It was already the time that vegetation laid asleep when Kusla slowly walked up the stairs and returned to the bedroom, truding his tipsy legs. After letting Fenesis sleep in the bedroom on the first floor, he had been discussing with Wayland in front of the furnace, at the bottom of the workshop.
They had met the worst form of interference in the worst possible moment. It was really impossible to think Post would have leaked some information to the Prayer people, so they would have view it as a coincidence.
But it was because of this reason that there was something troubling. If she had come with malice, there was still room for negotiation. The Prayer Group must have been feeling anxious, as they were unable to grasp where Thomas left his records. If they wanted to use more violent means, there was a huge lump called Post in the way, but there was no decisive information for them to use such forceful means. If they were to attack the workshop through brute force, and not gain anything as a result, who knew what sort of retaliation would happen to them.
Even so, Kusla’s group only had the duplicates of the 2 parchments Thomas left behind. If they did not experiment in refining pyrite, there was no way they could decipher it, and unable to know what vile act did Thomas do exactly.
And so, just when they decided to experiment in the night, Fenesis came.
If they were to use the water wheel to move the vents, they would certainly be noticed.
There was a limit to how much they could hide, for since she foolhardily described how happy she was when she was distilling zinc and got scolded for it, it seemed she would directly report this as well.
Of course, if they wanted to continue Thomas’ experiments, there was also the option of waiting for it to cool.
But Kusla’s group knew that Post might the the reason for their downfall, for he might be viewing them as an eyesore. Though he might not send in assassins to kill them like what the Choir would do, but he would distance himself from this workshop.
In that case, there would be no guarantee the duplicates could be safely transferred out. Considering Post’s extremely prudent personality, there was no way they could underestimate this possibility.
And this was ever so constant in this situation.
Because of this, Kusla and Wayland were racking their heads.
Thomas’ great accomplishment could not be hidden in the darkness of history because of a trivial reason like defying against religious belief.
Let alone be buried by a model student-like decision, to take care of the other alchemists.
If that pure iron was Thomas’ Magdala…
Upon thinking about this, Kusla’s group felt that they could not allow this to happen.
It did not matter even if nobody else cared about it; the pride of an Alchemist demanded different.
Then, there was only one choice left.
The option to recreate Thomas’ metallurgical records no longer existed, but Post’s placation was an immunity for them. In that case, Fenesis…
Wayland must have seen this only path left as he glanced aside at Kusla, and suddenly said.
—Let’s do it when it’s time~ It’s the best method to shut someone up.
Kusla knew he would have come to this conclusion soon, and took the wine.
—Since she’s so lonely, you might as well do it rather than let her continue on like this~.
Wayland had said this with a frivolous tone.
Do you want me to take over? It was probably Wayland’s expression of concern that he did not say this, but he certainly was sharp enough to immediately sense that Kusla was especially concerned about Fenesis.
But once he got out of the living room and owned the door leading to the bedroom, his frown intensified.
He had already told Fenesis to go to sleep, but the latter was curled at the wall, ostensibly stating that this was how she had lived up till this point, that it was something she was most accustomed to.
However, the weather was excessively frigid, and nobody, other than the travelers used to such conditions, could sleep on such a cold floor. In fact, one could tell Fenesis’ body was trembling cold even in the darkness.
He returned to the living room, boiled some water, lit a candle, and returned to the bedroom.
“You’ll catch a cold.”
Fenesis lifted her head in the face of such words, her body all unable to move as it was ostensibly frozen solid.
Both of them had their backs leaning on the bedroom wall as they remained under the blanket.
The reason why they did so was because the wall was connected to the furnace shaft, which made the wall warm. The reason why they were under a blanket was because Fenesis was trembling so hard she resembled a victim caught in an avalanche.
And as Kusla had just drank some liquor, he was worried that something bad would happen. Thus, he brewed some tea.
After a little while, with the help of the blanket, warm wall, and tea, there was some snorting from the nose, which had warmed up like melted ice.
“Have you calmed down a little?”
Kusla nodded away, ostensibly talking to himself, and sighed forlornly,
“At least take care of yourself a little, okay?”
There were all sorts of hidden meanings in these words, but Fenesis did not answer immediately.
The answer that finally came however was as such,
“I do not want to hear that from you.”
In fact, nobody would want to hear this from an Alchemist devoting his entire life into Magdala.
“Well, since you’ve calmed down now, can you please sleep over there now?”
Kusla pointed at the bed, and Fenesis followed his line of sight, before lowering her head deectedly.
“Relax, I’ll sleep downstairs.”
“There’s still heat from the furnace. It’s a lot warmer downstairs, as long as I endure Wayland’s snoring.”
This was not a lie.
However, Fenesis, who lifted her face at Kusla, still looked away in the end and lowered her head. Kusla then said with a teasing tone,
“Or is it that you want to sleep together?”
Once he placed the hand on the shoulder, her petite body cringed.
Any form of food, when heated, would soften and let out an aroma. Fenesis’ body had loosened a lot as compared to when she was frozen solid a little while ago, and there was a sweet aroma from nowhere. Most probably, her body was probably covered with the Frankincense the Clergymen had used for prayer.
Fenesis kept her head lowered, and did not answer.
Kusla was flabbergasted.
“So I’ll take this as a yes?”
Fenesis then brought her small mouth to him, and his smile froze.
No, this isn’t it. Kusla thought.
Had she given up? Is she confused? She ostensibly had all sorts of other emotions, and yet did not seem to have any; it was an expression seemingly filled of emotions, and seemingly devoid of emotions.
Fenesis had already made up her mind, unlike the perplexed Kusla.
He instinctively withdrew his hand from the chin, and slowly lowered his chin.
And then, *Kok*, her cheek was resting on his shoulder.
“Why must you go to that extent…?”
“…I’ve told you the reason before.”
Fenesis said as she leaned her body towards him like a lover.
But the way she answered, her breathing, her lifeless movement resembled more like a corpse whose heart had just stopped beating.
