Rotgar reached the deepest cellar door and descended into the pitch blackness with only a torch to light his way. For the most part the prisoner was kept in absolute darkness in which no sound or soul stirred, and the constant temperature—stuffy and neither cold nor warm—further dulled his senses. The light, warmth and sound of his torch marked his arrival long before he reached the cell at the end of the hall, from which a voice spoke:
‘And so they fled and walked into the ocean. Its waves devoured them, swallowing them into a depth from which they were never to rise again, like a slumbering beast locked within a timeless prison.’
Rotgar recognized the passage from the book he had lent him in reward for his good behavior. His eyes fought to adjust to the darkness as his torch flickered precariously, struggling to burn off the limited oxygen in the dungeon. He felt vulnerable, unsettled by the fact that the prisoner was more aware of him than the other way around.
‘That’s what you’re interested in, right; those last words few words?’ Borus asked as he emerged from the shadows within his cell, walking up to the barred door.
‘They’re speaking in metaphors, aren’t they?’ Rotgar asked, lighting the nearby torches on the walls to quickly create more light. The whole atmosphere down there gave him the creeps.
‘You came alone,’ Borus remarked, ignoring him. ‘Does this mean I’m being spared the usual delight of meeting the king today?’
Now that the surrounding area was better lit, Rotgar could just barely catch a glimpse of the man’s silhouette. He’d never seen him look this broken before. His body shook violently but not from being cold. Rotgar wondered what his father had done to him this time, with the strange old machine he’d seen in the torture chamber. He decided he didn’t want to know the specifics and pushed the memory from his mind.
‘Yes. I’m only here for my book,’ Rotgar answered. ‘I trust you’ve found it interesting?’
Borus had already picked up on the reason for his visit and had every intention of withholding the information he wanted until he asked for it. ‘I did.’
Rotgar grunted, realizing what he was doing, but played along. He was desperate for the information. ‘So? What can you tell me about it? What do you know?’
‘Other than what I’ve read? I know plenty; I remember the place well enough,’ Borus said before falling into a violent coughing fit. Rotgar felt the tug of sympathy for him but extinguished it as he quickly reminded himself of the man’s violent past. He deserved his fate.
‘You’ve been there?’ Rotgar asked, skeptically. ‘If the city they speak of even did exist, it was wiped from our world over eighty years ago, so exactly how old does that make you?’
Rotgar approached the cell door, mindful to keep out of reach of it in case Borus decided to lash out. He knew he would have no trouble overpowering the man if he were to give into his blood rage, but the unpredictability and unknown magical capabilities he suspected the man possessed were factors he was not keen to experiment with at that time. He wondered for a moment if Borus was even human, or if they had somehow unknowingly incarcerated a deity, forsaken by the gods and left to rot.
‘What’s it to you? I can’t help you. The king can keep trying all he wants; nothing he takes from me will allow him to live as long as I have.’
‘Is that what you think he wants from you?’ Mention of his father’s intentions piqued his interest. The fact that the king’s health was declining was no secret, even to the people; perhaps the thought of death had sent him into a frenzy. Rotgar wondered if Borus even knew of his parentage, but decided against revealing it to him.
‘What else could it be? He surely shows no interest in my knowledge of history like you do,’ Borus said. ‘I suspect by now you both know I don’t die like normal people do... At least, I know for certain that you know; you were the one who forced me back in here, after all. I hadn’t predicted your Eldorian strength—won’t be making that mistake again.’
‘So the source of it is Eldorian?’
Rotgar had always wondered if the unusual strength that accompanied his blood rage was due to his bloodline. Even the priests of the Temple of the Great Black Sky had not been able to tell him what it was and had attributed it to the gods’ will. He had been reluctant to accept such an explanation, not believing the great gods would think of him as being anything special.
‘Of course it is. Eldorians could do a great many things,’ Borus revealed, then paused when he recognized an opportunity. ‘I could tell you more, in exchange for a few luxuries.’
Rotgar chuckled. ‘And have you spew lies to get what you want? What is it you want, actually? Daylight?‘
‘Yes,’ Borus breathed. ‘I don’t know how much time has passed since I last...’
Rotgar walked to the rotational mechanism on the opposite wall, laying his torch across the brazier above it to grab hold of the gear with one of his newly freed hands. ‘Convince me.’
Borus shuffled his way to the cell door and leaned into its bars, pressing his face through one of the gaps, desperate to get even a smidgen of the combined heat of the two torches’ flame. Rotgar recoiled at the sight of his unruly hair and bruised face. His right eye was swollen shut.
