A shaving blade was used to cautiously pry a thin, long crystal that was somewhat white and sharp on the edges. The blade itself was unique, one used to divide a thick parchment into three thin layers.
By removing the tip a little, the blade was brought with the crystallized power into the candle flame, which turned purple. Though there was a clear color change, a few blinks later, the flame reverted to its original color.
Though it was called the fragment of the sun, the color shown was nowhere near being the sun.
“If it’s purple, it’s probably not tartar, but alum. Pot ash~.”
Weyland, resembling a bandit with his messy long hair and stubble, scratched his chin as he noted. If anyone had commented on his resemblance to one, surely he would cheerily respond ‘ I specialize in stealing women’s hearts’.
What he had mentioned were names of some common medicinal stones. Tartar is a crystal formed in wine, mostly scraped from the barrel, used to preserve meat or tanned leather. Alum too had the same purpose, a common favorite for furmakers. ‘Pot ash’ however was the remaining crystals formed when the ash of burned plants was submerged in water, and the clear parts were cooled and vaporized. It could be used similarly to tartar, and also as a material for soap. All these materials had a common characteristic of forming purple flames when roasted over fire.
Kusla and company were investigated on the mythical miracle left behind by an angel, and the crystals were the clues given to them by the glassmakers residing near Yazon. It was said it was a material that could summon the sun, a sun’s fragment.
“These three were investigated thoroughly, according to tradition, but I never heard that any of them could be used to summon the sun.”
Weyland, who had been bending down to stare at the candle light, straightened his back and hammered at it a few times.
“We say that, but we never thought lead oxide could be used in glass making.”
Truly that was the case. It was only recently that they realized the things around them had innate extraordinary effects.
The grandparents and ancestors of the glassmakers who gave the sun fragments to Kusla nearly bankrupted themselves seeking substitutes for the legendary ash to be used in glassmaking. They repeated the experiments many times, even burning all plants to ash, but it all ended for naught. Thus ended their dreams. In fact, they never required that much effort, and the ash was not of plant, but simply lead oxide. It was extremely common, a side product of a blacksmith workshop, and was at most used for cosmetics.
The town and the glassmakers had many disputes, and the blacksmiths and glassmakers especially were at loggerheads over the fuel issue. Thus, the findings remained undiscovered for long.
“Also, none of tartar, alum, ‘pot ash’ burn like oil. Can’t really imagine these things being able to cut through the darkness in the forest and chase away the beasts.”
“This is where it doesn’t make sense~…”
“The results show that it’s not toxic, tasteless, odorless, dissolves in water, and gives a purple flame…what do you think. Any ideas?”
Kusla rattled off the characteristics listed on the stone plate, asking the red haired girl Irine. The latter was a capable blacksmith, obsessed with smelting, but strangely, had little interest in whatever medicinal stones were used. She had been watching a cage placed on a shelf.
The hole in the wooden cage was somewhat large, with two mice inside.
“Hm? I can think of only those three for purple flames. Salt is yellow, eggshells are orange…green for bronze. Maybe some ores that are tougher to burn will show bright red sometimes.”
During the smelting process, various items would be thrown into the fire. A capable blacksmith such as Irine would have decent observation skills, and she probably would not let it slip.
Thus, they would have to look into new usage of common medicinal stones, for they had to investigate the crystal, this ‘sun fragment’, that the head had entrusted to them.
“More importantly, shouldn’t we release these mice? It’s rare that they survived your inhumane experiments. Will be pitiful to keep them locked up.”
At this phase, they knew it was not toxic. Of course, they did not use it on themselves.
However, it was after they confirmed the survival of the mice, and tasted it, that they found it odorless.
“How kind of you. Haven’t you experienced mice biting through the tool grips?”
“I got bitten on the ankle while sleeping by the fire, but that’s another story, right?”
Irine sought the agreement of another girl next to her.
“Erm……yes. I do think it is not right to kill…”
The white hair was cut, revealing Fenesis’ tender neck. One would have assumed she was an apprentice dressed in boyish clothes, but the boyish clothes emphasized her feminine charms, leaving Kusla anxious.
This was one reason why Kusla was scowling away.
The remaining reason being that even with her boyish clothing, she could not disguise the girlish presence, and innocence.”
“You’ll develop feelings feeding these things. Didn’t I warn you already!?”
Upon being reproached, Fenesis shriveled her neck back, looking devastated.
Though Kusla had warned them beforehand, she, along with Irine, fed the mice crumbs through the gaps of the cage, smiling away. The southern mice often looked ugly and ferocious, for they were always scamping through the flow of dirty drain water, greedily nibbling upon carcasses of various creatures and leftovers. However, the mice of Yazon were not. There were few stone structures, most houses having hay on their roofs, and some would rear lamb atop them. Thus, the mice here resembled more like passing ones from the forests.
They were cute, relatively skin, their fur of wilted leaves colored, glossy and oily. Whenever they twitched their round eyes and little noses innocently, anyone would be overwhelmed with an urge to dote on them.
However, mice being mice, they would multiply exponentially, even nibbling on various experimental tools and materials. They were always top of the rankings on the list of organisms people hoped to erase from the surface.
“Is that all your ears can do? Doesn’t your blood boil seeing these mice?”
Hearing that, Fenesis immediately pouted and refuted,
“I am no cat!”
Tchi tchi tchi, the mice shrieked, probably shocked by her outburst.
Fenesis had ears different from a human, similar to a beast instead, and would feel dizzy whenever she remained in a sunny, warm place. Kusla was thinking that she really was like a cat.
“Hm. We’ll leave them for another two, three days. This fragment might have some slow toxicity.”
In response, Irine and Fenesis looked towards the mice with much pity, but Fenesis immediately turned to Kusla again.
“I-if it is slow, will you two——”
“Ah, yeah. If I’m suffering in the middle of the night, treat me well.”
Saying that, Kusla turned to the bookshelf, picking up a book a book full of experiment records, wanting to find out if there were any hidden clues in the experiment results. Fenesis, who had been fuming at Kusla all this while, immediately switched to a gloomy, worried look. She really had a face full of expressions that left Kusla impressed. Perhaps this quality was emphasized further due to the presence of a classic blacksmith, Irine, who was never flustered by anything trivial.
If anyone was to record a memoirs of Fenesis’ personalities and reactions, of the many traits she had, one might have to act ‘potent poison’ to the list.
Slow, yet powerful.
Soft in the mouth, with a sweet fragrance. Poor in manners.
“But none of the merchants know, and the current knowledge we have doesn’t match the correct answer. Looks like we have to look into the legend itself.”
“Look into ancient text and find lost technology. Guess this is the best benefit to being an alchemist~”
Kusla’s likes differed greatly from Weyland in many instances, from women to alcohol, but since they were ultimately alchemists, they were merely men passionate for adventure.
Their eyes were naturally filled with much passion once it involved anything relating to ‘reviving an ancient technology recorded in ancient manuscripts, forgotten in the depths of time’.
“Just like a child.”
Irine, who had been teasing the nose of the mouse nibbling at the strands of the cage, sneer at the men.
“Men are still children no matter how old they are.”
Weyland chortled heartily, and Kusla noted with some sarcasm,
“I really want to show that look of yours when you were obsessed with making the dragons.”
She did not realize that she had yet to remove the gloves used to grab the red hot metal when she returned from the workshop to the room, and once she returned to the door, she passed out. Her face was full of soot, her hair zinged due to the hot air, lots of scalds on her elbows. Despite that, Irine looked really happy, as though she had passed out in a delirium.
It was boring being a blacksmith in a city, so she joined the alchemists’ journey without care for the consequences. It would be stretching it a tad to say that Irine was a proper blacksmith of the town, and furthermore sacrilegious to say she was a prime and proper town girl.
“Besides, we’re always dealing with dry, boring work. There’s not much work related to anything a real alchemist should do.”
“It’s disappointing to know reality~.”
“But didn’t you make the aphrodisiac? What happened to that thing?”
“Gave it to Kusla. What happens next, I don’t know~.”
Weyland sneered towards Kusla, only for the sneer to vanish as he looked away from Kusla, to somewhere else.
Irine immediately sensed Weyland’s reaction, and looked over as well.
And before here was Fenesis, the latter’s flushed head lowered.
Irine abruptly turned towards Kusla, and approached him with a grim face.
“Di-did you actually?”
“Huh? Don’t be foolish. You think I’ll use it? ”
Kusla calmly answered while his collar was being tugged at,
“I told her how to use it. She’s probably thinking about it.”
“How to use it? That’s why she’s like this? ”
Then, while Irine was still taken aback by Fenesis’ reaction, Weyland nimbly approached and nibbled her ear.
“Eh? Ah? At-at such a place…?”
Irine’s reaction was unexpectedly interesting, and Weyland beamed in bemusement.
Kusla however did not find it funny, and the moment he tried to pull aside the hand grabbing his collar, Irine immediately retreated back hastily, like she was scalded by something.
Then, she widened her eyes at both Kusla and Weyland, before she retreated as she grabbed Fenesis by the arm.
She cursed, and led Fenesis out of the room.
Weyland gleefully watched this scene, while Kusla sighed hard.
“Look, it’s not appropriate for me to be saying this, but stop teasing them already. Have you forgotten that we’re going to continue our journey?”
It would be an added hassle to the troublesome journey if there were people scowling in the cramped carriage.
“Nihihi. How cute. But…thank goodness we have them as company~.”
Weyland paid no heed to a bystander’s words, but beneath his lazy face was a certain mindset.
“Rule number 1 of being alchemist. To remain calm at all times…this isn’t easy to do. Well, with both of them around, this should be enough to vent our frustrations. We can calm down now~.”
Weyland looked towards the sun fragment on the large table, his eyes blazing and glittering like many a greedy merchant. Such was his original expression.
However, such an expression would be a hindrance when observing new things. It would cause anxiety, tunnel vision, and self-conceitedness.
And once they obsessed with experimentation, accidents would easily occur. This sun fragment would not drive them to such extremes, but it was said to drive away the darkness in the forests and wild beasts. It might even be a material for an ancient weapon, so it never hurts to be cautious.
They suffered much during their apprenticeship, and gained this expression after their experiences, yet such an ironic outcome occurred.
Alchemists could obsess in experiments to the point of neglecting food and sleep, for they had the excitement of babies. Surely such outcomes would be amazing, and they wanted to discover it before anyone else. Without such excitement and passion, there was no way they would devote themselves to simple experiments requiring lots of patience.
And the fuel to such excitement and passion were stereotypes and self-conceitedness.
Kusla himself was like one sending his hunting dog out to hunt while clinging firmly onto the leash while investigating the true identity of this crystal.
Between such extreme opposites, it was mentally taxing, and extremely difficult to maintain a balance between their rationality and passion.
Furthermore, right before them might be a fragment of a technology that could topple the world’s order.
“I guess this one’s like the sun, if we keep staring at it, our brains may get fried.”
He deliberately said with nonchalance to calm himself down.
