Though long weary, Kusla remained invigorated due to the proceedings of the battle.
He had eaten and wiped himself clean, but on this night, he woke up from time to time, unable to sleep fully.
Once he realized the sky was beginning to dawn, he had a sudden urge to laze in bed, one he did not have in a while.
But he was not in a workshop, and the soldiers had already gotten up, preparing breakfast. Thus, Kusla could only buck up and stretch lazily.
He yawned, and Fenesis, who had been hugging him as she slept finally woke up. He looked over at her, and she again lowered her sleeping face, giving a yawn as she clung onto his arm.
She twitched, and tried to sit up, only to realize the predicament she was in.
Kusla imagined her yelling in a panic, and had the urge to giggle.
“I did not snore, did I?”
Fenesis asked, feeling gaudy.
“I was always scolded for not sleeping well during my wandering days.”
When living outside, the temperature at night would become extremely chilly. The wanderers would use natural protection, the human skin, to gain warmth. It was said that at times, some perished due to the sudden cold, and no matter the sex, all the wanderers would huddle together for warmth. Such a barbaric custom was frowned upon by the Church, and even Kusla was a little unaccepting of this as he had been living in the towns for long. Fenesis herself was a wanderer to begin with.
She was not the kind of girl who would make a fuss over sleeping with others.
“What…did I really snore…?”
Fenesis saw Kusla’s scowling face, and lowered her ears in fear, lifting her eyes at him.
Kusla felt that she was a sharp blade.
A sword hilt and blade would differ in hardness, according to the metals used. The unique combination would give rise to an unbreakable sword.
Fenesis was the same; she had a feeble side, and a sturdy side. She appeared weak, but was abnormally strong inside.
Disarm the enemy’s defenses with weakness, get close, and deliver the fatal blow with convicted feelings.
Kusla recalled the conversation both of them had before they left Kazan.
And of course, the decisive blow was the scene he had witnessed the prior day.
He said to a dejected Fenesis,
Fenesis ears jolted, and her face turned beetroot.
Her body was as thin as chicken bones, and naturally, she was not exactly heavy to begin with.
So Kusla slapped her on the head, “how are you so heavy when you are flat?” Fenesis was dumbfounded when she heard that, her lips pursed into a triangle as she was fuming.
After teasing her, Kusla rinsed his face with some water, and nudged his body a fair bit. His muscles felt tense, perhaps because he embraced Fenesis too tightly the previous night, or perhaps he was too tense when they broke through the siege. Even Fenesis next to him seemed a little stiff, but it was probably not due to muscle aches, and it might not be due to Kusla having teased her. In the past, if Kusla had angered her, she would have pouted and shunned him; this time however, she remained by his side. In fact, the real reason for Fenesis’ stiffness was the reaction of the soldiers when they witnessed the revival of the war goddess.
Before participating through the breakthrough, Kusla had a negotiation with the commander Alzen, that he would ensure that the soldiers, no different from vile beasts, would not bring harm to Fenesis. It appeared there was no need for that however; once the soldiers witnessed the awakening of Fenesis, they immediately knelt on one leg, bowing towards her.
While there was some element of teasing in their actions, there was some respect harbored when they did so.
Such simpletons, Kusla grimaced. However, he too enjoyed some of the soldiers’ respect, and did not have any disapproval of it.
However, the one involved party herself had probably assumed Alzen or a noble had arrived, for she looked around, before lowering her head, her hands clasped before her chest as she made a prayer pose.
Seeing that, Kusla gave a wry look,
“It’s you. It’s you.”
Fenesis appeared confused, and Kusla merely shrugged, explaining,
“Everyone is bowing towards you.”
Fenesis’ expression at this point pleased Kusla somewhat.
“Need some water?”
A Knight in his prime years was holding a basin, kneeling before Kusla,
“Ah, thank you. Please take care of those two too. Not going to be easy if they become unruly.”
Kusla pointed at Irine and Weyland, who were both checking on the dragon-shaped flamethrowers.
The Knight glanced aside at them, bowed politely, and stood up to leave.
Next to him, Fenesis took a deep sigh.
“Feeling like a Princess now?”
“…Do, do not make fun of me, please.”
Fenesis hissed, her voice barely audible. Of course, she, unused to this treatment, chose to hide behind Kusla, and not move to the wayside. Perhaps she felt that it was better to be teased by Kusla than it was to deal with a bunch of strangers.
“How’s the situation with the dragon?”
Kusla and Fenesis arrived at the camp where the dragon was. Weyland just so happened to leave, and Irine was alone, poking her head into the dragon’s mouth to check.
“Hmm, the residue of the burnt asphalt is sticking inside, and the breather is distorted by the heat. It’s not completely blocked, but continual use will probably cause the asphalt to spread.
“Yes, we were really busy yesterday, but a certain person was sleeping really soundly.”
Irine was miffed upon hearing that, her hands on her hips as she refuted,
“But I have done my part before sleeping.”
“Right. You did play a part in creating this miracle. Gutsy of you to be snoring away while a battle was going on. That hair color of yours had the mercenaries thinking that you’re the God of thunder and smithing.”
Irine suddenly tidied her appearance, decently too; once she spotted the smirk on Kusla’s face however, she realized.
“Hey, isn’t that God some bearded redhead?”
“Looks like you.”
Fenesis immediately reproached Kusla by slapping him on the arm. Irine looked aside with displeasure, and sighed, as though berating herself as a fool for being nitpicky with him.
“Well, whatever. There’s still the issue on whether we can reach our destination safely.”
“You think the dragons will break down on the way there?”
It was not much of stretch to proclaim that Irine’s smithing skills could be compared to the best of them.
Once she saw the serious look on Kusla’s face, she immediately did away with her displeased look.
However, her face remained grim,
“No, this should be fine. The real issue however…”
Kusla was about to pursue the matter, but a tantalizing aroma reached their noses.
Looking aside, they found Weyland approaching with a pot full of soup.
“I brought breakfast~”
A that moment, the stomachs of Kusla, Fenesis and Irine rumbled, so they decided to first fill their tummies before doing anything else.
The other mercenaries gathered in bunches, seated around the bonfire as they had breakfast.
The sun rose from the East, and the weather started to warm; coupled with the fragrance of the food, it seemed God Himself was blessing them for their future.
However, they were merely a battalion of no more than two hundred, entrenched deep within enemy territory.
