Blast From The Past - Part 5
Rip fell. The blue dwagon beneath him roared and flailed its wings helplessly as they plunged down towards the glitzy streets of Casino Royal.
He was level 1 warlord, with modest hit points. Even if he was lucky enough to take minimal fall damage, the impact was certain to croak him. Once Rip was dead, all of his side’s units would become prisoners, freeze, or disband, depending on where they were. After 120,000 turns, Delorean was finally out of time.
Imagine the look on Crow Magnon’s face when Rip arrived in the City of Heroes. What would Magnon say? “Kid, I gave you the greatest army in the history of Erworld, and you somehow managed to blow it in three turns!” No, that was a foolish thought. There would be no City of Heroes for Rip, no honor in death. He would go wherever failed warlords go, the ignoble afterlife for units who never croak an enemy with their own hands, and never even reach level 2. It would have been better had he remained frozen forever.
Suddenly a pink blur swooped in from the corner of Rip’s vision, and plucked him off the dwagon. A strong arm was wrapped around his chest. Mac Fly was clutching onto him, and although they were still falling, their descent had slowed dramatically. Each of Mac’s sneakered feet was surrounded by a humming fuchsia glow that made the air shimmer beneath it.
On their first turn together, Rip had asked Mac about his hover special. “It’s like flying, but worse,” is how Mac put it. Hovering units could levitate up to six inches off the ground, which wasn’t as useless as it seemed. Within a hex, it allowed travel at double normal running speed. Although you could not hover across water hexes, it allowed you to ignore many kinds of move penalties from rough or uneven terrain. Finally, units that could hover were not subject to fall damage.
“I’ve got you, sir,” shouted Mac.
Rip whipped his head back and forth. “Where’s Elle? Did her dwagon also get stung?” There! The findamancer was clutching her mount’s neck as they tumbled from the sky. “Mac, we have to save Elle!”
“No sir!” Mac refused the order. “There’s a weight limit and I’m already encumbered! If I try carrying two people you might still croak on impact.”
“That doesn’t matter! Save Elle,” Rip ordered again. Mac grimaced, clearly upset about the additional risk to his ruler. Were Mac a commander he might have refused the order anyway for the good of the side, but as a mere knight he could not ignore an order now that his ruler was fully aware of the dangers involved. They swooped after Elle.
The knight couldn’t fly, but hovering allowed him to glide downward in the direction of his choice. In moments they reached Elle, and Rip plucked her off the unfortunate pink dwagon, and held her tight with both arms. As soon as Mac began carrying the additional load, they started falling much faster than before, rushing downward with alarming speed. The quiet hum of the hover special turned into a strained whining noise.
The street approached, a wide asphalt boulevard between four story buildings. They narrowly missed a blinking Biff neon sign as Mac navigated for the sidewalk. Just before they landed, the knight twisted his body around to put himself on the bottom and cushion the blow for Rip and Elle.
Rip stood up from their crumbled heap, uninjured. He offered a hand to Elle and she pulled herself up, also untouched by the impact. “That wasn’t fun,” said the findamancer.
Mac did not rise. The knight’s leg was twisted up to his head in a gruesome pose, and with eyes closed he took shallow stunted breaths. The landing had incapacitated him, and without healing he would croak at the end of the turn.
“Is there anything you can do?” Rip asked the caster.
“No, I don’t know any healomancy,” said Elle. “I wish I could help him.”
The streets of Casino Royal were littered with dead and wounded Delorean units. The surviving knights and dwagons limped over to their ruler and began screening him from a deluge of arrows.
“For now, let’s take cover,” ordered Rip. “Make an opening,” he ordered a bruised purple dwagon. The creature growled and blasted a hole in the marble wall of one of the adjacent buildings. “You and you, grab Mac.” He pointed at two knights. “Let’s move!”
