Returning to Aunt and Uncle's home, I paused before the door, frozen with indecision. After the dressing down I had received from Uncle, I dreaded to see similar expressions of disappointment on the faces of my two wives.
Bracing myself, I finally stopped procrastinating and pushed the door open and entered.
Deimos was sitting on the couch on the living room, flipping the pages on a book absentmindedly. It was clear that her heart wasn't in the book.
Hearing the sound of the door opening, she swiftly turned around.
Her eyes lit up in delight when she noticed that it was me before shifting to concern when she took in my state.
Tossing the book aside, she vaulted over the back of the couch and ran up to me.
Her nose wrinkled and her brows drew together when she approached close enough to realize the stench of vomit and alcohol that still clung to me.
Grabbing my hand, she asked, "Master, are you all right, ya? What happened to you?"
Losing the resolve I had just built while psyching myself up just out of the door, I tried to wave off her concern.
"It's nothing… I just fell into the lake. I-I need to take a bath."
The concern in her eyes grew more intense as her grip on my hand tightened. I had to avert my eyes. I couldn't face her anymore.
After a short silence, her grip loosened and she took a step back. Her voice was quiet. "Take a warm bath or you might catch a cold. Then come to the table… there's food. Phobos made it together with Aunt specially for you."
I nodded and started walking towards the bathroom when I found my way blocked by Phobos.
She had her arms crossed and she was looking at me with an intense gaze. I looked down.
"Husband, really? You leave with Ceres in tow and you return without her. You are bedraggled and stink of alcohol. 'Nothing' just won't cut it. Do you take us for fools?"
She stepped forward and placed a hand on my cheek. "I can see that something is eating at you inside. Tell us."
When I was still silent, her voice grew soft. "Mars."
Taken aback by her use of my name, something she hadn't done for a long time now, I looked up and my red eyes met her yellow ones. In those soulful pupils, I found concern.
"I never want you to avoid our gazes. Never ours."
Stepping forward, she hugged me tight, the warmth of her body thawing my frozen heart. I felt a lump form in my throat. My nose stung. My tears that had stopped after I had pushed Ceres away began to flow again.
Yes. There were still two women who I trusted with my life. Why was I pushing even them away with my lies?
Looking into those yellow eyes, I knew that even if she drove a knife into my heart, I would still smile for I wouldn't want to live in a world as cruel as that.
Hugging her back with all my might, I buried my face into the crook of her neck and let the emotions flow out of me.
I felt her turn to Deimos and mouth something following which Deimos ran out of the room.
She gently pushed me away, guiding me to the couch before sitting down in my lap. I wrapped my arms around her waist and let the familiar feel of her body and her scent calm me down.
Soon, Deimos returned with a soft towel and a change of clothes.
Stripping off the wet and soiled clothing, I towelled myself dry before wearing the new clothes. In dry clothes and in the company of my two wives, I felt my turbulent emotions settle.
I looked up to see them waiting for me on the couch and my back straightened subconsciously. As long as I had them by my side, I could take on the world.
Walking up to them I sat down opposite to them and took both of their hands in mine, reinforcing our sense of connection.
I realised now, that there was no point in hiding anything from them, so, I told them everything. From Aunt's revelation of Ceres' falsehoods to my arrival back at the doorstep of the house.
After I was done, there was a prolonged silence only punctuated by the soft sounds of our breathing.
Finally, Phobos broke the silence by gripping my hand tighter and bowing to me. "I'm sorry."
Startled, I immediately supported her by her shoulders, preventing her from lowering her head. "For what?"
"For my Father. He was extremely impolite with you. You are the Heir apparent and my husband. How could he do that to you?"
"Ahh, no, it's all right. My behaviour wasn't really worthy of the Heir today." I said self-depreciatingly.
"No! Husband, you don't get it. Nobody understands better than us how much you truly trust us, the depths of your emotion. You were betrayed. You were hurt. You had every right to behave emotionally. Some might call it a flaw but for us, your wives, it is the best part about you."
Deimos nodded in agreement.
I felt quite embarrassed by their words and there was a growing warmth in my chest.
"I knew there was something wrong with Ceres, ya. I just couldn't figure out what. They really crossed the line," said Deimos with a frown.
"I say we turn back immediately and return her to her home. If the Duchess has something to say about it, we can just threaten to make it public. Getting so many marriage proposals accepted in such a short time must have involved some trickery.
"And even if there wasn't trickery involved, what would the families with Vulpine brides think if the matter of Master being drugged came out?
"She wouldn't survive the scandal."
I was quite shocked that the vicious and shrewd opinion had come from Deimos who acted flighty most of the time. It seemed she really didn't like Ceres.
Phobos hesitated for a moment before speaking. "I don't know how to feel about that actually. Husband has rubbed off on me and I couldn't bring myself to mistrust someone I thought of as family. In the time we were together, Ceres thoroughly won me over and I was coming to see her as the little sister I never had.
"This revelation is quite shocking to me as well. While I don't want to forgive her, I feel she should have a chance to calmly defend herself when everyone's emotions aren't running so high.
"Also, I think it was pretty silly of you to take her to that inn and then let her leave alone. It is probably the main reason why Father was so harsh with you. She has a bounty on her head and the ninja might be keeping tabs on as many of the maidens they possibly can. I hope Father finds her faster."
My eyes widened as the foolishness of my past actions struck me. While we were in a populated area we were safe as the ninja couldn't afford to be seen acting against us in a public setting.
But in my emotional state, I had led her into the secluded area which had the inn and then let her leave alone. I had put her at substantial risk.
I felt guilty again. I hoped that Uncle would find her quickly. Despite my hurt at her lies, I never wished physical harm upon her.
