Vol 1 Ch 11: A Third Variable

LILLA BIT HER FINGERNAILS. She couldn’t let exhaustion and pressure get to her when she was working. All she needed was one seed. One Sporos sample. But the gods — or whichever deity was present at the moment — decided to sow chaos at such a crucial time.

It’s been two days since she let Viktor retrieve the material she needed for the cure. It wasn’t a simple task given the situation but it wasn’t the most difficult either. To make matters worse, Erebus cultists turned out to be the ones responsible for this whole ordeal.

“Where the hell are they?” Frustrated, Lilla decided to leave her temporary workplace and checked on her special patients. She hid them away from ordinary people, letting only one of the physicians look after them. After all, treating them can be quite illegal.

Two pairs of white tiger ears and crystal blue eyes greeted her as she opened the door to Viktor’s room. “Lilla! You’re here early today!” The small boy frowned after realizing she didn’t bring the usual serving tray. “No food?”

“You just had your lunch earlier. Stop sulking.” She sighed as she sat on the stool by the window. “So, how are you both feeling?”

“I wasn’t that exposed to the stinky gas thanks to Mr. Dwarf. But Q...” He turned to his twin sister with a worried look on his face.

“Why are you looking at me like that for?” The girl smirked. “Is Bryce worried about me?”

“I mean it was my fault in the first place.”

“Hey, don’t say that! I didn’t fight them to pro—” She started coughing badly, covering her mouth with both hands.

Lilla quickly reached for a glass of water and offered it to the little girl while gently rubbing her back. The alchemist could feel from her palm how she was struggling to breathe. The miasma brought by the Thirios resulted in respiratory complications, slowly destroying a creature’s lungs. Although, it works differently depending on where they spawned from.

Red liquid stained the girl’s hands as she stopped coughing. Lilla could tell how severe the disease was spreading inside her system. Blood was never a good sign. She opened a small vial of cerulean liquid and mix it with the water. 'Don’t panic.' She made the little girl lean on her shoulder while holding the glass for her to drink. “Bryce, can you call Miss Florentina for me?”

“Will Q be fine?” He was preventing his own tears from falling.

Lilla gritted her teeth before faking a smile. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure of it.”

'Please hurry.'


She was back in her workplace, arranging vials of the same cerulean liquid she gave Q. It was but a temporary cure for the patients. They would have to take it every four hours to decrease the spread of the infection. 'A day more and it’ll take a turn for the worse.'

Reaching for her earpiece, she was about to contact General Callahan before she heard the galloping of horses outside the temple. Lilla quickly ran for the door and searched for her apprentice. The returning party was only a few horses and wagons. Viktor and his horse were nowhere to be seen. “Where...”

“Ah, Lady Henbur-” Lilla cut the general’s greeting.

“Where is he?” She glared daggers at her, demanding an answer.

“Calm down. I won’t steal your precious apprentice, milady.” The taller woman sighed as she dismounted her horse. “He’s at the last wagon. You better tend to his wounds.”

'Wounds? That idiot.' She went to see him immediately, not wanting to waste any more time. She needed to work on the cure as soon as possible.

“Milady.” The second lieutenant in charge of protecting Viktor greeted her with a bow. “I’m very sorry that we were unable to keep Sir Unfrid safe. It is my mistake to let him—”

“Don’t worry about it. I heard you’ve lost some of your men?”

“Yes, milady.” The female soldier flinched at her question. “We were unable to retrieve their bodies but...” She pulled out their necklaces.

“I see. I’ll make sure to compensate their families.” Lilla nodded to Viktor as a gesture for him to come with her.

He followed her with a dwarf almost as tall as her. “Oh, by the way, this is Dimitry.”

“You can also call me Dima if you wish, Lady...” Dimitry suggested and indirectly asked for her name.

“Just Lilla will do.” She answered before looking at Viktor in confusion. “You made a new friend? Also, what’s he doing here? He’s no soldier.”

“Why are you surprised?” He raised an eyebrow. “Anyway, he was insisting to see the twin Beastkins he brought here a few days ago.”

“So that was him?” Lilla observed the dwarf carefully. She rarely saw dwarves let alone ones that had Smihjan features. “How did you meet those two?”

“They were stealing money from the miners before the outbreak. I apprehended them during the earthquake and well things happened.”

“Is that so?” She opened the temple’s front door, followed by injured soldiers. She led Viktor and Dimitry upstairs and away from the other patients. The physicians would be busy for the next few hours soon. She grabbed Viktor’s leather bag before ushering them to the bathroom. “Go and clean yourselves. I’ll call a physician to treat your wounds after. Nothing too major, no?”

They both shook their heads before doing as they were told.

