The momentary lack of sensation began without warning. Belgrave Palafox could not move, could not see, and could not feel. In fact, there was no sensation at all except for an odd awareness that he was stationary while everything around him was moving at a very high speed and at the same time it seemed he was going nowhere. He could not tell if he was moving forward or backward or spinning around. Questions flooded his mind as he tried unsuccessfully to understand what was happening.
As quickly as it had begun, the lack of sensation ended. Belgrave could not see his surroundings, but it was because of the darkness he could almost feel. Still, he blinked his eyes a few times to make sure they still worked. The ground beneath his feet was too uneven to be the cement sidewalk he had been walking on moments before and the air he was now breathing was cool and musty compared to the warm fresh air only moments before. The suddenness of this change in his surroundings was confusing. He took a few groping steps through the darkness and his hands found a rock wall. The wall felt different from the rough floor since it had a smooth texture distorted by many small lines and facets. He realized it was not possible that he was anywhere near the place he had been walking only moments before.
Belgrave Palafox had been on his way to his first college class. He was twenty-two years old, but had decided to spend a few years in the military before continuing his education. Now that he had completed his service, he planned to get a degree in Political Science. This was supposed to be his first day of class, but now he would miss it.
Light, thought Belgrave, as he knelt down and felt his way through his backpack. Belgrave did not smoke, but friends frequently asked him for a light. He usually had a lighter with him for this purpose. He pulled out a lighter and flicked it on. He looked in surprise at his surroundings.
He was in an underground chamber about twenty feet across. The floor and ceiling were rough, but the circular wall was smooth with six elaborate pictures carved into the rock. They were all very intricate and no detail was missing. Only the texture and colors of the rock kept the scenes from looking real.
The first scene was of an enormous battle between two armies. One army appeared darker, as if made of shadow, and seemed focused on domination and conquest. The other army was brighter, as if made of light, and its soldiers were both defending themselves and struggling to overthrow their oppressors. Belgrave was unable to determine which side was winning.
The second depicted a featureless soldier from the army of light standing before a man, a large dog, and a third creature that had a large human-like body, but a face unlike anything Belgrave had seen before. The soldier of light was wearing armor and its body appeared to glow in comparison to the others. It looked as if the other three figures were great leaders, but still served the being before them.
The third image was of a great city that held influence over the entire world. In its center was a palace open at both ends and Belgrave could see a king sitting on the throne. In front of the palace was a small bay that led out to the ocean. Beyond the city stretched the rest of the world. The artist had managed to capture other continents and civilizations, but they all looked trivial in comparison to the first city.
The fourth carving was similar to the third, but was a scene of chaos and destruction. The buildings in the city were crumbling as a great earthquake swallowed the land beneath it. A great wave was poised ready to swallow up its frightened citizens. The only sign of a king was a crown sitting unused on the throne.
The fifth was another great battle in which the men, dogs, and the larger creatures stood united against an overwhelming enemy. They were defending a large fortress built around a giant door that opened into a mountainside. The kings and queens of several nations led the armies defending the fortress, but even they appeared to be subjects of an even greater king and queen who stood steadfast in the center of the fortress, unwavering against the pressing enemy.
The last scene on the chamber wall was of two figures. The first was a king standing with a sword in one hand and raising his other hand to show a ring that glowed in defiance of the second figure that was surrounded by a menacing dark aura and wearing a black cloak.
There was an opening between two pillars on the far side of the room. Belgrave’s lighter could not reveal anything in the darkness past the pillars and he thought it might be an even larger chamber than the one in which he was currently standing. He looked around him once more and noticed several unlit torches mounted on the wall between the carvings. With some difficulty, he managed to light one of the torches and then returned his lighter to his backpack.
