The Dark Lord
And thus it came to pass that the Dark Lord was vanquished utterly, and all his workings cast into ruin. But evil can never be removed from the realms of men, and thus it was that the dread lord himself escaped through the veil that lies but thinly between the worlds, and come to rest in a new world, a ripe world, a world which he intended to subjugate to his will. And there he did wreak--
"Excuse me, uh, Voldemort, but what are you doing on my tower?"
The Dark Lord was feeling somewhat buffeted by fate and heroes. "I am emanating evil," he emanated.
"So that's what that smell is." The mortal wrinkled his nose. "I was afraid it was me."
"It is the miasma of darkness," the Dark Lord intoned. "It is the manifestation of my incorporeal…" His corporeal part swallowed hard. "…manifestation."
"Could you go emanate someplace else?" The mortal grimaced down at the drink in his hand. "Scotch with added… emanation. Don't recommend it."
The Dark Lord felt that something had gone wrong with this conversation. It was a conversation. That in itself was wrong. "Attend me, mortal!" he commanded, in a tone that had made nations tremble.
The mortal was pouring himself another drink, seemingly absorbed by the task. "Oh, I'm sorry. Were you talking to me?"
The Dark Lord wiped a withered hand across a deathless brow. The gesture was less grounding than it had been when he was fully corporeal.
"Why me?" the mortal said with a martyred sigh. "Why does every aspiring super-villain start his campaign on top of my tower?"
"I chose this tower," the Dark Lord intoned, "because it thrusts aloft like a deadly shard, penetrating the very heavens themselves."
"Oh, I get it!" said the mortal. "You're a friend of Thor's. I wish he'd warn us before his buddies drop by. I'd disable the sprinkler system."
The Dark Lord drew himself up, tendrils of darkness clawing at the night. "I am nobody's friend."
"I can't think why." The mortal took a sip of his rich amber liquid. "So we're back to the original question: my tower, why?"
The Dark Lord tried to run a withered tongue across incorporeal lips. "I thought the lord of such a mighty citadel would be evil indeed, and that he would become my chief lieutenant. Of evil," he clarified.
"I'm evil now?" The mortal looked offended. "Don't believe everything you read in the papers." He touched his chin defensively. "Or is it the beard?"
The Dark Lord felt as if he was fading. Normally people trembled. Or gibbered. Or hurled anathemas at him. He liked anathemas; they had a strengthening effect, like tonic water. "Why won't you gibber?" he asked.
"Hey, I've seen Thor naked - interesting story; not what you think; Barton's fault, not mine; don't let anyone tell you otherwise - so I'm past gibbering."
The Dark Lord clasped his skeletal hands together, knucklebones grating. "If you will not join me, perhaps you will grant me aid. All I want is a nice mountain fastness, doesn't have to be large. There I can reside and build my citadel, and from there spread my dread aura of darkness throughout the land until the entire world is subjugated to my will and languishing in hopeless despair and misery."
"Mountain fastness, huh?" the mortal said. "Go west, young… old… being. "
"West." The Dark Lord fell upon the word with relief. He drew himself up to ride upon the darkness like a great fell beast, with wings of living shadow that cast dread upon all living things that lay beneath its--
"Um… Where in the west?" he asked.
"Good question." The mortal waved his hand and summoned up a shining screen upon which words were inscribed by a magic unseen hand. "I'll show you a map. You can read a map?"
The next part of the night was confusing. It turned out that he could not.
"And hitchhiking's out of the question," the mortal said, when options had been exhausted and the Dark Lord's head hurt with the memory of grid references and long straight lines. "No thumbs."
"Incorporeal ones," the Dark Lord explained.
"Strange choice." The mortal shrugged. "How do you manage jars?"
The mortal nodded, as if he understood. "Well," he said. "Enough with this… bonding. Go find your citadel. Take this, it'll help." He pulled something out of a drawer. "GPS," he explained. He pressed a few buttons on the small device. "Just do what it tells you. Now go. Go. You've got a world to… subjugate."
The Dark Lord took it and fle-- and rose up higher than a mountain, higher than the stars, until the very world was filled with his terror and despair, and then he disappeared, to fly on horrific wings above a world that was mired in confusion.
"Uh, you're welcome," he heard the mortal call far below him. "When will I find someone who appreciates the things I do?"
