Prologue - 012

Prologue - 012

Turns since TBfGK: 4

The column was three hexes long. No unit within it had less than eighteen move. No unit within it had lower than six base attack. This was a strike force. It was several strike forces.

His leadership would add three attack to all units on his side, five to those in his hex, and ten to those in his own stack. His mistress would add one to all Decrypted troops on her side, four to those in her hex, and eight to those in her stack.

And when Ansom, Chief Warlord of Gobwin Knob and a Decrypted unit himself, led a stack of six Decrypted heavies and knights with Wanda Firebaugh, Chief Croakamancer and attuned wielder of the Arkenpliers...

The worst unit in the stack had an attack of thirty.

Ansom himself attacked at thirty-three. The defenders would likely average three, or even two. He could take the carpet over the walls and seize this city with his own sword, in theory. His Overlord would probably like that.

But there were many cities to take after Warchalking. His mistress Wanda did not wish to make this a show, and he concurred. No unnecessary risk. No air attack. Gate, door, garrison. Claim it and move forward with the Titans' work.

The city hove into view as their stack crossed hexes. It was a Level Two, set on a low green hill. Its outer walls were little more than a man-height ring of stones on an earthen berm, with a front gate of wrought iron, flanked by stone blockhouses. Its garrison was a fort of logs around a round stone tower with a wooden roof. There was an orchard and a water mill outside the city, just above a ford in the brook.

The defenders, what few there were, wore the red and orange livery of Unaroyal. The tower bore a banner: a black torus with white lettering, on a red and orange field. The Decrypted Unaroyal commanders had said to expect the most resistance to be mounted at the gate, but it would surely be too little to cause concern. It was expected that the remaining Marbits would have withdrawn to cities with a tunnel system.

Ansom broke stack and flew around in the hex, burning off nervous energy. The flying stack, two live dwagons and six Decrypted Archons, eyed him as if anticipating a change in orders. But no, he couldn't see that they would need to do more than blast at any archers on the gate as the wiener-rammers broke in.

He circled over the rows of green rye beside the road. The farms around this city were its real value. It would be good to reclaim them for Gobwin Knob.

He rejoined the stack, pulling up beside Wanda on her pink and black sourmander. She was wearing a helm of glossy black enamel, a shirt of red leather with black studs and shoulder guards, striped black tights and black leather boots with stiletto heels for spurring her mount. And of course, she wielded the Arkenpliers. She did not look at him.

He loved her.

There was no other word for it. He remembered hating her. He remembered nearly everything from his life as a Prince of Jetstone. None of it mattered. His life was hers, so very literally. And the fact that he knew she valued his life so little only made him love her more. He wanted to prove himself to her, and thereby to the Titans themselves. Where his Overlord Stanley was surely a Tool of the Titans' will, his mistress seemed more of a fine instrument, even an avatar. His love for Jetstone, or for the Barbarian Princess, was a shadow of a thing when compared to his passion for doing Wanda's will. He felt greater, in her service.

"Anything?" she asked him, still staring forward at the Decrypted Tchotchkes in the stack ahead of them.

"No, Mistress," said Ansom. "If anything, it seems a bit more poorly defended than we expected. No sign of Marbits. No flyers visible."

She did not so much as nod, but he sensed her acknowledgment. One hex to go. They would not negotiate. They would break down the gate, and take the first of many, many cities. Maybe all the cities in the world.

The column advanced in silence, save for the rattle of gear and the whisper of wind on the grain.


Guest art by Kavin Scalf aka Madea on the Erfworld forums