The moment the malicious whisper left the woman’s mouth and her spirit essence was activated the spiritualists in the arena dropped their jaws.
“She’s almost a high Adept too!” they gasped with as much shock as Fiscal was feeling as he stared at his suddenly murderous opponent.
Since their cultivation level wasn’t as important for healing spiritualists, few females stepped into the Champion realm before the age of fifty but the voice of the hooded woman carried no such age. That alone indicated that the woman was a pure martial spiritualist.
With Fiscal’s evil looking spear in one hand and her own black short sword in the other, the girl leaned forward, crouching slightly and Fiscal would have sworn that he could smell the metallic sent of blood filling the air.
“Try to keep up,” she hissed as she pounced like a cheetah at Fiscal, who was still startled by his opponents strength and ferocity.
However, Fiscal could be considered a Combat Abyss veteran, so he quickly gathered himself together and swung at the approaching blur with his already prepared Divine Skill. Unfortunately for him, his target had already shifted out of his fist’s path and before Fiscal had even registered that this had occurred, a brief stabbing pain ran through his throat. His eyes narrowed in confusion as all sensations of Fiscal’s lower body disappeared from him. In his final moments of muddled thinking he couldn’t understand why his nose seemed to have been exchanged for a spearhead.
The Combat Abyss might as well have been deserted; so silent were the thousands of people who sat there as they stared at the stage. Raven landed softly on her feet and nearly ten meters away, Fiscal’s headless body still stood upright, whilst his severed head had been pinned to the arena floor – by his own spear – a few feet further away.
With a flick of her wrist, the blood on her black blade was flung of in a thin line before the sword disappeared under her robes.
Indifferently, Raven curtsied toward the so called Abyss Goddess and turned to walk back onto the stands. It wasn’t until she stepped past the row of armored girls that Fiscal’s body collapsed to the ground and the arena exploded in shocked outbursts.
“One minute they are talking about something and the next Fiscal’s . . . Fiscal’s been killed!”
“But I thought Fiscal had the higher cultivation?”
Everything had progressed too quickly; those who were not spiritualists hadn’t stood a chance at seeing what happened and those who were spiritualists still couldn’t believe what they had seen. As a result, both the areas reserved for contestants as well as the exclusive stands were oddly quiet, but eventually the golden haired woman woke from her stupor.
“Wait,” she called, and gracefully stepped forward. “Newcomer, congratulations! You have won your first challenge.” Across the fighting stage, Raven stopped at the very bottom of the steps and turned around. “Since your opponent was the 39th ranked mercenary you may take his place as 39th in the mercenary ranking or instead take the 50th place in the assassin ranking. Which do you prefer?”
“I strike to kill,” answered Raven.
“Assassin it is then.” With a graceful movement the woman tossed a small token across the stage, which Raven caught with ease. “What shall we call you, newcomer?”
Raven considered it for a moment; “Singer.”
“Very well. Welcome, Singer. If you want to make any further challenges tonight, just let us know.”
Raven curtsied yet again and walked away. Behind her, the Goddess stared at Raven’s departing back for a moment longer before she asked a few attendants to clear the stage and announced the next battle. Since Bill’s opponent had perished, his still unconscious body was carried off the stage. Raven breathed a sigh of relief when she felt him being lowered down on a cot right beyond the gate located below the exclusive section.
As Raven made her way towards the assassin’s area she reflected over her “performance”. She had initially been taken by surprise when the unnaturally beautiful woman – referred to as simply the Abyss’s Goddess by the people here – had announced a change in the battle line-up. On Raven’s way to the Combat Abyss she had learnt the normal schedule and made her plans thereafter. The change made her original plans useless and Raven had felt a bit at a loss when Fiscal and Bill started their fight. How was she to save the man now? It wasn’t like she could publicly announce that she wanted to save Bill. . . .
Fortunately, Fiscal, just like most grown men Raven had come across as of late, had a blatant disregard for females. Noticing that even the so called Goddess – who surprisingly enough had a really strong cultivation – seemed to disapprove of Fiscal’s continued degrading comments, Raven finally couldn’t wait any longer and decided to go out on a limb, only hoping that it would work.
Stealthily removing her Limiters and pulling them into her spacial ring, Raven had issued her challenge and, as Raven had hoped, the Goddess had jumped at the opportunity to punish Fiscal a bit. Even though Raven had her doubts about whether the woman actually believed Raven had a chance of winning, disrupting Fiscal’s gloating had obviously been enough.
