Javelin stood frozen in place as he stared at the fighting stage – not one cell in his body moved. The only thing he could think of was that she was still alive; Raven Nightingale lives!
All of a sudden, Javelin felt a stern tug at his arm and the world reeled around him. Before he knew it, his gaze had been forcefully torn away from the center of the arena and he was instead facing an oddly worried Martin.
“Javelin!” shouted the red-head, “what’s wrong with you!?”
Faced by his concerned friend, Javelin instead felt annoyed. He tried to turn back towards the fighting stage, back towards her, but Martin wouldn’t let him.
“What are you doing? Let go of me! Can’t you see her?” Javelin used one of his arms to forcefully push Martin away, while the other extended towards the stage. “See!? It’s her! It’s . . .”
Javelin’s words came to an abrupt end; since he was once again free from restraints, Javelin had turned to face the stage, but to his dismay, the fairy-like apparition of Raven Nightingale was gone. In her place was a short-grown woman, so well-covered by her black robes and other strips of fabric that Javelin couldn’t be a hundred percent sure that she was a woman at all. Standing across from her was a very nondescript man – if one could excel in being average, this man did.
“But, I . . .” Javelin didn’t know what to say, and while the twins were looking at him with growing concern, the crowd around them started whispering excitedly.
“That’s her, that’s Singer!”
“I hoped she’d show up tonight, this’ll be interesting.”
“Interesting? I saw her yesterday – this will be more than just interesting.”
Hearing the crowd’s comments, and taking note of Javelin’s dazed state, Martin and Lark glanced at each other, seemingly coming to a silent agreement. With synchronized ease, the two twins slipped up on either side of Javelin and practically hoisted him off his feet. Together they half carried, half dragged, Javelin the short distance back to their seats. As far as the twins were concerned, anyone who caught Javelin’s attention to this degree should not be ignored. Especially not since this person was actually alive.
Javelin himself barely noticed being moved back to his seat, all his attention was on the fighting stage. The average looking man and the black robed woman stood facing each other. None of them moved or spoke, but for every second that passed the man seemed increasingly less willing to remain on the stage.
“Singer, assassin rank 50, has challenged Chen of the Anser Clan, assassin rank 45, to a bout. The winner shall retain the highest ranking and five pieces of gold.” It was the Abyss Goddess that spoke. She too was seated in the exclusive section, just as Javelin and his friends, but the golden haired woman sat at the very front. When the Sky Academy had visited the Combat Abyss for the first time, Javelin had thought that woman to be pretty beyond belief. Now, however, she seemed rather dull and boring.
The gong marking the start of the fight rang out in the arena, but none of the competitors moved. Seconds ticked by where nothing happened but, just like before, Chen grew evermore reluctant to be there. A faint murmur spread through the audience; no one understood why both parties just stood there. Finally, the woman started walking forward, causing the audience to immediately quiet down in anticipation – you would have been able to hear a pin falling to the ground.
The woman’s movements were slow but fluid to the point of being feline – she advanced like a lioness stalking her prey – and with every step she took, the man’s face turned a shade paler. Even through the confusion, Javelin felt impressed by this woman; she was facing a blood hardened assassin, who was perhaps two heads taller than her and had stared death in the eye countless of times, and yet her mere presence was enough for the man to have doubts about fighting her.
Eventually, when the woman was only three steps away from the man, her body shifted slightly as spirit essence condensed at her feet and she disappeared.
“I yield!” yelped the man in the same instant and, with a clang, his sword dropped to the ground. Then, silence.
The majority of the crowd hadn’t realized what had happened yet, but at the average looking man’s average looking neck was a black blade and diagonally behind him stood the woman, as still as a statue, with her robes still moving in the wind caused by her previous movement.
It wasn’t until the voice of the Abyss Goddess eventually broke the silence, that the black clothed woman withdrew her sword and backed away from the her bested opponent, assassin Chen.
“The winner, and now ranked 45th among assassins, is Singer!”
A lone drop of blood trickled down from the point where Singer’s sword had been. When Chen noticed the blood on the hand he’d used to check his neck with, his knees turned soft under him and he nearly fell to the floor.
Even after the Goddess had declared the winner, it took a while for the crowd to react to what had happened, but gradually the arena was filled with chatter.
“Did you see anything!? Singer moved so fast all of a sudden. . . I couldn’t even see how she ended up behind Chen!”
“I bet only the stronger spiritualists had a chance to keep track of her. . . .”
“But Chen’s pretty amazing too – to realize he would lose and forfeit so quickly. . . A millisecond later and Singer would have killed him!”
Hearing the comments around them, Lark clicked his tongue. “Oh, please! Chen yielded the moment this ‘Singer’ started walking towards him – it was pure luck that he said it out loud in time. . . .”
Martin nodded firmly in agreement but Javelin said nothing. He was too busy staring at Singer. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he had seen this woman somewhere, even though his first impression was clearly off the mark.
