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|What do Dark Lords do when they've been deposed? A lot of people think they sleep, slowly regaining their power until they finally return and lay waste to all that oppose them. I, on the other hand, think that they get sent to a bar in Duluth. This story is dedicated to the fine work of Spider Robinson. If you haven't read his stuff, leave this page and go buy some of his books.||
The Recently Deposed Dark Lord’s Lounge.
One instant, Gideon’s Sword was protruding out of the small of Dengor’s back, and the next, he was sitting on a porcelain chair in a well-lighted prison cell of smooth, brown walls that did not quite reach the floor. For a moment, he just sat, stunned.
Dengor, the Dark Lord of the Wastes, had been beaten. By a farm boy, no less!
Dengor felt his midsection, and found no hint that it had recently been the resting place of an enchanted weapon. For what it was worth, the absence of the sword was good news, as was the presence of his body. It meant that the farm boy hadn’t actually killed him, only banished him to this strange little prison. And there wasn’t a prison made by man or Gods that could hold the Dark Lord of the Wastes! He would escape from the prison, find his way back to Glah, and feed that little farm boy his own innards, dipped in his own blood, while the sweet sounds of that impudent boy’s screams echoed in Dengor’s ears.
His bloody reverie was disturbed by something he hadn’t noticed before. He took a second whiff just to be sure, and there was no denying it. This prison cell smelled like a privy. The sharp, acidic smell of urine pervaded the place the way the smell of mold and wood-smoke does in a cave. It wasn’t overpowering, just strong enough to be noticed. And was what was so strange about it. He’d never been in a prison that didn’t double him over with the stench of urine and death and blood. That farm boy had relegated him to a prison cleaner than any he had ever imagined.
Dengor peered underneath the wall. To his left was another cell, just like his. It was empty, as far as he could make out. He checked beneath all the gaps, and he appeared to be alone.
What sort of prison was this? He inspected the chair, and found that it contained a hole filled with water. He dipped his hand inside and took a taste. It was fresh, and remarkably clean. He scooped out a larger portion and took a long drink. Obviously, whoever had built this place wished to keep the prisoners alive and in good health.
Along side the chair was a roll of parchment, thinner and more delicate than anything he had ever seen. He marveled at how easily it came away from the roll, each time forming a perfect square. Dengor suddenly became anxious; any magician who could produce such delicate parchment would be a difficult adversary indeed.
There was writing scrolled all over the walls of his cell. Much of it was unintelligible, in a language that he had never seen. However, near the top of the cell there were some words he could read.
Here I sit all broken hearted
Tried to poop and only farted.
A riddle, thought Dengor. He sat back down on the porcelain chair and pondered it. It certainly provided a valuable clue that would enable him to escape, if only he could puzzle it out.
It’s telling me to be like a mist, thought Dengor. The spaces under the doors aren’t sufficient to hold you. All you have to do is flow right beneath them, the way a mist would.
Dengor crawled out from beneath the cell door, and found himself outside the cell block. The block was lit by a strange, magic light that emanated from glowing rods fixed to the ceiling. Before him, two large basins, made of the same material as the chair in his cell, jutted out from the wall. A steady stream of water leaked from a metal spout into the basin on his right. Both basins were somewhat dirty, spotted here and there by a curious, viscous pink liquid. Bits of magical parchment lay scattered around the small cell block, crushed into wads, torn, or flattened underneath the weight of a jailor’s boot.
A short passageway led to a door. Dengor paused for a moment. Why was escape so easy? Who had the power to relegate the Dark Lord of the Wastes to a clean, well-lighted prison with such wondrously fresh water and delicate magic parchment, and then allow him to simply walk out unimpeded? Dengor was far to clever to simply walk into a trap. Quietly, he removed his visored wolf-helm and gingerly placed his ear to the cool wood of the door.
He heard muffled voices, the beating of a drum and the occasional titter of laughter. The guardhouse! Whoever ran this prison suffered from vanity and pride! Why else would the jailor allow the guards to sit outside the cell block, laughing and beating on drums? Dengor reached for his sword, but found that it was gone. No matter, he had always been more of a spellcaster anyway, and he knew spells potent enough to handle a group of slackwitted, shiftless guards.
He quickly recited the words of the spell Air of Iron, which would make him invulnerable, and then raised one mighty boot and kicked the door open. The door flew out with a swish. The laughter in the room died away as if blown out the window by a strong wind. Dengor looked at the occupants of the room, who in turn looked back at him. He paused.
