It was in moments like that that Lith felt how heavy a bottleneck was. Normally, in such a situation, he would use Accumulation, turning a downtime into a training session while also studying how his body was developing.
But now that option was unavailable, and being stuck in such state for almost a year, he knew his body inside out, to the point of memorizing where every impurity was located.
After half an hour, he was about to fall asleep.
"Hope the Count doesn't mind me snoring a little."
"Lith, why don't we open Nana's goodbye gift? I'm really curious." Solus said.
"I'm not. That stingy old hag just gave me a piece of paper. I bet it's a list of souvenirs she wants me to buy for her."
A small friendly bet was better than doing nothing, so he took out the small envelope and read its content. Lith had lost the bet, it was a brief letter.
Now that you are going to a Magic Academy, away from the prying eyes of your parents, you deserve to know the truth. Chore magic holds a forbidden spell that I never taught you. Now you are old enough to know."
It followed a short but precise description on how to use darkness magic on himself to avoid unwanted consequences from the intimacy with girls. It was a birth control spell. The letter closed with a
"Remember to always be a gentleman and have fun! You'll thank me later.
With love, Nana"
"What a dirty old lady. I'm not even twelve." Lith couldn't stop from laughing out loud. The idea of Nana being the one worrying about his sex life was hilarious.
"It's this about something Lady Nerea wrote? An anecdote? Can I see it too?" The Count was very curious, seeing Lith laugh was a rare occurrence.
After reading the message, Count Lark became purple from embarrassment. The scene made Lith laugh even louder.
"Oh my, the Count is such a softie. Getting flustered by such stupid thing. Sometimes he seems straight out of a manga."
"Lith, this is no laughing matter." The Count said.
"I appreciate Lady Nerea concern, but I still find it ill-timed and vulgarly expressed. The matters of the heart should be treated with more tact, especially with someone young as you are."
Lith couldn't help but renew his laughter.
"He really called it 'matters of the heart'! It's just sex, man!"
The light mood didn't last long, the long trip soon made both the men fall asleep.
When the coachman woke them, they were already arrived.
The sight of the Lightning Griffon academy was truly impressive.
The building itself seemed an enormous castle, straight from the wet dreams of a medieval engineer. Yet it was impossible to see it clearly, they were still too far.
The academy was in the center of a huge forest that extended in all directions as far as the eye could see.
"That explains why it's so distant from populated areas, is basically a County of its own. The forest may even have an extension superior to the Trawn woods." Lith thought.
"Why do we stop here? We are still very far, how are we supposed to reach the academy?"
The Count was excited like a kid in a candy store.
"Don't worry and follow me."
He brought Lith to a small brick house on the edge of the forest, were two men were sipping tea while idly chatting.
The Count introduced himself and showed them their permits.
The man that was now holding the papers whispered a few words, the ink rearranged itself, coming out of the sheet and forming some kind of magic circle on the ground.
"Even the permits are a magical item?" Lith was shocked.
"I sensed some mana coming from them, but I supposed it was just some kind of magical seal of authenticity, not something this complex." Solus explained.
"Sh*t! We are completely in the dark about magical items, and there's no mention of it in any book we read so far. Either we find a way to correct this situation, or our travels will be much more difficult in the future."
Following the man's instructions, Lith and the Count stepped inside the circle, that instantly became a translucent yellow sphere.
It gently rose up in the air, before starting to fly at break-neck speed toward the castle. Despite it was moving faster than Lith ever did before, they felt no different than standing on the ground.
"This thing is like gyrostabilized! What a brilliant idea!" For the first time Lith was almost regretting is choice. Almost.
The trip was short, but Lith still managed to see many huge magical beasts running inside the forest. They even almost collided with an eagle the size of a piper aircraft. Its eyes were full of scorn, shrieking at them something that sounded a reprimand.
"Is it me, or there are only magical beasts in there?" Lith asked the Count, who nodded.
"Yes, magical beasts and monsters, off course. They'll explain everything to you once you enrol." The Count had a fatherly tone, but Lith could clearly hear a hint of condescension 'I told you so'-like.
The sphere landed on a balcony before dissipating. A twenty-year-something girl wearing a magician robe was waiting for them.
She guided them through magical escalators and corridors, before leaving them into the Headmistress antechamber. She had talked via a small communicator amulet the whole time, giving orders about menial duties.
In Lith's experience, that meant bad news. Whenever he had a job interview, the secretary attitude towards the applicants was a tell about how the company treated his employees and what where their expectations about a candidate.
She had ignored them the whole time, not giving them a tour or an explanation about any of the magical marvels they had encountered.
For someone who wanted to be rejected, though, it was good news.
The Count was too mesmerized to notice, his eyes were moving to every single piece of furniture, his mouth agape in admiration. The room itself was a prodigy.
Despite no visible source of light, be it windows, torches or light stones, every nook and cranny were lighted as the morning sun was shining above their heads.
"What do you think of this?" The Count asked as a rhetorical question, expecting Lith to show an enthusiasm equal if not superior to his.
"Honestly? I find it pretentious and stuck-up. Everything in the room feels like his master is looking down on us, trying to intimidate the guest and put him in his place."
"Really?" The Count's dream bubble popped up abruptly.
"Yeah. I mean little splendour is fine, but this? It's too much." He pointed at the gold decoration that kept shifting to silver and platinum, and at the gemstones embroidered at every corner, like shining eyes staring at them with contempt.
"Also how do you explain otherwise that girl rude attitude? She barely looked at us at all."
"Oh dear." The Count gulped. "Now that you point that out, this room resembles very much the King's antechamber for the unwanted guests."
"Is there such thing?" Lith was curious.