Looking at the crystal on the table, Weyland too kept away the glittering eyes from before, smiling with ambiguity,
“This isn’t a simple item we’re dealing with~.”
Such a small crystal contained a miracle created by an angel who arrived at this place.
It might sound like a hyperbole of a fictitious story, meant to emphasize God’s teachings in Pagan lands, but if the angel’s miracle was proven before, that made things different.
The remaining two were said to be an angel descending from the skies, and a sun summoned from the ground. Many doubted such acts, but still deemed them as possible truths; such might have been their true thoughts after all.
Weyland stretched his arms wide, along with his back, yawning away.
“Pwoah〜〜…wonder if the birdies aren’t angry anymore~?”
“That’s your responsibility.”
Any other troublesome matter, and he would not be moved to act, even if he was all beaten up. Anything involving women however, and it was a different matter.
The moment Weyland was about to step out of the room, he looked towards Kusla, asking,
“You didn’t use the aphrodisiac, right~?”
Kusla was not incensed in the slightest, and merely shrugged in response.
The room Kusla and the others lived in was within the inn the Cladius Knights owned.
Another room was used for experimentation, and they rented another room with a furnace and well water to be used.
On the surface, however, they had no relations with the Knights, and were not travellers who could roam freely. Irine and Fenesis stormed out, and Weyland followed thereafter, trying to pacify them. A little later, Kusla left the room, and bumped into a man dressed as a merchant.
The man had a spoon and feather in his cap, and clearly resembled a traveling merchant, but in fact, he was a spy sent by the Cladius Knights, in charge of disguising Kusla and the others while the latter had their identities concealed. Of course, this also meant he was supervising them.
“I just brushed by a rather fuming Miss Irine…did something happen again?”
“That Weyland teased her again, making her angry.”
“Another major incident.”
How carefree you are, so he implied.
“Probably to relieve stress from the experiments.”
“Is the experiment going well?”
“No. At most, just some basics. We got too little of it, and there’s little of what we can do.”
The spy noted dejectedly. If Kusla and the others really did recreate the other two miracles of the angel, the spies supervising them would have improved reputations.
“So, where are you going next?”
“Back to the room. Watch this place and make sure the tools aren’t stolen. Your job is to watch, right?
“Of course I don’t mind…”
It seemed the spies were already used to the alchemists’ selfishness, only somewhat miffed.
“No poison gas will leak, right?”
It seemed this man, who had seen all the light and darkness in the world had some knowledge of alchemy.
Kusla shrugged, and answered,
“If you see any purple smoke come out from the gaps, hold your breath and run away.”
“I want a headcloth used to deal with the plague.”
The headcloth would cover the head completely, and the mouth was long and thin like a bird’s beak, filled with lots of garlic and basil used to neutralize what was assumed to be the toxic gas causing it. Back when they enacted the ritual to revive a chicken, Kusla had Irine and Fenesis put them on to give the vibe.
“Just to comment, with or without headband, anyone can catch the plague. Some really bored alchemist checked through the records.”
“O God, grant me your mercy.”
“More importantly, we’re not done preparing to head to the next town?”
Kusla asked, and the spy mimicked a shrug.
“That’s what I’m here to talk about.”
Kusla and the others were seeking the trails of the heretical inquisitor Korad Abria, who seemed to have discovered the legend of the angel. It was said that twenty years ago, he ventured into a place any normal sheep of God would hesitate to move into, where the war was the most intense, and all connections were lost.
According to the Knights who had actually seen him leave, the last he was spotted was at the next destination, Abbas.
“Abbas is a somewhat complicated town.”
Kusla repeated the term, for it was interesting.
“You seem to be saying that the towns we’ve been in so far aren’t so bad.”
“I’ll add in the word ‘especially’ then.”
The spy was not smiling.
He seemed serious.
“First, there’s still debate as to whether Abbas is a town.”
“Look, I’m not a noble with land, and I’m not the head of a prestigious family. Get to the point.”
The spy snorted impatiently. It might be an act of familiarity.
“Apparently, appearance-wise, there’s no doubt it is a town. It has walls, gates and houses. However, the current Abbas is just a place to live. Those living there now are the citizens who couldn’t live in the original Abbas.”
“Hm? Guess it’s down to war, disease, or infertile lands…whatever it is, it doesn’t sound like anything we haven’t heard of.”
The Knights could not deny being one of the causes why people lived like this, so Kusla could not resist the urge to sneer. It seemed the Orthodoxy waged war for such a long time, for it was the Promised Land robbed by the Pagans thousands of years ago. Thus, it was pretty much older than anyone could imagine.
“You mean, Abbas the heretical inquisitor Korad Abria was last spotted is different from the current Abbas?”
In that case, the situation might really be tricky. No matter the reason, anyone who had to move from their hometown to a new place would have to leave their memories behind. There was nothing trickier than this for an investigator.
“No. According to the information, the destroyed Abbas was just a tradition passed down for generations. That heretical inquisitor was last heard in this current Abbas.”
“Oh? And so?”
The spy licked his lips, noting dejectedly.
“Abbas is located at a trading point between the far North and the Southern Countries, a gathering place where the Far North products are supplied to the Southern lands. It’s no different from Yazon in this case, but the problem is the middlemen.”
The Far North was a place covered completely in snow all year long, and it was said that depending on the seasons, the sun would not set even at night. In contrast, there were seasons when the sun would not rise after setting. The languages and customs there were all different, so much that it was inappropriate to classify them as Orthodox and pagans.
Kusla heard that they had traded fur, gold, or amber that was washed ashore to the Southern countries. According to the books left behind by the extremely curious pilgrims and alchemists, a new continent appears on the seas in the water. In some countries, the sun would rise twice.
However, Kusla’s understanding was limited to his knowledge, and this term to him had always meant the ends of the world.
Was it tricky to intercede in trade between the end of the world, and the southern countries?
As Kusla looked back, the spy answered,
“The merchant guilds in the far South.”
“The current Abbas exists because the migrants gave offerings to the Latrian Queen, symbolizing their loyalty to her, gaining autonomy. Abbas does not belong to any noble; it’s an independent town, and in fact, it’s just a disguise on the surface.”
Kusla scented upon the familiar smell. Alchemy was one filled with much risks, filled with many useful things. Thus, the Cladius Knights and those wealthy people had the same old method of dealing with them.
They would insist that they had dealings with these unscrupulous alchemists, but these alchemists were not their men.
“So Latria quietly allowed them to deal with the Southerners who’re supposed to be their enemies?”
The spy continued,
“Abbas has its own autonomy, so if anything bad is done there, all responsibility belongs to Abbas. The Southern merchants guilds would use this autonomy as a shield, set up their guild houses, and build a base for distant trading.”
Yazon too was a watershed linking the North and the Souths, a town where Pagans could wander freely before the Church. However, as long as the Church building was not officially recognized as one, the Latrian Queen could have boldly proclaimed it to be a pagan town, before she converted. Then, it was down to what the Orthodoxy would say, but since the church in the town was not destroyed, there was no need for disputes. The church did exist, the clergymen were preaching, so the ambiguous matter could be left as it was, to benefit all.
This ruckus gradually became a habit, and the trading between Pagans and Orthodoxy, supposedly on hostile terms, became normal. Despite everyone else know, this was not a fact powerful organizations on either side would admit. While the Knights were stationed in Yazon, it was standard to maintain an ambiguous rule at the trading points.
However, it was a different matter if they were open a guild. A Guild was in no way meant to spread the Gospel, and no matter how one would try to word it, it was ultimately a town looking out for its own profitability. It would not be strange to see the merchant guilds, and the nobles ruling over the lands where the bases were at, questioned about their faith.
“They shouldn’t be working with the fellows over there, but Latria could tax the profits gained from increased trade, and after a while, they just let things slide, you get me?”
In that case, there was one simple reason.
“Once the operations of a certain place have been approved quietly, the locals won’t be happy to see outsiders, especially when they weigh the pros and cons.”
The spy nodded firmly.
“Also, the headquarters of these large guilds are all against us. The countries working with Latira to attack the Knights, that is.”
It seemed this was no coincidence.
The old cadre who informed them about the heretical inquisitor Korad Abria had noted that as Abbas was at the border, it was madness to occupy it. In fact, during the later stages of the war, the Knights too abandoned it, resulting in another power slipping in to fill the void. The Knights would not enter, and because of this factor, Abbas was a safe place to the anti-Knights forces.
For the aforementioned reasons, the enemy of the enemy is a friend to the Orthodox forces south of Latria, antagonistic against the Knights. Such logic was easy to understand.
And thus, as the trade volume increased, so did the profits, and Abbas became a hive of Knights enemies.
“Just to ask, those Southern merchant guilds that have set up base in Abbas, are they creditors to kings and nobles?”
Wars requires lots of money, and even Kings could not splurge money simply by proclaiming his exaltation.
“Yes. Till now, it seemed the nobles of the South have borrowed lots for military expenses. It seemed in return, these nobles will grant free, safe trading routes to the Far North once they destroy the Cladius Knights.”
“Or more simply, they’re working together with Latria to secure this trading post in the far east, attacking the Knights.”
“We can’t be sure, but it is very likely.”
Kusla gently sighed. It seemed Abbas became a moneybag for the various southern countries. The Knights had prepared everything to strike, but the predicament had changed completely, so surely they were on tenterhooks. They were on guard, excluding outsiders, and would bare their savage fangs at anyone approaching.
It would be expected then there would be news of Yazon’s fall to the Knights, given that it too was trading with the North, which would amplify the security on hand.
It was a tricky situation.
If they advanced without caution, they would end up picking a lit matchstick while completely soaked in oil.
“So now what? We can’t be giving up here, right?”
Kusla’s was somewhat barbaric, but that was because there was a reason in Abbas awaiting his venture. Such was the value of the angel’s legend.
But even with Kusla interrogating, the spy showed no fear, and instead laughed bodily, stretching his arms out to sort out his merchant cap disguise.
“After hearing of what happened in this town and Abbas, Lord Alzen merely laughed it off.”
“Laughed it off?”
The spy’s grin got bigger, like a hunting dog thinking of its master’s greatness.
“I heard he said, “Send the men over. Ensure the investigations go well even if we have to conquer that town”.”
“He was grinning, saying that it’s killing two birds with one stone. Get the angel’s myth, and cut off the Southerners’ trade.”
For the cool and poised Alzen, it really was a daring preposition. However, Kusla recalled that when he mentioned about the angel’s myth, he heard something more unbelievable from Alzen.
We can conquer the world!
That herald said so with a childish expression.
Speaking of which, even children these days would not have such lofty aspirations, for they understood the tough fists of their parents. A little older, and they would know the viciousness of their older siblings and friends. In town, there were grizzled, vigorous craftsmen even the older siblings would fear and give way to, along with the mighty mercenaries thoroughly crushing those craftsmen in the bar.
Ultimately, there were some rulers who would use mercenaries as pawns, and these rulers had kings above them, and yet kings were a dime a dozen.
