[Magdala V4] Act 3

The feast itself was intended to calm the people, but this overnight ruckus certainly was rowdy.

Sounds of wine being toppled, laughter, singing voices echoes endlessly.

Kusla and the others went to bed early, partially due to fatigue overwhelming them, and also as they had heaps of work to do the following day.

Kusla did not drink much, and on the next day, he returned to the guild house and ransacked the archives. In unrelated matters, there were dozens collapses at the plaza opposite the guild house, as Kusla had expected, and even the guards on watch were drunk. If Irine were to dance away there, another corpse would have been likely.

Only Kusla and Fenesis went to the guild house, for Weyland and Irine grumbled that they could only read before the furnace in the workshop, and remained there. And for Irine, who was illiterate, she had read through all the picture scrolls in the archives, and had nothing to do even if she did head there.

Kusla rummaged through the archives for precious information, while Fenesis kept copying the useful.

She had consumed meat the previous night, a rarity at that, and she had some wine, so she had collapsed early, and seemed to slept for quite some time. In fact, she was toiling away reliably.

Soon after, it was noon, and when Kusla asked Fenesis out for a stroll at the marketplace, he was inquired: Can we eat in the workshop?

She probably wished to be in her new home a little longer. Kusla too wanted to see the furnace of the new workshop, and did not oppose. They took a few books, and left the archives.

That alone would have been fine, but Kusla had forgotten something obvious. Since he had to buy lunch, he had to carry it back. He bought some bread and cheese, a pot to boil soup with the chicken left over from the previous day. Only then did he realize his folly.

“How unbecoming of me…”

“Eh?”

Fenesis was holding notes for use at the workshop in both hands.

Kusla had book stored in monk bags slung over his shoulders, food in both hands, and weakly chimed in,

“I am an alchemists. Now I have food in both hands for lunch in the workshop, like I am toiling for my family. What has become of me?”

Fenesis was taken snack, and then she giggled.

“There is a stove in the workshop, so we have to hurry and prepare the pot, do we not?”

“…how redundant.”

“Is that so? Ah, but we need to clean up before then. The workshop doesn’t look like it has been in use for quite a while.”

The bed on the previous day was simply the dirt floor, nary a blanket, so Kusla and the others spent the night at the inn. Irine could at least make her way to the inn, but fenesis had to be carried back by Kusla.

Such a scene was probably foolish to the bystanders.

“Leaving it to you then. You’re at the age to play house.”

“Muuuu…”

Fenesis scowled, but it was obvious she was not really annoyed.

And though Kusla had thoroughly derided himself, such ineptitude did not seem so bad after all, so he let it slide.

Just relax, huh?

Kusla recalled what Fenesis had said to him.

“We bought lunch-”

Fenesis opens the door as she said this, only to stop midway through.

What? Kusla entered a tad later, wondering what was going on.

“How impressive.”

The workshop was nice and clean.

“Hm? No fire in the furnace?”

Just as she had been doing in the blacksmith guild of Gulbetty, Irine had the workshop nice and tidy. Though that itself was not a malady, Kusla was a little taken snack, having assumed she would be smelting with Weyland.

“Ah, Well, the Knights came by soon after you left.”

“The Knights?”

“Yes. The trade routes have yet to be established, so we are not supposed to waste fuel unnecessarily”

“Ahh.”

This was the land of the pagans, fat from the spider web-like information and resource network the Knights had established. Even after having conquered the biggest town, it would take some time until try could establish contact from here to the South.

“So Weyland just went to sleep?”

Kusla looked over at a corner of the workshop, and found Weyland sleeping atop the hay that should be wrapped in charcoal, sleeping away like a beggar.

He’s able to sleep while the one next to him is working. Kusla was a little amazed by this.

“Shut up already~”

“Food.”

“Fuahhh…”

Weyland was typically lethargic except when it came to working in front of the furnace.

Kusla laid out the lunch onto the work table Irine had cleaned up, and the four of them sat on the chairs.

Suddenly bursting into a fit of laughter was Irine.

“Haha. This feels like a workshop.”

“It’s the real deal~”

“This isn’t what I meant.”

Kusla understood very well what Irine was saying.

And as he knew, he turned to look at Fenesis.

“Now then, let us give thanks to God, and begin.”

Goodness, this really was an indecent meal.

 

After lunch, Kusla focused on reading the books he had obtained, while Fenesis continued to write.

Irine probably did not have much work left to do, so she took a mop and pail and went around the workshop. In a matter of moments, the remaining work was done, and only then did she return to the workplace. You sure have it tough, Kusla thought in his heart. However, he had a feeling irine aas being restless for some reason. She was pacing around in the workplace, fiddling around with the racks from time to time, and at other times toying with the tools placed up on them.

However, she soon got bored, and folded her arms before the unlit furnace, groaning add she stood there.

Then, having appeared to have made up her mind, she turned around.

“Hey.”

Kusla intended to ignore her, but upon noticing how she was bored to tears, he raised an eyebrow, and asked.

“What?”

Kusla had already known what Irine was getting at, and the latter reclined her head as she said,

“There has to be something I can do, right?”

Kusla scanned the surroundings, and was left somewhat impressed as he saw the tidied workshop,

“How about mending some clothes? This fellow here should have some work clothes.”

Kusla pointed at Fenesis, whose green eyes twirled as she tiled her neck in confusion.

“Mended during the trip.”

“Now that’s too bad. A blacksmith is useless if fuel can’t be used.”

“Ugh…”

Irine winced in agony. She probably could not deal with idleness.

Kusla then called out to Weyland, who was lying around in a corner of the room.

“Hey Weyland!”

“…”

Weyland did not answer, but it was obvious he was just lying around and not sleeping.

“Weyland!”

“…what~”

“This Princess Irine here is bored to death. Accompany her for a moment.”

“Uuu?”

Weyland got up slowly.

“Make this princess happy with the woman skills you’re proud of.”

“…Isn’t It you who said not to do anything to her to avoid trouble, Kusla~?”

“Got to look the time and moment.”

“Ugh…i seem to have a preference for older ones recently~”

“H-hey! What are you saying now?”

Of course, that was a joke.

Kusla shrugged, and Weyland stood up, looking reluctant to work.

“Ah, you don’t have to stand up.”

Irine refused in a panicky manner, but her courtesy left Weyland delighted.

“Now then, where shall we go today?”

Weyland muttered, but Irine suddenly spoke up.

“H-hey, actually, I have a request.”

“Ah?”

Irine looked across at Kusla, Weyland and Fenesis, stating timidly.

“What, a request? Want me to spend more time with you?”

“Ehh? No way~?”

“No!”

Irine gritted her teeth as she hollered back, and then she said,

“I hope you can teach me how to read…”

Can I not?

Irine’s eyes went up towards the trio, such an expression from her from truly a little rare.

Kusla shot Weyland a look, who pondered, and stretched his back.

“Phuahhh…haven’t slept enough. Let’s sleep some more.”

“Hey!”

“Nap time.”

Saying that, he took the hay and went into the room. The effort it would take for Weyland to bring Irine around would be about the same as teaching her how to read, the crucial factor being Weyland’s mood.

Kusla sighed, and looked over at Irine. It seemed she had decided to make this request after much deliberation, yet such an unbecoming outcome happened, and she felt she did not being. This was similar to fenesis feeling hurt for lacking in smelting skills compared to the others.

He sighed again, and said to Irine,

“Get a candle and a wooden block.”

 

A common practice for penmanship was to apply wax on wood and write on it.

Irine lifted her head, nodded away seriously, and got down to preparation immediately.

How do breach Irine how to read? Kusla wondered. Irine wanted to be of immediate gel, so he should be teaching her some recent useable things.

Words has shape and sound, and by combining these, the intent will be conveyed. However, it would be arduous to teach from the beginning. Irine was a thoroughbred blacksmith, and practicality should be the aim.

To have her learn from what she saw would be the most effective method, in other words, to have her learn the terms mixed in those pictures scrolls.

Truly, there were not many terms for Irine to learn through this, and she was intelligent enough to be able to see a water-powered bellow, grasp it’s mechanism, and rebuild it, so she should be fine on that regards. After that, all he needed to do was to teach her some simple terms like mineral types or fire control recorded on the scrolls.

Typically, blacksmiths would not hand down their skills through language.

“These are the names of the minerals, at least. Even I have some pronunciation issues with them.”

“It’s helpful that they are almost to the words I know…i guess?”

Irine could distinguish between gold and silver with her eyes closed, just by touching them. She was tentative at first, but she did try to read the words forcefully.

It appeared she had learned of the minerals terms in the Southern language.

