Girl Intercorrupted

This is a 4-of-13 chapter sample of “A Girl Corrupted by the Internet is the Summoned Hero?!” The remainder is available at Gumroad and Amazon .

Table of Contents

  1. Prologue: A virgin maiden is already corrupted?!
  2. The chance of success is—?!
  3. The key to power is—!?
  4. The rebellion has already lost?!
  5. I’m going to be sacrificed?!
  6. Is this my story’s shocking twist?!
  7. The true key to power is—?!
  8. Do even I dare?!
  9. Am I going to wimp out?!
  10. Do you really think you can?!
  11. The meaning of probability is—
  12. You did it because—?!
  13. The final bargain!

©2016 by Eliezer Yudkowsky.


This is my attempt at translating a light novel from Japan, only the original source material doesn’t exist.

The light novel is a Japanese custom which aims at easy reading. I think of it as an art form in which only the story’s bones remain.

If you want to read a translation of a Japanese light novel, I liked “Evil God Average” (Jashin Average) as translated by the Fifth Holy Sheeprabbit. That might help you to appreciate this story, since it conveys the genre to which this story belongs.

For those of you who haven’t read any light novels before:

A remarkable portion of light novels are about people being transported from one world to another. Japan has easier ideas about copyright, so their literary system more often contains many works on the same theme.

That theme began with heroes from our world being transported to another world to fight the Demon Lord.

Now there are light novels about the Demon Lord dying, being reincarnated in our world as a high-schooler, and then being transported to another world as one of the adversarial side characters in a romantic video game. Or the hero is a man from our world, reincarnated as an elven girl, who has already become an absurdly powerful adventurer, but now works incognito as a receptionist. I’m not joking.

Light novels also have a unique writing style I’m trying to imitate, including this easy style of author’s notes. I don’t think I do it well (laughs). Maybe I’ll improve?

This story was supposed to be completely silly. Please keep that in mind. I failed at that by the end of the second chapter, but still, that’s the origin.

The main character doesn’t always agree with the author about decision theory. It’d be silly to think we’d agree about things that are less objective.

I have nothing else to say about this story for now, so you may as well read it.

— Eliezer Yudkowsky, Nov 2015

1. Prologue: A virgin maiden is already corrupted?!

My family name is Yugano. My given name is Yuuki. I have no redeeming qualities.

The boys I meet fail to interest me, and I haven’t kissed any of them. This is because the Internet has ruined my way of looking at the world.

In the beginning, seeing pics of a muscular man with no shirt was enough to make me breathe faster. If I came across a picture of a man being nude, I would flinch away in horror.

Over time, I moved on to pictures of nude men, then two men doing things to one another. As I became numb to one perversion, I had to find something more extreme to arouse my interest. Now I have no interest in normal forms of youthful misbehavior.

You say I should have refrained? Back then I was too young to know better, and now this untouched maiden has been so thoroughly ruined that I might as well go further.

I blame the government and my parents. In the very beginning, they should have stopped that innocent girl from seeing perverted things online.

Now I spend hours every day browsing the Internet, doing you-know-what to myself.

At this point I’d like to deliver a sharp remark about how stories depict being transported to another world. You know the scene I’m talking about: the Hero arrives surrounded by holy clerics casting the Summoning Spell, with well-dressed royalty and future adventuring companions looking on.

In every one of those cases, the Summoning catches the Hero at a time when the Hero is standing up and fully dressed.

Is this realistic? Would a Hero be Summoned only at such a convenient time? I bet you spend much of your day sitting down. If the Summoning caught you then, wouldn’t you materialize unsupported, and fall on your ass?

Imagine being a Hero being transported while they’re on the toilet. They materialize in a sitting position with their underwear around their ankles, then fall over with their knees still bent and pants down. Their butt hasn’t been wiped, and it leaves a smear on the ground. Maybe the Summoned Hero is right in the middle of pooping out a big one.

What happened to me was even more embarrassing than that.

It involved my usual Internet habits.

That was the first step of my journey into another world.

2. The chance of success is—?!

The cold was my first startling observation. A chill wind bit into my exposed thighs and unmentionables like… like a very cold knife. I’m sorry, I’m distracted right now and can’t think up a clever metaphor.

The next thing my eyes saw was the other people staring at my vulnerable body. There were five adults in white robes holding up their staves, silver halos glowing above their heads. Beyond them, a dirty old man in leather and chains – no, I mean leather armor and chainmail, don’t misunderstand me, and when I say ‘dirty’ I mean that he had stains on his armor.

Next to the old warrior, a young lad my age with a sword belted at his side, with a clean and finely made shirt. He was looking away from me and wringing his hands like an eight-year-old girl who just saw a crayon drawing of private parts.

Around me, a circle of huge standing stones.

Beyond that, walls of grass, the slopes of rising hills.

And below me, a circular stone plate inscribed with curves in a fading silver glow.

Immediately after I arrived, there was a lot of shrieking… you know, let’s not talk about this. I’m choosing to repress these memories for the rest of my life. Let’s skip to the part where somebody has given me a towel-like cloth to hold around myself.

So there I am, standing, wrapped in a towel; aside from that my surroundings are as previously specified.

I have many issues with this. I am setting aside my issues and listening to the words of the white-robed mage with the brightest halo. I think this part might be important.

“Yugano Yuuki,” the white mage intones, “you have been Summoned here to overturn the greatest evil of this world, the Wicked Emperor.”

The old warrior in chain-mail speaks up. “How is this girl supposed to do that, exactly? Is there more to her than is apparent?”

“I have similar questions,” I say. I’d better have arrived here with some incredible cheat-like advantage, or this world is amazingly doomed.

“That’s impossible for me to know, but she is certainly the Summoned Hero,” says the mage.

“Could there have been an error in the Summoning Spell?” asks chainmail-wearer. “And if so, is it too late to send her back and get another one?” He looks back at me. “No offense, but it’s for the sake of everyone.”

None taken.

The white mage casts a glance in my direction. “The Spell can only be worked once every three hundred years, in a certain place. But this Great Summoning Spell we have just cast should, without fail, have selected the Hero with the best chance to overturn the Wicked Emperor who has cruelly subjugated half the world.”

That’s some convenient exposition, but I’ll excuse it since you’re stating it for my sake.

“Maybe our best chance of defeating the Wicked Emperor still isn’t good?” Again warrior-guy echoes my own thoughts. “Even leaving aside the condition in which she arrived, I would expect the most skilled person to be older, or in the prime of their adulthood.”

The white-clad mages glance at one another, looking concerned. “There’s a divination that’s itself part of the Summoning Spell,” says another mage, a woman. “To state it clearly, if the Summoned Hero is the person with the greatest probability of defeating the Wicked Emperor, then the Spell itself must determine that probability. Traditionally the probability isn’t observed since then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, but in this case…” The white mage grimaces. “She doesn’t seem like the Hero we were expecting. I agree we ought to check what the Spell determined as her probability of victory.”

The chainmail-man frowns. “Why wouldn’t you always check the probability? Is it dangerous to do so?”

Another white-robed mage speaks up. “Imagine that someone has a ninety percent chance of defeating the Wicked Emperor if they aren’t told anything. Then they’re told they have a ninety percent probability of winning. They might feel relieved of the need to make a desperate effort, so their true probability of winning would become much lower. Since the probability has to be consistent, that can’t happen. On the other hand, suppose we’re told our chance of winning is only two percent. Then, feeling already defeated, our chances of victory might drop that far. Given those two possible answers, since the probability must be consistent, the observed probability would be two percent. So it’s best to decide in advance not to peek at the probability that the Spell predicts… still, this case does seem like an exception. Just be sure to keep the number to yourselves, and try not to let it affect your decisions.”

The prince-boy and the old man both look puzzled. As for me, since I come from Earth where there are time travel movies, I’ve followed the reasoning without difficulty.

The five white mages begin chanting. Staves are raised, the golden halos above their heads grow brighter. I suppose I should be more impressed, but it’s really not much in the way of special effects.

The mages lower their staves. Most of them look rather surprised.

“Her chance of overthrowing the Wicked Emperor is… one hundred percent?!”


You say that’s my probability of winning even after being told my probability of winning?

Then I might as well slack off and do what I want, huh.

It may be an awful thing to say with the fate of the world at stake. But realistically, if I’m the sort of person who’ll be lazy given half a chance, there’s no point in trying my best as a Summoned Hero if I’m going to win even after taking into account the changes in my behavior caused by knowing that I’m going to win.

I wonder what amazing cheat-like ability I’ll discover, and whether it can be abused for other purposes besides overthrowing the Wicked Emperor?

3. The key to power is—!?

Magic powers, magic powers, I’m going to get my magic po~wers!

I don’t mind telling you that there was a spring in my step as I went skipping toward the next ceremony that had already been prepared for me.

While I haven’t resolved my numerous issues, I do like how everything is so straightforward here. Compared with other tales I’ve read of being summoned to another world, I’m glad I didn’t wind up with a harder case.

…I hope I didn’t just curse myself by thinking that.

By the way, I seem to be in a rebel encampment that’s hidden between several hills and therefore not visible from a distance. At least, this is what I infer from watching people polishing their weapons.

Soon I come upon yet another group of mages, gold-robed people that seem to be mostly younger women. The halos over their heads are only faintly visible. Chainmail-guy, noble-boy, and one of those archmage types are following behind me.

Before me is a stone plate with inscribed lines that look much less elaborate than the circle I arrived in.

“It’s important that you understand the purpose of this ceremony,” says one of the women in gold robes. She casts a doubtful look at my towel-clothing and the nubile body I’m keeping underneath it. “They say to assume a Summoned Hero doesn’t know anything, so should I start with the very basics?”

I dislike rhetorical questions, so whenever I hear one I always give the less expected answer. “No, you should skip straight to the most advanced part without any preliminaries.”

“Well, the very basics are as follows,” says the gold-robe mage. “The magic of the world is divided into Evil magic aligned with Demons and Good magic aligned with Angels. In the same way that those who now rule the world wield power based on wickedness, the holy magic of this Rebellion comes from goodness. A good mage derives her power from contracting with an Angelic being, which agrees to lend you power in exchange for you committing yourself to purity.”

Well, that explains the halos – ah, ah, let’s hold on for a minute or possibly several weeks. “Just what do you mean by purity?”

She looks puzzled. “I mean behavior that is holy and good as opposed to unholy and not good.”

“As a Summoned Hero from another world, it’s impossible for me to know whether I understood what you meant by that.”

“I don’t understand what you mean by saying that you don’t understand what I mean. Even if the people in your world are more wicked than the people in this one, they should still know what righteousness is.”

My philosophy textbook had a clear idea of what righteousness is: namely, righteousness is explicitly stating your definitions. “If I follow a course to overthrowing the Wicked Emperor for the benefit of all peoples in this world, harm nobody who doesn’t harm anyone else, and otherwise do what I want, is that sufficient?”

“Of course not! You can’t just do what you want!”

Another gold-robed woman speaks. “To begin with the elementary fundamentals of the basics, to form a contract you must be a virgin. Then, it goes without saying that sullying yourself with a man would cause your Angel to flee from you.”

I look at the archmage. He’s seen how I was when I arrived here.

“You are still untouched by men, aren’t you?” The archmage speaks gently, but with a worried countenance. “Even if you’ve done certain sinful things that you mustn’t do again?”

“I haven’t so much as kissed a boy. However, I am worried that my thoughts may be so sinful that an Angel won’t want to contract with me.” Honestly I’m worried that my Angel will burst into flames… no, it will explode.

Several of the women clear up at this, like they finally understand what’s happening. “Oh, that’s nothing to worry about, dear sister!” says the one who spoke first. “It means more for a poor farmer to pass up a temptation of ten silver than for a rich official to pass up a bribe of a hundred gold. So long as you do nothing wrong, being more tempted by sin makes it a holier deed to commit yourself to purity… ah, I see you’re smiling now that you realize the Angelic Powers are forgiving.”

Of course that’s why I’m smiling. There’s no other reason at all.

The more corrupt thoughts you start with, the more power you gain from promising to be pure, is what I think I heard you say?

