Pathway to Sydara: Guardian of the Gate

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XIV

The next week of Ziaxe’s training was one of the longest and most tiring weeks of his life. Every day Naje pushed him to the edge of his physical abilities, forcing him to exert himself until his muscles were too sore to even lift. After the first two days he began to regret this decision to train with this mysterious hermit, but he knew that the choice was not his to make in the first place. He knew that, despite his aversion to the idea, he was the new Nizain, and he had to train for the dangers ahead of him.

His days were filled with exercises focused on turning his weak stature into a body as muscular as Naje’s. Along with these exercises were lessons on sword fighting that helped to improve Ziaxe’s mediocre skills. But, at the end of each day, Ziaxe was given a fulfilling meal for dinner that filled him up more than any meal he ever could receive in the poor district of Berania. Thus Ziaxe began to grow from the weak, ignorant boy of the poor district into a young, promising Nizain. Though progress was aggravatingly slow at times, it was there nevertheless.

By the start of the new week, Alavar came to visit Ziaxe and his master. Ziaxe was in Naje’s backyard when the professor arrived, practicing sword fighting with Naje.

“Hail, Nizain Ziaxe and Master Naje,” greeted Alavar as he drew nearer to them. The old man wore a long white robe that matched the color of his short white beard. He looked at the two sword fighting behind his half-moon spectacles.

The two stopped their fighting as Ziaxe ended the fight with his sword pointed at Naje’s undefended chest. Naje smiled at his student as if accepting that Ziaxe was definitely improving. He turned towards Alavar. “Hail, Professor Alavar.”

Ziaxe turned around to see Alavar watching them, having been clearly ignorant of the approaching man. He lowered his sword from Naje’s chest. “Hail, Professor Alavar,” he said as he felt a little shameful for not being aware of the professor. His master wouldn’t approve of ignorance like that.

“What brings you here today?” asked Naje as he walked towards Alavar and clasped hands with him.

“I come with news, my friends,” replied Alavar. “Today has been announced as Farli’s coronation. Today at noon Farli will become the new King of Sargenia outside of Salras’ royal palace. I have been readying Farli for this occasion over the past week. This will be a major stepping stone in our battle against Virok. Once Farli is king, we will be able to recruit the people of Sargenia to our cause.”

Naje smiled under his monstorous black beard. “This is wonderful news, my old friend. The Nizain and I will be sure to attend.”

“Yes, I thought Ziaxe would like the news as well.” The professor turned towards Ziaxe with a wry smile. “He looks like he could use this break from his training.”

Ziaxe chuckled to himself at that understatement as he hid his intense gratitude.

“This will also give Ziaxe some time to reunite with his old companions back in Salras. The lumberjack and the Sargen child.”

Ziaxe raised his eyebrow in surprise. “How did you know Sastan was a Sargen?” he asked, not remembering if he told that to Alavar or not.

Alavar let out a joyful laugh. “Oh, Ziaxe, I’ve seen plenty of Sargens in my lifetime to be able to spot one in less than a minute. That boy was simply overflowing with Light.”

And so, the wise professor said his farewells as he told the others he had to ready himself to help perform the coronation later. Ziaxe contemplated what the professor had said about Sastan. He wondered how Alavar could have seen any Sargens before if the majority of them were on the island Paridon to the east. Could Alavar have traveled there before even though it was known that normal people weren’t allowed to set foot on the island?

Ziaxe shook his head at the confusing subject. Sometimes he had to wonder if Alavar was really as old as he said he was or far older. The professor had thousands of years of knowledge, far more than a simple man should be able to know.

As noon approached Ziaxe readied himself to go into the city of Salras. He put on his chainmail as Naje had continuously told him to wear it at all times for both protection and the strength training wearing it provided. Over the chainmail he wore a cloak to keep out the chill air, and he equipped himself with his weapons: his sword and bow and arrows. Naje told Ziaxe to go to Salras without him since Ziaxe didn’t need to bring attention to himself as the presence of Naje has been known to cause.

