Disclaimer: Based on characters and concepts owned by others. For fun, not profit.
Rating: PG (mainly for angst)
Author's Notes: Written for the DandDToon community's Summer Fic Festival 2008 on LiveJournal. In response to the prompt: The Gang & DM -- mistrust -- "El diablo sabe más por viejo que por diablo."
A little dark, but I hope it's enjoyed!
Summary: He has always known everything his pupils would do.
Five Times the Young Ones Trusted Dungeon Master to Get Them Home
(And One Time They Didn't)
"El diablo sabe más por viejo que por diablo."
(The devil knows more due to being old than by being the devil.)
- Spanish proverb
He had been doing this for very, very long. Longer than they realize. He knows his young friends feel somewhat abandoned each time he vanishes, leaving behind nothing more than a cryptic message – they always have, all of them. But he cannot expect these particular Young Ones to understand his reasons. Not after the years of failure he has faced.
A cryptic message is all he can afford at this juncture – something lighthearted, though not frivolous enough to downplay the danger they face. That is very real – just as it has been for every pupil he has ever sent into peril. It is not something he wants; it is something he must do, for the good of this entire world. If he could confront it all himself, he would. The fact that he is unable to do so is a bitter truth he had to face many, many years ago.
What drives these children is hope, so he gives it. But he must leave before the full measure of his words is revealed. Before he is betrayed by his eyes, perhaps. Or by one word too many. He has told them the truth: when the Dragon's Heart is in the right place, it will show his young friends the way home. What he doesn't say is that they may not use it.
The Dungeon Master sees how they trust him and sadness creeps into his heart. But he has been around long enough to know that it is their true mission which matters. With Lukion free, there is a chance that the Spellbinder's magic can help find the key to free the Realm from evil. So Dungeon Master will deceive these children with the truth, and hope that the goodness in their hearts will bring them one step closer to the salvation of this world.
Even if it brings them a step farther away from their own.
Heroes are so very few during these dark times. Many years ago, it was to the Celestial Knights that he would have turned to help banish evil from this world. Now that time is centuries past. The only Knight who remains is a traitorous young man, whose impetuous desire for power when he was a novice has led to eons of punishment and suffering.
The Dungeon Master knows that, while Dekkion had deserved such a penalty, the opportunity for atonement should never be beyond reach. It must never be too late for recompense. Never. Otherwise his own efforts during these long years will have been in vain. Dungeon Master knows full well that evil will never end until its cycle is broken – and that is what he wishes to do for Dekkion. Because hope for one young, impetuous man who fell to the promise of power means that perhaps there can be hope for another. One still blinded by that power.
The Circle hidden within the Lost Tower does indeed have the ability to return his young friends to their homeworld. But Dungeon Master has been around long enough to know how they will choose to use it instead. He regrets that the goodness in their hearts is what will lead them to their decision; he regrets even more the fact that he is counting on it. So he does not stay to see the events reach their inevitable conclusion. He knows what that conclusion will be.
He attempts to ease his own conscience with the knowledge that, by the end, one of the Realm's original warriors will have returned to help defend it. And heroes are so very few during these dark times.
In the beginning, he had been much more involved in the exploits of his pupils. There had also been a time when he had offered more than mere enigmas to guide their way – "riddles" as his current Young Ones call them. But at the time, he had believed the danger would be short-lived. He had believed the noble warriors he had chosen would be the ones to swiftly deliver the Realm from the evil consuming it. It is difficult to be reminded of that mistake – that failure – now.
Seeing what remains of his former pupils in Venger's Maze of Darkness is a bitter memento. But it was their defeat – theirs, and others like them – that made Dungeon Master realize what was needed to deliver the Realm from evil. Each of his chosen ones had been valiant, brave, and pure of heart, but there was one thing they each lacked – one additional thing that, it became increasingly clear to Dungeon Master, was necessary in order to save this world:
His current pupils – these Young Ones – they have it. But Dungeon Master knows the strength of that innocence is costing them much, even if they don't realize it themselves. Their innocence allows him to spin half-truths, which they follow in the blind hope of finding their way home.
It is this hope which has led them into the Maze of Darkness, and although Dungeon Master still grieves for the pupils he lost here, he cannot help but swell with pride for these Young Ones, who have made it farther than any of the others ever could. It saddens him to know that this means he was right about them all along – and that they are destined to continue helping him, so far from their own home. It is with a heavy heart that he spins the other half of the Maze's story: they must once again face a choice between what they desire most, and what will save another little piece of this world.
