Unjust Deserts, part 29 and Finale
Part 29, Crime and PUN-ishment
Thanks to cloudbreaker for the weather forecast and Free Radical for the dessert ruling.
“How have they been treating you?”
“Hmpf. Figures. You’re the queen’s mount now; they probably have you pampered all turn long, fed seeds off crystal bowls on satin pillows.”
“Beeeeep, beepbeepbeep,” answered Kevin while leaning her head to the side, as if to say, ‘Weeeeell, now that you mention it...’
Beck drew the thick bristled brush across her smooth seedy hide with that careful combination of persistence, force and gentle finesse to get the dust and sand out from between Kevin’s wing-seeds. It was always hardest with those.
They sat under a large parasol on a fine picnic blanket in the center of the colosseum of newly refounded kingdom of Berliner, Kevin with her neck turned 180 degrees to ‘talk’ with Beck, who was seated behind and to her right as he groomed the gossipy Baudseed.
He’d have very much liked to take her for a run, but being chained by the feet to an anchor point in the colosseum floor put a damper on that.
At least it was easy to ignore the chains, as well as the four dozen Berliner archers standing on the arena walls, arrows trained neatly on him.
He thought it was overcroak, really, but he understood.
He scared them.
Jeri-- or rather, Charlescomm-- had somehow broken contract and turned him in to the Host for a bounty as soon as Madsense fell. He’d spent the better part of 20 odd turns being alternately left in solitary, tortured, interrogated, put in the odd gladiatorial game, and just lately, ‘executed.'
They could croak him outright, obviously, but he assumed the impulse to make a show of his destruction as one of the more visible parts of Madsense’s crimes seemed to be winning out. That, and prisoner or no, as one of the highest level Warlords left in the Capital Wasteland he was exceptionally dangerous. That, and one of the unexpected side effects of the split and merge was ambidextry, so even without his magic gear he could be twice as dangerous as soon as he disarmed an opponent and got their weapon. Soon enough his captors became unwilling to toss any more of their soldiers (let alone warlords) at him in gladiatorial combat.
Which lead to today.
“Cream?” asked Queen Rosa, holding a porcelain creamer in one hand while keeping the trailing cuff of her dress’ sleeve from dipping into his teacup with another.
Beck turned and considered, then declined. “No thanks.” On the one hand, he did want cream. On the other, he didn’t want to lean over and hold up his cup towards her, and give an itchy fingered archer a reason to scratch.
It was, thought Beck, perhaps the most surreal tea party to ever grace Erfworld. A scarred barbarian prisoner, a leggy bird made of seeds, and, of course, a queen. The latter of whom were two of the only units left in the Capital Wasteland who weren’t afraid of him. It must have looked like a lady Dollamancer sat random dolls at a table to play tea party at court.
Rosa poured a dab into her own cup before setting the creamer back next to the rest of the ridiculously classy blue and white china tea service on the blanket between them. She tucked her legs daintily under her dress as she sat back on her pillow, and took a sip, just looking at him brushing the preening Kevin.
She chuckled and put down the cup in the saucer. “When you asked for time with Kevin as your last request, I had assumed you would try and ride around on her, not grant her more pampering.”
Beck glanced over at Rosa and smiled, moving on to brush Kevin’s flanks. “It’s my last request, and I choose to treat m-- to treat Kevin right.”
“It’s all right, you can call her ‘my bird’, love that strong isn’t something to be ashamed of.”
Grooming Kevin was thirsty work. Beck put down the brush and picked up his own tea cup, smelling the aroma and taking a slow sip of it. Funny how a hot drink in the desert heat seemed to cool him off. Glancing at the green liquid inside, he asked, “Jasmine tea, right? The same as in the three hexes conference?”
“You remembered,” smiled Rosa, seeming a bit surprised. “I didn’t think you liked it that much.”
Beck smirked, picking up the brush again. “Because of the poison tasting thing? It was just part of the ‘tough and silent barbarian bodyguard’ act; I really did enjoy it.”
Rosa looked down for a moment, before meeting his gaze again. “And how have they been treating you?”
He shrugged, and went back to brushing Kevin. “About how you’d expect. Isolation, interrogation, torture, and those ridiculous gladiatorial games. At least I got some exercise out of those.”