Alzen understood this very well, yet his eyes were glittering when he proclaimed that they could conquer the world. He was declaring that given a dragon flamethrower would overwhelm a battle thoroughly, enough to launch a counterattack, it was natural then that they would conquer the world.
The amazing thing about Alzen was that his actions matched his thoughts, and he was not a noble who would be all puffs.
“So we’re going against the grain?”
“Also, the headquarters of these large guilds are all against us. The countries working with Latira to attack the Knights, that is.”
It seemed this was no coincidence.
“Now that the Latrian Queen has converted to Orthodoxy, the actions of our Knights will be deemed as attacking our comrade towns…by this logic, as long as we don’t admit that she converted, that logic won’t stand. In fact, there are many Orthodox followers unwilling to abide, but it’s a different case to be attacking Abbas.”
“We’re making enemies of the Southern countries.”
“Yeah. We’re basically burning their moneybags.”
“Did Alzen really say to do this?”
“He said that since we’re going to conquer the world, it doesn’t matter in the end. Just a matter of when we make them our enemies.”
He’s mad, so Kusla thought.
They did not know if they could really find the angel’s myth.
But Alzen made that decision, perhaps considering it was inevitable they would be in a full scale conflict against the South, and intended to rob their fortunes. Nevertheless, it was a daring move.
His decisions left Kusla riveted, the latter thinking of him as an impressive resident of Magdala. He was one of those headed to the light at the end of the horizon, and was able to feel that he was living as a result, being one of the happiest and saddest out there.
“So now we can investigate to our hearts content.”
“The fate of the world rests in your hands.”
While it sounded like a joke, there was some seriousness to it.
Alchemists could create miracles.
And faced such a hopeful expression, Kusla’s smirk became a sneer.
“The equivalent price for someone hoping to gain powerful magic is to have the devil take his soul…are you still willing?”
The spy leered at Kusla’s words.
“They say we can’t fight without swords or stirrups, but there aren’t any blacksmiths wearing crowns out there.”
Skills alone would not make one great. In any case, it was those adept at using the skills that surpassed others.
The development of technology was a different matter from using it.
“I know this well. It’s etched to the bone.”
“But it’s not like we can’t gain freedom even without being in lofty positions.”
The spy smiled earnestly, clearing his throat.
“This world isn’t simple after all.”
“If it were, we wouldn’t need an alchemist to begin with.”
The spy shrugged.
“So, we’re going to wait here until reinforcements arrive?”
“Yes. However, they will be here tomorrow, or the day after.”
This showed how serious Alzen was.
The moment he made the decision, he had his subordinates give the command to sortie.
“It moves me to here.”
So Kusla answered, but in that case, they should not be talking. They had to make haste with the preparations.
“If it’s about today’s weather, I have something to say.”
Kusla smiled, and walked off. His footsteps were frantic, for his heart was.
Alzen felt the angel’s legend was real. According to the uncertain report from his subordinate, he had already sieved out the truths, and as a commander, sent out forces to investigate again. He determined it was no daydream. He might be on the cusp of attaining technology to conquer the world.
And having thought that, Kusla felt a term riveting in his heart.
Was this not the Sword of Orichalcum?
If it was really technology that could conquer the world, it was exactly the same as what Kusla was chasing after.
Kusla returned to his room, and found Fenesis before the desk, the parchment laid. There was a stone tablet for recording next to her, so she probably was practicing on writing words from the Church. It was the daily homework Kusla tasked her.
Seeing her in this state, while Kusla was unwilling to agree with what Weyland said, he had regained some calm.
It was unsightly of him to be elated over the Sword of Orichalcum, or the prospect of conquering the world.
Kusla asked, and Fenesis kept tapping at the limestone as she answered demurely,
“Erm…she said she will be working out a little.”
Copsulation, romance, the best methods to deal with them was to bring them to an anvil and smash to crumbles. Such should be the way a stubborn blacksmith would work, which Kusla really liked.
“It seemed Mr Weyland has given chase…”
“Irine likes to make fun of others, but she’s pure in unexpected areas.”
Fenesis awkwardly smiled.
“And you’re too bashful.”
Her face was flushed red again, probably because she recalled again. However, at least her face was not completely red.
“Th-that is normal for me. How am I supposed to remain calm?”
For an innocent girl who knew no filth, her past was thoroughly tragic, but perhaps as it was too tragic, she might seem so distant from those words.
It was no different from a grizzled mercenary, often mistaken for bears, would fall in love with a town girl, after pondering for arduous moments only to pluck and hand over a wildflower.
“Whatever. There are things we are and aren’t good at.”
“No matter how we understand, we can’t deal with things we aren’t used to.”
Having spent time with her, Kusla understood this really well. The involved herself stared blankly at him for a moment, only to slowly reveal a smile.
“Truly, you are clumsy at strange places too.”
He worked so hard to find a pedestal for her, only to receive such words instead. In contrast, he had to admit what she said was fact.
“I have the self awareness.”
“You say so, but your mischief still knows no bounds.”
Fenesis seized the chance to pile on, but Kusla calmly answered,
“When I say you’re like a cat, I’m not making fun of you.”
Fenesis had ears different from humans on her head. Those were proofs that could not be covered, proofs that ensured she was often viewed as a cursed resident on every land she lived in.
“…But, I am no cat.”
That was why whenever she answered, her expression was filled with more sadness than disgust. For this reason, whenever they mentioned about the most absurd, the first thing she would think of would be humans dressing as animals in a town festival.
Kusla could only shrug at her.
“Well, cats are cute. I’m praising you.”
Fenesis lifted her head, looking as though her heart was moved, her two eyes staring intently back. Her lips seemed intent to convey something, throbbing, but seemed to be enclosed in an ice block, and no voice could be heard. So this is what it means to be frozen, so Kusla thought. Nevertheless, this response from her left him awkward.
For what he wanted to show her was compassion.
“What? I’m praising you here.”
After repeating himself, Fenesis was taken aback, as though someone had yelled into her ears.
She then reeled her chin back, her eyes peeking up like an abused, a kitten who was pranked on.
“…You are…mean after all…”
“I’m praising you here, and you call me mean. This is a theological issue.”
It seemed she had not recovered from the shock she had, and she clutched firmly at her chest, before gulping a large breath of air later, and exhaling it out.
“Truly, you are picky about the terminology at crucial moments. It’s close to theology, for sure.”
The large, beautiful green eyes looked over again, tauntingly.
“You’re always, suddenly…focusing on the irrational.”
Though she said that with some unhappiness, it seemed she only said so just to hide her embarrassment.
Perhaps Kusla was the prey who was lured by that tail.
“But this is how the world is.”
“…Yes. So while I am shocked by the irrationality of the year, I am not begrudging.”
“For despite the world being like this, there are some aspects better than what we imagine.”
“Than what we imagine”, so she happily smiled as she deliberately emphasized these words.
This should be what they call teasing, and certainly felt like a cat climbing to the back of the neck, fooling around.
“I do find comfort seeing how you’re increasing becoming a damned alchemist.”
Upon his spiteful words, she was laughing, her shoulders shaking.
Her too showed a faint smile, in self-depreciation.
“I can’t take this foolish conversation.”
Kusla muttered softly, and Fenesis smiled while mimicking his shrug.
The pleasing atmosphere helped cool the mood between them, and she said,
“Any good news?”
“Do I look happy?”
“Yes. That strange kindness, for one..”
She actually said such words with a joyous smile. It seemed in the future, she would be a tougher girl to handle than Irine.
“Well, it’s true that I’m pleased, because the prey I’m looking for is right in front of me.”
He worked so hard to ensure the pursed lips would not curl into a smile.
“Alzen gave us aid to head to the next town. That practical man felt there’s miracle at the end of the road, of course I have to be excited. While we haven’t solved the mystery of the ‘sun fragment’, it’s a minor issue. Once we know what the problem is, it’s the same as solving half the problem.”
Something deep within his heart was brimming out through his mouth, in the form of words.
Faster, faster, faster. The alchemist within him was prompting..
“We won’t have to wait for days. There’s no time to waste.”
“Got to inform Irine and Weyland to make haste in their preparations. You should pack your belongings tonight too.”
Fenesis hastily replied, but she seemed a little gloomy.
“What’s the matter?”
“Eh? I-it-it is nothing.”
She hurriedly shook her head to deny, but her eyes were drifting elsewhere, the large triangular ears clearly drooping down.
“What? You don’t like to travel?”
Even for an adult male, a long journey was hard labor. No matter how used she was to travel, it was surely because she had to, not that she wanted to.
“Look, I know how you feel, but that’s all before we figure it all out. Once we find the myths, we can have whatever we want. We can have a workshop at wherever we like, and focus on research to our hearts’ content.”
Kusla raised these examples excitedly, while she answered with a kind smile.
He was puzzled, but she rolled the parchments that were laid out, hiding the expression on her face.
What is going on? So Kusla stared at her actions, only for her to suddenly say,
“Erm…before we leave, can I look for Miss Helena？”
She was the daughter of the herbalist they met, who fell in love with a young glassmaker, resulting in the commotion over the angel’s legend of the ash left behind.
Ever since then, as she was of similar age to Fenesis, they got along well, and the latter would visit her at the shop to chat from time to time.
“Don’t worry. Just don’t stay for too long.”
“I-I am no child. I understand my limits.”
Fenesis puffed her cheeks unhappily, kept the parchments, put on the headcloth to hide her ears, her sidelong face looking a little unhappy.
Kusla interpreted it as her being gloomy for the impending journey, and preparing herself for it.
“Then, I shall return soon.”
Kusla did not bother to look over at Fenesis, and merely waved his hand.
Fenesis put her hand on the door, and paused a moment before she nudged it aside.
Kusla looked over, but Fenesis suddenly nudged the door aside in a daze, and left.
“What’s going on？”
After a moment of thought, Kusla still could not understand.
Thus, he left aside the things he could not understand, and began working on what he should be doing.
Once Kusla conveyed the spy;s report and plans to head to Abbas. The trio showed differing reactions. Weyland was of pure delight, while Irine was flatly nodding away like a blacksmith.
Fenesis was the only one gloomy after all. Perhaps the reason was simple after all. A long journey would be tasing on the body, and to the feeble her, staying in Yazon would be better.
But she would grimace only when this was mentioned, and everything else, she would remain the same. One could tell that she was working hard to remain calm.
Look, if you’re intending to hide your feelings! So Kusla thought unhappily, yet at the same time, he understood very well that he was concerned by it. If the problem was really dire, he did not think Fenesis would try to hide it further. If it was just a trivial matter, he would be refused if he tried to interrogate in an overprotective manner.
Despite that, whenever Fenesis had her own troubles, she might end up choosing an unbelievable resolution without care for the consequences. Thus, he decided to uproot the matter before things got complicated.
After brooding over it at the cross junction, Kusla decided to compromise to avoid rattling the snake.
