A slightly awkward silence filled dorm room 207 after that. Raven could tell that Javelin was a bit conflicted over her presence; she could have asked him a few leading questions about himself to break the ice, but it wasn’t really the Raven Night thing to do, so she let the awkwardness draw out for a while.
Eventually, Javelin cleared his throat. “Ah, um, I’m headed for a banquet at the palace.” He lifted his hand to scratch the back of his neck, causing Raven to secretly smile at the familiar gesture. “So, I guess I’ll see you when I get back. . . . Or are you staying with your family tonight?”
“I will be, but actually, Elder Kagu said I was invited to the banquet as well and that you would bring me along, if I wanted to go.”
“Really?” Another conflicted look appeared on his face. “And you want to go? It is usually only nobility, Elders and ambassadors present. . . .”
“So?” Raven gave him a questioning glare. “Are you saying I’m not worthy enough to go?”
“No, no, I didn’t mean that,” he sighed and scratched the back of his neck again, “it’s just a bit . . . stiff, that’s all. I’m not sure you’d like it.”
“We won’t know until we’ve tried.” Raven smiled a cold smile that was closer to a sneer than anything else.
If Javelin thought that the mockery was aimed at him, he ignored it. Instead he moved towards the door and motioned for Raven to follow.
“Well, I’ve warned you,” he said and then added in a lower voice, “I wouldn’t go if I had a choice.”
“Sister, you are being rather harsh with Javelin; shouldn’t you be trying to make friends?” Hoatzin asked as they followed Javelin down the hallway outside.
“I need to make useful allies, not friends,” Raven thought back, “and besides, I bet he has his own notions of what I’ve been through to mature my soul so quickly – it would be more odd if I acted sociably.”
Hoatzin said no more, but he couldn’t help but feel that his sister had grown colder than he remembered her.
The journey to the palace was an uneventful one. Raven felt how Javelin kept shooting glances at her, only to look away with renewed confusion moments later. If she hadn’t know better, Raven would have thought that Javelin suspected her identity, but he showed no signs of mistrust towards her.
Once at the palace, Javelin could have asked a palace attendant to show Raven to Elder Kagu, but he opted to do it himself. It didn’t take long before they stopped outside a small wooden door with a few familiar presences waiting on the other side.
“Elder Kagu should be inside,” Javelin nodded towards the door. “I will see you in the banquet hall.”
With that, he turned around and continued down the hallway.
“It’s time for you to leave as well – I’ll see you in a few days, big brother.”
“Yes, sister – take care of yourself.” Hoatzin took flight and flew out through a nearby window.
“You too, big brother,” Raven replied as she placed her hand on the doorknob. She was just about to open the door when Javelin called out to her from further down the hallway.
“Come to me if anyone tries to harass you; we roommates have to look out for each other.” As the last words left his mouth, Javelin turned around a corner and disappeared from Raven’s line of sight.
Raven blinked and almost started laughing.
‘You feel awkward in my presence but are still willing to protect me? Someone has instilled a great sense of honor in you, mister Hake.’
She covered up her smile and entered the room after a quick knock.
“What are you doing here?” the upset voice of the Sarus clan boy greeted her the minute she stepped into the room. “Commoners are not welcome here!”
“How fortunate then that I’m quite uncommon.” Raven didn’t bother look at Brolga as she walked over to the room’s only window.
Elder Kagu had yet to arrive – although Raven could feel his presence swiftly approaching – so the only ones present were the Sarus siblings and a veiled girl who, dressed in the uniform of the Healing Arts Department, was engaged in reading a small book she seemed to have found in the dusty bookshelf behind her. The girl’s presence was familiar, but Raven couldn’t place it exactly.
‘So, the Healing Arts Department had their entrance exams recently too.’
The Healing Arts scheduled their exam in accordance with the lunar calendar, so it wouldn’t always match up with the Martial one.
“Hey, are you listening to me?” Furious at being ignored, Brolga stomped over to the window. “Don’t think that your measly talent is enough to put you on equal terms with us nobles!”
He stretched out a hand to grab Raven’s robes, but she was quicker; Raven took a hold of his wrist and twisted it behind his back before the little lord even realized that she had moved.
“Your parents have done you a disfavor,” she whispered is Brolga’s ear so only he could hear it, “you are way too proud.” He struggled against her grip but to no avail. “Nobility is wasted on the likes of you.”
“You . . !”
Just as spirit essence started to gather within both Brolga and his sister, Raven let him go and backed off a few steps. In the same instant, Elder Kagu walked through the door.
