Nizain Ziaxe, Gurgan, and Copper continued through the castle without anymore incidents. The plan Ziaxe had formed in his mind was to attempt to find where any of the royal family or anyone else in the castle would be hiding and to make sure they were safe. He was sure King Nari was on the battlefield with King Farli, but that left at least the princess still in the castle. It felt wrong to assume that there were no more Vidians inside the castle, hunting down the innocents.
This plan eventually led him to the throne room where Princess Melna was sitting on her seat below the King of Zaria’s throne. The room was full of Zarian Knights standing guard, and when the guards at the door saw him they instantly led him inside though they asked them to hand over their weapons for the moment.
“Hail, Nizain Ziaxe,” said the princess as he approached. “What brings you to this side of the battlefield?”
Ziaxe knelt down in front of her along with his companions. “I came to make sure everyone was safe here, your Grace.”
Melna gave an audible sigh. “There’s no time for formalities, Ziaxe. Stand.”
He hesitantly stood back up and saw Copper’s look of surprise beside him. “I’m sorry, your Grace.”
“It’s fine.” The princess looked anxious and stressed as her hair wasn’t its usual perfect straightness and she fidgeted in the blue dress she wore. She refused to sit still for more than a few moments like a child ready to go outside and play. “As you can see, the enemy intruders have not made it here. My Knights have been strong enough to hold them back, and I suppose you helped as well. I thank you for that, but the real battle is far from over.”
Ziaxe was afraid of that. He gulped and struggled to hide his fears. “Then I will go assist them immediately.” He turned and was ready to leave.
“Where do you plan on going though?”
Ziaxe stopped and turned back. “What do you mean?”
“I have received updates on what has been happening out there. The enemy has us surrounded on two sides with enemies making their way inside our walls. The main strike on the western wall has the majority of their army against the majority of ours. But while they fight over there it seems Virok has sent smaller units to attack our south wall. We have Vidians and Zauk-souls sneaking into our city on the verge of attacking our army from behind. It’s like the jaw of some beast about to swallow everyone.”
Her words were hurried and overwrought with worry. Ziaxe saw that she was breathing heavy and sweating profusely. After hearing it from the princess, he now realized just how hopeless the situation had become. If he was still the normal, weak peasant boy from Berania he would stay here and hide, but he was the Nizain, and he couldn’t question what he had to do.
As he looked at Melna however he saw her position on the situation. He could tell that she didn’t want to be waiting for death to come to her, but there was nothing to help that. She was the heir to Zaria if something should happen to King Nari. This room was truly the safest place at the moment, and with that thought he knew what to do.
“I’m going to help wherever I can, your Grace. I will fight until I can fight no more, and I will not let anyone make their way here.”
He turned again and made his way for the large double doors. Gurgan and Copper were following him without question. When Ziaxe reached the guard that held their weapons, he stopped and turned to Copper. “I need you to stay here.”
“What?!” Copper was outraged instantly, his childish nature taking him over and his voice like a high pitch squeal.
Ziaxe knew he couldn’t take Copper any further. The boy was young and most likely ignorant of the reasons for this battle and what dangers the enemy holds. Ziaxe refused to be responsible for his death. Copper seemed useful in battle, but his throwing knifes would do nothing against enemies like Gilart and Virok. If one of those monsters somehow got a hold of Copper…. “I’m sorry, Copper, but the princess could use your help more than I could.”
Copper made a small smile. “I guess you’re right about that. The great Zarian warrior Copper is always there to save the day for the young maidens.”
Ziaxe had to smile at that. “Aye, of course. Good luck.” He continued to the doors after returning his swords to his back sheaths, and once Gurgan was ready they left.
It only took about a minute for the two of them to reach a large circular room that had several corridors branching out from it. The room was silent with windows shining in light and paintings and suits of armor lining the walls. The ground here was covered in a red carpet, and it seemed the whole room had not been affected by the fighting.
They soon heard footsteps as Javen entered the room on the opposite side. “Ziaxe!” Javen continued to run, and they all met in the center of the room.
Ziaxe was relieved at seeing another companion still alive and well. He began to worry about the others such as Sastan and everyone he met in Salras. “It’s good to see you, father,” he said as he clasped hands with him. “Why are you here in the castle?”
