Dance Across the Hungry Jungle, Part 4
Part 4: Close Encounters of the Luckamancy kind
Tar Zhay liked to play it tall, and during her long isolation had upgraded several of her cities to specialize for efficiency, courtesy of her Dirtamancer Venice Beach. Mossimoco had improved shops that allowed it to pop most of the jungle supplies they used, Archer had specially irrigated farms which boosted yields and reduced upkeep considerably, and Uppenup and Circo served as infantry popping and training hubs.
The level 5 city of Dis was unique because of its upgraded stable built atop the tower for the flying Red Spots and Red Bullseyes, even helping pop them more quickly. Though it came at the cost of a much smaller Tower without Air Defenses.
The stable was a huge white rectangular box with a base wider than the tower supporting it. The sides were made of overlapping slats, with a large arched gate at the front for the Bullseyes to take off. It was protected from the weather by an overhanging triangular red “roof” made up of red slats, with embedded holes beneath each slat that allowed for speedy deployment of Red Spots. As airy as it was the beasts did make quite a big stink of the place, so it was affectionately called the “Dog House” and unruly units were often sent to clean or sleep among the stables as a form of “light” punishment.
For units approaching by foot or air, they’d see a giant red and white house appear seemingly flying over the horizon before the city itself came into view. And once in view, the net effect was of a huge, looming fortress ready to spew forth a furry winged stampede at invaders or... just fall on them. Though Venice had assured everyone the construction was rock solid, more than one unit had gotten “air sick” from the slight swaying caused during strong storm winds.
It was from this air-stable that Lucy opened up her caster senses, and watched.
Her normally lime green shoes were now a lovely periwinkle, and that periwinkle dripped off her shoes into the straw covering the stable floor, only for the straw to change, one strand at a time, into a lovely indigo that seemed to roll into a nearby pen, only to get scooped up in the mouth of a sapphire blue Bullseye. The fur on the Bullseye’s flank boiled in a tye-dye of sapphire blue to purple before evaporating into an indigo mist that blew away and out of the stables.
«There ye be.» Thought Lucy, as she winked away her Luckamancy sense and walked over to the (now normal colored) Red Bullseye in its pen. Even a regular unit would look small next to one of the beasts, and she knew she must be positively dwarfed by it, like a Gobwin standing next to a Megalogwyff!
She chuckled internally at the thought and approached slowly, hand extended.
The great beastie kept munching on the straw, and snuffled a big puff of air at her when she got within touching distance.
Unphased, she pulled out her secret weapon with the flick of a wrist and a twiddle of her fingers, producing a trio of sugar cubes in her right hand, one between each finger.
The beast snuffled again, this time in interest. Keeping her center, she at first stayed out of reach and stood her ground just behind the pen’s bars, then approached the beast slowly, hand extended, but on her own terms.
It eyed her with big glassy black eyes under a head full of curly white fur, before deciding that sugar was sugar and it was hungry. Slobbering out of it’s maw came a tongue twice the size of Lucy’s palm, and gingerly licked the sugar cubes up.
Having come a few steps forward to feed it, Lucy took the opportunity to put her free left hand on the beast’s wide, triangular head. She rubbed it affectionately just as it finished licking her hand clean with its slick-yet-sandpapery and muscular tongue. «Well, for a certain definition of “clean”, anyway» thought Lucy, chuckling out loud this time.
Sky Captain Crunch picked that moment to walk up to the disproportionate duo, wearing his aviator bi-corn hat and goggles.
«I see you’ve picked out a mount.» Noted the Sky Captain. He smiled and followed up with an amused «You know you don’t have to tame them, right?»
«Sky Cap’n Crunch» Lucy began, with an air of mock formality «when yer my size, the entire world is a beast ye have to tame.»
The captain arched his head back and laughed.
«Besides, it can’t hurt to get on yer mounts good side, can it?»
«No, I suppose not. These beasts are usually highly energetic, and can get temperamental. It’s interesting you picked this one, too. She’s the same one you flew in on with Count Black. Poor girl’s been a bit skittish after nearly croaking.» The count put a gloved hand gently on the Bullseye’s wing, and amazingly, despite being fully healed, the poor beast actually flinched a bit and flapped her wing. Lucy now remembered the Captain had his hand on the wing that got impaled by a Navatari spear. And on closer inspection Lucy noticed an oddly colored clump of feathers on the wing.
