[Magdala V3] Act 2

Soon after Kusla and the gang returned to the workshop, Irine arrived with luggage in tow.

Kusla had assumed that she would be bringing back a large pile of them, but she merely brought a few belongings that were barely able to fit into a firm sack slung on her back. It appeared that there would be no problems for her to head out on a journey as she was.

Sophites probably had her pack up.

“No turning back now, you know?”

Kusla gave a teasing smile, and Irine turned her face aside, giving a stoic face as she said,

“This is the third time I made this kind of a decision.”

Irine spoke with a pretentiously intimate voice, and entered the workshop to seemingly throw off Kusla. She was unyielding not simply personality wise, but also enthusiastic, never the kind of guest who would arrive just because she was invited. Kusla could sense some form of determination from her; if it was possible, she would loot every material and knowledge in this workshop. Irine was not a pampered princess; she knew very well that she had to establish herself in a place with more than 2 people around. She would be doomed if she were belittled, and the fundamentals of human relationships is that first impressions are key; this line applied not simply to Alchemists themselves.

This was not merely putting on a facade or being stubborn, but a thought process that was practical for any situations.

Kusla did not hate this.

But there was something he was very curious about something.

“Leaving your hometown to come here is one, arriving at this workshop is another, so what’s the other one?”

Kusla asked, and the one who answered him was Weyland, wrapping a cloth around the handle of the hammer.

“Marriage, I suppose~?”

Irine glanced aside at Weyland, and then looked at Kusla.

“There are all kinds of Alchemists, aren’t there?”

“I can’t deny that.”

Kusla shrugged, and closed the door.

“There should be a cute one who’s completely different from you in this workshop, no? Where is she?”

“I hope you’ll try not to have arguments.”

“What nonsense are you saying now? That’s not what I’m getting at. That girl…she gave me a nudge from behind too, so I want to greet her.”

Speaking of which, while Kusla was interrogating Irine, Fenesis seemed to say something to irine.

Believe in luck. if he recalled correctly.

I see. Kusla thought.

“Just to add on, we’re cute too~”

Weyland said, and Irine again could not help but show him a strange look.

“There really are all kinds of them.”

“She’s cleaning up downstairs. Anyway, put down your luggage first.”

Kusla saw the luggage Irine carried into the workshop, and could not help but worry if there were bottles containing medicine or powder.

However, Irine did not do as she was told immediately, instead giving him a taunting look.

“One thing I want to ask.”

“What is it?”

“What is that person?”

“What do you mean?”

Kusla asked back. He was not intending to buy time or bluff Irine; he simply did not understand the intent behind her question.

“She’s someone from this workshop.”

“…But she’s dressed up as a nun.”

“Ahh…she was from the monastery. It’s said that she was born in a distant desert, and drifted here.”

“…”

Despite hearing Kusla’s explanation, Irine’s expression showed no change.

Did she see Fenesis’ ears somewhere before? Kusla wondered, and then,

“Are you going to ask if little Ul was bought with money~”

“Huh!?”

Upon hearing Weyland’s words, Kusla was the first to blurt that out.

“Well, that girl certainly doesn’t fit in a workshop with only two men living in it. Isn’t it normal for her to have such thoughts~?”

“That’s…”

Kusla cleared his throat. He finally understood.

“Ahh, you’re asking if she’s our toy?”

“Wait!”

Irine shot Kusla a scathing look, but the latter merely sighed wordlessly.

“Well, she’s not a toy for fooling around with.”

Weyland snickered as he held the cloth firmly, wrapping the handle. He swung a few times, and gave a satisfied look.

And then, he stuck the hammer at his waist like a dagger, saying,

“I’ll speak up when Kusla’s ashamed for getting the point across himself, alright~?”

“Hey.”

“Ashamed?”

Irine frowned harder upon seeing Kusla’s hapless self, and glared at the latter. At this moment, Kusla found himself to be in an awkward position, and that he was manipulated by Weyland. Weylan probably saw Irine’s value as a blacksmith, expertise-wise, and so he wanted to use Kusla as bait to create an opportunity and have Irine open her heart. This time, the method he used was a lot gentler than when they first encountered Fenesis.

But to Kusla, if he was to put us a facade and lie to Irine, causing her imagination to run wild, things would get difficult for him. In fact, Fenesis had a unique characteristic, one which there would be difficulties talking about. They would be taking action along with Irine in the future, and one day, they would have to explain matters to her. However, Kusla could not determine if it was an appropriate moment. Irine might have some strange thoughts or guesses before that moment arrived, so Kusla wanted to eliminate such possibilities beforehand. He took a deep breath, and said,

“She’s someone necessary for me to attain my dreams.”

“!”

Irine inadvertently retreated.

“Ah, so you’re that kind of Alchemist…”

Kusla too realized the inappropriate choice of words,

“No. This is troublesome…”

Kusla could not help but scratch his head, and Weyland then interrupted,

“Kusla had a childhood friend from his hometown when he was younger, but that childhood friend was killed by bandits, and he always wanted the power to protect the ones he loves. Because of that, he’s seeking the sword of Orichalcum. What’s next after that is to use that sword to protect the Princess~. You understand?”

Irine and Kusla looked flabbergasted as Weyland rattled on.

And then, Irine turned her head towards Kusla as gingerly as a water wheel with its teeth unhinged.

Kusla too was dumbfounded seeing how Weyland mentioned this dream even he had. One of these days, I’m going to get one right back at you, Weyland! He grudgingly thought. However, he could not deny what Weyland said. Remaining calm, he said reluctantly,

“…I-in this sense, I find myself to be ridiculous too.”

“!”

Irine gasped, and Kusla had a feeling that the feisty looking hair bundled on her hair expanded.

“Th-there really is…”

She continued on, perturbedly,

“All kinds of Alchemists.”

“I won’t deny that.”

The name ‘Interest’ really is inhumane, Kusla thought bitterly. However, he definitely would not lie when the matter was regarding Magdala. This time, he lost completely to Weyland, who manipulated him. He glared at the latter, but the latter returned with a gleeful grin.

“So-so, that child…no, that person isn’t your slave or something…”?”

“Of course not. Her mistake resulted in a plating failure. That’s why we had her clean up the mess.”

“Plating? With mercury?”

“I said we have everything here, right?”

Mercury was available only in limited quantities, like cinnabar from the mountains. Many knew of the skill called plating, but they would still be fooled by metals plated gold or silver. That was because it was difficult to see the actual plated item.

Irine’s eyes were glittering like a cat eyeing a bird in front of it.

“I can go help now, right?”

And upon saying that, she seemed to realize something, and adds on,

“It’s really great, to be able to experiment freely.”

Kusla merely shrugged at this.

Irine again carried the luggage she brought, and was about to head downstairs.

She placed her hand on the railing, and suddenly turned her head around.

“Did you drop something?”

“Something I have to say to you first.”

Irine looked really displeased.

“I really want to leave this town.”

And so, she descended the stairs without looking back.

Kusla and Weyland were left alone upstairs, and from their facial expressions, it appeared they understood what Irine was implying.

 

Irine was capable, and it was obvious comparing her, who just finished cleaning up, and Fenesis. Fenesis was completely covered in soot, appearing as though she entered a chimney. However, Irine merely got the hem of her clothes dirtied.

With fleet movements, Irine began to prepare plating again before the cleaned furnace.

