The First Steps – 4.15

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“I’m happy to report your children have made full recovery, Miss Bancroft.”

My prognosis was met with an audible, relived sigh courtesy of the woman in question as I finished the examination. It had been a few days since our ministrations had ridden the boys of the monstrous pests that had taken root within them. Mister Rieth had confirmed as much and provided them with additional remedies to help with their recovery.

“Thank goodness,” Miss Bancroft said softly. “I was so worried that something might have been left behind by that thing.”

She glared quite impressively at the remains of the Bloudfly that decorated the table in their living room. Elsa’s method of assuaging any fears they had about it remaining a threat was to encase the corpse in a sphere of amber, perfectly preserving it. The boys themselves hovered over it with curious eyes in contrast to Tanya, whose gaze was almost as baleful as her mother’s.

After realizing that unless she possessed magic it wouldn’t spontaneously combust, Miss Bancroft settled for looking to her children and asking, “How did you boys not notice something that size?”

“It wasn’t that big when they had been bitten,” I explained while the two of them shook their heads. “It grew that large because it went undealt with and was allowed to run rampant, as many pet owners can now attest. It is a testament to how certain monstrous species can thrive in the right environment.”

“And there aren’t anymore?” asked Tanya with a note of wariness in her tone. Not a surprise, given the emotional turmoil it put her through.

Elsa was quick to reassure the girl that was not the case. “I was very thorough in making sure that none of the eggs survived. There won’t even be any mosquitos in the area for a few weeks given how strong the purifier was too. You don’t need to worry about them causing problems again.

There was always a chance that something similar could happen next year, of course. It wasn’t as though it was possible to examine every single migratory bird to ensure they weren’t acting as carriers. However, the chances were rather narrow, and Elsa did report it to the necessary parties. If the signs of an infestation resurfaced, they could hopefully react quickly enough to avoid the worst-case scenario.

I had begun putting away the tools I was using to conduct their examination when the eldest of the two, Charles, tugged on the hem of my half-cloak. “Yes?”

He made what looked akin to the pleading eyes of an innocent puppy before he asked, “Can I have some more candy, please?”

No sooner than the words emerged did Aeria flutter over, her lip forming into a frown. “You gave them some of my candy?

“We had an excess and can make more,” I pointed out, before reaching into one of the smaller drawers of my apothecary kit and finding the pouch inside. I handed over a few that would be shared amongst the siblings as a whole. “Besides, didn’t you have Elsa prepare even more snacks for the trip home?”

Maybeeee~” There was a coy lilt in her tone as her eyes refused to meet mine, which said everything that needed to be said.

All the same, I gave her one of the honey-made candies to quiet her for the moment. Then I shut that drawer and opened another that housed a small, stoppered bottle. I set it aside for a moment, finished putting everything else away, and then presented it to Miss Bancroft. “This is for you.”

“What is it?” She grabbed it gingerly and turned it in her palms, trying to guess the contents. “Medicine for the boys?”

“The initially promised sleeping medicine,” I answered. “It’s a calmative for the nervous system. In the case of the children, it will encourage them to have a peaceful sleep. In the case of an adult, it will simply help settle the nerves and relax.”

It was produced from Marmox Root, Livora Sprigs, and Powdered Somnil. The Marmox Roots contained properties that calmed the nerves, the Livora Sprigs held muscle relaxants, and Powdered Somnil reduced the body’s energy production. Unlike the soporifics, it offered a more natural and peaceful state of slumber.

“I hope that you will take as an apology for any duress I may have caused you during my stint in treating your children. I have been made aware that my method of divulging information can be rather…”

“Hard-hearted?” she filled in for me rather quickly.

…I believe blunt would be more accurate. But I cannot say that is incorrect either. “I simply stated the facts so that we could focus on finding a solution without considering your own emotional state at the time. It is a flaw of mine that I have yet to overcome and will likely struggle to do so in the future. I meant no harm and did not want to leave the city without making that much clear.”

She waved it away. “You saved my boys. Water under the bridge.”

Tanya pulled herself away from the monstrous trophy as Elsa reclaimed it and turned to me to ask, “You’re leaving already?”

I nodded. “We originally returned to attend a wedding. Now that the event has passed, I will need to return to my apothecary in Trikryss and will be departing before the day’s end.”

Or at least that was what I spoke of to my family now that I no longer had any obligations to remain. The letter I sent to Alice to explain away an additional day or half-days duration said the opposite—namely I had a final obligation to attend to. Not that it was factually incorrect.