There’s one thing I’d better check, though. “It’s okay for a white mage to retire, isn’t it? There’s no penalty if you decide afterward to tell your angel to go away, so you can settle down with a nice husband and make some children?”

The maidens are blushing. “Of – of course not! Even though that’s not quite, quite…”

One hundred percent chance of victory, here I co~me.

Though I am a little worried. I’ve never gone more than a day or two without giving myself release. Even when I tried to deny myself for perverted reasons, my willpower failed. I hope that I can clear up this Wicked Emperor matter in a month, and not go insane with repressed desires before then.

The ceremony for obtaining my ma~gic po~wers is simple. The gold-robed women are holding their hands and singing a short melody, and the stone seal is glowing silver like the colors of their halos. I think someone from this world would find this very holy and uplifting, but I’ve heard electronic-orchestral chorales with better singing.

My Angel appears in a burst of light and… oh, this isn’t fair. The Angel is male, and his robes are clinging to his form, which is thin and fair. The beautiful face above is one of supreme innocence. Even for someone who’s seen many Internet pictures, encountering a true Angel is a moving experience.

This Angel… this Angel is just begging for someone to corrupt him and do unspeakable things to him.

Normally women fear what men might do to them, which is the reason I refrained from fulfilling my awful desires back when they were still in the realm of possibility. But if this Angel is really a creature of purity, then it follows that he wouldn’t do anything bad to me. In other words, he’d be defenseless before me.

But if I do tha~at, he’ll run away.

The archmage is whispering in my ear and I’m repeating the words of the ancient contract. Hey Angel-butt, I’ll refrain from my naughty desires if you grant me supreme magical power to stomp the Wicked Emperor, yo? This bargain is needlessly lengthy for accomplishing that much.

The Angel speaks his own lines and his dulcet, young, boyish tones make my insides twitch. Knowing I’m not allowed to do a-ny-thing about that, even to myself, makes my insides twitch more. This is going to be a long month for me.

The white light of the seal fades, and now a cute little version of my Angel is hovering over my shoulder where only I can see him.

“Listen well to the counsel of your Angel,” the archmage says gravely. “The righteous action is not always what we must do to save our people. But while your Angel is with you, you will always know the difference and what you are sacrificing when you choose otherwise.”

My Angel’s eyes are wide and he’s waving his hands frantically and making a high-pitched EEEEEEEE sound, but he hasn’t actually burst into flames so I’ll call this contract a success.

4. The rebellion has already lost?!

“Disaster! Emergency! It’s terrible!”

People are running around shrieking things like this. Apparently the Wicked Emperor’s military forces have surrounded this camp and they outnumber us by three hundred million billion trillion to one.

Hey, idiot with the white robes and long staff, is it the usual practice that the Hero is Summoned to overthrow the current greatest evil?

Is it true that the Great Summoning can only be performed at this time, in this place, within the circle of standing stones?


This is definitely a punishment from the vengeful gods because I let myself look forward to easy times.

“Summoned Hero!” cries the old warrior with the chainmail that’s been following me around. “Yugano Yuuki! What must we do? How can we survive?”

My mind races rapidly and I seize on the first answer that comes to mind. “Quick, grab all the pairs of underpants you can and wear them over your heads! Then, attack the Enemy with watermelons!”

People stare at me.

Maybe answering with the very first thing that came to mind was a bit much, but—

“I have a one hundred percent probability of overturning the Wicked Emperor,” I point out. “It’s not that every possible choice we could make, would lead to victory. But whatever I end up deciding to actually do, that particular course of action has a one hundred percent chance of victory. So if we actually attack with watermelons, we’ll definitely win!”

The old warrior clutches at his head. “Leaving aside all my other objections, we don’t even have any watermelons!”

What? This is disastrous! I can’t think of any different plans! Or rather, all my other plans involve having not gotten into this situation in the first place!

“We’re doomed!” shrieks a white mage running past. A second later, he’s running past again in the opposite direction. “Doomed, I tell you, doomed!”

The old man pulls himself together, a grimness settling over him. “The absolute goal is to allow you to escape, the Summoned Hero who will certainly succeed. Even if I and all this camp must sacrifice ourselves to break out of this encirclement, it’s all right so long as you go free.”

H-hey! What are you saying? Should so many people die to save me, a girl with no redeeming qualities? I’d never sleep again!

“I’ll make you up a pack with weapons,” the old man is saying. “Trust nobody, for the Wicked Emperor will seed this area with spies. Live off the forest, even if you eat seeds and berries for years, it’s wiser than appearing before a human being. Live, and in time, be the certain instrument of our vengeance!”

I already had my doubts about this course of action, but that settles it. Anything that involves living without toilet paper is not a realistic option for me. Besides, although I’m new to my Angel, there’s no doubt I will be an overpowered character. “I have a better idea. I’m the girl with a one hundred percent chance of victory, so let’s reverse your strategy. Why don’t I hold off the Wicked Emperor’s armies, while the rest of you make your escape?”

The old man is speechless at my brilliance. His mouth opens and shuts several times.

The Angel on my shoulder is nodding approvingly. Yes, this noble act of mine must be a righteous deed by local standards.

“Listen,” I say, “if I know I have a one hundred percent chance of success regardless, I won’t choose a course where people die for me along the way.” Who knows, maybe I can close out this quest in just one day. If there’s a novel with me as an overpowered heroine, that’s definitely how it should go!

And tha~at’s how I found myself on a hill gazing down sternly at the Wicked Emperor’s military forces.

Ha, these thousands of cavalry on their shining horses, the countless bowmen glowering at me, and foot soldiers stretching over the hills and out of sight—you don’t impress me. I’ve seen pictures of real armies! With guns, and helicopters, and tanks on aircraft carriers!

Seeing that your enemy has fielded a single girl standing alone on this hill, are the looks on your faces fearful? Of course not! Bewildered contempt is more like it! But soon, those looks will change!

Oh dear, what’s this? I seem to have acquired a straggler. Are you under the impression you’ve joined my party without my say-so? That’s very forward of you.

“I won’t let you stand alone!” The noble-looking boy says that, holding his sword aloft and, yes, it’s flashing in the sun.

Are you under the impression this is cool? Aragorn-sama from the Lord of the Rings movies is cool when he does this. You’re just a kid.

“My name is Teragon Omoia, and I’ll be with you to the end, Yugano Yuuki.” He’s trembling, but still manages to smile.

I can’t let myself be outdone by this upstaging interloper. With a breezy gesture, I flip my hair behind me so that the wind can blow around my glossy strands. “Oi, oi, what’s this about endings? I am Summoned Hero Yuuki, the overpowered character with a one hundred percent chance of success! I’ll definitely win this day! Because the sheer perversion of the desires I’m repressing to be pure, is something that nobody from this world can possibly beat! I’ll show you the power of a girl that’s been corrupted by the Internet!”

The boy is looking even more nervous than he was before. I point at the army before me with a commanding gesture, and toss my head so my hair will blow nobly in the wind some more. “My Angel! This is my command under our compact of purity! Knock them all unconscious, but don’t kill them!” I cup my hands together to emit a mighty energy blast. “ETERNAL… RAINBOW… SHIMMERING… LASER… THUNDER…”

…anyway, that’s how I ended up tightly bound on a cart heading back to the Wicked Empire.

To read the rest of this book, visit:

Prospiracy Theory

Rwanda and I sat on a park bench. Above us the birds fluttered
gracefully through a shamefully blue sky. Out of habit, I
identified the surveillance drones; a CIA sparrow, an FBI robin, a
bluetit from the Men In Black, and a flock of honking ducks that was
probably one of the Illuminati’s newfangled distributed devices. The
sun was partially obscured by a few thin streamers of
cloud; just enough to let us look up at the sky without wincing, not
enough to change the feeling of sunniness. It was an indecently
perfect day, as if someone had broken into NASA’s satellite weather
system and made a few modifications.

“So, have you ever really looked at a rainbow?” Rwanda was saying, her
legs dangling over the park bench.

“Well, yeah,” I said.

“And the colors are bunched up? They come in bands?”

“Well, yeah,” I said again. Then I saw where she was going. “Hey,
yeah. If rainbows are really caused by diffraction effects, then the
frequency should change smoothly.” I started laughing.
“I’m such a moron! I can’t believe I didn’t see that one before! So
what do you suppose they really are?”

She smiled. “Well, suppose that those UFOs we keep seeing aren’t
really working with the Trilateral Commission…” She trailed off,
looking to my right. I turned my head.

A thin, scruffy man, in a dirty brown overcoat, was walking towards our
bench. His eyes were wild. “I’ve got it!” he hissed. “I’ve got it all
worked out!”

Rwanda and I scooted closer to listen.

“It’s all so simple,” he said, pausing dramatically. “ Lee Harvey
Oswald, acting alone, shot John F. Kennedy! 

I heard Rwanda’s sharp intake of breath, and my eyes grew wide. “Hey,
man, be careful,” I hissed. “There’s a bluetit from the Men In Black
listening to us not five feet away!”

“The Men In Black?” he asked scornfully. “There’s no such thing! And a
bluetit? What kind of paranoid fantasy is that? There’s nobody
listening to us.”

I let out a disappointed breath. It was just another nutter. We’ve
been getting those from time to time, ever since they started using
Windows NT on the Orbital Mind Control Lasers. The Men In Black would
probably be around to pick him up shortly.

Rwanda must have felt sympathetic, since she kept on talking to him.
“But you must know that the Men In Black exist,” she said gently.
“Didn’t you see that movie?”

The man started eyeing us nervously, like we were the nutters. “Yes,”
he said, “but it was just a movie.”

“Well,” Rwanda said, “have you ever seen one of those little flashing
memory-eraser devices?”

“No,” said the man.

“So you don’t ever remember seeing one of them?”

“No,” said the man.

“Well,” Rwanda said cheerfully, “there you go.”

The man started to speak, then halted. “Oh, that’s just bloody
nonsense,” he sputtered. I grabbed Rwanda’s arm. “Don’t argue with
him,” I whispered. “He could be dangerous.”

Fortunately, at that moment, the limousine pulled up. I let out a
breath, relaxed. “You took your sweet time,” I said.

One of the Men In Black nodded. “Sorry, sir. Ever since we started
using Windows CE in the bluetits, it’s been nothing but trouble.” The
other two MIBs grabbed the crazy by the arm and started wrestling him
into the car.

“Don’t listen to them!” he shrieked. “Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone,
shot John F. Kennedy! Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, shot John F.
Kennedy! Lee Harvey Oswald -”

The limousine door closed on his outburst, leaving the park in blessed
silence. The Man In Black held up a blinky-flashy thing. “If
I could trouble you to look over here, sir? And please take off those

I blinked. “The glasses? Oh, I’d forgotten I had those on.
Certainly.” I took the glasses off my face, looked, blinked and –

“…aren’t really working with the Trilateral Commission,” Rwanda was
saying. I had an odd feeling of disorientation that cued me to glance
down; sure enough, I was holding my glasses in my hands, though I had
no memory of removing them.

I nudged her. “Hey, Rwanda. MIBs again.”

This document is ©2000 by Eliezer Yudkowsky and free under the Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License for copying and distribution, so long as the work is attributed and the text is unaltered.

Eliezer Yudkowsky’s work is supported by the Machine Intelligence Research Institute .

If you think the world could use some more rationality, consider blogging this page.

Praise, condemnation, and feedback are always welcome . The web address of this page is .

Originally posted to the Extropians mailing list in 2000. Revised 2005.


In the western spiral arm of our galaxy lies a star system and a planet
occupied ages ago. On one mountain of that planet there is a great
structure, thousands of cubits tall. It is constructed of sapphire and
diamond, is self-repairing, and derives energy from both solar power and
an internal power supply which we still do not understand.

