The world shifted around Raven as she, Lyka, Hoatzin and Headmaster Swan passed through the door reserved for the Trinity continent. A bright light overwhelmed them and, instantly, Raven felt the pressure on her senses decreasing. Even so, her killing intent did not subside right away, not with Gadwall’s face flashing by in her mind.
Once the light faded, a spectacular view replaced it and Raven couldn’t help but let go of her malicious mood at the sight of it; she and her companions were standing, seemingly on thin air, suspended over thousands of meters of nothing.
In the distance, a gigantic cyclone of raging wind and thunder snakes drowned out all other sounds. Looking around, Raven quickly noticed two other odd phenomena of titanic proportions taking place on either side of them; one was an inverted maelstrom of water that gushed upwards through the air, the other a rapidly spinning cylinder of house-sized rocks that occasionally slammed into each other with explosive consequences. All three pillars stretched into the sky further than Raven’s eyes could see.
“People of Trinity, welcome.”
The sudden greeting caused Raven to shift her attention back towards the direction of the cyclone. A young boy stood only a few meters away, staring at them with eyes devoid of both color and emotion. He looked no older than ten, but even though he stood almost within arm’s reach, Raven couldn’t sense even a speck of his existence – even his breathing was so silent that she couldn’t hear it!
“Congratulations,” the boy continued, giving a slight bow but with his voice not sounding very sincere; “you are the first from your realm to ever make it this far.”
“Thank you, Senior,” Headmaster Swan replied, clearly wise enough not to trust the boy’s youthful appearance as an indication of his age.
The boy barely glanced at Swan before turning his attention to Lyka. “Valkyrie Wolf, as a Wanderer Race, you may choose which realm you will compete for. Are you certain that you which to partake in the Trinity continent’s trials?”
“I am,” Lyka replied, her normal cheekiness gone without a trace.
“The trials that the people of Trinity face are not suited for your race,” the boy cautioned, but Lyka stood her ground. After a moment’s silence, the boy let the matter drop and instead looked at Raven. “As the first representatives of your realm, I assume you know little of the coming tournament.”
It wasn’t really a question, but Raven nodded nonetheless. It was true that she knew close to nothing about the tournament, except that it would be hard and filled with bloody battles.
“The Myriad Tournament is not simply a stage for bloody combat,” the boy started his explanation, almost as if he had read Raven’s mind. “There are countless strong, young spiritualists in all the realms, many of whom easily exceed the requirements of this tournament by the time they turn twenty, and yet it is rarely these individuals who leave the greatest marks in history. Why is that?”
The boy paused his explanation, clearly waiting for a reply from Raven.
‘Because talent isn’t everything. . . .’ she thought, catching a faint flicker of a smile in the boy’s otherwise unengaged eyes.
“The Myriad Tournament’s goal is not simply to find the strongest individuals, but to also find those with the best hidden potential and ability to adapt,” the boy continued, no longer requiring an answer to his question. “Each month, the participants of the Tournament will face a new trial that they have to complete within that month. Failure to complete a trial will result in immediate elimination from the Tournament.
“On the final day of every third trial, challenges will be arranged between those who have passed their trials, and only the victors will be allowed to continue forward. This pattern will repeat itself two more times. After nine months, the final champions of the tournament will have been selected and the last stage will begin. Do you understand?”
“Senior, if I may ask, what kind of trials can my students expect?” Swan asked before Raven had the chance to respond.
“The trials will depend on what realm you are from. Some will require teams to work together, whilst others must be solved alone.”
“And the last stage . . .”
“. . . will be discussed if they get that far,” the boy interrupted Headmaster Swan, a tinge of irritation in his voice.
“My apologies, Senior.”
Headmaster Swan hurried to take a step back, bowing deeply. His face was slightly greenish and cold sweat had formed on his forehead. Seeing this, Raven frowned.
She shifted her position slightly, moving in between Swan and the boy. The moment she entered his line of sight, a stab of pain assailed Raven’s mind, almost causing her knees to give out beneath her. Instinctively, gushes of killing intent infused spirit essence rushed to fight off the formless attack, but before it could reach its target, the pain lessened.
“Do you understand?” The boy repeated his question to Raven, acting as if nothing had happened.
“Good. The first trial will begin shortly; you may bring your spirit pet, but the next oportunity you will be able to speak with your . . . teacher is after the first trial is over. Make the best of this moment.”
The boy silently observed Raven and her companions for a moment longer before suddenly snapping his fingers and disappearing into a puff of smoke.
Raven raised an eyebrow, almost needing to suppress a laugh.
‘What a theatrical exit for such a stoic person. . . .’
The reality of his strength was, however, a sobering thought. Raven had neither sensed the boy come nor go and even his mental attack had left her stumped with no idea how he had done it.
“What an unlikable creature,” Lyka hissed once they were left alone. She had already sat down with her legs crossed, seemingly over nothing. In her hand appeared the familiar red pouch filled with berries.
“Who was he?” Hoatzin asked. “He seemed a bit . . . odd.”
“What was he is a better question.” Lyka snorted. “Whatever it was, it didn’t have a soul.”
“Oh? What makes you say that?”
It was Headmaster Swan who asked this time, his complexion still a bit pale from the boy’s mental stab. Lyka gave him a long stare and Raven didn’t miss the brief coldness that flashed by in the depths of the girl’s silvery eyes.
