“I hope you’re enjoying guard duty, boy.”
Kron looked up from where he was staring blindly at the tabletop. He made eye contact with the older soldier who had just addressed him. The man was a few years past his prime, a gradually aging elder man who refused to accept retirement. He held a tankard of ale in his hand as he leaned back in his chair casually and took a big swig from it as he waited for Kron’s reply.
“It’s all right,” said Kron. He had been in the Beranian Army for almost two weeks now. In the morning he trained with the other soldiers, but in the afternoon he was given guard duty in the Beranian Dungeons or any other various jobs that were required from a soldier. To be honest with himself, he despised working in the dungeons. It was dull and nothing ever happened. His partner sitting across from him didn’t help either since he got drunk every time Kron worked with him.
“Aye, this is the life,” said the old, drunken soldier. He took another large swig from his tankard and let out a large belch. “That hits the spot.” He looked over to Kron. “You sure you don’t want any?”
Kron sat in his chair, leaning forward with his arms resting on the table, crossed in front of him. He looked at the man, disgust in his eyes. “I’d prefer to be sober while I’m working,” he said with a slight grimace.
“Whatever suits you, boy. I’ve served in this army for a long time. I was a few years older than you when I served the Beranian Army in the Vician War. I learned back then that some drink can help relieve the mind. You don’t want all the stress of the army getting to you.”
“I’m fine.” Kron let his head hang down between his shoulders.
He was tired. Ever since Ziaxe left Berania almost two weeks ago he had had trouble sleeping. There was so much confusing him lately ever since he had found Ziaxe in these very dungeons. When he heard about Ziaxe’s escape, he was amazed and confused at the same time. He was glad his friend was away from the city since Virok had begun to blame Ziaxe for the king’s murder, but that didn’t make his confusion and suspicions go away. Ziaxe claimed that he wasn’t responsible for Broniton’s death which made Virok the main suspect. But the idea of King Broniton’s right hand man of so many years becoming a traitor was just as unbelievable.
Nevertheless, Kron had kept his distance from Virok while keeping his eyes on him as best he can. It was the least he could do for Ziaxe.
A shrill, womanly moan was heard down the aisle of cells, a sudden pierce in the silence.
“Ugh,” moaned Kron’s partner, “it’s that witch again. What’s her name? Bellara? Can you go see what she wants now?”
“Why me?” asked Kron, raising his head and frowning.
“’Cause I gots seniority, boy! Now go on!”
Kron groaned as he stood up and pushed back his chair abruptly. He turned towards the dim-lighted row of cells, picked up a torch hanging from the wall, and went forward.
He always hated walking past all the prisoners. He could feel their hatred and misery. If one of them got free, he knew they would try to kill him, because they believed he was one of the reasons they were still there. This misguided anger was almost tangible in the air like a spider web stretched around him, trying to ensnare him.
When he arrived at the cell that housed the witch Bellara, he knocked on the iron bars and called her name.
After a few seconds there was no reply. He frowned and aimed the torch at the cell, casting light on the darkness, looking for the prisoner. No one was in there.
His heart instantly began to pound. Even though Bellara was an elderly woman she must have possessed some danger for Virok to have locked her up here. If she was outside of her cell, who knows what could happen?
Then he heard footsteps to his right. He promptly reached for the sword he had belted to his waist. The Beranian armor he was wearing covered the majority of his body giving him some protection against any possible threats. He turned to the right and aimed his torch forward.
The hideous, humpbacked, old woman Bellara stood in front of him motionless. She appeared to be staring towards the floor as she hunched over, frail-looking.
“How did you escape your cell?” asked Kron in an attempt at a stern voice that broke mid-sentence due to his shock and fear.
She raised her head and faced Kron. Kron could see her horrid features that he remembered from back when she was first arrested in the rich district. Her pale, wrinkly skin was as white as parchment in the torch’s light and her pointy nose shot out towards Kron as if it was a knife. She wore the same ragged grey cloak she had when she was arrested. The only thing different was that she was walking without her staff which was probably taken away from her when she was arrested.
“Did you really think that cell could hold me?” she asked in a frail voice.
“It has held every other prisoner here for several years,” replied Kron, his sword now unsheathed and in front of him. “Now get back in your cell.”
“Now is that any way to speak to your elders?” She smiled weakly, but her face collapsed. She lowered her head down again as if the weight of keeping it lifted was too much for her and walked slowly towards the wall, a precise walk with one foot in front of the other a minute at a time.
