The attack on Rillen continued to look dire as King Farli of Sargenia fought for his life on the western wall alongside the King of Zaria and their soldiers and knights. The Zauk-souls were still climbing the walls as if the walls were just hills to be walked upon. There was nothing anyone could do to stop the intrusion of the enemies. To make matters worse, the Dremuns and Yasson Harvorens had finally succeeded in breaking down the gate, making it easier for anyone to enter the city. The Sargenians and Zarian Knights struggled to keep them outside of the gates, though, as the main battle was taking place at the base of the wall, underneath where Farli fought.
Farli sliced through another of the shadow monsters, feeling the tension and strain in his arm. He fought with a strong iron sword in his right hand and a shield showing the Sun of Sargenia on the other. The monsters weren’t the most difficult to fight, but their numbers were incredible. He couldn’t even begin to imagine where they were all coming from.
He looked out at the waves of people dying and killing. What could he do now? This was his first battle, and it was looking like his last. That idea irked him severely, more so than the cuts and bruises he was sustaining. He refused to be remembered as the young king that lost his first battle and his whole kingdom if Virok was going to finish what Vician started. He was the son of the Great King Broniton. It was expected of him to be just as great as his father.
While he was fighting, something felt off, however. After a while, he realized that it was because the Nizain was nowhere to be found. In all of the stories and legends of the Nizain, the Nizain was there at the major battles, leading the fight with his divine powers. Farli could see this new Nizain Ziaxe, hiding somewhere in the city, probably crying and praying to Sarben. He was nothing more than a young peasant and coward who got lucky. Farli should have the Power; he should be wielding it to win this battle.
But no, he was continuing a suicide battle. There was nowhere to even retreat to at this point. It was time for them to miraculously win or die trying.
King Nari showed no signs of stopping as well. The fat man looked like an enormous, iron boulder in this armor. He was surprisingly agile for a man of his age and weight. Enemies would attack him from all sides, and he would either dodge the attack or let his armor take it and then release a strong slice from his greatsword.
Just when he thought it couldn’t get worse, the Zauk-soul leader arrived. On top of one of the merlons of the wall, a shadow grew in size, stretching towards the sky until it was the shape of a man full grown. The shadow transformed into a hooded man in a dark robe, but parts of it still lingered in the Darkness, making it look connected to the merlon.
The soldiers around Farli began to charge the new enemy, looking for honor and glory by protecting their king. The Zauk-soul was not afraid, though. He cut them down as they approached or shot them with a bolt of Dark lightning. “It is the end for all of you Children of Light,” spoke the Zauk-soul in a deep voice that seemed to shake the wall.
The Zauk-soul’s red eyes appeared under the rim of his hood and made contact with Farli’s. Farli felt a surge of fear run through him at those eyes, and he felt as if he had become as much stone as the wall he stood upon. Before he knew it, a bolt of lightning was coming straight for him. He flinched and shut his eyes, awaiting the impact.
Something heavier than the lightning threw him back, slamming him into an opposite merlon. He was dazed by the impact, but his armor took most of the damage. He opened his eyes and struggled a moment to collect his bearings. His vision was blurry and pain rang through him.
One of his soldiers was on him, a now dead soldier. The soldier had blocked the lightning, taking the shock straight to his face. His face had once been young and handsome, but now it was grotesque and deformed with burnt hole into his skull.
Farli felt nausea at the sight, but there was no time for vomiting. The Zauk-soul was getting closer, completely leaving the shadows now and walking on two feet. The young king tried to move, but he felt a sharp pain erupt in his side. He swore to himself, knowing instantly what had happened. There had never been a worse time in his life to break a rib.
Fighting the pain, he worked at pushing the soldier off of him, but the corpse weighed a few hundred pounds including all of his armor. His vision blurred with dark spots as his side felt like it was on fire.
This was the end of him and he knew it. He would die even after one of his soldiers sacrificed his life for him. I guess the gods enjoy that kind of irony, he thought to himself. He closed his eyes again as his chest heaved trying to collect his breath. He waited for the end, waited for a hole to be burned into his face, when a sound broke through the clash of weapons around him.
Another horn? he thought, but it’s coming from the south…. At least I think it is….