Rosa’s smile went slack as she looked over to the circle of archers, the first time she’d acknowledged their presence since he’d been lead in. “I wanted to apologize…”
“No need, I understand. You gotta hold this alliance together, and I didn’t expect swinging me a pardon would happen.”
“The politics… it never ends. I argued against paying Charlie to buy you, said it was pointless with Madsense ended. That you weren’t a threat any more, and that it was you who’d been helping us with intel, taking Kerri out of the picture. But…” Rosa trailed off, letting her words hollow out.
He didn’t bother turning from his brushing, “None of them believed you, did they?”
“They said it was likely all a lie, or you hedging your bets; that even if genuine, it was too little, too late to have earned mercy. That we couldn’t show weakness before the other sides that haven’t joined the Host of I.H.O.P., or the sides outside of the Capital Wasteland. That…” Rosa breathed out, letting a pained frown cross her face “for there to be justice for the croaked, those most closely associated with Madsense were to be put to the sword.”
“ ‘Justice for the croaked’…” mused Beck out loud. It made him remember Shelley, Tyr, Queen Vienna, Riker, even Kerri, Stu and Terry, and the horrible lot in life they’d popped into and croaked for. “... I wish there was something I could do for them, but they’re with the Titans now. So will we all be, I suppose. It’s not bad reasoning, but I think I understand why. They’re angry and afraid, with every right, for me helping croak their sides and raze their homes. But if I had to guess, today’s ‘justice’ is more for the survivors, those left behind.”
Kevin rolled over onto her back, and he started scrubbing her belly seeds. “I made a lot of mistakes when I was scared and angry. It’s going to be your job to try and make sure they don’t make more.”
Rosa seemed to think it over as she took another sip of her tea, absently swirling it in her cup. “There is some good news, about today.”
“The Florist Overlord of the refounded Copenhaagendazs, Sal Guaro and I did argue that the IHOP sides have to be a good Host. That we need to show we’re different than the nutter Percy Bishy-onen and the madmen of Madsense. It’s why you got a ‘last request’, and it… may not be much, but he’s prepared poisoned Flower Power chalices for all of you today as a ‘humane alternative’.”
It was, thought Beck, very cold comfort, but comfort nonetheless. He sighed, trying to figure out how to frame a ‘thank you’ for the ‘good news’, but Rosa interrupted to add, “I don’t suggest you take it.”
Beck stopped brushing Kevin, who turned back over with a grumpy beep. Beck put a hand to quiet her, and turned to look at Rosa with his full attention.
Rosa gave him an earnest look, and very quietly, she told him why.
Moments later, around the corners of the arena, the manservants, maids and attendants started to file in, to prepare it for today’s performance.
Rosa sighed. “They’re early. Well, I suppose that’s all the time we have.”
He nodded, not able to help his eyes going downcast. “There never seems to be enough of it, does there? Thank you Rosa, without you I wouldn’t have had any at all.”
She tried to smile, vainly, before a frown took over.
Beck turned to Kevin, hugging her torso. “I’ll miss you, you big silly bird.”
“Beep!” Chirped Kevin, merrily, rising and stacking again with Rosa.
Completely unaware this was the last time they’d meet.
The view of the arena from the VIP box was spectacular, but rather uninteresting at the moment.
“This heat is simply unbearable.” Complained overlady Goldie Goose. This, despite the VIP box being under a lovely green and yellow tarp roof, holding a frosty drink, and being fanned by an attendant.
Her son gave her a sympathetic look. “It’s actually not that bad mom; you’re just not used to being above ground,” said Gray goose from his seat beside hers. He was frowning at the regular iced tea he was drinking. Adjusting from his previous (alcoholic) drink preferences had taken a toll on him, to the point he would have actually preferred to be out fighting the (now nonexistent) Admen. But an oath was oath and he had plenty else to be happy over.
Ahead of them, King Brett Zell gave a nod of agreement. “If her ladyship says it is intolerable, it is intolerable. Maids.”
With utmost professionalism, another pair of maids came with palm frond fans to cool Overlady Goose. Her frown lessened to the point it was almost gone, and Gray (in his newly sharp mindset) realized she was still unhappy at the heat, but happy to be pampered.
