The mage Ducar had lost track of the time he had been kept in the dungeon. Had it been weeks? Months? It couldn't have possibly been years, but while he lay and listened to the distant sounds of water dripping and prisoners screaming he wondered. What had become of the people he had been forced to leave behind? Did they wonder what had become of him?
Among the melancholia that hung over him like a swarm of locust buzzed more important questions, ones he obsessed over in his confines. Who had sold him out? Told the Brekards were to find him? Had they learned his true secret? Was that why they kept him below, dropping his food down from holes in the ceiling and barring him from any human contact? It was a clever form of solitary punishment, but was it by design?
Ducar always held onto one glimmer of hope, one beacon that kept him sane as he festered among the waste and rot below the earth. The hope was that the Brekards had not found his secret out, and that they thought him a normal mage, one whose power waned with lack of nourishment and magical components. And so, he waited. He ate his slop, tried to conserve space when he needed to relieve himself in his unvented cell, and watched the door.
And his patience payed off.
Though he didn't know it, Lord Brekard and Captain Tullis waited nearly three fortnights before they dared to enter Ducar's cell. The first few weeks were out of necessity. They had been away on campaign, one bloody battle after the next, keeping them from their homes and their business. War was such an inconvenience when one had things to attend to. After the had returned home, they opted to wait another week. They consulted with clerics and other holy men, trying to gain the upper hand on their prisoner before they even dare approach him. It was not wise to visit a mage unprepared, and even less so when you fed him slop for near forty days.
Captain Tullis entered first, his slate gray plate armor a dull orange in the glow of the torch he held. He regarded Ducar with contempt, as most men did. The lines on his face betrayed his age, more so than the silver hairs that crept from his temples and lost themselvs in his shoulder length brown hair. His beard was trimmed short, short enough that it didn't hide the grimace he made when he saw Ducar. The mage smiled, a the light shining in his eyes.
"So..." he rasped through crooked teeth. "A visitor at last."
The captain took a step to the side as Lord Brekard stepped in behind him. Ducar took note of the two guards who stood waiting in the hall as the door was closed. The Lord was dressed down, which Ducar found surprising, and made him giddy, though he tried to hide it. Brekard wore fine clothes, stripped with golds and silvers that showed even in the light of the singular torch. His face was taut and showed no emotion, and my, he was young. Hair pulled back into a tight braid of black, his eyes a matching color. He looked at Ducar the way most men would with improper information: as though he had the upper hand. Ducar's smile widened and he breathed in deep, clenching his fists beneath his robes. Fools, he thought.
"Do I have the pleasure of addressing the Warden?" Ducar asked, half twisting in a mock bow. His grime covered robe brushed the wet floor and the Captain scoffed.
"You miserable cur," Tullis spat. All gravel and fire, he was. "You have the honor of addressing his lordship Atten Brekard, heir to-" Brekard held up a hand, silencing the old Captain. Ducar faked shock and dropped to one knee.
"M-my Lord Brekard!" Ducar said, dropping his head. "I had no idea twas you who stole me from my home and has kept me in such squalor for so long! Please, I hope my meager and filth encrusted facade does not offend you."
Ducar looked up to see Brekard sneer. Cocky, he thought. Good.
"Rise, Ducar von Miden," Brekard said with a casual wave of his hand. "I've no such time for your venom laced words. We know all about you," he took a step towards the rusty bars that separated them, and whispered, "Mage."
Ducar rose slowly, carefully. They knew he was a mage. This much he had been sure of. But he had to know if they knew everything. He grimaced. "So. You know. That is why you've kept me down here for so long." Brekard smiled.
"Do you think us fools?"
Easy, Ducar thought, taking another deep breath. He felt more awake. "What do you know?" he said.
"We know what you are, obviously," Brekard said casually, beginning to pace in front of the bars. Ducar kept his breathing level and tried to calm his shaking hands. "And we know how to get you to work for us." The Lord turned and looked at Ducar. "Emile," he said smugly. Tullis grinned from behind him. Ducar's hands stopped shaking.
"So, let me guess," he began slowly, stalking towards the cell bars. "You've caught yourself a mage. You know the dangers, the risks, and yet you caught one, and now plan to force him to help you, what? Win a few battles? Kill a few enemies or you'll kill someone he cares about?"
Brekard laughed lightly. "Oh no, you misunderstand me."
Ducar smiled, feeling his heart race. He flexed his fingers, blood pumping. "Do tell."
"Emile might be your weak spot, but we're smarter than that. No one man, even a mage would risk it all for a single person. No, no. That's why we've taken every single person from your meager little town and locked them all away here." Ducar's face dropped as Brekard's glowed with a dark delight. "Oh yes, you;ll do what we demand, or you'll be forced to hear more of them scream as you lay here and rot."
Ducar's hands began to shake again, his lip twitched. "What do you know of magic," he whispered through gritted teeth. His muscles bulged beneath his robes where no one could see, his body shaking like a starved man who had eaten his first meal after weeks. The screams echoed through his head. His friends, neighbors. Good people, all of them. Brekard smiled, not knowing the danger he faced.
"Oh, I know a great deal," the young lord said casually. "How it's done, what it takes, fascinating stuff, really." He pouted as he looked at Ducar. "A shame you''re so under the weather, else you could have showed me some."
"Do you fear magic?" Ducar whispered.
Brekard laughed. "Only a fool fears magic," he said stepping back to the bars. "It is a weapon to be commanded, nothing more. A knight does not fear his sword, no more than a lord should fear the pitchfork a peasant wields."
Ducar's eyes drifted from the cold blackness of Brekard's eyes to the icy blue of the Captain's. He took a deep breath. "And you... Captain?"
Brekard glanced over his shoulder at Tullis, who blanched and wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. "You're afraid, aren't you?"
Tullis's eyes grew wide and he took a step backwards into the wall. "Tullis?" Brekard said taking a step towards him confused. Tullis began muttering words, gibberish flowing from his lips, his eyes transfixed on Ducar. Brekard spun around, fear apparent on his face.
"B-but how?" he stammered backpedaling towards the door, watching Ducar.
The Mage stood in the center of his cell glowing a deep shade of purple. His lip twitched above his teeth, pulling back into a feverish grin, his eyes wide with insanity. With a wave of his hand, the Captain let out a grunt and collapsed, the torch falling from his grip and rolling to the feet of the panicking Lord. Brekard pulled at the door with all his might, banging against it, yelling incoherently. The guards could be heard from the other side of the door, yelling and banging their weapons against the wood, trying to get it open.
"Tell me, Brekard," Ducar said, fear bubbling off him like steam, it's dark purple haze beginning to fill the room. "Have you ever felt utterly helpless?" Lord Brekard screamed and clawed at the door, his nails bending back and beginning to bleed from the force he exerted.
Ducar stepped toward the rusty bars of his cell, which melted away at his approach, sizzling in small puddles near his feet. Lord Brekard fell to the floor, sobbing and screaming as Ducar stooped low until the were only inches apart. "A shame," the Fear Monger whispered, violet fog billowing from his mouth with each word. "If I had but just one proper meal, I could have showed you some magic." He grinned, but all Brekard could see was his greatest nightmare standing before him, the most terrifying beast he could ever imagine looming over him in the flickering torchlight.