Prologue - 014
Turns since TBfGK: 8
"I mean it's just unbelievable!" Stanley said for about the fifth time. "I order you to do a thing, you do the thing! If you don't do the thing, you disband!"
In the week or so since the big battle, Parson had only had a few short and difficult conversations with His Toolship. Stanley was supposed to be "mentoring" him, but the fact was, neither one of them could stand the other's company for very long. He had twice called a meeting with Parson, then found a reason to reschedule it.
This one was a full-blown chewing out session, though. And he probably deserved it.
Parson's official duty now was managing the capital city. When a city had a Warlord to manage it, costs were lowered for things like city improvement and production of extra equipment and provisions. It also increased the amount of Shmuckers the city produced, and reduced the upkeep for units which spent the entire turn in the city. Besides the extra Shmuckers, Parson didn't think there was much tactical value to any of that, under current circumstances. But it gave him an excuse to fart around anywhere in town, and to generally be in another part of Gobwin Knob from Stanley.
His "job" consisted of walking around the city and making sure things were going well. They always were. But he had to go see it for himself, or it didn't count for bonus purposes.
Which was something Parson did not know.
He was learning it here in Stanley's office.
Stanley was telling him. Many times.
"And again, Tool," said Parson, trying for calm sincerity, "I didn't...know. I'm. Sorry."
"It's not about being sorry! It's about disobeying an order!" As Parson sat in the Parson-sized chair that Zhopa the Twoll had made for him, Stanley kept circling him like a shark. "You shouldn't be able to do that!" Stanley suddenly pointed at him. "Slap yourself!"
Parson slapped his own face. Fairly hard, too. It was a weird half-reflex action. He was definitely still subject to the Tool's orders. "Ow," he said, without enthusiasm.
"You bet, 'ow!'" yelled Stanley. But he did look a little bit mollified. "So how could you disobey an order? How could you shirk your Duty?"
Parson shrugged. "I had other things on my mind. Stuff I was working on in the library. I figured things were running fine. I didn't know I had to physically go look at them. You know? It won't happen again!"
Stanley glared at him for a long, long moment.
Then he threw his hands up in the air. "It's unbelievable!"
"Tool, please," said Parson, again going the calm-as-possible route. "I made a mistake. It cost some Shmuckers. Is that such a huge deal right now? We're stinking rich! We're conquering Erfworld."
"Wanda's conquering Erfworld!" snapped Stanley. "I'm just...watching." He turned away, and stalked back to his desk.
Parson watched him pull out the big desk chair and climb up into it. "Um, is that...a bad thing?" he asked.
"I don't know," said Stanley, propping his chin with his elbow. The big desk was covered in maps and paper reports. The reports had all come in by magic hat. They were not using the Eyebooks for any military intelligence, on Parson and Maggie's joint recommendation. Charlie seemed perfectly friendly these days, and probably wasn't anything like a serious military threat. Still, Charlie could suck it.
Stanley moved some of the reports around the desktop, without looking at them very closely. He said nothing.
So Maggie was pretty much right about Stanley's emotional...baggage or whatever she'd said. And Wanda taking Ansom out there and conquering two cities in the first week couldn't have helped things.
Parson's cheek still burned a bit. And he realized something. Maggie was right; as long as Stanley felt insecure, he was going to take it out on anyone he could. Protecting Lord Stanley's ego was everyone's business.
What could he say, though? He looked at the desktop.
"Y'know, boss... You've never told me about that hammer."
Stanley looked up at him, then down to where the Arkenhammer was serving as a paperweight. He picked it up. "What, this?"
Parson put down the urge to ask what other possible hammer he could be talking about. "Yeah like...what does it do?"
"You know what it does," scowled Stanley, gesturing with it. "Shoots lightning. Makes me fly, tames dwagons, rocks out... Buncha stuff."
Parson blinked. "Rocks out?"
