Struggling to get on her hands and knees, Raven glared up at Gadwall, her irises even blacker than before and with blood seeping from her snarling mouth. Wild spirit essence surged within her and as she clenched her fingers, groves were left in the marble tiles.
Raven was not pleased at being stopped. ‘Kill. . . .’
By now, the other people in the audience hall had overcome their initial shock and confusion. Two black-robed guards materialized, seemingly out of nowhere, next to the imperial couple. They spread out their spirit essence like a ive cocoon around themselves and the two they were protecting; shockingly, they were both low Spirit Masters. Headmaster Snow had in turn moved to stand in front of Raven, while the people who had arrived with Anhinga, or were otherwise loyal to the Talon Clan, rushed over to stand in formation underneath Gadwall.
The new arrangements meant that Raven’s line-of-sight of the airborne Trivian was blocked, but she didn’t care. She could still feel him – the obstacle between Raven and her prey – hovering only a few meters away. Boundless killing intent threatened to break free from Raven at any moment. She didn’t even realize that Headmaster Swan was trying to speak with her.
‘Kill. . . .’
“What’s the meaning of this, Vice Headmaster Gadwall!?” demanded the Emperor with as much regal aplomb as he could muster under the circumstances.
Gadwall barely glanced at Emperor Mallard before he started laughing.
“Vice Headmaster Gadwall!” Mallard shouted once more.
“Now, now, Emperor, no need to get so riled up on my account,” Gadwall smiled condescendingly at the middle-aged ruler before ignoring him completely. “I had intended to be a bit more discrete about all this but the survival of one little brat has changed things,” Gadwall sighed, to himself more than anyone else. “Anhinga’s attempts at starting a widespread war were . . . commendable, but I suppose what they say is right: if you want something done, you should do it yourself.”
Black smoke of condensed spirit essence poured out of Gadwall like a flood, instantly filling the air below him. The black spirit essence fog swallowed everyone; even the Talon loyalists weren’t spared as the black strands of smoke forced its way into their bodies as well.
For everyone with a cultivation level below high Spirit Champion, resistance was futile. No matter what they did, the black spirit essence couldn’t be stopped and once it entered a person’s body, they immediately collapsed, drained of all life force.
However, while the rest were able to put up a fight, it was clear that they too were fighting a losing battle. Even the Spirit Masters in the room were finding it hard to resist the black smoke’s invasion – although this was partially due to the fact that they were busy protecting the people next to them.
In all the chaos, no one noticed how the natural spirit essence in the audience hall slowly started to move, as if pulled by a great gravitational force.
‘Kill. . . .’
Within seconds, two-thirds of everyone in the room had been killed by Gadwall’s smoke. As more people died, the dark spirit essence refocused its efforts, putting even more pressure on the few survivors. Above, Gadwall laughed manically at the sight.
“You can’t do this Gadwall! It’s against the treaty!” Finally Headmaster Swan spoke up. He had long since crushed the jade talisman that would alert Fenris, but since their savior had yet to show up, all he could do was stall for time.
Gadwall’s eyes widened in pleasant surprise. “Oh, so there is someone on this measly little continent who still remembers – how amusing! However, what the Realm Council doesn’t know won’t upset them, right? With all of you dead, who is going to prove that it wasn’t one of the other nations that attacked you?” Gadwall smiled smugly. “Lady Talon will be so brave, avenging all of you.”
‘Kill. . . .’ Minuscule cracks started spreading through the marble tiles around Raven, forming a spiderweb on the floor around her.
Sweat was forming on Swan’s brow now; he was finding it increasingly hard to protect both himself and Raven behind him from the vile smoke that assulted them. “Don’t be ridiculous, Gadwall! The other Empires would not be capable of killing us like this – no one will believe it!”
“Not even with one of these?” A small, exotic-looking, yellow flower appeared in Gadwall’s hand.
Swan was not the only one to gasp in shock at the sight.
