Shadows of the Evergreen

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Shadows of the Evergreen

Postby BakaGrappler » Mon Feb 17, 2014 3:54 am

All the sides near the great Evergreen Forest considered the area to be a Bubble Kingdom. Personally, Warlord Grey Shades hated the term. He preferred the term "Death Trap." His side of Everclear had spent the hundred turns since the conclusion of the Everlong War to leave that impression on all the surrounding sides, at least. It took a while for some sides to realize that if they send units into the forest, they only emerge on Everclear's terms, but after all the adjacent sides learned this as a fact, Everclear began to see many a peaceful turn. Which is the reason why King Shindig has standing orders for all Warlords to train their units with their full diligence, because peace is the one thing that is always in short supply for Erf.

"Welcome to Everglade," said Warlord Grey Shades, as he walked along the two ranks of ten scouts in front of him. Grey was neither very tall, nor impressively framed for a unit that had once held the station of Chief Warlord. Indeed, if anything he looked only slightly more sturdy than your average stabber, maybe as strong as an unpromoted knight. But his Signamancy gave him the air of a unit you would not want to engage with. The sharp green of his eyes give the feeling of piercing through a unit to see into and though them, and the stubble of his face showed he cared more for results than looks or manners. Not the kind of Warlord anyone would approach half-heartedly unless they knew they would receive a warm welcome, and as he strode before the newly popped units in his mail backed hardened leathers and drab billowing cape, the scouts were sure there was no warmth in him today.

"It's been a while since an entire dispatch of scouts has arrived in Everglade without losing a unit, but don't go thinking that impresses me," lied Grey as he watched every unit in the ranks follow his movement with their eyeballs. A breech of discipline in any other unit, but promising in a scout. "As far as I'm concerned, none of you truly understand anything about the world. But that is why you are here, to learn. I and a few others here will be teaching you what you will need to know in order to serve our side, and keep our borders secure. We have no Lookamancer to watch our lands. We have no Thinkamancer to maintain our lines of communication. We have no Florists to delay charges. And we don't need any of them. The scouts of Everclear are the first and most important line of defense for our side, which is why you are all here, in the most hostile and unforgiving terrain the Evergreen can offer. Only those who flourish here will become true Everclear scouts, and join the ranks of the Farstriders."

Warlord Shades couldn't help but say the name of the Farstriders with pride, and for good reason. The distinction was created during the Everlong War against Everglade and the Hickson tribe. The war lasted longer than any unit can remember without checking a library, and the brutality of the fighting is still a cautionary tale told amongst the barracks. A war between two Forest capable sides in a Heavy Forest with no roads of any kind, it couldn't help but be brutal. The entire war was an uninterrupted series of Search and Destroy missions, only Luck or Fate keeping you from stumbling into a stack larger than your own. And the larger battles reduced entire hexes to Ash terrain. Warlord Shades had been among the first units to receive the Farstrider distinction, and the responsibility of searching, seizing, sapping, and slaying any vulnerable enemy resources. It's not a stretch to say that without the Farstriders, Everclear would never have won the war.

"Any unit that does not flourish here," continued Grey, "will croak trying. No one leaves our classes as anything but a success or a corpse! You will be taught how to survive in hostile hexes. You will be taught to remain undetected by enemy units from any distance. You will be taught how to reconnoiter an enemy force. And you will be taught the Everclear way of fighting. Only after learning all of these lessons will you be able to begin fulfilling your Duty to your side. Do I make myself clear!?"

Not a sound could be heard from any of the new scouts, they just nodded slightly. Another good sign.

"Good. Now, your first lesson-"

Warlord Shades' thought process stopped dead in it's tracks, skipped a beat, and then dove onto a new bearing just quick enough to avoid being detected by the new units.

"-Will be taught to you by Warlady Brittney," said Shades, indicating a blond Warlady from the Hickson tribe that was promoted up from a Piker and who is standing attentively nearby. "She will teach you about the local wildlife. Your quartering will come after."

This was not the plan for the day, as her purpose there was originally just to see to quarters and vittling, but Brittney was just bright enough to adapt to her orders. Stepping forward in her green and grey trimmed Everclear colored armor, with a pair of Hickson shorts underneath, she begins her unprepared speech. "Well, like, the first thing you should watch out for in the marshes are the Haters. They're big foul-tempered beasts with enormous mouths that'll tear into anyone that grabs their attention. And once you get one of them on your case, it's real hard to get 'em off. Best way to deal with a Hater in your way is to lead it to another Hater, cause they're really territorial, ya see, and they'll start tearing into each other..."

Grey turned on his heel and started walking out of the spacious courtyard of the level 4 Everglade before Warlady Brittney had even begun her lesson. Grey continued to stride quickly past the wood paneled buildings that made up it's construction. The city was far messier than a city belonging to a side with a Signamancer should ever look, but the Marsh Capable units the city popped found this setting to be the most relaxing. The defenses didn't suffer for the rough materials used for the empty buildings. The walls were solid, the tower tall, the garrison tough, and the terrain lent itself to natural Dirtamancy traps, so Everglade was left as is after being conquered - though all the living Hicksons at the time were put to the sword. The fact that Everglade was uncomfortable and dangerous to outsiders was why it's a perfect city to use for the training of Farstriders. And even if it wasn't, the Hickson tribe is indispensable to the security of the south and south east perimeter of the Evergreen forest, where marshes predominate the terrain. An invading force would have to cross the marshes in light watercraft to have any hope of attacking with minimal losses, and the Hickson tribe are masters of light watercraft combat. Add to that the stacks and stacks of hard rock golems patrolling along the bottom of those shallow water lanes with boat hooks, harpoons, and halberds to destroy watercraft from below, and you have a path into the forest that has yet to be breached by outsiders.

But Grey couldn't stay here any longer, not even to give the new scouts their first lesson. He's received orders from the King.

Warlord Shades paced quickly and silently through the city, so absorbed in the possible contexts of his orders that he didn't even bother to look at his surroundings. That's why he was actually surprised when he heard his name shouted while crossing in front of the tower of this former capitol site.

"Grey!" shouted an overweight man from the Warlord's blind spot.

Turning to look, Grey saw the Warlord charged with overseeing the city. A stocky man with a horseshoe bald spot, a beard growing only under the jawline, and a stained white undershirt exposed through the opening of a red and blue patterned over shirt made from a material the Hickson tribe call "flannel." A ridiculous type of garment in Grey's opinion, but the Hicksons loved it as much as they did their short cut pants. Warlord Shades returned the wave from the man and called out, "Boudreau!"

The stocky governor hurried up to Grey, his belly and neck waddle bouncing as he did so, asking what the hurry was about. Despite the urgency of his orders, Boudreau was not a man to be brushed aside. He'd led four minor campaigns to repel attempted invasions through the Evergreen marshes, the latest being Stopgap's attempt to take Everlast on the eastern fringe of the kingdom, which he fought off with his current Signamancy. He's a Warlord worthy of respect and his current position. But Duty is Duty. "I'll tell you Boudreau, but you'll have to walk with me."

Even with Shades' slightly longer legs, Boudreau had no trouble keeping up, and so with a steady voice he asked the question, "So where ya off ta', Grey?"

"I'm heading to the Aviary, right now. I've been summoned to court."

"HA! Good fer yew! Maybbe you'll be able to get a banquet under yer belt! Live it up whil' ya can, son!" cries Boudreau, despite the fact that Grey is older than him.

Turning into the Aviary where the flight capable mounts for Everclear were kept, Grey shook his head a little and said, "Somehow I don't think I'll have a chance to enjoy myself on this trip, Boudreau." Grey stopped by a nest prepared for a Bluebird, though this one is actually colored a bright yellow. The fowl, seeing that it'll be ridden this turn, gave a very depressed sigh and stood up. Grey used this time to turn to Boudreau and say, "It's an emergency summons. It seems like something very bad is going down."

Grey mounted the Bluebird in one swift motion, which released a resigned moan in response, and was preparing for take off when Boudreau said, "How do you know? That it's something bad?"

Grey Shades turned to Boudreau and flatly said, "Is a court summons ever a good thing?"

And from the branches of a nearby tree, a wild Who Owl screeched.

YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!
Last edited by BakaGrappler on Fri Mar 07, 2014 8:13 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Hey, have you read Shadows of the Evergreen? It's my ErfFic. People say it's pretty good over here, and who am I to argue? Check it out, and then tell me what you think of my hack writing.
Last Updated: 6/16/14
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Re: Shadows of the Evergreen

Postby BakaGrappler » Wed Feb 26, 2014 11:29 pm

It had been the most unusual movement for Warlord Shades in all his hundred turns. He had ridden his Bluebird out of Everglade, but the flight route he'd been ordered to take didn't have him go directly northwest towards Everclear, the true capital of the side. He'd been instructed to take a more circular move further north, closer, but not into, Wherever. There, in the air over the trees, had been another Bluebird waiting for him out of Wherever, this one a light green. His orders had him change mounts and fly due west, until he'd found another mount, and repeated the mount change. A trip that would have taken four turns was completed in only one, but a total of six high level Bluebirds from four cities had been required, and the ones without the movement to get back to a city were left behind, vulnerable and unprotected. It was the fastest Grey Shades had ever traveled, but as a Warlord, potentially squandering those military assets felt... wrong somehow. The entire journey, Grey had been pondering the implication of the pluses and minuses of such a means of travel. The limited numbers such a method could afford to transit, the potentially lost units through ambush or natural predators, the upkeep costs for mounts being away from stables...

