Chapter 29

Belgrave and Naiya’Nal rode their horses, Axios and Eleuthera, ahead of the soldiers as they marched north to Tayve. It took two days to cross over the hills of Mayve before they finally reached the sea early on the third day. The path between Mayve and Tayve was much easier than the one between Hayve and Mayve. The isthmus was high enough that it was never submerged. Unfortunately, the lush rolling hills faded into a land of rock and sand and they could not take the horses with them.

That evening they camped beside an oasis with a natural spring. A thin stream flowed from the oasis and down to the sea. They could see many other oases in the distance. They decided not to stay under the trees since they resembled palm trees covered with a thick coat of long thorns. Even the grass along the stream was stiff and sharp and felt like thistles.

“It appears as if this land has plenty of water,” King Belgrave said, “but I think that we should stock up our water before we move much further into this desert.”

“I think that is a good idea,” Naiya’Nal agreed. “I have been told that things grow large in this land and we may want to avoid the places where such things may live.”

Commander Sidrahkir nodded in agreement. “All I ever heard of this land was that giants live here.”

King Belgrave turned toward the Commander. “Giants?”

Naiya’Nal laughed. “I once heard of someone killing a giant. I did not believe it until I saw the skull in Voth’s castle. It was as large as I am tall.”

“I am sure the Dark Wizard has many interesting things hidden away,” King Belgrave replied. “Even if there are giants here, we still need to cross this land and find the third ring. While we are here tonight, I want you to send out five teams of one Red Exemplar and one regular soldier to scout out the land.”

“Are you sure about that?” the Commander asked.

King Belgrave looked at Captain Haloz, but the Captain did not protest. “It’s actually a good idea,” said King Belgrave. “The one soldier scouts the land and will Red Exemplar to protect him if he finds a giant.”

Both the Commander and Captain Haloz started laughing. “It is good to see the full extent of your confidence in my soldiers,” Commander Sidrahkir sarcastically replied. “Perhaps they will prove to be greater than you expect.”

“Not compared to a Red Exemplar,” Captain Haloz assured.

The next morning, Commander Sidrahkir woke King Belgrave. “I have two important things to tell you,” he said.

King Belgrave stepped from the tent. The sky was red in the early morning sun. “Did our scouts find the ring?” he asked.

Commander Sidrahkir shook his head. “No rings,” he answered, “but they did bring back signs of a hostile land.”

“Did they find the giants?” King Belgrave asked.

“There were small quills stuck in their shields when they returned,” answered the Commander. “They say they were attacked by lizards that walk on two legs and throw the spines from their tails. The team managed to kill one and bring it back.” He pointed to the side where the corpse of a strange reptile lay on the ground. It had two thick legs that supported a head with a large mouth on one side and a stiff tail covered with spines on the other side. There was a small webbed crest on the top of its head. “From what I have been told, this is the smallest one that any of the scouts saw last night.”

“How big were the others?” King Belgrave asked.

“One team did not return,” the Commander answered. “Their remains were found near an oasis, along with this.” He showed King Belgrave a long curved tooth that was the length of the dead creature. “This is a tooth from one of those creatures and you can compare the size to the dead one to guess just how big it must have been.”

King Belgrave sighed. “How has Captain Haloz taken the death of another Red Exemplar?” he asked.

“You do not need to worry about the Red Exemplars,” the Captain said, walking around the corner of the tent. “I am confident that the creature did not find my soldier as palatable as it had hoped.”

King Belgrave tried to stifle a laugh. “I am sorry,” he said, “but the way you said that was a bit amusing. I can just imagine one of these creatures trying to eat a fighting Red Exemplar!”

“Even so, that is the least important matter I woke you for,” the Commander said. “A ship from Tanarad has been spotted heading toward this land.”

“How would they know we were here?” King Belgrave asked. “We left Panei almost two months ago and they wouldn’t know how far we’ve already gone.”

“I don’t think they know we are here yet,” the Captain added. “The ship is low in the water and may have encountered difficulties along the way. It is now drifting our way instead of sailing. Come to the shore and see for yourself.”

