[Magdala V6] Act 2

Though they were attacked by bandit-like brats the moment they entered through the town gates, once they saw the extraordinary bustling state of the town, they were left amazed. The people swarming into the town had just lowered their heavy goods, and there were many others who were holding all kinds of things, buying and leaving. Such crude trading could be seen everywhere.

Unlike the other cities that were clearly marked out, Yazon had some houses with pagan symbols, their roofs built with straw and dried mud, mixed together with wooden houses, creating a strange palette. While Kazan itself was intriguing for being built out of stone, the streets here were filled with the vibe of a bord town, yet it seemed the true purpose was to conceal a secret nobody knew of. A town properly planned out would have difficulty concealing things.

So they advanced through the town slowly, breaking through the crowds. Kusla discussed a few things with the spies. They were talking about Weyland’s improper character planning, for they would have to find another reason to explain why they were moving along with the spies disguised as merchants.

The result was that Kusla was from a  massive guild, and the merchants were supervisors sent from that guild, tasked with expanding their business profile in mineral trading. Weyland’s the bad friend, whose knowledge of metallurgy was decent, and came along to help them to earn a living.

“So first, what do you intend to do?”

When the gang arrived at the inn under the Knights domain, the spies disguised as merchants asked.

“I guess it’s about the same as a squirrel hiding its food.”

Korad Abria might have discovered the knowledge of the Ancients, and scattered clues all over the land.

And the knowledge, lingering despite being forgotten, would surely be left behind in pictures or other means.

“So you mean the blacksmith guild, the church…or the town hall. Otherwise, we’ll have to find the famous ones here.”

Logically, this should be the order, but Kusla thought of another place.

“Aren’t there a few mud houses? I heard the pagans record their histories on the mud floors.”

“Then we’ll go ask the local priests or hexes, but what excuses do we use?”

At this point, they were no longer alchemists, unable to use the might of the Claudius Knights to barge in on unexpected visits and demand for others to obey them.

Kusla pondered.

“Yes…those people might know about the grass and trees too.”

“Grass and trees? Herbs? Well, I guess so…but that?”

“Mines can be determined by the plants growing there, and smelting requires the suitability of the wood. We can try this line of thought.”

The honest, if somewhat lazy looking merchant was actually a bonafide spy.

He immediately understood.

“So we’re investigating the plants that can help with metallurgy, right?”

“We’ll go by the front and visit the blacksmith guild and church.”

“Understood. We’ll attack from the front and show up there.”

“Understood. Can we say that we rented the inn from the Knights? It’ll give an impression that we have a backer even the Knights won’t dare to offend. That alone should be enough to ensure that your identities won’t be exposed.”

“Noted.”

For merchants hoping to expand their avenues, visiting the prestigious nobles of the land was a must, nothing suspicious. Kusla watched them merge into the crowds on the streets with anticipation, and along with the porters, he carried the goods from the carriage to their rooms.

“…What are you doing?”

He entered the room, and these were the first words he said.

Fenesis was taken aback, and remained rooted in a strange position. She was like a kitten, caught in the middle of a prank. Next to her, Irine strode off in a quick, unique manner. Weyland’s movements were a tad slow, stiffly following Irine’s footsteps.

“One step forward, two steps, three steps, spin, and bow.”

A gentle spin, the toes touched the floor, creaking.

“I did learn because it’s fine. Guess I still remember it well~.”

“You really need practice, little Ul.”

Irine said with elation, and Fenesis reeled her chin in, looking up innocently.

“How about you join in?”

“Huh?”

Kusla raised an eyebrow, sighing.

“I’m the young master of a guild now. It’s natural for me not to be able to dance.”

Irine and the others were not doing a festival dance, but one akin to an identity, spread between various blacksmiths.

There were quite a few wandering blacksmiths seeking a place to reside, but despite that, they typically end up in the next town. Some would be sent for training, stationed at a nearby town for apprenticeship, honing their skills.

Or when there were insufficient blacksmiths, they would request for aid from a town with sufficient resources.

However, they might not necessarily know each other’s faces, so there was a need for identification. If they had to prepare parchments as identification whenever they sent people over, they would surely end up bankrupt. Thus, the blacksmiths started this unique dance as a clue.

Also, one added effect was that if they find people doing similar dances, the mood would brighten, and they would get along. A workshop is a place many work at, and camaraderie is a very important thing.

“Even though you say so…”

Irine gave Kusla a significant glance.

It was then that Kusla realized this was Irine lending him a hand.

If he practiced the blacksmith dance, he could remain by Fenesis’ side, and get lots of opportunities.

“Eh, leave little Ul to me then. I’ll rust if I don’t get to move~.”

Weyland said, and Irine glared at Kusla with a reproaching look.

“Anyway, you probably find this interesting too, right?”

Hearing Weyland’s question, Fenesis kept noting Kusla’s response as she turned to him, nodding as though she had difficulty refusing. She spent a lot of her life in the monastery, and before then, was on the run while concealing her identity, so logically put, she probably never had a comfortable life where she could experience a peaceful life in which she could dance.

Also, while Fenesis’ appearance was more like a demure girl, one might notice, on a closer look, that it was not the case. It was not strange to imagine her lifting her skirt and dancing happily, even though clearly she was dressed as a slender boy.

Kusla, unable to enter the circle in time, put down the belongings unhappily.

Suddenly, Fenesis asked,

“Do you want to practice together?”

She was a little bashful, for he had just seen her dancing clumsily, or maybe, for another reason. Kusla looked back at her, his words nearly sputtering out from his mouth.

But Irine’s stinging stare eased him a little.

“I…no.”

He corrected himself.

“I guess you’re right.”

Seeing how Fenesis’ face brightened at that moment, one could only imagine how correct that choice was.

“Surely you will be able to dance well.”

She giggled conceitedly, a little impishly. It was obvious that Fenesis was the dull-witted once, but Kusla would admit he was more unlikely to dance than Fenesis.

“But since I have to learn, I will have to learn a real one.”

Kusla put up the least bit of resistance, telling Irine that.

“I’m not going to teach you a fake one~.”

Weyland refuted flatly, as though he had seen through everything. Kusla and Weyland wordlessly exchanged looks, and Irine got between them to resolve this argument.

“I can. Of course, Weyland can dance too. Now won’t we all look like we’re on good terms?”

“That’ll creep me out.”

Kusla flatly stated his thoughts, and Irine smiled. “Same here.”, so she answered. Weyland looked as though his goals were not accomplished, but he did not resist any further, probably because he was bemused by Kusla’s foolish self.

But just when the trio began their little skirmish, Fenesis was the only one who was happy.

“It is my first time dancing with everyone.”

She was beaming, but if agitated, tears might fall from her face.

Kusla felt that the reason why he was so attracted to Fenesis, and why he dithered over the prospect of touching her, was simply because he was restrained by that fragile innocence.

“Then what do you want to do? Rehearse before going to the guild?”

Fenesis looked eager to dance with everyone almost immediately.

It was difficult to be the contrarian against the correct answer.

“Even the young master of a merchant guild has to show that he worked hard before.”

Such might be the answer to Irine’s question.

“This is really important.”

Fenesis chimed in excitedly.

 

The results were as predicted.

Kusla got the hang of it soon after, and Fenesis never improved at all.

It felt as though she was a young child who had not buttoned properly, unconfident, rather than just being dull.

The two teachers were scowling away. Irine’s reaction was a given, but even Weyland was not taunting Kusla. They were just looking at Fenesis, looking concerned.

Kusla was showing mixed feelings on his face, not just at how Fenesis was, but also a perplexed feeling, as though a peaceful time was happening after the past surreal events had happened.

“Uu~…”

Fenesis herself was like a child, on the verge of throwing a tantrum. She lowered her head, puffing her cheeks, her lips raised really high. There was always a part where she missed the beat.

A blacksmith dance differed from the simplified footwork of a folk dance at a festival. It was originally meant as an identification, so there were a few difficult parts. Other blacksmiths too would do use variations in the same method to distinguish themselves.

Also, the dance steps might have an intent to boast, to show that one side was dexterous enough to continue with such a difficult tempo, that they were better than the others.

“Well, it’s no wonder you can’t get it immediately. I did practice it secretly at the workshop

“But…”

Fenesis peeked at Kusla.

“I’m capable of doing everything really well.”

