Pathway to Sydara: Guardian of the Gate

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XXI

Kron watched over Venna with the tenacity of a hawk. Over the last few weeks she had been going through a strange process of being in a dazed, unconscious state to a weak, conscious state that was a shadow of her former self. There were times when seeing her like this was almost too painful for him to see, but he steeled his heart and continued to watch over her. When he had to leave for the army training or his own spefic duties, he had to trust Bellara or Viona to watch over her. The two of them were untrustworthy and made Kron always watch his back, but for the moment at least, their goals appeared to be the same. He would risk anything to save Venna.

While miles away Ziaxe was going through his own set of revelations, Kron was approached by Bellara while he was sitting next to Venna’s unconscious body.

“Today is the day, boy,” said Bellara, her old haggard form struggling to sit in a nearby chair. “I have been spying like I always do, and I learned some interesting news. Virok’s henchman Gilart has returned from a trip to Salras covered head to toe in blood and wounds. That proves where you will find your friend.”

Kron knew of Gilart, the giant monstrous man who always hid in the background near Virok. The idea of Ziaxe being able to even cause one injury to a man like that seemed extremely implausible, but it seemed to be their only lead. He needed some specific destination instead of just searching the possibilities of Ziaxe’s hiding spot. Venna could die at any time.

It’s all his fault, thought Kron, his anger towards his friend bottled up inside.

Bellara was staring out the window that looked out to the north Great Wall. “I hope you’ve been enjoying watching Virok’s plans come true.”

Kron continued to look over Venna, but his mind followed Bellara’s words. He had noticed what was happening around here even if the other Beranians did not. Foreign soldiers were slowly coming in and joining the barracks, causing it to expand even larger than before. He recognized the different banners of these kingdoms, kingdoms that Sargenia had never even considered working with before. There was the half-moon, half-sun orb of the Dremuns and the gold lions rising to a blue moon on a red background of the Yasson Harvorens. Along with the foreigners were the Zauk-soul creatures that stayed apart from the other soldiers. It was all very confusing to all of the Beranians, but they were still too distressed over the death of their king to consider that this was Virok’s evil plan. They would let Virok take control if it meant revenge for their fallen king.

“My plan is to head to the north wall and hide out in one of the merchant wagons. We will need one to be able to transport the girl in this state.”

Kron nodded. Bellara had given him basic training in using the Darkness. He understood its dangers and potential. The ability to become one with the shadows would be useful to escape Berania.

He considered the idea of leaving Berania, his home for most of his life when he was brought there so long ago. He could barely remember that day since he was only a few years old. Could he leave this place, leave the family he has made here behind under the threat of Virok? He had to if it mean saving Venna.

He spared a glance out the window and saw the light snow fall outside. Winter had been there for the last few weeks in their part of the world, and it appeared that Virok would be ready to strike when it ended.

“Someone approaches.” Bellara instantly vanished into the shadows at the corner of the room.

Kron was fully expecting Virok to storm in and end his life right then and there, but it wasn’t him luckily. Kycan and Srion walked in, Kycan with his usual scowl and Srion carrying a small vase with a red rose in it.

“Hello, Kron,” said Srion with a smile as he approached and put the vase on the tabe by Venna’s bed. “How’s she doing? My family brought this rose for her. It had been kept alive inside, but hopefully it won’t die anytime soon.”

Kron smiled at the carefree, copper haired young man. “She’ll be okay if I have anything to say about it.”

Srion put a hand on Kron’s should, comfortingly, then went back to Kycan’s side.

“Has anyone found out what’s wrong with her?” asked Kycan, frowning. Kron could tell he had something to say that he felt was important.

The secret behind Venna’s illness was a secret kept by Kron. No one even knew that Ziaxe was the new Nizain, so until the others understood that, Venna’s sickness would never make sense. “No, no one can figure it out,” he replied, his eyes focused on Venna so the others would not be able to see the tenseness around his brow and discover the lie.

There was a pause as Kycan appeared to consider his next words. “Isn’t it strange that Ziaxe disappears after the king’s murder, and later Venna becomes sick as if she was poisoned?”

