Pathway to Sydara: Guardian of the Gate

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XXII

The day soon arrived of the return of the Nizain. News had spread far and wide of the Nizain returning to help restore peace to a kingdom facing threats of a Second Vician War. There was a lot of skepticism and arguments arousing wherever the news went. Everyone wanted to know who the Nizain was if it was not King Farli who was the son of the last known Nizain King Broniton. So many questions, but so little time as word also spread of the traitor Virok’s army growing in Berania. And so, the Sargenians, Zarians, Ravillas, and the families of all of the other kingdoms who heard the news waited in anticipation for something to happen, something to shake the world in a way never done before.

Young Nizain Ziaxe, the son of Javen and Levandra, descendent of the Nizain line, stood inside the Salras Palace next to Javen with guards around them both. The guards all wore the same Sargenian armor of iron with the sigil of the golden sun on their shoulders. It was the day he had been waiting for for a long time, a day he knew would arrive whether he was ready for it or not.

He looked over at his father. Javen had changed a lot over the past few days after his true identity was revealed. After telling Ziaxe the story of his life, hiding who he was was the last thing he needed to worry about. His once unruly beared had been completely shaved off, revealing a face that looked like an older Ziaxe except for the eyes which Ziaxe knew he had gotten from his mother. Javen looked less confident than he had with the beard as if shaving it off had shed off a piece of reliable armor.

Ziaxe knew it was all different now though. He saw in this new clean face as the father he always wanted, the father he would often dream of during his life in Berania. No more “Naje the master.” It was now “Javen, father of Ziaxe and husband of Levandra.”

“Now, Ziaxe, the people of Salras are going to be skeptical,” said Javen, his eyes facing towards the main doors of the palace. His back was slightly hunched over, showing the fear and uncertainty that he tried to hide. “You may have to give them something to prove you are the Nizain. I hope it doesn’t come to that though.”

Before Javen could say anything else, Alavar walked in through the main doors. The old man shined in the sunlight that broke in while he wore the same white ceremonious robes that he wore for Farli’s coronation. There was the sound of murmurs and shouts outside, and Ziaxe knew that meant a crowd had already been formed. His heart already began to pound.

“It is time, Ziaxe,” said Professor Alavar, his face solemn as he stood tall with authority. He let a small smile spread on his face in an attempt to reassure Ziaxe, but he knew that everyone was as tense as he was.

Ziaxe felt Javen’s hand on his shoulder, but his eyes were focused solely on the slightly opened doors. The guards around him parted to give him a path forward, and Alavar gestured towards the door with a nod. Looking back, Ziaxe would never know how he managed to make it to the door. He felt as if someone else was controlling his body as it made one slow step after another. Hie eyes were wide with apprehension and his breathing felt labored.

The light of the afternoon day outside blinded him as he walked outside. The hushed sounds he had heard inside immediately disappeared when he stepped outside. He continued walking though as his eyes adjusted.

And there everyone was. The whole town of Salras there, surrounding the platform that once served for Farli’s coronation. He felt every eye on him and felt as if he could hear every thought of criticism. It was a deadly silence as the eyes seemed to tear at him, judging every aspect of the new Nizain. Ziaxe could barely find the energy to keep his posture straight as he imagined the disappointment every person there felt.

It gave him a strange feeling as he realized he was walking the path that Farli had once walked. At the platform sat the many chairs and throne. Ziaxe could not see their faces yet, but he knew the same people as before would be in those seats. King Farli would be in the throne with his advisor and General Draton next to him. Alavar would join them soon. The Duke of Salras would also be there along with other noblemen. Ziaxe could not believe how he, a peasant, was about to be this close to people of such high statuses. It was overwhelming enough to have had the one conversation with Farli.

