The very latest project we've been preparing to send out blinking and hissing into the unrelenting light of day is called The Lloyd of Dirkness, or Dark Lord: The Early Years. This is one that Jamie has been writing. It's possible that Dirk himself may honour us with some guest posts, so here is the opening of the book so that you know what you're in for:
His fall seemed to go on forever. It felt like bits of him were being stripped away, as if he was changing into something else as he fell. After a long time his cries of rage and fear faded and he sank into a kind of sleep, all sensation lost, falling silently in an immense void of nothingness for what seemed like an eternity. Then, suddenly -
Pain filled him up like an over-inflated balloon. Then it burst away, and he took in a great shuddering gulp of air. He coughed and spat out a glob of black mucus. He watched as the mucus began to form a small puddle, like a pool of shiny black oil. He lay there for a while, just breathing.
The ground felt like stony gravel. He could barely move. He couldn’t think properly and he felt weak and listless. The sky above was blue, painfully blue. He hated blue skies and sunlight.
He needed help. He called out for his lieutenant, Dread Gargon, Hewer of Limbs, but his voice caught in his throat. He tried again.
‘Gaa… Gargon, to me!’ he tried to bellow in his most commanding tones, but it only came out as a little squeak, high pitched and boyish. Where was the dark, imperious voice that sent forth his Legions of Dread to bloody war and pitiless plunder?
He tried once more, but again it came out as a high pitched trill. He groaned and tried raising his head, but couldn’t. He wondered whether his Helm of the Hosts of Hell had slipped off again – if it wasn’t balanced just right it could catch his neck in an uncomfortable pinch. He reached up, but there was no Helm at all. He couldn’t feel any horns either, or knobbly ridges of bone, only what seemed like a brown mop of hair on a rather small head. And his teeth! They didn’t feel right either – no tusks or yellowed fangs to inspire terror and dread. Instead his head felt like a little human head, just like the ones he usually kept impaled on those iron spikes over the Gates of Doom, or the ones that Gargon wore hanging from his belt.
What was going on and where was Gargon?
There was something else as well. Too much harsh sunlight usually fried his undead flesh like an egg in a pan of hot oil, but he couldn’t feel the usual sunfire burns. Not only that, the sky actually seemed rather beautiful. White clouds drifted serenely across the bright blue canopy of the heavens, and birds sang songs of joy in nearby trees. The sun warmed him nicely and a feeling of… hmmm, let’s see now, something he hadn’t felt in aeons, a sense of… peace came over him! How could that be? Normally, he hated blue skies and he’d spent years trying to perfect a spell to cover the sky in The Black Vapours of Gloom.
A wash of pain came over him again. That was better, he thought. He didn’t want to feel a sense of peace. It just wasn’t the sort of thing he should be feeling. He had his reputation to consider after all.
With a great effort he was able to turn his head a little and take his eyes off the sky. He saw a low building of dull grey stone on his left, squat and unsightly. Excellent. At least someone was making ugly stuff around here. Maybe it was Orcish. You could always rely on Orcs to make ugly stuff.
He saw some kind of banner flying over the building. Runes were written on it, in a strange language. To his surprise he realized he could read them. ‘Tesco Supermarket’ it said. A market. That didn’t sound Orcish. Orcs tended to prefer pillaging to shopping. And Tesco – was he the local overlord perhaps? Lord Tesco, Smiter of Foes, the Pitiless One? Something about it didn’t sound right.
He moved his head to look the other way. What he saw was even stranger to his eyes. Several rows of oddly shaped metal boxes gleamed brightly in the sunlight. They were of all kinds of different colours, and glass plates had been set into the sides of them. They rested on what looked like four wheels, thickly encrusted with some kind of black resin that looked like the hard set mucus of the Giant Spiderbeasts of Skorpulos. One of the boxes suddenly shuddered into life, rattling away with a terrible noise like the coughing shriek of the dragon before it discharged its fiery breath.
He tried to bend it to his will. If it was a thing of evil, it should instinctively follow his command. ‘Beast of Steel and Mucous – I command you in the Name of the Dark Lord and by the Power of the Nine Hells!’
But his voice came out as a querulous squeak. The metal box moved away on its wheels as if he hadn’t even spoken. Then he noticed what looked like a human woman inside the box, peering out through the glass panels. Of course! It was some kind of horseless chariot, driven no doubt by magic. The woman must be a potent witch indeed to command such a thing. The wizardry of mortals was getting sophisticated and powerful. He’d have to watch them more closely.
Then he heard a voice, another human by the sound of it, shouting. ‘Hey, are you all right, lad?’
His interest sharpened. A lad’s lifeblood would help to perk him up. He looked around for the boy the human was talking about, but couldn’t see him. Instead he saw two men running towards him, both dressed in curious dark blue uniforms and helmets. They looked like a typical pair of ignorant, dim-as-dormice human soldiers, though their uniforms didn’t look very useful for war, and their helmets wouldn’t stop a sword or axe, let alone a goblin pike or orcish arrow.