The people in the room weren’t guards, and this was obviously no prison. Rather, it looked suspiciously like a tavern. Along the wall to his left ran a large wooden bar, behind which stood a short, fat, balding man polishing a glass with a filthy dishrag Behind him were shelves that held bottles of various shapes, sizes and colors, broken up here and there by a mirror or a magical light similar to what he saw in the cell block. In the far corner, a hole had been cut in the wall and embedded with a large piece of glass. Dengor marveled; it must have taken powerful magic to create such a thing! Near the glass wall, a large, rectangular object howled as if it were in pain, while magical lights flashed in mesmerizing patterns across its surface. No doubt it was a torture device. From the look of the other occupants, Dengor was quite certain that they were the type of beings who enjoyed torture. Each of them started at him, some behind hoods or bandages, some over the tops of ancient spectacles, and one through a third eye that blinked over and over again, right in the middle of a melon-sized, mottled gray forehead.
Despite their fearsome appeareance, Dengor was not afraid of them. He feared no man, beast or God, now that he understood the effects of Gideon’s Sword. However, to avoid any possible confusion that might arise from his sudden presence, Degnor thought it necessary to establish himself as the dominant being in the room which, as the Lord of the Wastes, he undoubtedly was.
“Bow down to me, pitiable wretches and I will spare your worthless little lives,” Dengor spat, mustering up every fiber of Dark Lord power he had control over. He was reasonably certain that this crowd wouldn’t scare easily, so he poured it on as thick as week-old blood. Apparently, they hadn’t yet gotten the message; none of them so much as shifted a bandage or batted a third eyelash.
“Dengor, Lord of the Wastes commands it.” Dengor wasn’t much for name dropping, but sometimes one needed to draw upon one’s reputation.
The box in the corner continued to wail and moan. That box was inflicting unimaginable agony to whoever was inside. Yet the sound of the man’s anguish did nothing to comfort Dengor. An odd silence, punctuated only by the box’s incessant yelps, filled the room.
A man sitting at the bar, his face covered in filthy bandages, spoke.
“Are you done there, champ?”
Dengor could hardly believe his ears. In the ages that he lived, all the many thousands of moonrises and sunsets, in all the thousands of bloody battles he had fought, he had never heard anyone address him with such disrespect. Dengor decided to make an example of him, to make that insolent creature scream with such vigor that the noises from the box would sound like music in comparison. Again, he reached for his sword, and again, it wasn’t there.
The man with the bandages chuckled. “Yeah, they always take them away before you get here. Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t you make me suffer with a nasty spell?”
Dengor’s head filled with such hate and anger that he could hardly remember the Soul Fire chant. He concentrated, pushing out the desire to throttle the man, knowing that making his soul burn would hurt much worse. Besides, from the look of his victim, he wasn’t certain that the man actually required air.
“Then it is as I feared,” said Dengor, lowering his hands. “I am in the underworld, and most likely, I will be next in that box.”
“Actually, you’re in Duluth, and that box happens to be playing Hank Williams,” said the creature with the third eye.
The bandaged man turned to the bartender. “Well?”
The bartender looked intently at Dengor for a moment, pondered a bit, and then said, “Marty.”
The bandaged man turned back around. Welcome to the club, Marty,” he said, clapping Dengor on the back and gesturing to the stool next to his. Dengor found it far too much to take in at once, and found himself passively doing exactly what the bandaged man wanted.
“What is a Marty?” Dengor asked.
“Marty is a name,” said the bandaged man.
“ But my name is Dengor, Dark Lord of the Wastes. Why is he calling me Marty? “Because you look like a Marty. Cal is great with names. He gave us all names. My name is Thyraxis, but here in the Lounge, they call me Vince.” Vince/Thyraxis gestured toward the man with the third eyeball. “That distinguished-looking gentleman is Barry. I won’t even try to pronounce his name. That guy over there is Tim. Rick’s in the corner, and the pale woman sitting at the far end of the bar is Janet.”
Dengor looked at Janet. She was astonishingly beautiful, with snow white hair falling across skin so pale that the hair almost got lost in it. And somehow, she seemed…familiar to him.
“Have we met somewhere before?” Dengor asked.
Janet took a sip of her drink and narrowed her eyes. “Yup. Must be his first time,” she said, and promptly returned to her drink.
Before Dengor could reply, Vince plopped a thick mug of what appeared to be ale in front of him.
“Tell us your story, Marty. What brought you here?”
Marty found himself reaching for the ale. Though the water had been clean, it didn’t satisfy his thirst the way ale could. He took a deep draught.
“I do not know,” said Marty. “Perhaps you could tell me.”
