Chapter 1 - Land of Justice
A motorrad was moving along a path between the sea and the plains.
The sky was perfectly clear. A clean blue sea stretched out into the horizon under the blazing sun. A narrow beach of white sand served as a line dividing the ocean from the verdant green fields.
The white path ran in an unnaturally straight line from the north to the south. The motorrad was moving southward in a perfectly straight line.
Atop the motorrad's back wheel was a black box, on top of which was a bag. A fuel tank and a water container were secured to it with rope, along with a sleeping bag.
The motorrad continued along the path that divided the plain from the beach.
The young human who was riding on the motorrad was wearing a white shirt and a black vest.
She wore a hat with flaps over her ears, and over her right thigh was a holstered revolver-type hand persuader. Behind her back was holstered another persuader, an automatic type secured horizontally to her waist.
The rider suddenly looked up from the road.
Black clouds were layered on the southern horizon.
"It's so dark over there. I wonder why." The motorrad said. The rider answered.
"I wonder if it'll feel a bit cooler over there."
The next morning.
A lone motorrad was moving under the grey skies.
Yesterday's clear weather was nowhere in sight, replaced by thick cloud cover. The sun to the east was only just bright enough to be seen. Everything--the plains, the beach--was dark. The sea, faithfully reflecting the colour of the sky, looked as though drops of ink had been mixed into it.
Today, the rider was wearing a black jacket, which was the same vest from yesterday with the sleeves attached.
"Good for you, Kino. It's not so hot anymore." The motorrad said.
"Yeah. In fact, I'm almost feeling cold." The rider named Kino answered, "I wonder why it's so dark? It's still the middle of the day. And these clouds don't look normal. What do you think, Hermes?" She asked the motorrad.
"Maybe there was a volcanic eruption somewhere far away." The motorrad named Hermes answered.
"An eruption? So you mean this is all volcanic ash?"
"Not quite. Volcanic ash is relatively heavy, so it settles down quickly over the ground. But this isn't it. The clouds above us are all the lighter stuff floating in clumps. They rode the wind and ended up all the way here."
"Huh… So will it stay this way for a while, do you think?"
"Probably. I guess it depends on the force of the eruption, but it might not clear up for a year or two. Or maybe even longer."
"And I was looking forward to going to a warmer place…"
"Maybe you should think about a change of plans."
The lone motorrad continued under the grey skies.
The next day.
Kino was riding along, wearing her coat.
Under her coat she wore her black jacket. She secured the flaps of her coat by wrapping them around her thighs. Over her mouth and nose was a bandanna. Her ear flaps were down, and secured together with a strap under her chin.
The sky grew darker and darker. Now it was nearly impossible to see where the sun was. Although it was midday, the world of the sea and the plain was too dim to even read a book. The pitch-black sea scattered onto the shore in white foam.
Hermes' headlight was turned on, lighting the way ahead. He was moving much slower than the previous day.
"I don't know about this, Kino. It's just getting darker and darker." Hermes said.
"You're right. Darker and darker, huh." Kino mumbled, disappointed, "and it's cold, too--almost like winter. And I was looking forward to a warm country… I was really looking forward to that land of year-round summer…"
"What do you think? We can still turn back, right?"
"We can. I guess I shouldn't be too stubborn. We'll go back to the previous country and head west." Kino said, letting go of the gas lever. Hermes slowed down little by little, before finally coming to a complete stop.
"Some warm tea sounds really good right about now." Kino turned off the ignition.
Hermes' headlight went off. Everything went silent and dark. Then, Kino noticed something.
On the road ahead, slightly above the horizon, they saw the blink of a light.
Soon, the light blinked on again. It continued coming on and off at regular intervals of about a few dozen seconds.
"What about tea?"
"Once we get inside."
Kino turned on the ignition again.
As they approached the country, they could see a large lighthouse looming from behind the walls. It was a tower of white, reaching to the skies from behind the grey--now black--walls. The light was rotating towards the ocean.
The country was by the sea, and its walls reached even into the waters.
Kino stopped Hermes by the gate made of logs, and walked over to the wooden outpost beside it. She lowered her bandanna and sighed. Her breath was white.
No one came out to greet her, so she knocked on the door. She could soon hear movements from inside.
A man who looked to be the gatekeeper appeared from behind the glass window.
