After those words, Orpal fell to his knees. His world was crumbling beneath his feet. All he knew, all he had planned and dreamed about, had disappeared in the space of a single word.
It meant that he was dishonourably banished from his own family, leaving him with nothing he could call as his own. He had just become a nameless, penniless orphan.
When the parents of the other boys arrived, things escalated quickly. Seeing their boys broken and unconscious in a foreign house, stinking of their own feces and urines, they demanded for an explanation.
They were all long-time friends, so it was easy for Raaz making them calm down enough to have a civil conversation.
"You" Raaz ordered the nameless one "explain what you did."
Despite being still shocked, he was already angry enough to return to his old self.
"If I must go down, I'll bring them all with me. We'll share the same destiny, so I won't be alone. I refuse to be the only one to pay for this!" He thought.
The nameless one confessed that he had always hated his brother, and how he had planned to teach him discipline and respect with the help of his friends.
When he had finished, everyone in the room was appalled, refusing to believe those words. They had always known Orpal as a good, kind young man.
"Lith, can you tell us what happened here exactly?"
Lith acted like he was reluctant to leave his mother's embrace, and after a dramatic moment of pause, he stepped forward. He made sure of limping and holding his left arm, while wincing with pain at every step.
"As you all know, my family has a lot of expenses, and my sister is ill. So, since I am quite talented in chore magic, Selia pays me to clean her house too. I give the money to my parents, to help them make ends meet."
"I have carefully picked the words for this speech." Lith thought. "If they don't feel pity and compassion for a beaten up five years old after this sob story, these guys are full blown psychos."
"Today miss Selia is out of town, so I was alone in here when your sons suddenly barged in and started beating me." He held out his arms, turning around to let them see how battered he was.
"I tried to defend myself, like my dad taught me, but they were too big and too strong." Lith started sobbing again. "I had to use magic to defend myself, I was so scared! I really thought I was going to die." He returned between Elina's embrace, weeping non-stop.
"Poor kid." Said Bromann, Rizel's father, picking up the wooden stick from his son's hand. "This piece of trash even dared using his grandfather's only memento. Elina, Raaz, Lith, I offer you my most sincere apologies. I have failed as a man and as a father, to raise such a snake in the grass. Whatever is your decision, I will comply without questions. But first…"
Bromann splashed Rizel's face with a bucket of dirty water to get him conscious.
He needed to hear the truth from his own son. He still could not fully believe even his own eyes.
"D… dad? What are you doing here?" Rizel held his chin that was throbbing with pain, when he suddenly recalled what had happened.
All the eyes were on him, including Lith's. The same cold eyes, glowing with blue energy Lith had before unleashing lightnings.
"I make the questions, young man. And if you don't want another beating or worse, you'd better tell the truth. What in the gods' names were you all doing here?"
Terrified by both his father and his tormentor, Rizel could only say the truth.
One after the other, the four remaining boys were woken up and forced to tell the whole story. One of them tried to expose Lith's torture, but his father made him shut up with a strong slap in the face.
"Five against a little kid and you have the gall to blame him for going all out? Our families are friends from generations, your actions dishonoured us all! When we get back home, I will show you what real torture is!"
"What a moron!" Lith laughed inwardly. "Their credibility is less than zero, they can tell whatever they want. It will only appear as the pathetic excuse of a criminal caught red handed."
"Raaz, what do you want us to do?" Bromann asked.
"I am going to disown Orpal, and then report all of them for attempted murder. I won't ask anything from you. We all know how hard is being a parent, especially in moments like this. I just wanted you to hear it from me, before I go to the village chief."
"I will not disown my son. Not yet at least." Bromann said. "But I can promise you that I will do nothing to defend him in any way from the consequences of his actions. And when he will be back home, I will make sure that he will never have the opportunity to harm your family again!"
So, they all went to Lutia, where the village chief listened to the six boys' confessions before pronouncing the sentence.
"After hearing all the facts and testimony, I hereby sentence the six of you to four hours of pillory, where you will be shaved of all your hair and whipped ten times for your crimes. After that, you will spend three days in jail to reconsider your actions.