Without either Kusla or Weyland’s instructions, she was able to proceed with her work smoothly. Fenesis only had the knowledge of how to plate through the book she read, and could not catch up with Irine’s working speed. Halfway through, she could only watch blankly.

Irine heated the mercury skilfully, and did not let it boil suddenly. She placed the gold inside the mercury, and then the main material for plating, a piece of copper. After that, the plating was done. Kusla and Weyland thought they should simply let the mercury vaporize since they were going to leave the workshop, but Irine managed to keep the mercury back properly. The method she used was distillation, the same as when they were extracting zinc. Fenesis was overwhelmingly lacking in this knowledge when compared to Irine.

The final product obtained from this plating work was such that unless someone was adept at handling metals, it would be difficult for anyone to distinguish whether it was real.

Fenesis understood the purpose of the plating, and was unable to be happy at seeing the finished product, but it was only after dinner did the others realize another reason as to why she was unhappy.

Heading to Kazan, Kusla’s group had to leave this workshop, but whatever they could take away was Autris’ responsibility. Thus, Autris would send in his subordinates to affirm what was inside the workshop, and record down the items. After some discussion, Kusla and Weyland chose to take along a few items they felt would not be detected if taken away, and replace them with cheap replacements. That was why they were proceeding with the plating.

After the plating was done, Irine inquired about the purpose of the plating, and Kusla brazen told her that. This plot caused Irine to frown, but her lips showed a delighted smirk. After that plating, the trio started plotting other ideas.

How about we swap all the diamonds and gemstones for glass? Irine asked. It appeared that since she inherited the title of the blacksmith guild leader from her deceased husband, she had some grudge accumulated within her, and was intending to get one back at them.

Once they got down on how to execute it, the trio began having furious discussions, resulting in them having some nibbles of bread in front of the furnace for dinner. However, Irine’s enthusiasm was certainly not simply due to her desire to exact revenge on the Knights. As a blacksmith, she had a repressed curiosity for knowledge, and this so happened to overflow in this moment.

After their discussions were basically over, Weyland suddenly asked Irine on the subject that most interested her, smelting metal. At this moment, Kusla noticed that Fenesis was no longer in front of the furnace.

He went upstairs to have a look, and found Fenesis seated by the table alone, staring listlessly at the opened massive book in front of her.

Once he ascended the stairs, she glanced aside, looking a little uninterested, before looking back at that book. Kusla heard a few flipping of pages, took a wine bottle from the cupboard, and poured it into the unglazed cup.

“You aren’t going down?”

Fenesis lifted her head upon hearing Kusla’s question,

“They’re about to start smelting iron.”

“Iron…?”

Fenesis seemed a little annoyed as she said,

“You aren’t interested?”

Kusla went straight to the point, and Fenesis wanted to refute immediately, but in the end, did not say anything as she continued staring at the book in front of her. Kusla sighed; he knew that Fenesis was feigning disinterest in iron.

He looked at the table. It appeared she had dinner alone at this place.

Kusla guessed why she was doing this.

“Looks like you’re scared of strangers.”

The stare on the book lifted up.

It was the same when she helped clean up with Irine after the plating was done; she was stammering after Irine greeted her, faltering.

But there should be another reason as to why Fenesis was pouting away in this place.

“And there’s also that, right? Irine has great skills.”

Once Kusla said that, Fenesis froze.

I guessed so, Kusla could not even sigh at this.

“You came to this workshop earlier than she did, but she’s more useful than you, right?”

Irine arrived, so Fenesis, dressed as a nun, put on her hood.

But even with the hood on, one could see her ears twitching.

“Imbecile. Don’t mind such things. , or you’ll end up in a gaudy situation again.”

Kusla filled the vessel with wine again, probably thirsty from having talked too much.

“If you’re always conceited or trying to gain any standing, you’ll get tunnel vision easily. Those who have a conceited mindset are the easiest to manipulate. For example, a certain nun who thinks, I’m a Holy messenger of God, and you people are alchemists that know nothing.”

“…”

“Also, if you continue to be stubborn, you’ll lose a lot of things. Right that, that is the case. That strange conceited thinkings of yours meant that you wouldn’t look at the smelting, and you’ll lose a lot of experience. Irine’s blacksmithing skills differ from the usual, and even Weyland, who know a lot about them, and learn something.”

Fenesis’ eyes slowly lowered, before finally landing on the book again.

However, her eyes clearly were not seeing anything.

“As a member of the workshop, naturally, those with much ability are much better than those with little ability, and the ones with little ability are in the way. We don’t want those companions who are unenthusiastic and cause us trouble.”

“!”

Kusla made a deliberate choice of the word, ‘companion’, one which he hardly used. It appeared to be effective.

He cooly analyzed the situation. It appeared that saying this to rattle Fenesis was somewhat deccent.

“If you get it, hurry up and stand up. If you don’t, continue reading.”

With a thud, Fenesis got to her feet. Typically, Kusla would be looking down at her, but Fenesis was taller than him as he was sitting down.

He smirked as he lifted his head at her.

“But I don’t know if Irine will be kinder than Weyland as a blacksmith.”

“Ugh.”

Fenesis looked intimidated, but she knew what she had to do.

She closed the book, and went to the bedroom, probably to change her clothes.

Kusla watched her leave, and snorted, casually flipping through the book Fenesis was reading.

“…So she was reading this?”

It was a book containing ancient myths. She probably was investigating the myth of the Golden Sheep.

There was no doubt that she was of no help in plating, so she wanted to help Kusla and the others in other ways.

“…She’s working hard for the wrong purpose again?”

Kusla grumbled, But I guess someone hardworking is better than nothing, and had such a notion.

 

No matter how unscrupulous Irine was, she was once the leader of a blacksmith guild, and most importantly, a guild workshop always had a collective group of workers. Thus, she should be able to understand how to interact with unsociable people. In any case, Fenesis would certainly get along better with Irine as a fellow female.

Kusla was being optimistic, but it seemed his judgment was wrong.

“This is the first time I’m seeing such a powerful bellow.”

She crushed the ores, washed them, filtered them, added wood, poured the coal in, lit the fire, and used the water wheel to power the bellows, injecting air in.

Irine skillfully finished this series of work, as though she had been in this workshop for years. Fenesis obeyed Kusla’s words and came downstairs, initially hoping to help Irine, but she could not do anything.

While Fenesis remained lost, the preparation work for smelting was doing, and the bellows echoed in rhythm with the water wheel, howling like the depths of Hell, inserting air into the furnace. For every breath the bellows blew, sparks fluttered in the furnace, and the golden glint on the iron began to expand.

“Back in my workshop, we need everyone available when smelting iron, and take turns to step on the bellows. This place is good. With a water wheel powering things, even a girl with not much strength won’t lose out to a man.”

Irine beamed as she said so, but nobody answered. Clearly, she was saying those words to Fenesis, but the latter merely lowered her head, remaining silent.

Kusla too could understand Fenesis’ downheartedness.

She was so feeble that while smelting, stomping on a small bellow caused her to passed out. She once had the desire to learn how to connect the water wheel to the bellow.

But despite this, without knowing how the mechanics worked, there were some minor details that were hard to grasp. Fenesis repeated this many times with tears and sweat, and finally managed to do so, so she was feeling rather delighted.

However, without anything guiding her along, Irine had a look at the appearance of the water wheel and the bellow, and was able to get the bellow going on the first try.

