Pathway to Sydara: Guardian of the Gate

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III

That night, when Ziaxe went to sleep, he was thrown into a strange dream filled with monsters and Darkness.

He was in Darkness… pure Darkness…. He could not see his hands or anything around him, but even though the space around him seemed strange and frightening, he felt an unexplainable… warmth inside as if he had been here before and it was a familiar spot for relaxation. There was no ground or walls… just the Darkness…. He felt a strange feeling of freedom that he had never known before as he felt as if he was beyond the Great Walls. Nothing could hold him back.

Looking around he noticed that there was something ahead of him. He could just barely make out the dim outline of what looked like a person. He felt the presence more than saw it in a way he couldn’t explain. A sudden movement of the figure startled him as it began moving in the shadows as if it was one of them.

Ziaxe stood in fear waiting for something to react to, ready to jump at anything that moved, but for several seconds nothing happened. Then suddenly a voice pierced the Darkness.

It is nice to see thee, young one.

The voice seemed to speak within his mind like a thought of his own. It was definitely a male voice; it was deep and majestic like a born leader or like the voice of a grand king. But there was something frightening to the voice, there was a hidden anger to it, a shadow of a sinister evil behind the kingly voice. A deadly serpent hiding beneath a crown. He didn’t comprehend what was happening, but his own thoughts replied to the voice.

Er… who's there?

A silence took over the conversation for a few moments as if the voice was thinking to itself. Then it spoke again, Thou cannot see me?

Ziaxe found this question absurd since he was in pure Darkness and he couldn’t even see his hands. Even now, after the few minutes he had been there, his eyes had still not adjusted to the shadows. Despite the fact that he felt like he was blind, he looked around again. There was no Light to help with his vision here.

The Darkness around him felt thick and almost tangible. He shook his hand in front of him and felt the Darkness move around him in a misty form like the wispy form of a wraith. It was like air, but it was also like water. It was as if he breathed it, feeling it flow through him.

He was sure that he saw something in the Darkness, but he could not be sure it was even a person. For all he knew, the outline could be of some kind of tree with leaves blowing in the breeze. The only problem was… there was no breeze. There was nothing. It was an empty void....

I'm not sure…. It's too dark.

Too dark? said the voice quizzically as if Ziaxe made some illogical statement. Then the voice sighed deeply and said, Thou hast lived among the wrong people for far too long.

What do you mean? asked Ziaxe. He was confused, frightened, and interested all at the same time, his emotions tangled inside of him.

I mean exactly what I said…. I never expected a child of thy heritage and name to be living with the filth thou live with now.

Ziaxe instantly thought of his uncle. Could that be what the voice was talking about? But what does he mean by heritage… and what's wrong with my name? he tried to think to himself, but the voice read his thoughts like a simple sign in his native language.

Yes, thy uncle is one of the many people I speak of. And I would not be surprised if thou did not even know thy heritage…. Thou art living a lie; thou should know that by now.

Ziaxe's eyes opened wide as he took in the words. How could he be 'living a lie?' It was preposterous. Slightly shaking from the overwhelming emotions inside, he responded, what do you mean?

Never mind…. It seems thou cannot learn anything in the Dark. So I must go right to my reason for coming to thy sleep. Thou shall find thy world falling into Darkness, and thou shall be the decider of its fate.

Ziaxe saw more movement in the Darkness, not where he thought the voice was coming from but from the Darkness around him. The shadows themselves started swaying as they began to enclose around him. Slowly moving towards him in great wavelike forms, the shadows closed in on him, trying to drown him.

They say mine brother was the brilliant one, but I say no! continued the voice, getting furious and full of rage and hatred. But now it is time for the decision to be made!

Closer and closer, the shadows came around Ziaxe. He barely noticed what the voice was saying, nor did he particularly care, his need to escape clouding his mind. He started to back away from the impending Darkness, but there was another huge wave of it behind him. The Darkness had form, and it was moving like a living creature, an omnipresent creature that sought to enclose him. It felt slimy and soggy like the skin of a toad as it began to engulf Ziaxe, its oily exterior beginning to cover his body. He could barely see it in the emptiness around him, but he knew it was there. He felt it; he sensed it. Fear filled his body. He was truly terrified for the first time in his life.

