…How displeasing. How depressing. It was almost as if I’d been reading a Shakespearean tragedy. I lay back and stared at the ceiling, deep in ponderous thought. My eyelids grew heavy as I dove into a world of rumination –
Focus. I slapped my cheeks to prevent myself from drifting off. It wasn’t working! Not only did my face sting, but I was just getting drowsier – my bed was unbearably comfortable…!
“Novices are the same in any era. These guys just weren’t ready,” I murmured sleepily as I forced myself to a sitting position. A Dark Lord could be attacked in order to decrease the sphere of influence that their predecessors had created.
It was a status which earned you both worldwide animosity and adoration, so I was basically an idol.
As for who wanted you dead… well, nowadays, anybody could order a hit on somebody they didn’t like under the guise of giving out a ‘quest’. The advent of the adventurer system meant that it was easy to find somebody who’d do your dirty work for you.
Such was the corrupt system that countless Dark Lords had sought to overthrow.
In any case, I couldn’t overlook the existence of ‘plot armour’ – my life was at stake. If a head-on battle wasn’t favourable, then what were my options…? I had to change my line of thought.
In the first place, what exactly was this ‘plot armour’? The diary made it seem as if I was fighting a fixed match as long as the heroes had that kind of overpowered artifact…
Tumultuous winds descended from the high ceiling, quickly coalescing into a pale, white stone in my palm. After a brief moment, the stone appeared to shudder with an iridescent silver sheen, becoming scalding, white-hot –
Finally, the cloudy pattern on its surface faded away, leaving an image in its place. This was an artifact that my boss had prepared for me! It allowed the user to spy on faraway places, so I could luxuriate in quality entertainment without paying monthly fees.
The paladin and his party were moving through the castle halls while chatting idly, as if they were on a field-trip. I eyed each of them nervously – their armour looked like absolute B-grade junk, but I couldn’t be too sure.
Any one of those pieces could be the so-called ‘plot armour’. Was it the paladin’s gauntlet, or perhaps the thread-witch’s hat? Perhaps the assassin was wearing it under his clothes…? No, it was definitely expensive, so it was unlikely that all three of them had it.
While I stressed over the numerous possibilities and my own lack of information, the paladin continuously lifted flasks to his mouth while drinking multi-coloured liquid. I’d heard that this decadent practice was known as ‘buffing’…
They were getting drunk and toasting to my death! How obnoxious.
“Are they lost or something?” I said quizzically; they were moving with purpose and caution, but they wouldn’t be reaching my room with this route anytime soon. Well, I wasn’t complaining~ it wasn’t every day that I could spectate the mundane life of a commoner.
Unfortunately, my voyeurism was short-lived. One of them – the thread-witch – turned to face me, her eyes filled with awareness. A piercing gaze penetrated me to my core; the stone in my hand shattered as if struck from inside by an immense force…!
Apparently it had reached its expiry date.
In the end, I hadn’t managed to learn a single thing from watching them. Was my only choice to confront, completely blind, an unknown armour which had led to the downfall of countless Dark Lords?
Or… should I just quit? There was no reason to risk my life…
No! Like a middle-aged salaryman, without my job, I was nothing! There was still time – maybe I missed some kind of hint in my boss’s words. If I concentrated, I could remember the scene perfectly, as if it had been only yesterday…
“Yura,” panted my human footrest with hearts in his eyes, “You must see things from a different angle.”
A spark of enlightenment descended upon me; it was as if I could suddenly view my entire situation with a fresh mind. I feverishly grabbed the quest scroll on my bedside table and began to read from a different perspective…!
“…Nope, it was the right side up the first time.”
My boss had just been saying nonsense as usual. Indeed, perhaps he’d been trying to throw me off from the start… what a devious trial. Fine. Without relying on cheat powers – sometimes, one needed to display ingenuity and intelligence.
It was time to return to the fundamentals.
I leaned over the side of my bed and slid a disorganized stack of stories out from underneath. Underworld literature was of somewhat poor quality, but that didn’t matter – even a badly-written plot summary would do.
In the shocking cliff-hanger at the end of the acclaimed prequel, Violent Sun appeared in all his glory and delivered a magnificent intro. After the villains finished discussing their idiotic ‘justice’, they naturally teamed up and were crushed convincingly.
Striding through the fire and flames, Violent Sun was just about to deliver a swift and merciful death to his foolish attackers before he was distracted by a random flashback. Our hero received a cruel, fatal wound when he least expected it!
