[Magdala V3] Act 1

“I do not wish to assist in such mischief.”

Till this point, Fenesis had been stirring mass in the pot obediently, only to suddenly stop and turn to look at Fusla.

“Assist in mischief?”

Kusla was seated on a chair, reading a book, his feet resting on the work desk, and he turned to look at Fenesis.

A few days later, they would be leaving this workshop for a new town. They were preparing for it.

“I don’t intend to do anything bad.”

“No, that is something bad.”

Fenesis noted adamantly, and continued on,

“In any case, I certainly feel that you are committing fraud.”

The greed eyes were staring at Kusla. If one could say that those emerald-like pupils were a rarity, the white hair that was tied up to avoid affecting her work would be of similar rarity. However, it was rare that a girl like Fenesis, aged between ‘young’ and ‘infant’, working in the workshop.

The emerald eyes and white hair might pale in rarity compared to the things at the side of her head however.

She had a humanoid body, and also an abnormality of a beast. She had cat-like ears, and because of that, was deemed a cursed blood. Fenesis was originally born in a distant land far to the Southeast, and the others in her tribe were all slaughter.

“Fraud…well, I wonder if it can be considered fraud to begin with, no?”

“Do not try to misdirect me. You want to make this copper block look like gold, is it not?”

Fenesis gave a serious look, going straight to the point.

Kusla put down his feet that were resting on the work desk, sighed, and answered,

“I admit that this is a fact. Your accusations are mostly correct.”

“Then–”

“Listen to me. And stir that pot!”

In response to Kusla’s words, Fenesis raised her eyebrows.

“I am not going to listen. I misunderstood you. You like to lie and be violent to others, but there were all valid reasons for that.”

She was referring to Kusla kicking the young widow Irine for the sake of obtaining that Damascus Steel.

However, Kusla did explain that his actions were for Irine’s sake, and Fenesis did accept it somewhat. Kusla did not intend to cultivate an image of an outlaw who would willing take all the blame, but he decided to use this opportunity to make use of iit, for it would give such an impression when viewed from the side. There would be some impressive power displayed if one was to mix some truths in the lies, and his actions were a prime example.

But even so, Fenesis had the tendency of radically beautifying Kusla’s actions.

My name is ‘Interest’, Kusla thought.

The restless alchemist, crowned Kusla for working all day and night without resting. That meant that like interest, he would continue to work through late nights for the sake of reaching the destination for an Alchemist–the land of Magdala. He helped Fenesis for the sake of his own Magdala, and kept her in the workshop.

Of course, Kusla did explain this in irritance a few times, but Fenesis still assumed he was a good person.

The reason why she was furious this time would be because Kusla betrayed her trust, rather than anything immoral he did. She looked as though she was completely betrayed, saying,

“I-I never thought you would take the path of a thief.”

She looked like a nun pious to God’s teachings, saying ‘there are no true sinners on this world’.

Fenesis’ show of expression stunned Kusla, but at this point, he was not surprised by it.

He was however taken aback that Fenesis would be so direct in her words. A few days back, she was so tentative, so timid when she talked. Kusla could not help but think that something or little significance was able to trigger such a massive change in her.

Set a goal for yourself.

Kusla once said this to Fenesis. The latter, who traveled here from a distant place, was persecuted because of the deforms on her body, and was never accepted by any group, so she became blind to hide her own loneliness. Kusla said that to open her blind eyes, and in the end, it seemed Fenesis found a goal for the sake of obtaining the recognition of Kusla and the others, becoming a member of the workshop, to be of equal standing to them, and to complete something with everyone.

In a certain sense, this goal itself was grandiose, but in terms of grandeur, Kusla and Weyland’s goal were no lesser than hers. Kusla himself had anticipated to a certain level that Fenesis would say such bombastic words in the process of fulfilling her goal, or offer her own suggestions.

But he never thought that Fenesis would be so stubborn in this sense.

He sighed,

“Being upright and innocent isn’t what you said. However, being typically honest doesn’t necessarily have to be the right thing to do.”

And continued saying,

“There is a just reason as to why I’ll plate the gold on the copper block and exchange it for real gold.”

They had been boiling mercury in the pot for a while. Kusla was teaching Fenesis how to plate gold or silver using mercury through practical action, but he inadvertently blurted out the reason for plating gold on the copper block, and thus, this outcome.

“All right, all right. I’ll just tell you the reason, is that enough?”

Kusla’s pandering attitude caused Fenesis to give her usual look of mistrust.

But the moment Kusla was about to speak up,

His eyes were staring intending at the pot with the mercury boiling in them.

“Hey, anyway, stir the mercury first.”

“Please do not change the topic. I–”

“Hurry up and stir it! Now!”

“!?”

Fenesis inadvertently shrank back upon seeing Kusla being so agitated, but she turned back to look at the pot filled with mercury.

–Too late.

Kusla got up from his chair, ran to Fenesis, and grabbed her by her slender shoulders.

He then embraced her firmly, his back turned on the pot.

Following that, the mercury in the pot bubbled and expanded, and with the sound of a demon burping, the bubbles splattered at Kusla.

“Ah…!”

“Eh? Huh?”

Fenesis, within Kusla’s clutches, was dumbfounded.

011

At the same time, the mercury in the pot continued to let out little explosions, the frothing bubbles causing the workshop to be filled with smoke.

“Hold your breath.”

Kusla barely managed to eke those words out, and hurried out of the workshop along with Fenesis. He kicked the door down, ran to the chilling outside, and was finally able to take large gulps of air. After shivering for a while in the frosty winds, he let go of Fenesis in his clutches, removed his shirt, and removed the undershirt.

“Ugh…it’s hot! Damn!”

He reached his arms out, brushing the back of his neck, and dipped his head into the water flowing down the water wheel.

The water was so numbingly cold, and the pain on Kusla’s body vanished as a result, but he felt a rage surging in his heart.

He pulled his head from the stream, and lashed out at Fenesis,

“When I tell you to stir, stir!”

Fenesis, who did not know the reason why, was slumped there, cringing tentatively. The strange smoke was rising from the workshop behind her, and Kusla felt an unknown rage thinking about how he had to clean up the mess thereafter.

