Hoatzin watched his sister’s progress in silence. He didn’t dare disturb her, but he also couldn’t help but to be amazed and slightly sickened by the calm ease with which Raven executed the people in front of her. He knew they deserved it, but apart from the two brutes Raven had killed in self-defence earlier, Hoatzin had never seen someone killed before. It was a lot to take in for a ten-year-old boy.
. . . In delay there lies no plenty . . .
Raven now stood between the fire and the crew’s leader, Rifleman.
. . . Come and kiss me; sweet and twenty . . .
The small dagger flashed in Raven’s hand, swiftly cutting through the man’s throat and then piercing into his abdomen as if it was butter under a hot knife.
. . . Youth’s a stuff does not endure . . .
Just as Raven was singing the last words of the song, Rifleman’s eyes flashed open with clarity; despite being mortally wounded he quickly realized what had happened. Not bothering with his injuries, he angrily swung his arm at full force towards Raven. But Raven only smiled and lifted her own hand to catch it – even though Raven had depleted most of her spirit essence, she still had a lot more than Rifleman who had gotten his spirit core destroyed.
As if grabbing the arm of a child throwing a tantrum, Raven easily stopped his punch and instead pinned him down to the ground. Her dagger rested at his genitals as she whispered flatly into his ear.
“Dear saviour, this little fellow seemed quite fond of me.” She exerted pressure with her dagger. “Let me bring it with me.”
Horrified, the man tried to wriggle free but there was nothing he could do; with a casual flick of the wrist, Raven castrated Rifleman. The immense pain caused him to shout out in pain, but only a soft gurgle could be heard as more blood flowed out of the gaping wound in his neck.
“Nothing impressive.” Raven barely glanced at the piece of flesh she held in her hand before she tossed it into the fire. “Good riddance, if you ask me.” She looked back down at the dying bandit boss at her feet with clear disdain.
“You . . !” A startled scream suddenly rang out in the camp.
Raven lifted her head. The three non-spiritualists had finally also regained their senses now that Raven had stopped singing. They looked at the small girl standing in the middle of a virtual blood bath as if she was the devil incarnate.
Raven smiled a sweet smile and slowly started walking towards them. She no longer hid her killing intent, but rather let some of it surge to the surface and swirl around her as she came closer to the three men.
“Don’t . . . don’t come any closer!” the three men wailed and tried to scurry backwards, but, in a flash, Raven small body disappeared and reappeared behind them.
“No need to be in such a hurry.” She smiled, speaking in a kind voice.
But as the men shakily turned to face her and their eyes locked with hers, rays of red flashed from Raven’s eyes and drilled into their minds. Suddenly, their vision blurred and the surroundings were replaced by horrible visions of the deaths they would undoubtedly face by Raven’s hand.
Although they weren’t spiritualist, yet, they remarkably possessed crystallized souls – apparently Rifleman had been picky about who could join his crew – unfortunately, their souls were very weak. Under the immense pressure of Raven’s killing intent, minute fissures appeared within their soul prisms, threatening to break them apart completely.
“Leave this place and know that the black raven forbids people like you from entering these woodlands!”
Raven’s voice was still merged with her spirit essence, which in turn had intertwined with her killing intent. As she spoke, the fissures grew into cracks and looks of hysteria spread across the three men’s faces.
“Black . . . black raven . . . forbid it . . . death . . . blood,” the men started mumbling in frantic raves, their bodies shaking considerably.
“Go!” Raven ordered.
The men yelped and ran off into the darkness as fast as their legs could carry them.
Raven sighed and looked out over the man-made clearing. As her eyes fell on the cage with the white little spirit beast, her expression softened. Raven let her killing intent fade, her eyes once again returning to their usual green, before she carefully approached the cage.
The little creature looked at her with unafraid eyes. It seemed pleased, as if it didn’t care what would happen to it now that all its capturers were dead.
“You’re a smart one, aren’t you?” Raven observed the animal’s calmness with surprise.
“Well, from one captured creature to another, there is no animosity between us,” Raven spoke as she fiddled a while with the lock on the cage before she managed to open it. “There, off you go. No doubt you have some other place you call home.”
Raven smiled a warm smile as she swung open the cage door. The beast only hesitated for a moment before it carefully moved out of the cramped cage. Once outside, it looked at Raven for a long while. Finally, it gently licked her hand once, then jumped off in the opposite direction of the three men who had fled earlier.
