392 Side Story 22: The State of the Eschenbach Household

Toa Eschenbach, the head of the Eschenbach family, was an alchemist. His daughter, Saki Eschenbach, could be said to have learned enough through observation to call herself an alchemist too.

Alchemy was the study of creating precious metals such as gold from base metals such as lead. Put more generally, it was the practice of determining the essence of a substance and creating a new substance from it.

However, as time passed, its scope broadened, and it came to be a discipline of learning surrounding the study matter and its manipulation.

There were still some alchemists focused on forging gold or creating androids but mainstream alchemy was not all that different from the “chemistry” of our world.

The only real difference being that magic was still employed in alchemy.

“Saki, it’s time for your meal,” Lawton, a servant of the Eschenbach family, called from outside the lab.

“…………”

But there was no answer. The servant decided to open the laboratory door.

“……! ”

He was met with a strange odor.

A steel plate full of yellow powder sat in the center of the lab. A fire was burning underneath it. Saki could be seen toppled over on the floor beside it.

“Saki!”

Lawton held his breath and jumped into the room. He carried Saki outside, and closed the door.

“Hah, hah, hah,” Saki’s breathing was heavy. She was still conscious though.

Waiting for her breathing to return to normal, Lawton watched her for about five minutes before speaking. “Lady Saki! What were you thinking?!”

He loudly voiced his criticism. Her carelessness could have ended up costing her life.

“Oh, yeah, I’m sorry, Lawton. …… I was enjoying how the smoke from the burning sulfur bleached the color out of flower pedals, and it just kind of happened. ”

Sulphur dioxide gas….. Its reductive action could be harnessed to take the color out of things, but that same gas was toxic to breathe. At worst, it could even cause respiratory failure, leading to death.

The lab, which looked to be full of poison gas, had to have its windows broken open so it could be ventilated for two days before it was safe to use again.

*   *   *

“Hey Ms. Esse, I’ve got something unusual.”

A farmer with a bucket knocked on the door.

Esse was an abbreviation of the Eschenbach family name everyone in the neighborhood used.

“Hm? What is it?” Saki opened the door and peaked her face out.

The farmer had placed his bucket down near the door. “Here, it’s this unusual stone that came from the lake. ”

It was a nearly transparent stone. It looked as if it had been crushed slightly and it was cuboid in shape. There were several similar shaped transparent stones in the bucket.

“This was one rock originally. When I spit it apart, it broke into chunks, that all shared the exact same shape. ”

“Wow, that’s interesting. I’d like to buy them. ” Saying this, Saki offered three silver coins from her pockets. The farmer received the payment with great pleasure and left his bucket with the broken rock pieces.

“Hmm, hmm, if I break it like this … Oh, it really broke off in the same shape! This is neat. ”

Saki casually put the small piece of the stone she’d broken off on top of an open book. The book was written by Saki’s father, Toa Eschenbach, and was called Introduction to Alchemy. It was the bestseller in alchemy, and part of its sales continued to go to the Eschenbach family. In fact, the silver coins Saki had pulled out earlier were from these very book sales.

Looking at the stone she had placed on the book, Saki suddenly jumped up from her chair in astonishment.

This was because the letters below the nearly transparent rock were visible through it, only they were doubled.

“Wha, what is this !? No way, does this stone duplicate things or something!?”

A day later, Saki had forgotten to sleep and worked on the study of stone without break. Even so, she couldn’t understand anything about it.

“Miss!”

Garth, a different servant, noticed Saki’s state and rushed to her side.

“Hmm, I’m sleepy …  and hungry … I want to eat something …” Saki mumbled.

Garth sighed. “Did you want to sleep or eat? Please make up your mind …”

*   *   *

“My name’s Rona. It’s nice to meet you.”

A girl, around 17 to 18 years old, bowed politely. She was the new servant the Eschenbach’s had hired.

“I’m Saki. Nice to meet you, Rona ”

Up until then, all the servants assigned to Saki been male, but the new servant was a girl this time, so Saki was trying to be more welcoming and considerate.

…That was back when Rona first started.

Now however…

“Wake up, Saki. It’s almost noon! ”

“Hmph, no… let me sleep a little more …… I was up until dawn …”

Saki would stay up late and sleep until noon.

“Lady Saki! You still haven’t eaten today?!”

“Oh, uhm, my bad. It’s just, this stone was really interesting so.”

“What do you mean! Your lunch was sitting right over there for you. I told you when I brought it up. And now it’s already night-time.”

Lost in her research, Saki would forget about eating.

“Rona, I’m sorry. It looks like I have no money this month …”

“What, again? This makes two months I haven’t been paid for now.”

“I’m really sorry. I’ll have your money next month.”

Seeing Saki apologize like this, Rona looked troubled.

*   *   *

“Hmmm, I wonder if this liquid could be used as paint?”

A bucket sat full of a sticky black liquid. It was sap brought by a traveling merchant who came after hearing the rumors about the Eschenbachs.

They were known for being extremely fond of rare things.

She scooped up a little with a spatula and spread it on a wooden board. The sticky substance seemed to stretch and grow when spread out. This meant the coating was thin.

“Wow, a small amount can cover such a large area.”

This was what Saki had hoped to use the sap for, but the next day, and the day after that, the black sap just wouldn’t dry out. She poked it, and it stuck onto the end of her finger.

Several times, Saki accidentally scratched her cheek with this same finger. She had wiped the sap off with a cloth in a hurry, but her face felt itchy that night.

“Hmmm, it’s so itchy. I wonder why? ”

She couldn’t bear it and ended up scratching her face. The itch stopped momentarily, but soon after it started to itch again. With this on repeat, Saki was unable to sleep.

“My Lady, good morn …!”

Coming to wake Saki up, Rona was wide-eyed. The right half of Saki’s face was swollen and blistered in some places.

Blood dripped out from where she had been scratching. It was quite a gruesome scene.

“K-kyaaa!” Rona screamed. She could hardly be blamed for doing so.

“Oh, that feels good.”

The itching subsided when Saki’s face was cooled with a wet towel that Rona had given her. Rona, however, kept her distance from Saki. She thought Saki’s face was swollen and itchy because of some disease.

It was then that Rona told Saki she wanted to resign.

“It was nice working for you.”

“Hey Rona, won’t you reconsider?”

“I’m sorry. Please don’t ask me to. I’m already at my limit. Please take better care of yourself, Lady Saki. Give my regards to your father.”

Rona bowed deeply and walked away without looking back.

“… Geez, is that the third one? Or was she the fourth? Having no servants who want to stick around is quite the problem, huh…”

This all happened three days before Ehr was made.

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