So Ziaxe left for Salras with the intention of meeting up with Sastan and Orlen. Naje had told him that he shouldn’t be in any danger since Virok most likely still had no idea where Ziaxe was and Gurgan would be watching him from the shadows. Ziaxe was still wary of the hideous Vidian, but he had to admit that Gurgan was a capable protector if any danger faced him.

The guards at the gate of Salras let Ziaxe in, and once he entered he was attacked by a cacophony louder than he had ever heard. There were people dancing in the street, playing music on lutes and horns, and singing at the top of their lungs. Children were running around excitedly in the street while their family and friends spoke to one another, expressing their joy and happiness of the approaching coronation. People were bustling around faster than they would on a regular work day. There were colorful decorations around the shops that were set up around the water fountain in the town entrance. Everything was fascinating and breathtakingly amazing. Ziaxe walked through all the confusion, excitement in his soul, as he walked towards Sastan’s house deep in the city.

Sastan was standing outside of his house watching as a parade of people danced through the streets in front of him. The young Sargen instantly noticed Ziaxe’s approach as he struggled to get through the crowds. “Ziaxe!” he yelled to the Nizain in greeting.

The two clasped hands in greetings, two friends reunited after a week. “I was beginning to think I’d never see you again, friend,” said Sastan with his usual boyish grin.

“I came to join in on the celebration today,” replied Ziaxe. “How has everything been going?”

“It’s all been wonderful, Ziaxe. Sarben has blessed us with a beautiful day to see the crowning of a new king.” Sastan examined Ziaxe silently for a second. “Ziaxe, you seem different.”

Ziaxe realized that his appearance had slightly changed since the last time Sastan saw him. The week of training had left him with bruises, cuts, and a slowly growing physique. “I have been training with Naje.” He knew that sounded suspicious, so he added a lie, “My family back in Berania told me that Naje was a good master in training warriors. I came to Salras to train with him. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past week.” His lie was somewhat similar to the truth. He still wasn’t sure if he should tell Sastan about him being the Nizain even after their adventure in the Treemen Forest.

Slightly out of character, Sastan showed a small speck of suspicion in his eyes, but he appeared to quickly dissolve it and accepted Ziaxe’s story. “Let’s go to the palace, Ziaxe,” he said. “Orlen said he’ll come to the coronation later after he closes up shop. We should find a good spot to watch it!”

Sastan was obviously very excited about the whole celebration. Ziaxe followed Sastan as the Sargen led him through the large city towards the palace. When they arrived, Ziaxe saw a huge crowd of people standing around the courtyard in front of the palace in a big sea of bodies. There was a roar of cheers shaking the earth as people eagerly waited for the coronation to begin.

The palace’s courtyard consisted of a small field of grass with colorful flowers outlining it. In the center of the courtyard was a raised stone platform with a group of chairs on it in a horizontal line with a throne in the center of them. Four stone pathways led from the platform to the outside of the courtyard making a cross image if one looked upon it from above.

The palace itself was a large, magnificent building as glorious in stature as the Beranian Castle. It had steps that led up to a double-door entrance between two broad columns, and the building was several stories high. Unlike the Beranian Castle it didn’t have any large towers or parapets. It was simply a large rectangular building, and it housed the royal family of Salras.

It was the first time Ziaxe had seen a building as big and captivating as the Beranian Castle. It made him wonder if there were other amazing pieces of architect in the world as well.

Sastan yelled to Ziaxe over the roar of the crowd and led him to a spot in front of a fruit vendor. “I guess I didn’t expect to see all of Sargenia to be here,” said Sastan wryly. “I’ve never seen half of these people before. I guess the news of Farli’s coronation spread quickly.”

At that moment, Ziaxe saw a new group of people parading in a line in front of them. They were dressed in strange clothing that consisted of torn tunics and pants. Some of the men in the group wore only their undergarments, making their group seem very obscene. They were moaning in a foreign language Ziaxe couldn’t understand as they walked in flowing movements as if they were dancing to no music. He was instantly alert for any danger caused by this group even though none of them carried weapons.

Then, one of the men who was only in his undergarments began announcing to the crowd. “Listen to me, you Sargenians! The time is approaching! The end of the world!”

