Silent killing intent pulsated out of Raven in nearly tangible wisps as she stared down the two men in front of her. She wanted them to attack, almost needed them to, and after a tentative glance at each other, the two of them obliged. As one, they launched their most powerful Divine Skills – the taller man conjuring a ball of fire while the shorter one brought forth strong winds, which both fanned the flames and attacked Raven.
The air around Raven grew turbulent and she smiled viciously, egged on by the sensation. Like Javelin, Raven chose to summon a staff to her hand. She infused it with her spirit essence and spun the staff quickly in front of her, bringing structure to the air currents around her. Just at the fire-ball and wind-blades arrived, Raven shifted her body, once more trying to merge her spirit essence with that within the two attacks as they passed her by. The wind blades eluded her, but the fire ball shuddered and succumbed to Raven’s will.
With a crooked smile, Raven pivoted on her front foot. She bent the flaming orb’s path, twisting it around her, and eventually sent it flying back at its creator – only, now it was twice as big.
The taller man didn’t have time to evade and could only watch, wide-eyed, as the flames crashed into him and exploded with a bang so loud that it could have been heard above – if not for the fighting going on there too. Once the majority of the flames had died down, only the charred remains of the hit man remained.
“Tch, I missed one. . . .” Raven grunted as she looked over at the scared-witless-man, standing further down the hall. He had been further away and had therefore managed to dodge Raven’s counter attack, but that didn’t make him feel Death, looming over him, any less.
“I-I’ll talk!” he stuttered, throwing his sword to the floor.
“. . . Good choice,” said Raven after a moment’s pause; she didn’t sound very reassuring. “Who is this Setter you were talking about?”
The man paled. “I-I don’t kno-. . .” His words were cut short by his own screaming; Raven had flicked a spark covered dagger into his foot, sending spasms of electric pain through his body. The man collapsed on the floor, thrashing violently.
“Honestly!” he wailed as soon as his tongue obeyed him again. “Only Lady Tanuki knows! A-and Viper, but she. . . .”
“Ah.” Raven had followed the man’s darting gaze, finding the female corpse lying a couple of meters behind her. “Pity,” she said, not sounding too upset about it. She crouched down in front of the man. “So, why am I keeping you alive then?”
“A-ah, I . . . Lady Tanuki is here on order of her father to find the culprits behind young Master Tanuki’s . . . accident. She believes Hake has something to do with it. Her orders are to question him if possible, or kill him if necessary. I-I have proof that she sent assassins to kidnap him – and you – last month! Some mysterious expert intervened, but . . . but we almost got you then!”
An uninterested look covered Raven’s face; clearly she was unimpressed.
“Sh-she has seven other people here, at the stadium, all giving out Queen Ghost Pills. I don’t know all their names but Lady Tanuki has plenty of pills and wants to not only humiliate Javelin, but the Sea Academy as well.”
“Really?” Raven didn’t look convinced. She absentmindedly fiddled with her dagger – which was still stuck in the man’s foot – as faint rays of red light flashed from her eyes.
“G-go away! It’s true! I swear, it’s true!” the short man desperately wailed, his face paling further in pain as he waved his arms in front of himself in hallucinating fear. Something snapped within him at that point and he practically started ranting.
“Y-you know, she never forgave her father for sending her away to study here . . . never forgave! But it’s not like she can take it out on Councillor Tanuki, right?” The man nodded frantically, confirming his own statement. “Does there exist a better way to insult the famous number one spiritualist academy than to make sure that none of their students make it to the finals? There isn’t, right? There isn’t!” His head-shaking had changed direction, now darting left to right. “Lady Tanuki will win it all and then Sea Empire will have no face left. No they won’t. . . . No face! Daddy might even acknowledge her!”
Raven raised an eyebrow. “Now that is interesting.” She smiled sweetly at the man and patted his shoulder, quickly easing his hysteria. “Thank you, sir, you have been most helpful.”
“So . . . so, you will let me go?”
Raven’s smile distorted slightly.
“Sure I will, you were helpful, right? Just tell me: at what cultivation level am I?” she asked, sounding both nonchalant and proud.
“Mi-mid Spirit Champion. . . .” the man answered, too overjoyed by the first half of her message to notice the dangerous glint in Raven’s eyes.
