Between the Puppetmasters
Most casters don't usually walk past the Dollhouses in the Spookism sector of the Magic Kingdom. Most don't have a reason to. The Turnamancers had long since manipulated their way into sole use of the prime real estate closest to Portal Park, but the Raiment District nestled close behind them, where the lucrative transactions of Dollamancy could be most convenient to visitors with enough Rands.
Today, however, a caster came strolling past the rainbow of identical porches and continued into the trees. The step of a boot alternated with the double clack of a peg leg and a cane on the cobblestones. The sounds became increasingly muffled as the path faded into overgrown grass. Similar Signs of decay abounded, for only dabblers in mechanical Turnamancy or Dollamantic golems came this way, to use the spaciousness of the grey forest for larger personal projects. Like the Naughtymancers, having the extra space designed for a rare or possibly nonexistent discipline was only useful if you could spare time from more useful pursuits. Golem production, both mechanical and cloth, was typically reserved for paying Sides, so the outer rim of the Spooks’ territory felt rather spooky.
Domino Nick had a bone to pick, though. The few that had tried to plumb the depths of the Weirdomancy neighborhood, and the fewer that survived, had given him enough information to go on, and he’d prepared for turns back in his home Side. Increasingly large and fearsome constructs designed to look like ferals lunged out at him, occasionally spouting fire or some such nonsense. Domino merely deepened his scowl, sidestepping and deflecting every attempt to harm him with barely a glance. His perfect timing let his leisurely pacing continue unadjusted.
Eventually the cave he sought came into view. He stalked toward it, ripping the end of his dotted scarf from a Harmony Bear that had tried to incapacitate him and doggedly waddled after him, longer than any of the other obstacles. Not that the ill-conceived creation of a Dollamancer with Hippiemancy interests would do anything to him besides sing a few annoying songs, but it was frustrating to leave the sixes and fives in its maw. After it repaired next turn, he’d have to have a Luckamancer replace the patterned dots, Domino mused. The spent magic was mostly wasted, going to benefit the new owner, but enough had discharged to distract the purple lump of cloth. It plopped onto its cushy tush and rubbed the five-petaled flower on its belly, slowly munching on the alternating purples.
The caster he’d come to see didn’t come out to meet him or bar his way, so Domino Nick continued to walk around the stalagmites and columns toward the house at the back of the cave. The ambushes, which were many, varied, and deadly, were mostly arranged inside, but he stepped around a few outside as well. He stopped just before stepping onto the porch, where he’d Predicted the personal attacks would start to rain down, and shifted the grip on his cane to the center of the shaft. Weapons familiarity wasn’t that common among Magic Kingdom residents, but Domino Nick knew that the caster inside would recognize his forfeiture of leverage for any offensive blows. He raised his left hand with the palm to the grim home and solemnly intoned “I am not a pirate.”
The silent house considered him for a moment. As with most Predictions, the exact reasons for the precise phrasings weren’t clear, but Domino Nick was certain it was the right thing to say to get this caster to talk to him.
“Come in, then.”
The door creaked open, and Domino limped up the steps. He still wasn’t quite comfortable with his handicap, although he’d at least come to terms with not being able to dance anymore, a vestigial inheritance from his Rhyme-o-mancer father. The living room he entered was mundane, classic Dollamantic furnishings that matched the simple architecture he’d seen outside.
The magic user sitting on the sofa, apparently relaxed in his red cap and tight black clothes, wasn’t so simple. Practically all the casters in Erfworld doubted that he existed, and he and his kind were good enough that very few indeed were able to confirm it without croaking. Domino Nick didn’t know exactly what a Weirdomancer could do, and he sincerely doubted that any other discipline knew or would ever know even as much as he did. A smile threatened to break out at a corner of his mouth. It was nice being a know-it-all at times.
The caster finally sat forward, the tight gold chain around his neck glinting in the light as his black mask moved with speech. “What do you want?”
