Dunlin and Raven glared at each other one more time before both of them closed their eyes and their scrolls lit up slightly for everyone to see. Raven’s cold smile widened as the imprint for her new Divine Skill, called Thunder Lock, filled her soul with divine instructions.
The imprint process only took a second for her and when she opened her eyes again she was looking at a now pale Dunlin, who still stood before her with his eyes closed.
‘That’s what you get for not reading what kind of skill I handed to you before agreeing,’ snickered Raven secretly as she thought back on the skill she had picked for her cousin.
She had imprinted with it herself only yesterday and although it wasn’t a very powerful skill – the spirit essence implementation part was fairly straightforward and, on the surface, the skill seemed very simple – but the physical aspect of the skill was almost identical to one of the most hard learned martial techniques ever created in her old world. Then, it had taken Raven – an already elite martial artist – nearly five years to master just this one move; if Dunlin mastered it before he graduated, Raven would very be impressed indeed.
A few breaths later, Dunlin opened his eyes and looked down on the scroll in his hand bitterly. “Fuck! What’s with this skill . . . ,” he swore so quietly only Raven heard it. She would have thought that this skill was famous at the Academy for how impossible it was to learn, but it would seem like at least Dunlin hadn’t known of it.
“So,” started Raven nonchalantly, “just to make sure we’re in agreement: one month from now, you will have mastered the Frozen Onslaught, proving you’re the better spiritualist,” Auk Wren visibly twitched at the skill’s name, however Raven continued as if she hadn’t noticed it; “but, if I master the Thunder Lock before that, you will start calling me Senior Night. Right?”
Dunlin’s already pale face paled a bit more. He might not have heard of the Frozen Onslaught before, but from the imprint itself he could tell that it was a very profound skill; to master it within a month would likely be hard for him. Then again, he was still convinced that he would fare better than the slave. After a pensive moment, his eyes lit up as he was struck with an idea.
“Haha, sure!” he started, readily, but then paused for a moment. “I feel like I’m being a bit unfair to you,” his face was benevolent to the extreme, “you are after all only a first grader. . . . How about this, if you can gain the same degree of understanding for your Divine Skill as I do of mine, by the time of the Lunar Trials, I will consider it your win.”
Raven smirked inwardly; the term’s first Lunar Trial was in 42 days, efficiently giving Dunlin another twelve days to gain some insights to the Frozen Onslaught and generating an air of generosity for him at the same time. ‘Not that it will do him any good. . . .’ she mused as she shrugged at Dunlin’s suggestion.
“On the other hand,” said Dunlin when he saw her silent acknowledgement, “it also isn’t fair that you’re the only one who stands to gain something out of this. . . .” Once again Raven made no objections, so he continued, “after the Lunar Trials – if you lose – you will have to start calling us ‘Master’ and work like the slave you are for us!”
If Dunlin had managed to deceive any of the other students by his previous generosity, the current viciousness in his voice ought to convince them otherwise. Even the heavily distracted Lark and Javelin snapped out of their stupor and were about to retaliate against Dunlin’s statement when Raven stretched out a hand to block them.
“That’s fine,” she said calmly. Dunlin raised an eyebrow in surprise; he had thought that Raven would object to it a bit more.
Malicious chuckles rang out next to Dunlin as Jack put is arm over the former’s shoulders and stared intensely at Raven. “Foolish slave! Here I thought you at had at least some wits. . . . You might as well start practicing right away! Hmmm, Master Tanuki . . . it has a nice ring to it.” He laughed even more but for once Auk didn’t join in and was instead looking a bit worriedly at Dunlin.
“You have a point. . . .” said Raven with a pensive frown. She turned to Martin, “would Master Griffin mind assisting me?”
“Night?” Martin looked very confused at Raven’s sudden shift in behavior.
“Would you mind borrowing me one of your long swords and then attacking me with a similar weapon?” Raven bowed respectfully towards her friend as she spoke.
Now Martin wasn’t the only one who was confused; the Dunlin trio, just as most observers, had assumed Raven was joking around with Tanuki’s mockery, but asking to be attacked was something else.
A flash of realization, followed by a new type of bewilderment, crossed Javelin’s face, causing him to nod when Martin looked over at him moments later; he wasn’t sure what Raven was planning, but yesterday’s events in their dorm room had given Javelin a new reason to trust his roommate.
“Okay,” shrugged Martin and a large two-handed sword materialized in his hand. A few of the younger students gasped in admiration. Spacial rings were perhaps not extremely rare among the high nobility, but for commoners it was practically the stuff of legends. Martin handed his sword to Raven before retrieving a second one for himself. “What do you want me to do?” he asked her.
“I was given the advice to practice, so that is what I intend to do,” she answered with a serious face, causing the observers to raise their brows in unbelieving surprise.
Dunlin and Jack started laughing. “Did you hear that?” said the latter as he smacked Dunlin’s on his chest, “he’s going to start right now! I bet you five gold he’ll trip on his own feet within five seconds!”