He eventually arrived at the stairs and climbed up the platform and could see the sea of people stretching out through the buildings. People stood everywhere, leaving barely a spot unfilled. Elders stared out from windows of nearby buildings. Children climbed on whatever they could find to get a view of the stage. He knew the king and other people of high status were now behind him, but he dared not turn to face them. Everything was draped in a blanket of silence that seemed impossible to escape.

Then Alavar was there with a hand on Ziaxe’s shoulder. It felt as if he was being filled with the energy he would need to get through this. “Attention, my fellow Sargenians!” announced Alavar’s powerful voice. “A new era has begun! An old king is dead; a new one has risen; a traitor brings war. And among all this chaos… a new Nizain has arrived!”

The murmurs in the crown began to slowly return, voices speaking out is disbelief and realization at what Alavar was speaking of.

Alavar walked forward on the platform, slightly ahead of Ziaxe. “Men and women of Light, I give you your new Nizain!” He gestured towards Ziaxe. “Nizain Ziaxe!”

The moment the words were spoken, the crowd erupted as if a wave was breaking upon an overwhelmed ship. People stormed forward in rage, but guards were there to keep them from getting to the platform. Screams of shock broke through the air as if there were people accepting a doomed fate. Infants and children cried in several places, and Ziaxe wouldn’t be surprised if some of the elderly died right then and there.

“Enough!”

The sudden voice broke through everything, silencing all. It was the first time Ziaxe had heard General Draton speak. The man stood from his seat beside King Farli, a mighty armored presence with broad shoulders and a stern face. “Let this Nizain show you the truth! Let him demonstrate the power given to him by Sarben.”

Draton’s eyes were hard as coal when Ziaxe made eye contact with him. This was what Javen was talking about. How would he show the Power of the Nizain? He had no idea if he could control it at all.

Through all the havoc around him, Ziaxe somehow felt the spefic eyes of Javen and Gurgan somewhere in this audience. He felt their faith in him. They had seen his potential and knew he could accomplish anything.

“Yes, go ahead, Nizain,” said a voice with a light hint of sarcasm. Ziaxe turned and saw that it was King Farli, sitting with his head resting on the palm of his right hand. He gave off a bored expression, clearly showing his irritation at the whole situation. “Summon your legendary weapons.”

Ziaxe looked at the other men on the platform and saw similar expressions urging him forward. He was shaking, but he hoped none of them would notice it.

Alavar appeared once more at his side, this time holding two swords. He got close enough to Ziaxe to the point where his white beard almost touched Ziaxe’s face. His back was to the crowd, giving Ziaxe a few moments without seeing the frenzy around him. “You can do this, Ziaxe,” he whispered. “This is the sword Kron got you, and this second sword is a gift from your father. Swords with special connections to the user should be easier to be manipulated into the Nizain weapons.”

“But I’ve only summoned Naz Zarak on accident before,” whispered Ziaxe back in a hoarse voice, hoping no one else could here.

“But you understand how to use both the Light and the Darkness. Remember what Javen has shown you. One blade of ultimate Darkness and the other one of Light to balance the night.”

The blades switched hands. Alavar moved away behind him. Ziaxe faced the crowd once more. He felt the familiar handle of the sword Kron got him back in Berania. It was the blade that he had summoned Naz Zarak, the shadow blade, with back before he even realized he was the Nizain. Maybe he could do it again even though the situations were completely different.

He looked at the other blade, a brighter iron blade and finer hilt compared to the cheap, damaged bronze blade of Kron’s gift. This new sword was completely foreign to him, but so was the concept of Naz Saren, the Sword of light. Maybe that meant it would work….

That was one maybe too many for him to be certain.

The audience waited in apprehension at the young boy, barely a man, who stood like a fool, staring at the swords in his hands. The frigid air brushed against Ziaxe’s face, the wind of a winter that was nearly midway through. He took a deep breath and began to concentrate.

Naz Zarak was his first thought as he stared at Kron’s sword. He thought of everything Javen had taught him. He focused on the Darkness he felt in his stomach and summoned it to do his bidding, willing it to give its support to the sword.

