Today’s lecture should be of particular interest to you, since it’s about you. Don’t get too excited. I’m going to keep it short.
If you listen to the Sagas (and haven’t we all listened to the Sagas? They have such thrilling theme music)—
you’ll note a common theme: we often create our own nemeses.
As always, when we look at it from the perspective of the heroic chronicles, it looks like a purebred case of The Stupid. With all the choices available to an evil genius, whyever would one do one’s recruiting from the ranks of the very ambitious, the devious, and, most of all, their enemies?
The first thing is, there are few things that create a stronger bond than trying very, very hard to kill someone and failing. You’ll probably never forget that person. Maybe you’ll fear her for life. Maybe you’ll swear vengeance on her.
In both of those cases, poor candidate choice, right? Best to just slaughter ‘em every time and take no chances, right?
Not at all. That’s amateur thinking.
We don’t like to admit it, but murder is an addictively dangerous little solution. (One of the great surprises in life is that homicide isn’t the answer to everything.) Depending on when and where you live, you might be in a place with limited places to hide a corpus delicti, and, possibly, authorities who might look askance on the whole affair.
(Oh, I have it lucky. Have you visited the town graveyard a few acres east of us? There’s no town anymore—just graveyard.)
(And the living inhabitants, while they do invest heavily in air-freshening herbs, do a very profitable trade in embalming, historical tours, seances, exorcisms, and the occasional horrifying attempts at resurrection into some shambling parody of whatever one did in life. Remember, there’s nothing wrong in a Tyrant creating opportunities for people to grow and thrive. The more you make it possible for your populace to feed and take care of themselves, the less you need to try to do restorative maintenance when all you’ve got left to work with is some crumbling skeletons that you try to hold together with ill-chosen gifts gained at exorbitant price from the Dark Gods. Remember, Villains: use your heads, or you’ll find them adorning the head of some idiot’s pike.)
I do mean it, though: once you start using murder to solve your problems, it can become rather all-consuming. It seems logical to kill everyone who tries to kill them; but, you know, that’s also a good way for them to focus very, very hard on how important it is to get it right and not stop trying to kill you no matter what, because, hey, once they’ve made the attempt, they’re doomed. That’s a hell of a lot of motivation to throw at people you don’t like. Personally, I don’t mind having an enemy who skipped a few training sessions, or who might to try, fail, and run like hell, and the last thing I need is someone who works hard, gets the right equipment, and then goes after me with the determination of one who knows that they either succeed, or they die.
Where do you want your mortal enemies? Brooding in some ill-lit dirty tavern, contemplating nothing but the cessation of your life? Or living it up comfortably in some cushy yet rewarding job in one of your nicer hamlets, depending on your continued good health for their continued good fortune?
Sure, you have to worry about treachery and the possibility that they’ll stab you in the back, but let me tell you right now: if there’s anyone, anyone at all, whom you are absolutely certain would never betray you, STOP THAT RIGHT NOW AND BE A LITTLE MORE SUSPICIOUS, YOU IDIOT.
Talented individuals are increasingly difficult to find. Do you know what Villains so often shout, “WHY AM I SURROUNDED BY MORONS?!?” It’s because Heroes aren’t allowed to do so.
(And often, if they’ve chosen to be heroes, they’re morons themselves.)
Certainly, we see many recountings in which Heroes courageously infiltrate the Villain’s band and then, at a critical moment, wreck the most well-made plans. Well, what would you expect. The ones who waited until a dramatic point in the sorcerous sacrificial ceremony to hurl a dagger through the throat of the High Priest, they went and wrote books about it. The ones who clapped and said, “Good ritual, nice work, cool summon, I like how all our pupils have gone black now, and it’s a damn relief to not have a soul anymore”—they’re off enjoying the delectable fruits of their ill-gotten gains.
When you hope to make a nemesis into an ally, you might fail. But you also might fail at keeping an ally.
It’s not illogical, much less stupid, to take an enemy and train them and teach them and let them graduate into positions of power, trust, and authority.
It’s just risky and dangerous as hell.
But most things worth doing share those same traits. And I’ll be honest, if I’ve gotta die, I’d really rather it’s because I chose someone clever and competent who decided to try to kill me… rather than choosing someone loyal and less clever who gets me killed by doing something really stupid. Dying from brilliant treachery is tragic and infuriating. Dying from gross incompetence is mortifying, and the only good part is that you’ll soon be too dead to care.
Either way, should you happen to fight your way past the legions of unplaced souls, swim the acidic River Styx, and manage, through blasphemous struggle inconceivable to those who have never pierced the Veil, to return from the dead, would you rather your first words be,
“AT LAST, I WILL HAVE MY REVENGE!”
“Note to self: this time, pick minions who can, even at moments of high stress, distinguish their ‘left’ from their ‘right’.
My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities, put on events, and make stories come into being. I also tweet a lot over @darklordjournal.