Chapter 51

“Are you sure it is a good idea to let Paige teach Markus? All of her training so far seems…ridiculous, considering it is her,” Zenith asked Tyler quietly as they walked along the main road of Cidala. After seeing Paige’s training for herself, Zenith seriously considered if Paige was just playing a bad joke or not. But for reasons unknown to her, Tyler himself really didn’t disapprove of it.

“While unconventional, it does actually teach the motions of certain actions. Somewhat. After practicing it myself, I can say that I look stupid doing it but it could work as a beginner’s tool. But only that. It’s definitely not how I learned how to use a sword.”

“So she wasn’t just making it up? Do you really think she reached her level through unconventional methods?” Zenith was still dubious if Paige actually learned like that.

Tyler shrugged, “Anything is possible, especially if you have time to refine your techniques in actual battles. And you really can’t deny it does seem to work. It’s just weird that it works as much as it does. Either Paige is a genius or her teacher was to develop a training regiment for her out of something like that.” 

Zenith thought about that for a moment as she watched the town start to wake up. As a daughter of a Founding Household of Appealte, she had grown up in a highly regimented household, so she thought she could relate somewhat to Paige’s upbringing. She always had some free time when she was home, but not enough to actually learn any spells or practice. That’s what a school was for. “Maybe I should ask Paige how exactly she grew up? I mean, besides being a consort and having babies, what is a Princess allowed to do in the Imperial Household?”

“Good luck getting her to say anything about her time there. She hardly likes to think or talk about the last decade, not to mention something presumably centuries ago.” Stopping by the door to Kate’s shop, Tyler patted Zenith’s shoulders in mock good luck.

Seeing that look of mild skepticism his face, Zenith had a strong urge to punch him but knew that it would probably hurt her hand more than she’d like this early in the morning. Suppressing an urge, she shook her head and stuck her tongue out. “You just don’t know how to ask the question. Typical guy problem. Peh, I wonder how you will ever get a girlfriend at this rate,” Zenith repeated Tyler’s actions back to him, taking delight in his twitching eyebrows.

“A, anyways Tyler, do you think Kate will be able to help us out? How do the merchant associations customarily do intercountry trades? Is there a trade pact or something that applies?”

Tyler stopped to look at the other side of the street at a few people. Frowning, he adjusted his bag on his back, looking for something. “Ahem. It really depends on the association as well as the trade goods in question. Cidala’s primary export is food goods within Alcudia, so it is hard to say if Kate will have access to intercountry permits for weapons and finished trade goods. Then, taking into account travel times, protection costs, export taxes and the association cut of the sale; a merchant would be able to calculate if the travel is worth it. If it is and you can make money, great; if not then there is no point in trying to sell your goods across the border.”

Zenith frowned as Tyler pulled out a small buckler and sword from his bag. Following his cue, she pulled out her wand and watched from the corner of her eye as a few people dipped into the alleys. “Trouble?” She made a vortex of wind surround them, isolating their voices from any listening ears.

“…Unknown. But they had training, Zenith. Not as good as Royal Trackers, but they are at least Army level. Be careful today. Something seems wrong.”

“I’ll go to the Library after this. That will be the best place for me to hold up if there is trouble in town. Have you done something recently?”

“No, not that I am aware of. Paige and Nick forged our identities well, so there is no chance of something going wrong on that end. And my merchant business is clean. Still, for someone to be lurking…” Tyler grimaced. “Let’s ask Kate if something is wrong.” Holding the bell knocker on the door still with her wind magic, Zenith pulled the door open and was startled to hear Kate yelling at someone from the back of the store.

“- I don’t care about that! It is the school’s responsibility to protect its students! I-“

Nodding at Tyler, Zenith took a step back so Tyler could open the back door. Whatever was happening, it seemed a good idea for Tyler to take the lead. Flashing a three with her fingers, Tyler nodded and dipped his head slowly, bracing himself for what was to come. One…two…three! Promptly stepping forward, Tyler leaned his upper body back and kicked the door open heavily and stepped forward with the motion, swinging his shield arm to deflect the blade aimed at his face while his other arm moved up to plant the edge of his sword on his opponent’s neck.

“Stop!” Zenith and Kate yelled quickly before Tyler could complete his next action. “She’s from Nespe Academy. The aide to the Headmaster? An Apprentice Fencer, right?” Zenith hesitantly said. She had looked familiar, but the dark cloak she was wearing did not help Zenith’s memory. “But what is she be doing here?”

“This is Warrior Laila, an aide to Sir Kenton. Zenith, Tyler and Lily are in trouble! They did something wrong, but Laila won’t tell me exactly what.” Kate responded apprehensively. “Emilia sent her over here, evidently she and her husband are already on their way to Nespe! I-“

“Zenith, shut the main door, quick!” Tyler yelled out, angling his shield to block the view of the front door. Zenith swung the bottom tip of her staff backward without looking, hearing the telltale slam of a door shut. “We’re surrounded. Fifteen people at least. Miss Laila, tell us what is happening in three sentences or less.” Tyler responded curtly, moving away from the windows.

