Aside from the gossip, life in the Count's private quarters was really peaceful.
Count Lark took the initiative to explain everything to Lith's parents, taking the blame entirely on himself, and giving only words of praise to their son.
Raaz and Elina were actually quite angry, and wanted to give Lith a solid piece of their mind. But after the Count apologized, even bowing to them, they were too embarrassed and flattered to say anything, at least in front of him.
The whole family could not stop staring at the house. Walls made of stone, the luxurious furniture, the carpets. Everything seemed to come out straight from a fairy tale. Until that day, they had always thought they would never see such riches.
Lith started to wonder how long would it take for them to come back down to earth, when breakfast arrived. The delicious and sweet smell of the pastries immediately caught their attention.
"Just great." Lith sighed inwardly. "I could expect my family's reaction to the Count's house, and luckily out hosts are overlooking their quite rude behaviour.
My only hope is that they don't jump on the food like starving wolves. That would be too embarrassing!"
"Party pooper! Let them be happy, so maybe they'll beat your a*s less when you get back home." Solus rebuked.
As soon as the cart entered the room, Lith's family mimicked their hosts behaviour, politely sitting around the table in an ordered manner, waiting to be served.
That was also the first time someone outside the family was treating them with such care, the girls couldn't stop giggling.
"What the f*ck?" Lith was fairly surprised.
It wasn't a maid pushing the cart full of delicacies, it was Hilya herself, accompanied by some kitchen personnel that Solus identified as her posse. It was the first time that Lith saw her in the flesh, and soon he understood why.
Hilya personally served the Count's family and then his own, showering everyone with compliments and attentions.
Her followers did the same, but with more tact and less enthusiasm. When they left, there was enough food on the table to feed a battalion.
"#TeamRaaz rules, b*tch!" Solus screamed.
Count Lark was both embarrassed and flabbergasted. Hilya barely served him on his birthday, and he had no idea why his usually impeccable staff had taken such liberties with his esteemed guests.
Lith signalled him that he would explain later, before stopping everyone in their tracks, preventing them to take even a single bite.
Usually that would have garnered him a lot of nasty words, but in front of their host they had to shut up and listen.
The mention of the past poisoning attempts made them inwardly perform a 180° turn, going from demanding revenge to gratefulness in just a few words.
Lith wasn't willing to let his guard down, he kept checking every single plate and forcing them to drink only conjured water.
It was really depressing for his family, since he was the only one having tasted hot chocolate back on Earth, but they soldiered up.
In the following days, the forced cohabitation would have been much more awkward, if the Count's private quarters had not been bigger than their house.
The women, leaded by Keyla, took for themselves the bedroom, the biggest and most comfortable room, while the men had to settle up for the anteroom and its soft sofas.
There were no more assassination attempts, since all the gathered evidence had caused a fuss for the Countess, and by remaining stubbornly holed up in the best guarded and easily defensible part of the house, the Count left her with no openings.
Koya Lark had looked in every nook and cranny, searching for leverage, but the Count had no weakness she could exploit, and that nasty magico kid was even worse.
After a thorough background check, she discovered he had no friends and no family outside those he had brought with himself.
Killing or kidnaping his lost brother, Orpal, could be considered making him a favour at best. The only person remaining was Nerea/Nana, his mentor, but that was suicide. If the kid was so powerful, what were the limits of that old hag prowess?
The Countess could only curse herself for always ignoring his husband hobbies, she had no idea who she was, or what repercussions messing with her could have. She knew nothing about magic, except what her cousin, Genon said to her in the past.
And even then, she had only pretended to listen to him most of the times. She decided to keep that as a last resort, if everything else failed.
Meanwhile, Lith's family was quickly getting accustomed to living in such a splendid manor, wearing only beautiful clothes and eating delicious food.
Aside from the random scare caused by a guard's sneeze or an animal in the garden, life had turned into a fairy tale for them.
Lith, instead, was quite annoyed. Since the first day, the Count, Keyla and Jadon had showered with praises Elina, Rena and Tista for their perfect skin and luscious hair.
"I'm so envious of you, girls. I wish I could get rid of these things on my face." Keyla sighed. Over time the camaraderie between the young ladies had grown strong.
"Yeah, you are already so pretty. If only…" Tista threw Lith a meaningful look, that he pretended not to notice.
Jadon interest toward Rena was embarrassingly obvious, and while he tried looking at her stealthily, such attention in turn got him as many stone-cold glares from Lith.
"I get that he is just twenty and horny as a boar, but she is just fourteen. Back where I came from that's bad. Plus, unless he wants to marry her, I'd rather neuter him. I won't allow him to ruin her future, treating her like a fling! Over my dead body!"
