Raven looked over at the now steel-eyed Javelin and honest amusement flashed across her own eyes. It was clear that Javelin had run out of patience for his sister and was very much willing to teach her a lesson.
Taking a deep breath, Raven expanded her senses to the max. At once, the exact positions of the remaining six boats appeared in her mind, together with the fourteen immobile vessels which remained, forming a natural maze. At the moment, no one was moving though; even the still participating sailor had paused to listen to the verbal confrontation between Raven and Remora.
“Tell me what to do,” Javelin’s voice rang out in Raven’s mind, his determination causing the corner of her lips to twitch.
“I want to try something.” Raven focused on the mental bond between their souls and, instead of words, she tried sending the information her senses were giving her about their surroundings. Javelin’s shocked gasp was all the confirmation she needed to know that she had succeeded.
“Get to here as fast as you can when I tell you to go, okay?” In her mind, Raven marked out a spot at the far end of all the boats. The spot didn’t look very special, but Javelin still nodded in confirmation.
Outwardly, Raven gave Remora a calm look, not that the latter noticed – she was still staring at her brother with apparent hesitation. “It would seem you’ve lost him,” Raven said matter-of-factly.
“Shut it!” hissed Remora, finally turning her attention back to Raven. “I have not!”
“Wanna bet?” Raven countered, her eyes mischievous. “If one of either Javelin or myself wins this skirmish, you will st-. . .”
“Stop it with all the comments,” Javelin interrupted, his glare never leaving Remora. “You will treat Raven like a sister!”
Raven’s eyes twitched slightly, but she chose to not contradict the boy. “If we don’t win,” she continued instead, “I will admit my mistakes and give a soul oath to always follow Javelin’s commands. No more of my enslaving, as you put it.”
There was a sharp intake of breath from everyone who could hear what was going on. Remora stared, dumbfounded, at Raven, not believing she had heard her right. Suddenly, she broke out laughing.
“Haha, are you serious!? The two of you might have lasted this long on luck or skill – call it what you will – but look around you; everyone else that are left are Spirit Champions! There is just no way you will win in the end!”
“I’ve been surviving your attacks just fine so far, no?” Raven pointed out with a sweet smile on her face. “Will you agree or not?”
“I’ll agree,” Remora snorted. “Of course I’ll agree!”
Without warning, Remora powered up her boat and her firing orb. A thick burst of spirit essence flew straight at Raven. “It’s too late to regret it now, mainlander!” Remora shouted as her attack was mirrored by a second essence stream, shooting across the water surface towards Raven’s back. The other attack had been launched by none other than Cisco Hake, who had stealthily navigated himself into a firing position while the two girls had been talking.
Raven, however, just smiled. “Go!” she shouted in her mind and, grabbing the sides of her boat, Raven leaned backwards harshly. Just as the boat was about to both tip over and get hit by the two strikes, Raven poured all the burst spirit essence her Adept restricted spirit core could muster into the driving orb.
Like a bullet, Raven’s boat shot out of the water, flipping in the air as the two attacks plowed past underneath her. While her vessel was still suspended upside down in the air, Raven shifted some of her spirit essence to the firing orb, shooting her own attack at the stunned Cisco behind her. Raven’s beam reached Cisco, just as Remora’s did, effectively disqualifying him from the skirmish.
Before anyone had really registered what had happened, Raven’s boat had already landed back on the water, once more upright. Without pausing, Raven shot forward, whizzing past the still dazed Remora.
“What the hell!?” Remora swore, woken by the spray of water hitting her face as Raven passed. She quickly turned her boat around, only to see Raven swiftly navigating through the maze of motionless vessels like a fish in water.
“Javelin, you have a line of sight on both of the northern participants, right?” Raven asked, her question more rhetorical than anything else. “Now, on my mark, fire on the one furthest away. Then wait ten seconds before firing at the second one.”
She could feel Javelin’s confusion, but he agreed to do as told nonetheless. Raven glanced behind her and smiled coldly; Remora had started to give chase, but it was too late now.
“Fire!” Raven commanded, just as she was approaching the last bend she would need to take in order to come out smack between the two sailors. Javelin didn’t hesitate to do as asked, despite still not understanding what Raven had planned.