It depends on what awaits us on the other side of the gateway. Thoughts ran over in my head as I tried to picture what we might encounter. I had the time over the last few days to prepare something that might be useful and would finish it up today, but that didn’t deal with the uncertainty of the unknown.

“I’m going to study more on medicine and plants,” Tanya announced, pulling me from my musings. “Miss Elsa said she’d tutor me if I helped babysit for her.”

She seemed so taken with watching you that she insisted on learning a little from me and offered to babysit now and again for a few lessons,” Elsa explained when I turned to her with a quirked brow. “There won’t be anything complex, but it can’t hurt anything.

I suppose there was no harm in it. It was not as though she would need something complex like herbal formula theory for simple remedies. “Then I’ll look forward to hearing of your progress from my correspondence with Elsa.”

She smiled rather brightly at that before we finished cleaning up. Then we proceeded to leave their home after bidding them farewell. It was only once we were out of the district that Elsa prepared to part ways with us for a few hours.

I’ll meet up with you both around this evening after I’ve changed my body to something more suitable for traveling that place. I don’t want to risk destroying this bust since it was a gift. Make sure you come prepared, okay?

“We will,” I said, giving her my assurance. Then she produced a container and handed it to us. “This is?”

The Sorbetum Supplement,” she said. “Even though you may not need it for your original purpose, I’m certain you can make great use of it.

I took it gratefully and watched as she sank into the ground, disappearing beneath the surface. It was the most expedient method for her to travel so long as none of the buildings held wards similar to those at home. Then Aeria and I made our way back to the manor.

Now that the wedding ceremony had come to an end, the normalcy of silence had settled back into place. With our… in-laws, I would have to refer to them as, having departed with Karolyn, and both Uncle and Cousin Franz having left for their long journey to the south, there were only six of us left. Soon to be four in a few hours.

Clarus had sequestered himself into his study as per usual. After that first conversation whereupon he tried to dictate how I would run my business, we never shared another word with each other. There was no reason to, given that our ideals and goals were far too different.

But the entire time that the wedding ceremony had been ongoing, I did notice he had been more rigid than usual. He couldn’t even feign a smile for the fact that our sister had apparently found a groom suitable for her. It was a strong contrast to Miss Taun, who had been brought to tears upon seeing her adorned in wedding clothes, or even Mother and Father, who looked satisfied with the arrangement.

I suspect there was something about the arrangement that he was privy to that I wasn’t aware of. As the next in line to inherit everything, he was essentially Mother’s favorite. Thus it was safe to assume that he was a part of whatever scheming was going on behind the scenes of the entire thing. The fact that I couldn’t even find time to speak with her regarding the affairs of the Brensfelt but she freely spoke with him in private only reinforced that theory.

Father was at least forthcoming with what had been monopolizing Mother’s attention aside from the wedding, which happened to be the Brensfelt. Specifically, the head of their family—Chester Brensfelt. Miss Pyralis’ father and Alice’s grandfather.

It would seem the man had fallen ill. The condition looked to be rather terminal as well. He was on borrowed time according to what Father knew, it could be anywhere from one month to three according to the prognosis that Mother somehow acquired through what I suspected were dubious means. And considering the number of assets at his disposal, there was a lot of conjecture over who they would be bequeathed to.

He had several children yet he hadn’t chosen any of them as his heir. If he should perish before doing so there would likely be a conflict over who inherited what. Though I remain ignorant of his reasons for doing so, it seemed that the uncertainty was something investors and business partners were not fond of and Mother was taking advantage of it in her own way.

I held no real interest in the conclusion. To be frank, I held the same distance from their affairs as Alice did with her own extended family. But it was by choice and willful ignorance in my case, while Miss Pyralis may not have been aware of her father’s condition due to being disowned. That was why I went ahead and sent a letter to her about her father’s condition—as repayment for her bequeathing me with the truth of her misgivings and her blessing to continue my relationship with Alice.

What she does with the information is still up to her though.

I returned to my room once we arrived back at the manor to finish the final preparations. Most of my belonging had already been packed up and shrunken. The only exception was the latest project that I had started upon learning of the Storm Spirit that would possibly impede our path.

The first was a glass jar with nothing special about it. Rather, what was special about it was the contents. The primary components were a mixture of the grounded-up troll teeth and nails made into a powder, along with the ashes of the hairs of a Fiend from the School Ruins. The mana-deprived soil that we collected from Alice’s home and some gravel were used as the filling.

