Pathway to Sydara: Guardian of the Gate

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XXIII

There was no hesitation in starting the first journey of the Nizain and his Guardians. The very next day began with soldiers readying themselves for travel, and supply trains being formed. Ziaxe never left Alavar or Javen’s side during all the disorder. He was amazed at all the people and all the jobs being done that he could barely focus on his own jobs with packing and other duties. The number of soldiers went over a few thousand as this included men from Salras, Draslo, Triontan, and various other villages nearby. Ziaxe felt some positivity inside as he considered the chances that their army might be just as big if not bigger than Virok’s.

He and his specified Guardians were given horses as well as others like King Farli, his advisor, and other generals and captains. It surprised him to get special treatment like this when at one time he was about to be one of the many faceless, marching soldiers.

As soldier contingents began heading north, ahead of the group Ziaxe was going with, he saw Sara packing the saddlebags on her horse. Her horse had a chestnut coat while Ziaxe’s had a bay one. She appeared exasperated as she hurriedly packed, and Ziaxe couldn’t help feel like he was the reason for this anger.

“So you’re the Nizain, eh?” said Sara as she continued to pack the bags. “Sastan introduces you to me once, and next thing I know I’m off on some crazy adventure.”

“I’m sorry,” replied Ziaxe, hesitant on what he should say.

She sighed. “I suppose I shouldn’t complain. I have always wanted to get out of that palace whenever I could. But I didn’t expect to go to this foreign country so soon and during these troubling times.”

She turned to Ziaxe. “I’m sure you understand this feeling though if the stories about you are true. The feeling of being suddenly uprooted and displaced without much of a warning; it’s not that enjoyable.”

Ziaxe nodded. “No one could ever get completely used to it though.”

Sara finished her packing. “All these surprises I’ve had in the last twenty-four hours are what is really getting to me though. I’m sorry to say, Ziaxe, but I didn’t ever consider the idea that you were the Nizain.”

“It’s fine. I didn’t ever consider that idea either until it happened.”

Then, without warning, a familiar, irritating character wedged himself into their conversation. “Hail thee, O beautiful Duchess of Salras,” said the Duke of Triontan as he approached them, his voice sounding like a priest reading from the Book of Sarben.

Ziaxe heard Sara make a stifled groan.

“I came to bid thee a farewell, O angel of Light.” The duke genuflected before Sara, his head lowered as if Sara’s beauty was too much for him to handle. “It is such a tragedy that you must go on this perilous journey for the sake of your family honor, but know this, sweet one, my heart goes out to you. I shall pray for thy safety every night and day while you are gone.”

The duke’s speech was so exaggerated and sentimental that Ziaxe was about to mimic gagging when the duke lifted his head again. “And you, of course, Nizain Ziaxe,” he continued. “But I already have faith enough in your abilities for this journey.”

Ziaxe was glad that the duke did not go to such extreme measures to suck up to him as he did to Sara and King Farli.

The duke stood up again and extended his hand in greeting to Sara. “Call me Loran, my Lady,” he said with a grin. “I will always be at your service.”

Sara hesitantly let the duke take her hand and kiss it. “Okay,” was all she could say as she struggled to not let her face give away her uncomfortable feelings.

Another surprise appeared behind the Duke Loran of Triontan. Two surprises actually, as in two friends that Ziaxe smiled instantly upon seeing.

“Excuse me, friend, but I hope you’re not disturbing our wonderful duchess.”

Loran raised an eyebrow and turned to see Sastan standing only a few feet behind him with Orlen the lumberjack by his side. Both of them carried sacks with supplies. “What do you want, you peasants?”

Sastan gave a disarming grin. “Now wait a second, friend, I think Orlen and I have a respectable business in town, so we’re not really ‘peasants’ per say.”

“I agree,” piped in Orlen, his deep voice seeming to rumble almost harmonically with Sastan’s as he stood beside the Sargen.

“Silence, you fool,” growled Loran. “I am having an important conversation with our duchess and Nizain. Can’t you tell when you’re not wanted?”

“I was about to ask the same thing,” replied Sastan.

They were silent for a moment, but then the duke scoffed. “I’m so sorry for the intrusion of these peasants, my Lady. I shall return momentarily with guards to take care of this scum.” He then marched off like a defeated child.

Sastan grinned at Sara who looked shocked with wide eyes. “Sastan!” she yelled. “He could have you put in the dungeons!”