They ran to the shore and King Belgrave could see the ship coming from the southeast. The white sail was tattered and a white flag with the two red dragons fluttered from the mast. “It bears my colors,” King Belgrave observed. “It has to have been sent to find us. Send the best swimmers to search the ship for survivors.”

King Belgrave sat on the beach and ate breakfast as he watched the soldiers swim out to the ship. Eventually one soldier returned. “There was one survivor on the ship,” he explained, “but the ship is not drifting. They Awa are pushing it and say they found it near the coast of Hayve. The others are staying on the ship to bail out some of the water to make it lighter and also to care for the survivor.”

It was early afternoon when they finally beached the ship. It was smaller than the ones they had taken to Panei. “Where is the survivor?” King Belgrave asked when the Commander came up to him later.

“He is sick and unable to speak right now,” Commander Sidrahkir answered. “I have my best soldiers tending to him.”

King Belgrave sighed. “Thank the Awa for rescuing him. In the meantime, we might as well search for the ring while we allow this man time to recover. If Tayve is anything like Mayve, the ring should not be too hard to find.”

The Commander smiled. “There is a river flowing through the center of Tayve. It comes from somewhere at the top of a tall cliff in the north where the trees are tall and the plants are thick. I think that may be a good place to start.”

King Belgrave thought about it. “It may be a start,” he said, “but those trees may also be the home of many hungry lizards and I cannot climb up a tree of thorns to escape them.”

“I doubt that it could be much worse than what you have already been through,” the Commander shrugged.

“Naiya’Nal and I will leave tomorrow,” King Belgrave decided. “I want everyone else to remain here.”

“You are in a strange land with many dangers,” Commander Sidrahkir protested. “We should go to protect our king.”

King Belgrave shook his head. “You have been a tremendous help,” he said, “but I do not want to risk more lives than needed. Naiya’Nal and I could use some time to ourselves. Besides, prophecy will protect us.”

“I will obey your orders,” the Commander replied, “but I do not recommend the two of you go alone when you have so many willing and able soldiers.”

“All we need is food and water,” King Belgrave said. “We can avoid the oases as we head north.”

“I still fear for your safety,” Commander Sidrahkir replied, “but I will have supplies ready for you in the morning.”

The next morning, Belgrave and Naiya’Nal began their journey north. They avoided the oases despite the lush vegetation and the calls of brightly colored birds. By midday, they were crossing a plain covered with rounded boulders instead of the jagged rocks closer to the shore. The sun beat down upon them and soon their bodies were covered with sweat. Far in the distance, they could see what appeared to be a wall of green. Despite their quick pace, the wall never seemed to grow closer. When they stopped for the night, they decided that they had traveled about a third of the way.

“We are low on water,” Belgrave announced, taking a few sips.

Naiya’Nal leaned back against the long rock formation that they were using as shelter. “We may have to find an oasis to replenish our supply,” she said.

Naiya’Nal suddenly sat up and turned to look at the rock. She pressed her hand against the rock. It was too soft to be rock. Her eyes followed the length of the wall down to where it turned up at the end. It separated into five bulbous ends at the top. The big one suddenly twitched. “Belgrave,” she slowly whispered, crouching forward and starting to gather her belongings as quickly and quietly as she could, “we cannot stay here.”

“Why?” Belgrave asked, without whispering.

She motioned with her head to the feature that she had just noticed. “Rocks do not have feet,” she hissed.

Belgrave stooped down to pick up his stuff, but they stopped to look as a loud mixture of cracks and rumbling sounds moved through the entire length of the rock formation. With a loud groan, the other end of the rock formation suddenly rose from the ground and they could recognize the features of a gigantic man. The head turned and looked down at them.

“Mmm,” grunted the loud drawn out voice. “Little peoples have found Ar’Ra.”

Belgrave stood motionless as he stared up at the giant creature, but Naiya’Nal threw her pack on her back and started to run. Large hands reached over and picked them both up. The giant held them in front of his face. Belgrave gasped as the strong hands squeezed him.

“Little peoples felled Ar’Ra’s family,” the giant boomed. “Now little peoples come to fell Ar’Ra, but Ar’Ra is too fast for them.”

