Blast From The Past - Part 10 (Finale)
It was the brutal sound of King Biff executing Delorean prisoners, one by one. Every now and then he’d laugh when a severed head went bouncing in a funny way.
King George had no desire to watch the grisly spectacle, and left to wander in the streets of Strickland. Or to be more accurate, the street of Strickland. As a level 1 city it consisted of just one large brick building and a few houses surrounding a single broad boulevard of black asphalt.
Glover’s mad ruler was a bit surprised and disappointed to still be alive.
“If Biff stands hand in Glove
And George forgets his stolen love
Together they’ll prevail over all
Otherwise both sides shall fall”
He had assumed that the prophecy would take effect once he and Biff were both in the field and vulnerable to Viceroy Rip Encino’s devious wit. Delorean had proven to be a tricky side, whipping out one brilliant ploy after another. First, they showed up with hundreds of dwagons, which was pretty clever. Definitely a smart idea to have hundreds of dwagons. Then, they used findamancy to summon their viceroy right out from under his chief warlord’s nose, saving their side from the brink of defeat. Danny still upset about his failure to croak Rip, despite George’s assurances that the screw-up was hilarious and totally fine.
Now Delorean’s ruler was on the run. Their almost leaderless dwagons were made helpless by weirdomancy. Except for the capital, their cities were all puny level 1s. Strickland’s garrison of unled archers and golems were so vulnerable, so clearly doomed. It was obvious that this battle was the moment when Rip would turn things around, unleashing some heroic and genius plan that would catch Tannenball and Glover unawares, likely croaking both their rulers in the process.
Instead, disaster struck. To George’s dismay, the battle went entirely in their favor. The Tannenball-Glover alliance had triumphed will minimal losses, and Strickland had fallen back under King Biff’s rule. Per the terms of their contract, for helping Tannenball retake the city, Glover was paid half of Strickland’s razing value, and modest amount of shmuckers added to their treasury was salt in the wound of victory.
How could things have gone so right?
The lives of Strickland’s defenders extinguished in Rip’s ruler sense like tiny powerballs winking out. Before long they were all croaked or captured, and the city lost, leaving darkness in that part of his mind.
“It wasn’t worth it,” he told Crow. “Whatever defense my archers put up, it wasn’t worth their lives.”
The two warlords were out by themselves, walking on a winding dirt path through the caldera’s forest. Mossy trees loomed overhead, occasionally letting golden beams of sunlight peek through the canopy. It was still enemy turn, so the old man had suggested they croak a little time by taking a walk. Although Rip wasn’t in the mood for a stroll he immediately agreed, eager to talk to his former ruler in private.
“I remember the feeling of being a king,” said Crow as he hobbled down the path briskly, still sure-footed despite his cane. “All those units floating in my mind. Each croaked soldier vanishing like a dying firefly. It took me a while to understand that the lives of enemy units were also fragile, also precious. Just because I couldn’t sense their deaths it didn’t make them less of a tragedy.”
Rip nodded, reluctantly. “I don’t wish for war, but I’m not certain my plan will work. What if Tannenball and Glover hate each other less than I assumed? What if they both say no? I only glimpsed their rulers for a few seconds. If I misjudged them…”
“Lookamancy isn’t just seeing. If done properly, it’s also the magic of insight.” Crow stepped over a root without even glancing at it. He had walked this trail countless times before and knew every inch from memory. “When you were in that trance your intuition was boosted, letting you notice things you might have missed otherwise. Spot truths hidden in plain sight. If your gut tells you that the plan will work, it’ll work.”
Elle Dorado had been playing a little game with the monkeyseer during Rip and Crow’s hike. She was pitting her findamancy against the animal’s lookamancy. She’d hide a pebble in one of her palms, and the monkeyseer would try to scry which hand the rock was in.
Findamancy and lookamancy were parallel arts, in a sense, obtaining information about the world in different ways. Sometimes their disciplines overlapped, as was the case when lookamancy was used to find something. Her findamancer sight could see the monkeyseer’s magical attempts to locate the stone, and it took only the barest sliver of juice to cast a counter-finding to thwart the creature.
