First Intermission 49
(marked for future work)
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Turns since TBfGK: 55
Jitterati had recently taken White Castle, a Transylvitian outpost. Don King admitted he lacked the air power to contest it; arming Faq was taking every resource he could spare (and some he probably couldn't). So he was planning to let White Castle slide. Vinny didn't like that one bit.
Jillian, for her part, was quietly going insane. The pressure of managing this kingdom was getting close to unbearable. She'd flown out to the gap every time Gobwin Knob poked around near there, but they only sent a few little scouting forays. Her forces could handle it. She hadn't swung a sword since she put on the crown.
Vinny knew it.
Because, okay, maybe her process of going insane hadn't really been all that quiet.
They had popped five Noble warlords, and no casters. Though there was no way to intentionally pop a caster, usually a new side would receive one among their first few warlords. But it was said that the Titans read the Ruler's heart, and their Fate. Jillian's heart was armed for battle. Surely the Titans sent her what she needed.
Two of her warlords had made level 2. She left one of those defending the gap and the other in the capital, where Vanna would stay to keep handling unit production. She and Vinny took the rest hunting, along with two thirds of the air force.
Vanna had been the perfect solution. Having a Turnamancer reduced the production of an heir by twenty turns, and with funds coming in from Transylvito, Vanna was able to boost Otoh and Kibo's production drastically. Don King was very happy, though he would not be if he ever found out it was Charlie who had funded Vanna's contract. Even Vinny didn't know about that.
Mmm. Well, there was a lot that Vinny didn't know about.
Though the Royal heir would not pop for thirty turns yet, there was no talk of the Queen staying home on this outing. When your side has only three cities, you trust the Titans to preserve you no matter what you're doing. She went. She led. And most of the way through the mountain peaks to their first target, all she did was grin into the gusting wind. Free, free, free. Battle!
They didn't go after White Castle; it was too far and would have been too well defended. Instead, they chose to hit the two mountain cities closest to Faq. Besides creating a strategic buffer, sacking them would help boost the pathetic Faq treasury. It was a fund-razer.
Kona was pitifully defended for a Level 3. Jitterati had not even been aware of Faq's existence, that much was obvious. With five warlords, seven knights, four megalogwiffs and twenty-one gwiffons, they dropped the city in minutes. They croaked every defender in every zone, sacked the city and left it burning, boosting Faq's coffers by almost twenty thousand.
Jillian personally planted her megalogwiff on the city's only knight and lopped his head clean off while he squirmed. Satisfying. But her Warlords looked at her askance, even as the head was still rolling around.
"Oh right. Um, sorry." She had to remember to hold back and let them level.
Their second target was Valdez, a Level 2 built in the bushy green shade of a volcano. Valdez had been warned of trouble, and was prepared. Besides the Jitterati infantry and one warlord, it was full of Western Giants, natural allies of their side. They stood as tall as Woodsy Elves, but strong and beefy. Heavies, all. They wore spiked shoes, and black helmets with a thin bill in front and a flap that covered only one ear. They were armed with long thin clubs, which they wielded with deadly accuracy. It was rumored that their power was magical, and that like casters, they used juice.
She led the stack in and seized the undefended airspace, letting the gwiffons take the arrows from the sparse archery while she surveyed the layout. The town was made mostly of black and gray stone, a peculiar mix of slate and obsidian, with bright green moss growing in the cracks. There were at least two hundred men in the Garrison, and dozens of Giants. The tower, a squat round turret, was covered with Giants, as well. At their center stood a mocha-skinned bald man, hands on hips, wearing white armor emblazoned with a circular green crest. The city's warlord.
Vinny flew up to her as an arrow sailed between them. He scratched his nose with his thumbnail. "You wanna skip this one? Looks like we'd lose more than we'd gain here."
Jillian stuck out her jaw, looking down at the tower top appraisingly. "You know what I wanna do, Vinny? You'll never guess." He shook his head as she grinned at him. "I want to talk. C'mon."
They spiraled down toward the force atop the tower. "Do not engage!" she ordered. "Parley! Parley!"
The four huge megalos pulled in beside the tower, while the gwiffons hung in the air above them. Vinny floated beside Jillian's massive mount. The Jitterati warlord held his sword low and puffed his chest, which looked a little ridiculous among the towering Giants.
He scowled at her. "If you have terms, I will hear them," he declared, raising his sword, "but we stand ready to fight!"
Jillian held her sword of to the side and arched her eyebrows at the man. "Yeah... I did come to discuss terms, actually." She lifted her gaze to the solemn face of the Giant standing to the Warlord's right.
"Terms as arranged," she said.
The Giant nodded. "Agreed, Highness."
The Jitterati warlord looked up with sudden panic as his stack broke without his order. To his credit, he understood immediately, said nothing, and bolted for the tower entrance.
"Capture!" Jillian shouted to her stack. Her mount took it as a command. It flew her in fast, shouldering its way between the Giants, and planted itself on the fleeing warlord. The megalogwiff pinned him in the doorway and enveloped his body, leaving only his head exposed. This time, she did not swing.
Sudden shouts and clangs of battle immediately rose up from the city below. Here, and all over Jitterati, Faq's new natural allies were inflicting heavy losses. Jitterati would be left too crippled to bother Transylvito or Faq for a very long time.
When Vinny finally caught her eye, his expression was priceless. Wonder, admiration, amusement, bafflement. She knew at that moment... in his eyes, she was good enough to be Queen. It felt brilliant.
On the trip home, he was burning to know how she had done it. She refused to say, and he kept asking, until they had another huge fight about it.
He could sulk as long as he wanted, though. There was no way she was ever going to tell him this was Charlie's idea.
That level 6 Jitterati warlord, Duncan Scone, was now her best fighter. Vanna had done some good work to turn him, but the dungeon didn't much interest Jillian. Vanna didn't really know how to play right.
Giants were still coming in, nine more this turn. They were the perfect natural allies: mountain-capable heavies. With these guys in the cities and on patrol, she could pop nothing but air units and warlords. Not that she'd been making much infantry anyway, but the point was, she had made enough. Enough, and in time... for Charlie's other plan.
Vinny was upset that she would not take him, and at all of the things she wouldn't tell him. It started to build up. It went to shouting, it went to threats, and it went to silence. After much longer than usual, almost too long, it went to apologies and make-up nookie.
They both knew it had to. Maybe she would croak on this mission. Maybe they would never see one another again.
Vinny had his feet on the tower as she lifted skyward. She saw her armada filling the sky with yellow death, and thought it would almost be easier that way.
Real World References
^ White Castle is a fast food chain famous for its "sliders," small hamburgers (that "slide" through you).
The story continues in Book 2: Love Is A Battlefield