Dance Across the Hungry Jungle, part 0
It took a while to finally start writing the sequel to Journey Through the Hungry Jungle, but hopefully it'll have been worth the wait.
This first part is an interlude happening just before the events of the first part's epilogue, and is meant to bridge some of that gap before starting this second story.
Interlude: Lucy Charms
The irony of being a Luckamancer was that you weren’t naturally any luckier than other units.
It was, however, a commonly held belief that Luckamancers knew all the right (and wrong) charms for a unit to find Natural Luckamancy. Which was why everyone would chase after Lucy Charms; she would get approached by Warlords asking about which weapon to use before a battle, whether some personal livery would bring Crits more often, what route to take, Rhyme-o-Mancy to recite, or tactic to favor to have Luck on their side. Even other casters would sometimes ask her for advice on whether it was a good day to cast a given spell.
When she was a novice (and skittish) Luckamancer she’d run and hide when she saw their type. But as she got older and more experienced she decided to try and explain that «no, what you want is better Signamacy», or «really, that’s more Predictamancy’s bag» and a few times «I can’t change that Mathamancy, sorry», and on one occasion even «No, stepping on a crack won’t break your ruler’s back! Now stop asking or I’ll tell yer Overlady ye want to incapacitate her!»
Which was why she had long ago decided that, really, maybe there was a Luckamancy entirely of the mind, and that rather than try to run away or correct everyone, she should try to humor them.
It had worked out fairly well during her time at Olmecca, sparing her juice, helping other units believe in themselves, and only occasionally correcting them when their confidence bordered on the over or their over needed a haul.
Truthfully though… Lucy did have a knack for finding Luck.
Like all caster’s, she had a special caster sense regarding her discipline. As a Luckamancer, she could sort of sense the presence and absence of … something. Not Luck, exactly. It came to her like a sort of visual aura around units, things, the ground and even the air sometimes. It came in all sorts of colors, too! Sometimes units would be as shiny blue as diamonds, or yellow like pots of gold. And it would change too! Like a unit rapidly shifting colors of livery, in a sort of Turnamancy race through several sides in a row. She could sometimes sort of see an object’s or unit’s former colors, like a history of allegiances.
Thousands of turns ago, in Lucy’s time, Luckamancers in the Magic Kingdom thought they might be messages from Fate or the Titans, or a deep Signamancy behind the world. The very few who had reached Master Class said in whispers that what they were seeing wasn’t Fate, but something equally powerful and not altogether different or the same. It was Numbers.
Lucy knew her magic dealt with Numbers indirectly, but since Luckmancy was aligned with Erf she didn’t have a very good understanding of them. Trying to level up by studying Mathamacy had only made her head hurt, and it wasn’t really helping her reach a better understanding of her discipline or class, so she’d dropped it.
It was through trial and error that she’d come to realize that the aura’s represented the sorts of Luck or unLuck she should attach to a unit with a spell. For example, you could cast a Luckamancy hex for casting failure on a Rock Golem, but it would do all of bupkis since it would never cast a spell. But giving a currently unmounted Knight a boost to resist being dismounted would be a good choice, since the spell would eventually kick in as soon as she was mounted again.
All of which had lead her to one of her more interesting discoveries about her discipline. She called it «tasting the rainbow.»
If she focused her Luckamancy sense on the general movement of colors around her, and specifically her own, she could find paths. They weren’t so much streams and rivers, as a chameleon-like flow of related colors in certain directions. They would form a sort of rainbow road, and following it would invariably lead to Luck. Mostly good, but sometimes bad.
Which went a long way to explain why she now stood paralyzed in front of a simple wooden door in the city of Dis.
The hallway wasn’t particularly impressive, nor the double doors. Just a dark mahogany frame with brass latches. They were only mildly impressive when compared to her meager height. Even in her buckled shoes and wearing her bowler hat over her red hair, her head barely cleared the door’s latches. No, what had Lucy paralyzed was the flash-flood of color streaming towards the door and into the room through every crevice, and what that meant about meeting the man waiting on the other side.
