Raven got up from the now steadily burning fire. Although she could hear her brother’s approach, he was not yet close enough for Aves to be able to do the same. Considering her options Raven glanced over at her so-called guardian before calmly walking off into the forest.
“I’m not going far and I’ll be back soon,” she called over her shoulder. “Don’t follow me Aves – we both know I can tell if you do.”
Behind Raven Aves looked at her departing back with an inscrutable expression on his face. Finally he sighed and turned his attention back to the fire. “What a hard-to-protect lady she is. . . .” he muttered to himself; he did indeed know that Raven was able to tell if he chose to follow her and worse still, once she did, she would disappear without a trace. At least like this she was likely to stick to her words and not wander off too far.
Suddenly Aves raised his head and looked off in the opposite direction Raven had left in. He seemed surprised but oddly amused. “Oh my,” he chuckled and got up from the seat he’d taken by the fire. “I should perhaps help the boys instead. . . .”
Meanwhile, Raven had already moved a couple of hundred meters away from the encampment and effortlessly climbed to the top of one of the tallest trees in the area. It might not sound like a big achievement but trees in this mountain forest grew tall, easily surpassing most of the tall buildings in Raven’s old world.
As her head popped out above the dense leaf-work, her eyes fell on a truly peculiar sight and although Raven had seen it once before, she couldn’t help but snort as she suppressed her laughter.
Not far off, two birds where approaching with astounding speed, only, both birds weren’t flying. Instead the largest of the two birds – who was roughly the size of an average falcon – carried a hook-shaped twig on which the second, much smaller bird, was perched.
“Don’t laugh, sister!” Hoaztin’s angry voice rang out in Raven’s head. “It was your idea for me to travel by Stormbird to begin with!”
Despite the distance between them, the Stormbird arrived by Raven’s side within seconds. Without slowing down whatsoever, the notoriously fast bird swished by Raven, dropping its cargo as it passed.
“I’m not laughing,” defended Raven but her eyes betrayed her merriment as she held out her hands, allowing her brother to land on them.
“Your acting skills are slipping,” muttered Hoatzin but he didn’t seem to mind. Suddenly Raven lifted him close to her face and nuzzled him against her cheek. “Sister?” This type of behavior was rare for Raven so Hoatzin couldn’t help but be a bit surprised.
“I’m glad to see you again, big brother.” Raven lowered her hands from her face and smiled warmly at the nearly all-red bird she held in her palms. Hoatzin didn’t seem entirely convinced by Raven’s words but she didn’t let him ask about it anymore. “So how is our aunt?” she asked, coldness returning to her face.
Immediately, Hoatzin’s eyes darkened. “Busy,” he replied with clear contempt. He lifted one of his legs, around which a small metallic ring had been attached and out of nowhere a green glass orb appeared next to him on Raven’s hand. The orb was nearly larger than Hoatzin himself, so he was forced to jump further up Raven’s arm to give space for it.
“I have recorded everything in here,” he said and tapped the orb with one of his talons. “It is good that you came, sister – I was about to leave anyway.”
“There are more details in the Memory Orb but to make a long story short – the Talons are working on a deadline,” Hoatzin paused and looked up at his sister with grave eyes; “seven months from now.”
Raven’s eyes widened. Seven months. That was still two months before the tournament representatives would arrive.
‘Shit,’ Raven cursed.
“But why did you come?” asked Hoatzin. “There is still time until our agreed regrouping.”
Hoatzin’s eyes twitched. “Fenris?”
“Things have changed in the capital, big brother, and if what you say is correct then that is yet another reason for why we cannot put off our plans any further. However, Gadwall remains. We have no idea how strong he actually is so unless we find a way to deal with him then we’re stuck.”
“And you think Fenris might help?” Hoatzin didn’t look convinced.
Raven sighed; she too wasn’t one hundred percent sure Fenris would agree to her request. “He has helped us before, and Fenris is most likely not from this realm; hopefully he can at least agree to giving us some more information.”
Hoatzin was silent for a while. “We do not really have a choice, have we?”
Raven shook her head. She knew that her brother wasn’t too fond of Fenris; the man might have saved his life, two times over to boot, but Fenris’ disposition was clearly playful and rather uncaring of human life, something Hoatzin just couldn’t agree with. As far as he was concerned, the best outcome was to never see the man – or his grandchild – again.
“Can you tell were he is?” asked Raven.
Reluctantly Hoatzin stretched out a wing, pointing north. “That way. Not sure how far off though.”
Raven smiled and rubbed her brother’s feathery head. “Thank you, Hoatzin.” She glanced down the tree, towards the campsite whose lit fire glimmered through the leaves. “I should head back. You are supposed to be with my uncles so . . .”
“Yeah, yeah, I know – I’ll stay out of sight.” Hoatzin cut her off, clearly a bit annoyed.
Raven giggled at her brother’s sudden outburst. “Well, if you insist, I could take you with me. . . .” A mischievous glint flashed in her eyes as she started to close her hands around both her brother and the Memory Orb.
Hoatzin’s eyes widened and he quickly kicked off from Raven’s palm; he could guess what his sister was planning and he would have none of it.
“Pity,” Raven sighed with an over-dramatized disappointed expression. “I guess mental communication will have to do.” She winked at her brother before she shifted her balance, causing her to fall off the branch she had been standing on.
Like an arrow, Raven’s body plummeted towards the ground and Hoatzin couldn’t help but shudder. Of the two of them, he was the one that could actually fly, yet his sister’s fascination with falling from high places sent shivers down his spine. From above, he watched as Raven twisted herself back and forth to avoid hitting any branches before she, just meters above the ground, sent out a powerful stream of spirit essence towards the ground to cushion her fall.
