Daklin sat on a hard, cold surface, alone. He was in a cell somewhere, in a dark empty dungeon that smelled like rat droppings. His own cell was small in size, big enough for only a single occupant. Iron bars trapped him within, keeping him locked away in this place.
The mage did not know how long he had been here, but he guessed it was nearly a day. He had awoken a long time ago, his head pounding and his entire body aching. After his awakening, Daklin realized that his staff was gone.
The mage sat against the cell's cold, decaying wall, wrapping his cloak around himself for warmth. He felt a fury boiling deep inside of him, one that had been growing with each passing second. How dare these peasants attack him, knock him unconscious, and throw him into this disgusting dungeon. They were not fit to touch him, much less treat him in such an ungainly manner. Worse yet, they had stolen his staff, infecting it with their diseased, uncivilized hands.
The mage clenched one of his bony hands into a fist. They would pay, all of them. Once he escaped from this place, they would all die a slow, miserable death. Daklin chuckled to himself, letting that wonderful thought warm his aching body. Yes, once he was free, this entire village would perish. No one would survive his terrible wrath.
Daklin looked up at the ceiling off his cell. In the very top of it, some holes were in the ceiling. A few streams of light were coming through them, although not enough to penetrate the darkness of the dungeon. The mage guessed it was about midday right now and pulled his hood down further over his head. For some reason, he had never liked the light and much preferred the dark.
The mage sat in silence for a few more moments, before deciding he had had enough of lying around and tried to get up. However, as he began to move, pain flooded into his head and body, making Daklin give a startled yelp of pain.
Groaning, the mage lay back down, propping his head against the cold wall again and the pain gradually subsided. Oh yes, the villagers would most defiantly pay for this.
Daklin reached up and rubbed his head, his hand briefly rubbing against the mask that still covered his face. Pain was not something the mage was used to feeling. Usually, he would kill anyone or anything that tried to attack him or even just annoyed him. His opponents never got the chance to harm him. But now…he did feel pain, and the masked man loathed it.
The mage also felt another emotion, one that he hated, even more than the lowly villagers. That emotion was buried deep within, so small it was almost nonexistent, but it was still there nonetheless. That emotion was sadness, sadness that he had been so close to possibly getting rid of the cursed artifact he bore, but now, he migh never have that chance.
Daklin dismissed that weak emotion almost immediately, banishing it away. He folded his arms together and was about to try and go back to sleep, when suddenly, there was a loud creak from somewhere far overhead.
The mage perked up, and his eyes narrowed as he listened to the sound. It sounded like an old door opening. This was soon followed by footsteps…and voices.
The first voice spoke, sounding gruff. "He is in the cell to the right off the stairs. If you want a guard to accompany you…"
"I shall be fine, thank you," A woman's voice answered. This voice sounded like that of a bird in song, sweet and tender, yet with harder edge beneath that. "My brother is with me and I am quite capable of defending myself. Besides, mages are powerless when deprived of their staffs, so I doubt he can do much to me."
"Alright, then," The gruff voice replied. "Good luck."
The footsteps echoed throughout the dungeon, sounding like they were descending. Daklin listened intently, waiting for someone to speak again, but no one did. Above, the door slammed shut again, sealing the dungeon once more.
The footsteps grew closer and closer. The mage looked forwards, past the iron bars of his prison, and saw two shapes approaching out of the darkness. The two figures stopped before his cell and Daklin looked them over, able to make them out at last despite the gloom of this place.
The first figure, the one standing closest to the mage's cell, was a woman. She was small, frail figure, with long brown hair and dark skin. She had a pinched face, one that reminded Daklin of a dove. Her eyes were blue and she wore a simple dress over her slender frame.
The second figure, who stood behind the woman, was a large, muscular man. He had a bald head and a hairy red beard that engulfed his entire mouth. His eyes were also blue, and he wore a white tunic over his large form. His eyes looked at Daklin with a mixture of disgust and hatred.
"I do not like this," The man spoke, his voice deep and firm, but carrying a soft, tender edge. "This man is a murderer and deserves to be executed for his crime. He threatened the patrons of the tavern and wounded the place's owner. He is beyond reason. I say we leave him here, to rot and think upon his crime, until he is dragged out and beheaded before the village."
"In most cases, I would agree," The woman replied. Her eyes looked over Daklin. The mage, for some reason, could not see the emotions in her eyes. They were hidden to him, so he had no idea what the woman thought of him. "But this mage is our only hope. If we want to save our village, we must recruit him to our side. Only he can save us, my brother. You must trust me, my brother."
"I always trust you, sister," The man grunted. "It is him who I do not trust."
The woman nodded, before leaning forward and moving in front of the bars. "Hello there. My name is Alianor D'Iurgo."
"That is an unusual name," The mage hissed, his eyes staring out of his dark hood. "One that sounds very exotic and high above the normal names given to savages. You are not from these parts, are you?"
