A Villain's Aid

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic


Desperate times calls for desperate measures...desperate, stupid, dangerous measures.

Submitted: August 28, 2018

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Submitted: August 28, 2018

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Few places in the Raushatd Mountains were as foreboding as Cyclopean Tower, or as misnamed, given that the tower has an even number of doors, windows, floors, bedrooms, tables, chairs, guards and even cats.The black granite monolithic structure towered over the desolate landscape, its thick walls covered in skull carvings and its iron doors cast to resemble gaping maws.In five hundred years Cyclopean Tower had never fallen to invaders.This meant that its current owner was surprised when his guards brought an intruder.

Two minotaurs opened the black doors leading to their master’s throne room and dragged a young man in between them.The hulking beasts threw the youth to the floor and stood over him with their double bladed axes at the ready if the order should come to execute him. The larger of the minotaurs said, “Master, this fool snuck into the kingdom and was heading for your tower when we seized him.He carried no weapons, no money, only food, water and a scrap of paper.”

“Hi there,” the youth said.He was a nondescript teenager, with brown hair, brown eyes and dirty clothes.He was strong from hard work, but no match for the bulky minotaurs.“Listen, this is all a big mistake.”

“I’d use the adjective ‘monumental’ in this situation,” Malvax Terrothis corrected the youth.

The youth gasped at Malvax.Most people did.The ancient wizard wore a dark gray cape over a black shirt and pants embroidered with gold thread.His boots were black with strange red markings that ran up to his knees.Malvax wore three jeweled rings and carried a glowing black staff set with sapphires.

Malvax was an impressive sight, but first time visitors tended to focus on his head, namely that it was missing.His neck ended in a pale blue flickering flame as large as a man’s head. There were flickering points of light where you might expect to see eyes, but no other signs of a face.

The youth waved.“Hi.”

Malvax sat at a wood table large enough to seat fifty men.A cook brought a plate of food, which the wizard cut up and ate.This involved stabbing bite sized pieces of meat with a fork and shoving it into his fiery head where a mouth should have been and wasn’t.The food burned away quickly, and Malvax put in another forkful.

“That’s kind of unnerving,” the youth said.

“I had assumed infusing my body with a thousand magems of energy and replacing my head would mean an end to meals,” Malvax replied as he burned away another morsel.“It was surprising to find I still needed food, and I could enjoy it.”

Malvax got up from the table and dabbed at his nonexistent chin with a napkin, burning it away in the process.“I dislike disruptions to my daily routine and go to some effort to prevent them.So I hope you appreciate how annoying this intrusion is and that you have to die.”

“But I haven’t done anything!”

“Precisely,” Malvax said.“I accept invited guests on rare occasions, but men sneaking in such as yourself are inevitably thieves, assassins, treasure hunters, adventurers or some related species of vermin.Killing you before you do something stupid is preferable to letting you get started. Now then, do you prefer decapitation or immolation?”

“Neither!”The youth tried to get up, but the nearest minotaur pushed him back to the floor.“If I was a killer or thief then wouldn’t I have a weapon?”

“Not necessarily,” Malvax said as he finished his meal.“I’ve seen more than one assassin travel unarmed to avoid arousing suspicion, then get a weapon on location to do the job.It’s actually quite clever.”

The youth looked down in shame.“I’m a threat to no one, which is why I’m here.The people I love are in danger and I can’t do anything to help them. I came because I need to talk to you.”

Malvax rolled his eyes and waved for the cook to come with the next course of the meal.“That may be, but I have precious few reasons to talk to you.What made you think an ancient, omnipotent despotic wizard needed to discuss anything with a farm boy?”

“Rancher,” the youth replied.“I know your time is important and I didn’t come empty handed.I can get you riches.”

“Riches.”Malvax didn’t sound impressed.He waved at his throne room and asked, “Child, when I have gold, jewels, servants, magic, and up until now peace and quiet, what could you possibly offer me?”

“My name is Todd, sir.”

