Stanley awoke at his desk. He had no idea how long he'd been asleep, but the puddle of drool on his mousepad indicated quite a while. He gingerly raised his head but fortunately it seemed his colleagues had been too busy to notice.
He'd been having one of those crazy, fantastical dreams that seem so vivid while you're asleep, but vanish completely once you awake.
His mouth felt dry and fuzzy, maybe some [[coffee->Coffee]] from the office machine would get him through to the end of the shift? But then again, he should report into [[Mr Dobbs->Dobbs]] about the Yancy files.Stanley straightened his clicky spine and rolled his shoulders. Navigating to the coffee machine would mean passing a number of desks, all similarly occupied by (non-sleeping) staff members.
He took a deep breath and stood, smoothing his tie as he strode purposefully out of his cubicle, only to be immediately stopped by Jason.
"Ho there boss! Where's the fire?" said Jason, his ruddy cheeks trying to reach his earlobes as he grinned at Stanley.
"What?" snapped Stanley. He didn't know why he disliked Jason so much, but he did, and it hadn't occurred to him to analyse this.
"You're in a rush, is all," said Jason, falteringly.
"Yes, coffee," grunted Stanley.
"Ah! Great idea! Cup of Joe! Ha, well, great - enjoy!" Jason rumbled past, seemingly regretting the exchange as much as Stanley.
Stanley made it to the coffee machine without further incident. It was as big as a fridge, brown, and from the 1970s. Stanley had never seen it be serviced, or refilled for that matter. He might be drinking 1970s instant coffee, arguably the best vintage.
There were only two options available at the moment: [[Capuccino->Capuccino]], or [[Meet a Wizard->Wizard]].Every few days, Stanley had to go and report into his boss, Mr Dobbs, about some topic or other. Both Stanley and Dobbs had worked for the company for so long, they had both forgotten exactly why. The recurring calendar meeting had been set up by both Stanley's and Dobb's predecessors and neither felt they had the authority to change it.
Stanley let out a sigh, smoothed his side-parting and stood up from his chair. Across the archipelago of workstations, at the other side of the room was Dobbs' office. Glass windows and door, all shuttered with blinds. There was nothing more to it, it was 10am and time to go, so Stanley went.
He made it to the glass door and knocked, as was the custom.
But there was no answer.
He knocked again, this was most irregular. Dobbs knew this was a standing meeting invitation, it was the height of rudeness to not attend without at least sending a vague and generic email implying you were too busy doing something more important.
Stanley was about to knock again when the door opened just enough for Dobbs' weaselly bespectacled face to fit through. He was out of breath and clammy looking.
"What?!" gasped Dobbs.
"Sir, we- we have our 10am?" stammered Stanley.
"Ah I... I can't make it. I'm ah..." Dobbs seemed to collapse internally. He visibly wilted, then said "you'd better come in and meet a Wizard."
Stanley was taken aback. He was tempted to excuse himself and get a [[coffee->Coffee]], but perhaps it would be better for his career if he [[entered Dobbs' office->Office]]?Stanley entered Dobbs' office. The Wizard stood majestically by the desk, his blue and gold robes sparkling in the flourescent light overhead. His beard glistened, his eyes glistened, pretty much everything glistened. Dobbs cowered at the side of the room, sweating quietly.
"What on earth is going on here Sir?" asked Stanley both respectfully and irritatedly.
"Well, you see Stanley, as a Line 3 supervisor you were going to be one of the first I told the news to, but you've ah... jumped the gun so to speak," said Dobbs in a wobbly voice.
"We had a 10am meeting!" said Stanley.
"I forgot to email you that I had something more important to do, I apologise Stanley, but when you hear the latest developments I'm sure you'll understand!"
"What new dev-" Stanley was cut off by the Wizard striking the nylon floor tiles with his staff.
"Please, Mr Dobbs, allow me to explain!" he boomed. "Stanley, thank you so much for joining us. This is a day that will live on in legend!"
"STANLEY! My name is Overus the Magelord, advisor to the great King of the Wastes, survivor of the Battle of the Nerfagin! Son of Overand, brother of Nestus. I come here as a representative of the Seven Mages of Light, and by use of the Time Crystals of Zeveroth, have come across time, space and reality to be with you today!"
"Okay," said Stanley, "but Mr Dobbs and I have a regular 10am on Wednesdays, I mean, it's in the calendar-"
"It's fine, Stanley," said Dobbs, his bottom lip twitching in gibbering fright, or excitement - it was hard to tell. "We'll reschedule."
