Entering the infirmary from the back door, I was greeted with a gaggle of voices and bustling activity as the rest of the clan members had arrived after the morning practice to have their bodies recuperated to avoid any hidden wounds accumulated from limit breaking practise.
I weaved my way through the crowd of sweaty, semi-clad warriors and bustling nurses and doctors. Those of the branch families who recognized me gave way and bowed respectfully while the odd member of the main family threw hostile and contemptuous looks my way.
All as it should be.
I finally reached my mother. A petite woman with jet black short hair and feline ears. Her bloodline talent was healing and her blood relationship was very honoured, dating back to the sacred cats of Bubastis.
She looked up from where she was healing the twisted ankle of female clan member and gave me a warm smile, running her eyes on the myriad bruises I had accumulated. Soft white rays of light illuminated the swollen area around the girl's foot and the inflammation subsided at a speed observable by the naked eye.
Within minutes, it was back to its original state.
The girl got up and tested her weight on her foot. Detecting no trouble, she thanked mother and curtsied to me… although it looked quite funny as she had to do it with an imaginary skirt in her exercise attire, which was barely more than underwear.
I nodded my acknowledgement and she moved away.
Mother healed my wounds while asking about my progress before sending me away with a kiss on my forehead. She was too busy now to talk. All the medical personnel were.
I walked 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 relaxed my knotted muscles, letting the built up lactic acid dissipate.
There were several others in similar states of lethargic bliss in various positions in the hot spring. They were mostly from the branch family and nodded at me whenever their gazes met mine.
Suddenly there was a commotion at the entrance and I lazily turned around to see what was going on.
It was Bruno and his lackeys. He was my cousin, making him my main competitor for the position of heir. That and due to another reason, our relationship was just like fire and water.
Just seeing the surly ass stomping into the bath, I knew that the moment he saw me, my peaceful soak would be interrupted.
His bloodline was that of a Siberian White tiger. Those majestic creatures held the title of being the heaviest members of the Felidae family and as such, Bruno's strength was no small matter.
Standing at five feet eight inches tall, his muscular arms were nearly as thick as an average man's thigh. His ripped back muscles showed how solid his foundation was and allowed 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 had seen him smash a stone larger than me with his two-handed war-hammer.
His icy blue eyes met my crimson pupils and sparks seem to fly. He ran a hand through his white hair that had dark stripes in it and stalked towards the bank of the hot spring opposite to me, settling into the water facing me accompanied by his lackeys.
My eyes narrowed and my muscles tightened as I felt the bloodlust radiating off them. It was as if an ominous beast was facing me and my body reacted in a manner that readied 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 continued to take turns to lock me with their bloodlust, my muscles would automatically tighten, preventing me from achieving my goal.
I sighed… I could fight them but I was 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 got up from the water and left the bathhouse, followed by the sound of their jeers.
Even though I felt like punching the living daylights out of that brat, I actually understood why he resented me so.
Sighing again and shaking my head at the memory of the beginning of our grudges, I walked into the adjoining dressing room and picked out one of the standard clan uniforms hanging there that fit me.
On my way out, I paused in front of a full-length mirror and inspected myself.
At five feet ten inches, I was just a bit shorter than father and had a body type similar to his. It was to be expected as I had inherited his love of the water and had spent hundreds of hours over the years, swimming in the various bodies of water in our locality.
Broad backed and narrow waisted, I had inherited my mother's oval face and sleek hair, although my locks were crimson, matching my pupils.
My parents named me Mars after the crimson comet that passed over Ea on the day I was born. Mars had an orbital period of eighty-eight years and the next time I saw my namesake, I'd be an old man.
I made 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 were extremely rare and valuable commodities and the librarian was one of the strongest members of our clan… although he was getting on in years now and his martial prowess was sure to have declined from his heyday when he was known as the Duke of Blood.
I sat down on a stool, leaning my back against the wall by a small table that had been set aside for my reading, what with the frequency of my visits.
I loved 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 flipped open the book I had been reading to the bookmarked page.
It was an old tome that detailed the history of 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 was reading talked about the habits of the Royal Bengal tiger, a majestic creature that lived in the extensive mangroves of the south-eastern part of the continent. It spent a lot of its time in the waters, hunting for fish.
They were 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.
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