The two guards placed their left hands on the metal door, infusing them with their spirit essence. On their thumbs, two rings started to glow in different hues of orange before a heavy thunk indicated that the large lock on the door had become undone. Quickly, the two guards then excused themselves, leaving Limpkin seemingly alone outside the metal door.
As soon as they were gone, a dark-robed figure dropped down from the ceiling.
“Well done.” Raven’s voice was as cold as usual. “It would have been tricky to get in on my own.”
“Especially since you insisted on bringing this one along,” Limpkin flicked a thumb towards a seemingly empty corner and no reply came, but Raven knew he was referring to Javelin. He was standing in said corner, invisible to the naked eye – all thanks to a pendant Limpkin had lent him.
Raven had needed to reach Councillor Tanuki as soon as possible, but the prison for spiritualists wasn’t exactly an easy place to break into. She didn’t doubt that she would be able to do so on her own, but the current distance restriction between her and Javelin made it many times more difficult.
Fortunately, Limpkin had offered to help. It turned out that the Divine Skill of invisibility, which Raven thought Limpkin had been refusing to teach her all these years, was actually not a Divine Skill at all. It was all thanks to a priceless family artifact that only those of the Sea Empire’s Imperial bloodline could use. The only reason Javelin was currently invisible was because Limpkin was close enough and could help activate the spirit artifact for him.
“So, the prison cell is open; what’s your plan?” Limpkin asked. “I would prefer it if you didn’t kill him though – it would be a bit tricky to explain to my brother. . . .”
A flash of red traveled across Raven’s eyes.
“I make no promises. . . . Wait here,” she said, but glanced towards Javelin and privately added, “if you want.”
Not waiting for a reply, Raven pushed up the door and walked into the prison cell. Once inside, she immediately saw the bloody mess lying on a meager bed in the corner: Councillor Tanuki. To be honest, Raven was a bit impressed that the man was still alive.
The rebound from one Queen Ghost Pill was hardly noticeable, but after taking eleven of them in quick succession, old man Tanuki had definitely bitten off more than he could chew. Add to that the damage Raven and the Dragon Sea Guards had done to him and the fact that he had been denied any form of healing and one had to wonder if not Death had taken the day off. . . .
Raven walked over to the bed and crouched down next to the Councillor. Sealing up the killing intent in her own spirit essence as much as possible and relying on the purer spirit essence she gained from Javelin’s soul prism, Raven used her mercenary Uncle’s Blessed Hand on the unconscious man in front of her. She was no healer, but the small flow of nurturing spirit essence was enough to stir Councillor Tanuki back into consciousness.
Struggling to open his eyes, the man groaned in pain. When he saw Raven, the Councillor’s body stiffened slightly, surprise joining the pain in his eyes.
“Y-you . . .”
“Shh, don’t speak,” Raven cooed, sounding unusually kind. She even used a gentle hand to wipe away the sweat that was forming on Councillor Tanuki’s forehead. “Poor man, losing both his children and his cultivation to the same man. . . .”
The Councillor’s eyes narrowed slightly as he stared questioningly at Raven; with all the damage that had been done to him, the man was having a hard time piecing together what had happened. He could vaguely remember charging at the Sea Emperor with intent to kill him, but, thinking about it now, he couldn’t understand why he had done something so foolish.
“Feeling confused?” Raven asked, still doing her best to tend to Councillor Tanuki’s wounds. “I can tell you what actually happened to your son and daughter and why – if you want. I can even help you regain some of your strength. Perhaps, a chance at retribution. . . .”
A glimmer of recollection surfaced in old man Tanuki’s eyes, quickly followed by new anger. Slowly, he managed a nod; he needed to know what had happened!
Raven’s lip curled into a slight smile. “I will tell you, but you must swear a soul oath to help me with a minor request first.” Raven could see the Councillor’s eyes narrowing in suspicion but she just laughed sweetly.
“The Sea Emperor and the Sky Prince want me to marry the Hake boy – to form an alliance they say. I have no interest in doing so and intend to leave; having an extra card up my sleeve might come in handy. Besides, I would be helping a traitor to the nation, so it’s the least you could do. Don’t worry, I can swear that I won’t ask you to do anything too hard or risky like start a war or something.”
The suspicion in Councillor Tanuki’s eyes faded somewhat and Raven smiled softly at him. “Since you can’t speak, just nod in agreement. As long as I explain what happened to your children and help you heal, do you, Councillor Tanuki, swear on your soul and life to fulfill a request of my choosing, promising to carry out my wish to the letter?”