In the center of the chamber was a squared rock about waist high. On top of this rock was a sword. The ornate detail of the ancient weapon drew Belgrave’s curiosity. The scabbard was black with a design of gold and silver twisting up the sides. The grip was made of red and white cloth wrapped around the handle. On the pommel was a red circle surrounded by two crescents, one gold and the other silver. Belgrave set the torch on the ground and picked up the sword. He slowly pulled the blade from the sheath. It may have been laying there for ages, but had not rusted and did not break. The blade had a faint glow that was barely discernable in the bright torchlight. A small inscription along the blade near the handle read, “A sword discovered, a king returns.”
Belgrave paused in surprise. He had never seen this type of writing before, but he could read and understand it. He looked around and saw he could read all the writing on the wall. The writing at the first scene described a world consumed in a war between good and evil, a war that in the second scene had spread to another world, the world he was now in. It was at this time that Belgrave realized he was no longer on Earth.
I must be dreaming, thought Belgrave. He sat down against the wall opposite the doorway and set the sword down beside him. He was not afraid of the dark, but in the flickering torchlight, his mind constantly imagined things in the shadows that were not there. He did not want to be near the dark entrance if he imagined something right outside it. “Wake up,” he started saying to himself repeatedly to no avail. He closed his eyes to try to rid himself of the scene around him, but it did not work. Eventually he fell asleep.
When Belgrave awoke, he was still in the chamber so there was no way it could all be a dream. The torch had burnt out, but the sword still lay glowing at his side. He decided it was no use staying in the chamber so he grabbed the sword and his backpack and slowly made his way out past the pillars. It turned out to be a hallway. There were unlit torches mounted on the wall. He lit one and carried it in front of him. At the end of the hallway, he stopped and stared in awe. Before him the cavern stretched farther than he could see with the light of his flickering torch. The ruins of a city spread out before him with a road that led from where he was down through the center of the city to where it ended on the banks of a subterranean lake. From the state of disrepair, it was evident that the city had not been inhabited for many years. Many of the buildings had collapsed and few remained as a witness to what had once been a rich civilization.
Belgrave slowly walked down the road. He could see belongings lying scattered about as if the inhabitants had left in a hurry. He did not know their history, but guessed it may have been a hard one. He walked beneath a large archway that spanned the road. There were more pictures carved in it. He noticed it also had the men, dogs, and strange creatures on it. He wondered how they interacted and how they were connected. Maybe they were dogs trained for war and the strange creatures could talk. There was a lot about the world that he still had not figured out. He decided to explore one of the buildings along the side of the road.
He lit a second torch as the first began to dim, and walked through the dark doorway of the house. The layer of dust inside was thicker than outside. There was a small table to the right. A few dishes were scattered across its surface. He tried to pick one up, but the entire table crumbled to the floor as he touched it. The sudden noise of everything falling startled Belgrave and he proceeded more carefully. He walked into another room. There was more furniture in the room, which he avoided since he did not want to break anything else. There was a hole in the ceiling, but the ladder was broken so he could not climb to see the roof. He left the house and continued down the road to the lake.
Even from the shore, Belgrave could not see how far the lake stretched in the torchlight. There was a stone harbor and several boats were floating in the water. He did not know why they had not yet decayed away as everything else, but they were loose since the ropes tying them to the dock had rotted away. He turned toward his left and walked along the shore. The city was large and continued on for some time. He wondered how they would have managed to get food for so many people while underground. From the looks of things, they did not have the technology that he was accustomed to such as light bulbs and refrigerators. In fact, they had still been using horse drawn carts. He passed an interesting statue. It was a man holding his left fist in the air. An interesting ring that looked like two crescents surrounding a circle was on one of the fingers. In the man’s right hand, he held a sword. Belgrave noticed it had the same inscription as the one he was now carrying. Behind the man stood another man, a dog, and one of the strange creatures. Belgrave took the time to examine it since it showed a lot more detail than the carvings he had seen on various walls. The slightly hunchbacked creature had a wide face with large nose almost like that of a gorilla. Two small tusks stuck up out of its wide mouth. Its ears were big and had large lobes. The creature’s muscles were well defined and it stood a few feet taller than the man did. An inscription on the base said, “Three rings combined, three races united.”
