The scent of wood filled the air.
Alpha, who had been organizing documents in the dappled sunlight pouring in from the window, suddenly looked up.
She stood and walked towards the window. Outside, a large roadside tree towered, and beyond it lay the cityscape of the capital.
It was the end of autumn, and the roadside tree had turned brilliant with autumn leaves, carrying the fragrance of wood with the wind.
In those days, they were always surrounded by the comforting scent of wood.
Alpha closed her eyes, reminiscing about the days they had all lived together, the nostalgic fragrance of wood.
When Shadow Garden was just Shadow and Alpha, Alpha used to live in the forest.
During the day, she was alone in the cabin he had built. The inside of the cabin was always filled with the scent of wood. It was a cabin he had constructed from scratch, and Alpha had learned the “two by four” construction method from him.
At first, she could only watch, but gradually, she began to help, and she did most of the finishing work by herself. The cabin, a memory they had built together, was simple and a little amateurish, but Alpha loved it for the fragrance of wood that always filled it.
He could only come here at night. So Alpha looked forward to every evening.
During the day, she practiced magic and swordsmanship, gathered wild plants, and hunted small animals with traps.
At night, he brought bread and meat, and Alpha cooked it. While eating together, he would always tell her various stories.
“Steam has the power to move massive blocks of iron.”
He said one day while eating the stew Alpha had made. Alpha stared at the steam rising from the stew for a while.
It was hard to believe that such a weak steam contained such immense power.
But all the knowledge he had shared with her until now had turned out to be true, no matter how extraordinary it had sounded at first. Whether it was the fact that this world was not flat but spherical, or that the world revolved around the sun instead of the other way around, Alpha had initially denied it all, but in the end, his words were correct.
So, this steam must also undoubtedly contain significant power.
“How can we harness that power from steam?”
While enjoying the stew Alpha had made, he remained silent for a while.
He always thought about what to share and what not to share.
“When you heat water, it turns into steam. That’s where the great power comes from. I think the hints are… piston movement and turbines, I guess,”
He said, with a meaningful smile.
He didn’t reveal everything. He provided hints and made Alpha think for herself.
“That’s not enough to understand.”
It was much more challenging than usual. She had planned to start her steam research immediately, but with only this hint, it would take too much time to find the answer.
“With the power of steam, you can make huge iron carriages and iron ships move,”
However, what he shared wasn’t a hint but an example of the use of steam engines. If it was genuinely possible to move iron carriages and ships, it was a tremendous achievement. And if he said he could do it, it was undoubtedly possible.
“So, it’s worth spending that much time on steam engines.”
He just smiled meaningfully. He always made Alpha think.
That’s how he imparted knowledge to her and trained her to think and solve problems. It significantly improved her abilities, giving her many times more knowledge than she had received during her precocious education in the country.
Strength is indeed a great power, but intelligence is an even more important one. Alpha considered herself a clever child. In her hometown, no one could match her. Yet, even so, the boy of her age was far above Alpha.
There are people above.
Alpha looked at his face in a dazzling manner.
“Hmm? What happened?”
She eats some stew with him, then he gives her some instruction in swordsmanship and magic, and sees him off before the sun rises.
Every day she shook his hand until he was out of sight.
She was happy
The seasons passed, and the time for just the two of them came to an end.
The silver-haired girl with teardrop-shaped freckles, Beta, joined their group.
Beta was shy and afraid of him, always hiding behind Alpha. Since their time in the country, Alpha had known about Beta, and Beta knew about Alpha as well. They weren’t really friends, having only exchanged greetings in social situations, but the two of them quickly bonded due to their shared circumstances.
Soon, Gamma and Delta also joined, and the once lonely cabin became much livelier.
Using the skills he had taught them, Alpha and the others expanded the cabin and built a splendid house. It was a warm home filled with the scent of wood.
One day, Alpha ended Delta and Gamma’s training early and gathered everyone.
Delta looked down on Gamma, and Gamma glared at Delta with a pout. It was their usual scene.
“Delta is stronger.”
“Well, I’m older, and I’m the senior… Sniff…”
“Gamma, you’re cheeky for someone beneath me.”
“Come on, stop it…”
Delta pushed Gamma down and straddled him from behind. This, too, was a common occurrence.
It was said that dogs establish hierarchy by being on top.
“Alright, alright, that’s enough.”
Alpha said, separating the two. Delta always listened to what Alpha said, faithfully adhering to the hierarchy, for better or worse.
That’s why Delta didn’t like having someone weaker like her above her. And Gamma didn’t like having someone like Delta, who was a bit of a muscle-head.
They were like cats and dogs.
“Strength isn’t just about physical power. It’s always intellectual power that controls the human world.”
Alpha gathered everyone and made that statement.
Delta and Gamma looked up at him. Delta had a confused expression, and Gamma seemed to seek salvation in her words.
The wind carried the scent of wood.
“I will teach you the power of knowledge that can multiply a single gold coin many times over. How to manipulate money and control the world’s economy…”
After that, he explained an ambitious plan involving banks and credit creation.
Alpha’s reaction was like that of a child.
The scale of it and his incredible intelligence left Alpha trembling.
Beta trembled in fear behind Alpha.
Delta shivered as she lay down, chilled by the cold night breeze.
And Gamma… was trembling with excitement.
The strength returned to her once dark and weak eyes.
“Shadow-sama, I have… found the path I should follow.”
He simply nodded.
From that day on, Gamma changed. She eagerly sought his knowledge, sacrificing sleep to study.
Alpha also had more conversations with Gamma, and Beta joined them, envisioning the future of their organization.
Eventually, Epsilon joined, then Zeta, and finally, Eta.
Epsilon was a confident and spirited girl. She had the talent to match her confidence.
“I’m going to be the best in no time!”
They initially competed but quickly settled down and got along.
Though Beta still competed with Epsilon, Alpha thought that their rivalry was a healthy one.
Zeta was a beastly girl with a shadowy side.
She was somewhat reserved and kept her distance from everyone.
Alpha knew her situation, so she took Zeta’s hand and helped her establish connections with the other kids. Slowly, she began to open up.
She still didn’t get along with Delta, but it seemed that was just the way it was with beastfolk. There are moments when you can instantly tell, “I won’t get along with this person,” she said.
Eta was a peculiar child from the start. She often caused trouble with her eccentric actions, but more than that, her inventions had been a great help.
Epsilon took care of Eta, despite her lack of practical skills. For some reason, Beta and Gamma became her test subjects, while Delta and Zeta chased each other around. Before she knew it, they had all become irreplaceable family members.
In their home filled with the scent of wood, they were happy.
Since that day, Alpha had been running non-stop. She had been living so relentlessly that she didn’t even notice the scent of the wood.
The vermilion sunlight filtered through the trees beautifully illuminated the room.
“Alpha-sama, it’s time.”
She heard a knock on the door, and Gamma entered.
“Do you remember? That day when we talked together among the scent of the wood…”
“The scent of wood…?”
Gamma stood next to Alpha and gazed up at the towering city trees. She closed her eyes, taking in the scent carried by the wind.
“It feels nostalgic…”
“The dreams we envisioned that day are taking shape… but we’re still in the middle of our journey.”
“We will continue to run down the path we believe in. We won’t easily forgive those who obstruct us. Now, shall we go?”
Though their time alone together had diminished, the scent of the wood from that day remained in their hearts.