Your Evil Horde Needs You
Marie stared across her desk at the figure Ms Harrison had brought with her. He seemed very nervous, though that was usual for anyone who spent more than half an hour or so in her boss’s company. He was also shrouded from neck to ankle in a voluminous black robe, which wasn’t quite so usual. Other than that, his appearance seemed normal enough. Perhaps a little lacking in the chin department, but still ok. When you considered that she was nearly thirty, only blonde because the bottle said so, and never quite got as much exercise as she promised herself she would, Marie decided that she was hardly in a position to comment.
The only real oddity was his name.
‘Dark Lord Vicious?’ Marie repeated, unable to help herself even though it wasn’t very professional. ‘Is that what your mother calls you?’
‘Well, no. She used to call me “That Little Idiot”. My old school chums generally call me “Sticky”. A few early misspellings, unfortunately. Is that any use?’
‘Um… possibly not,’ Marie began, but stopped, because Ms Harrison was staring at her.
It has to be said that most people would have stopped when Ms Harrison stared at them. Indeed, it seemed to Marie that, at some point approximately forty years ago, someone had decided that the head of Harrison Recruitment and HR should be built from the eyeballs outwards. From the severity of the bun she tied her brown hair into, to the unforgiving cut of the suits she invariably wore, everything about her seemed to be designed to put people at their unease. The worst part was that she didn’t even seem to notice she was doing it, because she invariably spoke like everybody was getting along wonderfully, possibly in the belief that eventually they might.
‘Well, what can we do for you, Mr… um, Vicious?’ Marie tried.
‘We’ve been implementing a full HR programme for the dear Dark Lord,’ Ms Harrison explained, before Vicious could open his mouth. ‘Now though, it seems that we need to action a recruitment drive for him as well.’
‘Really?’ Marie asked. ‘Why’s that?’
‘Well, it’s a bit embarrassing, really,’ Dark Lord Vicious said. ‘My Evil Horde has… resigned.’
‘Your… evil horde?’
‘It’s Evil Horde, actually. The capitals make it sound gloomier, you see.’
Marie blinked as she tried to fit the words into the world as she knew them. The closest that she could get was a vague suspicion that it might be the latest term for the people you employed, “staff” and “personnel” having gone out of fashion. She looked hopefully at Ms Harrison, who smiled a not altogether comforting smile.
‘Perhaps it would be easiest if we just showed her,’ Ms Harrison said to the Dark Lord. ‘Now, Marie, I know you’re a young woman looking to go far in Recruitment, so hopefully this won’t come as a shock.’
Marie was about to utter the words “what won’t come as a shock”, but that is, unfortunately, the defining characteristic of shocks. They don’t give you much time to ask questions. Dark Lord Vicious stood up, muttered a couple of words under his breath, and the world… shifted.
Marie looked up at the ceiling of the great hall that seemed to have replaced Harrison Recruitment’s offices. She looked round at the guttering torches and ancient tapestries. She looked for a long, long moment at the great throne of skulls at one end. Then she did the only sensible thing under the circumstances, and passed out.
Dark Lord Vicious waited while Ms Harrison returned from dragging her colleague into one of the anterooms to have a rest. Almost nothing seemed to be going well at the moment. First, he’d inherited this stupid Dark Lordship, when he’d fully expected it to go to his older brother Nasty. He hadn’t wanted it, but unfortunately, the dragon that ate Nasty had apparently had other ideas. Then, when Vicious had tried to do things properly by getting in an expert, his Horde had packed their bags. Now, the woman hired to get him a new Horde didn’t seem to be taking the transfer between worlds very well.
‘How is she?’ Vicious asked when Ms Harrison returned, then regretted it instantly. That wasn’t the sort of question a Dark Lord should ask, was it? Or at least, not how he should ask it. ‘That is, I abjure thee, o’ hag, to inform me-’
‘Now, Dark Lord, we’ve spoken about using language like that in the workplace, haven’t we?’ Ms Harrison didn’t raise her voice. She just sounded disappointed, which was somehow worse. ‘Marie will be fine. She’s woken up and I’ve explained all about there being alternate worlds. She’s practically stopped screaming, too, so she should be able to get on with finding you some new employees shortly. Of course, first, I think we should have a little chat about what you consider to be desirable and essential qualities, about your pay grade structure, and about your equal opportunities monitoring policy.’
Dark Lord Vicious didn’t say anything, mostly because he was still trying to work out what the things Ms Harrison had mentioned actually meant. Even so, there was a part of him that suspected things might have got just a touch out of hand. Not that he’d say as much, of course. He’d tried that when Ms Harrison had been putting together what she’d called a “structured annual assessment programme”, and she’d stared at him before explaining several of the finer details of EU employment law at length. The stare had been so unnerving that Vicious hadn’t dared to point out that technically, they weren’t in the EU, but the Plain of Infinite Desolation.
