A few days passed and it didn’t take long for Raven and Javelin to learn more about their now conjoint souls. Just as expected, Javelin’s spirit connections were returning to him at a steady pace that was even slightly faster than after Raven had lost hers. In four days, six spirit connections were reestablished and as for Javelin’s cultivation, it was already halfway restored, much thanks to the enormous amount of spirit essence he received through Raven’s translucent soul prism.
At first, Javelin had a hard time controlling the spirit essence he got from Raven – it was too violent, too bloodthirsty. In fact, had Raven not had those ten days to adapt her own soul to Javelin’s purer spirit essence, it was highly likely that the thick killing intent she had managed to merging with her spirit essence would have seriously wounded Javelin, if not killed him.
However, Javelin had prevailed in the end, and every day his control got better. No doubt partially improved by his own gradually strengthening soul.
As more and more spirit essence passed through the translucent soul prisms, the two crystals slowly grew more corporeal and as they did, the distance Raven and Javelin could have between them slowly increased – initially by one meter a day, then by two.
To Javelin’s disappointment, no further memories had resurfaced, but he was dreaming a lot more. On several occasions he would wake up with a start, sometimes covered in cold sweat, sometimes with a splitting headache, but whatever dreams he had been having disappeared from his memory as soon as he opened his eyes.
On the other hand, Javelin had quickly learned how to use his mind to speak with both Raven and Hoatzin. After some practice, all three of them could be more selective in who they spoke to, allowing for private conversations. All in all, things were progressing rather well.
The hardest thing to deal with, not surprisingly, turned out to be the pair’s shared emotions. Raven was good at controlling hers, but, even then, some of it spilled over. At one point she had been walking through the central gardens, talking to Headmaster Swan about Gadwall, and her killing intent had flared up a bit. She herself had no problem handling it, but Javelin had been overwhelmed, instantly lashing out at a nearby tree. The tree had been blasted into smithereens.
However, Javelin wasn’t the only one affected by the transferred emotions. Since the youth wasn’t as adept at controlling his feelings, Raven had to take the full force of them. Needless to say, the chaotic emotions of a preteen boy entering puberty were not something Raven was used to handling. She never got quite as overpowered by them though, and managed to not act on any of them.
Raven had, however, decided to keep her interactions with Limpkin to a minimum as long as Javelin had to stay so close to her. . . . The fellow assassin had come to visit them while they were still at the imperial palace. At the time, he had made a few comments about how he felt bad for flirting with a kid and Raven had, more by reflex than anything else, winked at him and told him not to let appearance fool him.
Both of them had started laughing at that point, but Raven’s laughs quickly grew strained. Javelin had, by necessity, been there and the flood of envy, resentment and frustration that had washed over Raven, had shocked even her. Thus, she kept away from Limpkin at the moment.
Since the Talon’s were no longer around, Hoatzin had no one to monitor, so he rarely left Raven’s shoulder. He carefully observed his friend and sister’s reactions to each other and found it all very amusing. Hoatzin didn’t voice his thoughts, but he couldn’t help but wish that this Soul Bound-thing would let Raven open up a bit more. He knew his sister better than anyone else, for the moment at least, which let him be painfully aware of how little he truly knew about her.
While Raven and Javelin started to get used to their new situation, the city around them also started returning to its daily routines. Bill left for the Nightingale Prefecture, taking Raven’s four mercenary uncles with him. For Raven’s sake, they had agreed to join the Nightingale clan and help with the restorations, leaving their wanderer-lifestyles behind.
In the city itself, news about Raven’s survival had spread like wild-fire and it didn’t take long before hundreds of former Nightingale Clan members crawled out of hiding, returning to serve the clan. They were survivors themselves; refugees who had hidden when they realized what was going on. Naturally, some of them had ulterior motives, but they were quickly rooted out and before long the Nightingale’s mansion was once more bustling with Nightingale loyalists.
Sky Academy also resumed its activities, although neither Raven nor Javelin had yet to attend a lecture – mostly because the headmaster had yet to decide how to deal with the fact that the two of them still couldn’t be more than roughly fifteen meters apart. While the rest of the city had adapted fairly quickly, Sky Academy still felt the aftermath of Gadwall’s betrayal heavily.
