At those words the man steeled his resolve, recovering the courage worthy of a soldier that had looked death in the eyes many times on the battlefield.
When Lith allowed him to speak, he wasn't afraid anymore.
"I am knight, my honour lies with my Lord! I will never betray his trust, you filthy mongrel!"
"Oh my, you're so helpful! Thanks to your friend there, I already knew there is a Lord behind the ambush. But I thought you were just mercenaries. Are you telling me you are actual knights? Maybe his personal guard?"
Realizing his mistake, the knight bit his tongue, literally, trying to die before letting anything else slip out his mouth.
"Tsk, tsk! Not so fast!"
Lith froze him in place again, forcing the teeth away from the tongue before healing it with light magic.
"You are way dumber than you look." Lith never stopped smiling, talking to him with the calm a collected manner a mother would use with a small child.
"I'll spell it out for you. Not even death can save you from me. I can take you apart, piece by piece, and then put you back together, like the flesh puppet you are."
Lith's eyes lost any trace of humanity, his voice exuded only hatred and rage.
"But if it's pain that you want, I can give you plenty."
Lith clenched his fist, and suddenly the knight felt his nether regions squeezed and crushed, like into a vise. The knight's eyes filled with tears, his mouth was only able to emit gargling sounds.
Lith would release the grip from time to time, giving him some rest, before twisting and turning his hand and so the knight's gonads.
"Are you ready to talk?" The knight was still in so much pain he could barely understand his words.
"No? Not a problem, I just wanted to test my new and improved Plague Arrow."
After a bolt of darkness hit the knight in the chest, Lith released him from the Puppet Master grip, letting him sprawl on the ground.
Before the knight could start looking for his weapon, he found himself shivering in cold, while his teeth were rattling uncontrollably.
He ended curling up, hugging himself trying to find some precious warmth.
Suddenly the cold was gone, the knight started sweating bullets. He felt terribly hot, like when he had been forced to stay on guard for hours under the scorching summer sun.
He felt suffocating, so he tore away his shirt, gasping for air. The knight's throat was so parched that he started gulping down handfuls of snow, thanking the gods for its fresh relief.
Then it was like his blood had started flowing in reverse, all his body was coursing with pain. The whole world had become the knight's enemy. The ground hurt his skin, the snow his throat, the light his eyes. There was no safe position he could find, he could only switch from one torture to another.
The knight's veins were full of poison, his own saliva tasted like acid. The knight started to puke uncontrollably, until nothing but bile remained inside his intestines.
"And ten! Ready to talk now?" Lith dispelled the Plague Arrow using light magic.
"Please, no more. No more! If you waste any more hours you'll play right into their hands!" The knight was barely alive, but at least had a sliver of hope. By enduring all that torture he now had a bargain chip.
"Hours?" Lith laughed.
"I killed your soldiers in what, three minutes? Barely another minute has passed since you told me about your knighthood. Even rounding that up, it make five minutes at worst. What hours are you talking about?"
The knight was shocked, that couldn't be right. He looked at the sun, searching for a proof to expose that cruel lie.
But the sun was still raising over the horizon.
"Gods have mercy, how can all that pain and misery last a minute? It seemed hours long."
"You really are stupid." Lith paralyzed him again. "It's a minute from the moment you tried to bit your tongue off. The Plague Arrow lasted barely ten seconds. Didn't you hear me counting out loud?"
"It seems that the Plague Arrow distorted his sense of time." Solus was studying the specimen's body reaction to the new spell. "His lack of mana must have allowed the dark energy to reach his brain, altering his perceptions."
Lith was on cloud nine, it was all too perfect.
"I'll ask you only a second time. Are you ready to talk?"
The knight's mind broke down, forgetting all about his vows and his honour. All he wanted was the pain to stop. Even death seemed alluring in comparison.
So, he told Lith everything. About how after being humiliated during the spring festival, Ricker Trahan had reconsidered Nana's worth.
He had understood how lacking his preparation was, and had become determined on becoming her only apprentice.
After taking the matter to his father, Baronet Trahan had explained to his stupid son the enormity of his mistake. Nana held a huge grudge against nobles, and since they had started off in the worst possible way, begging or bribing her would be useless.
The only option available was to remove the competitor out of the picture, hoping that Nana would be willing to replace one pupil with another more reliable.
The reason why they ambushed Lith was the same that prevented Baronet Trahan from coercing Nana to do his bidding. He could not afford to make her angry, otherwise the whole Trahan household would be wiped out.
Despite Nana's fallen status in the mage association had stripped her of most of her privileges and authority, she was still a member nonetheless.
In the County of Lustria she held an authority equal if not superior to that of Count Lark himself, and that meant that she was free to execute lesser nobles like them on a whim.
