[Magdala V4] Act 2

Kazan could be said to be a town built to take in the items flowing out from the hills. While other mining towns would typically be connected to a mine, through hundreds of years of excavating, the mining hills in proximity to Kazan had become quite a distance north.

Through many years of mining, the hills were weathered, seemingly reclining, only the town before it.

For that reason, there remained a little valley between the hill and the town, one that belonged to a massive hill. Such a hill was reminiscent of the delta at the mouth of a river.

The town walls of Kazan were sturdy stone walls, with lots of money expended upon them, probably earned due to the vast expanse of rich materials. And the Knights somehow managed to conquer this town, Kusla was amazed. There were obvious signs of the town that was conquered. Passing through the thick walls covered with scars, they entered the town, and appearing in their eyes was a town of stone they had never seen before. On first glance, one might even assume the town was chiselled out of rock.

However the reason why the town embittered a fleeting impression was due to the fact that the stone pavements did not fit in with the rest. There was no life.

There were signs of activity in the town.

But everyone present remained hidden behind the doors, silent, terrified of the people from enemy lands.

“We sure don’t seem popular here~”

“Of course. We’re the invaders.”

Kusla and Weyland got off the wagon, chatting away.

The two young ladies were hidden behind the hood of the wagon bed. Moments ago, this place was a battlefield, and though the Knights had stationed their men, the defeated remnants might come raiding at any given opportunity. The mercenaries too kept quiet, not laughing away like before, watching their surroundings warily without letting their guard down.

The Knights who had conquered this town remained on guard all over the streets, along with the mercenaries, clearly indicating that the situation was not completely under control.

Kusla surveyed the surroundings, and muttered,

“But it is a little surprising.”

“Hmm? How so~?”

“Look at them, those people on their guard.”

Kusla stared at the Knights and mercenaries who had bandages wrapped around their faces. To these men, the Azami’s Crest Forces arriving only after the war would be having it easy. Kusla had assumed that they would be giving hostile looks, but it seemed they were all relieved.

“This is a foreign land far away after all~”

Weyland said,

“It’s a good thing that they conquered this town, but they are still uneasy there~”

“Is that so? They’re all war-hardened veterans though.”

“Well they are~, but the South doesn’t have such cold stone towns, and the skies are all cloudy. The wine and food differ too, right? You simply never noticed it, Kusla.”

“Hm, I see.”

Even if he did understand the hearts of humans, he would never master it to such a detailed manner.

Thus, he wondered if Fenesis experienced the same uneasiness when she was on the run.

“So little Ul here is really a tough girl.”

While Kusla was thinking about Fenesis, he was left rattled by this statement.

“I heard that when then the main forces arrive, a feast will be held~. Southern styled Dinner and Dance for all to recuperate~”

“You’re participating?”

Kusla asked as his eyes narrowed, and Weyland grinned.

“Why not~ The real investigation of this town will only start after the feast~. No reason for me to miss out no~”

“We managed to get you out of Gulbetty. Help us out here.”

Kusla noted in annoyance, and Weyland hung a smile, continuing as a matter of fact,

“You got closer to little Ul thanks to that, and now you’re saying such a thing~?”

“Wha—”

What preposterous words are you saying? So Kusla wanted to say, but he could not muster those words.

It was true that due to the incident involving Weyland, Kusla would not argue much with Fenesis, and Fenesis would not simply show her own obstinacy.

However, Weyland’s words seemed to imply that it was all thanks to him; his thought process left Kusla speechless all the time. With a hound whose food was taken away from, he glared at Weyland,

“You remember this.”

Weyland gave a hearty grin in response.

As they chatted, they arrived at the center of the town.

There was a pool and fountain in the middle of this bustling town. This facility indicated the prosperity and technical skills the craftsmen of this town had attained. The money and manpower required to build a fountain, with sufficiently high pressure for the water to flow through flawless, was surely exorbitant.

No matter how grandeur a fountain was, Kusla and company were already used to it. However, even they were left speechless before it, for the fountain was unique in shape.

“A dragon-shaped fountain~?”

Weyland stroked the beard on his chin, saying this,

There was a bronze dragon statue in the middle of the pool, one bigger than a man. The dragon was looking up to the sky with its mouth opened.

The fountain was spouting water from the dragon’s mouth, and there was a pipe as the side of its mouth.

Surely this bronze statue was a Pagan’s symbol, and everyone present widened their eyes. Ever since they arrived in foreign lands, there was none that indicated the unfamiliarity more than this.

Kusla and the others arrived at the temporary command post established at the plaza of the dragon pool to be informed of their accommodation and future work.

But once they reported their names as alchemist, the secretary looked up in surprise.

“Professor Marcus Lloyd is of old age now, is he not?”

“He’s the prized sword. We’re for cutting.”

“…”

It was common for there to be breakdown in communications. The secretary remained wary, but did not intend to affirm.

“This is the inn you are allocated.”

“Also, the the higher ups ordered us to review the books left in this town. Of course, we aren’t talking about the Epics. There should be some books or parchments relating to mines and smithing, I believe. I do hope you can tell us where they are.”

The secretary sized up Kusla and Weyland, and sighed.

“There is a map of this town. Go ask the ones in charge.”

“You have been here ever since the town was conquered, I believe? Is there lots of them”

Kusla anxious asked, and the secretary shrugged.

“We have yet to peel away the floors of the nobles’ mansions, nothing to report.”

The secretary was young, but it seemed he did arrive in this town along with the conquering forces, and showed no timidity in the face of the alchemists.

“I suppose you know that if there is anything strange in those books, they will be handed over to the heretical inquisitors; thus, I do advise you not to keep them for yourselves.”

“Leave those words to God. Those people are the ones keeping these books for themselves.”

The secretary merely snorted in response to Kusla’s frivolous remarks, “Ahh, yes.” He said,

“Are you staying in the town temporarily? Or?”

“A workshop for us please.”

Undaunted, Kusla stated his request.

“I see. Now then, please state your name here.”

The secretary frisked a thick book, flipped through a few pages, and pointed at a blank space while saying this. It seemed they were to register the names of the residents here in order. The page was new, clearly harking the fact that Kazan shall be reborn again.

Also, given how lax such an important thing was dealt with, one could not help but feel that this place was completely different from nitpicking the rules and customs of the old towns. For an ordinary town, surely layers of bureaucracy would be required for the residents before registering their names in the book.

Furthermore, there were those who hoped to stand out in the old towns. To earn prestige, they would have to endure for years, hone their skills tirelessly, obey their superiors, and only gain the position they yearned for in the twilight of their lives. In Kazan, those with ability, wits and luck could easily attain their ideal position.

Kusla received the quill pen, wrote his name, and handed it over to Weyland, who too wrote his name. While the secretary was about to nod away, the pen was returned.

“Please forget this.”

The names of their two assistants. If they were recorded inside this book, there would be a drastic difference in outcome.

The secretary remained nonchalant, but Weyland chuckled.

“Kusla, four in total…well, you can’t have too much manpower. Do work hard here.”

“Leave it to us.”

Weyland joked in return.

Kusla and the others went off to the inn, left the carriage, and unveiled the hood. The two ladies looked displeased at being unable to view the town, and once they got out, they deliberately took a deep sigh.