About a tenth of them were merchants, craftsmen, and the rest were basically fighters, mercenaries, and Knights. The armor, rings, and certain various places on their bodies were engraved with the same crest.
It was the crest of the famed Cladius Knights, but the crest itself was of no help to them at this point.
At one point, they had an astounding amount of authority, and wherever they went, the rulers of the Land kowtowed to them; its name was such, that wailing children would cease to cry. A few days ago, the situation had changed completely. At this point, Kusla and the others were already in the pagan lands of Latria, and the Queen herself was a pagan. Thus, the Knights fell from Heaven to hell, for the Queen herself had converted to Orthodoxy.
The Knights, devoted to defeating the pagans and annexing their lands under God, were deemed as heretics attacking their fellow believers.
Politics itself was as fickle as an Alchemist’s experimentation.
Kusla firmly believed that the Knights would surely counterattack, and placed his bets upon them, following them out to Kazan.
The destination of the Knights was the port city Nilberk, west of Kazan, a four day, four night journey. That would be the largest base of the Knights within the territory of Latria. Most importantly, Nilberk had a port where a massive naval fleet could be deployed, unlike Kazan, surrounded by a mountainous region. Thus, it could receive loads of supplies, and was an ideal place for a skirmish.
Everyone knew that, and the Knights scattered all over the kingdom of Latria should probably regroup there. That was why they had to hurry towards Nilberk, or they would run out of good while on the run, ensnared by the enemy, and be slain or enslaved as a result.
The initial skirmish, which they had risked their lives on, luckily succeeded. Due to this, the soldiers no longer feared the massive enemy, who feared them instead. This loot was something no amount of money could gain. As the ancient military strategist would say, supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
“Our passage forward should be unhindered now.”
The morning sun shining upon them, the fragrance of food brimming, Archduke Kratol gave a speech once he saw everyone was done.
People are simple. As long as the weather is good, their stomachs are full, they will feel that nothing can stump them.
The miraculous victory the previous day surged the soldiers’ morale, and with the rousing speech by the Archduke, they roared in agreement, like beasts. With that, if nothing went wrong, the group should be able to remain united the entire them.
Archduke Kratol stood upon his personalized carriage, his fists clenched.
“It is due to your valor that we escaped from that town of despair, and managed to break a chunk out of the enemy’s perimeter. However, valor alone is insufficient to win. The enemy you shall fight are all braves.”
The grizzled soldiers listened to the Archduke’s words with proud looks on their faces.
But Kusla, about to bring his bowl to his lips, felt an ominous premonition.
“I have witnessed a miracle during the battle yesterday. This is the first time I have witnessed the birth of a miracle. I do believe the scenes remain vivid to you, no? When protected by the army of God, the enemy’s blades will be repelled, and the arrows fall to the wayside. Fear has crept into the hearts of the enemy, and no matter how ferocious a warrior, they were powerless before us. Some might laugh it off as a superstition, but we have witnessed a miracle. If they wish to mock, let them mock. How we stand unscathed along with our flag shall be the biggest proof of our miracle.
Kusla arched his back further as he heard this part.
“The Alchemists are the oracles who guided us towards victory. We shall grant them our utmost respect!”
Archduke Kratol stood on the carriage, bowing towards Kusla and the others.
The thick, round right fist hammered down upon the left shoulder.
And thus, every person looked towards Kusla, standing up in unison, and bowed as the Archduke did.
Spare me already. so Kusla quietly grimaced, while Weyland grinned away heartily.
Irine, munching away, lifted her head and looked around in shock, while Fenesis showed an innocent smile towards the two alchemists, perhaps try to bless them in any way.
Still delirious, Kusla glanced aside at Fenesis.
Archduke Kratol roared.
His voice was booming,
“To praise the beauty of our War Goddess, who led this miracle, through the siege!”
And the soldiers, once again understanding, burst into celebration.
Fenesis, taken aback by this, pricked her beast ears, straightening up.
It seemed she had not expected herself to be the focal point of attention, for she was left dumbfounded.
“We will have to keep marching on, so do endure for a little longer. I do believe none of us soldiers are willing to make a fool of ourselves before the Goddess. If we do lose our courage and purity, the protection of the fairies shall depart us!”
While the Archduke did say the last bit in a teasing manner, the soldiers seemed to have bought those words.
In any case, Fenesis was a beauty, and anyone could tell that she was extraordinary.
The respect the soldiers had for Fenesis was obvious.
Archduke Kratol’s theatrics were clearly to affirm the thoughts of the soldiers–that Fenesis was not a taboo who should be shunned, but an exalted existence beyond them. With his affirmation, Fenesis’ identity was without doubt.
But even so, she was so taken aback by the passionate stares of the many hunking men, that like a frog glared at by a snake, she forgot to breathe.
“Thus, do finish your food before we hurry on. Our brothers in Nilberk should be awaiting our arrival!”
It was then that everyone looked away from Fenesis, and kept eating or packing their belongings.
Kusla stared at the food in his bowl, and said,
“Need another bowl? Goddess?”
Fenesis turned her face towards Kusla with much displeasure.
But before she could speak up, a few figures appeared before them. Looking up, Kusla found three young mercenaries.
“Erm, if you excuse us.”
One of them stammered.
They were not bearded, hulking bear-like men, but their physiques were rather intimidating.
Fenesis looked tense, and could not react once she saw what the mercenaries handed her. Still stupefied, she looked back and forth between their faces, and the thing in their hands,
“Erm, we found these…”
They handed a bunch of fresh flowers, a rarity in this season. While the flowers were not radiant in color, and were small and plain, they were all fresh flowers.
It was unexpected for these mercenaries, rash people who could only charge into the enemy fortifications, would do such a romantic gesture. Kusla widened his eyes. The mercenaries looked as innocent as infatuated boys.
“These are the only ones we can find…sorry.”
Fenesis received the flowers tentatively, as though a bear was sharing honest with her.
“And to the blacksmith who built the dragon.”
Irine received the flowers, and looked utterly flustered as she returned a gaudy smile towards the mercenaries.
“E-erm, our lives will be in your care, during the next battle.”
While they were saying something unnerving, they were stammering, and once they were done, they scampered away, showing weakness unbefitting their appearances.
It was too sudden as Kusla watched the mercenaries leave, and after some distance, they gave gaudy smiles. It was likely this was the first time in their lives that they did something like this.
