King Belgrave arrived later than expected and they watched in amusement as his horse slowly meandered toward them. “It’s almost time for the sun to set,” Naiya’Nal said. “What took you so long?”
“This horse doesn’t want to let me control it,” Belgrave answered. He tried unsuccessfully to direct the horse without reins.
Naiya’Nal laughed. “His name is Axios. Perhaps he would find you a worthy rider if you introduced yourself,” she suggested.
Belgrave leaned down near the horse’s ear. “I am Belgrave, King of Tanarad,” he whispered. The horse perked up its ears. “The sword has been discovered, the king has returned, three rings will soon be combined. Do you find me worthy of your service?”
Axios neighed and nodded his head. He walked faster and carried King Belgrave over to the others. “I think he now wonders if he’s worthy enough to carry you,” Naiya’Nal laughed.
“I should have thought about saying that earlier,” Belgrave responded. He turned to Commander Sidrahkir and held out his hand. “It has been a dark day. Let us put our disappointments behind us.”
Accepted,” the Commander replied. He shook King Belgrave’s hand. “There are times when it is necessary to be reminded that even the greatest among us can still make mistakes.”
“Indeed!” King Belgrave agreed. He picked up his helmet and shield. “Where is Captain Haloz? I hear he has something to show me.”
“We’re right here,” the Captain yelled. He walked out from behind a partially burned building with the rest of the Red Exemplars following behind. They had all cleaned their armor and put on clean clothing.
King Belgrave and the Captain walked toward each other. King Belgrave placed his hand on the Captain’s shoulder and looked him over. “Are those stripes still in vain?” he asked.
“They have been dealt with,” the Captain truthfully answered.
“At least you kept it private and cleaned up afterwards,” King Belgrave replied. “Now, I hear you have something to show me.”
Captain Haloz smiled. “I have found the location of the second ring hidden in the ruins of one of these buildings,” he explained. “I will take you there.” He led everyone to the ruined structure and showed King Belgrave the hole.
“It can’t be real,” Naiya’Nal stated, peering into the hole. “I know for a fact that the world is round.”
“The world is round,” Captain Haloz explained. “This is an entirely different world inside a small portion of ours!” He dropped a rock into the hole and they watched as it suddenly fell back up at them.
“I don’t think that world is inside this one,” King Belgrave deduced. “Gravity would be distorted if it was, but here there seems to be equilibrium of opposing force. I think this hole is only a gateway to this new world somewhere else.”
“What is gravity?” Commander Sidrahkir asked.
“It’s another word from my world,” King Belgrave noted. “We don’t have time for education, but it’s the reason things fall down instead of up. We need to figure out how to climb down there.”
“It can’t be too hard,” Naiya’Nal said. She dived into the hole headfirst. Once she passed through to the other side, she began to fall back toward them, but grabbed the other edge and pulled herself in.
“You’re standing upside down,” King Belgrave joked as Naiya’Nal looked down at them.
“No, you are!” she replied, looking around. “Come on in. This place is nice!”
“You can climb down,” Captain Haloz suggested. “It’s about halfway where you’ll find up becomes down.”
King Belgrave slowly let himself into the hole and made his way toward the other side. As the Captain had said, the gravity changed halfway. He let go and didn’t move very far. “Look,” he exclaimed, “I’m floating!”
They laughed. “Hurry up, Belgrave,” Naiya’Nal said, reaching down to him. “We don’t have all day.” He took her hand and let her pull him in.
Belgrave looked around at the new world. The surface curved upward in all directions and met in the distance to make a complete sphere. It was an inverted world and Belgrave felt that he was standing inside a large bubble. Two mountains rose from either side of the world and met in the very center. There was a bright red sun at the point where the two mountains met. King Belgrave instantly knew that this was the ring.
“How many of us do you want to join you in there?” Commander Sidrahkir asked.
King Belgrave looked down at the faces looking in from the other side of the hole. “I don’t think we need very many soldiers. You and Captain Haloz should be more than enough.” He and Naiya’Nal helped the other two enter the world.
“Everything is tiny here!” the Commander exclaimed as he looked around. “It is a wonder that we also did not shrink to fit.”
