Pathway to Sydara: Guardian of the Gate

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XXXIII

The news of the Nizain’s journey to Ravilla soon spread throughout Rillen by the next morning. But, to Copper’s dismay, the news was announced at least an hour after the Nizain and his Guardians had departed. He felt betrayed, but he expected this to happen. No one stayed for too long in his life.

After the battle last night, he had escaped from the throne room, determined to find Ziaxe. But in the enormous crowds of soldiers returning to the castle, injured soldiers being cared for, and corpses being burned, he was soon lost and had no choice but to flee the castle. He never did like cramped places anyways.

He explored the city, looking for Ziaxe, but it was all for naught. Was it just another cruel game the gods were playing with him? The gods seemed to love to give and take good things from his life again and again. He imagined them up in their Sydara place looking down at him and laughing like bullies.

By the end of the night, he had returned to the dead end alleyway where he lived. The city was a mess with nearly every building abandoned, but he didn’t feel like trying to find a new place to sleep. Besides, his treasure was in the alley.

His small cot was where he left it, where it always was, beneath the far end of the alley. Scraps of old food and thrown out items littered the ground, but that was the way he had grown used to. It was his home, this smelly, dark alley. He always slept with knives under his pillow, but other than that it was a nice place to live.

Not as nice as his old home had been, but the gods had taken that away from him. At one point, he had lived in one of the buildings with his mother and father. They had been wealthy, his father used to claim, but he could barely remember a time when he didn’t have to steal for food.

The next morning he explored the city again to look for Ziaxe while trying to learn more about the situation of the city. It depressed him to see the state of his home. Sure, he hated the Zarian Knights and didn’t trust the king or princess, but this was where he had lived all of his life. It had almost been completely taken away from him in only one night.

He soon came across Knights patrolling the streets. He listened in on their conversations from the rooftops to learn all he had needed to know. The Nizain was heading to Ravilla in an attempt to reunite all of Ancient Sarbenia. Copper didn’t care too much about the other news about some Witch and a royal wedding. All that had mattered to him was finding his friend, and now he saw that his friend was already gone without even saying farewell.

After hearing that news, he had returned instantly to his alley. There was no doubt in his mind what he was planning on doing. It pained him to think about it, but he could see that Rillen was done for. There was no place for him here. There was no place for him anywhere really. He had only known Ziaxe for a short time, but he felt more a friend to him than he had to anyone in his whole life in Rillen.

And so, he began to pack the limited supplies he had: pieces of ragged clothing, scraps of food, his knives. He began to feel a little excited about leaving the city and chasing after Ziaxe. It was an adventure, a real adventure. He would be able to see the world and fight for good against evil.

He just hoped that Ziaxe would allow him to join him. It made him feel useless to think that Ziaxe didn’t think of him as worth anything. He should’ve let me come along, he thought. I can fight and kill just as well as anyone else. And I’ll only get stronger as I get older.

He came to his last item: his treasure. He picked up a loose stone that was beside his cot. Underneath it was a copper coin. He picked it up and analyzed like he had done so many times before. It was the last thing his father ever gave him before disappearing, before the Knights took them away. The coin still reflected the sunlight because Copper cleaned it whenever he could.

His father’s words came back to him. Look at this coin, Chamden. You know how the world always values gold and silver and iron usually above anything else? Well see this here is a copper coin. It doesn’t look much like your hair even though people will say you have a coppery shade, but it’s still nice to look at. His chuckle rang through Copper’s mind. Copper is a strange metal that’s not too strong. You don’t see many copper weapons really when people would rather have iron, but just look at it and you know it’s unique in its own special way.

And then they were gone the next day. Copper had valued the coin beyond anything else in his life after that. He smiled as he remembered what he told himself when he began to live on his own. It’s okay, Chamden. Just be like this copper coin. You’re small and not that tough, but you are special in your own way. Go out there and be the best you can be!

Copper put the coin in his pocket and ran out of the alley, leaving his past behind for a future filled with mysteries and perils.