Both Sastan and Orlen walked over by the horses and put down their packs. “Then it’s a good thing we’re coming along with the army and trading our freedom for this Nizain Guardians gig.”

“What?!” Sara’s voice was afraid, but her face had an approaching smile.

“Everyone in the city has heard the news of what that meeting was about already, and if you think I’m just gonna stay here while you two go have an adventure, you’re mad.”

Ziaxe stood back in wide-eyed amazement. He watched as the Sargen and his lumberjack caretaker began to rummage through their packs as if there was no room for arguments at all. He smiled as he realized how close the two were. Orlen was a protector who gave Sastan the freedom to make decisions as impulsive as this and then went along with them because he would never let Sastan go into danger alone.

Ziaxe and Sastan finally made eye contact. The familiar boy-like face had a strange sense of seriousness when their eyes met, a sudden shift to the lightheartedness that was shown only moments ago. Ziaxe remembered that look of betrayal Sastan had shown yesterday….

“Sastan,” started Ziaxe, thinking about what to say, “are you sure about this?”

Sastan’s face stayed sober. “I don’t have much of a choice though, do I? You’re a friend, and I can’t let a friend go without my protection. Orlen feels the same way. And remember what that Treeman Seer guy said? He said we need to stay together ‘cause blah blah blah and something about fate.’ So we’re staying with you.”

Silence ensued for a few moments as Ziaxe could only reply with a nod.

Sastan turned back to scavange through his packs, either looking for something or avoiding the silence.

“I’m sorry,” said Ziaxe.

The other slowly turned from the pack.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I was the Nizain. I’m sorry I didn’t tell any of you. You wouldn’t believe everything that’s happened since I first got the Power. I didn’t know who I could or couldn’t trust.”

Sastan stood up and walked deliberately to Ziaxe even before he was finished talking. He extended his hand. Ziaxe looked down at the hand and then back at Sastan’s eyes. “We’re friends, right?” asked Sastan, his face a mystery.

Ziaxe could only nod.

“Then I don’t care if you’re a Sargen, a Vidian, a Harvoren, or a Demon. You’re my friend, so I will be yours. That is the only rule I have ever followed.”

A smile broke into Ziaxe’s face as he felt his soul warm with joy. He clasped Sastan’s hand as the Sargen returned his face to his normal broad smile.

And just like that, the Nizain Guardians had two more members.

The journey began soon after, the Nizain and his Guardians following the rest of the Sargenian Army. Ziaxe had a pack tied to his horse that held clothes, supplies, and the weapons of his two swords and bow and arrows. He wore light leather armor while his chainmail was packed away for the battles to come.

They went forth, surrounded by their section of the traveling army. Ziaxe rode his horse alongside Javen, Sara, Sastan, and Orlen. Gurgan was the only Guardian without a horse because any horse he would attempt to approach would get nervous, back away, and refuse to let the Vidian ride it. He walked alone a short distance from the army, acting as an unofficial scout. General Draton rode at the head of the army with Alavar by his side. Everything was silent as no one wished to speak of what they were heading towards.

The first day drew to an end uneventfully after several miles had been walked. Camps were set up, and supper was prepared for the soldiers.

Ziaxe and his companions—except for Gurgan who continued to be alone—shared a campfire as they ate bread, cheese, and some of the venison that was hunted while on the march. He looked around at this odd assortment of people he had found himself with. It shocked him how each of these seven had for one reason or another devoted themselves to him and his cause as Nizain. He hoped they would never regret their choice; he hoped he would never disappoint them.

The meal was silent and tense as the strangers were divided in their own groups. Sastan chatted cheerfully away with Sara and Orlen, Draton and Alavar sat at the other side of the fire in silence except for small exchanges of dialogue about the business of their journey. Ziaxe sat next to his father in silence, each bite of his food hesitant with the fear he was uncertainty he was facing already. His Guardians would need to be more comfortable with each other if they were expected to go to war together.

After the meal, the separate groups dispersed and Javen told Ziaxe they should all get some rest. Ziaxe walked to where his tent was set up, one in a sea of hundreds of others. He looked out into the night at the surrounding landscape. His vision was limited to the outskirts of the torches, but he knew what was out there. He had the same sense of freedom he had on the night he escaped Berania. All that open space with no walls to stop him.

But he also knew the dangers out there. Another army marching a similar path, an anticipated cataclysm at the end of their journies.

Would he be ready? Only the gods could tell.

He was still several feet from his tent when General Draton intercepted him. “Hail, my Lord Nizain.”

