In her room, Raven sat cross-legged on her bed. She had undressed since long , with the help of her maid, and now only wore a simple nightgown. In front of her lay the green cylinder Javelin had given her earlier. Her brother and mother had already gone to bed and were sleeping soundly in their rooms.
After simply staring at the cylinder and the golden words engraved on it for a long while, Raven drew a deep breath to steady herself and picked it up. She once more felt the spirit essence stored within, causing her fingers to tingle. The essence fluctuations were stronger than in any of the scrolls her father had shown her and her brother a few years ago, the closest being a level five skill.
With gentle hands she carefully broke the seal, opened the top and tilted the cylinder to let the scroll within slip out into her waiting hand. The scroll was small, only a little bit longer than her hand, but on contact with her skin she felt its power seeping into her. It was as if the scroll was examining her, checking its new master.
Holding her breath, Raven slowly unrolled the scroll. Inside was, unexpectedly, a poem written in what looked like golden ink. As Raven started reading she could feel the words vibrating within her soul, leaving a permanent mark. In her mind she heard a soft tune that accompanied the text perfectly. She read:
Oh dearest mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love’s calling,
That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further, my handsome darling;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man’s son doth know.
Her reading and the tune in her head merged so perfectly that before she knew it she was quietly singing what she read aloud.
What is love? ‘Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty;
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.
As the last words left her mouth, a sharp pain throbbed through her mind and the text on the scroll faded. The imprint was complete. At the same moment Raven knew everything there was to know about her new and very odd Divine Skill – in all her reading she had never read of a Divine Skill in the form of a song, and yet here it was.
It was indeed a level six skill, as she had predicted, but it was neither for healing nor martial prowess, but rather for control. Once she had mastered it, simply humming the first notes would cause those who heard it to be enthralled by her. Unless they had a significantly higher cultivation than hers, they would feel extremely compelled to pause whatever they were doing and listen until she stopped her humming. If she were strong enough, the effect would remain long after she stopped singing.
‘I wonder if Javelin knows the meaning of this song or if he only knows its use.’
Raven couldn’t help but laugh when she replayed the song in her head. It was a love song. A very bittersweet love song, urging the listener to seize the moment or it might be forever lost.
Raven pondered the skill she had learned. Although it wasn’t what she had expected, she realized the vast uses it would have for her. It would be her last defense; if faced with multiple hostile persons, even if she wasn’t strong enough to restrain her opponents for long, it would likely grant her the extra time she needed to run away or hide. It could also help her launch attacks against momentarily unguarded enemies. With this song, this Twilight Lullaby, and her earlier knowledge of martial arts she would be fairly dangerous even without any additional Divine Skills.
Through the spirit imprint she now instinctively knew how to stimulate her spirit core to merge the stored spirit essence with her voice and achieve the desired effect. It would take practice, but Raven was confident in her abilities; now that she had the imprint nothing would stop her from perfecting the skill.
She started practicing right away.
The next morning a slightly red-eyed Raven made her way into the guest room’s dinning area. She had stayed up all night working on the skill; once they left for home it would be a month before she could practice it again without attracting unwanted attention.
After nearly eight hours she had only managed to perform the most basic step of the skill: Merging her spirit essence with her voice. Next was to actually activate the skill. She wasn’t very pleased with her slow progress, but it would have to do for now.
Had Javelin been aware of her complaints, he would have been shocked beyond belief. Eight hours? Eight months would be a more reasonable time to reach her level of progress!
Later that day, the three Nightingales stood on the same landing platform on which they had arrived over a week earlier. They had already said goodbyes to the Emperor and his wife and all that remained was the parting with Hoatzin.
Besra’s eyes were moist but she managed to refrain from crying as she embraced her son.
“Your mother and father love you dearly, remember that,” she whispered in his ear before releasing him.
“Here.” Besra held out a delicate hand and in its palm lay a copper ring, gleaming with metallic luster.
