Note: As a recap page, all spoilers are unmarked. You have been warned
The story starts about 100 years before the start of the comic, with a four year old boy mourning the death of his dog. He begs the dog to "come back" and suddenly a jolt of energy goes through his body and into the dog. While the boy is confused by what happened, his dog stands back up, clearly zombified. The boy is overjoyed to have his dog back, until a bird flies nearby and the dog attacks and immediately devours it. There's a beat panel, and then the boy exclaims with malicious glee over how "cool" that was and goes off to find more birds for his dog to eat. Or to kill and feed to the dog...
Years later, the boy, now a sullen teenager, comes home from school to find a middle aged, handicapped, bald wizard named Xavion in his room. Xavion tells the boy that the boy's parents asked him to come and talk to the boy about his powers. The boy tries to deny having any strange powers, but when his closet is opened to reveal the zombie of his grandmother standing there, craving brains, it's a little hard to deny. Xavion explains to the boy about sorcerers and wizards, and that the boy is a sorcerer, someone to whom the use of magic comes naturally, without the study that wizards must use to control it. Sorcerers aren't often looked kindly upon, since many discover their abilities early in life and use it to pursue selfish goals, so people often mistrust and fear young sorcerers. Xavion has a school though, where he gives these sorcerers a place to learn how to control their abilities and then use them for good. The boy is against the idea of going, both due to the wizard's condescending attitude and a disinterest in helping other people who fear and distrust him. He abruptly murders the wizard, turns him into a zombie, and decides it's time to cut ties to his life and leave home forever. As he goes to kill the rest of his family using the zombies of Xavion and his grandmother, the boy does conceed that everything else aside, Xavion had a cool name, and he should adopt a similar one. Eventually, he comes up with one that he likes: Xykon.
Quite a few years later, a quiet goblin village is celebrating as a local youth becomes an apprentice cleric. The priest who conducts the ceremony tells the youth that he expects great things of the young goblin, to which the youth modestly replies that he simply wants to do a little good for his people. The youth is celebrating with his various family members afterward, (including an uncle, his mother, a respected warrior older brother and a pair of bratty younger siblings, a boy and a girl) when the festivities are disrupted by a group of Paladins and clerics from Azure City, who suddenly attack and start massacring the village. Their primary target is the High Priest who was in charge of the ceremony, but they are quite happy to slaughter all the other goblins around, including the youth's elderly mother, who is one of the first casualties and is standing mere feet away from him when she's killed.
The goblins attempt to fight back, but are no match for the paladins and clerics attacking them. The High Priest urges the confused youth to run, while the High Priest calls attention to himself and tries to hold off the human attackers. He kills several of them but is soon swarmed by the attacking humans and before long is very thoroughly dead. After his death, the humans move to wipe out all of the other villagers still around. With the High Priest's body momentarily forgotten, the youth goes back and sees the ghost of his old teacher near its former body. The spirit urges the young goblin to take his cloak and put it on, which draws a protest from the young goblin, as the High Priest's cloak is the Crimson Mantle, the symbol worn by their god's High Priest, but the ghost points out that with the slaughter going on, soon the young apprentice may be the only cleric left. So the young goblin takes the Crimson Mantle and puts it on... and receives a communication directly from his god. In a haze, he starts to wander away from the site of the battle, until he hears the voice of his younger brother pleading for help, because he's already wounded, (and lost an eye) and a paladin is about to finish him off. The goblin with the Crimson Mantle saves his brother by killing the paladin, then tries to find his little sister, the only member of his family who is unaccounted for... and sees her impaled on the katana of a nearby paladin. The two brothers leave, perhaps the only goblins to survive the encounter.
Eventually, the paths of Xykon and the young goblin would cross. The goblin and his brother met with other goblins who were driven from their lands and into a large swamp by crusades of the paladins, where they tried to make a life for themselves. When the paladins began encroaching even there and building local fortresses, the goblins planned to fight back and drive the paladins out, only for the local lizard people to try to one-up them and get to it first. As that is happening Xykon happens to be flying nearby, and begins wiping out the paladins, while also carelessly killing a number of the lizard people as well. Impressed by the power of the now elderly sorcerer, (Xykon hardly broke a sweat as he wiped out the Azurite fortress) both the lizard people and the goblins attempt to recruit him for their various schemes. After Xykon offhandedly murders the chief of the lizard people for having a long, difficult to pronounce name, the goblin with the Crimson Mantle introduces himself as Redcloak, and his one-eyed brother as Right Eye.
