Pathway to Sydara: Guardian of the Gate

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IX

Ziaxe ran through the long, dim-lighted corridors of the Beranian Castle. He cursed his foolishness for blindly following General Virok. He had not paid any attention to which corridors he he had walked down or which rooms he had entered entered when he followed Virok; he was lost. It was the worst possible time ever for him to lose his directions since the giant Gilart was only a few yards behind, trotting as fast as a mad horse. There was no time to think.

He continued to run, his heart pounding out of his chest, but he had no destination in mind. The barracks—if he could even find his way out of the castle—would be a dead end, obviously. Virok would turn the soldiers against him. He looked for any easy ways to escape or hide as he sped through the corridors.

After running through a few long corridors, he found stairs. The stairs were leading up, but under the circumstances he didn’t care which way he went save for backwards to Gilart and his bone crushing muscles.

He jumped up the stairs, two at a time, until he reached the first door he saw. Launching himself at the door, he quickly opened it and shut it behind him, hoping that Gilart was too far down the stairs to see him enter. Inside the room, there was a table with some chairs in the center and a ladder that led up to a trapdoor in the ceiling. The room was rather cramped with weapons hanging on the walls and lying on the ground and kegs of ale lined against the walls. It seemed to have been a room for guards to spend time when they were off duty.

Without thinking, he took the chairs and blocked the door, hoping to delay Gilart if he found the room. On a second thought, he grabbed the table and also blockaded the door with it. When the door was securely defended, he slumped down to the ground and caught his breath for a second.

The strange surge of energy he had felt after Broniton's death seemed to have supported his escape from Gilart, giving him a much needed burst of strength, but he was still exhausted. He did not comprehend what had just happened in the throne room, but he knew that now was not the time to think about it. Gilart was still behind him, and, knowing the giant's size, Ziaxe was sure his barricade would not hold him back for long.

He remembered then that he did have his bronze sword with him, and there were other weapons lying around. If worse came to worst he could try to fight the giant Gilart, but he avoided that idea the best he could. Most likely General Virok was also on his trail, and he knew he would be no competition against the famed general and the giant together.

He looked up at the ladder that led to the trapdoor. He knew he had to escape the room, almost positive that he’d be found, so he climbed up the ladder. When he reached the trapdoor, he pushed it open carefully. He looked up through the opening and saw the night sky above him. He was outside; he was almost free.

When he climbed up out of the room below, he saw that he was on top of one of the castle's battlements. It rose high on the eastern side of the castle and was bordered by a parapet. Over the edge of the tower, the ground could be seen hundreds of feet below. Up in the sky, there was strangely a full moon that bathed in the night sky with thousands of stars, a beacon of light surrounded by darkness. Ziaxe did not have the time to take in the beauty though for he had reached another dead end. Unless he learned how to fly anytime soon, he was in grave danger.

Then he suddenly heard crashes and bangs down in the room below.

Gilart was coming….

There was nowhere for Ziaxe to go except over the parapet which would instantly kill him. He looked around frantically for some way to escape his fate, but there was nothing to help him. Realizing his death may be imminent, he reluctantly decided to die bravely. He tentatively unsheathed his sword, brandishing it for the inevitable battle.

After a moment of staring keenly at the trapdoor, waiting to see movement, Ziaxe saw the giant hands of Gilart coming out from the room below. He slowly backed away until his back touched the parapet overlooking the castle grounds below. Gilart’s hideous face slowly began to surface above the trapdoor.

"It's about time I found you," said the giant in his rough voice as he spat on the ground upon exiting the room below. "Who knows what would've happened if you escaped."

"What do you want?" asked Ziaxe, shaking while trying to threateningly brandish his sword.

"Lower your weapon, kid. We all know how this will end. You'll attack, miss, and I'll simply knock you out or kill you—whichever I feel like doing. Sadly, Virok doesn't really want you dead. He seems to see some potential assistance from you or something like that. I don't see how though."

Ziaxe continued to hold his weapon in front of him, his body shaking in fear and anger. This giant, hideous man was insulting him, even after helping assassinate the king. This monster deserves death, he thought.

Virok came climbing up the ladder at that moment. "Told y' I'd find him," said Gilart coolly to the general.

"Yes, I see," replied Virok with a somewhat distant expression. His hands were still stained with the king's blood as he held them at his sides.

"What'd you do with the glorious king?" asked Gilart in a rude, sarcastic tone.

