Pathway to Sydara: Guardian of the Gate

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XVIII

Time continued to pass, as time always does, hours turning to days turning to weeks turning to months. Winter was beginning in the Sargenia, light snow crystals coating the ground, trees turning bare as they slowly die. While some found the coldness and peacefulness of winter weather refreshing others found it terrifying for as the land died so did the crops and the business and the fear of war hid in everyone’s minds.

Then one snowy morning, while others were readying for a day of business in Salras or refusing to leave the warmth of their fires, Ziaxe exited Naje’s hut covered in wolf pelt clothing, excited for another day of training. He was becoming a natural warrior who had already mastered the basics of using Darkness. Today, however, Ziaxe was expected to use his Light instead, something that was much more difficult. His first step into the cold air brought a soft crunch as he stepped a few inches of packed snow. There was a steady, light fall of snow all around him that limited his vision to about only a few feet in any direction. He took a deep breath and stretched out his arms to wake up and began the run that had become his routine as a part of training.

His run took him to the outskirts of Salras and back, roughly a mile. When he returned, Master Naje was waiting on one of the two tree stumps in front of his hut also garbed in pelts. “Good morning, Master,” said Ziaxe as he took the second stump.

“Morning, boy,” replied Naje, a small smile underneath his monstrous beard. “It seems today has decided to work with my plans. For your training today, I want you to rely on your Light and defend against Gurgan and my Darkness. You will have to rely on the Light to lead you in all this snow. When you’re ready, meet us out back.” He stood up and left Ziaxe to relax and catch his breath from the run.

After a few minutes passed, Ziaxe walked out back, slightly nervous about this type of training, but he felt confident in his abilities. He saw Naje and Gurgan standing, talking to each other, Naje taller and speaking in complete sentences and Gurgan, a short hunched over creature that did not appear to feel the cold since it still wore just a loincloth. Ziaxe was still unnerved by the grotesque appearance of Gurgan even though he had accepted to trust it after all that has happened.

Ready to start, Naje gave the instructions of the training. He and Gurgan would go out beyond the line of sight and attack with Darkness. Ziaxe was forbidden from using any Darkness in defence, so he would have to rely only on Light. Ziaxe hesitantly agreed to this, and he positioned himself several feet from the hut. Another few minutes passed as the two Vidians went out into the white shadowed distance of snowfall until Ziaxe could no longer see them.

Ziaxe waited in the gentle silence of the snow, light breezes of wind blowing across his unprotected face. He stood with no weapons or armor so his life was indeed in danger, but Naje had told him early on that Ziaxe would have to take risks if he was to become a good Nizain. He breathed deeply, concentrating on all the little sounds around him. There was some animal, most likely a deer, prancing in the distance; Ziaxe could hear its hooves.

For what felt like several minutes nothing happened, until suddenly a burst of Dark lightning flew at him, shocking the air and causing snow to melt. Ziaxe on instinct dodged the bolt. Instantly, he wanted to shoot another bolt, but he stopped himself. He reached inside himself looking for Light, not Darkness, but before he could find anything, another bolt shot from another direction behind him. Once more he dodged it, crouching low to the ground, blood pounding through him now.

He remembered what his master had said about Light. It was from the Heart while Darkness was from the stomach. He closed his eyes and concentrated, forgetting everything around him for a second. Memories of his friends came to mind, memories that made him smile. He felt the warmth in his heart now.

A third bolt of Darkness came from another direction. Ziaxe dodged and this time shot out a stream of white fire from his hand, the bright fire of Light. His fire was not strong enough though, and it did not reach any invisible target since it only flew for a few feet.

He swore to himself, but still he was surprised at this ability. He had not seen much of what Light could do, but he saw that it did have the same potential as the Darkness. While the basic form of Darkness was lightning, the basic form of Light was fire. With enough training, he could go beyond these basic forms and do something amazing with the Light and Darkness.

His weak fire showed his problem though. He was not balanced as a true Nizain is expected to be. He was born a Vidian, so Darkness came naturally to him. The Light was forced upon him by the Power of the Nizain. His Darkness took up the majority of his power, becoming so strong and overwhelming that it had already almost turned him into a Lost Vidian. The Light therefore was the minority of his power, struggling to even be existant among the Darkness inside him.

Another bolt of lightning broke his line of thought. Another dodge and another weak shot of Light fire. This process continued for a while until a new lightning bolt appeared, almost catching Ziaxe completely unawares. He had focused on identifying where Naje and Gurgan must be based on where they were shooting from. He had also recognized their Darkness, because all Darkness showed some traces as to who was controlling it. But this new bolt was different. It carried an intention of seriously harming him while the other two had intentions more focused on training him. He turned towards the source of this new Darkness, but nothing was visible in the fog of the snow.