Redcloak then explains to Xykon about the vision he received when he first put on the Crimson Mantle: how his god, The Dark One, was once a mortal goblin with an unusual, purplish skin tone who united the goblinoid races and fought for their betterment, only to be assassinated at a truce conference with human and elven leaders. Following that, the worship and furious rampages that his followers devoted to him allowed the spirit of The Dark One to ascend to godhood, and finally after becoming a god he discovered the existence of The Snarl, the embodiment of discord between the gods that had destroyed the first world all of the original gods had built together after slaughtering an entire pantheon of gods. Furthermore The Dark One discovered that there were holes or rifts in the fabric of the current world where the Snarl could reach through and effect things. The Dark One then created the Crimson Mantle to empower his high cleric and allow said cleric to seize the Rift while The Dark One tried to find a way to make use of it, but said cleric was beaten to the punch by a group of mortal adventurers, who created a Gate to seal the Rift. Still, The Dark One found a way to use this, by creating a ritual using a divine and arcane spellcaster to control the location of the Rift... and here Xykon jumps to a conclusion, thinking the Gate can be moved to threaten mortal enemies, and allow you to Take Over the World. Redcloak allows him to believe this, and Xykon agrees to be part of the scheme. Later conversation between the Redcloak and Right Eye reveals the true purpose: the Ritual would allow The Dark One to change the Gate's location in time and space, so he could use it to do things like transport the Gate into the throne room of gods and threaten to unleash The Snarl on them unless his demands for a better life for goblinkind were met. Redcloak fondly dreams of the ideal civilization goblinkind could build if only they had the resources of the other races, and figures that as a consolation prize they'll give the elderly Xykon a cushy and privileged position in their new society.
We then cut to a battle between a small army of goblins, led by Redcloak, Right Eye, and Xykon, attacking the base of the elven druid Lirian, the guardian of the Gate that the Dark One discovered years earlier. The battle is hanging in the balance, (partially due to Xykon's careless use of his spells, which is resulting in nearly as many goblins dying as the defenders of the Gate) when Lirian's secret weapon kicks in: a magically created virus which wipes out the abilities of any spellcasters who aren't protected by Lirian's abilities. While Redcloak isn't affected thanks to the Crimson Mantle, with Xykon and the other goblin spellcasters out of the fight, the goblins are quickly defeated, and most are killed before Lirian gets the more aggressive of her followers to spare the rest and take them prisoner. Redcloak, Right Eye, Xykon, and a few other goblins are left in an underground cell supplied with natural foods such as mushrooms that will let them live for years there.
Redcloak, however, comes up with an idea to escape: turn Xykon into a Lich, so that he will be immune to Lirian's plague and powerful enough to break through the prison's wards. Xykon gleefully accepts the chance to gain more power, but Right-Eye is hesitant, believing that this will only make Xykon harder to control. Redcloak dismisses his brother's fears, reasoning that they can goad Xykon into cooperating by threatening to harm his phylactery, the Soul Jar that prevents a Lich from dying if their mortal body is destroyed. The transition is a success, and Xykon goes to fight Lirian while Redcloak and Right-Eye capture the Gate. Things go wrong when Redcloak sets the forest on fire defending himself from some Treants, causing the Gate to be destroyed. But all is not lost for our villains, as Lirian lets slip that there are four other Gates just before Xykon snaps her neck. Xykon zombifies Lirian, seals her soul inside a gem, and recovers Redcloak and Right-Eye, the three regrouping before beginning to plot their next move. Unfortunately for the goblins, transforming Xykon into a lich mean Xyon has lost all the other earthly joys in his life besides killing people, (most notably his deep seated love for coffee) and when he finds out that all his little joys like taste are gone an enraged Xykon not only comes dangerously close to killing both brothers but also calls Redcloak's bluff about harming the phylactery, which Xykon correctly realizes is a meaningless threat unless his body is destroyed and his soul inside the phylactery. Redcloak barely manages to talk Xykon out of killing them, (by convincing Xykon that if he doesn't go through with The Plan then Xykon will have done all this for nothing, and he needs Redcloak to continue The Plan) but Xykon usurps Redcloak and declares himself the leader of the team.
