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Literature / The Sword of Good

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The Sword of Good is a short story by rationalist writer Eliezer Yudkowsky. The protagonist is a man named Hirou, and it begins with him thrust into the beginning of a fundamentally generic quest to save a fantasy realm he has been thrust into.

Can be read here.


"The Sword of Good" contains examples of:

  • Always Save the Girl: Discussed early, and averted. Selena takes offense at the fact that Hirou evidently doesn't love her enough to choose her over the world. He doesn't understand why she can't be rational about it.
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  • Armor-Piercing Question: What the Lord of Dark uses to make Hirou change sides: "What wrong have I done?"
  • Big Bad: The Lord of Dark, leader of the Evil Races who oppose the heroes and seeks immortality seems to be this, but is trying to overthrow The Empire. The real villain is Dolf, the wizard within the party who is the Archmage of the Empire.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Hirou realizes in the climax that the unfortunately titled "Lord of Dark", leader of the likewise poorly named "Bad Races" are actually not evil, just misunderstood.
  • Defied Trope: The main character vows to himself:
    "...he absolutely positively wasn't going to go Dark Messiah, Knight Templar, Well-Intentioned Extremist, or for that matter Lawful Stupid."
  • Designated Evil: In-Universe, the Lord of Dark's use of a Wormarium, which artificially extends his life by draining the Liquid Assets of a pit of worms, is seen as a sign of great evil. But as he points out when confronted with this, it's objectively no worse than slaughtering cattle to make food.
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  • The Empire: Who the “heroes” are working for.
  • Eye Scream: Selena disposes of a courier's bodyguards with a poniard through the eye directly into the brain.
  • Friendly Fireproof: Averted when Hirou kills Dolf.
  • Famous Last Words:
    Dolf: "You've done it! You have awakened the Sword at last! Now, my prince, with but a single strike you may-"
    Selena: Hirou! Why? You said you would be good!
    Hirou: I don't trust you either, but I don't expect there's anyone better.
  • Gold Digger: Selena expects to be rewarded handsomely for her part in saving the world, with riches and a noble title and the position of being Hirou's lover. She used to be a pirate with apparently no compunctions about other people's well-being as long as she filled her coffers, so greed comes naturally to her.
  • Life Drinker: The Lord of Dark, and presumably any number of other people who used Wormariums to the point that the practice has a name.
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  • Light Is Not Good: At the climax, Hirou realizes that the society he has seen in this alternate world is riddled with hypocrisy and injustice, and his friends (the so-called "Forces of Good") are actually agents of the malignant status quo.
  • Non-Action Guy: Hirou starts out as this, though by the end has accepted using the sword when he kills Dolf.
  • Prophecy Twist: The Lord of Dark argues this — the relevant prophecy has the Hero make a pivotal Choice between Good and Bad. Hirou understandably wonders why anyone would choose Bad, but the Lord of Dark argues the Choice is between deciding which alternative is the Good and which is the Bad.
  • Sadistic Choice: Made even more sadistic because the Dark Lord isn't even trying to force Selena into anything. He simply says he'll revive her lover once the ritual is complete, and doesn't want her to do anything in return or even care what she thinks about it. If she does anything to try to stop the ritual, it may result in her true love being lost forever, and it'll be her fault and she won't even have the satisfaction of at least having thwarted his scheme.
  • Sword and Sorcerer: Dolf is the sorcerer, counteracting the power of enemy mages while Selena handles the actual melee combat. Hirou later realizes that Dolf is powerful enough that he could have done all the fighting himself, and probably with lower risk to himself than Selena took on. The only reason he didn't was because she was more expendable, and therefore it was ok to use her as a meat shield.
  • Torture Always Works: When Dolf threatens a courier with something that is left unmentioned, he spills his guts. Hirou later considers the fact that this is considered torture under the Geneva Convention.
  • Wrong Side All Along: The "Dark Lord" was the real Big Good all along.
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