84 Day Three
“You what?” Lith kept using Invigoration, overloading his body with mana. He had no reason to believe such a change of heart.
“Yeah, sorry. Finding so many mysteries at once overwhelmed me for a second. I will stay true to my word and leave you alone. I don’t know what that thing is, nor what you are, but that’s not reason enough to kill.”
Scarlett noticed that aside from that fleeting second, both the mana cores had gone back to normal, the weak-a*s artifact was back being a ring.
“What do you mean saying you don’t know what I am?” Lith was now more scared than before.
“You may have the appearance of a kid, yet you are not. You are closer to an Abomination, rather than a human being. The opposite stands for your partner. That thing is not a twisted perversion of life, but a living being like I never met before.
My reasoning was based on false assumptions. I almost let my arrogance guide my hand, and for that I apologize.”
The Scorpicore lowered its head, it’s menacing aura and aggressive stance subsided.
“Why did you think my partner is deceiving me?” Lith didn’t know how to react. The only thing he could think of, was to act friendly but remain vigilant.
“Do you know that it’s taking part of your life force?”
“Well, yes. When I found my ring, it was on the verge of death. We have helped each other ever since.”
The pup kept spewing unbelievable truths like they were the most natural thing in the world. Scarlett’s head was spinning. The Scorpicore took pride in its knowledge and wisdom, but none of it helped making sense in that mess.
On the verge of a nervous breakdown, Scarlett decided to perform a last attempt.
It placed the left paw on Lith’s head and the right one on Solus, while activating Aura.
– “Their thoughts cannot lie. If the living artifact attempts to tamper with my readings, I will notice immediately.” – It thought.
“Are you a human or an Abomination?” It asked Lith.
“As far as I know, a human.” Truth.
“Were you filled with rage before finding your partner?”
“I think I was even worse before.” Truth with sincerity on top.
“Do you have any ill will toward the human?” This time Scarlett asked Solus.
“No. I like him very much.”
That answer brought the Scorpicore to the peak of frustration.
“Everything I ever learned is a lie!” It screamed in despair, letting them go.
Unable to hold so much mana any longer, Lith let it disperse. Still in a daze, the Scorpicore had turned its back, preparing to leave.
“Wait! At least explain to me what made you change your mind.”
“The link between you two is not parasitic. That thing is not really sucking out your life force. On the contrary, it allows you to use a bigger flow of mana than you naturally could, preventing the excess energy to damage your body and using it as its nutrition.
Two birds with one stone.
Killing you is also out of question. You did nothing wrong. I have watched your team during these days, you have showed respect toward the forest and its animals. As long as you behave, you are free to live your life as a student.
It is none of my business.”
The Scorpicore took the skies with a single flap of its wings.
– “A good-natured cursed object and an Abomination capable of retaining its self-consciousness. Now I have seen everything.” –
Lith had so many questions left unanswered in a corner of his mind. What was true magic? What was the Awakened agenda? How to contact them?
But the only thing he could think about was the joy of being still alive. He didn’t want to meet the Scorpicore ever again, at least until he was strong enough to hold his ground.
Lith went back to the cave, his body was already starting to experience the aftereffects of the mana overload. Moving as silently as he could, he went into the side cave bathroom, finally losing control of his bladder.
The next day, he needed to use Invigoration just to get back to his previous conditions. Between the physical and psychological stress of the encounter with the Scorpicore, he had barely been able to catch some sleep.
He was in terrible shape, and so were his companions. Magic could heal all wounds, but there was only one way to recover their stamina without rest. The healer had to share his life force with darkness magic, but Lith was the most tired of them.
While consuming breakfast, eating the herbs and fruits left from the previous day, Lith made his pitch.
“Guys, why don’t we just give up?” Everyone at the table was surprised, but no one seemed outraged at the idea.
“I mean, look at me. I’m a healer, yet I fought in the line of fire from the first day. I already used every trick in my book, if those beasts come back today, I doubt we have a chance to make it.
We were sent here to learn, and damn if we learned more than a thing or two. Now we are physically exhausted and mentally tired. If this was a battlefield, I’d say that is better to retreat to fight another day, rather than fight a losing battle.”
With deep eyes and aching bodies from two days sleeping on the ground, the proposal sounded quite alluring.
“As much as it pains me, I can’t accept.” Phloria spoke first. “If this was a battlefield, you would be right not once, but a hundred times. But this is just an exercise, and we have a lot to learn, even from defeat.”
Lith nodded, he could not refute her reasoning.
“Yeah.” Belia chimed in. “I understand your point, you are a skilled hunter, and was able to stand your ground from the first day. But yesterday was my first true battle, I can’t give up after achieving so little. It would fill me with too much regret.”