“And what cultivation level did miss Canis Tanuki tell you I was at?”
“High A-. . . .” Only now did the man realize the trap he had walked into, but it was already too late. Raven had grabbed the dagger stuck in the short man’s foot and, in one swift movement, yanked it out and stabbed it deep into his temple instead.
“Off you go.”
Shock flashed by in the man’s eyes but all light quickly faded from them, the last signs of life fading equally fast. He was gone in a heartbeat.
Raven retrieved the dagger, wiping off the blood and goo on the dead man’s black robes. She glanced upwards. Above her, yet another set of fights was starting – the sixth graders’ quarter finals would begin after these.
Without bothering about the death and destruction she had caused, Raven clicked on her Limiters, straightened the fabric of her long robes and then simply left.
It didn’t take long for her to reach the waiting hall where roughly twenty boys in their mid-teens were impatiently waiting for their turn to fight again. There were no females here, but not because there weren’t any participating in the tournament. The reason became quite apparent when one boy, still high on the adrenaline from his fight, caught sight of the approaching Raven.
He whistled provocatively and watched as she walked past him, but when he didn’t get any response, the boy figured that is was a good idea to give Raven a smack on her firm little butt. It wasn’t.
Raven had turned, grabbing his hand long before he reached his prized target and, bending his fingers back towards him, she took a short step backwards. Caught off guard and driven by the sudden pain in his hand, the boy slammed down on his knees, even without Raven having to use any spirit essence to force it.
The sudden noise caused the boys in the hallway to instantly quiet down. They looked at Raven, and the kneeling boy in front of her, with confounded surprise. The awkward silence was however quickly interrupted when one of the few doors in the hallway swung open and Javelin, bare-chested and with a glossy salve rubbed over his left shoulder, came walking out.
Smiling, he called out as soon as he saw her, but a frown quickly formed on his brow. Completely ignoring the still floored boy, Javelin walked up to Raven, a laced handkerchief appearing in his hand. “You got some blood on you,” he explained as he gently wiped a lone blood drop off of Raven’s cheek.
“Is it gone?” she asked as Javelin’s hand paused, not leaving her face.
Javelin withdrew his hand, subconsciously scratching the back of his neck. He looked around at the staring boys around them and his gaze hardened.
“We can talk in here,” he said, motioning towards the room he had come from. Raven nodded, and finally let go of the poor kid who had invited himself to a feel. Once free, the boy still remained on the floor, cradling his hand.
Raven followed Javelin into the side room. As it turned out, it was a small ward for treating injuries, but Javelin had been the only patient so the place was currently empty.
“Why did you come here?” Javelin asked, opting for a more private conversation than spoken words would allow.
Raven shrugged. “I wanted to see how bad it was.” She reached out to touch Javelin’s salve-anointed shoulder, but, as expected, it was almost completely healed. “You could have released your Limiters. . . .”
Javelin’s brows arched slightly before he chuckled. “That’s not what you said a few hours ago; only to prevent death, wasn’t it?”
Raven remained silent.
“So what was that killing intent I felt from you, below the stage a while ago?”
“. . . I found the goons who gave the enhancement pill to your opponent.”
“Ah,” suddenly Javelin understood, and even felt a bit pleased inside. “Was it like you thought?”
“Pretty much. Canis has gotten her hands on the same kind of pills that the Blood Hound’s vindictive employer had when they came to assassinate the Griffin twins – Queen Ghost Pills they called them. I had assumed that the pills would stop working once Gadwall left, but apparently not.”
“So now what?” Javelin asked.
“You just focus on the tournament, I’ve got your back. Be careful though; who knows how many people Canis has managed to turn against you.” Raven paused and once more touched Javelin’s shoulder. “Don’t let this happen again,” she said, out loud.
Javelin smiled, placing his hand over Raven’s. “Worried? You?”
Raven snorted and pulled back her hand. “Only about your future development – some injuries run deeper than your healing can reach.”
“Really?” Javelin smirked and spread his arms, perfectly extenuating his well-developed muscles. “I think I’ve already improved quite a bit, compared to Eric.”
Briefly, Raven froze but Javelin only caught a moment of apprehension from her before she sighed heavily and shook her head. “Boys. . . .” she chided and turned to leave. Javelin stretched out a hand, aiming to catch her, but Raven didn’t let him; she slipped out through the door like a wet eel. He did, however, catch the playful glint in Raven’s once again green eyes before she disappeared out of view, slamming the door shut behind her.
