Once again, Belgrave was all alone in a strange world. Now he just had to find the shack the skeletons had mentioned. Looking at the land around him, he could not understand why anyone would want to live in such an area. Both sides of the river were marshy. Thick weedy bushes and an occasional tree grew on what little land seemed dry enough to walk on. Behind him were two mountains with the waterfall flowing down from a dark valley between them. Ahead of him, Belgrave spotted the shack under a single large tree. The river curved to the right of the shack and Belgrave began to wonder how he would steer the ship to the shore. Up until now, he had just let the ship follow the current, but he did not want to miss the shack. His worries ceased, however, when the ship got caught on a shallow portion of the river and stopped moving. It was about ten feet away from the shore and Belgrave decided to jump from the ship. The water was cool, but not very deep. He quickly made his way to shore and crawled up on the swampy grass near the shack.
The shack was circular with walls of stone and a thatch roof. Smoke rose from the chimney, but there were no other signs of life. Belgrave waited to see if someone would come, but after a few silent minutes, he walked through the door. The floorboards creaked beneath his weight and announced his entrance. There was a bed along the wall to his left, and to the right sat a large chest. Various weapons were propped against the fur-lined wall. Belgrave could also see three small paintings hanging on the wall. The first painting was of a dog and a bright white moon. The second was of a white tower gleaming in the light of the sun. The third was of the strange creatures he had seen carved on the cave wall and a yellow moon was in the background. In the center of the shack, a large chair faced the fireplace.
“Come in,” a deep manly voice urged, sounding both commanding and friendly.
“I’m sorry, I did not mean to intrude,” Belgrave stated.
“It is very rare that I have visitors so I welcome those who come,” the old man remarked, rising from his chair and turning to face Belgrave. The old man was wearing a light green robe with blue trim. His white hair was long and the wrinkles in his face made the man look older than Belgrave could guess. His mouth bore a faint smile that no length of time could erase. He had a look of wisdom and confidence as if he knew evil would never prevail. “I am Jun Joon. What is your name?”
“Belgrave Palafox,” he responded. He did not know what else to say.
Jun Joon’s eyes briefly examined Belgrave and noticed the sword he carried. “You are no casual visitor,” he noted. “I have awaited your arrival for almost a thousand years now. It is an honor to meet you at last. Please, take a seat.” He pointed to the only chair in the room.
Belgrave did not move. “The skeletons in the cave told me that you could help me. Why am I here? Will I ever return to my own world?” he asked.
Jun Joon chuckled. “You ask many questions, but I can only give answers I have and show you the path you must take. You are here because you are supposed to be here. Everything that happens has a purpose no matter how unlikely. Some things have a greater purpose than others, but they are all significant to the result. The history of this world was planned long ago and although much of what was known has been forgotten, the significant events have been passed on in the form of prophecies.”
Belgrave interrupted. “How would someone be able to plan an entire history?”
Jun Joon continued. “The history of this world was set in place when a war that destroyed a different world poured into this world. The Lunari, the ancient beings of light that came from the other world, are the ones who wrote the prophecies that will conclude with the defeat of evil. None of these beings has shown themselves in ages, although there are rumors that in ancient times some lived among men and left behind offspring who rose to become the great leaders throughout history. Very little is now known of them and even much of that is mostly rumor and skepticism. Now there are only three of the prophecies left unfulfilled. After the final three prophecies, the end will come. It is the first of these three final prophecies that answers what you are doing here. Tomorrow you will go to the nearest village where they will make you their king. The next day you will lead them in battle against the Barbidons.”
“I’m going to lead a war in two days!?” Belgrave was shocked. “How can you predict something like that?”
“It’s not a matter of predicting, but a matter of interpreting the facts. I will answer your question, but first I must explain what has happened in the world leading up to this.” Jun Joon returned to his chair and Belgrave walked toward the fireplace.
“This world has always been in a state of war. Light against dark, good against evil, love against hate. The war has gone on since the beginning of this world. At times one side will gain an advantage and at other times, another will begin to prevail, but they always balance with neither side able to obtain a decisive victory. This changed once again about five hundred years ago with the sudden and unexpected coming of the Dark Wizard Voth. No one knows where he came from or even what he is. Some speculate that he is one of the dark forces from the original war. Others claim he is the physical manifestation of the combined souls of the Dark Magicians that a man named Josloy destroyed about a thousand years before. I have also heard a rumor that someone once close to him claimed he is older and far worse than anyone can imagine. Whether these suggestions are correct or not, the Dark Wizard alone would know.”
“Voth was unheard of until he suddenly built his massive castle far in the north in the land of Sarda. From there he slowly spread his power and darkness, gradually enslaving the Barbidons and twisting them to his designs. It was not long before all of Sarda submitted to his control. From then on, no one has seen the Dark Wizard leave the security of his castle except to counter anything that could directly pose a threat to him. He leads his armies through the Dark Witches, his most trusted acolytes. Rumors claim they are the female descendants of the ancient Lunari, taken from among his captives and trained in the dark magic and evil he practices. At times, Voth has only had one Dark Witch, but most of the time there are two, each with an apprentice, but never more. One Dark Witch leads his army across the world while the other operates in secret, seeking to kill individuals who may try to fulfill the prophecy. It is this second Dark Witch you must always avoid. No one knows who she is until she is destroyed.”