Years later, Right-Eye has grown disillusioned with the Plan, and after trying and failing to convince Eugene Greenhilt to go out and kill Xykon, (Eugene has given up revenge by that point and doesn't want to take any chances that Xykon might harm his family as payback should an attempt on Xykon's life fail) he decides to leave and start a new life elsewhere. He eventually found a secluded valley where goblins are living in peace with surrounding human villages, and settled down there, working as a carpenter and raising a small family. After taking his children on a trip to the local circus to see their favorite attraction, ("It", AKA The Monster in the Darkness) they encounter Redcloak again. Redcloak explains that Xykon vanished a few years ago, and Redcloak is in between schemes at the moment and needs a place to rest. He too sees the MitD and knowing both what it is and how powerful it is, Redcloak decides to free/kidnap it, recruiting his oldest nephew for the task. Things go wrong and they are almost caught by the circus guards before Right-Eye bails them out, the goblins retreating with their prize in tow. However, the whole experience set off a change in Redcloak, and he decides to rework the Plan and try to build up the goblins from what they have already instead of ripping other societies down.
Too bad Xykon returns and forces the entire goblin village into his new army. During his time away, Xykon found the journal of Serini from the Order of the Scribble, and with it determined the location of Dorukan's Gate. Xykon encounters the MitD and is immediately impressed by it, and thinks that it could be valuable insurance. He charms the monster to kill Redcloak but leave the phylactery unharmed if Redcloak should ever betray Xykon.
Xykon and company lay siege to Dorukan's fortress, but the wizard is content to hide behind his massive amounts of defensive wards and traps. He only comes out when Xykon reveals he has Lirian's zombified body in his possession and her soul captive in a gem, and that Xykon intends to torment her soul by having an ogre chop up and devour her body right in front of spirit. As the two spellcasters fight, Redcloak orders Right-Eye to attack the castle, but Right-Eye refuses and reveals he has a better plan: kill Xykon with a magically enhanced dagger to avenge all the goblins that have died at his hands/negligence. (Including Right-Eye's entire family except for his daughter.) Redcloak again refuses to cut the Lich loose, saying that they've come too far to back off now, while Right-Eye accuses his brother of short-shortsightedness and never knowing when to let go. As Right-Eye goes to attack Xykon during a moment of weakness, Redcloak hits his brother with a disintegration spell, mortally wounding him. While Xykon first recovers from his momentary disadvantage and then proceeds to kill Dorukan, (trapping Dorukan's soul in the same gem where he has Lirian's soul captive) Redcloak and Right-Eye have one last conversation during which Right-Eye subtly disowns his brother just before dying.
Xykon returns from the fight and orders Redcloak to zombify his brother's corpse. When Redcloak refuses, Xykon reveals that he knew that Right-Eye was plotting against him, had taken measures to protect himself so Right-Eye's attempt to harm him never had a chance of success, and Xykon let it get as far as it did as a Secret Test of Character for Redcloak, in order to see how loyal and dedicated Redcloak was to Xykon and the Plan. One massive the Reason You Suck/Breaking/Eviler Than Thou speech later, and a very damaged and broken Redcloak complies with Xykon's order to turn his brother into a zombie. The book then ends with Xykon's army marching into and occupying the Dungeon of Dorukan, setting the scene for the start of the main comic.
In a sort of epilogue strip, the bureaucratic deva at Mount Celestia denies Eugene Greenhilt entry to the afterlife because of his outstanding Blood Oath of Vengeance.
- Aggressive Negotiations: According to The Dark One, his mortal life was ended in this manner. Considering that it led to his followers attempting to overrun human and elven lands and murder any humans and elves they could get their hands on, The Dark One rising as a vengeance obsessed god, and an even crueler repression of the goblinoids than what had come before, it doesn't seem to have worked out for anyone.
- Apologetic Attacker: Redcloak is this when he mortally wounds his brother.
- The Bad Guy Wins/Foregone Conclusion: As a prequel novel, it was guaranteed that a number of things would have to end badly to set the stage of where the online comic began, including Xykon defeating Dorukan and any other foe he faced, Right Eye and Lirian dying, Redcloak failing to find a more peaceful way to live in the world, etc.
