The undergrowth on the old paths to the colonies was denser than the jungles behind them. As a result, it was darker in some places and nearly impossible to pass through in others. However, most of it seemed the same, with a tree-shaped differently here and there and the occasional hill or mountain to climb and descend. With the help of Diggix, they managed to hike through the jungles with great success; though his sensors were damaged, the robot’s flashlight eyes would help them navigate the darkest areas of the planet, it would enable them to travel during the night too. Though Izzar was reluctant due to the extreme cold at night.
Exhausted from the trip, Izzar had never faced a challenge such as this before. To travel halfway around the world on foot to retrieve an item and then travel back was proving to be too much for him. Viha had no problem; she had trained very hard on Gandron, her body was engineered for stamina, strength, and precision tasks. Izzar was well trained in martial arts, but he lacked stamina; his style was always: Strike first, Strike hard and Strike down. Most of the Monks from the citadel were unable to defeat him because of this strategy. However, Thanatos understood his weakness and exploited it in battle; he had a tough time with the old man during their sparring sessions. Izzar tried working on his stamina with little to no improvement; it was a daily struggle.
Viha could also travel for much longer; Gandron had thirty-eight hour long days, where day and night were roughly the same lengths. Dessix, on the other hand, had a sixteen-hour day, with day and night each having equal eight-hour turns.
Viha was exhausted after her flight from Gandron to Dessix; she struggled the first day with extreme fatigue but, after a few days, quickly recovered and got used to the short days. She had explained to Izzar the world she came from and the differences in time, her body had difficulty adjusting, but Izzar was in awe at what she had achieved in the short time they spent together.
Diggix led the party through the jungle, followed by Viha and then Izzar at the far back. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her; she seemed mysterious yet predictable; his heart raced at the thought of her; it was a strange sensation he had never encountered before. Although deep down he wanted to hold her again like he did the night they first took shelter, he did not dare to attempt it again. She hadn’t noticed Izzar’s apparent awkwardness when she touched him or came close to him.
Somewhere within the deep forest, deep in the thick fog of the morning, Izzar’s ears caught something strange, a sound and a movement of ferns and leaves, that of a biped creature. However, it wasn’t one of the Fargusrats. Instead, it sounded like it was coming from something more minor. Viha’s ears had not yet adjusted to the sounds of the forest; she didn’t hear the same things he did, neither did Diggix due to his scanners being damaged.
He tried to follow where the sound was coming from, but his vision failed him; the fog was too thick to see anything. A few moments later, the same sound could be heard on his left side, this time multiplying. He tried to keep silent and focused on the noises but couldn’t see anything. Finally, he calmed down to concentrate more; Deggix had taught him that the Nihil will be stronger when quiet and focused. He turns inward, searching deep down for whatever might assist him in identifying the threat around them.
For a moment, Izzar could feel them; there were maybe two or three hundred of them walking and running, climbing in the trees, watching and following them. One of them was trying to enter his mind; it was a strange sensation, but it seemed like Izzar’s mind was too resilient for them. Then, finally, an instinct within him confirmed the danger they were in; it made him rush forward and grab Viha’s hand; she looked back at him and blushed, but it was quickly wiped away when she realized they were surrounded by a moment later. Diggix stopped and did a visual scan around them.
“Master Izzar, it seems we are….”
“Surrounded by three hundred alien creatures. Thanks, Diggix. Do you know anything about them?”
Before Diggix could answer, Viha fell to the ground grabbing at her head; Izzar immediately knew what was wrong; the one creature was trying to enter her mind; it was unclear what the reason or purpose would be.
He placed his hands on her head and closed his eyes; the entire world around him appeared like a hologram in his head. He could sense the creatures were afraid; the one trying to enter Viha’s mind had more fear than the rest. He could see him move around them, trying to find the right angle. Finally, he stopped and closed his eyes. To Izzar, it seemed like the creature's spirit left him and was trying to enter Viha’s mind; Izzar tried to counter, fighting against this invisible foe. The power this little creature was using seemed to overwhelm Izzar; Izzar fought harder and managed to enter Viha’s mind simultaneously as the creature.
Scores of warriors were rushing towards her; she was calm. With her eyes closed and her swords drawn, she was waiting for them, for as far as the eye could see, adversaries and foes were rushing towards her with full intent to kill. Then, in an impressive show of strength and skill, she began her defense. The swords and axes swung from the left and the right; she deflected gracefully without breaking a sweat, Viha had everything under control.
