A few days later, when the White Griffon academy resumed its normal activities, Lith was still practicing how to convert Warp Steps into true magic while also trying to learn Blink.
It was supposed to be the final milestone of Professor Rudd\'s class and Lith was eager to cut his ties with him.
After Lith had learned Warp Steps, the old Professor had become even more cranky and unfriendly, making him regret his sassy attitude.
- Back then I should have kept my mouth shut.
Between my excitement and Rudd\'s provocations, I let pride get the best of me.
I\'m so dumb sometimes.
Live and learn. Solus consoled him.
Despite their renewed hostilities, Lith never missed a lesson, squeezing as much knowledge as he could from the Professor before things went back to normal.
Dimensional magic really was the hardest subject for Lith after all.
Since both Manohar and Marth were still away, that left him a lot of time to practice Forgemastering with Professor Wanemyre, allowing him to get ahead of his peers and to learn from her how to forge communication amulets.
After meeting Kalla and witnessing Ryman\'s growth, Lith decided it was better to remain in touch with his non human allies.
The problem was that the amulets were very expensive to buy, making him realize how big of a present the two he had received from the Marchioness were.
Forgemastering the amulets was a complex task, though.
The blue gemstone, the key item required to make it work, was an uncommon mana stone and beside that, several enchantments were needed.
Transmitting images and sounds, receiving them, the ability to scan items and documents, memorizing another communication amulet\'s signature.
Every single function required a spell of its own.
Wanemyre had accepted showing him the blueprints only to make Lith realize his limits.
She had always been amazed by his theorical knowledge, that actually depended entirely on Soluspedia, but now that she had only him to teach, she realized that his practical skills were lacking.
He knew enough to make up for it, but in the long run, it could become a fatal flaw.
Hence Wanemyre allowed him to bite more than he could chew.
After realizing the task was beyond his current abilities, Lith gave up on the idea and focused on the basics instead.
The Professors he worked with during that time became fond of his hardworking nature.
Especially since Lith would never show conceit for the privileges they were forced to grant him, only respect and gratitude.
He spent his nights using Accumulation to further refine his core and searching for a way to open the boxes in his pocket dimension, losing quite a few in the process.
Going back to the basics not only allowed him to become a better Forgemaster, but also to better understand how to crack that mystery.
When his friends finally returned, he had made much progress in all his endeavours, but no breakthrough.
Yurial was the only one brimming with confidence, looking like a million dollars.
The girls instead, looked dejected, like they had been forced to swallow too many bitter pills too often.
Hey, I thought being dark and gloomy was my thing. Lith said trying to lighten the mood, but to no avail.
If you knew my mother, you would understand.
These last few days were a nightmare, especially for them. Phloria sighed, while pointing at the other two girls.
And as for me, I should just be glad to be back here.
There was more than one moment when I seriously thought I would never wear pants again.
Also, I never expected to go away with two friends and return with two sisters.
Lith furrowed his brows.
This wasn\'t the Phloria he used to know and respect, confident and strong-willed.
It wasn\'t like her to speak in riddles, her words made no sense.
Yurial knew everything already, but feigned ignorance to appear more natural in case one of the girls needed emotional support from a couple of strong arms.
Seeing their confusion, Friya explained to them everything that had happened.
From the fall of house Solivar to their adoption by Duke Ernas.
I didn\'t have a choice. At the request of the girls, they had met in Lith\'s room to speak privately.
It was one thing to be the rebellious daughter of a noble and proud family.
I could have always exploited my mother\'s dire need for a mage in the family to bide my time before becoming independent.
Being the lone survivor in a line of traitors is another. Just repeating her story was too much for her shaken nerves, so after a few sobs, Friya started to cry.
I had nothing left.
My house is gone, my siblings and relatives are all dead.
I hated them, but they were still my family.
How could my mother abandon us all, letting us pay for her crimes
Having already said those words countless times back at Phloria\'s home, Friya didn\'t feel like burdening her sisters with her weakness again, so she instinctively sought comfort in another friend, throwing herself on Lith\'s chest.
At least she was sure that his hands wouldn\'t \'accidentally\' slip.
Yurial was disappointed by the missed opportunity, but his poker face remained impeccable.
My mother is really a monster. Seeing her friend\'s suffering made Phloria turn back to her old self, seething with rage.
As soon as she finished with the Solivars, she rushed back home the moment she learned about my guests\' identities.
She even gave them an ultimatum.
They had only until the academy\'s reopening to accept, take it or leave it.
Lith was flabbergasted by Jirni Ernas\' ruthlessness.
Exploiting two young girls\' suffering was something that even he would have hesitated to do.
Instinctively he hugged Friya tight, sitting on his bed and rocking her in his arms, like he used to do with Tista back when she was in too much pain to fall asleep.
One hand gently stroking her hair while supporting her back with the other.
After a bit, she seemed to calm down, the crying reduced to an occasional sniff.
Yurial inwardly admired his technique.
To so casually lift a girl like she weighted nothing was something that required practice.
