“Escha, Logy,” Marion called out as she entered the atelier that was shared by Logy and Escha. Her hair was slightly out of place and there were circles under her eyes. Once again, Marion was being worked to the bone.
“Hi Marion,” Escha said in a happy and chipper voice. She was standing by her cauldron, keeping a watchful eye on the brightly colored liquid inside. The large spoon she used for stirring was resting against the wall. At this stage of the synthesis Escha had to wait as the contents of the cauldron boiled. She couldn’t go too far, as it was volatile enough that she had to keep a close eye on it.
“Escha, where is Logy?” Marion asked. Without waiting for permission, she let herself sink into the couch that was kept in the atelier. There was a temptation to take off her shoes and fully relax, but she resisted that impulse.
“He went to go buy some materials that we need for synthesis. I can’t leave this unattended so I stayed behind.”
“Oh, I see. I need to talk to both of you,” Marion said and sighed. She’d wanted to get this over and done with quickly, but she’d have to wait until Logy had returned from his errand. It wouldn’t make sense to go over it twice.
“Do you want some tea?” Escha offered.
“Yes, that would be wonderful.”
Escha busied herself with preparing two cups of fragrantly scented tea. When she was finished she brought over two white, porcelain cups. Each was filled with hot tea. She handed one to Marion before Escha joined her on the couch. Escha put the cup to her lips and took one experimental sip before making a face. The tea was good, but it was still far too hot for her.
Marion felt a laugh escape her lips. She didn’t mean to laugh at Escha. It was just that the expression she had made at the hot tea, that she herself had prepared, had been silly stress relief that the overworked Marion needed right then and there. Still smiling, Marion took a sip of her own tea. It was a good blend, though it was on the hot side.
“Thanks, Escha, this tea is really good.”
“It was a present from Nio,” Escha said.
The two slowly drank their tea together. They didn’t have to wait long for Logy to return to the atelier. His voice could be heard outside as he spoke to someone. The thick wooden door made it hard to hear exactly what was being said, but Logy’s tone overall sounded like he was in a pretty good mood. His footsteps resounded off of the wooden floors until finally stopping outside the door of the atelier.
“Escha, I’m back,” Logy said as he opened the door. In one hand was a bag full of his recent purchases.
“Welcome back, Logy,” Escha said. Even though it sounded similar to the same cheerful greeting that she’d given Marion, to people who really knew her they would know that she used a tone that she only used when speaking with Logy.
“Hello,” Marion said, “I came to talk to the two of you about an assignment.”
“Alright, do you mind if I take care of this first?”
“Go right ahead. I can wait a little longer.” Marion was enjoying the chance to sit down without having a mountain of paperwork in front of her. She waited patiently as Logy and Escha worked together to store away everything that the two of them would be needing for their synthesis. When the two of them had finished, Logy sat down on a wooden chair while Escha returned to the couch to sit next to Marion.
“What kind of assignment is it?” Logy asked.
“Have the two of you ever heard of a city called Vierzeberg?”
“Hmmm,” Escha said, “isn’t that where Harry is from?”
“Yes,” Marion nodded, “Harry is from the Vierzeberg region. Linca and myself used to be assigned there a couple of years back. There have been reports of a plague sweeping through the area. No attempts to treat it have been effective. There used to be an apothecary, another alchemist, in the region that was reliable at developing medicine.”
“Did something happen to this alchemist?” Logy asked.
“You could say that. She destroyed some ruins and is now a wanted criminal. Since then she’s been traveling with her teacher. Even if I could find Ayesha it wouldn’t matter because I’d have to take her into custody. So, that’s why I’ve come to the two of you.”
“I see,” Logy said.
“Yes, we’re sending the two of you to Vierzeberg to help with synthesizing a cure. Harry has offered to help offset the costs of the trip.”
“But, Marion,” Escha said, “Isn’t the Dreadnaught being serviced? It’s not supposed to be operational for long trips for months.” Even though the airship was amazingly tough and durable it still required regular maintenance. They had been pushing it hard and now it was down for regular maintenance that was long overdue.
“Yes, it will take longer for the Dreadnaught to become fully operational than it would to travel to Vierzeberg on foot. But, the people can’t wait for it to be ready. So, the two of you are going to have to travel there on foot. Hopefully, the Dreadnaught will be able to meet you there so it will be available for your return. I am sorry about this.”
“No, Marion, it’s alright,” Escha said. “They are people that need help now. They can’t wait until the Dreadnaught is fixed.”
“I’ll begin working out how long the journey will be and what supplies we will be needing,” Logy said.
