The night passed silently at Sea Academy – perhaps more silently than usual, since most students were either recuperating after the day’s tournament battles or preparing for the battles yet to come.
The mood on the ship that took the Sea Academy students back to the arena on the next morning was tense to say the least. Though many felt that the other academies were being unethical by allowing their students to use any form of enhancers, they also felt that they – as the nation’s leading spiritualist academy – should be able to handle it anyway. What if the twenty students fighting today did no better than those yesterday?
Just as the boat was about to dock at the arena port, Headmaster Hammer’s short figure popped up on deck. With the grace of a man well versed in martial arts, he jumped up on the ship’s railing and turned to face his students.
“Yesterday was an interesting day,” he said in a calm voice that easily carried to every youth on board the ship. “In many ways, it should work as an eye opener for you all; never underestimate your enemy, even when they are seemingly beaten. I don’t know how many of the opponents today will choose the same path and use spirit medicines to improve their chances at winning, but I ask you to be a step above all that and rely solely on your own strength. It might seem unfair, and many of you are likely even to lose because of it, but it’s better to lose and learn from it than to win today but die tomorrow.”
A few students seemed to tense further as they listened to the headmaster’s speech, but the majority of them instead had eyes full of battle-vigor, clearly egged on by the concept of a greater challenge. Raven’s lip curled slightly as she took all of this in; if Canis had hoped to break the fighting spirit of these kids, then she had failed.
“In the end, I can only rely on myself, right?” Javelin added, more as a side note to Raven than to the students on the boat. However, in the silence after the headmaster’s speech, Javelin’s voice carried quite far, causing plenty of the students on deck to turn and look at him and Raven, who were standing by the starboard railing.
Today, Raven only had a simple jade clasp in her hair, which elegantly held back the midnight strands from her face while the rest of the hair cascaded freely down her back. With the rising sun as a halo around them, she was helping Javelin adjust the collar of his robes. The scene was very picturesque and all who saw them suddenly felt as if they were intruding on something private – some of the younger ones even blushed at the sight and looked away.
Contrary to before, the looks that Javelin was getting from his fellow schoolmates were not as harsh as they had been – instead there was even some slight admiration and a touch of pity.
“You’ll have me, too,” Raven replied so amorously that she almost felt sickened by it. Despite this, the students – and even the elders – instead felt warm inside.
‘They really fit together,’ most of them thought as they watched Javelin clasp Raven’s hands and pull her tighter to him. ‘Such a pity. . . .’
On Lady Arowana’s insistence, Raven had joined her and Argus to meet up with Javelin after his victory, yesterday. Playing along with the future princess, Raven had rushed up to Javelin the moment she laid eyes on him, throwing herself in his arms with quiet grace. Silent tears ran down her cheeks as she leaned heavily on Javelin.
Not entirely prepared, the poor boy had frozen up on the spot, but after mentally pinching himself, Javelin snapped out of it and didn’t hesitate to lovingly embrace the lean girl in his arms. He even patted Raven’s head comfortingly.
“It’s okay,” he had whispered loud enough for all the people in corridor to still hear him. “I am just fine, Raven.”
“I-. . .” Raven had started, but, realizing they weren’t alone, she had stopped herself and pulled back from Javelin, quickly regaining her normal cool demeanor.
The intimate reaction had been short, but it had been more than enough to intensify the rumors about the two of them being more than just friends. Add to that the fact that Arowana had quickly urged Raven to be more honest with her feelings, clearly showing her support for the pair. This had solidified Raven and Javelin’s relationship status.
Then there was the fact that Javelin had effortlessly regained all the face Sea Academy had lost during the day – something that the seventh grade representative had failed to do when he actually lost in the finals. Javelin’s victory effectively shifted the students’ opinions of him for the better.
