Pathway to Sydara: Guardian of the Gate

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XXVI

In a swirl of shadows and melancholy, events of the past flashed in Ziaxe’s dreams. The night before the arrival of Virok’s army gave a long and fitful sleep as Ziaxe went back and forth from dream to reality. One moment he was back in Berania fighting Kycan; another he was alone on his bed in the chamber King Nari had provided him. When he returned to the land of dreams, he would be in the Treemen Forest watching a giant refuse to die; or he would be watching a king die at the hands of a betrayer.

But the night wasn’t completely wasted. During one of his brief dreams, he was back in the Treemen Forest listening to the words of the Seer. The old, weak man sitting on a throne, looking like a child on a big chair, spoke words of the future to Ziaxe, Sastan, and Orlen. They were words he had almost forgotten since that meeting felt as if it happened so long ago.

When you reach the land of the legendary knights… seek out the one who failed Sarbenia… seek the failed Nizain….

He now understood a piece of this puzzle as he lay awake in the night. The “land of the legendary knights” that was Zaria and most likely its capital Rillen. What did the rest mean? Who was “the one who failed Sarbenia?” The “failed Nizain….”

It made no sense though. There were no other Nizains in the world unless one of his predecessors still lived, but that was very unlikely. King Broniton was the last Nizain as far as anyone could remember, and everyone knew he was long gone.

Could it mean someone who shared the Nizain blood? Ziaxe’s only remaining relative of the Nizain line would be Javen, and Javen was never even a Nizain. He knew his father had many faults though and had admitted to his failures in his past.

And what if it meant outside of Rillen? Ziaxe didn’t have time to look around the whole kingdom for someone he was told to find. He had no idea if this mysterious person would even be able to help him in this current situation. Would this “failed Nizain” be able to magically defeat Virok’s army and restore the peace?

None of it seemed likely.

Dawn came quicker than he would have liked. He must have had only a few hours of sleep when Javen and Alavar entered his chamber. They were both garbed in armor with chainmail, greaves, gauntlets, and sheathed swords at their waists. It was surprising to see the professor dressed like this for once, but he supposed that everyone would be dressed like this soon enough.

“How much time?” asked Ziaxe, getting straight to the point.

“We can see them coming over the horizon,” replied Alavar, his voice steady as always no matter the pressure on him. “I would say we have a few hours. We must be ready, Ziaxe.”

Ziaxe sighed. It was even less time than he would have hoped for. His father had fear in his eyes, and Ziaxe knew the fear was aimed at him. He would have to prove himself though as he had been forced to do already ever since he first gained the Power of the Nizain.

It was now or never though if he was to find out what Chief Jajarath wanted of him, and he knew these two of all of his Guardians would be able to find the truth. He told them the story again of his capture by the Treemen, but this time he elaborated on everything he could remember the Seer saying. Alavar and Javen stood still and solemn during everything he said.

By the end of the story, Javen and Alavar both nodded, seeming to understand all that Ziaxe could not. The two of them sat on the sides of Ziaxe’s bed. “Ziaxe, do you remember the story of Nizain Darvon?” asked Alavar.

The question irritated Ziaxe slightly as he felt this was no time to talk about one of Alavar’s many history lessons, but he nodded. “Yes, I remember. He was the Nizain during the siege on Nizrock. Back when the Ancient Kingdoms were just Sarbenia. What about him though?”

“Well, after Nizrock fell, he felt the ultimate responsibility for it. It is a terrible burden to have all that power, but still end up failing in the end. There was not much for him to do once the kingdom separated. He came here to Rillen to live out the rest of his life.”

Ziaxe’s eyes narrowed. “So he has a grave here then?”

Alavar nodded. “Yes, Ziaxe, and I believe that was what Chief Jajarath meant.” He paused and stared at his feet in thought. “But I’m sorry to say I don’t know what visiting a grave will do for you.”

