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Heroes? In MY Castle? It's More Likely Than You Think

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“Evil wizard!,” proclaimed the knight while pointing at a decidedly unamused evil wizard seated at the throne. “I’ve come to defeat you!”

Callum Hunt, level seventy Dark Mage, guardian of the Castle Panopticon, was bored out of his damn mind. The asshole currently screaming at him (respectfully dubbed Sir Loud Mouth by Yours Truly) seemed to be having a grand old time tracking mud and leaves throughout Call’s throne room and disturbing the peace like he owned the freaking place, as if it wasn’t bad enough that he’d interrupted him in the middle of breakfast. The wizard had half a mind to kick him straight out, even though it was against protocol to dismiss a hero while in the midst of a battle.

Well, technically they weren’t in a battle yet. Right now they were just doing the introductions. Or as Call liked to call it, the standard pissing-contest that he’d been subjected to daily for the past thousand or so years.

“First, I defeated the ogre by the caves of Hunith,” the knight continued and, wow, this guy was still talking? “Then I acquired the Ring of Truth from the volcanoes of Mount Beezlebub. Next I retrieved the Sword of Justice from the Catacombs of...”

Call tuned him out. Blah blah blah, look at all the cool stuff I got! Whoop dee doo, what an accomplishment. Getting past the stupid ogre that guarded the Caves wasn’t an accomplishment. Defeating a thousands of years old Dark Mage; now that was an accomplishment.

Too bad none of these sorry excuses for heroes had ever beaten him before. Talk about a snooze-fest.

The first few hundred years were fun, though. Call would actually give the heroes a fair fight with his advanced magic. Sometimes he would shake things up a little and bring a dragon in to burn these losers to a crisp. But after he started noticing the same behavior, the same motions, the same techniques, things got boring fast. Pretty soon he was just listening to introductions and then blasting them to smithereens with a bolt of magic so severe that the smell of burning flesh would linger until another one showed up the next day.  

It was a pretty miserable existence, but this was the price Call had to pay for the crimes he’d committed in his past life. To be honest, he was kind of annoyed at himself. Like, what was his previous self even thinking ? Everyone knows that when you break wizard protocol the punishment attaches to your soul and follows you straight into your next life. And now Call was cursed to guarding the final checkpoint to a stupid Quest because of something he didn’t even remember doing. Amazing.

“I’ll admit,” the knight said, hefting his girthy sword in one arm as he circled the front of the black throne, while Call just sat there with his cheek resting on his hand. “When they told me about the powerful boss wizard residing in the throne room of the cursed princess’ castle, I expected someone...older.”

“And I expected a knight that wasn’t a complete fuck up, but here we are.” He didn’t actually say that. What he really said was, “Foolish mortal, I am thousands of years old and have bested hundreds of thousands of knights and others who wish to save thine princess. Pray tell, what about you makes you so different?”

Yikes. If there was one thing Call hated about this whole arrangement, it had to be the stupid script he had to follow every time one of these jackasses decided to challenge him. Like, come on, who even says “thine” anymore? Losers, that’s who.

The knight totally fell for it though. With a loud and confident laugh, that only served to piss Call off more, he began to list every one of his “heroic” accomplishments like that was supposed to scare him or something. The only scary part about this was the dude’s outfit. Like, the court jester called, he wants his balloon pants and pointy shoes back.

Call definitely looked a lot cooler. Being a level seventy anything meant that you always had the freshest battle outfit in all the seven kingdoms. The black and silver design scheme he had going on was the most badass thing ever. And it matched his black hair and silver eyes, which was even cooler.

But the winter weather up here on the mountains was beyond cold, and his threadbare cape was doing jack-all to keep him protected from the harsh winds. He didn’t even have his wicked cool wizard hat anymore; he’d lost it while cleaning the castle one day and never found it. One of those damn knights probably stole it when he wasn’t looking.

“And now, villain!,” shouted the knight, making Call jump. “Once I have defeated you and taken your head as a spoil of war, I will save the princess from your evil clutches and make her my lovely bride!”

Call sighed and drummed his fingers impatiently along the arm of the chair. “She’s not here,” he told him.

The knight faltered. He looked comically confused, which almost made Call snort. “I--uh, what?”

“She’s not here,” he repeated, annoyed. “The princess ran off ages ago with a female knight. There’s no one here.” Except me , he thought sourly.

The knight looked incredibly lost, like he wasn’t expecting this to happen at all (which was understandable), but the next second he was puffing up his chest again and yelling, “O-Of course you’re lying, wizard! Trying to throw me off her trail, I presume? No matter! I will not be bested by mere tricks!”

For the love of...Call let out a very long and very irritated sigh through his nose before rising into a standing position. He made sure to float at least a few inches off the ground. His bad leg was hurting more than usual today, and he couldn’t be bothered to stand on it now (plus it made him taller).

“Sir Knight,” Call said like he was reading from a paper (read: very bored). “Do you truly believe that you have what it takes to defeat me, the Dark Wizard of Old.”