“I don’t care, and neither does anyone else.”The cook brought another tray of food, this one with tropical fruit cut into artistic patterns.Malvax tossed a piece of fruit into his head, where it burned away.“Hmm, a bit under ripe.Todd, to get here you had to pass at least four keep out signs with skulls and crossbones liberally painted on them, and a fair number of real skulls at the base of those signs.”

“Yes, I saw those.”

“And you either crossed the Bridge of Woe or climbed the Stairs of Tears, both of which are littered with bones you might not have realized were human given how broken up they were.Those men’s armor was also so damaged that I can forgive you not realizing what it was, but there were broken swords, spears and axes that I’m sure you could identify as such.”

“I saw those, too.”

“And in spite of all those very public declarations of my generally poor disposition, you came here anyway.Todd, I have what I consider sufficient evidence of your utter stupidity, which means you probably don’t have anything of value to me.But while I am despotic I consider myself fair. Decapitation and immolation are not your cup of tea, so how about poison?”

“Let me make my case,” Todd protested.“I’d heard you made a deal with a man once before.Why him and not me?”

Malvax grumbled as he picked through the fruit.“You are ruining my appetite, child.You’re also referring to one Justin Vast, who offered me an undamaged book from the ancient elf empire in return for killing a wyvern that was eating his sheep.That was a mistake in every sense of the word.It convinced oafs like you that I could be bought off, or worse, hired.When I translated my reward, it wasn’t a tome of ancient secrets or arcane lore as I had been led to believe.It turned out to be a three hundred-page book of dirty limericks.I realize the elf empire was a moral cesspit, but really!”

“So, bad history of working with others,” Todd said.“Check.But I can get you gobs of gold.We’re talking piles of the stuff.”

“Todd, have you taken the time to examine your surroundings?”

Todd did as instructed.The throne room was not just large but ornate.Walls were carved with elaborate symbols and inlaid jewels.The huge table and chairs around it were made from blood wood, a rare and hard to grow tree, and they were so beautifully carved that they qualified as artwork.

Malvax walked to a balcony that overlooked the courtyard around Cyclopean Tower.He waved his hands at the town below with hundreds of peasants and artisans living in stone houses.

“The Raushtad Mountains are known for famine and natural disasters to be yearly occurrences,” Malvax.“Where others fail I carved out a home and kept it from all comers for three hundred years.Armies, monsters and horrors unknown to this world waged war upon me and failed. Death came for me and left empty handed. I own four towns like this, a silver mine and a controlling share in the Iron Pyrite Comedy Company.I’m missing how a rancher could add to my holdings in a meaningful way, and I feel a growing certainty that whatever reward you’re offering isn’t going to be worth the trouble it’s sure to cause.”

“But you won’t know for certain until you hear me,” Todd persisted.

Malvax snapped his fingers, and one of the minotaurs tossed him a copper coin. “Heads I hear you out, tails I break out The Big Book of Black Magic and get creative.Fifty-fifty odds, Todd, it’s not going to get better than that.”

Todd stared at the coin as sweat dripped down his face.“Do it.”

“Your funeral.”Malvax flipped the coin and caught it, then slapped it on his left wrist.He took his right and away and looked down.“Hmm.”

“Hmm?” Todd asked.

Malvax walked back to the table, and with a wave of his hand caused a red hourglass to appear.He set it on the table and announced, “You have until the sands stop flowing to convince me this isn’t a waste of time.Talk fast.”

Todd approached Malvax and took a folded up sheet of paper from his pocket. He spread it out on the table and stepped back.“I live in the land of the Dark Duke.He has a stranglehold on power and brutalizes his people for crimes that only happened in his twisted mind.No one is safe from his delusions of conspiracies against him.”

“Whereas I am a beacon of hope?” Malvax asked.

“Your people live better than most do.”

“That’s because dead men can’t pay taxes.”

“The Dark Duke doesn’t feel that way,” Todd replied.“My people suffer needlessly and are a step away from starvation even in good times.We won’t last another year under his rule.But there are trade routes going through the Dark Duke’s territory where merchant caravans and river barges come every week during summer.He has tollbooths on three major roads and Mermaid River to tax those merchants.Every year he collects tolls in both cash and trade goods worth a fortune.It could be yours.”

