Decryptocurrency

The prisoner sat in her dark alcove. Shackles bound her to the wall, cuffing hand and foot. She hunched on a wooden platform that made a poor excuse for a bed, tucking her knees against the rough sackcloth of her dress.

 

An untrained eye might have mistaken her cowed shrunken posture as a sign of defeat or despair. That would be a regrettable mistake. To any signamancer it would be obvious that this was a cobra, coiled and waiting to strike.

 

This was how Brit Coyne, High Bankster of the Moneymancers found Wanda Firebaugh. Formerly she was Chief Caster of Gobwin Knob, the terrifying mistress of decryption, now reduced to prisoner of the Dirtamansion.

 

A small powerball floated over Coyne’s shoulder, casting light into the grim nook. Wanda squinted in the sudden illumination, taking in the unexpected visitor. The moneymancer was a slender man, with a black tuxedo narrowly clinging to his stick thin limbs. His bald head was almost tall enough to scrape the rough stone ceiling.

Overall he gave off the impression of some kind of giant insect, moving his gangly limbs with disconcertingly fluid motions.

 

“Croakamancer Firebaugh.” His voice was posh and crisp, each word and inflection as careful as a number in a ledger.

 

“Coyne. I’m surprised the Dirtamancers let you through,” she said. “I didn’t expect to see anyone after Janis.”

 

He pursed his thin lips into a polite smile. “I called in a small favor or two. Forgave a few debts. Dirtamancers are remarkably pliable if you grease their palms with shmuckers. Especially when all you’re asking for is a brief conversation with their prisoner. Are you curious why I went through all this trouble to speak with you?”

 

“No.”

 

Coyne chuckled. “Then let me propose a trade. Speak with me for a little bit, and in exchange I’ll tell you one of the great secrets of moneymancy.”

 

She deigned to give him a second of eye contact. “What secret?”

 

“All in due time. First I want to speak with you about decryption.”

 

Wanda shrugged. “Very well, as long as you don’t ask anything that’s a military secret. What do you want to know?”

 

He steepled his fingers. “You misunderstand me. There’s nothing I want to ask you about decryption. I was hoping to persuade you. To stop doing it.”

 

For the first time in their chat, Wanda grinned. “The Arkenpliers are gone. I am a defenseless prisoner, likely to be executed. It would seem that decryption is at an end.”

 

“Don’t try to con a moneymancer,” he said with a scowl. “You’re fated. This imprisonment won’t last. You know that as well as I. Soon you’ll be free of this place. Free to keep making those abominations.”

 

Wanda said nothing. Her mouth was a fine line.

 

Coyne held out a hand in apology. “I’ve insulted your art. Please, understand that I have nothing but admiration for the craftsmanship you display. You’ve conquered death, received a full refund on the ultimate price. It’s marvelous. What I can’t abide is a unit with zero upkeep. That’s simply…obscene.”

 

Her voice was flat, a question without an inflection. “I thought moneymancers were all about chasing bargains. What could be better than free upkeep?”

 

“It isn’t free,” Coyne snapped. “It’s a loan, and the interest is accruing. Eventually you’ll have to pay it back with a severe penalty.”

 

Wanda cocked her head. “An interesting theory. Even if true, it doesn’t seem to be any concern of yours. Many casters in the Magic Kingdom, perhaps most of them, would be happy if some nasty end befell Gobwin Knob.”

 

“I don’t give a shmucker what happens to you or your side,” cheerfully agreed Coyne. “But you’re planning to conquer the world. Perhaps you might succeed, if that is what fate intends.” He shrugged his sparse shoulders. “I’m not afraid of a world ruled by Gobwin Knob. You’d still need moneymancers to manage the finances of all those colony sides you’d have to spin off. But if Gobwin Knob’s empire is the entire world, that means the whole world will pay the price of decryption when the bill comes due.”

 

“The titans gave me an arkentool for a reason,” she replied.

 

Coyne threw his hands up. “Perhaps as a test, to see if you would be wise enough not to use decryption. Or decryption might be intended as rare spell to be used sparingly on your most valuable commanders, not unleashed in bulk to revive every last piker you croak.”

 

“Even the predictamancers don’t claim to know the minds of the titans,” she replied coldly. “The way you speak, it’s as if you spoke with them while sharing morning rations.”

 

“I want you to consider conquering the world without decryption,” he said quietly. “If you’re fated to win, you’ll win either way. Have you ever tried creating regular uncroaked with the pliers? With the artifact bonus, I wager they’d be almost as powerful as a living specimen, and take dozens of turns to rot. And most importantly, they’d have upkeep.”

