Chapter 19

“I’m heading out,” Nick said quietly to Paige after they had passed the gated checkpoint leading into city surrounding Castle Patel. Since the Royal Guards had taken over the duty of the local militia, Tyler and Paige were able to use their status to bypass the usual procedures.

Paige nodded in affirmation, “We will be at the Healer’s Hall. I think we’ll stay there the night. You are welcome to come as well if you want. Just head that way when you are done.” Waving goodbye, she quickly brought Zenith and Isabella with her toward the castle proper.

“Why are we headed to the castle? Shouldn’t we head to the Healer’s Hall?” Isabella asked Zenith as Paige hurried in front of them.

“The Healer Hall acts differently than the other class guilds, like the Mage Guild or the Guild Hall. They are protected by the Imperial Family and the nation they are residing in. The castle is probably Alcudia contribution to the Healers Hall.” Zenith said, hurrying behind Paige. Paige stopped, letting them catch their breath.

“Whoops. Sorry, for rushing you two. We have to get there before noon otherwise, they will lock up their main doors. Isabella, remember to hide your name. Maggie told me before we left that you were giving your name out. We’ll call you Bella for short.”

“Tyler gave my name out before that though, so I didn’t think much about it.” She idly recalled Tyler giving her name out in the presence of that Alcudian Officer. “I think his name was Steve?”

“Meh. Well, let’s abbreviate your name just in case. I don’t want to tip off the Imperial Soldiers stationed there. Listen, Isabella,” she warned carefully and quietly, “this is dangerous for you. Now, usually, I wouldn’t deal with something like this. There will be repercussions if they find out who you are right now. I avoid the Healer Halls for a reason. Hopefully, they won’t recognize me, but if they do, run.” Paige watched as Zenith and Isabella traded worried glances. “They shouldn’t recognize my name, but still. I’m using my identity I’ve created while I’ve been living here, so they shouldn’t do any other stringent checks. Come on, let’s see how this will go.”

They passed through the checks with relative ease, which surprised Paige. She had thought it would have been much harder to get through the walls. The Imperial family must have attached greater importance to the borderlands than she realized, for Rebecca’s personal healer was the head of the Healer Hall itself, and someone Paige had recognized.

Gathering her thoughts together, she listened to the diagnosis, while Zenith and Isabella crowded around the queen, still unconscious, but healthy looking. “The queen has been unconscious since she has arrived. The Prime Minister has awoken and is already headed to Castle Lidale to help Crown Princess Alexandra stabilize the war effort,” Prim, the head of the Healer’s Hall, told Paige quietly. They watched as Isabella and Zenith sat next to the sleeping queen. “Second Princess Beatrice is out helping the refugees settle down in the temporary shelters. She’s already been notified that you are here.”

“Have you identified the poison yet?”

“Yes. It is a curious poison, almost reminiscent of the poisons used in the east. It is a combination of magic and herbs, which is causing problems as we are trying to isolate both portions at the same time. We have no doubt that the queen will get better, but it will take some time. But there was another troubling issue that we have taken care of already.”

Prim walked over and showed Paige a hand sketch of a symbol, one that she recognized instantly. “This was burned onto her back. Regular healing had no effect on the wound. We had to use [[Dispel]] multiple times on her before we were able to start normal healing. She was cursed.”

Paige stared at the symbol Prim had drawn. It was the same one the demon infiltrators had used in the forest. “Thanks, Prim, for healing her,” Paige said quietly after a moment. “Me and my party will be staying here the night. We’ll head out at first light if that is alright with you.”

“That will be fine. We will be happy to host you for the night. And don’t worry about the queen or the second princess; she is a wonderful helper. Just make sure your party doesn’t disturb the queen too much,” she said, eyeing the two young girls. “I know you vouched for them, but…”

“It will be fine. On another note, I know this is a rude thing to ask, but can I see your advanced healing spell tomes? I’m afraid our cleric will not be up to par for our mission.”

“Paige, you know what you are asking…”

“I know. You have my word that nothing will leave the party. And we both know how much my word is worth.”