The following day after the news was conveyed, while Fenesis and Weyland were off preparing for their journey at the market, Kusla asked Irine, who was in the room, inspecting the tools.
The Yazon workshops remained short of fuel, and the quality as a result was barely passable. She had nothing much to buy as a result.
“She seemed unhappy when I told her we’re going to Abbas. THen, she seemed to be hiding something.”
Irine was on a stool, her legs spread crudely wide as she raised the hammer in her hand, slamming at the leg of the chair. She narrowed her eyes, ensuring it was not loose or scratched in any way. She clearly resembled an amazing blacksmith in this manner, a proper one indeed.
And thus, her response was as nonchalant.
“Nobody taught you to steal skills with your eyes?”
She roughed up the shears, and slowly raised her hands towards the desk, touched a vial of grease, and used a thin metal spoon to apply it on the rollable joints.
“Unfortunately, alchemist don’t inherit their skills and knowledge from the workshop, but from books.”
Kusla himself knew it was a shoddy excuse, and upon hearing that, Irine merely scoffed it off dumbfoundedly.
“You’re awfully serious whenever little Ul is mentioned. I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”
Kusla quietly endured these words, and calmly asked,
“So, anything you can pick up？”
“Of course. I’m wondering if you’re sharp or dull, but I can’t really say that.”
What do you mean? Kusla frowned a little, and Irine snickered, teasing him,
“You don’t seem like you have any friends.”
So he retorted, and Irine put her hands on her waist, sighing in an expected manner.
“It’s because of Helena.”
“Helena？What’s with tht sleepy looking girl？”
In any case, when he told Fenesis they were leaving Yazon, she was the one who suggested to look for Helena.
“You really don’t understand？”
Again Kusla was questioned, and he pondered along the lines of this hint, but he still did not understand.
Irine glared at him with cold eyes, and said,
“She’s on good terms with Helena. In other words, she doesn’t want to leave her friend.”
A strange voice came from deep within his throat, for he assumed there was no way it was for this ridiculous reason. But at the same time, Irine’s eyes did not seem to imply it was a joke.
“…Are you serious?”
Irine sighed, raised the little hammer, and tapped at her shoulder impatiently.
“Yes, I understand this is so immature, and because of this, she is trying to conceal it before you.”
Since Irine pointed this out, she should be correct.
“But it might be the first time for little Ul…maybe it’s not that much of an exaggeration, but she finally has a friend after such a long time.”
She came from the Far East, the promised land of Kuldaros, where the Orthodox and pagans had a war for decades. Fenesis, whose life was endangered from both sides, was fleeing for her life the entire time.
Though she was later saved by the Knights, those that heard of her predicament would understand she was no different from a prisoner.
It was impossible for her to have a chance to freely make friends.
But, friends, are just friends!
“Hey, are you…?”
Irine hunched over, a hand rest under her chin as she looked up towards him.
Who would be so foolish? The reason why he did not refute so was because the question was beyond what he expected.
“Your thoughts are more outlandish than an alchemist’s.”
“Really? Is it not because you treat little Ul like an overprotective mother cat?”
“She insisted she’s not a cat.”
Irine gave a wry smile, her upper body straightened.
“But you really can’t imagine? Aren’t you alchemists moving along with where the Knights send you to? You should have experienced the pain of leaving, right?”
“Well, we experienced leaving, like those on good terms with us were actually there to steal our skills, and executed by the Knights, or those we fought to the death because we knew they were assassins sent to kill us…”
As he folded his fingers to count, Irine became increasingly listless.
And after Kusla folded 4 fingers, he suddenly recalled.
“Ah, I forgot. There was once I felt sad.”
“When my lover was killed.”
He did not really feel sad back then. After all, she was a spy of a force opposing the Knights. It was extremely common.
However, a certain busybody claimed that he was really sad back then.
She was a demure nun of young age, with a fate worse than the alchemist.
“These are all I can think of…but I don’t think I can say this separation is painful. For that white cat at least, her friend is safe and living well.”
Once Kusla said this, Irine showed a tired smile.
“Now I understand why you’re always living in the towns, yet always assumed to be witches in the forest. The world you live in is too different.”
Kusla merely shrugged.
“But speaking of which, you did live in the same workshop as Weyland, right? Didn’t you feel sad leaving him? Something like that.”
This should be the case, it seemed. Kusla searched his memory, but unfortunately, he did not understand.
“First of all, I’m not on good terms with him.”
“Doesn’t seem like it.”
“When we went our separate ways, a few adults around us had to pull us away.”
“Eh? Doesn’t that mean you’re on good terms？”
Kusla replied with a straight face.
“No, that’s because we thought we would never see each other again, so we took all the large hammers and tools used for smelting to try and kill each other.”
But thinking back about it after a long while, he found it to be a hearty matter worth a few smiles.
“…How foolish. Maybe you really can’t understand after all.”
“So I said I can’t.”
He deflated replied, and there was a short silence in the air.
To break this silence, Kusla muttered,
“So, what should I do？”
Irine widened her eyes at Kusla.
If a pigeon landed by the windowsill and asked what was for dinner, anyone hearing that might give a similar expression.
“Well, alchemist, if you don’t know, first you’ll open the text.”
It was never too late to investigate similar problems people of the past might not have solved, before racking their brains over it.
“If you don’t know how the other party is like, you won’t know what is the best way to deal with it. Normal metals react differently from rusted metals when in acid..”
Kusla said, and scratched his head in frustration.
“I don’t want to hurt her.”
But he could not resist adding one more line.
“Except when teasing her.”
Irine suddenly stopped him, turned her face against, and stuffed a fist into her mouth. From her sidelong face, she seemed to be fuming, or enduring something. Probably snickering.
Laugh if you want, so Kusla thought. The man dubbed the restless alchemist, ‘interest’, was left flustered and perturbed by a girl.
Despite that, nothing else mattered as long as he achieved his aims.
For his ogals, he would do anything, even giving up on his pride and pedestals.
Irine glanced aside at ,
“You really like little Ul.”
It did not matter how much pride he had to lose. Since he just made up his mind, he could not just run away at the first moment of trouble.
However, he would have to struggle somewhat, and make space between them.
“…You knew that already, didn’t you?”
“I’m not teasing you here. I find this wonderful.”
“I really do. Wonderful. It’s a word I haven’t used in a long while. I’m shocked that I still remember.”
Irine said as she smiled, and Kusla was merely perturbed. He was used to being mocked, being looked down upon.
But Irine’s smile was not the case at all.
“Didn’t I say so when we just arrived in this town?”
Before Kusla could reply, Irine answered,
“I’m really envious of you.”
The red haired girl covered her cheeks apprehensively with her hands.
“And how clumsy you are in such areas.”
Kusla instinctively assumed she was just being a busybody, but it seemed she had a different intent.
“When I saw those brats first enter the workshop, I thought that when there are more things I can’t do than what I can, I feel happier.”
Her hands left her cheeks, dusting off her apron, and her eyes looked beyond the ajar wooden window, saying,
“Don’t you think so?”
No alchemist would actually echo that opinion after hearing it. If there were no objectives left on this world, no mystery to be solved, how boring would the world be?
Furthermore, Irine, who would have such thoughts, was not a good blacksmith who belonged to the confinements of the town just to be praised. She was an adventurer whose satisfaction was derived from continual advancement.
Kusla agreed, and put his elbows down, looking out of the window as Irine did.
“The more we age, the more certain armors would appear on us, and our actions are in turn restricted. Damned it may be though.”
Due to a lack of appropriate words, he chimed in the last bit, and Irine began laughing out loud at the very end.
“Ahahaha. But didn’t you discard your pride to ask me?”
“Because I have a problem I want to solve.”
“Yes. And I said it’s wonderful.”
Irine smiled fearlessly towards him.
Kusla could only remain on the defensive before her.
Strangely, he probably had no reservations about it.
“So I’ll be kind and tell you. Don’t treat little Ul that way. She likes to act tough. She’s a girl with lots of pride. If you treat her like a child, she will be hurt, so you can’t mention that yourself.”
“Hear me out. Despite that, she definitely hopes to have someone to talk to. This role was played by me not too long ago…now whose turn is it going to be？”
Enough with the boasting, so Kusla wanted to say, but he was the one asking for help after all.
So he continued to listen silently.
“And even then, you can’t just be talking the entire time, or say that she should forget. These are what you normally do.”
“It’s like smelting.”
The heat of a furnace should neither be too hot or too cold. The additives to remove impurities should only be added at the right time, at the suitable amount.
“The truth makes sense in many ways.”
Kusla asked, and Irine waved her hand, ushering him over.
Giving an annoyed look, he nevertheless approached her, bringing his ear over.
Irine remained seated to let him know who was in the lead, and seemed satisfied as she happily whispered into his ear.
However, her suggestion left Kusla snorting.
Since she said so, it should be correct, but it so happened to be directly conflicting with what he always said. At this point, how could he say this with such a face? Irine clearly understood his troubles, for she was enjoying herself.
“If this won’t work, I’ll listen to whatever you want me to do.”
She clearly had utmost confidence to say that to an alchemist.
Or perhaps she was trying to agitate him.
He groaned, and continued,
“I talked about turning lead into gold. If it’s the armor on my body, I have to think of how to change, is it…”
“Truth really does explain everything.”
Irine happily indicated.
Kusla sighed, and grabbed his head, thanking her nevertheless. He intended to head to the experiment room, so his feet shifted to the door.
The moment he was about to step out of the room, he stopped, and turned to her.
“What you mentioned.”
“If it doesn’t work, will you really listen to what I say?”
It was typical of an alchemist to capitalize on everything they could use.
While he had no intention to use it, this thing called promise could be withheld for the time being.
“If you don’t bungle it up.”
The bridge of Irine’s nose remained firm, like steel reinforced on it.
Kusla was in turn relieved, smiled, and left the room.
While they were preparing, the Knights reinforcements arrived in Yazon, and the already bustling town was like a boiling pot of water.
The spy did not seem to be exaggerating when he conveyed Alzen’s words, for the arriving Knights were a real force, of grizzled veterans, even with soldiers on horseback.
Alzen truly intended to invade Abbas. The biggest proof was the stockpile of grain and various goods on the carriages, along with something unbelievable.
“Even the dragons are here.”
There was no need to agitate the people of Yazon, so the dragons were tightly sealed, but Irine was the first to find out. As to be expected of their maker.
“He’s for real..”
“It makes us tremble~.”
Kusla taunted Weyland, but part of it was for himself. The bar of expectations was that they would be lavishly rewarded if they succeeded, but at the same time, the gallows awaited them if they failed.
“Wohohohoho. If we can’t find it, we’ll be the laughing stock of all of history~.”
“Do we really have an idea?”
“What do you think？”
Kusla retorted, and Irine looked displeased.
“How would I know if we have an idea?”
Irine remained silent, but she seemed tentative to talk.
It was likely that no matter the perspective, the future developments would leave her heart jolting, unable to calm down. No matter whether they succeeded, there was a strong premonition of a prelude being unveiled, and he too could not help but feel unsteady in the heart.