For Fenesis, it was disheartening.

“Ahh…”

But naturally, Irine did not know about this. She was momentarily perplexed, not knowing how to respond to Fenesis’ reaction. It was Fenesis who gave Irine a nudge during the Damascus Incident.

Thus, though she was unable to communicate properly with Fenesis the first time they met, she probably felt that the mood would improve immediately, and until then, they would be able to communicate well. After thinking for a while, she seemed to be frustrated, but her attitude was as rigid as he personality, and she decided to continue with the topic first.

“And the workshop here is really clean. Ours is really dirty, and the clean up after work is really tiring.”

It appeared that Irine underwent strict training in the workshop, and was drilled inboth working and cleaning up.

Thus, once the smelting was done, the cleanup after that was completed. Such thoroughness even left Weyland flabbergasted, and for Fenesis, who only managed to remember the steps recently, Irine’s actions were magical.

In this situation, despite Irine telling Fenesis that the cleaning up was the most taxing part, all it did was to deject Fenesis further.

Irine showed a gaudy smile, scratched her head, and returned to work, seemingly to escape. She scooped out the slag that was floating in the furnace, and added some branches with leaves on them into the fire.

“It’s really great to have all kinds of materials. I would have been scolded if I did anything other than the instructed steps in a blacksmith workshop.”

Saying that, Irine spread out the eggshells and dog bones, something she wanted to try for a long time.

These items could increase the malleability of the iron, but it seemed Irine could only use coal or fresh wood in her workshop. It was a common thinking of humans to try other methods due to curiosity. Of course, Irine was trying them out for effect purpose.

“I can really try them out as I went. Looks like I’m luckier than I think.”

But for Fenesis, who finally managed to learn the basics of smelting, whatever Irine was doing was 2-3 steps ahead of her.

And despite Irine saying things to Fenesis, the latter had yet to show any response.

“…”

“I think it’s better to add a little more coal~”

Weyland abruptly interrupted, either because he had enough of Irine’s awkward self, or that he was more adept at smelting than anybody else.

Irine frantically did as he said, and cautiously added a little more coal.

Since then, Irine would glance at Fenesis from time to time, but never talked to the latter again.

Nobody talked to Fenesis, and she stood in the corner of the room, finally looking at Irine. Her face was no longer simply rigid, anguished even, and she continued to remain by the side until midnight, when Irine smelted some coarse iron, before she teetered up the stairs. Looking at her, it was obvious that she was crushed.

The difference in ability between a young lady who just entered a workshop, and a guild leader who went through years of training, with skills forged to a point where men would recognize them, was obvious. If Fenesis however was able to adapt better and handle such interpersonal relationship, her life would be a little easier for her.

Weyland’s eyes were glowing as he stared at the iron block that was still hot, appearing as though he was going to leap upon the iron block and lick it thoroughly. Irine, sweating profusely, left Weyland aside and undid the handkerchief on her head, saying to Kusla,

“Was my talk to her that bad?”

Kusla looked away from where Fenesis left, and stared at Irine, who was a little flustered.

Half her facial muscles were raised, and it was as much of a half-smile as the term would imply.

“I guess it’s because you’re so much better than she is.”

“…You gave me a nudge, but that child…no, that person enlightened me.”

“…She said there’s luck or something, right?”

“There is luck in this world.”

Irine quipped, and sighed,

“That was really a hammer to my head. At the same time, I’m thinking that she’s really suffering in this world. I really wanted to thank her, and also talk with her…”

Once Irine said that, Kusla added lightheartedly,

“Hm? Are…you sure what you think is correct?”

“What do you mean?”

“If it’s too painful, she’s likely to avoid it. That’s her personality.”

Kusla yawned, and said,

“You’re too scary. That’s why she’s shunning you.”

Such words caused Irine to widen her eyes. Given how honest she was, it was unlikely she ever thought of this,

“Scary? Me?”

“You suddenly came into this workshop, and your skills as a blacksmith completely overwhelms hers. She probably thinks that you’re threatening her position.”

“Ah…”

Irine looked as though she stepped on a pebble, and turned her stare towards the stairs.

She curled her lips bitterly, her shoulders lowered dejectedly,

“Ah…I see..”

Through her marriage, Irine suddenly became the wife of the master ruling the town’s blacksmiths. This was basically leapfrogging several ranks amongst the blacksmiths.

Every person in the town had their own identifiable positions, a strict order. Irine did not appear to be the kind to abuse her power, but because of that, she did not understand the feeling of those whose positions were disrupted.

But despite so, after what happened with her own marriage, Irine had a thorough impression on such interactions.

She finally realized the mistake she made, and inadvertently gave a guilty look on her face.

“Then…I was showing off too much of my skills during the smelting?”

Kusla shrugged, implying that she might have.

“Ugh…I guess this is another reason why grandpa thinks of me as a child…”

Irine gave a bitter look. She probably realized that she ignored a lot of things while mesmerized in the freedom of being able to work as she pleased.

There was nothing more depressing than failure after glee.

“Ah, but since you say so, that means she’s a member here?”

As she was a member of this workshop, she was worried that her position was threatened.

Irine lifted her head, only to see Kusla tilt his neck slightly, replying,

“She said she wanted to be one of us.”

“An Alchemist?”

Irine frowned, saying this with disgust on her face, and quietly astonished.

Kusla, standing in front of her, was an Alchemist, and she would be headed along with him to a Pagan town as his assistant.”

Logically, she could accept that, but emotionally, she might not.

And with that reluctant look on her face, she said,

“…Don’t you feel that you’re turning an angel into a demon?”

“It’s a complicated situation.”

Kusla was given a dubious stare from Irine, but he did not mention about Fenesis’ ears.

“But I suppose it’s a good thing that imbecile felt that you’re threatening her position. If she’s able to be more studious as a result, it’ll help us out.”

Irine looked as though she had difficulty accepting those words, but she did not refute.

“…I get the feeling that there are all kinds of people. I thought Alchemists would act more like Alchemists.”

“That really sounds like something a philosophy student would say.”

“…I’m bad at talking.”

“We are like magicians who are isolated from people, but we aren’t restrained, and we continue with our weird experiments.”

“Um, I see, I see. So there are all kinds of scenarios with Alchemists. It does feel weird, but that person there seems to be more passionate about metals than me.”

Irine looked back at Weyland, saying that,

“There is only one common point between us. We pursue the Magdala in our hearts. Compared to ordinary people…no.”

“?”

“Compared to eccentric people, we aren’t any different in other sense.”

“…”

Irine glanced aside at Kusla, seemingly accepting this explanation begrudgingly as she said, looking a little perplexed,

“Do I need a Magdala too?”

“Homeless people need to have a goal in mind, so that they won’t reminiscence the past.”

Irine snickered. She probably recalled her background.

“For that, I’ll even kick women and children down if I have to.”

“You’re a vengeful person.”

“Can’t be a proper blacksmith if I don’t do that.”

Kusla shrugged, and Irine snorted, ready to put the fire out. She suddenly stopped, turned back to look at Kusla, saying,

“Ah, right. Help me put in a word to that nun, that I’m able to take a step forward thanks to her. I hope to thank her properly, and that she’ll think of me as a junior.”

“You aren’t going to thank me?”

Hearing that, Irine curled her lips, and went towards the furnace without saying anything.