Of course, their faces were brimming with an equal amount of displeasure, curiosity and excitement.

“Now then, shall we get to work?”

“If you start yawning, I’ll poke your ears.”

If it had been the Fenesis of old, she would pale with shock, but at this moment, she merely cringed back, and smiled.

Shall I really do it? Kusla wondered. However, actual action should only be used in times of emergencies.

“Now, what do we do next? Shall I wear male clothing if I want to walk around the streets?”

Male clothing was packed in the wagon just in case, but the defiant Irine would always yap away, and so Kusla chose to irritate her,

“Well, nobody can tell even if you are dressed like this, I guess.”

“Wha!?”

She glared at Kusla’s statement, and was left all the more peeved as Weyland guffawed.

“Shouldn’t such a dangerous place as long as you don’t go to those empty places or go out at night.”

“Hm, then what do we do next? Where do we go?”

Irine folded her arms, scowling as she asked,

“First to the blacksmith guild of this town. Most of the important books are there.”

“The professors will be investigating about three-four days later. We should do so before them~”

“Of course.”

Kusla nodded, and continued,

“Prepare some paper and ink.”

“Feels like I’m now your assistant.”

“Sure know your role now.”

Irine sighed at Kusla’s teasing.

Later, when they walked onto the stone streets, Fenesis and Irine widened their eyes. They were used to seeing streets of dirt, and houses made of grey cement walls and wooden rows; the town to them was practically a mirage.

“These are all made with chisels…”

“Most likely.”

The railing of the stairs and the pillars in the houses were adorned with delicate ornaments, showcasing the artisan’s skills.

However, they merely cheered at the beginning as it was a rare sight to begin with.

There were signs of war all over the town. Specifically, as the houses were mostly burned down, there were quite a few streets of squatter settlements, which Fenesis and even the others were left aghast upon seeing.

They were the invaders.

The blacksmith guild in the town of Kazan shared the tradition of the other countries, in that it was stationed in the middle of the town. In other words, the organization in town with the largest contribution was situated there. The blacksmith guild was on the main road next to the pool plaza, the one eyecatching area to Kusla and the others.

Of course, Fenesis and Irine’s eyes were turned towards the bronze dragon statue as they passed by.

“Does such a dragon really exist?”

With a serious look, Fenesis asked, even though her own existence was a rarity by itself despite it not being as preposterous as a dragon. Beside her, Irine muttered with a conflicted look,

“Such fine craftsmanship…no, looking at the leakage as the water passes through, we too…”

Everyone’s thoughts differ when looking at the same thing. It was a matter of fact, but the stark difference in observations was particularly noteworthy.

“This dragon does seem a little strange.”

Irine commented, and Kusla and the others too felt the same. The dragon was looking straight up, seemingly in pain. Perhaps this posture was maintained to allow the water to sputter straight up.

“Maybe the guild will have records on how this fountain came about.”

Hearing Kusla’s words, Irine and even Fenesis’ eyes dazzled.

There were the Knights’ guards standing before the guild, perhaps to ward off theft, for there were lots of books that could be sold and metal ores placed within. Kusla and the others were naturally flagged down by the guards, but with the permit flashed before them, they were no longer obstructed. It was likely that they felt Kusla and Weyland could not possibly steal anything with two ladies by their side.

Thus, after passing through the entrance.

While their reactions all differed, the one word they said was the said,

“Amazing.”

Once they entered, they arrived at the hall that was also the canteen, the construct similar to the blacksmith guild of the ex-pagan town Gulbetty, except the difference in size. The size difference of the building clearly showed this guild monopolized the profits, and that it was a mining town operating on a grand scale.

“Amazing…”

Irine marvelled, but the tone seemed to imply that she was on the verge of tears.

Looking up at the ceiling, she resembled a martyr mentioning God at every given moment.

There was an iron dragon statue dangling from the thick frame of the ceiling, surveying the bottom.

The statue was stunningly intricate, and clearly, it was not casted. The head and limbs were complex, while the fineness of the neck lines, the roundness of the body, the slides of the scales, surely not of them could be done unless by hand.

Any guild with such skilled craftsmen that could create such a delicate piece of art would be revered in any town.

“This one is amazing too~…”

Weyland noted as his eyes focused on the wall.

There were all kinds of minerals samples adorned on the wall, probably the produce of nearby mines. There were also amazing looking crystallized gold and silver, each of them so pure that they could be processed without mercury or cupellation. Such wonderful crystals would probably be the reason as to why the Ancients mistook metals for ‘plants’.

Given how the Knights showed such self-restrain to not rob the place, Kusla was left a little surprised.

Perhaps they felt there was no need to, for everything belonged to the Knights.

“Amazing.”

Marvelling next was Fenesis, staring at the walls facing each other, adorned with ores.

There were countless wooden tiles with words on them, and a few paintings.

It was likely these names and paintings were all depicting the masters in the guild. Looking at their clothing, the masters in these paintings contributed to this guild, participated in the running of the town, and became prosperous.

They all showed confidence that bored on arrogance, without exception, and the rich history added to that. Such were their appearances that one might wonder if they ruled this town before.

Finally, even Kusla said,

“This is amazing.”

Hearing that, Weyland, irine and Fenesis turned around to look.

Truly, it was amazing.

Kusla merely stood at the entrance, staring at the trio.

The trio shot skeptical looks at Kusla, wondering what made him so amazed.

He merely shrugged, saying,

“Starting today, we can use this place as much as we want to. Isn’t this amazing?”

Here was an alchemist boasting the guarantee he had obtained for this town.

Typically, Irine would surely frown upon hearing those mischievous words of his, but at this moment, even her lips curled into a smile.

“Let us enjoy all the fortunes that has been accumulated here.”

There were vast variety of minerals extracted from the mines here, of fine quality, and masses of craftsmen with astounding skills, resulting in what should be a vast amount of knowledge and skills accumulated over history.

The moment they devoured this in avarice, there appeared an unspeakable pleasure derived from a different appetite.

Digging out everything, and fuelling themselves.

Kusla’s lips curled as he pushed aside the door, entering the treasury of knowledge and history.

The best refining methods of minerals extracted from these lands would be worth fortunes.

Such knowledge was crystallized after countless experimentations, improvements, and hard work. Spending on fuel and minerals was a huge capital spend, let alone the manpower required in the process. Also, there was the most vital factor of them all, called luck.

Of course, the skills a few workshop masters would personally research upon were extremely valuable. It was with such skills that some were able to smelt metals superior to other workshops, even though the raw materials were the same.

Other than craftsmen, there were also doctors and builders who would conceal their own skills.

The ecstasy of revealing secrets was massive, like prying a bashful girl naked.

Resistance would only leave elation, and the more resistance there was, the bigger the joy.

“Just a simple code. Digits, words…and astrology signs. What about you?”

“Just codes imitating ancient myths. The South’s books can’t reach here, so I guess this is all I can do. A few mistakes in writing.”

The masters would conceal the keys to their most advance skills, from their disciples no less.

As long as their disciples would not learn of the crucial skills, they could maintain their positions as masters.

The result of this was a secret code used in Kazan. There was no way these masters would have expected external enemies raiding them, for it had strong walls; thus, their codes were no match from the Southern invaders.

“It’s written in this book too, and this too…ahh, this too.”

