Why was he here, today? What had led him so far? Led him to the brink of destruction, to the point of no return?
He stood before his fireplace of obsidian make, observing the fire. His hands were clasped behind his back, his mien ruminant. Behind him waited his destiny. Three layers of attire arrayed on a table, each tailored for the purpose of enduring these "trials" that he was so accustomed to. Trials by fire.
He let his head droop momentarily. Today was a day he'd never forget.
"Dark Lord", his maid said. "I have prepared the things you asked for."
"Good." Gustav turned around, hoping that his broodings would rest with the flames. He walked to Aries. The maid held the fort between Gustav's work desk and a lavish, pure white sheeted double bed. Quite symbolical.
Aries took off Gustav's coat, her hands brushing slightly against his shoulders. Then, a piece of clothing at a time, she undressed Gustav... until he was wearing a pair of comfortable-looking slacks and a worn shirt. She then introduced the first layer of attire from the table - a uniform that appeared erroneously like a suit, yet had cuts by the side, so as to facilitate rapid movement.
She spoke while helping Gustav to suit up. "Was it really necessary, Dark Lord?"
Gustav didn't answer immediately, instead opting to finish buttoning the suit. "It's a precaution, Aries."
Aries pursed her lips. "You've always won," she said, smoothing a wrinkle on his shoulder. "There's never been a need for precaution like that... spell."
"There is now," Gustav said.
He gestured towards the table, and Aries proceeded to fetch the next piece of attire - a cape too long for normal usage, seeing as it would drag on the ground. She offered it to Gustav, who took the cape from Aries and spun it around his neck, closing the clasps. Upon doing so, the cape took on a dead flutter, floating in the mid-air instead of obeying gravity. A familiar streak of energy coursed through Gustav. The gloom of the room appeared less oppressive now, and he could smell the ashen particles drifting from the fireplace. Also what Aries had eaten for lunch today. Vegetables, mostly.
He clenched his fist hard, and almost felt like he could punch through stone. That feeling, however, was an illusion. Gustav had tried it once, and had only left a dint on the boulder.
Still, the coat pulled more than its weight in adding to Gustav's physical prowess.
"Besides..." Gustav said, "this time is different. The Church sent their very best - a legitimate world-ender."
"A heroine, Gustav," Aries said.
Gustav heard sarcasm in her tone. "Weren't they all?" he said, beckoning to the table again.
As Aries turned, Gustav was left looking at her. The maid's long, lustrous black hair flowed freely over her shoulders. Her maid's attire had an occasional white frill here and there, but was duskier in design than those from the south. Just like Gustav preferred it. Aries's eyes had a dismissive quality to them, but that, too, fit Gustav just fine. He was the dark lord, after all; nothing wrong with a maid commanding respect through gaze alone.
Especially since somebody would have to pick up the command, were Gustav to die in the near future.
He saw Aries pick a small, wooden case. The maid passed it to Gustav with reverence - or, perhaps, fear. Gustav's fingers wrapped protectively over the ornate case, and he laid his eyes on the relief on the lid - a picture of two armoured hands clasped together, glowing.
He muttered a few words under his breath, and the case began to shine with a soft, red hue. A distinct *cling* rang, as if signifying that something had just taken place.
"Cling?" Aries imitated, offering Gustav a puzzled look.
"I put a magical lock on it," Gustav explained. "If there's no sound, I'll know that somebody tampered with the artifact."
The maid nodded. "I see."
Gustav nodded to her. Then he looked at the case, cracking the lid. Within, resting against a silken cushioning, was a pair of exquisite gloves. A red spot marked both gloves' backs, and crimson lines traced from there to each fingertip. Metal linings trailed in tangent to crimson lines, finishing what was a workmanship of silvery-crimson jet.
Gustav geared up in a matter of seconds, his manner accustomed. The silken fabric felt natural on his hands. He had missed the feeling. Now to hope that he wasn't completely out of practice; maintaining the castle and a monster army had taken its toll on Gustav's sparring time.
"Alright", Gustav said, walking then past Aries to the door. He turned to look at her one more time. "While I'm out there, make sure to send me support if needed", he said. "Not any lizardmen, though. A demon lord will suffice."
Aries bowed her head. "...Master."
"Why not send your monster army to face her, instead?"
Gustav shook his head. "Because she's a monster in her own right, Aries. As strong as they come."
Was she fidgeting? "But still-"
"The army would simply get decimated, Aries," Gustav said. "No- not decimated, but wiped out of existence. And I'm not having that."
Aries pursed her lips together.
Gustav turned his back to her and opened the door. What greeted him beyond was the familiar smell of molden stone and moist, cold air; the Castle Darkstead's corridors.
He heard a voice. "Master!"
"What now?" Gustav asked, sighing.
