Warm spirit essence flowed through Raven, slowly bringing her back to consciousness. She opened her eyes and looked up at Javelin; he had laid her down on the ground, using his own lap to support her head, and was gently pouring nurturing spirit essence into Raven as he massaged her temples.
“How long was I out?” Raven asked, brushing aside Javelin’s hands so she could sit up.
If Javelin was upset by her actions, he didn’t show it. “Just over a quarter of an hour.”
“. . . Dunlin?” Raven didn’t really need to ask this but she did anyway.
“He stopped breathing perhaps five minutes ago. . . .”
Raven nodded but said nothing.
“I’m sorry,” continued Javelin when she remained silent; “I know you wanted to do it but I could only help one of you.”
“It’s okay.” Raven shook her head. “Thank you.”
Both of them sat in silence for a while, the only noice interrupting that of Jack’s hushed rantings about a murderous nightingale.
“Aren’t you going to ask what happened?” Raven finally spoke as she stared at the ground.
“Not if you don’t want me to.”
Raven felt a bit relieved by that. She herself didn’t really know what had happened. One minute she had been meticulously pulling out Dunlin’s finger nails – so she could more easily peal back the skin of his hands – and the next a savage rage had welled up within her.
She had been upset even before that – not only because of what Dunlin’s family had done to hers but also because, as Raven was flaying the boy, memories of her old life started to crawl to the surface, making her recall things even she would rather forget – but that rage had been . . . foreign.
‘It was as if the natural spirit essence around me suddenly got angry too and used me as its outlet. . . .’
Raven was puzzled. She had felt the anger welling up within her, fueling her with more power than she had ever felt before, but she hadn’t been able to control it. If Javelin hadn’t stopped her. . . . Suddenly Raven frowned.
“How come you are here?”
“Sorry?” Javelin didn’t seem to understand the question.
“How were you able to follow me? The soul oath should have blocked you.”
“Ah, it did.” It was Raven’s turn to look confused, but Javelin was quick to explain; “The oath worked, but you only told me not to follow you until told otherwise.” Raven nodded solemnly in agreement and Javelin smiled weakly. “Your pet bird told me otherwise.”
“He spoke to you?” This shocked Raven greatly; as far as she knew Hoatzin could only speak with herself and Fenris.
“Yeah it did – why didn’t you tell me Tzin can write? That’s awesome!”
Raven blinked a few times. ‘Write? . . . Oh, I get it – brother must have written in the sand or something.’ She sighed; a spirit beast being able of any type of human communication, outside a spirit connection, was practically unheard of on Trinity continent. . . . Raven was about to call out to her brother to reprimand him when she halted herself, her eyes downcast.
‘I guess it doesn’t matter right now,’ she told herself, turning her attention to the gore around her instead.
The bloody remains of her cousin lay sprawled out not too far away but without his skin it was quite hard to tell that Dunlin was even human. Next to him was his pile of flesh which was surprisingly clean, compared to the rest of the area.
Off to the side was Jack, rolled up in a ball and rocking slightly, back and forth, as he repeated the same thing over and over: “Nightingale kills. . . . Nightingale comes. . . .”
‘Poor sod,’ thought Raven as she spared him a glance. Apart from him being a jerk, Raven didn’t really have any personal qualms with the boy, at least not to the point where she would kill him willy-nilly. Then again, he had picked the wrong friends and that alone was enough for Raven to lean towards killing him. In fact, she would already have done just that, had not his background made it a bit tricky; Raven had prevented one war by saving the Griffin twins, she wasn’t about to start another one by killing Jack. Having him “go crazy over a horrifying encounter in the wilds” on the other hand, would be manageable.
“So, what now?” Javelin suddenly asked.
Raven looked back at the blonde youth next to her pensively; she hadn’t expected him to still be so casual with her, not after seeing her . . . handiwork. “This doesn’t bother you?” she asked, jabbing a thumb towards her flayed cousin.
“Hehe,” Javelin chuckled nervously, one of his hands instinctively reaching for the back of his neck. “Well, I would lie if I said it didn’t, but . . . how should I put it? I’m more bothered by the fact that you know how to do it than by the fact that you did it. How you take revenge for your family is none of my business.”
As soon as the last words were spoken, Javelin’s eyes went wide and his hands quickly clammed down over his mouth, but it was too late – how could Raven possible miss such a slip-up?
“Oh,” she said and raised a quizzical eyebrow. “How long have you known?”
Javelin swallowed, not daring to lie; “um . . . since the assassination attempt – I recognized your sword.”
This revelation surprised Raven a bit, but as she thought about it more closely, she felt rather ashamed that she hadn’t guessed it earlier; Javelin had been acting a bit odd ever since that sudden attack in the basement, but Raven had assumed it was either due to nerves after a near-death experience or perhaps because of the “kiss” she had given him to suck out the poison he had been inflicted with. Javelin figuring out the truth explained a lot.
