The Duke

Striding down the marble steps with a flair of his trailing cloak, the Duke made his way to the crystal fountain. Here within his private grounds, he walked at ease in only his robe, his bare feet treading cool and free across the smooth walkways and over the soft lawns of green. He had a cup of tea in one hand, and his eyes scanned ahead in a subdued manner, his cane clicking idly beside him as he walked.

It was a fine summer's day and the gardens were lively with color and life. The tall white-washed walls around this inner sanctuary were bare and hot in the sun, and the light from the fountain danced across them in youthful peace.

The Duke sat down on the stone ledge by the fountain and breathed a sigh of content.

And then, out of the corner of his eye, he watched as a man stood up from the bench by the marigolds. The Duke's head snapped to attention and his right hand moved without a thought, placing the tea firmly on the ledge beside him.

The man was standing. That was all. He had previously been sitting on the bench. Then he had stood up.

The Duke rose. "Who are you?" he demanded. "Get out of my garden! I did not send for you."

The young man's eyes laughed while his face remained cool and calm. He wore straight black with a turtle neck and long sleeves, but the fabric was light and silk-like. He made no response.

The Duke frowned. "Well?" he spat.

The young man cleared his throat. "I think you know why I am here," he said in a low voice.

The Duke grew angry. "When I demand a response, I intend to get one," he intoned.

The man paced across the lawn, onto the wide path, and over to stand beside the Duke. He looked up at the Duke, and then slowly, he grew half a foot until their eyes were level.

"You know why I am here," the man repeated. "You always know. The voice in your head tells you. Doesn't it?"

Instead of growing aggressive with accusations and curses, the Duke grew suddenly defensive. "I no not what you speak of," he said.

"Ah, but you do. And I know this better than you do. But that is only because you are too weak to admit. To admit that you have...magic." The man let the word drip from his tongue like blood. "You cower behind your religious restrictions, claim to be devoted, and give the world a steely gaze. But you cannot hide from it. For all your burning and killing, you can never escape what you are. The whole world has been hiding from magic, trying to cover it up, trying to bury it alive. And the whole world possesses it, whether they want it or not."

During this speech, the Duke had found a solid lump in his throat and he could not speak. Stammering with the effort of taking a breath, the Duke's face went beet red. Then he finally let it out in a croak. "I will have you burned before the church!" he managed.

The man took a step forward.

"Aback!" cried the Duke, stumbling backwards in distress.

The man continued to advance. "I've been watching you," he said. "You know things without learning them. You see minutes into the future. Tell me: why I am here."

"You are here to die!" the Duke screeched with hardly a breath emerging from his parched lips. "And so you shall!"

"No," the man sighed, shaking his head. "You've got it wrong. Why ignore the words in your mind? Why deny their truth. You know why I am here. I am here to collect you. To reveal your true identity."

"I am the Duke! And you are a retched freak of nature! Guards!"

"You are a Duke, yes," the man continued, ignoring the Duke's antics. "But you won't be for long. The same judgment that you inflict upon others will be dealt to you. Because you are a hypocrite. We are all hypocrites."

The Duke turned to flee, crying again to the guards. How had this stranger gotten into the inner sanctuary in the first place? Feeling a sudden force around his waist, the Duke fell to his knees. His limbs were not working. His mouth could hardly form the words. "Release me!"

"There are two ways to be released," the man said coldly. "Death or revealance."

"Curse you," the Duke cried, falling now to his stomach.

"I can see now that you are not going to cooperate. And so it shall be the first. Your restrictions and masks of deceit shall be the end of you. Your religion tries to burn me. And so I will burn your religion. Let there be fire."

And the man vanished.

The End

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