“Look. All we’re asking for is a pay rise…”
I rubbed my temple in exasperation, appraising the numerous monsters gathered before me. It was the eve of the hero’s arrival, and yet my preparations had somehow fallen through!
It was exactly because of these kinds of situations that I’d developed the mentality of telling myself that I’d work tomorrow, and repeated it like a mantra, every day. In the end, the lack of preparations then caused these situations to happen.
It was a self-perpetuating cycle… but this wasn’t about me.
Six Phantasmal Knights, the Great Lich of the Shadow Realm, twenty of the elite Blood Wolves Corps, and even an eldritch monster of origins which must not be mentioned – all of them stood in a corner of my room, watching me fearfully.
The demon who was currently pestering me was my lieutenant, a butler with a goat’s head who represented the worker’s union. Normally he would’ve been a model worker, but today he was behaving like a rebellious child. Et tu, brute?
“Add equality to the equation!
“Honesty is the best policy!”
“G-give me money…”
A small distance away, numerous ungrateful demons were waving crude signs with illegible writing while shouting nonsense. Half of them had already given up and left through a portal to the Underworld – only the fanatics and single mothers remained behind.
Seriously, was 5 copper an hour not enough for them? If they worked for a thousand years, they’d be able to afford their very own home. For instance, I offered bargain deals on a wide variety of premium cardboard boxes, cupboards, and storerooms in my castle…
“You should’ve taken your budget into account – that’s your job. Anyway, we don’t feel like dying for your cause or anything, so pay us more. We won’t fight otherwise,” argued my lieutenant while struggling to reign in a pack of slobbering hellhounds.
I pointed menacingly at them as they attempted to mark their territory – with a bang, their charred bodies were launched through the air before vanishing into the portal. The stench of burnt, wet dog filled the air, causing dozens of demons to throw down their signs and leave!
“Who the hell put you up to this, anyway?” I said, feeling unbelievably weary. “Was it Bill from human resources? I lost to him in a rock-paper-scissors match, and now he thinks he’s all that…?”
“No. It was some librarian I met during lunch break. Apparently our yearly salaries are around three times lower than average heroes of the same level. No wonder we can’t afford decent equipment.”
Ehh, they found out. Awkward. Perhaps I should consider their feelings a little? An ingratiating expression made its way onto my face, and I tried to sweet-talk them into seeing things my way.
“Now, now… don’t be like that~ Lieutenant, just how long have we been friends…?” I said shyly, batting my eyes at him just like I’d read in a novel. When the heroine used this special ability, legions of knights would bow down before her and pledge their allegiance…!
“Hmph. Get on your knees and beg, hoe.”
Our friendship shattered like the bones in his face, and I followed up by throwing his shrieking body through the portal. His voice cut off abruptly as he fell towards the Underworld –
I definitely didn’t hear anything about being reported for worker maltreatment.
With their representative gone, the solidarity that my minions had previously displayed began to fall apart. I sneered at their cowering, whimpering forms… they’d flown too close to the sun. It was a hundred years too early to give them rights.
“Beat it, losers! Save your whining for somebody who cares… er, don’t tell my boss though.”
Before they could say another word, I waved my hand and the legion of high-level dark monsters were blasted into the portal. I was sending them on unpaid vacation! The portal quickly closed behind them, but it could re-open at any moment. I’d abuse them until they had nothing left.
Anyway. Weren’t the Dark Lord’s minions meant to be obedient? In all the novels that I’d read, never had I come across any descriptions of such disloyal underlings. Within all my masses of underlings, there was only a single monster who was faithful to me with 100% certainty.
Levii, my pet basilisk! Happiness suffused my body and my spirits were instantly lightened; I fondly remembered stroking its head while we watched the stars together. Ahh… the look of absolute loyalty in its lethal stare… I wanted to quickly return and pet it some more…
Priorities – our private time could wait. It wasn’t like he was going anywhere, not after I’d given him his very own playground in the castle’s cellar! I unconsciously smiled while remembering how happy he’d been.