"It's all done, Gilart. The plan has changed a little though now that we've had a spy." Virok looked indignantly at Ziaxe.

"What are we going to do with him?"

"He's going to the dungeons… for now at least."

Gilart sneered dastardly as he slowly approached Ziaxe with wicked intent burning in his eyes. The thing that Ziaxe feared the most was coming true. To him, nothing was worse than the dungeons of the Beranian Castle. He had heard far too many stories of the people who were tortured there for simple crimes, the people who were forced to live out their lives there. Professor Alavar and the witch-like woman Bellara were sent there for being seemingly innocent, he remembered. He wondered about their fates, but if he didn’t do anything quick he was about to find out for himself.

Gilart came closer, but Ziaxe stood his ground, his fear of the dungeons enough to inspire boldness. He refused to go without a fight. His anger towards the two villains grew profound, and he had the feeling he could use that anger to help him, a strange premonition that his anger could bring forth power.

Then, as had happened in his battle with Kycan back in the poor district, he felt his anger grow inside him like a big ball of fire. The sudden realization of this repetition shocked him for a moment, but he was not in the position to worry about it. He focused on Gilart, whom was now brandishing a mighty sword from a sheath belted at his waist and muttering words that Ziaxe ignored. Focusing on his enemy and seeing the wicked look in Gilart’s eyes made the ball of fire grow.

Then, as Gilart grabbed his arm, Ziaxe released the ball of fire. He shook off Gilart's arm and put his sword in between them. He suddenly felt stronger, and he reveled in that newly found strength, letting that strength fill his body. His mind suddenly became fainter as he saw what seemed to be dark smoke floating around his body. For a moment, he feared that he was entering the strange, dark world that he entered during his battle with Kycan that seemed so long ago. But he was still standing, and the smoke grew substantial, forming misty shapes.

Surprisingly, both Gilart and Virok took heed of the smoke. This helped Ziaxe see that he was not mad for his enemies could also see the smoke. As the smoke grew, it touched his body, and he felt that familiar chill he felt in the barracks. The smoke moved, almost life-like, across his limbs, and moved to his sword. He felt a power unlike any other begin to form around him, a power so mighty and vast that nothing could stand in its way. His thoughts became incoherent as his emotions both lusted and feared the power, cringing away from it while also wishing to embrace it. Then the smoke reached the sword and began to move faster until it moved all around the blade like an energetic serpent.

Virok's face grew pale, and he stood with his mouth agape. "Naz Zarak," he said distantly as if talking to himself.

The dark smoke that continued to run around the blade suddenly hardened and became like sparks of lightning. Ziaxe felt the energy and heat of the lightning but was surprised to see his sword still intact, the lightning having no effect on it. One spark of lightning jumped off the sword at Gilart's nearby hand, causing the giant to drop his sword. He swore as he grabbed his shocked hand. "What is this, Virok?" he yelled fiercely.

"The Bane of Sarben," replied Virok with his eyes wide with confusion and fear, his mind in another time and place.

The lightning continued to swirl around the sword as if threatening to destroy Ziaxe's enemies. Ziaxe stared at the strange, monstrous weapon forming in his hands, his thoughts a mixed jumble of emotions in his mind. His vision had gradually been getting fainter as the lightning grew, and he felt on the verge of fainting as his physical energy diminished. The ball of anger, that had been releasing more and more energy, suddenly dimmed down, and the smoke faded away. He saw his two enemies staring at him as he collapsed into darkness.

Ziaxe awoke on a hard, brick-like cot. He opened his eyes to see that he was in a small, dim lighted room. There were three brick walls and one with vertical bars that enclosed him in a square. A rancid smell filled the area while mice squeaked and ceilings dripped mysterious liquids.

Where am I? he thought as he slowly realized where he was. When the realization came to him, he broke into tears. His greatest fear had come true: he was in the dungeons of the Beranian Castle.

He instantly began anticipating his atrocious fate, a fate of torture, pain, and starvation. He sat on his hard cot, staring at the filthy ground—most likely stained with the body fluids of past inmates. There were small rats scurrying around the floor futilely searching for the smallest crumbs of food in the desolate dungeon.

He got up off the cot, weakly, his head pounding and his negative emotions weighing him down. Walking slowly, with his hands supporting him against the wall, he made his way to the bars. The bars were cold and rusted, and they gave Ziaxe a shock of cold reality when he put his hands on them. Everything around him was dark and hostile; he already began to miss his simple home in the poor district.

