Money Makes the World Go Round - Part 15


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Parson looked around the courtyard, and towards the Tower of Efdup. The place was already a battlefield, with spells from the archons having torn up the ground around the yard, craters and small lines of tossed up dirt were everywhere. Still, every hobgobwin he could see was up in the air, actually a good move, as the archons couldn’t fly. The air was another hex, as far as Erfworld’s rules were concerned, and it gave the archons a penalty on hitting the airborne units.


“How many are here, do you know?” he asked, and Stanley just stared at him, the two sort of floating in the air beside his dragon, while also standing in the plaza at Jetstone. Stanley looked about to say something, but then closed his eyes and concentrated, either using natural thinkamancy on units, or otherwise just going back over his memories, his expression more thoughtful than Parson had ever seen it.


“Seventy-six, total, though there might be more we haven’t seen yet. Most are actually on the wall, fighting a cohort there, they knocked most of them out, taking them prisoner,” he said, and Parson nodded as he looked around again. The archons he could see from here were all in battle attire, but none had guns. He’d been afraid back at Jetstone that they had them, and were a hit squad sent to croak Stanley, but this was different. This was an invasion force.


“Hmm, you’re sure it’s seventy-six?” he asked, and Stanley looked at him funny, before shrugging.


“I’m as sure as I can be. Why? You think they’re hiding more?” he asked, and Parson nodded.


“Seventy-six is eight shy of double the number I told Charlie he’d need to take Gobwin Knob,” said Parson, and Stanley swore with a word Parson didn’t understand. He didn’t need to explain himself, luckily, as Stanley knew about the whole Charlescomm deal, with the calculations. Still, he was looking very angry as he pointed a finger at Parson.


“That means this is your fault, so it’s your job to fix it,” he declared, and Parson just nodded dumbly as he looked around some more. The Tool, for all his deficiencies, was good at unit to unit fights. He’d used the battlefield to his advantage, partitioning off enemies to fight them in smaller groups, leveraging the advantage flight and home field advantage gave him. Heck, the Hobgobwins, if allowed, were a match for the archons while on dwagon back. Yet, something felt off.


“Have they tried to croak you?” he asked, and Stanley nodded.


“Yeah, but not really. They’ve taken pot shots, but if they focused, they could probably have done more. Mostly, they’ve been taking out the Knights,” he said, pointing to tower along the wall. Somehow Stanley pulsed at it, revealing a small pile of bodies, unconscious but alive ones, lying in a heap.


“So, no serious attempts at croaking, probably just keeping you on your toes, and after that attack at Jetstone, no way this isn’t related,” he said, and Stanley just waited, curiously looking towards the casters, who hadn’t moved, and just stood there with the weird glowing eye stuff they did when they linked.


“Oh...oh shit...shit,” swore Parson as his mind suddenly clicked, and he realized what this might mean.


“Tool, if a unit is in an enemy, or at least not aligned city, and the leader of the side falls without an heir, what happens?” asked Parson, and Stanley looked about ready to hit him with the Hammer. However, he’d become used to Parson’s weird questions, so he just took in a deep breath, or whatever this spectral form of his did, and then sighed it out.


“You disband. If you’re outside a city controlled by the Ruler, or at least an allied one, the unit poofs,” he said, popping his mouth to create a sound, and Parson just shook his head, rubbing at his temples.


“Charlie, you magnificent bastard,” he said as he realized the full extent of the game, if not how. Charlie was going to decapitate Gobwin Knob. Croak Stanley, kill Parson, and win the game. He’d taken out the tower, so Parson couldn’t retreat to the Magic Kingdom, where he’d have gone barbarian, and no deal today would be effective, at least not till Jetstone’s turn started, but asking Stanley to end turn would be asking him to croak, something Parson couldn’t do. A real catch twenty-two that.


“But why take prisoners. If he’s got a shot, why not just..., Tool! Who’s guarding Vanna?” he asked, and Stanley just looked at him funny.