He tried not to harrumph or glare at Brett for showing him up in front of his mother. Brett still loved to use every opportunity to needle him, but it was at least tolerable since the Host had become formalized.
Goldie pursed her lips. “Still a bit hot for my taste, and the day is a rather somber occasion…” She raised a hand and focused, forming an orb that glowed Moneymancy green “Payout, triple seven, forecast cloudy, make it rain!”
The sphere of green light rose up and burst like a firework, and by magic, a thin layer of clouds started forming in the sky.
“Well, give it a few minutes and we’ll have a nice, cooling rain.”
“Rain,” repeated Thex Bell, Gray’s official lackey, who was as usual standing just behind of him. “I was once stationed at the Waterworld. The fountains there seemed so much like-a it.”
In an uncharacteristic show of empathy, Brett turned to ask “How are you feeling zhese turns? Zhe Berliner infantry we have repatriated are… taking time to adjust.”
Gray had to smile. It was one of those things that gave him hope for the Host and confidence in their allies. Brett and the other rulers had agreed to repatriate most of the Similated soldiers once Madsense fell, Rosa and Pariserie taking the rest. Something about the event had wiped the weird and freaky 'Similate' special right off of their stat list.
Thex got quiet for a moment, and Gray gave a nod of encouragement without actually ordering him to speak. But speak, he did. “It’s been… difficult. My memory’s been slow to come back, but it is coming back. Sometimes I get stuck repeating actions, but I’m actually feeling more these turns. Oh! My Signamancy is improving too, look!” Thex removed his helmet to reveal his scalp was now covered by a tiny carpet of sprouting brown hairs.
Gray raised his glass. “Booze seems to help speed it up. It even gets rid of that weird ‘a’ inflection they add after some ‘e’s’. The alcohol dis-inflects the wound in their Signamancy, you could say.”
Brett nodded, and seeming to practice what they preached, was a good Host and avoided making a dig at Grays expense over the booze.
Goldie hmm’d, casting her eyes to the other seats in the stadium… and the skies, tracking a trio of Archons entering the hex. “Looks like the Charlescomm delegation’s here. So smugly indispensable, aren’t they? If one good thing came out of this money sink of an alliance extravaganza it’s we could finally collectively solidify our grip on the airspace and force that robber baron to pay to use it. Or at least we would have if we hadn’t given 500 turns of safe passage in exchange for him.” finished his mother, with a sly look at Brett while pointing squarely at one of the two figures being lead to the center of the arena by knights.
Brett raised an eyebrow at his one time jailkeeper / hostess. “And live with zhe risk zhey be awoken from neutrality by a feral or mercenary, found a new side and start their conquest over once more? No. Besides it was… technically without monetary cost for us, and we reclaimed my home. We are now a seven side alliance. A true rarity anywhere in Erfworld.”
“That, I can at least understand,” conceded Goldie “But also paying Charlescomm a ransom on the other one was completely pointless.”
Picking that moment to stage a tactical retreat and let his mother and Brett debate away, Gray got up from his seat and walked up to the front of the box and looked down into the field, at the warlords his mother and everyone had made the big fuss about.
Roe Bott and Beck Packer.
Beck stood alone in the middle of the arena, waiting, watching as the seats slowly filled up. He looked up at the thick, ominous clouds above him.
He could tell they were loaded up, charged with something, but he had no idea what. He could smell water in the air, moisture the like of which he’d only experienced when razing the Waterworld.
The clinking of chains and the sound of shuffling feet alerted Beck to the fact he wasn’t alone.
Two stacks of knights lead in Roe and Aimee, chained like him, and attached their chains to two different anchor points near his in the middle of the arena. He looked over at them, Aimee seemed her usual blank self, but ‘perked up’ at the sight of him. For his part, Roe seemed to be ignoring him, deep in thought, and looking at the people in the stands.
Waving as best she could, Aimee called “hi beck lol raid wiped guild banned”
He smiled back, he’d suspected there were other prisoners from Madsense in the city but never seen them. “Hi Aimee, I wish I could say it’s good to see you.”
