For a moment Raven sat, frozen stiff, on the floor in front Javelin. Her mind was blank as she tried to decide what to do.
“Raven?” Hoatzin’s voice came to her once more, this time with even more urgency.
This distressed voice was like a bucket of cold water over Raven’s head; her entire body jolted and instantly she was on her feet, backing away from the still agitated Javelin.
“Javelin, I’m sorry,” she said while pulling on her robes, “I shouldn’t have pried. . . .”
Javelin looked up at Raven. “You didn’t, I just . . .” Raven held up a hand to stop him from saying anything more. “It’s okay, I understand. I’ll give you some space,” she said and left their room before Javelin had a chance to object. With the door safely closed behind her, Raven leaned her back against it for a moment as she pulled her hand over her tightly fastened hair and sighed.
‘What was I thinking?’ she chided herself. ‘Telling a ten-year-old a secret like mine just because he’s sad over losing his first crush? This is even worse than with Eric . . . ” She closed her eyes and involuntarily thought back on her second to last mission in her past life; it had not ended like Raven wanted it to.
She shook her head. ‘Get a grip, Raven!’ she commanded her self before she finally hurried off down the hall. Her red eyes, once again, emotionless and cold.
Inside the room Javelin stood with one hand resting on the door leading to the hallway, his head lowered as he stared at the floor in a daze. He wasn’t really sure what just happened; Raven had decided their conversation was over and then left all of a sudden. Javelin felt a sudden sense of déjà vu as he watched the lean boy’s swift departure from the room.
Frowning, he shrugged it off as his mind playing tricks on him; Javelin might have had a demanding upbringing but he’d never been left behind. Sighing heavily, he sank back down on his bed, looking out at the dimming sky outside the window.
‘Why do I feel so ashamed telling him about her?’ wondered Javelin. He had felt oddly obligated to explain to his roommate about his past love, the young lady Nightingale. He felt desperate to let Raven know that-. . . . He frowned.
‘Know what? That I’m still in love with a ghost? That I’m unavailable?’ Javelin snorted and grumbled, “he’s a boy, for crying out loud! Besides, even three years ago my fiancée was already . . .” Javelin’s eyes widened.
He shot off his bed and rushed out of the room. ‘How did he know?’ thought Javelin as he headed off along the path Raven most likely took, ‘I never said when she died! Could Night know something about what happened?’
This slim possibility made his heart beat with excitement. He had always thought that the death of the Nightingale main family was a bit odd. How could such a prestigious clan make such a novice mistake, and overestimate their abilities while handling a spirit beast? It made no sense! Apparently a Records Orb had been found in the rubble, but such orbs were the specialty of the Sea Empire and Javelin knew that they weren’t infallible; a skilled spiritualist might alter the stored information.
‘If Night knows something, I must learn what it is!’
Strangely enough, no matter how hard he ran, Javelin couldn’t seem to catch up with his roommate, who seemed nowhere to be found. Javelin ran all the way from the Southern Dorms to the grand academy garden in a flash but no sign of Raven. Just as he stepped outside the southern gate and stopped to consider where he should search next, two familiar voices called out to him in unison.
“There you are, Javelin!”
He turned to the left and saw the Griffin twins come jogging towards him. Martin was smiling broadly with a bit of peevishness in his eyes. Lark was smiling too, but the smile wasn’t quite as honest as his brother’s.
“Have you two seen Night?” Javelin asked the twins, but their reactions answered his question even before they had the chance to speak.
“We assumed he was with you,” said Lark, looking a bit worried. “Don’t tell me you’ve yelled at him again.”
“No, I haven’t!” answered Javelin, quite a bit firmer than he had intended, “and what do you mean by again!?”
Both twins raised their eyebrows – uncanningly in sync – as if saying “oh, really?”
Javelin suddenly remembered, and he scratched the back of his neck. “Right, the Spirit Hall Tower thing. . . .” Javelin thought back on that evening and his spirit fell a bit. “Lark, did you tell him about her?” he asked.
Lark needed no clarification to know what Javelin was referring to. He shook his head with genuine remorse. “I’m sorry I told him Javelin, but I had to explain why you reacted the way you did. I . . .”
Javelin interrupted him. “Did you say when it happened?”
“Sorry?” Lark looked confused; this was not the reaction he had been expecting from his friend.
“Did you tell Night when she died?” Javelin asked again, more insistent now. The intensity in his eyes caused Lark to back up defensively.
“No!” he replied in haste.
“You’re sure?” Javelin stepped in closer.