“Ziaxe!” Naje’s voice was yelling behind him in the opposite direction.

Before Ziaxe can have another thought on this, more bolts of Darkness attacked at once from multiple sources. He dodged all of the bolts the best he can, but one scorched the pelt on his left shoulder, leaving a burn. What is going on? His thoughts swirled within him while he continued to to search for the enemies. Naje was still yelling for him from behind, his voice barely recognizable to Ziaxe in his state of alertness.

Then a figure stepped into view. Ziaxe gasped and could not believe it.

Gilart

The giant servant of Virok, the man who chased him through Beranian Castle with murderous eyes and a stench of sadistic desires. Ziaxe could not accept it. He shot out a bolt of Darkness, his mind instantly reverting to the power that came easier to him.

The giant figure raised one hand and sent out a bolt that was twice the size of Ziaxe’s. This bolt cancelled out Ziaxe’s and they both disappeared into steam. “Well hello, boy!” yelled Gilart, his voice excited, sounding like one of a lunatic while the whites of wide eyes could be seen. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

Ziaxe’s legs trembled. This look of this man made him feel like he was about to be squished like an ant instead of simply killed. Then, right when Ziaxe thought things could not get worse, other Vidians appeared, menacing men wearing loose leather armor under fur.

“My friends here couldn’t find you north of Berania, so good ol’ Virok suggested you went to Salras,” said the giant, a frightening joy in his voice. “So look what we find when we get here! A pathetic boy trying to do battle with two Vidians by using the weakest bit of Light I’ve ever seen. Like a little firefly. I don’t see how Virok can think you’re even a threat.”

Naje’s voice continued to yell and get closer.

“I sure hope I’m not taking you from other possible killers.” Gilart gave another spine-chilling grin. “But Virok wants you alive now. He wants the Power of the Nizain for himself.”

Ziaxe decided to take the offensive then. He called up multiple bolts of Darkness, but Gilart simply had to raise a hand and return other bolts to stop them. The monstrous giant began to walk even closer while Ziaxe continued to attack to no avail. By the time, Gilart and the other Vidians were only a few feet away with the snow swirling continuing to swirl around them, Naje and Gurgan had finally arrived in the line of vision.

“Ziaxe!” Ziaxe heard Naje yell. “What’s going on!?”

Gilart’s menacing stare left Ziaxe for a moment to see the source of the voice. Something happened then as something went through the giant’s mind. He looked as if he saw a ghost, his skin turning white pale and his face frozen with his mouth wide open. In his eyes were traces of fear and confusion, pure disbelief. Once the moment passed though, his face turned slowly into the smile of a mad man while he began to chuckle and then laugh aloud, a sinister, frightening sound. “Well by the Dark of Ziavaxe’s backside, I’ll be damned!” He yelled at Naje and Gurgan who were by now several feet behind Ziaxe. “You should be dead! I guess Virok isn’t as reliable as he seems. Nice to see you again… Javen!”

Ziaxe was shocked out of his mind. He forgot everything that was going on right then and there and turned to find his master, the mysterious Naje. By the time his head was turned around, a sharp pain erupted in the back of his head. All he remembered was the sound of Gilart’s maniacal laughter as everything went dark.

When Ziaxe woke up again, he realized he was moving in a steady motion which added a nauseating motion sickness to his already pounding head. His eyes slowly opened to a dim light. He moved his arms and felt the chains on them as well as on his legs. Then he heard the distant sounds of voices talking in victorious joy.

His eyes finally adjusted to the light and he saw that he was in the back of a covered wagon chained to the front end of it. He looked out the back of the wagon and saw armored people riding on horses at the same slow pace of the wagon.

“Hey, Gilart!” yelled one of the horsemen. “He’s awake!”

Instantly Ziaxe remembered everything as he heard the sound of that sinister chuckling behind him. He froze and sat up straight at the sound. “How’s the ride going for you, boy?!” yelled Gilart through the hole in the canvas at the front of the wagon. Apparantly the giant was driving the wagon.

But what happened to Naje and Gurgan?

Or wait… not Naje….

“What happened?” asked Ziaxe as he tested the length of his chains. He found he couldn’t even reach the exit of the wagon. “What did you do to the others?”

Again another chuckle that shook Ziaxe’s spine. “I just left them back there with some of my friends. But don’t worry about that. We got to get you Berania before Virok’s pompous head explodes.”

