"The vision changed almost a month ago. Why are we doing nothing?" Jirni's anger was barely contained. It took all of her willpower to prevent it to show on the outside.
"Because based on all we know, it's likely we are about to face the threat of slave collars, like those the Pontus Household purchased from the missing Alchemist Hatorne." Duchess Distar was disgusted by her own words.
Just like Jirni, she hated feeling helpless.
"Whoever the traitors are, they have managed to slip out of our net too many times. Linjos needs time to remove enough members of his staff to require an official turn over without arising suspicions.
"If we act rashly, we risk alerting them. They would only need to activate the collars to force us to butcher innocents while they escape under the cover of the ensuing chaos.
"We are lulling them into a false sense of confidence, so that our first strike will also be the last." Her hands were clenched so hard they were white, the blood drained from her fingers.
"Easy for you to say. It's my little girls that live in that death trap, not yours. Why can't we at least warn them?"
"To achieve what? Spook them? Spook the traitors? We may be wrong about the collars. So far all the security sweeps came out negative." Mirim Distar shook her head.
"It's not only your daughters who are in danger, but every single student in all the remaining four academies. If you can't keep your personal and professional life separated, maybe you should recuse yourself from the case."
Jirni Distar knew that Mirim was right and hated her for that.
"How long before we move?" She asked.
Village of Lutia.
Lith considered the idea of becoming an elder brother and an uncle almost at the same time disturbing at best. When during the second month of winter Elina noticed she had skipped her period, Lith knew he had succeeded.
Both his mother and sister were nervous. The former considered her pregnancy like a miracle while the latter was on edge being her first time. Lith was basically on call 24/7, but luckily nothing happened in his absence that Nana or Tista couldn't handle.
Lith would go back to his village at least once a week, during the weekend to perform a complete check up on both women.
"Everything is fine. Again." Lith snorted.
"I'm so sorry, dear. I didn't mean to rush you." Elina apologized with such a merry voice it sounded fake, but she was actually sincere. She was just too happy with the good news.
"Do you want to know the gender of the babies?" Lith asked.
"Do you know it already?" Judging by their enthusiasm he had just asked a rhetorical question.
"Male. Female." He pointed at Elina first and at Rena second.
'Ugh. My family so far had bad luck with males. Orpal, Trion, and then me. Let's hope the little one grows into a better man than us. It doesn't take much, after all.' Lith thought.
'How dare you!' Solus scolded him. Not even reminding her of his body count spared him from a lecture.
Both families didn't share Lith's negative outlook on life. They celebrated together until late.
The next day, after the end of the lessons Lith went to Phloria's room to share the latest news and give her an early birthday present. In a few days, she would turn sixteen, becoming an adult according to Mogar's standards.
"Congratulations, you must be thrilled." Phloria embraced him tightly. For a moment, Lith lost himself in the delicate fragrance of her hair.
"Not really." He didn't want to spoil the mood for his family, but at least with Solus and Phloria he could be honest.
"I'm scared at the idea of having another brother. I almost have only bad memories about them." Most of all, he was scared of loving and losing his little brother. Lith was certain he couldn't take it again.
"As for my niece, I don't know. I'm afraid the baby will take a lot of her time and we will grow even further apart."
"How many times do I have to tell you?" Phloria sighed. "You can't keep your loved ones under a rock. You must learn to let them go. You are not losing a sister but gaining a niece."
Lith didn't reply. It was a matter on which they had to agree to disagree.
"I have also come to give you your birthday present." Lith took out from his pocket a small box, handing it to her.
"Why so early? Don't you know it's bad luck?" She giggled, rushing to opening the box.
It contained a lily shaped gold pendant. Rena's father in law had melted and purified the gold, while Lith had shaped it with magic. It was so lifelike that Phloria attempted to smell it.
"I researched the etymology of your name. This flower symbolizes the goddess you are named after. It's also enchanted to be durable and as a dimensional amulet with a capacity of fifty square meters." It was the highest grade dimensional item Lith could create without making a fuss.
"Thanks! It's a wonderful gift!" She attempted to kiss him, but Lith stopped her.
"That's just my cover story gift. Otherwise people would think I'm even more of a cheapskate than I already am."
"What's the real gift, then?" Phloria was puzzled.
"I know I can't Forgemaster anything your father couldn't do better, not I can afford something you couldn't buy on your own. The only thing I can offer you is my trust. Please, close your eyes and give me your hands."
Phloria did as instructed, while Lith activated Invigoration on her.
'What the heck?' What he saw left him flabbergasted. Compared to the last time he had visited her, most of the impurities in her body were converging towards the mana core. They hadn't moved much, but the movement was as clear as the day.
'It's just as I feared.' Solus sighed. 'The prolonged exposure to you, combined with the repeated use of Invigoration and the practice of high level magic seems to stimulate other people's cores.'
'Exposure to me? Invigoration?' Lith was still stunned.
'Do you remember Balkor's attack? To save her and Yurial, you had to use Invigoration a lot. Also, since she asked you out, the two of you spend a lot of time together. Protector told us that the key to Awakening is a high mana density.
'Compared to a normal mage whose core is dormant, yours is a small mana geyser.'
'Doesn't this mean that Tista is likely to Awaken? Compared to them, she has been much closer to me.'
'If she enters the White Griffon, I think it's a reasonable assumption.' Solus replied.
'It also depends on her talent and luck. Tista hasn't Awakened in years and Phloria's impurities have barely moved. Don't' overthink it.'
Lith took a deep breath to calm himself before proceeding. He used Invigoration to remove the most external impurities from her hair and skin, destroying them as soon as they emerged.
"What's this smell?" Phloria had no idea why she was feeling so hot and fuzzy, but the stench was out of this world.
"This is my gift. I'd like for it to remain a secret between the two of us." He said bringing her in front of the mirror.
"I don't feel any different." Phloria looked her reflection without noticing anything.
"Take a bath and let me know in the morning. Doctor's order." Lith kissed her deeply, tasting her fragrance before leaving her room.
He took off, flying along the corridor towards his living quarters.
'I'm proud of you, taking such a leap of f… Watch out!' Solus yelled.
Lith reacted swift as the wind dodging a barrage of icicles, only to feel an invisible grip blocking his limbs. He immediately activated fusion magic to neutralize the effects of the spirit magic holding him.
The person using it was an expert. They slammed him against the walls and the ceiling before he could react.
"I bet you didn't expect to meet another Awakened one, did you?" A too familiar voice said while the world around him faded to black.