Days passed, according to the measure of the world, and the Dark Lord took up residence on a mountain in a place that men called "the West," and there he did begin to build his citadel, and from there too did he summon minions and foul hordes unto him, to execute his will and cast terror into the heart of all who beheld them. These minions were--
"Two," said the minion. "There's only two of us. You can't call us a horde." The Dark Lord was designing his throne with a charred stick on stretched human skin. "Page twenty-three," the minion said, "paragraph three. 'Horde' is ill-defined. It leaves you wide open to challenges by lawyers."
The Dark Lord decided to ignore him. Should he sit on skulls and rib cages again? It was uncomfortable, and his posterior was still unpleasantly corporeal. The charred stick ran smoothly over the skin. Too smoothly. "This is definitely human skin?" he asked. "Not paper?"
"Human skin," the minion assured him. "I, uh, pillaged it myself. I can show you the procurement trail." He opened a folder and began to rummage through it.
Maybe rams' skulls, the Dark Lord thought. And onyx. He liked onyx. It had a pleasing name.
"And, point of information," the minion said, "the word 'minion' might be considered unacceptably derogatory in this day and age. You might find it hard to recruit…"
The Dark Lord decided it was time to be dark and lordly. "I recruited you! I dragged you from your homes and enslaved you to my will by--"
"Actually," the other minion offered, "we volunteered." The Dark Lord did not like the second minion. He used a bow, behaviour which was disturbingly elf-like. The Dark Lord did not like elves. "We felt, uh… evil. Like doing some evil… minioning. What're you looking at me like that, Coulson? You say it better."
"I believe I was."
The Dark Lord gathered up the retreating extremities of his incorporeality, in order to loom all the better. "But there will be more!" he declared. "Veritable hordes of them! When I have located the foul race of hideous distorted beings who skulk underground and delight in mindless destruction…"
"Er…" said the minion who was probably not an elf. "About that…?"
"They hide from me," cried the Dark Lord, "but I will find them."
"If you say so, sir," said the minion called Coulson, in a pleasing tone. "But in the meantime, may I suggest that you make do with humans. And that means…"
"That I must endure this 'contract' of yours," the Dark Lord said morosely. He tried a bit of looming. Coulson gave a half-hearted tremble, but it was clear he was only doing it to please.
"We still have gaps," said the Coulson the minion. "You need to clarify what benefits you're offering. Medical?" he prompted. "Dental?"
The Dark Lord considered it. "They can keep their teeth. I want them to rend the flesh from the bones of their enemies, not gnaw." He tried not to shudder visibly at the memory. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time.
"And what measures are you putting in place to ensure the safety of your workforce?" Coulson the minion asked.
The minion who was possibly not an elf snorted, and muttered something about dangerous working conditions never having mattered before when the one in danger was him.
"Consider these plans, for a start," Coulson said, pulling out some sheets of pa-- human skin.
"The plans for my citadel," the Dark Lord intoned. "My mighty fastness built in the smoke-blasted wilderness that is the heartland of my power."
"No handrails," Coulson said. "What if one of us fell off?"
The minion who might not be an elf cleared his throat meaningfully.
"What if I fell off?" Coulson said. "Or one of the hypothetical horde. Paperwork." He grimaced. "Hours of paperwork."
He had ruled a world, the Dark Lord reminded himself. He had ruled a world full of nice, normal, puny mortals who had done exactly what he had expected them to. Sometimes you only appreciated a thing after you had sent an army of minions to slaughter it, even down its children's children.
Coulson was still flicking through the sheets of skin, listing criticisms. "…brimstone. Tall pinnacles with external staircases and no bathrooms. A cavern filled with molten lava. Why?"
"Hey, I like the pinnacles," said the possible elf. He sounded quite smug about it.
"You will be my chief lieutenant," the Dark Lord decided. "Of evil," he added. Lately, he had felt the need to stress the word as often as he could. It didn't always help.
"Cool. Hear that?" The elf turned to Coulson, smirking. "Chief lieutenant. That's chiefer than you, minion. "
"Payback is never clever," said Coulson sternly.
Rubies in the canopy, the Dark Lord thought firmly, as red as blood. An obsidian pedestal. Bones strewn around him, and everywhere the reek of evil.
Evil, he thought rather desperately.