Stanley looked at Parson like he was a particularly slow dog. "Yeah. Rocks out."
Parson had no idea what that could mean in this context. "Could you show me?"
Stanley looked annoyed, but he stood up on his chair seat, and held the Arkenhammer like a guitar. "Arright, let's see..." He struck a pose.
Parson jumped in his chair when the drums started. A booming, echoing tom right out of some stadium rock anthem was coming from all directions. It rattled every object in the room. A bass and a rhythm guitar joined in. Eight beats into the intro, Stanley turned his head and pouted. He opened up with a Strat wail so loud Parson figured it was going to break every window in the tower. The Overlord then put his boot up on the edge of the desk and tapped it, as he shredded his way through an eight-bar solo that was somewhere between Slash and Angus Young. The Arkenhammer glowed and pulsed, shooting beams of light around the stage.
The office. Around the office.
Stanley leaned over the desk and concluded the brief demo with a tweedling lick out of early Van Halen, punctuated with a final windmill strum and a long, fading, "Awwwwwww..."
The room rang. Stanley dropped the Arkenhammer on his desk with a clunk, and sat back down.
Parson sat in reverent silence.
"That was good," he said finally.
"Course it was good," snapped Stanley. "It was Titanic. Rock is the highest music there is."
Parson found he couldn't argue.
"But so what?" said Stanley. "What good is it?"
Parson didn't follow. What good was it? "What...it doesn't let you dance fight or something?"
"Rocking out is better than dance fighting, Hamster!" he yelled. "But so what? Who am I gonna fight? What Dwagons am I gonna tame? Wanda's Tool makes armies. She conquers the world. I have to stay here with you!"
Parson discarded the first four responses that occurred to him. It was true, really. If Stanley left the city, he could get croaked. Without an heir, the whole side would go Barbarian, which was as good as being conquered.
He lifted his bracer and started subvocalizing some calculations. The Tool did him a favor by sulking long enough for him to work it out. He looked up. "Tool, how much move does your plated red have?"
"One sec." He fiddled some more. "Okay on a given turn, for a given hex in the Minty Mountains, what are the chances a feral dwagon will pop? One in two hundred?"
"I guess," shrugged Stanley. But he was showing some interest. "It used to take me two or three turns to find one when I would go out hunting, way back when. But it was still faster than popping them, and sometimes I'd get lucky and find two. Or three, this one time! I-"
"Okay, hang on," said Parson, still looking at the bracer. "If you figure valley move is one, mountain move is two, and high mountain move is three, then there are at least...six or seven hundred mountain hexes you could reach and come back to the city in one turn. Odds say there are three feral dwagons out there right now, that you could tame and bring back to the city in one turn's move."
Stanley looked at him. Gears were turning. "Yeah, but I can only look for them in a couple dozen hexes. And somebody could still ambush me out there. It's not like we have a Lookamancer any more." This was the first time Parson heard him acknowledge Misty's death. "No, it's still too risky."
Parson grinned slyly. "So we don't send you. We send Archons. Every turn, we send out all the Archons and scout all the hexes you can get to and return. Or maybe just the ones they can get to and return. Safer that way."
Stanley said nothing. He was thinking about it. Parson pressed his case. "See what I mean? They locate the dwagons for you. Scouts go first, so there's no chance of ambush. Not even a veiled one, 'cause they're Archons. And it would be good for security to have the area around the capital well scouted anyway."
Stanley frowned, looking for a hole in the plan.
"We'd gain a dwagon or two every turn. Units that answer to that," said Parson, pointing to the Arkenhammer on the desk. Stanley looked at it. "C'mon, Tool, the turn just started. Let's at least try it."
That afternoon, Parson was standing outside a stithy on the far side of town from the Garrison, when the Twoll armorer looked skyward and said, "Ooh! My Lord!"
He looked up. A plated red, a green, and a pink dwagon sailed by overhead, heading for the tower. Horns sounded, to end the turn.