“But isn’t this interesting?””
“The scales demand for equal balance. Since our objective is a technology that might turn the world over, what we should bet on must be of equal value.”
Given that they had such expectations, if they could not produce the results, the consequences would be utterly dire. Even with the accomplishment of the dragon flamethrowers ensuring that they would not be hunted, it seemed they would not get any ordinary treatment in the future.
For that reason, when the time came, the throne of gold would await them.
Next to him, Fenesis was tugging at his clothes.
“Let us enjoy it.”
He patted her on the back.
“Aren’t you an alchemist？”
She lifted her head, smiling after much teeth gnashing.
The Knights reinforcements never stopped, and two days later, they departed. Kusla and the others appeared not to be related to the Knights, so they were grouped with the merchants hoping to seize business opportunities, along with wandering blacksmiths, and the hordes of people flocked like fledglings following their mother. Thus, it was a bustling trip, and with the army waving the Knights’ flag protecting them, they had no need to worry about raids from bandits and thieves.
And when they were resting, the merchants, having sniffed out the opportunities, would wander around to sell food and drinks, while the studious wandering shoemakers and tailors would promote their wares. It was a journey not lacking in bustle and goods.
Thanks to them, there was surely no boring moments. However, there were downsides, which would it could be considered selfish to be considered one, but it was the case for Kusla.
On their journey to Yazon, they were basically in the middle of a festival procession, frantic and hasty, and this never stopped even after leaving.
Perhaps it was for this reason that Fenesis never looked lonely even after leaving her new friend Helena, especially when they embraced and went their separate ways at the gates. Instead, it was Helena who was on the verge of tears, and Fenesis was kindly comforting her.
Fenesis had become stronger. There was no doubt, and it was something worth being happy over.
Kusla found himself bored. He lowered his pedestal, and owed Irine a favor, but Fenesis seemed intent not to show weakness. Kusla kept repeating the scenario in his mind several times, trying to successfully convey what Irine taught him.
While they sat on the wobbling carriagem, she had her back on his side, still holding the stone tablet as she practiced the words of the Church. She did that not to distract herself from the gloom of leaving Helena, but to learn the words as quickly as possible, to learn about ancient words, and be of use to their experiments. Her zeal was clear to see. Fenesis’ whimpering self seemed to be far in the distant memories.
There was nothing for him to nitpick, so he placed his elbow by the railing, blankly staring at the scenery.
He knew Irine’s suggestion was correct, but it was pointless if he could not use it.
Her anguish after separating from Helena was not something Kusla had to console over, but he could not cheer her up just by telling her to forget. Whenever Fenesis shows weakness, this is what you should say, what Irine whispered to him was,
Find me when you’re unhappy, whenever is fine.
He always repeated to Fenesis, who always unconditionally placed hopes on himself, to rely on him, and not anyone else. He did so because he did not want the hassle, and felt if he did not do so, she would never grow up.
At this point however, he was waiting for the moment when she would rely on him, and she gradually found a way to move on by herself without relying on others.
Such might be the way of the world.
So Kusla pondered under the blue sky.
“I see the town—!”
Looking at this from a certain perspective, the arduous time lasted for ten days or so, and it was past noon.
They heard this bellow from the advancing vanguard.
After ten days of travelling, even the most ferocious of warriors would show fatigue. Furthermore, they were headed north, and the air got colder, the winds more frigid, the roads more dire by the day.
Due to the Knights forces leading in front, they had an easier time passing through. Despite that, there was rain with hail over the last two days, and the wheels sank into the mud, resulting in everyone having to push. Thus, they climbed the mountain while covered in mud all over.
Perhaps it was reward for them after experiencing this hardship.
Once they finally passed the hardship, the cold rain stopped, the dark clouds paved aside by the winds. Once their drenched clothes and belongings turned dry, they stood at the peak.
The scenery before them was really a different world.
It was a clear cloudless sky, yet it felt hazy. The forests were obvious, and between the gaps, one could see the black river meandering like a snake, for everywhere else was dyed white by the snow. Every single person was covered in dirt, some snivelling in the cold. Some pulled the collar to their mouths, watching this scenery without a word.
From the peak to the end of the mountain path, there was a river running through the middle, ostensibly floating upon a pure white sea. It also resembled the belly of a snake that had devoured an egg, prone upon the snow.
Abbas. So someone said.
The wooden town walls were like a screen belonging to the previous century, looking really unreliable. There were several long trails of white smoke seeping from the gaps of the wall, but it seemed they were not remnants of the war, for Abbas never wanted to fight the Knights, and the Knights never tried to breach her walls.
The Southern merchant guilds had branches in Abbas to facilitate their business, and any conquest would be deemed a declaration of war against the Southern countries. Also, the guilds would not wish for their goods to perish in the flames of war. Most importantly, there was nary a fighting force of soldiers. It was disadvantageous, or even neurotical, for there to be no soldiers around.
The Knights had sent messengers over, and believed in Abbas’ sincerity, for they knew Abbas had no plot to hide any soldiers, and that it was impossible to recruit soldiers at this place.
The reason for that being that, even if they tried to gather all their forces in this distant land, the Knights had already controlled the land routes of Latria, and there was Nilberk buffering against the southern sea routes. Thus, it was difficult bringing hordes of soldiers and horses into the North.
Also, Latria and the merchant guilds established in Abbas were unspoken allies, but given that Latria was on the verge of destruction, she had no power to devote forces to this rural town of Abbas.
There were no riots, for the people of Abbas knew the Knights would arrive, and had steeled themselves for it.
Thus, the Knights managed to penetrate Abbas’ walls without starting the flames of war, and looking down from the peak, the forces could be seen streaming into the the town south of the river.
The town was divided into two parts, north and south. The north was bigger and livelier, while the buildings in the south were grand, and there were an abnormally large number of houses with large gardens. Most likely, they were places for the merchant guilds to hold their goods. The Knights might have intended to station their forces there as a temporary base.
The southern town was atop a mound, tall enough to overlook the north. It was obvious the Southern guilds had ties to Latria, but one would be uneasy setting up shop in Pagan lands. Thus, before anything happened, they tried to build a military advantage in such a position, with courtyards and warehouses to store important goods, which the Knights were trying to seize upon.
In any case, the Knights managed to absorb Abbas into its dominion without dealing directly with her. There were no battles, just people being ushered through the walls, and there was no reason for any disgruntlement. They could achieve their objective by preventing the Knights from declaring war against the countries that had set up their guilds here.
For Kusla in particular, it was a relief for him to not worry about precious information being destroyed by battle, or that the brains containing knowledge would be severed.
Though he had received intel from the spies, it was strangely surreal witnessing Abbas from the peak.
Kusla gently placed his hand on Fenesis’s shoulder, as though checking if it was reality. The shoulder remained thin and frail, but with some added reliability. The latter looked up at hi, baring the smile of newly sprouted spring underneath the mask of cracked dirt.
“It does sound like the prelude of a legend.”
Such arrogant words truly struck a chord in Kusla’s heart.
She was right.
Kusla smiled, and Fenesis’ smile bloomed further. The dirt fell off her face, bit by bit, like a hatching fledging.
“Just a little more!”
A travelling merchant, seemingly used to such travels, yelled loudly.
Everyone seemed to have recovered from a spell, and strode off.
They remained silent, but there was a burning sensation felt.
Since they arrived at the end of the world, they had to grab something.
It seemed everyone had the same thought.
The Knights entered the southern half of the town, while Kusla and the others went to the other side of the river, the bustling north. They took a boat from the south, and there were many of these boats. Some drifted upstream to this town, and some were preparing to sail down to the sea, shipping out goods from the far North, or shipping in goods from the South.
The port however was a little unique. It did not seem like there was a river running through the town, but that there were towns divided by a river.
The reason for that was due to the fact that there were gates and walls built along the north and south banks. It seemed most likely it was to prevent invasion through the river, but to Kusla, it seemed the river was flanked by two towns instead.
They arrived at the northern port of Abbas and assumed there would be hostile looks. However, while the residents looked uneasy, they never particularly paid heed to these people. Those resembling merchants were all the more poised.
This town relied more on trade than Yazon, so the residents might have been used to seeing swarms of strangers roaming into the town. The merchants were so calm, for they probably realized the Knights had no intention of destroying the town. For them, any trade was fine. Either way, Kusla and the others had nothing to complain if they could avoid all hassle
After that, they arrived at the inn the spies arranged for them, and removed their baggage, and the dirt coated clothes that were hard like armor. One could seemingly understand how it felt to be an insect molting.
While stretching their stiff bodies, a deep growl could cuddenly be heard from the next room.
The beast like groans were actually Fenesis and Irine.
They poured the boiling water provided by the inn into the wooden pail, and went to remove the grime from the journey.
As there were a limited number of pails, Kusla and Weyland let the women first, and waited for their turns.
“These voices give me the urge to peep~.”
Weyland said. Whether he was covered in dirt and mud, there was not much obvious change, for his usual attire was already filthy.
“Is that the sound maidens make when they bathe?”
One could practically hear a barbaric voice coming from the door. Bring the
“It’s interesting seeing the difference between being completely careless and being embarrassed~.”
“I don’t understand.”
Kusla shrugged, and peered through the window.
The inn was a four storeyed building, and their room was at the top. The main street opposite the inn had buildings of similar heights along it, down the right, until the end of the town. As they had heard beforehand, the great merchant guilds south of Latira were gathere at this place, the flags of their crest flapping boldly.
“Knowledge is all too clear on paper, but it’s rather surreal to witness it personally.”
Even as the snow-chilled breeze blew by in the town, there was a sense of solace.
One would have the urge to drink distilled wine and marvel at the scenery of this foreign ountry.
“You’re being quite the poet there. What do you mean~?”
Weyland said as he uncork a bottle.
It was the distilled wine Kusla wanted to drink.
“Hey, leave some for me!”
“Can’t we make more later anyway~? With Irine around, we can make as many distillation tools or dragon flamethrowers.”
So he downed the wine, slapping his knee.
Kusla coldly snorted, and looked beyond the window again.
Before his eyes was a street beyond the foreign lands of Latria, linked to the ends of the world.
The knowledge on paper would likely list this as an uncultured land ravaged by Pagans and barbarians, but the scenery was not much different from the southern towns. One of the reasons was that the merchant guilds had occupried half of the town. Looking at the town itself, the walls did not appear to be defending it, but rather to protect the existing of these guilds and the goods within.
Perhaps it was for this reason that the atmosphere in this town was similar to the South, not the south, and different from the few pagan towns they passed. There was no church bell, no chapel, and most of the people beneath his eyes travelling by the streets were dressed as tourists. One could easily think of the uniqueness by realizing this town was a trade hotspot instead of a place to live, but Kusla still felt the town was differed from others.
The air seemed to distant.
He was an alchemist, an alien to any town, a disdained existence, and for this reason, he was particularly sensitive to this atmosphere.