 

Wanda stared at him. “So with no evidence, instead of making decrypted you’re asking me to create mindless decaying soldiers I’d have to pay upkeep on.”

 

Coyne thought that over for a moment. “Yes.”

 

“You promised a secret.”

 

He sighed. “Fine. Let’s talk about money transfers.”

 

“You said it was a great secret.”

 

The moneymancer held up a finger. “Oh, but it is. Transferring shmuckers is a subject of great importance to barbarian moneymancers, without the benefit of a treasury to store wealth or effortlessly send it to others.”

 

She raised dubious eyebrow. “Gems and hats.”

 

Coyne tsked. “Oh, that might work for other casters. But we’re moneymancers. We’d never make ourselves dependent on hat magicians. Who knows if they can intercept shipments, or spy on everything you push through the brim!”

 

Wanda considered all the letters she had sent via hat over the turns of her life, suddenly wondered if a facsimile of each one was being stored in some hat magician’s files.

 

“So, we developed our own methods to hold funds and transmit them between moneymancers,” continued Coyne. He pulled a pocket watch out from his coat, attached to the tuxedo by a long golden chain. “This is the clockchain.”

 

“Magical clocks are usually turnamancy,” said Wanda.

 

“The clock isn’t magical,” explained Coyne. ”It’s just a timepiece. The magic is in the chain. Look.”

 

He held up the chain to show her its delicate gold links, each the size of a pinky finger tip. The moneymancer plucked one gold ring free, and the break in the chain magically mended.

 

“Each gold ring can be converted into a hundred shmuckers,” he said, making the ring vanish into nothingness. “Of course that’s just natural moneymancy. Anyone can convert any gold or gem into shmuckers. It takes a moneymancer to reverse the process and…” He plucked a gold ring out of thin air. “…turn shmuckers back into treasure.” The bankster popped the new ring onto the chain, somehow fitting it between two other links as if it had always been there.

 

Wanda remained silent, waiting for him to say something other than a lecture on basic moneymancy.

 

“Many moneymancers have a pocket watch like this one, but there is only one clockchain we all share,” continued Coyne. “It serves as a joint account we all have access to. I can pull my end of the chain if I need more funds…” He tugged on his chain and it grew, with several more gold links popping into existence. “Other moneymancers across the world just had their chains grow shorter to compensate for the gold I took. It’s understood that I will eventually replace any gold I borrowed, at a standard interest rate.”

 

“And if you don’t?”.

 

Coyne shrugged. “Withdrawals are anonymous. There wouldn’t be any punishment if I made off with every last gold ring, because they would never know it was me that stole them. But if someone busted our trust and did that, moneymancers would stop using the clockchain, which would hurt us all.”

 

“An interesting secret,” said Wanda. “As a courtesy, I’ll keep that knowledge to myself. Unless I think it’d help me to tell someone else.”

 

The bankster chuckled. “Have you ever wondered why treasure is convertible to shmuckers?”

 

Wanda shook her head. “No. I never cared to think about it.”

 

“The axes of magic allow equivalent exchange between themselves,” said Coyne, gesturing as he talked. “Erf for Numbers, or Numbers for Erf. Gold and gems are the purest most easily interchangeable form of Erf, and shmuckers are an elementary form of Numbers, which is why anyone can convert them. But with enough juice and skill a moneymancer could swap any piece of stuff for any number, or vice versa”

 

Wanda arched an eyebrow. “Such as?”

 

“Anything.” Coyne shrugged. “I could turn a rock into shmuckers if I wanted. It wouldn’t be worth the juice it costs, but I could do it. Or I could convert an enemy’s attack so instead of subtracting health it subtracts shmuckers, draining my purse to protect myself from injury. Moneymancey is a very versatile magic because everything is made of Erf and Numbers, and we can find the exchange rate.“

 

She thought for a moment. “What of Fate? If the axes are interchangeable...”

 

“Aha, that’s the million shmucker question!” he exclaimed. “Moneymancers can’t convert to or from Fate. Otherwise we could buy luck, or pay a fee to cancel a bad prophecy, but we’ve long debated whether it’s theoretically possible to trade Fate. Now, I believe it’s no longer theoretical.”

 

“Decrypted.”

 

“Yes,” he leaned forward, his eyes burning with intensity. “You’re not paying their upkeep in shmuckers, you’re not paying it with gems or gold, so what are you paying it with? You paying it with your Fate. Every turn they live, your luck turns to misfortune, and your destiny tarnishes. You might conquer the world with decrypted, but you’ll never have a happy ending with them.”

