A Coward\'s End! The classroom exploded with exclamations of shock and outrage.
Everyone knew what it was, but no one had actually used it in years, to the point it was considered just a myth.
How despicable! The leader of the pack was desperately trying to search for a way out, this was the first time she had her back against a wall.
You made me say those things, I just fell into your trap, it\'s all your fault!
Lith laughed his a*s off.
Seriously That\'s your excuse \'He made me do it\' You did it all by yourself, and everything that happened since I walked in the classroom has been recorded.
I doubt anyone would find an image of me begging to get my a*s kicked.
She had realized the idiocy of her plan the moment she said it out loud, so she decided for a subtler approach.
Look, I get it.
We started with the wrong foot, but we can still fix everything.
But of course! I can report everything to the Headmaster or use the Ballot for summoning help, either way you\'ll permanently be out of my hair forever.
The girl turned as pale as a ghost, but refused to back down.
Don\'t you have any shame Incapable of doing anything on your own, hiding behind a crutch made for cripples and weaklings It\'s no surprise that you commoners can\'t get any respect in here, you do not deserve it!
Lith laughed even harder.
Playing the pride card Maybe if I was a five-year-old, it could even work.
But you know what It\'s rich hearing a speech about shame and incapacity from you.
The pot calling the kettle black.
You are three years older than me, and together with your friends gang up against one.
To make things worse, the only reason you did it was to torment someone you consider an inferior being, just because you think that you are untouchable.
You can call me a coward for using a Ballot, but then what\'s your excuse You are nothing but three pathetic little girls, used to hide behind their parents, that cower in fear when they have to face the consequences of their foolish actions.
It\'s not being brave or strong, when the only reason you are so cocky is because of your family name.
If you really think what you are doing is right, you should attack me, Ballot or not Ballot, uncaring of the consequences.
After all, the Headmaster is just a puppet, your words.
If the White Griffon is really in your hands, what do you have to fear But if you do not make a move, is because you know that you are wrong, and that you are just a hypocrite!
She wanted to kill that little bastard, shove all his words down his throat, but she could not, and neither could her friends.
They were already at risk of being expelled, the only option remaining was damage control.
The Headmaster had issued a zero-tolerance policy against bullying, and everyone in the Court knew that there was the hand of the Queen pulling his strings.
Her father, Duke Hertia, had been crystal clear with her.
Do whatever you want, I\'ll cover for you as long as you don\'t get caught red handed.
I don\'t give a sh*t about commoners\' or small nobles\' lives, but I worked too hard to lose everything for such a petty reason.
If you are so incompetent to leave proofs, our family will be put under scrutiny, our assets frozen during all the investigation.
I\'d rather threw you to the wolves, than putting the family name at risk.
I can always have another daughter, after all.
It\'s only my Dukedom that\'s irreplaceable.
Too many mages had defected the Griffon Kingdom after graduating from the academies, trading all the secrets they had learned in exchange for the promise of revenge and riches.
The system had proven to be corrupt decades ago, but now it was crumbling under its own weight, snowballing out of control faster and faster.
Despite the noble families and magicians\' bloodlines had always opposed to the changes, after losing two Magus level mages due to the unfair treatment they had received, both the Queen and the Mage Association were out for blood.
During the past year, Duke Moniar\'s son had been proven guilty of causing a brilliant young mage to move to the Gorgon Empire, where he revealed to possess an outstanding talent.
The Duke had defended his son\'s action until the verdict, and ended up serving the same sentence.
The Queen had stripped him of his title and all of his possessions, passing them to the next of kin.
He took his life the day after, incapable of accepting the loss.
The standstill between Lith and the girls lasted until Professor Trasque entered into the room.
Lith walked up to him, the Ballot still in hand.
- Please, don\'t be a jerk.
My day has barely started but there still plenty of time for going from the frying pan to the fire.
Please, don\'t be a jerk! He wished as strong as he could.
When Lith regained his cool, he noticed that Professor Trasque was fairly young.
He was pretty handsome, around thirty years old, one meter and eighty-two centimetres (6\') high and with the build of an athlete.
His dark brown hair had a military cut, yet he had a stubble, no robe and the sleeves of his shirt were rolled up to the elbows, revealing his muscular arms.
- Seems more an adventurer than an academic.
Either way, judging from his age, he should be one of the professors the Headmaster handpicked.
I need some frigging luck! He thought.
Lith bowed deeply to him before speaking.
Professor Trasque, please I need to report to the Headmaster.
My name is Lith from Lustria and…
An odd light shone in Trasque\'s eyes at those words.
The sassy kid! I knew I recognized your face from somewhere.
Man, did you really manage to get into trouble even before the first period This academy is way sh*ttier than I thought.
Who\'s the jacka*s this time
Still dazed from the professor\'s mettle, Lith managed to point at the three girls.
I have no idea who they are.
It\'s my first year too, you know.
But I\'m sure that with the coward\'s… I mean the Ballot, we\'ll solve everything in a jiffy.
Go get them, tiger.
I\'ll wait for your return before starting the lesson.
After almost drowning Lith with his words, the chatterbox stamped his left foot, opening a Warp Steps straight to the Headmaster\'s office.
As soon as Lith crossed the threshold, it closed behind him.