“I just want to have a little chat about titles,” said Domino Nick, “although I may be interested in seeing that workshop of yours.” He nodded toward an apparently blank wall next to the Weirdomancer.
The blue-green eyes narrowed under the red brim, but all other Signs that could hint at his reaction were hidden by the black wrappings. “Findamancer?”
“Predictamancer,” admitted Domino, “but I’m also a master of Lookamancy, with a novitiate in a few other disciplines, too. I find it’s hardly useful to Predict things if you don’t know what you’re looking at, or how it fits into everything else.”
The man still looked wary. “Why?”
“Oh, I’m a bit of meddler. I’m Sided, and am willing to pinkie swear not to reveal your existence to any barbarian, if necessary.” Domino left it at that, choosing to answer the question as if it didn’t relate to his varied abilities.
Domino Nick frowned, but realized he had to share to get this recluse to open up. “Dee Again. It’s a tiny colony Side which only influences the surrounding behemoths because my father popped three caster sons. He still makes waves with the female caster he convinced to join him before popping a single unit, but my older brother’s Croakamancy, my Predictamancy, and my younger brother’s Healomancy have made a big impact, too. We’re nominally beholden to the surrounding Call On kingdom, but we have extensive autonomy and usually deal with the Mall Talk tribes next door. The political situation doesn’t have the brightest prospects, but for now we have peace with all our neighbors, so we occasionally see units from the Smashy kingdom and the Were-ipelago.”
“A Healomancer brother, eh?” The man sounded surprised. “I had one of those, before he disappeared trying to chuck a good rich Ruler out of his business.”
Domino had his turn to be surprised. “You’re not a barbarian yourself?”
“Nah, but that’s getting into too much detail. Pinkie swear first. I can’t have you reveal to anyone anything you have learned or will learn about me or my place.”
His purpose really was a whim, anyway, so Domino complied, reaching out to interlock little fingers and repeating the required phrases. He was gestured to a comfy chair afterward, as the man relaxed and opened up.
“My name’s Smog Puncher, and yeah, I’m Sided. The Nun Ja are usually just tribes, barbarian Weirdomancers deadly in combat but secret as the night.” Domino was no Signamancer, but he found it fitting that the name sounded like what a fellow Predictamancer said when trying to ward off curiosity. “My father’s ancestors, from an obscure Side called Mack, were instructed in Weirdomancy by one of these, after demonstrating an innate ability against the tribes’ sworn enemies. It’s been passed on to any units with casting ability since, through extensive training.”
“That sounds incredibly interesting. I honed my own Lookamancy skills through spellbooks my Chief Caster had. None of my brothers had much proficiency for it, though. How could you make the discipline universal?”
“Well, it’s a bit convoluted, and has a lot to do with the discipline itself, but essentially it requires a Ruler and a Chief Caster who are both Weirdomancers. My father popped as a Mack Nun Ja, but when he went off to the ‘Murica coalition of Sides he had to find another Weirdomancer to join him in making their own Side, which is a whole ‘nother story. Finding a hidden unit with no Side, hired only to assassinate high-level units; I’m surprised he managed to find Mitt See, much less convince her to join his Side just to pop casters.”
Domino smiled to himself, remembering his own father’s stories, but allowed the caster in the red cap to continue without interruption.
“And the training doesn’t always trump the discipline or innate abilities you pop with, either. My brother always had difficulty reconciling his Healomancy with the deadliness of our family Weirdomancy, and I still like Turnamancy, especially constructs and magic items. It was easier for me, though, since it’s in the same Class; there was less disapproval, at least.”
Domino recognized his opening; cutting off the impending long conversation about Side politics was just a bonus. “The magics of your Class are actually what I came to talk about. I’ve heard a great many rumors that your discipline doesn’t actually exist, but even so the Signamancers managed to figure out a title for mastery of all Spookism. Since you work with at least two of the three disciplines, and most of your Class aren’t going to figure out your hidden Weirdomancy any time soon, I wanted to know if you deserve it more than I do.”