Stanley was getting a bit annoyed by this fancy dress lunatic, and figured he could [[leave->Leave]], or stick around to find out what other [[blarney->Blarney]] he might spout.Stanley clicked the annoyingly mis-spelled button.
The machine sputtered and farted, coughing dry brown powder into the plastic cup before emitting a grinding noise, and not the good kind. The lights flickered then reluctantly came back to life. An acrid smell, a mix of burning electrics and Gold Blend, filled the air.
Stanley punched the button a few more times to no avail, then half-heartedly pressed the "[[Meet a Wizard->Wizard]]" button instead.Stanley didn't remember seeing this "Meet a Wizard" button before on the coffee machine, but he was hoping it was a new blend of mocha, or super-caffeinated brew that would prevent his regular but unnoticed bouts of work day somnambulism.
He had pressed the button, but nothing happened. He was about to press it again, but a bit more firmly, when a voice behind him made him jump.
"Hilli ho!" boomed the voice. Stanley whirled round and was presented with a tall gentleman in sparkly robes, with a pointed hat, long white beard and some kind of (presumably magical) staff in his hand.
"Who are you?" asked Stanley, a little put out that this man was not following the company dress code in the slightest.
"I'm a wizard!" said the Wizard. "You pressed the button, and here I am!"
"I see," said Stanley - who very much did not see - "and you came out of the coffee machine?"
"Oh no, that would be ridiculous," said the Wizard. "I was just over there by the photocopier."
"Why are you here?" asked Stanley.
"I think it's best we go and see Mr Dobbs," said the Wizard firmly. He took Stanley's arm and started to lead him towards Dobbs' glass windowed office at the other side of the room.
Stanley thought about [[resisting->Resisting]], but on the other hand, it might be interesting to see what [[Dobbs->Office]] thought about this fragrant misuse of the Casual Friday perk.Stanley yanked his arm away from the Wizard, and with all the athleticism of the boy picked last in school football matches, lurched down the office.
There was a sizzle, and a crack, then everything went [[dark->Awake]]."Well," said Stanley, "I'll leave you to it, I think."
"No!" cried the Wizard, "This is far too important, I cannot let you leave!"
Stanley hurrumphed. "What are you going to do, magic me back in time?". He spun on his heel to leave. There was a crack and a flash of light, then everything went [[dark->Awake]]."Okay," said Stanley, "I'm listening."
"Excellent!" shouted the Wizard. Stanley was quickly learning that Wizards were loud, and shouted at all times. "Within our world, which we call Terraria, we have scrying pools through which we can see and hear other realms - yours included. The circle of Elders has been impressed by your world and this company specifically, and we need to ask for your help to combat the most formidable threat to our existence we have ever faced!"
"Threat? What threat?" said Stanley, still a bit puzzled if this was a LARP thing, some kind of team building exercise he'd missed a memo about.
"Xinvius the five-headed evil dragon has awoken from 10,000 years of slumber and wishes to reclaim the world as his own, enslaving all people within it!"
"Well, that sounds less than ideal," said Stanley. Mr Dobbs was nodding furiously, he'd obviously heard this spiel before.
"it is most grave, Stanley, and even our best warriors have failed at the first, there are none in our world who can stand up to Xinvius's might - but we believe your team can!"
"My team? Our team?"
"Your team, Stanley. Your hearty band of brothers in Loss Adjustment - only you have the skills and bravery to defeat this foe."
"We do?" Stanley furrowed his brow, thought of Mavis with her wrist supports (2 of them), Derek waiting for his pension, Toby the work experience lad, Jane the temp and Jason, the deplorable manbaby. They could barely organise a whip-round for Gladys's birthday, let alone defeat a dragon, even an imaginary one.
"I think you've got the wrong team, Mr Wizard," said Stanley, as firmly as he could.
"No! No he hasn't!" stammered Dobbs. "I was just telling Overus how here at Crumlins we have a 'can do' attitude and with teamwork we can achieve anything!" Dobbs peered plaintively at Stanley.
Was there more of this to come? Stanley couldn't decide whether he should just [[leave->Leave]], or stick around to see how [[crazy->Crazy]] this got."So, why Crumlins? Why Loss Adjustment team?" asked Stanley - it was a fair question at this juncture, he felt.
"We have observed you for many years," said the Wizard, "and our entire enclave of Battle Masters is in awe at the quality of your filing, your diligent approach to liability calculation and proficiency in what you call 'Excel' but we refer to as 'The Wondrous Calculating Book of Etath'."
