Somehow, they managed to run through the halls of the castle ruins for ten minutes, uninterrupted by the enemy. It was odd, but Pennie was glad they managed to get in unnoticed, which meant Ray’s plan was working. She was still a little worried about how he was doing on his own, but she knew that she had to focus on her own task. She was surprised by the state of the old castle. Everything was falling apart with faded wallpapers, cobwebs and rubble everywhere she looked. Pennie there was grass growing through the cracks of the tiles and Pennie could have sworn there will still blood staining the floors and walls. The further in they went, the more the castle’s structure remained. There were less broken walls and roofs, less rusted tools like swords and shields, and everything was slightly cleaner. It was almost as if someone had cleaned it up a bit.
“I think we are getting closer,” Kaela stated. “Be prepared, once we find the earl, we could be in danger.”
As Kaela predicted they reached the end of the hall and stood in front of a large door. As it was the only door that was still intact, Pennie believed they had arrived at where the earl was currently residing.
“Alright, are we all ready?” Kaela asked.
“Shouldn’t we wait for Ray?” Pennie questioned. “Wouldn’t we be better off if we are all together?”
“We shouldn’t wait,” Dimetrios said abruptly. “Although it would be better, we can’t be standin’ around. We’ll get caught.”
“Not to mention we don’t need Brayden,” Lynx scoffed. “We haven’t heard from him in the last ten minutes. Maybe he went home already.”
“If he did, he probably needed to sleep,” Dimetrios added, shaking his head at Lynx with a disapproving frown. “Since you woke us all up this mornin’.”
“Now is not the time for that,” Cianna sighed. “What are we going to do, Kaela?”
“Dimetrios is right, it’ll be more dangerous to wait then to face this now,” Kaela claimed, placing her hand on the rusted door handle. “We are heading in.”
Kaela slowly opened the door which creaked quietly as she did. Kaela entered first, slowly followed by Lynx, then Dimetrios and Cianna. As Pennie entered the room, she felt a sense of déjà vu. The room was very similar to the throne room in Asteria Cathedral. The tattered curtains were open a gently blowing in the wind from the large open windows. Apart from the rubble on the floor and the hole in the very left corner of the room, it almost looked like a ballroom straight out of a fairy-tale.
“Well, if it isn’t Twilight Heart,” a someone muttered, the familiar voice only just loud enough to hear it.
The other’s in front of Pennie stopped walking, following their lead she did a well. Her eyes followed the red carpet at her feet until they reached the throne at the back of the room. Her heart stopped for a moment, in complete shock of who sat just meters in front of her. It was the same surprise that had already happened twice already, but Pennie felt that the current situation was going to be much worse than the last few times. She watched as Blaze Aliené looked down at them with an emotionless expression.
“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” he tilted his head as he spoke in a monotonous voice.
“Blaze…” Pennie muttered.
She felt a little disappointed. When they received the SOS message from him the night before, she thought that he may have turned over a new leaf and was asking for help. However, knowing that he was sitting right in front of them in the position they expected their enemy to be in, Pennie knew it the whole cry for help was nothing more than a trick to lure them into another trap.
“What are you doing here?!” Lynx yelled. “What did you do to the Earl of Aria?!”
“Who do you think it is you’re looking at?” Sabra’s voice came out of nowhere.
Sabra suddenly appeared from behind the throne and stood beside Blaze. He placed his hand on the back of the chair and smiled. He looked down at them with a sly and patronising expression.
“No, you can’t mean that he…” Cianna began.
“Yes, you are looking right at him,” Sabra claimed, his smile increasing. “Isn’t that right Lord Aliené?”
“Yes…” Blaze muttered.
“Blaze? Is that true?” Pennie asked.
Blaze remained silent and continued to stare at them with a blank expression.
“So, you the one behind this?! Just like last time?!” Kaela yelled. She attempted to get answers out of him, but he didn’t reply.
“Are you going to answer any our questions?!” Lynx shouted.
Blaze said nothing. He didn’t even move or react to their voice. It was almost like he was pretending that they weren’t even there.
“Do you really think someone of his status should be speaking to someone as lowly as you?” Sabra smirked.
“He didn’t seem to have any issue with it before,” Dimetrios scoffed.
“Really, you all think so highly of yourselves, don’t you,” Sabra continued. “It’s just like he told me, you people really are a waste of space. That’s why his excellency has hired me, to eliminate you and take over Luminea in the name of Aria, even if it means killing everyone in order to do it.”
