Hope's Bright!

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Off to Battle

When Ray awoke the next morning, he had a massive headache. The early morning sun was so bright it hurt his eyes. Squinting, he grabbed his phone from beside him to check the time. He groaned and flung his arms to the ground when he realised it was barely six o’clock. Ray didn’t know what time he actually managed to fall asleep, but he couldn’t have gotten more than three hours sleep.

“I don’t want to get up,” he sighed. “Today is just going to be a giant pain.”

Since so much had happened the day before, it was safe to assume that it was going to be another long and difficult day. It was the whole reason he even bothered to go to sleep, there was no way he’d be able to handle it all if he was tired. However, despite telling himself that several times over the night, he struggled to get to sleep because he couldn’t stop thinking about what happened. He was shocked when he received the message from Blaze asking for help. It was even more shocking when the message suddenly cut out. Ray knew what it meant, or he at least thought he did. He believed that wherever Blaze’s was, he must have been caught, severely injured or worse. Despite his concerns, there was nothing that Ray could do about it since they had no way to find him. Although the situation was difficult to come to terms with, it wasn’t the only thing Ray was worried about. Most of the night he couldn’t stop thinking about what happened while he was talking to Pennie. A voice echoed in his ears that made him jump. It was a man’s voice that he hadn’t heard before. The deep and gruff tone sounded like the creaking of the gallows sent shivers down Ray’s spine. There were only two sentences, but each word made Ray’s heart beat hard in his chest.

“You disappoint me Brayden. You’re a failure.”

He didn’t know why but that one voice filled Ray with fear. As soon as he heard it, he froze and shut his eyes as if his body told him that something bad was about to happen. Seconds later he heard Pennie called his name and he opened his eyes to find that the fire he created went out. When she asked him what happened, he couldn’t answer her. He didn’t know how to explain what happened. The one thing he did know was that from the moment he heard the voice, Ray had a stabbing pain in his head. He thought that sleep would make it go away, but it only seemed to get worse.

“I’m a failure, huh?” Ray muttered, looking up at the sky. “What even was that?”

With another sigh, he sat up. Since he was awake, there was no point even trying to go back to sleep. Ray looked around the place they set up camp. The clearance seemed to be well hidden, surrounded by trees that were several meters taller than the skyscrapers in Acqua Stellata. As he yawned, Ray noticed that he was the only one that was up and that everyone else seemed to be fast asleep. He wondered whether he should wake them up and start planning their next move, but he decided against it. He thought it would be better if he let them sleep as long as they liked.

“Argh! It’s so hot!” Lynx suddenly yelled, making Ray jump in surprise.

“Shut up,” Dimetrios groaned angrily as he threw a stone at Lynx. “People are tryin’ to sleep here.”

“Don’t throw things at me!” Lynx yelled, sitting up hastily. “You could take my eye out with those!”

“Good,” Dimetrios growled, rolling over to his other side and attempted to go back to sleep.

Ray watched them with agitation and disappointment. He couldn’t believe they were arguing so early in the morning. It annoyed him that it only took a couple of words to put them both in a mood, which was the perfect way to start what was to be a horrible day.

“What?” Lynx growled, shifting his gaze to Ray.

“Nothing…” Ray muttered, getting to his feet to check on the fire pit.

As stood, he stretched out his arms and chest. He sighed with relief as his headache faded and became nothing more than a dull pain. Ignoring Lynx who began to complain again, Ray made sure that none of his flames remained, not even a small cinder in case it reignited and burned down the whole forest. Since it was the beautiful landscape and wildlife was the only life left in the area, it would be a shame if it were to disappear as well.

“What time is it?” Pennie moaned as she was woken by Lynx’s grating voice.

“Six-fifteen,” Ray replied as he looked towards her.

“It’s still the middle of the night!” she complained. “Why are all of you so energetic?!”

“Alright, that’s enough,” Kaela sighed, as she sat up. Only seconds later she was on her feet, staring them down with her hand on her hips. “Everyone should be getting up now anyway.”

“But what are we even supposed to do?” Cianna yawned, rubbing her eyes as she sat up. “Won’t we be in danger if we start moving?”

“Oh, I know,” Pennie exclaimed. She crawled on her knees and grabbed Ray’s phone, which he had left on the ground. “Let’s call for back up.”

“I don’t think there’s any service out here,” Ray stated, as he watched her frown at the screen. “The only way we could get help is if someone called us.”

