Almost four years had passed, and over time many things had changed.
Two years ago, when Lith was still ten years old, Rena had reached adulthood. She participated to the Spring Maiden contest, winning it by a landslide.
Between the clothes from the Count, the make-up from Keyla and the beauty treatment from Lith she had basically no competition.
She has soon started to hang out with several young promising bachelors, before finding the right one. His name was Senton, and he was the son of the blacksmith.
After dating for almost a full year, they were ready to marry.
In that same year, Tista had reached her growth spurt at the age of twelve. She was officially healed from her congenital condition and had started to practice fake magic under Lith's and Nana's guidance.
Her mana core had become deep green, and according to Solus, there was still space for it to grow at least up to bright green. Tista was finally able to get out of the house without supervision, starting to make friends with the children of the neighbours.
It was too late for her to try to attend to a Magic Academy, she barely knew the basics of chore magic, but she didn't mind. After being prisoner of her own body for so many years, she had no interest in perpetual challenges.
The only thing she really wanted was to enjoy her new life, trying out all the things that had been forbidden to her before. Becoming a magica and inheriting one day Nana's business was already beyond every expectation she ever had.
Even Lith's household had deeply transformed. Between his magic, the help from the Count and all the money he was able to earn, the walls were now made entirely of stone, only the floor and the roof were still wooden.
He had also built a new bedroom for himself that served as a study too. Lith was getting too old to keep sleeping with his sisters, and had no intention of moving in with Trion.
He demanded his personal space and privacy, and since he was the one paying for it, no one could make any objections.
As for Lith himself, he had changed deeply, at least physically. Despite having yet to become twelve years old, he was already one meter and sixty centimetres (5'3") high. His thin and scrawny build was only a memory.
Now he had broad shoulders, his muscles were well developed but not ripped, rather cleverly chiselled. He didn't want to stand out nor to carry useless weight, Lith wasn't planning on becoming a soldier, after all.
He was plenty content with a far from average build and a body that was able to react instantly, according to his will. His mana core was still cyan, but not deep anymore, halfway through the light cyan that would precede the next evolution.
A mana core on the strong end of the spectrum had proven to be much stronger that the previous ones, but at the same time it put a much stronger burden to Lith's body. He had reached a bottleneck that couldn't be overcome with training or study.
Only after hitting his growth spurt, his body would become strong enough to allow him to refine further the mana core. Before such event, the use of Accumulation would bring to him only pain and no benefits.
(AN: Accumulation is the breathing technique that allows Lith to absorb the world energy into his mana core, making it grow stronger through expansion and shrinking cycles, with the mana core turning of a lighter colour at every cycle.
See the end of chapter 7 and chapter 9 for more details)
Also, since now all of his clothes had the Lark's household crest on either the shoulder or the chest pocket, he made full use of his newfound authority, protecting the village in Nana's absence. For a fee, off course.
The only criminals he would take out for free, were those with a nice "Dead or Alive" bounty on their heads. Lith would strictly deliver them feet first.
Now that he was almost twelve, the number of spells and the skill level he could reveal had increased exponentially, since now he officially had more than six years of magical training.
Seeing him fly around or hunting for pelts or bounties had become a common occurrence in the Lutia village. By having three healers and two protectors, the village kept growing in fame, size and population.
It was only thanks to him that Rena and Senton were able do date each other. Previously, the idea of the son of an artisan marrying the daughter of a humble farmer would have been preposterous.
Inside, though, Lith had changed very little. He was still the cynical, mistrustful broken man he had always been, with no real friend or loved one outside his family and Solus.
Having to deal with criminals, chasing away profligate boys that molested his sisters and interacting with the nobles, had further rooted in his mind the idea that mankind, even in the new world, was a plague that he had to avoid.
His only real confident was Solus, and despite all her attempts, she had not been able to change his mind, even one bit.
He was also in a very bad mood.
"Dammit, tier four spells are really hard. I can manage to reproduce them with true magic, but I still feel they are somewhat lacking. Either when I cast them with true or fake magic, something keeps feeling amiss."
"Yeah." Solus mind nodded. "Maybe is just my impression, but this kind of spells is supposed to hold some deep and profound concept that we are not able to grasp. Maybe, if we had access to tier five books…"
"Ifs and buts are just a waste of time. Who would have ever thought that Count Lark wouldn't buy them? He is still dead set to send me to the Lightning Griffon academy, no matter how many times I repeated I preferred being home-schooled."
"Well, you knew how stubborn the Count can be. Also, from his point of view, not buying the books kills two birds with one stone. He manages to save a mountain of gold and forces you attending the academy at the same time."
During those four years, Lith had relentlessly tried to convince the Count that an Academy was not good for him, even resorting to use the need to protect his family and the village as a leverage.
Bu the Count was immovable.
"Dear Lith, you have a dire need of the Academy, and I say this only in your best interest. I cannot stress out how important is to learn how to properly interact with your peers and establishing the right connections.
Not to mention that you have no friend of your age! You need to socialize, fall in love, even. Otherwise you'll grow into a cranky and cynical man."
"Been there, done that." Solus giggled.
"Also don't worry for your family. As soon as you enrol, they'll gain a newfound status, and until your graduation the Magic Association will take personal care of them. At that point, not even the most reckless madman would try something funny."
Lith had run out of excuses, and could not tell him the truth.
He was sick and tired of being looked down by nobles and foreign merchants, and even resorting to violence or intimidation after a while had lost much of its luster.
Lith just wanted to be left in peace and treated with respect, like any normal human being.
He didn't know how long he could suffer the contempt and abuse from his so called "peers" at the Academy, before shoving their high and mighty attitude up their throat, after taking detour through their a*ses.
The idea of not being able to practice true magic, spirit magic and fusion magic was enough to give him a big headache. In an Academy he would be crippled, losing all of his advantages to not blow his cover.
It was a lose-lose situation.
Lith's mood was made even worse by the thought of Rena moving out the household. After what happened to Carl, he had developed an obsessive-compulsive need to know where everyone was at any given time.
He needed to feel that everything was under his control to be in peace with himself.
"If you really love them, you have to let them go." Solus tried to console him.
"After all, Academy or not, when you reach sixteen years and leave the house, what are you going to do? Stuff them and store them in the pocket dimension? You need to learn to let go and focus on what's really important for you.
If you really wanted to make them your puppets, you wouldn't have cured Tista. Her illness was the perfect leash, yet you willingly choose to free her. They are not Carl. The whole world is not filled with trash like the one that killed him."
Lith's mind recognized the truth in her words, but his heart refused to. It would keep screaming "F*ck the world! They are mine! Mine! Mine!"
"Is this what a father feels when his children leave the nest?"
He couldn't avoid noticing that even Raaz, despite all the smiles and happiness he showed, was actually quite depressed losing his eldest daughter.
"If I'm like this with adults, I'm afraid to discover what I would become if children were involved. It seems I am destined to be single for life."
Now that Lith was eleven year and a half, he had reached the minimum age requirement to apply for a scholarship at the Lightening Griffon academy.
Count Lark was waiting for him at his manor, from where they would travel to their destination by stagecoach. According to the Count, flying in the vicinity of any building owned by the Mage Association was strictly forbidden.
Even to get in the vicinity was needed a special pass and to have set up an appointment through the proper channels.
The academy wasn't that far, but using a stagecoach would require several hours of boredom. While looking through the window, Lith could only hope that all those years of preparations and self-sabotaging would pay off.
Being actually accepted in such an institution, away from home, would be the beginning of his worst nightmare.