“You bunch of pricks!” Lynx growled. “I’m going to make sure your evil plans end here.”
“Lynx, calm yourself,” Kaela barked. “We should continue with what we originally planned. The fact that Blaze is here shouldn’t change our goal.”
“Oh really? I think it’s just made things even more impossible than it already was!” Lynx exclaimed.
“I agree with Lynx,” Pennie gritted her teeth. “Honestly, I can’t believe I was feeling sorry for him. I bet all of what happened in Valo Village was a trick to let our guard down.”
“I doubt they are goin’ to let us talk,” Dimetrios added.
“You’re right, I have no intention of listening to you, nor does he,” Sabra claimed. “So, we may as well skip the formalities and begin our fight. To be fair, we’ll let you take the first strike. Would you agree to that Lord Aliené?”
“Yes…” Blaze muttered.
“I guess we don’t have a choice,” Kaela sighed. “Blaze must be punished for this betrayal, so we shouldn’t pass up this opportunity.”
“Finally!” Lynx stated. “I just want to bash that traitor’s face in.”
Before Lynx could take a single step forward, a wall of flames blocked their path. It only lasted for a few seconds before disappearing. It was so close to Lynx that he complained about how the heat burned.
“Stop, do not get any closer,” Ray’s voice echoed in the room before Lynx could take more than one step forward.
Pennie turned around to find Ray standing behind them. She had been so focused on Sabra and Blaze that she didn’t even hear him enter.
“You singed my hair! Why are you so aggravating!” Lynx growled, turning to face Ray. With an annoyed expression, he pointed towards Sabra and Blaze and continued to shout. “Our enemy is right there, and you’re telling us to wait?!”
“And for once could you pay attention to your surroundings,” Ray sighed. “That goes for all of you, you’ve all let your emotions cloud your view.”
“What do you mean?” Pennie asked. “We’ve been betrayed again! How are we supposed to react?”
“And they gave us a chance to attack first, why would we pass that up?!” Lynx growled.
“Why do I have to explain everything,” Ray sighed again, clearly frustrated with their response. “First, no enemy is going to give such a generous handicap, this isn’t some superhero movie you know. Secondly, I recommend you take a look at the situation, especially regarding Blaze. You can see that something is not right if you have a look at him.”
Pennie didn’t understand what Ray was getting at, but she followed his instructions and had a proper look at Blaze. Immediately she knew what Ray was talking about. Blaze usually wore his hair spiked up, but it sat flat, messily falling into his face. His dark brown eyes seemed hollow and lacked any emotion at all, it was almost like he wasn’t even awake. His body was limp, his movements were robotic, and through his torn jeans Pennie could faintly see dark bruises. Thinking back there was also something wrong with his voice. Every word he spoke was flat and dull. Ever since they entered the room, he hadn’t answered them once and only seemed to respond when Sabra was talking to him.
“Now that I think about it, somethin’ is off,” Dimetrios stated. “Are you sure this is the same energetic sadist that took down Regal Night?”
“Now that you mention it, he does seem to be in pretty bad shape,” Kaela muttered. “How did I not notice?”
“What are you guy on about?” Lynx yelled. “He’s the exact same traitor he’s always been.”
“Lynx, enough,” Kaela snarled. “You are not allowed to engage in battle until I say. Just shut up and let us deal with this.”
Lynx said nothing, He clicked his tongue, crossed his arms and began insulting Ray under his breath.
“So then, when he said he was going to give up he was telling the truth?” Pennie asked. “Then what’s wrong with him now? And why is he working with Sabra?”
“G-give…up-p… I don’t…. want… anymore…” Blaze started to mutter, just loud enough for them to hear. As Pennie looked towards him, she noticed that his mumbling was unintentional. “I wanted…to save…them… but I was… too empty. I was… not…strong... but I… must protect… but I couldn’t reach her… I never will…”
“Well, would you look at that,” Sabra smirked. “It looks like you still have retained some of your personality after all.”
“Then it really is like I thought,” Ray stated, looking towards Sabra. “You are the one who uses possession magic, aren’t you Sabra Blackwell.”
Sabra started to laugh and began to clap. The echoing noise made Pennie heart beat hard in her chest.