On a day when the very sky was weeping, the Dark Lord caused the first stone of his citadel to be laid. Ruin fell upon the earth for many leagues around it. The sky turned black, and all the foul creatures of the earth were drawn unto the lord, and came to serve him and do his will. And so it was that the most dreadful of all monsters, a creature they called--
"What is your name, foul monster?" the Dark Lord cried.
The foul monster roared. The Dark Lord's citadel was scattered, all three stones of it.
The Dark Lord turned hastily into a flying manifestation of dread and horror, but too late to save his toe from getting mauled. "You serve me now, monster."
"You god?" grunted the monster, swatting hopefully above his head.
The Dark Lord let dread fall upon the mountainside like rain. "Greater than a god," he boomed in a voice like thunder, a voice that could invade even the smallest caverns of hope that dwelled inside a man's heart.
"Okay," grunted the monster.
The other foul creatures ran away on small furry legs, all both of them, their little tails waggling. The Dark Lord retrieved a semi-corporeal finger, and gathered himself around him like the cloak of a king.
He had a monster now, whose name would haunt the dreams of children the world over. He smiled. With nobody but the monster to see it, it was not even the death's head grin that caused the marrow to turn to ice in a mortal's bones.
No man was there to see it when the Dark Lord began to (re)build his citadel, but it is not possible for evil to rise unseen. Perhaps the very birds of the air shouted the news aloud in consternation. Perhaps it was told by the wind and the sunlight and the dancing of the dust of the outraged earth. But before many days were over, heroes began to arrive, for they had heard of the coming of the Dark Lord, and they knew that no man could live in peace until the Dark Lord was altogether vanquished and driven from the earth. And there they stood before the Dark Lord's, uh, gate, and--
"Do something," the Dark Lord hissed. "That is to say, I command you to obey your lord's will!"
Coulson looked up from his book. "You never did agree to paid overtime." He returned to his reading.
The chief lieutenant was busy cherishing his bow. "Can't you do it?" he asked. "Dark lord? Ultimate evil? Greatest power in the land?"
The Dark Lord rubbed the back of his neck with skeletal fingers. "I had minions to do the actual fighting," he admitted, "and sorcerers to do the… sorcering. I had a Mouth to do the talking. He came up with all the best threats, full of thees and thous, good… talky stuff."
"Really," said Coulson, without looking up. "I'm surprised. You're normally so eloquent."
The Dark Lord mustered the full power of his forbidding mien. "I command you--"
"Yeah, yeah." His chief lieutenant pushed himself to his feet. "So I've got to do all the work, all the smiting. Sounds familiar. Just like my last detail."
"Funny," said Coulson, still busy with his book.
"Smiting has a ring to it, though." His chief lieutenant readied his bow. "Smiter? Slayer?" He glanced at the Dark Lord's soul-churning eminence. "Right on it, boss. You got heroes? I go smite."
The heroes were waiting patiently outside the gatehouse that loomed at their ankles. It was a pitiful party of heroes indeed, consisting of only two, one of them a lady. The Dark Lord surveyed the wilderness behind them, in case a wise mentor and a dwarf were hiding in the burgeoning flora that beset his wilderness. "You cannot win," he told them, making his voice echo from the clouds.
"Really?" said the lady. He supposed her to be an enchantress, since warrior women always wore pointy undergarments made of metal and fought with most of their flesh exposed. The other hero wore strange garb blue and red, decorated with stars. From the stars, the Dark Lord knew that he was a mage. "Go on, Cap," the lady urged him. "Do your thing."
"We have come to oppose you," said the mage. He sounded as if he was reciting lines from memory. "Your evil cannot be allowed to go uncontested. You are a threat to the liberties of the free world. I, Captain America, have come to end your depredations. And I don't sound like that."
The enchantress looked blankly innocent. "I didn't write it."
"Destroy them, minion!" the Dark Lord screamed. Wrapping his cloak around him like wings, he surged into the air, and became a fell creature, a dread shadow cast like the hand of death on the field of combat. Fighting happened below him, and at length his chief lieutenant was triumphant.
"Hey! You up there?" his chief lieutenant shouted. "What d'ya want me to do with them?"
"Throw the man in with the monster," the Dark Lord said. "The lady is mine. I wish to… interrogate her."