Lucy was still a Captive of Tar Zhay, notable because of her slate white raiment. And though they’d been treating her very kindly (not even making her wear manacles, or restricting her movement) she was under no illusions about what Sides were capable of and willing to do to get a captured caster to join.
Tar Zhay’s Chief Sigamancer had arrived near midday to speak with her, and she had been ordered to report to chief Amicus Brief’s suite to meet him.
Right now, standing in front of the door, she could see the latch before her was having its color change so rapidly she wasn’t sure if it was a brilliant white or a pitch black. Some nervous part of her wanted to jinx the mechanism so it would break when she turned it, keeping her from the Titanically bad luck she feared was on the other side. She took in a breath. Another part of her, seeing the riot of color, wondered if opening the door would take her to a place so chock full of color, like… someplace over the rainbow. She hoped, with a little luck, that the skies there were blue.
Taking in one last breath to steel herself, she opened the doors.
The office in Amicus Brief’s suite could have been—probably was— bigger than some city’s troop barracks. The book-filled wooden shelves, spiral metal staircases, teak leather couches, and soft yellow Powerballs made it seem cozy and inviting. The man himself was seated in a rocking chair by an unlit fireplace, book in hand.
Amicus put the book away and rose from his seat. «It’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person.» He smiled to Lucy, offering his hand. She took it, and (surprisingly) he shook it firmly. Most commanders she shook hands with rarely gave her a fair shake, thinking her frail.
She returned the grip in kind and did her best to smile. «Likewise, ‘tis a pleasure to meet you, too.»
«Your fellow casters wanted to bring you to the Capitol to meet with them, but I wanted the chance to speak to you first privately.» Amicus seemed unassuming for a Chief Caster; though his voice had a patient tenor, it was deep and seemed like it could carry across an entire courtyard if he cared to yell. He had well combed, slightly long and oiled black hair, horn rimmed glasses, a three piece tan tweed suit, and a Finch pin on his lapel. Lucy reminded herself that as a Master Class Signamancer he’d no doubt have a reason for choosing to appear this way.
«Please, have a seat.» He said, indicating a high backed chair across the fireplace.
They took their seats and Amicus started with what sounded like a prepared speech. «Lucy, I’d like to start off our relationship with honesty and, hopefully, trust. You see, up to now every caster in Tar Zhay has also been a Komissar. We’re too important to the side to keep in the dark considering the work we do. And we’ve all proven our loyalty and, more importantly, commitment to Tar Zhay’s ideals.»
Lucy nodded. She’d been expecting a conversation very much like this, and had been preparing by asking Sky Captain Crunch (the one Komissar in Dis posed to answer questions) about the side and it’s philosophy. He’d agreed, and they’d spent an afternoon going over the general aspects of Tar Zhay’s values «Right, that the Titans gave all units the potential to make their own choices and pursue their own goals. That reason, debate and cooperation are more powerful than tyranny. That, in short, though we are all different unit types, we are all equal before the Titans.»
Amicus leaned back and relaxed into his rocking chair, swaying with a steady rhythm. «How do you feel about them, Lucy?»
How she felt was that they were nice sentiments, but with few exceptions (namely Marco and Zheng) she wasn’t sure how true the first point was. That she’d spent enough time in the Magic Kingdom to know that reason could be ignored, debates could be circular, and cooperation a lie in search for personal gain. And that, whether or not the Titans valued one unit more than another, their instrument of Fate certainly seemed to take delight in picking favorites and victims.
What she ended up saying though, was «I... think that they are very fine ideals. You’ll forgive my bluntness, but what I feel is worry about what happens to those who don’t share them, both within and without.»
If he was offended, Amicus didn’t show it. «Of course, I did invite you to be honest after all. You’re worried that we’ll keep you prisoner in all but name, forcing you to serve the side, maybe even Jintao casts a Suggestion spell on you, and then I trick you into signing some awful contract?»
Lucy was a bit taken aback, but nodded and said «Something like that.»