 

The croakamancer grinned, but there was no joy in her eyes. “My happy ending is long dead. It died at Goodminton, and Efbaum, and Faq. I’ve watched my family die, been broken body and mind, and lost the only love I ever had. I don’t fear a tragic end, because I’m already living it. “

 

“Don’t be so sure you don’t have more to lose,” said Coyne. “Things can always get worse. Much worse. Right now you’re pulling on a clockchain you don’t understand, taking on debts you can’t predict.” He began yanking at his chain, theatrically lengthening it to his feet. Gold spooled onto the floor in a growing pile, thousands of shmuckers deep. “But when you pull on a chain, eventually…” The chain suddenly snapped taunt and began shrinking, the gold rings vanishing one by one until only a dozen or so remained. “…something on the other end might pull back.”

 

“Goodbye Moneymancer Coyne,” said the prisoner pointedly. “I don’t believe your theory is correct, but thank you for your visit nonetheless. It was marginally more interesting than staring at that wall.”

 

Coyne frowned and stepped backwards, out the door of the alcove. “Goodbye and good luck Wanda, I truly mean it.” He looked back before walking down the wall. “Now, I’m going to leave the Magic Kingdom. I have a fifty-turn contract with a nice idyllic little side called Greenspan, a pleasant land of meadows and streams. I have no desire to be here during your inevitable escape and all its carnage.”

 

The moneymancer bowed and left for portal park.

 

 

(NOTE: User was awarded 25 shmuckers for this post.)

Comments

  • criticalhit

    So clever!

    If this is true, then what of the other arkentools? The hammer trades what for Shockmancy? The shoes trade what for move?

    This was a joy. I hope you write again.

  • Kryton

    Well done, well done (though the MK uses RANDs not Schmuckers)

    but its a intriguing idea!

  • Salvage

    Fantastic. Brit was engaging and your theories on Moneymancy interesting.Great submission.

    Wanda is usually a bit less forth coming with her motives, but I see why her engagement was needed for the story to move.

    @Kryton- Although casters primarily use Rands within the MK, they still do trade in schmuckers when convenient or necessary. Moneymancers in particular work in schmuckers. It is clearly stated canon that Moneymancy does not effect rands.

  • falcore51

    This was a great little piece of fiction :-).

  • Keybounce

    > Or I could convert an enemy’s attack so instead of subtracting health it subtracts shmuckers, draining my purse to protect myself from injury. Moneymancey is a very versatile magic because everything is made of Erf and Numbers, and we can find the exchange rate.“

     

    That, if upheld in Canon, would be a wonderful power for moneymancers.

    The idea of "what is the purpose of a moneymancer?" being answered by "exchanging between Erf and numbers" seems like a good idea.

  • Wii (Tipped by 1 person!)

    It's a nice read, but I'm missing some plot. Brit appears to divulge a big secret for almost no reason whatsoever; surely he could've offered something smaller just to lecture her a bit about decryption? It doesn't fit with the build-up: Wanda points out Moneymancers chase bargains, which Brit does not deny, and his problem with decryption is the free upkeep. But he essentially trades a "big moneymancy secret" for "telling you to stop decryption"; a sermon bought at too steep a cost. 

    In that, I feel somewhat disappointed by the piece. It opened with Brit seeming an upstanding figure akin to a grasshopper, but I received someone loose-lipped who bargains away a big secret so he can deliver a sermon.

    Not a fair exchange to my mind.

    It's not bad prose, but I think with some polish it can be great prose. Consider adding a conflict and/or tension of any kind; the piece falls flat because there's no real tension. It's a little chat and nothing more. 

     

    What does Brit want?

    To stop Wanda from using decryption.

    What does Wanda want?

    Nothing.

     

    Something more like,

     

    “Coyne. I’m surprised the Dirtamancers let you through,” she said. “I didn’t expect to see anyone after Janis.”

     He pursed his thin lips into a polite smile. “I called in a small favor or two. Forgave a few debts. Dirtamancers are remarkably pliable if you grease their palms with shmuckers. Especially when all you’re asking for is a brief conversation with their prisoner. Are you curious why I went through all this trouble to speak with you?”

     “No.”

     Coyne chuckled. “It's so we could have a chat about decryption."

    Wanda's expression darkened.

    "Don't misunderstand; I didn't bring questions. I wanted to give you a piece of my mind."

    "At what cost?" Wanda asked. "Moneymancers only give if they receive in return. What do you want?"

    Coyne smiled again. "Nothing at all. Consider it a gift."

    "I have a price."

    "Pardon?" Coyne frowned. "I only came to share with you─"

    "My time has its price." An unnerving smile crept over Wanda's features. "So what will you offer me in exchange for listening to you?"