Though this was the Northern land of the pagans, it was next to the South, thus there was no decisive difference in the words of the two lands.

She probably could remember if she put in some effort.

“And these too?”

“These are usually used in those common paragraphs. Repent and the door will be owned to you, or something like that, you understand? If you can remember, you can use them for various situations.”

“I see…”

Some of the picture scrolls depicted the situation in the workshops, but most of them would have much in common with a normal sermon. For example, lazy masters, arrogant masters who treated their disciples as slaves, those would series local customers would receive retribution, a live demonstration on how to use a strangely shaped below from the South, and so on.

Amidst such scenes, short paragraphs containing the usual sentences would normally be introduced.

If one could not understand the words he might assume the passage would be conveying some highly exalted message; once the true intent was understand however, he might figure that the words were not that impressive. Such a scenario would not he limited to words alone.

“Well, try mesmerizing about a hundred or two hundred. Get these memorized, and those things on the picture scrolls while be easy to understand. If there’s anything else you don’t understand, you can ask me, or ask Weyland. He will still answer if you ask hill from time to time.”

Irine gave Kusla a look, and nodded away somehow unwillingly. You’re the one who asked me for help, but Kusla did not say that out. Her expression indicates that she was bemeaning herself for her incompetence.

“Just to ask.”

“Huh?”

“Is it fine for me to ask a question?”

She has a passion for learning, one no inferior to Fenesis.

Kusla needed Irine to know some words, so he sat side by side with her, while Fenesis sat opposite her, citing away silently. To make something Irine would he superior to Fenesis, she would not pretend not to know if she did not, and ask whatever she wanted to ask.

“Sure. More ten willing to teach you.”

“…Utter nonsense.”

Though she said so, Irine let out a sigh of relief.

“What is written here?”

Saying that, she took up a writing block with some unintelligible handwriting.

It certainly had the vibe of a five year old child sketching on the ground with a wooden stick.

“Try practising your handwriting. This doesn’t look like a girls words.”

“I-it’s fine, isn’t it? I am a blacksmith to begin with!”

“Your husband’s penmanship was really vigorous.”

“Ugh…”

After silencing Irine, Kusla looked down at the piece of paper she handed over.

He was not joking in the slightest. The handwriting was atrocious, almost unintelligible. However, he could barely identify the words.

She probably copied this from the picture scrolls.

Kusla saw the words, and showed a smile.

“You too have some interest in weird things.”

“…so It’s this kind of thing?”

“…eternity…beginning…hell, he’ll? This is a raid, no? All other…produce…ancient…”

He burst into laughter.

“An archmage.”

Irine stared intently as Kusla read the note.

“Do you intend to be an alchemist?”

Kusla teased Irine, who suddenly lifted her head.

And his eyes quivered.

Kusla could not help but imagine which imagery Irine was captivated, that it surely had to be something very amazing. Those seeking such intriguing smelting methods in a blacksmith’s workshop would be warned.

Yet he did not mock Irine for clearly faltering.

“But this isn’t a bad thing.”

“Uu…eh?”

“This isn’t a blacksmith workshop. There’s nothing to bind your sensibility.”

“…”

“Go pursue what you like; the important thing is…”

With a stern look, Kusla continued,

“Never lose sight of your goals, and do not be stuck in a superstitious insistence. Throwing the bones of a Saint for smelting is already the limit; if you are so obsessed with the constellations or reciting chants when smelting, be careful. This is a different thing altogether.”

Irine looked up and stared at Kusla intently, nodding away slowly.

In many ways, she was an outstanding blacksmith, but as she was thoroughly indoctrinated in the lifestyle of a blacksmith’s workshop, she could only trust what she could see with the naked eye, and what could be replicated again.

I shouldn’t worry about her too much. Kusla thought, but Irine spoke up,

“I say, you…”

“Ah? No, it’s nothing.”

Saying that, she snatched the paper back.

And then she bent her waist.

What? While Kusla was feeling sceptical, the red-haired girl lowered her head, and again handed the slip of paper to Kusla.

“I want you to write down what each term means.”

This helper had a different hair color from Fenesis, yet certainly she had her own charms.

Kusla was a little curious to the painting that could intrigue Irine; nowhere in the other picture scrolls was there the term ‘archmage’.

He wondered as he translated the words Irine identified from the note, and handed the paper to her. While Irine stared at it, Kusla suddenly noticed Fenesis’ stare from the other side.

“What?”

“!”

Fenesis was taken aback when Kusla asked her, and shrivelled up.

“You have things you don’t understand, don’t you?”

“N-no…”

She stammered away, and began copying again.

Kusla glanced at her, feeling skeptical. What is wrong with her? She might be thinking that she could help in some way, but could not interrupt.

Kusla too felt the same.

“Hey, you, I’ll have Fenesis teach you.”

“Eh?”

Irine lifted her head, responded with a somewhat surprised tone,

“Language-wise, she’s more proficient than I am.”

Kusla was stating a fact, but Irine might have been really surprised by this.

She was clearly giving a look of doubt.

“Ah—erm, this means…”

Irine looked back and forth between Fenesis and Kusla.

What was she so doubtful about? Kusla was left bewildered, and his innate desire to prank was throbbing away unbeknownst to him.

“Or do you wish for me to teach you?”

He chuckled, and Irine’s face froze as she stared at him.

Uh oh, so Irine’s face betrayed such an expression.

And Kusla’s smile froze.

“Hey, I was just joking…”

“No-no-no-no, that’s not it, you imbecile! Not like that—”

Irine peeked at Fenesis, trying to defend herself, only to end up acting weirder.

Fenesis gave Irine a blank look, and the latter could not help but stand up.

“You imbecile!”

Saying those words, Irine grabbed that piece of paper and stormed into the inner room.

Kusla and Fenesis were left behind, and were strangely silent.

Kusla looked at Fenesis.

“Your hand stopped.”

“Eh, ah, y-yes.”

Fenesis, who had been spacing out all this while, began to work frantically again.

Clearly she was being listless, but Kusla did not point it out.

It was a little late of him, but only then did he realize why that lecherous Weyland did not teach Irine how to read. Fenesis felt that she could be able to help irine out, and was not paying attention to the fact that Irine was interacting with Kusla. Surely that would not be an interesting notion; to simply put, it was probably down to jealousy.

This anxious vibe of a young lady left Kusla clicking his tongue.

A small numbing feeling deep within his mind, as though his hand was reaching towards an itch it could not touch.

Tensions would arise whenever young ladies were around.

The issue was that Kusla could not rectify the reason to this numbness, after everything else had left him rattle. However, he had other thoughts about this matter.

Once Irine gave a clumsy look, clearly showing that she had interest in Kusla, Fenesis was obviously rattled, and her blank look was truly charming. Kusla felt an itch in his heart, knowing that she was showing an immature possessive desire. Truly it was not a bad thing to be loved.

Every day was a numbingly peaceful day.

Kusla was left stunned, unable to grimace, for he sensed his burning desire for Magdala was healed by such a trivial matter, or perhaps this was all he sought. All this while, he went with the passion to ‘strip even God naked’, seeking the Truth to the world, yet he was so easily satisfied by such an ordinary matter. Was that simply all he sought?

Kusla assumed that was not the case, but he had no method to prove this.

If he had the chance to prove it, Kusla would be convicted that he would be able to perform the abilities of an alchemist.

Such was his conviction that he would not be ruined by the anxiety displayed by Fenesis and Irine.

Given that the Knights’ rule over this land was as sturdy as monoliths, and he could live peaceful days under such protection, probably able to carry out lots and lots of research.

There was nothing inappropriate or unsatisfying.

But this might simply be all.

Thinking about this, Kusla suddenly felt a little forlorn.

In any case, even in this town of Kazan, there was no earth-shattering technology he desired to be found.

Just being liked by Fenesis, and being able to protect her is enough for me. Such a fact was basically telling him such an ordinary life was the Truth to the world.

The mundane, unchanging daily life would continue for eternity, only toyed with by occasional illogicality; such was his life.

Was that all to his life?

Kusla sat face to face with Fenesis, flipping through the ‘precious knowledge’ that seemed so familiar to him as he let his thoughts run wild.

There was nothing he should be uneasy about, yet this left his restless.

And thus, right when the lunch from the afternoon was about to be completely digested, the sound of the workshop door being knocked on left Kusla with trepidation in some aspects.

The only ones with any business to come to this workshop would be the Knights.

This might be the start of many years of mundane daily life.

Kusla opened the door, and spotted a young soldier waiting outside the door.

However, the latter’s eyes were astoundingly stinging.

“Lord Alzen is looking for you.”