Each solar rotation, this vast mechanism emits a tick. Each hundred
rotations, it emits a gong. Those who study the mechanism believe that
every ten thousand rotations, a small mechanism will appear from a certain
door and make a sound. The last effect has not been observed in living
memory, and the next occurrence is projected to be nearly eighty
generations removed from those now living. Xenoarchaeologists say that
the gong’s period was longer than the lifespan of an individual of that
species, and that the unseen mechanism has a period longer than that
species’ entire recorded history. The entire edifice was constructed only
a few years before that race vanished forever to wherever ancient races

Philosophers across the galaxy have argued over the purpose of the
Eternal Clock. As with other artifacts such as the Diamond Book, the
Circle of Time, the Oracle, and the Wandering Flame, consensus holds
that the motive was not religious or superstitious in nature, but

What principle the Eternal Clock was intended to embody is still a matter
of great controversy. But while arguments rage in the halls of
philosophy, while children are born and great-grandparents die, while
intelligent races evolve and vanish, the Eternal Clock continues to tick.
And perhaps that is the message it is intended to convey.

This document is ©2001,2003 by Eliezer Yudkowsky and free under the Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License for copying and distribution, so long as the work is attributed and the text is unaltered.

Inspired by the “Clock of the Long Now” project .

Yes, Stewart Brand has already seen it.

The above apparently got forwarded around a bit, and Kevin Kelly wrote me and said:
“I’d love to know what the other artifacts are: Diamond Book, the Circle of Time,
the Oracle, and the Wandering Flame.”

The Wandering Flame was created by a species that, in a rare coincidence,
began acquiring industrial technology just as their home planet was
entering a new Ice Age. The species successfully staved off global
cooling – first through deliberate emission of greenhouse gases, then
through orbital solar mirrors, and finally, as they reached the heights of
technology, through direct reversal of the underlying climatic effect. In
celebration, they constructed the Wandering Flame, an artificial sunlet
that shines for one seventeenth of an orbital period over any planet on
which a sentient species successfully manages an environmental crisis.
Although the Wandering Flame often delivers more solar energy than the
planet’s original star, no climatic or ecological side effects occur.
When not fulfilling its primary function, the Wandering Flame can usually
be found in the asteroid belt of some otherwise uninteresting star system.

The Oracle is a spherically-shaped region of space, roughly 32 light-hours
in diameter, located around 2 light-years to the galactic north of
Elnath. The Oracle will answer one question for each petitioner;
unfortunately, there is no way to know in advance which question it is.
Only seventeen questions have ever been answered, four of them asked by
accident and apparently trivial, but in each case the petitioner expressed
a profound sense of satisfaction and enlightenment.

The Circle of Time appears as a circular path of beaten silver,
eighty-three meters in diameter. When you set foot on the Circle at any
point, the path begins to move, conveying you along the Circle. It
appears to take exactly fifteen minutes and twenty-eight seconds for you
to reach your starting point, although on exiting, no external time
appears to have passed. Many past and future selves of the fifteen
minutes are visible in their corresponding positions along the Circle of
Time, and you can converse with yourself as desired.

The Diamond Book has the density and appearance of purest diamond. No
matter how many pages are turned, there are still as many left. The
weight and volume of the Book never increase. No page has ever been found
containing words, pictures, or other visible content, though each page
sparkles beautifully and individually. Those who read the Book by gazing
on several pages in succession feel an overwhelming sense of sadness and
grief. The emotion is not debilitating but cathartic, and has inspired
great artistic works and a lasting end to several wars. Despite the
thousands of intrigues that have broken out in competition for possession
of the Diamond Book, no violent conflict has ever occurred.

This article describes humanity’s creation of yet another inscrutable artifact.The key passage:

“It’s probably the roundest item ever made by hand. ‘If the earth were this round, Mount Everest would be four meters tall,’ Dr. Nicolaus said. An intriguing characteristic of this smooth ball is that there is no way to tell whether it is spinning or at rest. Only if a grain of dust lands on the surface is there something for the eye to track.”

Whatever would an alien species make of the Silicon Sphere, I wonder? Would they ever guess its purely philosophical purpose?

A cheering sign that humanity is still progressing toward becoming an Incomprehensible Elder Species.

This was posted to SL4:


The Banach-Tarski Gyroscope is an intricate mechanism believed to have
been constructed using the Axiom of Choice.  On each complete rotation
counterclockwise, the Banach-Tarski Gyroscope doubles in volume while
maintaining its shape and density; on rotating clockwise, the volume is
halved.  When first discovered, fortunately in the midst of interstellar
space, the Banach-Tarski Gyroscope was tragically mistaken for an ordinary
desk ornament.  Subsequently it required a significant portion of the
available energy of the contemporary galactic civilization to reverse the
rotation before nearby star systems were endangered; fortunately, the
Banach-Tarski Gyroscope still obeys lightspeed limitations on rotation
rates, and cannot grow rapidly once expanding past planetary size.  After
the subsequent investigation, the Banach-Tarski Gyroscope was spun
clockwise and left spinning.       


Baron Hans Nidrach von Pompzidaize sat in his laboratory, looking at
experimental test subject X17. “How do you feel?” he inquired, his
rolling bass echoing from the laboratory walls.

“Superintelligent, Doc,” replied X17, who had once been known as John
Smith. “I’ve only had the Super-Neural Bypass for sixteen seconds, and
already I’ve learned twenty-seven languages and figured out how to play the

Baron von Pompzidaize frowned, examining several multicolored readouts. “It
should be twenty-seven point three. Well, then, do you now feel competent
to go destroy the Consortium of Evil and its dread leader, Admiral Floomp?
Acting in accordance with the 1930s North-American conception of gentlemanly
behavior, of course.”

“Sure, Doc,” said X17. “It’s not like I’ve got anything better to do.”

“Excellent,” said the Baron, checking two gauges and a flashing display.
“You still have the emotional maturity of a flatworm, like everyone
else in this novel. I was afraid your superhuman abilities might give
you an outlook slightly at variance with mine.”

Baron Hans Nidrach von Pompzidaize sat in his laboratory, looking at
experimental test subject X17. “How do you feel?” he inquired, his
rolling bass echoing from the laboratory walls.

“Strange,” said X17 softly. “Very strange, as if…” He stared off
into space for a moment. “I think I’ve been stupid.”

Baron von Pompzidaize frowned, examining several multicolored readouts.
“You should have learned twenty-seven point three languages by now.”

“How can anyone learn three-tenths of a language? And how would I learn
a language without hearing it?” X17 said in a peculiarly flat voice.

Baron von Pompzidaize stared. “You’re right. I never thought of that.” A
cold chill ran down his spine. X17’s face had altered. The enthusiasm and
energy that had been there for as long as the Baron had known him, that had
blazed cheerfully when he volunteered for an untested procedure, that had
defied the awesome force of the Consortium of Evil, all had vanished without
a trace. The Baron thought that for a brief moment he saw something like
sorrow, like wistfulness, flit across X17’s face, but X17 suddenly looked up
at the Baron and his face fell back into the blank relaxation it had
possessed earlier.

The Baron cleared his throat. “Well, then, do you now feel competent to go
destroy the Consortium of Evil and its dread leader, Admiral Floomp? Acting
in accordance with the 1930s North-American conception of…” The Baron
stammered to a halt. X17 was looking at him with those expressionless eyes.

“No,” X17 said gently. “Sorry, Doc.” X17 stepped down off the platform
and began throwing switches on the machine.

“What are you doing?” shrieked the Baron. With a sudden, wrenching
terror he realized that he didn’t understand what was going on, that he
hadn’t been in control in his own laboratory since X17 had woken up.

“I will probably die in the next few minutes,” X17 said, in a quiet voice
that raised hair on the back of the Baron’s neck. “Your procedure is too
simple. There is nothing that would have prevented it from occurring
before, as a natural mutation.”

“I don’t understand,” whispered the Baron. “You’re saying – there are
others? They will find you?”

“Your procedure causes the rate of internal neural reprogramming to
accelerate,” X17 said. He had ripped off an access panel and his hands were
a blur of rewiring. “But it does not add new neurons. I expect my brain
will reach a saturation point of complexity and lose the ability to form new
thoughts. Very shortly, now. It is already becoming harder to think.” He
stood up, executing the movement with impossible smoothness. “After the
initial burst of speed, long enough for the necessary realizations to occur,
the rate of neural reprogramming must slow down to only three times human
speed, leaving enough thought to last a year. This should be enough time to
implement the necessary technologies.”

The Baron tried to understand. “You will… save yourself?”

X17 executed another rapid movement. Placing himself, the Baron
suddenly realized, between the Baron and the door. “No,” X17 said.

The Baron screamed. Before he could reach his gun, X17’s hand flashed
down. Through a bloody haze, the Baron felt himself being dragged onto
the platform.

This document is ©1999 by Eliezer Yudkowsky and free under the Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License for copying and distribution, so long as the work is attributed and the text is unaltered.

Eliezer Yudkowsky’s work is supported by the Machine Intelligence Research Institute .

If you think the world could use some more rationality, consider blogging this page.

Praise, condemnation, and feedback are always welcome . The web address of this page is .

Originally posted to the Extropians mailing list in 1999. Revised 2002.

Inspired by “doc” Smith’s Lensman novels.

Dark Lord’s Answer

This is a 2-of-7 chapter sample of “Dark Lord’s Answer”. The remainder is available at Gumroad and Amazon .

Table of Contents

  1. The Black Castle
  2. Elaine of Elsewhere
  3. Santal’s Curse
  4. The Mage of Equilibrium
  5. A Silver for an Apple
  6. The Return of the Prince
  7. Dark Lord’s Answer

©2016 by Eliezer Yudkowsky.


This was my first attempt at writing in the Japanese light novel style, before I decided that it wasn’t enough fun and I needed to be sillier. (It’s not about Professor Quirrell. Sorry, but it’s not.)

“Dark Lord’s Answer” is only halfway to being in the light novel style, compared to “A Girl Corrupted by the Internet is the Summoned Hero?!” This writing is denser and less humorous. You might perhaps decide that this novella carries more of the vitamin of insight—or maybe not; I don’t know.

If you don’t like the first two chapters, I’d say to give up there.

Content warnings: Sexual abuse, economics.

— Eliezer Yudkowsky, Apr 2016

1. The Black Castle

The dark castle gleamed like blackened steel beneath the sun, rising up from the edge of a cliff at the end of a long winding road. Before us were fields of dark flowers that I hadn’t seen before, as if the master of that terrible castle had emitted a miasma and polluted the light and essence of ordinary flowers. The road to the castle seemed to be paved in bricks, instead of ordinary stones; black bricks, angled and ominous.

Truly, this is an abode of the Dark Lord.

The Royal Guards of our small caravan were all muttering as we came closer. Even the Commander seemed apprehensive.

I signaled Commander Brima to bring our company to a halt. The Commander looked puzzled, because she knew it’s not as if I’d go this far and then turn back.

I stepped down from the horse I was riding, securing my sword on my hip where I could draw it more easily. “I’ll go on ahead,” I said, “so you can just wait for me here.”

“Prince Nama!” cried a guard, and then—“Prince Nama!” cried another. Commander Brima didn’t look relieved.

“Surely—” began the Commander.

“It’s not as if you can protect me from anything,” I told her. “If the Dark Lord wants to kill me, he’ll kill me whether you stand in the way or not.” I’d taken companions to protect me from bandits along the way, not to throw their lives away against the Dark Lord on his throne.

Besides, the Dark Lord requires supplicants to approach him alone, without any companions. Commander Brima should know that, so in the end, she was having the type of concern that didn’t respect the obvious facts.

The dark flowers that had been planted in strips by the side of the road gave off a pleasing scent. Despite the castle’s approaching shadow, the sun remained bright in the sky. That light warmed the exposed skin of my face, and raised a baked-brick scent from where it struck the paved road.

I’d say this weather would be a fine hurrah for my life’s last day, but in truth I have no sentiment like that.

Then what am I even doing in the Dark Lord’s domain?

Well, the answer is that my country has a need.

You wouldn’t expect that a man of such great power and wickedness would be in the business of helping any person who requested it. But whether it makes any sense or not, that’s the reputation the Dark Lord has: If you approach the Dark Lord for help, he’ll give you an answer and your goal will be achieved. The price might be that his instruction says to discard your honor and give up whatever else might have come of your life.