Lith greeted him with a small bow, too depressed to keep up with etiquette, handing him the Guilt Ballot without saying a word.
Already Linjos was even more shocked than Lith.
I don\'t know the range of this thing, but they called it \'a proper welcome\'.
So much for a safe environment.
Linjos took the Ballot, placing it on a small tripod.
It projected a 3D hologram of the recording, starting from the moment Lith had taken it out from the cuffs.
Contrary to Lith\'s expectations, even that phrase was perfectly audible by adjusting the audio settings.
When it ended, Linjos was hiding his face between his hands, full of shame and embarrassment.
I\'m so sorry, I had no idea the situation is so dire.
A Headmaster that has no knowledge or control of his own academy, I must look like a fool in your eyes.
- That\'s quite an understatement. Lith thought, but since his entire academic career rested on Linjos\' shoulders, he decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Headmaster, I don\'t mean to be rude, really, but that was the daughter of a Duke.
Right now, what really concerns me is what will happen to her, to me, and more importantly, what can you do to guarantee my family\'s safety.
Lith was seriously worried about the consequences of that clash, but he couldn\'t back down again and again out of fear.
Even forgemastering wasn\'t worth having his self-esteem and body broken every time some rich kid wanted to have fun at his expenses.
Linjos didn\'t fail to notice how depressed and downcast Lith was, and that hurt even more than just his pride.
He had failed another of his precious students.
Don\'t worry about it.
The three of them will be punished according to the rules.
As I said to you the day we met, I don\'t do favouritism.
You are the victim, nothing will happen to you.
And your family is safe, as a student, every single one of them is under the protection of the Mage Association, not even a Duke would dare defying their will.
Yeah, right. Lith scoffed.
Like I should have been safe here, nobles shouldn\'t abuse their status, and so on.
Again, I mean no disrespect, Headmaster, but reality doesn\'t give a damn about \'should\' and \'could\'.
People do things simply because they can, especially when they know they will go unpunished.
What do you think would have happened if I didn\'t have the Ballot You would probably be scraping off the floor my remains with a spoon.
Officially, my only backer is Count Lark, and to make things worse, a Duke is a title even higher than a Marchioness.
I don\'t think Duke Hestia would be much impressed by a piece of paper that says \'Please don\'t.
Be a good man\'.
At those words, Linjos had a dazed expression, then he shook his head and took a deep breath.
I\'m sorry, Lith, I forgot you know nothing about these matters.
After all you are just…
- Is he really going to add insult to the injury Lith thought.
Yet Linjos stopped in time, managing to correct himself by the skin of his teeth.
…unfamiliar of how seriously this kind of things are considered.
You see, every magician, but especially the students that have yet to reveal their true potential, are all considered as properties of the Crown.
That\'s why all the academies\' uniforms are so flashy to the point of being almost tacky.
It\'s a warning, just like for poisonous animals.
Harming one of you, or using your families as a bargain chip, is considered an act of treason against the Kingdom.
Treason is the worst crime anyone could commit, is the equivalent of harming the King himself, and is punished by torturing and killing not only the responsible, but also his bloodline until the third generation, with no exceptions.
It\'s an open secret in the Court, that once one gets admitted to an academy, a full team of royal spies watch his/her loved ones 24/7.
That serves the purpose of protecting them from internal and external enemies.
Without such precautions, envoys of the Gorgon Empire or any other powerful influence, could coerce our students in betraying their country.
No one would be so stupid to leave a gold mine unprotected.
As much as it saddens me to say it, in all the academies\' history, the successful attempts can be counted on one hand.
The real problem is what happens within the academy walls.
- Records can be forged, and spies can get bribed. Lith thought.
Are you sure is not better for me to drop off the academy and take private lessons Power and prestige are meaningless to me if I have to one to return to…
Over my dead body! The Headmaster jumped up from his chair, it was the first time for Lith seeing him angry.
I didn\'t tell you earlier to not put pressure on you, but our labs have finished analysing the poison you extracted.
When they knew that you also applied for a Master healer specialization, well, let\'s just say that the Light department has the butterflies in the stomach at the idea of having you among their ranks.
You have already been marked as an A rank student.
As such, your family\'s security detail is composed only by members of the Queen personal units.
Would you like me to tighten the security even more
Yes, please. The Headmaster left the room to give the proper instructions, and Lith used that opportunity to contact the Marchioness, explaining her the situation and asking for help.
Duke Hertia, I know him well. She said.
He\'s a venomous snake, but he is very greedy.
He would rather exterminate his whole family rather than losing an inch of authority or prestige.
If Linjos said he will take care of it, you can believe him.
I made a full background check on him, he is really the good guy he seems.
Do you still have your extraordinary authority Lith asked.
If it was your family, what would you do
Everything I can, I get it.
I\'ll make sure the Association does his job properly, and put some extra guards in Lutia.
If anything happens, I\'ll make you know.
After thanking her profusely, Lith interrupted the communication.
- A rank, uh So far so good. Lith thought, but he felt no joy for his achievement.
I put myself in this golden cage, it\'s time to put its bars to the test.
I don\'t give a sh*t about Dukes, Queens and politics.
If anything befalls my family, I will put everything I have to wipe out the Griffon Kingdom off the maps! -