“This is going to be an awful day isn’t it?” Pennie sighed.

“No joke! It’s barely past dawn, and it’s already boiling hot,” Lynx complained yet again. “Why did it have to be this hot today of all days.”

“It’s going to be difficult, If I remember correctly the forecast today was supposed to reach the high forties,” Kaela stated. “This dreadful weather even bothers me. It’s why we really should get a move on before it gets too hot.”

“Is it really that bad?” Ray asked, not feeling the same as the others.

“Don’t listen to them Valero,” Dimetrios claimed, finally getting up. “They’re just behavin’ a bunch of pansies. It gets much hotter than this in Lurra, so this isn’t so bad.”

“Mr Ray, can’t you feel it?” Cianna asked, ignoring Dimetrios’s statement.

“No, I don’t, hot weather never seems to bother me,” Ray shook his head. “I don’t really feel the cold either.”

“That pisses me off,” Lynx growled. “Why do you two get to be so lucky. I wish you’d just fall into a pit full of larva.”

“Ha, very funny,” Dimetrios sneered. “Nice try but that insult isn’t going to work. Valero is a Fire Elemental, so he’s flameproof and larva proof. Isn’t that right?”

“Sure…” Ray sighed, wishing Dimetrios wouldn’t drag him into his argument with Lynx. “Can we change the subject. Complaining about this is a waste of time.”

“As usual Brayden is right,” Kaela stated. “The reason I didn’t let any of you go back to sleep was that we really need to start thinking about what we are going to do about today.”

“But Noah hasn’t come back yet,” Pennie claimed with a worried expression. “Do you think he’s okay?”

For a moment Ray forgot about Noah, who under normal circumstances would still be asleep as he was not a morning person. Ray began to feel a little concerned as well since he should have been back by dawn.

“Err, Pennie,” Dimetrios spoke up, pointing to the ground. “He’s right there, how could you not have noticed?”

Pennie and Ray looked to where Dimetrios was pointing to find the contents of her bag chucked on the ground. Lying next to it was her bag, with Noah’s head sticking out of it. He was fast asleep, snoring quietly with snot dripping from his nose. Ray’s feelings of concern were replaced by annoyance. The least he could have done was told someone that he had returned.

“Noah!” Pennie exclaimed in an irritated tone as he pulled him out of her bag. “Don’t just make yourself comfortable in there. You’ll ruin it.”

“Sorry…” Noah said, giggling while still half asleep.

“What are you even doing in there?” Ray asked, walking up to Pennie. He then held out his arms as she gave Noah to him with an annoyed look.

“It smells like sweets in there,” Noah replied. “When I got back, I was hungry. Everyone else was asleep, so I rummaged around Pennie’s bag for food. It was so comfy in there, I ended up falling asleep after I ate all those candies.”

“You ate all of them?” Pennie groaned. “I was saving those for an emergency snack.”

“You really are a glutton, Noah,” Ray sighed.

“Like your one to talk,” Noah growled. “You probably eat more than me, and you always get annoyed when people don’t finish their meals and offer to eat the rest.”

“You are a hypocrite, Valero,” Dimetrios laughed. “You are basically always eating.”

“Well, excuse me, but if you had to live off of extremely bland food for two whole years you would do the same,” Ray claimed. “People take food with nice flavours for granted, I just hate letting good food go to waste. Besides I would like to see you go a day or two without alcohol in your system.”

“Alright, can we please focus? Kaela shouted over them. When Ray turned his gaze to her, she seemed to be fed up with them talking about irrelevant things. “Noah, would you please stop mucking around and tell us what you saw?”

“Oh, sure,” Noah exclaimed, flying out of Ray’s arms.

Noah spent the next hour explaining everything as everyone sat around him listening intensely. According to him, the castle was swarming with guards, standing at almost every door, window and hole in the walls. However, they didn’t seem to wear the Aria attire, which meant they were most likely the Destruction members they hadn’t met yet. He also explained useless information such as what the colours and deformity of the castle instead of useful information like the actual structure. He then went to say that there were no guards at the back of the castle. He claimed it must have been because the only way to get through there was a narrow pathway at the edge of the cliff, which was located not far where Pennie and Ray had fallen from the day before.

“Oh, and there’s a force field kind of thing surrounding the castle,” Noah added. “I don’t know whether it will electrocute you or sound of an alarm, but if you touch it, they’ll definitely know you’re coming.”