The general was big and tall in front of Ziaxe, a warrior who always looked ready for battle. “I wish to apologize for my past behavior, my Nizain,” he said, bending down on one knee and bowing his head. “It was foolish of me to question your might and power in front of the people of Salras. But now that I have seen the Power of the Nizain in person, I know you are the worthy of my undying loyalty.”

Ziaxe remembered standing in front of all of Salras. He remembered the sweat beading down his neck, the shaking of his knees, and the unsettled feeling in his stomach. Draton had not made it any easier on him when he questioned if he was actually the Nizain. “It is fine, General,” he replied, struggling to find the right words. “I am just glad to have you as one of my Guardians.”

General Draton’s stern, solid face turned upwards. “I promise to never disappoint you as long as I breathe. I will protect you from all enemies that seek to threaten you—” His head turned to the right and with that turn his tone darkened. “—and even any companions if it must come to that.”

Ziaxe followed Draton’s gaze to where Javen could be seen sitting outside of his tent examining the stars in the sky. He was instantly offended by this remark, but a combination of his exhaustion from the day’s ride and his reluctance to create any arguments caused him to nod his head in agreement.

“Sleep well, my Lord Nizain,” said Draton as he stood and departed for his own tent.

After that conversation, Ziaxe realized just how tired he was as he continued for his tent, his eyes beginning to droop and his muscles feeling sore. He was almost to the tent when Orlen stopped him. “Ziaxe, do you have a minute?”

The lumberjack was sitting on a box of supplies carving a miniature wooden sculpture of what looked like a person. He seemed just as big as Draton now that Ziaxe thought about it. The only main differences in the two were their faces and the way they carried themselves. Orlen seemed to walk with less power and confidence while Draton’s march demanded attention and order.

Ziaxe was getting slightly edgy, but he was not one to ignore a friend. “What is it, Orlen?” he asked.

“I was hoping to discuss something with you quickly,” replied Orlen, his eyes on his carving. “It is about those Javen and Gurgan fellows.”

Ziaxe almost let out an agitated sigh, but he resisted. “They are friends, Orlen. They can be trusted.”

“I accept your faith in them, but I just would feel better if I understood their place in all this.” He looked up from his sculpture. “I don’t think the others see this—well Alavar probably does—but I do recognize Javen. I know he is Naje, the hermit who was always seen messing around with the Darkness.”

“His name is Javen. He is looking for redemption for his past.” Ziaxe should have known that Orlen would know Javen’s secrets. Sastan probably did too. A clean shave and personality change was not enough to make Javen a whole new person to the people who have vaguely known him their whole lives.

“I do see that, and I believe that every man can have a second chance.” Orlen stood up and sheathed the knife he was carving with. He moved to Ziaxe, leaving only a few inches between them. “But remember who we are going to war with. I just hope these Vidians don’t get cold feet when they need to kill their own.”

Orlen walked away, leaving Ziaxe in the hush of the night to ponder the words. Ziaxe trusted Javen and Gurgan with his life. Why shouldn’t he? The two had saved him in the Treemen Forest. They had almost killed Gilart, but the monster of a man escaped at the last minute.

But he also had to wonder. Javen had told him his life story, his experiences in the Vician War and beyond. Would Javen be able to confront Virok and kill him if needed? He had attempted before and failed, but if given a better chance would he indeed finish the act?

Ziaxe thought of Kron. Javen’s past friendship with Virok reminded him of his friendship with Kron. One always seemed better than the other while the other almost lived in their shadows. One was stronger, smarter, just better at everything. Ziaxe could not imagine what it would be like if he had to fight Kron. He could not even imagine winning.

He walked through the entrance flap of his tent and fell asleep. A nightmare soon found him. He was alone in a place he did not recognize, a cave of some sort with a ceiling that rose into shadows. Stalagmites rose from the ground around him like teeth in the mouth of a giant beast. He walked on cold stone and could see only a few feet in all directions as he seemed to give off Light like a lantern.

Then suddenly ahead of him appeared a Light. It rose excitement inside him and he began to move quickly towards it until he was sprinting. But the Light never seemd to get any closer or farther away. Nothing changed around him as if he was standing still even though he was running.

Then there was a growl, a shocking voice of a creature intent on bringing harm. It sounded like the growl of a hungry wolf that was moments away from pouncing on its prey. Ziaxe turned around and saw a shadow approaching, a creature formed of Darkness and Darkness alone. It had red eyes, but the rest of its body was undefined, no appendages, no face.

