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 Post subject: The Greatest Trick
 Post Posted: Sun Oct 09, 2016 2:24 pm 
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Episode 1

Julia's knowledge of Signamancy was less than that of a Novice of the discipline, but it was still enough to tell her that any sane individual should have run away from the unfamiliar caster walking into the Glade. A wide black hat cast a shadow over his ashen features, and he wore a vest made from the hide of some sort of bluish green reptile over a suit of black, cut sharply to emphasize a gaunt figure. That the man was Level 9 did a great deal to enhance the air of danger about him, even with the safety that being in the Glade normally promised.

Rather than running and screaming, though, her fellow Hippies were simply walking away when he approached. The only one who stood her ground was Janis herself. Unfortunately, since Janis had been speaking with Julia, that left her in the awkward position of shuffling nervously with the desire to run away screaming while standing her ground alongside the Grand Abbie. As dangerous as the strange Caster no doubt was, there wasn't anyplace in the Magic Kingdom that could be safer than adjacent to Janis Atlantis.

"Ladies." The man folded his hands behind his back, standing a distance that was presumably intended to be comfortable. While a bit of tension left Janis's shoulders when he stopped, Julia was still disquieted. "My side is hoping to buy the services of a Florist, with the potential for aligning in the long term. I'm having trouble finding one available for hire, though."

Janis nodded, offering the man a polite smile. "I take it the job posting board hasn't yielded any results, Caster...?"

"Ah, how rude of me. My name is Sam T. Dunkel, and I am the Chief Caster of Soggy Bottom." A hand swept in front of him as he bowed dramatically, his gaze never leaving Janis as he did so. Slowly, he rose to an upright position, a smile splitting his face to reveal teeth that looked too large to fit in his mouth.

"I am Janis Atlantis, Grand Abbie of the Hippiemancers." Janis looked toward her, and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. A reassurance, even if no casting was done, that everything was going to be fine. "Julia, could you run ahead and make some tea while I discuss the specifics-"

"Julia?" Both women turned to look at the man, who had a new alertness in his posture. Surprise, in fact. "You wouldn't happen to be Julia Sterling, would you? From Silver Back?"

Julia flinched at the fresh reminder of the fall of her side, and she found herself wrapping her arms around her own waist. Around the light gray dress that was one of the few things that remained of her side. She started to nod, but Janis stepped in front of her.

"Caster Dunkel, do you want to make arrangements to hire a Florist, or do you want to torment free casters over the fall of their side? I can assure you, exactly one of those will be welcome here."

"No ill will intended, and my apologies for causing the young lady to revisit fresh losses." Julia looked up, and Dunkel was holding his hands up in a placating manner. His gaze hadn't left her, though. "That being said, young lady, if you are Julia Sterling then you'll be interested in knowing that the enemy encroaching on Soggy Bottom is one you'd be familiar with. Apparently Kaiser Anders hopes to expand the reach and power of Third Rock."

Julia straightened at that, and out of the corner of her eye she saw Janis shifting as well. For a brief second, her mind flashed to infantry with slashing blades on polearms with gray and brown livery tearing through her home. "I'm not the only caster from Silver Back to escape capture."

"I've already had the pleasure of speaking with the Predictamancer." Dunkel's smile was back on his face, wider than ever. Julia furrowed her brow in thought, though. "It was through his counsel that Soggy Bottom is seeking the aid of a Florist. The right Florist, now that I recall his exact wording, to protect Soggy Bottom from falling."

Julia nodded, slowly, as she considered the implications. If Fate was involved... well, she'd never bothered with it, but her father had ignored his own Predictamancer. It was how Silver Back had lost most of its knights and archers. Combined with how the Grand Abbie was good friends with a free Predictamancer, and she couldn't help but feel she could make a difference this time.

"I'm... interested. Has Third Rock's tactics changed since..."

Since Silver Back fell. Julia couldn't quite get the words out. Thankfully, Dunkel caught her meaning, and nodded. "They've taken on the Sand Witches that had been aligned with Silver Back. They managed to capture and turn our Hat Magician, as well. On the bright side, though, they've withdrawn a portion of their infantry and golems from the campaign to fortify their western border."