To Izzar, it felt natural; he had a sword in his hand, and his back touched Viha’s; they connected. One by one, the duo slew through the hordes of enemies, not stopping once to rest, though Izzar was growing tired. There was no end to the hordes approaching them; far in the distance, he could see them multiplying.
In a single moment, Izzar calmed, his hands relaxed, and his mind was clear. He closed his eyes; he could still see the hordes charging. He searched, he wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but his mind passed each face of every beast charging towards them; he could see Viha calm and focused, striking down every foe bold enough to raise their weapon against them. It was awe-inspiring to witness. His search carried on. In the distance, he finally saw it; one of the beasts was standing still in the crowds rushing past him. His eyes were also closed, fighting, deciding what to do next, plotting, and strategizing.
The beast saw him; he noticed Izzar gazing at him, his eyes opened, but there was the most profound darkest void Izzar had ever seen. His eyes alone instilled fear within him. Thanatos’s eyes had grown accustomed to him; it never bothered him. However, this was different; this beast was not of this world. Izzar did not know what to do against his power; it seemed like a useless fight.
The hordes stopped storming; Viha caught her breath but did not stop. Instead, she lowered her sword, and it seemed like she also spotted the beast and moved towards him. All the other beasts moved out of her way; her gaze was fixed.
“I am the queen of Gandron; I am the warrior of all warriors. I will not be possessed in body or mind. You have no power here.” Her words echoed like thunder in the air, the hordes of beasts around her fell to the ground, electric currents went straight through Izzar; he was amazed at the tremendous power he could feel in the air.
Her calm walk turned into an aggressive run; Izzar could feel the fear within the beast grow, he could not hold on for too long. The beast closed his eyes once more and smiled. Before Viha could take any step closer to him, her father materialized before her, stopping her dead in her tracks.
“You are not worthy!” He shouted, his voice equally as vital as Viha’s.
“You are just an illusion.” She spat back, pulling her sword behind her, ready to continue her charge.
Then, without warning, she launched, thinking she would pass through the illusion of her father, but he drew his sword, and with pure instinct, she brought her sword forward to attack, and the swords collided, stopping her charge. She fell backward to the ground, her sword to the wayside. Viha was in trouble; her calm and collected demeanor faded. To Izzar, she was clearly confused.
Victor’s sword swung from high above him, intended to strike Viha down with one blow, but she quickly regained her composure and avoided his blow that created a large crack in the ground. Unfortunately, Viha was too far from her sword to grab it; she now had to fight for survival. Blow after blow, she dodged, jumping to the side and landing ready to avoid the next attack.
“A female has no place ruling over the Champions of Gandron; you have always been my greatest failure.”
Viha was caught off guard; she slipped and fell after avoiding yet another blow. Her focus was off, her shoulders dropped, and her hands began to shake; she was unable to look up at the man.
“I’ve been waiting my entire life for you to say that.” She forgot that he was just an illusion; everything around her seemed to disappear; it was only she and her father. “This ends here.” She lunged to the side and finally grabbed her sword.
“Do you want to know why I never sparred with you?” Although Victor had a smirk on his face, his guard was still up and well prepared for her anticipated attack.
“Because you are weak.” His sword lunged. First, Viha tried to block, but her arms failed her, and the sword again fell to the ground.
“Just as I thought.” The brute of a man walked closer to her with his sword stretched out, nearly touching her chin. “Just give up.” Viha was broken with only a few words; she could feel the will to fight to leave her; she had no strength in her arms, her mind was racing.
Izzar realized she was in danger; he closed his eyes again and moved his attention to the beast. He was focused, his mind was sealed, and there was no way of attack. He had to get out of Viha’s mind and attack the beast in the physical realm; it was the only way out.
“I will come back for you.” He said softly as he looked down at Viha. “I will not abandon you as I did, Aargon.” Somehow Viha heard his words, and she looked back at him with a smile.
The beasts' guard was up; he could not concentrate on Viha and Izzar; in an instance, Izzar was back in the physical world. Though they were not where they were before, he was seated in a circle with the beast he saw in his vision and Viha, all sitting in a meditation position with their legs crossed and facing one another. Viha was physically in trouble, she was sweating blood, and her eyes were going black. There were guards inside the hut; when they noticed Izzar was out of his meditation, three of them quickly apprehended him and dragged him to the outside. Izzar immediately realized where they were; they were all the way to the colonies.
