Within a tenth of a second, the five Shadow Blood Raptors burst out into the clearing, savage blood-thirst raging in their eyes. They barely slowed their charge as all five of them focused in on Aves and the twins; they were master predators and instinctively understood the concept of removing the biggest threat first – the high Champion.
While Aves couldn’t help but be momentarily indecisive over his course of action, Raven was not; even as the beasts left the forest treeline, Raven was already running to meet them, her normally hidden cultivation skyrocketing from a high Adept to a mid Champion as her Limiters were released. Raven knew escaping from these creatures was not going to happen – not unless the Everest Hawk returned – so the only option left was to fight, without holding back.
As she ran forward she screamed loudly and raised her sword, enshrouded in electrical sparks and an overbearing murderous aura. Any lesser creature would likely have frozen in fear when faced with such thick killing intent but, as is was, the sudden burst of power and noise only caused the five Shadow Blood Raptors to flinch slightly in surprise before their vicious eyes narrowed in renewed rage.
Instantly, the two beasts closest to Raven changed their course and snapped at her with their strong jaws and razor sharp teeth, but Raven’s body only seemed to flicker once before disappearing completely; the two mighty jaws clenched down on nothing but air. At the same time, the space above one of the three raptors, who had kept heading for Aves and the twins, darkened rapidly before a fast flash of steel appeared, seemingly out of nowhere; using the Spacial Dash, Raven had launched her attack from above, heading straight for the creatures blind spot.
The sword sparkled with electricity as it sank itself deep into the Shadow Blood Raptor, slipping in between two ribs and piercing its heart. Simultaneously, the electrical sparks surged out from the blade, frying the beasts insides.
With a pained roar the wounded beast collapsed on the ground, dead, and for a moment, time seemed to grind to a halt.
The four remaining Shadow Blood Raptors abruptly stopped their charge, their large heads jerking around to stare intently at Raven. Aves, who was halfway through the motion of throwing the twins into the cabin, blanked out, unsure of what had just transpired. Were his eyes deceiving him or had Raven just managed to kill a high level spirit beast, with one strike? Impossible!
Pulling out her sword from the corpse, Raven used the momentary pause to take a deep breath, glancing down at her hands. Although it might have seemed like a simple deed, the amount of spirit essence she had just used to achieve her one-hit kill was far from small, yet despite this, both her arms now felt numb from the force needed to pierce through the Shadow Blood Raptor’s thick skin. In that moment Raven knew that while she might have been able to kill the first beast, she had caught it off-guard; the next four were not likely to go down so easily.
As if to confirm her suspicions, the mad gaze of the four beasts exploded with ferocity and their previously black skin squirmed, instantly turning red with a bloody mist oozing out of every pore. Roaring, the four beasts charged at Raven.
Raven’s mouth twitch into a crooked smile. ‘Took you long enough,’ she thought, not needing to look to know that she had successfully removed their attention from Aves and the twins. ‘Now let’s put some distance between us.’
Spirit essence flowed through Raven’s spirit core like water from a dam, propelling her forward – and away from the others – with immense speed. Despite the beasts’ frenzied onslaught, Raven moved between the raptors like a dancing nymph, faint bells ringing out with every step she took.
It looked effortless, but yet again, appearances were deceptive as Raven couldn’t help but feel pressured; the Shadow Blood Raptors lived up to their reputation. Once enraged, the raptors’ movements had become extremely fast and every attack they launched was swift and lethal – it didn’t matter if it was trees or mountain rocks, when the raptors bit down the result would only be a fine powder. One misstep from Raven and she would be done for. To make matters worse, as the raptors’ red mist filled the air around them, Raven felt her own movements grow sluggish, making dodging increasingly difficult.
An almost beastly smile emerged on Raven’s face as her killing intent grew to new heights.
‘It’s been a while since I had a real challenge. . . .’
Back by the cabin, Javelin had just regained his footing from being thrown by Raven when the heavy bodies of Lark and Martin slammed into him from behind.
“Stay there!” he heard Aves yell before the latter rushed away, following after Raven and the four spirit beasts deeper into the terrain.
It only took a few heartbeats for the three boys to untangle themselves and get back on their feet, but by then the battle with the Shadow Blood Raptors had already moved away from the cabin and far into the mountain forest. The three youths stared blankly at the large corpse lying only a few meters away from the cabin, dazed; everything had just happened too quickly.
Javelin was the first to regain his wits and was just about to rush out of the cabin when Martin stepped in his way.
“Move!” Javelin yelled but Martin shook his head. Javelin moved to step around the boy but Lark joined his brother, completely blocking the way out.
“Move!” Javelin repeated, growing frantic.
“They put us in here for a reason, Javelin,” Lark pointed out as calmly as he could. “Those spirit beasts are not opponents we three can handle!”
“I don’t care!” shouted Javelin, “Raven might need help!”
“Don’t you get it?” Martin shouted back, clenching his fists until they were white. “We would only be in the way!”
Javelin’s body shook, his movements freezing.
“As long as we stay in here, those two don’t have to think about keeping us safe and can focus on fighting.” Lark placed a hand on Javelin’s shoulder. “I don’t know what is going on with Raven’s cultivation level . . . but if he’s a mid Champion he can handle himself. Have faith in him.”