"Their western-?"

"Sofa King Neville recently suffered some loss or another, and has been raiding non-Royal neighbors."

Julia narrowed her eyes in recognition of the name. The Sofa Kingdom had promised a great deal of soldiers to relieve the siege that had befallen Silver Back, but their livery had been nowhere to be seen when the Kaiser's forces broke through the walls. It wasn't until afterward that she learned that the Sofa Kingdom used Tardy Elves as guides.

"Are you going to take the offer, Julia?" She started, and looked toward Janis. The older woman's smile was reassuring, almost genuine, but Julia saw the hints of worry creeping out from behind it.

"I think... that I will." Julia nodded to herself, then turned and nodded at Dunkel. The man's smile became... not warm, per se, but less forced. "Yes, I think I'm the right Florist for the job, if you think that a Novice is enough."

"With no disrespect intended to the Grand Abbie, I'd prefer a Novice that's Fated to cause our success over even a Master." Dunkel held up a finger after he finished the sentence, then two. Julia was initially confused, but then he put the raised fingers to the side of his head, and a blue image of a woman in a crown appeared before him. "I've found the right Florist, your Majesty. I'd like permission to allow her to align."

The woman's voice would've been beautiful, good for singing, if it didn't carry a stern tone. "What level is she?"

"Only a Level 2, but! I'd be remiss in my Duty not to point out that she's a native of a side that had been conquered by Third Rock less than a hundredturn ago. You remember Silver Back?"

"Yes, fondly. Turn so that I may see her, Chief Caster." Dunkel started walking toward them, turning slowly as he did, and Julia found herself walking forward to meet him. She was still frightened of the man, but she also wanted to impress the woman who was apparently the Queen of Soggy Bottom. "Tell me your name, Florist."

"Julia Sterling, Your Majesty."

"Sterling?" The queen's eyebrow rose, and then a smile came to her lips. It tempted Julia to smile as well, but she didn't know the queen's temperament well enough to risk breaking decorum. "Definitely the right Florist, then. You may align."

Julia did so, and she felt bonuses pile up. More importantly, she felt the looming threat of the next turn's upkeep alleviated. She did smile, now. "Unless you have orders to the contrary, your Majesty, I'll be coming to Soggy Bottom promptly."

The queen - Queen Marissa Morgan, Julia knew now - nodded in the affirmative. "Do so. The Chief Caster will show you the way to our portal. Break."

The Thinkagram faded, and Chief Caster Dunkel jutted out an elbow for her to take. "Best we be off, then."

Julia hesitated, but took his arm to comply with the weight of the Queen's order on the back of her mind. Before they started to walk off, though, she threw a glance over her shoulder. "Thank you for the hospitality, Janis."

The Grand Abbie smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. "Stay safe, Julia."

A twinge of worry wormed its way into Julia's gut, but she nodded. As she allowed herself to be lead off, she looked at Dunkel expectantly. "So... you're the Chief Caster. Chief Thinkamancer?"

The thin man chuckled and shook his head. "That would be the discipline of Princess Virginia. She's just an Adept, but still capable enough to bolster Leadership and Loyalty. It's how we held the hex this turn."

She would have time to replenish her juice before the fighting started again, then. That was reassuring. "Then what is your discipline? If you don't mind my asking?"

The man looked at her, then held up a peace sign with his free hand. Julia's eyes widened for a second as a jagged line of blue appeared between his fingers and began to climb toward the tips. "The answer would probably shock you, Princess."

_________________
The Greatest Trick
Florist Julia Sterling has come to align with a shady side in order to avenge her father's kingdom.

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     Post subject: Re: The Greatest Trick
     Post Posted: Sun Oct 16, 2016 12:50 pm 
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    Here for the 10th Anniversary Has collected at least one unit
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    Episode 2

    Julia allowed Sam to lead her through Portal Park, although she couldn't help but feel anxious. Everything about the man was disquieting to her, for reasons that she now knew must relate to her being a Florist. In addition to Signamancy, she could sense an individual unit's capacityies for various sorts of peace. While his semblance of politeness and demonstrated tact showed that he could behave peacefully, his capacity for inner peace... if he had any, it was too faint for her to sense.