Looking through the bars, he saw other dungeon cells across from his cell. The cells stood side by side and opposite of each other, outlining a pathway for the guards to walk through. He carefully fit his head between two bars to look out. The dungeon was in a rectangular shape with a door and a table with two armored guards drinking at one end and the other end in darkness.

When he listened, he could hear the moans and curses of the other prisoners, and he could only faintly hear the laughter of the drunken guards in the misery. Across from him, in the opposite cell, he heard a quiet murmuring. The path between the cells was lighted by a torch, so he could faintly see a crouched over figure in the cell across from him.

"No, no, the fool will not listen," said the murmuring voice that seemed a little strained and shaky voice. Ziaxe could tell that the voice was coming from a female, though it sounded like an elder woman. "The fool sees no reason. He thinks he has me, but no…. Master loves me…. Yes, Master…. It's been so long. I am not thy apostate. I will worship thee forever…."

The figure in the shadow crawled into the light, and Ziaxe was shocked to see a homely old woman. It was Bellara, the witch that Virok had arrested in the rich district. Her face was disgustingly wrinkled and creased, and in the center of her face was a long, pointy nose. Her long, grey hair was dirty and messy as if she had rolled around in mud and dirt for a week. When she caught Ziaxe's eyes, she gave a weak smile, and Ziaxe could see her rotted teeth. "And so he awakes," she said to him. "Good old Virok thought you were dead," she added with a scornful tone.

"How did I get here?" asked Ziaxe. He started off with a simple question since he was full of hundreds of others.

"How did thou get here?" sneered the witch as if the question was ridiculous. "Art thou a fool, child? Good old Virok brought thou here. He was very irritated when he arrived with thou in his arms. Perchance thou could recite thy tale?"

Ziaxe knew he could not trust this strange old woman, but he feared what his fate may be in the dungeons. He knew someone should at least know about the king's assassination. "Well, I followed Virok and his servant—I think that's what he is—to the throne room."

"Servant?" said the woman.

"The one Virok calls Gilart."

"Oh yes…." Bellara formed a frown as if she truly despised Virok and his henchman.

"Yes, so I followed them and hid on the mezzanine above the throne room. I didn't realize what was happening until the last minute." Ziaxe looked around for any eavesdroppers and then whispered, "Virok killed the king."

Bellara oddly took the news with a look of understanding. "Ah… so it is true," she said abstractedly. "I feared this for many days. Virok should have listened to me when he had the chance…." She sighed deeply. "I guess there's no turning back the past though."

"What do you mean?" asked Ziaxe, puzzled at the witch's ties with Virok.

"I have known Virok for many years now, young one. We both shared the same master, but I am afraid he may have lost his way."

At that moment, the doors to the dungeon slammed open, making the guards at the table jump out of their seats and spill a bottle of liquor on the ground. Virok came marching in furiously with Gilart lingering behind with a strangely relaxed walk. Virok saw the drunken guards and scoffed. "You fools!" he growled at them.

Suddenly the guards appeared to become instantly sober at the general's yell.

"You damn fools! You are here to guard these criminals, not pleasure yourselves!"

The guards got on their knees and groveled at the general's feet, muttering slurred pleads.

Virok was obviously greatly irritated. "Just leave!" he yelled at the guards. The guards instantly got the message and scurried out the door.

"Nicely done, boss," commented Gilart as he sat down at the table and took a drink from one of the guards’ tankards. "At least the fools have good taste. You can't go wrong with rum." He grinned broadly as he took another guzzle of the liquor.

Virok sighed angrily. "You're all fools," he muttered.

Gilart shrugged indifferently as Virok went down the path between the cells.

Ziaxe went back into the shadows of his cell, trying to hide while anticipating the worst. Virok stopped at Ziaxe's cell and looked inside. Ziaxe sat in the corner of his cell where the least amount of light was.

"Hail, Virok," said Bellara in a sarcastic tone in her cell across from Ziaxe's.

Virok turned around quickly to see the old witch standing weakly against the bars of her cell. "What do you want, Witch?" he asked with a voice full of rage as if he was about to punch the old woman.

"I just wanted to see the famed general once more," she replied with more sarcasm. "Oh, and by the way, where'd you put Broniton's body?"