“It’s most likely a surveillance system created to look like a barrier,” Dimetrios explained. “It makes people stay away and set off very loud alarms when touched.”

“Well, the controls are on both sides of the field,” Noah continued. “When I watched, the person entering has to put in a code from the outside. Once put through a small doorway opens up. There doesn’t seem to be any guards there either, they are all at the actual building.”

“Why would they need to enter a code themselves? Shouldn’t there be someone to let them in from the inside?”

“With transformation magic that can turn you into anyone that isn’t an ideal method. It’s much harder for intruders to get in if each person has a special access code,” Kaela stated. “Whatever the case, this is going to be difficult. Did you manage to get the code?”

“No, I couldn’t get close enough,” Noah muttered, looking disappointed in himself.

“What are we going to do then?” Lynx asked. “It sounds like this is impossible.”

“Oh! I know!” Ray, couldn’t you do that thing?” Noah asked excitedly. “Getting in will be no problem then.”

“Err, what thing are you talking about?” Ray asked, hoping for a little more clarity as to what Noah was talking about.

“You know, the thing you did that time when you wanted to get out of that other thing but got caught and had to do it anyway,” Noah claimed.

“Oh. Yeah. That,” Ray sighed, knowing exactly what Noah meant. “But the last time I did that I got in a lot of trouble and I promised Aleron I would never do it again. Besides, it’s been so long I don’t know if I still can.”

“What are you guys talking about. Could you please talk in a language we understand?” Pennie stated, looking completely confused.

“It’s nothing, it’s just a way to create a kind of distraction,” Ray stated, not wanting to go into detail.

“Then just do it,” Lynx growled.

“I suppose I have no choice,” Ray sighed for the eighth time that morning. “There’s not really any other option.”

“Alright then, what’s the plan?” Kaela asked.

“It’s a simple one, but if the timing is off, it could fail horrifically,” Ray stated. “Kaela, do you still have those radio earpieces you borrowed from Master Isaac?”

“Of course,” Kaela nodded.

“Then here is how this is going to go,” Ray continued to explain. “All of you are going to follow Noah through the cliffside pathway and hide just in front of the force field. I’ll then give you a signal through radio contact, telling you to enter the castle through the back.”

“And what will you be doin’?” Dimetrios asked, his tone of voice giving off the sense that he thought Ray wasn’t going to do anything.

“There is something that needs to be taken care of, which will send all attention my way,” Ray claimed. “I’ll distract them long enough to get you guys inside. Hopefully, we’ll be after a while, we’ll meet up and find the Earl of Aria together.”

“But Mr Ray, you’ll be all by yourself,” Cianna said, looking worried. “Will you be okay?”

“I’ll be fine. Performing this task is what I’m trained to do,” Ray stated.

“Wait, what makes you say that?” Pennie asked.

“I… don’t know,” Ray said sounding as surprised as Pennie. “The words just came out of my mouth, and I have this reoccurring feeling that this is what I’m supposed to do.”

“So, we have a plan, but are you sure about this Brayden?” Kaela questioned. “Just what are you planning to do?”

“There’s no point going into it now,” Ray said getting to his feet and rolling up his sleeves. “I just need you guys to trust me.”

As they hid in the bushes just outside the castle, Pennie sighed with relief. The road that Noah guided them on was extremely narrow and was much smaller than he explained. One slip of the foot and she could have gone plummeting into the forest again. She highly doubted she’d be as lucky the next time since the probability of surviving without Ray was slim to none. They had been waiting for several minutes for Ray to give them the go ahead. Each moment that she had to wait and wonder what Ray was up to made Pennie more nervous.

“Come on, what’s taking him so long?” Lynx growled. “What is he even doing?”

“Just stop complaining already,” Dimetrios snarled. “He wouldn’t tell us anything, so don’t bother asking us pointless and stupid questions.”

“Well, you sure are in a rotten mood,” Lynx snarled back. “What’s your problem?”

“You woke me up, remember?” Dimetrios replied.

“Come on guys that’s enough,” Kaela sighed. “We’re supposed to be hiding, so you need to stop making so much noise.”

“Well, sorry for being a little on edge,” Lynx complained. “All this waiting is annoying. Perhaps if Brayden could be bothered to tell us what he planned to do it wouldn’t be a problem.”

