A tall and lean woman glided into Councilor Tanuki’s office. Her facial features were cold and harsh, while mahogany brown waves of hair neatly framed her face. There was no doubt that this young woman was beautiful, but in her eyes glowed an almost vicious haughtiness, clearly stating to the world that she deemed herself superior to everyone in it.
Her opinion wasn’t entirely without cause, though; she was one of the strongest in her generation, way ahead of her peers. She was only nineteen this year, but was already approaching the upper limits of the mid Champion realm of spiritualist cultivation. If she had a bit of luck during this year’s Day of Light, it wouldn’t be entirely impossible for her to advance into a high champion by the age of twenty.
“Father,” she called out as she entered, barely showing appropriate courtesy to the man who had sired her.
“Canis, you came,” the councilor answered, doing his best to hide the obvious pride in his voice. “We need to talk. It concerns your brother.”
The girl’s lips twitched slightly, but she repressed whatever emotion she was feeling. “What of him?”
“I have been investigating what happened to him in the wilderness and I’m down to five possible suspects – three of which are in the Sea Empire right now.” The councilor pulled out a scroll and tossed it to his daughter. The former caught it with ease and nonchalantly glanced over its content.
“It says that they will be found at the Sea Academy. . . . I graduated from there this spring – I have no reason to return.”
The councilor smiled. It was just like his daughter to understand his intentions without being asked.
“True, but there is still the graduation tournament; it might usually only be for Sea Empire natives, but I convinced the headmaster to make an exception. As long as you promise to step away from the award if you win. . . .” The councilor snickered, amused by the notion that his daughter might not win the tournament, before he continued, “. . . then you are welcome to join in.”
A cold flash passed by Canis’ eyes. “Very well, I will return to the Sea Empire right away.”
“Bring your personal guard with you. If you can’t figure out who’s guilty for ruining your brother . . . you know what to do.”
Without replying to her father, Canis gave a short bow and left. Still in the office, councilor Tanuki watched his daughter leave. “Such an unruly girl. . . .” he sighed, an enigmatic expression on his face.
The look quickly hardened, though. “Gingko,” he called out to no one in particular, but a few seconds later, the familiar attendant stepped out of the shadows.
“Councillor,” he greeted, kneeling on the stone floor.
“Arrange contact with my agents in Sky City.”
“No . . . more . . .” with a grunt, Javelin collapsed to the ground. Seconds later, several tens of liters of chillingly cold water came crashing down on him, causing him to yelp despite his exhaustion.
Raven walked over and held out a weird-looking fruit – something of a mix between a pear and a roll of bubble wrap.
“Eat up,” she said, dangling the bloated fruit in front of Javelin’s face. The latter grimaced, but strained his muscles to accept it nonetheless. Reluctantly, he bit through the bubbly skin and a pungent smell filled the small chamber they were in.
“You’re improving,” Raven commented, seemingly oblivious to both the smell and the tortured expression on Javelin’s face. “You only lasted three hours when we started a month ago, now it’s seven.”
Through squinting eyes, Javelin looked up at the large body of water silently hovering over Raven’s head, suspended by a cup-shaped membrane of spirit essence. She had held it up effortlessly ever since they entered the training chamber, twelve hours ago.
“Don’t focus on my training, Jav, you’re getting there,” Raven comforted, seemingly appeasing his discontent, but she then smirked and added; “. . . slowly.”
Frustrated, Javelin moved to throw his half-eaten fruit at Raven, but, even at his best, Javelin’s body moved way too sluggishly; Raven simply side-stepped him and swiftly clamped down hard on his wrist. The sudden pressure caused Javelin to involuntarily clench his fist with the smelly projectile still inside. The squeezed fruit oozed out more of its sticky content, which trickled down Javelin’s arm. All of this significantly increasing the fruit’s already vile odor.
“Now look what you did,” Raven jeered, with faked concern. “It’s going to be harder to eat like this. . . .”
“Stop . . . laughing, would you?” Javelin protested, his speech still a bit winded from the training. “I don’t see you eating any of these . . . abominations!”
“My spirit core isn’t the depleted one,” Raven countered with apparent glee. “Finish your Spirit Fruit, Javelin – all of it – I have some new training for you, once your spirit core is filled again.”
Despite his obvious discontent, Javelin didn’t complain anymore. He ate all of the Spirit Fruit – even licking up the smelly goo that had dripped down his arm when he crushed the fruit earlier. Once done, he sat up, crossed his legs and started gathering new spirit essence into his spirit core. With the aid of the Spirit Fruit, the process was even faster than usual.
Raven watched silently from the side, revealing a rare smile. It had been just over a month since she and Javelin arrived at the Sea Empire. After coming to an agreement with Arowana, the empire heiress had quickly left. Practically immediately thereafter, Javelin and Raven had been sent straight to this empire’s equivalence to the Sky Academy, the Imperial Sea Academy of Divine Arts.
Just like the Admiral’s fort, the Sea Academy was a stand-alone island, only significantly smaller. However, one should not be fooled by what could be seen above the water surface; underneath the nondescript house on Academy Island was a vast structure of air-filled caves and chambers. There were even some rooms whose walls were the ocean water itself, where ancient spirit formations held the water at bay by forming strong membrane of spirit essence.
Javelin and Raven had been sent to the headmaster’s office right away, and had been welcomed with open arms by a surprisingly small man; although fully grown, Headmaster Hammer was still a head shorter than Raven, putting him at roughly one and a half meters. Despite his small stature, the pressure from the headmaster’s cultivation had been overwhelming, to say the least. He was in fact the first Trinity-native mid Spirit Master Raven had yet to meet.