Now, our hero’s rage knows no bounds. Will Violent Sun’s ultimate attack overcome his enemy’s miserable ‘power of friendship’?!
It was a scenario in quite a few fantasy stories that I’d read. A tried and tested formula which had endured the weight of countless ages. An inexorable destiny and implacable storyline which bound me like a spider’s web…!
“Think. Think! The final battle – I don’t need to let it progress that far. What if I defeat the heroes before then? With an ambush -“
–No, that could end up triggering the final battle early. Furthermore, that was the kind of thing that a third-rate villain often did, and failed at spectacularly. A Dark Lord couldn’t appear personally until the very end.
“Then… adventurers will do anything for the right compensation. I’m the Dark Lord of opulence! Whatever they’re being paid, I can probably triple it -”
–No, what if they were ‘white knights’ who’d sworn allegiance to some princess? It’d be like treating your valentine to a moonlit dinner, only to hear that they were already married.
In both cases, somebody would be getting stabbed.
After a few minutes of quiet contemplation, it became clear that I was wasting time. I glanced at the clock; an hour had already passed! My own, mangled corpse flashed in my imagination; a skull stared sorrowfully back at me, causing a scream to rise in my throat –
My eyes scanned over the scroll at high speed; I’d read the same sentence at least ten times without comprehending a single thing. I… I had to remain calm. Master yourself, master the enemy…
The Dark Lord. A master of black arts and treachery, wreathed in mystery and intrigue… possessed of villainy, subterfuge, and overwhelming, explosive power. A world-class artisan of chaos, feared and exalted beyond all measure…
I haven’t had a chance to cause any trouble. I’ve never done anything to these plebeians…
I couldn’t help but widen my eyes; there was something that, in all of my panic, I’d completely skipped over. Something absolutely crucial to the final battle. It re-appeared again and again throughout the scroll, but didn’t exist in my books!
Along with defeating me, the heroes were required to perform a few pointless chores such as freeing prisoners and recovering sacred relics. These were all tasks that they’d been handed by a single entity. The one who wanted me dead.
The heroes were just the agent of my destruction – just mere tools. A mastermind existed behind them – a puppeteer, controlling their every action.
The heroes… didn’t matter.
The ‘Questgiver’ – that was my true enemy…!
I exhaled deeply, releasing all of my accumulated stress in a single breath. “Fufu… skipping the small-fry and taking down the last boss – therein lies an infallible path to victory,” I muttered, clenching my fist.
This was my aesthetic – it was my vision of world peace. By taking away the reason to fight, I could prevent a fight from ever starting. Fighting was really no good. At heart, I was a proper humanitarian.
I leapt from my bed; time was limited. Those worthless gnats would probably begin messing with my castle within the next hour. I had to strike from the shadows, slaughter my enemies with a single blow, and then, perhaps, laugh triumphantly while their remains rained down around me.
Without hesitation, I strode downstairs to the lobby directly below my room. The Questgiver – both their location and identity weren’t mentioned in the scroll, but it was without consequence. I could already tell who they were.
The first hint: according to the scroll, their location was somewhere in my castle; the quest chain began and resolved with them, so they had to be skulking nearby. Considering the nature of tasks they’d set out, the heroes had to interact with them fairly often.
Secondly! If the heroes weren’t heading to my room, then they were obviously making a beeline directly to the Questgiver, like ants drawn to honey. Based on their route, they were limited in areas where they could rendezvous with the Questgiver.
Finally! There remained the matter of the Questgiver’s identity. Apart from the vast majority of my minions and the entire human population, I couldn’t conceive of anybody who might bear a grudge against me.
However, I’d sent the majority of my minions to the underworld, and outsiders shouldn’t have been as knowledgeable about my various treasures as the Questgiver seemed. The quests were designed to systematically rob me for all I was worth – in the most efficient way possible!
Only one of my underlings could know this much.
In a matter of minutes, I found myself entering the vicinity of the library. The surrounding area looked completely unfamiliar. Dozens of underlings had cleaned and polished with utmost care in preparation for the upcoming battle, causing everything in sight to gleam with pristine beauty.
Unfortunately, in the first place, I hadn’t asked them to touch a single thing. It… it was too bright! My eyes began to water – I hissed like a vampire while shielding my face with an arm.
The castle was meant to be the kind of place that one would expect to be haunted, so why did it feel like a shopping mall? Where were the clouds of dust, the ruined paintings and spiderwebs? There was no atmosphere…
No – there was atmosphere. It felt like a dinner party.
