On Dark Armies

The Dark Army was almost inconceivably vast; this was due in part to its actual size, and in part to the inability of sentient beings to conceive really large things. If one wanted to dig down into it—if one were stuck in the kind of meeting whose incessance went somewhere beyond the proverbial longevity of meetings, and straight downwards into comparisons with particular levels of Hell and amounts of endurance and/or torment involved with their survival—one would probably need to involve questions of legalistic and semantic precision.

Actually, need was probably too strong a word. Ex-Sir-Jerah’s once (and not future) commanders had fought the Dark Army for a very long time without ever, to his knowledge, splitting it up into anything more specific than “It’s really a kind of Horde more than an Army, and there’s a lot of the buggers, and they’re of different shapes and sizes, so let’s go after the little ones, because a body count is a body count, and this way, you get twice the counting on half the body size”.

In Jerah’s experience, anyone fussy enough to be annoyed by the name was likely to be put of by the actuality as well. It wasn’t particularly a hallmark of the Lightsiders. For Jerah, if he was going to be even a little intellectually honest about the situation, he had to admit that his own doubts about the accuracy of the term “Dark Army” separated him into a particular class of doubter, one he’d encountered oddly frequently since his…enlistment. It was the sub-class of “those who are clearly affiliated sufficiently with the Dark Army to be counted as a part of it, but who wish certain things were more quantifiable; for example, one ought to be able to make a reasonable accounting of one’s own forces without being self-sabotaged by wriggling uncertainties about how one would really measure anyone else’s affiliation in an organization which valued cohesion, and which also had a drop-in and drop-out rate sufficient to drive any quartermaster round any number of non-Euclidean bends”.

The reasonable things to do under those circumstances was either venture towards the aforementioned madness, or to quit worrying about an accurate assessment of the world.

Actually, there was another option: to accept hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance as normal, and simply join the Army of Light, and/or anyone else who valued sanity over workability. But that wouldn’t have fixed the problem, just normalized it, thereby making it worse. Men like Jerah would prefer to die for the right and ability to ask inconvenient and often apparently inconsequential questions about the reality which inhabited them; Jerah, in fact, very nearly had died for it, and it’s one of the reasons he was now a former Knight.

And now Jerah, having once again opened the lockbox in his skull which held this particular problem, sighed, and, given that it looked like the wait would continue to be very long indeed, plunged headlong into the confusion in an effort to, if not necessarily end it, at least snip off a few of the worst bits, simply for his own peace of braincase. It was possible that if he pounded against the problem often enough, he’d make headway; and besides, so far, despite quite a lot of discussion, none of the available missions contained a sufficient balance of hopelessness and stupidity to be useful yet. So Jerah, utilizing a long-learned skill of soldiery, listened with a small part of his consciousness, while he started straight ahead and continued to think his own private thoughts.

The Dark Army was “Dark” for a number of reasons, most of them poetic. For example, consider the alternatives. Who would join “The Other Light Army”? And a “Gray Army” seems colorless, stony, mechanized, impersonal. All of these things were about as inaccurate as you could get, in terms of sheer characterization, if you considered the actual composition of the Dark Army; not counting gargoyles, obviously. And embracing  the dusk made a certain sense; trying to be anything sunlit seems inappropriate when others keep trying to push you into the shadows. Why in this, or any other world, would you compete for harsh, unforgiving, blinding light? Who’s eager to battle to be part of an unpleasant glare, a blinding brilliance that migraines your head into a sticky mess of mirrors, all copying each other, each trying to be the very best at showing off a glow which isn’t even its own?

Why fuss and strain and starve like giant, hungry trees in an ugly jungle, each trying to snarl the others, to outstrip the speed of each others’ leaves and gnarl each others’ roots so as to fight for a few gulps of sun?

For better and for worse, the Dark Army was neither spectrographically nor philosophically united in its Darknesses (and Quasi-Darknesses, and Ur-Darknesses, and that dark place underneath the Bridge beneath all things, namely, Shadow.)

This caused rather a lot of disquiet for those who left⁠—sorry, fell from⁠—the Forces of Light. being used to strict regimentation and, when that didn’t work, schisms bathed in so much blood that their survivors never walked a day on Earth without tasting salty iron in the backs of their mouths⁠—

they were surprised, shocked even, to see such apparent disparities, and often wondered if they’d managed to finally find real homes all of about a week before those homes burnt themselves down.

In truth, though, this happened very seldom. And the reason therefore was very simple. The Light knows the Dark to be wrong, and therefore must needs never look upon it. The Light does not wish to offend its eyes or taint its souls, and paying attention to abominations is a good way to do both.

The Dark, in contrast, tends to have either a professional interest in the self-profanation of one’s eternal spirit; and/or a significant dollop of skepticism about whether the act of observing those who disagree with you is actually bad for your inner workings and post-life agendas; and/or a deep-rooted curousity, the last part being a surprisingly major source of new recruits for the forces of the Night.

Now, vicious cycles are fairly frequent in circumstances of dramatic and traumatic change. One would expect an Army which consisted largely of those who had pushed, kicked, witch-dunked, out-politicked, found insufficiently ideologically perfect, or generally made unwelcome because of questioning the wisdom of not-questioning…

well, you’d imagine such a massive militia of malcontents would simply burn to, oh, say, start burning each other.

and that’s when the raffish disorganization of the Dark Army started to click, and the thoughtful ponderer began to have a hideous, horrifying thought that this system, in fact, worked really well.

Jeff Mach Written by:

Jeff Mach is an author, playwright, event creator, and certified Villain. You can always pick up his bestselling first novel, "There and NEVER, EVER BACK AGAIN"—or, indeed, his increasingly large selection of other peculiar books. If you'd like to talk more to Jeff, or if you're simply a Monstrous Creature yourself, stop by @darklordjournal on Twitter, or The Dark Lord Journal on Facebook.

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