“Did they tell you that since nothing is clear yet, they want us to commit a sin even if it means offering your own body?”
Actually, Kusla did not know whether they had said it to such an extent.
However, one could imagine the exasperated superiors actually thinking it did not matter to them even if it came down to this. It was akin to a Badger Game; doing anything to a Sister alone would be deemed a sin in this world. After which, they would thoroughly investigate the workshop and achieve their aim.
However, they had already sent a girl to a workshop with two men working there.
As expected, Fenesis did not respond to Kusla’s words. Her petite body and head probably had yet to comprehend what she was doing at this point after all.
She came by because she was told to ‘go’, told to do this for she was told to ‘do’
Kusla retracted his hand that was placed on Fenesis’ shoulder.
But at that exact moment, Fenesis’ hand grabbed onto his.
“What about you? I heard your list was killed by the Knights.”
It was ostensibly a voice heard from the grave when burying a body in a cemetery.
Kusla however let out a smile.
“Why are you able to remain so calm?”
“I said it before, did I not?”
“So that you can go to Magdala?”
Fenesis lifted her head as she muttered,
Her face, shrouded in darkness, was ostensibly a corpse sullied by the dirt in the grave.
“But I cannot imagine why you are able to remain so calm.”
Kusla state at those eyes seemingly yearning for separation, and looked aside slightly. This was not uncommon, and certainly not the first time he was seeing someone face his doom. Life and death was simply just an issue is whether the heart remained breathing or not. There were many various ways to die.
For example, an Alchemist giving up his quest for Magdala, or a Sister selling her own body.
Thus, Kusla said as if he was saying a farewell speech,
“Of course, I’m not talking about the ordinary kind. Actually, I do really think of it as some joke.”
Kusla finally let out a wry smile as he shrugged, and Fenesis confined to state at him intently.
She again brought her cheek to his shoulder, like a love couple sharing their pillow talk.
Of course, just as how Kusla felt a sense of familiarity from seeing Fenesis’ reliance on the Choir, so the later might have the same feelings.
“Don’t laugh when you hear this.”
Thus, Kuala tried his best to talk with a candid tone as he said half-jokingly.
With her face leaning on his shoulder, Fenesis continued to look at the front, and she quietly said,
“It depends on what it is.”
Kusla said this without hesitation, and sounded a little shrill, for the more important the term was, the harder it would be to say it.
“The metal of dreams, or divinity. The legendary metal that was said to have vanished along with a lost continent, called Orichalcum. It is a legend akin to fables of knights defeating dragons that the young dream of.”
Kusla had decided that no matter what Fenesis replied, he would remain silent all the same.
For this was a forbidden dream even for an Alchemist. No, it was precisely because he was an Alchemist that it was forbidden.
Was this something one thinks is worth risking his life on?
For this was a dreamy statement any adult with a mind would widen his eyes and shake his head at.
“In its pure state, it is said to let out a ring truer than gold when struck. The ringing of pure gold is something inexplicable, something that won’t fade away after a long time. The ring from Orichalcum seems like it’ll vibrate together, that the crystals will melt away. It has a dull color, and only a large mineral shows a little hue.”
Fenesis continued to listen without saying anything, her body remaining unmoved.
What is inexplicable about Orichalcum is that it is as soft as Willow, but sturdier than any metal. It won’t bend or break, and the Ancient War Hero Aldegros was completely unscathed when he cut through the land with the blade of Orichalcum, and managed to perfectly sheath it back. I…”
The hand held by Fenesis twitched slightly, and grabbed the hand grabbing it.
It was an utterly ridiculous topic, but he did not want it to be deemed as a lie or to befuddle others. For some reason, Kusla suddenly had a notion, that if the person holding his hand were to say it, it would sound realistic and honest.
“I want to create Orichalcum.
Fenesis spoke for the first time
What followed was a world where he could speak his true thoughts, without hiding anything, and he cringed slightly.
But he was holding Fenesis’ hand, and the latter was not holding his.
He wanted to convey something through this hand.
“I want to use it to create a sword.”
She lifted her face at him.
“For what reason?”
Her eyes resembled those of a cat’s, extremely clear as it strolled under the moonlight.
He suddenly had an excuse to explain himself, that it would be fine to reveal his thoughts to this witch’s Familiar of a cat.
“Because I just can’t forget the Epic I heard when I was young.”
“I want to use the legendary blade of Orichalcum to fight, just like those common tales.”
Fenesis remained silent, showing a slight smile.
She seemingly found someone similar to herself.
When a person bet everything for something, he seemed a babbling fool to a bystander.
Fenesis blinked slightly, and whispered,
“Then…it will become that sort of adventure story where you beat the monsters in legends?”
“That’s still good if it’s the case, but that’s not it. When I was serving my apprenticeship, I said this to Wayland before, got laughed at, and we ended up beating each other.”
Fenesis glanced aside, and said,
“I cannot imagine what kind of metal it is.”
Kusla shrugged, chuckled, and said with a sigh,
“It’s like fighting to protect a Princess. If it’s a legendary sword and a brave Knight, a Princess comes right after, right?”
She did not know whether to laugh or be impressed by him, but her flabbergasted human expression was certainly unique.
However, Kusla felt a lot more relaxed when seeing her face.
The reason why he had this dream was that he witnessed his village get burned to the ground. The girl he was holding hands with a day ago when they went for the hill later became a casualty of arrows.
He only had a single belief in his heart, that is to get the power to protect everything.
But in this world, where one’s personal strength was vastly helpless in itself, just thinking about it alone was an utterly ridiculous notion.
But even so, Fenesis smiled with a slight bitterness.
She seemed to be implying that she was the same.
“But that Land of Magdala really doesn’t exist.”
“I don’t know exactly how much you heard about us…but it’s probably not off the mark. My lover was killed in the previous town I was in, during that little time, I went off to get some wine. I felt that it was fine if we could chat, no, if she could just be with me. It was late at night; I wanted some honeydip wine before bed, and went out to get enough wine for two. I still remember the smile I last saw on Friche when I walked out of the room, and when I returned, I found her totally butchered like a pig.”
