A Distant Isle - Part 5
--> Chapter 5
Another day, another turn.
It had been 60 turns since Noland was founded.
Since the event her journal referred to as "the Night of Contested Croak", the disturbances she would feel at night stopped and her sleep became peaceful, when she chose to sleep at all.
Lana's city, now a level 2, was garrisoned by eight full stacks of Nopers, with two more stacks out on patrol at any given moment.
Her military structure was relatively simple - each stack was composed of four slingers and four units without the archery special. The one time Lana had spent the turns to pop a warlord, it came out barely distinguishable from a stabber - only by a sash it popped with was it identifiable from a distance, though up close one would notice the sword (that most stabbers carry) was actually a big knife with no pointy end.
It was also one of the reasons she decided to nickname it "Cleaver".
The overlady had no way of learning its actual name, if it did have one at all - and very little use for one - for what would one do with it? Call it out? Address letters?
But she did manage to get it to participate in drills. It was much easier to train troops when one was able to split the stack into teams, and Cleaver seemed to be communicating orders to the other units especially well, all its limitations considered.
Before long, Lana made Cleaver into her Chief Warlord, as it had reached level 3 from merely patrolling and participating in training.
Cleaver was also the first unit she expected to show initiative among those popped in Noland.
However - Lana didn't notice anything of the sort...
Until this turn.
Lana was spending this turn in the portal room, having finished her management duties for that day.
In there, as in many other turns, she practiced her hobby of tossing rolled-up written notes into Noland's portal and watching the ripples on the portal's surface.
The notes themselves contained promises of pay for the upkeep of any speaking caster in her capital - no need to cast anything, their company itself being sufficient.
It never seemed to work, but not for lack of trying - Lana often spent every free moment she had during the day, and sometimes even the night - in front of the sickly cyan glow, hoping that someone would come through.
When she realized Cleaver returned from patrol early, however, she opted to abandon her hobby for this turn and return to her office - perhaps this was the time for something interesting to happen?
The warlord returned from the patrol carrying a large boulder in its noodle-like arms and dumped it unceremoniously in the middle of Lana's office, shortly after the ruler had taken her seat.
"Why do you bring in rocks?"
Cleaver, of course, ignored the question, and picked up the pen from Lana's desk - the one used to document her experiences in her journal - and started poking the boulder with it.
"...You want to mine this boulder?"
Noland had no units who had the tunneling special. Even as a level 2 city, all they could pop was warlords, stabbers, pikers, and slingers. They'd have to get pretty creative to start mining, unless Cleaver meant something else with this gesture...?
"Or... Do you just want us to start mining?"
"Oh, whatever. I hereby order you to do whatever you think is best with that boulder."
Cleaver returned the pen to the desk and ran out of the office in a hurry - Lana could only guess where it was going, but quickly realized a stack had left the city.
Lana decided to resume her previous activity - she returned to the portal room and spent the rest of the turn staring, losing track of time as she watched the mesmerizing pattern on the portal's surface.
Sitting on a chair she had delivered in earlier, Lana would watch.
It was made of the damn stony material common to this city - not exactly comfy, but it was better than sitting on the floor. It was good enough for watching and waiting.
Not much hope had remained in her, but Lana held tightly to what was left.
"Titans, I'm bored..." she muttered to herself "Nobody to fight, fine. But I've nobody who'd talk to me, either."
This turn was no different in that sense - there were no surprise visits from the Magic Kingdom.
The next turn, Cleaver had already returned, and immediately headed to the ruler's office, where Lana just happened to be writing her daily journal entry, ignoring the boulder still sitting - like some sort of tasteless trophy - in the middle of her office.
Cleaver was hugging a second boulder as it entered the office, followed by two stabbers - all three briefly stopping as they entered to nod to the overlady - and proceeded to assist each other in their attempts to climb the various bookcases standing against the office walls, with Cleaver still holding onto the boulder as it ascended their backs and shoulders.
Lana stopped mid sentence to watch this charade - it was somewhat entertaining, like one of those silly shows jesters put up in royal courts - and they did mess up several times, with the poor stabbers slipping and falling on their back, only to get up and persistently try again - until Cleaver was finally standing as close to the ceiling as was possible for a slenderman's height.
A piker then came in, also nodding to Lana, and began to roll the boulder that was on the floor toward where Cleaver positioned itself.
"...Oh, I see..."
In hindsight, it was the obvious reason to climb up. Cleaver lowered the big rock, its thin arms stretching under its weight like gum that was being pulled - and let go.
Cleaver's stretched arms snapped back into place as the boulder was let go - not unlike rubber. The rock itself, however, landed a bit too hard on the other one - the floor gave in and a portion of it collapsed under the impact, causing the piker and stabbers to lose their balance and fall into the newly created "shortcut", arms and legs flailing.
"That..." Lana sighed and shook her head "Didn't go as well as you expected, huh?"
She stood up and carefully approached the hole as Cleaver climbed down - the piker actually managed to grab the ledge as it fell. Seemed as though it had taken damage.
Comically, the two stabbers were hanging onto the piker's feet, dangling from them like the jesters she imagined them to be moments prior.