But they shall see. The choice will be made, and it shall be the Immortal Mortal! My Darkness shall rule eternal. The world shall remember the ancient days once more.

The Darkness engulfed Ziaxe completely, swallowing him into its empty void, more and more Darkness with no trace of Light. He was slowly falling backwards... falling... falling into the never-ending shadows. He felt as if he would continue falling forever, time having no meaning in this dream world. He looked around himself, but nothing could be seen. He screamed, but nothing could be heard. He felt a strange feeling of worthlessness as if everything he did or ever would do would accomplish nothing.

Then when he was sure he was going to be lost forever in the nothingness, a small bright light shone above him. The Darkness began disappearing as it slowly cringed away from the light like recoiling fingers, and Ziaxe regained his sight. The blinding light shone beautifully ahead of him.

Thou needs to learn to keep sight of thy Light, Ziaxe. It was a different voice this time. It sounded like a strange, gentle male voice, like a righteous man who knew right from wrong in all situations, a ruler that was just and honest with his people. A majestic lion worthy of a crown. Ziaxe was hit with a sudden wave of relief as the light came closer to him, softly enveloping him in warmth.

Looking at the blinding light, he saw something. A figure with long blonde hair was standing with its back turned to him. The figure's hair was as bright as the sun as the light glistened off of it.

My Light? wondered Ziaxe.

Yes, Ziaxe, thy Light, said the gentle voice. The happiness in thy life. If thou can only remember the good things, then the bad things will hold no power over you.

My Light? he repeated, dreamily, barely comprehending the other’s words.

All the pain and evil things Ziaxe had ever known seemed to fly away as the figure turned around and showed a dazzling smile to him. It was a woman—a beautiful angel-like woman.

Ziaxe stopped falling and landed on a new light covered ground that was plain white like a piece of parchment. Happiness took over his mind as he stared towards the woman; ecstasy, joy, elation, and euphoria all took control of him. It was enough to make him break into tears. This woman…. Just looking at her made his every sad thought go away.

As the light swirled around the woman, she looked like an enchanting goddess with sparkling brown eyes, the very representation of perfection. He felt that eternal happiness was just a few steps away from him, but he could not move. His legs were numb as if he was glued to the floor, as if his limbs were not really his to control.

The light around the woman shown brighter and brighter until it was so blinding that he had to turn away, tears rolling down his cheeks from happiness and pain. He was screaming again, a deaf scream as the light turned against him, blinding him, burning him.

No…, he screamed, soundlessly. No!

The angel's Light fought against him, burning Ziaxe like white fire. His feelings erupted inside of him as the Light burned into him. He didn’t know if what he felt was hatred, pleasure, anger, rage, or pain….

What do I know?... I’m a fool… in a world where Light and Darkness are both pain…. Where can I go?... There is no place for one like me….

His mind drifted in a flurry of thoughts as the burning Light devoured him.

Ziaxe awoke in a cold sweat. He dizzily got out of bed and went to his water basin. The water felt ice cold as he put his fingers in it and splattered it across his face, trying to fight off the remnants of the nightmare. The liquid cleared his consciousness as he returned to reality.

He started to fear he was going mad. The strangers in his dream… the Darkness… the Light… the angel. It all felt so real. He didn’t know what any of it meant except for one thing…. The angel—his Light and the happiness of his life—was Venna.

He ate his breakfast of a slice of ham and buttered bread in the early morning. Sleep never found him again after his nightmare. He sat at the dining table in the main room of his house alone, staring at the ragged surface of the table. The thoughts of his nightmare were flowing through his mind. He remembered almost every detail of it. Confusion and fear left by the dream wrapped around him like a snake that refused to let go.

He wanted answers…. He wanted someone to tell him if what was happening to him was serious or just some adolescent phase. The strange dream and Kycan being afraid of him were the few things that stood out to him. He just wanted to be able to talk to someone about the dream of all things. His uncle would not be able to help him—he knew that for certain.

Kron? he thought, could I trust him? He might just think I'm going mad or something like that.

He continued to run over options around the part of his mind that was still in reality, not focused on the dream. Venna?... no…. I don't need her thinking I'm mad…. Kycan?... definitely not….

Then he thought of someone who he knew could actually help. Alavar. Professor Alavar…. He would know if this is normal or not.

