First Intermission 42

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Book (First_Intermission)
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Turn Number:38 AW
Side's Turn:Gobwin Knob

Turns Since TBfGK: 29

"You're all business, mister," Stanley grinned. "Love that about you, seriously." He pointed at Ansom and made a clicking noise with his tongue. "But let's lighten up a little, okay?"

Ansom was again having difficulty understanding his Overlord.

He could not hate his Ruler. That would be against his own nature, to say nothing of the will of the Titans. But being alone with Stanley the Tool always seemed to put him in mind of those times when ending this man's life had been all he desired.

"I will try, Lord," he said, curtly nodding. He attempted to relax his posture, as he stood there beside the grand planning table. His broad shoulders lowered a notch, and his stiffly-folded arms now dangled stiffly at his side. He looked at Stanley, who was eyeing him with skepticism.

Oh, yes. A smile. He tightened his lips into a thin, upturned gash.

"Riiight," said Stanley warmly. "We'll work on it. But," he said, clapping his hands together, "let's go ahead and talk about taking Unaroyal. I'm really excited about that."

The war room was lit and carpeted, with a flat ceiling supported by huge columns. There were paintings of battle scenes on the walls. Ansom had been told that this war room was an improvement over Gobwin Knob's prior one. It seemed sparse to him, compared to Jetstone's, but it would do.

At the center of the room squatted an enormous planning table covered in maps and figurines. Stanley had a long croupier's rake for moving the pieces around, which he did without apparent purpose. Ansom still held out hope that Stanley was computing some complex strategy beyond his own immediate ability to grasp, or perhaps that the Titans were guiding his hand. But as he watched his Overlord move a siege tower stack onto a river, this appeared increasingly unlikely.

"The Unaroyal side would seem to have understood too late what they were facing," said Ansom. "Even as we converted their forces and increased our numbers, they deployed the wrong numbers of defenders to their cities. They should either have met us with overwhelming force in our initial forays, or ceded their cities and withdrawn their forces to defend the capital. Now, it is too late. More than half of their units are now ours. Taking the capital will be trivial."

"Right," said Stanley, "they're screwed. Everybody's screwed! Haha. You'll do that when? Two turns?"

"Yes Lord, as I said by hat yesterday." Unaroyal was more than two hundred hexes from Gobwin Knob. But thanks to this dwagon-relay system of Lord Hamster's devising, he would be able to reach the mustering point near Unabrow in a single turn.

He would not, however, sleep much. And he had pulled the same sort of long-hour day yesterday to be here. His Overlord was, perhaps, abusing this new ability to recall him from the front at will.

Still, Ansom could not deny the strategic advantages conferred by this new mobility. The replenished fleet of Dwagons now were regularly deployed and redeployed, so that a contingent of fresh mounts could take a rider to or from anywhere in the side. Because of the extravagance of dedicating so many flying mounts, such a thing had never before been tried. But Lord Hamster saw the possibilities.

Indeed, now that Hamster was dabbling in tactical studies again, his genius was apparent. And unsettling. So, too was his Mistress' faith in it; she now consulted "Parson" before every battle. He was reluctant to devise plans for her, but she took his every word of advice.

Religiously.

It was maddening, really. Until recently, Ansom had been regarded as one of the finest strategic planners in the world. And while he was still in charge of planning his side's conquests, and they were proceeding gloriously, his Mistress saw fit to vet his plans through... whatever Hamster was. Not Royal nor common, nor holy. Fish nor fowl. A deceiver in the service of the Titans, who might perhaps disbelieve in the Titans' existence. Maddening.

He cleared his throat. "I don't believe we should take it for granted that every side we face will make this mistake, Tool. I think we should resign ourselves to an inevitable massive counterstrike, likely led by Jetstone."

Stanley put his rake against the table. "Yeah?"

"Inevitable. King Slately will be spending all of Jetstone's energies in preparation. Seeking a broader coalition, building up toward numerical superiority."

Stanley looked at him appraisingly. "I guess you'd know," he said, avoiding the f-word... father. Ansom nodded. "So what do we want to do about that, Champ?" Lord Stanley, at least, still had unwavering faith in Ansom's strategic mind.

"I have a plan." Ansom took a few steps around the table, to a spot where none of Gobwin Knob's pieces or cities stood... where they had very little intelligence to put enemy pieces, either. "When Unaroyal falls, we suspend expansion. Consolidate the side at 14 cities, and then we prepare."

"Prepare?" said Stanley, taking his rake to where Ansom stood. His stepstool was not on that side of the table, so his nose barely poked over the edge as he looked at where Ansom was indicating.

"A strike. Before they are ready. A direct capital strike," said Ansom. And suddenly his fist came down and struck the table hard. "I will simply take Jetstone."

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