“Goodness…I never failed this bad ever since…my apprenticeship ended.”

Kusla grumbled in disgust, and returned to to the workshop. He picked up the metal rod Fenesis dropped, dipped it into the furnace, and smashed the charcoal heating the pot. Despite that however, the boiling mercury could not cool down in such a short time. It continued to froth in the pot, like a stew with the fire too strong. Kusla wanted to pour water over it immediately, but that would only worsen the situation.

After he stuffed the coal deep into the furnace, all he could do was to wait for the temperature to drop. In a certain sense, this was the end of the incident. He then opened all the windows, and went outside the room.

Aftera few gulps of fresh air, Fenesis, looking teary, picked up Kusla’s coat, and stared at him.

“E-erm…”

“Give me that.”

Kusla snatched the uppergarments from Fenesis’ hands, and flapped it.

Fenesis noticed some silver blobs falling from it.

That was the mercury that boiling in the pot.

“Mercury ends up like that when it’s suddenly boiled. Bubbles will form, and then it’ll fly.”

“Hm?”

“I told you to stir, didn’t I? To avoid such a situation, you have to keep stirring.”

“Ah…”

Fenesis began to look as though she was about to bawl, and Kusla sighed, seemingly releasing all the rage within him, barely managed to suppress the anger.

Seeing Fenesis in such a state, his mind calmed down slightly.

He pondered over his choice of words, and said,

“It’s my fault for not explaining things to you. I’ve been teasing and lying to you so much that you won’t believe me, and that’s my fault.”

“! That’s.”

Fenesis shook her head.

“More importantly, your injury…”

It seemed what caused Fenesis to be so flustered was not because of her own failure, but that Kusla got injured trying to protect her.

Kusla gently placed his hand on the back of his neck, stating briefly,

“I’m not bothered too much. What about you?”

“!!”

Fenesis shook her head more furiously than before.

Kusla lowered his shoulders weakly, his eyes upon her.

“This isn’t much as long as you’re fine.”

“Eh?”

Kusla put his hand on Fenesis’ head while the latter was looking up at him, and her head shrank back. Kusla then rubbed her head forcefully, teasing her.

He gave a gentle smile, and Fenesis’s ears twitched gently.

“So, that’s how it is with plating.”

“Eh?”

“You can say that it’s an improper way of accumulating wealth. However, like this incident, such things do happen in the alchemist world, where unpredictable things may occur. In such situations, you feel empowered when you have valuable items with you. For example, someone did something foolish in the workshop, and if there’s a need to settle the problem with money, what do you do? The Knights won’t be cleaning our butts for everything, and we don’t have anyone we can actually request, especially now that we are headed towards a town located in the center of a war. We need some form of fortune to be able to protect everyone in such a place, but…”

Kusla watched Fenesis turn her face back,

“However, it is awkward to say such things, I guess. I really am embarrassed to say such things when someone with the nickname of ‘interest’ would actually do something for someone else.”

“!”

Fenesis widened her green eyes, and looked back at Kusla.

“Am I wrong?”

Kusla showed a crooked sneer, as though he could not rein in his laughter.

And with Kusla asking this, Fenesis recovered. She showed a self-reproaching look, and lowered her head.

Kusla again reached out to touch her head, and let out a little sigh,

“The smoke will scatter soon. Let’s go in–”

Kusla sneezed as he said so

Fenesis lifted her face upon hearing that, and suddenly looked around. However, she did not find what she wanted, so she could only remove the triangular scarf wrapped over her head to wipe Kusla’s body. Perhaps she was trying her best to redeem herself.

“I rather you clean up after your own mess than wipe my body.”

“Uu…”

Fenesis’ ears drooped in sadness, her eyeballs looking up at Kusla.

“I’m not scolding you now. Alchemists will suffer failures over and over again before they achieve success. It’s very important to deal with things after your own failures, understand?”

Understand? in response, Fenesis gave a serious look, and nodded slowly.

“Also, about plating.”

“…”

“This might be a little different from your beliefs.”

Kusla gave Fenesis an apologetic look, and she immediately shook her head gaudily,

“Shall we continue?”

Fenesis was about to answer, only for her eyes to suddenly look away. Kusla too immediately realized that figure. It was Weyland, who arrived from the floor above.

“Woooo~ And I was wondering what’s with this strange smell here~”

Weyland saw the pot in the furnace, smoke everywhere, and Kusla being wet as the latter stood by the water canal; he probably realized immediately what happened.

“So the plating failed, huh~? We’ll be headed to Kazan a few days later, you know~? It’ll be too late if we don’t hide anything valuable on us now~”

Weyland’s overly blatant words caused Kusla to immediately shiver. Of course, it was not because it was cold outside, but due to another reason.

And while she leaned on him, seemingly supporting him, Fenesis’ ears twitched.

“Those We’ll be paying for our own trip to Kazan, so we got to pull a fast one on them through foul play.”

A man’s mouth can never be shut. Kusla did not want to thoroughly experience the meaning of these words, and so he tried to shut Weyland up.

“Weyland–”

However, Weyland was faster.

“We don’t like to splurge on food and drinks, but we need to spend to eat well~. Hard to do that when we’re scrimping~ got to steal as much as we can here~”

“!”

That one decisive line caused Kusla to inadvertently click his thought, and he noticed that it was unbecoming of himself to fail so badly.

Fenesis slowly let him.

He knew it would happen, but Kusla could not help but glance over there.

“…Y-You…”

The green eyes were filled with tears, and Fenesis’ beast ears were pricking, her hands clenching firmly at the handkerchief she was using to wipe Kusla fervently, and she growled,

“You are really terrible!”

“Hm–?” Weyland shot a relaxed look at Kusla from within the workshop.

Kusla looked up at the sky, gave a pretentious sneeze, and then sighed impatiently.

 

Gold to lead, and lead to gold. Everything continues to change.

Kusla and the others symbolized the saying appropriately, and they were about to change their place of activity. Their next stop was Kazan–the largest mining town in the one pagan country in the world, Ratria.