“He’s doing something only Ray can do,” Noah explained. “He doesn’t like to talk about it, so he keeps it a secret.”

“And why’s that?” Lynx growled.

“Because you’d probably make fun of his,” Noah claimed honestly. “Or that you’d take advantage of this ability for stupid things.”

“Noah, do you know what Ray is going to do?” Pennie asked, “He isn’t going to call out Sabra alone, is he?”

“No of course not, Ray’s not that reckless,” Noah exclaimed. “He’s going to take down that force field.”

“Wait, how?” Dimetrios sneered. “By burnin’ down each magic particle to a crisp?”

“Or accidentally blowing it up?” Lynx added nastily.

“I’m hacking into the system, brainiacs,” Ray’s agitated voice crackled through the radio. “I said it before, and I’ll say it again, our aim is to avoid fighting. I’m not risking this operation by doing something stupid.”

“Wait he can hear us?” Lynx gasped.

“Of course he can. We have been connected by radio contact this entire time,” Kaela rolled her eyes.

“And how do you suppose you are going to hack into this system Valero?” Dimetrios asked. “Don’t you need, like tools to do that? I could rush over and help, you know.”

“Thanks for the offer but no, I’m good,” Ray stated. “These systems are ancient and outdated. I just need to press a certain couple of keys in a certain order, and it lets you into the database.”

“No, no, no, it can’t be that easy,” Lynx argued. “Don’t muck around with things you don’t know. Just run through the field like an idiot and get all the guards to chase you away.”

“Shut up, I know what I’m doing,” Ray snarled. “Let me concentrate or else you could be in big trouble.”

“Ha, you finally spoke to me,” Lynx smiled evilly. Pennie thought that he looked a little pleased that Ray had said more than five words for the first time in over a month.

“Yeah. Well, don’t get used to it,” Ray stated, his voice breaking up in the radio’s frequency. “It’s not going to happen again.”

A few seconds later there was an electrical boom from in front of them. Pennie turned her attention to the force field. It crackled and sparked with pale white electricity before vanishing.

“There, you can get in now,” Ray stated. “They will be heading my way to see what happened. Use this time to get to a main hall or anywhere the Earl could possibly be located.”

“Amazing,” Pennie muttered in surprise. “How did you do that?”

“It was simple, once I was into the database, I just had to delete some programs to create a fault in the system,” Ray explained.

“Nothing about that it simple!” Lynx yelled.

“Now I’m ending radio contact, so I don’t draw too much attention. It would ruin everything if they discover I’m not alone,” Ray said, ignoring Lynx. “I’ll meet up with you when I can. Good luck.”

“Thanks, Brayden,” Kaela said as they lost contact with Ray. “Alright, let’s go.”

Kaela ran out of the bushes and towards the castle. Not wanting to waste a second or the many that Ray had given them, Pennie followed Kaela without hesitating. Cianna and Dimetrios followed closely behind.

“Is no one going to comment about how Brayden hacked a security system?” Lynx stated as he ran behind them. “Surely I can’t be the only one shocked by this.”

“Sir, there has been a disturbance at the castle gate,” Sabra’s follower bowed her head.

“Really, who has recklessly decided to grace us with their presence?” Sabra asked as he stopped rummaging through the paperwork he had stolen from the MLC.

“It would seem it was the Valero,” the women replied. “The other members have gone after him, but the shield system is down, and so is our surveillance system.”

“Well how about that, he really is still in one piece,” Sabra sneered. “Impressive, and he’s managed to destroy our system. I wouldn’t expect less from a Valero.”

“Sir, what are your orders?” the woman asked. “We are venerable with our defences down, and I have no doubt in my mind that more guests will be arriving soon.”

“You know what, let them come,” Sabra suggested. “Don’t even bother going after the Valero or the other Twilight Heart members, we’d only be playing into their hands. Make sure they think that they’re succeeding.”

“Sir?” the woman muttered, looking confused with Sabra’s request.

“Everything is falling back into place,” Sabra smiled. “Once Twilight Heart is gathered here together, victory will be ours since we still have our one weapon that they won’t be expecting.”

“Do you think our tactics will be enough?” the woman asked.

“I believe so, Twilight Heart doesn’t stand a chance against us,” Sabra laughed with a devilish glint in his eyes. “Besides we have powerful allies arriving soon as promised. Even if we fail to end their lives ourselves, victory will still be ours.”

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