[Magdala V2] Act 3

The blacksmith named Clock Ings wanted to force a smile, but he obviously failed. It was probably due to the tension he felt after arriving at an Alchemist’s workshop, and typically, he never had to show a fake smile to others.

A blacksmith able to open shop in a port town can be considered one of the famous people in town.

The sleazy, greasy face seemed akin to polished leather, and the flesh on the shoulders were lumped up, the clothes ostensibly ripping apart. The stout, short legs of a man who was used to moving heavy objects over a long time were spread outwards, unable to be as they used to be. These signs seemed to indicate that the man was an outstanding blacksmith.

However, Kusla noticed those eyes. Every single part of his body was sculpted to be a blacksmith, refined intricately, yet those eyes of his were filled with childish immaturity.

After Kusla waved him in, the man still did not calm down, and this exhibited his immaturity. One could determine another person’s nature from his gestures.

“I do apologize for this sudden visit.”

And so, it was not surprising that when he sat at the table, he greeted Kusla, younger than him, and an Alchemist.

However, he was after all a blacksmith of a Crafting Guild, and to maintain the courtesy, Kusla served him wine.

“It is true that I was taken aback.”

Kusla’s tone switched to that of an unfamiliar one, and with his hand, he gestured for the man to drink.

The man merely looked back and forth at the clay mug and Kusla himself with a terrified look, and did not reach out to grab it.

All the items produced here were cursed, and they contained poison.

One had to wonder if he really believed such a superstition, but most people who interacted with Alchemists were probably this way. Again, Kusla recognized how defenseless Fenesis was.

“Mr Ings, you are in the metalcraft, I suppose?”

His appearance, coupled with the Crafting Guild being centered around metalworkers, prompted Kusla to ask.

“Eh, yes…I opened a workshop in this town.”

“Oh.”

A reputed blacksmith of the Guild.

This master, Ings, appeared to be a child with his body the only thing grown, and he remained slumped on the chair without a purpose. Kusla could not determine the purpose of his visit.

Kusla proceeded to dip his lips in his own wine, and said,

“Are you alright with coming to this place? As a master, you should pay more attention to your reputation, no?”

Kusla said with some sarcasm, and Ings then gritted his teeth.

However, it seemed he was unable to force a smile.

“I have to strike when the iron is hot.”

Strike when the iron is hot?

Kusla felt surprised, and could not help but look at Ings.

“I suppose it is really an unusual thing.”

A reputed citizen would wrap a towel around his head and avoid all human stares to come to this alchemist workshop.

The only thing Kusla could think of was that the man was begging for poison.

Before he arrived at this port town, he was locked in jail, and he teased the jailers with what appeared to be poison. There was an inseparable bond between Alchemists and poison.

And as long as it concerned rank, prestige and money, there would be a circulation of poison.

However if he was to do this, would the man get any benefit that would be worth the risk of poisoning someone?

Kusla immediately thought of the Stibnite, but Ings’ rough face showed a contorted smile as he said,

“I do feel this will benefit both of us.”

“…Benefit?”

Poison was undoubtedly used for assassination, but Kusla could not think of any possible benefits they might share. But even so, Ings merely nodded slightly. Whenever he nodded, the flesh on his chin would bulge, and he would resemble a toad.

“What is the thing that will benefit both of us? A new method of refining?”

The reason why Alchemists were Alchemists was because they could calmly execute the experiments the cautious, face-saving blacksmiths. In certain rare circumstances, some blacksmiths would want to try out such methods, but were after of being watched, so they could ask the Alchemists for help.

Kusla assumed that it would be such a thing, but Ings pretentiously shook his head abruptly.

Even his smile was brighter than before.

It seemed he was excited to be negotiating with an Alchemist.

Kusla noticed Ings’ childish expression; no matter how much Ings did refine his skills, he never left this town before, never spoke with anyone other than his acquaintances, and never saw the world.

“Well…you can put it this way.”

That expression of his appeared to be letting out a little snicker.

Kusla nearly showed a displeased look, but in the next instance, his face froze because of what Ing said.

“Do you know about the Azami’s Crest?”

Kusla stared at Ings as the latter hushed his voice.

He folded his legs again as he remained seated on the chair.

This probably was not something private.

“Yes. It sounds like they will be passing by this town.”

“We wish to be part of the first migrants.”

Kusla thought of the first time he visited this workshop when he came to this town.

Blacksmiths would prepare all kinds of parchments recording metallurgy skills for the Alchemists, awaiting the Alchemists’ arrival. These Guild blacksmiths, under the domain of the Knights, believed that if they were to be on good terms with the Alchemists who were on close terms with the Knights, they too would have a better relationship with the Knights as a result.

For blacksmiths, they preferred a practical benefit to be valued by the Knights, rather than their own honor, and undoubtedly, they did it all for this day.

Kusla recalled that a generation ago, this bustling town of Gulbetty was one of the many port cities under the Pagan’s rule.

In other words, Ings’ master and the others surely were from some countryside, and came to this town with only their tools. They then established a decent Guild, and obtained an important position in this town. What about the next generation though?

Kusla felt a sense of unpleasant camaraderie with the reason why Ings came to this town. If they wanted to establish themselves in a town that had calmed down after the chaos, and order was established, they would have to endure an unreasonably long time. In this place called a town, human relationships were fixed; masters were masters, and apprentices were apprentices.

After a long time of apprenticeship and goofer work, he became a disciple, and after another long 5-10 years of fruitless days, he was recognized as a blacksmiths, and after another few years of honing his craft, he finally had the authority from his master to open a workshop.

If the town was still expanding, this would not be a terrible situation, but if the town had expanded, and a new workshop had to be opened, there were many times when they would have to wait for a certain person to vacate the workshop he opened, and take over.

Even if his luck was fine, that he was deemed by his master to be able to capable of running his own show, the duties in the Guild would typically be occupied by the men more experienced than he was, and they had no intention of leaving these positions behind. Furthermore, their skill levels might not differ much. if he were unlucky, he would have to serve under someone else even though his skills were overwhelming superior, and all he could do was to live every single day, gritting his teeth.

