Pathway to Sydara: Guardian of the Gate

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XIII

The city of Salras, glorious and ancient, was only about a mile away. As the three travelers joined by Fate exited the dark, forbidding Treemen Forest, they could see the beauty of the city's giant buildings in the distance. Sastan walked excitedly ahead of the other two as he was anxious to return home after the strange events in the forest. Orlen walked behind him, leading the horse; the lumberjack was in a noticeably better mood than he was during their capture by the Treemen. Ziaxe walked in the back, his eyes, full of wonder, fixed on Salras.

The young Nizain had been taught the famous history of the city by Professor Alavar long ago. Back in the third millennia, Ancient Sarbenia had been a mighty and continuously growing kingdom. It began with its capital Nizrock on the present-day Abandoned Islands of the East and had started colonies on the continent to the west. It was King Trian the Great who led an expansion of Sarbenia onto the continent, conquering any enemy nations in his way.

Salras had been one of those early cities. It had stood through the long millennia, and when Ancient Sarbenia was split after the fall of Nizrock, it became the capital of the new kingdom Sargenia. It stayed the capital until over half a century ago when the evil Vician had led his Armies of Darkness against the Armies of Light in the Vician War. Salras had been attacked and raided as the evil Armies continued to conquer Ancient Sarbenia until the Battle of Berania where Vician had been ultimately defeated. When Berania had shown its powerful defense and protection with its Great Walls, the Sargenians had decided to make it the new capital since it would be a safer haven for their king.

From where Ziaxe stood, Salras appeared to have recovered from the tragic event fifty years prior. It seemed to still have tall and mighty stone buildings and strong walls around it, but Ziaxe wondered if at one point it was even more magnificent than it appeared at present day.

As he was lost in his thoughts, he and his companions finally arrived at the walls that surrounded the large city. The walls weren't as giant and awe-inspiring as the Great Walls of Berania, but Ziaxe was still wary about returning to the confines of a city. All the years he had spent in the dungeon that is Berania, he had gained a rather intense fear of cages or any other types of confinement.

At the western gate of the city, two guards, tall and strong, stood with spears, guarding their beloved city. When Sastan and Orlen approached them, they appeared to recognize them and let them pass. Sastan quickly explained to the guards that Ziaxe was one of his friends from Berania who had come to visit Salras. The guards squinted at Ziaxe, some suspicion in their eyes, but they saw no harm in the young man and let him pass.

When Ziaxe walked under the arc of the city gate, he instantly was overwhelmed by the city around him. There was a great fountain that stood in the center of a circular cobblestoned road and greeted newcomers to the city. Around the circular road were several shops and vendors set up with people anxiously buying and selling things. The whole place was filled with an exciting cacophony of noises. Despite the chaos of people running around with supplies, animals, and children, the people were all friendly to each other as if they were all old friends. Among the noises, Ziaxe heard laughter and cheers. It was far different from Berania, where the citizens had constant distrust of the merchants in the rich district.

Numerous paths branched off from the circular road to go deeper into the city. Orlen and Sastan led Ziaxe and their horse past the fountain, where children played and splashed each other, and took one of the paths that continued east. They passed by merchants who sold kitchen supplies, weapons, and food. Each of the merchants smiled at Orlen and Sastan and yelled welcoming greetings. Ziaxe's companions waved and replied back to the merchants with warm smiles on their faces.

It was nearing dusk when they reached a small building that sold lumber and wooden statues. This was obviously Orlen's lumber shop, but the statues surprised Ziaxe. There were wooden figurines of all sizes in the shop's window. Some were as tall as him; some were as small as his hand. But each of them had a certain intricate beauty. There were statues of animals, people, buildings, and all sorts of things. Just looking at them, Ziaxe saw that they must have taken hours to carve just right.

Orlen led his horse back behind the building, and Ziaxe and Sastan followed. Out back there was a small yard of grass with flowers planted around the edges. The building's rear had a small porch with an overhang and railing. The railing had a gate that made it possible for people to walk onto the porch and through the backdoor into the store.

The lumberjack set his horse free from the cart it pulled and tied its reins to the railing. He and Sastan then began taking the lumber off of the cart and making a pile on the grass. Ziaxe also came over to help.

