After resolving the morning snack incident, Selia prepared the working table for the remaining game.
"The birds you caught are called blinkers because they get scared easily and are very quick to fly away. Usually, you need luck and skill to take them down from a distance. Whatever magic you performed, it made a clean kill.
"Aside from the broken neck, both the feathers and the body are unscathed."
Lith accepted the compliment and gave her a small bow.
"It's just a matter of finesse in using air magic, nothing special."
Selia's curiosity was far from being satisfied, but she decided not to pry further.
"Scalding is easy and quick. You only need to throw the poultry in the cauldron for about 45 seconds. It's better to gently stir the water in the process, to clean the birds from dirt and external parasites.
"It also helps to loosen most of the feathers. Never scald too long, or the meat could start to boil. Not to mention the risk of rupturing the organs and ruining the meat."
Lith took charge of the scalding process, waving his right hand to take control of the water in the cauldron. He stirred it and adjusted the force of the current according to Selia's directions.
"Dammit, kid. You are really starting to make me regret to have never given a damn about magic."
"You don't know how to use magic?" Lith was astonished.
"No, and before today I was proud of it. I consider chore magic a simple parlor trick. Why waste my time learning how to do things with magic when I get faster and better results by using my hands?" Selia shrugged.
"Now get the blinkers out of the water, time to get serious."
Gutting poultry was really similar to his previous experience with the squirrel, but scalding and plucking replaced the skinning process and there was the addition of having to remove the crop, neck, and oil gland.
Once they finished, Lith's eyes enjoyed the results. He noticed that aside from the blinker's skin being a little more porous compared to a chicken's, it was just a roast away from what he could purchase back on Earth.
"How do I cook it?"
"Still hungry even after two squirrels?"
"Yes, very." The previous meal was just an appetizer, he was far from satisfied. "Please, let's use an outdoor campfire. I need to get used to not using a fireplace."
Selia smacked her forehead with her hand.
"Right, right. I almost forgot about your family issues."
After instructing him on how to choose the right spot for a campfire, she showed him how to improvise a kebab with wood sticks. The final lesson was about how high to set the kebab to avoid burning the food and how to recognize when it was ready to be eaten.
After memorizing everything, Lith imbued his eyes with fire magic, activating the Fire Vision spell, that granted him an improved version of thermal goggles.
He then started to weave together fire and wind magic, keeping the heat around the blinker stable with no hot or cold spots, while using air currents to evenly cook every nook and cranny of the bird.
Such fine control required him to move both his hands and feet, to watch his meal from different angles, and to adjust the mana flow.
His movements were akin to a combination of martial arts katas.
Selia was about to mock him about how performing a victory dance for a single blinker was a little extreme, when the delicious smell reached her nose.
The blinker was getting roasted with a speed visible to the naked eye. The skin turned into a crispy crust and released fat that was evenly spread over the meat.
The smell was so good that, even though she had consumed her breakfast less than two hours ago, her stomach started to grumble.
Lith removed the kebab from the fire with spirit magic and lowered the temperature of the roasted meat to avoid burning himself while eating. Then, he wolfed down the meat, ripping it apart with his bare hands.
First the drumsticks, then the breast, and lastly the wings.
It lacked salt, and the meat wasn't as tender as a roasted chicken since they had not let the meat undergo any maturation. Nonetheless, it was the best meal that Lith had ever had.
"I can't believe it. I'm not hungry anymore." Lith fell to his knees from happiness. His eyes became watery as if he was about to cry.
But that moment passed quickly.
'I need more! I can't allow the hunger to cripple me again.' Lith thought while looking at the sun.
There were still a couple of hours before noon. Time that he could spend hunting.
"Master Selia, I need a favor. I need a place to hide my own game. At least those that I'm not willing to share."
"Just call me Selia. Hunters do not waste time with honorifics, we are practical people."
She waved her hand, dismissing the need for a title.
"As for your request, I don't make favors, I cut deals. What about this: from tomorrow onwards, you will come here every day and clean my house. Maybe from time to time, you could cook something for me with that silly dance of yours.