“What?’

“That knowledge of yours is required?”

Knowledge? Was there something amazing found?

Kusla had such a deduction in his mind, but the soldier told him with a hushed voice,

“Please hurry as the situation is dire.”

Kusla sensed someone prodding him on the back.

He realized this was causing his heart to race, and his face showed a twisted smirk of ‘Interest’.

 

The leader of the migrants under the Azami’s Crest was the red-bearded Archduke Kratol, who would have alchemists perform fire breathing for his own bemusement. However, the one running the actual operations was the Herald Alzen.

His duty was to be the vanguard before the Forces, eliminate all obstacles before them, and even after entering this town, his duties had not change.

For any obstacle that came before the forces, he would have to eliminate them.

At this point, Alzen’s face was as mortified as ever.

Kusla, Weyland and Irine were summoned, so Fenesis too was called along. It appeared Alzen it had only known of her old position, for he was a little surprised by Irine’s age.

“If the skills are the real deal, that shall be fine.”

Saying that, he brought Kusla and the others into the room by his office.

Over there was a large sword, shield, armor, and also arrows and barding.

“…These are?”

“The soldiers headed West two days ago brought them back.”

Alzen briefly explained.

The soldiers headed West were probably the ones left in this town. These soldiers who had fought in the war had to return after it was over, and though they could have gone down south, given their heavy baggage of broadswords and armor, it would be faster for them to head West for the time being and use the sea route.

The words the soldiers headed West two days ago brought them back left Kusla curious.

For that was not a journey that could be made to and fro within a day or two.

And looking at the armor equipment, Fenesis and even Irine were left intimidated.

The equipment were littered with blood stains and dirt.

“Know where did these come from?”

But Alzen did not specify, instead asking only about this.

“Asking where they come from?”

“Yes. You should know.”

Again, he thought of alchemists as omnipotent, so Kusla grumbled in his mind. Since his superior has asked, so he could only answer. He picked the sword up, while Weyland brought his face towards the armor, as though sniffing the blood. Irine, who had been perplexed about these things, apprehensively raised an arrow and inspected it.

There were already breaks in the blade of the sword Kusla took.

That alone would not determine anything however, for even a sword would show signs if cracks after many repeated uses. However, there were stains caused by fats, clearly showing that this sword did taste blood, and had clearly been used to slay others before.

“Looking at how soft this one is, it does seem the blacksmith was aiming for maximum malleability.”

“Also, this one should have been produced in a large workshop. The quality is pretty uniform~”

Weyland compared a few sets of armor that were laid out, saying this,

“Even the shape of the arrows…the quality of the metal is even. Probably produced in a town with a blacksmith guild.”

Irine too spoke with much apprehension.

They were of high quality, and there was mass production of similar quality. Such indicated that the equipment was made by several major workshops under the thorough control of a guild.

And thus, there were few possible answers.

“The specifics can only be known once the equipment is brought back for proper inspection, but there’s no doubt the equipment are from the far South. Every equipment feels like an annoying boast from the blacksmith. Only major cities in those countries like the Drabeldy Southern Naval Union or the Lutsiano Empire will have such major guilds…”

These were all countries located in the far South, where the Holy Cathedral of the Church’s headquarters and the merchants who controlled massive wealth domineered the place. Kusla wondered as he stared at the equipment, conscious of the fact that these things reached this place after such a long journey.

“And so? Is this all?”

Kusla asked fearlessly, and Alzen frowned, looking crossed.

“What we shall discuss next has nothing to do with you. More importantly, I want to know the logistics flow of such equipment, whether they can be easily obtained.”

“…The merchants should be more aware of this than us, no?”

Kusla easily sidestepped the question, and at that moment, Alzen seemed to have stopped breathing due to his rage.

Kusla watched Alzen’s reaction, not daring to let his guard down.

As the Herald, he obviously knew he should be inquring the merchants on such matters.

There was surely a reason as to why he did not do so.

“Tell us what you know.”

Alzen sounded extremely anxious, unlike the frivolous attitude he showed at Gulbetty.

“Were the soldiers attacked by bandits while wearing such equipment?”

Alzen did not let out an audible gasp, but it seemed he could not evade it easily. Such an unbecoming silence gave Kusla the answer he wanted.

Kusla let out a little chuckle.

“Good work there.”

Leaving these words behind, Alzen left the room, followed by his men. Kusla, left behind in the room, let out a sigh, while Weyland too started pinching away at his hair.

“H-hey.”

“Huh?”

Irine could not endure the silence any longer, as she asked,

“What did that conversation mean?”

Her expression seemed to indicate that she had somewhat understood.

“It’s simple.”

Kusla held the hilt of the sword again, and the sword itself gave a little slither.

“It looks like the war has yet to end.”

“Hm?”

“This sword had just slayed someone.”

Hearing Kusla’s words, Irine gasped, and took a step back, while Fenesis was left stunned.

“It’s one thing if it had been a raid by the remnants~”

Weyland too finally looked away from the armor, lifting his head as he explained.

“Yes. If they are just remnants, Lord Alzen could have had them eliminated with just a swing of his authority.”

“…”

In a surprising move, Fenesis latched onto a wordless irine’s arm.

“Are we in danger?’

Fenesis asked, and Kusla smirked.

“It’s common.”

“No way that will happen.”

They said with much conviction.

This young lady tried fortune telling by pouring lead into water to know if everyone could remain together.

But like Kusla, surely this girl had experienced in situations more precarious than this.

“…Sorry partners.”

Saying that, Kusla sheathed the sword. Fenesis was a little rattled hearing the term partners, but she tried her best to maintain her poise.

“First, we need to note how frantic Alzen was. These weapons are top quality.”

“Little Irine should know how much money is needed to create these weapons, no~?”

Irine gulped, as though she was interrogated by Weyland’s question.

“…Enough to build a house in a village.”

“And able to buy a house in a town. There is a huge difference in standing between bandits and Knights, but the real difference is simply the equipment they have. The only difference between blacksmiths and alchemists is curiosity, but which of the differences is bigger?”

“So, what are you getting at?”

Irine asked anxiously,

And Kusla shrugged.

“Kazan might not have been conquered.”

“Huh? But—”

This place was known as Kazan.

But just as lead can be turned into gold, so gold can be turned into lead.

“That might simply be a trap.”

Kazan was not conquered, but used to lure the enemy deep within.

The Knights did not conquer, but was swallowed.

“Just as you lot did to me.”

Kusla looked over at Fenesis and Irine.

“If a single crux remains unclear, the outcome deduced will become a whole lot different.”

“…I-in other words?”

Irine asked.

And then, the door to the room opened.

“Head back to the workshop for now.”

Kusla gave a glance at Alzen’s man.

“Do not inform anyone else of what happened here.”

And the man spoke up before Kusla and the others could say anything.

Kusla looked over at Irine, his face practically stating this was how it was.

Alzen and Archduke Kratol were stationed in the old town hall facing the dragon fountain plaza. Once Kusla and the others exited, they had some murmurs.

It seemed soldiers were being summoned by a trumpet.

Everyone else present noticed the intent, and were uneasy, but showed no timidity.

“And what of our dear Knights?”

A couple with their stall by the roadside teased. They were probably migrants who had just moved into this town, and typically, they would assume as such,

The enemy probably regrouped, wanting to fight for honor. They are all remnants. It’s common to hear the merchants and musicians talk up such tragic, maddening stories for honor in the inns.

Some of them seemed to be saying similar things with much glee.

The people heard the trumpet call, and looked towards the plaza.

But Kusla and his group was the opposite, headed towards the workshop.

It was as though only the four of them knew the truth.

“We can beat the enemies we have once beaten, right?”

Irine asked,

“If only those are the same enemies.”

Kusla answered.

And that day, once night arose, the town of Kazan was besieged by enemy forces.

 

That night, Kusla and the others did not sleep.

Yet they did not sleep, not because they feared the enemies besieging them.

“This is…the…last…”

With the thunk of a hammer, Irine fell backwards, and right when she was about to land, Kusla grabbed her. Her work was finally done, and the sky finally showed day.

Some neighboring workshops continued to work. The blacksmiths that had migrated from the South were gathered and working in empty workshops. Kusla laid Irine down, and suddenly noticed her hands were bloodied with blisters, battered.

“Hey, bring some bandages and ointment

Fenesis, who too was looking weary, was slumped on the chair when she heard Kusla’s command, and teetered to her feet, entering the inner room.

Soon after, she brought whatever Kusla wanted, before collapsing on the spot again.

“…You can go to sleep too. Good work for the day.”