While he thought, he heard a loud, agonizing moan from Alben's room. Look who's awake, he thought with a roll of his eyes.

The door to his uncle's room slammed open and crashed against the wall, shaking the house. Alben came limping out towards the dining table, a weary expression on his face. He fell into a seat across from Ziaxe.

"What are y' doing?" he asked, less intoxicated than the day before but obviously experiencing an extreme headache.

"Eating," replied Ziaxe, not making eye contact as he chewed on his ham.

"Why're y' up so early?" mumbled Alben, as he examined a cut in his clothing, his eyes having a little trouble focusing.

"I couldn't sleep."

"Why?"

"I just couldn't," said Ziaxe, getting a little irritated.

"Didja have a nightmare?" Alben speech was getting a little less slurred as he seemed to be getting more sober.

"You could say that, I guess."

There was an uncomfortable silence between them for a few moments.

"Y' know," started Alben, "it's yer motha's birthday t’day."

Ziaxe was surprised that Alben actually knew something that wasn't related to rum or ale. "Yes, I know."

"Aye… I remembuh… her last birthday all those years ago…. We had a great time with our old friends an' she was pregnant with ye. I can't remember how many months though. An' then a couple days later, ye were born… an' she died…."

Ziaxe noticed Alben's face turn miserable and forlorn as the drunken man remembered his sister's death. Alben looked distantly away from his nephew and continued to speak.

"I didn't understand why though…. Why did she die an' leave me like this!?"

The sudden yell startled Ziaxe. He feared that Alben was about to go into a drunken rage.

"She lef' me!" continued Alben. "Me family is dead; I didn't need to lose her too!" He stood up and walked to the window, tears falling from his face. "Why!? We were goin' to live happily in this here simple place!"

Ziaxe was too afraid to continue eating. He was staring at his uncle's back, alert in case his uncle did something unexpected.

Abruptly, Alben turned from the window and sent a morbid stare at Ziaxe. His tear covered face had multiple wrinkles that showed the many hard years he had lived through. The face focused on the young man at the table who had unwillingly caused the death of his sister.

"It was all his fault!" screamed Alben, furiously. "I always knew he would be a horrible husband! He was some outcast who decided to live with us back in Salras. After the Vician War, we didn't know what to do…."

There was a pause as Alben stared at the ground as if he wanted to take all his anger out on it. Ziaxe had no clue of what he should do. He wondered if he should slowly leave before Alben did something foolish that could harm either of them. He hoped that Alben was done, but then he continued, sounding less angry but more distant as if he was speaking to himself.

"We saw the dangers of the comin' war before it started an' sailed to the Abandoned Islands of the East where the old city Nizrock now lies in ruins. There we waited, happily living off of the island's resources. Other refugees came and brought us news of the kingdoms bein' destroyed by Vician. The Accursed King began taking over Sargenia, Ravilla, an' Zaria. Before the year was over and Salras was conquered, the island was nearly full of all of the Sargenians who escaped the war.

"Them monstrous Vidians an' the other Armies of the South continued north through Sarbenia killin' everythin' in their paths. They conquered nearly all of east Sargenia an' then they came to Berania. Though Berania had its Great Walls there was still doubt if the Armies of the North would win the approaching battle. The South had so much power and men on their side, we were supposed to lose. That chaotic war was won through luck. That's all."

He sighed. "Levandra and I returned to Salras after it was Vidian-free an' that's when he showed up. They fell in love an' he persuaded her to go to Berania with him. He said it would be safe fer everyone. That was in the beginnin' days of General Virok's service; he said we would all be safe as long as Virok is Broniton's right hand man.

"But I don't give a damn about which place woulda been safer. He, Javen, yer father, got her pregnant and left after yer birth and her death! He must've planned to run away ever since the beginning. That damn bastard!"

Ziaxe sat motionless as Alben surprised him with the tale. He wondered if he had ever heard Alben talk this much. It wasn’t the first time he had heard about his parents and how they ended up in Berania, but he had never heard it told with such emotion. My parents, he thought, seem to have caused him so much pain. Sometimes I wonder if there is more to Alben than just an old drunken man.

Alben walked swiftly behind Ziaxe, making him flinch, afraid of being hit. He snatched away Ziaxe’s slice of ham and walked to the door.

