Unjust Deserts, part 11
Part 11: The Indestructible, Inedible Fruitcake
The door to the cistern slammed shut so loudly behind Beck that the “click-clack” of the locking mechanism went by unheard. Echoes of the heavy iron door’s crash carried forward and reverberated in Beck’s ears. He’d turned, startled, but kept walking away down the hallway, figuring Riker was just venting his anger. What exactly about Kerri’s interruption had set him off was a mystery to Beck.
He shook his head as he walked through the dark stone hallway, strange echoes bouncing around ahead and behind him. He wondered why Riker was so volatile, when a low droning sound grew in volume, only to be followed by two figures walking around the bend.
The courtiers, maids by the look of their black and white one piece dresses with big skirts, walked up to him and bowed stiffly. Curiously, he noticed they had the same pale grey skin and baldness as Roe, the latter somewhat hidden by their bonnets. Could Roe and this side really be a different tribe of men?
Beck half nodded, half bowed back. “Hello, I was told you would lead me--”
The maids cut him off… or rather, never stopped talking “--leads-guest-to-quarters-provides-cleaning-amenities--” even over each other, as the maid on the left prattled on over her partner “--obeys-guest-requests-not-up-to-level-three-facilitates-relaxedness-await-instructions---” in a strangely out of phase echoing duet.
The one on the right pointed a feather duster down the hall, both turned on a dime and they walked with a perfectly repetitive pace. All the while, they kept half mumbling, half droning a continuous stream of words that seemed to be their daily duties.
“I guess that's why they call you ‘drones’.” Beck muttered to himself as he followed behind.
However out of it the maidrones seemed, they knew their way around and led him to a guest room on the second floor. Inside, it was a scene of pure decadence.
A fluffy bed, a pitcher full of water on a wooden table, a brass tub for bathing full of hot water, what he now realized was a cushioned chair…
He was so overwhelmed he didn't realize at first when the maids started to help him out of his clothes…
Cleaned, fully dressed and extremely relaxed, Beck was laying on the bed like a puddle of water. He was halfway towards napping, when a knock on the door brought him back to full wakefulness.
Not quite sure what the etiquette was, he sat up on the bed and called “Yes?”
“Helloooo!” trilled back a familiar voice full of warmth. The door opened to reveal a caster in a cozy brown onesie, with what looked like round ears sewn into the top of the cowl. “I’m Kerri Barry, Madsense’s Chief Dittomancer! It’s just such a pleasure to meet the man who rescued our chief!”
A bundle of energy, Kerri didn't just shake Beck’s hand but pulled him off the bed and into a warm barryhug, much to his surprise.
Beck put a tenuous smile on his face, not sure what to make of Kerri. “It’s, ah, thank you. It’s nice to finally meet a side on friendly terms.”
Kerri let go and put a hand to his chest, which is to say, he put a hand to the huge red heart with a pink outline on his onesie. “Oh, I know what you mean! Most of our neighbors are just big old angry frowny faces, even the barbarians! Oh, I hope that's not me being rude, do you prefer ‘mercenary’ or ‘contractor’?”
“Barbarian is fine, it's not something to get hung up about.”
“Oh that's a relief! Wouldn't want to start off on the wrong foot! And, um, hopefully Riker wasn't…” for some reason, the Chief Dittomancer actually wrung his hands. While Beck had been thinking his too sweet demeanor was an act, the look of worry on his face seemed too genuine for it.
“It was fine, Riker was Riker. We actually got along for awhile there, but then his temper shot up. He seemed angry when we parted ways on the bridge. But don’t worry, he's not the most temperamental unit I've dealt with.”
Kerri nodded bashfully, putting his hands behind him. “I love my brother, but, ah, geniuses do tend to be popped moody. Anyway! The good news is our Overlord has decided to offer you some more work! If you'll just follow me.”
Kerri led him out of the room and towards the stairwell, and Beck decided if he was seriously going to consider fighting for this possibly doomed side, he might as well start getting an idea of their magical resources. “So, Dittomancy, what does that do?”