- Maybe he isn\'t made of stone after all. – Yurial thought.
What about you Lith asked Quylla with a worried tone.
I\'m still overwhelmed by how quickly everything happened. She looked at Friya with more than a tinge of envy.
I was in a daze from how wonderful Phloria\'s house was.
I have always wanted a family and after Friya accepted, the idea of becoming sisters, to have a place I belong, was too good to turn down.
After I accepted too though, the dream became a nightmare.
I spent more time trying on clothes and learning a lady\'s etiquette than practicing magic.
To make things worse, Duchess Ernas kept going on about marriage and what a lovely bride I would be.
Quylla blushed up to her ears, looking at Lith in search of a reaction from him.
Do not let that woman fool you with sweet words and pretty dresses. He seemed really angered.
Adoption or not, she doesn\'t own you.
A house name is just like blood, it\'s only as thick as you allow it to be.
If the Ernas family is a prison instead of a home, you have no reason to sacrifice your happiness for them.
No offence, Phloria.
It\'s the same thing I told them. Phloria nodded, feeling like his words were addressed to her too.
Lith knew how rough the relationship she had with her mother was.
Because of those words, Quylla felt happy and sad at the same time.
Happy because he seemed to care for her, sad because his words once again sounded like those a concerned brother would speak.
The gap between them never felt so wide.
Meanwhile, Friya had completely recovered, happy for her face to still be hidden, since she was blushing wildly while her heart was racing.
She had never liked Lith as a boy.
He was too cold, too serious, and most importantly she knew what Quylla felt for him.
Yet his arms projected strength and confidence while his touch exuded a sincere paternal care like she hadn\'t felt since her father died.
Initially she had thought about remaining there until she had calmed down, but things were only getting worse.
The more time passed, the more aware she was of his warmth and good smell.
So she detached from him gently but firmly and ran into the bathroom saying she needed to wash her face.
How was the quarantine zone Yurial asked while Lith removed tears and snot from his uniform with a darkness spell.
Classified. He replied with a stern voice and a stone face that he let crumble after an instant.
Off the record It was the stuff nightmares are made of.
Believe me, you don\'t want to know.
So much death and misery in a single place that is beyond imagination, and it\'s better for it to stay that way.
Lith sighed, borrowing Solus\'s words.
- Shame on you. Solus rebuked him.
Using my words to fake feelings you don\'t have.
I forgive you only because you have been great with Friya.
Her situation is the worst among them all.
She needs all the help that she can get.
I did I mean, thanks.
Now she is even worse off than Quylla, since she can leave the Ernas family whenever she wants as a free woman, while in the eyes of society Friya would just be a traitor without them. –
The group spent the rest of the day catching up with each other, resuming their usual routine from the following day.
Between the pointers that Lith had extorted from Rudd and Quylla\'s talent, all of them managed to open Warp Steps, coming close to even completing the Blink spell.
Everyone was on edge, knowing that the second exam was around the corner.
As Lith predicted, Friya became a target for all those kinds of harassment that no Ballot could stop.
Not even the name of the Ernas could protect her from the spite and the scorn that came from her being branded as a fallen noble and a traitor.
The only silver lining in all this situation, is that I\'m putting so much effort in my studies to relieve my stress, that not only my grades are improving, but I am also in the upper tier of my Magic Knight specialization. Friya said with pride.
Yeah, seems a lot of people have been slacking off while we were working our as*es off. Phloria pointed out.
The three weeks break had caused many students to relax and lose their rhythm.
Not to mention that between the impending civil war worrying the nobles and the harassment most commoners experienced, it was easy to fall behind.
With the academy\'s competitive environment, making up for the lost time was nigh impossible.
When the day of the second exam came, it took everyone by surprise once again.
Since many of you complained about the last test, I have decided to use written tests again. Headmaster Linjos said to the student body assembled in the main hall.
Many of the old noble families smirked in defiance, feeling victorious over the now tamed Headmaster.
But that will bring your grades only up to rank B.
If you are fine with that, raise your hand. Linjos continued, enjoying their spunk turning into stupor.
For those who want a Rank above B, I have prepared a special test, modified according to your input.
This time you can make up your teams as you want, up to 4 members.
Each team will have a supervisor, a student from the fifth year.
It will be their responsibility to make sure that foul play isn\'t involved and that you come out alive.
Per your request, there will no more monitoring or help from the Professors.
Whoever wants to take part in the test must first fill a liability release form.
The academy will not be held responsible if anything befalls you.
The students jumped from their seats, running toward those they believed to be their best bet to pass the exam, while others preferred to give up and take the written test instead.
Lith was discussing with his group how to come out of that mess, since only four out of five of them could form a group, when Linjos joined them.
Don\'t worry my students.
The nature of this test is such that some people, like Lith, cannot be part of any group. Before they could express their surprise and outrage, Linjos raised his hand, forcing them to shut up with air magic.
He can still get a rank above A.
You\'ll understand when the test begins.