The building was a casino. Slot machines chimed merrily to themselves in a vast chandeliered room that took up the entire ground floor. The ceiling was high enough that dwagons could crawl around inside, and only occasionally bump their heads. The knights laid Mac’s unconscious form onto a roulette table. Rip finally had a moment to take stock of their bleak situation.
One-third of Delorean’s dwagons had been knocked out of the sky. Of that third, about half had croaked on impact. Fortunately, the other two thirds of their air force had escaped the city when Rip gave the retreat order. They were safely waiting just beyond the hex boundary, but reaching them would not be an easy feat.
Rip no longer hoped to conquer the city, not while those insects still swarmed overhead. Escaping with their lives would be difficult enough. They were stranded in a level five enemy city, facing a massive army and unknown magic, and his escort was a wounded one-sixth of an air force that could no longer fly.
Rip explained the situation to Elle and his knights. “We’ll have to leave on foot. If we fight our way to the city wall, our purples can blow a hole through, and then we can walk out.”
“What about the rest of the dwagons? The ones that can still fly?” asked Elle.
“I’ll order them to come back and assist us. Those bugs will sting them, they’ll fall too, and half will die, but I don’t see any other choice,” said Rip grimly. Flightless dwagons were still formidable units, but had serious attack and evasion penalties. Half their air force walking and wounded might be enough to escape the city, or maybe not, but they definitely wouldn’t succeed with just one-sixth. “We won’t have much of an air force after this, but right now our priority is survival.”
“I have a better idea,” said Elle. “It’s risky, but I know how we can escape the city by air, and without losing the rest of the dwagons.” She glanced guiltily at the knights and dwagons listening in. “And by ‘we’, I mean literally just you and me, Rip. All our other units in the hex will die.”
One of the knights that had carried Mac Fly saluted after the grim announcement. “Sir, we are prepared to defend you with our lives.”
Rip nodded, lips pursed. “All right. What’s the plan?”
King Biff uttered one sinister chuckle when the dwagons started falling. “Should have known not to doubt that crazy bastard George.”
Lorraine put two fingers to her temple and closed her eyes. “Their ruler is among the fallen. I can sense his presence.”
“Well duh, of course he fell,” said Willow while repeatedly extending her arm to examine how her elbow moved. “I told my straightjackets to focus on getting their ruler. Seemed like a good idea. It meant letting most of the dwagons escape though, which is a bummer. Maybe they’ll come back.”
Danny nodded. “They will return to assist him. We have to act quickly before he escapes.”
“On it, chief,” said Troy. “We’ll get him for you. To infinity and beyond!” The weirdomancer performed a basic flying spell on himself and leapt off the tower, soaring down towards the ground battle.
“Wait…” said Danny. He would have liked to discuss strategy but Troy was already gone. “Okay, fine. Willow what I want you to do…” Danny turned around and saw that Willow was also absent. The dateamancer had leapt off the tower and was being gently carried downward by a solid mass of straightjackets.
“I see that Glover is still running a tight ship,” smirked Biff.
Danny only glared at him.
“Relax warlord,” said Biff. “You got a job to do. I’ll send my knights to support your casters. You should stack up with them. With Griff gone they could use your leadership bonus.”
“Happy to help out,” Danny said dryly.
“Me and Lorraine will be in the battle room, coordinating your efforts,” said Biff. “You know, in case you’re too much of a idiot to handle things on your own.”
“Actually sire, I think I should stay up atop the tower,” said Lorraine. “When Delorean’s other dwagons reenter the hex I should be here to fire off the air defenses, if necessary.”
“Why? We still have those wasps protecting the city,” said Biff. “They seem to handle dwagons with no problem.”
“Yes, but in my experience it’s not ideal to leave your city defense in the hands of erratic casters,” said Lorraine. “Don’t worry sire, I will maintain mental contact and relay your orders. It’ll be as if I were right by your side.”
Biff snorted. He didn’t like it, but he couldn’t argue with the thinkamancer’s logic. “Fine, but join me as soon as possible.” He turned towards Danny. “Are you going to do anything today, warlord?”
