Chapter Nineteen

A crooked path takes twice as long

Being the new anything is difficult. New boyfriends are always compared, favorably or un to the last one. New kid at school seems weird at first until everyone realizes he’s a just another kid. Both of them have an awkward period until people get to know them.
But being the new Master of Evil is complicated by the fact you don’t want people to know too much about you.
There were always the heroes who want to kill you so the land can be healed once more or maybe for righteous vengeance, you killed their father, burned down their village or corrupted their one true love.
A hero’s journey was pretty clear-cut; you knew where you stood with them. It was a kill or be killed relationship. Nothing could be simpler.
Of course, your allies were worse. You couldn’t trust any of them further than you can see in the bottom of a pit during the time when a celestial tiger would swallow the moon. All of them were scheming, hoping to get the most out of the alliance with the least amount of work.
Some of them weren’t even doing that; they were likely of little use. They swore fealty only to keep themselves alive and for the benefits, share of any loot, protection and bragging rights.
Hubert’s father once told him that the only way to keep order in the ranks was fear. Most people lived in terror of Balor-Nar, living any other way seemed irresponsible at best.
Looking tat he assembled Brotherhood of Malevolence, Hubert knew he was loosing them fast. All the tells were there, fingering of weapons, sly sidelong looks, and the tray of obviously poisoned snacks that they had offered him.
He had swallowed a very rare and tiny creature called a Grut, who’s sole purpose was to negate any poison that entered the body and then transmuted it to cinnamon. Which was extremely useful but the frequency with which it happened was at first alarming then slowly and inexorably depressing. Also, now anytime he ate an apple-based desert, it just saddened him. To say nothing of hot toddies and other Yuletide beverages. As if the Holidays weren’t miserable enough.
The level of menace in the room was rising and directed at him. His father would’ve just killed one of them to keep the rest in line. But which one?
Torchlight played across the faces of the assembled half-demon warriors, sallow faced necromancers, elaborately masked assassins, and corrupt, corpulent tax officials. Any of them would have killed him in less time that it would take for a Minotaur to gore someone who wandered into his maze.
Jar-Von the Corpse Taker? Describing him as not well liked at all was underselling how disliked he was. His experiments were considered profane, even in the most diabolical circles. He also was known for trying (unsuccessfully) to steal other people’s girlfriends, in spite of the fact that he looked like he had been buried alive in acidic mud and had to crawl out through a layer of rusty daggers.
As unpleasant as he was, there was no one better at raising an undead army at short notice.
Muuurai the Relentless? An Outstanding fighter, he once followed an opponent to an unknown plane of existence to settle a score and leaving the battle he was fighting thereby lowering his own troops morale substantially to the point of defeat. He had his uses, and if you wanted to get rid of him all you need do is tell him someone in another country insulted him and off he would go.
Hubert felt as thought his father would know exactly who to make an example of, not too strong as to weaken the overall coalition of the wicked, but not too pathetic as that would make you seem fearful of the others.
Thankfully, his father was nowhere to be found. There was every possibility that he was lurking in the shadows, there were shadows aplenty, but the drop in temperature that usually accompanied his presence was absent. In fact he was roasting in his new Emerald and Ebon Hell Armor, his new color scheme. But better that than exposing himself to this lot.
Clearing his throat, he spoke at last. “I suppose you are all curious why I have summoned you here tonight?”
There was general rhubarb of, “Yes, we were”, “Tell us now”, and “I was told there was to be cake.” And so on.
“Excuse me!” Hubert shouted over the noise. “It was a rhetorical question, you don’t need to answer!” Slowly, the muttering stopped.
“We are about to embark on a endeavor of such dark majesty, people will be forced to sing about it till the end of time itself!”
This did not garner the enthusiasm he had anticipated it would. Reactions were more of the silent and confused variety with a hint of annoyance.
“Are none of you going to ask what this is?”
A Celebrant of Hell, you could tell by his blood red vestments and rather expensive hair cut, raised his hand. Hubert pointed at him.
“Yes, you, the Hell-Priest.”
“Can we ask questions?”
Hubert felt a headache coming on.
“You just asked one,” said Hubert
“Well, yes,” replied the Celebrant.
“So, you’re asking a question about whether or not you can ask a question?”
“I suppose it sounds a bit silly,” replied the Hell-Priest. “But you were awfully cross about the question before, so…”
“That was different.”
Slithering next to the crimson clad cleric, a Snake-Woman raised her hand.
“Yes, Zizzzina, what is it?”
“It’s jussssst that I was confussssed assss well.”
“Listen, you can ask questions. I was asking the question, not you.”
“So, you can’t ask questions now?” asked a fell wizard, Tahm the Dandy, who was clad in a sparkly purple doublet.
“What? No! That doesn’t even make any sense!”
An ashen-faced Dwarf, Unmunt the Unpleasant, nodded in agreement, ”You just said no remornacle questions.”
“It was ‘rhetorical’ not ‘remornacle’. ‘Remornacle’ isn’t even a word!” sputtered Hubert.
Unmunt threw up his hand, “That why it was so confusing.”
“I never said remornacle!”
Imnar the Iron Flanked, the Myrmidon with the metal six-pack, raised his hand.
“You just said ‘remornacle’ a bunch of times,” pointed out the metal clad man.
Beleaguered, the Master of Evil looked out at the Brotherhood of Malevolence, the world’s most wicked and depraved, and understood why good seemed to triumph time and time again.
“Listen up! I am about to begin a war on the unsuspecting peoples of the world that will make the time demons ruled the earth look like a springtyne festival run by a pixie’s grandmother! Prepare your armies, summon whatever it is you summon, prepare your darkest spells! It is on!”
That, thought Hubert, is how a Master of Evil, should sound. He smiled a smile that should make anyone who saw it think that it was time to go while they still could. Only the crackle of torches and the breathing of those who still needed to do so could be heard.
One hand raised; the Gnome assassin, Pietor the Stabby. Hubert turned his gaze, his EVIL gaze, upon this minuscule humanoid. “Yes…”
“So is there going to be cake or not?”

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