“In simple terms, it doubles your assets, bonuses, attacks and equipment. But I like to think of it as the magic of sharing and caring!” Kerri Barry turned and beamed a bright smile, almost tripping on a step in the process.
Beck put an arm around Kerri’s waist and kept him from falling, but couldn't help but arch an eyebrow at what he’d said. “Careful. And that's a rather sunny way of putting it.”
Kerri smiled sheepishly “Thank you! Dittomancy is like that, duplicating not just tangibles, but intangibles. Like the caring, kindness and concern you’ve just shown me.” Holding up both hands, fists clenched, Kerri demonstrated by raising the same finger on each as he spoke. “It lets you duplicate magical equipment and provisions so there's more to share, doubles units to double hugs… and attacks... and helps by sending the Dittos to fight to save the lives of those you care about.”
“Hmm, so that's how your side’s survived this long, isn't it? Using your expendable Dittos to defend from Beirutcake and others. But there's a limit, isn't there?”
“Yes.” Conceded a crestfallen Kerri. “I can't duplicate enough units to fend off Beirutcake’s armies with pure numbers.”
Mouth widening at the accidental criticism, Kerri put a hand on Beck’s arm. “Oh! I don’t mean to say Chief Roe is a bad chief warlord, far from it! It’s just--”
Beck cut in reassuringly. “This desert is weird, and it likes throwing surprises your way. I’m growing to respect Roe, but the Capital Wasteland would challenge any warlord.”
“That’s very kind of you to say, and that’s part of the reason the Overlord wants to see you. Speaking of which…” Kerri stopped before a set of reinforced doors on the third floor, ordering them to open. Directly ahead of them, at the end of a short hallway was another set of open doors into an honest to goodness War Room.
They walked from the hallway into the darkly lit war room, two pale green Powerballs struggling to illuminate the place. It was full of oddly arranged cabinets and bookshelves midway from the walls towards the table, creating several shadows and the impression it was both larger… and more cramped… than it probably was. Luckily, Roe and the Overlord were standing on the far side of the table at the center, along with a pale bald warlady moving the pieces around map table.
Roe nodded cordially to the pair and began the introductions. “Good afternoon, Beck. This is Aimee Bott, my sister, and my father, Overlord Adbert Bott of Madsense. Father, this is Beck Packer, the barbarian I was telling you about.”
The Overlord’s wide, pearly smile lit the room more brightly than the pair of pale green powerballs hovering above the map table. It was eerie, not just because of his baldness, pallor and manic smile, but because save for the smile, Roe was the spitting image of him. Side by side, their faces almost seemed like a pair of masks, one smiling brightly and the other stoically neutral.
Beck suddenly realized he had no erfly idea what the etiquette was to greet an Overlord, so tried to mimic Roe. “Good afternoon your Overlordness. It’s a… pleasure to be here.”
He must have said it right, because if anything Overlord’s smile only got wider. “Welcome, contestant, to Madsense! Are. You. Ready... to make a deal?!”
He hadn’t been expecting the yelling (enthusiastically happy or otherwise) in a confined space, which gave Roe time to elaborate his father’s confusing offer. “We have been reviewing our situation, and we feel it prudent to offer to retain your services for further turns.”
Beck walked up to the map table, and glanced at the units displayed there. There were several green pieces where he expected, representing Beirutcake. Madsense had perhaps half as many black pieces inside the city itself, with scouts in varying points in surrounding hexes. He looked up at Roe, not envying his tactical position. “What services would you like to retain?”
“booping all of them noob lol” monotoned the warlady, not looking up from where she was meticulously placing another green unit.
After giving his sister a sideways glance, Roe looked back to Beck and spoke plainly. “Aimee is simplifying, but essentially correct. We expect an imminent siege of the city, this turn, by Beirutcake. We would be asking you to help in the defense of the city.”
Beck breathed in deeply. “Is that your objective, just surviving the siege?”
