52 A Bad Start Is The Other Half

Author's note: from this chapter onward I will put a - before an inner monologue/ telepathic dialogue.

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There was still some time before the start of the academic year. Lith spent most of it reading the Headmaster's books and planning for his future. According to the school records, most students would achieve only a single specialization.

Good and great mages would achieve two, while attaining three or more was the sign of a true polymath genius. It wasn't enough to simply attend the courses to be considered a specialist, one should also possess considerable talent in the field.

And like most things in life, genius couldn't be evaluated with just numbers. Krishna Manohar, the resident god of healing, only had two specializations, simply because he had no interest in other topics.

His second specialization was a Battle Mage, and even in his biography, it was mentioned only once, for the sake of completeness. Yet Nana having only one specialization felt wrong on so many levels, so Lith decided to take a break from his studies to ask her why.

From the day he received his White Griffon uniform, it became the only dress he would wear. Not for swag, but for the pure practicality of its features. It was capable of self-cleaning any dirt or sweat, and even offered some degree of protection from both physical and magical attacks.

It allowed him to be more relaxed during his daily life and when hunting. It was as if Lith was wearing a full suit of armor, but was light as silk. It could withstand a bear's claw strike without ripping, but Lith would still feel the blunt impact.

He had performed many experiments to test its reliability and limits. Oddly enough, the protection was extended to his head and hands as well, despite them being uncovered. The robe, though, was still stored in Solus' pocket dimension.

Wearing it would strengthen the protective effect, but it was too long and impractical to use. It would get snagged on the trees, bushes, everything. On top of that, being stealthy while wearing an oversized bathrobe was nigh impossible.

'I said this back on Earth and I'll repeat it now. Mages' fashion sense sucks. Capes and robes are idiotic to wear. They make it too easy to grab and slam around like a carpet.'

Lith could have flown, yet he preferred to walk. Those were his last moments of true freedom, and he wanted to enjoy them to the fullest.

At Nana's home office, everyone showered him with praises and congratulations, giving the healer the time to speak with her former apprentice.

"Sorry to disappoint you, young spirit…" Ever since Lith had saved Count Lark's family years ago, she had promoted him from little imp to spirit.

"…but I have only a specialization." She winked blatantly, despite the fact that they were alone in her private quarters.

"Here is some unrequested advice. Life is unpredictable, and many things you'll need to survive are not written in any book." She winked again.

"You need to lean them by experience."

"I understand, sorry to have wasted your time." Lith winked back.

"Do not apologize, dear. It's always a pleasure to see you. And don't even think about leaving without saying a proper goodbye, or when I'll die, I'll haunt you as a ghost!"

"Please, if it's true that weeds never die out, then you'll probably outlive us all!"

Lith bought some fresh pastries and white bread, before returning home.

'I can't decide if the idea of hidden specializations is more interesting or disturbing. I wonder if Nana's second talent is the real reason for her downfall. Maybe she was a magical assassin that either failed an important mission or was framed.

'Either way, to avoid repeating her mistakes, I must stick to the plan, get my specializations and as many backers as I can. And to get them, being a healer is the best bait.

'The Marchioness proved to me that no matter how rich and powerful, they are still scared sh*tless of death. Also being a great healer brings you more clients than envy. If they see you as an asset, those in power don't feel threatened by your existence.'

Lith's last months went by peacefully. Count Lark held a small private goodbye party, attended by Lith's and Lark's family, Nana and Selia. Hilya, the first cook, still believed in #TeamRaaz, so she went all out for the occasion.

She even called him "Young Master" a couple of times, embarrassing both Lith and the Count. They didn't know whether to laugh or cry, rumors indeed die hard.

The only sour note was the presence of Senton, Rena's soon-to-be husband. Lith still had a hard time letting his sister go, so when he shook the man's hand, he reminded him two truths.

"Remember, when you marry a woman, you marry her whole family." Lith said out loud, triggering laughter and joy in the participants.

"And I know where you live." He threatened him, whispering in Senton's ear when they were embracing.

The Marchioness had been invited too, although only out of politeness, but she could not attend for a good reason. Her family had been attacked once more, and she had her hands full trying to identify the instigator.

His first day of school, Lith left home before the sun rose. All his belongings were sadly able to fit in a chest smaller than an armchair, that his father Raaz had handmade for the occasion.

Despite the happy circumstances, his parents cried like he was about to go to war.

