the unfolding events as Zheng descended to meet and possibly negotiate with the court of the Banana Republic, giving her time to fret over her part in today’s battle.

 

She looked around, and “saw” the other units flying nearby in the translucent half-colors of an Ally allowed to see through a Veil.

 

They’d snuck in inside a cloud from the eastern mist forest: Cap’n Crunch flew in on his Bullseye Lightning disguised as a roiling cloud. Three whole stacks of mounted Lancers on Red Bullseyes, and twice that many Red Spots, were all collectively hidden as a wooly looking blanket of a cloud.

 

It had cost Jintao most of his daily juice to veil them for the final stretch, and Lucy some to boost the odds of a cloudy day and bless them against their Veils being spotted, but she was surprised how wonderfully her Luckamancy and Jintao’s Foolamancy synergized.

 

In fact, all the casting and journaling had even earned her level 6. The Cap’n, Venice and Zheng had congratulated her and thrown her a modest “party” with the last of the Twister apple mead; but all Jintao had done was Send “Acknowledged” as if it were a change in flight path. Understandably, she still wasn’t sure what to make of him.

 

Think of the Mancer, she suddenly heard Jintao speak inside her mind. «Now.» And felt his hands gently but firmly hold both sides of her head. Lucy felt Jintao’s thumbs on her temples, index fingers on her jaw and the rest on her neck, like he was holding an instrument.

 

Well, time to find out how well Luckamancy and Thinkamancy could synergize.

 

«Undiscovered Country.»

 

Lucy closed her eyes and opened them again, seeing through the clouds and down to the city of Inname Only, and even the nearby hexes with her newly magnified Luckamancy Senses.

 

It was all so crisp! She could feel Jintao’s cool, calculating and curious mind behind her thoughts: smoothing out rainbow paths, mapping out patterns of color change and motion on units and buildings. All the notes she’d been writing along the journey somehow overlayed and enhanced what she saw into the complex relationships she’d been puzzling out, all without dumbing it down or simplifying any of it!

 

She allowed herself to focus on the ambient Luckamancy to see what she had to work with. Given the massed tangle of Luckamancy paths converging on the city and looping within it, she didn’t have to be a Predictamancer to tell a battle was imminent. There was a strong Combat Crimson by the walls and all along the city, and Turnamancy Taupe shining in the top of the tower, but also glimmering by the outskirts of the city. And of course the shimmering of Air Defense Aquamarine from the tower and the flyers around her.

 

But there was something else, something...

 

There was a gentle urging for speed from Jintao, they would need to use their remaining juice very judiciously this turn. So she wasted no more time and began casting her first ever attempt at Master Class Luckamancy: a Battle Tilting Charm.

 

In preparation, Lucy’d crafted a piece of Rhyme-o-Mancy to focus her spell. She’d needed to, because even with Jintao’s Thinkamancy boost and the Rhyme-o-mancy, Master Class Luckamancy was unaccountably risky to try for Adepts.

 

She’d remembered the warnings and horror stories. A botched master class spell could backfire with a terrible curse. And avoiding a botch wasn’t as simple as using a Luckamancy blessing to boost the odds of successfully casting Luckamancy; that was dangerous in a way only Carnymancer’s really understood. She still remembered what happened to her old friend Catch, whose wand exploded into twenty-two pieces after trying it.

 

Putting aside her worries, Lucy breathed in and began reciting.

 

«There once was a beautiful city

Whose people were awful-y pretty

At odd ones they’d sneer

They’d jape and they’d jeer

But today, it’s hip tae be gritty!»

 

And as she rhymed, she started recoloring and marking units, places, actions with her Luckamancy like she always did. Only this time, it was like coloring over a canvass the size of a hex with an enormously long brush with Juice as her paint. And yet it wasn’t the same as normal Luckamancy spells, even with Jintao’s help it all threatened to wash away because something… something was pushing against her Luckamancy. Trying to nudge things back to normal.

 

It was like trying to paint on a… a roiling, sluggish, oily mass of dough that just shrugged off her paint. She wasn’t sure she could paint over it fast enough for the spell to take.

 

The resistance was getting stronger as she rhymed on; like pulling and stretching on a branch. She wasn’t sure whether she should pull til it broke, but then she saw it… or rather, she saw what wasn’t. In the hollow space between Luckamancy paths, in the subtle shifting of colors-- it was a huge, invisible, intangible hand!

