“Welcome back, big brother,” Raven pulled in her hand but left the window open, “how has your week been?”
Hoatzin’s bird form seemed to sneer up at Raven. “Tedious,” he answered in her mind, “I have a new found respect for spies.”
“You have been gone longer than I expected – did you learn anything about Empress Nene’s situation?”
“Well . . . yes and no. . . . I’m a bit confused.”
“The charges against the Empress is that she was attempting to sell the secret of rearing Everest Hawks and other spirit beast birds to a Council Elder of Sea Empire.”
Raven stared at her brother. “Those are grave accusations. . . . ” she said with a heavy voice.
The secret techniques of raising aerial spirit beast that could be controlled by any spiritualist was highly guarded and even though full grown beasts could be sold to the other empires selling the technique for training them was high treason. As the saying goes: give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Sky Empire had no intentions of feeding the other nations for a lifetime.
“It is, and the proof against her is nearly perfect. There are dozens of letters sealed with the Empress’ spirit essence and prepared scrolls with detailed descriptions on how to raise the beasts. There are even very reliable eyewitnesses that claim to have seen the Empress meet up with a foreign man in a tavern on the Business Tier!”
Raven frowned. The eyewitness and prepared scrolls could have been planted but sealing letters with someone else’s spirit essence? She didn’t think it was even possible.
“. . . You said it was just nearly perfect?”
“That’s the part that has gotten me confused,” confirmed Hoatzin and unfolded one of his wings to rub the underside of his beak in a very human-like gesture. “The thing is, despite the spy master’s assurance that the information they have gathered is valid, the Emperor himself doesn’t believe the Empress is guilty.”
“The man could be blinded by love,” Raven conceded, although she didn’t want to admit what that meant for the Empress innocence.
“I don’t Think so. I heard them arguing about a recent visit they made to the rulers of both Earth and Sea Empire. Apparently, it had been done in utmost secrecy so no one except the rulers themselves should have known about it. For good reasons too, since one of the things they had discussed were if they should more openly share their empires’ secrets. The aerial spirit beast techniques had been offered, but the other emperors actually declined the offer.”
Raven sat silently for a moment. “This is the Emperor’s reason for believing the Empress is innocent?”
“Of course it is; it makes no sense for the Empress to be selling a secret to someone who had already declined it. “
Raven grew silent once more. She could think of many reasons for such a sale to be made even after the other rulers disinterest. For one, there is no guarantee that just because an emperor said no, every one in his empire would agree. At the same time, simply saying no to something doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t actually want it.
“Did you find out what the Empress was trying to get in return for the techniques?” she finally asked.
“They didn’t bring it up,” Hoatzin’s little head shook left and right, “and it wasn’t like a could read any of the documents from outside the window. . .”
‘Interesting,’ thought Raven, ‘they talk about all of it in great detail but don’t mention what would have been in it for the Empress? Is it because they don’t know, or because what she stood to gain is something she actually wants?’
“So what now, Sister?” asked Hoatzin. “The Emperor wanted to drop the charges but the Empress said it was unwise until they knew who had tried to frame her and why.”
“That is not such a bad approach. If the Emperor released his wife too easily, it might lead to discontent in his court. Which might be what the suposed treason is all about.” Raven paused and looked towards the door. “Do you think you can get hold of the spy master’s report, big brother? I would like to read it.” Raven now spoke directly to Hoatzin’s mind.
“I can try,” he replied as he looked at her with perplexed eyes, “why the switch?”
“We are about to get company.”
Raven walked over to her bed and sat down cross-legged, with Hoatzin on one of her knees. Just as she took a deep breath and closed her eyes, the dorm room door opened and Javelin walked in. He had clearly just come from the dorm showers since his golden hair was damp and slightly dripping. A fluffy towel was wrapped around his waist, doing nothing to conceal the tanned and well developed muscles of his upper body. Javelin might only have lived for ten years, but by the standards of Raven’s old world, no one would have believed him to be under fifteen.
Javelin paused when he saw Raven sitting on her bed, seemingly meditating. The past week had done nothing to change the fact that his heart skipped a beat whenever he saw the red eyed youth. This reaction continued to annoy him and had Raven not been his roommate then Javelin would perhaps have tried to avoid her completely, but as it was he had instead figured that over-exposure might do the trick just as well.
Javelin’s eyes finally fell on the small white creature sitting on Raven’s knee.
