Last to arrive and the first to leave, Digdoug was excused from the Long Table meeting after he’d learned his part in the plan. The King and his Chiefs had more to say to one another, it seemed. Probably they just wanted to continue their argument without him. He hoped it wouldn’t get any uglier than it already had.
Start of turn was still hours away, unless Numloch ended theirs early. He wandered through the halls, poking at the architecture.
Would he ever belong in a high-level meeting like that? If Dove joined the side, would he become Chief Caster? Hm. He didn’t actually know Dove’s level of mastry, and couldn’t imagine commanding her to do anything, anyway. No, given how close she was to King Posbrake, she would probably be the Chief Carnymancer of Homekey.
He found the thought strangely comforting. In fact, it made him smile. What could a side with a Dirtamancer and a Carnymancer do? It would be fun to find out. Dirtamancy that broke the rules? What would that entail? He couldn’t—
On the gray carpeting, his feet stopped cold in their tracks.
“It’s something I should have done before,” Digdoug said again. “There’s no reason you can’t see a little tiny bit of sunlight, right? And His Majesty can use this, too, when he wants to come and visit you. He won’t have to sneak around as much.”
“It’s great, Digdoug,” Dove said. She pulled her eyes away from the arrow slit and smiled at him. Her face was very close to his. “You’re really a beautiful person, you know that?”
They were both standing inside a masonry hole that Digdoug had just built as a defensive emplacement, a tiny alcove within the wall of the great tower. One archer or caster could stand here at ground level and take ranged shots at any units trying to enter the garrison on foot. The upgrade was completely justifiable under Chief Peck’s order to strengthen the tower, even if it wouldn’t do anything against air assault.
That was because it also had a trapdoor, and below that a series of ladder shafts that led all the way down to Dove’s quarters. Digdoug had built it to sneak the Carnymancer up here into the tower, so that she could help him break a rule. And that would help the air defense.
“Do you have enough room to cast?” he asked her, suddenly worried that he hadn’t made the space big enough. It was tough to keep something like this concealed even from your own troops. Bigger would mean less stealthy.
“I have room,” grinned Dove, “I like it cozy.” Looking him in the eye, she suddenly stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him. Her hands slid up the back of his jerkin and he felt her cool palms on his skin. He may have flinched. “Take it easy,” she said, her lips very close to his own now. “Breathe.”
Oh. He hadn’t been breathing. He exhaled, but the breath came out unevenly. Dove closed her eyes and began to cast.
Her hands grew warmer on his back, and the interior of the ambush hole lit up with orange sparks. She muttered and whispered. He couldn’t make out the magical speech until she got to the trigger phrase, “Penguin Storm.”
Then the warmth in his back rushed out to his hands, and dissipated. The orange light faded, and they were left in dimness of the alcove again. Dove withdrew her embrace.
“Did—” Digdoug cleared his throat. “Did it work?”
“Pff, please,” said Dove, pushing him in the chest playfully. “I guess nobody ever asks you that, after you build a moat, right? You’re lucky,” she said. “Of course it worked. Start building. You’ve got one turn to put in your lightning trap.”
After sunset, Digdoug took his three hard-rock golems and circumambulated the city. The four of them walked the entire length of the outer walls, as the Dirtamancer examined the city’s defenses and struggled to think like a warlord.
In two turns, forty Archons would float over these parapets and start attacking, either for show or for real. The city had only two dozen archers, four catapults, two hippo-crates, four hippo-drones, and one good tower with a secret lightning trap on it.
Oh, and just one caster to man it. That was their entire complement for airspace defense.
If the Archons actually landed, then there was plenty of infantry and a good number of heavies to fight them off. Chief Peck hadn’t seemed at all worried about losing the city by main force. And the Chief Warlord’s bonus would apply to every Homekey unit in the battle. That would help.
But Digdoug didn’t see how they were even supposed to pretend to fight off such a huge a force of flyers with these defenses. Peck said he’d get more archers somehow, but Digdoug hadn’t seen any sign of them.
As he came around within view of the main gate again, he eyed the garrison tower. It looked pretty puny and squat from here. He tried to imagine himself standing up there, single-handedly targeting twoscore Archons in a hemisphere the diameter of this city.
Well...he might pull it off, if all he had to do was make a convincing show of it for a few Delkey troops. But if the Archons attacked for real, then there was just no way. He’d be able to hit them in a few groups of two or three. The new lightning trap drew its Shockmancy from the nearest rain hex, which wasn’t nearly as stormy as the one out in Weatherbug, so it wouldn’t be as effective. With luck, it might automagically target one or two of them individually.
But then the rest would swarm. They were ranged casters. If they couldn’t hit King Posbrake, then Digdoug would be their next target. And they’d blast him right off the tower top.
“I think...the most interesting day of my life is coming up,” he said to his golems. They shambled along beside him, looming over his head with warlike scowls. They offered no advice, and little comfort. “It might also be the last one.”