Prologue - 016

Prologue - 016

Turns since TBfGK: 18

The Signs were all over her. It was interesting to see. Her hair was just a little longer every turn. Her cheeks were just a bit rounder. She was losing muscle tone, but acquiring a grace in her posture.

It gave Vinny some hope that she wouldn't croak him when she understood what he was asking.

He'd never actually seen anyone before and after they became a Ruler. Like anything, it changed you. The Signamancers claimed that all Stuff was Foolamancy. Our bodies and all the things we see and touch were supposed to only be Signs: symbols of their true nature. Vinny didn't know about all that, but a person's appearance was definitely a Sign. It told you how they think about themselves. And how others see them.

Nothing changes those things so suddenly and drastically as taking the throne. She was fighting it. She was denying it. But Queen Jillian was becoming more mature, more of a monarch every day. Can't hide the Signs.

There was no way she was ready for what the Big Boss wanted, though. He'd fought Don on this one, right up to the point where Don suggested he could be replaced as liaison to Faq. Then Vinny shrugged, and resigned himself. This was going to wreck whatever good thing he and Jillian had going.

When the call from Don ended, he'd been in Kibo. He had planned to spend a few turns managing the city, to make himself useful. But he broke off his rounds there, and headed up the river valley toward Faq.

The farms were boring. Kibo and Otoh were boring, too. Dumpy Level Twos that looked like glorified farms themselves. Only the capital was not boring.

When they'd arrived, Jillian had asked Vinny what he thought about maybe naming the new capital and side "Ansom." After thinking it over, he told her he thought the Prince would have been flattered, but that he would've had a big problem with her being the "Queen of Ansom." Lacking any other ideas, she claimed the ruins and called the city Faq again.

But the failure of imagination did not apply to her vision for the city itself. Transylvito had sent her enough gems to rebuild the kingdom, on top of loaning her Vinny and a small stack of Goyles and Skanks. Faq was now a solid Level Four, and not like any city Vinny had ever seen.

It was circular, sharp, and shining.

The outer walls looked impressive from a distance. But they were an afterthought, worse against a siege than Transylvito's. They consisted of a ring of stone teeth with a reflective coating of tin, inward-curving towers that terminated in sharp points, connected by a web of steel piping and sheeting. There was no gate. Vinny simply flew between these pillars and entered the city. A horn somewhere announced him as an arriving allied unit.

Inside, the whole city was geared up to defend against attack from above. Towers and buildings all had spiked metallic domes for roofs, looking like a forest of war mushrooms or something.

At the center of the garrison rose a tower constructed with all the ferocity of Jillian's imagination. It was shaped something like a white marble palm tree. The trunk was a twist of six massive columns, tapering slightly as they reached straight upward. The top of the tower was a miniature fortress, a bristle of glass and hard spikes, with ledges and platforms where many dozens of flyers could land, or hundreds of defenders could lurk. Vinny flew between the perches and platforms, and entered the tower.

The inside of the tower was all business. Defensive engines in various states of assembly were stacked in narrow hallways of marble. Faq didn't yet have the units to man them. Vinny followed the twisted passage to the chamber that served both as Jillian's War Room and her Throne Room. Two Stabbers in silver and white Faq livery saluted him as he entered. A Royal guard of only two. Not even Knights yet.

And there she was, a queen in armor. She was looking over a set of charts on a cluttered table with her only warlord, a plain level 1 named Dave or Danny or something. He looked confused, and she looked angry.

She glanced up at Vinny, relieved to see him. That wouldn't last.

He knew what kind of pressure she was under. Spotty reports said Stanley was somehow conquering every city he could reach. How were they going to stop him? Faq was pathetic; it needed everything. It needed all three cities popping everything as fast as possible.

Only now he was going to have to tell her Don King wanted her to dedicate the next 60 turns of her capital city's production to pop a Royal heir.