 

She put aside the brush and canvas metaphor. Somehow, this hand was what was recoloring the Luckamancy landscape, and she was guiding it!

 

She stretched out her own hand and imagined, with Jintao’s help, that the huge invisible hand was physically hers, that she was helping it repaint the local Luckamancy one finger smudge at a time.

 

The hand moved like a phantom over the city at the speed of thought, she was really painting the town red today!

 

Even so, it still wasn’t fast enough. The verse was half done and she had yet to put a lockdown on the Luck, when an idea came in from Jintao. Hands have five fingers, and then she realized everyone has two hands… and so, stretching out her left hand, she used all of her fingers and both of her hands.

 

She put a green thumb on the garden in the outer hex to help the units coming in from outside. An indigo index finger on the gate to weaken the defender's resolve. A mauve middle finger on the tower to really stick it to them. And a red ring finger to dab extra crits where most needed.

 

And with this new, tactile metaphor, she realized why there was resistance. She wasn’t painting over a canvass, or oily dough, but over slowly flowing wet clay! Every time she used a finger to paint, she pushed the clay and remolded it, creating hollows and reservoirs for Luckamancy to fill, or peaks for it to flow away from.

 

It wasn’t just about force, but finesse. If she used both her hands, all her fingers, every color in concert, in an orchestrated sequence, she could finally paint/sculpt the spell into place!

 

And she finally understood: all that wet invisible clay was Erf, or a shadow of it, and it was all connected! That’s why when she cast a Luckamancy blessing here, or a curse there, the push and pull from her fingers inevitably changed something elsewhere until it all evened out and washed away.

 

She finishing her limerick, spell, and painted sculpture with a dab of pink from the pinky of her invisible hand on the market.

 

And amazingly, the roiling mass actually seemed to take to the changes then. She, no, they’d done it!

 

As the spell resolved, a huge, cyan blue image of a smiling crescent moon appeared over the city. It twirled merrily in place before bursting into a rain of good fortune for Tar Zhay and its Allies, just in time to protect Zheng from the firing tower defenses.

 

Titans, had it all really happened in just scant seconds? It’d felt like a lifetime.

 

She felt Jintao’s hands let go, and in another wonder for that day, the higher resolution and tactility on her Luckamancy didn’t go all the way down. Nor did her new understanding of Luckamancy. Discovering the clay, manipulating the hand, the new mental construct had earned her Master Class!

 

Lucy laughed joyously as she looked around at the repainted city. Even as bursts of blue shockamancy lightning lanced beneath them, she was no longer worried for Zheng. Luck had his back this turn.

 

Their work had an honest, raw and unrefined look. She scrunched her forehead in concentration and beamed the image and her thoughts happily at Jintao. «Don’t you just love the graphic, gritty look we gave the city?»

 

She heard him think-speak back with a single affirmatively-toned, satisfied portmanteau. «Graffiti.»

 

-------------------

 

By the time Edna and the other Plusers had been mobilized to the main gate, the Tizzies’ green Natural Allies looked about to seize the outer gate and open it; it was only a matter of time before their troopers flowed in from the long tunnel and swept the city.

 

Three warlords were marshaling infantry, Models and Knights into a defensive circle to hold the line, but so far only a few hundred had arrived.

 

Edna gripped tighter on her Rose Club, it had been over a hundred turns since she’d swung it in combat; the thought of it was exhilarating, but she also knew what it meant.

 

«You lot, Plus Models!» The implicit order to look at the speaker came from a fussy looking level 1 warlord whose careful hairdo looked a bit frazzled from all the running.

 

«Yes sir?»

 

The warlord ordered them with more force than finesse «Go into the main gate’s tunnel and buy us some time, deal with those Tizzies before they get here!»

 

Edna looked around at the six Plusers with her, they were all the Plus Models left in the capital. «Just us seven?»

 

The warlord fumed at being questioned and obviously unwilling to stack. «Yes! Now go!» The order brooked no argument.

 

L.J. nodded resignedly to Annie, and they trotted through the tunnel gate two by two, only to hear the portcullis close behind them. It wouldn’t last long against the Guewilla’s pounding, but the grates would let the archers get some hits.

 

Annie marched down the tunnel, feeling conflicted. Her Loyalty to her side was real, but in the past turns she’d come to realize her side’s loyalty to her might not be.

 

What had made her realize this was that Marco’s friendship and loyalty to her were genuine. He’d promised to help, and he had. He’d traded to get her and every other Pluser in his clientele, and they’d only been waiting for the formality of his Transitioning. She’d seen hope and happiness come back to her brothers and sisters, even the regular garrison units he’d traded for.