“We are not here to kill you,” Belgrave grunted. He squirmed to try and ease the pressure on his body. “We are looking for something to help the world!”

“Indeed!” the giant boomed, standing up. Belgrave noticed that the giant was as tall as five Barbidons standing on each other. “Looking is a bad excuse for little peoples. Ar’Ra has known many little peoples looking.” The giant began to walk as it talked. “Little peoples come with swords and spears and flames and flashes. All little peoples seek to fell Ar’Ra, but Ar’Ra will fell little peoples first.”

“Flames and flashes?” Naiya’Nal wondered. “Those are not normal people who are hunting you. They hunt us as well, but we are greater than them.”

“Maybe you are and maybe you are not,” the giant rumbled. “It does not matter. Ar’Ra does not believe words of little peoples.”

“I can understand your reason for distrust,” Belgrave said. “You say others like us have hunted you and your family, but we are not hunting you. We are hunting for a ring!”

The giant stopped walking. “Ar’Ra knows of a ring of gold brought to this land by little peoples long ago. Ar’Ra knows, but cannot see. The ring of gold is too tall for Ar’Ra.”

“Can you take us to the ring?” Naiya’Nal asked.

The giant let loose with roaring laughter. “Ar’Ra will not believe deceiving talk of little peoples. Many are felled by deceiving talk.”

“How can we prove we mean you no harm?” Belgrave asked.

“Can little peoples fly?” the giant asked.

“Of course we cannot fly,” Belgrave replied. “That is absurd!”

“Ar’Ra will make little peoples fly,” the giant stated. “If little peoples live, Ar’Ra will believe.” The giant prepared to throw them into the air.

“Wait!” Naiya’Nal shouted. “Hold us together so that we may fly or die together.”

The giant grunted. “That is an interesting request for Ar’Ra,” he said, “but you are little peoples and maybe are afraid to fly alone.”

“Hold on to me as tight as you can,” Naiya’Nal whispered to Belgrave as the giant put his hands together and prepared to toss them into the sky. Moments later they were tumbling upwards until Naiya’Nal opened the dragon wings on her pack and they caught the air. “Hold your body as straight as you can,” she told Belgrave as they glided back toward the ground.

The giant gasped as he saw the silhouette of the wings cross the large disk of the yellow moon. “Ar’Ra believes little peoples come for ring and not to fell Ar’Ra,” he announced. “Ar’Ra will help you.”

They hit the ground a minute later and slid to a stop. “It’s a good thing those wings finally worked,” Belgrave muttered. He stood up and dusted himself off.

“They work,” Naiya’Nal defended as she folded them up. “You just need to use them at the right time and place.”

The giant stooped down behind them. “Ar’Ra believes little peoples. Ar’Ra will show little peoples the golden ring.” Once again the large hands picked them up, but the giant placed them on his shoulders. “Far to go,” the giant explained. “Ar’Ra will take you.” Soon they were moving rapidly toward the north.

“Are there many of your people left?” Belgrave asked as he held on to the giant’s ear to keep from falling off.

“Ar’Ra is the last,” he answered. “Little peoples fell many big peoples. Saono’modaek also grow big and bold and fell more. Not enough big peoples left to fell great saono’modaek. Ar’Ra now hunted by little peoples and saono’modaek.”

“Ar’Ra, what is saono’modaek?” Naiya’Nal asked from the other shoulder.

“Saono’modaek is beast of tooth and flying spear,” Ar’Ra explained. “Little saono’modaek leave Ar’Ra alone. Great saono’modaek make feast of Ar’Ra.” The giant sighed. “When family of Ar’Ra was big, we made battle against great saono’modaek.”

“I don’t think I want to find out how large this great saono’modaek can get,” Belgrave said.

“No worry if great saono’modaek asleep,” Ar’Ra said. “I run if great saono’modaek awake.”

“I thought you were taking us to see the ring, not the saono’modaek,” Belgrave said.

“Ar’Ra takes little friends to see the ring. Great saono’modaek lives in trees near the ring.” The giant stooped low and picked up a large boulder. “Ar’Ra will protect little friends from great saono’modaek.”