There might be unknown knowledge and skills unbeknownst to the world, or clues to an unexpected discovery. However, as it was a land ruled by Pagans, while the skills might be extraordinary, there would be some demagoguery involved, knowledge that were unsuited to be revealed to the world. In fact, after filtering the skills and knowledge found in Pagan land, those that were slapped with a forbidden seal would never see the light of day again.

To Kusla and the other Alchemists, they wanted to obtain everything, no matter what it was, as long as it was something useful. This went double for knowledge and skills born in pagan land. Those were crystals of knowledge born of completely different thinking concepts, and some might might bring unexpected boost to their own technology.

Thus, Kusla and the others hoped to obtain such knowledge and skills no matter what, before they were sealed off.

The massive organization called the Claudius Knights conquered Kazan, wanting to convert it into a town with Orthodox teachings, and accept it. This massive organization was basically a huge merchant guild with many outlets all over the world, and on this basis, they had respectable authority and military power, so much that it could be said to be the largest organization in the world. Kusla’s group were Alchemists hired under these Knights.

Furthermore, the Knights hired the alchemists not for ridiculous reasons like develop elixirs of immortality or turning lead into gold. Those were merely wild guesses by the people in the town. The Knights hired the alchemists to improve the mining techniques in the mines they controlled, and how to effectively refine the ores that were in circulation. Also, it included how to refine metallic materials, primarily metal. Another reason why alchemists were hired was because the overwhelming finances and political protection from the Knights was a necessity to them.

Both sides had always maintained a give-take relationship.

Alchemists appeared to be mere bystanders that caused many to think they were free, but they were actually bonded by being employees. Thus, even if there was some great metallurgical skill discovery in kazan, if this knowledge or skill was to trigger issues of faith or other kings, the Knights would weigh in on the losses coolly before pondering if they should reveal it. They would never put the development of technology for the sake of a mere alchemist. They would only consider whether they could benefit.

Kusla’s group, hired by them, had no freedom to defy their employer’s wishes.

Thus, if they wanted to obtain the technology that was to be sealed due to their employer’s losses, they would have to seize the moment before the employer weighs in on the potential losses, for this opportunity would vanish in an instant.

If they missed out on it, and if such knowledge and technology was to be kept in the massive library of the Knights, it would be impossible for them to see it again, unless they were highly ranked in the Knights. If it was knowledge passed on through word of mouth, the people who knew about that would probably be murdered.

Thus, Kusla and the others wanted to be part of the migrants moving to revive the newly conquered Kazan. They could only do that, if they wanted to seize on an opportunity.

In their pursuit for their own dreams, some Alchemists would even kill their own kin. It was because they had such thinking that they were viewed by others as heretics, and were persecuted. The knowledge they delved into would mostly involve a massive amount of money, and thus, many wanted to kill them. But for their dreams, they would rather continue on such a perilous occupation as an alchemist.

Fortunately for them however, Kusla’s group managed to join the migrants that were headed to Kazan.

They coaxed the leader of the Gulbetty blacksmith guild to work with them and create a replica of the legendary metal, Damascus Steel, and offered it to the Knights managing the migrants, fulfilling their plans to join in.

As to whether this method would garner them rewards, they did not care. They only cared about joining the migrants. Also, the technology to create this fake metal was important.

Because of that, Kusla went to the blacksmiths’ street in Gulbetty that afternoon despite suffering some minor injuries from the bubbling mercury, undoubtedly for this skill.

Fenesis probably hoped that she could be independent as quickly as possible ever since the Damascus Steel incident, but she would always stay by Kusla’s side and learn. This time however, she did not follow. When Kusla left the workshop, Fenesis, who was lied to again, gave him a reproaching, vengeful stare.

“That thing wants to be an alchemist of an equal standing to me, huh?”

Kusla thought. He felt speechless, but the recklessness shown by Fenesis really delighted him.

Thinking about this, he reached his destination, and quickly put aside the thoughts in his mind first, coughing lightly,

“Mr Sophites, are you in? Mr Sophites?”

Kusla placed his elbow on the door, leaning over as he knocked on it unhurriedly, calling his name.

He was in a corner of the blacksmiths area, and there were blacksmiths who finished their dinner, ready to return to work. They were staring at Kusla intently, many of them showing no intention of hiding their disgust. Kusla however was used to it, so he paid no heed to them.

However, there had to be a limit to them. While their malicious looks were slightly abnormal, it was similarly within Kusla’s expectations.

“What’s the matter now? Yapping out there.”

The door opened, and Sophites, practically an elder amongst the blacksmiths, revealed his face.

“Oh. Good day, Mr Sophites.”

“Such a vile greeting. Something you need?”

“We should be the ones apologizing for intrusion.”

Kusla snickered like a mischievous brat, and Sophites could not help but show a wry smile on his face. Kusla had a feeling that this old man had quite a few similarities to an alchemist.

The older generation of blacksmiths arrived at this town with only their tools and skills, building up a town that had nothing to a bustling one as it was. They were ordinary people, but were as fearless as alchemists who desired to reveal the world God created for them. Such fearlessness was how they ended up being very accepting.

Thus, al Sophites could do was to give a bitter smile despite Kusla hailing the person acting as Guild Leader merely a few days back as ‘one of us’.

He took a step back, “She’s inside.” and saying this, he let Kusla into the house.

“You visited her house before this?”

Sophites walked in front, not looking back as he asked,

“Irine’s house? My answer will be no. I can guess the situation there would be like.”

“Well, I suppose things are going as you expect. I might say you fellows understand this better.”

Kusla shrugged, and Sophites did not bother to say anymore. If Fenesis was here, she probably would show a despondent look.

Both of them chatted as they entered the house, and the young, cheery looking lady–Irine was inside. Unlike Fenesis, her secretive, pretty face was filled with some sharpness, and she would be popular with men in places like inns. At this point, Irine was grinding the iron filings, adjusting the teeth in order to sharpen the rasp, looking displeased to a point where her face was terrifying. The nice hair was not as red as the scorching metal piece, but it was still a scarlet red. Whenever she struck at it, the red hair would sway along like a stray cat swaying its tail due to displeasure.