They appeared no different from the young men often seen in the towns, not barbaric mercenaries, at least.
And they brought plain flowers; that plainess instead would get on anyone’s good side.
“They aren’t bad people after all~”
Yep, Kusla quietly noted.
As they marched on, there were a few skirmishes.
It seemed the enemy, who had given up on pursuit, had issued a bounty. It would be demoralizing, damaging to their reputation, if they were to personally give chase and be defeated, but they could not simply let the Knights escape, and thus ordered for this. Assaulting them were bandits and unorganized mobs, and were no match for the grizzled Knights and mercenaries.
Furthermore, there was a beautiful Goddess amongst the Knights watching the battles, and morale was never higher. The soldiers wanted to showcase their prowess before the Goddess, even hoping for the enemy to appear.
Those who wanted to wipe out the remnants were slain, reduced to dust. The Knights on the other hand were not depleted in the slightest.
Victory would only strengthen.
By the second evening, there was no sign of them hastily escaping.
One might say they were running away from reality, and the situation would not improve even when they acted as though they were facing a massive army.
After dinner, the two alchemists were summoned to Alzen’s tent. After a conversation, even the poised Kusla was left a little flabbergasted.
“Mass production of dragons?”
There were report documents and maps laid out on a simple table, along with a distilled liquor and pickled herring. It seemed he had a commoner’s preference for food.
“We need to ask that Irine for details…but we have no materials and fuel.”
“These can be concocted, no problems. As much as we want.”
Alzen dismissed them nonchalantly, and Kusla was mystified. Where are you going to get them?
You think that’s something that can be dug up?
“Have you obtained the optimal manner to use the fuel?”
Kusla and Weyland exchanged looks, and shrugged.
“Anyone can obtain results, as long as time can be devoted to research.”
“No, that is fine. If time is required, that is fine. This is enough capital for us to seize the initiative.”
Alzen said, looking extremely pleased.
Enough capital to seize the initiative?
Kusla inadvertently frowned. Upon seeing this, Alzen gave a miffed look.
“Don’t be disheartened. There are lots of things for you to do.”
Isn’t our job now to escape to Nilberk alive?
Is Alzen delirious after all the victories before this?
For an instant, this worry appeared in Kusla’s mind.
“What I am talking about is when we enter Nilberk. This might be our biggest opportunity ever in life.”
Kusla asked, and looked towards Weyland.
He had assumed he was the only one who did not understand Alzen, but Weyland too was as confused as he was, the latter’s hand on his chin as he looked back at Alzen.
“What do you think of this war?”
Alzen then looked back at the dumbfounded duo.
The two Alchemists shrugged with indifference, just as they did during their apprenticeship.
“If I may be honest?”
Kusla asked, and Alzen nodded,
“The greedy Knights are getting their just desserts.”
And while Alzen was not laughing, Kusla continued,
“The Knights deployed too many people into Latria, and the enemy saw that our forces were not compact enough, so they separated us to break us one by one. Nilberk is probably the same…along with the Knights to the South.”
Clearlyy there were Southerners amongst the enemies besieging Kazan, and that was the definitive proof that the Knights were being attacked in the South.
The chaos was not restricted only to Latria, and the enemy clearly wanted to wipe out the Knights entirely.
In this situation, even Kusla, unfamiliar with military matters, could determine what the Knights were planning to do, to recline the overextended hands, gathered all forces, and defend. While the ores were not used, if they were purified sufficiently, they could be used as metals for multiple purposes.
It was likely that while the Northern forces were fighting at Nilberk, they would be contacting the Southern forces to regroup.
Thus might be the case.
“Of course, we are hoping that Your Excellency will allow us a shelter amidst the battles.”
Alzen quietly noted Kusla’s taunt.
After some silence, he closed his eyes, rubbed them, and sighed,
“How conservative you are. Are you a town craftsman?”
Kusla’s eyebrow twitched.
It was in the nature of an Alchemist to be greedy for their objectives.
“But there are enemies everywhere.”
Hearing that, Alzen nodded.”
“Yes. Enemies everywhere. The enemies are easy to identify then.”
Kusla gasped. Alzen showed the grin of a ruler.
“Also, the enemy is allying with the pagans. This is a golden opportunity for us to crush the enemy head on. Since we are being attacked all over the world, once we defeat them, we shall become the rulers of the world in God’s place. Have you imagined such a world before? Not at all, have you, Alchemists?”
Alzen took a sip, smiling.
“There is a need for a casus belli. To think the enemy will serve it up before us. Should we not thank God for this?”
The candlelight flickered, and a shadow appeared upon the wrinkles of Alzen’s face as he placed his hands on the maps on the table.
Kusla had a look at those maps, and finally noticed.
They were not maps simply from Kazan to Nilberk.
There were also maps leading North of Nilberk. It seemed they were planning on attacking Latria from Nilberk.
“Our brothers in Nilberk surely must be thinking the same. At this moment, seizing the initiative will mean seizing the right to rule in this world war. I dare swear that your manufactured weapons will help us achieve our goal. Archduke Kratol too is looking forward to it. We’re on to Latria!”
Alzen had a fleeting dream amidst this crisis.
But Kusla did not think he was a mentally weak person.
In other words, Alzen was for real. He really found the biggest opportunity in life amidst this unprecedented crisis.
The Land of Magdala.
Surely Alzen had the willpower needed to head to Magdala.
“Thus, we need to mass-produce dragons. You will create a list of required materials and fuel before we reach Nilberk. The parts materials to be forged, the amount of fuel needed for processing, and the number of men is also required. Of course, reducing our expenditure will improve our advantage. Do remember why the Knights hired you.”
Alchemists were no more than tools.
But Kusla thought.
“I shall be looking forward to your performances.”
Alzen surely believed that lead could be turned into gold.
Kusla lowered his head.
And as he exited the tent, he let out a long sigh.
Weyland instead was looking up into the sky, seemingly elated.
“Surely he is a resident of Magdala~”
And that was why Kusla bowed towards Alzen.
Alchemists were merely tools, but Alzen wanted to incorporate them into his grand plan.
Kusla was not displeased to be used this way.
“We’re on to Latria?”
If that was really the case, perhaps Kazan could be regained, and they could gain more resources then.
Also, it appeared the Knights had no intentions of abandoning Latria, and this comforted Kusla.
There was something he wanted to find from the land no matter what.
