Chapter 29

 “Please Nick. That’s all I’m asking for. Time.” Zenith pleaded quietly in the tense room. 

Nick’s heart hurt at the sight. He knew that it wasn’t his wife in front of him but the sight, the mannerisms, were all the same. He locked gazes with Tyler, who was looking between Paige and the Demon Lord.

The Demon Lord. The source of all his troubles. Had he not been sent to do this mission, he would have been at home with his wife and child. He could have protected them from their grizzly fate. He should have.

Nick hesitated, but eventually put down his bow. “Fine. We can do that. Paige, is that a fair compromise for you? We’ll wait to see what the consequences are before we act.”

Paige sniffed her nose. “That’s all I wanted to begin with. We are not going to kill him just because of what he could become. Tyler, is that good enough for you as well?”

Tyler’s eyes shifted between the three of them. ‘He does look like a shifty merchant when he does that. I wonder if the appearance dictates a person’s character. Or maybe it’s like how Zenith is displaying the same mannerisms as Anna.’ Nick thought to himself. Either way, it was both frustrating and funny. “It is Paige. But if he starts going down the wrong path…” Tyler trailed off, waiting to see what her response would be.

“I’ll kick his ass and set him straight. With all four of us here, I am sure we can teach him good morals.”

Nick thought back to what Paige had said and asked aloud, “You said you were a Farmer. How would you be able to kill me?” He knew most skills that a Farmer would have, and not many of them translated into a lethal attack.

Paige was affronted. “Who said that a Farmer needed a Skill to kill someone? That would be a weak Farmer. When was the last time you’ve seen a Farmer fight?”

“Never Paige. That’s the point.” Tyler interrupted before Nick could respond. “Can you show us a Farmer Skill? One that you deem lethal enough to threaten Nick?”

“Bah. Nick is a Bower. Zenith is a Teacher, and you are a Merchant. Anyone of these classes is practically just as useless in a battle.” Paige tsked slightly. “You haven’t forgotten the training regiment for new recruits. So why would I have forgotten how to fight like a Warrior?

“Because Paige, a Warrior is vastly superior to a Farmer in a battle,” Tyler quipped seriously.

“Yeah, well the foundation is there. I may not be buffed like a Warrior, but I’m sure I can hold my own against one still. Nick, what about you? Have your skills decreased or something? I feel great.”

“It has actually. My muscles are far weaker. I’ll have to train as well to get back into shape. You Zenith?”

Nick saw how Zenith hesitated. She looked toward Nick and spoke quietly. “My mana pool is smaller, but the main problem is that I can’t test what elements I am more suited for now. The tips of my hair are green though, so I should be able to still cast wind magic. How much though is up in the air, so to speak.”

Nick sighed. He knew that Zenith was trying hard not to be insensitive. “Anna was adept at using Nature Magic. I don’t truly know what her affinity was though.” 

“Did anyone have any of their equipment when they awoke?” Tyler asked. Paige brightened and snapped her fingers together. “I do have something to mention.” Nick watched as Paige grabbed something from under her shirt; a familiar looking ring.

“You still had your ring on you Paige?”

“Yeah. It’s one of the few things that I still had actually. I already stored Markus’s old clothes in the ring, so no one should notice a thing.”

“Markus? You’ve already checked his status?” Nick thought out loud. “What did it show?”

“It’s easier to show you actually.” Paige’s mana floated into Markus as she quietly recited something under her breath; ghostly words forming in the air after they intermingled with the baby’s own mana. 

Markus Ederite

Race: Human/Demon

Class: Blessed Apprentice

Skills: Unknown

Spells: Unknown

“What in God’s great name do his Race and Class mean, Zenith?” Tyler remarked quietly. “A Blessed Apprentice, but it doesn’t say what Class he is an Apprentice of. And it’s impossible to figure out the deity watching over him either, not at his age at least.”

“I was an Apprentice Mage, but I’ve never seen just an Apprentice Class by itself. Paige? Any Imperial Secrets you’d like to share that might perhaps enlighten us all?” Zenith said, heavily laying out her thoughts. Paige sighed as she rocked the baby in her arms, not quite holding him in full view of Nick. 

“Why yes Zenith, it is an Imperial Secret, a deeply hidden one. It’s called I don’t know either. It’s not like I’ve ever had a baby when I was in the Imperial family, so how would I know about baby statuses. You come from an aristocratic family. Shouldn’t this be your forte?”

“Usually, it would be if I was the firstborn daughter or son. But I’m not. The most training I’ve ever gotten was “Don’t make our family name a laughingstock. And don’t embarrass our partners either.” Zenith eyed Paige and both of them sighed in unison. “Can I hold the baby, Paige?”

