Here's the first chapter of Allison I. If you haven't already noticed, there's a new link in the sidebar: the AWLTMS Database. It contains all the information so far presented in the series, and hopefully I'll come back to update it after each chapter. Allison's world is huge and full of interesting details, so please check it out! (Warning: Always read the latest update before going to the database.)
On that note, please suggest different name spellings for terms on the list that have katakana listed next to it. Allison takes place in something resembling Europe, so I need mostly suggestions from people with knowledge of European languages. Thank you in advance!
Chapter 1: Allison and Wil
The Year 3287 of the World Calendar. Early summer.
The sky was a clear azure. The smooth earth was covered in green.
In the distance loomed the Central Mountain Range. Some of its great peaks were still capped with snow.
When the winds began to blow in from the south, summer would arrive upon this land in full force.
There was a boy sitting on the grass, with his back against the red brick of the school building.
He had light brown hair and brown eyes. He was of average height and build, and was wearing a summer uniform—a white button-up shirt and a pair of navy pants. The little badge on his collar identified the boy as a fifth-year student at Lowe Sneum Memorial Secondary School. If he hadn’t skipped a grade, he would be either sixteen or seventeen. He didn’t look old enough to have failed two semesters in a row—in other words, held back a year.
The boy leisurely produced a book from the bag next to him. The book was small, but considerably thick. The school library’s mark was stamped on the back cover.
He turned to the page he had bookmarked. But he paused before he began reading. He slowly looked up. The sun shone brilliantly upon the boy and the open book.
He closed the book, put it back into his bag, and stood. Taking about fifty steps towards the trees, he sat down under the shade of a full green branch.
Once again, he took out the book and opened it.
He began to read.
Lowe Sneum Memorial Secondary School was situated between farmlands and plains.
The grounds, large enough to fit a small village, were surrounded by coniferous trees. Five sturdy school buildings, made of red bricks, stood in a line. Around these buildings were a staff building, an indoor gymnasium, and a kitchen for making school lunches, among others. Also on the unnecessarily expansive grounds were a large running track, a field for ball games, a grove of trees, a small patch of farmland for educational purposes, and a wide-open area dotted with giant trees.
This facility was originally an army post used by the cavalry. But it was sold to the ministry of education twenty-four years ago and converted into a school. Now, it was the most famous secondary school in the area—a facility educating approximately a thousand students between the ages of twelve and eighteen.
It was just when the boy had flipped through about five pages. The door on the side of the school building opened, and about a dozen students wearing first-year badges spilled outside in an excited chatter. Following after them was a tall, middle-aged teacher holding a portable blackboard under his arm.
The boy looked up. The first-years approached him, still chattering. Some seemed surprised to see him, while others did not seem to care.
Soon, the teacher spotted him and stopped.
“I see you’re reading something interesting, Wil.”
The boy—Wilhelm Schultz—looked up, greeted the teacher, and nodded.
The teacher asked Wil about the book. Wil hesitated for a moment before showing him the cover. The teacher chuckled wryly.
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to tell me what it says, Wil.”
“It’s a book of children’s stories, sir.”
“Yes. It’s a collection of stories from the West. A lot of them are known here, too, but some of the stories have completely different endings.” Wil answered. The teacher shrugged.
“I had no idea we had books like this in the library.”
“Were you giving remedial lessons to the first-years, sir?”
“That’s right. It’s only the first term, but they’re so full of energy. They’re still stuck in primary school mode. Ah, that reminds me. Why don’t you join us, Wil? We’re studying history today. I’m sure you’d be a wonderful teacher. And I’m sure I could get some well-deserved sleep.” The teacher joked.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to decline, sir.” Wil laughed, shaking his head.
The students decided on a spot three trees away, and called their teacher over. The teacher said goodbye to Wil and returned to the waiting first-years. He then set up the blackboard on the ground.
“Sir, is that upperclassman staying back for remedial classes, too?” One of the first-years asked quietly so Wil wouldn’t hear. The other students laughed.