Aime cocked her head to the side and said “no probs.” Impressively, she managed with some effort to smile back. Beck was stunned.
“You can smile now?!”
“yaya we patched now haz all the feelz” she said, making her smile a wee bit weird and lopsided, and indicating herself and Roe with a shake of the head.
Beck looked over to Roe, still not sparing him a word or a glance.
“Roe,” called Beck. Nothing.
“Roe, please, talk to me.”
In a stage whisper, Aimee confided “he mad @ u bro”
Aimee had said they were patched, could feel… oh Titans.
Beck had spent the time before his execution looking back at his life, how he’d gotten in this sorry situation-- and found he was much less angsty about his regrets. Whatever else Erik’s split had done, experiencing both sides of his personality, making peace with himself, and reintegrating had given him a truly powerful, unique shift in perspective. He wasn’t exactly at peace, but nearer to balance… almost. There was one last person to try and make amends with.
And he was standing in front of him, ignoring Beck’s existence for what little was left of his own.
“It’s… okay if you don’t want to talk to me, Roe, but please, listen. I’m sorry Roe. It seems like all I do is break my promises. I know I betrayed Madsense… but you asked for something I couldn’t give without destroying myself. Taking me down a path I shouldn’t have followed. I should have refused earlier, but didn’t because of our friendship, the belief we shared in making a better desert. But still, I broke something more important than my promise… I broke your trust, didn’t I?”
Without turning to look at Beck, Roe uttered three dry, fiery words. “I hate you.”
“I know, I--”
“I hate you, Beck, but I hate that I hate you.” Roe turned, looking at him with not just anger, but the kind of inexperienced wonder of a level 1 pop on his first turn of life. “But what I hate most, is I would much rather like to like you, as a friend, again.”
The ghost of a smile worked its way across Beck’ face. “I’ve never heard you say you hate or like anyone or anything.”
“bro got all da feelz” cut in Aimee, smile drooping down to a smirk from the effort of using unexercised muscles.
Roe breathed in, and managed to find some measure of his usual composure. “I did, indeed. Apologies, Beck, I have had very little time to grow accustomed to these… feelings… to this not entirely unwelcome irrationality. Regardless, I am not completely ill disposed towards them, or you.”
He looked up at the sky, and seemed to find something in the dark clouds to draw comfort from. “I didn’t believe in the Titans, but how wonderful are they, to create emotions that are circular examples of themselves. I hate that I hate. I love to love.”
“Huh. I never thought of it that way.” Beck looked out at the crowd, already buzzing with anticipation.
Looking down and out at the crowd too, Roe mused “Though, I don’t think I will have much time to make other such observations, they look ready to begin.”
“I’ve had some time to think lately, and… for what it’s worth Roe, Aimee” started Beck, swallowing to wet his throat. “I don’t regret being your friend. If I could do it over, I don’t think I’d want to change that.”
Roe looked at Beck for a long moment before finally, blessedly, nodding. “Neither do I.”
Not at all dour, Aimee chimed in with “s ok we party again when we rez”
That reminded Beck of the conversation with Rosa. Looking from Roe to Aimee, he whispered. “Listen, there’s something I need to tell you...”
Secret shared and sad decision made, a booming voice interrupted. It echoed out from one of the stadium’s viewing boxes in a haughty, expository tone. ‘Ohhh crack.’ Thought Beck, ‘They were going to give speeches.’
The speeches were long, self righteous, flowery, fiery, and above all, tedious. They didn’t get any more chances to talk though with the deafening volume. Beck was tempted to say he’d take torture over them, but they were easy to tune out. He spent most of the time thinking about what Rosa had said, and Roe and Aimee’s decision. Sometimes looking at the amazing assembly of colors and sides present. If he squinted, he could make out Jeri and two new Archons floating by the VIP box.
The latest person on the rostrum was the new King of Berliner, Brett Zell, who addressed the trio of prisoners directly. “Now, let it be known zhat we are a good Host; zhe remaining leaders on the side of Madsense will now each be given a choice. Accept the merciful end of these poisoned chalices, or fight to zhe croaking. First, zhe chief instrument of Madsense’s tyranny, Roe Bott. Have you anything to say?”
A stabber walked up, and placed a conical voice amplifying accessory near Roe’s mouth.
