As Raven’s accusation left her lips, the already shaking man shook so hard it rattled his chains loudly. His clear light-green eyes were wide in shock.
“H-how . . ?” the man seemed incapable of saying more but Raven’s mouth curled into a cold half-smile. Her suspicions were confirmed. Looking into those frightened eyes of her would-be assassin, Raven had to admit that they were so similar to Elder Willow’s that she was almost ashamed she hadn’t seen the connection sooner.
Ever since she brought the man back here, Raven had been having the nagging sensation that she was missing something important. She hadn’t been able to put her finger on it, but when Javelin had pointed out that he recognized the so-called Blood Hound from somewhere, Raven suddenly realized what it was that had been bugging her; the assassin’s presence, although a lot more murderous, still had the same core characteristics as Elder Willow’s.
Much like Raven could tell that Martin and Lark were closely related simply by their spirit essence, she could also tell that there had to be some sort of family connection between Myrtus Willow and the Blood Hound.
“It doesn’t matter how I know, the point is that I do know.” Raven tightened the grip she already had around the man’s chin. “Now, tell me how the two of you are related.”
Despite his fear, the chained assassin managed a snort. “That meek little healer sissy ain’t no relation of mine!” He spat the last words but it quickly turned into a pained moan as the bones in his jaw started cracking under Raven’s grip.
“Don’t fool around, Mr. Hound,” warned Raven. “I don’t appreciate it.” Killing intent flashed in her blood-red eyes and the man desperately tried to nod his consent, even with the extra pain it brought. Raven loosened her grip again. “Your name and relation to Elder Myrtus Willow.”
“I . . . my birth name is Rooter Willow. Myrtus is my cousin.”
Raven narrowed her eyes and behind her she could hear Javelin’s sharp intake of air. He moved up closer to Raven and the prisoner, Rooter. “Was it him who asked you to kill Lark and Martin?” he asked, anger overflowing in his eyes. Rooter opened his mouth to speak but Javelin was too impatient, and punched the former in the gut. “Speak, dammit!”
Raven let go of Rooter’s jaw and swiftly pulled Javelin away. “What are you doing!” she chided, carefully inspecting the boy’s hand – there were several fractures in his bones.
“He tried to kill them Raven! If Elder Willow is his cousin then . . .”
Raven held up a finger to Javelin’s mouth to silence him, causing the boy to twitch slightly under her touch. “I know, Javelin, but let me do it, okay?” As she spoke, the hand that still held Javelin’s fractured ones started to glow warmly. The light was weak, to the point were it likely wouldn’t even be visible in daylight, but slowly the fractures in Javelin’s hand started heal. Seeing that Javelin wasn’t about to protest, Raven’s other hand also started glowing and she placed it above the Javelin’s.
As Raven felt the bones healing, she couldn’t help but sigh. ‘It’s too slow. . . . The path of healing really is closed for me, huh?’
Ever since Raven got her hands on her first Divine Healing Skill, Raven had been having a comparatively hard time learning them. At first it had just been in relation to how fast she would learn other skills but gradually it had grown worse, to the point where even the healing skills she had already mastered started to lose their efficiency. She didn’t know why, but since she had started cultivating in the reversed waterfall, Raven had gotten the feeling that perhaps there was something blocking her from using the more nurturing aspects of spirit essence, at least in any other regard than strengthening her own body.
A few breaths later, the glow around Raven’s hand dimmed; Javelin’s hands were restored.
“Thanks,” he muttered but Raven shook her head.
“It would have been faster if you did it yourself, sorry.”
Now it was Javelin’s time to protest. “No! If I did it myself then . . .” His sentence died out, as if he didn’t really know what to say. Javelin looked away, his face slightly redder then before.
Raven couldn’t help but smile softly at his behavior but said nothing. Instead she turned her attention back to Elder Willow’s cousin. She casually glanced at his stomach, where Javelin had hit him, before once more locking eyes with the man. “While my friends fists might not harm you, we both know that mine will,” she said calmly.
At this point, the second prisoner couldn’t hold it back anymore and yet again started wailing uncontrollably. “Please!” he begged. “Please let me go! I have nothing to do with this. . . . I-I’ll tell no one of you, or this place, I promise!”
Raven flicked her wrist and a small dagger shot out, lodging itself in the stone wall next to the man’s ear. “I’ve already warned you once already, don’t speak until spoken to.” He clamped his mouth shut.
“Who’s he?” asked Javelin.
