A/N: This was my NaNoWriMo novel, written between November and January. I've decided to completely rewrite it this summer with a modified plot, but it feels like a waste to allow the original to go unread. So, here it is, my first complete long work: The Idiot's Guide to Ruling an Evil Empire.
"Never take yourself too seriously. Only affable villains will ever live to see retirement."
-Overlord Hendrik, The Idiot's Guide to Ruling an Evil Empire
A tiny frown creased Sven's brow as light trickled through his curtains, shining strategically against his eyes. In retaliation, he rolled over with a huff and promptly covered his head with one of his many pillows.
A disembodied voice huffed. Well, that wouldn't do at all. The presence cleared its nonexistent throat before calling out in a gravelly voice, "LORD SVEN, WAKE YOURSELF BEFORE I AM FORCED TO CALL IN REINFORCEMENTS."
The cocooned figured yelped and promptly rolled out of bed, tangling himself in the rich navy blue curtains he can spelled to hang around the bed and nearly knocking over a bird perch with one of Sven's pet ravens situated on top of it. The bird cawed irritably and flew over to the window, where it squawked a bit more, just to get its point across. After a moment, his head popped back up, black hair in complete disarray.
"Oh, shut up you stupid bird and go join the others in the keep where you're supposed to be. Castle? What in Hell's name are you on about?" he groused, waving his hand so that the curtains would retreat back to their proper place. The disembodied voice of the castle snorted.
"I am ensuring that my lord gets up at a decent time. It is unseemly that he would sleep in until late into the afternoon hours," it sniffed, as much as a piece of architecture was capable of sniffing.
Sven groaned and crawled up on the bed again, intent on covering his head up and just ignoring the castle until it gave up and left him alone. However, a moment later he shot back up, blue eyes wide with panic.
"Wait, wait, wait. Lord? I'm not your lord. I'm the stupid brat whom you have delighted in locking in and out of rooms to pass the time. What happened to Master Hendrik?" he asked, clambering out of bed toward his immaculately kept wardrobe.
In the background, the castle let out a small, nostalgic sigh. "Those were good times. Particularly the occasion when I locked you in the bathroom for three days before Lord Hendrik noticed you were missing. That was good fun," it hummed, swinging Sven's bedroom door open and closed a few times just to see the panicked look on its new master's face.
Sven winced quietly at the reminder and quickly pulled on a ruffled gray shirt. "Yes, yes, never mind that. Where is Master Hendrik?" he insisted, praying it would be enough to keep the sadistic building from deciding to relive any of those unfortunate memories.
The structure hummed noncommittally. "I do not know. Lord Hendrik did not make his destination clear to me. Suffice to say he is not on my grounds and is unlikely to return," there was a pause while Sven digested this before the castle continued, helpfully, "He left something in the study for you."
No sooner had the castle uttered this did Sven make a bee-line out of the room. After a pause, the castle shut the door and waited, "watching" as the young sorcerer made it through two corridors before realizing that he had forgotten something vitally important. The dark-haired male paused for a moment before looking up into the rafters.
"I don't suppose you're going to let me back into my room to retrieve some pants, are you?"
"You are such a-" he cut himself off, knowing that swearing at the castle would neither help nor make him feel better, and waved a hand spitefully at one of the ancient tapestries hanging on the walls. It promptly remade itself into a pair of musty, but perfectly serviceable trousers.
"Now that's just being petty. I hope you plan to fix that," the castle whined as Sven pulled the garments on. He made a rather rude hand gesture at the ceiling—unlike the swearing, this did make him feel better—and began to walk again.
Three steps later, part of the floor shifted up suddenly, causing him to fall into an inelegant sprawl. This time he did swear, with a mix of variety and volume that would make even the most hardened of sailors proud.
The castle's cackling was interrupted a few moments later by the sound of footsteps. Both building and man fell silent as the only other human occupant of the fortress approached with a decidedly peeved expression on her face. Rita gave Sven a stern look before redirecting it to the ceiling. Apparently Sven was a lost cause.