“The Dark Wizard now has the Dark Witch Narva leading his army. She lingered in Panei for the past fifteen years, but her forces are now sweeping across Tanarad in what seems to be the final assault before Voth covers the world in his darkness. Only one village remains unconquered and stands alone as the last flicker of hope in the growing night. Your coming will cause that flicker to grow into a blaze which will sweep across the world and free it from the darkness it has been fighting for so long.”
“But how do you know I will be able to win?” Belgrave asked.
“Since the beginning of the world, the prophecies have been fulfilled in threes. The previous three were about the coming of Voth. The three before those involved the loss of the great king and some events in which I was directly involved. There are only three prophecies left, the first of which is ‘A sword discovered, a king returns.’ You have discovered the sword and are able to use it. That means only you can be the king. The next prophecy is ‘Three rings combined, three races united.’ You cannot fulfill the second prophecy without fulfilling the first. Do what fate brings you to do and you will succeed since nothing can change what has already been planned.”
Belgrave pondered this and then reworded his question. “How do you know you are correct about what will happen?”
“I am the oldest man in the entire world, not because of my good health, but because prophecy continues to have a purpose for me. I do not yet know my entire purpose, but I have never been wrong in my predictions. I have only overlooked one important event, the rise of the Dark Wizard, but the consequences have caused me to take more care in my anticipations of future events. I have more knowledge of prophecy than anyone alive, but there is much more that I do not know. Regardless, I still try to learn everything of importance. Even now, I see things that have never happened in our entire history. The stars are changing, those wearing red armbands are anxious, and there are rumors of a new ally in battle. Such things happen only in times when the fulfillment of prophecy is nigh.” He paused. “From what you have asked, I see that getting back to your own world is important to you. I do not know how you can get back, but I will do everything I can to find out. It is getting late and now you must rest. Tomorrow you will go to the village where men will recognize your sword and make you their king. I will see you again in a few days, shortly after the battle.”
Jun Joon gave Belgrave a bowl of stew. Belgrave was not sure what the meat was and was afraid to ask. The vegetables were also different from the ones he knew. He was not sure if he liked the taste or not, but the food was filling. Jun Joon also gave Belgrave some blankets to sleep on.
The next day, Jun Joon sent Belgrave on his way. After crossing the river, there was a thin path leading southwest from the shack to the nearest town. The path meandered for several hours through the marshy land and appeared to be the only solid ground among the many pools of stagnant swamp water. On either side of the path, the grassy weeds grew high and blocked his view of the surrounding terrain. Belgrave moved on at a rapid pace, hoping to keep the flies from landing on him and to get out of the swamp as fast as he could.
As Belgrave left Jun Joon’s hut, he did not know that someone was watching him. A woman wearing black armor over a purple robe was hiding silently in the bushes. She watched as Belgrave crossed the river and disappeared down the path. Who was this person? His clothes were completely different from everything she had seen in the world. At first, his sword did not mean anything, but then she saw the circle and two crescents designed into the hilt, a symbol she knew would be on the sword carried by the king she was seeking. She would catch up to him after she asked a few questions of the man who was still in the hut. She waited long enough for Belgrave to get far away enough that he would not hear her before she left her hiding spot and went to the doorway.
The old man must have been waiting for her, but the well-aimed dart he threw as she stepped into the doorway was no match for her reflexes and she easily dodged the old man’s attack. She quickly moved into the hut and pinned him against the wall with her left arm while her right hand reached for her dagger. “Who was that man you had in here?” she demanded of him.
“Why are you alone, Dark Witch?” the man sputtered defiantly. “Don’t you have an army to lead?”
Why must all her encounters with people be like this? There were very few in the world that would trust her now even though she no longer served her old master. “I have a badge to prove I am not who you think I am,” she said to the old man. She reached over with her right hand and lifted up the armor on her left bicep. She released the old man as he noticed the red armband she wore underneath it.
The man took a few deep breaths. “Then rumors are true. We have an ally,” he panted. “I am Jun Joon.”
“I am Naiya’Nal. I was the last and the best, but I no longer serve him. I have begun a new life.”
Jun Joon was still a bit surprised. “While this is completely unexpected and even the prophecies had no mention of this, it ties together several other seemingly random occurrences. Are you aware of what all is happening?”
“I saw the flame that fell from the sky into the Dark Valley four days ago, and have hurried from Latan to investigate. Today I have seen the sun and the two moons on the hilt of a sword held by a man not of this world. There can be no doubt. He is the king.”
“Latan was no short distance from here,” Jun Joon replied. “Few ever travel that distance in less than a week, and I have never heard of anyone doing it in just four days. You must be exhausted.”
Naiya’Nal could feel the distrust in Jun Joon’s eyes slowly lessening. She knew he recognized her as a Dark Witch, but hoped he would be able to ignore her past. She slowly backed up and sank down to the ground when she reached the wall. Jun Joon was right, she was exhausted. She had constantly been on the move ever since she had arrived in Tanarad. Now she had convinced someone to trust her and she felt safe enough to rest. The man she had seen leave the shack earlier could wait. Without asking to stay, she closed her eyes.