"Oh, Lith, promise to write to me every day." Sobbed Elina, his mother while hugging him strong enough to squeeze the air out of his lungs.

"Mom, we have the communication amulet, remember? Do you really want to wait for the mail to be delivered?"

"Of course not, you silly. Call us as soon as you have a minute to spare." She said throwing him into his father's arms.

"Remember, little one, no matter how far away you are, you'll always have a family and a house here." Raaz's cheeks were streaked with tears, his voice broken.

"Far? Dad, between flight and Warp Gates I'm barely an hour away from home. I'll be back at the end of the first trimester, in time for the Spring Festival."

Lith was moved and confused by their feelings. Back on Earth, when he and Carl had left their home, their mother's send-away gift had been changing the door locks.

His sisters' goodbyes were much more joyous. They were both moving on with their lives and were happy that their little brother was able to pursue his dreams too.

Trion was nowhere to be seen. Their relationship had never mended, and the more power and authority Lith gained, the more Trion felt like a stranger to his own family.

He had left home as soon as he turned sixteen, announcing his decision to perform voluntary military service and marry outside the family, leaving Tista to inherit the farm and the house.

Lith left home, making his chest fly alongside him. Only when he was far enough away did he store it inside the pocket dimension and put the pedal to the metal.

He took the chest out before approaching the nearest Mage Association branch, keeping it floating while he walked through the Warp Gate to the academy. An attendant accompanied him to his personal room in the fourth-year wing of the castle.

To avoid hazing, each year had a separate wing for its classes, living quarters, even the canteen. Students from different years had no common spaces.

After imprinting the room with his mana, becoming its master, Lith left his chest and dismissed the attendant. He had the map of the castle copied and stored in Soluspedia, hence needing no help to reach his classroom.

Regardless of the chosen specializations, the students of the fourth year had some classes that everyone had to attend. Theory of Combat Magic was one of those mandatory courses. (*)

Lith was one of the first to arrive, the classroom was almost empty, except for a few students that had already occupied the desks in the last row.

The classroom resembled a lecture classroom from a college, with a pitched floor and the desks arranged in a semi-circular shape. At first glance, it seemed to have a capacity of at least two hundred students.

In any other circumstances, Lith would have admired the perfect lighting of the room, the magnificence of the marble floor, the refined craftsmanship of the desks. Each one was made with the best materials available, drawing a merciless comparison with his old college.

At that moment, however, his eyes were only noticing how all those present had sighed in relief seeing him. Judging from their positioning and nervousness, they were clearly trying to lie low and go unnoticed.

Lith had walked in their shoes enough to know what it meant, and how futile their effort was.

'Poor guys, you still haven't learned that you can't avoid trouble when it's the trouble looking for you, uh? Just like in middle school, the prey come early to avoid contact, while the predators take their sweet time.'

He chose a seat in the middle row, not too close, but not too far. He would still be able to clearly see the professor and read from what appeared to be a chalkboard. 

'Sigh, I would love to sit in the first row, but I bet that's the cool kids' gathering spot. It's better to avoid useless arguments and stay in the safe zone. If someone comes to bother me, it would be on purpose.'

Lith took out his notebook and inkwell, to prepare for the lesson, hoping things would go smoothly.

According to Nana, the real class hierarchy would be established from day one. Both he and Solus remained alert the whole time, while the classroom was getting filled with people.

Some sneered while looking at him, others shook their head with a sad expression, deeming him too dumb or naïve to know his place.

'It's very interesting.' Solus said. 'The worst mana core I detected is bright green, all the rest are different shades of cyan or deep blue. It's not a surprise that so many of Lark's proteges failed the admissions.'

'Yeah, peachy. Not only am I not the top dog mana core-wise, I cannot use any magic outside the fake one. Eyes on the prize, Solus, this is Sparta. Based on the glances I received, the situation may be worse than I expected.'

When only fifteen minutes remained before the scheduled start of the lesson, three girls waddled in like they owned the place. Lith threw a quick glance in the back rows, and judging from the cowering behind the desks, the queen was in the house.

After shaking his robe's right sleeve, he braced for impact.

They were chatting among themselves, looking around the class like hungry wolves in a butcher shop. He could hear the one on point, a red-haired girl, say:

"Let's give the new guys a proper welcome."

They walked up the stair, until they were in front of Lith's desk.