Marion set her empty tea cup aside and rose from the couch. “Thank you, both of you. I know Harry will really appreciate this and I have friends living in the region.”
It was early in the morning, the sun was far from rising. Escha had to stifle a yawn with her hand, but she was up and she was doing one last check of her pack. She’d be carrying alchemy supplies, tools, and reference books, as well as a small cauldron. It couldn’t make anything very big or in large quantities, but it would allow her to do some synthesizing on the road.
“Escha, are you almost ready to go?” Logy asked as he stuck his head through the door.
“Just about,” Escha said. “I’m just double checking that nothing is going to spill inside my pack.”
“When you are ready, Duke wants us to meet him at his bar before we leave.”
“So early? He normally doesn’t open this early in the morning,” Escha said. Since Duke’s bar stayed open so late it tended to also open a bit later in the day, through generally still early enough for a late breakfast. Escha finished her final check and closed up her pack. “Alright, I’m ready.”
Logy helped Escha to put her pack on her back before he swung his own onto his back. Together they stepped out and into the brisk air. The very town seemed to be still sleeping at this early hour. The ever present sent of apples seemed to be magnified by the silence. Escha breathed it in deeply. She was going to miss this scent. Even if Vierzeberg had apple orchards there was no way that they’d be like the ones of Colseit. To Escha, nothing could compare to their apples.
As they approached Duke’s bar they could smell the sweet scent of pancakes long before they could see the light through the windows or hear the sounds of Duke moving around inside. Escha’s mouth watered. She loved Duke’s pancakes, they were one of the things he’d tried out when he wanted to expand his menu. When they stepped inside the bar the only person inside was Duke. He was setting a pair of plates, stacked high with pancakes, at a table.
“Perfect timing,” Duke said. “I wanted the two of you to have a good breakfast in your stomachs before you left.”
“Th-This is for us?” Escha asked.
Duke nodded and said, “It sure is.”
The two of them shed their packs and moved to the wooden table. Escha wasted no time in digging into her stack of pancakes. They were just the right amount of light and fluffy. The whipped cream and berries on top added just the perfect touch. She thought she could even taste some vanilla in them. It didn’t matter, they were delicious. Duke kept their cups full of tea and made conversation with the two as they ate their fill.
“That was so good. Thank you for breakfast, Duke,” Escha said.
“Yes, thank you,” Logy added.
“Anytime, you two are going to be helping some people that really need it. The least I could do was make sure the two of you had something to eat before leaving.”
“We really appreciate it,” Logy said.
Escha and Logy got up from the table, leaving behind the remnants of their early morning feast, and began to help each other in getting their packs back on. They felt lighter now even though their weight was the same as it was before they ate. The two said their goodbyes to Duke before leaving his bar.
Side by side they walked through Colseit, making their way to the town’s entrance. The town was just beginning to wake up as the shopkeepers began to head to their shops and did their early prep for the day. They passed by the homes of friends both old and new. When they came to the edge of town Escha stopped walking.
“I’m fine. I was just mentally saying goodbye to everyone. I mean I’ve been out for weeks at a time, but this is further than I’ve ever gone before.”
“I understand how you feel. You’re leaving home and it’ll be a long time until you return.”
“Is this how you felt when you left Central?” Escha asked.
“No, it’s how I felt when I went back to Central,” Logy said.
They had been on the road for two weeks now. Already they had traveled further from Colseit than Escha had ever been before. It wasn’t that bad. She did miss Colseit and everybody in it, but for some reason she didn’t feel nearly as homesick as she thought that she would. When the roar of a monster echoed out the two of them ducked for cover behind an old, moss covered boulder.
“That sounded like it was coming from ahead of us,” Escha said.
“Yeah, I agree. Escha, can you keep a look out.”
“I got it.” Escha peeked around the side of the boulder, waiting to see if the monster that they heard was going to come their way.
Logy pulled out the map that he’d been given for their journey. He quickly found where they were on the map. With the aid of a compass he tried to figure out an alternate route for the two of them to take. The path ahead of them narrowed dramatically between two canyon walls and remained that way for miles. There was another way around, but they’d have to backtrack almost all the way back to Colseit to do so. They would have have been on the road for a month and have nothing to show for it.
“The only other way around would require us to go almost all the way back to Colseit and it would add an extra week on top of that if we took that route.” He was as much asking for Escha’s opinion as he was informing her of the situation.
“I think we should go through. I mean we aren’t Linca or Reyfer, but we’ve been fighting for years now. We’ve got plenty of bombs. Besides, if we backtrack every time we encounter a monster we’ll never make it to Vierzeberg.”