He boasted, and Irine retorted dumbfoundedly,

“At the very least, you’re not suited to dress up like a blacksmith.”

There were clearly other hints in these words, but Kusla naturally chose to pretend not to hear.

“Also, if you can’t get it, just practice until you can.”

“Nice words~.”

Kusla was hit with another sly dig, but if he backed down here, Weyland would not let him off that easily.

He lowered his head at Fenesis, saying,

“Don’t forget, this needs time.”

The words contained an excuse Kusla said to himself.

“The problem is, even after doing that, you can’t expect a witch to sneeze immediately?”

“Eh?”

Fenesis was taken aback, and she turned back to look up Kusla.

“It’s an idiom meaning that time won’t stop.”

Kusla stretched his arms out to remove his upper garments.

“Who knows how the war will change now. Better get investigating. Are you going to keep practicing until you master the dance?”

Irine merely shrugged.

“The spies greetings will end soon. News of our arrival probably reached the guild. We can’t let their assistance be for naught.”

“I guess. We’re going to get our bodies limber, and right before the furnace is the perfect place for me~.”

Weyland might have been satisfied if he was openly agreeing with Kusla.

“That’s how it is.”

Kusla said to Fenesis, who lowered her head unhappily.

Looking down at her, he continued with a stoic look,

“I’ll dance you you later.”

Fenesis lifted her head, smiling elatedly,

“Please do.”

Kusla snorted as he took in that smile, and left the room.

On the corridor, Irine jabbed an elbow at his flank, probably not to mock him, but something despite.

Despite that, the unhappiness never vanished from his face.

Why was he toiling so much? The more he thought about it, the more bothered Kusla was.

 

It was a waste of time for the gang to flock to the guild, so Kusla went to the chapel, leaving the guild to Weyland, though he did not expect the latter to rope Fenesis along, and Irine followed him instead. There was no need for them to move in pairs. Irine herself was illiterate, so he assumed Weyland would bring her along instead.

However, Kusla had a change of mind. The chapel contained not only words, and various sculptures and paintings might leave some message behind. If it was Irine, she might be able to find some hints relating to metallurgy. In the guild, they would have to pretend to ask for jobs while actually investigating if there was any hidden arts or legends. This task would be more suited for the smooth talker Weyland, and with a lackey like Fenesis who knew nothing, the other party might let its guard down.

So Kusla pondered as he tried to convince himself, leading Irine to the chapel. He offered a few fragrant candles to the priest, and in his same old manner of striking a conversation, he said he wanted to pray.

“So you’re blacksmiths travelling around? I see, so you hope to get a good job? Come come, welcome. Over here.”

This chapel was not as majestic as a Cathedral in Nilberk or any other city, one built of stone with a grand bell tower. The structure was a little desolate, but the interiors remained beautiful.

And yet one had to wonder, why is it so glorious? It was a wooden structure, and behind the prayer altar was a large glass stained window with the illustration of an angel.

“I can’t tell if it’s meant to be extravagant or not.”

“Well, it’s a bustling town. Maybe it’s not that they’re lacking funds, but since they’re living with pagans, if they pull anything too fancy, it’ll just result in unhappiness.

“Sure reminds me of Gulbetty…”

For someone who was one the leader of the guild, the tussle for authority within the walls was often the lesion for headaches.

“And this town is surrounded by forests. I heard that glass is expensive because most of it goes to fuel.”

“Ah, this is right. I’m jealous of how much fuel they have. Back in Gulbetty, and I had to fight with the other guilds.”

“In that case, the metalworks here should be doing well.”

“Any interesting stories left behind?”

Irine shrugged. There were thirty, forty or so people within this cramped chapel, and besides an old lady who seemed to have a lot of free time, there was a man dressed as a traveller praying with his family. He probably was headed off for a journey.

Kusla and Irine sat side by side at the last bench in the chapel, and began to pray.

“Never thought you’re pretty pious.”

It seemed Irine was the first to open her eyes and left her head.

“I probably can act in a somewhat decent manner.”

“…Are you really adaptable or not?”

Irine said, looking dumbfounded, and he nodded, having recently noticed his own clumsiness.

“So? What are we doing?”

“Go ask the priest just now.”

They got up to leave their seats, and left the church by the corridor. It’s a small wooden chapel, but structurally, it was similar to the other Cathedrals.

However, there was another thing they noticed besides the glamor of its appearance.

“This is,”

Irine widened her eyes.

“A legend…no, the creation of this town.”

Chapels often have a corridor to revisit the past. The people back then were more foolish than now, and for those who knew no words, the chapel would depict the contents of the Bible in the form of illustrations. The corridor is meant to ensure there was enough wall space.

At this point, such could be witnessed because prior to the previous generation, this was the frontline they could spread their religion.

“Is that…a travelling friar? With a book in hand. It’s probably saying his back is against the sun, covered in clouds, bringing light into the dark forest, and opened up the place.

“I can’t see the ears…”

Irine narrowed her eyes at the wall, but unfortunately, the friar’s hood was really lowered, and the ears could not be seen. Clearly he was dressed as a traveller, and there were several others dressed like him, tailing him.

“And what…is this?”

The murals were like a picture scroll on the wall, and the story developed as they went further in.

In the forest, the beasts and shadows were scattered aside, and there was an open land, where the town was raised. There were many gathered at the center.

“Are these…the Pagans?”

Gathered around what appeared to be a well were a group of people, the priests and the town folk, along with people dressed in rich dark robes of a different religion. They were holding the symbol of a foreign priest, a worn out staff.

However, it appeared they were not antagonistic against each other.

Both Kusla and Irine looked up at the sky in unison, and it appeared something was coming out from the well.

“Is it rare?”

They turned towards the source of the voice suddenly asking them, and found that it was the priest.

“Those from the South often look confused by this.”

There was no guilt in the beaming smile. The town itself resembled one at least, and there was no need to conceal the fact that they were on good terms with the pagans.

“But this town had been recognized by the Pope.”

“What do you mean?”

Asking this time was Irine. Considering that the blacksmiths were often conservative, her curiosity was extraordinary.

“What they call Pagans actually come in various forms. Some are hopelessly involved in evil religions, and some embraced the wrong ones due to their own mistakes. For the people who lived on these lands since ancient times, there were a minority who worshipped the same God as us. This is proof of a miracle granted by God’s blessing. It was said an angel once descended upon this place.”

Even Kusla could sense Irine tensing up when she heard this. In the past, he would sneer at these words, but after his experiences in Kazan, he could only assume that any legend, or even rumor, was a warped version of history.

“It’s said the angel of knowledge and light, Lumière, once came to this place.”

Knowledge…and light.

Kusla asked,

“Does this have anything to do with the founding of this town?”

The story depicted on the mural started off with a friar holding a book, his back facing the sun as he dispersed the darkness.

“Yes, of course. Getting down to it, it’s because of the legend here that we know that on this land, those called pagans are brothers with us. It was said that when this land was covered in darkness and ice, and the envoy who shooed the beasts and pain away descended from the heavens. He had the power of a sun, and purged all the plagues through the light no eyes could stare at. It was exactly the same as it was described in the Bible.”

The depiction involved an angel wielding a sword in one hand, and a book in another.

He was a common, familiar existence in the books of alchemy that were furbished splendidly. There were dozens of angels and demons, but one at least would be similar to the pagan’s dreams. That was what the old Kusla would have thought.

But his experiences at Kazan happened.

“So the light nobody could stare directly at is a dragon after all?”

The moment Kusla mentioned this, the priest blinked.

“Oh, God. We heard about the rumors. The Claudius Knights raised an envoy of calamity.”

He shook his head, sounding terrified,

“I’m not sure of the dragon. Heard that it was a weapon so vicious, nobody expected it to exist. However, our Angel is not the case. He was not using the hellfire that scorched everything, and as it goes, it was a light of kindness brought about by the sun, a strange power. It’s like the sun was summoned to this land. Thus, our paintings often involve the sun.”

The priest looked up at the mural dotingly. Truly it did not contain any of the calamities as depicted in Kazan, an abnormal army leading dragons to trample upon the enemy.

“But despite this, we often hear of similar stories. Some can’t be verified to be a complete hoax. Thus, the legends about angels in this town is probably the only part different from the truth after all.”

The priest lifted his chest proudly, point at the continuation of the murals.