‘Why did I see her earlier? It can’t be her . . . right? Even if she somehow survived, she couldn’t possibly be a mid Adept – she would only be six!’ For a brief moment, Javelin’s thoughts flashed to his cold and reserved roommate – the six-year-old wonder child – but the connection made no sense to him, so he quickly pushed it aside.
On the stage, Singer had already started moving back towards the assassin’s section. Out of nowhere a stout man seated in the mercenary section abruptly stood up and shouted out over the arena; “I, Jasper of the Stormhawk Clan, challenge Singer to a bout!”
Martin and Lark snorted. “Figures,” they grunted and when Javelin looked at them quizzically, Martin leaned in closer to explain. “The Stormhawk Clan are kind of like the Talon’s private servants. I bet they’ve been ordered to deal out some payback for yesterday, without making it seem like the Talons hold a grudge.” As he whispered this, Martin nodded towards a group of people sitting in the far right section of the exclusive stands. “That would explain why there are so many high ranked Talons here tonight.”
“It’s most likely so,” agreed Lark. “Do you think she’ll agree to the challenge? Jasper is a peak high Adept, if I remember correctly. . . .”
Martin looked doubtful and was about to disagree when Javelin, whose attention was back at the fighting stage, cut in before him. “She will,” he said.
“What makes you so sure,” asked Martin and followed Javelin’s gaze towards Singer. “It seems more like she’s ignoring him.”
Martin had a point. Singer had simply kept walking towards the assassin’s section as if nothing had happened.
“She will,” Javelin insisted again. His eyes narrowed slightly as he realized that Singer seemed to be talking to one of the other assassins, who was seated on the first row.
The man was young, 25 at most, had blueish grey hair and, like most other assassins, he wore pliable clothes rather than armor. The beginning of a growl gathered at the back of Javelin’s throat when a smile – that was clearly up to no good – passed over the young assassin’s face and his bleak blue hair swayed as he nodded in agreement to something.
“Hey, Singer!” The shout was so loud Javelin almost jumped to his feet; he had nearly forgotten about Jasper and his challenge. “You afraid, are ya?” the stout man mocked from across the stage.
Singer’s body stiffened and the man she’d been laughing with earlier got a bemused look on his face. Slowly, the woman turned around and, even though her face was hidden, no one doubted that this ‘Singer’ was glaring viciously at Jasper.
“Didn’t your father teach you to not interrupt someone when they’re talking?” Singer’s voice was cold and domineering – like an ice queen addressing her subjects. “It’s very rude.”
Jasper laughed an unkind laugh, and was about to reply when Singer lifted up a gloved hand to silence him. Oddly enough, Jasper choked on his words, straining to remain silent. It only took a moment for him to realize what he had done, but by then it was too late, Singer had spoken first.
“Sure,” she said, “I’ll fight you.”
Jasper smiled triumphantly and was about to say something when the woman cut him off yet again; “only. . .” she added, as if it was a minor side note, “be careful to resign, before it’s too late.”
The disregarding tone in Singer’s voice was obvious, and as soon as Jasper registered her words he turned red with rage. He stormed to the center of the fighting stage, waiting impatiently for Singer, who flowed there with slow, predatory grace. The Abyss Goddess announced the fighters and in the very instant the bell rang out to start the fight, violent sparks erupted from Jasper’s back, propelling him forward. A huge ax materialized in his hands, no doubt from within a spacal ring, and as he swung the ax up high, it too was covered in electrical sparks.
“So much brute force,” breathed Martin in awe. He was a user of heavy weapons himself and truly appreciated this type of pure strength displays.
“Ha, what’s the point of strength if it doesn’t hit the target?” snorted Lark on the other side of Javelin, just as Singer’s body flickered and disappeared from her original position only to reappear in the air behind Jasper.
Contrary to Martin, Lark specialized in the usage of daggers and other short swords for fighting. It could actually be quite eerie to watch these two identical people dueling each other with such fundamentally different styles. However, although the two twins still looked pretty much identical, their opposing fighting styles had started to show signs of taking their physiques down different paths.
Immediately a bickering war broke out between the two twins and, stuck in the middle of it, Javelin sighed deeply as he tried to focus on the fight in front of him. On the fighting stage, Singer had utilized her advantage-point and used her black short sword to stab down at Jaspers back. Clasping the sword with both hands, the black blade had turned momentarily golden and a thunderous *clap* rang out in the arena as she descended.
“You want to challenge me, a Stormhawk, to a contest of using lightning? Think again!” roared Jasper as he turned around on the spot and held up his battle ax as a shield. The moment Singer’s blade came within a centimeter of the ax, the latter lit up and a yellow membrane shot out, forming a crackling shield between Jasper and his assailant. The two forces collided and Singer’s body ricocheted backwards through the air.
The crowd drew in a deep breath as they thought that she would slam helplessly into the ground, but Singer found her balance mid-air, landing effortlessly on both feet.
Jasper laughed, “haha! You might be impressive, for a woman, but there ain’t no way you can match up to a peak Adept!”
