The Overlord's New Clothes
Thank you to Neceros for the seed idea.
Farah didn’t know if she’d live to be a dozen turns old.
"Clunk!" went the shuttle as it slammed into her hand.
Farah winced, but ignored the pain and kept moving the shuttle across the loom. She was exhausted and growing distracted, and welcomed the pain as a way to keep focused. She couldn’t afford mistakes; had to hurry if they wanted to live until start of next turn.
Farah and her siblings -- Mouse, Bob, and Tattle -- lived in the capital city of Homefield, Advantage. If asked to describe it, most units would speak in awed tones of the city of Advantage’s four cardinal diamond shaped gardens, the joyously overlooking Pitch tower, or the muraled garrison walls depicting the history of the side. Or they might speak in hushed whispers of the terrifying ruler within, an Overlord gone mad from staring into the black abyss within his own heart.
Certainly, they wouldn't mention Advantage’s sewing room. In a city of wonders, it was nothing special; it had automagically popped at the same time alongside as the city’s first Clothier type Courtiers. It was 30 by 40 feet, and had a pair of tall windows with only a partial view of the courtyard. Even it’s equipment was standard: four looms, four spindles, some bailiwicks that would fill with raw wool, cotton and flax, and very occasionally silk, a large flat table with chairs, a few modeling mannequins, a floor length mirror, and a cupboard for knickknacks. That said, the sewing room did have one claim to fame. It had seen no less than forty one Clothiers come and go during the one hundred and twelve turns reign of Overlord Tag.
Farah and her siblings knew this because they had found notches carved into the back of one of the looms, a few even had names and turn numbers. Farah hoped they wouldn’t become the forty second to forty fifth.
It was almost dusk, she and her siblings had been working from before dawn to well past sundown every turn since they’d popped eleven turns ago.
Though they were all pinch hitters and did whatever needed doing, they all had favorites. Her sister Mouse spun a spindle to turn wool into thread. Farah worked the loom most of the time, turning the spun wool or linen into basic cloth. Bob would cut the fabric into basic shapes, and Tattle would sew them all up into new duds. When they popped, lacking any direct orders, they’d been happy to start working immediately on weaving some of the raw materials into cloth and general garments, chatting about how happy the court or warlords would be or… or even how impressed their ruler might be at their services! That was a happy day. Perhaps the only one they’d all had.
They toiled long and hard every turn since. The court was insatiable and unyielding in their demand for unique and high quality duds; and bullied them when it wasn’t to their exacting tastes. They had some kind of game where they jockeyed for favors, and one prize for those with favors was a set of duds. But instead of making them respected or influential within the court, they were just chips to be traded. The Overlord and his inner court bandied these favors about, to keep the court hungry, at the same time… disbanding those who fell out of favor.
Mouse put out her hand and held out a finished spool of cotton thread, and mechanically said, "Spool." Farah wordlessly took the spool of thread, and loaded it into the loom with practiced reflexes.
They were tailoring a very tricky suit for Overlord Tag, and their urgency came from working to avoid their “second strike.”
Farah didn’t care to recall the first strike, but couldn’t avoid the memory.
Having crafted their first ever dud and not met anyone, the four of them decided to go before the assembled court at turn’s end. "After all," Bob had reasoned, "the Overlord must be a busy man, and must have forgotten to tell his courtiers of our popping," and they’d felt like it would be a good introduction to surprise them with their turn’s labor: a pleasant cotton and lace dress in the side’s colors of periwinkle blue and ivory white.
It did not go well.
The Overlord had dressed them down for daring to come to court without Orders. The court itself had mocked the dress as "outdated" and "prudish", and the Overlord had finished off their humiliation by striking Tattle with a thrown B-ball from his throne.
This was their first strike, and it left Tattle reeling on the floor with a black eye. Overlord Tag had warned them: at the third strike, they’d all be "Struck out." Of Erfworld.
"Done," sighed Bob, wiping his brow with a sleeve, heedless of the scissors in his hands passing so close to his face.
Farah and Mouse got up from their stations and walked over to the mannequin modeling the duds. Tattle was fussing about it, he’d argued against Bob’s design and in favor of one of his own, but was now making sure there were no loose stitches.
Despite the exhaustion, despite the anxiousness, Farah had to admire Bob’s handiwork. The suit was cotton-white with periwinkle blue pinstripes racing down the jacket and pants. The jacket had large periwinkle blue buttons, with a round open neck and thick blue trim around the lining, a smart billed cap with an ear muff to protect the Overlord’s sensitive right ear, and shiny black cleats rounding out the footwear. Despite being tailored for a man, the suit actually looked like something Farah wanted to wear. She reached out and felt the smooth cotton sleeve and imagined just how she’d look in it.
