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The Masked One Unmaskedby Håvard Faanes
"These days, I am known simply as The Masked One. The name comes from the wooden mask which conceals my face. People react to the mask, obviously, but they get more comfortable with that than they ever would if they saw my face. The people of Krakatos have gotten used to it. The wizards there have learned to respect me, so far as to accept me as the new master of the Karameikan School of Magecraft, now that Terari has left that position."
"But there was a time when I had no need to conceal my face. Some would even say that I was handsome back in those days. I for sure miss my old face. I had a different name back then. Sverdlov. I was a young and ambitious man with a talent for magic. My master was called Kaleidus. He had discovered my talent for magic when I was very young and had asked my parents that he would be allowed to take me to his tower in the south, and that I would be his apprentice there. My parents had accepted this after being granted a small sum of silver as compensation. Kaleidus was a good man. But he demanded discipline and obedience. In return he taught me to develop and use my magical talents. But I was impatient, and his strict way of life made me despise him. I was jealous of the powers he possessed, those that he would not share. My thoughts dwelled upon this and my hate for my master grew. I spent most of my life in solitude in his tower and I had much time to cultivate these feelings."
"One of the times I actually left the tower was when my master took me to Specularum, the Duke's City. There I was introduced to the most prominent members of the Magicians Guild, including the Guilds leader, Master Teldon. Listening to the old mages, I learned of The Black Eagle Barony.
And about the powerful wizard residing there, the Infamous Bargle. I decided then, that I would seek out this Bargle, perhaps he would be a better teacher, and that some day other wizards would respect and fear my name, as they did his. On the journey back home, I made my plans."
"Wizards are not, like most believe, invulnerable. In fact, when unprepared for danger, many are quite the opposite. It was easy for me to sneak up upon my master and drive a dagger through his old body. He died, coughing a few drops of blood on one of the pages of his spellbook. I grabbed as many grimoires and scrolls that I could carry and left his tower, never to return. It is said that Kaleidus' spirit still haunts his tower, yet I still haven't had time to find out if that is true."
"It was a long journey to the Black Eagle Barony. Once there, it was Bargle who found me, not the other way around. He knew who I was, he said.
And he had decided to accept me as his apprentice. I had already passed his test. I was introduced to his other apprentices, most of them people who soon proved to be inferior in terms of magical potential. After only a few years, I had grown to become Bargle's most favoured apprentice. One day, however, that would change."
"Bargle often travelled. I know little of his missions. When he was gone, I was in charge of the Black Eagle mages. One of Bargle's most treasured possessions was a magical gem, called the Eye of Traldar. I do not wish to dwell upon the shameful details of this part of the story, but a group of rebels, undoubtedly based in Luln, were able to enter the Black Eagle Castle and steal the magical gem. Fearfully, I awaited Bargle's return. He was one of the most powerful mages in Karameikos, and escape from him was not an option. For my courage, I was rewarded with my life. Bargle never said a word. He pushed me up against one of the bookshelves and pressed a cold hand over my face. I can still remember the pain of his hand as it started to burn, branding my face forever."
"When I got back to my senses I left the Barony and never returned. After years of travelling, I ended up here, in Krakatos, and eventually became the master of the School of Magecraft."
"That is the end of my story. It has been nice to be able to talk about this, after all these years. Unfortunately, if the truth about me was to become known, I would lose everything, and I would be driven away from this town, or killed at best. So, I'm afraid I will have to kill you."
The listener's reaction was not one that the Masked One had expected. He had enjoyed letting his victim learn of his death in this casual matter, and was disappointed when the young man's only response was a grim smile.
"You are not the only one who wears a mask, Sverdlov," he said. "Don't you recognise your old master?"
Slowly, the strangers facial features changed into that of a gaunt thin-bearded man. "Relax, old friend," Bargle said. "I have not come here to kill you. The Order of the Black Eagle is not gone. I want you to join us."