Aries walked to the doorway, and gesticulated at her chin. "You forgot to shave, Master. I can't have you appear before your nemesis like that, can I?"
Originally a fanfiction writer, I have now moved on to write original fiction and webcomic scripts(I'm still unpublished). Speaking of webcomics, have a few secret projects in the works. I'm still looking for an artist for the most important script, though.
My interests include(but are not limited to) manga, anime, webcomics, light novels, farming and music. Also some books.
The Essence of Villainy, Update 1: Prologue (1)
Story synopsis: Because of an unpredictable magical mishap, Gustav the Villainous finds himself transported into another world where there is no magical energy. Unbeknownst to Gustav, his rival was also transported into the same world and is going about her business, struggling to convince an ancient order of the importance of their own mission. Will she succeed? And will Gustav be content to become a farmer in a backwater village, having no reason worry now that his enemies are finally gone?
The flames danced rigorously to a nervous tune. Gustav zoned out on the flames, letting their restlessness echo his soul.
Why was he here, today? What had led him so far? Led him to the brink of destruction, to the point of no return?
He stood before his fireplace of obsidian make, observing the fire. His hands were clasped behind his back, his mien ruminant. Behind him waited his destiny. Three layers of attire arrayed o
Some might say that being a shut-in means becoming the trash of the society. My mind disagrees – my heart agrees.
A lusterless light flickers in my dark room. I’m sitting on my computer chair, my hands on the keyboard. My laptop is an antiquated piece of hardware made from whatever passed for glorious technology in the beginning of the millenium. It used to be a top-notch computer back in the day - big emphasis on used to.
I have a dozen tabs open on my browser: a few webcomics of the action variety, then sites that publish hardware reviews, and, to top it all off, a how-to-guide for poisoning a person - just for the heck of it.
You can probably see that I live a very varied life.
As I’m looking at the screen, I hear a sudden chime - a message has arrived on one of my chatting apps. I click and open Lichcord, a recent gaming app meant for easy conversing with friends. The messager is Daggerlord – one of my friends online.
”Yo, you online?” he writes. His message is short, as smart and curt is the name of the game when chatting online.
”Yeah,” I write, then rub my aching knee before continuing. ”Had a crappy day.”
”Again? Maybe some League would lighten up your day?”
”No, I’d become a raging wreck.”
”Man... How bad did you have it today, anyway?”
”...Bad.” I stop writing for a moment. Honesty is all fine and dandy online – depending on whether your conversation partner is trustworthy enough, of course - but some memories take their emotional toll on you. It takes a lot out of me to write about that stuff.
In the end, I decide not to go that route. ”I don’t feel like talking about it today. Maybe some other day.”
”Sure,” Daggerlord writes. ”I get you.”
”...so, anyway... what are you up to at this time of the night?”
”Just looking up reviews for some hardware. I need a new computer soon, so--”
”You’re getting a new computer?! Dude, that’s fantastic!”
”--so I need to look up the best parts.” I quickly read the message that Daggerlord sent me earlier, then continue, ”Yeah, it’s been coming a long while. I’ve saved up enough money to get one. Maybe I can finally start working on learning some animation.”
”Aw yeah! Once you get your animation out there, I want my name in the credits list!”
”Eff it. You did nothing to deserve it.”
”Oh man - why so harsh? I’ve always been here for you.” He continues to add one of those insufferable smileys that make conversations look like clown fests. But I do crack a smile.
”Fine,” I write. ”I’ll do it for you.”
”Thanks man. Yo da best.”
Shaking my head as my smile fades, I look around my room. It would be best described as a beverage bottle, all sealed up and ready to overflow. My unwashed laundry lies in one corner, in a basket that my mom gave me so that my stuff wouldn’t be all over the floor. I used to have a veritable mountain of unwashed clothes, but then one of the shirts got mold on it, and that was the end of that practice.
Now that I think about it, I’d probably die if I had to live on my own. Sometimes. during my darker moments, I wonder if I should scam a guy into paying for my expenses. But then I remember that I don’t have the looks required for such conmanship. Blah.
I look back to the computer screen. Daggerlord has written some stuff on Lichcord. ”You know, that meetup we talked about? The League thing? Are you planning on showing up?”
I blink. ”Uh... I think I might skip it...”
”Dude, it’s in your home town – the hell you’re skipping it!”
”Dee, I just… I’m really bad at real life stuff. You know that.”
”Yeah, I know, but I would be there. And it’s not like you’re hiding something – like that you’re secretly a girl, yeah?”
”...Yeah, about that--”
There’s a pause on Daggerlord’s end. ”...Eff me! Seriously?”
”Gotcha!” I quickly write. ”You really believed me, didn’t you?”
”Damn. Seriously, man... you gave me a heart attack.”
”My poor, poor heart… If I suddenly collapse, you’re paying the ambulance bills, EinsZwei.”
