Chapter 245: Clarity
"First of all, let me say that I'm sorry.
If it wasn't for me, you and the others wouldn't have a target painted on your back." Lith said while holding her hand and caressing it with his thumb.
"If you want, you guys can escape from this sh*t.
Avoid the academy for the first trimester or ask the Headmaster to attend the fifth year after the threat is passed.
I don't think he'll have any objections."
"What about you" Phloria asked.
"I have to stay." He shrugged.
"Whether the attack succeeds or not, my family will be the next in line anyway.
At least from here I can do my best to help Linjos and maybe take out the traitors before something else happens.
I'm the only one that knows when and how the future changes.
I need to inform the Headmaster as soon as it happens."
Phloria bit her lower lip, full of uncertainty.
Lith was right, she and her sisters had an easy way out of that situation.
Until they remained at house Ernas or near their parents, they would be safe.
"Also, you can greatly improve your odds of survival simply by cutting your ties with me."
"What" Phloria had to fight to prevent herself from slapping him for saying such a thing and herself for seriously considering it, even though for just a second.
"No matter how discreet the King is.
My visit to house Tanash is public knowledge and when the investigation starts, it doesn't take a genius to notice the timing of the events.
Between the plague and this I have made too many enemies.
It's better if we break up.
Possibly in a public place and in front of lots of witnesses."
"Do you want to break up" The little blood she had left in her face was drained, making her turn even paler, her stomach twisted into a knot.
"I don't want to…" Lith shook his head.
"But it's the best thing for you.
Do you remember our talk, that night when I was recovering I think it's time for us to seriously discuss about this thing between us.
I don't plan to marry anytime soon."
Lith had promised Jirni to make things clear with Phloria about their relationship and he decided it was the right moment to do it.
It was the only way he could think of for protecting her.
"I have lots of things to do.
First the military, then some stuff that I don't want to burden you with.
I don't know how long will it take and I can't ask you to wait for me.
It would be stupid and unfair.
You deserve someone better, someone that can give you what you want, that has your same goals in life."
Lith never stopped looking at her in the eyes.
He wanted Phloria to understand how serious he was.
Those words struck her hard enough to make Phloria stop, thinking carefully about what to say next.
'Lith is right, I can easily get away.
I asked him out only because I wanted to have at least a boyfriend before joining the Royal Guard and risking my life on a daily basis.
It started almost as a joke, yet now I feel terrible at the thought this might be our last month together.
'I don't want to marry either.
There are still so many things that I want to experience, so many places I want to visit.
Yet I think that will come for me the time to settle down.' She thought.
"I have first to consult with my parents before giving you a definitive answer." Phloria took his hand between hers.
"This much I can tell you for sure: I don't want to break up."
"What" Lith was flabbergasted.
Her devotion was way beyond his expectations.
"You know, when we aren't in a life or death situation and I can think clearly about us, I still don't know exactly what I feel.
What I'm certain about, is that I care for you like I never did before for someone outside of my family.
"Be it when I emotionally needed help after the second exam, or when the undead first and the Clackers later could have killed me, you never left my side.
Every time we were in danger, you could have run away by yourself.
Instead, you always protected our group.
You always protected me." She caressed his cheek, leaving Lith as stunned as outraged.
'Like heck I did! I was simply protecting my investment, otherwise I wouldn't have saved Yurial or the other girls.
I never cared for any of them in the past.
I took a liking to Phloria only after we started to date.
It's only their fault if they have fallen so deep for my deception to picture me like some f*cking hero.' Lith thought.
'Maybe she is right, though.
Maybe now I do care for the group.
I risked my life for them more often than any "investment" justifies.
I simply can't admit with myself that I see them as persons because I'm scared of getting hurt again.
The more people I love, the more I have to lose, just like it happened with Protector first and now with Solus.
'If I tell her the truth about the past, she will either despise me and everything I fought for a whole year will be for naught or she will not believe me, thinking I'm just trying to push her away.
'Either way, I'm screwed.
It's a lose-lose scenario.
Let's hope her parents force her to take a sabbatical.
I already have so little, I don't want to risk losing the person I care about the most in the academy.'
"Even now, despite knowing what could happen to you or your family, you are still worrying about me instead of running back home to warn them.
I'm truly blessed by the gods." Phloria smile was dazzling, but it only managed to piss Lith off even more.
'How the heck did she manage to make everything about her in less than twenty seconds Does she think life is some kind of romance fiction'
"I came to you because you guys are the only ones I can speak to in person.
Also, just like for the old vision, there is nothing that my family can do to protect themselves or avoid the predicted outcome." He explained.
"Warning them would only make them live what could be the last months of their lives in fear.
I don't plan on telling them anything about the second vision.
Whatever it's going to happen, it's my burden, not theirs."
His words fell on deaf ears.
Instead of understanding the logic behind his actions, Phloria only focused on how brave and stoic Lith appeared to be.
She hugged him tightly, making his annoyance peak.
Yet his irritation lasted only for a moment.
It was how long it took Lith to realize how bad his situation was.
Her warmth and affection destroyed the layer of frost surrounding his soul.
