With three out of four parasites wiped out, the camp had been further divided into three blocks instead of two. The third new one was for those that had been cured, to make it easier to check on their conditions in case the treatments had short term side effects.
The second block now consisted only by a few tents, allowing the security to be further increased, since the second one was low maintenance. The survivors were in high spirits, finally free to get out of their beds, pain was no longer a big part of their days.
After Garith’s death, Lith was urgently summoned in Varegrave’s tent. Based on what Kilian had told him, Garith was one of Kandria’s great powers. Killing him like that, in front of witnesses after a small provocation, could have been a mistake.
But it was one Lith would be happy to repeat, if necessity arose. He had never liked Garith Senti, and the fact that he had been willing to assault the only one that could cure him, was a testament of how dangerous he was.
Lith had never left an enemy alive, it would mean to give him the possibility to bite his back. Thanks to his mask and uniform, only two people in the whole camp knew his identity.
Even if the guards took a bribe and told Kandria’s mercenary guild what had happened to their leader, they wouldn’t know where to look. The only problem was Varegrave, being a sucker for rules, he probably wanted to reprimand him.
Lith wasn’t worried, though, he was playing a much bigger role in the crisis than everyone would have expected, even him. If push came to the shove, he could simply ask to add a full pardon to his reward.
The Kingdom owned him, and he wouldn’t let his services come cheap.
Reality, though, was different.
“Lith, thank the gods you are all right!” The Colonel was so eager to check his health, to not even wait for Lith to remove mask and gloves.
“I’m really sorry for what happened. Those soldiers are supposed to be elite, yet reacted too slowly. I’ll make sure they will be heavily reprimanded, and their lack of judgment noted on their personal file.”
After making sure Lith hadn’t as much as a scratch, Varegrave went back to his chair, sighing with relief.
“There is no need for that, it is all my fault.” Lith replied.
“I should have anticipated his reaction, given his character and the nature of the news I had to inform him. He had always behaved properly before, so we all lowered our guard. The soldiers simply followed my instructions, leaving me space to freely move when I’m around my patients.”
“I really appreciate your understanding.” Varegrave nodded.
“But you are a healer, and you are doing your job magnificently, so such a slip up is understandable on your side (?). The men I assigned to your detail, instead, are professionals, their only job was to ensure your safety, and they failed.
Even if they got accustomed to the routine, even if given the most boring task, they should always be on their toes. They need to be disciplined, next time, they couldn’t be so lucky. If anything happened, I would have demanded their heads, as the Crown mine.”
Varegrave glanced to Kilian for a second, with a mix of scolding and worry. Given the Queen’s fiery nature, his old friend’s live could be endangered as well. If the guards were at fault, Kilian’s situation was even worse, being their supervisor.
“Will there be consequences for me killing a guild master?” Lith was a bit baffled by Varegrave care.
“Heavens, no. Attacking a military officer in a zone under martial law alone is a crime punished with the capital punishment. Considering your role, he had it too easy. We would have tortured him before the execution for a few hours, minimum.”
“Then what was the urgency for this meeting?”
“The Crown wants to personally hear your report.”
Varegrave stood up, setting the blue communication gemstone above his desk, before stepping away and kneeling, promptly followed by both Lith and Kilian.
The gemstone activated shortly afterwards, projecting again the image of the throne hall. This time, only the King and the Queen were present.
“Please, tell me you have good news, Mage Lith.” It was worded as a request, but King Meron’s voice was stern, making it sound as an order.
“I do. Aside from the last parasite, the situation is resolved with minimum losses. I am confident to have devised a treatment that will take care of that too. It’s already in final testing phase.
Once I’m sure there are no side effects, it can be passed to Professor Marth for him to assemble it in a single spell. I’m sorry it’s taking so long, but my capabilities are limited, and I need time to double check every step.”
Lith lied. He had devised two possible cures since the day he first visited Lady Zeir, the only reason he had not wrapped up everything and went back to the academy was to make sure that Solus’ worries didn’t come true.
“You have nothing to apologize for.” Queen Sylpha intervened.
“Barely two weeks have passed since your arrival, yet it was enough for you to turn the Crown’s predicament from desperate to manageable (?).
