Pathway to Sydara: Guardian of the Gate

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XXVII

The Vidian messenger entered the throne room carrying the white flag of parley, each step echoing off the cavernous ceiling. The room was lined with both Zarian Knights and Sargenian soldiers as the man approached the dais where the Zarian King Nari sat alongside his daughter Melna and the young Sargenian King Farli. Each step painfully broke through the silence, each step signaled one step closer to the battle.

Farli despised the look of the messenger. It may have just been the natural wariness his people had against the Darkness, but the messenger had the threatening appeal of an assassin as well as a Vidian. He had long oily blonde hair that seemed splattered all over his shoulders and face. The guards had stripped him of his weapons, but he still walked forward in full armor with malice in his eyes and Vician’s red scythe on his breastplate. This was a man who on any other occasion would not be allowed this close to any king.

Despite the defiance in his eyes, the Vidian went down on his knee and bowed his head. “Hail, King Nari and Princess Melna of Zaria. And hail, King Farli of Sargenia. I bring greetings from the mighty Virok and his unstoppable army.”

King Nari’s plump face flopped as he scoffed. “Virok has yet to face the true power of Zaria. His army could hardly be called ‘unstoppable.’”

The messenger raised his head with a wicked grin. “We shall find out soon enough, your Majesty.”

Farli sat on the step below Nari’s throne on a decorate chair on the king’s left side while Melna was on his right. It felt a little out of place for him to not be sitting on a throne, but he had to remind himself that he was in a different kingdom, one that he would have to hope to keep as a companion.

He glanced out of the corner of his eyes at Melna. His argument with Alavar still hung over him like a storm cloud. The woman was young and beautiful, but other than that she didn’t appear to have any substance to her. In the limited time he had known Salandra, he had learned all about her unique traits and personality. He remembered the many ways she had bested him in weapon combat and the way her laugh sounding like a sweet song. He looked at Melna and saw nothing in her that would make him care for her like he cared for Salandra. But after that talk with Alavar, he had been trying so very hard to consider whatever positives she may have.

He couldn’t find too many.

“As you know by now, your Majesty,” continued the Vidian, “our army has become a large forces of Vidians, Zauk-souls, Beranians, Yasson Harvorens, and Dremuns. We have gathered thousands of warriors who all wish to fight for the same cause that Vician once fought for. We wish for the destruction of the kingdoms of Light.”

Farli had known all of this as well as the others. Their scouts had told them the different banners and estimated the great size of the enemy army. It was shocking to him though how these kingdoms were ready to jump into war right when the chance arose. It seems the Vician war never really ended, he thought.

The other information that confused him along with the rest of the people gathered was the inclusion of the Zauk-souls. The Zauk-souls have always been mindless shadow beasts that have never cared about the events of the world around them. Somehow Virok had gained control over them which was an impressive feat to start with. But would these stupid creatures truly be helpful to Virok? Farli could only hope that by some miracle sent by Sarben the monsters turned on the fools who tried to control them.

“Our grand leader, Virok, is not so merciless however. He offers a chance at peace. If you surrender Rillen and the Nizain the casualties will not be as severe.”

No one in the room would believe that however. King Nari was clenching his armrest. “We will never give up our land or our people!” His deep voice shook the room. “You damn Vidians intrude on my land and kill my people for your foolish Ziavaxe-lover Vician!”

The king stood up, surprisingly getting to his feet in a fluid movement despite his weight. “My people and I will crush your army and leave no survivors!”

His words echoed for a few moments more as all were silent and still. The Vidian showed no fear in his eyes. “Very well then,” he said as he turned and began walking back to the large double doors. “You’re all fools blinded by your precious Light! Your reckoning will come very soon!”

The doors slammed behind him as he left. There were nervous murmurings throughout the room now. A part of Farli began to wonder if this was the right course of action for them to be taking, but then he remembered the day he learned about his father’s death. No, there will be no mercy, and I will kill Virok myself.

He looked through the crowd of faces around them. Where was the Nizain? Maybe they were all truly fools to believe in this child when he can’t even grace them with his presence at an important meeting like this.

He sighed, annoyed. He should be Nizain; he was the son of Broniton, the last Nizain who defeated Vician in the Battle of the Berania. If the gods gave some consistency to this life, it would only make sense that another king would lead an army with the Power of the Nizain like the king before him had. Sarben had a terrible sense of humor if this was his form of a joke.

Then in the shadows, he saw that mysterious hunched over person. The figure was hooded with red eyes that he always hid, but Farli knew they were there. Alavar had allowed these strangers to become Guardians of the Nizain and he had been forced to always trust Alavar, but he felt that as king he should’ve had more of a say in this decision. He only hoped that these Guardians would prove their worth as well as this Nizain.