He tried to laugh maniacally and tell the humans to flee for their lives, or be utterly destroyed, but all that came out was a cough. He tried unsuccessfully to sit up. He was still too weak. They stood over him.
Surely it couldn’t end like this, lying helpless, waiting to be killed by a couple of ordinary humans? But then an odd thing happened. One of the warriors bent down and cradled his head, as if to help him.
‘Better call an ambulance, Phil.’
The man who had spoken leaned closer, looking him over. Stupid human. Didn’t the fool realize who he was dealing with? Immediately, he tried ripping his throat out with his iron-taloned Gauntlets of Ineluctable Destruction, but it was no good, he just didn’t have the strength. Then he noticed he wasn’t wearing any gauntlets or even gloves. In fact, his hands were pink, pallid and pudgy, with neat little white nails, like those of a wretched little human boy. You couldn’t even rip out the throat of a rat with those hands, let alone a fully grown human warrior. He groaned in despair.
The other human seemed to be whispering something into a little black box attached to the front of his uniform. The black box crackled and spoke back to him! It must have some kind of sprite or minor demon bound into it by powerful sorcery to do his bidding. Perhaps they were more than just ordinary human soldiers. Or more likely they served a mighty human wizard king, maybe even the White Wizard himself, Hasdruban the Pure. Hmm, he’d have to bear that in mind.
The human called Phil said to the other man, ’OK, John, ambulance called in.’
The one called John said, ‘Don’t worry, son – we’re police officers. I’m PC Smith. You can call me John. That’s PC Phil Johnson. The ambulance will be here soon. Take it easy. Best not to move until we know what’s wrong with you.’
Well, he was right – there certainly was something wrong with him. He couldn’t move properly even if he wanted to and his body felt strangely smaller than it should.
Then the manthing called Phil said, ‘Have you got a mobile, boy? We should call your Mum or your Dad.’
Mo - bile? Mo’bile? Was he asking if I have more bile or something, he thought to himself? What was this cretinous manling going on about?. And what curious names! Jon? Could that be something to do with donjons? Jon the Smith. Had he made the strange black box in his blacksmithy? And Fill. Fill the land with their dead? Fill your heart with hate, perhaps? Fill John’s son? Fill him with what? And Fill was the son of Jon? How could he be Jon’s son – they looked the same age. What did it mean?
Either way, it was time they knew who was master here. He tried blasting them with the spell of Agonizing Obedience, but he couldn’t shape his hands properly, and nor could he put the right syllables together. It was as if his tongue wouldn’t obey him properly. He couldn’t believe what was happening. Where were his powers of domination and destruction?
‘What’s that he’s wrapped in?’ said Jon the Smith.
‘I dunno,’ said Fill, the Son of Jon – looks like some kind of oversized blanket. Black blanket though – that’s odd. All those weird red shiny patterns all over it as well. Looks foreign. Maybe he’s some asylum seeker’s kid or illegal immigrant or something.’
‘My nephew’s got something like it. I think it’s from some fantasy game or film with wizards and dragons and stuff,’ said Jon the Smith.
His robes! So he was still wearing his Cloak of Endless Night. Excellent. They didn’t realize those ‘weird red shiny patterns’ were Blood Glyphs of Power. Each Glyph was a mighty spell. Now he had them.
He managed to crane his neck, focussing on one of the Glyphs. It was the Glyph of Domination. All he had to do was read it out loud and all the creatures in a hundred metre radius would be his to command. But he couldn’t make it out properly. It didn’t make any sense, it seemed completely meaningless. How could he not understand the Glyphs? He had created them after all. Had they been stripped of their power somehow? What was happening?
The humans were still blathering on, blissfully unaware of his plans.
‘Does he speak English? What’s your name, kid?’
The kid, for that’s what he looked like, thought for a moment. He couldn’t remember his name. No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t. But he could remember what he was and his primary title.
‘Daa…(cough, cough). I am the Dark Lord,’ he said. To his horror, he realized his voice really did sound like some kind of do-gooding elf woman or a human boy-child!
‘Dirk? Did you say Dirk?’
‘No! NO! Dark! Dark Lord,’ but his voice came out wrong, weak and raspy and even more boyish than before.
‘Dirk, eh? Dirk Lloyd? Where’s your mum and dad then, Dirk? Have you been hit by a car? Are you lost, son?’
‘Mum and dad?’ He sputtered, outraged. ‘I don’t have parents, you curs – I am the Incarnation of Evil! The World Burner! The Dark One - to name but a few of my titles! I’m not someone’s little boy, you fools!’
‘These computer games. It’s an obsession at their age,’ said the one called Fill, Son of Jon, to his father. He turned back. ‘Do you know your address, Dirk? Can you tell us what happened?’
‘Not Dirk, Dark! And my address is the Iron Tower of Despair, beyond the Plains of Desolation, in the Darklands. ‘I’m not ‘English’ and I haven’t been ‘hit by a car’ ….Er, what is a car?’