If she spent any significant amount of juice her defense would be nigh impregnable, but as is the monkeyseer was able to break through her cursory ward about half the time. Then the creature would excitedly slap that hand, she’d shuffle the stone between her fists, and they’d start the game again.
After the monkeyseer won a few victories, Elle felt indebted to reward it in some way, so she let it wear her red rain boots. It was a loan, not a gift. She’d need them back for the snowy hike down the volcano.
With nothing better to do, the double stack of Delorean knights watched the caster and critter caper around Crow’s garden. One of them had asked Elle what she was doing, but they didn’t understand how it was any different than a guessing game with 50-50 odds. “He’s not guessing, he’s just seeing it wrong half the time,” she had tried to explain to the knights without any real success.
They were still playing when Rip and Crow returned. The monkeyseer began jabbering excitedly when it saw them, the same way it did whenever it found Elle’s stone.
“Boots seems happy to see you,” said Elle.
Crow glanced at his pet. “Boots?”
“Well, I couldn’t keep calling him ‘hey you’ or ‘it’,” said Elle. “He likes my boots, and it’s as good a name as any.”
“Our turn will be ending soon,” called Rip. “We should get ready to walk back down the mountain.” He grimaced. ”I’m not looking forward to going through that blizzard again.”
“I have blankets and rags I can give you,” said Crow generously. “You can wear them to mitigate some of the cold damage.”
Elle walked up to Rip and started fiddling with the zipper on her backpack. “Before we leave, I want to give you something.” She reached into the bag and pulled out a folder with decorated with a colorful neon drawing of unicorndogs frolicking beneath rainbows. She pulled out a carefully preserved piece of paper from inside.
It was the employment contract she signed to work for Rip as a barbarian caster. The paper itself was a formality, since a verbal agreement was enough to make her an allied unit and transfer the agreed upon shmuckers, but it was good to get this kind of thing down in writing. Rip raised an eyebrow quizzically. “Our contract? Is there something you want to renegotiate…”
“No, I am cancelling the contract entirely,” the findamancer said with a grin. With her words, natural signamancy took effect and crossed out the legal document with a huge red X. “Viceroy Rip, I hereby formally ask to join Delorean. I’ve searched to find you for a very long time. I didn’t find treasure, but I did find a home.”
The warlord blinked in surprise, and then returned the grin. “Findamancer Elle Dorado of Nicktown, I hereby accept your offer and appoint you as chief caster of Delorean.”
Elle’s uniform instantly displayed her new allegiance, keeping the same pink and orange color scheme but adding the parallel flame tracks of Delorean’s sigil to her chest. This prompted a round of enthusiastic applause from the observing knights.
A polite cough from Crow halted the celebration. “I have one minor correction, Elle,” the old man said as he hobbled to them. “Rip was a viceroy when I was his king. Now that he’s his own ruler, I think the more appropriate title would be overlord. What do you say Rip?”
“Overlord Rip… I think I like the sound of that.”
Crow’s weathered lips pursed into a grin. “I’m glad that’s settled, overlord. Now, I think you have a side to save.”
Seadance was the next Delorean city in the path of the Tannenball-Glover alliance. Until recently it had been a level 4 coastal metropolis, a lavish beach resort result overbuilt in Biff’s favored gaudy style. It had been a tiered city of white-roofed cabanas, constructed of lacquered birch and white tiles, then slathered with gold painted accents. Now it was a mere level 1 outpost, barely more than a small lighthouse fortress with a rickety pier.
The kings could see the city from their armies’ campsite on a grassy hilltop two hexes away. It seemed nearly deserted. Glover’s odd duck flyers had spotted only a smattering of infantry, and unless Delorean had a hidden trick up their sleeve (and George prayed that they did) it would fall even easier than Strickland had.
“We should have attacked before ending turn,” Biff grumbled, his fist tightening around a gold goblet of wine as he stared at his stolen city. “We could be sleeping inside a city right now, inside of huddled on this wretched field.”
George shook his head. “No, it’s safer to wait. We don’t know where the dwagons went. For all we know, they’re hiding in Seadance right now, counting on us to overextend. Next turn, Troy and Willow will rejoin us with a freshly caught swarm of straightjackets and we can attack at full power.”