Raven sped up her boat as she came around the last bend.
“Ha! You might have hidden your skills well, mainlander, but your teamwork still sucks!”
Still far behind her, Raven could hear Remora’s mocking remark. Raven could understand the young woman’s reasoning; by the looks of things, Raven was on a collision course with Javelin’s first missile and was not at an angle to be able to attack either of the sailors she was approaching.
Ignoring the taunt, Raven sped up even more. Several people held their breaths as they watched Raven and the glowing beam of spirit essence head for each other – no one even noticed Javelin’s second shot. However, the expected hit between Raven’s boat and the spirit missile never came; with a last-minute burst of speed, Raven’s boat shot forward and the beam whizzed by the boat’s tail-end, not even grazing it.
Just as the attack passed her by, Raven jerked her body firmly, causing the boat to once again leave the water’s surface. Only, this time, the vessel spun around horizontally rather than in a loop. Two shots were fired by her in quick succession and everyone present watched, wide-eyed, as they headed straight for the remaining participants. The timing was perfect; almost simultaneously, both vessels were hit by two attacks each – they were out.
For a long while, there was absolute silence over the area. No one could believe what they had just seen and even Javelin had a hard time grasping the situation.
Twice, Raven had performed ridiculous stunts with her skirmish boat, and while the first one could perhaps be written off as luck, the second one could not. She and Javelin had managed to take out two Spirit Champions at the same time and without giving them so much as the opportunity to fight back.
Raven steered her skirmish boat around to face Remora, who bobbed up and down in the middle of the boat-maze, her mouth ajar.
“Only you remain now,” said Raven, her voice calm. “Do you wish to go down with a fight or will you resign with dignity?”
“I-. . .” Remora hesitated, clearly unwilling to accept either option, yet painfully aware of her situation.
Javelin drove his boat over to Raven’s side and the pair of them stared calmly at Remora. There might not have been any great hostility in their eyes, but Remora still felt a cold shiver running down her spine. She grit her teeth.
“I know that look; she’s not giving up,” Javelin warned, and Raven didn’t need to nod for him to know she knew it too.
Just as Raven was about to give Javelin his next instructions, a now familiar voice disturbed the tense silence.
“Enough,” said Admiral Hake, his voice sounding a bit odd. “Javelin Hake and Raven Nightingale have won this skirmish. All participants, return to the base.”
“Daddy!” Remora whined. She sounded oddly childish for her age, something she must have realized herself because in the next moment her head was lowered submissively. “Sorry, father,” she murmured with a flushed face.
Under a slightly awkward silence, all the skirmish boats were powered up again and everyone started heading back towards the fort they had come from. Raven noticed the other sailors shooting her curious glances, most of which were akin to adoration, but there was also confusion and even some fear too.
Remora didn’t pay either Javelin or Raven any attention as she sped up to take the lead in returning. Cisco on the other hand happily steered up to Raven’s side, placing himself opposite Javelin.
“You sure are full of surprises, Raven Nightingale!” he laughed.
Javelin ignored his brother completely, but Raven gave Cisco a chilly smile. “So are you,” she said pointedly.
Cisco’s smile twisted, turning apologetic. “I admit, it wasn’t the gentlemanly thing to do, but how could I walk away from the possibility of helping my brother to gain such a skilled serv-. . .” The last words were caught in his mouth as Javelin shot Cisco a murderous glare, warning him not to speak further.
Raven glanced at Javelin, secretly surprised. There was actually quite a lot of killing intent emanating from Javelin at the moment, and not the kind that simple anger could cause.
‘Is my soul having the opposite effect on Javelin, giving him killing intent rather than purity?’ she wondered. Raven couldn’t help but think about how the pure spirit essence she was receiving from Javelin’s soul prism was making it easier for her to suppress the killing intent that was merged with her own.
“Well, some sins punish themselves,” Raven said, putting herself in between the two brothers. “Wouldn’t you agree?”
It took only a few heartbeats for Cisco to regain his wits. “Indeed they do,” he laughed. “You got me good! I have to ask though, Raven: who taught you to drive a skirmish boat like that? I’ve never seen it operated in such a way before.”
