Chapter 226: Truth Hurts
Raaz was mad at the idea of his son's double life outside of his family, doing things that no child should ever even attempt to do.
What angered him the most weren't all the lies Lith had told him, Raaz was already way beyond that point, but how he spoke about fighting to the death as if it was perfectly normal.
He took deep breathes to control himself from time to time.
His son needed to vent the pain that was eating at him from the inside.
Raaz could always scold him later.
Alas, Tista wasn't as strong as her father.
She started weeping together with Lith, needing Phloria's help to be able to stand.
"Why did you do all those things" She blurted out.
"I would have rather starved than allow you to take so many risks.
A few meals and some extra coins will never be worth your life.
What if something happened to you"
Tista only spoke out of concern, the revelation had been too shocking for her to accept it quietly.
Yet to Lith's ears, her words sounded ungrateful like she was spitting on all the sacrifices he had made and the help Protector had given to him.
"Why do you ask" He was already used to the cough, he kept his voice low and hissing so it didn't interrupt him again.
Not now that he found someone else to blame.
"Have you already forgotten about the cold About how sickly you were and how drafty our house was during winter We were all so hungry that Orpal and Trion would steal eggs from the henhouse and milk from the stable whenever they could.
"Rena only took from the pantry what she needed to avoid fainting from hunger.
Our parents knew it and they could only pretend everything was all right, but it was not! Why do you think Orpal was always picking on us
"Someone had to do something, it just happened to be me! If it wasn't for Protector, all of us wouldn't even be here.
How dare you whine in hindsight, now that you are healthy and well fed You should be thanking me and grieving him!
"Stop being a baby and grow up, dammit! Everything in life comes at a price.
The only reason you can allow yourself to be so naïve and carefree is because others have always paid it in your stead.
If I died back then, there would have been more food left for the rest of you.
It was a win-win situation."
Lith was so angry that he managed to stand up and open his eyes, staring at Tista with hatred.
Phloria had to hold her tight to keep her calm.
Tista had never seen Lith angry at her, nor had she ever witnessed the mad beast glare he used on others.
She had always been her brother's princess.
The way he was speaking and acting towards her were ripping Tista's heart to shreds.
Raaz poked his forehead gently enough that Lith barely noticed the hit.
"Consider yourself slapped, young man." He said with a sad but firm tone.
"I'm sorry for all you went through.
I must have been a horrible father to make you feel the need to sacrifice your childhood to give us a better life.
I'll never be able to forgive myself for that.
It's a father's duty to take care of his children, not the other way around."
He wiped off a silent tear off his own cheek, poking Lith's forehead again.
"However, what you just said to your sister was just cruel.
The gods only know if she would still be alive without all the care you gave her.
There is no one in the family that has ever overlooked your efforts, especially Tista.
You have always been her hero.
What she was trying to say, is that you can't ask us to accept you risking your life like that.
Yes, our life was harsh, but at least we had each other.
You didn't have to push yourself so far, it wasn't worth it."
"I had no choice." Lith rebuked.
"Someone had to do something."
"No, you had a choice." Another poke.
"You could have just followed your siblings' lead, helping with the farm.
It was our duty as parents to find a solution, not yours.
You chose to play god instead.
I don't know if you did it because you are incredibly smart or arrogant, but lying to your family and taking so many risks was the wrong decision.
Even if you did it for the right reasons, it doesn't change anything.
Gods, I'm so stupid."
Raaz pinched his own nose, closing his eyes to hold back the guilt that was ravaging his heart.
"When we saw that huge Byk pelt at Count Lark's mansion, we understood you were hiding many things from us.
We choose to keep our eyes shut because we were so proud of your achievements that we feared our interference could ruin your future.
If you want to blame someone, blame me."
Seeing his father despair and his sister crying was too much for Lith.
Even grief-stricken, he knew that Raaz was right.
They had never asked anything of him aside from being a happy and healthy child.
It had been his decision to go hunting, just as it had been his decision to protect his family on his own.
He knew the risks and had chosen to ignore them time and time again.
Until Protector's death, his magic had made him overconfident.
There was no one to blame but himself.
Lith suddenly felt like a child throwing a tantrum.
His rage disappeared and with it the strength he had left.
His head collapsed on the cushions with his eyes closed again.
"You are right, sorry." Was the only thing that he managed to say.
Raaz recovered quickly, poking him again.
"Don't you dare start blaming yourself, young man." Raaz held his hand, letting Lith notice for the first time how shriveled it was.
"It's not your fault if Protector died.
From what you told me, he was a brave and smart beast.
He wasn't your toy or your puppet.
No one forced him to do anything.
He knew the risks and he decided to help your academy anyway because he cared for you.
He sacrificed himself to let you and all the other kids survive.
If there is someone whining in hindsight here, it's you.
Lith, you have every right to cry and mourn, but don't try to inflict pain on those close to you just to relieve your frustration."