Deimos probably felt the same way since she was frowning.
"By the way, where is Aunt?" I asked. Deimos answered, "She went out to look for you. Now, she is probably helping Uncle search for Ceres."
Phobos shrugged. "Well, when Father brings her back, we should have a long talk and try to resolve it to the best of our abilities. Now that I think about it, the Duchess probably realized that such a situation would occur.
"That is why she handed us the mind crystal. The protection it provides by raising Ceres' magic capability by a Tier is substantial as well as the ability to let you use it.
"It was probably meant as a sort of compensation for her transgression. You were worrying about how to pay her back. Now, you probably don't have to."
Deimos chimed in. "Master, whatever you choose, you will have our full support, ya?"
Phobos nodded. "For now, you need a hot bath." She wrinkled her nose. "You stink of alcohol. And thanks to you, I do too."
She shot me a mischievous smile. "Maybe I should have you wash me as a punishment."
"No fair, Phi-Phi. Don't leave me out!" cried Deimos piteously before leaping into my bosom and rubbing herself against me. "There, now I'm the same as you two."
I couldn't help but burst into laughter. Phobos joined in and soon Deimos did as well. I laughed till my sides hurt and tears came out of my eyes. This time they were happy tears.
The last vestiges of negative emotion within my heart was washed away by the laughter.
I stood up and walked towards the door, leaving the two giggling girls behind. "I'll be outside. If you are done with drawing water for the bath, call me."
"Sure," said Phobos between chuckles.
Just as I opened the door to step out, I saw Uncle standing there with a grim look on his face. On his back, l saw Ceres lying limply, her breathing uneven.
I felt my heart sink.
Uncle wordlessly pushed past me and entered the house and placed Ceres on the sofa. Phobos, stood up and asked, "What happened?"
"Me and your mother found her in an alley fighting off a ninja who had come for her. If not for her mind crystal pendant sending out a Tier 3 attack, cracking the Shadow domain of that Tier 3 ninja, I would not have been able to notice until it was too late.
"The ninja was injured by her attack and I managed to overwhelm him as I am at Tier 3 peak. But he committed suicide as soon as he was captured."
Phobos asked in concern. "Where's Mother? Is she hurt?"
"No. she is dealing with the paperwork after reporting the incident to the City Lord."
Phobos sighed, relieved.
Deimos pointed to Ceres, who looked fine externally and even internally but from whose expression it could be seen that she was in pain even in her unconscious state. "What happened to her?"
Uncle replied, "The backlash from the mind crystal fractured her mindscape. She will have constant headaches and won't be able to channel mana for over a month by which time it will have repaired itself."
"Then why not take her to a healer?" asked Deimos. Despite her vehement disapproval of Ceres, she had spent a month with her after all. Seeing her injured and comatose was quite a shock for her.
I, who had been silently digesting the fact of Ceres' injury, replied. "If she is taken to a healer, associations will be easily made between the deceased ninja and her injury. It will reveal that even if she is not the Duchess' daughter, something about her caught the ninja's attention, causing him to start acting against her. That will bring in more ninja."
"Good. You are finally thinking with your head," said Uncle in a mocking tone.
"Father!" said Phobos in a sharp tone. Taken aback by her tone, Uncle looked at her in surprise.
"Husband might have made some inappropriate choices in his emotional state. For that I am willing to overlook your rough handling of him. But enough is enough. I won't stand for you mocking the clan Heir and my Husband."
He was shocked, "I-I… well…" Recovering, he sighed.
"I guess they have it right. After marriage, the daughter's arm turns outwards," he said with a wry smile.
Turning to me, he continued, "The thing is… every father wants his daughter's man to be the best. Every clansman wants the next Heir to be perfect. I think I let my expectations blind me to the fact that you are extremely inexperienced in the way of the world.
"Now that I think of it, your ability to bounce back so fast is amazing. If Phobos' ma had left me when I was your age, I would have just curled up in a corner and cried."
He dipped his head to me slightly. "I apologise. Take care of them. I need to give my version of the statement to the City Lord and help Phobos' ma with the paperwork."
Turning around, he moved towards the door. As he passed Phobos, he paused and patted her shoulder. "No longer are you the brat who clambered all over me and pulled my beard. A woman grown, you have learnt to stand up for yourself and your loved ones. I'm proud."
Walking past her, he made his way to the door. His back was slightly hunched.
"Father!" she called out.
He paused at the door.
"I love you."
"Hahaha." Exuding a carefree laugh, he departed with a straight back and a jaunty gait. I could understand the sentiment. Those three words from Phobos' mouth had a demonic charm. They could bring the dead back to life.
Turning back to Ceres' prone form and noticing the concerned expressions on Phobos and Deimos' faces, I realised that come tomorrow, I would still have three wives.
Chusei walked of the shadows by his Lord's side.
He bowed and said, "Lord Rihan, it has been done. I guided the ninja to the girl and then, arranged enough clues for the Felidae couple to find where the girl was, ensuring that there was enough time for her to be forced into using her mind crystal amulet. I also ensured that nobody other than the Felidae couple were present to see her use her smoke."
Nurarihyon nodded and said, "Well done! Now you need to spread rumours of Edward Felidae being a consummate detective who ferreted out ninja in his territory the moment they stepped foot into it. Shift as much suspicion from Ceres as possible onto him."
"Hai!" exclaimed Chusei before he bowed again and melded into the shadows.
Nurarihyon pondered over the future. Given the disposition of the boy and his wives, it was almost guaranteed that he would not part ways with Ceres.
For his plan to work, they had to be together.
For now, the first step was a success.
End of Volume 5
I had to cut and rewrite it several times to get to where it is now and tie all the loose threads together... Enjoy!!
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