“Yes, we believe Beirutcake can not sustain a prolonged siege without leaving at least one of her cities or their Waterworks under defended, prompting them to withdraw when another Side threatens.”
“But when will another side threaten them? And what Waterworks?”
Aimee took her croupier and rapidly tapped a spot east in the map, a gray unscouted hex near their capital… and right over the dry remains of the Swiss Mississippi River. “all scouts booped doa big bldg water plz nope trololol”
Beck turned to Roe for a translation, questioning whether his sister was even speaking Language. But it was Kerri who offered it. “We don’t know that another side will threaten them, they’re one of the meanest, grumpiest bullyest sides around. But we do know they’re very protective of whatever that is, our scouts have seen the glimmer of a river just upstream. If we can raze it, we could use the cash and really start improving our city’s Shmucker--”
“Wait, you want to destroy the dam? Bring water back to the desert?” In the back of his mind, Beck worried he might be tipping his own hand, but this was his dream…
The overlord raised his hand to twelve o’clock and brought it down in a circular motion, making the pale green powerballs spin above them and casting mad shadows about the room. “Everyone wins on a lucky wheel spin! What do you say, do you keep your winnings or go big?!”
The Overlord and his daughter might not be speaking Language, but maybe they didn’t need to. And Roe seemed to pick up on it. “Razing that improvement for funds is already a part of our long term plans, but if stipulating we do not create further blockages to the river’s flow will entice you, I think we can offer that.”
Beck breathed out slowly, looking down at the maps and figurines not so much to analyze the minutiae of their tactical situation, as to give himself some time to put his thoughts and feelings in order. But really, there was only one answer.
“Is this going to be a verbal contract, or do we write something up?”
The contract itself had been fairly simple. It was the already existing terms with the option for renewal as long as both sides agreed. Madsense would pay his upkeep in full as long as the contract stood, or an equivalent value in Shmuckers if he ate provisions or foraged, Beck wanted to put his cooking lessons to use and start filling his purse. Along with that, they’d pay a 1 turn bonus per Warlord Croaked. Madsense had insisted any Shmuckers from razed cities and improvements be turned over, but Beck had managed to haggle to keep first dibs on any one item of loot per battle.
There was a shrewdness to the Overlord though, and he’d meant what he’d (cryptically) said. He’d insisted on a clause that all outstanding payments would be terminated if Beck fled an active battle he’d first agreed to fight in without the Order to do so. Essentially, he was betting everything he’d earned, and would lose it all if he ran.
Contract Signed, the far harder task had been reviewing and understanding the tactical situation.
Madsense had 450 mixed infantry left and a smattering of non-speaking units. There were two stacks of Gold Phishes, foot sized units with the Digging special that could weaken garrison walls by tunneling into them, but were otherwise no stronger than Doombats. Just that turn they’d been fortunate to pop Upsunders, Tunnel Capable mounts with Siege, allowing them to break through stone walls.
They had some good intelligence on Beirutcake’s army. Right now, they had 1,000 units. Three warlords, approximately 850 infantry, 50 knights on mounts, 50 Wily Peyotes, and assorted heavies.
The knights were riding Regifts, stone hard brown mounts shaped like a torus, studded with cherry red and green gemlike incrustations. They might look ugly, but they allowed the rider perfect Screening from ahead, above and behind as they rolled around the battlefield… and over enemy units. Terrifyingly, they also Popped Yule-Logs as part of their side’s natural Pops, and were reported to have everything from Yule-Log-A’s to Yule-Log-E’s in this attack force.
And, of course, their Foolamancer.
Roe placed a unit shaped like a question mark onto the enemy hex. “We believe him to be Master Class. In addition to his attempts at impersonating me, he has hidden and altered the unit composition of their forces. Additionally, he has also made it impossible for our scouts to get good intelligence of the Waterworks, often Veiling it as a mesa or even flat desert.”
Sighing, Beck nodded. “Yeah, as if being outnumbered wasn’t bad enough, they can also make it seem they have twice as many units, that they aren’t there, or somewhere else.”