Raven smiled mischievously at Cisco before blatantly feigning ignorance. “What do you mean? I was simply doing my best not to fall off.”
With that, she and Javelin sped up, leaving the older brother behind.
“Unbelievable,” Javelin snorted once out of earshot.
“Don’t be too mad at your brother, Javelin; he saw an opportunity for you and decided to take it. I would do the same for Hoatzin.”
As if by cue, Hoatzin’s red body came soaring down from above, landing on the bow of Raven’s boat. His eyes were almost wild with pride.
“Sister, you were amazing!” he shouted, practically bouncing on his small talons. “You were practically flying in this thing!”
Javelin looked pensively at Raven. “Hoatzin is right; the things you did . . . how could you possibly be so good at this?” he finally asked, keeping the question between the three of them.
Raven chuckled. “There is nothing strange about it – these boats are fundamentally very similar to something that existed in our previous world, called jet skis. I was quite skilled at handling those.”
“Is there anything you can’t do?” Javelin asked, sounding a bit overwhelmed.
“Sew,” Raven replied without hesitation. “I couldn’t embroider a handkerchief even if my life depended on it.”
The two boys stared at her, flabbergasted, until they suddenly burst out laughing; both man and bird were chipping for breath as they passed underneath the raised gate, returning to the fort.
Javelin and Raven had barely stepped ashore before an attendant called out to them, urging them to visit the admiral’s office. Raven noticed Javelin instantly tensing up and could guess what he was steeling himself for.
‘This might get interesting,’ Raven mused, thinking back on that stiff military man she had seen years ago. She didn’t know all of the details about Javelin’s engagement, but she couldn’t see that man compromising about anything.
As Raven filed in behind Javelin, entering the office of Devario Hake, she couldn’t help but take in the entirety of the Hake family; they were an impressive bunch. The father, middle-aged Devario Hake, was impressively enough a high Champion, and had a very imposing presence. Tetra Hake was only a low Champion, but for a spiritualist focused on healing, that was already an astounding accomplishment.
Moving on to the children, the oldest son clearly had yet to reach thirty, but he was still swiftly approaching the mid Champion realm – judging by the fluctuations in his spirit essence, he would break through any day now. As for Remora, although very fresh, she too had a low Champion cultivation. Add Javelin to the mix and one had to admit that the Hake genes were quite astounding.
A few pleasantries were exchanged, but before any substantial conversations could be held, the expected discussion arose.
“Father, you promised!” Javelin’s upset voice rang out through the entire north wing of the admiral’s fort just moments later. He had barely greeted his father before he, not surprisingly, brought up the subject of breaking off his engagement, using his and Raven’s won skirmish as an excuse. Just as unsurprisingly, the father had refused.
“I said I would listen, son, and I have, but to break off an engagement ordained by the Emperor himself – and to Lady Arowana of all people – is simply out of the question!”
“That is a play at words, father, and you know it,” Javelin snarled, his temper flaring up with a vicious aura. “I do not believe that nothing can be done, nor do I care who her father is; I will not marry Lady Arowana!”
“. . . I knew you didn’t want to marry me, but I didn’t think you hated me so much. . . .”
The sudden, sweet voice caused everyone in the room to instantly tense up. Intrigued by their reaction, Raven turned her head to look at the young girl who had just walked in through the doorway. Intertwined into elaborate braids, the girl’s floor-long hair was pale grey with a clear tint of blue to it. Her big, round eyes had the same color, only bluer – a color that was perfectly emphasized by her silver embroidered aquamarine dress. The girl was cute to the point where she seemed to sweeten the very air around her.
“L-Lady Arowana!” The normally composed admiral stuttered slightly as he hurried to greet the girl. “The Emperor didn’t mention that you would be visiting. . . .”
“I wanted to surprise you, so I asked my father to keep it a secret,” Arowana replied, smiling like a sun, but for some reason Devario Hake just seemed more worried.
To the side, Raven’s eyes narrowed. “Um, Javelin,” she called privately, “this girl’s father, is he perhaps Sea Empire’s emperor?”
Javelin’s shudder was all the confirmation she needed.