Hope's Bright!

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Weary from Battle

When they were transported away from the old Enlil ruins and arrived at a new location they fell to the ground with a thud. Only Blaze and Ray managed to land on their feet. Much to everyone’s surprise, all of the pain and exhaustion they had felt at that point had vanished. Even Ray, who was on the verge of passing out when they were surrounded by the anti-government guild had improved and was able to see and walk again. The only problem was no one could remember how they got there, nor who cast the spell.

“Visola did it right?” Lynx asked. “I can’t remember when, but she must’ve.”

“No, it wasn’t me,” Visola claimed, seeming as lost as everyone else.

“Blaze must’ve,” Dimetrios claimed. “He does transportation sometimes.”

“Me? Beginner Restoration?” Blaze muttered, before pausing for a second. “Yeah, I did. It was the only thing I could think of after all. It happens to be a spell that not only transports a person but kind of heals them too. It is a hidden talent of mine, after all.”

“Oh…?” Ray hummed in a deep and disbelieving tone.

“What?” Blaze asked when he noticed Ray staring at him.

“Nothing, I’ll let that one slide today since there is a reason everyone forgot,” Ray claimed with a sigh. “My head is aching t0o much to care anyway.”

After deciding to forget about how they got away, they drew their attention to getting home. Lynx out of everyone was desperate to get back to Asteria the most, but there was a major concern for Ray’s wellbeing as he still looked very pale. When Ray insisted that they should get moving as there was no guarantee they weren’t followed, they all agreed that making their way back to Asteria was the best option.

According to Blaze, they had landed in North Astra Forest, part of the massive forest that surrounded Asteria. As he knew the forest well, he claimed that they were about five hours away from the Twilight Heart Base. However, after twenty minutes had passed, they realised it was going to take them much longer because of Ray. Although he was fine when they had started walking, his health began to decline once more. He became very flushed, his sunken eyes remained focused on the ground in front of him, and he didn’t say a single word. He was very unsteady, swaying slightly from side to side and was very slow, almost like he was in a trance. Both Blaze and Dimetrios offered to carry him, but he shook his head and muttered that he was fine. However, everyone knew he was lying as every few minutes his consciousness seemed to fade, almost to the point that it was like he was no longer awake and that his body was moving on its own. Eventually, Ray stopped, wrapping one arm around his stomach and the other hand on his head as he gripped tightly onto his hair.

“Brayden? Are you okay?” Kaela asked.

“No, I… think I…” Ray groaned as he shook his head. “I’m… going… to be…”

He covered his mouth with the hand he had on his head as he coughed violently. Seconds later he ran away, vanishing behind the trees and began to vomit. Pennie went to go after him, but Blaze grabbed onto her and shook his head.

“No, don’t,” he muttered. “He most likely ran off like that because he doesn’t want us to see him like that.”

Pennie really wanted to comfort Ray, like how her mother used to do when she was looking after a sick patient. However, she listened to Blaze as she knew he was right.

“Poor thing, I guess we’ll have to rest for the time being,” Kaela sighed. “Dimetrios, I think you are going to have to carry him the rest of the way, even if he protests.”

“I’m aware,” Dimetrios said. “As long as I don’t have to deal with puke, I’m fine with helpin’, unlike someone.”

Dimetrios glared at Lynx who was standing with his arms crossed and impatiently tapping his foot. It took him about a minute to notice that everyone was staring at him.

“What’s that supposed to mean?!” he growled. “This is taking way too long! We would have been back by now if Blaze here would just transport us there.”

“Do you really think I’m in any shape to do that?” Blaze sighed. “Besides, with Brayden the way he is now, he’ll get even worse.”

“Oh, really?! How do we know you aren’t just lying a…?” Lynx complained before he was interrupted by a thud.

Pennie turned to find Ray lying motionless on the ground. With all of Lynx’s yelling, no one heard him return. Not wasting a single second Pennie and Cianna ran up to him to see if he was alright but his fever had gotten worse than before and he had completely lost consciousness. At that moment, it was decided that they needed to find somewhere suitable to rest and allow Cianna to heal Ray. Dimetrios grabbed him and slung his limp body over his shoulder. They kept walking until the sun began to set. They managed to find a small clearance and set up camp, which took a lot longer without Ray’s magic. Noah flew ahead to find out how much further was left to go as the rest waited for Ray to wake up to decide what their next move was.