On the long street between the poor and the rich district, Ablen staggered along with a bottle of rum in one hand, drips splashing onto the ground with every unsteady step. It was just another day for him. The moment he awoke with a splitting headache, he decided to fix it with more rum. His vision was blurry, but there was no one around on the road. The whole city seemed to have become almost silent most days after the majority of the army left. His clothing stank like cow dung and dog spit, and the tears and stains in it made it barely able to cover his privates.

More and more rum. He drank and drank and drank until he couldn’t feel his toes. And why shouldn’t he? There was nothing good in his sober life. At least in his drunken dreams he could sometimes see Levandra. Those were the best dreams, but it always came with a price when he awoke and remembered his real life. His life was a hell. He had nobody anymore now that Ziaxe was even gone.

As he approached the poor district, he squinted to see the top of the eastern Great Wall. Little men walked up there the size of ants. He remembered when there was no one standing guard up there, but now there stood guards every day. That Virok kept saying they had entered times of war, but why should he care? This was the city that was supposed to protect them all. This was where Levandra’s husband brought them, saying that no harm will ever come to them here.

I’d rather return to the Abandoned Islands, he thought. That Javen’s given us nothing but trouble.

When he entered the district, he saw that girl sitting on one of the boulders in that circle where Professor Alavar used to give his lectures. That young woman with the dark hair and big green eyes. What was her name? Nian? Neon? Oh, Nea…. She stared distantly at the water of the pond as if she was having a conversation with the fish.

Alben ignored her. The young ones weren’t out as much anymore if they were even here. Some of the families had left Berania the moment things started going downhill. When the young ones went to join the army, Alben had left the district to spend his days in his cups. He didn’t want to be there to see them all leave. It was too much for him….

But now here he was, taking another trip back to the poor district. Every time he took the journey the place seemed more and more gloomy and murky as if a cloud hung over the place. The peasants who had left took away some of the life to the place with them.

He finally arrived at his house, despite every dizzying and nauseating step. It was the place he had lived in for several years, raising another person’s child.

Too bad it was gone. Debris and ashes still lingered on the spot where the soldiers had burned it down. All the memories and years gone as quickly as as it burned. It was back when Virok had announced that the king had been murdered, that the peasant Ziaxe had done it. After Ziaxe apparently excaped from the dungeons, the soldiers explored through the city trying to hunt him down, but he was already gone. Alben still couldn’t believe any of it. Ziaxe was a weakling, a child who was abandoned by his father and murdered his mother. He wouldn’t have the guts to do something like that.

Of course, other rumors had spread to Berania. Tales of some peasant from Berania who had become the Nizain and was fighting in this war and uniting the Ancient Kingdoms of Sarbenia. It made sense that the murderer of the last known Nizain would become the new one, but it was still hard to accept. And now Virok had been spreading that this new Nizain was creating this army to go against the people of Light. Virok was Berania’s savior. He was there to protect them from the Nizain’s terrible might.

Alben didn’t know what to believe, but as long as he kept drinking, he wouldn’t have to worry about that too much. He walked to the center of the burnt circle of earth that the burned building had left. He stood where his room had been. How he missed his bed.

“Oi! It’s you!”

Alben swore under his breath. It was that man, the hard-working man who symbolized everything that a good Sargenian should be. He had short, trimmed blonde hair, a strong muscular build, and a posture that showed that he should be just as worshipped as Sarben. His name was Kymand, and his existence made Alben want to swear his head off. “Where’s your traitorous brat?” he asked as he walked into the ruins of Alben’s house.

How dare you trespass on my land? “I’ve told ya. I dunno where he at.” Alben’s tongue was growing more and more slurred by the second.

“I say I don’t believe you for a second.” Kymand scowled and stood strong compared to Alben’s dizzy stance. “My son, Kycan, has always told me about that strange boy. I knew I should’ve reported him to the guard long ago, but now it seems that the dungeons can’t even hold your beast of a child.”

“He not me child.”

“What?”

“I said ‘he not mah child!’” Alben stood tall for a few moments to stare down Kymand, but he couldn’t keep it for long and slumped back over, his head spinning.

