Deimos was exhausted. She had met and interacted with more strangers in the last few hours than she had in her entire preceding life.
She piled food onto her plate and dug in, hoping against hope that no one would be oblivious enough to interrupt her meal.
Dressed as she was in a tunic made of dark blue lace that had only one long sleeve that covered her right hand while her Heavenly Silksnail was attached like a bracelet to her left, weaving its body-hugging garment like a one-sleeved turtle-neck undershirt, she was stunning.
The soft glow of the undershirt shone through the lace, highlighting its patterns, especially at the diamond shaped cut-out at the chest which was covered with translucent gauze.
As it stood, her upper garment seemed a balanced byplay between dark and light while her knee-length dark-blue lace skirt did a good job of highlighting her toned calves above her crystal-studded dark-blue shoes.
A thin white silk ribbon clinched her waist in the place of a belt, tied into a bow on one side with the free ends dangling down her skirt.
Thus, it was no wonder that she had been hounded by the unmarried noble scions of her generation almost constantly and Mother-in-law had let it happen, happily throwing her to the dogs.
Well, in this case, it would be more appropriate to say, the bears, the monkeys, the dolphins and the foxes.
Taking advantage of the brief reprieve that the meal gave her, she turned her gaze to the breathtakingly beautiful woman that was their host for the night.
Duchess Hotaru Vulpine, leader of the south-western province and one of the only two females among the eight Dukes of the Regiis empire.
Wearing a low cut plain white sleeveless dress, clinched at the waist by a golden cord, the simplicity of the garments highlighted her natural beauty, making her seem even more divine.
Six beige tails tipped with white fur wrapped around her body like furry accessories speaking of her kitsune lineage and her white-tipped beige ears peeked out of her waterfall of long white hair.
As she mingled among the four Marquises of the province and their spouses, including Father and Mother-in-law, her every smile or frown seemed to sway the mood of the people.
Though Father-in-law seemed as stoic as ever and Mother-in-law looked excessively smug at the fact.
Truly a temptress. Although, the beautifully crafted contract marking on her forehead shone a dark red, speaking of her fidelity to her beloved.
Deimos couldn’t help but feel admiration. It took great resolve to place the contract mark in a place so prominent. A statement that one was confident that their love would never fade.
Looking around, she found the Duke… no Duchess-consort, Edward Vulpine, swapping jokes with the clan Elders who had accompanied the Marquises here. His russet tail and ears marked him as a member of the flame fox lineage.
In the Regiis empire, females could take up administrative posts and if they did, their partner would be deemed their consort and banned from holding any government position to prevent nepotism.
Similarly, for the wives of men in power. The only exception was when the consort was conferred a post higher than his beau and the couple could choose to give up the lower post.
Thus, despite his high social station, the affable man had no political power.
Comparing the contract marking on his brow to the one on her own hand, she couldn’t help but frown as she recalled the veiled ridicule directed towards her by the female portion of her peers.
Deimos was originally a beautiful young woman and after her awakening, her charm had increased a great deal as the divine power of Vita remoulded her body, making it more perfect. Combined with her wardrobe choices, she was the focal point of the eligible bachelors on the prowl for mates.
In her social awkwardness, she hadn’t caught on to the intentions of the groups of men who seemed to spontaneously appear wherever she went and began boasting about their own achievements and martial prowess.
Until, unable to repress his curiosity towards her, one of them had worked up the courage to approach her directly.
Her contract marking had saved her then, declaring her taken for all to see.
The boys had retreated, disappointed, for in the Regiis empire, one of the greatest taboos was pestering someone’s wife. As per the commandments set by the first emperor, it could result in grave penalties for both parties involved.
The girls had taken their place. Jealous of her awakening so early and for her hogging the limelight for so long, they had made their disdain of the artistic talent possessed by the crafter of her mark clearly known.
Her awkward attempts to defend Master had led to another wave of ridicule of his skills when they learnt that her beloved had been the one to personally mark her.
Some of the more independent and ambitious girls had gone so far as to call her a submissive to men for marrying a Tamer, for not only did she have to share her beloved, a Hominum’s wives were forbidden from holding administrative posts due to the political confusion that might cause.