‘I can tell you things of which only few are aware but which you surely know to be true. You are a Guardian, right?’ he asked, and Rotgar grunted in response. ‘I know what you’re protecting.’
‘The people and temples of the upper district,’ Rotgar confirmed in an even tone.
Borus grinned. ‘Yeah, that’s what you tell people, but I know of the Caldyra remnant you protect because I helped get it there. It’s a gnarled root with five curly ends. Are you cooling the machine well enough? It’s always been a finicky contraption.’
Rotgar narrowed his eyes at him—Borus was spot on. Only a very selective group of people knew about the root’s existence; even fewer had seen it with their own eyes to be able to describe its appearance. He realized Borus really knew more than he let on and began to suspect he wasn’t playing him for a fool.
He gripped the mechanism with both hands and turned, sending a shrill shriek through the dungeon as the iron ventilation shaft above slid aside into an open position and sent a shower of sunlight down into its usual spot. Borus’s arms lunged between the bars to get a feel for the light on his fingertips.
He let out a deep sigh of relief and allowed himself to close his eyes to focus on its warmth. His fingers looked like they had been broken many times over, Rotgar realized, but he couldn’t recall doing such a thing to him. Then again, he wasn’t aware of everything that went on down here in his absence. They had surely tortured him, if his general appearance was any indication. Again he pushed any feelings of empathy from his mind.
‘So tell me, then,’ Rotgar prodded; ‘about the sea they walked into, about their abilities.’
Rotgar could scarcely believe it had taken him so long to think to question Borus on the matter. Given his inclination towards violence, he’d never expected him to yield any answers under such gentle interrogation. He was strangely cooperative for once, and Rotgar realized the torture must have taken more out of him than usual if only a few rays of sunlight and a book had broken through his barriers.
Borus’s fingers rolled in the sunlight like waves. ‘When news of the genocide had begun to spread, hundreds of thousands of them walking into the sea.’
Rotgar stayed quiet, not sure he had understood what he had just insinuated.
‘Mothers would carry their babies and men would carry the elderly and the ill,’ Borus went on. ‘People walked in and clothing washed up. They never found any of the bodies.’
He blew a gust of air through his lips and let out a soft whistle, mimicking an ocean breeze. Rotgar couldn’t believe it. The notion of something like that was so bone-chilling it sent a shiver down his spine. As much as this unnerved him, he had to know more before he could write it off as lies. ‘Why would they do that?’
‘What would you do if you were in their position? How would you react if people enslaved you, raped you and took control of your life?’
Those emotions were not unlike what Kaliyana put him through every time they met. His anger flashed. ‘I would fight back!’
‘Fight back? How? The war was already lost. The powers of Caldyra had made the humans more powerful than ever; they’d already written Eldorians off as being a weaker species. You’d be powerless to stop them.’
Borus turned his hands, exposing his palm to the light. Only small parts of his skin remained unblemished by cuts and bruises.
‘Well I surely wouldn’t just roll over to die like they did—you can’t blame humans for the Eldorians’ cowardice.’ His mother had always taught him to be proud of his heritage but the more he learned about his people, the more he felt ashamed by their lack of will to live.
‘Who said anything about them being dead?’ Borus revealed. Rotgar approached him, almost within reach.
‘They’re still alive?’
‘They aren’t dead,’ Borus said vaguely, withdrawing his arms from the light. His light brown eyes remained fixed on Rotgar.
‘Then where are they now?’ Rotgar asked, feeling his heart rate accelerate. Finally, an answer to the question had haunted him for years. If somehow a large group of Eldorians were still alive and hidden somewhere, he must find them and strengthen their numbers.
Borus took a moment to answer, his face displayed a frown that indicates he was search deep for answer, or finding a way to hide the truth, until he answered.
‘That, I do not know.’
Disappointed, Rotgar retreated to the ventilation shaft and retracted the gear, restoring darkness within the prison. Only the dim glow of the dying torch’s light offered illumination. Borus had retreated into the shadows, where Rotgar could no longer see him.
‘Tell me about their powers and I’ll open it again.’
Rotgar felt momentary panic. Where had he gone? Had he managed to grab his keys in the moment he’d been close enough to be within reach and he just hadn’t realized it? He patted the belt around his hip and was relieved to find the key ring in its usual place, but still received no response from within the cell in the meantime. The man had an eerie way of moving around in absolute silence.
‘Tell me!’ Rotgar shouted, taking hold of the cell door’s bars in attempt to draw the wild man out.
He only received further silence. Rotgar pushed himself off the bars in frustration, until finally the voice spoke from the back of his cell.
(More will be revealed in the book)