The path to promotion was blocked, and even if they were driven to death, all they could do was to live uneventful lives.

In that case, like the previous generation, he would go to the new world, and become a prominent citizen there.

Kusla could understand their feelings;

Weyland said before that he was confident that he would be recognized by the Knights for his accomplishments in another 20 years. However, 20 years was too long, and such a life was really underwhelming.

Kusla stared at Ings. Though the latter’s eyes were filled with childish innocence, oblivious to the ways of the world, there was some shred of truth.

“Because of this, I want to ask for your strength.”

He paused, and stared right at Kusla’s eyes, saying,

“This is a plea to you, the Restless Alchemist.”

In other words, they had investigated Kusla and Weyland.

Once Ings said this, he showed a self-deprecating smile.

Perhaps he would show such a face too if he wanted to sell his soul to the Devil.

“We have an information on some kind of unique metal. If we can produce such a metal, surely we will be able to use this accomplishment, and be chosen as part of the initial settlers.”

02_165

“Unique metal?”

Kusla asked, “–” and Ings then hoarsely muttered something.

At that moment, Kusla widened his eyes, practically saying this is impossible.

Ings’ self-deprecating smile reached its apex.

“Both of us can benefit from this.”

He stood up, saying,

“If you really wish to discuss this with us, please come to the Wolson Ironwares in the market. Also…please keep it a secret.”

Ings then again wrapped a towel around his head, leaving the workshop.

Kusla remained dumbfounded, unable to stand up.

The moment he recovered, Weyland, who anticipated when Ings would bid farewell, came up to this level.

He, who was still snickering away foolishly, hid his smile once he saw Kusla.

“What happened~?”

Kusla did not answer immediately.

Ings mentioned something that was long lost in the river of time, a metal that was rendered a myth.

“Damascus Steel.”

“Hm?”

“It sounds like they have a clue regarding the construction of Damascus Steel.”

“…”

These unusual words left Weyland speechless, and with his mouth shut, he looked at the window.

Damascus Steel was such an extraordinary thing. If such a metal was used to forge a sword, the sword produced would be deemed a rare, meaningful sword, the value would far surpass any appraisal and practicality, and it would be something highly exalted.

Furthermore, unlike the God’s metal Orichalcum, Damascus Steel truly existed. Kusla did see the real thing before. It had the appearance of wooden grain, as intriguing as bread of a different color that was left to set, truly a spooky steel. It was said that wearing it on the wear alone would allow one to evade arrows, and shoo off the wild beasts in the forests.

For the forces who were hoping to head to the pagan towns that were crushed, this would be the one reward they would yearn most.

“…But is such a rumor really believable?”

It was again something so implausible, perhaps it would be better to go mining in the hills.

Kusla did not answer this extremely serious worry. Weyland scratched his head, and sighed, giving Kusla a forsaken look.

“Well, normally, we’ll think of this as such nonsensical bluff.”

“Not so coincidentally for us, there’s something unbelievable in this workshop, and we never actually thought that it would exist not too long ago.”

Weyland shrugged, and chimed “I guess.”

“Also, the method to produce bronze, so commonplace nowadays, was once lost. There are such coincidences in the world of metallurgy…”

“It’ll be a pity if we give up on it now.”

While they were overwhelmed by Thomas Blanket’s talent and cornered, someone came to them, offering an anecdotal rumor. Kulsa looked at the wine that was left untouched on the table. Perhaps he would believe it if someone told him Ings was a hallucination formed from the darkness.

However, Kusla was an Alchemist, and Alchemists seek the Land of Magdala.

This itself was a myth that surpassed all myths.

Kusla’s lips showed a sneer.

“Let’s do what we can do.”

Weyland shrugged, and sighed, showing a sneer as well.

 

While the epithet ‘Restless Alchemist’ might be a hyperbole, Kusla did occasionally do some things befitting of it.

His nose scented upon a sour stench, and it turned out the candle was exhausted, the wick all burned out.

This was when Kusla realized that it was dawn, and he stretched his back.

Unknowingly to him, Weyland had already fallen asleep on the work desk. It was typical for Weyland to go without sleep for 2, 3 days when it came to burning the furnace and carrying out experiments, but even such a man appeared inept at reading books. Kusla was the opposite; as long as he was buried in the world of books, his body could ignore all instincts and devote itself unflinchingly to reading books.

But even so, it was rather tiring.

After adding wood to the fireplace as the fire was weakened, Kusla pushed the door aside and stood in front of the water wheel. He took a deep breath, inhaling the morning air, and washed his face. At that moment, he felt a sensation of being ‘alive’.

He shook his head about, let his bones creak, and with renewed vigor, entered the workshop again. He and Weyland spent the entire night reading up on books involving metals; some of them were the books left behind by their predecessor Thomas Blanket, and some were shipped into this workshop by Kusla and Weyland.

Damascus Steel was still a mythical thing, but it was an actual material, not something nobody had never saw before. It was the stuff of legends only because the method to create it was lost, and there was an extreme rarity of it

And thus, if one was to read through original records of ancient empire events, and focus the investigations on ancient items, one would find a few records of Damascus steel.

However, they found no clues that would infer the production for it.

The books noted that the people who produced such steel were living in villages situated in deserts, that creating such a steel would require a crucible buried in the sand.

After flipping through some relatively recent information, they found some specific descriptions. The description of the underground Crucible appeared a few times, and there were descriptions that after the Crucible was buried, they would utter a spell of the Sun God the desert inhabitants worshipped, and after pouring some camel blood into the Crucible, they were able to purchase Damascus Steel.

However, if any rich person with the curiosity to purchase something like camels wanted to, this would not be a difficult chore. With regards to worshipping the Sun God, it was probably not too difficult to decipher them, given the Crusade that had lasted more than 2 decades, and that they had accumulated a vast amount of knowledge with regards to the faraway lands.

But even so, they heard no news about Damascus Steel being created successfully. It was likely the methods the books mentioned were merely a hoax.

An experiment could determine it, but Kusla already had much difficulty obtaining Stibnite, let alone a camel.

And furthermore, Kusla was not a novice at this. He could vaguely determine whether the records were reliable.