“Oh, you’re back . . . Tzin, was it?” Javelin walked over to his closet to retrieve a clean set of robes. “Have you been exploring Sky City perhaps?”
Just as Javelin was about to start changing into his clean robes when he heard a shrill screech behind him and looked over his shoulder just in time to see a white streak zoom towards him with astonishing speed. By reflex, Javelin activated his spirit essence and formed a light golden shield between him and the approaching projectile.
Raven suddenly opened her eyes and shouted, “Stop!” In the next instant she appeared next to Javelin and slammed into his side, causing him – and his shield with him – to stumble a few steps to the side. Milliseconds later, the birds white body passed through the space Javelin had been occupying with a whistle.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing!” she spat.
“Sorry,” grumbled Javelin as he let his shield disperse, “I did it on reflex.”
“Not you,” retorted Raven angrily and jabbed her finger towards the hovering bird. “You! He’s a mid Spirit Adept, you bird brain; did you really think you would be able to hurt him?”
“But he was about to…” Hoatzin started to defend himself but Raven cut him off.
“I am well aware of what he was about to do but if you had slammed into his Divine Oyster Shield at that speed you could have died!”
In a fright, Hoaztin flew over and hid behind Javelin’s back. “I’m sorry! I too only acted on reflex!”
“Reflex my ass!” Raven walked towards Javelin with firm steps while the latter looked at the approaching youth with an odd look in his eyes. The one sided conversation he heard between Raven and the bird was highly confusing for him. Even ignoring the fact that Raven seemed to be having a conversation with a bird, Javelin had never seen this much emotion coming from Raven before – this alone seemed strange to him and suddenly he felt a bit pained.
‘Night seems very fond of this bird. . . . Why a bird?’ Javelin frowned at his thoughts. Why did he care at all?
When Raven was about to extend her hand behind Javelin’s back to grab the now squeaking bird, Javelin decided to intervene. He caught Raven’s wrist and looked down into those blood red eyes that always seemed so cold. A brief moment of surprise flashed across them before they glared at him disapprovingly.
“No need to get so angry with the little bird, Night” said Javelin, sounding more genuine than he felt, “I’m sure he meant no harm.”
The red eyes glared at him for a moment longer before the anger subsided from them. “I guess if you forgive him then so should I.”
The bird landed on Javelin’s shoulder and silence filled the room. Javelin’s mind was oddly blank as he continued to look into Raven’s eyes.
“You can let go off me now, Javelin.” Raven’s voice snapped him back to reality and he quickly took a step back, using the hand that had been holding Raven to scratch his neck.
“I’ll be visiting my Uncles tonight,” said Raven and moved towards the door, “see you tomorrow.” With a whistle, Raven left the room closely followed by the white bird.
Left in their room Javelin looked down at his hands before he sighed in frustration. ‘What is going on with me?’ he wondered. ‘I get agitated when the boy is around but frustrated when he leaves.’ Javelin sank down on his bed. Absentmindedly he pulled out a drawer from his bedside table and withdrew a gold and blue bracelet from within. He fiddled with it as he stared at the opposite bed lost in thoughts.
Suddenly his eyes flickered and he stood up. Activating his spirit essence he dashed from his bed to Raven’s. Frowning he turned and dashed back, now utilizing one of his more profound movement skills that caused small flecks of lightning to shoot out from the soles of his feet as he moved. The return to his bed was almost instantaneous but the frown only deepened.
“How in the seas did Night manage to reach me fast enough? He only started moving once I activated the Oyster Shield but still arrived before the bird. Even with a my speed when using a Divine Skill, the reaction time alone should have made it impossible for him to get to me in time. . . . And I only barely felt any spirit essence being used!”
Javelin stared at the door Raven had left through in shock. Slowly his mouth widened into a big smile before he started laughing.
“Haha, I guess there are more amazing things Night has yet to show us!”
Half an hour later, Raven’s dark clad figure arrived moved through the lamp-lit streets of the Business Tier. On the way here, Raven had changed into more inconspicuous clothes while Hoatzin had continued going through the details he had uncovered.
“Weren’t we going to see the mercenaries?” he asked, still perched on Raven’s shoulder.
“Of course not! It’s only been a week . . . ,” Raven replied mentally. “Besides, I received a letter saying that they were being sent on a mission so they are not in the city at the moment.”
“Then where are we headed?”