Even so, he felt he had to say something this time.
‘Are you sure your colleague is up to the job on her own?’ he asked. ‘Only, there’s only one of her, and generally, most people use whole gangs when they’re press ganging people. Hence the name, I suppose.’
‘We won’t be needing any of that.’ Ms Harrison said. ‘I have every confidence in Marie’s abilities. She is very experienced when it comes to head-hunting.’
‘Oh, is she?’ Vicious brightened a little. ‘I knew some of those once. Lovely chaps. Of course, you had to watch them around knives. Even so-’
‘Look, your Dark Lordship, do you want to trust me, or do you want to do all this yourself?’ Ms Harrison stared at him again.
That was the crux of it, of course. If he didn’t trust them to get on with it, Vicious would soon find himself having to run his Evil Empire on his own. Even if that Empire currently amounted to a castle, a village, and not quite enough desolate wasteland to fit in a football pitch, it still seemed like awfully hard work.
‘I didn’t mean to imply anything other than trust, of course,’ Vicious said hurriedly. ‘It’s just that I’m… eager. Yes, that’s right. Eager to get my new Horde together. Can’t be a Dark Lord without a proper Horde, you know. What if one of the other chaps were to look over unexpectedly? I’ve already had snooty comments from Mad Lord Vile about the state of my goblins, as though his are anything to write home about. And what if heroes were to show up unexpectedly? I’d look like a terrible host, having no Horde for them to fight. Oh, it’s all too much.’
Vicious threw himself back onto his throne of skulls and sighed. To his surprise, Ms Harrison patted his black robed arm in a way that would probably have struck him as maternal, had his own mother not been so fond of employing a battle-axe at this sort of point.
‘I’m sure it will be perfectly all right,’ Ms Harrison reassured him. ‘Marie will have you a new Evil Horde together in no time.’
It was all going wrong. Marie tried to force herself to smile as she sat behind the little desk in the taproom of the Smashed Glass, but she couldn’t manage it. And it wasn’t just because the inn was a flea-infested pit whose customers gave her funny looks when they weren’t studiously ignoring her.
It had rather more to do with the fact that, in the week she’d been trying, Marie hadn’t been able to attract a single suitable applicant for her client’s horde. She’d put up the posters of Dark Lord Vicious pointing and saying “Your Evil Horde Needs You”, only to discover that the sight of a particularly weedy Dark Lord wasn’t the incentive she’d hoped. She’d come to places like this, and put up with leather clad barbarians mistaking her for a wench, only to find that the only interest she got was from the wenches, who wanted to talk to her about giving secretarial temping a go. They seemed to think that it couldn’t be any worse than wenching. Secretly Marie doubted it, but she took their details anyway.
Placing adverts with every newspaper, town crier and stone monument craftsman Marie could find had yielded exactly three CVs. Of those, two candidates didn’t seem to have any relevant experience, while the third, who listed his hobbies as “razing cities, slaughtering the inhabitants and flower arranging” worried her. Besides, even if Marie hired all three, that wasn’t enough for an evil barbershop quartet, let alone an Evil Horde.
Marie was so caught up in her gloom that she hardly noticed when one of the wenches sat down opposite her. The young woman coughed politely, and Marie forced herself to focus.
‘Oh, hello, Sandra. Sorry about that. Look, if it’s about the temping, I’m not sure if your shorthand is really going to be good enough. Though I suppose we could fix you up with some sort of distance learning course.’
‘That would be nice, but that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. It’s just… I think you might be wasting your time, and that seems a shame.’
‘Wasting my time? Oh, I’d like to think that with a positive attitude and a few tried and tested recruitment strategies…’ Marie tailed off. It had been a long week. ‘Ok. Why do you think I’m wasting my time?’
‘Well, the rumour is that Lord Vicious has totally ruined the place, at least according to my cousin Rargag. He used to be a guard there. He reckons that the whole place has gone to pot, and that now no self respecting evil henchman will work for Vicious.’
Marie winced. That did, indeed, sound like she was wasting her time. Still, Marie was nothing if not resourceful, especially once the thought of being stared at by Ms Harrison raised its head.
‘Sandra, do you think there’s any chance I could speak to your cousin? Possibly to a few other former members of the Horde too?’
Sandra raised an eyebrow.
‘Um… are you sure? I mean, it should be ok, if I vouch for you, but there’s always a faint chance that you could be eaten, or dragged off to a goblin slave mine, or sacrificed to some weird spider-god. Some of my cousin’s friends can get a bit… intense.’
Marie thought about the possibility of being sacrificed to a passing evil deity. Then she thought about what Ms Harrison would be writing in her next annual appraisal if Marie didn’t sort this out.
‘I think I’ll risk it.’
