Pennie watched as Ray stood stiffly in front of Sir Richardson’s desk. It was plain to see that Ray was extraordinarily nervous and Pennie couldn’t blame him. Arnold Richardson was not only the Vice President of the MLC but was also rank six Starlight Knight. However, there was something about him that reminded Pennie of her uncle. Perhaps it was the oily dirty blonde hair or the scowling expression on his face, but whatever the reason it made her feel uneasy. The man hadn’t said anything since they entered the room, he just kept fiddling with the on his desk. They had probably only been there for five minutes, but Pennie felt like it had been hours.
“Mr Brayden Valero,” Sir Richardson called with a deep, gruff voice, which almost made Pennie jump out of her skin.
“Y-yes,” Ray replied, becoming even tenser.
“There are three matter of business I wanted to discuss with you today,” Sir Richardson continued. “First, I want to thank and congratulate you for all of your hard work this past year.”
“Huh?” Ray muttered, relaxing slightly. “You mean I’m not in trouble?”
“No, you are not,” Sir Richardson shook his head. “Although, your lack of control and destruction of property still hold a level of concern within the MLC.”
“That’s an understatement,” Lynx whispered while rolling his eyes.
Not wanting Lynx to cause a scene, Pennie stomped on his foot.
“Shut up,” she snarled under her breath.
“Regardless,” Sir Richardson said, not noticing what happened between Lynx and Pennie. “We want to express our gratitude for helping out not only during the whole Valo Village saga but with your co-operation capturing the criminals of Dark Soul and Regal Night.”
Ray took a deep breath of relief. With that one statement, the tense atmosphere of the room disappeared.
“Which brings us to the second thing I wanted to talk to you about,” Sir Richardson said as he placed his elbows on his desk. “You are currently ranked in the ‘unknown’ class at the moment. Is that correct?”
“Yes sir, I am,” Ray replied.
“Well, after much deliberation with the Haiva Nobility, we have decided to give you a promotion,” Sir Richardson explained. “I strongly believe this promotion is long overdue, especially since your amnestic disorder has improved, not to mention the extraordinary results for your resent examinations. Your accomplishments and intelligence qualify you to be in the class of Phoenix Hunter, making you the third person to carry that title in MLC history. I hope you consider this a great honour.”
“Phoenix Hunter huh?” Ray muttered deep in thought.
“Is something the matter?” Sir Richardson asked.
“No, it’s just that I may be descended from Phoenix Hunters,” Ray replied with a frown. “I was wondering if my family name had anything to do with this.”
“I wouldn’t know about that,” Sir Richardson stated as he closed his eyes. “The Valero family was considered quite strong, even amongst the other Elemental families, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this weren’t a coincidence.”
“I see…” Ray said, looking disappointed.
Pennie looked towards him with a concerned expression. She knew that Ray had asked Sir Richardson those questions to try and get some information about his family. It made her feel guilty for not telling him about Azaliea, but she knew that he had to keep her mouth shut.
“Great job dude,” Lynx smiled, slapping Ray on the back. “Looks like I need to start relying on you a bit more. I should even let you take over some of my missions.”
“I’m pretty sure that is just you avoiding work,” Ray muttered, looking away from Lynx in an attempt to avoid him.
’That’s quite an achievement Valero,” Dimetrios growled. “You may be winning for now, but I’ll catch up in no time.”
“Dimetrios, not everything has to be a competition,” Pennie sighed.
“Continuing on,” Master Isaac cleared his throat, motioning for the group to be quiet. “Wasn’t there something else you wanted to speak about Sir Richardson?”
“Ah yes. In fact, this concerns all of you in Twilight Heart,” Sir Richardson claimed, getting out of his seat to stand by his window. “The MLC would like to make a personal request.”
“What kind of request are we talking about?” Master Isaac asked.
“It’s a mission that we believe only those in Twilight Heart are capable of achieving,” Sir Richardson explained. “There are rumours that the headquarters of the anti-government guild Destruction is located in ruins near the border of Luminea and Aria.”
“Isn’t that the group that is rumoured to have over six hundred and sixty-six members?” Dimetrios asked.
“Yes, that is the one,” Sir Richardson turned to them and nodded. “It is also rumoured that the members of Destruction have been helping the Aria army invade Luminea. Our request to Twilight Heart is to investigate the matter.”
“That sounds dangerous,” Ray stated. “Are we to avoid fighting the enemy as much as possible?”
“I’ll leave that up to you,” Sir Richardson stated. “If possible, slimming down the enemy’s numbers would be helpful, but what we need is information. Anything that could help us stop the invasion from reaching the capital, Espoirs Lumineux. So, do you accept?”
“I don’t know…” Master Isaac said with hesitation. “We’ve taken quite a hit in power since Blaze and the other POETs have left us. I’m not quite sure we are up for the challenge.”
“POETs? What’s that?” Pennie asked Lynx.
