Raven’s words caused the crowd to finally snap out of their daze. They looked around for the attacker of whom Raven had spoken, but all they saw on the stage was Raven herself – standing at its center – and Javelin – lying in a heap at its edge.
“Above us!” someone shouted, and everyone turned their attention towards the sky. There, at least a hundred meters above the arena, hovered a large bird with glacier-blue wings. Most people present had never seen such a large bird, but some recognized it for what it was; an Everest Hawk.
A dark figure could be seen, standing on the bird’s back, but at this distance it was impossible to tell who it was. Needless to say, most doubted that such a prominent figure from the Earth Empire’s government would choose to launch such an outright yet devious attack on foreign waters.
Not at all concerned with the crowd’s disbelief, Raven watched with expressionless eyes as Councillor Tanuki stepped off from the Everest Hawk’s back and plummeted towards the fighting stage with astonishing speed. While he fell, panicked guards rushed forward to defend their charges against the unknown threat – especially around the imperial family – but old man Tanuki ignored them, heading straight for Raven.
Aves had also finally reacted and was sprinting towards Raven as fast as he could. Unfortunately, he got a nasty surprise when he attempted to step on to the stage; with a loud bang, Aves slammed into the protective membrane that surrounded the stage. Instantly, his body bounced backwards, smashing him into a row of unprepared viewers. Blood spattered from his mouth, while those he hit were even less fortunate, almost losing their lives from the impact.
Raven quickly glanced in Aves’ direction before looking towards Javelin. She felt a brief moment of relief; her kick had pushed him just outside the confinement of the protective membrane and his mother was already by his side, healing the damage Raven had done to him.
“That’s a nifty trick you’ve got going there,” Raven commented offhandedly as Councillor Tanuki landed on the fighting stage with a muffled bang. Even before he had set foot on the ground, Raven could feel the strong fluctuations of spirit essence coming from somewhere on his body that had nothing to do with his peak Champion cultivation. Those fluctuations were resonating with the protective membrane and Raven guessed that no one would be able pass through the now practically solid barrier for quite some while.
‘Very nifty, indeed,’ Raven mused privately, killing intent flashing in the depths of her eyes. The children of the man in front of her had both tried to harm her and those few she cared about, and while Raven had yet to kill any of them, their fates were arguably worse than that. ‘Should I go for the trifecta. . . ?’
Seemingly oblivious to the bloodlust in Raven’s gaze, Councillor Tanuki coldly scrutinized the petite figure in front of him. He too had noticed that Javelin had ended up outside the barrier, but he didn’t seem too concerned about it at the moment. He cared about nothing but Raven, and there was a raging anger in his eyes that bordered on madness.
“What is going on here!?” Emperor Hamlet’s booming voice broke the silence that had descended on the arena.
Old man Tanuki, however, completely ignored the Emperor’s outrage. “Raven Nightingale,” he breathed, the words seething with bloodlust; “you have spared me the trouble of coming to collect you! Tell me, what witchcraft have you done to my son!?”
“Son?” Raven mirrored the question, feigning ignorance perfectly.
Meanwhile, Emperor Hamlet’s face was turning red with rage of his own. He had already sent some of his guards to investigate the changed membrane around the arena, but didn’t like the report he received.
“Councillor Tanuki! This Emperor demands that you withdraw the barrier and explain why you barged in here and attacked one of my subjects!”
“Bitch! Don’t think you can fool me!” Poor Emperor; he continued to be ignored as the Councillor kept berating Raven. “I know you and that whelp did something to my son; you have done it to my daughter, too!” Thick spirit essence gushed out from the man, bearing down on Raven, but she had no problems bearing the pressure.
“Did what?” she snorted. “Drove them insane? Don’t blame your family’s . . . chaotic minds on me, Councillor Tanuki.”
A visible vein bulged on old man Tanuki’s forehead and he suddenly shifted his palms, shooting another devastating ball of fire towards Raven.