Logy nodded his head. “I agree. We need to pick and choose out battles, but as long we reasonably think we can take it down I think we should attack.”
They removed their packs, and place them next to the boulder. They didn’t want to risk losing everything they had with them. Over here they’d hopefully be safe. The two took their weapons, a staff for Escha and a sword for Logy, as well as basic items for use in battle. They weren’t swordswomen like Linca, adventurers like Reyfer, or witches like Willbell, but they were alchemists. Logy had made both their weapons and armor, using all of his care and skill with only the best materials. Escha had made their bombs and medicine in her cauldron, showing an almost intuitive knowledge in alchemy. Each had faith in what they had made as well as what their partner had made.
“I’m ready,” Escha said.
They walked forward together. It didn’t take long for them to find the monster. It was blocking the way ahead. The thing was definitely large and powerful, but Escha and Logy had faced bigger and more powerful. The monster’s large tail flicked back and forth as its grey scales glistened. The large claws on its four legs were flexing in and out. The ruby red eyes were looking right at them. They wouldn’t be surprising this foe. As they stepped closer it let out a deafening roar.
They dived to opposite sides as the monster swung its mighty clawed paw at the two of them. Escha and Logy were separated now, but it also couldn’t hit both of them at the same time. The monster decided to turn its attention to Escha. She held her staff protectively in front of her. When it swung at her again she just narrowly managed to jump backwards. She could fear the claws cut the air in front of her.
As it had been attacking Escha, Logy had not been sitting idly by. He pulled a small red cylinder out of his pouch. Inside of it was the concentrated alchemical power of fire. Logy inserted the cylinder into his gauntlet. His arm shook as the gem began to utilize the power in the blitz core. When it was at its peak he brought his arm back and then shot it forward, releasing the fire at the monster. The flames scorched the scales closest to Logy as the monster let out a pained roar. It’s tail swung wildly, failing to connect with him. The monster spun around to face Logy, baring its teeth.
Its injury was now facing Escha. She could see blood slowly oozing out where the scales and flesh had been burnt away from Logy’s attack. Now that it was focused on Logy it was her turn to act. She reversed her grip on her staff, her hands now near the top of it. The staff glowed with a white light as it was imbued with ether. Escha hurled her staff like a spear into the monster’s flesh.
At that moment Logy dashed in with his sword and made a swing at the monster’s neck. While the monster was in pain, it wasn’t so much that it wouldn’t notice the imminent threat on its life that Logy represented. It moved so that Logy’s sword only grazed its neck. Logy was right there and couldn’t get out of the way in time before the monster’s jaw closed on his chest, teeth piercing through clothing and armor and into flesh. It began to shake Logy.
“Logy!” Escha cried out. Her staff was still embedded in the creature. She could use an item but there was a chance that would hurt Logy too. If she did nothing then the monster could kill Logy. Really, it boiled down to two choices: Use an item as carefully as she could or hope that Logy could save himself. Either way there was a chance he could be hurt or killed.
Escha reached into her bag and searched by feel. Her fingers closed around something hard, cold and with sharp angles. She pulled out the slag statue. Instantly she had a slag by her side.
“Attack the monster,” Escha ordered it.
The blue slag raised its fists into the air before rushing the monster, arms swinging wildly. There was no care or finesse, or even any consideration for its own welfare. All it knew was that it had to follow the orders of its mistress. One of the fists connected with Escha’s staff, driving it deeper into the monster’s body.
The monster roared, Logy dropped from its mouth and to the ground. Caring little for her own safety, Escha ran to his side. The monster was too busy wrestling with the slag to bother with her. She grabbed onto Logy’s jacket and began to drag him to safety. Escha just wasn’t strong enough to lift him, but in an emergency she could definitely drag him.
Once the two were away from the immediate threat of being crushed, Escha let him go. She reached into her pouch again and pulled out an ice bomb. She hurled it at the monster. It hit in a shoulder, freezing that part of him instantly. The slag slammed into the frozen flesh, causing it to shatter. The monster was instantly crippled, but it was also angry.
It dove onto the slag, closing its fangs around what passed for the slag’s head. The teeth weren’t able to penetrate in, but that wasn’t stopping the monster from trying.
Escha reached into her bag once more. This time she pulled out a red object shaped like a diamond. It was a lava core. She threw the object at the monster. The second it hit scorching hot fires rained down upon it. The monster was hurt and it couldn’t move very well. All it could do was whimper in pain as the fires burnt out the last of its life. The creature collapsed to the ground, never to move again.
