Moisture filled Raven’s eyes; she knew that voice! It was the little blonde girl from her past life – the little girl had taught this very song to her and they had often, in secret, crept away to sing it when no one paid attention.
Their two voices complemented each other beautifully; sometimes almost as one in the same melody, sometimes separately in their own melodies that nonetheless melded perfectly with each other. The people around her sat as if in a trance as they observed the story in the fire; by now, the poor bird had narrowly managed to escape her own brother, who was hunting her, not knowing her true identity, but only to be captured by a vile and gruesome knight that fancied her wings.
When the tale of the transformed girl was coming to an end, and the songbird was about to be slain by that very knight who had captured her, Raven felt how the foreign spirit essence grabbed hold of the killing intent Raven had been working on merging with her spirit essence and forcefully let it surge forward. It didn’t take physical form this time, but rather spread like a haze around her. As the haze reached the people around her they froze solid in fear.
Their vision in the flames seemed to leap out at them and they saw the death of the little bird, as if caused by their own hands. In the distance came the grieving lover searching for bloody vengeance and they felt their heartbeats slowing down slightly, as if they already accepted the death that would inevitably come.
The song came to an end, and utter silence descended – even the crackling noise of the flames seemed to have been dimmed.
Raven, unaware of what had happened to the people around her, wore a look of wonder on her face. She quickly inspected her soul, only to find that a new Divine Skill had been etched into it. As she focused on it, the words Ode of Woe were formed in her mind. This Divine Skill seemed to be the completed version of the merger of her spirit essence and her killing intent that Raven had been working on lately.
This Divine Skill, despite its name, was not in the form of a song, but rather a skill that allowed her to manipulate her killing intent into mentally attacking her opponents. Before, she had used the immense pressure of her killing intent to critically damage weaker souls, but that had been comparable to smacking a fly with a rolled up newspaper – sure, it would kill a fly but it would do little damage on anything else.
This was different. With the Ode of Woe, her killing intent became like a blade. A frightening blade of death. If used on someone with a stronger soul it would mostly cause them immense fear, but if it were someone of similar soul strength they would suffer damages to their soul that would make it harder for them to use Divine skills. If her opponents had a weaker soul than herself, it might even cause them to subconsciously shut down their bodies, killing themselves in fear.
However, if the opponent had a stronger cultivation than her, they might manage to defend themselves with their own spirit essence or killing intent, but it would be hard.
‘What in heaven’s name just happened?’
Raven couldn’t explain why the voice of her dead friend had accompanied her, nor why she had suddenly had a breakthrough leading to a new Divine Skill.
*clap*, *clap*, *clap*.
Yanked out of her pondering by the sudden noise, Raven instinctively drew a dagger and tried to find the source of the sound.
‘What the . . ?’ As Raven looked around the campsite, she noticed that everyone present had seemingly frozen in place, staring lifelessly at the fire in front of them. Raven followed their gazes and drew in a sharp breath.
Slowly walking out from behind the burning pyre came an odd-looking young man in light green robes. Over all, his appearance was quite average; he was neither particularly handsome nor was he ugly to look at, and he was also of average height and build. What made his appearance odd was that sticking out from the long white hair that hung over the man’s shoulders was a pair of snow-white vulpine ears and stretching behind him was a white, fluffy tail. He was looking at Raven with pleased eyes.
“A most curious creature, you are,” he said pensively as he came to a halt only meters away from Raven. “A young human girl, pretending to be a boy, who sings with a soul-touched voice. Most curious, indeed.”
Raven stared at the man in shock. Not only did the man in front of her see through her charade with ease, Raven noticed that she couldn’t sense him at all; her eyes could see him but none of her other senses picked him up. This was not like with the Void Tracker, where the sound and spirit essence was nullified; this was something much more profound. It was as if the young man in front of her didn’t exist, or perhaps more as if he was one with the world, and therefore impossible to differentiate from his surroundings.
