Aphelion Issue 253, Volume 24
August 2020
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Darren and The Dark Lord

by Daniel South

There once was a Dark Lord from Sut
Who conquered each city and hut
And when he was done
He knew he had won
Then frowned and said “Now what?”


The Dark Lord slumped miserably on his throne, his irritation growing. He shifted position, the darkness that perpetually surrounded him flowing slowly on to the stone floor. He looked over to the entranceway with its heavy oaken door, bound in iron and attached to the massive stone walls. It should be opening, but it remained tightly closed. The Dark Lord sighed and glanced to his left where his hulking demon guard lounged against the wall. The guard was idly poking at one of the scurrying lesser-demon servants with his spear, but his heart wasn’t in it. The Dark Lord shifted again, his fingers beginning to drum on the bone arm of his throne.

“What’s keeping him? He should have been here an hour ago!” he demanded from the guard.

“I don’t know,” the guard replied without much interest. “Maybe he got lost again. You want me to go down and find him?”

“No,” groused Mephistopheles, the supreme being of the world. “It would probably make things worse. I’ll just wait. It’s not like I have anything better to do.”

Mephistopheles continued to fume. He glanced up at the sole source of light in the otherwise dark room. Directly in front of the throne, a large beating heart floated inside of a crystal sphere. The sphere hovered at shoulder-height above the cold stone floor. A pulsing blood-red light emanated from the heart, flashing brighter with each beat, and darker with each contraction, pulsing throughout the room. Mephistopheles wrinkled his nose. It wasn’t quite right so he gestured at the crystal sphere, moving it slightly to the right. The Lord of the Realm glanced around moderately satisfied, that is to say, generally a bit less dissatisfied. The room looked properly evil, at least sufficiently so. It was good enough for this little show.

Mephistopheles rose and paced to the window, a shroud of blackness swishing around his back as he moved. One of his demon servants caught his attention as it scurried across his path. Irritated, he incinerated it with a flick of his wrist, and looked upon his kingdom.

The land was shadowed and overcast with a harsh wind howling across the plains. In every direction he looked, Mephistopheles saw the gloomy eternal twilight. This was as it should be since it was his shroud which spread across the entire world, condemning each day to a dismal sameness. Mephistopheles saw the extent of his reach, and he sighed. Bright sunny days had not been seen anywhere in the world in nearly four hundred years. The gloomy skies no longer brought him happiness.

Dark winged creatures soared the darkened skies at will, his will. He had hatched the creatures ages ago when he first set out to conquer the world. For months he had cast the spells and mixed the potions which changed regular animals into his works of art. It had been exhilarating when his first dragon had roared and tried to eat him. He had triumphed over that dragon and made it his own.

Off to his right, he could make out the massive mine of Modos, with its mob of slaves pulling their loads of rock. For hundreds of years he had heard the chanting of the work gangs and the banging of hammers on the hard rock, smelled the acrid fumes of the smelter, and had seen the glitter of the finished steel. At the mine were piles of finished weapons, rooms full of glittering shields, and stacks of full length suits of armor. Many of the early piles and stacks were now covered with layers of rust. Blades were dull and shields no longer glittered. There really was no use anymore for the swords, shields, and armor they produced at the mine. There was no one left to fight, but still the mine cranked out the swords. Still, the slaves burnished the newly-minted shields and stacked the suits of armor in new warehouses.

Mephistopheles thought back to his triumphant battle three hundred--no almost four hundred--years before, and a nostalgic smile momentarily appeared on his cold face. He could still see the Legions of Amador in their shiny armor, and the never-before- unified tribes of nomads mobbing towards him. Even the oh-so-brave little group of heroes come to destroy the heart of power was clear in his memory. Every one of that group had surprised him at one time or another with cleverness, bravery, or boldness. And of course, there was Mithrades, so annoying, but such a fine opponent. Nodding his head with remembrance, he smiled wistfully again. One by one, of course, they had all fallen. His armies had crushed the Amadoreans at Carckash. His flying beasts had decimated and scattered the nomads. His traps and creatures had picked off the heroes one by one, leaving only Mithrades. Amazingly, Mithrades had almost won. Locked in that immortal combat, spells flying around, walls shaking….