 

On one of his sneak trips to the Bates Motel, where she’d helped host meetings with him and Garrison troops, she’d asked him why he was taking such a risk helping them. Marco’d told them a secret. Part of the reason he wanted to help them was that in Tar Zhay it didn’t matter if you were different. That even infantry were listened to and mattered. He wanted the Banana Republic to be like that too.

 

He’d told Annie and the Plusers that if they were ever on the losing end, if he wasn’t there to protect them, they shouldn’t be afraid of being captured because Tar Zhay would treat them well.

 

And right now, being on a suicide mission with the door behind her locked, she was balancing her trust in Marco against her Loyalty and orders. But something else rose up from the back of her mind. The seven of them were probably the last Plusers there would ever be. That abstract loyalty to her unit type gained shape and weight.

 

After this battle, Erfworld would probably never see another Plus Model again. What kind of Side was she being loyal to, that would happily see her and hers erased from existence?

 

And that’s when it clicked for her. Surrender wasn’t an option. Turning, however...

 

Halfway down the tunnel, Annie got an idea and signaled for her stackies to stop. She turned to her friends and said «Don’t rush and attack, we’re going to “deal with them” here.» and explained.

 

Up ahead, Annie finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and the sudden cries of shouting apes and men confirmed the outer gate had been taken.

 

As the Tizzies came charging, she bellowed, with the tunnel’s acoustics giving her a big boost «Hey! We’re here to “deal with you”! So, let's make a deal!» And surprising the apes rushing in, she lay down her club and signaled for Parley.

 

Truly, giving an Order was an art. The fussy warlord’s order had had simplicity, conviction and finality. But not precision. And with that lovely loophole in mind, Annie smiled as a warlord dressed in an all black uniform cautiously came forward, flanked by Guewillas.

 

----------------------------

 

When a stack of Dance Fighting Plus Models, now in teal and cyan, handily broke down the portcullis and spearheaded a breach in the defensive line to the merry old tune of “We put our hands up like the tunnel can't hold us!”, only to be followed by Guewilla Cheeses, Smackers, and a several contingents of Dance Fighting knights, infantry and macheteers, morale in the Ballroom dropped.

 

When Cap’n Crunch flew down on his Bullseye, leading several stacks of aerial lancers on strafing runs to clear away arrow fire and Crows for the Tar Zhay Forces, morale was incapacitated.

 

When the Painted Horse cavalry came, and the horses impressively refused to engage the Plus Models, veering disastrously into defending lines, morale might as well have taken Fall damage.

 

When Zheng and his Queso Coatl nosedived down from above the cloud cover, reveling in the Shockamancy damage from the tower defenses, and cleared the main way of defenders for a clean run on the palace, morale could only be described as so far beneath the dungeon zone only a team of Dirtamancers would find it.

 

«Impossible, this is impossible!» Prezi’s cries certainly weren’t helping matters.

 

«Get down there and fight them, you idiot!» Boss Hugo’s orders weren’t much better for morale.

 

«Your excellency, no, I-I need to stay; guard the palace until reinforcements can be ordered in from neighboring cities!»

 

«We may not even last that long.» Faustina wasn’t smiling any more. «Father we need to consider--»

 

«No! Ugliness will never triumph over beauty, we will not negotiate!»

 

Adjutant general Tray spoke up «Your excellency, we don’t have to negotiate a surrender. We have units they want, we could threaten to croak them to buy time.»

 

She gestured at Ray and Marco, and he suddenly felt very exposed. They were both jerked to their feet and handled roughly by the knights. He resisted, but was finding out the Star Sapphire Scream Ring only helped repel active attacks on his person.

 

Tray went on, smirking «And when they halt their advance, we can regroup and strike!»

 

The ghost of a smile formed on Boss Hugo’s face «Good thinking, Chief Warlady Tray.»

 

Prezi gasped and Bea beamed, reveling at the sudden change of fortunes.

 

Elvie turned from ordering her dolls into a defensive perimeter around Hugo. «We’re not really going to croak them, are we Boss?» Her question surprised Marco, he hadn’t pegged her as the sensitive type.

 

Boss Hugo did his best to meet her gaze from his prone position, still being held protectively by Faustina. «I have grown rather disappointed with my prize, and I have no love for that disgusting Findamancer traitor. Chief Warlady Tray, you may croak one or both, and as many of the others as you see fit to make your point.»

