When I had first heard that one of our Demigods bore the title: The Black Widow, I had assumed that it had to do with her shadow elemental affinity as well as her loss of her husband to the ravages of war within months of her promotion to Tier 6. Any association to venomous arachnids and their unsavoury mating habits, I thought, were derogatory ones made by her enemies. It was only after joining the Circle of Demigods and getting to know more about her abilities and how they worked did I realize how appropriate the title was.

The reason Hominum were able to bond with six partners while Bestia were only restricted to one was due to their lack of a bloodline. The bloodline was what gave the mana of each Bestia and Beast a unique character – a mana signature so to speak. Without a bloodline hindering them, Hominum were able to alter their signatures freely as well as affect those of others. They could synchronize the signatures of two individuals and bond them together. Which was basically what contract magic was all about.

But this was only valid up to Tier 5. Once one promoted to Demigod things became different.

First off, Demigods had the choice of getting rid of their bloodlines. If they did, then they would be no different from a Hominum in relation to the number of contracts they could sustain. And if they didn’t, their strong souls and lack of a mindscape would mean that they could bond with five others, one slot being taken up by their own bloodline.

As to why six was the upper limit for the number of contracts: That was the inherent limit of a soul. Just like we had two lungs and four limbs, souls couldn't support more than six contracts.

Polygamy was encouraged for male Demigods for the sake of increasing the number of their descendants as their children tended to be more magically gifted. Female Demigods, on the other hand, generally remained with their partners till the end, frequently electing to remain single after their husbands died. They could afford to. After all, Vita’s whispers were no longer a threat.

Morgan Zibeline was different. She had husbands all over the Continent. Her extremely realistic clone technique allowed her to take on the identities of important personages in each of the six other nations. And the discarding of her bloodline allowed each of her six doppelgangers to marry a man of her choice. Who invariably turned out to be extremely influential himself, after all, you couldn't go too far astray with a Demigod as your wife… even if you were ignorant of the fact.

Morgan had access to a great deal of classified information about the goings-on of each nation as well as the ability to influence their decisions in ways that favoured Regiis. She basically lived seven lives at once. One as a Demigod of Regiis and six others as deep cover agents in foreign lands.

She turned to me. “I hope you are ready. We’ll be kicking things off with the Trial of Water.”

It took me a moment to realize what she was implying, but when I did, my eyes widened.

She nodded. “Right. I’m talking about the coming war. The nations have selected their representatives for the Swayamvar in these months, as have we. They will be sending a team each to the other nations while one will stay back at home to compete with the guests. I suspect they will be sending their strongest teams to Regiis to participate in the war.”

“Wait… How come they are willing to fight in the war on our behalf?” I asked, confused. Surely getting involved in a war as part of a competition was a bit much, wasn’t it?

It was the Wind Wolf who answered. “Rather than fight for us, the other nations see it as an opportunity to train their young talents on our coin; with the blood of our soldiers.”

He adjusted his glasses. “Which Demigod hasn’t been through a war, or ten? True accomplishment cannot be achieved by divorcing oneself from reality and cultivating mindlessly. That will only make you a flower in a greenhouse. And without a will firm enough, no matter how strong your magical talent or perception, you will never cross the threshold to Demigodhood.”

“Only one in a hundred succeed.” He shook his head. “If you are coddled growing up, you are unlikely to even have the courage to try.”

“It has been too peaceful lately,” commented the Sunlight Soldier in his rasping voice. “Nearly a hundred years since anything we could consider more than a skirmish.” He leaned back in his seat. “While peace is good, it isn’t conducive to the birth of Demigods. Turmoil is the crucible in which we were forged. Each of us is a veteran.”

“Not me,” interrupted Isabella. “Nothing major, at least.”

“Not her,” he acceded. “But even she must have experienced war in her previous life to get to where she is.”

Morgan picked up the thread of the conversation. “If you study the historical records closely, you’ll see an upsurge in the number of Demigods a century after each major war. And these Demigods of new promote are almost definitely the ones who made illustrious exploits in the war.”

“So,” she summarized. “Victory in the Swayamvar is actually a secondary concern for the nations at the moment. By sending their talents to participate, they are identifying and training up future Demigods at none of the risk to their national security or cost to their coffers that a war would imply.”

I let that soak in, then frowned.

“Wait. That doesn’t make sense,” I said. “If that’s really the case, then why does the Shogunate still have Demigods? Didn’t they seal themselves off from all external contact over three centuries ago. If war is necessary for the birth of new Demigods and no new ones came about for them, shouldn't they have no surviving Demigods now? They are an island nation, aren’t they? Who do they fight?”

“Monsters. Nature itself.” The Crystal Jouster replied, speaking for the first time. “They have the highest concentration of Forbidden Zones in the world. Kaiju they call them – gigantic beasts that upwell from the dark depths of the surrounding seas to assail their lands and devour their people.” Her expression was grim. “And their entire island is set upon a cross-hatch of fault lines. Disasters, for them, are more common than the seasons. They are a formidable people to have survived them all. You’d do well not to underestimate them.”

“When all of this is over, corpses aren’t something we will lack." She looked me in the eye, her crystalline pupils shattering the incident light into many colours. "Try not to become one of them.”

End of Volume.


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