A crooked smile spread across Raven’s face – something that looked a lot more vicious than normal due to the specks of dried blood still on her face. “Let me guess, the twins noticed something and confronted you about it but you panicked, shouting something like ‘don’t compare me to yourself, Lark!’, thus that eye of yours?”
Judging from Javelin’s facial expression Raven knew she was pretty much spot on. She laughed. Hard.
“Don’t laugh!” Javelin half commanded, half pleaded; “I ‘confessed’ to being gay for you!”
Raven’s laughing only intensified at this, her heartfelt merriment a stark contrast to bloodied appearance. It took a while before Raven calmed down enough to talk. “Sorry, Jav,” she said, still half giggling, as she wiped a tear from the corner of her eye; “but this is just too hilarious!”
Javelin grunted. “I don’t see the humor in it.”
Forcing down her giggles, Raven cleared her throat and met Javelin’s gaze. Immediately she became serious. “I really am sorry; I never intended to put this on you.” Raven placed a hand on Javelin’s head. “It must have been hard.”
For a moment, Javelin’s body stiffened under her touch but he quickly grew annoyed and swatted away Raven’s hand. “I’m not a kid anymore!”
‘Really?’ thought Raven, making no attempts to hide it from her face.
“Well, I’m at least significantly older than you! So don’t treat me as your junior.”
‘You’re not the older one, Javelin,’ mused Raven to herself but she could tell that Javelin was truly vexed by it so she let the matter drop.
“In that case,” she said, changing the subject, “would you carry our newly insane friend over there?” Raven pointed at Jack. “I think he will freak out if I do it.”
“Sure, where to?”
“Not sure yet. I need to stow him away somewhere safe for now and have the headmaster pick him up later. Normally the cave two hundred meters east of here would do, but there is too much blood here; my previous show of killing intent will keep spirit beasts at bay for a while but it won’t take long before this scent drives them to come here anyway.”
If Javelin found Raven’s comment about the cave odd, he didn’t show it. Instead he nodded and went to collect the boy without complaint.
“Hoatzin?” Raven called tentatively as she walked up to the Shadow Blood Raptors, picking up her ‘Nightingale’s Blessing’ on the way.
“Sister! Are you okay?”
Raven could hear her brother’s anxiety in his voice. It would seem like he had been wanting to contact her for quite some time but perhaps didn’t dare to.
“I am fine, brother,” she answered reassuringly as she used her sword to cut open the beast’s guts, letting their oozing intestines gush out on the ground. Immediately the smell in the area intensified greatly, making the site even more attractive to hungry, wild animals.“Do you still have a connection with that Stormbird that brought you here?”
“I do, I do.”
“Could you send it over to me? I have something I want delivered to our aunt.”
“I am on it!” Hoatzin replied eagerly. He was the quite for a while before he carefully asked, “um, sister, can I join you?”
Raven was about to agree right away but as she looked at the beasts in front of her and her cousin behind her, she shook her head ever so slightly. “It would be better if you could head for the meeting point we gave Aves. If I remember correctly, Dunlin mentioned something about keeping them ‘preoccupied’, so I’d like to know that they are okay.”
“. . . yes, sister.”
A bit dejected by her talk with her brother, Raven could feel Javelin’s eyes on her as she then headed for the pile of skin next to Dunlin. From within her spacial ring, Raven retrieved a fine box made of smooth, black wood. It was roughly the size of a large watermelon and, after removing the content in the box, Raven gathered up her cousin’s skin and lowered it into the black container.
She carefully made sure that Dunlin’s face was the first thing one would see when opening the box, but even then most people would not be able to recognize who it was so Raven rummaged around Dunlin’s own spacial ring, pulling out a stamp with the Talon emblem on. It would be proof enough of his identity.
‘As for a message. . . .’ Raven considered what she wanted to leave her aunt when a soft breeze shifted her now floor-long hair, causing it to dangle in front of her eyes. ‘I guess I can’t keep this anyway.’ Pulling out a dagger, Raven gathered up her hair and swiftly chopped it off just below shoulder-length. A sharp intake of breath could be heard behind her but Raven ignored it as she tied up the cut off hair and placed it in the box as well. With the dagger Raven then etched in a small bird on the inside of the lid – it wasn’t necessarily a nightingale, but Anhinga’s thoughts would undoubtedly go there if she recognized the hair.
Closing the box, Raven turned to face Javelin and was surprised to see that he still didn’t seem too bothered by her actions. Unhappy perhaps, but not condemning. She didn’t know why she cared, but this made Raven feel . . . really relieved.
At this point the high-pitched sound of fast beating wings indicated the arrival of Hoatzin’s Stormbird. Using some soul ore strengthened rope, Raven fastened the box to the birds legs and sent it on its way. The box was large and perhaps a bit too heavy for it so its flight would be slower than usual; by the time it reached the former Nightingale manor, Aves’ Everest Hawk would already have returned Raven to Sky City.
Seeing the Stormbird fly off, Raven once more turned her attention to Javelin. “Let’s go,” she said and started moving west, leaving nothing but three corpses behind – the two raptors and her dear cousin Dunlin were abandoned to whatever predator found them first.