It was an unusually warm autumn day in the Nightingale Mountains. The forests covering the mountain range looked as if they were on fire; the sunlight hit the slowly moving leaves whose colours stretched from bright golden yellows to racy blood reds. Sometimes the light breeze would loosen a couple of leaves that took to the sky like embers.
Suddenly, a high pitched wail yanked Raven out of the unconscious state she was in. Disoriented, she tried to open her eyes so she could find the source of the screaming. Her eyes refused her command at first, but after some struggling a blurry world of light filled her eyes, and Raven realized to her surprise that she herself was the source.
‘What is going on?’
She tried to stop screaming but her body responded sluggishly.
“There, there. Everything is all right.” A gentle, soft voice cooed in her ear.
Blinking, Raven forced herself to calm down, slowly gaining control over her body and voice. The wails came to an end and the blurry world became clearer and clearer. Looking at her surroundings and her own tiny hands Raven could only come to one conclusion: she had been reborn, and if the architecture of the room was anything to go by, it was not in a place remotely close to the where – and perhaps even when – she came from!
She was currently lying in the arms of a young woman that looked down on her with tender, loving eyes. A shudder ran through the small body of the former Raven Night – never had she been looked at with eyes like those. . . . The woman was obviously very tired and her long, light violet hair clung limply to her face, but despite this she had a small, warm glow about her. To Raven the woman seemed like a star lighting up a dark night sky.
Without looking away from her newborn baby, the lady spoke: “I’iwi, let Lord Maleo know that he has sired a lovely little daughter.”
‘What language is this? I can understand what they are saying, but I don’t recognize it at all. . . .’
“Yes, Lady Besra.” Light steps scurried out of the room.
“Hello, little one.” With a pearly white hand, the woman lightly poked at Raven’s bead-sized nose. “Welcome to Trinity. I am your mother, Besra.” A bright smile spread across her face, and Raven couldn’t help but stretch out a fumbling hand towards the woman.
“maoa . . . ,” a small sound rolled out of Raven’s mouth, followed by a baffled look on her infant face. ‘Ah, I can’t speak yet – my vocal cords haven’t developed completely, I guess.’ The baffled look was quickly replaced by that of serenity; ‘this mother of mine seems very kind. . . .’ For Raven, the love she felt from this ‘Lady Besra’ was something she had never experienced before and she already cherished it deeply.
Just as Raven’s tiny hand was about to reach her mother’s cheek, she could her the door opening and, in the same instant, a huge figure loomed over the bed in which Lady Besra and little Raven were resting. Raven froze and stared at the figure. It was a powerfully built man, at most thirty years old, whose black hair was arranged in a thick braid swaying behind him. He wore fine silken garments in different shades of green, and intricate copper patterns were woven over his chest and arms.
“Maleo! Don’t shadow walk in front of the child, you will scare her!” reprimanded Besra.
“Haha, how could a child of mine possibly be scared so easily!” bellowed the man named Maleo, but noticing the glare Besra gave him he immediately quieted down, a guilty look on his face.
But Raven hadn’t been scared, she had been dumbfounded. How could a man possibly move so quickly? Sure, she had been focused on her mother and no doubt her senses as a baby were not what they had been as an adult, but the man had appeared out of nowhere. . . .
However, before Raven could spend any more time contemplating what she had just witnessed, the man bent down over the bed and scooped her up. His strong arms were surprisingly careful as they gently held Raven. She looked up into the man’s face, and she could see the same love and happiness in his eyes that her mother had shown , only this time there was an overbearing air of protectiveness present. Raven couldn’t help but feel that this man, her father, would move the world to keep her safe. This too was a feeling foreign to Raven. ‘It would seem I have been blessed with two loving parents this time around. . . .’
Maleo looked pensively at the newborn daughter in his arms for a while. The little infant just looked back at him, eyes filled with curiosity. He couldn’t shake the feeling that this little one was trying to learn everything about him just by staring at him. “Besra, this child of ours looks at me like an all-seeing raven. . . .” Maleo was silent for a while. “Yes, Raven. It will be a fitting name for her.”
“Raven Nightingale.” Her mother tried the name and nodded approvingly.