“He’s here,” grunted the guard.

Shaking his head to clear the daydreams, Mephistopheles turned from the window. Yes, he could sense the figure in the hallway. “Very well,” he said to himself, “let’s get this over with.” Quickly he made his way over to his throne, sat down and adjusted his black robes. With annoyance he noticed a small stain near his knee. “Great,” he chided himself, “very impressive.” He waved his hand at his guard to shape up, and the guard pulled himself up from his slovenly pose with a grumble.

Suddenly, the door burst open spewing forth a warrior. The man was tall with broad shoulders and blond hair. He wore a chainmail shirt over leather armor, a sword was in its scabbard at his waist and he carried a large bow in his hands. In a flash, two arrows were launched. One hit the guard in the chest, the other struck Mephistopheles square in the forehead. A piercing wail escaped from Mephistopheles, a sound that shook the walls of the castle and sent the servants fleeing into hiding. In a fluid motion, the warrior dropped his bow and unsheathed a beautiful broadsword, gilt in gold and razor sharp. As the guard staggered forward, spear raised, the man brought the sword crashing down on the beating heart. The sword shattered the crystal container and clove the heart in two. Instantly, amid the falling shards of crystal, a deep red burst of light flashed throughout the room followed by absolute darkness.

And then the lights came up. Mephistopheles burst out with a laugh of derision as he plucked the arrow from his forehead and stood up. The guard chuckled as he walked back to his station, pulled the arrow from his chest and dropped it. The warrior paused a moment in confusion, but then leapt towards the throne. Within two bounds he planted his feet on the hard marble and swung the great broadsword. It cleft the Dark Lord in two, passing through him as through a cloud. The smoke where the blade had passed reformed, became solid and there stood Mephistopheles untouched. Again and again the warrior hacked at the hated Overlord. Again and again the blade passed harmlessly through him. Finally, Mephistopheles, with a thin smile of contempt on his face, made a flick with his hand and a bolt of power sent the attacker crashing into the nearby wall. In pain the warrior scrambled for his sword and charged again. Mephistopheles sighed and twin beams of energy sprang from his eyes, striking the young man in the chest like a pair of hammers. The hero staggered backward, and looked up. He held his sword uncertainly looking around for guidance.

“That’s it? That’s the best you could do?” chided Mephistopheles. He idly tossed the arrow to the floor. “One arrow, a normal arrow at that, for me and one for my guard. What if I’d had more than one guard? Don’t you know you need special arrows to kill me? And the sword, doesn’t it have special powers? Did you even try to figure out what those powers are? Haven’t you ever listened to the hushed stories around your campfires?”

“Well, I…” started the hero.

“That was pathetic. I can’t believe you kept me waiting for that!”

“Well, I destroyed the heart. That should break your power!” he replied defensively.

“I destroyed the heart. I destroyed the heart,” Mephistopheles mocked. “You idiot, that wasn’t the real heart. You fell for the decoy. I can’t believe you fell for the decoy.”

The warrior was getting very nervous at this point. “Wait a minute. You said you’ve been waiting for me. You knew I was coming,” he accused.

“Are you kidding me? You’re just now getting that? You’re more stupid than I thought. Not only did I know you were coming, I sent you on this journey.” With a wave of his hand, an image appeared of an old man with fiery eyes.

“Ovinan!” exclaimed the warrior.

With a disdainful smile Mephistopheles turned to the guard. “Jarn, if you please…”

Suddenly the guard form melted away. The lumbering demon changed, reformed, and shrunk. The guard was gone and an old man with fiery eyes stood there.

“How ya been, Darren? Didja ever get that splinter out of your butt from that log by the campfire?” Involuntarily Darren’s hand went towards his backside.

“No,” he shouted. “You’re just trying to confuse me. You’re not Ovinan.” The old man burst out in laughter, shimmered, and reverted to the demon guard form.

“Oh, he’s Ovinan all right,” Mephistoheles cast a withering look at Jarn, “and Ovinan did a pathetic job of preparing you.” Jarn looked at the floor and sheepishly shuffled his feet.

Darren the hero staggered backwards. His world had gone insane, and so quickly too. His sword dangled from his hand. Near panic, he looked at Mephistopheles then back to the guard.