While pondering as he flipped through the books, he heard a sound coming from upstairs.

Kusla did not feel wary as a result, for he could distinguish the noises of a living thing against the sounds of an intruder.

He scaled the stairs, and arrived at the upper level, finding Fenesis seated on the chair, in front of the messy table, still groggy.

“You woke up really early.”

Kusla greeted, and the fur on her ears pricked immediately, causing her to widen her eyes in shock.

It appeared she had fallen asleep.

“Ah, yes.”

“You went to sleep without having dinnger yesterday, and you’re now hungry after waking up, right?”

“…”

Once Kusla said this, Fenesis appeared to be trying to refute it, but had no strength to do so.

Her face was full of awkwardness, for typically, she would say that a breakfast was too much of a luxury, and would simply drink goat’s milk instead. Kusla shrugged, merely telling her “I’ll prepare good”, took some fire from the furnace downstairs, and entered the kitchen.

“Once you’re done eating, go sleep for a while.”

“But I’m already…”

“Talk after you’re done eating.”

“…”

Fenesis desperately fiddled with an oversized wooden spoon as she nibbled at the wheat gruel cooked in hot goat milk. Looking displeased, she moved her little mouth saying.

“I’m fine even if I don’t sleep.”

She probably was not simply saying this out of stubbornness. When doing refining work, one probably would be unable to sleep after getting the body moving.

But Kusla went straight to the point, saying,

“We’re not doing manual labor today. We’re going to war against sleep.”

“Eh?”

“This is a work that suddenly came to us. Can you read the words?”

This sudden request caused Fenesis to cringe her neck back, and she nodded.

“We’re going to investigate on a certain metal. We’re going to browse through all the books here.”

“…”

The gruel dripped from the wooden spoon, and Fenesis finally managed to recover.

There was a countless number of books in this workshop.

“Oh ho, you don’t want to do this?”

Fenesis immediately pricked her ears, shaking her head.

Her eyes were determined.

Pitiful was Fenesis’ personality to abide by any orders she was given, but in some situations, it might be a handy tool. Kusla thought of how his thought process was exactly the same as the Choir, and was left flabbergasted. However, whenever there was a tool to be used, it should used.

“Well, there are some things you have to learn when it comes to investigations. Also, this is urgent, so I’ll answer every question you have seriously. Pay attention when that comes.”

“…”

Fenesis gave a displeased look, but after a few seconds, she nodded.

Also, this time, her appearance was that of a nun with a sense of conviction.

“But go to sleep now. That is your job now.”

“I’m fine.”

“Then if you’re going to fall asleep during the day, I’m going to stab a finger into you ear.”

“!”

This long forgotten fear caused her face to be contorted, and her ears drooped.

“You’ll feel much better with a nap after lunch. The weather’s fine today, and the allure of falling asleep in the sunlight is rather scary.”

“…I-I’m not a cat!”

“Hm?”

Kusla retorted with a mocking sneer, and Fenesis’ face remained stiff as she continued eating her wheat gruel, but after two mouthfuls, she said, appearing to have given up,

“I think, I should have a nap…after having breakfast…”

“Hm, smart choice.”

“…”

Fenesis let out a gentle sigh, and again put a mouthful of wheat gruel into her mouth. Then, it appeared she noticed something as she spoke up.

“Aren’t you going to sleep?”

“Hm?”

“Last night…you never returned to the bedroom.”

Weyland preferred to sleep in front of a furnace, so there were only two beds in the bedroom.

Kusla however was not as primitive as Weyland, and he preferred to have a nice sleep on the bed.

“And you look tired too.”

She showed a worried look as she said those words.

Kusla certainly would feel a little peeved to accept her worry so obediently. Thus, he stroked his chin, answering,

“After lunch, I’ll go find a nice sunny place to nap at.”

“…”

Fenesis stared blankly at Kusla, and then seemed to have realized something as she averted her eyes.

“Are you thinking it may be better to sleep like that?”

“!!”

Once Fenesis’ thoughts were anticipated, she let out a little blush.

However, Fenesis napping in the afternoon sun would be a scene fitting for a painting.

Kusla thought with some seriousness, but Fenesis immediately said,

“I do whatever you task me to do. Just as before, and will be.”

She straightened her back, her face as solemn as one swearing an oath to God. For an Alchemist, her actions were overly direct, and it was again another obtuse, obstinate declaration.

But in this sense, she did have some delicate charm. Kusla knew that her manner of speak was an imitation of himself.

“Make sure not to go overboard.”

“…”

Fenesis gave Kusla a displeased look.

“I shall look forward to it then.”

Once Kusla said that, Fenesis pretentiously scowled as she finished the rest of her wheat gruel.

 

Surely Irine and the masters were squabbling over the issue of Damascus Steel when Kusla and Fenesis visited the Guild.

The Damascus Steel was enough for those who desired to fulfill many years of unfulfilled wishes, left with nowhere to go, to press on with it. However, Damascus Steel itself was of no fault. It contained an equivalent value to revival, and its actual existence was enough to provide a glimmer of hope.

With a wry smile, Kusla appeared in this actual town that was bustling with life.

If this really was a con, he should given up and and work hard in this town instead.

“So, Wolson’s shop is here?”

Kusla approached an apprentice who was putting metal pots, ladles, pokers and unfinished metal parts at the shop.

He had assumed that the apprentice would be rattled by him, but it appeared that Wolson did notify his apprentice beforehand, for the latter did not panic as he merely nodded, and entered the shop.

The shop was shoddy, with only metal poles standing from the ground, holding out what appeared to be a sturdy piece of cloth that formed the walls and ceiling. However, this certainly was a shop. Wolson opened a shop here for several years, and decades later, the words ‘the metalworker Wolson died here’ would be inscribed here on his tombstone.

But if this shop was participating in the Damascus Steel plot, Wolson would surely be yearning a more glorious life, and not spend his life peacefully.

There were many who desired success, but too few who could obtain it. While Kusla fondled the rim of a metal cup as he pondered, the cloth in the shop parted, and a lanky man with a stubble walked out.

“Ings told me about it. Come in.”