The actual battle had then turned out even better than Raven had desired; Fiscal had been her strongest opponent yet and her victory had not been a hundred percent assured but, in the end, it had been easily obtained regardless. Pleased with her achievement, Raven took a seat on the fifth bench in the assassin’s section. Many heads turned her way and she could hear a variety of whispers about her. One conversation caused her to smile secretly underneath her scarf.
“How many did you count?” asked an elderly man seated next to Limpkin on the first row of assassin contestants. His voice was flat with disbelief.
“Four,” answered Limpkin in an equally disbelieving tone. “Three level three and one level four.”
“I got four as well,” agreed the older man; “quite extraordinary.”
‘It wasn’t four, it was five, if I may,” smirked Raven. The men were, indeed, discussing Raven’s quite unique deploy of Divine Skills. The pair had quite astutely noticed that Raven used a variety of skills that were seamlessly merged into one – only they misjudged how many.
Usually, spiritualists would perhaps combine two Divine Skills – one for movement and one for attack – but over that last week, Raven had made successful imprints with 113 Divine Skills whose physical movements were almost identical with martial arts techniques she had learned in her previous life. With only some alterations in her fighting style, Raven could now infuse practically every thrust, step and stab with powerful spirit essence. As she had made her way through the perhaps a third of the first floor, Raven had noticed that she seemed to have the highest affinity for skills that focused on boosting speed and strength while sometimes utilizing thunder and wind.
Moments ago, she had used a wind-based movement skill to advance, a pure power-based skill to jump from below, followed by her Silent Pierce of the Sonic Sword to sever Fiscal’s neck, a second wind-based movement skill to turn around mid-air and finally a thunder-based attack to thrust the head-donned spear into the ground.
Raven watched the rest of the matches with varied enthusiasm; most of the battles were quite unimpressive, and even though the few Champion realm battles were undoubtedly very spectacular, the practitioners lacked the technical finesse required to spike Raven’s interest. Limpkin’s three matches did, however, catch her attention. In all his matches, be it the two bouts or the single slaying, Limpkin executed his skills with impressive clearness. The fighter spirit within her itched to challenge him, and had it not been for the fact that she couldn’t risk injuries tonight, she would have done so long ago.
‘Once I’ve heard what Bill has to say, I’ll return,’ she thought as her small hands clenched the metal seat she was sitting on, ‘I really want to test my new Divine Skills against that man!’
After nearly three and a half hours of fighting, this night’s Combat Abyss came to an end and the thousands of people in the crowds made their way out of the arena. Raven had hung back a bit to see what would happen with Bill, but clearly the Abyss felt no responsibility for its wounded combatants; the still unconscious Bill was simply hoisted away from the arena, carried out of the cave and dumped under a nearby tree.
Raven stood in the cave opening, hesitating to approach the man – as far as she could tell, at least four people were silently observing her at the moment, but Raven could also sense that something was growing increasingly wrong with Bill. If she let him lie there while she got rid of the watchful eyes, it might be too late by the time she returned.
With an overly dramatic sigh, Raven walked over to the unconscious man. “Oy,” she said and poked Bill’s ribs with the tip of her foot, “you still alive?”
No response, except for his raspy breathing.
She bent down and checked his breathing before she grunted and scratched her forehead. “Well, not much point in intervening once if I don’t intervene now.” Her voice was not much more than an whisper, intended for her ears only, but she had no doubt the people observing her could hear it too.
With yet another grunt, it was Raven’s turn to hoist Bill over her shoulders. As his body-weight settled, she walked off towards the center of the Business Tier. An hour later, Raven’s dark figure walked through the doors of the small house her mercenary uncles had hired on the outskirts of Sky City, ground level.
In a poorly lit room two shriveled up old men were discussing with each other, frowning deeply.
“So this Singer girl interrupted the fight? Do you think she wanted to save Bill?” asked one, with a voice so hoarse that his vocal cords must be even more shriveled up than their faces.
“No, I don’t think so, ” answered the other, “Fiscal kept badmouthing Bill, saying he was no better than a woman and so on. Apparently the woman snapped. She didn’t seem to care about Bill at all.”
“But she carried him away afterwards?”
“According to the report, she did it mostly on a whim. She didn’t seem to know who he was.”
A knock on his door interrupted their discussion. “Enter,” called the man with the ruined voice. The door opened and a scrawny youth draped in black stepped into the room. Actually, calling him a youth was a bit of a stretch – he was at least forty, but compared to the other two, he was indeed a youth.
“Greetings Councilor Talon,” the younger man bowed respectfully towards the man who had called out before bowing to the second one as well; “Clan Elder.”
“So, who is she?” asked the Clan Elder.
“Well . . .” the youngster hesitated, “we followed the woman for nearly half an hour but . . .”