Kron knew what was coming, but Kycan’s ignorance was only considering the superstition of Ziaxe’s treachery formed by Virok’s deception and his own personal loathing of Ziaxe. “Ziaxe had nothing to do with it.” The words left a bitter taste in his mouth.

Kycan marched over to Kron’s side and crouched down beside him so their heads were level with each other’s. “Don’t be a fool, Kron. No matter what you may think it is proven that Ziaxe is a Vidian. I will never forget his red eyes as he was about to use the Darkness on me.”

“He wasn’t going to do anything to you. You just pissed him off.”

Kycan’s eyes narrowed. “You stick up for him too much. If I am right and Ziaxe is a traitor and Vidian, then this sickness on Venna can not be cured by these simple doctors. Ziaxe is the enemy here. He probably poisoned Venna with Darkness or something. My father always told me—”

“—not to trust a Vidian. Aye, we’ve all heard it before.”

Kycan’s anger was palpable as he stood back up and got ready to leave. “Just think about it, Kron,” he said, facing the door with his back to Kron. “I’ve always had a respect for you and your potential while I always knew Ziaxe had nothing beneficial to offer the army. If nothing changes I can see a future where I will be the one ending his life for our kingdom.”

He stormed out the room then, and Srion awkwardly said his goodbyes, his tone unsure and fearful as if he was just in between an intense battle. Then he left, hustling after Kycan’s broad strides like always.

The irony of it all slapped Kron square in the face once more. Kycan was focused on ending the world of Vidians while he himself had unknowingly become one thanks to Virok. And the idea that Ziaxe had nothing for the army even though he was the Nizain…. He could not help himself from bursting into uncontrollable laughter, sounding like a mad man to whoever could hear him.

That night, Bellara’s plan began. Kron patrolled the castle in his armor even though he was not assigned any duties. He acted natural as if he belonged there to keep any suspicion from other guards at a minimum. He made his way to the infirmary. Bellara and Viona were there, ready to go. He lifted Venna’s light body in his arms as if she were a piece of lumber.

He did what Bellara told him to do. The Witch and the Zauk-soul went ahead of him as they all carefully made their way through the castle. They easily transformed into the shadows in the corridors as if it was truly their natural home.

Kron focused on what Bellara had taught him and called out to the Darkness to take him in. It wasn’t before long when he had entered the shadows and experienced the world of Darkness. All around him the Darkness urged him to stay with it forever, its claws gently grabbing at different parts o fhim. The Darkness wanted Kron to know that all was safe and peaceful in this eternal void, but Kron knew better.

He willed himself to keep moving forward, never stopping even though the desire to stay was surprisingly strong inside him. It was all a trick, he told himself. If he stayed he would become one of the Lost Ones. He had too much to do than to lose himself in this world.

He could feel the presences of Viona and Bellara ahead of him, also in this Dark world, and continued to follow them, relying on their experience with the Darkness to keep him going in the right direction. The shadowy claws around him were touching Venna, Kron noticed then. She let out a light moan as the bent fingers gently caressed her body as if she was a treasure the Darkness longed to have. Kron refused to let her be taken, another thought that helped to keep moving.

Eventually, they all exited the Darkness and returned to the Beranian night. Kron looked around and saw that they had made their way outside of the castle. He was shocked to see how much distance could be travelled through this mean of transportation. It would obviously be used more if it did not include the disadvantage of possibily being overwhelmed by Darkness.

He took a deep breath of the frigid, winter air, and was glad he and Venna survived. The small group of three users of Darkness and a dying woman were clothed in furs as they began to trek their through about a foot of snow to the north end of the city. All was silent around them except for the light flicker of torches in the street and the occasional gust of wind.

Bellara led them to a trader’s store with a wagon out front. The store looked like a basic log cabin which fit in with the winter setting around it. Next to it was small barn that appeared to house horses.

She turned to the others. “Dawn will arrive in a few hours. The trader of this store will be leaving then when the North Gate opens. So all we have to do is hitch a ride by hiding in the Darkness, and then take this wagon for ourselves once we are safely away from Berania.”