“I don’t know yet,” answered Raven with a shrug. “But our friend Rooter is bound to have an answer for us.”
For a brief moment, the fear in the unknown prisoner’s eyes vanished and was replaced with intense anger as he dared a sideways glare at Rooter. Javelin didn’t catch it, but how could Raven miss it.
‘So the weaker one is the employer, or perhaps the go-between?’ she thought to herself while she once more focused her attention on Rooter. “Let’s not make this too complicated; I’ll tell you what I know and you will be kind enough to fill in the details I miss, okay?”
Raven let her killing intent run wild in her gaze and Rooter shuddered and slumped in his chains. The memory of what Raven had made him witness resurfaced in his mind and it was impressive that he didn’t lapse back into his self-destructive coma on the spot.
“So, your name is Rooter Willow, cousin of Myrtus Willow – but you have little love for the latter – and have been sent here to assassinate Lark and Martin Griffin and leave no witnesses alive, correct?” Rooter nodded. “By whom?”
“I don’t know. . . .” Raven’s gaze intensified and Rooter almost panicked. “I swear I don’t know! It was an order from the Head but who asked it of him I don’t know!”
“Could it have been for personal reasons?”
“I don’t think so – I was told to make it a clean kill.”
Raven raised an eyebrow. ‘How could confronting three youths in a dark alleyway, clearly hoping to scare them senseless, be considered a clean kill?’ She didn’t raise her concerns though and instead continued her questioning. “Then why send for you, rather than someone who actually operates in Sky Empire?”
Rooter shrugged. “You have harsher rules for using the Assassin Guild here, I suppose. The whole only non-spiritualists thing.”
Raven’s upper lip twitched and a dagger soared through the air – stabbing through Rooter’s hand. He wailed just as lightning shot out from the blade, causing his entire body to convulse.
“Don’t lie to me, Rooter,” said Raven calmly as the twitches in his muscles died down. “I can tell.”
“Okay, Okay! The Head said it had to be me, but why I truly don’t know!”
“What were your instructions exactly?”
“I was sent to Sky Empire with the explicit order to assassinate the two Griffin heirs. No need to be too discreet but make it clean and no witnesses of the actual deed. Then I’d lay low for a week before heading back home.”
Raven listen carefully as Rooter spoke, looking out for any signs of falsehood, but the man seemed to believe his words. Still, there were some things he clearly left out. “Then why did you spare this guy?” Raven pointed a thumb towards the other prisoner and while she had her back to the man and couldn’t see him, all her other senses noticed how he twitched slightly when Raven brought him up.
Rooter hesitated briefly, but when Raven held up a second dagger and glared at him with her bloodthirsty eyes, Rooter yielded. “He’s my contact here, he calls himself Spa-”
“Lies!” howled the other man, drowning out Rooter’s words. “Preposterous lies!”
In a flash Raven had turned around and slammed the protesting man’s head back into the stone wall. Instantly, his eyes went blank and his body limp. As if enjoying the sudden calm Raven took a deep breath that she released a sigh. She then turned back to Rooter, who was staring at her with wide eyes; he was a low Champion and while he could tell from his captor’s spirit essence that Raven was indeed of a higher cultivation than himself, it wasn’t by several realms, and yet, he had been unable to follow her movements at all.
“Well?” prompted Raven. “Continue.”
“Uh, as I said, he calls himself Sparv and I was to meet him at the Black Eagle. He would be the only one but me to walk away from the assassination alive.”
‘That doesn’t make sense. . . . Why be so adamant of having no witnesses only to provide one yourself?’ Raven frowned. ‘The death of two prefecture heirs would never go unnoticed anyway, and if they wanted to spread false rumors there would be no reason to be there in person. . . .’
As Raven pondered over the possibilities in her head, Sparv was slowly coming to from the blow Raven had given him to the head. ‘If the client truly wanted no witnesses then only one person can walk away from it, but Sparv is not strong enough to ki-. . .’
Before Raven had the chance to finish her train of thoughts the man called Sparv had regained his consciousness completely and, without hesitating, he bit down on his own teeth so hard that one of them shattered.
In that same instant, a pitch black energy surged out from said tooth and into the man. Like flipping a switch, Sparv’s cultivation to sky rocketed; in less than a second he went from a high Adept to a mid Champion, yet it continued to rise.