Looking back at Ziaxe, who was staring at the opposite wall stuck in thought, fearful of moving, Alben said one last comment, "I knew he was goin' to be a horrid husband all along, but she wouldn't listen to me! All I can say now is… my sister was a damn fool."

Alben opened the door, and slammed it behind him. He walked outside, alone, into the cold stillness of early dawn, chewing on the slice of ham. The strange thing was that he forgot his rum.

As the hours passed, Ziaxe got ready to go meet his friends by the pond, to start the day. There wasn’t anything planned today with Professor Alavar off on errands of his own. He changed his clothes and washed his face in the water basin.

When he left, his mind lingered on his dream and on Alben's story. I think either the world is going crazy… or I am, he thought as he walked to the pond.

When he got to the circles of boulders, he saw that it was mostly deserted except for Nea who sat in the outside circle, looking out at the pond alone.

It seemed like a quiet and peaceful day. The birds chirped as they flew over the Great Walls, and Ziaxe heard the relaxing sound of the slow current of the stream that emptied into the pond. The sun was neither too warm nor too cold, and the sky was a bright blue. He took a moment to enjoy the serene atmosphere.

He looked over at Nea. The lonely girl with hazel eyes was staring at the bright blue water, lost in thought. He felt a sudden sympathy for her so he decided to go talk to her. It was interesting to think that despite all the years he had lived in this place, there were still some people he didn’t know that well.

"Hello," said Ziaxe when he stood behind the boulder next to her.

"Hello," she said timidly with a small smile on her face. The girl had a sweetness to her that made Ziaxe want to be friends with her despite her shyness. It gave her this innocent appearance that made him smile.

"Uh… may I sit here?" he asked, a little awkwardly, indicating the boulder next to her.

"Sure…"

He took the seat, and they sat quietly for a while, losing themselves in the pond's beauty. Various types of fish swam happily in their small world of water. The sun's rays reflected off of the clear water, and Ziaxe could see the reflection of himself and Nea.

They looked like two completely different people from two completely different worlds. Yet Ziaxe knew they had similarities. They were both quiet and shy at times, but Ziaxe worried more about his social status amongst his friends than Nea seemed to. He realized that nothing seemed to bother her, and he appreciated that. He wished he could live like that.

He watched as the fish swam through the water of the pond to the stream and out through the culvert in the Great Eastern Wall. When he saw the culvert, he remembered what had occurred last night where he saw someone walking against the wall, appearing to come through the culvert. As far as he could see, the culvert remained unaffected and showed no signs of being intruded by some outside force. It confused him as he thought of who could have penetrated the Great Walls, the walls that no one has ever been able to get past. Not even the Accursed King Vician got past them.

The thought of last night reminded him of his strange dreams. He had decided to go speak to Alavar about them, but he had no idea where the professor was at this time. The professor's cottage looked empty with no movement in the windows or sounds from inside. Ziaxe didn’t think that the professor would be sleeping in this late so the only explanation he could think of was that the professor must have gone to the rich district for whatever reason. He let the matter lie though, deciding to just wait for Alavar's return.

"Nice pond… don't you think?" said Nea, breaking the silence as Ziaxe had been looking around for the professor, forgetting for a moment she was there.

"Huh?" said Ziaxe. "Oh… yes. I guess so."

"Yes…. Those fish are pretty lucky… to be able to leave whenever they want to. Do you ever think about what's on the outside? The outside of these walls, I mean."

Ziaxe was surprised to hear another person's curiosity of the outside world. It always seemed like something that should never be discussed out in the open with the walls staring down on them. He wondered how many other people in Berania thought the same way. "Actually… I do. I've been thinking about that a lot lately."

"Really?" she said, amazed. She looked at him with a joyful smile and said, "I always think about it. I feel that even though the Professor teaches us so much, there is still so little we know about the real world. We may feel so small in this large city with its Great Walls, but these walls are nothing compared to what’s out there. I hear that there are mountains that touch the sky, formed by the gods when they are angry; oceans that go for thousands of miles, stretching across the world; and fantastic cities that put Berania to shame."

"You shouldn't speak ill of our city.” Ziaxe spoke the words on instinct. The walls were listening. “And where do you hear these rumors?"

