“I warn you, ” said the White Wizard to the Young Duke, ” that any harm you visit upon me will only make me stronger. ”
The Young Duke sneered with contempt. He had a lot of plans for the old man and none of them involved making him stronger. “We’ll see about that, old man. ”
“Indeed we will. ” said the White Wizard. “Because despite my warnings, you will be unable to resist doing that which will doom you utterly. ”
“Screw you, old man. ” grated the Young Duke. “I do what I want. ”
“Exactly. ” said the White Wizard. “And that is what will defeat you. I will leave you with two gifts : the first, a prophecy : you will know I have won when you come for my eyes.
“Pure rubbish. ” said the Chancellor Exchequer. “Why are you even listening to this peasant’s lunatic ramblings, my Duke?”
“They amuse me. ” said the Young Duke. “And the second gift?”
“This symbol. ” said the White Wizard. He waved his hand and a coat of arms featuring a dragon with the tip of its tail between its teeth appeared above the gate of the White Palace. “Its meaning will become clear, and yet you will not heed its warning. You are not capable of it. ”
“Don’t you…. ” started the Young Duke. “No. I will not let you bait me. Not when I have triumphed over you and you are powerless against me. ”
The Young Duke took a few steps back from the gate, and eyed the symbol critically. “You know, I rather like this symbol. I think I will make it the coat of arms of my new kingdom. So much for your childish parlor tricks, old man. ”
“So much. ” said the White Wizard. “And so little. ”
“I tired of your babbling. ” said the Young Duke. “Guards, take him away. ”
And as the Yong Duke’s brutes led the old wizard away, the tiniest seed of doubt found root in the Young Duke’s mind.
Why hadn’t the old bastard fought back? Everyone knew the old man commanded powers beyond mortal comprehension. He could have brought down fire from the heavens, or summoned the Ice Gods from their frozen plane, or invoked demons so terrible their very names could drive men mad.
But he’d done nothing. Nothing at all. He had surrendered the White Palance without using so much as a single cantrip.
Why was that? the Young Duke wondered.
Because he is old and weak and stupid and knew he could not prevail against my might, the Young Duke angrily told himself, and swept that thought aside in favour of a far more pleasant one.
It was time to start the Interrogation.
And so it came to pass that the Young Duke began his rule over the dominion of Altarr. Soon, his men has swept over the entire land, and within a forthnight, all of Altarr was under his rule.
And everywhere his men went, they met no resistance. The peasants were as passive and impassive as their wizard-king. They simply watched as their homes were burned down, their crops ransacked, their cattle slaughtered for feasts, and their women ravished by these delirious men.
Ravished. But not raped. Because the women offered no resistance either.
And this unnerved the men, though none would admit it. After all, they were getting everything they had been promised by the Young Duke, in abundance. Before long even the lowliest tinfoot soldier was living like a king, and day after day was spent in orgiastic feasting at which no pleasure was forbidden and everything they could have ever desiree was theirs for the taking.
Before long, the soldiers became bored, and goaded one another into ever larger acts of barbarity and cruelty. Each act only made the fires of madness within their eyes roar ever higher. and it was not long before they turned on one another and made war with inhuman abandon on their fellow soliders in order to secure the paltriest of rewards.
Six months after the invasion, every last one of them were dead. The last two warlords had fallen on one another like demons and cut each other to ribbons with the fearsome weapons they had ordered the peasants to make them.
There was a victor. He died from the aftereffects of all his earthly indulgences within minutes of his triumph.
And the whole time, the peasants did nothing but watch. And waited for the last of the soliders to die.
Then, they began cleaning up.
Things went no better for the Duke at the White Palace.
First, he had tried to sack the castle. But there was nothing to sack. No treasuries stufffed with goklden treasures. No armories stocked with hundreds of mighty weapons and impenetrable armors. No libraries full of ancient tomes and dark secrets. No mighty beasts chained in dungeons deep ready to smash the enemies of those whom they served. No host of spectral servants to serve the whims of the castle’s owners.
