The Last Turn - Part 1
Lord Turing of Osnap closed his eyes and tried to imagine that he was disbanded. It didn’t work. When he opened his eyes again Turing could still feel the same awful sensation at the back of his mind. The terrible, weighty burden of the Chief Warlord bonus that affected him and every other unit.
Titans be cursed, it was his.
Osnap wasn’t a large side, but neither was it a small one. In truth, it was a slightly-above-average side with a decent spread of warlords and a high-level Shockamancer. They were a big fish in the nearby hexes and even if there were bigger sides a thousand or more hexes away, Osnap wasn’t an easy target.
So why then by the Titan’s testes was Lord Turing, a permanently garrisoned Level Two Warlord now Chief Warlord for the entire side? The answer was obvious, but Turing dreaded hearing it.
Still, Duty was absolute. Reluctantly, Turing closed the book he had been reading and stood up. The Library of Osnap’s Capital city Brashball was well-stocked with countless writings from previous warlords, sovereigns and even the occasional caster. It was Turing’s place of refuge but it was no place for a warlord, let alone a Chief Warlord.
It took Turing a bit longer to climb the spiraling staircase to the war room. Longer than he would have liked; for all Turing was a warlord and fit for battle, his Signamancy told a different story. Turing was slightly overweight and pudgy to put a not-so-fine point on it. Well, after nearly four hundred turns of doing nothing but patrol a city since he had popped, Turing thought his sleight overweightness was a blessing. Some units in Osnap had even worse Signamancies than he did.
Case in point. Turing entered the war room, hesitated, and then bowed up at the towering figure before him.
“Sire,” Turing said, bowing at what he hoped was his king’s face. “At your command.”
“Siddown Turing.” King Gout waved at Turing to copy his example. There were several stools and chairs placed around the map in the center of the war room for this purpose.
Turing hesitated. There was no one else in the war room besides King Gout, which was unusual in itself. Nevertheless, the king filled half of the small room with his presence. Not just his commanding presence mind. His physical presence. Although Turing had spent countless turns reading books, he had never heard of a heavy-class King. Perhaps Gout wasn’t technically a heavy, but Turing would hate to see the poor horse that had to carry him.
It wasn’t that he was big. Well, it was that he was big, but Gout was fat. He was corpulent. If fat could be overweight that would be Gout’s fat. He was disgustingly huge, and what made it worse was that it wasn’t even part of his unit type.
Gout was human. At least, Turing was fairly sure he wasn’t a Twoll. Twolls were big, but they had lots of muscle under their fat. Gout just had more fat. He sat on a small creaking chair in the war room, a king that was even larger than king-sized. He hadn’t moved from Brashball for as long as Turing had been popped, and it seemed that he grew with every hundred turns.
Signamancy was a terrible thing, but a king was a king and Gout was Turing’s king. Even so, a warlord had some freedom and a Chief Warlord could ask the hard questions. Had to ask the hard questions, more like.
“Shouldn’t we wait for other warlords sire?” Turing ventured. “I’d like to hear their input on any strategies for the side.” And so you can make them Chief Warlord instead of me.
“There aint’ gonna be anymore warlords,” Gout said shortly. “You’re the only one left. Now sit down.”
Turing’s legs folded up more from shock than the weight of Gout’s order. There wasn’t a chair beneath him, so Turing ended up sitting on the floor but he didn’t care.
Gone? All gone?
“But how?” That was the first question that burst out of Turing’s mouth. “Osnap has –had over twelve warlords in different cities! We can’t have lost them all at once!”
“We did,” Gout grunted. With one fat hand he pulled over a stool and plunked it on the other side of the war map. “Take a seat. But yer not gonna like this one bit.”
The war room of Brashball was a big room, meant to hold countless warlords and casters that would deliberate over the next moves to be played in the endless battle for supremacy in the mixture of plains, forests, and occasional lakes that was the surrounding hexes in their zone. With only two units, the room felt terribly empty, even if one of those units was as big as Gout.
“Lemme catch you up to speed.” Gout shifted uncomfortably and Turing wondered whether the creaking chair his ruler occupied would collapse now or in five minutes. “You keep up with latest events much?”
“Only the basics.” Turing’s mind raced back and forth, trying to pick up all the details his mind had glossed over in the last few turns. “We sent Duke Curbstomp with the First Army to deal with Amirite and Busybody’s combined armies, right?”
“Currect.” Gout’s face darkened. “Shoudda been an easy victory even ‘gainst two sides.”
Very easy. Turing remembered seeing off the side’s then Chief Warlord, Duke Curbstomp only a few turns ago. He had been there. Titans, it had been his strategy that Curbstomp had used. What had gone so terribly wrong?