Outside, Raven had no problem hearing Javelin suddenly laughing on the other side of the door, and an unusually soft smile spread on her lips. The honesty of it was short-lived though as she met the gazes of the several boys who were staring intently at her. The boy whose hand she had twisted was nowhere to be seen.
Raven’s eyes twitched slightly, but she beamed a first-class smile at the boys and, with a voice like summer rain, she wished them all “good luck on their challenging but fair fights”.
Without giving anyone a second glance, Raven left, letting the boys mull over her words. Behind her, Raven clearly felt three boys tensing up; their hearts beating faster, their breathing faltering slightly.
‘Three so far, huh?’ she mused. ‘Canis sure works fast. . . .’ Raven expanded her senses, listening and feeling her surroundings more carefully. Apart from the arena officials, no other adults were nearby at the moment. Coincidence? Perhaps. . . .
Moments later, Raven’s lip curled into a slight smile and, not as out-of-the-blue as the person in question had assumed, a white-haired man appeared in front of Raven, his arms crossed disapprovingly over his chest.
“Ah, Aves, you’re here today?” she asked, seemingly surprised by the man’s presence.
“Lady Raven Nightingale! You little minx! What is the point of having me as your bodyguard if you keep sneaking away from me all the time!”
Raven smiled coyly. “What’s the point, indeed.”
Aves’ face looked ready to explode, a rare sight for this generally easy-going man.
“Oh relax, Aves,” Raven said as she walked past the elder, patting him on the shoulder in passing. “How about this: catch me in the act next time, and I’ll let you join me on my . . . adventures?”
Aves groaned. If he could catch Raven sneaking off, then it wouldn’t be sneaking off, now would it?
“Of course, Aves could lock me in my room and hope that does the trick. . . ” Raven speculated, talking more to herself than the man who followed behind her. A glint flashed across the latter’s eyes; clearly he had already considered that option. “But then again,” Raven continued, “who knows how poorly that would affect my cultivation. . . . What would happen if I get stuck as a mid Champion for too long?”
Aves almost toppled over at that point, managing to lose his balance on the flat floor. Raven glanced over her shoulder and laughed softly. “Relax a bit Aves, I’m only joking. I know your brother wants me under constant supervision, but let’s face it – apart from a handful of Spirit Masters – who on this continent would be able to kill me? I’m too good at ‘sneaking away’, no?”
High above the arena, standing on nothing but air, appeared two young men. Their overall shape was human, but their too long ears and lion-like tails revealed them as something else. The two of them wore brass-colored armor that looked more ceremonial than practical and, although entirely unnecessary, they both carried two long spears on their backs.
They stood in the clouds, staring down at the arena-covered island below them with varied interest.
“Sigh, such cubs. . . .” muttered the least engaged of the two. “Remind me again why we had to come to this . . . pit, a week ahead of schedule.”
“Orders are orders, Cozimo, no matter how boring you find them,” the other replied, still gazing downwards. They were well over a kilometer above the arena, but that didn’t stop him from clearly seeing what was going on below.
“I know that!” the one called Cozimo hissed, a small growl building in the back of his throat. “I just don’t get why they wanted us to waste an entire week here, watching cubs play with sticks. And don’t you go shrugging on me, Azmer; I know you’re just as confused by this as I am.”
“Perhaps,” said Azmer, shrugging anyway. “Just see it as a paid, but boring, vacation.” He paused, his tail flicking behind him. “Or, as an opportunity to meet Spirit Legend Fenris – rumor has it he’s here, training his undecided grandcub.”
“What!? You’re kidding, right!” Cozimo quickly stretched out a hand to grab hold of his friend’s shoulder. The movement was done fairly casually, but it still caused a thunderous clap to explode out around them. “Don’t you dare trick me about this!”
“I’m not, I’m not,” chuckled the other, shrugging of the grip as if it was nothing. “You know he’s a bit . . . eccentric; why wouldn’t he come to a place like this?”
Cozimo quieted down, his stare once more turning downwards.
“Fine, I’ll wait,” he eventually muttered, causing Azmer to smile softly. After that, the two of them remained silent, as they continued to watch the unknowing crowds below.