Ziaxe didn’t know either, but understanding one more piece of the puzzle only aggravated him more. It gave him the feeling of being one step closer, but still nowhere near the destination. “Then what should I do?”

“You should go find it,” said Javen. “There’s no way of knowing if this will be helpful or not unless you go, and the gods know we could use all the help we can get. Virok is close, but if you go now, you should be ready by the time he gets here.”

Ziaxe knew he was right. He got out of bed and began equipping himself with his armor and swords. While he put on his chainmail, he looked out the window and saw the stillness of the early morning. There were only a few people walking on the streets, and birds chirped as the wind blew a soft breeze. It was only a matter of time before this peaceful scene was a battle ground. He turned away, refusing to think further on that.

“The other Guardians are preparing for battle as well,” said Alavar, now standing along with Javen. “I must go off to my other duties with the army, so I will entrust Javen to your protection. I wish I could go with you to whatever lies ahead, but I have spread myself too thin over all of the people of Sargenia. The people need me just as much as you may need me, but I know you are ready for this. I know you will continue to be another great Nizain and will lead our kingdom to peace. But remember, your Guardians will be there for you if you should need us.”

The words made Ziaxe smile, but once Alavar left, he had a cloud of doubt form above him. What if Alavar should fall in battle while he was off on this strange mission? If any of his friends fell would he be able to forgive himself?

These thoughts hung over him even as he began his brisk walk to Darvon’s grave. Javen led him through the many streets of the quiet city until they arrived at the eastern limits of the city. A descending hill led them down into a small vale that lay before the eastern wall of the city. It was a graveyard full of hundreds upon thousands of gravestones. Ziaxe could not see either end of the graveyard to the sides as the gravestones stretched into the distance. Each stone was unique and decorated in the different fashions of the many people buried there.

It seemed like a normal graveyard, but something about the place threatened Ziaxe instantly upon seeing it. He felt a chill run through like the Chill of Darkness, but he could see no enemy Vidians. The day had been fairly sunny, but once he passed his first gravestone, everything seemed to fade as if a cloud passed over the sun. He felt as if he was entering a thin veil of mist that dimmed his senses. Everything was dimmer; everything was softer; everything was different.

Ziaxe continued to walk forward, but Javen stopped dead in his tracks. “Ziaxe,” he said, his voice sounding a mile away, “I know you feel what I’m feeling. Something is wrong here.”

Ziaxe nodded, unable to bring any words to his lips.

“I don’t know what Alavar would do in this situation, but I feel like I won’t be welcome here.”

Ziaxe turned to his father and saw the uncertainty in his eyes that verged on being fear, fear for the unknown.

“Go on, Ziaxe,” he continued. “Something here wants to speak to you and only you. I will wait for you here.”

That idea didn’t please Ziaxe at all, but he realized it didn’t matter. His mind felt full of cotton as if he was in a dream. He continued to walk as his mind was growing dazed, and the world felt faint and distant.

He passed another gravestone and another, unsure of where he was going, yet certain he had a destination in mind. Time seemed to cease to exist as every step felt as if it took an hour to make. Every gravestone felt further away than the last. He felt as if he was getting nowhere, but something inside him told him he was almost there.

And then, the world shifted. The earth, gravestones, and sky all began to move and become distorted. Ziaxe stood still, unable to focus his eyes on anything. This must be a dream, he though. But he knew it wasn’t.

Everything spun around him. One second it would all look normal, and then another, the gravestones would be flying in the sky and he would be standing on the sky. But then there was something finally that stood apart from everything else, something that stayed still while the rest of the world swirled around him.

He took another step forward, fighting towards the one gravestone that stood still and was in a small clearing of its own a few feet from any other gravestone. None of what was going on made any sense, but he was sure that if he could reach this gravestone, he would understand.

Step upon agonizing step. He was growing nauseous and weak every step forward, but he couldn’t stop. He was the Nizain. This would not stop him.

