For a moment, the world in that small, dark room where Canis still stood seemed to slow down. A slight breeze shifted the young woman’s clothes way too slowly and a pale hand silently emerged from within the darkness behind her. Tangible wisps of black and red killing intent swirled around that elegant hand, corroding the very air as it passed, moving ever closer to its unknowing target.
The hand was mere centimeters from the girl’s neck when it suddenly paused. For a moment, its owner seemed conflicted about how to proceed, but, in the end, the reaching hand closed and retreated into the darkness.
All of this had happened in less than a tenth-of-a-second, and only once that elegant yet menacing hand was long gone did Canis spin around, her back covered in cold sweat and her face deathly pale.
Slightly hysterical, Canis’ eyes darted around the room, but there really was nothing there. Nothing that could explain the sudden sense of unimaginable dread and doom that she was feeling; was she even still alive?
Way above the arena, lion-tailed Azmer and Cozimo suddenly tensed, instinctively adopting their battle stances. After a few heartbeats they relaxed slightly and looked down below them with disbelieving eyes.
“What the heck was that!?” Cozimo hissed.
“Killing intent,” Azmer replied, a low growl building in the back of his throat.
“I know that!” snapped Cozimo, his jaws sounding like thunder. “But what’s it doing here? I’ve never felt it that strong before!”
“. . . I don’t know, but perhaps this is why we were told to come here early.” Amzer pondered, his tail twitching slightly behind him. “Perhaps this realm has finally produced a contestant.”
Despite his obvious discomfort, Cozimo snorted. “Yeah right, the highest cultivation level on this entire continent is a low Spirit Master – for them to be able to manifest so much killing intent, their death toll must number in the tens of thousands! No way such a person is under twenty!”
Azmer remained silent for a while. “I guess you are right. . . . Let’s just continue observing for now.”
With eyes blackened by unbridled rage, Raven moved like a silent wraith through the hidden maintenance tunnels in the arena. Suddenly, she felt a stabbing pain in her head which forced her to stop her advance and instead stumble backwards a bit.
Her breathing was harsh and, unable to sit still, Raven started to rock back and forth on her feet, slamming her fist into the stone wall on every turn.
Through her connection with Javelin, Raven could feel him tugging at her kindled anger, taking some into himself and soothing what was left with his calmer emotions. Slowly, the black color in Raven’s eyes faded, being replaced by the more controlled blood-red eyes that her killing intent fueled.
“That’s enough, Javelin. Focus on your fight,” she instructed through their bond, but even mentally her voice sounded grimmer than usual.
“Are you sure?” Javelin too sounded agitated, no doubt influenced by her emotions.
“Yes.” Raven replied, moving backwards a bit further in the tunnel, giving Javelin more freedom of movement. “I’m fine.”
She could feel Javelin reluctantly shifting his attention back to his own fight – he was in the middle of his semifinals, after all.
Raven let out a deep breath, some black and red wisps being expelled with it. Naturally, she had followed Canis to her meeting with Setter and heard all of her nefarious plans. The moment killing Hoatzin was mentioned, Raven’s mind had gone kind of blank.
It was like the world around her agreed with her rage and egged her on – fueling both her killing intent and spirit essence with savage power beyond her control. Raven had involuntarily activated her Ode of Woe and moved in for the kill – her entire being hungered for it.
It had been at that point that a pure and calming flow of spirit essence flushed into her mind, bringing back some clarity to her. It was Javelin. He had naturally sensed the change in her and had practically paused his ongoing battle so he could help bring Raven’s senses back. However, just because he stopped fighting didn’t mean his opponent did. . . . Raven didn’t need to guess to know how badly he had been injured while focusing on her.
“I wonder how long he will keep wanting to protect me. . . .” she murmured softly, but then sighed. There was no point in thinking about that now – only time would tell. What she should be doing was to figure out what kept pushing her over the edge of control. It had happened before – with Dunlin and even more so with Gadwall – but why?
It wasn’t that she didn’t think they deserved what they had coming – Canis certainly did and if Raven ever found Gadwall again, she wouldn’t hesitate to finish what she started. What Raven didn’t like was that feeling of losing control.
Raven closed her eyes, calmed her breathing and thought back on the previous occasions where her rage had gotten the better of her. In her mind, she saw the barren cliff where Jack and Dunlin sat on their tamed Shadow Blood Raptors, Jack dangling Hoatzin in his net, threatening to cook him for dinner.
At that point, Raven had decided to let go of her pent-up anger and finally do something about her jerk of a cousin. She had wanted him to suffer, immensely, so she activated the Ode of Woe with all her might. As she did, the natural spirit essence around her had been influenced by her killing intent and had rallied to her, eventually becoming more than she could handle. Only Javelin had snapped her out of it eventually.
Raven frowned and moved her memories to her battle with Gadwall. He – or was it Anhinga? – had been showing some fake recording of the Nightingale family’s death and with every bloody strike, Raven had felt her heart grow colder. That pathetic recording. . . . Still, she had managed to control her emotions up until the point when Gadwall helped Anhinga escape and then showed off the Phoenix Death Lotus like some little trophy.
Raven had been so angry then, so very angry. Just like in the mountain range, the natural spirit essence around her had responded to her rage, voluntarily filling her to the bursting point.
She had wanted retribution, and the world had answered her call.
‘. . . wait, retribution?’ A sudden thought struck Raven as a particular phrase flashed by in her mind:
If they can’t be forgiven,
then let them be burned.