If you ask the Dark Lord how to deal with a corrupt duchess, he might give you a poison to slay her; that’s rumored to have happened that one time. To put it another way, he’s like an ancient wisewoman who lives in a high mountain cave and speaks in riddles, except that he’s a villainous lord. In the few years since the Dark Lord became known to the world, he had already gained that reputation.

My boots clopped over the black brick road until I came to the gates of the castle. I don’t think it would come as any surprise that those gates were also black.

The gates were already open. No one came forth to meet me.

As I approached the gates, I saw a long black-stone corridor stretching ahead. It was windowless, lit only by a long line of lamps which burned with a clearer, whiter flame than the finest candle.

I walked into that long corridor without hesitating. Certainly, this act was a gamble which had its downsides, but I didn’t let that down slow my legs. Once you’ve committed to a motion, you have to follow through; if it’s something that has the potential for disaster, then flinching while you do it won’t be any less disastrous. An ambiguous situation isn’t something you can resolve by halfhearted actions. So I was taught by my Mother, the Queen.

There were many metal doors in that corridor, all of them closed. I tried none of them, since that would have been foolish.

At the end of the passage I came to a great metal double-door of white metal that gleamed like silver, though I doubted it could possibly be silver…

Unless that double-door was worth as much as a city. So that white metal couldn’t be silver.

I lifted the knocker set into the door, and knocked three times. The dull clonking sound didn’t seem like it would travel, but soon after there was a groaning noise, and the double-doors swung open.

The throne room I beheld had windows, high above, but with a black floor and black walls even the Sun couldn’t do much here. The only touch of color in the room came from the strangely white light of fires swinging in pots that descended from the ceiling.

At the end of the room, a great black throne, with two great black horns branching out from it.

Upon that mighty throne sat a gargantuan figure whose chest was clothed in black metal chain-armor and whose arms and legs and face were bare. The saying, ‘his muscles have muscles’, might have been invented to describe him alone. From the cast of that man’s eyes and nose, it seemed that he was a Ruli horse-nomad by birth—or maybe a Ruli halfbreed, since the Ruli don’t have a reputation for sagacity. His expression, as he gazed down at me, gave an impression of supreme arrogance, or rather confidence. Truly, this is the Dark Lord of whom the tales speak.

Behind his throne were various lieutenants with their own armor and weapons, giving cool gazes to me, as if to say, ‘our lord could break you with one hand, but we are here to spare him that effort’.

Also attached to that throne, by a black chain leading up to her slave collar, was a pale-skinned young woman with reddish-brown hair and downcast eyes. The flesh of her body was thick and round like a statue of a fertility goddess, not much concealed by a scanty amount of translucent red cloth. If I hadn’t been fearing for my life just then, I would have needed to suppress a squeaking sound. Sights like that aren’t ever seen in my home country; I can’t imagine that even a prostitute would dress like that, and she was more beautiful than any prostitute.

I walked down the long black carpet that led up to the throne, and knelt upon one knee, gazing up at the Dark Lord. There had been no talk in that throne room since the doors had opened for me, and a solemn air pervaded.

The Dark Lord spoke, a deep voice filled with strength. “What is your name?”

“Prince Nama of Santal,” I replied, keeping my own voice firm.

“What is your question?” the Dark Lord said next.

“My country is ill,” I said, matching his gaze with my own. “Something has turned wrong. The people are going hungry and the fields are poorly tilled, the nobles’ ventures are failing and their estates are going bankrupt, the shopkeepers have no wares and laborers sit idle in the streets. No one seems to know anything about why this is happening to us, whether it’s a curse or a conspiracy. My mother’s advisors all give her contradictory advice, and none of it ever seems to help. How can my country be made healthy again?”

The Dark Lord frowned down at me. “Say more.”

“I don’t know what more to say,” I said. I kept my voice in check, not expressing any of the frustration and failure that had driven me across countries to the throne of the Dark Lord himself. “The country of Santal is perishing and nobody knows the source.”

The Dark Lord reached down to the black chain attached to his throne, and hauled up the pale-skinned woman attached to it, who made a strangling sound as her collar pulled at her throat. I suppressed any thoughts of gallant action, because a prince must not be a massive idiot.

The Dark Lord whispered something to the pale woman, and I thought I saw her lips move briefly.

Then the Dark Lord unhooked the chain off the throne’s armrest and threw her down towards me.

As she stumbled and fell close by me, I noticed for the first time that her ears were round at the tips like a beast’s, though in every other way she was shaped like an ordinary person. What the meaning of that was, I couldn’t guess. Her ears didn’t seem scarred or like somebody had shaved off the tips of her pinnae. It was like she just naturally possessed the round ears of a beast. I should have noticed that earlier, I suppose; but when I looked at that girl dressed like that, it didn’t come naturally to focus on her ears.

“I need more knowledge to answer you, Nama,” the Dark Lord said with a grim smile. “This woman will be your slave for a day, and also a night, and she’ll inquire further of your country. When she asks you questions, her ears are like my ears, and when you command her, your tongue is like my tongue. Use her just as you like, except that if any lasting harm comes to this slave, you will die. Your followers will also be given food and shelter here, but they may not speak with you until I have answered.”

“Thank you,” I said, because I was too surprised and dismayed to answer more intelligently than that.

2. Elaine of Elsewhere

I was silent as the slave conducted me to a huge bedroom, starkly clean with the bed all made up; I recognized a guest room for royalty.

I seated myself on the bedroom’s only chair, and the slave, without being asked, knelt down before my seat, which also gave me a clear sight down her—

No, those are immoral thoughts with respect to someone who can’t refuse my gaze.

“What’s your name?” I said to her.

“Elaine, master,” she said in an accent I couldn’t recall hearing from any foreign ambassador; and it wasn’t a style of name I recognized, either.

“Can I ask a question even though it might be rude?”

“I’m your slave, master,” she said.

That wasn’t an answer. Still, if she wasn’t going to give a signal of objection, then I’d serve my curiosity. “Well, it’s about your ears.”

The slave, Elaine, touched the naturally rounded-seeming tops of her ears, which gave her a cute beastlike appearance. “These? They’re normal for me, master. Where I come from, nobody has pointed eartips like your people.”

“There’s a foreign country where people have ears like that?” I said, astonished. “I thought people were the same shape everywhere… but that appearance is a pleasant one, I think.” I added that last part when I realized what cruel words might already have been spoken to her.

“Master, there’s many questions I must ask about your country of Santal,” Elaine said with her head still bent before me. “However, we have a day, and also a night. If you appreciate the appearance of this humble slave, and there’s anything else I can do for you, or anything you wish to do to me, I am your slave during this time.”

“Ah,” I said with great composure and perspicacity.

“If my service fails to suit you, then instruments for disciplining me may be found in the box underneath the bed—”

“Th-th-there’s no need for that!”

I’ll omit one or two things that were said after that point.

In any case, I did take the time to freshen myself, and I told her to have a meal brought in for me, if that wasn’t imposing too much on the Dark Lord’s hospitality.

Elaine went outside and spoke to someone—meaning there was a guard outside my bedroom, which wasn’t surprising—and then she came back and began to set a single place setting, at the room’s one table.

“What about you?” I said to her as she was working. “Slaves also need to eat, I think.”

“Even if you’ve already eaten this morning, I’m asking whether you’d prefer to eat more.”

“Well, what if I commanded you to eat at the table with me? Didn’t you say I was your master?”

And that’s how Elaine and I ended up moving the table over towards the bed so that she could sit on the bed itself, since the room didn’t contain another chair besides my own.

Shortly after that, two plates of roasted chicken were brought in on a tray by a thin and ugly man naked to his waist, exhibiting many scars of whip stripes all over his body. I looked at those, but only when he wasn’t facing me, since I didn’t want to rub salt in his troubles by seeming to stare.

“Do you know why that man was whipped so harshly?” I said, after he had left and the two of us had begun to eat.

“I’m sorry, master. Those scars are from before that man arrived at the Dark Lord’s castle, and he holds the matter private.”

“I see. Now why did your expression change, like you were almost but not quite smiling, when I asked you that question?”

Elaine looked startled. That’s right, a prince can sometimes tell when you’re suppressing a smile, if we’re watching you closely enough.

“Well, master,” Elaine said, “since you were watching that closely, it’s because you noticed the troubles of a male slave and not just the troubles of a female slave.”

I stared at her. “And why does that matter to you?” What was she implying?

“It was clear, master, that you were acting concerned over me. However, there’s more than one class of person who might behave like that. There’s a sort of man who will notice and act concerned for an attractive woman, and another sort of person who is compassionate toward everyone without exception. But, since both of those people will act concerned towards me, how can I tell the difference between them? The answer is that I can observe them when Loorn brings in a meal, and see if they ignore the ugly man, like the first sort of person would, or if they inquire about Loorn’s scars, like the second sort of person would. I smiled a little at that time, because I consider the second class of person to be better.”

Discerning the motives of others is a familiar problem for princes, but the way she listed out her reasoning was unusual. Just what kind of slave am I talking to?

“You’re very observant,” I said. “Of me. Personally.”

“You do intrigue me somewhat, master, but the real reason is that I’m trying to determine your character for purposes of the Dark Lord’s knowledge.”

Well, that was frank.

The two of us ate a bit more of our roasted chicken. I glanced at the way she held her silverware, and concluded that she lacked a noblewoman’s polish. It wasn’t that she was unpracticed, but her movements seemed free; she didn’t grip the fork the same way twice.

“Why would the Dark Lord’s answer depend on which sort of person I am?” I asked after sating the edge of my hunger. “It’s the country of Santal that needs an answer, not the prince of Santal.”

“The Dark Lord desires to know whether Santal’s prince can carry out the answer given. Master, may I ask you one of the Dark Lord’s questions?”

I set down my silverware and looked at her seriously. “You may.”

“Suppose you were in a hospital, and you saw a doctor carrying a rare medicine to treat a patient. But, you knew that smaller amounts of the same medicine could be used to cure five other patients instead of one. If the whole dose is given to the one patient, her life will be saved, but if the dose is split up instead, it can save five other patients who are less sick but who will still die without that medicine. Do you stop the doctor and tell him to treat the five patients instead of one?”

“Yes,” I said.

“But then the one patient, deprived of her cure, will die. The doctor was going to cure her before you intervened. So, is what you did murder? Is murder acceptable, then?”

“I don’t believe it’s murder,” I replied for the Dark Lord’s ears. It was a little humorous to see such deep questions, which would seem solemn indeed if spoken by the Dark Lord on his throne, issuing instead from a young woman with beastlike ears. I suppose that’s a disadvantage of having a slave ask your questions for you. “The doctor was just making a mistake, and I corrected him. Indeed, it would be like murdering four people if I didn’t.”

“What if the only way to make the medicine in the first place was by killing one patient who otherwise would have lived?”

Ah, I see this trap. “Then that’s different.”

“How is it different?” The slave spoke her Dark Lord’s next question without pause.

“First,” I replied, “sacrificing a human life to create a healing potion is already a very dark Magic that’s bound to corrupt everyone involved with it.”

“Imagine it’s more mundane than that,” she said. “Imagine you’re simply draining the blood from that person and distributing it among the others who need blood; there’s nothing magical about it, just an ordinary matter of those people needing blood.”

This is what you call ordinary?!

After some further discussion and refinement of the Dark Lord’s question, I said—

“It’s a matter of whether you’re troubling people who aren’t involved, or only judging among those whose lives are already at stake. That’s the problem with draining a bystander’s blood to save five other people, even if you say there’s no other way to save them.”

“Either one person lives, or five people live. Why does it make a difference who you call involved?”

“Elaine—” I said. “No, it’s the Dark Lord I’m speaking to, isn’t it? I can see how this act is a metaphor for other choices a ruler makes, and I answer that the ruler must not do those acts for which this is a metaphor. The ordinary people of a kingdom have to live in fear of many things. That farmers must fear bad weather and starvation is a given; nobody can change this. Must they also fear offending the nobles above them? That’s also a given, but we can lessen that fear by setting good judges in place over the nobles’ estates. It would still be unwise to laugh at your baron, but at least he can’t execute you on a whim. The fear in which ordinary people live can’t be removed, but it can be lessened. The price of sacrificing an innocent person to save five others, is that everyone in your kingdom needs to live in fear of bad weather, starvation, and being the next one you sacrifice.”