She sighed, tucking into her food with increased gusto. At least there was one part of Regiis aristocratic etiquette she liked, the one that deemed it impolite to interrupt another’s meal.
After all, no matter how humanoid they might be, the Bestia carried the bloodlines of the Beasts and no Beast liked an interrupted meal.
She was so jealous of Phi-Phi right now. She got to skip this ordeal and try out new things with Master on the bed while she had to be socially tortured.
Thinking of what the two of them might be up to in the privacy of their room made the blood rush to her cheeks, dyeing them a charming pink.
“Oi! Girl, you seem just my type!”
A rude male voice jarred her out of her sexual fantasies and she wrinkled her nose at the stench of alcohol that drifted to her along with the sound of those words.
Pretending to smooth out the wrinkles of the dress on her shoulder with her left hand, making her marking clearly visible, she turned around to face the approaching boor.
He was quite tall and slim, with a handsome face marred by his inebriated expression. His bushy grey tail and furred grey ears spoke of his lupine lineage. The jade pendant hanging at his waist made his status vivid.
A member of the Heavenly Wolf Mercenaries from the neighbouring nation of Huaxia.
She stood up, as he approached and gave him a polite curtsy as he stopped uncomfortably close to her.
His vision seemed to be two torches as they ran all over her body with naked lust, giving rise to goosebumps wherever they passed.
His gaze stopped at the diamond shaped cut-out on her chest and she felt naked under his gaze despite the layer of gauze and her Silksnail tunic.
“Good, good… big breasts and a young face… just right for my preferences… he didn’t lie to me.” He muttered, almost causing her to vomit from the thick stench of alcohol.
She was dumbfounded. Everyone here was an elite and had the sense to abstain from alcohol until they were in the privacy of their rooms to prevent social gaffes. She had heard that the so called ‘cultivators’ of Huaxia were an uncultured and arrogant bunch. It seemed that the rumours were true.
Nodding as if satisfied with some piece of merchandise, he said, “Feel honoured. This Young Master has taken a liking to you. I want you in my room at the end of the night… Just ask the servants for directions to the room of Young Master Lupin and they will let you know.”
Deimos’ pupils turned into slits as her anger nearly made her Feralize that instant and gut the lecherous fool.
Forcefully depressing her spunk, she stated icily, “Young Master, please be self-possessed. This one is spoken for.”
He tilted his head in a confused manner, “How does that matter?” the scary thing was that his confusion seemed genuine.
By now, the confusion had attracted several onlookers and her cheeks burnt with shame as she heard their whispered discussions. She wanted nothing more than to punch the fool and run away but she forcefully depressed her impulsions and sought calm.
She was an orphan and even her Grandpa had disowned her. Master’s parents were like her own and she was extremely grateful to them for giving her shelter and the freedom to live her life on her own terms. Inwardly, she had always blamed herself for the exacerbation of the conflict between Father-in-law and his brother and didn’t want to add on any more trouble to him by offending some aristocratic faction.
Stepping even closer and further invading her comfort zone, he swayed drunkenly as he reached out to grab her hand.
Driven beyond the limits of forbearance, she backhanded him across the face and the man staggered back from the force of the blow, stumbling on his own foot and landing on the ground on his backside, clutching his cheek with his eyes almost popping out from surprise.
“Y-you hit me?” there was a question in his statement as if he was struggling to believe what had transpired.
“You hit me?
“You hit me!?
“You hit me!”
His eyes were bloodshot as he pointed at her, his finger shivering from his emotions as he spoke the same words thrice, changing his emphasis as he finally came to accept that he, the Young Master of the Heavenly Wolf Mercenaries had been slapped publicly by a woman.
Lurching to his feet, clutching his hair in one hand he advanced on her belligerently, making her step back at the sheer madness in his gaze.
“Do you even know who I am? Huh!?” he screamed as his mana ran out of his body in a berserk manner, vibrating in the air and catching flame.
Tier 1 flame magic: Ember.
“My father is the Sun Wolf, the third of his name and the leader of ten thousand wolves.” He spoke, pride dripping off every word. “I give you one chance. Strip now and kowtow to me otherwise…”
The air seemed to stagnate in the entire room as a large figure appeared behind him.
