Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower) - Episode 007
Wanda did not return to the city of Goodminton until she was eighteen turns old. She rode her familiar sawhorse, which she now called Funnyface, surrounded by a stack of uncroaked stabbers and one ghastly-looking knight on his last turn before complete decay. She returned through her capital‘s gates as a Level 3 Croakamancer (still Novice class).
Her traveling companions were among several hundred units she had animated so far, including four enemy warlords. She had been wounded in action once by crossbow. She had slain a copycat with her own staff, and landed the croaking blow on an enemy roastbeast. She had helped her side take back the outposts of Frankburg and Hamfurter.
And in the middle of all of it, she had been called home from the action by her Chief Predictamancer. She was less than enthused to be here.
In her quarters, Wanda changed out of her muddy blue robes into an interesting bit of raiment she had found in Goodfinger. It was a suit in Haffaton‘s livery of black with white trim, but it also sported stylized decorations of little pink flowers. On the exterior, it was satin, but the bulk of it was made of a thick, quilted cotton. It was cut for a feminine build like her own, and its design was almost mockingly martial, with ornamental braids and epaulets.
Wanda had no idea who might have owned this outfit previously. Tommy did not recognize it, nor had they felled any female commanders at Goodfinger. Upon claiming it, she‘d imposed Goodminton‘s livery on it by natural Dollamancy, reluctantly changing the black to slate blue. But on a whim, she kept just one of the pink flowers, offset in a patch of white. She and the Wanda in the mirror liked these garments very much.
She wanted to see her father, but it had been Delphie who‘d ordered her home. So she put on a pair of fleece-lined leather slippers and padded her way down the dungeon hallway.
Clay Dice answered her knock, looking as if he had just awakened from a nap. His baggy linen tunic was stained with jam from breakfast. “Oh hey.” He held the door open only to the width of his head. He looked at her outfit, head to foot. “She‘s still in the Magic Kingdom.”
There was something instantly infuriating about being told that. Wanda didn‘t like Delphie or Clay very much. Fresh from the action as she was, it seemed to Wanda that the other two casters should both be doing more for their side. The fact that Delphie wasn‘t here and Clay didn‘t care seemed...typical. But she knew better than to show her annoyance. “Does she know I have arrived?”
“Yeah,” said Clay. “She‘s a Predictamancer.” He drew in a long sniff, long enough for it to turn into a snort in the back of his throat. He swallowed. “She‘ll be back any minute.”
The plan not to display her annoyance was not quite surviving contact with the enemy. “Predictamancers don‘t know everything, Clay.”
He met her eyes, but with his chin down and face hanging, looking beaten. “No. Just everything that matters.”
She cleared her throat. “So should I wait? Or is there time for me to see the Overlord?”
Clay looked as if he were nearing the maximum number of sentences he‘d counted on having to speak today. “She‘ll be back any minute,” he said, recycling one of them.
She considered turning around and just marching through the portal. Wanda had seen the Magic Kingdom only briefly, on the night before she rode out with the army. It looked busy and confusing, and she didn‘t trust her ability to find Delphie there. “Very well, I‘ll wait,” she said. When that didn‘t elicit a response immediately, she added, “Here.”
“Yeah, all right,” said Clay. He opened the door and left it open, walking into the room. He kept his back to her as she entered. At the far end of the room, he settled onto the wooden stool at his workbench.
There was a small fire in the fireplace, and Wanda sat on a cushion on the hearth. For a minute or so, there was only the pop of the wood. But she had been wanting to understand something, and this seemed like an opportunity to ask.
“Mm.” He was fiddling with a figurine, like the ones used to mark the forces on the map table. Perhaps he fabricated those. He did seem to be painting it with a little brush. In retrospect, the jam stains were probably purple paint.
“Delphie tells you what to cast, doesn‘t she? What battles to affect. What units to...what, bless?”
“Yeah,” he said, not looking up. “I just say ‘boost.‘”
“And you can alter the outcome of a battle, by casting ahead of time. You boost up a unit‘s luck by a lot, or a whole side‘s luck by a little?”
Clay sniffed again. “Yeah, kind of. Or jinx the enemy. Battles are hard, though. Sides are harder. Units are pretty easy. I boost our warlords all the time.”
“Did you boost me?”
Clay turned his head and glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “Not yet,” he said with a crooked smile. “She doesn‘t want me to.”
Wanda narrowed her eyes. “Hm? Why not?”
The Luckamancer turned away and dipped his tiny paintbrush. “Says you don‘t need it. You‘re the one unit on this whole side that doesn‘t need any of my help. S‘what she says about you. You got some kinda Fate crap on you.”
Out on the campaign trail, Wanda had talked to her brother about Delphie, trying to understand the woman‘s role in the command structure. It was clear that Tommy and her father both held Delphie in something like awe, and left her free to do nearly anything she thought was the “right thing” in terms of casting. Goodminton‘s battle plans simply dealt with warlords and conventional units. Tommy expected that the casters at home would do their best to support the army‘s efforts as they saw fit, and left it at that.