Fenesis did not have any decent blacksmithing skills to speak of, and toiled for the entire night running chores for Kusla, Weyland and Irine.

She probably was not in the mood to lament her lack of skills.

She nodded, but even as she closed her eyes, she did not lie down.

So weary she was that she could not sleep.

The workshop was utterly busy. Soon after Kusla and the others investigated the bloodied weapons and the trumpet call was made, the mercenaries and Knights swarmed the workshops.

They were looking for blacksmiths, hoping to repair the weapons they neglected to maintain out of sloth.

Over many years, the Knights had been conquering towns everywhere with gusto, and expanding territories. So overwhelming were the Knights that once a town was conquered, the remnants would not dare to approach after much dithering. The possibility of a town being attacked again after being conquered was practically nil. This had led to bouts of arrogance in the majority, only dressed up to join the advance. Of them, the majority were mercenaries who had fixed commission rates no matter the state of their equipment.

It seemed Alzen had quickly realized this; he commanded the blacksmiths to enter the workshops, issued fuel to them, and had them process the weapons overnight. The swords were sharpened, the buckles, armors, helmet, lances, battleaxes and various weapons were all dealt with immediately. Other blacksmiths should be doing the same thing elsewhere along the blacksmith street.

In the workshop Kusla and the others were in, the busiest of all was undoubtedly Irine.

In the meanwhile, Kusla and Weyland were completely focused on other word. Using the molds left behind in the workshop, they built iron blocks used as ammunition for catapults, or materials used to repair the wall the Knights had demolished when conquering Kazan. Purity and quality aside, speed was of the essence, and such was completely opposite of the usual work alchemists did. Burned iron blocks had to be stacked up on carriages before proper cooling. Even with thick deerskin gloves on, one could get scalded easily.

Kusla applied ointment on Irine’s hands, wrapped them in bandages, and dragged her to the wall by the furnace, laying her down horizontally. The furnace had burned for the entire night, and thus the house was warm, and no issues for her to sleep like this. Weyland had already taken off his shirt and laid on the floor. One might even suggest he was concussed rather than sleeping.

Kusla reached his hand for the flask by his side, and was really grateful that it contained water. With water in hand, he brought it to Fenesis’ side.

It had been a while since he was this exhausted.

And yet he felt extremely refreshed.

“Drink up.”

Kusla handed the water to Fenesis as he said this. However, she had no strength to receive, so he could only bring the water to her lips, as she clumsily drank it down.

Water kept spilling by her lips, yet neither of them had the strength to bother with that.

After gulping down some water, Fenesis shook her head lightly, and Kusla finished off the rest of the water.

As the area around the furnace was too hot, the water inside the flask was hot.

“…Puuah…fuuu.”

Even though the water was almost boiling, it was soothing once he drank it.

At this moment, one could hear sounds of work from other workshops if they pricked their ears.

“So a war hasn’t happened yet?”

“…u…huh…?”

Fenesis coughed, her voice hoarse.

Kusla patted her on the back, the petite back of her so small it was unnerving for him.

“Want more?”

Fenesis shook her head, took a deep breath, and finally calmed down.

However, once she did, the words that reached her lips were swallowed again.

Kulsa gave a few glances at her sidelong face, and said,

“What do you want to ask?”

Fenesis probably anticipated the question, as she did not show much surprise.

“What next?”

A feeble girl shivering with uneasiness would never ask what would be next.

Kusla gave a little chuckle.

“See what they do first.”

Alzen gave the order to repair the walls, for he determined that the enemy were so numerous, they could not be beaten back at once.

If the enemy were just remnants comprised of nobles who were chased out of town, they probably would fight for the namesake of their birthtown rather than die as an alien in a different land; for that matter, Alzen probably would not overreact this much.

At the very least, the enemy was an organized army.

Also, there were the bloodied weapons Kusla and the others saw.

“Holding the fort.”

“Hm?”

“To be honest, I do dislike it somewhat.”

Fenesis responded. If she had expressed the same tone when stating her dislike of onions in soup, surely she would be cuter than she was.

“It feels like I am being strangled, that time ceases to pass.”

She came from the starting point of the Crusades, the Promised Land. The tragedies she experienced in the war were not something Kusla could compared.

“What is the possibility of us holding down the fort…”

Kusla tersely noted.

“…What did the mercenaries say…?”

“Hm, well, they said the town is thoroughly surrounded. It might not be that exaggerated, but given how the Knights are using the remaining fuel left in the town for smelting to fortify the defenses, this shows that they are cornered.”

Fenesis lifted her head towards Kusla,

“…Are you saying that even the Knights won’t be able to defend this place?”

“So I think.”

Kusla grimly noted.

“They lack preparation.”

“Prepar…ation…?”

“Yes.”

Kusla drank the remaining water.

“The mercenaries, and even the Knights were permitted to come along without their weapons readied. The Knights had won too much. Thinking about it this way, they probably slacked off in other facets.”

This workshop had no lights lit on the previous day.

Why was that?

“This town is far from the South, far from the sea. The supply route remains unestablished. What will happen if we try to defend this place?”

“Ahh…”

“They had to send a messenger to our workshop just to remind us not to waste fuel. They are truly lacking in supplies.”

Kusla did not know how many days of fuel they had left.

But once a mishap happened, he would associate everything he saw with the worst outcome possible.

“The enemy dares to defy the Knights who have controlled everything under the heavens, so clearly they have come up with some countermeasures. They must have made their thorough investigations and decided to attack. Looking at how quick they mobilized, there is no doubt they had set up an ambush here. In other words, they had contacted the rulers nearby and conspired against the Knights. No matter which direction we break through, there will be an enemy present.”

“…B-but, they—”

“Yes, they did kowtow to the Knights at the border office, one after another. Alzen probably was fooled too. In hindsight, it is obvious. They had colluded together to import gold and silver. They said it was gifting for the long journey, but they gave not food, but vast amounts of reward.”

If they had offered food, the Knights would have feasted and finished them off. However, if they intended to retake Kazan, they could then reclaim it back.

“That amazing feast yesterday should have taken up quite a lot of food. The Knights would only do so if they expected things to proceed smoothly.”

Fenesis’ body froze up. Perhaps she felt it was ironic.

For she, who often proceeded enthusiastically, she believed that luck would be more than she imagined.

“So even if we hold the fort, will the Knights hang on until their comrades come to save them…though I want to say this.”

“Eh?”

“I wonder if the reinforcements will come…”

What are you trying to say? So Fenesis gave that look, and Kusla too seemed self-aware of this.

“You say that I’m always so pessimistic.”

“…!”

“But no matter what, no matter how I think when I’m tired, I can’t think of anything positive. Most importantly…”

Till this point, Kusla paused.

Fenesis gave a skeptical look, but he could only shake his head.

Most importantly, no matter his thoughts, it was a mere waste of effort.

No matter how riled up Kusla and the others were in the town, they were ultimately employed by the Knights, and protected. All that could affect future developments were Alzen and Archduke Kratol above him, or a certain higher command far from this town.

He would only be drifted away by the wave, and the only thing he could do was to swim better in the tide. Given his own position, he could not change the flow itself.

“Have some sleep first. Who knows when we will need to work again.”

Saying that, Kusla closed his eyes, and laid down.

After some apprehension, Fenesis too did the same.

She laid gently upon Kusla’s back, for she might be cold.

 

But no matter how worried Kusla was, the Knights’ soldiers were high in morale.

Both friend and foe were glaring at each other over the wall, and the main street linking the front gates and the plaza were crammed with soldiers. They were like hunting hounds waiting to be released. Other than them, the craftsmen and merchants were harboring much anticipation no inferior to the soldiers, for there was no way they could simply give away the New Lands they finally arrived at.

At the same time, a few people were wandering around the streets like timid dogs, or sealing their houses shut. They were original residents of this town, who used to live with those outside the walls just several weeks ago. It was practically impossible for them to view those outside the war as enemies, and at the same time, they could not just stand on the Knights side unconditionally.

Those people, Kusla felt, were the ones they had to be worried about. Perhaps they were waiting for the moment to strike the Knights from within.

But in any case, the current situation remained unstable.

Quite a few had felt the Knights had been winning all the time, and surely they would win again. IT was not a bad idea to think as such, for when morale was high, just hearing the shout of the soldiers would give the vibe that the battle was won before it started.

But unfortunately, Kusla was an alchemist. Alchemists had to keep frowning, and not let any superstition or delusion cloud their eyes.

“I say, you’re always giving that sulk, even I’m low on morale.”

Kusla went out to check on the town, and in the meantime, went to the obtain blankets issues from the inn. When he returned, he found Irine , who had already taken a bath, returning from the town’s cookery.