Five turns ago, Brashball
Lord Turing nearly fell off his seat on the battlements at the loud voice calling his name. He overbalanced and felt himself sliding off the stone fortifications when a huge hand caught him and balanced him upright.
“Careful,” Duke Curbstomp of Osnap admonished Lord Turing. “We don’t want you going off to visit the Titans too early now, do we?”
Turing blushed, but accepted the hand and stood to greet Duke Curbstomp. As the Chief Warlord of Osnap and a Level 9 Warlord, Turing should have gone to visit Curbstomp rather than the other way around, but Curbstomp was not a warlord to stand on dignity.
The massive, ruddy-faced Chief Warlord slapped Turing on the back and nearly catapulted him off the battlements again. He was a giant of a warlord, almost twice as big as Turing with muscles the size of a Piker’s head.
“To what do I owe the pleasure, Curbstomp?”
“Heard about the latest attack? An alliance is sending a big army right at Onaroll. The First Army is going to intercept them, and I’m leading. It’s going to be a big fight.”
Even as Turing shook his head his heart sank. He hadn’t heard of any army, let alone orders for a battle. Well, he wouldn’t. He spent most of his time in the castle library anyways, and besides that…
“No, I hadn’t heard. Are you leaving this turn, then?”
“Soon as we get the army assembled. I’m takin’ our best.”
Curbstomp looked down from the battlements at the units starting to flood into the courtyard down below.
“Must be nice, to keep fighting on the front lines,” Turing said. He tried to keep any hint of jealousy out of his voice.
It must not have worked. Curbstomp looked around and his rugged face softened for a moment.
“Ah. Right. Well, I asked Gout if I could bring three warlords instead of two this time, but he said not you.”
Turing nodded gloomily. He was surprised, actually. Not that King Gout had said he couldn’t join the army – that was almost a given. Rather, that Curbstomp had brought up the topic again.
It was an unspoken rule in Osnap. A few things were and were not done. Any good unit picked up the rules within a few turns of being popped. They weren’t that many.
Firstly, you never talked about Gout’s weight. You especially didn’t mention his past Signamancy or the smell.
Secondly, you never ran away in battle. Osnap was a side of ferocious fighters that never retreated unless the odds were really, really bad.
Thirdly, the warlord called Turing never went outside the city. He especially didn’t command a stack. Ever.
Turing looked down at the battlements. From this height they all looked tiny, except for the Gwulls that is. The big birds flew even higher than the battlements, giving out their odd battlecry every now and then.
“Don’t take it so hard.” Curbstomp thumped down next to Turing. “Patrollin’ the city is an important job. Saves upkeep. ‘Sides which, you’re famous in other sides, you know.”
Turing looked up. “Really?”
“Yup. The Patrollord of Osnap they call ya.” Curbstomp grinned at Turing. “Yer a legend. One of the oldest warlords around, and probably the smartest too. All them books you keep reading.”
Turing scowled and looked down. That didn’t sound like praise to him. More like mockery. He especially hated that nickname his fellow warlords gave him. It was accurate, true, but Titans did it sting.
Curbstomp must have sensed Turing’s feelings were hurt. He gave the smaller warlord another resounding buffet on the back.
“Cheer up. I’ve got strategy to talk with you, and I need ya thinkin’ of cunning plans. That’s an order from your Chief Warlord, alright?”
Reluctantly, Turing looked up. “I thought you planned it all out in the war room already. Didn’t the other warlords offer their advice? Why ask me?”
Curbstomp scratched the back of his head and shrugged.
“Right, we cooked up a plan to hit them. But I wanna run it by you. You might see somethin’ the other warlords don’t. You think differently than them, and that’s important.”
Turing nodded reluctantly. It wasn’t the first time Curbstomp had come to him for advice. He wasn’t sure why, but the Chief Warlord seemed to value his opinion. He squared his shoulders. If he could help, he would.
“Well, what do we know about the coalition army?”
“Can’t say how many units they’ve got, but they can’t have more than eighty land and only a few fliers,” Duke Curbstomp said as Turing sat on the battlements and looked down at the gathering army. “Even if they stack their best warlords together and engage all at once we’ll still croak the lot of them.”
“If you say so,” Turing said dubiously. “Seems risky to bet everything without a comprehensive scouting report though.”
“Nonsense.” Curbstomp unsheathed his sword and began drawing energetically on the stone rampart of the battlement. “See here, Amirite and Busybody are right next to each other in front of where the desert hexes start, right? Only side next to them is Griefen and the other side’s blocked off by a lake hex. Griefen won’t ever ally with Amirite or Busybody, so they’re the only two allies they’ve got.”
“What about kingdoms on our other side?” Turing pointed out. “They could ally with our enemies and flank us.”
Curbstomp frowned and glared at his map sketched in stone. “It’s possible,” he conceded, “but look.” Carefully he drew a few more hexes on the other side of the hex that represented Osnap.
