Hellping

[Magdala V5] Act 2

The inn the four of them stayed at was posh, and there was a fine fireplace installed.

As Alzen had promised, if they could escape Kazan unscathed, he would satisfy any of their wishes as reward.

Naturally, being assigned a good living place alone was unable to satisfy Kusla, but again, he had trouble deciding.

“What shall I have as a reward?”

He had a nice sleep until the following morning. While the four of them were used to waking up early due to their profession, every one of them slept till after the sun rose. Even then, they were completely lethargic. Perhaps this was the relief borne out of their survival.

Once breakfast was served to their room, Kusla raised the issue about their reward.

“Don’t you want a workshop?”

Irine said, dousing the quality, salty butter onto her bread in large slabs. Fenesis would typically be watchful of how she would eat, and would tear the bread into pieces before eating, but at this point, even she was focused on chewing.

“A smelting fool you are.”

Kusla stared at Irine with a wry look, and the latter raised her eyebrows furiously, glaring back.

“All we need now is a workshop. This is the reason why I left Kazan with you folks? What else are you asking me?”

“We still have no idea if we can settle down in this city. Even if we do make such an outrageous request, if something happens thereafter, we will have to haggle with the Knights again.”

“Uu…I see…ahh, but, think about it. Don’t we have to build more dragons? Isn’t it reasonable to ask them for a workshop?”

It appeared Irine had the urge to smelt no matter what.

“Same here. I have a burning desire to light a fire in the furnace~”

Weyland had a nice etiquette when eating, and he was slicing the boiled beef shoulder elegantly, sandwiched them between two slices of bread, and then cut them thinly.

“Really? How understanding of you, Mr Weyland.”

“It’s been only a week…”

Kusla grumbled away, feeling peeved, and Weyland served the bread onto Irine and Fenesis’ plates, before sighing.

Alchemists nowadays are so unbecoming, so he appeared to be saying.

“Also, I have been watching the outside.”

“Hm?”

“There are many of our ranks walking outside. Most of them must have escaped from other towns~”

In other words? The answer was obvious.

“The smiths in this city must be bustling~.”

Weyland’s eyes were glittering, and Kusla looked back with annoyance, seemingly disagreeing with what he said.

This time, Irine spoke up,

“Anyway, why are you so listless?”

Irine would call Weyland by his name, and would only address Kusla as ‘you’. While Kusla was miffed by this, he did owe Irine a favor back in Kazan.

Nothing good comes out of anything involving a woman. so he thought.

“I have nothing against the workshop itself, but I prefer books to smelting.”

“Eh?”

“There’s definitely loads of knowledge in this massive city. Just like Kazan though, we don’t know when we will have to leave this chaotic city. If the forces are to leave, us alchemists might have to be taken away too, but I don’t think they will allow us to bring our books along. Also, the most effective method to scour this knowledge is to send in a human wave.”

“Hm//”

“Well, there’s someone here who can’t be an effective fighting strength.”

Kusla was expressing his displeasure of Irine using ‘you’ to address him, and getting back at her.

“Oho. And who is it you have to thank for finding the dragon tapestry?”

Hearing that, Kusla stabbed a knife into the beef shoulder, looking offended.

While Weyland and him could have found it if they spent some time, but was working together not supposed to be for the sake of saving time?”

“Erm.”

At this moment, Fenesis spoke up.

“Do you require my assistance?”

Though she had offered to help, she sounded pretty unwilling. Perhaps she was still peeved about the events that transpired the previous day.

Also, he could sense pity in her tone, and glanced at her with displeasure.

“Little Ul and Kusla shall check the books, while little Irine and I shall light the furnace. It’s decided then~”

“Hey.”

Weyland popped the last piece of bread into his mouth, and stood up.

“Leaving aside the fact that we might not be able to get a workshop, we do need a furnace to make the dragons. This is obviously little Irine’s specialty~”

“Mind not calling me little Irine?”

“Nooooo~~”

Weyland hollered away with a grin, and while Irine looked displeased, she too stood up.

Also, it did seem her displeasure had nothing to do with Weyland.

“Uu, so unenthusiastic here.”

“You should have eaten enough~.”

“That’s not the issue. Uu…I just feel lethargic…never mind. Should be able to buck up before the furnace.”

She was a little confused, but managed to convince herself accordingly.

Weyland then quickly led Irine out of the room.

The four of them splintered into two groups, headed for their responsibilities.

Thus, Kusla said to the white girl who was left behind.

“Hurry with your food.”

“…I have to be gracious when eating.”

It appeared Fenesis was still not in the mood, so Kusla had his chin resting on his hand, the elbow on the table as he watched her, sighing away.

 

It was quiet inside the inn, but bustling outside.

Half of the people on the streets were muscular soldiers, while the rest were merchants, craftsmen. They differed in age, physique and gender, and most of them had escaped here from different towns, so even in the same professions, they would have minor differences in hairstyle and clothing. It was a blend of many varieties.

There was probably one common point, if any, amongst them.

“Everyone seems to be busy.”

Though peeved, Fenesis was not vexed to the point of being unwilling to speak to Kusla.

He recalled their first encounter.

“I remember you were holding things with both hands…so.”

Kusla grabbed Fenesis by the back of her neck, and pulled her back. A carriaged crammed with pigs and chicken coops stumbled before the inn doors. Following that, another carriage passed by, filled with fresh sardines, probably caught in the morning. The men on the cargo wasted no time as they started salting them. Following them were two carriages loaded with iron crates. Following that, two lackeys were blushing as they pulled a carriage of wooden materials by.

Nilberk was lively, and definitely not a place for the defeated to gather.

