The grip on Raven’s arm tightened even further – had she been a normal person, her bones would likely have cracked under the immense force.
“Tell me!” the headmaster prompted yet again.
A serene calm descended upon Raven, gained after countless life and death experiences. The world around her seemed to move slower as Raven observed the white haired man grabbing her. Every little twitch his muscles made were noticed by her, and so was the spirit essence he was gathering in his palms – no doubt he would soon force his way to her soul prism to find the answers he was looking for.
‘He looks more excited than angry. . . .’
Letting pain and fear show on her face, Raven used all her physical strength to attempt twisting out of the headmaster’s grip and yet, at first, nothing happened – her arm wouldn’t budge. Swan did however notice her struggle. With a flash of realization, he let go of Raven’s arm and took a few steps back. He held up is hands, as if to ensure her that he would grab at her again.
“Excuse this old man,” he said, and even went so far as to fall to his knees, putting his face at the same level as Raven’s. “But it is very important that you tell me what you saw.” The look he gave her was calmer now, but the excitement was still there.
Raven glanced down at the arm the headmaster had been holding. Only know did she realize exactly how dangerous her gamble had been; if the headmaster had gripped her neck instead and used his full force, spirit essence and all, Raven wouldn’t even have had the time to realize she was dying. Additionally, this was most likely nothing more than a reflex reaction done subconsciously – if Swan tried his best. . . .
Raven swallowed. ‘Too late to back out now, though,’ she thought as she kept her frighted gaze at the headmaster. “I . . . I don’t know . . .” Raven stuttered, “when more spirit essence came I opened my eyes, and . . . I didn’t see much. . . .”
“It’s okay, Raven, just describe what you saw.”
Raven almost raised an eyebrow in surprise at the headmaster’s sudden use of her first name, but suppressed it by closing her eyes. She thought back on that scene on the 26th floor of the Spirit Hall Tower. She saw the frozen spirit essence spring to life and charge towards the central structure, only to halt its movements. A beast seemed to take shape within the essence, slowly turning its large head towards Raven. The body of the creature was blurry and indistinct, but its eyes. . . . Raven felt a shiver run down her spine at the very thought of them.
Apprehensively, Raven started describing what she had seen to the now silent headmaster. She told it best she could, only leaving out the fact that she hadn’t actually been in her room at the time. Once she was done, Headmaster Swan sat silently for over a minute. The flames from the open fireplace caused light to dance across his pensive eyes.
Eventually he stood up from the floor and walked over towards the door Raven had assumed led deeper into the headmaster’s office.
“I had intended to tell you about this later, but I think you should hear it now.” Raven stared at the man with confusion, causing the latter to chuckle. “Come along, Student Night, there is something I wish to show you.”
Not really seeing any other options, Raven followed the headmaster into what surprisingly enough was a very narrow corridor. Just like in the Spirit Hall Tower, glowing orbs would ignite themselves over Swan’s head every few meters, giving light to an otherwise dark place.
The corridor continued for nearly two hundred meters – straight towards the center of the mountain if Raven’s estimations were correct – before the walls finally started to part, widening the corridor into a large hall. As Raven turned around a bend, her eyes immediately fell on the left-hand wall in front of her. That patch of wall, which was easily twenty by twenty meters large, was covered in an exquisitely painted map. Wide eyed, Raven studied the landmasses portrayed but couldn’t find a single one she recognized.
“Headmaster, this is . . .” Raven didn’t take her eyes of the wall.
“Impressive, isn’t it? This is a map of our world,” he said and pointed to a small head-sized landmass in the middle of the painting. “See that one? That is our Trinity continent.”
‘What!?’ Raven was at a loss of words. ‘But that’s so small!’ Compared to the other landmasses, the entire Trinity continent couldn’t be considered more than an island.
Noting Raven’s shock, Swan chuckled before he too stared up at the great map. “It brings out the urge for adventure, doesn’t it?” The man sighed. “Unfortunately, the map is a simplified version of reality, and this old man will never be able to reach any of the other places shown here. . . .”
