Raven saw Javelin glancing back at his mother, who was currently pointing out a couple of famous Sea Empire landmarks to Raven’s ‘assigned bodyguard’, Aves.
“Do you trust me?” Javelin asked and Raven raised a quizzical eyebrow.
“Enough,” she answered and felt a brief moment of disappointment coming from Javelin. He quickly recovered though.
“That will have to do. Relax,” Javelin said just as he closed the distance between them and grabbed Raven around her waist. Before anyone had the chance to react, Javelin had already plunged forward, dragging Raven with him as he dove off the cliff.
“Javelin!?” Hoatzin called in shock, quickly diving after them.
‘I thought we weren’t going to jump!’ thought Raven, slightly annoyed, and was just about to activate her spirit essence when she sensed something quickly approaching.
Javelin shifted his free arm and a translucent rope appeared in his hands. In the next instant, he flicked out the rope and, seemingly catching on nothing, the rope-tip looped back to Javelin’s hand. Instantly, the downwards fall changed directions, quickly trailing off towards the shore-line.
‘It’s a zip-line!’ exclaimed Raven in her heart, not bothering to be impressed by the, to the eye, invisible spirit essence chain that suspended them.
Noticing the change, Hoatzin snorted and slowed down, not bothering to chase after them anymore. Quickly the pair’s speed increased, causing the wind to whip at their hair and clothes. Raven couldn’t help but smile as the thrill of the fall grew within both her and Javelin, their joint emotions pushing them further.
“I thought you might like this!” Javelin called over the roaring winds. “We’ll go even faster soon!”
Raven glanced up at the translucent rope that kept them suspended and her smile widened; she recognized the material.
“Yes, we will,” she agreed and activated her spirit essence. A heartbeat later, the airflow around her and Javelin changed, no longer pushing against them but rather slipping effortlessly around the two. Instantly, the acceleration picked up even more. Soon, they shot through the air at a speed well over a hundred kilometers per hour and their speed was still increasing.
Javelin laughed and both he and Raven howled in exhilaration. In the distance the blue ocean and the boats on it were growing larger and larger, but the descending pair showed no signs of slowing. It wasn’t until they were only a hundred meters above ground that Javelin started to pour his spirit essence into the rope he was holding on to, intending to slow down, but to his shock nothing happened. Something, or rather someone, was blocking him.
“Raven?” he asked, but she just kept laughing.
Javelin frowned, his anxiety growing with every heart beat. If they continued like this, they would crash into the sea faster than their bodies could handle, but, he did trust Raven. Gritting his teeth, Javelin waited. By the time they were only thirty meters above the white sand dunes, the pair’s speed had reached an astonishing two hundred kilometers per hour and Javelin’s heart was pumping like crazy – he had never approached the end of the line this fast before!
Just as he was about to freak out, Raven shifted her body and grabbed hold of the rope with both hands as she wrapped her legs tightly around Javelin’s waist. Suddenly, vast amounts of spirit essence gushed out of her, pouring into both the translucent rope and the air around them.
As if being dumped into a thick liquid, their speed abruptly dropped. The change was so sudden that Javelin felt dizzy; his vision darkened, his breathing stopped. The next thing he registered was the cold water enveloping him as he splashed into the sea.
Shocked back to consciousness, Javelin burst out of the water. Enraged, he was just about to bark at Raven, when he heard her jubilant laughter. Transfixed by the melodious sound, Javelin turned to look at the source. Standing in knee-deep, crystal clear water, Raven was dripping wet. Sparkling drops of water decorated her face, making her already spectacular smile seem all the more wondrous. Still laughing, Raven gathered her wet hair and wrung it, twice, before using her fingers to comb through it.
Calming her laughter, Raven looked up at Javelin, and smiled. A genuine, honest smile. With his mouth agape, Javelin just stared; he could think of nothing but that smile.
“You are not the only one staring,” Hoatzin pointed out once he arrived barely a minute later.
It was only then that Javelin realized that it was oddly quiet; the several pontoon ports across the beach were always bustling with activity, especially during the early morning as it was now. Javelin tore his gaze away from Raven, only to find that the dozen or so workers at the port were, indeed, also staring. Looking back at Raven and her soaked clothes, clinging tightly to her slender body, Javelin’s eyes widened and he hurried to her side, throwing a dry blanket over her shoulders.