"I think you should tell them the truth.
All the secrets you keep to yourself, all the burden you refuse to share, sooner or later they will crush you.
You don't have to always fight alone.
The whole world isn't your enemy.
"I don't know what has happened to you at the mining town and if you don't want to talk about it, I'm okay with that.
However, I can see that you are in deep pain.
Please, don't shut me out of your life like you did since you came back.
Just tell me what can I do for you."
Now that Phloria had got a hold of him, she wasn't willing to let Lith slip away again.
Ever since Solus came clean with him, Lith had been confused about his feelings.
He needed someone to talk to, but until that moment, he felt like he was alone in the world.
"It was all a lie." Lith blurted out, returning her embrace.
"Protector is alive.
He, Kalla, even the Lord of the forest manipulated me to teach me a lesson!" In his rage, he tightened his grip enough to hurt her, making Phloria yelp in pain.
"Please, calm down and tell me everything from the beginning."
Lith told her the truth about that night, how he had failed saving Protector and how they both survived only thanks to the Scorpicore's intervention.
He even repeated her word by word Protector's speech before he had left.
Lith let Solus's role out, pretending that his outrage was aimed at Protector and that he had forced Kalla to tell him the truth after discovering Protector's missing corpse in the mass grave.
Phloria went pale more than once, but never interrupted his story, waiting for Lith to calm down.
"Can you believe it After all we went through, he had the gall to let me suffer like that and calling it an act of love!" He wished to meet Protector again, just to give him the beating of a lifetime.
Phloria remained silent, while he kept cursing Protector's name and expressing his outrage for having been manipulated.
After a while, Lith was tired of hearing only his own voice, so he turned towards Phloria noticing her distress.
"Why you say nothing Don't tell me you agree with him." Lith really wanted to punch the wall, but scaring the only person he had left sounded as a d*ck move even to him.
"I understand you are angry.
You have every right to be and I don't want to make you any angrier.
I think is better for me to leave."
She stood up, but Lith grabbed her hand.
"Please, I trusted him with my life.
I don't know what to believe anymore, just be honest with me.
I don't want to be coddled, I need the truth."
Phloria held his hand, caressing it with hers.
"Promise me not to get angry."
"I promise." Lith gritted his teeth, her words didn't bode well.
"I completely agree with him." Lith took a few deep breaths before calming down.
He didn't yell, didn't punch anything, he even managed to keep his hand relaxed.
"Why" He asked after he was able to speak again.
"Are you serious In his shoes, I wouldn't have lied to you, I would have strangled you with my own hands as soon as you recovered! At least now you know how he, or anyone else that cares for you, would have felt if you traded your life for theirs."
Lith started to feel like a jerk.
He knew how crushing the death of a beloved one could be.
His new life started because of the domino effects Carl's demise had triggered.
"Also, it's rich coming from you.
Accusing someone to be a liar.
You lied to your family over the years for the gods know how many times about almost everything.
You lied to me countless times too.
"About your strength, the mysterious brother of yours you fought so hard to protect, about how the heck you come back always in one piece even if your uniform gets wrecked so often that it's scary.
I don't know why you do it and I'm still waiting for you to tell me the truth.
"What you are experiencing is how your family felt when they discovered all your lies.
How I may feel if and when you decide to be honest with me.
Yet they didn't love you any less for it, because you did it to protect them, to give them a better life.
"I think you owe Protector a second chance, he just played a Lith on you.
By the way, I don't care if you are a dragon in disguise, I still care for you." She quickly gave him a peck before running away, leaving Lith stunned.
Her speech made a lot of sense, only the last phrase was beyond his understanding.
'If Phloria reacted like that, I'm afraid what mom or Tista would say if they knew the truth.' Lith thought.
'She is right though.
Me complaining about being manipulated is like Nana preaching about generosity.
Even when I open myself to someone, about half I say is a lie.
I wonder what Carl would have said if he ever learned what really happened to our father.
Would he hate me for what I did or would he just resent me for hiding the truth from him and shouldering everything by myself'
Lith pondered for a while about the whole situation before deciding that moral dilemmas could wait.
He needed to study for the following day's lessons and to devise contingency plans for whatever could happen to the academy the next spring.
Soon he found himself wishing to have Solus's input, but his rage was still too strong.
Lith couldn't call her for help twice during the same day.
It would be like admitting with her and even more importantly with himself that he was ready to forgive her.
From the following day, elite units from the army and the Mage Association covertly examined and cleansed the various academies' staff members and their students.
Even without a proper diagnostic spell, the purifying one Marth had devised against the anti-mana parasites would still work.
It turned out that Linjos wasn't the only one that had been poisoned.
All the Headmasters that followed his protocol had suffered the same fate and with them many of the Professors that fought against the waves of Balkor's undead.
Even if there was no proof of their involvement, the surviving staff members of the fallen Earth and Crystal Griffon academies were quietly arrested for treason.
Royal constables interrogated them only to discover that their only crime was pursuing their own political agenda rather than their students' best interests.
Soon it became clear that the culprit wasn't someone at the top of the food chain, but someone at its very bottom.