“I must say,” the vulpine-eared man continued, “you surprise me. When I heard from my grandchild that he had been rescued by a human youth, I thought that it was a curious act in itself, but when I then find you, I learn that you are a four-year-old Spirit Adept, who has been soul-touched. To think I’d find such a human on this continent. . . .” He paused and looked down on her right hand, and a look of surprise flashed across his face. “Curious indeed.”
Raven’s mind reeled. So many questions rushed through her mind that she didn’t even know where to start. As if he’d read her mind, the vulpine-eared man spoke yet again.
“How about you introduce yourself first?” He smiled knowingly as he spoke.
The question snapped Raven out of her confusion. One thing she was sure of – the man or creature before her was stronger than she was. By a lot. She hurriedly bowed.
“Junior Raven Night greets Senior . . .” Her respectful voice trailed off in a question.
“Raven, is it? Fitting name. . . .” A flash of mischief crossed the creature’s eyes before he continued. “I have many names, she-human, but you may call me Fenris.”
“Junior greets Senior Fenris,” Raven repeated, together with another bow. She considered asking what type of creature this Fenris was, but she quickly opted against it – what would she do if he took offense?
Fenris stared at Raven for a moment. “So tell me, young Raven, whose soul is it that has touched you?”
Raven frowned. “Soul?”
“Earlier, when you sang, a remnant soul emerged and helped you create a new Divine Skill. Who was it?” Fenris spoke as if his words were basic knowledge.
“If you are referring to the second voice that sang, then it . . .” Raven paused and glanced down on the Life Link. For some reason she felt that it was important to tell the truth to this man, but if she did, her brother would know she had been lying about her memories.
Fenris noticed her quick glance. “Oh, I see. . . .” He waved a hand and out of nowhere a gentle layer of spirit essence flowed around Raven’s hand, encasing the Life Link within. “The boy inside can’t hear you now.”
Raven jumped back but the spirit essence followed her. “How did you know th..”
“That there is a boy inside the ring? Of course I can tell – I made it, after all.” Just like before, Fenris spoke as if it were the most common thing in the world.
Raven’s expression went from extreme shock to sparkling hope. “Then, do you know how to restore him?”
Fenris raised a white eyebrow and looked down on the ring “Curious…”
“Huh?” Raven didn’t see what was Fenris had found so interesting.
“Well, we shall discuss that in a minute.” Fenris’ focus returned to Raven. “First, tell me about the soul that touched you and sang with you just now.”
Raven didn’t hesitate at all this time. The creature in front of her might have a way to help her brother – she would answer whatever questions he asked.
“The voice belonged to a friend of mine. . . . I killed her.”
“And she chose to touch you? How curious.”
Raven couldn’t help but ask: “Senior Fenris, you keep talking about being soul-touched. What do you mean by that? I have never heard of such a thing.”
Fenris snorted and his ears pulled back.
“I’m not surprised. This continent is so primitive.” Raven felt confused, but before she could respond, he continued: “Listen, she-human, being soul-touched by someone is very rare. It only has a chance of happening when someone – who cares very dearly for you – dies while trying to protect you. When that person dies, if they feel strongly enough about that wish to protect you, their soul might touch yours, leaving a very special kind of imprint. It is hard to say what the imprint will do – the one who has been touched cannot control it – but usually it is either activated during a moment of great peril or during a cultivation breakthrough. It would seem your friend wished for you to grow stronger and therefore helped you create your Divine Skill.”
Raven stared blankly at Fenris. If she hadn’t experienced it herself, she would never have believed his story, but now she couldn’t refute it; it was the only explanation that made any sense.
‘She wanted to protect me? Oh, Inga. . . .’ For the first time since that little, sad girl’s death, Raven’s vision grew blurry as she cried for her lost friend.
“You shouldn’t mourn her now, young Raven; she has done what she wished to do.”
Raven used her free hand to brush the tears off her face.