“Well done Valero! You really do meet all of my expectations!” Sabra exclaimed. “First you survive an inevitable death, then you hack my system and now this. Tell me, how did you figure it out.”
“There are too many inconstancies with this whole attack,” Ray replied. “I knew from the beginning that it was too odd for the Earl of Aria to suddenly attack Luminea after being docile for decades. I also knew it was impossible for the Earl to be in charge if his own country was being attacked. Many would assume he wasn’t involved, but I knew that was impossible since the army was clearly the culprits. Which led me to one conclusion. Possession magic.”
“Impressive, very impressive,” Sabra smiled. “That is correct. Although as you could probably guess, Blaze here isn’t the real Earl. He’s just, filling in while his real grandfather is absent.”
“I still don’t understand,” Cianna stated. “Has Mr Aliené been possessed this entire time?”
“Yeah right! That guy just wanted to kill us for no reason!” Lynx growled. “This only just happened. Which serves him right for being such a stupid sadist.”
“Actually, I think Blaze has been working for Sabra this whole time,” Ray guessed. “He was somehow tricked into doing Sabra’s bidding until he could possess him completely.”
“Right again,” Sabra laughed. “My you really are a genius.”
Sabra walked over to behind Blaze and leaned over, slinging his arms around him and smiling.
“You see this little thing came to me for help. He was lost after his friends were tragically killed and was searching for answers,” Sabra explained with a sly smile and moving his head so that his cheek rested against Blaze’s. “He wanted the power to avenge them, thinking that if he could kill the one responsible for their deaths, he would be able to heal the pain in his heart. However, he was delusional. For some reason, he believed that if he was strong enough, he wouldn’t only avenge his friends but save the world for them as well. Regardless, I offered to help grant his wish.”
“But you were never goin’ to in the first place, were you,” Dimetrios stated.
“Of course not, I planned to possess him from the beginning. I tricked him into thinking that Twilight Heart was to blame for all of his pain, and he tried to destroy it just like I wanted,” Sabra continued. “He also thought he was going against me by trying to take Toivoa, but he never would have thought of it if I didn’t put it into his head. After that weapon injured him, he was too weak to fight off my curse.”
“So, it was you from the very beginning,” Lynx shouted.
“That’s right, now the Aliené boy has become my perfect puppet. Void of any thought, emotion and desire,” Sabra laughed, rubbing his cheek against Blaze. “He does everything I say and is extremely powerful. He even managed to kill the entire Aria army yesterday by himself. Although, I would be lying if there weren’t a few hiccups in the spell.”
“You mean last night when he called us for help,” Pennie muttered, placing her hand over her mouth in shock. “Then he really did need our help.”
“Yes, I let my guard down, and the spell came undone,” Sabra stated as he let go of Blaze and walked away to stand beside him once more. “It didn’t matter though, he was so weak from the curse that it only took a matter of seconds to beat him unconscious.”
“That’s horrible,” Cianna murmured.
“Perhaps, but I couldn’t care less,” Sabra shrugged his shoulders. “He still gets the job done. Thanks to him my dream of owning a war filled Le Alba is within grasp. Which brings us back to now, are all of you ready to face your deaths?”
“We’re not dying today!” Lynx exclaimed. “We’ll stop you before you can get your filthy hands on our city.”
“Oh dear, do you still not realise the situation you’re in,” Sabra laughed. “I don’t think you know how powerful this puppet of mine is. Even among the Air Elemental clan, he is a rare specimen. Besides, I have been preparing for this day for a long time. You don’t think I would have done my research. I know everything about every single one of you.”
“How?” Kaela asked.
“I’ve grown bored of talking,” Sabra frowned. “Aliené, attack in your most violent way possible.”
“Yes…” Blaze muttered as he robotically got to his feet.
Swaying slightly after standing, Blaze slowly raised his arm. As he did electricity began to spark around him. Tilting his head, he moved his hand to the side of his body, and the axe he used when Ray fought him in Valo village appeared before the blade smashed into the ground moments before Blaze grabbed onto it. He stood there with his blank stare, waiting for something. With a demonic chuckle, Sabra clicked his fingers. There was a strong gust of wind, and Blaze was no longer in front of them but behind them. As if to be suspended in the air, he swung his axe behind him. They barely had time to turn around before the Blaze’s attack hurtled towards them. With a blink of her eyes, Ray was suddenly in front of her. As he lifted one arm a barrier that glowed in multiple colours appeared. Like a flash of light from the sun, it became invisible to the eye as quickly as it appeared. The barrier blocked the Blaze’s attack knocking the man backwards and forcing him to land on his feet several meters away from them.
