The Risk of 1984 - Part Three
Frank Hisernie got a campfire going after the sun set, but Brash couldn't feel any difference from the cooling night air. When Venus Abuela shuffled up to join them, and Frank explained his rationale in lighting a fire that the three South and North stabbers could share, Brash could tell she knew something about why, but she chose not to mention it. The praise she showered on Frank for his intent in helping his comrades didn't actually include any reference to benefits that they received. It didn't seem to be important enough to wound Frank's obvious pride at having done something useful for a change, but there was something weird about fire and hex boundaries, he guessed.
He was doing an awful lot of guessing, since he couldn't ask for clarification, but it was as good a distraction as any. As the orange firelight from the jungle behind him made his shadow dance on the next hill, Brash slowly built up mental images of his neighbors from their conversation. Frank seemed to be a bit of a ladies man, often waxing eloquent about the apparently beautiful Venus in ways that made Brash imagine her as a graceful and assured unit, but her self deprecating remarks gave him what he felt was a more realistic impression. Frank was quick to pass off her wrinkles and stooped posture as compliments to her knowledge and prowess in battle, but Venus patiently explained the concepts of Signamantic decay to the newly popped unit, and laughed off her longevity as a Sign of inaction more than anything else. She’d only fought twice in her long turns, and only served as a guide to the waves of South and North units washing back the incursions of Eurofrican troops. Since the enemy that had always been their enemy was more intent on piercing their way north than on securing all four of the hexes in this southern clump of the Confederacy territory, Venus Abuela satiated her Duty by mentoring each succeeding generation of stabbers as they passed her by.
Frank Hisernie had a way with words, though, and he kept sneaking in some admiring line or other as they discussed the desert the recently popped force had passed through. He seemed intensely interested in the hex for some reason, drawn to it and the Dune Worm ferals they’d fought against after Brash had left the hex. Although Venus Abuela had mentioned that the hex south of her own was inhabited by a fellow Confederacy unit, one even older than she was, and for her own part seemed most interested in the hex Frank currently occupied, there was little she could do to steer the conversation away from his fascinated descriptions of all things about the desert hex. He seemed particularly intrigued by how the Dune Worms hadn’t seemed to know that Brash and his stackmates were crossing their territory, theorizing that the irregular marching of the Jerkin stack was key in avoiding their senses.
Eventually realizing the steady stream wasn’t going to change, Venus subtly edged the conversation toward sharing the ideas with others, and described the way units of the Confederacy of South and North let each other know the results of the enemy turn. Since Frank was in the only hex of the southern four that bordered on the northern six that the Side also tried to maintain, Venus explained that their compatriots to the north would appreciate him passing on the news that all was quiet on the eastern front, but an injury prevented them from gathering information from hexes further than Brash’s hill hex.
Frank jumped at the chance to talk up a younger female unit, see the hex he was obsessed with at night, and fulfill a duty to his Side. Muttering something about needing to write a book about the Dune Worms, Frank Hisernie stomped off into the darkness toward his next captive audience.
“That trap always gets the intense ones to fly off somewhere else.” Venus chuckled a bit, happier now that Frank had left them in peace, and Brash agreed. The man’s deep voice never seemed to stop resounding, and he was too blunt in declaring the praises of the desert and his disinterest in other topics. The quiet night was broken only by the soft crackle of the fire and distant noises of the jungle for a few minutes, and Brash could feel himself relaxing bit by bit. The pain was still intense, but he was getting used to it, and slowly the stress of being incapacitated on an enemy turn faded away. Eventually even the memory of his anger at being unable to tell the incorrigible fanatic how boring his subject was drifted away on the breeze and his remaining muscles fully relaxed.
“Looks like you’re finally getting some comfort.” Venus said slowly and calmly, letting Brash catch individual words instead of general impressions amid his pain. He appreciated her insight; everything Frank had said for the last while had blended together.
“If you’re up for it, there may be a way we can communicate.” Venus Abuela said thoughtfully. “I don’t think Frank would have the patience for it, but if there’s part of you that you can move without too much pain, there’s a system we could use.”
Brash considered it. His heel had been the wrong choice earlier, but maybe his remaining fingers were visible from the mountain hex to the south west. He carefully selected one that he thought he could move without the others and without giving offense to his friend, and gave it an experimental twitch.