    He couldn't argue that. 'Time is money' was a tenet of Moneymancers. But, Coyne considered with a smile, so is making something invaluable seem like a treasure.

    "Ever wonder why a Moneymancer is never without shmuckers?"

    Wanda was quiet for a moment. "Fine," she said eventually. "Say your piece."

     

    Now, I'm certainly not some grand wordsmith, but it would've given the piece a bit more tension and interplay between the two: Coyne isn't someone who so freely offers bargains at a low cost, and Wanda retains her unwillingness to share talks with people not on her side if it doesn't help her.

    I hope you'll submit more, and I hope my critiquing is welcome.

  • agburanar

    It was marginally more interesting than staring at that wall.

    I would have thought sick burns were covered under Stagemancy, not Naughtmancy. Either way, Wanda clearly has some practice.

  • JadedDragoon (Tipped by 1 person!)

    Don't normally get into fanfiction. But other than a few niggles with how Wanda behaved... I really like it. I'd half way love it if Rob made Brit's take on the relationship between Erf, Numbers, and Fate canon.

    @Wii

    I disagree. It was never a trade. It was never intended as a trade. Read the subtext. The reason he told her the secret is because the secret itself is the best tool he has for convincing her to stop. He framed it as a trade in hopes of getting Wanda to be more accepting of the secret because she had paid dearly for it. This is an old psychology trick people have been using since before psychology had a name. Interestingly, Ben Franklin was famous for it. But Brit wasn't able to get her to pay enough for that to work. He told her anyway because even with the reduced chances of her accepting what he had to say it was _still_ his best chance at convincing her.

  • supargamers

    Is this a wonderful prologue? or a one shot?

  • Brony83

    That was an interesting text to read. Since it's so difficult to talk to Wanda, I guess you had to make her a lot wordier and more open than she usually is. However I do like the whole philosophy of exchange rates between Erf, Fate and Numbers. It it were canon I'd wonder if she really has to pay with good luck for it. I mean, if you convert between Erf and Shmuckers, that's neither good nor bad, it's just trading. If I buy a product I like in a shop, then that's a good thing for both sides. Nobody has to pay for that double-goodness with badness. Thus I assume that Wanda can pay for her Decrypted by dissolving Fated events. Like when her Fate bubble dissolved during the battle of Portal Park. So, after her talk with Slenderman, maybe she'll research if it's possible to pay for Decryption be destroying other people's Fates. Maybe she can even Dust some of her units to create good Fate.

    So, I kinda don't expect something like this to become canon, because Wanda becoming the Mistress of Fate might be quite a bit too much. If Erfworld wars thus eventually turned into manipulations of each other's Fates, then the whole comic would become too weird and convoluted. Eventually the hidden Retconjurer would appear and undo key events. Like the Moneymancer meeting with Wanda... maybe that's what actually happened. :-)

    You know, for the longest time I expected Slenderman to ask Wanda to add Decryption to the clock chain, so that was a nice red herring you placed.

  • cadmium3

    That was fantastic!  I love that you made the connection.  Nothing is truly free...  even in stories.

  • fanghoul

    I like this, but I'm wondering if the causality is actually backwards here. The Fate of a lot of the units that have been decrypted is actually been pretty bad before they died the first time. Sylvia Lazarus, Jack, Ansom, that random Rhymomancer that got shot, certainly everyone that died in the Volcano trap.

    I imagine that Fate's ledger book is looking pretty bad in general. Assuming a unit should have an average of zero for luck, then there's a lot that are going to go back into the box still owed something. After all, a series of unlucky events is the sort of thing that leads you to being croaked. Decryption having zero cost could just be the Titanic way of trying to get things to even out a bit more.

    Though maybe after seeing how Wanda was using this opportunity, I could see why they might also choose to give her a bit of a time out. She seems to be making more bad luck all around like this rather than giving anyone a good turn in their second chance.

     

  • RebelWulf

    Yeah, so, I didn't realise that this was Fanfic until I read the comments.

    Nice, dude. I personally feel like you did a good job.

    'Like an insect'. JIMMINY CRICKET GET BACK IN PINOCHHIO!

  • Adept

    Bravo! That was very clever, not to mention well written. I don't much care for fanfics, but I really enjoyed this one.

  • UristMcRandom

    Really quite well written, I thoroughly enjoyed this and I hope your speculation on Moneymancy is correct just for the reasoning of it being cool as heck.