“Wow…” was all Pennie could say.
As soon as Sabra clicked his fingers everything happened so suddenly that Ray didn’t know what to think. One minute, Blaze was in front and the next he was behind. He didn’t think there was anything he could do. Ray’s mind went completely blank. He closed his eyes for a second, and he was suddenly right in front of Blaze, somehow creating a faint multicoloured force field. Much to Ray’s surprise, it was very strong, completely blocking Blaze and knocking him backwards. He lowered his arm and then looked down at his hands.
“Wow…” Pennie muttered.
“What was that?!” Dimetrios exclaimed excitedly. “Have you been holding back on us Valero?”
“I have no idea, my body just moved on its own,” Ray claimed, uncertain how to explain it any better.
Ray’s eyes moved back to Blaze who ended up several meters away from them, kneeling on one knee. With his emotionless and robotic movements, he slowly got back on his feet.
“Brayden, do you suppose you could deal with him,” Kaela asked.
“Wait, why just me?” Ray asked, looking at Kaela out the corner of his eye.
“You’ve fought him before, you are probably the best chance in defeating him,” Kaela explained. “The rest of need to take care of Sabra. We will only make it out of this if we all work together.”
“Alright, fine,” Ray said, knowing there was no time to argue.
He created a wall of flames again to block Blaze’s view. Ray made sure to be seen first, forcing Blaze to keep his attention off him. Like he predicted, Blaze came hurtling towards him. However, it was much faster than he thought only narrowly dodging the attack. Blaze’s dead eyes kept their focus on Ray as he used lightning and wind to enhance his speed. Each and every move was so quick that Ray didn’t have time to attack. He could barely dodge, but despite the incredible speed Blaze’s movements created an obvious pattern which made the attacks easy to read. Ray continued to evade the attacks for five minutes, unable to even stop for a second or even attempt to summon his flames to fight back. At that moment, the only thing that he could think of doing was to try and snap Blaze out of his trance.
“Blaze, wake up already!” Ray shouted continuing to dodge Blaze’s attacks. “This isn’t what you wanted, remember?”
“I… want…?” Blaze muttered, freezing for a moment.
“You need to fight back! Don’t let Sabra control you like this,” Ray said, hoping that Blaze could be reasoned with is he started to respond.
However, his attempt was pointless as the curse on him was way too strong. Blaze bolted toward him once more, his axe coming so close to Ray’s face that it cut the tip of his fringe. Blaze swung again, forcing him to jump back but he misjudged his footing and slipped, falling backwards and falling on his butt. He didn’t have time to move as Blaze’s axe came hurtling towards him. However, he completely missed Ray, smashing the ground next to him. Seconds later, his body fell to the ground, along with the axe that clanked as it made contact with the tiles. Ray used to opportunity to jump away from him. As his feet slid across the floor, Ray kept his gaze on Blaze. He did not move, he lay motionlessly on his side with his hands positioned in front of him.
“Aww, he broke already? He didn’t last very long,” Sabra sighed as he walked up to Blaze. “I was hoping to get more use out of him before he turned back into a useless corpse.”
“Wait, how did he get past us?!” Lynx yelled as Ray saw they were looking towards him with shocked expressions.
“No matter, I’ll have some new pawns available to me very soon,” Sabra laughed. “So, Mr Valero, what is your next move.”
“You…” Ray began, preparing to launch an attack on Sabra. However, he suddenly felt something heavy on his wrists. He looked down to find both his hands had metal restraints on them, each one with chains connecting to the ground behind him. “When did…?”
“Good grief, since I’m on such heavy instructions on how to deal with you I had to such a roundabout way to capture you,” Sabra laughed as Ray turned away from him to try break free of the chains. However, they were so strong they would not move or break. “You know there are people out there who will do anything to get their hands on you. Now the question is whether to hand you over or use you to my utmost advantage.”
As Sabra spoke, Ray felt chills go down his spine. He turned slowly to face Sabra once more. Once he looked up at the man, Ray froze. A mark black mark began to appear over Sabra’s left eyes. It was the exact same shape as Azaliea’s scar.
“Decisions, decisions, decisions,” Sabra said as a massively evil smile spread across his face.