‘Celestial Valkyrie Wolf?’ Raven frowned.
She had spent quite a lot of time reading the books in the extensive family library at Nightingale Manor; there weren’t many spirit beasts Raven didn’t know of.
Lyka smiled wryly. “It is not strange that you have not heard of us. According to grandpa, there was a time when practically every realm knew of the Valkyrie Wolves. We were a powerful race then. Even though children were rarely born in our tribes, every single one had unlimited potential, growing from helpless toddlers into Spirit Champions within weeks, Spirit Masters within months. By the age of ten, our cultivation would already be way beyond what you could possibly imagine – outstripping even my grandfather by leaps and bounds.”
“What happened?” Raven asked, her face solemn. She found Lyka’s tale rather unbelievable, but she could see no signs of deception from the little girl. It was, however, also clear that something must have changed – otherwise, Fenris wouldn’t be weaker than his ten-year-old ancestors.
Lyka sighed. “I’m not sure. . . . If the legends are true, the Gods started to fear the Celestial Valkyrie Wolves and our insane growth. They were afraid that if we continued to grow in strength, the Valkyrie Wolves would one day challenge the Gods, pushing them from their supreme thrones.”
“Gods?” Hoatzin snorted, and he wasn’t alone in having a hard time accepting Lyka’s words. Raven had no problems admitting that there was a lot she didn’t understand about the world, but gods? It felt too far-fetched.
“You snort now, birdy, but – real or not – fact remains that at some point in time, the immense potential of the Celestial Valkyrie Wolves was sealed. For as long as all now living Valkyrie Wolves can remember, we have been unable to cultivate any spirit essence whatsoever, nor can we increase or spirit connections. It doesn’t matter how much we train or how many years of experience we gain, nothing changes.”
“So you steal it instead!? Like the Trivians!”
Lyka gave Hoatzin an angry glare. “We are nothing like the Trivians! We steal nothing!”
Raven raised her eyebrows questioningly, and Lyka coughed, blushing slightly. “Well, not on principle, anyway. . . . Look, three seals have been placed on the Valkyrie Wolf bloodline, and if we want to improve our cultivation, those seals have to be lifted. With every undone seal, a part of our potential returns. For example, I have managed to lift one seal, so I am a peak Spirit Master. Grandpa has unlocked two, making him a peak Spirit Legend.”
‘So Spirit Legend Fenris wasn’t only a title after all,’ Raven mused as she listened to Lyka’s explanation. She had little knowledge of the cultivation realms above Spirit Master, but, judging from the color of the man’s spirit essence, Raven could guess that ‘Spirit Legend’ was three steps above ‘Spirit Master’. The importance of breaking the seals was glaringly obvious.
“Unfortunately,” Lyka continued, “the conditions for breaking the seals vary from person to person, and even we don’t know what we have to do. It can be anything from sleeping in the snow for three days on a particular mountain to battling mythical spirit beasts to the death. My grandfather’s second seal was surprisingly enough giving birth to my mother!”
The two humans and one bird stared at Lyka, flabbergasted. They weren’t sure what shocked them most: the vicious ingenuity of whoever constructed the seals or the thought of a pregnant and female Fenris.
Lyka noticed their expressions and laughed. “Odd thought, right? Don’t tell him I told you that though – Grandpa is really uncomfortable as a female and would never have done it if not that he really needed to break his second seal. . . .”
Raven frowned. “I thought you didn’t know how to break your seals.”
“We don’t, but that doesn’t mean that others can’t find out. The Valkyrie Wolves have a . . . protector of sorts. He is known as the Oracle and can help us figure out what we need to do to break our next seals.”
“Oracle? Like a fortune-teller?” Raven asked. She couldn’t help but feel that this story was growing stranger by the minute.
“Kinda.” Lyka squirmed slightly, clearly not comfortable with going into details about this Oracle person. “Anyway, the Oracle told my grandpa that I needed to absorb a willfully given shard of a Sage grade soul prism from someone who had not only saved my life but who had also been soul touched. He even said that the only place where I would get such an opportunity was on Trinity continent.”
“What do you mean, willfully given!?” Hoatzin protested, once again flaring up with anger. “You took it without asking!”
Lyka shrugged. “Perhaps, but Raven was asked not to resist when the shard was taken and she didn’t – that is close enough for me. Besides, it’s not like your sister missed it. . . . We didn’t take any of her spirit connections for me, and while her capacity initially dropped slightly, it will have been repaired since long by now.”
Lyka’s tone was relaxed, as if she were mostly joking around, but Raven could tell that the girl was actually rather anxious. Lyka most likely feared how Raven would react to all this.
“So you and Fenris came to Trinity continent, not to train you but to undo your seal.” Raven formulated it like a question, but it was clear from her flat tone that it was more of a statement.
“Correct,” Lyka answered anyway, her voice a bit unsteady.
“And Fenris dropped the Life Link ring – which my brother picked up – not out of boredom but intentionally, hoping to find a fitting candidate.”
“Yes,” Lyka nodded. “He dropped several, actually.”
“Finding you in the forest was also according to your plan.”