Kusla took a deep breath of the chaotic, musky air of the city, his lips curled into a smile.

These were the Knights.

“Everyone is working hard preparing for the counterattack. Producing grain, creating weapons, sewing clothes, building carriages, horse tacks. There are also various materials to blend and refine too. Lots of things to do, in fact.”

The passers-by hurried along, and the streets were like a wooden vat filled with clothes, churned about once again. Kusla let go of the back of Fenesis’ neck, and she quietly put on her veil again.

“Let’s go.”

Saying that, Kusla entered the crowd, and Fenesis hastily gave pursuit.

“Erm, where are we headed to?”

“To buy bread, we go to the bakery. To buy clothes, we go to the clothes shop. To check books however, we cannot head to the bookshop. What they sell are pointless. We need to get a key to the archives.”

“…Please do not overexert yourself.”

Fenesis reminded worriedly. As there were too many people, she kept clinging onto him.

“The way you say it, it does seem I do only use forceful means.”

“You may omit the ‘seem’.”

It was rare for Fenesis to retort. Was she still seething over the previous night? Kusla however merely shrugged at this.

“I do not wish to be lectured by you on this.”

“Huh? Wh-what do you mean? I have never done been forceful.”

Fenesis puffed her cheeks as she said so, glaring hard with her emerald eyes widened.

With a cold stare, Kusla looked down at her.

“How dare you say so after all the preposterous things you have then.”

“Th-that was…”

Fenesis grumbled, and then withered off.

“I had no choice.”

After which, she said this. Kusla let out a snicker upon seeing this.He would be in loads of trouble if he let his guard down and be troubled by these maiden-like words. So troublesome, yet so inteesting.

Later on, they went through the streets and alleys, daring through the bustling city.

Kusla had assumed Nilberk was simply a metropolis of a bustling city, but once he exited the inn, he saw people whose profession involved fighting, and realized this was the frontlines.

Four, five mercenaries and Knights were standing at a cross junction, either to maintain security of the ccity, or to simply laze around.

Their faces were strangely stiff. Perhaps they were watching an enemy spy.

Kusla and Fenesis went right towards the center of the city.

And as they passed by a mercenary hold spears.

“Hey, both of you.”

The mercenary had white hair, and a beard as stiff as wires, one resembling needles stabbed into it by a mischievous lad. One spear was heavy enough, but this mercenary was holding a bundle of ten on his shoulder.

His arm was probably as thick as Fenesis’ waist.

“Is this not our Goddess? Where are you headed?”

He appeared to be one of the mercenaries who broke out of Kazan. Kusla remembered he was not around when they boarded the boats; it appeared the people who stayed behind made it safely.

“We’re looking for Alzen.”

“Ohh, I shall lead you then.”

“He’s probably in the middle of the city. You don’t have to trouble yourself.”

“Please don’t say so. I wish to offer whatever I have to repay you.”

The gruff mercenary appeared capable of cleaving enemies along with their armor with his axe, yet he was showing a genial smile to them.

A mere few days of traveling together, and Kusla could infer that he was not a bad person. Character-wise, they might be a lot better than the Alchemists.

Kusla shrugged, “please lead the way”.

“But it is careless of Lord Alzen to not assign you a carriage.”

“Our Goddess here has no interest in a carriage that does not breathe fire.”

“Oho, I see.”

Fenesis smacked Kusla on the arm, but the latter naturally did not care.

“But back in Kazan, given my experience, we were probably doomed for real, and I couldn’t see any hope. That speck of light at the end was too dazzling.”

“We didn’t have any hope either. Never thought we could build that sort of thing. It’s a rare experience, for one.”

“Haha, I see. That really was a miracle on the battlefield. The beauty of the war goddess probably can’t be conveyed with words, no matter the era of the author. It is an honor to walk upon the same land as Her.”

The mercenary did not intend for it as a snip, nor as a joke. He was praising her from the bottom of his heart.

Fenesis inadvertently shriveled upon being praised. The genial mercenaries were probably all like this, simple, bold, honest.

“Anyway, have you seen the outside of the city?”

There is an amazing statue outside I want you to see.

That was the tone the mercenary spoke with.

“Hm? Is there anything worth seeing outside the city?”

“Hoho. There is one. There is an army the enemy had sent with vindication.”

“…I see. Are they amazing?”

Kusla asked, and the mercenary merely flexed the arm not holding anything.

“The enemy is not worth fearing.”

Those that feared death would never step upon the battlefield. When venturing the battlefield however, soldiers would use anything to pray for victory. Some might think that if they feared death, they should not step onto the battlefield, and that the soldiers’ actions were hypocritical.

They venture the battlefield, so that they would day. They often said that a battlefield they could not die on was not one worth dying on.

For the mercenary with this mentality, the enemy was not worth fearing.

Kusla chuckled,

“Trying to get an easy victory, huh?”

“With you around, we can fight off a thousand.”

The mercenary turned around, smiling, with no other intent.

Such honesty left Kusla smiling, and he looked over at Fenesis, pondered a moment, and said,

“That Alzen intends to mass produce the dragons. You people might end up out of business.”

“Ahaha. If that happens, that is fine too. If I don’t have a chance to step onto the battlefield, I shall be a spearmaker then.”

Saying that, the mercenary tapped the spear on his shoulder.

“Also, the soldiers in this city are a little timid, so please use the blazing fires to embolden them.”

After a pause, Kusla said to the mercenary,

“Do the war-hardened soldiers fear the enemies outside the city?”

“Well, please do not underestimate us here. No matter how many thousands of them we have, we do not fear battling. Our fellow comrades should be the same. However, while we don’t fear a strong foe, we do fear.”