It was not a simile.
Spies would typically hide a secret in a certain part of their bodies. They were Stalwarts, hiding their secrets in their gut, intestines, or even their flesh, and sew it up in practically every single part of their body.
At that time, Kusla stood at the door, drinking away as he watched the ‘Masterpiece’ on the floor.
“What I thought that time was not sadness or anything like that, but that how white her dissected ribs were. A human’s bones were whiter than anything else. Didn’t I say that we use shells when refining metal? We do metal use of human bones too. And so, I felt that if we had to do this, what if I use a Saint’s bones instead of an ordinary person’s?”
Fenesis listened to Kusla slightly, her expression not changing at all.
“Those people from the Knights thought that I was just an emotional wreck back then, but that was not the case. My mind was simply thinking of metallurgy, the only thought I had in my mind. My lover was butchered in front of my eyes, I had a dream to protect a Princess, but yet I could only think of metallurgy when I saw the Princess get murdered. To me, the Land of Magdala is simply a mirage.”
Kusla’s master had christened him as Kusla for how inhuman he was, and Wayland had compared him to a clock that continued to tick.
Kusla too was aware about this, but did not understand why he was still passionately chasing after the Land of Magdala.
That was why he felt he was a fool, that he could not stop despite knowing this, that he was the same as those who indulged in alcohol and gambling. His faults would probably persist till the end, or that he could persist on till this point for he knew he was such a fool. It was a feeling of dealing with things when they came.
Alchemists all had such a feeling, probably because they all had this something in their hearts. You are a fool, they would think, but would respect the Magdala others had, for they understood the pain each person had. Kusla felt this was the reason why Thomas’ metallurgical records should never see the light of day.
Thus, when he heard those words from Fenesis, all he could show was a smile completely beyond fury.
“That is amazing.”
There was merely a pitying expression.
Was she trying to say he was incorrigibly beyond hope?
That was what Kusla personally thought too.
But there were some words he could not pretend not to hear.
“You really are faithful to your dream.”
Fenesis’ chest was grabbed at tightly.
This action was near instantaneous, so this, and what happened afterwards, happened in a split instance.
But because it happened in an instant, he noticed Fenesis’ expression.
He grabbed her by her clothes, but she did not show any surprise or fear.
It was a calm smile, a relaxing one.
“Are you making a mockery of me?”
A fool who had a nonexistent place as a goal.
Kusla continued to stare at Fenesis intently.
But the latter stared back at Kusla, showing a troubled smile.
“Why would I?”
“I am relieved.”
She let out a mutter.
“I am very, very relieved that you are a true Alchemist.”
Kusla did not talk back, for he did not understand what Fenesis said at all.
And more perplexing was why she could remain so calm.
She placed her hand on Kusla’s hand that was grabbing onto her chest.
It was cold.
Kusla did not think of letting go of the hand grabbing onto the chest.
It seemed there was a huge misunderstanding.
“I do find what happened in the previous town a mishap, but I find if it is you, you will definitely become a Knight who can protect a Princess well.”
He should be angry here.
That was what Kusla told himself, but his body did not move.
Perhaps he was subconsciously expectant of the words that were to follow.
“Even when the person important to you was in such a devastated state, you were not confused, thinking about how to create a sword to protect her. You really are loyal to your own dream.”
Fenesis let out a wry smile.
That was the expression of a girl who just heard someone brag about his lover.
“That person, Friche, you must have really loved her, right? That is why you thought about metallurgy, that if only you had a sword of Orichalcum, right?”
Kusla felt his heart being shaken at its core.
He had difficulty breathing, he felt his nose was about to bleed, and he instinctively brought his face to his hands.
He was shaken.
He was suddenly overcome with sadness.
The slighted truth changed everything.
Kusla witnessed the memory of lead become that of gold.
At that time, he was not a cold-blooded man thinking about metallurgy, but thinking of how he should have protected her. The fact was he was feeling sadness, confused, but they were cast behind, that he should have gotten Orichalcum, which would have protected someone important, like Friche. He was merely troubled by his own rational thoughts.
It was not that he did not value others.
But that he did not notice.
“That is why I am relieved.”
Kusla was ostensibly swimming in the torrent of emotions, and yet wading in reality because of Fenesis’ words.
His mind was only filled with confusion.
Why would Fenesis smile like she was relieved? What in his words caused her to feel this way? Or was Fenesis really such a gentle Sister?
But more than that, there was the instinct of an Alchemist whispering at his ear. Was he not notified of something important? Like some magic ingredient he did not know of into the cauldron of metallurgy, turning lead into gold.
And why exactly did Fenesis come here?
She definitely was not here to heal Kusla’s emotional wound.
Or rather, perhaps she came here, seeking death?
“You and I are equal. There is no reason now to hesitate, is there?”
Fenesis grabbed Kusla’s hand.
The retracting hand was stopped.
Kusla, in his attempt to flee, was caught.
Fenesis was the one pursuing him.
“You made a grave misunderstanding.”
“I did not come here because I was cornered, but to corner you.”
Kusla let go of Fenesis’ hand.
She, was was beside him, went from being a kitten seeking warmth to a serpent seeking its prey.
“You will all become our underlings, and you shall betray your master. This is the reason why I arrived.”
“Do you really think that’s possible?”
Kusla placed his hand on the shortsword hilt.
Fenesis tilted her head slightly, and smiled.
“Rather than what you believe, you have already done so.”
What sort of magic would be required for this?
Kusla really could not think of anything. It would be too late to use a Honeytrap tactic, and he was certainly not a fool who would be fooled at whim. Moreover, it would be all the more impossible to use violence.
Poison? Assassination? Or an ally making a hit?
None of them seemed plausible, and Kusla hesitated in his actions.
And so, in that short moment, Fenesis executed that magic clearly.
He let go of his shortsword.
Not because of the magic affecting him, but that he let go of it due to excessive shock, as the hilt in his hand slipped off the sheath.