Ziaxe felt hopeless as the Darkness approached slowly while he could not move at all. He let out a voiceless scream, but that could not stop the monster. It was only about a foot from him when he saw its face appear.

The beast of Darkness enveloped Ziaxe entirely with no effort at all. How could Ziaxe hope to fight it? It was stronger than him; it was better than him. It had the face of the one he could never hope to beat.

Kron.

The next day their riding continued. Long hours passed as they rode north. And soon it became routine to ride for several hours each day, eat, sleep, ride, eat, sleep. Their army grew with the men that arrived from other cities in the kingdom, following their new king’s call to arms.

Nearly a week passed when General Draton announced that they had finally entered Zaria. The plains between Salras and Zaria had been dull and bleak with the snow melting over dead grass. There had only been a few small hamlets along the way mostly created by merchants who made the village’s income by selling to travellers.

The land began to grow hillier as they travelled. It was common knowledge that the northern land of Zaria was known for its hilly and unsteady landscape. Ziaxe soon noticed also that even though the snow had ceased the air still gave frigid blows since the north was usually always cold.

It was a day after they crossed the Zarian border when the army ran into trouble. Ziaxe was riding his horse beside Sastan and Sara when a scout returned from the west and reported what he saw to General Draton. Draton soon repeated the news to all around him, and the news traveled around to all of the soldiers. It seemed that there was a small group of what must be people approaching them. The group ranged from at least fifty to one hundred figures. The scout dared not get too close if they were enemy soldiers.

“But there’s something strange about them,” said the soldier nearby Ziaxe who was passing on the news. “Rumors are already being spread, but I hear that this group may not be human at all. Not even enemy Vidians, but some strange creatures.”

Ziaxe didn’t know what to believe, but he knew they would soon find out.

The army stopped for lunch as Draton ordered for them to stand their ground and see what was approaching. Everyone felt the tension in the air as the possibility of this new army’s first battle became apparent. Their army had enough men to handle a threat of less than one hundred soldiers if the need arose.

A hill rose to the west blocking out the distance past a quarter mile away, so all eyes were focused on this hill as the soldiers ate, looking for anything that would reveal a threat. General Draton arrived to where Ziaxe and the other Guardians were eating their meal. “I am here for you, my Lord Nizain,” he said with a nod, and he turned to face the western hill.

Ziaxe looked around at his companions, some more anxious than others. Sastan wore his solemn face that made him look like a different person while he held his sheathed sword in one hand and ate with another. Sara had eyes that were struggling to hide fear with determination. Orlen sharped his ax with a whetstone. Alavar ate with the least hesitancy as if he had been in situations like this before. Javen looked off to the west, ready to begin his journey for redemption while Gurgan was off somewhere away from them probably readying himself for attack the instant any danger begins.

Long silent moments passed until something appeared at the edge of the hill. Ziaxe squinted, but he could not make out what it was. He saw human-like figures, but he also saw other things. He saw the gleam of metal, the jaws of wild predator animals, and some figures with seemingly extra arms.

Then a shout arose among the army. “DEMONS!”

A rush of activity overtook the army. Ziaxe was dazed by all of the soldiers around him running around, gathering their weapons, and heading to the hill. His companions were also overcome by the chaos, bemused and staring in confusion at the hustle around them. Javen and Alavar were ready though; they both headed along with the others to where Draton was barking orders.

“FORM UP!” he shouted, and at least one hundred soldiers created rows in front of him. Other groups of soldiers were imitating this up and down the length of the army. “We do not know why these beasts are here this far from their native land, but we know what will become of them! Go forth in Sarben’s Light, and CHARGE!”

The men followed his command and ran to the hill, a cacophony of iron clad men bearing the golden sun sigil of Sargenia on their soldiers. Ziaxe saw past them and saw the enemy charging down the hill, a herd stampeding with no sensible order. He began to see them more clearly now. They were the Demons of Alavar’s stories. They brandished swords and axes as well as claws and fangs. Each Demon was different. Some had heads the same as wolves, some had green hair all over their bodies, some had more than two arms or legs. They were the most hideous things Ziaxe had ever seen, and they were charging straight for him.

The two forces instantly clashed, filling the air with the clash of steel and the screams and groans of battle. Both men and Demon were being struck down, but the number of men still outnumbered their enemies. The different sections of the army enveloped around the Demons like a giant jaw squeezing down on its prey.

