Ever since his return home, Lith received countless invitations from noble households that wanted to get to know him or introduce their daughters to him. Most of them came from outside the County of Lustria.
Luckily it was winter, so the fireplace was usually lit. Fire was a great helper in sorting Lith's mail.
"I still can't believe we have a family name." Elina was radiant with joy. Her life seemed to have turned into a fairy tale ever since Lith's birth. Things were always getting better. If only Lith shared even one tenth of her happiness, Elina would consider her life perfect.
"One awarded by the Crown at that. I wonder if your brother will use it. He makes me worry so much." She sighed.
"Aran is too little to care about a name." Lith replied. "Also, he is perfectly fine. I checked on him a minute ago."
"I meant Trion!" Elina snorted. Her oldest son seemed to have disappeared years ago, yet Lith didn't care. It was another sour note in Elina's life.
'Don't you dare ask "Who?".' Solus reprimanded him in advance. If left unchecked, Lith was capable of ruining everyone's mood.
Rena now used both her husband's and her own family name. Her father in law had insisted she and his nephew both keep the Verhen name. Zekell was proud, not stupid. Bearing a mage's name was like having an army.
Like Lith, Tista had managed to enroll at White Griffon thanks to performing Silverwing's Hexagram. Her core was still bright green, but thanks to Lith's teaching, her skills were top notch.
Lith's house had been constantly renovated and now looked like a merchant's home. At least from the outside. On the inside it was almost as good as modern house on Earth. The only thing it lacked was internet.
With his mastery of the magic crystals, Lith had provided the house with thermal insulation, central heating, running water, and even two fully equipped bathrooms. It was so comfortable that Rena and her husband had moved back to her family home for the winter.
Running hot water and two healers was something even most nobles couldn't afford.
"Don't worry, little brother. I'm sure you'll find another girlfriend." Tista stamped a kiss on his cheek. Her attempt only made Lith snarl. Ever since Tista had started seriously practicing magic, her impurities had slowly but steadily moved towards her core.
To make things worse, she seemed to become more gorgeous by the day.
'Between her Awakening and her beauty, Tista will make me kill so many people that the Griffon Kingdom will miss Balkor dearly.' Lith thought.
He left the house, going for a stroll in the Trawn woods. As always, he passed by Selia's house first. Lith was still hoping that the huntress would return one day.
Walking was one of the few things that calmed him down. Lith always hoped some magical beast would attack him, giving him the opportunity to vent out his rage. Alas, so far even the surviving Kings of the woods had kept their distance.
Lith smelled something odd, just a split second before something hit the spot where he was standing with the strength of a freight train. Lith dodged it easily, leaving only an after image to greet the impact.
"You!" Lith was surprised. He would have never expected to meet him so near his own house.
"We meet again, fresh meat." Phillard the Kroxy (AN: crocodile type magical beast) greeted Lith with a snarl, before attacking him again in a frenzy.
The two had met during the academy's second exam. Phillard looked like a humanoid alligator. He stood on two legs reaching 2.5 metres (8'2") in height.
He wore a belt from which several trinkets hung while he wielded a double headed ax and a hammer ax in his hands.
Phillard swung his weapons in an X shape, not giving Lith the space to dodge to the sides. Lith stepped forward instead, arriving right under the Kroxy's massive torso and punched him in the stomach with enough strength to lift him from the ground.
That and the Plague Arrow Lith released at point blank inflicted upon the beast enough damage to send him into the berserk rage typical of a wounded Kroxy. Phillard attempted to bite Lith's head off, catching only air.
Lith had already moved behind his back, sending him flying with a kick and another Plague Arrow. The Kroxy crashed against a tree, coughing a mouthful of blood. Before he could get up, Lith grabbed him by the wrist and slammed him left and right against the ground, like he was just a dirty carpet.
After taking enough damage, Phillard regained his senses.
"Stop it, dammit! You are going to kill me."
"What do you want?" Lith asked while letting him go. According to Soluspedia, Kroxy had a violent, twisted sense of humor. Since Lith had perceived no killing intent from the initial attacks, he was almost sure that was Phillard's way of saying hi.
Lith was too pissed off to care and replied in kind.
"The only reason you are still alive is that you helped my companions during Balkor's attack. Bear that in mind before you answer."
"Dude, you're no fun. Can't you take a joke?" Kroxy were sturdy creatures. Phillard was only wounded in his pride, bones, and internal organs.
"Death it is, then." Lith's hand held enough energy to blast him into oblivion.
"Wait! I have a business offer for you. I didn't come this far just to get killed over a prank." Faced with imminent death, Phillard turned very talkative. He explained to Lith how after Linjos's death Scarlett the Scorpicore had decided to leave the forest.
She couldn't leave before another Lord was chosen, so Scarlett had helped all her lieutenants to Awaken. Despite all her teachings and efforts, very few succeeded. Phillard was among the failures.
"Why should I care?" Lith asked.
"I spoke a lot with Protector back then. He told me you have a different method."
"Again, this explains why you need my help, not why should I spare you."
"Protector also told me about your cubs. How you love your sweet ill, sister." Phillard almost chocked when he realized his poor choice of words. All the shadows of the Trawn woods converged on them, but while Lith seemed to become stronger for it, the Kroxy felt his life slipping away.
"I mean that by helping me you can also help her. Help all of them. Wouldn't you like to Awaken them?" At those words, Lith stopped the shadows.
"I'm damn close to Awakening, just like Kalla was before me. I just don't know how and my life is about to end." Phillard's body was still battered, but now that the dark energy had pulled back, he felt reborn.
"Protector told me about your experiments. I'm offering myself as a test subject. I have nothing to lose whereas you have everything to gain. Whatever you learn from me, you can use it for your cubs."
Lith pondered that offer. Magical beasts were very similar to Awakened ones, capable of using true magic from birth. He had never experimented on them because of his bond with Protector and the other Kings. Also because magical beasts were proud creatures. They would rather die than submit.
'I wonder how much I can discover with a subject willing to let me know what works and what doesn't.' Lith thought.
'I have never spectated someone else's Awakening. If it happens to Tista during the academy, I can use the knowledge for damage control.'
"Deal." Lith said while helping Phillard get up and healing his wounds.
"Two rules. First, pull another prank on me and I'll kill you…"
"Don't worry, I've learned my lesson. You mess with the Scourge, you get buried."
"Second, joking about my sister was a bad move. It will cost you a couple of ribs."
Before the Kroxy could reply, Lith's fist hit his ribcage like a sledgehammer, forcing him to emit the first of many screams of pain.