Chapter 56.1 – Interlude I, part 1

Planned Interludes – I Part 1 – Zenith. Part 2 – Shavie
II – Paige
III – Part 1 -Maxwell. Part 2 – Protector
Taking Dec. 1-8th off. Chapters will resume Dec 9th.

“So, what did you want to talk about, Miss Zenith?”

“Yes, and before we get to more pressing matters, your Imperial Royal-highness Miss Lady Zenith, would you like a dash of Alcudian refined sugar to go with your tea? 

“Please, Emilia. You know I don’t like to be called Miss. And stop that Kate.”

Zenith knew it was going to be tough explaining her situation to the two of them without actually telling the truth. Emilia she half expected to be more polite, but Kate was just being over the top with her dramatics. She was even in an actual maid dress, and practically had a few bakeries worth of goods lined up along the side of her wall.

She huffed in displeasure. ‘Fine. If that’s how Kate wants to act,’ she thought to herself, “…I’ll take that sugar, Shopkeeper Kate. You can take the money out of the local business cophers.”

“…okay. Would madam like one or two cubes of sugar?”

“Three pounds of sugar per cup.”

“…I can spare three cubes,” she whispered back. 

Zenith could tell that Kate was cracking under the stress. Sugar was expensive! Three cubes was already more than she was willing to give away for free. That was profit flying out the window!


“Okay! I give up! And I’ll give you a quarter cube, just how you like it. Can’t take a little joke?”

“A little joke? Those pastries must have cost a fortune! No, you bought them, didn’t you?” Zenith looked over to Emilia, who was sipping her tea with grace.

“No, I did. I was using the leftover money I had sitting around since Xavier isn’t being tutored since his teacher went into hiding. He thinks it’s because he’s a bad student that his teacher left him to brave the world alone.”

“Stop guilting me, Kate. I just needed to take a few months off to lay low. And I did give you his whole curriculum the last time I stopped here, remember? When I had to get all those books from the Emilia’s house.”

“You’ve been gone for almost a year now, Zenith. And it’s so hard to teach and be a shopkeeper. He’s helping me with the shop, you know. I saw you had that in the lesson plans so I skipped ahead.” Kate sighed dramatically. “He’s not quite good enough to manage the shop by himself, but he can at least inventory just as well as I can. But he’s not gaining an education like Tyler had.”

Zenith knew Kate wanted what was best for her kids, and she had been, no, was still a good teacher. She just didn’t have time for it. “I should be able to teach again soon. We had some things to prepare in the forest, just in case we had some uninvited visitors show up in the near future. You guys should be careful as well.”

Kate chuckled rather nervously. “New people stopped coming by after you all holed up in the forest. Or rather, I should say after the tenth person who entered died.”

“Okay, those deaths can’t be blamed on us. How were we supposed to know they would find a couple of monster nests!? I mean, Sara and Nick have been combing through that forest for years now and we’ve never stumbled on any of those!”

Zenith was rather flustered about that accusation. They had been fine the entire time there, but as soon as other people started intruding on their peace, all hell broke loose. She knew that Paige and Nick were having trouble mapping out the place, but they all had been rather surprised at how many Monsters were actually living there. 

Sure, she knew that was how Sara’s original party died after running into an elemental monster before. But she thought that was just a random coincidence. After all, a fire elemental monster in a forest? But no, ever since the scouts came in there had been no less than ten groups of elemental monsters that everyone had to fight. It was good practice for all of them, though even Boary had to jump in at some points to protect his precious clover patches from getting ruined from their battles; the lazy, gluttonous beast caring only for its food.

Hence, Zenith was probably the busiest of all of them. Not only did she have to reinforce the defenses around their little settlement deep in the woods, she also had to recharge and repair the magic circles almost daily to offset all the monsters setting off the traps.

‘Though, if Paige could actually help out every once in a while…’ Zenith sighed. Why would Paige help out? She was having fun training Markus at the moment. Nick and Sara were solely focused on practicing Archery techniques against monsters, with Tyler there as backup for them. Even the two of them alone were pushing the boundaries of their luck, something she was reluctant to test.

Clearing her throat, Zenith remembered what she had originally came here for.

“Anyway, I wanted to ask if the two of you had plans for the spring harvest festival? Paige was thinking of hosting one in our little clearing. Were you planning on celebrating it here in Cidala?”

Emelia frowned. “We usually hold one on our estates with the rest of the Farmers. I can’t imagine they’d be willing to go to the forest to celebrate it, not if they have to bring their own produce for the season’s blessing.”

“I’m pretty sure Paige said she’d have more than enough for the blessing. She said just bring a handful of food for the blessing. Though I’m quite lost on the specifics of it. They hardly ever perform it in Appealte.”

“Hm? It’s not common there?”

“No, at least not where I was. Our school always assigned a lot of practical assignments, so our parties had to focus on those first.”

“Mhmm, your relatively small graduate school must have been torture.” Emilia spoke up.

Zenith paused. She had called Hall Academy small, didn’t she? “Um, relative to other schools, yes. Now, if you want to see a big school, the Mage Guild operates the largest practical training school in the country.”

“Zenith. We need to know. Do you have Lily and Tyler’s best interest in mind?” 

“…what brought that to mind, Emilia?”

“Kate and I know you aren’t an Imperial Consort,” Emilia shook her hand, “and you don’t need to explain anything. You have a wardstone, Zenith. That means you have to at least be a servant of some type or a confidante of some kind. And make sure you keep it on, otherwise your cover really will be blown.”

“Do you even know what that stone represents, Zenith?” Kate asked as she leaned in to look at the stone as Zenith reluctantly put the necklace back on.

“Of course I do, but it’s not like I have to wear this stupid thing all the time!”

“Don’t let anyone hear you say that!” Emilia looked around nervously. 

Zenith shrugged. She had already made sure no one was listening to their discussion.

“It’s fine. And I really do care about them, you know. Nothing bad will happen to them, I promise.”

“And if something bad does happen…” Kate asked quietly.

“…We’ll fix it. No matter what happens, Kate. We’ll fix it.”

Zenith sighed. Of course it would take more work to gain back their trust, but at least the two of them were not totally mad at their whole group.

“So, Kate, Emilia; would you like to come to our harvest festival? Paige is going all out with it, apparently.”

“I’d love to go.” Kate smiled brightly. “But are you sure the forest will be safe for us?”

“Mhmm. It will be. We’ve already started going out and clearing the area, and Paige already said Boary would be patrolling the area if you guys came.” Zenith nodded heavily. Paige would keep her word about that. She was quite happy to be plan this festival thing, after all, and as she said, the more the merrier. 

“Umm, so how are you two?”

It would take a while, but Zenith was sure she’d gain their trust back.

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