But every thought in Grey's mind stopped dead as the city of Everclear began to crest the forest canopy. On approach, Grey could only watch the structure of the city coming into view. The capital's main tower rose first, the spire gleaming from the white marble and light grey slate roof shingles, rising so high and thin that one might think it could break off in a storm. And from that needle like tip, came a flight of stairs revolving around and around the tower, the tower growing thicker and sturdier at ever landing in that endless flight of stairs. Various rooms and chambers were in active use, not a one was left for pure decoration, but they were all magnificently built and maintained, even the high level roosts for the air forces. And from the larger of these chambers came other smaller spires. There were nearly ten spires in all coming from the intricately simple spiral structure of the main tower, and Grey had been assured that each one was capable of firing off spell defenses, though in a more limited quantity than the main spire, and could act as a vantage point for archers.

Closer to the base, on the fourth through sixth floors of the tower were spaces large enough for artillery emplacements with catapults installed there. The munitions for them were not visible however, kept inside holds in the tower itself that were covered by removable tiles so as to not interfere with normal foot transit. There were also gapless railings along all the sweeping edges for archery units to form up behind, going all the way to the top for additional range to their attacks. But the most beautiful feature was the flowing water.

Using some method far beyond his understanding, there was a large natural fountain contained in the very top spire of the tower, and the excess water from that fountain flowed out into a series of channels to make a series of flows, falls, and rivulets spiderwebbing down the length of the tower, with more and more fountains adding to the quantity of water, that the building itself looked like a terrain feature formed by the Titans themselves instead of the work of a Signamancer's hands. The beauty of such a sight was undeniable, but the utilitarian practice was to have readily available water for every unit, no mater their placement, for quenching thirst or for fighting fire attacks. There were also methods for flooding individual pathways in the case of a fighting retreat up the length of the tower itself to slow enemies and sap their combat bonuses. Either way, the tower has long served as a place for units to have trysts during the night when the requirements of Duty were far less pressing.

The rest of the level 5 city was less impressive, but only just. The same sweeping, rounded, outspreading, water abundance as made the tower such a joy to behold. Tall buildings with domed roofs and openings for flying units were spread around the town, with an uncountable number of fruit trees along all the walkways, in the parks, training areas, sluice canals, and even next to the latrines. The entire city was filled with the smell of flowering, budding, or ripe fruit trees and clean, clear water. In fact, the site was named for the ever clear water, and the way in which the city reflects off the surface of the gently flowing, giant river, as it was doing right at this moment as Grey looked upon it. In this moment, Grey recalled the words that their Chief Signamancer had said while looking at the city from afar after it had finally been "completed."

"It really is like looking at a slow motion daydream," agreed Grey in a whisper to himself.

And then the explosion occurred.

With an echoing boom, a tongue of fire expanded out of the natural cave on the far side of the hex on the eastern bank of the river. The feral Doombats that live there came out screeching in anger and alarm, and proceeded to flap around in circles, lost in the mid afternoon sun. Looks like Alfred's in the cave again, working on his experiments. Well, that's Caster business.

With his mind returned to his approach, Grey gave himself the luxury of a full circuit of Everclear, flying first over the western bridge leading out of the city, the West Bridge, and then over the eastern one, the Adam Bridge, skirting the slowly dissipating cloud of Doombats. During his approach flight, Grey looks over the wall of the city. Great, curved, right against the water, and thick as a Warlord could ever wish. Which meant that without a impractically large naval force navigating an inland river the only practical approaches were the Adam and West bridges. With their thick, wide, and sturdy construction, the bridges could certainly hold a siege laden invasion force, which is why Everclear has means to collapse them at will via Shockamancy. Any invaders would have to construct their own bridge, under fire from catapults and archers from the walls and tower, and then face the flood traps built into the thick gatehouses in addition to the ranged units fire. Which left the final option of an air assault against the multi-point Shockamancy enchanted spell defenses.

Warlord Grey Shades felt a swelling of pride at the reconfirmed sight of these defenses, which made Everclear one of the hardest and hardiest defensive positions in the world. A level seven or eight by proxy, and a place where he always felt a comforting sense of coming home whenever he entered it. At least until he got into the presence of the nobility.
Last edited by BakaGrappler on Mon Mar 17, 2014 9:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Hey, have you read Shadows of the Evergreen? It's my ErfFic. People say it's pretty good over here, and who am I to argue? Check it out, and then tell me what you think of my hack writing.
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Re: Shadows of the Evergreen

Postby BakaGrappler » Tue Mar 04, 2014 10:56 pm

The final approach to the main aviary of Everclear was quick, uneventful, and completely unremarkable for the garrison of the capital. But even so, there was already a security team entering the building when Grey was just dismounting his Bluebird, and handing it's care over to a Stuffed Shirt. An incredibly simple cloth golem used for the large amount of labor the capital required to stay so pristine, and for a far cheaper upkeep than having dedicated servant class courtiers doing it. The Stuffed Shirts were useless for combat purposes, but it kept the real combat units at training rather than mucking the stalls. As the polka-dotted humanoid shaped Stuffed Shirt led the jet black Bluebird away, Grey was approached by the welcoming party consisting of four Stabbers, and four Eager Elves, of whom one was the dirty blond haired Chief of the tribe, and charged with the security of the Capital.

"Brink! Nice to see you again," exclaimed Grey as he reached out to grab the red garbed Elf Chief's forearm in a friendly greeting. Friendly due to the two of them having known each other for a while. Eager Elf Chiefs tend to croak quickly compared to other natural ally tribes due to their drive to be in the thickest of battle, and Brink is about the thirtieth Chief since the tribe allied with Everclear. Far more competent and reliable than the last one, Stink. But Brink has held the Chieftain post for several hundred turns, which is quite possibly an Erf record.

"Grey, welcome back," replied the elf, returning the grip and shaking. "How long are you going to be with us this time? Do we need to see about vittling right away?"

"Honestly, I don't know. My orders only have me rushing on site," said Grey, walking out of the exit on the first level of the long aviary's structure with Brink and his stack following as an escort.

Brink immediately turned his head to one of the other Eager Elves and nodded upwards slightly, and the unit broke stack and rushed off. A subliminal order to take care of vittling just in case, no doubt. Brink has always been serious in his watch dog role, which just made him all the more valuable as a natural ally. Brink then turned back to Grey, and said, "To the tower it is then. Is it an audience with the king, or the Chief Warlord? Both maybe?"

"Dunno, Brink. Order was just the travel path and court summons. No specifics."

At this point the group walked under an apple tree with ripe fruit hanging from the branches. Though the fruit would pop in the larder in another turn, there was a fruit grabber, a metal netted do-dad on a wooden pole, sitting at the foot of every tree's trunk, including this one. Grey paid it no mind and just threw one of his daggers up as he passed underneath, striking a large red apple dead center with enough force to break it off the stem and fly up in a tight arc before coming back down into Grey's hands. Grey was one of the few units popped that had the Throwing special, and he greatly enjoyed using it in a utilitarian manner and not just for combat "It seems to me you'd be in a position to know more about what's happening than I would, Brink. You want some'a this?"

"I'll take half, yeah. As for what's happening, I have no idea, but the royal family seem worried about something."

Grey twisted the knife in the apple, bisected it, and gave a half to Brink before taking a bite of his own. The stack, now including Grey, walked on in silence as the ones who were allowed to speak chewed their fruit. The silence only lasted for two bites though, interrupted as the stack passed by the archery range, where the garrison archers practiced in competition against the Shady Elf tribe that are Everclear's second, and last, natural allies.

"Why, Grey Shades. I thought that was you I saw on that Bluebird."

The voice was low, feminine, and somehow managed to sound bored and enticing at the same time. The voice was also quite familiar, and caused Grey's bite of apple to go down in a harder lump than it should have when he swallowed it. The apple forced Grey to clear his throat before replying, giving a note of vulnerability to his reply that the other party did not miss.

"Oh, Lydia, how nice to see you again."

She stood a full head shorter than Grey, with hair darker than black bundled into a stylized mess on the back of her head with half hanging down her neck in wavy bundles. The high cheekbones and deep brown eyes somehow caused her to look cute and pretty at the same time as she looked Grey in the eye through her long eyelashes. And as the Chief of the Shady Elf tribe, her clothing only added to her presence. Lydia wore a baggy black sweater dress with loose cuffs around the hands, but the leather armor around her body highlighted her figure and the thick slanted black on red spiderweb patterned belt highlighted her hip line. The sweater dress showed a lot of thigh for ease of movement, and black transparent tights stretched over what wasn't covered by the long black leather boots. And somehow, the various tiny skull decorations about her failed to make her look dangerous, but only added to the over all blending of cute and pretty. But her bodily mannerisms showed her to be both a quiet and unassumingly confident unit, as well she should be, considering the fact that Lydia Doe-Ryder's the longest living Shady Elf in Everclear, and another survivor of the Everlong War.