It had been three days since the beginning of summer break. The students at Lowe Sneum Memorial had gone back home for the first time in half a year. The only ones who remained were those students whose marks were so low that they needed to take remedial classes, kept behind at school for about ten more days.
“No, that’s not it.” The teacher said, shaking his head.
“Was he the one who was at the festival?” One of the students asked.
“That’s right. And his marks are actually not bad at all. In fact, with his academic record, he could probably skip a grade.”
“Oh. So why’s he here?” Another student asked.
A shadow passed over the teacher’s face. Without answering his pupil’s question, he picked up a chalk and drew a large potato shape on the board.
“Let’s begin the lesson, everyone. Make sure to pay attention, or you’ll have to wait a very long time to eat your mother’s home cooking. We’ll start with geography.”
It was the shape of a potato—a circle slightly stretched out horizontally.
This was the shape of the only continent on this planet. The drawing on the board soon began to grow more and more like the image of the map of the world, accurate perspective and all. The lower tip of the potato was skirting the equator. The upper tip was jutting just past 60° N.
The teacher began to draw mountain symbols at the bottom of the center of the oval. He slowly moved upwards, stopping about midway. He then drew two parallel lines on either side of the mountain range. The lines connected at the top of the range, and continued north until they hit the ocean at the top.
“Let’s start with a review. Sorry for the awful drawing. The mountains here are the Central Mountain Range. The lines are the Lutoni River.”
The continent was bisected by the river and the mountain range.
The Central Mountain Range was the longest and largest mountain range in the world, with several peaks that stood over ten thousand meters tall. The mountain range started at the very bottom of the continent, and reached straight up to 30° N. In other words, it ended at about the center of the continent.
It was here that the Lutoni River took over as the border. The East and West Lutoni Rivers, running parallel to each other on either side of the mountain range, converged and widened, swallowing countless tributaries along the way. The river flowed in a nearly-straight line towards the ocean in the north.
What is the name of the nation on this side?” The teacher asked, indicating at the eastern side of the perfectly bisected map.
“Roxche, sir.” One student answered immediately. The teacher asked for the official name. A girl spoke up.
“The Roxcheanuk Confederation. The nation we live in.”
“Correct. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but it’s important to remember our official name.” The teacher said, labeling the east side ‘Roxche’.
Some of the students complained about the teacher using the short form, but the teacher replied that he had no room to write the full name on his diagram. He then pointed at the western side.
“What about this side?”
“The Evil Empire!” One of the students cried out jokingly. The others burst into laughter.
“Yes, some people call it that. But what about its official name and shortened name?”
“The Allied Kingdoms of Bezel-Iltoa, sir. Sou Be-Il for short.”
“Excellent. And just to warn you—if I see ‘Evil Empire’ on any of your tests, I will penalize you. Now, there’s another, unofficial word we use to refer to Sou Be-Il. Can someone tell me?”
“Cross-River!” Several students answered at once.
“Yes. They are across the Lutoni River, so we call them ‘Cross-River’. Simple. Now, do you know what the people Cross-River call Roxche?” The teacher asked. This time, no one could answer him. Several nonsense answers were suggested, before the students finally went quiet.
“Cross-River.” Wil whispered the answer to himself, reading his book.
“Just like all of you have come from many different countries, Roxche is made up of sixteen countries and territories on the eastern side of the continent. Sou Be-Il is made up of the two large kingdoms on the western side, along with several small countries. In primary school, you’ve probably only been taught the history of Roxche. But our relationship with Cross-River becomes important now.”
“Is it about the war?” A student asked. The teacher nodded.
“Yes. That’s right.”
The history of the relationship between Roxche and Sou Be-Il was synonymous with the history of warfare.
In the distant past, when civilization was in its infancy, the World Calendar was still in its first digit. East and West were isolated from each other, cut off by the mountain range and the river. They were essentially two different worlds.
Eventually, civilizations grew mature, and countries were created. And after countless battles and wars, East and West were each united into an empire. Wars between countries turned into wars between the two empires. It was recorded in history books from the distant past that dozens of great wars were fought between the empires of the East and West.
