Where Loyalty Lies pt 1
Percy waited on the ancient stone walls of Tickle, watching the road that stretched out from the city gates. From the outside, and even the inside, these walls seemed to have terrible Signamancy. Vines and ivy wove through the stones randomly, leaving cracks that would appear to make the Level 5 city weaker than it actually was. That appearance could serve them well however, leading enemy forces to underestimate the strength of the walls, something Percy knew well from having fought on both sides of the wall in the not too distant past. He had even put a great deal of juice into these walls, as the vines and ivy were not a naturally occurring part of the Signamancy. They were actually due to a combination Dirtamancy and Flower Power trap, created long before he had popped onto the face of Erf.
The Dirtamancy was the actual modification to the walls, creating a trough of soil inbetween the layers of stone that could be seeded by Flower Power. While Percy theorized that really any plant could attempt to be seeded in the soil, he had never seen anything but Strangle Vines used. While not units, the Strangle Vines would grab any hostile force that touched them with a strong grapple bonus that left enemies exposed to the arrows of defenders. Siege were even more vulnerable for if they directly struck the wall, like a Rammer of some kind might, they were often completely immobilized. Scaling ladders proved highly effective however, as they would often be stuck to wall by the vines.
They had used that tactic when taking this city from its previous owner, assisted by Percy’s knowledge of the inner workings of the trap and ability to “turn off” the plants. It was a point of pride that Lord Alex may not have been able to take the city without his assistance and knowledge. Not being valued was a terrible thing and it could have a drastic effect on how a unit perceived their Duty and Loyalty.
Finally he saw units appear in the hex outside the city. Lord Alex and his retinue were home from their conference with the Five Nations. He was glad he had been left at home for that. The political maneuvering of some of the Five were tiresome and headache inducing, generally causing Percy to bow out in order to brew some Wine from whatever he could get his hands on. The stronger the better.
Turning away from the road, he stepped onto the leaves of the waiting Eleviner, more examples of convenient Flower Power in the City, though this was a natural feature, not one he had created. The Eleviner lowered him down to the ground level, saving him the effort of finding stairs and walking all the way down. Plus it meant he was waiting with Chief Warlady Atlanta Leon as the city gates opened and Lord Alex returned home, several stacks of pikers snapping to attention out of respect for their Ruler.
Lord Alex Leon of Mace led the procession as he always did, riding atop his massive purple Saladmander a species of the plant creatures that Percy hadn’t even known existed until he had met the Seasar royalty. Flanking him on the left was Warlord Mason Leon astride his own Saladmander, though this was more of the garden variety. The Warlord was rigid and unsure of exactly how to hold himself having only recently popped in the ex-Seasarian city of Maceton, the original capital of Mace. Popped for the formality of the Seasarian Court in the extremely informal Side of Mace, he was a unit still out of place.
To the right of Lord Alex was Hayden, Croakamancer, Chief Caster of Mace, and Percy’s longtime friend. Hayden’s grey face wasn’t always forthcoming with what he was feeling, but Percy knew him well enough to know the signs that he was glad to be home. The lift of the eyebrow, the slight lean forward, the extra perk and spike in his electric blue hair. There was a reason Percy spent most of the Five Nation conferences intoxicated when he got chosen to go afterall.
Lord Alex stopped before them, and the procession came to a halt. Any other Ruler, and they would have been required to at least salute them if not bow or some other extravagant show of Loyalty. Instead Alex merely slid off his Saladmander and walked up to Percy and Atlanta, a glimmer in his eyes.
“Decide you had enough of your other siblings?” Atlanta asked.
“More than enough. They’re all crazy. Or crazy boring.” Alex replied.
“How about some excitement then.” Atlanta suggested “I’ll race you back to the Palace.”
Alex didn’t answer, instead falling into a dead sprint towards the castle, Atlanta no more than a step behind him. Percy made sure to look at Mason, and was rewarded with his look of absolute confusion. The new Warlord would adapt soon enough to the unconventional rule of Alex. It wasn’t every Turn that you saw your Chief Warlady and Ruler have a footrace through the Capital. If the pikers and stabbers could get used to it, then a Warlord assuredly could.