Danny gave Biff a death glare, then whistled down an odd duck. They were Glover’s primary flying mount, a yellow bird the size of a cow. Odd ducks were fairly useless in battle due to the fact that they flew backwards, and attacked by ramming their soft feathered bottoms into the enemy. However, they were fast and agile, if they had a rider providing directions, since the odd duck itself couldn’t see where it was going.
Glover had sent a cadre of its finest units by odd duck. In addition to Danny, Willow, and Troy, they dispatched dollamancer Sid Vicious and a squad of his freakish golems. Sid liked to play with mangled and creepy dolls. Human heads with metallic spider legs. Wheeled war machines bristling with beefy arms. Disembodied legs that ran about swinging a meat hook on a chain. Sid’s toys were bizarre but lethal, especially when he was leading them.
Willow was also commanding her own squad of infantry. Two natural ally units had flown over with them, a mallrat and a mousekeeter. They were similar creatures, fierce humanoid rodents, but mallrats were big hulking brutes that relied on berserker strength, and mousekeeters were small disciplined creatures that fought in coordinated formations. Glover had spent a tidy sum in shmuckers last night multiplying those two units into a crowd of twenty-four mousekeeters and eight mallrats. With Willow’s dateamancer bonus for leading natural allies, they were a deadly force.
By itself, Glover’s contingent was likely an even match for the fallen dwagons. With Tannenball’s hordes of knights and infantry, Delorean didn’t stand a chance. Their ruler would recall the rest of the dwagons and and try to break out through the wall with his entire force. It would be a fierce fight, but one that Danny thought they could win.
Danny rode the odd duck down to the city streets, and landed next to the Gloverite casters and their minions. “Position our forces between Delorean’s ruler and the city wall,” ordered Danny. “He’ll head that way. Don’t let him escape!”
Elle’s plan sounded like suicide.
“You want to climb the tower,” said Rip incredulously. “By yourself, in a heavily defended level five city? And the army guarding it is just going to let you walk past?”
“The enemy will be distracted trying to get you,” said Elle. “Killing you will be their only goal. That’s why it’s important for you to make yourself as big and as obvious a target as possible. Lead the enemy away from the tower and keep them occupied while I reach the top.”
“Is the tower absolutely necessary? There’s no way to cast this spell from the ground?”
Elle shook her head. “I can cast it now, but without the tower bonus it won’t be effective enough.”
Rip bit his lip. “We need a chokepoint. A defendable spot. They have superior ground forces. If they’re able to surround us, we won’t hold out long enough.”
“Sir, I know a place we can go,” said a knight. It was Bill, the same knight who had pledged his life earlier. “I used to be garrisoned in this city, back when it was Mancave.”
“Oh? Where?” As a level 1 unit, Rip sometimes forgot that his men had served Crow Magnon for many turns before being frozen.
“That pyramid and tower, that’s all new,” explained Bill. “Mancave originally didn’t have a traditional castle. This is a hill valley hex, and the land slopes up to a cliff in the north. Mancave’s castle was a cave, burrowing deep into the cliff face.”
The other knight that had carried Mac, a warrior by the name of Ted, chimed in. “Yeah, it should be very defendable. There’s only one entrance, in or out. Once you go in, you won’t be able to leave, but your pursuers will have to fight for every inch.”
Rip remembered the stone throne room in the background of the thinkagram Magnon had sent him. “Would the cave still be there after all this time?”
Bill shrugged. “It’s a cave. Where would it go?”
“Then it’s settled,” said Rip. “We will make our stand in King Magnon’s cave.”
“There’s one more thing I need from you Rip, for this plan to work,” said Elle. She had taken a sharp pair of steel scissors out of her backpack.
Rip eyed the shears warily. “What is it?”
Elle lifted the scissors and advanced towards Rip. “Your beard.”
End of Part 5