Ceres watched out of the corner of her eye as Mars ran a hand through his sunset curls in frustration for the umpteenth time that morning. His hair was approaching the semblance of a crow’s nest more with each time he clutched it in his fist. Ceres feared he would start balding if she didn’t intervene.
Putting the manuscript she had been reading down onto the polished mahogany table she addressed him, pulling her voice down to barely above a whisper, “Husband, did you find anything yet?”
“No!” he hissed as he tossed the sheaf of parchment in his hand and turned to her from across the table.
“Five hundred years of history and I can find no mention of anything remotely resembling a solution! Forget a solution, there isn’t a single mention of the Curse of Vita in the entirety of the pavilion. Can you believe it?! For a problem this ubiquitous, you’d expect at least a mention,” he ranted as he threw up his hands in frustration – thankfully releasing his grip on his hair in the process.
“Well,” said Ceres as she pushed her glasses further up the bridge of her nose with a finger, “It’s not just the material in here… I haven’t really seen much in the way of concrete data when it comes to Vita – or just Gods in general. It’s all either unfounded speculation or religious mysticism. I don’t think anyone has unravelled that particular mystery yet.”
Slumping into his chair, Mars rubbed his face. “Yeah… I know. I’ve read the books in the library too. The most they have is theoretical discourses on mana and explanations for various natural phenomena. Even if they mention Divine Will or Divine Power, they do so as mere terms without delving further into what they actually are. I had hoped that the technique pavilion would solve some of my doubts.” Letting his hands drop to his sides, he leant his head back against the backrest, looked up at the ceiling and sighed. “When the hope is greater the disappointment is too…”
“Buck up, husband,” said Ceres as she kicked him lightly under the table. “Gods are the highest mysteries in this world of ours, and I’d expect anything related to them to be equally mysterious. No matter how common their manifestation.”
“I know,” he groaned as he sat up and drew another manuscript from the dwindling pile of the unread. “I know, but I can’t help but feel that if I managed to extract mother’s bloodline – in effect stripping her of the danger of Feralization – then there should be more examples of such successful cases. War widows aren’t that uncommon in the history of our clan and I’m definitely not the first one agonizing over the fate of his relative. Someone must have thought of something… It’s just not here.” He turned his attention to the words on the manuscript he had opened, muttering under his breath. “If only I could bond her…”
The corner of Ceres’ eye twitched. “Husband, while I appreciate your efforts on mother-in-law’s behalf, I can understand why she isn’t willing to go down that path. While Abstinence allows you to withdraw Divine Power without the requirement for any physical intimacy, it will only work if your bonds are nigh impregnable. If you contracted Phobos’ mother, her goodwill towards you as her son-in-law wouldn’t be enough to allow Abstinence. And… and the other option…”
Mars looked up from the manuscript with a jerk. “That’s not what I was suggesting! I know about Abstinence and its limitations. No way our bond would be dark enough even if I contracted Phobos’ ma.” He shook his head. “What I was saying was about sealing up her Doppelganger just like I did mother’s. But she’s not specialized… and even if we could have her specialize in control, she would need to advance to Tier 4 peak for her to condense a Doppelganger. If only we had some way to make a less demanding copy of… a… Doppelganger…” His words trailed away as his eyes widened in realization. Looking up, his crimson eyes met Ceres’ chestnut ones that were just as wide.
Swallowing his saliva, the dim flame of hope flickering to life in his eyes, Mars asked, “H-how far are you from understanding the Smoke Clone technique?”
“Close…” replied Ceres. “Very close. It’s the one I started with from the Kitsune archives.”
“Could we modify it to work with shadows?”
“I-I really can’t say. You tell me. You’re the one who has been studying the shadow elemental techniques… I was studying fire and light.”
“But it’s possible, right?”
A wide smile parted Mars’ lips like sunshine through dark clouds after a rainstorm. Ceres’ heart thumped in her chest and she could feel her cheeks warming. That can’t be fair, she complained in her mind. Too lethal.
“For some reason, though, I’m utter shit at comprehending the shadow techniques,” he complained.
Ceres knew why. He was too bright – not a hint of darkness in him. Even when he had heard of the Kirin clan’s part in the event, he hadn’t thought towards revenge. All his thoughts were directed towards saving Phobos’ mother. Deimos; Ceres had observed how the petite white-haired girl’s eyes twinkled with murderous intention at the very mention of the name. The same for Mars’ parents, but as for the man himself, he focused all of his efforts on mending what had been broken, stitching what had been torn. The shadows would stay away from him.
But there was someone far more appropriate for the task. Someone far more attuned to darker motives.
Abruptly, Ceres stood from her chair and rounded the table. Grabbing onto Mars’ hand, she pulled him along as she exited the technique pavilion.
“Wait, where are we going?” he asked, bewildered.
“To get sister Phobos.”
“You think it’s a good idea to tell her now when it’s only at the speculative stage? It’d get her hopes up and it’d be really horrible if we failed.”
Ceres shook her head as they strode down the corridors. “She needs a distraction – something to work on to keep her mind from eating her up from the inside. And she is far more talented in the path of shadows than you or I will ever be. It’s best for her to be brought into the loop. If we fail, we try again.”
Reaching Phobos’ door, Ceres paused and looked Mars in the eye, “Sister is much stronger than you give her credit for; setbacks won’t be a problem, idleness will.”
Complete. That’s all for March. April goal – finish Volume 13.
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