Belgrave could see that they were already halfway to what to the large wall in the distance. Now he could see that it was a forested cliff with towering trees growing in front of it.

“Were you sleeping when we found you?” Belgrave asked.

“Ar’Ra never tired,” the giant answered. “Sometimes Ar’Ra sleeps long or short sleep to pass time.”

“How old are you, Ar’Ra?” Naiya’Nal asked.

Mmm,” the giant grunted. “Ar’Ra old as rocks he came from. All Ar’Ra’s family came from rocks.”

“If you all came from rocks, then why aren’t there any new ones of you?” Belgrave asked.

“We come from rock and go to rock,” the giant said. “It is the way of Ar’Ra’s family. Ar’Ra is the last.”

The giant continued in silence and soon they were near the great cliff towering into the night sky before them. Huge trees covered in thorns grew in front of the cliff and a thin waterfall fell from the top. At the bottom was a large pool from which a river flowed southeast to the sea. In the center of the pool was an island on which grew a single tree. Even the giant was dwarfed by the size of the cliff and trees. Ar’Ra soon stopped and announced that he would not walk any closer. “The ring is on top of the tree,” he said. “These are trees of great saono’modaek. Ar’Ra will not go closer. Little friends can fly to top of the tree and find the ring.”

“We cannot go fast enough to fly up,” Naiya’Nal said. “We can only fly down.”

“If we had a rope, Ar’Ra could pull us fast enough to go up that high,” Belgrave suggested. “It would have to be a real long rope though.”

“That might work,” Naiya’Nal agreed, “but neither of us have a real long rope. We would have to see what the others have back at the camp.”

“Little friends bring other little peoples?” Ar’Ra asked. “Do they come to fell Ar’Ra?”

Belgrave laughed. “They came with us to help find the ring. They have not come to hunt you. Can you take us back south to our companions? I think there may be a way that you can help us to get to the ring.”

“Ar’Ra will help little friends,” the giant agreed. He turned toward the south and began to walk back the way they had come.

It was a little before dawn when something caused Commander Sidrahkir to wake up. He sat up and listened. The air was cool and silent as he fought off a shiver. Suddenly he noticed the sensation that had awakened him. A few tiny pebbles on the ground slightly moved as the ground faintly vibrated. He pulled his sword close as he slowly stood up and turned around. The massive black shape of a giant was coming across the rocky desert toward him. He began to step backward. The giant stopped, but the hauntingly familiar shape of dragon wings then flashed across the dark sky. The Commander dropped his sword and turned to run, only to find Captain Haloz and the other Red Exemplars standing directly behind him.

The Captain picked up Commander Sidrahkir’s sword and handed it back. “Stand your ground and I will not tell King Belgrave that you turned to run,” the Captain said.

“Not a word,” the Commander agreed, taking his sword back. He faced the giant, but could no longer see the dragon. Once again, everything was silent in the darkness. Suddenly he saw the dragon flying toward them while hiding in the giant’s shadow.

The Red Exemplars raised their bows and fired. Their arrows sped toward the dragon, but then they burst into flames as they abruptly went astray without hitting their mark. The dragon’s wings suddenly flared up and folded as it dropped into a shadow. “How many times have I told you that your arrows cannot find me?” a woman’s voice laughed.

Naiya’Nal stepped from the shadow and walked toward them. “We realized it was not a good idea to bring a giant into the camp in the dark,” she explained. “I came to let you know that he is a friend.”

Captain Haloz grinned. “First we saw a giant coming toward the camp. Then we saw a dragon coming our way. Now we learn that it is only you!”

“Belgrave is still with the giant,” Naiya’Nal said. “We were up all night and he fell asleep on its shoulder a few hours ago. We came back to get as long a rope as we possibly can. We need it so that we can try to get the ring.”

“There may be some long ropes on the ship,” Commander Sidrahkir suggested. “If not, we may have to resort to tying many shorter ropes together.”

“It does not matter as long as it is very long,” Naiya’Nal replied. “One end will be tied to me and Belgrave and Ar’Ra, the giant, will try to pull us fast enough that my wings can take us high enough to land on top of the tree where he says the ring is hidden.”