It came all too easily then. Darkness surrounded the sword in a sudden rush like a shroud of night enveloping it. The familiar strands of shadows swirled around the weapon like snakes chasing each other, and the purple lightning of Darkness shot in multiple directions around it. Ziaxe held it high above him now, both out of speechless amazement and overpowering fear. He saw the energy of the sword seem to influence the world around him as the sky darkened and became heavily clouded.

It was amazing. Such power that he couldn’t believe he possessed. He felt his body grow weary under the pressure the weapon brought, but a part of him, deep in his soul wanted to continue to wield it, to have it high for all to see, for all to worship.

He almost forgot entirely of the people around him until he heard the screams and gasps that came all around him. People were running all around the place, trying to escape through the crowd while some couldn’t seem to move at all. Guards were warily reaching for their weapons, and he heard the king, general, and others ready themselves to get to shelter.

Ziaxe realized the chaos he had wrought upon them all. They were expecting a savior, but he looked like a Vidian, a monster trying to corrupt all of the lands of Light.

He looked at the other sword and focused on the concept of Light he had learned from Javen. Light comes from the heart. It was so easy for the Sargens to control it because they tended to have a lighthearted disposition that made the Light willing to come to their aid.

But it was so hard for Ziaxe not to have a heavy heart with all that had been happening. And he was born a Vidian no matter what anyone else could say. A Vidian in a world of Light would always be an outcast.

But no…. He casted those thoughts away and thought of the things that made his heart happy. His friends, his reunion with his father, Venna….

The other sword seemed to twinkle for a second as if it was reflecting a strand of sunlight. And then, as Ziaxe felt his heartbeat slow at the relaxing image of Venna, the sword changed in a way he had never experienced before. The white fire of Light began to burn it like a branch catching fire. The fire soon surrounded the entire blade and hilt, but Ziaxe felt no pain of any kind. All he felt was a calming comfort never felt before.

The clouds in the sky slowly drifted away to let the sun return as Ziaxe lifted this new weapon alongside Naz Zarak. The audience was enveloped in a soothing silence as if this new weapon—even though it was just as powerful as the other—was the better one, the more reliable one. Ziaxe had summoned the Light to dispel the chaos of the Darkness. Everyone was in silent awe at the two weapons, high in the air, completely contrasting each other.

Ziaxe felt his energy continue to drain, and it snapped him out of the trance. He willed the energies to stop flowing into the weapons and let out a grunt as the weapons returned to normal.

This was what it meant to be the Nizain. This was the balance of Light and Darkness, even if only for a few moments. He represented the struggles of the world, a world with two major forces that never relented to the other.

As he focused on stopping his heart from pounding, a roar of cheers exploded from the audience. People all over were yelling excitedly, saying things like “Praise Sarben!” and “The Darkness will end!” They were pushing each other and dancing in the street. Some were crying; some were kissing; some were yelling joyful obscenities. But in the end, the one cheer rose up above all others.

“ALL HAIL NIZAIN ZIAXE!”

Nizain Ziaxe stood in shock and disbelief as he stood slightly hunched over with his swords looking like the heaviest weights in the world. He knew what this meant. His old life was officially over. So much for being a regular soldier in the Beranian Army; so much for living a life of exploration and harmless adventure around the world. Now he was the Nizain. He would always be in danger, and everyone would know his name wherever he went.

Professor Alavar’s hand appeared once more at Ziaxe’s shoulder, and Ziaxe looked up to see Alavar’s smile. “You did well, my boy,” he said.

Ziaxe couldn’t help but smile. Alavar began to lead him away back the way he had come. He saw the eyes of amazement, confusion, and suspicion in each King Farli, his advisor, General Draton, the Duke of Salras, and the other few noblemen on the platform. He wondered if he was the only peasant that they would ever know.