For her part, she was especially proud of her contribution. Of the “very special” cotton fabric she’d gotten with the help of a friend. Her siblings had been amazed at its fine texture and softness, and they’d asked where she’d gotten it. She’d just smiled, happy to keep a little secret.
"It looks good, Bob," said Mouse. Her “little sister” as she liked to think of her because of being half a foot smaller, with straight brown hair in a ponytail. She fretted though, "We should take it to the Overlord before he gets impatient."
The four walked before the court. Though this time they had Orders and dispensation to enter, it seemed far less friendly. The Hall of Fame was lined with portraits of the side’s fallen heavy hitters, warlords and warladies and even casters. All of the smiling painted faces on the walls seemed kinder than the painted faces on the courtiers.
The sneering lords and ladies lined both sides of the blue carpet leading up to the throne. Around them, disdainful laughs were barely audible among the pale, haughty figures. Farah felt Mouse’s hand in hers, and closed her own around her sister’s.
A crier stepped before them from the crowd, about halfway to the throne, turned smartly to face the Overlord and shouted "Preeeeesenting: the Spiiiiiinsters!" to the derisive laughter and clapping of the court. Farah winced as if struck again by the shuttle; the cruel nickname was one of the court’s “gifts”.
The city administrator, Fowler Ball, was standing by the Overlord and yelled in a high, airy voice. "Well, what have you brought for his Overlordship? Speak!"
Bob cleared his throat and stepped forward, with Tattle pulling along the mannequin wearing the duds, "Your Overlordship, we’ve- ah- brought you our finest work yet," began Bob, smiling bravely and trying his hardest to sound confident and up-sell their work. "The suit has many virtues, a cotton lining to keep you cool in the hot turns and warm in the cold, pinstripes to give the suit a distinguished, formal, yet sporty air, with an open neck to—"
Bob did not get to finish. The Overlord threw a fast B-ball straight into Bob’s stomach, collapsing him in one hit. Farah and Mouse moved to help their brother, and noticed he’d actually suffered 2 hits of damage! "Titans," thought Farah. "Did the Overlord mean to croak Bob?" B-balls were vicious, rock sized projectiles that could very well Crit a unit if aimed well, and with 3 Hits, it was pure Luckamancy that Bob hadn’t been croaked.
As they helped Bob to a sitting position, the Overlord roared "Who is responsible for this farcical fashion dud?! This catastrophe of clothing?! This is not what I asked for, and I would know who to disband for it!"
Farah and Mouse hugged Bob, her young mind rushed to a standstill at losing her brother. She was close to tears and some irrational part of her mind started to form words in her mouth, to the effect of "It was me!" … But she couldn't muster up the strength to do it.
"It was Bob."
Farrah looked up and saw Tattle, a small smile played out on his mouth. "Bob designed it, it was all his idea."
Numb at his betrayal, she heard a distant clap and collapsed onto the floor with Mouse also crashing into her… over the space formerly occupied by Bob.
She gasped, and grasped dumbly through the empty air for some trace of their brother, seeing only the lobbed B-ball laying on the blue carpet. The court laughed cruelly at the physical comedy.
"Thank you your Overlordship," simpered Tattle, his tone drenched in relief. "We’ll get—" and then he was gone with a faint snap, as if he’d walked into the distance.
"Nobody likes a snitch," spat the Overlord, even half a hall away the scent of brandy lingered on his breath. "You two, contemplate your brothers’ failure. You have until tomorrow evening to make me something I would actually want to wear. Go."
Too numb to move on her own, Mouse stood up and pulled Farah to her feet and started to lead her out of the Hall of Fame. Behind them the Overlord yelled, "And someone remove that eyesore of a suit from my throne room!"
Absently, Farah realized she was carrying the B-ball inside her frock’s sleeve.
Mouse and Farah had a long cry that night, overcome with grief, exhaustion, and panic at how to please the Overlord. Mouse had actually cried herself to sleep.
Still awake and stroking her little sister’s hair, Farah wanted to think of anything but the impossible task and horrible Fate before them. And so Farah found herself remembering where she’d gotten the cotton for the suit.
Two turns before losing half of her family, Farah wandered the palace halls aimlessly and furtively at night, just wanting to be away from the sewing room for a little while. From the courtiers. From the Overlord.
At the sound of a pair of lustily laughing courtiers in some tryst, she quickly ducked through a door into a disused hallway. Only to run into a palace guard.
He was standing idly by a door, and didn’t so much snap to attention as look at her quizzically while leaning on his weapon. "You’re not supposed to be here," he stated flatly.
Farah could only back up against the door, mumbling something as she fumbled for the latch.