"Hmm. I believe you," said Lydia as she closed the distance between them, ignoring the rest of the stack Grey was in. "How long are you in the capital for this time? It's really been too long since we've had a chance to... catch up."

The slight lift of the eyebrow missed no one's attention, and as innuendo, it certainly hit the mark. Grey and Lydia had been with one another on many an Order over the hundred turns, and had been close with one another nearly from the start. A casual kind of closeness, though, never crossing from convenience into serious territory. Grey felt his role with her constantly crossed back and forth between being a friend with benefits, to being a plaything for her amusement. But since Lydia was never nasty with their relationship, Grey was perfectly okay with playing his part all this time.

"I, uh, don't rightly know yet, Lydia. I'll make sure to let you know when I do, Duty allowing."

"Make sure you do, Grey," said Lydia, as she reached over to pluck the half apple from Grey's left hand, and took a very slow and modest bite right over Grey's own bite mark. Lydia then returned the apple to Grey's petrified hand, purred a "Delicious" and slowly sauntered her way back to her girls to once again oversee the capital's combined training.

After some time, Brink finally cleared his throat bringing Grey's mind back down to Erf.

"Oh, yeah, uh- what were we doing?"

"Walking," said Brink quietly, self amused.

"Right, let's get back to it then."

It was another hundred paces before Grey remembered he had an apple in his hand that needed to be eaten.
Last edited by BakaGrappler on Mon Mar 17, 2014 9:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Hey, have you read Shadows of the Evergreen? It's my ErfFic. People say it's pretty good over here, and who am I to argue? Check it out, and then tell me what you think of my hack writing.
Last Updated: 6/16/14
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Re: Shadows of the Evergreen

Postby BakaGrappler » Sun Mar 09, 2014 4:54 am

The rest of the walk to the tower was uneventful. Everclear had many open spaces covered with grass that doubled as training fields and as recreation areas. The Chief Signamancer once called them "parks," Grey believed. And through most of them the side's units were practicing, often against each other to simulate real life combat, but using safer padded weapons that would sound with a boff every time a unit was struck. But in the park just before the courtyard some units were exercising the side's heavies, the Were-Woofs, by throwing branches or balls a far distance and having the heavy units retrieve them in a repeated pattern that only ended when the Woofs grew bored of the activity. In fact one of the Woofs approached Grey near the gates. Pure white fur with a black circular blotch over one eye, named Patches, Grey thought. Even though the bipedal unit was larger than him it's eyes seemed vulnerable and begging.

With a sigh, Grey tossed his apple core over a shoulder, where it disappeared in mid air, and held his hand out to receive the red ball in Patches' mouth. Taking it into his hand, it was more slimy than he'd expected, but Grey still threw it hard and long, and the big hairy Woof took off running after it, bounce after bounce.

"Ugh," uttered Brink in disgust as Grey shook a gobbit of slime from his hand. Grey was pretty much in agreement and washed his hands off at a fountain spout close to the garrison's main gate before entering. Inside was an open air courtyard, large enough to house a small army, luxuriating in the open space with turreted hard points growing almost organically from the walls at every fifty paces on the wall top. And in the center of the parade ground stood a great fountain with an ornate base with carvings showing the Battle for Everest, the pinnacle of the violence and turning point of the Everlong War, the battle where Everclear's Healomancer Mother Wrappings croaked while preserving the command stack until the Knighthood could annihilate the Hickson's left flank and come to the relief of the center. Grey could see the image of the Caster, and the units surrounding her, covered nearly from head to toe in her Magic Item bandages. Losing her had been a great blow, but the Hicksons had lost their Dirtamancer in that battle, which cost them the war.

And the central pillar of the fountain showed mounted Bluebirds flying up it's base, or sitting resting on a crawling mass of thorny rose vines, the same as the emblem which sat on Everclear's livery; a few blooming roses sitting on a grey tangle of thorn covered vines, all on a field of green. An emblem of something beautiful, but also deceptively dangerous. And at the top, is a great flowering rose, in gilt gold, as water poured over the sides in a steady stream.

Grey reflected quietly about how the entire city is like this while rounding the fountain and walking towards the tower's main entrance. How the capital is filled with tiny pieces of masterful artistry, each one a tiny part of a larger whole of interwoven imagination given form, because once the Chief Signamancer had finished sculpting the form and layout of the capital itself, he'd turned his spare time to reworking all the tiny parts he could manage. He's probably still working on half a dozen projects around the city, even now.

"YO! Grey!"

Well, not right now, because the Chief Signamancer was the one who just skip strode down the stairs from the gated tower entrance, calling out. Instead of replying right then, Grey approached the Chief Signamancer until he was within a respectable distance and said politely, "It is very good to see you again, Chief Signamancer." More for Brink's sake than for the Chief Caster's, since the fairly stiff Brink minded these things.

Chief Signamancer Artakis however, did not. You only needed to take one look at him to see that he wasn't much one for authority, even his own. His hair was toned bright blond through Signamancy, he wore short sleeved shirts and loose fitting trousers of a sturdy blue twilled cotton. And on his arms was a type of permanent Signamancy that Artakis called "ink," forming images that either stood alone or wove in and out of each other to form a collage on the backdrop of a living unit's form. A Signamancy that Artakis changed on a regular basis. Artakis was a very relaxed unit, but one of vision, drive, and unusual passions. Grey still remembered the turn he'd been introduced to the Chief Signamancer, as he'd introduced himself in a voice that held both pride and rebellious spirit with the words, "I am Artakis," before following up with a mellow, "but call me Art."

"Oh, yeah," said Art, remembering they were in front of others. "You're dismissed to... do whatever. Come with me, Grey."

Art quickly led Grey into the tower and towards the ascending stairway. Nothing was in the tower's dungeon other than Woof kennels, prison cells, storage, and cellars for larder usage. The portal for the Magic Kingdom was also down there, but the Casters were the only units it mattered to. But going up the tower did nothing to narrow down the myriad questions of why he was summoned to the capital. So he asked his questions.

"Say, Art, why was I ordered here? Are you the one I'm suppose to see?"

"Huh? Oh, no, Shindig and the Princess both wanna see you. But they're still in a meeting with Dame Montoya and Bookkeeper Dewey about- well, whatever, I tuned out Dewey pretty quick. Shindig asked me to keep you entertained until he was free. Shindig wants to talk about what's happening himself."

"And what's happening?"

"That's fer Shindig to tell you, Grey," said Art playfully.

"Oh," said Grey a little disappointed. But this is a good opportunity for the second most pressing question on Grey's mind, now that Duty is put on hold. "So, uh... Could you do something about my, -uh, ink?"

"With your what?"

"My ink. The ink you gave me. Last time I was here, after the feast."

"Oh, yeah!" Art laughed to himself a bit. "You got pretty wasted that night."

Grey turned a shade red in embarrassment. It's true he'd gotten completely plastered, but then again Everclear's specially brewed alcohol bearing the side's name was incredibly potent, despite being as clear as water. "Yeah, yeah I did. But, uh, that's not what- Look, do you remember giving me some ink that night?"

"Oh, yeah. You were pretty serious about getting inked up. Real specific on the design, too. Can barely remember what it was, though, I was pretty well sloshed myself. Why?"

"Well, I was kinda wondering if you could... uh... remove it?"

Art stopped dead, the light of the wide open windows beaming across his face as he turned with a shocked expression, and asked, "You don't like my work?"

"Oh, no, no, no! The thorn band on my arm is great! No, no... I just... well, I don't think I really knew what I was asking you to put on my chest that night. Seeing as how I was drunk and-"

Art's laughter broke Grey's train of thought in half, leaving him standing there speechless until Art had collected himself again. "Titans, you're an easy mark, Grey. I've been expecting this question since I put that ink on ya. Just bad luck you were ordered out of town the next morning before you sobered up right and remembered it."

Art then quickly turned a corner and into his very well lit living quarters, which doubled as a studio. Stepping inside the large one room studio apartment, Grey picked up where the conversation had left off.

"Wait, you remember the- why did you even give it to me if you knew I wouldn't like it!"

"Like I said, you were pretty forceful about getting that ink. Not my call to say what art people put on their bodies, I just give it to 'em. And the answer is no, I can't remove it, not this turn at least."

Crestfallen, Grey asked, "Why not?"

Art snatched a round contained and threw it side handed at Grey, who caught it in mid air. "Cause I used my juice to make you some more make up. Thought you might be running low."