At the sound of the doors to the Great Hall scraping open, Dark Lord Vicious looked up hopefully from his throne of skulls. A couple of bits of paperwork fell from the pile as he did so, and Ms Harrison looked at him reproachfully.
‘Now, Dark Lord, how are we supposed to put together a proper employee handbook if you keep dropping things?’
Vicious didn’t answer, because he was too busy being surprised at the sight of Ms Harrison’s colleague making her way across the floor, supported by another woman. When she’d disappeared a couple of days before, Vicious had expected that something horrible had happened to her, on the basis that around here it usually did. Yet here Marie was. She looked like she’d been in the wars though, or if not that, then at least a drinking game with a couple of trolls. She had a bandage on her brow, enough dirt covering her to suggest that she’d rolled down a hillside at least once, and she seemed to be limping.
‘I think I’ve found the answer to your recruitment problem,’ Marie said once she was close enough. ‘Or at least, the reason why no one will work for you.’
‘You have? That’s wonderful!’
‘Don’t be so sure. I spoke to a few of your old Horde, you see. And then, because I wanted to be sure, I talked to a few more. I forget exactly how many.’
‘The goblin tribes, the dark elf witches, and the ogre ladies’ embroidery circle,’ the woman beside Marie supplied. Vicious let out a sound of surprise.
‘But that must have been incredibly dangerous! The goblins fire arrows at all intruders…’
Marie pointed casually to the bandage around her head.
‘…and the dark-elves live in caves accessible only by treacherous slopes…’
Marie glanced down at her dirt-covered appearance.
‘…and the ogres…’
‘Leave scatter cushions lying around where people can trip over them,’ Marie supplied, carefully keeping the weight off her foot, ‘and they all say more or less the same thing. They think that you don’t care about them.’
Dark Lord Vicious stood up from his throne of skulls in anger, sending paperwork clattering to the floor. He winced, knowing what Ms Harrison’s expression would be at that.
‘Now see here, that just isn’t true!’
‘Isn’t it?’ Marie insisted.
‘Well… I did get in a proper expert, didn’t I?’
‘So that you wouldn’t have to deal with things yourself?’ Marie suggested. Vicious bristled again. Mostly because it was the only thing he could think of to do.
‘It isn’t like that at all! Well… not entirely. That is, not what you might call completely. That is-’
‘Marie!’ Ms Harrison snapped from beside him. ‘What do you think you’re doing, talking to a client like this? The Dark Lord did exactly the right thing, hiring us. Why, he didn’t have any of the proper procedures in place before I got here!’
‘The Horde says that’s the problem,’ Marie countered. ‘They don’t like the new procedures. They really don’t like being thought of as human resources. Particularly not when they aren’t human. The ogres say it makes them sound like sissies.’
Ms Harrison rose from her spot beside the throne of skulls and treated Marie to her full stare. Funnily enough, after a few days of dodging arrows, landslides and carelessly discarded pins Marie didn’t find it all that intimidating.
‘Now see here, Marie! You know as well as I do how important these procedures are. Why, without something like a proper dispute resolution process, how is anyone supposed to resolve their issues with management? Tell me that.’
‘The Horde said that under the previous Dark Lord they had a dispute resolution process,’ Marie answered. ‘Apparently, they’d go to him to complain, and he’d listen, and then afterward…’
‘…Father would open a big trapdoor down into the Pit of Really Unpleasant Things, and if they got out again he’d let them go back to their jobs with no complaints,’ Vicious finished wistfully. ‘I’d forgotten about that.’
‘You’ve forgotten a lot of things,’ Marie insisted. ‘Do you know what they said when I told them about annual bonuses? They said that they never used to need them, because…’
‘…they always used to get shares of the loot from the ravaged cities.’ Vicious nodded. ‘I remember. And Father always used to take the one who’d been hanging around at the back, and put him in the big catapult on the roof and see how far away he landed.’ He smiled. ‘He always used to say it was good for morale. And there would be annual days out for all the troops. Well, I say days out. More mini-invasions, really, but everyone seemed to enjoy it.’
‘But this is all nonsense!’ Ms Harrison insisted. ‘That’s not proper employee relations!’
Marie stepped close to the Dark Lord and put an arm around him. Not least because it gave her an excuse to keep her weight off her injured ankle.
‘Do you think that’s what the Horde would say, Vicious? It seems to me that they enjoy the Evil Overlord approach to things a lot more than the other sort. And you know, I think you do too, only you won’t admit it.’
‘Well… it’s just that… I was never prepared for this, you know. What if I do something wrong?’
Marie gestured in a way that took in the emptiness of the great hall.
‘Worse than this?’
Dark Lord Vicious went still, thinking. He stalked back to his throne and sat down. Marie followed him.
‘So what you’re saying is that I don’t need all… this?’ Vicious picked up a sheet from the fallen papers.
