Pennie and Ray waited patiently in the MLC president’s office. They arrived early in the morning to report in on their last mission. They were originally meant to meet with Sir Richardson but received word that the president wished to see them instead.
“I can’t believe I’m about to meet the President of the MLC!” Pennie exclaimed with excitement. “I imagine he must be an amazing person.”
“He’s… interesting, I suppose you can say,” Ray stated. “Don’t know if amazing is the correct word though.”
“What do you mean?” Pennie asked, looking at Ray in surprise. “You’ve met him?”
“On several occasions,” Ray sighed. “He’ll surprise you, that’s for sure.”
“Really?” Pennie muttered.
The door burst open, and a young man ran in. He couldn’t have been older than twenty, with his long black hair pulled back into a messy bun. He looked very smart, dressed in a blazer and looked like a host from a television show. The man grabbed onto Ray’s arms and examined him with a concerned look in his brown eyes.
“Brayden, are you okay?” the man asked. “You’re not hurt anywhere, right?”
“I’m fine…” Ray sighed, looking away from the man.
Pennie watched the man, shocked that someone could just enter the MLC president’s room uninvited. It was even more surprising to see the complete stranger interacting with Ray as if it was perfectly normal.
“Are you sure? I heard that you collapsed,” the man stated. “Have you been having headaches again? Difficulties breathing? Have you had any p…?”
“No, I am fine. I swear,” Ray insisted, stopping the man from asking more questions.
“Excuse me, who are you?” Pennie asked. “And how do you know him Ray?”
“Oh, how rude of me. I forgot to introduce myself to you Miss Raynhart,” the man said, holding out his arm to shake her hand. “I am Edmund Ansel, the President of the MLC.”
“Oh wow,” Pennie muttered as she shook the man’s hand.
Mr Ansel was nothing like what she imagined. He was so young and energetic, not to mention he didn’t give off the intimidating vibe that Vice-President Richardson had. She looked with a surprised expression towards Ray who shrugged.
“I told you he’d surprise you,” Ray stated. “He’s an old friend of Aleron’s, so I probably have seen him more than most people would.”
“Yes, well, I do like my secrecy. You and Aleron were some of the few I interact with,” Mr Ansel stated as he walked over to his desk and sat behind it. With a frown, his gaze drifted to Ray’s bandaged left hand. “Now are you certain you are okay Brayden? Aleron would kill me if I let something bad happen to you.”
Pennie herself was still a little concerned about Ray after the incident in Enlil. It had been two weeks since he collapsed and his health had improved completely, but the whole situation scared her. In fact, most people felt the same way, constantly asking how he was and almost treated him like he’d break if they touched him. Ray absolutely hated it and was quite vocal about it. Although he said he was fine, Pennie couldn’t help but feel that he was quieter than usual. When he saw both of Mr Ansel’s and Pennie’s worried expressions, he hid his left hand behind his back and sighed.
“It’s nothing, I’m a lot better now, so there’s no need to worry about me,” he claimed. “What we really should be discussing is our last mission.”
“You are correct as usual Brayden,” Mr Ansel said.
They spoke about what happened in Enlil for about twenty minutes. They did not leave out a single detail about what had occurred. Ray had to stop at one point as he still had little to no memory of what happened and listened to Pennie’s recollection of the event. They finished their report by explaining about Kazmir’s transformation and how they’re only option was transporting themselves away from the danger.
“I see,” Mr Ansel sighed. “I apologise for putting you all through that. This mission should have not been assigned to you. The level of danger all of you faced is something only the Starlight Knights should experience.”
“Then why were we sent on it?” Pennie asked.
“It was not by my request I tell you that,” Mr Ansel stated. “I’ve been away on business. Between this and Stellatrium, I am extremely disappointed with what has gone on in my absence.”
“You don’t by chance know what happened to Sabra?” Ray asked. “My memory of everything is still a little off because I was barely conscious at the time, but I have been told we evacuated before he was dealt with.”
“I see, well Sabra Blackwell was killed along with all of Destruction,” Mr Ansel explained. “The Haiva was not happy with what he did to Blaze Aliené and Aria. They were so mad in fact, they sent one of their best assassins to deal with him.”
