Chapter 52

“I feel like I’m the one on trial. Could the guards have any less tact?” Zenith muttered to no one in particular as she sat in the uncomfortable wagon. The pedestrians around them were clearly judging her as they entered the city proper. She could feel her eyes twitching as she saw a young mother pull her son along and avoided her gaze altogether. Altogether, her first visit to the city felt uncomfortable.

“It is within their rights to transport us in a manner of their choosing, and within your rights to argue for damages to reputation arising from this. Being a Teacher and all, your compensation will likely be limited to three times your last teaching contract.”

She groaned lightly. “Great, so I get a pittance for all this trouble. Ugh, I should have increased the contract for Xavier. I could’ve worked an arrangement out with Kate discreetly.”

Tyler wasn’t following along with her joke though. “And let Tax Collector Nolton bug us about forging our income. Again? Not worth it.” Zenith chuckled as she thought about that visit. But small bantering aside, both of them knew it was going to possibly be a rough trial if the items Paige sent didn’t work.

But it was still a trial. A trial to decide Lily’s fate. That thought irked Zenith. She could understand having a trial if Lily had forced an unwilling student to become her Party Member, but from she could deduce from Laila’s talk, the other Apprentice was clearly elated to join a Party. For the government and the Healer Hall to have such a hard stance against Lily reeked of a hidden agenda. At least the school and the government was nominally on Lily’s side. 

Thinking back to her previous visits to Alcudia, she never really spent time with the Queen or King when she was a Diplomat. Or rather, she would almost always seek out her old classmate and start negotiating there, since Gale Everest was the Royal Court Mage. By the time Zenith got to the Royal Court and presented her case to the nobility as a whole, the Royal Family would already know of the matter and have an appropriate counteroffer that Zenith was willing to take. Most of the time anyway. But that begged the question. Who would be representing the Royal Family? The Queen herself? Zenith squashed down the uneasy feeling in her stomach. Surely the Healer Hall wouldn’t pressure the Royal Family to take their side… right? She winced when she realized why that could be possible. The Second Princess Beatrice. She had been with her mother in the Healer Hall right after she was poisoned. Could she be a political captive? 

Casting a quick breeze of air around them, Zenith isolated the sounds as best she could on the move. “You knew the queen before she met Paige. Did Paige make that big of a difference to her life? I mean, if Paige just being her friend could impact the laws she passed…”

“She…may have impacted the queen more than I would like to admit. Probably more than she would like to admit too.” Tyler sighed quietly. “I haven’t exactly been keeping track of the queen since I assumed she would have been the same even without Paige’s influence. I should’ve looked into it more, but not being able to meet any of my contacts have severely limited what information I can gather discreetly, especially about the Royal Family.”

“I knew Paige was her best friend on paper, but why is that?”

“Well, besides saving her life a few dozen times, just having Paige there led Rebecca to spend far more time away from the capital. She got to travel the country, be in a Party of her choosing, having adventures. It was a hassle during that time, but I think Rebecca got a real view of the country and her people. That’s probably why Rebecca really pushed for the Admission Act in the first place. Disregarding the will of the Royal Court to enact her laws was a tough decision she made, and she did face a lot of pushback on it. Paige… being Paige helped things through. And Paige was willing to take the fall for certain things.” 

“…the Guild Rankings in Alcudia. You told us Paige was the test proctor, which is why Nick and I were forced to join when there were no free High Classes available.” Zenith widened her eyes. “And that team from the inn…” 

“Let’s just say that the number of worthless people holding ranks within the government decreased significantly. As did the Queen’s detractors. What rose from the aftermath was new blood in the government and a total change in the National Hero rankings. Paige upset a lot of people in the country, but she was also loved by a lot of citizens who got the chance to change their lives for the better.”

Zenith stared blankly. Tyler at least had the decency to blush in shame. “…this day keeps getting better and better Tyler. Thanks for sharing this revelation a few hours before we have to argue against the Queen. Let me take a wild guess about your investigation into Peter. For the past four years, you haven’t been able to figure out what he’s specifically has done in Alcudia because you have no contacts within the Royal Court and looking into it means a high chance of being exposed.”