“You’ve raised him how many years, and you try to act like you had no idea about what he really was?” Kymand shook his head. “He’s a Vidian, the natural bane of our kingdom, and you just let him live this long.”

Alben head pounded. He didn’t want to hear this. He stared at the ground, refusing to let Kymand see his face. “I didn’t know.”

Kymand scoffed. “You fool.” He bent down to see Alben eye-to-eye. “Just remember. If that boy steps into my beloved city again I will take care of him myself.” He gave Alben a push, making the drunken man fumble to the ground, before storming off.

Alben struggled for a moment to get back up, to get off of the ashes and earth, but he could neither find the will nor the energy to do it. He laid where he was, staring up to the clouds in the sky. This was once my home, he thought, finding it hard to even remember what it looked like.

He felt a liquid roll down his cheek, and he realized he was crying. Once he realized that he couldn’t stop the tide unflow. Everything was gone. His sister, his friends, even the child that a part of him considered his son.

Oh, Levandra… why’d you have to create such a bad child….

Only a few hours had passed when Nizain Ziaxe began to feel eyes watching him in the distance. He couldn’t explain it, but he knew it to be true. As he and his Guardians were travelling east on their quest, the feeling had grown from the thought of one pair of eyes to a couple different groups. He spurned his brown gelding to Alavar’s side at one point to voice his concerns, but Alavar had realized that they were being followed long before. It was just another secret the professor was hiding. Alavar said that they would be safe for the moment, and Ziaxe had his Guardians to protect him no matter what.

Ziaxe had remained wary though. Professor Alavar rode on his white stallion at the very front of their group with Ziaxe riding behind him beside Sastan, Sara, Orlen, and Venna. Alavar had agreed in private with Ziaxe to allow Venna to come along since there was nowhere else for her at the moment. She had become another life that Ziaxe felt responsible for. Behind them, Javen marched while Gurgan acted as a scout, exploring the distances around them. In the very back were General Draton and the Treeman Najaran who rode the other two horses that were lent to them.

It was a large group of friends and strangers. Ziaxe had discovered this instantly as they all rode out together. Sastan was always cheerful and talkative, but the more experienced warriors of the group were more distant and alert, giving a feeling of tension over them all. Each of the Guardians had sworn to help Ziaxe through the upcoming trials, but he felt that unless they could all become true companions, their mission may fail. They were all unique in their own way which may be helpful in some ways, but harmful in others.

“I still can’t believe we’re on our way to Ravilla,” said Sastan as he chatted away to Sara and Orlen while Ziaxe thought to himself. “I’ve always wanted to visit it. It’s a big place for Sargens, you know.”

Ziaxe looked over his shoulder again, looking for the eyes he felt, but saw nothing. He saw Draton and Najaran, riding side by side, but looking in opposite directions. They were so close to each other, yet so far. It was to be understood though from a Sargenian who had never worked with a Treeman in his whole life.

He turned back to his front. The landscape continued to be hilly with the frozen earth crunching with every step. He had never been a traveller, so he couldn’t even begin to comprehend how long it would take to reach the ocean. All he could do was trust Alavar, the mysterious man who had travelled the world plenty of times.

“Ziaxe.” Venna’s voice caught his attention as she walked at his side.

“What is it?” he replied.

“I just wanted to thank you for allowing me to come with you.” She looked sheepish with a slight blush. “I know I’ve been a burden over the past weeks, so I’ll try not to be one from now on. I hope though that we may be able to return to Berania… with Kron too, of course.”

A part of Ziaxe hoped for the same thing, but he felt that that was an impossible dream. Things had changed too much. They were all becoming more and more different people than who they were before. It still felt strange to have Venna along with all the new people he had met. He remembered all of their times in Berania; he remembered their kiss….

They continued in silence, and he soon had to stifle a yawn. None of them had had any real sleep, despite their victory, but Ziaxe’s sleep had to have been the worst. His dreams last night were haunted by voices and images that he had not seen before in his life. Each of them felt like the vision he had been given by Nizain Darvon back in Rillen’s graveyard. In them, he became another person doing things he had never done before, but by the time he woke up, he couldn’t remember much of them. The spirit had said something about unlocking the memories of the Power of the Nizain, he thought. Does that mean all of my dreams will show these memories now? He hoped to Sarben not.