It was common to be proud of their hometowns, especially when they have unique legends.

The legend of Kazan was shocking, and these stories here were the opposite, silly and ridiculous.

The legend of Kazan was shocking, and these stories here were the opposite, silly and ridiculous.

“The legend goes that an angel once presented a handful of ash to humanity, informing them that it’s ash that can produce silver and gold. The people then scattered the ash onto the ground, using them as fertilizer to grow silver and gold, which they used as investment in the town. There are other places with such legends abound, but this one has a clear proof left behind, this town.”

The priest said gleefully.

The ancestor who founded our town was a sage who once wandered through, or a lost king who was led by the pixies of the springs. Most stories of a town’s creation would end right at the moment of the opportunity, and never went into details on how they gathered the money to build, and others.

Kusla’s eyes widened, his lips showed a rare smirk, for this legend was too weird, yet despite it being all silly, there was some proof to it. Is it because the person describing this story sounded like a blacksmith? Or was it that there was some element of truth to what happened?

“Also, the Pope himself has granted his recognition.”

Looking over at where the priest pointed giddily, Kusla’s lips showed a bolder smile.

At the end of the murals, there were words written in fluid handwriting.

 

——This legend has been verified by the Pope’s inquisitorial council.

 

It was signed by Korad Abria.

The Ancients came to this land eons ago, and left behind technology that could rival the Gods, or so the inquisitor believed. Kusla was present because he found the words left behind by the inquisitor in Nilberk.

And if they could find more technology of the Ancients, surely it would be one on part with the dragon flamethrowers.

For example, something that could cause an envoy to descend from the heavens. For example, a way to summon the sun to the lands. For example, miracle ash that could facilities the growth of gold and silver.

If this signature was proof that the three otherworldly skills did exist, Kusla had nothing to say.

Was it a show of Korad Abria’s fanaticism, or the amazing technology the Ancients had?

“So, your seeking of work in this town might be the most logical thought. The one rule this Yazon abide in, is kindness like the sun.”

While the conclusion in the end was nothing much to talk about, Irine next to him seemed really impressed.

“Even so, the war isn’t looking like it’ll end, and the seeds of misfortune won’t vanish from the world. It’s really tragic.”

For some reason, the Church people were always exaggerated. Kusla had assumed the priest looked suspicious because of this.

“Also, since you’re looking for work in this town, I hope you’ll take note of something.”

“Yes?”

Kusla asked, and the priest pointed at his temple, as though trying to extract the source of his migraine.

“There’s a group of craftsmen you should never involve yourself with. They’re the ones who defiled the legend of the sun on this land. They might be planning to rope in any unwitting, wandering blacksmiths along. Their sins are heavier than the pagans. Never ever

The priest sounded as though he was discussing something filthy.

“Now, what they produce is really great, but it’s better not to get involved with them. They’re…”

Hearing the explanation, Kusla was increasingly incredulous.

Irine too might have felt the same.

The priest himself seemed to understand how they felt as he continued to explain more.

It was said they worked deep in the forest, away from the crowds.

It was said they had the wisdom of witches.

It was said they removed the blessings granted by the sun.

“But that work was so unexpectedly hated.”

Once they left the church, Irine expressed her utmost surprise.

“It’s really rare to see such things in this town. I thought it’s a job to be respected though. Besides, isn’t everything using all kinds of things just to get what them?”

“And it’s expensive.”

“Clearly that church has those things.”

Irine criticized the priest emotionally, probably having witnessed how baseless accusations resulted in the white kitten-like cat to be cruelly treated.

But Kusla himself found this to be pretty strange. He felt that the craftsmen the priest really reviled were in charge of producing something extraordinary.

“Glass makers?”

Honestly put, while there was glass in the town, there was no glass maker to be seen. Kusla had always assumed that glass had to be produced in certain areas, so while there were many towns famed for producing glass, they were simply restricted to those towns, and thus, a town typically would not have glass.

“What do you think about this?”

Irine stood before the church, looking over at the crowds as she asked,

“Well…leaving aside those craftsmen, I really like the legend about the sun. There’s something kind about it, but how does it work in reality? I can’t imagine at all. Did that really happen?”

Kusla did not know how serious Irine was, but he had some thought about it.

“While the legend has some truth to it, it’s not exactly the whole truth. If that’s the case, well, I got an idea.”

“Eh? You’re kidding, right? Which one?”

“Well…there are three points that can explain it.”

“…”

Irine gulped nervously, and sensed that she could finally see Kusla’s side as an alchemist after a long time.

“Actually, there’s only one crucial point. The ash.”

The strange ash could create silver and gold when scattered upon the ground. Irine showed a confused smile, for the legend of the ash was beyond her understanding.

“There’s a saying since the past that silver and gold are plants. That ash is probably a fertilizer.”

“R-really?”

“Have you seen golden crystals? They look like moss growing on rocks. Pure copper and silver are the opposite. They look like roots growing deep underground. Once your see these crystals, you’ll understand why the Ancients said that silver and gold are plants. Crystalline minerals do look like mushrooms.”

“Eh, then, wait…”

“But an alchemist’s nature is to experiment before he can be satisfied. After many years of growing, the conclusion is that silver and gold won’t just grow out like that.”

Irine found it a regret, and yet relieved, and Kusla continued,

“Despite that, in another thousand years or two, they might really grow…maybe some might develop fertilizers that will cause silver and gold to grow.”

What intrigues alchemists is the hidden possibility.

But for every incredible legend that leaves people excited, the ending would typically be boring.

“Actually, except for the ridiculous ones, I can think of the basis of the ash legend.”

“Huh, eh?”

“A forest fire.”

Irine was left all the more confused.

“We don’t often hear about them nowadays, but in the past, there were beds of silver and gold lying bare on the ground. If there was a forest fire, it becomes a natural furnace, and the silver and gold just shows up. It looks like a spring of them.”

The last bit was an aged metaphor, and Irine’s eyes were looking into the distance.

She might be reminiscing the scenes back then.

“Since there might be traces of a forest fire, there has to be ash everywhere. Once they look like scattered ash, the silver and gold will just grow out. Also, the flaming hills might have been seen as the sun falling down, and the kings of the forests, the wolves, the bears, and other beasts, would have to run away without a fight. An angel descending from the heavens might refer to the cause of the forest fire, typically a thunderstrike. This should be the basis of the legend.”

Irine gulped.

However, Kusla was a little delighted to see that face, for her face was one of regret. While she had a realistic view of this, she was somehow eager to accept the unrealistic.

“Also, most of the legends are like this…in that case, is it possible that we can’t find the Ancients’ knowledge here?”

If the basis of this legend simply involved a forest fire, then it had nothing to do with technology.”

“B-but they’re strangely hostile to the glassmakers, and involved the legends too. Does it really not matter at all?”

“Hm.”

Kusla could only answer thusly.

“Assuming that the legend is real, Abria hid something on this land.”

“Hm?”

“Don’t you think this is the perfect place to hide something?”

“What do you mean?”

Kusla shot a sarcastic sneer.

“Rotting things are often hidden by a lid.”

If the high officials of the town ordered the people not to involve themselves with the glassmakers, then the glassmakers would naturally be secluded, never interacting with the outside world. After all, they live in a forest.

If it was the result of someone’s ploy to conceal the real reason…

While Irine found the assumption to be logical, it seemed she was not a fan of Kusla’s thought process. She scowled, and said,

“So, we’re investigating those glassmakers?”

Faced with Irine’s accusations, Kusla shrugged.

“Trust will blind a person’s eyes, but without any modicum of trust, nothing new can be discovered. An alchemist has two different people living inside.”

“Oh, I see. No wonder you’re so untrustworthy.”

Kusla was unused to receiving praise, but he certainly heard his fair share of insults.

“We’re looking for lost ancient technology, not a forest fire.”

“I know that. It’s just that after leaving the town, I’m just interested in some strange things. It’s just…a little embarrassing for me to be fully invested in such thoughts…”

Searching for the absurd is not something a good citizen, an esteemed blacksmith should have.

“This doesn’t sound like anything I heard before.”

Kusla coldly looked towards Irine, for the latter always gave him a huge verbal lashing whenever the topic involved Fenesis.

Irine stared at Kusla unhappily.

“…These two things aren’t the same.”

“Hah.”