“It stands for Protectors of Earth’s Tomorrow,” Lynx whispered. “It’s that elite group of members Blaze was part of. Remember the ones I told you about.”
“Oh, I see,” Pennie muttered.
“We have requested for certain members to go,” Richardson said as he grabbed a piece of paper from his drawer. “Let’s see, it says that we would like to use Cianna Kaden, Kaela Mason, Lynx McMarne, Pennie Raynhart, Dimetrios Tuff and Brayden Valero.”
“That’s awfully specific,” Ray pointed out.
“Well, it just means that the MLC recognises the efforts of these people,” Sir Richardson said.
“Come on, Master Isaac, this would be a great opportunity for us,” Lynx stated.
“I understand that, but I’m still not so sure this is a good idea,” Master Isaac insisted. “I’m still not exactly sure we would be able to manage a task like this.”
“I assure you that you will be compensated generously,” Sir Richardson pushed. “We will even pay you in advance.”
“Well, since this involves all of you what are your personal opinions?” Master Isaac asked turning to them.
“We have to do it! It’s our time to show what we are made of!” Lynx exclaimed.
“This sounds easy to me,” Dimetrios gloated. “I’ll defeat the entire Aria army if I have to.”
“Do you remember what happened the last time you said that?” Pennie sighed.
“Pennie, what do you think?” Master Isaac asked.
Pennie wanted to do it. The money she’d get for accepting the MLC’s mission would pay for her rent. However, she didn’t say anything as she thought it was too insensitive to put everyone into trouble for her money problems.
“Well, I’m not really sure,” Pennie claimed. “It does sound very dangerous, and I’m not sure I could be much help. But if everyone else wants to do it, then I don’t see why I should say no.”
“Brayden? What about you?” Master Isaac asked looking up at Ray.
“I just think it might not be a good idea to refuse a direct mission from the MLC,” Ray stated. “And besides I have this feeling that something bad might happen if we don’t go.”
“Well then, it looks like I have no choice,” Master Isaac sighed turning to Sir Richardson. “We’ll accept the mission.”
“Excellent,” Sir Richardson said standing from his desk. “In two days, on the 9th of June, Twilight Heart will be sent out the Enlil Ruins to investigate the activity there. Come back with information to stop both the anti-government movement and Aria’s invasion.”
Once Twilight Heart left his office, Sir Richardson smiled slyly as he sat in his black leather seat. He leant back, placing his feet on the dark brown desk and crossing them.
“Well that went better than I expected,” he muttered to himself.
“Sir, are you sure that was a good idea?” his secretary asked. “There are a lot of bad rumours circling about that place. Surely you have heard that several dangerous individuals have been spotted in that area.”
“That is precisely why I sent that group,” Sir Richardson stated. “When I received Ivan Submerges report I knew that I couldn’t risk sending out any of my soldiers. If a war really is coming, I need them to protect the capital. If we lose some of the other cities and towns so be it.”
“But what if Twilight Heart fails? We could very well be sending them to their deaths,” the secretary asked with a worried expression.
“What will be, will be,” Sir Richardson claimed, placing the blank page he took out earlier onto his desk. “As far as I see it all of our troubling people will be in one place. If we are lucky, they will destroy each other without me needing to lift a finger.”
“But that would also mean sacrificing the Valero. Weren’t we wanting to use him to annihilate the CSOG?” the secretary said with a worried expression. “Isn’t that why we’ve been monitoring him?”
“Well yes. However, as things stand, he’d be troubling to control, just like our other Phoenix Hunter,” Sir Richardson replied, placing his feet back on the ground and pushing his chair closer into the desk. “I know for a fact that he’d survive even if everyone else perishes. He’s a Valero, the strongest Oviri and Phoenix Hunters in history.”
“Then you sent Twilight Heart because…”
“Because Twilight Heart could stand in the way of my goals,” Sir Richardson continued. “With them gone, Brayden Valero will be mine to control. Then all of the Starlight Knights will bow to me including A.V. and the entire world will be mine.”
The soldier walked into the hall alone as his allies prepared themselves for the next attack. They had taken cover in the ruins of a castle deep in the ruins of Enlil. The walls were crumbling away, and dust and cobwebs filled the halls. Most of the castle was in shambles but as the solider known as Arzon marched towards where the Earl of Aria rested, the halls became tidier and more together. In fact, there were only a few holes in the ceiling that let the night sky shine through. He had to speak with the Earl. Many of the men were worn out, overworked from the endless battles and constant travel. Most of his colleagues wouldn’t dare question the Earl’s decision to attack Luminea, they didn’t even dare to come face to face with him. But Arzon knew that if they were to keep fighting the way they then were they would surely fail their mission. It was a foolish idea, but Arzon knew he had to attempt and convince the Earl to allow them to rest. Taking over Luminea had been only a recent movement, so he hoped that his request would be considered. He stopped when he reached the dark wooden doors of the Earl’s chambers and prepared to knock.