“…”

Surely it was not a good thing for any reputed citizen to greet an Alchemist in his own shop.

But if the people selling metals in the markets were doing this, there would be many plausible explanations.

Ings did not dare ask Kusla into his own workshop, so he could only use this workshop as a disguise.

“Please allow me to introduce myself. I am the metalworker Ander Wolson.”

“Kusla.”

“I heard of you. I heard you fought to protect Mr Blanket’s house of knowledge.”

“…”

Kusla could not determine which words were said out of courtesy, and which words were said in a joking manner, so he ignored Wolson’s words and scanned the shop. It appeared all the produce was put in the shop, and there were a few broken, rusted arrows in the shop. The swords were plain in style, and it was impossible to find such swords in this area.

“I was mesmerized by the intelligence of the Ancients.”

Wolson said, and grinned. Of course, the lanky, stubbled figure resembled a traveller who arrived from a distant Desert Country.

“Were you born there?”

“No, it is a shame to say this, but I never did leave this town before.”

Once Wolson said this, he picked up a piece of cloth placed in a corner of the shop, and with ease and familiarity, wrapped it around his head.

He said he was ashamed, but he did not appear to be. He was born in this town, yet he was so passionate about foreign flairs; perhaps he was ruthlessly mocked by others before, and inadvertently became ashamed as a result.

“It was probably about 10 years ago, when this town was not that grand in scale. The Imperial Army marched North to purge the Pagans, and there were a few desert inhabitants in the Army. Well, they were really standing out, and I was immediately captivated. After that, I kept collecting all kinds of things related to the desert.”

“You want to try holding a staff and carry a haversack around one day?”

“Yes. It is my dream to see the desert moon at night.”

Wolson grinned.

Anyone near him would have thought of him as a weirdo with strange thoughts.

Kusla noticed some items placed in the shop, like a metal snake figurine, a transparent glass bottle filled with yellow sand, an aged parchment with wriggly-like foreign words, and a metal water bottle with a delicate bottleneck, a bottle nobody in this land would use.

Certainly, the emotion called ‘like’ would render anyone helpless.

Kusla looked at Wolson, and gave a sneer.

“I heard you have some clues with regards to Damascus Steel.”

“Hm, but…”

“Yes?”

“I can’t be certain how reckless Ings and the others will be…”

Wolson gave Kusla an apprehensive look.

Kusla had a good impression of Wolson.

For the latter was someone who could stop and look around.

“He merely said that if I have interest, I’m to come to this shop. However, I saw that Ings was arguing with a few other masters. Does the Guild have some secret?”

When faced with Kusla’s question, Wolson appeared to be apprehensive about saying something.

Like a bread that was eaten because there was no strange odor to it, yet this bread might be rotten at this moment.

It was that kind of a face he showed.

“In fact, it is a very simple matter now.”

Wolson said.

“I wanted to know about something regarding the desert country, and no matter what, as long as the object had something to do with the desert, I wanted to obtain it. So, I often visited the central citizens of the town, the initial members of the Crafting Guild, inquiring about the situation is the distant lands, and I asked every single one of them. In fact, one of the now-deceased masters once teased me when I was still young, that they knew of a secret, the desert miracle called the Damascus Steel.”

Wolson looked devoid of self-esteem, and perhaps it was because he was not interested in the idea of Damascus Steel instead. Also, on further thought, the reputed blacksmiths valued by the town would never sake this myth called the Damascus Steel, for they would be deemed as ‘heretics’, people that strayed from the Order.Damascus Steel itself was such a rare metal itself, any ordinary person would take it as a random topic when having chats over drinks, and nobody would ever delve deep into it.

“And so?”

“S-so, Ings and the others heard of this from me, and they felt that the Guild…no, in any case, they felt that the old masters of this town definitely hid the secrets of Damascus Steel. I can understand their feelings though. If they can create Damascus Steel…it will be an impressive accomplishment…you are discussing about migrating, right?”

“Yeah, we’re planning to head to the new world.”

Once Kusla said this, Wolson gave a forlorn smile.

Surely, humans would sneer at rumors of Damascus Steel, and laughed it off, and after years of it, they forgot about it. The master back then told Wolson about this rumor that would have damaged anyone’s reputation as a joke, for that master knew very well what kind of a scenery was in this room.

Wolson remained a big child who yearned for the desert.

And thus, when Ings and the others jumped upon the rumors with regards to Damascus Steel for profit, Wolson, who yearned for his dream, might be feeling perturbed as a result.

“I have no interest in moving North. You probably noticed now that I’ve been viewed as a strange one by everyone else in this town, and so, I’m just being used by Ings and the others for their benefit.”

For example, someone like you is called to my shop.

Wolson’s eyes were betraying such an expression, but Kusla merely lifted his chin slightly.

“One question. What is the name of the master who told you about the Damascus Steel?”

Wolson hesitated.

However, he probably realized that Kusla would obtain the answer from Ings and the others, so he slowly uttered the name,

“Master Brunner.”

The deceased husband of the current Crafting Guild chairperson, Irine.

So Ings and the others were interrogating Irine at the Crafting Guild for this reason. Kusla finally understood.

“Those people think that Irine inherited such a secret.”

“Eh?”

Wolson let out a surprised squeal.

“…”

“Huh? Irine was mesmerized by her husband’s skills, no?”

“…”

Wolson remained stunned, utterly speechless.

This was when Kusla understood realized the common assumption of every person in this town with regards to Irine.

“I see. The reason you’re so shocked is because pretty much everyone in this town assumed that Irine got married with the objective of his position and fortune. Ings and the others tried to threaten Irine into letting them check on Brunner’s inheritance.”

That was why Irine looked utterly furious.

Irine was not furious at the words they said to her, but to protect the honor of the departed. No matter the relationship Brunner had with Damascus Steel, if anyone had assumed Brunner was seeking such a thing, it would inplicate the deceased’s dignity.

That was why Irine yelled out about honor.

Wolson’s face looked contorted due to anguish.

