Rebel Mage: Prologue

Prologue

The rain came at dawn, covering the valley in a shroud of mist and running water. It came in torrents, as if waterfalls had formed in the sky, intent on drowning the valley, but the sky was almost empty. The only clouds were white.

The wind was still.

Streams became raging rivers. Rivers grew fast and violent. Floods that started as trickles grew to a dull roar. A small lake in the valley was lost in competing floods, old decaying wooden structures surrounding it were erased from existence.

The stone city—in truth, the forgotten stone city—that stood on a hill to the side of the lake was beginning to flood before the end of an hour. By the time the sun had reached its zenith, stone statues that had stood for millennia were submerged. An amphitheater that could hold upwards of ten thousand people was filled, became a lake, and then was lost in the flood.

Yet, the rain still came.

Shortly after noon, an older man hunched with age shuffled onto what had been a balcony of the temple and found water lapping just below where he stood. It had formerly been seven stories above the ground. The man’s burnished armor pinged with the force of the rain. Water leaked through his helmet and into his eyes, forcing him to blink it back as it trickled down his worn, sun-spotted skin.

His eyes widened when he looked up.

Where is the storm? Rorel Understok wondered as he placed his hands on the stone railing.

The temple grounds were not visible, except for the langiffer pines which stretched high above where Rorel stood. The walls that had surrounded the temple were submerged. In all the centuries he’d lived in Cerpatar, he’d never seen its equal. The rain still fell.

Yet there was no storm.

A thousand years ago or so, the flood would have been a disaster, but as Cerpatar was abandoned by all but Rorel and his captives, he wasn’t much concerned.

The floodwater—which had previously only been disturbed by the rain—now had waves running across the top.

Yet there was no wind.

This was no mere change in the weather. He’d have noticed before today. Rorel squinted, trying to see if there were other such wave patterns further out on the water. If there were, there was too much tumult for him to see.

Despite the increasing water level, he didn’t move. He gripped the railing and enjoyed the rain. He’d been alone so many years he welcomed the touch of the raindrops. It felt good to feel something that had a semblance of life against his body.

When the waters lapped against his knees, he decided it was time to move to a higher level. The rain would stop eventually. The tower had many more stories; he was not in danger. The flood may last for a time, but it would recede. Even with his gardens below flooded, he had enough planted throughout the upper balconies of the temple that he could wait it out.

Rorel held the railing as he followed it around the circular balcony, not trusting his frail strength alone to stand against the water that swirled around him. He didn’t notice the lone figure at the balcony door until he was almost on top of him.

His lips moved but it took several moments for his voice to work. The figure’s eyes bored into him. 

“Saar,” Rorel said, at last, his voice sounding strange to his own ears. He hadn’t remembered it sounding so raspy. It was no louder than a whisper and drew a smirk to Saar’s face.

“I was beginning to wonder if you were still here, old man.” Saar’s voice was as Rorel remembered, strong and deep. The man, despite his short size, could bellow when he had a mind. If the years had taken a toll on Saar, Rorel was unable to tell.

Even with Rorel’s sagging shoulders, he still stood a head taller than Saar. It was part of what had made people underestimate the evil man.

Who am I fooling? Rorel wondered. He would have done the things he’d done regardless of his size.

What Saar lacked in height, he made up for in width and muscle. His forearms were thicker than Rorel’s thighs, reminding Rorel of a log. His tiny eyes were still sunk into his oversized skull. The tattooed lines that ran from the top of his shaved head and down his face almost seemed to glow. 

The man stood with the same straight-backed posture and smug smile.

The same one I see in my nightmares, Rorel thought. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he realized he should be alarmed. Panicked, even. But he couldn’t summon the energy to stress.   

“This isn’t possible,” Rorel said. “You shouldn’t—”

“If it wasn’t,” Saar said dryly while shaking his head, the tattooed lines making it look as if he had a spider affixed to his face, “why’d you spend a millennium drinking the juice off the kippy pear to keep an eye on me and mine?

“No, what you really mean to say is that you planned poorly. Your plans didn’t take into account the ravages of time nor their impact on you.” He held up his hands and examined them. “More than a thousand years and I haven’t aged a day, thanks to your prison. But you, old man, lack the strength to stop me. I doubt you can still summon the light.”

Saar laughed. It wasn’t the maniacal laugh that had made the world bow in fear; no, it was more subdued and mellow. The menace that had been obvious before he’d been placed in the residio vault was no longer there.

That’s not right, Rorel thought when he looked into Saar’s eyes. It’s still there, as much as it ever was. It’s just deeper now. Internalized. The rain pounded down even harder, forcing Rorel to squint as he regarded Saar.

The two figures stood, oblivious to the passing of time. It could have been an hour; it could have been more. 

Time had lost much of its meaning to Rorel.

It dawned on Rorel that something else was different about Saar.

He had learned patience.

And I was the fool who helped him learn it, Rorel thought with a shudder of horror. Saar had never been able to wait. It was that one weakness that had been his undoing. The one thing Rorel had always been able to count on to betray Saar.

“How?” Rorel stammered. “At least tell me how you escaped.”

Saar’s laugh changed. It was subtle, Rorel’s aged senses almost missed it. There was a tinge of bitterness. That wasn’t unexpected, considering he’d been trapped for so long. But it was surprising. He almost seemed to regard Rorel with a sense of respect.

Even gratitude.

“I owe you, old man. All my enemies are long gone.” Saar shook his head. “But I don’t owe you enough to tell you the truth.” He thrust his arms up into the rain, the sun illuminating him like a god, and his arms glowed. “I’ll let you live out your life, such as it is. If you find the will to consume another, come find me.” He smiled as he lifted off the ground.

“I’ll be back for the rest. Keep an eye on them.”

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