“Irine, your boss is here.”

Sophites went towards Irine as he said this.

His face was giving a teasing smile, and because of that, Kusla found himself increasingly unable to hate this old man.

“The Knights gave you the permit to come along with us, so you’re our assistant now. If you have anything you’re unhappy about, go talk it out with the Knights.”

Once Kusla said that, ‘zing’ he heard the sound of metal being rubbed. Irine lifted her head, and Kusla merely shook his chin slightly, their eyes meeting. Irine again silently went back to hammering, and Kusla simply told her,

“And besides, you can no longer stay in this town now.”

Hearing those words, Irine’s hands stopped.

“There are probably people saying that you’re a traitor who sold your sold to an Alchemist. I didn’t visit your house because it’s a hassle, but since you’re hammering things here, I suppose that means your house is too dangerous to remain in, no?”

The relationship between Alchemists and the town Blacksmiths were always tense. Blacksmiths had to use the water wheel for their work and the mixing of materials, and these facilities would require a gaudy fee, so they had no choice but to borrow money from the Knights. In contrast, the Alchemists could be said to be affiliated to those Knights…and nothing else. Furthermore, blacksmiths would be proud of their own creations, and heavily valued honor. Alchemists however practically did not care about this, and merely pursued their own goals.

The relationship between Alchemists and Blacksmiths was basically that of twins with completely opposite personalities.

In such a tense atmosphere, Irine defected to the Alchemists for the sake of her own dreams. Kusla was mentioning her situation, that the blacksmiths’ hatred of Irine, an ex-ally, was far beyond that towards the alchemists whom they were enemies with already.

The doors and wooden windows of Irine’s house were probably smashed, and and the furnace of the house representing the house of the people, independent of everyone, was destroyed. If it was burned down, every person living in the streets would have to bear responsibility. However, if their hatred towards Irine was beyond that of the shame that would occur with the arson, they probably would have no qualms in burning the house down. An Alchemist’s workshop was often burned.

In any case, Kusla did not assume that she could live a stable life in such situations.

There was only one reason Kusla could think of as to why Irine would move to Sophites’ house; she probably wanted to protect herself from the blacksmiths’ harrassment.

“So, what’s the matter?”

Irine continued with her grinding and hammering. Kusla pondered for a while, and answered.

“The rains caused flooding in the river, and the Azami’s Crest took a little detour. It looks like it’ll be a few days until the forces headed towards Kazan arrive.”

“So?”

“Think about it. We’re headed for a long journey together, and Kazan is a place still weary from the fighting. Since we have some time, it’s good to first build up some level of trust.”

Irine remained silent for a while.

However, she certainly did hear Kusla’s words, so Kusla was calmly waiting for her answer.

“Isn’t it ridiculous? The man who threatened me to create Damascus Steel is now telling me to build up trust.”

“Ridiculous? In that case, why do you think old man Sophites let me in?”

Hearing Kusla’s words, Sophites could not help but snicker, only to sigh.

Irine was an orphan born of foreign lands, and came to this town to seek a living. She probably had talent in blacksmithing, and soon after, distinguished herself in the workshop that took her in, and even married the master of the workshop. Her deceased husband was one of the influential people to this town, of the same generation as Sophites.

But Kusla had a strong impression that Irine got married not out of love, but because her master wanted to give everything he had for his best disciple. The only blacksmith of the old era still alive, Sophites, probably viewed Irine as his grandchild for this particular reason.

Of course, that feisty personality of hers caused Sophites much headache in some way.

“Irine. They’re the ones kicking you towards the direction you really want to go to, no?”

“I prefer if you say that they’re giving me a push.”

“This brat’s only willing to move if someone gives her a hard push from behind. It’s great that you are willing to do this for her. Are you listening, Irine?”

Sophites’ tone became a little rigid, and Irine inadvertently straightened up.

As a blacksmith, she probably got told off fiercely in this workshop.

“…I, am.”

“This journey tow Kazan is not like how it was when you arrived in this town. Everyone pitied you and assisted you in all kinds of ways. The migrant group are all aiming for treasure, no different from bandits. They left their hometown, with no intention of returning home, and are prepared to rob and profit. In such situations, the more companions you have, the better.”

The words of one with such experiences certainly bore more weight.

Irine nodded unwillingly, and glanced at Kusla.

And Kusla caught her stare, interrupting,

“I’m not intending to come here and shake hands with you, going ‘Let’s be friends’. We still have a few days to prepare, and we have the materials in our workshop, while you have the skills. Most importantly, you know how to create such an amazing metal.”

Kusla was referring to the fake Damascus Steel, and Irine was obsessed with blacksmithing. No matter how blatant Kusla’s praise was, Irine was unable to hide her elation. She probably would be perturbed by her own delight.

“…S-so, what are you trying to get at?”

“I hope you can teach us all kinds of blacksmithing knowledge, and we have some things to teach you.”

Irine widened her eyes in shock, only to show a ‘I won’t be bluffed’ expression later on.

“This is–”

“We don’t need you to go into detail when teaching us. Our speciality is to duplicate with our eyes. I’m thinking that you might as well work in our workshop rather than hammer away here. I’m thinking that you’ll enjoy your time there; in any case, that is an Alchemist workshop with all kinds of materials, materials that many outstanding blacksmiths wouldn’t have in theirs.”

“Uu…”

“I do feel that it’s good to know what we can do, and what we can’t. In case anything happens, we’ll be able to help each other out.”

This was an action that was thoroughly based on logic.

Anything they could used would be used, anything they could try would be tried.

Alchemists were creatures that continued forward in this manner.

“I understand if you hate me, and it’s fine to despise me. Result-wise, I’m the one who convinced you to leave this town you’re used to staying in. But blacksmithing and metallurgy has nothing to do with whether a person likes or hates someone, right? I just feel that this benefits everyone, and that’s why I came here. The time has been short, but you are someone who once led a GUild. I am looking forward to seeing your calm decision.”