“The Turnamancer! The one in the dungeons!” he shouted, and comprehension dawned on Stanley’s face.


“I sent Vurp and his best down there the moment this started. They’ll keep her there, and croak her if they have to,” he assured Parson, but the ‘Perfect Warlord’ already knew Charlie would have sent his own best to take care of it.


“Good, but if she can get out, is there a way to recharge her? Give her juice now, rather than waiting for it?” he asked, and Stanley puffed out his cheeks in annoyance.


“What are you askin’ me for? I don’t know that sorta crap, Hamster. Ask Top Hat and Maggie!” he said, pointing to the casters. Parson dismissed the idea, knowing it was either annoyance at the question, or a jab at him from Stanley for the whole Misty incident. Still, it spoke of how worried Stanley probably was that this was the first time he’d shouted.


“Okay, so that’s a maybe. He’s gonna try and turn the Hobgobwins. We can’t let that happen. Order Vurp to croak her the instant you’re moving, and then change the capital,” he ordered.


“You want me to abandon Gobwin Knob?!” said Stanley incredulously. The situation was bad, true, but that was extreme, wasn’t it?


“No choice. Charlie will have planned this whole thing out to a T. The Warlords, they’re too far away to get back, right?” he asked, and Stanley took a moment to think at them. Sure enough, they were literally one move shy of any of them getting back this turn, so he answered with a nod.


“They want you gone, but they want the Hobgobwins for some reason. I don’t know why, but maybe he’s got some longer game here. Still, get them out with you, all of em. Our most defended city is still Spacerock, right?” he asked, and began stroking his chin. Stanley, concentrating for a moment, nodded again.


“Good, that’s the new capital. You get there. Have the other warlords meet you at some hex, and then bunker down. I’m willing to bet they’re either going to get ambushed, or find FAQ a not so soft target anyway,” he said, and then clapped his hands together, breaking the connection. Stanley swore again, as the world sort of sped back up, and he was just barely able to dodge out of the way of a shockamancy bolt when he returned to himself.


“Tower! Dungeon! Go!” he shouted, sending mental orders to every unit in the hex. His Knights did as ordered, rallying around him instantly, forming a screening stack as he bolted for the tower’s top. Down in the dungeons, Vurp moved with the calm deliberateness of someone about to do something world changing, pulling out his sword, and preparing to jam it into the cell. That would be all it took to ‘execute’ the prisoner, same as if she were a unit he was harvesting.


Then Vurp froze. Stanley couldn’t understand that, in all the little reports his mind was trying to sort through, so he ignored it, flying up the tower, and then jumping off his mount just as a pair of purples blew in the office window. Slamming down into his chair, he was gratified with the feeling of being in charge one final time. He didn’t let that distract him though, as he sent three orders simultaneously.


First, and most importantly, he shifted his Chief Warlord back to Parson. His bonus was lower, but it gave him carte blanche to just make any deals with Jetstone, as Stanley was expecting to be out of contact for a while. Charlie could do it, he was certain of that. Again, he wasn’t stupid, and he remembered how Saline IV had fallen, with jammed thinkagrams and all. He wasn’t quite up to making an heir, not yet, but he wasn’t going to leave Hamster hanging.


Second, he reset the capital. Instantly, all his Knights bonuses dropped. A few still engaged hand to hand with the Archons found themselves suddenly overmatch. Of course, they were still going in with two to one odds in each fight, and that advantage was growing, as the Archons, for all their vaunted power, were running out of juice. Of the seventy-six, eighty-four, or however many had started this fight, almost a dozen were so much debris.


Finally, he razed the city, with a mental command to his dwagons to catch his Knights who were in the wall. Instantly, the tower, the buildings, and everything else of the city vanished, as his coffers, now in Spacerock, swelled. But more importantly, the floor fell out from under the Archons. They fell like anyone else, as the sky was still a separate hex for the moment, until every Gobwin Knob unit had left.