Tinkering music played from within the library, and an extravagantly long, red carpet extended from the doorway down the stone hall. I looked up, noticing a colourful banner was pinned above the wooden doors.
‘Welcome, Heroes’, written in comic sans…? One would almost think that beating me up was something to celebrate. With this kind of greeting, the Questgiver was – without a doubt – lying in wait.
I pushed past the doors, ignoring the painful lack of an eerie creak from the well-oiled hinges. Apart from the annoyingly soothing background music, it was deathly quiet; even during peak hours, I was usually one of the only people here.
“Oh, you’re here. Are we going to play anything today, big sis?”
Two small hangs grasped at the hem of my dress, like those of a zombie or pervert. The person speaking was a small, grubby child with a short, grey hair and a ragged posture. His fingers were covered with old, white scars, and he wore only a tattered black jacket with brown shorts.
Though he was smiling mischievously, not a single trace of mirth made it to his cold, black eyes. What trauma had he experienced? What grisly sights had he witnessed?
He was truly a pitiful child – one perfectly fit for unpaid labour.
If it weren’t for that scroll, I’d never even have suspected that my chief librarian was a dirty, rotten traitor!
I leaned down and pinched his cheek roughly, then slammed his head into a nearby bookshelf. Tears streamed down his face; he caught sight of me standing over him, and his eyes widened in fear.
“Big sis?! Why? It hurts!” he shouted, drawing back with Oscar-level acting. Unfortunately, the only thing he was winning was a year-long stay in an iron maiden. I’d make him spill his guts about his entire operation, then I’d physically spill his guts.
My heart grew as black and fathomless as the darkest night as I steeled my will. I’d never felt so betrayed, not even when I learned that Santa wasn’t real.
“Con artist. From now on, you will address me as ‘Dark Lord’,” I growled sinisterly, reaching for his throat. He trembled in the corner like a cowering mouse… then his pupils constricted with almost predatory awareness. Before I could react, a blindingly-fast fist flashed in front of my eyes –
–CRACK. Red and orange flashed across my vision; I dimly felt myself stumbling backwards, reaching out for something – anything – to keep me standing –
–THROB. Excruciating pain…! A burning numbness radiated through my head, as if my brain was suddenly jabbed with a wave of needles…!
Colour and sound faded; I breathed heavily while resting against a bookshelf. He’d already made his escape… I could hear him skittering across the floor like a roach. Damn it, he was just a village boy, so how could his punch be so painful?
Was our time together just a lie?! Sob.
“You’re courting with death, brat!” I yelled after him, wincing while massaging my forehead. However, even as I spoke, a deathly silence descended and the light-hearted music cut off abruptly. One by one, the lights on the ceiling died as if murdered by a poltergeist.
“Get out,” came his eerie, disembodied voice, seeming to surround me from all sides. The echoes faded between the ancient shelves, leaving the library as quiet and dimly-lit as the dead of night…
…Who was he trying to fool? He’d always been terrible at hiding.
With a single wave of my hand, the librarian’s desk was launched backwards, and heated air radiated outwards. A ragged figure slumped to the floor as if dazed, and a microphone for the loudspeaker system was sent spinning across the floor…!
“You idiot. Stop this madness… it’s not too late,” I said gently, moving towards him with killing intent concealed in my fist.
It was just his coat.
How could I have forgotten? In this castle, innocent switches revealed snake pits and opened spooky trapdoors which were clearly not up to building standards. It was no wonder why most Dark Lords chose to seclude themselves in their rooms – their own house was their enemy.
Dust rained down from above; I’d carelessly fallen for his trap. Just when had he found the time…?!
Months of evading his pranks had trained me well. I tumbled forward as soon as I felt an ominous tingling on the back of my neck. With barely a second to spare, an immense shattering thundered behind me; sharp shards of glass ripped through the air in all directions –
–He’d upgraded from buckets to chandeliers.
“No hesitation…?” I whispered, feeling blood seeping from numerous cuts on my legs. I could’ve killed him as soon as I saw him earlier, but I hadn’t truly been sure. More than that, I didn’t want to get fined for bullying employees.
There was no time to be sentimental – the Dark Lord always struck decisively, with all the poise, elegance, and ferocity of a descending eagle. My fighting spirit was roused as I prepared myself to fire my librarian…!
Or, at the very least, turn him into a pile of ash.