Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower) - Episode 016
"Chocolate," said Tommy. "Olive says we drink it like tea."
Wanda sat on the edge of the canopy bed, her eyes half-closed and her head still a bit achy. Her brother had stoked and refueled the wood-stove, and the iron kettle of brown liquid he'd brought was keeping warm atop it. She put the porcelain cup to her lips and tasted it. Strange. Rich and loamy. She couldn't quite decide if it was something she liked, but it was certainly something to take away the predawn chill.
Tommy, for whatever reason, looked perfectly fine and focused. He was dressed for battle, and showing no ill effects from all of the wine and other strangeness he had consumed at the party last night.
Muffled by the stone walls, a Goodminton bugle sounded Assembly. "That's Fritz," he said. "Make sure all the Fellows are in the Courtyard, except the ones me and you are stacking with."
Wanda nodded, and mentally sent the order as she took another deep swig of chocolate. "Done. So, we expect to fight today?" she asked, beginning to come around to full wakefulness. "What's our plan, Chief?"
Tommy cracked a small, confident smile. "Same plan. We go to the negotiating table with Olive in private, and then she turns. Stacks with me and you. Then we let their units retreat peacefully and leave us to claim this city. I'm thinking you might be able to turn Larry, too. You should try, at least."
Wanda raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Really? She agreed to that?"
Tommy's attempt at reserve broke away, and his smile became a big toothy grin. "Well, you know she can't say it. But, she all but did. It was in her eyes; she'll turn, believe me. And I told her we'd still try for a peace treaty with Haffaton, and we won't harm their forces, since we'll have them outmatched here. You know, with her on our side."
In her eyes. Wanda remembered those eyes from the shadows of the corridor, flashing brightly. Was there any indication there that Olive was interested or desperate enough to turn sides? Definitely not desperate, but...maybe interested. And not necessarily in Tommy, or in Tommy alone.
She shook her head. "Why battle assembly, then?"
"Heh. Fritz is hung up on it," said Tommy. "He said we only have Olive's word that the spell will apply on their turn, so he doesn't want us to get jumped. Which, I guess is sensible enough. But I believe her."
Wanda met Tommy's smiling eyes briefly, then looked away and finished her beverage. "Okay," she said. "Give me ten minutes to freshen up."
The start of Haffaton's turn thus began at dawn with Goodminton's forces in battle formation, and the enemy drinking chocolate and playing games. The only apparent threat was from the occasional errant kick of a fungusball, but Fritz kept a watchful eye. His troops would remain stacked and ready until negotiations were completed.
Wanda and Tommy followed a bleary-eyed Larry and quiet Olive into a stone blockhouse. Olive shut and barred the iron bound door, leaving all their other units outside. The little room's interior was stark, containing only a wooden table and benches, a few empty chests and weapon racks, and a yellow powerball in the rafters. On the table were some basic writing supplies and rolled-up maps, three books, and a steaming pot of chocolate. There was no stove or hearth, and the still, musty air was cold enough to show their breath.
Larry and Tommy shook hands formally. Wanda and Olive bowed their heads to one another, and they took their seats. Olive unrolled a piece of parchment, oriented it for Tommy and Wanda to read, and affixed it to the table with two glass paperweights shaped like pink flowers.
"This is Haffaton's peace proposal, with some of the important details still to be filled in," she said, looking down at the page and pointing at some empty spaces in the text. "If you'll tell me the turn length and define your penalty terms, then I can add those in and we can sign this into effect before the no-engagement spell expires at the end of our turn."
After seemingly avoiding his gaze, she finally looked up at Tommy.
His arms were folded, his lips were closed, and his jaw jutted forward. Lifting his eyebrows in an expression of formal address, he said, "Well, we'd first like to thank Haffaton for your fine hospitality, and the sincerity of your, uh, diplomatic...relations. But I have a counter-proposal to the one you've offered."
Olive stiffened a bit, and took in a deep breath through her nose. "Chief...just don't."
Tommy narrowed his eyes. "Why not?"
"Because it's a cute idea, but no."
"What's a cute idea?" asked Larry, leaning forward and folding his hands on the table. His head was turned to face Olive.