Roe looked over at Aimee, then Beck, smiling, the sight sending shivers down Beck’s spine. He turned forward and spoke into the accessory.
“I am Roe Bott. I would like to apologize--” The crowd booed, jeered and hissed so hard they actually cut him off even with the magical assist. With the angry crowd showing little sign of quieting down, Roe decided to speak on regardless, as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening. “--for the harm I and my side have caused, but in good conscience, I can not.”
And that got them to quiet down.
Roe looked out at the assembled spectators, critically, but not unkindly. “There is little poetry in my soul, but there is some to be found in my ill-fated life: I can only regret my mistakes because I made them. I was sleep walking through life until Queen Vienna 'cursed' me with these feelings. Had I not followed my Duty and Orders, I could never have truly appreciated the brief, wondrous life I have lived, and which soon comes to an end.”
A knight stepped forward with a tray bearing three chalices. Roe took the offered cup to his lips, and drank deep, looking up into the crackling sky as he finished his monologue.
"I’ve seen things you people wouldn't believe. Four masted At-Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of the Swiss Mississippi. Been from one end of the wasteland to the other, seen the frontiers! Piloted 'Bord Cubes through the skies. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tanghäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”
It was a sin to cry in the desert.
Even in a city, by a river, with wells and a cistern.
But it seemed the desert sky didn’t care, it cried along with Roe.
Roe knelt, putting a hand to his stomach as he said his final words. “Time to croak.”
The poison may have been painless, but the wait was pure agony. And then, as the rain let up, Roe was no more.
What inner peace Beck had gained trembled as he thought ‘What exactly happened to Roe while we were apart? He seemed so alive, for the first time-- even now, as he croaked, he found a way to be happy’ and despite the croaking before him, Beck felt his faith reaffirmed. He was happy to be happy for Roe.
The solace was short lived as a sinking feeling gripped his stomach. All these croaked friends… it seemed he knew more people that no longer lived than did. Well, that’d be fixed soon.
The king took the opportunity to continue his speech making. “Now, zhe dark hand of Madsense, whose crimes are too many to list, whose atrocities will long defile zhe Capital Wasteland, have you anything to say?!”
The stabber with the voice amplifying cone came near slowly, holding it at arms length in front of Beck.
Beck grinned, lifting his weaponless and shackled arms and taking a step forward towards the stabber until the chains drew taught and held him in place, clattering like ghosts all around the coliseum. He summoned up the emotional intensity to inflect his spoken “⅄ǝs˙” with the strange echo he’d gained post split and heard it echo everywhere with the round coliseums accoustics. The poor stabber stepped back, almost leapt in fright with a small yelp. He wasn’t alone.
Somehow, that simple Stagemancy was enough to cause several people in the front rows to back up against their seats. Yeah, he scared them. He cleared his throat and yelled. “Sorry about the mountain! But, y’know, I’m sure a Dirtamancer can clean that right up!”
It was funny.
Not ‘ha ha’ funny, but more ‘ironic epiphany’ funny. He’d been fighting his Signamancy, hated it for so long. Then he’d circled back to… not exactly liking it, but using it for his villain act, then circling back to fearing becoming the mask.
Now? He really had no problem playing the role of remorseless villain, because he finally knew who he really was. The act was purely for their benefit. If he was going to croak now, he thought, might as well give the Hosts what they wanted to hear. An unrepentant, evil man to hate, and to feel safe with his croaking.
So when the knight offered him one of the two remaining chalices, he purposely spilled the contents onto the ground then spiked it like a ball.
There was booing, but it turned to cheering as a rhythmic thumping reverberated through the arena, making the rain puddles quiver.
Beck turned to look towards the source of the trembling, the gate for the caged ferals, it opened to reveal a T-wex, but not one Beck recognized as having been Tyr’s. On top of it, was Guy Mudd.
They stomped over with the kind of cocky pace only being mounted on a two story lizard can bring. “Packer!” yelled Guy.
“Guy,” greeted Beck, finding the formality of using last names right now a bit ridiculous. ‘I mean, how much more intimate could you get than croaking someone?’