Raven gazed after the creature.
“Odd, I don’t recognize the race. . . .”
Considering all the reading Raven had done about spirit beasts, this was indeed quite odd.
With a shrug, Raven turned and started to leave the camp. She had no interest in looting these bandits, and the blood would sooner or later attract hunters. Raven had no spirit essence left to deal with such creatures, and wished to leave before they arrived. Just as she was about to step out into forest, something caught her attention, not too far from the spiked cage.
It was a pair of metal anklets with complicated carvings on them. When Raven came closer and lifted them up, she was astonished by their weight; each anklet probably weighed around ten kilo. Inspecting them closer, Raven’s eyes flashed with recognition and she pricked her finger, so as to let a drop of blood fall down onto each of them. They glowed and absorbed the drops of blood as if they were rain in a desert.
“These will be convenient.” Happily, Raven stored the two anklets within her spacial ring before she, too, disappeared into the night.
A day and a half later, Raven had made her way to the edge of the Great Woodlands. She now sat in a small cave at the foot of the mountains. The cave – or rather the cave-shaped dent in the mountain wall – was looking out over turquoise lake formed by the small streams of water trickling down the mountain. There was a slight tinge of sulfur in the air, hinting that the mountain had a volcanic origin.
She had since long shifted her mannerisms, and the Fox’s Veil, back to her male alter ego, making her once more seem like a non-significant, pre-teen boy.
Raven sighed and looked down on the purple ring on her finger. Hoatzin hadn’t said a word since they left the bandits’ camp. She hadn’t pushed him, either; she knew that it must have been a lot for her brother to take in.
“Brother?” she called softly.
When no reply came, Raven sighed once more and instead retrieved the two anklets she had obtained earlier from within her spacial ring. But just as she was about to use her spirit essence to activate them, Hoatzin finally spoke.
“You were quite heartless back there. . . .”
“You wish that I had acted differently?”
“They died without even having a chance to defend themselves! Sister, you slaughtered them like sheep!” Hoatzin’s voice was growing agitated.
“Then, you wished for me to spare their lives, only scare them a bit and then let them go, like the last three?” Her voice was flat, neither defensive nor accusing.
“No! Of course not, but that was nothing more than plain massacre! Hardly behavior fit for nobility like . . .”
“There is no nobility in death, Hoatzin,” Raven interrupted her brother. “If you are going to kill someone, do it as quickly and efficiently as you can. Giving your opponent a so-called ‘fair chance’ is nothing else than plain stupidity.”
“But . . .”
“No buts, Brother. You yourself suggested that I should slip in while they were sleeping and slit their throats – what I did was a mere extension of that.”
“. . . I guess, but I didn’t think . . .”
“That no one would be able to resist?” Raven’s voice remained flat and emotionless. “Would you really have felt better if I’d ended up in a life or death struggle with the remaining spiritualists?”
“. . . no.”
Hoatzin grew silent once more, and Raven didn’t fill the silence. Instead, she closed her eyes and waited.
“I’m sorry, Sister.” After about twenty minutes Hoaztin finally spoke again. “I was wrong.”
Raven took a deep breath.
“It’s okay, big Brother. I know it’s difficult in the beginning.”
Silence descended again and Raven was just about to return her attention to the two anklets when Hoatzin spoke once more.
“Are you sure you don’t have any clear memories of your past life? These bandits should have been the first humans Sister has killed in this life – how come you’re so unfazed?”
Raven’s hand stopped. She couldn’t help but think back on her real first kill in that dark warehouse a long time ago. . . .
The sharp smell of gunpowder filled the warehouse and stabbed at my nose, shortly followed by the metallic tang of blood.
After shooting their targets, most of the kids had become pale-faced and some even puked, but I only stared at the man I had shot moments before. The line “it’s them or me” repeated over and over in my head. I bit down on my tongue to steady the nausea welling up inside – it worked, but the taste of blood filled my mouth…
The following day, I arrived at the “the Camp”. I was led to a narrow bed that I would share with another girl. The other girl was smaller and seemed even more fragile than I was; her skin was white as snow, her hair a pale gold that barely had more color than her skin. Clearly she came from a northern country. When night came and we crept into our bed, both of us started crying. We hugged and I can’t put words on how much I appreciated that I wasn’t alone that night.
