[Magdala V1] Act 4

“So you immediately came over to me?”

In the office, Post left the parchments on the table and asked Kusla.

Kusla and Wayland spent the entire previous night deciphering the contents of the parchments, and Kusla had transferred the results to the Baggage Corps’ Headquarters.

As they had expected, the deciphered line was about begging for God’s forgiveness.

At this point, Kusla’s group still could not decipher the content of the last two parchments, but amongst the ones they deciphered, there was a paragraph regarding the refining of pyrite.

Normally, pyrite would hardly be used, for it contained an excessive amount of sulfur, and would only be appropriate in certain unique situations. But if the results recorded on the parchments were correct, one could use pyrite to make that extremely pure iron.

But speaking of which, metallurgical research was basically probing into the dark, a darkness where one did not realize what he would be getting into.

It would be impossible to know when he would meet a toxic material nobody knew of, or a sudden explosion of an experimental drug.

Such unknowns would also be applied to the experiments Alchemists carry out.

And they had always followed God’s teachings in their experiments, until the moment when they suddenly deviated from it.

What is awaiting me? Heaven or Hell?

When people were confronted with such an issue, the majority would choose a more conservative approach.

“Where’s the other one?”

“Wayland’s tired and sleeping.”

Post let out a deep sigh, releasing as much air as that of a bellow.

It seemed it was out of habit, but he rubbed his eyes, and the small eyes on his pudgy face were staring at Kusla,

“So these are the remaining parchments?”

“Yeah. But since the code used to write it is unknown to us, we can’t decipher the content within.”

“Can you guess whether it’s something extremely abnormal?”

“At least it’s something that’ll make someone beg God for forgiveness.”

After Kusla’s reiterated explanation, Post’s face puckered.

It seemed the reason why he wanted to confirm this again was that it was just as he had guessed.

“…It’s better for you to know this.”

He said.

“Eh?”

“I’m talking about the cause behind Thomas’ death.”

“That’s…”

Kusla asked, and in response, Post showed a depressed look.

—I want to believe him until the end, but the conclusion is that he is a traitor.

Anyone who had worked in the line of alchemy would definitely have seen such an expression several times.

“Before Thomas died, the Choir’s people once visited him.”

Kusla, however, was hardly surprised by this.

“We did find out that the Choir really had an encounter with him, but we just could not figure out why they did so. At that time, we thought that Thomas was not a heretic in their eyes.”

Upon hearing this, Kusla nodded in affirmation for the first time.

Alchemists were not necessarily about delving into the madness of their occupation, as was commonly thought of; their madness, however, was about their way of life.

“We just thought that those people had some suspected there was some hidden secret behind Thomas’ miraculous metallurgical skills, but he died in the end. After that, we investigated the Choir, but there was no evidence we could gather. I thought…that was just a mere coincidence.”

Post again rubbed his eyes as he said this.

“It seemed their noses are rather sharp…”

“Then, what is the reason exactly?”

Kusla was certainly not a fool with an empty brain,

However, he remained silent, waiting for the other party to personally state the truth.

“You have some hidden depth within you, for sure. I’ll just say this then. That method’s definitely not something that can be revealed the the public.”

Post glanced down at the parchments on the table,

His expression was that of someone who lost the life of a capable subordinate because of a little failure.

“Thomas’ killer is undoubtedly one of the Knights’ Choir.”

“…And the invigilator is sent here for this reason?”

“I guess so. This place is still within my jurisdiction, so at least the people and property affiliated to the Knights are under my control. Those people from the Choir sent someone here even after knowing it’ll set up a conflict against me, and there must have been something they were planning. And so, that was it.”

There were still many techniques that were sealed before they were revealed to the world, like a technique that would directly defy the Church’s principles, or a technique that would benefit the enemy, for examples. Kusla personally knew of some of those.

The common theme about these techniques were that to the political stage, they were more dangerous than any natural calamities. To the people monitoring the Knights’ Alchemists, keeping them a secret was a cardinal sin, let alone researching on it.

Whether Thomas had intent to do it or not, he had chanced upon a forbidden technique, and the Choir first realized it. One could imagine that Thomas felt the other party would not take direct action, and proposed some sort of deal, only to meet the fate of death. The Choir was a philosophically radical organization, and would frequently involve itself in a battle.

In other words, all suspicious people were to be killed.

And all the people who did not follow them were also to be killed.

If there had been a wise advice that Thomas could have used, it would be that no matter who he had revealed this to, he should have informed Post first-hand.

Alchemists could not survive on the world alone.

Once an Alchemist mistook his shelter, they would end up sinking in the large cauldron called Alchemy.

“But my view is that though they had killed Thomas, they don’t know what sort of clues he would have left behind, and they had to send in someone into the workshop to investigate. I have to clear up the workshop before I find out who the real murderer is, and find a successor to the skills Thomas left behind. Thinking about it even as an enemy however, I’m rather impressed that the Choir elaborately chose the little girl to be an invigilator.”

“Elaborately?”

“Right. They sent a young, low ranking Sister into a workshop, on the preface that she’s just gaining experience for a real dangerous invigilation job. SInce there’s nothing I have to be guilty about on my side, I have to accept their request without conditions. However, the problem is a girl of that age is as pious as a fanatic; as long as the monastery gives the command, she’ll probably start looking for whatever they want, like a well-trained dog.”

Kusla recalled their first meeting, and she did seem to give the vibe Post had described of. Also, he recalled that melancholy shown on her sidelong expression.

“As my insufficient protection of the Knights’ possession, Thomas, led to his death, I don’t feel fearful or uneasy in them; even if the assassin came from within the Knights, my thoughts will never change, because my duty includes ensuring Thomas’ safety from those people.”