“Why not? It doesn’t seem to be very far to that one,” said Raven and pointed to the landmass that was closest to their own.
Swan gave her a weary smile. “Although this map would have us believe it, there is more than just distance separating the different lands from each other. No matter how far you travel in any given direction from our borders, you will never reach anything but open seas and a few scattered islands.”
“But the map . . .”
The headmaster smiled and put his hands behind his back, swaying slightly on the back of his heals as he gazed up on the painted wall.
“Let me tell you a story,” he said, completely ignoring Raven’s confused expression. “Many thousands of years ago, three brothers lived deep in a mountain forest, far from any other villages or towns. The forest was a dangerous place and they rarely saw any other humans, but one day they came across a severely injured young man, lying unconscious and close to death on the forest ground.
“Taking pity on the man, the three brothers carried him back to their home and tended to his wounds best they could. Now, the three brothers were ordinary people, with no knowledge what so ever about spirit essence of Divine Skills, so needless to say the young man healed very slowly. Eventually however, the man stirred from his unconscious state and, to the wonder of the three brothers, he immediately started glowing. Within hours, every wound and broken bone was healed.
“You can understand the shock and wonder of grown men who see spirit essence at work for the first time – they thought the young man was a god! However, when the brothers wanted to bow down in religious veneration, the young man stopped them. He told them that they too could do what he had done and offered to teach them.” Swan turned his head to face Raven, “Thus, the first spiritualists of the Trinity continent were made.”
Raven frowned. “I thought the first spiritualists were the Three Great Emperors who gained enlightenment by meditation.”
“Ah, the Three Great Emperors who became one with the world – one whilst staring out over the sea, one secluded in a deep cave and one gazing up at the endless skies?” Swan asked and Raven nodded. “No, my boy, those stories came much later, after a bloody war left the continent divided. The people in power needed a reason to stay there and at the time, the three ancient institutes were too weak to resist.” A melancholy look flashed across his golden eyes. “No, the true origin of spiritualist were those three brothers in the forest, or perhaps more accurately, the true origin was that wounded young man.”
“And he came from one of the other continents?” Raven asked.
“You catch on quick,” laughed Swan. “Fact is, these continents are rather separate realms; they cannot be reached by any normal means and as far as we know, not one person from our realm has made it out and back again. The young man was an heir to the throne of Novum,” said the headmaster and pointed at one of the large landmasses on the painted wall. “There was war there at the time, and the man managed to flee here by accident.” As the words left his mouth, the headmaster started walking deeper into the grand hall, heading for where it once more narrowed down to a tight passage.
“Then, how did he get back – if he got back?” Raven asked curiously as she hurried after him.
“We don’t know how exactly, but from what records remain we do know that the man’s way of handling spirit essence was on a fundamentally different level than ours. He could use spirit essence to fly freely in the air and it is said that the four peaks of Sky City grew out of the ground with but a thought.”
Raven faltered in her steps.
“How is that even possible?” she asked but the headmaster shrugged.
“How does a frog raised at the bottom of a well know that there is more to the world?” he answered rhetorically while he continued to walk deeper into the mountain.
The two of them wandered in silence after that, but Raven kept wondering about the mysterious wounded man and his abilities. The headmaster had implied that there was more to this world – and perhaps spiritualism – than they could possibly know and both Fenris’ and Gadwall’s displays came to mind as she considered other odd uses of spirit essence she had come across so far.
Raven was so lost in her thoughts that she barely registered the sound of rushing water that echoed against the stone walls of the corridor. However, as they continued deeper the sound became too overbearing for Raven’s sensitive ears for her to ignore it.
Just as she was about to ask if they perhaps were underneath the waterfall, Raven’s eyes widened and she almost stopped in her tracks. At the edges of her senses, Raven’s spirit connections picked up the presence of an enormous body of rapidly flowing water surrounded by a barely detectable membrane of spirit essence. This in itself would however not be enough to capture Raven’s attention.