"Is there a reason that you two are going at it this early in the morning? I usually have at least an hour of uninterrupted quiet practice before he stars shrieking," she said, pointing an accusing finger in Sven's direction. He made a strangled noise of protest, but the castle interrupted before he could get a self - righteous word in edgewise.
"My deepest apologies, Miss Rita. I merely wished to inform you both that Lord Hendrik left you something in the study, if you'd like to retrieve it," the castle said in the most ingratiating voice possible. Sven made a gagging noise that the castle pointedly ignored. Rita merely sighed and heaved Sven to his feet.
"Thank you, Castle. That will be all," she said pointedly. The castle made a small agreeable noise before everything went dead silent—the only indication that the castle had gone back to "sleep," so to speak, leaving its human occupants alone.
Rita sighed quietly and proceeded to dust Sven off, muttering something about him being hopeless. The man in question frowned irritably but did not push her away. She was only trying to help, after all.
Once she had finished mothering him ("I'm older than you! Stop treating me like a little kid!" "I'll stop treating you like one when you stop acting like one!"), the pair made their way toward the study in silence. Although Rita's seem more due to her irritation with the disturbance of her training, Sven was decidedly more agitated over what they might find. Hendrik did not just vanish. If he went anywhere, it was usually because he was plotting, and when he was plotting, bad things tended to happen to Sven. The last time something like this had happened, Sven had been twelve and Rita had not come to live with them yet, and it had ended with a bucket enchanted to his head for a week because Hendrik thought it would be a good "learning experience" and wouldn't remove it. It had been incredibly difficult to find the spell to remove the bucket when said bucket was covering his eyes.
Rita opened the door to the study easily, ignoring how Sven was practically cowering behind her, and stepped inside. Intelligent gold eyes swept back and forth across the room a few times before they alighted upon an unfamiliar book. She stepped forward briskly and picked up the book. It appeared to be a plain, brown, leather bound journal. She opened it up curiously and nearly dropped the two letters that fell from it.
Both she and Sven made a grab for the letters, each one managing to grab one. They simultaneously looked at whom the letter was addressed to, and promptly traded letters.
Rita thought she heard Sven mutter something about awful luck, but she was too preoccupied with seeing just what the book the letters had been in was before replacing it on the table. Scrawled in Henrik's even, precise script across the title page were the worlds: "The Idiot's Guide to Ruling an Evil Empire," and in slightly smaller script below it, "Yes, I am, in fact, referring to you, Sven." The little snort she let out at the title was drowned out, however, but the sudden loud POP of magic. She turned her head sharply to see Sven holding out his letter face up with a look of resignation on his face. Hovering in front of his was what appeared to be some sort of ghost – like image. After a moment, the figure seemed to solidify, and suddenly they were looking at the head and shoulders of their guardian.
Hendrik glanced up from what he was doing and did the Hendrik equivalent of starting. He blinked. "It's about time, Sven," he sniffed, and then seemed to notice Rita hovering behind his protégé. "Rita. Nice to see you as well. I suppose having you both here will make things easier. And I'll only have to listen to screaming once this way. Wonderful."
The two exchanged wary glances before looking back at their guardian. The man seemed to recline in some sort of chair just out of their sight, and a moment later brought some sort of strange, bright green drink to his lips. "I've decided to retire," the man began.
Pressing on despite the cry of outrage that the statement elicited from both of his charges, he continued. "Contrary to how I may look, I am over seventy years old. I've been ruling Malvolia for a good forty of those years, and ten years before that I was fighting for control of a few different kingdoms before finding Malvolia in need of a good tyrant. Most men would have retired years ago and probably left a power vacuum behind for shits and giggles, but you know me," he shrugged in a very poor attempt at being humble, "I can't leave a job half finished. It was more than past the time that I left Malvolia in someone else's hands, so congrats, Sven. You're the new Overlord of Malvolia. Have fun with that."
Rita seemed to recover quicker than Sven, who appeared to be putting all of his willpower into remaining upright. "You can't leave the kingdom to Sven! He has absolutely no experience! I've done more to maintain the kingdom," she paused and glanced over at Sven, who was looking decidedly unimpressed, "No offense."