“That was fast,” Pennie muttered in surprise. She didn’t realise that members of the Haiva were still active.
“And what of Darkyn and Kazmir?” Ray asked, looking determined to find out what had happened in the end.
“Disappeared without a trace,” Mr Ansel replied. “We’ve been looking into their whereabouts but have had no luck so far.”
“So, they can’t be found?” Pennie said. “Just like that Cormac from Dark Soul?”
“Unfortunately not. Which leads me to one last thing I must discuss with you,” Mr Ansel claimed, resting his chin on his hands. “Brayden, the MLC has decided to restrict your movements. From this day forth you will be confined within Asteria unless told otherwise.”
“What? Why?” Ray asked in shock.
“A precaution. Recent events have caused us to be concerned for your safety,” Mr Ansel explained. “You may be a powerful Oviri, but you’ve only just turned seventeen a few months ago. We’ve put you through a lot these past few months, and things are only going to get worse now that Darkyn has made a reappearance and shown a clear interest in you. Besides I broke that promise I made to you seven years ago, this is my way to make it up to you.”
“But I am fine,” Ray assured him. “That promise was made back when I was a little kid easily frightened by everything because of my memory loss. I don’t exactly mind the danger these days. Forcing me to stay in Asteria isn’t fair and is the biggest pain imaginable.”
“I’m sorry Brayden, but you know how Richardson is,” Mr Ansel sighed. “As it is, he has been complaining non-stop that if we don’t keep you for ourselves that your power will fall into the wrong hands, especially after this whole Dark Oviri incident. If it were up to him he’d have you locked away here and used as a weapon only when needed, he’s probably demanding it as we speak. This was the best compromise I could offer.”
“But…” Ray began to complain.
“I don’t have a choice. Your life could very well be in danger, and this is the best way I can ensure your protection,” Mr Ansel stated. “You are not to step a foot outside of Asteria unless under permission from the MLC. Do you understand?”
“Fine, I understand,” Ray sighed. “I guess I could use a break anyway. I seem to have been working non-stop lately.”
“I really do apologise Brayden,” Mr Ansel gave him a smile. “Who knows it may only be for a couple of weeks and if any important missions come up I’ll consider letting you take them.”
“Alright,” Ray said. Although he was taking what the MLC president had said seriously, he still didn’t seem too pleased about it.
“Now, I have another important meeting to attend to,” Mr Ansel claimed as he got out of his seat. “You are welcome to stay as long as you like. It was a pleasure to speak with you Brayden, and lovely to meet you Miss Raynhart.”
Once Mr Ansel left, Ray sighed heavily and insisted that they should head home themselves. As they walked out of the office and into the halls, Pennie was thankful that nothing terrible happened for once. Ray, on the other hand, did not seem very pleased with the result.
“Is being forced not to leave Asteria that bad?” Pennie asked. “It’s such a wonderful place.”
“That’s not the issue. I’m annoyed because it’s going to restrict what I can and can’t do,” Ray stated. “I’m not going to be able to take many missions, which means my allowance is going to plummet. I may need to do more odd jobs than usual to make ends meet.”
“I didn’t think about that,” Pennie said.
“Honestly though, that’s not really the reason I’m upset about this,” Ray said with a frown.
“Then why?” Pennie wondered.
“Back when I lived with Aleron, he’d never let me go anywhere by myself. Like Sabra said, my health was pretty poor, so even when I recovered, Aleron was concerned about what would happen if we were separated and I got ill again. It got to a point he was even reluctant to let me out of the house,” Ray explained. “We eventually started travelling around after a year or so, but before that, I just ended up feeling trapped. Having to go through that again is most definitely going to get on my nerves.”
Pennie didn’t know how to respond. She didn’t think she should pry any further into things Ray obviously didn’t want to talk about. They continued to walk in silence until they came across Blaze, who was leaning on the wall beside a very large door. He was dressed in the Aria armour, the notable silver defence gear with a symbol that resembled a fox. Much to Pennie’s surprise, a rock about the size of Noah sat on his head.
“Blaze?” Ray said, coming to a stop to talk to him.