- Berserk Button:
- Xykon has a slightly downplayed one about how wizards view sorcerers, starting after his encounter with Xavion.
- The comic shows us why Redcloak showed a special dislike for Azure City and the paladins who live there in the main comic.
- Breaking Speech: Xykon gives a truly nasty one to Redcloak, as listed here.
- Brought Down to Normal: Lirian's virus is an ingenious method of doing this to any spellcaster who tries to take the Gate, which is ultimately only useful to spellcasters. Unfortunately for her, Redcloak was unaffected thanks to the Crimson Mantle and had the resources in his prison cell to turn Xykon into a lich, making Xykon immune as well.
- Bullying a Dragon: Eugene Greenhilt points out both that Right-Eye is doing this at one point, and the inherent foolishness of it. Right-Eye, disgruntled in his final days under Xykon's employ, covertly contacts Eugene and attempts to get Euegene to take out Xykon. Eugene refuses, and Right-Eye gets angry about it, and makes like he's going to attack Eugene. Eugene points out that if Right-Eye is trying to recruit him, then Right-Eye has clearly come to the conclusion that Eugene is considerably stronger and has a better chance at taking down Xykon, so attempting to threaten Eugene is a really bad idea, complete with a demonstration of Eugene's magical power. Right-Eye quickly backs down.
- The Cameo: Keith Baker, the Friendly Rival of OOTS auther Rich Burlew, has one in the book, as a candidate vying with Xykon and Yydranna to be chosen as the Number Two of The Unholy Master.
- Captain Ersatz: Xavion is clearly one for Charles Xavier, aka Professor X, and his students are the X-Men.
- Cerebus Retcon: There's a ton of it going on in this book. Just for starters we have the Character Development given to Redcloak, the fact that the goblins the Order killed left, right, and center in the Dungeon of Dorukan were ordinary goblin villagers literally forced to work for Xykon, etc.
- Chekhov's Gun: There are several that may or may not have still have a role to play in the comic. For example:
- When Xykon first encounters the Monster in the Darkness, he puts an enchantment on it that will make it kill Redcloak if Redcloak ever betrays Xykon.
- Right-Eye's daughter is mentioned as having been smuggled to safety during The Siege of the Dungeon of Dorukan, and thus is presumably still alive and at large somewhere in the world.
- Co-Dragons: A young Xykon was this for awhile under The Unholy Master, but a Passed-Over Promotion made him angry enough to leave and attempt to become an Evil Overlord in his own right.
- Combat Pragmatist: Xykon can't overpower Fyron with magic, so he fakes defeat before beating the man to death with a trophy.
- Condescending Compassion: Xavion helps and teaches young sorcerers, but also freely admits to seeing them as inherently less than wizards.
- Covers Always Lie: The cover shows Xykon as a lich killing a paladin before his first encounter with Redcloak — while in the story proper, he wasn't yet undead when this happened. This is lampshaded on the last page of the book:MitD: Wait — the scene on the cover didn't happen that way.
Demon-roach: Welcome to show business, kid.
- Darker and Edgier: The main comic certainly has dark moments, but there is no doubt that this prequel goes to much darker places than the main comic does. Genocide and the murder of one's own family are just the start of what happens during the course of the story.
- Deal with the Devil: Redcloak, at the end, describes his alliance with Xykon as such.
- Doomed Hometown: Redcloak's village is wiped out by overeager Paladins from the Sapphire Guard early in the story.
- Dragon-in-Chief: Thoroughly deconstructed. Xykon is essentially hired on to be Redcloak's dragon, but because Xykon is so much more powerful than Redcloak, Redcloak has no means of preventing Xykon from making foolish decisions or mistakes that kill off other goblins, and later loses any ability to control Xykon at all and can only watch as Xykon usurps the title of Big Bad.
- Draw Aggro/Heroic Sacrifice: The former bearer of the Crimson Mantle does this when the Sapphire Guard attacks the village, hoping that in giving his life he'll give a young Redcloak and the other villagers a chance to escape.
- Dumbass No More: Alive, Xykon was powerful and ruthless, but also foolish and easy to manipulate. After being turned into a lich he becomes much smarter and starts seeing through some of Redcloak's plots and bluffs, and that was very bad news indeed for Redcloak and Right-Eye.