Virok started a little. "How did you know?"

"I saw this coming, Virok, and you just damned yourself, you must realize. You thought you could rid the world of the Nizain? If you truly thought that then you are the fool!"

The general turned from her, looking slightly ashamed. "I hoped to take the Power for myself!" he said, “It would’ve worked if not for him!” he pointed into Ziaxe's cell. "I know you're in there! Come out!"

Ziaxe was instantly petrified. He, nevertheless, walked out of the shadows and saw the general's hard, angry eyes reflect the light from the lone torch.

"How does he have anything to do with this?" asked Bellara.

"Don't you understand?" asked Virok. "He was there when the Power of the Nizain was released from Broniton! He interfered with everything!"

Bellara appeared to consider what Virok said. "No, Virok," replied Bellara, with still distant eyes. "The Power of the Nizain would not go to you. It has a mind of its own, remember? It chooses the one better prepared for it. It wouldn’t go to you since you would use it for the Darkness. It went to this boy since he has no obvious evil intentions.”

She faced Virok. “What should we do now, Virok?" She appeared to be angry at Virok's apparent mistake.

"There's nothing to do, foolish Witch,” replied Virok. “And there is no ‘we.’ If this new Nizain dies, a new one would just appear. I just need to keep him here."

"That's your plan?!" yelled Bellara in a screeching voice.

The witch's screech made both Virok and Ziaxe wince. "It's all that can be done right now," said Virok. "Right now he stays here. I have an idea to cover the king's death. I have this all under control. I need to use this time to prepare for my other plans. But before I leave, tell me your name, child," he added, looking at Ziaxe.

Ziaxe gulped. "Er… it's Ziaxe, Sir," he said tentatively.

Virok seemed a little shocked at the name at first, as if it was disgraceful. Ziaxe remembered how his name apparently meant "One of Darkness," but would Virok know that?

When Virok regained his composure, he replied, "Okay." His eyes darted rather awkwardly between Ziaxe and Bellara until he said, "farewell," and went to leave the room with Gilart lingering along behind.

After a long pause where the whole dungeon seemed to be quiet, Bellara looked over at Ziaxe. "Hail, Nizain Ziaxe," she said in a strangely respectful tone.

Then another voice from another cell joined in, "Hail, Nizain Ziaxe."

And then another echoed, "Hail, Nizain Ziaxe."

Ziaxe had not noticed that the other prisoners were also paying attention to the conversation. The dungeon began to echo with the sounds of people praising the new Nizain. Ziaxe seemed to have gained some popularity from his new title, but that was the last thing he could want in his situation.

Then, unexpectedly, a familiar voice came from the cell beside Bellara's. "Hail… Nizain Ziaxe." The voice seemed sad and choked up.

Ziaxe looked out his cell to peek in the other cell to the right of Bellara's. A man in dirty clothing sat against the bars facing the opposite wall in his cell. The man turned around and Ziaxe was stunned. It was Professor Alavar. He had tears behind his spectacles streaming down his face and into his long white beard. Strangely, though, the professor was smiling as he wept as if he saw something wonderful and beautiful. "Nizain Ziaxe." he said with a sense of pride as his voice started breaking.

"Professor?" said Ziaxe, shocked to see the intellectual in such a sad state. "Are you okay?"

"Okay? I'm better than okay." Alavar smiled as tears went down his face. "The Nizain has returned."

"What are you talking about? I don't understand anything going on…. Ever since I turned sixteen my life has turned into some confusing puzzle. I want some answers, Professor."

The professor's smile diminished as it slowly turned into a solemn stare. He wiped away a tear and said, "I apologize Ziaxe, but there's not much I can tell you. You will learn soon enough on your own."

"When will soon enough be?" yelled Ziaxe, suddenly furious.

"Very soon," came Alavar's simple reply.

Ziaxe stomped away to the opposite wall of his cell, wanting to scream. He was glad to see the professor well, but he was not in the mood to play mind games. He came back to face the professor after a moment of muttering swears to himself. "Can you at least tell me what happened before I was arrested?"

Alavar looked over at his former student. "You mean when you summoned Naz Zarak?" he asked.

"Naz Zarak?"

"Yes. When Virok and Gilart brought you here, Virok was furious at how things had turned out and how you became the Nizain."

"Yes, I understand that," replied Ziaxe, growing more impatient for a clear answer, “but what is Naz Zarak?”