“Will it happen again?” she asked.
Fenris smiled weakly. “No, by helping you her soul remnant has been released. She is gone.”
The two stood in silence for a while – a very odd sight with them surrounded by the entranced mercenaries and merchants – before Raven took a deep breath and lifted her hand.
“Will Senior Fenris tell me about this ring now?” She held out her hand. “Can my brother be restored?”
“Why don’t you ask him yourself?” As he spoke, Fenris waved his arm and the spirit essence around the Life Link disappeared.
“RAAAAVEN!” Hoatzin’s voice suddenly boomed inside Raven’s head.
“Not so loud, big Brother. I can hear you just fine.”
Hoatzin breathed a sigh of relief. “Not a moment ago, you couldn’t! Ever since that . . . that creature . . . waved his hand at you, I have been cut off from the outside world! I haven’t seen or heard anything!” He sounded quite mad.
“No need to get angry, little man, your sister and I had something to discuss.”
“You can hear him?” Raven was shocked.
Fenris gave her a condescending look. “I made it, remember.”
Within the ring Hoatzin became as quiet as the grave.
“Didn’t you have something to ask him?” Fenris continued.
“Huh? No, I asked you how to restore him and you . . .” Raven’s eyes widened. “Big Brother, don’t tell me you already know what needs to be done to restore your body?”
“What!? Of . . . of course not!” He tried to hide his nervousness, but how could he possibly fool Raven?
“Brother! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Sister, I . . . I don’t . . .” Hoatzin stuttered.
“Perhaps he didn’t approve of the method,” Fenris offered. By the looks of it, he seemed quite amused by the two siblings’ argument.
“Tell me!” Raven basically ordered her brother.
“. . . Fine.” Hoatzin sounded deflated. “If a spiritualist dies while wearing this ring, then I can take over his body and soul prism. I can then live in that body instead of my own.”
“Ah.” Now Raven understood.
Her brother was too pure-hearted to willingly kill someone for their body alone – especially if he wanted a body that fit his age. Raven herself wouldn’t hesitate to arrange it for her brother but he would hate her for it. It explained why Hoatzin had chosen to keep silent about it, until now, and had been so reluctant to talk about getting his body back.
“But, wait, how did you know of this method?” Raven asked her brother.
“I left instructions in the ring before I dropped it.” Fenris answered before Hoatzin could.
“Why would you do such a thing?”
Fenris shrugged. “Amusement? If you reach my age you will also be easily bored. Since I am planning to stay on this continent for a while, I figured I would see what would happen if such treasures began circulating.”
‘Treasures? There’s more of them?’ Raven couldn’t help but be a bit intrigued by the notion – the Life Link was after all a second chance at life, what would the others be?
“What do you mean by ‘if she reaches your age’? You can’t have reached thirty yet,” Hoatzin shouted in an offended voice while raven pondered Fenris’ earlier statement. “My Sister won’t die that easily!”
‘I died before I reached thirty in my previous life, though,’ Raven mused to herself, but she didn’t refute him out loud.
Raven knew very well that the martial road was a dangerous one and that reaching thirty might be harder than it sounded, but she felt no need to bring it up and Fenris only smiled and changed the subject.
“I take it you’re not interested in the method recorded in the ring? In order to give your brother a new body, that is.”
“Certainly not!” Hoatzin exclaimed before Raven had a chance to reply.
“Well then, there is another way – one that I doubt your brother would disapprove of.” Fenris’ eyes grey eyes locked on to Raven’s red ones. “But I won’t tell you for free.”
“Don’t listen to him, Sister! This creature would take the lives of others for his own benefits! He . . . !“
Hoatzin clearly had more to say but Fenris waved his hand and encased the ring in spirit essence once more.
“Such an active talker. . . .” Fenris’ eyes had never left Raven’s. “Well, what do you say?”
“What is it you want?”
A small smile appeared on Fenris’ face. “A life debt, repaid.”