Then as he began walking down the steps, he looked back once more and saw familiar faces in the crowd. In the area that he had once watched Farli’s coronation, he saw his Salrasian friends watching in frozen amazement. Orlen shook his head with a small smile as if he thought he should have known Ziaxe was the Nizain. Sara had tears in her eyes as if Ziaxe’s performance was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

But then Ziaxe saw Sastan. The young Sargen’s usually big grin was replaced with a shocked face. It was a face that reminded him of King Broniton’s as the old man was stabbed in the back by Virok.

A face wrought with the betrayal of a friend. It was the image that stayed in his mind as he struggled to put one foot in front of the other while his body threatened to faint.

The time for waiting and hiding was at an end. Alavar had told King Farli of the recent events experienced by Ziaxe during his training. The news that Virok had begun attempts to recapture Ziaxe showed the seriousness of the situation. Something had to be done to defend the Ancient Kingdoms of Sarbenia against this invading army of Virok’s.

Later that afternoon, a messenger was sent to Ziaxe, asking him to join a council meeting that night to discuss the next step in the kingdom’s plan. When Ziaxe received the message, he sighed to himself as he realized being Nizain probably meant a lot of boring political meetings.

He was escorted from Javen’s cottage to the palace by Alavar and a guard of at least ten soldiers. While he went through Salras, he received new attentions that he never could have prepared for. There were children who shouted to each other as they saw him pass. Adults stopped whatever they were doing just to kneel until he passed. And women around his age were fawning over his existence as they shrieked in exhilaration at his passing.

It all made Ziaxe fairly uncomfortable, but he understood this would happen. It wouldn’t be the first time he realized the idea that power made anyone attractive. And few people in this world had more power than the Nizain.

He and his group arrived at the palace, and he was taken to a room he had never seen before. It was the council room where discussions were held on the state of the kingdom. The first thing Ziaxe noticed was the cacophony of sounds inside as multiple conversations and arguments were taking place. The room was large and circular with a ceiling that rose to the point where it was barely visible in the shadows cast by torches. The sides of the room formed a connected podium raised by about ten feet that had separated seating areas divided by railings. It looked like a mezzanine area that overlooked the floor below. In the center of the room there was nothing, but guards stood at different areas at the bottom of the podium.

At the entrance there were two staircases to Ziaxe’s left and right that led up to the podium, and he was led up the right one. He was led on a path that circled the seating areas until Alavar finally picked one of the empty areas.

Ziaxe saw that there were ten different areas with five rows of benches in each. There was enough room to fit perhaps twenty or so people if the people wanted to sit close enough together. Some sections were filled while other had little or no people, and a few were completely empty. Ziaxe saw some familiar faces such King Farli, his usual group, and even the Duke of Salras with his daughter Sara. There were also a lot of faces Ziaxe was sure he had never seen before. He took a seat in the front row of his section next to Alavar and his guards sat beside him and in the other rows. The many voices were still arguing while more people piled into the room and their sections. There must have been at least a hundred people, and it all made Ziaxe very anxious.

“SILENCE!”

The call for attention came from the Duke of Salras. The old grey bearded man stood in his section at the opposite end of the room. Ziaxe had never really examined him before, but as he did it now he noticed that even though the duke was said to be very elderly, he still had a strong body. It gave the duke an apparent attitude of refusing to give into the burdens of age. As all the eyes turned to see the duke, Ziaxe saw Sara roll her eyes. It seemed the Duke of Salras liked to draw attention to himself often.

“I would like to thank everyone for coming to this meeting of the High Council,” said the duke. “And I would like to welcome our guests. Welcome, Duke of Triontan—” He gestured to a thin young man with short, tidy black hair.

“Thank you for the invitation, my lord Rasalas Salrasa,” replied the man with a confident smirk that showed the man’s obvious charisma.

“And Duke of Draslo—” Another gesture was made to an older man who looked similar to the Duke of Salras, but had given into his aging.