At this point he just wanted this whole thing to be over with. He could care less about stupid heroes and their stupid swords and their stupid families that would mourn if they never returned from their stupid quests. All he cared about was finding his stupid hat (seriously, where did he put it?) and eating his stupid breakfast.

“I've already told you, villain! Your evil ways are no match for my heroic prowess and dashing good looks! You will lead me to the princess at once or else face the consequences of your villainous actions and--!”

“Look, buddy,” he interrupted. “Let me break this whole thing down for you in a way that you’ll understand. I'm a level seventy Mage. Seventy. That's the highest rank you can possibly get to in any classing scale. What are you, like, level ten?”

“Level twenty three,” the knight replied, a bit miffed.

“Yeah, whatever. Look, what I'm trying to say is that I'm infinitely more powerful than you are, and fighting me is only going to end badly for you. So why don't you just turn around and go home?”

Call thought he was being pretty reasonable and merciful, but the knight obviously didn't see it that way. He shouted, “Only a fool would listen to your pretty words and be swayed to forfeit without collecting the prize!” A sly smile. “Perhaps you’re just frightened that you might lose. How ironic that the Enemy of Death fears death itself!”

Call's face darkened immediately. “How do you---”

“No more silly chatter!,” announced Sir Whateverthehellhisnameis. He pulled out his sword and brandished it menacingly at Call, a cocky grin stretching across his face. “Now then! Let us begin the b---”

A bolt of pure black shot from Call’s palm and the knight literally went up in a puff of smoke. Ashes rained down from the domed ceiling and settled daintily around the knight’s previously occupied and now smoking pointed shoes. The throne room was quiet once again. Call sighed.

Man, he hated his job.

 


 

Two days later someone actually interesting entered the castle.

It was a kid. There was no sugar-coating it, no going around it, there was a real, honest to goodness kid approaching him right now. Call nearly sat up in surprise when he saw him, but then realized he was pretty comfy in his chair so he just stayed as he was.

A cluster of dead leaves blew in through the open door as the boy entered on horseback, his steed’s soft hoof-steps echoing loudly in the empty throne room past the heaps of ashes from Wednesday that Call hadn't gotten around to cleaning up yet. Call watched with slight interest as the boy dismounted, patted his mare’s snout reassuringly, then took a few steps into the room.

It only took him a couple of seconds to notice Call, and when he did, he froze on the spot. This was followed by rapid blinking, a cursory rubbing of the eyes in disbelief, and then, strangest of all, a violent flush starting from the neck to the tips of his ears.

“Uh, hi,” the boy said awkwardly.

Call raised an eyebrow but didn't move from his position. “Sup.”

He probably looked utterly ridiculous hanging upside down off of his throne the way he was, but, to be fair, he’d stopped caring a few millenia ago.

The boy, for his part, looked rather impressive in his knightly get-up. Blond hair tousled by the wind, a face that, while young, would definitely prove to be handsome in the years to come, a posture that oozed confidence. Hell, even his cape was a thousand times better than Call's. And it was purple . Talk about fancy.

If Call didn't know any better he’d say that the boy in front of him was a royal, or at least of royal blood, but the tan and freckled skin that you could only inherit from a life of labor in the sun told a different story altogether.

After a moment of awkward staring between the two, the boy suddenly cleared his throat and bowed low, armor clinking and cape sweeping the floor.

“I am prince Aaron Stewart from the kingdom Magisteria,” he said clearly, making Call's eyebrows shoot up into his bangs. “And I have come to rescue Princess Tamara of the Rajavi kingdom from this tower of evil.” He peeked up at Call from under his fringe. “Uh...Your Majesty? I’m assuming?”

Hah, Your Majesty. Now that’s rich.

He sighed and said to him in a totally monotonous voice, “Rise, brave hero. You have traveled far during this Quest and have faced many dangers along the way. At this point in your journey you will hold council with the Dark Wizard of Old, the keeper of these grounds and the guardian of the fair princess you seek. Come forward, and face your destiny.”

Call said all of this while still upside down.

The prince approached the throne cautiously. There were way too many openings to kill him in that short span of time. He didn’t even have his sword out or anything. Call had to wonder what Magisteria was thinking sending an untrained child to face him. They must be getting desperate.

“Forgive my insolence,” the boy started, wringing at his stupid purple cape. “But...who are you? Where is the Dark Wizard?”

“Dunno,” Call said flatly. “Why don’t you check the parlor? Maybe he’s in there catching up on Keeping Up With the Kardashians .”

For his merit, the prince seemed to register that he was being sarcastic. He frowned and said, “Is the wizard even here? Why are you here?”

I,” Call sniffed. “Am Callum Hunt, guardian of the Castle Panopticon, Ruler of these magical lands, and...pretty much any other cool sounding title you can think of.” He yawned and waved an arm lazily. “Level seventy Dark Wizard of Old, at your service.”

The boy, Prince Aaron (prince stewart?) immediately tensed and placed his hand on his sword hilt. About time .

You’re the Dark Mage?,” he asked incredulously, which did absolutely nothing for Call’s self esteem. “But you’re...you’re like my age!”

