If you’ve ever read the Book of the Light, or more likely been forced to sit in a kirk for hours as a father droned on from it, you have probably come across this gem: All good actions, carried to their extreme, are like to produce evil.
You know the one. It’s the passage that goes on forever after that, talking about a never-setting sun withering crops, and then listing all the crops it would wither as if we were too stupid to get the point right off. I can still hear Breen reciting it – the wheat in the field reduced to ash, if the sun never set. The oats in the field turned to ash and blown by the hot wind, if the sun in its glory never set. The barley’s golden head withered and crumbled to ash in the farmer’s field, if the light of the invincible sun blah blah blah.
My visceral disgust with the passage notwithstanding, it isn’t wrong. Eat a slice of pie, you’ve found a slice of happiness. Eat ten fucking pies, your stomach ruptures and you die in agony, you psychotic glutton.
The problem with the ‘wisdom’ it imparts is that it gives those with the means to do good a religiously approved excuse to do fuck-all. ‘Yes,’ says the local lord, ‘I could feed those starving peasants whose crops have failed, or at least forgive their taxes this season, but then they would only learn to be dependent upon the charity of their betters. One must be mindful of carrying good to the extreme, don’t you know, as the Bright Book admonishes us.’
But here’s the interesting if uncomfortable thing, for an Evil Overlord (or at least for this Evil Overlord): if good carried to the extreme produces evil results, would the opposite also be true?
If evil is pursued to its ultimate end, will good somehow be the end result?
I don’t claim to know the answer. But I admit I find the possibility more than a little disconcerting.
~ ~ ~
Nuk didn’t like me not getting hanged, and decided to voice his concerns. Amazingly, his brain hacked up something that I would have agreed with were I in his shoes. But I was in my shoes, and consequently I wished he’d continued his stupid streak.
“I don’t think leaving this fucker alive is a good idea, boss,” he said. There was real worry on his stupid, freckled face.
“What did I tell you about thinking?” she asked him, voice mild, and he ducked his head.
“To not to.”
“Because whose job is it?”
“Anyone’s but me.”
“Anyone’s but mine,” I muttered, to which Nuk said ‘huh?’ and Catapult didn’t say anything. Instead, she tore a hunk of bread off a half-loaf that was beside her on a rickety, makeshift side board. She started pulling out bits of the soft inside, rolling them into balls and flicking them at my face with thumb and forefinger.
The nasty gobshite never missed once.
“Can you not?” I finally asked.
“It helps me think. Usually it’s Nuk’s job to stand still and take it, but you’re in his chair.”
I wanted to say something stupid like ‘enjoy it while it lasts because I’ll be coming for you,’ but I didn’t. It was getting easier, with practice, not to blurt out asinine, self-sabotaging comments. Which was about the only positive I could squeeze from the situation. Of all the awful things that had happened in rapid succession, Catapult managing to fuck me over a second time stung the most. It did absolutely nothing to boost my self-esteem. But she wasn’t perfect. She had also made the same mistake twice, now – she’d left me alive.
(This, by the way, is a classic mistake Evil Overlords should always endeavor to avoid, no matter how tempting it may be to leave an enemy alive to mock/torture/earn a profit from in the slave pits. A dead enemy is no longer an enemy; they’re a journal entry. Barring necromancy, of course. My point being you’ll find yourself with no shortage of enemies if you get very far down the Evil Overlord road, so don’t bother saving one for later like some sort of vindictive snack.)
Right. I was talking about Catapult.
She didn’t understand why I wanted the book.
“What good will that demon tome do you?” she finally asked, tossing the hollowed-out remains of the bread back on the sideboard. “It already gave you what it had to give.”
“So the little bastard tried to make a deal with you, too. Why am I not surprised. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. You want Titus dead, I’m gonna need the book.”
“So you say. Why?”
“Why the fuck do you care? Just give me the book.”
Her eyes searched my face, looking for some clue as to how giving me the book would screw her over, which she was obviously more than half-convinced might be possible, because she wasn’t stupid. She looked a long time, but didn’t find anything. Finally, she nodded to one of her goons, who went to a corner of the tent and picked up a wooden casque and set it on her camp table, next to my ax.
She leaned back, folded her arms across her stomach, and smiled. “Go ahead then, hot stuff.” The remaining heavy, brutal hand on my shoulder lifted. She was daring me to go for the ax instead of the casque. I wasn’t really tempted, since I was sure there’d be sharp metal shoved into my back if I so much as put a hand on my weapon. I stood up, slowly, and kept my hands in view as I stepped up to the casque and opened it.
At first all I saw inside was salt. I glanced at Catapult.
“It wouldn’t shut up. Then I remembered a story about salt circles and demons. I experimented. It worked.”