They needed those fresh insects to avoid a brutal and chancy battle. Glover had lost a good number of the enchanted wasps at the battle of Casino Royale, and their remaining supply of bugs was spread out rather thin, split up to defend several cities at once. The two kings had brought enough of the flight-stripping insects to protect their position in the field, but not enough to shrug off the dwagons with complete impunity. With Biff’s leadership, George’s hat magic, Sid’s golems, and their small supply of straightjackets they almost certainly could handle Delorean’s air force, but at a pretty terrible cost.
Perhaps one of the prices contained in that terrible cost would be Biff’s life. Tannenball was in a precarious position right now, with their only heir captured and their king in the field. The idea of Biff meeting a grisly end filled George with delight, except for one minor problem. If Biff was croaked, the side would end and all their field units would disband.
Lorraine would disband.
That probably meant that George should actually try to win the coming battle. Too bad, he was growing increasingly tempted to throw it. Perhaps fate would be merciful and let Lorraine get captured by Delorean, and then George could feel free to become more incompetent.
George’s reverie was interrupted by buglers blaring out a warning blast, the melody that signaled dwagons inbound. The night watch had spotted the Delorean’s air force on the horizon, barely visible as a legion of blacks specks silhouetted against the sky.
“All right numbskulls, it’s time to butt heads,” roared Biff to his men. “Don’t embarrass me!”
At the moment the enemy was far away, but dwagons fly swiftly. Besides, the passage of time was an amorphous irregular thing across hexes. Natural turnamancy dictated that Delorean would arrive after an appropriately suspenseful pause, before the delay started to get tedious.
That meant that George had little time to prepare. Time for one spell at most, but which? Popping a cap would be the most fun, a big ostentatious explosion of flying monsters and animate objects into the sky. That would consume most of his juice and deal a considerable amount of direct damage. However, the most tactically sound spell would be providing an accuracy bonus for Tannenball’s ballistas. Each machine was a wagon-sized crossbow on wheels, tended by two units with the siege weapon special. The spear-sized metal barbs they fired were powerful but inaccurate against moving targets, capable of skewering a dwagon but unlikely to hit one.
Rhyme-o-mancy it was, then. George sadly sighed as he thought about all the horrific creatures he wasn’t going to unleash, then took off his crown and pulled a sound scepter out of it. It was a magical item he had stored in hat space, a silver rod with a black foam ball at the end with the useful effect of amplifying any voice spoken into it.
“Erf angle, erf angle
Won’t you shoot fine?
Pick the right degree
Then fire at an incline
It’s time to shoot
Shoot straight and true-woo-woo”
His crooning voice carried across the hex, providing an accuracy buff to all their ranged units until the end of turn. Combined with Biff’s leadership, the Tannenball-Glover alliance was ready for battle.
Delorean wasn’t ready to fight though. As the dwagons approached, George could see their ruler riding at the head of the pack on an armored blue. In Rip’s hand waved a white flag of surrender.
“This has to be some kind of trick.” Biff scowled across the hex border, suspiciously eyeing the low level overlord standing there. “You want to give us your dwagons? All of them?”
Rip nodded. “Yes, I’ll order them to turn. Half to Tannenball and half to Glover.”
Biff was too confused to even try being rude. “But why?”
“Because I can’t afford their upkeep. A shame, really. They’re pretty useful for conquering cities, as you probably noticed.” Rip shrugged. “Hopefully you two can get some use out of them.”
“That’s very generous of you, overlord,” said George with a grin. He felt the jaws of a trap closing around them, and couldn’t wait to find out what it was. He was hearing the beginning of a joke, and sensed the punch line approaching. “Now, what would you like in return for these few hundred dwagons you’re gifting us? It doesn’t take a stagemancer to tell that you’ve got something up your sleeve.”
“Peace, for starters. We have a treaty for you to sign.” He gestured towards Elle, and the findamancer unfurled a parchment scroll with a signamanacy contract scribed on it. “You both will agree not to attack Delorean for as long as my dwagons are in your service. Second-”
“What about my cities? Are you returning those?” Biff interrupted.