Post said, and closed his eyes.

“However, I’m feeling upset that those narrow-minded people, who did not understand the importance of an Alchemist, single-mindedly followed God’s teachings, and killed a valuable talent in Thomas, for his research was a taboo. Besides, their true objective was probably to get the evidence and increase their control over the Alchemists.”

The reason why the Knights did not have to worry about hunger, and why the pilgrims, who only knew how to pray, could continue to live their peaceful lives of prayer, was all because of Post’s Baggage Corps earning money in the town. The duty of a Knight was to wage war, and Alchemists were a valuable group of people in the Crusade, as the techniques they develop would be able to allow for much cost saving.

In fact, not a lot of people amongst the Knights understood the importance of an Alchemist.

And people would naturally despise Alchemists, especially when things were going well.

Those in authority would fall into such shallow thinking too, and their thoughts would be similar to that of the Choir.

“Thus, I have to make a very tough decision.”

Post widened his eyes, and stared at Kusla.

Alchemists had to deceit, threaten others, and cover themselves with terror and secret veils to ensure their survival. The world of merchants however was different; and those within this world thrived on exploiting their peers.

Post, who managed to amass such a vast fortune in this world, was staring at Kusla.

And Kusla knew the other party was not someone who could be handled easily with just a few tricks, and randomly stretched his back.

“I think I better keep the last two just in case.”

“T-This is—”

“Right, they may never meet the light of day again.”

Post’s face contorted; it was the expression of someone who was weighing something that could not be weighed.

“But if this can save the majority of the Alchemists, I won’t mind being hated by you.”

“…”

“The Knights have grown too big, and is growing stronger because of the war. The era of unscrupulous means had passed. Of course, War isn’t something gentle; the Knights headquarters however is gradually growing distant from that War, and unfortunately, there’s no buzz of War to be heard there.”

Creation, growth, expansion, self-protection.

This was an inevitable, constant process for any organization.

“The bloody events are not suitable to be revealed to the entire world, and right now, you must have been feeling repulsed about the higher ups. However, you people have to survive, for the sake of the Knights, and for yourself.”

Kusla could not argue at all, and remained silent.

Post personally felt silence was consent.

“I have to respect you for being honest about such matters with me, and I’ll try my best to give privileges to you. As for how you remove the tag associated with you, that will come later, so just wait. I’ll assist you fully, for it’s a reward a loyal person like you so get.”

It was simply some appealing words, but simply put, those were just to shut him up.

But Kusla could not refuse Post at that time.

Thomas’ research was completely laid out on the parchments, and the parchments were laid out on Post’s desk.

Kusla narrowed his eyes, and stared at something that was more distant than a strait.

“It’s been tough on you.”

This line signified the end of this conversation.

Kusla bowed towards Thomas, and left the office.

Once he stepped out of the room, he inadvertently let out a sigh.

He already made some guesses on the likely possibilities before this.

And so, once he walked out from Post’s room, he turned a corner around the long corridor, and saw Wayland staring at him with an emotionless expression.

“Empty-handed~”

Wayland, who had taken a slight nap, still seemed deprived of sleep, and his haphazard attire made him resemble a beggar.

“He took them away too.”

Upon hearing that, Wayland snorted, immediately left the wall he was leaning on, and followed Kusla.

“What do we do next~…?”

Even in the midst of a quiet room, Alchemists would speak softly, whether it was indoors or outdoors.

For no one knew who would be eavesdropping.

“We’re Alchemists. What can we do?”

The Knights gave them their workshop, the Knights gave them ample funding, and the Knights were the ones who gave them protection and allowed them to escape from the Church’s heretical inquisition. The Craftsmen in the town had to borrow money to maintain their work, and forfeit the secrets of their workshop, which had lasted for generations, to the Alchemists.

Thus, as for the Alchemists, who had much more to thank the Knights for as compared to the Craftsmen, who knew how much they had to kowtow?

“…Kusla?”

“We’ve already decided on what we have to do.”

There were green trees, dauntless in the face of this frigid cold, in the middle of the wide courtyard.

Kusla stared at the trees outside the window, and then looked back at Wayland.

“We’re always resolved to do what we have to do.”

“!”

“You’ve made a copy of it beforehand, right?”

Wayland’s hand was covered in ink, and there were thick black rings hanging around his eyes.

“We’re Alchemists. Nobody can stop us from pursuing the path to Magdala .”

“That’s how it is~”

Wayland grinned as he said this, “However—” he continued,

“Nn?”

“I’m a little worried about something~.”

Wayland said as he looked at the courtyard.

“Worried?”

Kusla asked, and followed Wayland’s stare.

“What do we do about her~?”

Wayland shrugged slightly.

“It’s obvious from what I see that her role as an invigilator is the content of the parchments.”

“Naturally, we have to deceive her.”

Kusla felt there was no other way than to do this.

He looked at Wayland with a matter-of-fact expression, and saw the latter give a sarcastic smile as he patted Kusla on the back, and walked out.

“I’m going back to the workshop first~”

Wayland waved his hand whilst his back was turned towards Kusla.

And the latter, who was left behind, wanted to nag a few words at the leaving back profile, but stopped himself.

For he realized this was Wayland’s way of focusing on his job.

And so, Kusla’s stare turned towards the courtyard, and found Fenesis, sitting under a shelter in the middle of the frigid cold.

It was only until Kusla reached her that Fenesis lifted her head.

She narrowed her eyes, probably because of the incoming morning sun.

“Ah…”

And once she found it was Kusla, she hurriedly rubbed her eyes and snorted.

“What are you doing here?”

“Wh-What I do has nothing to do with you!”