“Come on now, Ziaxe, don’t look so down.” Sastan shook from his thoughts. “We’re off to see the world!” The Sargen boy gave one of his bright smiles.

Ziaxe had to smile, despite himself. “I just… didn’t sleep well….”

“Aye, we all understand that, but now we’re awake and ready to win this war.”

Sastan’s enthusiasm always surprised Ziaxe. He looked around at the others. Sara, Orlen, and Venna gave smiles to him as well. Ziaxe was surprised at how quickly Venna had joined the group from Salras, but he was glad that she could enjoy herself with them. He turned back to his father behind him who had been silent for the whole trip so far. Javen also gave a comforting smile. Their faces seemed to turn his fears around. As long as they were there, he would be safe and be able to do what was asked of him.

After a long day of travelling, they made camp within a glade surrounded by pine trees. Above them, the night sky seemed at peace. It contradicted the possible chaos happening back in Rillen. They had no way of knowing whether or not Virok’s army attacked again today.

They sat around a fire, eating the same chicken stew that Alavar had made back in Berania. It was another thing from another life that didn’t feel real. All of them ate in their own worlds, their minds focused on the times ahead.

Ziaxe knew he had to say it now.

“Everyone… can I have your attention?”

His Guardians all looked up to see him, loyal eyes looking to their Nizain.

He had to consider his words. “I just wanted to officially thank you all for what you are doing for me. I know I don’t know many of you very well, so it means a lot to me that you would take up this role. I just hope that… I don’t disappoint any of you… that I don’t be the cause for your deaths….”

The tension his words caused was felt right when he finished speaking them. Even Sastan’s usual joyfulness was hushed as the Guardians couldn’t find anything to reply with. They all knew it was true; they all knew what they had agreed to, but it didn’t make it any easier to accept.

But, just like always, Alavar was there to say something. He stood up and faced Ziaxe. “Ziaxe, this has been each of our decisions,” he said in his famous speaker voice. “We know what may happen, but we also know what will happen if we do our duty. We do this for you just as much as for the Nizain. I know each of you agree with me.” He looked at each of the others.

He raised one hand above his head. “Fear not, Nizain Ziaxe, for to the end we will fight. FOR THE NIZAIN!”

A moment of silence followed his cheer, but then miraculously Ziaxe watched the others follow. First, it was Sastan, returning to his cheerfulness as he took up the stance and cheer. Then Sara, Orlen, and Venna. Javen joined with Gurgan even spouting the cheer out in his gruff voice, “FOR NIZAIN!” Draton and Najaran both smiled as they looked at each other and joined the cheer as if they were giving orders to their armies.

Ziaxe felt almost on the verge of tears, but he refused to cry. He couldn’t believe their faith in him. Maybe they would be able to survive what was to come.

Just maybe….

Sleep came quick to Nizain Ziaxe that night as his exhaustion easily overtook him. In the shadows of his dreams, he saw people dying and screaming all around him in a shower of blood. He watched blades and Darkness cut them all down, unable to even scream. Voices were shouting at him, blaming him for being weak and pathetic. There was nothing he could do for them.

He began to recognize some of the faces of the people being killed. Kron was being beaten, Venna was being tortured, Najaran was on fire, Draton was bleeding all over his body, and Sastan lay dead. Others came in quick blurs. They were all dying. Javen, Gurgan, Alavar, Orlen, Sara, all of them….

Then the voices began to be recognized.

“I’m going to kill you!” threatened Gilart.

“Give me back the Power, boy!” yelled Virok.

“This world will be mine!” shouted Bellavar.

But then, one voice spoke over them all, a voice he had heard only once before in the memories of Nizain Almar, a voice that tore at ears like claws on flesh. It was a voice he felt as if he had heard all of his life, a voice that held all of the anger, hatred, and frustration in the world.

And so it begins….

It was the voice of Vician.


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