And when looking for that thing, if this land was within Archduke Kratol’s domain, it would be all the more convenient to him.
“Anyway, let’s discuss this with Irine~”
“Don’t let her seize the initiative. It’s depressing enough.”
“Yes yes yes. But she is a fine blacksmith of the highest caliber. It is the job of one after all.”
Kusla scowled, looking displeased. While Irine’s expertise was widely recognized, he had a feeling that the woman had leverage over him. He did not want the latter to remain so gleeful.
So with a heavy heart, he returned to the bonfire, only to stop in unison alongside Weyland.
One was grinning, and one was stupefied.
“What did you just do?”
Naturally, the one grinning was Weyland, and the one stupefied was Kusla.
“Little Ul has nice long silky hair here. Can’t let it go to waste.”
Irine said as she proudly puffed her chest, while Fenesis, whose hair was well taken care of, stood by her. The latter’s hair was a lot intricate than the lazy bundle when she toiled in the workshop, and she was akin to a holy maiden chosen for a Saint’s festival. Surely this was a cute getup, and more importantly, it gave a strange, mature vibe, for the simpleton of a maiden was instantly turned into a posh lady.
Clothes make the man, they say, Kusla corrected himself.
Fenesis herself lowered her head and shrank back. What was with her? Perhaps she hated the attention after all.
“Ah, oh yes, Irine~, some work~”
“Heh? Did something break down?”
“No, loads of things to smelt~”
“Mass production of the dragons~”
The blacksmith’s expression changed immediately, and from the cargo, she took out some paper and pen, using the twigs on the ground to establish the amount of crude bronze required.
“These are the bronze plates…will be difficult since they differ from our guild’s.”
Irine murmured as she drew the necessary parts for the dragon on the ground. It appeared she had memorized the structure of the dragon.
However, a blacksmith devoted to battling before the furnace would not really excel at calculations.
“Irine, the numbers are reversed. You will make mistake calculating.”
Weyland, standing next to Irine, wiped the numbers off with his foot, took the twig and rewrote it. Irine impatiently drew the parts, and jotted down the number of bronze plates required, along with the widths. Her eyes were blazing, like a massive furnace burnin away. If she were to drool in excitement, Kusla would not be surprised if anyone were to say it was molten metal.
Weyland was guffawing away, and even Kusla had to snicker as he saw Irine completely mesmerized with her work. Suddenly, he turned towards Fenesis, and found her standing unenthusiastically by the side. Just a while back, she was bothered by the change of hairstyle, yet she felt so forlorn while left alone.
Such a troublesome lady, Kusla thought.
Kusla finally said something, and Fenesis turned around abruptly.
The white cat then turned her head away immediately.
Though her face could not be seen, her beast ears were twitching.
They were alluring enough for one to tease her, and Kusla grimaced.
There were too many points to tease.
“But don’t laze around. Remember the proportions required well.”
But Kusla did not tease her as he merely continued with the next instruction.
It would have been fine if Fenesis was simply a pet kitten which could be left alone, but she was not one.
“Once we get to Nilberk, the Holy Maiden costume parade will have to end.”
Fenesis obvious appeared miffed, but she obediently paid attentions to the various drawings Irine drew. Goodness me, Kusla shook his head.
While watching Irine do her calculations, Kusla spotted Fenesis fiddling with her hair from the corner of his eye.
How unexpectedly interesting it was. She was enraged when he had said she was unsuited to being a town girl; surely she was vain about her appearance too.
Or perhaps nobody had tidied her hair before, that she never paid much mind into doing so, and it was impossible for her not to care.
Thinking about this, Kusla was instantly sympathetic towards Fenesis. Once he noticed these feelings he had, his lips showed a smile.
It was foolish of him, so he felt, but it was not a bad thing.
Irine was right.
It was better to do a correct thing lazily than to commit a mistake with utmost precision.
So Kusla went to work again, giving pointers to Fenesis from time to time while the latter fidgeted over the calculations.
Three days after leaving Kazan, there were no bandits trying to claim a bounty like before. It appeared they were unorganized mobs unable to last.
The forces silently marched on to Nilberk in the West.
However, having broke through, and no pursuers abound, the group inadvertently went to the next question,
“Say, can we really enter Nilberk once we get there?”
Irine suddenly asked. She spent the entire night remember the shapes and proportions of the dragon, and was calculating the amounts of metal needed at the back of the carriage. Fenesis was seated next to her, crosschecking the numbers.
“…Asking this now?”
Kusla was leaning on the cargo carriage, his head gently resting upon a luggage as he noted,
“Means he doesn’t want to talk about this now~”
Weyland suddenly popped out from nowhere, butting in,
Saying that, Weyland placed some flowers on Fenesis’ head, and was about to do the same thing to Irine, only to be met with a cold stare from the latter. While the mercenaries handing the flowers were simply infatuated and acted impulsively, this gesture from Weyland was naturally annoying more than romantic.
Fenesis, still with her Holy Maiden hairstyle, looked elated as she had Weyland place the flowers upon her.
“Did you find some ingredients for poison?”
Irine’s cold stare naturally could not rattle Weyland.
“That would be fine too~”
“Looking for mining veins?”
Kusla said, and Irine started looking jittery for some reason.
“The metal composition in the earth is different, the plants grown will differ, so their colors will differ.”
“Even if I couldn’t find one, it’s a nice trip sightseeing on the hills~”
Weyland said, and sniffed at the points. It was rare to see such flowers during this season.
“Erm, well…what do you mean by he doesn’t want to talk?”
Irine again brought up the same point, and Kusla looked over at Weyland quietly.
Yet Weyland pretended not to hear as he continued to sniff at the flowers.
So Kusla had no choice but to explain,
“Normally thinking about it, Alzen will lead the charge head on.”
He sighed, and looked down at the book he had flipped open, ready to read,
“Nilberk should be besieged by the enemy too, so we’re going to break through into Nilberk the same way we broke the siege at Kazan, through the ranks.”
“If we can fight our way out, we can fight our way back in, so the thought~.”
Irine’s face paled.
“B-but that’s impossible, right?”
“And that’s why nobody raised this topic.”
You idiot. so Kusla gave a look, and after that, Irine pursed her lips with regret.
Despite this, the direness of the situation was not mitigated in any way.
“Wh-what do we do…?”
Irine was really taken by surprise, and Fenesis cupped the former’s hands. At this moment, the strength and weakness of the two ladies were reversed.