“No, the cities we’ll keep,” Rip said apologetically. “You’re free to try conquering them back should you ever no longer have my dwagons in your service. Second, I want the dwagons to be treated well. They get decent rations, a nice roost to nest in, no whippings. You can’t trade them to other sides, disband them, or send them on frivolous suicide missions. Third, you’re only allowed to use them in self-defense. No demanding tribute from random kingdoms. No conquering. No mercenary work. I don’t want them used to bully innocent people. That’s it. Pretty reasonable terms, wouldn’t you say?”
Biff furrowed his brow, sending a silent mental message to his thinkamancer. “Lorraine, do the math for me. Can we afford the upkeep on that many dwagons?”
“No sire. We cannot. Not without severe budget cuts across the side.”
“And how do you expect us to pay the upkeep on those dwagons?” Biff demanded. “If you can’t afford them, how do we expect us to do it?”
George began laughing. “Oh Biffy Boy, we’ll have to figure it out, won’t we? We can raze some of our own cities, disband units, do whatever it takes to keep these dwagons fed. It’ll ruin us both financially. Maybe even destroy our sides.”
“Well, you can’t force us to accept the dwagons.” Biff huffed indignantly. “We’ll just fight you and croak them all, like we planned all along. You can take that contract and stuff it where the sun shines.”
“Doesn’t shine,” corrected Rip. “And I expected you might say that, which is why I wrote up another contract. It’s an offer to give all my dwagons to either Tannenball or Glover, with no strings attached. I’ll give them to whichever one of you doesn’t turn down my first offer. You can use them to wipe the other side off the map, then disband down to as many dwagons as you can afford.”
Biff and George exchanged a calculating glance. “We can’t fight each other…” Biff said tenuously. “We have an alliance.”
“Well… actually…” George removed his crown and pulled out a copy of their treaty, pointing at a clause. “According to the fine print, our alliance only exists until the turn after Delorean is defeated. And technically, they’re surrendering to us right now, so… Hey, look at the bright side. Once we’re at war again, we’ll be able to start getting rid of those dwagons in combat. I have some fun ideas for how my casters can buff them. And I’m sure your almanac will suggest a brilliant stratagem or two. Maybe they’ll die off before we’re totally bankrupt.” He turned towards Rip. “Overlord Rip, I hereby accept your surrender and half your dwagons. Unless Biff would prefer I take all of them?” He looked over expectantly at the rival monarch.
Biff glowered beet red with rage. It took a moment for him to choke out a quiet reply. “I also accept. You’ll have your peace, for now. Enjoy it, Rip, because when the dwagons are all dead, then you’re next. ”
The contract was signed. The two kings and the overlord were bound by its signamancy. All that was left was to deliver what was promised.
Rip walked over to his dwagon. Some were resting on the ground. Others swooped through the sky in a holding pattern. They all turned their gaze towards their ruler, waiting for his orders. Their black eyes glimmered with surly dwaconic attitude, almost as if they understood the betrayal he planned.
“I’m sorry,” he told them. “I wanted to save all of Delorean, but I couldn’t save you. I guess part of being a ruler is making hard decisions, and picking who lives and who dies. You don’t talk, so it’s easier to pretend that your lives don’t matter as much. ”
He placed his hand on the side of his armored blue. “Divide into two equal groups, have one fly to Glover territory, one to Tannenball territory, then turn to those sides.”
The blue snorted at him, and shook off his hand. It took off and flew away, and all the other dwagons followed, following the last order Rip would ever give them.
George hopped on his odd duck, sparing one last glance at Lorraine before taking off. As soon as he left the hex they would be enemies again.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t save you,” he willed those words at her, in hopes that she would pick up the stray thought. “If I could turn back time. If I could find a way. I’d undo that trade that sent you away. But things will change. The dwagons’ upkeep will destabilize our sides. Tannenball might fall. Glover might fall. You might yet get a chance to escape to the Magic Kingdom. I’ll help however I can.”
She turned towards him. Her eyes were sympathetic but cold, and he heard her icy reply in his head.“
“You sold me. You don’t get to save me.”
The mad king accepted this silently, guilt lining his face. After a long moment he tipped his hat to her in acceptance, then left.
Three turns after surrender.
Biff stood in his private tower vault, reading what the Gaze Almanac had in store for him.
