LIAB Text 59

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Book (LIAB)
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Turn Number:75 AW
Side's Turn:Royal Crown Coalition

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It wasn’t like he’d imagined. The heat baked him from every direction. Burning embers and sparks occasionally spun through the room. But the smoke wasn’t that bad. There must have been a draft coming up from the lower dungeon levels. For now, he could breathe.

Parson knew about as much about fire as he remembered from fire safety month in elementary school, and the occasional Weather Channel show about firefighters. He knew that fire burned upwards, and you should stay low. It needed oxygen and could, like, flashover or something. Whatever that was, it was bad. That was about it.

And who knew if any of that was even true in Erfworld, which had its own fire physics? Units caught in an inferno took damage randomly and could take a few specific actions like fleeing, fighting, and casting. There were damage penalties when moving, fighting was done at a penalty, etc. Some of it didn’t make a lot of sense with the actual physics of combustion.

So he sat on the floor, planting his ass in the empty portal, and touched his bracer. The Warlord Antium and the last four Decrypted troops were beating the flames with cloaks and rugs at the other end of the room. That had seemed pointless at first, but then he remembered something about how units taking action to fight the fire could effectively transfer their actions to a unit they were protecting.

So...he’d better do something.

For the last few minutes, he’d kinda been raging out and panicking, he realized. But Charlie’s request for a calculation had the weird effect of numbing him up and focusing his mind on this one trivial thing. It wasn’t quite the same as getting an order, but he was contractually obligated to carry out Charlie’s calculation unless it would hurt his side, and he couldn’t make a good enough case to refuse it.

Plus, whatever Charlie’s game was—trying to railroad him into using this spell—Parson needed to know this, too. Could he cast this spell? (Or any spell?) A way out was a way out, and going home beat dying. Maybe there was even a way back to Erfworld if he did...

The bracer hummed, and inside the little glass window he saw his own name in blue light:

[Parson Gotti, Warlord (Chief) (Level 3)]

Huh. Really? Three? He hadn’t felt anything at all. For a moment, he felt weirdly proud of himself for leveling. Then he blinked at the thing and subvocalized, “Hypothetical: me as a caster.”

The words changed:

{[Parson Gotti, Caster (unspecified) (unspecified)]}

There was a shout and a rumble from the other side of the room. A significant section of wall and floor began sliding down and away, churning up a shower of sparks. Parson gripped the edge of the portal until the collapse settled. He squinted. Antium had two soldiers over there now, not four.

Numbly, he looked back down and subvocalized, “Odds of: successfully casting the Carnymancy spell I’m touching.” He reached over and held Jojo’s scroll, which he had set upon the floor next to him after pulling it out of his belt.

The window showed a long decimal number, then blinked and showed a short one instead. Then it ran through a series of digits that changed every split second. Then it went blank. Then it read:

specify conditions

“What? Here and now,” said Parson.

specify target

“Me!”

Another number flashed by, too quickly to read. Then the display read 0.0

Parson looked into the display. “Izzat my odds, or are you just surprised at the question?” he said out loud.

But he knew that the bracer had just given zero probability of successfully casting the spell. Either Charlie was wrong, or he’d been toying with his prey. Although...neither thing seemed very Charlie-ish. He looked down at the lonely zero-point-zero.

Okay what now? Maybe he had phrased it wrong.

“Odds of: me as a warlord, as I am, casting this Carnymancy spell, right here and now.”

Again, a number flashed quickly, but changed to: 0.0

“Odds of: me casting any spell at all.”

multiple parameters unspecified

Parson breathed heavily through his nose, and could feel the burn of smoke in it. The partial collapse had changed the air currents. It was now getting worse by the second in here.

“True/false: a non-zero chance of me successfully casting any spell exists.”

T

“So I am a caster of some kind. Or something,” he muttered. He had explored the possibility of casting spells before, and always failed. But he’d never thought to put the question to the bracer this way. “True/false: conditions exist that would give me a non-zero chance of successfully casting the Carnymancy spell.”

T

Way out restored, then. But no clue how. “True/false: I could create conditions here and now that would give me non-zero odds of casting the Carnymancy spell.”

T, read the display.

Then, suddenly: F

“What the hell?” Parson shouted to the air. “Charlie, are you screwing with this thing, too?”