Ahead of the group, Ziaxe heard an approaching horseman and turned around to see out the front. Past Gilart’s head and the two horses he lead by the reigns, he could see the arriving horseman ride beside the wagon and keep in pace with it. “Gilart,” said the horseman in a hushed tone, “there may be some trouble ahead.”

“What do you mean?” replied Gilart in an equally hushed voice with also anger and annoyance intertwined in it.

“The Treemen have been more noticeable as of late since they appear to be gathering for whatever reason. They could pose a possible threat if they try to attack.”

“What? Those pathetic tree lovers? Don’t make me laugh.”

The unsure tension was palpable as Ziaxe could hear the fear and uncertainty in the horseman’s voice. Ziaxe knew better than to misjudge the Treemen after the events during his first journey through the Treemen Forest. That small conversation confirmed their position at least. The Nizain was not ready to return to the dungeons of Berania though. He had to escape.

“We’ll be fine,” assured Gilart. “Now leave me alone.”

The horseman trotted away, dismayed.

“Now then,” said Gilart as he began to speak to himself, “we have the Nizain. That’s good, but we still have the problem of that witch and her foolish Sydara plans.”

There was that word again. Something about that word ringed a bell inside Ziaxe’s head. He remembered Bellara saying it to him in the Beranian dungeons. It was obviously something important, something that he felt he should already know about. Curiosity overwhelmed his timidness as he asked the question that would bring him into the next part of his journey. “What is Sydara?”

Gilart turned his head towards the opening in the wagon canvas and raised his eyebrow. “What is this?” he said, surprised. “The Nizain does not know of the land of nothingness?”

“What?” Ziaxe’s head was aching too much for confusing riddles.

“Sydara is the great place of mystery, the place where all souls aim to rest. It is the land of beginnings and will someday be the land of ends. It was there before Sarben, before Ziavaxe, and possibly before Valsla.”

Gilart’s suddenly poetic attitude surprised Ziaxe. “What does that mean?” he asked.

“Sydara, boy… is the land of nothingness, the land of no Light of Darkness… the land of the gods.”

The land of the gods? The idea shocked Ziaxe. He had never even thought about the gods in enough detail to consider where the gods lived. His religion was never the strongest he knew, but he also felt like no one else in the poor district of Berania had even heard of it.

“Then…” Ziaxe tried to piece together everything while his head continued to poud at the same rate of his heart, “what does Bellara have to do with that?”

Gilart could not resist turning around completely to face Ziaxe with a wry face. “Damn, boy, you sure are ignorant. I thought that Javen would have told you all this by now, but okay….

“You see, boy, Sydara is the land of the dead as well as the land of the gods. All deceased spirits go there and reunite with the gods. In that land of nothingness where neither Light nor Darkness has ever touched, every soul can experience either absolute peace or complete hell. Do you see where I’m going with this yet?”

Ziaxe sat confused in silence as the steady sound of the crunch of horse hooves landing in the snow was all they heard.

Gilart sighed. “Some people believe that there is a way to return a soul back to its body if they find a way to bridge the land of Sydara with out world. Bellara is one of these fools who believes she has found what they like to call a Pathway to Sydara. It’s all complete shit to me though. I say if someone’s dead they should stay dead.”

“So then… why does Bellara want to bring someone back to life?” asked Ziaxe, hesitantly, his hands shaking slightly at this information that he may be better off not knowing.

“I thought you’d be able to figure this part on your own.” Gilart rolled his eyes in that exaggerating manner of his. “Just think…. Who’s an important person that any Vidian or Darkness lover would love to see come back to life? Who, if resurrected, could take down all of the Kingdoms of Light?”

The stories of Alavar all came back to Ziaxe then. The stories of wars gone by; the stories of legends being made; tales of ancient battles of Light and Darkness. And despite all the chaos that erupted in his mind at all the visual images colliding together, despite the aching of his head, despite the instantaneous denial of what he knew to be true, one word came to his lips.

“Vician…”

“There ya go, boy!” Gilart smirked and turned back to the road ahead of him. “Now you see we have a wild witch on a crazy mission that could interfere with Virok’s plans that are already in motion. There was a time when Virok was interested in Bellara’s plan, but since she failed back then he refuses to help her.”

