"Not here, not now!" Lith inwardly screamed. "Until it's over, I will be a sitting duck!" He knew that it was impossible to hold back the impurities refining process until he was back home.
He had no choice but to offer no resistance, making it as fast and painless as possible.
Soon, black ooze started being excreted from all his pores and orifices. Lith's eyes and throat were burning from the nasty feeling the impurities inflicted on their way out.
Lith felt like a river of bile was coming out of his body.
When it finally ended, he was kneeling, hands on the ground. A huge puddle of the tar-like substance was below him, tainting the air with its putrid smell.
"Congratulations on evolving your mana core to deep cyan!" Solus voice was full of joy.
"You also should have lost at least a kilogram or two (2.2 or 4.4 pounds), judging from how much impurities you expelled this time. I can already feel the quality of your mana flow improving. My meals have never been so tasty!"
"Deep cyan?!" Lith coughed up some impurities that got stuck in his throat.
"All these years, the hard work, even risking my life against not one but two consecutive magical beasts, just for the worst cyan core possible?" He couldn't help but feel depressed and frustrated.
"I'm still below Nana's level, and she was born with that core! If she practiced my breathing techniques, there's no telling how strong she would be. She could probably already topple mountains and split the sea."
With a pulse of dark magic, he banished all the impurities into nothingness.
"Look at the bright side. Thanks to the break through, you should finally be able curing Tista. Isn't that what you wanted from the beginning?" Solus tried to console him the best that she could.
At that thought, Lith's mood lightened up immediately.
"You are damn right! Sometimes I am just a self-centered a*shole."
"Sometimes?" Solus sarcastically remarked.
"Okay, fine! Most of the times I let my hunger for power get the best of me. Happy now?"
Despite having yet to use Invigoration, Lith could already perceive the world around him more vividly than ever. The colours, the smells, the sounds everything was different. It was like being born again and experiencing the world for the first time.
Still feeling light headed, he splashed the river's cold water on his face, trying to regain his focus.
Suddenly, Lith could feel a shiver on the back of his head, his neck hair suddenly standing up.
Lith abruptly jumped back on his feet, turning around to discover that a Ry, the very same Ry from two years ago was silently walking toward him.
It had become bigger, its height at the withers reaching 1.6 meters (5'6"), and its red fur had gained shades of white, dancing in the sunlight like a wildfire.
Just trying the Soaring Hawk spell almost made Lith faint, so he was forced to cancel it while using Invigorate to regain his strength once again.
Yet Lith's mana core was still unstable after the evolution process, and therefore unable to assimilate more world energy.
"F*ck my life! I can only escape on foot."
Sniffing his stress and fear, the Ry spoke up.
"Fear not, Scourge, I mean no harm. On the contrary, I have come to give you my thanks. It was my duty stopping Irtu and Gerda, but you managed to precede me."
It threw a magnificent deer he was carrying on its back at Lith's feet. Both the skin and the antlers were in perfect conditions, aside from a single bite mark on the neck, where it had been cleanly broken.
"I noticed you humans prefer them like this, since after eating the meat you can exchange the rest for those things you call 'money'."
Lith didn't feel much reassured, he decided to keep stalling while he was catching his breath and searching for the best possible escape route.
"So, you can talk too, uh? Why didn't we have this conversation two years ago, instead of fighting?"
"Stop eyeing for an escape route. If I really wanted to kill you, I would avoid useless talk and strike when you are at your weakest. I am not arrogant and cruel like Irtu. I would not make the mistake of underestimating you again.
As for your question, it was you that attacked me first.
Also, do you know what happens when one of us speaks? Either the human faints or runs away. In both cases, they come back in numbers, even setting the woods on fire trying to kill us all."
The Ry growled at that unpleasant memory.
Lith relaxed a bit.
"Yeah, humans get scared easily. They think themselves all high and righteous, and don't like when someone or something they don't recognize as an equal threatens the status quo.
By the way, sorry for the sneak attack, but you were big, scary and destroying something really precious to me."
A light of understanding lit in the Ry's eyes.
