First Intermission 43
Turns since TBfGK: 31
The letter was written in blackest shining ink on fine vellum, in a formal, feminine hand. It read thus:
Your portrait hangs above this writing desk, upon which I have scribbled so many dreadful banalities that you long ago ought to have decided me a very foolish woman. And when I was not writing, I shamefully abused your long-suffering Thinkamancer, merely to share the turn by turn trivialities of queenly and kingly lives.
I will not apologize, as our conversations have been my greatest pleasure in Erfworld. Remember that, dear man.
But I shall burden your Bunny no longer. Please express my gratitude for her patient service. This word I must send to you in writing.
We have spoken often of my daughter, Princess Cruz. When she fell, defending Unavac nine turns ago, your words of kindness were my only solace. When reports arrived that she had not been croaked, but had turned, your assurances were of great comfort as well.
Alas, but the truth of it is more ghastly than you or I imagined. I have spoken with Cruz this turn.
We knew the enemy had mustered and that their column was near the capital. I had ordered most remaining units to Unaroyal for the siege and defense. With eleven warlords, four casters, fourteenscore heavies, and eighteen hundred infantry, we felt we could mount a respectable defense. Jetstone nobly offered assistance, but Slately is reeling. If we should fall, better for him that he might have all his men at hand for his own such moment of truth.
As Gobwin Knob was ending turn, word came that the enemy was seeking a parley, not by Thinkagram, but at the hex boundary at the head of their column. Our messenger reported that the request was made by my daughter, at which I very nearly disbanded him.
I rode there personally, taking a small group of heavy hollas, two warlord advisors, and K.C., my Chief Warlord. The hex boundary lay across the main road, and the Princess was waiting there to speak to me.
She wore black livery, adorned with a white skull and pink flower crest. At her back stood maximum stacks of heavy units and siege, including many I recognized as former Unaroyal units. There also stood the Chief Warlord of Gobwin Knob. I knew his face. I had known him as Slately's son, Ansom.
Prince Ansom had once wielded the Arkenpliers, but carried them no longer. That artifact instead belongs now to Gobwin Knob's Croakamancer, who is called Wanda. She is attuned, and they give her the power to create Uncroaked units with vastly superior points and capabilities. Her term for these is "Decrypted." My daughter's body was made into one such.
She seemed overjoyed to see me.
She was fully articulate, and in possession of her memories. I asked questions only Cruz would know, and she answered. We talked for at least two hours. I learned the above, and a great deal more. Heed this, Don. And fear.
The attunement of two Arkentools to the same side may mean many things. But Gobwin Knob has taken it to mean that the Titans of Ark have revoked the mandate bestowed upon Royal lines to rule. Ansom affirmed this point, when I queried. The Decrypted act as if they have a new Titanic mandate.
The Croakamancer herself never spoke. She observed all, and simply met my gaze silently when addressed. The Decrypted Ansom gushed about his "Mistress Wanda" as the instrument of the Titan's will. The Decrypted Cruz said much the same.
They are pursuing the express aim of bringing all sides into a new alliance, in line with this new view of the world. They ask for the allegiance of all. Failing that, they intend to croak and decrypt every unit in Erfworld. Whatever this mockery of my daughter was, she then asked me to surrender Unaroyal and ally with Stanley.
I said that I would require counsel, and withdrew from the hex boundary to privacy. To my Chief Warlord I said simply, "Destroy her." He would only carry out the order if I pledged to remain in safety. I so pledged.
The attack was brief and gruesome. K.C. approached on hollaback as if to speak to Cruz. He then lunged across the boundary. At his command the stack engaged her exclusively, and overpowered her. With K.C.'s own swordblow, I saw her turn to dust.
The party was then croaked in seconds. As the Croakamancer set upon the bodies of our fallen units, Ansom shouted to me, chiding me sorely. Within a few minutes, all of our units were standing again, and K.C. was also shouting at me. Cruz, however, was not restored. Decrypted can be destroyed.
I turned my mount homeward and fled, weeping.
I have spent most of the treasury and gems promoting all garrison units to full and sending them out of the city. My casters' names are Vanna, a Turnamancer, Jeftichew, a Carnymancer, Bowie, a Changemancer, and Spenser, a Findamancer. I made them pledge only to work for Royal sides, and sent them to the Magic Kingdom. Please employ them if you can. Tell the other sides the nature of the enemy. This corruptive madness cannot be the Titans' will. Do what you can to stop it, as I now do the only thing left to me.
Think me weak or strong, my dearest Don, it is the only thing I can do. Titans forgive me.
All my love and friendship, in this or any life,
Bea, Queen of Unaroyal
The sun was setting, as a tired woman with raw red eyes waved a wand over an upturned silk hat, and saw the letter inside vanish. Vanish.
She rose from the writing desk, the folds in her orange and red satin gown dropping neatly into place, straightening with perfect elegance. She walked the carpeted hallways of this empty palace, as the rainbow smears from dangling crystals danced and spun upon shadowed walls and curtains.
At the end of the hall she found the room she needed. She had been here once today already. A shimmering magenta portal stood framed by simple columns on one wall. She did not falter, not a step.
In the field there stood more than two thousand units of the Unaroyal army, camped, ready for the next day's battle, discussing and speculating why their Queen had opted to make their stand outside the city.
Then, they vanished.
The red and orange banners of the proud capital city turned a blank gray, and stopped waving.
For the Queen had destroyed herself, and Unaroyal was no more.