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 Post Posted: Wed Dec 15, 2010 3:49 pm 
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Burden Of The Casters

In the middle of the night, he woke up to the feeling of Her snuggling closer to him. Lucas, Luke to his Side, always thought of Nyx as of Her, the same way he knew she thought of him as Him, with capital ache for both of Them. He liked Her, and for the last twelve turns they joined physically after turn’s end, the same way they linked during their side’s turns. It was enjoyable for both and it kept them balanced, especially now that they had to produce 10 more scrolls per turn than usual... He stopped thinking, for Nyx has opened her chestnut eyes and was watching him.

“Would you like to... you know... “She asked shyly. “One more time?” she lowered her eyes and blushed. Nyx blushed! They knew each other for so many turns, yet she actually blushed!

“I’m afraid not. Dawn will come soon and our turn will start sooner than I would like, almost following the light of the day.” he said, not unkindly, uncoiling from her hug and getting up. “And our Lord will need us in the casting room at the start of the turn.” Luke finished, starting to dress himself.
He heard as she sat up behind him, pulling the blanket around her slender frame and he turned to look at her. She was thin as a spear, so delicate, so wonderful, the most beautiful woman in the world, at least for him.
Nyx stretched like a cat and started unravelling small tangles in her short black hair. She found them quickly and expertly, separating hairs with hardly a thought, better than any comb could.

“I wish we didn’t have to go up.” she said suddenly, not interrupting her work. “I wish we could have this turn off, just for ourselves. We could go to Magic Kingdom and get back in touch with our friends. We could ask for their help or just run away, hide and relax...”

“We cannot. It’s our Duty.” he said simply, turning around, to continue with suiting up. “We are our kingdom’s biggest asset. Without us, it produces one random scroll per turn. With me alone, it jumps to five Healomancy scrolls per turn in addition to that random one. And with two us linked... Fifty scrolls, easy, with enough parchments and red gems. Even sixty! And tomorrow, with Merry...”

“I don’t want to talk about tomorrow. Or Merry.” Nyx interrupted in annoyed voice. “I don’t want to talk about her. She scares me.”

“Have you forgotten?” Luke turned to face her again. “Without Merry at THAT time in THAT place, there wouldn’t be Healaid kingdom or Healaid side now. Our side!” he reminded her. “If she weren’t there, if she didn’t risk disbanding on the spot for treachery... we would have never linked. Our Prince would have croaked in second turn of the battle and our King in fourth, instead of during third, like it happened. We would have been either croaked, captured or disbanded. Or turned barbarian at best.”

“But we DON’T need her, not any more. We can heal one garrisoned unit thousand times or every single one once, per turn. Or we can produce 60 Healamancy scrolls per turn instead! I don’t see why we need her!” she repeated.
Luke looked her in the eyes and saw that she was arguing from feeling of terrified certainty, certainty of the future that was going to happen if the three ever linked again. He just wanted to hug her, look her in her chestnut eyes with his own black ones and tell her not to worry, they don’t really need Merry, she doesn’t have to do it, and they can just take two turns for themselves, no pressure. But he couldn’t, ‘cause they had Duty.

“We DO! We have our orders.” His face hardened and he seemingly changed the point of conversation. “Tell me, Findamancer, if you remember, where have you found the closest Archon to us yesterday, at the end of our turn?” he asked nonchalantly, trying to sound cold and distant, all business like, as if they were just two random casters talking.

“Over garrison, in our airspace.” Nyx replied gruffly.
-“And the second closest one?”
“Over our tower.”
-“And the third and fourth one?”
“Over our outer walls.” she replied.
-“And two veiled ones?” he continued.
“Over our court, near the courtroom windows.” she said meekly.
-“And how many in hexes surrounding our city? Twenty, right?” he pressed on.
“No, around thirty, maybe more. I didn’t have enough juice left to find them all after making scrolls.” she corrected.

-“And THAT’S why we need Merry.” Luke triumphed, in morose voice. “So we can produce 150 scrolls per turn. So we can give over nine thousand heals in ten hex circular radius around the city instead of one thousand in the city. We need her to have a chance!”

“I still don’t like it. And I don’t like her.” Nyx said, suddenly saddened. Her eyes sparkled and she almost started to cry. “Last time we linked, so many turns ago... It was amazing! I could see so far! I could find our unit with lowest hitpoints on the whole battlefield and I... we could heal it in an instant! We saved our Prince a hundred times that day and by the time our turn was over, he was King Galen the Third and invading army was destroyed! We started producing enormous amount of Healamancy scrolls and reached two thousand in just eleven turns! It was the most wonderful feeling in the whole Erfworld!” she went quiet, euphoria drained from her voice and, all of a sudden, she was sullen again.

“And then Merry had broken the link.” Nyx said, her voice flat. “It was the most horrible feeling in my whole existence! I felt as I was going to croak... something red was gushing from my eyes, and I couldn’t see... My hands, cold and wet, as my hit points drained through them, through my feet, I couldn’t breathe...” She took a shallow breath, shaking her head. “I couldn’t see, but I felt... you. Trying to reach me, but you were hurt as well, she had hurt you too... And then connection, I’ve felt your power, healing me, repairing me, juice draining from your body and I reached, searched, I’ve found the rapport, the... remains of connection three of us shared and... felt safe...
After that, I couldn’t cast for twelve turns, but Merry could. I’ve spent them in a daze instead, but I remember the pain, the hurt every time I tried to remember, to recall who I was, to break the link... so small, so wounded... my only safety in you, in your power, in your discipline...” her eyes wandered off in the distance, tears falling out of them and down her face. “I don’t want that happening again, EVER! I DON’T! Ever!!” she whimpered, shaking from convoluted sobs.

Luke approached his pair, his love and gave her a hug, pulling her close to his chest and gently rubbing her naked back through the blanket with his right hand. The other one stroked her hair. He had felt the same way about Merry and the big link: one of the Titans themselves at one moment and in deepest pit the very next one. He was lost and searching, looking for himself, and it took all the power of master level Findamancer to find remains of the broken link, to find all of his pieces, and put them together, and then find a way to the light... And that Findamancer was Her.

“I know, Nyxie. I don’t want that either.” he said quietly, gently rocking her.. “But we don’t have any choices left. Our whole treasury depends on the scrolls, since we are the only kingdom specialised in scroll production, the only one filling its coffers from them. You know that. But here’s what you don’t know.” he made a pause and gave her a kiss on her black hair.

“Sixteen turns ago, we have produced 40 Healamancy scrolls per turn for 200 Shmuckers each and sold them to anyone who had 1000 Shmuckers to pay for one. Fifteen turns ago, Charlescomm forbade us to sell the scrolls to anyone else but them and offered us 1200 Shmuckers per scroll, while at the same time forcing us to increase production to 50 scrolls per turn. And just twelve turns ago, Charlie had pressed our king to produce 60 scrolls per turn, and is currently paying 1500 Shmuckers for each one. We had 5000 healamancy scrolls in our treasury as reserve 15 turns ago. We have only one thousand this turn. Others were sold to Charlie.” Luke’s voice actually shivered at that point. “We are forbidden to sell to Gobwin Knob, our former biggest buyer via Sizemore the Brown, so all our income comes from Charlescomm. His full forces are at most 3-4 turns away from us at all times, depending on the Archons and number of moves they have, since his base is in that area, and Charlie listens to all Thinkagrams. And our treasury is almost empty, since Lord Bandage is using all of our funds to buy as much anti -air defences as he can, doing his best to upgrade our towers as much as possible at the same time. It might turn moot though, since Charlie can force some other side with infantry to attack us instead. And the last time Healaid fought against Charlie’s Archons, our whole side almost ended. Without link-up, we don’t stand a chance.” he finished morosely.

“I know.” Nyx said quietly, her voice muffled. “Charlie has first turn and he can use the scrolls we sold him against us. Four thousand, eight hundred and seventy Healamancer scrolls, plus any other ones he had beforehand, on Archons, almost undefeatable flying knight-type units. I only wish it was different.”

“So do I.” Luke replied, gently breaking a hug. “Get dressed now, and eat your rations. Our turn will start soon.”

“I will, Healamancer.” She joked, smiling through tears, that sparkled in the rising sun.


//Please tell me other healing/health puns you can think off. Also, King Galen is reference to Roman surgeon Galen.

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Last edited by youngstormlord on Thu Nov 01, 2012 4:01 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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     Post Posted: Sun Jan 09, 2011 12:08 pm 
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    Once they got to the casting tower, Lucas found Lord Bandage in loud argument with King Galen. King’s face was livid with rage, but he still listened to his Chief Warlord, albeit barely.

    “... two hundred o’nurses and fifty hello’nurses, sire. They sacked and razed the city afterwards, and returned to their capital. City of Alcohol is no more.” King actually hit the table with his fist, such was the strength of his anger.

    “Titans teats!” he exclaimed. “How could this happen? Undertakers were never able to threaten us before, let alone take last of our level 3 cities. How could this ever happen?”

    Lean figure of Thinkamancer got out from behind the shadow of the supporting pillar.

    “Warlord Intravenous reported seeing two stacks of Archons lead by a Shockamancer before he croaked, your highness. Thanks to natural healomancy of Hello’nurses, he was able to stand quite a lot of punishment, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Enemy Shockamancer used more than fifty Healomancy scrolls. Our scrolls. Sorry, sire.” Merry finished.

    She looked the same as the last time Lucas had seen her, in long black and white dress, her tight grey bun peeking behind the hat of darker grey colour, the same colour as her eyes. The only difference between now and then was the lack of “Umbrella”, made by now extinct Headmistress tribe; it was rumoured that King Galen the Third had it destroyed, since he didn’t want “The flight of Bobbins” repeated; it had meant his father’s life the last time that item was used.

    Suddenly, Lucas realised that Nyx stopped walking and turned around, only to find her watching Merry with her mouth wide open, her whole body shivering in silent terror. He got back to her and gently took her hands in his, rubbing them until she stopped shaking. Merry didn’t react at that outburst at all, too busy watching the exchange between King and Lord Bandage to notice.

    “What a despicable, underhanded, cheating...” King was overwhelmed by his own fury and finished the sentence in completely unintelligible gibberish. Lord Bandage turned to face him again and started speaking:

    “Your highness, this changes everything! The last time Healaid fought against Archons...”

    “Shut up!” King shouted at warlord. Lord Bandage did so immediately, his jaws clenching shut in the middle of a word.

    “Do you think I have forgotten, you old fool?! I have started that turn as Prince Galen and ended it as King Galen the Third! Do you really think Royal forgets a thing like that?!" King asked, getting off his throne and starting to walk up and down the hall. “Do you, now? I remember it as clearly as it was yesterday and there were just three stacks of Archons in that battle. Three!
    And we are facing at least five, right here and now, five stacks of Archons flying around our capital and ready to take our beautiful Aspirin by force at merest thought from Charlie. We don’t have nearly enough units to take Charlescomm down and, since the fall of Unaroyal, no allies either.
    Even if we win this battle, the only sides powerful enough to save us are Gobwin Knob and Coalition, and they are fighting against each other as we speak! And I’m not even sure we’ll have enough warlords to defend ourselves if Charlescomm chooses to attack us this turn...”

    “Maybe if we summon Prince Robert and Surgeon Amputate back...” Bandage tried.

    “Are you insane?” King gave him incredulous look. “I’ve sent my heir far away, sent him to relative safety just in case I get croaked, and your advice is to call him back? No, I think not. Go wait in the court. I have matters to discuss with my casters.” King Galen dismissed him.

    Lord Bandage angrily stormed off.

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    Last edited by youngstormlord on Sat Feb 21, 2015 5:42 am, edited 2 times in total.
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     Post Posted: Sat Jan 29, 2011 7:53 am 
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    Once the door closed behind the warlord, the king motioned to one of the courtiers to approach him. “Go to Lord Bandage and tell him that I’m ordering him to gather 40 of our archers and 60 of our highest level, best pikemen from the garrison in a single stack, stack with them and lead them to the outer walls. He is also to read the message I’m about to give you now, and then send me a thinkagram when he does both. Got that?” King Galen said, giving a piece of parchment to the courtier.

    “Yes, my liege.” courtier replied, still bowing.

    “Then what of mine are you waiting for? Lemon?! Move!” the king shouted, losing patience. Courtier literally fled the room. Lucas smiled. The king has chosen his courtier well; this one was the leanest and the fastest of the bunch. Even Nyx grinned. Then King Galen turned to them.

    “You two! Link up and make two healomancy scrolls in here. Then cast heal on two of our pikers on the outer walls. I want you ready and warmed up for some serious casting!”

    “Yes, my king.” Lucas started, but they finished it together. Nyx winked at him, then removed a strand of hair in front of his face.

    “I’ll start this time.” she said, raising her right hand and spreading her fingers wide.



    “Marco.” she sang, so sweetly, so melodically.

    “Christopher” he sang back, taking her hand with his left.

    “Florence” she said next, raising her left.

    “Polo.” He replied, taking it.

    “Gregory.” She said, her grip tightening.

    “Nightingale.” He replied, pulling her closer to him, until their heads nearly touched. He was already feeling her feelings, excitement and eagerness.

    “Colombo.” she said, lowering her head on his right shoulder and closing her eyes.

    “House.” he replied, doing the same, words of power that the spell was made of pulsing clearly in hir head. Then the feeling of the moment come, power overwhelming.

    “Callahan’s.” two mouths whispered as one and the world widened. It changed colour too, when hir’s eyes were opened. As usual, everything was tinted with grey. Hir unarm separated and s-he had left and right hand again.

    Four eyes looked around the room, to see Merry with her mouth open wide and eyes bulging, like if they are going to pop out from surprise and shock. Female mouth gave a wide, wolfish smile, lots of teeth showing, and a soprano thought came “You didn’t know we can do this, Merry, did you now?”. Male mouth just gave a small, disdainful smirk. “Scrolls and pikers, remember?” a thought came, in pleasant baritone.
    “Fine.” soprano replied, “Let’s spend some juice.” they thought in unison, and the very next moment they’ve found the first red gem and the closest piece of parchment. A thought, some miniscule amount of juice spent, and one healomancy scroll was now in the tower, popping on the king’s table.

    ***

    She watched the two for a full minute before finally remembering to close her mouth. It was impossible, what they did. It WAS supposed to be impossible! - she corrected herself.

    Merry had heard about the link-up without a thinkamancer, but this was the first time she has ever seen it. King Galen had forbidden her to see them doing it before on the threat of disbanding on the spot if she ever tried to sneak behind his back and just do it, so Merry didn’t. It was almost sacrilegious to her discipline, to thinkamancy as a whole!

    Merry knew that they were both talented casters before they’ve linked for the first time, able to cast out of their respective disciplines but this... it was unimaginable yet... they were still doing it! Her king asked her a question, unease clearly visible on his face.

    “Tell me, Merry, what is the effect on casters of having 10th level Chief Warlord in the same stack with them, on the tower hexes?” he asked.

    “Ten percent increase in juice and casting range, my lord, but only on the tower hexes. Half of that on any other.” she answered, still stunned. “If I may be so bold, why do you ask, sire? Lord Bandage is our highest level warlord and he is just level eight.”

    “That’s not completely true, caster.” King Galen replied, with a sad smile. Melancholy, Merry thought. “Thank you for the answer, anyway.”

    A hat on his table moved, knock knock. The king approached it, said “Pizarro” then read a message. He gave a wide grin, smiling for the first time today. King Galen crumbled the paper and put it in his pocket. He clapped his large, strong hands, very loudly.

    “Ladies and lords” He growled “I want everyone who is not an archer or a caster out of this tower and in the courtyard. NOW!”

    His order was barked, at ear shattering intensity. ‘Level ten warlord?’ Merry pondered for a few seconds, while the tower cleared and king kept watching over the hall. Another two healomancy scrolls popped on the table. ‘But, it is not our turn! It’s Charlescomm’s! And we don’t have any level 10 warlords!’ she thought, still shocked by the link up. Then, familiar tingling of unit asking for Thinkagram, and Merry’s senses finally came back to her.

    “Lord Bandage is in place and asks for a thinkagram.” she declared.

    “Well, give it to him. Let’s hear what my Chief Warlord has to say.” her king replied, then sat behind his table and sharpened the quill. He smiled, oddly.

    ***
    King Galen smiled, watching the tower empty. He felt almost like a prince again. World was much simpler then, he thought. He didn’t need to think about politics much. All hard questions went to the king. Should we besiege that city? Ask a king. Should we give that royal Barbarian a place to hide from the small army pursuing him? Ask a king.

    And king always gave him good answers. No, you shouldn’t, it’s already besieged by two armies bigger than our own. Yes, you should. Provide him with royal escort.

    They were good answers, ‘cause they made them some allies, and Healaid always needed allies. They weren’t strong enough on their own (their greatest exports were healing units to other sides, so no one liked to attack them much, less those exports stop coming and many units croak) and other Royals despised them, practically since their side’s creation, hundreds of thousands turns ago.