"Hey, it’s okay. My name’s Auric. You’re one of those new clothiers, right? It’s a bummer what happened to you at court." The guard, a piker judging by the polearm, walked close. Farah would have scooted farther back if she could, but there was a stubborn door in the way.
"Listen, I shouldn't tell you this, but… I’m just guarding some stupid loom."
This got her interested, at least, enough to overcome her nervousness. She looked up to get a better look at the guard. He was about her height, with a lean build, blond hair and hazel eyes. This time it was her turn to look at him quizzically.
"Yeah. It’s supposed to be some kinda magic, but I doubt it." He walked over to the door he'd been guarding and opened it, gesturing for her to come inside.
More curious than apprehensive, Farah followed him in.
The mid-sized windowless room had only one thing inside, a fairly ordinary looking loom.
"Captain Ted Blacklist said we were supposed to guard this thing, but no one has any idea what it does. It was supposed to be made by our old casters… but they’re gone, disbanded. Overlord Tag wasn’t happy when they made this old thing and not some B-ball cannon like he’d wanted. He’s disbanded my Captain too, at that. Won’t let any commanders stay in the city now." The guard looked at the floor, pained, then over at Farah. "Maybe it can help you? Y’know, make clothes the Overlord likes?"
Farrah moved closer to the loom, and ran a hand across the dusty harness. Though it didn’t seem at all magical, on closer inspection she could tell it was a masterwork loom, it was bound to give her a bonus to her cloth weaving. She turned and smiled at Auric, nodding happily.
Back in the present, Farah tucked Mouse in her bed, and went to the sewing room on a grim mission. She was… she was going to make four notches into the loom, and write their names beside them. At least, she hoped, that way there’d be something left of them.
Having ducked through the corridors unnoticed, she opened the sewing room door, and there, standing alone in a shaft of moonlight streaming in from the open windows, stood the mannequin in the suit that had cost her brothers’ lives.
She walked over to it, barefoot to avoid making noise.
It really, really was a nice suit, even if it hadn’t pleased the Overlord. She examined a button idly. There was no way that just the two of them could make something of this quality in just a day. The four had been working double shifts just to meet demands. Mouse and her really were doomed.
Numb from the loss, and having spent as many tears as she could for the night, all she had left was her silly wish to wear it. And knowing she would be disbanded the next turn, why not?
It took her only a few moments to remove her sleeping frock and put on the suit, and it felt lovely. Like belonging to a team, like being part of a… a family.
It seemed she still had a few tears left to shed. Was it different for combat units, she wondered? Did they mourn the loss of their stack mates when they were croaked? She absently wiped the tears away, ever a Clothier, mindful not to stain the sleeves, and thought about how Auric had looked two nights ago when speaking about his captain being disbanded. He probably did.
She walked to the mirror and pulled it close to the window, so she could see herself better by the moonlight. Oh, she was a sight! Blond hair in a bun and under the billed cap, the periwinkle blue stripes even matched her blue eyes! She looked pretty as a peach! True, Bob’s cut had been for a man, and the pant legs were a bit… She suddenly realized the pant legs weren’t two inches too long, nor were the chest and waist too tight. In fact, looking at her reflection…
The suit fit perfectly. This wasn't just odd, it was impossible. She had seen Bob's tracings, and Tattle's cuts, there was no way this suit was made for a woman. Twirling before the mirror she wondered... maybe there had been a little magic in the cotton and loom? At least, enough to make a dud able to resize to fit the wearer?
Farah stopped spinning, and her mind began to. "This suit is magic and... Titan’s toes, the suit shows it NOW?! When it's already too late to save their lives?!" Enraged, she rushed over to the worktable and picked up Bob's scissors; intent on cutting the suit to pieces, completely careless of still wearing it.
She opened the scissors wide and held them up to her right cuff, and an entirely new feeling welled up inside her heart, spooling together into a new thread of thought. "No, the suit wasn’t what cost our brother’s lives. It didn’t disband them. That was the Overlord. And he hasn’t just hurt our family, he’s hurting my friend, Auric, and his— the entire side."
Lowering the scissors and looking up at the naked mannequin, the oddness of the thought immediately struck her. It zipped along her mind like a shuttle ferrying a differently colored thread across a loom. Weaving together into a more complex tapestry of new realizations. Farah was a practical unit, and not much given to thoughts of Duty or Loyalty. But the Overlord's cruelty and pettiness gained a crispness and context in her mind she’d only found when looking for and spotting an out of place stitch. What he was doing was WRONG.
She felt something sewing together the jagged rips of loss inside her heart. A sort of… Love for her side as deep as her love for her siblings. She had to take care of them. Protect them. But... how?
She looked down at the table and saw the scissors were still in her hand. There was a length of unspooled lace on the table as well.