She devoured all the dishes like a ferocious beast awakened from its slumber, covered in soot as she dusted the furnace. Once the cleaning was done, she went for another bath, probably to wash the dirt off her.

“There was once a battle at Gulbetty, but the Knights were as strong as bears.”

She twisted her hair, rubbed it, and bundled it without waiting for it to dry. Truly she was a blacksmith girl with an impatient personality.

“Surely they will win again. Crush the enemies again, no?”

Irine’s words seemed representative of all the migrants.

“if that were the case, of course not. This is a case of mental preparation.”

Kusla said, put down the blankets, and walked out.

“Where are you going?”

“The guild’s archives.”

“…How serious.”

Irine said, looking dumbfounded.

“Lay out a blanket on her. When she wakes up, don’t let her get to me. Don’t let a girl run alone on the streets.”

“Yes yes.”

Irine answered, looking unamused, and waved her hand to shoo Kusla.

The latter walked out, and went off in a direction completely opposite of the plaza where the guild was located.

He stood at a place somewhere far from the workshop entranced, and tapped at the wooden window of the workshop’s bedroom.

“Hey.”

He called out, and showing up with a sleepy face was Weyland.

“What is it~?”

“Get out here.”

Though Weyland gave a digusted look, he did not refuse. He stretched lazily, “Alrighty” and hopped out of the window.

“Doesn’t look like you have some interesting words to say~.”

Weyland walked by Kusla’s side, kicking at pebbles as he said so.

“You’re thinking the same, aren’t you?”

“Hm?”

“We’ll lose this battle.”

Kusla spoke with much conviction, his words differing from irine and Fenesis.

“Nnn…fufu.”

Weyland laughed, scratching the tip of his nose.

But Kusla was not angered by this.

“So? Do you have anything you want to say this~?”

For he had anticipated these words.

“You know the situation, don’t you? Those two girls.”

Weyland cupped his hands behind his head, still giving the reluctant look,

“Yeah, we’ll likely lose this battle. We fell into the trap the moment the Queen of Latria converted~. Those weapons were produced by the South~. Without the assistance of the nearby rulers, it is impossible for them to attack. The North and South teamed up and managed to bait us successfully~”

“If the pagans who are supposed to be beaten are not around, the next prey will be the Knights.”

“Hohoh. The Knights sucked up too much of the pagans’ blood~. That’s why they are viewed as terrifying pagans~”

The Knights experienced a growth completely different from the existing rulers, through expanding their territories. In the process, they amassed many enemies. Anyone could tell if a step back was taken, followed by an overview. But despite this, nobody would have expected this to happen.

Latria was on the brink of destruction, and the various Southern countries had obtained all the profits them could obtain in the war against the pagans. The greedy Knights wanted to continue fighting the final pagan countries, declare war upon them, and devoured them. In that case, what would the various countries following the footsteps of the Knights think?

Would they hunt the fattened swines for the sake of their common interests?

The moment the Queen of Latria converted to Orthodoxy, the people invading the lands became enemies of God.

And since both sides had become Orthodox followers, it was no wonder an alliance was formed between the North and the South.

Foolish were the Kazan who were blinded by their continuous victories, about to devour the gold mine that was Kazan.

“But these are just hypotheses~”

Weyland leisurely noted.

Kusla took out a piece of paper from his clutches, and handed it to Weyland.

“What is this~?”

“The enemy tossed this letter in over the town walls, to rattle.”

“…Hm.”

Weyland murmured, and opened that crumpled piece of paper.

“The Knights leading you have been deemed as one of the heretics. Drop your weapons now. Your reinforcements…”

Will not come.

“We might have been able to dismiss these taunts calmly if not for these weapons and equipment. There’s no doubt these weapons are the biggest proof that there are some of the Southerners in the enemy. Alzen obviously realized that. We really fell into a huge trap this time.”

It was likely similar matters were happening all over Latria.

The Knights were already giddy with victories, and brought the migrants over without building up the town structure.

To think they had taken a large munch on Latria.

Rather, it might have been considered a hunter’s trap instead.

“Want to surrender?”

Faced with this joking tone, Kusla finally broke into a grin.

“You got to be joking. The Knights will definitely be a synonym for heretics starting tomorrow.”

The reason why the Knights became so big was that no matter how much they robbed those who were labeled as pagans, they would be granted forgiveness by God.

Thus, what would those intending to rob whatever the Knights built up do?

Further thought into this matter was unnecessary.

The Knights would simply be dealt with as heretics. They simply needed to be suppressed, their fortunes confiscate.

In other words, anyone discovered to be part of the Knights would be executed, and anyone sparing the Knights would be an ally, deemed as heretics.

“No way will those people hold back now. Everyone is conspiring to deem the Knights as evil. Anyone holding back will be deemed as an enemy by the others. Lots of similar matters happened in the hunting of the pagans, no?”

“That’s how it is~”

Weyland rolled the enemy’s letter into a ball and casually tossed it aside. Every person in town would spot this sooner or later.

“Alzen is probably awaiting the moment escape. The resources in the town are insufficient to maintain a siege defense, no reinforcements are coming. And unfortunately, this is the enemy’s territory~”

Weyland noted nonchalantly, but the truth of the matter was as he had stated.

What was the nature of this town in the first place? This was a town conquered by the Knights, with quite a few of its original residents still inhabiting.

IF they too responded to the call of the enemies outside and took arms, what would happen?

The Knights would be flankered within and out.

In any case, surely they would lose.

“They can’t possibly run away at this point. Those rowdy, riled up fellows still think they can crush the enemy at once. If they are to know that the leaders intend to bail from this town, a riot might be incited. Alzen probably would have them fighting a skirmish, and have them understand the enemy were not just defeated remnants of nobles.”

“Hm.”

Weyland stroked his stubble chin, and said,

“Of course, we can only escape when the chance presents itself while they attack…ah, so you called me out here for this reason, Kusla~?”

Weyland tilted his head as he noted.

Kusla was not angered in the slightest. He too was stunned by his own thoughts.

“Have them stay in the town.”

Even if they did escape, they would surely be pursed. The Knights would be disadvantaged even at the place they would be escaping towards.

When that happened, what would happen to the two young ladies Irine and Fenesis when they remained amidst a group of wounded, trapped beasts? Surely it was obvious that nothing good would happen.

In that case, their chances of survival might be better if they remained in the town.

Wiping out the Knights and massacring the merchants and blacksmiths who migrated here were two separate matters.

No matter how much they warred, construction was a necessity.

“And so?”

Weyland taunted. Kusla took a breath, and said,

“Help me convince them.”

Kusla turned around, and spotted Weyland grinning away.

But Kusla did not avert his eyes.

“You could have just left them here without a word. I thought the moniker of ‘Interest’ for the cold-blooded Kusla would have done so already~”

“You might want to bring them along.”

“Haha.”

Weyland chortled, and said,

“At the very least, I can still determine which is the appropriate decision.”

His expression was filled with agony, but because of this, it did seem there was a snake-like coldness.

“It might be more beneficial for those two to remain in town~. As for little Ul , you can handle her, Kusla~”

“I might need your help regarding that.”

“Eh?”

Weyland raised an eyebrow, but Kusla did not answer.

“Well, I can help you want~. More importantly, when you are going to spit it out?”

“As soon as possible.”

Kusla stated without much thought, and Weyland’s eyes immediately sparkled.

“There’s some time until separation, and more things you can do~.”

“…What do you mean by that?”

“Hahaha. Don’t play now now~~~~”

“…”

Thinking that it was pointless to continue this spat, Kusla clicked his tongue.

But right when he was about to return to the workshop with Weyland.

A deafening roar, one akin to a burst dam, echoed.

It was at a place Kusla and the others could not hear, but they understood what happened.

The war started.

The people probably assumed this was the first battle to protect their town.

But it was likely the start of a long journey on their quest for survival.

 

Kusla and Weyland returned to the workshop, and saw that Fenesis had awaken, still copying away. Irine was left perplexed when she saw Weyland next to Kusla, while Fenesis’ face changed when she saw Kusla. It seemed she realized something.

Thus, once the explanation of the matter was made, only Irine appeared to have faltered.

“B-but, that’s—”

“You feel reluctant, don’t you?”

Kusla deliberately said so, and irine seemed intimidated as she replied,

“N-not at all.”

Seeing how irine was trying to act tough, Weyland chuckled. She turned her head aside in a fit, you can laugh all you want, so she reacted.

“In any case, the battle has already started, and the stage is set. It’ll be too late to take action the. At this point, let’s just do whatever we can do right now.”