I dug my fingers into the salt and they brushed against Hrazz’k’s leather binding. I pulled out the book, heedless of spilt salt because fuck Catapult, really. And Nuk, who probably did all the scut work like cleaning up.
I don’t really know how a book managed to look desiccated, but it did. It was more than just the cracked and flaking leather cover. Hrazz’k looked positively shriveled.
“Hrazz’k? You still in there, you traitorous bastard?”
The only response I got was a parched moan. I can’t explain how a moan could be parched, but believe me, there’s no other way to describe it.
“Good enough.” I looked up at Catapult. “The fortress’s layout?”
“It’s not complicated. A big square, barracks and such built against the wall. Bailey in the center. Can’t tell you much about the baily. Only Titus and his lieutenants are allowed inside.”
“You want to draw me a map?”
“You want them to find a map on you? You’re swinging back towards stupid. You don’t need a map. You’ll see everything there is to see in about a minute, once you’re inside.”
“Fine. I want my ax as well.”
“How does it feel to want?”
“Seriously. I need my ax.”
“Because I can’t sleep at night without it. Look, do you want Titus dead or not? If you do, why the fuck do you care how I do it?”
“Fine. You can have your penis stand-in once you’re out of my camp, how’s that?”
“My penis- you know what, Catapult? Fuck you. There’s exactly one penis between the two of us, and whatever your opinion of it, it’s not attached to you.”
“Yeah, yeah. You ready then?”
“No, I’m not fucking ready. How do you expect me to get into the fortress without getting feathered?”
She smiled, and I marveled at how white and even her teeth were. They’d look good on my necklace, I thought. If I survived.
“Don’t worry about that. I’ve got the perfect plan to get you inside. You won’t like it, though.”
* * *
Catapult’s plan to get me inside the fort without dying was based on her understanding of Titus. I hated Catapult with a burning passion, but even I had no problem admitting she was very, very clever.
She understood people, you see. She had a knack for understanding what made them tick. And she wasn’t shy about using that understanding to get what she wanted when she had to. It’s just that usually she didn’t have to. Most opponents she could just physically trounce, which she seemed to prefer.
She understood Titus, and she wanted him to let me into the bastion. That’s why I got the shit kicked out of me a second time; this time in full view of the bastion’s defenders.
They tied a rope around my neck and then led me out of the tent. We walked to just out of bow range of the bastion, gathering militiamen along the way. Nuk had the book and my ax, and Catapult held my fucking lead. Half a dozen of her men kept pointy things pointed at me, and the rest just sauntered along for the entertainment. I already looked like hammered dogshit, so me not putting up a fight was believable enough, I suppose. Anyway, when Catapult got to where she wanted, she hailed the bastion.
“Oi, you shit-brained fuckers, pay attention now!” she bellowed. “I’m gonna give you a show. I don’t know how you got this turd out of there without us knowing, but he failed. Tell Titus the next time he sends someone to kark me, they should have more brains than balls, not the other way around.”
Then she turned around and rammed her knee into my crotch. She didn’t hold back. I collapsed, folded in on myself with my hands on my balls. My mouth was doing something I will generously call ‘keening.’ My mind, what there was of it outside the tidal wave of pain, began to show me all the unpleasant memories it had gathered of Crusher’s brutal end at the hands – or rather boots – of Chortle.
Anyway, Catapult’s boys went to town again, mostly with booted feet, and for a while the whole world was just pain. They got their kicks in everywhere, but if I raised my hands to protect my head, they’d go for the groin and vice versa. It was like a game, for them, to see me jerk my hands up to my head and down to my crotch, over and over. It felt like forever. Consciousness became a very hazy concept. I do remember seeing Nuk pissing on the book, which was in the dust not far from me. Then I really did lose consciousness for a while.
I woke when a bucket was poured over my head. One eye was swollen shut, but the other, eventually, was able to focus on Catapult’s stony face. She was squatting next to me.
“This is the only way you live long enough to get inside,” she murmured. “I won’t say I’m sorry, because I’m not, much, and you wouldn’t believe me anyway. Good luck.” She patted my cheek. Her hand came away bloody. She stood up.
“Go on, then,” she said, loud enough for the defenders on the bastion’s wall to hear if they strained. “Crawl back to your master. You probably know he’s not a fan of failure, but maybe he’ll let you live.”
Then Catapult spat on the ground in front of my face, gave the bastion a one fingered salute without even looking at them, and walked back to her camp, trailed by her men.
I lay in the dust for a long time. Then I got up on my hands and knees and felt around half-blind for Hrazz’k and my ax. It took a lot longer than it should have, but once I’d secured both, I worked my way to a standing position and from there made my slow, staggering way towards the fortress.
Bio: Here, I'm Notogodot. In other places around the internet I'm Michael McClung, a writer and a general grump. I'm best known for the Amra Thetys fantasy series. I was born and raised in Texas, but have lived in Southeast Asia for almost two decades.