To recap turn 20, Pele and I had launched coordinated demands on Dorobou by coincidence. Dorobou was understandably wary of denying them both, so he only denied mine. Works for me. That means I'll get to capture his Temple of the Damned. To do so, I end up having to equip the Infernal Engine, revealing to all that I stole it from Primate of Carceri. I don't think I'm really in the prestige game any more, but if I can give the appearance that I am by competing for PoP's, hopefully I can take those conclave loyalists by surprise.
I've also noticed that Pele launched a demand on Purcarp before Dorobou's concession reached him. Pele is risking having two denied demands at once. Is he really that confident in his ability to warp around the map, or is he also sitting on an advanced single combat praetor? Or was he just lucky that Dorobou conceded? Pele is definitely presenting a lot of self-confidence, and that puts me on the defensive. I concede to Pele's 4 card demand on turn 22, not knowing what he could be planning.
On turn 22, I've already got Diabolism 6 from Charisma 5 and Faust's Contract. That's a great position to build from, but it doesn't mean anything if I get killed. I'm seriously worried that Dorobou will use his mountainwalking, combat-card-carrying legion to kill my only remaining legion before it can take his Temple. That would have left me only my stronghold, and then anyone would have been free to declare Blood Feud and take me out. This screenshot is from turn 23, after Dorobou declines to do so. I guess his card wasn't that strong after all. My Lords of the Pit get hit with a successful Combat Deception ritual, reducing their melee stat by 6, but they're able to take the Temple without sustaining damage, thanks to the old Infernal Engine. I still don't have a lot of room here for comfort.
I bid on the Hell Blades legion around now, trying to muster some kind of defensive force. I win the auction thinking that they'll pop out in a canton adjacent to my territory (there's even a neutral one just north of the Temple) but I'm surprised to find out that it doesn't work that way. I simply don't get them. My bodyguard legion also fails to reform, for lack of an empty space next to my stronghold. Next turn, Dorobou moves his legion away, and my bodyguard appears there.
The diplomacy is fast and furious. There are too many demands (but very few insults) to list those that don't involve me personally. Praetor single combat gets serious. The bazaar is also very active. Now that I've stabilized with 1 PoP, 2 legions, and no cantons to spare, the others allow me a moment to breathe. Big mistake. I start using Demand of Supplication and on the off turns, I Loot Dorobou and Pele (my highest threats.) I hide the Infernal Engine back in my vaults to allow the Lords of the Pit to fly again. I claim another canton from Dorobou with Evil Revanchism Target, though I'm disappointed not to take more.
On turn 25, Pele has Eligos and the Hellfire Ballista on his main legion, with the Puzzle Cube in a ritual slot. The legion's ranged stat is 17, with all ranged damage doubled. It wouldn't have taken much more than that to capture Pandemonium, and I was honestly surprised it didn't happen. I thought I would be too little, too late to stop Pele. I mention this fact in the public chat log, but there is no consensus to stop him now, before he begins. My general policy of misdirection and smack talk still payed off in the end, I think. Pele would later try similarly to rouse public opinion against me, but I portrayed it as a personal squabble and no one else joined in.
Turn 28 is a real tipping point in the game. I just increased my Charisma to 6, giving me Diabolism 7 total. That allows me to keep 5 cards per demand, which I doubt any one else can touch. I've got an incredible flow of resources, allowing gradual but sustained increases to all of my stats. Independently, I began launching Dark Augury at Pele the previous turn, to see the Cube in his Ritual Chamber. It worked on the first try. I buy more time on turn 29 by conceding to another demand from Pele, but I'm lining myself up to explode soon. I actually don't quite have Cunning 5 yet, so I can't steal the Cube. Getting it is currently my highest priority.
This block of turns concludes with me rearranging my threat list. I had Dorobou on top with Pele second. Now I put Pele on top with Purcarp second and shuffle Dorobou to the bottom. I've punished Dorobou a bit these last 20 turns, and since he's the prestige leader, I expect him to feel disproportionately much hate from the general public. He hasn't messed with me since I took the Temple, so I don't need to mess with him. I want to put a little hurting on Purcarp now, mainly because he's so close to my stronghold and Pandemonium. I'm totally committed to an Usurper run now, and I'm starting to plan for it. If Purcarp's going to be in the thick of the action, I want to soften him up beforehand.