Fenesis was seated in the pavilion in the middle of the Knights Headquarters Courtyard, close to the room where Kusla and Post had their conversation, and she resembled a young lady from a village out at work, almost overwhelmed by the hard work.

While she was trying to get on her feet, she staggered due to her lightheadedness.

Kusla hurriedly supported her, and was surprised to realize how cold her body was.

It seemed she had been out here for quite a long time.

“I thought you’ve already went to the workshop.”

“…Th-Then why are you here?”

“To me, it’s a basic of basic things to say some greetings to my master when there’s something on.”

Once Kusla said this, Fenesis showed a bitter look on her face.

“Well, I guess that’s not your style.”

And Fenesis lowered her head further.

“I guess that talk yesterday about being free was all just a joke.”

“…”

“They forbade you from approaching us Alchemists, and made you recall your mission, am I correct?”

Looking at Fenesis’ personality, it seemed she had reported everything the previous day, “It is rather interesting to work together with an Alchemist” and she probably said something like this.

Naturally, Fenesis did not complete the mission that was expected of her.

She even took part in the recovery of Thomas’ metallurgical records, which the Choir had viewed as a taboo. It was not hard to imagine how furious her superior was back then.

“Since you know that…please do not ask.”

“Hm? It’s not good to be caught slacking here, waiting for something to fall. You’ll catch a cold too.”

“…”

Kusla nudged Fenesis from behind, and she hesitated for a little while before taking the first step forth.

“Speaking of which, results are certainly like that in some way.”

“…What do you mean?”

Both of them passed through the courtyard and corridors, and left the Baggage Corps Headquarters, not meeting anyone in the way.

Normally, this residence should be a place where the staff members would pass by often, but perhaps it was overly spacious that Kusla felt this place was quiet every time he came by.

In the midst of this silence, he hurriedly tried to make his mind click.

He wanted to find a way to bamboozle Fenesis and misguide her.

He could not allow for Thomas’ research results to be kept secretive because of some political reasons.

“The higher ups believe that the more they crush and destroy, the more rewards they’ll get.”

“…”

Fenesis lifted her eyes, stared at Kusla, and curled her lips unhappily.

“I am really foolish for letting my guard down after hearing your words.”

“Do you think I’m bluffing you again?”

“Am I wrong?”

Upon seeing the girl give a defiant look at him, Kusla could not help but chuckle.

Unlike her appearance, Fenesis’ stare did not have any meaning at all.

At this point, he realized the distance between them was closed quite a bit.

“I’m not fooling you, but us Alchemists would often do some things beyond our superiors’ expectations and mess with them completely. That’s why I find it amusing to see someone endure all this pressure from a superior.”

“…”

“Are you that scared of failing your superior’s expectations?”

Fenesis really wanted to glare back at Kusla, but she failed.

They stepped out of the compound, and arrived in the bustling town, full of life.

Kusla would sometimes wonder, that since there was a world distant from conspiracies and machiavellians, why did he choose to live such a way of life.

At this moment, there was the aroma of a roasted pork spit from around the corner. Kusla turned towards the origin of the smell, and said,

“Just top it off suitably and it’ll be fine. That’s how it works.”

After this brief reply, he approached the stall as he was unable to control his urges, and bought two skewers. The delicious pork was dripping with oil, and it was a delicacy of the highest order when eaten in such cold weather. Fenesis remained where she was, watched Kusla stuff his cheeks with meat, and gave a condescending look, saying,

“My position is completely different from yours.”

“Hm?”

Kusla held the skewer in his hand as he gave a puzzled look.

Fenesis did not hide the fury within her as she simply refused the invitation to eat meat.

“I am different from you.”

She grabbed at her chest, ostensibly enduring the pain coming from her heart,

After finishing a skewer of meat, Kusla threw the bare skewer to a stray dog.

“Someone once said that the standard of deciding whether someone is to be a slave, is whether he had deemed himself to be a slave.”

“…”

“I’ve no idea why are you so rigid in your thinking.”

At the same time, Kusla hd to find a way to open the eyes of the girl in front of him, make her continue to sleep on the chair, and not get in their way in the future.

Kusla quickly finished the second skewer, and felt a little thirsty. There was a large vat frothing with white vapor in the middle of this chilly day, providing warmth for the grape wine placed inside it. Kusla stopped in his tracks, stared at Fenesis, and pointed there.

Fenesis immediately frowned upon seeing this, but then immediately shook her head.

And then, she still nodded slightly in the end, ostensibly showing her own weakness.

“Praise be to God.”

Kusla tapped at a wooden vessel lightly as he said this. Fenesis took a little sip from it, and then stared at the boiling grape wine with a blank expression. It seemed she was furious and forlorn over her own weakness.

Post was correct in his description, that Fenesis was a girl who was nothing other than being loyal, to a point where she would obediently follow the orders given to her without deviation; she could be said to be a classic case of a foolish believer, to a point of pity.

Kusla honestly could not understand what was spurring Fenesis on, but despite this, he knew what he had to do.

That would be to convince Fenesis, who was lectured by her superior, feeling downhearted. He was to convince her to ignore her superior’s orders. He felt she was being so stubborn for she had yet to see how the outside world was like.

Kusla then took a gulp of wine, glanced over at the proceeding crowd, and waited for Fenesis to calm down.

However, he felt something inexplicable for some reason.

For the truth was that if he just told any single line from the parchments to Fenesis, she would be able to complete her mission. He again pondered over this, and recognized how dangerously fragile the affairs of the world were.

A person’s position would change drastically when one person knew the truth, and the other did not. Fenesis for example did not know anything, was scolded by her superior, and was in a corner of the courtyard, not knowing what to do.

However, the inexplicable thing was that those who knew the truth were just a step away from those who did not, and they could have reached their hands out.