Kusla kept flipping through the pages, and inserted paper slips in obvious places. While the parts did not contain heretical records, the depiction of marks or codes were unique, with some clearly showing lewdness. If the heretical inquisitors were to notice, they might end up sealed up.

Fenesis, who was copying them, froze up as she saw the stack of books and parchments piling up.

While everyone was working on with vigor, Kusla suddenly noticed something.

Irine was at a corner of the library, flipping through the books, disquieted.

“What?”

“Erm, eh?”

Irine jolted, and turned her head around.

“If you need to urinate, get out.”

“N-no you idiot!”

Irine yelled with a reddened face, and she realized her shouted attracted Fenesis and Weyland’s attention.

“So what’s with you? Stop dithering.”

“Uuu…”

With a grimace, Irine was left speechless for quite a while.

What now? Right when Kusla was feeling intrigued, Weyland noted,

“Ahh, perhaps little Irine can’t read~?”

“Huh?”

She was the ex-leader of a guild though, Kusla shot Weyland a look, and looked back at Irine, only to be taken aback.

Irine dropped her head, her face completely read.

“You can’t read at all?”

Irine did not lift her head when faced with Kusla’s questions, merely glancing up at him, muttering,

“I can…read some…ordinary words…”

This really was unlike the usual Irine, and Kusla nearly burst out laughing.

However, there was a reason as to why he did not mock Irine.

“You should have said so.”

He sighed, and Irine shrank back immediately.

He did not have an opinion on Irine being illiterate, and neither was he implying that it was fine for Irine to be illiterate, that she was only required to have skills just because she was a blacksmith.

The codes written in the books were all digits. A unique language by itself, it was originally used for Orthodox clergymen or priest to discuss theology and faith with their allies all over to the world. For those in the towns, it was likely only those who loved knowledge could understand.

Naturally, Kusla and Weyland could read and write. It was likely Fenesis learned it while studying at the monastery, and surely she had no problems reading and writing.

However, looking at Irine, it seemed she did not know the common words ordinary people used.

Irine was probably mindful about this, for her face was red. Back in Gulbetty, she had always polished the items in the guild sparkling clean, and surely that had an intent behind it. Perhaps it was her fulfilling her duties as leader, for she was illiterate.

And also, that might also be a reason why Irine was harshly scorned by the others.

“There are lots of picture scrolls on that shelf. Go check on that.”

As to be expected of a building of a guild monopolizing the fortunes of the town, there were dozens of books within. Kusla and the others were reading from a sealed library containing precious information. There were a few other libraries that were not cordoned, and over there were books rich masters would be interested in, or collected to showcase their authority.

“…”

However, Kusla’s instructions sounded insulting to Irine.

She lowered her head dejectedly, as though she was in the same position as Irine.

Again, Kusla sighed.

“Don’t get careless just because they are picture scrolls.”

“…Hm?”

“There are many instances where some dangerous matters are not to be expressed in words, and thus, in paintings. You’re a craftsman; if you see some strange tool on them, you can tell on first glance. Filter out those you don’t know, haven’t seen before, or anything strange you fine. We don’t know what’s hidden inside there.”

Without stopping, Kusla then continued on, “Do you understand me?”

Irine herself was taken aback by this.

“U-understood.”

She blankly responded, and nodded away while seemingly trying to convince herself, stumbling awkwardly to the shelf by the side.

Kusla snorted, and was about to return to his own work.

He then lifted his head, for he sensed two stares directed at him.

“What?”

Weyland and Fenesis exchanged looks.

“Nothing…never expected you to say such serious words, Kusla~. I thought you would be mocking Irine or raging at her, no~?”

“…”

Weyland directed the topic at Fenesis, who accepted the question somewhat perturbedly, nodding tentatively.

“Maximize the use of the tools we have now. This isn’t the time for fun and games.”

Weyland shrugged in response to Kusla’s words, and turned towards Fenesis.

She, who tried fortune telling to know if the four of them could be together, took Weyland’s look and smiled at Kusla elatedly.

“I do not believe your words.”

“Huh.”

Whatever, Kusla snorted, and really got down to work.

His objective was to steal all the skills and knowledge from the bookshelves, and he would do whatever it took. For this reason he arrived, and Irine’s feelings did not matter to him.

He had to give his utmost.

Even if he had to defy his own personality, even if it was not as he wished.

“I’m heading towards Magdala.”

Kusla muttered as he reached his hand for another book.

For meals, each of them ate with one hand. When weary, they would take a book or parchment, and walk around to rest. Once their waist and legs stiffened, they would sit down again to work.

The sun set, and the sky got dark; despite the frigid pains from the frosty air, it did not matter to them. They had blankets draped upon them, but for Fenesis in particular, she would use the candlelight to warm her fingertips while swapping out the candles.

She had been copying for an entire day. There was nothing more laborious than copying in the monastery. The copies were written over entire years, and looking at the words, one could deduce which pages were written during which seasons. In midsummer, the ink would seep, and in midwinter, there would be traces of blood, for the fingertips cracked, and the font crooked.

In terms of stubbornness and sincerity, Fenesis was no different from a martyr.

She persisted to write even in the middle of the night, but she could not control her will, and let slip the pen.

“Have a little rest.”

Kusla said right as she was trying to hold the pen with her stiffened hand.

“No…I am not tired.”

“Rest.”

Kusla barked with a commanding tone, and Fenesis shivered.

He knew she was lying when she said she was not tired. The long journey had taken its toll on her, and she was to copy without rest.

“…Understood.”

But despite this, Fenesis only submitted after much apprehension.

Her body was all stiffened, and she could not stand up right, yet she remained so defiant. If they had been in Gulbetty, Kusla would surely nitpick or advise her, but not this time as she was unexpectedly reliable.

If possible, Kusla wished that Fenesis would be decisive enough to take little naps like Weyland whenever she realized her efficiency was dropping, without him having to remind her, but this might be a tall order for her.

Once he saw Fenesis sit on a chair and sway like a wooden puppet, he inadvertently sighed.

“Don’t move.”

He put the book down, stood up from the blanket that was hanging from the wall, went behind Fenesis’ chair, and pulled her chair out.

Only then could Fenesis stand up, but it seemed her knees were stiff, her legs unable to straighten.

Right when she was about to collapse, Kusla grabbed her by the neck from the back.

“Just like a stray cat.”

Kusla chuckled, and Fenesis could not turn her head to the back, as her shoulders were likely stiff. Instead, there was a little groan coming from deep within the throat, one of humiliation, rage and shame.

“Goodness…hey, lie down.”

Kusla grabbed Fenesis’ neck, and dragged her to the blanket he was on, tossing her onto it.

She let out a little squeal, and it pricked at Kusla’s sadism.

“You’ll soften up once you get warm. Just sleep for now.”

Fenesis laid on the blanket, and at that moment, the sleepiness she had repressed till this point surged out; she did not roll about, the ears under her veil merely twitched in response to Kusla’s words.

Kusla put the blanket over her, and stood up again.

He went towards the bookshelf by the side. On that side, irine was basically just like Fenesis, cold and weary like a dying bug, shrivelled up in the pile of picture scrolls.

The fact that she was the only one who could not read really wounded her pride. Even so, she did not remain delirious for long, and kept working hard. Kusla was left impressed, thinking that it was no wonder she had such astounding blacksmith skills at such a young age.