Slowly, ever so slowly, she moved the scissors up to the lace, and tightened her fingers on the scissors' handle until they audibly closed. "Snip." As the bit of lace hit the floor two words filled her mind: Croak. Overlord.
Eyes wide, she flung the scissors as hard as she could against the nearest wall. They broke and ricocheted off it and fell as two broken halves.
Panting and breaking out in a cold sweat, Farah realized that whatever was going on in her head had started when she put on the suit, so she changed out of it as quickly as she could. A clothier to the core, even suspecting the dud (or magical raiment?) might be somehow cursed, she laid it out neatly on the table.
Comfortably back in her sleeping frock, her heart slowed and mind went blissfully blank… only to slowly start considering.
She took a few deep breaths and looked at the pinstripe suit laid out on the table. She folded it up and then put it in an little carry case for such raiment. She only had one friend other than Mouse, and she would ask him everything he knew about the loom. And then...
Farah was a practical unit. She knew that Mouse and her would be disbanded tomorrow unless they did something about it.
She just hoped this time she would be brave enough to do it.
Overlord Tag slumped in his stuffed brown leather throne in the Hall of Fame.
The ingrates at court would get their pablum. Their daily dose of drama and despair. He swirled a half full glass of brandy before taking a long drink.
Fools, all of them. He’d just as soon disband them as look at them, but their petty ploys provided the only pleasure in his life. The war with Neffle and Enba was going all too well, and being stuck away from the action in the safety of the capital left him little else to occupy his time with.
Today he’d finish disbanding the two remaining Clothiers. It was an old trick, he’d have to move on to disbanding actual courtier’s soon though. Again. Heh. Deciding to move the execution along, he nodded to the doorman to let the Clothiers in.
The room fell as close to silent as it would for the presence of such non-units as Clothiers. The smaller one walked in, with the taller one pushing a mannequin under a tarp ahead of her, hiding behind it. Hmm. He didn’t spare her a glance and paid her no mind. Her cowardice was just another reason to disband both.
The duo walked midway into the Hall of Fame and were presented.
City manager Fowler began the turn’s charade. "Well, have you conjured up something to show the court worth the Overlord’s time?"
The mousy one puffed up her chest and spoke as loudly and clearly as she could, actually managing to sound confident "We have, your lordship. But if I may be so bold, I can’t show it before the court."
The court broke out in a mixture of surprised gasps and derisive laughter. Fowler seemed livid enough to fall over incapacitated. Overlord Tag smirked inwardly and raised a hand. And the court fell silent, truly silent. This time, he deigned to speak "You are playing with your lives, Clothier. Why can’t you present this 'marvelous' raiment to the court?"
"Because," Mouse smiled cattily. "What’s underneath this tarp is so wondrous it is only fit for your Overlordship’s eyes."
Tag arched an eyebrow. The turn might yet hold some surprises. "A bold claim, Clothier. And if it is not, indeed, fit for an Overlord’s eyes?"
Mouse bowed low "If I may humbly suggest, your Overlordship should view it in the privacy of his chambers before deciding if it pleases him to wear it— or disband us for the impertinence."
The court moved from scandalized to amused noises. Hmm. He finished off the brandy with one savage motion.
"Very well," he agreed, a slight slur in his words. "Bring it to my chambers. If it pleases me, you will know. If it does not… You won’t know anything. Ever again."
Tag dragged the moment out, enjoying the nervousness of the Clothiers.
The tarp covered mannequin stood ominously in the middle of his private chambers, and he paced round and around, with another glass of brandy in his hand. It looked like they’d improvised a little cart with a stuck a pole to give the mannequin balance.
It amused him to no end how the taller one still hid her face underneath a drawn bonnet, studiously avoiding his gaze. The smaller one was deferentially quiet now too, and trying not to stare. Enjoying the effect of the liquor on his mood almost as much as the anticipation, he took a long, casual drink.
Having drawn out their anguish long enough, Tag said "Well, let’s see if what we have here is fit for Overlord Tag..." And he pulled the tarp off.
Wordlessly, the mannequin swung its left arm and clubbed him in the right ear, the one he’d injured in battle, with what must have been a B-ball.
He stumbled back against his desk and held his ringing ear; it had only barely done a single hit of damage, but his center of balance was completely shot. Was this a Neffler plot? Sneak a Doll into the palace to assassinate him? He managed to look up and saw the “mannequin” was wearing the pinstripe suit from yesterday… No, not a mannequin, it was a clothier…
Focusing through the haze of the brandy and the pain in his ear, her Stats resolved in his vision.
Specials: Clothier, Heir
He’d barely had a moment to process it when the presumptive heiress swung the B-ball in her hand again, managing an awkward strike that did another single Hit of damage.