Malvax stared at Todd for a moment before saying, “It’s times like these I wish I still had hair so I could pull it out by the handful.”

Todd held up both hands.“It’s easy! The Dark Duke’s forces are nowhere near as strong as yours.He’s not expecting an attack from you, either, and my map shows where they’re stationed. You could stage a surprise attack and take his army apart piecemeal, minimal threat, minimal losses, maximum reward.”

“What part of ‘I don’t need the money’ isn’t getting through to you, Todd?” Malvax demanded.“I might have made a deal for magic or ancient secrets, but I have gold without having to fight for it.Chad, tell this idiot I have gold!”

Todd frowned.“Chad?”

An earnest looking young man in bright, cheery clothes came in through the same door that Todd had been dragged in.The bond haired man set down a stack of books and shook Todd’s hand.“Hello.”

“This is Chad, my accountant,” Malvax explained.“I know he doesn’t really fit in with the decor, and quite frankly he wasn’t my first choice, but just try finding a man with experience in accounts receivable in these mountains.Chad, tell him I’ve got money.”

“Less than you should have,” Chad answered.

“I’m sorry, what?” Malvax asked.

Chad opened a book and paged through it.“Profits from the silver mine have gone down since dwarf miners opened up a competing mine in the mountains.It’s depressing the value of the silver you’re producing.Grain taxes from towns and farms are staying level, but opening up new farmland is taking longer and costing more than anticipated. Honestly, sir, while the books are still in the black, you could use new sources of revenue.”

“Ignore him,” Malvax told Todd.“Seizing land from the Dark Duke opens me up to attack from new enemies.If that land is as tax rich as you say, others are going to want it and are willing to kill for it.”

“If I may, sir, the Dark Duke’s territory is readily accessible by the same roads and river that brings in the tolls that make it worth having,” Chad said. “You’d need to guard those entry points, requiring the construction of fortifications and hiring guards, or in your case possibly creating them.Costs may exceed income in this situation.”

Malvax pointed at Chad.“See? That man knows what he’s talking about. Your reward is to open myself up to attack by every ambitious man in the Raushtad Mountains, and there is no shortage of those.My new peasant followerscould easily invite or even aid such men to attack me, the same way you’re trying to get me to kill the Dark Duke.And quite frankly, I’m surprised you think a wizard would want to be a landlord.”

“You control four villages,” Todd said.“How would this be different?”

“Those towns didn’t exist before I settled in Cyclopean Tower,” Malvax replied. “Peasants came to me, swearing fealty in return for protection.I get a cut of their produce that they’re quite happy to turn over.Taking land others own means enforcing my will over them, a difficult, time consuming and generally bloody task I have no interest in.”

Todd pointed at one of the minotaurs.“Then delegate the landlord part of the job to him.Look at those muscles!No one would refuse him.”

The minotaur perked up.“I like this idea.”

“No means no, Todd, and you’re running out of sand in the hourglass,” Malvax said.His cook brought out a tray of sweets.“Ah, raspberry cream tarts!”

“Then don’t do it for the money,” Todd pressed.“Do it to be feared.Show the people in these mountains that you’re a force to be reckoned with again.”

Malvax was reaching for a dessert when he froze and turned to face Todd. He leaned in so close that the youth could feel heat coming from the wizard’s flaming head.“Reckoned with again? Would you care to rethink that last statement while you still have all your organs intact and in their correct positions?”

“I’m terrified of you,” Todd said hastily.“Other people in the Raushatd Mountains aren’t.Sir, be honest, when was the last time you did something, anything, to make the world sit up and take notice?”

“You dog!”Malvax stood up and grabbed Todd by the collar.“I have bested armies and fought dragons!When the wizards of the Inspired tried to kill me and loot my library, I turned half of their membership into gerbils!”

“That happened before I was born!” Todd cried out as Malvax lifted him until his feet were six inches above the floor.“It was before my parents were born!People know you exists and you’re strong, but they think you’re satisfied living here not bothering anyone.You have to take action to be feared, and defeating the Dark Duke would do it.”

