The days trickled by. Lyka kept provoking people left and right and, had it been in any other place, she would have earned herself quite a reputation by now. However, there were just too many people present on the overly cramped streets of Nanite’s only city; even if Lyka would have managed to piss off every person they had seen, she still wouldn’t have scratched the surface.
Hoatzin had grown ever more irritated by the little Valkyrie Wolf’s behavior – spouting comments about family resemblance and barbaric behavior – but Raven didn’t really care. Usually, she had taken the role of a passive bystander, unless someone actually managed to annoy her, of course. In those cases, Raven would take the initiative and strike hard.
It was perhaps no surprise that Raven’s actions were the ones that created the most animosity towards their group; after all, Lyka just riled people up – Raven robbed them clean. By the time the day of the tournament’s opening ceremony arrived, quite a handful of people had sworn they would get their revenge. Normally, offending people and leaving them breathing wasn’t really Raven’s style, but, since killing within the city was out of the question, she couldn’t be bothered to deal with them further.
In fact, she felt fairly unmotivated to deal with things in general. Initially, she had been looking forward to the excitement of the new realm and the tournament but, as the days passed, the buzz faded.
Lyka, who was currently prancing forward at the front of their group, glanced over her shoulder at Raven. A faint smirk flashed by in the depths of her eyes before her gaze shifted to the front again, paving a way through the sea of people on the street.
‘Hmm?’ Raven suddenly paused, carefully scanning the crowd around her.
“Sister?” Hoatzin called, looking questioningly at Raven from his spot on her shoulder.
At first, she didn’t react, and Hoatzin had to call for Raven’s name twice more before she finally turned her attention towards her brother.
“Is there something wrong?”
“No, nothing. . . ,” Raven replied after a moment’s pause. She raised her unoccupied shoulder in a shrug. “I just thought I felt someone . . . staring.”
“Are there not always people staring? Little miss mischief over there is constantly drawing attention to herself. . . .” As he finished his sentence, Hoatzin flapped his wings, narrowly avoiding a pebble that whizzed past Raven’s ear. “Ill-mannered brat. . . .” he hissed, earning himself a second pebble – this one was covered in frost and managing to hit him square in the chest.
Raven nonchalantly caught her brother when his now frosted body was flung backwards and returned him to her shoulder as if nothing had happened. Scenes like this one had played out more times than she cared to count by now, and she had started to wonder if her brother didn’t perhaps have a masochistic streak in him. Why else would he choose to transmit his thoughts to Lyka, even when he knew that it would earn him a beating? She had asked him once and the reply she got was: “a gentleman doesn’t speak ill of a woman behind her back.”
Just thinking about it made Raven roll her eyes. She and her companions continued down the busy street, following the general flow of the public. Minutes after they left, a shadow shifted slightly, revealing two yellow eyes staring intently in the direction which Raven had left in.
“Raven . . . Nightingale, huh? How ironic. . . .” There was a hungry ruthlessness glowing in the depths of those eyes as they held their gaze for quite a while before disappearing back into the dark shadow.
Unaware of the yellow-eyed figure, Raven’s group had already made it quite far down the busy street. On earlier days, people had been traveling this street in both directions, but at the moment everyone was headed the same way. The amount of people was so great and their objective so single-minded that even if one had wanted to go in the opposite direction, it would have been almost impossible to pull it off.
Today was the day that marked the beginning of the Myriad Tournament and there was only one goal on everyone’s mind: to reach the city center.
“We’re here!” Lyka eventually laughed from her position at the front as she turned around one final corner. Raven wasn’t far behind and her eyes widened as she, too, got a clear view of the city’s central square.
Raven’s spirit connections had already painted a pretty clear picture of what was going on there, but it had been so odd that she had started to doubt her senses. Thousands of people were flowing into the square – all heading towards its center from different directions – but even though there should be increasingly less space the further into the square they got, the people just kept walking at the same steady pace, seemingly unaware of the impossibility of their actions. Even at the very center, new people constantly arrived, while the old could no longer be seen by the naked eye.
For Raven’s astute senses, the central square was like a glaring beacon of leaked yellow spirit essence with a few specks of orange and green. The spirit essence was so intense that it burned in her mind, with the central point overpowering the rest several-fold.
“Let’s go!” Lyka chimed and walked forward with a light bounce in her step.
“After you, miss Raven,” headmaster Swan urged after a short period of silence. Clearly, he was impatient to learn more about the odd space in front of them.
Raven stepped forward, but winced as the burning sensation in her mind intensified. On instinct, Raven activated her own spirit essence to shield and protect herself, but it had little effect, and it only got worse with every step she took. Eventually, the sensation threatened to overwhelm all of her other senses, such as sight and smell, and it didn’t take long before Raven could no longer avoid bumping into people in the crowd because of it.
“Bloody spiritualists,” she hissed under her breath as yet another youth accidentally smacked her in the head with his elbow. A dangerous glint flashed by in her eyes, whose green irises instantly got a distinct tinge of red. Killing intent slipped into Raven’s spirit essence and, as if the others’ spirit essence sensed the danger, the pressure on her mind instantly lessened a bit.