“My thoughts exactly.” Said Visen with a fierce look. “I can understand the burden on your shoulders, but this is too important to quit like that. If you don’t think you can cover for me, then don’t. I need to learn how to fend for myself.
I refuse to be a burden to the group.”
– “Fantastic.” Lith thought. “The group of rascals had to grow up a spine at the worst moment possible. I am beyond exhausted. All I want is a hot bath and get finally free from big brother’s eye.” –
“Don’t worry, Lith.” Phloria patted his back. “I know that between the potions, the fighting and the healing, your body must be screaming in pain. I’ll do my best to make your job as easy as possible.”
Lith smiled, inwardly cursing his bad luck.
– “Yeah, and by tonight I’ll be p*oping diamonds.” – He inwardly added.
Once again, their day started by hunting, away from the Clackers’ nest. They managed to gather meat and fruits, but remained on their toes the whole time. Phloria was having second thoughts about her earlier decision.
Lith was the only one that could use potions, and her first plan heavily relied on that to establish their tempo and not leave Visen open. His spells could turn tables, but required a lot of time to prepare, being their magnitude and area of effect that big.
But after going all-out three times in two days, she could see how worn out Lith was. His hands kept trembling, his pace was unsteady. Knowing potions’ side effects, she thought they were the cause of his lack of vigour.
Instead, he was still suffering from the shock of the previous night. Being in a life or death situation was something he was used to. Being discovered as not being a kid, but rather an Abomination, had given him a real scare.
Was the Scorpicore right about him? And what about Solus’ origins? Lith only wanted some peace and quiet to calm his nerves, yet he was forced to use Life Vision, alternating it with Solus’ mana sense to not waste too much energy.
Both their abilities required focus and mana to be kept active, especially for Solus, with her weak mana core and poor mana capacity. Yet they had to do it, knowing that it was only a matter of time before the next attack.
For that day, Phloria was paired with Lith and Belia with Visen.
“Incoming!” Lith yelled, prompting his teammates to assume battle formation. There had been no warning this time, everyone was astonished by Lith’s keen senses and sharp instinct.
Phloria and Belia managed to conjure their equipment, but this time the magical beasts were going all out. Infused with air magic, M’Rook and Sentar moved faster than ever before, blitzing between their rank and forcing them on the defence.
Phloria’s team could follow them with their eyes, but sadly their bodies were not able to keep up. Without potions and so little experience fighting on the forest ground, their only hope was to activate the flight spell from their rings.
That relieved part of the pressure from M’Rook, but made Sentar even more dangerous. The Cron was able to move faster than an arrow, now that they hadn’t the cover or rocks and trees anymore, striking with spells and talons.
In a few seconds, their rhythm was destroyed, and Termyn’s arrival, sealed the deal.
This time the Cingy didn’t charge at all, instead chose to move silently, making the ground soft as a carpet. Using its partners distraction, he waited for an opportunity to make its move.
As soon as the students’ formation loosened up, he struck at their weak spot, Visen, knocking him out with a single hit of its tusks. Lith yelled to warn his teammates, but everyone was already locked in battle.
A Professor appeared rescuing Visen, and from that point it all spiralled out of control. In the academy’s environment, Lith could barely exert half of his real power, and now that amount was halved again.
His body was devoid of strength, his mind out of focus, still replaying the conversation with Scarlett. But most of all, he lacked motivation.
He was sick and tired of pulling most of the weight of the team by himself.
– “It’s my fault, I made everything too easy for them for too long. I attack, defend, heal, provide the meals, hunt and cook! At this point, they could as well shove a broom up my a*s, so that I can wipe the floor for them when walking.
If they want some experience, fine by me. But I’m done baby-sitting!” –
Lith was lost when a lightning left him temporarily stunned, allowing Sentar to strike his back. Termyn and M’Rook teamed up, taking apart Belia’s armour like a tuna can, while Sentar kept Phloria busy.
M’Rook managed to bite her exposed neck, but stopped its fangs before doing any damage. After that, the three magical beasts disappeared as fast as they had come. The exercise was over.
Being the last one standing, Phloria was filled with regret and frustration. There were so many things that she had overlooked, too many mistakes she could have avoided with a more proper planning.
She finally realized her arrogance, always relying on Lith’s apparently infinite tricks to keep the group afloat whenever something outside her plans happened. She should have given it more thought and less wishful thinking.
By putting so much burden on a single unit, any group was bound to crumble as soon as the key member was unable to keep up. When Professor Thorman appeared to take her back at the White Griffon, Phloria was still looking back at those last three days in hindsight.
They had made so many mistakes, her plans were actually so full of holes, that she couldn’t believe they had managed to last for that long.