On the western battlefield, it was becoming more and more difficult for General Draton to keep his army’s moral up. No matter how many men they killed here, the strange Zauk-souls and Vidians were able to get passed them through their Darkness magic. They could all see the Zauk-souls scaling the walls as easy as a spider. No one was safe anymore.
Draton could see the Kings Farli and Nari fighting Zauk-souls on the top of the walls where he had left them. Maybe it was wrong for him to leave them, but his men needed him just as much as they would have. He understood that they were kings, but he couldn’t believe that a life of a king was worth the lives of hundreds of good men.
He cut down another Yasson Harvoren, one of many he had already killed. He had completely lost track of how many he had slaughtered, but in a battle like this where the enemy was seemingly everywhere around them, there was no point in counting. All he knew was that even though he had been killing them there were still more to kill.
News had travelled around the army already about how there were Vidians and Zauk-souls invading the southern wall. That was just as discouraging to the soldiers as anything else that had happened so far. Draton refused to let it slow down his men though. “Keep fighting!” he had shouted several times. His only hope was that he could keep his men fighting until the end.
At the different sections of the battlefield, he could see his fellow leaders fighting alongside him. The elderly Duke of Draslo was surprisingly as mighty a warrior as he had ever been, wielding a powerful broadsword while garbed in strong iron plate armor. At this moment, as he cut down Yassons and Dremuns with his men, he looked more metal than man.
The Duke of Draslo was the only nobleman to join in the march while other dukes had sent generals to lead for them. The young Duke of Triontan had sent a couple of them, but the one that Draton noticed now was the brute of a man named Mican. He was more muscle than man as he knocked over enemy soldiers with his shield. Draton considered for a moment how he had barely gotten to know any of the people he fought with, and now this might be all of their ends.
Draton made his way over to one of the other generals from Salras, one he had known through his whole military career. The man was named Wyan, and he was broad shouldered with shaved hair like Draton. They could have passed for brothers except for the few differences in their facial structures. But despite those differences, Draton had always seen Wyan as a brother in arms above all else.
He killed another enemy that stood in his way. “Wyan!” he shouted to the general, “How do your men fare?!”
The two of them had reached an opening in the battle where their men were fighting around them and they could speak safely for a few moments. Wyan made a wry face. “How do you think? We’re just delaying our deaths at this rate.”
“Well then, it is a good death.” Draton had always known he would die one day in a battle, even before he was in the army.
Wyan looked out into the fighting. “And look who’s here to give us that death.”
Draton followed Wyan’s eyes and saw his end. A giant that loomed a few feet over all of the other soldiers was marching through the swarms of men. He was a hideous man with light armor, but when Draton’s men would attack him, the giant would swat them away like useless flies. “By Sarben’s Light,” whispered Draton in wonder.
“It’s the one they call ‘Gilart.’ Apparantly he’s Virok’s right hand man. I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with him.”
As Draton watched the giant come closer and closer, breaking through every soldier in his way, he felt a calming realization. He had worked all his life to get to where he was, to be a beloved general who died a legendary death. This was a battle that had to be spoken in years to come. The start of a second Vician War. He wouldn’t die facing the small men, the normal soldiers who charged him and his companions in herds. If he was to die this day, he would take the main force of his enemy with him if not the whole army.
He turned to Wyan and gave a grin. “He’s mine,” he said as he charged ahead once more into the chaos, ignoring Wyan’s shouts of disapproval.
Sastan was sure he was thinking the same way as everyone else. It was over. He watched the Zauk-souls charge through the Zarian Knights and Sargenian soldiers like a breeze of wind going through an open window. While the Zauk-souls got past them easily, they were left to fight the monstrous Lost Vidians. It was all just too much for all of them.
He didn’t know what to do as he fought beside Sara and Orlen. It had become to rough for him to handle, and if he couldn’t handle it then there was no hope for his friends. Covered in cuts and bruises, he made his way to the buildings of the city with the others where they found an empty building to rest in for a few moments.
Sastan sat on the floor beneath a window as he struggled to catch his breath. The room was a mess as it had obviously been abandoned recently. A dining table stood to the side with chairs around it, but plates and silverware scattered the floor along with random books and other various supplies.