To attack and annihilate the land across the river soon became the goal of both empires. But geography made dust of these ambitions. They had crossed the river and claimed territory on the other side for short periods of time, but they were quickly driven back across.
Nearly a thousand years passed. The great empires, which had been unified powers, scattered into countless small countries. For centuries these small countries of the East and West crumbled and revived over and over again.
With the Middle Ages came the era of kings and knights. Approximately four hundred years ago, the kingdoms of the West forged an alliance. And in order to fulfill the ambitions of the emperors of old, they attacked the troubled East, which was still in the midst of a civil war.
The East put a temporary hold to the in-fighting and united against their loathed common enemy. With the Lutoni river in the center, a long, monotonous century of back-and-forth battles were fought. Afterwards, a frightening pandemic spread across the world, putting a hazy end to the war. The border drawn down the Lutoni river was never changed.
Even in relatively modern times, when firearms were first deployed, the back-and-forth over the river continued. In the midst of the battles, both sides reached the same conclusion.
‘What if the countries Cross-River join forces for one massive invasion?’
And so, at the same time, for the same reasons, East and West chose unification. The ancient empires had been revived as a confederation and an alliance respectively.
And so, a cold war began.
“The cold war lasted for 130 years before it became openly hostile. War broke out between Roxche and Sou Be-Il. This was the Great War. Can someone tell me what year it started?”
“3252, sir. Exactly thirty-five years ago.”
“That’s correct. This was the first and largest war fought between the two nations in contemporary times. The main area of conflict was…”
The teacher drew several ‘x’s around the mouth of the Lutoni River.
“The north. Near the country of Lor and the Republic of Niasham. This is where the river widens and leads into the ocean. It was a constant battle over the vicinity of the river. Countless people were killed, and many lost their homes. But in ’56, the Sou Be-Il military caught us off-guard by invading a point that was further to the south. Can anyone tell me where?”
The students did not answer. The teacher drew a circle near the point where the rivers converged and the mountain range ended.
“The Neit region in the Republic of Raputoa. In other words, this very area.” The teacher said, pointing at the ground. “This very place we’re sitting in. The area around our school was a key location at the time. There was one very clever Sou Be-Il general, you see. He realized that the weak link in the Roxche line of defense was this area, where the mountain range ends and many rivers crisscross the land in complex patterns. So he pretended to launch an attack on the north, while instead attacking Neit. He was going to cross the river and take over with one great push, using this area as the foundation for more invasions.”
The students listened without so much as a word. Some of the boys, who knew how the story went, listened excitedly.
“We were taken by surprise. We were panicking. At the time, we didn’t have the kind of forces we needed to fight off such a large-scale invasion. After all, everyone was busy fighting up north. The way things were going, both Raputoa and our neighbor Kerena would be conquered in a moment’s notice. Then, the Roxchean forces fighting in the north would be attacked even from the south. Everyone desperately tried to think of a way to stop the general’s forces. But we just didn’t have enough soldiers, and there was no time to call for reinforcements. That was when one man gave us a miracle.”
The teacher’s story continued.
“Lieutenant Colonel Walter McMillan. With just about a dozen men under his command, the lieutenant colonel snuck into the enemy base in the dead of night. That’s where he got them with poison gas. Anyone who took so much as a whiff died. The enemy general, his subordinates—all of them were killed. The enemy had no choice but to retreat. For years afterwards, this attack was condemned as being an inhumane act on Roxche’s part. But if that attack had never succeeded, there would have been many more casualties—both on our side and theirs. Roxche might even have lost the war. At the time, I was younger than you all are now. But I still remember it like it was yesterday. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh. Roxche isn’t going to lose now’.”
“What happened that amazing man, sir?” One of the boys asked.
“Of course, Lieutenant Colonel McMillan became a hero. But all of his men were killed in the battle. He was the only one to make it back alive. Afterwards, he refused all medals and promotions, and retired. He went back to his hometown to live in peace. I’m not sure if he’s even alive anymore.”
“An armistice was signed in the year 3257. But an armistice is different from a termination of hostilities. To be specific, Roxche and Sou Be-Il are technically still at war. Fifteen years ago—that would be in 3272, there was a skirmish in the North Sea that ended very quickly. But the Lestki Island Conflict ten years ago lasted an entire year. You all must have been about two at the time, so I suppose you wouldn’t remember.”