«Could it be a scar?» She wondered. She knew that units could sometimes sustain scars if hit with particularly nasty, near-crit attacks or some exotic Magic weapons, but had never noticed a non-speaking unit develop one. Feeling an odd bit of kinship with her, she put her unnaturally pale (and still wet) right hand under the big Bullseyes head and rubbed her neck.
«It’s okay, Miss Snuffles and I are sure to get along.»
Miss Snuffles snuffled quizzically, having never had a name up until now. She decided to celebrate by testing to see if Lucy might be hiding more sugar cubes down her sleeves or in her jacket collar.
«I can see that ma'am. Maybe a little too well.» Noted Crunch, as (indeed) Lucy had to prestidigitize another sugar cube to pacify Miss Snuffles before she got a tongue bath. «What is that, by the way? Foolamancy?»
«No Cap’n, just some sleight of hand. Can’t let the Foolamancers and Hat Magicians have ALL the fun.»
«Hmm. “Sky Cap’n Crunch.”» Went the Sky Cap’n, testing it out. «Sounds a bit naval, but I like it. Well, we need to go rendezvous with your fellow caster and bring him in. His mount doesn’t have quite enough move to reach the city. Ready ma’am?»
«Aye, just a moment.» Lucy began to wonder how she’d get on Miss Snuffles back without a dignity crushing “boost” or a step ladder, when, feeling her intent, Miss Snuffles leaned down on a hoof and craned her neck to offer a horn for her to hold. Lucy climbed up on the pen’s railing, took the bull by the horn, and Miss Snuffles whipped her neck with enough force to pull Lucy up onto her back.
Beaming and a little breathless from holding on for the ride, Lucy said «Lead the way, Cap’n.»
Aside from her eventful rescue, Lucy had never ridden an air mount before. Old Olmecca was a prototypical Jungle side with no air units to speak of; and except for a disastrous attempt to mass-tame feral Doombats, they had never really bothered with or needed them. While Lucy herself had ridden a few times, she’d always preferred Turnamancy powered craft out of a lingering mistrust of her side’s Jaguar-Xefs. Unfortunately, she quickly found out that despite the sugary bribery, Miss Snuffles was indeed a skittish and willful mount.
So while Miss Snuffles wasn’t actively trying to throw her of, it was all she could sometimes do to stay on her and in formation.
Still, the open skies were enticing. So, so much better than being cooped up inside or underground. Yes, she had definitely found a new outlet to let go of her worries. Now if she could only do the same for Miss Snuffles…
It wasn’t just Lucy who loved roaming and exploring; Luckamancer's in general didn’t like to be cooped up. They liked... no, needed to go out into the world to chase after that rainbow. Yes, it was dangerous, and many croaked in the chase... but the alternative, to be garrisoned or kept isolated for hundred-turns on end, like a pretty caged bird too scared to fly or whose side feared might not return, made their Signamancy go stale and their craft sloppy. Luckamancer's were meant to be out in the thick of things, not rigging odds behind the scenes like some cowardly canary.
Thinking of birds, Sky Cap’n lead their v-formation, which consisted of him, herself, two mounted Knights and a fresh mount, along with two stacks of Red Spots. It was a short jaunt to the rendezvous, only ten hexes, but Venice was a big deal for the side: Cap’n Crunch had told her the Komissars would fly him everywhere and wouldn't leave him outside of a city if it could be helped.
Enjoying the rushing wind, and having somewhat pacified Miss Snuffles, she decided to see if she could focus her Luckamacy senses. She’d never been this high when trying to Taste the Rainbow, and idly wondered if they might be able to go over it.
The jungle canopy beneath her changed from a lumpy carpet made of hundreds of subtle shades of green, to grayscale from a thousand riotous colors too close together. At this distance, she was seeing maybe millions of little Luckamancy transactions playing out. With birds hunting for fruit, ferals for birds, and the trees vying against each other for sunlight. Looking at the beautiful, abstract tapestry of jungle beneath her, she remembered she really should talk to Cap’n Crunch about how best to work together when they deployed, especially if they should happen to run across a...
Unexpectedly, a wide spray of rainbow mist was floating just beside the flying group. She put out her hand and touched it; her fingers felt cool mist fly past them, but she could see them leaving behind contrails, and creating a cascade of quickening rainbow-shades that travelled forward faster than the air group. She followed the ripples along the narrowing funnel-path of mist into a vibrantly pulsating cloud among a group of other, more monotone clouds floating serenely ahead of them. She spent a few long moments just trying to process the sight. She’d had no idea there even could be rainbow roads this high up.