Sara was tending to his wounds as best as she could with whatever bandage materials she could find in the building, but it was useless. It was not the physical injuries that were causing him so much pain. There was a sort of blow to his spirit and mind he had suffered as everything began to fall apart that was causing him the most discomfort. He was always so optimistic that he could keep his friends safe, and having that view shattered like glass was almost too much for him to bear.
He was a Sargen. Who cares if he is tainted or not? He should be able to fight the Darkness and win like all of the legendary Sargens of old had done. Because of his weakness, Sara and Orlen might die. He didn’t even know where Ziaxe was. The Nizain could already be dead for all he knew. That one Nizain Guardian had gone off towards the castles a while ago. Did he know where Ziaxe was?
“What should we do, Sastan?” Sara was sitting on the floor beside him now. Orlen was looking out the window, but Sastan knew it was pointless to keep watch. They all knew that all that was out there were those monsters roaming the streets.
“I—I don’t know,” was all he could reply with as he held his bandaged arm against himself.
They were all silent for a while then. Sastan didn’t know how long. It could’ve been a few minutes or an hour or more. The anger and disappointment inside him was raging to the point of boiling over. What was he supposed to do?
In their silence, all they could hear was the chaos and confusion outside. There were screams of death and fear along with the roar of burning fires and the crashes of buildings being damaged all around them. Sastan couldn’t believe that their hiding spot would magically be the one place that the enemy never attacks. It was only a matter of time.
Orlen came over to Sastan and Sara and sat on the ground in front of them. “Sastan, we won’t be able to stay here forever, you know.” The big lumberjack’s beard had streaks of blood in it from a cut on his forehead that he had bandaged up. He looked just as beat up as any of the other soldiers, and the blade of his ax was stained with the blood of his enemies.
“I know,” replied Sastan, “I just… I’ll figure something out…. Just give me time.”
That wasn’t the answer that Orlen wanted to hear though. “I’m sorry, Sastan, but the battle is lost…. The adventure is over, and if we don’t get out while we can….”
Sastan looked up to Orlen and narrowed his eyes. “You want us to leave? How can you suggest that when everyone is out there dying?!” He couldn’t control his voice as it slipped into a shout.
Orlen broke eye contact with Sastan and stood up. “We’re not soldiers!” he shouted at the floor. “I never expected things to get this bad when I let you follow the Nizain. I always thought the army would be doing all of the fighting, and we would be safe from it. We were never prepared for this, and you know it. It’s time for us to get out and count our blessings.”
Sastan never expected to hear such cowardice from Orlen. Orlen had always been the one he looked up to, the one who always knew the right thing to do. But now in a situation like this, how could anyone know what to do?
After another few moments on silence, Sastan felt Sara’s hand touch his arm. “Sastan….” Her voice broke him out of his thoughts.
“What do you want me to do?” He found himself asking her.
She did not reply right away, and while he waited for her reply, Sastan began to wonder what she could be thinking. “Sastan… I want you to survive….”
Sastan turned towards her and saw her solemn stare with eyes full of worry. Her long blonde hair was strewn across her beautiful face.
“You’re always trying so hard… to keep me safe…. I don’t want to cause you any trouble. That day I met you when you saved me from those thieves in Salras… I was grateful, but… now I just feel like a burden….”
“Sara, no. I—”
“Let me finish.” Her tone suggested that she wouldn’t listen to anything he could interject with. “I know you’re fighting this hard to keep others safe, but there are some times when you have to keep yourself safe. I don’t know what I can make you do, but keep that in mind. I don’t know what I’d do without you….”
Her words struck something within him. He somehow knew what he had to do then. “What’s the point of keeping myself safe, if my friends are in danger?” He struggled back to his feet. “Why should I hide or run away when I have a friend somewhere in this city probably fighting for his life?”
“Sastan, what are you thinking?!” shouted Orlen, his voice showing an uncharacteristic rage. “You’ll get us all killed!”
Sastan gave a small smile as he felt his optimism returning. “That’s why you two will stay here. I know I can trust you to keep Sara safe, Orlen.”
Orlen was visibly shocked with his bearded mouth agape. Sastan moved close to him and embraced him. “You stay safe too,” he whispered before he ended the embrace.
He walked over to where Sara continued to sit. She was on the brink of tears. “Sastan, stop…” she started to say.