The old man gave a weak smile and nodded as he leaned against a staff in his seat, looking as if he might fall asleep.

“Of course, I welcome King Farli Isonil who I have provided with rooming during these trying times.” He gestured to Farli, who nodded with a face carved from stone. The king wore the crown and held the scepter that Ziaxe remembered seeing Broniton with so long ago.

“And last, but definitely not least, our new Nizain, the Beranian Ziaxe!”

All of the eyes in the room suddenly turned to Ziaxe, and he started, being caught off guard. “Th-thank you, my lord,” he stammered in reply. Most of the eyes left Ziaxe, but some still lingered. Some of the new people were taking in their very first look at the new balancer of Light and Darkness. Ziaxe momentarily made eye contact with Sara, but he turned instantly because of the awkwardness he felt at the whole situation of lying to her and Sastan about who he was.

“Now, let us begin this council. We must discuss what Sargenia’s next move must be against this threat.”

“Excuse me, lord Salrasa!”

The interruption was caused by the young Duke of Triontan. He stood from his seat opposite of Ziaxe’s seating area. There were surprised and confused remarks in different areas of the room, but the men who sat next to the duke were grinning. Something about these people told Ziaxe that they were all egotistic men trying to look good to their betters.

“I would just like to say something to our new king.” The young man looked straight at where Farli sat next to the Duke of Salras. Farli showed no emotion. “I think I speak for the Duke of Draslo and the other dukes who could not make it to this meeting when I say that we are pleased to have a new healthy king on the throne. And we hope that we continue to show your Majesty our undying fealty to the crown.”

King Farli simply nodded and said, “I thank you, Duke of Triontan.” He showed no facial expression, but Ziaxe could tell that Farli was boiling on the inside with frustration.

The Duke of Triontan did not stop there though. He gave another grin. “And may I say this to the beautiful Duchess Sara Salrasa of Salras.”

Sara looked up in surprise from where she had obviously been gazing at the railing in front of her, distracted and uninterested.

“Legends speak of thy splendid smile, but they do not do thou justice. Thy beauty triumphs over all even the glorious sunrise of Sarben.”

Sara’s face was as red as a brick which gave it a humorous look as it was outlined by her long golden hair. She made a pathetic attempt at a smile and nod of congratulations while she most likely just wanted to hide her face from the world.

Ziaxe couldn’t help but almost burst out laughing while the rest of the council stayed silent, ready for this unnecessary business to be over with. He thought about how Sastan would have greatly enjoyed seeing this if he didn’t get jealous first. His worries dissipated for a moment as he realized that being announced as the Nizain wasn’t anywhere as embarrassing as this.

The Duke of Triontan sat down and talked with his companions as if he had just accomplished some momentous task. Sara’s father had a wry face as he nudged Sara with his elbow in a playful manner, and she looked away from him, trying in vain to hide her blushing face. Even royal adolescents are harassed by joking fathers, Ziaxe supposed.

“Enough of this silliness!” Alavar had suddenly stood up beside Ziaxe and addressed the council. Ziaxe instantly disguised the mirth he had been feeling with a mask of seriousness, but it was a difficult effort. “We must get on with our plans! Virok could be on the move as we speak!”

Everything became silent in a melancholy hush as if the words had sucked whatever life and enjoyment there was in the room.

“It is time, my comrades, to ready the Army of Light. We must do what we did for the Vician War and fight this rising Army of Darkness head on!”

There were murmurs of agreement all around the room. At least everyone in the room understood the gravity of the situation. Even the Duke of Triontan took on a face as stern as Farli’s.

“Scouts have reported that Virok’s army has already left Berania and begun traveling to Zaria where it is believed he will strike first. I propose we take the majority of our soldiers here in Sargenia to stop this invasion as soon as possible. I have already informed King Farli on this matter, and messengers have been sent north with promises of assistance if they provide us with support in our Army of Light.”