- Dying Declaration of Hate: Right-Eye does a rather more subtle one than usual. As he lays dying, Redcloak tells him "Goodbye, brother" and Right-Eye responds with "Goodbye... Redcloak." Right-Eye had refused to call Redcloak that title all throughout the story, instead insisting on calling him brother. He in fact, considers "Redcloak" to be something like a demeaning slave name put on for Xykon, so the fact that he calls his brother that with his dying breath is quite a rebuke and insult... and Redcloak doesn't even appear to notice it.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Shown again and again. Tragically so, in many cases.
- Eviler Than Thou: Part of Xykon's speech to Redcloak was the longtime page quote. Most of Xykon's speech can still be found on the trope's quote page.
- Gut Punch: We get introduced to Right-Eye's family, including his intelligent, snarky teenage son and gentle, loving wife. (And then are the two cute kids who have a great relationship with their dad.) We see them bond with Redcloak and the close ties within the family... and then they're ignominiously killed off during a Time Skip by a group of adventurers that Xykon invited into the goblin camp and then made no move to stop when they began killing off his goblin followers. He was entertained by it, in fact.
- HeelFace Turn: Right-Eye does one, and was close to making Redcloak do one as well, but then Xykon showed up and forcibly re-recruited all of them into Xykon's service.
- Hope Spot: Right-Eye had given up being a minion, and happily settled down and raised a family. He's on the edge of persuading his brother Redcloak to do so as well... and then Xykon shows up.
- I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: As a young man, Xykon spent time as an apprentice villain at the Helldeathdoomfire Volcano, home of The Unholy Master.
- I Surrender, Suckers: Xykon pretends to surrender to Fyron during their Wizard Duel, then beats Fyron to death with a trophy when the mage drops his guard.
- Ignored Epiphany: Redcloak is ready to give up the Plan and try to do some good by building up the local goblin communities... then never thinks of it again after getting started on The Plan again.
- I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin: How the previous bearer of the Crimson Mantle passes it on to Redcloak, with the slight variant that he's already dead, and it's his spirit manifesting to urge Redcloak to take it.
- Kick the Dog:
- Xykon has an endless stream of them in the book, between cruelty to animals, making an innocent plead for his life on the basis of I Have a Family and then killing the guy after Xykon had said he wouldn't, murdering people like Xavion or the waitress on a whim, forcibly recruiting Right-Eye's village into his army and then getting most of Right-Eye's family killed when he could have easily saved them, etc. Burlew wrote that one of the great challenges of writing the book was to make sure Xykon wasn't sympathetic once readers saw his whole story and experienced life through his eyes. "I mean, he's wholly and unapologetically evil, but more to the point, he's kind of a dick" is how Burlew sums up the matter.
- The paladins wiping out the goblin village come across as doing this, since we see the goblins have no idea why the attack is happening and are trying to protect their loved ones. Word of God is that even the Twelve Gods weren't happy and several of the paladins fell for their actions, although that isn't seen on screen.
- Redcloak at the very least is doing this when he fatally wounds Right-Eye, and some readers considered it an outright Moral Event Horizon.
- Line-of-Sight Name: Redcloak and Right-Eye, in order to avoid being blasted by an impatient Xykon.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Redcloak's reaction to killing his brother, once Xykon reveals it was for nothing.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Nobody on Team Evil, not Redcloak, Xykon, or even The Dark One, knew there was more than one Gate until Lirian, knowing her Gate had been destroyed, told Xykon that her he'd never be able to get control of one of the other Gates.Lirian: Even if you locate them, my friends will stop you from conquering the other four Gates.
Xykon: Did you Did you just say, "the other four Gates"?
Lirian: Crap. [Xykon snaps her neck]
- No Name Given: The real names of Xykon, Redcloak, and Right-Eye are never revealed. Xykon is a made up "cool name" that his teenage self came up with, while Redcloak and Right-Eye are Line Of Sight Names, and they spend the entire comic calling each other brother... until Right-Eye's final words.