Sophites’ shoulders shuddered slightly as he chuckled. Irine gave a displeased look, seemingly peeved. She understood that if she was to refuse at this point, Who’s the one being childish now? she would be seen through.

Also, when Kusla mentioned the many tools and materials in an Alchemist’s workshop, Irine’s expression betrayed her answer.”

Anyone obsessed with metallurgy and blacksmithing would be attracted to an Alchemist’s workshop.

Irine remained silent for a while.

However, this silence merely lasted as long as it took for a person to drown.

“…Can I really, work as I want to?”

Kusla shrugged, saying,

“Alchemists are so reviled, because they have too much freedom.”

Sophites let out a laugh, and Irine placed her hands on her hips, seemingly surrendering.

030

 

Irine originally intended to make trips between Sophites’ house and the workshop, but metallurgy work would take nights at times, and most importantly, there was not much time until they depart for Kazan.

Later on, Irine changed her mind. Since she was able to do whatever she wanted to, she might as well. Thus, she abided by her own wishes, and decided to stay on Kusla’s workshop She wanted to hurry and pack her belongings before going to the workshop, but Kusla was not the gentleman who would lend a helping hand.

I’ll be waiting at the workshop, Kusla left those words behind, and turned to leave. Sophites patted Kusla on the back, and this action seemed to indicate ‘I’ll be leaving Irine to you’. At the same time, it also had the meaning of ‘if something is to happen to her, I’ll never forgive you’. Certainly, that encompassed the fatherly concern he had for Irine.

Kusla showed an undaunted, Alchemist-like smile.

After a wordless exchange, Kusla left Sophites’ house, and head off to the workshop.

He arrived at a cross junction with the road leading to the market, and encountered Weyland and Fenesis.

“What’s the matter~?”

As usual, Weyland dragged on the end of his words as he greeted Kusla, while Fenesis beside him frantically pulled back her hand that was outstretched towards the cloth bag Weyland was holding. She turned her head away, and quickly stuffed what she was holding into her mouth as though she was trying to hide it. However, Kusla spotted what appeared to be raisins.

Weyland typically would not eat such things; certainly, he bought these for Fenesis.

Weyland did not appear to desire an argument with Kusla, but he would do this to anyone whenever he had a girl with him.

“She’s coming to the workshop. I’m going to prepare.”

“Great~. I got a lot of things to ask~”

Weyland looked hopeful, and for some reason, he sounded weird.

“Do anything to her, and there’ll be a fight.”

“I won’t do such a thing~”

“Speaking of which…”

Kusla glanced at the other bag slung over Weyland’s shoulder, saying,

“You went to the market? If you’re preparing for the trip, discuss with me first.”

“Hm? Ahh, that’s not it~. I had to go get a batch of craft tools~”

“Craft tools?”

There are some Alchemists who would carry gemstones around, but those were certainly not for appearance sake. These gemstones seemed to have some significance, like Sapphires being able to cure poison, Amethyst would improve knowledge, Emeralds could discern lies, but these effects appeared to be a little more effective than prayers to God. The main reason why Alchemists would carry them around was for practicality, that in case anything happened, they could exchange these gemstones for Gold.

Thus, what happened in the morning that infuriated Fenesis was a half-truth. The people who were so reviled in the towns could only rely on their skills or gold. Alchemists were not blacksmiths nor merchants, they had no way of obtaining money. In that case, they could only rob.

But despite this, Kusla looked completely intrigued, for that bag containing the craft tools looked a little strange. Certainly, if one was to put on the contents inside the bag, he would resemble royalty.

“What’s with all that?”

“Presents~”

“Heh?”

Kusla could not help but ask back, and suddenly looked towards Fenesis.

Fenesis noticed Kusla’s stare, and glared back, pouting.

“I said that I would give some to little Ul though~”

Weyland noticed their stares, and quipped,

“I-it doesn’t suit me anyway.”

Fenesis said so, and suddenly turned her head aside.

It seemed she was still petty over the fact that Kusla made her dress up like a country girl. Alarmingly, she did not mesh with the dress up of one, probably because of her hair color and petite body. However, Kusla had a feel that gemstones would fit her, and though he had this thought, he had no intention to speak up.

“A present? To the girls you picked up in this town?”

Kusla asked as he shot Weyland a look, and the latter did not answer, merely smiling,

“That’s a lot.”

Kusla was dumbfounded as he said this.

“So, what about you? Did he buy some nice sweets for you?”

“Th-this is not it!”

“Then what is it?”

Kusla looked at the bag Fenesis was holding onto, and the latter panicked, turning away to hide the items behind.

“N-nothing at all.”

An Alchemist’s curiosity could kill a cat. The more Fenesis tried to hide herself, the more Kusla wanted to see through her. However, there was the plating incident from before, and if he was to continue probing her, she would pout again. When that happened, things would get troublesome, so Kusla did not probe into the matter any further.

“Humph, whatever. In any case, once Irine arrives, we’ll be getting busier. We need to start preparing for the trip.”

“Better clear up the mess on the failed plating~.”

“…Understood.”

Kusla said, and let out a sigh.

This conversation probably sounded too spiteful, for Fenesis’ lips were twitching as she seemed to have something she wanted to say. However, she did not, and continued to stare at the floor as she walked.

“?”

Kusla glanced at Fenesis’ sidelong face as he walked on, and when he was able to see the workshop, his eyes caught sight of something else. A boy was standing in front of the workshop, dressed in a familiar, crude attire of a mountain tribe.

The boy noticed Kusla’s group approaching, and his eyes first fall upon Fenesis.

“Is there anything~?”

Weyland asked, and the boy nodded, seemingly remembering his mission.

“You two, come over to the Knights Headquarters.”

“Heh? Is there something~”

“I don’t know.”

It was a standard messenger’s answer. Weyland sighed impatiently. Beside him, Kusla unlocked the door, and entered the workshop. Weyland too was able to enter, only to suddenly stop, and handed over the bag of raisins to the boy.

“We can’t finish it. For you~”

The boy was a little taken aback, but upon seeing that it was raisins inside, he could not help but show a smile.

He looked a little immature whenever he smiled, and perhaps, he might be younger than his appearance implied.