“The Phoenix Death Lotus!” breathed the Empress, no doubt thinking back on the report she had read about her childhood friend’s death. Anger suddenly overshadowed the anxiety she was feeling and she glared up at Gadwall. “It was you, wasn’t it! You ba-. . .”
Nene’s sentence was suddenly cut short by what could only be describes as an explosion of silence; Nene didn’t speak, Gadwall didn’t laugh and the strained breathing of the still-fighting spiritualists quieted down. With pale faces everyone turned to look at the crouched figure behind Headmaster Swan. They couldn’t explain why, but, just by looking at this small person, they – who had just been fighting for their lives – were first now truly afraid. Even Gadwall couldn’t help but gulp instinctively.
‘Kill. . . .’ Slowly the figure lifted its head.
“Ra-. . .” Swan started, but at this point Raven’s eyes flashed open, revealing nothing but an abyss of black. Dense spirit essence and killing intent exploded out of her body, forming a swirling orb of deep red mist around her.
With a growl that quickly turned into a roar, Raven pounced forward. Terrified, Swan tried to stop her, but, when he came in contact with the red mist around Raven, his vision blurred and he found himself in a sea of blood and despair. The scene only lasted for a second before Swan managed to use his spirit essence to break the illusion and stabilize his mind, but that was all the time Raven needed.
She dashed past Swan and, as Gadwall’s black smoke made contact with her red mist, there was shockingly no sign of the smoke impeding the mist at all. In fact, it was rather as if the two were merging into one, rapidly expanding the sphere around Raven.
With a flash, Raven arrived under Gadwall and kicked off from the ground, causing large cracks to appear in the flooring.
The only thing on Raven’s mind was to rip and tare that man apart!
Dazed, Gadwall watched as the Nightingale brat struck at him, barehanded. The now black and red sphere of killing intent and spirit essence wrapped itself around her arm, forming a deadly spear that headed straight for Gadwall’s heart.
Gadwall – who still hadn’t really gotten over the initial shock of Raven’s transformation and sudden control over his spirit essence – failed to put up the proper defenses. He only felt how he, body and soul, was suddenly submerged in pain and death; the red spirit essence assaulted his mind, while the black – which was originally his own – attacked his flesh.
In his mind, Gadwall found himself in the deepest depths of Hell where countless souls screamed at him, clung to him and clawed at him – desperate to have him join them in the land of torturous death. Gadwall couldn’t help but scream in agony.
Due to the constitution of Trivians, their souls were relatively weak compared to their cultivation, so the fatal weakness for Gadwall and any other Trivian was usually their mental defense. Therefore, ignoring the physical attack on his body, Gadwall focused all his spirit essence on countering Raven’s Ode of Woe, but by the time he finally managed to counter the attack, minute fissures already covered Gadwall’s soul prism.
With his mind his own again – and a firm mental block in place – Gadwall assessed the state of his body. It was clear that he had taken several hits from the little brat while he was preoccupied dealing with the mental attack, but even when she used the spirit essence Gadwall had deployed earlier, Raven’s attack power at most reached mid Master level. He didn’t know how the kid had taken control over his spirit essence, but, even then, it was still only enough to leave superficial wounds on him, nothing too severe. No, the only damage Gadwall really cared about were the ones done to his soul prism. Those would hamper him for decades to come!
“How dare you harm me!?” Gadwall howled and stretched out a hand to grab his attacker’s neck, but, to his surprise, all he got was air. “Why you. . . !”
Gadwall repeated his attempts to grab the Nightingale kid several times, but every time he came up short. With all that killing intent surrounding him and his already damaged soul prism, Gadwall found it too hard to track Raven as she instantly moved from one place to the next. At the same time, no matter how many times she managed to land a hit, the damage was minimal. In fact, it was likely that the brat was harming herself more than him.
“Bloody wasp!” Gadwall nonetheless finally lost his temper. At first he had wanted to catch Raven and torment her a bit, but now he didn’t care anymore. In rapid succession, Gadwall performed three hand-seals, causing a powerful surge of spirit essence to storm out from him in every direction like rampaging horses; even a high Spirit Master wouldn’t survive a hit from this attack of his.