Hendrik waved a hand dismissively, drawing his two (now former) charges from an impending brawl. "Nothing is really going to change. Sven will just be the one in charge of maintaining the magical wards and such now. I've had you doing all the bookwork for years," he said. Rita let out a squawk of outrage, which seemed to be Hendrik's signal that it was time for him to leave. "Between the two of you, I'm sure you'll do fine. Oh, and Sven, don't try to find me. I've blocked all forms of scrying from finding my location. You'll never locate me. Mwahahaha!" He coughed suddenly, having somewhat inhaled his drink during his brief bout of maniacal laughter. "Damn. That's going to be a hard habit to break. Anyway, tah-tah!"
And with that, the correction cut off in a swirl of golden light.
There was utter silence for several moments before Sven suddenly spun with a flourish and stalked out of the room, screeching about irresponsible overlords and what he was supposed to do with an empire. Rita sighed and looked down at the letter and book still in her grasp. After a moment, she tucked the book into her shirt, then slowly, carefully opened her own letter.
A kingdom away, unearthly yellow eyes widened in surprise. The Court Sorceress of Antia, Malvolia's neighboring country, frowned and scrutinized the divination she had just performed more closely. She drummed lacquered nails steadily as she double, triple, quadruple checked her work, before she swiftly stood, grabbed her garnet staff, and swept out of her tower.
A few frightened servants skittered out of the way as she blew past, a storm of sweeping black skirts and long red hair. Most of them had seen the expression on her face before, and the ones who hadn't knew well enough to follow the lead of the others. A small, rather poisonous – looking smirk was tugging at the corners of her lips. Anyone who had spent more than a few days with someone Nanette knew that an expression like that, rather than a look a rage, was the expression you really wanted to run from.
Without the servants to trip over, the sorceress made it to the throne room in record time. The massive double doors swung open without aid from human hands, interrupting a meeting between the King, Iovis, and a few dignitaries. She shot themen filthy looks, and either due to her reputation or the fact that they felt that their pleas would be more likely to succeed after she had finished talking to the king, the men retreated.
The King sighed and rested his graying head on his hand. "Nanette. What in the devil's name has gotten you so cheery?" he asked drolly.
The wild – eyed woman, Nanette, inclined her head in a mock form of respect and waved her hand. Behind her, a map of their own country and the surrounding nations pieced itself together with bits of light. She made another complex hand motion, and distinct areas of the map began to glow in different colors and intensities. "These are the magical signatures of the surrounding countries and empires," Nanette began, "Do you notice anything peculiar, particularly about the Malvolian Empire?"
The old king frowned and studied the map for a moment. "There does not appear to be any signature," he said flatly, then his frown deepened, "That can't be right. There is not a chance of Hendrik neglecting his borders in such a way. Such a lapse would be far too much to hope for," Iovis stated.
Nanette flashed a shark-toothed grin. "You are correct, Your Majesty. If there is one thing I have learned about Lord Hendrik, it is that he would not leave his empire unguarded. For it to be in such a state, he must be dead. We can finally conquer his empire without his interference," she crowed and slammed her staff into the floor. The image disappeared in a shower of light, and the king, lacking in magical knowledge, was not certain if this was merely because of how the spell faded, or because Nanette was showing off. Knowing her, it was most likely the latter.
"It's seems too easy," Iovis rumbled, scratching at his beard. Indeed, the idea of all of the man's magic fading at his death seemed entirely unlike Hendrik. Then again, the very concept of Hendrik's death did not seem to fit. It was too abrupt, and the king liked to think that if Hendrik was to be murdered, the other Overlord would at least have the decency to be murdered by one of his rivals, and since Iovis was the only one really left, well… Suffice to say, he wasn't buying it.
Nanette scoffed, clearly feeling as though she was dealing with an ignorant child. "Protection spells must be maintained at all times. Once you're dead, they disappear. It's the only explanation, unless you want to believe Lord Hendrik would gamble Malvolia for a chance at making us waste our time with trying to conquer it," she sniffed, "If it makes you feel any better, I'll test the borders myself."
