Chapter 223: After the Storm (2)
"What happened to Lith" Phloria needed to lean against the walls or the beds to avoid falling on the ground.
Every step she took towards his bed felt like she was trying to uproot a tree, making her sweat bullets.
Yet she didn't stop until someone finally noticed her struggle.
"Good grief, you shouldn't strain yourself anymore, young lady.
You are lucky to still be alive." Professor Vastor rushed to her aid, taking out a chair from his dimensional amulet to make her rest.
"Please Professor, tell me what happened." Phloria was on the verge of passing out again, but her tone was determined enough to not leave room for doubts.
Vastor could only tell her the truth or sedate her, there was no other way to calm her down.
It was likely to be the last day all of them had to live.
Vastor decided that forcing such a young girl to spend it unconscious in a bed would be too cruel.
There was a reason why they couldn't just send the students back home.
They were still Balkor's target.
After the Earth and Crystal Griffon academies fell, their students had been Warped to the Royal palace to keep them out of harm's way.
Some of the old noble families had decided to bring them home, only to be attacked during the second night by Balkor's Crawlers.
Only those that had timely fled to a different region or remained in the palace had been spared from the onslaught.
The number of casualties was already in the hundreds and counting.
Without the protection of the arrays, a noble house was as safe as a commoner one.
"I don't know, I really don't." He replied seeing the concern growing in her eyes.
"You and Lord Deirus were tainted by a Valor, but Lith somehow managed to prevent you from turning into undead.
Then a friend of his called Lith on his deathbed.
From what I heard, Lith freaked out.
Then, all that I know is that he arrived here like that."
"Is he going to die" Her eyes were watery, but she was unwavering.
She would not let Vastor get away with a vague answer.
"It's unlikely, but possible." He finally admitted after much thought.
"I've seen a similar condition in patients that had pushed themselves too hard using magic.
The only thing we can do is let him rest..
He should get back to normal in a couple of weeks."
- "If he doesn't die tonight, either at the hand of Balkor's thralls or from going for broke to save your lives earlier."– Vastor inwardly added.
"Thanks, Professor." He had expected her to cry and whine like the little girl she was, yet Phloria smiled.
It was something that Vastor hadn't seen in days.
"Can I stay here, please" She took Lith's hand in her own, hoping he could feel her touch and somehow draw strength from it.
Usually Vastor would have scolded her and sent her back to her bed, but the sincerity of Phloria's feelings despite her own predicament had moved even his old, shriveled heart.
Vastor used magic to rearrange the beds, moving Phloria's right beside Lith's.
He even gave her blankets large enough to cover both beds, turning them into a makeshift double bed.
"Just promise me you'll keep your hands where they belong.
This is a hospital, after all." She turned beet red while Vastor laughed at his own joke.
A short while later he finally left them alone.
He doubted Lith would wake up to enjoy her company, but if it that was going to be her last night on Mogar, Phloria had the right to spend it with someone she loved.
Without Kalla's arrays, there was no reason to keep all the students in one place.
They had learned from the previous night that rounding them up like that without a rock solid defense was akin to wrapping them up and offering them as a present to the enemy.
This time they kept the students in their own housing, preparing multiple Warping arrays ahead of time to scatter them all around the forest in case the last line of defense fell again.
When the sun started to set, fear started to spread.
When night fell, the fear turned into panic.
Many students broke out into hysterics, forcing their roommates to knock them out before they hurt somebody.
When the night was about to end, even the Professors were drenched in cold sweat.
The stress from the prolonged wait had tired them out almost as much actual combat.
"What the heck is he waiting for" Linjos was a nervous wreck, pacing non stop inside the headquarters.
"Usually Balkor keeps the worst for the precise hour his family was killed, but we are way past that point!"
When daylight finally came, the whole Griffon Kingdom rejoiced.
Four out of the six great academies were still standing and the anniversary had ended with no further bloodshed.
The Headmasters contacted the Crown, who ordered them to keep waiting and not lower their guard.
Balkor's shadow was so deeply etched in their minds that the Royals couldn't believe their own luck.
It was noon before the King ordered them to send the students back home.
The yearly god of death's threat was over, but the wounds he had left behind were deep.
Many things had to be done before life could go back to normal.
After Balkor's eleventh assault was over, the smoldering embers of the civil war were almost completely extinguished.
During the first five years of the god of death's reign of terror, the ancient noble households didn't care much for his actions.
There were too many of them, hence the odds of being Balkor's victim were low.
Most families would secretly pray for the god of death to get rid of their most dangerous competitors in their stead, so they could get hold of their lands and riches.
When the god of death started targeting the Crown and the Mage Association, the ancient noble households rejoiced.
They even started to consider Balkor as their benefactor.
He had kept the Crown off their game for years, forcing them to invest more time and resources into defending themselves from the next attack rather than in investigating the nobles' schemes and illegal trafficking.
Balkor was the reason why the Crown had been weakened for so long, allowing Lukart to pursue his dream of becoming the next King.
Balkor's anniversary had been a red-letter day for organized crime during the past five years.