Without saying anything else, he took away the picture scroll in her hands, grabbed her by the back of her neck like Fenesis did, and dragged her off. She did not seem to resist, for she laid down by Fenesis side, and fell asleep immediately.

Without further ado, Kusla again went back to work.

As the silent night alone engulfed the room, the soft breathing of two could be heard. It seemed Weyland would wake up from his nap moments left.

He breathed out to warm his fingertips and allow himself to flip through the pages, thinking.

This might be what Fenesis had been hoping for.

“Tch.”

He clicked his tongue, this isn’t so bad, he berated himself from having such a thought.

On this night, Kusla worked till dawn. Like sisters, Fenesis and Irine were sleeping soundly like sisters, while Weyland was leering at them. Kusla went over to kick Weyland in the back, and kicked the two assistants awake while he was at it.

The two girls woke up, and Kusla in turn laid down upon the blanket the duo slept on, taking a nap. While Weyland teased Kusla for being too conniving with the blanket, Kusla naturally ignored him, and had no intention of switching to a cold blanket.

Soon after, Kusla was rendered awake by the noise in town. The noise originated from the entrance of the guild, and he could not help but think, this plaza sure is bustling. The main forces of the Azam’s Crest might have entered the town.

The sunlight shone through the blinds made of metal sheets, and it was obvious the sun had already risen high up.

Kusla got up, and stretched his back. Before the work table was Fenesis, alone as she wordlessly kept copying.

“Good morning.”

The tone in her voice implied that she was feeling fine.

“Your hand’s fine?”

How is the work going? Kusla’s words had such an implication. Fenesis looked at Kusla, and slowly raised her right hand.

“Hm? What is that?”

“Mr Weyland did it. Said it makes it easier to write.”

Fenesis’ arm was wrapped completely in bandages, from shoulder to fingertip.

And on closer look, the hand and fingertips were tied together with cloth.

“…Take a little rest when needed.”

Kusla never expected the amount of care Weyland would show for Fenesis, and felt intimidated, for that was all he could only say.

Fenesis looked at her hand, took a deep breath, stretched her back, “I am fine.” She said.

“But…it’s so noisy outside and so quiet inside. Where did that Weyland go to?”

“He went out with Miss Irine.”

Fenesis said as she went back to work.

With his back turned on Fenesis, Kusla was about to pick up a book he was going to investigate, only to stop upon hearing her words.

“What?”

“They left. The Knights sent a messenger, asking for us to choose a building for a workshop.”

“Wha!”

Kusla abruptly turned around, and Fenesis seemed to have realized something from his reaction as she turned toward him,

“When!?”

She could not help but pull her neck in upon seeing Kusla’s violent reaction, and timidly answered,

“A moment ago…more or less…”

“…argh!”

Kusla cursed as he looked up at the ceiling.

“Choose a workshop? What right does that fellow have to act as a representative of a workshop! He’s eyeing the ownership of a workshop, that scoundrel…”

In any case, it is the job of the workshop representative, the master, to purchase materials, designate the research plans, and propose research into risks. Surely it was the authority of the master to determine where the workshop was going to be built in the town.

Kusla gritted his teeth, cursing his carelessness for falling asleep while wrapped in the blanket.

Even if he went off to negotiate with the Knights, he would merely be rebuffed as a shameless clown.

He sighed hard, and collapsed upon the chair opposite Fenesis, completely drained.

“…But”

Fenesis cautiously spoke up. Kusla lazily leaned on the backrest of the chair, looking up at the ceiling, giving Fenesis the look of a cursed one.

“If Mr Weyland and Miss Irine have gone out to choose, surely they will be able to choose a fine workshop, no?”

“…”

Kusla closed his eyes upon hearing these comforting words, and again sighed.

It was truly like Weyland to bring Irine along. He could then declare that as Irine and he were the ones who loved smelting, they should be choosing the workshop.

It was likely that Fenesis was fooled by such words.

“I do not know what the authority of a workshop is…but every one of us can use the workshop fairly, no?”

That would have been fine if they were filial servants to God or simple sheep. Unfortunately, Kusla and the others were alchemists who only cared about their own benefits. If they were to negotiate with the Knights, they could improve their relationship with the Knights. Surely this would affect the future.

However, Fenesis continued on,

“And every single one has whatever they can do, whatever they cannot do and specialties. I do not know how a furnace should be shaped, but I can read words. I think that in your case, you prefer to find new knowledge more than anything else.”

So what? Kusla nearly blurted out and reproached Fenesis.

But he swallowed his words, got up, and let out a deep sigh.

“Get down to finding something big again.”

This is the only thing I can do to achieve an equal standing to that fellow. So Kusla thought as he said, “Yes!” but Fenesis seemed extraordinarily happy as she answered with rigor.

Noon passed, yet Weyland and Irine had yet to return. It was a large mining town, and surely the scale of the craftsmen streets were majestic. They probably were dazzled over the choice of workshops. Haste would get them nowhere at this point, so Kusla could only continue working.

But when it was time for lunch, he started to yawn frequently. While fatigue was the biggest factor, another reason was that he had yet to discover new things.

Most of the records contained an overview of mineral analysis from special mineral veins, the best ways to extract them, the shape of the furnace, the choice of fuel, and different catalysts. Of course, just obtaining such knowledge was worth a fortune.

Furthermore, there were books that contained ownership of the mineral veins, privileges, settlements of mining areas disputes, certificates that when used would fetch a huge sum.

Yet what Kusla yearned for were not some formal matters.

He yearned skills that could counter whatever he knew, or knowledge that would be carelessly sealed.

But at this point, he could not find such a thing. No matter which book it was, they were all the knowledge or skills brought from the South, improved over decades on these lands.

Again Kusla stretched his back, and even Fenesis, seated opposite him, followed suit. Kusla narrowed his eyes at her, and said,

“Sleep.”

“Fuuaaahh…it is all your fault.”

He merely shrugged off Fenesis’ protest, and stood up.

“…Where are you going?”

“Does that have anything to do with you?”

Kusla coldly retorted. Fenesis did not look sad, and instead scowled.

If one was to be angry, a proper reason was necessary. Fenesis probably found a place she belonged to.

“Always the same contents, and that bores me. Let’s check on Irine’s pile for a change of pace.”

Kusla said, and went to the library by the side.

The library here was similar in structure to the adjourning one, but felt cold as no one was there.

There was a work table surrounded by bulky bookshelves, a knife used to cut parchment, nails to fasten the parchments, weights, pen and ruler-like items. It seemed that unlike the sealed library, there were people who often frequented the place.

It was unknown if the original owner became a prisoner underground, escaped, or died. In any case, no matter the past glories, such was reduced to the bottom, like gold to lead.

Kusla felt the quill pen with his fingertips, looking down at the parchment scrolls on the work desk. There was a large pile of them on the floor, but only these few were on the table; surely these were the ones Irine was interested in.

Flipping through, he found parchments of picture scrolls that were interlinked.

“Hmph…a dragon here too…”

There depicted the story of the people in the town fighting against a dragon, with the dragon breathing fire and the people scampering. There was a little prose written in local language, but Kusla could understand as it was not a different language to understand.