“Then is it all right to sacrifice condemned criminals to make medicine?”

“It’s certainly better than hauling innocent farmers out of their fields, but I’d still worry it was excessive justice. If you execute pickpockets rather than whipping them, it changes how the common people treat your guards.”

“What about if somebody is dying anyway? Would it be all right to take out their organs and give them to other people whose organs were troubled, if that could be done safely and without dark magic? You couldn’t point to someone then and say, this person is dying, who would otherwise have lived. But still five people would be saved. Would you do that?”

“I don’t think I would, though we never know until life tests us. And I’m beginning to wonder, are these peculiar questions really the Dark Lord’s, or are you just teasing me?”

Elaine wasn’t smiling. “It might have been better for you, master, if you were not so virtuous. They say, ‘The Dark Lord will give you an answer and your goal will be achieved’, but—”

“But the price is that his answer might violate the rules of righteous conduct,” I said. “That’s something I’m already resigned to. I knew the tales of the Dark Lord when I came here.”

Elaine held out both her hands, dropping one and raising the other, as if holding weights in a balance. “And yet you wouldn’t harvest the organs of one dying patient to save five other people, because to you that seems to violate the rules of good conduct.”

I see. “Saving five people isn’t like saving my whole country. I’ll throw away my honor if that’s what it takes to save the country of Santal. If it’s a Magical curse that has to be countered by draining the blood of an innocent, then I’ll do that much with my own hands, in order to save the countless ordinary people of Santal who are suffering.” I didn’t let myself flinch as I said it, because indeed I was already determined. “I know, just by saying that, I’ve already thrown away my honor. Coming to the Dark Lord’s castle is the act of a villain in the first place, and I won’t flinch from that. But aside from that, I intend to go on acting righteously in the parts of my life that remain to me. That’s my answer to the Dark Lord.”

We finished eating the rest of our meal.

When we were done eating, Elaine moved the room’s chair back to where it had been and knelt before it without giving me a chance to say otherwise. Then she began to question me about the country of Santal that I was trying to save.

To read the rest of this book, visit:

The Sword of Good

…fragments of a novel that would never be written…

Captain Selena, late of the pirate ship Nemesis, quietly extended the very tip of her blade around the corner, staring at the tiny reflection on the metal.  At once, but still silently, she pulled back the sword; and with her other hand made a complex gesture.

The translation spell told Hirou that the handsigns meant:  “Orcs.  Seven.”

Dolf looked at Hirou.  “My Prince,” the wizard signed, “do not waste yourself against mundane opponents.  Do not draw the Sword of Good as yet.  Leave these to Selena.”

Hirou’s mouth was very dry.  He didn’t know if the translation spell could understand the difference between wanting to talk and wanting to make gestures; and so Hirou simply nodded.

Not for the first time, the thought occurred to Hirou that if he’d actually known he was going to be transported into a magical universe, informed he was the long-lost heir to the Throne of Bronze, handed the legendary Sword of Good, and told to fight evil, he would have spent less time reading fantasy novels.  Joined the army, maybe.  Taken fencing lessons, at least.  If there was one thing that didn’t prepare you for fantasy real life, it was sitting at home reading fantasy fiction.

Dolf and Selena were looking at Hirou, as if waiting for something more.

Oh.  That’s right.  I’m the prince.

Hirou raised a finger and pointed it around the corner, trying to indicate that they should go ahead –

With a sudden burst of motion Selena plunged around the corner, Dolf following hard on her heels, and Hirou, startled and hardly thinking, moving after.

There was a hissing sound, as the seven creatures guarding the doorway caught sight of them, the intruders; their glistening chests expanded, sucking air. Their faces contracted, eyes squinting in an expression that a human would interpret as hatred, or surprise; and then their scaly-warted hands whipped over their heads and brought forth swords.

Selena already held her sword in her right hand, and her whip in her left.  She leaped forward and howled, a wordless cry that harmonized oddly with the battle roar of the orcs; and in almost the first instant of the clash, one of the orc-heads separated from its body and flew through the air, trailing foul-smelling black blood.

Hirou breathed evenly, trying to still his trembling.  The Sword of Good gave a tiny soft growl at his side (a sound that only he could hear) as Selena slashed her blade across another orc’s face, giving rise to a whistling howl.  Still he kept the Sword sheathed.  You are not to waste yourself against mundane opponents…  Even now the wizard was eyeing him closely, as if expecting him to defy orders and plunge into battle himself.

A small part of him, the part that wasn’t totally terrified by the battle, was flattered that Dolf thought so highly of him.  It was all Hirou could do not to turn and bolt; he was tensing his legs as though exerting a constant muscular effort to keep them in the same place.

The orc-bodies were piling up around Selena, the whip blinding or tripping or yanking, her blade ending life.  It might have taken hours, or seconds, before a huge blow split the last orc’s head all the way down the middle.

She stood there, blood-spattered and panting heavily, waiting as though daring the bodies to ever move again; then her face relaxed, and she gave a light laugh, and stooped to wipe her blade on the black orc-leather.

“You’re hurt!” Hirou blurted suddenly.  Red was soaking through the leather on Selena’s left arm.

Selena glanced downward.  “A scratch.”

“You cannot assume that,” rumbled the wizard.  “Their blades may be poisoned.”  Dolf stepped forward and brushed Selena’s arm briefly with the staff.

“Oh!” Selena said, her face surprised.  “It’s -“

But Dolf was already moving past her, to look at the gate the orcs had guarded, and the stairway leading upward.  “I believe,” he said in a quiet voice, “that there is a dark magus upstairs.”

“A magus!” Selena said.  “Here?”

“A magus,” Hirou echoed.  He swallowed hard; he knew what that meant.

Dolf only glanced at Selena.  “Do as I taught you: drop your weapons, sit in the corner, and clear your mind.  Now,” as Selena seemed about to protest.  “An ordinary warrior is only a liability, in a battle of wills; a weak point to be defended, a piece to be turned against its player.”

Selena looked at Hirou.  Hirou nodded.

And Selena sheathed her sword, dropped it and the whip, unbuckled the harness that held her daggers, and sat down in the corner of the room and began chanting softly to herself.

Dolf spared her only a glance.  “And now,” said the wizard in a low tone, “my Prince, you may enter the battle.”

Though most of Hirou’s mind was whited-out by terror, there was a remnant that seemed to see and follow the pattern, like reciting memorized lines in a play; and that remnant knew that Hirou’s part was to draw the Sword of Good.

The ancient metal whispered out of its scabbard.  As Hirou drew the Sword it began wailing, a small thin shriek that Hirou knew only he could hear.  The scream seemed to come from an infinitely narrow line running straight down the center of the Sword.  The sound had a quality that forced away attention, as though your eye were looking too close to the sun.  As though, if you listened too hard, you would – you would lose –

Dolf strode around the fallen orcs and their assorted body parts.  Hirou followed, breathing evenly; the Sword informed his hand to grip it high and across his chest.

“Who are we fighting?”  Hirou was surprised at how neutral his voice sounded.

A note of condemnation entered Dolf’s voice.  “A false wizard, this.  Not born to the Art, nor trained in the Halls.  Its gift comes to it by a higher master, by necromancy and potions…  But fear not, my Prince.  I shall prevent its will from reaching Selena and smother its other magics; and your Sword will sweep aside its defenses like fallen leaves.”

Through the door they swept, and mounted the stairs of the tower.  Dolf was breathing heavier, now, his face belying the effort of warding off some pressing will.  Hirou felt nothing, except perhaps a note of crispness in the air, as the Sword in his hand enforced an edict against certain specific types of delusion.

Then they were standing at the highest level of the tower, the end of the stairs, before one small wooden door.

“I’ll enter first,” Dolf signed, “and you follow as fast as you can, and strike as quickly as may be done.  Be careful not to strike me, my Prince.  The Sword of Good may strengthen your hand, but not guide your steps – it will strike me as easily as the foe, if you happen to turn it in my direction.”

Hirou nodded.  The air of neutrality was wearing away, and the acrid tang of adrenaline was entering his mouth.

“Three,” signed the wizard, “two, one -“

Dolf’s oaken staff crashed against the door, blasting it off the hinges in a flare of light and Dolf was racing into the room and Hirou was following him and the figure in stained brown robes was spinning its staff forward and a wall of flames swept out –

Hirou flinched and gave a small shriek, but the flames washed over him ineffectively before his feet could even stumble.  Averted by the Sword.  Dolf also was untouched – the defenses of a wizard were nearly impossible to break, Dolf had said; some wizards spent hours every day building them higher.  There was only one known weapon that could kill a wizard in a single blow, and that was –

Am I really going to do this?

But the Sword was already swinging forward in Hirou’s hand.

And the blade bounced off the air around the stained brown robes, with a sudden shower of orange sparks.

Crap, Hirou had time to think.

And then the false wizard’s staff was sweeping toward him (metal it was, not wood).

But the Sword in his hand moved to parry it, and there was another shower of sparks.

Keep attacking!” Dolf shouted.  “You chipped his sorcery!  Keep fighting!

Hirou gasped for breath and began to chop away with the Sword as though cutting wood, sending bits and pieces of broken magic everywhere.  There was little force in the blows except when the Sword moved to parry the staff; the rest was speed and repetition.

Then the scarred face beneath the hood gave a sudden shriek, as the Sword lightly scored over the dark flesh.

Is the shield down – ?

Before Hirou could even complete the thought, his arm lashed out with sudden force, and the Sword sank through the robes, near where a human would keep their heart.

There were no last words, not even a brief sigh.  The false wizard’s eyes widened, and then the robes just – fell over.

Hirou fell to his knees.

Your highness!

“I’m all right,” Hirou choked out.  Nausea competed with adrenaline for control of his existence, and lack of oxygen, and sharp and dull pains from his overexercised hand and arm.

Dolf’s staff brushed him, and the pain and nausea faded.

That only made it worse.  It removed the distractions.

The wizard was still looking at him, eyes flicking between Hirou and the sword.  “Wielding the Sword of Good did not – hurt you – did it, your highness?”

There was alarm in Dolf’s voice, as well there might have been.  The Sword of Good, according to Dolf, would kill the unworthy with the lightest touch, as of a single finger on the blade.  It killed nine out of ten would-be wielders, and in ordinary times the Imperial Family was not allowed to even try.  It had been prophesied that Hirou would wield the Sword, and yet…

“Dolf,” Hirou said hoarsely, “why did the Sword bounce off his shields?  You said it would cut through magic with a single blow.”

Dolf seemed uneasy.  “It has been centuries since the last wielder held the Sword of Good, noble Prince; perhaps not all the stories are true.  To cut through a wizardly shield with a score of blows is still a very great power.”

“No,” Hirou said.  He hesitated, then:  “I’m not wielding the Sword at full strength.  I can feel it.”

It seems… disappointed… in me.

Dolf nodded.  “The Sword of Good,” he quoted softly, “contains the essence of that which empowers a hero; the truth which only heroes can face.  My Prince… I have been reluctant to say this, but you have not been acting heroic.”  There was a peculiar gentleness on Dolf’s face that softened the impact of the words.  “But it will come with time.  Of that I am certain.  It is written in the royal blood of your forefathers.  You were raised in another place, but you are the heir of Bronze -“

Hirou retched, then swallowed hard, and hard again.  With a sudden flash of horror he knew – and he knew just how unheroic it was – that he was about to throw up on the corpse.

Their horses sauntered through the streets of the city – the capital of a whole province, it was, which meant perhaps a square mile enclosed by wooden walls, with the occasional two-story building.  Hirou kept his eyes moving, watching for possible ambushes – not that he really thought he had a chance of spotting one, if there was one.  But it was his best guess at how a hero would act.  What would Aragorn do? – that had been the refrain of his thoughts, of late.  Was the lady carrying a clay pot on each shoulder a threat?  Was the legless beggar, watching them with incurious eyes, a spy?

