Finding her door unlatched, Phobos wondered whether she had been careless enough to leave it in that state when she had left for dinner.
Pushing the it open, her eyes took time to adjust to the darkness of the compartment lighted only by the meagre moonlight streaming through the gaps of the shuttered windows.
A broad back mapped into her view, leaning over her trunk. And when its owner turned around at the noise of her entry, red eyes met her yellow ones.
Phobos took an involuntary step back at the undisguised fury contained in the eyes of her Husband.
His voice, when he spoke was quivering with repressed rage. "What the hell were you thinking!? Do you even know that what you are doing here has been outlawed!?"
He took another step towards her, the box with her straw gloves in his hand. "Really, woman. Do you think no shadow mage has tried such a convenient method before? Those without bloodlines dense enough for awakening had tried self-harm and successfully awakened. Yet, the technique is illegal. Do you know why!?"
He tossed the box away and grabbed her by her shoulders, his vice-grip painful on her flesh. Clanking against the wall, the box settled on the floor, only to be covered by a blanket as the contents of the room began to swirl as the wind responded to his anger.
"It's because it drastically increases the chance of the person succumbing to Vita's destructive will. You can't expect someone to torture themselves and not accumulate negative emotion. It is that emotion that feeds Vita's will and allows it to bend theirs to her cause."
He shook her harshly, "In your irresponsible quest for power, you risked endangering the entire camp. What would you do if you were brought back from your Feral state with memories of having devoured several of the competition participants here? Hmm!?"
Phobos' hair whipped around in the errant winds from his uncontrolled mana as she slowly looked up to meet his gaze. in the depths of her glowing yellow eyes, an abyssal darkness began to take shape.
Her nails morphed to claws that tore the thin fabric of her gloves and glinted in the moonlight. She tilted her head, silently appraising his angry face before her gaze stopped on his exposed jugular.
He got to know that she had been torturing herself in the confines of her room for almost a week and the first thing he did was berate her for endangering the participants.
The very same participants who had been taunting her behind her back.
It would be so easy to reach out with her claws to his neck when he was unprepared and…
After that, maybe she should kill those vulgar gossipmongers…
"The thing that angers me the most is that you lied to us. Lied that you were laid up due to motion sickness. You had us all worried. Mother spent the last few nights poring over books to seek a cure. The dark circles under her eyes are no lighter than yours now."
Her claws that were slowly drawing closer to his neck, paused as guilt for her deception arose within her.
Taking advantage of her momentary stiffness, he embraced her tightly as he said, "Why did you ever think that you would have to go it alone?"
His sturdy arms squeezed her tighter, "Fire ant venom… as an alchemist, I know how horrifying it is. Painful enough that it can destroy even the strongest of wills and yet, weak enough that the nerves don't go numb from excessive stimulation, keeping the victim in a perpetual state of extreme agony. How could you even think that I wouldn't help you achieve something for which you were willing to undergo that for a week."
His voice grew sorrowful as the wind around him died down, leaving a messy room.
"Did you wonder why I couldn't come visit you recently? I was studying with Master, poring over his collection of ancient tomes for a method to get you to awaken without having to become a Feral. I've been searching for a way ever since you went and locked yourself in the cells for fear that you would turn Feral and hurt us."
He buried his face into the side of her neck, mumbling into her hair, "Recently, I found a record of a young Hominum and his shadow-gifted beau who liked to engage in various sexual plays involving the inversion of pain and pleasure.
"After one particularly wild night with whips and candles, the girl woke to find herself capable of free transformation between her Bestia and Feral forms without any memory of ever turning Feral. Somehow, the lashes he had left on her back had become their contract marking.
"It was the only successful recording of an awakening without Feralization I found and since it contained an instance of illegal stimulation of an un-awakened shadow-gifted, the knowledge too was sealed, preventing ambitious fools like you from experimenting on themselves and endangering everyone around them."
The darkness in her eyes wavered as his words made her aware that as she had been trying hard for his sake, he too had been making persistent efforts for hers. She embraced him back with all her strength and the world grew blurry as a week's worth of pain and sorrow found a drain port in her tears.
Feeling her body shudder with her sobs and his shirt grow wet from her tears, he exclaimed, "Fool! If only you trusted us enough to tell us, you wouldn't have had to suffer so."
From behind his back, she brought her gloved palm under the dim streams of moonlight illuminating the room.
Through her blurred vision, she could make out her fingers shrinking and widening as her thumb began to migrate upwards as her hand morphed into a paw.
An irrational hatred suddenly welled up from within her, seeking to crush the blooming light of affection in her heart. In her mind, her own voice ordered her:
He is the cause of your pain. It was for him that you suffered… So, KILL HIM.
Wallowing in the depths of pain and depression as she had, for the past week, she might not have been able to recognize Vita's influence, but here, in Husband's warm embrace, enveloped by his affection, she could clearly make out the thoughts which weren't her own.
Forcefully depressing the voice, her speech was hoarse with her tears as she managed to croak out. "Are you sure that story isn't an excuse to get me to agree to your sexual fetishes?"
He chuckled softly, the sound vibrating through her, warming her very being. "As Mother says: 'If you can joke around, you are probably fine.'"
Breaking free of her control, the voice came back with renewed vigour. Changing tacks, it persuaded:
You've always resented his presence haven't you? It was always just Demi and you before he started taking up her time and now, she spends more time with him than you. How long till you are forgotten entirely?
KILL HIM and you can say it was all an accident. KILL HIM and Demi will be yours again.
She shuddered. While she had once entertained such thoughts, she did so no longer. Husband, Demi, they weren't weights to be balanced against each other in her balance of emotions, they were a part of her.
Thoughts of killing any one of them could only come from a vengeful Goddess.
She knew now why Demi, even with her intense desire for freedom, was unable to unravel the shackles of Vita's Divine will.
After all, how do you break free of something when you don't even know where you end and it begins?
She gently pushed Husband away with her newly morphed paws, extricating herself from his embrace and walking slowly backwards until she had left the carriage and stood under the moonlight.
His eyes widened as he noticed the changes in her body.
She looked at him and spoke with a soft smile, "It seems we'll never have the chance to test that out."
Her voice grew deeper, taking on a rumbling undertone as her vocal cords began to morph. "Husband, Vita calls and due to my foolishness, she calls quite loudly. I will try to influence her to attack only from your left. So, my love, try not to die."
Her knees reversed with a crack and her body expanded, shattering her clothes as she fell forwards onto her paws. Jet black fur sprouted all over her body, a panther shaped patch of darkness under the silvery light of the moon.
Right before her nose widened and elongated into a snout and she lost control of her vocal faculties, she managed to say, "Live, and I'll let you try the play in the story you told me. It'll be your reward. So, my love, live!"
Her voice cracked in the end.
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