Almost every student had lost someone close to them and the martial department had lost over ten percent of its students. Classes had resumed but the mood was clearly dampened. News of Raven’s true identity helped a bit to keep the students preoccupied, but since they had yet to see her, the buzz quickly died down.
“You need to motivate them, Master Swan,” Raven said one day when she and Javelin arrived at the headmaster’s office and found the man staring out over the academy grounds, a forlorn look on his face.
“Raven is right,” Javelin added when the headmaster didn’t turn away from the window. “I’ve heard from Martin and Lark that people are finding it hard to practice their cultivation.”
Swan sighed heavily. “I know . . .” he replied, “I know, but I’m not sure how. I considered putting together a tournament to select the new Advanced Students, but. . . . There are many things I could try, but if I choose the wrong approach it might have the opposite effect.”
Raven was quiet for a moment. “The tournament isn’t such a bad idea, but why not just tell them the truth?”
Headmaster Swan chuckled sarcastically. “Hehe, tell them the truth? Tell them that Gadwall wasn’t only allied with the Talon Clan, he was an arrogant outer-realmer with powers so strong that he could kill us all? They would panic.”
“Well, I’m not sure I would describe it exactly like that, but yes, something along those lines. Fear and anger are strong motivators, if handled correctly. These student are this nation’s future hope – what will they do if some other realm decides to ignore regulation and attacks us in a few years? Even before, most students in this Academy weren’t giving their best. They were too excited about simply being accepted. It’s about time they realize that there are always bigger fish in the sea.”
Finally, Headmaster Swan looked away from his window, giving Raven a long, level stare. Her hair was longer now, easily reaching her hips; since everyone already knew her identity, Raven made no attempts to hide her budding femininity. Looking at her now, Headmaster Swan saw an elegant girl – seemingly in her early teens – who had a refined air about her that was way beyond her years. Her eyes seemed to contain eons of knowledge, putting even him – the soon ninety years old man – to shame.
After a while, Swan averted his gaze. “I think you are right, Raven. . . . It is perhaps time we all fought back a bit more.” The headmaster headed for his desk and sat down behind it. He fetched some papers from a drawer and started scribbling. “Don’t let me keep you,” he added without looking up from his paper. “You were headed for the caves, weren’t you? You haven’t been since before the mess at the palace.”
“Yes, master Swan,” Raven responded and gave a short curtsy before leading Javelin to the door that led to the central caves. The two of them, joined by Hoatzin, disappeared into the hallway, but before the door closed behind them, Raven’s mouth twitched into a faint smile. From within his office she had heard Swan’s muffled mutter. “Master, huh?” he said, self-mockingly.
“Headmaster Swan seems uncomfortable with you calling him master now, little sister,” Hoatzin pointed out to both Raven and Javelin.
“You heard him?” Raven glanced at her brother who was perched on her shoulder. “Your hearing has improved again.”
Hoatzin nodded proudly while Javelin looked at them with curiosity. He knew that both Raven and her brother had significantly better hearing than himself, so he understood that they had heard something he hadn’t.
“It isn’t strange that he feels that way,” Raven replied. “He is a perceptive man.”
“I thought you had chosen not to tell him about your reincarnation?”
“I haven’t, but he must have his suspicions by now. After everything that’s happened, he knows my way of thinking better than most. He has to know that it would be impossible for a ten-year-old to act like I have, even with my well-developed soul.”
Both Javelin and Hoatzin nodded their heads in agreement. “Well, it does feel a bit odd to hear you calling him Master.” Javelin admitted. “I mean, you’ve been reincarnated. Technically you could be older than him, right?”
Javelin only felt a sharp pain stinging the back of his head before he lost his balance and stumbled forward, nearly slamming into the corridor wall.
“I’m not that old!” Raven reprimanded sternly, her gaze vicious. “Besides, I’ll have you know that if we count both lifetimes, you are well over a decade older than me!”
Instantly a sense of joy filled Raven, and she stomped off, ignoring the smiling Javelin that she left behind. She wasn’t really angry, but it still irked her how easily Javelin had gotten happy.
‘He can’t even remember anything yet. . . .’
Taking the lead, Raven and the other two quickly reached the center of the mountain. However, just as she was about to round the last bend, she stopped dead in her tracks.
“Stop,” she ordered Javelin and his soul oath took immediate effect, forcing him to a halt. “Go join him, brother,” Raven added and, after hesitating briefly, Hoatzin did as he was told.