The flying group was coming upon the colorful cloud, but she could tell they’d probably miss it entirely if they went with their current path. Time for a choice.
She could say nothing, or even signal the Cap’n to slightly alter course, and they would harmlessly pass whatever Luckamancy was up ahead... or she could signal for him to change the formation’s course, though it’d put them all in some risk. Or maybe go in with just Miss Snuffles, and see what good or bad Luck was in store.
Her deliberating hadn’t exactly been quick, and they were about to leave the threadbare prism path. In that split second, and throwing caution to the wind, she abruptly nudged Miss Snuffles into the oncoming cloud.
From seeing a world in color, now all she and Miss Snuffles could see was misty grey/white as they entered the cloud.
The sudden blindness hit her hard in the gut. Though the irony of feeling claustrophobic at several hundred feet in the air wasn’t lost on Lucy on an academic level, viscerally she had more immediate worries.
Like the roar of a Saber Toothed Tony up ahead, focusing her diffused dread into a tangible worry. Miss Snuffles bellowed in panic, and began swiping with her horns. Lucy wasn’t doing much better, «A Tony, at this height?! Impossible!» She held on tight to Miss Snuffles neck and did her best to infuse her silent Order to fly steady with a sense of reassurance.
In a brief instant, a speck of a shadow appeared out of nowhere and hit her. It was all oily and bright blue feathers and talons, battering her rapidly as a flat beak smacked her face in anger.
Miss Snuffles’ agitation started to become a full blown panic attack as she tried to speed out of the cloud. Lucy reflexively tightened her legs around Miss Snuffles’ saddle while trying to wrestle off the feathery monstrosity. She tried to cast a Hoboken but her hands were too far apart, and she failed to summon the focus for a Four-oh-Fourbidden luck failure spell.
«Aaaaugh!» She screamed, the fowl beast had scratched clear through her vest and across her stomach with a talon. Lucy reflexively clutched at the wound, and the flat-beaked little freak took the opportunity to put a nasty gash in Miss Snuffles right wing, causing her to let loose a bellowing cry of her own.
Oh. Oh, that did it. Now Lucy was angry.
She focused through the pain and gripped one of the bird’s legs, rapidly uttering the magic words «Tetanus, Rigor Mortis, High Voltage, Clear!» and aiming with her other hand; Croakamancy directed blasts of Shockamancy jumped from her fingers and into her feathery foe.
The Bird went rigid in her grip as all its joints locked up. Helpless now, it gave Lucy a panicked look with a terrifyingly open eye. Her old Chief Caster Frankie Berry had taught her the spell, said it was a basic Croakamancy self defense spell that could also have... other applications on prisoners. Breathing hard and clenching her teeth, she held onto the bird bitterly as Miss Snuffles cleared the cloud. Once they were in the open sky she started breathing easier, and Miss Snuffles stopped outright panicking.
Finally able to get a good look at the paralyzed little monster, she could see it was a Two-Can. Hmph. She started thinking of just exactly how many “other applications” of the spell she would need to cast before it’s goose was fully cooked.
But first things first. Lucy calmed her breathing and ordered Miss Snuffles into a hover... just as Sky Cap’n and the rest of the air group came into view. She could tell he was not amused.
«What was that?! Ma’am, you do NOT break formation OR fly solo without my authorization!» Sky Cap’n fumed and flew in close, eyeing the injuries on her and Miss Snuffles, no doubt taking them personally.
Before she could get a word out to explain why she’d veered off course, he yelled on «It’s this kind of rookie behavior that will get you croaked in the jungle! And for what?» He gestured at the bird in Lucy’s grip. «Just to fly into some dumb bird? It takes a real kind of unlucky to hit a bird mid... flight...»
Already injured, feeling extremely foolish, and now getting loudly berated by someone she respected, her temper blew up. «Titan’s spit curls, it was a mistake, all right?! I never asked for the stupid thing! Here! Ye can have it!» And she awkwardly tossed the Two-Can at Crunch, who actually leaned forward and spurred his Bullseye to better catch the haphazardly thrown and barely aerodynamic bird.