“…”

“…”

“I really hate your investigative skills, Tyler. I swear, you and Paige must have the worst memory of anyone I know. How did you fail to mention this before now!?” Zenith whispered angrily.

“Do you remember every little thing you’ve done?”

“Please don’t tell me you just asked a Mage that. A good memory is practically expected.”

“…fair point. But you are also a lot younger than we are. The older you get the harder it is to remember the details of certain events without a trigger. You can ask me anything specific about my time as the Royal Vanguard and I could probably recall it, but day to day events during that time are a lot harder to remember. Now, Paige and I have a remarkable memory when it comes to people and faces. Especially the people we fought. The hazards of being a Battle Class, you might say.”

Zenith looked over at their destination, the most secure spot any city would have according to Tyler. The Library. “Great. Just great. So the two of you have remarkable memories, but only when it pertains to people you have tried to kill or are potential threats.”

Their conversation stalled as they arrived closer and closer to their destination. Zenith was about to stop her mana when Tyler spoke out. “I’ll check out the secret corridors and make sure they still operate on the same rules. You worry about Lily, and I’ll make sure Tyler doesn’t do anything stupid.”

“Thanks, Tyler. Hopefully, this will go better than we can imagine.” Zenith doubted that would be possible, but she could always hope for the best and have a plan for the worst. 

“Mentor! I swear I-” Zenith shook her head, quietly cutting Lily off. Quickly walking up to Lily, she grabbed the girl into a big hug, squeezing her tightly. “It’s okay, Lily. Just believe in your mentor. We’ll get through this. Together.” Zenith could feel the girl shaking. All of this probably affected her more than the girl showed. Of course, it would worry her, Zenith realized. Lily was still young, and far, far younger than Zenith’s first brush with death at the very least. 

“Hey, hey. Don’t worry. Tyler, buy us a few minutes. I need to talk to her. Alone.” Watching Tyler leave with younger Tyler in tow, Zenith sat Lily down and held her quietly. Waiting until Lily composed herself, Zenith looked over her little apprentice with a critical eye. She looked fine by all accounts, and beside her faint shaking, she was already composing herself. Good good.

“Have you already seen your mother?”

“…no, they won’t let me see anyone until after the… trial.”

“Nothing bad will happen to you, Lily. That I can promise. Now, how did you get into this mess?”

“Well…” Zenith listened to her quietly. Sure, some points were fairly standard stuff, like having a minimum of three members in a party. Others… “and that’s when I found my new party member.”

“Whose name is…” Zenith trailed off, waiting for a name. Honestly, it was a little weird how no one had told her the other person’s name yet.

“…the Healer Hall told me it was confidential and not to spread it around, least my… situation, became worse than it already is,” Lily said after a moment.

“Typical. They don’t want the public at large to know of her. At least, not until she is a full Cleric. Fine.” Zenith sighed. This was going to be a little more difficult. If she used a prodigy as an example, it made sense that the Healer Hall wanted to indoctrinate her first and then let her be in a party than the other way around. “Tell me, did she want to be in your party? That will make a very big difference, Lily. I can force a few things to our benefit, but if she doesn’t want to be in your Party, then everything will become difficult.”

“She really did mentor, I swear on my Class! Miss Paige said that my Party Invitation would be different since apparently, a person can’t join unless they really want to. I really had no idea that this would happen.” Lily did look genuinely concerned about her actions.

“You should have told me Paige helped you create a Formal Party, Lily. I would have never guessed that Paige would have taught you as she had.” 

“I kinda begged her to make Tyler and I into the best type of Party she knew. I didn’t think it would be that big a deal, and Miss Paige said she could always annul it if she was forced to.”

‘…Paige, you and I are going to have a word about this. First, it was Markus and skills, and then Lily with Parties. Not everyone is as good as you are, okay!?’ Calming down, Zenith thought out her plans for the upcoming trial. Well, now that she knew that Paige could annul a Formal Party, which she should have thought of since Paige was an outlier on most things, it at least gave her another way to solve the mess Lily was in. Of course, Lily would have to go into hiding for a few years to calm everything down, but it would still be possible for Lily to escape with her life. Granted, first they would have to escape here with Lily and a few other things to make it possible, but it was already a better outcome than she had originally expected.