Fenesis merely sat there.
But even so, he understood everything.
He understood once he saw Fenesis remove her veil.
She came from the Far East, from a cursed tribe, saved by the Knights, and was escorted back cautiously. However, she was placed in a monastery under the Knights’ charge; a laughable story akin to a ragged doll being tossed about.
But this caused everything to come to light.
Kusla was certainly driven to despair.
What Fenesis was hiding under the veil,
Was the appearance of the Devil recorded in the Holy Manuscripts.
The most despised sin amongst the 7 Great Sins.
“If I were to call someone in here, you will be deemed a great sinner for being on the same bed as me.”
Her snowy white hair was prettier than anything else.
But there was a reason why it was deemed as ugly.
There were many rumored instances of humans mating with beasts.
But there were also possibilities of that.
It seems, from the bloodlines, that such people really existed.
“My ancestors’ sins, or rather, a curse.”
Fenesis said with an emotionless expression as she pinched lightly at her ears.
A being not as a human, but as a beast.
“You have asked me why am I going to such an extent, and now, I can give you a proper answer. The reward for this job is to let me join the ranks of the Choir, in my state, that is.”
That is. She looked really cute as she said that, tilting her head as she smiled.
But at the same time, one felt a sense of fear, for that were a near fanatical obstination in there.
“If I call in people, you have only two options. If you refuse to co-operate, you will be executed here. Either that, or you work with us.”
“…You can’t choose not to call people in?”
Fenesis continued to tilt her head with a smiling face.
“Or you can kill me now and escape…”
If you dare to do so, that is, if those words had been said, the shortsword in Kusla’s hand would have probably flown out.
The reason why she did not do so was because she still remembered being threatened by Wayland. She was not a fanatic who did not care about her life.
Even so, her lips were shuddering slightly.
“Your dream is authentic, and I may be a fool just like you, so I guess it is fine even if my dream is gone. Of course, I have no intention dying.”
She certainly was looking troubled, and there were signs of it on her smiling face.
What should I do? She was completely hapless in this aspect.
“Even if I fail here, if I am to have the same treatment, at least I…”
The smile was slowly fading from Fenesis’ face.
Her face then showed no signs of emotions, and she probably felt the same as when Kusla grabbed her hand.
She then spoke softly,
“At least, I can die in the hands of the hands who welcomed me with open arms.”
That was when they were refining zinc.
At that time, Fenesis was really at a loss of what to do.
And then, she grabbed his hand delightedly.
Sometimes, people could handle several cruel instances calmly if they did not know the truth.
At that time, it could not be helped that he did not know.
But at this point, Kusla knew.
He had a lot of information that would allow Fenesis to fulfill her dream. If he were to tell her that there was information of the Choir’s pursuit in Thomas’ Metallurgical records, her dream would be fulfilled.
But at the same time, he would be betraying Post, and many other Alchemists in the process. If he did so, his position as an Alchemist working for the Knights would no longer exist, let alone his existence on this world. If there was, he would simply be affiliated to the Choir, living as a Clergyman of sorts.
Either way, he would have to give up on Magdala, and in that sense, he had died.
Fenesis’ words were without pretense; Kusla was certainly cornered into despair.
Her existence was a sin itself, an impure existence that would cause those related to her to be deemed as Heretics, those who turned their backs on God.
It was not simply an empty term ‘cursed’. Those that had interacted with her, talked with her, lived with her, would all be prosecuted by the Church without hesitation, and this was probably the same in the Far East.
Anyone who had seen her identity would only be killed, and others who had seen her could only kill her. They could only kill her and bury her. That was the only way to save the witness.
An absolute curse.
Alchemists were at most frowned upon by others, but even so, Kusla knew how much pressure it was for an Alchemist to live on this world. If he had not joined the Knights, he would not be able to live on; this would be the same for Fenesis.
If she were persecuted by the Knights, she would be hapless.
Fenesis was the one pushing Kusla to the brink of despair, and the blanket resting on her shoulder soon slipped off, and weakly landed on the floor. Once she took off her veil, her unkempt long hair was scattered massively on the floor. Her slender shoulders matched her body, and she resembled a melting block of clay.
At this point, she looked unstable, ready to melt away and vanish without a trace.
The green eyes showed no signs of despair, for she had the pessimistic view that no matter what happened, there was nothing worse than this.
In contrast however, those eyes were looking forlorn, hapless.
She stared at Kusla.
Her eyes were ostensibly asking, What do I do?
Are you willing to die for me, or are you going to kill me? This was what those lethargic eyes of hers were saying.
Kusla tightened his grip on the shortsword hilt, and Fenesis sensed those movements.
Her beast ears were twitching anxiously, like a real cat.
There was no one not fearful of death, let alone the descendant of a cursed tribe.
But once the tip of Kusla’s shortsword was pointed at the throat, Fenesis’ lips showed a forced smile despite them still trembling.
Did not swing the shortsword down.
“So it’s either you die or I die, right?”
Kusla stared at the blade of the self-made shortsword he was proud of, and blew aside the dust resting on it.
“None of them look like a decent option. You really are a cursed existence.”
“Humans will die one day, so that’s why we should help each other towards the Land of Magdala with all our strengths, right?”
At least that is what I think, Kusla kept his shortsword as he said.
“That’s what I came here to do.”
Kusla looked disinterested as he averted his eyes and kept his shortsword, while Fenesis stared at him blankly.
Even if you say so, what can you do here?
What exactly do you want to do?
An Alchemist had said this before, that it was impossible to turn lead into gold.
So what can you do at this point?
“Let me confirm something first.”
“You’re doing this for the first time, right?”
Fenesis first showed an expression of incomprehension, and then nodded tentatively.
“I guess so. You didn’t look well-versed in this, it was too forced.”
She continued to give a dumbfounded look as she stared at the wry-looking Kusla.
She looked as if she just woke up in the morning, dazed looking.
“Speaking of which, how can you possibly have done such a thing after you broke down in tears when your chest got groped?”