Raven was quietly shocked. How come her father had given her the same name that she had acquired in her past life? The coincidence was just too enormous! Last time she had been named Raven due to her first kill, now she got the same name simply because she stared at her father?
The family name was also cause for amazement. The infamous ‘Night Singer’ had been born into a family named after the ultimate singer of the night; the nightingale songbird.
‘This must be what is called fate. . . .’ Raven’s initial shock quickly subsided, what point was there in being surprised at the mysteries of fate?
“Raven Nightingale? Very well, this shall be the second me. Here I will live a life of my choosing with people that genuinely care for me.” With this thought Raven Night, a.k.a. the Night Singer, finally embraced her new self. She was Raven Nightingale, daughter of Maleo and Besra Nightingale, and she was loved.
Maleo kept looking at his new born daughter in his arms. Her tiny mouth had curved into a small smile as he had given her a name, and her big green eyes were quietly looking up at him. Once again he felt as if this child hid unusual intelligence underneath its infant appearance, but as he had just become her father all he felt at this was limitless pride.
“She’s got my eyes this little one.” He said with a chuckle. “Only fair considering the first one got yours.”
He turned to his wife on the bed and lowered Raven back into her arms. As he did so Raven took the opportunity to study the room she was in. It was a fairly large bedchamber, complete with a large double bed, a few exquisitely carved wooden cabinets and a gorgeous little desk that stood in front of one of the larger windows, looking out at what seemed to be endless skies. The craftsmanship on the wooden furniture was simply amazing; flowers and leaves tangled their way up the sides and legs of the cabinets and the desk. Within the lush greenery small birds where perched and they looked almost alive.
The tall walls were all made of a reddish stone that had been polished blank and as the sunlight lit up the far-side wall, it seemed as if hundreds of tiny specks of crystal had been embedded in the rock. The multiple tall windows were flanked by thick white curtains all the way from the ceiling to the floor. Raven couldn’t help but assume that she had been born into a very wealthy family.
As she looked towards the big wooden door her father had entered from, she noticed a small boy peeping in. He was perhaps five or six years old and looked like a miniature version of her father; he wore the same green robes, but without the copper patterns covering his chest and arms, his hair was pitch black and a small braid could be seen hanging over his shoulder.
With Raven back in her mother’s arms Maleo faced the boy in the doorway. “Son, come over here!”
“Yes father!” The little boy hurried into the room, stopping at the foot of the bed.
Maleo placed a large hand on his son’s shoulder and led him to a place next to the bed with Besra and Raven.
“Look son, this is your baby sister Raven!”
As Maleo spoke, Besra tilted the little Raven in her arms to give her son a better look. Curiosity filled his eyes as he stretched to look at his sister.
“So cute!” he exclaimed.
“Next year you will start your training to become a spiritualist. You have to work hard so you can become strong enough to protect her!” The large hand patted his son’s shoulder firmly.
They boy’s hazel brown eyes glowed with confidence and resolution. “Yes, father!” Clearly he took his new mission very seriously. He placed his hand on his chest, as if copying a military salute, and looked straight in front of him. “I, Hoatzin Nightingale, will protect my little sister with my life!”
Besra chuckled. “Very good, my child.” Her gentle hand reached out to ruffle the hair on Hoatzin’s head. “You will have to work hard.” Taken by surprise by his mother’s movements, the young Hoatzin couldn’t decide whether he should hold his grand stance or avoid his mother’s embarrassing touch. In the end he managed to do neither.
“Mother!” he complained, but Besra just smiled.
Raven on the other hand looked at her ‘older’ brother with newfound love. This little boy seemed so sincere. She could tell that he really would work hard for her sake. No doubt he was at the slightly rebellious age where he wanted to prove to everyone around that he was a man rather than a boy. Hoatzin had a long way to go, but effort does count and the previously cold assassin heart couldn’t help but melt a little bit more. ‘What a family I have gained!’
Before Raven could reflect any more on her new family, a wave of fatigue swept through her body and she failed to stifle a yawn. She was completely spent, and had to work hard in order to keep her eyes from instantly closing. Of course, Besra noticed her daughter’s struggles.
“Okay now. It’s time to let us get some rest.”