“You owe me something.” Guy threw a pickaxe, a basic one that looked like it belonged to a level 1 Digger, onto the ground before him, and not long after the chains binding him vanished.
Beck smiled, lifting his weaponless and unshackled arms and taking a step forward. Guy didn’t flinch. In a low volume, so only Guy could hear, he said “I can give you my life, a fight to remember, but I can’t give you what you really want Guy.”
“Disband you! Pick up that pickaxe! You do not get to take away my revenge!”
“You can take that,” agreed Beck “but now I can only pretend to be the man you hate. Croaking me might make it so you have one less bogeyman, make some of the pain go away, but the scars-- you gotta work to heal them.”
Guy sneered down from on top of the T-wex. “Doesn’t matter if you won't fight me. You agreed with me once, that none of this was fair. Well, this is your turn to suffer that, to be on the other end of every wrong thing you’ve done!”
“I guess… heh… I guess we all get our unjust deserts.”
In one swift motion, the T-wex lunged forward, biting down on Beck by the waist. It reared it’s head up, tossing him into the air and eating him in two big bites.
The crowd went wild.
Several hexes outside the limits of Berliner, Jeri and Paula were waiting.
Slowly, Guy and his T-wex marched up the ridge. “Sorry I’m late, T-wexes aren’t the fastest.”
“You have the package?” asked Paula, blue eyes gleaming.
Guy patted the T-wex, who straightened its neck and made a strange, reverse horking sound, only to bring his head back down onto the ground and spit out an incredibly slimy but only slightly digested Beck.
Beck sputtered and spit and gasped for clean air, looking up incredulously at the T-wex. “Oh Titans, the smell in there! And I thought it was just Kevin that could do that!”
Beside him, Paula and Jeri helped him up. Jeri draping him in an altogether far too nice Charlescomm blue towel to try and wipe some of the slime off of his face.
The T-Wex repeated the maneuver, and up came his stomach-jailmate Aimee, confused but happy as she asked, “lolwut area change???”
Beck smiled at Jeri. “I gotta admit, I was a little worried there. That was an excellent illusion of me being dismembered.”
Jeri’s smile was slightly warmer than professional. “Charlescomm keeps all contracts. The veiling is easy when you know what the crowd wants to see. And… I put in a good word for you with the boss; you’re lucky he has a teeeny tiny soft spot for hard luck cases, especially if they provide just in time solutions for his Associates.”
Paula was more blunt in her assessment. “And getting paid twice, once to deliver and another to extract the same barbarian was likely extremely profitable.”
‘Well, thrice over’ thought Beck, suddenly immensely happy his cheeks had been flushed already and hiding his embarrassment. The deal Jeri had offered twenty turns ago was for Charlie faking his croaking, and getting him out of the C-dub by promising 10% of his earnings until he paid off his unit value.
Jeri’s professional smile now had the same consistent (and unflinching) intensity as Paula’s blue stare. “Charlie isn’t in the business of running charities.”
Now mostly dry, Beck offered back the towel, and Jeri blanched a bit at the goopy mess. "Except in this case, please, keep the towel with our compliments."
With lungs full of fresh air and balance returned to her legs, Aimee stood up and asked, “& me wutgives ??”
Paula crossed her arms in front of her chest. “The Botts brought incredible hardship to the desert… but even now, without the Similate special, I can not detect a Fate for you. A means to cloud Fate, perhaps escape it… is worth exploring. You can not remain in the Capital Wasteland. You could come with me, help me reclaim my old home of Candyladan, perhaps bring some good to Erfworld by freeing it from the shackles of Fate.”
Aimee seemed to consider it, as much as her stony, blank face could be read. “ /Y/ 2 joingrup but no nu Bott guild donut want 2be lobotoverlady” said Aimee, sticking out her pinky.
Paula nodded back and hooked her own pinky, saying “Agreed” and releasing Aimee as a prisoner.
Beck patted Aimee on the back, glad at least someone had survived from Madsense. “As disgusting a rescue as that what, it’s a shame there wasn’t enough room for Roe in the T-Wex’s stomach.”
An unusual tremble in her voice, Aimee looked back in the direction of Berliner. “bigbro drew agro 4 me… im… I’m going to miss him.”
