Ray’s body felt stiff when he opened his eyes. When he awoke, he found himself staring up at the lilac sky above. He couldn’t hear or see Pennie, and he no longer could pinpoint where Visola had disappeared to. He attempted to retrace his steps. Ray had given in to his temper when Visola forced him to face the fears he dreaded the most. He flinched at the memory of her multiple corpses. It had been a while since he last lost his temper like that, whenever he did though it was an odd sensation. During that state, his memory always seemed hazy, as if something from within was slowly taking over him. After letting out that roar, he remembered so little of what had happened. He remembered fighting then suddenly stopping. Then being hit by some spell and becoming trapped in some kind of crystallite cage.
At least one good thing had come out of it. Ray remembered the name of the girl from his past.
As the birds chirped in the distance, everything seemed so peaceful. It was as if the threat of ending the world was nothing but a lie. Ray began to wonder if it had all been a dream. That Pennie was safely at home, scrapbooking her memories and that Visola didn’t exist or wasn’t causing trouble for the people of Le Alba. Perhaps he was back in Asteria and had fallen asleep in front of the Luna tree again.
When he tried to sit up, he realised he couldn’t move his right arm. Which meant that everything that had occurred actually happened. He thought that Lynx or someone might have rescued him and the others. That the battle was over and he had missed it. Kaela probably had ended the threat, and everything had gone back to the peaceful days that existed before. He tried to move his arm again, carefully and gently to avoid further injury. Yet it still would not budge.
“I must have done more damage to it than I thought,” he muttered.
However, it was an odd sensation, rather than it stinging like it had before it was as if someone was holding on to it. Ray looked down towards it and gasped.
Azaliea was holding onto his arm; fast asleep.
He jumped up releasing himself from her grasp. He studied himself to see if it was another flashback. He looked around to see the same flower field from his dreams. It was as if he had been sent back in time. He was younger, he guessed around the age of seven or eight and Azaliea seemed to be about the same age. Because of the sudden change of scenery, he assumed that she was possibly another trick that Visola had pulled on him.
For some reason, he felt at ease. The small girl in front of him didn’t seem to be dangerous.
Ray got to his knees and crawled closer to her. Suddenly she opened her eyes and he fell backwards in shock. He watched as she sat up with a yawn and rubbed her eyes.
“It’s so warm…” she muttered, before collapsing back onto the ground and falling asleep again.
Ray grabbed her by the shoulders and began to shake her.
“Don’t fall back asleep after scaring me like that!”
“But the weather is so nice. It’s the perfect weather for sleeping…”
Although he agreed, he still tried to wake her up. He had so much he wanted to ask. So much he wanted to find out.
“I need to know if you are okay… or rather I need to talk to you!” he shouted, “Please wake up!”
She placed her hands on the ground and sat up properly. She rubbed her eyes and stretched out her back.
“Ray…” she complained, “I was in the middle of a nice dream. Did you have to wake me up like that?”
“Azaliea,” he muttered. “Is that really you?”
She yawned again, “Are you still half asleep…? Or did you hit your head? Of course, it’s me. Who else would I be?”
Ray couldn’t believe it. It was as if one of his dreams had come to life. He couldn’t believe that he finally got to see her. However, that joy was short lived when he remembered the name of the spell Visola had hit him with.
Akumu. In the old language of Le Abla, it translated to dream or nightmare.
Nothing of what he was seeing was real, which meant that the Azaliea in front of him was nothing but a fragment of his memory. He stood up and frowned. He thought he had finally found her, but he was wrong. As he looked down at his childhood friend, he couldn’t help but still be glad to have her so near.
Azaliea stared at him for a moment, her eyes fluttering with surprise. She began to look around as if she had finally awakened from her dreamy state. When she became fully aware of her surroundings and the time she let out a shout.
“Oh, crap! I’m gonna be late!” She exclaimed as she hastily got to her feet. “I fell asleep because of you! Now I’m going to be late!”
“Late for what?!” he asked.
“How could you forget?!” She said grabbing his wrist and forcing him to run. “Forget it, I’ll explain later, but we really need to get going!”
As they ran together, Ray kept reminding himself over and over about the reality of his situation.
It is just a dream, nothing more than an illusion.
She’s not real.
Anytime now you’ll wake up, and it will all be gone.
