At those words, father and son turned around just in time to see Lith rush past them, stopping only when he was already in front of Nana.
Now that he was close enough, Nana could notice that Lith's body was covered in cuts and bruises. Some were quite deep, but had been already roughly treated with light magic. They were still bleeding, but Lith's life was in no danger.
"What in the gods name has happened to you? As far as I know the roads to the village are safe." Nana did not miss the panic flashing in the expression of the two nobles in front of her.
Lith was still bent downward, hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath.
"Was it really necessary inflicting yourself all those wounds before coming here?" Solus asked, still worried about Lith.
"No pain, no gain." Lith responded telepathically. "Coming unscathed out of a sink or swim fight, alone against five knights, would have been too suspicious. These wounds serve two purposes.
First to make Nana angry enough to do what must be done. Second and most important, to avoid any further investigation. If there's anything this mess proved, is that too much attention is bad. The higher I get, the more dangers I will have to face.
Right now, I have no backer. All that stands between my family and the Baronet is Nana. I can't protect them at all the times. It was a stroke of luck that they had to target me.
In the future I must be careful of not crossing the wrong people, at least until I get enough power or backing. I don't care about magic or wealth if I don't have anyone to share them with. No one will ever be taken away from me. Never!"
The whole conversation with Solus lasted barely for a second.
Still panting and wheezing, Lith told her about the ambush.
"When I was coming here, five horsemen tried to coerce me into giving up on my magic schooling. When I refused to submit, they tried to kill me! Thank the gods I managed to kill their leader before they got too close.
With him dead, their formation went in disarray and I managed to kill them before they killed me." Lith sniffled, covering his eyes with a hand, pretending to be fighting back tears.
"Gods, I don't know I managed to do it. It's all a blur."
Nana performed skilfully a series of hand signs before saying "Vinire Lakhat!"
A warm sphere of light magic enveloped Lith's body, healing all his injuries.
"That's enough, Lith. I can easily imagine the rest." Nana caressed his head, trying to comfort him.
"You did your best to treat your wounds, before rushing here to warn me against this scum noble." She raised her cane, pointing it toward the Baronet's face with an intimidating manner.
"Please, Lady Nerea, don't rush to judgement, I…"
"Enough with your fake sycophancy!" Nana was bursting with rage.
"Do you want me to believe that all your talk about respect and punctuality and the attack on the boy's life happening today, at the same moment, is just a sheer coincidence? How stupid do you think I am?"
Baronet Trahan knelt down, his hands on the floor in submission.
"Please, Lady Nerea, believe in my good faith. I know nothing about it. The kid is still scared and traumatized, maybe his memory about the assault is confused. Also, he doesn't have any proof. Don't take hasty decisions before considering all the facts."
The sight of his father, kneeling to a commoner, shocked Ricker deeply. Yet he kept enough of his cool to remember what was ta stake, so he kneeled too, begging for mercy.
"Good faith my wrinkly a*s! I have met enough nobles to understand how your kind thinks, and how cheaply you value a commoner's life. I think…"
Nana stopped talking, Lith was tugging her arm repeatedly. She knew he was smart enough to understand that she was fighting for him. For interrupting her like that, Lith must have had excellent reasons.
He was showing her five silver whistles, one of which had burnt marks. Nana took one and started examining it.
She barely needed a second to recognize the Trahan family crest engraved on it's top.
"Well done, Lith." She whispered. "Even in the face of danger, never let your emotions cloud your judgment. That's the way of a true magician."
She was kindly smiling at him, like a grandmother proud of her grandson achievements. Then, always keeping her back at the Trahans, she quickly performed some complex hand signs before whispering "Ekidu Ruha."
Nana's eyes briefly glowed black with dark energy.
Ekidu was root magic word for darkness magic, like Vinire for light magic or Infiro for fire magic.
She was casting a dark spell, Lith couldn't wait to see its effects. At the same time, though, the way she used the spell threw him in confusion.
"Why taking the trouble of performing hands signs and using words? Nana knows silent magic, I've seen her do it already.
Couldn't she just do it silently in front of them? I can't believe she is using a complex spell that requires that much caution just for those weaklings."
Nana turned around, poking father and son both with her cane.
"She has just hit them with her spell." Solus notified Lith. Everything had happened in an instant, without releasing even a magic spark. If it wasn't for Solus' mana sense, Lith would have missed it entirely.
"Enough with this charade. Do you want proof? Is this proof enough?"
She shoved the silver whistle in front of the Baronet's face, that turned red, then white and finally green. He had to use every ounce of self-control he had to stop himself from panic puking.
"Now get out of my sight! If anything ever happens to my apprentice or his family, even if one of them breaks his fingernail, it's you that will pay the price."
The two of them got back on their feet, running toward the stagecoach without saying a word. Lith was both shocked and disappointed by Nana's behaviour.
"So much for her hatred toward nobles. Who would have thought that after everything she went through, she would still be so merciful? F*ck!"
Nana went to the bakery, to talk to the coachman that was eating some pastries while waiting for his master.