"Yes, is kind of an open secret. The King's room has more than one waiting room, depending on how much he cares about the visitor. The one for the unwanted guests is filled with tacky stuff like this, to remember the visitor the Crown's power.
It's also filled with painting depicting the previous Kings and Queens slaying rebellious nobles or mages. Depends on whom he wants to pressure."
"Like these ones?" Lith pointed to many magical paintings, all of them where short movies, showing how the Mage Association got rid of entire families of unruly nobles throughout history.
The event depicted would go to the point of showing the bloodshed, the mansions set aflame, before starting to tell their story back from the beginning.
"Precisely." The Count swallowed loudly.
Expecting to have to wait for hours, Lith made himself comfortable, trying to get asleep again. He wasn't disappointed. When the Count woke him up, he could see from his face that he had quite some pent-up stress.
He had waited patiently for long enough to get the message.
"Don't say a word. If we want to salvage this thing, we need tact and diplomacy. Leave everything to me." Count Lark said with barely a whisper.
The Headmistress' office was much less tacky than her antechamber, resembling very much a common principal office from Earth. She was a woman at least as old as Nana, but time had been kinder to her.
Her face was full of wrinkles, but her eyes were full of energy and life. Unlike Nana, she was ready to live a long life and stood straight as a string
Her hair was almost completely grey, only some shade of yellow still remained. She wore a robe with the colours of her academy, it was of a light blue, while all the decorations were of a bright yellow, most likely gold.
The way its fabric had been woven, made it seem like every movement of the Headmistress was the wind moving through the sky, while the gold embroidered appeared and disappeared like sudden lightnings.
She had only smiles and nice words, but Lith's instinct could sense no warmth in her.
"Dear Count, we haven't met for too long!" She extended her hand to him.
"You are too kind. It's only my fault that I can't bring you enough promising youths." The Count's poker face was impeccable. All traces of stress and anxiety had disappeared. His words were calm and gentle, like meeting a long-lost sister.
"Please, have a seat. Sorry for the long wait, but as you know this is the busiest time of the year." The apology sounded fake like a three-dollar bill.
"Do not apologize, I completely understand. Now, sorry if I go straight to business, I do not want to waste any more of your precious time."
The Count took out a folder that contained a chronicle of all feats Lith had accomplished, together with his official merits count.
The Headmistress pushed the folder back.
"No need. We always do a full background check on every applicant. I must say that you brought me a really interesting fellow."
This time it was Lith turn to gulp loudly, cold sweat going down his spine.
"What the heck did I do wrong?"
She took out a folder of her own, much thicker than the previous one.
"I can see that this young man, Lith, has earned a lot of merits by healing the poor and by getting rid of many of the menaces that threatened your County. Did you know that the criminal underworld has nicknamed him Scourge?"
"Beats me how the heck my beast title reached their ears. How can delinquents and magical beasts view me in the same way?" Lith thought.
"It seems that he likes his bounties dead as a doornail, and that's good. Being merciful with the scum of earth can only bite you in the back, sooner or later. He also had quite a number of magical challenges with some noble youths."
"And that's bad, right?" Lith clenched his fist, full of expectation.
"That's good too. A true mage must not fear to defend himself or his name, in our business talent and power are more important than etiquette.
Not to mention that those who have not the skill, should not fly too close to the sun and then complain about getting burned."
Lith felt like the earth was collapsing under his feet.
"So instead of sabotage I self-promoted all this time?! F*ck me sideways!"
"But…" Suddenly Lith's hopes revived, like a phoenix risen from its ashes.
"… sadly, I must say that he doesn't meet the requirements for a scholarship. I'm really sorry."
"F*ck yes! I forgive you, deceiving b*tch! I did it, and that's what matters."
The Count turned pale as a ghost.
"May I know why? Talent, skill, heart. I dare to say he is the best one I ever brought here so far." His voice was broken, Lith felt bad for the poor man.
"Off course you can, you deserve to know. You see, the real problem lies not in your protégé, but rather in his mentor."
"Excuse me?" Blood flushed back in the Count's face.
"Nerea is a fallen mage, akin to a disowned son of the academy, if not of the whole Mage Association. Like for nobles is forbidden to help a relinquished of their own, the same stands for us, or at least for me.
She has brought shame to the institution, and up to this very day she keeps meddling with us. Not to mention that even if indirectly, Lith has been involved in the purge of two noble households.
As a mage, I can't stress enough how despicable I find dragging the Mage Association into every single petty squabble. It's an abuse of power, and I want to send a message to all the rogue mages out there by rejecting her disciple.
You can try bringing him to other academies, but I think their answer will be the same."
"What?!" The Count was now bright red, his eyes almost popping out from the rage.
"Lady Nerea has protected and helped Lustria County for years, while everyone else did nothing! This young man saved my life, my family.
He did what he did only for self-preservation, and you are telling me that you are willing to ruin his life for your own petty revenge? For politics?"
"How dare you speak to me like that in my office!" The Headmistress jumped up from her armchair, her eyes glowing with power.
"I dare! I double dare and call this bullsh*t!" Lith never thought the Count to be such a brave fighter.
"You are just sacrificing a mage, and a powerful one, for your own political gain! Lith, let's go. The air stinks in here."
Before going out the door, the Count turned back, yelling.
"This doesn't end here! I'll let everyone know how the Lightning Griffon has stooped. You'll never get again a single copper coin from my County or any of my retainers. And by the way, he is the inventor of the chessboard on your desk."
The door slammed behind them, without giving her the opportunity to rebuke.
"Man, seriously? So much for tact and diplomacy. You are a mall cog in a big machine. Your threats are nothing but wishful thinking."
Lith happiness was clouded by the worries about the consequences that the Count's fit of rage could have on both his homeland and his friend. Count Lark had fought for him fiercely, and that was something Lith would never forget.