“We’re not precisely outnumbered.” Beamed Kerri happily. “I’ve got most of my juice still, I could get us another 200 or so infantry.”
Beck shook his head. “I wouldn’t recommend that. It won’t make much difference and they’re likely expecting it. In fact, the idea we can fight them off and ‘wait it out’ until they’re recalled is dangerous, after this battle we need to come up with a better long term plan.”
Roe took his hands off the map table and looked at Beck. “What would you suggest, that they would not expect?”
“Well…” started Beck, in a verbal delaying action as his mind raced. “We have a few advantages that they don’t, namely, more casters, walls, and Kevin. But just about anything we can throw at them, infantry wise, would collapse because of their Heavies and Wily Peyote’s Flower Power. Hmm...”
He looked up to Roe and Kerri with a dawning smile. “Can you call up Riker with that Con Badge? I’ve got an idea, but we need to run it by him first.”
Despite not moving a muscle on her face throughout the conversation or as she spoke now, Aimee managed to make her monotone sound excited. “noob pwnz fruitcake how???? plz share?”
Beck did his best to smile at her, finding it eerie how much she resembled her brother and father. “I’m thinking, maybe what they least expect is to be hit with a dose of their own medicine.”
Turn ended for Madsense, and somewhere on the high wall a piker sounded a bugle with a sustained sharp note.
From atop the outer wall, Beck could see the Beirutcake army rise and move as one, marching at an almost leisurely pace from hex to hex. Two siege towers rolled up, kicking up dirt and leaving a dust cloud to rise slowly behind them.
Even though it meant his likely doom, Beck had to admire their army as the most dangerously pristine thing he’d seen in the Capital Wasteland so far.
Beside him, as usual, Roe was calm about the whole ordeal. “They will likely begin the siege immediately. Last time they came under Parley was when their Foolamancer impersonated me, it is unlikely they will attempt to repeat the tactic now.”
Riker stood in front of Beck, finishing fastening the Con Badge he’d just been issued. He’d been unusually quiet up to this point, but now grimaced and snarked at Roe. “You know, thinking about it, the disguise shouldn't have lasted even five minutes. I doubt anyone could play your infuriatingly cold and logical personality straight.”
Roe turned his eyes briefly to Beck, a little twinkle at the edges before answering Riker. “Thank you, Riker. Being called inimitable is uniquely high praise.”
Riker’s scowl deepened, but he said nothing more. Riker and Beck’s eyes met, and a brief flash of concern crossed his face, before he raised his familiar scowl again in a defensive screen. Beck had been holding out some hope on seeing the genial Riker from the cooking lessons, though he’d more or less expected Riker to be angry at him again. But so far he’d been almost shy ever since they’d parted ways in the cistern. Beck wanted to ask him about it, but that could wait.
The first Beirutcake units were entering the hex.
Because of the meager size and level of the capital, there was a wide open field between the hex boundary and the outer walls, barren of any notable defensive formations of rocks or even shrubs.
Up close, the Beirutcake army was even more impressive. Three divisions of men and women wearing green and yellow. One warlord for each: Left flank with mounted knights and infantry, middle with heavies and siege, and right with archers and Wiley peyotes. No sight of the Foolamancer, but that was to be expected. The most eye catching figure in the group was their Chief Warlord, gleaming in the sun in polished green armor with yellow highlights.
The waiting was croaking Beck, but eventually the enemy units came close enough for Archery.
Roe ordered the first volleys on the towers, but nothing seemed to really hamper the Siege Towers or the Yew-Log-E’s and Regifts pulling them forward; they all rolled along merrily until they reached a certain hitch in the road.
There was a crunching sound, and for a split second several Beirutcake heavies flew into the air as if the earth beneath them had risen and tilted forward, like an invisible floor latch opening. The units were literally hovering midair, teetering for a split second before the veil around the siege tower evaporated and it came crashing down over the heavies and infantry ahead of it!