As he thanked them, the boy seemed to notice Fenesis’ stare.

The girl was giving a yearning look at the bag that was handed to the boy’s hands, but that was probably a subconscious action. Once the boy’s stare met hers, she was taken aback.

The boy suddenly reached into the bag, and grabbed a handful of raisins before handing the rest to Fenesis. He smiled at a dumbfounded Fenesis, and turned to leave.

Weyland laughed as his shoulders shook. These two are really immature.

“”And you worry too much too, Kusla.”

“Hah.”

Kusla shrugged, ignoring Weyland’s words as he continued,

“But what’s with the Knights summoning us now? They aren’t going to cancel our trip to Kazan now, right?”

“I don’t want to think about that…but let’s go first. Making those guys unhappy isn’t going to benefit us~”

“Agreeed.”

Kusla answered, and Weyland placed the obtained goods at the bottom level of the workshop.

Fenesis stood blankly at the door, staring in the direction where the boy vanished.

“Hey.”

Kusla called out to her, and she jolted, cringing. The bag tilted over, and the contents spilled out.

Always worrying?

That certainly was the case.

“Clean up the dropped raisins, and put your stuff down. Or are you going to wait for Irine alone here?”

It seemed Fenesis really imagined such a scene, but she probably could not think of anything with regards to Irine, since they never had any interaction before. She obeyed Kusla’s words begrudgingly, picked up the dropped raisins, and placed the bag in the kitchen.

“Goodness.”

Kusla muttered, and suddenly noticed another bag Fenesis brought back which was left on the table. Weyland did not bring this downstairs, which meant that he did not buy it, but that he held it for Fenesis.

What is that? Driven by curiosity, Kusla opened the bag slightly and peered into the contents. He then sensed Fenesis’ return, and hurriedly sealed the bag again.

At that moment, Fenesis finally noticed that she left without taking the bag. She took large strides to the table, grabbed the bag furiously, and again teetered to the kitchen.

“…”

Kusla watched her back, and scratched his head.

There was a herb used to treat burn wounds inside the bag.

Kusla deliberately played dumb as he asked Fenesis while the latter rushed back.

“What did you buy?”

“I-it has nothing to do with you.”

Kusla did not ask any further.

However, he felt foolish to be delighted by this, and felt gaudy as a result. If he was to take this gaudiness into consideration, it was true that he was always worrying.

 

The Knights headquarters was built upon the premier, wealthy area of Gulbetty. It was said this building was originally built by the Guild that once ruled the town, but the Knights wanted to hurry and exert control on the town, so they had their eyes on this Guild, devoured it, and took over the building. It was a world where the strong preyed upon the weak, and this was a classic example.

In this world, freedom was merely an insignificant concept no matter the place. Alchemists could lie and say they were doing research, and request for massive funding from the Knights; they also had the privilege of being exempt from the Church’s persecution even as they delve into strange experimentation. Ultimately, that was merely because they were protected by the Knights. If the knowledge in their minds become dated or obsolete, they would instantly become disposable waste.

Nobody could deny that this was the truth to life, and Alchemists, who valued the logic of all things, had no choice but to accept this truth.

But this one fact left Kusla a little bitter.

For the ones stopping people from pursuing their dreams would always be reality.

“Even so, we can’t just leave them aside as a bunch of people that are simply pursuing their daydreams.”

Kusla was woken up by this one line.

After being summoned to Headquarters, Kusla’s group found the Heralding officer who was in full charge of the Kazan route Gren Alzen, and the latter was waiting for them. It certainly seemed he was a lackey, given his title as a Herald of the Azami’s Crest, and he was given a high position, for he was in charge of notifying others that the King was passing through, and get the towns to be on standby. He was dressed in a fur coat, with an ornamented sword of no practical purpose dangling at the waist. The latter item certainly signified that the authority given to this man for any typical matter.

Alzen was not so old that his back was arched, but he liked to clasp his hands behind his back whenever he talked. He was standing as he talked, probably to show respect to Autris, but in any case, he was obviously much more dignified than the latter. ‘We cannot simply let them be’, Alzen was serious in tone as he said this, but he was referring to a bunch of wanderers said to be searching for the ‘Golden Sheep’ that was mentioned in ancient myths. It appeared that the Crest of Azami expanded on their search perimeter as they verified the safety of the North.

“What do you want us to do with them? The myth of the Golden Sheep isn’t rare, right? I heard that there’s a lot of such myths amongst the wanderers.”

Kusla mentioned this, but not because of Fenesis, who was standing diagonally behind him.

Even amongst Alchemists, who lived in the walls of towns, there were a few myths of varying authenticity. It was not strange for a strange myth or two to occur amongst the drifting wanderers.

“Hm. I’m not telling you to do anything to them. However, this matter involves the country that is ruled by the Queen that is unwilling to abandon Pagan beliefs. The folks pursuing the Golden Sheep are in the land of Klasse…in other words, an important area south of Kazan. This is a problem.”

Alzen probably assumed that he was smart, which was why he spoke in such a roundabout manner. Or perhaps he was just fooling around, wanting his listeners to think.

044

“Do you not understand?”

Looking at that wordless expression however, it was probably the latter.

“That is the case. In other words, the Golden Sheep might be an euphemism. Those people are actually speculators searching for gold mines. Wars are basically a contest of financial resources. Now that I mention it, the answer’s obvious, isn’t it?”

“…So the wanderers are called over to their lands to search for gold mines and assist in war expenses?”

“Yes. In any case, that place now is ruled under the same Orthodox realm. If we are to exert force on that land and capture the wanderers for interrogation, we will not be able to stand politically. Thus, I hope that you make a trip to Klasse while you are on your way to Kazan. There is still some time till departure, and you may flip through the old books in your workshop. I suppose you people are free at the moment, no?”

If it is something that can be used, they would use anything.

Kusla shrugged.

“It doesn’t matter whether this myth is real or not. In any case, Klasse will become a piece of land ruled under us Knights, and it’s not good to have a group of unknown people wander around. You should know this very well.”

Kusla sensed that Alzen shot Fenesis a look.