"In exchange, I will keep your personal meat safe and sound. Plus, whenever I make you cook for me, we will share the meal evenly. Deal?" Selia offered him her hand.
It was still a rip-off deal, but it was his only option.
"Deal. I have only one rule. I don't do laundry."
After a few days, Lith's house resounded with much more laughter and joy than usual. Him bringing game home had raised some questions, but nothing he couldn't explain easily.
The food helped everyone to relax and to forget about past grievances. Even Lith and Orpal started to smooth over their relationship, limiting the glares and insults to a couple per day.
But more importantly, Lith could finally start practicing martial arts again. His routine was very simple. He would hunt in the morning, practice magic in the afternoon, and martial arts at night.
Thanks to the Invigoration breathing technique, Lith was now able to stay up for almost a week before being forced to rest.
He would sneak out of the house as soon as his Life Vision spell confirmed that everyone was asleep.
Once outside, he would create mud dummies with earth magic to both practice martial techniques and temper his body. His first priority was footwork.
Maybe it was because he was only four years old, or maybe it was the lack of activity due to his previous constant hunger, but his body was embarrassingly clumsy.
Whenever someone threw anything at him, even a chestnut from a meter (3 feet) away, he would either miss it entirely or dunk it on the floor.
Lith knew that even though his spellcasting was very quick, especially spirit magic, it was not instant. He could not afford to become a sitting duck as soon as someone closed in too much.
Magic made him powerful, but not omnipotent. What good was it to be able to topple mountains if he was killed by a random thug who managed to sneak up on him?
Even back on Earth Lith had always thought that considering mind and body as separate entities was dumb. Exercise had always allowed him to relieve his stress and relax his mind.
Exactly like studying always allowed him to perform at his best, be it at work or martial arts.
Brute strength was just violence, whereas pure intellect was just ideas with no substance. Only when mind and body were trained together the body could perform as the mind required.
About a week after Lith had begun training, something happened.
He was alone at night, practicing footwork by moving around the dummies when he felt that something was wrong.
Pain burst from his mana core and quickly spread to his whole body, accompanied by head-spinning nausea like he had never experienced before.
'What's happening to me?' He thought. 'This can't be a bottleneck. The last one resolved just yesterday and no bottleneck ever felt like this.'
Soon he started gasping for air. He became incapable of standing up anymore and writhed in pain.
'I can't die! I don't want to die again. Not after enduring so much. I refuse to become some slave in a distant galaxy or an old man waiting for death. I've had enough! I refuse to die!'
He used all his willpower to convert every iota of his mana into light magic, fighting the affliction that was tormenting him but to no avail.
The pain got worse and worse, until his power became incapable of keeping up.
When Lith surrendered, the burning sensation was finally free to rise all the way up to his throat.
Lith started to puke lumps of a black, sticky substance that looked like tar but smelled like something that had died and rotted for weeks under the summer heat.
They were the size of a nut, but the strain he felt was akin to have barfed two elephants walking side by side.
The stench was so bad that even in his incapacitated state Lith found the strength to summon some darkness magic to destroy them without leaving traces.
Lith spent the next minutes spitting, drinking, and even eating grass to get rid of the revolting taste in his mouth.
When everything returned normal, Lith was too exhausted to practice, so he had to use Invigoration to return his body to its peak condition.
As soon as Lith started performing the breathing technique, he discovered that he was now able to sense his mana core with much greater clarity.
While absorbing the world energy with Invigoration, he could feel and manipulate the mana flowing through his blood vessels and his organs to the point of visualizing even the residual magic in his body hair.
Despite his eyes being closed shut, Lith could see inside his own body as if he were observing a state-of-the-art full body 3D scan.
Even though he felt still dizzy, he tried to perform the footwork exercise again. Lith's movements were still far from perfect, but he no longer felt like he had two left feet.
'It's an amazing improvement considering that until a minute ago my goal was to stop tripping on my own feet. I wonder…'
Lith extended forward his opened right hand, applying spirit magic to the head of the dummies.
'Just an hour ago, if I tried to attack this many targets at once, the best I could do was to squeeze them a little. What about now?'
He clenched his fist, faster and harder than ever before.
The dummies' heads popped like balloons.