In the northern landscape of Zaria, in the cold air and dry grass, on a plain between two groves of pine trees, a small deer grazed in the silence of midday. Nothing existed to the animal except for the grass and the steady beating of its heart.
The deer lifted its head, its ears peeking upwards, searching for the sound. Was there danger nearby? Somewhere in the trees? A few moments passed with silence, and the animal returned to its grazing.
A slim stream of purple lightning surged through the deer’s heart, killing it instantly before it could raise its head again.
Kron stepped out from the shadows of the trees to claim his prey. He returned his right hand to the warmth of the leather gloves he had taken from the wagon Bellara had made them hide in to escape Berania. Smoke rose from the finger he had launched the bolt of Darkness with. He shook his head at the disgust he fell towards this energy inside him, but he could not deny its usefulness. He lugged the deer over his shoulders and returned to the trees.
The old Witch Bellara still sat by the fire in the middle of a clearing, curled up in a fur cloak, another commodity found among the wagon supplies. Venna still lay unconscious in wagon, and the hooded figure of Viona sat alone away from the fire at the edge of the clearing at the base of a tree. What a warm welcome for the guy bringing them food, thought Kron bitterly.
He dropped the deer beside the fire. “Did you have any trouble?” asked Bellara, her eyes staring at the fire.
“No,” replied Kron. He knew she meant the Darkness. Over the past month, the Witch had given him advice on controlling the Darkness, teaching him to use it as a weapon and not fear its danger.
It was silent between them. It was always silent. Kron had gone along with the Witch and Zauk-soul all this way in the belief that finding Ziaxe would save Venna. Each day was another slow, arduous journey north, but now they were there in Zaria, their destination. But still Kron felt as if he was making a mistake. He knew his travelling companions were not reliable, but he hoped that they could all work together in this. It was Bellara’s intentions that confused him. Why was she helping him in the first place? Why would this stranger want to help him save one of his closest friends?
And Viona. Kron looked at the hooded creature sitting alone. He knew each step forward was leading them to something he would regret, but if it meant saving Venna he would do anything.
They were somewhere to the west of Rillen, the Zarian capital, he knew. He had gathered information about the rest of the world when he visited a small village on their journey. Apparantly King Farli was creating an “Army of Light” to confront Virok’s “Army of Darkness.” It all sounded like a terrifying game of strategy being played by the gods, and he was in between the two pieces rushing towards each other.
“What do you plan to do when your friend is saved, Kron?” asked Bellara, her voice almost startling Kron in its suddenness.
It wasn’t the first time the question was asked. And once again, Kron didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t even picture a future past these upcoming events. How could anyone when they wait in the calm before the storm? “I will continue my training.” It was all he could think of that would please her, and it had some ounce of truth in it. Continuing his training in the Darkness was indeed a possibility if he wished to keep it under his control.
The Witch nodded as she looked blankly at the fire. “You had best be serious, boy,” she said, her voice soft and dark. “You know I have need of a warrior such as yourself. If you stay with me you will have an important part to play in this war.”
Kron nodded. Bellara had emphasized that before, but he never truly believed her. All he was focused on was the belief that he could save Venna.
“I have something to tell you. Something to reiterate how much you need me, so you don’t do anything foolish.” She looked over to Viona and beckoned her over. Viona did as she was told and stood behind Bellara as she sat. “Have you not wondered how your Venna has survived so long? On nearly every other occasion in our world’s history where the Curse of the Nizain has taken a Nizain’s loved one away the process has never taken this long. The Curse is usually done in perhaps a week, but Venna has survived more than a month. Do you not question why?”
Kron looked down at the fire in thought. He had considered that idea on many occasions. He didn’t know much about this “Curse,” but from the little he had learned about it, it appeared to be very vicious and dangerous infliction.
“As we near the beginning of a second Vician War, I feel I must reveal this secret to you.” She raised her eyes from the fire to find Kron’s. “The reason she lives when most would die is me.”