Once again Nizain Ziaxe was Nizain Ziaxe. The world returned to the foggy graveyard in Rillen, but his mind continued to feel divided between the person of Nizain Almar and who he really was. It gave him a splitting headache, but as he calmed himself down everything began to stabilize.

Reliving the memory of his ancestor had been a horrid experience. He had thought the same thoughts, felt the same things, and endured the death at the hands of the Great Darkness.

Then he remembered what he had learned.

Virok.

They were related. Virok was his… uncle it would seem. He realized that Javen was the infant that Larlia was holding, and Virok was the older brother who was out in the forest, blissfully unaware of the chaos happening at his home. Javen had obviously survived the fire somehow and was later discovered by Gurgan. Whether Gurgan was a part of the Vician’s group that fateful day was a thought he dared not consider.

But what did it all mean? What was the importance of it? Why would the spirit show him this?

He remembered how Almar did not have the Power of the Nizain at the time. It seemed that for some foolish reason he had passed it on to Virok. That meant Virok had suffered through being an orphaned child with one of the greatest powers of the world. Ziaxe grieved having the Power thrust on him at his young age, but he couldn’t begin to imagine being only a child with it.

The pieces began to fit together for a puzzle he wasn’t even sure he had begun to solve. This meant that Virok must have had the Power up to the Vician War unless something happened before to change that. Had King Broniton done something to steal the Power… or was he given it?

“Do you understand yet, young Nizain?” Darvon’s voice shocked Ziaxe from his thoughts.

“I-I… I’m not sure,” was all he could reply.

The spirit of Darvon was levitating to Ziaxe’s side, his transparent body continuing to move like the waves of the ocean. “I did not expect you to get all the answers you wished for from this vision, but I wished to give you a perspective you wouldn’t have reached on your own. Only the ones who have had the Power, you, me, this Virok, can understand the burdens that a Nizain must face. Only a Nizain is presented with tasks that any normal sane man would refuse and cower in fear at the mention of. Some have had it easier than others with missions to simply keep the peace or assassinate an enemy.” The spirit’s face morphed into an image of sorrow and remorse. “Others must face the terrible tasks, the ones that leave scars that no one can see.”

Ziaxe stood frozen, contemplating each word, but then the outside world broke into their conversation. Awoooooooo! In the distance a horn bellowed across the entire a city, a horn declaring premonitions for what was about to begin.

“It is time,” spoke the spirit.

Ziaxe’s feet refused to move. This was a war horn, and that only meant one thing. Virok was there, most likely attacking Rillen’s western walls while they spoke.

“You must go, young one. Take on the tasks that Sarben has given you. Go forth and defeat the Darkness, or live in the same Hell of regrets that I face every moment of every day.”

Even though every nerve in his body wanted him to stay here, away from the fighting, away from Virok, he began to run through the graveyard back the way he had came. While he ran up the hill back to the city, he refused to look back, refused to look for the spirit who represented the past and the frightening possibility of a future.

When the war horn began its shout, Sastan was standing on the hill near the base of the castle where he, Sara, and Orlen could see the horrifying ocean of enemy soldiers beyond the western wall. He supposed he should’ve expected this day would come, but he was hoping not this soon, and not in this situation. He had hoped that if he had to fight, Sara and Orlen would be away, somewhere safe where they wouldn’t be harmed. It was a sort of code for him to protect his friends, but as he looked out at all those armored faces, he wasn’t feeling too confident in his abilities to do that.

His impulsive decision to join Ziaxe’s Guardians had a mixed jumble of reasons. He couldn’t even be sure exactly why he had done it and brought Orlen into the mess as well. Ziaxe was his friend, so of course he felt the need to help him through these hard times, but how could a tainted Sargen help a Nizain?

Sara was one of the reasons for his decision. When he had heard that Sara was going on this journey to Zaria, he couldn’t even consider staying in Salras while she was off to the battlefield. He looked over at her while she stared off to the army in fear. Even when she was terrified and garbed in a mix of leather armor and steel bracers she was still the most beautiful thing in his life.

Another reason that made no sense even to him was his desire to be a better Sargen. All of his life he had been called the “tainted Sargen” because he had lived his life in Sargenia unlike the pure Sargens from the island of Paridon. He had always been seen as an outcast because of that, but he didn’t allow for the regular people to beat him down. It was because of this that he always wore his smile. He grew up wanting to show the world that he was something great, not just some Sargen who was left behind by the others. Every day he faced the rising sun with a grin that said “I can take everything you have to throw at him.”