It all seemed to be almost over until a few of the Demons broke through sections of the men despite the injuries they were sustaining. They charged through like creatures that felt no pain or did not have sense enough to acknowledge the pain. Ziaxe reached for the hilt of one of the two swords strapped to his back while his companions readied their weapons. Even Sara brandished a dagger even though as far as Ziaxe knew she was ignorant in battle.

Despite his preparation, he felt that he was too slow in his reactions. Five Demons were almost on them, and Ziaxe felt useless.

Then a sudden gust of wind blew past him and slashed down one of the Demons before Ziaxe’s sword was even unsheathed. It was Gurgan, his humped figure and face shrouded in his cloak and two daggers now bloodied. The other Demons continued their charge, but other swords sliced them down as General Draton and Javen appeared as well.

It was over almost as soon as it began. Over a hundred of the disfigured Demon corpses littered the field. Ziaxe felt as if a giant bolder was lifted off his shoulder now that the threat had passed. He looked at the others. Sastan, Sara, and Orlen were just as inexperienced in battle as he was as they looked around in astonishment. It’s really over, he thought, and I did nothing. The thought made him feel pathetically useless.

Ziaxe realized with a start that Alavar was beside him. “It appears these Gramlins notice the approaching storm and wish to gain something from it,” said the professor.

“Gramlins?” said Ziaxe.

“Yes, Ziaxe. Don’t you remember your lessons? Gramlins are the most simplistic form of Demons. When a Witch or Warlock summons a Demon, it takes a certain amount of energy depending on how powerful they wish the Demon to be. Most of them play it safe and summon these stupid beasts, so as not to exert themselves. Once the Gramlins are in existence they will continue to roam the world unless their creators do something to stop them.” He walked over to one of the corpses and knelt to examine it closely. “It is strange to see them form a group like this, but if they share a common goal it can happen I suppose.”

“What goal is that?” asked Sastan, his eyes wide and curious.

Alavar looked up from the corpse and looked off to where medics were running to the aid of the injured soldiers. “It could be anything from land or just power. No one can say for certain how a Demon thinks. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were aiming to take over a city or two while we’re away.”

King Farli rode up to them on his mighty white destrier. “Well look at this! It’s nice to see that the Nizain is perfectly safe while my army just suffered its first loses.” His voice was layered heavily with sarcasm and irritation.

He was right though, Ziaxe knew as he looked around the battlefield. He soon learned that there were at least ten casualties and several more injuries. It may seem like a small price to pay for the death of this many Demons, but Ziaxe felt the guilt nonetheless.

This was just the beginning though. How could he bare the guilt of more and more deaths as the battles continued? He was already feeling like he should have been one of the ones to die. If he had been on the front lines like any other normal soldier he would have died instantly. He was painfully aware of how he was not ready for battle. Despite the training he had undergone, nothing could prepare him for the reality of it all. Nothing could prepare him for the dread one felt when being charged at by an enemy with a weapon.

There was nothing to be done though. Less than an hour had passed when King Farli and his generals had reorganized their army and returned to their march.

It was near the end of a month from their initial departure when they arrived to Rillen the capital of Zaria. The army had passed through small cities, but none of them compared to the majesty of Rillen. It was built on the hilly landscape, and different parts of the city alternated from short plains to on top of a hill. The main section of the city that included houses, marketplaces, and the other entertainments of the regular citizens was on the lower end of the city facing the west. A castle just as massive and intimidating as the Beranian Castle stood on top of a hill that rose behind the main section. The castle stood tall above all of the surrounding areas like a god watching over its creations.

Ziaxe was not the only one amazed at this view. The soldiers around him along with Sastan, Sara, and Orlen struggled to keep their eyes off the strong stone buildings that seemed to rise up from the hills. A series of stone walls rose around the different sections of the city, and the army approached a western gate that entered into the main section of the city. The main bulk of the army stayed outside of the walls while Ziaxe, his Guardian except for Gurgan, King Farli with his noblemen, and a group of soldiers entered on the mission to meet with the Zarian King.

Once they passed through the gate there were cheers of excitement from the thousands of cititizens that crowded the sides of the street they walked. Ziaxe felt all the eyes on him as he rode his horse amidst his Guardians with the banner of the Sargenian sun raised around them. He knew that there were most likely critiques among the cheers, but he tried his best to ride with ease and confidence. He had to be the hero they needed.

The streets winded in different directions, but no matter where they went, there was always at least some citizens to be seen yelling to the new Nizain and the others. Their path went between large streets with plenty of room to narrow passageways with the buildings blocking out the sun. All the while, the land gave a slight incline as they approached the castle.