Most of the people in the crowd continued to stare towards the palace, cheering ecstatically, ignoring this strange group.

“You fools! Your time is almost over! Soon there will be a conflict between the gods once more! There will be an Immortal Mortal and a Mortal Immortal! One will win! One will become god! Your god is done! Sarben shall fall!”

Ziaxe was wary of this man’s words, unsure of how he should react. He turned to Sastan and saw the Sargen’s eyes uncharacteristically full of rage. Sastan promptly began shouting to the man in his undergarments. “You foolish man! Sarben is our god! He gave this world beauty and Light! He can never fall!”

The man turned towards Sastan, furious anger in his eyes. “You are the fool, boy! The Seers have all seen the end of the world! A god shall fall, and a new one will arise! We believe in the Father of the Gods! We believe when all is destroyed, Valsla will arrive to redeem the ones who serve him!”

This was clearly not what Sastan wanted to hear. Sastan instantly used his Sargen powers to transform into a lion like he had done in the Treeman forest, and he let out a glass shattering roar. The strange parade of people stood their ground with eyes of fear and anger.

When the roar was over and a majority of the surrounding crowd turned to face the conflict, the man who had been denouncing Sarben stared at Sastan’s lion form. He gestured to his companions and he spat at the floor beneath Sastan’s paws. They were all silent as they walked away.

Sastan turned back into a human, and the people who had started watching them turned back towards the palace, not really caring about the conflict that took place. The people of Salras must have understood that Sastan was a Sargen and so weren’t afraid of his transformation.

Ziaxe looked at Sastan in surprise. “What was all that?” he asked, flabbergasted.

Sastan was now looking at the ground gloomily, looking at the blob of spit the other man had spat at him. “Those people are the ones who call themselves the Valsla Cult. They believe that Valsla should be the god over all of us because he is the Father of the Gods. But all those things they said about Sarben, those insulting remarks towards my religion….” He froze as if unsure of what to say.

After a moment he shook his head and lifted it to show his regained composure. “But I won’t let that ruin this day,” he said, showing his boyish smile once more.

Ziaxe began to think about the perplexing personality of Sastan. Sastan sometimes seemed like he could switch attitudes at any time. Though his personality as a kind and innocent man was always prominent, Ziaxe had to wonder about what was really going on inside the Sargen’s mind. There must be some form of inner conflict Sastan must be facing, given his heritage as a Sargen and his current life of living with normal Sargenians. It must be hard for Sastan to feel at home sometimes. Ziaxe shook his head at his confusing thoughts and stood silently as they waited for the coronation to eventually begin.

After a few minutes, Ziaxe noticed Sastan looking over at the fruit stand behind them. The Sargen was making a wry smile as he appeared to be examining a figure in a large black cloak. The cloak made it difficult to tell what sex the figure was as the figure appeared to be buying some fruit from the stand. Sastan made a gesture towards Ziaxe with his head as he began to walk towards the figure, beckoning Ziaxe to follow him.

When Sastan was standing behind the figure he said, “Well, if it isn’t the great Duchess of Salras herself.”

The figure started and stiffened as it had its head looking down at the fruit. It turned its head slowly, its face still invisible to Ziaxe. “Sastan, hush,” said the figure in a soft, female voice.

“You don’t have to hide that pretty face, your ladyship,” said Sastan shrewdly.

The figure was a woman as far as Ziaxe could see, but he didn’t understand how Sastan knew her. The woman began walking away to the left of Ziaxe and Sastan, away from the fruit merchant who had begun to give suspicious looks.

As Sastan and Ziaxe followed the woman, she turned her hooded face towards Sastan. “You can’t just announce who I am like that, Sastan,” whispered the soft voice.

“Relax, Sara,” replied Sastan. “Nobody cares if you’re outside of the palace.”

“My father does!”

“Well there’s no chance of him finding you if he’s always inside too. Just relax, Sara.” Sastan turned to Ziaxe. “Ziaxe, this lovely lady here is the beautiful Duchess of Salras, Sara.”

