The three boys managed to shuffle Raven out of the banquet hall with perfect timing; just as the doors closed behind them, Raven could hear Dunlin and his crew getting details about her. It was a shame she couldn’t see them, considering the sudden change in their breathing.
As it was, Raven got away from the banquet without a fuss. Her new insights and whatever information Hoatzin would bring her, had given Raven some options for her next move. Now, however, was not the time to consider them.
“Now what?” she asked in a slightly annoyed tone.
The two twins looked peevishly at each other, and Javelin sighed.
“Well, there is this tradition . . .” started Lark.
“It’s more of a dare really,” inserted Martin.
“. . . where new students try to climb as high as possible up the Spirit Hall tower back at the northern area of the Academy,” continued Lark, “Normally you would have found out about it tomorrow during your first Spirit Control class . . .”
“. . . but wouldn’t it be awesome if your mark was already on it when the others hear of it? Besides, you will have your first control lesson with us so tonight is your only chance, really,” finished Martin.
Raven stared at the excited twins with raised eyebrows; ‘they are quite synchronized, these two. . . .‘ she thought, but instead asked, “why not just take a spirit beast to the top?”
“Due to the nature of the tower there is a strong suction of spirit essence outside, normal spirit beasts won’t go near it,” explained Javelin, “this also restricts the use of spirit essence during the climb; you will have to rely on body strength alone going up.”
“It doesn’t sound like much of a dare. . . .” muttered Raven.
The twins smirked slightly. “So you’ll do it then?” they echoed.
Raven shrugged and nodded her consent, causing the Griffins to light up triumphantly while Javelin just smiled apologetically.
‘I wonder what they have planned?’ mused Raven as the twins dragged her through the palace halls, likely towards an appropriate exit.
How could she not notice that they were hiding something from her? Nonetheless, she obediently followed along; no matter what the hidden detail was, she was confident that she could handle it. Even though she saw few benefits in making friends with her preteen classmates, alienating them would bring no benefits at all.
The departure from the palace was swift and before long Raven and the boys were seated on the back of a large Everest Hawk, headed for the north side of the Academy Tier. As they approached, Raven couldn’t help but notice a huge tower standing at the northern ledge of the Tier, looking as if it would topple over the edge at any moment.
The architectural structure of the tower was a complete opposite to all the other constructions in the area. Whereas the other buildings had a very Asian feel to them, this tower was more medieval Gothic in nature; it was built out of smooth black bricks and had multiple large windows – decorated with intricate traceries – and ornate spires in abundance.
Every twenty meters or so, the tower changed shape; the base was square, the next level was slightly smaller but with five sides instead of four, the level after that was smaller still but with six sides. This pattern was repeated a total of six times, giving the smallest top-structure nine sides. All in all, it looked quite menacing.
“That is the Spirit Hall Tower,” Javelin, who was seated being Raven, pointed at the black building, “it had to be placed as far away from the southern dorms as possible, or it would have sucked the Starlight wood in our houses dry ages ago.”
Raven nodded – they were more than two hundred meters away from the tower but she could already feel how the natural spirit essence in the air was growing thinner.
“Inside there are hundreds of Spirit Halls of varying size and quality. The fifth section, the one shaped like a octagon, is for us advanced students – it has twenty rooms, separated on five floors, and we get one room each during the Day of Light.”
Suddenly, the Hawk dived down and landed on the ground barely fifty meters away from the tower – clearly it would go no further. Raven understood its discomfort; the area in front of her was completely void of natural spirit essence, making the air itself seem dead and unwelcoming. Her own spirit core struggled desperately against the suction of the tower and any spirit essence that she tried to move out of it was sucked up in an instant.
Raven shuddered but as she hesitated to walk forward, Javelin and the twins approached the tower totally unfazed. ‘Ignorance is bliss. . . .’ she thought derisively, ‘they don’t even sense their own presences being sucked away. . . .’
Martin turned around and gave Raven a pleased smirk, “having second thoughts, are we?”
Raven snorted and started walking.
As she came closer to the tower she noticed how her senses grew duller, leaving her with only what her strengthened body provided. Up close and from the ground, the building was even more impressive and Raven had to crank her neck all the way back to see the top. She noticed the twins walking towards the ledge next to the tower and got a sudden premonition.
“I just have to climb as high as I can, right?” she asked.
“Well,” started Lark, dragging out the word.
“It wouldn’t be very much of a dare that way, now would it?” continued Martin and both twins glanced meaningfully towards the side of the tower facing the edge. They smiled broadly at Raven, obviously pleased at how they had turned Raven’s own words back at her.
“Don’t listen to them,” interrupted Javelin, “you don’t have to do it on the northern side – most students don’t.”
“But you three did.”
It wasn’t a question but Javelin nodded nonetheless.
