Chapter 26

Zenith’s feet were hurting as she followed behind Paige, as her shoes were really not made for the uneven forest. ‘How did Isabella even walk a few days like this? It’s exhausting.’ She thought to herself quietly. ‘Well, at least the fog is starting to evaporate away.’ “From what you told me, the woods shouldn’t be this large. It feels like we’re walking in circles, Paige. And this awful fog is killing my sense of direction. I think it’s even inhibiting my mana sense as well.” Flicking her hands across the fog, Zenith watched as the mana was silently absorbed by the fog.

Looking up above the forest canopy, the sunlight silently crept over the forest, evaporating the weird fog as it rose above the canopy. They had waited for dawn to appear before they went searching again. Paige sighed as she held the baby Markus in the crook of her arm. She didn’t quite know what feelings she had for the baby, but until she decided what to do she would care for the child as best she could. That, and the baby was adorable!

“Heeeeey. I’m Paige. Yeah. I found you here in the middle of the woods.” A cough sounded out from behind her. “Yeaah, don’t look behind me. I’m holding you right noooww.”

“Paige! Let me have the baby. You’ve been monopolizing him ever since you found me.” Zenith pouted lightly as she watched Paige play with the baby.

“Finders keepers. I found the baby, I’m claiming the baby. For now at least. Who knows what’ll happen in the future.”

“Ugh, fine! But as soon as we find someone else I’m taking the baby from you.”

“Have you noticed we’ve passed nothing edible yet? Not a flower, berry or root vegetable.” Paige said as she looked around the forest. Using her free hand to hold the hoe, she lightly swung it and plowed the earth open. As she moved forward a few paces, she turned around and bent close to the ground, looking at the now upturned earth. “Look, even the soil doesn’t have bugs in it. Not even a single earthworm. The forest wasn’t like this the last time Rebecca and I came through.”

“I really hope we find someone soon Paige. This mist is really creeping me out.” Zenith hugged her arms together and crouched down, rubbing her arms and hugging her knees to her belly for warmth. As Paige looked over at Zenith, she frowned. Even though Zenith had changed appearances, her habits and speech remained the same. A conundrum for sure, but one that was easy enough to fix over time. ‘Just think of it as though she actually grew up. Different face, same personality. I’ve never heard of a magic circle that can bring people back to life. So a different body might have been needed to house her soul. I guess we’ll see once we meet up with Tyler and Nick though.’

Sighing to herself, she handed the baby over to Zenith, who hugged the boy fiercely. The baby was a little hand warmer, his light snores filling the two with warmth. “At least we have good company. Now, which way should we try now?”

“I don’t know. We’ve tried going in circles and in a straight line.” Zenith stood up and looked at the surrounding forest warily. “Splitting up is not an option. How about we try to retrace our steps and see if we are caught up in some type of illusion?”

Smirking, Paige grandly gestured ahead of the two of them. “Sure. After you, my fair and semi-voluptuous lady. I bet Nick will go mad with lust as he caresses your new body.”

Zenith blushed heavily, her new face even adopted the same shade of red as her old face. “Paige, you really need to rethink your form of humor. Your intentionally teasing me, aren’t you?”

“Sort of. I bet he will be surprised though. You would fit in any town in Leit with clothes like that.” Paige looked Zenith up and down, making sure she was correct. “Yeah, only ladies in Leit would carry a garter dagger on their thigh. How that would help anyone in a dress is beyond me though.”

“I know you said you wanted to wait, but can you give me the basic rundown on what happened at the mausoleum, Paige? No formation that I know of is able to do something like this.” Zenith said, gesturing at her body. “Our classes were changed; our bodies were changed. Please?”

“Fine, but only a little. We went in to rescue Isabella and succeeded. The Demon Lord took his weapon and was about to leave when the formation went critical and exploded. The next thing I knew, here we are in a creepy forest with nothing around us but trees and fog. I’ll give you the details after. we. find. the. others.” Paige stressed heavily, sounding out the last sentence piece by piece. “I don’t know what type of teacher you are, but can you understand the words coming out of my mouth?” Paige said playfully, dispelling the dark mood from around them.