Lith felt deeply ashamed of his outburst.
Taking it out on Tista and exposing his shared past with Protector had been childish.
Yet, he felt better for it.
Now he wasn't the only one who knew of Protector's gentle soul and valor.
The last few days had helped Quylla to sort out her feelings.
Unlike Phloria, she found herself too scared to spend so much time together with Lith's family.
His mother and sisters were so beautiful that even the thought of being compared to them made her wish to disappear.
Also, while her heart was gripped by fear for Lith's condition, Quylla couldn't stand to see him in such a poor state.
After he had woken up, things had gotten even worse.
It wasn't only his body that had been hurt, but his spirit too.
Quylla had never seen Lith cry or mope before.
Until that moment she had considered him unshakable, always confident, capable of going against any odds and coming out victorious.
Now he was reduced to a shadow of himself, waiting for his death.
She felt mean and shallow for thinking such things, but she couldn't help herself.
Quylla realized that because of her indecisiveness, their relationship had never become something more than a simple friendship.
Lith had no reason to let her into his life and she had always been too afraid of rejection to approach him.
After Phloria had asked him out, they had grown even more distant.
Quylla knew that her feelings for him were withering by the day.
In a way, she felt relieved.
She and Phloria were sisters now, it would be terrible to force the rest of the family to pick a side between the two of them because of what she now understood had always been puppy love.
Yurial wasn't doing well either.
After returning home, he had hoped the joy of his survival would have been sufficient to convince his father to change the plans for his future.
Let's call the marriage with Libea off.
She is indeed a beautiful young woman, but aside from that, we have nothing in common.
She despises commoners, has no interest in magic, and cares more about looking pretty than about the prosperity of our lands.
I can't spend the rest of my life with such a shallow person."
Velan Deirus sighed, he understood his son's situation all too well.
It was the same one he had found himself almost twenty-five years ago.
"Yurial, I know that, after what you have gone through, you feel the need to make changes in your life, but I need you to face reality.
This marriage was arranged over ten years ago.
You gave your approval and renewed your vow before departing.
"To cancel the agreement would mean losing a lot of face for our family.
Who would trust someone that doesn't keep their word on such important matters Not to mention that it would delay our plans for expansion by at least a generation.
"Magic doesn't allow us to perform miracles, we still need men and funds to improve our lands.
Your marriage will open our way in the old system, making everything faster and easier.
Why do you think I married your mother"
Now it was Yurial's turn to sigh.
There was little if no love between his parents.
From the moment he had shown his magical potential, his mother had disappeared from his life.
She had no role in raising Yurial, Velan was the only parent he ever had.
Considering that he had to share his father with Velan's magical research and his duties as a Grand Duke, it didn't amount to much.
That was one of the reasons he had fought so hard to become the heir.
He desperately wanted Velan's recognition and love.
His mother was at least able to manage the finances of the Grand Duchy, but the only reason she cared about magic was to flaunt her husband's skills and achievements in front of the other noble families.
"It's painful to hear it from your father, but remember that once you give the family an heir, you'll be free to have any woman or man that you want.
Just be discreet about it and don't get caught.
Being discovered or having a bastard would be a disgrace to our house."
Despite his young age, he had already had several lovers, but reality was proving to be a cruel mistress.
The only thing he could do to fight the feeling of desperation gushing from his heart was to take a gulp of tranquilizer.
After killing a man during the second exam, Yurial had used several kinds of potions to keep his mind in check and had almost become addicted to them.
It had taken him time and effort to progressively stop taking his medications, but after almost dying twice during the god of death's assaults he couldn't avoid a relapse.
He had yet to find the courage to check Lith's condition in person.
Yurial felt responsible for what had happened to him and didn't know how to face his friend's family.
The Deirus household had done its best to help his savior recover, but when even Manohar had thrown in the towel, saying they could only wait and see, there wasn't much anyone could do.
Also, because Lith was currently living at house Ernas, Yurial could only talk to the girls via the communication amulet.
That left him with nowhere to go and no one to turn to for help.
He was trapped inside his own house, surrounded by servants but without a single friend.
- "Gods, why are you doing this to me I spent my whole life preparing to become the Lord of these lands.
I worked hard every day to make my dream come true, only for it to turn into my worst nightmare.
"I have only two choices in front of me.
I can accept my fate, sacrificing my happiness to build a better future for my family, my subjects, and the Kingdom.
Or I can leave everything behind, throwing away years of planning and study to become a vagrant mage.
"Whatever I decide, life as I know it will be over.
I wish I had been born a commoner.
Maybe I wouldn't have been able to enroll in an academy, but at least my destiny would be in my own hands.
"There are too many lives on the line, dad has no time to find a new heir.
If I fold now, house Deirus will probably disappear the moment my father dies."
Cursing his fate, Yurial took several sips from the potion, until the intoxicating feeling of relaxation wiped away all of his worries.