“No!” Javelin roared as he broke free from his horrid memories. Cold sweat ran down his body and he was panting heavily. “It’s not true. . . .” he muttered, trying to convince himself that what he had witnessed was some sort of trick.
“What isn’t true?” Raven’s unexpected voice sent an uncomfortable shiver down Javelin’s spine. His eyes popped open and immediately they met with Raven’s; they were green as the forest and showed genuine concern, but all Javelin could see was those unfeeling obsidians that had condemned him to death.
“You. . . !” Javelin breathed, instinctively moving back from the hand Raven had placed on his. “You killed me!”
Raven’s hand froze, mid-air. “You remember?” she asked, a slight quiver in her voice.
“Yes, I remember!” Javelin spat, slapping away Raven’s hand. “Bodyguard!? What bullshit! You were an assassin, sent to steal my research and kill me off once done!”
Deep sorrow flashed by Raven’s eyes, but Javelin ignored it.
“Do you deny it!?” he demanded, but Raven remained silent, her gaze never leaving him.
“How could you!? Eric trusted you – I trusted you – yet you betrayed us so easily!” When he still didn’t get any response, Javelin snorted. “No wonder you felt like you had to save me this time around; you were the reason I died last time! You have some nerve calling it settling a debt!”
Sometime during his shouting, Javelin had gotten to his feet and now stood only a breath away from Raven’s face. He took a step forward and Raven retreated accordingly. Eventually, her back hit the stone wall of Javelin’s room, forcing her to stop. Javelin slammed his fist into the space next to Raven’s head.
He was overflowing with anger and pain, completely blocking out whatever emotions Raven was feeling. All he could think about was her cold laughter as she discussed Eric’s impending death, and her unfeeling stare as he lay, dying, on the wet ground.
For a long while, Javelin and Raven just stood there – Javelin breathing heavily with rage in his stare and Raven, still as the night. Slowly, the initial anger within Javelin subsided and was replaced by a more deep-rooted loathing. He could feel Raven’s anxiety now but he didn’t care – if anything he relished in it.
“Being Soul Bound to you is more of a curse than a blessing. I wish you had failed in your attempt – at least that way you would have died.”
Saying nothing more, Javelin stormed out of his room, putting as much distance between himself and Raven as their bound souls would allow.
Still in the room, Raven slowly lowered her gaze as she clenched her fists tightly. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath. Through their bond, Raven could feel Javelin’s hate as if it was her own, and she couldn’t help but feel that whatever they had, it was over now.
“You knew he would react like this, Raven,” she whispered to herself. “Why wouldn’t he?”
A distant memory of a snow-covered field and the fading smile of a dying man flashed by in her mind, but she shook it off. “He only acted on reflex, then, nothing more. . . .”
Raven sighed again, shifting her gaze towards the ceiling. “At least he lives, and the distance we can keep between us will increase as well. . . . My debt is repaid, no matter how he sees it.”
Steeling her nerves, the pain on Raven’s face faded, replaced by a mask of emotionlessness. Slowly, she reined in her feelings and blocked off what Javelin was projecting to her, pushing it to the depths of her soul where it didn’t bother her.
She moved to follow after Javelin, but just as she reached for the door, Raven’s body froze. Her eyes instantly turned red as whiffs of killing intent seeped out of her.
“This is not a good time, gentlemen.”
Raven’s voice was brimming with malice as she slowly turned to face the two men who had appeared out of nowhere in the room. She had recognized their presences right away as the two youths she had passed in the arena two days ago, but when she looked at them, their appearance had changed. They were still human, but looked to be in their eighties rather than their teens. Still, their new disguise did nothing to hide the tails and fangs that Raven’s astute senses picked up on nonetheless.
“Does none of your kind respect the treaties?”
“Our kind?” the slightly taller one asked, looking a bit surprised.
“Outer realmers,” Raven answered, glaring angrily at the man. “Or have I missed some Trinity clan that possess tails?”
If the initial surprise had been slight, it turned to outright shock at Raven’s statement. Clearly they hadn’t expected anyone to see through their disguise so easily.
“As I said, now isn’t a good time.” Raven took a step forward, her killing intent gushing towards the two seemingly ancient men as she activated her Ode of Woe at full force. “Leave!” she roared directly in their minds.
Even with their impressive cultivation, an overwhelming sense of dread enveloped the pair as it felt like the world itself wanted them dead. Subconsciously, both of them took a step back, blinded by fear, but Raven knew it was only a matter of seconds before they would fight it off. However, those seconds were all Raven needed.
Fenris’ talisman appeared in her hand and was instantly crushed into a fine powder. In the same breath, Raven’s body shimmered and disappeared from the room. She reappeared in the courtyard outside and paused, looking intently at the door to Javelin’s room. When there was no movement even after a few heartbeats, Raven relaxed and pulled back her killing intent. Moments later, Aves appeared next to her.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, looking around for the source of the sense of danger that he had felt.
“Nothing,” Raven replied and glanced in the direction Javelin had stormed off in. “Just a small . . . disagreement.”
Aves gave Raven a questioning look, but didn’t push the matter further. “The tournament battles will already have started,” he said instead. “If Javelin wishes to challenge the graduate champion we need to hurry.”