Because of these conversations, Wanda had almost come to the conclusion that Delphie was playing a bullying and bluffing game. The Chief and the Overlord acted as if all things magical were too mysterious for them to ever understand, and that must be exactly how Delphie wanted it. She wanted to be seen as wise and mysterious and not to be questioned. Her lover was cowed, her superiors were deferential, and she had tried to put Wanda in the same position with this nonsense about “Fate” and “a role to play.”
In fact, she planned to tell her father that. While she was here, she wanted to tell him that Delphie knew they would pop a caster. That she lied. It was something he ought to know.
But if the “Fate” talk was only so much manipulative nonsense, would she have told Clay the same thing? Why? He didn‘t care.
“Clay,” said Wanda after a minute or so, “If you can do these kinds of things for us, why wasn‘t Goodminton winning when I popped?”
He surprised her by slamming the figurine to the wooden workbench and whirling around on his stool. “How ‘bout ‘cause we‘re fightin‘ five other sides? Huh? How good you think I‘m s‘posed to be? Do you even know what Luckamancy does?”
Wanda blinked. “Three other sides.”
“There are three enemy sides in the battlespace,” insisted Wanda.
Clay only shook his head at her. “Plus our ‘allies.‘ If you can call ‘em that.”
“They‘re working against us?”
“I heard you got ambushed a few times,” said Clay, with a bit of a sneer.
“Yes, by Haffaton,” said Wanda. They‘d faced three surprise strikes, counting the early attack on their siege. The third of these was when she had taken the crossbow bolt to her leg. Funnyface had taken two more for her.
“Heard they knew just where to hit us. Heard they might‘ve been going after you, personally.”
“Casters in the field are always considered targets,” said Wanda. “Are you saying our allies are passing intelligence to Haffaton?”
Clay turned around and faced his workbench. “Yeah they‘d have to be. C‘mere,” he said, gesturing. Wanda stood up and walked to his bench.
“I‘munna show you how Luckamancy works. These are dice. That‘s my name and that‘s my game.” He held up a pile of oddly regular shapes.
Wanda would have said that all dice were square, but she could see that these worked the same, only for different numbers of faces. She nodded. He put the pile of dice on the bench, and picked up two triangular ones, in brown and gold. “Two level 1 infantry. They fight.” He rolled the dice, and indicated the numbers at the bottom of each. “Four. Three. Gold guy wins. You got it?”
Wanda nodded again. Clay was saying that he had just simulated a battle, in its simplest form. Some part of her instinctively studied the brown die, assessing the difficulty of uncroaking the fallen unit. Silly.
“Okay, now let‘s boost the brown guy,” said Clay. He picked it up and pinched it, and Wanda could see a tiny spark of juice at his fingertips. “He‘ll roll high now, for a little while.”
Clay picked up the dice and rolled them. Both came up 4. “Heh. Gold guy gets to live one more round. That happens. But...” He rolled them again. The brown die was a 4, the gold one showed 2. “And he‘s croaked now.”
Clay turned on his stool, pointing to the dice. “That‘s the world, Wanda. That‘s all the combat in the world. You fight, I fight, it goes down like that.”
Something about it struck Wanda as terribly wrong. “The Titans...play dice? And we must do what the dice say? We flourish or perish at random?”
Clay was shaking his head. “No, no...I think it‘s the opposite.” He smiled, as someone who was speaking on a topic of great familiarity. “The dice describe the world. They don‘t determine it. A Mathamancer can tell you how many dice will be rolled, how many points‘ll be lost when you‘re wounded. He‘ll tell you what‘ll probably happen, and possibly happen, and what can‘t happen. But your choices still make it happen.”
“Choices? How are there any choices, if you can...do that?” She indicated the 4 on the brown die.
“That guy,” said Clay, pointing at the same thing, “made excellent choices. He parried that first 4. Then he counterstruck! Slice!”
Wanda shook her head. “He didn‘t choose it at all. You boosted him to a 4.”
“I boosted his roll to a 4! I changed his odds, chose a way to describe the outcome of his choices. You see?” He picked up the dice and showed them to her. “The dice are not the guy, okay? In this case the guy is imaginary, and the dice are representing him. But this is real life,” he said, making a circle in the air with his index finger, “and you are not the dice. Okay? In real life, you are real, but the dice are imaginary. The dice that describe your choices. Mathamancy describes those, and Luckamancy affects those.”
Wanda only teetered on the edge of understanding this concept. But the suddenly talkative Clay swept onward. “We were losing,” he said, grabbing a varied handful of dice, “because if we‘re the brown guy, this is what we‘re up against.” He rolled everything. The lone enchanted die came up a 4 again, but the rest of the dice came up 1, 2, 4, a pair of 5s, an 8, and even a 16 on the die that was almost round.
“You‘re good. You‘re boosted,” said Clay.“By Fate I guess...but you‘re not invincible.”
He got a look of concern, as if he were only connecting the concepts to reality now himself. “And you‘re only, you know...one die. You should be careful.”