When he looked up, he saw that Antium was walking up to him. The man’s face was sooty, and both his hands looked burned. Behind him, one of the last two soldiers was on the floor with his hair on fire, yelling. The other was beating him with a cloak.

“Chief, I think we have done all that we can,” said Antium.

Parson looked up at him. There were flames right there in the ceiling now, in bits where the plaster had fallen. The crackling sound was surreal, all around his head, like the sound you hear when you roll in a pile of dead leaves. That ceiling was going to come down on them any second. God, if Sizemore could just get here somehow, he could shore that up. And fix everything else.

“I don’t think I have, yet,” he said.

With a grunt, he rose to his feet. He spoke aloud to the bracer now. “Odds of: me successfully casting a Dirtamancy spell to put out the fire.”

The window showed a number. It had a decimal and six or seven zeroes after it, but it was a number.

Parson clapped his hands and made a hocus-pocus gesture. How the hell would you cast a spell, anyway? He had certainly tried before, but never with any indication of success.

“Put out the fire!” he shouted. He stomped his foot for emphasis. Nothing.

Nah, he needed some word or phrase from his world that was associated with putting out fires. That seemed to be how it worked.

“Alka-Seltzer! Pepto-Bismol! Gaviscon!” He felt nothing. “We Didn’t Start The Fire!”

He looked around, starting to realize he was a little dizzy from smoke and whatever else he was breathing. Somewhere on another floor high above, there was a rumbling crash.

“No, I guess we did,” he said.

“It’s been an honor to fight beside you, Chief Parson,” said Antium.

“Don’t start that shit,” said Parson. “I’m not done here. I’m not.” He looked around, spotting the scroll on the floor. He bent over and snatched it up.

“Odds of me casting this spell!” he shouted at the bracer.

The same number as before flashed, then changed to: 0.0 He almost saw what it was this time.

“Again!”

Number, then 0.0. It was a long one. Hard to see the first digits. He looked at Antium, who was standing close. The other two soldiers were a few feet behind him, stepping on embers as they fell to the floor. The one whose hair had caught fire was black and burnt from the shoulders up, but he kept stomping.

“I think this thing is lying to me,” said Parson to the perplexed-looking warlord.

“Again,” he commanded the bracer. And again, a long number showed, then 0.0. There was another collapsing sound, very close this time, maybe from the next room over. That first number after the decimal was not a 0. It might have been an 8...

“Run this same calculation ten times in a row. Go.”

The blue numbers in the bracer began blinking. The 0.0 was a dimmer blue as it blinked on and off, but the other number was superimposed over it: .980104773

A 98% chance of casting success.

He looked up at Antium. There was a lot more smoke in the room now, and Parson’s eyes were stinging. The bracer was lying. It was telling him he didn’t have a chance. Why? So he wouldn’t try to cast Charlie’s spell...

“Jojo said it’s free will versus Fate,” he said. “But I’m really just getting railroaded by two different GMs here. I dunno wha— Huhg!” He broke into a coughing fit that left him bent over. Tears from his watering eyes ran down both cheeks. God damn, it was hot in here. Felt like the smoke was literally burning his lungs.

“Ah...fuggit!” he gasped, barely regaining control of his breathing.

He unbound and unrolled the scroll, holding it up in front of him. It shimmered brightly. His fingertips tingled. There were words on the parchment, a poetic stanza. But he couldn’t read them at first. He was seeing something else.

No, not seeing. More like...detecting, or knowing. There wasn’t a word for this sense, but some little compartment in his mind opened up, and what was in there was as rich in information as vision or hearing. He understood some of the things behind the things he could see.

Of course this was a spell. Of course it was. And it was built like...a key that would unlock the spell that had brought him here. He could see what it was. It was a spell to break a spell and snap it back. It would...fling him home. And he knew how to cast it.

The floor creaked, and listed slightly. He could read the poem on it now. Funny...

Yeah, it was time now. Time to go home.

He spoke, with a new understanding of how to intone the words of a spell. It was as different from plain speech as singing, but in a magical way.

“Roses are—”

The burning plaster hit his arms, just soon enough to warn him, just the barest moment before the flaming wooden beam came down on his helmet and flattened him to the floor. The magic sense—and every other sense—left Parson Gotti’s mind.

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