He was rushed by the smaller Clothier then, and Tag reached behind and found a bottle of Brandy that he swung at her clumsily. She managed to avoid it, but in so doing tripped over herself.
Furious and still off balance, Tag prepared to disband the wretches with a clap of his hands, when he discovered three somethings. One, was that the pole holding the tarp on the “mannequin” steady was gone. Two, that it was actually a bladed pole arm. And three, the most shocking… the sound of one hand clapping. He looked down and saw where his left arm had fallen on his chamber carpet, having been cut off by who he’d thought was the tall clothier: a blond cross-dressing piker wielding the pole arm.
Speechless now, he fell back and tried to find another weapon, but all he found was his path blocked by the pinstriped Clothier. Another strike from the pole arm to the back of his right leg forced him to his knees.
She raised the B-ball high. "Tag, you’re out."
The envoys from Neffle and Enba walked through the city of Advantage awed by its splendor, and dreading the audience ahead.
Homefield had unilaterally stopped its implacable march to their capitals and made a rather cryptic peace overture. Hence, why warlords Francisco Fortynine and Angel Lake had been drafted to the diplomatic service by their respective sides. Not so much for their keen diplomatic acumen as their replaceability if this turned out to be another trap. Still, they would do this duty to buy their sides some turns to bolster their defenses.
They walked down the blue carpet of the throne room, the Hall of Fame. They’d been expecting a very public audience with the Overlord, but found it mostly deserted except for a few dozen auxiliary type of Courtier’s: cooks, scribes, manservants, maids, a smattering of ceremonial infantry and a single blond Warlord standing before a curtain, hiding the Overlord and his throne from view.
Angel’s first thought was that it was some absurd mockery, perhaps meant to show that the envoys were only fit for diplomacy with menials.
Come to think of it, the palace had seemed staffed by unusually surly and resentful manservants and maids when they’d arrived.
A small, mousy Clothier type courtier by the throne stepped forth and introduced them. "The Warlords Angel Lake of Enba and Francisco Fortynine of Neffle! You are welcomed to Homefield’s court!"
Angel and Francisco took to one knee and payed their respects. Hopefully, whatever the overlord’s sick game was would end with them still alive.
"Rise," came a voice from behind the curtain, the voice of a soprano…
"An Overlady?" thought Angel. "Then the speculation was true! There’d been a coup!"
Beaming, the mousy clothier cried out, "All rise for her Overlady Farah Tale!" The curtain parted and sitting on the plush brown leather throne was the new Overlady, beaming a serene smile and wearing a gorgeous pinstripe suit.
Standing up and looking at her, Angel was stunned, and from the corner of her eye saw Francisco barely managed to avoid gaping. The Overlady was a clothier?!
When the Overlady spoke, her voice seemed unused to public speaking. "The history of our sides has been one of constant, pointless conflict. It has benefited only the cruel and harmed far too many. Warlords Angel, Francisco?"
"Yes?" answered Angel, hesitantly.
Overlady Farah’s words filled more than the Hall of Fame, they filled hearts. "Rather than always being on the outs: out of favor, out of time, out of hope, out of peace, out of this Erf, I think it’s time for all our sides to start anew. It’s time to stop 'outing' units, and time to start putting units 'in'. What say you, how about we start a new 'inning'?"
"Well," said Angel. "I think we can play ball."
Dowager Overlady Farah Tale idly wondered if she would live to see her thirty thousand and twelfth turn.
She rode in a carriage through the Rock-Key mountains, with a light escort for speed and a very special cargo.
Alone in the cabin, Farah’s wrinkled hands shivered. She put together the sleeves of the thick Neffleece coat she was wearing to keep them warm, and partly from habit, partly to fight the chill of mountain hex air, she ran them along the coat’s inner stitching. The coat was a gift from her friend, King Shea Tall of Neffle, for the friendship she and her side had shown him and his.
Despite the luxurious warmth of the coat, her hands continued to shiver. She had developed a touch of arthritis in her dotage. It was a Sign. Though she was still loved, she could feel her usefulness to the side fading. Her hair had gone from blond to silver, and she had more wrinkles now than an unstarched shirt.
With nothing to do but look out the window at the mountains, her mind wandered back to the turns when she was still useful.
After the ceasefire, she had brokered peace with Enba and Neffle, which had led to the creation of the Bush League, the first alliance of Royals and Overlady in this corner of Erfworld. They had enjoyed many hundred-turns of peace and prosperity until the Offields attacked. More suited to peace than war, she had used the Loom then, to promote her son Warren to Heir and then stepped down.
What she stepped up though, was the Bush League's game. She and Mouse had campaigned hard on the diplomatic front, gaining them two more allies and forming the Major League. They had won the war, but Mouse had been croaked in an ambush.