Tommy cleared his throat. "We'd like for you both to turn," he said. "Here and now. Olive would become Chief Florist of Goodminton. It's a better way to fulfill the Prediction."
Olive slumped, and looked down at the peace treaty on the table, shaking her head. Larry looked at Wanda and Tommy in turn. "What Prediction?"
Wanda straightened in her seat. If Larry didn't know Olive's reasons for wanting to acquire her, it meant that Olive was all that much more powerful in her own side's affairs. Of course she wasn't going to turn to a smaller side. They weren't offering her anything she didn't already have...
"Our Predictamancer...shared some information with your side. Leading to this offer," dodged Tommy, realizing some of the implications of Larry's question.
"It's a caster thing," whispered Olive to Larry. "You wouldn't understand."
Larry frowned. "Well, I'd...need to understand. To decide about turning." His voice was low and conspiratorial. He glanced at Wanda with a kind of desperate, hungry look in his eyes.
"We're not turning," said Olive. "I'm sorry, Chief. That's just not on the table."
Tommy put his hand down flat. "But you said..."
"No. I didn't," said Olive, but she would not quite meet his eyes. "Let's just keep our focus, here, all right? Goodminton needs this agreement, so I suggest you take full advantage of it."
"Take advantage?" Tommy grabbed the end of the bench he and Wanda sat on and moved it sharply, as he stood up. "Yeah, that's a nice way to put it!"
"Chief!" mocked Tommy, his voice cracking a bit. He put his palms on the table and leaned toward her. "Come on, Olive. What... After last night?"
"Last night was very nice," said Olive, looking up at him. Larry looked concerned and ready to rise, but was following Olive's lead. "Today is today. Take the offer and go home, and maybe we'll see one another again someday."
Tommy stood up straight and looked at her, speechless. He shook his head, looking lost. "That's not fair..."
Olive looked over at Wanda. "Well, that's Life. And Life is definitely not fair."
It turned out that Tommy had not even seriously discussed with Father the chance that Goodminton might actually need to sign away Wanda. With things getting ugly, the negotiations adjourned so that they could message the Overlord to ask his will in the matter.
"Can't believe she did this to me," he fumed. They were waiting in a barracks area for Firebaugh's reply. The battered top hat had been sitting idle for many long minutes.
"Turning is a serious matter," said Wanda. "Perhaps she just has very high Loyalty."
"Shouldn't matter, if she loves me," he pouted. Wanda did not reply, but didn't think she needed to. Love, as a force of nature, was something she knew almost nothing about. What little she'd heard and read of it was baffling and contradictory. It seemed like a disease one could catch. There were different kinds, and they made you strange in different ways, often involving Loyalty. The disease was going around. Perhaps Larry had been infected, and probably Tommy had, but Wanda didn't think Olive had it.
One theory held that love was a form of natural Hippiemancy, which was a frightening thought, under the circumstances. But she was even more terrified that she herself seemed to be showing some of the symptoms.
"Tommy, I...should probably go to Haffaton," she said distantly.
"No! I don't want you to!" He pounded on the writing desk.
"I know. I don't want to, either. But the Prediction says so," said Wanda hopelessly. "Delphie says I have Fate to fulfill."
"I don't care," insisted Tommy. "We're not trees, remember? Remember? We make our own choices. Screw Fate! Screw Delphie, and Olive, too! We came here to take this city, and if Father lets us, we still will. In fact..." he said, looking suddenly hopeful and excited, "in fact, I bet we can do that and capture her. Maybe that's how we fulfill the Prediction. Get her and throw her in the dungeon until she turns! That'd teach her."
Wanda smiled weakly. The thought of Olive chained in the dungeon gave her a strange feeling that wasn't exactly amusement.
"We can't attack. She can just keep playing her instrument," Wanda pointed out.
Tommy smirked. "So smash it. You know all that stuff you smashed last night? When she takes it out to play it on our turn, have the Fellows grab it and break it."
Wanda blinked at the audacity of Tommy's suggestion. "I can't--" She swallowed. "I can't actually...think of any reason why that wouldn't work," she said in wonderment.
The hat rumbled.