Chapter 194

Rinsing the shampoo out of her hair, Phobos watched the soapy water run down her body and drain out of the port at the corner of the communal washroom that was reserved for the Lieutenants. She imagined the soapy water being channelled into the sewage pipes before the gathered sludge was discharged when the ship flew over some uninhabited area. She couldn’t help but giggle at the realization that she was, in a way, leaving her mark on the Empire.

She was in a good mood, she noted. The best in days. No, weeks.

Reaching out, she turned the knob that regulated the water supply, reducing the shower to a trickle and then to nothing. The Cloud Whale, mimicking the marine behemoths it was named after, gained its supply of freshwater by inhaling the medium in which it swam. Activated by water mages, a formation in the airship absorbed the clouds in its surroundings and condensed them into potable water. A network of pipes spread out from the water storage and supplied the rest of the ship. An additional arrangement using fire stones allowed for the temperature of the water in the washrooms to be regulated. It was all quite luxurious, observed Phobos. She was having a warm shower in the bosom of the sky. And for the last few days, she’d been having the most satisfying intercourse in her life.

She was living the ‘high’ life.

Taking her towel off the rack, she dried herself off before wrapping her wet hair in it and tying it into a loose turban. It would take a while for it to dry – the inconveniences of long hair. For a short while, she wondered whether she should cut her hair to more manageable lengths. Demi seemed to carry her shoulder-length cut well and Ceres had really gone on an expedition against her tresses. She looked like a boy from a distance – an impression accentuated by her current figure.

Phobos shook her head, taking her underwear up from the rack and stepping into it. She quite liked her hair and the hour she spent caring for it every day was her personal time. A time for her to relax and think of nothing but the feel of the brush as it stroked through her hair. It was cathartic.

Slipping her bra on, she reached behind her back to hook it before adjusting her breasts in the cups with her palms. In fact, skipping her regular hair care regimen had probably contributed to the aggravation of her spiral of depression. It was a habit that centred her, let her think of who she was and why she did what she did. A necessary thing to contemplate when Vita’s whispers were but a thought away – a constant presence that didn’t let up any opportunity to amplify negative emotions and twist perspectives to its own unclear ends.

Walking out of the bathroom, she took up her clothes from the basket placed there. Donning her dark brown shirt, she tucked it into the waistband of the black leather breeches she wore afterwards. Slipping on her combat boots, she laced them up over her pants to her knees before walking out of the room and down the corridors to her cabin.

It would take a couple of hours for the ship to arrive at the capital. Time enough for her to check her packing one last time. And help Demi pack. The slovenly girl had probably been procrastinating; and left to her own devices, would toss everything in haphazardly before wondering why her trunk wasn’t shutting. Ceres… didn’t need her help and Husband hadn’t even fully unpacked in the first place – living out of his travel bag.

Phobos wondered if she could draw some conclusion about their characters from these little details. Then gave up with a shrug. Psychoanalysis wasn’t her domain, observation was. She’d be better off letting Ceres brood over that kind of thing.

To be honest, when she managed to stave off her pangs of jealousy, she quite liked Ceres. There was a strong supplementarity between their roles in the tight little family unit they had built. Phobos had always prided herself on her observation skills. She could always look at a picture and pick out the small, seemingly unimportant, details. And Ceres could take those very details and speculate a logical reason for its existence. These days of working together to solve the mystery of Feralization had made it apparent to the both of them that they were a very solid team. Without either of their help, the other wouldn’t have made half the progress that they had.

Of course, having the Demigod of the Waves mentoring their progress was a huge help. It was lucky that the woman had taken an interest in their project and decided to travel with them to the Capital.

Although, it was becoming quite clear, with how much time she spent locked up in the same room with Mars, that their project wasn’t the only thing she was interested in.

Entering her cabin and shutting the door behind her, Phobos lightly slapped her cheeks to drive those thoughts out of her mind. Leaning her back against the door, she sighed. Envy was an ugly emotion… and she had it in spades.

And Isabella Chromis was a woman who was easy to envy.

For a moment, she stared blankly at the sunlight streaming in through her window before blinking and smiling wryly. Pushing herself off the door, she took a few steps forward and turned around. There, outlined against the wooden grain of the door, was her silhouette – her shadow. The shadow filled out, gaining another dimension as it stepped out of the door. Eyes, ears, nose, lips, body, clothes, and even the towel wrapped around its head; it was a perfect mirror of her. The only discrepancy was that it was the darkest of blacks – like a figure sculpted out of onyx.

They stood facing each other, her clone and her. Only a thin thread of shadow connected the two of them along the floor. Phobos reached out with her hand and the clone mirrored the action till the two of their palms touched each other… and Phobos’ palm passed through the clone’s like it was smoke.

This was the result of their week of research – an intangible mannequin of shadow that mirrored the movements of its master. Phobos cut the stream of mana she was supplying it and the clone collapsed into itself, flattening until all that remained was a mundane shadow, cast upon the door by the sun at her back.

Their road was a long one and they were just at its outset.


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