Irine did not appear to be that stubborn, and did not need to mind that much.

Kusla could not help but think, if Fenesis stopped with that strange guessing, she could be like Irine.

 

The next day, Kusla and the others started discussing the type of firewood used, and their arrangements based on the smelting the previous day.

There were many different combinations of ores and temperature required for smelting, based on the type of metal to be smelted. Kusla and Weyland had some basic knowledge, so they could simply concentrate on the parts they could not understand. However, Fenesis was still figuring things out by herself, and had a tough time.

Irine was concerned about Fenesis, but Kusla and Weyland were more well versed in the art of smelting than the guild blacksmiths, such that they understood at once, and she did not have to explain in detail. This resulted in Fenesis having more issues listening.

Fenesis frantically took notes on the stone tablet using a limestone pen, but it was of no use.

Knowledge was not something that could be gained just by recording on a tablet. Every piece of knowledge had to be mixed with experience, gained little by little.

Fenesis thoroughly understood that she was lacking in ability, and looked obviously dejected. Seeing her in such a state, it appeared Irine wanted to say something.

It would be more troublesome when more impurities gathered on the ore, and the same applied for a workshop; the more people there are, the more troubles there will be. Kusla casually spread some cheese on his bread, nibbling on it as he observed the situation. It was a troublesome matter, so he decided to be hands off for the time being.

The auditor Autris employed for tabulating the workshop’s resources would be here the next day, so they would have to start hiding the fortunes starting from the afternoon. They were going to swap things with glass and plated metals, but Weyland remained gleeful in the process, and Irine remained worried about Fenesis, but was working enthusiastically. Fenesis was the only one who remained guilty, and she was the only one unable to do anything. In the end, she could only walk to the side and open a book.

Of course, she could choose to approach them and learn from their work, but Irine’s knowledge and skills far surpassed her, and it was likely she was fearful of Irine.

Kusla remained silent on this. He told Fenesis on what the latter should do if she wanted to help in the workshop, but despite this, she remained unwilling to move forward, and Kusla was not so kind as to lend a hand to her.

While Weyland and Irine went downstairs enthusiastically, Kusla too intended to follow.

But right when he was about to head downstairs, he felt a stare, and stood at the edge of the stairs, turning back, meeting Fenesis in the eyes.

The latter frantically averted her eyes, and Kusla did not stay for long as he continued on downstairs.

However, his face remained contorted in displeasure, for he noticed Fenesis’ expression.

She was like a girl, terrified to be abandoned.

Kusla got anxious, and for an instance, had the urge to drag her downstairs forcefully, only to stop.

For he felt that Fenesis had to sake her own way out.

Right when Kusla was about to reach the second basement, he stopped due to two stares at him.

“…What?”

Weyland and Irine stared at Kusla in unison.

“You’re alone?”

And hearing Irine’s question, Kusla coldly retorted,

“Did you see two people?”

“That’s not it.”

“Bring little Ul down too~.”

Weyland went straight to the point.

Kusla curled his lips bitterly,

“Do I really have to worry about everything?”

“You’re really bad at lying~.”

Kusla gave Weyland a vexed look. He felt that he was being affected by the latter’s words.

“How about you bring her out to the market?”

“Ah?”

“Buy some things. I’m sure little Ul can help out too~”

“…”

Kusla looked completely mystified, wondering why Weyland would be saying such things.

Is it because he could be alone with Irine if he chases us out? Kusla could not help but guess wildly.

Weyland then continued on,

“And in the meantime, please proceed with the preparations for the trip.”

Alchemists typically had to do everything by themselves, for it was an occupation where it was hard to obtain trust from others.

However, they would have to share expenses for the trip to Kazan.

Kusla pondered through, and considered that he was not as much of an alcoholic as Weyland. If they were to bring alcohol along for the trip to Kazan, a drunk Weyland might cause some hassle. Thus, he would not prepare too much wine.

Weyland made this much concession just to get Kusla moving.

Irine would be simply concerned about Fenesis, but Weyland was most probably more interested in women than wine.

If that was not the case, he had other plans.

“Don’t hide any valuable stuff I don’t know of when I’m not around.”

If Weyland was going to hit on women, he would have to spend more.

“I won’t do such things~”

Who knows? Though he wondered, Kusla relented. If he were to obstruct Weyland, it would be troublesome when the latter gets his revenge.

Furthermore, Kusla recalled the expression of an abandoned pup Fenesis showed.

He sighed deeply again, and returned upstairs without stepping on the final step.

 

Let’s go shopping he shouted gruffly, and for a while, Fenesis did not realize that those words were prompting him.

Hurry up, only when he told her that did she finally lift her head from the book she was reading.

“Wh-where are we going?”

Fenesis asked as she hastily put on the nun habit, with a hood at the top that manages to cover her head completely.

“To the market.”

“Eh…but, erm, what about the work?”

“God’s teachings enlightened me.”

Kusla’s words caused Fenesis to regain some vigor, and she glared at him.

“That Weyland seem to be plotting something.”

“Hm?”

“I was chased out.”

Kusla glanced down at Fenesis, and shrugged. Hearing that reply, Fenesis was inadvertently dumbfounded.

She pondered, and after a while, walked beside Kusla with light steps. Kusla could tell from her sidelong face that she seemed to be relax. She probably had some peeving misunderstanding that caused a strange little sense of kindredness.

Are we both people with nowhere to belong to?

Kusla felt helpless as he brought Fenesis to the market.

Arriving on the streets after noon passed, he found that there were few pedestrians. It was very quiet.

“Rather quiet.”

Never had he seen her say what she needed to say so quickly, yet it was during such frivolous moments that she was able to talk immediately.

As an Alchemist, Kusla too realized that the streets were quiet. It was because he found it troublesome that he did not voice it out.

“At this time, there are many workers in town having naps.”

“Nap?”

Her words sounded a little rebuking, probably because she was used to the lifestep of living with strict discipline. Or perhaps she could no longer take naps anymore.

“They started work since dawn. Ah, right. I heard that the blacksmiths used to create clocks for naps.”

“Clocks?”

“Like a clepsydra, a sundial, a mechanical one, and all kinds of them, however, such is a classic reason as to why people misunderstand, thinking that Alchemists can do everything.”

“…Why?”

“That clock is made from water and powder, just like what an Alchemist would do.”

“Is that not a….water…clock?”

Fenesis’ green eyes were twirling as they stared at Kusla. Then, she seemed to have thought of something as she averted her eyes. The actual reason was not something Fenesis could think of, so Kusla did not wait, and revealed the answer.

“A baker has yeast. Mix that with water and wheat, put the dough on a bucket, and when the dough expands, the bucket will tilt and fall onto the floor.”

“Ah.”

“As for the time it’ll take for fermenting, that’s their speciality.”

Fenesis was so impressed, she was stunned.

She quietly muttered. Back then, bakers had such amazing skills.

“This really isn’t alchemy, but try learning how to use your head a little.”

Fenesis gave a defiant look, but she nodded; she was probably amazed by the baker’s accomplishment.

Soon, they arrived at the market. Gulbetty’s standard market was large, and even Kusla, who was familiar with the capital that was of comparable size, found this place to be bustling. In the areas neighboring Gulbetty, the owner of the land, the nobles, the Church or monastery had special privileges to open markets on certain days. It was likely that Gulbetty had many people purchasing the rights to open markets from those people, and that they could open a market every day.

