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The Dark Man

Matthew Cook
2010 The Dark Man sits on his dark throne, from which he wages his dark war.
The black palace glistened in the night, slick from the misty rain. It dominated the
horizon, dwarfing the sprawling city, robbing it of the strong beauty it had hundreds of year
before, before the Dark Man came and built his house. Before the soil was corrupted. Before
the light fled.
The whole population of the city could have fit inside the palace, but the Dark Man
was its only permanent resident. Wary servants and trembling kings milled around the empty
halls, and none stayed any longer than they had to. None made any noise above what was
necessary. Few commoners entered the palace gates. Noticeably fewer came out again.
Slase Couts tried not to tremble as he trod the halls. His footsteps made no noise
against the dark stone. The servants' livery included moccasins, so as not to disturb the
thoughts of visiting dignitaries or, most importantly, their host. The moccasins didn't fit well,
having not been made for him. The rest of the dark uniform fit him fine, which was surprising,
given his build. But Slase could hardly bring himself to look in any of the mirrors he past; to
gaze at the dark declarations of evil embroidered on the breast and shoulders of his jacket.
The sack appeared to weigh heavily on his back. He was hunched over like a humble
servant ought to be, patiently lugging the waste of his betters. He had made only five stops
and the sack was already nearly full of rubbish. The Dark Man forbade carts in the Palace. No
one knew why. Slase thought it might be because squeaking wheels annoyed him. But if that
was the case, why not just be sure the wheels were well oiled? It seemed inefficient to carry
everything by hand.
He shook his head, pushing the idle thoughts away. He repeated the mantra silently.
The Dark Man sits on his dark throne, from which he wages his dark war. The dark war that
had been waged for too long.
He arrived at his sixth and second-last stop. The door was large and heavy. So
heavy that when he knocked he couldn't be sure the sound reached the other side.
It did, though.
The door swung inward, noiseless. A diminutive nobleman's servant stood, appre-
hension and fear in his eyes.
"Rubbish?" Slase said, gesturing to the sack on his back.
The other servant just nodded and disappeared into the chambers for a moment, re-
turning with a wicker basket of soiled garments, leftover food and a dead rat. There had not
been any rats in the kitchens, Slase was sure of it. But they seemed to be prevalent in the
guests' wing. He supposed sharing the castle with rats reminded the kings of the Dark Man's
empire of who they really were.
Slase dumped the contents of the basket into his canvas bag. The servant took the
basket back almost before he finished and ducked into the chamber, the massive door slam-
ming noiselessly. Slase heaved the bag onto his back, felt the item hidden in his wrist and trod
down the hallways again.

The Dark Man sat on his dark throne. The Shadow made flesh. The Child of Night.
The one who snuffed out the Light of the World. The Dark Man.

Title: The Dark Man By: Matthew Cook


Page 2

He sat straight but in such a fashion that suggested he was slouching. His pitch-
black armour glistened in the flickering torchlight in an unnatural way, as if absorbing the ambi-
ent light. From neck to toe he was covered in this armour, made moist by what seemed to be
blood, continually seeping through the chinks. His head and face were covered by a simple
black cloth, kept in place by the his crown. It was a fearful thing, the crown; a mix and weaving
of steel barbs. Many of them dug into the Dark Man's scalp, wetting the black cloth and mak-
ing it cling to his face in some places.
The Dark Man sat on his dark throne.
The mightiest rulers of the Dark Man's empire were with him; men with stature, pres-
ence and ruthless cunning. Men whose names caused fearful gazes and hurried prayers.
Men of whom the world was not worthy. These three men knelt, faces to the ground, before
the throne, sharing the floor with a rat who scurried between them and the dark throne.
The Dark Man shifted in his seat without moving. "Tell it to me again." His voice was
quiet but intense. Like the sound of complete silence immediately after a long scream.
"My Lord," one of the kings began without shifting. "The Balindh province has laid
down arms and is requesting permission to surrender. They have already offered the pre-
scribed sacrifices and sworn fealty and devotion. They beg that the War be moved else-
where."
"Where would you have it moved?" The voice dripped with malice and hatred.
"My Lord knows best. I dare not speak. I cannot even see my Lord’s purpose in this
perpetual war with our own provinces, though I am sure it must be great."
"You cannot see?" Here the Dark Man leaned forward - farther than seemed
possible. "If you fear, you shall see. All things are possible to him who fears." He pulled back
to his throne and began flexing his gauntleted hand. He was silent for a moment. "I do not
accept their surrender," he said eventually. "Command their generals to recant their oaths and
continue fighting. They are to attempt a siege on one of my fortified cities. After you defeat
them press the attack to their capital. Capture and execute their king and generals and order
surrender. The people of Balindh can perform the sacrifices and oaths again at that time."
Two sacrifices in one generation? one of the kings dared to think. How will the popu-
lation recover?
"One month after that the province of Punj will revolt against my omnipotent rule."
The King of Punj stiffened slightly before the Dark Man. But he raised no protest.

The hall widened and grew darker as the torches grew fewer and farther apart. Slase
walked alone, watched only by the stained glass windows, each depicting some aspect of the
Dark Man's victories. And with it, his cruelties. The oldest showed scenes from the beginning
of the Dark Man's rule, when the wars he fought were real wars, though little less barbaric than
the perpetual, show-wars still waged.
He trod down the hall, trying not to look at the scenes of slaughter and unbearable
sacrifice the Dark Man commanded after victory. His fear grew with every silent footstep. His
resolve managed to grow alongside it. The Dark Man sits on his dark throne...