Malvax tossed Todd aside and pointed his staff at the youth.“I don’t bother anyone because I don’t have to, your miserable cretin!I have what I want right here.Cash, security, solitude, it’s mine without a fight.”

“Sir—” Todd began.

A minotaur leaned close to Chad and said, “I’ve seen him get in these moods before. If he brings up his dad, run.”

“My father?” Malvax roared.His fire grew with his rage until the room became unbearably hot.“The ingrate who didn’t give me a name until I was twelve because he thought I didn’t deserve one?The fool who leased me out to anyone who could pay his bar tab?The wretch who said I’d never amount to anything?”

“I’m pretty sure we weren’t talking about him,” Todd said weakly.

“We are now!”Malvax jabbed Todd in the chest with the tip of his staff.“I came into this world with nothing and lost even that.The odds I faced were astronomical, the men opposing me terrifying, no one was my ally, and yet here I am.Century after century I fought enemies the likes of which you can’t even imagine.

“And here you are, a loser, a failure, a Todd, trying to trick me into fighting your battles for you.You want the Dark Duke dead?Do it yourself.You have no weapons, no money, no friends, no hope?Neither did I.”Leaning in close again, Malvax asked, “Do you have any idea the kind of sacrifices I made to become so powerful and last so long?”

Todd stared at the flames burning where Malvax’s head should have been.“I have some idea.”

Malvax pulled back.“Yes, I suppose it was a silly question.We’ll chalk that up to murderous rage dulling my normally sharp wits.”

With that Malvax walked back to the table, picked up the hourglass and laid it on its side.“And that concludes our discussion.We now move onto the part where I reduce you to a quivering husk of a man.”

“But there’s sand left in the hourglass,” Todd protested.

“Our deal was you had until the sands stopped flowing to impress me.You will note that the sands are not flowing, and you have most assuredly not impressed me.I still feeling sporting despite you upsetting me.Heads I kill you slowly and painfully, tails I send you back to your people a broken man unable to even talk as a lesson to those who might be tempted to annoy me.”

Malvax snapped his fingers.“Wine. The good stuff.”

His cook hurried out with an ornate green glass bottle.The cook uncorked it and handed it to Malvax, who poured it liberally onto his head.Wine boiled away with a hiss and turned to steam as the wizard consumed the entire bottle. “I just got off this stuff, and you had to upset me enough to break open a bottle.I hope you’re happy.”

“The Dark Duke has magic items you could take!” Todd yelled.“You like magic!And he hired two wizards from the Inspired.You hate those guys, and I bet they have spell books.”

“Not interested.”

Desperate, Todd turned to Chad.“Do something!”

Chad shrugged.“What sort of help do you expect from an accountant?Besides, you’re the one who made him mad.”

Malvax took out the copper coin again and tossed it in the air.He was reaching for it when Chad said, “Sir?”

Too late.Malvax snatched the coin from the air and he slapped it against his wrist.“Chad, as much as I need you, I’m not in the mood for interruptions.”

Chad pointed out at the balcony overlooking the courtyard.“It’s just we have more visitors, about a thousand of them.”

“What?”Malvax headed to the balcony and saw an army marching toward Cyclopean Tower.There were hundreds of swordsmen, spearmen marching in a phalanx, archers in the back and knights on horseback.The men wore black armor edged in crimson, and their weapons were made of black steel with spikes and barbs.Flags showing a black wolf on a blue background flew over the army.

The effect on the people of the town was dramatic.Men ran into their homes and shut their doors.Malvax’s guards raced to protect Cyclopean Tower, as did magic creations like gargoyles and a stone golem.The minotaurs ran over to join their master and face this threat.

“That’s the Dark Duke,” Malvax said as the army approached.“This is madness.He would have needed days to rally his men and march them here, leaving his lands undefended.I’ve given him no cause to do so.”

The army came to a halt not far from Cyclopean Tower.The Dark Duke, a bear of a man wearing black plate armor, came to the front of his forces.Two Inspired wizards dressed in black and white robes followed him, either one as dangerous as a platoon of knights.

“Malvax Terrothis, I come demanding satisfaction, and will not leave without it,” the Dark Duke announced.