“Hi, I didn’t expect to run into you two here,” Blaze stated as he looked towards them. “Did you have business with the MLC today?”
Pennie nodded. She was unable to say anything as she was too distracted by how perfectly and strangely the rock sat on his head.
“Just sending in our report on Enlil,” Ray replied. “What about you?”
“I’m on guard duty at the moment. I’m meant to accompany the Earl of Aria and protect him,” Blaze stated. “He’s in a major meeting right now. I have to keep watch out here until he’s finished.”
“Sounds cool,” Ray said. “How’s that going?”
“It’s more work than you think. Lord Aliené isn’t all there if you know what I mean,” Blaze stated. “Anyway, how are you Brayden? Are you feeling better now?”
“You know you’re like the eighteenth person to ask me that today,” Ray sighed. “I’m fine. I’m really sick of people asking though.”
“I get that. People acted the same way when I got very sick a few years back. Not only that I received some pretty severe injuries from…” Blaze chuckled before trailing off with a frown. “Forget what I said, it’s not important.”
“You seem to be better than when I last saw you,” Ray smiled for the first time since they arrived. “I apologise for what I said when I had my fever, whatever it was. Unfortunately, I still can’t remember much of what happened that day, especially between the first and second time I collapsed.”
“Really?” Blaze blinked in surprise. “Shouldn’t that be concerning?”
“Not really, it used to happen all the time,” Ray explained. “I thought I had gotten over it, but I guess not. Although it would be nice if you could tell me what exactly I did. Everyone else won’t.”
“Actually, it’s a good thing I ran into you Brayden,” Blaze claimed, avoiding his question as he stood up straight “I didn’t get the chance to apologise to you directly. So, I…”
“It’s Ray,” Ray said, cutting of Blaze with a sigh. “I would really prefer it if you keep calling me Ray.”
“Really? Are you sure?” Blaze asked, sounding a little shocked. “Even after everything I’ve done?”
“I have no idea why, but you suddenly calling me Brayden is weird and unnatural,” Ray explained. “And although I appreciate your apology, you really don’t need to worry about it. For some reason, I still trust you, even after everything.”
“Is that so?” Blaze muttered, still a little shocked. “Well, I guess I can’t complain about that. I thought for sure I had completely messed everything up.”
“I don’t know about everyone else though,” Ray claimed. “They’re still pretty mad still. I just think that anyone would have done the same thing if it was them. Besides I already knew that you were kind of a…”
Ray trailed off and began to stare at Blaze. He blinked and looked confused as he was deep in thought.
“Is something wrong?” Blaze asked as he watched Ray look at him intently.
“You don’t by chance wear contacts?” Ray asked. “Or perhaps use transformation magic to change the colour of your eyes?”
“No, I don’t,” Blaze replied. “Why do you ask?”
“It’s just I could have sworn that they used to be a different colour,” Ray claimed before sighing heavily. “Oh, never mind me. My head just isn’t where it should be at the moment.”
“Okay, I can’t take it anymore. Blaze, why is there a rock on your head?” Pennie asked, unable to hold back her curiosity any more. “Ray, how could you not ask about it?”
“I thought it would be rude to ask,” Ray shrugged.
“I’m being punished,” Blaze sighed, looking down as he closed his eyes. “I have to keep it on my head for four weeks. Orders of the Earl.”
“So why the rock?” Pennie asked.
“I’ve been told it’s an old family punishment,” Blaze claimed. “It’s weird if you ask me, but I have to go through with it while I’m working for him. It’s not so bad though, it’s easier than it looks.”
“I guess you got in a lot of trouble for taking over the state,” Ray stated.
“Surprisingly not, he didn’t mind at all,” Blaze shook his head before looking towards them again. “He didn’t blame me at all, which is something I’m really not used to, since I grew up being told that every bad thing was always my fault.”
“Then why…?” Pennie asked, becoming more confused because of Blaze’s confession.
“I broke the phone he gave me,” Blaze sighed again. “That one really wasn’t my fault. Sabra was the one who smashed it to bits. Yet he wasn’t happy about it, saying that it was irresponsible of me to damage the gift he gave me. I’m not the only one who thinks that’s weird, right?”