Alianor paused for a moment, before replying, "No. My brother and I were placed in this village when we were but children by our mother. She abandoned us here, for I do not think she ever wanted a child, much less two. I do not know where we come from, but this place has been my home for as long as I can remember."
"Is that why you are so eager to save it?" Daklin said, clasping his hands together. "Even going as far to try and make a deal with me?"
Alianor raised an eyebrow. "I never said-"
"Yes you did, mere moments ago," The mage said, interrupting her. "You think I am deaf, that I cannot here what is said right in front of me? Let us stop this formalities. You are obviously only here because you have come to harness my great power for your own. Please, get to the point and do not waste my time with your primitive words."
The woman paused. She looked at her brother, who was still glaring at the mage. She then continued. "I see. I had hoped to know a little more about you before I asked for your help."
Daklin laughed. His laugh was very unpleasant and it made the two siblings shiver with unease.
"You wish to know about me?" Daklin hissed, his laughter subsiding as suddenly as it had come, much to Alianor's relief. "Why would I reveal anything about myself to a fool such as yourself? The only thing you need to know is that I am the greatest, most powerful mage to ever live and it would be wise of you to cease this useless prattle and tell me what you want of me, so that I may leave this prison!"
The man stepped forwards, his face contorting in anger. "Cease your insults, mage, especially towards my sister! She saved your life, and she continues to do so, saying that you should not be executed, even if she believes otherwise. And you, the most powerful mage in the world? If you are, then how were you so easily disarmed, knocked out, and thrown in pri-"
Alianor held up her hand and the man fell silent, albeit reluctantly.
"Gargis, please," The woman said, looking at her sibling. "Try to keep your temper under control. We agreed I would do the talking here."
"Fine," Gargis growled, backing away. "I still think we should let this mage die, though. I doubt that this man would, or even could, protect us."
Alianor looked back at Daklin, who continued to lie unmoving in the back of his cell.
"I want to know more about you, mage, because of something that happened," Alianor spoke, her words slow and careful. "You see, while you were unconscious, the customers you threatened tried to remove your mask."
"They did what?!" Daklin snarled out, his eyes going wide with rage. "Disgusting peasants! They dared to touch it?!"
"Yes, they did," Alianor said, looking at the mage, a curious expression now on her face. "But none of them could take that mask off of you. Not even the strongest of townsfolk could pry that object off of your face. It seemed almost…bonded to you, like it was a part of your flesh."
The mage tapped the cell's floor with one of his fingers. He did not say anything.
"That got me thinking about something," Alianor said. "If you would, could you sit up so I can see your mask?"
Daklin cocked his head. "Why? Why should I do anything you say?"
"Because maybe I can help you," Alianor said. "Please, let me see your mask."
The mage sat in silence for what seemed like an hour, before finally sitting up. He grabbed his hood and lowered it, exposing his mask to the woman.
Alianor gazed upon the metal mask that hid Daklin's face. Her eyes suddenly fell upon the symbol that was carved into the middle of the object and she gave a loud gasp.
"I knew it!" She yelled, much louder than she intended. "That is no ordinary mask. You are wearing the legendary Mask of Shadows!"
Daklin's reaction was instantaneous. He shot across his cell, so fast he was but a blur in the darkness. He slammed his body into the prison's iron bars, and pressed his masked face against them. Alianor, startled, jumped back.
Gargis moved forwards, looking ready to push Daklin away from the bars. However, Alianor raised her hand and her brother, clenching his teeth, backed off.
"You know of this accursed artifact?!" The mage said, his tone betraying his sudden excitement. He gripped the bars tightly with his hands. "Then you must be the one who I have seeking in this wretched place! You are a magic-user!"
"Yes, I am," Alianor admitted without hesitation. "I am a follower of light magic, and I always have been since I was a mere child."
"Light magic?" Daklin made a snorting noise. "That is a weak type of magic, the weakest one can ever hope to study! If you follow that path, you are only a single step ahead of the lowly peasants we magic users should stand tall above! I am a follower of dark magic, the most powerful type of magic in the world. If I were to have chosen your path, I would have died years ago."
Gargis's eyes narrowed in fury, but again, Alianor waved him off.
"Your beliefs are your own," Alianor said, moving closer to the bars. "But know this. I have studied the Mask of Shadows, reading about it in ancient tomes of lore. It is said that whoever wears the mask shall be unable to remove it, and cursed to bear it until his or her death."
"Yes…" Daklin hissed, running a finger over the mask's symbol. "That is true. I have traveled for years across the land, seeking the aid of every magic user I could find. None of them could help me and all told me I was doomed to wear this artifact until my death. But perhaps…you are different. Tell me, light follower, do you have the ability or knowledge to remove this mask?"