“You and King Belgrave always try the craziest things,” the Captain noted.

“King Belgrave was fine before he met her,” the Commander corrected, “but everything that they do now has her influence written all over it.”

Naiya’Nal rolled her eyes. “We still need rope. I’ll go get Belgrave and the giant.”

The sun was high in the sky by the time they had a rope that they thought would be long enough. They tied the rope around King Belgrave and Naiya’Nal who then stood ready with the wings open. Ar’Ra picked them up and began to run toward the cliff far away in the distance. The wings caught the air almost immediately and soon the giant was letting out more rope so they could fly higher and higher. The ground fell away below them until even Ar’Ra looked tiny as he ran across the land. “We are high enough,” Naiya’Nal eventually announced as the cool wind blew around them. “I can see beyond the trees and the top of the cliff, all the way to the mountains of Sarda.”

Belgrave and Naiya’Nal watched as Ar’Ra ran toward the cliff without tiring and went closer than he had taken them before. Suddenly, Ar’Ra stopped and they began to descend. A loud roar filled the air as they passed high overhead and the giant turned his head to look into the forest. Two large spines suddenly flew from the forest and pierced through Ar’Ra’s body, causing the giant to cry out in pain.

“Cut the rope!” Naiya’Nal shouted, tightening her grip on Belgrave. They were losing momentum and the weight of the rope was pulling them down. Belgrave pulled out his sword and sliced at the rope until he managed to sever it. The rope fell away and they continued to glide forward.

Belgrave looked back and saw Ar’Ra try to grapple the great saono’modaek, but the enormous jaws ripped the giant apart. “Another life ends to the purpose of prophecy,” he lamented.

Without being pulled by the giant, they were quickly descending. Soon the leaves of the tall trees were above them and they rapidly flew toward the face of the cliff. From here, they could see that it was not a single cliff, but a series of small ledges covered in vines and weedy plants. “I can get us to a ledge,” Naiya’Nal yelled, “but you will have to be ready to grab something so that I can close the wings.”

He put his sword back in its scabbard and readied himself as the cliff loomed up before them. His hands wrapped around a vine and held tight as they tumbled onto the ledge. Belgrave took a few deep breaths as he looked toward the top of the cliff high above. “Now would be a good time to have kept the rope,” he said.

“We have to climb,” Naiya’Nal sighed. She tore four strips of cloth from her cloak and handed two to Belgrave. Wrap these around your hands so that you don’t hurt yourself on any thorns or jagged rocks. She began to search for handholds and they slowly made their way up the cliff.

“Do you think there any saono’modaeks live at the top of the cliff?” Belgrave asked, climbing behind her.

“I hope not,” she answered. “I think the trees on top were more normal sized than the ones below. If we did meet one of those creatures up there, then I would expect it to be more normal sized as well.”

Belgrave grunted as he lost one of his handholds. “Do you have any idea how someone climbed this cliff all the way from the bottom to put the ring at the top?” he asked.

Naiya’Nal pulled herself onto the next ledge. “Chances are they didn’t climb,” she said. “However, these are ledges so it appears as if this rock was quarried, so it is possible that someone carved a way up. The only problem is that it would be hard to find much of anything under all of these weeds.”

Belgrave slowly climbed up behind her. “I’d rather look for an easier way than just climb straight up while hoping the vines didn’t break,” he explained.

“Fine,” she said. She put her hands together in front of her and released a wall of fire against the walls of the cliff to burn away the weeds.

Belgrave laughed. “If that’s how you want to do it, then I think it would be just as fast if you burned down the large tree.”

She turned to face him and put her hands on her hips. “You always want everything to be easy, don’t you?” she accused.

Belgrave smiled. “It was only a thought,” he explained. “Besides, if you turn back around, you will see our way up.”

She turned back around and looked at the smoldering cliff. There was a series of handholds carved into the rock, leading straight up. “I guess you were right,” she said, starting to climb, “this time.”

Belgrave climbed behind her. “I was wondering,” he said, “are there limits to your magic?”