“What do you think you are doing?” the elder immediately noticed the building power in the two youths, as well as their target.
“Elder, this commoner has no right to be here; we were just about to force him to leave,” explained Brolga as if it was the most natural thing in the world, but his underlying anger was obvious.
The elder started blankly at the boy. “There is so much error in your statement that I don’t know where to begin. . . . If nothing else, I would expect you to have eyes that work.” Elder Kagu pointed towards Raven’s chest. “How could you possibly hope to force Junior Night to do anything?”
When Brolga’s eyes fell upon the purely white pendant that hung visibly around Raven’s neck, he became flabbergasted.
“H. . . . How. . . .” Brolga stuttered.
His sister was equally shocked, but kept her composure a bit better, but she had the benefit of her veil to hide her expressions. The other girl, however, made no attempt to hide her wonder, instantly putting down her book, leaping to her feet and running the few steps to Raven’s side.
“Wow, you’re already a high Novice, and a peak one at that? Impressive, brother Night!”
“Brother?” Raven blinked in surprise.
“Of course, we’re both students of the same school after all!” Even through the veil, Raven could tell the girl was smiling foolishly. “My name is Kea Nestor of the Nestor Clan, but you can just call me sister Kea.”
‘Not another exuberant personality. . . .’ sighed Raven inwardly; she had been so pleased when she parted with Mayeri.
“Brother Night has to promise to come to me whenever you’re injured, okay?”
Before Raven had a chance to reply, Elder Kagu intervened, “Enough of this, his Imperial majesty is waiting. Follow me.”
Without waiting for the students to collect themselves Elder Kagu turned around and left the small waiting room. Full of energy, Kea coupled her arm with Raven’s and dragged the obviously disapproving assassin girl with her after the Elder. It took a few moments before the Sarus siblings woke from their shock, forcing them to run in order to catch up.
Just like last time that Raven had been present at this banquet, the Emperor gave a short speech before asking Elder Kagu to present the newest addition of nobles at Sky Academy. Low murmurs spread in the hall as Raven entered, last in line of the students; most people present had only expected three children to arrive.
Those murmurs of confusion turned to a whirlwind of agitation once Raven’s results were announced. If not for Elder Kagu’s assurance that the headmaster himself had checked both Raven’s age and cultivation, none would have believed the notion of a six-year-old high Spirit Novice. During all this, Raven paid extra attention to people’s reactions, taking note of those who seemed to be more threatened than impressed by her presence.
Eventually, the banquet hall calmed down and Emperor Mallard could welcome the new students and announce the beginning of the banquet. Immediately, Raven got the explanation to Kea Nestor’s familiar presence as she bounced off to hug a slightly older girl that Raven recognized as Lady Cara – one of the girls who had swamped Hoatzin two years ago. Clearly they were sisters.
The banquet began; people ate, and some even danced, but everybody talked. At first Raven had been swamped with people, both young and old, who all wanted to get to know the genius of the century, but Raven’s cold demeanor quickly sent them packing. Few of those pushed away felt offended by it, though; to them it only felt natural. She had turned into somewhat of an exotic animal – to be observed and marveled at from a distance, but not approached.
Little did they know that just as they observed her, Raven too observed them. She was listening to every conversation, noticing every gesture. It was surprising how many dirty little secrets were revealed in a place like this, if you only paid attention.
Once people moved on from discussing Raven, many turned their gossip towards the Empress. Clearly, the noble clans were aware of the accusations laid against her, however the verdict was out on whether they believed them or not. However, the details about the supposed treason itself was all over the place – no two stories being the same – and there were also mixed opinions on the Emperor’s choice to keep his wife in the palace, rather than in a prison dungeon.
Raven was leaning against a pillar, sipping punch and listening to a particularly interesting conversation about the evening when the accusations had been brought to light, when Raven’s body stiffened. She glared at a set of doors on the other end of the hall, and as she did, her blood-red eyes seethed with murderous rage.
Moments later, the doors opened and a group of Academy students entered. In the front was a black-haired youth, with equally black eyes that seemed to swallow everything they looked at. But Raven didn’t care about him; what she cared about was that just behind him was a very familiar figure. Dunlin.
Just feeling his presence made Raven recall what had come to pass two years ago, and despite all her training she was finding it hard to keep her emotions in check.
‘It would be so easy to kill him. . . .’ Raven’s hand clutched her glass so firmly that her knuckles turned white. ‘I could have a knife down his throat before anyone even noticed.’