He realized he was on his knees when he finally touched the gravestone. It was a large grey slab that had parts chipping off from age and decay. It felt cold to the touch, and when he read the words on it, another chill ran through him.

Nizain Darvon

born 4826

died 5005

A brave warrior who

failed in the end

The distortion of the world ended, and everything became calm again. It was once again another peaceful day in Rillen.

“Hail, new Nizain.”

The voice spoke above the gravestone. Ziaxe looked up from the words and saw what must have been Nizain Darvon. An ethereal figure flew in front of him, its body transparent and unstable as if Ziaxe was seeing him through glass. There was no color to it, but Ziaxe could distinguish its short hair and facial features. If he stared too long though, he would lose sight of the figure, because it was constantly moving back and forth like a flag in a gentle breeze.

It was a frightening sight to see, but for some strange reason, Ziaxe was calm. He felt his personality split in half. One half was the peasant boy from Berania while the other was a Nizain who had an accumulative collection of knowledge passed on by the dozens of the Nizains that came before him. The part of him that was the Nizain stood in and pushed back the peasant boy. It was as if the Power of the Nizain was taking him over just as it had in Berania, but it was not the same intensity as it was when Gilart was threatening to kill him.

“Hail, Nizain Darvon,” Ziaxe heard himself say in a voice that was strong. It seemed as if for a second King Farli was there giving one of his poised announcements.

“It is good to see one of my descendents visiting me,” said the spirit. The voice sounded light and pleased for the moment, but the face didn’t change, and the lips didn’t move. “Centuries have passed since the last Nizain visited me, but I am glad to see you, young one.”

Nizain Ziaxe nodded, returning to his feet, standing straight and tall.

“Looking at you is like looking in a mirror. I was in your spot once before, Nizain Ziaxe, and I have been watching you while my spirit roams the land.”

The spirit’s features seemed more pronounced for a moment. Dark hair and blue eyes. The face of Ziaxe’s father, and probably the fathers beyond him. Ziaxe may be the only one to break that trait with his mother’s hazel eyes.

“Why is your spirit not at rest in Sydara, O Nizain who came before?” Once again, Ziaxe’s voice did not feel like his own.

The spirit’s eyes shifted in its movements. One moment Ziaxe could see an ancient sadness in them, but the next moment it was gone, and the face was normal once more. “You must know my story. I was one of the failed Nizains. I failed the kingdom when it needed me the most, and it continues to live from my mistakes. I let my personal life intrude on my duties. I was too late to the Siege of Nizrock. I failed and could not live with myself.”

Ziaxe felt the full weight of the spirit’s eyes on him then. “I took my life. I lost faith in Sarben Above and could not ascend to Sydara with such guilt in my heart.

“So I stayed here as a spirit. I have devoted this afterlife to assisting the Nizains that followed me as best I can to make up for my failure. I do this because I would never wish this torture on any other. To fail your people and never achieve Sydara is the worst punishment anyone could endure.”

The words cut at Ziaxe. The idea of becoming like Nizain Darvon was a dreadful reality. It put an even larger burden upon his shoulders. If he failed whatever quests lie ahead of him, he would feel the weight of all the deaths and all the disappointment aimed at him. How could anyone accept that kind of guilt?

“Please, Nizain Darvon,” spoke Nizain Ziaxe, going down on one knee and bowing his head, “lend me thy guidance, for I am lost, and the Darkness threatens all of Sarbenia.”

There was a long moment of silence as if the spirit was considering what to do. “Very well, young one,” he replied. “I have seen your potential. You have what it takes to become one of the great Nizains of legend. Remember though to keep your heart full of Light, and do not trust the Darkness too fully.”

Nizain Ziaxe nodded as he kept his head bowed.

“Before my death I may have been able to offer you more support than now, but alas I am a spirit bound to this world. The gods will never allow me to directly interfere with events in motion. But there is one thing I can do for you.