Right when he was about to pick out the strangeness of the town like trails of smoke, he heard Irine’s carefree voice.
Her skin, once sullied in dirt, flakey and rough due to the frigid winds, was smooth and glossy like a bowl of beans. Fenesis too followed, her fatigue oozing out probably due to her warmed body, and instead, she looked groggy. Her skin and hair were white, and one would imagine her as a jellyfish.
“Our turn next~.”
Weyland said excitedly, and even Kusla could not resist the temptation of washing his face with hot water.
He shall aside his thoughts for the time being, and head to the next room to get the pail.
But right when his hand touched the door to the next room, someone pulled him.
“H-hold on a moment!”
Irine looked frantic.
“W-where are you going?””
“Where else? Get the pails. I’ve been waiting for you two to be done.”
“W-wait, wait a moment.”
“Huh? Hey, I’m tired too. Let me use it already.”
While Kusla retorted, Fenesis caught Irine’s eyes, woke from her grogginess, and hastily hurried over, opening the door to the next room in a secretive manner, and entered it.
“What’s going on？”
While feeling doubt, Kusla’s shoulder was tapped upon.
He turned around to find Weyland.
“Kusla, you should start learning the heart of a maiden~.”
Strangely, while Kusla had such a though, Irine shoved him over to Weyland, and returned into the next room. Soon after, they could hear the sounds of pail water poured out onto the streets. Later, Irine and Fenesis returned nonchalantly, handing over the pails with grins.
“Thank you for letting us wash first.”
Next to Irine, Fenesis showed a pretentious smile. Kusla received the pails from them, and tilted in confusion. While heading downstairs to the kitchen with empty pails in toil, Weyland looked over at the pail he was going to use, saying,
“They really don’t want others to see the hot water dirty~.”
“…Those two think they’re pixies or something?”
In response to Kusla’s words, Weyland showed a smile maintaining his ambiguous stance on the matter.
The inn’s kitchen was filled with people queuing for hot water. Typically, he could have used his privilege as an alchemist to cut through, but he was hiding his identity at this point, and if he was to start a commotion, it would cause trouble. Thus, he obediently queued, but Weyland unexpected jumped the queue for hot water, and exited the kitchen gleefully. He might have sweet talked someone into letting him though.
Kusla sighed dumbfoundedly, and told himself it was not a bad thing to pretend being a kind citizen as he continued to queue obediently.
Once he was done filling the pail with water, he brought it back to the room. Irine and Fenesis were lying on the bed, asleep.
“So us men will sleep in the hay?
The spies were unable to secure another bed, which meant that someone would have to lay out a straw mat to sleep on. However, he did not wish to accept this unconditionally.
Luckily, there was another bed.
Then, he suddenly realized that if he was to clean himself slowly, then Weyland would be sprawled all over it once he was done. Surely it was for that reason that Weyland was so uncouth in the kitchen.
Kusla gritted his teeth angrily, even having the urge to splash water on the bed so that nobody could sleep. At this moment, Weyland walked out from next door.
“Whew~ I’m used to having a huge sweat before the furance, but the mud’s really unbearable~. Feels a lot better~~.”
So he said heartily, saw the two girls on the bed, and was utterly elated.
“Ufufufu. So cute. I really want to slip my hand between them for warmth.”
Kusla was completely dumbfounded, and as he understood why Weyland would do so, was immediately displeased. He shook his head in self-loathing, abandoned the urge to throw hot water over them, went to the next room, and put the pail down. It would be a waste to let the hot water cool after all the effort to get it.
He casually glanced aside, and saw that the pail Weyland used was cleared of hot water, hanging properly by the wall. While he looked the shoddy type, an alchemist was required to clear up after every use, and this principle was etched firmly within him.
“He’s a vexing one.”
Kusla cursed, and began stripping, clearly the dirt from his body. The hot water he had not had in a while nearly gave him the urge to moan, and he leered at himself, thinking that he might not have any right to laugh at those two girls. After washing his hair, face and body, he felt a lot refreshed.
Then, he started sorting out his to-do list in his mind.
He should not be having a nap after a bath. He had to find the angel’s legend through these hands, this head.
He put on his clothes again, and returned to the room with enthusiasm.
But once he entered, it was all sapped away, and his lips were stiff. Weyland had fallen asleep as he expected, and incredulously, next to Fenesis and Irine. Irine was embracing Fenesis firmly like a hot water bottle, while Weyland was opposite Irine, his arm under Fenesis and Irine, looking extremely satisfied. Between them, Fenesis was groaning painfully.
It was at this moment that Kusla realized that while he might not be an upright, kind citizen, he might be unexpectedly strait-laced..
He pouted furiously.
First, he would visit the people who knew most about this town. Basically, such people were not the old residents, but the missionaries that could be found in any such town.
Looking down from the peak, there was no sight of any belltower in this town, and it was truly the intersection between the pagan lands and the far North. They had affirmed there was no church, but the missionaries definitely existed like rats. They were scattered all over various towns, sometimes because of religious zeal, and some to gather new believers for their unestablished churches, to have their own churches, out of practical considerations.
No matter the motive, there was a need to understand others before trying to convince, a common theme altogether. Missionaries would surely understand well what the residents believed in, what legends existed.
Kusla flapped the coat draped on the window, dusting off the dirted dirt.
This much would not make the clothes any cleaning, the white of the dirt crumbs and dirt were similar. Ash to ash, dust to dust. This obvious example would strike memories of the biblical text. He picked up the dagger, tied it to the waist along with the bag containing the sun fragment, and was done with his preparations.
He glanced aside at the sleeping trio, and was no longer incensed. This world was an endless path, and he could not keep advancing without relying on his own legs, and he had no obligation to bring along those without the urge to continue.
The restless alchemist, it had been a while since he remembered this moniker.
And right when he went out to the door, his hand touching the handle.
He could hear a barely audible cry, and looked back to find Fenesis getting up between Irine and Weyland.
However, she was looking weird, her eyes almost closed, not looking at him. Her ears were also tilted wildly. It seemed this would be the look of a corpse dug from the grave.
Kusla was a little startled to see this, and Fenesis began crawling out between the two as though she was possessed. She was not acting her usual self, shoving aside Irine’s face, prying away Weyland’s arm, not worried that those two would be woken up, it seemed him.
He could not determine where she was looking, and once she got off the bed, her knees seemed weak as she fell on her backside. Before her lower body got up, her hands were already outstretched, crawling.
She looked demented, or possessed by the devil.
Finally, she got up on her dull legs, stumbling over, falling towards Kusla.
Kusla panickedly lifted her up, and her body had lingering traces of warmth from sleeping between those two.
But Fenesis was grabbing onto Kusla’s clothes firmly, not letting go.
Was she dreaming?
So Kusla thought, but he realized it was not the case.
For as she muttered, her expressionless eyes were weeping.
Fenesis was probably still asleep. She was able to walk her, probably for similar reasons as Weyland keeping the pail.
She, with the cursed bloodline within her, was endangered no matter which town she went to, and could only escape from one journey to happen. In her dreams, she was invaded upon, and before she opened her eyes, she would be thinking of how to begin her escape.
Such actions would end up being ingrained in her, and she would act before she could thinking. She was sleeping soundly, and would not wake up even if her ears were teased, yet she could sense that mood.
Kusla embraced Fenesis, who was softer than usual because of the exceptional heat, and sighed. He had no intention of bringing along someone who had no interest, but since she had followed, he would not refuse.
He reached his arm around her head, still in its nightmares, latching on firmly to calm her down, lifted her by the collar, and pulled her.
Fenesis finally blinked at this moment.
“Are you done?”
Fenesis looked around, and stared at Kusla again.
“It’s impressive that you’re still trying to follow even when you’re sleeping. I’ll bring you along, get ready.”
He let her go, and while she stumbled, she did not fall down on her backside.
While she was looking somewhat incredulous, she did realize what she did while dazed. It was obvious from how her cheeks were flushed.
However, she was not embarrassed, her compressed emotions turning into an elated, tearful smile.
She sniveled, wiped her eyes, and hastily looked for her coat, put it on without dusting it, and hurried to Kusla. She was pretending to be a young apprentice, her deftness befitting her facade, but there might not be another with such a beaming face.
Kusla did not understand why Fenesis was being so happy. Was it because she no longer had to wander for her life, or that she caught up to Kusla?
In any case, it did not matter much to Kusla.
For whatever the reason, he had the urge to reach out and touch her.
And when Kusla reached out to Fenesis, the latter narrowed her eyes and shriveled her neck. The green eyes looked up in clear abuse, yet they were moist with some expectations.
It seemed that way, but actually, she had just woken up, and Kusla reached out for her disguise.
“You forgot your headcloth. Your ears are exposed.”
Kusla grabbed Fenesis’ left ear, shaking it left and right. After flicking the ear and letting go, Fenesis held down her ear, and glared at Kusla. Naturally, Kusla ignored her reaction, and hurried down the corridor.
Fenesis obediently sought out the headcloth, wrapped it around her head, and gave chase. She scowled, not even giving basic courtesy like, kept you waiting.
She seemed to be pouting, instead of fuming at the pain she suffered.
For the time being, he would ignore the reason as to why she was pouting.
Kusla showed a wry smile as Fenesis hurried off in large strides before him, and was about to close the door, only to see that Weyland had woken up on the bed.
Weyland was looking around, leering lecherously.
Damn you. Kusla twitched his lips, and closed the door.
If those two had not been in the room, he would not let Fenesis have the chance to pout.
So Kusla thought. If minerals had no impurities, the situation would differ.
Such foolishness, so he quietly muttered in his heart.
He descended the stairs, and found that within the inn, there were some lively fellows from Yazon raising their mugs. The three spies were among the scent of wine, fragrant roasted meat, and noise, chirping away.
While they obviously had different appearances when seated together, whenever Kusla faced a single one, he was unable to tell who was who. They really were a bunch of mysterious fellows, so he thought.
One of the spies noticed Kusla.
“If you’re looking for the pipsqueak, she’s out there.”
The little smile on his face might be due to Fenesis storming by, out of the bar in a huff.
Of course, there was some slight mockery in the use of the word pipsqueak.
“Just to ask, where are you two going?”
Like two sides of the same coin, care and supervision were two aspects of the same act. Kusla informed them of their objectives, and if anything was to happen, it would be easier to gain their help.
“I want to look for a missionary. There should be one in this town, yes?”
“In that case, you might want to knock on the doors of a few merchant guilds.”
“Those helping God’s servants are basically accumulating wealth in heaven.”
In other words, those that provided wandering missionaries with food and clothes were wiping off the sins of accumulating wealth.
“Also, help gather some information on this town’s old legends.”
“We’re discussing this matter.”
Kusla shrugged, and went out.
The coal in the bar’s furnace remained new and fresh, and Kusla’s body inadvertently shriveled once he exited, met by the cold, stinging air. Even if he wanted to experiment with the sun fragment in such a cold place, the conditions would have to change, so he thought.