    It was said by other royals that Queen Galenika the Traitor was barely a royal of the plaid tribe when she had defeated Cheese-eaters of Squirm and razed their capital. When she had returned home victorious, her king spurned her sexual advances and everybody knows what is said about women scorned. Because of her hideously low loyalty, she defected and made a new side where proud Squirm once stood. And all historical accounts agree that Queen Galenika never knew what was that entire Royal fuss all about, and why the other Royals tried to destroy her.
    But prince of Healaid needs to know the truth. It was King’s advances that were refused. When she did so, King Saline the First had ordered her disbanded on the spot. It was her hideously low obedience, not loyalty, which saved her and allowed her to escape. She was loved by king’s own troops more than the king himself and the third of them had low enough loyalty to follow the good Queen to the birth of the new Side.

    The rest was a history of battles fought by princes and princesses and negotiations lead by queens and kings. Prince Galen always liked to fight. The problem was, he was King Galen the Third now and forced to negotiate.
    King’s world was complicated. World of a prince was simple. Simple problems and very simple answers, usually involving violence and gore. The problem was Charlie. And Galen was going to enjoy the answer to it.

    “Well, give it to him. Let’s hear what my Chief Warlord has to say.” he told Merry when she asked. Nasty piece of work, that one. Almost croaking two casters because of her cowardice, trying to save her own skin. There was a lot of bad hitpoints between his casters because of it and King Galen kept them separated. Until now, that is, when his back was to the wall.

    His thinkamancer was upset by Lucas and Nyx linking up without her. The grey shine of their eyes was upsetting to him as well, but the look on Merry’s face when she saw them linking for the first time was priceless.

    Then Lord Bandage’s face flickered into focus in front of his eyes.

    King Galen disliked him. Bandage was quite a weakling and pretty unimaginative tactician to boot, winning all his battles with pure numerical superiority and huge personal stacks. And arrows, lots and lots of arrows. At least he was properly paranoid, like a true royal he wasn’t, else king would have disbanded him long ago.

    “I have positioned our archers on the outer walls for target practice. Prepare to heal our pikers as archers increase their accuracy modifiers. You on the tower better watch out, these archers are so green they are pooping grass. There will probably be arrows everywhere and some of the volley may hit the tower.” Bandage said.

    “Understood.” King Galen said then turned to his linked casters and tower archers. “Move away from the windows and into the corners of the room, please. Thank you.” He finished then turned back to his Chief Warlord. His own table was near one of the walls and nowhere near the windows. “Done. Over and out.” he told him. A few arrows indeed entered the tower, shattering on the marble floor. The king waited for the screams to die out and rain made of steel, wood and feathers to stop.

    “All healed. Two pikers are back on their feet, just as predicted.” Pair said in unison.

    “Good.” the King walked up to them then whispered in Nyx’s ear. “Find me all the archons closest to the tower, please.”

    Pairs eyes flickered, once, twice, three times.

    “Three veiled ones near the tower window, unmoving, my prince.” she whispered back.

    “Which one?” he asked, pleased by the title his ears haven’t heard for thousand of turns.

    “South”.

    The king walked back to the table and scribbled something on the piece of parchment with his newly sharpened quill. He put it in the hat, said “Earhart” and it disappeared. Few seconds later, the hat knock knocked again.

    ‘I’m going to enjoy this’, King Galen thought, while giving everybody on the tower a wide smile, showing lots of his pearly whites. “Casters, cast again. Heal.” he said, savouring the moment.

    ***

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    Last edited by youngstormlord on Sat Dec 27, 2014 5:22 am, edited 2 times in total.
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     Post Posted: Mon Feb 04, 2013 5:13 pm 
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    Lord Bandage was always a simple archer at heart. His promotion to Chief Warlord came as surprise, those thousand turns ago. The only surviving of his stack, the highest level unit in the field, the highest accuracy and the best eyesight... it had some sense. But, he wasn’t Royal and this plan was too complicated for his liking. Why not just blast the archons out of our airspace with spells? Of course, they were veiled, but he has spent the last twelve turns stoking air defence spells on the tower and even if only every third hit, they’d still have some left.

    The hat knock knocked, Lord Bandage received the message and prepared his archers for another volley. He was the one that shot poor pikers, while his elite archers had intentionally missed. Lord Bandage took his longbow again, carefully choosing an arrow. He notched it, pulled the string to his ear and waited.

    Then it happened.


    He saw blonde archon's shocked face for much less than a second before he served. The other two were watching the king and had their backs turned to him and his stack. Big mistake, the biggest one of their lives. His arrow had hit the blonde straight between the eyes, ending her shout, but not one arrow missed. One was close, though, hitting red-headed archon's leg. Lord Bandage turned to his stack, as proud as he was tall.

    "Men and women, that was a fine good stitching. They croaked before they hit the ground." he said, getting cheers and grins from his elite strike force. Then he turned to (almost) luckless archer. "John, aim a little higher next time. Remember what I told you about distance and the air units?"

    "Sorry, Novak." John said, wiping one sweaty hand on his green tights. "I got nervous. This is my first time against the fliers."

    "Don't worry. You are still low level, John." Lord Bandage said, giving John a reassuring pat on the shoulder and having to stand on top of his toes to do it. He was tall, but John was taller. "It will pass once you get higher level. Now, let's end this dirty business." he added, notching another arrow. Another archon got unveiled by heal, right there over garrison and had barely had time to make her fingers in thinkagramming pose before Roger, Rafael and Serena ended her transmission and the others had finished turning her into goose.

    Lord Bandage smiled, without firing second arrow, before his smile curled like two turns old milk rations left on the sun. He saw a blur on the horizon, just on the edge of his eyesight but it wasn't there when he turned to look. It was starting, for real this time.

    Lord Novak Bandage gazed at the distant hexes. He was worried and he knew that his worry was showing. Soon, it was going to make some of his stack nervous and Novak was sorry for that too. The distant blur was moving high above those hexes and he knew them to be archons, stacks and stacks of them. And there was a cloud of dust below them as well and he could see the siege towers as tiny lines with other units as dots. Undertakers... he felt it to be true in his very soul.

    Lord Bandage had the highest accuracy modifiers and range of vision, yet he wished them to be higher still, for he could not count enemy forces at this distance. They just weren't big enough and damn things were at the same time too far and not far enough for his taste (enemy capital would be preferred spot for enemy units, Lord Bandage always felt)! His units were still a little euphoric from the skirmish and they couldn't even see anything moving yet. They noticed his feelings, though. And have gone quiet and pensive. It was eerie.

    "What's wrong, sir?" Roger finally asked him, his voice nearly a whisper. Roger, his trusted lieutenant and one of the only 5 archers with leadership special in this stack. Roger, who was like a brother to him and who had seen almost as much battle as Lord Bandage himself. A veteran unit that was always unfazed in the middle of the fight. And he was nervous now with the rest of them.

    "They are coming, Roger." Lord Bandage replied gravely. "Can you see the haze moving in the sky, there, eight hexes away? Can you see the dust cloud which is the Undertaker army? And that haze... They are coming and my sight range modifiers are not big enough to break even a single archon's veil. And when they do get close enough for that, it will be too late. We got lucky this time, is all I'm saying. Caught them by surprise..."

    "Sir, what about Lucas and Nyx? They could unveil them for us just like before." Roger replied, the hope almost tangible in his voice. Lord Bandage sighed.

    "Those were scattered archons, Roger. " he finally said. "More than four in a single veiled stack are quite another story. And no amount of heals can break those veils. You better believe it."

    "I wish Surgeon Amputate was here, sir." Roger said.

    "So do I, lieutenant. So do I. " Lord Bandage replied, with feeling. The enemy army moved one hex nearer.
    "Why?" asked John. "He is always causing chaos in the barracks and the town."

    "That much is true, John." Lord Bandage said with grim little smile. "But you've never had him in battle with you. And the fighting is where he is at his element, if you know what I mean."
    John nodded, in sudden realization.

    Surgeon Amputate was a walking disaster with lost hit points everywhere he went. It wasn't the name he had popped with, more something like a honorific or a title that stemmed from his nickname. If you or anyone near you happened to hold edged weapons as the man absentmindedly passed by your stack, it was raining limbs. If you didn't, it was broken hands and legs, or fingers and toes at the very least. With maces and clubs, the injuries were just crushingly brutal, so those things were simply banned from Healaid's army when he was in the same hex. Having a linked Findamancer and Healomancer remedied that flaw somewhat and when good Surgeon concentrated, no bad things happened around him. It made him spend his juice, though, and he needed every smidgin' of that juice for battles. And having him in battle by your side tipped the battle in your favor, every time, without a hitch.
    He was Healaid's Luckamancer and a master level one at that, the single most valuable caster after LukeNyx pair, the longest lived of all units in the kingdom, the trusted adviser that popped under the reign of Queen Galenika's daughter Susan. Lord Bandage suspected that he had a lot to do with the way the side worked, healing scrolls and healing units and all... Yet, he wasn't there, in the capital. Surgeon Amputate was with their prince, where he was needed the most.

    Lord Bandage was popped with a simple purpose in his mind: to shoot things with his bow. It was just his luck that he had popped with Leadership special (which was extremely odd for non-warlord unit, but Healaid seemed to pop such units by the dozens exactly 7 turns before every important battle, where the kingdom's survival was at stake. Another of Surgeon's moves, Lord Bandage was almost certain.) and had survived the battle. It made some sense to make him a Chief Warlord...

    Suddenly, Lord Bandage felt loss of power. He was just a simple warlord now and units in his stack had lost his +8 Chief Warlord bonus. He had gained +5 bonus himself and so did all the units in the city. His stack gave him an odd look, very uncertain.
    "So the king has found a level 10 warlord after all." Lord Bandage exclaimed, with sudden fierce joy filling him, even though he didn't know who it was. In fact, he realized after a second, he had shouted that sentence, so loud that his stack was rocked from their nervousness and stood at attention.
    "Defense pattern Beta" came an order, the natural thinkamancy, the way he hadn't received an order in ages. Lord Bandage felt... a thousand of turns younger. He moved into the position smoothly, his stack moving into their own, followed by a hundred more archers. Then two hundred. Then almost a thousand. Pikers came to the ramparts, not two minutes later and stacked with him, protecting the archers from all sides, their sparse armor gleaming in cohorts of red and white, golden leaves inlaid.

    "I thought you said this plan was insane, Novak." Lady Maleficient said, with a fierce grin before moving in front of him, her shield raised. She was the leader of the pikers, the two thousand of them. And two.
    "I said it was insane without a level 10 Chief Warlord, Sue." Lord Novak replied, as joyous as he was heavy, for he was the leader of archers, a thousand archers and one.
    The enemy was moving faster now, hexes and hexes faster, but he didn't worry any more. Everything was going to be alright now; they had the chance after all for the king had found a level 10 warlord and all the calculations were correct, all preparations in order. Lord Novak turned to his enormous stack and gave an order.

    "Battlestations! Let's get this party started! John, battle song of the kingdom! Goooo!" he shouted with John's voice joining his own, soon followed by a dozen more. Then a hundred. Then two hundred. Then one thousand. Then three thousand and three, all kneeling on one knee and removing their helmets and hats as one. With the enemy two hexes away, shivering in their stacks and slowing in their tracks from the sudden power of song that came clear from the ramparts even two hexes away.

    "oooooh Queen Galenika,
    traitor though you may be,
    the Glorious,
    we'll give our lives for thee.

    With glowing hearts,
    we see the rise
    of true Side strong and free.
    Oh Healaid,
    we stand on guard for thee!

    With Titan's might
    and steel so bright
    we stand on guard for thee...
    we'll give our lives for thee!!!"

    When the Stack got up, they were covered in steel from head to toe, magical armor their friends have made spreading as was intended, all white and red, the livery of the kingdom. It was protecting from croaking but not injuries for the injuries were not a problem. They had casters in the tower with level 10 warlord, after all.

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     Post Posted: Thu Sep 25, 2014 2:49 pm 
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    They came, on the wings of ice and darkness, as the battle song of the kingdom ended. They have waited for the infantry and they attacked the same moment the infantry had arrived, the sky filling with dark orbs and thrown knives in the same moment. And they were ugly as sin, as Novak knew they would be, their scream echoing in the sky, unnatural, magnified by their foolamancy in a try to sap the spirits of defenders.
    Archons of Croaking, they were called, sometimes, the natural opposite of the Hellonurses (poetically called the Archons of Mercy), the way the deamons are the opposite of archons. And while Charlie's archons were both deadly and beautiful, these were just deadly, nasty skeletal shadows in dark robes, flying on the wisps of smoke and, if they were high level, wings of ice. Yet, the people called them archons, for they had natural shockamancy and foolamancy and they could fly and use juice, so what else would you call them?!
    "Furians, for that is how they call themselves. Or at least those we captured did." Surgeon Amputate would have said, but he was not here. He was with the prince, doing what he did best, making sure the Side survived despite all odds.

    "Hearts." Novak said, not very loudly, pulling an arrow from his quiver and nocking it. His stack heard his command and obeyed, a new song starting, as the shockamancy and knives hit the shields of the pikers and bounced, sometimes, or were dissipated by the armor, with luckless pikers healed by the tower.

    "Hearts!" came the rhythmic answer from the pikers, giving tempo."Hearts! Hearts!"

    "Hearts on fire, hearts on fire!" sang Roger and 9 more voices spaced among the archers, as they pulled the arrows as one, shielded by the pikers, one thousand steel heart-shaped points gleaming on the sun.
    "Burning, burning with desire." replied the other archers, nocking their arrows, steel points turning to fire as the words were spoken.
    "Burning for the CROAK!" replied the ten leaders and one thousand points of light flew towards their targets on the word croak.

    "Hearts on fiiireeeee!" the other hundreds of archers said in answer, as the pikers raised their shields again, for they lowered them on the word "the", to let them fire.

    "Hearts! Hearts! Hearts!" the pikers sang, as the enemy retaliation rained on them, but much weaker than before, for the enemy archons were retreating and enemy infantry below suffered croaking by fire. The battle has started in earnest. Despite their first volley, the chances were still 5 to 1. Lord Novak was not afraid. He was going to do his best and odds were not important.

    ***

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     Post Posted: Wed Oct 08, 2014 5:57 pm 
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    High in the airspace, just one hex away from the enemy city, a stack of archons was waiting for the chance to enter the battle. They amused themselves by looking at the ground, watching allied shockamancer healing injured Furians with healing scrolls, scrolls that enemy themselves have popped. The irony was sweet, all according to Charlie's rules. The negotiations with Undertakers were going poorly, though, for they were expensive and they knew it. After the first enemy volley, the negotiations went much smoother and soon enough, the plan was a go. It was Lucy who was their communication officer this turn.

    "Nuclear option Di-en-ay, as expected. Good luck." Lucy finished their briefing, then broken the thinkagram.

    Eva and Elsa grinned, a little nervously. Among all of Charlie's archons, they were special. For a start, there was only 10 Archons like them with, what Charlie called, scrollcasting special. The knowledge of it even existing was on need-to-know basis. They didn't pop with it, but were remade instead, personally, by Charlie linking with Signamancer and Weirdomancer. One scroll per turn- that was what made their upkeep twice as expensive and their usage rare. Nuclear option, Charlie's rules, section 15, paragraph 10. Worth arm and a leg and a few toes on your other leg and few interior organs as well...

    "You heard her, girls." Megann said, her green face spreading in a smile. "DnI scroll, the perfect spell for Furians to turn this battle in our favor. Now, get ready. I'll prepare the other two stacks." She tied her red hair into ponytail then flew away, to gather the screens.

    Soon, too soon, a huge stack of Furians came to screen them, their icy wings glittering on the noon sun, their shadows hiding the blue of Charlie's uniforms. There were two more stacks, just like them, slightly farther away. Eva took out a scroll, while Annie and Harley prepared their instruments of Rock. Then they moved one hex forward entering the city's airspace and right into the range of enemy arrows.
    ***
    Novak knew something was wrong almost immediately. The second enemy attack was mostly siege and infantry, with just a token air support. The third one... it was going to be something else, he felt it in his bones. He saw three huge stacks of archons entering the range of his bow, in screening positions. Whatever was behind those screens, it must have been important, for the army in front of the walls increased the ferocity of their attacks, filling the air with boulders and arrows. While his stack continued with "Hearts!" chant, sending volley after volley of arrows, Lord Novak ducked lower behind Lady Maleficient and sent a message by hat. His King's response was immediate and Lord Novak ordered his archers to ignore the enemy at the walls and focus on the archons. Tower shockamancy started firing, each bolt hitting at least one screening archon for there was a findamancer in the tower and those do not miss... The air filled with ice crystals torn off the archon's icy wings.

    High in the tower, King Gallen received his Warlord's message. He sent reply immediately then turned to his own stack.
    "Shockamancy. Blast those things out of the sky." he said to his tri-linked casters then turned to his bowmen. "It was easy until now, just a few token sorties by their flyers. This is where it gets hard, my friends. You know the drill. Shoot down anything that gets near the windows. Protect the casters!" Then he took a bow himself and nocked the arrow, taking a careful aim.

