Chapter 54 – Whole

Luna POV

Being the Librarian had its own perks, Luna decided from the sidelines as she watched the trial proceed. For one, she had the combined knowledge of Alcudia right at her fingertips. Every spell tome, history book, monster codex; everything! Knowledge was power after all, and Nightwalkers excelled at using everything to their advantage. Most of the time anyways.

Okay, so Luna knew that Shavie could assassinate someone faster than she could, but that was a difference in Classes, not skill!

But the other benefit was mundane yet oddly satisfying for her, at least where this trial was concerned. No one could kick her out during the trial since she was technically the one in charge of activating the defensive circles.

Mundane laws aside, Luna was fascinated by the power dynamic she was witnessing. The Human’s Imperial Family was located deep within the Central territory, as Humans liked to call it, but they still held immense power out here in the border countries. And for some reason, the Imperial Family didn’t even need to be consulted for every matter, as whatever Scion was sent apparently had the full backing of the Imperial Family. 

Even Markus himself had to get orders from the Senate, so it was strange that a lone Imperial Scions could have the power to overrule a country’s decisions on the go. Without seeing the army in action, Luna couldn’t fathom how a General would be willing to listen to an Imperial Scion.

Still, that was for the future. Right now though, Luna was certain that if Shavie wasn’t watching Isabella at their house, her friend would be eating some snacks while watching all this political drama unfold. 

The beginning of the trial had gone smoothly, though Luna wasn’t certain why her sister and the girl’s family had to present their views on the matter. She knew that the Healer Hall was the ones calling the shots, with the Royal Family and the school only nominally participating. Still, her sister had done an okay job at stating her own views of Isabella joining a Party.

Though Isabella was still been relegated to a separate classroom, for the time being, she at least had another girl in the classroom with her. It was apparent that her move to a separate classroom was under the guise of a ‘punishment’. But what was more interesting was the girl’s stubbornness, her disbelief of the teaching material and finally, her inherent personality evidently clashed with almost every one of Isabella’s teachers that had been assigned to her. Whatever the case, these last two weeks had gone by fast and Isabella’s mood had markedly increased for the better, a point the Royal Family was quick to defend as a positive.

Luna glanced at the people that had been standing close to her sister. Wealthy, but certainly people that were unwilling to flaunt their wealth openly. A lacy, silken pattern lined with a hint of golden thread outlined the sides of the woman’s dress; while the man was in a freshly pressed suit and silk cuffs.

‘Shavie choose really well this time! I was afraid she was going to give me more work, but this time she really came through,’ Luna thought contentedly.

The little Apprentices’ background was apparently even better than Luna could have initially hoped for too after she had heard their introductions; apparently, her family controlled a good portion of the grain and produce stock for the entire Alcudian Army. Well, now for the entire country since the war had died down to a brief lull and the eastern towns that had survived had not recovered yet. 

But now the matter was starting to get a little out of hand. Looking at the other participants for this trial, it was apparent that the Queen had learned from their last meeting and brought actual High-Class guards with her this time. As a precaution against the Healer Hall or themselves, Luna had not the faintest idea.

As she let her focus slip, Luna was overcome with a slight sense of unease as she looked over in the Queen’s general direction. Most humans would attribute it to nervousness. After all, she was a Queen and most certainly had some Skill or Spells that were special. But Luna’s sensitivity to dark-type mana was telling a different story. The mana surrounding the queen had shifted imperceptibly. Nothing major, in fact, but it was just enough to alert her that another Demon was present and secretly using something similar to [Shadow Walking].

In fact, this was the first time Luna had seen another Demon actually doing something with their affinity. Most full-blooded Demons kept their heads down and out of people’s way and really restrained themselves in public. Half-bloods were far easier to spot in the town as they were not fully discriminated against, but treated with an apparent lack of respect overall. Probably why her sister’s alchemy shop was doing so well since Stella was fair to pretty much everyone, to Shavie and her own general displeasure. 

Barring the school and their opinion, which hardly mattered for anything in this trial, the final judge was the Healer Hall.