“Oh?”

“Once our comrades entered this city, none of us had an motivation.”

Irine did mention this before.

“There is nothing more terrifying than a quiet city.”

The mercenary glanced diagonally upward, narrowing his eyes as he depicted the place as a barren wasteland purged by the flames of war. In fact, the city was so bustling, it was messy. This was probably an expression of speech by him, so Kusla thought.

But Fenesis suddenly said,

“It is pitiful when there is no bell chime in the city.”

“Bell?”

Kusla looked back to ask, and the mercenary turned towards her, smiling like an amicable bear familiar with humans.

“The soldiers do not wish to step upon the battlefield, when there is no blessing of the bell to be heard.”

The mercenary’s words caused a realization within Kusla.

The latter finally realized why the four of them woke up late.

The bell chime of the city was a natural occurrence to them, and he never realized this.

“There has to be a reason why there is no bell chime, right?”

Hearing that, the mercenary gave an awkward smile.

“Some have said it was the will of God.”

“God’s?”

“While I personally am unwilling to believe this, but the facts remain, and the troops stationed here are convinced of it. Eh…we probably won’t be able to mount a counterattack if this keeps up.”

No matter how dire the situation before them, once their master gave the command, they would charge in with reckless abandon.

And this mercenary, who lived his life based on such a principle, actually said such words of weakness.

For a moment, Kusla was at a loss of what to do. The mercenary bucked himself, expelled the pessimism off his face, and puffed his chest, saying,

“But our War Goddess has a brilliant great alchemist, and this city surely can hear the bell again. By then, we can be showered in some of that glory.

After saying that, the mercenary guffawed.

Kusla looked back at him silently.

The bell.

The trio passed the streets, and arrived on the road leading to the center of the city.

The massive silhouette of the cathedral appeared before them, proclaiming that God’s teachings had arrived at this point.

There was a massive tower at its top, and at the apex–

“It was said that the bell of this city shattered soon after it was built.”

The mercenary narrowed his eyes as he said so,

“It’s rumored that God has abandoned us.”

There was no bell to be seen on the bell tower covered in vines.

Surely, the absence of something that should exist there would trigger an uneasiness amongst people.

“Lord Alzen is in there. Do you need me to make a report?”

“You can’t enter while holding these spears. This should be enough. Thank you.”

“Just a trivial matter. No worries.”

The mercenary smiled, informed them he was bringing the spears to the craftsmen, and departed.

The headquarters of the Knights was to the east of the dome in the city. Its doors were opened, and the busy people hurried in and out. To deploy an entire city for battle, there was a need for a signal caller, the brains of a commander.

These people before him were entering and exiting while carrying loads of goods, and that place should be the entrance to the command post.

The entrance was to the north of the plaza, and opposite it was the cathedral.

Kusla stood at the entrance, and looked up at the bell tower. At this moment, Fenesis asked,

“Are those words real?”

Kusla lowered his head towards her, and saw her strangely uneasy, and asked,

“The enemies outside the city?”

She shook her head.

“What I am saying is, has this city been forsaken by God?”

To Fenesis, it was likely that being forsaken by God was a more pressing issue.

However, to the unknowing fools, the cathedral bell that was broken soon after it was built certainly was a bad omen.

The person welcoming them did mention something happened in the city when they arrived at the port in the middle of the night, that they needed the blessings of the alchemists and the fairy.

This was probably what he was referring to.

“Let’s go.”

Kusla tersely responded, and entered the building.

There were many clerks crammed in the building, their weapon being the quilt, and they looked on grimly, hurrying here and there. There were a few passers-by too, mostly dressed in fur coats of nobility. If the Knights were to evacuate from Nilberk, these were the ones who should be evacuated first.

The highly ranked people entered and exited with grim looks on their faces, and it appeared the Knights intended to use this place as base to signal the start of the counterattack.

Kusla pulled aside one of the clerks, and mentioned Alzen’s name.

While the clerk did not know Alzen, after asking around, he knew where Alzen was. He led Kusla and Fenesis to Alzen’s room, his office.

The room Alzen borrowed had its windows shut tightly.

“…Pretty early you are.”

He was chatting with someone else, and upon seeing Kusla’s entrance to the room, he blinked in surprise.

“The sun had risen for a long while.”

“Ah, I did send a messenger to call for you. Probably missed you.”

Kusla shrugged.

Alzen handed a parchment to the person he was chatting with, and waved the latter out. Once the door was shut, he spoke up again.

“But are you not going to rest? You may venture in the city, you know?”

Alzen said, looking dumbfounded.

“We should be the one asking this. You look busy.”

Alzen and Kusla had both experienced this exodus of death, and unlike Kusla, Alzen had to analyze the formations and concern himself with the safety of their escape. The amount of stress he accumulated along the way was in no way describable. Surely on this morning, he was busy with administrative duties.

But he merely let out a chuckle.

“This might be my…what is that called? Magdala?”

Once he heard the word Magdala from Alzen’s mouth, Kusla was taken aback.

The teasing look from Alzen seemed extremely intimate.

Despite being bogged down by his duties, he did not have to scamper while fearing for his life. This relief might have calmed him down somewhat.

“The Archduke and I cannot bear to deal with the usual, boring city life. Only by venturing through the turbulent rapids do we feel alive. Of course, toil is inevitable.”

The grizzled Heralding officer was nothing more than that. The passion for work was no different from an alchemist.

Alzen being so frank with Kusla might be down to him viewing the latter as a fellow soldier who lived and died together with him since the exodus.

“So, is there anything? You are not here just to gain my favor, no? Or are you here to ask when will there be a ship departing for the South, and wish to board?”