She stopped and looked down at him. “Are there limits to your questions?” she asked. She started climbing again. “I do not know if there are limits to magic, but it would not be wise to test it. I would venture to guess that there are no limits, but I also know that no one who has used magic was invincible. Magic is not a universal solution. It is just a tool to do some things that other people cannot do.” She pulled herself onto the next ledge and reached down to help Belgrave up.

“Is that why you try to avoid using magic whenever possible?” he asked, watching as she burned away the weeds on the next cliff.

She shook her head. “There are some types of magic that I do not know,” she explained. “The less I use magic, the less chance there is of having my own abilities used against me. I’ve found the speed and surprise of a dagger to be more effective than attacking from a distance.”

Belgrave stepped past her and started to climb to the next ledge. “Could you stop the darts from a great saono’modaek?” he asked.

She started to laugh as she climbed behind him. “My magic can stop a barrage of arrows or even spears, but do you really expect me to stand and try stopping something the size of a tree? That would be testing the limits of magic and is not something that I would advise.”

When they finally reached the top of the cliff, they rested. It was a flat grassy plateau with a small forest to the north and the tops of the great trees to the south. The narrow river flowed out from the forest and over the side of the cliff to the pool far below. One of the leaves of the gigantic tree where the ring was hidden had grown onto the top of the cliff and Belgrave found that it was as thick as wood and as sturdy as a bridge. He slowly made his way along it. It curved up over the waterfall and then back down to the center of the tree. The rings on his hand began to glow brighter the closer he walked. He noticed something sitting in the center of the tree when he was halfway across the leaf.

“Naiya’Nal,” he called. “Are big oversized black-colored birds friendly?”

She walked up beside him. “It looks like an overgrown deathbird,” she said. “It should be harmless, but I’ll try to send it away. She walked a little closer. “Vegrijses Rumu,” she called. “Rumu yarkrig away.”

The bird turned its head. “I do not obey the dragon speech of Voth,” it croaked. The bird flapped its large wings and briefly hovered over its nest, reciting a short rhyme.

Time lends much to our light friends,
Contend with rock, a path to rend,
An end the shining red defend
And send the broken world to mend.

The bird flew higher. “The flocks must be summoned. The great feast is coming.” It turned and flew away to the southwest.

“What was it trying to tell us?” Belgrave asked as soon as the bird was gone.

“Take the ring,” Naiya’Nal ordered Belgrave. “I hope that we are ready for the end of the world.”

He walked the rest of the way along the leaf and stepped down into the nest. The rings on his hand became hot as he picked up the third ring. It was gold colored and had the shape of a moon. “What if I am not ready for the end of the world?” he asked.

“You are just as ready as I am,” she said. “Put on the ring and we can fly out of here.”

Belgrave slowly slid the ring onto his finger with the other two. There was a brilliant flash as they joined into a single ring. The sun and the two moons were now combined; they had fulfilled the second prophecy!

A cool wind began to blow from the west as Naiya’Nal opened her dragon wings. She ran forward and grabbed Belgrave. Moments later, they stepped off the tree and began to glide toward the south.

“The bird recited a well known inscription carved on the gates of Nasad,” Naiya’Nal explained as they passed over Ar’Ra’s mangled remains. The large monster was resting beside his feast. “It is believed that the greatest battle that the world has ever seen will take place at Nasad.”

There was a loud roar behind them as they neared the ground. Belgrave glanced back and saw the great saono’modaek rising from its nap.

“Run as fast as you can when we reach the ground!” Naiya’Nal yelled. Several large spines flew past them. Just before they reached the ground, a spine pierced the left wing and flung them from the air. Naiya’Nal quickly ripped the wings off of her pack as she stood up and grabbed Belgrave’s hand. “I said run!” she shouted.

They ran together, swerving so the creature could not hit them with its spines. Fortunately, the beast soon stopped chasing them, and with a final roar, the great saono’modaek returned to its feast.

At first, Belgrave kept running, but Naiya’Nal stopped him. “It took my wings so I want one of its spines. No one back at the camp knows that the beast is still alive,” she said, “so if we take back one of the spines, they will all think we killed it.”