The Titans had blessed her to see two more generations of her heirs pop. And she had spun and woven and cut them each a suit fit for an Overlord when her son, and later granddaughter, had deemed them ready. A few had even created their own sides, and popped children of their own! Heh. A great grandmother, her! Who would have thought?
As her family tree grew, she came to affectionately call them the "fruits of the loom." They had consoled her, soothed her aching heart. And she had thought that after Mouse’s passing all the turns of heartbreak would be behind her. But Fate had other plans.
Peace and war had come and gone like waves, and though the alliance had held, it was at great cost to her family. She had lost far more sons, daughters, and grandsons and granddaughters than she cared to recount.
In fact, Homefield was currently fending off a ferocious attack by the Base Steelers and their hired Archons. It would be another two turns before allied reinforcements came, but their capital was already at risk of falling… all over her special cargo.
The Loom that made heirs. The “Heir Loom.”
It had given Farah the Heir special, and would do the same for anyone wearing a suit tailored to fit an Overlord or Queen. Mouse, Auric and she had tested it extensively; they’d also found that if they tailored formal raiment for a Knight or Warlord, it could promote an infantry unit wearing it to that class. And, amusingly, of turning any unit into a Courtier, which was how they’d hidden Auric’s true nature when he cross dressed as Farah. The uncut cloth itself also had the unusual property of hiding the presence of units covered inside it.
The Base Steelers wanted it. Or maybe the Archon’s master did? Who knew. In the wrong hands it could be extremely dangerous, both as a weapon of war and to enable coups. Farah realized this last worry was rather hypocritical, but the Heir Loom could just as easily enable a tyrannical commander to usurp a good ruler as a good unit to depose a tyrannical ruler.
Though she had not made it, she had brought out the Loom’s true nature, and she felt responsible for it’s good use. And so, despite her failing hands and fading usefulness, despite the adamant objections of those who loved her, Farah had one last grim mission to do for her side, for her friends, for her family.
"Archons, incoming!" shouted the coach driver.
Farah clutched her hands together inside the sleeves and held firm. She was no Royal, but the tragedies in her life and thousand-turns on the throne had given her the poise to weather a battle.
Her brave Auric yelled his orders, the pikers and archers screamed in the hail of Shockamancy. After a few moments the blasting stopped and she could hear only the deafening silence. She breathed in and collected herself, stood up and exited the coach.
The mountain road was now full of the charred bodies of her soldiers and two felled Archons. She spotted Auric’s body, pike in hand, leaning against the carriage. Her defender to the last. In another time she would have wept, and though she wouldn’t allow herself to do so now, she still felt her eyes moisten. Instead, she looked up at the floating women arrayed in blue.
"Dowager Overlady Tale," came the crisp voice of the lead Archon, leading her stack of seven up in the air. She floated down to just a foot above the ground, putting her at a head and a half taller than Farah. "Charlescomm apologizes for any inconveniences or delays this interruption may cause you in your travels. I am however happy to inform you that, as a high value individual in possession of unique magical artifacts and the knowledge of their use, your situation is far less… terminal… than that of your escorts." Her smile never wavered as she spoke. Her eyes shone with confidence, poise, and callousness.
Farah had stopped listening at around the word “inconveniences” and started examining the make of the Archon’s uniform.
It was very high quality. Though it seemed slim, she could tell it had been modified for the High Mountain Hex environment. A grazing arrow to a sleeve revealed it was padded expertly with hidden layers of Oxie Cotton on the inside, and an insulating layer of Spidew Silk on the outside.
Hmm? She idly noticed the Archon had stopped speaking, and having only a vague idea of what she’d said, decided to answer anyway in a distracted tone. "That’s quite nice raiment you’re wearing, dear. Did you make it yourself, or pop with it?"
The Archon’s smile broadened a bit with a bit of a snark at the edge. "Charlescomm battle raiment offers a unique combination of lightweight armor and arrow deflection. I’m sure your side would be more than happy to -ah- purchase a suit for you in addition to other concessions in the upcoming negotiations." The Archon probably thought Farah was going doombatty. She probably wasn’t wrong.
Farah looked the Archon square in the eyes and used a weapon few Erfworlders knew existed, fewer ever saw in action, and only vanishingly few ever mastered. The Grandmotherly Stare. "My, my, my. Dear, you’ve used double cross stitches for the seams. I’m terribly sorry sweetie, but I don’t see how we can possibly negotiate with someone who makes a habit of double-crossing."
It was always difficult to tell if you’d penetrated an Archon’s professional armor, but Farah noticed a slight hardening of the smile.
