A few hours ago, when the nearly two dozen Everest Hawks that the academy used to fly all its students to and from the Lunar Trials had finally arrived back at the academy’s campus, Javelin’s mind had been in just as much disarray as it had been when he left, three days prior. Although happy to be back, he had still felt very conflicted about his pending reunion with Raven.
On one hand, ever since his initial suspicions had been confirmed Javelin had itched to see her – his first love – again. However, on the other hand he knew that, for whatever reason, Raven didn’t want anyone to know about her true identity and Javelin wasn’t sure he would be able to act as normal around her – if he even wanted to.
As the giant birds had lowered the cabins that Javelin and the other students were in to the ground Javelin clenched his first and told himself that everything would work out. ‘I handled it fine when I learned that she’s a girl . . . mostly. . . . Why should it be any different now?’ he reassured himself, but even as he thought it he knew it was a lie.
Despite Javelin’s hesitation, the cabins came to a rest on the ground and the other seventh grades eagerly opened the door and filed out. Yet, Javelin merely sat in his seat, unmoving.
“Let’s go.” Martin’s sudden prompt jolted Javelin back into the present. He looked up to find the larger of the two Griffin twins standing right in front of him. Javelin wasn’t sure if Martin had been speaking to him or Lark, who was seated next to him, but he nodded in agreement nonetheless.
Regardless of his own state of mind, Javelin couldn’t help but feel a bit relieved as he followed behind Lark and Martin as they exited their cabin. During these Lunar Trials the two twins had returned to their usual selves, seemingly coming to terms with their experiences with the so-called Blood Hound.
‘There’s nothing more distracting than replacing one life-or-death situation with another,’ mused Javelin as he remembered the particularly bloody fight the three of them had persevered through against a spirit beast the night before. Although progress had been made even before then, it was only after that Marin and Lark completely snapped out of their daze.
“We should try to find Raven,” suggested Martin once outside the cabin, “we haven’t seen him since . . . that assassin came for us.”
Lark nodded. “Yeah. I’d like to apologize for getting him involved with an attempted assassination on us. . . .”
Javelin looked around the vast plaza that functioned as the Academy’s main landing area. He didn’t think Raven would appreciate the twin’s apology but he wasn’t about to stop them either. On the contrary, his eyes couldn’t help but search for her, both hoping and not hoping that she would have come to greet him.
Not unexpectedly though, she was nowhere in sight. Instead his eyes accidentally met with those of a far less agreeable person; Dunlin.
Meeting his gaze Dunlin’s immediate reaction was a cold sneer, but then he just turned away and started laughing with Jack and his friends. Over the years, Dunlin’s group of followers had been growing consistently – gaining even more momentum when Dunlin successfully broke through to a low Champion realm last winter – and they all hovered around him like bees around a flower.
As a result, Javelin had to admit that Dunlin and Jack’s influence over the student body now far outweighed that of the Griffin twins and himself. Despite this, Dunlin had surprisingly enough left the three of them alone most of the time and Javelin really couldn’t understand why.
While it was true that Raven’s real strength far outstripped Dunlin’s, he didn’t know that; as far as Dunlin was concerned, he was the youngest Spirit Champion the Sky Academy had seen in years and Javelin could see the arrogance Dunlin felt over it. Whenever someone was foolish enough to utter contrary opinions, Dunlin was quick to make them regret it, but not if Javelin and his small group of friends were involved. At such times, Dunlin would just snicker and walk away.
A sudden sense of déjà vu washed over Javelin. ‘I have the feeling this kind of thing has happened before. . . .’ he thought, but before he could put his finger on it, an elderly voice spoke up behind him.
“Junior Students Hake and Griffin,” he said and Javelin recognized the voice as Elder Kagu’s even before he turned around. “The Headmaster has asked me to give you this.” The Elder held out a scroll that Martin accepted with a bow. “Remain here – you will leave shortly,” he added and then left without further explanation.
The three boys gave each other a sideways glance before they gathered closer to Martin so they could read the message within the scroll.
Student Mission #1709
Duration: One Month Reward: 500 Merits/Student
Type: Track Missing Spiritualist
It was time for the youths to exchange glances yet again.
“N/A?” wondered Lark, confused. “How can we find someone if there are no details about the person?”