It didn’t take long before there was a bend in the corridor and, walking around it, Raven’s eyes confirmed what her other senses had already told her. There, in the center of a huge and otherwise empty cylinder was a free standing column of water, only, the water wasn’t falling – it was rising.
“It’s the waterfall. . . .” Raven mumbled absentmindedly as she stared at the marvel in front of her.
“Indeed, young Night, this is the source of the city’s waterfall,” confirmed Swan, and Raven noticed how his previous excitement had returned to his voice. “Tell me, when you look at the ground underneath your feet, do you notice anything out of the ordinary?”
Raven turned her head to look down, but she didn’t really need to. She had already noticed that a Spirit Star, made only of spirit essence, was branded into the stone floor. It was faint and oddly colorless, but nonetheless there.
“What am I looking for, Headmaster?” she probed, a bit unwilling to admit to what she had found.
The headmaster’s excitement faded a little but there was still hope in his eyes. “I’m not entirely sure myself. . . . All I know is that there should be a seal of some sort that, if you can find it, will open a path to deeper understanding of the spirit essence.”
“What makes you think I should be able to see it?”
“To see the seal one must see the true nature of spirit essence,” answered Swan as if reading from a book. “If the truth is hidden, so is the path.” He gave Raven a meaningful look. “Basically, if that beast you saw has anything to do with the true nature of spirit essence then you should see the seal and be able to walk the path to deeper enlightenment. With that, it would perhaps not be impossible for you to become a high Champion in time!”
Raven gave him a innocent look of curiosity. “In time?”
“Ah,” the headmaster realized his mistake too late. “Well, no need to worry about that now. Do you see the seal?” However, Raven would not let him off so easily.
“I don’t like doing things without knowing the end game, Headmaster. You’ve already shared this much with me, why not share the rest?”
The headmaster’s golden eyes met Raven’s and for a moment Raven thought he would refuse, but eventually Swan sighed; “very well, I didn’t want to tell you if it would risk hindering your cultivation, but there just happens to be one way for us to travel to the other realms.”
“I thought Headmaster said no one knew how to do it?”
“I don’t know how it is done, but I do know that it can be done. You see, every three years, the other realms hold a grand tournament to compare the abilities of their younger generations. Our realm is also invited, but the minimum requirements to attend are simply too outrageous so we have never had anyone qualify. . . . The minimum is that one must be under twenty, but a near peak high Spirit Champion!”
Raven’s eyebrows twitched. ‘That is indeed a bit steep. . . .’ Even an Advanced Student graduate from Sky Academy would at best be 25 or 26 when they reached the point between mid and high Champion, but it would likely take an additional ten or even twenty years for them to be considered in the upper region of high Champions. ‘But wait. . . .’ Raven frowned.
“Headmaster, how come you know so much about this? I take it the Novum heir left a long time ago.”
Headmaster Swan’s face darkened. “Invitations are delivered before every tournament.”
“Delivered? You mean someone from the other realms come here personally?”
Swan’s face grew even darker as he clutched his fists. Although he gave Raven no direct answer, he started mumbling words under his breath. “Bloody snobs! Dropping in, out of nowhere, whenever they please, treating us like ants. . . . No, like fleas on ants!”
Raven didn’t need more to realize that whoever is was that delivered those invitations didn’t show any respect towards the headmaster. Considering the fact that Swan was a Spirit Master – the supposed pinnacle for spiritualist – one had to wonder what level those people had attained.
While Raven was considering this, the headmaster muttered something that caught her attention particularly. “If at least they’d stop with all their comments about us only being good as some sort of food supply – it’s so unsettling. . . .” his words were barely a whisper, but what could escape Raven?
As she heard those words, that scene in the Spirit Hall Tower flashed by her eyes yet again, replaying how the blackened spirit essence flowed from the two boys and into Gadwall.
The image was then replaced by her cousin in Headmaster Swan’s office – his already pale pink presence now even paler.
“Food supply. . . .” she whispered absentmindedly as realization dawned on her.