First Intermission 9
"Welcome home, Stanley the Tool," said Maggie, standing formally with her hands folded in front of her.
Stanley was all smiles, as the dwagon pulled up beside the tower and hovered. All fake, plastic smiles and charm, like a vice principal on Parents Night.
"Maggie!" He waved happily to his Thinkamancer, and pointed to Sizemore with a lot of teeth showing. "And...you. Good to see you."
Sizemore smiled at even this pathetic recognition. He drew himself to attention. "Lord Stanley, welcome ba-"
"Heyyyy, Lord Hamster!" said Stanley, "Or should I be calling you,'Lord Hotshot?' Huh? Huh?"
At Kinko's, Parson's boss had once returned from vacation, sporting a tan and a carrying a coconut, which he put into the break room "for the shift to share." It sat there unopened for two months and then disappeared. Parson didn't figure they were about to do even that well. "Hi, Tool."
Stanley put his hands on his hips and looked around, nodding with satisfaction. "Looks like things turned out all right here!"
Parson looked around too, then shrugged slightly. "Yeah," he conceded. "For...certain values of 'all' and 'right.'"
Stanley looked at Parson's stony face for a moment. "Looook. I think owe you an apology."
That was not among the top thousand things Parson would have expected the Tool to say. He raised an eyebrow. "Do you."
"Hamster... It's like this." Stanley sat up a bit in the saddle. The dwagon snorted a little red flame. "The Titans always have a plan. Okay? But sometimes our part in the plan isn't clear, and we make a wrong turn or two. Here and there."
"That's what Wanda was saying."
"Right! And look how things worked out for her. Really, really well." Stanley looked distant. "Really well." No, more like lost. He shook his head. "What was I saying?"
"I don't know, Tool," said Parson. "I could swear I heard you say the word 'apology,' but that can't be right."
"Oh right! Right," said Stanley. He looked down at his dwagon's neck, blew out a breath, and looked up at Parson. "I should never have left the city. That was a mistake."
"Really. Ya think?"
"Oh I mean you did pretty good here on your own. Well..." Stanley looked down at the ground, craning his neck over the dwagon's. "You did break the mountain. But hey, like they say, you can't make an omelet without...you know."
"Blowing up a city full of people."
"Or whatever. But I'm saying, it worked out okay." Stanley raised his index finger. "But just think how much better it all could have turned out if I'd stuck around. You know, to give you some guidance."
Maggie, who had been standing in stiff silence, let out a tiny choking sound. Parson's poker face did not even flicker.
"Oh yeah, we could've blown up the whole world."
"So here's what I'm thinking," said Stanley, regaining his stride. "I was just talking to Prince Ansom. He says you did pretty good for your first time out. He had a lot of positive things to say about you, Hamster."
"Really? That's awesome," said Parson. "Did he like the part where I killed him?"
Stanley's fake smile went a little crooked. "Not a lot, no." He cleared his throat. "Actually, that was a part he kinda criticized. Said you could have done things a little more nobly. Well, not 'Noble' noble but...with a little more honor."
Parson just looked at him.
"But see, that's the kind of thing you wouldn't know, because you're new. Prince Ansom? He's a veteran. He's led tons of winning battles. Most of 'em against us, ha ha!" There was no detectable humor in Stanley's laugh. "So I was thinking, you know, we've got a lot of tough battles ahead. We're gonna go out there and take back all our cities, and then see where we go from there, right?"
"I guess," shrugged Parson. "That's your call."
"Well we are. And I think maybe our best use of resources here would be to get Ansom to lead that push. I mean we already know he can take those cities, right? He took 'em from us. Ha ha."
Parson's lips were tight. "Fine."
"And we're not even sure you've got move, right? You'd need to be promoted from garrison unit... No, I think for the time being, I'd like to keep you right here in the capital where I can mentor you." Stanley gave him a smile and a finger point. "You've got potential, kiddo. I really mean that. I think we could shape you up and turn you into a real champion."
"Fine," Parson said again.
Stanley looked at him carefully, trying to read his face. "You understand where I'm going with this? I'm gonna make Ansom Chief Warlord."
"Yes. I get it." And God, what a relief.
Stanley smiled, more genuinely this time. "Good, I--"
"Are you barking mad?"
Parson, Stanley, and Sizemore all looked at Maggie in surprise. She had stepped forward into the middle ground between Parson and Stanley, and had a gaze of steel fixed on her Overlord.
"You have the perfect warlord at your disposal, Lord! And you're going to field the warlord he defeated, no...humiliated in battle?"
"Watch your tone with me, Caster," Stanley said with a quiet air of cold threat. "You're out of line."
But Maggie intended to stay out of line. Without removing her eyes from Stanley's, she pointed back at Parson. "This man was placed in a hopeless military position. Yet he stood up and took action, time and again. He tore apart his enemy piece by piece, sapping their resources and their morale, manipulating them from a position of strength to one of vulnerability and chaos, with such thoughtful cunning and insight as you would never--"
"Maggie!" Parson snapped, "Back off. It's fine."
She turned to him, still carried by the momentum of her outrage. "It is not."
"It is. This is a good decision." He looked up at Stanley, who could not seem to make sense of the two of them. "Ansom should lead the army," Parson said with gravity. "I resign as Chief Warlord."
Stanley looked at him for a long, long moment. He cleared his throat. "Really?"
Parson shrugged and turned for the tower doorway.
"Beats the shit out of a coconut. I'll be in my quarters."