Looking a bit pale Javelin slowly nodded. Seeing his body relaxing a bit, the twins gave each other relieved glances; they had not thought that Javelin would agree so easily.
The three friends stood in silence. Underneath them they could feel the ground shaking from the intense battle raging further and further away. Every now and then powerful bursts of spirit essence swept over them, indicating how powerful the attacks being executed were. Even this far away, the sheer residue of it was suffocating.
Suddenly, Javelin’s eyes brightened. “Did you hear that?” he asked, once more shifting towards the door. Unconvinced, the twins moved to block him again. “Can’t you hear it? Wings – large wings!” Javelin urged and, straining their ears, the twins’ faces also lit up.
“It’s the Everest Hawk!” Martin called after leaning his out of the cabin to check the sky above them.
Aves’ Everest Hawk who had been summoned back from its hunting had finally arrived. With its aid the boys would be able to move the cabin over to where the fight was and perhaps allow the group to escape the Shadow Blood Raptors altogether.
The big bird landed on top of the cabin and even without further instructions from the boys the Hawk seemed to know what it should do. It grabbed on to the hooks on top of the cabin and prepared to lift it into the sky. However, before the bird had the chance, Javelin and the twins saw a black a red streak rushing towards the cabin, then leaping over it.
“Another one?” shouted Martin, alarmed.
All three of them expected to hear the Everest Hawk cry out as the surprise attack claimed its life, but the cry never came. Instead an ear deafening bang rang out above the cabin, followed by a loud crash and frenzied wing-beats. Peering out of the cabin door, the boys saw the new Shadow Blood Raptor get to its feet as it faced off against none other then Aves. Above them the Everest Hawk was circling, seemingly unharmed, glaring angrily at its attacker.
The twins breathed a sigh of relief; if the Hawk had been killed then even if the raptors were defeated their group would have be forced to travel to the nearest city by foot – a dangerous journey that would take several monts, at best. Javelin on the other hand wasted no time on feeling relieved. He looked from Aves’ broad back, off to the distant place in the mountain were the thunderous clashes of a fight were still echoing out.
At this point Javelin’s mind blanked out. All he could think about was how Raven had to be fighting those other four Shadow Blood Raptors on her own, and undoubtedly failing to defeat them all in the end. Before he – or anyone else for that matter – knew it, Javelin was running. He ran like his life depended on it, straight into the mountain forest and towards the sounds of the other battle.
Behind him the twins shouted for him to come back but he ignored it.
Javelin ran for what felt like hours before he finally caught sight of Raven.
The battle had moved out on a barren cliff, sprouting out over a vast ravine. Raven’s petite figure was swirling in and out of attacks between two raptors – the other two, or rather three, were nowhere in sight – moving with a speed Javelin had a hard time following.
Red mist floated around her and the two beasts, surrounding them in a bloody halo.
All three fighters were wounded, to varying degrees, but none of them seemed to care. They fought viciously, clearly to the death, but there was a peculiar purity about it; it was as if it was no longer simply bloodthirsty hunting – it was a piece of art, performed by equally vicious killers who were wrapped up in the joy of a good fight.
‘What a sight. . . .’ Javelin found himself thinking in a daze, not noticing the branch he was about to step on. His foot landed and a clear crack escaped from under his foot. The sound wasn’t loud, but instantly the two raptors twitched slightly before they roared angrily and rushed for him, as if offended by the disturbance he had caused them.
It all happened without warning.
Javelin barely registered the two beasts turning towards him before he saw Raven’s figure flicker and appear in front of his own. Spreading her arms wide, the sword she had been holding disappeared and was replaced by a long metal staff. No sooner had the staff appeared then the beasts were upon them, their mighty maws attempting to bite down on Javelin.
Raven held up her staff horizontally, a silvery light surrounding it and, as if pulled by a heavy gravitational force, both bites landed on the staff rather than Javelin behind it. Resisting the heavy force of the two attacks that regular mid Champions would find challenging, Raven stood like a statue between the raptors and Javelin.
“Back off!” she bellowed and finally Javelin snapped out of his daze. Quickly he moved out of the way, scurrying off to the side. Once he had moved, the silvery light on the staff faded and the two raptors let go. Immediately they charged at Raven again, and yet again, she fended them off. This process repeated itself several times, but Javelin could tell that the dynamic of the battle had changed; Raven no longer attacked and was instead focused solely on defending, making sure the two beasts wouldn’t get too close to Javelin. Yet, the more she defended the more angry the beasts seemed to grow.
Suddenly, both raptors roared louder than ever before and the red mist around them instantly intensified, nearly blocking Javelin’s view of Raven who was enveloped by it. To his horror, Raven’s body froze up, mid attack, only to be slammed away by one of the raptors’ tail. Javelin watched as Raven’s listless body curved through the air, passing over his own head, and then disappeared out of view – over the edge of the cliff.
For the second time that day, Javelin’s body acted before his mind knew what he was doing. Completely ignoring the raptors or how far it was to the ground below, Javelin threw himself after Raven.