Untying the shivering Ceres from my back, I tried to get her off my back only for her to clutch me tighter. I think I might have given her some trauma. Walking over to a relatively flat and comfortable looking rock, I called a gust with a wind rune, blowing the dust on it away. Kneeling with my back to it, I gently pried open her grip on me as I muttered, "It's all right… we're on flat land again. Sit and rest for a bit, yeah? We're safe…" It took some convincing but I finally managed to get her to let go of me and seated her on the rock so she could get her shaking legs under her control again. "Never scare me like that again!" she exclaimed as she punched me in the chest with all her might. In my current state, I didn't even feel the blow. Chuckling, I caught her fist and kissed it. "Your wish is my command. Now relax… I'll go see if they need some help with letting down the rope."
"No need," said a cold voice. Turning to the source, I found Hei Lian approaching us. "That rope was for you. No one else needs its assistance. We just didn't want to hurt your self-respect so we made it seem like we all needed it. It seems you can carry your weight after all…" she cast a contemptuous glance at Ceres, "along with the burden." I frowned. What was her problem?
I opened my mouth to refute her but she whirled around and walked away, nearly slapping my face with the end of her long hair. I suppressed a twinge of irritation with a deep breath. "That was uncalled for… don't take it to heart." I comforted Ceres. She just gave me a relaxed smile. "I don't care for the appraisal of others. Husband, if you or my sisters aren't the ones saying it, words won't touch me. If I am a burden, I am one you are willing to carry and that makes me happy." I needn't have worried. She was a girl who had gone against a Geas. Mere words? Hah.
Turning back to the cliff, I waited for the rest to come up alongside Ceres while I digested the sensibility from my first use of Abstinence. Vita's divine power was a mysterious energy which had the power to amplify the vitality and strength of the body. In the form of the Barrier, it bolstered the durability and physical defence of any creature that had it. Bestia women were the only ones who could generate this energy and in the average duration of three days, they became so saturated with it that it was able to affect their minds in the form of the dark whispers of Vita's divine will. According to Master, every Bestia woman had a bit of Vita within her and that piece was what generated the energy. When the energy crossed a threshold, it activated the shard of Vita, allowing her to make a bid for the control of the body, turning the woman Feral. What the men contracted to the woman did was siphon off the divine power regularly, keeping them sane.
Actually, there was one other way to delay the activation of Vita's will. The power was consumed whenever some physical activity beyond the limits of the body was performed. My training made me strong but running up a vertical cliff was far beyond my capabilities. Without the boost from Vita's power, I wouldn't have been able to manage it. It was also the reason why the most physically active of my wives, Deimos needed the least amount of attention in bed. Not that I let that stop me from embracing her as often as I could. She might not have needed it, but she sure wanted it.
With three sources to draw from, my physical amplification was much greater than a Bestia's and now that I could use Abstinence, I could top myself up whenever I needed the extra oomph. Actually, due to their bloodline, Bestia were naturally stronger than Hominum, equivalent to the boosted physique of a Tamer with three wives. With the amplification from their single contract, they could rival a Hominum with a full harem. In my case, though, my base was improved to be equal to a Bestia. So, with divine power flowing through me, my strength was a multiple of theirs. Not very useful in a magical fight but good for situations where magic was restricted.
Marshal Canis was the next to crest the edge of the precipice. To be expected as she was the one with the highest cultivation at the peak of Tier 3. She was followed by a Tier 3 wind mage from Regiis and a fire mage from the mercenary camp. The members of the squad came up one after the other and waited for the rest in two distinct camps with the wolves lining up behind Hei Lian and the soldiers taking their place behind Marshal Canis. Surprisingly, Steven managed to arrive before three other Tier 3 mages. A great performance considering his recent promotion to Tier 2. After all seventeen of the volunteers had assembled, Marshal Canis turned to Ceres.
"Is the Chief's Doppelganger still with us?" she asked.
Ceres nodded and closed her eyes. Her chest glowed dimly and an ethereal cat phased out of her, landing on the ground. Taking a lazy look around, it yawned and leapt up on top of my head, settling down to sleep like a furry cap.
Marshal Canis saluted it and the rest of the soldiers followed suit, making my eyes twitch. I wondered what they would feel if they knew that the cat had just about as much awareness as the common tabby. Well, what they didn't know wouldn't harm them.
After she was done saluting, she began barking out orders. "Until now, the routes we have taken have kept us away from the ants. The ones on the ground will not come into this rough terrain but the flyers will. We were lucky to have avoided the notice of the ants as we climbed the cliff. They have good dynamic vision but stationary objects are blurs to them. Their hearing is poor. Olfaction is their primary sense. We need to avoid detection by both their physical senses as well as from their mana pings."
She turned to two of her subordinates, a fire mage and a shadow mage. "Both of you, overlap your domains and cover us. The shadows will block the sight of the ants while the fire will merge with the ambient fire mana and prevent their mana pings from picking up the incongruity of the shadow Domain."
"Yes Ma'am!" the both of them replied in unison with a salute.
"No need." Hei Lian drawled out, interrupting her. "I've got it covered." A ring of dark fire spread out centred on her feet, rolling over the boots of everyone harmlessly as it expanded, including everyone within its range. The light seemed to dim within the circle and colours desalinated. A shiver ran up my spine, the flames seemed cold.
If she was irritated, Marshal Canis showed no signs of it. "Fine. How long can you keep it up? When do you need to be relieved?"
Hei Lian smirked, "Indefinitely."
"What!?" This time, the marshal couldn't keep the incredulity out of her voice.
"I'm burning the ambient fire mana to fuel my Domain. The density of the fire mana is enough for it to sustain itself. I don't need to be relieved." She replied.
My eyes widened in surprise and I turned my senses to the ring of hellfire. I could feel the fire mana in the air being drawn into the flames and giving birth to shadowy mana. Not only would the Domain hide us, it would seem like it was a natural trough in the mana density to the mana senses of the ants. And it could run on its own. It was the first time I had seen someone else using ambient mana in their spells except for me and father and even father was less skilled.
I needed to ask how she was doing it later.
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