"You mean the annoying rock that now you wear at your finger, I see. Then it's my turn to apologize for damaging your property and trying to kick you out of the woods. I only wanted the noise to stop, and you ceasing your attack."
"If I have to believe your words, why do you call me Scourge? Isn't that kind of offensive?" Lith kept moving, very slowly, towards the fastest way home, one step at the time, like he was just shifting his weight from one foot to another while chatting.
The Ry snorted, pretending to not notice it.
"It's no offence. You killed the king in the west, and with its life you claimed its title as well."
"That would make you the king in the east, I suppose. What's your title?" Lith moved another step.
"The Protector. My role is to keep both humans and unruly magic beasts at bay."
"It has a much better ring than mine. By the way, your majesty, I am not interested in kingships or messing with your turf. Feel free to take over Irtu's region or whatever it's called. I only hunt for my survival, not for sport or pleasure."
"And that's why you are still alive." Seeing that the human was too self-conscious about his weakened state, the Ry gave up and turned back, walking towards the woods.
Lith was still scared, yet had the presence of mind to store the deer in the pocket dimension. As soon as the magical beast disappeared from his sight, Lith ran out the woods, always making Solus look out for any possible menace.
Once outside, he changed into his usual clothing, deeming the claw rip on the chest too unsettling for his parents.
The closest he got home, the weaker he felt. The adrenaline rush was fading away, his body and mind were both battered from all that had happened. A splitting headache arose, making difficult for him to think.
When Lith finally arrived at destination, he was too tired to speak or even walk to his bedroom. He sat down on the nearest chair, sighing in relief, allowing himself to relax.
The next thing he knew was that someone had put him into bed, and judging from the lighting it was already night. He closed his eyes, pondering about what to do next, and when he opened them again it was already dawning.
Tista and Rena were still asleep, Lith decided to get up and prepare the breakfast for everyone, following his normal routine. It was in that moment that he realized how much had he changed overnight.
Not only his body was brimming with strength, he could also perceive his own mana flow without the assistance of any breathing technique. Lith needed but a thought to start floating, managing to get out of the bedroom without making the wood creak.
What had required so much focus just the day before, now barely needed his attention.
"If a tier one spell has become so easy, what about chore magic?"
Lith discovered that now he was able to use up to six spells at once, without the use of any gesture or magic word to help coordinate them.
Soon many small vortexes were cleaning every nook and cranny of the dining room, the air in the room getting warmer by the second, while plates and cutlery floated in their place.
By the time the table was laid, he had also finished washing and drying the floor.
"I have performed in less than a minute what usually took me half an hour! I have still a lot of time before having to wake everyone up. Solus, how do you feel?"
"Now that I know you are all right, just peachy. But since you were referring to my abilities, instead of my feelings…" From the tone she was quite pissed off.
"…both the Soluspedia and the pocket dimension have started expanding since your mana core stabilized."
"And what about you?"
"Thanks for asking without any subtle hint from my side." The sarcasm was palpable. "I am still recovering from the huge scare you gave me yesterday, but I'll live."
"I'm sorry, I know you wanted me to escape from Irtu and not take unnecessary risks, but I couldn't run away and live in fear, waiting for him to find and attack my family.
I have lived too long in terror of my father, back on Earth, to let the same thing happen again. I hope you can understand."
Wanting nothing more than change the subject to escape that awkward silence, Lith asked:
"What about Gerda's carcass? Can we take credit for the kill or would it arise suspicions?"
"There is no problem for Gerda, history is full of promising mages, even younger than you, killing a magical beast. Since there is no way to determine how strong it was, you can say that you ambushed it successfully.
Irtu, on the other side, is more problematic. Not only his pelt is useless, making him only good for racking up merits, but its corpse shows signs of a spell that should be around tier four or five, if not above. I'd say to save it for rainy days."
After deciding what to do with the various carcasses, Lith used the remaining time to practice Accumulation, while thinking about how to announce to his parents the treatment he had devised for Tista.
Among all the things he had gained since arriving in the new world, his family's happiness was still the greatest prize he could strive for.