Perhaps it was due to his nature as an Alchemist, but Kusla liked to carelessly tell others about what he knew. He thought of a reverie unrelated to himself, and gave a smirk on his lips. Just when he intended to wipe off that smirk with wine,

“You are really free.”

Fenesis noted briskly.

“Hm?”

“I just said you are really free.”

“…”

Kusla stopped his hand that was holding onto the wine, and was seriously wondering if he should abandon Fenesis and return back to the workshop.

“I suppose everyone has limits placed on them.”

The crux would be how to work within them.

This was the self-confidence Kusla had managed to gain after having carved his own fate till this day, or so he thought.

He did not want to talk to anyone who only knew how to express their envy of others.

However, upon hearing Kusla’s reply, Fenesis showed a tired smile on her face,

“That is not what I meant.”

What do you mean? Kusla gave a questioning look as he looked over at Fenesis, and the latter took a little sip of wine before continuing,

“I asked others about Magdala.”

“…Huh?”

“The Land of Magdala Alchemists sought after,”

Fenesis gave a smile, ostensibly astounded,

“And the stuff of dreams.”

Her smile was practically an exact copy of Friche.

The latter had once laughed, saying that she felt it was cute how Alchemists had the habit of calling their dream the Land of Magdala.

“I think all of you are really, truly free, pursuing the Land of Magdala.”

“All I hear are people calling us fools.”

“I admit that I do not understand why would you be blaspheming against God for the sake of your dream.”

Fenesis said this in a somewhat delightful manner.

She looked rather unstable at this point, her face reddening, probably due to the wine she drank.

“But freedom is still freedom after all.”

“Why?”

“Why…that is…”

Fenesis pressed her right hand on her cheek, and closed her eyes.

From her appearance, it seemed she was completely drunk.

However, the words she said sounded unexpectedly sober.

“For you can decide…how you will realize your dreams .”

“…That’s some deep words.”

“Please do not trivialize this. I am serious.”

Fenesis glared at Kusla, but it did not last long. Her serious expression broke apart into a smile.

This caused Kusla to feel a little uneasy.

He was not worried that Fenesis was drunk, but that her thought process was a lot more complicated than he thought.

At this point, her smile was so uneasy, and this unnatural smile was definitely that of someone who had given up on everything.

“If I fail this mission, I will be kicked out of the monastery I used to stay in.”

Fenesis let out hiccups as she drank, and the severe dissonance between her serious expression and relaxed tone rendered Kusla speechless.

“Are you wondering if I came to an Alchemist’s workshop for this reason? Is that what you think?”

He felt a little unaccustomed to Fenesis being right on the mark, for she had always been so open to being teased, and would suspect things for some reason.

“I too felt it was strange, but even if there is another monastery that will take me in, I will soon be chased out. It has always been, and I guess you people are right…that it will always be this way.”

Kusla could not interject,

And Fenesis did not intend to stop.

“I came from a place near you, a land where the people here call the ‘Promised Land’.”

Kusla was really shocked to hear this, and turned aside to look at Fenesis, who smiled as she continued to stare at the crowd that was passing through.

“That’s true…I never heard of the name Fenesis here.”

“That is from a land in the Far East.”

Fenesis narrowed her eyes, and showed a reminiscing look.

Upon hearing this from her, Kusla felt that the girl called Fenesis had a layer of robes peeled off from her.

“So you’re a convert.”

Fenesis shuddered slightly, and then immediately lifted her face to give a relaxed smile.

“I am an ex-Pagan young girl who cannot be trusted. That was how I was seen no matter where I went.”

Upon hearing this expected answer, Kusla looked away.

“But in fact, I was never a Pagan right from the beginning. During the many years where war decimated the land, my tribe was a group of nomads, with cursed blood in us. It was said that even during peaceful times, we would be executed under various dubious reasons. In the Crusade, the hunting was accelerated, and our tribe died one after another in our escape, until I was the only one left alive by the time I arrived at the last town.”

No matter which country, region or settlement it was, there were definitely who were ostracized for all sorts of various reasons, probably because of their past crimes, or that they once did something that was despised by others.

In this land, the locals would call the people from the East, Pagans, and that was deemed as more than enough reason to doubt them.

The reason why Fenesis was accepted into the monastery was also probably because it was a case of profit and loss arithmetic to the Knights. It would be easy to use her as a disposable tool.

However, if that was the case, there would be a basic form to this topic at hand. Kusla frowned, and gulped down some wine; he was able to see where this conversation was headed.

“So, just when I finally arrived at that town, it seemed I was about to be killed. At that time, there was no one who would save us, and I thought I would not be able to escape any further. However,”

“The Knights saved you.”

“…”

Fenesis was a little surprised.

However, she quickly showed a gentle smile, for it seemed she was able to treat Kusla as someone who understood her.

For they were both people who were ostracized by society.

“Yes.”

Fenesis answered, like a girl admiring someone, affirming his existence.

And her expression was clearly showing that he was absolutely correct.”

“Even after knowing of my cursed heritage, their behavior towards me never changed. They treated me as someone important, and did everything they could to allow me to escape safely. Nobody else had cared for me so much.”

It was practically the description of a pure Knight in an Epic.

At this same time, this was vastly different from the Knights in Kusla’s impression..

He thought the Knights merely viewed Fenesis as a prize of war,

They would naturally take care of her, for the more intact a beautiful haul was, a higher price could be fetched.

“At that time, I felt accepted for the first time in life.”

However, it seemed Fenesis’ understanding was far different from reality.

And yet Kusla did not have the courage to tell her the truth.

