After the end of the spring festival, nothing major happened, and Lith's life returned to his usual routine.
Solus proved to be of invaluable help for Lith's magical training. Despite having lost all of her past knowledge and being quite naïve in the ways of life, she was by far the brighter of the two.
Solus was not limited to the humans' five senses, but actually had twelve. Solus was certain that by regaining her powers she would be able to awaken even more.
Solus' sense of mana helped Lith to better understand the laws of magic that determined innate talent the mana capacity.
Her mana sense was similar to Lith's Life vision, only more precise and accurate. Solus could actually see the mana flowing from blades of grass and even pebbles. When looking at someone, she was immediately able to grasp their magic talent.
Even more important, she was able to use her mana sense on Lith's memories. According to Solus, all the information needed to use mana sense was also contained in the visible spectrum, but humans lacked the means to interpret them.
'When you were on Earth, you had no mana core. Your native world had no mana at all. The same thing happened on the alien spaceship.
'But when you were born here, you started with a very small blood-red mana core. By absorbing and processing the world energy with your breathing technique, you managed to develop it from red to orange.'
'Four years of unrelenting practice just to promote it to the next rank?' Lith was quite depressed by the news.
'Not quite. Your mana core also keeps changing and developing as you grow up, and this happens to everyone else too. At the moment of your birth, Tista's mana core was already field poppy red, and turned brighter every year.
'Right now it's light orange, and it would not surprise me if after her final growth spurt it turned yellow, or even green. She seems to be fairly talented in magic.' Solus said.
'And where does that leave me?' Lith kept feeling worse about himself. 'Am I really a complete failure in everything? Looks, talent, can't I do one thing right?' Lith thought.
'Stop moping around and listen to me. You keep forgetting that you are two years younger and I have no idea if males and females develop their mana cores at different rates.
'Also, the constant use of Accumulation makes it hard for me to understand how good your base talent is. After every cycle of expansion and compression, your mana core would turn one shade brighter.
'Every time you expel impurities from your mana core, it skips to the next level. Right now, it's deep green.' Solus said.
'Is it just me, or does the mana core strength seem to be somehow related to the light spectrum?' Lith pondered. 'A prism can break down white light in its basic components: red, orange, yellow, green, cyan, blue, purple.'
'Agreed.' Solus mind nodded. 'But it could also somehow be related to fire. Flames follow the same principle. A yellow star is colder than a green one and so on. Our real question is: Is the final step for a mana core to turn purple or white?'
Lith shook his head.
'I'm starting to get a splitting headache. We'll face this as I did for college back on Earth: one exam session at a time. Even back then, if I started to think about all the exams that I had to pass to get my degree, only to start right back for my masters, I would fall into a deep depression.' The memory made him shudder.
'Let's focus on the present. I'm deep green, what about Nana?'
'She is the only person with a light cyan mana core. To be born with such a talent, she is really impressive.'
'Is there anyone else talented in the village?' Lith had to be aware of the possible competition.
'No. The ill kid count Lark brought along had a bright yellow mana core, but I don't think he lives close by.'
Lith sighed, all that information was quite overwhelming for him. For so many years he had deluded himself into thinking that he was special, stronger than anyone else.
Now he felt like the proverbial frog in the well, finally discovering the vastness of the sea.
'Enough moping around, let's roll up our sleeves and work hard. Nothing that's worth having comes easy.'
Lith and Solus kept practicing together for the whole year, growing closer and closer like fraternal twins.
Lith's birthday was in the fall, but all major activities in the village would be suspended until the next spring. Since Nana's offer was to replace the two years of public schooling with an apprenticeship, Lith had to wait until spring to begin his magical education.
In late winter the weather cleared, and the trades between the village and the farmhouses became more and more frequent.
Thanks to this, Nana was able to let Lith know the date she had set for the start of his apprenticeship. She had entrusted the message to one of his neighbors that had come to her to heal a nasty wound suffered while repairing the roof.
When the day came, Lith woke up early, determined to keep his routine of cleaning both his house and Selia's before going to the village.
The huntress had done so much for him that Lith considered her as an aunt. A stingy, nagging aunt who would make rip-off deals, but an aunt nonetheless.
That morning the house was in turmoil. All his loved ones were so excited at the idea of having a future mage in the family, that they could barely eat their breakfast. They would rather spend all their time and energy giving him unwanted and obvious advice.
"Don't be late. It's better to be a little early rather than to show up late." Raaz said.
"Be obedient and respectful. Nana is giving you a great chance!" Elina said.
The reason everyone was so on edge was that they considered the first day to be of vital importance and Lith had to go to the village alone.
The house was in dire need of repairs. With Orpal gone, they needed all hands on deck to take care of the fields and animals.
Lith didn't mind it at all, it was just a thirty minute walk that he had done countless times. Raaz and Elina, though, felt like they were abandoning their child in his hour of need.
Lith rushed out of his house, to escape from their barrage of worries. He was very calm about the apprenticeship. It wasn't his first rodeo.
Yet they had managed to make him nervous like a teenager waiting for his first date. After finishing the chores at Selia's house and collecting his usual payment, Lith restlessly looked at the sun.
'Dammit, it's still barely dawn. Here I was, shuddering in fear. I still have a lot of time.'
Lith walked briskly toward the village hoping that, by the time he arrived, Nana would at least already be awake. Arriving so early to give her the wake-up call would have been quite embarrassing.
When he had made it about halfway down the road, Lith noticed something odd. There was a horseman standing on the side of the road.