Any objections?" All those present shook their heads.
"I have a question." Lith said.
"For me or for the prisoners, young man?"
"For them. Can I?"
"But off course. Ask them whatever you want."
Lith nodded, and moved in front of Rizel.
"Did Trion know?"
"Off course he did!" Orpal screamed. "He is always stood by my side, unlike you, Leech." Lith ignored him.
"No." Rizel looked at Orpal with eyes filled with disgust. "We planned everything when we were alone. Orpal said that he did not trust Trion enough. That Trion is a spineless coward, and that he feared that he could rat us out."
"Thanks." Lith then spoke to the village chief again. "Could you please reduce his sentence? His sincerity helps my whole family, it clears our doubts and my brother's name as well."
"But off course! If the victims asks for mercy, how could I possibly refuse? Rizel will only receive five lashes, and after the pillory time has passed, his family is free to bring him home. Is that okay for you?"
Lith nodded, and Bromann shook Lith's hand while his wife was weeping with joy.
"Thanks, Lith. That means a lot for my poor Lisa. I will not forget your kindness. I'm sure you'll become a great man, just like your father."
Lith was completely satisfied with that outcome.
"I didn't know that disowning a son, especially the firstborn, was possible. Everything went even better than I imagined. Orpal's friends can't wait to get some alone time in jail with him, and once his sentence is over, he is doomed. Either someone from the village adopts him, something that I find hard to believe, or he will be deported to the nearest orphanage. I hoped to get rid of Trion too, but maybe that's for the best. I don't think my parents can bear losing two sons at once. And between their happiness and getting even with that idiot, they come first by a landslide."
The following days were really hard for Raaz, Elina and Trion. The couple needed quite some time before overcoming their grief.
It was really hard for them to accept that the kind and bright boy that they brought up for almost twelve year was gone forever. Even worse, they started to suspect that the Orpal they knew never really existed.
Thinking back about all the bad things he did and said over the years, he might as well have been deceiving them all along,
Trion was the one having the hardest time. He had lost his favourite sibling and his family's trust at the same time. Despite Rizel had cleared his name, the suspicions remain. How could he have been so close to Orpal and yet never noticing anything?
"I can't blame them. In their shoes I too would think of me as either a liar or a complete idiot." Trion didn't know if to laugh or cry.
Lith, Rena and Tista, instead were having the time of their life, even if they did their best to avoid their parents to notice.
They would get more and better food, clothes and they did not have to tolerate Orpal's mean words and petty jokes anymore. Plus, there were all the gifts that five families sent them as an apology.
Both the girls had stopped considering Orpal as a brother from the day he had proposed to get rid of Tista, calling her a cripple.
Lith was above and beyond them, he never considered him his brother. His only worry was for his parents, so he tried to lessen their burden as much as he could.
Lith's magic was now strong enough that he could till and plough the fields with earth magic.
He could also hunt for much bigger preys, his aim set to deer, boars and bear, whose pelt could be sold for a pretty penny.
The time for the spring festival was nearing, and Lith wanted some extra pocket money to buy something nice for his parents and sisters. Trion was still a stranger to him.
The spring festival was held midspring, during the equinox, to celebrate the time when the light finally overcame the darkness and cold of winter.
Lith was happily playing around the Trawn woods, looking for the best opportunity to kill a huge boar.
"Dammit, it's neck and skin are too thick to break with my current level of spirit magic. Fire and thunder could easily put it down, but that would mean damaging either the pelt or the meat. I need to get creative."
The boar movements were easy to predict, since it would always charge in a straight line By using air fusion, Lith's body was fast enough to dodge the charges with ease, as long as he managed to prevent the beast from coming too close.
"When an ox went mad, my father told me that the best way to put it down is to strike at the legs, instead of the head. Once you take away their mobility, beasts like this one are easy prey."
At the next charge, Lith conjured a thick layer of ice before dodging. When the boar stepped on it, it lost its footing, spinning on itself like a top.