After that, the girl and I took an instant liking to each other – the kind that only children in a tough situation can; we became each other’s lifelines as we forced ourselves through one grueling training regime after the other. Every time we were ordered to kill another person, we would spend the night crying, but over time our cries grew less intense.
One day, roughly two years later, a Union instructor took all the children outside and informed us plainly that we had outgrown our beds: “From today forward, only one child is allowed per bed, also, no changing of beds are allowed.”
The instructor didn’t say any more. He didn’t need to, we all understood right away; half of us would not leave the court alive. Once again, the reactions from the assassin children varied, but I and my bleak bed-mate simply looked over at each other. Our eyes met, but no feelings of resentment were present in her eyes, and I suspect mine were the same. Silently, we nodded to each other as we accepted our fates.
‘It’s them or me,..’ I thought before I launched myself forward.
That night, I didn’t cry.
Hoatzin’s concerned voice brought Raven back to her present life.
“Oh, sorry,” Raven shook her head and smiled an apologetic smile; “I was trying to remember…”
“Not really, no… But I guess I can imagine that the humans I plan to kill are nothing more than animals or spirit beasts – and there is no trouble killing them, is there?”
“…I guess not. But, I’m not sure I would be able to do it.”
“You would be, if you needed to.” Raven smiled calmly and started to once again fiddle with the two anklets.
“Then, how come you let three of them go?”
“I wanted them to be a cautionary tale for other bandits in the area. Do you remember the story of Weebill the Great and his demise?”
“You mean the story of the legendary spiritualist? If I remember correctly, he was finally slain by a huge spirit beast in the form of a black raven… Oh!”
“If the three manage to reach a village, their lunatic ranting will make people wonder if not the legendary Black Raven has returned to our lands. Even if they manage to say that it was a little girl who did it, no one will believe them at that point. Hopefully it will deter other bandits from roaming too freely around here.”
“Impressive.” Hoatzin indeed sounded very impressed with his sister. “To think that killing intent could cause someone’s mind to break apart to that degree… Scary.”
“I’m not sure it was only the killing intent…” Raven said pensively. “I don’t know for sure, but I think it was because my killing intent had merged with my already altered spirit essence. I can’t shake the feeling that if I manage to improve that merger, the results would be even more devastating.”
“Haha, if didn’t know better I would say that it sounds like you’ve stumbled upon a new Divine Skill!” Hoatzin joked.
Raven raised an eyebrow. ‘Could that be it? It did feel fairly close to the Twilight Lullaby… Hmm, I will have to experiment with this some more.’
With two small clicking noises, Raven latched the two anklets to her ankles, and stretched her feet.
“Wait, you’re actually going to wear the Limiters yourself!? I thought you picked them up to be able to use them on someone else.”
Raven leaned back against the mountain wall. Hoatzin was right to be surprised; the two anklets Raven had snapped on to her feet were actually called Spirit Limiters, and were normally used to temporarily strip spiritualists and spirit beasts of their cultivation. By binding them with blood, the owner can then choose to suppress as much cultivation from the person wearing them as they themselves possess. In other words, a low Spirit Adept can completely suppress cultivators of the same level or lower, but only remove the foundation for those with higher cultivation – for say a high Spirit Adept, this would still be at least a third of their cultivation, but a low Spirit Champion would barely notice it.
“These Limiters are actually exactly what I needed. While I’m out in the wild, I will keep my cultivation at its max, and simply use the additional weight as training. But once I make contact with humans again, I will be able to alter my perceived cultivation as necessary. If, when I reach Sky Academy, I don’t want to reveal my full strength, then these Limiters will be very handy.”
“Why wouldn’t you want to reveal your full strength?”
“We don’t know who we’re up against and I’d rather not let them know everything about me before I know everything about them.”
“You’re saying I’m not going to be able to gloat about the looks Sister will get when people realize how outstanding you are?” A note of disappointment hung on Hoatzin’s voice.
“Haha, oh don’t worry Brother – your little sister is going to be outstanding enough!”
Still laughing, Raven retrieved a bundle of fabrics from within her ring and made a make-shift bed for herself.
“Tomorrow we’ll start the final mountain crossing before we reach the border – we are going to have to climb rather high this time. . . .” Raven huddled up under a blanket and closed her eyes. “So, let us hope you’re at least immune to cold within the Life Link.”
“It would be too unfair if I wasn’t. . . .” mumbled Hoatzin.