The next day, King Belgrave and his soldiers departed the Canari Lair and headed north toward Mayve. The two lands had a narrow isthmus between them, which depending on the tides, was sometimes submerged. They marched along the wet sandy path for several hours before Commander Sidrahkir made an ominous observation. “It is just a matter of time until we have to walk single file,” he said.
“It’s worse than that,” Naiya’Nal added. “The tide is coming in. We need to run as fast as we can or we’ll never make it. Mayve is about an hour away if we speed up our pace.”
King Belgrave looked at them both. “How fast does the tide come in?” he asked. He noticed the water was indeed rising at a noticeable rate.
“Too fast Naiya’Nal!” exclaimed. She grabbed Belgrave’s hand and started running.
Commander Sidrahkir turned and faced the rest of the soldiers. “Run or you’re all going to drown!” he yelled. He waited for the last soldier to pass him before he started to run behind them.
With King Belgrave and Naiya’Nal leading from the front and Commander Sidrahkir pushing from behind, they ran at a quick pace. Within half an hour, the narrow sandy path was barely wide enough for a single person. Just a short bit later and the water was up to their ankles. “Faster!” King Belgrave shouted to those behind him. When the water was up to their knees, they could make out the shores of Mayve in the distance, but the water was still rising. By the time it was up to their waists, they could no longer run. Still, they kept moving as fast as they could.
King Belgrave stopped when the water was up to his chest. “Drop your armor,” he ordered. “Carry only your weapons and necessary provisions. We have to swim.”
As the soldiers removed their heavy armor and let it sink to the sand below, King Belgrave heard Commander Sidrahkir shouting to him from the other side of the mass of soldiers. “King Belgrave, we are willing to follow you anywhere, but not all of us can swim.”
King Belgrave had to think fast or they would never make it to Mayve. The water was now high enough that some of the soldiers were having trouble keeping their heads above the surface. “Hold onto each other and we can all float together,” he yelled back. He watched as the soldiers did as he ordered. They would not be able to swim toward the shore, but they would survive as long as a current did not sweep them off course.
One of the soldiers suddenly screamed as something pulled him under the water. The other soldiers near the man pulled out their swords and began to slash frantically at the water. King Belgrave and Naiya’Nal made their way around the mass of bodies and dived under to see what had attacked the man.
It was a creature with a large mouth, the body of a shark and six long spindly legs attached to its sides. The eyes were large bulbous compound eyes that reminded King Belgrave of a fly. The struggling man was in the creature’s mouth and it shook him violently.
King Belgrave pulled out his sword and swam to attack. The creature saw him and dropped its prey, swimming to meet the new threat. King Belgrave twisted to the side as the creature swam past him and slashed deep into the creature’s side with his sword. The creature tried to swim away, but it was dead before it was out of sight.
Naiya’Nal and Belgrave pulled the wounded man to the surface. Naiya’Nal tried to get the man breathing again while King Belgrave went back under the water. He noticed several more of the creatures coming toward them. They seemed to be attracted to the blood in the water and it was only a matter of time until they attacked.
King Belgrave surfaced again. “We need to get moving to shore,” he shouted. “More of them are coming!” The floating mass of soldiers was unable to move and King Belgrave dived back under the water to see how far away the creatures were. They were closing fast so King Belgrave surfaced once more. “If you can swim, defend your comrades.” He then took a deep breath and went back under.
The first of the creatures was almost upon them when a spear from a dark shadow killed it. The other creatures quickly turned to the new attacker, but more spears sped through the water and killed them. King Belgrave did not know who had thrown the spears, but he was grateful. “We’re safe for now,” he said after he surfaced again. “Now we just need to wait for the tide to go back down.”
Commander Sidrahkir was not a good swimmer, but he could float and began to teach the soldiers who could not swim how to float. As he demonstrated, he heard a splash behind him and heard several of the soldiers gasp at what they saw. He turned and saw a scaly green head sticking from the water. “King Belgrave,” he yelled. “I think you should come see this.”
King Belgrave and Naiya’Nal swam around the mass of soldiers to the Commander. “I have been here before,” Naiya’Nal said when she saw the newcomer. “My presence endangers us all.”
“U ha entered teh rem of teh Awa,” the green face said. “We-oh u may be on a pee-foe air-un, tare are we-per of dar-ne om-on u.”
“Do you speak the common tongue?” King Belgrave asked.