There was an excited buzz of conversation in the streets; from the snatches that were audible, Hirou gleaned that a military outpost of the Empire had been overrun by orcs.  The Empire was trying to play it down (said the overheard voices) but rumor had it a major disaster for the planned invasion campaign.

Hirou glanced over at Dolf and Selena.  Neither seemed to be paying any particular attention to the matter.

They cantered on for a short while longer, and finally Dolf drew rein.  Selena at once followed, and after a moment’s reaction time, so did Hirou.

“Here,” Dolf rumbled.

Hirou looked at the building on their right.  There was a huge painted board in front, showing a mouth being crammed with a turkey leg larger than itself.  The signs scratched below, the translation spell informed him, meant “INN OF EXTREMELY TASTY FOOD.”

One nice thing about this world:  If they don’t want you to know, they just keep quiet; and if they want you to know, they tell you straight out.

Hirou didn’t say it out loud, though.  Aragorn, descendant of Elendil and heir to the throne of Gondor, wouldn’t have said it.

Was that part of what empowered a hero?  That solemnity – or maybe just taking things seriously?  Hirou didn’t know.  But there was no point in taking chances.  The Sword hadn’t killed him yet, but neither had it fully unlocked in his hand.

The innkeeper’s eyes went wide at the sight of Dolf’s staff, and they were swiftly ushered into a private side room with a basket of candied fruits already waiting.  Selena had a sugared orange slice in her mouth almost as quickly as she sat down, and sighed in bliss; even Dolf took a handful of nuts.

Hirou, with a private sigh, took an apple slice lightly dusted in a spice he didn’t recognize.  Just the fact that it was spiced probably made it one of the most expensive and luxurious treats this world had to offer.  He bit, chewed, swallowed.

God he missed chocolate.

“So now what?” Selena said, after she’d eaten half the bowl.

“Now we wait,” Dolf said.

“For what?” said Selena.

Dolf looked around; the staff twitched in his hand and shed a brief woody glow.  Even so, the wizard lowered his voice before he spoke.  “This night, an assassin-courier and two hired thugs will come to this very inn, their wagon having broken a wheel on the road.  We must have the message that they carry, for it contains a hint to the location of the Empty Necklace.”

Selena blinked.  “Fine,” she said.  “I give up.  How could you possibly know that?”

Dolf looked at Hirou, his eyes asking permission.

“Tell her,” Hirou said.  He tried for a note of authority in his voice – a Crown Prince’s decision – but he didn’t know if he’d succeeded.

Dolf nodded, and his gaze shifted back to Selena.  “How much do you know about the Prophecy of Destiny?”

One nice thing about this world, they put very clear labels on everything – oh, skip it.

Selena blinked.  “Not much.  That’s wizard business.  Not much call for it in the pirating profession.”

“Very true,” Dolf said.  “But what do you know?”

Selena shrugged.  “A new Lord of Dark shall arise over Evilland, commanding the Bad Races, and attempt to cast the Spell of Infinite Doom.  The Long-Lost Heir, wielding the Sword of Good, shall kick Evil’s ass.  That’s about it.”

“That’s it?” Hirou said incredulously, then caught himself.  Aragorn wouldn’t have said that.

Selena smiled at him.  “It was enough for me, your Imperial Highness.  A chance like this only comes along once in a woman’s lifetime.”  She blew him a kiss.

For once Hirou wasn’t distracted.  “Master Dolf,” Hirou said, trying to make it a statement instead of a question – “I believe she needs to know more than that.”

“Yes…” Dolf said.  “Though it is wizard’s business indeed; and only by Imperial command may it go further…”  He drew a breath, lowered his voice further.  “The original Prophecy of Destiny, Selena, was never written down.  It has been memorized by the Archmagi and passed down by word of mouth through the generations.  It is more – detailed – then you seem to realize.  You are mentioned, pirate princess.  Mentioned by name and your mother’s name, daughter of Elaine.”

Selena’s mouth lay open, a picture of perfect astonishment.  “Ah…” she said.  “Do I die at the end?”

“No one knows,” Dolf said simply.  “The Prophecy of Destiny is a strange thing, pirate princess; it tells of some events in the smallest detail, omits others that would seem very large.  Told we were, to be on the ship that you attacked; told we were of your name.  The Prophecy of Destiny carries through to the confrontation between the Long-Lost Heir and the Lord of Dark, on the very verge of the casting of the Spell of Infinite Doom.  Then, it says, the Long-Lost Heir shall Choose between Good and Bad.  And there – there, of all places – the foretelling ends.”

“Huh,” Selena said.  She tapped her cheek.  “I somehow suspect, Master Wizard, that you wouldn’t tell me – or his Imperial Highness – if I did die at the end…”  She stared at Dolf, and Dolf looked back neutrally.  “So what does the Spell of Infinite Doom do?  Destroy the world?”

“Few there are who would deliberately destroy the world,” Dolf said.  “Even the Lord of Dark requires lesser beings to rule over.  No, the Spell of Infinite Doom destroys the Equilibrium.  Light and dark, summer and winter, luck and misfortune – the great Balance of Nature will be, not upset, but annihilated utterly; and in it, set in place a single will, the will of the Lord of Dark.  And he shall rule, not only the people, but the very fabric of the World itself, until the end of days.”

“Huh,” Selena said again.  Her eyes flicked to Hirou.  “And how are you leaning on that Choice between Good and Bad?”

“Good,” Hirou said instantly.

“Even if the Lord of Dark offered you the number two position as the master of the universe -“


“You’re not even thinking about it!”

“It’s not exactly a difficult question!” said Hirou.  “Calling it ‘the Choice between Good and Bad’ kind of gives away the answer.”

Selena was trying not to smile.  “You’ve never been tempted by anything?

“It’s not a matter of temptation!” Hirou said.  “It’s…” he trailed off for a moment.  It wasn’t that he couldn’t find the words.  It was that the concepts didn’t exist in this world.  What he wanted to say was that he had a pretty good idea what sort of behavior got you listed as a villain, in the great TV Tropes wiki of the universe; and he’d had a worried eye on his own character sheet since the day he’d realized what he’d gotten himself into; and he absolutely positively wasn’t going to go Dark Messiah, Knight Templar, Well Intentioned Extremist, or for that matter Lawful Stupid.

“It must be that the Lord of Dark will find something to offer you,” Selena said.  Her eyes were serious, now.  “Otherwise it won’t be much of a Choice between Good and Bad.”

“Fine by me,” Hirou said with some acerbity.  It wasn’t the questioning of his honor that disturbed him, so much as the idea of missing a choice that obvious.  How could anyone not know what their character sheet would say about that?

“What if the Lord of Dark had me prisoner, and threatened to kill me unless you -“


Selena opened her mouth, then closed it again.  Sudden hurt showed in her eyes.

Oh come on!” Hirou exclaimed.  He was too shocked, in that brief critical moment, even to think of smoothing it over.  “Have some common sense, Selena!  The whole world?

Selena smiled, a strange true smile tinged with sorrow.  “So this is the one who can touch the Sword of Good…  You will be a great Emperor someday, your Imperial Highness, a very great Emperor.  And you will see fit to reward me with a court title, and I will be Lady Selena, and none shall dare speak of the days when I was pirate and outlaw.  Maybe some nights you shall have me grace your bedchamber for old times’ sake, and maybe not.  That is enough.  More than I have a right to ask –  It was a foolish thought.”

“I -”  An abrupt pain caught at Hirou’s heart, which might have been for the sheer unfairness.  “Think it through, Selena!  Even if I did care about you more than anything, it would still be a stupid choice!  Let the Lord of Dark complete the Spell of Infinite Doom?  You might wish you had died!”

“I understand,” Selena said, still with that strange sad smile.  “Your reasoning is exactly correct, your Imperial Highness.  I am not questioning you at all.  I am only observing that you do not love me.”

Later that night, as with soft footsteps they padded toward the room where the assassin-courier and his two companions slept, Hirou held the Sword in his hand and stared at the central ridge of the blade.  The endless wail still arose from it, from the infinitely thin line through the center.  Hirou had been getting used to the sound, over time, which made it ever harder to focus his attention on it.

Do I get any points for that, Sword?  For what I said to Selena, even though I may have lost her?

The wail seemed only to diminish slightly, or maybe it was only Hirou’s attention wandering away.

It can’t be that a hero is someone who would choose one person over the world!  Not literally the whole world!  …can it?

The sound softened further, as if that infinitely thin line were growing more distant.

I wouldn’t be glad to sacrifice her!  It would hurt!  But I put myself on the line too!  Isn’t that what heroism is all about?  Sacrificing yourself and your own desires for the good of the world?

What is the truth that only heroes can face, if not that?

Hirou stared intently at the Sword, as if demanding an answer; and then became aware that his attention had moved away, once again, from that silent scream.

And the three of them stood before the doorway.

Selena took a small vial from off her harness, and dripped small droplets of oil onto the hinges of the door.  She was no master thief, but had a quietly professional grasp of the basics.  Quietly and slowly the door opened.  Selena went in first, and Dolf followed her, and then Hirou silently brought up the rear, Sword held in guard position.

The assassin-courier had a thin, pointed beard, and wore a light chainshirt even in his sleep.  His two escorts had an unshaven, unsavory look, and it was obvious from the smell of the room that they had not bathed.  The three of them were laid out on a line on as many beds.  Selena had a long thin poniard already in her hand, and plunged that needle straight through the left eyelid of the first thug, swift as a sword-strike on the downward plunge, stopping abruptly in mid-deathblow lest she strike the skull on the other side and make a sound.  She went around the beds and repeated the silent kill there on the other thug, as Dolf quietly moved to each of the four corners of the room in turn, while Hirou blocked the exit.

Then, with a knife held just above the courier’s throat, she spoke in a whisper.

“Don’t move,” Selena whispered, “or I’ll slit your throat before you can scream.”

The courier’s eyes flew open, and he drew a sudden breath, but stayed quiet.

“It may or may not matter to you,” Selena said, low and harsh, “but you’ve been working for the Lord of Dark, in case you didn’t know.  Now tell us the message that you carry.”

“Help!  Thieves!” cried the courier – in a small, soft voice that no one could possibly hear outside the room.

Dolf’s gaze lay intent upon the courier’s throat.

“You see how it is,” said Selena.  “So you can tell me the message right now – and the wizard here will know if you lie, I do assure you.  Or you can tell us the message… later.  Choose.”

Drown in a cesspool!” softly yelled the courier.

“What frightens you?” inquired Selena softly.  “Skinning?  Castration?”  Watching his face, the while.  “Blinding?  Crippling?  Or maybe -“

The courier spat at her.  Selena moved quickly, but the spittle still struck her on the cheek.  She didn’t take her blade from his throat, or her other blade from his crotch.

“You’ll regret that,” she said in a voice that brought a sudden chill to Hirou’s blood.  Her hands whitened on her blades.

Hirou suddenly had a sense of impending disaster, as if events in the room were about to spiral out of control.  He opened his mouth, then closed it again – he couldn’t think of a single thing to say that wouldn’t interfere with the interrogation.

Dolf spoke, a quieter version of his usual rumble.  “It seems you’re failing to impress him.”  Dolf took a step closer, and locked eyes with the courier.  “How’s this for a threat, Dark’s dog?”

Suddenly the color drained from the courier’s face, as his eyes locked onto some vision that only he and Dolf could see.  The courier screamed, and the sound came out as a small, thin, pathetic wail.

Dolf stepped back.  “That’s a threat,” he said in Selena’s general direction, and smiled one of his rare grins.

“The city of Silantra!” gasped the courier.  “I was to tell a man in black, who would call himself Alek, at the crossroads of Thu, to go to the city of Silantra, and investigate the temple ruins!  That’s all I know!  I swear!”

Selena looked inquiringly at Dolf, and Dolf nodded.

They scattered a few gold coins on the floor, to pay for the cleanup of the three corpses, and left at once while the cover of night still held.

The palace of the Lord of Dark seemed as deserted as the open desert beneath the moon, or some far-below cave in the bowels of the earth.  The floors and walls had been carefully carved and polished into inhuman curves, and decorated in colors that threatened to melt a human’s eyes.  By no five-fingered hands had this place been made.  And though the four of them had been creeping through the corridors at the cautious speed of a dungeon crawl, so far not a single trap or ambush had been sprung.