For a moment, the wounded Councillor hesitated – Raven had formulated the oath too harshly, even binding his life to it – but in the end, he still chose to nod his agreement. The moment he did so, a glowing nine-pointed star appeared above his forehead, symbolizing the oath being final.
The soft smile on Raven’s face twisted into a sneer. She instantly pulled away her hand from the bedridden man.
“Since you’re here, why not help me keep my promise?” Raven asked into the empty room. Her action caused the Councillor to frown, but his expression quickly changed as he saw the slight shimmer at the foot of his bed; Javelin had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
“As you wish,” the boy said with disinterest and stretched out his hand to start healing the Councillor. The Councillor himself tried to move away, but Raven clamped down on his shoulder. His cultivation was gone and he was way too wounded to push her away.
“Why the rush?” Raven asked, her voice cold as ice. “Didn’t you want to hear what happened to your family?”
From the look on his mangled face, it was clear that old man Tanuki had realized the trouble he was in, but what could he do?
“You see,” continued Raven, ignoring the looks she was getting. “Your initial hunch was correct: I destroyed the mind of your son, I drove your daughter mad, and I even tricked you into attacking the Sea Empire’s Emperor.”
Intense killing intent gushed out of Raven, merging with the already heavy scent of blood in the little prison cellar.
“Why, you wonder? Well both of your children had an impressive knack for aiming to dispose of my brother – a truly unforgivable sin. As for you, daddy Tanuki, I was not intending to let the father bear the crimes of the children, but you just had to come storming in here and attack a man who can be considered my lifeline. . . .”
As she spoke, Javelin kept healing the superficial wounds of the Councillor, but even though he was regaining more and more of his vigor, the man’s face was paling quickly. The raw killing intent Raven was exuding in front of him was almost more than he could handle in his state, which worsened with every word she spoke.
“We don’t have a lot of time, so I won’t go into details, but I can promise you that neither of your children will ever be sane again and you . . .” Raven paused and looked at Javelin. Almost all superficial wounds on the Councillor were gone by now, but in the great gist of things, it did the man little good.
“I think that is enough healing to fulfill the oath, Javelin,” Raven said to him before turning her attention back to the Councillor. “Now, about the favor. . . . I had considered making you just as raving mad as your children, but I think ignorance would be bliss in your case, so I’d rather see you alive – sane and very much aware of what your children brought upon themselves.”
Raven paused slightly.
“Then again, letting a rabid dog lose will only come back to bite me in the end. Therefore, Councillor Tanuki, my request of you is that you, henceforth, cease all forms of communication with all things – living or dead.”
Shock flashed by in the Councillor’s eyes, but before he could say anything, a faint glow appeared on his forehead. Suddenly he grabbed his own throat, groaning in pain.
Ignoring his plight, Raven continued to specify her request: “If you wish to speak, no sound may come; if you wish to write, no words may form. If someone speaks to you, you may not hear it; if someone writes to you, you may not see it; if someone touches you, you may not feel it.”
What had first only been a look of shock quickly turned into horror, but the Councillor was helpless to act. The glow on his forehead intensified and old man Tanuki screamed a soundless scream as the oath he had accepted burned away the senses within him that would threaten its sanctity. Within seconds, the man’s face had contorted into one of utter despair. His body was rocking back and forth on the bed, seemingly oblivious to the world around him.
Javelin watched silently from the foot of the bed for a long while before giving Raven an equally long stare. She met his gaze, and for a moment Raven froze; his eyes were so cold. The light that had once shined in them – seemingly only for her – was long gone.
“I’m glad I don’t owe you any favors,” he said coldly before he turned and left.
Raven watched his departing back, a steely look in her eyes. She refused to think of the disheveled young scientist who had promised to stand by her no matter her past. She hadn’t believed him then, and she felt foolish for thinking that she could believe him now.
Three days passed fairly uneventfully. News of the fact that Councillor Tanuki had turned catatonic spread almost as fast as the tales of Raven’s monstrous fighting ability. While the first piece of information caused people to sigh at the unfortunate fate of a mentally challenged family, the latter left people both excited and afraid. A nine-year-old mid Champion that could fight with a low Spirit Master? What kind of existence was that?
Several people, including the Sea Academy’s own Headmaster, had come to visit Raven in the small courtyard house she and Javelin shared, but Aves stood guard at the door and would let no one in. Had he been guarding anyone else, such a behavior would have caused a minor uproar, but no one wanted to offend the mistress of the house, so to speak, so they left quietly.