“Mhm, grandpa had been keeping an eye on all the rings and figured you would be happy to give a prism shard for your brother. Although we still didn’t know if you had been soul touched, the opportunity was too good to pass up, so grandpa made a soul oath to not intervene when I got captured. Had you not killed off those bandits, they might really have killed me.”
“. . .”
Silence descended on the little room. What intricate work just to break one seal, and what a seal! With it gone, Lyka had gone from a spirit beast, that couldn’t even be compared with a low Novice, to a peak Master in less than five years! Raven could kind of understand why someone would be wary of the Celestial Valkyrie Wolves – be they gods or whatever.
“If you break your second seal, will you become a Spirit Legend like Fenris right away?” Hoatzin eventually asked, a touch of awe and fear in his eyes.
“Then what do you have to do for the next seal?”
Lyka rolled her eyes. “Weren’t you listening, birdy? I. Don’t. Know.”
At once, Hoatzin fluffed up his feather in irritation – both his fear and awe gone with the wind. “The name is Hoatzin!” he protested. “And I did listen, but you said that Oracle fellow knew what you had to do!”
“The Oracle can only see one seal at a time – I have to speak with him again before I can find out.”
Lyka said it as if the was the common knowledge information in the world, making Hoatzin even more annoyed. “How would I possibly know that. . . .” he muttered.
“Besides,” Lyka continued, ignoring Hoatzin’s grumbling; “grandpa wants us to partake in this year’s Tournament before I meet the Oracle again – something about being worthy. . . .”
The girl shrugged and plucked a frosted little berry from her pouch. It seemed like the nervousness she had felt about telling Raven the truth had lessened greatly. Perhaps Raven’s lack of a response had calmed her. Hoatzin, on the other hand, was about to go at it again when he suddenly paused.
“Mhm,” Lyka nodded. “Me and Raven.”
Raven’s eyes narrowed slightly, but it was her brother that voiced her thoughts. “My sister? But she is not yet a peak Champion.”
“So? The cultivation limits are more like guidelines; as long as you’re strong enough to defeat a peak Champion, that’s enough.”
“But . . .” Hoatzin started and glanced at Javelin.
The latter had said nothing since the two strangers appeared in his room, but now he gave Lyka a slightly sour look.
“Perhaps your grandfather hasn’t told you everything, but Raven and I are currently rather . . . inseparable. She might be able to qualify, but what does that matter if I don’t?”
Lyka’s hand paused halfway to her mouth and gave Javelin a curious look. “Oh, I know of your predicament, but I don’t really see the relevance.”
“Initially, we had hoped to bring you along but – no offense, fish-boy – even if we brought you along as part of our escort, you would do little good now. You are too weak to partake in the tournament and the distance restriction between you and Raven – what is it at the moment? Three hundred meters, perhaps?”
“352,” Javelin answered on reflex.
“Well, still, 352 meters isn’t nearly long enough for Raven to be able to fight at all.”
“If you know, then . . .”
“Look, fishy, if we were going to wait until the two of you have solidified your bond, Raven would be an old spinster by the time she is capable of taking part in the tournament – especially at the pace it’s been going the last couple of days. We don’t have that kind of time.”
Raven’s eyes narrowed. It had been a while since she had said anything, but too many thoughts and possibilities were forming in her mind. She was considering Lyka’s words, and what they might imply, when the wolf-eared girl mentioned the soul bond, and she was secretly a bit surprised. Raven had noticed that ever since Javelin regained his last batch of memories, the distance they could keep between them had stopped increasing – in fact, it was rather the opposite.
At this point Raven got an odd premonition of what was going to come and it caused a cold lump to gather in her gut.
“I ask again,” said Javelin, his voice revealing the annoyance he was feeling. “If you know that me and her are stuck together for life, why bother bring up talks of the tournament at all?”
“Who said that?” Lyka asked, popping another berry in her mouth.
“Your grandfather!” Javelin grunted. “He said that we can’t go outside our range, or we will die! Nor can we ever get rid of the bond, or we will die!”
Lyka nodded. “Yes, yes, those are both true – as far as I know – but,” she paused, glancing at Raven mischievously; “but every rule has its loophole.”
Raven slowly released the breath she had been holding, forcing herself to relax her shoulders. Her hunch had been right.
“What do you mean?” Javelin asked, frowning.
“Let me ask you, if no matter how far you travel on the seas around Trinity you still never reach the other realms, where are they?” Lyka smiled a wolfish grin that seemed odd on such a small child. She waited briefly for an answer, but when none came, she gave it herself: “They are infinitely far away, yet also infinitely close – they are here and not here at the same time.”
At first, neither Hoatzin or Javelin seemed to understand her meaning, but a strange glow quickly started to glimmer in Javelin’s eyes.
“You mean that if we are in different realms, the distance thing won’t matter?”
“Not so stupid after all, huh?” Lyka laughed. “It’s not entirely that simple, but in crass terms, yes. I know someone who can send you to one of the central training realms. There you can cultivate more efficiently and not worry about the-distance-thing. Of course, if you set foot on the same realm as Raven, there is a risk that you will end up too far away from each other, killing you both instantly.” Lyka fished up yet another frosted berry from within her pouch. “What do you say?”