"And these are good skills for defeating dragons?" asked Stanley, his eyebrow arched.
The wizard paused, agog. "But of course! Our wisest sages have consulted the seeing eyes, the bones, the leaves, and scoured the Truth Crystals and all say the same thing - Stanley Jenkins and the Band of 5 Loss Adjusters are the saviours of our world!"
"Okay, so what exactly do you want us to do?" asked Stanley.
The Wizard puffed himself up with pride and gratitude. "I am so pleased to hear you accept this task!"
"Well, hang on-"
"Even though you are all unlikely to survive, your sacrifice will be sung about by minstrels for generations to come! From the Red Hills to the swirling Lakes of Kezoa, your song will be sung across the ages!"
"Unlikely to survive?" said Stanley, to Dobbs this time, hoping for some sanity. But Dobbs just grinned and nodded and gave Stanley the thumbs up.
"Stanley, this is a really big account for us!" squeaked Dobbs. The penny (or rather, thousands of pounds) dropped for Stanley. No wonder Dobbs was so keen on this idea.
It was crunch time, Stanley could either [[leave->Leave]], or [[get cracking ->Get Cracking]]on his new assignment."Fine," said Stanley, "but I hope the books are open on overtime on this one, Mr Dobbs - and we'll want expenses!"
"Yes, yes of course, whatever you need!" grovelled Dobbs.
"So how do we start?" Stanley asked the Wizard, who was glistening harder than ever.
"I have created a portal between our worlds, in the break room next to the charity boxes full of sweets. When you're ready, equip your team and embark on the adventure of a lifetime! Now, I must away, I hear the cries of the Trelloids, their village is already under attack from the vile serpent! Good luck Stanley, and good luck to your team!"
With that, the wizard disappeared in a puff of smoke. There was a melted patch of nylon where he had been standing, which did not smell good. Stanley gave Mr Dobbs a 'you owe me for this' look and left the office.
Within the hour, Stanley had assembled his team in Meeting Room 3. Meeting Room 2 was in use by Maureen from HR, even though she hadn't booked it. Typical Maureen. He would send out a passive aggressive email about that later. But here they were, Loss Adjustment team, around the cheap plywood conference table. Toby - irritating youth, Jane - mousey and serious, Jason -jolly and stupid, Mavis - evil incarnate, and Derek - dead man walking.
"OK guys, new assignment, top priority," said Stanley in his best line manager voice. Nobody seemed very excited, which wasn't terribly unusual in itself. "We've been asked to go and ahh... assess a risk in a remote location, it's going to involve some travel I'm afraid but it's expenses paid-"
"I can't stay in a Travelodge," Mavis butted in, "their sheets bring me out in a rash."
"OK, noted," said Stanley.
"I'll have to check my contract," said Jane, who should have had this printed on a mug, or her forehead, she said it so often.
"Is that what the portal in the break room is for?" asked Toby.
"Right, figured." Toby flicked a Skittle up into the air and caught it in his mouth. "Portal to another realm, that. Seen 'em loads of times."
"Uh huh," said Toby, chewing the rainbow of fruit flavours noisily.
"Well, anyway," continued Stanley, "I just need one of you to go and do a bit of a recce, you know, get the lie of the land kind of thing. Who wants to volunteer?"
Absolutely nobody moved a single atom.
Time itself actually stopped, the moon paused its rotation round the earth, the tides hung on for a bit.
"Fine. Then I'll nominate one of you," said Stanley with a steely air.
Now he just had to decide whether to send [[Toby->Toby]], [[Jane->Jane]], [[Jason->Jason]], [[Mavis->Mavis]] or [[Derek->Derek]] to a parallel fantasty world full of danger and adventure from which they may never return.Stanley and Toby were stood in the break room. The portal to another dimension swirled impressively, lighting the snack machine and empty water dispenser beautifully.
"Right Toby, this will be valuable work experience for you," said Stanley, suddenly feeling 70 years old. "Here's your leather-effect A4 folio, your company Blackberry and some business cards in case you get chance to do any networking."
"Sick," said Toby.
Stanley paused, then nodded. "Good, off you go then - remember, massive dragon, blah blah, you've read the company handbook so I think we're sorted for health and safety."
"Don't sweat it blood, I'm good," said Toby and hopped through the portal.
Stanley settled into a sweaty plastic chair and waited for his colleague to [[return->Return]].Stanley and Jane were stood in the break room. The portal to another dimension had cones round it, for health and safety reasons.