“After that, I was left to a monastery affiliated to the Knights. At that time, I was happy to get along with so many nice people, and what I saw, what I heard were all so new. I was happy, I enjoyed myself…”

And so, Fenesis lowered her stare, indulging in her own memories.

And in contrast, Kusla’s expression became empty, bit by bit, not because he felt Fenesis was innocent for having such a blissful misunderstanding,

But because he understood how unfortunate she was not to have any of that.

“However, the reality was that I was being supervised every single moment.”

Only when she showed a smiling face after saying that did she looked refreshed and healthy.

But would that be more unhealthy?

“But as long as I can finish this mission, maybe…”

“You never thought of running away?”

The moment Kusla asked this, Fenesis showed a tragic smile.

Her expression seemed to have the realization, I really am a fool here, am I not?

“Just like how I do not understand Alchemists, I suppose you will not be able to understand me. I do not want to be alone, I want them to recognize me as a friend. I have nowhere else to go, only the Knights who have saved me. If I am expelled from here, I will really be alone.”

Fenesis said softly, and her hands, which were holding onto the wooden vessel, shuddered, causing some wine to spill from it. Her face was red as she was drunk, and her eyes looked a little unfocused as she lifted her face.

It seemed she was only able to say this because she was drunk.

Kusla took away the wine in her hands, and poured it onto the road.

He saw that she looked a little dazed, on the verge of tears.

“Sorry, I asked too much.”

Once Kusla said that, it seemed her stare was all fuzzy as she frowned.

“I shouldn’t have ask about something that can’t be solved.”

“…”

Fenesis looked at Kusla, her expression a little hapless.

“So even an Alchemist, who can change lead into gold, cannot do anything?”

Perhaps deep inside, she wanted to learn from the Alchemists, well-versed in worldly affairs, and find a way to escape from her own predicament.

Fenesis knew how much peril there was in an alchemist’s workshop, but dared to take the risk. She probably did so just for the glimmer of expectations.

However, that expectation was that of a girl who did not know anything about the world.

“Turning lead into gold is just a legend. In fact, there’s some gold composition in lead itself.”

Kusla and the rest of the Alchemists would always make their decisions cautiously before doing anything, and would linger in it, sewing things up in the process.

Once they had arrived at their conclusions, they would continue to work on. The moment they failed to do this, it meant their hearts as Alchemists would have ceased; they would lose their freedom to head to the land of Magdala, and they would die.

There was no gold that existed in this world, only the land of Magdala.

“Right, let’s return to the workshop. There’s still some fun out there.”

Kusla patted Fenesis on the shoulder and casually got up as if they never talked about such a different issue. The latter however looked up at Kusla, ostensibly staring at a cold-blooded onlooker for leaving her like this.

However, she quickly lowered her head, and staggered to her feet. Every betrayal, every harm done to her, every killing had yet to stop her from moving from town to town. The real misfortune to her would be the purity that would not fade in her, even after the countless hideous acts she went through, that she was not able to become a sly snake.

“So turning lead into gold is just a legend, huh?”

“Right, but every Alchemist knows the principle behind it, so that can’t be considered a legend, but a ‘lie’.”

Fenesis was swaying from side to side, probably due to being tipsy on her feet.

Kusla felt unnerved by this, and lent her a hand, which she proceeded to grab.

It was hard to imagine, given her scarily undoubting personality, that she had such a past history of being suspected and ostracized by others.

He knew this was what she meant despite not knowing how to coax others, but could only helplessly watch herself be troubled, as her tipsyness, uneasiness and the unknown future crushed her completely at this point.

But sometimes, such people were the only one who would callously state the cold truth,

“…You know you are only lying to yourself, right?”

Kusla held Fenesis’ petite body, burning slightly in his arms, and walked on the path leading to the workshop. He felt there was a fragile sense to this soft body, that it would break if he tried to snap it.

If he were to tell Fenesis just a line about the records Thomas left behind, she would be able to finish her mission safely.

Would the Knights change their view of her?

He thought they would.

The Knights were a practical organization, rewarding people based on their contributions; they would reward any person useful to them, even if it was an Alchemist. This was the spell Kusla had, which would turn the fountain of lead Fenesis was to be drowned into, into a throne of gold.

But he did not say anything, for the results would be certain if he were to weigh the results of Thomas’ metallurgical records with Fenesis’ matters. No matter how young she was, how much one wanted to protect her, there was no way it would weigh heavier than the metallurgical records on the scale.

Whether it was rationally, or emotionally.

Fenesis, who had assistance, would definitely leapt into his arms to remove the loneliness she felt up till this point, and it would not be difficult to gain affection from her.

Besides, she was not a vile lady, and though she would react if there was childish teasing, she would definitely accept him as an Alchemist if he was honest with her. At this age, most of the people could not live for long, and it seemed age would not be a major problem.

If possible, Kusla wanted to save her and keep her with him.

However, the moment he thought of this, he would recall the sight of seeing the Knights scurrying around, looking for Friche’s body. At that time, he could see her collarbone from beyond those savage back profiles. The bones of humans were white, but Friche’s bones seemed whiter than others.

At that time, he did not feel sadness or anger. “If human bones have such a unique color, will there be a different outcome if I use it to replace dog bones?”, that was the only thought he had in his mind.

Once he realized this, he really felt he was a lunatic inside, and yet proud of himself, relieved that he was a first-rate Alchemist. From that moment, he could prove that no matter when it was, even if a lover was killed in front of his eyes, he could keep thinking of metallurgy, and even swear to God over it.

Thus, he never thought of helping Fenesis.

He even forbade himself from doing so.

If this kept up, he was convinced that he would do something to Fenesis at some random moment. Whilst Wayland likes to woo the ladies, he killed the monastery abbot to save the Sisters; Kusla however would simply put the bones of a Saint into the fire for his own sake.