However, Kusla instead bared his teeth, showing a smile, saying,

“I don’t know anything about Master Brunner, so I do not have any bias about this. However, it seems everyone’s bias against Irine is this much here. Now I’m a little curious too. How old was Robert Brunner?”

Wolson appeared reluctant to answer as he averted his eyes, but he still sighed, saying,

“Rather than have you ask someone else and hear some scathing words from them, I shall bear the sin of idle chatter then.”

“A large difference between them, I suppose.”

“When he married Miss Irine, Master Brunner was already into his seventies.”

“…”

Many mothers would die due to childbirth, so no matter how decent a man, if they yearned for a heir, they would marry a second, third wife, and this was not a rare occurence. But even so, there had to be a limit. He was of such old age, and married such a young wife; to a bystander, he would be a lecherous old man indulgent in lust, fooled by a vixen eyeing his fortune.”

“Also, Miss Irine is not a local. She’s born in a country far away, a place called Clazini.”

“Clazini? A famous swordcrafting town. No wonder.”

She had some feisty looking red hair, and was strong.

It was probably because Irine was born in such a town that she was mesmerized by metal.

“Many of the masters in this town were born there, so Miss Irine probably came here to reunite with her compatriots. It was about 5-6 years ago when she came here, and I heard that she came to this town with a firm. After a few setbacks, she was taken in by her compatriot, the retired Master Brunner’s workshop, and did some chores. Master Brunner has no heir; his ex-wife died of illness 20 years ago, before he arrived in this time. His apprentices went out to venture and hone their crafts, so he was the only one managing the workshop. The people around him probably felt that he was feeling lonely, but his sudden marriage caused everyone a shock. Some rumors implied that he intended to marry and find a heir to his fortune. Without a wife, if he did not marry, most of the authority and fortune would not be inherited.

“Oh, I see.”

“But…if Miss Irine really married Master Brunner for the sake of his fortune, there would be smarter ways to go about doing it. She definitely would not take over the role of Guild chairperson, I suppose.”

Since the Guild was controlled by the Knights, the position of chairperson was merely an ornament. There was no benefit to taking this position, and furthermore, the blacksmiths would be complaining about this and that all the time.”

“I do find Miss Irine to be doing well as a chairperson, and surely she’s not the kind of person everyone else says. Thus, seeing how she works hard at this role, it doesn’t seem like she was forced into this position.”

“In other words, Irine took that position on her own volition?”

“Perhaps that may be Master Brunner’s wish, or perhaps Miss Irine isn’t terrified of being hurt by everyone around her, and the reason why she decided to marry Master Brunner. There are many blacksmiths like Ings and the others who wish to leave this town.”

“They don’t have any respect for what their seniors built at all?”

Kusla looked at Wolson, and the latter gave Kusla a tragic stare.

Perhaps it was because he was such an eccentric man obsessed with the country in the desert, that he was so concerned by Irine, isolated by everyone else in the Guild.

Perhaps he felt that what he so happened to hear from Master Brunner caused unnecessary burden for Irine, who was already bogged down by her circumstances.

“Thus, I wish to request something.”

Wolson looked at Kusla.

“I wish that you do not hurt Miss Irine anymore.”

His eyes were staring right at Kusla’s.

Before he answered, Kusla averted his eyes, for he immediately realized why Wolson would promise Ings and the others to use his own shop as a place to discuss with an Alchemist. If he had no interest in Damascus Steel and migrating, and if he was not manipulated by them, there was no reason for him to help them.

But even so, he still summoned Kusla to this shop, all for the sake of discussing this matter.

The eccentric man who fell in love with the desert country.

Of course, nobody would probably marry him.

Due to his deep ties with his business and the Guild, Wolson was captivated by the young Irine. To Kusla, Irine did make for a fine young lady. One could imagine that she was probably one of the few ladies that could interact with a man like Wolson without any prejudices.

But Kusla did not even sigh as her looked at Wolson, and the latter immediately shuddered, inadvertently backing.

“My name is ‘Kusla’ (interest). Once I have my eyes on something, I will proceed on. Just as a high interest of an usury will continue to grow, showing no sympathy for the debtor, I will continue to move on without a care for to stop for any reason.

A completely inhumane Alchemist.

Wolson appeared as though he had just realized this.

“No matter what happens to irine, my aim will always be that Damascus Steel. If Master Brunner has that little clue, I will cling onto it and never let go until I get that clue.”

He never intended to patronize Wolson’s wishes, let alone Ings’ matter.

He understood that Ings wanted to keep this a secret from the Guild, but it was Ings’ fault for daring to reveal such a secret to an Alchemist with that little conviction.

On the other hand, Wolson appeared to be on the verge of tears, the veins on his neck throbbing.

His right fingers were twitching like an insect’s legs.

Was he planning to arm himself with a weapon?

Kusla gave a smirk, and narrowed his eyes, saying,

“But that woman doesn’t look like the kind to succumb to threats. I got to find a suitable method.”

“…”

“For example, there are ways to get that woman to fall for you, and draw out some clues from her, right?”

He gave an impish smirk, and Wolson’s goody-goody face immediately blushed.

Those advanced in age would find it harder to smile.

Amongst the Alchemists, there were some that remained childish and innocent, chasing their dreams no matter how old they were.

And those that harbored real dreams will never remain calm when faced with their dreams.

Kusla never resented Wolson, for he sensed that Wolson had a scent that resembled him.

“At the very least, I’m better at prying something out than somone like Ings.”

Upon hearing this, Wolson immediately drooped his head.

It appeared to Kusla that he was giving a bow.

However, Kusla raised an eyebrow, and sighed.

His instincts as an Alchemist was telling him that things were getting complicated.

 

The sun was already up the moment he left Wolson’s shop, and it was the liveliest, bustling moment of the town. The weather was clear, nary a gust, and as the crowd pushed each other around, sweat dripped down their backs immediately.

And Kusla, stuck in that crowd, finally made it back to the workshop. He opened the door, and saw Fenesis lift her head as though she was hit.

“…”

“…”

Kusla stared at Fenesis as he closed the door behind him, and Fenesis wiped her mouth with one hand, the other hand holding a thick book as she stared at him. Kusla remained silent as he kept his eyes on her, and found that her eyes were obviously fluttery.