Once she was teased, Fenesis finally showed a trace of emotion on her face.
She tugged hard at the veil in her hand, and bit her lips hard.
“Then I guess there is value in listening to me.”
“What are you saying?”
“The Choir is a shady group, just as you knew.”
Kusla quickly turned around, and squatted in front of Fenesis.
The latter cringed her shoulders in fear, and curled up.
Her eyes were filled with fear, and emotions.
This kitten did not want to die off so plainly, and was prepared to die just so she could live.
“In other words, there’s not only the options of me dying or me killing you.”
“There’s a high chance of you being killed by the Choir.”
Kusla lifted his head, and looked towards the door.
The layout of this workshop was carefully planned, as one would expect of the highly skilled Alchemist Thomas.
No matter who attacked here, they would have to come from the door, through the widest path.
“This is the usual way of dealing with heretics.”
“Right. The ones most suited for determining heretics are heretics themselves. Do you know why?”
She immediately pondered instinctively.
She really was an honest child.
Kusla chuckled, his nose ostensibly itching.
“Those who are heretics will understand the methods heretics use very well. But the biggest reason is that these heretics, in an attempt to prove that they are no longer heretics, will work harder than anyone else.”
Fenesis’ body froze, ostensibly unable to breathe.
Kusla twisted some of Fenesis’ white hair, and let it down again.
Normally, nobody, upon picking up this silk-like hair, would think that it was part of the body.
“If they had compassion upon seeing the enemy, they’ll be treated as the enemy’s comrades. If the enemy escapes, they’ll be suspected of letting them escape, and chase them till the ends of the world. If they refuse the order, they would be deemed as traitors, even if they were pretending to be heretics in a heretical organization.”
Fenesis continued to stare at Kusla without blinking as the latter continued.
Kusla did not look at her.
But he placed the blanket that had slipped off Fenesis back onto the shoulder.
“And in the end, they’ll send the hunting dogs into the old nests of the heretics, take the initiative to capture them all, and get their comrades recognition, making them think ‘I’m no longer a heretic, right?'”
Kusla smirked, and finally met Fenesis in the eyes.
The latter had such beautiful eyes.
“However, what will strike them from the back will be the fangs of the hunting dogs they thought are their allies. Why? How can that happen? When they’re about to die, one of the hunting dogs will say, ‘Right, now all the heretics are dealt with, all, of, them.'”—
This was the truth.
A cloth dyed black would never be turned white again.
Fenesis merely grabbed Kusla’s hand as the latter was about to reach for the blanket on her chest, and cover it over her.
“It really happens. I know you don’t really want to believe it either.”
The way Kusla responded and grabbed her hands was such that they seemed to be in a dance, their palms meeting each other.
“There’s nothing decent in the world. I guess you’re told what signal you’re supposed to release, right?
There’ll be people coming in from the empty house opposite, you’ll be stabbed through along with me, they’ll slowly move our dead bodies together to look like we’re doing intercourse, and use that as solid proof.”
It was unknown if it was this vulgar usage of terms that caused her to frown, or if it was something else.
But she turned her face aside, and wanted to move her hands away from Kusla.
“I’m saying this is just a possibility.”
“You’re just searching for your own Magdala, or rather, I’m searching for mine.”
“But you didn’t kill me.”
“Of course. There’s still a third option, so why must I kill?”
Fenesis gave up on letting go of the hand, and held onto his hand tightly.
She tentatively leaned her body over, ostensibly trying to hide her pretty face from below.
There was nothing for her to stake her courage on.
A reason to run away, for she had something to protect.
“I guess your Magdala might be in the same place as mine.”
“Come to my side.”
The reason why Kusla grinned was that, had he had not invited her in such a callous manner, he would have felt embarrassed.
“Come to this side, or will it be better for you to stay with the sinister Choir?”
“And we can go look for my Magdala together.”
Kusla let go of the hand, and proceeded to embrace her.
Her petite, slender body felt ready to snap if he had exerted just a little strength.
“I said before that I don’t hate a troubled Maiden, didn’t I?”
Fenesis, upon hearing Kusla’s whisper, squirmed while ostensibly trying to break away from his arms as she looked up at him.
Her face looked as if she was ready to cry anytime, utterly filled with confusion.
“It’s fine even if you think I’m lying to you, but I didn’t kill you, and also…”
He said as he brought his nose to her neck, sniffing at it without much concern.
It was a sweet scent, numbing a nose that had been used to sulfur and ash.
“It seems I do truly love someone, and you’re the one who taught me that. Take responsibility for that.”
After a kiss on the collarbone, her body jumped up.
She was a little girl who would get furious after a little teasing, and that nobody would get bored of.
“And also, my name is Kusla, so once I decide on something, I won’t take it back.”
A thoroughly blushing Fenesis finally used both hands to push at Kusla’s face and seperate them.
This would probably happen if he was hugging a real cat. He found this really amusing.
“You are…the worst!”
“I’m already used to hearing that from you. At least it’s better than hearing it from Wayland though.”
Fenesis gave a confused expression, a mix of whether to be surprised or furious as she adjusted her clothing.
The reproaching look on her face did not seem to be merely targeted at Kusla’s prank only.
“If what you said is true…”
“Everything I said is true.”
“But even if it is, what do you intend to do? Maybe I did come here seeking death, but even you cannot possibly escape unscathed.”
“I can just run away.”
But Fenesis, who had nowhere to go, spoke with her voice cracking,
“That’s why I’m asking you to come to our side, no?”
After giving a startled expression, she groaned,
“I will be killed.”
Do you even have to say this? Her expression was practically screaming that.
Kusla was slightly taken aback by that serious expression, and reached his hand over, ostensibly wanting to comfort her.