 

Feeling their lives were on the line, but more importantly, acting on Zheng’s silent (and remarkably robust) orders, Marco called out casually. «Or you could all surrender, or turn. Tar Zhay is merciful. We’d take you in, or trade you away to a side of your choosing. I mean, we suffered that traitor to live and didn’t disband him. Ever wondered about that?»

 

Of everyone present General Tso was most keenly aware that his position was rapidly becoming far, far worse. So he blustered up as much defensive indignation as he could. «That’s because the Komissars poisoned and incapacitated the Emperor! Not out of any kind of mercy!»

 

Marco rolled his eyes. «Oh give that lie a rest, will you? And anyway, does it matter? We don’t disband units. Period. Whereas here, ironically, incapacitation is the only thing keeping your overlord from disbanding you all for knowing about his ring.»

 

«Silence the prisoner!» At Chief Tray’s order, one of the knights guarding him grabbed and pressed down painfully on Marco’s jaw to muzzle him.

 

The court mumbled uncomfortably, and the warlords present exchanged glances, eyeing each other.

 

«He’s telling the truth!» It was Ray who broke the murmuring. Even half blind, he managed to look commandingly at the courtiers and commanders. «When I negotiated my defection, their terms were fair and generous! They were even willing to let me go as a free caster in the Magic Kingdom!»

 

He spoke with conviction and ferocity, daring anyone to disagree. «If you do not surrender, or turn, your lives will be forfeit, Boss Hugo will see your loyalty as compromised and your knowledge of his special magical defense a risk--»

 

«Silence!» Boss Hugo’s order was impressively loud given his condition, and muted Ray mid-sentence.

 

«Speak.» And Elvie’s glare to her ruler was impressively resolute. «For the good of the side, we need to hear this.»

 

Ray looked unsurely from one to the other, but finished. «...a risk for which he will disband you all.»

 

«We should negotiate, and in good faith.» Lady Bobbie window spoke from out of the gallery, gone was the tittering Lady in Waiting, she had drawn herself up and spoke with a stateswoman’s composure. «Our Duty and Loyalty must be to preserve the Side, uphold the articles of Four Season Coloring and the Principles of Freshness. And the freshest thing to do right now is make sure we live to have Makeovers another day.»

 

Colonel Dijon took Lady Bobbie’s arm, trying to match her composure and wiggling the ends of his mustache as he spoke up. «The truest form of ugliness is not surrender, but utter defeat, and we can only survive this sneak attack if we negotiate.»

 

«So it’s treason, then?» Boss Hugo could have croaked them all with the hate in his voice. «First the fat traitor Tso, then my prize, and now even my court and warlords. All of you- you are disloyal! You’re right, I will disband you all, and I can do it right now, starting with you beardos!»

 

The courtiers looked around, perhaps a fourth of the men had some type of facial hair. The Warlords exchanged glances, fully a third of them did. It was clear the overlord was about to play a deadly game of “guess who has facial hair.“

 

«Faustina, handle my arms, we’re going to disband these wretches on at a time, now--»

 

«Father, no.» Faustina’s smile was turned upside down, and that single arch said more than a storm hex of tears ever could. «We made a deal after I popped, so we could always trust each other. Do you remember it, father? I Pinky Promised to serve you faithfully, and never make a move on the Overlordship… as long as you upheld the principles of the side. And you Pinky Promised back you’d promote me to heir and abdicate if you ever failed in your promise.»

 

Faustina looked at the frightened, hungry faces of everyone around. «And what you’ve created, what you’re about to do… it isn’t beautiful. It’s ugly, hateful, irrational. Father, by the Pinky Promise we made, I call on you to name me heir.»

 

Hugo grit his mouth shut, his eyes bugged out. Faustina moved to kneel in front of him, holding onto his shoulder so he wouldn’t fall, only to place his right arm on her shoulder. Hugo’s face grew redder and redder as he resisted the Natural Thinkamancy of the Pinky Promise, only to finally growl out «I hereby name you heir!»

 

And no sooner did he finish, than the Dolls guarding Hugo all converged and started attacking Faustina.

 

«No! Stop!» Elvie was trying to counter order the ones engaging her and Faustina away, only for Hugo, or possibly Tray, to override her. Then the warlords in attendance, and the knights guarding Marco and Ray, all started either moving to attack Faustina or to try and defend their new heir as conflicting orders and motivations hit them like untrained arrow fire.