“You fell asleep, didn’t you?”

“I-I didn’t!”

She looked foolish as she answered. Kusla shrugged, and walked to the kitchen.

“Is Weyland downstairs?”

The fire created to heat up breakfast was not put out, and Kusla added some coal into the furnace, and put a metal bottle into a pot filled with water. The bottle contained grape wine.

“…He’s here.”

Aftear hearing Fenesis’ answer, Kusla said.

“How do you know when you’re sleeping.”

“I wasn’t!”

Rather than a show of obstinacy, it appeared the threat of stuffing the fingers into her fingers if she fell asleep worked really well. Kusla boiled the water, heated the grape wine, and as he returned to the living room, Fenesis had the appearance of a convict in his cell, awaiting execution.

“Time for punishment.”

Kusla said as he stood behind Fenesis, and her body stiffened like a metal rod stuck into her back.

“Don’t move.”

Kusla took a metal bottle, bend down and brought his face to the back of Fenesis’ neck, using his nose to gently prick the white long hair aside.

Fenesis was so tense all over, unable to move even if she wante dto.

She probably did not know what was going to happen; no, what Kusla wanted to do.

After bending down for a while, Kusla finally straightened his back, and exhaled.

“Hm.”

That was when Fenesis tentatively placed her hand on her neck, looking to be on the verge of tears as she turned back to look at Kusla. The book called Hell’s Tour states that once the cursed worms were born on the sinners, the sinners would look exceptionally devastated. At this point, Fenesis was showing such a face.

“I didn’t do anything.”

“…”

“You have a nice milky scent on you.”

Kusla putted the metal bottle onto the table, went towards the stairs, poked his head out, and checked on the situation downstairs. He found some movement below, and it appeared Weyland was there.

Kusla’s eyes looked back at the table, and Fenesis continued to press at the back of her neck, stiff and unable to move.

“Your face is red.”

“L-like I know!”

And then, the teary face and ears sank.

“Well, leaving that aside for now, how is the investigation going?”

Fenesis rubbed the back of her neck in a panicky manner, ostensibly tearing it off. Once she heard Kusla’s words, she wordlessly handed over a wooden word. This board was used as a notebook; there was wax on the board, and words carved out with a sharp pencil. At this point, the wooden board had the names of a few books and some information of Damascus Steel.

“Eh. You found that much in such a short time, huh?”

“…”

Fenesis remained teary eyed, and even though she was praised, her face showed no signs of happiness. Kusla really found her to be showing such a nice, docile face, but he merely casted her efforts aside, pouring the wine into a wooden mug, saying,

“Seeing how fast you work, I suppose you can be of help when you really work hard.”

“Hm?”

“Once we’re done with our meals, we’ll go to the Baggage Corps Headquarters. I got some work for you.”

“Erm…”

“Your job to sleep hasn’t changed. Don’t sleep too much.”

“I-I won’t fall asleep again.”

Fenesis pressed upon the back of her neck as she said.

 

Kusla remained unmoved by Wolson’s plea, but there was something he had to do before he inquired Irine about the Damascus Steel.

Assuming that her husband Robert Brunner knew about the secrets of Damascus Steel, a conclusion could be made. When they were making their pilgrimage, they had to prove their expertise in their craft. Thus, if the thing about Damascus Steel was true, surely they would have proven it with Damascus Steel.

So, why did they head to the Baggage Corps Headquarters? That was because Irine said that before the Knights ruled this town, the Bukulgs firm was the one financing the Crafting Guild. They probably had proof of financing the Crafting Guild, one of the strongest Guilds in the town, and because of that, they were devoured by the greedier Knights. The building was absorbed by the Knights, and used.

Thus, logically, the records back then should be left there.

“Based on the records, the documents back then were put in this corner.”

A young caretaker with fine blonde hair said to Kusla as he flipped through a few pieces of parchment. At this point, they were current in the underground warehouse, the stench of mold filling the place.

“The important documents involving authority have been separated, and without Master Autris’ permission…”

“Hm, we don’t need that thing now. All these are what we probably need.”

The underground warehouse was filled with shelves, and Kusla unceremoniously grabbed a roll of parchments that was stuffed in there, taking a look.

The parchments flapped crispy, so brittle they could have tore apart at that moment. Once they were unraveled and brought to a candle flame, the ancient records arose along with the burnt stench of dust.

“These are documents that aren’t being used now, but be careful with the fire. The water bucket is outside, and if you need to holler, the voice will echo up there.”

“Understood. I’m not a child.”

“…Please proceed.”

The boy who led them maintained a mystified look until the very end, and he shut the heavy door, probably with the intent of preventing the fire from spreading. Kusla heard the footsteps ascent the stairs, “Now then.” and said,

“Let’s begin.”

Fenesis beside him was probably reminded of the monastery as she nodded silently.

“We’re looking for any written records of those men from the Guild who came to this town, like requests or such.”

Kusla picked a suitable book from high up a rack, and handed them to Fenesis one by one. One had to wonder if Fenesis was coughing due to the dust or the mold as she turned aside to cough.

“Ignore the details for now. Find the relevant ones, and hand them to me.”

Fenesis was not one who was adept at being flexible, but if she was tasked with an objective, she would quietly finish it. There was a table placed in the warehouse, and Fenesis dragged a chair over to sit beside it, indulging in her work. She scanned through every word diligently, and as long as the words and names she was instructed to search for appeared, she would hand every document to Kusla.

The pressure the firm exerted on the Guild did not appear to be any less than the Knights, and there were all sorts of requests left behind. Many blacksmiths were unhappy that the firm was using its authority to monopolize supply of the materials, and use the downpayments to rob them of their profits, resulting in much scathing criticism.

There were also a few instances of some prominent blacksmiths banding together, requesting for a drop in material prices, a delivery batch, or a decrease in interest.

The name Robert Brunner appeared often in these request forms, and it was obvious that he was of quite a standing amongst the blacksmiths back then.

The documents in the shelves were uncategorized, unsorted to age, and were put together clumsily, so they did not know what they would find. First off, Kusla was looking for something really old, and so he began searching through the bookshelves, starting from the really dirty ones.