Of course, Kusla himself realized it was just a little payback.

“But do you know how to produce glass?”

“Just the knowledge from books. Never actually got down to doing it. It’ll be really time consuming if I do so.”

Kusla answered as he strode forth. Irine too followed suit.

“I thought there’s nothing more complicated than smelting metals. Is glass really more difficult than that?”

“I know it needs temperatures similar to iron.”

It seemed Irine knew how difficult it was when he said so.  Iron was one of the toughest metals to control. It’s difficult just to maintain the temperature, additives had to be added in cautiously, and the fire control was delicate.

“Also, lots of additives are needed if we want to make good glass…right, I remember. I heard the glassmakers are pretty secretive about such knowledge.”

“Is that so?”

“Adding anything will result in a completely different outcome. But, I see…maybe that’s the reason why they’re doubted?”

Irine deliberately snorted,

“Well, it’s knowledge and experience they gained for themselves, and nobody really wants to share it. I can understand that.”

She retorted accusingly.

Irine was once half-threatened by Kusla to create a replica of the Damascus steel. The skill was a secret her husband and the blacksmiths his age kept for themselves in order to survive.

“But, speaking of which.”

“Huh?”

Kusla asked, and saw Irine grimacing,

“I understand the feeling of wanting to understand a knowledge I don’t know. Fire control especially, since it might be of help in smelting metals.”

Kusla chuckled. Irine herself was truly one with her profession.

“So, let’s go meet up with little Ul. They might have gotten something themselves.”

“Let’s do that.”

Kusla answered, and they moved off to the inn. Then, Irine said,

“Ah, before that, I want to go elsewhere. Is that okay?”

“Huh?”

“The blacksmith street.”

She was really just thinking about work, not clothes, not food. This was truly something to be impressed by.

And yet, intriguing.

“In that case, you could have just gone with Weyland.”

And Irine, who was about to walk off in a completely opposite direction, turned around,

“I don’t mind that, personally, but I’m scared if you might kick up a fuss.”

It was an indomitable smile.

Kusla sighed dejectedly, and Irine burst out laughing. Kusla could actually prod a little or grab Fenesis by the nape, but Irine would not stop just because of this.

Though he found Irine a troublesome woman, strangely, he was not unhappy with her.

“Whatever you please. I’ll be going back to the inn–“

Before he could finish.

“Come along too.”

A tad later, Kusla stared right at Irine.

“What?”

“Did you forget what happened when we entered town? I don’t want to be moving alone in a foreign town. I’m a weak girl.”

“…”

You’re really troublesome, so Kusla clearly expressed on his face. Irine put her hands on her hips, saying unhappily,

“Seriously, pay me back for the debt you we.”

To an outsider, such a scene might resemble lovers having their usual squabble.

In fact, Kusla was showing weakness with a bitter grimace, and looked no different from a man who had his lover sit on his face.

Kusla knew very well that he owed Irine a huge favor.

“…I thought I was the one who brought you out of Gulbetty.”

Back then, Irine was eager to leave, but could not. Especially since she’s a woman, which made things more difficult.

“We’re already even. I made the fake Damascus steel for you.”

She was right, and so, Kusla dithered on his reply. Irine would never let this slip.

“Now, this won’t take too much time, right? Or are you a scoundrel who knows not of repaying?”

If it had been before he met Irine and Fenesis, he would have curtly answered, yes.

However, the red eyed girl before him was not just some passer-by on the street he would never meet again.

And he knew of the situation. It would be troublesome if he made Irine his enemy. He did not want to know what would happen to himself if she teamed up with Weyland, using Fenesis as a tool. A long time ago, Irine and Fenesis teamed up in an elaborate ploy to fool him. Irine herself knew how to use this fact well.

Kusla, never used to admitting defeat in a debate, could only look afar.

“Alright, let’s keep going.”

Fenesis was often tailing Kusla frantically, but Irine confidently strode off. Of course, he could have chosen to ignore her, but he foresaw that if he did so, nothing good would happen.

Kusla sighed hard, and slogged his feet behind Irine.

 

Yazon’s blacksmith street seemed to function as a market too, and the blacksmiths were working with benches laid out from their workshops, taking the samples off their walls from time to time, touting to any traveling merchant or townsperson.

Some tried to break up the monotony by creating noises, hammering metals, grinding saws on wood, singing blacksmith songs out loud. If Fenesis, whose ears were really potent, was present, she might be in a daze.

Of course, Kusla did not hate any of this. Such erratic chaos was brimming with life, causing him to be internally riverted.

“Lots of iron tools here. Hm…”

Irine chose a hoof on the wall, muttering while mesmerized.

Typically saying, it would be an intriguing sight to see a girl of Irine’s age holding a hoof on the blacksmith street, but it was not unnatural in the slightly. Her presence as a blacksmith was really heavy.

“Still inferior to the one in Kazan.”

Kusla shrugged. The mines surrounding Kazan were as abundant in iron and copper as wells. Of course, the refining skills there was a lot more developed. It would be cruel to compare them.

“To be honest, for such quality, it’s a little…no, it’s very expensive.”

Irine hushed her voice. They were standing before a workshop of a nail maker. There were several boxes dividing the areas, and nails of various sizes were in them. There was a large man with arms the size of Irine’s waist holding a scorching red piece of metal, pulling it through a little hole on a steel plate. The metal string pulled out would become a nail.

“Hm, but is it because of inflation? Guess it’s to be expected here…”

“More than the skills, the iron used here is the problem…”

Kusla took the nail up, and said,

“Is there any difficulty in the refining? The furnace, maybe?”

“Lack of skills? Or the minerals?”

While the duo were whispering away, a merchant exclaimed exaggeratedly.

“Is this all you can sell?”

The apprentice called to run the shop’s business kept working as he answered impatiently,

“You don’t have to buy, Mr Merchant.”

“Ghhh…”

Even though the quality was insufficient, they could only buy what was there.”

“Damn it! Choose some that can be used to repair a carriage.”

“Sure.”

This merchant might have visited the other workshops, and gave up.

However, the apprentice did not appear to be capable of selling things. He was looking gloomy.

Once he saw the disciple and the surrounding liveliness, Kusla shrugged.

“This might be on purpose.”

Such words left Irine frowning,

“They lowered the quality on purpose? Which foolish guild would allow this to happen?”

“You just saw the situation, right? Even if the quality’s a little worse, they can only choose to accept. This is probably what the blacksmiths aimed for.”

Kusla tossed the inferior nail back into the box, continuing,

“Looking at how there’s lots of impurities, it’s very likely that it’s due to incomplete roasting. My guess is that the fuel has been drastically reduced.”

When smelting, a day and night’s worth of fuel is required to maintain high temperatures. Impurities are then removed to obtain high quality iron.

“Hm, but I don’t know whose is this.”

 

“…”

Irine stared into the box of nails, looking grim. She took the position of guild leader unwillingly, but she did have some lingering sense of responsibility regarding the management of blacksmiths.

“I heard this is a town of many religions. If the merchants are in control, the town will run as they say. So–“

Right when Kusla was about to finish his words, Irine again looked towards the bustling blacksmith street.

Then, the ponytail behind her swayed before Kusla as she entered again.

Kusla had no chance to call for her.

Looking at the sample hanging off the workshop wall Irine went to, there should probably be some large tool specifically meant to craft swords and axes.

For a moment, he wondered if she was going to complain to the blacksmiths, but on a second thought, she probably was not this nitpicky. He peeked in from the outside, and saw her passionately exchanging words with the blacksmiths. Here’s a strange customer, so the notion appeared on their faces. Anyone would simply raise their guard as long as someone showed interest in their work, especially if it was a girl.

And Kusla, left outside the door, snorted out a sigh.

“She didn’t need me to come by anyway.”

So he muttered to himself, and suddenly noticed that it was as Irine said, he would pout.

Damn it…so he scratched his head. Something was definitely off about him.

However, it was pointless for him to keep waiting, and he did not want to join Irine’s group. So Kusla loitered around.

The town was lively, with lots of pagans, the things available full of foreign flair, interesting, but workmanship-wise, there was nothing worth taking note of. While Kusla wanted to see if there was anything resembling Kazan’s dragons, or anything that fancied his eye…something decent unexpectedly entered his sights.

Amongst the rows of blacksmiths, there was an extremely intriguing signboard, an illustration of a tool made by linking wheels together.