Looking at him, Kino frowned slightly.
The man, who looked to be in his mid-thirties, was wearing a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. His T-shirt had a wide mouth, and his shorts were made of light cotton. On his feet were a pair of rubber sandals. He was not wearing any socks.
His skin was a tanned brown, but his attire looked nothing short of out of place for the climate.
"Oh, a traveler? Welcome to our country…"
As if proving the inadequacy of his clothing, the man's somewhat weak voice was clearly congested.
Kino registered for a three-day stay and received her permit with little trouble. Even as she filled out the forms the gatekeeper shivered and coughed several times.
Kino returned to Hermes, and the gate opened before their eyes.
They rode through the central area.
The country was quite small. Just behind its walls were orchards and fields, and large trees that could not be found outside the country.
There were no cars on the streets. Carriages, either horse- or ox-driven, were left on the streets with nothing to pull them.
In the central residential area were clusters of wooden houses. There was no glass in the window frames--only sunshades that offered no protection against the wind.
"Kino, what did the people from the last country say about this place again?"
"They called it 'A free-spirited tropical country'."
"I guess that's mostly true, except there's no sunlight here at all." Hermes said. The sky was pitch-black and the wind was bone-chilling.
There was no one to be seen outside. They had not spotted anyone since they first stepped in through the gate. No one was passing through the streets, though people occasionally peeked out their windows when they heard Hermes passing by.
"It's understandable that they wouldn't want to come outside in this weather." Kino said, heading towards the harbour area on the shore ahead of them.
In the harbour were piers and levees made of stone. Several ships were moored along them, their masts reaching into the sky.
A group of about twenty hardy men were huddled by the breakwater. They were likely fishermen, all sitting in a circle with their backs to one another.
And just like the man who had greeted Kino and Hermes at the gate, every last one of them were wearing T-shirts, shorts, and sandals.
"They must be freezing." Hermes said, "it doesn't make sense for anyone to be dressed like that in this weather." He added.
As Kino and Hermes got closer, the men glanced at them with empty eyes. There was a flash of envy in their expressions as they looked at Kino's coat.
Kino stopped Hermes. The men all looked away, then hurried away together as if fleeing.
"It doesn't look like they like you very much, Kino."
Kino rode away.
Kino and Hermes made their way towards the central area.
Square, white, one-storey buildings lined the wide, paved streets. Their windows were devoid of glass, only sunshades let down over them.
As they passed by one building in particular--
"Hey, Kino. I see people."
They saw a lineup formed outside it. There was no sign on the building, so they had no idea what the lineup was for. The people spilling out of the front doors sat in two unending lines on the dirt paths.
There were men, women, children, and elders. Over a hundred of them were in the queue, which reached past the corner of the building and out of sight.
They were all dressed in T-shirts and shorts. They clung to one another as tightly as humanly possible, shivering in the cold.
When they noticed Kino and Hermes, they looked up in surprise. There was a flash of envy in their expressions as they looked at Kino's winter attire.
When Kino met their eyes, they looked away.
"It doesn't look like they like you very much, Kino." Hermes whispered.
At that moment, the people lined up on the ground suddenly began whispering. They simultaneously got to their feet and looked at one another as they murmured.
Kino looked into the direction towards which the people were looking at, to her left.
An ox-drawn carriage was coming down the middle of the street. Four oxen were slowly pulling along the rather large and gaudy carriage.
Kino parked Hermes by a building along the street. Some people glanced over at Kino as she got closer, but most of the citizens were focused on the carriage.
People began whispering.
"The Prime Minister…"
"It's the Premier."
"The Prime Minister's carriage."
The whispers also reached Kino and Hermes' ears.
"I get it."
"Some sort of authority here, huh?"
They whispered to one another.
Soon, as the shivering people in light clothing, the heavily dressed Kino, and Hermes watched, the carriage came to a stop before the building entrance.
The luxurious carriage door opened, and first stepped out two large men who looked to be bodyguards. They were both wearing T-shirts and shorts.
Following after them was a somewhat harsh-looking woman in her mid-forties, also dressed in a T-shirt and shorts.
Under the eyes of many of her citizens, the woman quickly walked into the building, watched over by her guards.
A sigh escaped the lips of the many people lined up outside. The crowds soon returned to their huddles, sitting back down on the ground.