Belgrave started to laugh. “I can just imagine the looks on their faces! Everyone would look at it in disbelief and Captain Haloz would try to convince them that the Red Exemplars could do better.”

Naiya’Nal walked back to the closest spine. It was at least three times longer than she was tall and was too thick for her hands to fit around it. She tapped it with her foot and it rocked easily. She reached down and picked it up from the middle with one hand. “These are much lighter than they look,” she announced.

Belgrave ran to grab the next closest one. He picked it up and positioned it on his shoulder. “You do realize that it will take us two days to return to our camp. Do you really want to carry one of these that long?”

“It will be worth it,” she said. “Two days really is not that long of a time.” Belgrave sighed and they started to walk back to their camp. They spent the rest of that day and the next on their journey south. They finally arrived the following morning.

Commander Sidrahkir and Captain Haloz came to greet them. “What are those long things you carry?” the Commander asked.

“We had a little run-in with one of those lizard creatures,” Naiya’Nal explained. “These are the spines they throw.”

“I wanted to bring back a tooth,” added King Belgrave, “but those were much too heavy to carry.”

The Commander’s eyes widened. “How big was it?”

“It ate the giant,” Naiya’Nal answered. “It was a very big lizard.”

Captain Haloz laughed. “You might be able to fool everyone else, but bringing back the spines does not prove that you killed it. Perhaps you should have brought back the tongue instead.”

“We brought these spines back,” King Belgrave said, dropping his spine on the ground. He held up his hand. “I also bring back the ring.”

“We knew you had the ring,” Commander Sidrahkir said. “There was a change in the wind two days ago and yesterday large flocks of deathbirds started flying east toward Panei.”

“We have seen them also,” Naiya’Nal said. “Time lends much to our light friends, contend with rock, a path to rend, an end the shining red defend and send the broken world to mend. The real purpose of Nasad will soon be revealed.”

Commander Sidrahkir shook his head. “Then we will fight in the one battle I had hoped to never see. However, I fear there is something else you must attend to first. The man we found on the ship has become worse, but his voice has returned. He asks to speak only with King Belgrave.”

“Take me to him,” King Belgrave ordered.

The Commander led them through the camp and finally stopped outside a tent. King Belgrave entered first, but was followed by Naiya’Nal and the Commander. “King Belgrave!” the dying man groaned. “I have come with a message from Thag.”

King Belgrave knelt beside the dying man. “What is your name?”

“Tealea,” the man answered. “We were sent by Thag to find you. Tanarad is falling apart in your absence. When we set sail, your council was attempting to overthrow the power of the throne. If you do not return soon to set things straight, Thag fears that your throne will be lost!”

“Is there nobody against the council?” King Belgrave asked.

“The five brothers have gathered many people,” Tealea answered. “However, the council has also gathered followers with their claims that you have deserted Tanarad and will never return.”

King Belgrave stood up and shook his head. “I knew they were a questionable council,” he said, “but I never expected they would take things this far.”

Tealea began to choke and looked up at King Belgrave. “I have been sickened by the sea and will never return. Please save our land once more!” With that, the man fell back and did not move again.

“Do whatever comes your way and you will always find yourself moving closer to fulfilling prophecy,” King Belgrave said softly, remembering the words of Jun Joon from long before. “Prophecy has brought a ship to this shore. Those who can fit on board will sail with me to Amehtana. The others will return to our ships in Hayve and sail to Nasad.” He turned and stepped out of the tent. “There will be no more council when I am done.”

“That ship is no longer seaworthy,” Commander Sidrahkir said. “We would never get it back to Tanarad in one piece, but there is another way.”

King Belgrave turned. “We cannot fly, we cannot sail, and I cannot walk on water. What other way is there?”

“The Awa stayed at the coast after bringing us the ship and they say that they can take us anywhere we need to go after this,” the Commander explained. “They say that while they have not done it while the Dark Wizard has been in power, they are capable of taking us across the sea much faster than we could go in a ship.”

“And how would they do that?” King Belgrave asked.

Naiya’Nal took his hand. “Let’s go down to the shore and ask them,” she suggested.