The candlelight flickered as he opened his eyes.
An icy wind agitated his eyeballs in the midst of this chilly night.
The pattering of footsteps on stairs from afar could be heard. It was most likely time for the guards to change shifts.
“How’s the inside?”
A voice could vaguely be heard through the gaps of the iron bar door.
The sound of chainmail rattling could also be heard.
He sensed stares from the other side of the door, all looking his way together in the secretive exchange.
They lacked the courage to look through the gaps of the iron bars directly.
“Is he asleep?”
“Who knows?…But I heard that he can’t sleep…”
“I think his name is Kusla (Interest).”
“Kusla…such a vile name. I think two of my good friends were ruined by debt.”
The guards of a prison were meant to bring terror to its convicts.
In the sense of being restrained behind iron bars, however, a convict was no different from the guards. Nothing but whichever side of the bars they were kept behind could distinguish between them.
“What crime has he committed?”
“I think…it was blasphemy against God. Yes, that. He stole a saint’s bones and consumed them or something…”
And now I’m being treated as a monster, Kusla noted wryly. The thought invited his devious streak.
Kusla called out from within his cell.
Inside, it was reminiscent of grassland – filled with autumn insects chirping as they flew about the containment’s shadowy corners.
This vibrant life all around Kusla came to a halt the moment he spoke.
To Kusla, the only thing that didn’t seem to stop were the gusts of frost, mercilessly expanding the weather’s icy touch.
He wanted to stand, but his cold and exhausted body was tremendously stiff. This man, Kusla(Interest), was feared by all; though he was really no different from anyone else. His height was slightly above-average, but his physique was unremarkable. He considered himself to have a fearless complexion, but he had never been called a handsome man.
In a crowd, it was very likely that no one would recognize him. He was once knocked down by a carriage, and his broken wrist never repaired itself properly due to negligence, granting him a singly distinct feature.
Given his very pedestrian composition, the past two weeks of prison life would naturally cause Kusla’s body to weaken. Kusla felt the pain on his joints and a slight dizziness as he endeavored to stand.
The guards on the other side of the cell door were unaware this, however.
Kusla dragged the frozen-cold shackle and ball fettered at his ankles as he staggered toward the prison door, bringing his face to its iron bars.
The light brought pain to his eyes, causing him to narrow them slightly, but this evidently made his expression heinous. The two guards on the other side of the bars stood in place without replying, like hares would crossing paths with a hunter.
“Relax, this won’t be bad for you.”
Kusla tried smiling, but quickly discarded the thought as he realized it could only frighten them in the current situation.
“I just have something I want to ask of you…”
The requests made by people in prison were mostly the same, whether it was a request for warmth, a request for food, a permit to write letters, or a plea for sooner death.
The two guards fell back in surprise, even though they were very accustomed to hearing this appeal from prisoners.
They looked at one another, and the eldest spoke.
“Wha-what kind of request?”
“Hmn. It’s very simple.”
Kusla answered as he pointed through a gap in the bars.
“Could you use that key to open this door?”
Badum. A sound seemingly rang out as the two guards’ jaws dropped.
It was already past midnight. This was the devil’s time – a time in which all members of priesthood were fast asleep.
The guards, hastily recovering themselves from alarm, recoiled and raised their spears.
“Y-you fool! It’s impossible for us to do that!”
“Of course, you wouldn’t be doing this without repayment.”
The guards had to endure the cold of the night just as the prisoners in order to keep sentry; theirs was a tasking duty. Still, people had good reason to flock for a guard’s open post, as it was not only the pay that brought them in, but also the hope of receiving bribes.
Eying each other for an answer, the two guards unwittingly revealed that they were both overwhelmed with tension.
It was true, though, that two people together could summon greater courage than they might separately.
This time, the youngest spoke.
“Yo-you’ve already been granted the death penalty by The Church, and you’re no different from a dead man now. So…why should we agree to your deal? If it’s a plead you have, we can listen. Know your place here!”
“Fine, just open this door as usual and strip everything from me.”
If the guards could.
It wasn’t uncommon to see people incarcerated for stealing bread – their standing ripped away from them, abandoned in the harsh cold to die. This was a prison, a dreaded place.
Despite the immense dread and fear associated with prisons and their captives, though, it was those captives taken to prisons not at all visible to the public who were most terrifying.
Prisons were often built in the shape of a spire, in a place far away from people, yet at the one place they could be spotted most clearly by denizens of the captor’s civilization: from the arching bridge made over a river passing through the city’s center.
The two men were speechless. If they were fooled by the cunning of a prisoner, their pride as guards would be at
“Ev-everything from a man convicted by The Church belongs to The Church, whether it’s clothes, inheritance or life…that’s why we can’t take them.”
They did not dare to enter such a terrifying cell, but they still had to protect their dignity as guards.
This reason that they vouched for not opening the door was reasonable enough.
Yet Kusla merely shrugged as he rummaged through the inside of his shirt, artfully neglecting their excuses as he said, “Hey, didn’t I say that I won’t let you do this for nothing? Let me show you something good.”
“Right. Haven’t you encountered one or two things that infuriate you at work?”
