As Deimos went to open the door, I walked over to the kitchen to fetch refreshments. Returning with a pitcher of water and some biscuits, I set them down upon the table in front of mother and Ceres, sitting down on the settee opposite them.
Mother nodded at me gratefully as she took her glass and drained nearly half of it in one go. Setting it down upon the table, she sank back into the sofa and sighed. “That was tiring.”
“Sorry,” said Ceres in a small voice as she looked down at her lap.
Frowning, mother slapped the back of her head lightly. “I meant that restraining myself from chopping those idiots down where they stood was tiring. Never think that I would balk at some tedium when it is for family.”
“Sorry,” repeated Ceres. But this time, there was a smile in her tone.
“What happened?” asked Deimos as she took a seat beside Ceres with the sleeping Doppelganger in her lap.
Mother sighed again and rubbed her temples. “Nothing much. I just had to parade Ceres about in front of the soldiers to assure them that she wasn’t a part of the Traitors’ camp. Most of them kept their mouth shut about it stemming from their respect for us… but I could see that internally, they were baying for her blood. Especially those with families in South and Central. If I didn’t tell them that she would be a part of the Expedition to the centre of the Sixth Forbidden Zone, I’m sure that someone would have done something very, very stupid.”
Looking up at me, she said, “It’s good that you already decided to go along, otherwise, Ceres would have to go alone.”
“Wait… How do you know that I planned to go?”
She pointed at the sleeping cat with her thumb. “I share all senses with my Doppelganger and in fact, it was me doing the talking through it. It’s only a puppet and doesn’t really have a sentience of its own. Some primal instincts, sure, but no sentience.”
“Well, how come it was even a question of whether I would go? If Ceres went, didn’t it automatically imply that my wives and I needed to go too? The trip isn’t shorter than the three days that she can insist without turning Feral.”
Mother slapped her forehead. “Oh. I keep forgetting to tell you about it. I must be going senile.” Smiling at me, she said, “I never expected to have the Talk with you this soon. You can’t blame me. Ordinarily, I’d only tell you these things when you reached Tier 3 but you are as far from the norm as can be. Anyway… what do you know of the term abstinence?”
“Well,” I replied, “It means refraining from something, be it food, wealth, or most commonly, sex.”
“Right. So, haven’t you ever had the thought that being restricted by the necessity to have sex every three days is quite problematic, especially for those whose jobs mean that they would have to travel far from their spouses? If this restriction wasn’t circumventable, then no noble would be able to hold such posts as their wives would turn Feral upon their separation.”
“So… I’m assuming that abstinence isn’t just a word here but the name of a technique to overcome this restriction and a mage has to be at least Tier 3 to use it.” I said.
“Exactly. When I heard from Ceres here that you are able to sense each other when your bonds are in use, I realised that the mutation of your mindscape meant that you’d be able to practise Abstinence sooner than normal.”
She paused to wet her throat, then continued, “Why do you think intercourse is able to transfer Vita’s Divine will from the female to the male?”
“Umm… isn’t it because your minds and bodies are closest to your partner during climax?” answered Deimos, hesitantly.
Mother sighed. “Again with the questions for answers. Throw that large chest of yours out and answer loudly, with confidence. Even if you get it wrong, no one will eat you…” she shook her head, “Anyway, you’re correct. Orgasm is a crutch through which you are able to sense your partner before your own magical senses grow strong enough to eschew that process.”
“So, sex isn’t necessary if you can sense each other?”
“Why not tell us then? Why wait till we are at Tier 3?”
“Simple. Which relationship would be stronger in your opinion? One where the couple slept together regularly, or one where they slept apart? We don’t tell you so that you make more effort to trust and like each other with the mindset that you would have to live the rest of your lives comfortable with the other’s touch. And it does no harm… It’s not like you’d be able to do anything with the information even if you knew.”
I nodded in understanding. If you went to bed with another person regularly, you were bound to develop some sort of positive feeling about him or her. At least you’d have to trust that your partner not to slit your throat in your sleep. And that’d be enough to keep the bond from dissipating.
“Anyway, Ceres, tell him what you speculated about his mindscape.”
“Okay,” said Ceres. Gathering her thoughts, she began, “Remember, you told me that you could sense light and water mana despite not having a contract with women with those elements.”
“That isn’t exactly true. You do have a bond with a woman with an affinity to both water and light.”
“Wait…” my eyes widened, “Mother!?”
My expression must have been really strange because mother began to giggle uncontrollably. Stuffing a biscuit in my open mouth, she snapped my mouth shut with a finger under my chin. “Your father will be so sad when he hears that my love isn’t his in its entirety.” She said before devolving into another fit of giggles.
Mechanically chewing the biscuit in my mouth, I swallowed and washed the crumbs down with some water. “Well,” I said, “That seems as likely an explanation as any. But why isn’t this more widely known? I’d expect more people to say something about it if a Tamer inherited affinities from his parents.”
Ceres shook her head. “Your mother’s special. Her bloodline originates from a Sacred Beast. I do not think that an ordinary bloodline can affect the affinity of Hominum sons. People with bloodlines of Sacred Beasts are rare and Hominum born of their union are rarer still. Combined with your peculiar circumstances, I believe that this phenomenon has gone largely unnoticed.”
Reining in her mirth, mother admonished Ceres. “What is all this ‘your mother’ business? Drop that ‘your’ this instant! I’m your mother and that big oaf is your father. Get used to it.”
“Yes.” said Ceres in a small voice as she looked down with shaking shoulders. Deimos rubbed her back as drops of tears adorned the backs of her clenched fists in her lap.
Tactfully ignoring her outburst to avoid embarrassing her, I continued the conversation with mother. “So, what does this have to do with anything? I have a possible explanation for my affinities now. How does that help?”
“Oh, trust me, it helps. It helps a lot more than you would even begin to guess. What would you say to a new contract.”
“Huh? With whom?”
Mother silently pointed towards the cat slumbering peacefully in Deimos’ lap.
For a long moment, I was silent as I failed to comprehend her meaning. Then, I did.
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