“I’m tracking someone. A small group was heading this way, and one of them had an enormous Darkness energy that he wasn’t even trying to hide. Have you felt it at all, Gurgan.”
Gurgan lowered his hood revealing his red eyes and pale face with globs of Darkness on it. “Gurgan feel something early. Gurgan think it Gilart.”
Javen crossed his arms accrossed his armored chest. “I would’ve thought that too, but I was closer to it, and could locate the source. Gilart seems to wear his Darkness like a coat more often than not, but he still keeps it under control. This Darkness felt like it had no restraints on it.”
The Lost Vidian nodded. “Darkness there somewhere.”
“You’re going to have to teach me how to do this one day,” chimed in Ziaxe. “I get the Chill of Darkness thing, but I don’t understand how you two are able to sense Vidians from a distance.”
“It takes training, Ziaxe,” replied Javen, “and you will get there someday. All we do is focus on the aspects of Darkness itself from the Darkness we have and then it makes us able to notice it in the outside world.”
He turned his head to one of the corridors. “The source isn’t as powerful as before. Probabbly because it is out of battle, so it is not being used. But it is still there. I fear it is in the castle.”
They were all silent for a few moments until Gurgan made a sudden gasp in his gruff voice which made it sound more like a cough. “Closer!”
“He’s right.” Javen turned to Ziaxe. “Ready yourself, Ziaxe. It’s coming here. None of us know what to expect, so stay on your toes. We have to stop this power before it causes any damage.”
Ziaxe unsheathed his two swords and stood ready beside Javen with his one sword and Gurgan with his daggers. Eventually they all heard the approaching footsteps and voices coming closer and closer.
“I promise you, boy, he’s in this castle,” said one of the voices, the frail voice of an old woman. It sounded so familiar, but Ziaxe struggled to figure out who exactly it was. “Your girl will be saved soon enough.”
“You better be right,” replied the other voice, a young man’s voice.
No, it can’t be….
The owners of the voices walked into the room, one old weak-looking woman and a young, strong man caring an unconscious woman.
“No….” Ziaxe was at a loss of words.
“What is it, Ziaxe?” asked Javen, but before he could get an answer Gurgan was speaking, “Man Javen. Darkness in Man!”
Gurgan was moving at the man, but before he could reach him the old woman flicked her hand, making a sudden wave of Darkness swat him down like a hand swatting a fly. Ziaxe met eyes with the man, unable to believe anything.
“Kron,” Ziaxe’s voice spoke.
Javen turned to Ziaxe. “You know him?”
Ziaxe nodded. His eyes met Kron’s. Something had changed though. Kron’s eyes weren’t the same bright blue as before, and his hair had grown longer and unkempt. His eyes were red, as red as blood and full of confusion and anger.
“What are you doing here, Kron?” asked Ziaxe. He couldn’t understand why he was feeling so hesitant. He had known Kron all of his life. They were friends and he should be happy that Kron is here away from Berania, away from Virok, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that Kron was aiming all of his hatred at him. Did Kron change like the other Beranians? Is he another one of Virok’s puppets?
Ziaxe looked down to Venna. “What is wrong with her?” he asked, worry shaking his voice.
“You should know, Ziaxe!” replied Kron with a scowl. “It’s all your fault!”
Ziaxe was lost, but Bellara walked forward, seeming to take charge of the situation. She walked with sudden surprising strength and confidence compared to the way she had always acted in Berania. “Allow me to explain, your Holiness, Nizain Ziaxe.” She made a sarcastic bow that shocked Ziaxe in how uncharacteristic it was. “I’m sure Javen has already taught you what happens when one of the Nizain descendents falls in love. It never ends well with that Curse Ziavaxe created.”
“How do you know my name?” Javen stepped in front of Ziaxe, brandishing his sword before him.
“Why, Javen, don’t you recognize me? I know I’ve let myself go a bit over the past few decades, but I think Master would still think I’m beautiful.”
The bolt of realization that went through Javen was so sharp that Ziaxe felt it as well. “You….” Sweat began to trickle down Javen’s neck.
“Aye, you know me.” The old woman’s thin lips smiled under the strands of grey hair that fell over her face. “But I was afraid you had forgotten me. I remembered you though. Oh yes, I remembered you. The way you betrayed me and our whole cause. You’re just as bad as Virok.”
