This was written for a Halloween competition. Normally I wouldn’t do this sort of thing, but it came surprisingly easily.
Leafstone didn’t pop flyers, but they did have catterpillers, all-terrain terrestrial mounts with respectable move, long enough to sit eight. Their lack of move penalty for anything short of water or high mountain gave them almost the same mobility; they lacked some of the flexibility of actual flyers, but they also didn’t take a penalty to archery, so Leafstone considered it a fair trade.
At present, three cats were heading out, mostly an honour guard because they weren’t even heading to a battle. Leafstone had managed that rarest of things, a few turns’ peace with every single neighbour; the very talented Chief Lookamancer Lou Lively had taken the opportunity to petition King Banana for a ruins-scouring expedition. According to her novice Predictamancy, there ‘is or will in a few turns be something extremely powerful’ at a ruins in the periphery of their territory; Chief Warlord Ace Pirate had scoffed, but King Banana agreed that it would be worth investigating.
Lou and Ace were supposed to share a cat – one powerful stack with both Chiefs would be unbeatable if they ran into a feral flying pig or something – but both hated each other, so they ‘compromised’ by taking one each and splitting up their knights and stabbers between them. That left the third cat to junior warlady Deudly, Advisor Hussar, and the party’s six scouts. Hussar was a courtier and felt out of place in the field, but he was the one in charge of organising much of the side’s scouting, and King Banana had ruled that he would be invaluable for what was fundamentally a reconnaissance mission.
The cats were undulating through swampland, holding their midsections high to keep the riders dry and meowing with irritation at the mud on their whiskers. The area was at the edge of their side not because there was another side blocking them from expanding, but because there just wasn’t anything of value out that way. Hussar had tried sending scout parties out that way before, hoping if nothing else to fill in their maps, but eventually he’d had to accept that the Titans hadn’t cared enough to fill the entirety of Erfworld.
“Are you sure we can make it this turn?” Deudly asked Hussar, keeping her voice down because Lou and Ace had been sniping at each other since they’d set out and would take literally any opening. She was lean but toned, a promising commander who could maybe one day make Chief if she gained the levels. He was a little pudgier, but made up for it with a truly epic longcoat and long dark rocker hair.
“Two more hexes, I promise,” he replied, having memorised their route. “Just enough move.”
“That’s good. I was worried you’d make us dismount and hike the last hex or two.”
“Would I do that?” he asked innocently.
“You mean, would you do that again?” she asked. “Remember the Battle of Mossrock? When you made me and the other reinforcements do that exact thing?”
“Let me rephrase that. Would I do that to the Chief Warlord and Caster?”
“I don’t know, would you?”
“Maybe. But would I do it to myself?”
She elbowed him gently. “This is why nobody likes courtiers.”
“She says, having survived that battle thanks to arriving in the nick of time,” he said, elbowing back.
“Uh, sir, lady?” said one scout, Sendo. “Are we going to have to patrol in this?”
“You’re going to make them go soft,” Deudly said.
“Probably,” he said to her, then to Sendo, “Only if the higher-ups order it. We have a Lookamancer and all-terrain units; better to let them handle the swamp and have you help cover the ruins itself. It takes a leader to find anything, but you can still map it out.”
“Thanks, sir,” Sendo said, relieved.
The cats crossed another hex border, then one more, and suddenly they were in a ruins hex. This one had a white marble temple with no roof, an underground crypt, and a circle of standing stones. Ace pulled up his cat, and he and his stack dismounted.
“All right, listen up,” he said. They gathered round. “Feral heavies sometimes pop in ruins, so nobody goes anywhere alone. With my or Lady Deudly’s leadership and a few fighters, we can handle anything easily, as long as nobody does anything stupid.”
“Yeah, I’m going to have to belay that,” said Lou, sliding off her cat. Where Ace was tall and well-built, befitting a high-level warlord, she was slim and bespectacled, wearing a skirt that looked out of place but which would probably go longer than pants without getting horribly muddied. “I’m only a novice at Findamancy; I don’t need a stack of mundane units distracting me every round of the turn. Figure out some way to handle security that doesn’t involve tracking all over my work.”
