To Wanda‘s knowledge, Tommy had not ordered Lady Temple to accompany her to meet the Overlord. But Delphie gave no indication of needing such an order. She led the way up the main steps.
Goodminton was a squat Level 4 citadel of barrel turrets and square towers, perched atop a sizable hill in the shadow of craggy mountains. Most of the surrounding hills were blanketed in snow, which fell in perpetuity from permanent cloud banks, but the city streets were bone dry. A frigid wind was the only weather the capital had to endure.
Minnow Tower earned the designation “tower” by being a somewhat taller gray rectangle than those that comprised the rest of the Garrison. Its top was manned with archers and an impressive set of ballistas, but Wanda could see that it was otherwise poorly hung with air defense spells. Up in the airspace, only a few flying rods and larrybirds patrolled. There were no flying mounts in the sky.
“That tower? Pathetic for spell bonuses,” explained Delphie, when Wanda asked about the defenses. “Hardly worth climbing up it to cast.”
“What if the enemy attacks by air?” Wanda asked, squinting at a sunny patch in the mostly cloudy sky.
Delphie made a dismissive noise. “Then the plan is we‘ll embed with the leadership on the ground. Let ‘em land, fight it out in the courtyard and dungeon.”
“Will that work?”
Delphie shrugged, as if it didn‘t matter. “Good as anything else.”
Unlike the airspace, the Garrison and city were thickly populated. Seasoned infantry and heavy units patrolled and trained on the streets and parapets. Wanda saw vicious war beasts in iron chains or in cages: pokedaemons, a fruit brute, and a foul-tempered pedobear. A line of quarter horses faced a line of nickel horses in the open courtyard. Stalwart knights led alternating charges at one another on quarterback, then on nickelback.
Goodminton might be worn down, but it still seemed eager to fight.
Overlord Firebaugh maintained his quarters, private office, and public reception on the floor above the war room. As they climbed flight after flight of steps, Wanda became increasingly unsatisfied with Delphie‘s reply about air defense.
Two floors short of their destination, she stopped at a landing. “Lady Temple.”
Delphie stopped a couple of steps up the next staircase and turned around. “Mm? Yes, dear.”
“You are a Predictamancer?”
Delphie arched an eyebrow warily. “Course. Adept-class, Level 4. Why?”
“As a Predictamancer, then,” asked Wanda, her tone carefully even, “will the plan to embed the casters with the ground units succeed against an air assault?”
Delphie frowned and put her hands to her hips. “Did I say, ‘Mathamancer?‘ I‘m not even a Warlord. Now how would you expect me to judge the battle-worthiness of a defense plan for a capital fight?” Her plastic smile had returned to her lips. Her voice was high and tense. “I mean, it would depend on the enemy forces, wouldn‘t it? Do you want to break that down for me, Warlord Wanda? Or would you care to rephrase the question?”
Wanda looked at Delphie very carefully, for several long moments. The woman‘s jaw was jutting out, her mouth tightly closed. “Yes, I would, Chief Predictamancer,” said Wanda. “My question is will this city be attacked by air?”
Delphie kept her lips together, but her eyes widened. She took in a deep breath through her nose. “Eventually.”
“And will we successfully defend ourselves?”
Delphie searched Wanda‘s face for something, but didn‘t seem to find it. “I can‘t say,” she stated flatly.
Wanda crossed her arms, shivering slightly in the cold brick stairwell. She nodded. “All right.”
“It‘s a complicated subject, Wanda. Predictamancy... You know, dear? There are rules we don‘t discuss. About...what we don‘t discuss.” She smiled weakly.
“I understand,” said Wanda, even though she did not. She walked up the staircase, brushing by Delphie.
“Fate has a plan for you. I do as well,” said Delphie behind her. “I will explain what I can, but you‘d do well to trust me.”
They climbed the rest of the stairs in silence.
Tommy raised an eyebrow at Delphie‘s presence, but shrugged and led them in to Firebaugh‘s reception.
He sat behind a grand chestnut desk with brass fittings, covered in stacks of books, rolled-up maps, and stationery. A small trio of burning logs crackled behind him, lost in the cave of an enormous, sooty hearth. He sat with unbent posture in a high-backed chair of ruddy leather and stained wood.
Firebaugh and the chair resembled one another to a fair degree. He was worn, but steadfast. He lacked Tommy‘s powerful build or Wanda‘s sculpted beauty, but his features were stately, and there was a family resemblance. His scalp was bald, the wispy hair he had was gray. But his eyes had the same cold blue fire that Wanda had seen in her own reflection.
He did not rise, but looked at them each in turn, settling on Wanda for a lingering gaze. Wanda wondered if she ought to bow, as Delphie was doing. But Tommy did not, and she decided that lowering her eyes to gaze at the carpet beneath her boots would suffice.
The reception had a picture window, but the thick velvet curtains were drawn. Only the glow of the fireplace and a bluish powerball above the desk illuminated the room. Firebaugh folded his hands.
"Well you were right, Atomic," said the Overlord, not taking his eyes from Wanda. "She's lovely." Wanda looked up at him.
Tommy smiled, and Delphie grinned brightly and drew herself up as if ready to say something proud. But Lord Firebaugh was not smiling, and so Wanda only kept her mouth closed and blushed under his close scrutiny. His gaze did not relent.
Distantly, wistfully, he added, "Our doom is really lovely."