“Oh, for crying out loud, spit it out boy! What happened?” commanded the hoarse Councilor.
“. . . we lost her, sirs,” said the youth and looked down embarrassingly.
The two old men stared at their junior with disbelief. Noticing this, the man hastily continued; “the . . . the girl suddenly started singing, and before we knew it she was nowhere to be found!”
“Are you telling me that two Champions lost a mid Adept because she started singing!?” roared the Clan Elder, “Get lost you, useless piece of shit!”
The man didn’t hesitate to do as he was told and within a heartbeat only the two shriveled old men remained in the room.
“Such an embarrassment. . . .” muttered the Clan Elder before turning to his companion, “what now?”
“What now?” repeated the Councilor, “there is nothing to be concerned about; Bill will die or grow insane by the poison and whoever this girl is, she is of no concern to us.”
“Of no concern? She has brought shame on the Talon name!”
The councilor laughed – although it sounded more like a cough. “She followed the rules of the Abyss. There is nothing we can do.” He then smiled viciously. “But she’s in the top fifty now, if she returns to the Combat Abyss, she too will have to follow the rules.”
A flash of realization crossed the Clan Elder’s face before he too started laughing smugly.
Back down, on the ground level of Sky City, Raven was observing the still practically unconscious Bill, who was sprawled out on the living room floor. On the way here, Raven had been force to stop on several occasions to administer some first aid healing with the Blessed Hand just to keep him breathing.
By now, his breathing was a bit steadier and he had even started to regain his senses. Suddenly, Bill moaned and his eyes fluttered. Slowly they opened, but the moment his gaze fell on Raven, who was leaning against a wall not too far away, Bill shouted in anger and struggled to throw himself towards her.
Easily stepping out of his way, Raven slapped him lightly on the only part of Bill’s face that was passably human. The sudden pain brought a brief moment of clarity to his eyes, but it quickly faded and that primal rage returned.
‘I was afraid of this…’, thought Raven dejectedly. Although she had not been certain about what poison Fiscal had used, she had her suspicions, and any of those whose effects lasted even after five hours were not good news.
Grappling Bill’s hands behind his back, Raven forced some of her spirit essence into his body. Bill tried to resist but in his state of mind, he could do little against her intrusion. As her spirit essence approached Bill’d soul prism, his body shivered and stilled; he almost started whimpering, like a small animal.
Despite her concentration, Raven couldn’t help but smirk slightly. The killing intent that had fused with her spirit essence had proven more useful than she had anticipated.
Returning her attention to the matter at hand, Raven carefully inspected Bill’s soul prism. Small, worm-like lines squiggled around just below the prism’s surface, slowly expanding. After letting more of her own spirit essence converge around the soul prism, Raven made an attempt to force her way in, but no matter how hard she pushed, Bill’s prism wouldn’t let her in.
‘Fenris made it seem so simple . . . ,’ sighed Raven. Her soul might be strong but without overwhelming cultivation or the person’s imminent death, Raven had no way of entering another’s soul prism. ‘But if I don’t get in, I won’t be able to fight the poison! In a few more hours the poison will have completely corrupted his soul from within . . . .’
Sighing, Raven was about to give up when an idea struck her. “It’s crazy . . . ,” she mumbled, “but if I do nothing, he will be lost nonetheless.” Turning Bill’s body around under her, so that he faced her, Raven used her free hand to force him to meet her gaze. As their eyes interlocked, a formless beam shot from Raven into Bill, causing his feral eyes to widen in absolute terror.
As the Ode of Woe forced it’s way into Bill’s mind, the cumulative pressure of Raven’s sea green soul surged over his spirit prism, coercing it to link with the over 350 blood-lust infested spirit connections Raven had with the world. At first, Bill’s spirit essence tried to protect him, but as the pressure grew, small cracks started to appear on the surface of the prism. Noticing the change, Raven quickly withdrew her attack and instead used the cracks to penetrate the crystal surface.
Once inside, Raven wrapped the black lines of poison in her own spirit essence and started pulling them out of the soul prism. The process was slow and every time she managed to get one bit of poison out some of her own spirit essence was drained. Slowly, sweat started gathering on her forehead. Four long hours later, Raven finally withdrew from Bill’s prism and slumped, exhausted, on the floor.
She glanced at the middle aged man who was resting, rather peacefully, on the living room floor- or, perhaps, not so peacefully after all, every now and then his body shuddered as his face contorted in fear.
Bill’s life was no longer in danger, but how much of his sanity would remain once he woke up . . . only time would tell.
Outside, the sun had already risen; two hours from now, the morning classes would start for the day.