Grey was grateful, it's useful makeup, indispensable to the side. But he was really hoping to get his ink removed. He'll have to take a rain check on "catching up" with Lydia until it was gone or he'd never live it down.

"That, and I was finishing up a commission all morning. Took most of my juice to get just right."

With that, Art cocked a thumb at the easel on the far side of the room and walked over to it. Grey naturally followed. There was a finished painting on the easel, as tall as a unit and then some made out of some kind of black fabric as a background. On it was a Titan in all his glory, on a stage apparently, perhaps singing some Rhyme-A-Mancy, and his arm was around the shoulders of someone he didn't recognize. A warlord definitely, perhaps a noble from the bearing and dress, but a stranger. And down the Titan's face were streaming tears. Grey tilted his head trying to understand the picture, but no matter what thoughts he tried to connect it all just came to the same end. Complete garbage. And his face showed that thought.

"I know, right," said Art, not as a question. "Completely tasteless. But the King of Kitsch had his Moneymancer commission me to make it, to honor his croaked son Nicknack, that's him the Titan is crying for. The entire thing is crap, but they paid five thousand Shmuckers up front, the rest on delivery, so who am I to argue. In fact, it was then I'd heard about the relay system. What did you think of it?"

Five thousand up front? That's a lot of upkeep. Art was pretty good about supporting the Side through his craft like- wait, relay?

"That was you? The Bluebird mount switching was you?"

"Naaaaaw, I'd only heard about that in the Magic Kingdom. Apparently some side way to the west started doing that and the Mathamancers and Moneymancers have been arguing about cost and logistics of the thing. And when Shindig said he needed you here quick, I thought, hey, why not give it a try! So, what did you think?"

"Well... it was useful. But only for small numbers. But if King Shindig agreed to test it today... then is what's happening bad enough to warrant it?"

"Oh, Grey," said Art, turning serious. "It's worth the relay and more. I'm not sure where we stand exactly, but I can tell you this. The Side is in trouble."
Last edited by BakaGrappler on Sun May 04, 2014 11:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Hey, have you read Shadows of the Evergreen? It's my ErfFic. People say it's pretty good over here, and who am I to argue? Check it out, and then tell me what you think of my hack writing.
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Re: Shadows of the Evergreen

Postby BakaGrappler » Sun Apr 20, 2014 8:28 am

Art refused to talk about the state of the Side, no matter how Grey pressed him, claiming it was on orders to keep things quiet. Which meant they were left with small talk. After Art had mixed a couple drinks from the Everclear brand alcohol and a syrup made from reduced fruit juice, with a distinct impact of pomegranate on the tongue, Grey asked about the Side's Shockamancer.

"Say, what's Alfred up to these turns? I saw the blast from the Doombat Cave on my way in."

Lord Alfred of Winchester was a prized Noble Caster, a very serious unit that always wore a three piece suit. He was one of the sons of a side far to the east and had a strange accent where he put emphasis on consonants in a somewhat forceful manner. He'd nearly been disbanded when his experiments in Shockamancy killed the Side's Heir, his brother, and a few other high level units. Instead, Art was able to make a trade for him for two hundred turns of Signamancy service, not all at once, with a few caveats for his own personal safety. That's how little Alfred's home side had thought of him, trading him away for services instead of for units or Shmuckers. Everclear however gave him appropriate space and testing material for him to work with. The results of his experiments were another reason why the nearby Sides didn't like picking a fight with Everclear.

"Oh, something about chained explosions, seeing if the timing of the detonations can cause more damage with less juice. He's working on half a dozen prisoners to test the effects of different timings."

The Side's Shockamancer often used prisoners that other sides had declined to ransom as test subjects. Alfred's research was worth more than boosting a Warlord's experience points with an execution. Most prisoners came from the Trap Hexes that the side's Dirtamancer set up, catching survivors of expedition parties who had been caught in the non-lethal traps instead of crushed, maimed, impaled, or swallowed by the more numerous lethal ones. A trickle of prisoners, but somewhat constant, since the nearby sides liked to probe the Everclear for possible weaknesses with more expendable units. Everclear was not on friendly terms with anyone, but treated as more of a necessary evil since Everclear fighting units rarely ever left the forest.

"Heh. The poor guys," said Grey with detached and theoretic sympathy while taking a sip of his drink. Very little, very theoretic sympathy. Grey had never been captured himself, but he was under no illusion that it was thanks to his skills alone. The gear given to a Farstrider on acceptance was an enormous help to their Duty.

Then Grey and Art both looked up at the ceiling at the same time. Orders had just come down summoning them to the Battle Room.

Art instantly put his drink down and stood up, making for the door. Grey downed the rest of his drink in one go, screwed his face against the burn in his gullet, and put his glass down as he stood as well. And with a second to think about it, while Art's back was to him, Grey drank the rest of Art's drink as well. He'd have never done that if Art had been watching, though, because even though Art is a relaxed guy, he's still a Noble popped unit and minds that sort of... common vulgarity.

But Grey needed a bit of liquid courage.

Art looked back at Grey during the long climb up a spiraling staircase on the inside of the garrison until the boundary into the tower was crossed, somewhat arbitrary, and continued to rise. But Art said nothing. Grey was glad, he's never been a very good conversationalist, and his mind was not in a place to attempt it. It would have been painful, really. Instead, he focused on the burn of the liqueur inside his belly and the intense heat that was spreading out from it. He began to feel just a little bit lighter and carefree, even as his steps were becoming ever so slightly off rhythm and his cheeks grew slightly hotter. Hardly any of the effects had been lost when Grey and Art arrived at the landing at the top of the stairway. To go any higher in the tower, one would have to use the exterior stairs.

Grey very nearly carried on through the door following the order he'd received to report to his King, but stopped a little awkwardly when Art knocked at the great double doors for permission to enter. Permission to enter. Grey closed his eyes and groaned inwardly as he started repeating the mantra he so often did when he was in the capitol. That mantra being the single word, "manners."

The door soon opened, revealing a Stuffed Shirt made of blue twilled cotton, with brass colored buttons for eyes, the favored servitor of King Shindig, it was the most advanced of the Stuffed Shirts, able to speak about fifty programmed sentences and repeat messages that were meant to be relayed. The Stuffed Shirt opened to door wide and spoke in a tone that seemed unendingly bored and unimpressed, "Guests, Sir."

"Thank you, Jeans," said Kind Shindig to his Stuffed Shirt. "Please prepare some fresh tea for the Warlord."

With a bow that curved it's back in a way that is only possible for a unit without bones of any kind, Jeans stepped out of Grey and Art's way and exited the chamber, closing the door behind him. It. Whatever.

The Battle Room was a massive affair, probably even among sides with a taste for opulence. The entire floor consisted of a single chamber with buttresses and highly reinforced walls, with the entry doors cut into a hexagonal central pillar aiding in the support of the entire tower above. The doors were cut out of one side of a pillar that was decorated in a mural of the capital as seen from the respective directions, including the side with the doors. The floor was tiled, hex-tiled to be specific. And colored green, darker green, blue, and all the other colors that showed a perfect map of the entirety of the Evergreen Forest, reproduced in vivid likeness thanks to the Chief Signamacer's work in recoloring the tiles according to the Farstriders exhaustive scouting of the terrain. Even the rain tiles were represented with the underlying terrain as well. What was not represented though was the city of Everclear itself and the immediate surroundings, that space being taken by the central pillar and it's mural. The thought behind it being that if an enemy ever got close enough that a map of that region was needed, having a pretty battle map was the least of the side's concerns.

The walls of the Battle Room held large stained glass windows of the titans, and a few of the more important battles of the Everlong War, specifically the battles of Everest and Everglade. A tiny grey cloaked figure of himself could be seen commanding the charge through the breech in Everglade's wall as siege stones and arrows filled the sky. Seeing that particular pane of glass always left Grey feeling... out of place.

Below the stained windows were hexagonal tables with glass tops and silver framed bodies in an hourglass form. They were constructed in such a way that when the placement of figurines for strategy building was required, they could be moved to the respective tiles and have the underlying terrain visible through them. After all, it would not do to place unit figures on the floor, and this allowed the king to keep abreast of any and every action taking place throughout the entirety of the side's territory, all without a need for a jumble of paper maps on a battle table. Not to say there was no battle table in the great chamber, but it served more as a surface for documents and for strategy meetings than for real planning, which is where everyone still in the Battle Room was clustered.

Standing on one side of the hexagonal table with a green velvet surface was King Shindig. He was tall, broad shouldered, and had a face that looked like it had been chiseled from hardship with eyes as green and sharp as any Gem. His demeanor and dress was that of a warrior King, a longsword always hanging at his side, bracers on his arms, and metal plated leathers for armor. His crown was a fairly simple piece of head wear, green velvet under a reinforcement of silver forming the domed shape, with rose vines carved intricately into the metalwork. But his Signamancy was that of a warrior passing from strength into decay, as the hair at his temples was greying and the hair atop his head was thinning, and some noticeably excessive flab around the belly. But he'd held that particular Signamancy for many a hundred turn. He was a ruler who stood at the razor's edge of remaining in fighting condition and being held down by his throne, thanks in large part to his practice battles against the Knights of Montoya every night after end of turn. He was a shrewd king, who knew when to be patient and when to act, mainly by trial and failure before the establishment of Everclear, it seemed. Everclear was not his first Side after all, but was established by the grace of the Titans after King Shindig had stumbled onto the ruins of Everclear while an unfortunate barbarian. Which is also probably why he holds the particular view of the Titan's Mandate that a Royal's right to rule is valid only for as long as they are worthy of it, leaving him highly critical of himself and his decisions.