“Thanks, Escha,” Logy managed to get out.
Escha dropped to the ground by his side. She resisted the urge to wrap her arms around him. All that would accomplish was getting blood on her and aggravating his wounds. “Logy, are you alright?”
“The armor took the worst of it, but I am hurt a little.”
“Let me get you some medicine.” Escha fished in her pouch for the medicine she’d synthesized specifically for this journey. As she helped him with the injury the two of them kept on making eye contact. There were feelings there in both of their eyes. Escha knew how she felt for Logy and how he felt about her. Seeing him in danger like that, it scared her.
“Escha, I wanted to say that I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? Sorry for what? It’s not your fault the monster grabbed you.”
“No, I’m sorry because I almost left you again.”
Escha had stopped what she was doing. Logy reached out one hand to gently touch Escha’s cheek. She smiled at him and placed one hand over top of his. Escha bent down and Logy pushed himself up as they kissed.
Logy and Escha walked side by side. Escha had her staff in hand. Logy’s sword beat against his hip with every step he took. The road stretched forever both in front of them and behind them. Not another human soul could be seen. The last time they had seen any signs of human life was a farm that they had passed three days ago where they had bartered for more food. While the two of them had been well supplied when they left on the journey to Vierzeberg, it would simply be impossible for them to take all the food they would need on the trip and were thus forced to acquire more throughout their journey.
“Logy, do you think we should take a break for lunch?” Escha asked.
“Yeah, I think that’ll be a good idea,” Logy said as he stepped off the road and onto the grass. He walked a few feet to a nearby tree. There he took the heavy pack off of his shoulders and set it down. “Whose turn is it to cook?”
“Really?” Logy asked.
“I’m positive. It’s your turn to cook.” Escha bit down on her lip to keep from giggling.
Logy opened the straps that kept the pack closed and began to pull out a pot, some tools, as well is a small selection of food. He paused with a potato in hand as he turned to look at Escha. Her tail ornament was swaying back and forth like that of an amused cat.
“It’s your turn, isn’t it Escha,” Logy said with a sigh, but he was also smiling.
“Yeah, it’s my turn,” Escha readily conceded now that he’d figured it out. Even if he hadn’t realized that she was playing with him she still would have made it up to him by cooking the next couple meals. “I’ll get to it.”
“No, just relax. You’ve been doing most of the alchemy on this trip. I can handle cooking our food a few extra times.” Logy was in fairly good spirits. He had everything out that he needed. It didn’t take him long before he had a small fire going. A small metal pot, just perfect for the two of them, was suspended over the flames. Logy cut up plenty of vegetables to add to the pot. Soon the smell of their lunch was perfuming the air around them.
“Hmm, it smells so good,” Escha said. Even though she had been invited to relax while Logy prepared the meal, Escha was still taking the time to double check everything in her pack. While Logy had carried most of their food, Escha had most of the ingredients for alchemy. This included both raw items and ones that she had prepared. There was always a chance that something could break or spill so she made sure to double check her pack whenever they took a break. That risk was also why Logy carried all of their food. Some of the things she had in her pack would make the food unsafe to eat if it were to spill on them.
“It’s going to be awhile before it’s done.”
“That gives us a chance to relax for a bit then. Hey, Logy, how are your wounds doing?” Escha asked in concern.
“They seem to be healing well. I don’t think there’ll even be a scar thanks to your medicine.”
“Good, I’m glad,” Escha said. Once she finished double checking everything she closed her pack up again and moved to sit next to Logy by the fire. She leant into him as he put one arm around her. “Logy, have you ever been to Vierzeberg?”
“No, but I know a little bit about it.”
“Would you tell me a about it?”
“Well, I know that years back it faced an economic collapse. There’s also a bazaar on certain days where almost anybody can open a shop. The closest towns to it are Hornheim, Riesengang, and Hallos Village. There were rumors a few years back that all the residents of Hallos Village had vanished without a trace but they were later proven to be unfounded. Sorry, that’s about all I know.”
“It’s alright. That’s more than I knew before.” Escha watched the fire for a time as she just enjoyed being with Logy. “Hey, do you feel homesick for Colseit?”
“Hmm, I do miss it but I don’t feel homesick. Why?”
“Well, I don’t feel homesick at all. I guess it just bothers me a little that I don’t miss the place I grew up in more than I do.”
“I see,” Logy said as he moved away from Escha slightly to check their food. He looked satisfied by how the contents of the pot were coming along. Logy began to ladle the food into a pair of bowls. He handed one to Escha and kept one for himself before returning to where he had been sitting.
