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In the grand scheme of things, we are insignificant… mere specks of dust in an infinite universe. But in the confines of our own minds, we are the most important being to have ever existed. It is but a matter of perspective.

Our existence is confirmed by the effects of our actions on others; the legacy we leave behind when we depart the world. It is defined by the opinions of our peers... and the peers of our children. With the expansion of our renown, our presence expands as well. From a speck of dust into a grain of sand. Still tiny, but visible.

And it is with the growth of our presence that our perspective is elevated. We get to see more of the world, and the more we see, the more people we affect, the greater our presence. An ever-inflating cycle of positive reinforcement.

-++-

“This is a horrible idea,” said one man at the bar of the Adventurer’s Guild branch close to the Tomb of Koschei. Chugging his ale, he slammed the empty mug down on the table. “Now a foreigner can marry our Princess and become the Emperor? What tommyrot!”

“It is brilliant!” contended another man with a war-hammer as long as he was tall leaning against the back of his chair. “This gives our boys a shot at showing em that they're the best goddamn mages of the Continent. That'll hammer some sense back in the thick skulls of the nations that think the Shogunate’s invasion is a good chance to fish in troubled waters. I see no harm innit. And as for losing the Throne to a foreigner…”

The man scoffed and took a deep swig of his own watered-down brew. He would be going delving with his team soon and it would be bad form to turn up drunk. After all, the catacombs had become much more dangerous with Koschei awake and stirring restlessly. If not for the constant presence of the Unbound Demigod within the walls of the adjoining city, going delving would be tantamount to suicide, rather than just a bit more dangerous than normal.

“Don’t make us laugh. It is our game they are playing. While our boys fight tooth and nail for every bit of land and resource, the pampered brats of the other nations have it handed to them. They don’t stand a chance.”

He paused for a beat. “And even if they did. Don’t we have the Sword Maiden? There’s no way she’ll let her sister fall into the hands of some man other than her husband.” He waggled his brows suggestively. “After all, it’s better to keep it all in the family.”

He devolved into a fit of raunchy, table-thumping laughter at his own joke. The other patrons within hearing distance joined in. it wasn’t long before the other curious patrons had been filled in about the cause of the sudden mirth and the entire bar was rife with jokes at the Felidae heir’s expense.

Some of them ribald enough to make a courtesan blush with shame.

-++-

The news about the first international Swayamvar in the history of the contest spread like wildfire across the nation, then the entire Continent. It sparked conversation in tavern and dinner table alike. It was on every lip, at the tip of every tongue.

And as it spread, my understanding of mother’s interpretation of the Aspect of Radiance increased by leaps and bounds.

When mother had explained the concept of ‘invisibility through ubiquity’ I had understood it… sort of. After all, there were a lot of things we took for granted in our day to day life that we only really noticed when they were absent – potable water for instance. But when she had gone on to say that fame actually amplified her stealth, she lost me. It all seemed rather counterintuitive.

Now though, it all made sense. As my name and tales of my deeds spread across the land, my proficiency in light magic increased at a pace that left me flabbergasted. It had been what, a few days(?) since I had become an Adept in the Aspect of Radiance, and I was already pushing the envelope of Mastery. It almost made me suspect that I’d been taken possession of by a Demigod.

If not for mother’s prediction of such an effect during the cultivation of her Aspect, I would have seriously considered approaching the Circle for an exorcism.

And I was coming to realize a very interesting side of mother’s path to Mastery: The more someone knew about me, the stronger would my stealth be. To Phobos, Deimos, or Ceres, I was utterly invisible, while to a perfect stranger who had never heard of me, my invisibility was more like the camouflage of a chameleon – a blending into the background.

Considering the fact that most of my enemies would have researched me beforehand, this seeming shortcoming was actually an advantage.

Along with my advances in my understanding of the Aspect, my soul strengthened as well. Though, not by much.

It was quite a bit harder for me to increase my soul strength by comprehending Aspects than a Bestia of corresponding Tier. This was because of the absence of my mindscape.

If training one’s soul could be analogized to boiling water, then I was an uncovered saucepan while the Bestia was a pressure cooker. For the same amount of heat the water in the pressure cooker would come to a boil sooner.

Thus, Bestia only needed Mastery in a single Aspect to break through to Tier 5 while I was only at the peak of Tier 3, bordering on Tier 4, even after having mastered two. The basic requirement for advancing to Demigod was the Realm of Grandmaster in one Aspect. As per my projections, I would only be equivalent to a Tier 5 mage of middling advancement even if I managed to reach Grandmaster.

I would need to become a Grandmaster of multiple Aspects, maybe even reach that theoretical realm above Grandmaster to advance to a stage equivalent to a Demigod.

From personal experience, I was starting to get an idea of the magical path followed by the Hominum of yore. They manipulated the energies of nature with their minds. Knowledge, to them, was power, and their patron Gods were the source of their elemental affinities.

They would spend their entire lives in the pursuit of the deeper truths of nature and society and would be rewarded for their search by magical advancement.

With my induction into the Circle of Demigods in private and the Imperial family in public, the doors of the Imperial library had been thrown wide for me. There I had found some literature on ancient Huaxian relics that might corroborate my conjectures.

The relics referred to the ancient Hominum mages as Daoists and it didn’t seem to be a coincidence that another name for the Nascent Soul realm was the Dao Seeking stage. Or that the theoretically proposed Realm above Demigod had been named Dao Divinity by the Sages of Huaxia.

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