Ziaxe was unsure of what was happening as the old woman took one deliberate step after another towards Javen. He saw Gurgan return to his feet out of the corner of his eyes, but he continued to look at Kron and Venna. Does she mean the Curse of the Nizain? I did that to Venna?
“I knew you were alive all this time,” continued the Witch, “and I could tell from the first time I saw him that he was your son.” She gestured to Ziaxe. “He looks like a younger you.”
Javen turned back to Ziaxe. “You know her, Ziaxe?” he said, shocked. “Why didn’t you tell me?!”
“I—I didn’t think you’d know her.” Ziaxe could barely find any words to say.
“Ziaxe… this is the Witch I told you about… the one who worshipped Vician beside me and Virok. She’s Bellavar.”
Ziaxe’s heart fell to his stomach.
Bellavar smiled even greater, her face becoming more and more wrinkled. “He’s right, Nizain. It has been me ever since the beginning. I have been Vician’s most devoted follower. I have always loved him since the day he came into my life… and he has always loved me.”
Her smile changed suddenly into a frown, and everyone felt the change like a sudden arrival of storm clouds. “But then it was all ruined. The damned King Broniton nearly murdered him if I had not been there to save him. I took him far to the west back to Vidala to the Pathway to Sydara just he asked me to do. And then he entered the Pathway and his soul has been preserved all this time, waiting to escape.
“But once he entered I had no idea how to return him. It took me years of travel and searching to learn the ways of the Pathways, to learn that only through a pure Sargen can open it from our side. After my failed attempt before I have put new plans in action. I have found a new Sargen child that I can use to save Vician.”
She was only a few feet away from Javen now. “But I suppose you are still being a fool and will not join me. It’s such a shame. You were a great warrior, and you could have joined me and our beloved Master in the perfect Darkness. But now you have joined the losing side, and the Darkness will destroy you along with everything else that has touched the Light.”
For a few moments that felt like hours, Javen and Bellavar stared close into each other’s eyes, having an invisible battle that none of the others could see. Ziaxe saw Kron look unsure and more confused than ever. The Witch must have kept him in the dark this whole time. Ziaxe couldn’t believe that Kron would willingly be helping Bellavar.
Bellavar cut off her eye contact by turning around and heading back towards Kron and Venna. “The Nizain is the only one of use to me right now,” she said as she walked. “You ex-Vidian will be killed now.”
Once she was standing in the center of everyone, she turned back to Javen. “I suppose it’s time to return to normal. All these years I have let myself turn into this old hag, waiting and waiting for my return to power, and now it is here. You have never known this about me Javen, but I am actually several centuries old. My Demon blood keeps me young. And I know my Vician will want to return to my actual beauty.”
She made a wicked smile and raised her hands. Surprisingly her back straightened as if it was never weighed down by age, and she did not look as weak as she had led everyone to believe. Darkness began to circle around her like a swirling tornado until she was hidden from view. The energy from it began to make strong winds that drowned out all other noise.
Ziaxe crouched down with Javen beside him. Kron ran to one of the corridors and laid Venna against its wall. He was visibily worried and unsure of what he was to do, his inner conflict written all over his face. And amidst all the loud wooshing of the winds, Gurgan was alone shouting inaudible words and attacking with his own Darkness, but to no avail.
Eventually the tornado stopped, the winds dying down, and Bellavar emerged. She was no longer the old, decrepit woman Bellara who had been arrested by Virok so long ago. She was a young Witch that gave off an essence of power. She had thin lips curled in a smile and an angular face that one would compare to a goddess. The ragged worn out grey clothing she had been wearing now looked like a revealing dress on her lean figure.
“Did you miss me, Javen?”
Javen glared at her, looking as if he was ready to tear her apart with his bare hands. “You and your foolishness will damn us all!” he yelled. “If Vician returns this world will die!”
“And that’s all for the better. You know just as any other Vidian does that this world is a terrible and cruel place. I simply wish to remake it along with Vician into something perfect where all the ones of Darkness can be happy and not murdered for who they are.