Lilla immediately headed to her room and began working. She reached for a clean sheet of paper and chalk. She neatly drew a red magic circle which glowed as soon as the script around it was completed.

And now, for the tricky step of her analysis, she pulled out the glass cylinder containing the Sporos. It was still alive, squirming and moving similar to a human’s heart. She drew a paralyzer out of her pocket and injected a small portion into the creature. She then grabbed an empty syringe, extracting black fluid from the creature. Closing the container, she released the blood in a petri dish and placed it at the center of the paper. Ironically, this exact liquid should’ve been the source of the disease and yet it was also the cure to it. All she needed to do was alternate its properties.

'It’s like transforming copper to gold.' Alchemy was different from Arcana. Alchemy modifies something and transfigures it into its best form. Arcana, on the other hand, creates something out of nothing with the use of mana. Only those who were born with mana can be Arcanes, whilst anyone can learn to be an Alchemist.

The black blood began to whirl. Slowly, its color turned to gray then white. 'Just a little more.' She waited until the liquid started to glitter. She smudged the text surrounding the magic circle before transferring the new substance into a small beaker.

Lilla took jars of dried eucalyptus and dried licorice root. She crushed a specific amount of each herb with her mortar and pestle, boiling it. She heaved out a sigh of relief as there was only one step left to complete the medicine. “It should be ready for about an hour.”

Just in time, when she left her room, Viktor and Dimitry had finished their baths. Dimitry’s back and torso had scars of various sizes — mostly claw marks — and new scratches likely from their recent battles. Viktor, on the other hand, had fresh cuts all over his arms and sides. Most of his wounds were shallow and non-lethal. Nonetheless, it would be better to treat it to prevent an infection.

“These aren’t cuts from Thirios.” She rose his arm closer to her face, eyeing his wounds before glaring at her assistant. “You really are a hopeless case.” She released him and called for a physician. “Miss Florentina, can you come here for a second?”

“Yes, Lady Henbur. What can I—” The blonde-haired girl momentarily froze as she emerged from the hallway. Her expression clearly displayed her confusion and wariness.

'Shit. I almost forgot.' “Can you recognize him?”

The young lady merely nodded in reply. She was a fairly new physician when she first encountered Viktor. It was also probably her very first time to treat a patient as hostile as him a few months ago.

Lilla exhaled as she held her forehead. “It’s alright. I’ll treat his wounds. Can you heal Mister Dimitry instead?”

She glanced at him before nodding meekly once more.

They went inside the room adjacent to Lilla’s temporary workshop. She had Viktor sit on the nearest bed from the door while Florentina and Dimitry were in the other corner of the room. Viktor stared at her as if he was asking what she was talking about with the other girl earlier.

She raised one of her eyebrows. “You don’t remember her?”

“I’m quite bad at remembering most people’s faces,” he answered honestly.

Lilla rolled her eyes at his response. “She’s the girl who tried healing your bruises at Callisto Prison. You were such a mess back then — I’m surprised she can still recognize you.”

“Heal?” His chestnut eyes slightly widened, finally remembering what had happened. “I see.”

She started applying ointment on his wounds, but some of his cuts were a bit too deep to be treated with ointment and bandages alone. “We’ll have to stitch these ones. I’m sure you don’t mind?”

“Stitch? Won’t that be too painful, milady?” Florentina half-whispered behind her as her eyes shifted from Lilla to Viktor. “We’ve also run out of paralyzers. If... if you don’t mind, I can help heal your... er... his wounds, milady.”

The alchemist exchanged glances with Viktor, waiting for whether he’d refuse her offer. It didn’t bother Lilla much as she was sure he was already used to the pain of wound stitching since medicinal paralyzers never existed in his era.

“I don’t mind.” Viktor lowered his gaze which Lilla figured to be his own way to show humility. He gently rose his arm as if prodding the young physician to start.

Lilla crossed her arms as she leaned on the bare stone wall. She observed them carefully — just in case Viktor’s past impulses returned again. After all, his recent encounter with an Arcane wasn’t so friendly, so she wouldn’t be so complacent to just leave Florentina alone with him.

The girl was, of course, acting nervous. She was likely afraid that he’ll once again hit her hand away with such force. With shaking arms, she activated her Arcana. A green glow escaped from her palms as it shone brighter when she hovered her hands above Viktor’s cuts.

He slightly gripped the bed sheet, resisting the urge to move his free hand and ward off the unknown feeling that crept to his now-closing wounds.

“Is it normally-”

“Itchy? Yeah.” It would feel similar to the irritating feeling of an almost healed wound. “Don’t worry, it’ll go away as soon as it closes. Well then...” Lilla opened the door to go back to her workshop. “The antidote should be nearly done.” She was about to close the door before remembering what she needed to tell them. “Oh, and Viktor, tell General Callahan to meet me along with the squad who accompanied you. Something tells me we’re dealing with more than Thirios and cultists here.”