Ziaxe was slightly surprised at Alavar’s authority in all these decisions he had already made. Alavar was truly more than just a professor of peasants. There were dubious and angry looks all around, but no one seemed to think of challenging Alavar. This plan of his did seem logical, and it would be hard to make a good argument against it.

“The only trouble here would be gaining the Zarians trust and support in this. We all know that none of the Ancient Kingdoms desire to go to war while the Vician War is still in our minds, but we have no choice. Our kingdoms must act as one in this.”

“The Zarians have always been brutes!” yelled the Duke of Triontan as if he was unable to go a few minutes without attention. “They will have no problem going to war. They pride themselves in their ‘legendary knights,’ you know.”

There were shouts of agreements at that from various noblemen and officers around the room.

“But consider this, young one,” said Duke Rasalas Salrasa of Salras. He wore a solemn face now that contrasted the grin he wore shortly before. “Zaria was rampaged the worst during the war. Some of their cities are still in reconstruction. They may take pride in war, but they may not have as much resources as us who still had a few cities that survived Vician’s attacks.”

“I agree with Rasalas,” said the weak voice of the Duke of Draslo. “We need a strong authority to call them to our side. It would be reasonable if our king’s power would be enough to make them follow us, but I am afraid that alone won’t work.” He turned his head slowly towards Alavar. “But I’m sure you already have taken that into account.”

Alavar closed his eyes with a smile and nodded slightly. “My fellow Sargenians, I believe that in order to defeat this Army of Darkness, the Ancient Kingdoms of Sarbenia must be reunited as one.”

The room erupted with shouts of outrage. King Farli stood up for the first time, and his face was a visage of burning fury. “What do you mean, Alavar!?” he shouted, silencing everyone. “We have all changed too much. The Zarian throne has become too tainted; the Ravillan throne may as well not exist without an heir! We can never learn to be one kingdom with them.”

“Farli, we must think about this as a possibility if we want to win this war. Look, the Nizain has returned.” Alavar gestured to Ziaxe, and Ziaxe started once again at being unexpectedly drawn into a conversation. “Sarben is on our side. He has given us this new Nizain to be a symbol, to be the hope that our army needs to someday find peace. I propose the Nizain goes along with our army to help create the Army of Light.”

King Farli frowned, and his eyes narrowed. He relented though and sat down while shaking his head slowly. “Carry on,” he said simply.

Ziaxe felt the anger inside the king pointed at him. It wasn’t his fault though. He didn’t know he would be elected for a new quest like this. A part of him hoped he wouldn’t have to go on a long journey for at least a few more weeks. He hoped he would have been able to live a normal life again for the remaining weeks of winter.

“Is there any opposition to this plan?” asked Alavar, his voice showing a little impatience.

Silence returned.

“Good. Now, by Sarben’s Light, we can get something done here.” He took a deep breath. “The Nizain will travel north with the soldiers we send. He will need people to accompany him to help keep him safe against whatever dangers he may face on this journey. We must decide on a small group to keep him safe and to keep him sane under the pressure we are putting on him. I elect myself to be the first of this group.”

No one raised any objections, and everyone seemed to consider this proposition.

Then a strong voice that Ziaxe had heard only once before spoke. “I volunteer!”

Everyone turned in their seats to General Draton. The mighty warrior stood next to King Farli. He wore his full armor with the golden Sargenian sun engraved on his chestplate. There was no helm on his head, so all could see his cleanshaven face and short, shaved dark hair. Ziaxe was shocked at this declaration, and Farli didn’t seem to like it either.

“I will be leading the army north anyways,” continued General Draton. “I will assign some of my best men to also watch out for the Nizain. I will be honored to take up this duty alongside my duties with the army.”

“What do you say, Farli?” asked Alavar.

King Farli was trying to hide him fuming outrage, but Ziaxe could see past his acts. He noticed again also that Alavar was the only one who called Farli by his name and not his title. Their arguments looked like a father scolding a child. Could Alavar really have an authority this much higher than a king?