The teacher drew a close-up of a section of the Lutoni River and drew in the middle a long, thin island.
“Now, the conflict was over sovereignty of Lestki Island. This particular battle was only fought on the island and the surrounding areas. It lasted for an entire year, but in the end, it was decided that neither Roxche nor Sou Be-Il would possess this land. This was an incredible development. Until that point, the border between the nations was considered the middle of the Lutoni River, but after this conflict, the river and the thirty-kilometer area adjacent to its banks became demilitarized. This is called a buffer zone. It’s a sort of cushion that prevents us from bumping into one another. And this buffer zone still exists today. Only fishermen who’ve received special permission are allowed to approach the river. And so, we’re spared the risk of battle breaking out over unforeseen accidents.”
The teacher took out his pocket watch and glanced at it. Then, he continued.
“There was another historical development concerning the Lestki Island Conflict. This is actually material for later years, but since I’m on the topic, let me tell you. This battle marks the first use of aeroplanes in battle. The first instance of manned flight was twenty years before the conflict—in other words, in the direct aftermath of the Great War. At the time, of course, no one thought we could use aeroplanes for war. But they slowly grew more and more advanced, and played a critical role during the Lestki Island Conflict. They acted as scouts, bombers, and fighter planes that took down enemy aircraft. And from now on, they’ll play even more important roles in battle. Having more aeroplanes might become better than having more cannons. Warfare itself could undergo a complete paradigm shift.”
Wil looked up and glanced at the teacher. Then, he returned to his book.
“There hasn’t been a single war between Roxche and Sou Be-Il in the last ten years, and trade between the two nations is becoming steadily more frequent. So I suppose you could call this peacetime. But you never know what’s going to happen. It’s impossible for Roxche and Sou Be-Il to get along, you see, so it wouldn’t be strange for war to break out at any time. Don’t forget. We always have to be prepared in case they invade us. We have to be ready to defend our nation. This is why everyone is conscripted at age eighteen.”
“Why can’t we get along? I mean, I wish we could be friends, just like our class.” One of the girls asked.
“Excellent question. And it’s certainly a good thing for you to get along with your classmates. You mustn’t hate or despise others. But Roxche and Cross-River can never get along.”
The teacher said firmly to the many sets of eyes fixated upon him,
“This is because both sides claim that their ancestors were the ancestors of humanity. In the Two Empires Era, both sides believed that humans were made by God. They believed that they were the first humans to be created, and that they were the ancestors of all people. This was why East and West could never get along on equal terms. That line of thought continued into the Middle Ages.”
The teacher stopped for breath, and continued.
“But recently, research has shown that, in the distant past, humans evolved from monkeys. I’m sure all of you have seen that diagram of the little monkey slowly walking on two legs and becoming a human.”
The students nodded.
“In that case, even if people weren’t made by God, from which side did the first humans emerge? Which side had the longest history? Which side were the ancestors from? That’s what everyone began to wonder. And both sides claim to be the ancestors. You’ll learn much more about this topic in your third year.”
“Which one do you think is right, sir?”
“Where do you think the ancestors of humans came from? Roxche, or Sou Be-Il?”
The teacher was silent for about five seconds. Then, he said firmly,
“Of course they came from Roxche. After all, it’s objective truth that we’re much more developed in many aspects. We have a larger population, and we have fewer poor countries and territories. This means that so many more people are living good lives here in Roxche. And historically speaking, the greatest artists and inventors were mostly Roxchean. We must be proud of the fact that we’re from the East. Never forget that we, and our ancestors, are superior to those mistaken people from Cross-River. This is what you’re here to learn, and this is what we teachers are here to teach.”
The teacher’s voice was carried on the wind to Wil as he remained glued to his book. He moved once during his reading to follow the shade of the tree as it shifted under the sun.
There was a light breeze. His hair shook. At the same time, Wil heard the low-pitched hum of an insect at his left ear. He waved his hand to drive it away.
