Money Makes the World Go Round - Part 14

(Previous Chapter: http://www.erfworld.com/blog/view/51147/money-makes-the-world-go-round-part-13)

 

Stanley wasn’t stupid. Well, he wasn’t as stupid as others thought him as sometimes. Oh, he was lazy when it came to brains, if not body. He would always prefer an hour of training with his old spear, or smashing dummies with the Hammer to doing any reading or studying. Still, he’d earned his place, with his spear and his know how. He’d fought in skirmishes with barely any Leadership, battles that seemed as impossible as the defense of his beloved city, and he’d always come out the other side.

 

Still, he thought in terms of single stacks, of small skirmishes, and great champions. He knew Parson would never give him credit, but he’d survived that fight in the pass to FAQ through his own skills. A battle like that, outnumbered in knights, and with the bats for backup. He knew of few others who could have gotten out of that without croaking, and he’d not only survived, but carried his personal guard through it. That was only possible because, when the fight was that small, he knew exactly where to hit the other guy, to create weak points, and, most importantly, he knew when to fall back.

 

That last was something few leaders understood. Old King Saline knew how to retreat. He knew when battles were unwinnable, and he would let a short term loss happen, so he could get some long term gains out of it. Heck, making Stanley his Heir had cost him a pretty shmucker, and yet, it had paid off in dividends when everything had gone tits up. The side only existed now because Saline had seen fit to making an heir that could continue it, should the worst come to pass.

 

Thinking about the old man, that kindly King, Stanley sighed, a melancholy feeling overtaking him, as he reached for his mug. Sadly, he tilted it back only to find the container empty, but before he could even order another drink, Zhopa swooped in and filled the tankard with some nice hard liquor. Turning to him, Stanley nodded in acknowledgement, the most praise he gave the twoll, before taking a long, hard pull of the drink, downing almost half of it in a single series of gulps.

 

His mood lifted a bit by inebriation, Stanley spun his chair to look out onto the courtyard. Below his office, Hobgobwins trained with their weapons. The Knights in Stanley’s Service, the best ground fighters in the world, at least according to Stanley, were battering at training dummies, smashing heads in, and otherwise tearing the things apart. They were his sort of guys. They didn’t need any grand plan to make things work. They saw an enemy, and they attacked it.

 

Not like everything going on now. Wanda’s little crusade had changed things. It had made him enemies even he knew he couldn’t fight. Heck, Parson’s little idea had him actually attacking enemies on two fronts, something Stanley knew not to do. Yeah, Hamster was the Perfect Warlord. He’d probably turn a two front war into a stunning four way victory or something. Not that he’d let the fat loser know he had that sort of faith in him, but he did. He could turn a losing hand into a winning deal with just an idea.

 

“Lud?” asked Zhopa, and Stanley only just realized he’d been holding the empty cup to his lips for a few minutes. Looking from it, to the twoll, and then back at the courtyard, he scoffed, and threw the cup into the corner.

 

“Comeon, we need to train some more,” he told his lackey, and started towards the stairs in his office. The long, stairs, that made him miss the landing he’d had outside his old office in the original Gobwin Knob. That had let him leap off dramatically, to be caught by one of his dwagons, which rushing past him. That had been a rush, and the perfect way to psych himself up for training. Now it was just a march down several flights of stairs, taking him and Zhopa to the yard.

 

His Knights saluted, doing the finger thing he so loved, and sticking out their tongues. Without their warpaint the picture wasn’t perfect, but it made him smile as he mirrored the gesture, even using the Hammer for a second to create a small lightshow, before he and Zhopa left the training ground there behind, and proceeded to a small shack at the edge of the courtyard. There, he waited, resting on his Hammer as the twoll gathered scrap metal.

 

“Thick as last?” he asked, and Stanley nodded, watching as the twoll got to work. Iron, steel, and a dozen other materials seemed to melt at the touch of the twoll, flowing like water together into thick bricks and shields that he set up, one after the other, against the side of the shack. Testing them, he hefted a medium thick one aloft, and fell into position, bracing his feet on the ground.

 

“Ready, Lud,” he said, and Stanley smirked to himself as he hefted the Hammer, spinning it by the handle in the air, causing a multicolored explosion of lights, before he pointed it towards the twoll. Instantly a bolt of light, shockamancy, shot from the end, slamming hard into the shield, and causing the twoll’s hair to stand all on end. Despite that, he held his ground against the attack, as Stanley adjusted it, applying just enough pressure that Zhopa couldn’t advance, until the effect ran its course.

 

“Hmm, you’ve got a long way to go, Zhopa,” he chided, looking at the small ruts in the ground, some of which smoked a little. That last was something Parson called ‘grounding’, that the shockamancy was going through Zhopa into the Erf itself. Stanley didn’t understand it, but Hamster-for-brains was pretty interested in it. He’d even proposed capturing it in a jar, which was why Stanley was doing this thing. He needed to learn to control the exact flow of the power from his Hammer. According to Parson, if he could do that, he’d be even better in a fight with it.