And on the other hand, Fenesis was fingering each word, checking the contents; her face as she held her breath looked as though it was soaked in salt water. Besides the direct term Damascus Steel itself, Kusla ordered her to look for other terms like ‘rare’ ‘ancient’.

Fenesis worked diligently and quickly, handing Kusla one document after another, but these were all unrelated matters like rare town materials, council decisions regarding practices that occurred since the past. There were occasionally things like the rare swords of the officers from the Southern Empire deployed to this place having a rare glint, records that aroused his eager anticipation.

However, none of them was related to Damascus Steel in any way.

Kusl’a withdrew documents after documents from the bookshelf, and the documents next to Fenesis began to pile up.

Neither he nor Fenesis had a proper talk during this time as they were both devoted to their work. This underground warehouse was as silent as a dark, somber graveyard. One might find them intriguing at first, but overlapping documents piled up, the only differences being the authors, the sum of money and the materials listed.

No matter the town or era, the things everyone did remained the same.

One had to wonder if Fenesis’ eyes were feeling fatigued due to the work in the darkness, or that she was starting to get sleepy. From time to time, she would rub her eyes, and then look up at the ceiling.

“If you sleep now, I’m going to stab your earholes with my fingers.”

Upon hearing those words, Fenesis showed no signs of being especially startled.

“I won’t be sleeping.”

Fenesis muttered without much care, and put the new documents to a side.

She pointed her finger at the text, and gently handed it over to Kusla.

She’s probably on the wrong track here. Kusla had a glance at it, and was taken aback.

“Hey, this one.”

“?”

Fenesis rolled up the parchments and papers once she was done reading them, and was about to move them somewhere else, only to stare at him blankly after he called out.

“The term you wanted is written there…”

Fenesis spoke with not much confidence there, but Kusla again looked at the document, groaning,

“I can’t read this.”

“Huh?”

“I can’t read this.”

Kusla handed the paper back, and handed over a wooden board with wax lacquered over it, along with a wooden pen.

“Translate the relevant parts.”

“…”

Fenesis looked back and forth between Kusla and the things handed to her, ‘haa’, and let out a deflated reply.

Then, right when she was about to slowly begin work, she quietly asked,

“You can’t read it?”

Kusla answered.

“I can’t read it.”

“…”

Fenesis looked at Kusla again, and then at the paper.

And once she looked at Kusla again, her eyes looked a little livelier and smug.

“I’m not omnipotent.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

With a delighted look, she wrote the translation on the wooden board. Kusla looked peeved as he watched her, but fact was fact.

Half of this document contained the wrigley words he saw at Wolson’s shop, and the other half was the words he used. He scanned through what he could understand, and the words on the document proved the identities and history of the pilgrims to Gulbetty.

“I really can’t read these words.”

Kusla lamented as he said these words with contempt, and Fenesis stopped, shrank back as she read the words on the document, saying skeptically.

“The words here are harder.”

“Hm?”

How is that possible? Kusla wondered. However, Fenesis continued to translate without any hiccup.

“These are things I want to forget, but unexpectedly, I just keep remembering them.”

She continued as she wrote.

Of course, Kusla knew that Fenesis came from a land far, far away, but these words of familiarity caused Kusla to actually realize for the first time, that she was born in a foreign place.

A distant place where the language, words, customs and other aspects were completely different.

A place only an eccentric man like Wolson would be so devoted to.

She came from such a distant place, and Kusla was utterly intrigued by it.

“Can you talk?”

“Hm?”

“Can you still converse in their language?”

Fenesis lifted her head, and grimaced.

“This is one of the things I want to forget.”

“What?”

“Normally, I’ll carelessly let slip my accent and reveal my bloodline.”

Fenesis appeared to be smiling here, but that probably was a hallucination caused by the candle light.

“The Knights probably saved me because they couldn’t determine from my language where I’m from.”

An accent will often indicate how a person was like in terms of personality, and in some instances, one could get a glimpse of the person’s hometown and income. It was something like Kusla and Weyland’s clothing.

The problem however was that Kusla and Weyland merely wore such clothing out of preferences. but Fenesis did all these not out of her own wishes. If she could choose a peaceful life, she definitely would.

Upon thinking about this, Kusla felt sorry for her.

This topic probably was not an interesting one Fenesis wanted to touch on.

:”My bad.”

Kusla softly muttered, and Fenesis lifted her head in shock.

“I didn’t know you actually knew such words.”

“…”

Fenesis chuckled, and continued writing, saying,

“How is my accent right now?”

Her accent at this point was deeper than before, and surely it was because the matter of her bloodline and hometown meant that she had no room to be stubborn.

It was the equivalent of her saying that ‘this her living in such a place at this point was no different from a corpse that had no value in proecting.

“Perfect.”

Kusla’s answer caused Fenesis to show an obvious smile.

“I tried my best to practise.”

These words felt somber, not because this place was an underground warehouse buried in the darkness. Fenesis was not a simple-minded Princess oblivious to the ways of the world.

“I know where this person is born in.”

Fenesis wrote on the wooden board as she said.

“Hm?”

“I once passed by there…it is a town built in the desert, by a river. The winds there are strong, and when I ate, I feel sand rubbing at me.”

Saying this, she put down the sharp wooden pencil, and handed the wooden board over to Kusla.

Since she did practise this language before, her words were neat and pretty.

“You miss your home?”

Kusla looked down at the wooden board, and asked. Fenesis smiled.

However, she did not look at Kusla, but at somewhere else. She was staring at the scenery in her memories, or possibly the faces of people. In any case, all that lingered in front of Fenesis in this reality was thick darkness.

“Even if I go back, I don’t have a home.”

Fenesis smiled reluctantly.

“And there aren’t people there who will help me as there are here.”

The table, and even the floor was covered with text she read through.

There were quite a few documents that contained the identities of the people who came from distant lands to reunite with their compatriots, like the thing Fenesis translated. Even if that was not the case, there were only a few who sent letters using their own names. Most documents certainly were signed off by a few people, the power of many, writing in to fight for some authority or requests. Such a group gathered together, forming a town, creating history.