“Is there any escape plan?”

Kusla asked. Alzen raised his chin, stared back, and said,

“None.”

Nice superior I have. Kusla quietly noted.

“Besides, a war of this scale is unprecedented, one for the records. There is no reason not to witness, no?”

The moguls dressed in fur coats all had the desire to show off, as befitting their positions.

And Kusla gave a hearty smile.

“One mercenary showed us the way here. Said there are some enemies who can fight.”

“Hmph. Go witness if you may. You might be motivated once you do.”

Kusla’s smile face,

“That amazing?”

“The enemy is being serious here. It’s extraordinary that they can amass so many in such a short time.”

Seeing Alzen’s honest praise, Kusla was stunned.

And with a fearless smile, Alzen asked, “Surprised?”

As for as Kusla knew, when praising someone, Alzen would either be making a mockery of one, or to exert pressure.

But the smile never faded, as he took a deep breath, paused, and said,

“Deploying troops is basically a complicated puppet show being played. It would be easy if deploying them simply meant handing money to the mercenaries and telling them to defeat the approaching enemies. In fact, deploying troops mean that you have to hire and manage people from various lands, some of them from places you have never witnessed before. You also have to prepare the bare minimum of armaments, prepare food, and also initiate the logistics for horses, carriages and people to deliver them here. Everything here is rather complicated. Leaving aside management, you need specialists to gather the food, materials to repair weapons and patch clothes, and you need carriages to transport the goods. Finally, you need to pay these people salaries. This will require an exchange of currencies. You will need lots of money changers, and they need scales, wooden boxes, places to store the currencies, and transport carriages. Also, these people have to eat, and you need to provide all their needs. Finally, you do need thousands of carriages. Furthermore, you need a comprehensive monitoring of the logistical operations, and that will require twenty to thirty people. So, where are you going to find skilled, literate people? Who is going to manage them? How are you going to arrange for their lodgings? Where are their workplaces? What about food? You cannot swallow large slabs of meat, so you need to cut them into small bits and cook it over the fire. A nice, cut beef shoulder will cook well, but unfortunately, the reality is that our forces are not as straightfoward as this beef shoulder, they have brains and mouths. They all think they are better than the man next to them, and there will be quarrels from time to time. This time, you will have to mediate in their squabbles, console and coax them, encourage them to work hard, and have them mentally prepared for battle. Also, these people are all battle-hungry people. This is why I firmly believe that the establishment of an organization like the Knights is surely because the omnipotent, all-knowing God is silently supporting us.

Alzen rattled on, and smiled at Kusla.

“The enemy is as outstanding as we are in this regards. If I have to say that they are good at battling, I do agree.”

This incident was not simply a hasty raid organized by the local nobles of the mining town Kazan against the Knights. Kusla knew this well, but he had no in-depth knowledge of the entire predicament.

But once he saw Alzen standing before him, he finally understood.

There was something surpassing human intelligence being the driving force behind everything.

People called it the struggle for power.

“Good rivals can cause life to be filled with thrill. I am elated. Are you here for your reward? Just in time.”

That was probably the equivalent of one too excited to sleep the night before all issues were resolved.

And as for whether that called for a hearty drink later, they still had to deal with pressing matters before them.

“Mind telling us the bad news? I suppose something happened since you called us here?”

Kusla asked, and Alzen raised an eyebrow.

“Hmm, you wish to hear why you are summoned? Another two are not around. I suppose they are down to the workshops?”

As to be expected of a leader watching over his men, it appeared he had determined Weyland and Irine’s personalities.

“Everyone knew about this, and you two probably have.”

“The cathedral bell?”

Alzen did not seem alarmed as he chuckled. It seemed an opponent he could go all out against left him delighted.

“This matter is a talking point in the city.”

He continued with a smile, but Kusla could tell that he was smiling not because it was an interesting matter.

But that it was so tricky that he had to smile.

“I heard the bell was shattered soon after it was built.”

“Yes. Many are afraid, saying that God had abandoned us.”

Alzen said, saying,

“These warriors are particularly superstitious. Their utter confidence in the Goddess had surpassed my expectations.”

Fenesis received a stare from Alzen, and shivered nervously.

“But we cannot simply ignore this. This does involve our cause for the war after all. Without it, we cannot start one, no matter how much of the complex logistical operations we control.”

“If the forces are to strike back from a city God has forsaken, does this mean they are not the forces sent by God?”

“Exactly. The people of the Church in this citytoo are alarmed. Even though they aren’t on our side that is deemed as heretics, without God’s salvation upon this city they live in, they will be deemed as heretics too.”

“And the ones in charge of hanging the bell is the Church, right?”

“When the bell is crafted, the priests would be on site to bless it. It was a colossal failure on their part.”

Alzen flatly noted.

The Church and the Knights were different organizations with the same religion, and some had described them as infants fighting for the breasts of the Holy Mother. Kusla himself felt that the person perpetrating this war was the Archbishop leading the Church.

“But ultimately, we are both living within the same city, with the same beliefs. Before this grand war that will be recorded in the annals of history, the requirement for our reputation to stand out is more important. Thus, we cannot simply import a bell from elsewhere, and neither can we secretly build one. Our cause will be in question. A sword has its limits, capable of proclaiming its justice only within its range; words and rumors however can reach thousands of yards away.”

Kusla nodded firmly. It was for this reason that he loved books and knowledge.

“About the bell, what do you think?”

Alzen asked, his attitude a stark difference from when he had Kusla inspect the bloodied armor in Kazan. Perhaps it was because he trusted the latter after all that was accomplished.

“The people here really seem to really believe in God.”