Soundlessly, Raven landed on the forest floor – not breaking as much as a twig under her feet. She turned and waved up to Hoatzin.
“See you later, big brother,” she called out to him mentally.
“Hey now, just because I will be staying out of sight that does not mean you should ignore me! Your brother has not had anyone to talk to in months, you know. . . .”
Raven was already walking away but she chuckled and answered nonetheless. “I know, big brother; speak, and I shall answer.”
When Raven returned to the campsite, the three boys had already arrived and where busy roasting some meat over the open fire. Judging by their relaxed conversation, things seemed back to normal between the three of them.
Raven had of course noticed Javelin’s odd behavior these past few days but wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. He had kept glancing at her nervously and whenever the twins tried talking to him, his answers would be unusually short. Javelin was anxious and Raven wondered if she might have spooked him back in the cellar.
“You’re back,” called Lark happily when he noticed Raven stepping out into the clearing. Javelin, whose back had been towards her, twitched slightly but didn’t turn around.
Raven approached the fire and sat down between Javelin and Aves. She was just about to start discussing tomorrow’s journey northward when she looked up at Javelin’s face. Raven’s eyebrows rose in surprise and instantly Martin burst out laughing.
The left side of Javelin’s face was swollen to the point where his eye could barely be seen and although it must be recent the area around the eye had already turned purple.
“What happened?” she asked, although Martin’s laughter, Javelin’s embarrassment and Lark’s silence said a lot.
“I . . . said something I shouldn’t have,” mumbled Javelin, giving Lark a sidelong glance.
Raven looked over the three boys carefully before catching Aves amused gaze. The latter shrugged; “boys,” he said, as if that explained everything.
“Haha, he looks hilarious!” Hoatzin’s very pleased voice rang out in Raven’s mind.
“I told you to stay hidden, big brother,” chided Raven.
“I am out of sight, am I not? That’s hidden enough.”
Raven rolled her eyes, but said nothing.
Later that night, while everyone else was either sleeping or quietly meditating, Raven lay in her makeshift bed clutching the jade green orb her brother had handed to her.
Systematically she was going through all the memories Hoatzin had stored within. It was months worth of findings; anything he had found even remotely pertinent he had recorded. If viewed normally, it would take Raven up to a week to look through all of it, but thanks to her strong mind she could speed it up and still catch all of the content.
Still, it wasn’t until the first light of dawn found its way into the clearing that Raven stirred from her submerged state, lightly rubbing her temples.
‘Brother has been busy too,’ praised Raven.
Judging from the material she had looked through, there could not have been many moments when Hoatzin wasn’t keeping a very close eye on their aunt or her accomplices.
Raven rolled over on her back and let out a heavy sigh. ‘We really are in a hurry. . . .’
The gathered information was clear. The Talon Clan had managed to secure a large personal army by recruiting as many rogue spiritualists as they could find and arming them with weapons mined from the prefecture’s Soul Ore. As soon as they had a reason to, that army would surge out from their scattered hiding places and fight to ensure maximum chaos. All they needed was a spark – something that would push the neighboring empires into war.
As for the seven month deadline it wasn’t clearly stated why that time limit was set but it seemed to be Gadwall’s demand so Raven guessed that it had something to do with the representatives that would be arriving shortly after.
Raven sat up, her eyes filled with determination.
The Talon Clan had various plans in motion with regards to setting off that required spark – some of which Raven already knew about and was working against, others were new – but something they all had in common was that it would be hard to thwart them without being too obvious and if that happened, Gadwall would surly find a way to interfere.
‘Fenris must be found!’
Raven clenched her fists and was just about to get up when her body suddenly froze. She only paused for an instant before she dashed out of the tent she had been sleeping in, a sword already in her hands
“Aves!” she shouted with her voice strengthened by spirit essence. “Call your Hawk now!”
Aves reaction was instant; he appeared next to Raven as if out of thin air, also with his sword drawn. “What is it?” he asked as Javelin and the twins made their way towards them.
“High level spirit beasts. Five of them headed our way and fast.” Raven’s voice was grim. A single high level spirit beast would be hard for a regular mid Champion to handle on his own, and while Raven and Aves would have no real problem dealing with two, or perhaps even three if they worked together, five was likely beyond them.
“To the cabin!” called Aves. He too knew the severity of the situation and the best cause of action was definitely to escape. Unfortunately, the Everest Hawk had been given permission to hunt during the night so although Aves had summoned it, the large bird was still quite far off.
Raven’s senses were impeccable; if anything big was making a lot of noise within a kilometer from Raven she was likely to hear it. Despite this, she had barely had the time to register the crashing sounds of the five raging beasts before they had come close enough for her to sense their spirit essence. In other words, in just over half a minute, the beasts had traveled nearly 500 meters!
The Everest Hawk wouldn’t make it.
“There is not enough time!” warned Raven, but that didn’t stop her from grabbing Javelin, who was closest to her, by his collar and flinging him towards the open cabin a few meters away. The cabin was protected by a wide assortment of spirit essence formations and while it wouldn’t hold out in the long run, it would at least offer some protection.
Realizing Raven’s intention, Aves moved up to the twins, intending to do the same, but before he had the chance the ground underneath them shook violently as the beasts came into view.
“Shadow Blood Raptors!” hissed Aves in shock; he could scarcely believe his eyes. Shadow Blood Raptors, with their powerful legs and fang-filled yaws were infamous for two things: speed and bloodshed.
Defeating them with just him and Raven was improbable, but outrunning them on the ground was impossible.