“Well, we can’t tell you how you got here, but we can tell you where you are,” said Barry. “You’re in the Recently Deposed Dark Lord’s Lounge. By your entrance, we can pretty much assume that you are a Dark Lord, and you were in fact recently deposed. Am I correct? Oh, by the way, I couldn’t help notice that your hand is wet. Drink from the toilet, did we?”
Marty had no idea what a “toilet” was, so he didn’t answer. Barry didn’t press him.
“So, Marty, why don’t you tell us what you were doing right before you arrived?”
Marty took another sip of beer. He noticed with some consternation that he didn’t seem to mind people calling him Marty.
“I was fighting.”
“Come on, you can do better than that,” said a gruff voice from the back. Vince had identified him as Rick, but Marty couldn’t make out his face from beneath his thick red cowl. Only two glowing red eyes shone out from its depths.
“I was fighting, leading my army of ghouls against the armies of the Men of the North.”
“Ah, a ghoul man,” said Vince, a little twinkle in his eye. My kind of guy. Go on.”
“We were sweeping those filthy little humans-“
“Whoa there, sparky. Going to have to stop you for a minute.”
Vince leaned in close and whispered. “Lay off the human-bashing. You’ll hurt Cal’s feelings. He’s sensitive about it. And it’s not easy to find a bartender for this place, believe me.”
Marty glanced at Cal, whose outward expression hadn’t changed. Marty hoped that the bartender had been too lost in his own thoughts to hear.
“Go on,” said Barry.
“Well, our battle was-it was going very well for us,” said Marty. “We were having a lot of success against our enemies. Just when it looked like the day was won, that little farm boy showed up.
“A farm boy?” asked Vince.
“A farm boy,” said Marty.
“So what, you got farmed to death? Did he weed you? What did he do?” growled Rick.
“He had Gideon’s Sword,” said Marty.
Suddenly, the room erupted in equal measures of groans or cheers, and people began passing small pieces of green paper between them. Marty had no idea what that was about.
“Vince had collected a sizable stack of green papers from Janet, who had shoved them across the bar with a scowl. He put the papers between the folds in his bandages and then turned back to Marty.
“What was that all about?” Marty asked.
“Oh, that was nothing. Just a little game we play here in the Lounge. You’ll get the hang of it eventually. Now, go on. Tell us how it ends.”
“So we were out there, winning the battle, and I mean we were winning, when that farm boy shows up with Gideon’s Sword. Just him, a few of his little friends, and that sword. He pulls the sword out and the thing lights up like…like one of those.” Marty pointed to one of the strange, round light-globes that hung in various spots above the bar.
“And the next thing I know, half of my army is either dead or running away, and that was just from the boy pulling the sword out.”
“You didn’t go up to him, did you? Please tell us you didn’t go up to him,” said Barry, shaking his head and rolling all three eyeballs.
“Well, no, not exactly,” said Marty.
“So what did you do?” asked Vince.
“Marty shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Well, seeing as how half my army got wiped out from just seeing the sword, I thought it would be a good idea if I sort of left the battlefield.”
“So you ran away,” said Barry.
“I didn’t run away,” said Marty. I left the battlefield.”
“Did you leave the battlefield in a hurry?” asked Rick.
“And how is that not running away?”
“Ok, fine. I ran away. But if you had seen that sword glowing up on that hill, you would have done exactly the same thing.”
“I did,” said Rick. “But mine was a dagger. The Eye of Hof, they called it. Damn thing glowed pink. Pink! Imagine all the colors for a guy like me to be afraid of, and it had to be pink. I’m never going to live that down.”
“No, you’re not,” said Vince. That’s why you’re only allowed to drink Chablis.”
“I happen to like Chablis,” said Rick.
“So what did you do when you hurried away from the battlefield?” asked Barry.
Marty took another sip of his ale, and felt the pang of some unfamiliar emotion. He had the feeling that for the first time in eons, he was among people who could understand him. It was strange, this feeling of acceptance, and he gulped it with the same enthusiasm with which he consumed his ale.
“Well, I figured that the little farm boy would be satisfied if I just left and took all my ghouls with me and went back to my lair deep in the mountains.”
“But that wasn’t the case,” said Barry, a hint of smugness in his voice.
“Of course that wasn’t the case, Barry. Otherwise he wouldn’t be here,” said Rick.
“Look, why don’t you let the guy talk?” said Janet. Heads snapped in her direction; words from Janet must have been few and far between.
“Go ahead,” said Vince.
“So anyway, I head back to my lair with the remnants of my ghoul army in tow, and naturally I’m plotting some pretty twisted revenge. You know, burn some villages, unleash a hideous monster or two, foment rebellions, things like that. Well, I’m in the middle of planning all of this stuff, when who ends up in my lair but that farm boy.”