- Once More, with Clarity!: In the webcomic proper, we only get a single panel of Xykon killing Eugene Greenhilt's mentor, which looks like he's using a spell to do the job. In this book, we see what really happened; Xykon had already killed Fyron through blunt force trauma by that point, and was turning his corpse into a zombie.
- Passed-Over Promotion: Xykon was actually ok with getting passed over in favor of the evil mage Yydranna, as he admits she's good at what she does and he genuinely respects her. Being passed over in favor of Yydranna and Keith Baker, however, pissed him off to no end and he angrily decided that it was time to end his service to the Unholy Master and go Start My Own.
- Pragmatic Villainy: As a mortal, Xykon declines to have anything to do with a scheme that involves kidnapping virgins. Not because he has moral qualms about it, but if he going to turn a woman in a Sex Slave, he'd he'd prefer that they have some experience and know what they're doing.
- Regretful Traitor: Redcloak is extremely regretful of betraying his killing his brother and continues to be haunted by the deed (as shown by the 5th and 6th panels here) but rationalizes that he had to do so for the sake of his entire race. (In truth, Right-Eye is correct and Redcloak simply can't face the responsibility of admitting that he is responsible for the deaths of all the goblins who died due to Redcloak's refusal to Know When to Fold 'Em with regards to his bad deal with Xykon.)
- Start My Own: After the Unholy Master refuses to promote him, Xykon decides to leave his service and become an evil leader in his own right.
- Start of Darkness: For Redcloak, anyway, as we see the traumas that made him a Well-Intentioned Extremist and the rationale behind his actions. Xykon, as we see, was pretty horrible from early childhood.
- Together in Death: Xykon unwittingly causes this by binding the souls of Lirian and Dorukan to the same Soul Gem. Due to Evil Cannot Comprehend Good, he thinks he's inflicting And I Must Scream on them, but it works to reunite the two lovers and give them comfort they otherwise wouldn't have.Lirian: Dory? Dory, is that you?
Dorukan: Yes, my love. I've failed. It looks as if I am to share your prison forever now...
Lirian: No, no... not a prison anymore. (they embrace)
- Took a Level in Badass: As the book covers more than 100 years, we see this happen repeatedly to both Xykon and Redcloak, but more noticeably with Xykon. With time Xykon goes from a kid who doesn't know what he's doing with his powers, to a small-time villain helpless to do anything more than stand there and take it as the authorities who've arrested him crack cheesy jokes at his expense, to a major threat, and finally, to one of the most dangerous beings in the world who has singlehandedly killed off at least two different epic level spell casters, and Fryon, who had to be high level at least.
- Tragic Monster: The main focus of the story is seeing how Redcloak became one.
- Tranquil Fury: When Xykon finds out that being a lich means not being able to taste coffee (Since his tongue dissolved with the rest of his body save the skeleton), he doesn't raise his voice. He doesn't throw a tantrum. He just starts killing whoever gets within arms reach, and after Redcloak narrowly avoids death with a Sunk Cost Fallacy, he very coldly names himself leader of Team Evil without another word.
- Trapped in Villainy: Right-Eye and the rest of the goblins of his village are once Xykon forcibly recruits them. Played with in Redcloak's case, as halfway through the novel and again at the end, he essentially chooses to be Trapped in Villainy.
- Villainous Friendship: A number of examples, but the story goes to great lengths to show that Xykon and Redcloak are not friends at all. Readers who read it back when it looked like Xykon and Redcloak might have a case of this got a nasty shock at the end of the book.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Where is Right-Eye's daughter? Was the Soul Gem with the souls of Dorukan and Lirian destroyed when Dungeon of Dorukan was destroyed at the end of the first arc? What happened at the Helldeathdoomfire Volcano with the Unholy Master and Yydranna after Xykon left?
- Wizard Duel: Several are seen:
- The first is between Xykon and Eugene's master Fyron. Fyron beats Xykon with magic after a prolonged duel, but is then beaten to death by Xykon.
- A mortal Xykon and Lirian start to have such a duel, but it has barely begun when Lirian's virus erases Xykon's spell casting abilities. Xykon pays her back later when he catches her by surprise and curb stomps Lirian.
- Later we see Xykon take on Dorukan and Xykon wins because of Boring, but Practical tactics and the advantages granted by being undead. (And black and white artwork negating Dorukan's attempt to use the Prismatic Spray spell.)