“A drug store?”

The aphrodisiac he mentioned to irine appeared in his mind. What am I being a fool for, so he lamented in his heart.

However, he recalled the legend he saw on the church. He did mention to the spies that they could use the plantations at the mines as an excuse to investigate, but assuming that the basis of it was a forest fire, perhaps they could really use it as a reason to. When the mineral beds are exposed to the elements, the plants on the surface will clearly change.

Of course, Kusla did not wish for it to be a forest fire. While it could explain the three points, the situation would change drastically if not the case, for it showed that the godly technology truly existed.

One of them involved fertilizers used to grow silver and gold, an interesting ash. Fertilizers would included remains of burnt plants, and a drug merchant might be someone to ask.

So Kusla thought as he wanted to push the door open. Right at that moment, he sensed someone next to him.

“Erm.”

He knew, without looking back, who it was. He hesitated on looking back, for he could tell from her tone how elated she looked the moment she spotted him.

“This is unexpected.”

Perhaps he should simply answer, yes. Alchemists did not have the habit of idle chatting once they meet anyone else in town.

Kusla looked back, and as expected, Fenesis was smiling so happily.

“Want to buy something?’

She, dressed in male clothing, really resembled a boy, and might have more confidence moving through a crowded town.

Clothing truly makes a person, it seemed.

“…What’s that Weyland doing?”

“Eh?”

However, she was a little perturbed by this question.

“E-erm…he said he will look at the workshop.”

“Hmph.”

Then, Kusla sensed that at the direction Fenesis was looking, Weyland was intentionally waving his hand.

Perhaps they did find Kusla out of coincidence, but Weyland could not have left Fenesis alone before leaving. It was very likely Weyland was nudging Fenesis, pushing her here.

Kusla did not know whether it was out of mockery, or earnesty, and sighed.

“So? When did your God tell you it’s fine to lie?”

The moment he said so, Fenesis shriveled in shock. Her eyes looked really vexed, and she probably was thinking, could you have pretended not to notice even if you did?

Kusla kept thinking of Irine’s words.

If he was not retorting with sarcasm, he was being stoic.

She was right on the money.

But he would be ashamed as an alchemist to know of the symptoms and not try to cure it.

He wanted to do his best.

“Perfect timing anyway.”

“…Wh-what do you mean?”

Fenesis asked, sounding wary, fearful of being teased by him again.

“Find something.”

“F-find something? In the shop?”

“There’s fever, stomach ache medicine, and various other stuff. Honey, dried sweet fruits.”

Fenesis seemed to scent upon a malicious intent to tease her.

“Look, I’m not making fun of you. This is a fact.”

She too might have realized that she was often careless whenever sweet foods were involved. Towards the very end, her leery attitude never relaxed.

Kusla shrugged reluctantly. He really had no intention of that.

“If you have anything you want to eat, I’ll buy for you.”

The pride and appetite clashed, and the expression on Fenesis’ face quickly changed, yet the result left Kusla highly surprised.

“…No need for that.”

For some reason, she looked really unhappy.

Kusla was feeling confused, as though he had seen an outcome never seen before despite it being the metallurgy work he was so familiar with.

Right when he was wondering how to phrase his answer, Fenesis muttered,

“I did not call for you because I had anything.”

“…”

He was overwhelmingly experienced to her in terms of alchemy, let alone arm strength. He could easily beat her whenever it came to bickering, to the point of shambles. However, Kusla was terrified of the girl before her. He had no intention to hurt her. He just wanted to pique her curiosity.

“More importantly, why this shop?”

It was Fenesis who changed the topic.

One had to wonder, who really was the matured adult.

Kusla found himself to be shameful, but it was a fact that he felt so relieved.

“I said I’m here to look for something.”

“…Sweet snacks?”

Fenesis threw a tantrum as she retorted. A smart girl she was.

Kusla answered deflatedly, admitting defeat,

“Look, I’m really not making fun of you. Don’t be so suspicious.”

The widened green eyes were exactly the same as a stray cat suspicious of others.

However, she was exuding the feeling of one who was fed several times, wondering if she should trust him.

“It is all down to the misunderstandings caused by your usual actions.”

“Sorry.”

Kusla said tiredly, and Fenesis let out a large, unique sigh.

“So, what is this thing you are looking for? This is…a drugstore no?”

She was reverting back to being the arrogant brat working as an invigilator when they first met.

But the situation was different. She, who was confident without reason and utterly pretentiously, was trained through experience, and Kusla himself was the one retreating.

The issue was, did he dislike this? Not at all, it seemed.

So Kusla, frustrated with himself, answered honestly.

“Of course, I’m talking about herbs. Alchemy doesn’t just involve minerals.”

“Eh?”

Fenesis might not have expected Kusla to answer with a serious look, and was clearly confused,

“B-but…you once said alchemists are not witches and such…”

When they first met, she seemed to have assumed alchemists to be wizards, boiling lizards and toads and the like in a cauldron.

Not a long time had passed, but she understood that was not the case. However, it was also fact that there would be no smoke without fire.

Kusla cleared his throat, and said with a grim face,

“Look, about witches…those are a little ambiguous.  Witches, alchemists, both can be said to be seeking to change things that typically can’t be changed through external factors. Our furnace can turn ores into metals, and herbs will change people’s bodies. It’s a fact that herbs are much more significant in magic than alchemy. You heard of them too, right? Hyoscyamine, belladonnas…and mandrakes.”

“Eh, then…those are…”

There were quite a few demonic plants due to countless legends, especially mandrakes which roots were said to be humanoid, and would let out shrill shrieks once they were pulled from the ground, causing all who heard them to die. There was also other folklore which stated that the mandrakes had to be tied to a dog’s feet, that the dogs were to be summoned from afar, so that the dogs would pull it out from the ground.

“I did use such plants to make medicine a few times…I never tried them, and I never asked the users, so I’m not too sure about the effects.”

Fenesis looked up at Kusla, looking completely mesmerized.

She was terrified of asking, and yet terrified of not asking.

She was a girl who dared not to head to the latrine alone at night, yet yearned to hear strange tales or folklore about the forest.

“Wh-what was the medicine?’

Kusla looked down at Fenesis with a serious look.

“An aphrodisiac.”

And seeing Fenesis’ dumbfounded look, he was pleased.

“The ingredients sound scary, but when I say it out, it really sounds foolish. In a certain sense, it might be considered a cursed tool.”

It would be considered cursed if it could really curse people to love those they never did. Kusla would have thought of it as a fraud he could laugh off as long as he would not use it as a tool for a political marriage like nobility.

“Of course, I’m not sure whether it’s effective or not. The ingredients aren’t that easy to get. Also, it’s just a little pastime. I’m really going to ask about this town’s legends…”

Suddenly, Fenesis had ignored Kusla’s explanation as she lowered her head, clearly with something on her mind. Kusla was puzzled.

He stopped, and Fenesis looked at him with teary eyes.

“Wh-what are you buying that for?”

A question could clearly show what the asker was thinking.

What she knew not of, what she was concerned about, what she wanted to know.

Fenesis wanted to know what Kusla was intending to use the aphrodisiac for, looking really stubborn in the meantime.

With a deadpan look, Kusla answered,

“Of course, I’m going to use it.”

“…”

Fenesis’ face was filled with despair. The maiden’s thought process was really simplistic.

Given the nature of an aphrodisiac one would thinking the usage of this drug is to force those who were not in love to fall in love.

Thus, she assumed Kusla was going to use it on a certain person other than herself.

For she and Kusla…

She was simply discreetly hoping for things to develop a little further. Kusla found it gaudy, and left it as it was.

Despite that, it was clear Fenesis was completely baited.

So Kusla reeled the bait in hard.

“I’ll use it on someone I don’t want hating me when she does hate me.”

It was called a drug to reclaim one’s love.

Then, he slapped Fenesis hard on the head.

A dumbfounded Fenesis looked up at Kusla, flabbergasted. One might say she was confused on how to react, rather than failing to understand the meaning behind those words.

In such moments, the body’s more honest than the intellect. Her cheeks immediately turned red, her lips curled into a triangle.

The emotions were unable to be restrained, like a taut bow.

Fenesis gritted her teeth, and yelled out loud,

“Well, great if they do sell it!”

I hate you!