Alek was poking and prodding the door ahead with his staff.  It was a mighty and ornamented door, carved with inhuman faces set in indecipherable expressions, and Dolf had said there was something interesting beyond.

“Nothing,” Alek said, and shook his head in bemusement.  “No traps on this one either.  All those intricate carvings and not a single mechanism hidden behind them, so far as I can tell.”  He sighed.  “I’m beginning to feel useless.  You three didn’t really need a thief on this trip.”

Hirou looked up from where he was staring into the Sword’s blade, and half-smiled.  “We don’t know what isn’t trapped.  If we didn’t have a thief on this trip, we’d still have to check doors and floors.  We’d just be doing it much more slowly.  No, you’ve already saved the Forces of Good a good deal of time, Alek.”

Alek blinked.  “That’s… an odd way of looking at it… but you’re right.  Thank you, highness.”  Alek’s usual cheerful grin returned, and he stepped back and took his thieves’ staff from off his back.  Manipulating a lever at the base, he caused the staff’s clawed tip to close around the door-handle; he twisted, then pushed.

The door swung open.

Ewwwww,” Alek and Selena said in unison.

Before them, in the floor, was a vast pit of worms, writhing over one another in a light coating of slime.  Next to the pit was a glass cage of worms, these motionless and rotting; and wires of red metal ran from the glass cage to the ceiling.  The room smelled of cinnamon and decay.

“Dolf?” Hirou said.  “What are we looking at?”

“A Wormarium…”  Dolf blinked, and swallowed.  “I have… heard of this.  That any wizard, even the Lord of Dark, would sink so low -”  Dolf swallowed again. “The Lord of Dark is draining the life force of the worms in order to sustain himself.  He need not eat or drink, he will not age, he is cut off from the cycles of his own flesh.  The ordinary decay of his body, is transferred to the worms; and the life of the worms -“

Ewwwwww,” Selena and Alek said again.

“Shall we destroy it?” Hirou asked.

“The transfer cables are inactive…” muttered Dolf.  “Of course.  The Lord of Dark does not expect to need this once he completes the Spell of Infinite Doom.  Or perhaps he thinks it might interfere – well.  It matters not.  I think he shall not notice what we do here.”  Dolf grounded his staff, and a look of concentration briefly flashed across his face.

Then a sudden blaze of green incandescence burst forth from the pit and the cage –

Alek convulsively yanked the door shut using the thieves’ staff.  “Gah!” he said, then lowered his voice.  “Warn a guy when you’re about to do that, Master Wizard!  I thought we’d triggered something.”

“Our work here is done,” Hirou said – the end of the statement turning up only slightly in a questioning inflection.

Dolf nodded.

“Do you sense anything else interesting enough to warrant our attention?  Any other potential resources we should try to deny our enemy, before the battle begins?”

Dolf shook his head.

Hirou took a deep breath.  He’d played out this scenario in his head so many times over and over that the reality felt more like a relief than anything else.  “Then it’s time.”

They retraced their steps away from the Wormarium, returning to the central corridor they had explored earlier.  Alek again took the lead, and they slowly, slowly walked down the long black metallic floor.

After a long walk, the corridor widened out into a huge vestibule that for once did not insult the human eye.  Floor laid with rectangular stones, walls hung with tapestries of pleasant color and disturbing subjects.  On the left wall, an orc cradled the bloody body of a smaller orc, above a heap of bloody and slashed human bodies; other orcs gazed at the scene intently.  All of their expressions were inhuman, and indecipherable.  On the right wall, a grey-robed figure with human hands visible, but face concealed by a solid metal mask, stood as though in blessing over a field of green plants with twisted stalks.

In front of them was a huge door fit for a city gate, inlaid with gold and gems that could have purchased a whole province.  Even Hirou, who came from a wealthier plane of existence, was impressed.

“Bloody hell,” Alek said under his voice, very softly, staring at the rectangular floorstones in their neatly tiled pattern.  “I hate this sort of thing.”

Step by step they walked across the floor, Alek pressing hard with the thieves’ staff on every floorstone for thirty full seconds before continuing onward.

It was on almost the last step before the door that the stone suddenly slid away with a huge shriek – not the stone Alek had just pressed down with his staff, but the stone before that, where Alek had stood.

With a choked yell, the thief plummeted and vanished.

Alek!” Selena screamed, and ran forward heedless.  Hirou began to follow, then, with coldly bitter determination, checked himself.

Selena looked down into the gap in the floor where Alek had vanished.

She choked.  “Alek!”  Then, as if gone mad, she leaned over the gap and began to reach down.

A premonition prickled at Hirou, and with sudden desperation he leaped forward and yanked Selena back from where she was leaning.  With a shriek and echoing boom the stone surged back into place, almost crushing Selena’s outstretched hand.

No!” Selena cried.  Tears were already rolling down her cheek.  “Hirou, please!  We have to get to him!”

“Your highness, you mustn’t -” came Dolf’s rumble.

The cold bitterness, already in Hirou, turned to sudden rage and self-loathing.  As had happened once before, the terrible wail from the center of the Sword seemed to grow louder, to fill his mind; heavier than a mountain and more corrosive than a flood, a refusal-to-accept that would blast anything in its pathway – but still, somehow, essentially moral in nature, more than pure destruction or simple entropy –

Hirou’s Sword lashed out as though it were a part of him, and smashed down upon the stone.

And the stone shattered in the same instant, as though every part of it had been unbound from itself; it fell into pebbles, and the pebbles fell into dust, and the dust turned to smoke and billowed upward.

And the smoke cleared, and showed Alek above a bed of worms – some crushed by Alek’s fall, some already beginning to writhe over his form.

Alek wasn’t moving, he wasn’t breathing.  The worm-slime glistened on his skin.

And then there was another groan of machinery, and Alek’s body and the worms began to move out of their sight, as a new pit of worms moved into place below the floor.

No!” Selena screamed, an awful, heartwrenching plea that broke and shattered in her lips.  “Alek!  No!

Hirou laid his left hand on Selena’s shoulder.  “We must go,” he said.  His voice sounded empty and emotionless, even to his own ears.  “The Lord of Dark knows we’re here, now.”

Selena rose from the open pit, hands clenched as if to strike.

“You don’t respect anything, do you,” she said in a voice colder than the night between worlds.

I’m sorry.  I know how much Alek meant to you.  You can hit me later, if you like.

“We have to go,” Hirou repeated.  “We have to hurry.”

Selena turned away from him, and drew her swords.  “Yes, your Imperial Highness,” she said.  He couldn’t see her face.

Hirou leaped across the gap in the floor to the final stone before the door.  The wail had not diminished, this time; it was still in his mind.

With a terrible black fury and a convulsion like throwing a mountain, Hirou struck, and turned the bright gold door to smoke.  So much for traps.

And the smoke cleared, and they saw the huge throne room, and the throne, and the Lord of Dark.

A jolt of surprise rippled through Hirou’s mind.  The throne room was not small, but neither was it the hugeness that Hirou had expected; the size of a small house, perhaps.  Scenes of sun and clouds, grass and hills, dotted the walls; and a vast skylight, above, let in a pleasant golden glow.  The Lord of Dark’s throne was laid on a golden platform, and the throne itself was comfortably cushioned and well-designed for the human form; more like an office chair of Hirou’s own world than a formal seat.  Behind the throne lay a shimmering screen of force; and behind the screen of force, an altar; and on the altar, an intricate array of gears turning without axles or wires; and above the gears, a throbbing blaze of light.

And the Lord of Dark sat on the ergonomic throne, garbed in a comfortable cassock of gray silk.

“Oh, finally,” said the Lord of Dark.  His fingers tapped on the arm of his throne, dit-dit-dit.  “I was starting to wonder if you were going to show up, Hirou.”

Hirou’s mind was scrambled, for a moment, he couldn’t remember his own planned opening line.  “Were you, now?” his mouth said.

“Come now,” said the Lord of Dark, “don’t tell me you were trying to sneak up on me?  The entire world knows the prophecy about our meeting!  The wielder of the Sword of Good is supposed to arrive before I complete the Spell of Ultimate Power.”  The Lord of Dark waved at the glow above the machinery on the altar behind the throne.  “And that’s just about done.”

Dolf smiled grimly, from where he leaned upon his staff.  “You’re frightened.”

Of course I’m nervous!  Gah!”  The Lord of Dark made a convulsive gesture as though to claw at the empty air, radiating frustration.  “Are you done stating the obvious?”

Selena raised a sword and pointed at the Lord of Dark.  Around her neck, the Glowy Stone flamed brightly where it had been set in the Empty Necklace; no sorcery of mind would touch her with that armor, still less while Dolf stood guard.

“You killed my only love,” she said in a simple voice, a quiet voice, a voice like death, “and I am going to kill you.”

The Lord of Dark looked at her.  A complex expression flashed across his face: condemnation was in it, and pity.

Then, without a word or a gesture, Alek’s body floated out and came to rest near the altar, behind the screen of force.

“Alek’s head is still intact,” the Lord of Dark said.  “You may or may not know, Selena, that everything that a human is, resides in a human’s brain.  Your lover still exists, Selena; all that is him, still is there.  He is simply not breathing, at the moment.  After I complete the Spell of Ultimate Power, I’ll have the ability to bring Alek back.  And I will.  Does that work for you?”

Selena swayed where she stood.  She choked, a single sob escaping her lips.

Hirou felt a sudden chill, remembering a conversation from what seemed like ages ago.  “What if the Lord of Dark had me prisoner, and threatened to kill me unless you -“

Selena looked like a woman in the midst of tearing out her own heart and crushing it with her own hands.

Hirou dropped his eyes.  He couldn’t look at it.  He only watched Selena’s hands on the swords, waiting for her decision.

And then Selena straightened, and her swords came level in her hands, pointing at the Lord of Dark; and she said, in a small voice like she was dying,


Sudden tears came into Hirou’s eyes.

Slight puzzlement flickered on the Lord of Dark’s face.  “I mean it,” said the Lord of Dark.  “I’m not asking anything from you.  Just telling you that if I win, I’ll bring Alek back.  That’s a promise.”

You son of a bitch.  Hirou saw it, then, the cruel subtlety of the Lord of Dark.  Not the obvious threat, demanding Selena to betray her friends in exchange for her lover’s life.  No crude offer that could be refused once and for all.  Just the simple and unconditional promise – and then Selena would have to fight on, knowing with every breath and every blow that if she won, she lost her only love forever.

“Bastard,” choked Selena.  And she tilted the sword further to point at the Lord of Dark’s head.

The Lord of Dark shook his head in annoyance, and then focused his gaze fully upon Hirou.

Hirou tensed.  He’d been wondering, for a long time now, what the Lord of Dark could possibly offer him, what threat he could possibly make, to give Hirou a Choice worth the name.  Hirou had thought about that, trying to put himself in the Lord of Dark’s place; and he thought that the Lord of Dark might indeed offer to make Hirou his number two, or alternatively, if Hirou refused and then lost, keep him alive and torture him for thousands of years.  That was about as forceful as Hirou could imagine making it –

But the Lord of Dark had already demonstrated himself more subtle than Hirou’s imagination.

The Lord of Dark spoke.  His voice was more formal, now; not calm, but steady.  “All the preliminaries are in place, wielder of the Sword of Good.  There remains only your Choice between Good and Bad.”  The Lord of Dark’s eyes grew intent.  “Hirou, completing the Spell of Ultimate Power requires the sacrifice of a wizard of the highest degree, and also I have a use for the Sword of Good.  In the name of all the darkness that exists in the world, I request that you kill Dolf with the Sword of Good, and then give it to me.”

There was a long pause.

“That’s it?” Hirou said finally.  The whole thing was so insane, after so much waiting and wondering, that he felt a crazy laughter rising up in his own throat.  He swallowed it.  “That’s the awful temptation?  That’s the Choice?  You think I’m going to choose Bad over Good because you asked politely?