“It would take us weeks to reach the ring if we were shrunk to fit in this world,” King Belgrave noted. He reached down and pulled a tree out of the ground. It was only as high as his knee, and several tiny birds flew from its branches. “The wildlife is tiny,” he said. “I wonder if there are any people here also.”
Captain Haloz took a few steps past them. “Don’t worry, King Belgrave,” he said with a grin. “I won’t let them hurt you.”
Naiya’Nal removed her boots and began to walk around barefoot. Everything is so small that it is soft! You should try it, Belgrave.”
He laughed and sat down to pull off his boots. “This is a nice place. Beautiful landscape and a soft warm light, this is very relaxing.”
“You should take the ring before we take time to relax,” Captain Haloz said, taking several more steps into the world.
King Belgrave picked up his boots and began to walk toward the ring. “Think of this as a relaxing stroll through the woods,” he suggested.
Commander Sidrahkir took all of their shields and propped them upright against each other so they would be able to find the exit after they took the ring. They made their way through the world toward the closest of the large mountains. Naiya’Nal occasionally stooped to examine strange animals.
As they were walking toward what was obviously a lake despite looking like a large puddle, King Belgrave suddenly shouted as his foot was pierced in several places. The other three watched as he kicked something hidden under the trees. Several tiny bodies went flying into the air.
“There’s your answer,” the Commander said, holding back a laugh. “There are people in this world and they don’t like us.”
Captain Haloz began to stomp around and crushed the trees to the ground while Naiya’Nal helped Belgrave tend to his bloodied foot. “Forget walking barefoot,” King Belgrave said. “I am putting my boots back on.”
Soon they were once again on their way and the forest soon gave way to grasslands. Here there were scattered houses and barns. The ground began to slope upwards as they reached the base of the mountain.
“We should burn these houses to get back at the people for cutting your foot,” Captain Haloz suggested.
King Belgrave stopped walking and looked at him. “It would hardly be worth the effort,” he replied. “Besides, we are obviously invaders in their world and I would not want to incite the entire world against us.”
“An army of mini-men would definitely be a challenge,” Commander Sidrahkir said sarcastically, rolling his eyes.
“They’re only as tall as my fingers are long,” the Captain replied. “You could wipe out their army just by rolling on them!”
“You might be surprised,” King Belgrave said. “They do have the advantage of numbers so you might find it similar to throwing stones at a hornet’s nest.”
The houses were now more densely packed and King Belgrave reached down and picked up one of the tiny people that were running among them. The tiny man struggled to escape, but he was unable to squirm from Belgrave’s grasp. “What is your name?” King Belgrave asked.
The man made an unintelligible squeaking noise and Naiya’Nal grabbed Belgrave’s arm. “This is a different world,” she said. “I cannot translate here.”
Belgrave sighed and placed the man back on the ground. “Forget about these people; we need to get that ring.” He started walking faster up the mountain.
They were following a road that led up the mountain. Soon it led through a large city where small bands of mini-men unsuccessfully tried to attack them. However, they easily stepped over most of the attacks and they just kicked away the others.
The attacks stopped as they neared a small temple. Here they could see the mini-men trying to offer them various goods. King Belgrave laughed. “They are too small to force us to leave so they must be trying to pay us to leave.”
“I wish there was a way to tell them that we will leave as soon as we take the ring” Naiya’Nal said.
Belgrave shook his head. “All we can do is keep going and hope that they get the hint.”
More of the mini-men began to crowd the streets, screaming and running around in panic, and it became difficult not to step on the tiny figures. “I wish they would stop the shouting,” the Commander stammered. “It’s like listening to a sinking ship filled with mice!”
Captain Haloz laughed. “Maybe you should try telling them to be quiet,” he suggested.
“Be quiet!” Commander Sidrahkir shouted, jumping to face the throngs of tiny people behind them. For a moment, the tactic worked, but the shouting soon continued.
Just past the end of the city, they looked in disgust as the mini-men killed some of their own kind as sacrifices. King Belgrave did not like it, so he grabbed the ones doing the sacrificing and tossed them down the mountain. “That should teach them,” he said.
As they reached the top of the mountain, five more of the mini-men stood on a small cliff and killed themselves. “These people really want us to leave,” Naiya’Nal noted.