He opened his eyes again and saw the Zauk-soul look to the south. “I can’t believe it,” said the creature’s deep voice, frustration edging his voice.
What was happening? Farli felt hope suddenly enter him. If this was something that the enemy didn’t like, it must be good for him.
The Zauk-soul turned back to Farli, his red eyes showing his irritation. “It looks like you have friends arriving, young King of Sargenia, but that doesn’t mean you’re saved yet. Just remember the one who killed you. Kirov, the great Zauk-soul.”
The creature raised his sword and was bringing it down upon Farli’s head when a roar of bright, white fire suddenly engulfed him. The force threw him backwards off of the wall, screaming more in fury in fear of death.
Light fire? From a Sargen? Farli turned quickly, looking for the source of the flames, but the movement brought his pain out anew. This time it was so sudden and intense his vision wouldn’t return to normal. He blacked out on the walls of Rillen as the war horn blew once more.
While the mysterious, new war horn was blowing in the distance, General Draton was thrown backwards once again by the massive Vidian called Gilart. After separating from Mican, he had charged the beast, gotten several cuts on him, but had been thrown back like a rag doll just as many times. He couldn’t help but make a grin to himself at the absurdity of it all. All the military training in the world meant nothing fighting an enemy like this.
But now the game had changed. A new piece had joined the battle field, some army to the south. Draton couldn’t see that far away through all of the fighting around him, but he had to hope against it all that this was an army coming to aid them, not destroy them.
As if in an answer to his thoughts, a sudden strong voice sounded over all of the fighting. “STAY STRONG, MY PEOPLE OF LIGHT!” Draton turned to the wall and saw an old man with a bald head and a short white beard garbed in a bright white robe. Alavar, he thought, speaking the words of Sarben….
“OUR FIGHT IS ALMOST OVER!” continued the old man with the unbelievably powerful voice. “FROM THE SOUTH ARRIVE THE TREEMEN! THEY HAVE GATHERED THEIR FORCES TO JOIN US IN OUR TIME OF NEED!”
The Treemen? Draton couldn’t believe that. Ever since the Treemen had been given their land in the Treemen Forest, they have been a distant people, seeming to only look out for themselves. If they were here it must have been because of a vision from their Seer. That only meant grave things were yet to come.
But this was no time to think on that. Cheers from his men arose around him. They were all going to be saved. The Treemen would attack from the south, surrounding the enemy army like the jaw of a lion around its prey. The enemy army was powerful, but not even Virok would risk his army getting caught in this trap.
A new war horn erupted over the cheers and the fighting, but this time it was coming from the west, from the enemy army. The Dremun and Yassons all looked wary as they understood what that meant. Talk began amongst them. “Virok is crazy!” said one soldier. “We have almost won!” Another shouted. “It’s too late! We must retreat!”
Draton’s thoughts were right. Virok was retreating. He had to remind himself to breathe as he stood in complete disbelief.
Gilart did not want cooperate, however. “NO!” he shouted at his men as they began to retreat. “I will not be made a fool of again by these damned tree lovers!”
At the sight of the enemy running away, the morale of Draton’s men rose dramatically. They were exuding confidence now as they came to stand beside their general. “It’s over, Gilart,” said Draton. “Retreat now or we all will kill you where you stand.”
Gilart spat a glob of blood and mucus into the grass. Blood trickled down his face, staining all of his leather armor. “You all get some help from the tree lovers, and suddenly you’re all as mighty as the gods, eh?” He scoffed. “I could’ve destroyed your whole army if Virok let me. Oh well though. Next time I will kill all of you. You won’t be able to hold Rillen for long!”
The Vidian melted into the shadows as the warriors of the Army of Light cheered for their victory. Draton paused in the celebrations, though, considering what Gilart said. The Vidian was right. They may have won out of pure luck with the help of the Treemen, but that wouldn’t necessarily help them the next time Virok’s army attacks.
Only time could tell of their ultimate fate, but for now, Draton let himself smile and cheer with his men.