Nana would not even need to justify herself for such an action, just explain her reasons to the association by writing a letter. A mere formality.
That was why Baronet Trahan had sent his personal guard on an undercover mission. He had stressed countless times the importance of not creating a fuss.
Nana should never come to suspect anything.
Their orders were to make Lith drop off from his apprenticeship by intimidating and threatening him. If none of the above worked, their job was to make him disappear without leaving any trace.
"During the spring festival, Nana told me that powerful magicians are like nobles, but I never expected that she actually was such terrifying existence. Seems like my choice of becoming a mage has much more ramifications that I imagined.
Status of a noble, even a frigging mage association! All this stuff is giving me a headache. Now, what to do with this dirtbag?"
It was a rhetorical question, but Solus replied anyway.
"Disposing of the bodies would backfire on us. If we want to make this Baronet pay, we need the bodies and some proof that links him to the ambush."
Lith mind nodded. "My same thought exactly."
"Last question. Where are the leather jackets with the Trahan family crest?"
"W-we left them at home. We could not allow anyone to notice us, it would mean implicating the Baronet."
The knight was terrified. Lith's eyes were turning black, glowing with dark energy.
"Wait! The whistles! We brought along the silver hunting whistles the Baronet gifted us when we swore our allegiance to him! They bear his family crest too!"
"Thanks, a deal is a deal." Lith double tapped the knight's head with ice arrows, killing him painlessly.
He then collected all the whistles from the dead bodies, taking care of erasing the traces of his spirit magic.
"Those twisted necks and imploded head could rise too much questions. Let's cover our traces. I simply need to cut off the former and freeze the latter."
After that, Lith used air fusion to rush toward the village. Being forced to wake up Nana was now the last of his worries, he wanted revenge.
Air fusion allowed him to reach a speed of 60 km/h (37mph), so he arrived in less than two minutes, but once at the village's outskirts he had to cancel the spell.
"I can't allow anyone to see the fastest kid alive. Damn, I want those books so bad! I need to know if spirit and fusion magic are of public knowledge or still unknown. I can't risk exposing my aces in the hole unless is a matter of life and death."
Lith kept running until he could spot Nana's house on the distance, and when he saw a luxurious stagecoach right in front of her door, he pushed the pedal to the metal.
"Lady Nerea, I beg of you, be reasonable. Consider the bigger picture!"
Lith could not hear from that distance, and even if he could, he was too focused closing in to pay attention. Solus had no such problems. In the last year she had not acquired new abilities, but her senses had become much keener.
"A farm boy has so many things to take care of. Magic is a strict mistress that demands time and resources, all things that my dear son can provide aplenty."
"I'm sorry, dear Baronet." Nana's voice was polite but devoid of any warmth. Her hands were clutching so hard on her cane to turn white.
"A magician word is her bond. I'll wait for Lith all day, if necessary. And in my opinion raw talent and a sincere disposition are much more important foundations for a magician.
Things that your son is clearly lacking. Or do we want to pretend that his rude words and acts during the spring festival never happened? I may be old, but my memory has yet to fail me."
Ricker Trahan was pale as a ghost. So far, his father's plan didn't seem to work. They had spent the last half hour in a one-sided negotiation.
If everything failed, he knew that his father would skin him alive in case he didn't manage to enrol in the Lightning Griffon academy.
Baronet Trahan had invested countless resources to give his son all the books and teachers he could afford.
The idea of all that money and efforts, wasted because of Ricker's arrogant ignorance while dealing with the best magician in the County, was enough for the Baronet to disown Ricker.
"Ah ah ah! Now let's not be so hasty, Lady Nerea. It's normal making mistakes when we are young. The important is to learn from them and never repeat them.
I know that Ricker has quite a temper, and I apologize for his behaviour. I can assure you he is terribly sorry for what he did"
Ricker had never felt so humiliated. They kept talking about him like he was not there.
"Also please, consider that punctuality and reliability are very important when walking the path of magic. Yet I do not see this Lith anywhere near, while my son is right here.
Don't you think that maybe a farm boy cannot understand the privilege you are granting him? Life in the wilds is very hard on the youths, I honestly fear his parents had not the opportunity or the time to impart him a proper education.
I can understand your position, you gave him your word and knew him for so long. But I can't stand the idea of such an opportunity wasted on someone that cannot give you the respect you deserve.
Also, I can guarantee you that if you take Ricker as your disciple, I will reward you handsomely. Not to mention that in case he got admitted to the Lightning Griffon Academy, we will never forget your help and generosity.
I am ready to commit as of now that if my son reaches the greatness he deserves, he will do anything in his power to clear your name. What do you say?"
"I would like to say many things, but it doesn't seem to be necessary. The reason why you don't see him is because you are looking in the wrong direction. Lith is the panting little imp right behind you."