Next to it was a rather small vial filled with a makeshift explosive concoction similar to what we used against the Trolls months ago. Though I didn’t have access to the primary components I used back then, alternates were available in town. They were of lower quality and were not naturally reactive to oxygen, but I had intended to add in a Supplement to instill that particular property as it did with the Mire Propagate.

“It was fortuitous that Elsa gave us the Sorbetum,” I said, staring down at the Supplement. “We can use this instead as the trigger for the reaction. Considering how mana rich the other side happens to be, the reaction would most likely be far more potent.”

I don’t like it,” Aeria complained as she fluttered a healthy distance away from the two containers that were set aside on the table. “It feels really wrong. Like we’re making something bad.”

Her sentiment was justified. We had created an explosive specifically designed to harm a Spirit. The fragments of the glass would be propelled through its body and the filling would disrupt its ability to control mana and its form if it was bound together similar to Aeria’s.

“I can only hope we never need to use it. But it was your suggestion that we push forward while we have the opportunity. We will do what we must…now, let us finish it before we head out.”

Aeria complied as per the contract. However, it was easy to understand how uneasy she was as we incorporated the Supplement and then proceeded to seal it so that the jar itself was airtight, with the exception being a small glass cap. The moment that cap was removed or broken, mana would be able to flow into the sealed jar and would trigger the explosion.

That done there was nothing left for us at home—it was time to depart.

Mother, Father, and Clarus were naturally nowhere to be seen as we made for the entrance of the manor. Nothing new there. I neither wanted nor needed their send-off, so I had no intention of seeking them out. However, Miss Taun deserved to proper farewell and it would be remiss of me not to do so.

Thankfully, we did not need to look far. The housekeeper was waiting for us at the door, adorned in her maidly attire. “Are you certain you can’t delay your return back for a few more days?”

I responded with a slow shake of the head. “We left the Sylphide in capable hands, but Aeria and I are needed there.”

“I suppose so.” She wore an expression that was both resigned and somber before she took a step forward and embraced me within her slender arms. “I know you’re busy, but please come and visit again some time. It was lovely having the manor full again.”

I ruminated on the thought while nestled within her arms. The prospect of returning home was not very enticing when I had another home waiting for me elsewhere—with someone dear to my heart there. But Elsa, Mister Rieth, and Miss Taun were all very important to me as well.

“I cannot say when we will be able to do so, but I will endeavor to remain in contact more often,” I promised. It was the best I could do without lying to her. And it seemed to be enough as she let us through the gates and watched as we departed from the manor for the final time.

We returned to the forest afterward. Silence loomed within the corridors of trees, their greenery unperturbed by the lack of animals or insects. It was peaceful, yet haunting as we ventured through towards the keystone nestled deep within its heart. It was only when we approached the root-entombed gateway that the silence was broken as the flora shifted and what I presumed was Elsa emerged.

You look different…” Aeria said as she slowly fluttered around her, taking in the shift in her physical form. The bust that she used as the core of her body had been completely replaced by petrified wood that seemed to be akin to a skeleton that was threaded with fibrous roots for binding and moss for covering that conformed around a more traditional bipedal outline. The section where her head now instead bore a wood-carved mask that had ivy swaddling it.

I was short on time and it normally takes longer for a spirit my age to move my quintessence into a different form, so I crafted this vessel and suffused it with my essence over the last few days to make the transition shorter. It’s not my finest work, but it should be suitable for the terrain.

Elsa then gestured towards the keystone that she covered in countless roots. They unwove and unraveled, sinking underground. “Are you both ready?

I nodded before extending my arm outwards. Fire prickled beneath my skin before the golden flames emerged, pulling from myself to mold itself in the shape of the dragonfly. It fluttered back over to the flat stone and ancient writing came into being along the perimeter of the surface.

A set of crystals along with the bangle from before emerged from beneath Elsa’s mossy epidermis. Her fibrous digits extended the pale-green crystal to Aeria, the bangle to me, and set the remaining crystal onto the gateway. The latter immediately vanished, breaking apart into raw mana that was used as fuel so the portal opened with a soft pull of the wind.

I took a deep breath before looking towards Aeria, cradling the wind-aligned against her lithe form. She nodded before lowering herself onto the gemstone crowning the artifact and thus enabling the symbiosis process. Then…

We stepped through the gateway and into the new world.

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