“Just make sure Nick or Tyler does something we’ll all regret,” Paige said dejectedly as she handed the baby off. “Okay, we shouldn’t have any trouble here tonight. Zenith and I will sleep in the wagon. We’ll switch off watch every three hours. Tomorrow at first light we’ll look for the formation remnants.”

“I know you don’t like it Nick, but Paige and Zenith have a strong argument. Even I have qualms about killing a baby. How can you not?” Tyler said after Paige and Zenith left for the wagon out in front of the house. 

“My wife and child died Tyler. How would you feel if that happened to you?”

Tyler sat next to Nick, his face heavily perspiring despite the chilly weather. “Honestly, I never had any children, so I wouldn’t know how it feels. I only know how I feel now. Even you admit that your Commander said the other Rangers stationed there were killed as well, so how are you confident that you could do what they could not?” 

“Not many know I have a greater affinity for nature. In a heavily forested area like Leit, I am sure I would have been able to survive, or at least get one or both out alive.” Prodding the fire, Nick continued on. “I know the Rangers who were stationed there. They got the position to guard other Ranger families not because of their actual ability, but for their stealth and defensive skills. Hell, I could probably take them all on. I wouldn’t be able to kill everyone though, that is much harder to do.”

Tyler stared hard at Nick. “Nick. It wasn’t your fault you weren’t there with your family. It also wasn’t the baby’s fault.”

“It’s so hard Tyler. Even more so when I see Zenith standing in front of me. All I can see is my wife standing there.” Nick whispered silently. “I chose to do this mission. I chose to leave them behind, again. But she never once faulted me for it. She knew how important being a Ranger was, and she loved me despite it.”

Tyler patted Nick hard on the back. “We can only rise to the occasion, Nick. I know how hard it is to choose between love of country or family. Learn from your past mistakes. Be a better husband. And get revenge for your late wife, just like I did.”

“Are you all right Nick?” Zenith asked as she walked to his left. “You didn’t wake us up to finish the night shift. I’m sorry that you didn’t get any sleep.”

“It’s fine Zenith. I needed some time to cool my head and really think about some things.” Nick said as he walked, focusing on the forest around him. The trees were getting larger and larger, something he was not used to seeing in a forest this age. ‘Perhaps it is the mana? I should talk to Zenith about that possibility.’ Shaking his head, he organized his tired thoughts. “I’m sorry about yesterday. Finding out he was the Demon Lord was a bit too much for me.”

“I know the feeling. I was shocked too. But what Paige said was correct I think. Circumstances matter more than birthright. Even a pauper can be a great king if given the chance and guidance. What’s to say Markus is any different?” Zenith said as she followed along, grasping Nick’s hand in hers. “Follow me, Nick, we need to go left. The mana is getting thinner that way. Are you sure you know which way leads to the heart of the forest?

“That path was a much easier climb. I know Tyler didn’t bring any other supplies and your shoes aren’t meant for walking on such an uneven path. You know that you could have stayed and helped Paige and Tyler at the settlement. It does need a lot of work to make it livable again.”

“I wanted to come with you. It’ll be a fun trip. We can go find the formation, get some of our questions answered, and then we can plan for the future. Besides, these shoes aren’t too bad. I’m just not used to wearing something without any padding.”

Nick walked along beside Zenith, helping her navigate some of the rougher terrain. It wasn’t long before Zenith spoke up to Nick. “I’m sorry I look like your late wife Nick. I really am. If I could choose to look like someone else…”

“It’s not something you could control Zenith. I’m not faulting you. It’s just hard right now.” 

“Well, just know that I am sorry,” Zenith said with a sorrowful smile, one that almost broke Nick’s heart once again. He knew that look. “Nick, do you see what I see over there?” Zenith asked frankly. He turned his head and frowned at the sight. 

A tree. A single tree was enshrouded by the mist; the fog rolling off of it endlessly. “Yeah, I see it.” As he walked closer to the tree he noticed that a clearing was nearby, the grass within leaning away from the middle, where a lone tree stump sat.

“There are runes here Nick. I think Paige said she found the baby alone in a clearing. If that is the case, I think this must be where he was found. It makes sense since the formation was meant for him.” Zenith studied the runes from the ground on her tiptoes, looking up at the tree trunk. “They’re scorched into the tree. Help me up, I can’t see them well from here.” 

Nick shot her a disbelieving look. “And how am I supposed to do that?”

“Easy, lean over by the tree and I’ll get on you.” Zenith paused and amended her statement with a slight blush. “I’ll stand on your shoulders and inspect them up close. The runes. And make sure you don’t look up either.” Zenith said with a full blush as she realized she still only had a dress on.

‘There’s the awkward Zenith I know.’ Nick smiled to himself. It would be tough to get used to, but Nick knew deep down that he could make it work. “Give me a second to put my stuff down. I’ll help you out.

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