“And if anything is to happen, His Highness will be pleased.”

Alzen was affiliated to the Knights squadron that was in charge of moving migrants to the conquered Pagan towns and restore security and order there. Leading these forces of the Azami’s Crest was a regal noble of the South–Archduke Kratal. However, it would be disrespectful to address him directly by his title, so typically, they would address him as ‘Your Highness’.

The Herald’s words were filled with intent, and even the governor lifted his head. Kusla could not help but raise an eyebrow.

Certainly, Alzen intended to show some results. He might be eyeing a high position at Kazan, the position of nobility to seize control of authority. If he was to report to the superiors that on the way to Kazan, the forces discovered gold, his own reputation would increase exponentially, and he might even be ordered to manage the mine.

However, Kusla, and even Weyland were looking enthusiastic.

Kusla tersely replied,

“You’re asking us to investigate, right? But we can’t guarantee the results.”

Autris, who remained seated behind the desk all this while, was the master of this room, but he was overwhelmed by the vigor of the Herald, and had a faint presence as a result. At this moment, his lips showed a devious smirk. He was once fooled by Kusla and Weyland, so he probably was feeling elated seeing that Alzen was unable to control them.

But before Alzen could realize, the smile vanished off Autris’ face, as the latter said,

“Dear Herald, these two are adept in skill, but they are dubious in reputation. I shall have a few words to them.”

“Hm.”

Alzen glanced aside at the Alchemists, whose reactions were not as he desired, and nodded.

Kusla’s group had fallen on Autris’ bad side, but the latter did not have the authority to revoke their migration permit to Kazan, so they could simply respond as they wished. Right when Kusla had such a thought.

“Speaking of which, duty-wise, I am allowed to delegate exactly when the people in the group are able to reach which particular town.”

What’s with that? Kusla and Weyland inadvertently exchanged glances.

“First, we’ll despatch scouts to investigate, have them report to the people in the group that is waiting in the meantime, assess the safety by sending in the vanguard, then the merchants of the Baggage Corps to discuss with the locals, and secure the lodging, food, water and fuel supplies for the group. After them will be the main group, followed by the rearguard. I shall repeat this procedure over and over again until we reach Kazan.”

Only a person who commanded all these would be able to say such words so fluently.

But what exactly was he implying?

Seeing Kusla look back perplexedly, Alzen stated without restraint.

“Of course, this includes the priority of who gets to enter the town.”

“!”

Kusla and Weyland did not gasp so much as to show such a reaction, but their eyes faltered for a moment. The one in charge of managing the group’s advance certainly would not have missed out on their reactions.

“You are intending to get hold of the knowledge and skills that will be hidden, right? If it is for the sake of the right beliefs, that heretical inquisition of the Choir that even nitpicks the way we yawn will enter the town along with the scouts that are guarding the town. After that, it’ll be the headquarters of His Highness and the officials that are to manage the town. You will be assigned to the rearguard like the blacksmiths and merchants. Also, the Knights Headquarters will be sending in the Grand Alchemist, Professor Marcus Lloyd, and since he will be tasked with recording the knowledge and skills, he will be acting along with the heretical inquisition. Now then.”

The Herald announced his plans proudly,

“What is my duty then?”

After discussions on whether they were taboo or not, the knowledge and skills that existed in Kazan would be sealed accordingly.

But even so, as it was by work of man, it would take some time for them to finish their investigations.

For Kusla’s group, who intended to obtain new knowledge, the priority to enter the town was very important.

And Alzen, standing in front of them, was on the commander on when the migrants would enter the town.

“It appears that this will be of mutual interest to us.”

Alzen did not smile, stating it as though it was a matter of fact.

Kusla glanced aside at Weyland, and the latter did the same.

While this was a situation where their hands were forced, that they were caught by their weakness, Kusla’s group managed to make the correct call in the nick of time.

“That is the case.”

Kusla answered, and for the first time, Alzen showed a smile. In this situation, Autris was the only one gritting his teeth, seeing this conversation proceed smoothly while he was left aside.

“I shall inform you of the details when we proceed. Before then, you will need to make your investigations.”

Kusla’s group nodded, and as they had nothing to gain by staying, they were about to turn and leave, “Speaking of which.” before Alzen continued.

“It appears that sample can no longer be created again.”

Kusla understood very well that he was referring to the Damascus Steel.

They were afraid that a sword made of Damascus steel would be lost or stolen, and to help smoothen the negotiation process, they submitted the Damascus Steel directly to Archduke Kratal, and the Archduke immediately ordered that they be part of the migrants to kazan. However, someone well-informed like Alzen would have probably heard that Kusla’s group got chosen because of the Damascus Steel.

Thus.

Kusla naturally could expect them to wonder if they could get a find sword upon hearing of what happened. Because of that, the gang spoke with Irine beforehand, and agreed.

“Forging it is not a problem. However, we asked the governor beforehand, and even he could not obtain some of the materials required.”

A sword forged with such a precious metal like Damascus Steel would grant absolute authority to its widler.

But that would be due to how rare Damascus Steel was. If they were to try recreating it again, it would diminish the value of the Damascus Steel in Archduke Kratal’s hands.

Thus, rather than saying that it was the case, the governor’s words that ‘Some materials couldn’t be obtained’ fit into the Archduke’s narrative. It could prevent anyone else from possessing this Damasus Steel, and assure the value of the sword in his hands.

The Herald probably would not think of such a foolish thing and have a noble like that Archduke keep an eye on him.

“I see.”

Alzen seemed to be saying it for the sake of it, and remained nonchalant as he did not press with the issue. He probably considered the risk of Kusla’s group reporting him to the authorities, saying that he had eyes on the Damascus Steel.

Leaving aside whether Kusla was able to get along with this Herald, at the very least, he understood that the Herald was a decent negotiator. In fact, Alzen did not order them, but made a proposal to them with regards to the investigations on the migrants.

“Now then, we shall be off for our preparations.”

“Certainly.”

Kusla’s group left the group, good grief, and he let out a sigh.

“Another strange job for us.”

“I wonder if he’s trying to set a trap for us~”

“Trick us, and force us to create Damascus Steel?”