    ***
    One stack went straight towards the tower. They got it the worst. The other two were circling in a terrible dance around the defenders, shooting orbs and knives at them, their wings protecting them from arrows, their foolamancy hiding them, blinking them from position to position in the cloaks of shadow. A soft keyboard music filled the air in the middle circle as Annie started playing her instrument of destruction. Eva unrolled the scroll and started singing the rhyme, summoning the spell.

    "Cold goes down from airspace this turn,
    not a unit to be seen,
    a kingdom of air and darkness,
    and it looks like I'm the queen."

    The music got louder as Harley joined the spell with her axe-base, the arrows started hitting around her stack yet Eva went on, the power of spell becoming clearer in her mind. The wind was starting to rise, a most disconcerting sound.

    "The wind is howling like a burning spell inside,
    shouldn't keep it in, shouldn't even tryyyy."

    The enemy tower was shooting bolts now and doing damage to her screen, but Eva knew it to be too late, for the spell was almost done... the juice levels out of the measuring scale...

    "Let it go, let it go,
    can't hold it in anymore,
    Here I stand and here I stay,
    let the darkness flow!

    Cold..."

    she gasped, as shockamancy charge hit her, cutting her across midsection. Elsa was there to catch her, and they finished the spell together.

    "never bothered me anyway! Lights off!"


    Darkness, the deepest night black as shadowine, covered the battlefield.

    Furians let out a victorious scream, for darkness belonged to them. They were the sound in the night, they were the creatures in the darkest of the deep forest hexes, they were the nightmares at the end of the turn; they were attacking, going into low dives so they could use their claws and scythes, backstabbing where they could.

    Their work done, Charlie's archons ran the heck away from the Aspirin's airspace. Eva was almost unconscious and barely felt Annie and Harley flying her out, as Elsa used healomancy scroll on her, with Megann screening them and shooting at the enemy to cover their retreat.

    ***

    As the darkness spread, Lord Novak started a new song, all by his own. The 10 of his archers took it and then almost two thousand units in his stack took it as well, even as archons of croaking stabbed them left and right, one moment there, another somewhere else, swarming on some spots and croaking pikers and archers.
    Aspirin had friends from all over the Erfworld and you don't change tactic that works. The thing was, letting Furians fight in the dark was tried before and it was successful. Not on Aspirin or anywhere near it, true, but it was tried before and not long ago either. Just around 5000 turns ago and innumerable hexes away.
    That was not much, not if you had excellent trading relations with different sides from all over Erfworld for thousands of turns. Not when you had a papyrus in your library with a detailed note of a campfire story, straight from the faraway unit which saw it used by his own side with his own eyes. It was a good story, it had Furians in it, it made the Healaid's casters think... All in all, it was worth dollamancy, healomancy and shockamancy scrolls they gave to that unit for free, two of each. Healaid remembers. And when one of your main enemies has Furians as their natural allies, you get prepared. So, Healaid was prepared.

    "We follow the will of the king,
    through the darkness and into the storm,
    and we follow the will of the king,
    through the darkness and into the storm,
    OUR KIIIIIIIIIIIING!"

    "Green light show me,
    where I'm going to goooo..."
    sang half the pikers, shielding them.

    "Green light show me,
    where I'm going to -" archers answered...

    The green lanterns in the courtyard burned, tiny dots of light in the all encompassing darkness...
    ***
    In the tower, the king approached Nyx, with his bloody sword unsheathed, as the battle raged on and the units were hurt all around him. "This is the time of Nyx." he said to the tri-link, for those words were in the prophecy and Fate was hard on those who disobeyed her. "Lumen-ix, light our darkest hour." he ordered then returned to the fray, croaking attackers left and right.

    Three pair of eyes blinked as one and the green lanterns of Aspirin's courtyard awakened, all 50 of them, filling the airspace with spears of light, showing the way for the archers, helping them distinguish friend from foe. And the song of the defenders came from the wall and through the tower window, loud and clear,
    "-to SERVE!

    ' Cause we follow the will of the king,
    through the darkness and into the STORM,
    and we follow the will of the king,
    through the darkness and into the STORM,
    OUR KIIIIIIIIIIIING!"


    as they shot down the enemies attacking the tower first, then the flyers attacking archers second, the lights of the lanterns shining off the pikers' armor and blinding the Furians who were trying to back-stab them. They took the counteroffensive.

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    Last edited by youngstormlord on Sun Feb 22, 2015 10:46 am, edited 11 times in total.
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     Post Posted: Mon Jan 05, 2015 4:27 pm 
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    ***
    When Lord Novak Bandage popped, the first thing he saw with his newly minted eyes was the green light of the lanterns. 'They are so beautiful.' was his first thought, the one before what his name was.

    "Trust the lanterns. They'll show you the way home, no matter how far away you are." was the advice Prince Galen had told him only the moment later and it was true. And the lanterns all over the Aspirin's garrison were shining brightly now.
    "They are so beautiful." was the last thought Lord Novak had while he slowly croaked, the poison eating his broken body, mangled beyond the healomancy but those of the Titans. He didn't realize he had said it out loud.
    "They are, aren't they..." Lady Malef- Sue replied quietly, taking his damaged hand in hers as they croaked together.

    ***

    "So, at long last, you stand alone." said Lord Hearse. His stack was large, flaming sourmanders mounted by reapers. More than two hundred stabbers on flanks. The throne room seemed small to accommodate them. King's own forces seemed tiny, like tourists lost inside archery range.

    "No, not alone." said the pair as one, with Mary's voice lagging half a second behind, producing echo. King Galen smiled. His casters entered the room with the stack of cloth gollems, breaking the fourth wall in the process.
    "Pfft, cloth gollems. And only 12 of them?" Lord Hearse mocked. "And you don't even have Dollamancer to fix them. Do you really think 12 dire bears can stop me from croaking you and capturing your precious trilink? Sourmanders, set them on fire."

    His casters retreated to a spot behind him, King Galen saw. Gollems took the brunt of the fire storm. Then another. And another. But they didn't topple. They just stood there and were on fire. And sourmanders had no flame left for the fourth volley.

    "Healaid was always diplomatic kingdom." King Galen said finally to wide-eyed lord, his face bathing in the fire of the bears. "Casters from all over Erf have bought our scrolls. For friendship. And alliance. I'll offer you one chance and one chance only. Surrender now and I'll spare your miserable lives."
    "Never! Your tricks will not work on me!" shouted Lord Hearse.

    "In that case..." King said simply then ordered "Gollems, transform and ROCK OUT!"

    'Thank you, Sizemore the Brown. Old friend, I'll tell a good word for you in the hall of the Titans.' King Galen thought, as claws broke through the burning cloth on hands and feet, and hard rock golems removed their steel-wool hoods. Then the king got up from his throne, unsheathed his sword and lead his stack to their last battle. Lord Hearse was already croaked by then.
    ***
    Lady Scar treated them with respect and shared some of her own rations with them from time to time. She was grateful for their help while the two kingdoms were at peace and wasn't happy with the current war, or so she had said while they talked by the campfire. And she loved casters, especially healomancers, since they were useful in battle which was what Lady Scar loved the most. At first, Luke and Nyx thought that she was trying to turn them but then Mary set them both straight, because she had worked with Lady Scar before and no, she wasn't trying to turn them, she was just a friendly person with keen tactical insight and pleasant demeanor. Lady's stack had saved Mary's life before and Healaid's units have saved Lady Scar's stack more than a dozen times in some better times, so it all sort of balanced out. Being a prisoner didn't feel so bad while they were with Lady Scar and Lord Cemetery came as a nasty surprise after those twelve turns with her.
    ***
    It was a few minutes before dawn. Luke felt the stab of a steel-tipped boot on one of his ribs. It broke. It hurt. A lot. Yet, he still didn't open his eyes or give any indication that he felt it. It was a defiance thing.

    "Wake up, prisoners." Lord Cemetery shouted and kicked him again. This cracked the rib on Luke's other side but didn't break it. "Our turn is almost starting and we have a lot of hexes to cover, casters." he said, spitting the last word as if he had said crap. Luke felt Nyx sitting up and watching Lord Cemetery with open hatred.

    The time stopped. Mary sent them both a thinkagram, audio only. "This turn." it said and nothing more. "Finally." was his thought and he knew it was shared with Nyx.

    Luke's healomancy senses told him of interesting interplay of muscles and forces inside Lord Cemetery's body... and he stirred, fast as a snake, moving a couple of inches to the left.

    The third kick missed Lucas entirely and Lord Cemetery hit a very sharp rock Nyx had found the night before instead. With the back of his head, because he had slipped on the wet ground and fell, cracking his skull in the process. He was incapacitated and looked at still lying Luke in shock while his stack panicked all around him. Lord Cemetery couldn't move, not even blink.
    "Sergeant!" shouted stabber Sixfeet, pulling his sword out of the scabbard and swiftly moving into the position between Luke and his lord. He gave him the look full of hatred and fear but didn't really have time to say or do anything more...

    The dawn was upon them and Lord Cemetery was no more. Luke didn't feel sorry for him. The man was a bully and a torturer, wholly unpleasant enemy unit who relished in pain and suffering. He did more horrible things in 3 turns than his predecessor did in 12. He was not going to be missed, not even his +2 leadership bonus. And he really got it on himself.

    "Nothing to see here." said Lord Hack, the second squad's sergeant, as they moved between the casters and shocked stabbers. They all had swords drawn.

    "I wouldn't say that." Nyx said, innocently, raising her chained hands in the air, in pose of surrender. "There's a lot to see. Too bad that you're blind." The ring of her finger caught the light of the morning sun, reflecting green.

    "They croaked him!" Sixfeet said, with tears in his eyes, and moved towards Luke, his sword shaking from anger. Two of his stack friends caught him before he could do any damage and get croaked by his own side. Lord Hack turned to Nyx, with murder in his eyes.

    "Shut the heck up!" he yelled at her. "Are you trying to get yourself croaked? You dumb..."

    There was a hiss and a thump. Then three more hisses and thumps, half a second later. Lord Hack grunted and looked at the three stabbers from Lord Cemetery's stack. They slowly slid to the ground, arrows in their heads. Then he looked down and saw an arrowhead coming out of his own chest. Before he could comprehend what had happened, there were more hisses and thumps. Half of his stack dropped, croaked from head shots, every single one. The others raised their hands in surrender, all as one, though he couldn't see why. It was uncanny.
    He charged at the cursed girl, although stumbled would have been more appropriate, since his vision was darkening and the right side of his chest was burning. Just a couple more inches and his sword would have reached her neck... but his hand hit something solid in front of him instead. There was a shiver in the air where there was nothing before.

    Hellonurse smiled at him instead of the caster he thought he was attacking, her tiny claws at his throat while her other hand blocked his striking arm.

    "Mercy." Lord Hack cried weakly, dropping his sword. There was an arrow in his lung, he knew that now because his cry was no more than a whisper.
    "As you wish." the nurse replied, a sudden shy smile behind her green mask. She stabbed him then, right in the throat, injecting some cocktail of poisons as she did so. The pain in Lord Hack's chest was no more, his vision clear again.

    The hand which wasn't stabbing him moved to his back, almost gently. She got the claws out of his throat then half pushed, half pulled the arrow out of his chest, painlessly. She helped him lie down on the soft grass, because he couldn't move by himself. Then she removed her mask and Lord Hack was in heaven for the next thirty seconds. 'She is so beautiful.' he thought, before the darkness claimed him.

    "Nicely done, Akali." Lucas said, as the chains left his wrists and prisoner garb was no more then healed the cut on Hellonurse's hand. "Well fought, all of you." he said to the rescue squad, as more Hellonurses decloaked and stabbed their own soldiers, knocking them out with the cocktail of soporifics and anesthetics. Then they hauled them onto their shoulders, now clad in prisoners garb.

    "Very nice. Now, let me have a look at you." Nyx said, then went to look at the archers hiding in the brush. "Serviceable. I can work with this." she added, looking them closer, then using juice here and there, her expression intent. There was a sound like tiny bells every time some of her juice was spent, *glingle glingle*.

    "Nice work, Surgeon." Merry said quietly, then hugged him. "All those critical headshots. Very nice."
    "I'm glad to hear it." said their Chief Caster to Merry then looked at Nyx. "This one was easy. Your scroll though... That one was a heck to cast. If it wasn't for the lanterns and hundreds of turns we spent training the units, it would have been practically impossible."

    "It had to be done. You know that." Luke said, still moving from hellonurse to hellonurse and healing minor injuries, despite them being fully capable of doing it themselves, while all the enemy units slept over their shoulders. Then he leveled up all of a sudden.

    "Congratz." Surgeon said with a smile."Our king is encamped two hexes in that direction. Shall we go?"

    "Just a minute..." Nyx said, still excitedly moving from unit to unit. "Whoops, that shouldn't be poking out. There..." she added, and spent some more juice. *glingle glingle* "Nice and snug...*glingle glingle* And that should be tucked in...*glingle glingle*" She finally stopped and smiled, proud of her handwork.
    "These should last for 7 more turns. I better take a look at the others, though. Lead the way." Nyx said, then took Luke's hand, happy like a clam. If there were walls around them, she would have been bouncing off them with giddiness, because she didn't get a lot of chances to practice that part of Findamancy. Titans, he loved her.

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    ***

    (Some turns ago, far far away)

    John believed in the Titans with all his heart and he believed in their judgment. When you croaked, you would go to the Hall of Titans, they would meet you, count your bad deeds and your good deeds and tell you where you were to go from then on. If you were good, fought valiantly, croaked bravely, you would stay with them in the Hall. If you were lukewarm, not very good but not so bad either, you would not stay with them there, but would be sent back onto Erf for a second try. If you were especially bad, you would be sent to Heck instead and that place had it's own description. That was what was supposed to happen. It simply didn't happen for some reason. Instead, he was here, in the dark place, if the dark was even strong enough word, for there was not a single speck of light here, wherever here was. He could not feel anything, not an air on his clothes or his face, nothing. He couldn't hear anything, not even his own breathing. In his left arm was his bow, of that he was certain, on his back was his quiver of arrows, of that he was certain too, but when he moved his right hand in front of his face there was no change in the texture of air, not even a slight breeze. He didn't know how long he was here, for he couldn't feel beating of his own heart. John was getting worried.

    He started to doubt and then those doubts blossomed. For some time, he thought that Lord Novak might have been right, that when you croaked, that was it, it was final; an unthinking dream that you would never wake from. But this was not it, it couldn't be! Lord Novak...

    John's last memory of his life was the enemy forces coming and Lord Novak telling him to sing. It was a good song, very appropriate for the occasion... and then he had started to sing... and then... he was joined in harmony with his Lord Commander and the others in the stack. They were three thousand and three voices there, each of them unique, each of them clear, each of them beautiful in their own way. Battle Song of the Kingdom... It was almost worth croaking from the enemy boulder just to hear it sang that way, if only once...
    At that moment, everything seemed so clear and so bright, so easy... John felt like a warrior Titan then, if only for a few minutes, before the enemy boulder squashed those hopes to dust. He tried to remember those minutes, that one glorious moment, to cherish it, anything but the loneliness, anything but this feeling of... a tin soldier, one of those figurines they used in the Planning Room to put on the map, now back inside the box and forgotten, darkness all around him... A song came to his lips, then, as if awakened by the word darkness, a memory of a life long past.

    "With glowing hearts,
    we see the rise
    of true Side strong and free.
    Oh Healaid,
    we stand on guard for thee!"
    he sang with all his might, but his ears couldn't hear his own voice, despite his jaw and lips moving, it was all in his mind... Yet, on and on John sang, again and again, even as hot tears started to drop from his eyes and rolled down his cheeks. He could feel them and it felt good...

    "With Titans' might
    and steel so bright..."

    ***

    "Where have all the flowers gone,
    long turns passing?
    Where have all the flowers gone,
    many turns ago?
    Where have all the flowers gone,
    my girl grew them, every one,
    Oh, when will they ever learn,
    oh when will they ever learn?"

    Surgeon Amputate sang to himself, to calm his nerves, a piece of rhyme he had made for the love of his life. It was her song and he loved her dearly, yet Fiona croaked despite all his efforts and Healaid had never popped another florist again. Her flowers shriveled soon after her demise (despite his best effort to care for them) and depopped soon after shriveling, as if never was a caster named Fiona, walking in Healaid, breathing, kissing... She was the last person to call him by his popped name and not Surgeon Amputate and her croaking changed his Signamancy forever. Some units are like that, they change your signamancy, for better or for worse.

    The dolls were staring at him, in the cavern, thousands and thousands of them. He knew their faces better than he knew his own, Merry's thinkamancy made sure of that. Surgeon knew that far away, Aspirin was falling and then, after a short bureaucratic procedure, it was going to be his turn to act. So he lowered a lantern on the table and a scroll, sat down on the plain wooden chair and waited, singing a second verse then a third, then the rest. He was singing the song for the 13th time, a lucky number, calm as a lake water, when his king appeared.

    "It is time." the king said simply after Surgeon finished and unslung the instrument of rock from his Royal shoulder. Nyx had found it, in the ruins, one glorious turn, after Surgeon gave her his whole luckamancy reserve. It was loud and it had some inbuilt shockamancy. When the unit rocked out with it, as the king was preparing to do, shockamancy came out as the stripes of lightning.