Over night, there was no one at the academy who didn’t know of the heartbreaking love story between the graceful Raven and the brave Javelin. Apparently, they were madly in love, but were doing their best to not show it in public on account of the imperial decree that Javelin was to marry Lady Arowana. As to whether or not Raven would stay with Javelin even after the marriage, the verdict had still been out about what to expect, but with the two simple sentences just now, the students had their answer.
“Aren’t you enjoying this a bit too much?” Raven chided privately to Javelin, stopping him from embracing her further with a firm look.
Javelin chuckled. “The woman I love is allowing me to be a bit more intimate with her, how can I not enjoy it?” A beaming smile spread on his face, his very peculiar eyes sparkling with joyous light.
For a moment, Raven lost herself in those eyes and in the smile that was so heartfelt it almost hurt. It even took a while before she registered what Javelin had actually said; “the woman I love”. The words stabbed at her like a knife. It wasn’t as if she didn’t know how he felt about her, how could she not when their very souls were linked together? Still, having it put into words was different. The image of Eric flashed by in her mind – his sweet smile fading in her arms – and a cold shudder ran through her; guilt.
Javelin noticed the change and frowned. “That – what was that?” he demanded and was about to grab on to Raven when the ship rocked slightly. Without giving Javelin the chance to react, much less probe further, Raven jumped ashore – this time so closely followed by Aves that it was a miracle the two of them didn’t collide on the dock.
“Raven!” Javelin called as he too jumped after her, but she just shook her head.
“Not now, Javelin.”
At that point, the attendant from the day before approached Raven and Javelin, and once again he asked them to follow him, which they did.
Even before they stepped out into the aisles of the arena, the fact that more people had turned up to watch today’s fights was blatantly obvious. Raven even felt the need to use spirit essence to shield her more sensitive ears or the constant buzz of voices and cheers would be too overwhelming. Fortunately, only about half of those present were spiritualists, so at least the nearly twenty thousand presences didn’t drown out her senses entirely.
“Yesterday’s . . . unexpected results have brought quite the crowd today,” commented the attendant as he noticed that the people following him had paused at the gate to the arena, watching the sea of people within. “The Emperor’s honorable brother will come to watch today.”
“Oh?” Raven gave Javelin a questioning look.
“Don’t look at me,” the boy answered with a shrug. “I’ve never even seen the man.”
“Most haven’t. His Imperial Highness . . .” the attendant paused after emphasizing the title, showing his clear discontent with Javelin’s lax attitude to the second highest ranked male in the empire, “. . . is a very private man.”
Not bothering to explain further, the attendant continued to walk towards their destination. Following behind, Raven kept scanning the crowd with her eyes.
“Looking for something in particular?” Aves asked. Judging from his tone, it was clear that he was afraid that Raven was planning to slip away again, just as she’d done yesterday.
“It’s not ‘something’, it’s ‘someone’ – two someones to be precise,” Raven replied offhandedly and then glanced up at the white-haired, middle-aged man who had practically chained himself to her side. “Don’t worry, Aves, I have no . . . private matters to attend to today, so I will be at my very best behavior.”
Aves snorted, far from convinced.
Ignoring him, Raven turned her attention to the familiar red bird who was flying towards them with slow-beating wings. “Any news from Fenris?” Raven asked as Hoatzin landed on Javelin’s shoulder.
“No, I have called out to him several times but he is not responding. I cannot even be sure he is hearing me.”
“He did last time,” Javelin commented. “Perhaps the two people you saw weren’t a threat after all?”
Raven had told them both of the concealed beast-men she had run into the day before and asked Hoatzin to try to speak with Fenris about it. The mysterious man was outside of Hoatzin’s reach, only revealing his general direction, but that hadn’t stopped Fenris from hearing Hoatzin’s call when they had been searching for information about Gadwall’s home realm.
“Perhaps,” Raven replied, still not liking the situation. She decided to change the subject. “How about miss Tanuki? Have you found her?”
“Not yet, but I heard rumours at the southern dock that she blew up a wall in the Earth Empire’s Ambassador Mansion last night.”
“Only a wall? How disappointing. . . .”