“Anyway, how are you two so casual about this? This feels amiss, right?”
Kusla and Weyland exchanged looks.
“Nothing will change no matter how angsty we are now, right?”
Irine was speechless.
Kusla stretched his back, and said,
“But even so, the higher ups probably have some contingencies.”
Kusla looked up at the skies, a rare sunny day.
“Anyway, Alzen looked serious when he ordered us to mass produce the dragons. I don’t think that’s the look of someone who’s running away from reality.”
Leaving aside his personality, Alzen was trustworthy as a commander.
“It is so. How about we not worry and have a nice nap~?”
“Absolutely no way.”
Weyland put up a wounded facade, and seeing this, Fenesis gave an awkward smile.
“Go with the flow. That was what you advised.”
Irine was again left speechless, but it was for a different context.
“A vexing person you are.”
She said, and pouted her face as she turned aside. Fenesis continued to hold Irine’s hands, encourage her while turning towards Kusla, giving a perturbed smile.
That was a smile Kusla did not wish to recall.
Instead of one continue to live, both should die together instead.
Utterly preposterous, he covered the book on his face, sighing.
That evening, the group passed the mountains, and through the gaps between the trees and twigs, they spotted the massive silhouette of Nilberk.
The walls were as majestic as the capital city of a duchy, yet everyone looked on grimly, not saying a world. It was due to the many enemies besieging the city. Vast stretches of plains reached out from Nilberk, and typically, herds of sheep could be seen; not today.
As they were still very far away, the crowds could not determine the silhouette of every enemy, yet they could see the size of the army at least. The sunset show upon the rowdy enemy, their armor sparkling, like rusted red iron powder scattered upon a table.
“We’re going to break through?”
Irine was not the only one with such a thought, for everyone else did too.
However, Alzen did not give further instructions, so they could only continue through the ravines. The sky quickly got dark in the forest, and once it started to turn ultramarine, the forces ceased to advance.
After that, Alzen gave the orders to issue the remaining food.
It was the last dinner, so someone said.
“Lift your leg.”
Kusla pressed down hard on Fenesis’ knee, and the latter gave a strange squeal.
And Kusla too was inadvertently taken aback.
He asked worriedly. Fenesis covered her mouth, her ears shivering.
“…Don’t puke ow.”
“Wh-what will happen if I do…?”
Fenesis laid between the luggage, her knees cupped together as she gave Kusla a teary look.
“Your fault for eating too much.”
“How about your side? I can put a few bronze plates here.”
Kusla turned around to ask; Weyland and Irine were stacking the cargo onto another boat slightly afar.
From sunset till midnight, they disassembled the dragons, and were moving the dragon parts.
“Looks like we can put some here, barely. Once we cover them with the cloth, we should be able to smuggle through. Done dyeing the cloth yet?’
“Dirtied by the dirt~”
“And we have to wear them…no thanks…”
“You’re complaining about a mere piece of cloth? And you could sleep on a piece of cloth covered in soot before a furnace. ”
Kusla said with some annoyance and bemusement, and Irine in turn pretended not to hear as she moved the dirt stained cloth onto the cargo.
“Say, won’t the boat capsize with so much liquor?”
“We’ll just drink them all when it happens, That’ll make things lighter~”
“Hm, right. Then…hm?”
Irine folded her arms, looking skeptical, but it appeared she did not realize she was duped.
“Alrighty! Everyone, you ready!?”
Alzen yelled, and everyone looked towards him.
Deep within the forest as a lake surrounded by cliffs on three side; Kusla and the others were by the lakeside.
With the sea eroding away, there was a passage linking the lake in the forest with the sea, through a cave, and there was a hidden natural port there as a result.
The Knights had set up a few boats there, so Kusla and the others brought the parts of the dragons along with some necessities.
However, everyone, including Kusla, were mystified upon see boats in this place devoid of human life, and wondered if Alzen cast some spell. Of course, there was no magic involved in this.
“I repeat, nobody on the boats is allowed to lift their heads. Once we depart to the sea, we will head straight towards Nilberk. While there should not be any enemies patrolling the shore, I cannot guarantee that those with good night vision will not notice anything amiss. Of course, even if we are discovered, the arrows cannot hit us at this distance. Once they find boats, they will deduce that there are ports nearby. Once the port is discovered, all that awaits us is death, and this will corner our brothers rushing here. We broke through the legion of armies besieging Kazan, and came all the way here. We have the protection of God, the spirits, and the War Goddess. This is time for us to exhibit the courage befitting that honor.”
The men nodded firmly, and roared into cheers. Some of them were on the cliffside, yet to board the boats. They were the warriors who risked their lives to stay behind.
While there were boats on the port, they were insufficient in transporting everyone. Perhaps they would discovered by the enemies, but they adamantly chose to stay back and wait for their comrades.
The mercenaries all volunteered to stay behind with proud looks. If it was for the greater good, they would give their utmost for that cause. This philosophy was not simply empty words to these warriors.
Fenesis was thoroughly grateful to them, and they beamed in response, for this might be the praise they desired.
“Alright, those left behind shall board. Those waiting for the second trip, we shall leave matters in your hands.”
Kusla then laid the dark, dirty cloth over the cargo, and boarded the boat. There were loads of dragon parts on it, and just enough space for Fenesis and him to hide. The boat Weyland and Irine were on was the same.
Kusla said on the cargo, and picked up the oar. They would have to advance with it before they reached the sea.
With her body shriveled, Fenesis laid at Kusla’s feet, and finally, she tucked herself in the gap.
“You look like a cat stuck between the goods.”
Hearing that, Fenesis glared back at Kusla. It seemed a little tremor would cause her to suffer however.
Leaving aside her posture, the main reason why she was in so much pain was probably because she ate too much. There was no time to deal with the rest of the food, so Alzen ordered for the rest of them to be used for dinner. Fenesis felt it was a waste to finish them, and kept eating. They were told they would be boarding a boat, but she probably never expected herself to be squeezing in like this.
“We’re going to do what pirates do now.”
The boat before him entered the cave leading to the sea.
And like them, Kusla rowed the oar, following them.
Nine boats in total, each of them a punt made of dark wood.
The cabins of these boats were built a little deeper, lest the cargo on the boats were to attract attention. It just so happened that they could avoid attention.
So, how did Alzen know that there were boats here? He had them setup here beforehand.