Amid the yelling, Miss Snuffles backpedaled a bit at the sight of the thrown bird. Lucy leaned in close and patted Miss Snuffles to try and keep her calm, as much as to get her own temper in check. Realizing she had both hands free and most of her focus back, she decided to cast her second spell of the day: «Heart Container, Bottle Fairy, E-Tank!» with a modest flash of light, Healomancy flowed across Miss Snuffle's wing, and the ugly gash the Two-can had made filled with feathers.
The big girl seemed to visibly relax, both by evening out the tempo of her wing beats and holding steadier. She snuffled appreciatively. Healomancy was easier for Lucy to manage than Croakamancy, and her old friend Boo Berry had been keen to teach her in an effort for one or both to gain multiple mastery.
Rising up from his dive and hugging the arthritic creature close, Crunch looked from it to Lucy, stunned. «Do you know what this is? How hard it is to capture one without croaking it?»
She looked up at the Cap’n incredulously, keeping a hand to her stomach. «It’s... just a Two-Can, lad. There’s plenty of those in the jungle. Annoying things just copy whatever they hear.»
He actually laughed! «You don’t understand: they aren’t copying, they’re repeating what a brother of theirs hears, as they hear it! We’ve been trying for the past two dozen turns to round up as many as we can; they could revolutionize our comms if only we could find enough matching pairs. But the beaked buggers are hard to find, tricky to catch, and incredibly fragile. And you...» He looked up from the panicky-yet-frozen bird at Lucy. «Just managed to fly into one?»
«It was... Luck. Well. A little bad Luck too.» And here Lucy gave the Cap’n the abbreviated version of how her Luckamancy senses worked, finishing with a little Healomancy for herself.
He pulled out a capture net and gingerly wrapped the bird in it. «I’ll make a deal with you ma’am. Tell me when you get these... hints, and we'll try and act on them. Cautiously. I take your safety very seriously, the jungle is dangerous at the best of times, doubly so with the BR’s out here too.»
«Deal, cap’n. I’d rather not get more berserk birds in my face.»
«Good. Now let's go rendezvous with Venice’s group.»
Looking at Venice Beach flying towards them on his Red Bullseye, Lucy had to wonder if the reason his mount didn’t have enough move to reach the city might be that he was almost a Heavy himself.
He was flying with two Knights and another Warlord, along with a flight of 16 Red Spots as escorts. And he was truly straddling the beast. He was a full head taller than the other units, with a clean shaved head of tanish-gray skin, blue eyes, and pointed ears. He wore a white tank top with Tar Zhay’s teal and cyan concentric circle crest, fully exposing his heavily muscled arms and chest. His legs looked like they’d exploded out of a pair of rough denim trunks that were torn just above the knee, finished off with worn work-sandals over feet too large to fit inside his mount’s stirrups.
Cap’n Crunch flew towards his counterpart and exchanged pleasantries and handed over some provisions. It seemed they were going to end turn with the mounts out here. Meanwhile, Venice flew his mount near Lucy.
Even mid air and flying nearly eye level with her, he seemed to loom. «Hi dude, I’m Venice, Venice Beach. Really excited about working with you on this trip, you don’t always get a chance to study ancient jungle relics.» His smile was as huge as his arm, which he extended towards her, tipping his mount to do so.
Lucy leaned over daintily, and made sure to keep Miss Snuffles calm for the mid air handshake. «Lucy Charms. And I’ve been called many things in my time, but never “ancient jungle relic”, never mind getting “studied”.»
Venice’s blond eyebrows shot up. «What? No! I mean, you’re not ancient, though you did live millions of turns ago-- that is, you’re not old and ugly, you’re very pretty-- uh, that is, you’re Signamancy is...»
Taking a deep breath, Venice put on a sheepish grin. «...lets start over: Hi, my name is Venice Beach, and I’m a real rock head.»
Grinning, she reintroduced herself too. «Nice to meet you Venice, I’m Lucy Charms, and I promise I’m only teasing.»
Venice laughed, relieved «They didn’t warn me to expect a sense of humor! I was worried I’d made myself out to be a real Crap Golem.»
Lucy straightened up in her saddle a bit. She hadn’t really been sure what to expect when meeting Venice; Dirtamancers in her time were usually some combination of scruffy, small, sallow skinned, strange, and sour tempered. Venice was none of those things, and she found herself reevaluating her prejudgements. She’d do right by the lad and take it easy on him. «It’s fine lad, sometimes the “clever” part of bein’ a Clevermancer gets the better of me.»