However, the warmth of her hand felt so real and so comforting that he felt at ease. Ray was finally at the place he wanted most. He began to think that the time he had spent with Twilight Heart was a dream, and he had returned to reality. That he was finally awake and that he and Azaliea were never separated. Then perhaps even his time with Aleron was a dream. His mind that was once flooded with thoughts became empty.
It was nothing but a dream, yet he felt like he belonged.
She wasn’t real, but he didn’t want to leave her side.
As his eyes turned dull, he found that he didn’t care if he ever woke up again.
He no longer cared whether it was a dream or not.
They walked into a town that Ray had never seen before. It was only a small town filled with old buildings. Azaliea had stopped running and began to look around. Everyone would greet her with a smile as she walked by. Ray didn’t think much of it; he just watched in amazement as she happily engaged in the conversations.
“Lady Azaliea!” an old lady in a nearby store called.
Azaliea ran towards her, letting go of Ray’s hand.
“Sorry I’m late, but I’m here now,” she said with a nervous smile.
“It doesn’t matter my dear, it doesn’t matter if you run a bit late,” The old women said. “I see you brought Master Brayden with you today.”
“Yeah… He’s the reason I’m late. When I went to look him, I found him fast asleep in the meadow. I tried to wake him, but I ended up falling asleep with him.”
“Will he be watching you today?” the old lady asked handing Azaliea a small package.
Azaliea nodded. Ray emptily stared at her wondering what the two were talking about not that he really cared though. He was just thankful to hear her voice.
“Oh, I don’t see Master Dari here. Will he be joining up with you later?” the old lady stated.
“No,” she said with a slight look of disappointment. “He was sent out on another mission today. I asked Shario is he wanted to come, but he was busy too.”
“Shario…?” Oh you mean the young boy from Aria,” the woman said. “I haven’t seen that friend of yours in a while.”
“Yeah, since he’s older than me he has more responsibilities now,” Azaliea claimed. “So he can’t visit as often anymore.”
As she finished her sentence, she looked towards Ray. Noticing he was staring blankly at her, she gave him a forced smile.
“That’s too bad. I bet they would have loved to hang out with the two of you today,” the old lady sighed, “Well, I hope you still enjoy today.”
She turned to the woman and bowed, “That should be starting soon so I’d best be going then! Let’s go, Ray!”
As she began to walk away, Ray followed her, trailing behind without saying a word. Behind them, the old lady began to whisper to another man. Ray looked back towards them.
“Poor dear… she really doesn’t know much more than misfortune…” the old lady sighed.
“Yes…it’s such a shame that someone like her was born into such a dark future,” the man replied.“At least she has Lord Brayden and her friends there to protect her. Without them, I suppose the darkness within her would take over and leave nothing but emptiness…”
“All we can do is hope for their future…” the old lady muttered. “Otherwise it could mean the end for us all.”
Ray turned back to Azaliea who hummed as she walked. It was his job to protect her. He felt as if he had to be there for her to smile. He couldn’t let her disappear into the darkness. Even if he had to abandon reality, he decided that he had to stay by her side no matter what.
He waited for her in a large crowd. Everyone was excitedly waiting in front of a small stage. Ray wondered what was going on and why everyone was so excited.
“I’ll be back soon so just wait here for me, okay?” she had smiled at him before running off.
It wasn’t long after that when the crowd began to roll in. Ray gathered that some sort of event was about to start. The crowd suddenly began to roar. Ray looked towards the stage and gasped in shock. Azaliea walked onto the stage smiling and waving at the crowd. Instead of her usual clothes, she wore a light purple kimono with a skirt that flared out. As the music began to play, she rose a fan to her face and began to dance.
Ray watched in amazement as she continued to dance around the stage. He was also amazed how loved she was by the people around him. He wondered why the population respected someone as young as her. The sun shined upon her silky brown hair as it drifted through the gentle breeze, every movement she made was more beautiful than the next. Her delicate hands guided the mauve fan, twirling around in grace. Her smile dazzled the crowd with its beauty. She rose the fan to the lavender skies and closed it as she finished her dance with a curtsy.
When the song finished, she jumped off the stage and ran towards him.
“It’s finally over!” she sighed. “That was a pain!”
“But you dance so well,” Ray interjected. “Don’t you like performing?”
“I prefer singing and playing the piano. Besides, I don’t exactly like performing in front of large crowds…” Azaliea complained turning away from him.