‘Not unless you have the urge to take up origami,’ Marie said. ‘If you think about it, you already have almost-’
‘That’s a lie!’ Ms Harrison all but screamed. ‘This place is absolute chaos!’
‘But it’s supposed to be-’ Vicious began.
‘Shut up! You’re an idiot, so just shut up! You hadn’t got the faintest idea! Well, I’m not letting you ruin things now. We have a contract!’
Ms Harrison glared at them, and Vicious winced. Marie, though, simply smiled.
‘Ms Harrison, that sounds like you disagree with the Dark Lord’s position.’
‘Of course I disagree! And you! How could I have been stupid enough to ever hire you?’
‘So what we have here is a… dispute?’
It took a moment for Vicious to get that, and another to find the right skull on the throne. As a result, Ms Harrison had time to leap back before the trapdoor opened.
‘You think you’ll get rid of me like… oh.’
She looked down as the tentacle shot up from the trapdoor, wrapping neatly around her ankle. Her last words, as the thing dragged her into the Pit, sounded to Marie a lot like “This is a clear breach of contraaaargh!” The trapdoor closed after her with a snap.
Dark Lord Vicious sat back with something approaching satisfaction.
‘You know, that was more fun than I’ve had in ages. Now, all I need is my Horde back. Um… you can get me my Horde back, can’t you?’
Marie nodded, and gestured to the other woman.
‘Dark Lord Vicious, I’d like you to meet Sandra. She’s just decided to go into the recruitment industry, and thankfully her previous experience is perfect for this.’
‘Really? What’s her previous experience in?’
Sandra bobbed a curtsey.
‘That would be serving lots of beer, Milord.’
Gnarl the goblin woke up with the sort of pounding head that suggested someone had been using it for a drum. He sat up, and saw that he wasn’t alone. Around him goblins, ogres, even dark elves were waking up and groaning in a way that made it clear they all wished that they were dead. Or that someone was, anyway.
They seemed to be in some sort of big room, which was odd, because the last thing Gnarl could remember was being in his cave, drinking the beer that travelling brewery samples woman had brought. Not that Gnarl had known that breweries offered free samples like that. Afterwards, there was just a big blank spot. And now he was here.
Dimly, Gnarl was aware of a black-robed figure standing at the front of them and talking. Gnarl struggled to focus. Actually, there seemed to be two figures. The black robed one, and a blonde human woman in a suit, who seemed to be holding a crossbow and whispering in his ear when he stalled.
‘Now listen up, you… scum, thank you Marie. I am… your Dark Lord, and you will obey or…what was it again? Oh, right. Or I will blast you into oblivion and use your ashes in my window boxes!’
Gnarl’s aching brain cells weren’t working at their best. Consequently, it was another goblin who stood up and said the obvious.
‘’ere, you’re that Dark Lord Vicious twerp. We ain’t working for- aargh!’
Gnarl watched the woman reload her crossbow.
‘Any other questions or comments?’
Gnarl put up his hand cautiously.
‘Um… your Dark Lordship sir? You aren’t going to make us have a structured pay scale and company pension scheme, and all that, are you? Only, if you are, I think I’d rather be shot.’
Gnarl tried not to wilt under the stare of the Dark Lord.
‘Pay scale? You’ll be lucky if you get kitchen scraps, goblin! And when your use to me is done, I will feed your soul to the… hang on, I wrote this down somewhere… to the Thing With A Thousand Eyes in exchange for… well it looks like “squiggle squiggle balloon”, but I suspect it may be “some hideous boon”. Is that good enough?’
Gnarl thought about it. He could see the others doing the same. It wasn’t quite his father. But on the other hand, person specifications hadn’t been mentioned once. Gnarl grinned.
‘Absolutely, Your Dark Lordship sir!’
In the darkness of the Pit of Really Unpleasant things, Ms Harrison stared. Several dozen eyes, stared back. Mostly, they seemed fascinated that anything could stare as well as they could. A Globular Thing chittered in the shadows.
‘No, no, no!’ she snapped back. ‘“Let’s all rush her at once” is not the way to go about things. Look, which of you is in charge here?’
The general silence that followed told Ms Harrison everything she needed to know. She sighed.
‘Then it seems I’ll have to start at the beginning. Right, lesson one: role definitions and organizational structures…’
Stuart Sharp is a writer and medieval historian currently living in East Yorkshire. His fantasy writing has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Semaphore, and Aphelion. His urban fantasy novel Searching is published by Double Dragon Publishing.
What advice do you have for other fantasy writers?
They say that literary fiction holds a mirror up to life. Fantasy still does the same thing. It just happens to be one of those distorting mirrors you get at fairgrounds. The fantastic elements create enough distance to let you write freely, or they provide amplifications of things, but they're not an end in themselves. To put it another way- it's not about the goblins.