Gilart continued to talk and laugh to himself at the foolishness of a witch who had a dream of reversing death, but Ziaxe could not hear any of it. He was too lost in his own thoughts. Vician. The name struck fear in every man, woman, and child of every Kingdom of Light. The old story of King Broniton’s battle with the Accursed King at the Battle of Berania was a story everyone knew. The monstrous King of Vidala, the mysterious land of Darkness far, far, far away to the west, with his fabled three-bladed scythe. The image of him in Ziaxe’s mind was frightening enough to make him shake in his chains. If this man… this monster… who murdered thousands of Sargenians, Ravillas, and Zarians in their homes in a war that almost destroyed the world of Light came back to life….

Suddenly, there was a quick rush of wind followed by a scream of inevitable death. Ziaxe was instantly alert, pushing the thoughts of Vician to the back of his mind. He moved towards the opening in the canvas and peered out behind Gilart’s head. In this distance, he saw a horseman with an arrow protruding from his shoulder. The man slid off the saddle and fell hard with a thud while the horse went mad with a loud neigh of fear and galloped away fervently. Gilart swore under his breath. Everything had come to a stop as Gilart and his men searched the pine trees of the Treemen Forest around them for the enemy.

Then, before Ziaxe could even consider getting his heart under control, more arrows flew out from the hidden branches of the pine trees. The heavy branches disguised the archers as all around Ziaxe horsemen fell and the Vidians panicked. Ziaxe shook uncontrollably as death filled the air around him.

Gilart, however, had had enough of this. He stood up and yelled out to the invisible enemies, “Come out of your trees, you damn tree lovers!”

Almost before he finished the sentence, an arrow flew straight at him and pierced itself into his right shoulder. Ziaxe could hear the tear of muscle and flesh. But Gilart was not hindered. Like the monster he was, he reached up to the arrow with his left arm and tore it out while letting out a horrific roar, a roar of excitement and anger instead of pain like a normal human. The giant Vidian was enjoying this. It didn’t matter how many of his men died as long as he could join in on the killing. He threw the bloodied arrow onto the ground and let out another roar, urging the enemies to continue their attack.

Ziaxe had no idea what to do. He looked at his chains and wondered how he could escape. There was something different about these chains though he realized. He had been too busy with everything else going on that he had not even noticed that there was a feeling of Darkness in the chains. The coldness of the chains on his wrists and ankles was the result of the Darkness laced in them. Gilart must have done it or some other Vidian who had a greater knowledge of the Darkness than Ziaxe. He was unsure of whether or not his Darkness could have a chance at breaking it, and the chaos around him would not let him concentrate.

The wagon lurched at the sudden loss of weight as Gilart jumped off the wagon, the enthusiasm of a mad man driving him forward. The air shivered as Ziaxe heard bolts of Dark lightning being released. There was a loud crack as a tree caught on fire and fell upon the path ahead. More arrows and more lightning, a deadly exchange that continued on and on with neither side at a complete advantage. Two arrows pierced the canvas of the wagon and embedded themselves into the wood only about a foot away from Ziaxe. If he didn’t do something quick, he would become a casuality of this conflict.

Then he heard a new sound: the clanging of steel on steel out the backside of the wagon. Did the enemy leave their hiding spots and attack on foot? Ziaxe didn’t see the Treemen as people who would eagerly reveal themselves to enemies in their forest. They would take advantage of their environment, hide in the shadows like they did when they captured Ziaxe. There was the sound of steel ripping flesh and the groans of defeat.

For a moment all that was heard was Gilart’s frantic laughter ahead of the wagon as he yelled defiantly to the invisible enemies. Then there was the crunching of footsteps behind the wagon. Ziaxe stared at the opening intently, afraid that it was all over. Then suddenly a hideous face appeared and made Ziaxe jump in his chains. It was a disgusting face that would have terrified anyone else into jumping out of their clothes, but this was no ordinary monster.

“Ziaxe?” said the familiar gruff voice of a Lost Vidian.

Gurgan.

The hunch-backed Vidian jumped into the wagon, two bloodied daggers in his claw-like hands. “Time go,” he said with his inability to make full sentences.

Ziaxe had never been happier to see the ugly creature. This was the second time that he had been saved by it…. But no, he realized then that it was unfair of him to think of Gurgan as an it. Gurgan was once a human like him. Ziaxe understood the danger now of the corrupting influence of the Darkness, the way it seduced innocents into becoming monsters. Gurgan was a “he,” a human, a poor soul trapped in the shadows of a world of Darkness trying to find redemption for his mistakes. If anyone was a monster it was Gilart. It was the one who purposefully used the Darkness to harm others and embraced it who was evil.

Gurgan reached into his loincloth and pulled out a small set of keys and used it to unlock the chains. “Come.” He instantly led the way out the back of the wagon.