In the Darkness of his mind, Ziaxe had the images of his life flash before him. He felt weak and useless as he saw Alben yell at him in his drunken state. He felt jealousy as Kron and Venna talked with ease while he always struggled to talk to her. He felt the overwhelming openness of the world crushing down on him as it did when he left Berania. He felt the fear that the presence of Virok, Gilart, and Bellavar had given him. He felt the joy that meeting his father and new friends had given him. He felt the betrayal of seeing Kron on the same side as Bellavar.
All his life, he noticed more of the mistakes than the achievements. He felt content to just die now and get it over with. The weakness he felt from overexerting himself should just wrap him like a blanket and take him to Sydara. Maybe then he would meet Vician. Maybe he could finally be useful by persuading Vician to not try to take over the lands of Light.
But then he woke up.
“Looks like the gods aren’t going to take you quite yet, friend.”
That familiar voice anchored him to reality as he slowly opened his eyes. The setting sun cast bright rays of Light on him, makin the effort annoyingly difficult.
“There ya go, friend,” said Sastan’s cheery voice. “I guess I missed all the excitement here, but I see you’re just fine. And to think I was worried. You’re the Nizain, by the Light.”
Ziaxe’s eyes finally opened. He blinked a few times to allow his vision to adjust. He was lying in one of the beds in the infirmary, and Sastan was sitting on the end of it by his feet. The other beds were still full of the injured being tended to. “Where are the others?”
“They’re all fine I think. I saw your Guardians—what’s their names—Javen and Gurgan in the other room resting. When the fighting was getting bad I decided to look for you. I left Sara and Orlen somewhere safe, but I couldn’t just stay there while a friend was in danger. Even if that friend is the Nizain. I was asking around for you, and eventually I met one of your friends in the corridors, and he brought me here.”
Sastan gestured to the wall behind Ziaxe. Ziaxe slowly moved up to a sitting position to see Kron leaning against the wall. “It’s good to see you’re all right, Ziaxe,” he said though his eyes stared distantly at the floor.
“What’s happened while I’ve been out?” Ziaxe looked around the room, remembering that they were in the middle of a battle. He didn’t want to be in bed while others were still dying.
“Ziaxe, calm down,” said Sastan as he put an arm on Ziaxe’s shoulder to keep him sitting. “It’s over. We’ve received reports from outside. The Treemen just came out of nowhere and joined our army. The enemy retreated! Can you believe it?”
Ziaxe couldn’t believe it at all. He remembered the Treemen and the strange words that their chief Jajarath had said to him. These times are momentous, and war is coming. The old blind man was right about that.
“What about Venna?” he asked, turning to Kron again.
“She’s fine,” replied Kron. “It seems that you have saved her just as the Witch said you could. That Zauk-soul has become something more human, but I still don’t trust it.”
Kron pushed himself off of the wall. His hands were in the pockets, and he refused to look at the others. “Can I speak to Ziaxe alone?”
Sastan didn’t seem to notice Kron’s strange attitude. “All right,” he said with a smile as he stood up. “I didn’t catch your name though. My name’s Sastan. Any friend of Ziaxe’s is a friend of mine.” The young Sargen extended his hand.
Kron’s hands stayed in his pockets. He lifted his head slightly to meet Sastan’s gaze, his face in a sullen glare. His eyes showed a strange sense of sadness as they seemed to see through Sastan. “My name’s Kron. I’m sorry, but this is important.”
For a moment, Sastan appeared to be wounded by the words. Ziaxe felt sympathy for the Sargen as well as confusion at Kron, but Sastan didn’t let his upset show for long. A big grin returned to his face as he returned his hand to his side. “Aye, have a fun talk.” He left the room to enter another area of the infirmary.
“What was all that about?” asked Ziaxe, letting his anger show. Kron had no right to treat Sastan with that kind of disrespect.
There was a moment of silence as Kron seemed to think through his words. “I’m leaving, Ziaxe…. And Venna is staying with you….”
That was another statement that Ziaxe couldn’t believe. He hadn’t even been awake long enough to consider what his friends should do, and Kron comes up with this preposterous idea. “What are you talking about? Venna won’t be safe with me.”
“She won’t be safe with me either!” Kron’s sudden outburst shocked Ziaxe. He took a second to regain his composure. “Look.” He removed his right hand from his pocket, and Ziaxe couldn’t help but gasp.