My resolve grew firm, and my eyes glinting with fighting spirit. If it was going to be like this, I’d just fight the heroes all by myself! I had to protect Levii!
First, I had to dress to impress. My current attire consisted of a thick, woollen jumper, scarf, and pants, all knitted by my kindly old grandma, bless her departed soul. Hardly appropriate for battle, though.
Thankfully, in front of my throne I’d installed an enormous wardrobe full of various clothes. It was assembled from silver ironwood, elegantly designed with intricate carvings, and even boasted a huge mirror in which I could admire my reflection around the clock…
…Not that I ever did that, of course. The magnanimous and esteemed Dark Lord was a paragon of humble character.
I strode towards the wardrobe and threw it open with needless extravagance, then eyed the numerous outfits which I rarely ever wore. Most of them were gifts from monsters who were trying to curry my favour, but everything they sent was oversized, made for a different species, or strangely risqué.
For example, the Perennial Luminary of Phoenix Alcove sent me a stylish trench coat which was styled after the raging and tempestuous flames of a thousand-year pyre. It had almost set fire to my mailbox; I’d had to personally handle it with tongs…
For example, some random hellhound sent me a spiked collar. I removed the spikes and gave it to Levii.
Anyway, today I had eyes for only one outfit. All my other clothing could continue to collect dust for all I cared!
A black, jagged metal chestplate quivered with irrepressible malice at the very front of my wardrobe. Numerous wicked blades and metal discs protruded from its surface, producing an overwhelmingly savage appearance. It periodically lurched against the metal chains which bound it, as if it were straining to break free.
Its very existence was villainous, filled with an all-consuming desire to ravage and plunder…! Insect-like clicks and chirps rose from within, making the armour seem as if it were alive. It carried divine protection against all elements, and had been recovered from the depths of a celestial warrior’s tomb after a raid lasting several months.
My gaze drifted onto the summer dress that I usually wore while sleeping. Perfect!
No, no, this was definitely the reasonable choice. After all, wasn’t it better to fight in something you were comfortable with?
Furthermore, the battle armour had so many tasteless black spikes and sharp metal blades -all serving no practical purpose! Not only was it too heavy, it also cut me whenever I tried to put it on, and because it was so thick I constantly felt as if I was fighting in a sauna.
I closed the door on the unused battle armour while ignoring its forlorn rustling, and promptly changed into my summer dress. Perhaps it was just that I couldn’t let go of my past as a village girl or something along those lines.
I had a nagging suspicion that I was forgetting an ironclad rule in my line of work… but well, whatever.
Now dressed to kill, it was time to go over my plan once more – to study, and to ensure that all my preparations were complete. I sank into my four-poster bed and pulled a book from under my pillow.
…Well, wasn’t it better to be well-rested?
It was all part of staying in peak physical condition! Furthermore, my book wasn’t just any book – it was a diary detailing the countless deluded fantasies and memoirs of the first ten generations of my predecessors.
Learning from the mistakes of the past allowed one to predict the future. This mentality was what caused me to make as many mistakes as possible.
‘Got hit by a truck today while trying to save a random stranger. Woke up in this strange place, surrounded by cute girls! Apparently they’re demons, but I feel like I’m in heaven…’
The first entry didn’t really offer many hints at all… I flipped forward a few pages, but it was still the same person talking. In fact, almost a quarter of the book contained passages of similar brevity… just how successful had this guy been?!
Eighty pages… Five hundred… ah, at last – a different person. The previous Dark Lord’s last entry had ended with the fellow leaving to visit a bakery with one of his wives, so I could only assume that he decided to become a baker. I eagerly eyed the new entries, desperate for insights…!
‘Gnar Ishtu Vo Sarthe Yusah Eues Vo Dahde Sais Aoith Vo Qeitro – ‘
His successor was… writing in a foreign language, failed his spellcheck, insane, or couldn’t write properly with paws. No, maybe it was all a secret code? Deconstruct and linearize, rearrange and alter correspondence, flip the chessboard – ah, this was pointless.
