After their training session, Raven and Javelin made their way back through the almost tunnel-like corridors, heading for their dorm rooms in the so-called Water Dome. All of it might sound dark and damp, but the white stone that the corridors were walled with had a soft, self-glowing luminescence to it, filling the entire underwater academy with a soft light. As for the Water Dome, it was actually quite spectacular.
However, no matter how bright or impressive the academy’s construction was, Hoatzin had grown too accustomed to the open skies. He had only come to see his sister and had left for the surface as soon as that was done.
As Raven and Javelin headed for their rooms, the duo met several Sea Academy students, all of whom eyed Raven with fear-touched delight, kind of like when one comes really close to a lion at a zoo. There was some jealousy too, naturally, but a lot less than Raven had expected. Even without her parading around her age and presumed peak Adept cultivation, word had still gotten out and once the rumors were proven true, she became the center of everyone’s conversations.
Javelin, on the other hand, received significantly cooler looks; respectful, yet clearly antagonizing. Raven guessed that while her accomplishments were extraordinary enough to shatter all notions of rivalry, Javelin’s weren’t; they were undoubtedly impressive, but not entirely unachievable.
“Incoming,” Raven warned just before a tall beauty walked out into the corridor leading to the advanced students’ dorm.
“Such dedicated training,” Canis remarked the second she saw them. “One might think you’re actually attempting to put up a fight in the graduation tournament. . . .”
“Senior Graduate Tanuki,” both Raven and Javelin greeted, so in sync that their somewhat insubordinate greeting seemed completely innocent.
“We meet again,” Javelin continued before Canis had a chance to react and was then quickly followed by Raven, the pair of them sinking into private conversation. “That’s twice today now – how auspicious,” she said with a smile before leaning her head to the side. “. . . And how odd.”
“Odd?” Javelin asked, still giving no opportunity for Canis to get a word in.
“Well, aren’t graduates supposed to live off-campus during the months between their graduation and the tournament?”
“Oh, you’re right, Raven; it is rather rare,” Javelin replied, his voice now loud enough for the few nearby students to hear him. “One might think that she’s using the tournament as an excuse to milk resources from the Academy. . . .”
“How preposterous!” Raven laughed, without really laughing. “Isn’t it, Senior Graduate Tanuki?”
A cold, murderous glint flashed by in the depths of Canis’ eyes, but she too faked laughter. “Indeed, preposterous. . . .”
“How fortunate then that we all know better.” Raven leaned in closer to Javelin, locking her arm with his.
The corner of Canis’ eyes twitched slightly at the sight of their linked arms, but Raven had to admit that this girl was better at hiding her emotions than Javelin’s sister was. Although that might say more about Remora than it did about Canis.
“It is getting late; children should go to bed,” said the tall girl before she moved to pass by them, yet Canis still paused briefly at Raven’s side. “Sweet dreams, child.”
The corners of Raven’s lips twisted into a lopsided smirk as she watched Canis leave. ‘Is the girl losing her patience, perhaps?’ Raven mused to herself before she and Javelin resumed the journey towards their dorms.
Even tethered to Javelin’s side, Raven had long since figured out that Canis had returned for the tournament to find out what happened to her brother. Ever since her arrival, well-hidden presences had been following Raven and Javelin everywhere, watching silently from afar.
While they couldn’t be considered the talkative types, Raven had still overheard enough of their conversations to know what they were looking for; evidence of her and Javelin’s involvement in Jack’s mental breakdown. However, since Raven had made sure that there was no such evidence, she figured it was only a matter of time until they tried something more drastic.
Raven and Javelin kept walking deeper into the network of softly glowing, white tunnels and it didn’t take long before they reached a wide double door. In front of it sat two white-haired men, with very different appearances. One was old and shriveled up, while the other was significantly younger, despite his hair.
“Lady Nightingale,” the younger of the two stood and greeted Raven with a warm smile.
“Third Master Hake,” the older one stood and greeted Javelin with an equally warm – albeit toothless – smile.
The two men the turned to glare angrily at each other, clearly not agreeing on the other’s choice of greeting.
“Protector Aves, Protector Elas,” Raven and Javelin returned the greetings as they passed between the two men, completely ignoring the tension in the air. Elas was the Sea Academy’s equivalent to Aves and now that Aves needed to keep an eye on Raven, Headmaster Hammer had suggested the pair of them should work together. Needless to say, they didn’t get along.
Once through the double doors, a huge, nearly transparent dome spread out around them. This was the Water Dome. It was so large that several buildings could fit underneath it, all of which were large enough to house dozens of people. During the day, the slightly frosted dome allowed water-filtered light to shine through, causing glitter patterns to dance over the ground and houses. Every now and then, large sea creatures would swim by, casting impressive shadows.
Here, the air was thick with natural spirit essence, sucked in from the sea through the seemingly thin crystalline walls. This was where the advanced students and the Academy’s Elders resided.
