The King's voice was an abrupt bark, cutting Anita's dissertation on the unlikelihood of his request short one-eighteenth of the way through. A few smirks managed to flit about the Situation room, but none of the Warlords dared to interrupt. Not because Anita would probably faint from stress, but because their Lord would disband them on the spot for speaking out of turn. Mouthing wordlessly, she floundered a full four seconds before she managed to recover herself - A new record.
"E-e-estimating the C-Chief Warlord's l-loyalty, the chance of an a-actual c-c-conversion is an a-p-p-p-proximated sixteen per-"
"Turnamancer, your evaluation."
The Mathamancer's words petered into nothingness as the unblinking steel-blue of the King's eyes pivoted to match Eggs' olive green. While he had grown accustomed to the curt manner in which the good King treated his casters, Eggs always found difficulty with how their Lord dealt with Anita - She had been a nervous wreck since the day she had popped and did not deal well with the natural intimidation that their King seemed to exude. Still, the fact remained - She had the sharpest mind their Side had ever produced and warranted, in Eggs' opinion, at least a modicum of respect. Alas, King Jack Stoney had no tolerance for what was superfluous and, in his book, that included Anita's occasionally exponentially redundant vocabulary.
It also included anything that did not immediately deal with the ending of lives.
Eggs allowed a moment to pass in which his gaze failed to shift a micrometer from the King's. His insolent stare was the one liberty he took when dealing with his Lord.
"Anita's prediction is sound. A Warlord's effective turn resistance is not fueled by Loyalty alone, but level as well. And, at last estimate, we placed their Chief at an approximated level Ten. Maybe Eleven."
Murmured Anita almost imperceptibly. The King pretended to not notice. Eggs ignored the tug he felt at the corner of his mouth and continued.
"And factoring in the bitter history with Tribble, I'd assume that her Loyalty would be higher than expected, even for a Chief. The only thing that we have working in our favor is that she is not Royal. Sire."
"If she were Royal, she'd be dead. Can you improve the chances?"
"Only by forgoing my duties - We would have a better chance if I stopped assisting the production queue."
"Twenty two p-perce-"
King Jack turned back to the projected blue image of his son and Chief Warlord, Prince Jules.
The grim representation of Jules dissolved into a mass of blue motes of light, before resolving into the angular visage of Vorpal's sole Thinkamancer.
"At your service, Sire."
"Alternatives. Can you improve the chance?"
She allowed a thin split to form between her lips. Not necessarily a smile; More of a predatory exposure of her teeth. Eggs felt a slight chill run up his spine.
"I could enhance the Turnamancer's abilities via a link, Sire... But, there is a better option."
She paused for dramatic effect, allowing the glowing blue image of her head to rotate on the spot. As her transparent eyes passed over Eggs, he could have sworn they lingered a moment longer than the rest. He would not like whatever she proposed. She spoke as her gaze settled on Kafka, the one member of the council who seemed to not squirm underneath the sense of hunger she exuded.
"I propose a Three-way."
The King raised a single brow. One of the Warlords coughed.
Susan's visage swiveled back to around to the King as she explained,
"The chances of a successful conversion increase significantly with the Changemancer's manipulation of Fate, Sire. Calculate, Mathamancer."
The offhand command was given without even looking at Anita.
She openly glared at the Thinkamancer's ephemeral projection for a single heartbeat before turning to the King and saying with perfect clarity:
"Lord, with a Three-way link, there is a forty two percent chance of success. But,"
The King looked as if he was going to interrupt her again, yet there was a new steel in Anita's voice as she plowed on.
"There is also a twelve percent chance that one or more of the casters could be croaked as a result of the l-linking being performed by only an-n Adept-class Thinkamancer."
It was only with Susan that Anita could summon such defiance. Eggs loved her for it.
Susan's overwhelming affront manifested itself only as a slight widening of the eyes. A rare moment of awkward silence settled over the long table as the King paused in his near constant stream of commands to contemplate. It was during this time that Eggs took the chance to steal a look at the Changemancer.
Kafka was the oldest caster of the side, popped over three hundred and fifty turns ago, yet in all of Eggs' service to Vorpal, he rarely had any interaction with the Changemancer. He, to be frank, was glad of the fact. There was something servile about his silent demeanor that just... Put Eggs off. It was why he wasn't so keen to be melded with him, though it was hard to say he was anymore keen to share that same Link with Susan.
A deranged narcissist with little regard for the value of life, Susan managed to achieve much in her insofar short service to the Kingdom of Vorpal. It was her apparently groundbreaking insights to the applications of psychic warfare that had endeared her to the King and even managed to establish herself quite a reputation in the Magic Kingdom - Albeit a reputation associated with torture, violence and a penchant for megalomania.
It didn't help calm Eggs' unease that she and Kafka were lovers, either. It was why he was elated to hear the King's next proclamation.
"Susan - We will pursue the three-way link. But, you will not be the one performing it."
She blinked. It was only due to the position she held in the King's eyes that he offered an explanation.
"You have never led a Link and are not of the level of experience where I would permit it. I am avoiding the risk and will be hiring a more experienced Thinkamancer from the Magic Kingdom."
Susan had been lucky to warrant such a straightforward explanation. She knew it, too, and did not press the issue.
"Put the Chief back on."
She nodded her assent and the image resolved itself into the goateed visage of the Heir.
"I want the Prisoner here in two turns. You, as well. Leave Vakka in charge. He is to halt the advance and consolidate our hold of the city, then queue all necessary refits and repairs. No action."
Jules' conveyed his sense of surprise by a slight widening of the eyes. However, he had the common sense to simply nod his assent and vanish with a pop.
Eggs, though, did not. While his stomach churned at the thought of being linked to Kafka, it was his Duty, not his distaste, that compelled him to speak.
"Sire, I -"
Stoney turned and speared him with an impenetrable glare, but did not speak. He was a firm believer in the 'Speak when spoken to,' policy and, despite the tension between the two, Eggs had always been familiar enough with procedure to remember that.
"I... Would it be the best course of action to commit us to turning one Warlord? The cost alone of a mercenary Master-class will be exorbitant and... Even with the reduced time, would not the significantly higher number of troops that we can potentially produce be of more use than a single, probably traitorous Warlord?"
"Sire, w-we would slow p-p-production b-by an ap-p-p-proximate-"
The King's voice cracked like a whip through the Situation room. The air suddenly seemed incredibly thick to Eggs as the King slowly turned his gaze from the now quivering Anita and placed it heavily upon him. Fighting the distinct urge to swallow, Eggs was still forced to tilt his neck to match the King's gaze as the massively built man rose from his seat at the head of the table and approached him. Several agonizing moments passed in which Eggs' could feel the warmth of Stoney's breath wash over his thin features. Finally, he spoke.
"This Warlord is the one thing that turned a Vassal Kingdom of philosophers and artists into a revolutionary force capable of calling itself a threat to our very existence. I do not waste talent like that. Which is the only reason that my Master-Class Turnamancer is still alive after questioning my orders."
He paused for a moment, allowing that to sink in.
"Do so again, you will wish I had disbanded you. Dismissed."
The last word was louder and given to the entirety of the assembled council. Eggs managed a nod and vanished with the crowd.