He never thought of anyone as important, that they were all materials for metallurgy, tools that were to be used.

Merely a stepping stone to the Land of Magdala, whether it was by day or by night.

His unhuman-like master was the one who observed his behavior, and gave him the name of Kusla.

—You really are a living embodiment “{{Furigana|Interest|Kusla|margin=12}}”, the kind of high interest that pairs together with the heartless ticking of the clock, that sucks the living blood out of those already in debt…but that’s the right path to be an Alchemist.

When deciding on who was to be Fenesis’ friend or foe, Kusla created an exaggerated, heinous lie to lower her view on Wayland, and be closer to him. However, while Fenesis had relied on him due to her fear of Wayland, Kusla was the heretic who would rip a fetus from a pregnant mother for experimenting without remorse.

Turning lead into gold, and gold into lead.

It was a given that things change instantly in the world. For people to not stray from the path, they need a form of reliance; just like how Fenesis chose to live with the Knights to ease her loneliness, Kusla was obsessed with the Land of Magdala. Both of them were similar in such ways, but no matter how much he wanted to reach his hand out to save others, there was no way he could do so himself.

For he was the one who needed saving more than others.

So how would he have the strength to help others?

By the time both of them returned to the workshop, Fenesis had completely fallen unconscious. Kusla cradled her onto the bed and draped a blanket over her. She still had a bitter expression on her face, and it did not seem to be due to the liquor only.
He felt she had a pretty sleeping face, and on that note, found her cute.

However, Friche was no inferior to her in this aspect. So there was no reason to give Fenesis any special treatment.

It was the same as meeting an injured kitten on the roadside.

It was not practical to save it even if he could do so.

Kusla caressed Fenesis on the cheek, returned back to the living room, and saw Wayland seated on a chair, his knees tucked in while staring at a piece of paper..

“Do you know what interests me about you, Kusla~?”

“Huh?”

“There’s never a dull moment from you~.”

He looked back and grinned, showing a smile that was definitely not of friendship.

But a smile that was ostensibly in response to seeing an interesting mineral.

“Interest means usage value.”

“And usage value means a meaning to existence~.”

Wayland stared at the duplicates that were no different to the parchments in Post’s hands, and grinned as he concluded. Kusla had the same view as he did.

“Can you control her~?”

“I will.”

“Isn’t that right? No matter what troubles that young lady has, a Kusla will not treat her as a human~.”

Wayland’s eyes were giving of a look of admiration.

There was once a Clergyman who said that humans will be crushed by the gears, that everything in this world can be explained through ethics and gears.”

“Humans are also made of all sorts of materials, just a complicated water car.”

“I once saw a mechanical clock in a Southern workshop. That thing—”

Wayland said,

“Was just like Interest.”

The Alchemist with such a given name shrugged, and looked down at the piece of paper with the undried ink.

“Let’s hurry and publish the results. I don’t want others to find out.”

“Isn’t that so~? Wouldn’t it be a pity to abandon the miracle written on this record?”

“Yeah. It’ll be a nice farewell to our predecessor Thomas.”

Upon hearing Kusla say this, Wayland lifted his head and smirked.

Kusla understood the reason for that though,

And did not feel displeased about the latter’s attitude.

“The theologist, Saint Rizlo once said that sinners are suffering not because they don’t have any humanity in them, but that—”

“They still have a trace of humanity left in them.”

Wayland seemed to have found a most interesting way to play a toy as his eyes were dazzling.

Kusla’s bitter expression seemed to be giving him delight.

The reason why Wayland saved the Sisters was probably because he wanted to see the Sisters suffer in their struggle between their faith and their lust.

“You’re a blockhead of iron.”

“Sturdy, beautiful, but hardly used for fighting.”

Wayland got up from the chair and stretched his back.

This was not a worker’s workshop, where the disciples were told to stay up and remain vigil.

Wayland showed no signs of fatigue at all, and even looked excited.

“There’s a need to add some impurities, whether it’s to forge iron into swords or smith them into axes. So, if there’s an impurity within you, Kusla, what will you become?”

“If that happens, I’ll let you test me for chopping through.”

“Hoho, won’t that be interesting~?”

Wayland said as he took the duplicate, and proceeded downstairs.

Kusla, having been left alone, gave a sigh and proceeded down after him.

Fenesis woke up in the afternoon.

Her body was still a little wobbly, and she hardly spoke, probably because of what happened before.

There was grain porridge and cheese for lunch, but she was squirming as she ate.

Kusla did not bother with her too much as he merely continued his work. Naturally, it included regaining the metallurgical research contents.

They did not keep their work hidden from Fenesis, for she and the rest had not noticed what they were pursuing were hidden in Thomas’ metallurgical records.

If Fenesis’ side had known that the information they wanted was within Thomas’ metallurgical records, there would be no reason they wouldn’t have done something already. Before then however, Kusla’s group hoped to steal this secret before they understood the importance of it.

In other words, Fenesis’ group had no grasp on what information Thomas was hiding.

They had to comprehend Thomas’ metallurgical records, which they had left with Post before Fenesis and the rest could.

Once they memorized everything, they would have to burn it into ash at all costs, and leave no evidence behind.

Without getting in Post’s way, they would maintain Thomas’ accomplishment, and take a large step closer to Magdala.

But there were some concerns. After hearing Fenesis’ words, Kusla thought that he would be guilt-stricken for hiding the truth, but in fact, that was not the case. He did not feel anything even when facing Fenesis, who was sitting idly on the table.

This caused him to feel realized and wry within.

Since he had made it all the way here, he should be able to continue from now.

“Erm.”

Just when he was pondering over this, Fenesis’ voice suddenly rang.