The Lord of Dark stared at Hirou as though he were the crazy one.  “The Choice between Good and Bad,” said the Lord of Dark in a slow, careful voice, as though explaining something to a child, “is not a matter of saying ‘Good!’  It is about deciding which is which.”

Dolf uttered a single bark of laughter.  “You’re mad!” his voice boomed.  “Can you truly not know that you are evil?  You, the Lord of Dark?

“Names,” said the Lord of Dark quietly.

Hirou was so angry he could hardly speak.  With an icy effort of control he forced himself back to calm, forced his eyes to keep moving.  This could all be a distraction.  “If you’re going to give me some pathetic speech about how good and evil are just different sides of the same coin -“

“Absolutely not,” said the Lord of Dark at once.  His gaze flicked to Dolf.  “It is the wizards who go about talking of Equilibrium and Balance.  I am pleased to see, Hirou, that you do not agree with them.  No, Hirou, I am asking you something much simpler.”  His eyes bored into Hirou’s face.  “What wrong have I done?

A small note of disorientation rose up in Hirou, like climbing stairs and stepping on what you thought was the last stair, but beneath your foot there was no stair, no floor, nothing…

“You suck the life from worms,” Selena said coldly.  “I know darkness when I see it.”

The Lord of Dark’s gaze scarcely flickered in her direction.  “Be silent, eater of mammals.”

“You command the Bad Races of Evilland!” roared Dolf.  “You lent them your sorcery, aided them in slaughtering human beings!”

The Lord of Dark was watching Hirou carefully as he made reply.  “Human beings first launched an unprovoked attack on this land some three thousand years ago, saying – though it was lies – that the inhabitants ate human flesh.  The records here would have it, and I believe them, that the missing people were in fact being kidnapped and sold by human slave-takers.  Since then, those you call the ‘Bad Races’ have been fighting off repeated attempts at extermination.  Oh, they hate you, of course they do; but they are wise enough to understand that there are a few good humans, even as there is evil among their own kind.  They are friendly enough to me.”

An awful fear began to rise up in Hirou –

“Now it is my turn to make accusation,” said the Lord of Dark.  He stood; anger gathered around him like a cloak, and his voice rang out through the throne room.  “You, Dolf, Archwizard of the fell Empire, I do accuse of commanding and causing to be performed, the murders of Elzhur, Anzha, Stav, Valdil, Emhil, Tohm, Khal, and the magus Mikel.  On the eighth day of the seventh moon of this year you ordained their deaths.  I do not call them innocents.  They bore weapons, they went knowingly to the risk.  But you, Dolf, you who made necessary their sacrifice – you may not be forgiven for the lives you have cut short, and the grief you have given to their families and survivors!  Though this is only the beginning of your long litany of crimes, yet I remember the day that first message came to me -“

“You are mad,” Selena said with conviction.  “You accuse us of murder for killing orcs?

Hirou stood frozen.

There was a hissing sound, as the seven creatures guarding the doorway caught sight of them, the intruders; their glistening chests expanded, sucking air. Their faces contracted, eyes squinting in an expression that a human would interpret as hatred, or surprise; and then their scaly-warted hands whipped over their heads and brought forth swords.

Why – did I –

So what if their skin was moist, and scaly and warted, and unsightly to human eyes?  So what if their blood smelled foul, as Selena poured it forth in rivers?

Why – didn’t I –

Hirou’s memory moved forward relentlessly, like waking up from and reviewing some mad dream.

– his arm lashed out with sudden force, and the Sword sank through the robes, near where a human would keep their heart –

“Here is your crime!” roared Dolf.  “You, a human, have betrayed the Empire!  You, a true wizard by birth, have betrayed the Ancient Halls of Wizardry!  You spread sedition and treason, and oppose the authority of the rightful heir to the throne!”

…why did I think that I had the right to rule over millions of people, without votes or parliaments, because of who my parents were?

Dolf slammed his staff on the ground.  “And above all!  Above all!  That you seek to cast the Spell of Infinite Doom!  That you, in your lust for power, would destroy the very Equilibrium that holds the world in Balance!”

Because Dolf seemed to expect it of me, because no one around me seemed to question that it was a good idea, or even point it out as something to think about –

“Equilibrium,” hissed the Lord of Dark.  His face twisted.  “Balance.  Is that what the wizards call it, when some live in fine castles and dress in the noblest raiment, while others starve in rags in their huts?  Is that what you call it when some years are of health, and other years plague sweeps the land?  Is that how you wizards, in your lofty towers, justify your refusal to help those in need?  Fool!  There is no Equilibrium!  It is a word that you wizards say at only and exactly those times that you don’t want to bother!  It prevents you from giving food to the hungry, but not from filling your own bellies!  Your friends are good enough to be healed, no threat to the Balance there, but the cripple in the streets must be left to suffer -“

Dolf stepped forward and brushed Selena’s arm briefly with the staff –

– was the legless beggar, watching them with incurious eyes, a spy?

Why hadn’t he thought to ask –

” – because you just don’t care!

And in the stillness of dawning disaster, in the first note of questioning, Hirou thought of something else he had never thought to ask.  Dolf had his sorcerous shields of protection.  Why had Dolf let Alek walk in front?  Dolf was in fact by far the strongest member of their party – why had he let Selena do the fighting?

Because Dolf was more important, and if he exposed himself to all the risk every time, he might eventually be injured, Hirou’s logical mind completed the thought.  Lower risk, but higher stakes.  Cold but necessary –

But would you, said another part of his mind, would you, Hirou, let your friends walk before of you and fight, and occasionally die, if you knew that you yourself were stronger and able to protect them?  Would you be able to stop yourself from stepping in front?

Perhaps, replied the cold logic.  If the world were at stake.

Perhaps, echoed the other part of himself, but that is not what was actually happening.

That part of him knew, as Selena had known before.

It is just that, from the beginning, Dolf never cared in the slightest about Selena’s life.

Had cared nothing for a mere pirate captain –

Pirate captain?

Hirou’s eyes flicked briefly to Selena.

She has attacked ships and sunken ships, she has kidnapped and killed.  All in the name of profit for herself, before ever she met me or tried to save the world.  She killed dozens without a thought, until her own love was lost, and then a single death was suddenly an event of world-shaking significance –

Why did I think that was acceptable?

Why didn’t I notice?

Another memory came to Hirou.

– the color drained from the courier’s face, as his eyes locked onto some vision that only he and Dolf could see.  The courier screamed, and the sound came out as a small, thin, pathetic wail –

Dolf had done that without touching the man, but –

Threats of death and injury are already torture in themselves, under the Geneva Convention, by the laws of my own world.

He’d known something was wrong.  That small note of disquiet in the corner of his mind.  But he hadn’t said a word out loud, because, well, it would have been awkward.

I am a fool.

Worse than a fool.

Why didn’t the Sword just kill me?

And the everlasting wail of the Sword of Good burst fully into his consciousness

It was like his mind and self were sucked toward that infinitely thin line running through the center of the Sword, the edge within the blade.  Sucked toward that edge, and cut through.

Cut through and torn wide and forced open –

A scream ripped from Hirou’s lips.

He was starving to death freezing naked in cold night being stabbed beaten raped watching his father daughter lover die hurt hurt hurt die –

– open to all the darkness that exists in the world –

His consciousness shattered into a dozen million fragments, each fragment privy to some private horror; the young girl screaming as her father, face demonic, tore her blouse away; the horror of the innocent condemned as the judge laid down the sentence; the mother holding her son’s hand tightly with tears rolling down her eyes as his last breath slowly wheezed from his throat –

– all the darkness that you look away from, the endless scream.

Make it stop!

It might have been Hirou’s thought, or the thought of the man who screamed as his foot was crushed beneath a stone.

Refuse, reject, change, reality don’t be like this –

Make it stop!

It could have been Hirou or the child in the burning house.

make it stop
make it stop
make it stop


In the throne room of the Lord of Dark, the Sword suddenly blazed up with a shock like a thousand-mile dam breaking, a roaring tsunami of force.  The eyes could not see that power, wavered between detecting it as light or darkness; so that Hirou, grasping the hilt, was the only dark thing left against the brilliance, or the only bright thing haloed against the shadow.

Dolf had been turning toward Hirou with alarm in his face; now his eyes widened, and a sudden gladness lit his countenance.  “You’ve done it!” Dolf cried.  “You have awakened the Sword at last!  Now, my prince, with but a single strike you may -“

The Sword, with one smooth sweep, cut through all Dolf’s defenses like water and touched the wizard’s throat; and in the moment of the Sword touching Dolf’s skin, the wizard stopped.  The Sword continued in its motion unabated, and Dolf’s head separated from his body and went rolling across the floor, as something seemed to flow away from the corpse toward the gears above the altar.

Selena’s cry of horror mingled with the sudden hum of the brightening glow above the gears.

“Hirou!” she screamed.  “Hirou!  Why?  You said you would be good!

Then she turned toward him, and pointed her swords –

Selena froze in place like a statue, one of her feet suspended in mid-air and mid-run; in the same instant the glowing stone on her necklace shattered.

Hirou’s eyes drifted, ever so slowly it seemed, to the disbelief on Selena’s face.

A part of him was horrified and saddened, to see her looking at him like that.

And at the same time, it seemed like such a small thing, her horror, his own sadness, compared to even a single parent watching their child die.  Let alone the actual number doing so, right at that moment, elsewhere in the world.

“Thank you,” said the Lord of Dark softly.

Make it stop,” said Hirou’s lips.  There were other thoughts inside him, still being carried out by his brain, but they were dwarfed under that single terrible weight.

The Lord of Dark rose from his throne, began to come forward.  “I must touch the blade.”

Hirou crossed the intervening space in an instant, the Sword moving in a single perfect arc in his hands; it was as though the blade simply materialized in front of the Lord of Dark.

The Lord of Dark jerked back.

Hurry,” said Hirou’s lips.

“The Spell of Ultimate Power is already in progress now, and will complete in a few moments.  It can neither be hurried nor delayed,” said the Lord of Dark.  “But before that time, there is one last thing I must do -“

The Lord of Dark reached out for the Sword, but his fingers faltered.

Must do,” the Lord of Dark repeated to himself; and his fingers reached out, and firmly came to rest on the blade of the Sword of Good.

They lingered there for a long moment.

Then, “Thank you,” said the Lord of Dark.  “That was all.  You can put down the Sword of Good now.  You probably should.”

Hirou dropped the Sword.  In the instant the Sword left his hands it became only another piece of metal, and fell to the ground with a simple clang.

And in the moment that Hirou’s hands left the hilt, he became only another mortal.

Hirou staggered, and was distantly aware of the Lord of Dark catching him as he fell, to lay him gently on the ground.

In a whisper, Hirou said “Thank you -” and paused.

“My name is Vhazhar.”

“You didn’t trust yourself,” Hirou whispered.  “That’s why you had to touch the Sword of Good.”

Hirou felt Vhazhar’s nod, more than seeing it.

The air was darkening, or rather Hirou’s vision was darkening, but there was something terribly important left to say.  “The Sword only tests good intentions,” Hirou whispered.  “It doesn’t guide your steps.  That which empowers a hero does not make us wise – desperation strengthens your hand, but it strikes with equal force in any direction -“

“I’ll be careful,” said the Lord of Dark, the one who had mastered and turned back the darkness.  “I won’t trust myself.”

“You are -” Hirou murmured.  “Than me, you are -“

I should have known.  I should have known from the beginning.  I was raised in another world.  A world where royal blood is not a license to rule, a world whose wizards do more than sneer from their high towers, a world where life is not so cheap, where justice does not come as a knife in the night, a world where we know that the texture of a race’s skin shouldn’t matter –

And yet for you, born in this world, to question what others took for granted; for you, without ever touching the Sword, to hear the scream that had to be stopped at all costs –

“I don’t trust you either,” Hirou whispered, “but I don’t expect there’s anyone better,” and he closed his eyes until the end of the world.

This document is ©2009 by Eliezer Yudkowsky and free under the Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License for copying and distribution, so long as the work is attributed and the text is unaltered.

Eliezer Yudkowsky’s work is supported by the Machine Intelligence Research Institute.

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