Izzar noticed he was not alone with all these beasts; Tarium was also held captive, hanging in a tree with his hands and feet bound and stretched out. However, he was not with them; it seemed like he was dead. His eyes were open but dark and empty. If he was not dead, he was fighting, just as Viha was. He was not sure where in the colonies the sword was hidden; he was never told. He calculated his odds against these beasts; most of them were smaller than him, they had primitive weapons made from scraps found amongst the ruins of the colonies. There were a hundred or so that he could see around him, tending to the needs of the camp.
It was a long shot; he felt tired and needed rest. It seemed like the mysterious act of entering someone’s mind had drained him much more than he had hoped. This power he gained came from nowhere. It felt natural, it came from the heart, but it did feel like someone was holding his hand. The world around him seemed different. Since the beginning of the journey, Izzar had stepped into a world of mysterious powers and new discoveries on the planet he called his home for seventeen earth years.
He did not know how much time had passed since the attack in the jungle; it must have been at least eight days. He was unsure if he was carried or if he walked himself. The journey would have had its toll on his body, but the fatigue of such a journey was not present in him. Instead, his legs were aching, and his body was exhausted; he felt the energy within him disappear. Though this was due to the fact he traveled into someone’s mind.
His train of thought was disrupted by a giant steel door slamming shut, leaving him in a room without windows or any light; the darkness seemed to overwhelm him and all his senses. There was no use fighting it; he was exhausted. His mind was reeling from his experience; Viha was fighting a real fear, and it seemed like the beast’s only strategy was using fear against his victims.
Not able to see much in the room, Izzar felt with his hands while moving in every direction to find some kind of furniture or platform but couldn’t find any. Finally, he was too tired to care about finding anything; he picked a spot closest to the door and lay down. Within moments he was gone.
The darkness seemed to swallow him; he fell into an endless dark pit; it felt like his life was slipping, and he was losing his breath. Yet, he remained focused, he knew he was falling asleep, and the fatigue was causing him to have strange dreams; as he was falling, he closed his eyes and imagined he was back at the citadel. He saw all the monks go about their business and the DG units doing their work; Thanatos was nowhere to be found, as was the custom. He saw himself sit on his usual spot meditating, though the peace was soon interrupted.
In the distance, flying at lightning speeds, some kind of spaceship approached the citadel. The anti-air guns of the fortress came online and shot at the income ships, missing all but one that crashed down to the forest below. The others broke through and proceeded to attack the citadel; he could feel the shots of the ships hit the high tower, and debris came falling down. He seemed to remain in a meditative position, just watching the spectacular event unfolding before him. Izzar wondered why he wasn’t helping to defend the only home he ever knew.
“This is not you.” The voice seemed to come from himself in the dream. His other self within the dream stood up from his meditation and faced Izzar. “You will not make it in time to save the Citadel.”
Izzar fell back; the Izzar he was looking at had the same black eyes as Viha and Tarium; he had no soul in his eyes; they were empty.
“Izzar, you have been chosen by the Void to usher in a new age.” Izzar still remained silent; the words seemed to escape his mouth without sound.
“What is the Void?” He finally asked; he had heard Thanatos speak to him about the Void in a vision, and now an illusion of himself was talking of the Void to him.
“You already know what the Void is; you’ve taken your first steps in using its power. It is the Nihil, and the Nihil is the Void.”
He still didn’t understand; it was a mystical power, but where did it originate, what was the cost of its use, why was Thanatos so desperate to obtain it? These questions raced within his mind; he wanted to understand.
“The sword lays within the room you came from; you can command the Void to bring it to you. The Void does not get limited by the physical realm, nor does it need the physical realm to move objects.”
“You meditate; you search for what you desire and retrieve it.”
Nothing could be that easy; how could he suggest that merely seeing it in your mind would make it appear in your hands. It was an absurd idea, one even he never would imagine could be possible.
“Once you understand how to manipulate the Nihil, you will have limitless powers beyond your wildest imagination. You have been sent out into this world to retrieve something of great importance to your master; I suggest you do it quickly; there might still be time.”
The Izzar in his dreams faded, just like the citadel around him. Now lying in ruins all around him, the bodies of the monks staining the rubble with blood. The end of the Order was coming.
Izzar woke from his dream, determined. He did not grasp the lesson given to him, but he was adamant about trying. If he could enter someone’s mind, he could surely do as he was told in his dream, the idea though he struggled to believe. The room around him was still in utter darkness; if he was with someone there, they were either very good at remaining silent, or they were dead.
