Ness. That was the name of the Lutrinae girl who got jilted by her husband. I felt kind of responsible as I was the one who presided over their wedding. I know it's silly but I couldn't help the guilt that floated up in my mind like scum on the surface of rotten milk.
Did I tell you that I hate milk? Yeah… I did, didn't I.
As I suppressed my frown and emptied the glass of the vile beverage, I looked up at the desolate face of the girl sitting opposite to me. Ness was pretty in her own way. The contours of her face and body smoothed and sculpted by Vita's Divine Power, giving her the supernatural beauty that was the trademark of every mage Tier 2 and higher. She had brown hair that fell about her face in soft natural curls that I thought suited her much better than the tight, tied back hairstyle she sported during the Tournament. She clearly hadn't been in a frame of mind to pay her appearance much attention. The way her locks fell about her face untidily and shadowed her eyes, combined with her sorrowful expression and the clear misery my senses were picking up off her had an odd sort of charm.
I wanted to paint a picture of her.
Damn. I feel insensitive. And guilty again. Sighing, I put the glass down on the table in front of me with a sharp clack, drawing her attention. She looked up, her brown eyes containing barely concealed hope. Rubbing my face with a palm, I decided to break the bad news to her and be done with. Pulling the thorn with a sharp tug will do the both of us good instead of dragging out the process.
"Look," I said, "What happened to me isn't replicable. And the only thing that vanished was the mark on my body… My contracts with my wives are still in effect. They just shifted to my mindscape. And my wives still have their marks… so my circumstances aren't the ones you are seeking for."
I bowed to her slightly, "While I feel responsible as the one who presided over your marriage, I really do not have any means of annulling it. Contracts can't be broken. Not even by the one who made them."
The light in her eyes dimmed and she looked down into her lap again. "I-I know… It's just that I saw… and I hoped… Sorry." Her voice was subdued, trailing away into inaudibility. She looked up again, meeting my eyes. "A-and, you don't have to feel guilty about it… There was no way for you to have known. The mark… it doesn't always speak the truth."
Standing up, she curtsied to me and said, "Thank you for being honest with me. I'll find my w-ay out." Her voice broke at the end.
She walked out of the room with hurried steps, the door shutting behind her with a sense of finality – the click resounding in the heavy silence she left in her wake.
My hand that had been raised to halt her flopped powerlessly onto the seat of the sofa and I leant back into the chair with a sigh. Would she say the same thing if she knew that I had sensed the calculating nature of her husband – no former husband – when I had bound the both of them together? Even despised them for the nature of their marriage in my mind. Used the most common design to symbolize their marriage because I, snobbishly, hadn't considered them worthy of my art.
Would she thank me then?
"She probably wouldn't," I sighed as I raised my hands up, studying the unmarked skin of the back of my palms.
After mother had acted the role of the polygraph for Marquess Lutrinae, confirming the authenticity of her words, they had set about discussing their future course of action. The Lutrinae who had escaped were understandably worried about their clansmen who they had left back in the clutches of the enemy. The bright side of the matter was that the Demigods had reached a Treaty of non-interference, meaning that this 'war' wasn't going to be one of extermination. ****, pillory and mistreatment of captives would, theoretically, be rare occurrences and be punished with court martial. Those who surrendered wouldn't be harmed.
Other than the initial casualties, it was going to be a relatively peaceful conflict. If there could be such a thing.
To bolster the deterrent force against killing captives, Mortem's Duels had been authorized. Any member of the bereaved family could challenge the ones responsible and they would have to accept.
Moreover, ransoms had been set by Tier. Any party could emancipate prisoners of war with the corresponding value of commodities – with an oath that the freed prisoner wouldn't join in the war effort on the other side.
Somehow, more than a war, it seemed like a game of strategy where we were the pieces and the territory the board on which we played the game. The Shogunate had made their opening move and we seemed to be reeling from the impact, scrambling to recover and launch a counter-attack of our own.
It was in the middle of this discussion that Ness suddenly spoke up, the desperation clear in her tone. "Your hand… Your contracts... How did you break them?! Help me. Please!"
That managed to focus all attention on the backs of my hands. The unmarked backs of my hands.
After an explanation, I learnt about Ness' husband turning coat and switching to the Traitor's camp, discarding her like a used shirt.
The reason her father had brought her along to visit was so she could consult me to see if there was any way to break the bond for despite how heartless her husband was, Ness' feelings were sincere.
I sighed again as I dropped my palms onto my knees and stood up.
We had come into a private room to try if my variation allowed me to do what no other Tamer could.
Unfortunately, it couldn't. I tried my best to alter her mana signature and even use external mana to 'jam' the signal to no avail. It appeared that I wasn't that special after all.
My gaze fell on the glass of warm milk mother had a maid send in to soothe her nerves. It lay cooling on the table, untouched.
The corner of my eye twitched slightly before I grabbed onto it and emptied it in three large gulps. Slamming the glass back onto the table, I stalked out of the room while wiping my mouth with the back of my hand.
I can't stand wasting food.
And let that be a small punishment for me. I knew the boy had issues and yet I didn't warn her, deriving a sense of superiority instead. Though it wasn't really my place to interject but still…
As I walked down the empty corridors to the training area to work off my agitation, I remembered the sense of duty I had felt in Ness' mind from my short peek into it during the ceremony.
The girl didn't deserve what happened to her. No girl did.
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