But to the chickens that feasted on malt and were fattened, their fates were forever decided.

There was a bronze statue of a person holding an arbiter’s sword, and the flag of the Knights was set in front of this bronze statue, one which originally symbolized the autonomy this town had.

“What are we going to buy here? Any ingredients?”

“Snakes, Newts and stuff like that.”

What Kusla mentioned were ingredients that any person in town would expect an Alchemist would use. Initially, Fenesis assumed that Kusla and Weyland would use such ingredients for experimenting.

Of course, at this point, Fenesis was glaring at Kusla, implying that she hoped for a proper answer. However, Kusla had a feeling that she was in a good mood, or perhaps it was just him.

“We’re preparing for our trip.”

“Preparing for the trip…”

“Hm?”

Fenesis looked a little grim, and Kusla could not help but ask. For some reason, she looked really motivated for this, saying,

“I will do my best.”

Do your best for what? Kusla quietly asked, but did not say it out.

 

Pork intestines, salted herrings, white wheat buns, a barrel of distilled grape wine, and a little of some root vegetables that would last.

“This is all, I guess?”

Kusla gave the order to the owner, and told him to deliver them to the workshop, bending his fingers to count before muttering.

The journey to Kazan would take them about 2-3 weeks, and on the way there, they would encounter little villages scattered everywhere, so Kusla made these orders while planning for them. The boss said that he wanted to account properly, but Kusla was too lazy with it as he stuffed the money to the former, who was taken aback, before showing a servile smile. It appeared he classified Kusla as one of those lavish customers. Weyland and Irine must be robbing all the valuables they could, so at this point, such expenses was merely pocket change to Kusla.

“So what’s left is a carpet or something similar?”

Kusla was about to walk away, and Fenesis suddenly spoke up,

“Please wait.”

“Hm?”

“Is this all?”

Fenesis asked, looking perturbed.

Kusla glanced at Fenesis, stared at the boss who was promptly instructing his assistants, and shrugged,

“Do you think that you can buy that much?”

“Hm?”

“I bought more than enough. We’ll be passing through some villages on the way there. Food is different from rocks. You stock up too much of them, and they’ll rot. If there isn’t enough, you can buy them later.”

Hearing Kusla’s words, Fenesis remained dumbfounded as she lifted her head at him.

And then, her eyes flickered in hesitation, before she peeked up at him again.

“This is not what I mean…”

“So what is it? You want to purchase raisins?”

Kusla teased, and for a moment, Fenesis looked really peeved, before she retracted that expression, looking uneasy.

“Erm, it is a trip, for 2 to 3 weeks, right?”

“Yes. Meat, fish, bread. I accounted for the amount for 3 meals a day. I’m guessing even nobles will be envious.”

Hearing those words, Fenesis’ face remained perturbed.

What was she trying to convey?

Kusla frowned as he looked down at Fenesis, and the latter inadvertently pulled her neck in, saying tentatively,

“Erm, what about onions, and garlic?”

“Huh?”

“And…if there is salt and oil, they should be able to last longer.”

However, she continued on without confidence.

Kusla did not understand the meaning behind those words. Onions? Garlic?

“It will be good if we can buy some medicine, and even better if there is a map. You have been using coins for money, right? It will…be very convenient…to have currency from that area.”

Saying that, Fenesis’ voice trailed off, before vanishing completely at the end.

However, she looked at at Kusla with adamant eyes.

Typically, whenever Fenesis’ voice trailed off, it would be when that little courage of hers vanished.

But at this point, Fenesis was different from before.

She added on.

“Have you not prepared for a trip before?”

You do not know anything, do you?

“I did go on trips and such.”

Especially for Kusla, an Alchemist who was classified by his superiors as one with filthy limbs, he was often assignedto various places as punishment.

Kusla suddenly realized.

Preparing for a trip.

He never did so once. Back then, the Knights arranged everything whenever he went to a place, and all he needed to do was to sit in the carriage, read a book, and go out to eat.

On the other hand, Fenesis leaved the life of a refugee, chased out of her residences.

Kusla found himself to be a fool for actually replying instinctively that he made trips before. It was like Fenesis who instinctively said, “I know about the myth of the Golden Sheep”.

In fact, Kusla never did prepare for his own trips before. In any case, all he said were foolish words for the sake of his own pride.

“…”

Kusla did not dare to look at Fenesis in the eyes, and the boss watched them, seemingly wanting if there was something. Kusla ignored that stare, and took a deep breath.

He could not let himself be all defensive about this.

He never expect that he would have to say such words to himself one day.

“And then?”

“Hm?”

“Onions and garlic?”

Hearing Kusla’s response, Fenesis was inadvertently surprised.

Kusla immediately understood the reason for her shock, and could not help but feel infuriated.

“Do you think I’ll continue to put up a front like you?”

“!”

“I never prepared for a trip before. To be honest, I don’t know about traveling. Isn’t preparing for a trip no different from trying to live a normal life for as long as possible?”

Kusla gruffly continued, and Fenesis seemed to be in disbelief, for it took her a little while to accept Kusla’s words.

She abruptly straighten her waist, lifting her petite chest, and looked gleeful as she nodded.

“Smoked meat last longer than salted ones, and jerky last longer than that. For bread, rye bread that is baked twice will last longer than wheat bread.”

“Rye…black bread?”

Kusla often ate such things in the past, but since they could purchase wheat bread, there was no reason to eat rye bread.

Fenesis saw the look of disgust on Kusla’s face, and immediately chided him.

“We should focus more on how long the food can be preserved, rather than the taste. We need to consider that while the trip was originally planned for 2 to 3 weeks, there may be a chance of iit lasting for a month, or a month and a half.”

“…”

Impossible. Kusla suddenly had such a thought, but he suddenly recalled that the rivers were unexpectedly flooded by rain, resulting in the Azami’s Crest delayed. They probably never considered such scenarios at all when planning.

Kusla was an Alchemist raised in the situation. He started to seriously ponder the words he often said in a self-deprecating manner.

Thus, he did not refute, and as Fenesis said, he ordered rye bread that was twice baked and dried. Rye bread was a lot better than the oat bread Weyland often ate for dinner, but Kusla often capitalized on his position as an Alchemist, and was too used to a luxurious lifestyle, so he had a bias against rye bread.

“What next? If we need onions and garlic, we’ll need vinegar and mustard, right?”

“Flavor and aroma is not going to be of use. If there is rain in the middle of the trip, most of the food will rot, and be unusable. Purchasing onions and garlic are for this purpose. They can last until the very end.”

“…What about oil and salt?’

“Salt and water alone can last us for a week. With oil, a torn fur skin can be waterproof, and there is valuable use for it when it rains. Of course, oil is nutritious enough to be drank, can be used for treating wounds, lighting, or burning.”

Delicious dishes, delicious wine.

Kusla and Weyland were only thinking of such things, but Fenesis was talking about such ominous mattes.

“That is insufficient. If you still have some money, buy some more. There may be situations where you cannot buy ingredients in the villages.”

“…In any case, it’s a Knights escort.”

Kusla said, and Fenesis looked dumbfounded as she stared at him.