"So this is your store?" asked Ziaxe to Sastan and Orlen.

Orlen smiled. "Yes, I've had this store for longer than I can remember. It belonged to my father and my father's father and probably even my grandfather's father. It's been in the family for years."

"Are those your wooden statues in the windows?"

The lumberjack chuckled as he heaved a large piece of lumber over to the pile. "Oh, yes, I make those during my free time."

Ziaxe was truthfully surprised to hear that. He couldn't imagine Orlen's large, meaty hands being able to make such detailed statues. "They look pretty good."

"Well, woodcarving's just a hobby for a little extra money," replied Orlen humbly. "My father taught me how to do it."

Sastan had just put down another piece of lumber. "Don't be so modest, Orlen," he said. "You work hours on those pieces of art; you're allowed to take the credit for them."

Orlen made a wry face as he laughed. "All right, Sastan. Whatever you say."

When the lumber was all in a large pile on the grass, Orlen patted his hands together with a look of satisfaction on his face. "I'd say that's good for today. Who wants dinner?"

Ziaxe was glad to hear that.

The sun was setting in the west, giving off purple rays of light, when they all gathered inside for dinner. Orlen's house consisted of a store area, a living area, and an overhead loft where there were bedrooms. The store area was in the front of the building where pieces of lumber and wooden statues were placed all over. A counter ran along the back of the store area and separated the store from the living area. Behind the counter was a door that led to a kitchen with a circular dining table, and beyond that was another door that led to the backyard. Behind the counter were also stairs that led up to the loft.

Ziaxe explored the house while Orlen cooked what smelled like chicken. He looked at the upstairs bedrooms and found one for Orlen, one for Sastan, and a room for guests. The whole house had a nice, relaxed feeling that Ziaxe would love to live in.

Orlen soon finished cooking, and they all gathered to the dining table in the kitchen. The full meal had roasted chicken, corn, gravy, buttered buns, and cider. The whole meal was delicious, and Ziaxe soon felt ready to sleep.

"So, Ziaxe," said Orlen, starting a conversation, "what do you plan to do here?"

Ziaxe suddenly remembered his mission and his whole reason for coming to Salras. He had nearly forgotten all of his troubles during the peaceful afternoon. "I'm supposed to find a man named Naje," he replied.

Orlen frowned. "I still don't understand what you could want with a man like him, but it's not my part to say. He lives outside of the western gate in a little hut to the north of this city. We will show you where it is tomorrow if you'd like, and you'll be allowed to stay here for the night. But I have to warn you, Ziaxe. Naje is not to be trusted. Maybe I'm just a superstitious person, but I've heard stories about that man. He lives like an outcast, though no one really ever banished him. Some say he's been seen doing strange magic. That may be why he moved to live in his secluded house in the first place, but some who've passed his hut say they've seen strange things. I heard he has a strange, small creature that watches the hut and kills everything it sees. But truthfully, I've never seen Naje myself, so I can't judge."

Naje's reputation in Salras didn't seem to be very clean. Ziaxe thought it made some sense though. Professor Alavar said that this man would help him learn to be the Nizain. He remembered that Alavar said Naje was a Vidian who had become an apostate to Ziavaxe, the God of Darkness. No matter who he worshipped, Naje was still a Vidian, and Ziaxe knew he'd have to be careful around him.

"I'll be careful," assured Ziaxe. "I just have to talk to him about something important."

Orlen let the matter lie. "So it's settled."

They continued to eat. Orlen and Sastan discussed more optimistic topics, but Ziaxe was deep in thought about everything that was happening. His first step to becoming the Nizain was about to start. Was he ready?

Ziaxe awoke on the bed in Orlen's guest room. The bed was amazingly comfortable and soft. The Nizain thought he would have a nice sleep for once, since this was the first good bed he'd slept in over the past few days. But his mind was clouded with conflicting emotions and thoughts. It seemed that in the safest environments, he would end up thinking about things he didn't want to think of, while in a dangerous environment, he was too worried to think since he was too focused on surviving.

Now that he was alone in a peaceful room on a soft bed, his mind was at the peak of all of his thoughts. He thought of Berania, of his friends he had left behind. He feared he may never see them again, or that Virok would bring harm to them all. Venna and the other young women of the poor district seemed to be safe—for now, at least.