    "As you command, my liege." Surgeon said, then opened the scroll, rising like a shadow of an empire.

    ***

    Serena believed in the Titans. Not the whole thing, she was forced to admit, but who else could have made Erfworld but the Titans themselves, right? That her deeds were going to be counted after croaking, well... that was a lot harder to swallow. Titans making Erf and then leaving on their way, that sounded about right. Croaking? You croaked then popped again after few seconds, in some other place and on some other turn.
    This place, whatever it was, came as a shock. She couldn't see, she couldn't feel, she couldn't hear. It was dark! Even chillingly cold or scorching hot would have been an improvement, but no, temperature was about right, completely unnoticeable. Yet, she still had her bow and that was important. Serena had popped with it a few... hundred? thousand? it was hard to keep track of time here... turns ago and she would be stitched and darn if she was going to lose it. After immeasurable amount of time Serena tried to remember how she came here in the first place.

    Well... it wasn't easy to remember, that was sure. There was the first attack, right after The Battle Song of the Kingdom... She survived that and so did Valentin, her love, despite taking a hit in the gut for her, right through the shield and armor, for he was healed by The Pair in the tower, unlike John and his three pikers, who was squashed into puddle, them and about three dozen more pikers who did their best to protect their archers from boulders and enemy fire. Then just one word from Novak and they all started "Hearts!" chant, which was even a more glorious thing to behold than the Song; while the Song was both beautiful and inspiring, it lacked usability and routine, it lacked croaking ability and rock out tempo... "Hearts!" had all that and more!
    Pikers and archers standing together, working together, breathing together... as a team, as two hearts (one with the armor the other with feathers) beating as one, in perfect harmony, everyone doing what they should and when they should, forces of steel meet again. Vale croaked on the next attack while the chant was still going, from archons flying above them, a scorching Blackfyre attack that burned him to the ground and melted armor around him. Serena avenged him with her arrow before getting a knife in the eye. Critical, no save, nothing the tower could do about that...

    And now she was here... nowhere.
    'I could use a little fire in here. Just a little point of light!' she thought then and had an idea. Serena pulled an arrow from her quiver and notched it, trying to remember, trying to hear the "Hearts! Hearts! Hearts!" rhythm coming from her love in front of her, trying to follow it... Then she started to sing her part and pulled the string, while in her mind's eye, a point of light flamed in front of her.

    "Hearts of fire,
    hearts of fire,
    burning, burning with desire..."

    It was as if a thousand units sang with her, the forces of The Stack met again...

    ***

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    Last edited by youngstormlord on Sat Feb 21, 2015 6:29 am, edited 6 times in total.
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    (A few hours ago, not far away, some turns ago :D)

    Deep in the dark of the Iron Hill, in the hallway where the shadows rest, Prince Robert "Archi" Rice walked briskly with Princess Winny McMander. The battle has started, many hexes away, too many for them to be in any sort of danger. Despite that, they were in a hurry, for they had to do exactly the right thing at exactly the right place at exactly the right time. It was prophesied and you don't play gambling games with Fate, because it cheats, always. Outside, in the courtyard, the Healaid stabbers were practicing the most basic rock-out stance, the steel ringing as it hit Strawmen, the reforming dollamancy units (only reforming if they are used for practice by allied troups).

    Block-block-slash;Block-block-slash... rang the sound of steel. Prince Archi knew what it was, two steps/bashes with the shield then slash with the sword.
    "Sing it!" came a shout from sergeant in the courtyard.
    "We will, we will croak you." block-block-slash, block-block-slash.
    "We will, we will CROAK you." sang the troops.
    "Again, you sons of Healaid!" sergeant ordered, and it went again and again, growing weaker as they went deeper.

    "May I see it?" Winny asked, as they hurried to the underground hall, her voice oddly breathless with awe.
    "If you wish." Archie replied, then pulled a small silver coin out of his pocket, so old and tarnished it was almost black. It had a mermaid on one side and a trident on the other and it was worth exactly one shmucker if you wanted to spend it for upkeep. To the prince, it seemed like it weighed 100 thousand shmuckers. To Princess Winny, it was worth her whole kingdom.

    "It's beautiful." Princess Winny said. The coin itself was not magical, not originally at least. You couldn't get much for one shmucker. Yet, at the same time it also had enormous symbolic value, for it was a token of promise, of a debt that could never be repaid, of loyalty beyond loyalty, of friendship beyond any alliance.

    "I have heard the story a hundred times from my mother, who had heard it from her father, who was The One. Who could have known I'll be the one to actually see it? The Silver Coin of Promise, with my own eyes?" Winny said.
    "I have heard it from my father. He was the Prince of the Royal Escort in the story." Archie replied, suddenly thoughtful.

    'And what a story that was and no mistake.' he thought. A prisoner escaping, becoming prince besieged by enemies after a chance encounter with a heavily wounded unit of his own side which croaked the very next turn. Running, always running, all the time, his side's treasury almost empty, his own father surrounded and about to croak from hunger, out in the field, after the fall of their capital.
    Then Healaid patrol found him, starved and tired, one turn from croaking because he couldn't pay his upkeep with that one shmucker in his pocket and the clothes on his back. Luckily for him, Prince Galen was in that patrol and he relentlessly pleaded with his own father Hypercat to at least listen to the poor guy on the run. Wasn't Queen Galenika once on the run herself? How easier could things have gone for her, how many more good men and woman would have survived if only she could have found help? By the end of that turn, Prince Gallahad's father turned to the enemy and he became King Gall the First, the last unit of his side. And he was ready to turn to Healaid.
    Instead of accepting his turning, they did something unimaginable. They allied with the beggar king immediately. They paid his upkeep, then they gave him one very well hidden capital town with the whole garrison and one of their own casters, a dollamancer named Cable Patch. The price: a single shmucker and a promise, without contract, for "It is tamed ferals who are bound by the rope. A king is bound by his word." the grandfather had said then. A debt and undying loyalty, all in one.

    "Who could have hoped I would be the one to give it back to it's rightful owner?" Archie said and they both laughed, a little nervously. This was serious business. One of King Gall's ancestors was Elah Raia, Prince With A Hundred Enemies. By the time Prince Gallahad became King Gall the First, he was Prince With Seven Enemies and it was a terrible risk to help him. He was Winny's grandfather. Thanks to his unwavering devotion to his work before he croaked, Winny's mother popped as Princess With One Enemy. By the time Winny had popped... Well, her official nickname was Princess With A Hundred Friends and Vassals (and, sometimes, when her friends were drinking, Princess With Seven Capital Sites). You messed with McManders on your own peril.

    Soon, the two reached the place, deep underground and, oddly, no thinkagram could reach it. It was relatively small room, no bigger than Aspirin's kitchen and it was dark. Princess Winny took one orb from the hallway when she entered. The green light of it shown a throne, a small table and a wooden chair opposite the throne. On the table was a map, map of the kingdom as it was when King Gall sat the throne himself, a quill and an ink pot and nothing else. It would have been a normal (if very small) throne room, if it was a normal throne. But it wasn't.
    It was made from cast iron. On the back of it, some smith had heated and hammered in, so they stuck, half a dozen swords, now rusted. Swords of six kings and queens King Gall the First had beaten, attacking from the Capital that Healaid had given him when he was about to croak from hunger.

    "Iron is bountiful in this capital, making the cost of popping infantry much lower, as your grandfather was very well aware. As for the throne... My grandfather made it from iron, so he would never forget how hard it is to be king. 'Sitting on the throne should not be easy' he said, 'for you can lose the sight of your goals easily if it is.' I sat on it before myself." Princess Winny said, then left the ball to float above the table. She sat on the throne. "It is not comfortable or easy and it never gets easier with time. Remember that."
    "I will." Prince Archie replied, and he meant it. He sat on the chair opposite the princess and took the hat from his pocket. He resized it and put it on the table. Soon, it knock-knocked and prince received a message from his father.

    "The true battle has started, enemy forces finished their first attack and retreated their fliers. They must be using our own scrolls to heal them." he said to Winny.
    "Very naughty of them." Winny replied, with the calm she didn't feel. "I would have expected nothing else from Undertakers."

    "Indeed." Archie replied and then they waited for some time, nervous. It wasn't long but it seemed like forever when hat knock-knocked again. He opened the message and his face turned grim.

    "Merry turned to Charlescom in the middle of the battle. The Pair took her back before she could hoboken father. We have tri-link again. Apparently, Charlie sent her a thinkagram that he wants to parley then did something to her mind which made her turn. The Pair turned her back once the link was made." Prince said, with uncertainty in his voice. Archie didn't really understand the message he had received and it was showing in his tone.

    "Charlie? That's hard to believe." Winny said, shocked.

    "I know, but that's what the message says." Archie replied. "Undertakers have hired him. It must have been in the contract. Turning thinkamancer in the middle of the battle, even the one with such low loyalty as Merry... this has some very unfortunate and long-reaching implications."

    "Agreed." Winny replied quietly, lost in revelry of horror as those implications became clear to her.
    The silence after that was deeper and tension almost tangible. It seemed two eternities have passed before the hat knock-knocked again. Archie's hands shook slightly as he received the next message.

    "They made Furians fight in the dark." he said to Winny. "We countered it but there were still heavy losses on both sides. Walls have been breached. Courtyard is contested. Attacks from fliers have nearly stopped."

    "It is nearly time, then." Winny replied with feeling then almost reverently took a scroll from the shelf built in the base of the throne, closing the compartment afterwards. The throne was cast so perfectly that Archie didn't know there was anything there at all until she did so. In the half-darkness of the room, the scroll seemed to glow with it's own light. The Contract.

    "Aye." the prince replied, and he sounded sad and weary to Winny, the weight of his kingdom already on his shoulders.

    The hat knock-knocked again. Archie took the message, his hands calm. His signamancy had changed oh so subtly or maybe it was just a trick of the light, Winny couldn't be certain.
    "Our chief warlord has croaked. They're using sproutella, the florist's piss, healing less effective. Less than a hundred units alive. Farewell, my son." he read, then unstoppered the ink pot and took a quill. Winny got up and gave him The Contract. Prince Archie got up, took it and read it carefully. It was not very long. Then he signed it.

    The room grew brighter, as the torches on the walls got lit, as if with a thought. Winny shook the Prince's hand then moved away and sat on the chair, The Silver Coin of Promise between her fingers. The prince sat on the throne. He took The Contract and rolled it back into the scroll.
    He opened a secret compartment, the one only rulers of the city knew about and put The Contract back in it. His next words to her were words of a king.

    "It is done." King Archibald the Third said to her.

    "It is done." Winny, Princess With Six Capital Sites replied. Then she got up and offered him The Silver Coin of Promise. "With the power of Queen Gwinevere invested in me, I'm hereby offering King Archibald the Third this Rice family heirloom, with all alliances and obligations implied by the transfer of this item still applying under the condition that, once he gets the capital of Aspirin back by any means he sees fit, he should give the Queen Gwinevere one capital site of his own choosing in return. Your highness, do you accept these terms?"

    "You have my word." King Archi replied, taking the coin.

    "It is tamed ferals who are bound by the rope. A king is bound by his word." Princess Winny replied then smiled. Her prophesied part was done.

    "True enough." Archi said like King Gall said before him, smiling for the first time since he became the king. He pocketed the coin. "I will need a commander to guard this city per the terms of our contract. I appoint you, as a princess and heir of allied side."
    "I accept." Winny replied promptly .
    "Good. I have business to attend to in the dungeons." the king said then moved towards the door. "By the way, you were right. That throne is really uncomfortable. You can use it while I'm gone."

    "Will do." Winny said and sat back on the throne.
    ***

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    Surgeon Amputate read the scroll for the first time, only his eyes moving. This one was going to be hard, he knew that. As far as he could tell, it was a work of art. During his cursed life, Healaid went through a lot of casters. Some of them were findamancers and Surgeon learned all he could from them, searching for the way to get Fiona back.

    He learned about the correct setup and stance for all sorts of spells. He learned about the power of rock and how it affected spells cast as the caster rocked out. He learned about the power of the rhyme, how the rhyming helped the mind focus and give more juice to the spell. And he learned of the power when the rhyme was intentionally broken, the release of juice in one glorious moment after so much pressure. This scroll had all of it and Surgeon knew in his heart that he would have to use all of his Luckamancy reserve to cast it successfully. At level 12, that reserve was truly enormous and it took several turns to fill it.

    That was his curse and his prediction, confirmed by several of Healaid's predictamancers over countless turns. When he reached level 14, his side, the empire thousands of turns old, will fall to their most hated enemy and he will bring ruin to everyone on the Side who met him. Yet, he will survive and serve the enemy who conquered him for exactly 365 turns more, until he reached level 15 and all of enemy's casters become masters thanks to his leadership and then he would croak, bringing his whole luckamancy to that side, so it would last as long as he once lived. If he ever took power in Healaid or gave a single order that went against his king's or queen's wishes, the side would fall immediately and his curse would have been finished.

    Surgeon took it to heart. He became trusted adviser to the queens and kings of Healaid, always on their side, never taking command in battle or peace, careful to never reach level 14 even if he lived to last for so many thousands of turns that he couldn't count or remember them any more. He became master Luckamancer, so good that casting luckamancy brought him no experience or joy.
    Fiona's croaking changed him, made him a darker shadow of himself. In his sadness and deep depression, it brought him new insights into his discipline, the ones that Surgeon lived by to this turn and age. Before, he blessed units on his side all the time, wasting his gift, not sparing his luckamancy reserve and juice. It all changed after her croaking and his signamancy changed to match, his blonde hair turning white, his eyes turning red as blood... In his darkest moments, when all he wanted was to croak and join his love, he cursed the units on his own side, just so they would leave him alone. That was the turn when he became master of his discipline, the turn of his horrible insight into the Fate and Luck, the turn that he would remember forever.

    Now, after thousands and thousands of turns of practice, cursing them became like breathing to him, so much that he didn't have to spend juice to do it but had to actually concentrate and spend juice NOT to! He would fill up the air around him with screams just by passing by the allied units but he would fill up his luckamancy reserve too. The injuries, the screams...
    He could still remember those turns when Healaid didn't pop healing units and didn't have Aemon Daemons as their natural allies. It bothered him so much that he spent a lot of that reserve to change his own side, to play with the popping probabilities... so the people would be safe from him.

    After this spell, Surgeon was going to level up to lucky number of 13. He knew that as a certainty. After that and after they got Merry, Lucas and Nyx back, he was going to croak himself or maybe ask the king to disband him. That was messing with Fate, but he couldn't risk his prediction coming true. He was very careful not to reach level 14. Level 13 was too close to that number and he couldn't allow for his side to fall, he would rather croak.

    Surgeon Amputate cast a spell on himself, using all luckamancy he gained, his whole reserve but one point of luck, all of his juice too, insuring that the next scroll he cast would be critical success. Then he opened the lantern of Nyx, the same one as 50 in the courtyard in Aspirin. She was not a master in her discipline, not a proper one, not yet, not just yet, but she was very good, very close to one and Surgeon spent some considerable time with findamancer masters in his long life. They all said the same thing- Findamancy comes from the mind. And all around him, in this cavern that served as Iron Hill's dungeon, the dolls were kneeling, three thousand and thirty three of them, as if singing The Battle Song of the Kingdom. Memories came to him, for he needed them to cast this findamancy spell, he needed them for success.
    ---
    "You can summon a soul of the warrior to fight for your side. That is the greatest and the least used power of Findamancy. Why, Surgeon? Because it costs a lot of juice and the soul returns to the Halls of the Titans after just a single turn." Shirlock said to him, when he asked, in his darkness after Fiona croaked.
    "How can it last more? Well, you make it a body. A strawman, a doll, a golem, a croaked body... With one of those, the soul will stay on Erf a bit longer. Maybe three turns, maybe seven turns, maybe fourteen, the closer the body to that of the soul while it was on Erf, the longer it will stay. Yet, the body decays. The fit of the soul to the body is not perfect, the decay makes it worse... There's no healing at the start of the turn, you know. And, findamancer has to spend juice to fix those imperfections, fill that space between soul and body, every single time, turn after turn, with juice expenditure rising as the decay grows." Shirlock shook his head. "I'm sorry, my friend. I cannot bring your Fiona back. Even with her original body, it wouldn't be her, not true Fiona, for I cannot give her life. I could give her some more time with you but, eventually, she would croak again, return back to the Titans where she belongs. Eventually, I won't be able to summon her back, no one but one of the Titans would. I'm sorry."