The sudden relief caused a bone-chilling smile to spread on Raven’s lips. She urged on her bloodlust, causing the red tone in her eyes to rapidly turn darker and bloodier. It wasn’t until her killing intent came close to materializing in a bloody haze around her that Raven started to feel comfortable again, her mind relaxing. The deadly air around her also had the added bonus that the other people in the crowd, either consciously or subconsciously, kept their distance, giving Raven a wide berth.
Neither Lyka nor Headmaster Swan seemed to notice that anything had changed – or at least they made no comment on it if they did – but how could Hoatzin, perched on Raven’s shoulder, possibly have missed it?
“Sister?” he called out with concern for the second time that day, but Raven shook her head dismissively.
“Too many presences in one place,” she explained curtly, not going into further detail, and instead she took a look at their surroundings.
It was the first time since they had entered the square that Raven had the presence of mind to look back and gauge their progress, and she was surprised to find that their group had already traveled pretty far from the edge of the square. However, Raven was even more baffled as she turned her gaze forward and realized that the distance to the center of the square hadn’t changed at all – if anything, it seemed further away.
“Interesting place, isn’t it?” Lyka slowed her pace a bit so that she ended up next to Raven. They kept walking forward, and with every step the area in front of them grew larger. “There is a powerful spirit formation here that twists the space; this little square can hold more people than the rest of the Nanite realm combined.”
“It is an impressive formation,” Raven conceded, but said nothing more on the subject.
They kept moving forward, but the space between the people kept getting larger. Not only that, the separate groups of participants seemed to become more organized and structured, as if boxed in by invisible fences. Even Raven’s group somehow ended up in a neat little row, even with all of them just walking straight ahead.
Eventually, after what felt like hours, a black and white structure appeared on the horizon. It quickly spread to fill Raven’s entire field of view, giving her nothing to look at but the building itself. It didn’t take long before they reached the outer wall of the building that, up close, looked more like an endless, twenty-meter-high wall. Raven’s group slowed down and happened to stop in front of a small door that said: “Trinity Continent; 2 Potential Participants, 1 Spirit Pet, 1 Guest.”
“How in the Skies did they do that!?” Hoatzin exclaimed, sounding just as baffled as Raven felt.
She glanced to her left, finding a large group of tall and lanky human-like figures with unusually large, glowing, green eyes and whose skin and hip-long hair was the color of wheat. On their door, written in a quirky font, was the word “Trawalos” followed by a bunch of words that Raven couldn’t understand. Looking to the right, Raven found a smaller group of people, also seemingly human – if not for their skin looking like polished steel and the huge and equally metallic wings that sprouted from their backs. The sunlight caused the beings to glisten every time they moved, almost as if they were covered in diamonds. Their door read “Trisana” in stoic letters, which were once more followed by words incomprehensible to Raven.
“We have been sorted. . . .” she muttered, slightly moved by the intricacy of the spirit formation. This was the first time that she had come by something so complex and, definitely contrary to normal, Raven hadn’t sensed the change in the spirit essence that would normally accompany a spirit formation. ‘Perhaps it’s the spirit essence overload that is blocking me from sensing it. . . ?’
Lyka took the final step to the door, placing her hand on the doorknob. Before she turned it, though, she turned to face Raven.
“Once I open this door and we step through, there is no going back,” she said, smiling with excitement. “Are you ready for this, Raven? The Myriad Tournament isn’t something you can take on without . . . focus.”
Raven was about to shrug noncommittally when she caught sight of a familiar figure in the corner of her eye. Instantly, her indifferent stare turned as cold as ice and her lips twitched slightly.
“Oh, I think I can find the motivation.” Raven had already been carefully controlling her killing intent, but now it slipped a bit, causing a visible strand of red mist to form around her.
Lyka raised an eyebrow, giving Raven a pensive look. Raven was looking straight at her, but Lyka quickly noticed that Hoatzin had stiffened up, too, with unbridled hatred glowing in his eyes. She followed his gaze and sneered.
“Oh, I see,” she said, sounding rather pleased. “No worries, then.”
Lyka turned around and pushed the door open, not hesitating to step through. Headmaster Swan had an odd expression on his face. He hesitated for a moment, as if he were considering saying something, but in the end he too passed through the open door. Raven moved to follow, but gazed over her shoulder just before stepping through the doorway.
In the distance, it was as if the person Raven was looking at had felt her stare, because the man looked up – his golden eyes meting hers. At first he seemed surprised – unsure, even – but, just like Raven, his gaze quickly turned cold with hate.
“Raven Night. . . !” he hissed, causing the youths around him to also look up.
Raven gave a mocking bow, sending a pointed look at the gathered youths before laughing slightly as she backed in through the doorway behind her.
Left standing a few doors away, the youths looked at their master with questioning stares. The youngest in the group mustered up the courage to ask: “Lord Master Wutu, that was . . ?”
His question earned the young boy a hard slap in the face, causing him to tumble backwards a few steps, his face instantly swelling.
“Don’t speak unless spoken to!” commanded the man. Only once the young boy had practically fallen to his knees in forgiveness did the man turn his attention to the oldest of the youths, who also happened to be the only female.
“Nyoka,” he said sternly. “That annoying little wasp, I don’t ever want to see her again. Do you understand?”
The girl smiled warmly at her elder, but her golden eyes turned into slim slits, brimming with viciousness as she glanced towards the door through which Raven had left.
“Consider it done, Uncle Gadwall.”