Ch. 3~ Life Lessons
Coulda asked, shoulda asked. There was another question...
Turn 2. Falderal was a spring dominion. Brian’s mind kept annotating everything. He couldn’t turn it off. It was just who he was, what he was. He was a Signamancer. He was getting a hang of Falderal though. There were two things, two styles, that repeated themselves throughout the whole capital and its cities. Anything that might be blocky, square, or regular was oblong and irregular: he’d understood this when he saw the portal in Portal Park. Every other portal was a rectangle standing in place but not ours. The sides of Falderal’s portal came up at a gentle angle and were joined by a top at a more jarring angle that stood higher on one side than the other.
He was learning other things too, like how badly the war was going (five cities had fallen in the 14 turns it took him to pop, more before that) and like how some things you couldn’t learn.
Another Signamancer, Dylan, had stopped them on their way back through Portal Park from the Eyemancers’ sector. Before Stanton and he could follow the natural tug of their home portal back, the leering caster had advanced towards them, declaring, “So, here’s the Signamancer I’ve heard rumblings of all day!” Brian was uncomfortable from the man’s gaze and would have continued to the portal as if the utterance hadn’t so obviously been directed him, but Stanton stopped cold and turned to face the man. Defensive, expectant, but then upon seeing the man relaxed. Brian supposed he should relax too... but he didn’t feel like it.
“Whadda ya say, Chief? Mind letting me talk to one of my own for a bit?” the Signamancer had asked. Stanton nodded.
“Well, don’t keep him too long. We were headed home,” he turned to Brian, “I’ll be by the portal when you’re ready, Brian,” and walked off.
“Hey, Brian is it?” Brian nodded in reply, “Name’s Dylan, Dylan Leary,” he extended his hand for Brian to shake. Brian didn’t really want to but he did anyway. Dylan’s hand was warm, and at least it wasn’t slimy with Signamancy stuff. “Look, uh... we don’t have a lot of time. Dunno why he took you to the Stuffamancers and the Eyemancers and not to us...”
“How do you even know all of this?” Brian blurted out.
The man... Dylan startled and looked a little taken aback, “Oh... right... sorry. I knew a new Signamancer would come to the Magic Kingdom today. Some friends saw your arrival and told me where you’d gone... uh... they knew I was waiting...” He seemed nervous. “I just knew you were him when I saw you... the same way you know the way to your portal or that your Chief was defensive just then.”
“Signamancy?” It’s all Signamancy... my Signamancy.
“Yeah, oh, Brian,” Dylan closed the gap of a couple of feet between them and threw his arms around him in a swift, strong hug, “and it’s so much more. Look, I just want you to know you’re not alone. They don’t see Stuff, hear Stuff the way we do.”--we see the Signs behind the Stuff--“That’s why I came. I couldn’t let you leave thinking you were alone.” Brian didn’t care much for the hug. It didn’t feel wrong. It didn’t feel like anything at all really. He could tell the man’s concern and compassion were real though.
“Uh... thanks, but... I don’t... think I’m alone, that is,” he answered with a smile.
“Hrmm, well, that’s good. I’m taking up too much of your time: if you ever feel alone or like they don’t understand you, you can come visit me in our Glade,” Dylan clasped his arms on Brian’s upper arms briskly. “Hrmm, your Chief’s waiting,” he pointed and Brian followed the line from his finger to Falderal’s gate. Stanton was indeed waiting, looking back at them. “Go on, Brian, wouldn’t want to make you late.” Dylan beamed. Feeling relieved and right to be headed home again, Brian darted to Stanton.
“What was that about?”
“It seems I was expected in the Glade of Hippiemancers,” Brian replied, miming Stanton’s officious speeches, “He came out to find me since I didn’t show up apparently ...and cordially invite me to visit.”
He hadn’t mentioned the bit about “feeling not understood”. He rolled his eyes remembering it now. It’d been on his mind for the rest of last turn. The hug stood out in his mind. His first hug. It hadn’t felt like anything and more importantly as far as Brian was concerned, it hadn’t felt like anything. Yet there Dylan was, beaming at him, talking so lively and forcefully. Brian sighed. It wasn’t the first time.