“He has a point,” muttered someone seated behind Javelin. “Surpassing levels is not easy.”
Javelin suppressed the sudden urge to turn around and clomp the speaker in the face; had it not been for the fact that Singer was once again on the move, he might have done it anyway.
The fight continued for what seemed like hours; Singer calmly avoided swing after swing that Jasper took at her, but Jasper’s protective membrane blocked Singer’s advances just as easily. At first the crowd figured Singer to have a snowball’s chance in hell to win this bout, after all, it would only take one slip up from her to be smashed to pieces by Jasper’s war ax. However, as time went on, Jasper’s breathing grew labored, his movements sluggish.
“What’s going on?” wondered the annoying man behind Javelin.
“It’s obvious, Jasper’s running low on spirit essence,” answered someone next to him.
“But shouldn’t Singer run out first? She is a lower level spiritualist, and should have less essence than Jasper.”
Javelin had to agree with the annoying man. It was odd that while Jasper was growing noticeably exhausted, Singer didn’t even seem winded in the slightest.
Out of nowhere, Singer suddenly jumped back a few steps, efficiently disengaging from Jasper. The latter took a deep, well needed, breath as he observed the black figure standing no more than five meters away from him.
“Tired?” asked Singer with a steady voice, “wanna give up?”
“No,” wheezed Jasper. He might be growing tired, but he still had no problems keeping up with Singer. Most likely Jasper couldn’t accept the fact that someone with a lower cultivation than him could outlast him, Singer must just be hiding it well.
“It’s a pity,” said Singer with a light sigh, “you forgot my advice.”
“Huh?” replied Jasper confused but as the word left his mouth, a sudden gust of wind flew through the arena and Singer dashed forward with twice the speed she’d utilized before. Jasper’s eyes opened wide with fear-filled shock and his mouth was about to follow suit, when a ear-deafening sound wave slammed into everyone in the arena. There was no audible sound, but the extreme shift in air pressure caused everyone to look away and clutch their ears in pain.
When the pressure subsided, people’s gazes returned to the stage where Singer stood with her sword sunk deep into Jasper’s chest, only, now there was a gaping hole around the blade where his heart used to be. It was large enough to fit a clenched fist through.
Like a sack of potatoes, Jasper’s lifeless body slumped to the ground, dyeing it red with his blood. Yet again the crowd was unnaturally quiet with wonder. However, it lasted shorter this time and once the crowd started cheering there was no stopping them.
“Was that the Whispered Blast, the fifth level of the Sonic Swords?” asked Martin in a daze.
“Yep,” answered Lark with equal wonder. It was quite rare to see cultivators who bothered to train in the Sonic Swords at all. The skill worked much like the identification stones at Sky Academy; it would naturally unlock higher levels of the skill once the lower ones were mastered to a certain degree. The only difference was that the designer of the Sonic Swords had been a lot more strict with what counted as ‘mastered’. Thus, it simply took too long to gain enough insights of the higher levels for it to be worth the effort.
“Are there anymore challengers?” asked Singer in a cold but strong voice, “I will fight any Adept here.” Immediately the cheering stopped.
The silence held for a while, and Javelin started wondering if her sudden victory made the others fear her too much. However, eventually a few hands rose to the air as roughly seven people indicated that they wanted to fight.
“Half of them are additional Talon Clan cohorts,” whispered Martin to Javelin.
‘So they won’t give up so easily,’ though Javelin as he looked over the various challengers, frowning. ‘Will she be okay? She just finished a really long fight. . . .’
However, it turned out that Javelin’s concerns were unfounded. Singer calmly fought against one opponent after another, sometimes ending it quickly, other times drawing it out to virtual marathons. Nearly an hour later Singer had fought six bouts and had yet to lose a single one, or even receive a injury for that matter. Through some odd coincidence, every person affiliated with the Talon’s had ended up dead – they hadn’t yielded in time.
As Javelin observed Singer’s fighting, that feeling of familiarity had only grown stronger, to the point where he was now one hundred percent sure that he had met this woman before – he just couldn’t figure out where or when.
After the sixth victory, Singer once more returned to the center of the stage to await her next opponent. The seventh person, a dark skinned man in his late thirties, stood at the brink of the stands but seemed reluctant to take the final step onto the fighting stage. He looked up towards the Talon’s seated in the exclusive section hopefully, but whatever he was hoping for didn’t come. Instead, his face dropped. Just as he was about to step out, the Abyss Goddess got to her feet.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m afraid we’ve run out of time. This will have to continue tomorrow.”
The entire audience let out a disappointed sigh but no one dared complain. Slowly, the thousands of people present started to move out into the aisle, queuing up to exit the arena. Javelin and his two friends got up as well, but while the twins started moving for the exit, Javelin kept looking at Singer, who had walked over to the same scoundrel assassin whom she had been talking to before.
He wasn’t quite sure what he was waiting for, but he was waiting for something.