It had been a fine mid-autumn day on the seas above the Imperial Sea Academy of Divine Arts, when suddenly dark clouds gathered in the sky and the water grew restless under the harsh winds. In the distance, the rumble of approaching thunder could be heard.
Those traveling were caught off-guard by the rapid change, and even some of the more experienced sailors had to struggle to keep their vessels from capsizing. No one could comprehend why the weather had turned violent all of a sudden – literally like a bolt from clear skies – and perhaps that was for the best. . . .
Far below them, Raven faced off against the familiar yet unknown man who had appeared in Javelin’s room, with boundless killing intent filling her eyes. The man no longer wore his disguise, so his lion-like tail and beastly teeth were clearly visible. There had been a slightly amused smile on his face when he arrived, but that smile had faded slightly under Raven’s killing intent. He clearly didn’t feel too comfortable in her presence.
‘Good,‘ thought Raven, ‘there is still a chance. . . .’
Raven was all too clear about the difference in strength between her and the man in front of her. Gadwall had already been too much for her to handle – even when she went berserk – but this man’s cultivation was even stronger. Raven might be able to distract him enough to flee, but there was also the issue of his missing friend. Furthermore, while she might be able to get away, it was another matter entirely for Javelin. . . .
“I asked what you are doing here,” Raven repeated. Her voice sounded calm, but it reeked of killing intent and spirit essence, almost turning it into a mental attack.
“Now, now, no need to get so defensive – we mean no harm.”
Raven’s black and red eyes widened and she spun around on the spot, shoving Javelin behind her as she moved. The voice had not come from the man by the window, but from behind her, and now Raven stared in shock at the small child who was standing in the doorway.
It was a little girl – no older than seven by the look of things. She had barely shoulder-long, silvery hair which framed a pale face with even paler eyes. On the sides of her head spouted a set of fur-covered ears, and a long, fluffy tail swayed slowly behind her. Her appearance was quite shocking, but all of this paled in comparison to one thing: Raven couldn’t sense her. At all.
“Hello Raven,” the girl said with a smile, seemingly oblivious to the immense killing intent that now lay like a deadly fog in the room. “Nice to meet you again.”
Raven’s eyes narrowed, and she didn’t lower her guard in the slightest. “Again?”
“Don’t you recognize me? I’m offended.” The girl giggled, not looking the least bit upset. In the next instant, a bright light filled the room, forcing Raven to close her sensitive eyes. Once she opened them again, a small, white beast stood in front of her. It looked somewhat akin to a wolf, but the dimensions were slightly off; its body was more elongated, its appearance more celestial. A sea-green gem was embedded in its forehead that seemed awfully familiar too, although Raven couldn’t quite place the feeling.
“You-. . .” Raven’s jaw dropped, the killing intent in the room drastically diminishing.
The mouth of the spirit beast curled into a vicious-looking smile. Moments later, the bright light returned and, once it faded, the little girl was back.
“Recognize me now?”
Raven nodded absentmindedly. Although the crystal was new, she had clearly recognized the spirit beast itself; it was a more mature version of the little spirit beast that Raven had saved in the Great Woodland Valley, years earlier. It was Fenris’ grandson.
“The name is Lyka; I will be staying by your side for now.” The little girl walked forward and reached out her hand. On reflex, Raven took it, not really reflecting on how long it had been since she actually shook hands with someone as a form of greeting. “Berry?” Lyka offered, presenting a bag of frosted fruits with her free hand.
“You are Senior Fenris’ grandchild?” Raven asked, ignoring the berries. Lyka nodded and took a berry for herself.
“His grandson?” Raven pushed, causing Lyka to blink a few times and then start giggling.
“Hehe, don’t take my grandpa’s words to heart, Raven; just because he wants me to choose the male line doesn’t mean I have to.” The little girl winked playfully. “Not all the time, at least.”
Raven shook her head, pushing aside her confusion. There were many things she wanted to know about this Lyka, but some things were more pressing.
“This man. . . .” Raven glanced over her shoulder.
“Ah, Raven, meet Azmer. He is a Beastman – kind of like myself, only of the Double Fanged Lion tribe. He and his brother were sent to Trinity to deliver this year’s invitation to the Thousand Realms Tournament.”
“Then, his brother. . . ?”
“Cozimo is waiting outside, miss,” Azmer replied before Lyka needed to. His tone was courteous but a bit distant. “We didn’t wish to startle you . . . too much.”
In Raven’s arms, Hoatzin snorted. “As shifty as ever. . . . Sister, you should be weary of these so-called Beastmen – they will bring nothing but trouble.”