    She couldn't help but wonder what drove a man to such a state. Was it the events that lead to his ashen Signamancy? A consequence of the epiphany needed to achieve mastery of his discipline? Or did he just yearn for- "Trouble."

    Yeah, that. Wait. Julia shook her head, silently admonishing herself for flaking and focusing on where Sam had pointed. She saw a man in a black robe with skin even darker than her own copper tone, standing vigil in front of a particular portal with his arms crossed in front of him. The unfamiliar caster, Julia realized, was staring directly at her with an expression that she'd only ever seen directed at Carnies in the past. While he had a great deal of capacity for inner peace, it was his outer capacity that was lacking.

    Despite her concerns about Sam, Julia found herself shuffling closer to him for a greater sense of security. "Why is he staring at me like that?"

    "You're a new step in an old dance, where he and his have been hoping to hear a change in the tune." Sam sighed, and gently tugged at Julia's arm. It was sudden, so the Florist nearly stumbled, but she kept pace quickly enough. "Nod politely and smile during introductions, but let me handle the talk- Ah, nevermind. Hinadori."

    Julia furrowed her brow, not recognizing the name. "Who?"

    "Roger Victor Clarence!" Julia's attention shifted briefly to the source of the shout, and found that the robed caster now had a bearded man in orange draping an arm over his shoulder. "I was looking for an Eyeball! Well, Unaroyal is, at any... reasonable rate. Fancy a chat?"

    The caster, Roger apparently, looked like he'd just eaten something unpleasant. That, or he expected he was about to. Still, the pair walked off, with a bit of the bearded man's capacity for peace leaking into Roger, leaving the way clear for the pair that Julia was half of. As Sam lead her up to the indigo screen itself, Julia gradually worked up the nerve to speak once more. "Who were those casters?"

    "Roger Victor Clarence is one of the Great Minds of the Thinkamancers. Our Princess and Thinkamancer, Virginia-" The pair stepped through the portal, and Julia found herself distracted from Sam's words taking in the new sights. Soggy Bottom's Portal Room had solid stonework in all directions, with a high enough ceiling that neither the portal nor the normal entrance disrupted the mural that wrapped around the room. It depicted various casters working their art, most of them in raiment of tan and dark blue.

    "Is this the new caster, Chief Caster?" Julia started, and her attention shifted to the doorway opposite the portal. On the other side of a round table stood three women. Two were young, barefooted, and each held a large umbrella of dark blue cloth. The woman in the middle, on the other hand, was aged and heavy, leaning on a wooden cane for support. "I had heard that she is only a Level 2."

    "She's Royal, so she'll level quickly. More importantly, she's native to one of the sides that held the Kaiser's attention before we did." Sam let out a mirthless chuckle, and Julia found herself untangling from the man's arm in response. That, Julia noticed, improved the inner peace of the other three women. "You'd be surprised at the value of proper motivation."

    The older woman made a scornful noise, then focused on Julia. "Florist Julia Sterling? I am Baroness Elli Morgan, the Chief of Staff for Soggy Bottom. Our Chief Caster is to use his remaining juice refilling the tower, so I will be showing you your quarters and explaining your assigned tasks."

    "Alright." Julia nodded nervously, not entirely sure who the Chief of Staff's scorn had been directed against. She started to walk around the table toward the door, and out of the corner of her eye she noticed the Chief Caster cutting a swift pace of his own. "Where are we going first? If it's alright for me to ask?"

    "Your quarters. Soggy Bottom is a storm hex, and as lovely as that dress is," Julia couldn't help but detect a hint of emotion in the Baroness's voice, although she couldn't place it for certain. She thought it was sorrow, though. "I don't think that it would do well for you when your Duty takes you outside the Garrison to the city proper. Boots for footwear, and either pants or short skirts for the legs. Damages from the siege have caused flooding in the streets."