“No . . . maybe? I don’t know, Javelin. . . .” Lark backed away again, but this time Martin stepped in between them. “What’s going on, Hake?” he asked with a stern look, “you’re acting a bit weird, man.”
Javelin’s eyes met Martin’s and held them for a moment before yielding. “Sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean to get so riled up.” Javelin backed away and gazed out over the garden with distant eyes. ‘Where did he disappear to?’
Martin glanced over his shoulder at his brother, but neither of them seemed to have any idea of what was going on. They wanted to ask, but had learnt over the past years that when it came to matters concerning Raven Nightingale, it was best to leave it alone.
“You came looking for me?” Javelin eventually asked.
Jumping at the change of subject, Martin gingerly put his arm around Javelin’s neck. “Yep,” he said, “you and Night actually, but I guess we’ll have to make do with you.” The mischief was ripe in him once more.
‘Oh, boy,’ thought Javelin but said nothing.
“Remember the fight we told you about? The one with the mystery woman killing a Talon Clan member during her first fight at the Combat Abyss.” Javelin nodded and Martin continued. “We were thinking . . . ” Lark coughed. “Well, I was thinking that we might as well visit the Abyss tonight and see if we’re lucky enough to watch her fight.” Martin’s smile twisted into a smirk as he added, in a lower voice, “perhaps even give her a medal for her services to mankind.”
Despite everything, Javelin found himself laughing wholeheartedly. Once his laughter calmed down, he looked up at Martin, who was still hanging over Javelin’s shoulders, with warm eyes – Martin might seem easygoing and simple but he was quite astute. Clearly this was his attempt to lighten the mood, for both Javelin and Lark.
“A medal dosen’t sound good enough, if you ask me,” Javelin joked back. Suddenly he got a flash of insight; perhaps they weren’t the only ones considering a journey to the Business Tier.
“Sure, let’s go,” he said. “There are quite a few hours left before it starts. If we’re lucky we might find Night on the way; I think his uncles are mercenaries staying at the Business Tier.”
The first thing Raven noticed as she approached the small house owned by Hog and his companions was the faint noise of rhythmic banging coming from inside it. The sound wasn’t loud enough for anyone else to hear it, but Raven could. Once she got close enough, she could sense the somewhat dimmed and erratic presence of Bill. He was sitting in the hallway closet, swaying back and forth, slamming into the wall in front of him every time he leaned forward.
‘Guess he didn’t survive the night’s treatment unscathed . . .’ Raven couldn’t help but feel a bit dispirited and she paused a moment on the doorstep before entering the house. Immediately, she was greeted by the flapping white wings of her brother shooting towards her face.
“Sister, you’re here!” Hoatzin sounded very relieved.
“How is he?” asked Raven mentally, so as to not disturb the already unnerved Bill.
“Hard to say,” replied Hoatzin as he landed on her shoulder. “When he woke up he seemed to be fine at first, apart from being confused about where he was. Then, all of a sudden, he started to shake and scream. It sounded like he was speaking but I couldn’t understand what he was saying, like he was speaking another language. Eventually, he tried to run for the door but when he looked out the window he turned white as a ghost and, well, he’s been like this ever since,” Hoatzin extended a white wing towards the closet door.
Raven glanced out the window but saw nothing out of the ordinary. ‘Did he see someone, or something?’ Raven wondered as she walked closer to the closet. She gently tried the handle, but it had been locked from the inside.
“Bill?” she asked in the softest voice she could muster. For a moment the banging stopped, but it soon started again, now with even more fervor. Raven tilted her head to the side, frowning. ‘Is he saying something?’
Straining her ears to the max Raven started to faintly hear the practically silent words that were pouring out with each of his breaths. Considering her hearing, she doubted Bill would even be able to hear it himself – if he’d been aware of what was going on, that is.
“Snälla,” he breathed, “sluta . . . jag klarar . . . inte mer!”
Raven’s eyes widened in shock; she recognized those words, but they were not of this world – they were words that belonged in her old world! There they had been spoken by the last remaining survivors of a small northern country which had been nearly wiped off the map during a great world war, fought ages before Raven was even born. Her blonde bed-mate, and only friend – who Raven had been forced to kill before the age five – had been from that part of the world.
‘How can he speak it?’ she was baffled, but as Raven tried to understand what was going on she heard more words from within closet.
“Näktergalen . . . de kallar mig Näktergalen. . . .”
In that instant she realized what had happened. With a sudden surge of spirit-essence-powered force, Raven yanked open the closest door, pulling it off its hinges. Bill yelped as he looked up at her with utter terror. Raven did everything she could to push her killing-intent-merged spirit essence out of her own eyes as she clasped her hands around Bill’s head and forced him to face her. Instinctively, he closed his eyes.