“Send 5 red 1 green 8 hexes south 19 hexes east of Casino Royale,” said the almanac. The artifact had gone back to giving Biff curt and cryptic advice, without any explanation to its reasoning. As usual, its advice was always correct. In the past two turns he’d already won several minor skirmishes against Glover, croaking several of their dwagons while losing none of his own.
He frowned. That also meant that Glover was slightly closer to fiscal solvency. Tannenball had already had to disband several hundred infantry, and might have to start razing its own cities soon. Hopefully some of Tannenball’s own dwagons would get croaked soon, in some productive fashion.
Biff had faith though. The almanac would guide him through this challenge, as it had every other problem since he found it. This whole mess with Delorean and Glover only proved its powers further.
“If Biff stands hand in Glove
And George forgets his stolen love
Together they’ll prevail over all
Otherwise both sides shall fall”
They had allied, and they had prevailed together, winning an army of powerful dwagons from their now vanquished enemy. The prophecy was satisfied.
Yep, things were going rosy for Biff as they always did. He’d even negotiated the safe return of his heir, for a steal of a price. A royal warlord in exchange for a level 8 knight? That moron Rip didn’t even try to haggle.
It was a little boring always winning without effort, but hey, that’s the price for having a magic book that knows all. Biff shrugged, then went to the kitchen to order up some lunch.
Thinkmancer Lorraine McBain sat crossed legged on her dungeon cot, deep beneath the keep of Casino Royale. The poor quarters were part of her punishment for sparing the Delorean findamancer. The other part of her punishment had vanished at start of turn, when the wounds had healed.
In her thinkamancer’s sight, she sensed Prince Griff approaching from afar, riding homeward on an armored red dwagon. She directed a green to a rendezvous point, so Griff could swap mounts and make it back to Casino Royale this turn. She wasn’t going to risk letting him get ambushed in the field, not when her project was so close to succeeding after all this time. Having him captured had been a terrifying setback, and she wasn’t going to let it happen again.
Duty is a funny thing. It prevented Lorraine from croaking Biff as she fondly dreamed, or walking into the Magic Kingdom never to return. It compelled her to act in the best interests of her ruler and her side.
There was a loophole in Duty though, one that allowed a subtle and indirect form of treason. Duty allowed a unit to act against their ruler if they truly believed the side would benefit as a result. Disloyal heirs across Erfworld commonly used this loophole to usurp thrones, by believing, correctly or not, that they were more fitting rulers than their parent.
The loophole also allowed a thinkamancer to cautiously and patiently prepare an heir to rebel against an incompetent king. She’d been working on Griff for hundreds of turns, subtly complimenting his prowess in battle, his tactical expertise, stoking his ego with compliments, whilst also pointing out how fat and useless Biff had become. A steady drip of flattery and insults would convince him that their king was nothing more than a puppet blindly obeying the commands of a book, which admittedly worked well, but imagine what a true king, a leader and a visionary, could accomplish with the almanac’s power.
That wasn’t a lie. She truly believed that Tannenball would be better off without Biff, or Duty would prevent her from patiently poisoning Griff’s mind and turning him against his father. Unfortunately the prince wasn’t ready to rebel, not yet. He still loved his father too much, but with time, and an expert thinkmancer’s careful mental manipulation, his disdain would gradually overpower his affection.
Lorraine didn’t particularly care for Griff either. He was vastly better than Biff, but inherited too much of his dad’s bullying and brutish attitude for her tastes. Fortunately, if Griff didn’t work out, he could be replaced too.
Eliminating a fit ruler would be more of a challenge though. She’d have to find an excuse that Duty would allow, but when a thinkamancer puts their mind to it, there are few problems they can’t solve.
“Sire, I refuse to accept your resignation,” thundered Danny of Glover. “Rulers simply don’t… leave their sides!”
King George continued emptying out his bedroom drawers, taking out underwear and socks and packing them into the infinite hat-space of his crown. “I thought you’d be happy to see me go, Regent Danny. You’re finally in charge of Glover! You can pursue wise and sane strategies like you’ve always dreamed, without some mad king telling you what to do. Besides, I’ll stay king, technically. I just won’t be here anymore. Help me with this, will you?”
