“And then he cuts me off!” shouted Stanley. “Fine, Hamster! It’s your big, fat behind that’s in the fire. Maggie!”
He stood there by the portal, trying to concentrate to get his Thinkamancer’s attention. His twoll lackey stood to one side and stared at the ceiling.
The portal glowed and flowed with swirls of green light. That thing really made him nervous. Battle didn’t scare him. Heights, either. He could jump out his office window and fly, if he had the Arkenhammer. But even if he didn’t, he could maybe call a dwagon to catch him. And he wouldn’t necessarily croak if he did hit the ground.
But if he took just a few steps forward and walked into that green rectangle, then poof. That would be it for him and his whole side. Horrible thought. He hated this room.
And why did Hamster get to go through it? That wasn’t fair.
Hamster was just weird. Disrespectful. He did whatever he wanted, and screw the rules. And what’d it get him? In trouble. Yeah, now he was all, “Waah, I’m in trouble, pleeeease change the capital of the whole stinkin’ side for me, Lord Stan-leeeee?!”
Why wasn’t Maggie answering? Maybe he was too mad to concentrate. Grr.
“Screw it.” Using his Ruler sense, he gave her an order to contact him, and waited.
“She better hurry up,” he growled at Zhopa. “Hamster said they’ve got like two minutes.” He eyeballed his lackey, who didn’t like to say much. Stanley stared him down, daring him to make a comment.
“Two minutes, Lud?” said Zhopa, shifting his feet uncomfortably.
“Yeah, before he croaks! Before I gotta...pick out my third Chief Warlord of the day!”
The twoll stuck out his lower lip and wrinkled his eyebrows. “Lud Parson...is gonna croak, Lud?” It was the closest thing to an emotion that Stanley had seen him display. Great, another big Hamster fan.
“Well, no, probly not, knowing him. Lord Genius. You put him in a...in an impossible situation and he just goes, ‘Hurrdeedurr, I break the rules, tada! I win!” Stanley scowled. “So, let him do what he did last time. I’m not helpin’ him. Maggie!”
“Last time? What you mean? What was last time?” The Twoll leaned forward and cocked his head.
“You know!” snapped the Tool. “City was getting invaded, everything’s lost, and he just decides to blow up the mountain. Croaks half a dozen armies in one shot, with an idea he pulled out of his huge butt! So let him do something like that again.”
Maggie really should have answered by now. Something bad was going on.
“He did that?”
“Yeah,” snapped Stanley. “You popped after that, though. Nobody told you the story?
“No. Lud. He blew up mountain. This mountain. All by hisself?”
“Yeah. Well, no. He used Maggie and Wanda,” said Stanley, “and the turd guy. Seismic.”
If he couldn’t get through to Maggie, then what was he going to do now? Maybe call Wanda on the eyebook? She wasn’t here, either. Everybody wasn’t here! It was really ticking him off.
“So...he had help.”
Was that twoll still talking? Sheesh, get him started and you can’t shut him up, right? “Yeah, I guess,” frowned Stanley.
“And he want your help now?”
“That’s what I’m saying, he shouldn’t need my help!” He pointed up at the hulking mound of olive green flesh. “He’s the ‘perfect warlord!’ He’s the genius! But he wants me to run up to my office and change the capital, which is not genius, it is stupid!”
The twoll shook his head slowly. “Everybody need help, Lud. Is leetle theengs that make a difference, sometimes,” he said. “Would be a shame, he croaks.”
“Shut up,” said Stanley reflexively. But that brought up another unhappy thought: life without Hamster, huh? What would that be like?
Even more lonely around here, he guessed. And who would he put in charge? It’d be all Wanda, all the time, just like the bad old days when they were losing city after city to the Royals. He should think about exactly what he was giving up here. “You just like him,” said Stanley, waving his hand. “Everybody likes him.”
Zhopa nodded. “I like him. He’s good. I help him make a peekneek.”
Stanley clapped the Arkenhammer into his palm a few times, staring away into the corner, and felt something tumble around in his brain. If Hamster bit it now, he’d never get the chance to mentor him, maybe even groom him for his own side someday. Was there a particular reason Hamster got on his nerves so much? Nobody else seemed to have a problem with him. Everybody liked Hamster. Even the big green lumps...what was a “peekneek?”
The tumbling in his brain settled down into the strangest realization. He looked up at Zhopa.
“Yeah, I like him, too,” he said, surprised at the words even as they left his mouth. “I mean, he’s a huge pain in the butt. But he’s my pain. In my butt! I paid 350,000 Shmuckers to have this pain!”
Zhopa nodded. “You gonna do it for him then, Lud?”
Stanley narrowed his eyes. “I dunno.”
He turned and paced, thinking it over some more. Changing the capital was such a drastic move. Spacerock was waaay out on the edge of Gobwin Knob’s domain now. As strong as his side was, they had really extended to reach it. Even getting out there to switch the capital back would be a problem. There were lots of good reasons not to.
“I mean, it’s even a long way up to the office,” he said, looking up at the ceiling. “Lotta stairs, y’know? Doubt I could even make it up there before...y’know. Before he burns up.”
He stood for a moment in thought. For whatever reason, he really didn’t want to lose Hamster right now. The thought of it actually kinda...hurt. Scared him, even. Stupid. But maybe he’d already waited too long to do anything about it. Probably had.
Zhopa’s low voice broke the silence. “You want help, Lud?”