However, his initial plan was that this secret port was to be used after they conquered Kazan.
Once Kazan was taken under their control, the supply lines from the South would probably be unable to fulfill the logistics demand for Kazan, and anything insufficient would have to be mitigated by Nilberk. Alzen had planned for Nilberk to provide some supplies.
Every squad in the Knights had their independent finances, so how would they simply allow the forces in Nilberk to tax them liberally? The Knights, unwilling to share the taxes with their allies, built a secret port here for all to share.
It appeared other forces had used this port when Kusla and the others arrived, for there were crafts with the emblem of the Knights, and the words ‘May God bless You’ engraved upon them. The ones ruling Nilberk probably knew of this secret port, but the investment had paid off, and it did not matter whether the port was revealed. Sometimes greed could save oneself.
Several clouds flowed amidst the starry night sky, the moon appearing from time to time. If possible, it would be better to take action in the middle of the night, but one would fear falling asleep at this point.
Once the boats entered the cave, the waves felt stronger, and the stench of the sea could be scented upon. The bats at the ceiling of the cave were flapping their wings in shock due to the unwelcomed visitors. While the time spent inside the cave was not very long, everyone heaved a sigh of relief once they exited, but just for a moment.
The boat before Kusla rolled its oar towards the pitch dark coast, like a bunch of reckless fools.
While Kusla had assumed he understood how vast the world was, once the boat arrived atop the sea surface shrouded in the night, he understood.
Humans really were puny, and the world was really vast and cruel. The peaceful sea surface was startlingly tranquil. If there was a ferry to the world of the Dead, surely it would pass by this dead silent sea.
Suddenly, there was some sounds before him. He looked up, and found the boat before them pulling the oar in, making hand gestures indicating for them to get down.
Before he knew it, the boat had left the shore, and even if they did jump off the boat, they could not return. At such a distance, even Kusla would be feeling uneasy if not for the other boats, and lose all composure.
The second and third boats took in their oars too, and laid down, hidden in the cabin.
All they needed to do next was to go with the flow, and arrive at the port in Nilberk.
Kusla took in his oar, darted into the space he had left for himself, and pulled the dirty cloth over his head.
Due to the parts, the space he left was very uneven, so Fenesis could only lie down with her knees tucked in, while Kusla could stretch his legs wide and lie smoothly. Their heads were just side by side, so he wondered if he should switch his position in the vertically opposite manner. This notion lasted just a moment however, for even he found his thought to be foolish, obviously thinking too much.
He laid down in the gap, covered the cloth over his head, and found Fenesis glancing him unhappily. Surely she was seething, thinking Kusla was being too sly.
“Want to straighten yourself to get to my side?”
Kusla whispered, and sensed Fenesis’ beast ears twitching.
“…Is there space?”
“Above me, or below. Your choice.”
He smiled, and Fenesis eked out a disgusted groan.
“Went numb after sleeping?”
“It-it has nothing to do…with this.”
She stammered, trying to defend herself.
But once she did so, she went silent, and the silence on the boat was screeching at their ears.
The waves on the sea remained calm, with the occasional sound of the tide.
They could not see the outside of the boat, and could not hear anything else.
In the darkness, Kusla widened his eyes, and asked,
“What do we do if we lose sight of the other boats?”
Once he was done saying so, he was surprised with himself. Why did he ask such a question?
He did not ask simply to gain enjoyment from scaring Fenesis,
“…Why are you asking this now?”
Kusla answered, and continued on calmly,
“No, when I am alone, I’m always assured on what I should do. Now I am no longer alone.”
Fenesis might have figured out something from his tone, for she fidgeted a little, before saying,
“Anyway, please take off the cloth, stand up, and stretch.”
Hearing her earnest words, Kusla chuckled,
“If we stand up, the boat will capsize.”
“…Then, liie down.”
“Like a cat you are.”
And Kusla imagined Fenesis stretching herself like a kitten after a nap.
Kusla asked again, and Fenesis did not respond.
Is she furious that I call her a cat?
So Kusla wondered, before Fenesis took a deep breath, and said,
“You are not alone after all.”
She sounded miffed. Kusla then understood that she was recollecting the past.
“Experienced similar things?”
So Kusla asked.
“…Once, I hide in a travelling merchant’s cargo.”
Kusla did not ask if she was alone by then, or if she had companions.
In any case, Fenesis was alone, and end of the day, it did not matter.
“What do you intend to do?”
She asked. At this point, their eyes were used to the dark, and even with the cloth covering them, they could vaguely see each other’s silhouette.
While remaining crouched, she stared at Kusla.
“I’ll go check, where we are, what we will do later, what we can do, and,”
Saying that, Kusla reached his hand for Fenesis’ hand, grabbing a bunch of her tied, sily hair,
“Whether our cargo is crying and yelling.”
Fenesis cringed; perhaps she was fuming.
“I am not crying, not shouting.”
She pouted away, trying to defend herself. Kusla did not giggle, and instead, he said,
“I can understand, somehow.”
It seemed she did not anticipate this answer from Kusla, for she lifted her head in surprise, staring at Kusla intently in the darkness.
“You were smiling when we broke through the siege.”
He fiddled with Fenesis’ hair, saying so. The hair skilfully tied together by Irine was tight and delicate, like a piece of art.
Fenesis herself was not a maiden who would simply tie her hair messily.
And like this hair, she had a proud heart.
“Have you not realized?”
Kusla asked once again upon seeing the lack of reaction, and after a while, Fenesis gently shook her head.
“This…is not good.”
“I was smiling…even when people were hurt…”
“So why were you smiling?”
He was not adding salt to her wound out of deliberate malice, but simply due to his insatiable curiosity.
What was the mix that caused this scenario? What would happen when Fenesis was dumped in this vessel? Kusla really wanted to know the answer.
He let go of her hair, and patted her head. He could sense the little hand in his palm jolting in shock.
‘I am not angry. Also, God’s teachings are merely hearsay to me.”
“…Please respect God…”
With Kusla pressing down on her head, Fenesis fidgeted about, before answering,
“I feel like I’m still alive.”
She was not elated, joyous. The main basis behind these emotions was that she was still alive. That smile Fenesis showed back then was probably the same, and it left him a little delighted.
“I feel this way.”
Kusla’s response showed no concern for Fenesis’ feelings, and then, he rubbed her head.
“So I thought, back then, you were decent.”