“Prim is easy to handle. Not even a High Class herself yet, judging by her mana core. But her Protectors… are they all High Classes?”

Luna eyed the twenty robed men sitting behind the headmistress herself. For all her posturing of ‘no danger involved’, she sure had a lot of guards protecting her and the other Clerics.

“I could kill them with a little bit of effort if I was still a Nightwalker, but a Teacher turned Librarian? Maybe with a well-placed Spell or two, some very liberal uses of Skills, and perhaps using a few assassination techniques.”

She averted her eyes before the Protectors noticed her stares and calmed herself. Even after these four years of relative peace and relaxation, she couldn’t help but revert back to her training every now and then. It wasn’t the thrill of killing that Luna enjoyed, but rather the satisfaction of a good battle.

“Calm down, calm down. What did that book say about Protectors? Sworn to listen and protect the Clerics from any perceived harm. Quite an open-ended statement there.” Luna frowned as she thought about that statement. “Maybe it was for the best that Stella had left as soon as possible.”

But it was the Mage that worried her. Luna looked guardedly at Lily’s mentor. Zenith Anna Brent. Class, Teacher. History, Unknown. The chances were slim, but she had committed to memory Isabella’s old party members. Aunt Paige, Miss Zenith, Mister Tyler, and Mister Nick. The king’s book of names did not have a Zenith or Nick, so chances were high that they were not Alcudian Officers protecting an Apprentice Cleric; Paige and Tyler were most likely they were there as the guards for the Royal Family since Isabella was the Third Princess of Alcudia at the time.

There was a Zenith Hall that had been from Appealte at the Mausoleum according to the news she had gathered, but a person called Nick nor Paige was mentioned at all. Chances were high that it could be her, though how she really gained the items and her general knowledge of the inner workings of the Imperial Family was a big question that had to be answered sooner than later. 

Even her bragging was suspicious. <…to be honest, I didn’t think that would work since I did get both items from a corpse.> Luna scoffed in her mind. Few if anyone would even say they looted a corpse, though it was standard practice for any Adventurer to do so. And by sheer happenstance, she was able to find a corpse that had Imperial level artifacts? No, not even their old Party was lucky enough to stumble upon something of that nature, and their Party Leader was a full-blown Demon Lord!

But the slight glint of metal on the Mage’s arm worried her even more. ‘… The bracer is identical to the one that we have hidden in the safe room.’ It was a simple enough looking arm guard that any adventurous girl might wear and no one would look twice at it. But the pattern and markings were identical. That couldn’t be a coincidence.

‘So what is so special about that bracer? I know Stella said it was absorbing mana, but we never did try to use it… Regardless, for that a Mage called Zenith to be here now of all times, was our cover blown or is it really just chance? Are they looking for Isabella?’

Her eyes lit up with a sense of schadenfreude as she looked toward the Healer Hall as she noticed their actions. ‘If she survives this, we’ll have to get Shavie and Bishner to deal with her while she’s still in the city. She really shouldn’t have started her dispute with threats.’

Luna frowned as a random thought came to mind. ‘…what did my job description say about fighting in a library?’

Everything was going so well. Luna had hoped that the Healer Hall would kill the mage outright, using the mage’s own threat against her. And it almost worked too. Zenith, for all her posturing, was evidently unconcerned that the Healer Hall would attack her. 

Still, Zenith’s reaction against the hidden attack spoke volumes to her battle experience, as did her defensive Skills. Luna gathered all the information she could as she watched her fight.

“Tier 5 defensive spells; Can block against superior weapons wielded by High-Class enemies. Tier 4 wind magic. [Wind Blades] or [Wind Slash]. Greater Affinity to Wind judging by the mana purity, density, and/or lack of physical focus when casting. Bracer is a magic item; defensive and offensive capabilities? Test Isabella’s for the same response.”

But it was the necklace that pushed her fury to new heights.

“Zenith is a companion to an Imperial Scion!” That thought alone almost pushed Luna to attack right then and there and damn the consequences. Had Isabella’s Party not come just as they were about to break into the Mausoleum, they would have been back in Trent with not only a Demonic Sword made just for Markus, but also a true Healer for the Eastern Frontlines. And the chance to figure out what was happening within the Senate and the blood sacrifices! But no, instead they were stuck here babysitting an Apprentice Cleric and waiting for the fog to disperse so that they could head back home.