Kusla teased Fenesis, before giving a serious answer,

“Simply put, it is a question of luck.”

“Luck?”

“For metal creations, the creation of a bell is considered particularly difficult. When coagulating copper and tin, if there is too much tin, it will be very brittle, but at the same time, the sound made is extremely crisp. This is basically a test of the builders’ faith in God.”

“Can you build a good bell?”

“Build?”

Kusla raised an eyebrow. Smelting was a blacksmith’s specialty, and there was no room for an alchemist to perform.

But Alzen answered,

“If we can mass produce the dragons, and succeed in building a bell under the name of our cause, we can receive quite the stature in this city. Do imagine the feeling of us basking in the glory.”

“…”

Is he trying to incite me to work?

Kusla immediately got wary. Alzen snorted in bemusement.

“Do you think this is a trivial matter? Have you seen what is going on in this city?”

“What do you mean?”

“Just as what I have said. So many are preparing for a war. There are more than five thousand soldiers from twenty three cities gathered here, and already nineteen alchemists. So many are trying to unite and counterattack, conquer this country. Can you imagine this? How excited am I to have this biggest opportunity in my life.”

Alzen sputtered off, and it seemed he was a lot more agitated than he was in Kazan.

Back in Kazan, he was discussing the possibility of defeat and survival.

At this point, he was discussing the scope of their victory.

Alzen could no longer supper his desires, just as Kusla could not suppress his curiosity.

“If we are to miss out on the opportunity now.”

Like a wild beast, he stared at Kusla.

“We shall regret this for the rest of our lives.”

Kusla liked Alzen as a person.

This man before him was of the same ilk.

“However, it remains a fact that creating a bell is a blacksmith’s expertise.”

“…Continue with what you have to say.”

“The method to build one is no longer a secret; it is simply down to the skills of a blacksmith. While there are often cases of failure, there will inevitably be a success. This is not a case of turning lead into gold. It is akin to drawing lots until one hits the jackpot.”

“Some have suspected there is no jackpot. This is what I am afraid of”

“What do you mean?”

Alzen had calmed down by the time Kusla asked,

“Till now, we have a lot of empty lots. A few more, and the people’s skepticism will become conviction.”

“…These blacksmiths have it rough.”

Kusla blurted out his thoughts, and Alzen snorted.

“The blacksmiths are all terrified, and do not dare to build a bell.”

“They are worried that if the bell buildd is to shatter, they will have to bear responsibility.”

“Correct. So are the clerics of the Church. If there is no confidence of success, they will not build the bell. While you do think building a bell is no secret, the other alchemists do not feel the same. They are seeking the one way to hit the jackpot. It is to be expected how desperate they are, for they too anticipate the rewards that await.”

Kusla was speechless.

Seeing his response, Alzen turned stone-faced.

“…Do you not have a solution?”

“I am not omnipotent.”

Kusla tersely responded. With the smile of a flickering light, Alzen waved his hand.

“Well, whatever. You do have a capable blacksmith with you.”

“She should be up for the job.”

Irine specialized in smelting high quality goods when given specific procedures. Alchemists need to know the way to smelt them.

“Then, since there is nothing else for you to do, is there anything you wish for as a reward?”

It was Kusla’s turn to chuckle. He knew Alzen was joking.

“There should be a library in the cathedral. I wish to obtain permit to browse them.”

“Hm?”

This time, Alzen looked mystified. He was not acting.

“Have you not heard what I have said?”

“What?”

“There are nineteen alchemists in this city. Nineteen like you are already a hassle. The city is chaotic enough, and now we have nineteen going about inciting all kinds of preposterous issues. It’s said that the valuable books were ravaged, and even the houses of nobility were not spared. Those people sent to account the rich’s properties for taxation have lamente that their libraries were raided.”

Of course, so Kusla thought.

“I have informed the people of Nilberk that I would be bringing two alchemists along, and they begged for me not to allow you to cause mayhem. If you want those precious books, go look for those alchemists holed up at the craftsmen streets.”

Hearing that, Kusla merely shrugged.

“So that means that if we want to read, we can just go around doijng so?”

“…”

Alzen stared at Kusla intently, and said,

“Do you suppose there is a hidden library in this city?”

“No?”

Kusla answered.

The mystified look on Alzen’s face remained, and it seemed he had understood Kusla’s response as the alchemist’s stubborness.

“Fine by you. If anyone stops you, just use my name. If that does not work,”

He paused, and then added on,

“You may use the Archduke’s name.”

“That…”

Kusla was a little surprised, at a loss of words,

“This is quite a hefty reward.”

“Your contributions are worth this much. Those soldiers…are not the only one who believed in that miracle.”

Alzen said this as he looked aside.

He was hiding his embarrassment, as though even the devil would mock him.

However, Alzen was simply acting as a common person who treasured his own life, showing gratitude to Kusla and the others for assisting in their escape. As he had to interact with many every day and deal with loads of information, he might have realized this simple reality was so rare and precious.

Kusla bowed politely.

“Thank you for your hospitality.”

“Hmph.”

As the duo left the room, Fenesis asked impatiently,

“Let us go investigate on the bell.”

Without saying anything, Kusla closed the door.

 

“Just like a child.”

While people would say the processions of a festival is lively, if one was to view a war as a festival, there would be nothing on this world he would fear. Kusla had a feeling he had witnessed the real Alzen beneath the mask, and while thinking about it, he sensed a sense from Fenesis next to him.

“What is it?”

The pretty green eyes narrowed him blankly.

“Just like you.”

“Hmph.”

In the past, Kusla would have smacked her on the head for such banter, but only this time did he not.