However, when the god of death announced in his own twisted way that he would go after the academies, everything changed.
The old noble families didn't need the Crown or the Mage Association to thrive, but without their most talented offspring, they were as good as dead.
Most of the students of the six great academies came from their ranks.
They were the future family leaders and the only ones that could ensure their prosperity in a world where magic was the cornerstone for all lucrative business.
The ancient households' magical legacies amounted to nothing without heirs talented enough to wield them.
The eleventh attack had proved to them how weak they actually were.
They were completely at the mercy of a madman, capable of destroying years worth of efforts nurturing a mage in a single night.
The new situation required reprioritization of both their short and long-term goals.
Any attempt to overthrown the Crown or undermine its authority was now a liability for them too.
Only the Royal family and the Mage Association had managed to obtain samples from Balkor's creatures over the years.
Further, they had been actively researching countermeasures against them.
Even the most radical among the old noble families had to be concerned with what Balkor would do next year.
Many of them had chosen to send their heirs to the Crystal and Earth Griffon academies, away from the Queen's pet projects.
Not only had those academies fallen, but also more than half their students had perished during the second night.
It was enough to bring the old families low, forcing them to have their magicless offspring marry mages and have them take the family name, even if they were of humble origins.
Their future had suddenly become an unknown variable.
To improve their odds of survival, they were even willing to help the Crown with their personal funds to find and neutralize Balkor once and for all.
To make things worse for the ancient households, now they were also terrified at the idea that other Balkors could be born by their own hand.
Forbidding the practice of magic to commoners was impossible.
Without them, it would take barely a generation for the Griffon Kingdom to lose its military prowess and be conquered by the neighboring countries.
The second and almost as important reason was that the survivors of the eleventh attack had learned their lesson.
Living together, fighting together, and dying together had overturned the noble youths' perspective on life.
They had experienced first hand their own mortality and how their titles were nothing in front of true power.
Most of the children stopped pursuing their parents' agenda and dedicated their time to the study of the only thing that mattered: magic.
Ernas Mansion, the morning after the day of the anniversary
Like all those that were aware of the events taking place at the academies, the Ernas were living in a state of unrelenting terror, barely able to sleep or eat.
Jirni and Orion had stopped working for the last three days.
They were off their game, always worrying about the fate of their children.
When she learned from the report of the second day that Lith had saved Phloria, she was walking on air to the point that she recommended preparing a betrothal gift for Lith to Orion.
Orion was so moved by that little monster's care for his daughter that he almost agreed.
Both of them remained deeply shocked reading about how critical his condition was and how it was likely to be related to his effort to save Phloria's and Yurial's lives.
Jirni swore that if her daughters survived this hurdle, she would never meddle in their love lives again.
They each seemed more than capable of finding a good man by themselves.
Orion swore to his wife that he would make no more objections to Lith's relationship with Phloria, as long as he brought their little Flower back home in one piece.
When the final report arrived and they learned that all three of their daughters were alive and well, the Ernas couple wept with joy for over an hour.
Even as a royal constable, Jirni would only receive the status reports once a day after sunrise, just like any other royal servant.
They were so happy that they decided to take the rest of the week off, to welcome their daughters back and spend as much time with them as possible.
The royal heralds called them more than once, saying that it was impossible to grant them another leave.
Every single civil servant with a child in an academy had had the same idea, either to spend some quality time with their families or to grieve their loss.
The Ernas were among the most loyal subjects to the Crown, always putting duty above everything else during their long years of service.
This time, Jirni and Orion replied that the Kingdom could go f*ck itself off and refused all the following calls.
Their move greatly embarrassed the Crown, but there was nothing they could do about it.
Most of the parents were ready to give their resignation rather than miss their children's homecoming.
Jirni spent the morning of the third day speaking with her daughters.
While they were still in the forest for security reasons, the communicators were finally online again.
She was deeply shocked to discover that Phloria was in such a pitiful state when she told her everything that had happened and how critical Lith's condition was.
Their mother-daughter relationship had been getting better, but such news was still something that Jirni would expect Phloria to speak about with Orion, not her.
Balkor's threat was over, so her concern faded away while a plan took form into her mind.
She immediately had the servant prepare the best guest rooms of the house for their future occupants.
Jirni gave precise instructions to tone down the staff's dress code.
She had also prepared clothes that she and Orion usually wore during their vacations to their country cottage, where they dedicated themselves only to their hobbies and were away from the prying eyes and the uncaring nature of the rules and etiquette their usual social life required.
It was Orion's and Phloria's happiest time of the year since the former could swear, get dirty and play with his children like a normal father, while the latter could avoid wearing dresses and act like a tomboy until their departure.
- "Lith's family should still not know anything about what happened.
I think it's time I pay them a visit.
It's better if the bearer of so much bad news is a mother who went through the same nightmare, rather than a royal messenger that has been forced to repeat the same script hundreds of times.
First impressions count, so I need to play this to perfection.
If I get his mother on my side, it's game, set, and match.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity."– Jirni thought.