“Secret passage?” asked Vince.
“Secret passage!” said Marty, slapping his hand on the bar. “The genius who designed my lair actually built a secret passage that went from the base of the mountain all the way into my private chamber. And he didn’t tell me about it.”
“They never do,” said Barry.
“That’s because the genius who built your lair didn’t build it for you, he built it for the last guy or the guy before that. You probably got a third or fourth-generation lair, but of course the guy is going to make it look like he built the whole thing. That’s how those builders operate, you know,” said Rick. “They get you all excited about this lair that they supposedly built for you, pocket them money, and then move on. And if there’s a few glitches in the plans? Hey, what do they care, right? By the time you find out, you’re here, and they’re off on the next job.” He raised his wine glass. Cal came out from behind the bar and poured Rick some more wine. Rick slipped the little man a few of those green papers, and Cal thanked him.
“I had this lair once that was impenetrable,” said Barry. “The walls were forty feet thick, the floor was absolutely tunnel-proof, and the whole thing was shielded from magic. Had it set up on a Nexus line for unlimited power. That thing was sweet.”
“So what are you doing here?” asked Marty.
“Little bastards blocked the door,” said Barry.
“Watch your language,” said Vince.
“Sorry, Cal,” said Barry. Slip of the tongue.”
“No problem,” said Cal.
“So you pretty much had to fight him,” said Vince. “I mean, he’s right there in your lair. You can’t exactly run.”
“Well, I didn’t want any part of that sword of his. But you’re right, there wasn’t anywhere to run. So yeah, I pretty much had to fight him.”
“How long did that last?” asked Rick?
“Well, it seemed like it lasted about a week, but realistically, I’d say it lasted all of about ninety seconds.”
“Ouch,” said Barry.
“That’s not bad,” said Vince. “One time I held out for a good three minutes. But I think that was because I was using the guy’s wife as a human shield. Otherwise he would have carved me up before I even got my sword out.”
Marty glanced over at Janet, who continued to stare into her drink.
“So, what’s her story?” he asked.
“She’s waiting,” said Vince.
“Waiting for what?”
“Not for what, for who.”
In unison, everyone in the Lounge said “Fred!”
Except, of course, for Janet. She just looked up and scowled, and then went back to contemplating the melting ice in her drink.
A strange ringing came from behind the bar. Cal reached down and put a black, curved tube next to his face.
“Hello? Already? He just got here. Ok, I’ll tell him.” Cal replaced the tube where he kept it, and then looked at Marty.
“Sorry Marty. Time to go back.”
A pang of sadness struck Marty in the chest. Go back? Marty had no desire to go back. He was having the best time he’d had in ages!
“But he just got here,” said Rick.
“Well, you know how it is with the time change,” said Barry.
“Yeah,” said Vince.
Suddenly, Marty was stuck with the pressing urge to urinate. That was odd; he hadn’t had such an urge for more than three thousand years, but he found that it was rather like riding a horse. Once you learned how, you really never forget. He began to hike up his robes, when most of the lounge’s occupants leapt from their chairs to stop him.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! said Vince. “Use the men’s room!”
“The men’s room?” asked Marty?
“Yeah. The room you came out of.”
“That’s for urinating?”
“Yes, among other things.”
Barry smiled slyly. “You what?”
“Nothing,” said Marty. “Anyway, I suppose I have to go.”
“Well, when you gotta go, you gotta go,” said Rick.
Marty looked around at all his new friends. Most of them had already started other conversations. Quietly, he drank the last of his ale and headed for the men’s room.
He was surprised to find the men’s room occupied by very large and imposing creature that Marty hadn’t seen before. It was attempting to wash its hands in one of the little basins, but was having very little luck. When it noticed Marty standing there, it turned, revealing its single eye and mouth full of sharp teeth.
“New here?” the creature asked.
“Yeah,” said Marty.
“Oh. What do you think?”
“Not bad. I’m Marty,” said Marty, proffering his hand. The cyclops shook it.
“Fred,” it said.
“Oh, there’s a woman out there waiting for you.”
Fred’s eye lit up, and his mouth formed a delighted grin. “Janet’s here! Hey, I’m going to have to squeeze by you. Sorry about this.”
The cyclops did indeed squeeze by Marty, but Marty judged that he, and not the cyclops, and actually done the majority of the squeezing. Without another word, the cyclops went through the door. Marty heard a raucous cheer, which made him feel very much alone.
He crossed the room, and stood in front of the little cell, hesitant to go inside. He heaved a sigh, took a long look at the door that led to the Lounge, and then went in and closed the door.
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