“What’s wrong?” Javelin asked mentally.
Raven didn’t answer. Her senses were completely focused on the cavity around the corner. As before, Raven could sense the spirit star on the cave floor, pulsating with spirit essence – an indication that the odd space in the waterfall was yet again ready for use. However, there was something else there too. A strange presence she couldn’t quite put her finger on. All she knew was that whoever, or whatever, it was – it was stronger than her. Significantly stronger.
Raven’s mind reeled. Had it always been there, without her noticing it? Or was it something new? She could feel that the presence had already locked on to them, but apart from a sense of being an ant in front of a mountain, Raven felt no real malice coming from the source.
Just as Raven was considering whether or not she should turn around and leave, an archaic voice rang out in her mind.
“No need to leave – I have been here from the start.”
The voice seemed infinite and just hearing it caused all the spirit essence within Raven to churn uncontrollably. She glanced behind her, but the other two showed no signs of being affected. In fact, they rather seemed frozen in place, in the same manner as when Fenris was around.
“I am speaking to you alone,” the voice spoke again, answering Raven’s unspoken question.
Suddenly, as Raven did her best to contend against the havoc those two sentences had caused to her spirit essence, an odd thought popped up in her head: ‘if the mythical dragon’s of her old world had existed, surely their voice would sound like this.’
A chuckle sounded out in her mind and Raven got an ominous feeling.
‘It can read my thoughts?’ Raven’s eyes narrowed as she forced herself to keep calm.
“In a sense,” the voice confirmed, “but it is of little relevance. Come, I have things to tell you.”
Before Raven had a chance to react, she felt her muscles moving of their own accord, walking her around the bend in the tunnel. Right away, Raven’s gaze landed on the large waterfall she had grown used to over the years. Only, this time, two large and vicious looking eyes were vaguely discernible on the water’s erratically moving surface.
The two eyes stared intently at Raven and she was sure that all her secrets were laid bare in front of the being’s glare. For a long while nothing was said and Raven felt it wise not to speak unless spoken to, all things considered.
Eventually the voice in her mind snorted, seemingly disappointed, and in that moment Raven felt as if her life was about to slip through her fingers. Her soul prism quivered painfully, but just as cracks were about to appear, the pressure faded.
“I have some advice for you,” the voice finally spoke again, but there was a sense of disinterest in it now. “Nothing in this world is free. The strongest of Divine Skills are double-edged swords; if you are not careful, the skill will control you rather than the other way around.”
Raven frowned. She was about to ask more details when the force that had been holding her in place suddenly disappeared.
“I have done my part,” the voice said as the eyes in the water blurred. “Do what you will with it.”
Within seconds the eyes were gone without a trace, and so were all other signs of the mysterious presence.
“Raven?” she heard Javelin’s surprised and anxious voice in her mind. Air shifted as Hoatzin’s wings propelled him towards Raven. Clearly the power binding them had let them go.
“I’m fine,” Raven called out to both boys. “Everything is fine,” she repeated, but she wasn’t sure she believed it herself. Raven had long since learned that there were existences far beyond her imagination when it came to strength – both Fenris and Gadwall had proven that – but this . . . entity was something completely different.
There had been no noticeable changes in the spirit essence around her, yet she had been unable to even blink without permission. At least with Fenris she could still sense what he was doing.
‘Was that thing related to the person who the academy founders saved?’ she wondered, but her gut told her no.
Raven glanced at the still pulsating spirit star on the ground.
‘Well, if it wanted me dead, I would already be dead by now. I might as well do what I came for.’
It was early morning and Raven stirred from her meditative position on her bed. She and Javelin had returned from the cave the evening before and Raven had been contemplating the words spoken by the mysterious entity in the waterfall, but couldn’t really make any sense of them yet. Nor could she figure out what or who the being that had spoken to her was.
She had remained in the water fall for twenty-four hours, cultivating, but the entity hadn’t shown itself again.
‘I will figure it out with time,’ Raven thought as she yawned widely.
Opening her eyes, Raven glanced around the dorm room. Hoatzin was nowhere to be seen, but her gaze quickly found Javelin who, uncharacteristically, was already awake. He was leaning over his desk, frantically writing something on a piece of parchment.