“How was not having to deal with the Five?” Hayden’s voice was right next to his ear, causing Percy to start.
“How do you always manage to sneak up like that?”
“Practice.” Hayden shrugged “and a little bit of juice.”
“Some welcome home.”
“Deal with it.”
“I’ll croak the Eleviner up to your room then.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
They bantered all the way back to the Palace, a mix of insults, casual threats and sarcastic witticisms. Percy was glad to have Hayden back. Atlanta was cool to hang around with, but the whole being a Warlord and not a Caster made it difficult to maintain long conversations with her. And no one had the history that he and Hayden shared. Everyone knew where they came from, and though Alex trusted them implicitly, Percy knew that not everyone shared the same opinion. Sure, Atlanta had no issues with them, but the same could not be said for their Allies among the rest of the Five. If it hadn’t been for Alex, there was a good chance that neither of them would still be alive and if they had managed that much, they would have certainly been barbarians. That was a possibility Percy didn’t want to consider too carefully. He would have been able to survive among the rest of the Hippiemancers but Hayden… Croakamancers had it rough in the Magic Kingdom.
It wasn’t until they were all the way up in the Caster’s Tower that talk turned to business. Percy didn’t have much to say about his time in Tickle while the conference was going on, spending most of his time either boosting crop production or taming feral plant creatures like the Saladmanders. He was far more interested in what had happened at the conference. Just because he hated sitting through it, didn’t mean he didn’t like knowing what was going on.
“It was pretty much what you would expect. Julian and Cleo argued most of the time about more or less nothing while Dee and Vincent looked on. Dee also is insisting on being called “Queen Dee” now. She is so full of herself.”
These were the small things Percy was glad Alex didn’t care about. His older siblings all cared about formality too much and it had left Alex, as the youngest, frustrated. So when he became an independent Ruler, he had ditched all formality that wasn’t necessary. Julian and Dee in particular were always strict about that, though Dee’s Queen fixation was new. Julian’s obsession with being called Emperor however was not. He had inherited the heart of the kingdom when their father had divided up their lands before abdicating, and the power had gone to Julian’s head a bit despite losing most of his supposed “empire” in the division.
Dee had gotten the southern part of the kingdom across the sea from the heart of the kingdom, separated totally from the rest of the lands by either that sea or the jungles of the Azurtech that separated Dee’s kingdom of Cartilon from Mace. Vincent, the middle son, had inherited the stormy western lands to the south of Julian’s Seasar. Cleo, the younger daughter had taken the northeastern drylands and deserts south of the warlike Nation of Xerres. And finally, Alex, youngest of the Five, had gotten the jungle covered landbridge and peninsula between Cleopattern and Azurtech.
“Any actual news from the conference?” Percy asked
“Cleo spent most of the time talking about Xerres. Their border conflicts seem to be slowly escalating. The border city of Obellisk has apparently changed hands several times. She seemed to want help but has more or less seemed capable by herself. She had that Carnymancer, Seth, with her though. He didn’t really say anything and wore that animal mask the entire time. Though he and Bruce disappeared together at one point for a bit and that seemed suspicious.”
Percy shivered. Seth, Cleo’s Carny, was a particularly unsettling specimen of Carnymancer. He rarely showed his face, instead wearing some odd Mask in the vague shape of a Jawkel, a desert feral. Generally he just watched everyone whenever he was at one of these meetings, tall and dark and mysterious. How he was an effective chief caster was beyond Percy’s understanding.
“Dee also wanted us to specifically help her in on a project she is working on with her Daemon research.” Hayden continued “There is apparently a really rare form of daemon that only has been sighted in jungles but never really been caught or allied with before. She theorizes that it can’t actually be allied with but acts more like a feral, but she wants one caught and is willing to compensate whoever gets her one. Wouldn’t say how she would use it though.”
“Is it a particular kind of daemon then?”
“Some little pink thing called a Mu. No idea what is actually is though.”