“Ha! I bet he won’t even manage three seconds,” replied Raven’s cousin with disdain. ‘Trying to execute a skill right after imprinting?’ he thought, ‘that’s pure hubris!’
Raven ignored their comments and focused on Martin. “Strike at me with either an over head swing or a forward thrust, please,” she instructed as she started activating her spirit essence in accordance with the Thunder Lock skill.
After looking intently at Raven for a moment – so as to make sure that he hadn’t misunderstood anything – Martin did as he was asked and swung his huge sword towards Raven’s head. He used no spirit essence but the mere weight of the sword was enough to do great damage to Raven, should it hit her.
While the blade approached her, Raven altered her body’s position ever so slightly and released one of the hands that she was holding her long sword with. Suddenly, the underside of that arm, and the chest area beneath it, was covered in tiny electrical sparks.
With apparent ease, Raven side-stepped the falling blade completely, and as it passed next to her, her electrified arm coiled around the blade and pinned it to her side with herculean strength, immobilizing it, her skin safely protected by the layer of sparks. Once the sword was lodged within her grasp, Raven stepped forward sharply, using just one free sword arm to thrust the two-handed heavy long sword at Martin’s gut.
As soon as Raven’s sword started moving towards Martin, electrical sparks shot out along her second arm as well, traveling towards the tip of her weapon with incredible speed. Simultaneously, the sparks around Martin’s grappled sword started flowing down that blade as well, rapidly surging towards his hands.
The room was in utter silence as everyone, Javelin included, stared at Raven in deep shock. They recognized the technique that was being executed – it was none other than the Thunder Lock Raven had imprinted with only moments earlier.
By now, Raven’s sword was only inches away from Martin. She glanced over at the sheer horror she could see in her cousin’s face and snickered; ‘you won’t get away that easily, my dear cousin Dunlin – that would be such a waste. . . .’
It was at this point, with the sword barely an inch away from its target, that Raven shifted her spirit essence and body motion slightly off the correct track, causing the electrical sparks to flicker and fade while the pouncing sword in her had drooped noticeably towards the floor, as if her arm strength had suddenly failed her. The tip of the sword clanged into the stone floor only half a breath later.
Raven straightened with a flustered smile and released the sword she had still been clutching under her other arm, revealing a hefty tear in the outer layer of her uniform. “Hehe,” she laughed, embarrassed. “Level three skills really are tricky . . . I now understand why one might need a bit over a month to grasp them fully.”
She effortlessly flipped around her borrowed long sword and stretched it out towards Martin in an attempt to give it back, pommel first, but Martin just stared at her. The entire first floor of the Divine Library was deathly silent. “What?” she asked and looked around with perfect ignorance.
Nobody managed to say anything before, all of a sudden, a muffled bell rang out outside of the building.
“Ah, afternoon classes are about to begin – we’d better not be late.” Still holding the borrowed sword, she locked arms with the two Griffin twins and started moving towards the exit. “Aren’t you gonna walk us to our class, Jav?” she called back as they passed Dunlin’s crew, giving the latter cold glances in the process.
Pulled out of his daze, Javelin nodded and hurried off after the departing trio.
“What did you just call me?” he asked as the library doors closed behind them. Raven stared at him for a moment, surprised that this was his leading comment, until she eventually started laughing – her first genuine laugh in a long time.
Still within the library building, Dunlin and his two companions, as well as the ten or so other students that had gathered over the course of their discussion, still stood in silence as they stared at the closed library doors. As the realization of what they had just witnessed, excited whispers started to spread through the crowd.
“Did you see that!? Raven almost managed to preform the Thunder Lock on his first try!”
“Had I not seen it myself then I would never have believed it!”
“Perhaps it was a trick? Could he have learnt the skill before?”
“Impossible, the identification stone wouldn’t have increased its counter if he had.”
While different theories about what had just happened filled the room, three people remained silent. Jack and Auk were looking at Dunlin with shock, whose face had gone from slightly pale to deathly white and was currently turning a mixture of red and blue – the combination of rage and oxygen deprivation.
‘That little bastard tricked me – he must have!’ he howled inside. A myriad of ideas concerning how this could have been done whirred in his head but none of them seemed very reasonable, causing him to strain his brain even further.
“Talon?” asked Auk carefully and placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. Dunlin instantly drew a deep breath and shrugged off the hand.
“It’s not possible,” he hissed and stared at the ground.
“It was most likely only a fluke,” suggested Jack, but he didn’t sound very convinced by his own words.
After staring at the floor for a moment longer, resolve filled Dunlin’s face. “I know someone we can ask,” he practically growled as he motioned for his fellows to follow him, storming out of the library.
The rest of the day was unusually uneventful as Elder Willow had been called away for some unknown reason just before the lesson started, leaving the students with the instructions to self-study, and once it was time for Advanced Class, Dunlin and Jack were nowhere to be found; according to Javelin, Dunlin had skipped the earlier class as well. Today, the original teacher for the Advanced Classes had returned and he was not happy about his missing students.