Headmaster Swan had warned him about Raven’s . . . peculiar cultivation and age, but the Sea Academy’s headmaster had still been shocked when he realized that Swan hadn’t been exaggerating in the least. Needless to say, the Headmaster Hammer had been more than glad to admit Raven. He even went as far as giving her and Javelin their own training room – something normally reserved for the elders – and allowing them to skip as many classes as they wanted.
As for the secret area – which had been left by the Novum ancestor – the headmaster had agreed to show that too, only, it wasn’t reachable more than once a year, so Raven had to be patient a bit longer.
Raven didn’t really mind the wait, though. She spent her days helping Javelin with increasing his cultivation and spirit essence control, as well as exploring the limits of being Soul Bound. Looking at Javelin now, Raven could only conclude that he had improved quite a bit over this short period of time – it was clear that Raven’s additional spirit connections were contributing greatly.
Suddenly, there was a powerful fluctuation in the spirit essence around Javelin; his spirit essence was restored. The Spirit Fruit had done its job. It had helped Javelin re-fill his spirit core to prime conditions in just over ten minutes. When he opened his stellar eyes, they were once more filled with energy and determination.
“What now?” he asked, rearing to go.
Raven smiled mischievously as her two Limiters released themselves with two distinct clicks, quickly followed by the dull thumps of metal sinking into soft soil. Instantly, the spirit essence around her stirred and Raven’s cultivation soared free, only stopping at the early mid Champion stage.
“Put these on,” she ordered as she effortlessly tossed the two metal cylinders to Javelin, who nearly tumbled backwards as he caught them.
“What the . . !?” Javelin stared in shock at the Limiters in his arms; they were way heavier than he remembered them to be.
“I had them altered before we were Soul Bound,” explained Raven. “They weren’t contributing to my training anymore, so I had the weight increased to fifty kilos each. Now put them on – we don’t have that much time left today.”
Javelin stared, disbelieving, at Raven for a moment before he eventually managed to put her insanity behind him and do as he was told. As he snapped the Limiters in place around his ankles, Javelin could feel Raven’s spirit essence locking them onto his legs before slowly seeping into him. Soon, Javelin’s own cultivation had been forcefully suppressed until there was practically nothing left.
“Why are you sealing my cultivation?” he asked, frowning.
“You have made great progress with gathering spirit essence and controlling it, but that is mostly thanks to the supplement from my soul prism,” Raven explained as she playfully separated a small sphere of water from the larger mass she kept hovering above her. “If you wish to advance into the Champion realm then you have to claim that strength as your own and to do that you need to strengthen your physical body.”
“Then why have me eat the Spirit Fruit!?”
“Hmm. . . . To strengthen your character?” Raven suggested and was instantly swamped by Javelin’s strong feelings of resentment. “Oh, come on,” she laughed, “how about this: if you manage to touch me, or stay dry for more than five minutes in one go, I’ll apologize by eating two of those fruits. Sound fair? I’ll even refrain from using Divine Skills when I move.”
“Five!” Javelin countered. “You’ll eat five Spirit Fruits and tell me a story about you and Eric.”
Raven’s body stiffened slightly, but she soon let it go. “Fine,” she said, a cold smirk growing on her lips. “But you’re going to have to work for it.”
In the very next instant, the small sphere of water that Raven had separated out, shot towards Javelin’s chest. It all happened so fast that before he even had a chance to react, the liquid projectile had already splashed all over him with enough force to push him backwards a few steps.
Just as he had regained his balance, a second water sphere smashed into the limiter on his left ankle, the sudden impact shoving away Javelin’s foot and his newfound balance.
“Oh my, only three seconds . . .” Raven paused her assault, playfully twirling the next water sphere around her hands. “How will you ever get to five minutes?”
Javelin only grunted in response before he stubbornly got to his feet and charged at Raven. Thus began a dance-like game of cat-and-mouse, only the mouse was doing its best to reach the cat.
Two hours later, a completely soaked Javelin made his way out of the training room, closely followed by Raven. He barely had the energy to walk, but Raven wasn’t that much better off. Suppressing Javelin’s cultivation wasn’t easy, and she did it while holding up nearly half a ton of water as she constantly ran around, shooting minor projectiles at Javelin. If not for her vast amount of spirit connections, Raven would have collapsed long ago.
“How did it go?” Hoatzin’s chipper voice greeted them in the tunnel outside the chamber.
“Fabulous,” snorted Javelin, barely sparing the bird a glance before heading further down the tunnel.
“What is wrong with him?” Hoatzin asked, turning the question only to Raven.
“He’s just frustrated,” Raven replied, a soft smile almost forming on her lips. “He wants results faster than I can give them to him.”
“I cannot say I blame him – the tournament is only a month away now and with that Tanuki girl being here to compete, his chances are looking rather slim. . . .”
Logically, Raven had to agree. Canis Tanuki had arrived at the academy two weeks after they had and had left an instant impression on her. Considering her age, Canis’ cultivation was very impressive, and there was little doubt that nobody else in the graduation class would be able to match her.
Sure, there were two other mid Champions among the graduates, but their breakthroughs had been fairly recent. Canis, on the other hand, was closer to a high Champion than a low one, and while the classification might be the same, the difference in strength was indisputable.
Naturally, this didn’t mean that a superior proficiency with Divine Skills and fighting couldn’t make up for the difference, but finding that kind of superiority among youths was practically impossible. After all, not everyone was walking around with memories of a past life as a master assassin. . . .
Raven knew this, so naturally she also knew that Javelin’s chances were slim, but she still had an odd feeling of faith in him. Javelin was an extremely fast learner – even more so now that some of his memories had started returning – and every day he got better and better at handling her training. If she could just help him to take that last step and push him into the realm of Champions, Javelin might actually stand a chance.
‘And if that still isn’t enough. . . .’ A cold smile spread across her lips as her eyes briefly turned from forest-green to blood-red.