Unjust Deserts, part 22
Part 22, War Correspondence
The desert south of what had once been Berliner was a dry, barren scrublands. Full of pale yellow shrubbery, and the occasional pile of of bones and the bone dry tree. It was just far enough from the Swiss Mississippi for the new watery windfall to go by mostly unnoticed by the local plants and critters.
It would probably take one or two hundredturns before it no longer qualified as Razed, improving the amount of game, plant life and underground water to really matter.
All of which meant that instead of landing on a soft leafy bush, or grassy weeds and soft mud like at the newly wet river hexes, when Guy Mudd was dumped off the back of a baudseed he hit bone dry gravelly dirt and cut the side of his arm on a nastily sharp branched Bushemi.
He wriggled and pushed with his arms and legs as best he could while being in the unlucky combination of chained and Veiled, and managed to untangle himself from the bush and get a few feet of distance between himself and Packer. He had no idea why Packer had snuck him out of Berliner, and he didn't care; he just wanted to get as far away as possible.
Even though he was walking slowly, Packer caught up to him and held him in place by grabbing the front of his shirt, then reached and pulled down the gag on his mouth.
“You cowpie!” screamed Guy into the helmeted face. “I will croak and roast you slowly over a spit for what you’ve done! I’ll-” and up went the gag again. Packer let out a gravelly growl, though something about it sounded rather sigh-like to Guy, not that he cared about bruising his precious feelings.
Packer let go of Guy and stood up straight, looming over him. He reached behind his back, and for a moment Guy thought he was finally going to croak him and end this weird game, but instead of a fireaxe to the head--
A waterskin, three turns worth of preserved rations, and some desert traveling gear fell in front of him. Packer finished by pulling out a short sword with a length of scroll tied around it as a makeshift sheath, and stabbed it into a nearby croaked tree
Guy looked up at Packer skeptically.
Packer just looked at him for a long, long moment before turning back to his baudseed. Once on the mount, he gave Guy one last look before they disappeared in a cloud of dust and headed west.
With the Bleck Knight now out of sight, Guy went up to a standing position, carefully balancing his short stride in ankle chains and hobbled over to the sword stuck to the tree. It came out on the third tug, but his manacles vanished on the second. His first thought was that Packer had left the hex, but no. He’d released him as a prisoner entirely, and with no parent side he was a stinking barbarian now!
Confusion was biting into his seething rage so he pulled off the rolled up parchment, hoping to understand what sick new game he had in store.
You’re probably going to want to chase after and croak me, to get revenge.
Titan’s know, you have every reason to want it.
But you can’t beat me right now. You probably won’t even get close enough to try.
You know this.
So go someplace else. Get stronger. Make allies. Live.
You don’t have to stay in the C-dub; you’re unbound, a barbarian.
There are four mercenaries that camp on a mesa seven hexes east and four north. They call themselves the Rock Band, and they can help you.
They taught me about life as a barbarian, a mercenary, about letting each other walk away from a lost fight-- ha, funny it should be me offering it, this time. You’d think I’d know better by now.
We keep making the same mistakes. Repeating the same pattern of abuse.
Than me, than this wasteland wants us to be.
Don’t feel sympathy for me; I’m not even brave enough to apologize in person, not that it could undo the harm I’ve caused you.
If you want to fight again, I’ll be here. Nothing is free in the desert, but you’ve earned that much.
This is all I can do for you.
Just don’t throw your life away.
A hot gust of wind blew, creating a faint outline of the veiled Guy through the absence of dust. He pulled off the gag and finally looked up from the letter to the south west, in the direction Packer had gone.
To the east, the Rock Band’s mesa could be seen jutting in the horizon, a velvety red promise in the distance.
The wind picked up again, and Guy turned south west. He let the wind take the letter out of his grasp--
--and snatched it back before it flew away.
He clutched it close to his chest, out of equal parts anger and-- something else.
East it was.
Something about the Magic Hat spoke of having seen better turns.
Of course, start of turn cleansing and repairing meant the black felt was just as pristine as if it had just been crafted, and the orange/blue band around the brim still shone with subtle hints of hat magic. But still. Perhaps being kept most turns in a dusty rucksack, top hat squished down, or having passed hands at least a dozen times and across as many sides were what made it seem roughly used.
