The early rays of dawn fell on Zero and seeped through the leaves of the trees. He had been keeping watch over the camp while Kevin and Leah slept.
Zero sat near the campfire, now extinguished with the ashes spread around it. In his hand, he held the gilded watch given by Elyel. He still couldn't comprehend the gravity of the situation.
The ambassador of the elves came to meet me herself, and not to mention she is the sister of Leah. I have landed myself into quite the trouble, haven't I? he thought, scratching his head.
"You seem quite troubled, what's the matter?"
Zero jolted, quickly hiding the watch behind his back."Why do you always creep up on me, Leah?"
"Cause you always seem to be troubled," Leah said, letting out a chuckle.
"You’re up early. Are you that eager to go to the ruins?"
Leah gave him a confused expression. "What do you mean early? Kevin already packed up everything and asked me to get you."
"Huhh!" Zero looked around and it was true, the campsite had already been packed up, neatly ready to depart.
"So you are awake. Here I thought you fell asleep while sitting," Kevin said. He walked up to them and handed Zero a loaf of bread. "Here's your breakfast. We already had our share."
"Just one loaf? Where is the rest?"
"We could have had more if someone hadn't finished the last piece of meat."
"I- well we need to hurry anyway, so let's move."
Finally, the party was ready to set out for the ruins. Only carrying the essentials and leaving everything else behind, they quickly moved through the dense forest.
"Why is everything going so smoothly?" Leah asked while moving through the forest.
"What do you mean, Leah?" Zero asked, a bit stumped by the question.
Did she see the device given by her sister? Or is she just curious?
Dozens of questions ran through his mind and his forehead started sweating. It was as if an eternity had passed before her reply came.
"I meant that we are in the Black Forest and we haven’t seen a single demon beast. I thought the forest would be swarming with them."
"This would be your answer," Kevin said, pointing in the direction of a clearing. "Tracks of carriages and footmen, it's fairly recent."
"It must be The King's guard. They must have reached the ruins by now," Zero said with disappointment in his voice.
"Why do you both look like you just lost?"
"Leah, we did lose to them. They reached the ruins before us. Whatever artefact that's inside it, they must have found it by now."
Kevin nodded, accepting their defeat.
"You guys are dumb, you know that?" Leah said.
"What!" Both boys shouted at the top of their lungs.
"We now have a straight path to the ruins and since it's the King's guard, they won't go inside the moment they arrive."
Without wasting a single second, they followed the tracks which led them to a giant rock formation with a gateway firmly closed. It had intricate carvings in the pattern of rectangular strokes:
The surroundings had been cleared off to make space for three huge tents. One of them was much flashier than the others.
"There must be someone of great importance in there," Kevin whispered. Both of them nodded in agreement.
A loud voice pierced through the tent, seemingly scolding whoever else was inside. "All of you are a bunch of idiots. You can't get anything done right!"
A second voice followed. "But sire, you must understand the ruins are unstable and dangerous. We must make preparations for your safety."
The flaps of the tents opened and a boy wearing an expensive set of armour with a crest on his breastplate walked out. A well-built man followed him.
"Sire, are you sure?" the man said.
"Sir Kyle, are you questioning my decision?" the boy demanded.
"No sire, I wouldn't dare."
"Then prepare the soldiers. We will enter the ruins at noon."
"As you wish, sire."
The two of them walked further into the camp to prepare for the expedition.
"Guys, did you hear that?" Kevin whispered.
"Yeah, I have got a plan to enter the ruins," Zero replied with a grin on his face.
"Here we go again with your reckless plans," Kevin sighed.
"Hey, you didn't even hear what I had to say."
"Whatever your plan is, it's reckless and dangerous," Kevin retaliated.
"Stop with your bantering or else we'll be found out," Leah interjected.
"You guys don't need to worry, my plan will surely succeed," Zero said with a smile.
Or at least I hope, he thought.
He signalled to them to bring their ears close to discuss their plan. After a few minutes of discussion, they split up to do their tasks.
Zero moved quickly towards the camp, searching for a way to get into the ruins. He found the perfect target, a lone soldier keeping watch.
Perfect! He thought to himself.
He moved closer to the soldier and while moving, he created a huge ruckus by shaking the bushes along the way.
"Who goes there?" the soldier shouted, but there was no answer.
The soldier quickly drew out his sword and walked towards the bushes. He was a few steps away when Zero suddenly leapt out and struck his gut, knocking him out.
Finally I knocked him out! Zero heaved a sigh of relief.
Now all that was left was to get into the disguise of a soldier. He didn't waste any time to strip the soldier of his armour and get into the soldier’s disguise. He slowly exited the bushes, careful of not being spotted by any other guards and he entered the camp to find the others.
The time to enter the ruins came near and Sir Kyle assembled all the soldiers in the camp. Zero followed the crowd, hoping to find Kevin and Leah. A hand grabbed his shoulder,
"Here you are, crybaby."
"So you’re finally here, Kevin," Zero replied, smirking that he didn't flinch.
"Yeah, your plan was not as reckless as I thought."
"Where is Leah?"
"She said that she will sneak in some way. She did want to wear a man's sweaty armour."
"I just hope she doesn't get caught. Otherwise, her sister will roast us alive," Zero said with uncertainty in his voice.
"You got that right," replied Kevin with a chuckle.
The sound of a loud horn interrupted their conversation.
"Attention everyone!" Sir Kyle shouted at the top of his lungs."We are now going to enter into the recently discovered ruins. I do not know what dangers it possesses or whether most of us will return alive, but we must protect the prince before protecting our lives , and that is our duty as the King's guard!"
Everyone was silent and a wind of terror spread through the crowd.
Terror is bound to spread if you say there is a chance we could lose our lives. But I guess I could appreciate him for telling everyone the truth, Zero thought.
"But," Sir Kyle continued, "If we manage to return alive, the prince has promised each and every one of you 50 gold coins."
The troops were now more willing and with a hefty reward, the morale of the troops now skyrocketed with everyone ready to march ahead.
"Those sly bastards!!”Kevin growled.He spit onto the ground next to him. “Money is more precious than human life to them."
Zero grabbed his arm. "This is not the time to get angry. If you do anything here, we will get caught. And all our plans will be ruined."
Kevin seemed to stop himself but his anger remained like a fire that burns brightly even when submerged in water.
After some time, the boy with the royal crest joined them, who Zero assumed to be the prince. The boy had something in his hand but Zero couldn't figure out what it was due to the distance. A moment later, the engravings around the gateway lit up with a bright blue light and the giant doors swung open. Everyone was left in awe.
I don't care whether you are a prince or not, but that artefact will be mine, Zero thought with his hands on his sword, ready to strike any foe that wrongly crossed his path.