It is also why Everclear does not try to expand beyond the Evergreen forest. King Shindig has long felt that trying to reach beyond his station, his well consolidated station, would invite potential disaster and once again leave him without a Side of his own. King Shindig was happy with what he had, but watchful that he kept it. Truly a marvelous man.

On the king's left with an edge of the table to herself stood the Dame Montoya, Captain of the Knights of Montoya. Her real name was Maple Tapping, and she was previously a Baroness, but upon accepting the command of the Montoya Knights her noble title was forfeited to preserve the legacy of Prince Montoya, the King's first Heir and posthumous hero of the battle of Everest. To sacrifice one's previous rank to become a simple Sir or Dame of Montoya was considered a great honor in Everclear and showed a willingness to put duty above all else. As can be imagined by her being the leader of the knighthood, Maple was rigid and straightforward, in stance as well as in personality. She stood tall for a female warlord, and surprisingly slim even in her armor. As a knight meant for field duty instead of garrison, she was clad in the same mail backed, thin metal plate covered hardened leathers that the king was wearing. The heaviest armor one can wear and still ride the Bluebirds. But as opposed to the rose vine motif that the king's armor held, Maple's armor was decorated with the shapes of five pointed leafs of various colors around the collar bone, on the pauldrons, and various other parts of her gear. She also wore her caramel brown hair in a braid inlaid with ribbons of multiple colors hanging down her brown sugar tinted neck, and on her back was her long spear, which was also decorated with ribbons of various colors braided around the haft. She gave Grey a long, even, dignified look as he approached the battle table. Perfectly balanced to say, "I don't know why you are here, but it is not my place to openly judge."

On the king's right, also with an edge of the table to herself, stood Princess Sasha, the Heir and Chief Warlord of the side. Her plated leathers held a motif of feathers curled into the shape of elegant bluebird wings, minus the bodies and depressing faces of the beasts. She stood shorter than Dame Maple, but was actually a more imposing presence. Her body had a flexible musculature that granted dexterity, strength, and a powerful beauty at the same time. Like her father, Sasha's body existed at a precarious balance of extremes. Her personality was like that as well. Being calm and adaptable outside of combat, but becoming fully animated in the heat of battle, and fighting almost as if she were dancing through battles with a smoothness like she was gracefully sliding on ice. Framed by her light brown hair, Princess Sasha cocked her cutely rounded face a bit as she gave Grey a friendly half smile of greeting at his approach to the table, the most outspoken greeting one could politely give before King Shindig could officially recognize Grey's presence.

Art quickly strode over the the side of the table next to Dame Maple, taking his place, and Grey stood on the side next to Princess Sasha. The side directly across from King Shindig was left vacant, granted only to those who were visiting the table to bring information or granted the rare right to stand in at a strategy meeting for the side's actions.

Yes, a strategy meeting. King Shindig, along with his own self-critical tendencies and personal views on the rights of rulership had established a council to direct the top down strategies of the side at this Hex Table, or another one in a more comfortable corner of the garrison for longer and less battle oriented affairs. A table of six sides where every part of the side was equally represented and valued, a bit of Signamancy that Art no doubt suggested way back when. The King, to be advised. The Chief Warlord for overall strategy and deployment of the army. The Captain of the Knights to advise on the practical application of force. The Chief Signamancer for advice on all things magical. And the Captain of the Farstriders... for some reason.

As always, Grey felt awkward and horribly overshadowed in this room, standing shoulder to shoulder with the royal family and those who give him council. All of them of noble blood, dignified, blessed by the Titans with divine rulership and gifted with leadership, insight, and excellence. And there was him. A Warlord that had been raised from a lowly scout. A unit that has no place in this room, at this table, or in the presence of anyone else in here, truth be told. He had once shared his concern about the council, his presence being it's only flaw, with Lydia. She had told him that the wisdom of a former chief warlord was nothing to ignore, but in truth, it was. He'd only been made Chief Warlord near the end of the Everlong War because he was the highest remaining Leadership unit remaining, a level Four at the time, and his bonus was required for the final push on Everglade. He was wisely replaced with the next Heir to be popped after the consolidation of the side's military to a number proper for self-defense purposes, and never made Chief Warlord again after. Even after the following Chief Warlords croaked. Instead, the Captain of the Montoya Knights would always be interim Chief Warlords.

And so, in this room filled with capable units, there was Grey. Feeling tiny and insignificant as the stained glass Titans looked down on him with glares that felt like the one he'd received from Dame Maple. Glares that he agreed with entirely.

"Welcome back, Chief Signamancer Art," said King Shindig in his deep, even, slightly melodious voice. "And Warlord Shades, I'm glad you could be here so quickly. We will have to look into the relay system further at a later date. For now though, I believe we are in need of your personal expertise."

Grey's stomach lurched a bit, at the thought that the side actually did require excellence comparable to the others in this chamber from him at this point. "Of course, my Lord. I am here to serve."

"We have recently had one of our cities razed by an invading side, Warlord. The defenses torn through and the garrison lost in one swift attack."

The king paused after speaking. Feeling the weight of the silence in the air, Grey felt that he needed to say something, was expected to say something. But he didn't know enough to say anything worthwhile to his king, who seemed to be lightly brooding. "Which side was it that attacked us? How many are there?"

"That's the problem, Warlord Shades. We don't know. Every Farstrider in the region is being croaked by something before we can get a report of this enemy." King Shindig leaned forward, his hands pressed against the table, and said gravely, "The invaders have found a way to neutralize our Farstriders, and destroy our ability to gather information. For the first time in the hundred turns since I established this side, Everclear is truly blind."
Hey, have you read Shadows of the Evergreen? It's my ErfFic. People say it's pretty good over here, and who am I to argue? Check it out, and then tell me what you think of my hack writing.
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Re: Shadows of the Evergreen

Postby BakaGrappler » Mon May 12, 2014 8:42 am

Grey couldn't process what King Shindig had said. It's impossible, after all. The Farstriders were the best scouts of any side within reachable distance. They were the Side's primary source of Shmuckers outside of city income. Sides would hire Farstriders to scout military distribution and city defenses, observe battles to report tactics and losses, and even, rarely, destroy resources or units. When other sides did not hire the Farstriders as scouts, they would investigate sides under their own judgement, and then blackmail sides into moderate Shmucker payments to not sell the reports to other sides. The Farstriders were Stealth honed to the point of weaponization. They existed to be invisible. They survived by being undetectable. Any failure meant being croaked in the field, and the Farstriders had not only survived but thrived as a resource for intelligence gathering. The excellence of the Farstriders was the sole purpose of Grey's existence, keeping other sides afraid of Everclear's information network. If anyone other than his king had told him that the Farstriders were being one-sidedly eliminated, he'd have called him a liar or worse. But the fact that his king had said it made Grey's stomach turn and his blood run cold.

"What... are our losses?" asked Grey, finally.

King Shindig breathed in, and then out through his nose before saying, "I had Dewey write up all the relevant details of the past few turns in the report that is sitting in front of you. Please take your time and read it."

Grey would normally feel a tinge of horror at having to do such a time consuming task in front of his betters, forcing them to wait on his action. But with slightly trembling hands, Grey could only concentrate on the words on the paper in front of him, a log of the happenings in chronological order, starting with croaked Farstriders.

Oaks.

Glenn.

Hale.

They were reliable Farstriders, and had been watching the Guilter and Floorin' boarders because of their recent military build ups. They had a cease fire contract in place after their recent fighting, but with the two sides being adjacent to the Evergreen along the northwest borders it was still a situation that needed an eye kept upon it. But whatever had happened to those three had happened fast. Glenn and Hale were croaked the same turn, one turn after Oaks. The hex coordinates for the three losses were spread far apart, too. Whatever did it was well coordinated on top of having excellent spot checks. But most of all, whatever took out his Farstriders had to have had a system for finding them in the first place. Lightning only strikes the same place if there's a lightning rod.

The next entry was a copy of a message sent to a magic hat in the field that made up Everclear's Hat Network. Everclear had no Thinkamancer, and any properly reliable Thinkamancers were expensive and in demand, so the transit of reports and complicated orders in the field were handled with magic hats hidden in key locations in and near the borders of the Evergreen forest, and sometimes farther afield. It would be too expensive to give every Farstrider a hat, and any croaked Farstrider would not only be a large financial loss because of a lost hat, but a free hat to any potentially hostile side that croaked the Farstrider in the first place. The date on the message was two turns after Glenn and Hale were croaked, obviously delayed waiting for the Farstrider to receive it to reach the intended hat. No, two Farstriders. Their orders were to proceed as a team to the hexes where our previously lost Farstriders had been croaked in order to investigate. Their names were Kitty and Cord, seasoned Farstriders that could be trusted with just such an expedition.