“How are you a novice Findamancer? You’re supposed to be a master Lookamancer!” Ace said.
“You’re aware that those are different disciplines, aren’t you?”
“One looks for things, the other finds things. How are those any different at all?”
She blushed. “If you don’t understand already, there’s no point trying to explain it to you.”
He rolled his eyes expansively. “I’m not going to risk a caster alone in the field just because you’re too immature to work in a stack.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I must have forgotten to phrase that as an order.”
“Casters don’t give orders to the Chief Warlord.”
“The Chief one does if it’s a magical matter. Remember why we’re here in the first place?”
“Hey, uh,” Hussar said quietly, “we’re just going to set up camp, if you don’t need us here?”
He and Deudly led the scouts away to the circle of stones, which was raised above the rest of the ground and was a little drier. They directed the scouts to unpack tents from the cats and get them set up. The infantry with the Chiefs looked over guiltily; they had enough initiative to feel they should help, but their leaders weren’t breaking stack.
“Are they like that all the time at court?” Deudly asked.
“No offence, but you warlords can be kind of … uncompromising when it comes to things that aren’t battle,” he said. “And casters don’t care about anything that isn’t magic. So yep, pretty much.”
“And neither type understands courtierly things,” she said straight-faced, “so when it comes to the important matters, like how to eat dessert right …”
“When that happens, I have to carry the entire side,” Hussar said seriously. “I don’t know what you’d all do without me, I really don’t.”
“Have to surrender, probably.”
“Even though we’re not even at war with anyone.”
“Maybe even because we’re not at war.”
“Don’t want to be lulled into a false sense of security?”
“Now you’re catching on.”
Ace and Lou had apparently had to compromise, judging by the fact that both were scowling when they walked over.
“There’s still time left this turn,” Ace said. “I want the hex mapped before nightfall. We’ll start searching in earnest tomorrow.”
“I don’t know how deep that crypt is,” Hussar said. “If you want it mapped too, we’ll have to split up.”
Ace frowned. Lou snickered.
“It’ll be fine, sir,” Deudly said. “With your hex-wide bonus, it’ll take a very powerful heavy to croak any of these scouts before they can disengage. I’ll take full responsibility.”
“Very well,” he allowed. “Hussar, take the scouts and the crypt. Deudly, take the stabbers and look through the temple. I’ll stay with Her Highness here. If you spot anything, call us immediately.”
“Sir,” both saluted.
The temple had a cruciform layout; two perpendicular hallways, lined with rotting doors, met in a room with an altar. Deudly went through the rooms off either hall two by two, sending four stabbers to check the one on the right while she looked into the one on the left. They were covered in dust and mildew and cobwebs, sometimes with smashed porcelain urns or other rubbish. No ferals, but also no treasure, extremely powerful or otherwise.
The altar room was wide, and judging by a chipped marble column, very high. Pews lined the altar on three sides. Behind it was a large marble statue of a muscular aquatic beast.
“What’s that?” asked one of her stabbers.
“It looks like a powerful seal,” she said.
“Could there be anything behind it?”
She peered. The light was starting to dim, and the walls were lined with tiles that didn’t fit very well and cast weird shadows. There might be, or it might just be a hole in the wall.
“Can’t hurt to look,” she said. “Weapons away.”
Four stabbers clustered on one side of the statue and heaved as hard as they could. They could barely move it, but managed to make it rock back, then pushed again and again, and finally it toppled and shattered. Deudly walked over to where it had been standing. There was a hole there, but nothing inside.
“This looks like a wash,” she ruled, “although maybe something will pop later. Let’s report back. I wonder how Hussar’s doing.”
It had quickly turned out that the crypt was very large indeed. They’d scrounged up some lanterns and had the six scouts split into pairs while Hussar walked behind, noting things down and coordinating them. It was like a labyrinth, with practically identical ten-pace-square rooms with twisting passages or stairways leading to one another. In the centre of each was a pedestal with a small pile of broken glass, marked with geometric shapes.