“We’ve got three—maybe four sides close enough and big enough to threaten us – Lipsmack, Greenswell, Scaredcat and Snobish. None of ‘em could make it here in under six turns, and we’ve scouted most of the hexes. Even if a force is coming, it’s not gonna be a big one. Besides which, we’ve got Second Army and Third Army both stationed over there. Even an alliance wouldn’t fight six warlords in one hex if they could avoid it.”
“Okay,” Turing conceded. “Plan looks good if no other side’s mixed up in all this.”
“Good!” Curbstomp’s wide face broke into a big grin and he slapped Turing on the back. Turing caught himself before he tumbled over the edge of the battlements and rubbed his shoulder.
“One thing though.” Trying not to think about how close he had come to croaking Turing stood up and walked back along the battlements to another set of sketches in the stone. For whatever reason Curbstomp liked drawing on stone more than paper. “Looks like you’ve got all our knights and pikers in a circle around our caster and you here.”
“Yup.” Curbstomp grinned. “They screen while we blast any fliers out of the airspace. Then we’ll drop as many Gwulls as we need to on their leadership and mop up the rest.”
Turing said nothing as he thought. Gwulls, the main air unit of Osnap were decent fliers with more hits than most air units. They lacked high move though, and had no specials which made them a bit weak in Turing’s opinion. Still, Titans gave Osnap Gwulls for a reason rather than a different unit so they made do.
“I don’t know,” Turing said slowly. “The screening normally works but Amirite and Busybody know we’ve got a Shockamancer. They’ll aim for him right off and if they push through a strong stack they might croak him. That would ruin the entire battle.”
“Hm. You gotta point there,” Curbstomp frowned and scratched at his beard. “Don’t think they’ve got that many high-level units, but if they massed ‘em or pulled out their Chief Warlords they might do it.” He frowned and looked at Turing. “I don’t want to go into a battle with even a small chance of losing a caster. Do you have another plan or should we call off the attack for now?”
Turing was silent for a moment. He was thinking, his mind racing furiously. He may not have been the best warlord or the highest leveled, but the fact that Curbstomp asked him for help when it came to tactics said a lot about Turing’s value as a warlord.
In his mind, at least. Apart from Curbstomp, Turing was more or less ignored by the other warlords, the king and even most of the other garrison units. That suited Turing just fine, though; he liked being alone.
But he liked strategy even more. Although his time as a warrior might have ended already, Turing still loved the thrill of coming up with new tactics. And when he thought of strategy, his were always—
“Why not mount on the Gwulls?” Turing said.
“What?” Curbstomp looked at Turing in disbelief.
“Put yourself, our Shockamancer and all your highest-level Knights on Gwulls,” Turing said. “Leave one or two warlords with the land units. Then when the battle starts blast all the archer stacks and take out the air units yourself.”
“That’s crazy,” Curbstomp said. “We’ve only got fourteen Gwulls and they might have as many as twenty two fliers altogether. We’d be outnumbered.”
“But if they’re expecting a Shockamanncer they won’t have any leadership in the air,” Turning pointed out. “They’d use air units as an expendable screen to take the casts. You’re a Level 9 – even if they had twice as many air units as you it’s a winnable battle without their leadership.”
“And then if we get rid of the archers we get free attacks while the battle gets going,” Curbstomp muttered, crossing out units in his stone battle map. “It all depends on how many stacks of archers they’ve got though.”
“For a battle against a land-heavy army like we’ve got? Amirite’s probably been popping out Minotwaurs and Busybody probably just went heavy on stabbers and pikers,” Turing said. “Heavies to resist the casting and enough units to overwhelm our stacks. If you attack from the air it would be a huge surprise.”
“That’s crazy,” Curbstomp said again. This time though there was a tone in his voice that told Turing he’d won his Chief Warlord over. “They’d never see it coming.”
The two descended to the ground, still fleshing out the last of the battle plan. Turing stopped as he stared at Curbstomp’s personal command, the First Army of Osnap.
Rows of pikers stood at military-straight attention in front of their stabber counterparts. Not a one was below Level 2, and at their head stood the Knights.
Turing had never commanded a Knight. He could only imagine the protection their solid plate armor gave them, and he knew there were enough of them to form several full stacks just on their own.
And standing in a circle of their own were the two warlords and single Caster that made up the rest of the First Army.
The other two Warlords, a muscled, dark-skinned female Warlady and a serious Warlord greeted Turing briefly and then turned to Curbstomp. They ignored Turing quite completely, which he was used to.
The Caster on the other hand gave Turing a look but said nothing. He was clearly waiting for Turing to speak first.
“Shockamancer.” Turing greeted Zipzap, Osnap’s sole caster dispassionately. He had never liked the Chief Caster although he kept his feelings to himself. “I hope you manage to reach Master-class this turn.”
