It's a world of darkness, a world of tears,
It's a world of dragons and a world of fears.
There's so much to ensnare,
So let's take what we dare,
It's a small world after all.
"This is how much it costs to feed the goblins?" The Archwizard Desnar Fenster Penderghast stroked his black goatee with petulant frustration, "Can't we, you know, give them some chicken scraps or something?"
"These are chicken scraps," Dunderwald coughed. The satyr barbarian hid his grimace underneath a great red beard, "We could feed the goblins with goblins, but they ye have an army eating itself."
"No, no!" the archwizard snapped, "Then can't you ransom a princess or something for the fees?"
"Aye," the satyr said in a tone that meant the opposite, "The thing with these here lassies is that they don't really have a strong margin these days. The attrition rate is about one in three to heroes, then ye have to cost to acquisition, which is about three gnolls, an imp, and two and a half orcs, speaking in averages. And then the cost of board, security, escape counter measures--"
"Well, do all that," Penderghast replied with a dismissive wave.
"Ah, well, strictly speaking your lord, in terms of gold, this is, ah, erm, beyond the current reserves held in our hoard..."
"Wait, wait you goat arsed bastard, are you saying I'm broke?"
"Ahem, ummm.." Dunderwald hid his answer behind a series of exaggerated coughs, "I think, m'lord, it's time to talk alternate revenue streams..."
It's a small world after all,
Obey my e'ry beck and call,
Let the great kingdoms fall,
I will conquer one and all,
It's a dark, dark world.
"What is it?"
"Desnarland!" Dunderwald proclaimed with an idiotic smile.
The Archwizard Penderghast was speechless. Before him lay an elaborate diorama of fine elf bone portraying a series of pens and keeps of esoteric design. Dunderwald looked sideways at the kobold architects, who tittered nervously. He coughed and said more loudly: "Desnarland!" while flourishing his arms frantically.
"I heard you the first time. What is it?"
"Well, m'lord, you're looking at the newest marvel of the second century. Part menagerie, part amusement garden! It will be the gem of your empire, a place where people from all over will come to marvel at your--"
"People will come here? To my secret castle, wrapped in thorns and obfuscated in a black fog of lost souls?" Dark brows like woolly lightning bolts quivered over disbelieving eyes.
"Well, ah, aye m'lord. The whole garden and palace will still have those features. It adds atmosphere," Duderwald stamped a hoof nervously, "But we'll need to be admitting visitors to the grounds, attracting them, if you will, with the unique features of your malevolent stronghold."
"Did you say prisoners?" Penderghast asked hopefully.
"Nay, m'lord, visitors. Purely voluntary. They will pay us a sort of toll for admittance. In exchange, we'll show them your Cavern Of Forsaken Constructs and the Wyvern Pen. We'll sell day passes and season admittance. Along with rent for some food stalls and privy tolls, it'll add up to a handsome profit--"
"Wyverns? They'll see my wyverns."
"Yes, m'lord," Dunderwald confirmed with the gentleness of a mother reshaping broken dreams.
"What if they eat the visitors?" the wizard asked hopefully.
"We'll offer a refund and a free pass. I've been looking into soul stealing artifice in order to claw back some of the loss. The technology out there looks very promising."
The satyr place a three fingered hand on his master's shoulder, "Come, m'lord, look at the new Wyvern Pen. The lads did a real bang up job. You'll love it."
There is one darkness to blot out the golden sun,
But one smile to devour every one,
Though the mountain divide,
There's no ocean too wide,
I will one day conquer all.
"I don't understand why I have to wear this?" Archwizard Penderghast gave his flowing red robes a dubious look. A blue conical hat drooped under the weight of felt stars hastily sewed on, "There is nothing functional about wearing bed sheets with arm holes. And this hat is dreadful."
"As I explained before, m'lord," Dunderwald repeated with no little exasperation, "It's not a dark wizard's palace without the dark wizard."
"But shouldn't I be plotting something? I mean, a dark wizard doesn't appear. He manipulates, cajoles, impersonates, intimates, influences..."
"Aye, of course, m'lord," Dunderwald pinned back the hems. Archwizard Penderghast felt as if he'd been eaten by a flag.
"Really, can't you get someone else for this?"
"There aren't no other wizards of yer caliber, yer eminence, besides, it's terrible branding to use an impostor."