It was another twenty pages before I finally caught my first glimpse of the writings of a fellow human.
‘My existence grew, day by day. Even as a mere fledgling, I always knew that I’d never be like everyone else.
I was different. Nobody understood me. My clothes and hair were dyed as black as my colourless heart.
While the other children played friends and studied, I was deep within the solitude of spiritual training, hiding it beneath my everyday mask. My way was that of the isolated genius, in pursuit of meaning and purpose.
Before long, I was holding onto a dark, grey youth. It didn’t bother me. Happiness is merely an ephemeral drug which overstimulates the body and blinds you to the pointlessness of life.
I continued to persevere; a true man carves his own path through adversity.
A true man forges his own reality.
In the end, it all paid off. On my 30th birthday, I was spontaneously bestowed with miraculous powers and became a black wizard. My mother bade that I leave the house due to lacking employment, but that was within my calculations.
After all, I had already been planning to escape from the cage known as society.
Day 1. Starting yesterday, I was — I am — a Dark Lord…!’
Ah, how nostalgic. How romantic! I was like that too, the day before I realized how much work was involved. Reading made me feel young again… although he was supposedly older at this point than I was.
‘Day 2. This entry summarizes my thoughts before I leave to greet my first challengers. Even as a Dark Lord, I cannot escape the curse of socializing with normals who possess nothing but looks.
Fine. I’ll just use their women to build a harem. In the end, educating the masses of their place is simply part of my noblesse oblige. Such is the righteous directive of a master of shadows.
I hear that eyepatches are in style lately. I might wear one tomorrow.’
Fufu, do your best, brother in arms! For some reason his words lacked charisma… but regardless, I happily turned the page to read more about his heroics.
If he could do it, then so could I!
‘Day 3. Shit. My eye…! I never saw it coming!!
I never should have considered a head-on battle. Heroes possess an enigma which allows them to overcome all obstacles – I dub it the ‘Conceptualization of Surmounting Fate’, but lesser authors refer to it as ‘plot armour’.
No matter how hard you try, as long as the ‘Final Battle’ flag is raised, victory is impossible –
–Shit! It hurts like hell!!’
The next few pages were coated in dry, red stains, crusty, and pressed together firmly.
“–T-this is a lie, right…?” I quivered as I realized that I’d reached the end of his entries.
The 5th was surrounded and stabbed to death over the course of a week… the 8th broke her neck after falling down the stairs… the 10th left behind only the words, “I wish I’d never been born.”
Unbelievable! Why did the protagonists keep losing?!
I threw the offending literature aside and buried my face in my pillow. A head-on battle had been my plan, too. Ahh, geez, it was all so annoying… I couldn’t be bothered to think of a new strategy now…
After a few minutes, the urge to panic rose to my throat, causing an unpleasant tingle on my neck. It was all because of this terribly-written book. The last thing I needed was uncertainty – was this some kind of anti-Dark Lord secret weapon?
I glared at the open pages, trying to recover some peace of mind by imagining that it was all propaganda… oh? It had been in such shabby condition near the end that I hadn’t noticed –
–I’d skipped a page…!
‘Day 8. It’s all over. I can hear them at the door.
Looking back, there were a lot of things that I could’ve done differently. Haha, what I was thinking? In the end, I was just a city boy trying to make it big in a place that I couldn’t comprehend.
Mother. I wish I could see you one last time.
Father. I’ll be seeing you soon.
Sister. I’m sorry. It was me who kept stealing from the laundry.
Brother. I don’t really have much to say to you. Thanks for not hating me.
To everybody else… well, screw you all.
There’s just one thing which is strange about this situation.
Throughout my life, I’ve kept to myself most of the time. I was careful not to make any enemies, nor any friends. Even after becoming a Dark Lord, I tried to stay firmly out of the spotlight.
I haven’t had a chance to cause any trouble. I’ve never done anything to these plebeians…
I just wanted to live in peace. What kind of unreasonable grudge is this?