His thoughts then lingered on Venna. She was the Light of his life—as his dreams had said before. He thought of her beauty, of the feelings he felt when she was around. He could not deny that he felt something different than he felt for others, something more than friendship.

Then a revelation came to him as he remembered the incident when he had appeared to have read her mind on the day he lost his fight against Kycan. He had unwillingly seen her thoughts when she touched him. It reminded him of what happened in the Treemen Forest with the Seer Jajarath touching his head and entering his mind. He realized that he wasn't the only one who had the power to hear thoughts; Jajarath could too. And not just Jajarath, but all Vidians.

It shocked him to think that he actually had powers of Darkness, even after he had summoned Naz Zarak, the Shadow Blade. But this was even before he had acquired the Power of the Nizain. That could only mean that he was truly born a Vidian. All the doubts Kycan had thought on his heritage were right. He was a Vidian. He never belonged in Sargenia. It was just a cruel twist of Fate that he ended up in Berania.

He found that he was angry at this thought. He wanted to blame someone, but he couldn't. His father, Javen, deserved the blame. He was the one who brought Ziaxe to Berania and then left when his mother, Levandra, died. Perhaps his father was not as honorable as he had always hoped to think. Javen did after all give him a name that seemed more as a label when he thought about it. Ziaxe: One of Darkness….

He tossed and turned in his bed fitfully, feeling that ball of fire inside him grow, the fire that grew when he fought Kycan, the one that grew when he summoned Naz Zarak. In his mind, hazy with fatigue, he felt the hatred he held inside, the hatred of Alben, his drunken uncle, the hatred of Javen, the father who had abandoned him, the hatred of Virok and all the Vidians who were ruining his life.

But surprisingly, the one he hated the most was not a mortal. It was the Power of the Nizain, itself.

He awoke as the morning sun peered into his window. His sleep was haunted, but he felt refreshed and ready for the new day. He took a bath and put on the new clothes Orlen had supplied him with: a simple tunic and pants.

Ziaxe, Sastan, and Orlen had a silent breakfast. It seemed almost as if the two Salrasians had a fitful sleep as well. After breakfast they got ready to leave. Ziaxe strapped his sword to his back and put on his knapsack. He had put his chainmail on underneath the new tunic. Orlen decided that it wasn't necessary to bring his horse along, since Orlen and Sastan wouldn't be staying at their destination.

When Orlen opened the front door, a cold breeze flew in, a sign of the ever approaching winter. Orlen went to a closet in the kitchen and brought out cloaks for them all. The cloaks were green woodsmen garb, obviously used when Orlen and Sastan went out on cold days. Remarkably, the green cloak fit perfectly around Ziaxe as he put it on.

They left the lumber shop then, Orlen locking the front door when they exited. The early morning streets of Salras weren't as bustling and exciting as they had been yesterday afternoon, but Ziaxe remembered that his mission should be kept quiet from unwanted attention. For all he knew, a Vidian could be lurking in Salras, a servant of Virok's searching to recapture the Nizain. That thought gave Ziaxe a suspicious feeling. He raised his cloak's hood, shadowing his face from the cold morning breeze.

They went down the same path they went yesterday, down the road to the fountain. A faint mist lay over the circular road, giving the place a melancholy feeling as if death lingered in the shadows. None of the shops or vendors were open. Only a few Salrasians could be seen walking alone, most likely for a simple daily exercise before the day officially starts.

Under the western gate arc they went, cloaked shadows in the mist. Orlen greeted the same guards at the gate. Apparently, they were used to seeing the lumberjack leave the city for the Treemen Forest. The three cloaked figures in the mist continued down the same path they had taken to enter the city. After they had gotten out of seeing distance from the guards, Orlen turned them off the path and started going north through the grass. Ziaxe was a little dubious that Orlen would be able to keep track of where they were in the mist with no clear path, but, nevertheless, Orlen continued to lead the other two young men.

Their walk was silent as it seemed like they walked for hours in the misty, cold air. Then Ziaxe saw movement in the mist. There was something watching them. He could feel its eyes burning into him.