“We’ll find them. No formation can last forever. It must be using a ton of mana to fuel this though, judging by the density of the fog.” Zenith said as she parted the mist in front of her. “Or maybe not. I mean, I can do the same thing on a muggy day like this, given enough water to create a mist. It’d be a pain to do, but possible.”

Paige let out a soft sigh. “Zenith, do you know of any skills a Farmer might be able to use? I thought of [Find Livestock], but I know there has to be another skill or spell that can find people.”

Zenith looked at Paige critically. “A Farmer skill? No one other than Farmers would pay that close attention to low-class skills.”

“Your a teacher of some type right now. Just think about it please?”

Zenith let out an exasperated sigh, “Fine. Give me a few minutes to think about it.” Walking along the forest path, Paige could feel the forest moving in response to whatever path they chose. Without a benchmark or something to anchor their position to, It would not be easy getting out of this forest. Zenith snapped her fingers suddenly, a bright smile on her face. “There is a skill that Farmers have, called [Trail Finder], that Farmers use to protect their fields from wild animals. They use that so that they can fence in their crops, as well as grow things in the animals’ path to discourage them from coming.”

“Hmm, sounds like a weaker version of a Scout’s [Pathfinder] skill. Look at you go Zenith! What a teacher you are turning out to be, I’m learning new things already!”

“It doesn’t help knowing what a skill does if you can’t learn it, Paige.”

“Hah! Who says I can’t learn a measly Farmer’s skill? I’ve mastered every Warrior skill under the sun. Okay, some have more restrictions than others and are terribly bad for your body, but still, a skill is a skill.”

“Well then, why don’t you try to master a simple, easy [Trail Finder] skill, that you just heard a few seconds ago.”

“Maybe I will,” Paige said as she stopped on the path and closed her eyes. ‘If I was an animal, I would take the path of least resistance. Easily accessible, but with a clear view of the surroundings.’ As she took a step forward, her mana started twisting rapidly in her core. “This way Zenith, follow me.”

“Paige, this is stupid. Your walking with your eyes closed. How are you going to find a path that way? You’re about to run into a tree. And another one. One more Paige”

“Quiet Zenith, you’re ruining my concentration here. I’m figuring out how to use [Trail Finder].”

“Don’t be silly, Paige. In order to learn a skill, you have to train systematically and pray heavily that the gods will bless you with that knowledge to make it work. It’s impossible to learn a skill just by hearing a description of it. If that was the case, then there’d be no point in going to school to learn!”

“I guess you’ve never heard of the term, ‘genius’, before then. Cause guess what I just learned.” Paige smirked victoriously. “Ah Zenith, you need to learn that some people are naturals at learning new things.”

Zeniths eyes went wide at the victory sign Paige was pointing in her direction. It was unheard of for someone to learn a skill just from hearing about it. “You’ve really mastered it, Paige?” Zenith asked shakily.

“Yup figured out how it works too. We’ll be able to find our way through the forest a bit easier now too. I’ve even figured out how to track an animal too!”

“Instead of a Warrior, you should be called a Monster Paige. You know that is unheard of right?”

“Haha, that’s what you get when your family is all Farmers, the tricks of the trade.”

Zenith stopped in her tracks. “Paige, were your parents really Farmers? That is…unusual, to say the least. You’ll have to share that story with me sometime.”

“Yeah, maybe one day,” Paige said as she looked away dubiously. “But for now, let’s go look for Nick and Tyler. We should all be here in the woods.”

“If we are here, then what about our enemies. Do you think that they could be here too?” Zenith said.

“Probably not. That last magic circle split into two parts before we teleported here, so we should be fairly separated. But if I am being honest, I don’t think it was a coincidence we were sent here.”

“Well, the faster we can get out, the happier I’ll be. What is your skill saying? Are we getting close to anyone?”

A tiny tingling in her brain stopped Paige from moving, her instincts kicking in as she surveyed the surroundings for something hidden. “You know what, Zenith, I actually think we are.” As Paige released her mana out into the forest, the damp mist clung to the mana, seemingly trying to rip it into pieces. Paige breathed heavily as she exerted herself, her mana rapidly leaking out into the woods. Eventually, her mana formed a path in the woods, away from the walking path that they had been following. “Look. A semi-hidden trail. Looks like you were right Zenith; [Trail Finder] really can find a path in the woods. The branches have been disturbed here. I guess we’ll see what made this path.”