“Lily issued a formal party to someone she shouldn’t have. Kids are in trouble with Healer Hall. They want you, Miss Zenith, to question!” The young girl responded briskly.

Zenith blinked. She hadn’t taught in great detail how to create a Party since Paige had seemingly lectured and created their Party in one of her lessons. But a Formal Party plus Healer Hall painted a pretty clear picture of what Lily had done. But still, Zenith couldn’t see any problems. Sure, a Formal Party is a little over the top for an all-apprentice party, but they could always dissolve it with minimal ease with the help of the go-  “… Miss Laila, how is a Formal Party dissolved?”

Tyler blinked at the question and inhaled sharply as he recognized what Zenith was worried about. He had been in a few Formal Parties while he was a Royal Vanguard, and dissolving or creating a Formal Party typically required a full ceremony, as well as a punishment for annulling said Party. Usually for High Classes that meant Skills being restricted for a certain amount of time, as well as a temporary decrease in mana depending on the makeup of the Party. Permanent restrictions, while not common by any means, were still possible; which is what Zenith had gathered from Nick’s talk about how Leit used Formal Parties when training their Apprentices and why it was inherently dangerous to do so.

Paige, of course, was an exception to the ceremony rule, Zenith surmised, as she created a Formal Party without a ceremony and used nothing but her mana and some words. But even she had lost her Class when she seemingly tampered with the Party Creation. That begged the question: how had Lily known to make a Formal Party without the gods’ help and how did one go about dissolving a Formal Party now?

Miss Laila only looked at her dumbfoundedly. “You taught her Party Creation and you don’t even know the answer yourself!?”

“Well, I only briefly described Party Creation, and someone else helped create her current Party. So no, please tell me the process for dissolving a Formal Party.” Zenith held her breath as she thought of the most radical, surefire way of dissolving a Party instantly, praying that there were other ways that she didn’t know about.

But Laila bit her lip and whispered the answer she had known. “Death of the Party Leader.”

“Miss Zenith, you are required to head to Nespe for questioning. We are here to escor-“

“No, you are not taking her anywhere without a Royal Decree stating this is the intention of the Royal Family! You have no authority to kidnap citizens without due process involved a-“

“We are the law keepers, not you! How da-“

Zenith shut the back door closed as Tyler argued loudly with the Royal Guards at the front of the shop. She was already regretting letting Paige teach any of her classes. Did that mean that Lily and Tyler’s party was actually a Formal Party? Did Paige not know how to create a regular Party? Zenith counted to ten and looked around for some parchment and ink, fully intending to get Paige and Nick’s help in this matter. 

“She’s waking up, ma’am,” Miss Laila said quietly as Kate slowly startled awake. Kate had fainted suddenly after she had parsed out what had happened herself. Rushing over, Zenith took her hand gently and forcefully squeezed it. “It’ll be fine, Kate. We won’t let anything happen to Lily or Tyler.” Zenith said as she held Kate’s hand. 

Kate’s breath was laced with worry. “Tyler would never let something happen to Lily. He’s gonna get himself killed.”

“No one will be dying, Kate. I promise that on my Class. And so do the rest of us. We’ll handle the fallout. Now, rest up while I write Paige a message. Laila, listen to Kate here and follow her instructions. Kate, when you can please get Sara to send this message over to Paige,” Zenith said as she moved from the couch over to the table to write. This would be tricky, she realized, as their common sense was undoubtedly different than others. ‘Our ignorance of how this new world operated and being secluded away from civilization created this mess. Of course, it was a small price to pay given our apparent death at the Mausoleum, but still, why couldn’t we have been sent to a village or something instead?’ Zenith shook her head, getting rid of the random thoughts and focused on the task at hand. ‘The crux of the matter is an Apprentice Cleric being in a Formal Party with other Apprentices. That means the resolution will be dependent on Healer Hall’s argument and stance in this matter.’ 

“Laila, Kate. How much authority does the Healer Hall have in Alcudia?”

“A lot, Miss Zenith. The Royal Family even built their main branch right across from the castle in the former capital city of Terpii. That alone should tell you how much authority they have,” Laila said quickly, her face a mask of impatience. 

“Nonsense. Every country is required to provide accommodations for a Healer Hall to be created in a country. The Imperial Family has a dedicated branch of guards to protect the Healer Hall from all outward threats,” Zenith disputed that immediately. She was sure Paige had brought that up at one point or another. Probably during her story about the Healer Hall moving its people every fifty years to draw out the enemies targeting them. “Still, the Healer Hall is a subsidiary branch of the Imperial Family. Does that mean the Scion is aware of this and is directing them? Or are they doing it themselves before the Imperial Family can get involved?”

‘Paige will know how to pressure the Healer Hall and the Royal Family. I can at least rely on my diplomat training to argue my case, assuming I have the chance,’ Zenith thought as she wrote the message for Paige. Tyler had already told her there was a high chance they would not be able to go back to the forest and would be forced to go to Nespe by nightfall. It wouldn’t take the guards long for them to get actual authorization, not if both the Royal Family and the Healer Hall was already convening the trial there.