Escha and Logy ran as the rain poured down on them. Escha’s foot slipped on a wet patch of grass and she started to fall. Logy reached out and grabbed her hand in his. With a jerk he pulled Escha back up to her feet.
“We’re almost there,” Logy yelled out over the storm that raged around them.
“Alright.” Escha could barely hear her own reply. Logy must have heard it because she thought he saw him nod through the curtain of rain.
Logy didn’t let go of her hand as they continued to run through the rain. Lightning struck too close to the two of them for comfort. They had to keep moving. The area they were in was a dried up old river. It was already starting to collect water from all of the rain. When they finally got to where the land began to rise up out of the ground, Logy first pushed Escha up onto the lowest ledge before he climbed up after her. They continued to do this time after time. Logy would push Escha up and then he’d follow. Once they made it to the top the two stopped to catch their breath.
“This way,” Logy said, “I saw a house earlier. They might let us take shelter.”
Escha tried to respond but the wind seemed to snatch the words out of her mouth. When she realized he didn’t hear her that time she nodded her head to show her agreement. They began moving again. They weren’t rushed by the threat of being drowned now so they moved at a safer pace than the dead run they’d been moving at before. Logy still held tight to Escha’s hand.
In the distance a lone house rose up into view. There was a big old tree next to it. No lights were visible through the windows. As they got closer they could see were a cow had once made its bed. From what little they could make out in the rain and darkness, the cottage looked very cozy. The two stepped up to the door and Escha raised her free hand to knock.
There was no answer.
“Hello, is anybody home?” Escha called out.
Still no answer.
Logy tried the doorknob. It turned easily. He pulled the door open revealing a long abandoned home. There were books lining shelves. A bed was stuffed into the corner. The most interesting thing was the large cauldron in the middle.
“It’s an atelier,” Escha cried with glee as she stepped inside.
“This must have been the atelier of the apothecary that Marion told us about.”
“Do you think it’s alright if we wait here for the storm to pass?” Escha asked.
“Well, the door was unlocked and it looks like this place is abandoned. I don’t think it will cause any problems as long as we leave everything as we found it.”
Escha found some wood left behind in the material container. She brought it to Logy who quickly made a nice, toasty fire out of it. The two changed out of their drenched clothing and into their spares. The dripping clothing was laid out to dry by the fire. They wrapped themselves up in blankets and sat close to each other.
Logy reached out to Escha and gave her a quick kiss on the top of her head. She looked up at him and smiled, snuggling closer to him. Together in each other’s arms, with the warm fire in front of them, the cozy atmosphere of Ayesha’s atelier around them, and the storm raging outside, it was all too easy for the two of them to fall asleep.
Escha looked all around them as the wagon bounced down the path. Logy sat next to her, reading a book. In the front was a man named Ernie Lyttleton, he was a traveling merchant. He was heading in the same direction as the two of them and when he’d heard that Escha and Logy were here to help with the plague he was happy to let them hitch a ride in his wagon. The ride let Escha really look around and take in the scenery as they finished the final leg of their journey. She’d found a recipe at the apothecary’s atelier and Escha hoped to be able to modify it to create a cure for the plague.
They passed a herd of cows. She could hear their cute little cries. A cowgirl with braids stopped to wave at the wagon. Escha grinned and waved back. She missed seeing the man with the crossbow that was watching the herd at a safe distance.
“Logy, did you see the-“ Escha turned to look at Logy but then stopped midsentence. Logy looked up from his book and met Escha’s gaze.
“What were you saying, Escha?” He’d been absorbed in his book so all that had registered with him was that she’d said his name.
Escha knew why. She knew why she wasn’t feeling homesick. Yes, she had left Colseit, but she hadn’t left her home. It didn’t matter where she was or what she was doing. As long as she was with Logy that meant that she was home.
“I’m home,” Escha said softly.
Escha turned around so that she was sitting properly inside the wagon next to Logy. She laced the fingers of her hand through his own. She smiled at him as her tail waved back and forth.
“I’m not homesick because I haven’t left home yet.”
Together, hand in hand, they sat in the back of the wagon as it went over a hill and Vierzeberg finally came into view. Soon they would be unpacking and would begin the job of working on synthesizing a cure. In a few weeks they would be joined by the Dreadnaught, carrying their friends from Colseit. One day Escha would have to leave her home and go to a completely new place where she would help a pair of alchemists that shared a nickname. When that happened she would experience homesickness, but that wasn’t this time or this journey.