“I am not saying that the villagers will not sell to us. Some villages will be abandoned because of bandits, and some would be empty. Or there may be plagues running rampant, rendering a village destitute. If there are two armies fighting nearby, it is best to consider the possibility of enemy armies poisoning the water in the wells. Thus, you need to bring a lot of water. If possible, I hope you bring some weak wines that last longer than water. Also, if possible, some medicine too. We do not know when we will be hurt; medicine may be more valuable than money at certain times, and can be exchanged for many things. Also–”

Fenesis rattled on. The reason she answered that she would be working hard when she heard that they were preparing for a trip, was because she knew how tiresome preparing for a trip would be.

Furthermore, everything Fenesis mentioned was reasonable. Thus, Kusla bought everything she mentioned.

Everything she mentioned was all for the sake of living on, and based on life experiences. Kusla had no intention to interrupt.

It seemed that before she was taken in by the Knights, she did not survive on luck alone.

“Also, we need garments for the cold.”

“Ah? Sure.”

Fenesis continued on fluently, and for the first time, her face looked so excited, rendering Kusla mesmerized.

094

He recovered, and found Fenesis glaring at him furiously.

“Are you listening to me?”

He never thought he would be told off by her like this.

“We are headed North, no? If you have money, please purchase some of this too.”

“Yes, yes.”

After purchasing their food supplies again, Kusla and Fenesis head off to the place where wool and leather goods were produced.

“If you find them to be a hassle, you can burn them or sell them. If you feel hot, you can take them off, but we have no choice but to wear them when it is really cold.”

“Boss, pick out a few for us.”

Kusla said, and was rewarded with a large pile of woolwear.

“What else is left.”

“I feel more confident if there is a map.”

“We don’t need that now…we are going with the military, right?”

“Those that said that they will not be stranded as long as they follow the group never experienced being scattered due to storms or landslides. Once they scatter, it is basically impossible for people to meet up again. Only the people at the front would have a map.”

“You are talking about the mountain path. We are probably going by the fields–”

“And if we head there on horse, there is a chance the horses will gallop astray. It is common for horses to go wild and ferry people to some rural place. You have yet to ride on one before, have you not?”

“…”

At this moment, Kusla was painfully aware of how his knowledge was limited only to the workshop.

“Also, it is for the best if you prepare at least two kinds of currency. Some currencies cannot be used in warring areas.”

“I can imagine that. We can’t use coins with the head image of the enemy leader during wars, right?”

“There is no need to worry about such if it is gold and silver, but typically, exchanging currencies will be troublesome…”

Kusla understood this much too, at least.

“Because there is the issue of purity, right?”

“Yes. And also, it is common to encounter counterfeits.”

Fenesis said with a stiff tone.

It seemed she only mentioned this because of the rationale, and not that she was still fuming over the plating.

“But most can be seen through easily.”

“Eh, is that so?”

Fenesis was shocked,and Kusla lifted his head. Now I have some pride to salvage, Kusla quietly thought, and at the same time, felt disgusted with himself for having such thoughts.

“We just need to scratch the surface hard with something. If it is plated, the surface will fall off. If it is pyrite, or what they call fool’s gold, there will be sparks. If someone tries to dupe us with brass by calling it gold, I just need to smell it. Brass gives off a unique smell. If there are cheaper metals mixed in, put it on a scale, measure it against standard gold or silver, and put it in water to compare the density. No matter the size of the metals, their individual weights are different.”

“…Will your substitution not be discovered?”

Kusla merely shrugged at that.

“We just need to be confident and say that they are looking for trouble. If they still want us to return the goods, we will just hand over the plated things to them again. There aren’t many people who will do another check or so again.”

“…”

Fenesis’ mouth was half opened, and she stared at Kusla wordlessly.

“It appears that your manner of living differs from mine.”

Kusla joked.

“Now then, are we going to swap currencies?”

“Ah, yes.”

“I think it’s useless, but better to be safe.”

“That is correct.”

Fenesis nodded with a tense face.

Kusla looked back at her with a stoic face, and sighed.

“Anyway, let’s go.”

“Erm, to where?”

Fenesis saw where Kusla was headed to, and stopped in her tracks.

“If you are exchanging money, there is one nearby…”

“Well, we’re headed to the bridge.”

‘Hm?”

There were money changers in the market, but in a large town, many money changers would work together with craftsmen who processed gold or silver. Thus, Fenesis felt a little skeptical, but did not ask too much as she followed Kusla to the bridge. Noon break ended, and the blacksmiths and merchants began work, resulting in the bridge being bustling again.

Kusla found one money changer, and asked a question. Fenesis beside him inadvertently showed a skeptical face. However, the money changer looked at Fenesis and Kusla back and forth, and with a smile, pointed at another blacksmith selling on the bridge. That blacksmith had a straw mat laid out, a work desk on it, and was working his hammer and chisel diligently.

He had several items placed on his desk, either to attract customers or to boast his skills, and they were all intricate masterpieces. Craftsmen often dealt with gold and silver, so they were one of the few people that Alchemists could get along with.

“This?”

This craftsman with some white half received an item from Kusla, raised it over his head towards the sun, and asked.

The green light shone upon the man’s tanned face.

“Yes…do you mind making something that can be put around the neck?”

“Understood. And the decoration? This alone is a fine gemstone. It’ll be ruined with the rich colored gold.”

“Silver, please. And if possible, as soon as possible.”

Kusla said, and placed a lot of gold coins heartily. The craftsman however did not smile as brightly as the merchant was, looking reluctant instead.

In certain ways, they were just like Alchemists.

“Anyway, I’ll try my best to finish this in a few days.”

Saying that, he nonchalantly stuffed the emerald, which Kusla had been hiding in his clothes the entire time, into the tool box.

Perhaps that was proof that he normally dealt with fine materials.

“Thank you.”

Kusla said, and stood up.

He turned his head towards Fenesis beside him, and saw that she was staring at him with a stunned look for some reason.

“What?”

“…Y-you?”

“Hm?”

Some nice instincts, Kusla thought, but he immediately noticed that Fenesis misunderstood.

“I’m different from Weyland.”

Hearing that, Fenesis appeared to have vaguely understood. It was vexing, but someone lecherous like Weyland would certainly cause trouble one day.

“But why did you do that?”

“Use your eyes a bit, and observe what you can see.”

Kusla said, and tapped his finger at the ornament on his ears.”

“As you said, better safe than sorry.”

Fenesis blinked her eyes, asking,

“As I said?”

“I don’t know when I’ll be chased out of the workshop, wandering around. Of course, I have to consider such possibilities as well, but wandering around seem to be tougher than I imagine. So I’m thinking that I should swap out what’s valuable on me into something that can be exchanged for money easily.”

“…”

Fenesis looked dumbfounded, and Kusla had no choice but to switch to a simpler way of explaining matters.

“Thanks to you, I learned quite a bit, I’ll say.”

“!”

Fenesis’ ears jolted such that even the hood was nearly knocked off.

Kusla had the urge to hold them down, but Fenesis did so before that. That action appeared to one where she had to suppress her delight and riveted shock that she was able to contribute.

But she suddenly arched her back, took a deep breath, and said,

“I-I do not believe your words.”

She was being gleeful due to praise, but it was a lot livelier than when she was in the workshop.

Since it was rare of her to be praised by others, he let her continue on.

Kusla inadvertently had the increasing urge to tease her again.

“But why is it that you’re able to handle the trip preparations so well, yet so awkward in the workshop?”

“!”

Fenesis scowled, but it appeared her endurance of criticism was stronger.