Alianor stroked her chin, before answering, "Yes, I know how. I have studied the mask's powers for many years, as it always interested me. I have developed a certain spell, a spell that I believe should drain the mask's power and remove it from your face."
The mage's eyes went wide. He rattled the bars and snarled out, "Well, what are you waiting for?! Free me of this accursed thing! I have waited for many years for this moment! Hurry, get it off!"
Alianor raised a finger. "Not so fast. Remember, I came here to make a deal with you, not help you outright."
Daklin paused, still pressed against the bars of his prison. Finally, he said, in a voice of quiet anger, "I do not make deals with those weaker than me. Such an act would be below a man of my great esteem."
Alianor folded her arms. "Then you will never get the mask off. If you want me to remove, and I can see from your body language that you really want that, then you will listen to what I have to say."
The mage sucked in his breath. Finally, he let go of the bars and stood up straight.
"…Fine," Daklin said, angry that he was being degraded to such a position. "What will do you want from me?"
"The Crimson Legion is approaching this village," The female magic-user replied, looking up the dungeon's grimy ceiling. "They are destroying everything in their path, reducing villages, strongholds, even mighty castles to ash. They are a mere day's ride from here and they will kill us all or worse, take prisoners of some of us, to be taken to who knows where."
"Do not treat me as a fool!" The mage growled. "I know all of this already. Just tell me what you want of me."
Alianor furrowed her brow. "You could have played me for a fool. I thought you did not know this, as you seemed entirely indifferent and uncaring of the crisis that plagues our land."
"That is true," Daklin responded. "I care only for the problems that matter: my own. But that does not mean I am ignorant of the Crimson Legion and the events surrounding that horde of monsters."
"Fine, then, I shall get to the point," The female magic-user continued, starting to get annoyed by the mage's arrogant attitude. "I want your help in defending this village against imminent attack. You are the most powerful magic-user I have ever sensed, despite your dark nature. I want you to help us destroy the incoming invaders and save this town and its people from destruction."
Daklin scratched his chin. He spoke, saying, "That is all I have to do? Destroy the invaders with my powerful magic, a trivial use of my talents, and you shall remove the mask from me?"
"Correct," Alianor answered. "Do you accept?"
"I do," The mage replied, chuckling. "Of course, I shall need to be released and have my staff returned to help you."
"Of course," The female magic-user said, nodding. Gargis gritted his teeth at this, but said nothing.
"However…" Alianor said, her voice becoming stern. "There is one term you must also agree upon. When you are released from prison, you are to harm none of the villagers."
"None?" The mage hissed. "Not even the savages who beat me into unconciousness?"
"Those savages were people you were threatening to kill," Alianor said, her voice rising a little. "But yes, no harm is to come to anyone, those people especially."
"Fine," Daklin said, rubbing his hands together. "I agree to this as well. It is only natural you would want to help save your fellow primitives."
Alianor nodded. She started to turn away, but the mage tapped one of the bars and said, "Hold a moment. I have something else to say."
Alianor turned back around. "Yes?"
"If you are going to add a term to this agreement," Daklin said. "Then I think it is only fair that I add my own as well."
The female magic-user did not like the sound of this. Gargis shook his head adamantly, but she ignored him.
"Yes, I suppose that is only fair," She said. "What is your term, mage?"
"After I save your village from destruction," The mage said, moving behind the bars like a serpent. "And after you remove the mask from my face, I shall be allowed to go free. You shall not imprison me again or attempt to execute me after the Crimson Legion has been repelled. I shall simply be allowed to leave this village, unharmed. Is that fair?"
Alianor looked at the ground for a moment. She thought about this for sometime, before looking up and responding, "That is a fair bargain, dark one. I agree to your term as well."
"Then it appears we have an agreement," Daklin said. "I shall honor it, if only for the sake of the sweet reward, the thing that I have dreamed of for so very long."
"We shall see each other soon," Alianor answered, turning away. "I shall tell the council to release you momentarily and to return your staff."
The female magic-user walked across, towards the stairs that led out of the dungeon. Gargis, however, remained behind.
The large man moved forwards and put his bearded face against the bars. He looked over the mage. Daklin stared back at him, his cold eyes locking with Gargis's own.
"I shall work alongside you as an ally, evil one," Gargis whispered. "For my sister believes you can save us and I trust her with all my heart. But if you do anything to harm us or try to back out of this agreement, I shall kill you. I shall kill you with my bare hands, slowly and painfully."
"I look forward to seeing you try," The mage hissed back. He walked away from the cell's bars and propped himself back against the grimy wall, before lying down upon the floor.
Gargis grunted, and gave Daklin one last hateful look, before turning away and following his sister out of the prison.
The mage pulled his hood back over his head and touched his mask. At long last, he was going to rid of this horrid artifact.
Daklin lay there in silence, his thoughts filled with excitement.