“Yeah…prepare some valuables so that they can be paned off.”

With Kusla and Weyland staring at her, Irine was left terrified. Only Fenesis curled her lips with a stoic look, accepting the current situation unconditionally.

“But what are we going to do~?”

“Leaving it to you.”

“Heh? Never thought you would trust me~. So happy~”

Weyland giggled, and shrugged.

“You think that I will be the only one who won’t be in danger~?”

“I have to talk to this fellow.”

Could Fenesis continue to live if she remained in this town?

Weyland gave a perturbed smile, scratched his head, “Yes yes.” And replied.

“But…yes. What about little Ul?’

Irine then asked.

Fenesis was one of the cursed bloodline, always reviled by others. Her mere existence was prove of heresy.

A girl with such outstanding traits could not possibly remain hidden if she stayed in this town.

“I…”

Fenesis’ tone was as icy as when she first met Kusla and Weyland, and the moment she spoke up,

“For her, this town is a safe place.”

“Hm?”

Irine blurted out, and Weyland too looed surprised,

“You should know, don’t you?”

Kusla looked over at Fenesis as he said this, and the latter went silent for a while, before nodding away.

“W-what do you mean?”

“We went to see the murals of the Cathedral built from the quarry.”

Irine stared at Kusla in shock.

The latter shrugged.

“There were people like her depicted on the murals. Most likely, they are the ones who came to this town in ancient times, when the town was born, and provided the technology. These mutants are naturally recorded in the murals along with the people of this town. In other words, she might gain a stable life if she remains in this town.”

“B-but—”

“Miss Irine.”

Irine was about to say something, but Fenesis stopped her.

“It is fine. Even if we cannot stay…I can still wander like I did before.”

How many would be able to maintain such a peaceful smile.

Irine looked forlorn, struggling for words.

But she could not utter the spell to resolve everything.

“And…even if I do come along, I know I will only get in the way. As you said, if this is a trap to frame the Knights as heretics, you cannot bring me along.”

Fenesis understood very well the sort of existence she was.

She looked towards Kusla, and said,

“Thank you for bringing me here until the very end.”

A kind smile.

Kusla did not lower his head, and neither did he return the smile.

He was akin to an agitated cat, averting his ears. Fenesis could not hide her smile, and stood up from her chair.

“I shall assist in preparation for the trip, for your preparations are re-really lack.”

She hastily finished off her words, and went into the room.

None of the others could speak up. Weyland maintained a poker face, and Irine closed her eyes as she ruffled her hair. She was probably fuming at herself, for being so powerless, yet as a blacksmith, she was the most likely of the quartet to live on in this town.

And Kusla went out.

“Curses.”

Irine opened her eyes, calling out for Kusla, but the latter ignored her.

Kusla went to the corridor, hesitated for a moment, and returned to the bedroom.

Upon imagining the young lady sobbing away in the storage room, even he felt he went overboard.

But he had a feeling Fenesis might really be preparing for a journey.

“Hey.”

And as he had expected, Fenesis was seated on the bed, laying out the contents of his bag.

She did not look back, only her hands were moving.

One hand was grabbing at something, while the other was wiping her face as she made herself look really busy.

Fenesis was not concealing her tears in the slightest.

“Crying won’t change anything—”

Kusla lowered his head at Fenesis, noting,

“For all of us, this is the best choice.”

Unlike the ruckus caused by Weyland in Gulbetty, when he nearly missed the opportunity to head to Kazan, there was no better option for the four of them.

If Kusla and Weyland stayed in this town, they would be involved and hanged as a demonstration. Irine and Fenesis would not meet a decent end if they escaped with the Knights however.

Thus, should they not try to escape from this town, without the help of the Knights?

For the people who had never lived outside the towns, they would only feeling the cruelty from God as they venture the barren Northern lands.

Kusla stood by Fenesis’ side.

Fenesis, still sobbing away, did not lift her head as she understood the reasoning behind this.

Kusla knelt down, putting his hand on her head.

“I did console you like this when we first met, didn’t I?”

Kusla curled his lips, giving a sarcastic sneer.

Fenesis continued to weep, her face melting with the tears as she lifted her head.

“This town does have the luck, as you said.”

And so, he caressed her face, as she closed her eyes and continued to cry some more.

However, she slowly lifted her head, putting her own hand on Kusla’s.

Once Kusla returned to the workshop, Weyland and Irine looked over at him in unison.

“What? My fault now?”

“N-not at all…but—”

Irine hesitated to say, and Kusla was taken by surprise, for right behind him was Fenesis, still sniveling away.

“I am fine.”

Fenesis sniveled, and repeated.

“I am fine.”

Irine gave an anguished look, gritting her teeth.

“What do we do next?”

“Prepare some valuables, and I’ll do the final checks.”

“Checks?”

“The Knights will leave a back route whenever they conquered a town. The pagan clergymen in Kazan should be imprisoned. If they are used, it should be easy to convert the religion of this town.

When converting, the most effective method would be to have those respected lead the charge.

The Knights’ hypothesis was that anything that could be used would be used. Thus, they probably did not kill off those clergymen.

“Then, Kusla, you’re going to the Knights…”

Weyland spoke up, and looked over at the door.

Kusla shrugged.

“Saved me some time.”

The door was knocked upon, as though their conversation was chanced upon.

“Envoy of the Knights here. Lord Alzen is summoning you.”

It seemed Kusla and the others were not the only ones to predict the future.

The door opened, and the youth always by Alzen side was standing outside.

Kusla smirked, but not because such a major person had come over to summon them. The young aide’s face was clearly tense, trying to apprehend Kusla and the others from escaping.

 

Kusla had initially assumed the commotion came from outside the town.

But once he approached the plaza, he realized not all the commotion came from outside the town.

“…This is…”

Irine muttered without a second thought. Alzen’s aide, who had been walking for them, pretended not to have noticed anything. There were goods tossed around everyone, and looking at the inside of the building with its door ajar, one would immediately understand what was going on. Whisked out of the building were goods, a merchant man, some others dressed finely, all tied up.

The atmosphere in town had obviously changed drastically.

The Knights soldiers had realized those outside the town were not simply defeated remnants.

And Alzen had carefully laid out his next move.

“Robb—”

Kusla covered the mouth of the clumsy Irine. Everyone present knew that it was a robbey, but if gold was mentioned by everyone, lead too would turn into gold.

“This is to punish those that had disclosed information to the outside.”

The young man leading them turned his back around as he said so. It was merely a part of war, so to say. Irine turned her face away, unwilling to witness the scene developing at the plaza. The other girl was probably used to such a scene, or probably drained of tears due to the sobbing she had, for she was left with a blank look.

Kusla and the others were again brought to the old town hall. Even inside there, there were piles of robbed goods. They sidestepped the people moving through the avenues between the goods, and went deep into the building.

“Please wait.”

Kusla and the others were then brought to a small dark room. The door was locked, and the click of a lock could be heard. It was probably to prevent Kusla and the others from escaping, or perhaps, it was to protect them from being assaulted.

In any case, the wooden window remained opened, and they could only hear the ruckus outside town.

The four of them remained standing as they were, and Weyland quickly laid down on a long bench, Irine sat on a wooden box, while Kusla and Fenesis sat by the wall.

“Hey.”

First to speak up at this moment was Irine,

“Are you two really intending to abandon us here?”

Fenesis, right beside Kusla at this point, shivered.

Weyland continued to lie on the bench, his eyes closed.

Kusla said,

“I do feel that it’s better to face a bunch of people who had fought a tough battle and returned to their territory, than it is to mix around with a bunch of barbarians, wandering around and all lost.”

Would Alzen still abide by military rules when it was time to run for their lives?

Quite the opposite, for he might hand Irine and Fenesis over to raise the army’s morale. If any mishap were to happen, they might get in the way, and Alzen would surely abandon the two girls, ignoring the wills of Kusla and Weyland. It was more beneficial for them to remain in this town. At the very least, there should be some mercy from the victors controlling this place.

As long as they lived, surely they would have another chance to be reunited.

“I too know you are feeling restless about this, but this is the most logical option. We should choose the best one.”

Kusla said, and Irine appeared to have some words to say, only to remain quiet.

“You can say that you are her maidservant. You two might be able to take care of each other too.”

“…I…won’t say such things here…”

Irine said with much disgust, and then, there was the sound of the door unlocked.

The door opened, and the young man from before poked his head in.

“Lord Alzen is waiting to meet you. Come.”

Kusla let out a wordless sigh, and obediently followed.

Kusla and the others were brought to Alzen’s room. There was merely a strange darkness within, eerily quiet.