“Calm down. What benefits will Post have if he kills you? Though you’re a curse-like existence, but curses are only scattered around by those who use them. The Choir’s the ones who sent you, so once you escape to the Baggage Corps, they’ll have to ignore you. If they start a commotion, they’ll be deemed as heretics, and the Baggage Corps have a reason to keep you alive. You are a card that can be used to hold off the Choir, and they’ll definitely protect you with all they have. That old man’s in his own territory, and he doesn’t care about any belief or anything as long as he’s not being intruded on. He’ll definitely…”
“That’s why I’ll be killed.”
Kusla had no idea as to why Fenesis was so furious.
What was so terrifying?
Kusla tried his best to deny this thought. He could firmly believe it, rather than feel a mere terror from it.
Once he noticed something, there was a shudder in his heart.
“You know something I don’t, do you?”
He stared at Fenesis, and the latter stopped her movements.
And then, she groaned softly and slowly, ostensibly facing an unpredictable wild beast,
“You probably…do not know anything.”
“There’s the possibility of you being fooled. Don’t be angry now. Tell me why Post wants to kill you.”
Fenesis, who was like a dead person obsessed with living just a while ago, reverted back to being that easily teased girl.
The only thing different however was that her eyes were half-opened as she stared at Kusla, looking a little shy.
“Post is the mastermind behind all this.”
“He was the one who ordered Mr Thomas Blanket’s death.”
That Post, who was unfazed by other religions, who managed the town substantively, who insisted on protecting the Alchemists for the sake of the Knights,
Post was the one who killed Thomas?
A denial appeared in Kusla’s heart.
There was no reason for him to kill Thomas, for the latter and the other Alchemists were the most important existences to them. They, if measured in monetary values, It would be a staggering fortune.
“Let me confirm something.”
“What is it?”
Kusla stared at Fenesis’ eyes, and as expected, her eyes were still narrowed.
He felt that was similar to looking at a cat directly in the eyes.
But she did not turn her head around.
This would be the crucial moment to see what was boiling in the cauldron of alchemy.
“Why exactly did you come here?”
In the face of this question regarding the beginning, Fenesis was at a loss of words, before saying,
“To spy on Alan Post. He may have been adding to his wealth using his position through improper means.”
“Mr Thomas Blanket may have left that information, and a few days before he was killed by Post, had confessed to the people from the Choir in the town. He wanted to attain God’s forgiveness for his metallurgical process.”
He wanted to have God’s forgiveness.
This line caused Kusla to gasp.
“In other words, Post had indecent objectives in using the Alchemists, and Thomas the accomplice was guilt-stricken by this?”
“Or maybe Mr Thomas discovered some misconduct, and before he was dragged to the stake, he wanted…”
But Post realized this beforehand, and Thomas was eliminated first.
It made sense somewhat.
But in that case, there was a problem.
“Then why did they take such a drastic measure? Why did they chase you out?”
Fenesis was requested to investigate Post, but that alone was not enough to justify her behavior. It was a case of overreacting, using her just to achieve this aim.
But Fenesis looked dejected.
The expression was akin to that of an inquisitor.
Just confess already. Or you are going to Hell. That expression was basically crying this.
“For you have given the information Thomas left behind to Post. No, it was pointless even if you had hidden it. My curse is very effective.”
Kusla looked up at the ears.
He recalled what happened in the morning, where she was sitting in the courtyard back then.
A human’s ears could not hear, but what about beast-shaped ears?
He looked as if he had dug his own grave, once he realized that when he was confessing his true thoughts after getting drunk, Fenesis was with him.
“Even if I complete this job, there is a possibility that I will be killed…I guess. But even if I escape to Post, I will be killed there. I do not think they will leave me alive just to hold them off.”
They would kill Fenesis, and then use her to extort goods the Choir; Kusla’s group would naturally be killed too, for they knew about this.
Logically, this was very plausible.
“So…therefore…if we can live on…”
Kusla used his hand to stop Fenesis from muttering to herself any further.
What she said was valid.
But Post’s words could be extremely valid as well.
“Unfortunately, our side’s explanation is valid too.”
“You’re an advanced scout used to track the Alchemists, and Thomas’ metallurgical records can be used for this.”
In that case, I can understand very well why you’re forced to use such drastic measures. To them, you just just a simple tool to purge us Alchemists, to curse us and bring us to the stake.”
The reason why Fenesis did not speak up was simply because she did not manage to keep up.
But there was no time to explain to her.
Both sides had different reasonings, but they were both valid.
It was not out of mere coincidence that this could happen.
Then, there had to be a lie hidden in this, an ingenious one at that.
Which side was it?
Both the Alchemists and Fenesis were existences that could not live once they leave the Knights’ protection.
If they want to continue living on peacefully, they would have to seek protection.
And at this moment, once they choose the wrong side, someone would die, or worse, both sides would.
Whether to choose the Choir, or the Baggage Corps.
What exactly did Thomas know? What sort of information did he leave behind?
What did this line mean exactly?
“Either way, it’s too dangerous for one person to decide.”
“Let’s go down. No matter whether we have hope or not, let’s at least endure through this together.”
Kusla held Fenesis by the held and stood up.
But no matter how he tugged at her, she just would not move, and she even instinctively withdrew her hand from Kusla.
“What is it?”
She placed her hands in front of her chest, ostensibly instinctively protecting them, as they had been held earlier. She was staring at Kusla timidly, but could not continue.
“If you aren’t going to follow me, I’ll really find it a pity.”
Fenesis again stood at the crossroads.
But as he continued to pull her while she remained seated, he thought,
Is there anyone else on this world more worthy of being protected?
This girl bore an absolute cursed fate, and though the beast ears looked that intriguing, but after seeing the strange symbols on the constellations, he found those ears a little cute.
And more importantly, he firmly believed that if there was a sword of Orichalcum along with her, there would be nothing more perfect than that.
Kusla reached his hand out, but the latter winced as she looked down.
He stopped his hand that was reached out, and sighed.
The instant he was about to say this, Fenesis raised her veil, and said,
“P-Please do not touch me.”
Such a noble Princess.
Kusla nearly bared his teeth as he laughed, but she was rather serious.
She fidgeted about as she put on her veil, and stood up.