Despite the fact that his strength was still growing, Sparv didn’t waste anytime and lunged towards Javelin, his arms covered in a jade-like haze that filled the room with a putrid smell. It all happened so fast that Javelin hadn’t even realized that the man was loose, let alone charging towards him. Needless to say, even without the disparity in cultivation level, Javelin could do nothing to defend himself.
There was no time to hesitate.
Javelin only felt a sudden tug at his collar that yanked him backwards with incredible force. There was a large bang, originating from where he had previously been standing, and the entire cellar was shrouded in a cloud of green smoke and dust. Several seconds after the impact, the house was still shaking violently.
For a moment Javelin was too dazed to do anything, but his mind quickly cleared. “Raven!” he called into the obscuring mist, but there was no reply. From the still activated spirit essence in front of him, Javelin could tell that only one person was still conscious but he couldn’t tell which one.
He wanted desperately to run forward, but his legs failed him. All he could do was stare helplessly as the smoke and dust slowly settled to the ground. As it did, it revealed Raven, hunched over the lifeless Sparv. Stabbed through his head was a magnificently forged blade, whose intricate markings shimmered with slight purple hues in the dim light and whose hilt was formed like two wings, ready for flight.
Mesmerized by the blade, Javelin strained his eyes to see it more clearly. He could have sworn that the markings on the blade formed out words, but as he started to read, the sword was yanked out of the fallen man’s head and disappeared. With the blade gone, Javelin blinked a few times before he shook his head and focused his gaze on Raven, who was slowly getting up from the ground.
“Are you okay?” he asked but when Raven turned to face him, he noticed, to his horror, a trail of blood running down from her mouth. “Raven!” he called, but yet again his legs wouldn’t move.
Raven’s eyes met his, but she only held his gaze for a second before she rushed forward, almost tumbling to her feet in front of him.
“Ra-. . .” Javelin’s eyes widened and it felt like his heart stopped beating for good. He froze in place, his mind blank. The only thing he could think of was the feeling of Raven’s cool but soft lips pushing down on the nape of his neck and her warmer tongue traveling across his skin.
Suddenly his heart started beating again and, as if trying to compensate, it beat faster than ever. Despite the cold sensation of Raven’s lips, warmth radiated out from her touch, filling every inch of his body. He found himself raising an arm to cup the back of Raven’s neck, and relished in the tactile sensation of her soft skin.
Quickly the heat in him became close to unbearable. He felt like every fiber of his body was burning; with desire, but also something more. Javelin frowned slightly as he realized that the arm he was embracing Raven with was too heavy for him, and he had to let it fall to his side.
“What’s . . .” Before he could finish the question, Javelin’s mind went dark.
Wiping her mouth, Raven backed away from the unconscious Javelin and slumped against the wall next to him. Within her, her spirit essence was frantically circling as it worked on repairing the injuries she had sustained as well as combating the poison she had removed from Javelin’s neck wound.
As soon as she had noticed Sparv’s sudden and extreme rise in cultivation, Raven came to the split conclusion that it was a kill or be killed moment. The dark energy she had sensed had been very similar to the one she could feel within her cousin and many other members of the Talon Clan, only even more sinister. Since there was no way for Raven to know how strong Sparv would become, she couldn’t take any chances.
Raven had projected her spirit essence next to Javelin’s and activated her Spacial Dash, shifting her position in the blink of an eye. Using one hand to grab Javelin’s collar and the other to take hold of Sparv’s poison coated arm, Raven had managed to pull Javelin out of the way in the last second, apart from a small cut on his neck. Without wasting Sparv’s forward motion, Raven had then moved to flip the former on to his back and deliver a killing strike to his head before he had the chance to retaliate.
Raven hadn’t expected it to go as well as it did – the man had after all already forced his way into a high Champion – but the oddest thing had occurred as she activated the series of four Divine Skills that Raven had needed to do neutralize the man, while at the same time avoiding being poisoned by Sparv’s own Divine Skill.
For a brief moment, the spirit essence she deployed had partially merged with Sparv’s. This in itself wasn’t so rare, it was practically unavoidable when two spiritualists fought, only normally those opposing spirit essences would reject each other and both would either be mutually destroyed or one would outclass the other. The odd part was that this time, it was more like Raven’s spirit essence nestled its way into Sparv’s, coaxing it to aid her attack by lending its strength to her, making it momentarily her own.
Suddenly a familiar verse popped into her mind.
If they can’t be forgiven,
then let them be burned.
For that which is given,
must be tenfold returned.