He kept his face concealed, hoping that if it was an enemy it would not recognize him. He saw the movement again off in the distance to their left. Orlen also saw it. The lumberjack was peering off to the left, trying to distinguish what the movement belonged to.

Then Ziaxe saw it clearer. A short figure about the size of a child stood far in the distance. Orlen hesitantly shrugged off his worries of the figure, for it appeared to be only a harmless child. But what would a child be doing out here?

They continued on. Ziaxe stared longer at the figure and almost screamed as he slowly realized who it was. Gurgan! he thought. It has to be him! He acted as if the figure was not significant, but he glanced every once in a while to make sure it was not someone other than Gurgan.

Sastan walked beside Ziaxe with anxious eyes staring around. This mist must have been as bad as the Treemen Forest was to him. None of them could see for more than a few feet in any direction, so it was almost as blinding as Darkness itself was.

Finally, a building came into view. It was—as Orlen described it—a hut. It looked as big as Professor Alavar's cottage was back in Berania. There must have been only one room in the small building. Just like Alavar's house, it had a chimney that had a small wisp of smoke rising from it to show that someone was living inside. The hut seemed strangely misplaced out there in the middle of nowhere.

The small figure that Ziaxe had seen moved swiftly and silently to behind the hut. Everything was silent for a few moments as Ziaxe and his companions seemed to wonder what they were to do now.

Orlen removed his hood and surveyed the surrounding area. He appeared unsure if he should just leave Ziaxe there, especially when a strange creature was prowling in the mist.

But Ziaxe knew who the creature was. And if he was right about who it was, then the other person he thought was there would be there too. He grew anxious as they neared the front door of the hut.

"Well, this is it, Ziaxe," said Orlen, his voice breaking the still silence.

"Yes, thank you," replied Ziaxe absently. Emotions of anxiety and excitement flowed through him.

Then the door opened, and a familiar figure walked outside of the hut.

"Professor!" yelled Ziaxe at the sight of the old man.

Professor Alavar seemed to have improved his appearance since his time in the Beranian dungeons. His clothing was clean and tear-free once more, and his white beard had been washed. The kind, gentle nature that surrounded him gave Ziaxe a great relief after all that had taken place in the past few days.

Ziaxe removed his hood and smiled at the professor. "You made it," he said. There was always some doubt in his mind whether or not Alavar and Gurgan would survive the mission for the king's crown and scepter.

"Of course I did," replied Alavar with a warm smile. "It was simple."

Orlen and Sastan were standing behind Ziaxe, feeling out of place and awkward. Alavar looked past Ziaxe at them and examined them for a moment through his spectacles. "Thank you for helping Ziaxe on his journey here," he said to the Salrasians. "I hope to reward you two someday soon."

The two Salrasians seemed surprised by the professor. Perhaps they thought he was Naje, and a part of them feared him. Maybe it was the nature of Alavar, the obvious intelligence in his eyes, which frightened them. But either way they were both stammering replies like nervous children.

Orlen was finally able to say, "You're welcome," after a few moments of confusion and hesitation. "I guess we'll be leaving then."

Ziaxe turned to the two who had helped him even when he had given them barely any information about his true identity. He was grateful for them, and he wished that he could repay them. "Goodbye, Orlen. Goodbye, Sastan."

The lumberjack and the Sargen said their goodbyes back and retreated back into the mist of the early morning.

Ziaxe hoped he would see them again, but knowing the way his life continued to change, he probably wouldn't. He remembered what the Seer Jajarath had said though about Sastan and him. Fate has plans for you.

But he had to push away those thoughts for the moment. Professor Alavar stared after the departing Salrasians. "I see they got you here safely," he said to Ziaxe with a glimmer in his intelligent eyes.

"Did you know them?" asked Ziaxe with a raised eyebrow.

"Of course I did, Ziaxe. They have a part to play in all of this also, it seems. It appeared they also knew me."

Ziaxe frowned. Alavar was once again keeping secrets, and Ziaxe knew that it was pointless to try to search for answers.