“You are a prisoner here, and you must return to your cell.” Kron’s order was unthreatening as he had trouble keeping his voice steady. Something about this woman made it difficult for him to stop shaking.
“I’ve been watching you, Kron,” said the witch, “ever since you visited your friend, Ziaxe. I sense all the things about you that you yourself do not even understand. You are stumbling through your life like a drunken man trying to find his way home. I see great potential in you however. I see you as a potential assistant to my plans.”
“What are you talking about?” Kron’s curiosity caused him to lower his weapon.
“I will tell you everything that you have been wondering about for the past several days… if you sheath your weapon.”
Kron was dubious about this old woman, but he found that his urge to find out some information on what had been happening lately was almost overpowering. After a few moments of deliberation, he gave in and slowly sheathed his sword. “All right, but I’m warning you, my partner is a shout away.”
Bellara raised her face again and sneered. “That drunken piece of garbage?” She chuckled, an unpleasant suond. “But oh well. I promise I will bring no harm to you. I wish only to inspire you to a greater cause than the one you serve now.
“First of all, I wish to tell you who you really are. You are an adopted child here in Berania, you know this, but you are not a Sargenian. You never were. I know this, as does Virok. Virok even knew your father.”
“How can you make a claim like that?” interrupted Kron, instantaneously against the preposterous idea.
“Please do not interrupt me,” said the witch as her face scowled.
Kron found that he could almost feel the anger she was displaying as if her anger was a force burning like a flame aimed at him.
“Anyways, you are not a Sargenian, or any form of Sarbenian for that matter. You are a Dremun.”
Kron started at his shock. A Dremun? He knew all about how the Dremuns were a people who were known to live in both the Light and the Darkness. They were a mixture of the two races of Sarben and Ziavaxe. He couldn’t believe her. He would have known if he was a Dremun, wouldn’t he?
“You are a Dremun who up until now has always had his Light and Darkness in perfect balance. Virok has broken that balance by giving all of you new soldiers the power of Darkness, turning you all into Vidians.”
“Wait,” interrupted Kron again. “What are you talking about? I haven’t seen Virok do anything.”
“Of course you haven’t. You were all asleep. This all happened on the same night he killed the king and captured your friend.”
So she says Virok is the murderer as well, thought Kron, considering all she was saying. Her story did make some sense. He wouldn’t have known if Virok did anything to the soldiers while they slept, and he had to admit he had been feeling strange ever since that night. It would explain how Ziaxe had apparently been at the throne room with Virok on the night of the murder. Ziaxe must have been awake when Virok was doing what the witch called “giving the soldiers the power of Darkness.” Did this affect Ziaxe as well?
Bellara leaned against the wall as her legs shook under her weight. “While I talked to your friend here I learned other things as well, things you won’t believe. Your friend is the new Nizain.”
“What!?” Kron couldn’t control his exclamation. Ziaxe the Nizain? That was the most absurd thing he had ever heard.
“It’s true though you will not believe it.”
Before Kron could think about it anymore, the bellowing of large bells rang through the castle. The noise shook the castle, and Kron instantly turned towards the exit where his drunken partner was asleep at the table. Those were the alarm bells that rang when Berania was under some form of attack.
He turned back to Bellara, but she was gone, vanished out of mid-air. He looked around himself, searching for the escaped witch, but she was nowhere to be found. Panic rose up within him, both for the city being under attack and the escaped prisoner that he didn’t stop.
He ran to the exit and saw Srion running down the hall with a herd of soldiers. “Kron!” yelled Srion. The sandy-haired young man stopped next to Kron. “There’s an attack on the poor district, Kron!” he said anxiously with a worried expression. “I don’t know who it is or any other details. We have to go help our families!”
Kron turned back to the dungeons behind him and his partner who still was asleep in his chair. He knew he shouldn’t leave his guard duty, but he couldn’t sit idly by while the people he lived with all of his life could be in great danger. He thought of his adopted parents and the other peasants. But he found his thoughts more focused on Venna. He shook his head, indecision shaking through him.
Putting the torch back into its holder on the wall, he ran off with Srion by his side towards the poor district and whatever danger waited there.
It took them less than half an hour to get horses from the barracks and ride to the poor district. The sun was gradually set in the west, casting the land in red and purple rays of twilight. Hordes of other soldiers were already ahead of them on their way to confront this mysterious threat. When they arrived they couldn’t believe their eyes.