Again, he does not stay to see what their decision will be. He has been around long enough to know.
Once again, he hands them a key to their freedom. And once again he knows it comes with conditions. He wishes he could allow them to comprehend the true value of their presence here – to accentuate all the good they have been doing since their arrival in the Realm. However, doing so would mean arousing suspicion as to his motives. If they realized how much he needed them here, it could very well cost them some of their hope of finding their way home. And with their hope would soon die the innocence that has been their guiding light.
But hope can be destroyed by more than mere knowledge. It can be shattered by constant failure – by growing despair. Dungeon Master knows he risks these very things each time he sends his young friends on a mission that is doomed from the start. It is a chance he takes for the salvation of this world.
There are times, however, when he silently relents. He knows they cannot keep this up forever, after all. Over many years, he has seen how hopelessness can change even the purest of hearts. Best, perhaps, to present them with a legitimate way out. They have done so much good already; perhaps the time has come for a new set of pupils to take their place – before their innocence becomes lost to despair and they are no longer the heroes the Realm truly needs.
The discovery of Xandora's box presents him with that very opportunity. If they succeed in freeing the sorceress from her prison, this would mean yet another beacon of good will have returned to the Realm. And if they are able to find their own way home as a result, then so be it.
There is little doubt they have earned their reward. Even if Dungeon Master knows there is always a chance they won't claim it.
There are times when he considers the Cavalier his conscience. The boy, in his disdain, often speaks the truth that Dungeon Master admits only to himself. His insights are frequently masked by foolishness, but Dungeon Master can see that if any of the Young Ones are to lose hope first, it can easily be him. The Cavalier seems accustomed to being hurt – even betrayed. He seems to expect it. And, while he is more right than he knows, his cynicism is dangerous for the others.
It is, therefore, easier to allow the lad to play the fool. That way, the Cavalier's focus remains on himself – and the others' along with him. He does not realize how important he is. He is the one who keeps his friends smiling – albeit unintentionally and at his own expense. He is the catalyst for their playful banter, the fuel for the fire of their hope . . . and, sadly, the distraction Dungeon Master needs to maintain their trust.
So, when Dungeon Master startles the Cavalier by appearing out of nowhere, or provokes him by putting a particularly frustrating spin on a riddle, or even humiliates him by planting the seeds of suggestion which cause the boy to become a Bogbeast, it is because Dungeon Master knows the end result will be what is necessary.
For instance, he knows the Young Ones will follow his guidance toward the River That Rains Upside Down. And he knows the Cavalier's plight will keep them from, once again, reaching their goal. They will never truly grasp the good they are doing in the process.
Dungeon Master wishes he was wrong – wishes events would play in their favor for once and allow them to freely cross over into their homeworld – but he has been around long enough to know otherwise.
And, unfortunately, he is counting on it.
There is a difference in their demeanor this time; he can feel it immediately. It is a far greater sense of misery than other instances where their quests met with failure. And Dungeon Master knows it is time for them to leave.
There is only so much defeat one can suffer before all hope is gone – before all innocence is lost. He cannot expect them to continue this way. He cannot feed their faith with any more false promises. He needs to come through for them finally and allow them their reward. They have done so much for him; it is the least he can do.
So the Dungeon Master begins to tell them of the Duke of Darkness – a misleading title, really. The man is not as menacing as his name would suggest. In fact, his worst crime is his habit of taking control of uninhabited land to add to his territory. His most recently acquired kingdom happens to have a mirrored pool which, when entered, transports a person wherever they wish to go. It is guarded, of course – the Young Ones cannot think such a simple solution has always been available – but it should not pose a problem. Dungeon Master would see to that. He knows their final quest will be successful.
He will find new young pupils to take their place and finish the good work these children have begun.
It is when the Young Ones do not permit him to finish that he begins to sense the severity of the situation. The accusatory words from the Ranger, not the Cavalier (who strangely remains silent), tells him his friends' precious innocence may just be slipping away. And when they ultimately turn their backs on him, he knows: He has counted on their trust one too many times, and his punishment is his inability to finally, finally give them their due reward. No matter how much he may want to.
He knows they will not heed his instruction today, and his heart breaks. For today is the first time he is genuinely offering them a way home.
Dungeon Master has been doing this for very, very long. He has always known everything his pupils would do. Mistrusting him so thoroughly, however, at the moment when he truly does wish to help, had never been one of them.