Ziaxe’s muscles ached and cramped, but he endured it as he followed Gurgan into the battlefield outside. Bloody bodies littered the snowy ground like dark red spots on a white piece of cloth. Nausea filled Ziaxe. The stench, the wounded, mutilated bodies almost unrecognizable; it was all unbearable. Fires were growing around them as well, burning down the trees and the bodies. But he focused on Gurgan ahead of him, dodging whatever stray arrows came his way while the blunt of the hidden attack was still aimed at Gilart and the remaining Vidians.

Naje stood a few feet away, his sword locked in combat with one of the Vidians. No wait… not Naje…. That was a lie, a ruse, but why? Ziaxe looked at this bearded hermit as he cut down the enemy. Could it be him? Javen? The one who named Ziaxe “One of Darkness?” The one who Uncle Alben despised and blamed for the death of his sister. The one who had so much hidden from Ziaxe….

But why?

Why, why, why?

Ziaxe’s mind was brought back to reality when he heard the voice of the monster, the giant who had revealed the great secret of Naje, aimed at them. “What’s going on?! Stop them, you fools!”

More of the Vidians who had been busy shooting lightning at the trees turned to the escaping prisoner and charged with weapons raised. It was perhaps the third time that Gurgan had saved Ziaxe’s life as the Lost Vidian let out a surprising amount of energy at the attackers. A tidal wave of Darkness erupted from his fingertips, rolling into the enemies, throwing them several feet backwards.

“No!” roared Gilart. “I will not fail!”

He began to charge towards the trio, but this time all of the invisible archers were aimed at him. Arrows flew at him, piercing waist, shoulder, arm. The giant finally staggered almost falling to his knees as he looked like a doll with pins sticking out of him all over. His endurance was unbelievable. Ziaxe stared in complete, horrific awe as the Vidian struggled forward step-by-step.

“I will not fail!” he roared, blood flowing from his lips as well as every wound on his body.

“Gilart, enough!” yelled Naje… or Javen.

Gurgan pulled at the hermit’s tunic, urging his companions to leave while they can.

A sense of sanity appeared in Gilart’s eyes then as he appeared to realize that he was not truly immortal. He was a formidable opponent, of course, but even a Nizain from legend would struggle if he was surrounded by enemies on his own. If it was just the Treemen he would have easily leveled down the forest and murdered each of them, but now he had to face two seasoned Vidians while taking on damage from arrows. With a begrudging growl he gave in and accepted defeat.

Everything was silent as the giant limped over to the wagon and unlatched the two horses that were leading it. “This isn’t over, Javen,” he said in what was almost a menacing whisper. “You can’t run away from Virok forever.” He slapped the behind of the horse, and it leaned back on its hindlegs with an excited neigh.

Gurgan was already pulling Ziaxe and Javen away as the horse began to drag the bloodied body of Gilart the opposite way back to Berania. As they ran back towards Salras, Ziaxe began to realize just how dangerous the world was. He somehow made it out of that conflict unscathed, but who could say what would happen in the next battle? Or the next? He was acutely aware of just how weak and useless he was in this world of people who could use the Darkness to take out multiple people at once and people who could take several arrow wounds and still be able to walk. And he knew deep inside that this wasn’t even the worse threat. There was still the Great Darkness that was believed to be the most powerful Vidian in the world.

Vician….

When they finally made it back to the hermit’s hut, Ziaxe knew it was time to get all the answers that he had been waiting for, the secrets that the older generation had been hiding from him since the day he was born. The heavily bearded hermit stared out at the distance as Ziaxe hesitantly looked at him, trying to imagine him with the new name.

The man sighed. “Yes, Ziaxe,” he said, a voice that cared so much pain and memory, “it is true. I am Javen…. I am your father….”

The confirmation nevertheless froze Ziaxe. The whole journey back he had been running this information through his mind, trying to ready himself for the impact in case it was true. But all of that went away then and there, all attempts to shield his emotions and thoughts from the world melted away. He broke down. Tears erupted in a waterfall down his face as he wept, letting out the mixture of anger, confusion, and happiness that he was feeling.

“Why?” The words left his lips in a crackled, weak voice. “Why did you leave me?”

Javen stared at the young man with eyes full of sympathy, eyes that refused to cry as if all the tears had already been cried. “I’m sorry, Ziaxe…. There’s so much that you don’t know yet….”

“Then tell me!” Ziaxe’s eyes were bloodshot as he glared at the man who said he was his father.

Javen exchanged a look with Gurgan, and the Lost Vidian gave a nod. “I’ll have to start from the beginning I guess…. Take a seat, Ziaxe. This might take a while.”


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