"I’ll be sure to tell that to our associates in Customer Feedback. Client Satisfaction is a top priority for Charlescomm. Presently, I suggest you don’t move, it’ll make your -- relocation -- much less unpleasant," said the sneering Archon as she pulled out an Either-net.
"It’s rigged!" yelled one of the other Archons.
"Nancy, protocol!" snapped the lead Archon.
The Archon, Nancy apparently, flew in. "Drew, they’ve rigged it up with some kind of Dollamancy trap, it’s like nothing I’ve seen, I’m not sure we can remove it from the cart without setting it off."
Farah put her hand inside the sleeves of her Neffleece coat. It was getting chilly. Her hands felt around on the inside.
In her many turns as Overlady, Farah had (surprising no one) popped a Dollamancer for a son. Oh, what fun accessories he had made for her! What had surprised some, was that her first grandaughter had popped a Foolamancer.
Drew turned to Nancy with a look of fury. "What?! Nancy, you were on Spell Security! Didn’t you detect it was rigged up?!" And she went on shouting angrily at Drew.
Farah had already been close to Drew at the beginning, and during the yelling had walked into the Archon’s personal space.
"Oh you poor dear," She tutted in a low, soothing voice. Farah pulled a hand out of her sleeve and reached out to the rip in Drew’s raiment left by the arrow. "You’ve got a rip. Here, let me just put a safety pin through it."
Noticing Farah had gotten close enough to touch her (and actually had) Drew’s professional composure didn’t so much crack as it had melted into red hot glass. Farah paid her no mind as she focused on fastening the safety pin, closing the rip in her sleeve and protecting Drew’s arm from the chill mountain air.
Farah smiled her happiest grandmotherly smile. "There you go. And now that the safety is on, I suppose I should wish you good-by."
Realizing she’d been played, and by a woman she thought wholly out of her senses, Drew salvaged what was left of her composure and said in clipped, dangerous-yet-pleasant tones, "Actually, Ma’am. Why don’t you just come with us? We have ever so much sewing that needs mending. It would be… simply tragic for you to refuse."
"Thank you, but I believe I’ll go on a nice constitutional walk now. Toodle-oo!"
As Farah turned to walk away, Drew tried to grab her shoulder but couldn’t. A force repelled her hand. "Oh, no you DIDN’T." She tried again, and again. Farah started humming as she walked in as brisk a pace as her knees would allow. She did her best to walk around the fallen Homefield units and seem as loony as a bird singing in a garden.
"Nancy, get this off me! Associates, net the Dowager!" Drew didn’t so much order as erupt in anger.
Farah could hear the whoosh of air and quickly felt the constriction of a capture net envelop her. Hmm. Triple-chord braiding with sheet bend knots. Always interesting to see other tailor’s work.
The Archon’s who netted her started to lift her off the ground, and she caught a view of Nancy opening and removing the safety pin.
"Oh dear," tutted Farah. "One should never remove the safety pin on something hot enough to explode."
And that’s just what Drew did.
The blast croaked Nancy and Drew, and knocked the Archons that had netted her and the others out of the sky and onto the ground, Farah included.
The Fall had only damaged Farah a little. With her ears ringing from the explosion, it was hard to tell, but Farah though she could hear the moans of three Archons, perhaps a few were croaked or incapacitated?
Distantly, Farah felt a deep rumble.
Her old bones ached, and she’d fallen in a particularly painful heap. She managed to keep her breathing slow and eyes shut, trying to stay unnoticed and seem croaked.
She heard a pair of Archons still able to fly take to the air, warbling with uncertainty.
With the growing roar of rushing snow replacing the ringing in her ears, Farah could only barely make out an argument over whether to leave their sisters and take the captive or not, before they could resolve to make off with her they thought better of the situation and flew off.
The plan had worked then.
Farah finally opened her eyes and watched the pair fly off carrying two incapacitated sisters. They were moving at top speed, hopefully fast enough to avoid the avalanche. Some part of Farah’s heart felt a bit of kinship for their sisterhood then.
She managed to wiggle and turn in the netting to see the approaching avalanche.
As her final reckoning approached, she felt alone on that mountain road, surrounded by corpses. She breathed in a ragged breath and calmed her heart with the reason why she had done this: love, love for her family and side.
The Pinstripe Suit had opened her eyes to Duty and given her the Heir special, along with a terrifying ruthlessness to use it. Once she had abdicated, she thought she'd go back to being her old self. That she'd lose that ruthlessness... and love. But she hadn't. For good and ill, this was who she was. She had thought it had also given her that greater capacity for love, but in the many turns of her dotage, she had realized it only opened a veil in her heart. One she had then chosen to walk through.