The wooden windows were sealed up, even to the creases, and not a single light shone inside.

Alzen remained seated alone in this dark room.

Just a night had passed, and he looked ever so dejected.

“…So you came.”

His voice was hoarse, either from giving commands repeatedly, or that he was startlingly worn out. This might have been the first time Alzen had experienced defeat.

“For you called for us.”

Kusla answered without courtesy, but Alzen’s face showed no change.

The situation had become absolutely dire.

“There is only one thing I have summoned you for.”

“To turn lead into gold?”

Be outrage. This is the only thing that can change this heavy atmosphere.

However, Alzen ignored Kusla’s taunt, and nodded.

“Yes. May your knowledge grant us something?’

“…”

Kusla did not answer.

Weyland continued in his place,

“Knowledge, as in, what~?”

“Poison, or something, anything…”

Upon hearing this lethargic voice, Kusla and Weyland exchanged looks,

“The poison we use are different from what hunters use~.”

“Then, anything is fine.”

Saying that, Alzen covered his face.

“Anything will do. Anything, anything will do…at this rate, we cannot escape out of this town. If we do not, we are finished!”

Alzen, the de facto leader of the Azami’s Crest, let out such a weakness, and this directly tied to the fate of Kusla and the others.

“Can you not revive a chicken? Use that…”

At that point, Alzen swallowed his words.

What he was about to say next, Kusla could easily deduce,

Use that skill, to revive us corpses.

“Alchemists are not mages.”

Kusla said, and Alzen did not respond, let alone answer,

An awkward, annoying silence lingered.

Kusla said,

“Will the reinforcements of the Knights not arrive?”

Alzen could only let out a chuckle.

“On the contrary, the people stationed deep inside Latria gave us the call for reinforcements, and it was the enemy who delivered.”

Even their assistance had been surrounded.

The unfortunate messenger was probably in eternal slumber, having completed his mission.

“…There is a sea town from here, about a four full day and night journey on foot, with a fleet there. The Knights attacking Latria had their supplies shipped in from there, so their defenses should be strong. Our scattered comrades should all be gathered there. However…”

They might not be able to leave this town. In such a scenario, trying to flee to the West while fending off the pursuit of the enemy was just a dream. If they leave this place, surely they would be unable to return.

The people oppressed by the Knights would surely swarm in, close the gates, or invite the enemy forces outside.

In that case, in the one in ten thousand possibilities that it might happen, what would happen if the gates were sealed? They probably could maintain the siege by reducing the populace, but if they did so, the original inhabitants who sense their deaths looming would surely take up arms and fight to the very end.

Alzen probably spent the entire night pondering over this.

“We cannot leave, and we cannot stay, we’re in a dilemma.”

Thus, Alzen summoned Kusla and the others. The authoritarian of the Knights, more pragmatic than anyone else, had just inquired the alchemist if they could replicate the miracle to revive the dead, to have the chicken’s soul return.

In mere days, they fell from Heaven to Hell.

But alchemists were not mages.

And alchemists were simply people who lived for themselves.

Seizing this opportunity, Kusla said,

“We can’t contribute on the battlefield, but I do have an idea.”

“…You have a proposal?”

“I do not know, I am still investigating into this.”

…What?”

“I do hope to meet some people.”

“People?”

“The priests controlling the worship in this town are still alive, right? I have some things to ask.”

Alzen gave Kusla a blank look, and then showed a weary smile.

“Are you intending to revive the dragon?”

“Yes.”

Alzen immediately showed a blank, chilling face. He then waved his hand off, as though shooing a fly,

“Do as you please. They are in the underground jail.”

I must be mad to rely on such empty things; he seemed to be implying. Kusla bowed courteously; everything was going as he expected, and in this sense, his plans were going smoothly.

The four of them left the room, and as they stepped onto the corridor, Kusla said,

“So now then, I shall be questioning.”

“Hmm…I too shall struggle in my own way, huh~?”

Weyland said, and Kusla was about to bring Fenesis along to the jail.

At that moment,

“I shall go instead.”

“Ah?”

Kusla turned around, and saw Irine grab Fenesis by the hand.

“What if they lose their minds if you bring little Ul along? Better to probe first, right?”

Surely this made sense,

“But even so, I cannot allow you to go alone.”

Kusla found it hard to accept Irine’s preposition, but he understood she was worried about Fenesis, trying her best to help. Kusla could not think of any recent to argue with her, and thus accepted her view.

“I’ll leave Weyland to you.”

Kusla said, nudging Fenesis in the back.

She looked at him, her expression akin to an abandoned puppy. However, it was a fleeting moment.

“Now then, let’s go~.”

Weyland went along with Fenesis. The latter again turned to look at Kusla, only to follow Weyland,

“Hmph.”

Kusla snorted, and walked in the direction of the underground jail, which he had inquired Alzen’s aide on. On the way, he had the urge to remind her not to say anything unnecessary, and once they passed through the crowd, he was about to speak up.

At that moment,

“Hm? Hey!?”

Irine suddenly dragged Kusla into a small room.

She locked the door immediately, peeking outside for movements.

Once she saw that there were no footsteps outside, she looked at Kusla,

“…What’s with this?”

Kusla asked with a repressed voice.

“I have something to say to you.”

“…There’s still time for a love confession, isn’t there?”

“…”

Irine looked up at Kusla, giving a sarcastic leer.

“You’re annoying. Do you really think so?”

“Alchemists are always pessimistic.”

“Well, you’re right.”

Kusla did not joke again, “And then?” he asked,

“If you haven’t fallen for me, what now?”

Kusla asked, and Irine did not answer. She averted her eyes, looking at the door

At that fleeting moment, she seemed to have made her decision.

She turned her head around, showing no hesitation on her face.

“Now that you’re asking, you have not noticed after all, don’t you?”

“What are you saying?”

Irine again looked over at Kusla, took a deep breath, and sighed long and hard,

“About the possibility of little Ul staying in this town.”

“Hey, how many times do you want me to emphasize—”

“Unfortunately, I do not think there is such a possibility.”

Before Kusla could chime in again, Irine took a parchment from her clutches again.

“Have a look at this.”

Irine’s red eyes were staring at Kusla; those were the eyes of one who only believed in what she saw, proud of the skills she had honed.

“This is?”

“I know what I am doing is like a child, but I am thinking that if everything goes as planned, it is better not to say it out. Without this, little Ul might be able to continue living in this town, as you said.”

Saying that, Irine handed the parchment over to Kusla, averting her eyes in anguish.

It was a piece of parchment shoved towards Kusla.

“You said that you alchemists believe that a single crux will overturn everything, right? Then this too is a single crux.”

“…The terms you wanted to know came from these?”

“Yes. The ‘ancient’ ‘archmage’ who ‘raided’ and ‘created’. The dragons spewing fire continued to rise from the lake connected to Hell, and before them, there were charred corpses. Looking at those still standing, I had a vague understanding.”

In the last scene of the paintings, there were those with such obvious characteristics, dressed in clothing originating from the deserts far away, and beast ears.

“As you may have said, they brought the mining skills to this town. We don’t know however if they did this out of goodwill.”

“…With overwhelming skill, or at the very least, some power that can be thought of as magic, they razed these lands, and occupied it?”

“Yes. Just like us now.”

Irine tersely noted.

She showed a look of disgust. Those words were simply too accurate.

“Seeing how there were several people like little Ul on the paintings, I immediately understood why she was so admiring of dragons. But looking at them, I realized that might be it. The people like little Ul who appeared on the paintings were not so kind-hearted. It just so happened that the situation back then was different from how it is now, that the people like little Ul were not persecuted, but invaders. That’s why they could mix in with the people of this town so openly, and they were like us until yesterday.”

The last line was a self-depreciation on Irine’s part.

Those deformed had something to do with the legend of the dragons in this town.

The ‘Dragon Blood book’ contained a line, to not reive the dragon again.

What did that mean? There was no need to inquire further into this question.

The invaders did not manage to remain on these lands. At a certain time, they were shooed, or buried.

Thinking about it, it was obvious.

Fenesis did have beast ears on her head. At the very least, there were kind people like Kusla and Irine willing to accept her. And most importantly, though Kusla was not willing to publicly admit, he did find Fenesis cute.

Why was this tribe treated as a cursed bloodline, constantly persecuted?

Wanderers were typically the bridge spreading skills and knowledge.

But as Irine said, they might not all be friendly. Especially when there is an overwhelming difference in skills, something too powerful would trigger something no different from an invasion, and it was not something extraordinary.

Thus, they became a tribe that invaded everywhere, with their overwhelming skills as weapons.