The plan seemed like it would easily work, but Kron’s morals were nagging inside his mind, telling him that innocent Beranians could be hurt because of this. He pushed these thoughts to the back of his mind though as he realized that he did not care anymore. Venna was the only person he cared deeply enough to matter.

He climbed into the back of the wagon with these thoughts fighting to be acknowledged, his face stern and solemn like a statue.

Everything went perfectly after that. The trader and his family of a wife and daughter awoke and took the wagon out the North Gate without suspecting at all the possibility of fugitives hiding in the shadows in the back. For a few miles, Kron and the others hid in the Darkness while the trader’s merchandise of sacks of vegetables and piles of furs bounced with every bump and turn the wagon made.

Viona was the first to exit the Darkness at Bellara’s order. She reached her hand through the opening in the front and pushed the father off of the wagon. The man’s hands were still on the reins which caused the horses to be pulled back and stopped. The Zauk-soul ordered them all to leave if they want to live, its face hidden under a hood. The family was too surprised and frightened to think of doing anything other than getting off the wagon. Viona took over the reins and the wagon was instantly moving again as if it never stopped.

Bellara then took a seat next to Viona at the front seat while Kron stayed in the back watching over Venna as she lay in a makeshift cot of the furs. Kron sympathized with the family as he watched them out the back of the wagon, standing in the snow afraid and perplexed. He told himself it was all for a good cause, but he could barely believe himself.

Now that that struggle was over, Kron realized that he was actually outside of the Great Walls for once. He looked outside of the wagon and could see for miles. It was truly amazing and almost overwhelming. He wondered how Ziaxe must have felt when he first left the walls.

As they continued traveling, Kron examined the two unreliable companions he had made. Bellara looked like an old fragile woman next to Viona. It must have been a normal scene to the people who passed them by with an old woman and possibly her daughter driving the wagon.

He looked at Viona and thought about the strangeness in her appearance again. She had Venna’s face, but shorter hair. That did not mean they were similar at all though. The way Viona took control of the wagon with her face emotionless and her cloaked figure giving a strangely intimidating atmosphere was unsettling to Kron. No matter what anyone else might say, he still viewed her as the monster she was, the one who was slowly murdering Venna.

Bellara soon told the group the next part of their mission. She said that they would head east to Salras, but take the time to go around the north end of the Treeman Forest. According to her, this way they would not have any possible problems with the Treemen.

“You must remember when we get there, Kron, to be wary of Ziaxe,” said Bellara. “There is no telling what he will do with this news of Venna’s sickness. He could see it as an accusation or some kind of threat. He is an impulsive young man after all who now has the power on par with a god. You must be careful.”

“He wouldn’t hurt me,” replied Kron, almost completely certain of that. A part of him took Bellara’s words to heart though. A lot had happened over the past weeks, and they were all changing. No one could know how much Ziaxe must have changed after having the Power of the Nizain for this long.

They continued in silence for a large portion of the day. By late afternoon, Viona had stopped the wagon suddenly. Kron knew it was too soon for them to have already arrived to Salras. He peeked his head through the opening in the front. “Why are we stopped?” He asked.

He didn’t need a reply. The answer was ahead of them. Less than a mile away they saw a sea of people in the horizon. There were hundreds going on thousands of them. “What is that?” asked Kron.

Bellara looked surprised while Viona’s hidden face showed no emotion. “Treemen,” said Bellara. “It is truly rare to see them gather together like this. They have only been known to do that when their seer sees something really bad in the future. I guess this Vician War may be the last….”

Her words hung in the silence that followed. Kron felt anxious at the thought of what the future holds. This war will involve the whole world it seemed, and if he wasn’t strong enough he wouldn’t be able to protect Venna. He looked down at Venna and swore to himself she would not be hurt ever as long as he watched over her.

“It looks like we’ll have to go with my other strategy,” said Bellara. “Virok will attack Zaria first since that will reverse Vician’s original route in the first war. And where Virok goes so will Ziaxe.”