Roe gave Aimee a nod, and she drew her bow taut as she issued an order of her own to the archery units on the wall. “aim 4 reel towerz lolz”
The archers around the outer wall refocused away from what were now obviously the illusory towers rolling by unimpeded and onto the one surviving tower, tattle taled by the square spot in the Beirutcake formation where the heavies had reared back to avoid the trap: a tunneled trench dug by several duplicated squadrons of Gold Phishes.
Not stopping to relish in their success, Roe tapped his Con Badge and ordered “Begin Phase 2!”
In the outermost edges of the hex, several similar plumes of dust rose into the sky, as four Dittos of Aimee burst from the ground riding Upsunders! They’d been hidden there by more Gold Phish tunneling, ready to burst on command.
The Aimees ran their mounts towards the rear of the Beirutcake army, with prearranged orders to target their leadership. The confusion at the front actually helped, netting several hits of their arrows on high value targets, but no apparent crits on the three enemy Warlords or hidden Foolamancer.
Then the oddest thing started to happen. The left flank broke off its support of the Siege Engine, and started skipping around the outer wall to the song “Lucille in the sky with Desi!”
Meanwhile, the right flank stopped marching and began attacking invisible enemies, and often hitting each other in the confusion. Beck grinned, because while Foolamancy meant that fighting invisible enemies wasn’t a preposterous proposition, Madsense was not fielding veiled units at the moment. They were, in fact, fielding Ditto’d warlady’s wielding arrows dipped in concentrated extract from Wiley Peyote needless.
Beck had given Kevin’s needle filled saddle bags and studded magic hat over to Kerri, who doubled the number of needles. Then Riker who’d managed the Changeamancy of extracting and refining their poison. Then Kerri did a final round of duplication on the poisoned arrows so that the Aimee Botts could now start shooting at all the Yew-Log’s and lancers mounted on Regifts chasing them.
The end result was that Beirutcake was suffering the kind of total collapse of its army Beck could only have dreamed of! Commanders seeing imaginary enemies, heavies attacking their own infantry. And the pièce de résistance, lancers turning their Regifts back on the people that'd sent them in the first place!
Yeah, this was worth a new Rule.
Wasteland Survival Guide Rule #6: Foolamancy isn’t just a special, but a state of mind.
Grinning, Beck slapped Riker on the back. “Good job! You may have just saved the side!”
Riker looked at him briefly with a weak smile, before turning to look back out at the battle.
“All units, prepare for phase 3!” Roe’s order resonated with Beck now that they were allied, and he understood the intent that he go down and mount Kevin to lead the counterattack.
The outer walls were a meager two stories tall, so Beck could make it down and onto Kevin in no time at all. He’d just made it to the stairwell, when he caught a whiff of something. Something sweet, chocolaty… and moist.
He shuddered as the scent connected to a memory. “Veiled flyers! Veiled Kooky Battews are in the airspace!”
He couldn't be sure which of the five Commanders on the wall blew their veil, but the added scrutiny made three Battews shimmer into view to blight the sky as they made their way to the palace tower.
Not missing a beat, Aimee switched her stack of archers to start shooting at the few visible Battews. Remembering their weakness from the cave, Roe must have ordered Riker to enchant some of original Aimee’s arrows so they burst into flame. Kerri tag teamed with his brother and doubled the arrows mid flight.
Beck’s heart skipped a beat, but he couldn’t wait to see how this action would turn out. His feet beat a path down the stairs and onto the waiting Kevin. He gave her a silent order to race the Battews to the palace, in less time than it took him to remember to tap the golden Con Badge on his vest twice. “Roe! This is a diversion, don’t call off the assault, I’ll go to secure the Overlord!”
“I will redirect some troops, but we have only a minimal presence in the inner Garrison. Hurry, Beck. Please.”
Roe didn’t say it. Not even in his tone, but Beck could feel the words “... save my father.” In there, and leaned forward on Kevin’s back as they ducked around the confusing mishmash of buildings in the inner garrison.