“There must be more to it,” said Javelin, shaking his head. “Since we were asked to wait here we will most likely have an escort this time. They must have the rest of the information.”
“Sounds a bit suspicious if you ask me,” grunted Martin and both Javelin and Lark nodded in agreement, but none of them considered disobeying their instructions.
“What about Raven?” asked Lark, looking intently at Javelin.
‘Raven. . . .’ Javelin felt his chest constrict. While he had been a bit hesitant to meet up with her right away, setting out for another month without seeing her was a different thing. ‘I want to see her.’
“I . . . I think I’ll-umph!” Just as he was about suggest that he could go look for her, a heavy sack slammed into Javelin’s back. The unexpected impact caused him to lose his balance and stumble forward, almost falling completely.
“Ah, I’m so sorry!” a short girl came running up from a few meters away. “I wanted to show my sister a new Divine Skill I mastered during the Trials but . . .” Even through her veil Javelin could tell that the girl was blushing. “Hehe, I guess I haven’t actually mastered it yet. . . .”
Before Javelin had a chance to reply Martin answered for him. “Haha, no worries Junior Nestor!” He gave Javelin a heavy clap on his shoulder. “It’s his fault for not paying attention to a cute lady like yourself.” Martin flashed the girl a big smile but she seemed oblivious to his attention.
‘Nestor?’ Javelin looked closer at the girl, taking note of her Martial Student robes. ‘Indeed. It’s Kea Nestor, Raven’s classmate, and the little sister of . . .’
“Kea,” Cara Nestor’s smooth voice called out from behind before Javelin could think it. “I warned you not to act so recklessly here!” Despite her harsh message, Cara sounded gentle and alluring. The older sister walked up to Javelin’s side, placing her pale hands on his arm and back. Instantly Javelin felt heat gathering at her touch.
‘A Healing Skill?’ he wondered as he felt Cara’s hand slipping down his back.
“I must apologize for my little sister’s behavior, Javelin,” she almost whispered in his ear. “Let me make it up to you, okay? How about dinner? I’ll cook.”
For a moment Javelin’s mind went blank. It wasn’t so much that he felt aroused, rather he just didn’t know how to back out of the situation without offending Cara; according to his mother, a gentleman must never refuse a woman’s request.
Just as Javelin remembered that he had been just been given the perfect escape route – a one month mission – a cold voice cut through the air like a knife.
“I didn’t know you were on first name basis with Senior Student Nestor, Javelin. Should I congratulate the two of you?”
Javelin froze as a shudder ran down his spine. He didn’t need to know who had arrived, nor did he need to see her to know that she was pissed.
“Raven!” he couldn’t help but call her name as he quickly jumped away from Cara. His sudden movement caused the latter’s body to sway slightly, but she steadied herself and gave a slight nod towards Raven. “Junior Night,” she said politely, showing more respect than necessary for a younger student but still putting distance between them.
Kea on the other hand lit up like a ray of sunlight and ran up to Raven’s side. “Night, I’ve mastered the Seven Gravities’ Embedding! Do you want to see it?”
Raven barely looked down at the girl. “Not now,” she said, placing a hand on Kea’s shoulder but fixing her eyes on Javelin. “We have been given an urgent mission and I can’t get side-tracked right now.”
“I . . . I didn’t . . ,” started Javelin but he couldn’t get the words out. The look Raven was giving him was colder than ever before. He could feel himself starting to panic. ‘She’s misunderstanding!’
“A mission?” Ignoring Javelin’s attempts of speaking, Cara stepped closer to him again. “So soon after the Trials? Surely Javelin should get one evenings rest before setting out again.” She was about to reach out for Javelin’s arm yet again but Raven shifted her gaze from Javelin to Cara. Instantly the latter retracted her hand, even opting to back up a few steps. Javelin couldn’t see it, but underneath her veil Cara’s eyes were wide with fear.
“Your concern is touching, but unnecessary,” Raven said coolly. “We have quite a way to travel and can rest on the way. Is that not so, Elder Swan?”
Apart from Cara – who didn’t dare look away from Raven – the others looked around in confusion. They had never even heard of an ‘Elder’ Swan nor could they see any Elders near by.
