A Trap in the Ruins
Two days after the meeting with Sir Richardson, the requested group from Twilight Heart headed towards Enlil. Master Isaac suggested that before they reach their destination, they should stop at Ludwick to get more information on the enemy, since it was the first place they were spotted. The train ride up had been terrible. The tracks were so old that they made the trip bumpy and the train shook so much that it made Ray miserable. It took nearly four hours of rocking, complaining and falling out of their seats from sudden stops to arrive at Ludwick.
Knowing that there was a lot of ground to cover, Kaela suggested that they split up into groups. Pennie was a little shocked when Ray came up to her and asked to be partnered with her. With Noah tagging along, they spent hours talking to the residents of Ludwick. The town was only small, especially compared to Asteria. It was a lot older too, the buildings were run down, and desperately needed a fresh coat of paint. All the houses and other buildings were so tightly packed in and covered in graffiti, Pennie wondered whether anyone actually looked after the town. When she asked Ray about it, he said it was to be expected since Ludwick was a town run by the CSOG. They looked all over the place, asking any person they could to find out about the anti-government guild Destruction or the Aria army, even the sketchy people who hung around the back streets that smelled of lingering cigarette smoke and sewage water. They even checked some places more than once, but they couldn’t find any decent information making all of their efforts a complete waste of time. As promised, they headed back to the centre of town, towards a small fountain where Kaela and Cianna waited for them.
“So, any luck?” Kaela asked as Pennie and Ray walked up to her.
“No, none,” Pennie sighed, Pennie sighed, tightening her grip on the strap of her small over the shoulder handbag.
“I thought that might be the case,” Kaela sighed.
“We came up with nothing as well,” Cianna stated.
“Well let’s not give up hope just yet,” Noah said with hope. “Lynx and Dimetrios may still find some information for us.”
They waited for Lynx and Dimetrios for almost an hour, which was way past the time they had agreed to meet up. To make matters worse they didn’t find out anything about Destruction or the Aria army.
“Didn’t the army make their way through here just the other day?” Pennie asked, confused as to why they could find even the smallest clue. “How could no one know anything about this?”
“It’s most likely because people are too afraid to talk,” Ray replied, crossing his arms with a sigh. “The attack may have been only recent, but there have been rumours that the anti-gov guild frequently attacks this area. so even if there were any witnesses, I highly doubt they’d say anything. It is also highly likely that all the witnesses have already been killed to keep them silent.”
“That’s not a funny joke Ray,” Pennie said, frightened with what Ray had said. “That kind of thing only happens in books and movies, not in real life.”
“No, I’m being serious,” Ray claimed, looking at her. “It’s unfortunate but it happens more often than you think. I remember hearing about it a lot.”
“Oh really? And when did you hear about this?” Lynx asked in disbelief.
“I don’t know,” Ray snarled quietly, not looking at Lynx. “I just do, alright?”
“Fine, don’t talk to me then,” Lynx growled.
Pennie sighed. Ray and Lynx had hardly spoken to each other since their fight in May. Although there were times where Lynx attempted to speak with Ray and acted like nothing happened, Ray always avoided him and only spoke to him quietly in short sentences if he needed to. It was obvious that Lynx had really hurt Ray’s feelings and the fact that Lynx hadn’t properly apologized just made things worse. Pennie began to think it was better when they were arguing all the time.
“Well, there’s nothing left for us here now,” Kaela sighed. “We should probably start heading out to Enlil before it gets too late.”
“You know it’s such a shame we aren’t heading north-west instead,” Dimetrios stated with a smirk. “It’d be more excitin’ to explore over that way.”
“Why’s that?” Cianna asked.
“A Phoenix graveyard,” Dimetrios claimed. “Up towards the border on the edge of the country is where the ruins for the old Phoenix town lies.”
“Really?!” Lynx said, his face gleaming with excitement. “That’s actually pretty cool. Do you know if there are any Phoenixes there now?”
“I don’t think so,” Dimetrios replied. “Well, at least not living ones.”
“Wait what does that mean?” Pennie asked, frightened by Dimetrios’s comment.
“Haven’t you ever heard of the tale of Apollo and Calamity?” Dimetrios asked. After most of the group shook their head, a smile appeared on his face. “Well, they said it happened just short of a century ago, in the once peaceful town of Phoenixia. A small tribe of Phoenixes lived in the town hidden away from other Oviri, and in that town lived two young but extremely powerful Phoenixes. Calamity, the star that caused disaster to those who opposed her and Apollo, the Phoenix whose power was so great that people considered him to be the God of the Sun. They were only kids, but they were feared throughout Le Alba. Despite that, they lived happily in their town, away from the war and were blissfully unaware of how horrible the world really was. However, on a dark starless night at two o’clock in the morning, the CSOG attacked and killed almost everyone on sight, including Apollo. As for Calamity and the Phoenixes that survived, the CSOG captured them and turned Phoenixia into a concentration camp and set up a base for their soldiers and their families.”
“That’s awful,” Pennie muttered.