Finally, he just sat down, his head in his hands, his sword beside him.

Mephistopheles couldn’t resist making him feel worse. With a bit of a smirk, he got down from the throne and casually walked over to him. “You know, I didn’t think you would ever get here. How many times did you get lost? Three? Four? You may well be the most pathetic hero I’ve had come for me.” He looked down and was surprised to see the hero beginning to sob. “Are you crying? I can’t believe it. Jarn, he’s crying,” he declared disdainfully. He looked down and shook his head. “Each time they’re getting worse and worse.”

Darren looked up with red eyes. “You’ve done this before?” he asked. “You’ve set men out to try to beat you?”

“Men and women. Oh yes, hero. Almost every attempt to kill me in the last three centuries was instigated by myself,” he answered rather haughtily.

“But why?” asked the perplexed hero. “Why would you take even the slightest risk that I could have killed you?”

“Why?” repeated the Dark Lord. “Why?” Exasperation erupted from the Evil One. “Because I’m BORED!” he shouted. “I’ve done everything I can do. I’ve beaten every foe; conquered every land. There’s nothing left for me. Oh, and by the way… what was your name again?”

“Darren,” the confused young man answered.

“Well, Dannon, there wasn’t even the slightest risk that someone as sorry as you could have beaten me. You’re pathetic, not like those heroes of old.” He looked away from the defeated man, his eyes focused on something long ago. “When I started my rise,” he continued. “There were great heroes then. Proteus the Brave and Braden the archer. They could fight and think, change and adapt.”

The Dark Lord reached behind his throne and picked up a blackened skull that had been converted into a goblet. “And Mithrades here. Now he was a true hero. Almost had me beaten, another few moments and he would have killed me, but then he got distracted by danger to a friend, and he lost. One moment was all I needed, and poof, here he is.” He smiled wistfully at the cup, and turned back towards Darren.

“So you see, Darby, you don’t come anywhere close to the heroes of old.”

Darren was looking peeved. “Well, if we don’t measure up, it’s your fault more than ours.”

Mephistopheles was taken aback. His eyes flashed fire as he growled back, “My fault? How is it my fault?”

“Anyone who shows the faintest trace of resistance gets killed, so our people tend to be cowards. We don’t have anyone who can show us how to be true heroes. And you keep us so busy in the mines and fields that we don’t have time to dream.” The hero looked directly at the Dark Lord, shook his head dismissively, and finished, “But you wouldn’t understand that. That’s for lowly humans to do, dream.”

“Hey, I wasn’t always a supreme dark lord, you know. I was as human as the rest of you. This may surprise you Mr. Hero, but before I entered the Wizarding Guild and started on my way, I used to go fishing and dream all the time!” He sat back in his throne and smiled as wisps of darkness swirled around his head. “Boy, I haven’t thought about those days in ages. I used to love sitting there fishing. Sometimes catching something, sometimes not, but always dreaming. I’d dream about how I would be the most powerful wizard in the world. I’d be fishing and planning my conquests, and how I’d be so happy…”

His smile faded, and his focus returned. He scanned the room, and his dark mood returned.

“But once you’ve got it, what then?” he muttered. Letting out a huge sigh, he turned his dark features back to the waiting hero. “And now Dagwood, I suppose, I should take care of you.”

“Darren, my name is Darren,” replied the hero timidly.

“Darren, Dagwood, Darby, it really doesn’t matter, does it?” countered the Dark Lord with a shrug.

“What are you going to do with me?” asked Darren nervously.

Mephistopheles sighed again. “I don’t know,” he said absently, “either seal you up in a dungeon until you starve to death, or feed you to one of my monsters. I really haven’t thought about it much.”

“Wait!” Darren replied quickly. “Let’s think about this. If you’re so bored, maybe we can work something out!”

Mephistopheles sighed yet again. “What is there to work out? You tried to kill me. I stopped you, and now you’re my prisoner to do with as I please.”

“Well, that’s true,” agreed Darren, feverishly trying to come up with something. “But what if we try it again? I’ll do better this time, I promise.”

Again a sigh. “You’ll never be a Mithrades.”