Sastan kneeled before her and kissed her forehead, tasting all the sweat and dirt on her. He gave a grin for her. “Don’t worry, Sara Salrasa, Duchess of Salras, the legend of beauty, I don’t die that easily.”
He left the building, leaving his friends in their worry and tears. It was better for them to be crying over dying. He knew that hiding through this battle was not his way. Somewhere in this city, a young man he had met in the Treeman Forest was fighting for his friends as well.
Sastan smiled to himself. Just because he’s the Nizain doesn’t mean he doesn’t need help, he thought to himself as he made his way through the city.
Copper couldn’t begin to describe his irritation at being left with all these Zarian Knights. The way he saw it the Princess was just as bad as the Knights, so he made it obvious his distaste of all of them. How could he ever forgive them for killing his parents? They all deserved to die.
Everything was relatively calm in the throne room despite the overall fear of death getting closer and closer. The Knights stood by the door, to the sides of the room, and by the Princess’ side. They all stood tall and solid like statues, but Copper could almost feel the fear emanating from them.
A long period of time passed in tense silence before anything happened, but when that something did happen, the tension exploded in a sudden rush. A loud slamming on the entrance to the throne room accompanied by a man screaming, “Open up! Let me in!” frightened everyone in the room all at once. The Knights at the door carefully opened it with their weapons ready for danger, but when they saw it was a fellow Knight, they let him in.
The Knight ran into the room and fell down to his knees in front of the Princess. He was frantic with his helm and weapon missing along with other parts of his armor. His hair was a sweaty mop of a mess, and there was blood from cuts on his face and arm. “Your Grace!” he yelled, panting, his voice coming out in sharp bursts of air. “I bring… bad news! The castle…. It’s been breached!”
In that one statement, the approach of death grew one step closer. Copper looked at the Princess and saw the shock and disbelief apparent on her face. But it only took her a quick moment to shake her face into a blank calmness, a trait that leaders had to learn to keep their followers at ease. “Calm down, Sir Knight,” she said, her voice steady and gentle. “Tell us all that has happened.”
The Knight took a deep breath and hunched over as if he was about to cry. Then he turned his head back to his Princess. “It’s the Zauk-souls, your Grace. They’ve made their way past the defenders and into our castle. We are fighting them as best we can now, but there’s no saying when they might reach the throne room.”
While the information shocked everyone else in the room, it made Copper almost laugh at the bitter irony. The Nizain had left him here in the hopes that he would be safe despite whatever lies he had told him about “protecting the Princess,” but now this room may be the most dangerous one in the whole castle. They were now trapped like a wild animal in a hunter’s snare. Copper supposed he would be able to get the action he would have had if he joined the Nizain.
“That is ill news,” said Princess Melna, her voice almost distant as she was thinking of what best to say. “You have done well, Sir Knight, but now you must rest your wounds. I have great faith in my Knights as much as I have in our beloved God of Light. I trust they will be able to defeat this threat with the help of the Sargenian soldiers.”
Her words encouraged the Zarian Knights in the room as some appeared to let a smile show, but Copper had a hard time believing she even believed what she was saying. Copper had been outside of the castle and saw all the madness while everyone in here had been hiding this whole time. They had no true idea how bad it was getting out there.
The messenger Knight was taken to the side of the room where other Knights bandaged his wounds and let him lay on the floor. Everyone resumed their tense silence again as none had any idea of what to do now. But Princess Melna surprised Copper by suddenly addressing. “Boy, would you please come here?”
Copper looked around the room, looking for another boy.
“Yes, I mean you, boy. Please, come stand beside me.”
He was hesitant to react. Could these Knights have told her that he was a thief? Would she use this time to send him to the dungeons or to his death? He refused to let himself look afraid and weak before the Knights though, so he walked to the Princess’ chair quickly. When he was on the step before her, he asked, “What is it?”
Melna smiled as if she was about to laugh. “I see you haven’t been taught the proper courtesies when addressing royalty. But no matter. Come up here on my level. I asked you to stand beside me.”
Copper did what he was asked and stood on her right side, eyeing the Zarian Knights behind her suspiciously. He turned back around and saw everything for the first time from a ruler’s perspective, raised above the others. Kings must love to feel tall, he thought.
“What is your name, boy?”