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The door at the end of the hall was massive, carved with yet more scenes of violence
and blood. It was flanked by two satin-clad figures, wielding pikes and crouched on their
haunches. Like wolves just barely restrained they eyed Slase while he was still far down the
hall. These elite guards were famous, raised from childhood to be the personal bodyguard of
the Dark Man. The fact that there were only two of them only underlined the obvious: these
men were not to be trifled with.
But neither was Slase.
The guards knew Slase's intentions as he drew near. And why not? There was no
reason for a rubbish collector to come near the throne room. Without a sound sprang to their
feet and attacked as Slase threw his rubbish sack to the ground.
Though prepared for the encounter, Slase was shocked by their speed. They moved,
not as two men, but as the two limbs of one. One ducked suddenly and rolled to the side while
the other lunged forward, pike aimed for Slase's eye. He tried to dodge, and only narrowly
escaped with a deep gash to his temple.
A flash from the side announced the other guard, coming from his left. Slase jumped
to the side, avoiding impalement but costing him another, lesser cut to the side.
He backed away from the ever-approaching guards, already sweating and coming
against a wall. "Alright then," he said with a sober grin, "let's see if any of us can live up to our
reputations." He bobbed his head a little, feigning lightheadedness.
The pikemen didn't pause. They struck out in unison, each from an opposite side.
They were shocked when Slase, with unnatural speed, stepped to his right, grabbed the in-
coming pike from the first guard and plunged it into the second guard's chest.
Without a pause the surviving guard leapt back and dropped into a ready stance.
Slase did the same.
They breathed. There was no sound. Their shadows danced around them, on the
floor, on the walls. They gazed into each others eyes, experiencing the bonds of irreconcilable
enemies bound to destroy each other over conflicts they did not create.
Slase attacked first.
With the heel of his palm extended, he lunged at the guard, who slipped to the right
and kicked, hitting only air as Slase dodged. Like a cobra and mongoose they fought. Slase,
the cobra, dodging and weaving, watched for the single opening that would land him the killing
blow. The satin-clad mongoose writhed and spun with a flurry of activity, counting on an ac-
cumulation of wounds to bring his enemy down. They fought for a while, almost too long, for
Slase knew he needed most of his strength for the battle to come in the next room. A few mi-
nor blows were struck, and Slase bided his time, waiting for the perfect opening.
It came.
The heel of Slase's palm found its mark in the center of the guard's chest. His eyes
rolled backward into his head as his heart was shattered. He fell backward and died silently.
Slase knelt beside the body of his fellow man and closed the eyes, saying a quick
prayer for his soul.
He checked the item in his sleeve to see if it was still there, and palmed it. He con-
sidered taking one of the pikes, but decided against it. The time had come. He stood, walked

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to the massive doors and closed his eyes. He reached deep within himself and gathered all
the strength he had. His body filled with confidence, with strength. He believed in himself and
in his goal. In his mind's eye he examined himself and felt that he had became invulnerable.
He pushed the doors open.
The throne room was small, as he expected. Three kings bowed down before the
Dark Man, ominous on his dark throne. The kings didn't move as he entered. The Dark Man
only turned his head a little. Slase didn't hesitate.
He threw the palmed item to the ground. It exploded with a deafening bang and
blinding flash. With closed eyes Slase raced toward the throne, having already memorized the
layout of the room.
One step.
Two steps.
This was the moment. A mere twenty paces and it would be done.
Five steps.
Six steps.
For twelve years he and his crew had worked for this. For twelve years nothing had
been immune to sacrifice for this one goal. This one cause.
Ten steps.
Eleven steps.
Just a few more paces and the dark wars would end. The sacrifices would end. The
cowering worship of evil would end.
Fifteen steps.
Sixteen ste-
He ran into cold, moist steel. An icy gauntlet wrapped around his throat. Slase
lashed out, landing strikes that could have dented armour. Flailing at the Dark Man's face with
all his might and skill, he felt himself slowing lifted off the ground. He couldn't breath.
He opened his eyes. A few inches from his face was the dark cloth that covered the
Dark Man's face. He could feel icy breath against his skin.
His strength left him. His vision began to slip and he slowly passed out of the light.
The Dark Man drew close and whispered into his ear the last words he would ever hear.
"Lost Cause."

The Dark Man's private chamber lay through a hidden passageway in the back of the
throne room. It had no bed, for the Dark Man did not sleep. Indeed it had no furnishings of
any kind, save an ancient tapestry showing the forgotten scene of a blue-eyed hero with his
maiden.
He sat there, on the floor, after dismissing the kings. He had left the assassin's body
where it lay, and would probably leave it to the rats and rot. Another reminder of the mortality
of his slaves.
He stood and pulled the thorny crown from his head, silent as it ripped hunks of flesh
from his scalp. One piece at a time he pulled his armour off, each portion pulling off a bit of
flesh with it. He was naked underneath, scarred, pale and bloody. Last he pulled the cloth off

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his head, showing his eyes to the empty room. Those ancient, tired eyes, gazing at the
tapestry. Those blue eyes that someone, centuries ago, had once called pretty. Those eyes
that no one had seen in nearly a thousand years. Those eyes that brimmed with tears at the
thought of the one he would never see; nay, the one that, if he could see, would not recognize
what he had become. Those eyes began to stream with tears as the Dark Man lay on the floor
and sobbed. Alone.

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