Prim closed her eyes and nodded her head slightly after a few minutes of thinking. “I can let your healer see [[Dispel]] and [[Neutralization]]. Anything else and she will have to join the Healer’s Hall. No exceptions Paige, not even for you.”

“That is more than enough, Prim. That will round our Apprentice Cleric out for the mission. You know, it was hard to find someone with the right affinity who was not attached to the Healer’s Hall. You can check her class status if you want. She even has a greater affinity to healing and lesser to light you know…” Paige said unabashed, not worried that anyone would catch her lying. Zenith rolled her eyes, thinking that Paige had probably changed Isabella’s class once again.

Prim eyed the young girl, clearly evaluating her potential. “Well, if she wants to learn more healing spells, we will always welcome a new healer to our halls. I’ll bring the tomes over shortly.” She walked away, leaving them in the room alone.

“I thought you were afraid of the Healer’s Hall, so how did you manage that Paige? They are known for their monopoly on healing spells and skills. Most wouldn’t even be able to watch them work, let alone learn from them.” Zenith asked quietly after the headmistress had left. “Even finding a teacher willing to teach healing spells are rare, not to mention restricted spells like that.” She knew full well that if she was born in a different family, other than becoming a servant to someone else, she would not have had a chance to utilize her affinity toward healing.

“I rescued some people a long time ago. Most of them went on to become healers themselves. So, you could say the Healer’s Hall owed me a favor.”

“How rare is that Zenith? For the Healer’s Hall to owe someone a favor,” Isabella asked from the side quietly while resting her head on her mother’s hand.

“Clerics are usually contracted by the Healing Hall or the Imperial Family. It’s very rare to find a self-taught healer in a party for this reason, as most will use an alchemist or herbalists’ potions to recover from injuries. It’s very, very rare to find a mage who specializes in healing. Even I am not supposed to teach you healing moves. I guess the [Oath of Silence] is helpful in your case.” Zenith said quietly, looking over to Isabella. “Those skills are useful against curses and poisons, which will help us out.”

“Can I have some alone time with mother, Aunt, Zenith?” Isabella said quietly.

“Sure, we’ll be outside in the foyer,” Paige said gently, heading outside. Zenith stopped and looked at Isabella, making sure that is what she wanted. Isabella nodded, and she stepped out of the room with Paige.

“A lot has happened these last few weeks for the young girl.” Eyeing Zenith, she asked quietly, “How have you been, Zenith? I know you’ve been watching out for Isabella, almost more than I have.”

“It’s a nice feeling, having someone look up to you. Someone who treats you like family. I can almost see why the Queen’s children look up to you so much.”

“Yeah. We had some great times together. But all good things don’t last forever Zenith; eventually, there comes a time to part,” Paige said, walking toward a window and staring out at the city.

Zenith hesitated, but walked and stood next to Paige, the city below in constant motion. Paige could see that Zenith had something to talk about and waited quietly for the girl to gather her thoughts. “The reports I read stated you left and didn’t return until after she started having children. Did something happen between the two of you?”

Staring out at the city below, she chose her words carefully. “We had a difference in opinions about a few things that really didn’t become an issue until after she became a queen and was married. So, I left to do some things and eventually came back.”

“Was the issue really bad?”

Chuckling sadly, she shook her head. “It was a stupid argument, and both of us had valid reasons to say what we said. It looks like I was right in the end though.”

Zenith parsed through the information Appealte had gathered about the Alcudian Queen and decided to fish for some more information. “Was it about her expansion to allow demons to hold official ranks in the government?”

Eyeing Zenith, Paige shook her head, “No, that was actually my idea and she agreed with it. And it worked; if the recent rumors are accurate. Most of the demons and half-blood citizens have joined the army, simply to stop the discrimination from getting worse. No, our argument was actually about sending people into Trent and beyond.”

Sighing, she continued on with her story, “This is confidential information that only a few people know. Rebecca had traced the origins of the citizens that have full demons and found that they are branch families of the royal houses of Evidia. For some reason, Evidia has been sending their families to Alcudia, and have been for centuries. I know Leit and Appealte have strong feelings against demons and halves, and for the most part, they have settled in Alcudia wherever they can. I know some have even resorted to joining the guild as mercenaries to get out of Alcudia.”