Sendo and her brother Tendo returned to find her brothers Gendo and Kendo waiting with Hussar. “That way’s a spiral staircase down,” she said. “Markings were two red triangles and one blue. Two more exits from there, left and straight. Left turned left-right-right-left – overall, I think straight for twenty-five paces – and opened into another room with a yellow square and a blue circle. Straight went up and back, with a red and a blue square.”
Hussar noted this all down. His map was becoming very complicated, covered in scratch-outs from when they’d realised they’d misestimated distances or directions.
“You’re … certain you know the way back, right?” Sendo asked nervously.
“Yes,” he said absently. “It’s all here. I’ve just stayed away from the entrance to get everything deeper in. I think we’re almost done; the others noted those markings earlier, in rooms that about match up with your directions.” Hopefully there weren’t duplicates of the markings.
The last pair, Bendo and Endo, arrived a minute later. “Guys?” Bendo asked. “We found a different room, not like any of these.”
They led the other five on through the twisting passages into what looked like a sort of shrine. An elaborate network of glyphs was carved into the floor, walls, and ceiling, culminating in a circle in the centre. Three glass statues of aquatic beasts were arranged around it, facing in.
“Cool,” Hussar said.
“What is it?” Bendo asked.
“Looks like a whole lot of junk, but I’ll circle it on the map. Maybe Lou will do a caster thing and find something we can’t. Anyway, we’re about done here.”
The sun was setting as the three groups met in the circle of stones and traded reports.
“No artefacts anywhere,” Ace noted superciliously.
“Oh, put a sock in it already,” Lou said. “I said it might appear in a few turns. We’ll just have to search until then.”
“Well, I for one am glad we certainly aren’t wasting our time out here in the boonies,” Ace said.
There was a long, high-pitched yowl, making them all except Ace and Deudly jump.
“Just an inkling,” he said. “It was another hex, anyway.” Lou frowned. “I’ll take a cat tomorrow and croak it. They’re disgusting to eat, but if you’re going to be precious about it …”
“I love how you make it sound like such a sacrifice to go hunting ferals when that’s literally the entire reason I had to let you come along.”
“Oh, trust me, if King Banana hadn’t ordered it …”
“Goodnight,” Hussar and Deudly said.
They spent the entire next turn searching, but to no avail. Ace proudly dragged the inkling’s corpse into the hex, to Lou’s revulsion; Hussar had the scouts look over the standing stones, without finding anything interesting; Lou managed a few Thinkagrams for the side. The turn after went much the same, and they settled into a rhythm for eleven turns.
“Where’s Lou?” Ace asked one night, returning from their makeshift latrine. In Hussar’s opinion, they really should have brought at least one digger along to do that properly.
“Sleeping in the crypt again,” Deudly said. “Said she wanted to get an early start.” Unsaid was that she complained that the combat units all snored.
Ace rolled his eyes. “How someone that careless could ever reach level seven … send a couple scouts to do one final check-in.”
“I’ll go,” said Hussar, who was having trouble sleeping anyway.
He descended into the crypt with one of the powerballs Lou had made over the past few turns. Its passage cast strange shadows and twinkled against the piles of broken glass. He had to make his way through seven tunnels and stairways before reaching the glyph circle, where Lou was lying in a bedroll. She eyed him with some irritation.
“Does our Chief Warlord need my assistance?” she asked acidly.
“He’s just worried about you.”
She frowned and rolled over. “He should be worried about my sleep. I need it to function.”
Hussar took the hint. He left.
The next morning, the others sat inside the circle, eating breakfast. The scouts had their little circle, the stabbers another, the knights a third, leaving Hussar, Ace, and Deudly together. Different unit classes rarely got along too well; they had trouble seeing eye-to-eye. Stabbers, at least, tended to be nice enough to warlords and knights, since they aspired to their leadership or raw baditude.
“Is she still at it?” Ace asked crossly.
“She’s probably only just woken up,” Hussar pointed out.
“I didn’t mean this turn, I meant in general. We’ve been here this long, and found nothing except a few stupid ferals. I’m starting to think she squibbed that first spell, that there’s nothing –”
A single crystal ding rang through the hex.
“Ooh, has she found whatever it is?” Deudly asked, excited.