“Yes. Take it. Inside are some gifts from your father and me.”
Raven glanced at the ring with big eyes; it was a spacial ring! Such rings were very rare. By pouring your spirit essence into it you could access a separate dimension linked with the ring. Once bound by blood, the ring would even seal itself from any other user.
“It is time, little Raven. Say your goodbyes,” her mother urged her.
Raven didn’t hesitate as she threw herself into her brother’s arms, hugging him tightly. She was silent for a long while and eventually Hoatzin spoke first.
“Take care, little Sister. I will see you next spring.” He stroked her long hair as he spoke. “I bet you won’t even notice that I’m gone before I’m back again.”
Raven looked up on her brother. Forced smiles were on both of their faces.
“Brother, too… You must take care!”
“Don’t worry, I will. The next time we meet I bet you’ll be surprised how much stronger your brother has become.”
Raven did not doubt this.
The siblings tightened their embrace once more before Raven slipped out of her brother’s arms and followed her mother into the cabin.
Eight of the ten guards entered their own cabin and with the soft whistle of the crewmen the Everest Hawks took flight once more.
On the ground remained Hoatzin and his two personal guards, who would stay with him in Sky City. They wouldn’t follow him at school but if he wanted to venture outside the school grounds the guards would protect him. He remained on the platform long after the Everest Hawks had disappeared out of sight.
The journey home was rather uneventful and four weeks later the party arrived back at Nightingale City. Summer was now at its brief peak and the previously light green trees had darkened to a lush dark green.
Summer may have been short here, but the days were long, so despite arriving in the middle of the night, the sky had already turned pale blue in anticipation of the dawning sun.
In the large courtyard waited the impatient Lord Maleo; it had been over two months since his wife and children left and he looked forward to their return. He had, of course, already received news of his son’s achievements and knew that only his girls would be returning.
He lifted his gaze to the sky and smiled, because flying towards him were the family’s two Everest Hawks that had left months before. In barely a minute’s time, the birds lowered their precious cargo into the courtyard and flew off towards their own mountain top.
Maleo walked over to his wife’s cabin and just as he reached it, I’iwi opened the cabin door from within. She held up a finger to her mouth and motioned for him to enter.
Once inside he was greeted by his serene wife who leaned softly into his arms.
“She fell asleep an hour ago,” Besra whispered. “I didn’t have the heart to wake her.”
Maleo looked over at his daughter sleeping soundly on the cabin’s sofa. With a tender smile on his face, he walked over and scooped up the sleeping Raven. Accompanied by his wife, he carried his young daughter to her room.
Despite being fast asleep, Raven was not oblivious to what was going on around her; the numerous spirit collections within her soul helped her keep a constant awareness. Nevertheless, she chose to not stir from her sleep. Biologically, she was after all, only three – why not enjoy being spoiled a bit while she had the chance?
Life went back to normal at the Nightingale mansion. Without her brother around, the days seemed to move a bit slower, but Raven used her new-found time to read even more books and, of course, diligently practice her Twilight Lullaby.
It took her a bit over a month to perfect the skill, which was an insane achievement in itself, and as she grew more accustomed to it Raven discovered a welcome surprise. If she was careful, and started singing the song like anyone else would and then slowly let her spirit essence merge with it to activate the actual Twilight Lullaby, she could pull off the skill without any spiritualists even noticing that she was using a Divine Skill.
Usually the sudden burst of spirit essence at the activation of a Divine Skill would be impossible to miss, and would even reveal the cultivation level of the practitioner, but for some reason this skill, if activated in this way, seemed to blend too well with the natural spirit essence in the air, making it incredibly hard both to detect and guard against.
Realizing this trait, Raven had only hesitated for a day or two before using the skill on her own guards! By doing so she easily managed to shake off her protection and sneak into the Nightingale’s Spirit Scroll library. She had only gone to the common section and not dared to stay long, but she had left with the two skills that had caught her attention the most so far: level three skill Shadow Walk and the evolving skill Sonic Swords.