“He. . . he’s a peak Champion!” someone in the audience exclaimed, finally present enough to characterize the spirit essence they were feeling.
“The girl stands no chance. . . !”
Everyone was very clear about the might of a peak high Champion. While they had yet to sense what level Raven’s cultivation was at, they could in no way believe that she, a preteen kid, would be able to put up a fight. If the man who trapped her wanted her dead, then she was as good as gone already.
“Lady Nightingale!” Aves shouted as he disregarded his own injuries and made attempt after attempt to break through the barrier. Even the Emperor reacted, ordering one of his Spirit Master bodyguards to help, but the barrier didn’t budge.
On the stage, the corner of the Raven’s lips curled slightly just before her body swayed and she narrowly stepped out of the flame’s path. As she moved, the faint sound of ringing bells spread from under her feet, but no spirit essence leaked from her at all, thoroughly hiding her cultivation.
“Councillor Tanuki!” Raven yelled over the explosion from the attack. She sounded offended rather than afraid. “This is madness! Why are you attacking me?”
“Why!?” The man laughed almost manically; “You have ruined the lives of my two children, do I not have the right to take yours in return?” He stomped his foot on the ground, launching another attack at Raven – this time in the form of a solid spike that shot up from below Raven’s feet. Naturally, the spike missed its intended target by the breadth of a hair.
“Disregarding the question of ability,” Raven paused slightly as she effortlessly side-stepped yet another flaming ball; “surely, I have no reason to do such a thing!”
“No reason? Don’t joke with me, child!”
The Councillor was growing increasingly frustrated by Raven’s repeated last-minute dodging. It fueled his rage to the point where he didn’t even notice the eerie silence that had blanketed the audience in the arena. Even the Spirit Master who had been helping Aves now stood in silence, simply staring at the scene unfolding in front of him in shock.
“My son wrote of you, Slave Boy – if you have nothing to hide, then I dare you to stand still and let this one interrogate you thoroughly!”
Raven laughed. “And have you burn me into a crisp? I don’t think so.”
By now, large parts of the stage had been ruined by the Councillor’s wild offense, but no matter how frantic his attacks became, Raven moved between them like a dancing fairy. This illusion was made even more prominent by the clear sound of bells that rang out with her every step.
Dodging forever was not Raven’s plan, however. Without any warning, she poured immense amounts of spirit essence into the tip of her spear’s head and to the soles off her feet. Instantly, a small vortex of wind emerged around the spear tip and, as the next spike shot up from underneath, Raven did not move away, but instead moved with it.
The crowd breathed in sharply as they watched Raven allow herself to get pushed upwards into the air. There she twisted her body and swung her spear at the base of the head-wide, meter-tall spike below her feet. The spear’s head ran through the solid spike like hot knife through butter, causing it to start spinning wildly. A green sheen suddenly covered Raven’s legs as she kicked the base of the spike with perfect timing; it shot towards Councillor Tanuki like a large, speeding bullet.
Not expecting any kind of retaliation, the man was caught by surprise and barely had enough time to form his defence. The spike hit him dead-center, and although it didn’t pierce through him, the Councillor was pushed back several meters, a faint smell of blood filling the air.
“Sh-sh-she’s a mid Champion!?”
Neither the crowd nor old man Tanuki could believe their senses, but, once outside of the body, any spiritualist who was close enough would know the level of its owner. Over by Javelin’s side, Tetra Hake looked at the young girl her son loved with amazed shock. She had guessed that Raven was hiding her strength, but she was only nine – how could she possibly be a mid Champion?
“Son. . . .” she breathed, but Javelin didn’t mirror her wonder.
“Anyone can wear Limiters,” he muttered, as if that explained everything.