“… That could be anything,” Ace said.
“Let’s check it out,” Deudly said, standing.
Ace waved her back down. “She dragged us all the way out here; she can bring it outside for us. If you’re that antsy, send someone to fetch her. Finish your breakfast.”
She looked to the scouts, who were technically under her command but who respected Hussar more, and Hussar nodded to Sendo. She reluctantly got up and jogged down to the crypt.
“I wonder what it is?” Deudly said.
“An artefact, I guess?” said Hussar. “Maybe even an Arkentool, like Charlie has?”
“I hope it’s a weapon.”
“Oh, really?” he said, feigning surprise. She stuck her tongue out at him.
There came a second chime. They all looked up and around.
“Maybe it does that whenever you use it?” Hussar suggested. “I wonder what she could be using it for?”
“Sendo’s taking a while,” Deudly frowned. “Tendo, could you go tell them to hurry up?”
The scout wolfed down the last of his breakfast and ran after his sister. A few minutes later, there came another chime.
“This is getting ridiculous,” Ace said, and brought two fingers to his temple for a Thinkagram. “Lou? Lou Lively, pick up, you stupid … you know what? You can explain this to Banana. Charlie!”
An image of an Archon in blue appeared before them. “Hello! Thank you for calling Charlescomm, your battlespace solutions provider.”
“Hi,” Ace said, too annoyed to be polite.
“May I have your name, rank, and side, please?”
“Chief Warlord Ace of Leafstone. I need a Thinkagram to my Chief Caster, Lou Lively.”
“One moment, please.” The Archon’s image flickered for a moment; Tequila played in the background. Ace ground his teeth. “Thank you for waiting. The call could not be completed.”
“Could not be completed? What does that mean?”
“Usually, that the unit in question has croaked or been incapacitated,” the Archon said patiently.
“Impossible. This hex is clear.”
Hussar and Deudly exchanged uneasy glances. Ferals could pop at dawn. Lou could take care of herself, but if something took her by surprise …
“Hmm,” said the Archon. “What is your location?”
“A ruins hex at the north end of our kingdom.”
The Archon rummaged through an off-screen dossier. “I’m sorry, did you say Leafstone?” she said. “A ruins hex surrounded by swamp hexes?”
“That’s correct,” Ace said, annoyed that Charlie apparently knew his territory better than he himself did.
“I’m sorry,” said the Archon with a fake smile, “Charlescomm coverage doesn’t extend to all areas of Erfworld.”
“What? I’m talking to you right now!”
“Thank you for using Charlescomm,” she said, changing to her side’s livery before breaking the call.
“Hey! Get back here, you stupid –! Okay, fine,” Ace snarled. He motioned the knights and stabbers over and stacked with them. “I’m bringing them all back myself. The rest of you, stay here until we get back.”
Hussar and Deudly watched them leave, their nerves slowly growing.
“It couldn’t be a feral, could it?” Hussar asked at length.
“I’ve never heard of any that chimes like a bell,” Deudly said. “Besides, what could take a high-level caster and two scouts without any even getting a yell off? They’re probably just playing with some really cool artefact.”
“Yeah,” he said.
Neither made any move to go check out the really cool artefact.
“Hey, so, it’s not our turn yet,” Deudly observed. “And this is supposed to be a clear battlespace. So either Charlie’s got some Archons around for some reason, or there’s a barbarian that’s popped this turn.”
“I guess we’ll scout him and try to get him to turn later,” Hussar said.
“Maybe it’s a caster even.”
There came three more chimes, and on the third, they and the four scouts still lounging around all lost Ace’s Chief Warlord bonus. They sat stunned for a moment.
“… Hussar,” Deudly said, her voice perfectly level, “there wasn’t any discussion back at court to name a new Chief Warlord, was there? One at level one or two?”
“No,” he said, with the same matter-of-fact calm, “no there was not.”
They stayed still a moment longer.
“Deudly,” he said, “it’s pretty twisty down there, so whatever’s there will probably take a while to find its way out. But probably not all turn, and it won’t end it early.”