“I assume Alex just brushed her off then?”
“Pretty much. He wasn’t planning on wasting time hunting a little daemon through the jungle.”
Percy felt the Turn end as dusk enveloped the Erf. Had it really been that long or had Alex ended Turn early? Likely the former. Time was something that kind of just fell apart when he and Hayden talked and relaxed. Being around friends did that.
“…The only really controversial topic that came up had to do with the Ferrow Islands again.” Hayden had moved on while Percy was contemplating the end of Turn. The Ferrow Islands were always a point of contention as multiple siblings sought to claim them as rightfully theirs even though they were officially Seasarian territory.
“What about them this time? Cleo trying to win them yet again?” Cleo was particularly ambitious Percy knew from her repeated attempts to claim more and more territory as hers.
“Actually no. Julian wants to give them to his heir and make a Sixth Nation.”
Percy straightened up and looked at Hayden incredulously. “Really?”
“Yeah. It’s a power move by Julian. He has the power to do it anyways, with it being his territory and then having that Signamancer to amend the Laws of Nations but he wants to maneuver the others into supporting him.”
“That would give him essentially two voices at the Council though. The others wouldn’t stand for it would they?”
“Dee and Cleo were quite furious as you’d expect but Vincent seemed thoughtful and Alex admitted to me that it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Would force Cleo and Dee to stop fighting over it and it’s not like we would end up ever getting the Islands anyways.”
“So the usual political insanity.”
“Yep. You’d have been getting drunk within the first Turn. Titans, if I could only make my own Wine I would’ve been drinking before we got there.”
“That’s why you keep me around then.” Percy winked, and promptly turned a cup full of grapes that was sitting on the table into a cup of wine, expending a bit of his remaining juice to do so. He held it out to Hayden who took a sip gratefully.
“Pretty much. What good is a Florist if not for Wine?” Hayden winced “A bit stronger than usual.”
“I figured you could use it after the Council.”
“Fair enough. Cheers to that.”
Hayden downed the wine before standing up. “I’ll see you tomorrow then. I need sleep.”
Percy nodded. He felt himself growing sleepy as well with the night. Hayden headed for the stairs leading down to his quarters, ruffling Percy’s hair as he passed. “Night.”
A glare burned after Hayden from Percy’s eyes, but the Croakamancer only laughed and disappeared down the stairs. Percy fixed his hair. He hated when people messed it up, so naturally Hayden did it at every opportunity.
Percy made his way over to the Eleviner that took him up to his quarters at the top of the Tower where sleep quickly overtook him.
The morning sun greeted him with an urgent order to get to the situation room immediately. Great.
**Shoutout to Ashtrails and their Saladmander which I borrowed for use because its all kinds of awesome***
Awesome beginning! I particularly liked the use of the Saladmander, and the further creativity in expanding the types so it's not just a one-off but could potentially become as wide a rainbow as the variety of dwagons.
There are a couple confusing points, though. You may explain them later, but they stick out at the moment:
1. Chief Warlady Atlanta Leon says "your other siblings" to her Ruler. I wouldn't be that surprised at two siblings branching off with a new side, but your exposition doesn't account for her relation otherwise. If she's not a sibling, dropping the "other" is an easy fix, but if she is then a bit more explanation seems in order.
2. Mason Leon seems halfway between an allied Warlord and a turned unit. Your writing has some wonderful bits of foreshadowing and other hints that make sure we're paying attention, but his presence in Tickle is a little unclear. His last name indicates he's a relative but he's originally a Seasar(still an awesome name), so he's not Alex's son. The sentence "Popped for the formality of the Seasarian Court in the extremely informal Side of Mace, he was a unit still out of place." seems to indicate an unusual finality for only a visiting unit, though. Taking the most likely explanation that he's an ally, perhaps it could be edited(since it's modifier is already a bit misplaced) into "Popped for the formality of the Seasarian Court, he was a unit still out of place as he visited the extremely informal Side of Mace."
And I simply must applaud the rhyme there: your writing is a treat to read.