The Risk of 1984 - Part One
Brash popped into existence with an Order. Feet he didn't know he had stepped across the hex boundary in front of them, and his hands twitched his spear up into charging position.
No enemies got his point, though. The battle took place far off to his right, along the line of stabbers that clumped in threes. In three rounds, before Brash could hope to get there, the three enemy pikers were pierced through. A wounded unit remained behind in vigil over her stackmate who had fallen in the second round to a lucky crit by the remaining enemy, but the hex was clear, and the First Order continued to push them on. Brash shouldered arms and stamped across the desolate desert hex.
Marching left time for thought. As the wind whipped his suspenders against his flannel shirt and grit crunched under his steel-toed boots, Brash realized he was breathing, his muscles flexing in a jerky but purposeful rhythm as legs bent and extended, propelling him forward to the battle and glory of far away hexes. To either side and a little behind him, his two stackmates mirrored his stutter step, grey kepis emblazoned with the maple leafs and bars shading their eyes from the fierce sun. They were soldiers of the Confederacy of South and North, and no mere elements would hinder their unending war against Eurofrica.
The far hex boundary approached on the south, a vivid line of green jungle between sparkling seas to east and west. Brash couldn't see any enemies standing in wait, but he was eager for combat. Almost leading his stack, despite their equal standing and complete lack of Leadership, Brash boldly followed his First Order by marching with his stackies into the dense shadows under the rainforest canopy, never noticing that the other stacks were pausing to deal with the shifting sands following them.
When they finally made it to another hex boundary, Brash stopped short, wishing his Duty would let him cross and throw himself into the foaming surf. He gasped for breath, wishing he could breathe in the salty breeze ruffling the waves on the other side. A simple smell, not trying to suffocate like the stuffy loam he'd trudged through, to choke like the vines he'd had to hack out of their path, or to entice like the flowers that were surrounded by croaked insects. He didn't feel particularly confident in what direction was up, after all that stumbling in the dark, but whatever boundary this was, he was greatful for the light that streamed into the noisy jungle.
Turning back to his Duty, Brash saw that only one of his stackies had made it out of the jungle with him. Not surprising, as he'd felt his stack bonus drop during that last mad scramble for the light, and nothing else came out either. If the thorns that had shredded his own grey uniform hadn't stolen enough hits or the ferals that had stalked their stack with gleaming eyes and catchy jingle growls hadn't jumped out of the foliage to finish him, there was still the lurking enemy. The Congo drums still beat the Eurofrican anthem every few minutes, despite their exhausting hunt.
Brash drew a deep breath, exchanging critical stares with his stackmate. She was in slightly better shape, but she'd left half of her hair behind at some point, and the remainder was a nest of snags. Half a turn together across two hexes was a whole lifetime of experiences, and they'd saved each other any number of times in the hungry jungle, but they'd been so focused they hadn't even exchanged names. They needed to regroup, and now they knew what was coming they could do a bit of preparation for their second foray. He opened his mouth and the words tumbled out faster than he'd thought he could ever speak.
"My name's Brash Jerkin, you probably have the same last name 'cause we're stackies, but since we haven't talked yet I thought I should be a bit formal and thank you for saving my life from the Flame Pops and the Snowsand and especially the Charlesy Cheese Rats, Titans those rodents were of unusual size, and the -"
"My name is Rose," she said slowly, helping him sit down before she removed her hand from his mouth. "And let's not attract any of them over here, shall we?" She was twitching herself as she sat next to him, both facing the jungle, but that seemed to signify understanding of his panic more than hysteria of her own. "Now, let's focus on something else for a bit. Those suspenders aren't helping you any, so let me see if I can fix them while you cut my hair."
Brash looked down at his slashed suspenders, mostly to keep his mouth from opening again. Short shouted warnings weren't much preparation for real talking, apparently. But, he reflected as he shrugged off the torn pieces of cloth and handed them over, maybe they didn't need more than that. Rose had picked up on his idea instinctively, maybe from his body language, just like they'd had to rely on in the jungle.
Silently, he stood and moved behind Rose, shifting his grip on his spear so he held it only near the blade. Both units kept glancing at the jungle edge in case their compatriot or anything else emerged, but they had a few moments of peace. Her quiet stitching and tying repaired the cloth in her lap as stands of red hair cascaded down around her from Brash's careful slices. Holding his spear with only one hand left the wider butt end to swing freely, and he had no stylist special, but by the time Rose had finished patching his suspenders, he'd gotten her hair cut down to a relatively untangleable inch or two. He just hoped she didn't ask which length he was trying for.
Slipping the patched grey cloth back over his shoulders and clipping them onto his grey trousers, Brash looked unappetizingly at the jungle while Rose tousled her cropped hair to dislodge any cut pieces. He didn't know why they'd been ordered into three unit stacks initially, or why their strategy hadn't changed with the terrain, but questions weren't for Stabber folk. Theirs was but to poke or croak. They waded back in.
When some other stack finally caught the sneaky enemy a short while later and the hex was no longer contested, the First Order's pull at least gave them a direction to work toward. The jungle still being the maze it was, and with his increasing injuries from what appeared to be an anti-jungle-capable special hidden in his stats, Rose took the initiative and pointed out the hex boundary would be easier to navigate. They worked their way back along their trail, which naturally surprised the creatures following them.
By the time Rose had supported his hobbling along the sea edge, and mostly carried him along the boundary with a mountain hex to the south, Brash didn't think there could possibly be any more ferals in the jungle hex. Every single one seemed to have thrown themselves at him, even while they traveled the borders. Level two was a nice consolation prize, though; it almost made up for the jittery terror inspired by having only one hit left as they stumbled onto the blessedly bare hills of the next hex.
Brash missed most of the discussion among their units there as he shook on the ground, but the now level three Rose stopped long enough to explain before following the main force across the hex. Unsurprisingly they were late to the party and the hex was already cleared. Rose still had two hits, so Brash was the worst off and would stay behind to heal and then guard the hills against against the inevitable assault in a turn or two. He couldn't really respond; a saber toothed Tony had gotten his tongue, and he didn't have much body left to use gestures either. Brash just hoped she knew how much he appreciated her help as he watched her proudly march away, shorn hair, cuts and all. He hoped Rose Jerkin would survive, though he knew the war with Eurofrica had always been and always would be.
Spicymancer, you've got three out of four right, which is good for my having revealed only two. ;) Warlords and hexes are weird because I'm trying to bend Erfworld rules to match Risk gameplay, maybe even successfully. We'll see.
Sorry, falcore 51. I'll try simplifying when I've got it all down. For now I'm trying gradual reveals of a lot of concepts, so hopefully the new chapter will clear up at least the part in the desert hex.