Chapter 41

 “Sigh. I’m getting nowhere’s on this.” Zenith said to herself quietly as she held another training manual up, this one even more ridiculous than the last. ‘Mana, and where to find it.’. The fading sunlight was casting a gloom on her thoughts as well as making it much harder to read. Idly playing with the orb of mana she conjured, she sighed. Even the pure bright orb couldn’t put a dent in Zenith’s mood. She was lucky to even find a training book that had even talked about [[Mana Light]]. From her investigation, certain spells were no longer as common as before. “If mana regeneration is harder and more time consuming, then it would make sense to use spells that were more reliable in battle instead of more simplistic, versatile spells.” She idly drummed her hand on the table while she thought of the spells she knew. Most of her spells were dependent on [Mana Sense] and [Mana Sensitivity] to not only increase the passive mana regeneration but also to convert the surrounding natural mana to her spell as well. The use of [Mana Condensing] practically forced single and wide-area attack spells into the highlight, as manipulating the surrounding mana by using small spells such as [[Gust]] to augment wind attacks would only be helpful in battles where you had excess mana to burn. 

“In high-stress battles, I should be able do about sixty [[Cutting Winds]] or maybe twenty [[Wind Blades]] in conjunction with my skills before I tire out. If I base consumption off of condensing my mana though… that would be a lot less of each. Ouch. How can any mage sustain that amount of mana in a battle?” She winced as the numbers of spells a mage could use started dipping close to single digits.

“…I’ll ask Lily to send me a few of her books. Or maybe I’ll head over there myself one of these days…” Shaking her head ruefully, she collected the books with a wave of her hand and hovered them back to the bookshelves they were residing in. “I wonder how common [Magic Moulding] is? That is even more mana consuming than other spells.”

“That’s a pretty orb, Zenith. Did you make it yourself?” A voice from behind startled her slightly. Turning, she saw Emilia staring at the orb with interest.

“Hm? Yeah, it’s a mana light. Not a lot of mages use it, but I think it’s helpful for a mage when reading at night.”

“…is there any other reason to learn that spell?”

Zenith blinked at the question. “You can test the ambient mana in the surroundings with this spell. It’s useful if you don’t know the skill [Mana Sense]. See how the light is pure white? That means that the surrounding mana is pure, neutral mana; which makes sense since there is an active formation protecting us. I suppose not many mages like using this spell, though, since it does take a rather substantial amount of mana to create something physical like this.”

Coughing polietly, Zenith realized it was getting pretty late. “Are you about to head out, Emilia?”

The woman nodded, her light brown hair still swirling as Zenith continued to hover the books back to their proper receptacles. “I am. That is a useful skill to have. Although you really didn’t have to put the books back, Zenith. It gives us Librarians something to do during the night shift.”

“Librarians sure do have a rough time, huh. I thought it would be a rather cut and dry job, but by the sounds of it…”

“Mhmm. The law is rather clear about the roles of a Librarian, even a temporary one like me. It took me over a year before I was able to even clear the security clearance, much less get approval from the royal family.”

“Are you sure you don’t have any copies of Peter Alduit’s biography? I do want to borrow these elementary spell books in addition to the books for Paige if that is alright.”

Emilia checked the books Zenith wanted and confirmed that there were extra copies available. “You can borrow those books if you’d like. Usually you would need to put a deposit down, but I know you are good for it. And in regards to Peter Alduit’s biography, I know our library doesn’t have one available. I could try the Nespe Library and see if they have a collection of his feats available to borrow. Unlikely, but I can try for you.”

Zenith smiled. “That’d be great, Emilia! Paige is really interested in Warrior’s stories, so she’ll be happy to read about some in her free time. Honestly, she probably has more free time than I do most days.”

“Probably not, Zenith. I may not be a Farmer, but I do manage quite a few. You’d be suprised how early they get up to work. And while Paige’s plots of land are small, their quality is stupendous. As well as her variety. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Farmer cultivate that many species of plants at once, especially the non-native crops. She is a remarkable Farmer.”

‘Is Paige really that good of a Farmer?’ Zenith blinked at the rather frank praise. “Well, maybe she is a really good Farmer then. Anyways, she’ll have something to do besides sleep her afternoon away now.”

“Haha, I could see her do that. She does seem to be rather blase about things that don’t interest her.”

They both shared a laugh as Zenith finished putting up the rest of the books. Collecting the books she was planning to borrow, they both turned and walked to the main library doors.

“I’m headed to Kate’s house tonight, Emilia. I’m sure she’d be delighted if you stopped by for dinner.”