”Right, right,” I write, then exhaling from relief. I lean back on my computer chair.
I really can’t go to that meetup now - Dee would realize that I’ve been lying to him about my gender and would – effectively- kill me. Or, at least, that was a distinct possibility. I’d rather not ruin a perfectly serviceable relationship.
I write my last message to Dee – something along the lines of ”well, I gotta go - talk to you tomorrow”. I put my hands on the laptop’s lid, mentally preparing to go to bed.
Before I manage to close the lid, however, I see Dee write: ”I’ll be at the meetup, so I can’t talk tomorrow. Talk to you later.”
Sighing, I push down the laptop’s lid and then collapse on my mattress. I lay still for a while, my mind delightfully empty and solemn.
Then - like a many-legged monster - today’s events at school slither into my mind, clear as day. The pushing, the shoving, my aching knee that somebody had decided to kick just for fun when I was lying on the ground. I quickly close my eyes, gripping my blanket.
Dammit... At least I’ll be able to talk to Dee again day after tomorrow.
Gustav stifled a yawn, extending himself in the rocking chair. His surroundings were lit by the setting sun - the furs, the beams and the shelves set afire with vermilion hue.
What a relaxing milieu, Gustav thought. He leaned forwards, the rocking chair following his motion. Straining his hands against the armrests, he rose up, then walked up to the door leaving the rocking chair dancing to its own tune.
He spent a small eternity observing the small holes and gaps in the door. By the worlds unsought… he thought. They should tar this thing before the winter comes... Not that I’d like to stay here for that long.
Opening the door, Gustav immediately felt the sun’s warmth caressing his face. He breathed deep, smelling the fresh, chill air – and the manure. He observed the small yard, and found the birch fence something of an eyesore.
Gustav felt the stubble on his chin, then looked down the road leading towards the village. A virile-looking senior was approaching, waving to Gustav from the distance.
Yet another new acquaintance, Gustav thought. His mind returned back to the first day when he first noticed Reuel stalking him. I have enough trouble on my plate as is.
Shaking his head at his misfortune, Gustav rubbed his eyelids. Then he heard a surprisingly loud voice echoing over the yard. ”Hail, traveler! Yer Mara’s guest, right?”
Gustav ruffled his hair. ”Yes, that is me,” he said in a quiet monotone, so that the approaching man wouldn’t hear it.
The lively senior picked up his pace. Once he was closer, Gustav could see that the older man was about half a feet shorter than he, his straight posture reminding Gustav of those in the positions of authority.
The older man stopped before Gustav, leaning on his knees with what seemed like a make-believe weakness. ”Say, I owe ye an apology,” he said. ”I’m not actually here for ye, stranger. Have ye seen Eileen around…?”
”What makes you think she’d be here?”
”Ah, I heard the lass was supposed to stop by in the evenin' - share some fresh courgette from that patch of ’ers, hm?”
”Well, she isn’t around,” Gustav said, shrugging. ”I could pass on a message if you'd like--”
”Sure, sure.” The older man ruffled his silver hair. ”Just tell ’er that Eli had something on his mind. She’ll come and ask.”
”Thank you, thank you.” The man offered Gustav a toothed grin. ”And then, there's ye. We’ll will talk later, ye and I. Always nice to have guests, even if they come at a bad time.”
Gustav nodded. ”I did hear something about that.”
The man nodded twice. ”Aye. It is a sad time for our village. Poor Moira...”
Gustav felt the familiar twinge of morbid curiosity. ”How did she pass away?" he asked. "Moira’s daughter, I mean.”
The man was quiet for a moment. ”Animals, from what I hear.”
Gustav raised an eyebrow.
”Rita went missing half a moon back, and we couldn't find ’er.” The man shook his head, turning to look into the horizon. ”When Moira did... Rita was already a corpse. Raking gaps across her body.”
”A bear, perhaps?”
”Or wolves.” The old man shrugged, his face pained. ”Whatever it was, it got ’er good.”
”Did this Rita fight with her mother before she--”
The man turned around and stabbed Gustav’s chest with his long finger. ”Now listen here, youngling,” he said. ”I have been the Elder for longer than yer had hair behind yer ears. I know what to do in these situations - what questions to ask, what to watch out for...”
”Nothing.” The man raised his hands towards the sky in a frustrated effort. ”Rita loved ’er mother. Took care of ’er infirmities after the man in the house passed away.” The old man offered a glance towards the skies. ”Sure, that brat was a troublemaker of the worst lot, but Anodyne knows that she always made sure ’er mother wouldn’t have to suffer. She wouldn’t have just up and left.”
The old man stepped back, looking up at Gustav. ”So, traveller... You came at a bad time.”
Turning away and walking in forlorn pain of one that had witnessed many deaths, the old man slowly disappeared into the distance. As Gustav watched the old man walk away, he couldn’t help but wonder if the villagers would - eventually - consider him yet another aspect of these ”bad times” that they were experiencing.