It was already unusual finding a stranger so early in the morning, but what really alarmed him was that the man wasn't moving. Whoever he was, he was clearly on patrol.
As soon as the horseman noticed Lith, he took out a silvery whistle from under his shirt and blew into it, emitting a high-pitched noise.
Lith kept moving forward, but slowly, ready to react at any moment.
Soon the scout was joined by four other horsemen, and they started trotting toward Lith in an arrowhead formation.
Lith stopped moving. He had many spells at the ready.
"Kid, are you Lith? Son of Raaz and Elina?" Said the horseman on point. He was a middle-aged man, with brown hair and eyes. He had a perfectly trimmed mustache, and everything from his straight posture to his commanding tone identified him as a military commander of some sort.
Lith looked carefully and noticed that all the horsemen had the same vibe, marching perfectly aligned. Yet they were wearing casual clothes. White shirts over leather hunting pants.
'Isn't it a little early to go out without the matching leather jacket?' Lith thought. 'Unless they need to avoid showing any household insignia.'
"Who are you, mister? My mother always tells me that I am not supposed to talk to strangers." Lith decided to stall for time while he and Solus checked their surroundings for lookouts or possible reinforcements still in hiding.
'I perceive only five human males with above average physical strength and deep red mana cores.' Solus reported. It was the same thing Lith had determined using Life Vision, but four eyes were better than two.
"I ask the questions, kid. Are you the Lith that is supposed to start his apprenticeship today?��
'Whoever sent this hired muscle, knows way too much about me.' Lith thought.
"I am." Lith retorted fiercely. "And it's none of your business."
"I'm here to give you a bit of friendly advice, son. Today you are feeling very ill, and it's best for you to go back home and stay in bed all day."
Lith's anger started to grow and he didn't care about hiding it.
"I'm feeling perfectly fine, thank you. Now scram!"
The five men lowered their hands to their weapons hanging from their belts, the reins held tightly ready to charge.
"Last chance, kid. Turn back now. I know you have such a pretty house and such a beautiful mom. Not to mention two gorgeous sisters ripe for the taking. It would be really sad if something bad happened to them."
Lith released such a powerful killing intent aura that the horses took a step back. His mana and hatred seethed together generating the equivalent of an aura of fear. The hair on the back of the riders' necks suddenly stood up.
"I wanted to play this nice and slow, but I just changed my mind."
With a sweep of his right hand, five wind blades struck the horses' legs, making them whine in pain and collapse on their sides.
"Now you cannot retreat anymore."
The man with the mustache and his right-hand man managed to dismount with a roll, avoiding getting crushed by the falling horse. The other three weren't so skilled.
"Kill him! Go! Go! Go!"
"Kneel!" Lith's voice was cold, his words fell on the two men like boulders, making them instantly fall on their knees.
Lith's spirit magic was stronger than ever, and he wasn't holding back even one bit.
"What the heck? Sarge, I can't get up!" Screamed the right-hand man struggling on the ground.
"I never allowed you to talk or to look at me. I said kneel!" Another wave, even stronger than the previous one, pushed their heads toward the ground.
Despite dropping their weapons to absorb the impact with their hands, they still hit the ground so hard that they started to bleed.
"Much better. Now let me dispose of the garbage before resuming our talk." Lith walked over to the closest horseman. He was still under his horse, his leg was stuck and broken, making him scream and wince in pain.
With a wave of his hand, Lith turned his head 180°. The rider's neck snapped like a dry log tossed into the fire.
"Stay away! Stay away from me, monster!" Screamed the next in line, crying in desperation.
"Am I a monster? Was it not you who was ready to burn a house full of innocents, to r*pe a barely eight year old child?" Without waiting for his reply, Lith clenched his fist, distorting the man's head before making it implode like a walnut.
"Please, please! It's not my fault! Have mercy! I was just following orders!" Said a blonde, handsome youth trying to free his trapped leg.
"Just following orders… I could lecture you about the many atrocities that men like you did with such an excuse. But you see, I'm just the same. I'm just following orders too! Mine to be precise!" A firebolt struck both horse and rider, turning them into a pyre that screamed in agony.
Lith returned to the kneeling men. They were still struggling to escape his control, their faces pale as ghosts, gritting their teeth while exerting every ounce of their strength.
"I'm sorry." Lith said with a cherubic smile while letting them raise their heads. "But my Puppet Master spell isn't so simple. It takes more than a touch of strength and a spoonful of wishful thinking to escape from it."
The two men wanted to beg for mercy, but their mouths refused to open. It was like their teeth were fused to each other.
"Now, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that I don't need both of you. Between the pack leader and a lackey, the choice is obvious. The good news is that I allow you to speak. Any last words?"
"Please, don't! I just married, I needed the prize money from my Lord! My wife is expecting a child! I could not afford to lose my position."
Lith emitted a cruel, joyless laugh.
"We'll have to agree to disagree. You say wife, yet all I can hear is a widow."
Lith put his left hand on the man's head, turning it into a block of ice.
It fell to the ground, shattering into countless shards of bone, skin, and brain matter.
The man with the moustache started to puke uncontrollably, but his mouth was still shut tight. Some barf managed to escape from his nose, the rest he was forced to gulp down over and over, to avoid choking.
Lith raised his right hand, making the man with the mustache float in mid-air upside down, so that he could look him straight in the eyes.
"Now, you have only two choices. You can tell me what I want and die without suffering too much. Or you can keep resisting, suffering through unimaginable pain and agony before telling me what I want to know. You have free will after all."