Chapter 3

Nicholas Brent was annoyed. After three weeks of hard traveling, almost anyone would be tired of unwanted travel companions. The shrill voice only deepened his annoyance, no longer able to ignore it due to it echoing off the stone walls.

“We need to make sure we get good terms. Great terms! Alcudia is in dire need of our services! Old Nick, make sure you exaggerate the terms the joint kings have decided.”

“For the last time Johnson, I am only here to show that Leit does take this invasion seriously. I will not be helping you with negotiating anything.”

“But you are the highest-ranking member in our delegation. At least flaunt your Ranger Class a bit!”

“I am a Ranger even without a class,” Nick said, a tinge of annoyance in his voice.

The diplomat stopped. He had enough sense to know that the person in front of him was getting angry. He took a second to reassess the situation.

Nicholas had an intense air about him; as though the world owed him money, but had not a nickel to repay him. His blue eyes assessed the room, his bow and dagger hanging freely by his side. He knew that the man had a decorated carrier as a ranger, and had many local legends attributed to his name.

But at only five foot four inches tall and an average build, his figure did not stand out at all. In fact, only his dull blue eyes stood out in the room, his presence easily overshadowed if one did not look carefully. 

Rangers were Leit Confederation’s main protectors of the nation due to the vast oversight they lawfully had. To combat infighting among the different factions, the Ranger organization was tasked with overseeing the many local fiefs that constituted the Confederation. And in truth, most of the rangers were former trackers or hunters that had been recruited due to their skills in navigating the many forest regions that dotted their landscape. 

As a decorated range, his skills at tracking and archery were unparalleled, and people were often surprised that he did not have a class until recently.

Thus, Nicholas was in a delicate situation; even without his Class he had a higher rank than the official diplomat of the delegation, but he had no interest in helping the man out. 

“Fine then. Tell me once again what is the nations’ bottom line.”

“Use your own brain, that’s what you are getting paid to do.”

“How do you get along with anyone Nick?” Diplomat Johnson sighed dramatically.

“Easy. My sunny personality is a beacon of hope in the forest. Or at least that’s what my wife says.” Halt said sarcastically. ”Just don’t go overboard with the demands or I will reprimand you in the meeting. Our main concern is the full-blown invasion by the demon race. Our only goal is to push them back past the border nation. Keep their government intact, it’s too expensive to fund two countries.”

“Fine. I’ll try and have a conscience. Heh, from the talks with the first prince, I can already tell their bottom line. I’ll toe that line.”

“Do that. Any idea on who will be at the meeting?”

“Retired General William Habert, Retired Captain of the Guard and Royal Vanguard Tyler Merk, Court Mage Gale Everest, and Crown Princess Alexandra Freal will be leading the conference and representing Alcudia. We will be representing Leit, and Royal Mage Zenith Hall will be representing Appealte interest.” Johnson automatically responded. “My talks with the crown prince and Zenith should give us an advantage in the talks; it will just depend on how William and Tyler can negotiate.”

Johnson paused to look at his notes. “This will be the crown princess first true test. By all accounts, the queen has not allowed her free range in court politics. But with Mrs. Everest there, unless they can coordinate their response, we could potentially wrest some benefits from the royal family.”

“So a Vanguard, Defensive General and two…” Johnson shuffled through his notes, “..Two Wind Mages and a Ranger. It appears that Zenith and Gale studied at the same school; their relationship unknown. So you and Tyler should be the most experienced of the bunch.” He said confidently. 

At the door opened, a youngish lady walked in. “Ah, Ms. Hall, it is so nice to meet you. I hope your talks with the first prince went well.” Johnson said as he politely hugged Zenith. “We diplomats have to stick together after all, otherwise how would we get any benefits from the royal family “

Nick eyed the girl. She looked like a child! Zenith had the look of a typical mage, complete with staff, robe and bottles of potions, albeit all formal looking instead of practical. Her light green hair signified her alignment with wind magic. ‘That’s the problem with mages, age aside; you can tell what classification they study based on their hair color alone.’

“I was able to get some concessions, just enough to make the Mage Guild and Senators happy,” Zenith replied confidently. 

Unlike Leit and Alcudia, Appealte was guild jointly by both the Mage Guild and appointed representatives from the five founding houses, some predating even the Alcudia royal family. As such, Zenith had a much harder time balancing the interests of the families and the mages.

“Gale had given me some helpful hints on what the crown prince was willing to negotiate down to.”

Johnson’s smile twitched. “Ah, I didn’t know you and Gale knew each other so well. I don’t suppose you have any suggestions for me?”

“She was a former teacher at my school. She was willing to lend a helping hand to a fresh graduate. To answer your question though, maybe see this conflict at a higher level than just a national conflict?” Zenith smiled slightly. “The mages are not willing to see the loss of the border nation. The Senators want material concessions. I sounded out Gale’s opinion beforehand, so now all that is left is to get the crown princess on board with it.”