Raven walked over to the edge and looked down on the world bellow. Although the Military tier was only a couple of hundred meters bellow the Academy Tier, due to the location of the other three mountain peaks, there were no structures facing directly north. If Raven fell, she wouldn’t stop until she hit the Mansion Tier, roughly six hundred meters bellow.
Suddenly her eyes narrowed slightly and a minuscule smile spread on her lips.
“How high did you guys go?” she asked and while the boys were busy pointing out were they had been forced to turn around, Raven nudged a small stone over the edge and her smile grew. By the time the boys turned their attention back to Raven, however, the smile was relapsed by an unimpressed stare. “The record?” she prompted.
The twins seemed a bit perturbed by Raven’s reaction, but Javelin answered calmly: “on the northern side the record is 63 meters – the bottom of the forth section – it might not sound like much but it’s a lot harder to climb than it looks.”
Raven couldn’t help but reflect back on her old world; the notion of eight-year-olds climbing sixty meters up a perpendicular facade, even without the six hundred meter drop below, would have been utterly ridiculous. Well, for anyone but Raven and her fellow assassin trainees that was.
“How do I mark my top position?” she asked.
“You don’t need to worry about that, the identification stone that Elder Kagu gave you will do it for you.” informed Martin, who was almost bouncing with excitement by now.
Raven just gave him a nod and walked over to the closest tower wall. It was impossible to reach the northern side from the ground, so she would have to swing around the corner once she was a bit up the wall. For a few seconds Raven just stood there, observing the tower in front of her. With her extraordinary eyesight she had no trouble seeing small details in the buildings structure even a hundred meters up.
‘Let’s have some fun with this!’
Javelin observed the lean youth in front of him who was currently starting up the tower wall with intense eyes. He couldn’t help but feel like this was a bad idea. What if something happened to Raven? Usually an Elder would be present while the students attempted the climb.
“Don’t push yourself too hard, Night,” Javelin finally warned as Raven removed the outer layer of his grey uniform, revealing the equally grey tunic and pants underneath.
“Yeah, it would be a pain in the neck to explain to the elders why their new favorite is plastered to the roof of a noble clan’s family home,” joked Martin and Lark laughed, but Javelin only felt more uneasy.
Raven didn’t even turn around at this though, and just lifted a pale hand to his forehead, flicking it out in a salute.
‘His hands are so small. . . .’ though Javelin absentmindedly before he quickly shook his head; why did he even care about the boy’s hands?
Suddenly, Raven jumped up and down a few times before dashing towards the tower wall. With impressive ease, Raven basically ran up the wall before grabbing hold of the first windowsill, almost three meters up. The twins whistled in unison as Raven swiftly pulled himself up and somehow managed to stand on the narrow ledge beneath the window. A red dot appeared on the tower wall next to Raven’s head.
Without pausing, Raven threw himself towards the corner of the tower and, for terrifying moment, Javelin thought that the boy had lost his mind – simply jumping of the building, and the Academy Tier in the process. However, just as Raven’s body passed the corner, a small hand shot out, grabbing at the protruding list running down the side of the building. Using the forward momentum of his body, Raven swung around the corner and effortlessly latched on to the closest windowsill on the other side.
Javelin released the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. Martin and Lark were silent for a moment before they started cheering excitedly.
“You’re insane, man!” shouted Martin joyfully and Javelin agreed, not with the sentiment but with the statement – most people that attempted the northern wall would climb up to the second segment before switching sides.
As the twins cheered, Raven had already made it halfway up the first segment and kept climbing effortlessly at a steady pace.
“Let’s get on the Hawk and watch from outside,” suggested Javelin, “we’ll get a better view that way.”
The twins happily agreed with his reasoning and hurried back to the large bird that was waiting where they’d left it. Javelin had to force himself to look away from Raven’s ascent – the notion of leaving the kid unobserved, even for only a moment, stabbed at him, but he had his reasons for wanting to be on the Hawk so it had to be done.
It took less than a minute for them to reach the bird and fly around the tower, as close as the Hawk would agree to, but when they arrived Raven was waving smugly at them from the ledge that separated to first and second segment.
“The kid is impressively quick!” exclaimed Lark, “it has been, what, a minute since he started?”
“But the hard part starts now . . .” said Martin, “think he’ll beat the record, Javelin?”
“Huh? Ah, well, I guess so,” Javelin’s unease grew as Raven resumed the climb with feline-like movements.
“Oh, relax Javelin! Night will be just fine,” assured Lark, “we’ll tell him to turn around after he reaches the forth segment.”
“That’s already further than any of us managed,” exclaimed Javelin, “and he’s only six for crying out loud!”
“True, but he’s a high Novice – he ought to be many times stronger than we were three years ago, even without using spirit essence.”