Zipzap sneered at Turing. “Thank you, Warlord. But that is a matter for the Titans, isn’t it? Or perhaps it will come down to our side’s battle plan. Assuming it is at all effective.”
Turing gritted his teeth. “I merely advise our Chief Warlord,” he said as neutrally as possible. “And you are of course an integral part of our latest strategy.”
“As always. Without my underappreciated abilities the side would be half of what it is.”
“Of course.” Turing felt like his jaw muscles were locking up with the effort of smiling. “And I’m sure that you will perform your Duty to perfection.”
“He will if he uses his juice like he’s supposed to.” Curbstomp stomped over and glared at Zipzap. “Instead of saving it in case he gets attacked.”
Zipzap turned and glared at Curbstomp. That gave Turing the opportunity to relax his face as the Chief Shockamancer and Chief Warlord glared at each other. It was a familiar scene and the other two Warlords kept themselves busy staring at their shoes or inspecting their weapons.
“My casting is an art, not another bludgeon to be wasted simply croaking any unit that comes into my hex,” Zipzap said acidly. “Once I have obtained my Mastery I shall petition our ruler for another, more suitable command. The Third Army perhaps, or even the Fourth.”
Curbstomp glowered. “You’ll stay wherever I say,” he growled at Zipzap. “Now mount up. We’re moving out.”
Zipzap sniffed but he walked away without another word. Curbstomp turned and spat, but grinned as he saw Turing’s worried expression.
“Don’t mind the caster. If he starts acting up I’ll have a piker poke him till he obeys. I wish another caster’d pop soon though. The Shockamancer gets more annoying each day.”
“We could always hire another caster, or maybe trade a unit for one.” Turing thought carefully. “I know there’s a Croakamancer in Snobish that just popped. It would take some doing but if we traded a few Knights we might—”
“That’s the spirit!” Curbstomp cut Turing off and slapped him on the back. “You think it out. I’ve got a battle to fight, but once we get back you can tell me what you’ve thought of, alright?”
Turing glanced around. The other units in the courtyard were staring at him. He realized he’d been holding up the entire First Army and turned red.
Curbstomp affected not to notice. With a booming voice he ordered his personal stack to mount up and called down the Gwulls from above.
A multitude of white and black birds twice as big as Turing swooped down and flew in large circles around Curbstomp’s army. Turing listened to their loud cries and dodged as one of them decided to empty its bowels right over his head.
They weren’t the most attractive flying units, but Curbstomp just laughed and signaled the First Army. They began to move out of the hex.
Turing watched as Curbstomp assembled his stack around him. He wanted to go with him. Every bone in the Warlord’s body was urging him to take a stack of his own and fight. But he couldn’t. He hadn’t commanded a stack in so long it hurt.
As he turned to go, Curbstomp looked at the forlorn Turing standing in the courtyard. He stomped over to him and clapped him on the shoulder. Turing staggered but slapped Curbstomp on the shoulder as well. He tried not to let his true feeling show.
Curbstomp smiled at Turing. It was a rare gesture, and made Turing smile back.
“If all goes well I’ll hit Amirite’s capital and conquer it within two turns,” Curbstomp promised Turing. “Raze it, make it a level one. Then we’d be able to pop another warlord and send you out with another army to take down Busybody. Get a few levels and get back to croaking units, right?”
It was probably false hope, but it made Turing smile.
“Right,” he said.
“And next time, maybe we might get a warlord that can be trusted to command a stack of units,” Zipzap said as he walked past.
Turing’s smile vanished. Curbstomp glowered and buffeted Zipzap on the back of the head. Then they too began to move out of the hex, leaving Turing behind in the city.
Turing sat on the battlements and watched as Curbstomp moved across hexes with the First Army behind him. With him were Osnap’s highest level knights, units who’d captured more cities than Turing had ever seen, and over a hundred mixed units of Gwulls, Catapulls, and the traditional mix of Stabbers, Pikers and Archers that Curbstomp loved to field. Somewhere in the center of the army the lone Caster for the expedition, Zipzap rode along disconsolately, surrounded by a heavy stack in case of ambushes.
That was the last time Turing saw Curbstomp again. Five turns later he woke up with the Chief Warlord bonus hanging in his mind.
That had been a bad day. It got worse when Gout told Turing who had wiped out Curbstomp and his entire army before they’d even reached their destination.
The Last Turn will update (at least) once a week if all goes well. I also write a bi-weekly fantasy web serial. If you liked this story, check out my web serial, The Wandering Inn!
This fic is SO good. I'm glad to see it frontpaged! If you like LitRPG (like Erf) and you haven't read The Wandering Inn by this fac's author pirateaba, you should try it asap. (Try to get past the first chapter --- quality really ramps up.)