Still, seeing how the Healer Hall yielded the battle, Luna matched the other’s motions, curtsying before the symbol of the Imperial Family. She had read enough about the Imperial Family to know what that stone was.

An Imperial Wardstone. Capable of bypassing any formation and able to protect the user from harm. Supposedly, at least. The books she had read that information from was very vague and was just an old traveler’s diary detailing the fall of the magic city of Vestial, who decided to they had wanted to claim themselves as a separate nation within the Empire.

They had thought their formations would have protected them from harm, but when the Scions arrived and bypassed them all with ease, the city became a self-imposed tomb to the rebels instead. For Zenith to have one meant she was either well trusted or well-liked by a Scion. Perhaps that Nick person that they had no real information on was an Imperial Scion, and the others were chosen to accompany him.

Luna resolved to herself that the Mage Zenith would die before she left the city. Or maybe interrogated first. After all, if she was part of Isabella’s old party, she would hopefully know what happened to Markus as well, since they were still missing their Party Leader.

‘If Markus is dead then so are you and your entire party,’ Luna vowed as she memorized the Mage’s mana signature. 

‘No. A Poison artifact from Bishner and a well-timed strike from Shavie. Or maybe I could activate the library’s defensive system and kill the Mage here. That would seal the Mage’s fate quite well and possibly earn me some points with the Healer Hall, though Isabella would probably never forgive me for that.’

Luna struggled to get her thoughts back into order, systematically killing off each thought with a reason why each one was not a viable course of action for now. Plans within plans. Verification first, then plans.

Luna focused as her enemy started talking again.

“Forget being nice. I order this trial suppressed. Their party is to be left alone. Isabella shall be placed within the school system at large from now on, and all protectors are to stay outside of the school. Tell Maxwell to be on his guard if he wants to interfere with this party. The others are already aware of this situation and are watching. Discreetly.”

How much of a bluff it was, Luna couldn’t say. IF Zenith was the same enemy from their encounter at the Mausoleum, then it would be to their benefit to capture her. But if she wasn’t part of Isabella’s original party, then they would be getting into a fight with the Imperial Family when they still were unable to leave the city.

It all came back to not knowing what that ritual was! If Isabella’s age could be repressed back to a baby, and even their race and classes were forcibly changed then they might as well not make any assumptions about their situation, especially since she was still unable to penetrate deeper into the hidden archives strewn about the library. 

‘Maybe Shavie can follow her around. They have to slip up sometimes if they are the same party we had encountered. Or maybe dropping Isabella’s name would be the easiest test, though if Lily had already told her mentor Isabella’s name then would the reaction to the name be a good indicator?’ 

“Thank you for alerting me, Miss Librarian. I wouldn’t have prepared so readily had you not done what you did.” A voice snapped Luna out from her thoughts. Her (potential) enemy was standing not three feet away, with not a care in the world. 

“It was just my duty. Protecting the books and all. Some of them are priceless and irreplaceable. And the magic circle is a pain to repair and all of the supplies required to fix it gets deducted from my paycheck. Or so I am told,” Luna said, officially stating a reason, lest the Healer Hall give them more pressure.

“My name is Zenith. Zenith Brent. And you are…”

“…Luna. Luna Platz. Head Librarian of Nespe Royal Library.”

She was mildly disappointed that the name didn’t mean anything to the Mage, at least from what she could tell. “Nice to meet you, Miss Platz. Unfortunately, I will be unable to come back for a good long while, so I was wondering if you could help me find some books?”

“…What books are you interested in. We are in a library, after all.”

“Peter. I want every book on Peter the Library has to offer. Also, give me the condensed history of the Empire from the viewpoint of Alcudia. These … last few meetings are bad for my health. It seems my assumptions on what people are used to are a little… off, you know, from being away from home.” Zenith smiled wryly to herself. Luna scoffed. Zenith didn’t know the half of it.

