Stanley the Tool sighed as he considered the potted evergreen. He didn’t understand why Parson had sent Sizemore all the way to the Minty Mountains when they had plenty of trees nearby. It certainly didn’t fit in with the rest of the décor in his office, but Jed didn’t seem to mind. In fact, when the Tool had complained, Jed had advised him to “mellow out”. At least he had gotten a new drink recipe out of the conversation - peppermint liqueur, blue curacao, seltzer, lime juice, sugar. Stanley took a healthy swig and set the glass down. The others were waiting.
“I still have no idea why I’m doing this.”
Parson crossed his arms.
“Because it’s a tradition from where I’m from. You get a tree, right? It has to be an evergreen like a fir or a spruce or...yeah. Anyways, you put the tree up in your house and then you get really drunk and hang shiny things on the tree, and because you’re our leader you get to put the last one on. Maybe we’re not drunk enough yet…”
“I’m just as drunk as I need to be! It’s just that your traditions are stupid! Your whole world is stupid, that’s why it’s called Stupidworld!”
Stanley smiled at his observation (one that he’d made at least a dozen times in the past) and started to walk away. Jed’s booming voice stopped him.
“Just a minute, Kahuna. The warlord has a point. You need to drink just the right amount or you won’t be chill. But what’s Stupidworld?”
Stanley thought back to when Hamster was first summoned to Erfworld. Sure was smart of him to let Wanda buy that spell – and he’d even saved a ton of shmuckers by ordering her to cast it herself. What had he said about battles in his world; it was everyone’s turn all the time, right? Whatever, it wasn’t important. Hamster was in Stanley’s world now, working for the Tool. Good times. Stanley shook his head.
“Ask Hamster. It’s his old side.”
Parson smiled as he thought of the holidays. He’d never been interested in celebrating commercialism in the past, but for some reason it felt important now.
“Well, Stupidworld is kinda like Erf. I mean, there are people there, just like here. There are cities. Sides…well not really sides. They don’t have rulers or orders the way they do here, everyone gets to do whatever they want without penalty of disbanding. Well, as long as they don’t get caught!”
Hamster laughed and continued.
“And units aren’t popped, they grow inside women and then get pushed out. There are no hexes and no movement rules; everyone gets to move real time. Oh, and there’s no magic at all – that I know of. So pretty much not like Erf at all…”
Maggie stumbled up and grabbed onto Parson’s arm, partly for balance, partly to be close.
“I still cannot fathom why you chose to leave it. It’s so fascinating!”
Parson shrugged and gently disengaged himself.
“Sometimes I wonder myself, but you guys are like my family now. Soooo…we’re celebrating the holidays, whether you like it or not.”
“Yes, Lord. And what else does this holiday entail? What are those leaves on the doorframe for?”
Parson decided to skip the explanation of what Mistletoe was for.
“Ok, well we have the tree. Tool, could you go ahead and put on the last ornament? I want to tell everyone the story of Santa Claus.”
Stanley grabbed the Arkenhammer with his left hand.
“Fine, if it will get this thing over with faster. I don’t know why I let you do this in my office.”
He held the hammer above his head and used it to levitate about twelve feet off the ground.
Hamster nodded eagerly.
“Yeah! Right at the top, please.”
In Stanley’s right hand was a five-headed dwagon that Ace had fashioned under Hamster’s direction. It was the one part of this stupid ceremony that he liked, although the color on some of the heads was wrong. In every other aspect, the craftsmanship was flawless - jagged teeth, sharp claws, scaly hide, and powerful tail. Now this was Dollamancy Stanley could get into. He placed the dwagon with care at the top of the tree and levitated back a few feet to admire the effect. Ace called up to him.
“Can you give it a little zap, Tool?”
Stanley lowered himself back down to the ground and flicked the merest bolt from the hammer into the ornament. With a grinding sound, the dwagon sprang to life. The heads bobbed up and down, releasing tiny gouts of fire, lightning, acid, and ice, while jingling music echoed throughout the office for a few moments before the charge ran out. The Tool grinned.
“Nice work, Ace. At least your decorations aren’t lame like Hamster’s.”
“I like the tree,” protested Maggie.
Sizemore chimed in, “So do I.”
Stanley was not swayed.
“Phhhht. It’s got nothing on that awesome five-headed dwagon. Hurry up and tell your lame story, Parson, so I can mess with it some more.”
“Ok, so. Here’s the story of Santa Claus. Jolly ole’ Saint Nick, if you will. Now, every year…”
The Tool interrupted.
“Wait. Did you say, Jolly Zaintnick? Red suit, red face, fat, white beard, flies around everywhere giving away stuff?”