The motion caused some pain in his forearm, but that seemed mostly from the stiffness of disuse, and Venus Abuela had spotted it. “Ah, good, at least your pointer finger still works. I can ask the questions, and you can move it once for yes and twice for no. Do you think that will work?”
Brash moved his index finger once.
“Excellent. I saw some differences in your breathing when I mentioned our neighbor to the south. Would you like me to tell you more about him?”
Brash signaled yes, moving his finger slowly and with as much range as he could, hoping the observant Venus Abuela recognized his gratitude.
“As I mentioned to Frank, Tina Shay has been around longer than I have, but she wasn’t so strange to begin with. Back when I first met her, she was simply frustrated that all of life seemed to pass her by, and the only Sign of her impending insanity was her insistence that she popped alone in that hex. My own experience and that of every unit I’ve talked to is that we pop in groups of three, or at least in a hex that someone of our Side already defends.”
Something felt wrong with Tina’s assertion, something not quite as the Titans had intended, but Brash also sensed that disparity in Venus Abuela’s experiences. She was convinced by the weight of evidence that it was the natural way of things, though, and there was no way to address it in his current state.
“Her frustration quickly deteriorated into oddity, though, and Tina spends most of her time in seclusion now. It’s better for morale, since she no longer begs to exchange places on our turn; quite frankly she’s scared more than one unit with her pure silver hair, an advanced stage of the Signamantic decay I’m starting to show. Being silver occupies Tina, for some reason, and lately stabber Shay spends all her time making silver clothes with a pair of hooked needles. I won’t see her along the border for turns, and then she’ll yell something loud and long, like a victory cry, and on our next turn she’ll fling an extra article of silver raiment into one of the nearby hexes. She’s littered the oceans across her other four boundaries as often as pitching the duds into your hex or mine, but I did get this shawl from Shay after one of her crows.”
Brash heard a sharp intake of breath behind him. “Oh, I’m so sorry for rambling, my dear. You can’t see what I’m wearing, and it wouldn’t interest you anyway. You probably want to know about the enemy more than a couple old stabbers off to the side of the real fighting.”
He didn’t have anything against hearing about his own Side, but, now that it was mentioned, he agreed that the current situation should take precedence. Brash twitched his finger encouragingly.
“Well, you have a ford hex to your north east, an ocean hex that troops can cross even without a water capable special. That’s where our force went, and where the attack will come from when Eurofrica retaliates. I’ve only ever seen one attack from the other direction…” Venus trailed off hesitantly, then resumed brightly. “...but we don’t talk about that. We’re at war with Eurofrica, and we’ve always been at war with Eurofrica.”
An awkward silence stretched for a few minutes. Brash couldn’t help feeling there was more to the story, and when Venus mentioned they should probably sleep to avoid penalties hampering them tomorrow, he agreed more to have silence to think than out of need for rest. He hadn’t done much besides lay here for a while, but he needed to sort things out. He quietly listened to the tottering retreat of his fellow soldier, reviewing all she’d said. And what she hadn’t said.
Brash Jerkin didn’t know what to think about Venus Abuela’s hesitancy. He knew her last statement was as true as any he had ever known, but she seemed too careful around the issue, like she was making sure she wasn’t saying too much. She had amazing observational skills, guessing what information Brash wanted to hear so accurately that he felt like a yes-man. What else did she know? Brash could sense the alliance that the Confederacy of South and North had always had with Austrasia against Eurofrica, felt it pressing down with the force of a Titanic mandate. But was there something more going on?
Still in March counts as one update a month, right? Right?
Despite my laughable "consistency" I hope this update helps mesh the rules of Risk and Erfworld a bit more.
As for jokes, it may help to point out Argent is another word for silver, and there was no way I wasn't going to work in a Venus fly trap once I thought of it, even if I had to stretch for it.
Thanks for catching the author bit. I wasn't sure how well his name would be known.
Tina'a silver Signamancy is intended to connect her to the country that her hex represents in this Erfworld/Risk mashup, so I hadn't planned on any Gold connections because there's no corresponding country. Now, though, you've given me an idea. It's all your fault if no one gets my eventual references to a favorite childhood Christmas story.
Not going to be a stackmate, though. Tina popped alone in her hex, a reference to Risk's opening setup. I'm aiming for a "what if the Titans played Risk" kind of setup, with as much Erfworld mechanics I can stuff into Risk gameplay and the story about playing Risk I'm trying to tell.