The boar crashed against the huge oak Lith had aligned it with, its bones snapping on impact. Lith closed in enough to not miss his next shot, but always keeping a safe distance.
"A cornered prey is the most dangerous one. Always respect the prey, never underestimate it. It only needs one hit to kill you." Lith remembered Selia's teachings.
Lith made a finger gun, aligning it with his target before shooting an ice arrow that penetrated in the boar's right eye, puncturing its brain.
The beast collapsed on the ground, but Lith shot another arrow in the left eye too, just to be on the safe side.
"Okay, dead it's dead. Now the problem is how the heck do I carry it out of the woods? My spirit magic may not be enough to carry a several hundred kilograms dead animal all the way until Selia's house. And even if I actually manage to do it, how can I explain it?"
Lith was nervously tapping with a finger on a nearby tree, trying to find a solution before having to fight to defend his game, when the dead animal suddenly disappeared.
"What the f*ck?!? Since when do boars vanish into thin air? Who's there?"
He promptly activated Life Vision, scanning the surroundings in search of his enemy, but the only living beings he could find were small birds and rodents.
"Okay, this is getting creepy, but I need to get my boar back."
The boar appeared back, very close to Lith, making him jump away in fright.
"Why are you messing with me? Who are you?" Lith screamed while checking out the best escape route.
"And invisible enemy could easily kill me. Screw the boar, I need to get out of here fast." He thought.
"There is no need to escape." A gentle feminine voice replied in his mind. "I'm not your enemy, my host."
"Okay, if you want to scare the sh*t out of me, you're doing a great job. What do you mean with host? Where the heck are you?" Lith kept looking around, the enemy somehow was untraceable even by his magical senses.
"Stop looking around, host. I'm here were you put me. Around your neck."
Lith instinctively grabbed the pouch and threw it away. He could finally notice that both the life force and the mana flow of the stone were bigger than ever.
Lith had always kept it in a blind spot, and since it was useless, he forgot to check it with Life Vision since the day of the ambush.
"Okay, I hate riddles. Tell me who or what you are, or I'll leave. As much as it pains me losing such a game, it's not worth having a creepy, mysterious stone talking in my head 24/7."
"Please, don't!" To voice turned desperate. "I'll die without my host."
"Enough with the riddles!" Lith screamed out loud. "What the f*ck are you?"
"Our minds are linked, it's easier to show rather than tell."
Suddenly Lith's mind was filled with images and memories that were not his own. He could have thought of having been teleported away, if the images weren't full of holes, allowing to still see part of the woods through them.
"I'm sorry, but my powers are almost depleted, this is the best I can do."
Lith could see a gigantic tower, whose vault was so deep to reach the bottom of the ocean, it's top so high to touch the sky. He could perceive that the whole structure was a giant magical artifact, pulsing with mana.
At some point, the owner of the tower had died, and without his/her mana to nourish its core, the tower began to decline. Centuries passed, while the tower kept looking for its next host, using illusions to send away those it deemed not talented enough or unworthy.
Over time, the tower spent all his powers, and to avoid death it had been forced to an extreme sacrifice.
To prolong its existence, it started to consume its own walls, floors, everything within itself, even its memories.
More centuries had passed, now only the tower core was left, barely the size of a pebble. It had nothing left, except its sense of self. Preferring death rather than becoming a mindless tool, the tower core attempted a desperate gamble.
It sent a signal that any being with the bare minimum magical powers to sustain its life could perceive. The clock was ticking, every second that passed, the tower core could feel its life slip away.
When the one answering the call resulted to be a Ry, the tower core had tried to communicate with no results. The beast mind was too different from the first host, making the mind link impossible.
Hope was lost, the tower core could only wait for its end.
But then a saviour arrived, saving the tower core from the beast's maw, using his own blood to bond himself with the tower core, right before it fell into a deep slumber to recover from its wounds.
The images disappeared, leaving Lith alone with the pouch and the dead boar.
Lith's mind was overwhelmed, incapable of any thought outside stupid jokes.
"Does that make us married or what?"