They were croaked two turns later just inside the borders of the Evergreen, on Everclear's turn. The next morning, before Everclear's turn came around, a level 2 city was taken and razed, the city of Whatever. Meh, that in itself isn't really important. Whatever was a pretty soft target even with Dirtamancy defenses added, and close to the borders of the forest, so it was little more than a source of extra foodstuffs. This wasn't the first time the city was razed, and it won't be the last, which means it's destruction was not the interesting part of the report. It was Farstrider Brook's report of the aftermath that was.

Brook was near a hat when Shindig sent orders, and was able to get to the remains of Whatever on our turn that same day. She found a lot of bodies from the fight, very nearly even losses after taking the Dirtamancy traps into consideration. All Everclear forces were croaked and left behind, seeming to have croaked in combat and not through execution. A level 2 Warlord named Christoff was in charge, and the placement of bodies seemed to indicate a last stand in the garrison with most of the croaked arrayed there. Curious. That would mean the walls were compromised quickly. After the list of Everclear's croaked and their placement was a list of the attacker's croaked, units from Guilter.

Wait, what?

"I thought you said we didn't know who had attacked us!" exclaimed Grey, forgetting that he was supposed to be on his best behavior just long enough to put his foot in his mouth. Grey then chided himself silently with the word "Manners" once again, as Dame Maple shot him a look with plus two piercing. "I-I'm sorry my Lord, I didn't mean-"

"Keep reading,"said Shindig with an outstretched palm, ignoring the apology and the offense alike.

Pausing for a moment to collect himself, Grey went back to reading the report. The list of Guilter's croaked. Archers almost solely around where Wherever's perimeter wall would have been, not the main gate. Stabbers at where the breech was suspected, with a concentration of Everclear croaked, but more along the length of where the walls had run. They'd gotten on top of the walls... siege machinery, then. Guilter diggers croaked at the breech location, and then a path of croaked of each side leading to the garrison, with a carpet of croaked where the final battle occurred. And that was all for that page.

Grey blinked. He checked the next page for more croaked and their arrangement. He saw none and turned the current page over, looking for a continuation on the back. There were none there as well.

"There were no Ramsteins?" asked Grey, confused.

"None," replied Shindig, his voice flat, factual, but still loaded with meaning.

That made no sense. The Ramstein was a Guilter mount that doubled as a siege unit. Something like a muscular goat who's porcelain colored horns connected together in a loop atop it's head to form a battering ram. But it's siege and mount capabilities were not why every army Guilter fielded contained a healty supply of them. Every Ramstein produced a hoppy alcoholic beverage when milked that the common units and the nobles alike enjoyed having out in the field. Guilter warlords fielded them as often as possible as an excuse to keep them a part of the established army. There is no way a siege attack like this would not have ended without at least a few croaked Ramsteins. And come to think of it... a Ramstein rush usually targeted gates, which were normally faster to break through.

"If this report is accurate," said Grey, not adding aloud the continuation that it is, of course, accurate, since it was written by one of his Farstriders, "then it would mean Guilter has made a massive shift in their military strategy, as well as finding a one hundred percent accurate means of finding our scouts."

"There's more," said Princess Sasha, taking the chance that she would be speaking out of turn to speed things along. "The final page is a report by the remaining Farstriders in the northwest. None of our trap hexes have been triggered."

Grey looked at the princess, his Chief Warlady, aghast. His mouth hung and his eyes stretched. After a few minutes, he read the final page of the report to verify what Sasha had said. She was right. Not a single trap had been sprung.

If a Farstrider could be considered the deadly shadows of the Evergreen, then the trap hexes were the monsters. The entire forest was filled, filled, with hexes that were overloaded with Dirtamancy traps. The side's Dirtamancer had spent the hundred turns building this network of croak traps, concentrating them along the boarders in a whimsical and unpredictable pattern, to make sure that any force that entered would experience heavy losses before ever seeing combat. It had been proven an effective deterrent even as far back as the Everlong War, as the Farstriders were originally established to map and counter the trap hexes the Hickson tribe had made. The concentration of trap hexes was so thick near the borders, and so erratically placed, that no one had been able to mount an invasion without going through at least a few of them before. The only records of their placing was here, in this room in the map tiled floor, so far away from any foe that even a Master Class Lookamancer would not be able to read them, and in the memories of the Farstriders tasked with checking up on the trap hexes every few turns during their patrols. And the traps themselves are so insidiously concealed that only a hand full of unit types would be able to sense them before it was too late, and none of the nearby sides had Dirtamancers or Lookamancers to risk on exploring the dangers of the Evergreen. Your typical scout wouldn't even notice them until one had sprung. The trap hexes were an enduring defense almost akin to an iron wall.

For it to have been bypassed as well...

"Then that would mean... Guilter has found a way to destroy, avoid, and overpower every single one of our side's defenses... and we have no idea how they're doing it..."

The pitiful words having come out of his mouth, Grey was left feeling shame and frustration. Never had Grey felt so utterly useless, so helpless. The defenses he'd spent his entire lifetime reinforcing were rendered ineffective all at once. Grey's body bowed with the weight of his failure, and in a momentary lifting of his vision he saw Art's ashamed face as well. The Farstriders were partially his child as well, his magic items having made them so effective and dangerous in the past. Grey's eyes passed over the others at the table as well. Dame Maple had her eyes closed, her facing showing a glower of annoyance. King Shindig had a look of pained resignation. And Princess Sasha's face showed undisguised pity, which only made Grey feel even worse. After what seemed like a full turn of torment, Dame Maple spoke, her words blunt, but her voice as characteristically sweet as always.

"None of this matters."

Dame Maple opened her eyes and looked at her king directly. "The invaders are of Guilter. Our records indicate they lost most of their higher level warlords in the last war with Floorin', along with their Chief Warlord. Any units they field will be lower leveled, and untested in battle. Their elites are a shadow of their former self, and their ranks will be swollen with mass produced infantry. Please allow me to take the Knighthood to However, my Lord. Using However as a base, the Knighthood will track down and destroy the dogs of Guilter for setting foot in our territory."

"Why However?" asked King Shindig, ignoring the rest of the table to engage with Dame Maple, as the table's rules of courtesy dictated.

Dame Maple lifted her chin a little, giving her words an even more dignified weight to them. "The fact that Whatever was razed and not occupied shows that this is obviously a razing party from Guilter, to recoup the lost treasury they spent in the last war with Floorin'. That means the razing party will be traveling to the next city closest to Whatever," Dame Maple paused momentarily as she pointed at the floor to indicate the named city's tile. "Which is However. I would like my Knights to be there to meet, and defeat, the enemy. Mine and the Chief Warlady's combat bonuses will most certainly be enough to destroy the Guilter party."

"Why only the Knighthood," asked Princess Sasha when she was certain she would not be interrupting Dame Maple. "However may be a level three city, but it is not a fortress. We may be over run with only the Knighthood and the garrison. Why don't we join with the standing army stationed at Eveready and then move with them to However. With the combination of the Knights, Eveready, and However, we would me far more certain of victory."

"I understand your view, Chief Warlady, but I'm afraid there is a fatal flaw in it," said Dame Maple, speaking as an instructor. It was not too far from the truth considering she had been alive and fighting for a long time even before the princess had been popped. "A razing party would have to be traveling light, and swift, especially in the heavy forest hexes that make up our territory to have a hope of escaping without losing their entire company to a counter attack. That means we will have to travel and act quickly if we are to catch them before they reach However, and then escape with their Shmuckers. The airborne Knights would be able to make it in time, but a column from Eveready would not arrive before However was a smoking crater. The situation requires the utmost dispatch, your highness."

"Speed means nothing if it just places us in the jaws of a beast," said Princes Sasha. her hazelnut brown eyes flashing with conviction. "We have nothing but a surmise on the strength of the invaders, or their destination. We have no information on their unit disposition or their method of gathering intelligence. For all we know, Guilter has a column ten times the size required to take However. Fighting them on such terms may only serve to annihilate our strongest units in a meaningless battle."

"You have read the same reports as I have, your highness, so you should know that Guilter doesn't have the extra forces required for such a massive attack. Their side has been all but crippled by their recent fighting, and their Leadership gutted. They simply cannot afford to do anything on the scale you are suggesting."

"How can we trust this information, Dame Montoya? How can we trust that a side that has devastated our Farstriders could not fool our scouting reports as well? We cannot attack something we can't find, understand, or predict the destination of. It would be a waste of our resources and units."