He stood and eyed himself in the mirror. He had chosen a room in the second floor of the tower which meant a five-floor walk down to the throne room. He wore the same raiment he had when he popped. It would have to do for now. He wasn’t about to ask for new raiment when his popping had apparently cost the side five cities, at least as far as Stanton and possibly the Queen were concerned. Still, he’d want some sort of robe at some point, maybe with a casting bonus in the weave, and something for time at court would be nice as well. He sighed again.
Brian made his way down the tower with care. The stairs seemed to sag toward the middle; it gave the slightly unsettling sense that they were smiling slightly at anyone going up them. Still, he was going down them, so all it did for him was give him an uneasy feeling he might miss his footing. He only had to take the spiral stair down the one floor and the stairs weren’t particularly steep, so it was more just a fear of stumbling. Still, a fall is a fall. What an idea... being incapacitated just because of the design of the stairs. He wondered if Queen Sue had been responsible for the design of the stairs when she’d hired the Dirtamancer and Signamancer she spoke of. He shook his head. No sense worrying or wondering about such things. He came to the bottom of the tower now and entered the garrison.
This floor of the garrison split down three corridors off the great hall which cut vertically through all three floors of the garrison. The central corridor lead back over the throne room and to the tower. A corridor led off to more rooms from the terraces to either side of the great hall. Stanton’s room was on this floor of the garrison, though on the opposite side of the main hall from where Brian had popped. Brian hadn’t asked anyone about that. It seemed unwise given the way Stanton had treated the subject. Stanton had told him when he picked his room that Hatta’s room was on the fifth floor of the tower, so that ruled him out. It was probably just some warlord’s room anyway... Voices? Brian peered at the throne room door by leaning out over the terrace handrail.
The door was slightly ajar. He could hear several voices from within. He was late. He hurried down the more even stairs of the garrison, past the poodley pikers, and into the throne room.
The Queen, both princes, Stanton, Haigha, and Hatta stood around the top of the table, rapt in lively discussion. Well, except Sirius, he was seated towards the middle of the righthand side of the table. He sipped from a cup of tea and didn’t appear to be participating in the conversation.
“No, no, no--I will not hear of it. I think it’s nonsense!” the Queen was saying.
“But the cards said...” Stanton said.
“The cards are not a Predictamancer. We have only Brian’s interpretation that that’s what they meant...” she said offering Brian a skeptical glance. Brian for his own part only nodded. “I will not send a caster I’ve spent fourteen turns popping into combat on his second turn just to see him croaked by the enemy.”
Stanton shuffled uncomfortably, “Maybe we should see what Brian thinks...” he said, leaving the suggestion feeling unended.
“Uhm... well, I think I could help. Even if it’s just basic Rocking out?” he half-heartedly offered.
Iple shook his head. “While Stanton informs us that you have some natural ability there, we’d need to get you an axe. The boost from a normal axe is negligible, you wouldn’t even have a sense of how to wield it.” Not true, Brian felt. “We’d let you cast your boost, of course, but in the end, it’s just the case that we don’t have axemen or a lot of rocking ability to stack you with.” Iple waved
“So, what you’re saying is the Rocking Out would be wasted?”
“More or less,” Iple nodded in reply.
“Still, I have all of basic Signamancy to draw...”
Sirius interrupted him from where he was seated still sipping his tea, “Oh, yes, please tell us more about how your make-up will be a great asset in battle.” Brian glared at the prince, who looked back, indifferent.
“Signamancy is not useless,” he retorted, “There’s intimidation, strength, youth. With the proper Signamancy, fearsome enough, we could make them not want to fight us at all. We could make terms, write treaties...” He grew more energetic as he spoke and raised his arms wide.
Iple spoke next, shaking his head, “Not our enemy.”
“No, Brian, our enemy takes themselves and their business of war too seriously for that,” Queen Sue was shaking her head.
“Still... there are bonuses...” The others barely even shook their heads. Signamancy isn’t Carnymancy or Luckmancy. Last turn, Brian would have stared at his hands, but not now. He knew he could do more. “So, what then?”
“The thinking is Stanty returns to combat with Iple, and you go to the Magic Kingdom to learn...”
“Shockmancy,” Hatta offered, “You can return to trying to learn thinkagrams later.” He said rolling his eyes in Brian’s general direction as he spoke.