George struggled to lift the corner of his king-sized bed, a hulking piece of furniture with a circus-tent canopy. With one hand, Danny hoisted up the wooden leg and plopped it into the crown, and the entire bed was sucked into the hat.
“It isn’t safe for you to be out there,” Danny pleaded. “Kings shouldn’t leave their capital. What if something happens to you?”
George waved away those fears. “There’s nothing to worry about. I’m not planning to fight in any battles. And if something does happen to me, titans forbid, I have an heir. A very expensive heir, might I remind you, which makes it even more important that I go.”
Danny sighed in surrender. “This is because you don’t want to disband units, isn’t it? Now that we’re saddled with those dwagons we’re going to have to make some difficult choices, and you want me to make them for you.”
“I’m sorry Danny, I truly am.” George placed a hand on his regent’s shoulder. “But I’ve already made too many ‘difficult choices’ to keep my side afloat, and I can’t bear the burden of another.”
“There’s no need to apologize, sire. It’s my duty to serve.” A quiet moment passed before Danny spoke again. “Where will you go?”
“First, the magic kingdom. Then whatever sides will hire a freelance hat magician. Every shmucker I earn for Glover, that might mean one less unit we have to disband.”
Danny grimly chuckled. “We likely won’t have to disband that many units. If Tannenball keeps winning battles, soon we won’t have any dwagons left at all. I’m issuing the best orders I can, but I can’t defeat fate.”
“I’m not king anymore, you’re in charge, etcetera, so I shouldn’t give you orders,” said George. “But here’s a suggestion. The Gaze Almanac is pretty spiffy, but it’s not quite as good as Biff thinks it is. Biff incorrectly believes that fate is on his side, that’s he’s unbeatable, but fate is really only on the side of the almanac giving correct advice. Fate doesn’t give a damn about Biff himself! It won’t cheat luck to protect him like it would for a true pawn of the titans. You can beat the almanac by presenting a no-win scenario, so that following even the best advice still results in failure. All you have to do is come up with a genius perfect unbeatable brilliant strategy, which sounds difficult, but I have faith in your abilities.”
The warlord sighed. “I’m trying, but our intel leaves a lot to be desired. How can I find a way to beat an all-knowing book when I don’t have any information beyond scouts with message hats?”
George put his crown back on his head. “It will be hard to find a way to win. Sounds like you need a findamancer.”
SEVEN TURNS AFTER SURRENDER.
It had taken days of hiking through the Brown Mountains to reach Delorean. The terrain penalties were beastly, even with the hover special, but finally Mac Fly stood in front of the gates of his home city a free man.
The metal door swung upward, admitting the knight inside where he was ambushed by a celebratory crowd of Delorean units. Dozens of cheering infantry and knights were there to applaud his safe return. Among them was Overlord Rip, who ran up to wrap him up in a friendly embrace.
“Welcome home, Chief Warlord Mac Fly,” said Rip as he released him. “It’s not official yet, since you aren’t a warlord, but we should have enough shmuckers saved up to promote you to warlord next turn.”
“Thank you, overlord,” said Mac Fly. “I’m not sure I deserve the honor though. I broke under torture. I told Biff everything I knew. I let you down.”
“Nonsense,” said Rip. “Don’t ever say you let me down, that’s an order. You saved me. You saved the side. I’d be a greasy stain on the streets of Casino Royale if you hadn’t caught me.”
“Very well, sir.” Mac grinned. “If it’s an order. I hope you’ll still let me apologize for the long delay in getting here. Reaching our capital on foot is no easy task. Did you really have to give away all our dwagons? It might have been nice to keep a few just for travel.”
“We can pop more dwagons,” answered Rip, “when we can afford them. In the meantime, we’re developing an alternative transport that won’t cost us upkeep. Let me show you.”
Rip led Mac through the streets of Delorean to a large warehouse formed of corrugated metal panels. A huge garage door was ajar, allowing them to see a strange metal wagon of gray metal parked inside. The sleek vehicle had four wheels of black rubber, a glass windshield, and the metal letters DMC shone above its fender.
“What’s this?” asked Mac.
“It stands for Delorean Mobile Carrier,” someone replied. A white-haired man in a lab coat rolled out from beneath the car on a wheeled mechanic’s board. Although his frizzy hair was white, his features were youthful, which was fitting for a recently popped caster. “A prototype, but hopefully the first of many.”