Beck drew her into a hug, and addressed their rescuers. “Thank you, from both of us. I’m… overwhelmed. I didn’t expect anybody to care so much.”
Jeri took to hovering again as she answered him, “You can thank Queen Rosa, she put up the Shmuckers. She sends her regrets for not coming; this mission had to be need to know.”
A shadow crossed overhead and Beck looked up. “And what about you, Guy?”
The T-wex lowered his head, letting Guy hop off. “Yeah, well, I may not be too bright, but this desert seems not to take kindly when people bite the hand that spares their life. I just figured I’d prove I’m smarter than you in that regard.”
Beck managed a faint smile. He might have to leave the desert he loved, but the whole world became an open canvass after so many turns in a jail.
“So… what happens now?”
A few hundreds of turns later, the sun rose over the desert as it always did; like an egg breaking and spreading its golden yolk over the flour white dunes.
This morning, there was someone awake at that precise moment in the morning to watch it. From the central Ruins Hex, Saya Lance was golden, lit by the morning sun as she breathed her first breath and took it all in. Newly popped Desert-capable barbarian Warlady that she was, she knew instantly. She was in love.
Saya had followed the shimmering of light in the horizon thinking she’d find a river, and she had… but also a battlefield. Units in red and blue, but also green and grey, white and blue, black and green… judging by the livery, there were soldiers from ten different sides on the eastern side, and on the western there were an equal number of bodies in purple and gold livery littering the ground, waiting to depop. She should have expected this; water attracts life, and life breeds struggle.
She hadn’t expect to ‘meet’ other units this way, but the ingrained knowledge she’d popped with guided her. It wasn’t pretty, but she needed to pilfer through these bodies for water, food, maybe equipment.
She had managed to find some preserved rations, and a nice two person tent, when a dark shape appeared on the horizon. She froze in place. Once just an ‘academic’ knowledge, she was now very viscerally gripped in the crossfire between the fight or flight response and her deep desire to meet new (living) people.
Before her, the enormous two legged lizard came to a stop, the name Tyramisurus Wex came into her mind, but did nothing to help her keep knees from shaking, which she managed only through sheer grit.
A warlord in thick leathers and rags peered over the beast's neck and undid the cowl protecting his mouth. “You scavenging my croaked units?!”
Saya could only nod, for fear of betraying, well, fear, in her tone.
The warlord riding the T-wex looked down at her critically, but his frown softened a fraction once he looked her over. “Level 1 huh? Are you a fresh pop? You look like a fresh pop.”
“Well, I’m Guy Mudd and these here muddy plains are my lands.” He narrowed his eyes and the T-Wex leaned down closer, breath moist and faintly scented of vanilla. He looked closely at her and asked, “Did you steal anything?”
Oddly, that did away with her fear, as an angry frown made it’s way across her face. ‘I’m not stealing, this was practically foraging!’ she thought. Still, he was riding a two story lizard that could stomp her flat. So she thought of the meager supplies, the two person tent she’d found, and weighed the options. Slowly, she pointed to the small ‘loot’ pile she’d been keeping a few feet away.
Guy harrumphed. “Don’t talk much, do ya? You at least know how to say your name?”
She made him wait a moment before answering, “Saya Lance.”
Guy nodded, and seemed to think something over. “Well, Saya, I don’t reckon you’re a liar or a thief, seeing as you didn't know these hexes are mine. So I’ll make you a deal. Why don’t you come with me over to my place at the Rockband’s mesa and me and the other barbarians here can help get you all situated? Life is hard in this here desert, and we don’t have room for no lazy layabouts or thieves! This here mess of bodies? The sides outside seem to finally want in on this dry piece of cake. We got a war on our hands, to defend our home. You feel me?”
She nodded again.
“Pull your weight, keep your word, and I’m sure you’ll fit right in. Get lots of nice juicy contracts with the sides in I.H.O.P., and chances to fight and explore to your young green heart’s content. Sound good?”
She could only nod, relieved this Guy was friendly after all.
Guy nodded, pleased. “Hop on. My T-Wex, ol’ Broofmine here, he can carry us both over the river to the mesa.”
As Saya and Guy rode off, with the great beast’s thumping legs fading away. Something else was fading away, changing in the Capital Wasteland.