However, that was hours ago. The weather had cooled once the stars came out. While everyone rested, Cianna took care of the sick and sleeping Ray. Pennie was really worried about him. She never thought she’d see him look that way. He had regained a little colour, but he still seemed very pale. It made it harder when Cianna claimed she didn’t know what was wrong. Thanks to her healing magic she was able to bring down his fever but he didn’t show any sing of waking up.

“He hasn’t moved at all for hours,” Lynx stated, poking at Ray’s cheek. “Are we sure he’s actually still alive?”

“If he’s dead, could I have his hamara?” Dimetrios asked.

“Come on guys give him some space to breathe,” Cianna snapped. “If you keep crowding him like that, he’s not going to get any better.”

“Come on, he’s never slept like this before,” Lynx complained, getting to his feet and walking away. “It’s so aggravatingly quiet right now. He should just wake up already.”

“It’s probably best if he doesn’t,” Blaze claimed. “Did you see how much pain he was in? The longer he sleeps, the better.”

“Yeah, and what do you know about that?” Lynx growled.

“I know better than anyone how important taking it easy is after suffering through a battle like that,” Blaze sighed.

Pennie was surprised that Blaze wasn’t the one who passed out. He seemed to be in terrible shape with his whole body covered in bruises. Cianna was originally very concerned about him, but Blaze claimed that he had suffered from a lot worse.

“Look, I really need to apologise for everything,” Blaze claimed as he sat down and leant against a nearby tree. He had been keeping his distance from everyone the entire time and seemed very cautious of them too. “There is no excuse for my behaviour, and I can’t even begin to explain how sorry I am.”

“We know, you’ve apologised at least ten times already,” Pennie stated. “We understand the pressure you were under, so it’s okay.”

“Pennie is right Blaze,” Kaela agreed. “Although we may not be ready to completely forgive you, we know how bad you feel. There’s no need to keep apologising.”

“Sorry, it’s just an old habit, I suppose,” Blaze muttered, avoiding their gaze. “Still, I did so many awful things without thinking about how it would affect everyone else. The last thing I wanted was to become like my mother.”

Pennie was curious what Blaze had meant by that, but she decided not to ask because of his despondent expression. She sighed, returning her gaze back to Ray. She really hoped that he was okay and would wake up soon. She went to grab his left hand but stopped when she caught a glance of it. It seemed to be an odd shape, and the sleeves of his shirt that usually hung loosely around his wrists were tight. It almost looked like it was strangling his hand.

“Cianna, I think there may be something wrong with his hand,” Pennie voiced her concerns.

Cianna moved to where Pennie was and gently grabbed onto Ray’s left hand. She lifted up to examine it for a while.

“It seems to have swollen a bit, I need to pull his sleeve up to have a better look at it though,” Cianna claimed.

With a deep breath, she slowly started to lift up the sleeve, but it was so tight that she struggled a little. She kept trying until it sat upon the lower part of his arm, revealing his wrist. It was swollen almost twice it’s normal size and was so bruised his hand was practically purple. The scars on Ray’s hand were also swollen and seemed to have turned black.

“That looks really bad,” Pennie exclaimed. “Do you think he broke it when he fell.”

“It doesn’t look to be out of line, but it’s hard to tell when it’s swollen like this,” Cianna claimed. “I don’t think it’s broken, but I really need to examine it further to be sure.”

“W-what y-you guys doing?” the drowsy voice of Ray asked.

Pennie looked down to see that he had finally woken up. He looked up at them with a confused expression. He still looked a little flushed, but it looked to her that he was feeling better than before.

“Ray, you’re awake,” Pennie sighed with relief. “How are you feeling?”

“My head feels funny,” Ray muttered as he looked at her. “It’s all swirly.”

“That’s a strange way to describe it,” Cianna stated. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Uh-huh…” he said as he sat up. “But why is everyone looking at me weirdly? Did something happen?”

“You collapsed and have been out cold for ages,” Lynx claimed. “We seriously thought you died.”

