Sometimes there’s no warning. No warning at all.
One moment we were passing through the gate of my parents’ quarters, the next, Ceres had stepped up to mother, grabbed her hand, placed it over her heart and uttered the word “Geas…”
Time seemed to stretch, one moment an eternity as I saw mother’s eyes widen. An inky darkness welled out of Ceres' chest and expanded rapidly in a sphere. Mother’s hand shone white, trying and failing to suppress the spread of the shadow, only managing to slow its march.
A flash of lightning and father was there.
He plunged his hand, crackling with electricity right into the darkness and pulled. His hand came away and along with it came the orb of shadow. With an enraged roar, he flung it away and it crashed into the wall of the house. With a silent explosion, the orb expanded rapidly and then it was gone, taking a huge circular chunk of the wall along with it. It was as if someone had come and cut an extremely even circle out of the reinforced earth-stone wall.
Ceres swayed where she stood, then collapsed backwards. There was a gaping hole in her chest.
Time snapped back into place and my body unfroze from the shock.
But before I could move, mother had already caught Ceres’ falling body and laid her down on the ground. Her eyes were narrowed in concentration, her hands shining white as they hovered over the gaping hole in Ceres’ chest, the soft radiance trying to patch the wound.
“Husband!” she barked out.
Without a word, father ripped off the full-arm glove he was wearing on his right hand and exposed his mana-arm. It looked the same as his normal arm but as he began to pour his mana into it, it turned transparent, the flesh turning into swirling, highly compressed wind mana with lightning running through it like nerves. The contract marking on his and mother’s shoulders glowed as they drew upon their bond and rivulets of light mana permeated the arm like blood vessels.
Mother closed her eyes and then opened them, the irises shining with a holy radiance.
Under their shine, I could see the extent of Ceres’ injury.
Her heart was gone, along with the majority of her lungs. As she lay in an expanding pool of blood, she was suffocating. Jet black strands of mana permeated the edges of the wound, clearly visible under the illumination of the healing light. They were preventing the wound from sealing. Her body twitched as it ineffectually tried to draw breath but the lack of blood flow was causing her to lose consciousness. Her struggles growing feebler as her skin turned paler.
Close beads of sweat covered mother’s forehead as she leveraged the entirety of her mana and drove it through father’s arm using their bond as a conduit. The arm began to lose its shape, turning into an amorphous putty like substance that glowed with veins of light. Like a sculptor, mother guided the putty into Ceres’ chest and began remoulding her organs.
But I could see it in the tight cast of her eyes and the deathly pallor of Ceres’ face. She wouldn't make it.
The insidious remnants of the shadow mana were hindering her progress, making her divert her attention to eliminate its influence.
My mind was in chaos. A thousand thoughts fought for supremacy in my mind, and none won, leaving my mind blank as I just watched the life slowly drain out of Ceres.
Slowly, laboriously, she turned her head towards me. Her eyes were clouded, the pupils lax. Maybe she wasn’t even fully conscious at this point, only the intermittent twitches of her body indicating that she was still alive.
Yet, that gaze seemed to pierce my very soul.
A single tear ran down her cheek from the corner of her eye.
I knew. I knew then that if I let Ceres die in front of me, I would never forgive myself.
I couldn’t heal her. I didn’t know how.
I couldn't drive out the shadow mana. I wasn’t strong enough.
The only thing in my power was to assist those who could. So, I raised my hand and my finger cut through the air.
I didn’t have light mana in my mindscape. I couldn't form mana text like I ordinarily would but I could feel the nearly substantive concentration of light mana in the room as mother unleashed the full extent of her powers. If I controlled external mana by making my own mana resonate with it, why couldn't I use the external mana itself to form my text.
The rune for ‘light’ took shape, it was extremely ephemeral, wavering on the brink of collapse.
I focused the entirety of my will on it and slowly but surely it began to stabilize.
With the sound of cracking glass, a tiny fissure appeared on my mindscape, sending a spike of pain through my mind.
I reeled back from the sudden pain and the text dissipated.
Powering through the agony, I focused again. This time, the text formed faster. The crack in my mindscape expanded as well but I couldn't give a thought to that at the moment. As the letter solidified, the density of the light mana in the air suddenly increased. Mother’s eyes widened as she felt the amplification of her magic and the rate at which the artificial organs were being formed increased.
Encouraged, I fought my throbbing headache and drew another rune, then another.
I lost count of how many I drew as my world devolved into one of pure agony as my mindscape fissured more and more. But the only thing in my mind was that I couldn't let my wife die in front of me.
Something warm trickled down my cheeks. Was I crying? It had been a long time since I had last cried from pain. Pain was an old friend one which followed me throughout my childhood as I struggled to build up my body to match my Bestia peers.
The body tempering potions gave quick effects but they felt like liquid fire as they went down my throat. Every training session ended with scrapes and bruises, sometimes even broken bones. Many times, I wanted to give up. Many times, I wept and wailed.
Then one day, father took me to Deimos’ training ground. We hid and watched. We watched a girl of only fourteen repeatedly punch a wooden stake to fracture her bones so they would grow back stronger. I didn’t cry after that.
But the pain of a shattering mindscape was one which wasn’t merely physical. It was also spiritual and I had no defence against that except my will.
Suddenly, a large hand grabbed my wrist, causing the rune I had been drawing to dissipate.
Furious that someone would interrupt me at such a crucial time, I turned to the owner of the hand, my eyes ablaze with anger only to meet the gaze of my father.
“It’s fine now, son. You can stop.”
His gaze was kind.
In a daze, I turned to where Ceres lay. Mother was panting exhaustedly with Phobos supporting her. In front of them, I could see Ceres, her chest rising and falling in the serene rhythm of sleep. Where there had been a gaping hole, there were now a shining heart and lungs made out of mana. The artificial heart beat regularly, pumping life back into her. The shadows had been pursued and her wound was slowly healing.
Good. Really good.
Sagging in relief, I would have fallen to the ground if not for father’s grasp on my wrist. I noticed that his right arm was missing again. The mana probably consumed to heal Ceres.
I raised my hand to wipe my face. It came away slick and wet. My palm was dyed a bright red. apparently it wasn’t tears but blood. I couldn't help but smile. So, I hadn’t cried after all.
With a sound of shattering glass, my mindscape collapsed.
My world went dark.
Sometimes there’s no warning. No warning at all.