“It will take some time to gather all the relevant books. It seems you know the Thompson family well. If it is not too much trouble, I can have any books you want to peruse shipped over to their estates or to your local library, whichever is more convenient.”

Luna couldn’t care less about what Zenith chose. ‘Either way, it will be easy to track you once either of those options is satisfied’.  

Zenith frowned in thought, which was fine for Luna. It gave her more time to think of a plan, after all.

‘Too risky following the book trail. Secondary plan. Apply pressure on Lily, since she is officially Isabella’s party member. She would know exactly where her mentor was hiding. Confirm with Shavie to test the boundaries of the fog again.’

“…I’ll be traveling heavily for the time being. Send them over to Cidala, and I’ll coordinate with the local librarian on how to access the books.”

“Okay. It looks like Miss Lily is waiting for you. And let me be the first to congratulate you, Miss Zenith, on saving your dear Apprentice.”

Luna smiled brightly. Everything was looking up now. For both Isabella and her own party.

 Emilia POV

Emilia could feel her husband’s gaze on her. “…Zenith has never worn that necklace before, Richard.”

“I know that, my love. It doesn’t make sense for her to be a representative either. Definitely not a consort or a slave, and most certainly not a member of a Scion’s Party either. A servant, perhaps? She’s too nice, for the lack of a better word.”

Whatever the case, Emilia was business savvy enough to know that benefits and consequences straddled the same line. For Lily to be noticed by an Imperial servant, or whatever Zenith was, was practically a godsend for a young Apprentice just starting out. 

‘So long as the Imperial Scion didn’t take notice of Lily,’ Emilia thought worriedly. But Zenith had been a good friend so far and doted heavily on Lily, so Zenith was unlikely to mess with Lily’s growing affection with Tyler.

It had taken more willpower than she would have admitted to not investigate Zenith background. Even a cursory look into Hall Academy revealed just how prominent the school was. Founded by the Hall family itself, it was said to be the best place for a Wind Mage to learn their trait, and no small number of the school’s alumni were High-Class Mages themselves. ‘A small graduate school for her teaching degree, Zenith had said.’ Nespe Academy had less than sixty people enrolled in its magic courses at any given time!

But was it possible Zenith was just faking it? No, that wouldn’t make sense. Even though she had not seen a wardstone before it would take a blind man to not notice the expression the Queen and the Headmistress had when they had seen the necklace. And a counterfeit wardstone was even less likely. Who in their right mind would attempt something like that?

That left just one reason. Zenith herself was trying to keep a low profile. 

Emilia knew that their whole party in the woods was certainly more powerful than they appeared on the surface. Their unchanging appearance was a testament to that. Their appearance had practically stayed the same these last four years. Not impossible to do with the right set of routines and lifestyles, but improbable to say the least. Even Paige, for all her quirks, looked and acted young, but some moments just didn’t seem normal to Emilia. Like Paige was far older than she looked. But Zenith herself felt young. There was no mistaking youth. Zenith had to be about the same age as herself, if not younger. Maybe even closer to Kate’s age than her own.

‘Could Nick be an Imperial Scion in disguise?’ Emilia stopped and dismissed that thought outright. ‘There was no way he was one, just based off of his scruffy look. And he is Zenith’s husband, so that nixes Zenith as a Consort. Tyler couldn’t be one on account of his former weight. Though he does look much better now that he got his weight back in control.’

Which left only Paige. Emilia hesitated when she thought of Paige. ‘All things equal, if Paige changed her clothes into something less typical of a Farmer, she would look gorgeous. At least, she should. She looks great in a Farmer’s outfit, and that’s just plain hemp and cotton. Though, her personality leaves much to be desired.’ Could she be an Imperial servant? Paige was definitely not an Imperial Consort, that much was certain.

Emilia stopped and inhaled when she realized she had forgotten one person. Markus. The boy they were all taking care of. Could he be an illegitimate child of an Imperial Scion and they were all just protectors?

