There and Never, Ever Back Again: Diary of a Dark Lord. (book review)

front cover of "There and Never, Ever Back Again: Diary of a Dark Lord"

There and Never, Ever Back Again: Diary of a Dark Lord
Jeff Machs

Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: FastPencil Publishing (June 18, 2019)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1499905807
ISBN-13: 978-1499905809

Amazon

You know the players.
• A White Wizard, wise and caring.
• A Dark Lord, power mad and self-absorbed.
• A Chosen One, the only hope.

But what if the Wizard is making it up as he goes along? And cares for himself most of all?

The Lord is only interested in having one kingdom; and has some regard for the troops that will fight to protect that kingdom?

And the Chosen is not the Only, merely the Latest?

Welcome to Jeff Mach’s debut novel, There and Never, Ever Back Again: Diary of a Dark Lord. An old tale spun a new way.

With a looming invasion by the forces of Good, the Dark Lord fills the Chosen One in on the perpetual sarcasm of Elves, that Orcs are not so much ugly as asymmetrical, and that, perhaps, not all who dwell in the Darkness are there of their own volition.

There are no illusions of being a misunderstood ‘Hero’. The Dark Lord has worked and bled to claim that title of ‘Villain’. For the world needs villains, even if most won’t realize it.

Intercut are entries from the Chosen One’s own diary, who is learning there is much grey between Good and Evil. And how little a person is worth compared to the symbol others make of them.

If you like your fantasy neat and tidy, then I wish you a good day. But if you want to think a bit, see the view from the other side of the fence, and just maybe find the words you’ve been wishing someone would say…

May I invite you to help us steal the Sun?

Blade Ward

“Ready?

“Of course.”

“I have this!”

The tiefling raced to the dragonborn, his sword raised. The battle shifted around them as they began to fight.

The dragonborn snarled. She wanted to fight the leader, not a mere soldier. She pulled out a dagger with her free hand, a desire to quickly end this and move on to her goal.

The tiefling’s mind raced around one thought. Give his captain time to grab the jewel. The last piece to the spell that would get them all home.

He felt the dagger’s bite before he could see the black blade. The pain shot through his leg, making him lose his balance for just a moment. But he still moved to keep in front of the dragonborn. He had to stop her.

It was then he felt the poison as a fire spreading under his skin. His hand shook as he continued to fight. Gritting his teeth, he aimed for the dragonborn’s side. One shot.

As soon as the sword made contact, he shouted the spell. The dragonborn’s eyes widened as she recognized the words. The dagger swung out again, a desperate aim for the throat.

But the last word was spoken. The dragonborn froze, her breathing heavy. She grimaced as the air around her thickened, the vibrations reaching her bones. “Damn you.”

“Not yet.” The tiefling looked over his shoulder as his captain called out, the jewel in his hand. He smiled, then felt his body start to fall.

“I have you. We’re going.”

As they dragged the tiefling toward the captain’s position, the cleric opened the bottle of healing potion one-handed. With a too-oft practiced flick, the contents slid down the tiefling’s throat. The cleric let the bottle fall and wrapped both arms around the limp form. “Almost there.”

“Can this truly be called a win? Mine is not damaged.

But it was stopped. And mine escapes.”

I shall remember this.”

Acid Splash

They nodded at each other as they sat at their gaming table, the timelines frozen before them. They placed their tokens on the selected play. Then time began.

The dragonborn smiled to himself, his voice bare above a whisper as his finger began to twirl in the air. A greenish bubble formed, the outer edge a slow swirl as the center grew still. With a chuckle he flicked the bubble with his finger and sent it straight at the half-orc.

The half-orc saw the movement out of the corner of his eye, and woefully turned to take the full impact of it in that eye. He screamed as his hand clawed at his face. He thought he could hear the quiet hiss as the acid began to eat at his flesh. He fell back against the wall. His body turned this way and that, as if to somehow move away from the pain. Then a fist shot out and knock him unconscious.

“And this was your subtle idea for how to get past the guard?” The dwarf shifted his axe as he stepped forward to look at the still body.