The very name, ‘Capital Wasteland’ was never used in their meeting. Over time it was used less and less by the sides living in it. It was still full of capitals, but it no longer felt like a wasteland. One turn, a very lucky Saya would find a lost cache of maps from tens of thousands of turns ago, and the name ‘Sugarglass Desert’, still faintly visible, would catch her eye. And slowly, that old name came back into circulation.
The old curse, from the first days of Erfworld, which doomed the desert sides to see ambition met with constant betrayal, greed stoked in every heart only to be brought low, faded from memory, out of sight and mind… changed to a blessing, as invading armies saw their gains break away to form new sides. Changed because of the crushing reality that, if the sides living there weren’t warring, conquering, betraying-- how can there be a curse?
And so the desert changed. Not with one enormous war, a huge explosion, or a Titanic spell.
It changed one step at a time.
Part 28 << O >>
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.
Rule #8: If you can't love yourself, how the Hellabad are you going to love somebody else?
Rule #9: Everything comes around, everyone gets their just desserts in this just desert.
Let me be the first to congratulate you on successfully finishing another Erfworld fan fiction. I really liked the ending, its nice that some good came out of all that misery and destruction. There are too many great elements in your story to address them all here so let me just tell you I really liked your characterization of Charlie (being the usual boophole and getting paid at least thrice for the same action) and your puns to word ratio, even though as second language English speaker I maybe get a fifth of them.
If you decide to make yet another Erfworld fan fiction then I shall be sure to read it.
This story has been a lot of fun.
I've been waiting for the tears in rain speech since Roe was introduced.
I like the symmetry between the end and the beginning of the story, while showing how differently things are going at the same time.
Could even have been a final Rules of the Wasteland for that: "Rule #9: What goes around come around. Eventually you'll get your just deserts. And a just desert."
@Bandaid: Thanks! And yeah, if there's one upside to this whole ordeal is the status quo was upended for the better. The normal sides could very well have backslid to a free for all, but they leaned the power of teamwork!™
Writing Charlie was hard, I actually avoided doing it in Hungry Jungle because I felt he can just overwhelm the story if I wasn't careful. But... it eventually actually got fun to try and figure out how he'd play the situation. And, fear of Parson and betrayal of Homekey aside, I don't think he's out to croak or stiff everybody he does business with. Then who'd he fleece?
@Purplered, nemoyatpeace, Salvage: Thanks y'all, I'm glad you liked it and appreciate you reading and sticking through it.
@Free Radical: I'm happy you didn't start a betting pool on that one.
Glad you like the "redone" ending/beginning. Dittomancy isn't just duplicating, but also all about symmetry, which is part of why so much repeats over the story. If I'd have done a backstory for Terry Tory-elle, she'd have had a similar intro to Saya and Beck's... but hers was much, much worse. Just an endlessly repeating worsening chain of cycles until recently.
Also, you've been a big help so far, and it fits, so I'm yoinking that rule.
Great work Spicy! This was truly a pleasure to read, and kept me coming back during Rob's hiatus. I'm glad that I could add even a small bit to the story as well.
I think the recent events of Erfworld have given Charlie a more sinister reputation than he would have had in the past. He's in outright war right now, which is different than how he previously operated. When I think of Charlie, I think of the phrase "you can sheer a sheep many times, but you can only skin it once." He's always going to make a deal where the "customer" thinks that they've gotten a good enough deal that they will do business with him again. If he burned every single side he worked with, then he would run out of people looking for his services long ago.
@falcore51: And thank you for sticking with it. It was always a pleasure to read your comments. :D
@DLuxxx: Punditry is a team effort, and everyone who commented helped. ;)
Also, yeah, I didn't want to put an exact time frame for the story in regards to the main Erfworld story, but this is probably some time before the second set of portal park shenanigans. And yeah, I had to untangle Charlie's reputation among the fandom (and me) with what would happen and how he'd act here. He's not a sociopath out to destroy everything for money, even if he is ruthless a lot of the time. His soft spot for the Carnies, for example. And yeah, he'd much rather mend fences (so to speak) with the Hosts of IHOP now that they've actually become a tenable client (or target of clients) or hindrance to his operations.