Kron’s eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“If I was not here to help you, she would already be dead. You see, the process of the Curse involves a Zauk-soul being created off of the Nizain’s Darkness and the loved one’s Light. Regular Zauk-souls naturally take only a small amount of a person’s Light, and that causes small ailments in the ones affected like maybe a cold or other sicknesses that are given no raise of alarm. But with Venna I did something to prevent the process from finishing. I have manipulated the Darkness that seeks to end her life and ceased Viona’s creation as well.”
She turned to Viona and nodded. Then to Kron’s surprise, Viona began to untie the cloak she had worn this entire journey. When he thought about it he had never seen her in anything other than some type of cloak. Before he could continue that thought, the cloak fell away.
The creature is Darkness, was the first thing he could think. Her whole body was exposed now, but where there would normally be human flesh was moving shadows. From her chest to her knees was a dark cloud of smoke that moved continuously with layer upon layer of Darkness circling each other. Her face, hands, and feet were the only thing human about her as if these parts were unfinished pieces of a puzzle. Kron remembered the Zauk-souls he had fought in Berania, the shadow beasts that were all shadow and no human. Why should I believe she is any different from them?
“Look at her, Kron,” continued Bellara, “This is the sacrifice Viona is going through to keep your dedication and trust. She is in an abnormal state of existence that has never been seen before. Half shadow, half mortal. If she completed the Curse she would be complete. She would be a warrior on the same level as the Nizain.
“Do you understand now, Kron? I hold your love’s life in my hands.”
The words shook Kron, but he tried to hide his fear. “I have to know though. Why are you doing this? Why would you help me? What are you trying to do?”
Bellara let a small smile rise on her thin lips. “Like I have said before. I need help, and I see a powerful warrior in you that can help me towards my goals.”
And just like that Kron knew he would get nothing more from her. Viona put her cloak back on, and she returned to the image of a woman that strangely had Venna’s face. Kron would never forget what she really was though, what she hid from the world.
“I promise this though,” said Bellara. “If you stay with me, you will learn all about who you truly are. I will teach you the heritage your Beranian parents never knew. And I will make sure you become a Master at wielding the Darkness.”
Kron had to admit to himself that he was interested. He had always wondered what his life was like before he arrived in Berania at five years of age, but he could never remember anything that early.
He understood the danger of this game he was playing with Bellara. This Witch could kill Venna or even himself at any time if he made any mistakes with her. He would keep his eyes and ears open though, ready for any slips she might make. Until that time came, he would be there ready to act, to save Venna from all of the dangers that threaten her. He realized what that meant because he had to if he was to go through with any future plans. But there was no way to know if he would be ready.
He would have to kill Bellara and Viona.
While the boy slept and Viona kept watch with eyes that rarely slept, Bellara sat on a hill overlooking their campsite in the dead of the night. She looked out to the east towards the faint outline of the Zarian capital of Rillen. It was there where the first step in her plans would begin.
It was a fact she had accepted a long time ago that she was alone. Her past was awry with mistakes that she regretted that led her to her current life. Her life of waiting and waiting for a day she dreamed of to come, a day where maybe she wouldn’t be alone any longer.
The boy provided a weak form of companionship as she saw the distrust in his eyes every day on their travels. But it wasn’t his friendship she needed. She needed help, protection. She needed a group to work with her to stop all her enemies from interfering with her goals. She had tried to recruit Virok, but he was too stubborn to work with her. Viona was a good start at this as she mindlessly followed her as she seeked for a meaning in her unwanted existence.
But she saw the potential in the boy ever since he began his guard duty in the Beranian dungeons. He had a large amount of Darkness boiling inside of him that seemed almost ridiculous. It was shocking to be honest. The other soldiers that Virok had passed Darkness onto had a small amount, so why should this Kron have more?
It was all in the secret she kept from him. The secret about his past. It seemed they all had secrets in this life.
She sighed. She was so close to her goal yet so far as well. The first step was to get Kron to help her as well as keep Viona to her cause. To do this she will have to continue to keep secrets because Kron would never willingly help someone with her intentions.
But that was easy enough. She had done it well so far. It was the next step that would make things harder. She had to get the child in Zaria…. The child that she had been watching since his birth, waiting for the right moment to use him for her goal.
She looked up at the star-dotted Darkness of the sky. I will see you again soon, my love.