“I-I was always wandering around, but I was never working in a workshop before.”

She was right, and Kusla had to admit that.

“I’m the opposite.”

Kusla simply admitted his fault, and Fenesis realized that what Kusla said was merely to tease her. She bit her lips hard, rubbing her tender cheeks.

Kusla glanced aside at her, and said impatiently,

“After a while, you can do this well in the workshop. There’s no need for you to worry so much about IRine.”

“!”

Fenesis’ face remained frozen. She was stunned.

“Even I have things I don’t know, but I’ll admit my lack of knowledge, and I have the courage to learn.”

Saying that, he gave Fenesis a smile.

Of course, Fenesis was not a fool who did not understand. However, her immature mindset, similar to her appearance, obstructed her thinking.

“You’re dull-witted, but there are times where you can help, like preparing for trips. You have the ability to learn, and you’re passionate. Of course I hope that you’ll improve, even if it’s little by little.”

Saying this through, Fenesis turned her face away, seemingly unable to bear this anymore.

She seemed to be suffering, from what her sidelong face showed.

Kusla’s gentle words were always traps, and even if they were, Fenesis would feel really fired up for unknown reasons if she was to accept them. However, Kusla’s words should probably reach her, and she could understand…perhaps.

Such a simple person. He muttered quietly.

However, it was because she often showed such an obvious reaction that he wanted to stay by her side.

“I wanted to cheer you up, you know?”

“I-I said that I will not believe in your words.”

Her face was flushed red, as though she was working in front of the burning furnace.She walked forth with large strides, leading Kusla by two steps.

But right when she was able to take the third step, she suddenly stood still.

And as Kusla caught up to her, she suddenly said,

“…But…”

“Hm?”

Kusla looked over his shoulders towards her, and saw her lower her head, saying,

“Fo-for future preparations, p-please teach me plating. An-and…how to…validate them…”

Fenesis lifted her head, seemingly glaring at Kusla, probably to motivate herself.

“…I-if I know what a con artist would do, I can see through them.”

Be honest if you do not know, do what you can do with your earnest desire. Though that alone would not be enough for her to become an Alchemist, after seeing Kusla simply admit that he did not know, Fenesis was mentally prepared to overcome that hurdle.

At this point, Kusla could not help but think that though it was obvious, she had to take the hard way before understanding. In any case, since she was able to stand on her feet again, it did not matter.

“Let’s hurry back to the workshop then. Irine’s probably almost done with all the plating.”

“Yes.”

Fenesis’ reply was filled with rigor, as though she was stepping onto a battlefield. Kusla was dumbfounded, and showed her a smile.

 

Fenesis’ body remained as rigid as before, but she was soon able to converse with Irine normally. Despite Irine’s work, she remained at the back, not moving away. However, she was not trying hard to learn, but asking Irine questions diligently. It appeared that Irine too was concerned about Fenesis, asking Fenesis if there was any question in every step she made. This situation seemed decent.

After plating and polishing the glass to appear like diamond, Fenesis was working side by side with Irine, and more than that. By dinner, they were already like sisters, looking delighted as they sat side by side, eating. As Kusla deduced, Irine was adept at interacting with people, and once Fenesis decided to her, her enthusiasm alone was an eye-opener, and that intrigued Irine further.

With one issue in the workshop, Kusla could finally heave a sigh of relief, but at the same time, he found it boring. Weyland called Kusla to go to the market with Fenesis, for he anticipated such a development.

Fenesis was more experienced in preparing for the trip. If she could help, she would gain confidence; and with confidence,she could take a step forward.

Kusla and the group were having vegetables and steamed pike, and they added a special wine to eliminate the stench. Weyland was happily chirping to Irine and Fenesis opposite the table.

Like usual, as long as there were women, Weyland would be interested. However, Kusla had to admit that perhaps there was a reason as to why he was so popular with women.

“But Alchemists are really extravagant. Do you always have dishes like this every day?”

“Like this?”

Irine asked with some surprise, and Kusla could not help but ask back. Irine had a look at the dishes on the table, and shrugged.

“This is just the necessary amount, no?”

“Chuck beef with poppy seeds all over it, steamed peak with vegetables, onion soup with enough salt, and wheat bread…eating so much good food can lead to gout.”

It was said that the reason why so many nobles were afflicted with gout was due their luxurious food. However, Kusla stabbed a knife into the chuck beef, chuckling,

“We’re welcoming a new partner in our workshop.”

Irine looked really displeased, well, it is just as he says, but she was probably showing such a face because of what she was thinking.

Even if she decided to come to a workshop, as a blacksmith, she had conflicted feelings about alchemists.

“It’s true that little Ul doesn’t eat meat at all~”

“Eh?”

“On the other hand, Kusla is the type who insists on having meat for meals all the time. As for me, I’m fine with fish, so it’s not going to be as luxurious as this is.”

Weyland explained, and Irine looked back and forth between Fenesis and Kusla.

“Leaving aside eating meat, I feel that spluging is not right.”

Fenesis seized upon the opportunity to state the usual formal lines.

“For example, Miss Irine.”

Kusla teased, and at this moment, Fenesis noticed that the bread on Irine’s plate was filled with meat. Young and strong, this gruff blacksmith who indulged in physical labor obviously preferred meat to fish.

Fenesis realized that her words were reproaching Irine, and inadvertently felt awkward. While Irine remained skeptical about what she should do, Weyland spoke up.

“How about we think of this dinner as a welcoming party~? Anyway, once we head off to Kazan, we won’t have the chance to have such delicacies now.”

Weyland lenta hand, and Fenesis, feeling awkward, nodded lightly, and gave Kusla a reproaching glare.

“Yes. But you are too indulgent in excesses.”

“Yep. what little Ul said is correct.”

Weyland expressed agreement, and that delighted Ul. She probably felt delighted that she was finally able to get one back at Kusla, who had been teasing all all this while.

She exchanged looks with Weyland, giggled, and looked gleeful, looking really proud as she went back to eating. Kusla really had the urge to ask, you were so terrified of Irine just a moment ago. What happened to all that apprehension?

But Kusla’s image of poise would be affected if he was to be angry at this, so he ignored her and gnawed at the meat.

Irine watched the conversation between them, and said,

“I do feel a little uneasy.”

“Hm?”

Kusla lifted his head, while Fenesis and Weyland looked at Irine.”

“I haven’t had such a meal in a while.”

Luxury, you mean? Kusla nearly blurted out this sarcastic remark, before swallowing it whole along with the meat in his mouth. Fenesis looked delighted seeing Irine like this, but she appeared to be on the verge of tears.

Even Kusla knew not to hurt Fenesis at this point.

He could certainly imagine the instances of Fenesis having a meal at a table with everyone to be so rare. Leaving aside the moments when Weyland doted on her, even during the times when she was peeved after another of Kusla’s pranks, Fenesis looked reluctant whenever a meal was finished, and they had to leave their seats.

Thus, Kusla ate his meal obedient, not saying another word.

Kusla was not anxious about getting one back at Fenesis, who followed Weyland’s lead and was being gleeful there. After dinner, he was going to teach Fenesis how to distinguish counterfeit metals through weights.

In fact, once dinner was over, Fenesis cleared the utensils, and once they could finally start with work, Kusla nearly leered at her. While she did good in getting one over Kusla, the backlash she would suffer next would be worse.