Queen POV

The Queen stared out the Library windows, watching the mage and her apprentice leave through the city gates. The mage was wary, that much was certain. Even at this distance, her gloves were vibrating from how much mana the mage was using to disrupt the spying on them. She was certain that her spies would have nothing of note in their reports.

“I want all the information you can gather about her discreetly. I can’t wait too long on this, Haille. This is too much of a coincidence for it to be normal.” 

For Zenith to be an Imperial Servant was almost impossible. Besides her posturing in the beginning, at no other time did she display any arrogance typically associated with the Imperial Family. Sure, her strength was very surprising. And how she deflected that blade was a mystery. But the stone was real. That much Rebecca was certain of.

“We can’t follow her, Becca. Did you see how she stopped that magic enhanced blade? True, the Protectors didn’t use a Skill or anything obvious, but even I wouldn’t trust my clothes to deflect an Imperial-made Blade. And I’m not about to risk fighting an Imperial either.”

Rebecca could tell that Haille was intrigued by how she had blocked the blade. She watched from the corner of her eye as her friend prodded her dark robe with a dagger, cursing under her breath as she ripped a line straight through her clothes.

“Stop that Haille. It had to be a Skill. Or maybe a Spell, but I doubt that is likely.”

“It’s still interesting to see a mage do that! I mean, I want to do that, Becca. I could tell even Ronald was suitably impressed. It’s not often you see a cloth armor deflect a steel blade.”

‘Not anymore,’ Rebecca thought to herself. Still, she wasn’t quite sure if that was an Imperial made armor or not. If it was, then the Imperial Family would have no shortages of mages clamoring to join as a servant or other similar roles. Even the girl’s magic shield was highly impressive, though the mana consumption must have been through the roof to power it for that short amount of time. 

“Tell me, Haille. Did everything work out in the end?”

“…it depends on what the Healer Hall does, honestly. Though, If more than one Scion is watching over the Cleric, then there’ll be a fight in the future. If Mage Zenith has some support, it’ll be an even fight. If not,” Haille shrugged. “it’ll be a short fight.”

Rebecca thought for a moment and inhaled, listing orders as she thought about the problems at hand.

“Haille, pull back the scouts surrounding Isabella’s family, as well as those around her party members. We’ll follow Imperial Servant Zenith’s wishes and stop actively guarding the party, though I do want a few more guards posted around the Academy. Tell Ronald we will be staying here for a while.

Tell the guards to stop following the Imperial Servant. We know their general location, and she seems genuinely concerned about the wellbeing of her apprentice. I can wait until Maggie comes down before we start our search.

Also, I want a letter drafted to Prim stating we request a meeting. If I can work together with her, we’ll be able to give an adequate response to both the Imperial Family and the Healer Hall. Work with the Librarian to gather any information on that Cross as well. That may be a clue on who is working in the shadows.”

Rebecca sighed as Haille left, sitting down heavily on the lone chair that was placed in the room. 

‘Paige was suspicious of any Imperial Servant, no matter their rank. So what are the chances that she would be willing to Party with one? Still, I’ll let Maggie look into it before I do. No telling how many spies are watching me, and for who.’

Williams’s reminder rang in her head. Someone willing to stand up to the Imperial Scion. Hopefully, Lily’s mentor would fit the bill for now.

Shavie’s POV

“Of course Luna would order me around. After all the trouble I went through to keep Isabella calm, now I have to follow a possible enemy without the use of all my Skills,” Shavie grumbled to herself as she trailed behind the Mage, the Merchant, and Isabella’s new party member, Lily. In truth she was not the only following the mage, as she noticed at least thirty other people doing the same thing; but she was the only one blatantly doing so. 

But the best disguise was an honest one, at least in Shavie’s personal opinion right now. Humans, in general, were picky about honesty and loyalty, a trait Shavie had no problem abusing to her own benefit. And openly following a person wasn’t hard to do, so long as you had a destination that coincided with your target, that is. Which was simple, since the sun was starting to go down. Most of the merchants were starting to head out and resupply for the week ahead since the Academy’s practical lessons were about to start for the upper classes. Something to take note of for the future. 