The thunk of bodies hitting the dirt was very, very satisfying for the tiny Tool, as his armoured red came up under him, Zhopa catching him with one hand, and placing him back in his saddle. Below, the Archons were coming down like ugly, blue raindrops, and they weren’t getting back up. Half were croaked the moment they touched down, another dozen or so were shocked, and unable to move, and would croak at turn’s end without help. The rest were injured, and now facing a strong contingent of Knights.


“Alright boys, lets...whahuh?” Stanley’s smiling face became confused as suddenly, something happened. It was an odd something too. Like a kick in the unmentionables. Looking around, his Knights, his headbangers and mosh buddies, were no longer wearing his colors. Their paint was whipped away, handkerchiefs appearing in their hands to reveal clean faces beneath, lacking the stubble of his sort of people.


They wore blue now, with small emblems on their chests of Charlescomm. That hurt Stanley, more than he wanted to admit. They were his boys, his friends, the ones who’d stood by him, even when he’d made a lot of bad calls. And now they weren’t his anymore. Worse, he could feel intruders, as the ground swelled up, and suddenly Gobwins began to pour to the surface, holes torn open, and revealing a horde.


Then he spotted the worst thing of all. Vurp, the head headbanger, the greatest of the boys, and the one who’d gone up level after level under him, now wearing one of those stupid outfits like the Archons, climbing out of a gobwin hole, assisting that turnamancer with a hand for her to hold. The two looked up, Vurp through a pair of shades, her with that smug look in her eye.


Stanley’s blood boiled, and he actually felt a bit of warmth at the edges of his eyes. A hundred turns ago, he’d have been so mad that he would have just slammed himself on the ground, and fought the horde, heedless of risks. But he knew he couldn’t, not right now. His side needed him, alive and kicking. People, his people, needed him, and he wasn’t going to let them down. Saline would have really chewed his ear off when he got the City of Heroes if he did that.


“Knock ‘em down, and let’s go!” he ordered, before the Hobgobwins had time to do anything, and the dwagons responded. They flew in tight circles, tossing their riders to the erf below, most croaking just like the Archons had. For a moment, he was tempted to grab the bodies, figuring Wanda could make them alive again, but then remembered, if she did that, they wouldn’t be his anymore.


“Get the cons!” he barked, and Dwagons dove down, grabbing bodies. This alone seemed to disturb the Turnamancer, her smirk turning to horror as dozens of archons were stolen. She immediately began shouting orders, but the Archons that weren’t yet croaked were drained, and Stanley’s own Knights weren’t in much better shape. The Gobwins were, but without ranged units, they were worth less than nothing against flying Dwagons, who wheeled away on Stanley’s silent command.


In total, they’d lost more than three hundred Knights. All good guys, nice rockers, but almost all low level two. Heck, Vurp was the only one above five, and most of the rest hadn’t broken three. The City of Gobwin Knob was a write off, of course, but razing it had meant it only cost them twenty percent of its worth. Better, they had lots of cities, any one of which they could now afford to make a Level Five, when this was over.


The equation on the other end? Charlie had over extended himself. He’d probably thought Stanley would be unable to retreat. If he’d not razed the city, they’d have had more Archons to throw at the backs of the dwagons as they flew away. But Stanley understood, if you couldn’t win the fight fair, then you change the rules. That was why Gobwin Knob was going to be up almost fifty Archons, a deal that almost any ruler would have been overjoyed about.


Stanley was still a bit red eyed as he and the Warlords met, several hexes away. He refused to talk to them, just have Zhopa setup his tent, and then going to bed inside. He’d wanted action, he’d wanted to take the field again, but this wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Vurp wasn’t supposed to turn on him, and he and the boys should have been at his side, raiding cities. Thinking those thoughts, Stanley went to sleep that night, knowing what he had to do when he got to Spacerock.


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