“The Apprentice Cleric’s family is arguing their case right now, and then it will be your turn.” Lily quietly stated after a moment. Zenith nodded absently. Just great. Well, at least the girl’s parents would hopefully be okay with their daughter being in a Party. “Lily, I need to know what the Royal Family and Sir Kenton stance are on this matter. What have they said about this situation?”

“They both don’t mind, and I think the Queen even approves of it for some reason. Only the Healer Hall is against their Apprentice joining my Party.” 

“Good, that is something at least.” Seeing Tyler walk in and nodding to her, Zenith knew it would be time to test her own mettle.

 ‘Rules, rules and more rules. That’s all I’m hearing about.’ Zenith sighed as she stood straight in the center of the Library, listening to the other parties bicker about what would be the best course of option. Glancing around, Zenith was honestly surprised at the sheer scale of the Nespe Library. Now, this was a library. Multi-tiered floors separating topics, floating bookshelves meant to test a person’s ability to practice the spells without experiencing mana exhaustion, a full mana well for practicing spells, and, judging by the mana flow, there was certainly a few secret passages where the…more dangerous books were being stored. If she closed her eyes, she could almost mistake this for the Hall Academy Library.

In truth, Zenith surmised they had chosen this location simply for the number of people present. The open space Zenith was standing in the middle of had been cleared of bookshelves and was currently separated into four sections, one for each party. Lily’s parents were already here and had presented their case, Zenith assumed, as well as the other woman she assumed to be the Apprentice Clerics mother. The Librarian, judging by her badge, was listening to this rush of a trial, as it was her building, so it made sense for her to be here as a spectator.

On one side, the Royal Family was represented by a few dozen guards for the Queen and the Queen herself. Miss Gale was missing, Zenith realized with a small mental frown. She should’ve been present as the head Mage for the Royal Court. Was she busy?

Representing the school’s side of things, the Head Combat teacher Kenton, the Mage from the party, Mary, and Miss Laila were standing in a group.

And finally, the largest group in this trial, the Healer Hall had not only the Headmistress Prim but a multitude of younger women as well as their guards. Probably the aforementioned ‘specialized teachers’ she heard about. Peh, they should be called Wardens instead if she believed Lily’s view of how she found the other apprentice.

They hadn’t even asked her any questions or her thoughts on the matter before the Healer Hall took over and argued against the case. Either way, Zenith knew Prim had changed a lot. It didn’t take much to realize that the Head Healer had a very prominent scar across the left side of her face. Evidently, the attack in the south must have gone differently without Paige there.

“…Healers have a role in the safety of the Empire at large. To jeopardize a future healer solely because of an ignorant girl is wrong. I motion to go ahead and kill the girl and be done with -.”

“Excuse me, thank you for inviting me to the city of Nespe. Lovely city, I hadn’t realized there were so many fields so close to the city.” Zenith said briskly. She knew the importance of when to interrupt a rambling fool, and that had been a little too close for comfort. ‘Had they already decided on the results?’ Filing the thought away, Zenith quickly switched into a diplomat’s role, startling the others a tad. “My apprentice and I are humbled that we could meet with such distinguished guests. If I may say so, your majesty, your reputation precedes you. I was unaware that you would personally be attending this meeting. I was under the impression that the Royal Mage would be present to give her thoughts on the matter since it is a ‘trial’ for another Mage.”

“…what is my reputation, if you don’t mind me asking?” The queen looked over to her, a small frown on her face. That was perplexing. No mention of the Royal Mage either. Zenith didn’t know quite what to make of that information.

“Fair. And more importantly, a person willing to take a chance on others. I am sorry to say that I and a few others were very upset by the rejection of the Alcudian Royal Court in regards to the Admission Act a few years back.” That got a few backs to straighten up in alarm. Zenith knew she was taking a very big risk with this information since it was unknown if she even tried to pass something like that without Paige being there. Not to mention that she hardly looked old enough to remember something that happened so long ago. That was at least a few decades ago, and she hardly looked over the age of twenty right now.