And thus viewed as a cursed tribe, one that would bring about Calamity.

“You wanted to meet the Clergymen here, right? I do think that if little Ul is to meet those people, the situation will become dire. She’s one of the cursed ones, and might become a curse herself.”

Saying that, she looked up at Irine,

“Are you intending to let little Ul stay?”

The history records of this town stated that everything would be reduced to ash, and revived again.

The wanderers were Creators, and Destroyers.

That was what Irine was hesitant to mention in the workshop.

But Kusla had to say,

“Even so, I don’t think she will be fine if she comes along with us.”

“And if she stays here, the result will be the same.”

“So, might as well.”

Cut off her ears.

Irine pointed her index finger on Kusla’s chest, seemingly intending to seal away that cold, logical conclusion of his.

“Then, is it not better for her to remain by your side?”

Kusla was sucker punched, and was left speechless.

Irine scratched her head.

“She really wanted to be together. Don’t you feel the same?”

Kusla was speechless.

His mind was in completely confusion, for he did not think of this.

“I know she is a baggage…her body cannot take such harshness. I tried travelling while hiding in the goods of the merchants, so I know very well how much trouble it will cause the people when joining a caravan. This journey too…isn’t something easy. I know what you are worried about.”

It was not simply an issue of safety and lives.

Kusla went back to the logical reasoning he was used to.

“I…won’t gamble on anything I know I won’t be able to do. I have been watching over her the entire day. But what do you think I can do alone when faced with those people who are prone to violence? Or are you going to watch her be toyed with as a tool for comfort? Is it really fine for me to just bring her along?”

“This is not what I mean.”

Irine shook her head, saying this,

“This is not what I am getting at. It is a matter of attitude.”

“…Attitude?”

“Yes, you were the same back at Gulbetty. You were always thinking on how to have everyone live on. I am not saying this is a bad thing. You did think for little Ul through your own way this time around, right? I don’t like it, but I do know you are always thinking for her sake. That’s how you ended up being used by us. But your thoughts are always about the best possible conclusions once you head your separate way.”

“Is there any other option?”

Upon hearing this, Irine widened her eyes at Kusla.

She inhaled hard, her hair practically standing.

“You idiot!”

Her ferocity had Kusla taking a step back. She kept closing in on him, her chest almost sticking to him, and she appeared to be attempting to gnaw Kusla’s throat as she said,

“I want you to consider how both of you can continue to live on! Maybe the possibility to live on by going separate ways is more likely to happen. However, you can’t just move along like a water wheel or a bellow!”

Irine panted away, glaring at Kusla.

And then, she continued to groan,

“You really are a bad person.”

“…”

“I wouldn’t be saying such things if you really are inhumane.”

Irine took a step back, her clenched fist sticking to Kusla’s chest.

“You are just pretending to be inhumane. You truly believe this is the only thing you can do on this world, doing such things that are the same as self-abuse…of course, I wouldn’t have bothered with you if you are just any annoying person trying to get pity, but I can tell that you are just doing so to hold yourself back. If you truly are inhumane, you wouldn’t have wrapped banadages on me or give her a blanket. You wouldn’t have…prompted me to leave that town…”

Irine kept her bandaged fist on Kusla’s chest, closed her eyes, opened them again, showing a strangely peeved look.

However, that expression seemed to be earnestly stating that even if there were some words he had to say, no matter how reluctant,

“And…you aren’t as stone faced as you imagined.”

“Wha!”

Kusla gasped.

With a forlorn look, Irine grinned clumsily.

“Do you know how laughable you are? Little Ul and I have been laughing at you behind your back.”

Kusla instinctively touched his own face.

He understood himself very well, and always treated it as a matter of fact, never to be doubted.

For he was ‘Kusla’, only devoted to heading towards Magdala, giving his life up for this cause. Thus even though he had a girl next to him that he could call a lover, he would only think about spending time with her from time to time, and not have the goal to spend the rest of his life with her.

And thus, even when his lover was murdered, his eyebrows…

That was a lie.

Kusla realized that he was lying to himself.

When his lover was assassinated by the Knights, that calmness was merely fleeting. He never thought about using his lover’s death to smelt gold, not because he was inhumane. The hopes he had in smelting was such that he wanted to create the sword of Orichalcum, to obtain the power to protect whatever most precious to him. Thus, there never was a mad alchemist who only thought about smelting even when his lover was murdered.

There was a man, who wanted to attain his Magdala as soon as possible, to avoid such a tragedy happening again.

And what made Kusla realize this was Fenesis.

“…I’m not smart enough to say anything impressive, but I do have a fine master who could give me advice. I’ll tell you this.”

Irine’s fiery red eyes were staring right at Kusla.

“Carelessly doing one thing correctly is a lot better than being stubborn and doing something wrong. Smelting contains much uncertainty, and this is the most important issue. You have that stubborn personality, someone who will be a martyr to his own cause.”

Because this is the one way to approach Magdala.

So Kusla had always thought.

However, there was a huge premise to this.

And that was, if he alone was to head towards Magdala.

“I know why you are anxious about it, because you and I are the same kind of idiots, but you better than me.”

Saying this, Irine lowered her head, and forced a smile.

“I am really regretting it now. I always believed that if master and disciple have excessive feelings, the smithing skills will drop. That is why I had always been so stubborn. Even though he was so kind, so outstanding a person.”

Saying that, Irine was gushing out tears.

“I was always being stubborn, so once I got that nudge from you, I decided to do the right thing, no matter how carelessly it is…but I won’t regret it. If I had stayed in that town, I would be suffering more than I have now.”

Saying that, she clumsily wiped her tears with her sleeves.

And then, her expression reverted back to the old adamant look she had, basically stating that any pains she experienced during her apprenticeship could be wiped away like the tears.

“Think of something.”

Truly it was a strange diction.

“You are a great alchemist who can turn lead into gold, right? Prove it to me that alchemists can occasionally create mystical miracles.”

After that, there was a long silence.

For some reason, this scenario reminded Kusla of the fortune telling, when melted lead was poured into water.

What shape of the scathing hot words from Irine take in this silence?

And then, he thought of something; that was not the case. His mind recalled Fenesis’ innocent little question.

What would happen if lead was to change shape?

Whatever the fortune telling women did, Kusla did not know.

But he knew he himself was not the same.

That if he were to change into any shape, what would happen to him.

What was it that he wanted?

“You think you can do it?”

Irine gritted her teeth, saying this,

“Anyone in a blacksmith workshop who says he can’t do it will be beaten up. So,”

She paused, and looked up.

“If you can’t do it, it’ll cause trouble for many. This is the workshop.”

Irine’s ex-husband was an outstanding talent who led Gulbetty’s crafting guild, and Kusla was a little miffed that he did not have the skill to revive the dead.

But at the very least, he was still alive, and the one he wanted to protect was still alive.

The scenario was simply despair for him.

He had a change of thought. So what, right?

Heading towards Magdala was basically mocking the despair in the hearts of men.

For alchemists were people who worked to defy the order of the world.

“Hey!”

Kusla called out to irine,

“What?”

With a serious look, Kusla asked the blacksmith lady who was younger than him and a head shorter.

“Did you mention any of these to her?”

Irine widened her eyes, trying her best, and failing to make the smile vanish from her face. With such an intriguing smile, she said,

“I might, if you dare do anything bad to little Ul.”

That stupid conversation they had might be Kusla’s way of expressing his thanks to Irine.

His objective remained fixed. There were some things he did not know without others telling him. He too was shocked to have realized this.

However, only an honest girl like Irine would have been straight to the point with him.

Like smithed iron, she was adamant, fiery, direct.

Alchemists were relatively inapt at dealing with smelted metals.

However, the situation did not improve just because of this. Wishes alone were unable to move big mountains. There was no possibility of this town accepting Fenesis, and the Knights’ reinforcements would not come. It was likely all those related to the Knights all over the world were about to the exterminated.

Even if he did bring Fenesis along and escaped with the Knights, she would only be a tool to warm the beast, like those injured, imprisoned beasts. Appearing before him would be a cruel, unforgiving devouring.

Then, what If they escaped into the forest? Or asked Weyland for help?

Neither of them were realistic.

However, if he had been dejected because of how unpragmatic everything was, Kusla would have went knocking on the doors of a blacksmith.

He could do nothing, except to think.

But even so, that was all he can do.

“I was the one who kicked you down.”

“Heh?”

Kusla forced a smile, saying,

“But this time, it’s your turn to beat on my chest hard.”

Then?

Irine’s eyes wordlessly conveyed this reaction.

“Thanks.”

The earnest girl gave a stunned smile, like an older sister.

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