“But I know you, and there will be no persuading you once you get this stubborn on something. So die.” With the word, she flicked both of her hands and the air in front of her flickered as if it was something solid being hit, like a wall being broken through. Demons formed from this distortion, horrid beasts as big as Gilart. Only five of them appeared, but each had muscles the size of Ziaxe’s head and claws nearly as long as a man’s hand. They had green hair covering their dark skin that looked like it had been burnt all over. Their eyes were the eyes of animals hunting their preys as they snarled and grunted into existence.
Javen swore under his breath and whispered to Ziaxe. “This isn’t good. She’s using a lot of power to summon only a few Demons, but each of these Demons are stronger than any of the Demons that attacked our army before. When a Witch summons Demons she usually prefers to summon more at a weaker level because she’d have a high quantity and still have some power left over. Bellavar doesn’t care anymore. She just used a surprising amount of energy on these beasts, because she doesn’t want to risk us defeating them.”
He looked Ziaxe in the eyes. “We have to get serious now. I hope I trained you well enough.”
Javen turned back to Bellavar and the monstrous Demons. “So then it was you who attacked our army on the way here. I should’ve known not to just accept the Demons would work together on their own.”
Bellavar let out a light laugh, her voice musical compared to the harsh voice she had before. “You fool! Maybe some of those Demons were mine. Once a Demon’s summoned it stays alive until it’s killed, but I had nothing to do with whatever attacked you. I’m not the only Demon summoner who hates the world of Light, you know.”
Her Demons bent on their knees before her, ready for their orders. “Oh, you sweet giants,” she said. “Once Vician and I rule the world I will make it a peaceful place for all of you as well. Now, my loves, attack and kill those two, but leave the young man with the two swords alive! I have need of him!”
The monsters turned to their prey, fangs and claws bared. Two of them instantly jumped at Gurgan while he still stood alone, their bodies nearly three times bigger than his. Gurgan used his small size and speed to dodge and slice at different parts of the Demons with his daggers, but their skin seemed stronger than tree bark and even when the blades broke through, they acted as if they felt no injuries. The small cuts that began to appear on them leaked green blood, the blood of Demons.
Javen took initiative and charged one of the other Demons. He got a couple of slices on the monster’s chest and arms before it knocked him down to the ground as if he was a child. The Demon was about to step on him, but Javen was quick enough to roll away and get back to his feet.
Ziaxe stood frozen for a few moments and realized at that moment how exhausted he was growing. Through all that had happened since the small meal he had when he woke up, he was losing energy fast, and now even stronger enemies were here. It felt hopeless. He had felt the drain that summoning Naz Zarak earlier had left on him immediately after using it.
One of the Demons noticed his hesitancy and took advantage of it by charging straight for him, wilder than Kycan had charged at him only a few minutes ago. But this was a Demon, not a confused human just beginning to fight. Ziaxe knew then that he wouldn’t be able to win as easily as he had won with Kycan. He braced himself and held his swords in front of him, waiting for the approaching impact.
A bolt of Dark lightning flew from somewhere to his right with more fury and power than a monstrous lightning storm and struck the Demon in the side, launching him to the wall on the opposite wall. Ziaxe couldn’t believe his eyes. He had never seen a bolt quite as strong as that even from Javen or Gurgan. While the Demon fell to the ground in a heap of broken bones, Ziaxe turned and saw Kron, one hand raised while the other held the glove he had removed. Their eyes met again, and Kron seemed just as surprised at what he did.
“Boy, you stay out of this!” yelled Bellavar to Kron from behind her Demons.
Ziaxe had no time to react as the last Demon appeared in front of him. The Demon grabbed Ziaxe’s head with one massive hand and lifted him into the air like one would lift a toy doll. Ziaxe struggled, kicking and trying to cut the arm off, but it didn’t phase the beast. The horrid smell of it was almost enough to make him faint, but then it let go of him as it threw him a few feet away towards where Kron was standing. His arm slammed on the hard ground, and he clenched his teeth from the pain of the jolt.
“Ziaxe!” He heard Javen and Gurgan both calling from where they were fighting.
Bellavar’s laughing rang through the room. “Praise Sarben for bringing the world a powerful Nizain such as this,” she said, her voice covered with sarcasm. “If you can’t defeat a Demon what makes you think you can defeat Virok or even Gilart at that matter!? Just stay down, boy, and join me. I could just the Power of the Nizain to help me on my journey to resurrecting my Master.”
