In the Hall of Castle Runkelstein
Duke Meinhard’s spotless silver boots clinked on the stone floor of the immaculate chamber. The castle was filthy on the outside, but beautiful inside. In the solar room, fresco-lined walls displayed images of royalty clasped hand-in-hand in lengthy processions, knights in battle, and high born staring down their noses from their lofty balconies. It would have been a beautiful sight, were it not for the contrast of cowering nobles below — huddled in the corner, trapped in their own castle. A babe whined to suckle before the mother hushed it. Meinhard surveyed them all with a look of disdain. “Burn them,” he commanded his chief mage, Leonhard.
The mage, disguised in a monk’s robe, hesitated. “But my lord — ”
“Descendants of pagans and outlaws,” the Duke interrupted. “Do as I say!”
Leonhard knew the hardness he faced. Four decades of training, all to be bent for the ruthless power of the abomination of the man he called master. Words formed on the back of his tongue, but the fire in Meinhard’s eyes silenced any further objection. Leonhard shed his robe, retrieved his grimoire, and mouthed an incantation. A fiery circle appeared in the air as gasps arose from the cringing nobles and whispers from the monks standing behind.
This should not be…
God cannot be mocked…
Mercy shall triumph over judgment…
Meinhard turned backward, and with a flash of his sword severed the head of a whispering monk. Blood splattered Leonhard’s face, and the circle of fire faded.
“Call it back!” Meinhard demanded.
Leonhard closed his eyes, lowering his chin to his chest. The army of Meinhard’s monks began retreating toward the hallway. “Any deserter will find his head separated from body!” Meinhard shouted with a shake of his sword. “New life is born from death.” His words held the monks in place. “Call it back,” he said, turning to Leonhard.
Leonhard refocused his mind, swirled his hands in a semi-circle, and the ring of fire reappeared.
“Do it now,” Meinhard commanded, stretching his sword toward the nobles.
Leonhard looked into their tear-filled eyes — a lovely girl, perhaps no more than ten, cowered in the corner before him, wrapped in her trembling mother’s arms and her father’s stony embrace. Leonhard looked up at the frescoes. A lineage coming to an end. A lengthy line doomed for nought but being born.
Leonhard closed his eyes again and pulled the circle of flames into his palms. He stretched his eyes and fire burst forth…
Screams filled the chamber. The stench of melted hair and charred flesh poisoned every nostril.
When he opened his eyes, a circle of black surrounded a lonely pair of spotless silver boots.
Leonhard smiled. He knew his former master was the opposite of Castle Runkelstein: Clean on the outside, but rotten on the inside.
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