“Wait!” she said suddenly, grabbing his arm. “In the temple, there was a statue. I don’t – I think it might have done something, maybe about – whatever this is. I broke it. Maybe we can fix it somehow?”
He thought for a moment, but there really wasn’t much in it. “You four,” he said to the scouts, “wait here, and if you see anything at all, shout a warning, scatter, and hide. Don’t try to fight it.”
He and Deudly ran into the temple. She led him to the altar. It was cracked in two. Shards of broken glass lay all around. The statue had depopped.
“… ? I don’t understand,” she said. “All this glass …”
There was another chime.
She seized his arm and dragged him to the hole behind the altar where the statue had been, pushed him through, and climbed in after. It was barely large enough to fit them both, and their legs were probably visible from outside if anything were to look.
“What –” he began, but she just put a finger to his lips.
They sat there for hours, hearts pounding crazily. Finally, their turn began.
“Should we leave?” he whispered.
“It might still be in the hex,” she whispered back.
“It might have left.”
“Do you want to risk it?”
He was cramping and wasn’t looking forward to needing latrine again.
“We can’t wait here forever,” he said.
“We can wait longer than this.”
Neither had any sort of stealth special. If it was still in the hex and spent an entire turn searching, it would find them anyway.
“Stay here. I’ll go outside for a bit.”
Very, very slowly, jumping at every shadow and sound, Hussar crept out, past the broken altar, and out to the circle of stones. Their camping gear was there, and the detritus of breakfast. The four scouts, and the three cats they’d tied there, were gone. In their place were more shards of glass. He doubled back, fetched Deudly, and they looked around some more. They slowly gravitated toward the crypt.
“I really don’t want to,” she said.
“But I think I’m Duty-bound. If there’s even a chance that two Chiefs might be alive, or even just a clue about whatever happened to them …”
They stood around for a minute longer, before walking in.
Their footsteps echoed through the crypt as they descended, deeper and deeper, and finally made it to the glyph room. Lou’s bedroll and untouched breakfast were still there, but no corpses. The three guardian statues were all smashed to pieces; broken glass littered the floor.
“It’s … some sort of beast that turns units to broken glass? Can you do that with, I don’t know, Shockmancy or Changemancy or something? Or is the glass outside just from the statues here?”
Hussar could only shrug helplessly. “Let’s go back outside,” he said. “There’s nothing in here.”
They wandered around outside for a few minutes, wondering what to do, before noticing something strange. The adjoining six hexes were all swamp, but one of them – the one from which they’d entered – had changed. Now it glittered, a mass of glass with bizarre, jagged shapes on top.
“… Please don’t say what I think you’re going to say,” he said.
“It’s heading toward the side,” she said. “We have to warn them.”
“How? We have no mounts, and with the move penalty for swamps, it’ll take forever to reach them.”
She gingerly stepped onto the alien glass hex. Her move ticked down by one.
“I mean, are you just going to stay here?” she asked reasonably.
“Maybe? I mean, King Banana can sense us; he’ll send a cat to pick us up, won’t he?”
She just gave him a look. He sighed and followed her. Once he crossed, he could see that the far hex was now made of glass, too.
“You do realise that if we follow it, either it’s faster than us and we won’t be able to warn anyone, or it isn’t, and eventually we’ll catch up to it?”
“If we catch it, we’ll stop at the hex border and at least see what it is,” she said stubbornly. “And if we don’t, we’ll reach Glasstone and do whatever needs doing.”
They ran out of move partway along the path of glass. With nothing else for it, they slept on the ground, having forgotten to bring any gear. Sleeping on glass is every bit as uncomfortable as it sounds.
Their turn didn’t start at dawn, so whatever it was was still alive for now, but they were less than a turn from Glasstone. Without saying anything, they set out.
They reached the city seven move later. They broke out into laughter; the city walls were intact, the Leafstone banner flying high. The trail of glass hexes stopped.
“Guess it’s not so invincible after all,” he said, relieved.
They crossed the hex boundary and walked up to the city gates, which opened automagically at their approach. The city courtyard was empty, except for litter of glass shards.
“… But, the banner. It’s still our city.”