Smog Puncher laughed carelessly. “What, you think Predictamancers deserve to be called Puppetmasters? Your Fate magic may influence units, but making golems dance is the bare beginning of what Spookism can do. Let me show you, since you seem to think a visit to my workshop is Fated.”
A cloud of dust suddenly covered the caster, and when it dispersed the wall he’d looked at earlier had morphed into a doorway, through which the man was casually walking. Domino Nick stood to follow, thinking of the theory that most magics could appear to look like several others; the transition could as easily have been Foolamancy as any discipline in the caster’s Class. His love might be able to tell the difference, with her own Foolamancy senses, but he couldn’t distinguish if the powder had come from magic or magic item.
The objects strewn across the workbenches were each fascinating in their own right, different combinations of Turnamancy wires and gears with occasional evidence of Dollamantic stuffing and cloth. Domino had no idea what to look for to see Weirdomancy in action, but was distracted from his review of the shop by the loud thud of the arched platform that Smog Puncher dropped onto the floor between the two .
Domino Nick considered the apparently simple item. It was a couple feet wide and maybe a foot longer, with a gentle symmetrical arch from end to end that peaked about six inches from the floor. The dark metal frame was topped with a black rubberized covering. He had absolutely no idea what he was supposed to see.
“Looks like you’d only need it for visiting units who were too short for your fortifications, right?” Smog Puncher’s mask kept the smile from showing, but Domino could hear it. “How about you try jumping off of it?”
“Off of it?”
“Yeah, like this.” With more grace than Domino could hope for with his handicap, Smog Puncher made a short curved approach run and lightly stepped off of the top of the arch, quickly putting his other foot down and standing on the floor again. There was something weird about that last step, but the red cap was bobbing insistently and the suppressed laughter in the verbal encouragements and approach instructions bore no ill will.
Domino Nick had foreseen no bad consequences of this encounter, anyway, so he gave it a try. Holding his cane and hoping his peg leg wouldn’t let him down, he carefully mimicked the curving steps that were apparently required, and gently stepped off the center of the arched platform. And promptly smacked his head on the ceiling.
Dazed, but without any hits lost, Domino stared at the offending wooden beam inches from his face and wondered how such a slight spring had gotten him all the way up here. It took a few more moments for him to realize he wasn’t moving away from the beam, by which time Smog Puncher had broken into peals of laughter at his confusion. Using abilities he’d only just gained, Domino rotated in the air and stared down at the arched platform that had somehow given him the flight special.
“What IS that thing?” Domino Nick knew enough of different magics to guess the effect would wear off and could be reversed with the same or a similar item, but affecting unit specials without any casting? He was certain he could talk with this caster for days, even if he couldn’t share anything he learned from the strange and secretive Weirdomancer who might deserve the title of Puppetmaster.
Smog Puncher proudly patted the arched platform. “Tool like this? HighJumper.”
(NOTE: User was awarded 25 shmuckers for this post. -Rob)
Also. His side is "Dee Again", he's a master Lookamancer who honed his skills using his chief caster's spellbooks. Which, as it happens, is equivalent to an "archmage."
Other DD references abound:
"We’re nominally beholden to the surrounding Call On kingdom, but we have extensive autonomy and usually deal with the Mall Talk tribes next door. The political situation doesn’t have the brightest prospects, but for now we have peace with all our neighbors, so we occasionally see units from the Smashy kingdom and the Were-ipelago."
Callan. Maltak. Semashi. Winter Archipelago, which is full of werewolves.
And I adore him using “I am not a pirate” to reassure Sean Smog Puncher that he bears no ill will.
GAH! I [b]totally[/b] missed every, single, Dominic Deegan reference. It wasn't even tickling the back of my brain! But once it was all pointed out it become obvious. I'm kind of ashamed I didn't see it really.
I got the inkling for the Dr. McNinja references on the "I am not a pirate" line in combination with house in a cave protected by constructs then the rest only just sealed it.
This was very nicely done, great cross over and well converted to ErfWorld mechanics.