Inside the triangular Spirit Hall room where Raven had left him, sat Hoatzin, as still as a statue, on the black marble floor. He waited patiently for the stroke of midnight, feeling oddly calm, all things considered.
Ever since his sister had taken on the persona of Singer, he had felt as if an invisible wall had been raised between the two of them. Although he knew it was a necessary evil, Hoatzin couldn’t help but be a bit taken aback by how easily Raven adapted to the role of a heartless killer. At times, she almost seemed to take pleasure in it.
Eventually, Hoatzin had concluded that his sister must indeed remember a lot more of her past life than she would admit to, and if Bill’s nightmares were anything to go by, those memories weren’t pleasant ones.
Feeling concerned, Hoatzin had tried countless times to get Raven to open up to him about it, but she refused – something that only strengthened the wall between them. He knew her well enough to be able to see when she was being honest and when not – lately the latter had been dominant. It had gotten to the point where Hoatzin actually started to have doubts about his sister’s emotions.
However, all of that was as if blown away now. Thinking back to the look Raven had given him before she left the room, Hoatzin felt his heart warm; he had never seen her so anxious before. Sad, yes, but not anxious.
While Hoatzin was reminiscing, midnight came and with it the first of twelve powerful vibrations that would shake the tower throughout the ceremony of the Day of Light. When Hoatzin felt the ground shake beneath him, he wasn’t surprised; he had been in the Spirit Hall Tower for this particular ceremony before, and was well aware of the procedure.
Calming his state of mind, Hoatzin closed his eyes and focused on the gathering lump of spirit essence that was condensing at the center of the Spirit Star in front of him. As more tremors ran through the building, the concentration of spirit essence grew and by the time the sixth quake hit, a glowing orb nearly twice the size of Hoatzin himself hovered above the Spirit Star.
‘This is several times more than last time,’ concluded Hoatzin as he felt the immense amount of energy in the room. ‘There really is a big difference between the common rooms further down, and the Spirit Halls reserved for the advanced students. . . .’
Just as he finished his thought, the orb of spirit essence shot towards him and to Hoatzin’s surprise, he a felt a searing stab of pain in his mind.
‘Why does it hurt so much?’ He couldn’t help but feel a bit panicked, and for a moment he considered to call out for his sister, but in the end he resisted; he didn’t want to worry her. Either this would work, or it wouldn’t – Raven’s presence would make no difference.
Tensing every muscle in his body, Hoatzin tried to brace against the pain and slowly his efforts had effect. As the brunt of the pain lessened, Hoatzin was struck by how much of the world around him he could sense. During previous Day of Light ceremonies he had participated in, Hoatzin had experienced a similar sensation – where the world grew unnaturally clear around him – but this was something beyond that. It seemed as if the space around him become a mere extension of himself; the air around him was his breath, the stone beneath him his true skin.
The sensation didn’t last very long though and before the ninth quake arrived, his connection with the world faded. Hoatzin breathed a heavy sigh of relief. ‘It looks like it has been successful. . . .’
The first wave of spirit essence had passed and even without checking he could feel how much stronger he had become. Yet, the ceremony was far from over.
In normal Spirit Halls there would be only one surge of natural spirit essence that would spill out from the Spirit Star that was the rooms foundation. However, the Sky Academy’s Spirit Hall Tower was different. On top of the spirit essence granted to all Spirit Halls on the Day of Light by the world itself, this tower spent the entire year collecting the natural spirit essence in the space around it, storing it for this very moment. After all the Day of Light essence was spent, the tower would convert its stored essence into the same, kindly molding spirit essence that helped spiritualists make cultivation breakthroughs.
Suddenly Hoatzin frowned. The second wave of spirit essence was supposed to come between the ninth and the tenth quake – which it did – but for some reason Hoatzin felt very uncomfortable; he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was about to go seriously wrong.
While the new batch of spirit essence started flowing out from the Spirit Star, Hoatzin barely registered it. Even as it rushed into him, causing a slight prickly sensation to fill every inch of his body, Hoatzin ignored it. He felt . . . afraid, but he couldn’t pinpoint why.