"Then you would suggest we do nothing, Chief Warlady? You would suggest we sit here, and wait for more scouts to croak and more cities to be razed before we make a decision? Make a strategy based on the elimination possibilities? Your highness, I know there are risks involved in fighting the Guilter invaders before we fully understand their new methods, but it is far riskier for us to do nothing."

Grey simply listened to the continued proceedings, as each of the high strategists to the king argued their cases back and forth. He had no part in it, it was not his area of responsibility. It would have been out of line for him to have said anything about the proposed plans. In all fairness, both Dame Maple and Princess Sasha were right. The side cannot afford to do nothing, but striking out now may be worse than doing nothing. Neither option was really any better than the other. Then there was a rap on the table as King Shindig struck it with his knuckle, calling the discussion to a halt and grabbing the table's attention.

"Both sides make compelling points. We cannot attack something we don't understand, but we are being attacked ourselves. We cannot do nothing, but we don't know how to react. Therefore, our first priority is to gather information. What, how, and where. Chief Signamancer, how long would it take for you to hire a skilled and reliable Lookamancer?"

Grey's stomach turned. Lookamancers were one of the more sought after casters from the Magic Kingdom during times of war, eliminating a need for scouting and giving a ruler the ability to command a war from the comfort of his own throne room. They were popular and expensive to the point where they could name their own prices and get away with it. Grey didn't know much about the magic Kingdom, but apparently Lookamancers were one of the caster classes that could afford to be picky about jobs and sides they hired themselves out to. Hiring one of them would be a complete preemption of the Farstriders role in the Kingdom.

"This very turn, your highness," said Art, a little startled, before adding sheepishly, "...if you don't mind paying a premium. Worst case, we'd have to pay the damages for breaking a Lookamancer's previous contract to get him here quickly."

"That won't be necessary, just look for one that would be willing to work with us in the near future. You will have time to negotiate." King Shindig then turned to Grey and said, "Warlord Shades, I will authorize one more Farstrider attempt to scout out the invading Guilter forces before hiring a Lookamancer. We need information on them. Who amongst your ranks would you suggest for this admittedly dangerous task."

"Myself," said Grey without hesitation.

King Shindig let the word hang in the air a moment before asking with the force of an order, an order demanding full explanation. "You are certain?"

Grey had, indeed, chosen himself hastily. The prospect of his Farstriders being replaced by some barbarian caster was wounding... perhaps intentionally so, and Grey was not a little upset about losing so many Farstriders so quickly. He had trained all of them, and granted them the Farstrider cloaks upon graduating the training courses. Even now he could remember their triumphant and proud faces, each one so different from each other. He can't let their losses be for nothing. But upon being forced to examine his selection, what he said was this. "If I can't accomplish this mission, no other Farstrider can. And should I croak, I have full confidence in Cam replacing me as Captain of the Farstriders, and in Seeke training new recruits. ...I am expendable."

Art sighed through his nose. Princess Sasha's jaw clenched. Dame Maple's eyes closed as she solemnly nodded her head. King Shindig held eye contact. Eventually he said, as an order, "How many turns will you need to search out the Guilter forces?"

Grey turned away from the table to almost collide with Jeans, who had returned seemingly soundlessly in the tense atmosphere. The Stuffed Shirt was in the process of pouring fresh light brown tea into one of several cups on a serving tray with his / it's oddly boneless arm, saying in it's flat voice, "Tea for you, sir." Grey accepted the teacup and saucer, but did not drink from it. He wasn't really sure how to in the first place, drink right that is, but more than that, Grey didn't think he would be able to swallow it right now. Instead, he just held it as the aroma of freshly boiled and fragrant leaves filled his nose while he studied the map on the floor tiles.

Grey spent a good few minutes studying the tiles, running through all the pathways the Guilter army could take. If they avoided all the trap hexes so far, that only left a few paths in the forest they could take, considering cities were most likely their goal. But which one was uncertain, and then there was the possibility of their retreating immediately, leaving the forest with minimal losses. All the paths had to be searched. A dance of natural Mathamancy swirled in Grey's mind as the tiles seemed to change color in his eyes to show all the possible paths Grey could take to cover the most ground in the least time to pick up a trail and then home in on his target. Heavy forest penalties for the invaders. His movement bonuses as a scout. Terrain obstacles and shortcuts. The mass of information seemed to swell and intermingle with his sense of smell, calming him into a focus that the tea on it's own could never have achieved, until he reached a certainty on how he should proceed. Grey then turned and said with a solidarity he never would have felt if he hadn't have dived so deep into his own specialty.

"Three more turns to find their trail, three turns after to catch up to them, at the most. Investigating the camp may take longer. But only if you can get me to this hex by end of turn." Grey pointed to a particular tile, and King Shindig approached while taking a sip of tea.

King Shindig squinted slightly, seeing the side as only the ruler could, and said a minute later, "Yes, I can, with a bluebird relay. But only just. Very well, Warlord Shades, you will have your six turns. In the mean time, the standing army from Everbilt will be moving to relieve the forces here at Everclear, and the standing forces here will move to Eveready to prepare for a confrontation, along with the Knighthood. In the mean time, Artakis will be in negotiations for a Lookamancer in the Magic Kingdom should you fail. I would prefer it if you do not fail, Warlord. This meeting is dismissed."

King Shindig reached out and deposited his cup on Jeans' tray in what should have been a blind spot, and walked out of the battle room. The tense atmosphere in the room survived the king's departure.
Hey, have you read Shadows of the Evergreen? It's my ErfFic. People say it's pretty good over here, and who am I to argue? Check it out, and then tell me what you think of my hack writing.
Last Updated: 6/16/14
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BakaGrappler
 
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Re: Shadows of the Evergreen

Postby BakaGrappler » Mon Jun 16, 2014 9:17 am

The violet Bluebird gave a disappointed sob as it wheeled into an air current to pick up speed, passing right over the Adam Bridge as a stack was traversing it. The stack had a clipboard carrying Alfred in the lead with stabbers and a couple Shady Elves escorting almost half a dozen black burnt prisoners. Alfred had learned to hold back on his experimentation to preserve his subjects a while ago, but it seems he'd croaked at least one this turn.

The survivors are probably pondering Turning right this moment.

Grey's eyes were pulled away from Alfred's stack as the wind rose from behind and the Bluebird sharply gained altitude and speed. The loft brought Grey and his mount high enough to get a good view of the buildings in Everclear past the initial skyline and the layout of the streets and parks. And in between two roosting towers, Grey saw Lydia at such a distance that only two unit types in the side would be able to clearly see who it was. Scouts, and Shady Elves.

Lydia looked straight at Grey, and gave a single half turn wave of her hand as a wave meant only for Grey. Grey returned the wave in kind, and then their view of each other was cut off. Grey's eyes ended up lingering in the general direction that Lydia had been, seeing nothing more than the walls, buildings, and battlements of Everclear now.

She had been disappointed. When Grey had run into Lydia on his way to the aviary again and had to tell her he was leaving right away, she was disappointed. She'd hidden it well, but Grey's eyes caught that slight twitch at the corners of her own. Lydia pretended it was not a big deal and that she'd expected it all along, but the truth is that she'd been looking forward to spending time with Grey. And Grey had felt likewise, ink or no. Grey had been dispatched to a high profile client to the south and been gone for a good many turns, and then received the order to begin teaching a new bunch of recruits in Everglade just as he was returning to Everclear's territory. So today was the first chance they'd had to see each other in a long time. But Lydia had followed Duty and worked hard to make it easier for Grey to leave.

Which, of course, made it harder for Grey to go.

A part of Grey wanted to turn the Bluebird around, even if only for one more pass of Everclear to give Lydia a more proper goodbye. She meant that much to him and more. But a blend of Duty and conviction prevented him from doing so.

And then Grey passed the hex border, and his chance to turn around was gone. Somehow, that point of no return made it easier for Grey to leave Lydia and Everclear behind, and the part of Grey's mind that was taken up with turning around was freed to ponder other things. Duty and Loyalty primarily, and his mind returned to the Map Room when Grey had volunteered for what may very well be a Suicide Mission. He hadn't hesitated to volunteer, and his own wants hadn't been involved in his thought process. Grey would have loved to stay in Everclear for one turn. Have a chance to catch up with Lydia and get this cursed ink off his chest. But the thought of delay hadn't been in his mind at all.

It wasn't Duty that made him choose service over convenience. Nor was it what had caused him to volunteer himself. Hyde was the best Farstrider at concealing himself, he'd have probably been a better choice for the mission. But he wasn't in the capitol at the time, as of the reports sent to Grey ten turns ago his post was the Stopgap border, watching for signs of another invasion. It would have meant a possible delay to get him on sight. An acceptable delay. No, it wasn't Duty that made Grey instantly throw himself into harms way for this, it was Loyalty. everything he cared about, everything he... it was all in Everclear.

Grey crossed another border. A natural sort of Findamancy told him the grid number he had moved into, and a subconscious part of his mind instantly translated it into topographical information. Wide river, deep water, fast current, no active traps, no patrols, heavy rock formations built by Dirtamancer as "natural" defenses to pierce the hulls of any heavy watercraft moving through. The complete information flowed directly into Grey's mind, and back out, like a wave of surf at the shore, unnoticed and not disturbing his active thoughts at all. Just natural background noise.