Rena was flattered by both the young man's attentions and his little brother care. Yet she was just dazzled by the house, not stupid. Elina had warned her many times about the young men, nobles or not, that would try to take advantage of naïve young girls.
She would accept compliments, but refuse any improper gift and avoided remaining alone with him. When Keyla and the Count noticed that if Lith's glares could maim, Jadon could easily fit into an envelope, they had a private talk with him.
After that the air in the room became a lot lighter.
Finally, the Count received the notification via the communication amulet that the annulment was finally done. He was once again a free man.
After confirming that Koya had been notified too, hence she had no more reason to plot against him, he could finally relax and step out of his room for the first time since weeding out the traitors.
The first thing he and Lith did was to contact Nana to explain her everything.
"That's why you were so serious." She pondered. "And why you took away my only helper. Lark, when we meet again, we have to talk about compensation, my business suffered because of your family squabble." She nagged.
"There, there, Lady Nerea. It was a matter of life and death, and the young Lith proved to be decisive in solving the matter."
"Hmm. Sorry, but I have to go. I have a business to attend. We'll talk later, especially with you, young imp. This lack of trust wounds my old heart." She said trying to act all old and frail.
Lith bowed and asked for her forgiveness, but his thoughts were quite different.
"Do you even have a heart? I'd bet all I have that the only reason you are pouting is that you have missed such juicy gossip for so long."
Contrary to their expectations, Nana called only a few hours later, and their next conversation had an entirely different mood. Nana was laughing her a*s off the entire time, managing to speak only briefly while gasping for air.
"Ah! Ah! Ah! You can't believe what just happened to me! Someone just tried to kidnap me. I'm serious!" A long laughing pause followed.
"It made me feel young again, like when I was still an adventurer. Guys dressed in tacky full black clothes, coming at me from all directions, it was hilarious!
You should have seen their faces when I took them down at once with a Corona Discharge!"
According to the Count's books, it was a very strong tier five lightning spell, Nana's true specialty was air magic, after all. Lith had no idea what it was exactly, it was mentioned, but not described.
He had already enough troubles understanding tier four spells, they were on a league of their own compared to the magic he had previously learned.
"They were so cute! They even had some minor magical items on them. I have no use for such trinkets, but I can still sell them for good money."
Lith was so envious. Magical items! He had yet to find any.
"Hey, that's offensive!" Solus pointed. "I resent that!"
"You are not an item, you are a friend." The pure sincerity of that thought sent Solus giggling and blushing in a corner of her mind, away from Lith's perceptions unless he explicitly searched for her.
"That makes the three of us even." Nana said.
"I hadn't this much fun in decades. I was almost considering to let some of them go and not submit a report to the Mage Association. Almost. So, Lark, this is my annulment gift for you.
From now on, you can choose to introduce yourself as bachelor or a widower. I'd go with widower, is more dramatic, chicks dig rich lonely men and makes less awkward explaining why you have two children already. Ta-ta!"
After the communication ended, both the men were shocked to their bones.
"You told me that your wife handled stress badly, but this is beyond idiotic!" Lith even forgot the most basic etiquette.
"Indeed." The Count didn't seem to notice. "The only explanation is that Koya had arranged Lady Nerea's kidnapping in advance, and when she received the news about the annulment, it was too late to call it off.
She is a close friend to both of us. Koya's plan would make sense if Lady Nerea wasn't the strongest magician in all the County. Not to mention that even if the plan succeeded, the result would be disastrous anyway."
Count Lark sighed.
"Koya, you never listened to me when I talked about magic and its rules. I hope they don't make you suffer too much. You are still the mother of my kids."
Thinking about the destruction that was about to befall the whole Ghishal household, including his disowned children, he could not avoid shedding tears of regret and compassion.
Lith moved behind him, patting his back while using his sheer willpower to suppress a hysterical laughter.
Lith and his family spent two more weeks as the Count's guests, fully enjoying his hospitality and the beauty of the whole manor, especially the park.
Now everyone had a room of his own, there was no danger anymore. That meant that away from prying eyes, Rena and Tista could freely mock their little brother for the Count's painting and the heroic aura he had depicted him with.
Living everyday with Lith, they really couldn't see him as someone great or overbearing. He was always their little brother.
Lith paid them no mind, their laughter was something he had fought so hard to protect. As long that they laughed happily with him, instead of him, sibling mockery was perfectly acceptable.
Elina and Raaz, instead, were really scared by the stuffed Byk, considering that their son had been reckless enough to face such beast on his own. When they would get back home, they would give him a talk, but not now.
There was no point in spoiling their first vacation in over thirty years. For farmers vacations were just myths, like dragons.
Lith used that time to get acquainted with the huge magic library the Count had assembled over the years, finally discovering what Blood Resonance magic was.
It was a recently discovered branch of light magic, and by using it a mage could ascertain if two people were blood related or even to whom a blood sample belonged.
