Half-way through her spirited spiel, Ceres yawned. Grinning, Mars pinched her cheek and said, “You’ll be making history alright, but you’ll be making history after a good, fulsome rest.”
Knocking his hand away, Ceres pouted. “I’m not a child.”
“Heh. I didn’t call you one.”
Huffing irately, she turned her face away.
“Fine, fine,” he relented, rubbing the back of his head with one hand. “I’m sorry, okay.”
Ceres shot him a glance from the corner of her eye. “That’s one ‘fine’ too many… To compensate, you’ll have to carry me to bed.”
Mars froze, staring at her with his mouth half-open.
Ceres blushed and averted her eyes. “W-what?!” she stuttered.
His eyes grew gentle. “No. it’s nothing.”
Getting to his feet, he put his right hand behind his back and proffered his left to her with a half-bow. “Madame, it’d be my honour.”
Not daring to meet his eye but unable to prevent the upward quirk of her lips, Ceres laid her palm in his. Grasping it tight, he pulled her up and in one smooth movement, swept her off her feet. With a gasp, she threw her arms around his neck for support.
Spinning her around once, Mars carried her to the bed, laying her down on the side opposite to Phobos. Drawing the duvet up, he covered her, grinning all the while.
Their gazes met and the two of them stood still in a moment that seemed to have been framed in time. Reaching out suddenly, Mars caught her chin and wiped her lip with his thumb. Bringing the finger up to his mouth, he sucked off the bit of cream that had been stuck on the corner of her lip, all the while maintaining eye-contact.
Then with a roughish smile, he turned sharply and left. His parting words lingering in the breeze behind him. “Sleep well.”
Ceres remained frozen until the sound of the shutting door jolted her out of her stunned state. Blushing all the way down to her neck, she drew the duvet over her head. Her soft mutter could be heard in the silence of the room above the soft sound of Phobos’ regular breaths.
Having pulled a fast one on Ceres, I was in quite good cheer as I left our room. There might be problems breathing down our necks from all sides but we were making progress and that was enough. If my talent for music wasn’t abysmal – borderline tone-deaf really – I might even have whistled a melody on my way the Training hall.
I had made encouraging progress yesterday night in the fire topology and I was eager to consolidate my gains. Entering the reception, just as I was about to apply for a pass, a maid approached me and handed me a folded letter.
Thanking her, I walked over to a secluded corner to read it. There weren’t many words. It was a summon to father and mother’s room. Why a letter though? They could have just had the maid call me. Frowning, I shook the paper and it ignited, burning away into ash.
My positive mood was ruined. I hoped that it wasn’t something too serious… We had enough on our plate already.
Reaching my parent’s suite, I raised my hand to knock on the door, but before I could, it swung open on its own and I saw father and mother sitting on the living room sofa waiting for me. Entering, I shut the door and the sounds from outside ceased as a thin film of vacuum sealed the room. My apprehension deepened. Such levels of secrecy…
Taking a seat opposite them I waited for them to speak.
The two of them looked at each other and mother spoke. “There’s four… five things really. First, and the reason why we called you here privately – we found the spy in our midst.”
My eyes widened. “You mean the one who leaked the information about your connection to the Cult of Bubastis? The high-level mole?”
Father nodded gravely. “It was mister Kravis. Rather than us finding him, it was him that practically confessed by just vanishing into thin air yesterday – sometime around the afternoon, just as the Lutrinae arrived for an audience.”
I was shocked. “Mister Kravis? The keeper of the library? But he…”
Mother shook her head. “I never expected it to be him. Your grandfather sheltered him when his life was in danger… we don’t know the particulars of the matter… we don’t even know much about him… your grandfather never told us… but after that, mister Kravis stayed in our family all these years. Your father respected him like an uncle and I… I… after my father passed away, I considered him my second f-father.”
Her voice cracked and I realized the source of the uneasy feeling I’d been having since I entered the room. It was her sadness leaking out of her and affecting my senses. Since it isn’t a very polite thing to spy on your parent’s emotions, I’d kept a strict rein on my mana senses in their presence but now that I wasn’t holding back anymore, I could sense how distraught mother was and even father seemed out of sorts behind that poker-face of his.
Getting up, I rounded the table and gave mother a hug. She hugged me back tightly and I could feel her trembling slightly as if repressing her sobs. Breaking apart, I sat down beside her. Now, from this close, I could see the slight inflammation of her eyes and smudged eyeliner. She had tried to hide it with her magic but the traces had remained. Mother had been crying.
I tried to come up with some words to comfort her… but I was grasping in the dark. Suddenly, an idea popped into my head.
“How did you determine that he’s the spy. He could have left for some other reason.”
Father shook his head. “We started collecting clues the moment we arrived here and the list of suspects was really short… not many knew of your mother’s connection with Egypt. Given a day or two we would have narrowed it down to him.”
I nodded. “Okay. He was the spy… but did he take anything with him? Did he damage any core area of the clan?”
“No,” replied mother, “he just up and ran.”
“But,” I continued, “it was the perfect opportunity to wreak some havoc before leaving. If he was truly, wholeheartedly a member of the enemy faction, he wouldn’t have left so easily. So, either he has some sentiment towards the clan, or you, and decided to maintain his bottom line… or, he was coerced by the enemy. Maybe some handle of his fell into their hands. So, don’t write him off as a traitor just yet. I don’t think the two of you would make such a huge mistake in your judgement of someone’s character.”
“Well, yes… that does seem to be possible…” acknowledged mother hesitantly. “We were too close to the problem to think of it rationally.” She shook her head. “We’ll get to the bottom of the matter. I don’t believe that crotchety old man would be so perfidious!” she exclaimed with clenched jaws.
I could feel that she was feeling much better about the situation.
To take her mind off it, I interjected, “So, what are the four other things you want to tell me?”