She was seething all over, and yet Kusla could only scent upon the sweet fragrance of a fragrance bag.

Fenesis was utterly furious, yet her hand was tugging at Kusla’s sleeve hard.

So Kusla put his hand on the door of the drug store, thinking bemusedly that this was something not even an aphrodisiac could defeat.

 

They entered the shop, and an inexplicable scent came. Simply put, it was not not a simple dried herb, but the scent of plants with unique properties.

Kusla could distinguish a few from his memories, but to Fenesis, it seemed it was just a pungent, messy smell.

She held her nose, sneezing a few times.

“There’s quite a lot of stocks.”

The interior of the shop was pretty unique, and in the rectangular alignment, each wall had tables and cabinets lined upon them.

There were a few drawers on the cabinet, and each drawer had a parchment slip fastened by wires. There were tables of different heights, rows of cans, each filled with dried or powdered herbs.

There was a cashier facing the entrance, and behind it was a portrait of the Archangel Lumière, kindly looking down upon the people blessed by the herbs granted by the land and the sun, or even smiling down at those he knew would be using the medicine as poison.

There was nobody manning the cashier, perhaps as the person had left, and there were a few ridiculously airtight vials. They too had parchment slips on them, and the faded words were evidence that they had not been torn for a long time. The words on them were ‘iron hats’, ‘nobility sleep pills’, etc.

Such ‘iron hats’ were mostly used in war, and the floral shapes were reminiscent of such, and the villagers using it for hunting wild beasts would give it affectionate names, like ‘bird head’, ‘bird cap’, or ‘Aconitum’. A little bit would be enough to kill a bear or a wolf, so it was definitely potent. As the words implied, the ‘nobility sleep pills’ was a potent poison that could cause anyone to die in a sleep-like state, used for high ranking nobility who were unsuited for the gallows or beheading. Besides this puppet-like name, there was a comprehensive name called ‘poison ginseng’.

Of course, the shop did not only contain such poisons. There were herbs of various types, spices used in cooking. Fenesis was slowly getting used to the smell as she looked around at the fennels, cloves and mints, even twitching her nose.

In any case, while this shop sold poisons, the caretaker was careless. On a closer look, there were other precious items on the counter. There was a piece of glass the size of a loop formed by locking the index finger and thumb together, and resembled a water droplet on a canvas. It was something used to expand the size of the book, a glass the priests would use to read in the dark towers at night. It was an expensive item, yet so carelessly left aside.

Does a drugstore really earn that much? Kusla’s skepticism did not last long, for once he saw the parchment laid out on the counter, he understood.

It was not a notebook, but an epic depicting the heroics of the Knights.

Some careless apprentice was probably sent to watch the shop.

“Doesn’t seem to have what I want.”

Kusla said, and Fenesis finally recovered,

“I-is that so? A pity then.”

Her voice was shrill, and Kusla merely shrugged.

Only after their continued their conversation did the cashier notice customers in the shop, and exited.

As Kusla expected, it was a dull moving girl with blond, messy hair. She was a little taller than Fenesis, a little older, yet she was more devoid of confidence. Her shriveling back made her more diminutive. Looking at how she would use a reading glass however, it seemed she was rather cultured. Most likely, she was the lone daughter of the drug seller.

“…W-wel, come…”

She greeted the duo with a teeny-weeny voice, and sat on the chair. She peeked at the customers, Kusla and Fenesis, and returned to read the book as though she was on a pin cushion.

It was as though the duo had barged into someone’s reading room.

Kusla shrugged, and asked Fenesis,

“Have you heard of this town’s legends?”

Kusla said as he pinched some dried herbs from a vial, sniffed at it, and returned it. He remembered there should be a herb with amazing properties, capable of curbing fevers, headaches, quell excitements, and stop the development of a woman’s areolae.

An alchemist who valued logic and experience would simply shake his head and be leery of such claims.

“…I did.”

Fenesis would answer as long as she was asked. It was always because of this relief that Kusla would always tease her subconsciously.

“There really are some strange tales everywhere.”

“I do prefer this to the dragons. It sounds like a fairy tale…to be able to scatter ash and get gold and silver.”

Irine too said something similar. Women probably preferred glittering treasures in their stories to the violent legends of Kazan.

For a moment, Kusla considered informing Fenesis of the forest fire, but after a thought, he found it cute for her to have such an imagination instead.

“I came to see what was the plant source of the ash. The aphrodisiac is just a little pastime.”

Fenesis looked up to Kusla, and it seemed her rage was ignited a little again, but somewhere in there, she was relieved. Even if Kusla had obtained it and dismissed it as getting his love back again, there was no doubt it was the strong tool for a gigolo.

While Fenesis did say that the world’s more fortunate than it seemed, she was fundamentally like Kusla, always thinking that annoying, bad things often happened to her.

She wanted to treasure. As long as she felt this way, there was no need for any other reason.

Thee question shop was emitting a strange fragrance.

So Kusla nearly forgot the presence of a girl watching the shop as he knelt down before Fenesis.

“I can’t.”

Suddenly, an adamant voice echoed.

Kusla and Fenesis looked over to the voice, and saw the shopkeeper girl herself looking surprised.

It seemed she never expected herself to blurt out.

“You tried?”

A brief glance through the shop, and one could estimate hundreds of herbs and powder at least. It might sound simple, but using different powders would garner different effects, there were already hundreds of combinations.

“…So-someone…tried…”

She might be unused to talking with others, for she faltered once, and suddenly looked at her book again, her ears red.

“But…he…failed.”

“Hm, I guess. If he succeeded, he’ll be rich.”

That person could possibly buy the Claudius Knights completely.

However, this topic piqued Kusla’s interest greatly.

The brat did say someone tried it.

In other words, someone else assumed the legend did not originate from a forest fire.

“…A-are you interested…in this story?”

The shop girl said, never looking up from the book. She, the daughter of a medicine dealer, might prefer such stories.

After some pondering, Kusla answered,

“We’re on a journey to find work. This might be a good story to pass time on the carriage.”

A beat later, the girl did not respond, merely glancing at Kusla before shriveling back into her shell.

She had pretty sapphire eyes.

“Is there any other related rumors? I think a drug merchant might contain lots of interesting stories.”

It was because of this, that it was deemed the profession most suspicious after alchemist. They would have to enter the forest far from human sights when harvesting herbs, and those were the places only those familiar with go to. Also, they were rumored to be dealing with witches, most likely because they were simply stirring the cauldron and making medicine.

“There…there is…”

The girl stammered, probably because she too was suspicious.

However, it seemed there was no intent to end the conversation there.

The opposite, even.

Kusla was looking forward to seeing what she knew.

“I know me being with this little one here is a strange combination…but we’re blacksmiths. We’re looking for jobs, like the others. It doesn’t feel like we can stop here.”

If he had really tried looking for jobs in this place, the outcome would be the same.

They saw inferior goods when visiting the workshops, and Irine could not stand living in this town making such things.

“Is there any secretive rumor you can tell us of? Travellers should be fine, right?”

Though he was not talking to the priest, there should be quite a handful who loved to talk their legends.

A serious adult might be more prone to minding his words, but in contrast, a child brimming with curiosity would clearly love to continue.

Also, it was a girl reading an epic with an eyeglass, older looking yet prone to fantasies. Girls of similar age would be passionately picking flowers for the strong, sturdy blacksmiths around them, and she probably hardly had the time to talk to them.

So, Kusla wondered if he could hear some things about the town from her, and might find some clues.

Once he saw the girl’s serious face as she lifted her face, he shouldered a kinder smile than before.

 

What else to describe him but a prim and proper blacksmith? It was a smile crafted by an alchemist.

“That legend was real.”

The girl tersely answered.

“Really? But you said it’s been tried, but failed?”

“It’s real, so it was tried. The story of the ash, at least.”

Perhaps the girl was being presumptuous, due to her tone, or,

“What do you mean?”

Hearing Kusla’s question, the girl lowered her gaze for a moment, probably due to hesitation.

But there was intent in that gesture.

She looked up at Kusla, as though trying to buck herself up.

“A few people said they once saw such ash when they were young.”

Old heads were children at first…even when the old people said so, it was more of a superstition, but it seemed different coming from the girl’s mouth.

“So even after they become adults and old, they continued to seek such ash.”

Seek, fulfilling.

