Prologue - 024

Prologue - 024

Turns Since TBfGK: 38

By his own choice, Parson had taken up residence in one of the little houses near the Garrison, at the corner of Thin Mint and Moe. It worked better than his tower quarters for rounds, and Stanley was less likely to drop by and bug him. But it did mean that getting called to The Tool's office for an ass-chewing always involved a long slog and a million stairs. That was the trade-off, and it was inevitable.

The new Tower of Efdup was nicely decorated and brightly lit. Parson thought it was kind of stuffy and fru-fru, but an improvement over the creepy-ass one with the body parts theme. It was possible to walk through the carpeted hallways and marble staircases without feeling stared at, or in danger of being groped by a light fixture.

Today, he had reached Stanley's office without even getting all that winded. His legs were tightening up, and some of the double folds in his gut were becoming singles again. As a deeply wise man named Hamstard had once said...hawt.

The Tool had wanted to bitch about the usual: their situation with natural allies.

It was a weird problem. All the Gobwins and Hobgobwins were croaked in the eruption, of course. Wanda decrypted most of those, but they no longer counted as a separate tribe. They were just units of Gobwin Knob's side now.

As tribes, natural allies could pop new units if they had extra Shmuckers. So Stanley had used the intervening turns and a notable chunk of the treasury to repopulate the Hobgobwin tribe from the lone remaining Knight to around two hundred units, about forty or fifty of them Knights. But there were no Gobwins in Gobwin Knob.

And for some reason, they couldn't find any, anywhere.

Sizemore had been busy, sending out parties of tunnel-capable units to look below ground. Many of the nearby mountain hexes had tunnel systems, and it would have been normal to find a feral Gobwin tribe mining for upkeep in there somewhere. They had found only a lot of Marbits, though, and Marbits and Elves would not ally with a side that used Gobwins, Hobgobwins, Witches or Daemons.

His bracer put it at a 98 percent chance that the Archons should have spotted some Gobwins in the mountains or Sizemore found some below ground by now. They'd either rolled a critical fumble, or something weird was going on.

Stanley blamed Parson of course, because of the volcano. Parson had stopped arguing that point (or any) with Stanley, if he could help it. He simply shrugged his way through another pointless meeting about it, got some dumb and conflicting orders, said "Yes, Tool" a lot, and got out of there.

One thing he never volunteered in these meetings was that the bracer gave a 78% likelihood that there was something fishy going on with the lack of Gobwins and prevalence of Marbits.

And if there was, then there was a better than 92% chance that the agency behind it was Charlescomm.

If Stanley knew that, he might go after Charlie immediately. Parson couldn't think of a worse idea. If you had a guy like Charlie undermining you for some reason, you did not let on that you knew about it. The thing to do was to figure out what Charlie's game was, and play him from there. Stanley couldn't do that.

Parson wasn't sure he could either. But if he wanted to try, he was going to have to take Maggie's advice and talk to Wanda's Archons.

Oh boy.

It had been several weeks since he'd asked any of the Archons to go with him on rounds. Besides the Gobwin problem, Parson had developed a laundry list of other questions about Charlie during his strategy sessions with Jack. But he'd been putting off taking those questions to the Archons because, well...

His dealings with these perfect little flying women had started out awkward, and only gone downhill from there.

The Archons shared a barracks-style accommodation that took up half of the second-topmost floor of the tower. It was like a sorority house in there. Two dozen bunk beds, each separated by white curtains, took up the space nearest the main wall. The center of the room was walled off as a kitchen/larder/dining area, and the rest was a commons area with at least as good a view as Stanley's office. Large double-plated windows on all sides could be pulled inward, allowing direct access to and from the city's airspace. The Archons kept it all neat and tidy.

The first time Parson had gone up to visit them, it was like walking into an 80s sex comedy. It was nighttime, and they were all wearing satin pajamas and teddies. A couple of them were walking around in less. Some of them were actually pillow fighting. They were all enthusiastically happy to see him.

He'd watched a season or two of "Beauty and the Geek," which was a reality show in which a group of socially hopeless nerds share a mansion with a group of intellectually hopeless hotties. In the first show, each contestant must walk into a room, alone, with the whole opposite group.

He couldn't remember if any of the Geeks had done worse with the Beauties than he did with the Archons that night, but he didn't think so. He was pretty sure at one point that the word "hummina" literally came out of his mouth. Literally. Weak.

They'd taken him by the arm and shown him around, but it never got anything like comfortable in there. He'd tried to explain that he was up there to find a volunteer or two to accompany him on his rounds the next turn and talk strategy or whatever.

He then spent fifteen minutes trying to explain the concept of "volunteer."

Charlie didn't do "volunteer." Wanda certainly didn't. Nobody asked for volunteers in Erfworld. You ordered your units or you didn't.

And with that, he suddenly got struck with the creepiness of it. As they'd gathered around him in their lingerie and hung on his every word, he had started to entertain the idea that their friendliness to him might mean they...liked him? Were interested in him? Wanted him? And they were so impossibly hot. Short and small, yes. But women. Women built like little Playboy models. God.

But the idea that they might want him was right out the tower window when he realized what "no volunteers" really implied. "Want" didn't enter into it. He could order them to perform any sick, twisted, perverted, demented...awesome act he wanted to. Erfworld had suddenly given him a gift to fill the awful gaping hole in his existence where internet pr0n had once lived.

And he knew, he knew it was wrong. And completely, completely not what he wanted. There wasn't a way they really could volunteer to be with him. He had absolute power, as their warlord. He also had no power to be anything but their warlord. They scared him. His power over them scared him even more.

In the end, he'd just decided to appoint a couple of them at random and gtfo. The next day, he couldn't think of much to say to the two he had picked.

He did try again a week or so later when he had his nerve up. That somehow went even worse.

And now, here he stood again. It was another two flights up from Stanley's office to the oaken double doors of the Archons' barracks. They were shut up tight, but over the bare crackle of the magic torches in the wall, he thought he could hear faint giggling.

"I can face the peril," Parson muttered, letting out a deep long breath, "I can spank the peril."

He sucked in his gut and knocked on the door.