Or perhaps, it was hundreds of turns serving as courier for letters like the one laying on the desk beside it, ink still drying on the last reply.
Tyr, this is Beck. I met the S’mores, they said you told them a story about the unit who saved me at the oasis, said it was the princess of Puddings. Was that true?
Hello Beck, I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to discuss that.
What? Tyr, come on. This is important. I need to know.
Sorry Beck, I think I need to be… can be… more specific. I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to discuss that with you.
Oh… OH. Tyr, are you under some kind of… what are they, confidentiality contracts?
If I were under a non-disclosure contract, it’d be really hard for me to tell you anything about it, I’m afraid.
Wait, if you can’t tell me about it… has Puddings hired you?
Apologies for sounding like a Two-can, I couldn’t tell you if I were. You’re a mercenary, you know how some clients can be.
Listen, all sorts of uncomfortable matchups happen when you’re a mercenary. The important thing is to remember… you don’t have to croak anyone you don’t want to. Take jobs you don’t like. It’s okay to walk away.
That’s a pretty nice roundabout way of saying that I should forget my obligations; leave those that depend on me out to dry. Pretty nicely timed, too.
What do you mean?
Just that it’d be a pretty lousy thing for a friend to do, to manipulate you using other people to get their way. Win fights. Money.
Now hold on, you’re jumping to conclusions. This is all hypothetical.
Sure, maybe you aren’t working for Puddings. Except you already know I work for Madsense; so trying to get me to walk out on a contract would be in any of your potential client’s interests.
You’re making a lot of assumptions there Beck, and I can’t really talk about most of them. But I can tell you this, you’re not the only one who has criss crossing obligations. You need to think hard about what you’re doing.
Next to this parchment was a separate scrap of paper.
And next to that a third, lonely bit of torn parchment.
Beck? Please answer.
The usual blocky, heavy handwritten letter had a tight, practiced quality, as if entire passages had been written and rewritten so many times they’d been memorized.
To Rosa Fingers, princess of Puddings,
I’ve been writing a lot of letters lately, but this is the first I’ve written to you.
I just wish I could send it.
There’s the tactical reasons not to, of course. We’re about to try and conquer your side, after all. You probably already know this, but it’s probably best not to tip off exactly when it’ll happen.
Then there’s the personal ones.
How do I tell the woman who’s saved my life that our sides are at war? That she’s fighting on the wrong side? For the wrong dream?
In my head, I’d imagined you were some kind of all-benevolent archon. Someone who would risk their life for no reason. But you were just that stuffy pink princess I met not so long ago, at that peace conference.
How funny is that? We were both under the same tent and didn’t recognize each other.
I mean, I had my helmet on but… then again, you probably wouldn’t have recognized me even with it off. You couldn’t have looked farther down your nose at us if you tried.
So I’m wondering now, was what Tyr said true? That you didn’t stick around because of some secret mission… or that you didn’t trust a Barbarian to keep your secrets, even if he owed you his life?
You aren’t all good, but I guess you aren’t half bad, either.
My friend Riker said you’d have probably let me drown if you’d known I’d end up saving the side that'll destroy yours. Calls it irony.
I don’t know if that’s true. I just made a pretty big mistake, sparing Guy Mudd, knowing it’ll probably come back to bite me like I already bit back Terry Tory-elle… and probably you, soon. So maybe we all just keep making the same mistakes, over and over. Not learning.
You saved me, and I’ll try to save you, offer you to join-- but I don’t think you will. You made your feelings pretty clear in the conference, and I can respect that.
So… what I’m trying to say is… goodbye.
But it’ll be worth it. The other sides will finally fall in line, and the Capital Wasteland will be at peace. Rule 5: That’s the way the kooky crumbles.
I just hope the Titans can forgive me.
Beck stood up from the rock he’d been sitting at next to the firepit, and put down the book he’d been using as his improvised writing desk.
He unscrolled the full letter in his hands, reading it over.
Kerri had been right. Writing it had helped him get a handle on a lot of his thoughts and feelings. Much was still unresolved, but he was-- firm-- on what needed to be done.
It was getting cold, and the fire was starting to fade.
He looked at the letter in his hand. It’d probably do as kindling while he got another log. He wadded it up, and tossed it on the logs.
Less than a minute later, Kevin’s head went up, startled at Beck yelping in pain.