Up in the Imperial viewing section, Lady Arowana and her family were equally shocked, but while her expression quickly turned into one of happiness, her father’s quickly darkened. As if understanding her father’s thinking, Arowana leaned forward in her chair. “Such an amazing young girl,” she exclaimed. “To be just nine and have such power. . . . Raven Nightingale will surely rock the entire continent one day. If the Sea Empire could become her allies somehow. . . .”
Arowana let the sentence trail off, but she could already see the slight change in her father’s eyes. Arowana’s smile widened as she turned her attention to the Sky Prince Argus by her side. “Congratulations Argus, the future is bright for the Sky Empire! Although . . .” she paused slightly, looking a bit concerned at Raven, “I wonder what husband would be able to handle such a powerful wife. . . .”
The faint glimmer in the crown prince’s eyes quickly faded as he swallowed nervously.
“Indeed,” he said, forcing a smile, “we will have to support whoever manages to capture her heart.”
On the stage, Councillor Tanuki’s initial shock was quickly subsiding; if anything, Raven’s sudden boost in strength explained how she had been able to harm his son, therefore making him even angrier.
“You have hidden your strength well, slave bitch! Unfortunately, it won’t save you now.” The man’s manic laughs returned. “No one can!”
Raven just smiled. While most mid Champions should be proud if they, in a group of ten, could fight evenly against one high Champion, Raven was different. Just the fact that she had been surviving just fine until now should prove that, but rage can blind even the wisest person.
Councillor Tanuki roared and rushed towards Raven, a huge two-headed axe appearing in his raised hands. Raven’s smile turned into a cold smirk; the man had been having trouble keeping up with her and yet he picked a heavy weapon to fight her with?
This time, Raven didn’t wait for the attack to come. Instead, she backed up a few steps, as if she were preparing to run. Used to her speed, Councillor Tanuki pulled his axe back further and sped up his steps. Distracted by Raven’s feint, he missed the faint cloud of spirit essence that had formed behind his back and before he managed to realize his mistake, there was a loud bang as Raven’s body disappeared and then reappeared, above and behind his back. With a foot that shimmered with green and black, Raven kicked down on the handle of the two-headed axe. As she made contact with the weapon, the black light around Raven’s legs flowed into the axe, egging on the spirit essence already stored within.
To his surprise, Councillor Tanuki could do nothing as he felt his own attack turning against him, his axe sinking deep into his spine. Screaming in pain, his body flew forward, slamming into the very barrier he himself had made rock solid.
Naturally, the crowd’s reaction was enourmous, and it would seem that the crowd had already picked a side because, after a brief moment of shock, they started cheering wildly. Even Hoatzin chirped in and flew in a victory loop above the arena.
Raven ignored all of this, though, as she watched Councillor Tanuki struggle to his feet. She was considering what her next move should be when suddenly her eyes twitched.
It happened too fast; Raven was helpless as she saw the familiar black pill disappear down old man Tanuki’s throat, and in the next instant his cultivation surged, instantly breaking through the border of the Spirit Master realm. Raven’s expression finally turned a bit more solemn. While ten mid Champions might be able to face off against one high Champion, at least a hundred would be required to deal with a low Spirit Master – if all of those people were able to attack as one.
“Raven. . . .” Javelin’s slightly conflicted voice rang out in her mind. He had perhaps the best idea of Raven’s skills and knew that her fighting a Spirit Master – even a fake one – would be pushing it.
“Worried I’ll drag you down with me?” Raven snickered back at him as an almost hungry grin formed on her lips. “Just pull me back if I go too far.”
Raven could feel Javelin’s confusion, but she neither had the time nor the interest to explain more. Focusing on the [first] verse of her Retribution imprint on her soul prism, Raven stimulated her spirit connections with killing intent and opened herself to the natural spirit essence around her. Like a tantrum-throwing child who had finally found an outlet for its rage, wild spirit essence gushed into Raven, bringing both immense strength and immense rage. Briefly, two vicious and beastly eyes flashed by in Raven’s mind, but they quickly faded as she struggled to gain control over the raging power and anger that stormed within her.