 

“Bah,” he said at the memory, as Zhopa picked up a slightly less thick shield, this one backed with leather, and then took his position again. Despite his training, the twoll was still level two, and would require a lot of work to go higher. Stanley wished, not for the first time, that he had someone on his side close to his own level thirteen, but then dismissed the thought as he shot out another bolt.

 

This training continued for almost an hour, before something changed. A weird taste on the wind, that got all the Knights to stop training as well, as they looked around, wondering just what it was. The first hint of specifics that anyone got was a blast of shockamancy that fired out of the tower base, carrying with it one of his Knights, who flew through the air before slamming hard into a scaffolding on the side of the courtyard.

 

What came out of the tower next was not an attack, but a declaration of war from Charlescomm. Dressed in her blue garb, holding a smoking finger up with the elbow braced in her other hand, was an archon. Her appearance was one ready for the fight of her life, and all of Stanley’s Knights appeared ready to give it to her, several hefting their weapons high so the sun would glint off wicked blades. The one she’d shot across the courtyard slowly pulled himself out of the wreckage, his missing arm only a minor inconvenience as he ripped one of the logs out of its standing, and held it like a ram upon his back.

 

Stanley himself paused, however. He knew unit to unit fights, and this was that sort of battle, but he also knew how that sort of fight started, and this wasn’t that. If that archon had been wanting to kill his Knight, it would have been dead, but instead it was merely injured. More, she was standing just a bit too straight, a bit too confident. This wasn’t a unit sent to die inflicting fear amongst the enemy. This was a distraction, the feint before the main strike hit.

 

“There’s more in the tower!” he shouted as he realized what it was, and he mentally ordered his Knights to scatter. As if on cue, shots streamed out like rain from the windows of Efdup’s windows. The tower was like a horrible storm, but his warning got his boys to go to ground, diving out of the way of shots. Oddly, they weren’t killing blows, but like what had hit the first of his Knights. Disablers only. That was unusual, and as Stanley leapt upwards, his red catching him easily, he scanned around.

 

“Blow the windows!” he shouted, his command getting some of the dwagons to move. Purples let loose their fury, in focused blasts, and the window collapsed inward. Stanley was rewarded as two of his dwagons leveled up, archons behind their targets croaking, but it was disturbing, as more shots still came out of the holes in the tower, even as his Knights climbed their own mounts.

 

“Gum them up!” he commanded, and several pinks swarmed the tower, blow pops coming out of their mouths, as they latched onto the tower at odd angles, preventing pot shots as they did their work. Shockamancy, for all the force and power it held, was useless against bubbles, the pink things waving around, before they popped, sealing the holes up, and even catching a few archons on them, their prisoner status popping into his head the moment they were stuck.

 

“Form up!” he ordered, stacking with others, and nodding in thanks as one of his Knights brought Zhopa up to him, the twoll leaping onto his mount as he surveyed the battle so far. It was going well. Five caught archons, three croaked by his count. That was an excellent fight, and normally he’d be happy with that, but he wasn’t stupid. This wasn’t over yet. You didn’t send knights into an enemy capital and just waste them. What’s more, he did a few quick observations and knew his own knights were doing way better than they should have been. At least one should be croaked, and yet, none had been even hurt.

 

“Maggie,” he said quietly, focusing inside his brain, trying to get her on the line. He felt odd for a moment, as his mind sort of shifted, and he heard her voice, muffled but there.

 

he thought into the mental link, but before he could do more, bolts came at him, not from the tower, but the wall. These weren’t stunners, either, these were killing blows, and he survived only because one of his purples had cross just behind him at the last moment, the dwagon taking the shots so hard his body literally exploded.

 

“Titans!” he swore, wheeling his mount around, and pointing. A few commands and his knights were in battle, some tossing their weapons, others holding their dwagons hard, and adding their rider bonus so the five archon team was faced with far too great a force. The ones who’d shot at him ran, scattering, but in a way that he knew meant they intended to fight. They even fired shots at his knights, but again, at stun levels. This was getting odd, and he nearly sighed in relief as he felt Maggie connect with him.

 

“About time,” he complained out loud, at least until he felt odd. The weird disconnect of his mind that accompanied thinkagrams was spreading for a moment, like his whole body was being dunked in paralysis gel, and he almost fell off the dwagon. Luckily, Zhopa caught him, as everything began to slow down, and suddenly Stanley wasn’t on the dwagon anymore. Well, not just on his mount anyway. He was also in a very messed up looking plaza, with the Fool, Maggie, and Hamster. The first two appeared linked, while the third was looking around, his eyes almost bulging out of his head at the chaotic melee whirling around his ruler.

 

“Well...crap,” was all he said, and Stanley wished he could brain the fool with his Hammer, as the two floated closer together.

 

(Next Chapter: http://www.erfworld.com/blog/view/54986/money-makes-the-world-go-round-part-15)