“Chamden,” he replied. It didn’t even pass through his mind that he should give a fake name like Copper, but he felt that she would just ask him for his real name no matter what.
“Chamden,” she said silently as if to herself, “that’s a fine name. Are you afraid, Chamden?”
“It is all right to be afraid at a time like this.” The Princess turned to look at Copper while Copper stared out towards the doors. “We are all afraid right now, but I wanted you to know that you are one of us, one of us Zarians. No matter what class we are born into we are all one people. And since I have been born to rule our people, I will do all in my power to keep us safe. Do you understand?”
“I suppose.” We are nothing alike.
“So if things go bad I want you to stay by my side. I will keep you safe. I promise.”
Her words were probably picked carefully as an attempt to win him over, but they washed over him uselessly. She didn’t know anything about him. She never would know anything. Her life had been perfect up until now while he had been struggling to survive on the streets every day of his life. Her Knights were what killed his parents, the only family he ever knew.
If things went bad he knew what to do. He knew how to survive. He would fight for himself, and if these other damned Zarians died in the end so be it. What had they ever done for him?
In one of the many corridors of the Rillen Castle, Nizain Ziaxe ran for his life along with his companions. Javen and Gurgan led the way through the dimly lit halls with Kron carrying Venna directly behind them. Ziaxe covered the rear, looking back every few moments to make sure there was no one following them. The strange high-pitched noises the Zauk-souls made echoed along the corridors, but the majority of them were going through the other parts of the castle it seemed.
At one point in their escape, Ziaxe felt a Chill of Darkness run through him that almost stopped him cold. He looked at the shadows around him while he ran and felt a strange feeling nagging at him as if he felt eyes watching him. There was something there, but this was no time to stop and fight whatever it was.
They reached a door at the end of one corridor, and Javen flung it open. When they all piled inside, they saw that it was an infirmary. There were beds all around the rectangular room with wounded and dying men laid upon them. At the end of the room were open doorways that led to other rooms where even more men must have been hiding. The room smelled of blood, sweat, and dirt, and women ran around trying to help everyone all at once.
One of the women stopped and saw them enter. She was a short, plump woman wearing an apron covered in streaks of blood. “Oh no, are you breaking more?” she asked, her face a nervous wreck. “There’s barely enough room as it is.”
Ziaxe closed the door and went further into the room. He could see that the woman was right. The room was overflowing with the wounded. All the beds were full of moaning men, and even more men were forced to rest on wool blankets on the floor.
“Gurgan, watch the door,” Javen was saying, “You’ll have to enforce it with your Darkness if the Zauk-souls find this place. You, boy, lay the girl over here against the wall.”
He was addressing Kron Ziaxe saw when he turned to them. Kron did as he was told and rested Venna’s unconscious body against the wall so that she limped forward like a toy doll.
“Oh my,” said the plump woman as she approached, “what’s happened to her?”
“Stay back,” said Javen, gesturing to her. He had become solemn and his eyes were anxious as his brain seemed to be working at full speed as he knelt down beside Venna and examined her. “So I see she has fallen to the Curse. This is going to be rough, but we’ll have to save her now or she won’t live much longer.”
“She’s survived this long though,” said Kron, his breath heavy and his face showing his fear. Now that Ziaxe was this close to him again, he could see that something really had changed with him. He looked weak and pale almost like a ghost of whom he had been.
“Aye, but I assume that was with the help of Bellavar. I don’t know who you are or your history with her, but I assume that she won’t want to help you much longer after striking one of her Demons.”
The realization showed over Kron’s face. “Fine. How can you save her then? I came all the way here, because that Witch said Ziaxe could save her.”
That surprised Ziaxe. What was he supposed to do?
Javen turned to his son. “Ziaxe, I know I have taught you the dangers of this Curse. It almost always succeeds in killing the Nizain’s loved one, or even if you are just a part of the Nizain’s line as was my case.” He paused as if his memories decided to haunt him again. “But I learned something too late after Levandra died. I learned that there is a way for the Nizain to save his loved one by severing the connection with the special Zauk-soul. It will be difficult, but I know you can handle it.”
Ziaxe stood frozen, dubious and afraid, but before he could say anything their luck changed for the worse. “Nizain Ziaxe,” said a new voice that surprised them all. It was a soft, feminine voice. Ziaxe turned and saw a hooded woman across from them.