“Are you sure it’s a good idea, Paige? If something is living in these woods…” Zenith trailed off ominously as she followed behind Paige’s back.

“It’ll be fine Zenith. It’s not like I’ve lost the ability to fight.” Paige said as she waved off Zenith’s concern. “I may not have my [Danger Sense] skill anymore, but that doesn’t mean I’m oblivious. I’m better than Assassins at spotting ambush locations.”

As they neared a field, one eerily similar to the one she had found baby Markus at, Paige peeked from behind a low tree, spotting a green cloak and worn pendant lying on the ground, but with no one else around. ‘Obvious much? That’s a terrible trap, Nick. But if Zenith didn’t have her staff with her, then Nick shouldn’t have his bow.’

Motioning for Zenith to take the baby and step back, Paige walked forward into the clearing while glancing up into the trees. She had enough hunting experience to know that the best line of sight into a clearing was high in the trees.

Unfortunately for her though, her choice did not work quite as she planned. “Stay where you are. Hands up where I can see them, Farmer. Call your friend out too.” Nick stood up from the bushes to her left, a makeshift bow in his hands. ‘Huh. Who’d have thought he’d be able to make a bow. Where’d he get the string from?’

“Hey, Nick, it’s just me, Paige. Have you changed any?” Paige said as she dropped her wooden hoe.

“Five people went out to defeat a monster. What city did they start at?”

“Castle Molt, along the Alcudian fifth interior defensive line.”

“What is the most expensive item own?

“The mithril bodysuit is the most expensive item I personally own. The Imperial Wardstone was a spoil of war.”

“Tch, I knew you weren’t lying when you said you stole it from an Imperial Scion’s dead body. Why are we here? What happened at the mausoleum?”

“Hey, it’s alright now! Look who we found!” Paige called out, turning behind her.

As Zenith walked into the clearing, Nick turned to see who it was and froze, shock written on his face. “Anna!” Nick yelled, dropping his bow to the ground as he fell to his knees.

“Nick! Are you okay?” Zenith asked in a panic. She ran over to Nick, stopping to hand the baby over to Paige. “Nick, are you…” Her words were interrupted by Nick as he kissed her fiercely, setting Zenith ablaze in embarrassment.

“I thought I lost you for good when Austin said you were killed, Anna. Where is Claire? Tell me that she is alright, Anna.” Nick said quickly as he twirled Zenith around in the air, joy written on his face.

Anne. Paige and Zenith stilled as they locked gazes, recognition in their faces. Her status had said her name was Zenith Anne Brent. “Nick. I’m Zenith, not Anna. I’m sorry.” Zenith said quietly, her gaze sympathetic.

Nick stopped twirling, his mind going blank. “What did you…” he stuttered.

“I’m Zenith, Nick. I’m sorry. Whatever happened changed my appearance and class.”

“No. That’s impossible. That’s…” Nick dropped to the floor, his gaze fluctuated as he closed his eyes in defeat; his tears staining the forest floor.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Nick. Is that why you were in a bad mood to the mausoleum?” Paige said quietly, giving Nick a consoling pat on the back. “I’m sorry to rush you Nick, but the fog is inhibiting our mana. Can you find us a way out of the forest?”

Zenith stood in front of Nick, hesitating what to say. Nick stood up and hugged her tightly, Zenith freezing in shock.

“Nick,” Paige warned him lightly, her hand reaching back to her wooden hoe.

“Let me just pretend. Just for a moment.” Nick said, his voice laced with sorrow. “Please.”

Paige took a quick glance at Zenith, who nodded her head in reply. Motioning for Zenith to pat Nick on the back, Zenith quietly wrapped her hands around Nick, who shuddered at the familiar touch.

“It’s alright Nick. It’s not your fault.” Zenith said quietly. She quietly pushed Nick down to his knees, dropping down to her knees to hug him as he cried.

“It’s not your fault.”

“It’s not your…”

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