Together, Raven and Javelin headed for one of the smaller houses, located a bit to the side, isolated from the rest. This building was only large enough for four mid-sized rooms, separated by a common courtyard in the middle.
The two of them entered the courtyard and Raven swiftly walked up to the rightmost door. With only a slight glance in Javelin’s direction, she slipped inside. Still outside, Javelin paused for a second. He then sighed before silently pushing open the door just to the left of the one Raven had used.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Javelin had been very opposed to the notion of separate rooms. However, unfortunately for him, the few months since becoming Soul Bound had been enough to increase the distance he and Raven could manage between them by quite a bit. By now it spanned just over two hundred meters; it wasn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it was enough for them to have separate rooms – something Javelin’s mother insisted on. He had, however, relented a bit when he realized that they had been given this four-room house for themselves; at least he didn’t have to worry about someone else drooling over Raven.
In her room, Raven strode over to her bed and sat down on it with her legs crossed. Closing her eyes, Raven expanded her other senses and let her hundreds of spirit connections swarm her with information. As if expanding her body, Raven could feel every single movement within a four-hundred-meter radius like a prickle on her skin.
A cold and somewhat savage smile spread on her lips; the drastic measures had finally begun.
In the adjacent room, Javelin had also headed for his bed when he entered, only he wasn’t quite as graceful; he flopped down on it, face down, as soon as it was withing reach. Every muscle in his body ached to the point where Javelin was impressed that he even managed to make it back to the room without collapsing.
Raven had told him to meditate for a while and think over the day’s training, but no sooner had Javelin’s head hit the pillow than he fell asleep. Even the sudden increase in killing intent he received from Raven’s soul prism couldn’t keep him awake.
With a start, Eric stirred from his sleep. His face felt sore and his back stiff; drowsily stretching, he realized that he had fallen asleep at his desk again. Feeling his face, Eric groaned as he felt the grooves left by his keyboard.
“If Miss Night sees me like this, she’s going to tease me again. . . .” he muttered to himself.
Eric glanced at the holographic screen in front of him. It was three o’clock in the morning. Great.
Yawning, he pushed away from his desk and got up to leave his office. In his sluggish state, Eric almost forgot to lock up after himself, but he remembered in the last second and pulled out his keychain. Looking down at the oddly old-fashioned keys, Eric found himself smiling; a photo of his parents dangled among them. He wasn’t really one for photos – especially not the on-paper kind – but his mother had insisted; said it was a good luck charm, or something. As if a piece of glass-encased paper could possibly affect the happenings in the universe.
A sudden crash, far behind him, drew Eric’s attention away from the photo on his keychain. He turned to face the direction of the noise, but when no new sounds came, Eric shrugged it all off as a fragment of his imagination – brought on by sleep deprivation, no doubt.
He finished locking up and headed down the clinically white tunnels towards his bedroom. Even though the base was buried in tens-of-meters-deep snow this time of year, the strong arctic winds blowing outside could still be heard. The rhythmic sounds were oddly akin to raging ocean waves and were very soothing.
Just as Eric was about to enter his room, a grumble in his stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before. Usually he wouldn’t care – a quick nibble of a supplement bar and he’d be fine – but ever since his new bodyguard had arrived, her constant nagging about eating right had practically brainwashed him.
Eric turned and headed for the kitchen. It wasn’t far – only two doors further down the corridor. He reached out his hand to open the door, but before he could pull the handle, the thing swung open and Miss Night stepped out.
“Professor Solar, still stuck to your computer, I take it?” she said with a slight smirk as she looked pointedly at Eric’s chin. Her little play at words almost distracted him enough to not notice the two legs sprawled over the floor inside the kitchen, before the door blocked Eric’s line of sight.
“Is something wrong?” he asked, quickly sobering.
“Oh, just a quick debriefing with our newest . . . well, latest security guard. Nothing I can’t handle.” Miss Night shrugged. “But, if you’re looking for a midnight sandwich, I suggest you fall back on your food-bars tonight; it’s rather messy in there.”
A metallic tang filled the air and Eric looked down to see red stains on Miss Night’s fluffy indoor slippers with cat ears. They were the pair his assistant had forgotten before she left on maternity leave, and the only pair small enough for his bodyguard’s petite feet, but now they looked oddly macabre.
“We spilled tomorrow’s tomato soup,” Miss Night explained when she noticed Eric’s stare. She said it so nonchalantly that he almost believed her – almost.
A loud crash snapped Javelin awake. He sprung up from his bed and looked over at his dorm room door, only to see Raven swiftly closing it behind her.
“Sorry to wake you, Jav; I thought you would still be meditating on today’s training. . . .” Raven’s tone was playful and teasing, but Javelin just glanced down at her feet, ignoring her remark.
“No tomato soup tomorrow then?” he asked, but he barely noticed Raven’s body stiffen; he was too distracted by the sudden stabbing pain in his mind and the blackening world around him.