“I will awaken the memories within you that the Power of the Nizain has kept hidden. The Power holds onto all of the past through the experiences of all the Nizains. Once you understand the past you will understand what next to do. The past is the key to unlocking your victory against the Darkness.”

It was all confusing to Ziaxe, but before he could think more on it, everything began to fade and change.

He was Nizain Almar, a man entering his third century of life. His hair was was white and balding, and he had eyes that were a deep pool of blue just as his father and grandfather had had. He was no longer Nizain Ziaxe. He didn’t even remember the existence of that young man. That man had yet to even exist.

The year was 6922. Almar was sitting in a chair at his dining table while his beautiful wife Larlia fed goat milk to their young infant in her arms. She was slightly younger than him with long greying hair that streamed across her face as she watched the baby. He smiled at that gentle image of her and knew that life couldn’t be better than this.

Larlia looked up and gave him one of her beautiful, shining smiles. “Your son may grow up eating more than you do, if that’s even possible,” she said while their child sucked on his bottle’s nipple eagerly.

Almar gave her a wry smile. “Whatever you say, dear.”

Then a crack! from outside broke their conversation. It was the sound of tree branches being snapped, a sound they knew well.

“What’s our troublemaker up to now?” asked Larlia as she turned to look out the window.

Almar walked over to the window. Their house was a small log cabin secluded in the forests of the Harvoren Empire. They had once lived in Sargenia, but Almar’s falling out with his beliefs as Nizain led him to moving out here. Like so many before him, he decided that there was no true way to balance the Light and the Darkness, so he simply gave up on the mad errand once he married and had children. After breaking the Curse of the Nizain, it was easy to live a normal life.

Outside their cabin was the same small clearing that they had settled in years ago. They chose this spot because it was far enough away from any villages to give them privacy, but close enough to make trips for supplies or any other materials. And of course, it was very far away from the past.

He expected to see his older son outside playing around in the forest, but he was shocked by what he actually saw. Or maybe it was more what he felt. The Chill of Darkness ran through his soul, the instinctive alarm that everyone in his family has had against approaching Darkness. He saw branches and bushes moving in the woods ahead of him. Someone or something was coming.

He should’ve expected this, but he had been a fool. He thought the threat was over; he didn’t believe in any of the rumors of the Great Darkness. How could anyone believe it? They claimed that one man had been alive for the past few millennia. And more recently they claimed he was about to make a move against the Light. If he had been a good Nizain like one of the many of legend he would have found this man and killed him, but he just couldn’t accept it. It was impossible.

The Vidians entered the clearing. They were a mix of the wild Lost ones and the regular ones who retained their human forms. The armor they wore all bore the red three-bladed scythe of Vidala. There were dozens of them as they all slowly walked into the clearing with the Light of the afternoon reflecting off their weapons.

Almar cursed. “Larlia, listen to me,” he said, his eyes focused on the enemies as he tried to keep his voice sturdy. “You’re going to have to run. I don’t know how far or what your destination is, but I need you to run while I distract them.”

Larlia’s face was stricken with fear and grief. “Maybe they’re not here for us. Tell them you’re not who they’re looking for.”

Almar knew better than that though. If this was truly the men of the Great Darkness then he was already dead. “No.” He turned to her. “Quickly now! Gather all the supplies you can carry, and get ready to leave out the back door when all the eyes are on me.”

He was already going out the front door before Larlia could reply. He grabbed his iron sword on the way out, his only remaining weapon from his Nizain days. At one time this blade was Naz Zarak… but not anymore.

All of the enemy eyes fell on him as he strode out into the middle of their gathering. They all wore wicked grins, and their expressions showed that they believed they had accomplished something very important.

But then, their leader came forth. The Vidians gave way for him and fell to their knees around him. He was a tall man about a foot or so taller than a normal man, and his body was muscular and seemed as hard as a rock. His face was angular with a pointed chin that wore dark stubble while there was no hair on his head. He wore armor as black as night with the three-bladed scythe engraved on its chest, and in his right hand he held the fabled weapon.