When Naiya’Nal awoke that evening, Jun Joon was still watching her. The old man knew much more than she did and could probably tell her things she still had not been able to learn. She would have to stick around and see what she could learn from him. “Could I have some food?” she finally asked with a sigh. She began to remove some of her armor as Jun Joon bent over the pot by the fireplace.
He handed her a bowl of stew and then sat down in his chair. It was the best food she had eaten since she had left Sarda. When she was done with the bowl, she placed it down next to her. She sat in silence for a long while and then decided to ask the man her question.
“Jun Joon, you know that I was trained to be a Dark Witch, but I have turned against that. How can I go about clearing my name of all the evil I have done over the years and remove the distrust people show toward me?”
“I do not think it would be possible to clear your name,” Jun Joon explained. “Your actions are something you will live with as long as you remain in this world. However, there still may be a way for you to gain their acceptance. The man you saw leave my hut, the king, was Belgrave Palafox, and as you said earlier, he is the one for which you have been searching. He is not of this world and desires to leave and return to his own. Likewise, you are longing for a new life where you can feel welcome. What you can do is fight for Belgrave to gain his acceptance. I believe everything else will fall into place in its own time.”
“I am not afraid of battle,” Naiya’Nal declared.
“There is more,” Jun Joon added. “Look to the stars. We know there will be battle tomorrow and Belgrave will fight. He has never seen battle, but I am confident he will excel and lead his army as prophecy would require. If you watch the stars, two dragons have begun to consume each other. I have no doubt that the smiths will use those dragons as Belgrave’s emblem when they make his armor. However, they have failed to see the third dragon approaching from the east. It will converge with the first and together they will overcome the second. They will then be as one and as these two dragons move across the sky, they will grow stronger and overcome everything in their path.”
“I have already seen the three dragons in a dream,” she announced. “I was on the first. The second flew beside me, and together we attacked the third and its rider.”
“Then what happened?” he asked.
“We became tangled and fell to the ground. I do not know the outcome.”
Jun Joon laughed. “It is a good thing that prophetic dreams are rarely interpreted literally. You are destined to be as one of those dragons. With Belgrave beside you, the two of you will become strong and defeat the Dark Wizard.”
“Do you seriously think that with my help an untrained man can defeat Voth?”
“This untrained man is, and will be, the fulfillment of the prophecies. You must place your trust in the prophecies and him.”
“How long will it take?” she asked.
“I did not write the prophecy and am not one of the Lunari. Even the oldest and wisest men cannot see the timing of the future. Stay by his side and things will happen as they are meant to happen.”
“Should I go catch up with him now?”
“No,” Jun Joon ordered. “As a former Dark Witch, you will not be welcome among the common people until you gain Belgrave’s trust and protection. Today they make him their king and tomorrow they follow him to battle. You must wait until tomorrow when you can get close to him unseen during the battle. There are no women in the infantry of Tanarad so you must wear the armor of the infantry to blend in. I cannot tell the outcome of battle, but if you do this, you will succeed in placing yourself closer to Belgrave.”
“Where will the battle take place?”
“Rest here tonight and at first light tomorrow, follow the flights of the deathbirds. Travel swiftly and do not let anyone see you approach the battle. I plan to join up with Belgrave and the army after the battle.” Jun Joon stood up and walked over to the chest, which he opened. “You may wear my armor,” he stated, pulling it from the chest. “It has been a very long time since I have needed to wear it.”
Naiya’Nal laughed. “You seem to be very agile for an old man,” she remarked. “I don’t see why you can’t fight in battle.”
Jun Joon held up his hand and she could see a ring on it. It was the same symbol of the two crescents surrounding a circle that was on Belgrave’s sword. “It can’t be the three rings combined!” she exclaimed.
“It is not the ring worn by the Great King, but it is similar. Three of us wore these rings during the reign of the last Great King, Telkome. After the ruin of Atalan, the next prophecy was ‘Three races separate, a lesser to guide’. While the rest of Atalan moved into the underground cavern, the three of us met in secret to decide what to do with the king’s ring. We knew we needed to hide the ring of the king in a place where the darkness would never be able to get it so we had the ring split into the three parts. The three of us then traveled to other lands and hid each section in a place where we thought it would be safe. I was the only of us to return and have been left here as the ‘lesser to guide’ in the second part of that prophecy. My job is no longer to fight, but to guide others to do their part to fulfill the prophecies. To be honest, you are the first I have told of it in many years.”
“I am honored to have been among the few to hear your story,” she said. “Voth still does not understand the fulfillments of the light prophecies. I would like to hear more of what you might be willing to tell me. My entire life I have learned from Voth’s perspective and to see in the light is very uplifting.”
Naiya’Nal and Jun Joon spent much of the evening talking. He was always able to tell her something she had never known and she was able to fill in things about the darkness that he did not understand. That night, she gathered the things she would need the next day and slept outside so that she would not wake the old man when she departed in the morning.