Raven glanced around her and, noting the people’s stares, chuckled.
“It’s not me they’re staring at, Jav, it’s us,” she said in a soft voice. “I think our entrance . . . shocked them.”
“Not just them,” grunted Javelin as he led Raven towards the shore, using his spirit essence to quickly dry her clothes as they went. “Did you have to wait so long before stopping?”
Raven’s mouth widened into a grin. “Of course I did – it is more fun that way, no?” she asked and winked playfully. “Besides, I was surprised that you didn’t faint; as Eric you were terrified of heights. Some sky diving accident caused it, if I remember correctly.”
Javelin was about to protest that he did faint when Raven’s last words hit him. Suddenly, Javelin felt his stomach flip as images of him, free-falling from high up in the sky, flashed by in his mind.
“I feel sick. . . .” Javelin backed away from Raven, bending over to gather himself.
“Oops,” said Raven, raising her shoulders apologetically. “Some memories are better not remembering, huh?”
“Third master Hake,” a slightly nervous voice called, preventing Raven from saying anything else. “Are . . . are you alright?”
Raven looked over at the tawny man who had spoken. He had no cultivation whatsoever, but judging from his skin and muscle tone, Raven could tell that the man was an experienced sailor. Before Javelin had the chance to answer though, a young man stepped out from the ship Javelin had pointed out as his from above.
“Of course he is fine, Goby; we Hakes have survived worse.” The youth smiled, glancing briefly at Raven. “Though I must say you’ve improved your entrance – mother won’t be pleased.”
“Brother,” Javelin greeted as he pushed down the queasiness he still felt and waded ashore, stopping at Raven’s side.
“The young Lady Nightingale, I presume?” the brother asked, looking directly at Raven now.
“Greetings, Master Hake,” Raven replied with a curtsy.
“Please, call me Cisco, Lady Nightingale – any friend of my brother’s is a friend of mine.”
“Only if you call me Raven.”
“Fair enough,” laughed Cisco with surprising mirth.
Still standing on the pontoon, the young man carefully studied Raven and as he did, she silently observed him too. Except for his eyes, which were just as ice-blue as Tetra Hake’s, this ‘Cisco’ was by all means an older version of Javelin.
They had the same underlying facial features, skin tone and gold-shimmering hair, even their voices sounded similar. As with all spiritualists, it was hard to judge his age by appearance alone, but Raven guessed that he was in his mid to late twenties. She had to admit, the man was refreshingly gorgeous.
Noticing their stares, Javelin was about to step in between Raven and his older brother when the light pitter-patter of running steps interrupted him. Seconds later, a whirlwind of blue fabrics and golden hair flowed out from the same ship Cisco had emerged from, and in the very next instant a tall girl had wrapped herself around Javelin, pressing him against her chest tightly.
“Javy!” she called, swaying Javelin back and forth in her arms. “I’ve missed you so much!”
Muffled grunts could be heard as the poor boy struggled to get loose, but to no avail.
“A friend of yours, Javy?” Raven asked, feigning ignorance.
“She’s my sister!” Javelin shouted mentally, still unable to break free from his sister’s clutches. Raven could tell he was afraid that she would misunderstand. The sister, on the other hand, had no such qualms.
“Who are you?” she barked, losing the happy smile on her face in an instant as she glared at Raven. “The bitch who enslaved my brother?”
“Remora!” shouted both Cisco and Javelin, the latter finally managing to break free from his embrace.
“What? It’s true, isn’t it?” Remora Hake retorted, unwilling to back down, and Raven’s eyes flashed with a cold light.
She only needed this brief exchange to sum up this sister of Javelin’s and she didn’t like what she saw. In both appearance and temperament, this girl was the spitting image of her mother, the Saint Major of legend. Unfortunately, the younger version lacked, or had yet to learn, the point of moderation; while the mother knew how to use her temper as a sharp sword, the daughter used it like a sledgehammer. There would be no reasoning with this type of person.