    Shirlock croaked later but he left a non-magical book for the next findamancer to read and summon him back, at least temporarily. It never happened, for he was croaked too long before the next findamancer popped, which was young Marple, bright-eyed little miss which he grew to like almost immediately. She was lost in the ruins while she searched them, after Undertakers suddenly attacked, croaked by a piker.
    More came after her, first Hercules, then Magnum and others, four of them in total, each with their own quirks and insights. Shirlock's book grew larger but findamancer after findamancer read it and shook their heads on the foolishness of their predecessors, putting their own insights in to prove them wrong, only for their successor to laugh at them in turn, until finally, Nyx had popped and read it from the beginning to the end and actually gained insights from it. Lanterns were her idea, battle chants were Marple's.
    This scroll he was holding was the result of the first Lumenix trilink and forgotten, waiting for the proper time, when all preparations were in order. The time was now. And what it was going to do... mass findamancy, the first of its kind. He had spent the last 21 turns fixing the dolls with Cable Patch, making certain that all the details on them were correct.
    ---
    "Shirlock was wrong, Surgeon, you know. You don't call up the soul by reminding it of its moment of croaking, no sir. You call it by reminding it of its moment of glory, when the spirits flew highest. Battle chants help there, by providing a safe point, a point of reference for all units chanting. Even if the individual unit gets stronger point of glory, by croaking stronger opponent or doing a very valiant deed, you still have the second or third place shared by all units in the stack." Marple told him, as she searched for gems while he gave her some luck.

    "In the Halls of the Titans, every moment is glorious, you know. So the only proper way, really, to summon a soul from the halls, so it will last a bit longer on Erf, is to remind it of an equally glorious moment on Erf. In the halls of light, show the soul equally great light and open a way for it. And if the soul was in Heck, I hear you ask? Then light that is their glorious moment on Erf will shine even brighter to them. It might be harder to open a way, but the soul would be even more eager to come through. Bingo!" she said, casting, and suddenly a huge red gem was summoned into her hand. She smiled.
    ---
    "Lanterns? What's wrong with my lanterns, Chief?" Nyx had asked him, politely.
    "There's nothing wrong with them, really." Surgeon replied, uncomfortable. "Just, so many of them? Twenty in the capital? What, thirty in hexes around Aspirin? Do you really think that is a good use for your juice?"

    "Actually, I do." Nyx said, with a cute pouting smile. "And it's thirty in the capital. There's a lantern in every of 50 hexes around Aspirin, too, showing the way home for Healaid units and only for them. Red light for going away from the capital, green for going near it, yellow for facing the road to it from the side. It got you out of that blizzard, didn't it? And out of that sudden storm? And helped you get home after you evaded the enemy army?"
    "True, but still... " Surgeon said. "Couldn't you be using your juice to look for gems instead?"
    "No gems anywhere near the capital, Chief, and you know that. My predecessors dug them out dry, findamancers and dirtamancers alike." Nyx replied. She put the finger on her lips in a conspiratorial gesture.
    "I'll tell you a secret if you promise not to tell anyone." she said quietly, suddenly nervous.
    "I promise." Surgeon said, thinking that he would regret it later. As it turned out, he was wrong then.
    "I'm training the units, subconsciously. Making them connect lanterns as home in their minds." Nyx said, in a low whisper.
    "Trust the lanterns, I tell them. They will show you the way home, no matter how bad things are. I doubt Titans have lanterns like those in their halls and there certainly aren't any in Heck... So, if I need to summon someone from those halls, like maybe... Luke, because he is always in the field..." she looked afraid to even talk about it, trying to trick her own heart, trying hard not to jinx it, not to make it true by speaking...

    "Your secret is safe with me." Surgeon replied then, feeling sudden melancholy on her words... and sadness, deep sadness that was somehow sweet and bitter at the same time... Oh, to be young and in love, before it all turns to dust... he thought then but he kept her secret.
    ***

    Surgeon opened the lantern and put it on the table. It was glowing yellow on all sides for some reason, even though they were in the new capital. Then he started to read the scroll aloud, to cast it properly, while his king waited for his cue to start rocking out.

    "This little light of mine,
    I'm gonna let it shine.
    This little light of mine,
    I'm gonna let it shine.
    This little light of mine,
    I'm gonna let it shine,
    let it shine,
    let it shine."

    The yellow light of the lantern grew brighter, shining on the faces of dolls. King's face was serious and he was tapping his foot in beat.

    "This little light of mine,
    I'm gonna let it shine.
    This little light of mine,
    I'm gonna let it shine.
    This little light of mine,
    I'm gonna let it shine,
    let it shine,
    let it shine!"

    Surgeon was picking up tempo, his song gaining a strange magical cadence as the spell was charging from the rhyme.

    "This little light of mine,
    I'm gonna let it shine,
    This little light of mine,
    I'm gonna let it shine,
    This little light of mine,
    I'm gonna let it shine,
    let it shine,
    let it light our darkest hour!"

    The king rocked out then, a strange long note, Ta-nana-naaaaa, the light of the lantern turning green as it drank shockamancy from the instrument...

    "Nothing on Erf lasts forever, (nah-na-na!)
    but none of what you did were in vain, (nah-na-na!)
    deep in our hearts you'll live again, (nah-na-na!)
    please come home from the halls of the brave,
    yeei-yaaaay! (nah-na-na!)"

    "Come home, come home, come home!" sang the king in pleasant baritone, his fingers giving a wonderful melody on the instrument, giving the natural thinkamancy command at the same time to all the units in range... and beyond, maybe...

    "Scooby dooby do!
    Nothing on Erf lasts forever, (nah-na-na!)
    but none of what you did were in vain, (nah-na-na!)
    deep in our hearts you live again, (nah-na-na!)
    please come home from the halls of the brave,
    yeah-i-yaaaay, (nah-na-na!)
    Lessie!"

    "Come home, come home, come home!" sang the King again and Surgeon Amputate knew that every unit in Iron Hill felt his call, even as his own eyes filled with tears. Fiona, please come back! Yet he read on...

    "Sassy, chance and shadow!
    Nothing on Erf lasts forever, (nah-na-na!)
    but none of what you did were in vain, (nah-na-na!)
    deep in our hearts you live again, (nah-na-na!)
    please come home from the halls of the brave,
    yeah-i-yaaaay, (nah-na-na!)
    Snoopy!"

    "Come back, come home, come back to ME!" the King sang, his voice a deep roar, a roar of the feral. Surgeon could not even see him, he was covered in shockamancy that his rocking out was producing. The lantern was drinking it hungrily, every single stripe... Time for the next verse...

    "Lantern, gleam and glow,
    Let your power shine,
    Make the clock reverse,
    Bring back what once was mine.

    Call who has been croaked,
    Change the Fates' design,
    Save who has been lost,
    Bring back what once was mine,
    What once was mine..."

    Surgeon sang and then his voice deserted him, choked by emotions he was bottling up for so long, for so many thousands and thousands of turns... and he could only cry, for Fiona, for so many units that croaked under his watch...

    "Out of the darkness you stumble into the light,
    Fighting for the things you know are right!" the King sang, his fingers a blur.
    "Now, come home, come home to me!" he ordered, his voice rough and sore, for the last time and dropped to his knees, his final rock-out stance.

    "Nyx, light our darkest hour. Lanre!" Surgeon Amputate sang, finishing the spell with a whisper. Three thousand and thirty three faces moved in front of his eyes in a second. The lantern sucked the last of the shockamancy lights. Then turned off.

    Surgeon's heart sank. The silence and darkness were absolute. He had failed!
    ***

    Lord Novak Bandage never truly believed in the Titans. He was an atitanist, of a sort. As such, he didn't believe in the Halls of the Titans. He didn't believe in Heck or judgment. Once you croaked, you were croaked, that was it. What you did in life mattered more for him for that reason, for those turns you got to live were the only chance you got. So he did his best, always. What he had waiting on the other side, after death, was not anywhere near what he believed. Endless void, not a single speck of light. No cold or heat. No movement, no smell, no sounds. It was a nightmare. Yet, in his left hand he held his bow, on his back were his arrows. In his right hand, there was something, something which moved slightly.
    He remembered his croaking, the lights of Aspirin shining brightly. Novak remembered Sue, Lady Maleficient, how they croaked together... He squeezed his right hand stronger, deciding never to let Sue go. It seemed like she was slipping, so he dropped his bow and took her hand with the left as well... something moved up his left hand and suddenly... He could feel some weight where there was none. Lord Novak tried to speak but there was no sound.

    What there was instead was a hug. Lord Novak knew, even though he couldn't see her or feel her except by the weight on his shoulders and chest, the way his right hand moved as Sue climbed from bellow him... In his heart, he knew that it was Sue. He wasn't alone, that was good, but they weren't safe either, which was bad. Novak shivered a bit and Sue moved on him, calming him with her hug. This darkness... Sue moved rhythmically and at first Lord Bandage thought that she was crying but there was a cadence to it and eventually he recognized it as a song...

    "We follow the will of the king,
    through the darkness and into the storm,
    and we follow the will of the king,
    through the darkness and into the storm,
    OUR KIIIIIIIIIIIING!"

    It was fitting and he joined her... suddenly happy, tears of joy on his face. Then, in his mind, he heard the voice, voice of Prince Galen. "Trust the lanterns. They'll show you the way home, no matter how far away you are." it said in his mind. Lord Bandage kept singing, again and again.

    "Green light show me,
    where I'm going to goooo..." sang Sue for maybe the hundredth time and suddenly there was light... Green light in the darkness, light of home. And there was the voice, the voice of command and thinkamancy...

    "Come home to me!" said his king and then the light blossomed and Lord Bandage could see the units of his stack all around him, pikers and archers, and Sue in his arms, crying from happiness like him, feel them all stacked with him, singing the same song... And he suddenly knew that the light of the lantern was a way, green grass on which they could walk and he said to his Stack:
    "Our king calls to us. Let's go home." and the others nodded and sang in harmony as they marched.

    "We follow the will of the king..."
    ***

    There was a sound in the darkness of the cavern, sharp as tiny bells they sometimes put on their mounts. It went *glingle* as if from far away. Then it was repeated, then it got strange cadence, like the unit singing "Snowing all the way", a useless song for travel one of their Foolamancers created for when it was snowing and the army was travelling. Then there was a light, a single green sparkle that got out of the lantern, followed by more, as if dancing to the music of the tiny bells.

    *glingle glingle* *glingle glingle* *glingle glingle*

    There was exactly 64 of them and they flew to the dolls in the darkness. Where each sparkle landed, a doll got up and stood at attention, then stacked with the king. Then the sound stopped and the cavern echoed with words of King Galen.

    "-nix, light our darkest hour!" King Galen's voice said from the lantern, and the lantern opened, projecting a square of green light on the wall of the dungeon. The voices came from behind the square and the sound of footsteps with them, with the titanic sound of rock soon drowning the footsteps.
    "... through the darkness and into the storm.
    OUR KIIIING!" they sang as one and green sparks flooded the room, hundreds of them, too many to count. What appeared to be thousands of dolls suddenly stood at attention and saluted. One of them approached still kneeling king Archie and helped him get up. Surgeon recognized it as Lord Bandage.
    "You called, my king?" the doll said, grinning. It had Lord Bandage's bonus and stats.
    King Archie gave a curt nod.

    ***
    Serena sang her song for maybe a thousandth time, maybe a hundredth, who could say, for it was a good song, the one she could never get bored singing.
    "Hearts of fire,
    hearts of fire,
    burning, burning with desire..." she sang, when her arrow burst into sudden green flame. Her arrow and maybe a hundred more... By their lights, she could now see that she was not alone, that Vale stood in front of her with his shield raised, that others in her stack sang as well, tears in their eyes, for she could hear them. A giant Furian appeared in front of them and Serena's instinct took over...

    "Burning for the CROAK!" she sang and served and the others served with her, with pikers rising their shields later. The Furian caught fire and, somehow, without changing in any way, turned into the lantern of home, the soft green glow a welcome sight.

    "Come home to me!" her king said and she saw that the green light was grassy path and then they walked as one, an iron heart and a feathery one, mace and arrow, they obeyed their king.

    ***
    In the cavern, the light of the lantern flickered once, twice, three times then the square widened, becoming a circle. A song came and marching boots, "Hearts! Hearts! Hearts!" and there were lights, less than before but not less impressive. Around a thousand units rose and saluted and stacked with the king.

    The lantern flickered again and this time it shrank, into a triangle.

    "With glowing hearts,
    we see the rise
    of true Side strong and free.
    Oh Healaid,
    we stand on guard for thee!"

    came a song from the triangle and the units in the cavern joined the chorus, even as 40 points of light got out and the last 39 pikers and one archer got up and saluted. Then they finished the Battle Song of the Kingdom and waited for orders. The light of the lantern died and when it did the air of the dungeon filled with glow balls.

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    Last edited by youngstormlord on Sun Mar 01, 2015 10:40 am, edited 2 times in total.
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    (Present turn)

    Prince Lotalance came to visit Lord Morris at his new capital of Aspirin. What was once powerful level 5 capital was now hastily reclaimed level 2 town. That didn't improve prince's temper one bit, since he could now see how porous the city had become. And, more importantly, didn't pop as many healing units as normal.
    Lord's lackeys lead him and his Royal escort into the tower where the throne room once was. The place got a thorough redecoration and, while it was still a throne room, a number of things were missing. Instead of working desk, there was a throne. Instead of huge table and chairs, there was a red carpet and some statues. Compared to somewhat spartan but extremely useful style of the room on his previous visit, it now looked fancy but not useful at all.

    "Welcome, Prince Lotalance." said Lord Morris, without getting up from the throne. "We're honored and glad to have you here, your highness."

    "Honored you should be." Prince replied, moving closer to the seated lord. "As for glad... What to heck were you thinking?! Attacking Aspirin like that?! Have you lost your small mind?!"
    "I beg your pardon?" Lord Morris replied, going pale then red. "What do you mean? It was a glorious victory!"

    "Really? Have you counted your losses lately? And you didn't even take the capital but had to rebuild it." Lotalance said then stood over the lord.
    "Galen razed it to promote his troops. He spent his whole treasury on one last defiant gesture! Not that it helped him. We captured his trilink just the same." Lord Morris said, smiling.

    "You weren't thinking anything, I can see that now. By the nature of your agreement, you need to get permission from Queen herself to try and take another capital site. Especially THIS capital site. A permission you didn't ask and the one you wouldn't have gotten even if you did! And do you know why that is so?"

    "Because you won't let us grow!" said lord of Undertakers angrily.

    "No. Try again." prince said then got almost nose to nose with Lord Morris. His next words were scarier than those he shouted before, quiet and poisonous. "Because, and here's a surprise for you, Queen Gwinevere was negotiating with Healaid about joining our empire, with princess Winny as her proxy. And, do you know who was on the other side of the table, Healaid side?"

    "Erm..." Lord Morris tried. Prince Lotalance interrupted him.

    "Prince Robert. With over half of Healaid's army, Aemon Daemon's, hellonurses, gollems and heavies, the whole lot, since he was going back home from mercenary campaign he was on, campaign our own queen has quite a vested interest in. Queen Gwinevere had offered him safe passage and hospitality since we could use their healers." Prince Lotalance added, stepping slightly away. "They were in the city of Iron Hill, a capital site, negotiating terms of alliance when... guess what? Queen's own vassal attacks Healaid's capital, causing a grievous wound to her honor and given word. And refuses to stand down. Do you know what happened next, dumbbell?"

    "There was next?!" lord Morris said, alarmed.

    "Oh, there was quite a lot of next. In fact, a whole bunch of next." said prince Lotalance, moving a bit farther away from the lord and giving him quite a malicious look. "Since they had a permission to enter our city, they were all over it when you broke Queen Gwinevere's word. With you refusing to stop your attack and Healaid's capital about to fall, Prince Robert took the only course he could... he went hostile and captured Iron Hill. And second heir, princess Winny as well. There weren't many casualties, thank Titans, since princess Winny surrendered fast, apologizing to prince Robert all the way, but her majesty just lost one of her capital cities because of your stupidity. And there's more..."

    "More?!" Lord Morris choked out.

    "Of course." prince Lotalance replied. "Iron Hill is at great strategic position. Taking it back by force is almost impossible without heavy losses. And Healaid's new king knows that. That's why he sued for peace. He wants Aspirin back. A couple hundred thousand shmuckers. Units of composition and number of what you croaked during your attack. His casters. You STILL have those casters right?"

    "Of course. They are on the way to the Mortuary with a heavy escort as we speak." Lord Morris replied then blinked three times in rapid succession. "Erm..." he started.

    "Yes?" prince Lotalance asked, curious.

    "We just... sort of... lost those casters." Morris said, embarrassed. "They escaped. Their escort is croaked or captured. I am sorry..."

    "No, I am sorry. I am also up to my elbows in your incompetence." prince Lotalance replied, furious.
    "Casters escaping changes everything. While empire can't and won't take this city from you, since it is yours by the right of conquest, we can still give you advice. Take Healaid's darn offer and hope they forgive you, since empire won't help you defend this capital. In this quarrel Undertakers stand on their own, capish? And one more mess and Queen Gwinevere will declare you unruly vassal and take your little old now mini-empire part by part. Got that?"

    "Yes sir." lord Morris said, pale and shaking.