“General Draton would be the most reliable one of this group most likely,” said Farli with a scowl, “so I will allow it. But I want him ready to lead the army when the time arrives.”

“Of course, your Majesty,” said Draton with a bow, and he sank back into his seat beside his king.

“Well isn’t this interesting,” said Duke Rasalas. “I never thought I would live to see such legendary event occur. We are choosing guardians for this new, young Nizain for a voyage to protect the Kingdoms of Light from the Darkness. It’s simply amazing. I suggest a representative of Salras should go along to bring glory and honor to the Salrasa family.”

“My lord,” said Alavar, “I’m not sure if that is really the wisest decision. You would be bringing this representative into a battlefield.”

“No, no, it’s perfect, Alavar!” The duke gave a broad, joyful smile. “I volunteer my daughter, Sara Salrasa!”

Ziaxe watched as Sara jumped in her seat almost enough to fall forward down to the floor several feet below. “Father!”

“It is fine, my daughter, you will go and represent the power of Salras to Zaria. Those Zarians will definitely join our cause if it means protecting you.”

The duke’s logic seemed flawed, but Ziaxe felt a little relieved at the idea of a friend joining him even if it was someone he only met once before. Sara looked unsure and slightly terrified though, and Ziaxe didn’t like the idea of being responsible for her fear.

“Well this is a good start,” said Alavar, clearly oblivious to Sara’s unwillingness. “That’s three right now. Would any of the other dukes like to send a representative?”

“I will be leading my men north,” said the old Duke of Draslo, “but I believe I am too past my prime to take on a mission of this importance. Perhaps the Duke of Triontan would accompany you?”

All the heads turned to the Duke of Triontan, and for a moment Ziaxe was sure everyone saw the glimmer of fear in his eyes. The man lost his appearance of confidence at the idea of being included in something that was actually dangerous. All the talk he made to the king was all a façade. Ziaxe usually admitted whenever he was afraid, so seeing a person deny this primal instinct made him sick. He tried to regain his composure, but Ziaxe saw past it all.

“I’m sorry, my lord,” he said, “but I have important pieces of business to take care of back in Triontan. I will be sending my men north under my generals.”

Alavar didn’t push the topic on him. “Anyone else?”

“My friend and I will.”

The voice came behind Ziaxe. He turned his head and saw two hooded figures on the path that circled the podiums. One was the height and figure of a regular man while the other was shorter and hunched over. Ziaxe couldn’t believe they were here.

Javen pulled back his hood and stood strong and confident for the world to see. It must have been the first time he showed his non-bearded face publically in a long time. Ziaxe knew then and there that Javen was truly back and ready to put his past behind him. “We will join the Nizain Guardians.”

Confusion and indignation were in the conversations around the room now.

“Who are these two, Alavar?” demanded Farli, his eyes wary as if he was a step away from calling the guards to attack.

“These two are friends,” replied Alavar with a smile. “Javen and Gurgan, the next two members of our group here. I trust them with my life to protect the Nizain.”

Everyone seemed to accept Alavar’s judgement.

“Is five a good enough start for your guardians, Nizain Ziaxe?” asked King Farli with a slightly mocking tone.

Ziaxe was actually feeling content for the first time in a long while. He knew he was starting another dangerous adventure, but this time he felt prepared. Alavar, General Draton, Duchess Sara, Javen, and Gurgan. They were all reliable companions who he was sure he could work well with. It was way better than travelling alone like he was forced to do when he left Berania.

“Yes, your Majesty,” he replied. “This should be fine.”

“Good,” said the king, slightly sarcastic, enough for Ziaxe to notice, but not enough for the others to see. “I will be travelling with the army as well to help with these negotiations.”

He stood. “I think that is a good end to these tedious talks. Let us all go out into the world, fight Vidians, and may Sarben have mercy on our souls.”


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