"Hey, shorty, what are you doing so close to my desk? Your filthy peasant smell makes me nauseous. Scram to the last row together with the rest of the garbage!"

Said the red-haired girl, that was barely five centimeters (2 inches) taller than him, while her two companions giggled and sneered eerily.

'What the f*ck?' Lith thought. 'This seems out of Aesop's 'The wolf and the lamb' fable. I bet that even if I was already sitting in the last row, she would harass me for not respecting my seniors or something.

'She is looking for a fight, no matter what I do. Solus, let's go with the worst-case scenario contingency plan.'

"I am sorry?" Lith replied with his most innocent tone. "According to the White Griffon rules, I have the right to sit wherever I want. You have no authority to order me around. Please, leave me alone and we can all forget about this incident."

Lith was really disappointed. A least on Earth bad girls were hot stuff, these three instead were barely cute, with average curves and the charisma of a rotting opossum.

"You insolent fool!" She snarled at him. "Don't you know who I am? I…"

At that point, Lith activated his Hush spell on both his ears, preventing himself from having to listen to the load of bullsh*t the girl was spewing.

He knew his temper enough to know that otherwise he would have probably lost his cool, especially if she mentioned his family. Falling for their provocations would mean giving them and others an excuse to harass him.

'Hey, Solus, I can't read lips, but I guess she is making herself appear high and mighty, flaunting her family status. All while belittling me and my physical appearance. How close did I get?'

'Very close. By my maker, this girl really has a way with words. If I had a body, I would kick her a*s already. The things she is saying about you! She is just the worst! To add insult to injury, those two harpies gang up with her at the right times.'

'Please, do not give me any details, I am already outraged, don't add any more fuel to the fire. It's time to put the Headmaster's word to the test. I won't stand for this sh*t one more…'

Before he could complete the thought, Solus interrupted both him and the spells.

'That's your cue!' Lith barely made in time to listen to the:

"Are you listening to me?"

"For the gods' sake no, sweetheart. Your voice is so squeaky that it would make me rip my ears off, if I had to actually listen to all your whining and ranting."

The three girls were silenced out of shock.

"Sweetheart?" Someone in the classroom echoed.

"It's just a figure of speech, of course." Lith replied as it had been the leader of the pack speaking.

"You're not blind, I'm pretty sure that, despite your over-inflated ego, deep inside your rotten heart you know that you are almost as ugly outside as you are on the inside.

We have nobles even in my backwater village, but you win the prize for the one with the longest stick up her a*s and biggest sh*t in her nose hands down, that much I have to give to you."

Lith had only one way out of that situation, the least he could do was to get all his pent-up rage off his chest.

"How… How dare you?" The girl's face had turned purple, her eyes were popping out of rage and brimming with mana.

"Look, kid, the lesson is about to begin and I'm already bored. Maybe you are used to scaring people with your ugly mug and annoying voice, but I faced much worse in my life. Now scram, before I report you for harassment.

"This isn't your home, this is one of the six great academies, it has rules!"

Since they meant to harm him anyway, he would give them all the rope they wanted, hoping they would end up hanging themselves with it.

The girl laughed heartily.

"Rules? I don't give a damn about the rules, I could kill you right here and get away with it in less than an hour. Do you think any of these cowards would dare to say a word?

"That anyone from a noble or magician family would waste even one breath for a filthy peasant? The likes of you shouldn't even be here. Your kind does nothing but taint this place and ruin magic's good name."

Lith stood up indignant, ready for the grand finale.

"How dare you? I spoke with the Headmaster when I enrolled, he said…"

The girl on his left cut him short.

"Who? That loser? My father says he is so young that he probably still wets himself at night."

"He is just a strawman, like all the Headmasters." Added the one on his right. "He is just a puppet in the hands of the great families. You are all alone in here, country sh*t."

The leader of the pack had regained her confidence, her arms were crossed in front of her chest, a smug grin going from ear to ear.

"Now get your filthy a*s out of that chair, kneel to me and lick my shoes clean. If you do it, I promise not to beat you too hard."

Their fists were now set ablaze, their mouths and hands moving in unison, each one casting a different spell.

Lith just took his right hand out of the robe's long sleeve, revealing a small black sphere. Magic was gently coursing and pulsing within it.

He put it in front of their horrified faces. Their smiles and spells had disappeared, the whole class fell silent.

"Once more, with feeling."

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