He was growing blob of Darkness on the palm of his hand. It looked like a fleshy wart formed of shadows. It was identical to one of the many blobs on Gurgan’s Lost Vidian body. “I’m losing myself to the Darkness,” continued Kron. “I don’t know why, but it seems to be damaging me more than the others from Berania. Sooner or later I will become one of the Lost Ones. I can’t let Venna be around me when that happens.”
Ziaxe completely sat up and let his legs out over the edge of the bed. “Kron, settle down.”
“Settle down?!” Kron backed away. “What do you think I can do now? When someone is lost to the Darkness they stay lost. I’ve already made up my mind. I was almost on my way out of here before I ran into your friend. By the time I brought him back here you were waking up. I couldn’t leave again without telling you what I’m doing.”
Ziaxe still felt a little light-headed as his feet touched the ground. He held himself up by the head of the bed. “Kron, stop this talk. We’ll find a way to help you.” He reached out one hand to stop Kron and accidently grabbed him by the arm.
And he entered Kron’s mind.
It was different from the time he had heard Venna’s thoughts in Berania. He had unwillingly activated some of his Darkness in his battle with Kycan, so his Darkness had been active even afterwards. Venna was ignorant of everything happening. Just like after his battle with Kycan, Ziaxe’s Darkness was still ready to act, and Kron’s Darkness was never truly put away to begin with because of his lack of training. Both of their Darknesses meshed together momentarily in instinctive defense against the other.
After the initial shock that they both felt, Ziaxe had unwittingly broken through Kron’s defenses and saw everything. He felt all of the emotions Kron had been feeling over the last several weeks. He felt the anger, confusion, fear, and irritation at everything that involved Venna and Bellavar. But most of all, Ziaxe saw a sense of betrayal that Kron had been feeling. A feeling of betrayal from Ziaxe….
It’s all his fault, Kron’s memories beat at Ziaxe.
He did this to her!
He left her to die!
I could kill him!
And just as quickly as it happened, Ziaxe was back in reality, leaning heavily on the head of his bed. He looked at Kron in shock. Kron seemed to understand what had happened. His face was a mask of anger and hatred, a face of someone who had been betrayed once again.
Kron stormed from the room without saying another word. “I’m sorry, Kron! I’m sorry!” Ziaxe yelled to his friend, feeling tears well up in his eyes. He didn’t mean to do any of that, but now he felt even guiltier at everything that had happened. Everything was his fault. His life felt like the current state of the western Rillen wall. At one point, it had been sturdy and strong for a long time, but all of a sudden, it was being destroyed brick by brick. His old life was crumbling away while this new life was continuing to grow.
As he sat in silence, he considered everything. Venna was the only friend from his old life still with him save for Alavar, but Alavar had changed and grown more and more distant. Nothing made sense anymore.
He finally mustered the strength to stand and walked through the infirmary. He passed Javen and Gurgan on beds away from the majority of the injured. Gurgan’s appearance must have frightened everyone else, but they must have realized by now that he was no threat to them. Ziaxe let them sleep as he passed.
Venna was sitting on her bed seemingly wide awake with a bright smile on her face like an excited child. When she saw Ziaxe, she jumped from the bed and ran to embrace him. “Ziaxe! Thank you so much for everything! I can’t believe any of this! Everyone is saying you’re the Nizain, and that you saved me. Is that true?”
Ziaxe couldn’t help but smile at her overwhelming eagerness as he ended the embrace. “Aye, I’m the Nizain. And aye, I did save you, I suppose. It’s been a crazy day.”
Venna took a step back from him and gave another of her angel-like smiles. “I can’t believe it though! I don’t remember much of what happened after you and Kron left. It’s all been a blur.” She shook her head as if trying to gather her thoughts. “I can’t believe you’re the Nizain! You’re Ziaxe, the Ziaxe I’ve known all my life. I’ve never thought of you as someone with that much power and status. And oh!” She took a sudden kneel and bowed her head. “Hail, Nizain Ziaxe!” Her head turned back up to Ziaxe with a wry face. “I guess that’s how I should address you.”
It felt so strange to Ziaxe to be speaking to her once again. So much had changed while Venna had stayed the same. He had grown into a Nizain with the power of a god while she remained a young woman still ignorant of the full dangers of the world.