“Ah! Yes. Come son, your mother and sister have had a long day.” Maleo kissed his wife on the forehead and led their son out the door. “I’ll see you in a while,” he called back softly with a smile on his face as he too disappeared out the door.
Besra sighed and sank further into the bed, carefully placing her newborn infant next to her, using her own body heat to keep it warm.
“There my darling, my little Raven, time to sleep.” As she spoke the faint glow around her seemed to expand and envelope the child in her arms. A warm, fuzzy feeling spread through Raven’s tiny body and, try as she might to stay awake, within a heartbeat she had fallen into a deep sleep.
Over the next couple of days various people came to congratulate the newest addition to the Nightingale family, or ‘Nightingale clan’ as they called it. Most of the visitors seemed to be either close friends or not-too-distant family members. Raven quickly learned that her father was the ruler of an area called Nightingale Prefecture and that his servants had great respect for him. This information came from the servants themselves who became very loose-lipped as soon as they figured no one but the baby could overhear them.
The same servants were on the other hand not very fond of the older sister of Raven’s father, Lady Anhinga, who had come to visit quite quickly after Raven’s birth. Word was that she never treated her servants well and Raven couldn’t help but agree with their negative opinions. Aunt Anhinga had practically stormed into the dining hall where Raven’s family had been seated for dinner the day after her birth. Raven, who had been sleeping in her mother’s arms, had woken with a start.
“I heard that my dear brother has sired his second child! My congratulations!” The unknown woman with grayish hair and a velvet dark blue gown smiled widely as she rushed over to Lady Besra’s side. “Let aunt Anhinga see this little bundle of joy!” The woman almost yanked Raven from her mother while she spoke.
Although aunt Anhinga had been all smiles and congratulations in front of Raven’s parents, Raven couldn’t help but notice a flash of contempt on her aunt’s face when she inspected the newest addition to the family that she held in her arms. Raven had seen that look all too many times in her previous life. Her aunt considered her an enemy!
Raven had listened intently to the servants gossiping about her aunt after that and if the servants’ guesses were correct, aunt Anhinga wasn’t very pleased with the low position her husband had in the prefecture. Naturally an additional heir to the current prefecture lord wouldn’t improve the situation. It was a fairly common situation in a powerful family so Raven didn’t think much about it.
Raven was of course very curious about her new world but as her information source was limited to whatever the people around her discussed, insights came slowly.
” I wish I could move around a bit more. . . .” Raven sighed
As a newly born infant, Raven’s muscle strength and control was very limited. From what she knew of babies in her old world it would normally take about a year before an infant would be able to walk, but patience had never been one of her strong sides. So, to speed up the process, Raven spent every moment she was alone trying to gain more control over her body and work up her strength bit by bit. It was extremely tiring work and as a result she slept quite a lot.
But when others were around Raven spent most of her time either eating or quietly observing her surroundings. To her relief her mother didn’t breast feed her, instead a servant would give her a bottle filled with a delicious sweet liquid that seemed to strengthen her considerably.
Raven’s name was one of the much debated topics so she quickly learnt the reason behind it; here, in this new world, ravens were considered a symbol of unparalleled wisdom and insight. As Raven kept on quietly observing the new world around her, the servants all agreed that the name was well picked. Since Raven’s soul had already lived through 25 years of ruthless experiences, of course her eyes would reflect more wisdom than those of a regular infant.
Because of her quiet nature Raven was quickly considered to be a very well behaved child who rarely cried or made any fuss. Sometimes though, the jubilant giggles of an infant echoed through the many halls of the Nightingale Manor. To the servants, this indicated that young master Hoatzin had been given time off from his schooling and had rushed to entertain his little sister, something he did very well.
“Hear ye! Hear ye!” Hoatzin would yell and strike an impressive pose in front of his sister. “This is the tale of Weebill the Great!”
Clad in fake armor with a large cape fluttering about him, Hoatzin would reenact the stories his father had told him of great battles where even greater heroes and magical beasts fought to the death. Raven would always start bubbling with laughter as her older brother, with a hideous grimace on his face, ‘died’ for the first time, usually slain by some vicious beast, only to rise again as a vengeful hero who would save the day.