He looked back, and saw Fenesis tugging at her robes with a bitter look on her face.

“I am sorry…”

Kusla stared at Fenesis, removed the weights off the scale, and said,

“I didn’t think you’ll get drunk there.”

“!”

She gasped.

Kusla again turned his head aside, and this time, she looked ready to cry as she showed a pained expression.

“You’ve been putting up with it in all sorts of ways, right? It must have been hard for you for the first time.”

“…”

“Well, instead of drinking wine again the next time and vomiting here and there…I’ll advise you not to drink again, and change your current lifestyle.”

He replaced the weights, and placed a dull golden mineral on the other plate of the scale.

“But in this world, it’s hard to start afresh.”

Kusla turned his head back for the third time, and found that Fenesis had lowered her head.

It was really embarrassing for an invigilator to fall drunk in front of the ones she was supposed to be watching over, and even brazenly talk about her past. He did not think she was acting that time, but it did not matter even if he was fooled.

“Don’t mind, I won’t tell my superior everything.”

Upon hearing Kusla tease her, Fenesis clicked her tongue as she remained rooted.

To a normal Clergyman, this must have been a terrible form of torture. She, who was watching over someone to determine if that person had done something vile, ended up having that person close an eye towards her own failure. In this sense, she was still a normal Clergyman.

She shuddered, but the fault was on her part to begin with.

“Well, I don’t think that’s a completely bad thing though.”

“…?”

Fenesis, who was almost crushed by the self-loathing, stared at Kusla with dull eyes.

Kusla nodded slightly, and said,

“I don’t hate the look of seeing a maiden suffer. My view of you has improved now.”

“…”

Fenesis did not know what to say, or even what expression to show, as she was at a complete loss.

In the end, she was unable to control her impulses, and her lips turned into a smile as she said, unwilling to admit defeat,

“I-I said that I would never ever believe you again.”

“Well, I’m a liar anyway. I only know how to lie.”

“Since you are aware of it, why do you lie all the time?”

“That’s interesting.”

“What is it?”

“I said that I’m a liar, but why do you believe in the part where I said I’m a liar?”

Upon hearing Kusla’s words, Fenesis was flabbergasted,

“Huh?”

I’m a liar, so I only know how to lie. But if this line was logical, would it not mean that the liar Kusla said a truth? If this line was a lie however, Kusla would not be a liar.

Fenesis let out a vague groan “Ahh…um…”, and tilted her head about with a funny squeamish look on her face. Kusla chuckled upon seeing this, and at this moment, she realized she was fooled again. With a blushing face, she got up from the chair.

“W-What did you do to me again? What is going on here?”

“Turn lead into gold, and gold into lead; turn lies into truths, and truths into lies.”

“Uu…”

Fenesis let out a groan again, and Kusla removed the pyrite scraps from the scale and said,

“What is it?”

“………………..What about that?”

After a long pause between, Fenesis raised her eyes at Kusla and asked this.

“Are you still troubled over your failure?”

“…”

She remained rooted, looking like a cat woken up by something pricking its nose.

“Human troubles are mostly of one type. Whatever you think, it’s normal.”

Fenesis again showed a defiant expression, but more than that, she hated to be told off by Kusla for such a reason.

“But speaking of which.”

Kusla spoke on, and whilst Fenesis jerked back for some reason, he continued with his explanation.

“A problem that leaves a deep impression is still as such, and it hurts to feel as though you don’t have a single friend.”

“…Eh?”

“When you’ve gotten tired of this world of prayer, you can come over to our side. You’ve had some enjoyable experiences, right?”

He showed a smiling face to Fenesis, though it was obviously forced.

Fenesis did not know if it was a lie or truth.

But it did not matter at this point.

After a little hesitation, she seemed to be amazed by herself as she said,

“Even though I know it is a lie…it is useless to treat me kindly.”

Kusla did not want to consider if it was a lie.

There was nothing true in this world.

But even so, the only affirmation he had left was the Land of Magdala.

When brass and pyrite ores are placed side by side, it is practically impossible to differentiate them.

It may be more difficult when gold is compared with them.

But once they are processed, both would show vast differences.

Pyrite would be a lot more difficult to process as compared to brass.

Once the bell chime indicating nightfall rang, the messenger bringing Fenesis back would arrive punctually, and Fenesis looked a little better as she returned.

After seeing Fenesis off, Kusla and Wayland began their discussions fully.

“Looks like we have to do this at night, huh~?”

But even so, what they knew were rather similar.

And soon, they came to a conclusion.

“So playing around with the vent won’t work?”

“I thought we could direct all the fumes into the water wheel, but thinking about it, it’ll drastically change the conditions inside the furnace due to poor exhaust.”

“But it’s impossible to hide the stench of sulfur…”

“Then we can only work at night and finish before the people wake up. That kid’s watching over us during the day too.”

They had to work at night after all.

But there was a problem.

Pyrite ore would mostly break down into iron, but it would take quite a quite to refine it into metal. During that time, they had to remove the impurities, adjust the temperature of the furnace with someone supervising the entire time.

A person could only stay awake throughout the nights for at most 2, 3 days.

During the day, they had to do their day work to misdirect, and while it would work on Fenesis, they could not get Post suspicious. Post was someone who was really sticking his head out for an Alchemist, and he would seal any form of knowledge that would get anyone hanged as a result. Of course, that was enough motivation for Kusla’s group to not let this be known, and it would be bad for them if he got suspicious.

However, it would take too much of their working time to clean up the furnace, vents and equipment after every work.

“Looks like we’re left with two options, huh~?”

“Either we go all in…or we just work through it during the day?”

Kusla looked aside, but Wayland did not meet him in the eyes as he nodded away.