Brother Conrad attacked with a punch and Irina diverted it with a circular motion. The older monk managed to score a kick to her shin, but Irina pushed forward, striking Brother Conrad’s chest. The man withstood the blow and - with a roundhouse kick - forced Irina back.
The novices, Allen noticed, were forming a ring around the two. This is quickly becoming reminiscent of village brawls, he thought, except it's less drunken and more... intense.
”Stay back!” Brother Conrad shouted to everyone, dashing forward. He closed the gap between himself and Irina, punching.
Irina spun around the strike and used her momentum to strike towards Brother Conrad’s head. The monk moved in a sudden motion, his hand swiping away Irina’s blow. He brought his arm down like a whip and - palms side-by-side - struck directly at Irina’s unguarded chest.
The woman practically flew a few feet before landing in the snow.
Allen winced from pain. That must’ve hit her solar plexus, he thought.
Brother Conrad stood frozen in his stance, twin palms outwardly extended. White vapour emanated from his mouth.
Irina coughed. ”I see... there’re things you don’t teach to the novices,” she said. With what seemed like an accustomed quickness, she rose up to her feet, her upper body swaying.
Brother Conrad brought his legs closer together and raised up his arms defensively before his chin.
Grasping her chest, Irina continued to stare at Brother Conrad. Then, with a sudden change in tone, she said, ”Wait. No. That style - you used it by reflex.”
Brother Conrad remained silent.
Irina shook her head. ”Fool me, thinking that I was the only one with some measure of skill.” Sighing, she slid her front foot forward and snapped her arms back into her circular fighting stance. ”Still, I won’t let you land another blow like the one from before.”
Irina launched herself into motion, closing the gap between her and Conrad in mere moment. Irina’s palm extended upward, and Conrad deflected her attack with his hand. The man rammed her with his shoulder and Irina was pushed back. Brother Conrad, capitalizing on her stagger, kicked sideways towards Irina’s unguarded ribs.
Irina took the hard blow to the side. Pain flashed on her face. Twisting around, and using her arm, she trapped Conrad’s leg against her side. Then she brought around her free hand, swinging it towards the taut limb like a sledgehammer.
”I give!” Brother Conrad shouted.
Irina’s blow stopped inches from the monk’s leg. She immediately dropped the hold, stepping back. A collective sigh escaped from the mouths of the novices. Allen, too, felt like he could give up the ghost, now - not in the figurative sense, of course.
”Now, if you would answer my questions...” Irina said, brushing off flecks of snow from her white garments. ”There are a some things I would very much like to know.”
Brother Conrad’s cheeks were turning redder by the minute, his fists clenching.
Irina raised her eyes. ”Your true style is not what you teach to these people,” she said to Brother Conrad. ”And from the way you quickly shifted back to your original stance, I think that you were trying to hide it. I don’t think you were supposed to show it to the novices - perhaps not to anyone.”
Brother Conrad closed his eyes.
”Silence is acknowledgement,” Irina said. ”Tell me - is your style original to Bastion?”
The Prior opened his eyes, sighing. ”...No.”
”...Were you taught by the old woman?”
”What old woman?” Brother Conrad asked, rolling his eyes. ”Our art was taught to us by the Maiden of Light.”
”...This Anodyne of yours?”
”I see.” Irina rubbed her eyelids, suddenly appearing very tired. ”You should know: if they’re not taught the style right from the beginning of their training, your novices will adopt bad habits that will get them killed on the battlefield.”
Brother Conrad’s face was as blank as an unengraved gravestone.
Irina shook her head. ”But then again, you lot don’t intend to embark on the battlefield, do you?" Her expression flared as she met Brother Conrad's eyes. "Remember, foolish monk - by choosing not to teach the style, you have disgraced your brotherhood's obligation to be prepared for the enemy, whoever they might be. And your Maiden would agree with me. I’m sure of it.”
Irina turned unceremoniously around and started walking up the path. Allen followed her.
...Up until a heavy hand landed on his shoulder. ”And where do you think you are going, novice?”
Allen turned to see Brother Conrad’s most uninviting face. ”Uh…” he managed, ”I have duties-?”
The head monk looked down at him, his arms imposingly crossed. ”Since you were intending to skip practice again, you’ll spar with me.”
Feeling a strong negative premonition, Allen stepped back. ”I would very much like to spar with the others instead, if that’s possible-”
”The others are quite occupied," Brother Conrad said, glancing at the other novices. "Isn’t that right?”
The novices quickly resumed their business of sparring the living daylights out of each other. Meanwhile, Allen was stuck staring at his hulking sparring partner.
As the assault of pain started, Allen wished that Irina had bothered to drag him out with her - even if it had meant having to withstand her knowing eyes for a little while longer.