Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower) - Episode 020

Inner Peace (Through Superior Firepower) - Episode 020

"What the enemy brings you, you usually don't know until they're on you," Fritz had said, back when they were still two days' ride from home. "But here, we've got the count. We know just what we're facing. It's like having a Lookamancer for once."

Wanda nodded. Father had sent them a full roster of Frenemy and Quisling's forces in Goodminton's airspace (though a few more were still trickling in). She and the warlords were poring over it around a tactical table, beneath the fluttering canvas of a dining tarpaulin. A weak sun rose over pine-stubbled, snowy hills. Un-Tommy stood nearby, as blank and unthinking as a golem. But it somehow still seemed right to have him in earshot.

"And what it tells us," Fritz continued, "isn't good. If they attack the city now, that's it. We'll disband in the field, and our shadows will never darken the ground again." Cakes nodded solemnly, and Mack looked down at the list and shook his head at the futility of such a battle. "But let's assume Lord Firebaugh can delay them until we arrive. Then we've got something of a chance. And that's assuming we have to fight at all. The Overlord may elect to pay them off."

Mack groaned, or was that a growl? "He won't do that. He won't empty the treasury just to preserve our alliance with these cheeseweasels."

"He'd be doing it to fight another turn," Cakes said grimly.

"Yeah, and with no treasury, 'another turn' would be about all we'd have," snarled Mack.

"If he does, he does," said Fritz. "It's not your place to say, nor even mine. I'm not Tommy." He glanced respectfully at Un-Tommy, still standing motionless beside the tarp pole. Fritz mashed his index finger down on the map of the capital in front of him. "We're planning a battle here. Now, I believe it's going to be a matter of forcing them to ground in the courtyard."

"They'll want the tower," said Mack.

"Aye, so we put enough men and warlords up there that they'll think the courtyard's softer."

"Meaning the courtyard will be soft," said Cakes.

"Not so soft as they think. We put top leadership and casters down there to meet 'em," said Fritz. "Then we can hit them from above and below all at once. It'll bring our heavies into play early. That should be enough to win out."

In the silence that followed, Wanda cleared her throat. She had a surprise that would change everything about this battle planning session.

"The tower has new spells on it," she said with a sly smile. "I've been having Clay and Delphie spend their juice on air defenses."

"Aye, I'm aware," said Fritz, "but it's nothing like what we'd need to shoot them all down. Not by a quarter, by my gut. Not by a tenth, if I'm honest."

Wanda's face fell. Her cheeks went flush.

The actual effect the new air defense spells might have on an enemy wasn't something she understood well. It was for a warlord to say how useful something might be in battle.

She'd told Tommy about spelling up Minnow Tower, and he'd said it was smart thinking. But he never said what kind of effect the raw Shockmancy they were storing in the tower might have in battle. He had let her believe that it might, in fact, be enough to save the capital. Was he only trying to boost her confidence?

Oh...and he must have also told Fritz just how pathetic those few extra spells really were, because Fritz wasn't even surprised.

She slumped on the camp stool, and tuned the rest of the meeting out. Another branch of magic she knew nothing about. And her assumptions about it had been terrible. Another ignorant misstep.

She looked up at Un-Tommy helplessly. Would there ever be as much time as she needed, simply to learn to do her job?

A little later in the meeting, Wanda took hold of a quill and stray scrap of parchment, and began to write a note.


The Chief Croakamancer held on tightly to the unfamiliar scroll, and followed the others out to the veranda atop Minnow Tower.

In the satchel at her hip, she had a sheaf of scribbled notes: two days' worth of hasty messages from Father, from Delphie, from Clay. She'd swallowed her pride and asked some of the most rudimentary questions about magic. Delphie withheld sarcasm and answered them plainly, if in flourished handwriting.

How much damage would one of their spells deal an enemy flying unit? What was the likelihood of hitting a given enemy? Could the enemy defend against spells? How much bonus did the tower provide to a caster? Could the enemy attack a caster on the tower? On, and on...

Father also seemed to be gaining an education as they went. His aversion to magic wore away a bit, as these basic spellcasting concepts turned clearer. His suggestions were brief, but often incisive. Over a number of hours, the four of them (and then five, as Wanda brought Fritz into the planning process) worked out a strategy which played to the cards in their hand.

The same five of them now stepped out into the gray daylight and the chill breeze. This morning, Father had sent Delphie into the Magic Kingdom to buy the scroll Wanda now unrolled. It was a fairly hefty piece of magic, and it cost 18,000 Shmuckers, or close to a fifth of Goodminton's treasury. It was not offensive; she could cast it before Goodminton broke alliance. She hoped she would not fail.