“I usually head over to her house after work, since it is prohibited to loiter near the library. I’ll be over once the night shift Librarian comes.” Emilia pulled the lever, and the stone door slowly opened. Zenith waited until the magic circle fully deactivated before she stepped through the doorway. 

“Got it, Emilia. See you in a bit.” She waited until the door fully closed before she started walking back toward Kate’s house. The sun was noticeably lower than she’d thought it’d be, but the red hue of the sky was a nice change of view to the stone walls and printed words. The town was still very lively, although the shopkeepers and food stalls were slowly closing shop for the day as the townsfolk and travelers found their way back to their homes and lodging. Stopping at the nearest food stalls, she quickly bought the remainder of his snacks, a light pastry filled with honey, for the children. Not too sweet before bed, but sweet enough to satisfy a sweet tooth. Humming to herself, she knocked on Kate’s door and waited for it to open. The door swung open to reveal a slightly tanned woman with hazel eyes. “Ah, Sara! I wasn’t expecting to see you today. How have you been!” Zenith walked up and gave the girl a hug. 

“It’s good to see you too, Zenith. I heard about what happened to Nick. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“No, no. It’s all good. Kate’s already sent word to Nespe to get some supplies, so it shouldn’t be too long.” Zenith smiled at Sara as they walked inside the slightly cluttered house. Taking a moment to check on Sara, Zenith realized the girl was looking much better than when she had first met her. Her dark brown hair was now well kept and braided, and judging by the lack of dirt on her skin, she was at least staying indoor now instead of camping outdoors. Or maybe just taking better care of herself. A slight bird call could be heard from the back window near the kitchen. “How is your animal companion? Paige said she had just finished harvesting milk thistles if you wanted to pick some up next time you visit. She’ll trade you for a deer.”

“Hah! The only Farmer I’ve ever met that had the gall to trade meat for birdseed. But Ash does seem to enjoy it. She practically goes on strike whenever I run out” Sara ruefully smiled. Sara had been their main supplier of meat since Tyler had gone off to run his merchant business and gather information. It had been a nice change of pace to see someone every few days before she had started tutoring. Zenith laughed and withdrew a small bag of thistle seeds. “I had the feeling I’d be seeing you, so I snagged some from Paige. This should last you a bit until you go hunting again.” 

“I don’t know why you even need my help hunting game. I’ve seen your larder, Zenith, and I know my cuts of meat. Judging by the elder wolf and elk meat I saw hanging up, I can certainly say that Nick is a better hunter than I am.”

“Well, he’ll be happy to hear that. And he don’t go hunting often, only if something gets too close to the barns. The livestock all attract too much attention in the forest. In fact, I think he’d like having someone to teach archery too, if you are interested in learning from a Bower.” Zenith didn’t mention that Paige had actually been the main hunter of their group. Paige actively sought out monsters for their mana cores, while Nick was more inclined to use traps or his own bows while he was searching for bow worthy wood.

“Really? He said that? I’ve been bugging him to teach me how to curve an arrow through the forest but he’s been stubborn about it so far.”

“Um, he may not be teaching that. But you can join Markus if you’d like. He’s been asking about learning how to shoot a bow for a while now, so you might as well tag along.”

“Hrmm, you know, maybe I will. And maybe he’d be willing to mentor me too. He’s awfully good at archery, and his bows are top-notch.” Sara led the way to the back patio, where Joanna, Xavier and Markus were setting the food and plates on the table. “Kate! Zenith is here. Are you sure you don’t need any help with that?” Zenith took a look around for Kate and found her unhooking clothes from the clothesline.

“Emilia should be on her way over as well,” Zenith supplied helpfully as she waved her hand. A strong breeze gushed through the enclosed backyard and focused around Kate, throwing the clothes off the line and into the air. A surprised cry sounded out as the clothes folded themselves neatly into a pile as they floated to the ground. 

“Wah! That was amazing! Zenith, you should stop by more often.” Kate sounded pleased as she looked at the laundry all folded.

“Don’t get any ideas now, Kate. You’re just lucky I have mana to spare right now. [Magic Moulding] is not something I normally waste mana on.”

“Well, now that I’m done with that I can help out with dinner. Mind helping me get the food, Zenith? Emilia shouldn’t be too far behind now.”

“What! Xavier and John don’t want to do lessons in the forest? What happened?” Zenith exclaimed after the children had left the table to play. Sara, Emilia, Kate and Zenith were chatting over a cup of Paige’s tea while they waited for Emilia’s butler to arrive.