He went down into his meditation position; he closed his eyes and tried to remember the route they took from that room to his cell, it was vague, but he couldn’t make it out. His thoughts were wandering too much. First, he remembers seeing Tarium tied up in a tree with his darkened eyes, then he could see the hundreds of beasts going about their business. Something was wrong; he wasn’t connecting the same way as he did before. He took a few more breaths and tried to remember what he had done to enter Viha’s mind and use the same technique.
Again he was looking around, only finding what he had seen before; this time, he could hear a faint sound coming from Tarium. Finally, his mind had an opening in which he could enter, so he did. There was darkness still, but a light came from Izzar, lighting the way for him. It seemed to him he was in the Citadel, but there was no light and no way to see; everything was quiet except for the slight moaning. He followed the stairs up to the tallest tower of the Citadel. Tarium was there, on his knees before two coffins groaning as he rocked forward and back.
“Tarium?” Izzar was looking for a response.
“I have failed to protect you, master Izzar.”
“You have done your duty as best as any one of the other monks could. All my wisdom and skill come from you. It was you who trained me.”
“I was supposed to protect you, but they caught me; I don’t know what happened.”
“It does not matter; I am here to save you. You are like a father to me, and I will always see you like that.”
The citadel around them, together with the coffins, disappeared; everything was lit now. Tarium stood up and turned to look at Izzar.
“How do I know you are not just another attack from the dark one?”
“It is me, Tarium, Izzar; I have come here to release you.”
“I am not a captive.” Tarium’s words sounded unsure; to him, he was still in the real world.
“Someone came to see me; he was quite interested in you.”
His words trailed off; the man was confused and lost.
“He tried to kill me. I refused to say anything.” He looked around, trying to find something familiar.
“Where are we?” His question was sincere.
“We are in your mind.” This answer seemed to throw him back, he was trying to make sense of it, but the thought and possibility were absurd.
“The central pillar of the Order of the Ipsimus is deceit; how can I trust you?”
To Izzar, it sounded like Tarium was giving him one of his lessons. However, it was difficult to determine whether he saw and felt the same thing as Izzar.
“You have brought me up since I was an infant; there is no one on Dessix who knows me better. You can ask me any question you believe only Izzar could answer.”
Tarium thought for a while, looking at the young man, not as the child he brought up over the years, but as an adversary. He was careful, making it his mission to ensure he was going to ask the correct question. One that only Izzar could answer.
“Does Izzar have a brother?”
The question was easy enough; it’s been a very well hidden secret within the order that has been withheld from Izzar. Although Sorath knew Izzar was his younger brother, he had never met him before.
“No, I do not.” The answer came without hesitation; no second thought went through his mind.
“I am my parent’s only child.”
It saddened Tarium that they misled the boy like this, but he got the answer he was looking for.
“Where am I?” Tarium asked again.
“We are in your mind,” Izzar repeated his last response to the question. “You have been attacked by a beast inside your mind; he has not won; you still have a chance.”
“What am I to do?”
“Fight against this dark fog around you, overcome whatever fear he has placed in your head.”
Izzar’s words seemed to waken a dragon or a giant. It was unclear inside the darkness of his mind; he just knew that it was something significant and evil. Tarium turned to face the giant, trembling. His hands shaking and his brow wet. He backed up right past Izzar, still facing the large giant. Fire flowed from the creature’s eyes, and his body was illuminating in the dark. Izzar finally saw what or who it was. A demonic-looking replication of Thanatos, one that seemed to be ready to consume everything around him.
“Do not fall back, Tarium!”
Tarium stopped, and his frightened gaze landed on Izzar.
“What am I to do against Grand Master Thanatos?!”
Izzar could see him shake in his tunic; he was frozen with fear. There was no way Izzar could fight something created in someone else’s mind; he couldn’t possibly know what the results would be. Instinctively Izzar raised his left hand, out from it came a bright light, the origins, and nature unknown to Izzar. Amazed Tarrium was looking at this spectacle, he also was unsure of what was happening.
The light in his hand raised to the sky; it remained there for a few seconds, stopping the massive demon in its tracks; it seemed to know what it was. “No!” it shouted as it tried to grasp for it, but it quickly moved to Tarium and entered his body. Tarium fell to the ground, lifeless he laid there. Izzar was not too sure what he had done. He might have killed the wrong person.
In an impressive array of light, Tarium stood to his feet again. It dissipated, and it revealed a more confident and robust Tarium. He drew his staff from under his cloak and banged the end onto the ground.
“You assume to have power over my mind, but I can see now that you are powerless.”
