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“Here, wear this on your finger,” said Isabella, holding out her open palm to me. Resting atop it was a black ring. On closer inspection, it was a single long strand of hair that had been braided into the shape of a ring.

Curious, I took it up and asked, “What’s this for? And what’s this about the Circle of Demigods?”

“Just wear it,” she urged. “You’ll get all your answers soon.”

Shrugging slightly, I slipped the ring on my right index finger and waited for whatever it was that was supposed to happen. Inwardly, I was quite excited as I had several guesses as to what this might be about and all of them were really good news for me and for Phobos’ research.

For a moment, nothing happened and just when I was about ask Isabella whether I needed to activate it with mana or not, the ring suddenly dissolved and began to spread rapidly across my skin like the darkest of paints. The darkness spread rapidly up my arm and then my body. I barely had time to react before my head was engulfed by the dark tide.

I instinctively tried to draw upon the ambient mana with my soul but as soon as my soul sense contacted the film of darkness covering it, it recoiled as though burnt. There was an extremely overbearing presence within it – a presence that that engendered the image of a bottomless abyss in my mind. Made me think of the boundless darkness of the universe beyond the stars.

The darkness retreated as suddenly as it had arrived and I could see again.

The scenery had changed. While a moment prior I had been in a sunlit garden full of roses in full bloom, now I was in a dimly lit chamber carved roughly out of dark stone. A quick glance around me told me that there were no entrances or exits to the cavernous chamber. Not even a single window or ventilation grate.

It was quite expansive and roughly circular in shape and I was currently at the very centre of it. All along the walls, evenly spaced, there were eight objects that caught my attention. Going clockwise, they were: A huge fireplace with a cheerfully burning blaze within it. A large stone tub filled with crystal clear water that had a pale blue internal glow. A broad pillar of rough rock that spanned from floor to ceiling. A full-length mirror with ornate gilt edges that reflected nothing. A sphere of darkness so absolute that it seemed like a hole in the very fabric of reality. A column of swirling wind that glowed a pale shade of green. A pillar of glowing white crystal. And finally, a stone trough full of a dark red liquid that looked suspiciously like blood, before my sight returned to the fireplace.

There was nothing in the room apart from these oddities and they were the only sources of light, giving the whole place a strange ambiance. The domed ceiling was quite high and when I looked up, I found that it was concealed within thick shadows.

I was very clear that I had been Shadow Walked here and the one behind the spell, judging by the strength of their soul, was a Demigod. Looking down from the ceiling, I was startled by the deathly pale face of a woman mere inches from my own. I instinctively leapt backward and took up a battle stance.

The woman simply tilted her head slightly and studied me with those creepy eyes of hers that had no pupil or sclera – just an unbroken stretch of darkness. Her waterfall of jet-black hair cascaded down her back, reaching down to the ground where it spread out until it seemed to merge with her shadow. She was clad entirely in black robes that revealed no skin at all except for her face. Even that was blocked off below the eye line by a sheer black veil.

I logically assumed that this was the Demigod who had brought me here.

Bringing my rapidly beating heart under control, I dropped out of my battle stance and gave her a formal bow. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, my Lady. I’m Mars Felidae. Might I be honoured by your name?”

She studied me silently for a long moment with that utterly unnerving stare of hers. What made my skin crawl was the fact that she wasn’t breathing. At all. Her veil didn’t flutter even slightly.

All my attention was focused on her, so I was caught totally off guard when a woman wrapped her hands around my neck and pressed her soft body against my back. Phobos’ husky voice whispered in my ear. “Unnatural, isn’t it?”

All of a sudden, I found that I had lost my dominion over my own body. I couldn't move a single muscle. Not even my eyes. I was forced to watch, unblinking as the figure of the woman in front of me darkened until it was a simple mass of darkness that lost shape and sank into the shadows on the ground.

“That’s the best I could achieve when I was at Tier 3,” my captor purred seductively in my ear in the voice of my wife. “I was five years your senior then.” The woman let go of me and walked around to my front where I could see her. I couldn't help but shudder with fear because she looked exactly like my wife down to the very last detail. If it wasn’t for her mannerisms and the content of her speech, I would have mistaken her for Phobos.

“It took me five more years till I managed to refine my clone technique to the level you displayed in today’s duel.” She poked my chest with a finger and bit her lip. “If you weren’t so young, this old lady might have snapped you right up.”

“Morgan! Stop teasing the poor boy.”

Isabella’s irate voice rang out from behind me and suddenly, I was free to move. Taking a few hasty steps away from the now pouting Phobos impersonator, I turned around to see the faintly glowing blue water in the stone tub rising out of it and taking the shape of the Demigod of the Waves while, at the same time, the fire in the hearth blazed a warm orange and the flaming form of the Sunlight Soldier stepped out of it.

Turning my head back, I found the shadowy Demigod had drawn two full-body cloaks out of her shadow-space. Thankfully, while she had kept Phobos’ overall guise, she had altered the eyes to that creepy expanse of darkness, which freaked me out a lot less than seeing a perfect semblance of my wife behaving like a cradle-robber. “You’re no fun,” she grumbled as she tossed the robes to the two Demigods. “It’s been so long since I had a newbie to haze.” Turning to me, she grinned sadistically, sending a chill up my spine. “Especially one that can’t fight back.”

I took a step backwards with cold sweat beading my forehead. I don’t think I liked her very much. After all, her reputation preceded her.

Morgan Zibeline, the Demigod of Darkness, One of Many Faces, the Unseen.

The Black Widow.

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