The false smile on Kusla’s face slowly became genuine.

It was not a bedtime story. There was some realism.

“That’s why lots of plants were gathered, and burnt to ash. This is also the reason why there are so many herbs in the shop.”

Kusla inadvertently looked around the shop

“This is the result of the people working hard, seeking the legend.”

The girl who loved heroic epics said in exaggeration, but Kusla did not dislike that about her.

It was a different matter from believing whether the legend was real.

No matter how ridiculous it seemed, anyone wanting to seek the truth to everything would leave behind knowledge through their arduous work, and would harken respect from anyone.

“Smelting and metallurgy are embodiments of knowledge after much seeking. I know how powerful it is. I know there’s no end to the search.”

Kusla said that not because he was acting, but because he was being sincere.

“Besides, your eyes say that you haven’t given up.”

He showed a sincere smile, for he sensed a nature similar to alchemists, one unwilling to give up no matter what.

People would resonate with those similar to them.

Hearing that, the girl’s face turned beetroot, but she did not shiver because of it.

“I-I believe that I will find it one day. Just…”

This was the first time she stammered.

She was bad at talking, yet she deliberately spoke to them, most likely because of something.

“Just?”

Kusla tried to get her to speak, and she did,

“That legend is about to vanish.”

“The legend?”

“Yes. Or rather, the people central to the legend.”

Such words left Kusla tense for a moment. The central figures in the Kazan legends were mutants like Fenesis.

“The legend of this town was between certain craftsmen to begin with. The people in the town are going to do cruel things to them. If-if you are interested in this legend, do you mind helping me?”

Kusla sensed something abnormal from his side, and turned over to see Fenesis standing stiffly.

He reached his hand out for her back, comforting her as he asked,

“And those craftsmen?”

The girl’s reply carried no hesitation.

“The glassmakers.”

The priest warned not to be involved with them.

The girl seemed to have realized this was the only way out as she made this determined look, and drew a letter out from the pages of the epic. She might have kept it in the book just in case.

“I can’t leave the walls, and I have nobody to entrust. So, traveler, please hand this letter over to the glassmaker in the forest. Also, please tell them, that the townspeople…intend to kill them all.”

The girl brought the letter to them with much anguish.

One would be highly criticized for handing such a letter over to a passing traveller.

But there was nobody else in town she could leave it to. The town was a concealed society. The girl’s actions were clearly a betrayal to her fellow citizens.

Fenesis seemed to have understood this, as she looked up at Kusla.

Despite that, they could not simply accept this letter out of sympathy. An alchemist would not simply falter.

To accept this, he would demand equal payment as leverage, and use the scale to weigh the risks and benefits.

“I have something to ask.”

Kusla looked towards the girl’s hand.

“Is the glass in your hand yours?”

“Eh? Ah!”

The girl seemed to have noticed she was holding onto the glass.

The way she held it was of one praying to a source of power.

“That…yes!”

“It’s really expensive. You bought it?”

The girl slowly brought the piece of glass in her clutches to her chest.

Then. she shook her head.

“My eyes aren’t good…the glassmaker who knew of this made one for me.”

Saying that, she looked towards the glass in her hand. Her cheeks were red, her expression a heartbreaking blissful. That alone would be enough reason to betray most in the town.

She probably fell in love with the glassmaker.

“Even without this…the glass made by them gives us light. They can’t possibly be bad people. I want to express my thanks no matter what.”

“Even if you betray this town?”

Kusla deliberately taunted, but unexpectedly the girl, nodded.

She looked so timid and weak, yet she had an adamant heart.

Kusla once saw such eyes before, and inadvertently sighed.

The girl was telling the truth, or so it seemed. It seemed she did establish a friendship with the glassmakers. There might also be the possibility of the glassmaker capturing the girl’s heart for their purposes, that if there was anything abnormal, she could alert them.

However, the important thing to Kusla was that the letter could become an opportunity. He had no intention of getting involved between the townspeople and the glassmakers, but he could probably use this gesture to ask something from the glassmakers.

It seemed the legend of the ash was not something that could be simply dismissed.

There were lots of them depicted as if they really happened, and lots with people claiming to have witnessed. There were few witnesses however who actually did lots of experimentation.

And according to her, the glassmakers were the original people involved in this legend, yet they lived in the forest, and were deemed antagonists by the townspeople. He could not let it slide.

In that case, this letter might be a key prepared for him.

The glassmakers all stayed in the forest to work, and were on bad terms with the town. If a traveler was to simply appear before them, the traveler might end up shooed away.

“Understood.”

So Kusla quickly accepted the letter.

“I’ll deliver it for you. That’s all. Don’t expect much more.”

At the very least, he would be honest.

“I understand.”

The girl said, and lowered her head.

“Thank you.”

She resembled one who went limp after finally solved a case file.

Kusla looked at the sides of the letter, and brought it to his clutches.

He felt that he was putting something really hot into his chest.

 

“Now this ends up really weird.”

Once he left the drugstore, Kusla brought the letter to his hand.

“Some might end up saved. Let us go deliver it.”

If the glassmakers would really be murdered because of maligned crimes, they should be delivering the letter, but since Fenesis called herself a partner of an alchemists, he hoped she would prioritize other reasons.

But another reason left Kusla shrugging.

“What is with you?”

“Hm? What?”

Kusla answered,

“I think that little girl is really just like you.”

“Eh!?”

Fenesis subconsciously stroked her hair. Kusla was a little taken aback by her response. Perhaps she was a little jealous of those with blond hair.

 

“Someone who’s extremely presumptuous, brazen, and callous.”

She was willing to betray the whole town because she fell in love while accepting the eyeglass, and even entrusted the letter to a passing traveller.

Fenesis puffed her cheeks angrily.

“But somehow, I always end up relenting at the end.”

Kusla chimed in the last bit, and Fenesis pursed her lips, tapping at his waist. She was fuming, yet she looked a little happy.

They continued walking, and a little further ahead, they saw Irine and Weyland. The latter was knelt by the roadside, drinking some wine or a beverage he bought from the roadside, while Irine stood next to him, folding her arms. Both of them were chatting as they watched the passers-by.

“Those two really don’t stand up even at such a place.”

Kusla muttered without thinking, and Fenesis too nodded, looking a little surprised.

“They really blended in…shockingly well.”

But Irine was originally a resident of a blacksmith street, and Weyland was not too different.

“It’s a little impressive.”

Kusla could somewhat understand this feeling.

“It’s like they’re old tools who have been used for long.”

Kusla said, and looked down at Fenesis next to him.

Fenesis so happened to look back up at him.

“You look like you just joined.”

Kusla preferred to detect what the other party would say, and strike first.

More than regret, he found a joy similar to whenever he talked to Irine.

“Ah, they’re here.”

While they were talking, Irine spotted them, and came running over.

Weyland himself finished the beverage, and smashed the mug on the ground. It shocked Fenesis, who widened her eyes. Cleaning ceramics were a relative chore, and most of the time, they were shattered after use.

“Anything interesting~?”

“Got a passionate love letter here.”

“Eh?”

Weyland gave a vague smile of surprise, a rarity from him.

He glanced towards Fenesis to observe.

“It’s an important one. Will be disrespectful to take it as a joke~.”

“Eh, this is about it. The owner couldn’t find anyone to leave this with, it seemed, so she asked me to deliver, to some dangerous place.”

“Hmph. We heard of some suspicious things too~.”

Weyland turned his eyes towards Irine,  who shrugged exaggeratedly

“As you expected, the blacksmiths in this town have greatly cut down their fuel consumption, making such crude products.”

“Anything to do with the suspicious bits?”

Kusla asked, and raised his chin, hinting for them to head there.

They left the blacksmith street, and when the passers-by were fewer, Irine spoke up here.

“The blacksmiths here seem rather capable. They know the iron’s of bad quality, but they could only grunt and keep working. It’s not because they didn’t know how to use the fuel, but that they had to cut down.”

Hearing this explanation, Kusla recalled the apprentice’s look when he sold the crude nails to the merchants. The apprentice seemed really peeved, not happy in the slightest.

“But this really is weird. What I see is that there’s a rich forest outside the walls. It’s like, they’re people drifting on the seas; there’s water, but they can’t drink.”

“It’s worse than that. They’re just floating on a lake, but some people were guzzling down the lake water.”

“Hm.”