Inside, the mood had been . . . stiff.
Javelin had kept to his room, mostly cultivating through meditation, and while Raven moved around in the house like normal, Hoatzin could tell that Javelin’s distant attitude was hard on her.
In the beginning, Hoatzin had sympathized with Javelin’s anger – who wouldn’t be upset if they learned that the woman they loved had actually tried to kill you? – but as the days went on, Hoatzin was growing increasingly annoyed.
No matter what his sister had done before and what she was capable of, the fact remained that she had risked her life to save Javelin on several occasions. Surely that should count for something! Besides, the more Hoatzin thought about it, the more convinced he grew that whatever Javelin had remembered couldn’t be the entire story.
Hoatzin couldn’t take it anymore and called out to Javelin. He had done so before, but this time he wouldn’t be ignored. Circulating his peak-Adept-equivalent spirit essence to the max, Hoatzin’s feathers exploded in flames and he dove towards the only window leading to Javelin’s room.
He was prepared to use force if he had to, but, to his surprise, Javelin’s window swung inwards just as Hoatzin was about to crash through it.
“No need to go destroying property,” Javelin reprimanded as Hoatzin’s flaming body soared past him.
Hoatzin struggled to halt his advance before slamming into the opposite wall, his rapid wing movements causing some stray flames to char the otherwise white stone. “No need, my ass! You’ve been ignoring me – and the rest of the world – for three days!”
Javelin blinked, clearly not expecting to be shouted at, but his face quickly darkened.
“What do you mean ‘so’!?” Hoatzin was growing increasingly frustrated. “I’m not entirely clear on what happened in your past lives, but isn’t it time to put that behind you and move forward? Or do you intend to sit in here the rest of your life?”
“It’s my life!” Javelin retorted. “At least this time, I will determine how I live it!”
Hoatzin’s beak popped open. “How can you be so selfish!? Raven risked her life to give you a new chance at life, and has saved you from everything, ranging from bloodthirsty Blood Shadow Raptors to raging Spirit Masters. I know you are mad at her but acting like this will only make things worse!”
“Mad?” Javelin snorted. “Now that is the understatement of the century! You know what your dear sister did to me, don’t you? She killed me, Hoatzin! I loved her and she killed me! All for some pesky research materials that I would have given her freely, if she’d just asked!”
Hoatzin faltered. Even Raven had admitted that she had killed Eric.
“I don’t think. . .”
“Exactly,” Javelin cut him off, “you don’t; you leave that to Raven and just follow blindly. Don’t bother starting now.”
For a moment, Hoatzin was so shocked that he forgot to flap his wings. He had almost hit the floor by the time he recovered, but he still managed to land softly in the end. Hoatzin looked up at Javelin, his heart stinging with disappointment.
For a long while, the two of them said nothing, silently staring at each other. Hoatzin could see regret in Javelin’s eyes, but at this point he no longer cared.
“Hoatzin, I’m so-. . .”
“I am not. I thought I knew you better than this, Javelin. Apparently not.” Hoatzin sighed and took to the air. “Perhaps staying in this room is for the best after all.”
He gave Javelin a last glance and was just about to fly out of the same window he had entered through when his head slammed into something cold and hard.
Shocked, Hoatzin tumbled backwards in the air, only to be caught by two soft hands.
“What are you doing here!?” Raven demanded, holding Hoatzin carefully in her embrace.
As she spoke, immense killing intent flooded the room, forming visible whisks of red and black smoke that swirled around Raven. Outside, the light that trickled down through the Water Dome dimmed noticeably. Hoatzin glanced up at his sister and was shocked to see that the whites of her eyes had turned pitch black and her irises blood-red. He hadn’t seen her this worked up since she decided to flay Dunlin alive.
Only now did Hoatzin look over at man who had blocked his path. It was a sturdy looking fellow, clad in brass-colored armor and with two mighty spears hung on his back. Even though he wasn’t using any spirit essence that Hoatzin could sense, the air around the newcomer exuded strength.
Hoatzin had never seen the man before, so he doubted that the latter had managed to wrong Raven in the way Dunlin had. The only other explanation for her reaction was that this man was strong – dangerously strong.
“Brother,” Raven’s voice spoke directly in Hoatzin’s head, but even there he could feel her thick killing intent. “When I tell you to run – run, and don’t look back.”