“Give this message to Sara as soon as possible. I need a few things from the forest, and I doubt I will have the chance to go.” Handing over the message, Zenith quickly gave Kate some emotional support before heading off to Tyler’s side, noticing that the guards had left the building but were still loitering outside inconspicuously. “That’s nice of them to back off like that. I’d feel bad if there were rumors about Kate’s business.”

“Standard procedure to reduce public panic. Still a problem for us though.  Zenith, I can already tell you that we will be heading over to Nespe before mid-afternoon. One of the guards just released a messenger falcon so hopefully our message to Paige will get to her quicker than their response.” Tyler said quietly. “Thoughts?”

“We need to learn more, Tyler. Our common sense is warped just enough to make almost anything we know a problem. If I am being honest, I’d be more comfortable if Paige was the one handling this.”

“Agreed. I can handle the Royal Family side, but Paige would be a better person overall to deal with an issue like this. Do you know of any Imperial laws about Clerics and Formal Parties?” 

“Nope. I know it is more common to have Clerics in parties when the Imperial Army arrives, but there haven’t been that many non-Imperial parties with Clerics that I am aware of. I know some mages who had a lesser affinity to healing, like me, join parties instead of becoming affiliated with the Healer Hall. But that might be more of an Appealte custom than the Empire as a whole.”

“Alcudia preferred that those with an affinity toward healing be sent to the Healer Halls, but Paige would typically interfere and the Healer Hall would concede. She had a way of swaying the Healer Hall, which is not surprising to me anymore but at the time it was mind-boggling.”

Zenith thought for a moment and stared outside. They were stuck in the town for now, so they might as well make the most of it. “…Let’s go to the library, Tyler. We can at least review some of the laws to make sure nothing has changed in that regard, and it will allow Kate some time to meet up with Sara.”

“Zenith, you have a letter and a package!” Kate called out as Zenith and Tyler were reviewing the law books in the library, under the careful scrutiny of both the Royal Guards and the Cidala Guardsmen. Kate briefly halted but stepped forward, knowing that the package might help the two of them save Lily and Tyler from their current predicament. Everyone looked to the small falcon Kate was holding. The package was rather small but still was stretching the limit to what the falcon could carry.

“Zenith,” Tyler spoke as she started to unravel the package. She stopped as she saw Tyler’s eyes sweep over the guardsmen around them.

“…”, she hesitated, but pulled out a single stone from her pocket, watching the guards warily as they watched in turn. She was wary to use the item since the guards had already been jittery at her use of magic. They should have seen one of these before. Right? Taking a deep breath, she silently gathered her mana and tapped the stone on the table. “Ward.” The world turned foggy around the trio as the mana stone activated, the simple warding spell activating. Kate’s sound of surprise hurt Zenith’s ear, already knowing this was probably not common now either. How in the world did anyone have secure conversations without wards? “We have twenty seconds before the mana stone disintegrates.” Quickly unraveling the package, Zenith blinked and sharply inhaled as a fairly noticeable item fell out, along with another trinket and a rather worn and old booklet.

Zenith quickly grabbed the one item she was fairly certain Paige wanted to be hidden without even needing to read the note. Paige’s Imperial Wardstone. Quickly putting it on, the necklace adjusted itself automatically, the jeweled end sitting just inside the top of her dress. The necklace itself was still cool to the touch but she realized idly that the jeweled stone had a few inconsistencies. The blue sapphire jewel glimmered far less and was smaller than before. But the most glaring inconstancy was that Paige’s full name was not showing on the stone. Still, she knew without a doubt that it had to be one. Quickly reading over the message, she threw the message up and ripped it to shreds with her own wind magic. As the message shredded itself into oblivion, the mana stone on the table cracked audibly as the mana was finally depleted; the surroundings snapping back into clear focus, though the guards’ wary faces and drawn swords did not help the mood in the library. 

Letting Tyler deal with that issue, she thought back to the letter and the remaining two items left on the table, the cross trinket and a rather worn book. “Hopefully Paige knows what she is doing,” Zenith mumbled under her breath, closing her eyes to review the letter she had just read.

Good luck! I know you can do it our little Diplomat! Wield the law like a sword and strike down our enemies!

Barring that, Zenith, use book and trinket as the first resort to force the issue to pass. The trinket is an Imperial Healer’s Cross, should grant one favor from the Healer Hall if shown. The book is a diary from an old healer who owned the trinket. Use it to pass the issue of knowing how to Heal and why you have the trinket. The owner should be dead, found in Appealte centuries ago. Just say your ancestors found it in the mountains of Appealte close to the Dracos border.

Be careful if the Imperial Family is involved! The necklace is an Imperial Wardstone from a Scion I previously killed. Proves you are at least affiliated with Imperial Family if shown. Look at everyone with disdain and say nothing if pressed for an answer. Wardstones do weird things when other Wardstones are present; just keep calm and don’t hesitate to resort to violence. Do not break!! Show only as last resort if kids in mortal danger! Mortal!

“Of all the-!” Zenith slumped heavily and banged her head lightly on the table as Tyler deflected the guards’ questions on what had just happened. These next few days were going to severely test her diplomatic skills, as well as her common sense, to the limit.

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