"Interesting, back on Earth this could become the foundations for forensics analysis. Seems that this mage, Duke Marth (AN: name, not title) is still alive and well, teaching magic in the White Griffon Academy.
This makes two famous mages residing there. Maybe Nana went to the Lightning Griffon because of her air magic prowess, while the White Griffon specializes in light magic. Or maybe is just a coincidence, whatever. It's too far from here for me."
Returning home revealed to be a bit traumatic for his family. No more servants, no more slacking off, no more all you can eat buffet 24/7. It took many days and even more sighs, but soon they returned to their old routine.
The Count's sharecroppers had done an excellent job, they even repaired and reinforced the house, making it seem brand new. The Count had also sent them home with lots of gifts.
All the clothes that had been prepared for them, a lot of make up from Keyla, and a whole crate of food from Hilya. The cook was really fond of the family, and couldn't wait to have them back in the manor.
A night, Lith was training his martial arts together with Solus, when she felt an unknown mana core approaching. More curious than worried, he made her return to his finger and set up various layers of protection around the house.
Whoever he was, he was alone and not very sneaky. Now that he had stop practicing, Lith could hear him getting closer. The night birds and insects had gone silent.
"Who the heck are you?" Lith asked as soon as their eyes met.
The man in front of him wore an expensive robe, worthy of a magician in Dungeons & Looting, but now was all dirty and ripped in many points. He was unshaven, his hair was muddy too, and with only moonlight Lith couldn't discern its colour from the dirt.
"You!" The man had a pleasantly surprised expression on his face. "You have finally returned! I have waited for weeks, sleeping in the mud and eating only acorns and berries, but it was worth the wait."
"I'll ask you only one more time, who are you?" Lith yawned, the man was not making any sense.
"I'm Genon Ghishal! You killed my entire family! Prepare to die!"
Lith reacted by laughing his a*s off.
"Oh! I get it now! Bravo on surviving despite belonging to a family of braindead idiots!"
"How dare you! I'll kill your whole family, like you killed mine!"
Lith started laughing even harder.
"You?! With your pathetic yellow mana core? Even my little sister is stronger than you." Lith's words and countenance made no sense to Genon.
Outraged by such lack of respect and fear, completely different from how he had imagined the face off, while enduring all the hardships, Genon started casting a Lightning spell.
Lith responded by bringing his index finger on the lips whispering:
"Hush! We don't want to wake up the neighbours."
A second air dome, beside the one that Lith had previously set up, enveloping the whole house, surrounded the two men, covering a thirty-meter (33 yards) radius.
"Brezza Inidra!" Genon completed his spell, a bolt of lightning shot toward Lith, which was still laughing.
"Look up!" He said pointing to the sky, and like an obedient dog, the bolt turned 90° up, rising harmlessly in the air before dissipating.
"Seriously?! A tier two spell? How the heck did you manage to graduate from whatever backwater academy they sent you?"
Genon suddenly felt scared, what he had just saw made absolutely no sense. Not even his teachers had ever done something like that.
"You know, I am really stressed." Lith stopped laughing, his tone turning cold and detached, like he was talking to himself rather than to his opponent.
"I have spent weeks holed up, pretending to be weak and harmless! Playing the good f*cking kid role! But now I can finally be myself."
For the first time since he had achieved the cyan mana core, Lith went all out. His body released a brilliant cyan aura, filled with killing intent. His bones and muscles started to pop and creak, moving to accommodate that sudden surge of power.
His eyes glowed like torches, emitting an ice blue radiance while his smile went to ear to ear. His teeth shined like fangs in the full moon light.
Genon was scared but not frozen, starting to cast a tier three fireball, the strongest spell he could cast safely without risking it to backfire.
Lith stood there, tilting his head left and right, waiting for him to finish.
The fireball was a five meters (5.5 yards) radius sphere of raging flames, but the closer it came to Lith, the more it shrank, until it became the size of the marble, allowing Lith to catch it with his open palm and squeezing it out with a puff.
"Tsk, tsk. You can use everything but fire magic. The noise isn't a problem, but the light could alert someone, and we don't want that."
Genon had no idea what was happening, but he knew that remaining there was too dangerous. That wasn't a magico, but a monster. He tried to run away, but before he could get out the Hush zone Lith was already pinning him down.
"First you threaten my family and now you want to leave? That's rude! The night is still young, and I have so many things to experiment on you, yet. Let's play!"
Despite the protective barrier, deep in the Trawn woods, the Ry, king in the east, could feel the magic turbulence growing stronger.
"Take heed, my pack. Some human has threatened Scourge's cubs. Let's learn from his mistakes and pray together for his soul, so in his next life he will be wiser for this."
The entire woods resounded with howls until dawn came.