“It’s true that alchemists of the past have said that curiosity represents a childish heart.”

Hearing that, Fenesis pretended to be pleased, and sighed away.

“But he is expecting too much of others. Probably thinks that alchemists are omnipotent.”

In such a situation, if Kusla was to build a bell successfully, he would surely be famous. This time, he did not want to interfere. The construction of a bell was already fixed, and there was no room for an alchemist to nitpick. The crafting process was more of a blacksmith’s job, and an alchemist had no room to interfere.

With regards to this, his companion Irine would have more confidence, and she just so happened to be on the craftsmen streets.

He simply needed to assign the mission to her, and wait for the rewards.

Thus, his main aim was still the cathedral’s archives.

Though he had heard that the other alchemists had raved it, it had nothing to do with him.

“I say.”

As they exited the Knights’ building and went towards the tower without the bell, Fenesis suddenly spoke up,

“Is the bell…really just about luck?”

Kusla looked over at the uneasy Fenesis, and sighed weakly. This little girl showed no fear after hearing there were enemies outside the city, yet she dithered over this.

Of course, Kusla was the same. It was not his job to deal with the enemies outside, and it would be a waste of time to bother with that. Kusla was in no mood to make meaningless prayers, and had no intend to escape the inevitable.

However, there was another issue regarding the bell.

“If luck says this is up to God, I might say this city is forsaken .”

Kusla’s response seemed to have angered Fenesis, and she shrank back, feeling peeved.

Her face showed some anxiety.

“And it is best for you not to get involved.”

“Eh?”

Fenesis lifted her head, but Kusla paid her no heed as he said,

“This is not what an alchemist should be involved with, and it will easily lead people astray. Of course, if you know what the problem is, you can try.”

“…”

“Understand?”

Fenesis clearly did not appear to understand, but Kusla had reemphasized on this logic over and over again. Having been lectured by him an umpteenth time, she would obediently listen to him, even though she would feel tentative about it.

“Under, stood…”

“Not this. We have proper matters to attend to.”

“…”

Feneiss tried to form some words, trying to say something, and Kusla glared at her, not permitting her to say anything.

This topic could have ended at this point, but Kusla took off, saying,

“If there is a valuable stone, the value only you know of, you can turn an ordinary riverbank into a hill of gold.”

Fenesis followed Kusla from two steps behind, looking devoid of confidence, as though saying she could not accept what Kusla was talking about.

The latter looked back at her, shrugging,

“I know what is hidden under your veil, and I know some of the secrets behind it. The secrets might be the key we need to find gold from the pile of ordinary rocks.”

In fact, they had developed a dragon-shaped flamethrower.

Hearing that, Fenesis immediately gave haste, and walked next to him, as though having agreed with him.

“Are we going to investigate the history of this city?”

Fenesis will was burning a little at this point.

“That’s how it is, partner.”

He said mockingly, of course, but Fenesis merely snorted.

 

Books were highly valuable items, and sometimes, they could be exchanged for gold of equivalent weight. Thus, the blacksmith guild, the richest in Kazan, would have an archive in their guild. In an ordinary city, most books would be concentrated in the church or a monastery.

Churches and monasteries had loads of books stored due to financial reasons, and also because they were stone structures, that in the rare case of a fire, the books could be preserved.

The doors of the Nilberk cathedral were opened, and the people entering and exiting were endless.

While the Church and the Knights had lots of squibbles, it was simply an issue of who was the ruler, and had nothing to do with the people. Even in wartime, the church would still be a popular place.

The people visiting the cathedral were mostly its citizens, there to pray. Some were soldiers of the Knights however. The Knights had no designated place to pray, so all prayers had to be done at the cathedral. There were offerings inside, even at the imagery of the saints sculpted upon the stone pillars. Such would be a classic example of faith being stronger in times of crisis.

“Have you visited this cathedral to pray for blessings?”

A youth dressed in long robes hurried towards them. Another person in similar garb received offertories from the believers, and handed a lit candle to one of them. There was a coin box by their side, meant to raise funds to build the bell. It seemed the Church was hurriedly raising funds while trying to regain its honor for the many failures.

“We will like to visit the archives.”

“…What books are you looking for?”

The youth was instantly alert, but did not refuse outright. There were probably a few like Kusla who came by, so he probably knew it was a waste of effort to refuse.

“Is there any text relating to the establishments of this church?”

It was such an unexpected reply, and the youth was startled.

“Huh…ah, my apologies. The church’s chronicles are on the open shelves. Head this way down the corridor, and they are by the winding corridor.”

“Understood. Oh, and also.”

“Wh-what is it?”

The youth pulled his neck back nervously.”

“Do I need to bring a candle in?”

“If you wish to express your thanksgiving to God.”

“That will depend on the contents of the book.”

It appeared the youth had no idea how to respond, and merely bowed deeply.

“Not buying one?”

Kusla was about to walk off, but Fenesis asked,

“No need for one. I had a look outside. There are glass windows here.”

Kusla ignored the sanctuary with the alter, for as the youth said, he was to go straight to the winding corridor rounding the Cathedral. There was a thick door between the corridor and the winding corridor, and while it was a prohibited area, it was not locked.

The archives of a church could be classified in two categories. One would be a treasury built underground or behind an altar, with the entrance locked, while the other was a winding corridor free for all to wander.

The books of dangerous content, or pricey books, would be placed within the locked archives. Those of ordinary content, free for anyone of status to browse, would be within the winding corridor archives.

What Kusla sought was the latter.

The left winding corridor was facing the west, and as he entered, there was the dazzling sun before him. The Cathedral was big, and the windows on the winding corridor was especially large to make it less imposing, and why the sun was so dazzling.