The professor turned and led Ziaxe into the hut. Inside was a simple one room with a round table in the center, a fireplace on one wall, and two beds against another wall. The building was slightly bigger than Alavar's cottage had been, and it had a nice, calm atmosphere. The fire in the fireplace to Ziaxe's right gave off plenty of warmth, making the coldness of the early morning disappear. Sitting at the table was a hooded man, staring at the two entering the hut. Ziaxe could see blue eyes looking up from the shadows of the hood, examining him with great intent. Behind the hooded man was Gurgan, the short, hideous Vidian sitting on the ground like a household pet. Ziaxe could barely look at the strange creature, but he still felt grateful to it for rescuing him from Berania.

"Ziaxe, this is Naje," introduced Alavar, gesturing to the hooded man.

The man removed his hood and revealed a face covered in an unruly black beard. It looked almost like a living animal on his face. The man did not appear to be very old, but the beard gave him a homely appearance that made Ziaxe wary.

"Hail, Nizain Ziaxe," said the man named Naje. He spoke like a man with confidence with his head raised high which seemed strange for a man who had secluded himself from society. Naje's looks and house location gave him the look of an antisocial hermit subject to the rumors of the Salrasians, but he did not appear to be any different from a regular person.

"Hello, Naje," replied Ziaxe, still examining this person whom Alavar seemed to trust. Naje didn't disguise his obvious examination of Ziaxe either.

"Well," said Alavar, breaking the silence that had begun to form, "before we begin I’d like to give you a little gift, Ziaxe”

He walked over to the center table of the room and picked up a bow and quiver of arrows. He handed them to Ziaxe. “Gurgan and I were able to retrieve these from the barracks in Berania.”

Ziaxe took the bow and arrows gratefully. It was the one gift he had ever gotten from his father returned to him.

“Now that that’s settled, how about you tell us all that has happened since our separation, Ziaxe."

Ziaxe took off his cloak, hung it on one of the chairs at the table, and sat down. He began to tell his story of all that had happened since he left Berania—mostly the strange journey through the Treemen Forest. He left nothing out since he felt he could trust the professor with his life. Alavar listened intently as he sat at one of the chairs. Naje, however, seemed less interested in the story and more interested in Ziaxe. The Salras outcast kept his eyes on Ziaxe, looking almost uncomfortable, as if he didn't want to be listening to this conversation and he dreaded all that Ziaxe spoke of.

When Ziaxe finished, Alavar twirled his white beard thoughtfully. "Hmm, it is strange that the Treemen would do something like that," he said as if speaking his thoughts, "but it must be a sign. If Jajarath is bringing his people together he must be readying them for what lay ahead."

"What exactly does lay ahead, Professor?" asked Ziaxe.

"It should be obvious by now, Ziaxe. A war…. Virok is planning his invasion of the Kingdoms of Light. We're entering a second Vician War. The Treemen are gathering, readying themselves for the battle, so now we must do the same."

Alavar rose from the table and walked over to Gurgan, who still sat idly on the floor. On a small table behind Gurgan laid a large rectangular, red box. The professor picked up the box and brought it to the table in the center of the room. When the box was on the table, Alavar opened it to reveal a shining, gold crown and scepter. The crown was decorated with jewels of many colors, and it was kept in such good shape that it looked barely a few months old. The gold scepter was a few feet long and at the top, it formed a sphere about the size of a fist. On the sphere, it had the engraving of the sun, the symbol of Sarben.

"The King's crown and scepter," muttered Ziaxe in wonder. He'd never seen such amazingly crafted jewelry in his life.

"Yes, Ziaxe," replied Alavar. "Gurgan and I were able to retrieve these from the throne room. Virok has been too busy lately with his mobilization of his new army to notice our escape yet. But I'm sure someone has noticed it by now, so you'll have to keep an eye out for any Vidians searching for you in Salras. We have an advantage though, for Virok can't be completely sure where we have gone. You see, he doesn't know about Naje or his house outside of Salras. Even if a Vidian comes searching for you in Salras, he won't notice this house. It's so out in the open that it's invisible to enemies.

"But, anyways, we have business to take care of." The professor sat back down in his chair and placed his hands on the table. "Prince Farli is here in Salras at the Palace. The Duke of Salras has been kind enough to take care of him during these hard times. I told Farli to not speak of the dangers facing Berania yet, for that could cause early panic which is unnecessary. Right now, we need to crown him as the new King of Sargenia, for the people of Sargenia need to have a leader in this coming war. We must ready all of the Kingdoms of Light, but they will only follow if we have a good leader. I have trained Farli all his life for this moment. In a week’s time, he will have his coronation, and I will explain the dangers facing us to the people of Salras. For the moment, that is all we can do.