Sooner than expected, the flow of new spirit essence dwindled and by the time the eleventh quake came, not a single drop came through the formation on the ground. Yet, once more, Hoaztin didn’t care and instead shot towards the rooms door like an arrow; he hadn’t realized what he was feeling until it was almost gone – his connection with Raven.
“Sister!” he bellowed in his mind but there was no response.
His little body was instantly covered in smoldering embers as it slammed into the wooden door. With a loud *bang* the doors swung open – chipping slightly at its hinges – and, had it not been for the cover of the twelfth and final quake, everyone on the floor would have heard it.
Hoatzin didn’t need to look around to know where his sister was. Within tens of a second, he was by her side. Quickly he poured some of his spirit essence into her to check her condition. Immediately, Hoatzin sighed a breath of relief – at least she was alive – but his brown, bird eyes quickly narrowed in concern.
‘This is bad. . . .’ he thought.
For a moment Hoatzin was at a loss for what to do. His sister was completely unconscious and her internal systems were in a mess; she would not wake up any time soon. However, because of this, her control over the Limiters she wore and her spirit essence was gone, even the effect of the Fox’s Veil had lessened somewhat; if anyone found her now, all her secrets would be easily uncovered.
Desperately, Hoatzin tried to use his small talons to pull his sister towards the Spirit Hall room he had been in, but while he had enough explosive strength to burst open a door, he had neither the stamina nor the body shape to be able to move Raven’s listless body more than a few centimeters at the time.
‘What should I do?’
The Day of Light ceremony was over, and although most would spend at least half an hour stabilizing the changes within them, it was only a matter of minutes before someone was likely to come by here.
‘I have no choice. . . .’
Making up his mind, Hoatzin gave his sister a firm shove to hide her further behind the stairs before quickly flying off.
Further below, in yet another private Spirit Hall room, sat Javelin cross-legged on the floor. Despite having made a fairly great progress with his cultivation during this night’s ceremony, Javelin wasn’t happy. His mind kept wandering to his roommate, wondering if the boy had managed to handle the ceremony alright.
Frustrated, Javelin shook his head. There was nothing to be worried about. The boy would get his fair share of spirit essence and the Spirit Hall would make sure it was an amount he could deal with.
‘Focus, Javelin! There has never been any negative effects of a Day of Light ceremony,’ he chided himself. His self-berating was almost successful and Javelin calmed down a bit, but it didn’t take long before he was biting his lower lip again; ‘. . . as soon as I stabilize my cultivation I could go and check on him. . . . Yeah, I’ll do that.’
Finding new motivation, Javelin managed to gather the majority of his attention inwards, but before he could start doing anything useful, a series of frenetic ticking noises could be heard from his door. Javelin frowned; he had finally managed to gain some measure of concentration and now that was gone. He waited for the ticking to stop, but it didn’t. Instead it just grew more intense.
Annoyed to the point of being angry, Javelin’s eyes popped open and he sprung up from the floor. With as big strides as his legs could manage, Javelin marched over to his door and firmly swung it open. He was just about to yell out his discontent at whomever it was that had found it amusing to tap at his door, when he came face to face with, not a person, but a bird.
Confused, Javelin blinked a few times while the bird fanatically flapped its wings in front of him. “Tzin?” he asked, still confused. The bird did indeed look a lot like his roommate’s pet, only this bird’s wings were not the pure white Javelin remembered them to be. This specimen’s wings had tips that instead shifted into a deep red, almost as if it had dipped them into bowls of blood.
The bird’s flapping around only grew more agitated, even turning to pulling on Javelin’s robes with its talons and beak.
*Okay, okay, I get it,” Javelin held up his hands to keep the bird at bay, “I’ll follow you!”
Even before the last words had left his mouth, the bird had swirled around and headed for the stairs leading upwards. Javelin had no choice but to run at full speed if he hoped to keep up. Like a lightning bolt, man and bird hurried up staircase after staircase, quickly reaching the stairs that led to the top 25th and last floor of the octagonal section of the advanced student.