But the hum did not cease. Wil placed a bookmark on the page he was reading and stood. He then stepped out of the shade and looked up at the sky.
“Sir, over there!” One of the first-years cried, spotting the source of the sound. The students looked up into the sky all at once.
There were two small aeroplanes in the air. Propellers were spinning at their noses, and they had two wings—one atop and one underneath the fuselage. Jutting out from the lower wings were sturdy sets of landing gear.
The two planes flew side-by-side at low altitude against the backdrop of the blue sky, the rhythmic hum of their engines drawing nearer as they skirted the school grounds.
“Wow! Real aeroplanes!”
The first-years broke out into excited chatter once more. Although aeroplanes were now being used for civilian travel and transport purposes between the larger cities, not many people had yet seen one in person. The teacher and the students put a temporary hold on their outdoor lesson to leave the shade of the tree and look up at the approaching aircrafts.
“Look at the fuselage, everyone. See the emblem with the Spear of Seron? Those aeroplanes belong to the Roxchean Air Force.” The teacher said, brimming with excitement. Just as he said, there was an emblem with a spear on the left side of the fuselage.
The spear was black, and had a pointed tip like an arrowhead. There was a thicker section at the top of the shaft, which was presumably the grip of the spear. And on either side of the very top were red markings that looked like an arrow’s fletches.
The Spear of Seron, the official crest of the Roxcheanuk Confederation.
It was an ancient motif that had been carved onto pottery and the like from antiquity. During the Two Empires Era, the spear—then known as a demon-slaying spear—was used as the crest of the emperors. The motif survived the fall of the empire, and was carved and painted onto the middle of shields and flags borne by kings and knights in the ages that followed. After the establishment of Roxche, it was placed on the upper-left corner of the Roxchean national flag as a symbol of unity.
“The air force…” Wil muttered to himself.
The two aeroplanes continued their slow approach, as though parading the two spears to the students. Each plane had two seats, both exposed to the air. And at the pilot’s seats could be seen pilots wearing aviator hats.
The first-years waved energetically at the planes. As though in response, one of the aeroplanes moved its flaps. The second plane followed suit. At this point, students were practically hanging out of some of the classroom windows for a look at this unusual sight.
The hum of the engines soon grew quiet. The two planes flew over the running track, showing the left sides of their tails, and—did not disappear from view.
The aeroplane that had first greeted the students suddenly made a sharp left turn. The top of its fuselage was clearly visible from the ground as it swerved in the direction of the students. It then began to descend and move faster.
Right in front of Wil, the students, and the red brick building, the plane swerved ninety degrees to the left. It passed between the students and the building at extremely low altitude, angled as though about to make a landing on the school wall. Several girls screamed, spooked by the roar of the engine. The students who were looking out the windows quickly drew back for fear of being run over.
The two pilots sitting in the plane were clearly visible to Wil and the students. They were wearing brown aviator hats, goggles, and mufflers over their faces.
The first-years let out shouts of shock and excitement.
“I was so sure they would crash… What an incredible show of acrobatics.” The teacher gasped.
The plane once more swerved sharply to the left. It then oriented itself towards Wil and the others from the end of the running track.
This time, however, it began to descend and slow. The aeroplane landed square in the middle of the track, sending dust flying everywhere. It continued to cruise along the ground.
“It landed! It landed!”
“This is awesome!”
The first-years cried out eagerly.
“No, everyone! Wait! You could die if you get caught in the propellers!” The teacher shouted anxiously, scolding the students who were already running for the plane. “So don’t get there before I do, you hear?!”
With that, the teacher briskly walked over to the aeroplane.
Wil hesitated for a moment, before following the teacher at his usual pace. When he glanced back, he saw a dozen or so boys running out of the building. One of them came up to Wil and lightly punched him on the shoulder. It was Wil’s classmate, a boy who was unfortunately taking remedial classes to improve his dismal marks.
“Did you see that, Wil?! Real aeroplanes! From the Roxchean Air Force! And one landed right on the grounds!”
“Yeah, it’s amazing… Hey, what about remedial classes?”