“I died? What do you mean?” Ray tilted his head in confusion. “I don’t feel dead.”

“He didn’t say that you did, but we were worried though,” Dimetrios stated.

“That’s nice thank you,” Ray smiled. “I’m all good now, so stop with the faces.”

“Okay, you’re being weird, what’s wrong with you?” Lynx asked.

“I am?” Ray said, looking more confused than before.

“I think he’s still a little out of it,” Cianna sighed. “I don’t blame him considering the fever he had.”

“Cianna, why does my wrist look strange?” Ray asked, turning to face her and looked at the hand she was still holding. “I didn’t know hands could change colour.”

“I’m just looking into it now. Can you feel any pain in your hand or wrist?” Cianna asked.

“My hand hurts when you touch it,” Ray claimed. “My wrist doesn’t, I think?”

“Well, that’s good. I’m going to try moving it, okay?” Cianna warned.

She slowly and gently rotated his wrist, which caused Ray to close his eyes shudder with pain.

“Okay, that hurts now,” he groaned.

“So, it only hurts when I move it?” Cianna asked.

As soon as Cianna stopped moving it, Ray opened his eyes again and sighed with relief.

“Y-yeah, once you stopped the pain fades,” Ray said. “Is that bad?”

“Oh no Valero! You know what that means don’t you?!” Dimetrios asked mockingly. He tried not to smile as Ray shook his head. “It’s so broken that it’s impossible to repair. Cianna has no choice but to cut it off now.”

“What?! No!” Ray exclaimed, his eyes went wide and watery as he looked at Dimetrios. “I need that, I’m left-handed. I’ll be useless with just my right one! I need it! Don’t let her take it, Dimetrios!”

Seconds later, Dimetrios burst into laughter. He laughed so hard and loud that tears began to roll down his cheeks.

“What’s with the frightened face?!” he laughed. “I was only jokin’, but you actually fell for it!”

“Really? It doesn’t need to be cut off?” Ray asked, looking back to Cianna.

“Of course not! It’s not even broken to begin with,” Cianna claimed. “Dimetrios, that wasn’t a very funny joke.”

“It’s a little bit funny,” Dimetrios continued to laugh. “I didn’t expect him to react like that.”

“Come on Dimetrios that’s enough,” Kaela sighed. “You shouldn’t make fun of him when he’s not feeling well.”

“Sorry, I thought he’d roll his eyes and go ‘ha-ha very funny’ like he usually does,” Dimetrios stated attempting to mimic Ray’s voice. “Or that he’d respond with, ‘you agitate me, speak again and I’ll burn you to cinders.’”

Pennie looked at Dimetrios as if he was crazy. She didn’t think he sounded anything like Ray at all. However, Ray suddenly burst into laughter.

“You sound just like me! I would totally say that!” he said, surprising everyone. “I just thought you were mean, but you’re actually funny.”

“See, he thinks I’m funny,” Dimetrios smiled.

“That aside,” Cianna sighed rolling her eyes. “Ray, you had some scars on this hand, right?”

“The funny marks that glow? Yep,” Ray nodded, still smiling from Dimetrios’s imitation of him.

“It seems like they’ve become infected or have swelled up because of an allergic reaction,” Cianna explained. “I also think you sprained your wrist when you collapsed. I’ll compress it with a bandage for now, but I’ll need to get my grandmother to have a better look at it.”

It took a while for Cianna to bandage his hand, carefully making sure she didn’t injure it further.

“There, how does that feel?” Cianna asked as she finished up.

“It feel strange,” Ray laughed.

“Umm, are you okay?” Pennie asked, still concerned about him.

“Who me? No, I not sick anymore,” Ray shook his head. “Thank you for asking though.”

Ray got to his feet and smiled at her as if to say, ‘see I’m fine’. However, he seemed unsteady and unable to balance himself properly.

“Awesome! Great! Now that Brayden’s up can we go home?” Lynx growled.

“Now hold on Mr McMarne, Noah hasn’t returned yet,” Visola sighed. “We agreed to stay here for the night.”

“Oh, Visola’s here too? Sorry I didn’t see you,” Ray smiled again. “Glad to see you’re good.”