Javelin started to follow the bird up even this set of stairs when the little creature suddenly stopped halfway up and turned back. With immense speed, it swished by Javelin’s ear grabbing hold of the collar of his robes. The bird yanked him down and backwards with impressive strength and precision; it was not enough to make Javelin fall, but just enough to make him step back down from the stairs.
Not resisting too much, Javelin let himself get pulled in under the stairs he had been about to ascend. Puzzled by these turns of events, Javelin opened his mouth to speak, but a red tipped wing quickly touched his lips, urging him not to speak. Javelin was slightly dazzled by the humanness of the gesture and said nothing. Instead he inspected the bird more carefully. This close he was convinced that the bird on his shoulder was indeed the pet of his roommate, and he couldn’t help but wonder why its wings had changed color. As he observed the bird he was also shocked to notice that its very human eyes were overflowing with concern and perhaps even some fear.
‘Has something actually happened to Night?’ The notion of it struck Javelin harder than he wanted to admit.
Suddenly very worried, Javelin was about to step out from the shadows of the stairs when Tzin’s grip on his shoulder tightened. At the same time, Javelin realized why the two of them had hid, because just then the hushed voices of Jack and Dunlin seeped down from above.
“That was amazing,” whispered Jack, “so much spirit essence . . .”
“Sch!” Dunlin hushed him. “We must hurry back to our rooms before someone notices that we’ve been gone. Save your praise for later.”
The two boys ran silently down the stairs from the floor above and disappeared down the next set just as quickly, but Tzin kept firm his grip on Javelin’s shoulder for a few more heartbeats before eventually letting go. The moment he did, the two of them dashed up the final set of stairs to the 25th floor; by now Javelin was too worried about what might have happened to hold anything back.
When he first arrived at the 25th floor, Javelin saw nothing amiss; only four doors and a staircase, but he followed Tzin’s flight with his eyes and saw the bird dive in behind that very staircase. With his heart in his mouth, Javelin approached the darkness the bird had disappeared into and once his eyes had adjusted to the lack of light he froze in place. In his mind, it was as if an explosion had gone off.
There, huddled in the limited space under the stairs, lied his roommate, Raven Night, unconscious and with a face so pale it seemed more fitting for a ghost than a human. Night’s motionless body looked so small and frail that people would perhaps have doubted if it truly was Night, but Javelin never did.
‘It’s him. What happened? What do I do? It’s really him!’ A thousand thoughts started swirling around Javelin’s mind, until finally a clear thought emerged. ‘He . . . he needs a healer!’
When he started to move, Javelin for a moment felt his legs go soft underneath him, but he forced himself to step forward. Ignoring Tzin’s obvious protests, Javelin grabbed his roommate’s wrist and, as he started hoisting the boy up from the ground, he simultaneously poured his own spirit essence into his friend to ascertain the damage.
Halfway through his lifting motion, Javelin’s eyes widened in shock and he almost stumbled forward. His eyes dashed from the body in his arms to Tzin flying anxiously around them. Their eyes met and without having to use any words both knew that the other one was aware of what Javelin had just learned. The disbelief in Javelin’s eyes quickly turned to determination. He straightened, pulling the unconscious body tighter in his arms, and gave the bird a level stare.
“Where to?” he asked, all notions of seeing one of the Academy’s healers gone.
Briefly, the bird seemed to hesitate but soon Javelin’s determination was mirrored in its eyes. Without further ado, it flew towards the opposite staircase.
The first thing Raven noticed was the smell of newly baked bread. The fresh aroma slipped into her subconsciousness and slowly made itself known to the slumbering girl. The second thing she noticed was a stabbing headache. Raven’s mind felt worn and stretched, like muscles after a too intense work out. Instinctively, she hissed at the pain, and when she did, there was a subtle shift in the room she was in.
Stunned, Raven realized that she wasn’t alone, and judging by the presences she finally started paying attention to again, there were three people close by. What stunned her even more, was the trio’s combination: Hoatzin, Bill and Javelin.