When Ziaxe entered his life, he had a feeling things were going to change. He had a feeling that Ziaxe would be the one to help him achieve the greatness he secretly longed for. Once it was revealed that Ziaxe was the Nizain this possibility became even more likely. Sure at first he was offended and dubious at being left in the dark about this secret, but when he realized that Ziaxe needed help, he was ready to step into this adventure by his side.

His hand grabbed his sword’s hilt at his waist. He was garbed in the same armor as the others, leather armor with steel bracers at his elbows and knees. Even though they were Nizain Guardians there just wasn’t enough strong armor to go around. The warriors on the frontline deserved the full body armor.

The enemy army was now charging the walls while catapults launched from behind the main charge. This is it, he thought. It was time for his limited sword training to come to use. All of the years of fighting wild Zauk-souls and hunting boars and deer needed to show their worth today.

The three of them watched the fighting start. There were crazed citizens running around trying to leave the city or just find shelter. But the Guardians stood their ground. Sastan felt as if he could vomit at any moment, but as he looked to his two companions, the beautiful Duchess and lumberjack of Salras, he knew what he had to do.

He would keep them safe even if it cost him his life.

General Draton stood on the western wall beside King Nari, King Farli, and Alavar, overlooking the mass of soldiers they were facing. They had archers and catapults at the ready on the wall, and on the ground several feet below them, the first line of their soldiers readied themselves for the first charge. It was a strange feeling for Draton to not be on the front lines for once, but for right now it was his job as a general to stay strong and tall where all could see him.

He saw the banners of the enemies billowing in the wind. There was the half-moon half-sun banner of the Dremuns and the two golden lions rising towards a blue moon on a red landscape of the Yasson Harvorens. It was already known that these two countries had given Virok soldiers, but there were also the Lost Vidians that must have come all the way from Vidala as well as the Beranian soldiers.

There was a new banner though that none of them had recognized at first. It was a black wall on a white background. It seemed strange at first until Alavar explained it to them. “Virok has taken up his own banner. It is the wall of his Berania against the world of Light.”

It still surprised Draton how bad things had gotten. Virok had been one step ahead of them all in his scheming to take over Berania. All those years the traitor had spent under the guise of a loyal general just to be able to kill the king and take the city. It seemed that Virok had kept in contact with the kingdoms who had participated in the original Army of Darkness so they would be ready to fight for him when the time arose. Draton wouldn’t have been surprised if the soldiers from Dremun or the Harvoren Empire were waiting only a few miles away for Virok to do the deed.

There was nothing to be done about the past though. They all had to focus on the present. Draton was raised to the rank of general by his Majesty, and he refused to fail him.

The enemy catapults had started almost immediately after the war horn ended. The massive boulders being launched hit various places on the wall or went too short or too far, either hitting buildings or the ground. The wall stood strong however. At least for now.

“Catapults, return fire!” yelled the general, arching his sword over his head, giving his first command as general against Virok’s army.

Boulders flew back at the enemy in retaliation. Enemy soldiers were squashed like bugs while they ran towards the wall, but still so many more broke through.

Draton called for the archers, and a wave of arrows flew down to the enemy. Bodies fell among screams and splashes of blood. But still the enemy came on. Soon Draton would have to call the first charge.

It had been one thing to be a soldier in his younger years only needing to truly worry about his own survival and not feeling the guilt of any of his comrades’ deaths. But as he continued to rise in the army’s standings the pressure had only gotten worse.

When he was a captain he had become close to his men, becoming companions as much as comrades in arms. He remembered the mixed looks of eagerness and fear in the eyes of the young soldiers he commanded. After their first battles, some had not made it back alive, and it still haunted Draton in some of his dreams. He felt that he had failed the ones he let die as if one of his decisions had been what caused their deaths just as much as the enemy weapons.

Now that he was general the responsibility weighed down on him stronger than ever. As the enemy boulders and arrows began to find targets, he couldn’t fight the urge to acknowledge the casualties. They were all his men even though he didn’t know them all personally. If they die it is his fault and only his fault because he was the one giving commands, forcing them to fight this deadly armor.

He pushed his fears down inside him and returned his focus to the battle. “FIRST LINE, CHARGE!” he shouted, his voice bellowing over all of them like the ring of an enormous bell.

The Sargenian soldiers and Zarian Knights began the charge on horseback, their weapons brandishing in the sky. They dashed forward, and for a moment the only sounds were the horse hooves striking the ground and the occasional scream of pain from the injured. General Draton watched raptly without blinking like a stone statue. This was it. His men were about to kill or be killed.