“What could possibly croak everyone,” he said, “but not bother taking the city? What about the walls? Does it fly?!”
“It didn’t croak everyone,” Deudly said. “It would have auto-captured it. There’s someone still alive. Units of Leafstone, to me!!”
There was silence except the rattle of glass dust in the wind. Then there cames footsteps. A stabber walked out of the garrison, very pointedly didn’t look at anything except Deudly, and walked over.
“State your name and rank,” she ordered.
“Igor,” he said. “Minion. I guard the dungeons.”
“What happened here? Where is everyone? What did this?”
“I don’t know,” said Igor. “I was in the dungeons. I heard ringing and a little shouting earlier, but nothing came into the dungeon, so I had to stay there.”
Deudly and Hussar exchanged looks.
“Did I do well?” Igor said. “I followed my orders, didn’t I?”
“You did well,” Deudly said. A look of resignation came over her face. “Wait here a moment. You too, Hussar.”
She climbed the tower alone to get a panoramic view. Towers give a natural Lookamancy bonus and are among the few ways to see further than an adjacent hex. To the north was the road of glass; it stretched on to the south, too, which they hadn’t seen from outside. Whatever the thing was, it hadn’t ended turn within her line of sight. She descended the tower.
“It’s heading toward the capital,” she said. “I don’t think there’s any way to reach it in time.”
Hussar thought. They could try hiking to another city and hope there was a spare catterpiller with enough move to overtake it. The problem was that it would take them two more turns to reach the nearest city, and three more for the capital, two if they got cute with riding and hiking on the same turn, whereas the thing would be there in four at most, depending on its move. They didn’t have hats, their Eyemancer was MIA and probably croaked, and Charlie wasn’t taking their calls. Another side could have tried to relay a message through their field scouts, but they’d been so used to having Lou able to take Thinkagrams that he hadn’t arranged their patrol routes to allow for that.
“Charlie knows what it is, doesn’t he,” he said, thinking aloud. “And he’s afraid of it. He … believes that it’s smart enough to know if he helped us. And maybe it is; it just happens to be on a direct route for our capital. What can we possibly do against something like that?”
“Is it heading toward the capital, or will it home in on King Banana himself? Could it just be a coincidence and it’s heading to something else in the same general direction?”
Hussar said nothing. They both knew it wasn’t a coincidence.
“I have … an idea to warn him,” Deudly said. “But it’s not a good one.”
“I have nothing at all,” said Hussar, “and if we do nothing, it’ll croak him and we’ll go neutral and be conquered by the first side to come here with more than three units, so I say let’s do it.”
“True. Come on.”
She led them both to the dungeons, which were empty: they’d traded their last prisoners back as part of the armistice a few turns ago. It seemed an eternity.
“What’s the plan?” Hussar asked.
“It goes like this. First –”
In rapid succession, she shoved Igor into an open jail cell; she slammed the door behind him; her livery changed to barbaric black; and she drew her sword and pointed it at Hussar’s throat.
“Next, you surrender,” she explained.
A warlord might have called him a coward for doing so rather than try to fight her, but he was a civilian unit with d1 damage and a to-hit penalty worse than a Hippiemancer’s. He raised his hands; manacles appeared around them. Leafstone’s green-and-black emblem fell from the walls, replaced by featureless black.
“Next, I hereby rename this city ‘Incoming monster; King Banana evacuates capital’ – oh, find me in the Alps, there’s a character limit,” she said. “How many times in history has that ever come up? Why is that even a rule?! Um, let me think. I was going to surrender to you after, and use Banana’s natural Thinkamancy let him know the new name and get the message.”
“What if you did it repeatedly, with a new word each time?” he suggested.
She squinted. “I don’t think my Loyalty will hold up long enough anyway, and he’ll probably disband me if I try. In fact, there’s a good chance he will anyway. Or he’ll order us into the field, and we’ll disband …”
“Deudly, you’re not thinking straight,” Hussar said, beginning to panic. “Turn back to Leafstone.”
“And risk disbanding for no reason?” she asked sensibly.
“You’re only thinking that way because you just turned yourself barbarian. Please, just rename the city Danger Banana or something, and surrender back to me. You’ll see what’s wrong, and you’ll have done your Duty as well as possible.”