There wasn’t even a single magic candle.
Everything in the palace, from the kitchen to the parlor to the White Wizard’s own royal chambers, was as plain and ordinary as could be. There was nothing there that you could not find in dozens of homes throughout the kingdom. Even the White Wizard’s crown was nothing but paste jewels affixed to simple polished tin.
The Young Duke knew that this made him look foolish, and that his men were laughing at him behind his back.
It has to be a trick, thought the Young Duke. Some kind of trap the Wizard had left behind to make any conqueror look foolish for wanting the Palance for themselves. This wasn’t the real White Palace. The real one was hidden away somewhere, awaiting a word from the palace’s master to spring back into splendor and majesty.
Thus began the real Interrogation. The White Wizard was starved, tortured, denied sleep, denied water, beaten, dragged, burned, battered, and even dismembered in an attempt to get him to reveal the palace’s secrets.
And through it all, even the most fiendish of tortures devised by the most expensive torturers from lands both distant and dark, the White Wizard offered no resistance whatsoever. He did not so much as cry out in pain or beg for mercy or even spit bloody defiance in the Young Duke’s face.
All he did was watch, and endure.
And as the torments grew in severity. so did the Wizard’s crystal clear grey eyes grow in the mind of the Young Duke. They grew and they grew until it seemed like they would devour the world and the Duke with it.
And as those eyes grew, so did the Duke’s madness. Nobody was safe from his frequent blind rages. People who had been nothing but selflessly loyal to the Young Duke for their entire lfes were burned alive and screaming in orderer to slake the Duke’s bloodthirsty rage. Faithful retainers who performed vital functions in the castle were seized upon by the Duke’s madness and made to perform wicked parodies of ther official functions while the Duke laughed like a demon at their suffering. Even the loyal beasts of the Duke’s stable and menagerie were victims of the roaring inferno that blazed within the Duke’s madness-shattered mind.
And all the while, the symbol above the gate, and all the copies that graced the Duke’s every shield, banner, and tablecloth slowly changed. At first, the dragon had merely nibbled the tip of its tail. Then it devoured it. Then it began on it tail itself, and the more it ate, the hungier it looked and the brighter the flames of that self-same madness burned in its crazed eyes.
“We’ll be in real trouble when it eats its own asshole. ” one soldier had joked.
The joke spead fast and wide, but the further it spread, the less funny it seemed, until by the time it reached the outermost provinces of Altarr, it wqas said in hushed tones and with a air of deathly inevitability.
Finally came the day when the Duke was alone in the castle because everyone who had served him was either dead or had fled. It had been weeks since the Duke had slept and even longer since he had eaten. He was skeleton-thin and lifeless except for the insanity which burned bright in his eyes. And he mumbled desperate nonsense wherever he went as he mindlessly roamed the halls of the White Palace.
And then he found himself in the White Wizard’s cell, with a dagger in each hand, staring into the eyes that had tormented him so, wanting nothing more than to cut those eyes out of the Wizard’s head so they could curse him no more.
But he couldn’t. Because all he had lost, the Wizard had gained. The White Wizard now stood strong and tall and handsome, the very picture of purity and health, his every pore radiating clean white light that made the Duke feel filthy and horrible by comparison.
The Duke dropped the daggers to the floor with a desperate cry, and the White Wizard reached down to embrace him gently, and pull the Duke to his chest, where the Duke cried in long, wracking sobs.
“Hoiw do I do it?” he implored. “How do I escape your gaze?”
“You already know how to do it. ” said the Wizard in a voice of great compassion and understanding. “You have always known. ”
“No really… ” begged the Duke. “please tell me!
And the Wizard looked upon the broken and defeated Duke, and then, with great kindness, said “You can go to Hell. ”
The Duke looked up at the Wizard and a smile spread like dawn across his face. He nodded, and in a flash of pale red light, disappeared.
And the Wizard knelt down, and began to pray.