Naiya’Nal grabbed Belgrave’s shoulder. “The fish-men have lived secluded from the world for thousands of years, but I think I know what he is saying. It sounds like it may be a poor attempt at the common language.” She then attempted to speak to the fish-man in its own dialect. “We um en peef, but tare are no we-per of dar-ne here. An u hep uf to Mayve?”
The fish-man snorted haughtily and several others surfaced beside him. They brandished their spears and pointed them at Naiya’Nal. “Na’Ana,” the fish-man said, “u are not for-otten, nor teh ee-oh of Oth. Wee weh put ee ot-er to ore, but u muh tay for oor dar-ne.”
Naiya’Nal turned to Belgrave. “They will push the rest of you to shore, but they want me to stay behind.”
“I don’t know what you did,” Belgrave replied, “but if you stay behind, then I’m staying here with you.”
“I would like for you to stay,” Naiya’Nal said, “but I think only Captain Haloz can save me here.”
“Then I’ll get the Captain,” Belgrave said. “You let them know we’re staying.”
She nodded and turned back to the fish-men. “Tree weh tay,” she said. “Teh ot-er weh o to ore. U ma kill me, but I ha teh de-fen of teh red armband.” She pointed to the red armband she wore on her left arm.
The fish-men briefly whispered among them when they saw the red armband she wore. Finally, the one spoke again. “U weh o to teh Awa’ref. Tay weh deh-hed.”
As Belgrave and Captain Haloz swam over to Naiya’Nal, more fish-men surfaced and began to push the floating soldiers toward the shore. “I don’t know what an Awa’ref is,” she said, “but Haloz, you’re going to save my life once more.”
“Prophecy demands nothing less of me,” Captain Haloz replied as the fish-men surrounded them.
King Belgrave was glad he remembered to take a deep breath before the fish-men pulled him under the water. They were pulled deeper and deeper and finally into a dark tunnel leading into a cave where they found themselves standing in waist deep water. Here there was trapped air for them to breathe. “Tay here,” the fish-men ordered, leaving the cave.
“What makes the light in here?” Belgrave asked.
“They are glowing sea slugs,” Naiya’Nal answered.
Belgrave reached down to touch one. It stopped glowing as he touched it and escaped into the current. “Obviously, you’ve been here before,” Belgrave said. “What did you do to make them want you to stay?”
Naiya’Nal sighed. “People don’t like me because I used to serve the Dark Wizard before he killed my parents,” she explained. “He sent me here to kill someone, but I lingered long enough to kill many more. This is where I got the long scar on my thigh.”
“You never told me that you served the Dark Wizard!” Belgrave protested. “You only said you were captured by the Barbidons when you were a child and that you were trained to be an assassin.”
Captain Haloz put his hand on Belgrave’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about her past. She had to fight to prove that she was worthy of wearing that red armband.”
“I’m just upset that I was never told that she worked for Voth,” Belgrave said, “especially since it seems that everyone else knew about it all this time and still told me that there was a Dark Witch out there trying to kill me.”
“Belgrave, don’t hate me for being raised as your enemy,” Naiya’Nal pleaded. “As Haloz said, I had to fight him just to prove that I was searching for the truth that Voth had hidden from me.”
“You fought Captain Haloz?” Belgrave stammered. “That would have been a fight worth watching!” Both Naiya’Nal and Captain Haloz laughed.
“I think the fact that both of us are still alive should be enough to convince you to ignore what was never told to you,” the Captain suggested. “Besides, even though she is no longer a servant of Voth, the Dark Wizard may have found another to replace her.”
“You’ve proved your point,” Belgrave said as the fish-men came back into the cave. He knew no one would dare to wear a red armband unless the Red Exemplars had given it to them. If they had trusted her, then she had truly changed and he could trust her. “I still don’t think this was the best time to tell me this.”
“U oh,” said the fish-man. “Teh Awa’ref is red-ee.” Once again, the fish-men pulled them into the water.
Belgrave looked around as they swam. The sun lit up the many shades of coral and the colorful fish that swam around them. Soon they entered into another cave with air to breathe. “How long will it take us to get there?” Belgrave asked.
“We’ll probably stop at several more of these caves,” Naiya’Nal answered, “but if you only come up long enough to breathe without talking, we’ll get there faster.”