“I haven’t even gotten to the best part,” Dimetrios continued. “They left Calamity in chains and tortured her for months. They planned to use her to defeat the MLC and hoped that beatin’ her half to death would make her obedient. One day the Lunaris Paradoxum’s evil red moon rose giving Calamity the power to escape. Bound in chains she killed thousands of soldiers until they had no choice but to kill her. However, her rage toward the CSOG who killed Apollo lived on. The next night, chains could be heard scratchin’ the pavement at two o’clock in the mornin’ and when the sun rose an entire family within Phoenixia was found dead in their homes. It happened every night before the CSOG Phoenix camp was destroyed by the Starlight Knight Rank Four, Deimos. But that was not the end of that tale. Some say you can still here Calamity’s chains scratchin’ the ground on a dark night and that anyone who is makin’ noise after two AM will be found dead the next mornin’.”
“Why did you have to tell us that?” Pennie asked, turning pale.
“I thought it was a fantastic story,” Dimetrios shrugged. “A vengeful ghost, especially a ghost of a Phoenix sounds excitin’. Not that those rumours could possibly be real.”
“Still, it’s kind of sad,” Cianna said, looking down at her feet and fiddling with her hair. “They may have been Phoenixes, but they were only children. Can you imagine how horrible that would have been, the poor things.”
“Phoenixes don’t have feelings,” Lynx stated bluntly. “They are nothing but monsters to viciously kill others. They don’t deserve to be pitied.”
“Of course you’d feel that way,” Ray muttered under his breath, so quietly that only Pennie could hear.
“Enough, we’ve gotten too distracted,” Kaela sighed. “Our current mission is more important than a rumour about Phoenixes.”
“Alright, alright, I’ll drop the subject,” Dimetrios claimed. “So what’s next?”
“Well, it’s eleven o clock right now, so if we want to get to the Enlil ruins before the sun goes down, we need to get going now,” Kaela explained. “There’s no trains or roads to get there so we’ll have to walk. If we leave now, we should hopefully be there by four at the latest.”
“Then let’s get going,” Ray insisted. “The longer we wait, the harder our mission will be.”
They left the town centre and Ludwick, heading towards a dangerous mission with no information to assist them. The further away they walked the more nervous Pennie became, not just for the mission ahead but because of Dimetrios’s story which kept sending chills down her spine.
Just like Kaela expected they arrived at Enlil just before four in the afternoon. Pennie sighed with relief, even though they had taken several breaks to eat and drink, she was still exhausted.
“Are you alright?” Ray asked as he watched her catch her breath.
“Yeah, I’m all cool,” she replied. “Just a little tired from walking so much.”
They stood just outside the ruins, hiding behind a group of pillars. Enlil was so much larger than what Pennie expected. There were broken structures that she assumed were once houses or other small buildings as far as Pennie could see. There were wild bushes and vines that grew messily out of the ground and there were trees that were so overgrown that they had fallen apart. In the distance, she could see what looked to be a castle, which was the thing that Pennie could see that was somewhat recognisable. Despite what they heard about Enlil, there didn’t seem to be a person in sight, and it was eerily quiet.
“Is that a castle up there?” Noah asked, speaking a little too loud. “What even is this place?”
“I think it used to be where the royal family lived before the CSOG killed them and took control of Le Alba,” Ray replied. “No one has lived here since, and as centuries passed it has just fallen to pieces.”
“You are just full of all kinds of information, aren’t you Valero?” Dimetrios commented. “You’re practically a walkin’ and talkin’ encyclopaedia.”
“Shut up,” Ray said with an annoyed growl.
“Oooh, I see that you’re not a very friendly book,” Dimetrios sneered.
Ray sighed, giving up on fighting with Dimetrios and choosing to ignore him instead.
“You need to be quiet Dimetrios,” Kaela barked, keeping her voice at a low volume. “We are on an undercover mission right now. If you’re too loud, we’ll get caught.”
“Right, right,” Dimetrios whispered. “Sorry.”
“Still, it’s quieter than I expected,” Kaela claimed. “I haven’t seen anyone at all.”
“We need to get closer, we’re way too far away,” Lynx rolled his eyes. “They’re all probably hidden closer to the castle preparing for their next attack.”
“Alright, let’s go, but quietly,” Kaela said, moving away from the pillar and walking into the ruins.
Pennie looked to Ray, who nodded. He looked past the pillar and his eyes darting side to side, examining the area before following Kaela. They walked through the ruins, trying to keep as quiet as possible. Being closer to the demolished houses still covered in ash made Pennie feel a little gloomy. As she treaded on the long dry grass that scratched her ankles Pennie found it hard to believe a whole civilization used to live there. Pennie didn’t need to know what happened in Enlil to know that there wasn’t a single survivor.
“I thought the caverns back home were depressing,” Cianna said, walking closer to Pennie. “But this place is just awful. The CSOG must have been really terrible back then to annihilate an entire town like this.”
“It was a time way before the Dark Oviri and the MLC existed,” Dimetrios stated. “This kind of thing happened all over Le Alba when the Dark Shadow attacked, and the Haiva Nobility fell. I’m sure you know that the CSOG’s main goal used to be to annihilate Oviri.”