Iovis raised an eyebrow and reclined more fully in his chair as he watched the sorceress bring her staff in front of her. A part of him was a bit disconcerted with allowing her to perform complicated magic in his presence. He had dozens of wards up to block the simpler spells, but nothing to protect him from the more complicated and powerful spells. He wondered, vaguely, why this was the case, given his frequent interaction with backstabbing magic – users. Perhaps it just came with the job.
Nanette let out a harsh, guttural exclamation and a ripple of magic expanded through the room, then continued beyond the walls, racing toward the Antia-Malvolian border. She stood, smugly waiting for the report, when she suddenly twitched. The color drained from her face, and Iovis sat up, suddenly intrigued by what problem she had encountered.
"Oh, shi-" was all she managed before her spell shot back through the walls and crashed into her once more. She staggered, swearing more colorfully now that she had the time, and tried in vain to stem the flow of blood exiting her nose. Iovis snorted and redirected his gaze to the specter that had appeared with the backfiring spell.
"Greetings, Hendrik. It has been a long time," he said easily. Across from him, Nanette looked up sharply and gaped at the astral form of Lord Hendrik of Malvolia reclining in a phantom chaise lounge in the middle of the audience chamber.
Hendrik glanced up from where he had been nursing a bottle of tequila and threw the king a lazy wave. "Hello, Iovis. Ah, is that your little brat? She's grown up into quite the looker. She might almost be capable of causing a problem for my idiot apprentice," he drawled. Nanette hissed and magicked away the blood from her face, but it seemed that the two older men were content to gossip like old women.
"The one whose head Nanette stuck a bucket to? You left him in charge of Malvolia?" King Iovis inquired. Hendrik shrugged and opened his mouth to reply, but Nanette was young yet, and did not really understand the concept of being at odds with someone for so long that you got to be sort – of friends, and thus interrupted.
"How!" she demanded. "There is none of your magic coming from Malvolia!"she snarled, resisting the urge to bash the specter with her staff only because it was pointless and would do nothing but distort the spell that was keeping it there.
Hendrik waved his now empty tequila bottle vaguely. "Just because I retired doesn't mean I've abandoned the country I worked my ass off to conquer. I set up enough latent spells to last until my idiot apprentice can put up wards of his own. Even if you got off your high horses long enough to work with the other countries, it will take ages for you to find all of my little presents. Best of luck, though. I would love to see how he handles it." With that, the former Overlord snorted and waved over someone not displayed in the apparition. "In any case, I'd like to get back to getting roaring drunk to celebrate my retirement. Before I go, though, don't try anything funny to my apprentice. He is, after all, mine and I will have something to say about it if you do anything… unsportsmanlike. Tah-tah." And, much like before, Hendrik's image disappeared with a swirl of light and color that King Iovis was completely certain was unnecessary.
There was a moment of silence before Nanette seemed to pull herself together. She tossed a strand of hair over her shoulder and humphed, a deeply thoughtful expression settling over her face. "Get the Black Army to start looking into disabling the spells along the border. I believe a diplomatic mission to Malvolia to greet the new neighbors is in order," she said airily and turned to leave the throne room. Before she could take a step, however, King Iovis interrupted.
"You are not the ruler of this nation, Nanette. Though I agree with and will comply with your request, keep in mind your place," he said sharply.
Nanette paused and glanced over her shoulder, golden eyes hard. "Not yet," she muttered, then blew out of the throne room once again, leaving King Iovis alone once more.
The king sighed quietly to himself and motioned to the servant that had been cowering in the corner to get him a stiff drink. Perhaps Hendrik had the right idea: retirement, and lots of alcohol. Surely it was preferable to running a nation and the constant threat of assassination. But then again, what would be the fun in doing anything else?
He nodded curtly at the servant when he returned, waited for the man to take the first drink, and when the servant did not keel over after a minute, he took the drink and downed it himself—certainly not in memory of the rivalry that had now come to an end. When the drink was gone, he stood and swept out of the chamber, calling for messengers to go out and retrieve the leader of his Black Army.
Although it wouldn't quite be the same without Hendrik's nose around to rub in it, Iovis was nothing if not an opportunist, and it really was about time he conquered Malvolia.