“Haha, Elder Swan is my father, or perhaps my brother; I prefer Aves, or Protector Aves if you will.” Stepping out from behind the closest cabin with an amused look on his face came a white-haired man with yellow-ish eyes. Despite his hair, he didn’t look very old – at most, approaching forty. Javelin immediately recognized the man as the sleepy guard usually sitting by the gate to the southern campus.
Letting her gaze linger on Cara for a few more heartbeats Raven finally faced the Elder. “Are we ready to leave then, Protector Aves?”
“We are,” he said and indicated the cabin he had walked out from behind.
Without another word Raven walked over to the cabin and disappeared inside, leaving a somewhat disappointed Kea behind. Lark looked from the cabin to Javelin, and odd light shining in his eyes, before he followed Raven.
Javelin felt cold sweat forming on his forehead. ‘I’m doomed,’ he thought hopelessly as he too moved towards the cabin. The only person to acknowledge the two sisters before leaving was Martin who gave a quick bow to Cara before smiling sympathetically at Kea. “You can show me the Seven Gravities’ Embedding when I get back,” he offered, ignoring the cold snort he received in reply.
Last to enter the cabin was Aves, who closed the door behind him just as a fresh and rested Everest Hawk arrived. It was Aves’ personal Hawk and it needed no crew to guide it as its huge talons griped the handles on the top of the cabin and took off.
Standing on the ground was a disappointed Kea and still motionless Cara. Only after the bird was several hundred meters away did Cara’s body shudder. She looked down on her shaking hands in disbelief; she couldn’t understand what had just happened.
Not too far from the to girls stood another group, silently watching as the Everest Hawk disappeared off in the distance. Dunlin’s eyes narrowed as harsh killing intent flashed within them.
The giant glacier-blue Everest Hawk soared majestically through the crisp air, effortlessly carrying the large cabin containing Raven and her group forward at a steady pace. Summer had already shown its first signs but this high up the temperatures were still freezingly low. Fortunately, the cabin was protected by membranes of spirit essence – invisible to the naked eye – that kept the cold winds out.
The atmosphere inside was, however, nonetheless rather stiff. Neither Raven nor anyone else had said barely a word since they took off, half a day ago. Aves had asked for a direction for him to steer the Everest Hawk and Raven had simply replied “northwest”. After that the cabin had been silent.
Raven sat looking out through one of the windows. She sensed that Javelin had something he wanted to tell her and she could guess that it had something to do with Cara – he just hadn’t figured how to say it, or perhaps lacked the courage to say what he wanted to. Raven knew she was acting childishly; she had picked up enough of what was going on back at the academy from how the people around had reacted but for some reason seeing Cara so close to Javelin, using healing essence on him really ticked her off.
“Um, Raven. . . .” Finally Javelin spoke, and the other three men in the cabin couldn’t help but tense slightly – they had all been waiting for this, albeit for different reasons. “I’m glad you arrived when you did.” Javelin spoke carefully, as if making sure not to say anything he’d regret. “I was looking for an excuse to refuse her so . . . thank you.”
Raven raised an eyebrow. It was a poor excuse Javelin made and instinctively her mind offered her a myriad of arguments she could use to poke a hole in Javelin’s approach. But then she remembered the boy’s age and sighed. ‘No point in being mad at a teenager. . . .’ she told herself. ‘Besides, it was really Gadwall that had me riled up to begin with.’
Pushing down her irritation, Raven turned around to face Javelin. “Glad to hear it,” she said and forced out a smile that perhaps wasn’t her most convincing performance, but still good enough. For a moment, Raven thought she saw sadness flash across Javelin’s face, but it swiftly passed. He too smiled and at once the atmosphere in the cabin eased.
The twins glanced at each other, needing no words to say whatever was on their minds. However, they wisely chose not to voice their thoughts out loud.
Instead, Martin took the opportunity to change the subject and asked the question that had likely been on all the boy’s minds for quite some time now. “Right then – so, who are we searching for exactly?” he asked, looking at Aves for the answer. The man only smiled though, and said nothing.
“We’re looking for an . . . acquaintance of mine,” answered Raven instead. “He goes by the name of Fenris.”
“Your acquaintance? Why?” asked Lark.
“The headmaster is very interested in meeting him,” said Raven, offering no further explanation.
“So where can we find this Fenris?”
“I have no idea . . .” Raven admitted, “but I do know where to start.”