 

With his guards moving to attack a nearby warlord, Marco focused on a flash of teal and used the commotion to move through the crowd. He ducked, weaved, tumbled, pushed, and in a few seconds he’d stacked with General Tso. And with that, Marco’s long captivity ended.

 

His gifted raiment changed color to Tar Zhay’s teal and cyan, his manacles vanished, and a perfect replica of Polo appeared in his grip. The duplicate Polo (Du-Polo-quette?) felt almost foreign after the dozens of turns of unarmed fighting.

 

Feeling his Stack Bonus go up, the General turned to look at Marco shocked and frightened, he was unarmed and clearly expecting to be attacked. Marco wanted to croak him on principle, but he had people to save and orders to follow. He unstacked and started fighting his way through the crowd.

 

He ran, pivoted, and struck out with his Quasi-Polo to move people out of the way until he found Ray. He smacked away the courtier kicking Ray with a well placed swing to the legs, and cut through his bonds with another.

 

Marco leaned down to lift Ray by the elbow, but a warlady picked that exact moment to engage. Unable to block or dodge, she held a beam weapon point blank to Marco’s head. There was no way to dodge. She smiled viciously and pulled the trigger, only to release a gust of hot, dry wind in Marco’s face.

 

The warlady pulled the trigger again in confusion, only for a tuba to fall on her head and incapacitate her with a sad, warbling cry of “wah-wah-waaawawawAaaah!”

 

Marco could only think “Ok, this is officially too weird and lucky. Lucy is definitely in the hex and casting.”

 

He followed the Tuba’s trajectory and looked up at the balcony where the band had been. He saw May Day, sticking her tongue out in concentration while throwing a cymbal like a discus; it hit with the accuracy of a level 10 archer as it smacked another approaching warlord in the head. She grinned and yelled down to them «Keep moving! Don’t look back!»

 

He grinned ear to ear up at her, May had saved his Day. Marco gained some space with a one handed twirl of his replacement Polo as he stacked with Ray and screened «Come on, we’ve got to save Faustina.»

 

Ray stuck close to his back, and growled out «What?!»

 

«If we want to break through the overlord’s screen and croak him, she’s our best bet at counter-ordering them away.»

 

Ray grumbled but nodded, «Fine, lead on, but screen me.» Marco lead, with Ray following close with a hand grabbing the edge of Marco’s shirt.

 

The coup was only getting worse, at some point some warlord’ had the bright of idea of using courtiers as living shields, turning it into a horrific massacre. Moving as best they could through the crowd, they soon found their path blocked by Prezi and Tray, both locked in a bitter fight.

 

Tray blasted haphazardly at Prezi «You were the worst warlord we ever had, Prezi! You’ll be sorry for underestimating me all those turns!»

 

Prezi ducked under her blasts and grabbed at her arm, starting a grapple and shouting back «And you’ll be the shortest lived Chief Warlady to ever be, Tray!»

 

Marco looked down to Ray, saw a small nod, and both acted at once. Marco swung Mark-Two-Polo in a clean strike, decapitating Prezi, and despite being half blind Ray’s Hoboken instantly crit and dusted Tray.

 

Ray muttered as they ran past, scooping up Tray’s Dollamancy accessory from her dust pile and equipping it. «Ugh, thanks for covering this in ash, Tray.»

 

The Ring and whatever Luckamancy blessing Lucy had cast let them weave and duck through various engagements unharmed, and his screening for Ray might as well have made him a steel golem. In scant seconds they finally managed to stack with Faustina and Elvie.

 

Marco stabbed and lift-tossed away the Doll flanking Faustina, while Ray blasted another in the chest. «Hey Faustina? Next time you make a deal to join the heir club, maybe add the word “promptly” after “abdicate”?»

 

Faustina used a Bananarang as an improvised knife to lop another doll’s head off. «Stop cracking jokes and sing! We need a Dance Fighting bonus!»

 

Marco was cueing up a nice defense dance beat, when the fighting ended as abruptly as it began with the sound of a single shot being fired.

 

It hadn’t been particularly loud, but Boss Hugo no longer giving out Orders made it seem that way.

 

Everyone turned to look towards where the shot had come from. The Warlord responsible was standing a few steps above and to the left of the Overlord’s body, almost in shock. Like he didn’t believe he’d pulled the trigger even as the Bracer Blaster on his arm still hummed with the spent Shockamancy.

 

He swallowed, then looked up at what was left of the Banana Republic’s court. «I had to do it. I had to! He was going to disband everyone with a beard!»

