Book 2 - Text Updates 021

Book 2 - Text Updates 021

Sylvia and Ossomer were warlords, and dull ones. Jack listened for a while, as they clambered over one another to "discuss" the tactical situation. They seemed more eager to offer ideas which would please the woman at the center of their universe than to seek out something which might work.

Unwilling to compete for a share of the fruitless conversation, he let his mind drift.

Jack's mind was its own favorite plaything. He had long enjoyed riddles, puzzles, complicated conundrums. In the Court of Faq, he would listen as the King's circle erected some complex philosophical structure, like a pyramid of crystal stemware. Then, as they stood admiring their work, he would speak a few sentences or pose a question. Suddenly their rhetorical construct stood upside down, balanced on one glass, as it were.

The rush to be the first to kick out the glass was always amusing.

The greatest challenge for his puzzle-minded mind had been piecing itself back together. He wasn't completely certain he'd solved that one. Could he ever be?

Ah, well. So be it. A convincing veil of sanity was all that most people could manage, anyway.

But his second greatest mental challenge had been working with the good Lord Hamster. For dozens of turns, he and the warlord had met in the Situation Room and gambled with the lives of imaginary millions. They had gamed scenarios from the fundamental to the ludicrous. They had fought epic engagements between unit types that didn't even exist.

"What if dwagons could tunnel?" his Lord would posit. "What if ships could travel on land?" And soon, Jack would be projecting a model battle in which dirt-burrowing dwagons clawed like sea serpents at the hulls of great wheeled galleons on grassy plains. Or a simple scenario would play out predictably, and Lord Parson would say, "Okay, now let's give all two thousand of those infantry the ability to cast like Archons, and see what happens." Marvelous. Marvelous.

So now here he sat, in the middle of just such an unusual tactical situation. He could hear Lord Parson's voice describing it. "You have a massive force of heavy flyers, knights, warlords, archons and casters in the airspace of a Level 5 capital. But it's the enemy's turn, and they have more than enough archers, casters and tower defenses to shoot you down. Can you figure out a way to get out of it alive?"

Jack glanced around. Habitually, he sought out the lines and dots of the scenery, the little hooks that other minds used to build their idea of the world around them. But perhaps that was not how he ought to be looking at things right now. Tactics. Remember...

The great swarm of dwagons kept together, holding formation over the outer walls, well away from the garrison and its tower.

Distance would not save them. The tower could strike any unit in the city's airspace. Within the airspace, they could only choose to deploy their stacks over the outer walls or the garrison. This cost no move, but its only effect was to determine which archers could hit them. And on whose heads their corpses would fall, Jack supposed. But of course, Decrypted leave no corpses. Hm.

"What is keeping them from attacking now," Ossomer said gravely, "is nothing more than procedure. My father would probably like to open fire, but he will wait for his Chief Warlord and all of his casters to return. They will likely offer ceremonial surrender terms. This will be a historic victory for Jetstone. The King sees few battles personally, and he will want to make the most of it before his Court."

A single involuntary chuckle escaped from Jack, and the others stared at him.

"The Titans did bless the Royals with many gifts," he said, "but around their ankles tied a stone called 'vanity.' If the King kept anything noteworthy beneath his crown, he would have blasted you by now." He pointed his cane at the Lady Firebaugh, who raised an eyebrow at him. "You are, by your own admission, the enemy's highest value target. What little juice I have remaining ought to be going to veil you, Croakamancer."

Lady Firebaugh sat straighter in the saddle, staring at him in a way she often used to make others shrink away. But he held her gaze. The chasm behind her eyes did not intimidate him. Could she look as long into the abyss of his own?

"No," said the Croakamancer, glancing away. "It wouldn't work. And if it did, it would not help. They have enough to shoot everything down, veiled or not. They have some flying mounts and warlords--"

"It is not quite as imbalanced as it appears," said Jack. "Consider. All of these dwagons are alive, as are most of the riders, as am I. We can take a great deal of damage before we are croaked. Defenses will be used, arrows will be used, juice will be spent on us. And then..."

He leaned forward and tapped the Arkenpliers with his cane, affronting the Decrypted and annoying Wanda. "...must be spent again. Provided you are alive. And quick enough to catch us as we fall."