“Yeah, yeah, everyone’s great,” Lynx snarled, walking off. “I want to go home.”

Dimetrios put out his leg as Lynx walked past him, causing him to trip and fall. Ray burst into laughter the minute Lynx hit the ground. Pennie had never heard him laugh so much before. However, something was off about it, but she couldn’t exactly think of what it was.

“That’s for being a prick,” Dimetrios growled. “You really shouldn’t have woken me up this mornin’ cause everything you’ve done today’s pissed me off.”

“Seriously, when will you get over that?! Why are all of you ganging up on me?!” Lynx yelled, standing up again. He then turned to Ray and snarled. “You are annoying, it’s your fault that we aren’t home yet.”

“And you are an idiot,” Ray laughed. “Sometimes I wonder how you function with that brain. Stupid…”

He stopped talking and blinked, looking a little surprised. He then frowned and began to stare at Lynx.

“What?” Lynx growled.

“You know, you really remind me of someone,” Ray stated, sounding serious as his eyes examined Lynx. “You really behave in the same way as this guy I know.”

“Really? I do?” Lynx said. “Who would that be?”

“Who…?” Ray muttered. He seemed to think about it for a while before a sheepish smile spread across his face. “I don’t remember. Silly Lynx forgot. My memory dead.”

“What kind of language are you speakin’?” Dimetrios asked. “Normally you speak all proper and stuff, but right now your grammar is all over the place.”

“I don’t have one of those,” Ray claimed. “Even if I did, why would she be travelling so much?”

“No, not grandma, I said…” Dimetrios began, trying not to laugh. “Is everythin’ okay with you?”

“Why do you ask?” Ray asked. “I’m obviously fine. I’m so good I suggest we go on an adventure.”

“Brayden, we just came back from a mission,” Kaela sighed. “After everything that happened, we really need to rest, especially you.”

“Geesh, you’re so boring,” Ray pouted. “I just want to have some fun.”

“Brayden, are you sure you are okay? You still look a little feverish,” Blaze said.

Once Blaze pointed it out, Pennie realised what was off about Ray. He looked a little more flushed than before, he was very energetic, but a little too energetic that is was out of character. The way he was speaking was very odd as well. He seemed to miss some sounds at the end of his words, and his sentences were occasionally incomplete.

“My, if it isn’t Shario!” Ray smiled, walking up to Blaze. “You look a lot better than before. I’m glad you finally stopped causing trouble.”

“Wait, I…” Blaze muttered, becoming flustered. “That’s not my…. I… sorry…”

“You don’t need to apologise. I know you had your reasons. But I must say, you look strange when you don’t do your hair,” Ray commented, placing his hand on Blaze’s head.

As soon as Ray touched his head, a massive smile appeared on his face, and he began to tussle Blaze’s hair.

“Wow, Azaliea was right Shario, your hair is really soft!” Ray exclaimed. “I thought she was being weird and that it be rough and dry, but it’s not. No wonder she like you soooooo much.”

“I-I-I-I-I,” Blaze stuttered, turning redder than his hair in embarrassment. “I th-think you may be mistaking me for someone else, after all.”

“Really? My bad, my bad,” Ray laughed, walking away from Blaze.

Pennie looked towards Blaze who closed his fists while his arms were still crossed. He hunched over slightly as if to try to make himself invisible to everyone else. Pennie wondered why as soon as Ray mentioned Azaliea, he looked somewhat pleased and sad at the same time. Once Blaze noticed Pennie was staring at him, he blushed even more and looked away.

“He’s gone crazy,” Lynx stated, watching Ray as he stumbled around. “Has he been drinking while we weren’t looking?”

“My, now that just rude!” Ray giggled, turning to face Lynx. “You think you’re very funny, don’t you Lynx?”

“Okay, this was funny earlier, but now I’m worried,” Dimetrios claimed. “He’s just being too weird. Somethin’ is definitely wrong.”

“Really? He’s actually in a good mood for once, so he’s probably fine,” Lynx raised his eyebrows. “He’s getting very annoying, though. What do you say Dimetrios? Let’s shut him up by knocking him out.”