Lana found the entire situation chuckle-worthy, but an odd tinge of color under the three units caught her interest more - it was too dark on the floor below for her to tell exactly.
There has to be some way to get lights around this city without carrying that blasted candle...
As soon as the piker and stabbers were pulled back into her office (what ruler would leave their unit hanging?), she grabbed a candle and went downstairs.
The remains of the two boulders left a dent in the floor here, too - and among the debris lay two, shiny gems.
"Well, I'll be..." Lana muttered "...Titan's thorax, how'd you figure there'd be gems in them?"
In truth, Lana had already gotten used to her units not being able to hear her - she just didn't particularly care.
Pretending it wasn't true made her feel better on most turns.
This turn, however, she had also learned to stop questioning how they know things - while she couldn't think of a way for them to find out, it was a boon only a fool would waste.
"...Those are pretty valuable..." She had lifted her eyepatch to look at the gems more closely. One gem was blue and conical and the other green and hexagonal, both glittering in the light cast by the candle's dancing flame.
"Yeah. I'd be able to upgrade the city quite ahead of schedule with this."
Tucking one gem under her arm, she patted Cleaver on its left leg (she would have patted its shoulder, but it was a bit of a tall order) -
"You've done well. Good job."
Too bad I'm wasting my compliments...
Lana had waited until the next turn to actually upgrade the city, partially due to concerns of a weird city having side effects when upgraded while the office had a hole in it.
But what an upgrade it was.
As a level 2, Noland had walls, paved roads, and generally looked like an average city save for the odd architecture and building materials.
Upon upgrading, the city no longer looked like it had walls to the outside observer - instead, the city looked like it had become a massive structure that filled up the entire hex.
In truth, the city acquired a new zone - the "upper city" zone housed several new structures, including a dedicated library, an arena and a pool. If flyers ever attacked the city, they wouldn't be able to go directly from the airspace to the garrison - they'd have to take the upper city first.
Lana sensed some new buildings popping in the other zones, as well - something to do with the new beast units Noland could now pop - but she wasn't quite eager to explore them now that they were in the "lower city" and thus COMPLETELY DARK.
Sure, the upper city had direct access to the tower, her expanded office, and her bedroom, so going there wasn't strictly necessary, except to manage the city.
But going down any of the stairways leading below seemed like such an unpleasant idea now.
"...I know. Cleaver, get your faceless mug in my office!" she ordered.
Surely enough, the warlord was there shortly, bending its knee to her as if awaiting to be knighted.
"Oh, please, I didn't ask you to do that." Lana groaned at the gesture, but it was not an order to stand up, so Cleaver remained in its position.
"Bah! I want you to take three stacks and go to the nearby woods - where you will chop as many trees as you can carry back, and then, well, carry them back."
As always, the force of orders seemed to come with comprehension - Cleaver stood up and left.
It didn't stop to gather anyone - some units simply began walking towards one of the city's exits shortly after the order was given, forming stacks moments before leaving the hex.
"...Lana, you idiot." She allowed her face to hit her desk - probably not her wisest decision, seeing as it was a stone table and an impact with her forehead was somehow more painful than she expected it to be - "Torches. I can have them BUILD torches. There's forest hexes. Why didn't I think of this before?"
Thinking about it for a bit, she realized it wasn't quite as urgent before - anything but the upper city is not going to have access to ambient light sources anymore, and the candle, which was good enough until last turn - was not going to quite cut it.
"Well then." She lifted her face off of her desk and decided to set production to one of these new beast units the city could now pop - a 'Blastworm'.
Lana was actually familiar with these creatures. She had never heard of a city that can pop them, but she did read about them appearing as ferals and being tamed. They were tunneling mounts that had a very nasty special that made them explode upon being croaked - useful for dealing damage to an enemy killing it, less useful to a unit of the side trying to acquire rations.
Since they leave no body, they cannot be harvested for rations.
"...Oh, right." the overlady realized suddenly "I still have to contend with high maintenance costs... None of the new buildings help with ration acquisition at this level, either."
This felt highly abnormal to her. Pity. Noland's power would have to continue growing only slowly.
"...But, well, there are no threats to my city, are there?"
Later that day, Lana ended her turn, and heard another loud XOTH.
My tentative theory here is that this is something similar to the "dual-planar" setup like Master of Magic had -- where this site actually runs congruent to some other plane of existence. At some point in the distant past, some side on the other plane managed to open some portal to Erf and founded one city on this side, complete with characteristics (like poppable units) from the other plane. Somehow the portal was cut off and the side fell, but now there's another side experimenting with opening the portal -- hence the XOTH attempts.
One other factor: this other plane either has units moving only at night, or their "dawn" is around the same time late at night. That would explain why the XOTH is only happening at night. Units in Erf, despite being from the other plane, still work according to Erf rules as they were popped in Erf.
Thanks for the kind words, everyone! They've probably helped bring the next chapter sooner via simple motivation boosts.
(It has been up for a while, but the animations have been added now so it is 'officially complete')
Part 7 is well on its way...
El Chupacabra, as someone who still plays Master of Magic, I find the Arcanus/Myrror deal an interesting thing to apply to erfworld! It could work pretty well, too!