The First Steps – 4.05

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“I’ll start with the patients and their living situation, so you have full context,” he said. “The one who requested the medicine is Miss Ayleth Bancroft. She has a total of five children with youngest being the patients, two boys at the age of six and three respectively named Charles and Aldwin. Since the beginning of the week, the children have exhibited slight signs of a fever, coughing, and insomnia.”

“Are any of the others living there demonstrating similar symptoms?” I asked. The former two were symptoms of the common cold, which appeared frequently when the rain lowered the surrounding temperature, making it easier to get sick due to the body’s immune system being slower to respond. The latter was somewhat irregular, though if the coughing was severe enough sleep tended to come harder.

“According to Miss Bancroft, no. Only her ten-year-old daughter, Tanya, lives with her now. Her husband died two years prior and her two oldest sons are both working as apprentices in two different craft trades. Though I did notice that she herself was showing signs of anxiety due to the nature of her work and the hours involved.”

“Hmm… if neither of them is showing similar symptoms we shouldn’t assume that the cause is a simple cold, but something else.”

“I had intended to personally go and check myself to confirm her information, but I also have others who have appealed to me with more pressing cases. It would be a great help to me if you could do so in my place.”

For reasons I chalked up to Mister Rieth being altruistic, he provided temporary medicine for the locals who couldn’t afford it depending on the nature of the illness. In a case like this, it was likely the fact that it was a single mother supporting five children that brought it to his attention. Apprenticeship fees were expensive depending on the trade, given that they supplied the basic needs and lodgings for the apprentice until they finished.

Even so, the fact that he requested that I handle it meant I should give it my utmost effort, so I should confirm the nature of their aliments myself. I had enough training and access to the tools to do that, even if apothecaries rarely did so since physicians were usually better suited for diagnosis. “I suppose I can make a house call to investigate myself tomorrow, on your behalf.”

Sweetie… are you sure you’re up to that?” Elsa asked.

“I have my apothecary kit in my bag, so unless it’s something that would require a fully-fledged physician, I should be capable.” It was meant to be portable but was large enough that it had wheels to carry it around like a luggage trunk, so I kept it shrunken for convenience. And though I brought it along with me in the first place because I wanted to continue my experiments and didn’t have a workshop in the manor, it still had most of the things I needed.

It’s not the tools or your skillset I’m worried about. Ill-children require delicate handling, and you said it yourself that you aren’t the most social of individuals.

“I don’t intend to be here for longer than a week, so I wouldn’t be able to establish any sort of relationship to begin with. Gossiping with them isn’t going to help them either, so the best I can do is not tarnish the trust placed in me as a representative of Mister Rieth by providing optimal results.”

Despite the assurance, Elsa shook her facsimile of a head slowly. “That line of thinking is fine for an alchemist, but it isn’t good for when you have to interact with people. Theo was very similar in that regard, and that led to a lot of misunderstandings with the people he was supposed to be helping. I’d better come with you when you visit them, to be safe.

“I have no objections.” I shifted my gaze to the clock that happened to be on the upper wall, the gears within it turning due to the spellstone within the center of the clock’s hands “We should be off or else Mother will grow curious. Is there a time we should meet to visit the patients?”

Mister Rieth rose to his feet and guided me to the door leading back towards the living room. “Given Miss Bancroft’s work schedule, the most appropriate time to visit would be around the late afternoon—Four o’clock or so. To save time, Elsa will be waiting to accompany you near your home, rather than having you come here and then go there.”

I’ll stay out of sight and far from the gates this time,” Elsa added. “I wouldn’t want to cause any more trouble for your mother.

“It was my fault for not warning you back then.” Mother took privacy and appearances very seriously, and uninvited visitors were not her favorite guests to entertain, so to speak. Elsa’s habit of traveling through the ground ended up tripping the wards in place and resulted in an unpleasant day for all of us.

I like Alice’s parents more. They’re nicer.” Aeria mentioned as she fluttered in the air in front of Elsa on our way out. “Can we have more rock candy before we go?

You’ve eaten all the leftovers we had, but I’ll make some more tonight for both you and the children.” A rumble of thunder reached our ears. “But are you sure that you don’t want to wait until the rain has settled down before leaving?

“We shouldn’t linger longer than we have.”