    "Good. I'm leaving now. My job was to give you this message. One more mess and my job will be to get your tush conquered. Good bye." said Prince Lotalance and left.
    ***
    Over the next three turns, things have gone from bad to worse for Lord Morris.The cause of that was sudden capture of prince Lotalance while he was on the way home, just five hexes from Aspirin. It was Healaid's stack, too far away from Iron Hill that was impossible for them to be there so soon. Apparently, the force that captured him was slightly smaller, numerically speaking, and much weaker. But, they were extremely lucky and, despite strong resistance, prince Lotalance and his guard ended bound in chains and whisked away, so no Undertaker patrol could find them that turn and the next (one of them going missing while searching, even!).

    It all translated to extreme shouting from Queen Gwinevere herself via thinkagram, a rare occurrence, since she usually used her heirs for that. Prince Lotalance was her first popped heir, princess Winny her third. It only left Prince Whymo'n, second popped heir but the last in line for throne, who was safe at the capital, enjoying Lady Lillium's and other vassal florist's plant gifts and flower power contained in them and was not a shouting person at all because of those. Queen Gwinevere was furious and gave Lord Morris ten turns to redeem himself before crushing Undertakers like bugs that they were.

    Then, a new thinkagram came, with news of what happened and new batch of orders. Apparently, a smallish Healaid stack of archers and units whose loyalty was questionable was dispatched towards Aspirin even before the negotiations with princess Winny had even started. Healaid's chief caster, Surgeon Amputate, was the one leading it. They were going home with their loot and freshly turned prisoners. Prince Robert's actions became clearer now: he took Iron Hill because his only remaining caster would have perished in the field when Aspirin fell. And Surgeon Amputate is Luckamancer. That explained lucky capture of Lotalance despite numerical inferiority. Oddly enough, that also meant Surgeon was too far to have saved trilink and that they were snatched by some other side.

    What was not explained was why, to heck, did Surgeon let Prince Lotalance go to the nearest imperial city, Alcohol, under heavy guard and protection, where he would be released back to his side as King Robert's gesture of good will. Very heavy guard, half of Surgeon's stack, in fact, which made Queen's new orders quite strange. Lord Morris was to negotiate with Surgeon Amputate and sign a deal. The caster would be there the very next turn.
    After a lot of thinking, Lord Morris realized that this made quite a good opportunity for his luck to change. McManders' power was not as strong or great as it looked like on the first glance, but quite brittle. If he croaked prince Lotalance and his escort (under the pretense that they never came to Alcohol in the first place and King Robert lied) and captured Surgeon Amputate (not necessarily in that order), all of which was going to be easy, since the city of Alcohol was under the control of Undertakers now and Surgeon's guard was half traitors and half not there at all, odds were good that King Robert would execute Princess Winny in retaliation. That would lead to the gathering of Imperial Legions, followed by attack on Iron Hill, which would in turn allow the Undertakers to gather their former allies, now Queen Gwinevere's vassals and stab her in the back right when she is the most vulnerable. Her weak heir would have no other option but to sign peace treaty, if they even let him live through all that. After preparing everything for his coup de grace, Lord Morris signaled the end of turn and went to sleep.

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    Last edited by youngstormlord on Tue Oct 25, 2016 9:44 am, edited 2 times in total.
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     Post Posted: Wed Apr 08, 2015 1:47 pm 
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    Not long after the start of Healaid's turn, Surgeon Amputate and his escort approached the city of Aspirin. It was only three turns ago when he introduced Merry, Luke and Nyx to Queen Gwinevere's turnamancer, foolamancer and dittomancer. Only their thinkamancer stayed at Imperium's capital, along with good young Cable Patch, who the others of his side called "Old Patch" since he was the oldest unit in his kingdom. When it came to Healaid, Good Queen Gwinevere pulled no stops to help them reclaim Aspirin, which meant that all three casters were deployed together for the first time. Those three enabled Healaid's army to have double the move, to move unseen and to move twice as fast, thanks to Imperium of Mander's relay system of turnamancy vehicles (inspired in part by dwagon system of Lord Hamster).
    Surgeon Amputate thought that his job was done after that and had a quiet talk with King Archibald that turn. He told him everything, his predictamancy, how he just reached level 13 and that, if he was to lead one more encounter, he would reach level 14 and that it would come true... In the end, Surgeon asked the King to disband him or to let him croak himself.
    "That would be such a waste of your talents, Surgeon." King Archi said to him, untouched by his Chief Caster's plight. "I am well aware of the prophecy, as my father was before me. If you really want to croak, I'll let you go in the blaze of glory. You shall be my envoy to Undertakers."
    "I'll... what?" Surgeon asked. The talk didn't go the way he thought it would.

    "I'm sending you to negotiate in my name. You will lead a stack of our new Undertakers-turned-friends. You know the agreed story." King Archie said. "If they capture you, I order you to turn to Undertakers when you think is convenient. Even turned, you shall keep my secrets. You move in an hour. You have your orders."

    "But highness..." Surgeon started, shocked, despite his age. As it turned out, it was going to be the first of many in the next 10 turns.
    "You have your orders." King dismissed him, with a wave of his kingly hand.

    So, here he was, waiting 20 meters in front of level 2's Aspirin's gate with his guard of 20 freshly turned units and looking at 20 now red lanterns that Nyx had made and Undertakers couldn't even see. Odd luckamancy, that. He didn't wait long for the gate to open and welcome party to ride out. On the first mount rode robed female figure, very elegant in the saddle, followed by Reapers, stabbers and pikers, forty in all. The robe was dark green, with a hint of yellow, a nicely made raiment, as if professionally sewn from green and yellow leaves. She stopped then lowered her hood. That was the second shock.

    "Welcome." the florist said simply.

    "Fiona?! You..." Surgeon stuttered, as he laid his eyes on her face. "You... you came back?!"

    "Yes, I came back from doing farm upgrades but... Fiona?!" Fiona said, then gave a gentle laugh of rebuke. Her eyes were kind and mildly amused, like before, when one of his jokes tanked. "My name is not Fiona. I'm Lady Lilium Grief, Undertaker florist. My friends call me Lilly..."

    "...but I may call you Lady Lilium or Lady Grief." Surgeon finished her sentence with her, like he finished Fiona's. Even the tone of voice was almost the same. She raised her left eyebrow in surprise, a very Fiona move.
    "My apologies, Lady Lilium. I didn't mean to be impolite. You just strongly remind me of someone I used to know." And love. Surgeon Amputate continued. "I'm Surgeon Amputate, Chief Caster of Healaid. Please accept my deepest apologies for my confusion. I'm sorry for this breach of protocol. In my defense, the last few turns were a very trying ones for me, but I'm well aware that is not a valid excuse in any way."

    "It could be." Lady Lilium replied. "In your defense, I'm one of the reasons they were so trying, I and my sproutella. I accept your apology. No harm done." she added graciously, still surprised. "Shall we enter? Lord Morris is waiting for us in the throne room." she said, then smiled, somewhat shyly and... guiltily?

    "Please, lead the way." Surgeon replied and they rode together.

    The trip was at the same time longer and shorter than it should have been. They talked about a lot of things, mostly flowers.

    "I provided sproutella for the attack. I apologize, I didn't know it had battle application. I should have read Chief Petal's notes to the end." Lady Grief said to him after they rode a while in silence, sad and ashamed, but lovely despite all that. Surgeon could now see that she had slightly paler hair than Fiona; while Fiona's was dark copper, Lady Grief's was smoky red of wood fire. Their eye color was the same, though, green as summer grass. Units of their respective stacks mixed up almost immediately, despite the possible danger and were chatting freely. They knew each other from before, since those in Surgeon's stack were all newly turned Undertakers.

    "Sproutella. A mixture of acorn paste, water and certain herbs, the chief of which is duckweed. Enables sprouting and flowering of plants on any surface it is applied to but acts fastest on the bones and ground. Once the sprouting starts, plants spread on muscles and skin not covered by sproutella." quoted Surgeon, from memory. It was one of Fiona's lectures and he did titanic effort to commit every word she said to him ever, etch them into his mind, going so far to using every of Healaid's newly popped Thinkamancers to make those memories fresh again. Pain after her death made him a mite crazy for a while and those memories were now more important to him than his Duty, more important than the world itself.
    "Because plants are themselves alive, healing is much less effective and affected parts mostly can't be healed at all but quick cast of heal can prevent plants from spreading to unsproutellaed parts. There are two ways to counter it, none of them good. One is to sever affected parts and restore the rest with healomancy. Doesn't work on head and torso. The other is to use tobacide, liquid left after leaving tobacco to stay in water for 10 turns on the sun. Poisonous when ingested, safe on skin, kills all plants in radius upon contact, including those sprouted by sproutella." he continued as Lady Grief looked at him in shock.

    "Tobacide? I never heard of it before." Lady Grief replied, stunned.

    "Forgive me for asking, but what level are you currently, Lady Lilium?" Surgeon asked, very gently, very carefully, despite knowing that she was level 4. He didn't want to offend her, but what he implied was very offensive indeed. You don't know everything about your discipline and I, a Luckamancer, know more. Offensive was almost the name of that game and Surgeon tried his darnedest to evade it.

    "I'm level 4, novice." Lady Lilium said cautiously, almost offended but he had played his cards well enough.

    "Tobacide is adept knowledge. Fiona, Healaid's florist I used to know, came with an idea for it when she was level 6 and adept for a while. I learned it from her, although just in theory. That was thousands of turns ago, though. Healaid never popped another florist after her croaking." Surgeon answered and couldn't keep the melancholy from his voice despite his best effort.

    "Fiona... you took me for her? Do we really look that similar?" Lady Grief asked, somewhat alarmed.

    "I'm saddened to say, but yes." Surgeon replied honestly. He knew that he was creeping her out with those words, but he decided not to lie to her, no matter what.

    "How... How did she croak? What was she like? What could she do?" Lady Grief asked him and Surgeon could read by her body language that she was deeply upset by his words.

    "She croaked as level 8, master florist. She was... my love. She could do... amazing things." Surgeon replied quietly, pointing to potted flowers all around courtyard and buildings with a wide sweep of his arm, plants that were not there while Aspirin was Healaid's capital, not for innumerable turns anyway. Green lanterns that Nyx made were shining red, every one of them, red as Fiona and Lady Lilium's hair, red as the light of the dying sun, unseen by Undertakers, giving the flowers weird hues in spite of the morning sun.
    Here I am, will you send me a light,
    here I am,will you send me a guide,
    here I am, will you send me an archon,
    here I am, in the land of the morning sun...

    a thought came, unbidden, Shirlock's old rhyme, a start of the spell he cast when once they were lost in the field after a battle. It was embarrassing, old pieces of rhymomancy popping into his head from time to time, unbidden; happening more often as the turns of his life accumulated into their thousands and thousands. Surgeon suddenly felt like a stranger in a familiar land. There was Fiona by his side and yet she was not Fiona, he was in Aspirin, yet it was not Healaid's Aspirin, but the Aspirin similar to the one when Fiona was still alive. It was how things were in his long forgotten nightmares, those he had for turns and turns after Fiona croaked and his heart bled for her, cried for her in the darkness without ever getting an answer in return.

    "I'm sorry, Lady Grief, but this talk is deeply unsettling for me. I'm feeling like all of this is a bad dream or some horrible Foolamancy trick." Surgeon said, after a long silence.

    "I... I feel the same way." Lady Grief replied, miserable, after thinking about his words for long seconds. She pointed at the flowers. "I found most of these seeds in the ground in one building near the tower. They were just laying there, dormant, untouched. They are thousands of turns old and I made them sprout and flower. Some of these plants... I don't even know their names! Before, they were amusing mystery. They're... unsettling... to me now."

    "Which ones?" Surgeon replied, his misery at least as deep as Lady's, for it was him who had made her, the woman who looked so much like his lost love, sad. Around them, units of their respective stacks still talked somewhat happily. They didn't notice the dark cloud that fell on casters' conversation.

    "Well, this one, for a start. That one is the worst of them all. I can't get the head or tails of it and the other florists of the Imperium won't help me! I didn't have the chance to ask in the Magic Kingdom yet..." Lady Grief said, pointing at a potted plant, a quite annoyed move. This one looked unkempt and unhealthy, unlike most of the others.

    "Oh. That's... banepitter." Surgeon replied cautiously. "It doesn't grow well in the pot. Not well at all. Sorry." he added apologetically.

    "Well, where DOES it GROW? What does it DO?" Lady Lilium replied, turning her misery and annoyance at her lack of knowledge into anger, like Fiona started to do closer to becoming an adept.

    "Well... it croakes infantry. Then, if the corpse is not moved, it uses them as fuel for growth next turn. Mulch with some meat rations would do to keep it healthy. And... sun is it's worst enemy, that's why it didn't attack anyone around it yet. It grows best in dirtamancy trap pits. Takes very little water, but quite a bit of meat rations per turn, depending on the size. Master florists can use it for certain potions, but those are quite complicated and it would take me almost a full turn to explain those to you, even if I remembered their formulas right." Surgeon answered, completely untouched by her anger. He had seen it before and it was not dangerous, nor was her laughter; the true danger started when she got quiet... calm, composed, calculating and deadly. Surgeon learned the hard way to trust his instincts, Lady Lilium has Fiona's Signamancy... "Watch your step, thread carefully, do not turn for infatuation, for love, you're on thin ice here... Do not forget your Duty." His instincts were telling him all that and more.

    "Ooooh... snap!" Fi- Lady Lilium slapped herself across the forehead. "I overly watered it, constantly. I gave it wrong food. Too much light... No wonder it's miserable!" she said, excited by learning something new, then ordered her stack to stop, dismounted, took the plant and carried it to the nearest pit trap, the one Surgeon didn't even know was there until she had shown it to him.

    The conversation repeated five times with different plants, with Lady Grief picking the yellowest, most unhealthy looking ones first. Turned out, one of them (Sulking Sergeant) was supposed to look yellow and unhealthy when it was healthy and thriving. It was used for sleeping droughts. Lady Lilium learned a lot (but not everything or enough) during their short conversation and her mood turned from miserable to frantic to joyous to almost hyper as those plants got better care under her green thumb.

    Then they reached the tower, where the throne room was, a place of meeting and their conversation came to an end...
    "... with rose water? Yes, of course I heard about that sweet, I made some myself a few times. You just have to try them! In fact, I'll make a fresh batch this turn, just for you." Lady Lilium said excitedly, smiling at him. For Surgeon that smile was a reminder of how young she was. It must have shown in his eyes or something, because she quickly got serious. "I mean... You can try them after the agreement, when we're at peace again, and allies, or whatever the deal is. I mean, it's not like..."

    "... you're trying to poison me? Yes, I know." Surgeon said suavely and smiled a toothy smile, then winked at her. She was shocked for a second then laughed freely, a most pleasant sound for his ears.

    "So, here we are." Lady Lilium said when she stopped laughing and they stood by the tower.

    "Yup. Time to get busy, I guess." Surgeon replied then gave orders to his stack. "Ok guys, stop fraternizing and catching on current events with the enemy, we have some work to do. Shovel, take Morguen, Prossector and 7 more, you're on guard duty. No one should go near our mounts and saddle-sacks, understood? The rest of you, you're lucky, because you'll act as my personal guard and are going with me right into the lion's den. Let's go." he added to Lady Grief. She dismissed her whole escort and they went for the stables with their own mounts, so in less than a minute it was only Healaid's stack in front of the tower. After a short time needed to get his escort in order, Lady Lilium took him to the throne room. The tower crew was armed to the teeth, Surgeon Amputate couldn't help but notice, and there was so many of them. Lady Lilium opened sturdy oaken doors which were not there before Aspirin's fall and entered the room.

    "My lord, I present to you Healaid's Chief Luckamancer, Surgeon Amputate and his escort." Lady Grief said when he followed her in. "Surgeon Amputate, I present to you Pie Morris, Overlord and absolute ruler of Undertakers, star of smoke and Lord of Reapers, mightiest of the Undisciples, sword of Alcohol and strongest defender of Imperium's Eastern Provinces." Lady continued, with her voice crisp and clean during the whole tirade. Her eyes, though... they were bored after Overlord, Surgeon was certain of that. But, it was her duty to tell him all of Lord Pie's titles, so she did just that and did it well.

    "Well met." Surgeon said after she finished.

    "Yeah, that and you too, yadda yadda etc." Lord Morris said, then waved his hand, a bored gesture. "What do you want, Surgeon?"

    It was downright rude and in suddenly silent room Lady Grief raised her left eyebrow for a second then frowned on her lord on such gross lack of manners, but Surgeon kept his calm.

    "I was sent to negotiate with you, Lord Morris." Surgeon replied, his voice iron and stone. "I will tell you my King's terms and hear your reply. Then I will reply to you in turn, then you will reply to me and so on and so forth, for that is how this game called 'Negotiations' is played. After the game is over, I will leave. It is your lordship's choice whether I leave in peace or not. Are you prepared to hear those terms or shall I leave, thus ending the game before it even started?"

    "You may tell me your terms." Lord Morris replied, suddenly fidgety.