However, these probably were unrelated to Fenesis.

Her eyes were forlorn, and she probably was envious of the craftsmen.

Thus, Kusla immediately said,

“Well, we aren’t as many as those men.”

“?”

“But at the very least, you have me.”

Upon hearing these words, Fenesis ears immediately pricked, and even under the veil, it was obvious.

For Kusla, no matter how he was said to be selfish, a foolish dreamer, how asinine he was, he would pursue his own dreams unwaveringly. It was based on this benchmark that he wanted to keep Fenesis beside him.

In that case, there was nothing for him to be ashamed of, to be blushing about.

He showed no fear as he stared right at Fenesis’ eyes, saying those words.

If he could not do that much at the very least, was there any room for him to talk about a dream his would risk his life for?

Fenesis widened her green eyes, giving a teary, smiling face as she said,

“I’m surprised.”

“Hm?”

“I’m surprised that I’m so happy about a lie…”

While Fenesis said with a teary smile, Kusla calmly answered,

“That isn’t a lie.”

Fenesis probably was not acquainted with such an honest answer. This was something Kusla understood in the prior incident.

She was skeptical as to how she should accept these words, and he could feel her anguish.

“I won’t lie when it comes to my own dreams. As for everything else…well, I’ll lie.”

Kusla added a joke at the end of these words, and it finally caused Fenesis to recover from her thoughts.

She, being so perturbed, seemed to be making a fuss as she said,

“I-I said that I’ll definitely never trust your words.”

“And all I can answer is, fine by that. The truth will come to light one day.”

“…”

Fenesis stared at Kusla for a while, and then gingerly averted her eyes.

It felt as though she was not as obstinate as she was before, and perhaps the magnanimousity she might have in her little chest grew after all

“Y-you’re really–”

Fenesis turned her face aside, her eyes escaping to the documents.

“Sly…”

She shrank back, her body practically deformed.

“Of course. Without being sly, I won’t be able to reach that land of gold.”

Kusla looked down at the text Fenesis translated. As expected, it was a lively blacksmith who came from a land far away to this place, wanting a recommendation to the town guild, and had a compatriot write a guarantee.

“You’re being too honest.”

“…”

Kusla sensed that she was looking at him.

“Are you saying…that you want me to be smarter?”

“So you do know how to read between the lines.”

“…I’ve been told off so many times.”

It was a certainty that she was not talking in terms of an apprentice who was learning.

“You did say that before when you were sent to this workshop alone in the middle of the night, didn’t you?”

The Choir handed Fenesis’ body over to Kusla and Weyland to corner them, and pin a sin upon them.

Fenesis accepted this order, and came to this workshop with two men living in it.

Her existence itself was a curse, and anyone involved with her would be a curse. This plan was successful, occuring without a hitch, and Kusla certainly was cornered.

However, Fenssis back then did not appear to be a victor who cornered her prey.

You’re already out of options, so why are you still doing this–such a crumbled smile would fit her back then.

Surely Fenesis’ superiors knew that she followed the Choir as she sought a place that would accept her. All they needed to coax her back when she was hesitant was ‘Wise up. What is your objective?’

“Well, it’s a little wrong to say that I’m sly.”

“…?”

Kusla again read the text on the wooden board, held in his hand, and gasped.

He read with bated breath, exhaled, and read it a third time.

It appeared the content was not wrong.

Kusla certainly felt the blood in his belly blooding.

“It’s shrewd.”

“Sh, re?”

“Yes. I prioritize and arrange things so that I can move to the target I set, and I follow what I decide upon. This is the realization I need.”

Kusla reached his arm forward, and took the original document from Fenesis’ hands.

“But I suppose this isn’t something a person who read through all kinds of things on the documents and is oozing with a luxurious desire for companions.”

Fenesis was startled, and shrank back, again looking devastated.

“Well, as long as your goal hasn’t changed, this is enough. The aim to ‘not live on lonely’ isn’t a strange one.”

“…?”

“The problem is that this is different from the idea that anything will be fine as long as you don’t live on alone. If you’re about to die of starvation, you’ll eat a rotten bread, but if you really want to eat a little wheat bread, it is more meaningful to struggle and seek that little wheat bread and die than to eat a rotten bread and die of food poisoning, no?”

Kusla did not think this would change her outlook of life.

However, Kusla was an Alchemist, a line of work where they made the impossible possible.

Looking at Fenesis in such a state, Kusla had the urge to put his hand on her arched back and straighten her back.

“But thinking about that, I’m angry about you.”

Kusla gave Fenesis an icy stare, “Hm?” and she immediately gave a skeptical look. His eyes unwavering, he stared at her, and she gave a look as though she wanted to escape, looking flabbergasted.

Kusla remained unabashed as he said,

“You dragged my hand when you came to that workshop, didn’t you? You have me, and you’re moved by the bonds of the blacksmiths recorded in the document; how does that make me feel?”

Just holding my hand isn’t enough for you? Kusla appeared to be kicking up a fuss.

But after hearing his words, it seemed Fenesis was relaxed. Perhaps her mind was not up to speed yet.

Fenesis did all she could, to focus on her target, and she just needed to move forth slowly. a large fire starts with a little flame. At this moment, adding in a lot of fuel would cause a reverse effect.

Kusla shrugged, and reached out to Fenesis whom he accused of being ungrateful. Till this point, she remained dumbfounded.

She probably assumed Kusla was going to hit her, and closed her eyes in fear, her neck shrank back. However, Kusla merely flicked her cheek with a finger.

“Well, if you do such a thing again next time, I don’t know what I’ll do when I’m all hurt.”

“…Erm, well–”

“But I’ll forgive you for once this time.”

Kusla said with a smile.

“Eh?”

However, one had to wonder what was with the timid expression she showed when he said he would let her go. In any case, the expression she showed was not annoying in any way.

Furthermore, in fact, Kusla’s face would be terrifying.

“What you translated is right on point.”

“Eh?”

“Alchemists need determination and delicacy, but there is something very important too.”

“…?”

“Luck.”

Kusla said as he held the text and the wooden board.

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