"Peace, Ziaxe," said Alavar, sensing Ziaxe's impatience. "Remember the story of how King Broniton summoned the Sword of Light at the Battle of Berania?"

"Of course."

"And you know that that sword is the choice weapon of the Nizain?"

"Yes." Ziaxe tried his hardest to control his annoyance.

"Well, Ziaxe, the Nizain—as you already know—is the Balancer of Light and Darkness. Therefore, he has the power of both the Light and the Dark. I'm sure you can figure out the rest."

Ziaxe thought to himself for a moment. "So, you're saying that whatever happened to my sword earlier was me summoning this Naz Zarak? This Naz Zarak then is a weapon of the Nizain, but it's the opposite of the Sword of Light? Am I right?"

Alavar smiled. "Yes, you are, Ziaxe. Naz Zarak is what is commonly known as the 'Shadow Blade.' It takes all the darkness surrounding it and uses it against its enemy. Since it was night time when you were attacked by Virok and Gilart the Power of the Nizain—which rests inside you right now—took control of your energy to protect you."

"It can do that?" asked Ziaxe, surprised.

"Of course, Ziaxe. It has been doing that for many millennia. It's Sarben's natural defense mechanism. He realized that the Power of the Nizain is usually passed down from adult to child. A child is usually at the time where he is just beginning to learn how to control the Light and Darkness. So, in case the child is ever attacked by some form of evil the Power will step in to save him."

"So the Nizain is pretty much unstoppable?"

Alavar shook his head. "Nothing in this world is truly unstoppable. The gods themselves even have weaknesses. The control of the Power of the Nizain becomes less reliable as the Nizain grows older. It saved your life simply because you were truly in need of assistance. The Power may sometimes view a situation as not perilous enough for the Nizain to need assistance. Remember this, Ziaxe, for you should never rely on the Power itself. It may not always come to save you."

Ziaxe sat on the cold ground to think about what the things he was learning. "Would I be able to summon the Sword of Light?" he asked, curious.

"Maybe someday, but you mustn't try now. Even when you had the Power of the Nizain to help you, you were still too weak to control Naz Zarak. That is why you passed out. Naz Saren—the Sword of Light—is even more powerful than Naz Zarak. You need to spend time training your body to become adjusted to the rush of energy you receive from the weapons."

Ziaxe nodded his understanding. "So what are we to do, Professor? Are we ever going to leave this prison?"

Alavar looked over at the new Nizain with a calm expression. "We will be okay, Ziaxe. For the moment, you are safe. Virok would not dare harm you for that would just cause the Power of the Nizain to find another host. He has you where he wants you, so you are safe."

"What about you though?" Ziaxe was worried for the already damaged and weakened professor.

"I will be alright, Ziaxe. We are both pawns of the game of the gods. Sarben has plans for us."

Ziaxe was dubious of Alavar's certainty of his religion. He remembered something else then. "Earlier—before Virok killed the king—he did something strange in the barracks. It gave me a strange chill. He seemed to have made something that looked like dark smoke, and it floated around touching everyone except for me."

Alavar frowned. "That is strange indeed. You obviously don't know this yet, but Virok can control Darkness. What normal people call 'dark magic' is simply a person controlling the Darkness around him. Virok did something with the Darkness, but I can't be sure what it was."

"Why did it give me a chill though?"

"That is simply an ability that you inherited from your father. I call it the Chill of Darkness.”

Alavar gave the answers so quickly and matter-of-factly that Ziaxe thought he had prepared all these answers as if he had been expecting to one day answer these questions.

Ziaxe sat silently, thinking to himself, still confused and wanting to ask more questions, but when he looked back at the professor he saw that Alavar had fallen asleep against the wall of his cell. Ziaxe decided to take the wise professor's lead and walked over to his own cot.

Bellara chuckled to herself, and when Ziaxe turned to look at her, he saw a big smirk on her face as she sat with her back against the wall.

"What do you want?" asked Ziaxe.

"Nothing, Nizain Ziaxe. Thou should get thy sleep tonight for strange days are approaching and Sydara waits for no one."

Ziaxe had no idea what she meant, but he found himself too tired to think about it. His day had been full of adventure, murder, and fearful excitement. He began to realize that adventure was not all it was cracked up to be.

He fell asleep on his cot dreaming dreams of darkness and light, of hideous creatures, and of preordained destinies.


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