“Quite,” Sue continued with a nod to Hatta, “and no, Sirius, Haigha and Hatta will remain here with me.” She was smiling. Prince Sirius merely grunted his assent.
Something else was going on there. Were he a Date-a-mancer, Brian might have understood it, but at least the plan to learn Shockmancy made sense to him. There would be no leaving him out of the field after that.
“For now, the court will adjourn. You are all required in the courtyard in half an hour to see off Stanty and Iple,” Sue said with a nod before seating herself to sip from her tea. Stanton and Prince Iple headed off quickly. Brian lingered as Haigha and Hatta seated themselves with the Queen. “You will have your Turn in the field, Brian. It just won’t be this one.”
Falderal’s open courtyard was oval shaped, spreading from the garrison walls to the large “outer” doors to the great hall (there was then a gap of empty space and an overhang and a set of “inner” doors before one entered the great hall itself... don’t ask). A low colonnade spread around the edge of the courtyard, its columns all irregular--each concave, pinching in at different heights. Little gardens of low richly green grass bespeckled with little yellow prairie flowers lay to either side of a brick walkway, strangely made of regular rectangular bricks--Falderal, a side so weird that normal is weird there. A bent tree stood by a pool to the left of the stairs, an oasis of nature in... was it madness or just City? In any case, the courtyard wasn’t much compared to the sight that had gathered in it.
Brian stood on the left-hand of the court. They were all present and for the most part unchanged. He looked out into the courtyard to survey the forces there. Eight Marsh Hares roosted on their haunches in the courtyard, four to one side, three on the other, and one front and center. Prince Iple was petting its neck and occasionally nuzzling his face into its thick chocolate coat. Six lightly armored infantry pikers, equipped with the same halberds as the castle guard, stood at the ready beside six of the hares. The foremost of the four stood ready but with no rider by it.
“Your Majesty, at your command, I take my leave,” Stanton’s voice came from Brian’s right. He wore a different raiment. A cap, magic item send-and-receive messages, Defense +1, and a heavy sweater and jeans, combat raiment, also Defense +1, suited to running and moving, made up his new attire. He looked different. Prepared and purposeful. Stanton knelt slightly to kiss the back of the Queen’s raised hand.
“Of course. Do keep us informed.” She smiled giving a slight glance at the cap. Hatta beside her on her right beamed.
Prince Iple for his part darted forward and gave his mother a hug. He had to bend over and crouch down a little in the effort. “We should reach the forest by the end of next turn.”
Hatta spoke, “We’ve word from the Woodsy Elves there. You are expected.” The Prince and Hat Magician exchanged knowing nods.
Haigha for his part stood by, saying and doing next to nothing. Prince Sirius stood to the right and front of his mother. For his part, he warmly shook his brother’s arm, grabbed him on the forearm, and gave him a half hug. “Come back safe, Iple.”
“Don’t I always?” Iple grinned.
Stanton turned to Brian: “There’s a hat for you in your chamber. Take it when you go to the Magic Kingdom to keep in touch with Court. I know you’ll find the Naughtymancers’ realm without difficulty...” Stanton paused and glanced over the court, “but I’ve got no friends there to send you to. You’ll have to find your own teacher.” Brian nodded and gave a half-hearted smile. Stanton turned and walked to his mount; Iple joined him.
“Lapinaiwies! Mount up!” the Prince called out. All the forces jumped casually onto their own Marsh Hare’s shoulders. “Ride out!” Prince Iple drew his sword and turned his hare in a loping forward and round gait so that it hopped down the middle of the other two ranks. Stanton took up a position on his right and the others rode out behind them. Sirius, Hatta, and Haigha turned and entered the great hall.
“Brian?” Queen Sue said at his right, “Get to the Magic Kingdom... we will have need of you shortly, I fear.” Her expression was grim. The lack of joviality and playfulness from one so dedicated to her Signs of frivolous fun was unsettling. She left then, leaving Brian there alone.
Not so alone, he found. Sir Door stood before the garrison doors behind him. “Sir Door?”
“Yes, Signamancer?” The way Door said Signamancer dripped with respect. Very different it seemed from the rest of the court.