Belgrave moved on. Most of the city was now behind him and the buildings were farther apart. Once he was past all the buildings, the beach began to get thinner and thinner until it was just a path with the large underground lake to the right and the wall of the cavern to the left. Eventually the path entered a tunnel and the air coming from its mouth was warmer and more humid than in the rest of the cavern. He thought the tunnel might lead up to the surface so he entered it. The tunnel was thin, but tall enough for him to enter. He set his torch on the ground outside and used his sword for light. The ground in the tunnel was different from what he had just been walking on. Instead of a stony path, it was now soft and squishy, almost like walking on a thick layer of moss. He could not figure out what was wrong, but he had a feeling he should not continue any further. The entire inside surface was smooth seemed to have a reddish tint. He ran his hand along the wall. It was smooth yet sticky and definitely soft. Something was not right, but he could not figure out what it was. He sliced the wall with his sword and blood flowed from the cut. He was inside something alive!
Belgrave’s heart skipped a beat as the entire tunnel collapsed on him with a loud rumble. The ceiling pressed him against the ground and did not have much room to move. He moved the sword around and tried hacking at the ceiling. He could not cut much since he could not swing the sword, but he did manage to get the point to strike something hard. The cave opened up a little more and Belgrave repositioned the sword so it was pointing directly up. As the tunnel ceiling came down on him again, the sword flexed and then went straight again as it broke through the hardness. He thrust his sword into the cut as hard as he could and wiggled it around, causing the tunnel to shake. He could not get a grip on anything solid and thrown around inside the small confined area, but managed to keep his grip on the sword. The movements of the creature sounded like thunder. The shaking grew more and more violent and it was all Belgrave could to do brace himself against the sudden random movements.
After several long minutes, the shaking subsided. Belgrave slid from the mouth still grasping the sword and watched as a giant serpentine body stretching into the darkness convulsed and died. It was no wonder he had not noticed the creature before since its dark skin blended in with the darkness of the rock. The head of the monster was no less than ten feet thick. The body further away grew even thicker. He could not see the tail, nor did he want to. Since Belgrave had never been inclined to feel safe near animals with large teeth, no matter how dead they were, he slowly backed away toward the city. He imagined that the creature would suddenly wake up, but it never did. Once he was back in the city, he set a few buildings on fire to provide heat and protection. He sat down against a large rock and ate a sandwich from his backpack. He had packed two of them for school and hoped he would be able to find his way out of the cave before he ran out. He sat there unsure of what to do and eventually closed his eyes and nodded off.
Belgrave awoke to a loud noise. The fires he had set were beginning to die down and one of the structures near him had just collapsed. He rubbed his eyes and looked around. Three skeletons were standing about ten paces away looking at him. He jumped to his feet and quickly pulled out his sword and held it in front of him. They slowly advanced, their bones rattling with a dull metallic ring. They had no eyes as he would have imagined, but their empty sockets and fixed expressions looked ominous in the flickering light. Belgrave was not sure what to do and hoped they would not attack him.
“What do you want?” Belgrave asked them.
“We have been waiting for your coming for almost five centuries,” the skeleton in the middle explained.
Belgrave was not sure what to think. He was talking their language as if it was his native language and completely understood it just as he had been able to understand the writing he had seen. He wondered why the skeletons had been waiting for him that long. He was not from this world, had never been here before, and no one here had ever met him. In addition, he was definitely not five hundred years old. “Why are you waiting for me?” he asked them. “Are you here to kill me?”
“Only a great king can wield the power contained in that sword and not be destroyed. We have awaited the fulfillment of the first of the last three prophecies: ‘A sword discovered, a king returns’.”