“Uh, oh, uh…”
Stanley didn’t seem to notice his chief warlord’s confusion.
“I met him once, back when I was a warlord. We were having a little turf war with Unaroyal over a crappy level one or two, I forget which one, and I was out in the field with a coupla dwagons. We had parked in a forest hex the night after a deep recon trip, and our turn hadn’t started with dawn. I thought maybe Unaroyal had tracked us down, so we stacked up and waited.
Now, I had heard stories about Zaintnick before, but I always thought that they were just campfire fodder – nothing serious, ya know? I just about fell out of the saddle when I saw those Drain-Deer crossing the hex boundary, pulling the weirdest looking chariot I’ve ever seen.”
Parson interjected, “from the north, I presume?”
“Yeah. And inside was the weirdest looking guy, even uglier than you, Hamster. Red cheeks, red hat and rainment, overweight with a long white beard. He must have been way too warm in that getup. Anyway, he flew right towards us. It was all I could do to reign in the dwagons, because I had a weird feeling in my gut. Something about Jolly Zaintnick gave me the creeps. But the stories said he gave out presents to units brave and bold, so I decided to give him a chance.
He halted twenty yards off and called out to me. “Be ye Stanley the Plaid?” I yelled back, “That’s my name, Jolly Zaintnick, don’t wear it out.” He laughed and told me he had a present for me, so I sent one of the dwagons over to fetch it. The box wasn’t large, but I was worried that maybe it was some sort of trap. But I figured, naww, why go through all that trouble instead of just attacking? So I pulled the paper off and ripped open the package. Inside was a gemstone wrapped in a piece of parchment.”
Wanda, who had been quietly listening from the corner, suddenly perked up.
“Was there writing on the parchment, Tool?”
Stanley waved at her in annoyance, walked over to his desk, and rummaged around for a bit. Just as the train of the story was beginning to derail, he pulled out a piece of vellum and brushed off some stray walnut pieces.
“Ok, yeah. Here is it. Let me read it to you.”
Twas the night before Erfmas, and all through the tower
Not a unit was prowling, not even a Mauser
The spells were hung thick on the city with care
Which was good for the treasury was rather bare
The warlords in council were avoiding their beds
Seeking a way to save our poor heads
And I sat on my throne with my crown in my lap
And set on my brow an old thinking cap
When from the sentries there arose such a blatter
I sprang from my chair to see what was the matter
And issued new orders to not be so wary
Believing the threat was imaginary
I looked out the window for what caused the fright
For who could invade us in the middle of night
And long into the cold night did I peer
Till I spied a bright sleigh pulled by eight Drain-Deer
With a powerful driver as red as a brick
I couldn’t believe it, it was old Zaintnick!
More rapid than gwiffons his units they came
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
Now Edward! Now, Bella! Now Jasper and Carlise!
On, Esme, on Rosalie, on Emmett and Alice!
To the top of the tower! Over top of the wall!
Now fly away! Fly away! Fly away all!
As marbits that before a Harryhousen fly
Before they hit a hex wall, and begin to cry
With the same speed Drain-Deer they flew
With the sleigh full of sacks and old Zaintnick too
And then, in a twinkling, he was in my face
Laughing and chortling like he owned the place
I called near my guard without turning around
And motioned him in – he came with a bound
He was dressed all in red, from his head to his feet,
With Firefox fur – which I thought was neat
A sack full of items he had flung on his back
And he looked like a carny just opening his pack
He size-up my guards with a chuckle so merry
And backed up a bit so as not to be scary
The first gift he found was an enchanted bow
That made volleyed arrows as cold as the snow
And next he brought out a powerful charm
That shielded the wearer from all types of harm
He rooted around till he found the next boon
A snicker sharp blade that was curved like the moon
He rummaged some more in that bottomless hole
Then pulled out and unfurled a lengthy spell scroll
I gave him a nod and warned back the guard
He intoned “Metroplex”, “Technodrome”, and “Asgard”
With a rumble and grumble the spell came alive
Leaving the city a cool level five
Old jolly Zaintnick, he laughed and he grinned
And picked up his pack and flew like the wind
As he hopped in his sleigh I spied on the floor
A brilliant gemstone worth ten-thousand or more
And I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Merry Erfmas to all, now get back in the fight!”
All activity in the room had ceased while the Tool read the bit of Rhyme-o-mancy. Stanley looked around at the thoughtful faces of his commanders and was mildly annoyed. He hadn’t even gotten to the best part! He turned the parchment around and held up the other side proudly.
“Also, on the back were a set of coordinates that turned out to be the ruins where I found the Arkenhammer. Pretty neat, huh?”
(NOTE: user was awarded 25 Shmuckers for this post. - Rob)