The hooded woman lifted her face upwards, and Ziaxe could finally see her face in the light. Just like Sastan said, she was a beautiful woman of royalty, the kind of woman one would hear of in tales of lore and only be able to fantasize of but have a beauty that is nearly impossible to picture. She had long, golden locks of hair that framed her fair skinned face. Deep blue eyes stared out from her thin shaped eyes, eyes as bright and shining as the sea. She was a few inches shorter than Sastan and Ziaxe and around their age as well. Ziaxe could tell that under the cloak she had a slim figure by the look of her thin neck.

“Nice to meet you, Duchess Sara,” said Ziaxe with a slight bow of his head. He was unsure how to greet this woman of royalty since she appeared to not want to gain attention. On a normal occasion he may have gotten on his knees or bowed, but he didn’t want to make heads turn.

“And you as well, Ziaxe,” replied Sara with a brilliant smile, her teeth shining as bright as the sun. “I’ve never seen you around here before. What brings you to the company of this troublemaker here?” She looked at Sastan out of the corner of her eyes.

“What do you mean ‘troublemaker’?” interjected Sastan. “If I recall, the first time I met you, you were the one in trouble.”

He turned to Ziaxe. “Sara here has always tried to sneak out of the palace from her overprotective father, because she says she wants to feel the freedom. But one of the first times she came into the city a group of ruffians followed her down a street and trapped her. If it wasn’t for me walking by and hearing her scream she might have been in big trouble.”

Sara smiled and sighed sarcastically. “Yes, Sastan.” She said. “I know ever since then that I’ll always be in your debt. I could’ve died that day. Thanks to you I’m still here.”

Sastan stood up straight with his hands at his sides and held his head high in a jokingly prideful manner. “No problem, my lady,” he said. “All I had to do was turn into a bear and scare them off.”

The Duchess of Salras let out a gentle laugh. “Yes, and you also terrified me.”

Ziaxe smiled as he watched these two companions speaking to each other as if they’ve been friends for years. But it wasn’t hard for him to notice that something else was happening between them. It reminded him of his life in Berania with Kron and Venna. He always had feelings for Venna that only Kron knew about, but he felt like he would never have the courage to tell her himself.

But when he thought about it, he knew that his life had been changing drastically the past several days. Maybe one day he will gain that courage he’d need to tell Venna the truth.

He shrugged mentally to himself. Now though as he watched the young Sargen and Duchess talk in friendly tones he could tell that Sastan had feelings for this Sara just like he always had feelings for Venna. Just watching the few minutes of their conversation, he knew that these two would make a lovely couple.

Then suddenly a grand fanfare played in the courtyard before the palace. All the heads in the crowd turned to the platform that stood in the courtyard’s center. Two lines of trumpeters took their places along the path that went between the platform and the palace. The coronation was about to begin.

Ziaxe moved closer to the crowd hurriedly with Sastan and Sara in an attempt to better see the platform over the heads in the crowd. They found a group of steps outside of a building that led to an elevated entrance. When they got to the top they could better see the platform though the people all looked like ants in the distance.

On the chairs on the platform sat a few older men who must have been city officials and noblemen. Sara explained that her father, the Duke of Salras, was the old man sitting in the chair on the far right with a long, gray beard. The man sitting next to him was a younger middle-aged man who Sara said was her father’s advisor.

Another man she pointed out was a large, muscular man wearing a breastplate, greaves, iron boots, vambraces, and gauntlets. She said this man was a newly appointed general named Draton. It surprised Ziaxe how much from a distance this man reminded him of Virok. They were both generals, of course, but they were both of similar build and appearance. Draton had a regal look to him as he held his position in the army with great pride. He had a large broadsword belted to his back that made him appear to always be alert even at a celebration like Farli’s coronation.

As Ziaxe squinted his eyes to help him see better, he noticed that Alavar was sitting next to Draton, to the left of the throne that sat in the middle of the chairs. The old man in his bright white robes shone out amongst the others. The professor was noticeably whispering to the General Draton. It surprised Ziaxe how Alavar appeared to be famous in more places than just Berania.