"For you, Ziaxe," Alavar turned to the young Nizain, "you will be training with Naje. There will come a time when I will have to announce you as Nizain to Sargenia, but you must be ready for that. What the people need now is reassurance, a reassurance that can only be found in the gods. You must be the Nizain they need, the protection Sarben has sent to his people."

Ziaxe didn't feel comfortable with Alavar placing all this trust in him, but there was nothing he could do about it. It had been decided that he would be the Nizain, even if it was against his will. He nodded to the professor. He looked at Naje, whom was still examining him, and quickly turned back to Alavar.

"So, for now," continued the professor, "I shall go visit Prince Farli and present him with his inheritance. Ziaxe, you'll stay here with Naje. I trust everything will go well between you two." Alavar made a slight smile—the smile he always made when he was concealing something. He turned to the door carrying the box with the crown and scepter inside and exited.

"All right," said Naje, his voice breaking the silence. He stood up and removed his cloak, revealing a surprisingly muscular and lean body under the regular Sargenian garb. "I don't know what you are ready to learn, boy, but we'll start with the simple things. First of all, the Power of the Nizain is nearly worthless if its host does not have a powerful enough body. That is why you passed out when wielding Naz Zarak back in Berania."

Ziaxe was about to ask how Naje knew about that, but the Salras outcast continued, ignoring Ziaxe, "Alavar has told me all about your adventure so far. You may think that finally getting to Salras and meeting me is nearing the end of your journey, but you are wrong. You are the Nizain, whether you like it or not, and you will have to go through many trials to stop the evil that threatens us all."

Naje's strict attitude showed Ziaxe that arguing would solve nothing. But Ziaxe couldn't resist asking more questions, hoping that the answers he was seeking would someday be found. "What exactly is this evil, though?" he asked. "Is it supposed to be Virok?"

"This evil goes beyond Virok," replied Naje, "farther than you could understand. You may be furious at me for giving such vague answers, but not even I understand the full truth—only Alavar does and it'd be foolish to try to get answers from him. Besides, if I told you who it was, you wouldn't even believe me."

Ziaxe sighed, but let the topic drop. "So, what do you want me to do in this training?"

Naje frowned. "One more thing: remember that starting now, you are my apprentice and I am your master. You will treat me as such and will do all that I say, no matter how strange or frightening it may be."

Doubts already began to make Ziaxe's opinion of this training waver. He knew that he would have to do things that he wouldn’t want to do, but the way Naje said it made it seem like he would be doing things that no other human would even think to do. "I promise, Master," he replied hesitantly with a slight bow of his head.

A slight smile appeared under Naje's monstrous beard. "Very good. Now come with me."

They went out the hut's back door with Gurgan walking quietly behind them. The mist of the outdoors was still thick and palpable as if it was a blanket covering the earth. Naje ordered Ziaxe to put his weapons and supplies on the ground. For a second, Naje examined each of the objects thoughtfully: the sword, bow, quiver, and pack. His eyes lingered on the quiver for a moment longer as if the strange letter "V" meant something to him.

When he finished his examination, he walked a few feet into the mist away from Ziaxe. "Okay, boy," he said, his face covered in mist, "I'm going to give you some physical training first. This may not be what you expected, but there will be more tests after this. You must first gain the energy to use the Darkness and Light inside of you. So, pick up your sword."

Ziaxe picked up his sword off of the ground uncertainly and unsheathed it. Gurgan scurried out from behind Ziaxe and supplied Naje with an iron sword that looked as mightier than Ziaxe's copper sword. Naje seemed to be positive of his swordsmanship, for he wore no chainmail or any type of armor under his garb. At least Ziaxe had the chainmail Alavar gave him. Ziaxe raised his sword in front of him, waiting for more instructions.

Naje made a shrewd grin. "Now, boy, attack me!"

The order was abrupt, but Ziaxe reluctantly did what he was told. He ran to Naje with his sword ready to strike. But, when Ziaxe was about a foot away from him, Naje reached out with one hand and grabbed Ziaxe's arm. Ziaxe was so surprised that Naje was easily able to disarm him. When Ziaxe's sword fell out of his hands and onto the ground, Naje pushed him backwards, making him fall down onto his back.