Ziaxe slowly got to his feet. He felt the bruise on his shoulder, but he was certain nothing was broken. Even if it was broken, he wouldn’t be able to let that stop him. Javen and Gurgan were fighting together now against the remaining Demons. They had managed to take down one, but the other two were still coming strong on them, and Ziaxe could tell they were losing energy just as quickly as him. How can I be this weak? He asked himself. I need to be stronger to protect my friends. I need to be stronger.
As the Demon that had thrown him stalked menacingly towards him with slow deliberate steps, Ziaxe felt the Power of the Nizain trying to break out and take over. It was like the time Gilart and Virok had trapped him on one of the towers of Beranian Castle. He had been ignorant then and the Power knew it had to take control to keep him alive, but he also knew the repercussions of letting it control him. When it first took control his body was too weak, and he passed out. Now he was stronger, but his stamina and energy was far too low to handle it. He couldn’t let it take over and risk him going unconscious while Javen and Gurgan were struggling to stay alive.
It was all over, and he knew it. He looked back to Kron who was now only a few feet behind him and could see he was exhausted from using the Darkness.
“I’m sorry, Ziaxe,” said Kron, his voice unsure and hesitant. “I didn’t know what this Witch intended to do. She just told me that she’d help me save Venna. She told me that she was dying because of this Curse, and she has been keeping her alive. I shouldn’t have trusted her, but she helped me out of Berania, and I needed you to break the Curse.”
“It’s all right, Kron,” replied Ziaxe. He had no idea how to break the Curse of the Nizain. He had been warned about it a few times, but he had never heard of how to stop it. Kron didn’t deserve any of this blame, he knew, but seeing him with Bellavar had made him feel betrayed in a certain way. Things had changed, and he didn’t know what to do about it, especially now as the end felt so near.
“Finish them, my children!” yelled Bellavar. “I have more important things to do than wait for them to die!”
Ziaxe raised his swords and attacked the Demon, but it was no use. It would take too long to make an injury, and he could only be lucky for so long until the Demon caught him again and caused more serious injuries. Javen and Gurgan wouldn’t be able to handle this any longer. It’s over…. I’ll be remembered as the worst Nizain in history….
A strange rumbling shook the castle along with a loud cacophony of noises from one of the corridors that led to the front doors of the castle. Everyone stopped for a moment as they all listened to the sudden mixture of high-pitched shrieks and stomping feet. Something was coming. A lot of something was coming.
Javen seemed to understand what was happening before anyone else. Along with Gurgan, he scurried past the Demons they had been fighting and made it to Ziaxe’s side of the room. “Ziaxe, move!” he yelled as he approached.
What’s happening? Ziaxe wondered, but his thoughts were answered straightaway. Zauk-souls upon Zauk-souls stormed into the room all at once like a large horde of shadows running over one another. They climbed over one another’s mist-like bodies with a frightening lust for blood as they charged the first things they saw: the Demons. Like desperate, starving, wild animals, they jumped onto the Demons still standing, multiple shadows fitting onto every part of the giant beast. The Demons howled in pain as the life was drained from them.
At that moment, Ziaxe understood what luck he had just been given, but he also knew what this meant. The castle had fallen. All of Rillen might as well be lost. Would running from the Zauk-souls even be worth it in the end? It was all over….
Javen and Gurgan were already in the corridor with Kron and Venna. Kron picked up Venna and began to run ahead with Gurgan. “Ziaxe, let’s go!”
Ziaxe shook himself out of his thoughts and turned to run after Javen.
“Damn you, Nizain!” Ziaxe could hear Bellavar seething as her Demons died before her. “This is not the end, you fool! One day our paths will cross again, and I will not show mercy! You are destined to protect the Pathway, to be the Guardian of the Gate, but when that time comes you will fail! Vician will return!”
Her voice faded the farther away they ran. Ziaxe was feeling disappointment in himself and everything he had tried to do. He had lost his first battle. How could he let that happen?
But as they continued through the corridor, increasing their distance from the ravenous Zauk-souls, Ziaxe knew that he couldn’t let this loss overwhelm him. There was no time to grieve as long as Virok held the upper hand. He would just have to get stronger and stronger until he could lead this army to victory.
Only after being that close to death did Ziaxe know that he would have to use the life he had been given wisely. He was the Nizain, Nizain Ziaxe, and he would defeat the Darkness.