He took her advice and soon they were back out of the cave. They stopped at several other caves as Naiya’Nal had suggested, and eventually entered into a wide circular chamber facing thirteen fish-men sitting in small pools of water. Six sat to the left and six to the right. The one in the center looked older and wiser, and King Belgrave decided this was their king. Other fish-men lined the walls and held spears pointed at them.
“Do u tee ton of fin or must we speak the tongues of feet?” the king of the fish-men asked.
“Use a language we all understand,” King Belgrave ordered. “Tell me why you wanted to take my wife hostage.”
The fish-man king glared at King Belgrave. “We took Na’Ana, but you came willingly. Do not accuse us for your actions.”
Naiya’Nal knelt down and held her hands out to either side. The fish-men holding the spears flinched and grew tense, but they withheld from attacking. She looked up at the fish-man who had just belittled Belgrave. “It would be wise to know who you address,” she growled. “The three of us are more powerful than the entire realm of the Awa.”
King Belgrave gasped, because just as she spoke, an invisible force pushed the water away from their feet and toward the walls of the chamber. He could feel the force move around his body as it moved to the wall. The fish-men soldiers soon found themselves held tightly against the wall and tried to keep their heads above the water. “Do you think that I would willingly let you take me just to kill me?” Naiya’Nal asked.
The fish-man king sat in silence for a moment before he spoke. “We know of your reckless powers, Na’Ana. Tell us who your companions are and why we should fear them.”
“Tell me your name and I will tell you mine,” Captain Haloz replied.
The fish-man king stood up as best he could without feet. “You are an arrogant bunch. Were it not for my curiosity as to whom you are, I would have your tongues cut from your mouths and your bodies fed to the na’karden.”
Naiya’Nal sighed. “Do you really think it possible for a Dark Witch to stand in the company of prophecy and a Red Exemplar?”
“Perhaps they were deceived,” the fish-man king flippantly suggested.
“A Red Exemplar cannot be deceived,” Captain Haloz defended. “Have you not noticed her true allegiance? Look past the black and purple robes and notice the band of red wrapped around her arm. The fulfillment of prophecy is standing before your eyes and yet you cannot see it.”
“Oh really?” the fish-man king scoffed.
King Belgrave pulled out his sword. Its glow was visible in the dim light. “Believe it! The sword has been discovered and the king has returned.”
The room was instantly silent and Naiya’Nal released her magic. The water splashed back to the floor and the Awa soldiers fell from the wall to the floor and looked at the three of them in fear. “Now you know why you cannot harm us,” she said.
The thirteen fish-men sitting in front of them briefly deliberated before the fish-man king addressed them again. “I am Tehem’Ba, speaker for the Awa’ref. We have decided you are who you say you are. However, this does not excuse the crimes committed during your previous visit and restitution must be made.”
“All I can offer is to do everything I can to kill the one who sent me,” Naiya’Nal replied. “Your only other option is to petition your claims to the Dark Wizard and request liquidation of his assets in repayment of the damage caused by those previously in his employment.”
A smile slowly spread across Tehem’Ba’s previously stern face. “You drive a hard bargain, Na’Ana, but we will accept your offer. We would be honored if your companions would tell us their names before we take the three of you to Mayve.”
Captain Haloz stepped forward. “I am Haloz, Captain of the Red Exemplars.”
“And I am Belgrave Palafox,” King Belgrave added. “It is always a pleasure to meet the leaders of new races, despite the occasional unpleasant welcome.”
“I am sorry for my initial treatment of you,” Tehem’Ba admitted. “The Awa are a proud and stubborn race and I am no exception. Now I bid you farewell and perhaps we will meet again on more pleasant terms.”
The three of them allowed themselves to be led from the chamber and pulled back into the water. Soon they were standing on the shores of Mayve, drying in the sun. As soon as the isthmus was visible, they would be able to collect the armor that they had discarded earlier that day.
“How did Voth kill your parents?” Belgrave asked Naiya’Nal as they sat along the beach.
“The fish-woman I killed, Ta’Ero, told me where to find my parents only moments before I killed her,” Naiya’Nal admitted. “When I confronted Voth about them, he killed them to support his prior lies that they were dead.”
“I can see why you hate him,” Belgrave said.
“It was necessary,” Naiya’Nal said. “Otherwise I’d be a different person and I’d have killed you already.”
Belgrave smiled. “I am glad you changed.” They sat in silence until the tide went down. Then they moved to retrieve their armor.