Also, as the doors to the archives were thick, the commotion from the sanctuary could hardly reach them.

Kusla started to worry, that it would be troublesome if he was to fall asleep due to how quiet it was.

“Let us get to work.”

A few steps into the winding corridor, Kusla could not help but sigh.

The bookshelves were by the wall with the window, and looked intimidating.

They were not actually bookshelves, but rather hollows dug out of the massive stone pillars, down the semi-circular walls. Between the space, there was a desk to read, and a long wooden bench to sit on.

There was one such reading space at various intervals down the winding corridor.

Of course, as the windows captured enough light, there was no need for candles like the pitch dark underground archives, and there was no dampness and musty stench.

“Magnificent…but most of this is probably for show.”

“Hm?”

“Look at the books here. The people of the Church are no different from ordinary people anyway.”

The covers of the books had a lock running through them, tied to the bookshelf. It seemed this reading space was not to convenience the readers, but to lock the books as an anti-theft measure. It did not hinder Kusla from checking on the various collected books however.

After having a look at the books on a few shelves, he found them all to be similar. It seemed the books chronicling the city’s history were gathered in one spot.

“The books sure are amazing, but it is too bad nobody read them.”

Kusla picked up a book, and started flipping through it, as the pages gave a strangely crisp sound. One could see the ink left behind on every facing page. Nobody probably had the time to browse the history of this city, or the annals that were most probably fabricated.

“But if nobody had read them, their value is extraordinary.”

He placed a book on the reading desk, stepped across the wooden bench, and sat down.

While seated at the reading space, he was able to calm down and concentrate on reading, surrounded by the walls other than the area behind, isolated from the outside world. It was a design borne out of necessity, but it was truly a place suited for reading. Kusla had a thought, that if he was to build a new workshop, he was going to have a similar reading space. Suddenly, he had a thought, and stopped flipping through the pages.

“What is it?”

Fenesis was standing behind Kusla.

“How am I supposed to read?”

She pulled her neck back, looking miffed, reproaching him for not being thorough with his arrangements.

Kusla narrowed an eye impatiently, and reluctantly leaned to the side, creating space.

“…”

Fenesis wanted to complain, but she did sit down on the cramped space, her back turned on him. Kusla never expected her to squeeze into this little space. Just a petite lady.

“I say, hand me a book.”

Hearing that, Kusla reluctantly picked out a book from the shelf.

The books were arranged with their covers facing out, intricate in variety, and on a closer look, one could find the chains to be made of silver.

It was because they were so precious that they had to be locked.

The book covers were made of hard leather and metals, capable of smashing anyone’s heads on, so they felt so heavy in the hands. Kusla was about to hand a book over to Fenesis, only to stop.

“?”

“…The chain isn’t long enough.”

“…”

They were facing each other, and looking at the other’s face.

“…Understood.”

Fenesis sighed, as though having given up, and stood up, raised the hem of his robes like a princess, and stepped over the bench.

During this time, as the reading rack atop the shelf could not accommodate two books, Kusla could only place the other book on the notetaking desk.

“It’s narrow.”

Fenesis said with a scowl.

Kusla himself was not particularly willing to sit next to next with the little lady. Though Fenesis was not taking up too much space as she squeezed in, they were tightly snug together, and he could feel her body warmth so hot it was like a child.

But with her participating in the investigation, the effectively should increase exponentially. She was about to investigate the ancients tribes, and had knowledge and viewpoints Kusla did not know of.

Kusla again sighed, thinking that he had to endure this for the sake of his purpose.

However,

“I say.”

Fenesis spoke up.

“…”

Kusla opened the book in a fluid motion, and started flipping through the quality parchments. Parchments could not bend as tenderly as paper, and there was a need for a bolt to prevent them from expanding. He flipped a page, handing down the text he was inspecting with one hand, and raised his chin, not his head, basically inquiring what was a matter.

After a while, he did not hear a response, and glanced to the side, seeing Fenesis have her hands on her knees, not moving at all.

“Get working. What are you spacing out for?”

Hearing that, Fenesis puffed her cheeks unhappily, and reached her hand out.

He looked over, and found her little hand dangling in the air.

“…I cannot reach the desk.”

“…”

He wordlessly let out a groan, picked up the astonishingly large book, and placed it on Fenesis’ knees. Then, he understood why she could not move.

“…I cannot open it.”

She was already diminutive in size, and with her legs squeezed into the cramped place, she could not over the large, leather cover book on her knees.

If she had to open it, she would have to use Kusla’s knees.

“Now you can.”

Kusla reluctantly lent his knees, and opened the book. Half of it was on his knees, and half was on Fenesis’,

“…Do you mind holding down that side?”

If the parchments of the book were not held down, they would be ruffled. Kusla could not be bothered with her, for he had to hold down his own book.

“I have to hold down my own book.”

“…”

Left with no choice, she could only lean out from above his thighs, and reach out to hold the book down. It ended up with her body ducked under his arm while he was holding down the book.

He recalled his time in the old workshop, that after he had tamed a stray cat, it would assume he was teasing it no matter how he tried to shoo it off, gleeing around him as he flipped the books. At this point, whenever he flipped a page, Fenesis under his arm would twitch.

The winding corridor was not necessarily devoid of people, for one or two would pass by from behind.

He was already used to receiving strange looks, this predicament left him shameful.

He was seemingly carrying a cat in his clutches at this point, able to withstand the cold even in this icy stone Cathedral.

The sun was over their heads, starting to set, shining into the reading room facing west. The silky hair of Fenesis shone under the shining, giving off a mysterious, faint purple and blue hue.