The opposing (not for moments yet would they be "enemy") forces, seemed to take some notice of this gathering. There were some minor shouts to attention among the two masses of flyers, but no real alarm. They simply hovered in the air, well above the stub of a tower, and awaited some signal.

Wanda squinted, and began to recite the Dirtamancy scroll.

"Dobler," she incanted, "Tatum, Samuelsson, McSorley..." The tower rumbled. "Cobb!" Wanda shouted. "Rose!"

The tower rose indeed, far higher into the sky than it had stood before. Stone blocks and tiles sprang from nothing, widening the platform upon which they stood. The flyers of Quisling and Frenemy seemed to descend until they hovered at even height with the tower top. The opposition forces were milling confusedly, some of them drawing swords and nocking arrows in alarm. A bugle called Quisling to readiness. The memory of the spell faded from Wanda's mind.

It had been as effective as her effort at Rhyme-o-mancy, but it left her no better understanding of what she had cast. She had meant to pay some attention to the design of the tower as she cast, but it only looked like a bigger version of the old one. She shook her head in wonderment at having cast it at all. Meanwhile, Fritz crouched and raised up a great metal shield. Delphie and Clay stepped behind him.

Delphie's voice was high and quavering. "Lord, you should break with Frenemy. Now."

"Done!" shouted Father from just behind Wanda's shoulder. The flyers from the nearer group ceased to look like allies, and her heart pumped as it always did at first sight of enemy units. But boosted spells were already flying from the newly powerful tower, and Delphie...dottering, vain Delphie, was commanding all of the magic Goodminton could bring to bear.

Even through blinding blasts, Wanda's Croakamancy senses let her know that the first enemy casualties had been struck and were falling. She sensed broken skulls and wings and burst organs inside the bodies that spiraled down through the air toward the courtyard below. Two Buttresses and their mounted warlords were among the plummeting units, as well as half a dozen Moonbats and Wingnuts.

Delphie immediately leveled up to 5, and her spells became that much more potent. From a higher vantage on the tower, the ballista emplacements and archers, led by Cakes and Mack, let loose a volley. Missiles flew and slew. Frenemy had barely yet had time to comprehend that its ally of fifteen score turns was croaking its units mercilessly, let alone to adjust their stacks to their rapidly dwindling leadership and mount a counterattack.

Delphie was simply not missing. Not one single shot.

Wanda watched her work, but it was a blur. Somewhere in those notes in her satchel, there was a brief explanation of how Predictamancy worked in combat. It amounted to the caster using her juice to see things happen a second or two ahead, so that she could aim where the enemy would be, and to move where the enemy's return blows and arrows would not land.

Most importantly to this plan, a Predictamancer could know whether or not a shot or blow she was about to initiate would be a hit. If it wouldn't, then she simply did not take the shot.

And finally, there was Clay's boost.

A Luckamancy boost could have any number of specific effects on a unit's "dice." Defensively, it could affect their chance to be hit, the damage they would take from hits, their chance of receiving a critical hit, their chance of being incapacitated or croaked from a fall, et cetera. Or it could affect the enemy's outcomes: their defenses. This was the boost they decided to give Delphie.

Some return fire was coming in now, from Frenemy only. But Frenemy's forces were weak, in terms of their air to ground capabilities. Their Flying Lotuses were sending some blasts at Delphie. A few Goobirds approached the tower top and were shot down. Only one magic blast struck Fritz's shield. Delphie sidestepped the others as necessary, still casting in a kind of concentration trance. Her eyes and her hands danced.

Breaking alliance only with Frenemy technically allowed Quisling to attack the tower. But by doing so, Goodminton had signaled to Quisling that it still would accept a state of non-aggression with them. Delphie had yet fired no shots their way. The highest-ranking Quisling warlord seemed to want to wait for guidance from their Ruler, which is exactly what Firebaugh had said would happen.

Frenemy units fell by twos and threes, the victims of outrageously high damage outcomes and critical hit rates. Their remaining single warlord, badly burned by a lightning blast to his sword arm, looked up at Quisling's forces. They were hanging there, untouched and unmoving, offering no help.

He must have made a very easy decision. Frenemy escaped Goodminton's airspace with more than half their total units still alive; the battle was decisive mainly for the high-value targets they had lost.

Fritz stood atop the tall new tower, leaving his sword in its sheath. He signaled to Quisling by pointing to the horizon, with Delphie standing at his back, ready to cast. Before ten minutes had passed, they too had withdrawn from Goodminton's airspace.

The five of them, forgetting all ranks, decorum and history, laughed and embraced. For a moment, they were not Overlord, Chiefs and casters. They were a five-unit stack which had just beaten two armies.

Wanda had not cast a single spell in the fight, but that was in the plan as well.

Her juice had been intentionally preserved for the burned and broken spoils littering the courtyard far below.