At the next morning’s meeting, Digdoug learned where Chief Peck intended to get more archers: from Delkey. He’d requested them yesterday under the pretense of organizing a new offensive, and it turned out that Delkey happened to have about sixty in the vicinity. They would arrive in the afternoon.
King Posbrake wasn’t entirely happy about it. “This will complicate the battle,” he fretted. “More units might better detect the ruse. And you are adding a needless fiscal risk to the equation.” The Delkey troops would be shooting to croak, he argued. The battle contract stipulated big penalties for downing Charlescomm’s units, just as there were penalties on Charlie for croaking Homekey’s.
But he didn’t argue all that strenuously, and Peck finally seemed at ease with the plan. That meant enough to the general peace of mind that nobody yelled today. Even Bucky seemed less miserable. Digdoug dared to hope that things might go all right tomorrow after all.
Once they’d adjourned, Chief Peck led Digdoug and his three golems up to the tower top.
The city’s tower didn’t display the same kind of architectural creativity as the rest of Homekey. It jutted up out of the palace like a chimney, like a cylindrical weed, like a...slapped-on afterthought. King Posbrake had never even given this tower its own name. The top of it was a simple circular platter, with an incongruously square guardhouse in the middle which sheltered the lone staircase down. Its edges were indented with rectangular crenels for archers, all of it plain and standard castle-ish stuff.
Digdoug’s lightning trap involved adding a tall, cross-braced spire of wrought iron on top of the guard house. The trap could not charge up the tower remotely, but it could capture the occasional bolt of lightning from the nearest storm hex and throw it at an enemy unit. Peck was skeptical that Dove’s Carnymancy had really allowed for the creation of a terrain-dependent trap in the wrong type of terrain, and he wanted a test.
“Show me,” he said, standing cross-armed on the tower’s flat battlement. “Activate it.”
“I can’t,” Digdoug shrugged, “I mean, I can activate it. Or you could, with an order. But with no enemy units in the city, there’s nothing it could strike. It would just sit there.”
Peck made a face. “So we have only the word of a Carny that there’s a working trap here at all. Grand.” He turned and gripped the stone wall, gazing out into the far distance.
After a moment, Digdoug nudged his golems aside and walked up beside him. In the cloudless sky far overhead, the wheeling hippo-drones hummed faintly. The city’s lone hippo-crate floated into view over the palace walls below.
Digdoug didn’t know what to say. When he’d been casting to build the trap, he could see how it would use Dove’s cheat to function. He wanted to defend her on that account, and reassure Chief Peck that the trap was real. But he couldn’t quite remember how it worked now. He had to admit to himself that she might have only cast something to make him believe that it worked. Even within his discipline, it might have only been “a show” for him. Cooking the books had fooled a Moneymancer, after all.
“What should I do today, Chief?” he asked after a while. His palms were itching to cast something, to do some magic to help them prepare.
“That’s what I’ve been weighing,” said Peck. He turned his head to Digdoug. “Offense, defense, ambush? I’m not overly fond of this position.” He indicated the tower top with a sweeping hand gesture. “I’d be inclined for you to build some additional cover over this battlement.”
The Dirtamancer nodded. “I could do that.”
Peck scowled regretfully. “No. It would be too obvious a preparation. Likewise, I see some value in building fortified emplacements for our guests to shoot from. But those would raise suspicions, as well.”
The Chief put his hands on his hips, and looked around, frustrated. His eyes settled on the golems. “Whatever else, we must protect the King. Stay beside him at all times. I and your golems shall screen him...and you as well. And the flyers will provide an overhead screen. At the first sign of treachery, we must rush His Majesty into the tower. Sacrifice yourself if necessary,” ordered Peck, “but only as a last resort. We need you, Caster.”
“Understood,” Digdoug nodded again. He still didn’t think there would be a real battle, but he couldn’t help imagining the scene: Archons blasting at the tower, units falling or even exploding around him from Shockmancy. As terrifying as it was, he had not a doubt; he would willingly give his life for King Posbrake.
“Oh!” he said, reaching for his belt. He took out a tiny roll of magical parchment and resized it to show Peck. It was the scroll he’d made on the flight to the capital. “What about a trap, for if they land? I’ve got this.”
Peck eyed the scroll with interest. “What’ll it do?”
“Create a pit trap of my choosing,” said Digdoug. “It can be anything: tar, water, sand, flame...whatever we need. I can decide what kind it is, and where I want it to go.”
Peck pursed his lips and nodded. “Could be of use. But if they’ve already landed, it may be too late.” He began to walk slowly around the edge of the tower, looking for a likely spot for a pit. “Perhaps to cover our retreat...” he muttered. Digdoug followed along behind him.
Before he’d reached a decision, a trumpet blast sounded. Above their heads, something shrieked.
Digdoug looked up to see the new hippo-crate, spreading its wings and blotting out the noonday sun. Homekey’s turn had started.
Peck left him with orders to simply add more defensive spells to the tower: plain, reliable, versatile, boring Shockmancy. It was as good a defense as anything else, and Delkey wouldn’t be able to tell how much magic was stored in the tower.
“We’ll discuss the trap when I’ve dwelt on it further,” said the Chief, before hurrying away to the Battle Room.
Digdoug began the process of hanging Shockmancy spells, which like any other magic could benefit from the caster’s direct attention. He could dump all his juice here in a minute or so, and be on his way. But if he spent an hour or two to lay the spellwork with care, then it would maximize the effective power, and minimize his penalty as a non-Shockmancer.
So he was deep in magical thought when the trumpets blared again. His concentration broke, and the spell he was working on slipped away from him. It sprayed itself into the tower as a tangled mess of raw juice.
He looked around, squinting in the sunshine. That trumpet call was a signal for the arrival of allied units.
The tower’s small complement of troops had gathered on the northeast side, to see the Delkey contingent arrive. Digdoug wandered over, and they shoved each other aside to make room for him. He peered down to the city streets.
Eight full stacks of little archers were marching down the main thoroughfare toward the palace, stepping in rigid formation. Digdoug squinted and turned his head to one side, unsure that he was really seeing what he thought.
He was. A tiny figure in crimson was flying above the lead stack. Even from here, sunlight glinted from the jewels on the scabbard of Prince Creen’s sword.