Malvax walked onto the balcony, his staff in one hand as he pointed the other at the Dark Duke.“Satisfaction?You come onto my land unprovoked with an army.I’m the only one here with a reason to be angry.”

“I know your secret, conniving wizard.Many witnesses saw a traitor go to you with maps of my property, my forts, my very castle!You plot with malcontented peasants to seize the lands I hold.”

“What are you talking about?” Malvax demanded.“The only thing I have is a poorly drawn picture by an illiterate rancher I was about to kill for annoying me.”

“Then you admit you have him!”

Malvax began to speak again, but he stopped and looked back at Todd. “Wait.I can believe you’re stupid enough to let people see you leave your ranch, but how would they know you were coming here with a map?There’s no way they’d know that detail when the map fits in your pocket.The only way the Dark Duke could learn that…is if you wanted him to.You made sure he’d learn you were coming here.”

Todd smiled.“I planted the information that I was coming here to get your help.It was hard to pull it off without getting caught before I got here, but he’s convinced you’re out to get him.That part was easy since he’s paranoid.I honestly don’t know which one of you is going to win this fight, but the world is better off without either of you.”

“You treacherous dog!”

“Malvax!” the Dark Duke roared.“I left you in your pitiful tower, but no longer.Your lands, gold and peasants are now mine by right of combat.”

Malvax folded his arms across his chest.“I don’t tolerate threats, especially by those unable to carry them out. You won’t be able to hold the ground you stand on if I so much as snap my fingers.You want the boy who’s behind this?That I might consider, but your audacity demands repercussions.”

The wizard held up the coin he’d tossed minutes earlier to decide Todd’s fate. “Heads I give you the boy and let you leave with your army intact.Tails I break out the Big Book of Black Magic and do things to you that shouldn’t happen to a dog.I’m told I’m not feared the way I once was.Casting a few of those spells should correct that problem.”

The Dark Duke sneered and took a javelin from one of the Inspired Wizards. “I’ve never let chance dictate my life.”

Malvax rolled his eyes.“What do you think that toy is going to—”

The Dark Duke threw the javelin at Malvax.Strong and skilled as he was, the javelin shouldn’t have been able to hit at such a range.But in flight it began to glow, and strange runes appeared on its sides as it sped up in midflight.The javelin struck Malvax in the chest and went halfway through him.

There was a blinding flash of purple light and a boom like a thunderclap when it hit.The Dark Duke’s army cowered at the sight, and Malvax’s followers took cover. Malvax stood transfixed as the purple light radiated from him.The thunderclap died away to a low rumble as the javelin began to quiver and then smoke. Purple fire erupted from Malvax’s body and burned through the javelin until two halves of the weapon clattered onto the balcony.The purple fire kept burning, sealing the wound and then healing it.In mere seconds he was whole and well again.

“It’s not possible,” the Dark Duke said.He turned to his now terrified wizards and yelled, “You swore it would kill him!”

The Dark Duke’s army watched in horror as Malvax looked down at them.He snapped his fingers and caused a large book fly out of a hidden room in the tower and into his hands.The minotaurs recognized it and grabbed Chad before they fled.Todd saw that the strange book had carved obsidian and turquoise stones forming a grinning face on the cover.Todd was sure he wouldn’t get far as he ran for his life, but his fears were baseless. Malvax’s attention was focused solely on the Dark Duke.

“Tails it is,” Malvax said, and he opened the book.

* * * * *

While many had suspected the Dark Duke was foolish or even deranged, no one knew what madness drove him to attack the ancient wizard Malvax Terrothis.What they did know was that he left his lands with almost his entire army, and none returned. In time a neighboring king annexed the Dark Duke’s lands.While this king wasn’t the kindest person, he was a definite improvement over the previous ruler.

Many wondered why Malvax didn’t try to seize the land he’d left leaderless and unprotected.Facts on the matter were rare and hard to come by.Few men had the wizard’s permission to safely enter his territory, and they only made cryptic warnings that neighboring people took to heart.For that reason, no parents within a hundred miles of Malvax Terrothis’ lands gave their newborn sons the name Todd.


© Copyright 2018 ArthurD7000. All rights reserved.

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