Fenesis was waiting near the entrance of the inn. She was not looking over, probably because she was fuming. Despite that, when Kusla walked, she followed, and he had an increasing urge to tease her.
It was clearly Fenesis’ fault, so Kusla selfishly interpreted.
But as they walked on the street, the cold breeze blew, and this anxious feeling was blown aside. This might be the reason why people in the cold regions were filled with gloom,
Kusla and Fenesis wordlessly walked down the inn. There should be a missionary in this town, and they could ask or knock on the door of any guild. However, it might be better to understand the guilds in this town, rather than to headlessly look around.
The best way to understand this town would be akin to experimentation, to observe carefully. Thus, for the time being, Kusla decided to survey around. Just as Fenesis next to him was disguised as a boy apprentice, Kusla changed his role as the young lord of a craftsman guild who was expelled. He could not fool around in such a foolish role.
It seemed that as a trading town, Abbas had massive profits, for its roads were wide. The ground was not paved with dirt, but with wooden logs shaved in half, probably due to the snow. Whenever a carriage passed, there would be a unique clattering sound. There was definitely a rich forest up the river.
But after they arrived at the plaza in the center, he realized the cleanliness of the road was not completely down to the abundance of money.
The plaza was round in shape, the roads extending out in four directions, in Southern style. The exterior was decorated with fresh flowers and lush trees, the residences surrounding the plaza being ornamented.
“So they’re preparing for a festival…maybe this is the reason why there’s no war here.”
Since the festival was to be held at this place, it seemed it was not of Orthodoxy. However, the Knights would not be pointing their spears at the residents, telling them to stop. Their actions clearly showed they did not conquer this place through wanton measures.
For most of the town residents, the ruler was simply who they handed their taxes to.
As long as their daily lives were not disturbed, it did not matter whether it was the Latrian Queen or the Knights.
“This doesn’t feel like…a Cathedral. A temple? What’s being worshipped inside?”
The stone temple in the middle of the plaza had a large gate made of wood and metal, but the temple itself was not big. Looking from the outside, it seemed there was only space for one after opening the gates. A suspicious Kusla tapped at the gates, and from the sound, he deduced there was quite a massive space behind.
“So…there are stairs behind? How far does it go??”
Kusla’s clothes were tugged at, and looking back, he found Fenesis giving him a look.
The residents decorating at various points of the plaza were staring intently. Back when he was acting like an alchemist, he would just look back at the residents and question them thoroughly. However, this was not the time for him to be causing a ruckus. He could only pretend to be a foolish traveler, and leave quietly.
Kusla and Fenesis passed the plaza, with a few stares upon them, until they stopped caring.
“This place might have buried legends, just like Kazan.”
Kusla said half-jokingly, and Fenesis, who wanted to avoid conflict at all times, looked back to affirm, before sigh with a reluctant look.
As they continued to observe the town, he notice that while it was so big, it was strangely quiet. The buildings were grand, and there were many houses, but there were few people hustling around around. There were few people at the plaza preparing for the festival to begin with. Perhaps the residents were hiding in their houses because of the Knights, or perhaps they were not working outside due to the winter. While there were a few working on the blacksmith streets, one could feel the languidness walking down the streets.
“It’s a depressing town.”
Kusla quietly muttered, and next to him, Fenesis made a little sneeze.
But she, who had been scowling at him the entire time once they left the inn, might have sensed this gesture was an act of defeat of some sort,for she looked aside, giving the ‘I was not sneezing’ face.
And Kusla, who found it foolish to sigh, said,
“Hey, go run an errand.”
The ears under Fenesis’s headcloth twitched, and she turned her face around.
“Buy some drinks from that stall.”
He tossed a silver coin, and Fenesis hastily caught it, peeking at his expression.
“There should be someone selling hot wine out there. I want that. You can choose whatever you like.”
It appeared Fenesis had some words to say, but she kept quiet and teetered off.
She returned, and he saw that she bought goat milk boiled with honey and ginger. It might be suited for a princess, being a substitute drink for wine, when those port workers were trying to avoid falling into the water in a drunken daze. It seemed she was snivelling snot due to the hot air, for she kept huffing at the goat milk, sniveling, looking frantic.
The port was crammed with boats, and it seemed that as a trading area, it was quite the prosperous place. However, there were few numbers, and lack of activity. Perhaps the war against the Knights was increasingly heated, and the Knights sudden counterattack salvaged the situation. The control over the land and sea routes meant that Abbas was akin to a lone island in enemy territory. Trade is like a river flow; once it gets cut off, the only thing left was stagnation.
While Kusla was still observing the situation at the port, someone called for him. Surely there was no strange person around, and obviously, it was from Fenesis next to him.
“What? Is the ginger too spicy？”
“…I am no child.”
The heat dampened her face, and she was snivelling, making her look as she was crying like a bullid fellow.
“We are…looking for a missionary, no?”
Given her hearing ability, the conversation in the inn was not going to stump her.
“That is correct. Is there anything concerning you?”
So he replied, and Fenesis gently shook her head, saying,
“No. I simply never expected people of the Church to be here.”
Fenesis was originally a nun, but before that, she was one of the Cursed Ones, and ever since her birth, she was persecuted by both the Church, and the pagans
“You thought you had nowhere to run to?”
Fenesis looked up in shock, her stiff face slowly relaxing, and she smiled sadly.
Her hands were holding the sweet goat milk with ginger spiciness as her eyes looked beyond the river
While Fenesis was protected by the Knights, the Knights never did it out of morality. Her cursed bloodline could be used for many purposes. SImply put, they took her in as a tool
But no matter where she went, as long as the Church’s ears remained, peaceful days would not visit her.
Kusla took a sip of the harsh, sour wine, saying,
“But if we can find the legend, this might not be the case.”
“I won’t let anyone say anything unnecessary. Maybe we can be like the glassmakers, build a workshop in the forest, with privileges, protections.”
Hearing these words, Fenesis stared at Kusla as though she had seen a meteor rain.
“The angel’s tail is definitely at a place we can reach to. So…according to the logic of this world, if we think about this now,nothing good will happen thereafter, but–”
Kusla reached his hand out to Fenesis, rubbing her head along with her bangs.
“I should be thinking of a reward. Or maybe…”
For one moment, he hesitated, but he said it.
“I can set up a workshop in Yazon.”
Fenesis seemed to be thinking of something, looking away from Kusla, only to hurriedly look back.
Kusla raised an eyebrow as he glared down at Fenesis, who reeled her neck back like a cat, blinking.
This scene lasted for a while, and Kusla sighed, looking elsewhere.
“Don’t you have a friend there?”
Fenesis was taken aback, nearly spilling the goat milk.
However, Fenesis seemed to have not heard this advise. At this moment, she looked as though she was on the verge of tears, as though she was teased mercilessly as she stared back.
“H-how did you know that…?”
Kusla looked displeased when he retorted, but he was fuming out of embarrassment, for it was Irine who informed him.
Nevertheless, it was him who noticed something strange about Fenesis. All he did was take a page out of Irine’s book and borrowed its knowledge.
He tried convincing himself with this excuse, saying,
“I can tell by looking.”
Fenesis pouted unhappily.
She looked embarrassed, and guilty, and happy.
“Look, I don’t have any friends…but I know it’s a nice feeling to have people accompanying you. I thought seperation was as normal as breathing, and wouldn’t think I would be hurt by something like this.”
Kusla stared at the wine in his hand as he endured the awkwardness these words left him with. Warm, disgusting acrid, yet something addictive.
“But some busybody told me it wasn’t the case.”
When he first met Fenesis, his lover was killed. She was a spy sent by the Pope to steal Kusla’s skills, and thus he had no pity for her, nor any pain. It was during then did Fenesis told him the truth.
Kusla looked back at Fenesis, and rubbed her head out of awkwardness, blotting out her stare.
“So, I can more or less understand the feeling.”
His lips were grimacing bitterly.
“It’s called growth, even though it sounds stupid.”
He shrugged, and downed the wine. Fenesis stared at Kusla in shock, and then finally smiled as though something had thawed.
“Your growth has delighted me.”
“…Who do you think you are?”
He tapped at her face, and easily nudged her demure body.
But she did not fall down, her smile never vanishing.
“I am an alchemist’s apprentice.”
It was amusing.
He truly found it hilarious, but it was not a bad feeling.
“Once we find the angel’s legend, the reward is there for us.”
Kusla muttered, but this was no grandeur delusion, no daydream.
For depending on the usage, it might be a technology capable of conquering the whole world.
But this was not all to Kusla’s goal.
The angel who left the legend behind might be a cursed one, one of Fenesis’ people, her cursed bloodline. Ultimately, it might be because they as a group had such advanced technology.
In that case, no matter where they had to go, especially at this place where they could meet a missionary, that there might be a day the curse that tormented her the entire time might be undone.
He already knew the angel was definitely no angel, and the technology was no mere technology, but something that could be recreated again.
Thus, it might be fulfilled.
It might break the curse that caused those precious to him to suffer, to be exposed to danger.
The Sword of Orichalcum he kept pursuing was in fact not one used to cleave the earth apart, but to sever the decades of consequences. Despite that, Kusla did not mind, as long as the results were same. As long as he could reach the land of Magdala, the place of serenity, and live up to the title of the restless alchemist, there would be nothing else better.
Kusla voiced out, trying to leave the groggy imagination behind him.
He dumped the unfinished fluids of the mug into the gutter, for there was no need to continue warming his body.
But as Fenesis watched Kusla’s actions, she seemed to have some desire to do so, but she could not.
And thus, what Fenesis did was truly befitting of her.
It should be hot, but she closed her eyes and finished it all in one gulp.
If that had been wine, he could have said she did a good job, but a sweet goat milk with ginger and honey was truly not worth the praise. Despite that, the Fenesis he first met would surely not have done so, and probably would not.
Truly she had growting.
“I-I shall, ack! Return the mug.”
Fenesis was speaking unnaturally, probably resisting the urge to vomit, or burp.
She received the mug from Kusla, and on the way back to the stall, she stopped for a moment, covering her mouth.
But she did not vomit.
“Alchemists have to learn how to struggle.”
Kusla patted Fenesis on the back, and as she shriveled in shock, he burst out laughing.
While Fenesis was fuming, she would stop whenever she was about to burp.
“You don’t have to rush.”
Muttering that, Kusla strode off.
Yes, there was no need to panic.
For the thing he really yearned to have was near him.
As Kusla waited, Fenesis stared back at him, looking somewhat suspicious, probably because she still could not believe, but it might also be because her stomach was not feeling well.
No matter the reason, Fenesis really looked foolish as she tilted her upper body back, her hand on her stomach as she walked gaudily. If anyone were to bring her to a guild, anyone would be wary of him, thinking he had intentions. Right when he was hesitant over whether he should send her back to rest.