“Oh ho. It’s… surprising to hear that you actually know of that. One of the weaker moments of my reign, unfortunately. If Peter hadn’t been there, I would most likely not be the Queen right now.” Rebecca looked over the girl critically now. Why had she brought that up? Glancing over at Sir Kenton on the side, she saw him shake his head. He hadn’t said anything about it to the girl’s apprentice, so where had she heard that? She was fairly certain the Royal Court squashed rumors of that into extinction decades ago.

“We are here to talk about the problems your Apprentice caused, Miss Zenith. Please stay on topic.” The Headmistress responded curtly. 

“Yes, about that Miss Prim,” Zenith said, eschewing her actual title, “I do have something I would like to bring to your attention.”

Narrowing her eyes, Zenith looked critically over at the Healer Hall, and especially the people sitting behind Miss Prim. The protectors. Lily had mentioned something about them being the only ones in the classroom beside the teacher. “I have heard about this little arrangement you had decided on for this Apprentice Cleric, and I for one disagree with the setup. Specialty concealment wards, individualized teachers, isolated classroom and away from peers her age. Not to mention having four Protectors stationed by her at all times. It was like you actually meant to imprison this child and neglect the welfare of the child in question. I can see why any child would accept a request for a Party, even if they were being forced to join a Formal Party. And before you say anything, by your own admission the Apprentice Cleric accepted the invitation. Willingly if I might add… I do not wish to force the Healer Hall, but if you insist on this punishment against my only apprentice and her Party, I will be forced to act to fix this apparent wrongful oversight by the Healer Hall.”

Silence. Not only was everyone surprised at Zenith’s harsh analyses and choice words, she even had the gall to openly threaten the Healer Hall! Even Lily was starting to worry that her Mentor was over her head in this matter. Everyone could tell that the faces of the Healer Hall Head Cleric and her guards were practically spitting fire from there eyes.

“And wha-” Prim chocked on her words as Lily pulled out the simple, unadorned cross from her sleeves. Holding it up toward Prim, Zenith mentally cheered as she analyzed her reactions. ‘Prim does know what this item is. Good, this saves me the hassle of trying to make up why this stupid thing is important, especially since Paige had failed to mention anything relevant about the history of this cross.’ 

Everyone in the room stared at the cross, puzzlement in their eyes. Why would that matter to the Healer Hall? “We both know the merit of this item. Drop this silly trial against my apprentice, and let their Party experience normal school life. I’m fine with putting a few ‘discreet’ guards around them, especially when it is time for practical training, and leave it at that.” That statement got everyone’s attention. Why was she so confident that the cross would allow her to do as she pleased. And more importantly, was it worth it for the Healer Hall to do so?

“That item alone is not enough, Miss Zenith. I think w-” Her voice failed her as Zenith pulled an old, worn book from her sleeves as well. “…who is your sponsor?” Prim asked respectfully. This was starting to be an issue now. Had she known that the girl’s mentor was someone who the Imperial Healer Hall owed a favor too, she wouldn’t have agreed to the Imperial Scion’s request to break the Party and keep Isabella isolated from the public eye.

“…” Zenith didn’t have to be a diplomat to know that not every question had to be answered. “Is this enough to lay this trial to rest?” She could tell Prim was debating something. Prim’s voice was ladened with grief as she closed her eyes, “…Imperial Scion Maxwell has demanded that the Apprentice Cleric be kept under watch.”

Zenith mentally flinched. ‘Crap. Should I use the wardstone? No, let’s try another tact. Wait, I’m pretty sure Prim told me that the Healer Hall was a subsidiary of the Imperial Family as a whole, not just one Scion. That’s how she was able to look into Paige’s past.’ “Am I to take it that you telling me the Alcudian Healer Hall Branch has pledged itself to Scion Maxwell instead of the Imperial Family?” 

“I wouldn’t call it pledging. Merely working together to protect our own.” Prim started sweating as this issue became larger and larger. 

‘She’s sidestepping the issue.’ Zenith smiled brightly, focusing on the task at hand. “I think you need a break, Miss Prim. Maybe some time to cool off and decide what course of action is best for the Healer Hall as a whole. Just know that I already stated my bottom line.”   

2 thoughts on “Chapter 52

    1. Whoops, I wrote it in the spur of the moment, so I didn’t have a rough draft to post beforehand. I’ll go ahead and post it now. Thanks for the heads up!

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