The whole thing happened in an odd fashion. Lith received a letter instead of an holo-call, and despite being addressed to him it was delivered at Nana’s house.
Being the host, Nana took the liberty of reading it before handing it to him. She was just concerned for Lith’s wellbeing, off course.
The letter said in a perfect penmanship:
Thanks again for slaying the monstrous magical beast. You have served the County of Lustria and deserve to be rewarded accordingly. To this end, I would like you to join me in my manor in ten days since receiving this letter. We have much to discuss. I urge you to contact me as soon as you can via Lady Nerea’s communication amulet.
Count Trequill Lark.”
“What does this mean?” Lith asked Nana.
“It sounds so serious to be ominous. It doesn’t even seem something a joyful and spirited person like the Count would write.”
“Hmmm.” Nana nodded, eager to avoid the outrageous accusation of being nosey.
“I can smell good news and bad news.
The good news is that isn’t anything serious. Despite the somber tone, worthy of a payment order, Lark used a letter, this means it’s nothing urgent or important, since he could afford to wait for the delivery and the reply.
The bad news is that all the above stinks of formality and etiquette. I fear that you are in for a whole day of boredom, while attending all the official business regarding your prizes and whatnot. As I always say, little imp, no good deed goes unpunished!”
“That’s my line!” Lith inwardly screamed. “Not only you open my mail, you even steal my shtick?”
Even the following holo-call was awkward. Count Lark was uncharacteristically calm and composed, managing to not make any question about magic to Lith, nor losing his monocle, not even once.
After hearing that Lith had accepted his invite, he stated that his personal tailor would stop by later to take Lith’s measurements, and that he would send his stagecoach on the set date, one hour after dawn in front of Nana’s house.
Then, the Count politely but promptly ended the call, saying he had many things to attend. For Lith was like talking to a complete stranger.
The tailor arrived less than an hour later, he didn’t give Lith any mean look or nasty remark. On the contrary, he somehow recognized him at the first glance, complimenting him for his height.
Despite being only eight years and a half, Lith was already over one meter and thirty-five centimetres (4’6″) high, and in the County of Lustria any man above 1.75 metres (5’9″) was considered tall.
“Keep growing up so fast and soon you’ll be as tall as the Count, young man.”
After the man left, Nana whistled in surprise.
“Good gods, I know him. That’s the tailor that personally prepare the dresses for the Lark’s family. It’s even worse than I thought. This occasion must be something really big, like being invited to a ball kind of big.
This is one of those rare moments when I’m happy not being part of high society anymore. Prepare yourself for long awkward silences, insufferable small talk and being showed around like some kind of exotic beast.”
Lith spent the next ten days in his usual routine, obsessing about Nana’s words was pointless, since he had already taken those things in consideration when he decided to tighten his relationship with the Count.
Except dancing, of course. Lith had always hated dancing, even back on Earth, mostly because of his two left feet. But even that wouldn’t worry him much, there was no way for him learning Court’s dances in so little time.
Even if he managed to find a book about it and added it to Soluspedia, knowing was not doing, he would still need to practice. He could only suck it up and endure.
When the fated day came, a luxurious stagecoach stopped in front of Nana’s house. It was all white, with the décors painted gold, drawn by four snow-white stallions.
A valet descended, bowing to Lith before giving him a small wooden box.
“My Lord, would like you to change into your new outfit, before getting into the stagecoach, good sir.”
So much respect was dumbfounding for Lith, so he bowed back without a word, before going into Nana’s living quarters to change.
He came out wearing deep blue velvet pants over hard leather shoes, a snow-white silk shirt and a blazer matching with the pants, with the Count’s family crest gold embroidered over his heart.
“Holy sh*t! I’m probably wearing more money than my family’s farm is worth. Judging from the crest, I guess Nana was right, he is going to introduce me to someone, and he needs that someone to know who I belong to.”
Lith was alone on the stagecoach. After opening the door for him, the valet went sitting beside the coachman.
The ride lasted over half an hour, despite the horses’ remarkable speed. Having nothing to do, Lith spent the whole time using Accumulation. His deep cyan mana core had yet to change by even a shade, it definitely needed more work.
When the stagecoach finally stopped, Lith looked out of the window, only to discover they were just at the gates of the estate.
Two fully armed soldiers talked to the coachman, inspecting inside, above and below the stagecoach before letting them pass.