“Subtle? No, not exactly. But effective? Yes.” The dragonborn pulled his cloak back around himself.

“And what if he had dodged out of the way? Called for help?”

“If no one had prepared an attack by that time, then I do not know why I bother. And if they said, swore even, they could do to distract the others, keep them from hearing any cry. I see no one racing toward us.”

“Fine. Just grab the body and hide it somewhere. Sooner this mess is done with, the better.”

“I win.”

“I can use my eyes, thank you. And it is just the first. We have many to go.”

“True. But beginnings, you know.”

“Yes, I do.”

The Proposal

Xerdoal looked at his guests as the plates were removed and the cups filled. There were satisfied smiles and laughing. The grumbles about the distance traveled were gone and all looked settled in. The fact that the rain waited till all were inside he took as a good omen. With the fire making the room as comfortable as a bath, he had high hopes for tonight’s proceedings.

“So, tell us why.” Yra lifted her cup to her lips.

“Why what?” Xerdoal was pulled from his thoughts, blinking as he turned to her.

Alim smiled. “Come now, Xerdoal. You invite us to a tavern known to none of us, and ply us with food and drink.”

“Of an unexpected quality, no less.” Geirel toasted his host. “Your coins were not dear tonight.”

“Can I not just have wanted to enjoy the company of my good friends?”

Ravtis laughed. “Not with that look in your eye. We all know it too well.”

“You have wounded me.” Xerdoal tried for an affronted expression, but it was marred by his smile. He gave in with a sigh of defeat. “Very well. I am guilty.”

“Well, of course. But what has that to do with tonight?” Sayelh’s laughter was joined by the others.

“But tell us, Xerdoal. Why have you gone through all this trouble? Why was your house not suitable for this?” Uarla leaned forward, her chin resting in her hand.

“As to why not my house, it has the eyes of a certain acquaintance upon it. So I have dismissed my servants temporarily and closed my house. This tavern was the best place I could think of.

“As to the trouble, I wanted you all in the best possible mood. I have a proposal and I wanted it met and considered with open minds.”

“Fair enough,” Yra nodded. “Continue.”

“We all share, I believe, a similar outlook. A rather pragmatic one, yes. But also, our perspectives and morals are of, shall we say, a darker grey hue that many out there. We see what must be done and we are not averse to doing it. Within reason, of course.”

He looked at each in turn, watching the looks of consideration turn into ones of assent.

“My thought is that we, and those we deem worthy, offer our uniqueness to those lacking our gifts. My friends, I wish to establish a guild, with us as the masters. To place those who share our more realistic, less burdened outlook with adventuring parties in need of just such a thing. To do what they are not unable, or simply unwilling, to do themselves.”

“With what sort of incentive?”  Sayelh shook her head. “The ones you speak of – realistic, less burdened – are used to less than hospitable treatment. Why would they trust a ‘honest party’?”

“And how do we know we can trust those that would seek to join such an endeavor?” Ravtis waved his hand. “I’ll not offer my name to be misused by another.”

“I am not foolish enough to think this a fast and easy game. We shall have to be most prodding and careful with each step. We all have our circles that we can pillage from. We all know those who would be worthy. We do not limit by talent, but by perspective. And we do not blindly trust, neither those who would join the guild nor those who would hire our members. This is something to last for our lifetimes, at the very least. Something of note. Something to give others pause.”

“And what roles are we to play in this?” Yra drained her glass before reaching for the nearby bottle. “Just our names and money?”

Xerdoal smiled as he shook his head. “No, we shall be in charge of everything. We manage. And instruct.”

“Instruct?”

“Instruct, Uarla. Though my thought is for you to handle the coin. See that none goes wandering and the best deals made.”

“And the rest?”

“Heavy arms for you, Ravtis. Light and no for Yra. Sayelh, battle healing. Alim, the matter of stealth. And our Geriel, when drawing attention is required. Myself, what manner of history and arcana I think needs sharing.”

“Do you have a name for this guild?”

“The Grau.” Alim set his cup down with a sharp tap. “In keeping with your talk of ‘greyness'”

“And are you to be the head of this?” Geriel looked at Xerdoal, his usual smile replaced with a keen look.

