One thousand eight hundred and fifty-four turns ago, a female Noble Warlord with the Archery special popped in Firestone. Her hair was flax, her complexion fair, and her eyes pale blue. Her raiment was of elegant gold silks, with white and radish accents. With contempt, she immediately shed the gown in favor of leather riding gear, light armor, and a helmet adorned with war pigeon wings.
Even before the bombing of the Atrium roof, the Countess Artemis had been drawn up as tight as the string of her longbow. She was stationed upon the Outer Walls, charged with leading the reserve archery.
She paced restlessly among them, her boots thunking on stone and her hair a golden pennant flowing behind. Her Knights were deployed to the streets beside the Garrison. Squinting in that direction, she could barely make them out from here. She felt feeble and naked. Almost more than to see Stanley's witch burn, Artemis wanted this battle to end so that she could rejoin her fighters. Her friends.
By the Queen of Faq's Turnamancy gambit, the battle certainly appeared to be won, but she had her doubts. The bombing seemed a bad omen. She watched the skies, as always, and worried. Whatever the circumstances, enemy action down from above was never good.
"Wisdom in the tower," she whispered. It was a plea to the Titans.
Ordered immediately to stand at court, the Level 1 Countess of Firestone rode out with six soldiers and a Knight. Before they camped at turn's end, she had felled a hamhawk from a treetop and a spread eagle from the clear sky. The eagle was so high that she had nocked and loosed the shot before her units could even see it. This was her first (and worst) day of hunting. Her first day alive. On their four-turn journey to Spacerock, their packed provisions went untouched.
When the enemy dwagons began to fall, the archers cheered loudly. Artemis did not. This development was not expected within protocol. It seemed dangerously unusual.
Regardless, she jumped to her Duty. The enemy's profile for flyers had just radically changed. Quickly, methodically, she walked among her stacks and issue new target priorities: Archons by leadership, then Foolamancy, then the rest. She reserved for herself and her elites the warlord shaped as Prince Ossomer, as well as any other flying surprises. The dwagonfall itself could be Foolamancy, after all...
One thousand eight hundred and fifteen turns ago, the Countess Artemis leveled for the first time. In Jetstone's long (and ultimately successful) campaign against the Ad Council, she was serving as adjutant to Prince Forthewin. It was a prestigious position for a Level 1, but the Prince claimed she had a "spark" that he could see. And besides, he had need of her bow.
Both were true that day, at the Battle of Smokeybear. With the Prince wounded and fighting for his life against an enemy Red Defender, she gave him her bow with a well-placed shot that saved him from a diving Woodsy Owl.
And later that night, bathed in the glory of victory, she also gave him her spark.
In short order, the Countess' fears were borne out. The Garrison had been ordered evacuated. Infantry streamed out the archway and filled up Mainway. She stood and fretted and looked down upon the streets as less-capable warlords than she tried to assemble them all into something resembling sensible military organization.
"No...break them up," she muttered, far out of anyone's hearing below. "Don't worry about whose they are right now, restack the 1s and move them to side streets! Hurry!"
As this was happening, she was informed that Stanley's Croakamancer had survived. Decryption had left the enemy very strong, right there in the heart of the capital. The King was to evacuate, and might well change the capital to the City of Jetstone, despite the heir-to-pop here in Spacerock.
For the dozenth time she squinted up at the tower top, and down to the archway.
"Who is leading this mess, exactly? What is the plan?"
She hated mass battles.
Four hundred seventy-six turns ago, the Level 7 Countess of Firestone formally hosted the new heir to the throne of Jetstone, Prince Ansom. He was Level 2.
They stood on the veranda overlooking her stately city, he in shining plate, she in her hated silks. Forthewin's fall at Iceburg had been blamed on her by voices at Court, and she'd been put to pasture here for nearly seven hundred turns. Playing Noble and managing this city was her Duty now, and she served well, but there was no glory to be found in just walking to the slaughterhouse.
The Prince was her chance to be free of it, to take the field again. Through dinner and after, she maneuvered him with politesse into drinking a completely inadvisable quantity of pomegranate wine. She watched his eyes wander, to precisely the parts of her body she intended.
Shaking his head, he snapped his gaze upward, blushing. "Forgive me, your Signamancy... You don't appear..."
"Flaccid? Placid? Content?" she prompted. "No, I'm not a city steward, Highness. I am a Warlord."
"Yes, you leveled," said Ansom, knitting his brow. "It caught my attention."
"I did," said Artemis, allowing herself a grin that was more satisfaction than seduction, "from six to seven, by training alone. I've trained up Knights, as well."
"It must have taken...hundred of turns. Did you never sleep?"
She nodded. "Six hundred forty turns, Your Highness. And to manage a city is to sleep. May I show you a trick?"
When they dragged the last Prince of Jetstone out to the shaded walk beside Mainway, the Countess' internal bowstring had already snapped. The moment she saw the Prince assembling her Knights for a charge into the tower, she broke ranks and ran for the Garrison.
The time that it took her to descend the walls and shoulder her way through the crowd was only a bit less than the time it took for the Chief Warlord to incapacitate himself and wound several of her fighters.
She saluted Tramennis' inert form and shouted, "Your Highness?"
"He's good'n out," said Nutro, her staunch gladiator. "He'll croak on the next turn."
"What were you doing?" Artemis demanded.
"Up to rescue the King," said Purina, her beefy valkyrie. "Purple dwagons hit us. Hittin' the tower now, Warlady."
The nearby booms and cracks of sonic siege attacks would have been enough to convey this last information.
Her trick was an epic feat...of sheer disaster. Prince Ansom's eye healed on the start of the next turn, of course. But the damage was done.
The Countess, it seemed, had also had too much wine.
She saw him off. Her people faced his, formally. By way of a personal word to her, he said only, "There is glory in all Duty."
Then he rode away stiffly, and she never saw him again.
The Countess looked to the sky once more. She had a vision, so clear, of the tower falling. King Slately would fall with it, and it would be the last thing in this life she would see. When he hit the ground, they would all go to face the Titans.
Not at all the way she would choose.
"Knights, to me!" shouted Artemis. "Canidae! Alpo! Eukanuba! Stack for stealth! Whatever warlord is leading that siege, that is our target!"
When Ansom was lost at Gobwin Knob, along with a substantial fraction of Jetstone infantry, and Gobwin Knob emerged as an existential threat to the Kingdom... then, and only then, was Artemis freed to hunt. Slately could afford to punish her no longer.
Glancing up once more, she thought of Prince Ossomer. She had been part of his campaign against Haggar; her Knights were the key factor at the Battle for Toughskin. Prince Sammy actually had to withdraw from the city on his turn, or be overrun.
At Court she was still despised, but Ossomer knew. Had known.
She'd had her action. She even leveled once more, to 8. She had done her Duty. But glory? That seemed ever yet to come. Her eyes narrowed.
If not this turn, when?