“Let’s hurry. Your superiors must’ve been waiting for quite a while.”
Fenesis nodded, and followed Kusla out of the room. Just when she was about to head downstairs however, she stopped.
“What is it?”
“We may die because of that delay though.”
Kusla said, but Fenesis was already running off.
This was not a joke; it someone were to lie, it would mean they had to move quickly.
And Post certainly would have known that Fenesis was at the workshop in the middle of the night.
In that case, there would truly be no time to hesitate.
Once they get killed by an incoming group, they would not have a chance to think of anything.
With an anxious heart, he returned to the bedroom.
He saw Fenesis holding her luggage in her left hand, and something strange on her right.
“I’ll buy as many as you need of that when you want next time. Just hurry.”
Fenesis lowered her head with an angry look on her face, and scampered behind with her head tucked in.
She was holding a silver Holy Mother statuette.
And she muttered something.
Kusla asked as they hurried down the stairs, and Fenesis was momentarily at a loss of words, before she suddenly changed her tone and said,
“This is the first time I received something from someone else.”
Kusla inadvertently stopped in his tracks and started at Fenesis in surprise. She was biting her lips and looking aside, probably shy or something.
I guess she’s doing this on purpose. He wondered.
He did not feel at ease upon knowing that she treasured something he randomly picked for her carelessly.
“Actually, this really isn’t for you.”
Kusla swiped the statuette from Fenesis’ hands, and then proceeded to play with it in his hands.
“I actually intended to use it as extra money afterwards.”
If one were to think about it, this was also a misconduct of hoarding money.
If what the Choir said was correct, perhaps this was a more severe sin. Kusla grimaced as his lips curled upwards, while Fenesis snatched the statuette from his hands.
“There will be Divine Retribution if you put the Mother into the fire!”
And then, she started rubbing the Mother statuette with her robes.
Kusla states at her blankly, and it was not because that silver would remain this dull no matter how she rubbed.
But because of something basic.
Will putting the Holy Mother statuette into the fire really warrant Divine Punishment?
Kuala widened his eyes, and again snatched the statuette away from her arms. He ignored her protests behind him as he hurried down the stairs.
He arrived at the second basement, and Wayland, who was awakened by the footsteps, was showing a displeased look after being suddenly hit with a fire iron.
“What have you been doing since just now—”
Kusla tossed the Mother statuette.
Wayland caught it perfectly in the darkness, and stared at it perplexedly.
“What is this. This is…pure silver? It…doesn’t look like it. That’s weird…”
The statuette bobbled side to side in Wayland’s hands.
Kusla had firm belief that Wayland’s senses were as sharp as a wild beast.
“What exactly is this?”
Wayland asked back thoughtlessly, and once he threw the Mother statuette back, Fenesis came by late, and crashed into Kusla from behind.
Just as he was about to tease her for paying so much attention to the statuette, she said with large gasps,
“There are…people up there!”
What followed was the sound of the door being broken down.
Wayland immediately raised his leg, reached his arm out to grab something, and sprinted like an escaping hare. This was probably something made of pure gold, which Thomas had left behind, and as he was used to being attacked, his first instinct would be to take all the valuable items with him.
Kusla too wanted to follow suit, but there was something more important than money.
“H-Hurry and run away. I can—”
He grabbed her, cradled her in his arms while she showed a crying expression, and tucked her under his armpit.
During this time, he grabbed Thomas’ metallurgical records and the Mother statuette scattered on the table.
“It’s useless to run away!”
Angry growls could be heard from above.
“Th-That is right. It is all the same for me no matter where I run to.”
She said as she was tucked within his arm, but this was not an expression of weakness.
For she had been attacked so many times, and her parents and tribesmen were all killed.
“The Holy Mother knows it all.”
Kusla deliberately said this optimistically to calm her down.
But if looked together with that Mother statuette and Thomas’ records, there seemed to be a vile presence to him.
Alchemists would give up everything for Magdala.
And those who dared to sully it were not to be forgiven.
“Like turning lead into gold.”
“I’m turning gold into lead this time.”
Kusla murmured, ostensibly cursing as he chased up to Wayland. The latter was carrying the equipment regulating the waterwheel, and opened the dam that was obstructing the water flow.
Wayland said these words before disappearing.
Kusla walked out of the house, breathing white air, and stared at Fenesis in his hands.
“You look like a cat. Are you okay with touching water?”
And Kusla did not hear her reply as he leapt into the water current flowing down the cliff.
There was something called a watershed.
With that place as the target, all blacks and white were everchanging.
The current of time was icy, cruel, more so than a water current.
Once one proceeded forward, there was no turning back, and no stopping.
Countless people would be driven by it, and even those that managed to ‘swim’ during their time in the current would ultimately die of weariness.
There were only a handful that could remain steadfast, tireless without sinking, and make their way to the golden ocean.
The Alchemists called that ocean Magdala.
That was the only unchanging goal amidst the countless parting decisions they made one after another.
There was only silence in that scene.
And the icy sound of water dripping.
What met this line that was finally eked out from the throat, was the sound of a collapse.
It was the sound of Kusla, who just got up from the water, collapsing. Post’s bulging belly was preventing him from standing up.
“You’re still alive…SOMEONE! HEY!”
Post called out to the other side of the door with a louder voice.
Naturally, the reason why there was still someone waiting in the office was because there was news of the commotion in the workshop.
He knew the people from the Choir would have attacked the workshop, and sent people for lookout.
“But you really managed to make it all the way here, huh…the report states that it seems the Choir’s assassination squad attacked you.”
The subordinates, who had hurried down from the corridor was taken aback upon seeing Kusla.
The latter was clutching at his chest, looking over with a wincing expression.
He jumped into the canal, in the midst of the frigid cold, where even the breath would turn white, ducked through a few impellers of the water wheels, escaped from his pursuers, and arrived at this place.
“Hurry up and get something to wipe the body. And get some hot wine too.”
The subordinates hurriedly nod in response to Post’s growl, and darted to the corridor.