He’d reached into the fire and pulled out the letter, only to immediately drop it on the ground and kick dirt over it to put it out. Clumsy, he should have worn the armor’s gauntlets.
The following letter was written in a precise script. So precise, each letter was almost identically sized, shaped, and spaced from every other, creating a grid like effect when viewed from afar.
Date: Turn 154 after founding
To: Overlord Adbert Bott of Madsense
From: Chief Warlord Roe Bott of Madsense
Location: X +2401, Y -124
Good evening Father,
Replying to your queries in order:
>>The deployment of Similated units continues without incident. Field losses within acceptable parameters. We are nearing the operational range of the Botnets/’Bord Cubes, it will soon become necessary to move Kerri and the prime Botnets so their Dittos can reach their targets.
>>As per observations, Puddings’ units present unique combinations of Air Power we can utilize. I recommend we not raze and refound Flandon when captured.
>>After evaluating his Ditto, I believe Chet to have a sufficiently developed persona to present to other sides for diplomacy, and/or serve as your heir. However, based on the Ditto’s performance, he requires more training before being allowed to lead battles unsupervised. However, of my siblings so far, he seems most adequate to replace me should I fall.
If I may divert your attention from tactical and strategic matters, I have a personal query.
Beck again made reference to the Titans today, with anecdotes of something called “scripture,” and quoting a passage of it.
When I asked him where he learned it, he mentioned popping with some in his initial memory, then showed me a copy of the Book of Fanon. Perusing it, it seemed mostly nonsensical prose/poetry hybrid meant to teach morality and operating conduct for units.
The passage he recited was as follows:
- As it is sung: “For the sake of the Titans we face croaking all turn long, we are considered as Sheeple to be slaughtered.”
- No, in all things we are more than conquerors through Them that love us.
- Neither croaking nor life, neither Archons nor Daemons, neither present nor future nor any powers,
- Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the Love of the Titans.
My query is: why do so many units claim to believe and follow these vague and poorly redacted behavioral and operating instructions?
You know it is not trivial that I consider Beck a friend, but I find it difficult to reconcile that a mostly sensible, rational and free thinking unit will choose to believe in such unreliable things.
For example: how could Archons or Daemons separate a unit from the ‘love’ of another? Neither Archons nor Daemons have Specials that can affect the purported ‘Love’ stat. It is simply nonsensical.
Chief Warlord Roe Bott
The response came later that night. The handwriting alternated sizes and stresses, sometimes switching from cursive to block script.
Congratulations my son! You wrote the magic word of the day! “Nonsensical!”
Tell him what he’s won, pen in my hand!
Well Adbert, Roe has won the realization that Erfworld customs and Scripture are best ignored, or left to Chet and Spamela to comb for slogans, predefined responses and canned laughter!
But wait, that’s not all!
Roe has also won a [DEEP TRUTH], and that is...
The Titans are irrelevant!
These distant creators offer love as flat and cold as the Number Zero!
But we Madsense units are smart shoppers! We’re part of a fresher brand with better products!
Why settle for inferior Titans who are completely indifferent to our existences, when there are older, greater [THINGS] undaunted by morality, who offer something much better than Titans Brand Love: Attention!
And who are [THEY]? Why, our [SPONSORS]!
Deep within the hearts of all Botts, Madsense pops and even Similated units are these [WORDS FROM OUR SPONSORS]!
I hope you enjoyed the [FREE TRIAL] of their messages I’ve shared with you; cobbled together from half remembered whispers and nightmares!
These are just some of the many, many messages they send! You just. Can't. Handle them all! Even if your host drank himself silly or hit his head against a wall to make it stop for just ten minutes! They also serve as a foolproof anti-sleep aid only deep exhaustion or concentrated doses of Wily Peyote Venom can help me overcome!
All contestants in “The Stars are Right” who win an Overlordship will be able to enjoy the sweet incessant [WORDS FROM OUR SPONSORS] forever whispering in their minds!
As your beloved host and Overlord, I could hear them when I popped! I can hear them now, saying so many contradictory things!
Now I know what you’re thinking: how can our wonderful [SPONSORS] be so unclear?
Well, that’s because our [SPONSORS] message is not for us or the Titans!
As subsidiaries to the [SPONSORS], I believe they want to use us to reach. Everyone. In. The. Audience tuning in from their home, workplace or mobile device to take this message home with them tonight!
