Consumed by her boundless killing intent, Raven stood, shaking, inside the gradually crumbling cave. The emotions were just too strong, too raw; had she been in a more lucid state she would have felt her control slipping. As it was, she didn’t. She didn’t even notice the huge crack making its way over to the newly constructed tomb of I’iwi, located at the other end of the cave.
But in all this chaos, a wondrous thing happened; a twentieth spirit connection was reformed.
“. . .-aven! Raven, stop! Snap out of it, or you’ll kill yourself!”
Raven froze. The solidified strands of killing intent vanished in that same heartbeat.
There was a fight sigh. “Ahh . . . finally she stopped. I thought she had lost it for good this time. . . “
Raven looked down at her hand; disbelief filled her face. She didn’t dare hope. . . .
“. . . seriously, this little sister of mine, how many secrets has she been keeping?”
Raven gasped and collapsed down on the broken ground beneath her.
“. . . Brother? Is . . . is that you?” Her voice was fragile, as if on the verge of breaking. Tentatively she started to expand her spirit essence to let it examine the deep purple ring on her finger.
“You can hear me!?” the voice in her head suddenly grew happy. “Finally! Oh, Little Sister, having to observe you in silence this past week. . . .”
As Raven’s spirit essence tried to enter the cold ring, it was blocked – just as it had been when she tried right after she received it. Nonetheless, she could now clearly feel a presence within; it was none other than Hoatzin, her brother.
In that instant, disbelief and jubilant joy mixed within Raven in an odd merger.
“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten the voice of your own brother?”
He even teased her!
“But..! But how?” Raven couldn’t help but be guarded; if this was her mind was playing tricks with her, she felt she wouldn’t be able to take it. To think that her brother now existed within the ring on her finger was just a bit too far-fetched.
“Remember how I helped you put on this ring and started bleeding afterwards? Well, some of my blood must have gotten on the ring, because the moment I felt my consciousness slip away from me back at the mansion, this ring tugged at my soul, pulling me within it.”
“This . . .” Raven was flabbergasted. She had never even heard of such a thing!
“Quite fortunate, right? To think that something so small would help save me. . . .” Her brother’s voice grew solemn. “If only our parents had been so lucky. . . .”
Raven’s red eyes flashed. Her killing intent surged once more, but this time around she was prepared for it; with some effort, she reined it in.
“Whoa, Little Sister, easy there. I’m upset too, but your reaction is quite frightening. . . . Tell me, what was in I’iwi’s memories that angers you to this extent?”
From within the ring, Hoatzin could hear and see everything going on outside it. Naturally, he had heard the conversations between the two women; he knew that the glass orb held information about his parents’ deaths, and the demise of his body, but he couldn’t read Raven’s mind. She would have to speak out loud to tell him what she learned.
Of course, there were other questions he wanted to ask, such as: how come Raven is already a spiritualist, and one at a higher level than him at that; or, how could she, a four-year-old girl, possess killing intent so strong that it manifested in the physical world? As far as he knew, killing intent was linked to how many people a person had killed in their lifetime as well as their spirit connections – the more people you killed, the stronger the killing intent grew; the more connections you had, the better you would be able to manifest it. What he had learned of Raven the last couple of days indicated that her spirit connections alone would not generate such levels of manifestation.
But these questions could wait; right now he wanted to know why his sister had nearly spiraled out of control.
After hesitating for a moment Raven started to, haltingly, recall what she had learned from I’iwi’s memories.
“After I’iwi left me here, she returned to our . . . to the Mansion – not much was left of it. The fire had burnt for hours; barely any remains had been found and everyone that had been in the mansion were proclaimed dead. When she could find no hints about what had really happened in the rubble, I’iwi chose to make her way towards the Talon Clan’s main house. Using the ‘Fox’s Veil’ – that is her strange arm guard – she moved through the city without anyone paying her any attention or even recognizing her. As she made her way, she learned that the general story around town was that one of the spiritualists of our clan had been bold enough to capture an Inferno Devil and bring it home.”
“Who would possibly do something so stupid within our clan?”