Despite his annoyance at Raven dodging his questions, Javelin couldn’t help but chuckle. “Seriously, Raven, what was in that poison you coated the bottle with?”
Raven smiled with vicious charm. “I already told you: slow-acting vengeance. Seeing as Canis is so jealous of her brother, I figured I shouldn’t leave her out of the family illness.”
“Family illness?” Javelin frowned. “I’ve never heard of the Tanukis having a-. . . oh.”
“It’s such a pity that it took a traumatic experience for the disease to be noticed in the youngest. . . . If only someone had noticed the signs earlier, the daughter might have been saved,” Raven jested, suddenly both looking and sounding bereft.
She had said it out loud, so some people overheard her. At the moment, Raven didn’t expect anyone to make the connection, but she would make sure that changed soon.
Moments later, the attendant stopped in front of the viewing section for the imperial family and their guests and indicated for them to head on without him. Raven and Javelin did as they were instructed, but when Aves tried to follow suit, the attendant blocked his path. “The Empire is more than equipped to protect its honored guests. Unneeded guards may wait here.”
It was, word by word, the same instruction as Aves had received the day before, but in his fervor not to lose Raven again, he had forgotten. Grumpily, he took a seat with a clear view of his charge.
Raven snickered softly as she and Javelin approached Lady Arowana and Sky Prince Argus. The pair was seated next to each other, like yesterday, but Raven noticed the slightly more intimate atmosphere around the two. Once all pleasantries were out of the way and the four youths had taken their seats to wait for the tournament to start, Raven leaned in close to Arowana, whispering into her ear.
“Sky Prince Argus? Are you sure?”
Arowana blinked a few times and then giggled. “Why not?” she whispered back. “He’s handsome enough, isn’t he?”
Raven couldn’t argue with that, but it felt beside the point at the moment. “But he seems so . . . predictable.”
“True, but such men make for great husbands, if handled correctly. Besides, isn’t it about time this continent got a bit more unified?”
It was Raven’s turn to blink in surprise. “I thought you wished to marry out of love?”
The adorable girl giggled again. “Whatever made you think that? Not all of us can be romantics, Raven.”
Arowana winked at Javelin, unaware of the fact that the boy had no doubt heard every word the two of them had said to each other – his hearing was second only to Raven’s, after all. Paying no further attention to him, Arowana once more turned her unrivaled charms towards the prince by her side.
“What a pragmatic woman,” Javelin said, sounding rather undecided about whether he should be impressed or simply shocked.
“And ambitious,” Raven added. “I get the distinct feeling that she isn’t going to let her horde of older brothers stand between her and the title of Sea Empress.”
“Should we be worried for the Nightingale clan?” Hoatzin asked.
“Because of a non-hostile merger of two nations? That depends entirely on how the nation stuck in between will react. Earth Empire is a very decentralized nation – as long as it doesn’t affect their trade or way of life negatively, I doubt the nomads themselves would care much about the politics around them.”
Both Hoatzin and Javelin nodded solemnly, not disagreeing with Raven’s statement.
Loud horns rung out at that moment, causing the tens of thousands of people in the arena to instantly quiet down; the tournament’s second phase was about to begin.
“Brother, see if you can locate Canis; even poisoned, I doubt she would miss today’s fights. Be careful, though, she might still have people helping her.”
“I will,” Hoatzin replied and took off just as the first announcements where being made by an elderly fellow on stage.
Raven was watching him go when a subtle smile formed on her lips. “Say, wasn’t your uncle supposed to join in watching the tournament today?” she probed Arowana in between her melodious laughs with Argus.
“Indeed he will,” Arowana confirmed, an odd glint flashing by her eyes as she briefly turned her attention away from the crown prince. “In fact, I believe he has just arrived.”
Barely a heartbeat later, a very familiar voice called out to Raven, causing Javelin to noticeably stiffen by her side.
“Well, fancy meeting you here, miss Singer.”