It was normal for new sides to pop a caster before too long, and Delorean was technically a new side despite being 120,000 years old. The magician had popped the turn after they traded away their dwagons, almost as though fate was trying to in some way compensate for their loss.
“Mac Fly, allow me to introduce our new turnamancer Scott Fusion,” said Rip. “Scott’s great. He says his specialty is self-propelling vehicles with their own move, which happens to be exactly what we need right now.”
“Pleased to meet you, a true honor, I’ve heard all about you,” said Scott, eagerly shaking Mac Fly’s hand and getting black grease all over his sleeve in the process.
“Impressive work, Mr. Fusion,” said Mac Fly as he extricated his hand. Mac noted with dismay that Scott had the erratic special, which he heard could make units challenging to command. “But that wagon won’t be able to easily travel to or from this city. There are no roads to Delorean, and without roads mountain terrain is almost impassible for wheeled vehicles.”
“That’s where I come in,” said another voice from beneath the car. A thin dark-skinned caster rolled out and waved a friendly greeting at Mac, while staying on his back. “Hello, I’m Troy Abed. Glover’s weirdomancer. We haven’t met before, but I did cast the spell that made you fall out of the sky.”
Mac blinked. “What’s he doing here?”
“Exchange of services,” answered Rip. “Elle Dorado is at Glover’s Lane performing some magical scrying for the next few turns, and in exchange they lent us their weirdomancer.”
“Yeah, I requested a little help to upgrade the DMC,” admitted Scott. “If I wasn’t level 1, maybe I could cast the weirdomancy portion myself, but until I’m better at general spookism I needed the assist.”
“Are we allied with Glover?” asked Mac. “They tried to kill us, unprovoked.”
“They did,” said Rip. “But that’s when we were conquerors with a rampaging army of dwagons. Now that we’re just a normal side, we make people a lot less nervous. It’s one of the advantages of not trying to take over all of Erfworld.”
“It’s a partial alliance,” chimed in Troy. “The peace treaty prevents you from openly fighting alongside us against Tannenball. But we can still exchange small non-violent favors, like this.” He pointed his finger at the car. “Yellowcake! Strangelove! Mile Mile Mile!” he casted.
A green lightning bolt sprung from Troy’s fingertip and struck the DMC’s wheels. The car’s bumpers glowed blue, and then it slowly floated up to fly several feet off the ground.
Rip grinned proudly. “See? To get where we’re going, we won’t need roads.”
At the top of a snow-shrouded dormant volcano, in a warm caldera hex, an old man sat in his cottage holding hands with a monkey.
The hermit’s eyes glowed white, then slowly faded back to normal as the monkeyseer’s magic faded. Crow Magnon smiled, glad to see that the Deloreans were doing well for themselves. His last bit of unfinished business had finished itself.
“You’ll be okay … um, ‘Boots’, won’t you?” he asked his pet.
The little creature shrugged sadly.
“Now don’t give me that look. We both knew this day was long overdue. Hey, look at the bright side. You’ve always been an explorer at heart, now you can actually travel and see the places you’ve been scrying.”
Boots hugged the man’s leg, and wiped away a tiny tear from its one cyclopean eye.
“I’ll miss you too,” Crow said, his voice breaking up a little, and he patted the animal’s head.
Crow and Boots walked through the warm forest together until they reached a scenic overlook, a pleasant spot they had picnicked at countless times over their long turns together. They spent hours watching the sunlit trees sway in the wind, and the drifting clouds, until the blue sky turned purple and the western crest of the caldera glowed orange from the setting sun hidden behind the rim.
The great conqueror of Erfworld, king of the vast empire of Magnon, attuned wielder of the Arkenhammer, commander of a dwagon army, slowly stood up with great effort. Although he was old, and tired beyond measure, he left his cane on the floor to stand under his own power.
“Farewell, old friend. Stay out of mischief,” Crow said with a wink. Then his turn ended and he vanished.
Boots cried for a long time, and stayed there throughout the night curled up on the ground where Crow had stood. Then next morning when the monkeyseer’s turn began it left to find Elle Dorado.
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