“The thing about Duty,” she said, “is that it relies on Loyalty, and that’s such a fragile thing. Turn away, and you’re not Loyal any more. And once you accept that your former king’s a croaked man walking because his Chief Caster made a so very bad decision, and that there’s no way to stop it … and, like you said, we think it’s smart enough to know if someone works against it … no.”
She pointed her sword at him again.
“You’re not going to croak me,” he said, more bravely than he felt.
“I really don’t want to,” she half-agreed. “I like you, Hussar, and you’re smart. You’ll be an asset to me, once I convince one of our capital sites to make me their new ruler. But you have more than one hit.”
She pommelled him, knocking him down; sheathed her sword; and dragged him to another cell and locked it behind him.
“If you want to talk, I’ll be around,” she said.
Hussar lay in the cell, slowly coming back to his senses. That could have gone much better.
He couldn’t see any way to escape. Igor was just across the hall, but even if they both got out, Deudly was a competent warlady; a courtier and a level one garrison stabber weren’t going to beat her in a fight.
– You there. Courtier.
– Huh? Is this a Thinkagram?
– From who?
– The Magic Kingdom. Certain of us are interested in your battlespace because of its implications for the wider world, but there have been some … anomalous effects.
– There’s a … a beast, or something. Nothing can stop it. Can you warn my king?
– A beast? Can you describe it?
– I never saw it. It chimed, and turned hexes to glass. Is it magical?
– Yes. Don’t worry, courtier. We’ll deal with it.
Isaac let out a sigh. This was going to be unpleasant.
– Please hold, said an Archon.
– Isaac? This is a rare pleasure.
– Hello, Charlie. I assume you know the situation?
– So it’s certain? I see. Truce while we deal with it?
– Truce. Do you have a plan?
– Contain the spread and let it run its course.
– Agreed. I’ll contact the Dirtamansion directly. Are there any details they need to know?
– Make up whatever story you like. Just make sure Leafstone isn’t contacted within the next … say, fifty turns, and obviously that their casters don’t enter the MK.
– I’ve been assembling field teams; I’ll give the order to intercept any communications right away. It’ll take some work making sure no third party sticks their nose in before it quiesces again; I trust you’ll keep up your end?
– It’ll be hard persuading the free casters to write off so many jobs without a clear explanation.
– Consider the Carnymancers at your disposal.
– That should make things much easier. Thank you.
– Don’t mention it. Ever. Good luck. Break.
(NOTE: User was awarded 25 shmuckers for this post.)
Happy side: Hussar’s not-quite-formal lines were my favorite, although Deudly’s ribbing was plenty funny, too. The two of them made a great duo, so props for that. You also Found an age-old question and a surprisingly-funny expletive.
Neutral side: muscular aquatic creature = powerful seal? Lolwut -- took a couple readings to catch.
Sad side: I knew a creature was lurking after its second herald, but I didn’t quite anticipate the nature of its attack, and no Arkin’ way did I guess the scale of it. That Prediction feels a lot worse in retrospect -- grr... And now, after a very creative but thoroughly-disheartening counter-strategy (with even more painful aftermath), we’re faced with the MK insisting, “Everything is fine. Nothing is broken.”
Shattering, indeed. Nicely played.
Fair points. It was experimental, and I wasn't happy with the ending either. Still, real artists ship.
The monster is not a reference to anything, in whole or part; it's a completely original concept, except inasmuch as the unseen monster is a part of the genre. There's a school of thought that things are scariest when you know enough to realise that they're scary, but not enough to have any idea how to counter them, if it's even possible. I think I overdid it, though.
When I was writing Harry Potter fanfiction, I explicitly tried mimicking Rowling's writing style, reasoning that she was more successful than me; and even though I don't copy her any more, I have kept certain features of hers. The thing is, she's not great at endings either, and when I think about it, I don't know many authors who are. (One doesn't get as much practice at them.) Can you think of any books/prose pieces with fantastic endings; regardless of whether the beginning or middle were great, the ending made you set it down with a real sense of satisfaction?