    To demonstrate, she swept her free hand toward the girls with umbrellas, one of which was departing with the Chief Caster. While their combination of blouse, vest, and plaid skirt was respectably modest, the overly large black boots seemed out of place on them. The one who hadn't been taken away noticed her looking, and smiled. "Welcome to Soggy Bottom, Princess Sterling."

    "Thank you." Julia smiled and nodded ascent, and followed the pair along as they silently turned to leave. The halls outside the Portal Room had a curved roof, that made it seem as though the wall at one end flowed into its opposite, and there was a narrow waterway cutting the hall in half with footbridges at regular intervals. As they walked, the Baroness's cane made a rhythmic clicking against the stone walkway. "I-"

    "We will get you back with those we can save."

    Julia blinked, caught off guard by the interruption, and not just for the timing. "What?"

    "I am native to Soggy Bottom's parent side. I was traded for a Dirtamancer after Port Whine fell to the Sofa Kingdom. Baron Junk's court was tolerable, but you would be amazed how bawdy some nobles can be." Baroness Morgan let out a derisive laugh at that, he expression suggesting that she was letting herself drift in memory. Julia did so as well, of nights in the Glade, until the Chief of Staff continued speaking. "It was not until I was reunited with fellow survivors of my native side, though, that I found some measure of closure."

    Julia nodded, making a mental note of the stairwell that they were now taking, and how far they'd gone from the Portal Room to get there. She was, admittedly, more focused on the conversation than the layout of the city's Dungeon. "So we'll try to capture units that were turned from Silver Back?"

    It was at this point that the courtier with the umbrella chimed in. "Among other things."

    Julia looked toward the woman who'd been bringing up the rear with newfound interest. She was a peaceful soul, less aggressive than some courtiers she'd met, but there were hints at a restlessness to her from an enthusiasm for mischief. "I'm sorry, I don't believe I got your name."

    "Ah, I'm sorry." She scratched at the back of her head, either out of nerves or embarrassment. It made Julia realize that everyone from the side that she'd met so far had frizzy hair. "Name's Tuesday. Don't mind me, I'm just one of the side's Working Girls. We work with the Boys to take care of menial stuff for the higher ranking folks."

    "And unless you would like to join Wednesday in tending to the troops, you will stop spreading rumors to new arrivals who have not been properly briefed." Tuesday looked mortified at the prospect, which worried Julia. The Baroness, however, put a hand on her shoulder in a reassuring manner. "Our Chief Caster dabbles outside his discipline well enough to uncroak fallen enemies. Queen Marissa does not abide by the orders you are currently thinking about being given."

    The Chief Caster's smile flashed briefly through Julia's mind, and the Florist felt tension she hasn't been fully aware of leave her. Still, she didn't want to think of that subject any longer than needed. "Do you know who was captured? Who was turned? Chief Caster Dunkel mentioned that Third Rock was fielding our Sand Witches."

    "They got them from Silver Back, did they?" Julia got a raised eyebrow for that, but the Baroness turned her attention back to walking soon enough. Passing through a door, Julia noticed, that lead out of the stairway and into the Tower. Here, the walls were made of larger stone bricks than the Dungeon tunnels. "They got most of your Courtiers as well, from what I hear. It is a strategy, I suspect, to facilitate a conquered city's transition to wartime production almost immediately."

    Tuesday opened another door, and within Julia was amazed to find... well, it had the same stonework as the rest of the Tower, but other than that it could have passed for a noble's quarters in Silver Back. The trappings of a desert side were consistently present, and it was decorated in the traditional black and silver. "This is... it's like home."

    "Good." The Baroness sounded surprisingly vicious when she said that, which prompted Julia to look back toward her. The Florist had to fight down a gasp when she saw what had happened to the older woman's desire for peace. "It's the court's Duty to tend to their side, including Loyalty. The Kaiser's campaign being halted by a Florist is good. The campaign being halted by the Princess that a third of his court still has ties of loyalty to is better."

    _________________
    The Greatest Trick
    Florist Julia Sterling has come to align with a shady side in order to avenge her father's kingdom.

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