“The fact that he’s fine with you taking over Aria is what makes it weird,” Ray stated. “Although you’re lucky. You get to travel around with him. Meanwhile, I work my ass off and end up confined within the borders off Asteria.”
“Sorry, what?” Blaze said in shock. “They can do that?”
“Apparently so,” Pennie sighed. “Ray can no longer leave Asteria without permission, and he’s not happy about it either.”
“I see, did they say why?” Blaze asked.
“They say they fear for my safety since Darkyn wants me so badly,” Ray snarled. “I know that’s a load of bull though. They just don’t want me to get near him in case I abandon them. I know the president means well, but he’s practically being dragged through the mud by the others.”
“Well, I have always been told that the MLC isn’t functioning very well,” Blaze stated. “One of the many reasons I rebelled. At the end of the day, we need to remember that they are better than the alternative.”
“Very true,” Ray sighed. “Still it really is a pain.”
The doors of the room they stood in front of opened and a man taller than Blaze with short snow-white hair appeared beside him. He seemed to be older than Sabra but seemed gentle like Master Isaac. The moment he locked eyes on Blaze, he frowned.
“Finished now, Lord Aliené?” Blaze asked, turning his gaze to the man. “How did you’re meeting go? Did they actually listen to the Earl of Aria’s requests for once?””
“I really wish you wouldn’t be so formal, Sha…” the Earl began before pausing. His golden eyes blinked for a few seconds as if he remembered something before continuing to speak. “…Blaze. Just Elexi is fine. As for my meeting, it could have gone better.”
The Earl removed the rock off Blaze’s head. He turned in surprise as the man struggled to put the rock on the ground, looked at it, shrugged and decided to leave it there.
“What are you doing? I thought I still had two weeks to go?” Blaze asked.
“You’re not in trouble anymore,” Elexi Aliené frowned. “The MLC has already forgiven your acts since possession was involved. After what happened recently, to keep punishing you would be too cruel. Especially after learning what I just did.”
“Is something wrong Lord…” Blaze stopped when he looked to the Earl’s face then cleared his throat. “…Elexi. Is there a problem you need me to fix?”
“I’m afraid…” Lord Aliené began before pausing to consider his words. “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.”
“For me? Like what?” Blaze asked.
“I’ve just been informed about the recent jailbreak in Liwana,” Lord Aliené explained. “I hate to tell you this, but it would seem your mother was one of the ones to escape.”
“Blaze’s…?” Pennie muttered, turning her gaze to Blaze.
Blaze had turned pale as he uncrossed his arms, his gaze dropping to his feet. Pennie was surprised by his reaction and even more surprised that his mother was a criminal. She remembered that she had abandoned him, but never really thought about what it meant and by Blaze’s reaction it wasn’t a very pleasant memory.
“I’m sorry, Blaze. I knew I should have dealt with her myself,” the Earl sighed. “Are you going to be okay?”
“Me? Yeah, I think so,” Blaze laughed awkwardly. “I just need to find a new place to live, change all of my contact information and make sure I have weapons on me at all times. Then I should definitely be fine. It’s not that big of a deal after all.”
“That doesn’t exactly sound like a solution Blaze,” Ray claimed. “I don’t know what’s going on, but instead of doing this by yourself, you can rely on us. I mean we don’t need a repeat of this last year, you know.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Blaze said, with a heavy sigh.
“Ah, Mr Valero!” the Earl exclaimed in shock. “I am so sorry for not addressing you properly. I did not see you there.”
“I’m sorry, how do you know me?” Ray asked, turning to the old man in surprise.
“Well, it has been a while but…” Lord Aliené began.
“Elexi, I’d consider your words if I were you,” Blaze cleared his throat. “Remember when you found me. It’s the same issue but different circumstances.”
“Oh, is see,” Lord Aliené muttered to himself before turning to Ray with a smile. “Well, I’ve heard a lot about you from Blaze here. You are also very highly regarded by the Haiva, it’s simply a shame we can’t have you on our side. I apologise if I gave you the wrong idea.”