Raven rolled her eyes and started to forcefully pull back her killing intent. She was unsure why these people had appeared at this moment, but if they were linked to Fenris, she had no reason to keep her guard up – at least not in the fight-or-flight manner. With Raven focused on handling her killing intent, she missed the flash of humor that passed by in Lyka’s eyes at Hoatzin’s words.
“It is quite an impressive Soul Curse you’ve got going there,” Azmer complimented once the room and Raven’s eyes had returned to normal.
“Soul Curse?” Raven frowned.
“Killing intent,” Lyka explained and leaned to the side so she could get a clear line of sight to Javelin. “Hello Javelin. Nice to meet you, too. I guess. . . .”
Javelin blinked and then opened his mouth to greet her back but Lyka had already returned her attention to Raven. “Being Soul Cursed is the opposite of being Soul Touched; it happens when a person kills another, adding to the killer’s killing intent.” Lyka gave Raven a meaningful look. “You have a lot of it.”
“I see,” Raven replied, sounding neither surprised nor offended.
“Good.” Lyka smiled and hopped up onto Javelin’s bed. “Azmer, I can handle it from here.”
“Of course,” Azmer replied, and in the next instant, his body shimmered and disappeared.
Raven’s eyes twitched slightly. She had been too preoccupied with the man’s sudden arrival to take note of the Divine Skill he had used to get there, but now it was different. Raven observed him carefully and, judging by how he activated his spirit essence, she could assume that he too was using a form of the Spacial Dash, only his was far more advanced than Raven’s.
“Do you want him to stay?” Lyka asked, motioning towards Javelin. When Raven only shrugged in reply, Lyka sighed and crossed her legs. “Well then,” she said and patted the bed beckoningly. “Have a seat. You must have plenty of questions, and since we will be hanging out for quite a while, I think it’s best I answer as many of them as I can.”
Raven didn’t take the offered spot on the bed; she might not be readying herself for a life-or-death battle anymore, but she wasn’t relaxed either. Instead, she sat down on a chair a couple of meters away, but Lyka didn’t seem to mind.
“Why don’t you just start from the beginning and tell me why you are here?” Raven suggested.
“What’s there to tell?” Lyka shrugged. “I came here to train, got caught, then saved by you. Now I’m here to repay the life-debt I owe you.
Raven raised her brows disbelievingly. “Still going with that story?”
“What’s wrong with it?” the girl asked innocently, her eyes only barely keeping up with the charade.
“Miss Lyka, you are sitting less than three meters away from me, and yet, if I close my eyes, I wouldn’t even know you were there. Just like your grandfather. I do not know what level of cultivation you have now, nor if the Novice-equivalent cultivation you had when we met first was real, but I doubt those bandits could have caught you if you didn’t want them to. Even disregarding all of this, I have had enough dealings with your grandfather to know that he is not a stickler for protocols; Fenris would not have hesitated to slaughter those people if he felt like it – rules be damned.”
The fur-coated ears on Lyka’s head twitched slightly and a broad grin spread on her lips, revealing the sharp fangs within. Soon she broke out in laughter.
“Haha, I knew it; grandpa’s plan was too shallow! Now he owes me a lot more berries!”
“Berries?” Hoatzin commented while Lyka was laughing merrily. “I really think you should keep your distance from this one, Sister. . . .”
“Don’t interfere, little birdy,” Lyka suddenly hissed, giving Hoatzin a disapproving glare. “Grown-ups are talking.”
“What grown-ups?” Hoatzin retorted, clearly assuming that Lyka had snapped at him for no apparent reason, but Raven’s eyes narrowed.
“You can hear him?”
“Sister, don’t be-. . .”
“Of course I can.” Lyka’s bright voice cut Hoatzin’s sentence short.
Both Raven and Hoatzin were shocked by the revelation, and even Javelin, who had been treating all that was going on as something unrelated to him, was surprised.
“I guess I really should start at the beginning, although . . . I should show you something first.”
She raised her left hand, showing a black ring that adorned her pinky. With a light tug, Lyka removed the ring and at once a familiar feeling probed at Raven’s mind. She could feel Lyka, in exactly the same way as she could with her brother.
‘That sea-green crystal. . . .’
Realization dawned on Raven.
“I see that you’ve guessed it.” Lyka smiled, but for the first time there was a bit of melancholy in her eyes. “I am sorry. Grandfather wasn’t entirely forthright when he removed that shard from your soul prism to help birdy here. Fact is, he didn’t take one, but two pieces. . . .”
“He did what!?” Hoatzin’s feathers instantly stood on edge. He was even about to charge at Lyka when Raven raised a hand to stop him.
“Explain,” she said, her voice flat.
“Tell me, have you ever heard of the Celestial Valkyrie Wolf?”