She was not acting like a borrowed cat, and neither was she putting on a mask, and neither was she so terrified that she dared not pursue what she yearned most.
Kusla stopped exerting strength, and simply placed his hand on Fenesis’ head,
“But it isn’t just once that you have fooled me.”
“Ju-just that once.”
Fenesis, pious to God’s teachings, hastily defended herself, as though this was a matter of honor.
But it seemed she had realized she she did dupe Kusla.
And to Kusla, he himself was the fool to be duped.
“And this is why I am relieved.”
Her ears pricked, and his hand felt them.
“What…do you mean?”
“Exactly as I have said.”
Kusla tersely responded, and subconsciously tapped Fenesis on the head.
He was probably feeling gaudy.
But he had to explain,
“I forced you to do something you were unwilling to.”
The girl suffered loneliness due to her bloodline, and Kusla wanted to use her bloodline as a symbol of calamity to rattle the enemy. While the friendlies had assumed Fenesis was a real fairy, it was a different matter altogether. While breaking out of Kazan, the Knights had to use Fenesis to make up for the inadequate fighting strengthh. As an Alchemist, Kusla should do everything within his power without remorse, but he hesitated. Fenesis herself accepted this task because of that hesitation, however.
“You are certainly,”
“Kind after all.”
This time, it was Kusla who was speechless, and he could only rub Fenesis on the head. The latter giggled, and he thought that it was great it was pitch dark in the night, for she could not see how miffed he was.
After a while, Fenesis stopped, and placed her hand on Kusla’s. The slender hand felt icy, the skin tender, easily torn if blown upon.
“I am fine.”
In his mind, Kusla imagined her expression as she said those words. Why would she have such an imagination? Such imagination was unexpectedly rational, and relieving.
He let go of her head, and moved his hand towards the side, covering one of her ears.
While teasing her, he would typically grab; instead, he was caressing it carefully, like a fragile item.
“I am an Alchemist.”
Kusla calmly added on,
“If you say so, this is all I can ‘think’.”
The ear in his hand twitched.
Clearly he could sense her anxiety.
On the boat with no one else on board, beneath the cloth the moonlight could not shine through.
The hand Fenesis placed on Kusla’s was laughably damp.
But Kusla was an alchemist.
“I discussed this with that jerk Weyland.”
“We investigated your race’s past. They brought the lost ancient technology here from the East, and vanished into history as a legend. So i think, other than the dragon shaped flamethrowers, they might have brought other forms of technology over. Amongst them might be the map to Magdala I worked so hard to seek.”
God’s metal, Orichalcum.
The legendary metal, which no one else had seen.
But since the fable of the dragon was with basis, there should be basis for Orichalcum.
“But if you do find it to be suffering…”
Within Kazan, the remains lying by the flamethrowers were undoubtedly the remains of Fenesis’ race. Their feet were shackled with ball and chain.
Seeking their footsteps would certainly mean seeking the forbidden, cursed bloodline, trails of blood. While Fenesis’ wounds were healed in the workshop, doing this might reopen them again.
“Can you endure it?”
Saying that, Kusla slipped his hand from her ear to her shoulder.
She was calm, as though asleep.
She enjoyed this rare moment of kindness from him,
“…I-I am fine.”
Kusla said that, and patted her shoulder encouragingly, before reclining his hand. He felt the hand she placed on his was exerting some strength.
Surely she had something she wanted to say, and they were both close enough to hear each other’s breathing.
And thus, Kusla could no longer suppress his impish heart.
“Speaking of which.”
“What are you hoping for?”
Fenesis pushed him off so hard, she was ostensibly beating him up.
The boat shook, and suddenly, loud splashes occured.
Even Kusla was taken aback, yet Fenesis’ body was as stiff as a rock. Just a moment back, she made an exaggerated reaction, yet she was all shriveled up, and surely it was not because the boat shook. All Kusla could do was to give a wry smile.
There was no way their lips could meet in this position.
Of course, it was just a figure of speech; if he really tried to kiss her, would she actually push him aside.
He smiled to himself, but he thought to himself that simply wasting this mischief material was not wish it.
Just like the days of his apprenticeship, when he used the furnace, and found gold amongst the soot.
Back then, he used the gold as the clasp of his dagger, and even till this day, he was still using it.
So he thought, if Fenesis was to know he was such a sentimental person…but he had another notion, that it was too late to notice this problem.
It was truly remarkable to encounter this interesting lady, yet he was showing a lethargic smile.
He was probably unwilling to admit this fact.
So he let his thoughts run wild, before a sound suddenly came from afar. ‘Dock the boats by the port’, he could quickly hear someone shout. The boats had arrived in Nilberk.
Nilberk was a major fortress city, and one of the few port cities of Latria.
Kusla had heard that it was fortified with walls all over, and the port between the two gulfs was the entrance. They appeared to be ant feelers, so during the pagan rule, Nilberk was always marked as the ant city.
Once the Knights conquered Nilberk, they continued to develop the city, and at this point, seven roads were linked to the port.
It was unlikely Latria had anticipate such a major port city to be conquered, but they encountered the Knights and the mightiest naval in the world, and were unable to defend it.
Though it was all hearsay, Kusla could sense the despair the Queen of Latria had when Nilberk was taken.
After a moment of stunned silence, Kusla found himself muttering.
He turned his head around, and found Fenesis sitting upright, looking at him.
And he noticed Fenesis tugging at his sleeve.
“But are these…”
There were many ships docked at the massive port of Nilberk. Nobody could identify them as ships at first, and they were all in a panic, wondering why there would be such massive structures on the sea. Once they got closer, they could identify those short, stout silhouettes. With the moonlight shining upon them, the ships looked somewhat alluring, like giants kneeling down.
The black blocks were different from the darkness deep beyond the seas, giving off a sense of surrealism, oppression, and violence. They were showing Kusla and his companions who were the true rulers.
Someone shouted from the boat before him. Fenesis hurriedly hid her ears beneath her hood. While the people led by Archduke Kratol accepted her beast ears, the situation in Nilberk was chaotic, and the wise decision was to hide them. In fact, Fenesis was worried the Knights and mercenaries would proclaim them, but luckily, the Archduke had reminded them, The War Goddess is our trump, and we shall have her remain as a secret. Once they heard so, the soldiers abided obediently, for his words ignited their desire to covet and protect the Saint, angel, fairy protecting them. Anything involving the battlefield, and the Knights and mercenaries would become strangely superstition. In fables, fairies would escape once the bottles are opened.