When they arrived at the gates to the castle, Ziaxe felt like an ant in its presence. It reminded him of both good and bad memories that the Beranian Castle brought upon him. By the gate were the famed Zarian Knights. They wore full suits of iron plated armor that brightly reflected the sunlight. On each massive breastplate was engraved the sigil of Zaria, the letter “Z.” As the gate was opened the many knights lined a path for the visitors and each kneeled and bowed their heads.

Ziaxe and the others dismounted their horses and began their walk inside. They entered a large entrance corridor that went to a pair of doors at the far end. When they grew closer to the doors, Ziaxe saw people waiting for them. There was a plump man with a jolly smile on his flabby face in bright fine clothing with a crown upon his head. Next to him was a young woman with a small, shy smile curtained by long, straight brown hair. Other knights and noblemen stood behind these two.

“Hail thee, O cousins of Sargenia!” greeted the large man. “Welcome to our beautiful kingdom of Zaria. I hope your voyage was not too troublesome.”

“Not at all, your Majesty, King Nari,” responded Alavar, stepping forward, taking the initiative, and going down on one knee. “I am pleased to be at your service once more.” He looked to the woman. “And it is nice to see you once again, your Grace, Princess Melna.”

The woman gave a nod, but otherwise stayed silent behind her soft smile.

King Nari made a wry face. His second chin moved with his facial movement as if every move he made invoked movement from his fat. “Rise, Alavar. You and your companions are always welcome here.”

Alavar rose, and introductions began. King Farli of Sargenia walked forward and repeated Alavar’s process.

“I mourn your father’s untimely leave, your Majesty,” said Nari after Farli’s greeting, “but it lightens my heart to see a young king take the throne. Great Sarben deigned to give me no sons during my wife’s time, but I was given my beautiful daughter.” He gave a warm smile to Melna, and she smiled back.

Next came General Draton. Then Sara intoduced as the Duchess of Salras, the Duke of Draslo, Sastan, Orlen, and Javen.

Ziaxe’s turn came then, and he felt the same apprehension as the others must have felt. He hesitantly stepped forward, remembering when he revealed himself to the people of Salras and all that had come of that. “So this is our new Nizain?” said the King of Zaria as Ziaxe approached. He gave a small smile and stepped forward as well. When Ziaxe stopped, the king went down on one knee, his large body struggling with his weight. “I can see it in your eyes, young one. You are the new Nizain Ziaxe. I can just see the energy and potential within you.”

The praise made Ziaxe uncomfortable because he didn’t even understand the power he held completely. Once again he was viewed as someone as powerful as a god, and he felt all the responsibility that accompanied that. “It is an honor to meet you, your Majesty,” he said, the only words he could think to say. He turned to the princess and said, “And you as well, your Grace.”

Princess Melna smiled her silent, shy smile and nodded. Her father pushed up from his knee in an attempt to stand back up. Two of the Zarian Knights standing by approached to help if they were needed, but after an awkward minute of the large man grunting and sweating, he was back on his feet. “Now that those formalities are over,” said King Nari as he huffed for air, “let us begin more serious matters.”

They were led into the next room which was a circular room with many passageways leading to the various places of the castle. As they walked, Alavar informed King Nari of the details that have happened over the last few months, elaborating on the common knowledge of Virok’s betrayal and raising of an army.

“Yes, Alavar,” said Nari after Alavar finished, “Scouts have reported everything. It is a troubling time. They have seen the Yasson Harvoren banner as well as the Dremun and hordes of Zauk-souls. Virok may have the force of all of the Harvoren Empire behind him as long as a Yasson sits on the throne.”

“I understand, your Majesty,” replied Alavar, “but we have a sizable force here right now along with your men. Where have your scouts last reported the enemy’s position?”

“If all went well, the latest group should return today with an update.”

Even as the words were spoken, the doors they had walked through slammed open. “Your Majesty!”

Everyone turned to the lone man who stood out of breath in ragged and torn clothing. He looked as if he had just barely survived a tangle with a bear with various pieces of armor missing as if they were broken off and clothing that must have been forcibly ripped off. “The enemy! The Vidians... the Dremuns… all of Virok’s damn men….” He bent over, gasping for air.

“On with it, boy!” yelled King Nari, his voice and face showing his concern.

“I ran all through the day and night to reach you…. They killed all my comrades…. They’re here! They’re in Zaria! Kirot is lost!”


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