“But Brayden said it was the royal family who lived here, as in the King of Le Alba,” Lynx said. “My parents told me the Haiva Nobility was mostly made of Elementals. We are the strongest type of Oviri, how could they be defeated so easily? And wouldn’t they have had some kind of defences in place to keep the CSOG out?”
“I don’t know, why are you asking me?” Dimetrios growled.
“No one does,” Kaela claimed. “Before the Eighty-Year War, the CSOG banned anything that regarded the fall of the Haiva from being recorded. There are no history books or anything that explains what happened.”
Ray stopped walking. Pennie and the others walked past him before realising he had stopped. When Pennie noticed that she had left him behind she also stopped to see what was wrong.
“They were…betrayed,” Ray said dully.
Pennie turned to face him. When she did, she saw him with his arms crossed and a blank, emotionless expression on his face as he looked at the ground in front of him.
“Ray?” she called to him. “What do you mean by that?”
“That’s what I was always told when I was young,” he continued, his voice deeper and flatter than usual. “Apparently, someone within the Haiva Nobility sold out all of the Elemental’s to save themselves or improve their rank.”
“No way,” Dimetrios muttered. “Who was it, Valero? What kind of things did they reveal?”
Ray stood in silence leaving Dimetrios’s question unanswered which caused him to impatiently tap his foot. When Ray’s eyes returned to normal, he grunted quietly and closed his left eye tightly.
“Sorry, what were we just talking about?” Ray asked, placing his fingertips on the side of his forehead and looked up at them.
“You were just sayin’ about how the Haiva were betrayed,” Dimetrios snarled. “Out with it already, I want to know more.”
“That’s all I know, I don’t remember any more,” Ray chuckled awkwardly, removing his hand from his face and using it to scratch the back of his head. “It’s just something someone once said to me that’s all…”
“Ray are you…” Pennie began, uncertain how she should finish her question. “Is everything alright?”
“Yeah,” Ray sighed. “All this talk of the Haiva triggered my memory of someone telling me about it.”
“Do you remember who?” Pennie asked.
“I don’t know. I think it was a woman, but I can’t seem to remember what she looks like. It’s all kind of fuzzy,” Ray explained.
“What does fuzzy even mean?” Dimetrios growled, disappointed with Ray’s response. “You’re not makin’ any sense.”
“It’s kind of like when the signal for the digital television channels are poor, the image isn’t clear and the sound keeps cutting out,” Ray explained, despite everyone still looking confused. “I really don’t know how to explain it any better than that.”
“Never mind then,” Dimetrios sighed with disappointment. “Well, at least it was interesting to find out about what happened all those years ago. Although you’re probably wrong.”
Ray ignored Dimetrios. He seemed to be thinking deeply about something instead of Dimetrios’s taunting. The serious look on his face made Pennie wonder what he was thinking about.
“Brayden, have you realised it too?” Kaela asked, her eyes scanning the area.
“Yeah, something doesn’t add up,” Brayden replied with a nod.
“Why, what’s wrong?” Lynx asked.
“It doesn’t make sense for the Aria army or the anti-government guild to hide here,” Kaela explained. “It’s a barren and open area making it difficult to hide here, especially with such a large number.”
“So what? People do stupid things sometimes that ruin their plans,” Dimetrios claimed.
“That’s not all,” Brayden said with a frown. “They’ve gone out of their way to come this way. Considering their previous attacks, all of them slowly headed towards Espoirs Lumineux. If they continued their pattern, they should have gone to Ebina and would have been in the capital by now. However, they attacked Maii, going further away from their destination or rather went backwards.”
“But what could that mean?” Noah asked, looking a little frightened.
“I can’t be certain, but they may have other plans before attacking Espoirs Lumineux,” Ray said. “Or it could be…”
“Some kind of trap,” Pennie said, knowing exactly what Ray was going to say.
Someone started to clap. The sudden noise echoed in Pennie’s ears. Her body became tense as she turned to where the noise was coming from. Right behind them stood a man with long silver hair that was tied back into a low ponytail. He was an older man, most likely around the age of seventy who wore a black buttoned shirt with the sleeves rolled up and long black suit pants.
“Well done, well done,” he smiled as he continued to clap. “You figured that out so quickly, perhaps not all of you are complete and utter fools.”
Pennie’s eyes darted toward Ray who turned to face the man with wide eyes.
“Crap, why couldn’t I sense his presence,” Ray muttered with a click of his tongue.
“Where the hell did he come from?!” Dimetrios yelled, also shocked by the man’s sudden appearance.
Pennie looked around to the others. By the expressions on their faces, it looked like they didn’t know that the man was there either.
“I love seeing those expressions,” the man laughed as he stopped clapping. “It never gets old.”
“Who are you and what do you want?” Ray demanded, moving his feet into a position that would allow him to attack if need be.
“Ah, a fiery personality and bright green eyes, you must be a Valero,” the man said with a devilish smile as Ray blinked in surprise and took a step back. “I suppose that would make you Brayden Valero. Yes, I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“We asked you a question,” Kaela barked.
“Oh right, the name’s Sabra Blackwell,” the man frowned. “I’m the leader of the anti-government guild Destruction, and the temporary advisor of the Earl of Aria and you have fallen right into our trap.”