Then, on the pathway behind the platform that was lined by the trumpeters, a servant dressed in a plain tunic and pants walked up onto the platform carrying the rectangular box that contained the crown and scepter of the Beranian Kings. The servant kneeled in front of Alavar’s chair and held the box in front of the professor. The professor opened the box and took out the ancient crown and scepter. He thanked the servant, and the servant scurried offstage.

With the crown and scepter in his hands, Alavar stood and faced the sea of people in front of him. “Welcome, my fellow Sargenians, to a historic day!” he yelled, his voice spreading to all reaches of the crowd. “Today, we see a new king crowned!”

The crowd of Sargenians roared and cheered. The earth seemed to shake under the screams and applause as if the earth itself was cheering as well. Ziaxe watched with utmost excitement with his companions, his heart pounding in his chest as if he just ran a mile.

“Many of you may not be aware of the events that have occurred outside of Salras over the past few weeks. Treachary has been commited by the once loved General Virok of Berania! This fiendish man is responsible for the death of our beloved King Broniton! This scum of a man has killed our king and taken over Berania! He plans to start a war with us, a Second Vician War! He has already begun assembling an army against us! Will we stand for this!?”

The crowd bellowed in anger and dismay at the news. Some gasps were heard as the shock set in; some people may have already heard the rumors. But now the truth was out, and there was no stopping this knowledge from reaching the far edges of the world. Soon everyone would know of Virok’s mutiny. Ziaxe grew anxious at what this all meant. Alavar was asking the people of Salras to show their support for this new war. This was the start of it all.

“But fear not, my brothers! Even in these dark times we still have a ruler to take control! All hail Prince Farli Isonil, son of Broniton!”

At this announcement a new figure appeared on the pathway behind the platform. It was a young man only a few years into manhood. He walked slowly and deliberately forward as he wore royal, bright clothing and a long burgundy velvet cape that trailed behind him. The train of the cape was carried by two servants to keep it from dragging on the ground. The man was tall and lean with a solemn, handsome face and dark, short hair. He had the look of a man who was readying himself to carry a tremendous load for the rest of his life.

As the man began to climb onto the platform towards the throne in the center, the audience cheered louder than they had ever done before. The exhilaration and joy was palpable in the air. The people showed their support of this young prince who was being forced to take on his father’s role.

The Prince stopped in front of Alavar, and the two seemed to have something pass between them through their eyes. Alavar stared at his pupil with what Ziaxe thought was a sad smile as if the professor wasn’t yet willing to let Farli become king.

“Kneel, Prince of Sargenia,” said Alavar, his voice firm and disciplined.

Prince Farli kneeled before Professor Alavar, the professor who had taught him everything he knows, a second father to him as well as Ziaxe.

General Draton stood beside Alavar and held the scepter as Alavar took the crown in both hands. The professor held the crown above Farli’s head. “And now…” he said, “as the Great God of Light Sarben brings the soul of King Broniton to his final resting place, a new King is crowned. May Sarben bless us all with neverending Light.”

He lowered the crown onto Farli’s head as Farli bowed his head towards the ground, his eyes closed as if fighting off the cold rush of his new burden he was being given. “Rise, my King,” said Alavar.

Farli rose from the ground and looked out at the now silent crowd before him. Alavar gave him the scepter, and Farli turned towards the throne. The new king sat down upon the throne, his emotionless face hiding all of the feelings inside of him.

Alavar faced the crowd. “The king is dead! Long live the king!”

“The king is dead!” shouted everyone in the crowd including Ziaxe and his friends. “Long live the king!”

As the crowd cheered for the new king, Ziaxe looked closely at him. He couldn’t imagine the pain the young man must be going through. Losing a father and being thrust into being a king only a few weeks later. Though Ziaxe was in a different position than him, they had their similarities he had to admit. Both of their lives have taken dramatic turns all because of Broniton’s death… all because of Virok.

But now, as Ziaxe watched the new king talk amongst Alavar, his advisors, and the other noblemen, he couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. This was another life ruined by this approaching war. Ziaxe sighed to himself. As the new Nizain, he had to take it upon himself to keep Virok from ruining any other lives.

But he was just one man. How could he stop this approaching war?


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