Pain was Lith's oldest friend, yet it took him a few seconds to recover.
"I thought you wouldn't leave before spring." Lith was looking forward spending the winter months together at her home again.
"The army is not the academy, silly." Phloria's laugh was low and joyless.
"There are boot camps all year round, so that people can enlist as soon as they become adults."
"Why didn't you tell me this earlier? Why now? Can't you delay it?"
"What would have changed?" Phloria sighed.
"We would have spent the time we had left arguing before you accepted my decision, as I know you will." She slowly caressed his face.
"Then you would be sulking the whole time. This way we had our happiness. As for your other questions, I need to go as soon as possible. Not because of my family, nor for the army. For myself." Phloria stared at the moon glowing up in the sky. Her voice was steeled with resolve.
"Ever since I joined the academy, I fancied myself a leader. Yet right from the mock exam I found myself lacking. Resolve, charisma, killing intent, tactics. Name one, I was good only on paper. All my training rarely survived contact with the enemy.
"I was either too scared, surprised, or reluctant to kill to be a good leader. Our whole group relied more on you than on me, myself included. Whenever something bad happened, I always looked up to my family and to you for help.
"After Yurial's death, I only found solace from my inner demons while in your company and that made me think. I'm not as strong and independent as I always wanted to be. I don't feel complete as a person.
"I'm tired of feeling helpless. I need to change, or at least give my all trying. Joining the army will give me this opportunity. Failure or success will depend completely on myself."
Lith could feel his heart going through its usual routine. Pain first, anger later.
'It's her life. She has every right of doing what she thinks is best for herself.' Lith thought.
'It's exactly what I have been planning to do from the beginning. I never changed my mind, not even after we got together. I knew this moment would come. Then why am I suffering so much?'
'Because you have ended up caring for them more than you ever anticipated. Especially Phloria.' Solus replied.
'You can't get angry at her. It would be petty and hypocritical.'
"I don't know where life will lead me. Even worse, I don't know what will become of you." Phloria kept staring at Mogar's moon. That night it was of an unusual pale blue color, giving the night the feel of a fairy tale.
"You said it yourself, remember? I guess you are the right person for me, but we met at the wrong time of our lives. There are too many variables, we are both too ambitious to plan ahead and shackle ourselves with a pointless long distance relationship.
"I want to be happy. I want you to be happy. We can't waste our time waiting for each other and fantasizing about what might have been. Life is short, Yurial taught us that. Maybe we'll meet again in the future.
"Until then, I want you to have the chance to live your life at its fullest. If you meet someone special, I want you to be able give her the love she deserves." Phloria took his hand expecting him to be sad or even angry.
What she found in his eyes was the look of someone who felt betrayed.
"Did you tell me all of this now to prevent me from making a scene?" Lith's allegation was cruel enough to make him and Solus both add 'petty' as his middle name.
"No. I did it only because I hope you can get over it before we go back home and not spoil our last days together." Her voice was calm. Lith's words had hurt her, but Phloria didn't let it show.
Lith gritted his teeth, knowing she was right. In any other moment, he would have been ranting, probably holding a grudge for who knows how long.
"I'm sorry for what I just said. Now if you'll excuse me, I want to be alone."
Phloria left him with his thoughts. Lith remained there for a while. The winter cold couldn't affect his enhanced physique and even if it did, the Skinwalker armor would protect him.
"Excuse me, sir." Said a voice behind him.
"What do you want?" Lith turned around, towering over the valet. In the Royal Court, even servants were actually nobles from important families. Serving the Crown was the highest honour.
The valet was actually a Duke with remarkable magical talents, yet he found himself shivering in fear. Lith's eyes were brimming with power and rage. Behind all that mana, the valet could clearly see Lith fighting the temptation to throw him off the balcony.
"His Majesty would like to confer with you, sir." The valet kept his cool, managing to deliver the message despite the profuse sweating affecting him at the moment.
Lith calmed down immediately, letting the man make way to his host. Inside the music was over. All the convened guests were gathered near the raised floor where the Royals were now standing.
"Today is a very special day." The King said with his deep, baritone voice as soon as Lith reached the front row with the servant's help.
"Today, simple men and women have become mages. It doesn't matter if they were commoners, merchants, or nobles. Now they stand here among us, as equals. Whatever path they take, they are the embodiment of the future of our Kingdom.
"I hope for all of them to achieve great things, to become what our Country will need during its darkest hours to come. Alone we are nothing. Together we are the most ancient Kingdom in the Galen continent. While others suffered from internal strife or lack of resources, we thrived.
"The only reason this miracle has endured the passing of centuries is that we never stopped improving ourselves. Those assembled here are the most powerful individuals of our Kingdom, but it's important for you to remember that without the people, we are nothing.
"Each one of our families was once a commoner one. We elevated ourselves with talent and hard work. Such an opportunity must always be offered to the worthy ones, no matter how humble their origins.
"If we allow our fears or petty grudges to influence our actions, the Griffon Kingdom will wither and fall. Tonight, there is a rare talent among us. Some say he has been blessed by the light at birth.
"I don't know if it's true, nor do I believe in superstitions. What I do know is that when we needed him, he helped us all. Even at the risk of his own life and family."
Lith inwardly grinned.
'I doubt King Meron is so naïve as to believe me so altruistic. We have bartered every time the price for my help. When I have taken risks, it was only because the alternative was worse. I like his selling pitch, though.'