The entire picture was coming together.

“The glassmakers?”

They removed the grace of the sun completely.

So the priest once said. He might be referring to the trees basking under the sun.

“Right. Also, it seemed that the old nobles granted special rights to protect them, and they’re independent of the town guilds, nobody could touch them. They chopped off the trees, not leaving any behind, and that’s why fuel prices rose like crazy. There were some amongst the poor who froze to death, and it got big. Remember when we got attacked immediately after entering town?”

He recalled, and speaking of which, the townspeople wanted to buy towels, peat, horse manure, fuelwood. These were all used to keep warmth. It seemed there were a few little beggars with such needs, not because they wanted to earn profits.

“Back when I heard about it at the church, I pitied the glassmakers…but it seemed there’s a reason for that. Right, what about you?”

Kusla, who was asked, took out the letter from before.

“A cute lady in the drugstore entrusted me with a letter.”

“Enough with that. What’s that about?”

Kusla calmly explained,

“The townspeople had enough of the glassmakers, and word is that they intend to chase the glassmakers, even with weapons. From my sudden bias, I get the feeling a battle is imminent. Guess there’s such a reason after all..”

“What does that girl have to do with the glassmakers?”

Faced with Irine’s doubt, Kusla merely shrugged.

“Didn’t I mention about that love letter? No matter how the townspeople hate the glassmakers, that one girl’s different. She’s hoping for me to pass on the news to her beloved glassmaker before he gets beaten to death.”

Irine averted her eyes, looking as though she was chewing on something bitter.

The world was not so generous for all to live together without any conflicts.

“Are you on the glassmaker’s side now, Kusla~?”

Weyland asked, and sounded more surprised than irate.

“Not really. I don’t have any political aims, and I don’t have an interest in the love this brat wrote about. It’s just that, isn’t this a reason for me to ask the glassmakers?”

“Well, making glass isn’t interesting. It’s one thing if you like arts and crafts. Ah, or do you want to gift little Ul a present~?”

Weyland slandered with glee, and Kusla immediately dampened the mood.

“It seemed there’s really ash that can grow silver and gold. Rumor had it that the story originated from the glassmaker.”

Weyland already resembled a drunkard of an uncouth blacksmith, but upon hearing that, he reverted back to looking like an alchemist.

“You really think so, Kusla?”

And he did not drag the end of his words.

“It’s not some explanation I can easily dismiss. The herbs that drugstore has doesn’t match this town. I heard that she personally saw glassmakers who saw that ash personally seeking it even until their deaths, and gathered lots of plants. If it’s just a made up story, that’s way too elaborate. Also, the story doesn’t end with them finding the legendary ash. A story ending with many failures can’t be used for boasting here.”

In other words, there was high likelihood of it being fact.

“However, they’re still hated by the townspeople, antagonistic. Looking at how they’re still working in the forest, the eccentricity is probably pretty severe. Even if we just wander into the forest and ask, we can’t expect to be welcomed.”

Saying that, Kusla waved the letter in his hand, and Weyland nodded in realization.

“I see. Now this letter really can be a good excuse for now, huh~?”

“Sort of for the sake of their sakes. It’s just that if I deliver the letter alone, it’ll be troublesome. So I decided to ask for your view.”

Weyland, whose hands were cuffed behind his head, stared coldly at Kusla.

“That’s pretty impressive. What are you planning~?”

“I’m saying this because I owe you a favor.”

A fist, that is. Kusla glared back, and Weyland’s skepticism faded as he smiled awkwardly.

“Nothing for me to object. I want to know about the ash too. What about you, little Ul~?”

Fenesis, who was suddenly asked to answered, was taken aback, only to answer seriously,

“In any case, we have to avoid conflicts as much as possible.”

When she was wearing her habit, she resembled a straight laced sister. At this point, she was dressed like a boy, but it did not mean her personality would change drastically.

Despite that, the one whose answer they were really curious about was Irine’s.

“What about you?”

And Irine, whose back was turned on the crowd, looked really heinous.

“I’m not standing on anyone’s said.”

It was an immature attitude from her, but one would understand why she answered thusly.

“You want me not to get involved?”

Kusla just wanted to clarify, and Irine turned to stare at him.

“…I-I want to know about the ash.”

In the end, she was simply the carefree blacksmith who abandoned her town.

“I don’t hate seeing you so awkward, little Irine~.”

“Don’t add a ‘little’, there!”

Her retort left Weyland chortling.

“In that case, I’ll deliver the letter.”

“Alone~?”

Weyland asked meaningly.

But Kusla had a serious thought.

If the four of them went over, it would be too suspicious, so that was out of the question. At most, two would go, but would it be better just by adding numbers? He recalled Alzen’s words.

Kusla looked around, and shrugged.

“I’ll go alone.”

“Th-then…”

Fenesis immediately interrupted, sounding a little angry.

But Kusla coldly stared back.

“If anything happens in the forest, I can’t save you.”

It would be romantic to think that two could welcome their demise together, but that would be too exaggerated. Such an option should be left for when they were completely hapless.

“The bigger danger than the glassmakers are bears or wolves, or if you slip and fall into a river. You can’t even dance well. I rather you stay and keep watch over our belongings.”

Weyland and Irine smiled awkwardly

Fenesis puffed her cheeks, her shoulders huffing as she turned her face aside.

“Also, I’ll have a spy come along with me. If things really get complicated, they’ll be the first to know.”

“I see. Then, we’ll stay and hear of good news from you~.”

Though still throwing a tantrum, her worried expression still lingered.

Logically, he should be grateful for her worry, but it was on the level of picking off the breadcrumbs on his clothes.

Good grief, so Kusla returned to the inn, using his fingers to stroke Fenesis’ cheeks next to him. The latter however slapped off his fingers in disgust.

Kusla returned to the inn, and the spies’ mission were done. They exchanged information with Fenesis group, and the information they got was about the same.

However, they did not understand what the glassmakers did that left the townspeople uneasy. Once they heard that Kusla was going to take a risk for someone else, they looked uneasy.

However, that only lasted until he explained everything about the legend.

“It’s like a country of gold.”

Ash that when scattered would grow gold or silver.

If the Knights could discover this miracle, conquering the world would be a breeze.

Thus, they had a common understanding, and felt that they should visit the glassmakers’ base.

Kusla then suggested for a spy to accompany him, but unexpectedly, they looked surprised.

After asking, the trio exchanged looks, before answering,

“We thought you wouldn’t let us if we’re a hindrance.”

Then, Kusla understood how the trio viewed him.

“Recently, I learned the word teamwork.”

Fenesis looked at Kusla grimly, as though wondering whose mouth that came from, but the spies did understand his intent, more or less.

“Now this is a good thing.”

“And I feel that you should know this. We aren’t hiding anything from Alzen.”

If this really worked out, it would be a groundbreaking discovery. The mission of the spies was probably to invigilate, rather than lead the way. They nodded seriously, not smiling at all.

And so, Kusla went off with one of the spies. The others left in town were to gather information about the glassmakers

Kusla wanted to ask Irine to watch over Weyland, to stop him from doing anything funny that would agitate Fenesis, but he decided to let things be, for it would be really foolish.

If Weyland was to notice how obsessive he was of Fenesis, there might be danger. While Weyland was a reliable comrade for the moment, nobody knew when he would switch around and become an enemy. Whenever people got obsessed with wealth, honor or love, they would easily fall prey to the traps lurking by and end up being used.

So Kusla put his head on his hand in an elbow rest, thinking.

If Fenesis was to be taken as a hostage, surely he would abide.

By that thinking, he could understand the feelings of the owner of the letter currently in his clutches, the blond girl.

Given her age, he would assume it was most likely just a childish infatuation.

But he accepted this letter not fully because he weighed the risks and rewards. While it sounded logical when he rationalized it to Weyland and Irine, he would be lying if he said it was not out of pity at all.

He recalled the words Irine said when they came from Nilberk.

 

——I want to fall in love.

 

He would never lambast love as a weak emotion, something to be discarded.

He personally experienced how strong a power it was. Even though the land of Magdala was glittering on the other side, the smile of a certain person next to him was no inferior, and he unwittingly learned of this fact.

He could no longer sneer and mock it.

Also, another reason was that Kusla sensed the girl really resembled Fenesis.

Damn it! So Kusla thought.

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