"Right Jane, I've checked your contract and the agency does permit off-site visits, and our public liability insurance covers loss of life from being eaten by dragons, so you're all set."
"Good, as long as I don't need to get my union rep involved, because I will, you know!"
"Yes, Jane, I expect you will. Anyway, here's your leather-effect A4 folio, a company Blackberry - although I don't know what the reception will be like inside a volcano - and a vegan sausage roll I found in the staff fridge. Best of luck!"
Jane adjusted her gold wire-rimmed glasses and stepped daintily into the portal.
Stanley settled into a sticky plastic chair and waited for her [[return->Return]].Stanley and Jason were stood in the break room. The portal made a sound like a posh washing machine.
"Really pleased you chose me for this account, boss!" beamed Jason, the hateful doughball of a man that he was. "Always here to help the team!"
"Sure, sure," said Stanley dismissively. "Look, here's your leather-effect A4 folio, a company Blackberry - I've taken my number out of it, so call someone else if you need to - and a stock photograph of a family I got free when I bought a picture frame. Best of luck!"
"So exciting!" trilled Jason as he frolicked into the portal.
Stanley settled down onto a sticky plastic chair to wait for his [[return->Return]].Stanley and Mavis were stood in the break room. The portal looked like a Primal Scream album cover.
"I'm not happy about this," grumbled Mavis. "I should be off sick right now, with me wrists and me hips."
"You're a real trooper Mavis, you know that?" cajoled Stanley. "Now, here's your leather-effect A4 folio, a company BlackBerry, and a form to fill out if you feel this has caused you excessive stress. Best of luck!"
"I'd like to see an updated off-site working policy when I get back, Stanley! It's not been revised since 2019 and that's against legislation!"
Mavis huffed through the portal.
Stanley sat on a sticky plastic chair and waited for her [[return->Return]].Stanley and Derek were stood in the break room. The portal smelled of beef, for some reason.
"Well lad, you know, I'm only 2 years off retirement, I really shouldn't be taking on any new accounts now, y'see - I'd only have to hand them over to someone else," opined Derek, who had been using this line of reasoning for the past 20 years to avoid getting any work at all.
"Just a quick one Derek," said Stanley, "show these young'uns how it's done eh?"
"Ah well, back in the day, when Mr Crumlin were here running the show, he wouldn't put up with any funny business I can tell you. None of this transversal nonsense, blokes in dresses-"
Stanley cut off the incoming stream of right wing drivel. "Here's your leather-effect A4 folio, a company BlackBerry - that's a type of telephone - and a slice of carrot cake that was being used to prop up a wobbly table in reception. Best of luck!"
"Aye and portals were better back in the old days an' all" said Derek as he stumbled into it.
Stanley sat on a sticky plastic chair and awaited his [[return->Return]].In what seemed like no time at all - but was probably quite a long time in the fantastical realm of Terraria, most likely weeks - Stanley was startled by a fizzing and crackling sounds coming from the portal. He put down his 5 year old issue of 'Hello' magazine and stood expectantly.
The portal coughed, twisted, and spat a collection of charred bones, blood and hair onto the peeling brown tiles of the break room.
It smelled like a microwave cheeseburger, and was unrecognisable apart from a leather-effect A4 folio sticking out of the top, steaming slightly but intact.
Stanley gingerly plucked the folio from the heap of gore. It was hard to determine if the mission had been a success at this point, so he thought he'd better send in another of his colleagues.
Annoyingly, but conveniently, he couldn't remember which of [[Toby->Toby]], [[Jane->Jane]], [[Jason->Jason]], [[Mavis->Mavis]] or [[Derek->Derek]] hadn't gone to Terraria yet, but he'd send one of them - unless of course, everyone had [[already gone->Already Gone]].Back at his desk, with its drool-stained mousepad and curling post-its bearing numbers that were once important but were now merely mysterious, Stanley reviewed the reports from his colleagues.
He was impressed, even Toby had taken the time to doodle penises which was a lot more work than he was expecting from him. The vile Jason had done a horrific 40 page in-depth analysis of the world, its economy, demographics, cultures, mineral structures, topography, atmospheric conditions, presence of precious metals, industry, infrastructure, history and evolutionary progression. It was just laughable really, how this guy kept his job. What a loser. Mavis, Derek and Jane had done the bare minimum to avoid being fired, as was their way. Stanley grimly respected them for that.