    "Very well. You shall give back to me prisoners Nyx, the findamancer, Lucas, the healomancer and Merry, the thinkamancer, previously casters of Healaid, as well as all the other units you might have captured during your attack on Aspirin. You shall return capital city of Aspirin to Healaid, leave the city immediately after and do not attack it or Healaid's other units for 20 turns. You shall pay 250 thousand shmuckers to Healaid for the breach of peace you have caused. In exchange, I will give to your side my current escort, all turned units which were previously Undertakers. Healaid shall also join Imperium of Mander, per the terms previously negotiated with princess Winny, and set her free. We shall sign a contract per the above terms. What say you?" Surgeon said, his right hand on his staff.

    "Those are quite... generous terms." Lord Morris said, his tone mocking. "I will need some time to consult with my Chief Warlord and my commanders. Meanwhile, make yourself comfortable in the barracks nearby, we have prepared them for you. I promise you full safety and guest rights during our negotiations. Lady Grief, stay in the tower with me, we need to discuss these matters. Stabber Folly will show you the way to your place." Lord Morris nodded to stabber by his side. "Show them where they'll stay." Surgeon felt dismissed, as lords and ladies, the huge part of Undertakers' leadership gathered around their Overlord.

    "We'll speak again." Lady Grief said to him, before she'll let him go. She looked flustered, bemused even, but mostly embarrassed. "I apologize for my Lord's rudeness. I don't know what got into him, he is not usually acting that way."

    "It's alright. We will talk again, my lady. Maybe eat that fresh batch of sweets together while we do." Surgeon Amputate replied to her kindly, iron and stone leaving his voice, before turning to follow stabber Folly.

    "I can't wait. I hope it will be soon." Lady said, then smiled, her sour mood sweetened considerably. Another stabber moved to her and indicated Lord Morris. "Gotta go. Time to get busy, I guess." Lady Grief said, quoting him, then she went to join the warlords.

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    When they were outside the tower, Surgeon Amputate rejoined half of his stack that he left to guard their mounts then followed stabber Folly into the nearby barracks slash stables. They were nothing to look at, a huge square building with double doors on opposite sides and thin glass windows on the other sides. “There you go.” stabber said then got out in a hurry, without goodbye.

    It was not five minutes later when four guards he put on both doors disappeared from Surgeon’s stack, either croaked or captured, and Undertaker forces rushed into the barracks with swords and scythes drawn. They engaged his stack, who stood ready in a circle around their mounts in the middle of the room, 2 attackers on each defender, then 3, then 4 as enemy reinforcements entered the fray via broken windows and now unhinged doors. Surgeon aimed his staff and immediately used a quarter of his Luckamancy reserve and maybe whole tenth of his juice in a desperate spell. Enemy units croaked and got incapacitated. Soldiers in his stack got wounded, but they held. Half of the enemy forces retreated out of the building, dragging their own wounded while the other half held pressure on the defenders.
    “Poisoned steel, watch out.” he said a command in his mind in the heat of battle, as Prossector fell from the wounded leg which went stiff under him. “A cut to the arm or leg makes them useless. Head or torso, you’ll croak. A cut on your stomach and you’ll croak slowly.” he relayed orders fast, via natural thinkamancy of the commander.
    The fighting went on for some time, a long time, 100 turns maybe, or maybe just around 300 seconds, with Undertakers disengaging and taking their wounded out of the fight while leaving the croaked where they fell. Surgeon realized that he was going to croak in these barracks but couldn’t do anything to prevent this fate.

    As sudden as the battle started came a lull in the fighting and he could hear some commotion and shouting outside. Then Lady Lilium strode into the barracks, furious, walking slowly, deliberately, her eyes calm green seas in the storm, taking every detail of the room.

    “TIME OUT!” she said, casting, her voice sensual whisper of silk on steel but words somehow carrying as if she shouted them. Everyone in the room but Surgeon froze in place as the spell hit them. Thanks to one of the spells Surgeon cast on himself, the spell was a flop when it hit him, a critical miss.

    “What is this nonsense?” Lady Grief demanded from the warlord behind her when another two enemy stacks moved past her and...

    “Capture them while they’re still.” ordered enemy warlord. His stack moved to engage frozen defenders.
    “No! Stop! They’re envoys! What are you doing?!” the florist shouted at them, to no avail then tried to physically stop them.
    “Croak them all and let the Titans sort their own!” suddenly ordered warlord leading the stack from the other door then fired his crossbow, his stack soon following his lead. He missed Surgeon. He missed most of Surgeon’s stack. Warlord’s stack followed his lead in that as well. They hit their own, mostly critical hits. And the crossbow bolt that the warlord had fired hit Lady Grief in the stomach. That was the third shock.
    Everything went silent. It was as if the history repeated itself, because Fiona croaked from arrow too. Surgeon saw Lady’s eyes widen in pain, her mouth frozen mid-shout. Then she fell down on her knees, cast “Chill!” spell with her last full breath before toppling to her left side, incapacitated.
    In the midst of silence, Surgeon Amputate turned to face the enemy stack with crossbows, murder in his eyes, the deep anger that overwhelmed him suddenly feeling like a lightning in his blood.

    “You cannot engage us.” The warlord said nonchalantly. “We can’t engage you either, yet. But our reinforcements are on the way and will be here before the spell ends. Both spells. And you’ll face them alone and croak…”
    “Wrong. I cannot engage you directly and deliberately.” Surgeon cut him, in quiet voice that also carried to the both ends of the barracks like Lady Grief’s before. “But I’m a Master Luckamancer and I can do worse. Face me now and die screaming!” he said, telling the wrongest, most vulgar word his mind could provide, the word he had picked somewhere, long ago; that word was "Die!" and it wasn't a noun, the singular of dice; it was a verb and it explained concisely and exactly what he was going to do to his enemies. Then he picked a hat from his pocket, resized it and pulled a guitar from it with a word, King’s guitar. He said a word of power, "Cointoss", another quarter of his Luckamancy reserve spent, another quarter of his juice. Then he started rocking out, the words of a spell charging with lightning his rocking out produced, destroying the scenery around him, ceiling and floor and some parts of walls too, but never hitting anyone, even as they tried to attack him, reloading crossbows that wouldn't fire.

    “Roll of the dice, take spin on the wheel,
    out of your hands now so how do you feel?
    But you're not gonna win
    You'd better go back again!
    Do you feel lucky or do you feel scared?
    Take what the luck brings and the daemons may care.
    But you're down on your luck,
    and it spreads like a stain.

    Don’t you think I can’t end you,
    Don’t you think I can’t end your,
    Don’t you think I can’t end your life!
    Silvester Gunderson Calimero!

    Don’t you think I can’t end you,
    Don’t you think I can’t end your,
    Don’t you think I can’t end your life!

    Willie Coyote Duff-Don-Duck!

    Don’t you think I can’t end you,
    Don’t you think I can’t end your,
    Don’t you think I can’t end your life!

    Brown Kenny McShamroooock!”

    As the first part of the spell went around the room on the waves of lighting, Surgeon slowly returned the guitar into the hat and sent it away. Then he picked a sword from croaked Undertaker stabber. It was Folly. He said another word of power, “Roulette”, another quarter of his Luckamancy spent, another quarter of his juice. Then he started spinning in place, four full turns in all. Then he let go of the sword in completely random direction, no aiming, no nothing, a direction which just happened to be directly towards enemy warlord. The warlord reacted instinctively, by moving a step backward and ducking a bit. The sword passed him harmlessly and stuck to the ceiling, still vibrating. But the spell did its work anyway, for the crossbowman standing one step behind the warlord discharged his weapon, right into his head, a crit. The dying warlord in turn discharged his own crossbow into the warlord on the opposite side of the room, croaking him and turning his stack into unled one. A stack which charged into frozen Healaid units but either slipped or stumbled on their way to the fray, maiming their own with dropped and thrown weapons, if losing your grip in the middle of falling down can count as throwing.
    While all that happened, Surgeon Amputate picked his staff and slowly walked towards incapacitated Lady Lilium, ignoring cluttering weapons and screams of wounded units, whistling Fiona’s song, the horrible anger that filled him just a moment ago almost leaving him completely. His whistling made an eerie contrast with the carnage around him.

    “Where have all the flowers gone” the song went in his head, keeping him focused as the repopped love of his life was lying on the floor, slowly croaking from poison. The sword fell from the ceiling after a small nudge by dropped scythe, starting another hand of disaster dominoes. Surgeon was whistling third chorus repeat when enemy units routed, only to run into their own reinforcements outside and accidentally maim them and get maimed by them in turn.

    “Lady Grief.” Surgeon said, kneeling, taking her in his hands, gentle and caring, helping the florist get up to look him in the eyes. Lost in revelry at the carnage just a second before, she now focused her gaze at Luckamancer.
    “I *gasp* I tried to stop them.” Lilium said weakly, feverishly, obviously in pain, tears running down her cheeks.
    “I… I tried… I didn't… I didn't know what they were planning… I didn't know! Lord Morris… I ran when I heard I… I ran! Late, was late… I ran… too late…”
    “Shhhhh, it's alright.” Surgeon said, in the midst of chaos. He held her gently, even though she was an enemy.
    “It’s not! I… I didn't want this!*gasp* I didn't know I… I pinky swear I… I swear it on the Titans, I didn't know… Please… I… I'm sorry… tried to stop the fighting… I’m sorry… I…” Lily said, with life slowly draining out of her.

    “It’s alright. It’s going to be all right.” Surgeon crooned to her, to the woman so alike to the one he loved thousands of turns ago, as he lowered her to lie on his lap and fever took her ability to speak. Then he broke his staff and took a healing scroll hidden inside, spending the last of his juice and luckamancy reserve on himself, even the last point of luck, cause his life didn't matter any more. This word of power was "Diecast".
    He mentally ordered the units of his stack to turn back to their previous side, he wasn't able to keep them for much longer anyway, they were turned with turnamancy scroll, and looked at incapacitated florist, in too much pain, her breathing becoming shallow and choked, knowing that he couldn't engage her. He lowered his head and breathed more air into her mouth without touching her lips as she fought for her life, easing her fight, doing it for what seemed an eternity. That was when Lily’s “Chill” and “Time out!” spells ended, so he engaged her by casting a scroll on her. In the middle of chaos that was exploding all around them anew, Shrek had eyes only for Lily’s face as she relaxed and sank to blissful sleep, free from pain, her head in his lap. The last time, Fiona looked that way as she croaked. This time he was able to save her and Shrek just enjoyed feeling her breathe and live. He then sang Fiona’s song to her, uncertain that Lily could even hear him. That’s how they found them, the newly returned Undertaker units, formerly of Surgeon’s stack, and the others of their side. Surgeon gave Lily to them and surrendered.

    Oddly enough, even after this major skirmish in which he led the stack into battle which made them level multiple times, Surgeon Amputate was still level 13. That was the fourth shocking surprise.

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    She came to him one summer night while he was bound in chains, six or maybe seven turns after he was captured; it was hard to keep track of time in Aspirin's dungeons. She seemed to have been crying, long and hard; if Lady Lilium was like Fiona in that regard those have been deep, choking sobs of a person that cries rarely, if ever. It seemed that she was crying for a while, a full turn at least, maybe even two.

    "Leave us." she said to her escort, her voice hard and pained, her throat somewhat sore.
    "Lady Grief, is that wise? I mean…" one stabber said, but she cut him with a slap to the cheek; it turned red as a ripe cherry. That was the fifth surprise.

    "I said, leave us." Lady Grief repeated with a hint of steel in her voice this time. Her escort left without a word, still worried about leaving their lady with a beast in chains.

    "My lady," Surgeon said, after few moments of silence, his voice calm "what brings you to my humble abode?"

    "You saved my life! Why?" the florist asked, her voice tortured, burned by inner fire of doubt. Her eyes were sparkling green, sparkling with anger. She was lovely, really; Surgeon was simply glad to see her alive.

    "Why not? It’s not like I had anything else to do." he asked her instead of answering, knowing that it would make her angrier.

    "Liar!" she said, then slapped him, hard. He didn't flinch or move to protect his face; the pain was somehow sweet, even. It felt like old times, really old times. "Why would you save me from croaking? I'm an enemy caster! I croaked your friends; unknowingly, but I croaked them nevertheless. I am your enemy and you are mine; your spell croaked my friends the same my sproutella croaked yours. Why would you save my life when so many perished from your hand? Why? Why mine? Why not those of units in your stack, but my life instead?" she asked, angry like a bobcat.

    "I told you, I didn't have anything else to do. It’s not a big deal, really." Surgeon repeated, adding some oil onto the fire. A moment later, both of his cheeks were burning.

    "Stop lying to me!" Lady Grief ordered him, shaking her reddening hand. "Tell me why! And tell me why you didn’t tell me you saved my life earlier! I gave them drugs; I helped them torture you! Why to heck you didn’t tell me earlier?"

    "What was there to tell? I told you, I had nothing better to do.” Surgeon asked her, deliberately keeping himself from smiling. You have a long way to go, little one. And to think, you call yourself a hippiemancer. Ha!

    Lady Lilium was left speechless; she looked like she was going to strike him again but she shook her head instead, trying to clear her thoughts.

    "That's a lie. You had better things to do. With the sort of power you've demonstrated you could have walked through the carnage unharmed, right through the front gate. Your side could use your services, why would you fail your Duty to your side by helping an enemy caster? Tell me the truth!" she asked him, incredulous.

    "You can't handle the truth, Lady Grief." he told her, unsmiling.

    "Try me, before I Hoboken you." she told him, her voice suddenly calm. Dangerous.

    "I could have walked away, that is true." Surgeon replied. "But I couldn't have taken you with me and you would have croaked if I didn't help you. And that's something I could never forgive myself. So here's the truth for you: I saved your life because it was the will of my heart and it was the will of my mind and it was my will to save you, completely mine, body and soul. I made a choice; I had a similar choice to make a long time ago and I chose differently then. I make it a point to never repeat the same mistakes I made before. As for why I didn't tell you about it… It would have messed with the relation between us, made it complicated." He looked at her with considerable pity.

    "I am your prisoner, my lady. We are enemies and I'm a dangerous hostile caster for you. If you knew that I saved your life, well, that would have interfered with your duty to your side. I wish the negotiations went differently, I really do. There was some chemistry between the two of us, enough to make me think that, given enough time and peace, we could share love's flame, but the battle changed that. Me saving you complicates it even further. So, why tell you? Why cause you pain? Isn't it easier to make you think I'm a fearsome enemy to you and your side and make the burden of your duty lighter? Why add drama to the equation?" he asked her.

    "If you want me as your enemy, then I’ll be your worst enemy." Lady Grief said after a long silence, her voice uncertain, somewhat poisonous, all dangerous.

    "I never said that." Surgeon said, letting some annoyance creep into his voice. "But, I don't have much choice now, do I? Because I'm a prisoner and in chains and all that. I made my choice in that battle and I have to live with it. And you have to live with it too and make some choices of your own, I think."

    "True enough." Lady Lilium said, her anger somewhat deflated. When she spoke next, her voice was wistful. "I wish we could cooperate, you know. The knowledge you shared with me helped me become an adept. I leveled up to level 5, too. I wish that we would talk freely some more, without a burden of war. But you're a prisoner and I'm your enemy and I have my orders. It cannot happen. Unless you turn to the Undertakers, Surgeon. Then we will be on the same side." she gave him a sad sharp little smile.

    "Turn? No. I have my orders." Surgeon Amputate replied, with a sharp little smile of his own. "But we could talk sometime if you wish; a question for question, an answer for an answer. Are those rules of the game acceptable for you, my lady?"

    "I'll think about it and tell you the answer in the morning, prisoner. Now have some rest, I order you. You'll need all you can get tomorrow." Lady replied and turned to leave.

    "I don't take orders from you, you know." Not yet, at least. Surgeon said, sarcastically, as she left.

    "Ha. Not an order then. A friendly advice." Lady Grief said then left him alone in the darkness.
    ***
    The next turn, after he ate his riceball rations and drank his cold spring water, Lady Grief came to visit him and start their little game of truth.
    Two stabbers entered the dungeon first, bringing the heavy oaken table with them. Then two more came, carrying chairs and, working together, they chained him from the wall to the table and made him sit on one of the chairs. Surgeon didn't resist at all, only smiled a wicked smile at them; two of them were in his stack not long ago, fighting for him. How the wheel of Luck turns, always an interesting irony to be found...
    Lady Grief entered not long after the stabbers moved to their positions by the dungeon walls to guard her, carrying a cup of coffee and some paper and quills. She sat on a chair opposite him, lowered a cup of coffee onto the table on one side, a paper stack on the other and unstoppered her ink pot, which she pulled from the pocket on her robe.
    "I accept your offer." she said, her voice oddly formal. "The first question is mine. Agreed?"

    "Agreed. Ask away." Surgeon replied, in the same formal voice.

    "Can you and will you tell me why we weren't able to torture you with hunger and thirst?" Lady Grief asked him, her catlike green eyes sparkling with curiosity.

    "Yes, I can and will tell you, if you ask me directly. I pinky swear it." Surgeon Amputate replied, with a small smile. "My turn. Can you and will you tell me truthfully and completely of events which happened during my imprisonment, of which you have knowledge or can find out?"