“Viona,” whispered Kron in shock.
“Who?” asked Ziaxe, unsure of how he should respond to this figure.
“It’s the creature, Ziaxe…. The Zauk-soul you created!”
The hooded woman came closer, slowly and deliberately. When she was close enough, Ziaxe could see the sword in her hand. With each step closer, the sword transformed. Darkness began to dance around the blade like flying snakes, and the air in the room grew humid and hard to breathe.
“It can’t be,” said Ziaxe in amazement.
“How?” he asked to no one.
“It’s your Zauk-soul, Ziaxe,” said Javen. “It was created by your Darkness. That includes the Power of the Nizain. The Curse forces this Zauk-soul to continually grow off of your and your loved one’s energies.”
“I am here to stop this,” said the Zauk-soul. “I am here to end the torture you have put me through. Everyday I grow more and more, but I am neither human nor Zauk-soul. I am stuck somewhere in between, and nothing will ever change unless I stop it.”
“What are you thinking of doing?” Kron stepped forward and stood beside Ziaxe, his sword in hand.
“Bellavar told me that if one of my creators were killed, I would stabilize and enter my final state. She had planned to keep Venna alive to have you on her side, but I can see how easily your loyalties sway. I, however, don’t care anymore now that you have betrayed Bellavar. She is ready to let me finish my creation, so all I have to do is kill Venna or the Nizain.”
“N-no… that’s not what I wanted….” Kron looked ashamed and confused, looking more and more like a ghost than ever before.
The Zauk-soul was only a few feet away now. Ziaxe raised his swords, but he didn’t know how he could withstand the might of another Naz Zarak. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. I… I can try to fix it.”
His enemy didn’t want to listen anymore though. The creature charged at him, Naz Zarak slicing at him vertically. Ziaxe rolled to the side as the blade dug into the wooden floor he had been standing on.
“No fighting in the infirmary!” yelled one of the nurses, but that didn’t stop the Zauk-soul. Its shadowed face looked over at where Ziaxe had escaped, but then it turned to Venna against the wall.
Before it could get its sword out of the floor, Kron shot a large bolt of Darkness lightning into its body, throwing it into the crowd of injured soldiers. The blast was another surprising display of energy that left Ziaxe speechless. Ziaxe saw Kron grab the hand that released the energy as if it had been burned while smoke still reeled from it.
While the enemy was slowly getting up from where it landed on a poor broken-legged soldier who screamed at the impact, Ziaxe jumped back to his feet. “What do I do, Father?” he asked Javen, hurriedly.
Javen was on his feet now next to Kron and Ziaxe. “We’ll have to be careful. If we kill it, neither you nor this Venna will be able to recover the energy it has been slowly stealing. It’ll be like leaving a wound unbandaged. Both of you would die. You will have to sever the connection as I said. I will try to restrain it, and then you must summon Naz Zarak and Naz Saren to do the rest.”
Ziaxe doubted he had any more energy to do any of that, but he had no time to voice his opinion as the Zauk-soul charged again at all three of them. They all dodged to the sides as it ran past them like a wild boar. Its speed caused it to reach the wall and pierce its stone with Naz Zarak. It groaned and began to struggle slightly as it was pulling the blade from the wall.
The door that Gurgan was guarding was next to it, and Ziaxe saw that their troubles were growing even more. Darkness was pouring from Gurgan’s hands like small waterfalls all over the door, acting like a shield to enforce it while Ziaxe could hear the other Zauk-souls slamming against it on the other side. They were all trapped. Even if this special Zauk-soul didn’t kill him or his friends, the horde outside would eventually burst in. They couldn’t expect Gurgan to hold them out forever.
The Zauk-soul had finally pulled out Naz Zarak and turned to look around at the others. It pulled back its hood, and Ziaxe finally believed that it was a Zauk-soul created from Venna. Its face was Venna’s face except for the shorter hair and the angry snarl on it. “I’m growing tired of you running from my attacks, Nizain Ziaxe!” it growled, its soft voice becoming deeper and more monstrous as if in that instant she was turning more Zauk-soul than human. “I will bring you to me!”
It turned to Gurgan then and readied its sword to attack him. Gurgan didn’t even risk a glance at it as he continued to focus on the door.