Well folks, that’s all the time we have this evening, I hope to see you again soon!
Your host, Overlord and Father,
Alone in his tent, Roe started ripping the letter into thin strips. Slowly, calmly, dispassionately. The letter from his father had come with an immediate order that he read it, never discuss it with anyone outside the family, and then eat it.
Pouring himself a cup of water, he wadded up one of the strips and swallowed the first ball of paper with a big gulp.
There wasn't much poetry in Roe’s soul, but he wished his mind could have as easy a time digesting his father’s letter as his stomach would.
Over the turns he had gained some insight into the way his father spoke, but bereft of the stream of Orders he would get in his presence to clarify his words, he was left at something of a loss as to what he’d meant.
As he ate another wadded up strip of letter, he couldn’t help but wonder if his father was truly insane. The idea of supernatural entities, the Titans, was ridiculous to him, but at least somewhat tentatively supported by some of the available evidence, though he had a strong suspicion sufficiently powerful Magic could fake their having existed.
This idea of his father’s of other entities being responsible for their popping… there was even less evidence for it. True, Botts were unusual units, but so were Vampires and Natural Allies, why should they be burdened with a strange, unprovable origin?
However, thinking of ‘incessant whispering’ he could recall… yes. Briefly when he had been a prisoner, he had noted a strange silence in his mind. It had returned upon his release, but its presence and absence had not really affected his performance, so he had paid it no mind.
Roe didn’t feel worried or anguished at his father’s probable insanity-- the closest thing he “felt” was concern at how it might impact his Duties. And… an odd disquiet at being unable to help, understand. This was a gulf to him as vast as any unknown Magic.
Briefly, he considered perhaps a greater grasp of poetry, or emotion in general, or the irrationality behind these things would help, but quickly rejected the idea. Reason and calm were his great strengths, and he had no regrets about this.
He’d have to explore that train of thought.
The letter was written in an unmistakably masculine hand, but the elegant cursive script seemed somehow at odds with it.
Present: Her Royal Highness, Princess Rosa Fingers of Puddings,
From: Tyrian O’soar, of the Rockband
I hope this letter finds your majesty well, it has been too long since you graced our company with your presence.
Regrettably, this letter is not a social one. It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that the Rock Band is unable to accept your defense contract, the offered sum is well below our usual fee.
However, I am pleased to inform your majesty that you may count upon my sword and T-wexes to garrison in and defend the city of Flandon pro bono. And yes, I am still aware of the… finality such a decision will carry, but it is a choice I make freely.
It will be good to see the city, one last time.
P.S. Our Predictamancer Paula Treatise has asked me to relate a Prediction for you, “Kindness is repaid in kind, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” I’m unsure what this may mean, but please keep it in mind.
Late into the night, one last letter, folded into quarters and written in a hasty, animated yet still impeccably elegant cursive, was handed to her sovereign majesty, Queen Vienna Fingers of Puddings.
Mother, please forgive the lateness of the hour, but I thought it worth your attention, and doubtless it will help the soundness of your sleep to know the news.
We shall soon be rid of the threat of Madsense.
As you ordered, and despite my misgivings (I still think increasing our offer to hire the Rock Band would have been a wiser choice) I have remained with the delegates through the night session, moderating as best I can.
I believe you would be proud, they managed to muster the energy to stay awake and negotiate late into the night, to see the danger before us and wisdom in cooperation.
The motion has passed. Though the delegates are… temperamental… they have agreed to pool our treasuries and voted to accept the offered contract terms for his services.
Despite being an ignoble side, Charlescomm shall surely come to our rescue.
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.
Rule #7: Every once in awhile, remember to have some fun and enjoy what you’re doing.
Hi all, just a heads up, family concerns have been eating into my leisure writing time for the past month, so there's a chance I might take a hiatus for a week or two to finally wrap up the story. This is the home stretch, and I want to make sure it's polished and not rushed.
Thanks again for reading this far and all the encouragement!
I also thought the use of Erfworld spam(spam sent to Erfworld, not to be confused with spam from Erfworld) was hilarious, and shows a great deal of foresight and planning in taking screenshots back when they were posted, or perhaps the equally admirable diligence in taking screenshots to report it. Either way, I thought it was awesome.
And hiatus away. As long as you give warning, you're doing what all the cool kids are up to.