They took a few more steps toward Belgrave and he swung the sword at them in a mix of disbelief and terror. It bounced off the skeleton with a clang and Belgrave knew it was useless to resist. They were not skeletons at all, but made of metal. He took a few steps back, still holding the sword in front of him.
“We are the guardians of this ruined civilization, sent here to protect that sword from outsiders. We are neither human nor machine, but forged by skilled craftsmen and animated by magic,” the skeleton explained.
“There is no such thing as magic!” Belgrave retorted.
The skeleton looked Belgrave in the eye. “You fear us, but you cannot hurt us. You are amazed that you can speak words you never knew. These things should be proof enough that you are no longer in the world you know. There are many worlds, all created with different laws. I do not know the laws of your world, but if there were no magic, we would not exist. Now you are here in our world wielding the sword of the king. Come with us and we will take you from this cave and into the land of men who can help you. The choice is yours. Will you deny this world the fulfillment of prophecy or will you come with us and be the king?”
Belgrave had no choice. He could not attack them and did not want to stay in the cave. “I will go with you,” he answered.
They led him down to the harbor and he noticed a ship that had not been there before. It was similar in style to the boats, but larger and had a cabin and a tattered sail. Belgrave wondered if it would hold together as he boarded, but his fear abated as he saw the skeletons jump in heavily without it falling to pieces. There were two other skeletons already on the ship, both armed with swords. They would not let Belgrave take any torches aboard the wooden ship so he was obliged to rely on the glow from his sword as his only source of light.
Once they were all aboard, they cast off and four of the skeletons began to row the ship away from the city while the fifth steered. After awhile, even the light from the smoldering buildings had faded away and Belgrave could only see water as far as his sword illuminated. Near the middle of the great underground lake, the wind began to pick up. “How is there wind underground?” Belgrave asked.
“This cave is open at both ends,” the skeleton at the helm replied. The others continued to row. “As the warm air from the south enters the cool cave, it blows rapidly to the northern opening. Have a seat.” The skeleton beckoned to a chest on the deck. “Our sail is useless while we are heading south so we must row. It will be at least a day’s voyage.”
Belgrave sat on the chest and shivered in the cool breeze. “Can you explain what you were saying earlier about laws?” he asked.
“Understanding the reason why worlds are different will help you understand many things you do not yet know,” the skeleton explained. “All worlds are created to follow certain laws which govern everything you can see such as water and rock, plants, animals, and even the things you cannot see such as wind and time. Physical characteristics and interactions between things are only allowed because the laws of the world allow them.”
“That sounds a bit like the laws of physics,” Belgrave suggested. “They are simple laws in my world which say how everything works.”
“That is correct,” the skeleton replied. “However, there are more laws than just those which govern time and space. There are laws that govern the entire history of civilizations. While one civilization may become great, others may remain small. Laws determine language, culture, knowledge, magic, and even the people themselves. One of these laws causes you to be able to read and speak our language without learning it. There are other languages in this world, but everyone can at least understand and use the one tongue.”
“Will I still know it when I leave this world?” Belgrave asked.
“I cannot answer that,” the skeleton replied. “I know nothing about traveling between worlds.”
Belgrave pondered this. He felt as if this new language had become as easy to use as English. He knew it so well that it seemed natural and he could no longer see the difference between the two languages. Then there was the issue of being unable to find out how laws work between worlds. “Then how did I get here?”
“No one can know why some things happen since the true natures of many laws are hidden from us. However, many believe that laws in the form of prophecy cause purpose that can transcend beyond the world and result in the impossible. You are here to fulfill the final prophecies of this world and that purpose has brought you here.”
“So my finding this sword is the first of these prophecies?” Belgrave asked.
“A sword discovered, a king returns.” the skeleton replied. “The prophecy has long been known and its fulfillment looked for. Your sword is a weapon of great power. A magic allows only the great line of kings to wield it. It is magic which causes the blade to glow. It may have other magic as well. There are many other magical items in the world and each of them is different.”