"Thought you'd want to do that," said his lieutenant. He gave an evil smile, becoming more acceptable by the second.
The Dark Lord threw back his head and gave a laugh that made the entire sky rattle with the terror of it. Then he reached out with a skeletal hand, and snatched his head back again.
Coulson was still reading. When he had his army, the Dark Lord thought, he would make him suffer most terribly.
And thus it was that the first heroes who thought to try their strength against the Dark Lord were vanquished utterly. The male, a powerful mage by his garb, was cast into the pit that contained a monster whose howls made even the strongest men quail--
"Oh," said the mage. "Hello, Bruce."
"Hi, Steve," said the monster, suddenly not a monster any more.
The Dark Lord would have banged his forehead against something, had he possessed a forehead and anything to bang it against.
Evil is always with us. Although one triumph was snatched from the Dark Lord's deathly grasp, victory was still his, for he held the enchantress, loveliest of maidens, in his grip, immured in his dungeon foul, and at night he came to her, and he put her to question in the most hideous ways that man can imagine, and she wept and said--
"And I never even wanted to be a Dark Lord," he confessed. "But it was the family business, and what can you do? I have never known a mother's love. I was spawned. Unnaturally. And my father…" He snarled at her, enjoying the feeling of being in control.
His prisoner gazed at him in cowed terror, one eyebrow raised.
His cloak swirled around him darkly. "He gave me no choice. So I found a little world; went and subjugated it. It was… good. Surprisingly good. The mortals all cowered when I wanted them to. That helped."
"You're evil," she whispered, almost speechless with the dread of him.
"But then I came here, and everything went wrong. Nobody acted the way they were supposed to act. Nobody trembled. Nobody even cursed me. How can you be a Dark Lord unless people are afraid of you?"
She trembled. Somehow it only made things seem worse.
"I wanted to be a florist when I was newly spawned," he told her. "Flowers don't talk about safety railings. Flowers don't ignore you and go and pour themselves a drink. Flowers don't turn into naked men when you want them to feast upon a mage. I want…" He pressed his hands to his face. Sulphurous tears hissed between his fingers. "I don't want to do this any more. I can't cope with any more of this."
His prisoner looked at him for a long while. "At least you got an interrogation out of it."
The Dark Lord raised his head, smiling hopefully. "You're right. I did, didn't I? All by myself. No torturer minion to do it for me."
"You did it very well," she said, as she shook loose her bonds and walked away.
The Dark Lord started to sob.
And thus was the Dark Lord vanquished, his realm ended forever, and his spirit broken. But then, just at the end of all things--
"I come to destroy thee, foul one! Hide not behind your minions, but come out and fight!"
The Dark Lord raised his head. A hero stood before him, dressed as heroes ought to dress, waving the sort of weapon a hero ought to wave, shouting the sort of things a hero ought to shout.
His tears were burning. It was too late. Too late.
"I will wade through your minions as if they were but chaff!" boomed the hero. "And then I will find the magic ring that is the source of your power, and hurl it into the undying fire at the heart of your realm, even though my feet do not have hair upon them!"
"Who let Thor watch The Lord of the Rings?" he heard someone ask.
"He was asking why you called me 'Legolas,'" said another voice. "I thought it would be funny."
"I will smite you with my mighty hammer!" declared the hero.
"Too late," the Dark Lord whispered, his voice like dead things, broken things upon the wind. Then he looked up, at the whole disconcerting hideous circle of them. "No. Please do. Please smite me now."
He lowered his head, and thought about flowers: blue ones, with yellow pollen, thick and sweet; pink ones, as delicate as a dancer's gown.
"…and the reason you didn't apprehend him the first time you encountered him is what?" a stern man was asking, one eye covered with a patch.
"We were bored?"
The stern man sounded unimpressed. "I am surprised to find you here, Agent Coulson, encouraging this--"
"Apprehension of an evil-doer, sir? Surely that's something to be encouraged? I thought I'd come along to keep an eye on things and stop them getting out of hand. Besides, I'm on vacation."
Orange ones, he thought, as bright as the sun. White ones that fell in sprays of blossom, like feathers dancing in the breeze.
"Hey, we've defeated the manifestation of ultimate evil here. A little appreciation?"
The Dark Lord curled himself into as tight a ball as his incorporeality allowed, and gibbered.