Kusla continued to clutch his chest as he used his other hand to stand up.
“…What about the other two?”
Kusla shook his head.
Upon seeing this, Post frowned and shook his head.
“Damn it. How can this happen!?”
He slammed his fist on his desk. Kusla leaned his back in the wall, and faced Post whilst breathing out white smoke.
“Yeah. They couldn’t fight against the forces head on, and spent a large amount of money raising these despicable stealthy cads. We’ve been had by them, damn it!”
Post hollered for a little while, only to suddenly calm down, rub his eyes, and mutter.
“But if they’re captured…this will be bad.”
The Choir was aiming for Thomas’ metallurgical records, and had planned to swoop the Alchemists from the Knights as well.
It would be very troublesome if both Fenesis and Wayland were caught.
“And they even set fire to the workshop. Unbelievable!”
Kusla widened his eyes in surprise. The workshop Thomas left behind was burned…a workshop an Alchemist had staked his life on when he built it was burned into ashes.
He shuddered, not because of the cold, but in fury.
“They couldn’t find the evidence, and just burned it all to destroy it.”
His body was shuddering, either due to the cold, or due to his anger, and barely gritted his teeth as he said,
“But we have an ace on our side.”
“What is it?”
Post stared at Kusla.
Kusla too stared back through his dripping bangs.
“The contents of the parchment,”
“…The parchment. As in that one?”
“Yes. Regarding the one I handed to you, Your Excellency…the one we tried to recover on our side.”
Post widened his mouth, and then rolled over the table.
His large hand was grabbing Kusla’s shoulder, and he lifted the latter.
“Is what you said true?”
“What is written inside? Is it something that can resist the Choir?”
He was ostensibly about to choke Kusla.
“TELL ME WHAT’S WRITTEN ON IT!”
Kusla thought about how Thomas’ workshop was turned to dust, and the regret caused him to nearly break down in tears.
“I hope for God’s Forgiveness. Someone is aiming to take my life. They’re forcing me to confess some false crimes the Baggage Corps has done…”
“I beg God to forgive them, forgive them for their hideous sins.”
Upon hearing Kusla’s words, Post turned around, and staggered backwards.
“This is what Mr Thomas left behind with all his might…he probably was being spied up before he was killed, and resisted the pressure, only to be killed in the end…Your Excellency, it is really God’s protection that I sent you this parchment. Mr Thomas’ journey to Magdala was…”
Post stumbled backwards, took a deep breath, and stretched his back. He rushed to the wall in an unexpectedly agile motion for a man of his size.
He then opened a cabinet, and said,
“Who knows about this?”
“Me…and Wayland, if he’s still alive.”
“Is that so?”
Post answered briefly.
“Your Excellency, we can still make it in time however. Let’s use that parchment to reveal the truth…”
“What a pity.”
“It is very unfortunate, but Thomas was an exceptional man.”
Post grabbed something that let out a metallic sound, and turned around.
“That parchment is no longer on this world.”
“—That’s what I thought.”
He stabbed a fire iron into Post’s hand as the latter turned around, and pressed the latter into the cabinet with excessive force.
“The next one will hurt.”
Kusla said, took out a tool hidden in his chest pocket, and slammed it on Post’s leg. It was a sharp metal rod, attached with a long nail that was as thick as an adult’s finger.
“Yes. It hurts so much that you can’t cry out now. However,”
Kusla then took out a hammer and smashed it into the toes of the other leg.
Post was unable to support his body, and tumbled onto the floor, his pierced arm being the only thing raised awkwardly.
“I’m furious to the point of tears!”
He threw the hammer aside, and took out the shortsword at his waist.
Some people had arrived on the corridor, and Kusla glanced at them.
These people had came all the way to this town in their mission to hunt Post down. They should have been used to bloodshed, but upon seeing such a scene, gasped. One could even seen them falter.
Perhaps his expression at that point was really that terrifying.
Kusla ignore them, and turned back to Post.
“The content on Thomas’s parchment was a lie. I don’t know what he wrote.”
“But I can guess what it is. From that silver Mother statuette and the ‘God’s Forgiveness’ line.”
Kusla blew on the blade that was colder than the frigid night, and narrowed his eyes ait it. The blurred surface quickly cleaned up; it was a fine metal, but ways to go from Orichalcum.
“You put iron in the silver Mother statuette to make up for numbers, and hoard the wealth. But you ordered them back from the market because Thomas deduced something was amiss.”
Post was sweating as he panted hard, staring at Kusla, and had no intention of answering back.
Kusla looked on coldly, thinking that it did not matter.
This man had crossed countless battlefields as a member of the Knights, and finally made it to this position. It was hard to imagine he would personally speak up.
“When refining metal, we use lead to remove the impurities, but sometimes, we’ll see what mineral there is, and use silver in certain situations.”
Did that Thomas want to put the Mother statuettes in the fire? The silver goods were practically filled with impurities, and at this point, if the Knights had claimed it was pure silver when they sold it, they could save the hassle of refining.
But would this enrage God?
As a precaution, Thomas mentioned this to a member of the Choir, but unfortunately, Thomas learned about it. The Choir’s men were secretly investigating Post, but Thomas did not know Post was using the Mother statuettes to build his wealth, and let down his guard.
In the end, he was assassinated.
He fell into a trap and was killed, just because he did not know something. This was the path Alchemists walked.
But even though they knew there was this path, they had to continue on to their goal, Magdala.
“I don’t know what reasons you have for gaining such personal benefit.”
Kusla whispered and shrugged.
“Everyone has his own Magdala, so I don’t want to ask about why you hoarded so much money. I do find it impressive that you had the sense to push the Magdala others have into the pit without hesitation. Even if it had been smooth sailing, I do find you really impressive after making it till this far, as a man seeking Magdala, that is.”
Post’s beady eyes spotted the movement of the sword being held in a reverse grip.
“So I won’t tell you to die or something.”
May Your Soul Rest in Magdala.
Kusla swung the shortsword down.