The elder was a large grown fellow, with sun-tanned skin and long blonde hair who, as his appearance indicated, was originally from the Sea Empire. He was addressed as Elder Wrymouth and was, despite the fact that he had moved to Sky Empire nearly four decades ago, one of the three foreign elders who were on her suspect list for the mystery ‘Elder W’ – including Elder Willow.
Elder Wyrmouth decided to collectively punish all Advanced Students for the two who were missing, so the evening class was spent in training so grueling that even Raven thought it a bit extreme – though that might be more due to her lack of stamina after the previous night than the training regime.
Thoroughly spent, Raven and Javelin collapsed on their respective beds inside their room, breathing heavily and with all their limbs feeling like jelly.
“Man, that was hell!” wheezed Javelin between his panting.
“Are all Sea Empire instructors that demanding?” asked Raven, her breathing quickly stabilizing.
“Pretty much,” laughed Javelin, quickly regretting it since his laughter turned to coughs.
“It’s so typical,” sighed Raven and leaned over to give Javelin an ironic look, “Dunlin manages to be a pain in the ass even when he’s not there!” Javelin’s coughing grew more violent as he laughed even harder. Eventually the coughs stilled and he too propped himself up to look at his roommate.
Their eyes met and in the next instant Javelin’s face turned bright red. He quickly looked away, his hand instinctively lifting towards his neck. At that moment, the sleeve was pulled back slightly, revealing a blue and gold bracelet around his wrist. The moment Javelin laid eyes on it, he froze in place as his previously red face paled and was replaced with an expression of immense loss that quickly mingled with that of shame.
Raven frowned as she observed this sudden shift. Sitting up straight, she looked at the bracelet more closely and couldn’t help but gasp – she recognized that bracelet! She had made it herself two years ago, and had sent it to Javelin as a small thank you for the Twilight Lullaby that he had gifted her the year before. That very evening, Raven’s entire family had been exterminated, leading her to forget about the bracelet completely.
Looking at it again, the emotions from that night came welling back up as she thought back on everything she had lost. A lone tear trailed down her cheek.
Sensing her stare, Javelin looked up from his wrist, and despite all the pain and shame he felt, the sight of that lone tear pierced through it, making his heart constrict even further.
“Night?” his voice was concerned, almost pleading.
Raven stirred and quickly wiped away the tear. “Ah, sorry,” Raven smiled meekly as she searched for the right words, “you . . . you just seemed so sad all of a sudden.”
Some of Javelin’s worry eased, only to once more be replaced with the pain of loss as he looked back to the bracelet.
“I . . . this . . . ” he too faltered as he tried to speak. “This was a gift from a girl I met once,” he finally said.
“Met once?” asked Raven carefully.
“She . . . she was the most wondrous creature I’ve ever met. I can’t really explain it, but the moment I saw her, it was like something inside me clicked into place.” Javelin’s voice grew surprisingly steady for a moment; “I know it sounds stupid but I just knew – she was mine, she had always been mine.”
Raven sat in silence. Three years ago – not to mention six years ago, in her old life – Raven would have indeed have found Javelin’s words stupid, insane even. Today however, she wasn’t as sure. Wasn’t what he described similar to what she had experienced only hours earlier? Raven pushed the thought away; surely it hadn’t been that intense.
“This bracelet . . . arrived the day after I learnt that not only she, but her entire family, had died in an accident. Not . . . not a soul survived.” Javelin’s voice wavered as two streaks of tears trickled down his face. “I . . . should have been there! Her brother invited me. Had I only accepted then maybe I . . .” His jaw and fists clenched, his knuckles instantly turning white. He looked down on his hands.
“Javelin . . .” Raven slipped off her bed and crouched down on the floor in front of him, forcing her way into his field of view. “What difference would that have made? You were only eight, what could you have done?”
“I could have protected her!” Javelin almost shouted, “or at least not let her die alone!”
Raven felt herself drawing in a deep breath in shock and the sudden urge to slap him welled up. But she didn’t, instead she breathed out tried to comfort him; “she wasn’t alone. Her family was with her, right?”
Javelin shook his head. “No! I know she was alone, I could feel it!” he slammed a fist into his bed post, cracking the wood. He was silent for a moment before he spoke in a steadier voice; “I felt her sorrow. She grieved alone. She died alone. I swore I would carry her with me forever, so she wouldn’t be alone again, and yet . . .” he briefly looked at Raven before turning away his face in intense shame.
With wide eyes Raven realized the inner conflict within the boy. He had felt something for her today, perhaps even earlier considering his initial discomfort around her, and now Javelin feared that he was falling for someone else – and a boy at that.
For a moment Raven hesitated, she really didn’t want anyone to know that she was still alive, but surely Javelin would want to protect her and guard her secret with his life? It would be so nice to have someone more to share to burden with. . . .
“Javelin, I . . .” she started, but at that moment a slightly panicked voice filled her head.
“Sister! Bill is awake and acting really strange; I need your help!”