Still, not being able to use her Skills was a tough handicap. Even more of a handicap since the accursed fog had started accumulating to an alarming degree in the past few hours since Luna and Stella had arrived back home.

“Damn fog. This little assignment would be so easy if I could just use a Skill or two without repercussions.”

She could still remember the pain after Stella saved her life the first time they tested the fog, and she for one was not keen on reliving that personal hell again.

But the fog was congregating solely on the Mage and the Merchant, basically protecting them from her. Shavie’s mind wandered, deep in thought. ‘…It’ll be hard to kill them without touching the fog. Could it be that the fog protecting them? But then why don’t they notice it?’

Shavie sighed as she thought of the weapons she had on hand.

“Hmm… A throwing knife won’t kill her, not at my range. And Luna said her outfit can deflect weapons and possibly even Skills. Could I go after the Merchant instead? Tough prey. Very tough prey.”

She smiled to herself, this was the most excitement she’s had in a long time.

“Decisions, decisions. Well, I definitely can’t kill or capture either of them by the time they leave, that much is apparent.”

The Merchant slowed as they arrived closer to the gates and it was apparent that Lily would soon be getting off the wagon. But the look on the Mage’s face was concerning to Shavie.

‘…Welp. might as well eavesdrop. [[Selective Hearing]].’

Shavie hoped that the fog wouldn’t come close to her, and sighed of relief as the fog stilled slightly but continued to gather around both the Mage and Merchant. She frowned as nothing happened.

‘…that’s strange. Is she blocking the sound out with a Skill?’

It was no wonder the other people following her the pair were coming closer and closer. Magical interference was a pain to deal with at a distance after all. Though she doubted that they would have better luck than her trying to pierce through the interference with a typical hearing Skill.

‘Meh, stupid Mages. Fine, I’ll push my luck. [Shadow Clairvoyance].’

One of her more advanced Assassin Skills, one capable of even piercing through privacy wards if she had seen a shadow before it activated. That Skill definitely caught the attention of the fog though, as the fog started inching its way back to her in response. Shavie eyed the fog and slowly increased her pace. The closer she was to the target, the less mana her skills used.

‘I can continue using my Skill at least until they get out of the city’

<“Are you sure the Cleric’s name is Isabella, Lily? This is extremely important.”>

<“Mhmm, her name is Isabella Freal Platz, according to my Party Status. Are you okay Mentor?”>

<“Hm… Don’t spread her name around. That is extremely important. No one should bother you anymore about your party. If they do, just let us handle everything and focus on having a good time at school.”>

Watching as Lily waved her mentor off and walked back toward the school, at least half of the people following trailed after Lily.

<“I gotta tell Paige about this. She’s gonna freak out when she finds out!”>

‘…looks like we’ve found our enemy.’

Shavie grimaced. Her window of opportunity was shrinking fast.

‘Should I kill her? This would be a great time to have Luna or Bishner here.’

She hesitated and fidgeted with her clothes, seemingly looking for money to pay to pass through the gate. Shavie knew she could aim and throw her hidden knives from here, but was it worth it to do so? Lily was still in the city, so it wasn’t like they were lacking the bait to draw their enemies back in. And there were too many uncertainties right now, especially with so many other people keeping watch as well.

And that accursed fog was still surrounding the two of them! Provoking the fog was the furthest thing Shavie wanted to do. But it was then that Shavie noticed something weird happening to the fog. As the Mage got closer to leaving the city, the fog started actively doing…something to the two people left in the cart. At least, Shavie judging by how the fog stirred around them violently.

<“Isabella is here! This is great news for us, Zenith.”>

<“I gotta tell Paige about this. She’s gonna freak out when she finds out!”>

Shavie watched as the fog slowly pulled away from the two in the cart, their conversation shifting noticeably the more the fog left. Jubilation turned to rage as the Mage’s frustrations increased.

<“I’m gonna kill Paige! How dare she makes me handle all the hard work! And now I have to do deal with the aftermath!? Gaah, and how will I explain to Emilia and Kate. I swear, Paige, I’m gonna…”>

Shavie blinked. Now that was interesting. Very interesting.

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