Kino propped up Hermes on his side stand and politely introduced herself to a nearby citizen.
However, the person ignored Kino and looked away.
After several repetitions of asking and being ignored, Kino returned to Hermes. But the moment she pushed up Hermes' side stand, someone called out to her from behind.
"Ask the Prime Minister."
It was a man's voice. When Kino looked around, no one came forward. Everyone continued to avert their eyes.
"Thank you. I'll do that."
Kino did not seek out the owner of the voice. She did not ask Hermes. Thanking the anonymous informant, Kino pushed Hermes up to the carriage and stood before the bodyguard who was glancing over her way every once in a while.
Soon, the other bodyguards and the female Prime Minister stepped out of the building.
Seeing them out to the doors were several men wearing white T-shirts, white shorts, white hats, and white masks.
"I see. So this was a hospital." Hermes whispered.
As she left the hospital, the Prime Minister took notice of Kino and greeted her kindly.
"Oh my, travelers, I take it?"
As the bodyguards watched vigilantly, the Prime Minister approached Kino.
"Hello. Welcome to our country. I had heard that we have just welcomed our first visitor in a long time. I am the Prime Minister of this country."
"It's an honour. My name is Kino, and this here is my partner Hermes."
"Well, if you'll excuse me. Please take some time to look around." The Prime Minister said, trying to end the conversation.
"I'd like to ask you something." Kino said quickly, before the Prime Minister had turned away completely. She waited for the Prime Minister's reply ("What is it?") before continuing.
"On our way here, we noticed that the climate was getting worse and worse. Has the weather been this way here for long?"
"Yes. It's been several weeks now."
"It looks to be much colder than usual here. From the looks of the citizens, I can imagine they must be freezing by now."
The scary-looking bodyguard raised an eyebrow at Kino's statement. The Prime Minister, though calm, spoke with a slight edge to her voice.
"That's right. It may seem that way to you, traveler, with all the layers you're wearing. I'm sure our clothing may seem rather sloppy to you, but in our country, this is formalwear."
"I see. So that must be why everyone is dressed this way." Kino said understandingly. The Prime Minister smiled almost condescendingly.
"That is correct. From the beginning, the people of this country have always worn short-sleeved shirts and trousers. After all, that is easiest for a hot country like ours. I've heard before that in some countries, people wear long-sleeved shirts, neckties, and even jackets on top of it as formalwear. Even in the middle of summer! I'm quite glad that I wasn't born in such a foolish and illogical country."
"Could I ask you one more thing?"
"What is it?"
"What happens if a citizen were to dress otherwise?"
"Naturally, that is a violation of our laws. It's a serious crime. Of course, no other types of clothing exist in our country to begin with."
The carriage left the hospital and its lineup. The motorrad departed immediately, headed in a straight line for the northern gate.
"Oh? Your permit hasn't expired yet…" The gatekeeper said in his nasally voice.
"I _________ my _______." Making up an excuse, Kino left the country.
With a bandanna over her face, the hat snug on her head, and her coat secure around her.
"Only half a day in a country, huh? That must be a new record, Kino."
"I feel cold just looking at those people. And besides, this country--"
Kino and Hermes departed down the path laid between the darkened seas and the plains.
Approximately two hundred and several days later.
A buggy was moving south, along the path by which Kino and Hermes had gone north.
The sky was as dark as night. With headlights on, the buggy, with its piles of luggage, carefully moved forward.
To the left of the road was the sea, and to its right was what used to be a verdant plain--now replaced with a dark and desolate wasteland.
"This is terrible. Looks like all the vegetation's died out." The man behind the wheel, sitting on the left side, muttered.
The man was wearing a parka with a hood pulled over his head. There were goggles over his eyes, and a muffler was wrapped around his face, hiding his expression.
In the passenger seat was a little girl bundled up in thick winter clothing. She was wearing a fur hat, and a muffler was wrapped around her body. Because she was not wearing goggles, her green eyes and white hair peeked out through the layers.
Sitting between her knees was a large dog with long white fur.
The dog spoke to the driver.
"This climate will last as long as the eruption and the prevailing westerlies continue. And even when the eruption stops…"
"This area won't recover anytime soon, am I right?" The man answered.
At that moment, the girl looked up without a word.
