Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower) - Episode 022
Wanda stepped through into Goodminton's portal room shortly after the turn had begun, and found Clay waiting for her.
"Hey. I had a thought, Chief," he said, rising with an ear-splitting scrape of wooden chair legs on the stone floor. He didn't look up at her, but gathered up his small figurines and dice, chalk sticks and little slate tablet.
Wanda stood and waited for him to elaborate. She had left him with orders to boost three scouts and then hang spells on the tower again, but also to see if he could come up with anything else to do. Since the air battle, she hadn't had any new bright ideas, and the situation was still grim. Delphie had turned moody and uncooperative. It would be good if he had thought of something new.
"Okay," said Clay, stepping around the table, "it's about falling." He stepped up to her and stood a little too close. His face was red, and he was breathing excitedly and...pungently, through his grinning mouth. "You know how when a unit falls, it can croak, or be incapacitated, or just be plain wounded and lose some hits?"
"Yes?" She was interested in what he had to say, but she took a step back from him. He immediately stepped forward and closed the gap, out of unconscious excitement rather than disrespect.
"Well, that's Luckamancy, too. And I'm thinking f'we get into another airspace fight we can first cast against the enemy to make 'em more likely to croak in a fall. Then we can go for dismounting attacks. And there's not a lot of, um, downside to that. Less backlash from borrowing Numbers, right? Because we don't use air mounts. We do a lot less falling. See?"
Wanda did. They still had prisoners from the air battle who had survived the fall, and hadn't turned. Considering their strategic desperation, she would've preferred to have the uncroaked units on hand.
"That's good," she said, and stepped around him to evade his breath attack. She headed out of the room, with him following closely behind. "Do you want to make scrolls, then? Or can you hang those spells on the tower?"
"I think I'll just wait to cast if we're attacked, if that's okay," he said. "More flexible that way, and it's not like I'm goin' anywhere."
If that was meant to be a jab at her recent orders, Wanda ignored it. After the air battle, she had relocated herself, Delphie and Clay to the tower, and told the other two casters they were not to travel to the Magic Kingdom without permission. Delphie was taking it as if Wanda had ordered her summary execution.
"That sounds fine," said Wanda, taking to the first of many stairs out of the Dungeon area. "Keep me informed."
They took three flights of steps in silence, with Clay huffing a bit, but staying close behind her. He probably thought she'd ignored his suggestion, but she was giving it deep, deliberate consideration. Something had been bothering her lately: a disconnect she saw between Clay's explanation of Luckamancy and what she understood of Predictamancy. Meeting the Predictamancer in the Magic Kingdom had been tantalizing, and had brought it to her mind once more.
"Could you 'un-boost' me? Could you make it so that I would croak if I took any fall?" She didn't bother pausing in her climb, or turning around. She could hear his steps following laboriously behind her, but he did not answer for half a minute or so.
Just as she was about to prompt him for a response, he asked, "Why would I do that?"
"I didn't say you would," said Wanda. "I asked if you could. Could you cast more risk of a bad outcome upon me?"
"Me, specifically. Yes," said Wanda. She glanced over her shoulder at him. "Do you understand why I am asking?"
Again, he took a long while to respond. "Because of your Fate crap, I guess?" he asked, sounding reluctant to follow this line of questioning.
"According to Delphie, I'm Fated to serve under Olive Branch. So does this mean I cannot fall and be croaked today?" They reached another landing, and continued up yet another drab stone staircase.
"It means that you will not," said Clay. "The difference is...academic, I guess."
"I will not," echoed Wanda. "Even if you curse my Luck, and I leap from a parapet?"
"You wouldn't do that," said Clay. "And I wouldn't curse you. You can't even order me to do that. It hurts the side, and I know it. And I just...I couldn't do it anyway."
"Why not? Don't you have a will?"
"I guess." Clay was starting to sound cranky. "D'zit matter?"
Wanda took a sudden sharp breath, stopped, and spun around.
"My brother," she said, as Clay stumbled clumsily to one knee, "thought it mattered very much! My father and I think it matters. What we decide from now on depends on understanding what we can really do. So how can you have Luck and Fate both? Do our choices matter, Clay?"
Clay stood up, but still slumped like a beaten cur. She knew she was taking out her frustration on him, and it didn't matter. She was only disappointed with herself for losing her composure. "Yes, Lady," he said, looking down, "but...also, no."
Wanda gave out an explosive gasp of annoyance. "Clay! I need to understand. You see? So I don't make any more mistakes like..." Like Tommy "Like Kiloton. Now, I am giving you a direct order to explain this to me as clearly as you can. Do you understand?"
"Do we have free will?" she asked him slowly.
"Yes," he said.
"Then how can there be Fate?" she asked in the same slow, pointed tone of voice.
Clay sighed, squinting up at her as if grasping for the words. "You can always do what you want, Lady! You can take any path you choose between here and your Fate. And you can get lucky, or unlucky along the way. But the sum of your choices will always add up to the same outcome, eventually."
Wanda thought about that for a moment. "But you said you couldn't cast a curse on me," she said, frowning. "Not wouldn't, you said 'couldn't.'"
"Yeah. There's no way I could do that."
He swallowed, looking pained. "Under orders?"
She stamped her boot on the stone step, looking down on him. "Yes! Under orders!"
Clay closed his eyes tightly. "Because I'm in love with you," he said.
In the stonework stairwell, a cold draft blew. Clay's eyes stayed shut, his face turning red. Some bootsteps echoed from several floors below them. Wanda's mouth was hanging open. But she shut her lips tight, as Clay opened his eyes and looked up at her apologetically.
"Love is its own thing," he said, shaking his head in helpless wonderment. "And it, uh, really messes with the dice."