Blessedly, a crispy Kooky fell from the sky ahead of beck and crumbled into bits. Looking up, he saw flaming arrows flying along and not falling, and some sticking out of the two unveiled Kooky Battews. They in turn took hits from the tower defenses, the other shots going wild with no Caster to direct them. Pitiful, but every bit helped.
The doors leading up were open, the Overlord likely called the door guards up to stack with him.
With a silent order, Kevin veiled them before they went into the palace, and Beck ducked under the door frame to avoid the low roof. Once inside they only slowed down to a ‘mere’ sprinting pace for a regular human. Beck had only a general idea of the tower’s layout, but managed to find the staircase up without too much problem, and Kevin zipped up in no time.
This time, Beck managed to tap his Con Badge without having to think about it “Overlord Bott! This is Beck Packer, come to the stairwell so I can take you to safety!”
“Pick a door and guess the prize! Can you guess what’s behind door number four on floor three?”
Crack it, that’s right, the Overlord’s speech impediment! But then again, the Overlord had given very specific directions…
From behind their veil, Beck saw the doors from the stairwell to the third floor were open… and the hallway had three Kooky Battews! Ahead of them, he could hear the pounding of one of the beasts ramming the fourth door on the right at the end of the hallway, and vaguely make out two pikers croaked in front of it.
And leading the creatures was just who he didn’t want to see. Terry Tory-elle.
That clinched it, there must be at least four more veiled Battews, and no way for him to croak them all and save the Overlord… unless… he gave Kevin a new order, to use the last of her juice to drop the invisibility Veil on him and instead create one of a person she had already met, one who could probably pass for the Overlord.
Beck dismounted, and imagined the most nonsensical thing he could and hollered it down the hallway “Do you want to be a millionaire? Then you’d better press your luck!” Terry turned, eyes glaring from inside her ragged head coverings. “How did you--? No! You will not get away!”
Beck widened his imitation of the Overlord’s huge, manic grin, glad his resemblance to Roe made the disguise plausible. Beck and Kevin turned tail and ran at a catchable pace down the stairwell. They would have made it to the second floor, except Beck managed to blow the veil off a Battew guarding the stairwell heading down, so they reversed course to hide on the fourth floor’s Overlord Office.
They ran in, almost smashing through the doors to the office. He quickly turned and locked them behind him to buy them some time. Beck tried to catch his breath, and looked around. There was nowhere to run or hide in there, just a wide open, featureless floor except for the Overlord’s desk and chair. As places went for a last stand, this was not his ideal.
Kevin warbled worriedly. It was hard to spot her, even with the watery translucent color of an allied unit seeing a veiled one, but Beck could see the worry in her as she twisted her head this way and that.
He put a hand to her head and patted reassuringly. “We’re going to make it out of this, don’t worry.” She blinked a couple of times and bumped her head into his chest, tapping his Con Badge accidentally.
A Battew barreled into the Overlord’s Office, finally breaking the reinforced door off its hinges. It was followed by Terry, sword in hand and two other Battews beside her. She could practically taste the Beirutcake bounty.
She scanned the office and saw there were no reinforcements, Terry got straight to the point and yelled. “Where are you, you slippery squirrel!? I want my bounty!”
“Help! I am in Jeopardy!” Cried the overlord from behind his stone throne. Pathetic.
She led her Battews in a quick walk over to the desk in a pincer formation. Beirutcake had said the man was a Fruitcake, but he might still surprise her.
“Am I the weakest link?!”
She and her Battews held position, and then she silently ordered the ones on ground level to rush in, but… nothing. She walked around the desk to see behind the chair, and couldn’t find anyone, just a tiny gold badge.
A voice came out of it, sounding amazingly human. “The Wheel of Fortune spins against me!”
She picked it up, fuming at the decoy, and threw it uselessly against the nearest window. “Go back out into the tower! We need to find him fast before they send troops back here!”