Fenesis, who was frowning unbearably, suddenly widened her eyes, looking elsewhere. Kusla was long used to seeing this reaction from the cat whenever she sensed the presence of others. He followed her eyes, and found a little scuffle at the opposite back
“What do you mean I can’t go in!”
Before the southern town walls by the river, there was a man in a standoff against a soldier. The Knights had entered by the south, and thus, the gates were shut, with strict security. However, it did not seem like the soldier at the gate was of the Knight, but a town guard.
The man harrassing the guard resembled a merchant, and from afar, he looked obese, much mileage and age accumulated on his body. It seemed he was much older than Kusla and Weyland, and looking at the large luggage and knee-high mud, one could understand that he had just arrived.
Kusla shot Fenesis a look, and went to the riverbank.
“I hurriedly turned back because I heard the Knights have arrived. What’s with the attitude of yours!?”
“Master Poldorof gave this order because the Knights have arrived. He said not to allow any trouble, so no suspicious people around.”
“Me, you say? When I lived in this town for four years?”
“I know you, that’s why I’m stopping you. You’re Phil Botteo, right?”
“Yes! The knowledge keeper of the Great Jedeel Guild is me! If you stop me, you’re offending the Great Jedeel!”
Whenever the man flailed in protest, the strands of onions tied on his backpack would sway. Garlic and onions were said to be the best companions for a simple, modest traveler.
Looking from afar, it seemed the merchant called Phil might not be one for ploys.
However, Kusla was interested in the various signs, one calling himself a keeper of knowledge, and marked as dangerous by a town guard.
Did he not resemble an alchemist?
And right as he was thinking about this.
“I heard the rumors! The Knights revived the Knights!”
Upon hearing what Phil loudly exclaimed, the guard jolted in shock.
“Fo-fool, watch your words!”
They hastily held down Phil, trying to drag him away. Like Kusla, the residents at the port knew nothing, and watched this commotion. Someone actually cheered him on, “Hey, don’t give up, Mr Phil!” It seemed that merchant was very famous here.
“I’m not planning anything! It’s very important! We’re on this land God created! What is the past we walked on! This is it! It’s important…!”
A guard probably had enough; Phil continued to yell while being dragged away, and the guard covered his mouth. Despite that, the man called Phil continued to struggle, and the moment the hand covering the mouth let go, he yelled in a voice loud enough for the entire port to hear,
“Let me write!”
And then, he was dragged into a little hut down the river, his voice drowned out.
Left behind nearby was eeries silence. There were men reining in rope, dragging the boats up the shores, flipping it over, and stuffing kemp into the gaps between the wood; there were also men moving goods, and men just wasting their time. Every single person exchanged looks, shrugging and giving wry smiles.
“He’s the same as usual.”
Kusla heard a faint chuckle, and turned around to see a man, probably a blackwith with some wooden hammers hanging by his waist. He was probably a boatmaker.
“Is he someone famous in this town?”
Kusla asked, and the body half naked in this freezing winter sighed with white mist, chuckling,
“Very. He’s willing to fly as long as he gets to write.”
“Books? Is he a book merchant?”
“Probably? But he’s a strange one. He’s always going North, but I never heard of him bringing back anything decent that could be sold. There’s someone among the guards I know who said he checked the lad’s luggage before, and they were all stones and grass. Of course, they weren’t minerals or herbs, and were worth nothing, nothing to be taxed over, but he looked like he brought back treasure. You see him in the bar though, and he’s a good lad. He’s a knowledgeable one, and even showed me the books with the latest boatmaking skills from the South. He’s a famous person in this town, at least.”
It seemed he was a boatmaker after all. Kusla listened to the boatmaker as he saw the guards whisk him into the hut. The merchant called Phil might be a strange one, but he knew of the existence of the Knights’ dragons.
And also, what he said, let me write.
For someone proclaiming himself as the keeper of knowledge, he might be the kind of person Kusla wanted to know.
“And you’re a wandering blacksmith following the Knights, no?”
The boatmaker sized up Kusla, seemingly critiquing him.
His eyes then drifted towards Fenesis, and appeared not to fancy them much.
It seemed he found them too slender to be swinging hammers, building boats.
“That’s what I tell everyone. Yes, I’m wandering around, until my old family calms down.”
Kusla answered as he gave an undaunted smile, and the boatmaker seemed to have his own interpretation.
“Oho. Some young lord from the South? Not bad. If you need to build a ship for distant trading, you can look for me. I came to this damned place from the South, back when I was looking for work, but instead of making sailing boats in this town river, I dream that one day, I’ll be able to build a massive ship sailing down the waves.”
Kusla liked the man, but not because the man accepted his bluff completely.
But that no matter what happened, it was a good thing to have dreams.
“I don’t know about shipbuilding though. I specialize in metals here.”
“Oh, a mineral trader?”
“I do everything relating to metals.”
Hearing Kusla’s answer, the boatmaker nodded with an impressed look, and suddenly looked towards the hut.
“You should have a chat with Phil then.”
“That Phil has always been looking for capable blacksmiths, but it is said what he asks for is too difficult for anyone to make. Everyone told him to return South, where he can find as many capable blacksmiths as he want, but he insisted not to leave this place. He is an eccentric one. Why did the Great Jedeel Guild employ someone like him. The rumors… …”
Then, the boatmaker suddenly clammed up.
Kusla gave a skeptical look, and he responded with a wry smile.
“Not that. Just that I’ll be scolded by the boss, like, why do I like to chat away. Our boss is a local here, his face like the sky here, gloomy when we don’t expect it.”
Truly, the sky was clear, but grey.
“I agree. Us Southerners quick chatter sure is nostalgic. ”
“Heheh. Thanks for saying that.”
The boatmaker might be a magnanimous person to begin with, and after laughing, he whispered, somewhat concerned about his surroundings,
“It’s a rumor, just a rumor, that Phil’s an alchemist.”
The expected answer meant that Kusla had no need to pretend.
“Well, it’s just a rumor. But he does enter the demon’s belly from time to time, spending the night in there.”
It seemed Kusla’s scowl was picked up by the boatmaker.
“Ah, the demon’s belly is that thing, the temple in the middle of the plaza. You didn’t see it?”
“I did. Are there stairs behind the door?”
“Yes yes. There’s an underground cave beneath this town, and that’s the entrance. I heard that since ancient days, they hold a ritual that shouldn’t be talked about, and it was used as a jail. Recently, it’s only used for the festival.”
One had to wonder if he had loose lips to begin with, or was trying to build rapport with Kusla, believing the latter to be a great merchant.
Despite that, Kusla never missed out on what he said.
“That festival is pretty unique, worth a look. The Knights so happened to show up when they’re preparing for real…but it doesn’t look like it’ll be stopped.”
Kusla maintained a disenchanted look the entire time, but the past knowledge was plowing a tornado in his mind. Next to him, Fenesis too was working hard to look stoic.
Kusla exerted all his might to not arrest that man called Phil immediately, slam him onto the chair, and interrogate with every mean he could use.
To divert the expanding emotions, he nonchalantly asked,
“And the festival is？”
Speaking of which, there were hardly any examples of anyone being able to predict exactly what would happen.
“Ah, the festival celebrating the legend of the white demon.”
Kusla was not foolish to turn towards Fenesis, but the latter was completely etched in the memory. It was obvious that she was completely stiffened, and the boatmaker too noticed this.
He stared at Fenesis intently.
Though her head was covered in the headcloth, the color of the hair remained obvious.
This Abbas was the town where the heretical inquisitor Korad Abria was last heard of.
There were rumors of a cursed white demon in this town, and truly, it sounded like a preplanned story.
Kusla had a quiet thought, that it might be faster for his hand to reach for the dagger on his waist, than it was to just talk it off.
And right when he weighed the possibility of this heinous act, lowering his waist,
“Well, you don’t have to feel bad about it. Nobody’s going to slander just because you have white hair. This place is different from the South, it’s common to have lighter hair.”
The boatmaker chimed cordially.
“But once you personally see the white demon, you might tremble in fear.”
So, the white hair was not enough for the boatmaker to think of the cursed people’s descendants? Or perhaps he knew nothing of it at all? Either way, it seemed the hassle was solved.
“Hm, what’s the matter? Were you shocked when you heard about the cursed demon? Ehehehe, for a wandering young lord, you’re pretty superstitious. But in any case, that thing can only be called a demon. The old folks of the town call it God, and it sounds like it, but it’s a god of destruction.”
While Kusla had already calmed down, what the boatmaker said left him curious.
“The demon you speak of is?”
“You’ll be staying in this town for the time being, right? Then you should leave the joy till the moment you see it.”
Sine it was the recreation of a cursed demon at a borderland, it was most likely a parade of a massive doll in the town. Kusla had heard of similar festivals in various parts of the world.
However, the boatmaker boasted, as though he was fluffing his prized wares in the bar,
“You’ll be shocked out of your mind, how in the world is there such a creature on this world..”
“Oh, I revealed too much. Anyway, that’s that. If we meet in the bar, let’s have a drink together. Same for you lad. If you don’t have any work, you can come look for me. We’re getting lazy because of the war, but it’ll be busy once it ends. I’ll take care of you.”
The boatmaker reached his long and muscular arm out, patting on Fenesis’ shoulder.
There was somehow a kind, hearty boatmaker in such a cold, rural place.
Saying these words, he teetered off.
Kusla and Fenesis watched the boatman leave, and remained rooted for quite a while.
He finally spoke up, saying just these words.
Fenesis stammered, and took a deep breath, probably to calm herself down.
“You can take it as an unrelated coincidence, right?”
He was asking himself, and his partner.
“I was often told that if I saw anyone whispering in the corner of my eyes, I had to think of them as selling me out.”
They had to think of the worst case scenario.
“Just in case, we have the Knights to rely on. Right now, they’re on our side..”
The elites were within the tightly shut gates of the south. Even if the townspeople were to try and execute Fenesis for being a cursed one, the Knights would protect her with astounding military superiority.
The cursed white demon.
Was Fenesis’ tribe ultimately unable to break free from the curse？
The term creature was worrisome.
“I don’t think it’s possible…”
Kusla muttered, and Fenesis tugged at his clothes.
Her hand appeared to be trembling, perhaps because she was exerting too much force.
“Please do not say so.”
They could somewhat imagine the worst possible situation. One of the worst would be she would be imprisoned, and paraded around during the festival as a cursed person.
Fenesis might not be the only one who came from the desert to the East, wandering and escaping for their lives. The angels who came here in the past might even have some descendants.
In any case, the outlook could not be deemed as optimistic. Back in Yazon, they were called angels, but in many more, they were called demons.
But if they merely thought of the worst situations and shivered in a corner of a room, Kusla never would have become an alchemist seeking the Sword of Orichalcum.
His eyes landed upon the little house .
“Yes. As an alchemist, we should act when there are rumors.”
He was a book merchant, but could not be classified as a typical one.
Also, the temple known as the belly of the demon had to be related somewhat.
What was its true identity? Angel, or devil?
While the sun remained visible in the clear skies, the skies remained a gloomy grey.