On his way out of the Great Burrow, the Grandmaster remembered something. He remembered something very important. He should not have forgotten it prior to his departure from the Great Burrow. He wished he had not remembered it at all, when he did remember what he forgot before he exited the Great Burrow. He was mildly excited about his return to the action, to the a priori state of his glory days, when he led fighting Dilloes into action and won an empire west of Fort Worth with his daring and visionary leadership, his fearlessness blazing a path for Dilloes of all ages and stripes.
When the sun hit his eyes, low though it was in the West, the Grand Master suddenly remembered something. Perhaps it was the fresh air, maybe it was the sun itself, a red, combustible ball blinding his tiny eyes, themselves better suited for darkness. He could not put his finger on the source of his sudden memory, for he had not fingers, only talons of savagery, which, in the sad light of day's passing, appeared to be even more shriveled than they appeared in the Grand Burrow of the NInjadilloes, where he had reigned supreme for a decade, full of courage and keen insight.
He suddenly remembered he had no courage to speak of and very little insight.
When the memories hit him, they were many and various, each one a separate slap, striking his face, repeatedly, one slap after another, first from the left, then from the right, rapid from the beginning and then even swifter and with greater force, until his head reeled, flying from side to side, a physical reaction to the metaphysical strokes.
That is, he suddenly remembered he had never actually led others into battle. In fact, he never went into battle, in front of others or behind. He disliked combat; too much exertion, too much sweat and dilloe-blood, or so he heard. There was also the fact that dilloes always lost in pitched battles. No dilloe actually fought at all until they had to fight because someone was standing too near the entrance to their burrow. Then they circled the enemy for a time, usually ran out of patience or got kicked over on their backs or got shot by equally impatient homeowners, and stormed the toes of their foes, hoping to frighten off the Burrow-Standers, usually resulting in some screaming and a retreat from the women and children they encountered, while grown men usually steel-toe booted them into the next country.
"This is not a good tactic," the first of the great Ninjadilloes told a planning commission one day. "We are getting slaughtered out there."
"Do you have a better idea?" the commissioners demanded, though they were actually paid (fed) to come up with better ideas, which always seemed to look like the told days and required ever greater tithes of grubs from the Worker and Warrior castes.
"I recommend we devise a new strategy," said the Warrior-Dilloe.
"Impractical," replied the Primary Commissioner.
"Unheard of," said the Second.
"I cannot imagine it," said the Third.
"I like his enthusiasm, though," said the First.
"He is an up and comer," offered the Second.
"I am scared of him, too," said the Third.
"We should transfer him somewhere he can do the most good," said the First.
"Yes. Far from here."
They agreed, then, smiled the Warrior-Dilloe out the door and voted themselves an extra share of grubs. They mopped their smallish brows with tiny kerchiefs.
The Grand Master watched and learned. He never implied the elite-Dilloes should actually do anything new. He always voted with them on the grub allocations. He was the kind of up and comer who would stay near the headquarters. The better plums, he knew, never fell far from the tree.
He had sent others to fight but only from the safety of the Great Burrow, which he renamed the Great Bunker during war times, so his minions would know he was in the struggle with them. He would fight, proverbially, to the last drop of their blood.
The Grand Master was a complete fraud.
He had, to be sure, early mastered the ability to ingratiate himself with Dilloes who did have courage and insight, so he knew how to fabricate either virtue. He rose quickly through the ranks of other, better Dilloes, who mysteriously disappeared entirely, or became diminished because they worked hard for the good of all while the Grand Master assiduously strove only for his own greater good. He never overlooked a favor or forgave a slight. If he ever did good for another Dilloe, he expected a return ten-fold for the investment of his time. He never gave away power or resources. When anything of importance dropped into his unmarred talons, he kept it there, like an elder son hoarding his birthright, while siblings starved.
He was, in a word, despicable.
He mastered the worst sort of administrative artifice. He busied himself going to meeting, but only to meetings he called. At these meetings, he set out only the barest of agendas, so that he controlled the tempo and defined the subject. He seldom offered much more than the most banal of opinions, told stories crafted from the lore of the ancient dilloes, talking until when others would have stopped just out of mannerliness, confident he held sway so long as his was the only voice heard. He told his stories ad nauseam, slightly skewed, appealing to the accepted lore of the ancient dilloes, whom he secretly abhorred and whose inheritance he coveted.
Those were his days. He clothed himself in rich, woolen clothing, dark colors, always. He set his chair like a throne on a platform even when he was less important than any dilloe in the room. He learned to step a half step forward in group photos, so he appeared larger than the other dilloes, though he was the smallest of the lot. He could not be cropped out of photos this way.
He was, in a combination of words, self-approving.
He was also, as noted, a rather complete fraud. He busied himself with meetings. He issued gloomy reports, replete with ominous forecasts slanted from statistics piled so high no one could possibly dispute them, or would even have the time to check them. He understood the guilt felt by rich American dilloes, with large, fertilized yards set in rows, where grubs grew fat and thick. He predicted the end of easy grubbing even as the dilloes grew sleek and round. He kept himself busy going to meetings where only he knew the agenda, setting out gloomy forecasts of looming disaster only he could forestall and worked hardest at keeping his post while other posts near his went lacking.
He was, in a combination of words, self-absorbed.
The Grand Master suddenly recalled, as he left the Great Burrow of the Dilloes, that this was his first foray out of the Great Burrow in a long, long time. He might, it occurred to him, meet someone who did not offer him the kind of obsequious sycophancy he had come to expect as his right. He was jolted to realize the large trucks on the road would not stop to let him pass over the wide, two-lane roads between the Great Burrow and the Finity ranch. He was startled to think, after all, the Finity woman might kick at him, or even shoot him, as she had kicked and clawed and dispatched his Ninjadilloes so easily on the previous night.
"Perhaps I should think about this a bit more," he thought, cowering two steps beyond the abut of the Great Burrow. I don't
want to be precipitous."
He liked larger words, when he could think of them. He often learned a word at night, used it several times in conversations the next day, impressed the other dilloes, and then forgot the word the next day. Retention, he thought, was not so important as making an awesome impression on the uneducated dilloes around him.
Of course, he was the Grand Master. If the dilloes around him were weak, or sycophantic or uneducated, they suffered their insufficiencies because he never implemented opportunities that would make them better. He needed weaklings so he could appear stronger. He sent the better dilloes out where they would fail, where the great trucks roamed over acres of concrete and the grubs grew scarce. Soon enough he was surrounded by the corporate dilloes, happy in the comfort of the Great Burrow, willing to kow-tow on tiny knees to the Grand Master, supercilious though they thought him.
"I could get hurt out here," he said aloud to no one.
"Then, what would my dilloes do?"
He congratulated himself or thinking only of his charges. If the head is cut off, the body dies.
"I will need other dilloes for this night's work."
He turned to go back into the Great Burrow.
Someone had closed the Burrow behind him.