He charged forward, staff stretched out, ready to attack; the demon seemed to be afraid and withered. But, even before Tarium reached the monster, it had disappeared and light-filled everything around them. His mission was complete.
A smile filled Tarium’s features as he approached Izzar; he had never seen his mentor smile like that before.
“I am proud of you. You’ve grown so strong; I would be honored to call you my master.”
Izzar left his mind; he could see Tarium wake up in his bound state, but the man was calm; he knew where he was and would try anything to save Izzar. His mind searched for the sword once again, not remembering where he was before. His mind wandered to Viha; he was worried about her and hoped she was fighting hard against her fears. He could see her now; she was there on the floor in the meditative state he left her in; the beast was also there in the same position; they were still fighting.
Finally realizing that he found the place he was looking for by finding Viha, he could see the sword embedded deep into the wall; he was trying very hard to remember what he was told, he could see the sword, but he did not know how he was going to get it to him. So he meditated, thought, imagined every possible way to get the sword to him.
Tarium beat him to it. He entered the little building and quickly defeated the guards; Izzar saw him take the sword out of the wall and turn to the beast. There was no response to his presence there. Tarium drew the sword and swung it back away from the beast. With all the strength he had in him, he turned it around, and it sliced through the beast's neck, the entire vision went dark, and Izzar could not see anymore. The last thing he saw was a dark substance like thick smoke exiting the body of the beast and dissipating into thin air.
Izzar tried again; he tried to think about Viha, nothing helped; he tried thinking about Tarium, he could not experience the same thing he had earlier. “Why did you do this?” Izzar shouted at the top of his lungs. Outside his cell, he could hear the scattering of the other beasts. They were making howling noises and running.
From within the darkness of the cell, someone appeared to him; it was too dark to see, but his presence was thick, and it made the room feel emptier than before.
“You are growing stronger by the day. Although I was able to keep my essence in existence for thousands of years through these animals, with one single power that I do not know where you have learned it, you’ve managed to defeat me. How?”
“I do not know,” Izzar said with reluctance.
“I’ve taught him,” Another voice echoed in the dark. One feminine, she was calm but had an arrogant undertone.
“Delucia.” Said the one.
“Nivshevus.” Said the other.
“I thought you were lost to the Void.”
“I’ve been watching you, Nivshevus. You’ve had quite the impact on this planet for the last century.” Delucia kept her arrogance.
“Why the secrecy? Why hide from me?” Nivshevus contemplated for a moment. “The sword of the Ipsimus is your home; that’s how you were able to defeat me here. You were in my presence all this time.”
“Yes, I was; if you knew I was still roaming this planet, we would have been at war with each other.”
“It’s because of what you’ve done.”
“It is because of what you think I’ve done.”
Izzar could feel the two entities moving around the room, trying to avoid one another. He found himself stuck in the middle of a major power struggle.
“I know what you have done, and you will pay for it.”
Izzar could feel Dalucia disappearing from the room; Nivshevus was still there, but he was angry; Izzar could feel it in the air.
“You won’t escape me this time.”
Nivshevus also disappeared; not a few moments later, there was a massive earthquake that Izzar had never felt in all his life on Dessix. The room around him shook, the doors rattled, and soon enough, they swung open. On the other side stood Tarium with Viha in his arms.
“We need to leave this place now.” Said Tarium with genuine worry.
Izzar rushed to him; he noticed the sword was on his person, but he didn’t care much for that; he ran to him with the only intent to check up on Viha. His legs began to shake when he saw her; she was pale, her eyes were gone. Tarium believed there was nothing more for them to do.
“It is time for us to leave; this place is not going to hold.”
Tarium’s voice seemed to get lost under the deafening sounds of the Earthquake; no one really knew where they were supposed to go, no one could recall from what direction they came in and how they got there.
“Do you know where Diggix is?” Asked Izzar as they escaped the town, Tarium could only exchange a shake of the head. It would have been easier if they knew where the little robot was so it could lead them through the forest back to the citadel.
The sun was already setting by the time they escaped the colonies, the earthquakes seized, and they could find a hiding place. However, the forest felt different to Izzar; the life was missing, there were no sounds in the air, and it was eerily silent.
“We need to keep on moving. It is not safe here. So it will be best if we head back to the Citadel.”
“Do you know where ‘back’ is?” Izzar asked, his hope fading.
“Master Izzar, with all due respect, I believe you possess the power to find our way back to the Citadel. You’ve done things here today that I would have never imagined possible.”
Izzar thought back on the two entities' conversation that something was causing deep conflict between them, and he was determined to discover the reason.