With a shout filled with rage and self-loathing, Javelin forced himself back into consciousness. All the memories of his past and present life were swirling around in his mind, but the only thing he could focus on was the pain he had seen in Raven’s eyes when he had accused her of killing him. How could he have been so foolish!?
“Raven!” he called out, pleaded even, but no answer came. “I’m sorry. . . I’m so sorry!”
Javelin could remember everything now. He remembered all his time with Raven as Eric and the details concerning how she staged his death and placed him in protective custody with the few others she had saved in the same way. His guardians had warned him to stay away from Raven, to let her deal with the aftershocks of Eric’s supposed death, but when he had learned that there was a traitor among the Union Assassins, he had refused to stay put. In the end, his actions had actually managed to save Raven; Javelin could clearly remember the sense of joy and blissful relief he had felt as Eric when he jumped in the way of the bullet that was meant for Raven.
At the time, Eric had thought that he had managed to make Raven realize how much he loved her and that he wasn’t mad at her for anything – that he was grateful, even – but, with the new memories he had as Javelin, he quickly understood that Raven hadn’t understood. From her point of view, Javelin was still mad at her for betraying his initial trust and ‘ruining’ the career he could have had as Eric Solarus – had she not ‘forced’ him to go underground. Everything he had said and done since he regained some of his memories had only intensified that belief.
“What have I done!?” Javelin repeatedly slammed his fists down on the squishy ground beneath him. Suddenly, he seemed to remember something and quickly looked around the large cage he was in. “Lyka!” he called. “I have seen what you wanted me to see! Please, bring me back! I-I have to speak to Raven!”
No matter how he called, no reply came – only the whistle of a much too warm wind. It took a while for Javelin to realize that the sound of the wind was slowly growing stronger, the already unbearable heat rising with it. Javelin narrowed his eyes. In the distance, he could faintly see disfigured humanoids moving towards him, wailing as they walked.
Determination flashed by in Javelin’s eyes.
“Spirit Master, huh. . . .” he muttered as he stared intensely at the approaching figures. He could and would not allow himself to be trapped here for long!
Still within the cave, Raven stared at the still swirling disk of water which Javelin and Lyka had disappeared into. Her eyes were listless, her body unmoving.
Javelin was gone.
It was the second time she had let him go ‘for his own good’. The first time, it had been Eric – the sweet and oddly innocent researcher, whose life could only be saved if they were apart and the world thought him dead – this time it was Javelin – who couldn’t stand her because of it.
Raven had thought that she didn’t really care – that Javelin’s departure was for the best and that her conflicted feelings were mostly due to the bond between their souls – but now that he was gone . . . she felt his absence like a throbbing ache.
It had hurt in the same instant that he left, due to the shift in their soul bond, but that pain had already subsided. No, what hurt now was much more difficult to grasp.
‘I feel . . .’ Raven blanked, struggling to put a name on her emotions; ‘. . . lonely?’
Raven’s eyes twitched slightly. She had been alone many times before in her life – most of it, to be exact – but she hadn’t felt lonely in a very, very long time.
Javelin and Eric’s smiles flashed by in her mind, their expressions overlapping. Both were filled with warmth and joy, but the smiles quickly faded, twisting into pained grimaces.
Almost instinctively, she turned to the translucent yellow soul prism that hovered next to hers, searching for her connection to Javelin, but she didn’t find what she was looking for. The prism was still there, and a slow trickle of pure spirit essence flowed through it and into Raven, but Javelin’s presence wasn’t there like before. She could still feel him, but it was as if a heavy blanket had been wrapped around his part in her soul, muffling everything.
Raven didn’t need to try to know that Javelin wouldn’t be able to hear her if she spoke to him, no matter how strongly she pushed. Whatever feelings Javelin was going through at the time, Raven could sense that some of it was being portrayed back to her, but she blocked them out through sheer willpower; the thought of feeling a flood of relief from him was just too much to bear right now.
“Sister . . ,” Hoatzin’s concerned voice rang out in Raven’s head.
She blinked and looked down at her brother, but was startled by a warm sensation that suddenly ran down her cheek. Raven raised her hand to her face, her fingertips finding moisture.
“Um . . . I . . .” Hoatzin fumbled with what to say, but Raven shook her head, stopping his attempts at conversation.
“It’s fine,” she said, perhaps more for her own benefit than for her brother’s. “Some time apart might improve things.”
“But . . .”
“At least like this, we can focus on the coming tournament and getting your body back,” Raven interrupted again, her expression sobering. “We will also have Fenris’ favor to deal with; I bet Javelin will be safer training on his own.”
Before Hoatzin had a chance to respond, a dull laughter suddenly spilled out in the cave, causing the walls to shake violently.
“Haha, foolish humans!” the now familiar yet still otherworldly voice spoke, not containing its humor. “To owe a Celestial Valkyrie Wolf a favor . . . such folly.”
Raven frowned slightly, her expression quickly turning serious. She wanted to ask what the voice’s owner meant, but the laughter came to an abrupt end when the dark surface of the water disk shimmered slightly and Lyka stepped out from its depth.
“What’s wrong?” the fluffy-eared girl asked as her playful gaze met Raven’s more serious one.
“Nothing,” Raven replied, glancing at the dark disk Lyka had stepped out from. “How did it go for Javelin?”
Lyka shrugged. “He’s settled in.” She gave Raven a sideways glance and chuckled. “Don’t worry – I believe Fish Boy will be most enlightened by his stay there.”
When Raven just remained silent, Lyka shrugged again and changed the subject. “Do you want a berry?”
The months passed. As Lyka said, Javelin’s family didn’t miss him much. They seemed convinced that he was on a special training mission with the academy and would be back. None of them could give a time frame for how far off ‘soon’ was, but they were content nonetheless. Even the brother-loving Remora had accepted this without question.