The wizard didn’t bother to respond. The prince looked like his mind was working at a mile a minute. “ You’re the Dark Wizard. You’re the guy I have to defeat to finish the Quest.”

He nodded, getting irritated again.

“I...okay.” Prince Aaron looked a little harassed. “Great. Cool.” He cleared his throat and slipped his sword from its sheath and took a fighting stance.

“Villain,” he began and oh god not this again-- “I have come to retrieve the princess---”

“The princess is gone ,” Call exploded. He slapped a hand down. “My God, all of you heroes are ridiculous, I’ve literally been here for thousands of years! Did you really think the princess would stay young for that long?”

The prince blinked in shock. “W-Well I thought....since, you know, magic---maybe you were keeping her immortal or something?”

Call almost laughed. “Are you for real? The only immortal being here is me, and that’s only because of the stupid curse. Don’t you guys communicate with each other or something? Hold a monthly knight’s meeting at a round table? Princess Tamara ran off with Lady Celia eons ago, how do none of you know this?”

Now he looked downright sheepish, “I-I’m sorry, I’m kind of new to this.”

Could’ve fooled me , Call thought sarcastically. “Did you even learn anything before starting your journey? Don’t they teach you this stuff in school anymore? Or like, hero training?”

If there was one thing Call loved more than blasting these stupid heroes into the next life, it was tearing apart their self-esteem. None of them liked being made fools out of, but this one especially seemed to be really embarrassed about it. It almost made Call feel a little bad.

Almost.

“Okay, I’m sorry,” he acquiesced. “Really, I am, but...if the princess isn’t here then why are you still here?”

“Why are you here?,” Call countered. “You’re like, what, eight? Why did your kingdom think it was a great idea to send you?”

Prince Aaron’s green eyes darkened. “That’s not really any of your business.”

“To answer your earlier question,” Call plowed through, “ I’m here because I can’t leave until someone defeats me. As you can see, that hasn’t happened yet. What about you, mister hero, you think you can take me on?”

The boy sighed. He lowered his sword. “To be honest I don’t really want to fight anymore,” he said. “I’m tired of fighting.”

The wizard placed a heartfelt hand on his chest. “ Same . How about you go home and drop this quest and we can forget all about this stupid battle, hm? I, for one, think that’s a great idea.”

“Or,” the other said. “We can still have a battle but not fight .”

“What?” Call squinted. “What are you selling now?”

Prince Aaron seemed to have found his confidence again. “You said that I’m supposed to hold council with you, not fight you. What if I choose something other than a battle of strength?”

Call raised both his eyebrows this time. “Then I’d say that you’re probably the smartest guy who’s come through here in the past millennium.” He stood and floated slowly over before stopping about a meter from the princeling, only mildly annoyed that he only came up to his nose even three inches off the ground. “However, you must still defeat me in some way. What battle do you choose, if not a test of strength?”

Prince Aaron was blushing again, strangely. Maybe Call was a bit too close. The blond cleared his throat and said, “How about a battle of wits?”

“A battle of wits,” Call dead-panned. “What.”

“You know, like---like a riddle!” He was getting flustered. “Or a puzzle of some sort.”

“Those are the same thing,” Call pointed out. “You want to defeat me with puzzles?

“Um...yes?”

Call was about to laugh and just zap him right then and there to be done with it, but he suddenly got an idea. “Okay, Prince Aaron Stewart,” he began carefully. “I’ll give you a puzzle. If you solve it by tomorrow morning you will have passed your Quest. If not...” He let a slow smile spread across his face. “Then I’ll kill you.”

The Prince swallowed fearfully, but other than that betrayed no emotion. “I-I accept your terms, Great Wizard.”

Oho, so now he was great wizard, huh? The prospect of getting exploded to death suddenly made a guy a lot more polite.

Call nonchalantly floated backwards so that he sat upon his throne once again, closing his eyes. “Here’s your puzzle: Find my hat. You have until tomorrow.” He clapped his hands. “Begin!”

Silence. Prince Aaron continued to stare at him expectantly until he realized that he wasn’t offering anything more.

“....What do you mean find your hat?”

“I mean exactly what I said. Find my hat.” He peeked at him from one open eye. “It’s a black wizard hat with silver designs on it. I lost it somewhere on the castle grounds. Deliver it to me by sunrise tomorrow or die.”

Another pause. “Okay...where was the last place you put it?”

Call picked at his ear. “Well if I knew that , then I wouldn’t be looking for it, now would I?” He flicked the blob of earwax somewhere offscreen. “But the last time I had it...that would be about a hundred years ago, I think.”

“It’s been missing for a hundred years and you expect me to find it?,” he asked, annoyed. “That’s not even a puzzle!”

“Of course it is. It’s the best puzzle.” He waved his hand dismissively. “Chop chop. Time’s a’ wastin’.”

Call decided it was high time he got started on his breakfast. He rose up from his throne and stretched, basking in the small sliver of rare sunlight from the window as the boy-prince just kind of stared at him incredulously. Call summoned his breakfast from the kitchen.

As he chewed his sausage he mentioned briefly, “Oh, by the way, this castle has 500 rooms and 35 floors. Good luck.”