You have identified the source of the plague, helped in devising the cure for three out of four parasites, and now you are going to provide the cure for the most dangerous one all by yourself. The Crown and the Kingdom are greatly indebted to you.”
“You are overestimating my contributions, your Majesty.” Lith lied again.
“The cures are mostly Professor Marth’s doing. I gave him the idea for the first, and then I deconstructed and modified his cure to make it fit the mana blocking parasite.”
“See, my King? Humble and efficient. I wish we had more subjects like him.” Sylpha’s tone was cheerful, but when her eyes met Varegrave and Kilian they were cold like steel, blaming them for their incompetence.
Kilian swallowed a lump, of saliva. The Queen clearly knew about the accident, and wasn’t willing to let it slide.
“We have yet to discuss your reward, Mage Lith. Do you have anything in mind?”
“Yes. I’d like two thousand gold coins (?).” It was a sum big enough to raise his family status to the middle class, leaving him enough to buy all he needed for his future lab equipment and something to spare.
“That’s it?” The King was surprised. “Wouldn’t you prefer a noble title? We could easily make you a Count. Between the lands and the annuities, you would earn much more.”
“May I speak freely?” King Meron nodded to his request.
“With what is going on in the Kingdom at the moment, with the old nobles fighting the new ones, it would be like painting a target on my chest. I already have enemies inside and outside the academy, and I don’t wish for more.
Also, it would mean responsibilities that as a twelve years old I cannot shoulder.
My whole family would have to relocate in a new County, were they would not be well received. They are farmers, your Majesty, I’m sure they’ll enjoy a quiet and slow life much more than social events and dabbling in nobility.
I myself am still too young to already set my future in stone. I don’t know what I want to be or do, accepting a title would shut more doors than it would open. Money, instead, is always useful, and I can use them to keep increasing my family’s living standards like I have always done, little by little.
Not to mention that receiving a title now, would make my involvement in the plague too obvious. Even if it was deferred, it would rise too many questions.”
– “And more importantly, if I get a title, I would be forced to swore my allegiance to the Crown, giving you the right to constantly meddle into my life. Thanks, but no thanks.” –
“That’s too little.” The Queen blurted it out.
“Are you sure there’s nothing we can do for you?”
“At the moment, no. But if Your Highness feels so grateful, I would be relieved from knowing that in case necessity arose, I can ask for your support. We live in dangerous times, there’s no telling when I could need help.”
“Agreed.” The royals said as one.
– “I really hoped to rope him in with a fancy title, but an ‘I owe you’ it’s the next best thing. If he ever needs our assistance, we can push things to make him feel indebted, creating a cycle he would not want to escape from.” – King Meron thought.
“You are free to go, Mage Lith. Colonel, Captain. We have much to discuss yet.” The kindness in the Queen’s voice died as soon as she averted her gaze from Lith, who promptly left.
The curtain closed behind him, leaving the tent sealed from the external world.
“Your Majesty, I know that during yesterday’s events I have failed you.” Kilian said. “But maybe it was actually a blessing in disguise. There’s something about Lith that I would have never discovered otherwise.”
– “Did you notice that while confronting Garith you used water and dark magic?” Solus asked.
“No. Really? How?”
“My idea is that Small World isn’t the work of a true mage. It doesn’t really block the mana flow, only makes it heavier. It’s like you wore weights all this time, like in those martial arts comics, and now you are used to them.”
“Did I power up because of it?” He asked enthusiastically.
“You wish!” She giggled. “It’s just that now you can use a bit of magic, and I can change form again.” –
Sighing in disappointment, Lith entered his new tent. Since the second block had been partially dismantled a lot of bigger tents had become available, and he had received a much bigger one as living quarters.
He had to change into his plague doctor uniform and wait for Kilian, before going to treat Nindra. If everything kept going like he expected, it was only a matter of a couple days before he could go back to the academy.
As soon as he stepped in, a cold sharp blade was pressed against his throat.
Three masked figures dressed like soldiers, two women and a man, were waiting for him, their weapons unsheathed and ready to strike.
“Lith from Lutia, you have much explaining to do.”
Solus immediately recognized the mana coming out of their tattoos and weapons. They were once again in the presence of the talons.