“As if anyone’s gonna pay attention now. C’mon! Let’s go take a look!”
With that, he pushed Wil forward. Wil had no choice but to run now.
The aeroplane had come to a complete stop. Even its engine had been shut off.
A well-built pilot—a man of about thirty—stood there with his arms spread out, as though telling the first-years to stay back. He was wearing a grey set of coveralls and a pair of military boots. He was also wearing a leather jacket, on the left arm of which was emblazoned the crest with the Spear of Seron, the mark of the Roxche military. On either side of his collar was his badge of rank.
All the students told the pilot how much they admired him and the aeroplane. The man put on an embarrassed grin. The second plane leisurely circled the sky overhead.
By the time Wil had approached the plane, the teacher was showering the pilot with questions. Was this an emergency landing? No. Was this part of some training mission? No. Was this part of a secret air force mission? Of course not.
Soon, the other pilot, who had been fiddling with something at the pilot’s seat, approached the first pilot with a small suitcase in hand. The second pilot had a small build, and was also wearing grey coveralls and a jacket, topped with a thick aviator hat, a pair of goggles, and a muffler.
The two pilots exchanged words before standing up straight and saluting one another. The larger of the two returned to the plane. He climbed up the fuselage and took the back seat. Then, he put on his hat and goggles and pulled the muffler over his mouth.
The engine came to life with an explosive noise. It was quickly followed by the sound of the propeller spinning.
The aeroplane began to move as though gliding, swerving left and doing a 180 in an instant. The students could no longer help but turn their backs on the dust cloud kicked up by the propeller.
The plane began to cruise along the field, and quickly took off into the air.
As the students watched in awe, the aeroplane joined its companion in the air, and the two flew off into the distance in formation.
The dust settled, and the grounds were quiet once more. Only the smaller of the pilots was left standing there.
Naturally, all eyes were on this pilot. The pilot took off their hat and goggles, and pulled down their muffler.
A small commotion broke out among the people on the field.
The pilot was a woman. A girl not yet twenty, who would not be out of place among the students of Lowe Sneum Memorial. She had a small build and pleasant features, with large blue eyes. Her long, straight hair shone a brilliant blond.
“Whoa… She can’t be from Cross-River, can she?” Wil’s friend whispered. The combination of blue eyes and blond hair was almost unheard of in these parts. Most people had black, brown, or chestnut hair, with grey, brown, or green eyes. This girl’s coloring was more common, but still extremely rare, in colder areas like parts of northeastern Roxche. However, the residents of the capital of Sou Be-Il—the city of Sfrestus in the northern region—were also said to have blond hair and blue eyes.
The girl slapped the dust off her jacket and pulled out her long hair from under it. It fell down all the way to her back. She tied it into a ponytail at her neck.
“B, but… she can’t be an enemy, right? She’s in the air force…” Wil’s friend said. At that very moment, the girl looked in their direction. She placed her hat atop her suitcase and walked straight towards them. The first-years cleared the way for her without a word. The teacher made to speak to her as she passed him by, but he lost his chance. Wil’s friend grabbed Wil by the sleeve and asked in a panicked tone,
“Did I… say something insulting just now? Yes? She’s not gonna shoot me, is she?”
But the girl stopped in front of Wil, and looked into his face. Wil was very slightly taller than her. His friend let go of his sleeve and staggered backwards.
Wil looked at the girl. The girl slowly smiled and said gently,
“It’s been a long time, Wil. How are you?”
“Allison?” Wil asked.
“The one and only.”
The girl—Allison Whittington—nodded with a grin.
“What, were you expecting someone else?”
* * *
Like other secondary schools, Lowe Sneum Memorial Secondary School operated on a dormitory system. But the dorms, in this case, were not located on the school grounds. Instead, they were in the nearest settlement in the area—the town of Makkaniu. Of course, it was still fifteen kilometers away from the school. This was because, when the school was first founded, the townspeople feared that they would not profit in any way from the school and demanded that the dorms be located there. The students commuted to their classes via school buses operated by the town’s bus company.