“Stop blabbering, you two, and Watch Night instead – this kid is amazing!” interrupted Martin just as Javelin was about to speak again.
Immediately Javelin’s full attention was back at Raven and he had to admit that what he saw was beyond belief; like a river flowing in reverse, Raven’s lean figure moved up the tower wall with ease. Sometimes he climbed using the traceries in the windows, sometimes he jumped nearly a meter straight up to grab hold of the next ledge.
At one point Raven even twisted around from hanging – from what looked like nothing more than two cracks in the wall – to standing on his hands – still lodged in those same cracks – in order to use his feat to latch on to a buttress that extended from one segment to the next.
After ten minutes of continuous climbing, Raven had since long passed the previous record but all three boys were too entranced by what they saw to even notice. It wasn’t until Raven paused at the bottom of the fifth segment that Javelin snapped out of his daze.
By now, strong winds were slamming into Raven’s small figure, causing his grey clothes to flutter wildly. Javelin could see how Raven’s body even swayed a bit under the high pressure.
“That’s enough, Night,” he called out to Raven, “you’ve already set a new record!”
The two twins stirred at Javelin’s call and once they realized how strong the winds actually were, they were quick to agree; “Javelin’s right,” they called, “go around to the other side and start climbing down!”
Raven turned to look at them and smiled the warmest smile Javelin had seen on that face yet. Javelin’s heart rate increased instantaneously, but he chose to blame it on his nerves.
“Come on, Night, it’s time to go down,” Javelin’s voice sounded a lot more pleading than he had intended, but at the moment he didn’t care because his eyes locked with Raven’s and he could have sworn that the boy winked at him while mouthing: “As you wish.”
‘Wha..’ before Javelin had a chance to process this, he saw Raven spread his slender arms and fall forwards.
The world seemed to slow down.
Javelin watched with round eyes as Raven went from standing on the tower – relatively safe and sound – to lying face down over absolutely nothing. Slowly, Raven turned around in the air until their eyes locked once more – only then did time catch up and Javelin registered Raven plummeting further and further away. It had only taken a few seconds but the kid had already fallen a third of the height of the tower.
“Raven!” Javelin bellowed and forced the Everest Hawk to dive down. The bird promptly refused to fly within fifty meters of the tower so he had no choice but to speed on alongside Raven’s decent – only once they were below the tower would Javelin be able to steer closer and catch the falling boy.
In mere seconds the Hawk had caught up to the point where it flew parallel to Raven. The twins had already figured out Javelin’s plan and were just about to call out to Raven when they noticed that the kid was still smiling at them and was even repeating the salute from earlier.
When Raven lifted her hand to salute the boys on the back of the diving Hawk, she felt as if her body was being enveloped in a thick membrane of soft goo. Her speed slowed, instantly putting distance between her and the diving bird.
Raven allowed herself to shout out in joy as the thick membrane around her stretched and eventually propelled her body in the opposite direction, back towards to top of the tower.
‘Haha, this is even better than I thought – it’s like bungy jumping!’
What Raven had noticed earlier were traces of what seemed like a protective net of spirit essence just bellow the ledge where the Spirit Hall Tower stood,. She had then confirmed its existence with the stone she had nudged over the ledge, which had slowed down to a halt after only a few feet. She hadn’t expected that the added speed of her fall would cause her to be ricocheted back up again.
Smiling she let herself bounce up and down a few times until she finally jumped off towards solid ground. The three boys had already landed and waited for her by the ledge.
“I’m starting to think you might not be so stable after all; why in the skies would you just jump off like that?” Martin’s voice was harsh but the glow in his eyes told Raven that he was mostly just impressed.
Raven shrugged with obviously faked innocence, causing the two twins to burst out laughing. Javelin, however was not amused.
“Huh?” Raven looked closer at Javelin’s face and could see that he was basically seething with rage.
“Answer him,” Javelin repeated and walked closer to Raven, “why did you jump?”
Raven blinked; she hadn’t expected him to become so upset by her little stunt. Quickly, she picked up a stone and tossed it over the edge, pointing to where it stopped in mid air, “I noticed the safety net before I started climbing,” she explained, before starting to turn back to face Javelin, “I figured it was the fastest way dow . . .”
Numbing pain spread along Raven’s check bone and for a second the world grew dizzy. Surprised, it took a moment before she realized what had happened – Javelin had hit her, hard, and she hadn’t seen it coming.
“Don’t ever do that again!” Javelin spat at her before he stormed of.
To the side Martin and Lark stared at the departing Javelin with wide eyes. They looked at Raven and then each other before immediately splitting up in two different directions – Martin running after Javelin and Lark walking over to Raven.
“Come,” he said placing a hand on a confused Raven’s shoulder, “let’s find some ice for that.”