“I admit, I did consider it. But in the end, I decided no. I feel there is really only one choice for that. The most tempered of us.” Seven faces turned toward the figure at the table’s end, silent since their arrival.

“The Voactum, that is what we shall be called.” Illmer’s sightless eyes met theirs as his hand unerringly reached for his cup. “If we wish to do this.”

An Introduction

You won’t believe me anyway so let’s just call it a lie from the start. A story from the bottom of these tankards.

The Heir
The Spare
The Soldier
The Scholar

That’s how the rhyme goes. And that is what we had. Until me.

I was born nine years after the others. There was talk behind hands and looks from corners of eyes, of course. But it was ignored. I was a surprise, but I was not unwelcomed.

Then I arrived, dark where the others were fair. Now the talk, and looks, had to be considered. My father never had reason to doubt my mother’s faithfulness. But enemies will have their fun. So the mage was sent for and there was hurried discussion.

And when I was presented to the people, I was as fair as my siblings standing nearby. They were told I was fragile and it was accepted. If I was shown only when the ceremony absolutely demanded it while the older children were seen more often, it was understood. And if they forgot about me between times, so much the better.

Not that I was so brushed aside by my family. That I wish made clear. I see the look in your eye, you think this the bigger lie in my lie. But it is true. I was loved no less. The older ones understood the need for the deception. They knew the care taken with me was my burden and not a boon. I was a full member of the family.

It need not be said that the glamour was the first spell I learned. Oh, we all do magic in one way or another, my family. Not spoken of much, of course. And I am the only one on my path.

No, I will not show my other face to you. You don’t believe me, remember.

But I will answer your question and say why I left them. No, you didn’t ask that, you didn’t have to. That look from before, remember? Here, let me pour you some more.

No, I left because even a frail, last-born can be considered a prize by some families. And I was nearing the age that the ‘chance meetings’ would begin.

So we made the announcement that I was leaving. Off in search of better health, to better serve the family line, as it were. Made a festival of it, everyone saw me off. Few expected the figure they saw to return. But they had the four they needed, so I was expendable and there was little real concern.

And now I make my way, far from my home.

I see the look that’s in your eye now. Another one, playing at a title to impress. To give a story instead of coin. Because, you say to yourself, why share such a dangerous tale, when there must be those who would pay for it? And you would be right.

Were you to live long enough to tell it.

Ah, the surprise. Yes, my companions are most noble and would never lower themselves to this. That is why they have me.

For things exactly like this.

Good-bye.

About

You will notice a disconnect between post from 2018 and ones from 2019.

In the intervening year, Dungeons & Dragons took me over.

It was initiated by the gang at Critical Role (who I learned of by way of being a recommendation from watching Acquisition Inc, another online D&D game). As an anime fan, my interest was piqued by the fact that the cast are all voice actors and I had heard the work of many of them.

As I watched the episodes of their second campaign, I was draw into the multiverse that is 5th edition.

Next stop, Twitter. Finding a plethora of people and entities with a like interest. And finding an interest in writing in those worlds.

This ficcer had found her next fandom.

So here will be posts about Sorcerers and Barbarians. Rogues and Bards. A figuring out of characters rolled up by me. Maybe even crossovers with other fandoms of mine.

Oh, and the figuring out of how to be the best Villain I can be.

Over a tankard in front of the fire…

They say, in other lands, people meet and converse over boiled bean water, telling how the past tenday has been.

Don’t know what they got against mead or ale.

But pull up a chair and we’ll see if we can do better.

Was cold weather at the start. Been mild today and day before.

Got my arm bit burn, tending the fire at the festival. Doesn’t hurt though. Price you pay, eh?

Not much trade coming thru. Wonder if we’ll get bit more.

Might see about getting that Zemnian to teach me bit of the language. Helps to know a smattering. Can get you more coin, or let you know if they’re planning on running out.

Hmm, guess it was harder than thought, drinking and talking. Or cause nothing much doing. Might try again, though.

(Idea taken from #weekendcoffeeshare currently hosted by Eclectic Ali).