At the bottom of the ravine, nothing but the rushing water of the river could be heard as Javelin stood, bent over in a respectful bow in front of Raven. Although his body seemed relaxed, Raven could see the tension in Javelin’s jaw – he was determined but anxious, very anxious.
Raven blinked, a bit taken aback by Javelin’s resolve, but then she sighed. “Swearing by it and living up to it are two different things, Javelin.” Her gaze trailed off into the flames. “You might think you can control yourself now but. . . .”
“I, Javelin Dory Hake, swear on my soul prism tha-”
Before he could finish his sentence Raven was on her feet, covering his mouth with her hand. “Hot headed fool! What kind of a soul-oath do you think you’re making?”
Javelin tried to pry away Raven’s hand with his own but she held fast; she could still feel the faint makings of a soul-oath within the boy’s spirit essence and she was afraid he would complete the oath of she let go.
“Let me guess, you were about to bind yourself to never acting against my direct commands, or something like that – right?” Javelin didn’t have to answer in words for Raven to know that she had been spot on. Raven sighed, suddenly feeling older. “Don’t go making oaths like that, Javelin. . . . What if I ordered you to kill yourself?”
Raven had expected Javelin to get angry, or at least in some way react to her statement, but instead he calmed down, his mesmerizing eyes growing steady as they looked at her intently. A shudder ran down Raven’s spine. She could tell Javelin’s eyes wanted to say to her; “I know.”
Startled by her realization, Raven instinctively let go of Javelin and backed away.
The moment he was free, Javelin resumed his oath-making; “I, Javelin Dory Hake, swear on my soul prism . . .”
“Don’t . . .” Raven wanted to move forward again but for once her body didn’t obey her.
“. . . that, if you ask it of me, I will stay away from you and your battles.” The familiar, pure-white spirit star that marked a new soul-oath appeared over Javelin’s forehead before slowly being absorbed into his skin.
“You . . .” Raven stared blankly at Javelin; “you changed it?”
Javelin smiled warmly but there was a bit of melancholy in his eyes. “How can I make an oath to obey you against your will?” He shrugged. “But this should be right enough – you will let me be around you?”
For a moment Raven remained a bit dazed but as she thought about it, she couldn’t help but give a defeated laugh. Her eyes met Javelin’s.
“You might regret it, you know.”
“And, although flattered, I do not . . . reciprocate your feelings.”
Briefly, Javelin looked down, pain apparent in his eyes, but it soon disappeared.
“. . . I know.”
He faced Raven again and she could only sigh. ‘More likely I’m the one who will regret this. . . .’ she thought, but she had already given in.
“Very well then.” Raven tossed him the stick she had been using to poke at the fire earlier. “Then why don’t you get useful and show off those Sea Empire fishing skills of yours – I’m starving.”
Javelin’s eyes brightened. He nodded happily and walked over to the river. Raven watched him squat down, discarding the stick she had given him and instead producing a serious fishing rod from within his own spacial ring. Interested, Raven moved up next to Javelin for a better view.
While Raven knew the basics of fishing in her old world, it was quite different when Javelin did it; he didn’t use any bait and instead relied on his own spirit essence and his special rod to lure in the fish. The principal was simple enough but although Raven had tried it she had never succeeded; just like taming spirit beast birds was one of Sky Empire’s secret skills, the way Sea Empire caught nautical creatures was one of theirs.
Despite knowing this, the fact that Raven had never managed to catch a single fish in this world vexed her. As silence descended, Raven watched how several fish swam towards the hook Javelin had lowed into the water. Just as the largest of the fishes was making its way in for a bite Raven gave Javelin a side long glance. “So . . .” she said and the fish bit down on the hook; “Dory, huh?”
In that instant, Javelin’s face and ears turned bright red. Simultaneously, the large river fish yanked hard on the hook, catching the distracted boy off guard; with a loud splash, Javelin was pulled head-first into the water.
Raven’s upper lip twitched as she held back her laughter.
Javelin scrambled to his feet in the waist deep river. “Why you. . . !” His arm swooshed through the water, sending a large amount of it flying towards Raven. Amused, Raven hadn’t intended to dodge but the oddest thing happened; mid-air, the water froze.
“Who’s there?” demanded Raven as she swirled around, her sword appearing in her hand. She hadn’t sensed anyone approaching, but she could feel the oppressive spirit essence that locked, not only the air-born water but even Javelin, in place.
*Clap*, *clap*, *clap*.
“You’ve improved more than I expected, my curious human friend.”
Walking out from a shadow by the mountain wall was a young man in light green robes, whose average appearance was made striking by the white vulpine ears and tail, proof he was anything but an average human.
“This Junior greets Senior Fenris,” said Raven respectfully as she sheathed her sword and bowed deeply.
Although Raven had her suspicions about his sudden appearance, she still knew that regardless of why Fenris was there, she was powerless to stop him.
She had perhaps not been able to sense Fenris’ strength the last time they met, but considering the state of her soul prism at the time, that was only to be expected. However, things had changed since then and Raven’s senses were way beyond what they had been then. Nonetheless, the man standing in front off her still seemed nonexistent to Raven – if not for the extreme pressure she felt weighing down on her, she would have thought her eyes were playing a trick on her.