“If we do it during the day, we can more or less finish it all within two days~…I think.”

“But there’ll be people watching, or smelling it.”

There were many ways to fool Fenesis, but the problem was once the stench of sulfur was developed, there was no doubt it would reach Post’s ears as rumors. In that situation, their intention to continue researching into Thomas’ metallurgical records would be made known.

“Well, looks like we can only do it at night~”

Wayland said as he took a bite off some oat bread for dinner. It seemed it was because such bread was filling, and cheap, that he liked this food, though it was as hard as rock.

“Looks like we have to arrange the order of our research and set up a schedule. It’ll be all for naught if we can’t finish heating before daybreak.”

“Yes.”

Wayland nodded, and Kusla used a piece of paper, rather than a piece of parchment, to write down the necessary steps required. Thomas’ records were eerily precise, and both of them took down the amount of time required with much ease.

However, refining iron was not a simple process as it seemed. The longer they continued to work, the chances of their intentions being revealed would increase, but the results would be too ambiguous if they got too anxious.

Kusla stared at their schedule, hoping to come up with a plan that would incorporate those considerations.

As he looked on at the processes Kusla had written out, Wayland suddenly said,

“This sure brings back memories.”

“Ah?”

“I remember that time when we’re planning to poison that damned master~”

Kusla stared back at Wayland, and grimaced,

“But we’re caught in the end back that. We’re unlucky.”

“No no, I think that was the time we learnt about the concept of falling short of success, right~?”

“How optimistic of you.”

“I’ll like to say that’s making active use of past experience.”

Kusla shrugged, “Think, or else we’re going to have a repeat of that again.” but the moment he said that,

Both of them straightened their necks in unison, like birds in the hills and dales.

“Hm?”

Kusla stared at Wayland, who in turn stared at the ceiling.

There was a light tapping from the roof.

Was it a bird? A rat?

Just when they were wondering, there was the sound of wood being knocked at.

“Above…isn’t that the door~?”

“A guest? At this hour?”

The city had already closed long ago, and at this time, it would be hard to imagine many people moving outside during the dark.

But they then clearly heard a knock again.

“I’ll go.”

Kusla got up and gave Wayland a look, who then proceeded to get up too. He extinguished the light, bent his back, and walked towards the water wheel.

Thomas was killed in this town, and Post had told the two of this,

That they were to protect themselves with assassination and poison.

He held the shortsword on his waist as he proceeded up the stairs slowly. The knocking on the door got stronger, and irregular in intervals.

“?”

Why is there such a eccentric assassin? Kusla wondered, and at the same time, the knocking ceased. Due to the unexpected silence, he held his breath.

But unexpectedly, at the next moment, there was a sound at the door.

“Ac…hoo…”

If that was an assassin, it certainly was impressive acting on his part. Kusla however let go of the hand at the shortsword hilt, took large strides to the door, unlocked the door from the inside, and swung the door outwards. Thereafter, he found Fenesis seated at the door, her back leaning against the wall, fixed in a strange position.

“You forgot something?”

Though he asked this, Fenesis did not look like she returned to get something back, for she was carrying a baggage.

“Erm, well…”

A young lady was standing in front of a house, holding a baggage under the shroud of night.

No matter what apparent intention Fenesis had for arriving here, there was no way Kusla could force her to return.

Once the door was shut, Fenesis sat down on the chair, and said,

“I still have not found anything, so you people might be doing something immoral at night…so”

“That’s why you’re stopping by?”

“…Yes.”

Upon seeing Kusla let out a sigh, Fenesis looked fairly insecure.

There were some reasons involved for this sigh.

However, the biggest reason why that Fenesis, on her superior’s orders, came to a workshop with only male adults working inside on the latter’s command. He had once clearly told her not to trust her superior and run away from the tasks given to her if she did not like it, but it could be said that she still wanted to gain recognition.

This only made her look more foolish as a result.

“You don’t know what might happen to you.”

“!…”

Fenesis gasped, and after a pause, stared at Kusla with upturned eyes, and said,

“Maybe you…can be trusted here…”

“So is that the only thing you can trust us for…?”

Kusla gave a wry smile, but in fact, Fenesis practically never doubted anything Kusla had said. She was a girl who was so naive that she would inadvertently trust another person even though she wanted to trust.

And Kusla felt furious that this whilst he had no ulterior motives on her, this toy made for enjoyment could have been manipulated by someone else.

“Then again, if I chase you back, you’ve nowhere else to go to, right?”

Fenesis lowered her head and nodded. If she were to return to her superior’s residence, all that awaited her was punishment, and she had no acquiantances in town.

Kusla again let out a sigh, and called out downstairs.

“WAYLAND!”

What!? The reply could be heard immediately, and Kusla said.

“We have an innocent maiden staying with us here! Stay downstairs at all time!”

There was a long pause after Kusla’s words, that’s mean~! and then, these words were heard.

But that was not a joke either. Wayland had a habit of loving anyone he liked. It could be said that his hand inadvertently would reach out and do something.

Upon thinking about this, Kusla felt unexpectedly worried for some reason.

This was more or less an odd desire to protect her surging within him, and yet also like a form of possessing her.

He inadvertently felt shocked by how he was at this point.

“Now you can relax at least. At least you won’t have two big men attacking you at night.”

It seemed there was no need to threaten her, for once those words were thrown at her, her eyes widened.

She was already mentally prepared for anything bad that might happen.

She came to this workshop because of an order, ostensibly trying to please her superior. Or perhaps she was trying to gain Kusla’s group recognition and live as their friend.

“You’re an idiot like us here.”

In response to Kusla’s words, Fenesis merely lowered her head, and did not argue back.

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