“Politics. Guardsman Albecki complained that the town’s guards shouldn’t be used to protect just two children. Would you be able to come here instead?” Kate asked quietly.

Zenith drummed her hands on the side of her cup. “I could possibly. Markus would enjoy getting out too. But the bigger issue is what I’d be able to teach them. Xavier’s already indicated that he wants to become a shopkeeper like you, Kate. And Julia’s already told me she and her husband were thinking of moving up north, since there is more game variety to hunt. I can test Xavier’s mana core to see how much mana he can hold, but…”

“Xavier’s affinity is totally different. I know. But I’d still like you to teach him.” Kate said resolutely.

Zenith thought for a minute and nodded. “I can teach, although it will probably be only twice a week if that is okay with you. I’ll work with Paige and come up with a lesson plan.”

“Paige?”

“She knows a lot of people. Well, mostly innkeepers and such, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she knew a skill or two.”

“How did you all meet anyways? It’s not often that people come together to make a settlement in the woods. Especially without any battle classes helping out.”

“Well, the war displaced a lot of people, you know. We met Paige on the road and Nick and I had just moved from Leit the year prior. We all wanted a nice, quiet place away from the war, and when we heard that there was a settlement in the woods, we decided to try our luck and join them. We didn’t know that the previous tenants had died though, so it was quite a shock. But since everything just needed some repair, we decided to stay. And the rest is history. Talking about Nick, were you able to get the medicine I asked for?” 

“I did, and it’ll be here in the morning. But don’t change the subject yet, Zenith. When are you going to have a baby?” Kate asked with a sly smile. “I wagered you would have had one by now, but it’s been almost four years. Don’t tell me he’s…”

Zenith spit her tea out, her face flushed with embarrassment. “That’s private, Kate! And no, he’s not. We just have a hard time. His first marriage didn’t end well,” Zenith said a little quietly.

Clearing her throat, Emilia decided to jump in and help Zenith out. “Oh? Well, then let’s talk about something else. Do you think the children will do fine at school?”

Zenith nodded gratefully to Emilia. It’s not like they haven’t been trying for children, but that was their own private matter to deal with. “I did ask Paige what the process was since I am a little fuzzy on how the school system is run in Alcudia. But Paige says they should be assigned to a party, probably either a four or a six-person party, depending on the other student’s rankings. I have no doubt that they will be in a group together. Now all that is left to be seen is the rest of their party. Hopefully, they’ll be in a good one. It’s too bad we won’t see them for a few years though.”

“You can always visit Zenith, it’s just that the school highly discourages mentors from visiting within the first two years. It’s to give the children the chance to develop their own battle styles without interference. If you’re worried, go ahead and visit.” Sara said aloud. “I can always use the company if you’re heading that way. I’m sure Markus will be thrilled to go to a large city too.”

“Well, maybe I will when Markus turns eight. There’s really no rush for now. I really want to take a look at Lily’s textbooks though.” A random thought wormed it’s way into Zenith’s head at that moment, something Tyler and Paige were worried about the last time he had stopped by. “Emilia, what is the price of wheat today? I wanted to buy a few bales of hay before winter comes. I was planning on redoing the barn and perhaps making some flour while the weather is still nice.”

“We only sell wholesale to the army. But last time I checked we were selling it at around ten gold coin per bale of hay.” 

“Isn’t that almost a gold coin more than last year?”

“It is, but the quality of this year’s hay bales are really good. The weather has been cooperating all harvest, so naturally the price reflects that. Why do you ask?” Emilia wondered with a frown on her face.

Zenith chose her words carefully. “It’s nothing. Tyler and Paige were arguing about the true worth of her crops and the viability of selling it since the harvest was good. Kate, Nick also wanted to know if the prices of his bow are slated to rise in value. What do you think?”

“Well, I can give you a better price than that traveling merchant can, Zenith. Had I known he was exporting the goods for you, I’d have offered a better price. And besides, Paige’s produce is the tastiest I’ve had. I wouldn’t mind buying the excess, you know.” Kate chimed in. She tapped on the table as she calculated the costs of Nick’s bows. “The demand for high-quality bows have increased, and Nick’s are gaining greater recognition. I wouldn’t be surprised if he could get a few more gold out of each bow, if you are pressed for money and not on time.”

“Great. I’ll let Nick and Paige know that,” Zenith said with a smile. The two questions had revealed what she wanted to know, and it looked like Paige and Tyler were right. The gears of war had already started ramping up across the country.

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