Nick smiled slightly behind Johnson’s back. ‘At least someone has a level head on their shoulders.’ He knew all too well how hard it was finding a balance between the interests of a few and the interests of the nation. Zenith’s eyes swept over Nick, wholly unaware that he was sitting in the room. As a Ranger, his stealth was on par with an Assassin, his Class allowing him to remain hidden in plain sight, so long as he remained unmoved. [Passive Camouflage] made sure he blended into his surroundings. 

As Johnson guided Zenith to a chair to discuss politics, Nick thought to himself for the hundredth time why did he have to come to Alcudia. ‘Oh right, seniority. I keep telling them to use apprentice rangers instead. More practical assignments are needed instead of paper pushers.’ He thought sadly. It had been months since he had been home to his wife and young child. He made a resolution to push the younger rangers out on these diplomatic missions for the future.

Closing his eyes, he listened to the conversation drone on and blocked out the sounds in the room. He could sense that a small crowd was headed toward the door. ‘Five people by the sounds of it.’

The door opened, and he could practically hear the young man scanning the room for potential threats. “Crown Princess Alexandra has arrived.” He declared solemnly. “Arriving with her are..” ‘By the Gods, he must not have that much practice in his post. Negotiations are all about getting the upper hand, just be quiet and stare solemnly as you enter.’ He thought to himself as he remembered the few negotiations he had to lead in the past. 

“They know who we are. Lead the princess in and check for threats..” a voice sounded out with a sigh. He could hear the voice mutter quietly amongst themselves. “Political acumen up to par she says. I hope I wasn’t that dramatic when I first started.” 

‘That must be Vanguard Tyler then.’

“Let the boy announce us. You know he just got promoted to the role.” Chuckling, an older man’s voice whispered back to Tyler. “At least he did not try that in front of the whole court.” 

‘That voice must be the retired general.’ Nick thought to himself. ‘Three down so far, so that leaves the two females.’

As he listened, a light breeze whispered around the room. Stilling his breath, he held it until the breeze subsided. ‘At least this mage knew what she was doing. It is a good idea to check how many are breathing in the room, since it is an easy way of detecting hidden foes.’ Nick knew the few common tricks wind mages used for scouting, as he had developed countermeasures to defend against it while hiding. ‘Too bad she didn’t do this prior to us entering the room’ he thought to himself. 

“Zenith, so glad you can join us. At least we’ll have one diplomat who is reasonable.” A quiet voice sounded out in the room. The air in the room trembled slightly; as if the voice came from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. ‘That must be the royal court mage.’ 

Nick opened his eyes slightly. He took stock of the people as they walked into the room. Crown Princess Alexandra walked into the room, her gaze and head leveled. ‘Good, not too presumptuous. At least she doesn’t lord her position over the diplomats.’ He thought. He watched as the older mage hugged the younger. ‘I need to ask Johnson about her age, she looks too young to be out of school.’ His gaze wandered over to the retired general and the former guard captain. He noticed that Tyler stopped and looked suspiciously at the chair he was sitting on. ‘He can tell something is off, but not what. Does he have a Skill that can detect hidden foes?’ 

He knew that some Passive Skills could detect when another Skill was currently being used. Unfortunately, he had no other choice other than to use a Skill to hide, as his natural methods involved camouflage. ‘At least he knows where the threat is at.’ He closed his eyes as he waited for the meeting to start.

“Now that we are all here, let us begin our conference.” Alexandra declared as she sat down at the head of the table. The other’s started to sit down, only Tyler watching the seat Nick was sitting on. 

Unfortunately, Nick was not in the mood to undo his skill. ‘Hurry up and ignore me.’ He knew that not even Assassins would be so brazen as to announce they were sitting at a table. 

Something was off. Nick could tell at once. Why did the crown princess sit while Tyler was still standing? You’d have to be pretty confident…Danger!

Nick jumped up, his daggers about to be out of his sheath’s when a sword was lightly placed on his left shoulder. “Let’s all play nice at this meeting. Kind of rude, don’t you think?” A woman’s voice sounded out right behind him. “So how about you cancel that Skill of yours before I slice something I probably shouldn’t.” He looked back and saw a thirty-year-old or so woman smiling lightly at him. “Nice skills though. My bet is Ranger? Or maybe some type of Tracker? You weren’t planning on killing anyone though, otherwise, Assassin would have been my next choice.”

Releasing his hold on his Skill, [Passive Camouflage], Nick turned around; not abashed at being caught. “And you are?”, noting that only Zenith was surprised at their appearance, and Johnson at his predicament.   

“Just a woman who is watching over her godchildren.” She responded. Nick noticed how Alexandra slightly blushed at that statement.  

“Royal Guardian? Swordmaster? You can’t be anything less than that.”

“Nope. Warrior.”

‘Damn you, Johnson! A High Ranked Class” How did that not get unaccounted for?’ He glared heavily at Johnson, taking slight satisfaction in how he squirmed under everyone’s gazes.

Nick knew that anyone with a Class without a distinction before it was a true master of their craft. Even he himself had started as an Apprentice Woodsman and worked his way up to a full Ranger.