“Prince Sirius is not returning to the field?”
The courtier’s mouse mask cocked to one side. Beneath the mask, Door was plainly giving Brian a quizzical look, “Prince Sirius rarely goes to the southern war effort. He instead defends the capital and cities here.” Door smiled. Brian moved to go. As he walked through the doors, the courtier added, “Oh, Brian, remember: feed your head.”
Brian stood before the portal to the Magic Kingdom. He’d given the court a wide berth after the leaving ceremony. He had his Orders and having them repeated to him again in worried tones served little purpose. He had every intention of doing as he was ordered. So, what was holding him back? Brian closed his eyes and thought. Dylan. He shuddered.
No Orders, but there didn’t seem to be any call for him to be combat ready. Dylan would be looking for, waiting for a unit with spikey blue hair: Brian ran his fingers through his naturally stiff and styled hair, “Denko. Clairol D’or.” He moved a lock of the wavy blonde hair that dropped in front of his eyes. Basic Signamancy. There might be some basic Dollamancy in there too, but it was natural to him. Maybe Signamancers have some natural ability there? It was hard for him to tell given his own nature, but he hadn’t been taught any Dollamancy. Brian shrugged. Sweeping his arms over his raiment, he intoned: “Sentelle. Shanti Sena,” the charcoal grey of the tunic was replaced with a swirl of rainbow colors and the grey of his bell-bottomed trousers became a burlap brown. He left his pauldron on the table before the portal. As a disguise, it would have to do. The Signamancy would disappear at end of Turn, but he would be home by then.
Brian grabbed the floppy messaging top hat laid out for him, resized it so that it was a billed sock cap, doffed it, and stepped through the portal to Portal Park and quickly shuffled away from the portal. He looked around to see if anyone had noted his arrival and saw no one. Importantly, he did not see Dylan and so felt a wave of relief. Stanton had been right: the Signamancy of the Naughtymancers’ domain was plain. The grey leaves seemed to call to Brian, reaching through his mind to prick at his Orders.
Brian felt a natural pull to the Library and had read one or two books of published magical theory there before going to bed last night. Mostly it had informed him of the individual disciplines and ideas around them. Mostly also it had given him another headache. Naughtymancy as an entire class and Carnymancy were alike in the minds of most casters, only Naughtymancy was seen as more perverse. Carnymancy was the premier representative of its class, Stagemancy, but was also the discipline of cheats, something Brian had thought better than to ask Stanton about. Once upon a time, it is said in the days before the Magic Kingdom even, Croakamancy was unknown, speculative, or at the very least, disbelieved. In those days, Croakamancers passed themselves off as simple Shockmancers before displaying the true depth of their technique. It was a subtle interplay that supposedly had gone on for many thousands of turns. It struck Brian as odd: to his understanding, Croakamancers had a tendency to be more serious than Shockmancers. He imagined they should have been obviously of different disciplines at a glance, but then he supposed if they were maintaining a ruse, they didn’t let Signamancers get sight of them.
Under the eaves made by the grey leaves, Shockmancers and Croakamancers gathered in little huddles around magical fires. Shockmancy was a magic of Matter in Motion. In the outermost edges of the Naughtymancer’s area, stages were set up where shockmancers practiced a kind of rhyme-o-mancy for passersby. The display made some sense to Brian: the rhyme-o-mancy served as a way of displaying a shockmancer’s ability to shock but with reduced, even humorous effect; but Brian could see little of the essence of matter and motion here.
After Brian went deeper into the grove, there was a bit of both Matter and Motion to be found. Often, it seemed the Matter in the case of Shockmancy was a Unit’s body.here in tents of various colors, coloring Signifying the owner’s Side or own livery, Shockmancers put on flashing displays, doffing hooded robes to show off revealing raiment below. As Brian looked on he noted that it was not just a simple display: some of the Shockmancers were instructing one another in technique and approach. Blushing and turning away, he saw a lone small tent removed from the rest.
The tent had alternating sections of a dull, pastel pink and purple. Inside stood a man with wild yellow hair, large round eyes, and the widest most frighteningly broad grin Brian had ever seen and, he felt, that he was ever likely to see. Brian took some steps closer.