 

And so it was that the war between the Banana Republic and Tar Zhay was finished.

 

In the end, the warlord responsible was Colonel Dijon Mustard, in the Ballroom, with the Bracer Blaster.

 

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Part 23: A Nice Ring To It

Comments thread

Part 25: Captain's Epilogue

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Cover image by abstractangel77 for flickr.com, cropped, some rights reserved.

Comments

  • Bandaid (Tipped by 1 person!)

    I hereby formally propose that Rob creates an extended canon version of Erfworld for fancreations and CANONIZES THIS!!!
    Please.

  • Free Radical

    "In the end, the warlord responsible was Colonel Dijon Mustard, in the Ballroom, with the Bracer Blaster."

    How did I not see that coming? Excellent end to the battle!

  • etherkye

    Today has been a shit and depressive day.

     

    And yet the last line of your story has quite literally had me in tears of laughter!

     

    That was just pure brilliance.

  • cu

    Do the clue, do!

  • WurmD

    HAhahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahha XDD!!!!

  • Spicymancer

    @Bandaid: Thank you for that! I'll keep my fingers crossed, but probably messed up canon somewhere in there. Regardless, it really means a lot, and I appreciate it.

     

    @Free Radical: I was just dreading someone would make the connection early and post it in the comment section, like with Zheng's head, but miraculously that went by under the radar for a good while, considering Colonel Dijon's been on-page for a month now, I think? 

     

    @etherkye: Glad you got a good laugh out of it, it's all about healing the world, one pun at a time! 

     

    @cu: Only if it's the movie with Tim Curry. laughing

  • despree

    @Spicymancer, Re: Zhang's Head: Opps...sorry 'bout that! sealed

    re: Part 24:

    So I got to the part with the graffiti, and thought "man, awesome pun!"

    Then I got to dup-polo-quette, and thought (tearing up a little, I'll be honest) "Wow, can't top that one!"

    Then I got to "covered in ash, Tray." and thought "oh, COME ON!! Really???? That has to be it!"

    Then "...was Colonel Dijon Mustard, in the Ballroom..." and it seemed words had failed me. 

    MAN!  You loaded it up with this one.  That was AWESOME!  Given the structure you've set forth (especially the perspective of luckamancy; makes total sense and is so well thought out and explained!), it'd be awesome for Rob to recognize this as more than fanfic!

    You've made many a day better with these writings, Spicymancer; thanks taking the time to do them!!!!

  • falcore51

    Omg I love this so much,  the puns omg all the puns.  

  • HighJumper

    Honestly, you have too much awesome foreshadowing for even the continual commenters to predict everything. You set up the Signs so perfectly that I knew Faustina's tricky deals didn't extend to only her enemies, as well as the apparently uncommented idea that Colonel Mustard would be involved in a high profile croaking with a specific weapon in a room, but they fit so perfectly that it'd be a crude brushstroke on your masterpiece to point them out. What we don't get the first time, we can find while rereading, and enjoy it every time. 

    And your wordplay is legendary. I can't even think of a pun awesome enough to pay homage to this incredible feast.

  • Spicymancer

    @Despree: Don't worry about it, I was just really impressed. wink

     

    @HighJumper: Thank you for that, it's been a challenge and a pleasure to entertain y'all. And if there's one piece of advice I can give other writers out there: advance plotting! Lay out the groundwork for plot and puns in advance! It's almost like watching grape juice turn to wine.

  • BOOR

    I'm missing out on the puns. Could someone explain the Colonel one? And maybe the others save the Tray?

    Great story!

  • Spicymancer

    @Boor: Sure. In addition to the ones mentioned above:

     

    Guewilla's coming out of the mist - Gorilla's in the Mist, the famous movie. Lucy has a bunch when casting. Culminating in using her middle finger (for flipping off people) on the Tower, and using the power of her "Invisible hand" on the market, aka the economic theory of how supply and demand worked. Boss Hugo quotes Palpatine in person III of Star Wars "So it's treason then." When the narration says "a deadly game of 'guess who', it's a reference to the board game "Guess Who", where one of the easy strategies is to ask "do they have a mustache?" To knock out a huge chunk of people.

     

    And finally, the last line is a reference to the board game Clue, or as it's known in Europe, Cluedo. Colonel Mustard is one of the players and suspects, and the final line is a slight variation on how you declare you've solved the mystery. "Mr. Green, in the Study, with the Revolver."