Kron and Srion stopped their horses in front of the poor district, several feet from the pond. “What is this, Kron?” asked Srion even though he probably knew Kron didn’t know either.
The poor district was under attack by strange creatures that Kron had never seen before. The only way he could think of to describe them was as moving shadows. They were all like ethereal figures with bodies as dark as shadows in the night. Some looked like humans with normal appendages, but others lacked arms or legs and seemed to float. But the one thing they all had in common was their red, threatening eyes, eyes that showed evil intent and a monstrous passion for killing. There appeared to be nearly a hundred of them, some attacking soldiers and citizens and others blindly attacking houses, creatures with no apparent thoughts of their own. None carried weapons as they appeared to attack with their body parts, their shadowy arms and legs.
Then, before Kron could think more on what these things were, he was attacked. One of the shadow monsters jumped at him from his side and threw him off of his horse. Kron landed with a hard thud on the ground, and before he could do anything about it, the monster was on top of him holding him to the ground.
Kron heard Srion shout as he was also attacked. He heard his friend struggle somewhere off to his right. Grunting and straining against the monster holding him down, he thought frantically on what he should do. The monster’s hands were shapeless strands of shadow that gave off a cold chilling feeling like the feeling of ice against skin.
Kron made eye contact with the frightening red eyes and saw the creature’s formless face. It was a jumble of Darkness as if he was staring at a night sky. The eyes dug into Kron’s mind, filling him with feelings of dread and grief. It felt as if the eyes were tearing out his soul, taking out whatever happiness was within him and leaving him an empty husk.
But he thought of his friends and family that needed his help. He couldn’t die like this like a hero who tried to save the day but failed after one fight.
It was then that the Darkness came out of him. He felt it grow inside of him and ready itself to attack his enemy. He knew what was happening even before he could control it. Bellara is right, was all he could think. His hands tingled as electricity left his fingertips, dark lightning that coursed with the ferocity of a storm.
The spark of lightning shocked the monster’s hands and caused the beast to back away from Kron, letting him stand up. Now free, Kron reached for his sword at his waist and sliced the creature in half. The monster screamed a high pitched shriek as the Darkness that formed its body fell to the ground like raindrops around the wound, and the creature melted into a small puddle of Dark liquid until he completely disappeared.
Kron turned towards Srion who was struggling against another monster on top of him. He kicked the monster in the stomach, pushing him off of Srion and then stabbed the creature in the chest. The creature then went through the same process of death as the other one did.
Srion got up slowly, panting heavily. “Kron, what is going on?”
Kron had no idea. He solemnly stared at his left hand as he held his sword in his right. What just happened? He produced electricity from his body, and he knew what that meant. He knew the stories of Vidians, the wielders of Darkness. This dark purple lightning was a main form of Dark energy.
He was a Vidian, and if Bellara was telling the truth so were the new soldiers. All because of Virok. He turned to face Srion, another unwilling Vidian. His friend stood beside him with a fearful expression. He sighed. This wasn’t the time to think about it. He had to help the others.
Kron and Srion went into the poor district and began confronting the strange creatures, working to protect all of the innocent people of the poor district. They found that the creatures weren’t that difficult to kill, because the creatures were a bunch of shapeless shadows that wore no form of protection. It was simply the sheer force of the creatures that was the problem. There were too many of them, and more seemed to keep on coming.
But then, they heard the sound of another group of horses riding towards them from the rich district. Kron turned and saw that it was General Virok and another group of soldiers. When they reached the poor district, Virok stopped his horse along with the others and dismounted. He walked towards the circles of rocks by the pond with no weapons in hands, his golden armor shining in the sunlight.
“Cease this fighting!” shouted the general.
Everything seemed to stop then. The shadow monsters all appeared to listen to Virok and stopped attacking. The soldiers who had been fighting them looked dubious, but decided to follow their general’s orders and lowered their weapons.
“Kirov, come to me!”
At the order, a new figure appeared beside the shadow monsters, a figure Kron had not noticed at first. It was a tall figure in a large black robe and a hooded face. It appeared to be human as it walked on two legs towards Virok. Something passed between the two in silence when the figure stood right before the general, the two the same height and body form.
Virok turned to the crowd of monsters and soldiers. “Men, these are not our enemies,” he shouted. “These creatures are called Zauk-souls, and they have come to join our army. They feed off the energy in people, so that is why they attacked, but they are of no danger now.”
Kron couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The creatures that were harassing his home and almost killed him are allies?