Raven smiled bitter-sweetly. ‘I guess Eric is starting to rub off on him. . . .’ Early mornings weren’t standard for Javelin, but Eric had always been awake before the sun rose. Although admittedly, more often than not, it was rather a question of him not yet going to bed.
Curious, Raven quietly got up and walked over to Javelin’s side. Careful not to disturb him, she leaned over his shoulder so she could look at what he was writing and instantly her eyes widened in shock. Tens of papers were sprawled out over the desk, and every inch of them were covered with symbols completely foreign for this world. They belonged in their old world, but, even there, few would understand what Javelin was writing. Raven sure didn’t – she only knew what it was because she recognized it from her time with Eric. Because it was his research.
Tentatively, Raven stretched out her hand to touch Javelin’s shoulder, but she paused right before she made contact. “Jav?” she called softly, but Javelin didn’t react. After repeated attempt with the same result, Raven switched her approach. “Eric?”
Javelin’s body twitched and to Raven’s surprise, the boy twirled around on his chair and hoisted her into the air.
“I did it, Raven, I did it!” he called, only the words were spoken in a language just as foreign to this world as the scribblings on his paper.
Raven had a feeling déjà vu and she suddenly recalled the day when Eric had a major breakthrough in his research. Just like now, he had thrown propriety out the window and embraced Raven without reservation.
“Eric?” Raven asked again as she looked down at Javelin. Their gazes met and Raven saw the vacant look in the boy’s eyes. Realization dawned on her; Javelin was reliving a memory but he wasn’t even aware of it.
Cupping her hand around Javelin’s face, she called his name, but he didn’t seem to hear her. She could force him to let her go, but Raven feared that abruptly ending his recollection might be harmful. Biting her lip, Raven thought back on her own memory from that time. She chuckled – she clearly remembered how she had gotten him to let her go then.
‘It’s worth a shot,’ she thought and bent down her head closer. With Javelin’s face still cupped in her hands, Raven pushed her lips to his. It wasn’t a very gentle kiss – it was task oriented rather than sweet – but as their lips touched, Raven could feel Javelin’s body first stiffen and then grow lax. His grip around her waist loosen slightly, and Raven slid down until she stood on the floor again.
Confusion and elation washed over from Javelin into Raven, seemingly intensified by the direct contact of their lips. At first the confusion had been strongest, but the elation quickly took over and before Raven realized what was going on, she found herself drowning in it.
She could feel Javelin’s arms tightening once more, pulling her towards him, but just as Raven was about to resist, the door to their room swung open and Martin stormed in, his face flushed from running.
The very first thing he saw was Javelin, tenderly embracing the slightly shorter Raven in his arms, kissing her.
Martin gasped, his already flushed face turning several shades redder. The sharp breath was enough to snap Javelin back to reality. He hurriedly let go of Raven and backed away a few steps.
“I . . . Um, that was . . .” Javelin was too embarrassed to look at Raven as he tried to think of an excuse for what had just happened.
“Way to go, Mister Hake!” Martin congratulated with false bravado – his facial expression tattled on his true innocence though.
Javelin glared at him, but Raven only shook her head. “Don’t worry about it, Jav. I did it to help you out,” she said out loud and then added, for Javelin alone, “which I think it did. You remembered something more, no?”
In the doorway, Martin’s yaw dropped. From what he was hearing, it was Raven who had initiated the kiss. He simply couldn’t imagine the cold yet elegant Raven Nightingale initiating anything like that.
Javelin nodded, still a bit embarrassed. He would like to discuss it more, but not when they had company. Javelin turned his attention to Martin at the door.
“Well,” he asked, sounding rather annoyed, “why did you barge in here?”
“Ah, right!” Martin cleared his throat, but his face was still as red as a tomato. “Javelin, there is trouble – your mom is here.”
“Mother is here?” Javelin’s annoyance disappeared at once, replaced by first excitement and then confusion. “Why would you say that’s trouble?”
“Well, she’s really mad. . . . She stormed into the headmaster’s office and even from outside the door people could hear her shouting. She . . .” Martin squirmed a bit, hesitating if he should continue.
“She is demanding to bring you home,” Lark finished for his brother as he too appeared in the door opening.
Right away, Javelin and Raven’s eyes met, both pairs reflecting the same sentiment: now that might be a problem. . . .