"Hey, kid" The man was actually in his mid-twenties, around 1,77 metres (5'6" tall). He had blonde hair and a kind, perfectly shaven face. "What's your name?"
"Andy." He replied while nibbling at a cream puff.
"Andy?" Nana raised an eyebrow. "Gods be my witnesses, it's a really strange name."
"Is actually just a nickname. Better than my real name, though. Many people found Hasa Diga Eebowai too hard to pronounce."
Nana was flabbergasted.
"Anyhow, what do you need me for, Lady Nana?"
"You seem a nice man, so here is a friendly advice. Bring your master back home as fast as you can, then find yourself a new job." She winked.
Andy dropped the cream puff like it was hot, deeply bowing to Nana before running to the stagecoach.
Nana returned to her house, opening the door to let Lith go inside.
"And now what?" He was barely repressing his disappointment. "Do we wait for their next move?"
Nana laughed heartily.
"Their next move? They will drop dead before arriving to their pompous home. What do you think that darkness spell was for? I just wanted to avoid making a fuss in front of the whole village."
Lith suddenly felt very stupid.
"Well played! This will teach them a lesson." He could finally sigh with relief.
"Far from it." Nana said with an ice-cold tone. She went into her private quarters, quickly followed by Lith.
Nana's house was really similar to Lith's, but the dining room was smaller, and instead of three bedrooms there was just one. The other two rooms were occupied by a study room and an alchemic lab.
She went in the study room, opening one of the desk's drawers with a key she wore around her neck. Nana then took out a wrapped cloth, revealing a silver amulet.
It had a nut-big gemstone in its center, with arcane glyphs engraved all over.
Lith didn't need Life Vision to know it was a magical item.
"This is a communication amulet. Every member of the mage association gets one. Now give me a minute to do a full report about Baronet Trahan's attempt on my disciple's life.
They hate when some small-time noble messes with us. Before I put this back into the drawer, their whole bloodline will be wiped out. That will teach all those damn nobles a lesson."
Lith deeply bowed to Nana, inwardly apologizing for doubting her character.
"Master, your disciple awaits your command."
The report was indeed brief. Once activated, the amulet generated a small 3D hologram of a middle-aged bald man, sitting behind a clean and orderly desk.
All Nana had to do was to introduce her disciple, say the name of the noble and the mage on the other side had already started giving instructions.
Nana gave nonetheless a short description of the facts, showing the silver whistles as proof. Lith could see from the man's expression that he could not care less about such minor details.
He still took note of everything, even somehow scanning the whistles through the amulet.
After everything was said and done, Nana gave Lith his first assignments.
"Start by reading 'The basics of magic'. Is the book you tried to borrow three years ago." Lith nodded.
"Read it carefully, if there's anything you don't understand, feel free to ask me. In case there is a client, wait for me to finish. If there's no emergency I'll answer you, otherwise you will have to wait.
You can use my study. When you have finished with the basics, I'll give you your first tier one magic book."
Lith ran back in the waiting room, fetching his prize. After sitting behind the desk, with the thick book in front of him, he could not avoid thinking back at all those years spent cramming during college.
He was back being a student, a familiar and reassuring feeling.
Lith pushed emotionalism aside, and opened the book, reading it from the author's foreword.
"My name is Lochra Silverwing. I am known as the wisest sorceress of the Griffon kingdom, and also the only one of my generation to achieve the title of Magus…"
"What the heck is a Magus? Isn't it just a synonym for mage?" Lith paused for a second, taking the mental note to ask about the magicians' hierarchy.
"… I want to dedicate this book to all my female readers, in hope that they can make good use of it and unleash their superior potential.
In a world scourged by wars waged by men, it's of the utmost importance for us women to keep our leading position in the magical field. Let our calm minds soothe the savage fury that dwells in their hearts."
"What the actual f*ck?!" Lith cursed, jumping off the chair.
He ran straight to Nana, the book still in hand, in dire need of explanations.
"Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but it's the truth." Nana chuckled.
"Like men are stronger physically, women are more apt towards magic. It's the nature of things." (see chapter 12 for more details)
"F*ck me sideways!" Lith inwardly screamed, amongst Solus giggles.
"Does this mean that I start right on the back foot?" Was what he actually said.
"Yes, little imp. Be it the Griffon kingdom, the Gorgons empire or the Blood Sand desert tribes, usually women hold most of the key roles in the various mage associations. Even I never expected to have a male disciple.
Back when I attended the magic academy, 70% of the students were female. I don't think things have changed much. If you aim for the top spots, they'll be your fiercest competition."
"Great." Lith felt dejected. He wasn't the kind of man to discriminate, he despised humans regardless of their gender. What dispirited him was the idea of being once again on the losing side of life.
"Not rich, not talented, not handsome. I even managed to be of the fairer magical sex. Just splendid." He thought.
"There, there." Nana patted his head. "Don't be depressed. History is full of very powerful male mages. It's the talent that matters the most, not the gender. One day you could even become a Magus."
"Oh, yeah. I almost forgot, that was my second question. What's a Magus?"