Fenris looked at her with an amused smile on his face.
“No need to be so reserved, young Raven, I meant you no harm before and that has not changed now.”
Raven’s eyes twitched; she had a hard time reading this man. “Might I ask what Senior Fenris is doing here?”
Fenris chuckled, clearly noting Raven’s distrust. “I thought you would tell me that, she-human. I sensed your brother searching for me a few times and figured I might as well see what you wanted. Watching over a little brat training day in and day out is only so entertaining.” Fenris winked at Raven and glanced knowingly over at Javelin who was still stuck in the river.
Suddenly his eyes widened and before Raven could register him moving, Fenris appeared in front of Javelin, his hand reaching out to touch the latter’s forehead. “Curious, indeed,” he muttered, just loud enough for Raven to hear.
“What is it?” she asked, suddenly feeling a bit anxious. “Is something wrong?”
Fenris turned to face her, a mischievous glow in his eyes. “How badly do you want to know?”
Raven frowned; she had almost forgotten this playful side of Fenris. She was about to answer him when he waved his hand dismissively. “Nevermind – you might learn of it on your own, in due time.” He seemingly floated out of the water. “But I suggest you look after this one more carefully, lest you regret it again.”
Raven’s frown deepened. ‘What is he talking about?’
“That aside,” continued Fenris, not giving Raven an opportunity to speak, “what was it you wanted to find me for?”
Forcing herself to focus, Raven pushed aside her questions about Javelin and took a deep breath; a lot was hanging on her getting Fenris’ help dealing with Gadwall.
“Senior Fenris, is the reason you yourself didn’t save your own grandchild, all those years ago, because you two are not from this realm?”
A surprised eyebrow lifted on the man’s brow. “Oh, I see you have grown in more than just strength, young Raven, for you to know of the existence of the other realms.” Raven didn’t give an explanation and just held his gaze, so Fenris continued; “Indeed, we are not from this realm, and part of the reason I didn’t save my grandchild myself that time was that I would anyhow not be allowed to harm the men responsible. Better let someone else deal with them.”
At this moment, Raven was a bit glad Hoatzin wasn’t around; he was already not very fond of Fenris and if he learned that the latter would rather let his own flesh and blood suffer for a while – in hopes that someone would come along and kill the kidnappers – rather than simply fetch the child, Hoatzin would go ballistic. Raven herself on the other hand could find a kind of logic in his reasoning.
“As I understand it, this realm is fairly primitive, why would you come here of all places to train your grandchild?”
Fenris smiled, crookedly. “There are more realms out there than you can imagine, young one, and while it is true that this ones connection with the spirits is fairly weak, there are other things that make the trip worth while for us.”
Raven couldn’t help but wonder what that might be, but it was clear from Fenris’ body language that he was not willing to say more on the matter.
“Then, might I ask which realm Senior is from?”
The carefree air around Fenris fluctuated as he grew serious for a moment . The sensation disappeared as quickly as it had come but when he spoke, Fenris didn’t answer Raven’s question and instead asked one of his own.
“Why this sudden interest in the other realms? If you have learned of their existence, you should also know that they are out of your reach.” He paused, and then added; “at least for now.”
Raven steeled herself; this was it. She had no way of knowing that Fenris and Gadwall weren’t allies, apart from the fact that their approach to spirit essence seemed fundamentally different. Nonetheless, time was running out and if she didn’t find a way to deal with Gadwall soon, it would be to late.
“The thing is. . . .” Raven started telling Fenris about what had been going on in the empire and Gadwall’s involvement in it all. When she described what she had seen in the Spirit Hall Tower, Raven could feel the the very air around her shake, causing the suspended water next to Javelin to fall back down into the river.
Once she was done speaking, Raven waited in silence. She had of course noticed Fenris’ reaction to her story but knew that there was no point in forcing the man.
For a long while, Fenris said nothing. When he finally spoke, his voice was solemn and more serious than Raven had ever heard him before.
“As I have already told you, there exists countless realms in the universe, and each one has a different . . . relationship, if you will, with the spirit essence that builds them. Naturally, the inhabitants of these realms will have different approaches to their cultivation. While some things are universal – such as the requirement of a soul prism and spirit connections if you wish to cultivate spirit essence – how you go about achieving these vary greatly.”
Fenris paused to see that Raven was keeping up with what he was saying. She nodded slowly and thought back on her old world where, as far as she knew, no one was able to cultivate spirit essence. Suddenly she wondered if that world too was one of these realms.
“As you know, realms are categorized by their strength – that is to say how easy it is to cultivate there – and stronger realms are forbidden from disrupting the weaker ones. Most of the stronger realms are fine with this – why crave a bronze plate when you already have a golden one?”
Raven couldn’t help but see some flaws in Fenris’ arguments; he had, after all, himself just admitted that there was something special about Trinity that caused him to come here with his grandchild. For the moment, however, Raven chose to keep her thoughts to herself since she could clearly tell that now was not the time to interrupt.
If Fenris noticed her doubts, he ignored them. “If what you have told me of this Gadwall is true,” he continued, “then I’m afraid it is likely that he is from Trivia. . . .”
“Trivian?” Raven thought back to the large map on the mountain hall at the academy. She couldn’t remember any of the realms being marked up as ‘Trivia’.