The nearest Battew chittered broodingly at her tone, so she grabbed it by the lower jaw and pulled it down close to her face. “If we don’t get him, there’s no bounty, no bounty means I. Harvest. You.”
Some part of her knew it couldn’t understand her words, but another knew it understood her intent, and it skittered back in fear once she let go. Good.
The Battews galloped on wings and legs out of the office. Terry was about to do so herself, when a finely honed reflex led her to block an axe thrust aimed straight to her face!
She moved her sword into another parry as the Overlord kept slashing at her, but where had he come from?!
Getting her footing back, she used a power slash to push him back, only for him to yell “This is not your territory! I won’t let you hurt these people like you did me!”
The attack dropped the disguise veil, revealing the unit impersonating the Overlord. It was then she made the connection. The familiar looking barbarian by the outer wall. The cloyingly stupid pleading. “Poppin’ fresh?! It was you under that veil?”
For once, sheer joy managed to overcome her natural moldering fury and make her crack a smile, so she silently ordered the last Battew to leave not to engage. “How’ve you been?” She asked, launching into an intricate series of slashes and thrusts, putting the piddly level 3 on the defensive as she fought him towards the windows.
The Overlord / Beck / Poppin fresh grunted, not seeming to have the mental acuity to banter and battle at the same time. It was an old trick, talking smack to distract an opponent, so she kept on with her one sided conversation. “I’ve been good, just landed me a nice juicy gig as you can see. Fancy running into you like this!”
Her scimitar slashed clean across his stomach, and she ducked under a return swing. “Looks like you did, too. Shame it’s for the losing side.”
She was mildly surprised when he actually managed to parry one of her own strikes and sliced into her arm, but she was in a good mood now. So much so that when she kicked him in the chest it only cracked one rib instead of two. Beck sailed across the floor and slammed onto the wall sized window with a loud crack, creating a jagged scar across its face from floor to ceiling.
She sheathed her sword as she went on casually. “So, listen, I don’t usually go for the Rock Band’s brand of Hippie Dippie ideas, like that we all just get along and let each other slink away after we fight, instead of croaking. But…” She launched herself against him and grabbed his neck in a chokehold with enough force to give the window another crack. “... I kinda feel pity for you. Did when we first met, too. Thought maybe some tough love would teach you by example. And just look at you now! It makes me proud. So. Ask nicely, and I’ll let you leave alive.”
Beck’s face grew red, he tried feebly to bring his axe to bear but she was using her other hand to hold it still. Eyes bulging, and gaze glazing over as he looked over her right shoulder, he finally said it. “Plea…”
“What was that?” Terry leaned in closer.
“Please … do it, Kevin.”
“Kevin? Who’se Ke--”
To her credit, Terry was halfway to turning her head, and her hand went from pinning beck’s to her sword hilt, when the blue seedy flank of Kevin, the Baudseed, slammed into her and knocked her against Beck-- and through the window.
Darkness is a form of quiet. An absence of the noise of light. Signamancers with an affinity for “sinister” signs often pondered the synergy therein, how one often invoked the other. In that (dark) light, it wasn’t surprising that darkness and silence seemed to fill the second floor guest bedroom. A single pink powerball lit the room and its three occupants at half power.
The silence was only interrupted by a weak, wheezing rasp that came from the man on the bed, struggling for breath. The fitful fidgeting of the man in the cushioned chair made occasional counterpoints, as he tried to stay awake.
Restless energy overtaking him, Kerri got up from the chair and walked over to the bedside, sitting next to Beck and taking his hand. Kevin opened a single eye, then closed it. She’d laid her head across from Beck’s chest, lightly, so as to keep from making his breathing harder. It was hard to look at his face, full of cuts from glass and bruises from falling.
Kerri squeezed the hand, at a loss for what to say to the man who had saved their Ruler and side. It was all… a pointless act of compassion. He’d depop in the morning, with his critical incapacitation. Roe and he had lobbied the Overlord, but the simple Moneymancy was that even hack Healomancy was outside their budget. It was the reason they’d essentially been paying Beck with credit, in present and future turn’s upkeep rather than Shmuckers up front.
