"What are you reading?" asked Master as he took a seat by my side.
"Some materials on higher Tier contract magic. Ceres felt that I needed to focus on my own field of magic more as I am the only Hominum in the Swayamvar."
"Oh? She said that now, did she?"
"Yeah. She apparently stayed up the entire night putting all she remembered about contracts from her reading onto paper. I felt that I should at least give it a read."
"Hmm. How far along are you in the text?"
"I just started with it. Her headache only reduced to manageable levels without potions yesterday so, I just got this from her today morning."
"Mind if I give it a look over. After all, most of the texts she might have read would have Bestia authors and her memory, however formidable is impossible to be perfect. So, this account is at best twice removed from reality. Ignorance, while fearful, is nothing in comparison to wrong knowledge. That can be fatal."
I was suitably mortified by Master's words. "I'm sorry, Master! I meant no disrespect to you. I have no complaints about your method of teaching. If you haven't taught me something, there is inevitably a reason. I should have had this vetted by you even before I started."
Master waved away my apologies. "Oh no! Not to worry, child. I'm not angry in the least. Curiosity is the impetus for development. Your desire for further knowledge is the way the things should be. In fact, as your Teacher, I have been lax.
"Seeing that I will be leaving soon, I should at least take some measures to ensure your continued progress in the arts of Taming. Hmm… Let's do it this way. I will go through what your wife has written for you and revise any errors and while I'm at it, I will append the lessons I have yet to teach you to the notes.
"That way, you will have a handy way to reference my lessons while on the move."
I handed Ceres' notes over to him and bowed. "This disciple will forever carve Master's benevolence in his mind."
He smiled and helped me up by my shoulders. "No need to thank me, child. I'm just doing what my duty as your Teacher entails."
He paused for a moment before continuing, "Actually, if you really want to show your gratitude, you can do so by performing to the best of your capabilities in the Swayamvar."
He looked me in the eye. "Do you know why we Hominum, though respected for our contract magic, are thoroughly side-lined when it comes to combat?"
After musing on it for a moment, I replied, "Our innately weaker bodies?"
He nodded and then shook his head. "While you are partly correct, but if you look at a Tamer with all six contracts and compare the intensity of his fleshly body with that of a Bestia with one contract, there will be little to no difference in the intensities.
"No, the discrimination has its basis in the blank mindscapes we have. Did you know that Emperor Adam was not only the First Emperor, he was the first person to shatter the barrier to the Realm of Demigod and become a Tier 6 mage after the apocalypse?
"If not for his formidable individual strength, do you think it would be possible to impose a nearly dictatorial rule on such a vast stretch of land and carve out the Regiis Empire in the heart of the continent, wresting the land away from the control of the Tribes that controlled it?"
I nodded, fascinated. The texts always mentioned his prowess as an enlightened ruler and a visionary. This was the first time I had heard the term 'dictator' being used to describe him. The allusions to his formidable individual strength were fresh for me as well.
Though, this version of events seemed to make more sense than the ones which glorified the man as a charismatic character who won over the hearts of his six wives and his subjects with equal ease.
Master continued, "Before Contract magic was introduced, the highest level a mage could reach was Tier 5. But afterwards, it was discovered that one could take advantage of the contract and break through the shackles and become a Demigod. The difficulty is enormous and that's the end.
"The enticement of advancing their long stagnant strength was a driving force behind all the support the first Emperor received from the Tier 5 mages at that time as well as the rapid spread and acceptance of the ideology that Hominum weren't mere weaklings to be abandoned but a respectable cornerstone of society.
"But, after Contract magic became more widespread, although the views on Hominum acknowledged their usefulness to society, their combat capability was brought into question. There is only one reason for it. The peculiarity of our mindscapes."
He shrugged and spread his hands out in a helpless manner. "Not only does our power fluctuate with the strength of our bonds, we are incapable of the two major magics associated with Tier 4 and Tier 5: Bloodline Manifestation and Bloodline Integration. Even during Tier 3, unless all our wives have the same elemental affinity, we are incapable of generating the Domain that all other Tier 3 mages use as their main forms of offensive and defensive action.
"That's why there hasn't been another Hominum Emperor since Adam. The competitors are usually talented enough to promote to Tier 3 by the time the Swayamvar reaches its final stages thereby disadvantaging the Tamer. Let alone, most of them would have a really hard time finding five appropriate wives by then so that they can reach their full potential."
He looked at me with full seriousness. "I hope that you, as my student can break this trend and bring honour to all Hominum on the continent."
He patted Ceres' notes with the back of his hand.
"To that end, I'll add something to this that is an untested theory of mine. I think you will find yourself pleasantly surprised." said Master as he stood up and took his leave.
As Nurarihyon left the room, his expression grew colder. Flipping through the sheaf of papers, he found what he was looking for. In beautiful cursive lettering, the details of the Tier 4 Contract magic, the Geas, were written on a page.
His eyes scanned the page swiftly, his lips curving upwards into a smile that didn't reach his eyes.
Starting from where his fingers pinched the paper, a pale, smoky flame spread, reducing it to ash.
A gentle breeze scattered the ash to the winds.
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