"Branding?" Penderghast marveled at the way his satyr barbarian was able to conjure words of foreign provenance and obscure intent.
"Aye, just like you put on a cow or pig to claim ownership. Instead, we put it on the bricks of this here castle, usin' yer face, so that they know yer the dark wizard they should fear."
"And it works?" Penderghast's forked brows creased with uncertain tempest.
"Aye. Works at two gold a ticket, nine and ten farthings for a family of five."
Penderghast did some mental arithmetic, which ended up being too acrobatic for his arcane faculties.
"And that is..?"
"A lot of gold, yer lordship. A mountain of it for a few lightning bolts and sparkling cantrips."
Penderghast allowed himself a dark little smile at this, and began practicing his arm flourishes.
My armies lay waste to all,
Dark magics answer my call,
The great kingdoms soon fall,
I shall conquer one and all,
It's a dark, dark world.
Two glass eyes stared hypnotically into his with an almost mystical elevation. They were incredibly lifelike, disarming, verging on cute. It was like staring into a glass casting of the beady, lifeless marbles that stared deferentially at the Archwizard whenever Dunderwald had a new idea to pitch.
"They don't seem childish to you?"
"Oh, yes sir, very childish m'lord," Dunderwald confirmed with a vigorous nod of the head, "Very childish indeed. And at four shillings it should mint us a new treasury."
Penderghast was confused. He was used to crystals and incantations, blood sacrifices before elder gods. This plush tool of domination was so completely out of his repertoire, he wasn't sure whether to dismiss it or fear it.
"So... it's for children?"
"Aye, the wee ones clamor for them so. Bloody can't well get out of the park without buying one for each of the kiddies. Good business in that. And for the folks of more modest means, we'll award them in games of chance. Sell tickets at a shilling, three pence. Truth is, we make more off them that way."
"And you called this..?"
"Merchandizing," Dunderwald repeated slowly, "Very simple concept. See, we invite merchants into the garden, along the northern presidio. We charge them rent per stall. Then, we charge them a base fee of two shillings, eight pence per naga, and make them sell at four. They only cost us about nine pence a doll, but we get to call them dwarven made and charge a tidy premium!"
"Aye, the little dark digging ones that no one much cares for. We hardly pay them in anything more than pig's sop and they sew the snakes for us. Not nearly as good as yer average princess, but you don't need to worry about them learning your name and cheating you out of a first born son."
Penderghast looked at the ragged snake doll that was the new face of his growing empire.
"Oh, the nagas are real killers with the crowds. You throw a goat in and it's better than seeing a heretic swinging at the gallows. We're thinking that the next bunch will be sewn like socks and we can sell a few wooden goats for the kiddies to put in their maws," Dunderwald nodded with a gap toothed confidence.
"And this helps my schemes how?"
Dunderwald closed his eyes and nodded with saintly patience. Penderghast felt his cheeks warm and water pool at the corner of his eyes.
"You see, m'lord, it's just good business sense..."
It's a world to plunder, pillage, and fun,
Where I will soon hold power for centuries to come,
One peace in darkness,
The price of demonic bliss,
This is my world after all.
Penderghast stood on the stage. Behind him the goblins sang a chorus. The orcs danced in tandem. Rangfellar the green dragon snaked lethargically in the background, a mere cow-fed shadow of her peasant ravaging self. Galdadriel the Golden held a wooden sword to his chest and declared him vanquished.
"You are your dark kind shall trouble this world no more, Penderghast!"
The wizard moaned and withered, slumped and fell, listened to the shattered of his dreams before thundering applause.
"I say, chap, good show this evening. That's the best death throes I've seen from you," the knight said after they had finished their curtain call.
"Thanks," the wizard weezed.
"Who would have thought we'd be working together after all these years. Really wonderful what you've done with the place. I swear, some of these dungeons are even scarier than when I was actually freeing princesses from them."
"Well, we try."
"Until next week."
"Yes, say hi to the, um... family?"
"Of course. Lady Drusilla sends her regards, of course. Never forget how we met here." the hero sighed wistfully, "Fare the well, old man."
Penderghast groped through the backstage in search of Dunderwald. He tripped over ghouls with stage rigging and set designing lizard men. The satyr was not there. In the tunnels beneath his tower, he struggled upstream against the ferocious jostle of food vendors and wyvern handlers, dark elves dressed as ragged monsters and giants weened from human blood. At last, in an obscure room where the bursar once dispensed stolen gems and blood stained ingots to his raiders, he found the satyr barbarian wearing fine robes and sitting behind a desk called accounting.