Beck wheezed. Kerri fidgeted… and the door latch turned.
Riker Island walked into the room, a large box in hand, seeming all the more sinister in the dim reddish light, in his red and black barred uniform.
Kerri got up, squaring himself and puffing up his chest. “No. You’ve done enough. Just because he’ll croak tomorrow and won’t cast a Contract Claim, doesn’t mean you get to hurt him.” It cost him, to put on a mean face and be brave, but it was the right thing to do. So he put the force of an Order in there for good measure.
The sheer contempt on his brother’s face was impossible to miss, but the traces of shame were new. “You really think so little of me, don’t you? I’m here to help.”
It must have been true, because he moved to the other side of the bed and started unpacking the contents of the box. Bandages, warmly glowing magical vials, and even needle and thread.
“What are you…”
There was an edge of resentment in his voice, but Riker’s answer was all business. “Changemancy is a Fate axis Discipline, same as Healomancy. I don’t pretend to understand Healomancy itself, but Changemancy is versatile. I’ve been dabbling, experimenting on different types of potions: poisons, buffs, and even healing. I think I may be able to stabilize him enough so he heals at start of turn.”
Kevin moved her head up and gave Riker a wide berth. She must have understood something about his brother’s intent, because she kept quiet and let him work.
Kerri was stunned, he’d never known his brother to have anything resembling a kind spot. But then he remembered that nastiness sometimes hid behind a mask of kindness. “Why are you doing this?”
Looking up from undressing Beck, Riker’s glare could have flooded the desert with the protective rage it held. “Because, brother, you may find what I’m willing to do revolting. Despise the things I do, even when they’re under Orders. Even loathe everything I represent. But I love you, and I’ve kept us alive, from one side to another. And I am going to do everything I can to keep you alive, even if it means saving his life today, just so we can throw him into the jaws of Hellabad tomorrow.”
Wasteland survival guide
Rule #1: don’t panic! Panic makes you do stupid crack.
Rule #2: It’s dangerous to go alone; tame a friend.
Rule #3: Trust is built when someone is vulnerable and not taken advantage of.
Rule #4: The desert is weird; roll with it.
Rule #5: That’s the way the Kooky crumbles.
Rule #6: Foolamancy isn’t just a special, but a state of mind.
I just want to take a moment to thank everyone for reading, because it's been a blast writing and reading your reactions. As this is a good midway point, I'm going to take a bit of a break here so I can rebuild my buffer of prewritten parts. A series of family duties have cut into my writing time, and I want to make sure the next parts aren't rushed.
I will say this, the closing for part 10 and opening for 11 are incredibly deliberate, and I've sprinkled hints about what actually happened throughout this chapter. I can't really clarify any more without giving away huge swathes of future plot.
When I start coming up with stories I fairly quickly imagine 2 or 3 "scenes" that define it, and try to build a way toward them. Along the way a lot of supporting scenes develop, which is where the waterboarding scene fits in. It will directly lead and reinforce a lot of the plot and and ultimate conclusion coming up.
So, what is Beck's second REAL enchantment? Because we know he was getting cooking classes, and the dupe got a titanium axe, but to hide the fact that the ditto'd him, they should've given him a new enchantment. And they would've done so before the battle, because that would be the sensible thing to do, no?
Yes and no. Sure, Beck would love to have his enchanted Axe, but Riker only has so much juice and time. It's part of why he was offering existing enchanted weapons first, so he'd have more juice to help with the battle. I imagined they'd had a background discussion about whether the poison was feasible, and Riker would tell them that yes, but he'd used a chunk of his juice already (not mentioning on what) and that synthesizing the Peyote venom would cost most of his remaining juice, not leaving enough left over for a good Axe enchantment.
But with the trap-ambus-poison plan a go, even Beck would agree getting enough poison would be more tactically important than him being a bit more powerful in personal engagements.