Epione Felidae watched the expression on her son's face shift through incomprehension to realization, finally settling on horror. From the corner of her eye, she took in Deimos' shell-shocked expression at a glance. The poor girl looked like she couldn't decide whether to toss the cat in her lap or to just give in to fate.
Chuckling internally, she kept her face straight with great difficulty and asked again, "So? What do you think?"
"I – I mean – but – wha…" Mars uttered, devolving into senseless mumbling.
She had reacted much the same way when Ceres had first mentioned this plan to her. It was much more fun on the other side of the fence. Turning to her side, she found that Ceres had recovered from her emotional outburst and had looked up while wiping her tears with her sleeve. She too turned her way. Their eyes met and they could no longer suppress their mirth.
"Ahahaha… You should see your faces in the mirror… oh… my sides… haha…" she laughed while clutching her sides. Ceres was much quieter about it but she could feel the body of the girl vibrating with suppressed laughter.
"Oh, so it was a prank… Thank god." The relieved look on his face sent her into another bout of hysterics and this time Ceres joined in.
Regaining control and wiping her tears, she said, "Oh… I haven't had a good laugh like that in ages. I feel a decade younger… Anyway, I wasn't pulling your leg. I truly want you to bond with my Doppelganger." Before Mars could interrupt her, she steamrolled on. "Let me explain. You remember about the problem I have with the Cult of Bubastis, yes?"
"Yes… They refuse to provide the specific method of promotion to Tier 5 for your bloodline unless you join them. And they refuse to treat you."
Epione nodded, "Yeah. I know that both you and your father have been very anxious about it and have been trying to find a solution. You want to win the Swayamvar and get me a Royal status. Your father has gotten it into his head that if he promotes to Demigod, then those jerks won't be able to refuse him. Which is true, but he has started his crazy training again and I've had enough of that for one lifetime.
"So, I went ahead and tried to find a solution of my own instead of sitting around twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the two men in my life to resolve my troubles for me."
Gesturing to the Doppelganger, she said, "Since my bloodline is the source of all my troubles, I decided to get rid of it."
Mars seemed to finally understand what she meant by her offer to bond with her Doppelganger. "Won't that affect your future cultivation?" he asked.
Tucking an errant strand of hair behind her ear, she replied, "Well, I'm not aware of the details but according to your father, the bloodline isn't necessary for cultivation beyond Tier 5."
"Can't he tell you things more clearly?"
"Actually, no. The moment he took up his post as the General, he had to take an Oath of service. We had to visit the Empire Capital and he was sworn into service by the Prime Minister who is a Tier 5 Tamer using his contract magic."
"Isn't that a bit much…" Mars trailed off as he remembered the Duchess' treachery.
"No. No. You're overestimating the binding force of the pledge. A Tier 5 mage is nearly impossible to fetter with any kind of contract. Maybe a Demigod level contract but unless Emperor Adam comes back to life, I don't think that will happen anytime soon. The pledge was only about the cultivation method for Tier 5." She said.
"The only copy of the book containing the method is preserved in the Royal Palace. Any newly promoted Tier 5 is allowed to study the book for a week and memorize it. Then they have to take the oath to never divulge the contents of the book through word written or spoken. If they violate the oath, their memories of the contents will be erased by the contract."
Mars grew pensive. "Well, that means that unless a Tier 5 joins the Army or the Government services, they will have to fumble their way down the martial path in the future."
"Yes. That's the incentive Tier 5 mages have to join the Regiis Government. That and the preferential treatment meted out to their direct relatives. Anyway, we are digressing. Severing my connection with my bloodline was one of the first things I had thought to try. I succeeded in shifting my bloodline onto my Doppelganger but I was never able to sever my connection with it."
"If I form a contract with your Doppelganger, then it will sever your connection to it?" asked Mars.
"Not exactly… It will shift the connection to you, which for our purpose is the same thing. This is only possible because you already have a connection to me and a high affinity to my mana. Actually, if this works out, you should credit Ceres. She was the one who suggested that you contract my Doppelganger."
Ceres explained in a soft voice. "I was inspired by the line, 'The Deities chose to bless the Hominum with their aspects and scattered them all over the world,' in our origin story. I've been digging through literature about contract magic and I think I know how the initial Hominum might have cultivated."
"How?" asked Mars, interested. He was currently fumbling his way down the path of external casting. Any information, or even speculation, about it was immensely valuable to him."
"I believe that they used their Contract magic to bond with their patron deities, obtaining the affinities and sensitivities to environmental mana of their corresponding element," replied Ceres.
"What does that have to do with Master contracting mother's Doppelganger though?" asked Deimos.
Epione reached out ant picked up the sleeping cat from Deimos' lap by the scruff of its neck. Dangling it in the air, she poked its cheek, not even managing to get a twitch out of it.
"This thing is made out of my mana and bloodline. When I am not controlling it directly, it acts upon the instincts present in my bloodline. Since the amount of mana is limited and it will dissipate when that runs out, its foremost instinct is to 'sleep' to reduce consumption. While sleeping, it absorbs the ambient mana at a very slow rate to replenish its reserves. I can also top up its mana pool to extend the duration of its existence," she said.
"When it dissipates, my bloodline returns to my body. But if you were to bond with it and supply it with ambient mana…"
"Then you would be free of your bloodline!" exclaimed Mars as he finally comprehended their plan. "But are you sure that losing your bloodline won't affect you?"
"To be honest, I haven't had the time to fully ascertain the risks of this method. Or any sort of potential backlash. What I do know is that when I shift the entirety of my bloodline onto my Doppelganger, I lose the ability to turn Feral. And I'm sure my cultivation will back up a bit. Other than that, I cannot say for sure."
"Why risk it on such short notice, ya?" asked Deimos, concerned.
"Despite being a Tier 5 light mage, the Revered Ancestor of the Heavenly Wolf Mercenaries is a piss-poor healer and without me at the helm of the medical department, the casualties will rise sharply. They aren't incompetent… but they can't deal with the cases of mana poisoning with the ease and speed that I can. I can't leave with you for the Expedition. Yet, I won't feel at ease without my Doppelganger accompanying you at the very least. So, ready?"
Mars pondered over all the details of the situation, then nodded his agreement. "Okay."
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