The Map Room had been awkward after the king had left, so resolute and unhurried. The king had been deathly serious, but hadn't seemed worried in the slightest, despite the unprecedented events of the past few turns. Everyone who had remained was grave, and worried though. Dame Montoya had been the first to speak to Grey, an act different from her usual behavior he hadn't overlooked. She thanked and congratulated Grey on his dedication, so admirable for one of his station, and that she would remember his bravery. Maple's sweet voice was hard to withstand as it was obvious she was saying such pleasant things because she was certain she having her last conversation with a croaked man. Grey could only smile stiffly and nod, he had no idea how else to react to such terrible good intentions being a common unit at heart. Thank the Titans Art stepped in when he did.

Art had reminded Maple of the logistics she'll need to see to for the Knighthood to move out. More like guessed at their existence, really, but it was enough to get Lady Maple to excuse herself and stop her kindly intended stupidity. Dame Montoya was an excellent Warlady, and had been an excellent Chief Warlady during the last lengthy change of power, but she could be a thick as a tree's trunk sometimes. But Lady Maple had made eloquent, though blunt, farewells and left the Map Room, Art following close behind. And with that, Grey had been left alone in that room with Chief Warlady Sasha, Heir Princess of the Side. She had taken that opportunity to give Grey her goodbyes, her words of comfort. Such well worded intentions that he'd actually been comforted by them. Really, the Nobles are so... compared to common units like himself, Royalty is just so much more...

Hex change; heavy forest, regrown from Ash Hex, no traps, occasional patrols, current main thoroughfare to Fortress Everbilt, no enemies spotted just now, probably safe for column traversal.

Grey knew just how powerless he was in the larger design, but Princess Sasha had given her sincere praise to, and confidence in, his abilities for this mission. Siting her first hand experience, which she did have.

King Shindig was a bit peculiar.

Grey had heard one of the Knighthood describe Everclear as being... what was the word again? A memo... merry... meritocracy, yeah. Grey had had to ask Art what the word meant later on, after he'd sobered up from the night of conversing with the knights, but it was pretty much spot on. King Shindig would only have one child at a time, barring extenuating circumstances, and would always pop them as an Heir. But upon being popped, he always assigned the Heir to subordination to his Chiefs and Captains instead of designating them Chief Warlord immediately. Which meant that since the founding of the side, every Heir of Everclear had been assigned to Grey's command as a student as he walked them from one end of the kingdom to the other, making sure they understood the nature of the Farstriders and scouting from the eyes of a scout. It was the same for Art, teaching the nature of magic and it's current and past roles for the side. And the captain of the Montoya Knights, with finer war strategies and replaying the more important battles with figures in the map room. We teach the new Heir for the span of time we are given by the King, and then secretly submit our opinions on the new Heir to the King.

Princess Sasha's predecessor was... disappointing. Prince Bretl held his designation as Heir for only the short time he was being educated. He chose not to understand the Farstriders, couldn't care about the side's use of magic, and was always correcting Dame Maple even when he was actually wrong. King Shindig stripped him of his designation as Heir and put him in the lowest ranks of the Knighthood. Bretl was croaked in the fighting against Stopgap, Dame Maple claiming a lack of attention to training as the cause. And while Princess Sasha had popped while Bretl was alive, the two had never met, such was the Kings disappointment of his son. Both emotional and statuswise, Grey supposed.

Princess Sasha was the complete opposite of Bretl. She had been attentive to learning the ways of scouts, magic, and tactics. She was also gifted and diligent in training herself and her body. She hadn't been squeamish in the slightest to camping outdoors without any comforts. And Grey had seen her first battle as a level 1 Warlady. It had been a wild Jag, black as pitch and with a powerful roaring growl. The black Jag had stalked them well past end of turn, waiting for them to let their guard down to pounce. Grey had been able to make a false opening after setting a tripwire trap, but the Jag had only been wounded by it and came roaring into the campground. That was when Grey saw how Sasha fought. Her footwork was marvelous, causing her to flow out of the way of the Jag's attacks like she was sliding around on ice, landing blows as the breast passed her, exploiting openings for attack almost as if it had been scripted out in advance. Grey had been so spellbound by the beauty of Princess Sasha's fight that if the Jag had turned on him at that time, he may not have survived the predator's first blow. When the beast fell, and Princess Sasha had earned her first level from it, as she invited Grey to teach her how to treat and cook wild game, Grey knew she was something special. He knew that-

Hex change; moderate rain hex, heavy forest, trapped, light and easily spotted anti-personnel traps, constructed pathway leading through large area mudslide trap, light patrols.

Grey pulled the cowl of his cape over his head to protect himself from the rain. The Bluebird made a deep sigh of disgust. King Shindig could have chosen a better route, one without the rain. But realistically, this flightpath was made on the fly, having to connect mount to mount without the luxury of being able to fly into a city for a mount switch. Perhaps if some mounts were dedicated to the relay the paths could be made a bit more comfortable with the option of stopping inside a city for a warm meal. Grey had already had a long day, longer than it ever should have been, having traveled farther than any single unit on Erf ever could without this unnatural system set in place. He had been looking forward to the prospect of a warm meal, warm bed, and after running into Lydia, perhaps a warm companion.

Friends with benefits, huh?

That was what they were, solidly and completely. Grey cared about her. He loved her as well, but they couldn't be more than friends. They tried, a few times, and it never worked out. There was some sort of disconnect, some sort of mismatch between Grey and Lydia that prevented the two of them from being able to be happy being more than just friends with benefits. But at the same time, they absolutely couldn't be anything less to each other. They'd tried that, too.

It was like an addiction. They were addicted to each other. And too much or too little left them crippled. But they were okay with that. Lydia and Grey had known each other for about as long as two units could know one another. They had fought side by side since they had been popped, fought through many a battle, many a war, many a skirmish, whatever words you can use to describe fighting, they had gone through it depending on one another. They had a whole and complete trust for one another. They knew everything about each other, and their twisted sort of love could accept all of each other. Lydia knew everything about Grey and she still loved him.

Lydia knew Grey was completely in love with Princess Sasha, and she still loved him, exactly as she did before.

Grey didn't have the words to convey how much that meant to him. Literally, he didn't have the vocabulary to describe his feelings, which was just another one of the pile of things he was ashamed of in his life of constantly being placed above his station as a common scout. Even if Everclear is a meritocracy, he was not meant for the position he had been given. Cam was popped as a Warlady, she could easily replace him. Even a Courtier, properly educated about Scouting tactics could replace him. Grey was a unit meant to exist in the field, dirt under his boots, knives whipping from his hands. He had no business giving orders. He had no business being at the same table as Nobles and Royalty. He had no business being near the Princess...

Grey was fulfilling Duty. His king had requirements of him. His side had requirements of him. Of him and the position he held. His Loyalty though, that had him perform his Duty without questioning the decisions of his king. Well, not out loud. Not to anyone but Lydia, and Grey was mostly sure she hadn't told anyone else. She wasn't above painting crude words like "Flip me upside down" on his head while he slept, but she would never betray him with anything important, at least.

And here he was, fulfilling both Duty and Loyalty. Best case scenario, Grey discovers the underlying truth of what has been happening to his side and King Shindig comes up with a plan to solve it. Worst case scenario, Grey croaks, a Lookamancer is the one to give his king the exact same information, and a more suitable Captain of the Farstriders is installed. It's pretty much win-win for his side, Grey supposed. Lydia would probably call him a nitwit with that disappointed stare of hers if she heard-

New hex; heavy forest, no traps, patrolling Farstrider croaked, two turn(s) Move from Whatever. Targeted hex has been reached.

Grey had been so deep in thought that he hadn't bothered to count the number of mount changes in mid air he'd performed, or the number of hexes he'd traveled through. He was tired, hungry, cold, and his cloak was still damp from the rain hex he'd passed through. But as he dismounted and his boots struck the dirt, he felt invigorated. Grey took a deep breath of air through his nose, smelling the forest's sweet fragrance of fresh air intermingled with feral life.

And all thoughts and worries washed off him.

After ordering the Bluebird to sleep in the trees this turn, to protect against wandering predators, Grey turned and lightly sprinted in the direction he had to go in order to prepare for hunting an army. His footing was solid with every step, he bounded off roots, leapt over small rocks, and hurtled with a supporting hand over big ones. His senses existed only to provide him with information about his surroundings and his mind was occupied with nothing more than keeping up with those senses. Grey moved on instinct and sensory interpretation. No doubts. No fears. No shame. No hesitation.

Grey was in his natural habitat once again, and he had a job to do.
Hey, have you read Shadows of the Evergreen? It's my ErfFic. People say it's pretty good over here, and who am I to argue? Check it out, and then tell me what you think of my hack writing.
Last Updated: 6/16/14
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BakaGrappler
 
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