"What was that, boy?" asked Naje, shaking his head with disappointment in his voice.

"What?" replied Ziaxe, confused and still shocked at how easily he was disarmed. If Naje was a real enemy, Ziaxe would have been killed in an instant.

"What you just did. A charge of brute strength? You should have realized that would have failed. Imagine me as an enemy. Would you simply charge at an enemy who obviously has more physical prowess than you? I have been trained in swordsmanship for longer than you've been alive. When you come against an enemy like that, you need to use other strategies. I admit that getting the offensive in a sword fight is important, but you must plan ahead as quickly as the fight begins. Your attack left you wide open for me to disarm you. I could have killed you if I wanted to."

Ziaxe realized that Naje was right. He hadn't given much thought to his order. "But you told me to just attack you, and that's what I did."

"But I thought you'd take some time to think about the attack at least. Through my years I have learned that when an order is given quickly and abruptly the people following the order will also act quickly and abruptly. But that is a mistake! If someone told you to simply jump off a bridge in the way I just ordered you to attack, would you do it? Would you not take the time to think of all the other possibilities? Would you not look to see what you are jumping off the bridge into?

"Just because I ordered you to attack doesn't mean you had to. I stood here waiting for your response. In a real battle, the enemy may not wait for you to kill them; they will come kill you. In this instance, if there's one enemy who beats you at physical strength, you could have used your archery skills instead. I would have had no defense against an arrow. Or, if you wanted to, you could have asked Gurgan to help you. In a real battle, teamwork is essential. You never want to go into a battle alone if you have the choice."

The way Naje talked about this simple order of attack made Ziaxe extremely mystified. "But you told me to just attack after you made me pick up my sword," argued Ziaxe. "I thought you just wanted me to attack you with my sword."

Naje grinned again. "That showed how easily manipulated you are. I did not tell you how to attack me. All I did was tell you to pick up your sword and attack. I did not say to attack me with the sword. I have my sword, because it is how I chose to defend myself. You did not have to choose your sword to attack me with."

Ziaxe grumbled under his breath as he got up off the ground. Naje was slowly starting to irritate him. Now that they both had their swords ready, they began having swordsmanship training. Naje started teaching Ziaxe all he needed to know when fighting an enemy. They continued for hours, only stopping for a few moments for water and food when lunch and dinner came, and quickly returned to the training afterwards.

Gurgan sat on the grass, resting his back against the small house. He watched as Naje taught his new student with his peculiar way of teaching. The small Vidian wasn't sure how he should think of this new Nizain. The Power of the Nizain was obviously present inside him—Gurgan could feel it—but the boy had a long ways to go if he was to go against the approaching Great Darkness.

Gurgan knew all about what Ziaxe would have to accomplish if the world was to survive this upcoming war. He knew the enemies and the obstacles that stood in the Nizain's path, but it wasn't his place to tell him. If Ziaxe knew too much, everything could be ruined. A part of the human part of Gurgan’s mind felt a little guilty for leading this ignorant child towards such danger, but he had to ignore it. The whole world depended on this one young man.

He watched Naje continuously annoy Ziaxe during the lessons of his training. Naje's training was purposefully enraging, for it was the only way for Ziaxe to learn to control the Light and Darkness within him. If Naje failed in teaching the Nizain what he needed to know, all of the Kingdoms of Light will fail. Ziaxe had to accomplish what only one person in the past had ever come close to accomplishing, a task that will require all of his abilities. Despite what the whole world thought, that one person of the past had failed that impossible task, leaving the task for Ziaxe to struggle through. Ziaxe was sadly the victim of someone else's failure, destined to do what another could not do.

But what Gurgan worried most about was the greatest secret of all that Naje was hiding, a secret that could ruin everything if someone other than Naje told Ziaxe. Gurgan had spent the majority of his life with Naje though, so he knew all of his secrets. He just hoped that Naje will remember to reveal his secret when the time came.

And so, as the morning sun entered twilight, the Nizain had already started his training, but Gurgan knew that tomorrow would hold many more surprises.


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