“Calamity…end of the world…”

He opened the scrolls, and read on, somewhat taken aback.

The number of dragons increased, yet appearing before the dragons were not scampering people, but armies.

“The flames that cannot be wiped out…the flames of Hell…”

The people on the scrolls had no expression, looking up to the sky while being on fire; truly that was a terrifying sight.

The dragons were strangle uniform in size, forming rows.

It was as though there was a great war between the dragon armies and the human armies.

Did dragons really exist in such a place?

Kusla immediately denied such a notion; utterly ridiculous, he curled his lips into a smile.

Then, there was a loud thud from the back. Kusla reached his hand for the dagger by his waist, and turned around.

“Hiii!”

He could hear a little shriek, and found it was Fenesis.

“…What, it’s you?”

Kusla sheathed the dagger he was about to draw. Fenesis remained utterly rattled, and with a stoic look, Kusla looked down at her.

“Is the work done?”

“N-not yet…”

Fenesis shrivelled up as she said this, but turned to look at the parchments behind Kusla.

Kusla recalled that Fenesis seemed fascinated with fables and the lot. When Weyland gave her a book containing such, she showed much elation.

However, Kusla had the urge to tease her upon seeing how she was being all gleeful before it. Thus he said,

“No time for games now.”

Such words left Fenesis’ dazzling curious emerald eyes with their luster robbed.

She lowered her shoulders dejectedly.

“Get back to work now—”

“I-I am having a rest.”

“Ah?”

Fenesis looked up.

“Y-you said that I should rest when necessary.”

“…”

Truly he did. She insisted on what she wanted, using the promise granted to her; not a bad thing it was though.

Kusla stared at Fenesis intently, and she was rendered breathless.

With a monotonous tone, he said,

“Are you really tired?”

Fenesis was an honest one, and the ears under the veil twitched in agony.

It seemed she came to the conclusion that she could not lie, and the moment she was about to speak up.

“Just joking.”

“Erm, eh?”

“Looking at how restless you are, I will be bothered if you copied the wrong words.”

“E-erm…”

“If you don’t want to, get back to work.”

“Yes!”

Fenesis answered with a smile.

Then, Kusla and Fenesis sat side by side, looking at the picture scrolls. Not to say they were on good terms, but they had to do so to look at the scrolls.

However, Kusla was thoroughly captivated by Fenesis’ innocent look as she stared at the scrolls intently.

If he had fondled her buttocks and pinched her ears beneath the veil while she was concentrating, surely she would show a humorous reaction to see the least. Kusla was surprised to realize he had such notions. However, once he noticed the stunned look on Fenesis’ face, he turned to look at the scrolls.

The batch of parchments linked together, forming a story. It was exceptionally long, like a series of stories woven upon a tapestry, such that there was no way to show them all if the room was not large enough.

Fenesis was looking at the last picture on the scrolls, which showed an unexpected thing.

“…Dragons, from a lake?”

Fire-breathing dragons rose up the pitch black lake, and countless burnt corpses were scattered forlornly around the lake.

That was the lake of Calamity, linked to the underground.

“What is this implying?”

Many stories contained hidden meanings behind them, based on reality. The fable of the Golden sheep was born out of the method of frisking gold using sheepskin.

Also, Kusla notified the end of this strange scroll.

It seemed to have been severed midway through.

There seemed to be a few more, but there were no further drawings, and it gave the impression of the artist stopping midway through.

“Is it just me?”

Kusla muttered, and at the same moment, there was the sound of a building door being slammed aside.

“Don’t leave my side.”

Kusla grabbed Fenesis by the shoulder, and pulled her behind him.

He drew the dagger with a reverse grip, and looked at the entrance. It would not be surprising to see some yearning for revenge hide in the town after a war. Some of them might escape here after evading detection from the Knights’ soldiers.

But what were the guards outside doing?

Fleeting footsteps echoed as their owner head towards this library.

And then,

“Huh?”

Headed past the library Kusla and Fenesis was in was Irine.

“What?”

Kusla did not sheath his dagger, for Irine might have been pursued by a hoodlum.

But his worries immediately dissipated. In the neighboring library, a ruffling sound could be heard.

Kusla peered over, and found Irine, her hair messy, taking a waxed wooden block for writing, and stacking on the books that were on the table.

“Done!” she then muttered, and carried those books at once.

“Hey thief, that’s quite bold of you.”

“Heh? Ah, sh-shut up. Mo-move aside! Weyland will get angry.”

“For Weyland?”

Kusla asked, and at that moment, he noticed Irine’s face covered in soot.

It seemed they had already started the furnace in a workshop while looking for it. Weyland probably had Irine bring over the records, intending to experiment.

Irine was gruff towards Kusla, but after meeting Fenesis in the eyes, she stopped in her tracks.

“Erm…to put it, I want to stay here to help, but that man will beat people up with pliers when mad, you know? Erm…so-sorry!”

Irine prattled on, and hastily left. It seemed she was too awkward to face Fenesis.

She was more passionate than Weyland when it came to smithing, and it was likely smelting enthralled her more than sieving through the scrolls. Weyland might have brought irine along not because he sought authority over the workshop, but that he simply wanted to experiment. This however would simply be a hypothesis.

“…”

Fenesis watched Irine leave, looking stunned.

Certainly, given the definition of living however one liked, Irine was more suited for an alchemist workshop than a blacksmith’s.

Kusla sighed in this library that had somewhat calmed down.

“Shall we have a rest too?”

Fenesis turned back to look at Kusla, her innocent eyes twirling about as she tilted her head in confusion.

“I’m interested in this dragon fable too. Want to check out the mineral veins?”

“!”

The beast ears beneath Fenesis’ veil prick.

“Ca-can we?”

She always said the future was bright, yet when fortune was about to befall upon her, she wanted to doubt.

“If you don’t want to, do you want to continue working?”

Kusla maintained a stoic look as he stated coldly. Fenesis immediately shrank back, pouting.

She then grumbled,

“Do-do not…make fun of me.”

I don’t want to stop when you’re showing such a face.

Naturally, Kusla did not say these words, instead, he said, “put on your coat and follow me”.

The town was lively.

It was likely that it was simply due to the majority of the Azami’s Crest entering the town, resulting in a population surge. Most importantly, there seemed to be a group of people hastily preparing for a feast. One could see heaps of food and wine at the plaza; Kusla was left impressed that they actually did it.

“Looks like it will be a noisy night.”

“Might be better if we cannot sleep.”

Fenesis noted with a serious look, and Kusla in turn shrugged and answered. They were headed north of the town, asked the Knights who had searched this town, and learned of the location depicted in the books. There were still signs of the mines when the town was first designated as a mining town and harvested.

What were originally mines had become hills, surrounded within the walls.

It was said that at the northernmost area of the hill, there was a sacred chapel.

“What if a dragon rises?”

“…”

Though she knew it was a joke, Fenesis’ face froze up. She was susceptible into believing others, gullible, but she probably assumed a dragon really existed.

Such innocence left Kusla slightly speechless, but a part of him wished that there was really a dragon. He abhorred the mundane everyday life, and earnestly yearned for an unseen world beyond the tall hills.

If the burning lake truly exist, that there was really the fabled dragon existing, this sword of Orichalcum might really exist. He harbored such impish thoughts.

Thus, neither of them spoke up as they silently headed north.