“They are usually mindless creatures, but I have found a way to control them. Their sheer size and energy will make the Beranian Army unstoppable!”
The soldiers didn’t know what to think. All in all, the creatures had not killed anyone. Some people had small injuries from them, but they had not caused anyone true harm.
As Virok and the hooded figure began walking back towards the rich district, the soldiers had no choice but to accept that everything had returned to peace. The Zauk-soul creatures became peaceful and mindlessly floated around towards the fields away from the people.
Kron, however, was furious. This just showed that Virok was plotting something devious. If he really did kill the king, this whole event was most likely a continuation of some evil plan.
Srion left Kron and went back to the barracks, also unsure of what had happened. When Kron began to get ready to return to the castle, he heard a voice from behind him, coming from next to Alavar’s hut. “Kron!” It was a weak, feminine voice, a shout of panic.
Kron turned and saw Venna, stumbling towards him on legs that couldn’t support her. She swayed back and forth until she collapsed onto the ground.
“Venna!” Kron ran over to her, terrified for her safety. If those Zauk-souls did this, he thought to himself crossly. He kneeled beside her and gently laid her on her back and held up her head on his lap. She was only unconscious, still alive with a steady heartbeat. He had no idea what could be the problem though.
“Venna,” said a soft voice behind him. It sounded very familiar, but when he turned around he had no idea who it was. It was a hooded female in a black robe, very similar to the one the human-like Zauk-soul Kirov wore.
“Who are you?” asked Kron, wary of this figure. If she was another Zauk-soul, he had to prepared for anything.
“Take her to doctor,” replied the figure softly and quickly as if she was afraid to speak.
Kron didn’t know who the girl was, but he knew she was right. He decided to take her to the infirmary in the Beranian Castle where she could be safe. It was a good place as well to hide her from the strange Zauk-souls.
He lifted her light, frail body and began his journey back to the castle.
When he finally arrived to the infirmary of the castle, carrying Venna in his arms, he was surprised to find not the doctor there but Bellara and the hooded female by the far window, staring out at the rich district. His day had been full of so many unbelievable incidents that he jokingly thought he should be getting used to it by now. Despite the presence of the two females, Kron came in and placed Venna on one of the beds for the patients. There were two lines of beds that lined the walls of the room, some occupied by other patients while others were empty. Curtains were hung between beds to act as dividers to give patients privacy. He was starting to worry about her by now, and he wanted to solve this mystery of her illness.
“What are you two doing here?” asked Kron when he turned to Bellara and the hooded female.
“I told you those cells could never hold me,” said Bellara. She turned towards Venna in the bed and walked towards her.
“Stay away from her!” yelled Kron impulsively, pulling out his sword.
“Relax, boy!” yelled Bellara back, her face turning into the face of anger she showed back in the dungeon. “I know her problem.”
“I’ve been alive for a very long time. I know as much as your precious Professor Alavar. Remember when I told you your friend Ziaxe was the Nizain? And remember how you didn’t believe me at all?”
“Well, here is your proof.” Bellara sat in a chair by Venna’s bed and examined the girl. The witch’s grey hair lay like a curtain around her face. “There is a thing called the Curse of the Nizain. The God of Darkness Ziavaxe created it back when the Nizain was first created. He made it to fight back at the Nizain’s power. The Curse takes someone that the Nizain cares about and uses their energy to create a Zauk-soul that can become as powerful as the Nizain himself.”
“Wait,” interrupted Kron, “you’re saying that one of those creatures that attacked the poor district did this?”
“Those ‘creatures’ are Zauk-souls, the things that have been around since the very first meeting of Light and Dark. When the two powers meet, the Darkness tries to overpower the Light and becomes a sentient being called a Zauk-soul. The Zauk-soul then becomes a creature that lives off of peoples’ Light. That was what those things were doing in the poor district; that is what one is doing to Venna right now.”
“A Zauk-soul is stealing Venna’s Light?” Kron though the sentence was absurd even before it left his mouth.
“Yes, but not willingly. It is the power of the Curse that makes the Zauk-soul unwillingly take in the Light of this girl that Nizain Ziaxe cares about.”
It was all very suspicious to Kron, but he had no other explanation to try to believe at the moment. “If this is true, how do I turn her back to normal? Do I go kill this Zauk-soul?”
“It is too dangerous to kill the Zauk-soul, because the girl’s Light could be lost forever. Only the Nizain can sever the connection between the Zauk-soul and this girl.”
