Underground beneath the jail was another prison, this one with thick walls and heavy doors, and isolated from the cells on the ground floor by long flights of stairs. Furthermore, armored soldiers stood guard everywhere, no doubt to intercept intruders long before they could reach their targets.
The only prisoner in this dungeon was a middle-aged man of powerful build whose hair and beard alike had grown utterly unkempt, and yet who cut a far more majestic figure than the men interrogating him.
It was King Andragoras of Pars, who had vanished without a trace in the world above.
In spite of the countless wounds oozing blood from him, Andragoras still lived. Or perhaps it was more accurate to say that he had been allowed to live. Whenever his interrogators’ examination reached a stopping point, a scrawny little physician who looked to be not more than half their size would materialize and conduct treatment upon the prisoner. Both lash marks and poker burns were washed in alcohol and smeared with salve; then herbal compresses were applied, his mouth was forced open and medicinal brandy poured down his throat, and then he was made to sleep. When the man’s robust frame looked like it had recovered enough strength to resist, the interrogators would begin their work anew.
For several days and several nights this continued. Once, the man tore off his chains with a burst of sheer physical strength; for that, they switched from then on to chains originally meant to bind a sher.
Sometime during these cruel, monotonous days, a change arose at last. To the depths of the underground prison arrived a guest. Molded diligently from hate and malice, blazing with flames of vengeance — such was the ambiance of the brand new silver mask worn by this visitor.
The interrogators greeted the man of the silver mask with utmost respect. Daily life at the prison, even for those conducting the interrogations, required much fortitude. Change, no matter what shape it took, must be welcomed.
“… So? How is his condition?”
Weakened, but in no immediate danger to his life, indicated the representative.
“Good. Don’t kill him.”
There was a melodic inflection to the voice of the silver mask.
“I repeat my order. You must not kill him. This bastard is not to be killed until he has been shown the severed head of his own son before his very eyes.”
On receiving a dull glance from King Andragoras, the man of the silver mask let out a low laugh.
“Oh Andragoras! It’s just as you’ve heard. Your son and heir still lives. However, that shall not be for long. He lives only so that I might find him and kill him with my own hands.”
The man of the silver mask drew close to the prisoner’s face.
“Do you know who I am?”
There was no response.
“You still don’t know? Then let me tell you. It is a name that should not be unfamiliar to your ears. My name is Hirmiz. My father was Osroes.”
“That’s right. Hirmiz. Legitimate son of Osroes, the previous king. Your nephew. And the true king of Pars!”
Though Andragoras said nothing, the iron cuffs about his wrists seemed to make a slight creak. The man of the silver mask heaved a heavy sigh.
“Surprised? Or perhaps you haven’t the energy to be surprised? How unfortunate that you did not succeed in killing me back when you were unable to accede to the throne. The very instant the evil god protecting you looked away, I managed to escape from that blaze.”
As he spoke, the man unfastened his silver mask. With the mask removed, the man’s face was exposed before Andragoras’s eyes.
“This is the face you burned. Look well upon it! Avert not your eyes. Look upon this proof of the great sin you committed sixteen years ago.”
The countenance that appeared from beneath the silver mask was the same as Dariun had witnessed. The half that preserved its original elegance and the half that had been sacrificed to the god of fire together pieced into a single face. The dull gaze of Andragoras beneath his disheveled hair seemed to direct itself over, but soon enough his chin dropped again as if from fatigue.
“… It is I who am the rightful king of Pars.”
Putting his silver mask back on, Hirmiz calmly reasserted his own claim.
“How I have suffered and struggled these sixteen years in order to reclaim my rightful place. You have absolutely no idea, do you? No need to retrieve your memories of the past; before that, better for you to consider only the future that awaits for your wife and son, as well as for yourself.”
His voice broke off, replaced by the sound of footsteps. Within the prisoner’s field of vision, silver-masked Hirmiz strode toward the deferential interrogators bowing deeply in a row. The first confrontation between uncle and nephew after sixteen long years was over.
As he watched Hirmiz leave, King Andragoras’s eyes blazed to life. The thinnest pinprick of light expanded to fill his pupils, and when it dissipated, a smile as cold as icy poisoned wine painted itself upon Andragoras’s face.
The king burst into laughter. Chased from his throne, his kingdom stolen, and now even denied his right to rule, the man rattled the chains that bound him as he laughed and laughed.
For reasons unknown to anyone but himself, Andragoras’s laughter continued to echo along the walls of his underground cell.
— Year 320 of the Parsian calendar. With King Andragoras’s whereabouts unknown, the royal capital Ecbatana fell. The Kingdom of Pars came to ruin.