The mine was reduced to hills due to mining, but there remained some height and slope.

Simply scaling the stone steps to the hilltop chapel was taxing, and by the time he was done, Kusla was sweating all over, panting.

“A consequence of lack of sleep after a long trip.”

He grumbled, and turned towards Fenesis who had fallen behind him. At that moment, he looked afar. Fenesis finally managed to climb up the stone steps after Kusla, her hands on her knees as she panted, only to notice Kusla’s strange reaction. She was taken aback, and turned to the back.

Over there, the breeze blew.

“Not a bad scene here.”

The mutter quickly dissipated amidst the winds.

A vast expanse was laid out before their eyes.

“And I thought Gulbetty was impressive.”

Looking down from atop was a privilege only the kings standing at the top of a tower or fortress could have. Even without the reasoning of abstruse theology coercing people, this alone would be enough for anyone to understand why God would in the skies.

“Hey, what are you two doing?”

Kusla lost all appetite to ponder, and simply yearned to look at the scenery when this voice called out to them.

Looking back, there was a soldier giving a strange look.

“Hmm…an alchemist, and a sister?”

“Under Archduke Kratal’s command.”

“Ahh, new fellows in this town?”

Kusla nodded, and Fenesis went to his side, somewhat uneasy.

“Here to repent as you look at the fine scenery?”

“We heard of a pagan painting inside the chapel, and want to be sure. Also, this one here is the assistant.”

“Heh?”

The soldier sized up Fenesis without restraint, and the latter glared back in fury.

“Here’s a guarantee. If there is anything the matter, talk to Archduke Kratal.”

“Nn, no. It’s nothing at all. No treasures inside.”

“Is that so? And to think I brought a monk’s bag along.”

Kusla said as he shook the bag slung over his shoulder; the soldier heartily guffawed.

“We’re just on guard here in case anyone suspicious escapes inside.”

“Or that there will be people coming out?”

Kusla joked, and Fenesis was taken aback.

“Hahaha, there are such worries too. There’s only one path inside, and the complicated passages have been sealed up carefully. A cave leading out of the town is a double-edged sword after all. The people in town were worried about being attacked, and already sealed it a long time ago.”

It was common to have secret passages linking into and out of the town. Ancient mining relics would certainly have tunnels more complicated than an ant’s hive. Kusla was daunted thinking of how much effort it was to bury them.

“Well, be sure not to be corrupted by infidels.”

The soldier said, and returned to his co-worker who was napping by the chapel.

The peaceful times after a war.

Kusla simply raised an eyebrow, and said.

“Let’s go.”

Fenesis nodded.

Kusla had assumed the passage within would be akin to a tunnel as often described, but that was not the case. Everything within was chiselled out of stone, from beneath the feet, to the walls, and the ceiling. Honestly put, it seemed like an underground sewer of a city.

The footsteps echoed intriguingly, and Fenesis seemed a little exultant.

After descending a few flights of steps, they arrived at a gutter where underground water was being drained, the design so fantastic it left Kusla marvelling. Working at the mines was a battle against water, and the drainage facilities showed a glimpse of the technical skills the town had.

They continued walking, and on the way through, passed by some ditches that could be mistaken for different passages. Some of them had little altars, with wilted flowers and wind-weathered food offerings atop them. It was likely people came here to pray for victory when the fighting was going on.

Kusla had such thoughts as he walked on, and suddenly—

The scenery before his eyes attracted his attention.

“A light?”

It was not the light of a flame, but the light of the sun.

A light shone in from around the corner before him.

“Phosphorus light? No…daylight…?”

But it’s the underground. Kusla was speechless.

The land of pagans, a miracle unbeknownst.

Kusla’s heart sizzled, and he hastened his steps. He probably had a premonition rising within him. Alchemists in particular were a bunch of daydreamers. For them, if they had the time to spend entire days praying for the success of their experiments, they would use that time to experiment; however, it was not to say that they were not attracted by sacred items. Rather, it was because they were lured by the hidden mysteries on the world that they became alchemists.

Thus, at that moment, Kusla dropped the torch in his hand.

Such was the overwhelming presence of the scenery before him.

“…An underground, chapel…”

Passing through the passage, there was a large space before them. The ceiling was domed, a hole in the apex as the sunlight shone through it, as though connected to the skies.

But most amazing of all was ‘that scene’.

Looking forward down the passage, there was a massive altar before them, with a stunningly massive dragon sculpture behind that altar. So humongous it was that that the dragon head looking up reached the center of the ceiling.

In other words, the face of the dragon had reached the hole the sunlight shone in, its mouth opened as it looked up.

Kusla once heard that once a mine lost its value as a mine, the interior would be reused again.

Before this place became an altar, it served another purpose.

“A giant furnace?”

The higher the flames, the fierier it got.

Thus, when carrying out mass scale refining, people would dig a vertical hole in the middle of the hill, link it to a horizontal one, and insert the furnace. Considering the costs, it was atypical to have such a massive hole.

However, this was the mine they profited from, and thus they had no such restrictions.

Kusla looked up at the ceiling, all stunned, his feet stumbling forward as he arrived at the bottom of the hole, and narrowed his eyes. The hole at the top was tall, the inside pitch black. Perhaps it was charred black.

“This is just like a dragon breathing fire…”

Initially, this place was dug up as an ordinary mine, and a huge hole was dug up. Once its mission as a mine was finished, it was the place to refine the minerals transported from neighboring mines, and when its mission as a furnace ended, it was rebuilt as a chapel. The dragon sculpture made was surely to present the fear of those massive flames back in the old days.

As he imagined what happened back then, Kusla was throbbing with excitement.

“So the murals are all dragons?”

Kusla looked down, and stared.

“Hey, the paintings you wanted to see—”

Kusla called out to Fenesis, only to stop.

Fenesis remained rooted as she continued to carry the heavy baggage of books.

There was a mural before her eyes. That mural was eerily similar to the paintains she saw. It was likely those paintings were drawn by someone who had witnessed these paintings.

However, why did this mural in particular attract Fenesis’ attention?

Kusla approached her, completely mystified, and at that moment, he realized this.

“The fire breathing dragon and the warriors wielding their shields…”

Typically, such a scene would be the exhilarating climax of an Epic, but the mural here seemed exceptionally leisurely. There were people standing behind the dragon, and they did not seem to be soldiers. Such a scenery seemed to depict humans leisurely spectating warriors fighting the evil dragon, and clearly did not resemble a skirmish to counter the assault of the big dragon.

Upon a closer look, Kusla finally understood why Fenesis was lured to this mural. Such was the dragon story a boy would love to dream of.

But Fenesis was looking at something beyond the dragon.

“They are—”

He went by her, approached the mural, and stared intently.

The murals were weathered after many years, but most of it could be identified clearly.

Amidst the people watching the dragon fight against the warriors, there were a strange few.

“Your people?”

Kusla asked Fenesis, who was next to him.

Only upon his words did Fenesis realize Kusla’s existence.

And so the tears in her eyes fell, and she realized she was weeping.

“I…do not know.”

Fenesis feebly answered.

After seeing such a massive painting however, Kusla could tell. Fenesis was probably thinking after looking at the illustrations on that book, if she was one of them. There were a few onlookers with non-human characteristics.