«Lucy, we’re not like that. We have our concerns, yes, but we value free will too. We’ve been talking about your situation quite a lot, actually, and we’d like to present you with these three options.» Amicus reached to a table beside him and pulled out three scrolls.
«These are binding Signamancy contracts. The first one is a standard non-disclosure agreement regarding anything you learn from us, and a great deal of the history of your former side. This is a modified Barbarian Caster services contract where, after a set of turns and services to be negotiated, you’ll be released from the side to the Magic Kingdom with twenty turns worth of Upkeep in your Purse, more than enough for you to get established.»
Lucy sat as still as she could. This was... unexpectedly generous.
«This third scroll is an immediate severance contract. We’ll release you —today— into the Magic Kingdom with all your personal belongings. You would have to also sign the Non-Disclosure contract, but we won’t keep you against your will or force you to do things you find objectionable.»
«What’s the catch?»
«I think you already know what the catch is. I’m only an adept Date-a-mancer, but I can see how very few relationships you have left. If you leave us, you’ll likely never see the Voyager brothers again, making this the second severing of every emotional connection in your life. And a voluntary one, at that. You’ll probably make new relationships in the Magic Kingdom, or another side, but you’d always feel that longing. Those lost connections.»
Lucy looked down at her hands, her knuckles were a whiter shade of pale from balling them tightly into fists. When had that happened? Searching for a distraction, she looked up and asked «What’s the third option?»
Amicus put away the scrolls. «You choose to stay. It’s as simple as that. You choose to work with us, to understand what it is we’re trying to accomplish. And perhaps... getting to know us, and getting to know you, we can develop enough trust to feel comfortable.»
«... in joining the Breakfast Club, and the Komissars?»
Amicus nodded. «Eventually, yes. That is my hope. A lot of the emotional distance you’ve been feeling, it’s because some on the Komissar council aren’t sure where your loyalties truly lie; whether you can be trusted enough to make good and full use of your talents for the side.»
Lucy straightened a bit. «I suppose that’s my greatest reservation. What would my talents be used for? After these twenty turns, I still don’t really know all that much about this side. Why y—the emperor is so remote. Why the Komissars are so incredibly powerful. Perhaps things have changed since my time, but courts and councils rarely exceeded advisor status.»
The even rocking of Atticus chair slowed and stopped. He never broke her gaze, not once, yet somehow despite his intense attention she didn’t feel he was trying to intimidate her. Finally, he said. «We have a purpose in common Lucy. You saw your side try to promote peace and get wiped out for it. You’ve quite clearly and understandably told us you do not want your knowledge or talents used for war... Tar Zhay... does not want war; it is not the end we pursue or a means we particularly like. We are a very misunderstood side because of our secrecy, and as a Signamancer this pains me. Please believe me, I want to answer your questions, but by consensus vote of the Komissars I can’t. Not unless you take that first step.»
Lucy took in a breath. She felt the anxiety and fear she was holding, and decided to try to let it go. «All right. You have my promise —a pinkie promise— that I will do my utmost to serve Tar Zhay as long as Tar Zhay lives up to its principles.»
Amicus leaned forward and hooked his pinkie around hers. «On behalf of Tar Zhay, I accept and welcome you to the side.»
For a brief moment, Lucy felt not just the energy of the automagically binding Signamancy flow through them, but a huge weight lift off her shoulders and a breathless excitement fill her. Instead of the dread of leaving her home behind (both of them) she felt the endless prism of new Luckamancy behind her choice. Good and bad, but also wonderful, happy, exhilarating with the new possibilities.
Then she noticed her Barbarian-white raiment had become Olmecca’s dark green and lime. «My old colors...? But how?»
Amicus immediately picked up on it. But instead of being upset he smiled. «Really? That’s wonderful, Lucy. It’s a good Sign. It means you’re no longer running from your past. Besides... it’ll be nice to have some green in this city.»
Lucy laughed «True, I s'pose I'm over running away from people chasing after my Luckamancy charms.»
Part 15 of Journey Through The Hungry Jungle