Surely this secret could remain as one.
Kusla looked over at the ship, and found a row of soldiers standing on the deck. There was someone holding a flaming torch on the boat fleet he was on, swinging it rhythmically.
Soon after, the soldiers on the ship deck departed. A moment later, a boat came from the shadow of the ship. Standing foremost was a man with his cloak fluttering, having the same disposition as Alzen. Behind the man were a group of soldiers wielding spears.
Neither side spoke up. Kusla’s arm was aching as Fenesis was clinging onto him hard. She probably had encountered such a scene before.
Soon after, both sides stopped.
The waves remained calm, the silence deafening.
First to speak up was Alzen.
“Reinforcements from Kazan, under Archduke Kratol’s command.”
The term ‘reinforcements’ left Kusla with the urge to laugh.
Such a bunch of vain rulers.
But it appeared to be a little joke.
“Thanks for the support.”
Once he was said, he grinned.
“My brothers, you have arrived.”
At that moment, cheers erupted, and Alzen’s side heaved a side of relief. They could finally escape from the wilderness where the wolves reigned, to the city filled with lights.
Both boats approached each other, and Alzen shook hands with his peer.
“But with these men? Your report states that you escaped with no man left behind.
It appeared they could exchange information secretly.
Perhaps there was an underground passage, like a rabbit hole.
“We had a little too much on the supplies, and not too many people to ferry. Mind lending some boats? The port location might be a little difficult to find.”
“No need for another word, I understand. You lucked into it?”
The Nilberk forces, being besieged, surely would not ignore the existence of a secret port. However, it was due to thi that they could regroup with precious fighting forces.”
“Yes, just so happened to find one. We had the protection of a fairy.”
Alzen calmly answered.
“Hoho. Speaking of which, you brought the fabled dragons?”
The other party started looking at the boats behind Kusla.
“Split up. Three of them, requires fuel. I shall report the details once we enter the town. They should be able to contribute on the battlefield.”
“Looking forward to it. Most importantly.”
The man said, his eyes looking aside to Kusla’s eyes.
“You have brought the expertise and knowledge to build the dragons, and it truly is God’s blessing to us.”
“…Did something arise in the town?”
“Yes. Thus I am looking forward to your fairy protection. But let us discuss this once matters calm down. Our priority now is to welcome our other brothers. The enemy might discover them if we are late, and they do need to rest as soon as possible.”
“We are gracious to our brothers in the Knights.”
“Yes. May God bless the Knights’ crest.”
And so, the boat led Kusla and the others deep into the port.
The sea surface was narrow, and did not seem like a coast, instead like a dock for boats.
While the massive battleships proved that the Knights ability was not to be taken for naught. An Alchemist’s hoax before the Knights would be akin to a child trying to put up a front.
Kusla and the others darted through the massive battleships signifying the wealth and authority of the Cladius Knights, and soon after, they arrived at the port. There was no one there, just heaps of goods.
The pagans in Latria rose for a counterattack a few days ago, so these probably were not shipped in from the South. In other words, these resources were prepared to invade Latria.
Some had said the best form of defense was offense.
“Plans for the counterattack are ready now.”
Kusla was uncertain that the Knights could win when they left the Knights headquarters in Kazan, but one look reminded him that the Knights were still the strongest faction on this world. Again, he realized that the counterattack plan Alzen mention was not mere sleeptalk.
“In any case, we managed to survive.”
Alzen and the others got on shore, and Kusla followed suit. Once he got on, he looked back at the boat, and found Fenesis trudging on, preparing to disembark. It seemed she was still rattled by the majesty of the battleships.
Seeing this, Kusla had the urge to tease her.
And Fenesis immediately puffed her cheeks and glared at Kusla, but the latter did not mind, instead reaching his hand out to Fenesis.
She looked back and forth between his hand and face.
And then, with a displeased look, she grabbed his hand.
“Always so mischievous.”
“But you are holding my hand.”
Hearing that, her green eyes flickered, and she looked up at Kusla tauntingly.
“Is this the shameless of an alchemist you speak of?”
Kusla chuckled, but not to tease her.
On the contrary.
“It certainly is.”
Saying that, he pulled her onto shore.
Her body was stiff, probably as she was stuck on the boat for long, and she sorted her wrinkled clothes, limbering herself from time to time.
Weyland and Irine too followed suit, hammering their waists like old folks.
“That was rough~”
“Never did this since the last time I was told off by master and hid inside the furnace…”
Both of them grumbled, sounding lethargic.
Weyland stretched himself, and said to both Kusla and Fenesis,
“You two really have been going at it, huh~?”
“Don’t play dumb. Ain’t your boat rocking~?”
Weyland leered, but it was merely a stupid joke.
“She begged for it. I can’t say no here.”
Irine understood what the two men meant, and could only give a stupefied smile.
“Enough with the jokes…”
Both Irine and Weyland looked down at Fenesis, whose voice went soft,
Weyland gave a serious look.
And Fenesis lowered her head bashfully,
“Are you an idiot?”
Kusla was disgruntled as he responded, only for the Fenesis to smack his arm once, twice, thrice.
“Hey, what’s with you?”
While hammering away at Kusla, she groaned,
“You are absolutely deplorable!”
With the incredulous looks upon her, Fenesis stormed off, and Irine frantically gave pursuit.
I didn’t do anything, did I?
So Kusla watched them leave, wondering.
So he scratched his head, thinking. Perhaps…
“She’s angry at you because you didn’t do anything~”
His elbow on Kusla’s shoulder, Weyland noted,
Kusla narrowed his eyes at Weyland’s face that was inches away from him, and then looked towards where Fenesis and Irine left.
“Just like an alchemist.”
“You are an apprentice here, Kusla~”
He glared back, and Weyland chortled as he removed his elbow. Alzen’s soldiers were hastily removing the dragon parts from the boat, and some Nilberk soldiers hastily gathered upon hearing there were new forces. The port at night immediately got rowdy.
Kusla sighed reluctantly, and left the harbor. While Fenesis’ words were foolish, she was right. He really felt alive.
Once he saw the scornful leer on Kusla’s face, Weyland hastily gave chase, and asked, “what’s with that smile?” Kusla kicked the annoying Weyland aside, and gave chase after the two ladies.
He felt alive.
Surely this is the value of living on this world, so he thought.