Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower) - Episode 013
The enemy warlord who spoke to Tommy was a sturdy man with a shaggy mane of brown hair and a robust beard to match. He was a Level 7 named Larry Ansell. He wore silver scale mail, and was wrapped up in a heavy cape of fiat panda fur. Like the rest of the Haffaton men, he smiled with lighthearted amusement, even as Tommy (and occasionally Fritz) spat heated questions at him.
The Florist did not follow her song with any further music, and Wanda could no longer see her in the tower. Sir Larry drank from a wineskin he had been passed, and did his best to calm Tommy and answer his fears. No, this was not a trap. The spell would be on the city through Haffaton's turn tomorrow, and could be cast again. No, Goodminton was not prevented from leaving the city. No, Haffaton was not preparing to attack their cities. No, Haffaton was not planning to cut them off with reinforcements.
"We only. Want. To parley," smiled the man. "We are here to achieve peace! Are you certain you won't take any wine?" He held up the wineskin, gripping it around the neck.
Tommy was not calming down at all. He held his useless sword to one side, refusing to sheath it. His stance suggested that to use the sword upon Larry was still his lone wish, and that he still thought it might become possible at any moment. "Expect it's probably poison," Tommy said venomously.
Larry took another deep swig of the wine and chuckled. "Course it is. Best kind." He looked at Wanda and licked his lips. "Well...almost the best. Lady?" He held up the wine to her.
Wanda shook her head.
Everything that had happened since arriving at the city seemed part of a dream. A nightmare, perhaps. On most nights, she did dream vividly of battles and castles and casting, and of people she did not know, who were as real to her within the dream as any she met while awake. Sometimes she could fly. Sometimes, she was worshiped by all, as if she were a Titan. Sometimes she was mocked and beaten. In one dream, she had tried to speak to a vast army of uncroaked, but could not form any words. In another, she could see only the shadows of people she knew, but not their faces.
But this turn so far seemed stranger and more disconcerting than anything she'd ever dreamt.
A scattered cheer went up, and most of the Haffaton soldiers turned their heads. Olive Branch was descending a grand staircase, which was embedded in the Garrison wall to the right of the main doors. She wore a charcoal gray coat and lined with black and white fur, with matching boots and fur hat. Her instrument was slung over her back with a black strap embroidered with pink flowers and green vines. Platinum blond hair flowed in pretty ways from beneath the hat. Her green eyes sparkled.
The little flowers on the instrument's strap exactly matched the one on Wanda's suit.
As she approached through the ranks of Haffaton soldiers, the Florist smiled at the soldiers with perfect, white teeth. At one or two of the troops she waved a personal greeting, brightening the blushes on their cold cheeks.
An ache was forming in Wanda's chest, just above her stomach. It was a new sensation, something like hunger. An emptiness. The dull awareness of an unmet need. Your Fate and hers are intertwined.
As Olive drew near, she affixed those smiling green eyes forward, not on Wanda but on Tommy. Wanda's big brother turned to the enemy caster with a strange expression of dread, as if she were his executioner approaching, but then looked dumbstruck as she stepped up close to him. With a complete absence of fear, and a familiarity that ought to have been offensive but somehow seemed natural, she stood on tiptoes and studied his face.
"So red. So angry," she said, shaking her head sadly. Her speaking voice was breathy and high, in its way more feminine even than her singing voice. "Your Life aura, Warlord. It's just awful." She rested the heels of her boots back on the paving stones. "Can't you relax? You're in no danger here, I promise." She offered him a kind little smile.
Wanda watched Tommy's face, what she could see of it. He seemed not to change his expression, and barely to relax his posture, but suddenly Olive brightened. "Yes! Better!" she exclaimed. "And does your side have this thing called the 'smile?' It's a terribly nice and useful thing you can do sometimes."
Larry chuckled, as did some of the nearby Haffaton soldiers. The scent of Olive's perfume, familiar from her own clothing, reached Wanda's nose and left her feeling somehow lighter. Tommy looked unsure, and Wanda felt another pang of whatever was gnawing at her insides as he struggled to adjust to this strange development. Her brother was a war leader, and a good one. But was this truly war? Was there anything as strange in the world as the idea of "peace?"
Tommy's shoulders rose and fell in a small sigh. He turned and looked at Wanda helplessly.
"The enemy wants me to smile, sis," he said. He was already slightly doing so. "What should I do?"
Wanda could feel Olive looking at her, but she kept her eyes locked on Tommy.
"Are you asking my opinion as Chief Caster as to whether or not that will croak you?"
"Tch'noooo..." scoffed Tommy. Then he looked serious. "Wait, will it?"
Wanda waved her staff vaguely in the direction of one of the uncroaked knights in their stack. He tilted his head a bit and grinned happily, showing his remaining teeth around proudly. There were more chuckles in the ranks. Wanda shook her head.
"Nope. You are free to smile at will, Chief."
But he already was. The beaming knight was hamming it up, posing with hands on hips and throwing smiles around to everyone, and Tommy couldn't help it. Fritz and most of the rest of the men couldn't either. Wanda made her Fellow fold his hands together and flex his arms like a champion, grinning obscenely at everyone.
Tommy put the tip of his sword into the sheath and slammed it in. "Arright, 'Larry.' Gimme that disbanded poison wine. Let's hear your offer!"
Haffaton's soldiers cheered, though Goodminton's were more subdued about it. Wanda glanced back at the ranks and saw bewilderment and some frustration. Others were simple shrugging and sheathing. Theirs was not to decide whom to fight and when.
When she turned back, with a jolt like Natural Shockmancy, she finally met Olive's eyes. "Thank you, Wanda," the woman mouthed.
Then she winked, and Wanda felt it at the base of her spine.