The battlefield erupted in a clash of steel as weapon struck armor. Warriors on both sides were falling now, but there were still Sargenians and Zarians of the charge still riding tall among the enemy, going back and forth into the mass of soldiers, fighting wherever they can.

Draton had sent a few hundred off in that charge, and it was proving successful so far, keeping the enemy still several feet from the wall. There were still thousands more on both sides though.

King Farli walked to his side. “This is good, Draton,” said the young king. “They are being damaged worse than us at the moment.”

“Yes, your Majesty,” replied Draton, “but they have the bigger army. And from the sounds of Virok’s personality, he doesn’t care how many casualties he suffers as long as we lose some as well.”

Alavar and King Nari also came forward. They were all dressed in strong steel armor with Draton and his Sargenians showing the Sargenian sun on their breastplates while Nari showed his Zarian “Z.”

“He is right, Farli,” commented Alavar. “But we must keep hope and keep fighting. Virok must be stopped here, or all of Zaria may fall.”

King Nari was grinding his teeth. “I refuse to let that happen again.”

General Draton continued to watch the fighting in the distance. His soldiers were falling now or retreating at the herd of Dremuns and Harvorens that seemed to be making up the front line.

A thought came to him then. “Why aren’t the Vidians in front?” he asked.

Farli grunted. “They must be saving the scum for later. Virok wishes to weaken us with the regular soldiers, and then come in with the Darkness wielders. They’re playing us just as much as we’re playing them. There’s no more time for strategy Draton. Send them all in.”

Draton agreed. He was reluctant, but he knew his king was right. “FULL CHARGE AHEAD!” he yelled to the main force of the army that waited behind the wall.

The army took the command and ran through the gate of the wall, thousands of soldiers rushing into battle. The real battle began then, and Draton knew what he had to do. He turned and ran to the stairs leading to the ground below.

“Draton!” yelled the King of Sargenia.

“I’m sorry, your Majesty, but I’m not one to watch my men fight for me.” The general ran down the stairs with his greatsword in hand, ready for the fight of his life.

The traitor Virok stood at the back of his Army of Darkness, watching with a smile as the chaos unfurled. His giant Gilart stood next to him with a similar smile, a smile that said that their plans had finally come to fruition.

“You enjoying the show, your Majesty?”

Gilart’s insistence on mocking him with that title usually irritated him, but he let it slide for now. He was too excited at all he had accomplished. He was following in his Master’s footsteps, finishing what the Great Darkness could not.

During the Vician War, Vician had been able to conquer Zaria almost effortlessly as the Zarian army had been retreating to Berania in an effort to make that legendary final stand. At the time, Vician had just walked on through the kingdom, slicing down whoever was foolish enough to stay behind. The first time they had conquered Rillen was almost as easy as conquering the smaller villages of the kingdom had been. King Nari had begrudgingly left the capital because they all knew it was futile to hold it.

But now they were all being foolish. Perhaps Alavar had some idea to make this day another Battle of Berania. No one ever knew what that mysterious old man plotted, but Virok had been a Beranian general long enough to know Alavar was the real ruler of the Ancient Kingdoms of Sarbenia no matter what that spoiled brat Farli had to say.

It was already over though. Virok had decided that after only a few moments of analyzing the city’s defences and army size. He had a plan and a perfect group of ignorant soldiers to follow it.

“I trust you already sent those Beranians on their mission?”

Gilart smiled broadly with his disgusting, crooked yellow teeth. “Of course. I don’t just stand around all day like you do.”

Virok was not as amused at the comment as Gilart was. Maybe when this was all over he would kill Gilart, but right now he had need of another powerful Vidian who could control his Darkness.

“Good,” he replied. “While our enemy focuses on the main fighting, the Beranians will sneak past them by becoming shadows. That will begin their fall from the inside out.”

“Good idea, your Majesty, but I think I could just take care of all of these weaklings on my own.” Gilart lightheartedly stretched his arms above his head in his light leather armor. “I think I’ll join in all the fun right now if you don’t mind.”

Virok knew that he was more powerful than Gilart, but he was always surprised at the man’s sheer size and strength. His body had an amazing vitality that normal people would never be able to achieve. When he had returned to Berania after failing to capture the Nizain, he had lost more than enough blood to kill a regular man.

“Fine,” he replied. His face took on a strict solemn look. “When you see the Nizain… do not fail me again.”

That spoiled Gilart’s mood, and the usual annoying witty atmosphere he carried disappeared as if a dark cloud of resentment instantly covered him. “If I find him… I can’t promise to bring him back alive.”

The giant vanished as he became one with the afternoon shadows.


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