“What would you do if your world was attacked by an enemy whose ankles were too high to reach?” King Belgrave asked.
They all laughed. “I do not want to find out,” the Commander answered.
King Belgrave looked at them with a smile. “If you ever do have to find out, I’d advise you to run the other way. You may be able to cut them, but that would just make them angrier.”
They stopped suddenly when they neared the ring and heard a recognizable voice. “To give one’s life for the fulfillment of prophecy is the greatest honor.”
King Belgrave pulled out his sword and looked around. “Show yourself, Dezhothokh! I have killed you before and I will kill you again.”
The voice of Dezhothokh laughed. “No one can be killed more than once. You ended my life, but you cannot destroy my light.” The sun ring grew brighter. “I will always be a part of this ring until all three are combined.”
“Then you feigned neutrality,” King Belgrave replied, lowering his sword. “Tell me, since you are not neutral, whose side are you on?”
“My neutrality was a guise to conceal what needed to remain hidden,” Dezhothokh answered. “If you had done as Jun Joon ordered and waited for him to come to you instead of going to him, his purpose would not have ended prematurely and he would have told you that it was the light of a Lunari that divided the ring and it is that same light that will combine it.”
“Are you for us or against us?” King Belgrave asked.
Captain Haloz stepped toward the ring and interrupted. “It is because of you that many of our comrades will never leave the hills of Mayve,” he accused. “You cannot be for us since an ally would not attack his allies.”
“Do you think that my actions are without purpose or unexplainable?” Dezhothokh asked. “Do you think that the fulfillment of prophecy is the only reason you were brought to this world? Do you think that this war is only about the light and dark Lunari? If you answer yes to any of those questions, then you are wrong. Everything we do, prophetic or not, from the smallest movement to the grandest scheme, everything is just a small ripple in the sea, a tiny thread in a tapestry, a single attack in a conflict that transcends beyond all worlds.”
“I can understand that, but you still have not explained why you killed our comrades,” King Belgrave stated.
“The ring was divided into the three parts to keep ambitious men from taking the ring and claiming to be the fulfillment of prophecy,” Dezhothokh explained. “We knew that the people of this world are unable to kill a Lunari, while those from other worlds were able. Your killing me was a test to prove that you were in fact the one to fulfill prophecy. I did what I did to keep you from trying to decline the test.”
“You killed my soldiers to incite me against you!?” King Belgrave gasped.
“I am sorry for your loss,” Dezhothokh apologized. “We Lunari are skilled at knowing the inner workings of prophecy, but in this case I must admit that I was not entirely prepared for the manner in which it happened.”
“I was told that the Lunari wrote the prophecies,” King Belgrave said. “Why would they write something that they cannot control?”
“The Lunari did write the prophecies,” Dezhothokh explained. “The history of this world has and will follow those prophecies until the end of prophecy. Unfortunately, this too is only a small part of the greater conflict and may be influenced by other battles beyond our control. There are some things that happen that are meant to prepare you for other events in the future, both here and also on other worlds, such as your own.”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” Commander Sidrahkir said. “If losing most of our comrades was to prepare us for the future, then what good do we have to look forward to?”
There was a brief pause and they could almost feel the unseen voice planning its response. “Look beyond all of the bad along the way and you will see that the good is coming, the greatest good, at the end of the bad, the good begins, the time when the world will finally be saved from this conflict!”
King Belgrave shook his head. “What you say may be true, but there is no way that we can know that the things we experience are preparing us for the future until the future comes.”
“I still think that you had no reason to kill my soldiers,” Captain Haloz added. “You should have asked King Belgrave to kill you before taking such drastic actions.”
“I recognize your voice,” Naiya’Nal interrupted. “I heard it a year ago. I had a claw for a hand and cuts on my shoulder and there was a fortress. You said, ‘me ru mis gofinda.’ One year ago it was your voice that said I would live! You kept me alive!”
The others all looked at Naiya’Nal, completely unsure of what she was talking about.