“Die!” he shouted and watched in glee at what he expected to be the total annihilation of every person in the room.
But the bloodbath didn’t come. Instead, the raging spirit essence Gadwall had sent out thinned, eventually diluting into thin air before ever reaching a target. Gadwall frowned.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Young Lord Wutu – fancy meeting you here.” A crisp voice rang out above Gadwall, causing him to look up. Immediately a shudder ran down his spine.
Hovering in the middle of the gaping hole in the roof – with the still struggling Raven tucked under his arm – was a young man in simple light-green robes. He looked juvinile and ordinary, but Gadwall knew that neither of those words could be used to describe the man in question.
“Spirit Legend Fenris,” Gadwall answered with a curt nod, doing his best to keep his composure. “What are you doing here?”
Fenris smiled a crocked smile. “I could ask you the same. If I didn’t know better, I would think the young lord was interfering with a lower realm.”
“I wouldn’t dare,” Gadwall said humbly but he secretly sneered. ‘This Fenris might be strong, but with my backing what can he do?’
“Right,” Fenris nodded in agreement. “I’ve always thought you lacked the spine for such things.”
“You-. . !” Gadwall was about to lash out after being insulted, but he held back in the end.
“Hmm?” Fenris gave Gadwall a quizzical look. “Did you say something?”
Clenching his teeth, Gadwall kept quiet. Noticing his silence, Fenris’ smile widened. It looked like he was about to say something when the wildly thrashing girl in his arms actually grabbed Fenris’ hand and bit down on it with her teeth! Seeing this Gadwall momentarily felt very smug; there was no way the aloof Fenris would tolerate such behavior. In his opinion, the brat’s death would be swift, but to Gadwall’s surprise Fenris only chuckled softly.
“Ah, excuse me, young lord; I’d like to talk more with you in a bit, but first I need to calm this one down.”
Fenris grabbed Raven by her collar, easily pulling her off his arm and turning the struggling youth to face him. A deep blue glint flashed across his eyes.
Through the haze of anger and hate, Raven heard someone calling her name. The voice was very soothing, and it traveled all the way to her soul, urging her to calm down. However, Raven didn’t want to calm down. She was too angry and there were too many people who needed to be killed!
“Raven, either you claim control of this on your own or I will force it out of you,” the voice warned. “This state won’t be helpful to you now.”
‘Control?’ Raven frowned.
A sudden realization dawned on her that she wasn’t really sure who it was she wanted to kill. Memories of what had transpired in the audience hall slipped back to her and Raven realized that, somewhere along the way, her emotions had gotten the better of her. She had chucked reason out the window and acted irrationally. She had lost control. Raven, the master assassin, had let her emotions get the better of her!
Suddenly Raven felt very angry again, but this time the anger was directed at herself. The personal trait she was most proud of was her calm mind; she would not lose it now.
Forcing down the rage she felt over her aunt’s betrayal and Gadwall’s actions, Raven couldn’t help but feel that there were more emotions bubbling around within her than she could logically account for.
‘Is this how pregnant women feel?’ she wondered as she calmed her breathing and stilled her mind. After a while she frowned. As the emotions settled, Raven had also noted that, together with the foreign emotions, a lot of foreign spirit essence flowed through her veins.
It wasn’t rare to have someone else’s spirit essence within you, that happened every time you failed to block an attack or during healing, but this was different. Normally in these situations, the foreign spirit essence would have an owner who controlled it so the only way to handle it would be to fight fire with fire and force it out. This spirit essence, on the other hand, felt owner-less and Raven found that she could control its movement to some degree – although that meager control was slipping as she calmed down.
When her emotions settled, the last strands of foreign spirit essence left her. Raven felt confused over the changes in her body but also knew that now was not the time to deal with it.
She had other, more important things to do.