However, it would not be interesting if he was to tease her while she was still being stubborn, and so Kusla never teased her when he was teaching her. Whenever she made a mistake or inquired on how to execute the step again, Kusla would explain again to her earnestly and carefully.

Until the very end, Fenesis was perplexed by Kusla’s kindness, but naturally, Kusla was doing this as he enjoyed how she was.

One had to wonder if Fenesis realized this notion from Kusla, for when she was done clearing the items, she pouted at him, saying,

“…You are being mischievous again.”

Though she was looking peeved again, there was no antagonistic feel from her.

Later, Fenesis was reading her book, sharing a candle with Kusla, who was flipping through his manuscripts. In the past, whenever she was teased by Kusla, she would head to the furnace room downstairs and stay with Weyland.

At this point, she was reading the book with the myth of the Golden Sheep. She looked really motivated, wanting to investigate properly through her own abilities. Kusla did not say much about this passion. If she wants to be stubborn, she can be stubborn all she wants. That would be what he would say if he wanted to.

“Didn’t expect you to live this long given how defenseless you are.”

Kusla could not help but mutter, and at this moment, Fenesis was sprawled on the opened book, sleeping sweetly in a gaudy position. Given the large size of the old book, she appeared to be practically devoured by the book.

Various events happened on this day, and she was probably tired.

Kusla thought as he reached his hand out to shake her shoulders. It would be bad if she was to sleep and catch a cold as a result.

“Hey, wake up.”

However, Fenesis merely frowned and turned her face aside. Kusla then saw the beast ears under her hood twitching in satisfaction.

Seeing her like this, for an instance, Kusla wondered if he should tease her by dripping wax on her face like he did with his peers at the workshop where he served his apprenticeship. Certainly, she would be startled, and Kusla inadvertently broke a grin thinking about it. However, just imagining it alone was enough satisfaction for him, especially after seeing her completely defenseless face.

Offence would be the best defence, but a total lack of defence would make one agonize over attack.

Kusla sighed in a vague daze, either at Fenesis, or at himself. He went behind her, lifted her by her shoulders, and with an arm over the back of her shoulders, reached the other arm to her thighs, before lifting her lifeless body.

He assumed she would be flustered when he carried her, but she merely shrank back due to itchiness, and showed no intention in waking up. Her slender neck leaned upon Kusla’s chest, unable to support her head as it turned around. Kusla inadvertently wondered if it was fine given how disoriented she was. However, he recalled back when Fenesis first arrived at the workshop, that even when he called her out of bed, she chose to shiver and shrivel to sleep in a corner of the room.

Given her usual disposition, she’s probably fine. He thought. She even tagged along with Weyland at the dinner table to tell off Kusla.

In fact, till this point, neither Kusla nor Weyland did anything to Fenesis. However, Kusa did not know when there would be malice creeping into an alchemist’s workshop.

Be more reliable. Kusla quietly thought. She remained in Kusla’s clutches, writhing about as she let out a light moan,and then let out a sigh, probably having found her sweet spot. Kusla carried her, subconsciously realizing his face grimacing.

My name is ‘Interest (Kusla)’.

Kusla was certain that Fenesis owed him some gratitude, and wanted to protect her, so he took her in.However, he felt that his imagination differed slightly from reality.He felt that his decisiveness as an alchemist was being corroded.

The issue here would be the uneasy feeling he felt.

“…”

His imagination ran wild as he pondered over it, and he sensed that he was lost in a labyrinth of chaos.

This would be the time of the Devil, when even priests would sleep.

And thus, Kusla quickly carried Fenesis to the bedroom without a second thought, and laid her on the table. Irine was sleeping downstairs, for she was experimenting along with Weyland, so Fenesis said that she wanted to do the same. However, Kusla was not so kind as to grant that.

Kusla saw Fenesis sleeping soundly however, and was certain of a fact.

Once Fenesis fell asleep, it was hard for her to wake up.

Furthermore, she was so soft, so flaky, that it was warm to embrace her.

 

The next day, the inspector Autris deployed came to the workshop as expected, but it appeared the substitution was not discovered.

Kusla’s group were registered amongst the forces headed to Kusla, and rather than the inspector not noticing anything at all, it appeared he did not want to get involved with them, for if he did, it would be to do so with the Azami’s Crest. Thus, the inspector ignored it.

This was the decision made after weighing between the prospects of a workshop under their charge being robbed, and the attrition caused by an internal conflict of power amongst the Knights.

In any case, the inspection ended smoothly, and once the inspector left, Weyland and Irine quickly got ready to burn coal. As the saying went, they treasured every single minute, and were hard at work.

“What are we still burning now?”

“We need tar.”

“That’s something to be used for our trip. It’s not something hard to obtain.”

Irine and Weyland were stacking wood enthusiastically, like children who just learned how to pull off pranks. Kusla was a little speechless as he watched them, and Fenesis remained tentative, but she went to Kusla’s side, and was a step closer than before.

“What is…tar?”

“It’s a fluid obtained by steaming wood and charring it. Just think of it as burned tree juice.”

“Huh.”

“This thing has many uses. Apply on wood, and it’s waterproof; apply on the skin, it can be used as medicine, and when mixed with wine before applying onto meat, there’ll be added flavor.”

Fenesis shot Kusla a look of utter disbelief, and before he could say anything, she said,

“I shall investigate on my own.”

“Oho. Good attitude.”

Kusla praised Fenesis, who took two steps away from him as she was taken for a fool again. However, the sidelong face of hers appeared a little delighted as she turned around.

Irine arranged some wood in the furnace, and lined bricks on it. She was covered in coal as she appeared again, and right when she was going to light the fire.

Knocking could be heard from the door.

The quartet exchanged looks, and Kusla was the first to head upstairs.

They were not too wary, but there was a code unique to the Knights in the knocking.

“You again?”

Kusla said as he opened the door, and the mountain tribe book stared back in defiance. It’s not my responsibility to receive such complaints, he was implicitly stating.

“A summon.”

“What is it this time?”

“I don’t know. But–”

Just Weyland alone?

Kusla retorted, and the boy merely nodded.

“Master Autris said that it’s urgent.”

It was a summon by Autris. Was he infuriated after hearing the inspector’s report?

But if that was the case, it would be inexplicable as to why Weyland alone was summoned. If it was about the workshop alone, there was no way Weyland would be the only one summoned, and even Kusla would have to go.

“Well, since I’m summoned, I’ll go~”

Weyland poked his head from downstairs, and trudged out.

“Pay attention to the steam temperature~”

Weyland left those words to Irine, before he proceeded to leave.

“What’s going on?”

Faced with Irine’s question, all Kusla could do was shrug.”

“I can’t be knowing everything about whatever that guy does outside the workshop.”

“Hmm…well, whatever. Time to light the fire.”

“It’s like you’re ill or something.”

Hearing Kusla’s words, Irine returned a smile.

Fenesis watched their conversation, and seemed to have learned something as she nodded away.

Then, the trio proceeded with their own matters to spend the time. After a long while, Weyland finally returned.

He entered, and said,

“Someone proposed marriage to me. I might not be able to head to Kazan now~”

Fenesis was revising on how to identify counterfeit metals through a scale balance and a bottle. Irine arrived upstairs, soaking in sweat, and Kusla was researching on how to extract gold. Once Weyland said that, he was met with stunned looks in unison.

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