“Has this world always followed prophecies?” Belgrave asked.
“This world has followed a series of prophecies since it was created and some believe the prophecies are the culmination of those from an even older world, one which was engulfed and destroyed in a great war. Many millions died and at the final destruction of that world, there were only a few left. Those brought here were able to live among men and manipulated the affairs of this world because their enemy had also left their old world and was still planning their eventual destruction. For the first two millennia, these great beings helped build civilizations and create great armies that marched to battle. Over time, they began to fade as battles became more common and their glory was no longer obtained by valor. The great beings withdrew from among the common people and manipulated affairs from behind the scenes. Ages have past and the temple where they hid was forgotten and lost by the world, but it is rumored that the beings are still at work.”
“Now there are only three prophecies left and your finding the sword was the beginning of the first of those. The sword itself belonged to a line of great kings who lived and ruled in the large coastal city of Atalan. For many years, these great kings led the world in never ending war against the evil. Heroes rose and fell; kings and dark rulers came and went. The world knew nothing except war, a never-ending conflict between the forces of good and evil. At the height of Atalan’s greatness, an end to the war seemed to be in sight, but in what seemed to be a desperate attack by the evil ones, a great earthquake struck the city. The entire continent split in half and Atalan was plunged to the bottom of the sea along with everyone in it. Many lives were lost and according to prophecy, the king was never seen again. The world plunged into a slow yet constant losing battle and even the occasional rays of hope quickly faded. Entire civilizations were enslaved by the Dark Wizard who would then use them as soldiers.”
“In the aftermath of Atalan’s destruction, the few survivors discovered this large cave under the gash which split the continent. In here, they felt sheltered from the evil outside. You have already seen the remnants of their underground city Elevor where they unsuccessfully tried to rebuild their civilization. After many years, a swimmer found the king’s sword among the ruins of Atalan. They brought the sword to Elevor and placed it in a shrine in hope that they would know when the king returned. It wasn’t until the Dark Wizard rose to power that the safety of Elevor was threatened. He sent an army under the command of his first Dark Witch, Narzandra, and she ransacked the city, causing the people to flee from the cave, leaving Elevor completely abandoned. The king’s sword was once again lost to the ages.”
“As hope began to fade and men began to question the purpose of the war, rumors in the darkness suggested a new and more powerful leader had arisen to lead the enemy to victory. Men rose to fight the ever-stronger evil, but were weak and could not prevail against the strong dark armies. Since then, Panei and Tanarad have both been conquered and freed several times, but it has been a constant battle. The only hope for the world is that the king will return to fulfill the prophecies. You are that king who is going to lead them to victory.”
They sailed on in silence. As Belgrave sat looking at the darkness around him, he saw a beam of light coming from above them. “What is that?” he asked.
“There are openings from above to allow a greater airflow,” the skeleton explained. “They were needed when Elevor was inhabited, but many have since been lost to the ages.”
Eventually, Belgrave noticed the cave was not as dark and he could see the mouth of the cave. The air became warmer and he could feel a thin mist. As they rowed closer, he could see that the thin mouth of the cave hid behind a waterfall.
“We will stop for a short while just inside the waterfall to allow your eyes to adjust to the sun after being in the dark for so long,” the skeleton said as the ship floated to the stony shore. “We cannot leave the cave while prophecy remains unfulfilled, so we will leave the ship at the mouth of the cave, and you will have to continue on alone. Once out of the cave, the ship will float with the current of the river as long as the water is deep enough. If the ship becomes stuck, leave the ship and follow the river until you find a shack to the east. There you will find an elderly man who can help you.”
Belgrave took time to eat his last sandwich before they began to row the ship toward the cave entrance. As they passed under the waterfall, Belgrave noticed that the water was like a thin curtain in front of the cave, keeping the entrance hidden from outsiders. Since the skeletons had said they could not leave the cave, they jumped off the ship and waded back into the darkness.