    One minor critique: as others have said, Wanda comes across as rather... forthcoming with her secrets, especially when compared to her canon behavior. While I understand that a certain degree of this was necessary for the plot to flow, there are some places where Wanda could have remained in-character without disrupting the narrative. Case in point:

    Coyne chuckled. “Then let me propose a trade. Speak with me for a little bit, and in exchange I’ll tell you one of the great secrets of moneymancy.”

    She deigned to give him a second of eye contact. “What secret?”

    “All in due time. First I want to speak with you about decryption.”

    Wanda shrugged. “Then we have nothing to speak about. The secrets of the Arkenpliers are not for sale.”

    He steepled his fingers. “You misunderstand me. There’s nothing I want to ask you about decryption. I was hoping to persuade you. To stop doing it.”

    For the first time in their chat, Wanda grinned. “The Arkenpliers are gone. I am a defenseless prisoner, likely to be executed. It would seem that decryption is at an end.”

    Written like that, Wanda is able to maintain her usual composure, Brit Coyne's dialogue remains unchanged, and the narrative still flows.

    Again, wonderful work. Please keep writing, you're doing an excellent job.

  • Fla_Panther

    "You paying it with your Fate. Every turn they live, your luck turns to misfortune, and your destiny tarnishes. You might conquer the world with decrypted, but you’ll never have a happy ending with them.”

    I do very much like that part.  It does explain why Wanda's Fated to be miserable her entire life.  But it kind of tears apart the rest of the writing because if she truly were Fated to conquer the world then it's only her own misery that's paying the price, no one else's.  He said a price must be paid, and she's the one paying the price.  So why should the Moneymancer care?

    The only other thing I really noticed was that as interesting as this was ... Wanda ... it wasn't her voice.  It read to me like the Moneymancer having a conversation with himself.  Characters do have their own voices, and although I'm not good enough of an author (or English major?) to be able to explain why it didn't sound like her speech to me ... something seems off to me.  Maybe someone else can explain it better than I.

    That said, I did enjoy the writing though.  Just trying to offer constructive criticism.  Sorry I couldn't be more constructive in the last paragraph > _ <

  • Brother Mirtillo

    Charming – one last bid for harmony in a particularly snarled war. And what an intriguing harmony... finding the exchange rate, hmm? There’s a power indeed. (You don’t see many clocks in Erfworld, of course, but w/e – it’s the chain that’s onstage.) I wonder if Jojo would cooperate or not with the theory of bartering with Fate.

    The voices fit the characters nicely while minimizing need for narration. She’s properly dull and dismissive, and he’s primly proper. (Her summary of the deal followed by the brush-off rang especially true.) He really does sound like an old banker – though of course his first name predisposed me to that image.

    Still, for a conversation doomed by canon to not help, I think it went as smoothly as it could. I loved how even his side of the deal turned out to be a way to keep her talking. A man who can use both sides of the table to negotiate for what he wants? Smooth operator.

    It’s a well-balanced piece... though it does add that misgiving from Moneymancers distrusting Hat Magicians. Seeing more casters that distrusted each other even before TBFGK... it’s a bit of literary gold from them thar hills. Well played.

  • DunkelMentat

    The Clockchain! hahahahahaha

  • ShaneTheBrain

    I don't feel like the free upkeep on Decrypted is a cheat, not like carnymancy. More like, the Titan-powered tools use the Creation Force of the whole world to create a stable entity, same as how the Titans created the world. It's like someone with a World Editor program having to pay their own program to draw a world in a computer game- they are writing the rules of the game, they aren't bound to them. The 'Pliers change the Code of the world.

    The price was having to be in harmony with the principles of the Tool. Wanda cared about the idea of recreating the fallen as they were in life with enough empathy to be in harmony with the 'Pliers. In that way, she saw on sliver of things as the Titans do, and the 'Pliers acknowledged her.

    The 'Pliers probably have enough Creation Power to create an entire post-scarcity world if their Attuned User has the will to carry it through- just as the Titans themselves could have created a zero scarcity world if they'd so chosen. The Titans aren't bound by the rules of Upkeep- they created those rules! Tool users get limited Super User access to reshape the world- and they don't have to pay the world they're making for the right to do it, any more than they had to pay Schmuckers to the world for the right to create Schmuckers.

    If there is a Test in Erfworld, it may well be if the world's inhabitants have the will to set down the apparent rules of war and find the secret Good Ending- where they lay down war, overcome the apparent problem of Upkeep, and live in harmony pursuing higher goals. Or will they use upkeep as an excuse to conquer others for their Schmuckers and maintain poverty? Are they worthy of becoming Titans, or devolving into Barbarians?

    Stupidworld poses something of a similar test to its inhabitants, after all.