“NO!” Javen was on the move, running to the Lost Vidian he had known all of his life. A wave of Darkness erupted from one raised hand and swallowed the Zauk-soul like an ocean wave would swallow a crab. The Darkness swirled around it like a sphere, and it was completely out of sight.
Ziaxe and Kron made their way to Javen’s side. At first, Ziaxe thought that Javen’s Darkness would be enough to stop the monster, but suddenly, Naz Zarak pierced through a section of the sphere, revealing its Venna face. Javen began to visibly struggle as he groaned and shook to sustain his sphere. He turned to the others and saw Kron. “You, boy!” he shouted over the whirl of the wind his Darkness caused. “If you want to save Ziaxe or the girl, help me!”
Kron hesitated and looked at the palm of his hand, the same hand that had shown amazing power. Ziaxe could see the hand shaking as Kron appeared to be thinking about something. But Kron pushed those thoughts away as he closed his hand in a fist and opened it again to aim at the enemy. A tear rolled down his cheek as he let out a wave of Darkness that surpassed Javen’s. His wave and Javen’s worked together making a sphere of many layers.
The sphere was causing heavy winds now and the women and soldiers in the room were screaming and praying to Sarben with all their might. Ziaxe began to focus on what Javen told him to do, but the energy was not there. He felt as if there was nothing sustaining him at this point other than his willpower.
“Ziaxe!” yelled Javen over the uproar of the Darkness. “Look at the area between the Zauk-soul and the girl! You must access your other senses to see the string of Light and Darkness. You need to cut these strings with the sacred blades to end this!”
But how could he even begin to summon the swords at this point? He did what Javen said though and looked at the space between Venna and the Zauk-soul. He remembered what Javen had said about sensing Darkness. All the noise around him became distant as he focused and focused. There was visible Darkness around them right now, so all he had to do was use what he knew about it to find the Darkness that was not easily seen by human eyes.
It only took him a few moments until he saw the flickers before him. It was like Javen had said. There were thin invisible lines between Venna and the Zauk-soul and the Zauk-soul and himself. His end of his string was at his stomach while Venna’s end was at her heart. The strings pulsated quick bursts of both Darkness and then Light, supplying the Zauk-soul with energy. Now that he saw it, he was surprised that he never had before. There was a whole other world he had yet to even see.
“Ziaxe! Cut the strings!”
Where could he get the energy for it though? He told himself he had to do it somehow no matter what even if he had to die doing it. He looked inside himself, looking for the Darkness and Light required to make the swords.
But then he felt the other presence within him, the Power of the Nizain. It communicated to him without using words, saying that everything was all right and that the Power was there for him. It comforted him in a way that he couldn’t explain, like an inner voice giving him confidence.
And just like that, Ziaxe was gone and Nizain Ziaxe was there, standing strong and confident in the face of the danger around him. His father was screaming to him, but he knew it was all right. He raised his swords and thought about the things that gave him power. First, he thought of Virok and the hatred he felt towards all that the Vidian had been putting him through. Along with the hatred he felt towards Bellavar and Gilart and those Demons that had beaten him so easily, he felt a fiery ball of Darkness form in his stomach. The Power of the Nizain led him through the process, and the ball of fire released into his sword, creating Naz Zarak.
Next, he realized was the easier part. Even though he was born with Vidian blood, he knew he could find his Light through the people he loved and cared for. He looked at Javen and Kron, their current struggle so distant to him that it felt like a dream. He saw Gurgan working to keep the door closed. Thoughts of Sastan, Orlen, and Sara came to him as well. All of these people were helping him on his quest and fighting with him. It warmed his heart to think of them all and the kindnesses they had all done him.
Then, he looked at Venna, her sweet, angelic face staring with closed eyes at the floor. He felt the guilt of all that he had unwillingly put her through, but he also felt comfort in the fact that it was almost over. Because it was almost over. He was sure of it.
The Light in his heart erupted into Naz Saren, and with both swords in hand he cut both of the strings as easily as cutting paper with shears.
And it was over. The struggles were finished. An overwhelming weakness ran through him as the sacred swords vanished, leaving his weapons back in their normal states. The sphere of Darkness dissolved, and the Zauk-soul fell to the ground, feeling the same weakness. Before Ziaxe knew it, he was on the floor, watching Venna stir awake as everything around him disappeared.