“Then why do you bother?” Ray sighed.
“You know why…” she claimed, turning to him. She frowned when he saw the empty look on his face. She walked up to him as if to get a closer look.
“What’s with you today?” she sighed as she glared at him with a scornful look. “You’re acting really…strange…”
Ray looked at her in surprise. He had been distancing himself, but he didn’t think Azaliea would notice. He wanted to remain in this world, the world with her seemed peaceful. He didn’t want to face the reality that it was all a dream that he would wake up from. He didn’t want her to disappear. Not again. He opened his mouth to speak when screams filled the air.
“It’s the CSOG!”
Ray turned to see people running from a crowd of soldiers. They cut through the people without hesitation. Thinking he had to protect her, he started to run to battle, but she ran ahead of him.
“Everyone! Return to your homes at once!” she yelled attempting to guide the citizens to safety.
The people who were once happily watching her scurried away screaming in fear. It was like a nightmare that threatened their peace. Azaliea tried her best to control the chaos, but it left her open, easier to attack. Ray decided to protect her while she evacuated everyone.
But he was too late.
In a blink of an eye, a stray soldier ran up to her and knocked her backwards. She was sent flying for miles before hitting a wall, smashing it upon impact.
“Azaliea!” Ray yelled running towards her.
Before he could get to her, around twenty, perhaps even thirty soldiers got in his way. He prepared to attack them to get to Azaliea. He had to make sure she was okay and get her medical attention as soon as possible.
“Don’t screw with me, pathetic scum…” a voice called in a dark tone.
Ray turned to watch Azaliea stand up from the rubble. He watched in shock as her usual cheerful eyes turned cold. Her stare of death even sent chills down Ray’s spine.
“I’ll make you pay for attacking my town!” she growled, walking towards them creating two long daggers made from black and red flames. “You all need to learn your place!”
Ray didn’t have time to process Azaliea’s words before she ran up to the soldiers. With the incredible speed, she swung her daggers at her enemies and took them out in one fierce attack. Multiple men ran towards her in an attempt to take her out from behind. With a swift turn, she kicked them backwards. Ray could do nothing but stand there and watch her in amazement. The fragile girl he thought he knew might have actually been the most powerful Oviri in existence. She hardly had to use any magic to take down the small group of CSOG thugs. After a few short minutes, the soldiers fell to their knees begging for their lives. Azaliea stood over them and growled.
“You’re not even worth my time, you pathetic scum! Luckily for you, I’m feeling quite merciful today, so I’ll let you leave with your lives.”
The men immediately ran away screaming.
“You monster!” one yelled.
“You’ll definitely pay for this...!” another yelled as they disappeared into the distance.
Ray just stood there watching her in shock. He couldn’t believe how powerful that one small girl actually was. She turned around and looked up at him furiously which made him twitch in fear. She stormed up to him. She looked at him with her bright green eyes filled with not only rage but concern.
“As for you, you’re the one who needs to learn their place the most!” she yelled. “Overthinking things and being so distant, stop making people worry about you! It’s concerning…”
He looked at her and smiled. He had been overthinking things to much. Ever since Visola had announced her plans for world domination, he wasn’t himself. He had to stay strong if he wanted to keep his promise to her. He watched as the small girl narrowed her eyes at him waiting for an answer.
“Sorry!” he chuckled, “I guess I’ve been acting a bit stupid…”
Azaliea turned away and sighed. He had been so focused on whether she was real or not. He realised that it didn’t matter, he just wanted to spend time with her before he awoke if it was a dream even though he feared what exactly would happen to her when he did.
“You know… I know things have been bad lately but it’s okay to be frightened,” she said. “Not knowing what might happen or has happened can be scary. The trick is not to let it take over you…”
Ray put his hands behind his head and smiled devilishly at her, “So says the scariest monster in existence.”
She looked sideways at him with an angry glare as if to say shut up. He sniggered as he walked past her. He was determined to have a great time with her while the moment lasted. If it was to disappear, he wanted those last moments to be as joyful as possible.
“Fine, fine I’ll stop being a pain. Shall we get something to eat? I’m starving!” he said walking ahead as she slowly followed.
He walked with a spring in his step with a newfound determination. He was so busy with his ingenious plan that he didn’t notice Azaliea’s despondent expression.
“Stupid fire demon…” she muttered.