Prologue - 025

Prologue - 025

Turns since TBfGK: 38

That evening's discussion with the Archons ended up going a lot smoother than his first two attempts.

For one thing, there were only ten of them this time; the rest were off on various missions. For another, they were all in standard raiment, which was a relief. He was there to learn Charlie's secrets. Victoria's could wait.

They led him to the common area and brought him a cup of hot tea with milk and honey, and a piece of archonfood cake. They didn't mob him, they didn't giggle, and he managed to form full sentences. They got down to business with a kind of social, professional distance. They started to actually talk.

But it was still odd. Odd for him, and odd for them. They didn't quite know how to deal with Parson, he learned. And this was because of one simple, eye-popping fact:

Charlescomm had no warlords.

Before being decrypted, they'd only had three kinds of people to deal with: clients, Charlie, and each other. From what Parson gathered, the Archons respected each other, worshipped Charlie unconditionally, and were out to screw the client as much as possible. (Charlie's Rule #3: We are in the business of solving problems for our clients. Corollary: Creating problems for our clients creates business.) They'd never had a warlord on their own side. Charlie didn't even use infantry.

Faced for the first time with the question of how to deal with one, they had elected to treat Parson and any other warlord of Gobwin Knob as clients who had paid for "full service." This was an incredibly expensive option that few of Charlie's customers ever went for. It amounted to "the Archon(s) will act as if their Duty is to the client, and will follow any orders, including attacking Charlescomm units." There was also no penalty clause for losing them in battle. The client paid only while the Archons lived.

Charlie offered various options and clauses that could be added to his contracts, including the no-return penalty waiver. So most clients who paid for "full service" did it because they wanted to make personal use of the Archons, before sending them off to die.


He couldn't get a sense from them about how they might feel about that. They had their professional faces on now. He didn't feel like getting into it, anyway. He worked through his list of questions, and they answered him plainly and pleasantly. This was more like a corporate meeting than a slumber party. He jotted down notes in the eyebook as they talked.

How many cities did Charlescomm have? One, a Level Five capital with truly murderous defenses.

How many units? At the time they had been decrypted, a little over six hundred Archons. About eighty percent of these were out in the field, either serving clients or standing by to be hired near hotspots. They ranged farther out into Erfworld than most sides imagined the world existed. Another 700 or so golems of various types (mostly cloth) guarded the city.

Did Charlie have casters? None, as units of Charlescomm. He would frequently hire casters from the Magic Kingdom for specific work. He had an excellent reputation as an employer there.

Did Charlie pop anything but Archons? No. The capital could pop one every turn, or three every two turns if they had hired a Turnamancer. Few other cities could pop Archons at all, and all of those required multiple turns. This might or might not be a function of the Arkendish.

What was an Archon, really? A flying knight-class unit with a random special from the set of: dance fighting, leadership, and limited forms of Shockmancy, Thinkamancy, Dollamancy and Foolamancy. As Archons leveled, they could gain additional random specials from that set. There were four of them with the dance fighting, leadership and Foolamancy abilities at the Battle for Gobwin Knob, and these were able to lead the Coalition's dance fight. Charlescomm did not volunteer this strategy, but Ansom knew to ask.

So what was Charlie like? None of them had ever physically seen him. He had a special personal guard of Archons who lived with him in the main tower, but those were rarely seen either. All contact with Charlie was by Thinkamancy via the Arkendish, which was apparently a rush for them when it happened. None of them knew where Charlie had come from, or how he had acquired an Arkentool. All living Charlescomm units had popped during his rule. Charlie did not permit questions about himself.

What did the Arkendish do? Many things, most of them connected to Thinkamancy. Charlie could handle an unlimited number of Thinkagrams, and extend some of his abilities to his personal Archons in the tower. Any commander in the world could get those Archons' attention by concentrating hard enough, for long enough. This could take hours or even days, but Charlescomm would establish contact eventually. This allowed him to hire out to any side or barbarian in the world, and probably provided him more revenue than mercenary work. He was the telecom giant of Erfworld. This was the main thing he used the Arkendish for, but guessing its other powers was a favorite topic for the Archons.

What did Charlie want? Money. More money, more reach, more security, more information. Archons were expensive units, costing a minimum of two hundred Shmuckers per turn for the weakest. The strongest were closer to five hundred. Everything Charlie did seemed to be in support of growing a larger and larger fleet of Archons. Not one of them could remember him stating any kind of ideology or purpose beyond that. (Charlie's Rule #15: Some things are more important than money. COROLLARY: Most things are not more important than money.)

Parson talked with them for several hours, until he felt like he needed some time and sleep to process it all. Though he was becoming more comfortable, these little women still had a creepiness that kept him on edge. The questions he really wanted to ask them were psychological. How did they feel now? About being decrypted? About Charlie? About Wanda? About Stanley?

About...him? *cough*

He didn't think he was up to getting into all of that right now.

Among the Archons currently assigned to the city, he noticed that one was a flashy redhead named Ginger, and another was a sweet, mousy brunette named MaryAnn. Erfworld never stopped throwing jokes at him.

Or did he create the joke by picking them out? Chickens and eggs, trees falling in the forest...

At any rate, he asked the two of them to join him on his rounds tomorrow, and continue the discussion. "Should be about a three hour tour," he told them with a smirk.

Nobody laughed. But he was pretty used to that.