What was an Inferno Devil? It was a small spirit beast – roughly the size of a melon – that looked like a fiery red squirrel. Its bushy tail was replaced by a scorching hot flame that moved with a will of its own; it was quite cute actually. However, being fooled by its cute exterior would be the last mistake you ever made. If angered, this normally docile beast would use its tail to set everything it touched ablaze with a hellish fire that couldn’t be put out by normal means; water would only make it burn more viciously and even high Champions would have a hard time escaping alive if trapped in the blaze.
“I agree with you, brother, but apparently, once the flames had died down, the people who rushed to the site had indeed found an Inferno Devil sleeping peacefully in the center of the mansion grounds. . . .”
Inferno Beasts were rare. Very rare. To think that one had ended up there by mere accident, the very same evening the Nightingale family met their untimely demise, was simply foolish.
“I’iwi didn’t find it reasonable either, so she infiltrated the Talon main house to find out more. I must say, that I’m quite impressed by her skills; sure the Fox’s Veil helped her greatly but still, to get so close to Aunt and Uncle without being detected was quite a feat.” Raven had truly been impressed by the accomplishments of their little “maid” – who would have thought that Raven had lived so close to an expert these past four years without even knowing it!
“She overheard a conversation our dear Talons had . . .” Anger flashed across Raven’s face; “. . . they . . . they were laughing. Gloating, even. Reveling in how they would undoubtedly be given the position as Lord Prefects – they were after all not only second in line but had also, sooo heroically, captured the detestable creature responsible for their beloved relatives’ deaths.”
“. . .”
Hoatzin didn’t speak, but Raven could tell that he too was growing increasingly angry. Raven swallowed and continued.
“They then mentioned something about the aid from foreign friends and how they together would turn Black Talon Prefecture,” Raven spat the words; “into something greater than Father ever could have imagined.”
“Preposterous!” Hoatzin couldn’t hold it in any longer. “How dare they rename Father’s prefecture? And what do they mean greater? The prefecture is fine as it is! Now I understand why you got so upset!”
But Raven shook her head. If it was only this, how could she possibly lose her composure? Up till this point, the events had unfolded pretty much as she had suspected they would.
“There is more!?” Her brother was shocked.
Raven sighed and continued.
“I’iwi had confirmed that the Talons were indeed the main culprits, but also that they had been given aid – not surprising, considering that they must have managed to find, capture and control an Inferno Devil; something the spiritualists within the Talon clan would not be capable of on their own. I’iwi naturally wanted to find out the identity of these mysterious ‘foreign friends’.”
Raven’s still dark red eyes became somewhat distant.
“I’iwi managed to sneak into Aunt’s study. There she had found a letter that was being prepared for instant transfer. It was addressed to an “Elder W” at Sky Academy. The letter read as follows: ‘Humble thanks for all your aid; Elder’s hounds took care of the squirrel infestation beautifully. Most intrigued by Elder’s tale of the Phoenix Death Lotus; it’s fortunate they don’t grow in our colder climates.’ After reading the letter, I’iwi was discovered and mortally wounded, before she managed to flee back to this cave.”
Raven stopped speaking. She knew this wouldn’t be enough for her brother to understand, but she didn’t really want to speak about it further.
“I’iwi’s sacrifice was indeed great, but now we know their accomplice is at Sky Academy; isn’t that a good thing? This way we know where to look. Let me think, elders that have names starting with a ‘W’. . . .” Hoatzin did indeed not understand the implications of what she had just said.
Raven closed her eyes before she interrupted her brother’s contemplation.
“I had not heard of it before, myself, but I’iwi had. The Phoenix Death Lotus is a legendary flower; supposedly it doesn’t even exist. . . . According to legend though, it is a small, yellow, flower that at first seems completely normal and harmless to its surroundings. However, if you burn it, the ash it leaves behind is drawn to the spirit cores of nearby spiritualists. Once inside their cores, it takes control over the essence stored within and starts consuming the spiritualists’ spirit connections. If it manages to consume all of the connections, the crystallized prism will no longer be able to contain its soul. Instead the soul disperses and the cultivator dies. The flower’s ashes then settle in the vacant prism, where it starts to grow anew.”
Pain filled Raven’s face.
“Oh. So that’s how they did it. The flower was burnt in the fire, the ash was released and when our parent’s souls had nowhere to go, they died. . . .” Hoatzin was silent for a while; “. . . but wait. The fire hadn’t started then. How come . . .”
“I did it!” Raven couldn’t take it anymore.