Meanwhile, Lady Arowana had wasted no time in snaring the heart of the Sky Empire’s Crown Prince Argus. With Javelin no longer around, the royal pair became the new number one gossip topic in basically all of the Empire, and the Sea Academy was no exception. It had only taken one month for whispers of a romantic relationship to reach Raven’s ears. After two, Argus and Arowana were practically already married and with three children – although the public opinion was divided as to whether their firstborn ought to be a girl or a boy.
For Raven herself, days went by faster than she had first expected. In the beginning, everything seemed to move slower than usual, but, with time, things returned to normal. Well, if you can call spending hours trying to explain to Lyka that Frost Berries couldn’t be found this far south, and definitely not under water. As for her interactions with the people of the Sea Empire, Raven kept them to a minimum; she had little interest in currying favor with the nobility, and everyone else was too afraid of her to be any company. The Emperor had, however, insisted on holding yet another grand celebration when he understood that Raven was turning ten just a month after Javelin’s departure – it had been a very stuffy affair, however. . . .
The two Beastmen had long since left, forced to continue to deliver tournament invitations to the hundreds of realms that they were responsible for. Before they left, they had informed Raven that the passageway to the realm where the tournament would take place would only be open on the Day of Light. Apart from the timing, the only information Raven received was that each participant was allowed to bring their master and one contracted spirit with them – anything else was too secret even for them to know.
Raven suspected that Lyka knew more, but the girl was very tight-lipped about it all. Hoatzin of course took this as yet another sign that Lyka was just as devious as her grandfather – something that was only strengthened by the weird warning they had received in the hidden cave underneath the fountain. Raven mostly ignored his rants – it wasn’t like she had any way to get out of the oath she had given Fenris, anyway. Still, Raven didn’t let her guard down, either.
Eventually, the Day of Light arrived. At midnight, the spirit halls around the continent would be overflowing with spirit essence and, at that moment, the passage to the tournament realm would be opened.
Currently, Raven once again stood in the hidden cave underneath the Sea Academy’s central fountain. On her shoulder sat Hoatzin, and on her flanks stood Lyka and Headmaster Swan, who had arrived from Sky City just a few days earlier. The white-haired man’s eyes glowed with excitement, like a child on Christmas – an expression that Lyka’s eyes mirrored very well.
Hoatzin was a bit more steeled; although he wouldn’t say it out loud, he was a bit disappointed that he would miss this year’s batch of Day of Light spirit essence. Much like Sky Academy had a Spirit Hall Tower, Sea Academy also had an especially designed structure, constructed to maximize the amount of spirit essence its inhabitants could hope to receive – only, it was a labyrinth of underwater grottoes instead. If not for the departure to the tournament, he would most likely have broken through to the Champion realm this time around, but he couldn’t both stay in a Spirit Hall grotto and join Raven on her adventures. Naturally, he picked the latter, but it still irked him somewhat.
“Quit your frowning, Birdy,” Lyka laughed next to Raven and effortlessly jumped up to give Hoatzin’s head a little rub. “There will be plenty of opportunities for you to improve as well during the tournament.”
“I have a name!” Hoatzin hissed, flapping his wings harshly to move out of Lyka’s reach.
Raven glanced at Lyka, who had just given her first slip about knowing more about what was going to happen than she admitted.
“To think I’d actually have a chance to see more than Trinity. . . .” Headmaster Swan muttered for perhaps the hundredth time, completely ignoring the budding argument going on next to him.
“Are you ready?” Lyka asked, suddenly halting her playful chase of Hoatzin’s feathers.
Raven looked down at the small girl next of her, whose silvery white tail wagged mischievously from side to side behind her, and couldn’t stop herself from laughing.
“Is she ready?” Hoatzin intervened, landing once more on Raven’s shoulder. “My sister is going to take part in a tournament she knows nothing about, in a realm we have never been to. We have no idea who or what she is up against, just that they are, at least, peak Champions. I do not even know what benefits she could possibly hope to gain from taking part!” Hoatzin snorted. “For all we know, it could be nothing but a gigantic blood bath!”
“Sounds like good times to me,” Lyka countered, giving Raven a wink.
“Why you-. . .” Hoatzin waved an angry wing towards the wolf-eared girl, struggling to find the words, but Raven interrupted him before he managed more.
“It has been a while. . . .”
Before Hoatzin had the chance to object further, two vicious eyes flashed by on the hovering sphere of water in the center of the cave. No words were spoken this time, but, seconds later, the surface of the sphere started to shine brightly.
“Here we go!” Lyka giggled as the light became so strong that everyone present had to close their eyes.
It didn’t take long for the four people’s figures to fade, leaving nothing but light in the underground cave. The figures were gone, but the light kept increasing in intensity and suddenly it could no longer be contained; with an eerie silence, the light exploded forth, rushing like mad up through the tunnel in the ceiling. It twisted and turned, moving like a living beast, until it finally broke free of the tunnel’s confinement. Yet even then, it didn’t stop. Like a rocket, it continued upwards, effortlessly passing through the membrane that formed the Water Dome and the seawater above.
Above the ocean, those who didn’t have access to a Spirit Hall were busy celebrating when, like the rising of a second sun, the beam of light shot into the sky. With a mix of wonder, awe and fear, they watched as it soared further and further up. From the northern horizon, two more beams suddenly appeared and, within seconds, the three beams merged into a huge disk of light that washed away the darkness that had been covering the Trinity continent.
The disk kept glowing for nearly three hours, turning the darkest of nights into the brightest of days. For these three hours the entire continent paused, as the people of every empire bathed in light they had never seen before.
So began the first day of the Trinity continent’s 5000th year.
– End of Volume 5 –