He had assumed her hair was simply white, but the shades of the light differed, and the color shown upon the silky hair would change.

This caused Kusla to recall the various events he had with Fenesis, and he had to sigh.

It was a lethargic, reluctant sigh of various emotions.

But to summize, it was probably ‘not a bad feeling’.

“…”

Kusla was stunned to realize he had such thoughts, and finally could not help but knock on her head.

“…Wh-what are you doing? I am not sleeping?”

It seemed she had assumed Kusla suspected her of sleeping.

“Concentrate.”

Kusla told her off, and took out a rubber band from the item bag on his waist.

“Your hair is leaving me restless.”

The sunlight shone in through the expensive glass windows, and the light was well suited for reading, but as it was too gentle, Kusla just could not concentrate on reading, but on Fenesis’ hair instead. For every book and page Fenesis opened, there would be a faint sweetness from her that triggered his sense of sleep.

Once he read his fourth book, Kusla had enough.

“Just let me read already.”

He reached out of her lush, silky hair, and with the rubber band, bundled it at the neck. Given Irine’s fiery personality, it was obvious hers was dry and loose, while Fenesis’ was smooth as silk.

Girls of nobility would surely be envious of Fenesis’ hair. Kusla lifted her veil, tied her veil, and then noticed her white, tender neck and fresh shoulders hidden beneath the veil and silky hair.

Her body looked startlingly frail, whether it was the front, back, or side, but her neck and shoulders had a strange gloss to them. The delicate neck was obviously different from a man’s, so soft that even a demon, not a blood-sucking one, would have the urge to bite upon it.

After some random thoughts, Kusla cursed himself for letting his thoughts run while. What am I thinking? She’s a brat. Don’t be fooled. For some reason, these were the words he thought of.

Of course, Fenesis had not realized what he was thinking, and was still focused on reading.

While reproaching himself by saying that he was not Weyland, he forced himself to focus on reading. At this moment.

“I say.”

Hearing her speak up, he was taken aback.

He pretended to remain calm, using all the experience he had. She then said,

“Do you think the typographical errors here are deliberate?”

“…Hm?”

Her words left him completely taken aback, and there was no need for theatrics for that.

He leaned his chin towards her shoulder, his eyes upon the book on her knees.

With her slender fingers, she pointed out the questionable words.

“Here….and here…and here.”

She was reading a book made of parchments of uneven sizes. The book was adorned with gold and gems, looking very luxurious, but on a closer look, one could see these decorations were placed on the rotting leather. These books had no readers, but they would be undignified if they looked decrepit alongside the other fancy books, and thus the actions done.

“…Copying a book is a struggle against pain and sleep. Try once, and you will understand. No matter how many times similar words are repeated, it is inevitable that mistakes will be made.”

“But.”

Fenesis said,

“If you piece them together…”

“Huh?”

Kusla responded, and scanned the opened page.

It depicted the city in its developing stages. Back then, the city should have been ruled by the pagans, so perhaps this was probably a fictitious story the historian had written, ignoring history itself. Perhaps this might be a local fable adapted into something beneficial to the winners.

It was written that after wandering for a while, the ancient sages discovered this port, assumed it was a gem trove, and decided to reside here. The pious people were converted by the sages, gathered here, and formed a settlement.

There were many such cities with similar fables. Fenesis probably was thinking too much as there was Kazan as an example.

But what left Kusla flabbergasted were the mistakes she pointed out, and he realized the meaning behind those mistakes.

“Hey, this is…”

“Hya.”

Kusla muttered away, and Fenesis let out a squeal, her body twitching uncomfortably.

“…”

It seemed it was due to his head leaning upon her shoulder, tangled with her neck.

While she was particularly concerned by it, she calmed down when he looked over at her.

There might be something more concerning.

The mistakes she found.

Looking at how similar the words were, it appeared it was not due to common syntax mistakes, and that the mistakes were due to homonym words.

On a rough glance, there were a few words that stood out.

“Book…spine? Ah, spine…and…no. Inside…spine?”

After piecing them together, a paragraph was formed.

“A coincidence…?”

Fenesis asked cautiously, her face still looking somewhat dizzy.

But in an alchemist’s experiment, it was not uncommon to discover God’s true intentions from a little coincidence. It was said that the boss of a merchant guild, who only worked to profit, would tally his fortunes on the accounts book, and one day, he found his fortune to be worth ten digits, all ten being the same, he awoke his faith in God, and sold off all his fortune, giving to the needy. Kusla surely was not doing so just to gain God’s approval, but he was interested in checking the book spine.

He nudged her aside, set the book up, and peered into the binding gap between the fancy cover and the parchments tied together.

Then, he looked towards Fenesis.

“You, keep a lookout.”

“Eh?”

He drew a dagger from his waist, and stabbed it into the binding gap.

She gasped, but he ignored her as he cut aside the thick ropes, and pulled it down.

She was completely flabbergasted, but whether she was stunned by Kusla’s sudden act of violence or–

“Is this a reward for believing in God every day?”

Kusla kept his dagger as he said so.

Before him was a book with scattered pages, and a rolled up parchment.

“Now, will this be money hidden by the bishop, or a forbidden love confession?”

“…Will, will it be such a thing?”

Fenesis asked, looking nonplussed.

“Which one? The hidden money?”

“Eh? No, erm, well…, the-the stolen money.”

This clumsy coverup left Kusla with the urge to snicker, but he did not tease Fenesis for this.

“Open it and you will know.”

Saying that, he opened the rolled up parchment.

One comment

  1. Hello Mr.Ping, can I ask you whether this project is still active or not please? Well, I kinda like this novel and it’s really sad if this novel is dropped.

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