The one thing though that stopped Almar in his tracks was his eyes. They were eyes that seemed worse than the normal red eyes of one of the Lost Vidians. These eyes commanded power as if staring at them was enough to drive someone insane or to make them drop dead instantly. They were eyes that had seen the whole world a number of times as well as more years than any other man.

The man’s thin lips curled into a smile. “So you are Nizain Almar?” His voice cut at Almar like a bear slashing at his face. “That is rather disappointing. I have been waiting quite a long time for this you should know so I was expecting a good fight.”

Almar felt weak and sick to his stomach, but he could not back down. He unsheathed his sword and held it before him in two hands. His enemy’s scythe was almost as long as he was tall which made him feel like an ant in the presence of a giant. Each of the three curved blades was at least a foot long and spaced apart by a foot each.

“I guess it doesn’t matter if it is a good fight or not however. It just needs to be done. The Immortal Mortal must defeat the Mortal Immortal, the Great God of Darkness tells me. I do this in part because of my mission for peace as well as for revenge. You do know who I am, don’t you?”

“Vician.” The words came to Almar’s lips.

Vician smiled, and as quick as the smile came to his lips, his scythe raised and fell in a speed that seemed impossible for such a large weapon. Almar barely got his sword up in time to hold back the top blade of the weapon. The scythe pushed down on him as if it was a boulder. Such unbelievable strength. He jumped backwards and let the blade dig itself into the earth.

“You must understand that my mission is a simple one,” the voice of Darkness continued, his words encircling Almar. “I wish to rebalance the world. The only way to do that is to weaken the Light.”

Almar finally found his voice. “Killing a Nizain will only throw the balance even more awry!”

Vician pulled his scythe from the ground in an effortless motion and shook his head. “You ignorant fool. There goes any intention of reasoning with you. Looks like I’ll just have to kill you slowly instead of giving you a simple quick death.”

Darkness appeared and swirled around Vician’s fingertips like flying black worms. Then it flew off in all directions, spreading out around the area like several arrows being fired. Almar readied himself to block the attack, but none of the shadows found him. The trees around them began to spark and catch fire.

Almar cursed his misfortune. He knew then that it was truly over. What else could he do now? He glanced for a second at his home behind him. Please, Larlia. Tell me you’ve left already.

“Come on, old man! Make this interesting!”

The scythe came at him again. Vician moved it with such grace between both of his hands as it twirled and spun like a dancer. Almar continued to dodge and block as best he could, but he still sustained cuts and bruises from the blades grazing him.

“Come on! Summon your weapons! Summon the Power!”

Almar knew then that Vician was the fool here. If Almar was truly the Nizain that he was then maybe he would have had a chance to survive, but he had already passed on the Power…

The top blade of the scythe swung upwards in a spin and struck Almar square in the stomach. The force of the attack was enough to lift Almar off of his feet.

Vician held him elevated in the air as he stayed skewered on the blade, his blood adding to the red of the blade. “Why won’t you summon the Power?!” he yelled, his face only a few inches from Almar’s, his spit landing on the impaled man. “Your life is in danger! The Power always takes over when you are about to die!”

Almar’s breathing was coarse as pain hit every part of his body. He felt his life begin to fade as he knew this was an injury no one came back from. The world felt distant. The man yelling at his face was barely audible.

He looked at the spreading fire. It was all around them now, engulfing everything like a living monster. He could tell without looking behind him that his house was also burning down. He didn’t hear any screams from his wife or child, so he hoped that was a good sign.

As he coughed up blood and shook uncontrollably, he wondered about his other son, the older one who he had allowed to go play outside earlier that day. The one he had passed the Power of the Nizain onto….

The boy who would one day shake the world just as Vician had done, ignorant of his heritage. A boy who would cause chaos during the Vician War; a boy who would kill a king and rule an army. A boy who would become Virok.


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