Since then she had practiced the Shadow Walk relentlessly and had by now become quite proficient in using it. When she used it in unison with her old world’s martial arts, combining superhuman speed with perfect timing here and there, she became very deadly.
Her attack power was, however, still quite limited so she had wanted to start practicing with the Sonic Swords as well but once the imprint was complete she had realized that the first and, so far, only skill level she had gained any insights to was called the Deafening Sweep. Unfortunately, it lived up to its name, so finding a time and place for Raven to practice it was easier said than done.
Regardless, Raven had set out to get her hands on an appropriate sword. First she had figured that she might nab one in the same manner as she got the Divine Skills but in the end she didn’t have to rely on such methods; Raven had pleaded with her father to “give her a cool sword just like her guards’,” and her father had given her one without much hassle. What astonished her more was that he had even taken it one step further and commissioned a personal sword to be forged just for her.
The completed weapon reminded Raven of the Chinese jian swords of her old world; it was a thin one-handed sword, with beautiful patterns inlaid into the roughly 80 centimeters long blade. The hilt was formed like a pair of wings ready for flight, their violet feathers shimmering slightly as they stretched towards the tip of the blade. The handle was wrapped in a soft black fabric and two tassels, in the same violet shade as the wings, hung from the pommel at the end of the handle.
Raven had stared at the beautiful weapon with big eyes. The sword was truly a masterpiece. It was also too long for her; Raven herself was only about a head taller than the sword at the moment. Seeing his daughter’s wonder Maleo had laughed.
“If my little Raven wants to carry a sword then it needs to be a sword fit for a princess!”
“But it is so long…” Raven sighed.
“No rush, you will grow into it.” Maleo looked quite smug as he handed over another parcel.
To Raven’s surprise she found that her father had actually prepared a special scabbard that would allow her to carry the sword over her back, even though it was too long. The sword’s name, ‘Nightingale’s Blessing’, was written on it in fine letters.
“You are still too small for it but that will change. Once you are old enough, I can teach you how to use it.”
Raven realized that her father thought she had asked for the sword simply because she thought them fascinating and therefore wanted one for herself, so he had made her a pretty one.
‘Considering that my father clearly doesn’t want me to actually use it, he has commissioned a truly amazing weapon for me!’ she had thought while inspecting it. Raven was very pleased with the sword, it was well-balanced and sharp beyond compare.
Despite the sword being too long for her, Raven started to carry it with her wherever she went, much to the Nightingale guards’ amusement. Seeing their young mistress’ love for the sword, Rook and Verdin had, on numerous occasions, taken it upon themselves to teach her the basic stances of sword fighting ahead of time. However, it always ended in failure; the too long sword would cause the young girl to lose balance and topple over at every swing.
They would have given her a smaller sword to practice with but Lord Maleo forbade it – why had he forged too large a sword for her to begin with? To keep her away from sword-fighting until she grew tired of it, of course! After all, he had no wish to see his daughter get injured by taking up martial practices.
Little did her father know that his hopes were already shattered. Sure, the blade was in reality too long for her, but who was Raven to be troubled by that? She had adapted to the length of the sword within the first hour of wielding it. She would swing it hundreds of times every day, and it had become as much a part of her as her own arm. But yet again she wanted to keep a low profile, so she moved clumsily with it in public.
Since then, another six months had passed. Autumn and winter had both come and gone, and now spring had arrived. Besides tentative heat, spring brought another joy to the Nightingale mansion; news that young master Hoatzin had been given leave and was on his way home for a visit.
Almost a year had passed since Raven last had seen her brother and she was curious to see how much he’d improved over the year. Four weeks later, a very impatient Raven stood in the main courtyard, looking expectantly up into the vast sky. There, far away, the large silhouette of an Everest Hawk was slowly growing larger and larger.