    "Yes, I can and will tell you, if you ask me directly. I pinky swear it, prisoner." Lady Grief replied, then written his words on the paper.
    "That's good enough for me, florist. Ask your next question." Surgeon replied.

    "How come that your food rations pop directly into your mouth, no matter where we keep you or how you are bound or gagged? How come a thin stream of water breaks from the dungeon walls and flows down your chains so you can drink it at will as if from a faucet and disappears as we enter your cell to torture you?" Lady Grief asked.

    "That one is simple. I'm very, very old. This is Aspirin, formerly capital city of Healaid. I have served as an adviser to many kings and queens of Healaid during my long life." he gave her a melancholic smile. "Some of them had... prickly nature. This is not the first time I'm spending in Healaid's dungeon; in fact, during my life I have spent some time in every cell in every dungeon in every city that has ever belonged to Healaid. And, as I've told you before, I make it a point never to repeat the same mistake. When you're a caster imprisoned by your own side, there is nothing preventing you from using your juice except your own sense of duty. That sense gets weaker as your hunger and thirst get stronger. I'm a Luckamancer; I spent some of my juice and personal luck reserve to ensure I will never go hungry or thirsty in any of those cities ever again. That's also the answer why your torturers get improbably hurt when they try to use their tools to hurt me. Do you find my answer satisfactory?"

    "Yes." Lady Lilium replied, somewhat coldly, after she finished writing down his answer. Her eyes revealed her dark fascination with him, though. "Ask your next question."

    "You gave me some drugs during your side's try at turning me. I'm quite certain you've used some turnamancy scrolls as well." Surgeon stared. "With them, you made me feel as if six or seven turns have passed since my capture. My question is this: how many turns have really passed since then? What is the number of this turn since my capture?"

    "Two turns have passed since your capture. This turn that has just started is third one. We expected you to feel like at least a dozen turns have passed since your capture; instead, you've proven yourself to be surprisingly resistant both to turnamancy scrolls and my potions. Are you satisfied with your answer?"

    "Yes, I am very pleased." Surgeon replied then gave her a friendly grin. "Ask your next question, my lady."

    "What was that... horrible spell you cast after I... got shot? When... you were the only one left standing of your stack? How does it work, how was it able to croak and maim units despite both of my hippiemancy spells?" she asked, after some time.

    "It is master level Luckamancy spell. I call it 'Disaster dominoes', my lady." Surgeon replied, with a small proud smile.
    "It makes an area, a space... 'cursed' in some way. It lowers the amount of luck in the area, takes it away from the Matter itself, lowers the... numbers, odds... strains the probability of a successful action to a breaking point... and it gives some of that luck to me, increases my personal luck reserve, but only slightly, by a point or two, enough to shield me of the effects of the spell itself. Then, the second part of the spell comes into play, an initiating event, a successful or unsuccessful action which would lead to numerous reactions... which themselves are actions, doomed to fail. And it spreads, multiplies, action by action, each action leading to multiple reactions which are themselves actions doomed to fail, spreading further, each more unlikely than the other, as the spell unwinds... Your spells forbid the enemy units to engage each other, but it doesn't work on space, because it cannot be at peace, the space itself cannot engage, cannot attack without an action from a unit... And your spells won't work on allied units and accidents, for why should it? Your spells react to violent intention to engage, to harm, preventing said harm just a few moments before said harm can occur. But, if there is no intention, if there is no engagement, only strange accidents... your spells won't work. In the end, those of your side harmed themselves and it serves them right for harming you, a peace maker. And yet, it is not the strongest spell in my arsenal, not by a long shot." Surgeon finished and the room was filled with heavy silence after he did so. After a few moments, Lady Lilium awoke from her revelry of horror and wrote down what he said.
    "I'm satisfied with your answer." Lady Grief finally said. "Please, ask your next question."

    "How do you produce so many poisoned weapons at once? Tell me your secret of poisoned steel. And tell me the antidote, if such a thing exists." Surgeon asked.

    "It's a result of two trilinks casting on the same place and it cost my side a fortune in hiring thinkamancers." Lady Lilium replied. "The first of them was a link of Changemancer and Carnimancer. It had changed something... crucial in the way armoury in Mortuary works. Instead of just drawing metal from mines below the Mortuary, it started pulling random resources from farm near Mortuary as well. Another trilink, this time of Chief Florist Petal and Rudolf Shenker, the Changemancer, caused them do draw certain plants from the farm and create poisoned steel. As long as those plants are growing on the farm, the poisoned steel is produced. Otherwise, normal steel is produced, just slightly weaker then if there were no spells. There's no known antidote, but there are certain potions that grant temporary immunity. Are you satisfied with my answer?"

    "I am. Ask away, my lady." Surgeon Amputate replied.

    "What is your king's plan? Why did he send you to negotiate with us with only a token force? What is he getting at?" Lady Grief asked him.

    "I know what his plan was. I can only speculate what his plan is right now, but the results of that speculation are dependent on the answer to my next question." Surgeon said.

    "Then tell me what his plan was now. And speculate as the answer to my next question."

    "King Robert's plan was quite simple." Surgeon replied with a smile. "My stack was in a now hostile territory. You're Imperium of Manderly's vassal. King Robert intended to sue for peace, a simple exchange of cities, a few contracts, some... weregild for the units Undertakers have slain... and then Healaid would have joined Imperium. Queen Gwinevere supported that plan and would have bullied Lord Phill Morris into accepting. It was a great stroke of luck to wander into Prince Lotalance and his escort. Capturing him gave us more leverage and greater chance of success. We could show good will to the Queen by releasing the prisoners to Imperium's forces and then get all of our goals accomplished. Even if you attacked me during peace talks, I could have escaped on my mount. With it, I'd have enough move to run away from your forces. What my king didn't count on and I didn't count on, was the will of my heart and the blind luck that you look just like Fiona. Now, for my question... What happened to Luke, Mary and Nyx 'cause I haven't seen them used by your side, they were not in Magic Kingdom and they didn't contact me? And, more importantly, was prince Lotalance successfully exchanged and, if not, what happened to him?"

    Lady Lilium's face went sour. When she spoke next, she was ill at ease.
    "Your casters... They were on the way to Mortuary so we could turn them. Some other side croaked their escort and captured them. We think it was Necromons who did it, they sometimes raid that part of our territory, but we can't be certain. It was only after that happened that Lord Morris decided to pay for turnamancy scrolls. As for Prince Lotalance..." Lady Lilium's face went pale and she looked like she was going to cry again. "He was not exchanged. Undertaker for... our forces in the city of Alcohol croaked him along with his escort the moment they got in range of their arrows, thus breaking our word. As much as I hoped, it was not a Dittomancy double that croaked, because the body didn't depop. Queen Gwinevere was told that it was Healaid that didn't fulfil their word. She was furious... and she... All in all, Imperial Legions are meeting again. They are going to march on Iron Hill and take it by storm in the next forty turns or so, thousands will croak..."

    "I see. I can now speculate with some certainty. In retaliation, King Robert will croak princess Winny... He doesn't have any casters left, so he will not do any sorties out of the city but will harden it's defences, hide in it like a turtle. Iron Hill is great for popping infantry and arming them to the teeth. It is a place where Imperium had started... and, if Healaid prolongs the siege enough, it will be the place where it will end. Imperium will have to deploy it's casters and Queen Gwinevere will lead the forces herself, for this is the matter of honour and the remaining prince is weak... and that's when Undertakers and their former allies will strike and croak her and thousands of others loyal to her and the Imperium will be no longer. Do you think I am correct?" Surgeon Amputate finished.

    "That's Lord Phill's plan." Lady Lilium replied and she seemed sad. It was a waste of life and a terrifying thing to a florist, a hippiemancer, especially the one as young as her. "What is your next question? I'd like to end this session, if it suits you." Surgeon made her sad again.

    "My question is, what are you going to do about it? Will you prevent it somehow or what?" Surgeon asked her bluntly.

    "Nothing. He is my Lord and his orders are law." Lady Grief replied and her voice sounded hopeless and exhausted. "So, I'll obey his orders. I'll do whatever is necessary for Undertakers to end up on top. I'll march with our forces, I'll croak our enemies. I'll fight and maybe die myself. What else can I do? Ask him to reconsider and change his plans? Things are moving now, he cannot stop them even if he wanted and he DOESN'T want to. I can't do anything to prevent the battle. I mean, what can I do?"
    "I don't know. What can you do?" Surgeon asked. "You, a florist and a hippiemancer, who so treasures peace. What can you do?"

    Lady Lilium slapped him and stormed off, fresh tears of anger escaping her eyes. Half of her escort picked her notes and quills and unfinished coffee and left to follow her. The remaining half boldly took Surgeon from his chair and chained him to the wall. Some of them left, carrying the table and chairs. The rest, 4 of them, stayed to rough him up a little. End score: 8 broken fingers, 3 broken toes, 1 broken nose, 2 broken ribs and bruises spread all over vs 1 broken rib of a heavily bruised Luckamancer.

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    The next time she came back to him, Lady Lilium was carrying gifts. It was next turn, near the end of it. She wasn’t alone, but her escort left the basket, table and two chairs without a word then left. She approached him then, dressed in a simple tight black dress, swaying seductively as she walked and Surgeon felt a familiar smell. ’So that is your game. Took you a while.’ he thought but didn’t say anything. He eyed her hungrily, though, and it wasn’t all an act.

    „I have thought deeply about your words.“ She said, her voice quiet and powerful and Surgeon counted her words. It was important.
    “And I decided. I could do this.“ Seven words, both times.
    „I have decided we should have dinner.“ Third time. She waved her arm to show all of things that she brought. She opened a bottle of wine she took from the basket filled with dainty things and filled the goblet to half full.

    „Thirsty? Let me give you some wine.“ Fourth time. She came closer then, made him drink from the goblet and the taste was sweet and strong, like partially fermented strawberries.
    Strawberries, cherries and archon’s kiss in spring... That’s how the rhyme to make it potent went.

    When she moved her arm to gently touch his face, that heady smell of her getting stronger in the breeze the movement of her arm created, he stopped her. Surgeon snapped the fingers on his left hand then and caught her below the wrist with his right, fast as a snake, as the chains that bound him were still in the process of breaking. Then he spat the wine on the floor. It had to be swallowed for that channel to work; tasting it was not enough.

    „Not like this, my sweet Lady Grief. “ He said, seven words, that he counted before deciding to react (the start was always the hardest for him, then he found a rhythm to the conversation and it flowed), as he looked her deeply in the eyes that have widened in surprise. And a start of fear.
    „There are channels of desire and lust and even love, the secret of your craft. In fact, they are the deepest secrets of your other trade, Datemancy. Very potent stuff, when used by Florist. That potion you’ve put in the food and wine, that’s Channel Number Five. That intoxicating smell you’re wearing, also Channel. The look, the walk, and the moves and... The touch you were going to use on my face... The paint on YOUR face and lips. The shoes, the haircut, the silver earrings. The blood red nails on your fingertips. I know all of them, lady Grief. “ He smiled and his smile was melancholic. And hungry.

    „As if you needed them, my desire. “ Surgeon added then, another seven words that were also a possible Channel (if they were the right words), then let her hand go. „Look closer. I already lust for you.“ He said, then added, with a sad smile. „For a long time. Sad, lonely time. “ He sighed then spoke again. „Since the first time I met you. “ And that was the truth.

    She looked at him then, while rubbing her bruised hand below the wrist, she looked all over his body, and saw, when her gaze fell below his stomach and above his knees, that he was indeed telling the truth.

    „You are a very dangerous individual, Surgeon. I should have croaked you after capture.“ She replied, uncertainly, obviously shaken. But she still tried to find seven words to his heart, the same as he was trying to find the right seven words to hers. That was the „Way of Seven Words and the Sixteen Channels“; the way as old as time.

    „Why don’t we have a dinner, first? And talk; then you can croak me. If that is your heart’s true desire.“ Surgeon replied then moved a chair for her, like a gentleman knight that he was not. One of somewhat smaller sixteen channels available to male Datemancers.

    „Not with this food; it is tainted. And you have not drunk the antidote. I obviously don’t need it any more. I’ll be right back, please wait here. “ Lady Lilium said with shaky smile then went out, taking the basket (she had put the wine back inside first) with her and locking the cell door behind her.

    It took her quite a while to get back and Surgeon started to wonder if he had made a grievous mistake. „What was I thinking, revealing one of my tricks like that?! Now she knows chains cannot keep me!“ was one of his darker thoughts, as he sat at the chair and watched the candle light.

    When Lady Lilium returned, gone were most of the Channels on her Signamancy; Surgeon really missed the revealing tight little black dress and black thin-heeled shoes. They were replaced by a long white camisole, green comfortable pants and sensible shoes she wore the first time they’ve met. Instead of elaborate haircut, her red hair was tied in a simple pony tail, revealing that she removed the silver earrings as well. She washed her face, removing the make-up, even the paint on her lips. Only the nails remained, because that channel paint was hard to remove.

    He got up and rushed to help her with the surprisingly heavy basket then moved the chair for her. „Thank you.“ Lady Lilium said. This time she sat down and smiled and was lovely and alive. Surgeon was again certain that he made the right choice by saving her life. He doubted sometimes, during the darker parts of his captivity. Mostly after torture.

    „Let’s get this over with, shall we?“ she said, then served peas and mashed potatoes and grilled meat to both of them; plain but nourishing food as compared to tainted dainties. The regular wine she served instead of strawberry was sour and deceptively strong, not the best quality really, but he didn’t mind.

    Surgeon thanked her and somewhat awkward dinner started. Not all of their sentences had seven words for a start, though some of them still had; there were occasional long silences on both sides. But there was occasional laughter too and smiles and contentment and good silences as well. The signamancy made Surgeon feel like they knew each other a long time and most of the pressure was gone. They talked for a long spell, about their hopes and dreams, about crush she felt for Lotalance (that’s what the tears were about. Surgeon almost revealed a big secret then but wisely kept his mouth shut), about his love for Fiona and what he had learned, about plants and Flower Power and Luckamancy, and even about The Way, near the end of the dinner; they even gave each other some tips.

    „You are a natural at Datemancy. “ Lady said to him, while they shared the rose water sweets, called Delight, incidentally. Maybe it was a Fateful Signamancy, although they spoke of those sweets during their first meeting too.
    „Not at all. I’ve just been around for a long time. Practice makes perfect.“ Surgeon said. „But you definitely are. If I hadn’t dated a Florist before, you would have taken me by surprise. Down in the Dark Forest I go. “
    „You know even about the Dark Forest?! “ Lady said, nervously biting her lip.
    „And Desire Within and the Deep Dark Sin. Yes, I know about those. But Burning Veil needs two, you hurried that one. Nice opening with Channel Five, though. If I actually swallowed it, the Burning would have been successful. Most likely. “

    „This is so unfair! You have more experience AND you have dated a Florist before. You have all the advantages in here! “ Lady Lilium said, half mocking.
    „That’s not true. I’m still a prisoner. “ Surgeon replied.

    „A prisoner that can break his chains is not what I would consider a good prisoner to have. “ Lady chided, jokingly.

    „There’s a trick to it. You either learn it or you croak. I needed it so I learned it. Before your time, of course, my lady. “ Surgeon said.

    „Will you teach those tricks to me? Some of them at least. Pretty please?! “ she whispered. He laughed. The wine was indeed quite strong.

    „That depends on one little thing. “ He said.

    „What? Tell me. What one little thing? “ She said coquettishly and in a slightly drunken way.
    „How far into the Dark Forest are you prepared to go. Are you prepared to make it yours? “He said conspiratorially.
    „All the way in. “ She answered and got closer to him. „To the Deep Dark Sin. And beyond.“

    He got close to her then, close enough to smell the tiny remnants of washed Channel on her neck.
    „Then let me show you. Taste you.“ he whispered and then they were kissing. And then she doused the flame of the candle with her blood-red-nailed fingertips. Then they Burned the Veil together and finally danced the Mambo.

    Her Signamancy was a good guide of what she would like but Surgeon also had enough experience to recognise the limits of the Signamancy and adapt. It was both extremely pleasant and very, very dangerous and Lily was close to turning him a few times, while he tried to turn her with pleasure too although the chances of THAT succeeding were infinitesimal. She had juice, he hadn't. She was free, he was not. She had more tricks on her disposal than he did just with those two little facts.

    They Danced for a long time and Mamboed multiple times over the long night.

    The next morning, the prisoner was allowed new clothes and a freedom of the courtyard, under heavy guard. The turning was not complete but some progress was definitively made; nobody expected that it would be easy so Lord Morris was very understanding about Lady Lilium’s struggle and troubles. With Healaid's forces stuck at Iron Hill, they could afford to wait for as long as it would take to turn such a valuable unit as Surgeon. She became his friend and a whole lot more and he was showing her things she has never seen before (Denver the last dinosaur reference, need to work on it); it counted as partial win.

    _________________
    Don't click on this link, you might feel cheated if you do.
    Hint:
    Spoiler: show
    It's my fanfiction. :)


    My erf PC game (first test version): Jack Attack Give it a go.

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