"What has happened?" he gasped.
"Oh, m'lordship, the seven o'clock must have ended. I swear the theater crowds grow night. I hear Hrun the Wise himself was in the audience tonight."
"But... but, the knight, Galdadriel the Gold, he's won..?"
The satyr stood up with a bemused and wearied look. It was the grim visage of one who had explained, in simple and clear terms, this one hundred too many times before.
"No, m'lord. That's just play acting. He hasn't won anything. This palace of cruelty is still yer dark den of destruction. If anything, he now works for you."
"But, I just died for him. I pretended he killed me. For children."
"Aye, for children," Dunderwald nodded, "What can I say? Hope sells. And if you don't slay them on the stage, ye're slaying them at the toll booth. And since ye've been doing that, we have more princesses staying in our dungeons, paying us for the privilege, mind you, than when ye was about pillaging the country side."
The wizard slumped into a chair on the other side of the desk. He knew spells and summoning, but this world was sums and sales. This fell satyr had led him to it, gutted and castrated him, left him ragged and hollow, another doll among the stuffed falsehood of the northern presidio.
"But, I was supposed to rule them," he said quietly.
"Aye. Yer the master of their fantasies, ruler of their money purse. We've nay fashioned a blade in years and yet the kings of all the earth bow before your palace, their children don the hats and cloaks of your subjugation. What more can ye ask for?"
"But the dragons don't breathe fire. The wyverns are defanged."
"And the manticores declawed, the sphinxes given simpler riddles, and the mummies chained to their tombs. People just need the fright. There's no stomach for blood any more."
Penderghast looked up at his satyr barbarian, fixed up in the most pompous finery, grinning gold and diamond toothed condescension, talking to him as if he were some simpleton or child, barely weened from his mother's tit, to be led about by the nose so as not to hurt himself stumbling before some great, staggering truth.
"But I want blood!" he managed to say in a not too strangled voice, an uttering still shaded with the booming octaves of his former stature and prestige.
"Of course, m'lord, I'll have the vampires send up something warm for you tonight. A bloody virgin or the like."
"Not for me, not just for me. For. Them. All. I want to cover the land in blood. I want to sate my fury on their open veins, to pry forth from them not only their viscera, but their quivering obeisance, to see them abject in their supplication, ruinous in base pandering to my whim, to have them offer their daughters, their wives, if only that it might stay my hand, spare my wrath one hour more, keep their own skin unsullied while the dreadful lot are raked over open coals of blistering, unrelenting flame. To have them all lashed to stakes along the unending borders of my ultimate dominion. I want them to worship me. I want them to fear me. I want them as things to be traded or ravished or broken. I want."
Penderghast was sweating when he finished. He felt as if he was just been sick on the floor. There was something delirious in his words. Fevered. He was flush with the humiliation and the honesty.
Dunderwald nodded gravely.
"Of course, m'lord. Those things and more. We have them all at Desnarland. Why don't ye start with the Wyvern Pens? From there, you can take a boat to Goblin Gulch or for just five gold ride a dragon. From up there it seems like the whole world is beneath you. In the way you mean. And I'll talk to the lads about the blood. Maybe for solstice we can do something special. Put up a few menhirs and hold some mock sacrifices. Maybe have members of the audience stand in. Think of it. A little kiddie laying on top of a pig. You stick a knife in the sow. It looks to the audience like you've killed the lad, blood splashing about the altar, but we don't have to refund anything. We charge more. Genius sir, genius. This is all your genius. Desnarland would be nothing without you."
Penderghast nodded and stood up. He was giddy with something. Dunderwald told him he'd have the vampires send blood up right away. They'd draw a bath. He was promised the kingdom of his imagining, every whim made manifest and able, bowing and sweeping and creeping along bleak vistas towards his happiness. Happiness. That was what he'd been promised. And that night he would be able to fling is windows open and gaze upon the wondrous monument to personal joy, to leap into ecstasy, to spray the bricks with good cheer and stain the mortar in the infinite smile of conquest.
This is my world after all,
Slaves before my beck and call,
Hope darkens beneath my pall,
I have conquered one and all,
It's my dark, dead world.