For that which is given,
must be tenfold returned.
The lines of her elusive and mysterious Divine Skill Retribution.
From what insight she had gained, the aim of this martial skill was to use an opponent’s attack against them, returning a strengthened version in retribution. However, there was also that warning from the ancient entity in the Sky Academy’s hidden chamber – his words echoed in her ears: “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’s eyes widened in realization. ‘That has to be it!’ No sooner had the notion hit her than a prickling pain filled Raven’s head. Groaning slightly, Raven turned her attention inwards, seeking the source. She was shocked to find the inscription for the Retribution Divine Skill glowing intensely on the surface of her soul prism. The two verses that had previously been unclear now burned the brightest as new words were being etched into her soul. Once the light faded, three verses were linked together:
When the trust is forsaken,
all bonds shall be maimed.
For that which is taken,
will be fiercely reclaimed.
If they can’t be forgiven,
then let them be burned.
For that which is given,
must be tenfold returned.
But when Vengeance has stricken,
and the Justice is done,
a faint soul may sicken;
Retribution spares none.
For a long while Raven sat in silence, contemplating what new insights these lines gave her, but beyond the fact that the second verse seemed to refer mainly to the attack transfer she couldn’t say much. It could be possible that the sickening soul referred to her loss of control, but her instincts told her otherwise. It felt more like the loss of control was a byproduct of Raven not being skilled enough at handling whatever the first verse was bringing about within her whenever she got truly angry.
Raven grunted, feeling a slight headache coming along – and it was not because of her still throbbing soul prism.
‘Why do I get the feeling that this Divine Skill might end up giving me more trouble than it’s worth. . . .’ Raven mused but then shook it off. She wasn’t the type to refuse the heavy artillery just because there was a risk of it blowing up in her face.
No, she would master it, no matter what is was.
Raven opened her eyes, the blood-red glow still present, and glanced back down the tunnel she’d come through. When she just barely regained control earlier, she had used it to put as much distance between herself and Canis as possible – she was simply too intent on killing that conniving little bitch to remain close by. Raven’s intentions hadn’t changed much, though; as far as she was concerned, the girl had already signed her own death certificate.
Raven’s lips curled into a vicious smile as she headed back down the tunnel. At least now she knew that Javelin could help her snap back to reality if things got . . . messy.
Seated on the back of the chair that Raven had failed to use for more than a few minutes sat Hoatzin, his fiery feathers glistening in the now setting sun’s orange rays. He was watching the fighting stage with an intent gaze but his mind wasn’t entirely focused on the fight as he also diligently listened to the conversations of the people seated around him. They were the highest this nation had to offer, nobility-wise, and their conversations were quite interesting to listen in on.
Or at least, that was what he had been doing for large parts of the day. At the moment, however, the fighting stage had Hoatzin’s undivided attention. It was the semifinals, so only two sections where being used, with four people in total. However, only one particular person was of interest to Hoatzin; Javelin, who stood in his section, practically drenched in blood.
A while back, his friend had almost entirely stopped fighting back against his opponent, only sluggishly moving out of the way when the latter was about to land lethal attacks. No matter how hard Hoatzin called for Javelin – or his sister for that matter – he had been ignored, only getting a strong reprimand to stay where he was.
Javelin’s dazed fighting, if you could call it that, had continued for over two minutes – although it felt like much more to Hoatzin – until suddenly, Javelin’s gaze regained its vigor. His eyes had focused on the tall and lanky fellow he was fighting and even from well over a hundred meters away, Hoatzin could feel the vicious anger that was boiling behind those blue irises.
For the first time in the entire tournament, Javelin had then initialized an attack. Rushing forward, Javelin had raised his staff diagonally over his head like a backwards-turned sword and then slashed it downwards. As he did, crystalline streaks of water spurted out from the staff’s tip, forming a huge, icy scythe.
His opponent – and the watching crowd´ too for that matter – hadn’t known what hit him as a deep gash formed across his chest, blood spilling out of him like a river.
For a moment, the entire arena seemed to still as even the other fighting pair paused their battle to see what had happened, and there he was; Javelin, covered in blood not entirely his own, panting heavily with explosive rage.
Then all hell broke loose. Most of the crowd started cheering wildly while a bunch of healers rushed out on stage to help the now collapsed youth. They gave Javelin reproving glares, but when they looked closer and realized how badly injured he was himself, they quickly paled and called for more assistance.
“Ja-Javelin Hake of Sea Academy wins in section 1!” the arena official managed to call out after a moment’s pause, and no sooner had the words left his mouth than Javelin’s body shuddered and toppled forward.
“Javelin!” Hoatzin called, his talons digging into the wood of the chair he was perched on. When no reply came, Hoatzin tried another approach; “Sister! Javelin has fainted!” he called to Raven. At first, Hoatzin thought he wouldn’t get a reply from her either, but it actually came before he could try again.
“I know, brother,” she replied, sounding more restrained in her emotions than usual. “Don’t worry, he is . . . he will be okay. His mother is already on the island.”
“What happened!?” Hoatzin demanded. “I tried to reach you, but you would not answer! You felt . . . far way.”
“It’s a long story – I’ll tell you later.” Raven paused and Hoatzin could tell that something big must have happened. He hesitated slightly to ask about it, though, which gave Raven time to speak again. “I do have something I need you to do, though.”