Raven just nodded in reply. Without saying anything more, she started walking in Javelin’s direction.
Within the relatively small room stood Azmer and Cozimo, still looking like two old grandfathers, with wonder in their eyes. They had been surprised by how strong Raven’s killing intent had been head-on, but, as Raven had expected, they had shaken it off fairly quickly. They had been truly impressed by the fact that as the shackles loosened, Raven was nowhere in sight. It wasn’t that she was gone that was impressive – they could tell that the girl hadn’t gone far – but rather that she could exude such intense desire to kill while still being level-headed enough to know that her best bet was to run away.
That said, neither of them had any intention of giving up just because Raven knew to run away. They would perhaps have to wait until she was alone again, but her display of skill had only made it more clear that they needed to find out how she had accumulated so much fine-controlled killing intent.
“Should we follow her in disguise or from above?” Cozimo asked his companion and Azmer was about to reply when a soft giggle shocked them both.
“I would go with neither, if I were you.”
Swallowing hard, Azmer and Cozimo stiffly turned their heads to the space between them. Barely reaching the height of their thighs stood a small girl, smiling up on them. Her wide grin revealed a set of sparkly fangs and, sprouting out of her short-cut silvery hair, were two equally silvery ears. A fluffy tail swayed slowly behind her, giving a stark contrast to her red and white robes.
“Hello, fellow Beastmen,” she said with a wink. “Grandpa sends his greetings.”
Oblivious to the various events going down in his bedroom, Javelin paced back and forth in front of the large fountain at the center of the Water Dome; he was too upset to even feel when Raven’s killing intent surged moments earlier.
That Eric’s memory – his memory – was real, Javelin didn’t doubt at all. He felt cold and enraged at the same time as that rainy night kept flashing past in his mind, over and over. The more Javelin thought about it, the more all of it nagged at him – as if he were missing something – but his heart just stung too much. The pain intensified as he recalled all of the happy memories that he had recovered from his life as Eric as well as the new ones he had made with her as Javelin. How much of it had been real? How much had been Raven faking emotion so she could gain Eric’s trust and Javelin’s forgiveness?
He snorted. “Well she isn’t going to get it. . . .”
Even with their souls bound, Javelin almost missed the petite figure arriving on the other side of the fountain. When he finally raised his eyes to look at Raven, he was stunned; she looked so lifeless, so much like she had done in that dark and wet forest when she shot him. For a moment, Javelin even wondered if it was his imagination playing tricks on him again, but he quickly realized it wasn’t.
The change hurt, first with sorrow and loss but it morphed back into anger and hate in a heartbeat.
“Finally showing your true colors, huh? You heartless assassin!” he snapped, the words hurting him even as he said them.
Behind Raven, Aves had also arrived, and his jaw practically dropped when he heard Javelin’s hateful words. “Watch your mouth, brat!” he shouted and was about to storm straight through the fountain when Raven held up a pale hand to stop him.
“Do you still want to win the tournament?” she asked Javelin, her voice devoid of emotion. “If so, we have to go now.”
Javelin felt inclined to disagree simply to spite Raven, but, despite everything, he still didn’t want to marry Lady Arowana; both because it hadn’t been his choice and because he felt that Arowana deserved to be with someone she loved. Much like he had thought he was. . . .
“I still intend to win.”
Javelin said the words through gritted teeth, his anger poorly hidden, but Raven just nodded.
“Then let’s go,” she said and turned to leave.
Another stab of pain ran through Javelin’s heart, but he told himself it was because of Raven’s betrayal; it definitely was not because of her sudden coldness. . .
Feeling awfully jittery, Hoatzin sat on Raven’s shoulder, his eyes darting from his sister to Javelin. He had sensed Raven’s killing intent though their souls’ connection earlier and had immediately given up his watch-post at the arena island and headed back for the academy.
By the time he arrived, Raven and Javelin had already boarded the boat that would take them to the arena, and as soon as he saw them he knew that their repeated “It’s nothing”s were absolute bull. However, no matter how much he asked, all Raven would tell him was that “Javelin has remembered”, while Javelin just said that he didn’t want to talk about it.
Now, the two of them stood by the entrance to the imperial viewing section – Raven cold and distant, Javelin angrier than Hoatzin had ever seen him before. In front of them where the seats that on the earlier days of the tournament basically only had been occupied by Lady Arowana and the Sky Empire Crown Prince, but now were filled with more unfamiliar faces.
Almost the entire imperial family had shown up, including five of Lady Arowana’s older brothers, her uncle Limpkin and, last but not least, her parents, Emperor Hamlet and Empress Ilisha. The family resemblance was striking. Earlier, before Hoatzin realized that something was wrong between Raven and Javelin, he had found their varying shades of grey-blue hair quite amusing; the Emperor had the least blue – his hair almost purely white – while the Empress had the most blue – her hair like the darkened sky during a thunder storm. As for the rest, their hair covered all the tones in between.
Hoatzin didn’t really care about it anymore though, because the Emperor had only glanced briefly at Javelin before zeroing in on Raven, his gaze full of disapproval.
“So, is this Lady Nightingale?” he asked, his tone as dark as wife’s storm-blue hair. “Is this the Sky Empire minx who has ensnared my daughter’s fiancé?”