She watched a large hand descend upon him from behind and grab his head in a vice-grip, making him swallow whatever he planned to do to her otherwise into the pit of his stomach.
His Embers were more like smouldering ashes as they were snuffed out by the wind mana of the owner of that palm.
Raising him by his head till his feet were dangling almost six inches above the ground, the large figure turned him towards itself.
Young Master Lupin shivered involuntarily as he locked gazes with a pair of golden eyes. His intoxication fled as he sobered from the fear engendered by the vision that seemed to belong to that of an ominous beast which had locked on to his prey.
The tone of command in that deep baritone was unmistakable and Young Master Lupin almost complied subconsciously before his pride built up over nearly nineteen years of indoctrination and living in an environment where everyone bent to his wishes came into play.
Mustering all his courage, he grabbed on to the man’s wrist to steady himself before saying, “Marquis Felidae, do you want to meddle in matters between juniors? I hope you can give my father, the Sun Wolf, Face and we can forget about this.”
Without paying attention to him, Father-in-law turned him towards her, making him hang helplessly like a toy in his grasp.
“Apologize to my daughter.”
A warm current of emotion flowed in Deimos’ mind at those words as she looked at the horrible lecher who now faced public humiliation and she almost wanted to thank him for making Father-in-law acknowledge her as his daughter for the first time.
She was just about to intercede on his behalf when the incorrigible idiot spoke first, “Her? Daughter? Your son’s wife?” He squinted at her mark. “Oh… so that’s how it is… if I were to apologize, I would do it to your son at the very least… not to a woman. Otherwise how would I have the Face to stand before my peers?”
She swallowed her words. The misogynistic prick deserved every bit of humiliation visited upon him.
“Apologize! This is the Regiis empire, not your homeland. You blasphemed my son’s wife. I am well within the law if I claimed your life.”
Even Father-in-law, no, Father seemed impatient with the infuriating man as his grip tightened, making him clutch his hand and flail about in pain as he futilely tried to pry off the iron fingers.
His eyes bloodshot, he seemed to struggle within himself for a moment before his expression took on the colour of renouncing.
Deimos was stunned as she suddenly felt something wet and slimy land on her face. Touching her face, her hand came away wet and stinking of alcohol. Her brain buzzed and went blank as she realized that she had been spat on.
“Hahaha.” Young master Lupin laughed dementedly. “I don’t believe that you will kill me. I am the son of the Sun Wolf… you have no choice but to give him Face. Me, apologize to a woman? Hah! In your dreams. I dare you to kill me. I dare…”
Deimos looked up from her stunned state where she had been staring at her soiled hand as flecks of warm fluid spattered over her.
Her jaw fell open as she took in the mangled head of the corpse of Young Master Lupin at her feet.
Father walked towards the buffet table in the deafening silence and the onlookers parted before him automatically.
Picking up a hand towel from the table, he walked back to her and gently wiped her hands and face, cleaning them. If one were to ignore the blood and brain fluid dripping off his hand, one could only find the touching scene of a doting father and his daughter.
Finishing up, he wiped his own hand and discarded the towel, accurately covering the shattered head of the deceased man.
The white towel bloomed a sanguine red as it soaked up the blood.
Turning to Duchess Vulpine, Father gave her a slight bow, saying, “The atmosphere here is a bit too bloody and I fear my family and won’t be able to keep their food down. I request for us to be excused.”
The Duchess covered her mouth with a tail and chuckled, the sound of the laughter resounding like tinkling bells in the morbid silence of the room, easing the atmosphere.
“Weak stomachs? Hah! Sure. Go on… I won’t be keeping you here, but I won’t hold any of the Sun Wolf’s letters of challenge for you either. Now that you’ve gone and offed his only son, he might challenge you in a Mortem’s Duel.”
Father nodded in a calm manner, drawing the worried Deimos and followed by Mother as he strode out of the banquet hall.
“Tell him I will be waiting and if he tries assassination, he better ensure my death before starting on my family, for if they die and I live, his clan won’t have a day of peace or a night of sleep till I breathe my last.”
His words resounded in the hall as he stepped out of the door, “I live up to my words.”