“Hail, Nizain Ziaxe,” said another voice nearby.
Ziaxe turned to its source and for a second thought he was seeing double. It was the Zauk-soul of the Curse of the Nizain. Except now she didn’t seem as evil or monstrous. She had turned into a person of her own design. Her face stayed very similar to Venna’s, but her blonde hair was short and uncombed. The look on her face was the biggest difference though since while Venna’s face was happy with a big smile, the Zauk-soul’s face was solemn like a stone statue. Ziaxe gave her a nod.
“I must thank you, your Holiness, and also apologize for my actions. You have severed my connection with Venna allowing me to gain a life separate from hers, and I greatly thank you for that. My anger and frustration drove me to the enraged state I was in before, and I hope you can forgive me for that. I pray to Sarben you will allow me to move on from this. I will never interfere with your duties ever again.” She took a knee and bowed her head, looking an exact copy of Venna’s motion.
Ziaxe was sure others would make punishments for her, but a part of him understood her situation. He also felt that with her he could put right at least one part of all that he felt guilty for. “I forgive you, uhm…. I’m sorry, but I don’t remember your name.” He chuckled hoping to not offend her.
The Zauk-soul returned to her feet, and her face gave a hesitant smile. “It’s Viona, your Holiness. Thank you again, Nizain Ziaxe. I’ll never forget you.”
And with that, she gave a quick bow and quietly left the room. Ziaxe watched her leave and wondered what would become of her. He hoped he wouldn’t regret letting her live. She may still possess the same amount of power she had only a little while ago, so he couldn’t be sure how she would use it. He felt a twinge of sympathy for her as he considered the life of a Zauk-soul. To live a sudden life and to feel completely unwanted, it was hard to imagine, though Ziaxe had felt unwanted plenty of times before.
He turned back to Venna who was now sitting back on her bed. Was everything involving her over with? Was she safe again, or was there a way this could happen again? He had no way of knowing for sure, but he had to hope that she would be fine especially if he would have to watch over her now. Kron is gone, he thought, but when all of this is over with. All of this fighting…. I will find him….
Sara sat in the same place where was when Sastan left her and Orlen behind. She could feel the change in the battle just as every other soldier must have been feeling. The flow of fighters outside of the house had changed directions, and the streets were full of cheers in the Sarbenian tongue, claiming that victory was theirs and the Treemen have arrived.
It was all confusing to her as she sat in the silence of the house, but if the battle was truly over she was extremely grateful. It would mean a more likely chance that Sastan and Ziaxe were all right. She assumed that she would have to take a risk and leave the house soon.
She looked over to Orlen as the lumberjack was in his same spot in a chair looking out the window. She was about to say something about leaving, but she couldn’t find the words. Fear still clung tight to her, making her wary to do anything at all.
The battle may be over, but the streets were still far from safe. Fighting was still happening as the enemy retreated while some of the enemy refused to retreat. To Sara it felt as if the fighting would never actually stop as the sun was setting and casting fading rays in the house, exposing all of the dust motes.
She thought about her father; she thought of Sastan also. How did it come to this where others were fighting and she was hiding? She had done her best to fight alongside Sastan and Orlen earlier, but she still felt like a burden to them. They had better experience with fighting through their rugged lifestyle as lumberjacks while she had been raised as royalty since she was born. There were times during the fighting where she was sure she was about to die, but Sastan was always there to save her. He would slay the one who threatened her and give her a smile and words of encouragement.
She sighed at that image of him. Oh Sastan, she thought, please don’t die.
That image was shattered as the outside fighting intruded on her seclusion. It started with a slam on the door, something outside furiously trying to enter. Then, as soon as the noise started, the door was broken in and a Lost Vidian was storming in with bloody daggers at the ready. Orlen was taken by surprise even though he was keeping watch. He tripped backwards as he tried to jump off of his chair.
The Vidian was snarling and drooling like a starving wild wolf as his red eyes scanned the room and saw the two inside. It was a hideous thing. Sara had avoided them the best she could since the fighting began. This one was deformed with a hunched back that looked broken and one shoulder resting higher than the other to make it look lopsided. It had burnt blotches of skin that stood beside the strange blobs of Darkness on it. It stood as tall as any normal man despite its hunched back, and its teeth were either missing or disgustingly rotted.