‘What Warrior Skill can see through a passive skill?’ Nick ran through a list in his mind. ‘[Heart Sense]? [Enhanced hearing]?’

“Ah, so you are a Ranger. I pegged you as one since Leit has them by the dozens. Ranger…” Paige trailed off, waiting for an answer. Nick gave the sword a pointed glance since it was still resting on his shoulder.

“Ranger…” she pressed, her sword sliding closer to his neck. 


“Ah! I thought you’d be bigger. No easy feat killing a Giant with a dagger and a three dozen arrows.”

“Your sources are terrible. It was three arrows.”

“Ah, you must have used elemental arrows instead then. Three dozen would have been pretty good for normal arrowheads. I am glad you solved the kidnappings last year too.” Paige responded, sheathing her sword. She placed one hand across the chest and the other on the pommel of the sword. “Warrior Paige Alduit” her head slightly dipping as she gave a formal warrior bow.

‘I’ll be representing the Guild Hall, as well as little Alexandra’s muscle. Don’t push your luck today.” She teasingly said, knowing full well that they recognized her name.

“Err, a pleasure to meet you Warrior Paige” Johnson stammered nervously.

“Let’s get this meeting started.” Paige ignored Johnson stammering and sat next to the crown princess. 

“I was under the impression that the Guild Hall would not mettle in national affairs,” Zenith interjected. “Has something changed?”

“Yes and no. Unofficially, I am here to represent my friendship with Alcudia current queen regent. Officially, the Guild Hall has reasons to partake in these talks, which we will discuss after we come to an official agreement.”

After tense negotiations, Paige secretly sighed in relief. ‘I forgot about those rules. Ugh, I’ll probably have to report this to the Guild.’ She was not looking forward to that report.

Luckily, Paige had little to do in the meeting. Gale had met up with them prior to entering the room and briefed Alexandra on the state of the nation. With her little intimidation tactic at the beginning, Leit’s poor diplomat had it hard. Paige’s hard stare had allowed Alexandra time to formulate her responses. With William, Tyler, and Gale guiding Alexandra throughout the negotiations, her mood steadily improved. 

Alexandra stuck to the same agreement her great, great grandparents had signed in the last war, only modifying certain terms to fit the present times. ‘At least the war reparation via looting was struck off the charter. That had not been a fun year.’ Paige could still hear the cries of starving children in her sleep on her worst days. 

‘Now I have to deal with Mr. Sunshine over there.’ Paige walked over and sat across from Nick. “Your reputation does precede you, Nicholas.” 

Nick was staring hard at her face. ‘Crap, don’t tell he recognized me.’ She had been traveling in Leit for some time prior to the war, so it did not surprise her that they both made it to the castle about the same time. Although she was a part of the Guild Hall, she was surprisingly not allowed to wander in a few countries without a state-appointed guide. ’Did I do anything illegal recently?’ 

“Reten Fief. There had been reports of a sizeable band of bandits, but they had been wiped out to a man by the time the local Ranger arrived in the fief.” 

Paige’s face broke into a smile. “Ah, I heard they were terrorizing the villagers over there. Shame they died before the local Ranger could do something about it.”

Nick scowled. “Next time don’t skip the border checkpoints. It would be a shame to kill a fugitive.”

“Heh, you’d have to fight me first.” 

“Warrior Paige, are you ready?” Tyler asked, using her official title. “Let’s start the next meeting. Captain Riley, please escort Crown Princess Alexandra and Mrs. Gale out of the room. This is now a Guild issue.”

“But …”

“No Alexandra. This is a Guild issue now.” Paige responded sternly. “Leit Confederation Diplomat Johnson, please leave. Ranger Nick, under Guild Regulation Six, all high-rank classes and those assigned a guild level of a hundred fifty and over are required to participate in this assignment.”

“Guild Regulation Six? It might as well be Regulation Ninety! You have no jurisdiction to take…” 

“That is enough Johnson!” Nick said sternly. “…Guild Regulation Six does supersede national interests. All high ranked people know what it entails.”

“Ms. Zenith, this applies to you as well.” Tyler turned to address her before she slipped out the door. “We received confirmation before the meeting about your true class and guild level.”

Zenith Hall stopped at the door. “…Is that why Ms. Paige is here? Regulation Six is a death sentence for mages. We both know that mages aren’t suited for open battles.” Mages were almost always a priority target for enemies. No one was foolish enough to let an enemy mage have free reign over a battlefield.

“There shouldn’t be a battle Zenith. It’s a reconnaissance mission.”

“You really think so?” 

“I’m certain of it, solely because of the final party member.”

“The final member? There shouldn’t be any other high-class individuals free, not with the war going on.”

Tyler responded quietly. “Princess Isabella. She will be the final member of our party.”

Author’s thoughts:

Should I include the negotiations? Could, but didn’t want to drag out the chapter. Only things of interest would be the timetable for the suppression army and relevant details surrounding the politics involved.

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