“So, you’re saying that Ziaxe—who you claim to be the next Nizain—is the only way to save her life?” The idea made Kron sick to his stomach. He had always had confidence in his best friend and had always cared about him, but this situation seemed too much for Ziaxe to handle. Ziaxe had always been the weaker one between the two of them. Kron couldn’t picture his thin, scrawny friend as the powerful Nizain.
“Yes, but at least you can know who the Zauk-soul is.” The witch turned to look up at Kron and gave a sinister smile that showed hidden evil inside of this frail old woman.
“What do you mean?” asked Kron, taken aback by the other’s face.
Bellara, with the frightening smile on her face, slowly and deliberately turned towards the lone female by the window. “Oh, Viona,” she said in an almost singsong tone.
The hooded female turned towards the others, and Kron saw two small eyes of brown inside the hood. He suddenly had a crazy idea of who was under the hood, but he discarded it. Those eyes looked so familiar to him. She walked over to the bed and stared solemnly at Kron, the brown eyes looking sad and full of despair.
“Who are you?” asked Kron tensely, almost afraid of the answer.
Then, carefully, the female removed her hood and let it drop behind her.
“This, Kron,” said Bellara with a big smirk on her face, “is the Zauk-soul I call Viona.”
Kron was flabbergasted. His heart fell into his stomach and felt as if it stopped beating entirely. This female, this Zauk-soul, this monster, looked just like Venna. The same face, eyes, nose, hair, and body. This face was sulking, a sad, depressed expression that Kron had never seen Venna make before. Her eyes were filled with a great sorrow that Kron couldn’t even begin to understand. The only difference between Venna and this imposter was that the Zauk-soul had shorter blonde hair that ended at her neck while Venna’s grew down her back.
Was this some kind of joke? He felt his anger rise inside of him. His fingertips tingled slightly, and he remembered what he had learned earlier about himself about the power inside him. He glared at the Zauk-soul. He found that he wanted to use the Darkness within him to kill these two women who had intruded his once peaceful life.
Bellara continued to sit in her chair with a big grin on her pale face. “Viona here will work beautifully with my plan. I have been waiting for this day for a long time. Viona will become a warrior as powerful as Nizain Ziaxe himself. But now, I wish to inspire you to help me as well, Kron.”
Kron glared at the witch. “Why would I help you?”
“Because, Kron, I will take you to Ziaxe. He is the only one who can save her, so in a way I am the only way you can save your friend.” She gestured to Venna’s unconscious body. “It is either me or her death.”
Kron was furious beyond belief. He felt the anger inside him continue to grow, the Darkness that fed on it growing as well. He felt his surroundings change as the Darkness wanted to take him over. Things became darker and the faces around him looked blanker. Everything started looking like an alternate world of shadows.
He shook his head to fight off those thoughts. “Let me think about it,” was all he could say.
Bellara smiled. “I know you’ll make the right decision.”
Then she stood up, looking like a frail doll, and stumbled out of the room, leaving Kron and Viona alone.
After a few moments of silence, Kron felt tears run down his face. He took a seat in a chair by Venna’s bed and held back a sob as he looked at Venna’s body. Everything was becoming so overwhelming. His best friend was the Nizain; he was in a castle with a murderer; he was being thrust into some old witch’s plans; both of his best friends were being threatened to death, Ziaxe with Virok after him and Venna with this Curse. But, worst of all, Kron knew that he was changing. If he didn’t do something about it the Darkness inside him could take over him. He could feel its presence burning inside of him. He had felt it ever since that night he had arrived at the barracks.
Kron was vaguely aware of Viona standing at his shoulder. She hesitantly put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she said softly.
At those words, Kron broke down. He thrust back his chair, and it landed loudly on the floor. He grabbed the Zauk-soul by the brim of her robe’s neck and pulled out his sword. Holding the sword pointed at her neck, tears streaming down his contorted face, he stared at her with red eyes of Darkness dimly glowing. “If she dies, I will kill you!” he screamed at her.
Viona stared away from him, unable to make eye contact. Her face was sad, but she could not produce a tear. Kron assumed she was nothing more than an emotionless creature trying to convince him of her fake emotions.
Kron groaned, furious that he could not kill this monster, and he shoved Viona backwards onto the floor and sheathed his sword. “Leave me!”
Viona staggered back to her feet. “K-Kron…. I don’t mean for this to happen—”
Viona silently left the room, shedding a tear no one could see, dreading an existence she did not want to live.