“Going at full speed, armed to the teeth guards, a full check on the coach. Maybe Nana was wrong, this looks more pressing by the second”.
Once inside the gate, and beyond the high grey walls, the stagecoach slowed down, allowing Lith to take in the full manor view. The park around the manor extended as far as the eye could see.
The air smelled of cut grass, flower beds and finely trimmed bushes adorned the cobblestone paths that went across all the park.
Halfway between the gate and the manor, there was a plaza, surrounded by benches, and at his center a huge pedestal with a marble statue of someone that Lith assumed had to be either the first Count Lark, or an ancestor of which they were proud of.
The manor itself was bigger than he had imagined, extending for at least 3,000 square meters (3,588 square yards), divided into a main building, a left and a right wing forming a reversed U shape.
It took almost five more minutes to actually get to the manor’s entrance.
The more he looked around, the more he could feel something was amiss. One of the greatest changes happened after Lith’s mana core evolved to cyan, was that alongside his five senses, also his instinct had greatly improved.
He was able to sense hidden dangers, like with the Ry, and to more easily grasp someone’s real demeanour and intentions. So, he didn’t miss that there were too little servants around, and those few he managed to spot had all a tense expression.
A butler in a white and deep blue livery welcomed him with a deep bow.
“The Count asked me to apologize on his behalf for not personally receiving you, Magico Lith. His Lordship also tasked me to bring you to his private quarters as soon as possible, where he will explain everything to you.”
The butler’s poker face was impeccable, but Lith could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. He followed the butler until a double door room guarded by four soldiers.
Looking through the windows Lith could see that there were even more guards on the outside, patrolling the windows and the glass doors leading to the park.
Inside, he found the Count nervously pacing around, two youths were sitting on armchairs, and both were showing signs of anxiety, either tapping their feet of fiddling with their hair.
Count Lark hadn’t changed much since the last time he had saw him in person. He was in his mid to late fifties, around 1,83 meters (6′) tall with a thin build, that made him appear even taller.
The Count had thick black hair with streaks of grey, a short-trimmed goatee of the same colour. His inseparable black rimmed monocle was attached to his breast pocket with a blue silk string.
As soon as he saw Lith, his somber demeanour returned to be filled with enthusiasm.
“Good gods, Lith, you are finally here!” The Count shook his hand with such vigour that Lith thought he was actually trying to crush it.
“But where are my manners. Allow me to introduce you my beloved children.”
The two youths stood up and extended their hands in turns.
“This is my third born, Jadon. He is also the next in line to become the next Count Lark. Hopefully it should happen many years from now.”
Lith shook his hand. Jadon had a firm but gentle grip, physically resembling his father, except being almost ten centimetres (4 inches) shorter and with a much more muscular built. He was in his early twenties, with pitch black hair and goatee.
“And this is my fourth born, Keyla. This young beautiful lady is almost sixteen, and ready to make his debut at the King’s Court. They are the only family I have left.”
Keyla was a petite girl, 1,53 meters (5′) high, with flaming red hair with shades of gold and emerald green eyes. She was wearing an emerald green day dress that highlighted her hair and eyes. She fitted the Count’s bill, except for the beautiful part.
She wasn’t really well endowed for Lith’s tastes, and despite all the make up she wore it was impossible to hide such a bad case of acne. And even without that issue, he would have considered her pretty at best.
Keyla offered him her hand, the palm facing downward. Lith didn’t need his etiquette book to know that she was expecting a hand-kiss.
It was awkward for him, he never did such a thing even for his past girlfriends when things had got almost serious. Luckily after being dead and reborn twice, having faced killers and magical beasts, it would take much more than that to embarrass him.
So, he made a small bow while giving a short peck on her hand.
“It’s a real pleasure and an honour for me to meet you all.” Lith said following the etiquette.
“Now please, you Lordship, could you explain to me the reason of my summoning?”
The more he saw and heard, the less he understood. Lith couldn’t figure out why the Count was giving him all those useless details, and why the hand-tailored dress he received was so similar to what Jadon was wearing.
The Count facepalmed himself.
“Oh! Off course, I’m so sorry. I’m still so shocked by the recent events that my head doesn’t work properly. Let me explain, I called you here because I need you saving our lives. My wife wants to kill us all.”