“Look at me,” she urged with a firm voice. “Look at me, Bill,” she repeated, but Bill’s eyes were still clamped shut. “Titta på mig!” she demanded.
Finally, her commands had effect; Bill’s eyes popped opened and met Raven’s with an unfocused gaze.
“There you go, Bill,” cooed Raven. “Keep your eyes on me, okay? Can you do that?” Bill slowly nodded. “Good, boy. Now, repeat after me: my name is Bill and I’m from Sky Empire.”
“My name is Bill. I’m from Sky Empire.” Bill said the words but with very little conviction in their meaning.
“Again, Bill,” Raven urged.
“My name is Bill. I’m from Sky Empire.”
Bill was told to repeat this one sentence like a mantra, over and over again, until slowly, life returned to his eyes and he spoke the words with growing confidence.
Once he had become a bit more stable, Raven led the now nearly lucid Bill into the house’s kitchen and served him a cup of warm broth to calm him further. It took over two hours, but eventually Bill looked up at Raven – he was still clearly shaken but he also seemed to be relatively sane.
“Miss Nightingale. . . .” there was a mix of pity and fear in his voice. “I . . . you . . . how can you live with that. . . .”
Raven shook her head.
“Can you give us a minute, brother?” she asked and although Hoatzin gave her a long, piercing look, her brother eventually did as he was asked and flew out of the house. Sensing that he was out of earshot, Raven leaned back in her chair with a concerned, almost motherly, expression on her face.
“How much did you get?” she asked.
Bill was quiet for a while. “I don’t know. . . . There is so much I don’t understand.” He grew quiet again but Raven just waited for him to continue. “I saw the cave where you mourned your families death and I . . . think I saw your birth? But most flashes seemed to be earlier. . . .” He shuddered. “There was so much . . . pain. To have experienced that . . .”
‘So it was true then,’ thought Raven. She had read that sometimes, when spiritualist made temporary connections with each other to transfer Divine Skill imprints, some memories might be transferred as well.
As a person grew older and experienced more aspects of life, their soul would grow stronger. But what made it stronger? It was exactly those memories, those really life changing experiences that stayed with you for the rest of your life.
When Raven had forced her spirit essence into Bill’s soul to deal with the poison, some of her memories had been transferred as well. Just like with imprints, the information in her soul was copied unto Bill’s. These memories wouldn’t become truly his, but he could recall them much like someone would recall a dream.
“I’m sorry you had to see it,” she said. Getting only the strongest of her memories, from a life filled with mostly pain, death and torture, would not be easy to deal with – even if he barely got a fraction of them. Raven had been trained for it for almost as long as she could remember, Bill had not.
“. . . you saved me, this is a small price to pay,” he answered, but Raven wasn’t as convinced. She had dealt with people given sudden traumas before; he might be alright at the moment, but no one could know for sure how long it would last. Most likely he would never sleep another nightmare-free night again.
‘Only time will tell. . . .’
Deciding to change the subject, Raven instead asked Bill to talk a bit about himself before eventually moving on to the subject of the Talon Clan and their take-over. It turned out that Bill and his family had worked for and been members of the Nightingale Clan for generations. They never held very high positions in the clan but were respected for their diligent work.
When Raven’s family had been killed and Lady Anhinga showed up with the recording of their Lord’s dying wishes, no one had reacted at first. However, time passed and the Talons made ever increasing changes to the prefecture, changes that many of the old Nightingales knew Lord Maleo wouldn’t have approved of – like demanding higher taxes even of people with little to no income.
Some started voicing their objections but it didn’t take long before accidents started happening. It could be anything from rare diseases to faulty stairs and midnight robberies. Bill was ashamed to say that he had chosen to lay low, keeping his opinions to himself. It wasn’t until he happened to overhear a conversation about milking out more money from the prefecture residents for the benefit of some foreigner, that Bill figured he’d had enough.
Of course, he was not so tired of living as to shout this from the mountain tops. Instead he started undermining the Talons’ actions from within, but apparently he hadn’t been discreet enough. Fiscal, also a former Nightingale but who had shifted his loyalties quite quickly after the regime change, had been sent to provoke Bill into challenging him at a slaying in the Abyss, leading to where they were now.
Raven asked many questions as Bill talked, and learned a great deal about the current situation in the Talon household – especially when it came to the number of spiritualists the Talon’s had at their disposal. However, no answer was available for the largest mystery: Who was this foreigner?