Entering the infirmary from the back door, I am greeted with a gaggle of voices and bustling activity as the rest of the clan members have arrived after the morning practice to have their bodies recuperated to avoid any hidden wounds accumulated from limit breaking practice.
I weave my way through the crowd of sweaty, semi-clad warriors and bustling nurses and doctors. Those of the branch families who recognize me give way and bow respectfully while the odd member of the main family throw hostile and contemptuous looks my way.
All as it should be.
I finally reach my mother. A petite woman with jet black short hair and feline ears. Her bloodline talent is healing and her blood relationship is very honoured, dating back to the sacred cats of Bubastis.
She looks up from where she is healing the twisted ankle of female clan member and gives me a warm smile, running her eyes on the myriad bruises I have accumulated. Soft white rays of light illuminate the swollen area around the girl’s foot and the inflammation subsides at a speed observable by the naked eye.
Within minutes, it is back to its original state.
The girl gets up and tests her weight on her foot. Detecting no trouble, she thanks mother and curtsies to me… although it looks quite funny as she has to do it with an imaginary skirt in her exercise attire, which is barely more than underwear.
I nod my acknowledgement and she moves away.
Mother heals my wounds while asking about my progress before sending me away with a kiss on my forehead. She is too busy now to talk. All the medical personnel are.
I walk into the male section of the hot spring connected with the infirmary, scrubbing off the sweat with some soap and rinsing off the suds with water before stepping into the steaming pool.
I let out an involuntary sigh as the warm water relaxes my knotted muscles, letting the built up lactic acid dissipate.
There are several others in similar states of lethargic bliss in various positions in the hot spring. They are mostly from the branch family and nod at me whenever their gazes meet mine.
Suddenly there is a commotion at the entrance and I lazily turn around to see what’s going on.
It’s Bruno and his lackeys. He is my cousin, making him my main competitor for the position of heir. That and due to another reason, our relationship is just like fire and water.
Just seeing the surly ass stomping into the bath, I know that the moment he sees me, my peaceful soak will be interrupted.
His bloodline is that of a Siberian White tiger. Those majestic creatures hold the title of being the heaviest members of the Felidae family and as such, Bruno’s strength is no small matter.
Standing at five feet eight inches tall, his muscular arms are nearly as thick as an average man’s thigh. His ripped back muscles show how solid his foundation is and allow him to leverage the entirety of his arm strength without straining his back.
He might not be the fastest or the most agile but I have seen him smash a stone larger than me with his two-handed war-hammer.
His icy blue eyes meet my crimson pupils and sparks seem to fly. He runs a hand through his white hair that has dark stripes in it and stalks towards the bank of the hot spring opposite to me and settles into the water facing me accompanied by his lackeys.
My eyes narrow and my muscles tighten as I feel the bloodlust radiating off them. It’s as if an ominous beast is facing me and my body is reacting in a manner that readies me for fight or flight.
My goal in the hot spring was to relax all my overworked muscles and rid them of their accumulation of lactic acid, preventing later cramping and muscular pain. But if they continue to take turns to lock me with their bloodlust, my muscles will automatically tighten, preventing me from achieving my goal.
I sigh… I could fight them but I am outnumbered and exhausted after my training. Also, it would be seen as a demerit to react to such childish provocation. As the future heir I was expected to show greater poise than that.
I get up from the water and leave the bathhouse, followed by the sound of their jeers.
Even though I feel like punching the living daylights out of that brat, I actually understand why he resents me so.
Sighing again and shaking my head at the memory of the beginning of our grudges, I walk into the adjoining dressing room and pick out one of the standard clan uniforms hanging there that fit me.
On my way out, I pause in front of a full-length mirror and inspect myself.
At five feet ten inches, I am just a bit shorter than father and have a body type similar to his. It is to be expected as I inherited his love of the water and have spent hundreds of hours over the years, swimming in the various bodies of water in our locality.
Broad backed and a waist like that of a wasp would be a fitting imagery for me. I have inherited my mother’s oval face and sleek hair, although my locks are crimson, matching my pupils. My parents named me Mars after the crimson comet that passed over Ea on the day I was born.
Mars has an orbital period of eighty-eight years and the next time I see my namesake, I’ll be an old man.
I make my way to the library after a quick trip to the pantry to fill my rumbling stomach, pausing for a bit to have my identity verified by the librarian.
Books are extremely rare and valuable commodities and the librarian is one of the strongest members of our clan… although he is getting on in years now and his martial prowess is sure to have declined from his heyday when he was known as the Duke of Blood.
I sit down on a stool, leaning my back against the wall by a small table that has been set aside for my reading what with the frequency of my visits.
I love reading about astronomy due to my namesake and the behaviour of animals in the wild due to my pet theory that observing animals can help in predicting the personalities of those who carry their bloodlines.
I flip open the book I had been reading to the bookmarked page.
It is an old tome that details the history in the post-war period. After the Demon Lord’s spell took effect and the Bestia were born as the only sentient race in Ea, non-sentient beings driven by their instincts called animals appeared.
Their bodies were similar to the original beasts but they had none of their intelligence or their magical talents. But their formidable mortal bodies and keen survival instincts meant that they prospered in the wild lands that had been the former den of the beasts.
The book I am reading talks about the habits of the Royal Bengal tiger, a majestic creature that lives in the extensive mangroves of the south-eastern part of the continent. It spends a lot of its time in the waters, hunting for fish.
They are also formidable predators of the land, jointly holding the title of the king of beasts with lions. Hence the term royal in their name.
Glancing up from the book, I noticed that the sunlight streaming through the window had caught a red tinge. A maid stood silently nearby. Seeing me awake from my immersed condition, she informed me that father and mother would not be able to join me for dinner and that I didn’t need to wait for them.
I thanked her and walked to the pantry again, filling my empty stomach with a plate of the generic nutrition meal they served. It was mother’s creation… a supremely bland mix of all the necessary nutrients tailored to suit the high energy demands of warriors. Head nutritionist of the clan she might be, but mother was no cook.
Finishing my meal, I walked down the corridors of the keep as the servants bustled about, lighting the smokeless torches in the sconces. They each carried two pouches. One had fire stones and the other had ignition powder. Pouring equal amounts of both into the torches caused them to react and emit a steady white flame, illuminating their surroundings.
I finally reached my room… well, Deimos, Phobos and my room… and pushed the door and entered, causing the chimes at the top of the gate to tinkle.