Zenith shook her head, “I can see why the queen would have a problem with that. Why would you hire someone to stay when they are trying to leave or those who have unknown motives?”

“You have to know the origins of Evidia to see what is wrong. The Evidia Royal Houses were exiled from Trent. From what I gathered, at some point in time, the practice of blood sacrifices became predominant in Trent. They left and outlawed the use of blood sacrifices, and eventually created Evidia. Now, Alcudia, Evidia, and Trent don’t really get along, but Evidia helped us out in the last demon-human war. I wanted to know why they left Trent to begin with.”

Zenith was confused why Paige would mention the last war, as Evidia was the one who started the war to begin with. “Demon-human war? Do you mean the war that happened two centuries ago? That was why the defensive line was established, because Evidia started to invade, but was pushed back by the alliance. In fact, I think Alcudia even gained territory because of that war.”

“No, not the latest war. It’s from a really, really long time ago. In fact, the demon-human war is what gave demons their bad reputation. Truth became fact, the fact became hearsay, hearsay became folklore. Nowadays, people only remember the old stories of demonic sacrifices and the like. I don’t discriminate against talent, no matter what race they are. But the demons living in Trent was and still is bad news.”

‘How old are you Paige?’ Zenith thought to herself quietly. “What were you hoping to find, if you don’t mind me asking.”

“…the symbols. I wanted to know what their true role in the sacrifices is. They left Trent for some reason, but why? Everything operates on a give and take. They gain powers the more people they sacrifice. So, what do the symbols gain from…” Stopping mid-sentence, she looked across the city; her eyes focusing on the eastern part of the city. As an experienced Party Leader, she had known that distributing her mana came with a few benefits that most would not consciously know. Although she could not get her mana back from them, it did allow her the rough ability to know their locations and feelings, but only if they were experiencing an intense fluctuation in their emotions. She noticed that something was wrong with Nick.

Hesitating, she quickly thought of a plan and decided to go check out what had happened to Nick.  “Something’s come up. I’ll be back. Here, if Prim or Beatrice come back before I do, show them this. They’ll know what it means.” Quickly taking off a necklace, Paige shoved it into Zeniths hand before standing on the windowsill. Zenith watched as she swiftly left her field of vision. Looking down at the necklace, a very worn pendant was hanging gently at the end; a single sapphire crystal hung between the two ends of the metal necklace; her name inlaid in gold directly in the center.

‘It’s pretty,’ Zenith thought to herself, turning the pendant over and quickly put it around her neck. The necklace instantly tightened, and the length adjusted itself to match her other necklaces. A knock on the door behind Zenith startled her, and she turned around to see Isabella looking around the room.

“Hey Zenith, did Paige leave?” She could tell Isabella was nervous about something.

“Yes, she left for a little bit. Is everything alright?”

“Yes. The head healer came back in and gave me some books. Did she say when she…”

“It is alright Bella; I’ll talk to Zenith while I wait for her to come back.” The headmistress appeared behind Isabella, a slight smile on her face. Her eyes widened slightly when she saw the necklace Zenith was holding. “While we chat, how about you read the spell tomes and if you have any questions, I’ll try to answer them as best I can. Maybe read them aloud for the queen, she might like someone to talk to.”

Isabella nodded gratefully. “Thank you, I’ll be over here if you need me then. Thank you, Miss Prim.”

Nodding in affirmation, Prim walked out of the room and Isabella shut the door behind of her. Looking over toward Zenith, she stared at the necklace and spoke quietly. “I hope you know; Paige must really trust you if she was willing to let you hold onto that.”

Zenith reevaluated the jeweled necklace. “Is it special in some way? It’s pretty, but…”

“It’s an Imperial ward stone. It can bypass almost any ward stone or magic circle barrier. It’s practically priceless.” Eying Zenith, she wondered aloud, “This mission must be important if Paige is willing to reveal herself to people again.”