Tiny white particles danced in the air before her eyes. One of them flew past the hood of the buggy and landed on her cheek. It quickly melted and disappeared.
"And now they're even getting snow…" The man muttered sadly.
The snowflakes fluttered from the sky, slowly growing in number. They began to sparkle in the buggy's headlights.
The man slowed down the buggy slightly and looked at the girl in the passenger seat.
"Are you feeling cold at all, Ti?"
The girl quietly embraced the large fluffy dog's head and rubbed her cheek against him.
"I see. Just tell me if you are." The man said, his eyes narrowed.
The buggy continued along the thick grey path covered in snow.
The chains wrapped around the rear wheels dug up the snow in their path.
Snow continued falling from the pitch-black sky. Slowly but surely, the snow came down in larger amounts.
The girl in the passenger seat, still hugging the dog, sometimes pointed out objects on either side of the road, or on the road itself.
The man also glanced at the objects. If one was on the road in their way, he turned the steering wheel to avoid running over it.
They were little mounds covered in snow. Many of them were piled up over the flat lands.
The little mounds were, at one point, creatures living as humans. They were the corpses of people who had collapsed on the road, carrying a scant few belongings with them.
"I see little hope here, Master Shizu." The dog said, his head still in the girl's embrace.
"You may be right. But we should at least go all the way to the country. We'll be there very soon. We have to get a good look at the situation before making our report."
The moment the man finished, they saw a black wall looming ahead of them in the darkness,
On top of the wall was a lighthouse. There was no light.
The wooden gate was left wide open.
The buggy slowly entered the country without receiving permission.
The landscape inside the walls was little different from the world outside.
Everything was grey. Every plant was wilted, and every tree had been cut down. Lonely stumps lined either side of the road.
"They must have used them for firewood…" The man said.
After a look around the country, they headed for the harbour. Not a single ship was moored at the docks. All they found was the remains of some lumber, cut into pieces and piled up neatly.
In the central area they began to discover corpses on either side of the road.
The corpses were no longer human in shape. Skulls and bones from arms and legs were rolling around in the snow.
The man drove slowly. He stopped the buggy at the centre of the town and loudly blew on a whistle. He turned off the engine and listened carefully, but he heard nothing.
"Another country gone." He whispered sadly, snow falling upon him.
The little girl and the dog looked to the man.
The man took off his goggles, undid the muffler around his face, and looked directly at the girl.
"Ti, the people of this country couldn't bring themselves to change."
The girl said nothing. She stared into the man's eyes, waiting for him to continue."
"They lived by excuses like 'Things have always been this way, and that was good enough for us'. They could never accept anything but the thin clothes they always wore. Even though the world around them had changed completely, they couldn't adjust to the changes. It's difficult to put it simply, but…"
"They lived by their own justice?"
The girl said suddenly, a rather long sentence in comparison to her usual silence.
The man and the dog went silent.
Several seconds later, in the middle of the snowy street, the man looked back at the girl's green eyes.
"Yes. You're right. These people lived and died by their own justice."
The man started the buggy again. They began to leave.
They left through the north gate, which they had passed on their way through the empty country.
There they spotted life.
The man stopped the buggy in front of the living creatures.
In the world of grey were animals also of the same colour. A pack of about twenty wolves were feasting on the corpse of a human in the snow.
The wolves took notice of the buggy and looked up simultaneously. They glared at the mysterious metal object that shone light on them, and the two people and dog riding atop it.
"I see… So the corpses inside the country were all eaten by the wolves." The man concluded.
"Wolves do not normally live in tropical regions like this." The dog said. The man nodded.
"They must have followed the climate all the way here. This is courage. In the end, these wolves won out with their strength."
The wolves began to growl at them. They put their meal on hold and slowly approached the buggy, encircling it.
"Although that doesn't mean we'll be offering ourselves up to them." The man said jokingly. The girl turned round and reached into the back of the buggy. When she turned back to face the front, she was holding a hand grenade, taped closed to prevent it from exploding.
She looked up at him silently.
"Don't worry. We won't need it." The man laughed.
He shifted gears and started the buggy.
The buggy drove past the surprised wolves and left in the blink of an eye. It was soon swallowed up by the darkness.
Continued in Chapter 2.
Continued in Chapter 2.