“What?!” Kron turned back to Bellara shocked at this proposal. “You want us to travel all those miles north to Zaria instead of just go east to Salras?”

Bellara turned her aged face towards Kron. “If you want the girl to live, you will do what I say!”

Kron was silent. He wasn’t sure what he could do. He knew the quicker he could get away from these two the better, but he also had a feeling that without them he would struggle to find Ziaxe especially if he had to continue to keep Venna safe. The fact that Viona and Bellara controlled this wagon which was the only means of easily transporting Venna at the moment did not help any ideas of going off alone.

And so, he relented, doing what Bellara wanted him to do. He had lost his freedom when he accepted her help.

Later, after a few miles of the wagon heading north now towards the kingdom of Zaria, Bellara decided it was time to call it a night. They had gone almost a full day without any real sleep, so Bellara said they would make camp.

The night was like last night as they camped at the edge of a group of trees. The pine trees had kept some spots on the ground dry enough for them to sit, and they made a fire to fight off the winter wind.

“Well, I think that was a fairly successful first day,” said Bellara with a smile that Kron had a feeling was fake and hiding secrets like always.

Kron ignored her comment while he ate a cabbage that was in the trader’s stash. He would look over at the wagon every once in a while just to make sure nothing was threatening Venna.

Bellara appeared to notice Kron’s continuous distraction. She sighed as if it irritated her, her face a saggy-skinned mask of annoyance. “How about we show you the power you can work with if you continue to follow me.”

Kron turned to her, confused.

“I know you are considering leaving to focus only on saving the girl, but you have other great things that you could be doing. You can join me and have a place in the new world that will be created after this war.”

Kron looked away to the fire, listening, but unsure of what this all meant. He realized even more that he had no idea who this old woman was or what her true plans were. Was this all truly a trick?

Viona stirred in her spot, her back resting against a tree at the edge of the fire’s light. She stood and walked to Bellara’s side as the old woman continued to sit.

“Ever since Viona was created I have been helping her understand her power,” continued Bellara. “As a Zauk-soul created from the Curse of the Nizain, she is exceptionally more than any normal Zauk-souls. It may be hard for you to believe, but if she is properly trained she may be just as powerful as the Nizain.”

Kron’s eyes rested on the Zauk-soul now. Its face was still hooded, but Kron could faintly see its lower half with the lips, chin, and neck that it stole from Venna. “What are you thinking of doing?” asked Kron, finally finding something to say.

“Just what I said, Kron,” replied Bellara. “I need help to secure my place of power in the new world. Viona will be a great help, but with you it would be set in stone.”

The young man from Berania was silent once more, feeling like any word he could say had the chance to seal his fate. Bellara did not push him any further though. She raised her head to Viona and nodded slightly.

The Zauk-soul pulled out the sword that was sheathed at its waist, and Kron was instantly alert, reaching for his own sword. But he soon saw that it wasn’t attacking. It held the sword in front of itself, its hidden eyes focusing on it intently.

Something began to happen that Kron could not explain. The air seemed to change, a strain in the atmosphere that made it almost difficult to breathe. He could feel this change centered around Viona, a sort of invisible power radiating from her. It was then that Kron began to realize how different this creature was from Venna.

Instantly, without any warning, the blade changed as well. The lightning of Darkness appeared around the blade, crackling and jumping on and off the steel. The Darkness danced around the blade and its user, creating a steady breeze in all directions.

Kron could not believe his eyes. It was the legendary weapon that he had heard stories about all of his life. But how was it even possible?

“Naz Zarak.” Bellara’s voice spoke above the crackling of the sword’s sparks. “Viona inherited the abilities of the Power of the Nizain as well as any other Zauk-souls created from the Curse have. With her power, the world will soon realize who the true rulers are.”

Kron stared in absolute awe and fear as Viona held Naz Zarak. If a Zauk-soul could have this kind of power then the kingdoms were definitely in trouble. As he sat petrified, he saw Viona’s lips make a smile, a menacing smile that Kron had never seen made by Venna’s face.


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