“Again? Has she done something like this before? I know she is pretty powerful, but half the things she can do she attributes to her teachers and friends.” Zenith was confused about Paige’s experience as well. A Warrior who was able to learn advanced Mage skills? As well as her current class, ‘Dawn Warrior’, that seemed more like a Mage class than a Warrior class.

“How much of her history do you know, if any?” Zenith shook her head, knowing full well she was not talking about Paige’s history in Alcudia.

“The Healer Hall is associated with the Imperial Family, so our records are quite extensive. She usually uses fake names when she appears, so it is quite unusual for her to use her real name like this. If you look through the legends and records of various families across the empire, you can trace her appearance back over two thousand years now; though the name Paige hardly shows up.”

Isabella came back to ask a few questions to Prim, allowing Zenith to formulate some questions of her own. Prim for her part was helpfully explaining to Isabella about the finer details of the spells [[Dispel]] and [[Neutralization]] without hiding anything from Zenith, she noted idly.

“Why are you being so nice now? My family had to bribe and threaten a few healers before one was willing to tutor me at school. What is so special about Paige that you would be willing to go this far for even her party members?”

Prim stared out the window, her back facing Zenith. “How old do you think I am?”

“Average lifespan for those with a class is around a hundred, so I suppose maybe a two hundred or so if you have a high class?”

Chuckling quietly, Prim turned and looked at Zenith, her face neutral. “You have to be wary of high classes, most are older than they appear. The lifespan for those with regular classes is much shorter, most less than a hundred years old. Battle classes and high classes can live longer, but the average before they are killed in battle is roughly around three hundred or so. Something about staying active in battles lets you live longer, but the longer you fight, the higher chance you have at dying. Injuries tend to pile up the older you get. I myself am around three hundred years old.”

Prim sat down, indicating for Zenith to do the same. “The healer hall rotates its members once every fifty years or so. But the travel is rough for healers. There are too many enemies that would rather see us dead or captured. The rotation is to give us time to prepare for the move and to forestall attacks on the regular Healer Halls. Why attack a heavily defended area when our enemies know we are vulnerable every fifty years? Paige saved me when I was just an apprentice, almost two centuries ago, when we were heading to Alcudia.”

“You’ve never seen her fight for real, have you?” Without waiting for an answer Prim continued, “It was while we were in the southeastern part of the empire. We came under attack by a group of dragons. The imperial family knew we were going to be attacked and arranged a force to protect us from the dragonkin army. What we didn’t know was that there would be Elder Dragons waiting for us as well. They separated us from the imperial army and was about to kill us when the sun suddenly shone above.”

“She killed three Elder Dragons by herself before she forced the rest to retreat. I’ve now been to enough Imperial Tournaments to know how impressive Imperial Scions are, Zenith. But Paige can outclass Imperial Scions by a fair margin. She had been using a different name at the time, but I can still remember how she looked after the battle. The Senior Clerics and us apprentices promised not to reveal who saved us, but the Imperial Family eventually pieced together the clues. Digging up even her name or a part of her history was a lot harder though. I don’t know why she is so afraid of the Imperial Family though; no one really likes to talk about it.”

“She said she could only wound a Dragon. But she was actually able to kill three Elder Dragons in one go, and live?” Zenith zoned out during the last part of the conversation; her mind reeling from what she just learned. “Wait, you said the sun suddenly shone when Paige was fighting. Do you know of any classes that would be able to do something like that?” Zenith couldn’t say what Paige’s class was, but she was hoping the headmistress would have some ideas.

Prim thought for a moment and spoke slowly. “There are a few classes around the empire that could cause a phenomenon like that. Although they are quite rare. A Monk, Dawn Warrior or a Samurai possibly; a Solar or Nature Elementalist from the northern or southern regions. But to get those classes are rare since you would practically need a Blessing to inherit the class. But from what I know, Paige isn’t Blessed.”

“Wait, what is so special about a Dawn Warrior that you would need to be Blessed before you could even gain the class?” Zenith wondered aloud, hoping Prim would continue.

“It is a combination of a Cleric and a Warrior class, as well as a God’s Blessing. Only the founder and a few of the elders of the Healing Hall was known to have the class though, and that class hasn’t been seen in the past few millenniums.”

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