Her son Cotton the Dollamancer had made the Safety Pin for her, which applied Flower Power on any unit it was attached to, and Shockamancy once removed. He’d also broken the enchantment on the loom, making it completely mundane, and applied an actual trap on it too. Her granddaughter Fox the Foolamancer had veiled the loom to make it seem unmagical; a veil good enough to make a mundane piece of wood seem like it was hiding being magical.
They’d had to. To trick the Base Steelers and Charlescomm into thinking the Heir Loom was legit. To get them to divert valuable time and units away from attacking Homefield and search this soon to be snow-buried hex. To buy time for the people she loved.
Why else would Farah, the unit who knew most about the Heir Loom, be taking it to Neffle if it had been broken? The fleeing Archons would make sure their master and employers knew. That it was still in this hex, trapped under tons of snow.
She could feel the cold wind ahead of the avalanche on her face. Farah wished she could put her hands inside her coat sleeves, but they were shivering and shaking too hard to untangle from the Either-net. She looked beneath her and saw she had landed over the body of an Archon, covering most of the poor dears face in the Neffleece coat she wore.
She closed her eyes. A roar loud enough to drown the world enveloped her. She fought to put a smile on her rapidly cooling face.
She had managed to pull the wool over their eyes.
Painting by Charles Joseph Grips - A Woman at a Loom, 1879, from Wikimedia Commons.
(NOTE: User was awarded 40 Shmuckers for this post. -Rob)
An "heir loom"!? REALLY?! The physical pain that causes me. Jesus man. I mean you have a good chance to win given the amount of feels this gives me, but Jesus man!! If I were you, I would have had the heir loom described later on and Farah just try to guess at what was happening to her. Increase the suspense a little.
Aww, and here I though I was being clever.
Anyway, I literally wrote this in a two day rush with only minimal editing for basic grammar and such, and I wanted to keep this a short one shot. Even then I ended up moving parts around to simplify the narrative flow of time. Maybe should have done the same with the puns and loom. My gaming friends have warned me that my puns should be classified as deadly weapons.
So yeah, I could move the specific reveal of what the heir loom did to after the fight, and maybe drag out Farah figuring out what's going on, but it would have tagged on another 1-3 pages and bumped it up to 10-12. Or, if I'd kept it brief, it would have the unfortunate implication she's so grief stricken she's willing to end her whole side. Hmm...
I dunno, I'll probably revise it some time this week once it cools off a bit in my brain, but I don't think it'd be fair to change it right now for the contest.
Honestly, I like the puns - very Erfworld aesthetic, for sure, as well as a baseball-themed kingdom. A lot of thought went into this, as well as clever bits and a unique magical artifact.
I suppose not just anyone could become an Heir from it, and that you'd have to have the proper clothier to use it well, but I wonder what fields of Mancy were used to create it. Dollamancy, for sure though, but perhaps also Carnymancy?
One of the tools of story telling I struggle to use, is to leave things to a reader's imagination. I have a very definite idea of what casters were involved to make it, but I purposely left it vague in the story to create a sort of mystery around it. How was it made, who made it, what can it do? Ultimately, I think you'll have more fun creating your own theory of how it was made.
Love a story which is punny and also fitting directly in. No need for hamfisted references of known characters, and works well within what we know of magic.
I wonder what the other players in the Major League would be. I'd like to say it's Sockball and Nehiler (NHL).
I can just imagine, somewhere off to the side, an alliance between Audiller (Audi/AUDL) and Karlahand (Benz/MLU), whilst expanding together as baby sides, comes across a spun off side, and heard of the Major League. Trouble is, there had been some miscommunication about their application status, and somehow 'both at the top of the waiting list' got taken as 'only one may survive'
Sockball is just perfect. For the NHL, maybe Naychell, Enny Shell or just simply Nahl.
And thus the Playoff Wars began between Audiller and Karlahand. And regardless of who wins, neither admits to the initial misunderstanding, so the war flares up again and again every few hundred turns, threatening to swallow up nearby Toy Otta and Fnord.
Karlahand actually got destroyed once, losing in a humiliating capital fight. Only because King Gatz the Greatest were out of town, doing some secret deal with with Twolls Joyce, Karlahand was saved. A quick exit to Pickall, pursued by Fnord's snow white camo battle bears allowed Karlahand to be refounded. Audiller only relented because the Playoff Wars were an effective money grinder, and also both sides were originally spun off from a Hippiemancer-ruled side. Think Olive, but nice.
Audillier's Will Aye the Thinkermancer Guy is a Great Mind, and very favoured in the MK, but prefers a private life, so avoids any unneeded contact, and focuses on encouraging lateral thinking in court. Chief Bondi Schmidt (Level: 9, Archer specialist (Chakram)) took that to heart, and devised innovative archery strategy, earning him the name 'Trick Shot'