“I did it! I found the flower and noticed that it was dangerous. So . . . so I burnt it! Don’t you see!? I killed my own family!” Raven banged her fists into the stone floor; the sharp rocks cut into her palms.
“They made me kill my own family!” Her body shook as she forced her emotions under control.
Hoatzin was shocked. At first he didn’t know what to say – his sister blamed herself. . . . Wasn’t that pushing it? She had only acted out of concern for them; how could she possibly have known that the flower had been such a mythical plant? As he thought about it though, his anger grew within his soul.
He wasn’t angry at Raven, quite the opposite. He was angry at the Talons, and, he was angry at this “Elder W”. Hoatzin knew that even if his sister wasn’t really responsible for what had happened, it wouldn’t stop Raven from forever blaming herself for it. He knew his sister well, or at least, he understood her personality well, and she would not let this go easily.
He was silent a little while longer before he spoke in a firm voice.
“Raven, while it might be true that the night’s events progressed a little bit faster by your hand, you can’t possibly doubt that all of it had been carefully planned to the point where all our deaths were unavoidable.”
“But if I had shown it to Father rather than burn it, then perhaps . . .”
Hoatzin cut her off.
“Perhaps is just that, perhaps. Perhaps, there were hundreds of those flowers hidden throughout our home. Perhaps, alerting father to it would have caused an all-out war between our two clans, leading to the deaths of countless civilians. Perhaps, burning that flower ahead of time was the only thing that allowed I’iwi to find you before the Talon’s “hounds” did, thereby saving not only yourself but me as well.”
Raven didn’t refute him this time. In her mind she knew he had a point, but to make her heart accept it was another thing.
“As far as I’m concerned, the people responsible for the deaths of our parents are the Talon Clan and Elder W – and only them.”
Slowly Raven’s body relaxed. Hearing her brother defend her so firmly was a bigger weight off her shoulder’s than she had expected.
“You are right; we should be focusing on avenging our parents. . . . Oh, and trying to figure out a way to get you a body!” Raven’s mood was lifted greatly.
“Hehe. . . .” Hoatzin laughed nervously. “Ah, before that – I have a few questions I would like to ask you.”
“Oh?” Raven lifted an eyebrow.
“Yes, well, for starters, how come you survived?”
Raven blinked in surprise.
“Oh, well, it’s quite a long story. . . .”
Slowly, Raven started telling her brother about everything she had been through since she was born. She told him about her experience in the Spirit Hall during her first Day of Light, about learning various Divine Skills and training with her sword. She even told him that she had some recollections of her past life, where she seemed to have lived as a “soldier” – she didn’t want to burden her brother with the vicious life she had lived before, so she told him her memories were more like muscle memories; her soul remembered what her body had learned but not really how or when.
As she spoke, Raven calmed down quite a lot; talking about her hidden life with her brother was a welcome distraction. Gradually the red in her eyes faded, once more returning to their original forest green.
When her story was complete, Hoatzin surprised her simply saying: “Well, that explains a lot.”
Raven had expected him to be less . . .well, less prone to believe her story; it was quite an outrageous one after all. What she didn’t know was that while Raven had been unconscious, I’iwi had naturally examined her with spirit essence. Originally it was only to check that Raven was alright, but when she had discovered that this little four-year-old kid not only possessed over ten spirit connections, but also had a soul color I’iwi hadn’t even heard of, I’iwi’s examination had grown a lot more thorough. Every time she discovered something new she would marvel about it out loud:
“What!? A light green prism – is there even such a thing?”
“Dear heavens, such well-developed muscles! She must have been cultivating all her life. . .”
“Could it be? Is she entering the stage of Spirit Adept? At four!?”
Hoatzin had observed it all from within his ring and had grown more and more curious about his sister. Later, when Raven exhibited killing intent like he’d never seen before, he truly wondered what this sister of his had gone through. Her explanation – having kept some extent of her memories from a previous live – kind of made it all fall into place. Of course she would have a special soul. Of course she would know how to fight and meditate. And most likely she had killed quite a few people as a soldier, whether she subconsciously remembered it or not, which explained the strong killing intent.
Had Raven known about I’iwi’s insights, then she would perhaps have realized what the odd look I’iwi had given her as she died was – it was wonder and hope; wonder at the little girls existence and hope for what she would accomplish in the future.