They had non-human ears, dressed in unique clothing reminiscent of the desert regions.

“There are many legends of wanderers spreading the culture and skills from faraway lands. So the ones who came to spread these smithing skills five hundred years ago…were them?”

Kusla feebly muttered, his mind beckoned to the faraway plane of time.

Cultures differed from the feathers of a Dandelion, for they would not spread with the wind; certainly there was a need to ingrain them in the minds, or to go around spreading them everywhere,

“I see…”

Kusla kept looking at the mural before his eyes, and at the same time, wondered.

“There are more inside. Shall we go take a look?”

Kusla asked, and returned to pick up the dropped torch.

I don’t have a fire, so he thought, but Fenesis went over, and suddenly knelt down.

“Here is a fire.”

Saying that, she took out a flint and some dried grass from her monk bag.”

“You brought them along?”

Kusla asked, somewhat impressed by her. Fenesis bashfully shook her head.

“Just forgot to bring it out.”

So admirable she was, yet so humble when praised.

Fenesis flickered the fire, lit the grass, and then the candle.

“Let’s go look for treasures.”

Kusla joked, and Fenesis gave the look of someone who had bawled out, only to smile elatedly thereafter.

The chapel was reminiscent of the core of a large furnace space, and countless passages extended everywhere in a radial manner.

The passages were no long, but each of them had murals depicted, along with places where dragon statues were had. As expected, Fenesis was not interested in the dragon itself, but was staring intently at the people on the murals, trying to fill something in her heart. Kusla had no intention to disturb her, and all he could help with was to look for records relating to those people.

The chapel might contain book records harking back to fables when the town started. Many times, the history of the towns would be passed down as superstition, so Kusla was looking for the storage room for ceremonial tools, finding it at the end of a passage. One could imagine from the soldier’s haphazard reactions that it had been ransacked.

“Terrible.”

One could understand from the scene before them that religion and authority were worthless in times of emergencies.

Surely the citizens of this town would be terrified of this place, and treated this as an important place as they prayed, viewing ceremonial tools as sacred items. However, these ceremonial cups and plates made of cheap tin were treated accordingly to their values. And clearly there was no sign of divine punishment on those soldiers keeping watch on the outside.

“Hmph.”

Kusla snorted as he picked up some of the trampled items that were in relatively good condition. It seemed those soldiers were only interested in valuables, for the aged parchments were left behind, a miracle at that. It seemed those were the shorthands written by the local clergymen for preaching, stating the order of worshop, the verses to recite every time; so similar it was to the worship by the Orthodox. On a closer look, Kusla found that the prayers seemed to be hailing the history of this town, and found that sort of thing to be more valuable.

“At the dawn of time, the dragon awoke from the lake of death, the flames it spewed incinerated everything, and this land was left with silence…”

Truly it was a religion befitting a cold, gloomy country that spent half the year under lead-colored clouds.

Surely anyone would be downhearted to hear narration of the world every service.

“The respect for God is like the wind. Once the respect is misdirected, the eternal burning flames will befall…”

This religion seemed a lot harsher than the Orthodox.

Kusla flipped through the parchments, and then spotted a fable written in newer ink.

“As time transpires, humans will become weaker. The knowledge from foreign lands shall cause humans to fall; thou shall not neglect on the worship of the dragon god, lest the eternal flames shall rob us all…”

It was common to have a modicum of respect to God, this was akin to fear.

That certainly seemed the case as he recalled what he had witnessed on the picture scrolls in the archives.

“Nothing else?”

If possible, it would be for the best if there were fables about the origins of this town, especially those wanderers. They were dressed in outstanding manners, their profiles shown on the murals, and thus, Kusla assumed there should be some related records.

Perhaps in the past, existences like them were not that uncommon.

“…?”

Kusla then noticed some crude candle altars, water flasks, and a black book by a toppled rack. He bent down, wanting to pick it up, only to see a hole in the wall, level with his eyes.

The toppled rack was probably leaning by the wall, and it was similar to a trapdoor. This hole was built from a brick taken out from this stone wall. Someone devoted probably went about hitting the wall, determined through sound, and found this hollow.

Kusla knelt down, trying to find what was inside. He peeked into the hole that was as tall as his knees, but naturally, it was empty.

“…No, there seems to be something written…what is it?”

Kusla dusted away the hole, brought the candle over, and stared intently.

“The flames of hell shall devour those that pilfer this…”

Hidden here were probably the golden replicas of the dragon.

Kusla let out a little sigh, picked up the black book, and stood up.

He, who lived for the sake of knowledge, was immediately peeved upon seeing a book abandoned so casually.

It was a thin book, with a terrifying black on the cover, trampled all over with footprints, which Kusla had pity for.

The title written on the book was called,

“The Book of Dragon Blood.”

That’s it. Kusla chuckled.

The book stated that dragon blood could give eternal life, and people who fell into the lake of dragon blood could escape thirty years later out of coincidence, maintaining the appearance they had thirty years before. When dragon blood was alit, the flames would continue to burn, such that even water would be unable to extinguish. If a dragon was hurt, the burned dragon blood would scatter, bringing calamity to humanity, and so on.

All these bombastic words for the sake of befuddling the foolish citizens.

“However, the book does state this land is rich in minerals as they’re fossilized by fragments of dragon scales…”

They feared the dragon, and yet at the same time, respected it. Kusla was a little fascinated, elated to realize humans really had quite a variety of thoughts.

“Using dragon blood…in pinches, elixirs can be made, and if not, a youth of eternal youth. Dragon blood can ignite the flames of eternity that can never be extinguished, even with water. Do not forget to fear the dragon, and its blood shall bring various benefits to us.”

After that, there were all the usual religious narrations. He continued to flip through the pages, and suddenly noticed a line he was particularly curious about.

“Want…to revive a dragon?”

Revive a dragon?

Kusla suddenly lifted his head, and turned back to look at the chapel.

Naturally, it was impossible to see from this angle.

But there was a massive dragon statue that symbolized a smelting furnace.

And that statue seemed to confidently declare that there was once a dragon here. At that moment, Kusla nearly believed in the text.

“…Preposterous.”

However, dragons do not exist.

Unlike an anomaly like Fenesis, dragons simply belonged to fairy tales.

Kusla however kept the book in his hag, and intended to read the rest whenever he was free.

Soon after, the duo left the room full of ceremonial tools, passed through the passages, and returned to the chapel. The sunlight shining through the ceiling had weakened greatly, unable to reach below the hole, for the sun might be setting. Clearly they had spent quite some time loitering around.

In the dim chapel, Fenesis lifted her head towards the massive dragon statue.

“Had enough of looking?”

Naturally, Fenesis had noticed Kusla, and was was taken aback as she lowered her sight.

“Your expression says enough.”

Kusla let out a wry smile.

She looked refreshed, as though she had taken a bath.

“The Ancients do have an open mind after all.”

There were probably others with deformities depicted in the paintings. To Fenesis, who had been persecuted, her relatives slaughtered, those paintings were a miracle.

“The Ancients?”

Hearing this question from Kusla, who had taken her in, Fenesis giggled. She probably intended to say that.

“You are a horrible person.”

She said with a chuckle.

Kusla did his best to maintain a stoic façade, saying,

“Let’s go back.”

