Book 2 - Text Updates 049
Snacktime was over. Stanley's stomach bulged, a little uncomfortably. He still sat in the tall chair that Zogby had made him, as the twoll puttered around the larder, tidying things up.
No, not "Zogby." What was it?
Things weren't good lately. Wasn't just the battle. Hamster was doing something about that, he could tell. What, exactly? He couldn't say.
The sandwich turned a little sideways in his stomach. He burped.
That was just it. He didn't know. Not anything about anything, anymore. Things weren't good, was all. He was in charge, but...out of touch.
Out of touch. Yeah, that was it, wasn't it? That was the trouble. He couldn't connect with his people. Like, say, Zappa there.
"Hey twoll," he said, craning his neck around. The twoll stopped bending down over a cask of currant jam and slowly came to something resembling attention.
"State your name, level, and duties," said Stanley. Ha, an order! That was a whole lot better than saying "What's your name, I forgot." Maybe he should've ordered the Foolamancer to say his name, that one time.
"Zhopa, Level 1, Henchman assigned to larder," said the twoll, his face utterly blank.
Zhopa, right. Zhopa, Zhopa, Zhopa.
"So...what's new, Zhopa?" said Stanley. He forced a bit of a smile.
Zhopa turned his head and stared, as if he had been asked, "What is the square root of history?"
The twoll opened his mouth as if to speak, but then his jaw took a sudden left turn and his meaty lips came slowly back together. He glanced away to the corner of the room, then looked down at the floor in what appeared to be intense concentration.
He shuffled his feet slightly.
Somewhere, a pigeon cooed.
Stanley looked at him, his weak smile fading away as long moments passed.
Zhopa nodded at his feet, as if his boots had whispered the correct answer. He looked up and met his Overlord's eyes.
"Nothing," he said, with a fair degree of self-assurance. "Nothing is new, Lud."
"Haha, right!" he said, plastering the winning smile back on. "Wow, yeah. Seems like nothing has happened around here in ages! 'Mean this day has just been crawling, m'I right?"
The twoll waited long enough to be sure that Stanley wanted some kind of response, then gave a grunt and a curt nod of agreement.
"Yeah," said Stanley, nodding amiably. "Yeah." He pointed to the twoll. "Zhopa."
Zhopa stood there, breathing.
"So I mean, what's on your mind? Everything okay down here in the larder? You like it here?"
Zhopa turned his head and for a moment looked longingly at the doorway, which led to a parapet overlooking the city and was the nearest exit from the larder area. Then he sighed, nodded silently, and shrugged his huge shoulders.
"Aw, now, what was that?" said Stanley, determined now to get some kind of response from the big heavy. "Something else you'd rather be doing around here? C'mon, speak up."
Zhopa shook his head very slightly. "Any duty, Lud. Is all Duty."
"Oh really," said Stanley. "You think so?"
Zhopa nodded again.
Stanley had an idea that made him grin suddenly.
"I betcha not! I bet I could assign you something-- Wait. Hold on." Stanley put up his hand.
...was weird. The twoll's bonus went down.
Why? Because...his Chief Warlord had moved out of the city.
Off-turn? Was he captured?
"Hamster?" said Stanley aloud. He gave a panicked glance out the doorway for enemy flyers.
But uh-uh, he could tell. Hamster was now in the Magic Kingdom.
That's right, he could go there. He just wasn't allowed; they said they'd croak him or something if he ever went back, right?
So why'd he go back? That was pretty stupid. He was supposed to be upstairs running the battle.
"Maggie," Stanley said to the air. It was a form of order only a Thinkamancer could follow. "Maggie!"
A thinkagram formed.
"Yes, Tool?" She was down in the Portal Room now. Hm.
"Um, why is our Chief Warlord in the Magic Kingdom?" he demanded.
"Because he intends to join the Battle for Spacerock, Lord," said Maggie tensely. "By breaching the enemy portal."
"Whaaa? You don't do that. They don't let you." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the twoll gratefully go back to his puttering.
"I'm aware of convention in this matter, Lord," said Maggie. She looked worried, too. "If you'd please allow me a moment..."
"So, what he's going to run into an enemy city one-stacked?" This made no sense. Absolutely none at all. "Am I gonna lose two Chief Warlords in one day?"
Maggie bristled. "Not if I have anything to say in the matter, Lord!" she snapped. "Please. My juice is quite low, and I was monitoring his situation when you interrupted. And something was going awry. May I go?"
Stanley's eyes flashed at the backtalk. He was about ready to tear her head off. Every once in a while he needed to put a little healthy respect and fear back in her.
But there was something weird about her expression and tone of voice. She already was plenty frightened, just not of him. What was going on?
He tightly clamped his lips shut and took in an angry breath through flared nostrils.
"Okay, I'm coming right down there, Maggie! And you're gonna tell me what he thinks he's doing!"
"Break!" he commanded. Felt good to hang up on her.
Yeah. He'd been way too out of touch. He put his hands on his hips, and looked up at the twoll, who froze in mid stride, holding an enormous long loaf of bread.
"Zhopa," he scowled.
"So. As I was saying before she interrupted us...you are hereby promoted to Lackey, in service to Overlord Stanley the Tool. Me."
Stanley smirked, sure that this would finally get a reaction out of the twoll.
The two stood in silence. Zhopa showed nothing, almost as if he hadn't heard. After a while, he cleared his throat.
"Thank you, Lud?"
Stanley's expression fell. He sighed. "Come on," he said glumly. He shuffled past Zhopa's legs and through the doorway, "I gotta go to the Portal Room to chew out Maggie." Swinging the Arkenhammer at his side, the Overlord left the room.
The newly-promoted twoll followed shortly after. But Stanley did not see Zhopa first pause a moment to look up at the ceiling, then grab the loaf of bread with both hands, and smash it over his own face.