“Hello there, friend, my name is Fred,” the grinning man said, “Would you tell me your name now that mine I’ve said?”
“Uhm, my name is Brian... you aren’t a Shockmancer, are you?”
Fred nodded, “That I am, that I am,” he said, “but I do this and that too.” He waved one arm loosely around the shop. Inside the tent, Brian could now see a small chair in its center with a tray table next to it holding a number of implements... Dollamancy implements?
“Oh, my, my dear boy, what have you done there? I say, I said, what have you done to the hair upon your head?” If at all possible, the man beamed more, his eyes widening even, his banana-like grin widening to a half-moon smile.
“Uh... it’s just some Signamancy... it’s normally blue...”
“Blue? Oh, blue? Is what you say true? I would most like to see that blue hue...” the man trailed off in thought: “and be therein so... naughty.” Fred paused as if for dramatic effect and then saying only softly, “Please,” he gestured to the chair.
Fred’s wide grin, wide eyes, and his intensity were shocking enough to Brian and set him on edge. For whatever reason, Brian couldn’t think of any objection to voice and began to seat himself in the chair. Fred was already turning to pick up the Dollamancy implement, the razor. It turned on with a low buzzzz! Brian hadn’t even set himself down in the chair when another caster appeared at the fold of the tent.
“Don’t get me wrong, Fred, but your hair cuts are greaaat... for-me-to-poop-on!” The utterance sent a slight thrumming sensation along Brian’s back. The man stood at Brian’s height. His headgear was a helmet shaped like the jaws of a baying dog framing his face. He wore a dark suit accented with brown gloves and boots and a giant golden bowtie. Brian remembered passing him amongst the shockmancers set up on stages.
“I must protest… Brian was just about let me give him a trim.”
“Sorry… uhm… Fred, but I came to learn Shockmancy. I think he can help me more.”
The threat of a momentary engagement seemed to fill the air, but Fred relented, his arms sagging at his sides. The other caster escorted Brian from the tent and away from a somewhat frustrated Fred (he outwardly kept his cool, but Brian could sense his frustration).
Rory was talking in a strange cadence that Brian found a bit hard to follow. Where words should have tinged and colored in his mind, Brian found instead that they tingled, running up and down his back, when Rory spoke.
Rory commented as they made their way away from the tent: “Wow, getting Shockmancy advice from Fred… what a great idea--for me to poop on!” Rory seemed to love that phrase. He threw it around naturally and frequently. There was a sense about it that it was his. There was also a sense about it that it had something else about it. They made their way back toward Portal Park and set up a small picnic by one of the stages. “I move around a bit. Do shows around here if you’re looking for me again.”
The feeling was different. It wasn’t like Dylan; it lacked some form of expectation. Rory wasn’t looking for the same thing… he was looking for something else. “I was looking for Shockmancy lessons actually.”
“Now, why would a hippiemancer be lookin’ for shockmancy lessons?” Rory asked.
Brian explained as best he could and Rory made some sounds that suggested he thought this was all a bad idea or silly.
Rory set about explaining some basics. He explained about hoboken and lightning as natural shockmancy and how dollamancy, dirtamancy, and even hat magic and flower power could create indirect shockmancy effects.
As Rory explained: “Every boopin’ thing has some shock-value. Ok, so some of them are not so great, like I poop higher shock values than your average dollamancy or signamancy… err, no offense.” With that he shrugged, raising his shoulders and palms directed out in a gesture to say sorry, but it’s true, “But basically shock-value is the idea in shockmancy that determines what effect a spell has on someone. Like, it might just distract them a bit, make ‘em think funny if it’s just a side-effect of dollamancy or signamancy, could stun them for a while if it’s not too shocking, but stuff that’s really shocking, that stuff takes your hits. Some Dirtamancy can do that...”
He was about to start explaining the ideas behind the flash mob and something else when the hat rumbled on the grass. Brian took the message from within and read:
CAPITAL UNDER ATTACK
RETURN AT ONCE
Brian felt he knew about being shocked again upon reading the message. As he got up frantically to go, Rory stooped to look at the message where he’d dropped it on the ground.
He grabbed the signamancer’s hand and raising an eyebrow intoned, “No time like the present. You said you were allowed to pay for lessons, right?”