Across from her, Councillor Tanuki was already preparing his attack. Not even bothering to remove the large axe from his back, the man channelled the spirit essence of a low Master through his arms, turning them into deadly weapons. Suddenly, he rushed forward and, with crazed anger in his eyes, swung towards Raven’s neck. He moved so quickly that only those in the Champion realm had a chance at even following his movements, but to their surprise, Raven didn’t move at all.
Just as old man Tanuki’s fortified hand was about to slice through Raven’s neck, her pitch-black eyes made contact with the Councillor’s. A chill ran down his spine, but before he had a chance to react, Raven crouched down. The deadly strike passed by above her head, but as it continued past her, Raven used her hands to push off from the ground. In the next moment, both her feet slammed into the Councillor’s chin, instantly sending him flying into the air.
Raven didn’t wait for him to land. She kicked off from the ground, her fingers spread like vicious talons as she grabbed the still lodged axe with both hands and pushed off against old man Tanuki’s back with her feet. With a beastly yell, Raven yanked loose the axe, the sudden release causing her to plummet towards the ground while Councillor Tanuki continued upwards. The man managed to turn in the air, but it only caused him to slam his already wounded back into the upper limit of the protective barrier. Blood spattered everywhere, painting a red flower on the previously clear membrane in the sky.
Already on the ground, Raven kicked off once more, the bloody and stolen axe dragging behind her. Councillor Tanuki noticed her approach, and while he could do nothing to change the fact that he was falling towards her, he still readied himself to meet Raven’s attack with one of his own. Just as he was about to launch his most powerful fireball yet, old man Tanuki’s gaze met Raven’s and a bright flash of red assaulted his mind, filling it with screams and horror.
He hesitated, and it was all Raven needed to pass him by and, using the broad side of the axe, slam down on Tanuki’s back. The strike pummeled him into the fighting stage, causing his already prepared fireball to engulf none other than himself.
Fresh blood covered Raven’s face as she landed gracefully a few steps away from the raging inferno. She licked her lips, the tangy taste of iron filling her mouth. For a brief moment, the savage rage within her threatened to overwhelm her. Subconsciously, Raven glanced at the still bleeding, yet very much alive man within the flames in front of her and even took half a step forward. At this point, a cool sensetion filled her mind, as Javelin’s purer spirit essence stirred within her. Finally, she managed to regain control of herself.
Calmly, Raven retrieved a snow-white handkerchief from within her spacial ring and started wiping her face. It didn’t take long for the flames to die down, revealing the sorry-looking Councillor Tanuki at their core. He was indeed alive, but the wound on his back was bleeding profusely and the rage in his eyes was now mixed with even more fear.
“Councillor Tanuki,” Raven spoke coldly, the black in her eyes fading, “with all due respect, if I wanted to harm your son, I would just kill him and be done with it. As for your barely mentioned daughter, the result wouldn’t be much different.” Raven paused, taking in the view of the severely bleeding man in front of her.
“I know it is hard to accept reality, but . . .” she glanced at her surroundings and let the sentence trail. Instead she stepped forward and crouched down a few meters from the man, as if to give her condolences more privately.
“There is some merit to your words, though. . . .” Raven whispered for only Tanuki to hear. Killing intent laced her words and poisoned the Councillor’s already shaken mind. “Javelin did have time alone with both your children before it happened . . . and yet, as the son of an Admiral, I doubt he would do anything on his own initiative.” Raven glanced over at Sea Emperor, quickly retrieving her gaze. “Jealousy of another nation’s talents is a scary thing. . . .”
She took a step back and spoke more loudly this time. “Since no one was hurt this time, shall we let bygones be bygones?”
Her comment caused several people to choke on their own tongues; no one got hurt? What about the Councillor!? Raven on the other hand, just smiled sweetly as she slowly started walking towards the edge of the stage – old man Tanuki’s dripping blood forming a red trail behind her.