“I’m headed to the tavern where that bar keep saw the Empress meet with a foreigner.”
“You’re visiting the Black Eagle? That’s hardly a place for a young girl!” retorted Hoatzin.
Raven only snorted. “While I go investigate the witness, I’d like for you to visit our old clan mansion on the Mansion Tier; I’ve heard that the Talon clan have claimed it for themselves. Don’t go inside, just observe who comes and goes. It’s high time we start learning more about our own enemies.”
Hoatzin’s eyes immediately turned solemn and he nodded before swiftly flying off into the dusk sky.
It didn’t take long for Raven to reach the tavern in question. The Black Eagle was located on one of the few unlit streets of the Business Tier but despite its solitary location, the business must be booming – if the golden painted rims around the windows were any indication. Standing in a dark corner of the street, Raven observed the building for a while before pulling up a scarf to cover the lower half of her face and entering the tavern.
Once inside the smell of fermented beverages assaulted her nose. However, apart from the smell, the interior was surprisingly well organized with multiple small booths and all guests kept their voices low, efficiently drowning in the loud music a group of not-so-skilled youths were providing.
‘This is quite a good place for secret meetings,’ thought Raven as she looked around. Letting some of her masculinity slip, Raven sauntered over to the bar with ill executed discretion. Anyone who saw her would assume that she, yes she, was perhaps a spy in training; trained enough to partially hide her sex but too young to know how not to draw attention to oneself.
Behind the counter stood a weasel of a man that reminded Raven so much of the rat-man they’d met in Kinglet Grove that she almost figured them relatives. The man glanced at Raven though dirty spectacles, taking in all of her mannerism, before leaning over the counter to whisper, “wa du ye wan, miss?” in Raven’s ear.
Raven jumped back in surprise and the little skin she showed, under her hood and scarf turned slightly red. “I’m that obvious, huh?” she muttered to herself, but the weasel naturally overheard her. He laughed. “Don’t worry, you will get the hang of it,” he said with much more warmth than Raven had expected from him, and his broad accent was gone.
“Your accent . . .” she started but was interrupted by the man.
“What can I help you with?” he asked again, ignoring her question.
Checking that her scarf and hood were still in place – much to the bar keeper’s amusement – Raven moved closer in once again.
“My Mast… I mean, my employer, wishes to arrange a meeting with some foreign friends, to discuss some private matters, only these friends might not be so friendly. . . .” She looked around nervously.
“So he wants to meet somewhere public, but not too public, am I right?” finished the bar keeper and Raven sighed in relief.
“Would they stand out here?” she asked. “The foreigners I mean. . . .”
“Well, we don’t get a lot of them around here normally, but recently there’s . . . ,” the man stopped himself mid sentence, as if he’d remembered something. “It will be fine,” he reassured instead.
“And if – just if, mind you – if my employer is a woman . . . ”
“Ah. . . . That might be harder. We haven’t had a woman in here for years,” he smiled and looked down on Raven, “well, not a full grown one at least.”
“Really? I thought I heard of one being here not too long ago . . .” she was muttering ‘to herself’ again. “How unfortunate,” said Raven louder to the man, as she looked a bit forlorn and turned around to walk away. Although see seemed to have stopped paying attention to him, Raven did not miss the sudden change in the man’s appearance as it shifted first to surprise and then to fear.
“Wait,” he called out, causing not only Raven’s head to turn towards him.
“Yes?” answered Raven with eyes twinkling of newfound hope.
“Ah, never mind,” said the weasel-like man nervously, “good luck.”
Underneath the scarf, Raven’s mouth twitched into a smile. ‘When caught off guard, he partially remembers not to talk about the foreigners, but forgets about the only woman who has entered his tavern in years? Most likely, there is some truth to his statement about a lot of meetings with foreigners but the Empress is most likely not involved.’
Raven bowed slightly to the barkeeper witness and once more turned to leave. However, just as she put her hand on the doorknob, her entire body froze. In one of the corners of the tavern two men where having a slightly heated discussion about gambling; betting on fights to be precise. Earlier Raven had ignored them but their latest bet caught her attention.
“I’m telling you, the fight is going to be rigged. No way that Nightingale purist bastard is going to be allowed to win. Especially not against a Talon” said the first.
“Rigged? Bullshit! Fiscal wouldn’t need to have the match rigged for him to win!” refuted the second.
“Well then we agree, yet another obstinate Nightingale will die tonight!”