“Mithrades! Mithrades! Well, I may not be as good as stupid Mithrades today, but I could be someday if I had a chance. He had years and years of culture to achieve that kind of heroic nature. He had heroes to look up to, to inspire him. He had books and legends and the time to get better and smarter. If we had more time, I could do it too. Why, I bet we could do it even better! Make it even more fun than Ol’ Mithrades.” Suddenly an idea struck Darren.

“Hey, what if we do start it over? The whole thing, I mean. You give us back our freedom and world, and you start planning our destruction again.”

Mephistopheles rolled his eyes in derision. “Start over? What a stupid idea! That’s it, you’re done. Off to the dragon with you. Start over. What a …,” The Dark Lord stopped still, and looked at Darren, as if for the first time. “What did you say?”

Licking his lips, Darren made the proposal. “We start over. You won this match. You yourself said there was nothing left for you. You’re miserable with how things are now. Why continue it? Why not set the world free and then plan a comeback. We try as hard as we can to thwart you. C’mon, why not? What do you have to lose? You’re not happy now anyways.”

“I …leave, and give the world back to you,” the Dark Lord said hesitantly.

“Yeah, take a break, take some time off, whatever,” encouraged Darren.

“Are you out of your mind? Give up everything I’ve worked for?” asked Mephistopheles. “Hand it all back to you? Are you crazy?” Wisps of black smoke swirled around his head, but then they stopped and hovered over him.

“But what am I giving up?” continued Mephistopheles to himself. “A world of boring nobodies like him, a world without challenge, an eternal, unending day where the challengers get weaker and weaker and weaker, day in, day out, forever.” The Dark Lord looked out his window across the dreary landscape.

“Forever,” he whispered. “Forever.”

“Or,” Darren said, struggling to find the right words.

“Or,” Mephistopheles continued the thought for him, building up enthusiasm, “we start a new game, with new players, new armies, new exciting challenges!”

“Um, and,” Darren started to say.

“And I get to plan your downfall! Yes, you’re right!” exclaimed Mephistopheles. “Start over! A whole new world to conquer! Plans to lay, monsters to make. Why didn’t I think of this earlier?” The Dark Lord seemed to quiver with excitement. Little dark wisps darted around his head, and black energy crackled at his fingertips.

“Okay, I’ll give you five hundred years,” he declared, but then he looked at Darren. “I’d better make it a thousand, you’ve got a lot of recovery to do.”

Darren stood looking confused as he tried to understand what was going on.

The Evil One saw Darren trying to concentrate, “Yes, definitely a thousand,” he said. “Let’s see, what else? Oh yeah, you don’t have any wizards anymore. Jarn,” he beckoned to his guard. “Go start some Wizard’s Guilds and get them started on relearning magic.” He winked at Darren, “It’s always more fun when your attackers know magic.”

“You got it Boss,” replied the demonic guard.

The Dark Lord gestured east and west, then south and north. “I’m making my monsters sleep and go into hiding. I’ll bring them back when I need them.” He looked around, deep in thought. “Let’s see, hmmm. Yes, I’ll need to seal up some of my portals and hide some of my magic gems.” He gestured some more, black energy crackling around him as he paced back and forth in thought. Darren stood very still, terribly afraid that it would all collapse as his brain finally caught up with the events. Finally, Mephistopheles looked around. “Yes, yes. Well, I think that about covers it. I think I’ll be going now…” he said cheerfully.

“Um, excuse me…” Darren asked hesitantly.

“Yes?” replied his Imperial Evilness.

“The, um, darkness. Would you, um, lift it please?”

Mephistopheles looked around and smiled. “Oh yes, sorry about that.” With one final wave of his hand, the curtain of darkness lifted and sunlight spread throughout. All over the world the sense of doom lifted, and joy once more filled people’s wondering hearts.

“You have one thousand years, Darren. Use them well, because I’ll be back. But for now, I’ve got some fishing to do. You know, maybe I’ll learn fly-fishing.” With a jaunty wave of his hand and a whistle on his lips, Mephistopheles, the Dark Lord of Evil went on vacation and faded away.


2019 Daniel South

Bio: Daniel South lives in northern Florida with his family and faithful dog.

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