“Hmm…suppose not. If we’re to report him, he’ll be exposed for going against his master.”

Of course. Alchemists were Alchemists. What they informed the Archduke was completely different from what they told Alzen. After offering the sword, the Archduke asked if this Damascus Steel could be mass produced, but they told the Archduke that the blacksmith who knew of the ingredients and composition had died, and the method to smelt Damascus Steel would forever be a mystery. The Archduke did not order them to seek a new way to make it, and it was likely that he assumed it would be better to lose the art of smelting it so as to preserve the value of Damascus Steel in his hands.

However, the Herald certainly would not be asking the Archduke on such matters, so Kusla had no worries of being exposed even though he lied.

They continued down the vacant corridor, and Kusla suddenly looked over at the silent Fenesis.

“Anyway, do you have an idea on what the Herald just said?”

Fenesis heard Kusla’s voice, and gave a disgusted look. However, it was because they were arguing just a while back, and yet Kusla was talking to her so casually.

“You’re a wanderer, just like them, you know?”

However, Alzen probably knew of Fenesis’ heritage, and it was because he considered this matter that he got Kusla’s group over to talk. Fenesis too must have thought about that.

Weyland too understood what was going on as he listened in on their conversation wordlessly.

However, Fenesis noted with a slightly dejected look.

“I don’t know anything.”

They were all called wanderers, but this world was too vast, and there were many people drifting around out there.

Kusla shook his shoulders slightly, and Fenesis looked a little peeved as she said,

“B-but, I do know of the myth of the Golden Sheep.”

“Fwah.”

Weyland inadvertently broke out a rare chuckle.

And Fenesis appeared to have realized that she was acting tough again for no significant reason at all.

The face under the hood began to redden.

“It’s really encouraging to hear that.”

Kusla calmly said, and put his hand on Fenesis’ head, only for the latter to shake it off in disgust.

Weyland cackled away gleefully, and Kusla sensed the value of teasing Fenesis’ childish self. The latter groand deeply, and reached her hands for her head, either to readjust her hood, or to cover her head.

“Well, if we’re going to investigate on myths, we can do it without having some special knowledge partner.”

Kusla said, and Fenesis appeared as though she was about to break into tears, looking at Kusla.

“Also, my burn isn’t hurting me much.”

“!”

Fenesis was saying this and that, and yet she went to purchase herbs to treat burn wounds; she stopped in her tracks. Kusla and Weyland continued on, and only the former looked back, saying,

“If every little thing is enough to rattle you, it means you’re still far from being a peerless Alchemist.”

Fenesis inadvertently lifted her head, wanting to say something, but unable to speak up. For Fenesis, who had been persecuted, her tribe slaughtered, it was probably a heavy-hearted matter that her mistake resulted in someone else being hurt.

“Or are you going to stop here?”

But Kusla’s tone remained cold the entire way.

Weyland was already far in front of them. The one who stopped because she was conflicted over her past, the one telling off a certain person, and the one callously moving on; perhaps the image formed by this trio formed a shadow of those headed to Magdala.

“Let’s go.”

Saying that, Kusla too walked forward. No matter how he thought of Fenesis as being part of his own Magdala, he could not be concerned of her everything. It was like a bodyguard who, no matter how outstanding her was, could not prevent a Princess from committing suicide.

Weyland turned around the corner, vanishing beyond that, and Kusla heard light footsteps teetering behind him.

Soon after, Fenesis caught up, following Kusla diagonally from behind.

Kusla sensed that in such an atmosphere, it would not be strange for her to break down in tears. However, he heard some unexpected words.

“I am…really sorry, for causing that burn on you.”

Such a rigid manner of speech caused Kusla to nearly burst into laughter, but he sensed that Fenesis was doing her best. Also, seeing those herbs was enough for him to feel her apology.

“Anyway, I’ll let this pass, barely.”

Those were sincere words.

Fenesis probably understood this too, Yes, she nodded lightly.

“But that isn’t all.”

“Hm?”

Kusla turned to Fenesis as he turned around the corner, and stared firmly at those beautiful, emerald eyes of hers.

“There is something else you have to apologize for.”

“Eh…”

Kusla said, and Fenesis nearly stopped in her tracks again.

However, it seemed she could not understand what it was, and looked really skeptical.

Kusla tried his best to rein in his laughter, saying,

“You still don’t understand?”

“…”

Fenesis bashfully lowered her head dejectedly, and Kusla told her.

“You should apologize for being duped so easily, shouldn’t you?”

“…”

A dumbfounded Fenesis tumbled over on the ground.

This is someone worth teasing. Kusla could not help but think. However, he was serious about Fenesis, who was about to stand up.

“If you’re duped by others and fall into a trap, we may end up in danger too. Did you forget about how you were duped into saying ‘that man’s thing’?”

“Ah!”

Fenesis stared at the floor in shock, her hands shaking as they pressed against the floor.

“If you understand, stand up.”

Fenesis probably was blaming herself, for she continued to keep her head lowered as she got to her feet.

We’re going to be in for a long road ahead of us. Kusla sighed.

“I want you to know that I didn’t lie to you just to make you hate me.”

Fenesis gave a really displeased look at Kusla, and seemed to be at her limit, saying,

“That sounds like a lie.”

“Then you better be on your guard. From now on, try not to show your true feelings as much as possible.”

“…”

“As for you being careless and showing me the herbs for treating burns, that’s another matter altogether.”

“!”

Fenesis’ face was flushed red, and Kusla could not help but cackle.

“Well, it’s rare for you to be so kind, so I’ll accept it. The burn on the back hurts when I’m sleeping.”

“Uu…”

Fenesis groaned, and sighed, seemingly having given up.

“…You are…really sly…”

“Do you want to be a companion of this sly person?”

Kusla lowered his head and looked at Fenesis, who frowned back.

“…You told me not to show my real emotion as much as possible.”

“Yes I did.”

Kusla chuckled as he replied, and Fenesis furiously turned her face aside.

But as they followed Weyland out of the building, Fenesis was not walking diagonally behind Kusla, but beside him.

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