“You know, you’re a nasty piece of work,” Dimetrios growled. “Maybe if you shut your giant mouth for more than five minutes, people won’t hate you so much.”

“Now that funny,” Ray laughed again. “You’re alright Dimetrios, we really should hang more.”

“Oh… okay,” Dimetrios muttered with a confounded expression on his face.

“I’m back you guys!” Noah called out as he flew towards them.

Once he came into view, an evil smile appeared on Ray’s face, and he ran towards Noah.

“It turns out we are only an hour walk away from Asteria, so we….” Noah continued to explain before Ray grabbed onto his tail. “Ray, what…”

“Found you, Noah,” Ray chuckled slowly and demonically.

He yanked on his tail, pulling him towards him. Once he was close enough, Ray let go and hugged him, squeezing him tightly. With a huge smile on his face, he then buried his face in Noah’s fur.

“Ray, I can’t breathe when you do that,” Noah complained. “Please let go.”

“But Noah, you so soft and fluffy,” Ray said as he rubbed his face on the back of Noah’s head. “You are like a koala pillow. I’d cuddle you all day if I could.”

“Really? Please don’t h…” Noah began with an awkward smile. He then frowned as his eyes went a little wide. “Hey, you’re really warm, are you okay.”

“Of course I am,” he giggled. “Silly Noah.”

“Wait a minute…” Noah muttered as he was able to break free of Ray’s grasp and flew into the air so that he was out of reach. “Clingy, hyperactive and speaking funny. That’s not good.”

“Boo, you got away, but you can’t escape me forever,” Ray continued to laugh, walking close to Noah. “I get you, and I won’t let go.”

“Noah, what do you mean by not good?” Visola asked.

“I know what’s wrong with him,” Noah said in realisation. “He tends to act his way when he’s feeling very sick. Any minute now he could…”

“Noah, there’s nothting wrong with me,” Ray claimed, as he stopped walking and lowered his gaze. He slowly stopped laughing and started to breathe heavily. “I fine now… so come back…don’t leave. I’m s-sorry… so…please…don’t…”

Ray’s body swayed forward slightly before he fell backwards. Dimetrios managed to catch him with one arm before his head hit the ground.

“Whoa there, you alright?” Dimetrios asked.

“It too hot,” Ray groaned, his cheeks redder than before and struggling to keep his eyes open. “Everyting is shpinning…”

Dimetrios slowly lowered Ray and lay him back on the ground. Cianna then walked over and place her hand on his forehead. After examining him for a brief moment she frowned.

“His fever’s gone up again, it must be making him a little delirious,” she explained. “It’s not as bad as earlier, but it’s still very concerning. Mr Ray, is there anything you need?”

“N-no… Ima good,” he smiled weakly. “I-I f-fine… I can keep fighting. I won’t…disappoint…”

“Still think he’s faking it?” Dimetrios looked up at Lynx.

“I never said he was,” Lynx claimed. “I just didn’t realise it could be this bad. This isn’t a normal occurrence, you know.”

“I…didn’t mean it… forgive me…” Ray began to mutter. “It’s… my fault…I’m sorry…”

“He’s gotten worse,” Cianna sighed. “I think we need to get him to my grandmother as soon as possible.”

“I’ll run him in then,” Dimetrios claimed, picking up the feverish and delirious Ray and carrying him on his back.

“You carried him most of the way here,” Blaze claimed, who managed to regain his composure. “I can take him if you want.”

“No, you’re more injured than all of us,” Dimetrios snarled. “Besides, we don’t exactly trust you.”

“I suppose I deserve that…” Blaze sighed.

“L-leave him alone…” Ray muttered. “H-he may be… a mean, sly, stupid… troublemaking and sadistic fox…b-but deep down he’s a good guy… Azaliea trusts him… and so…do I…”

Everyone looked at Ray in surprise, especially Blaze, who also looked a little relieved. After a long silence, Dimetrios made a heavy sigh.

“Alright, we’ll be off now,” Dimetrios said as he started to walk away. “Come on fever head, let’s go.”

“Where we going…?” Ray asked quietly.

“Home,” Dimetrios assured him.

Pennie watched with a worrying glance as they disappeared into the dark forest. All she could do was hope that Ray was going to be okay.

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