Lilla had finished testing the antidote after a few hours. She called for the alchemists assigned to assist her in the antidote’s production and gave them the procedures of concocting the medicinal substance before finally leaving the temple and proceeding to the barracks.

Her blue cape trailed behind her as she walked through the dusty roads of Kramor town. Once she reached the barracks gate, a guard led her to a room on the second floor and immediately left to return to his post.

The general, Viktor, Dimitry, and the second lieutenant sat quietly around the map table. It seemed like they were all waiting for her to break the awkward silence that enveloped the room.

“I was informed about the tragedy that occurred in the Maian mines. And yet, I have not received any detailed reports regarding the said incident, General. Perhaps, you could summarize to me now what had gone wrong in this operation of yours?” Lilla crossed her arms, sitting on the chair across Mercurius’ military head.

Callahan had a brief annoyed expression before she began explaining the events that took place in the aforementioned mines. “There were thirty-six casualties and fifty-eight injured as a result of the explosions in Montargo and Groden. We have also lost connection with some of our soldiers and are unable to know their statuses. Lastly, as you already know, the ones behind this are the Erubus’ cultists, milady?”

Lilla paused to think. “Is that the only thing we know about our enemy?”

“They wielded Ahlean swords and were led by a young girl who seemed to have an immunity to the miasma.” The female soldier on her left spoke.

“I believe I haven’t heard of your name yet.”

“Second Lieutenant Ayame Hanafin, milady.” She stood and bowed at her once again.

“I see. You have my thanks for keeping him safe, Second Lieutenant.” Lilla quickly returned to the subject at hand. “You spoke of Ahlean swords... and immunity to the miasma? Have I heard that right?”

“Yes, they were the same sword that the Ahlean military carried alongside their rifles. As for the girl, we have no information regarding her background.” She paused before continuing. “I do not like jumping to conclusions but...”

'It could be a war declaration from Ahlea.' Lilla continued the words that refused to escape from the second lieutenant’s mouth.

“It is possible. Our attempt to forge an alliance with the Ahlean Dynasty was unsuccessful after all.” The general also claimed, pausing momentarily to think. “But doesn’t it seem unnatural for them to do something like this?”

“That is true.” Lilla thought it wasn’t a rational decision for the Dynasty to suddenly attack Mercurius right after a failed engagement between Princess Kristen and their crown prince. It’s not that it is unusual to happen, but they were talking about the Ahlean Dynasty. “This is simply too obvious to be their work. 'His' work.”

“The crown prince? You have a point.” The general agreed with her.

The crown prince, Zahur Nasri, was just too cunning and crafty as Ahlea’s tactician. This cannot be his work nor would he come up with such a plan that pictures them as the assailant.

“Someone wants to spark a war between us and the Ahleans.” It was the only answer she could think of and it merely created more questions.

“Who and why?” The second lieutenant’s eyebrows narrowed.

Viktor started to join the discussion. “This alone would not suffice to create a feud between two nations. An abduction or assassination primarily occurs first before one condemns the other. At least that would be the easiest way to enrage the people’s anger.”

Lilla turned to look at him, wondering if he was speaking from experience. She then realized what his words meant. She stood suddenly, slamming both her palms on the wooden table in the process. “It’s Kristen. They knew she would be sent here.”

“Second Lieutenant Hanafin.” Callahan stood up while her subordinate did the same and saluted. “You’re coming with me to the duke’s manor. If they plan to assassinate the princess, I doubt her guards would be enough to protect her.”

“What about the infestation?” Lilla asked as the general was about to open the door.

She clicked her tongue in response and threw her earpiece toward the alchemist. Reaching her palm out, she demanded, “Give me yours. I’ll let you command my men during this operation. 'Enkidu' probably taught you how to do that, no?”

Lilla did not imagine Callahan’s emphasis on her mentor’s name. She knew it was her reminder to not disappoint the deceased alchemist. It was probably the sole reason why the general kept criticizing her ever since she received her title, ever since she replaced him.

As they swapped their earpieces, Lilla gripped the soldier’s hand tightly. “Brighid, don’t you think it’s time to stop expecting me to be an exact replacement for him?”

Callahan was quick in hiding her surprise. “Have you already forgotten how you got here in the first place? Don’t think such things can be easily forgiven, Lilla.”

The door slammed shut, leaving a more awkward atmosphere than earlier. Both Viktor and Dimitry did not dare to say a word.

‘Don’t think such things can be easily forgiven. What does she even know? Why does she think I punish myself every single day?'

Lilla shrugged it off as she sat back down. “We’ll leave tomorrow dawn. Closing the rift inside the mines might take a day or two. You should both get ready.”

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