“That was one year ago for you, but seven thousand years ago for me,” Dezhothokh explained. “You saw light and shadow, a short truce among Lunari, surrounding the intense delusions of your mind as it struggled to survive the effects of magic that did not work on your dying body. We kept you alive because you had a decision to make, a decision that will affect this world in ways I cannot begin to explain. Belgrave Palafox may be the fulfillment of the prophecies, but you, Queen Naiya’Nal, are the one whose actions will determine the victor of this war and influence this world in its final days.”
“I have already made that decision,” Naiya’Nal said.
“That is something that the Lunari were unable to control,” Dezhothokh said. “It was expected that your decision would be made after the combining of the three rings, but you made your decision sooner than expected, and Jun Joon, the first of many, has already died because of it.”
“Many?” Belgrave wondered.
“A battle is coming,” Dezhothokh warned, “a battle when your armies will be outnumbered by more than six to one. It will be a futile battle and many lives will be lost. The only hope you have is to fight the battle and stand your ground as long as possible before you retreat. Otherwise the enemy will hunt you down even unto the ends of the world.”
“How would postponing Naiya’Nal’s decision have helped save lives during a battle in the future?” King Belgrave asked, shaking his head in disbelief.
“It was expected that she would take pity on the combatants and use her influence to swiftly end the battle, showing mercy to the world and gaining its trust if she chose the Dark Wizard, or providing a tactical advantage and misleading the enemy if she chose you. Both of those options are no longer available and many will die because of it. However, such things are beyond prophecy. Perhaps one day you should ask her about the plans that Voth had for her future.” Dezhothokh answered. “Even so, I have told you more than you need to know. You must take the ring and do the tasks prophecy sets before you.”
“Something is not right,” Captain Haloz stated. “Everything makes perfect sense and no sense at the same time. Is my enemy to be my ally? Does prophecy control us while letting us decide our own actions? Do good decisions always bring bad consequences?”
“It makes perfect sense,” King Belgrave explained. “The Lunari can only influence prophecy, but there is much more than prophecy at work here so the Lunari may do things according to prophecy in ways they had not intended. We make our own decisions, but there is also prophecy, a ‘foreknowledge’ of our actions. However, we will never understand how or why certain things happen. As Dezhothokh said, we must deal with the present and worry about the future when it comes.” He stepped forward and reached for the ring. “Naiya’Nal, do you sense any trickery?” he asked.
“The Lunari are with us,” she replied. “Take the ring.”
The light in the world dimmed as Belgrave’s hand curled around the red ring. The ring was hot, but quickly cooled as he pulled it from between the two mountains. The world was instantly darkened and a strong icy wind blew throughout the world. Frost began to spread across their clothing. King Belgrave’s face whitened and he fell to his knees as he realized the magnitude of what had happened. “I am the end of this world!” he lamented.
“We need to get out of here before we freeze to death,” Naiya’Nal yelled. She pulled at King Belgrave.
He stood up and allowed her to pull him along. Commander Sidrahkir and Captain Haloz rushed past them. “I can see the entrance,” the Commander shouted, pointing at a speck of light far in the distance.
“I will grab the shields,” the Captain replied. “The rest of you just jump through the hole and hope that the soldiers catch you on the other side.”
Partway down the mountain, they could hear, and feel, the frozen mini-men being crunched by their steps. Several times they tripped over buildings that they did not see in the darkness. King Belgrave now knew why the mini-men had tried to get them to leave. They had known that their world would end as soon as he took the ring. They had done everything that they could think of to make him turn back, but he had ignored all of their efforts.
Naiya’Nal finally stopped and shook Belgrave by the shoulders. “Stop thinking about this world and start thinking about getting out of here!” she ordered. “I cannot pull you the entire way!”
He looked up and saw Commander Sidrahkir standing at the entrance. “King Belgrave, hurry up!” the Commander shouted. “The entrance is freezing shut!”
“The Lunari are with you,” a combination of voices said in his head. He thought he heard Dezhothokh’s voice among them.
Belgrave stood up, temporarily strengthened by the encouragement, and grabbed Naiya’Nal’s hand. They ran toward the entrance as fast as they could, and dived through the entrance at the same time. Belgrave could feel the cold ice scrape against him as he fell through the hole to the other side. When they looked back, the ice had closed the entrance. The mini-world had ended and was permanently sealed from all visitors.