“What are you doing down here?” a man growled. “Shouldn’t you be training with the others?”
The man named Sabra Blackwell stormed up to him. He was the new advisor to the Earl who seemed to be with him at every waking moment. In fact, he had closed off the Earl from seeing anyone else, which Arzon thought was quite suspicious.
“I need to speak with the Earl,” Arzon claimed with a bow.
“Our Lord is resting right now,” Sabra stated coldly. “He was insistent that I make sure no one bothers him.”
“Then when can I see him? The matters I have to discuss are of great importance,” Arzon snarled, still thinking the adviser was hiding something.
“A lowly soldier such as yourself has no business speaking to the Earl,” Sabra spat, walking past Arzon to open the doors. “His Lordship has more pressing matters than dealing with the petty problems of one lone Oviri.”
“You have a job to do. Get back to work,” Sabra snarled before slamming the door in Arzon’s face.
Arzon waited at the door for several seconds. He couldn’t turn back; he knew that the motivation of the soldiers was wearing thin. Disobeying orders, he opened the door and quietly sneaked inside. After slowly closing the door behind him, making sure he didn’t make a sound Arzon checked his surroundings. To his surprise, the room was completely dark, only the slightest bit of moonlight emanated from behind the curtain of the windows. It was probably the only room that was still in one piece. As Arzon moved further away from the door, the throne started to come into view. Through the darkness, he was barely able to make the figure of the Earl before he was stopped by a booming voice.
“I thought I told you not to enter,” Sabra growled, stepping out into the light.
“I know, but this matter is vital,” Arzon insisted, getting down on one knee to bow. “It’s regarding our army, and it could affect the outcome of the forthcoming mission.”
“Very well,” Sabra sighed before turning his head towards the Earl. “Would you listen to this man’s request My Lord?”
“Fine…” the Earl said in a flat tone.
Arzon still couldn’t see the Earl who was shrouded in darkness. Arzon got to his feet and began his report.
“Morale is at an all-time low,” Arzon explained. “The soldiers are tired and overworked. I would like to request we take a break before heading towards Espoirs Lumineux for our next attack.”
“There is no time for that, as far as I see it things should continue as is. We’ve been so successful, so I really don’t see a need to change tactics,” Sabra stated. “You agree with me don’t you, My Lord.”
“Yes…” the voice muttered from the shadows.
“But if something isn’t done the number of lives lost will be extremely high!” Arzon snarled. “Do you even care about the wellbeing of your people?!”
“How dare you take that tone with the Earl?!” Sabra bellowed. “Anyone who does not live up to his expectations fails as a soldier. As for you, if you have time to whine, it obviously means that you do not meet those expectations.”
“My Lord, please rethink this,” Arzon yelled.
“In fact, such incompetence needs to be punished,” Sabra continued with a horrific smile on his face.
Even though it was dark, Arzon noticed movement from where the Earl had been sitting. Fearing for his life, Arzon took a step back.
“No, I apologise for being out of line,” Arzon muttered. “I just wanted to make sure we performed to the best of our abilities. So please forgive me.”
Sabra clicked his fingers, the sound echoed through the empty room. There was a brief moment of silence before a bolt of lightning struck Arzon through the chest.
“Huh…” was all Arzon could say before his cold, lifeless body collapsed onto the ground.
“I don’t believe it only took one shot. It was so easy to kill him,” Sabra laughed, lightly kicking the body in front of him. “But I suppose that’s the true power of an Elemental. I must say you’ve done well so far Blaze Aliené.”
Sabra turned to Blaze Aliené who lowered his outreached arm he used to attack and then stood perfectly in place. The force of the Air Elemental’s attack had caused the curtains to fly open, allowing the moonlight to shine through the room and made him more visible. The blank, unresponsive expression on his face made Sabra smile. The young Aliené was his best puppet by far. It took a long time to completely possess him, so to avoid getting caught Sabra had to gradually expose Blaze to his magic in small doses. Finally, after several years he finally was able to place the Air Elemental under his Perfect Puppet spell thanks to the Toivoa incident leaving his mind and body frail. Sabra had managed to erase all of his emotions, thoughts and desires, leaving Blaze empty and hollow. He was easy to control and was perfect for executing his plan.
“Now wasn’t that fun. You are no longer tied down to the foolish idea of saving the world. Now you can do whatever you desire,” Sabra stated as he walked towards Blaze. “Not that you even have the capability to think for yourself anymore. You really don’t have any other choice but to follow my every order.”
Blaze’s emotionless eyes did not watch Sabra as he approached, he just blankly stared at nothing as Sabra walked behind him.
“Not too much longer now until my plan succeeds. Soon all those who caused you pain will suffer,” Sabra laughed, placing his arm around Blaze. “Isn’t that right, Lord Aliené?”
“Yes…” Blaze muttered in a dull tone.