“I just know,” she replied eventually. “Tell me, teacher Swan, did you not notice his lack of spirit when he attacked you? How could it have been so if the boy had a soul prism to manipulate the spirit essence with?”
“Could he not just be significantly stronger than us? I sensed nothing in particular from your honorable grandfather either.”
Lyka scoffed. “How naive you are! Do you think that just because you are too weak to sense it, others won’t? Raven has no problem sensing the old cheat, but there is a difference between being too strong to be sensed and being unsensable!”
‘I do actually have some trouble with Fenris,’ Raven mused but refrained from entering into the growing dispute, which did not calm down when Hoatzin pointed out that ‘unsensable’ wasn’t an actual word.
Raven listened to the following heated discussion with minimal interest; whoever or whatever the boy was, it was of no real consequence to her. Instead, Raven’s thoughts floated to the old enemy she had run into moments earlier, causing a red tint to spread across her eyes.
It had barely been a year since she saw Gadwall last. At that time, she had been too weak to deal him a finishing blow, and Fenris had eventually intervened and sent Gadwall off with his tail between his legs. Since then, Raven’s cultivation hadn’t made any major breakthroughs – although she could feel one swiftly approaching. She had however made great progress in using her more deadly Divine Skills; perhaps still not enough to kill Gadwall, but . . .
Raven grinned coldly as she thought of the young woman who had been standing closest to Gadwall in his group of youths. Her cultivation level had been very impressive for her age – soon a mid Spirit Master – but that wasn’t a gap that Raven’s current fighting prowess couldn’t overcome.
‘I hope we meet soon. . . .’
Still engaged in the argument about the boy, Lyka glanced over briefly at Raven before she was forced to swerve her head aside in order to avoid getting hit by one of Hoatzin’s flaming feathers.
“Dammit, bird boy! You almost burned my hat!”
“‘Almost’ being the important word here. You, on the other hand, did not just almost yank out five of my tail feathers the other day – simply to make an ornament out of them! I need those to fly properly!”
“Clearly,” Lyka snickered; “you fly like a drunk.”
“Why you . . !”
Off to the side, Raven blinked, her eyes once more turning green as her killing intent subsided. She had no idea how the argument about the mysterious boy had suddenly turned into a full-blown war between her brother and Lyka, about stolen feathers no less. Even by their standards, this development was a little far-fetched.
“Don’t bother,” cautioned Headmaster Swan, who had noticed Raven’s confounded look; he had long since given up on the original discussion.
After a moment’s pause, the elderly teacher moved to stand in front of Raven, his gaze solemn. “Raven, I am aware that while you are technically my disciple, you are so only in name. We have spent a few years together and I can only be amazed by your fathomless martial skill. There is already nothing I can teach you in that area – if there ever was – but please, do not underestimate your greatest enemy.”
Headmaster Swan placed his warm hand on her shoulder and Raven gave him an odd look. “The you-are-your-own-worst-enemy speech?” she asked, and the man’s fluffy white eyebrows arched slightly before he chuckled.
Far behind him, the air started to twist, slowly revealing a huge gateway. The headmaster turned to look at the appearing structure but held out his hand to stop Raven from going forward.
“Don’t take my advice too lightly, just because you’ve heard it before.”
Raven looked up at the Sky Academy’s headmaster, a faint smile forming on her lips; Headmaster Swan might not have contributed greatly to her cultivation, but she could sense his concern for her.
“I won’t,” she replied earnestly.
“Good.” Swan smiled and retracted his hand. “The only other advice I can give you is to have fun – even if you don’t make it very far during this tournament, you are young enough to apply again the next time.”
Raven smiled back at the man, but didn’t have to say anything as Lyka appeared by her side.
“Oh, there is no need to worry there,” she assured with a wolfish grin. Lyka then nudged towards the new gateway. “It’s time to go.”
Raven nodded. “Until next month,” she said to Headmaster Swan as she, with Hoatzin back on her shoulder, stepped towards the gate.
“Since you have not technically reached the minimum cultivation requirement necessary to take part in this tournament, passing though this gate will count as your qualification test,” Lyka warned. “Be prepared.”
With both the city square and the mysterious young boy as reference, Raven didn’t dare to slack off, and instantly started circulating her spirit essence through her body, putting herself on high alert.
It wasn’t until the three of them had safely passed through the door and stepped out on a large mountain, covered in ice and snow, that Raven frowned and looked down at Lyka by her side. Just one glance was enough to make her realize what had happened.
“Hahaha!” Lyka couldn’t keep it in any longer and burst out laughing. “You should have seen your face as you approached the gate; priceless!”
“. . . .” Raven said nothing, but Hoatzin shot Lyka an evil glare before he sighed deeply.
“That minx and her tricks! Sister, you are slipping; usually you see right through her schemes.”
“Perhaps I am,” Raven replied, sounding indifferent, but privately she wasn’t so sure. ‘Or perhaps Lyka is a better mischief-maker than I gave her credit for. . . .’
However, Raven had little time to consider this notion before a fist-sized snowball came whizzing towards her left ear at an immense speed. She shifted her body, causing the snowball to only lightly scratch the tip of her nose. Surprisingly enough, the impact was still strong enough to scrape off a layer of her skin.
“Haha, it’s already started!” laughed Lyka, as she too side-stepped an icy projectile and dashed for cover behind a large stone. Even though the rock was large and quite solid, every snowball caused it to hum dully as it resonated in place from the impact.
Carved into that very stone was the simple instruction for the first trial’s month: “Survive.”