A couple of months passed like this and as autumn turned into winter, Raven was finally strong enough to crawl around a bit. However, due to fairly strict supervision she could never get very far and whenever she was alone she was left in her cradle, whose high bars made escape impossible. She once got hold of a book but to her dismay the scripture was entirely different from her own alphabet so she had to give up on reading for now. Despite all this Raven still managed to learn quite a lot about her new world.
It was currently the year of 4990 of the so called Trinity era. This she knew because the servants were preparing for the grand celebration – to mark the beginning of a new year – that would take place in a few weeks. It seemed as if this world also operated on a 12 month calendar. She herself had been born on the 13th day of the 10th month – a very ominous date in her old world but people here didn’t seem to care.
At another time she had overheard officials discussing trade with her father which told her that the Nightingale Prefecture her father ruled over was one of three prefectures in the northerly Sky Kingdom. Besides the Sky Kingdom, there seemed to be two more countries on the continent, Earth Kingdom and Sea Kingdom. The reason why her country was called the Sky Kingdom was very apparent as soon as you looked out a window; the entire Sky Kingdom consisted of massive mountain ranges that seemed to stretch endlessly into the sky. The view from Nightingale Manor – located high up in the Nightingale Prefecture’s mountain range – was quite breathtaking. Most likely the other kingdoms had equivalent reasons behind their names.
Apart from these insights, she had also heard various tidbits about the state of the prefecture, loads of gossip about who was courting whom, and even managed to snap up information on various hidden passages and places the servants had found during their rounds – she couldn’t wait to explore these once her legs got strong enough to carry her.
But there were also some discussions she overheard that she didn’t quite understand.
Servants would talk about magical beasts that roamed the mountains and forests around the City. They would talk in grave voices with serious faces, but the stories would be nearly as extreme as her older brother’s reenactments, indicating that there actually was some truth behind them. They also expressed much relief that Lord Nightingale hired so many ‘spiritualists’ to keep these beasts away from the various cities spread throughout the mountain range.
Raven had no idea what these so called spiritualists were, but if they could fight of the magical beasts in brother Hoatzin’s stories they must be quite amazing. After all, those beast were capable of everything from spitting fireballs to freezing time itself. She guessed the stories were a bit exaggerated, but still!
Raven tried her best to find out more about this, but since her speech still was very limited, there wasn’t much she could do.
The new year’s celebration arrived. That day the otherwise dark city around the Nightingale Manor lit up like a sea of stars. On a balcony facing the city, Lady Besra stood dressed in a fabulous white fur coat. In her arms was her nearly three months old daughter, wrapped in a warm bundle. Besra lifted Raven so she could see out over the city below.
“Look my darling. Today is the Day of Light! On this darkest of days we honor the past year and welcome the year to come by burning away the darkness. Thus we purify not only the night but also our hearts.”
Raven stared with wonder in her eyes at the city below – it was truly a sight for the soul.
“My lady Besra.” A solemn voice called out behind them.
It was Besra’s head maid I’iwi, who had been with her on the day Raven was born. I’iwi’s hazel brown hair was in the same tight knot on her head that I’iwi always wore. Her gown was dark red and on her chest she bore the emblem of a high level servant, indicating for everyone that she served the head family directly. I’iwi continued, “Lord Maleo and young master Hoatzin have returned from the celebrations in the city. They are headed for Spirit Hall.”
‘Spirit Hall?’ Raven’s eyes lit up. She had never heard of it before.
“Thank you, I’iwi. I will go there at once.” Besra turned and left the balcony.
“Shall I take young mistress Raven?”
“Yes.” Besra started to hand over Raven to the servant, but as she did, the normally complacent little girl started to wail desperately.
‘This is the first lead in weeks; no way I’m letting mother go without me!’ Raven refused to give in to I’iwi’s cooing.
Besra stared at her daughter. This was the first time she had protested so vehemently when being left behind. Besra only hesitated for a moment before collecting her daughter once again in her arms. “Oh well, I might as well bring her. It will make little difference.”
With her daughter in her arms Besra made her way deeper into the manor than Raven had ever been before. Raven curiously observed the hallways they were passing through, subconsciously expanding her inner map of the palace – old habits die hard and some were worth keeping. Soon they arrived at a winding staircase.
“I’iwi, you may wait here.”
With a nod to her servant, Besra started ascending the stairs.