“Raven still saved our little brother, Remora – you should apologize,” Cisco urged, but Remora just snorted.
“Sister. . . .” Javelin pleaded, unwilling to see two women he cared about at odds.
“What a hard-headed woman,” commented Hoatzin from his place on Raven’s shoulder when the sister still refused to give in. Raven herself kept silent.
“Listen to your brothers, Remora,” madam Hake’s voice called out from behind. She and the other members of the caravan had finally made their way down to the shore, and where approaching on foot. “Don’t be disrespectful.”
Being chided by her mother, Remora’s attitude quickly changed and she gave Raven a grandiose curtsy. “Thank you for your benevolence, Lady Nightingale,” she said, her voice sounding very magnanimous. Raven wasn’t fooled though; Remora was clearly not pleased.
“Thank you, mother,” said Javelin with a relieved sigh, but his breath was caught in his throat as he saw the sharp look his mother gave him.
“Do not go thanking me yet, son,” Tetra scolded. “What in the seas were you thinking?”
Javelin flinched, but still managed to answer. “I just wanted to show Raven the fastest way down. . . . It’s not like I haven’t done it before.”
“What if you had dropped her? The two of you have to stay together, remember! And that ending . . .”
“The late stop was entirely on me, madam Hake,” Raven interrupted, lightly pushing aside Aves who had rushed forward while Tetra spoke. He didn’t mind it though, since he had already used his spirit essence to check what he wanted to know: Raven was fine.
“I wanted to try a new Divine Skill of mine,” continued Raven, lying.
Tetra flinched unnoticeably. “Try?”
Raven nodded, ignoring Javelin’s warning glances. “Since it only works at high speeds, I haven’t had the chance to test it before,” she continued to push. “I figured this was the perfect opportunity to try it out.”
Not unexpectedly, Remora glared angrily at Raven – ready to explode at anytime – but, to Raven’s surprise, Tetra kept her cool and just stared at her with narrowed eyes.
An odd silence descended and even the port workers, who had finally resumed their labor, paused yet again, curious about what was going to happen.
“Your father is waiting,” Tetra said eventually, turning her attention to her children. “We are leaving.”
Raven watched the mother walk past her and smiled secretly to herself.
“I thought madam was going to eat you alive for that comment,” said Hoatzin to his sister. “She seems surprisingly fine with it.”
“Oh, she isn’t fine with it,” Raven disagreed. It had been better hidden this time, but that pure savageness that Tetra Hake had shown Raven back in the wagon had appeared within the woman now too. ‘So luring and bloodily massacring bandits is okay, but slightly reckless playing isn’t? Interesting woman.’
Evaporating the last drops of water from her clothes and hair, Raven followed Javelin and the other Hakes onto their, or rather Javelin’s, docked ship. Despite his long absence, and his obviously young age when he left, Javelin’s crew diligently followed his commands as he reclaimed the helm of his ship.
Quickly, the guards who had escorted the caravan through Earth Empire, separated into smaller groups, chatting and laughing freely for the first time since they left. Clearly, they could finally relax.
Standing by the railing, Raven was watching the crew setting the sails when she noticed Cisco leaving his sister’s side and approaching her instead. Behind him, Remora shot Raven several angry glares.
“Don’t mind my little sister,” Cisco said, once he arrived by Raven’s side. “She is very protective of Javelin – we all are.”
“Protective enough to send him away to a foreign country without bodyguards?” Raven asked, sounding neither civil nor rude.
Cisco chuckled, his arms folded behind his behind his back. “Remora didn’t want to let him go, but tough love is the Hake family way – it builds character. Besides, the emperor asked for it, how could we refuse?”
“Following orders. . . .” Raven’s gaze fell on Javelin and then drifted out towards the open sea, her mind elsewhere. The ship had gained speed quickly and, every now and then, sprays of salt water washed over the railing, dampening her clothes and hair all over again.
Cisco took Raven’s silence as a sign of disapproval towards the Emperor and was quick to explain. “It wasn’t an order exactly; the Emperor simply wished to let the nation’s younger generation see more of the word. It was an honor to be chosen, really.”
Raven smiled wryly, but said nothing.