But nonetheless, the message was clear. Terraria was almost entirely worthless. As a loss adjustment team, and a damn good one at that, Stanley's advice was going to be clear - but it might not be the [[news->News]] the Wizard was expecting.The Wizard had returned to the same spot in Dobbs's office. As Stanley entered the smell of seared vinyl and illegal tile glue mingled with the Wizardy smell and Dobbs' body odour. Stanley smiled as convincingly as he could at the beaming Magelord.
"Stanley! Your efficiency is as the sages spake it - but one working week and you and your team have come up with a plan, a strategy to defeat the evil Xinvius and restore our world to happiness!"
Dobbs, who had not yet taken the time to read Stanley's provisional recommendations document because he'd spent the week skiing in Aspen with Joe the receptionist, grinned at Stanley contentedly.
"Well, kind of yes and no," said Stanley, offering the Wizard a seat. The Wizard declined, which made Stanley wonder if he could sit down at all with those robes on. "We've done a thorough provisional exploration of the world - of Terraria, you know, to assess the risk/benefit ratio of what you were proposing."
The Wizard nodded sagely - maybe wizards can only nod sagely, who knows. "I see, brave Stanley - tell me more!"
"And if you take a look at these figures," said Stanley, opening his own leather-effect A4 folio and proferring a sheet of figures from within it, "you'll see, Terraria has a very low population of mostly manual workers, no precious minerals and a frankly hostile atmosphere that barely allows anything but the most basic creatures to survive."
"Aye, it is a harsh world full of struggle, but the people have heart and-"
"So you see, really, our recommendation - Crumlins Ltd.'s recommendation, is that you ah.. write it off."
"Write it off?" said the Wizard, incredulous. "Are you saying let the evil serpent win?"
"Well, don't think about it as the dragon winning," said Stanley, "but really if you look at these numbers, it's the only logical decision..."
The Wizard stroked his beard and nodded as Stanley took him through the full report.
"Thank you Stanley, that will be all," said Dobbs ingratiatingly. Stanley shrugged, shook the Wizard's (strangely soft) hand and left, treating himself to a Twix on the way back to his desk.
Through the glass windows of Dobbs' office, Stanley could see the two men in deep conversation, ending with much vigorous handshaking and pats on the back.
A good job well done, thought Stanley. Tomorrow was [[Thursday->Thursday]], and likely to be just another day at the office.Stanley parked his 10 year old Ford Mondeo in the usual spot, got his leather-effect A4 folio out of the rear passenger seat and his thin Burtons suit jacket from the hook above the door. Thursday - Friday Eve as the wags in the office liked to call it.
He'd miss his fallen comrades, but they knew the risks when they signed up to be Loss Adjusters - it's a dangerous game. For now at least, there'd be a shorter queue for the complementary Friday doughnuts.
It was only when he was reaching the 12th floor in the lift that he started to sense something was wrong. There was a growing earthy scent in the air, and what sounded like grunting and shouting. Maybe there had been some godawful 'friendly' five a side match before work.
The lift doors opened and chaos presented itself. A goblin was using the photocopier as a toilet, dwarves were smashing up IKEA bookshelves with their axes to make firewood. He tried to make his way to his desk but some kind of snake with wings stood in his way, he said 'Excuse me' and edged past on his tiptoes, holding his A4 folio and suit jacket above his head.
Worst of all, it would appear two rival Mages, one light and one dark, were having some kind of magic battle over in the accounts department and red and silver lightning was arcing violently between them, throwing documents - once neatly filed - all over the room. It was causing small fires that only two members of staff had had sufficient training to put out.
Leaving his things on his desk, Stanley made his way to Dobbs' office, dodging a pixie swinging on one of the flourescent light fittings.
"What on earth is going on?" asked Stanley, barging into Dobbs' office without a standing recurring meeting invite.
"Isn't it fantastic? What a great result for Crumlins!" said Dobbs, jubilantly standing behind his desk like a grey deflated Churchill.
"What on earth are you talking about?" said Stanley over the sound of orcs playing catch with computer monitors.
"Well, when we wrote Terraria off, I made a deal with the Wizard that the folk could come here, you know - through the portal! The dragon can have that useless hunk of rock, and we get free labour! Think of the recruitment fees we'll save!"
Stanley turned and left Dobbs' office, hoping the coffee machine was working again.
"Oh Stanley!" shouted Dobbs after him, "The best news of all, I've got you a new team!"
Stanley looked across at the Loss Adjustment department. Five trolls stared back at him.