“Just remember, I don’t want you coming up with a generic formula or cure for them.” Mister Rieth stopped in front of the door, one hand on the handle. “Make something specific based on the information you manage to obtain. I won’t accept anything less than your best considering the health of others are at stake, even if it seems trivial.”

“I have no intention of doing anything but my utmost best,” I assured him before soft cries began to emerge from the Living Room, courtesy of the Solana.

Elsa went towards it in a hurry as Mister Rieth opened the door for us. We were immediately assailed by the sting of the cold, wet air. Aeria’s power as she took her place on top of my head took hold and blocked it out as we made our way out of their home and into the rain once more.

It had grown in intensity now. The dark clouds rumbled with thunder. The flicker of light behind them meant lightning would soon follow.

I moved at a brisk pace along the wet ground towards the northwest, where the manor was. But I didn’t go all the way there. Once we were far enough away from Mister Rieth’s home, and I found a dry place where I was sure we wouldn’t be overheard, I reached up and grabbed Aeria.

Hey!?” She squirmed as I brought her to my eye-level. “You’re mad about earlier, aren’t you?

“I understand your nature and accept it most times, because it’s who you are,” I started. “Normally, I work around that. But I can’t this time because I need you as both someone I can confide in and to help me. Breaking your promise to me not to tell them isn’t something I can overlook, even if it was a mistake, since it’s not just my life that would be at risk.”

She puffed out her cheeks and folded her dark eyes inwards. “Mister Rieth and Elsa both said they weren’t even sure if they couldn’t make the stuff we’ve been messing up for the last month. If I hadn’t said anything, you’d still keep trying instead of practicing going through the gateway with the Fire Lady’s mark, so we can search there for the Archi-thingy we need to help Alice.

As the magister explained to us when she brought that map, the only reason we could access the gateway in the Forest Ruins was because of the higher spirit’s power in the form of that dragonfly. It acted as a key to activate the gateway, causing it to draw in the nearby mana to form the bridge between the two points and pulled us in. The blessing was supposed to act as both a locator and a key when we were close to it, but it would only open the gateway if there was enough mana within the immediate area surrounding the one being opened. While that wasn’t a problem on the other side, the concentration of mana relative to our side of the gateway varied depending on the terrain and location.

Taking both those facts and the earlier discussion into consideration, that meant there was a gateway in the woodlands somewhere. One that had to have been opened to allow Aeria to come through in the first place. Whether it was one of the local alchemist or someone else who did it I couldn’t be sure, but I wouldn’t risk asking around to find out.

“I told you, we’ll go there once we’ve secured a way for me to travel without dying from mana poisoning. Not until then.”

And how long will that take when you won’t let anyone else help?” Aeria counterargued. “What if this ends up like last two times Alice was in trouble!

“Both of those situations were different. They were urgent. She was actively fighting in one and in the other she was dying in front of me. In this case, we have time to plan for the worst outcomes and prepare for them, so we need to use it efficiently.”

She remained defiant as she tried to free herself. “Even if you can make the stuff before time runs out, you still need to have a way to get in there to check if it works. And if it does stop working then we have to merge so you don’t end up like the last time. But if we don’t get practice then we won’t know how long we can stay together.

I released her from my grasp. “And it has nothing to do with the fact that it’s your birthplace?”

No—” My brow rose. “Okay, a little. But the longer we wait, the less time we’ll have if something happens again. At this rate, we won’t be able to do anything for Alice. So can we at least try something that we know works while we’re stuck here?

I… consider it. “I’ll admit that passing it up wantonly would be a waste, but there’s no safeguards if something goes wrong. So, if we do go through with it, we’re staying right by the entrance. And it’ll be after we finish what we’ve agreed to with Mister Rieth and Elsa. Understood?”

She agrees, but it doesn’t ease the discomfort I feel about going back there without something to prevent what happened the last time. Dying like that was… agonizing. It wasn’t something I would put myself through if not for the sake of Alice’s wellbeing. That was my primary goal, not the matter involving the conspiracy or the spirits.

But I can’t learn anything if I don’t take the opportunity we have in front of us. I looked up to the storm clouds and sighed. “Let’s get going, before the weather gets even worse. There’s still the other matter that needs to be dealt with today with Mother.”



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