Sara was already on her feet, reaching for the dagger she wore at her belt, but the Vidian was not as interested in her. The deformed creature stared at Orlen as he was quickly trying to get up from the ground with a raised eyebrow and a wicked grin. “Me find more kills!” It said with a horrid voice that sounded as if it was speaking while choking on something. “Me find kills!”
It kicked Orlen in the stomach, sending him to the wall, less than a foot away from Sara. She felt her fear grab her tight again like a strong grip around her throat. The Vidian scuttled to the lumberjack in a strange motion similar to the movement of a crab as if the creature did not remember how to walk correctly.
Sara found herself backing away slowly even as her thoughts were screaming at her to do something. Orlen was unarmed as his ax laid on the table on the other side of the room. DO SOMETHING! she yelled at herself. You can’t just watch Orlen be killed!
The Vidian was standing over Orlen again as Orlen groaned as he tried to stand with one hand for support on the wall and the other where he was kicked. “This ‘un’s got meats!” it growled. One of its daggers was probing Orlen’s stomach and muscles, examining him as if he was already dead.
“Get out of here,” threatened Orlen with little more than a whisper.
The Vidian seemed to find that very entertaining. “’et outta ’ere? Damn Light Ones. No can stop me!”
As one of the Vidian’s daggers was falling, so was Sara’s. Her blade pierced the Vidian’s rotting skin on the left side of his back. The Vidian stopped his movements completely. Dark red blood began to roll down from the wound, and the creature was silent for several seconds. Did I kill it?
Her thoughts were answered when the creature slowly turned its head to his left and arched his face as far back as he could to see behind him. But instead of a face of someone who should be dying, it was another ugly grin. It began to laugh, a noise that sounded like gagging over laughter.
What?! Sara was dumbfounded. Did I miss the heart?... Or does it just not care?
The Vidian dropped the dagger that was about to kill Orlen to reach back and pull out Sara’s dagger as easily as if he was pulling it from another body. The blood still poured out from the wound. The creature turned around and spit out a glob of mucus and blood onto the floor. “Stupid Light Ones,” it said. “Vidians superior. Always superior!”
Sara watched hopelessly as the enemy brought the daggers down on her. Her mind went to the things she had been through all of her life. She remembered the moment she met Sastan, the last day where she was sure she was going to die. The day where she was cornered by criminals who were ready to kill her to take everything she had. But Sastan wasn’t here this time. She had failed him. She had failed everyone. At least now she wouldn’t be a burden to anyone anymore.
A sickening crack broke the tension as Orlen’s ax broke through back of the Vidian’s head. The monster had finally taken on the face of someone who was dying. It fell face first to the floor, and Sara backed away to avoid it. There were no more threats from its corpse.
Outside, soldiers of both armies ran around in their own special disarray. It felt strange to Sara how such a frightening moment as this in her life meant nothing to the people outside. She would’ve died if not for Orlen, and the rest of the world wouldn’t have even noticed. That was probably the same thought that went through the minds of all of the soldiers fighting for their lives. She found it terrible how close death could come and then suddenly vanish.
Orlen was breathing heavily as he sunk into one of the chairs at the table. Sara walked over to him around the corpse. “Thank you, Orlen,” she said the words, but she felt it was impossible to completely convey her gratitude.
The lumberjack looked up at her with a raised eyebrow. “No, thank you. I don’t know what happened there. I guess I was too focused on Sastan that I didn’t notice this bastard getting to the door. If you hadn’t stabbed him and stopped him…”
He didn’t finish his statement, and Sara didn’t blame him. She didn’t want to think too hard on this anymore. They had almost both been killed by one Vidian. There were hundreds to thousands of them in the world, and one had almost finished them. It was only the beginning of the war, but it had almost been the end for them. If Sastan was here things would’ve gone different. Sastan wouldn’t have let things get as bad as that. He would’ve done anything even sacrifice himself to save them….
“So what should we do now?” asked Orlen, still catching his breath.
Sara knew that Orlen already knew her answer. “We leave. We can’t be found like sitting ducks again. It’s about time we find where Sastan and our new friend the Nizain have gone.”