It wasn’t fair for the Chosen Ones. Why would anyone expect it to be?
If you’re not aware of the grift in question, it goes like this:
In theory, there is something that counterbalances the Evil of the Dark Lord. (Why does that sort of counterbalance never seem to occur in your life? Why isn’t there a cosmic force which makes sure that every time you trip and bruise your arm, you also find some coins to make up for it? Why doesn’t it choose sides in wars between nations? Why does it somehow occur when someone puts on a dark robe, raises the dead, and refuses to play along with White Wizards? Why is Necromancy an offense that disturbs the Balance, whereas the wholesale slaughter of Goblins is just another Tuesday? Who makes up these rules?)
—but the theory, and it’s such a pretty theory, is that a Very Special One is born to restore all things to their rightful places, through the very special process of gutting the Dark Lord like a trout. This person fulfills an ancient Prophecy, a foreknowledge held by ancients who were so wise that they could foresee the future, and so apathetic that they decided to convey this information through codes and rhymes and riddles, apparently for the purpose of making life more difficult for anyone attempting to do the thing they supposedly wanted.
(It’s sometimes said that the Prophecy is coded so that the Dark One cannot forestall it by finding the Chosen One first, which is just stupid. There’s no reason to believe that White Wizards are going to be vastly better at puzzles than Evil Archmages; in point of fact, both of them spend a great deal of time decrypting the secrets of the Universe, and so neither side ought to have much trouble with millennia-old brainteasers. It seems to lead to a lot of futures in which the White Wizard gets pretty close to figuring out the clues, and arrives in the general vicinity of the Prophesied One, only to find that the Dark Lord has razed every single village in the area to the ground, leaving behind only ashes and a note that says, “This might have been overkill, but I figured, better them than me, right?”)
There may be a Prophecy, or several. The Ancients left many of those things, sometimes to convey ancient wisdom, sometimes to give warnings, and sometimes just to take the piss.
“In the time when the Moon’s face is hidden
by the Stranger,
only when you are surprised that you’ve never
seen the Stranger
will you ask yourself: have I ever let others
see the Stranger in myself?
And at that moment, all shall be as foretold.”
There. Now, if at some point, something brings these words to mind for some reason, you’ll remember that you heard them here, and realize how truly all-knowing the Narrator was.
It’s entirely possible that the earliest White Wizards, facing the earliest Dark Lords, really dig through ancient prophecies to find solutions, and really did, with the best of intentions, think that the solution was going to be found in one very special child. White Wizards have a vested interest in Destiny, having conveniently placed themselves at approximately the top of their version of the Natural Order of Things—that is, if everything is pre-ordained, isn’t it lovely that you just happen to be The Embodiment Of All Things Excellent? Dark Lords are rare; they rise very seldom, and they end…or disappear…in complicated ways. Alice is rare; there have been three Dark Lords in the last thousand years, and all of them in a single span of a hundred years. Alice has a theory about this; but Alice has theories about many things; don’t ask her about them unless you’ve got a spate of time and a jug of whiskey available.
Eventually, the whole thing just turned into a Chosen Mill.
Pick a Chosen One, equip ‘em with the next batch of disposable heroes, a questionable magic weapon, and some dubious advice, and send ‘em forth. How do you kill a well-armored knight with a dart? Throw a thousand darts; one will get through.
There’s an uncertain track record. The histories have been muddled; it’s said that Alice’s two predecessors were both slain by Chosen Ones, but the Realm they had maintained remained curiously intact, curiously hostile to White Wizards, and curiously full of Orcs, Goblins, Trolls, and renegade humans. They claimed the Dark Lord lived. The Order of White Wizards sealed off the whole area, but rumors kept escaping.
No histories agree on what happened. Where the Dark Lord had gone, none knew, but the ranks of White Wizards were sorely diminished, and it began to be understood, first by scholars, and then by those who studied with them, until finally the world knew: the Names which underly the World were accursed names; they had always been cursed; and they might never be repaired or remade. And thus began a time of despair and war next to which an Apocalypse would have been very, very pleasant indeed; because an Apocalypse ends a world, and what there was, if it could be compared to any acts of Gods at all, was Purgatory.
It was in this time that Alice arose, in her own strange way.
And when her own Darkness stood revealed, the Chosen Ones came for her.
They came, although they must have known their predecessors had died. They came, even though some of them must have heard that their Prophecy wasn’t exactly as they’d been told. And thy believed. The more of them she defeated, the more she brought down, the more they came at her, increasingly certain that her death would heal the wounds of the world.
At least they had hope; whatever insanity was eating them, it was bright and pure; they were sure that, if they could just kill her, some part of the Universe would right itself.
Alice knew that she could step off a parapet right now and, if she chose to use no spell of flight or landing, merely dashed her mortal body to bits on the hard rocks by the moat, the World would grow not one whit happier.
And that was part of why she was letting the Chosen Ones live now.
Because something was wrong. And Alice couldn’t let it go.
In the meantime, though, she didn’t want to die. Her castle was layered with wards; she was layered with protective spells, plus the armor, plus certain other precautions, some mechanical, some supernatural, and a lot of healing tools close on-hand. Once the Chosen Ones made it to her, they stood, basically, no real chance at all.
One-on-one, despite what the Chosen Ones had been told, Alice very probably could have just defeated them all in single combat, without all the other precautions. But that was stupid, of course. It is sometimes necessary to bait a trap with yourself, especially if part of the trap involves getting a very, very close look at your opponent in the moment of highest stress. It is idiotic to do so without assuming that, one of these days, you’ll slip, or you’ll miss, or someone will have more skill than expected.
No system is perfect; but there were warrior-kings, in their prime, who’d died attempting to dismount from their damned thrones. (Okay. Just the one. But Rognoth the Conqueror would forever be known as Rognoth the Clumsy, and he had earned that title.) There was no way to avoid total risk.
In this case, the flaw in the equation ought to be on the Chosen side, or the White Wizard side. They should have realized that there was a reason why no Chosen Ones ever returned. But they chose not to do so. It did not gibe with their version of reality; and so, the fact that it was true was unimportant.
It wasn’t fair for the Chosen Ones, but first off, that was hardly her problem. Secondly, NOTHING is fair. Many think this is because the world is destined to be a terrible place, but it’s precisely the opposite. There’s no way to ensure fairness for anyone unless we’re all cogs in a machine. And for many of us, being a cog would not be just unfair; it would be unbearable, and unlivable, and we’d take our own lives, and then everyone else would have to bury us, which would suck for them.
The world is precisely as fair for Chosen Ones as it is for Dark Lords, which is to say: believing yourself to be the Child of Destiny is believing yourself to be the property of Destiny, and once you do that, you deserve what you get.
My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities, put on events, and make stories come into being. I also tweet a lot over @darklordjournal.