“Is that so?” Ray muttered, sounding a little confused while not believing what the Earl had said at the same time. “Why do I get the feeling you’re avoiding the…”
“Ah good, you’re still here,” Mr Ansel interrupted Ray as he joined them out in the hallway. “Brayden and Miss Raynhart, there was something I forgot to give you.”
“What is it?” Pennie asked as the MLC president handed her an envelope.
“Your guild’s invitation to join the MLC competition this year,” Mr Ansel replied. “All of your efforts this year have been recognised, and you shall be rewarded. We can’t wait to see you participate this year.”
“Oh my god! Thank you!” Pennie exclaimed, unable to contain her excitement. “Blaze, please tell me you’ll come back to compete with us. We could really win this thing if we have both you and Ray.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” Blaze sighed. “I was meant to compete years ago but that…”
Before Blaze could finish his sentence, another person burst through the doors. Vice-President Richardson shot them an angered glance before slamming the door behind him and walking off. Just watching Sir Richardson furiously storm down the halls made Pennie feel uncomfortable.
“I really hate that guy,” Ray growled. “There’s just something extremely off about him.”
“He’s a good man, he’s just a little full of himself I’m afraid. He doesn’t listen to anything other than what comes out of his own mouth,” Mr Ansel stated. “Moving on from that, Brayden I am really looking forward to seeing you fight this year. I cannot wait to see how far you’ve come, and the best way to do that is this contest.”
“And what makes you think I want to take part in it?” Ray asked as he crossed his arms.
“Wait you don’t want to be in the MLC competition?” Pennie asked in shock.
“No, I think it’s stupid,” Ray claimed. “I have no intention of fighting pointless battles for someone else’s entertainment.”
“Why not give it a chance?” Mr Ansel asked. “You may enjoy it more than you think. You are one of the reasons we put Twilight Heart’s name down. It may even be the perfect opportunity to show how strong you are these days. What do you say?”
“Still not interested,” Ray said.
“Brayden, won’t you at least consider…” Mr Ansel began.
“No, and there’s nothing you can say that will change my mind,” Ray snapped.
Pennie looked at Ray in surprise. She would have thought for sure he would have been excited about joining the MLC competition for the first time. When Ray noticed the way she was staring at him, he sighed and lowered his gaze.
“It’s just not my idea of fun,” he said. “I apologise for snapping like that.”
“It’s no big deal, I shouldn’t have pushed the matter,” Mr Ansel shook his head. “But are you okay? You seem a little on the pale side.”
“Yeah… I’m fine. Just got a bit of a headache,” Ray claimed. “It’s been a long day, and I guess I haven’t fully recovered yet.”
“Well, it is getting late, perhaps we should get going,” Pennie suggested. “We should get home by the time the sun sets if we leave now.”
“I agree,” Ray nodded as he looked towards her. He then turned back his gaze back to Mr Ansel and the Earl, bowing slightly. “Thank you for seeing us today, and it was nice to meet you Lord Aliené.”
Ray walked away, waving goodbye to Blaze as he did. Before Pennie could follow him, Mr Ansel came over to talk to her.
“Keep an eye on him, okay?” he told her. “He may act all tough, but he’s not as strong as he claims he is.”
“What do you mean?” Pennie asked.
“Brayden used to suffer from a lot of health issues, which caused him to struggle mentally,” Mr Ansel whispered in her ear so no one else could hear. “His amnesia was the cause of it and I think it still scares him, even if he says he is fine.”
Mr Ansel stood up straight. He then gave her a soft smile that Pennie never expected a man of his power to give.
“Now that his memories returning, he’s really going to need a friend like you on his side,” he said. “Think you can do that for me?”
“Certainly,” Pennie bowed.
“Excellent,” Mr Ansel smiled. “Now I have matters I need to discuss with the Alienés in private. You best be heading off, and maybe I’ll see you in a few months.”Pennie nodded and bowed. She then ran to meet up with Ray who asked what the MLC president wanted. She shrugged, pretending she didn’t know. She didn’t need anyone to tell her that she needed to support him. She enjoyed being by his side, she just didn’t know how serious Mr Ansel’s request was. And she wouldn’t find out until it was too late.