"I would like to see Mage Lith in action, but it would be unfair on the Ernas girls. Their fight was intense and drawn out, they must be exhausted." The king wasn't an idiot. He immediately saw through their intentions and turned their plot against them.
"It's not only that." Queen Sylpha chimed in. "The Ernas and Verhen households have quite a past together. We can't ruin their friendship on a whim."
"My dear Queen is right, Taben." Meron nodded. "If your daughter passed the semi-finals, she would still have to fight an opponent. She can spar with him and show us her worth."
"They both can." Sylpha pointed out. "It was their parents' idea, after all. It's only fair for them to provide us with a show."
The nobles and Lith both inwardly cringed. Neither wanted to agree but refusing wasn't an option.
Lith and Clea Taben stepped into the arena together, placing themselves ten meters from each other. The Royals were really curious about Lith's real skills, so they used binoculars to shield their eyes and activate Life Vision.
The girl was tall and muscular. Like Phloria, she had the build of a professional swimmer.
"Is this safe, Headmaster?" Lith asked. "I'm not used to exhibitions, I don't know if I can hold back. Any fight outside of training, I've always gone straight for the kill."
"Very safe. Besides the Life Preserving array of the academy, there is also the First Blood Array of the colosseum. As soon as one of you gets hit, the fight ends."
Marth wasn't happy either, but when the Royals gave an order, he could only comply.
"Are you ready?" He asked both youths.
Lith's reply was a deep, guttural roar. It released all the stress and the killing intent he had kept sealed up to that point.
'Easy there! Be careful to not release an aura!' Solus warned him. During the fifth year they had discovered that, unless fake mages used a spell, they were incapable of spreading their mana outside their bodies.
Jirni, Orion, and Phloria were the only ones to have seen Lith and Nalear both doing it. It was a dangerous tell about being an Awakened one.
Lith's killing intent sent a shiver down the spectators' spines despite the distance separating them from the arena. Marth took the brunt of it due to his proximity, but as a battle hardened veteran he was able to hold his ground.
The girl, however, was paralyzed.
The Headmaster's voice snapped her out of it. Clea began to cast a tier four Battle Mage spell while stepping backward.
'Lith is only a Forgemaster and a Healer. If I don't let him get close it's my win.' She thought.
Unfortunately for her, Lith sprinted forward at a barely human speed of ten meters per second, covering the distance between them in an instant.
All Clea could see was Lith's open palm striking her chin from below before her vision became a blur. He grabbed Clea's face, lifted her up with one hand, and slammed her head into the ground with one fluid movement.
Then, everything went black.
Marth intervened immediately. Both arrays had activated at once which saved her life, but Clea's condition was still critical. Her jaw was just dislocated while her skull was fractured in several points.
"Come here." Lith said while taunting his other opponent as soon as Marth got Clea out of the arena, leaving her in Vastor's care.
Laeo Xebas had fallen on his a*s after Lith's roar and had yet to find the strength to get up.
"I yield." He squealed, putting an end to the exhibition. The Royals didn't bother hiding their disappointment, applauding the contestants purely out of courtesy. Marchioness Xebas was pale as a ghost.
At least the Teben's heir had attempted to fight, while her son had cowardly backed down in front of all her peers. Archduke Teben didn't share her optimism. He had clearly heard the Queen clicking her tongue in disgust at her daughter's performance.
"What an idiot." Sylpha said loud enough for the two nobles to hear.
"Like a magical beast or even an enemy soldier would be polite enough to give you the time to complete such a complex spell. She should have restricted his movements first."
"Cut them some slack, dear." King Meron replied.
"The difference in battle experience was like heaven and earth. Also, they probably have yet to recover from Nalear's attack."
The kindness in Meron's words was merely superficial. He was actually agreeing with his wife, saying that Lith's opponents were both physically and mentally weak.
Teben and Xebas turned even paler, recognizing the true meaning of those words. Yet they could only curse at their own stupidity. With their behavior, the Royals had sent them a message.
The Ernas Household was under their protection. As for Lith, after basically proclaiming him as a national hero just a day prior, now they had referred to him as a proper Household in front of many witnesses.
Messing with him was barely safer than sticking their heads in a dragon's mouth.
Royal Palace, one hour later.
"It's a shame Lith's opponents were so weak. I guess we'll never know if he really is an Awakened one or not." King Meron was still upset. He had seen foot soldiers perform much better than Clea Xebas.
"We didn't have much to work with." Queen Sylpha nodded.
"He was fast, for a human, but nothing more. His mana flow is weaker than ours, only Lith's life force was remarkable. Yet him being so tall and young makes that unsurprising."
"What do you think we should do about Lith?" Meron asked.
"Treat him as if he is an Awakened. I'm willing to bet he really is one, even though Lady Tyris says otherwise."
"How so?" The King had reached the same conclusion on his own. They were having that conversation in front of their children as a learning experience. Even though it was unlikely for Lady Tyris to select one of them as the next ruler, they would still play a major role in the Kingdom's future.
"Because too many things do not add up. His achievements are too outstanding for someone his age. Plus, based on what Captain Yerna and Constable Ernas said, his mastery of the Gatekeeper sword's powers is unnatural for a fake mage.
Even if I'm wrong, even if he is just the combat oriented version of Manohar, Lith is still a good investment. His sister has gotten admitted to the White Griffon too. If she manages to graduate, the Verhen household will be recognized as a magical bloodline.
Not to mention Tista and Lith have gained a little brother and a niece."
"By the gods. Four mages in a single generation would be terrifying!" Meron put enough emphasis on his words to make his children turn pale.
"My point exactly." Sylpha sighed.
Verhen Household AKA Lith's house. A week later.
Lith's life as a student was over for good. He and Phloria had broken up right before leaving the academy, which left him with a small hole in his heart.
Not even Tista scoring 82/100 at her admission test for the academy lifted his spirits. Lith was in a terrible mood, to the point that even his family couldn't soothe his grumpiness.