Raven knew that killing her cousin now would do her no good, quite the opposite, but the temptation was so great. She felt herself taking a step forward as the world turned red, her mind blank.
Just as she was about to walk over to Dunlin, a cool hand gripped her wrist.
“Oi , Night, do you hear me?”
In an instant, Raven’s mind cleared and the ravaging bloodlust within her calmed down. She was still upset, but in control of herself.
Blinking, Raven focused her attention on the owner of the cool hand and was surprised to realize that it belonged to Javelin, and her surprise astonished her even more.
‘When did he get so close?’
“Night, are you okay?” Javelin looked genuinely concerned, “You look a bit pale.”
Pulling herself free from his grip, she expelled the last disorder in her mind, pushing down the urge to look back at Dunlin. “I’m fine,” was all she said.
Javelin didn’t look convinced, but he knew better than to pry, at least here and now. Instead he stepped to the side, revealing the the two red-haired twins that had been behind him.
“My friends keep insisting that I introduce them to you. This is Martin and Lark Griffin; they started the same year as me and you will be having your afternoon Spirit Control classes with them.”
Raven bowed stiffly in greeting, but before she had a chance to say anything, Martin smiled broadly at Raven and patted Javelin on his shoulder. “I’m glad to see an even more insane genius than our mister Hake here – we had started to worry it might get to his head, hadn’t we, Twin?”
Javelin rolled his eyes.
“Indeed we had, Twin,” Lark’s smile was a bit more controlled than Martin’s, but just as genuine, “and any new addition to the anti-snob movement is most welcome.”
Raven could guess what they were referring to but asked anyway, “Anti-snob movement?”
Martin snorted as Lark started explaining, “You noticed the group of late-arriving student, right? Well, they are a bunch of snobs that believe that just because they were born by nobility, the very world itself should kowtow before them; they have totally forgotten the point of having noble clans in the first place.”
“Unfortunately, most of the young nobles agree with them, and the older ones spoil them too much to care,” added Martin.
“Indeed,” Lark nodded. “You have to be extra careful, Night; whereas they usually refrain from bothering other nobles, any ‘commoner’ with talent risks to be mightily opposed by them.”
“Is that so?” Raven could have guessed this by their association with Dunlin alone.
“There are three head honchos that stick out particularly in this group that you ought to be extra wary of. First we have the young heir of the Rock Wren Prefecture, Auk Wren – you will have little to no contact with him as he is in his second-to-last year now. Auk is actually not so bad on his own, but he is way too malleable and eager to please,” Javelin warned.
“He wasn’t a problem before Jack started here two years ago,” sighed Martin.
“True,” replied Javelin, “which brings us to troublebringer number two – the Earth Empire exchange kid, Jack Tanuki. Like me, he is here for the exchange program between our three empires, but he is the eldest son of some important council member back home – something he is very proud of.”
“Unfortunately, he’s an Advanced student, so there will be no avoiding him. The same goes for Dunlin Talon, who started the same year as us and got accepted into the Advanced classes last year.”
‘Cousin Dunlin? An Advanced student!?’ This news stunned Raven; from what she knew of Dunlin’s talents, there was no way he would have been promoted.
A loud chorus of swooning interrupted the boys’ talking. Raven completely ignored it, but Javelin and the twins looked around to find a group of young girls surrounding a young man. From his cultivation level, Raven assumed he was an elder at the school.
Martin sighed. “If it isn’t Professor Love. . . .” His voice was very sarcastic. “One of these days I’d like to see him enter a room without every woman melting like butter at the sight of him!”
“If only his temperament was a bit more like his younger kinsman’s, then we’d have a legitimate reason to dislike him,” Lark teased, and both of the other boys laughed self-mockingly.
“Oh, come on, this is getting boring. Let’s get out of here,” suggested Martin, and Javelin seemed to draw a sigh a breath of relief. “Yes, please!”
Without further ado, the trio started moving towards the closest exit, efficiently shoving Raven with them as they went. Raven could have side-stepped them, of course, but she noticed how the trio of boys was carefully making sure that they blocked Raven’s view of the group Dunlin had arrived with.
‘It would seem like they are attempting to shield me from the snobs.’ Raven felt quite amused by the whole situation. ‘Well, I guess a confrontation at this point wouldn’t really lead to anything – I might as well go with the flow.’
Raven had already learnt a great deal about the situation in the palace and the current relations between the various noble clans present, plus her brother would hopefully give her more insights in a few days; it was a good enough starting point for now.