Kusla held the torch, and Fenesis hastily followed from behind.

She’s clinging onto me closer than usual, so Kusla thought gleefully. At this moment, Fenesis whispered.

“Thank you for bringing me along.”

Kusla did not speak up, and merely shrugged in response.

The sun in the North set early, and it was already pitch dark by the time they arrived outside. The guards were no longer present, and not due to a change of duty shift. That reason was immediately spotted.

Kusla stopped in his tracks, looking down at the town beneath the stone steps.

“Heh.”

“Woah…”

Kusla let out a little cry, and Fenesis was left amazed.

“Just as the way you said you like it.”

“Eh?”

“There is more luck than we can imagine.”

Looking across the horizon, the town below was lit everywhere, bustling.

It was bright from the plaza in the center of the town down to the narrow roads everywhere else, such that one could see the people’s faces. The plaza resembled a furnace, and the molten metal in the plaza appeared to flow down the streets.

“We’re going to open a workshop in this town. Hills of discoveries await us.”

“…”

Fenesis slowly looked up at Kusla, and then looked down at the town beneath them.

“I have no idea if you are being pessimistic or optimistic.”

“Just being a little cautious.”

Upon hearing his response, she giggled.

“Then, I have something I wish to cautiously ask you.”

“Hm?”

Kusla lowered his head at Fenesis, whose sidelong face seemed strangely mature.

“I do feel it is fine to be in this town…is this foolish of me to assume?”

Kusla did not ask what she meant.

Ever since she was born, Fenesis had been reviled and persecuted. Even though she finally made it to the workshop Kusla and the others were at, and found a momentarily shelter for her. For the time being, she was just a little rookie, but if this town did welcome people like her, if this history was fact…

Fenesis looked down at the town, appearing to be on the verge of tears. To Kusla, her expression was precious, probably rarer than Damascus steel.

Elation, hope, so much that she was on the verge of tears.

Kusla scratched his head.

He had yet to process such a delicate piece of glass work, and for a moment, did not know how to respond.

“Stop whimpering.”

And in the end, such crude words were all he could only eke out.

Fenesis’ eyes twitched, and the hot tears immediately fell.

The lamps on the streets reflected the damp green eyes, forming a resemblance to an art piece of gold and emerald.

“I am, not crying.”

Saying that, she wept with a smile.

Kusla sighed, and patted Fenesis on the head. She did not resist, and instead leaned in Kusla’s lap, probably as Kusla had pulled her in. In any case, she did not resist, and neither did he push her away.

While he embraced her somewhat forcefully, she let out a cat-like whimper, the voice vague.

A little time certain transpired, yet it seemed an eternity. Before he spoke up, Kusla gave a little cough out of habit.

“Anyway, let’s go test our luck.”

“Hm?”

“Dinner. It’s a feast. Surely we’ll have some really nice things to eat.”

“Ah…”

Fenesis responded, and soon after, her stomach began to growl. She had toiled till this time without having a lunch, and it was to be expected that she would be hungry. She shrank, back, and even in the darkness, it was obvious she was blushing.

‘Let’s go.”

Kusla descended the stairs, and Fenesis followed him.

As they descended, Kusla was holding Fenesis by the hand, probably because she was wobbly in her feet.

Though he felt it would ruin the impression of an alchemist who would terrorize crying children into silence, he did not let go. It was probably due to him noticing Fenesis looking down at the steps and descending tentatively. Or perhaps it was the warmth in his palm as that little hand was holding his so unexpectedly firmly.

Kusla looked over at the outside of the wall, the horizon intersecting with the night sky.

Luck was in more abundance than he assumed.

Perhaps that might truly be the case.

Looking up at the night sky, Kusla showed a little cresent smile on his face.

“E-erm.”

“Huh?”

Kusla looked down, and found Fenesis pouted.

“D-do not make fun of me.”

“…”

Only after a while did Kusla realize what Fenesis had meant. It seemed she had mistaken Kusla for mocking her being so tentative descending the stairs.

“I did say before, did I not?”

“Hm?”

“I have no interest in you.”

Fenesis puffed her cheeks, and turned her face aside angry. However, she did not let go.

Kusla sneered, at himself in this regard, that more than Fenesis’ fear of the stairs, he was more concerned about his own fear of the stairs of happiness.

Truly he had become unbefitting of the moniker ‘Interest’.

He had such a joke in mind, and then,

“Ah, they’re here!”

A familiar voice rang, and looking over, he found Irine and Weyland at the bottom of the stairs.

They were holding mugs of wine, and Irine also had a skewer of meat in hand.

“See, didn’t I say so~?”

“You never said they would be holding hands. My guess is on point. A tie.”

Both of them said to each other.

Only then did Fenesis realize that she was intimately holding Kusla’s hand before Irine and Weyland. She frantically let go, and Kusla in turn exerted more strength into his grip to tease her.

“Did you find a fine workshop?”

“Sure did~?”

Weyland said, and glanced aside at Fenesis who was trying her best to escape, sneering away. Irine smacked Weyland on the shoulder, but even she could not help but chuckle.

Kusla lowered his head at Fenesis, and shrugged.

“We’re comrades, right?”

“…”

Fenesis looked up with a teary face, growling,

“Not at all!”

Kusla leered, and looked over at Weyland.

“Since we’re drinking, let’s get down to the new workshop.”

“Eh? You’re saying that now, Kusla? That’s unlike you~”

“You want to drink at such a noisy place?”

Kusla raised his chin, and a group of mercenaries before them, causing a ruckus in a circle. It seemed they were already partying since day, and looking at how things stood, it probably would not end even in at midnight.

“Well true….but I don’t really mind~”

He looked over at Irine.

“Eh? I want to dance at the plaza.”

“Dance before the furnace. I’ll watch~”

“No, way.”

Irine emphasized, and looked over at Fenesis.

“What about you, Ul?”

Fenesis widened her eyes, not having expected anyone else to seek her view.

Perhaps she too was engulfed in the atmosphere formed by the soldiers, merchants, and the craftsmen who had came a long way.

Kusla gently let go of her hand, and she recovered, looking up at him.

“What do you want to do?”

She wanted to let go so much, but once she did, she looked strangely uneasy.

It was probably down to the fact that she had bade farewell with many over the course of this journey.

And thus, to bury this lonely, she blindly desired to hold someone else’s hand.

After much ado, she finally held Kusla’s hand.

Welcome to the world of alchemists.

She slowly lifted her head.

“The workshop will do.”

For that would be her new home.”

“I see.”

“Well, since the Princess desired so, guess we got no choice here~”

“Wait, I’m not the princess?”

An agitated Irine harassed Weyland, scaring him with the tip of the skewer.

Seeing how everyone started to take action because of her opinion, Fenesis was a little lost.

Kusla was about to follow after Weyland and Irine, and suddenly turned back to Irine, saying,

“You can’t walk without me holding your hand?”

The ears under her veil twitched.

“I-I can walk by myself!”

Saying that, she quickly made haste after them.

The streets were lined with stalls of meals and wine; Irine and Weyland led the way as they went straight to the craftsmen’s street. They arrived at a stone workshop, one so magnificent even a greedy alchemist would be left intimidated by.

“Welcome to the new world!”

Saying that, Kusla reached his hand out to push aside the door leading to the new workshop.

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