Appearing drunk, the guards struggled to understand their detainee’s words. In their affected state they could see two shadows dance before them as they frowned into the prison cell.
“Consider your superiors and colleagues.”
“Yes, your superiors. Those incompetent braggarts can flaunt with heads held high because of their well-to-do families. In this city, there are those in the Luts family, the Barrows family, and the Judith family – all of them, high and mighty with their large swords hilted to the side as they gallop around on their horses in a showy display, drinking their ales while seated at the fireplace, and resting on none other than lambskin bed! In the day, they’ll casually come around and take away what little money you managed earning from the convicts the night prior, and your only right is indignation. In this light, I don’t know who the prisoners really are.”
The duo traded glances once more.
This time, however, they also gulped in unison.
“…What’s this…good thing?”
Kusla grinned. His devious smile tempted the pair of guards further.
“This little thing.”
Kusla unveiled a small bottle from his palm, shaking it from behind the iron bars.
The guards’ eyes pursued it like a kitten to yarn.
“Just slip a small amount of its contents into the food of the one you hate.”
Instantly, their faces grew full of discomfort.
Neither of the guards looked at the other directly, but their eyes diverted instead.
“Hey, don’t tell me this is…”
Kusla felt he could hear their true thoughts in the guard’s tone.
There were very few people given the ominous title of ‘Interest’, the death penalty by The Church, and left to
suffer in a prison cell. To Kusla, there was ample reason to await seeing the guards embrace darkness.
Both of them stepped forward in unison.
“What, exactly, is… inside?”
“It is refined from the finest Realgar. In the past, a fellow who used to work with me licked it out of his
“Lick– licked it?”
“Yeah. People like us are hopeless idiots. We have to try such things when we have the opportunity – it’s like an addiction. So, that fool who licked it…”
“What happened? To the fool?”
Kusla feigned indifference in his answer.
The guards both cried out in the instant of excited furor over being tricked.
“But the next morning, when I walked into that guy’s room; I found his skin all rotten, his face charred black, his hands shriveled, and he looked like a burnt corpse. It really shocked me. The myths behind the ancient King of Aeolus’ assassination were actually true, and this was the cause.”
Kusla shook the bottle again.
“The good thing about this Arsenic is that a person won’t die upon consuming it. There’s a time interval before it takes effect, which means you won’t be suspected. The corpse will be really ugly – that person will look like he’s been abandoned by God, and people will think that their death was divine retribution. Nobody will actually think that the powder in this little bottle killed them, right?”
Kusla’s smile widened, listening as his potential clients wore serious expressions.
“Can you please open the door if I exchange this powder?”
It was midnight, the sun had long set, and even the servants of God were not around, so there was no one left to keep watch other than the guards. Both of them stared at Kusla, almost haunted by him. In this rotten world, there was no one left who would not want to kill at least one or two of their sworn enemies.
The two guards had beads of cold sweat dripping in the midst of chilled air, their bodies rigid.
However, their eyes exposed that they were trying to forgive each other of their sins.
Kusla chuckled to the clattering of keys on the guard’s waist.
Their lives were a black nightmare. This was enough to tempt action for each of their parts.
Nothing was wrong in what they were doing.
If there were anyone to blame, it would be God for creating an ‘opposite’.
“Ar-are you serious…?”
The man with the chain of keys on his waist spoke with a hoarse voice.
A hand reached for the keys at once, causing him to lose his balance.
Kusla’s grin brimmed to the corners of his mouth as God’s righteous thunder roared.
“What is it you two are doing!?”
If such divine strikes could kill a man, this was at least very much similar.
The guards were startled, tumbling clumsily as they were probably trying to turn and face the voice at attention.
Collapsing onto the floor, they lifted their heads and looked up in the direction of the person speaking, and at that moment felt firmly that they were the real prisoners.
The one who spoke was the warden, holding authority over the prison – a high-ranking knight dressed in glamorous clothing, with a white beard that would show many glistening hairs in the daylight.
“I should have emphasized that you are not to talk with this man. If you talk with him, you will create a severe danger. Those who act outside the law will be deemed as heretics, and will be unable to stand before God!”
The two guards nearly forgot their instincts to breathe as they felt a heavy strain on both body and mind all at once. The aged knight heedlessly approached Kusla’s cell. Behind the old knight Kusla could identify two more figures, themselves young knights following the other’s command. One could learn with a single glance that they were well-trained; a skillful unit vastly different from the rattled watchmen.
The band of newcomers wore metal helmets fully encaging their faces. Their armor was probably to resist anything Kusla might try – namely, his rumored ‘magic’.
“You sure came late.” Kusla’s pupils still focused to the light filtering through the bars of his cell door.
“The verdict’s out.”
“A burning at the stake?”
The warden jeered in reply, “Don’t tell me you’re starting to worry about your life now of all times?”
Kusla shrugged, taking a few steps back from the door.
One of the knights forcefully snatched the keys from a collapsed guard, each one rattling on the ring.
“Come out, Kusla.”
The cell door opened in a low moan.
“The Restless Alchemist.”