"The Professor told them to me before. He agrees with me about how our generation knows very little about our kingdom. Did you know that we have a prince?"

"A prince? No. The king has never married nor had children." He started to feel aggravated at his lack of knowledge and how the girl spoke as if everybody knew what she was talking about.

"No, sorry but you're wrong.” She looked over at Ziaxe the eyes of someone passing on a secret. “The professor said that the king married a long time ago—this younger woman that was a duchess or something—and had a child named Farli. But then the queen died for some reason. No one seems to know about the prince or the queen. It's strange, really. Farli is supposed to be around twenty years old or so. The professor says that the king is nearing the end of his life too, but it's okay since Farli is old enough to inherit control over our kingdom."

"Wow," said Ziaxe, amazed at the sudden burst of knowledge. "Alavar really said all of that?"

"Aye," said Nea, happily with a small smile.

"I guess there is very little I know…. How come Alavar never told anyone else this?"

"I don't really know," she said with a frown. "The professor said something about how it would be mutiny if he told everyone about everything."

"That is strange." He pondered what he had learned. He felt suddenly very useless as he realized he knew so little about the city he lived in. Sure, it wasn’t the most important information in the world, but it was something that he should have known if it was indeed true. How ignorant was he?

They sat silently for a few more moments.

Nea broke the silence again, "Well… it was nice talking to you, Ziaxe." She stood and stretched. "I should be leaving for home though. I have to help with Mother's work."

"Nice talking to you too, Nea," replied Ziaxe, as he continued to stare into the pond, pondering all the things bustling around in his head.

As Nea turned around to walk to her house, Ziaxe heard her giggle. It was a kind of sweet, innocent giggle that makes you smile no matter how hard you resists. Ziaxe smiled, inevitably, as he turned to watch her go. Of all the things I just learned about, I think girls are still the most confusing.

He sat in silence for a while longer after Nea left, going over all the things he had learned while staring at the pond. A Prince of Sargenia? How could he not know this? It seemed that the prince must be either hidden from the common people or not that important for the people to know about. But how could the prince of his kingdom not be important? Sargenia has been nearing the time where it will need a fresh, young heir to rule when the present king is deceased. Broniton had been around for a long time…. What would happen when he died?

His thoughts didn’t go far when Kron and Venna showed up and took seats on the boulders next to him. Things had returned to normal. Just another day with his friends. For a few minutes they had simple conversations about things like the weather and the upcoming harvest until Kycan showed up.

Ziaxe noticed Kycan on another boulder behind him and his friends. The blonde haired boy was staring at him strangely while he talked to his friend Srion. The looks were those of a strange mixture of fear and anger like the look a child might give to a scary creature. It was as if this child was too afraid to do anything to the creature, but knew that the creature had to go no matter what. They were the same looks he had given Ziaxe yesterday when he claimed something was wrong with Ziaxe's eyes.

After a few moments, Kycan walked over to Ziaxe and his friends with Srion close behind. He looked at Ziaxe with a raised eyebrow as if examining him like one would examine a wild animal.

"What do you want, Kycan?" asked Ziaxe, inevitably sounding rude.

Kron and Venna stopped what they were talking about and stared up at Kycan.

"I just want to know what you are, Ziaxe," replied Kycan as if the statement made logical sense.

"What? I'm me. I’m a human, a Sargenian." Ziaxe was growing slowly irritated.

Kycan sighed as if he felt he was dealing with a foolish child. "Listen, Ziaxe, I know there's something strange about you. Yesterday, you're eyes turned an unnatural shade of red, and it was just… alarming…."

Ziaxe was puzzled. "When did this happen?" He looked at Venna and she wore the same confused face as he did.

"Yesterday… when I found your uncle. You got mad and you looked like you were about to punch me. But then your eyes changed color, and it changed my view of you."

"How come we didn't see this?" asked Kron, who obviously thought Kycan was lying.

"I'm not sure. His eyes must have changed back after he became less angry. But listen, Ziaxe, you know what this means, don't you? I finally know what you are."

"What?" said Ziaxe, perplexed completely.

"My father had always told me about this symptom and what should be done if it happens." He looked solemnly at Ziaxe and said, "Ziaxe, you're a Vidian."


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