During the school year, school buses ran frequently all day long in time with the school schedule. But fewer buses ran during the breaks, when the remedial classes were in session. Once the remedial classes were finished, bus service to and from the school was cut altogether.
Students and staff who remained in the dorms and went to the school building during the breaks were allowed to borrow motorcycles equipped with sidecars, or bicycles. Of course, not everyone could borrow the former. Only students past their third year with good grades who had taken driving lessons were allowed to use them.
About four kilometers south of the school was a lake and a wetland.
Groundwater from the Central Mountain Range created a lake in a large hollow in the plains, which was surrounded by a marsh.
Allison and Wil were sitting on a low hill, from where they could see the entire marsh. Wil was wearing a light summer jacket over his button-up shirt, and Allison was in a comfortable pair of pants and a thick shirt.
“Yeah, this is the place. I thought it looked really beautiful when I was passing overhead.” Allison said as she looked down at the landscape. She then turned to Wil.
“Do you come here a lot?”
Wil shook his head.
“Not really. Maybe because it’s too close to the school.”
Behind the two of them stood one of the school’s sidecar-equipped motorcycles.
Two seats were on the motorcycle, one behind the other, and the sidecar was attached to the right side of the motorcycle. On the sidecar, composed of a simple seat and a handle, was the crest of the school administration and the vehicle registration number.
“You came so suddenly… I was really surprised.” Wil said. When his friend and the teacher realized that Wil and the pilot knew each other, they bombarded him with one question after another. Wil managed to worm his way out with vague answers, and as Allison changed out of her coveralls in the infirmary, he signed out a school motorcycle. They left the school as though in escape.
“Really? But I wrote saying I’d come see you sometime during your summer break. And you said you were just going to stay at the dorms since you didn’t really want to go anywhere. I can stay at the dorms even though I’m not a student, right?”
“Yeah, but—I mean, sure, you can stay at the dorms—but I didn’t think you’d arrive on an air force aeroplane. I was expecting you to come by train. I was going to come pick you up at the station once you sent me a telegram. How’d you arrange for the ride?”
“Would you believe me if I said it was a special reward for good workplace behavior?”
“…Remember I wrote to you before saying I was placed into a unit that transports aeroplanes?”
“Yeah. Last fall.”
“I was deployed on a mission to transport these new practice planes from the factory to Kinani. We were going to pass by Neit on the way, so I decided to take a few days off.”
“I see. So you got a lift all the way here.”
“Actually, I flew it all the way here. Although we were delayed two days because of some awful weather.”
“So you really can pilot those machines and fly through the air, Allison… That’s amazing.”
“Wasn’t it awesome how I just skirted over the school before? The first lieutenant on board with me told me to stop it, though.”
“That’s just like you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Allison said, sounding slightly angry. Then, her tone dropped.
“Are things going well with you, Wil?”
“More or less. I’m just going to school, reading books at the library during the breaks and stuff. Things are pretty relaxed here. What about you, Allison?”
“I guess it’s going well… or not. It’s not great. I’m flying almost every day. Sure, that’s fun. But no matter what I do, they just won’t let me on a fighter plane.”
“Didn’t you write saying you were on one not too long ago?”
“Yeah, but that was just for a little bit on a transportation mission. I mean, I got to pilot it all I wanted. But what I’m saying is that they won’t transfer me to a combat unit. For stupid reasons like ‘Because you’re too young’, or ‘Because you’re a girl’.”
“Oh… I see.” Wil said.
At that moment, a waterfowl skidded across the surface of the lake and flew into the air. Allison and Wil watched it together. And suddenly, they looked at one another.
For some time, they stood there in silence.
Then, Allison said in a slightly annoyed tone,
“Don’t you have anything to say? We haven’t seen each other in half a year.”
“Um… Not really. What about you, Allison?” Wil asked.
Allison was lost for words. She stared blankly into the air for a moment.
“Oh! Something funny happened to me the other day. I couldn’t wait to tell you!” She said suddenly, amused. She then stuck up her index finger at Wil.
“The other day, I got a love letter!”
“‘Oh’? That’s it?” Allison glared.
This time, it was Wil’s turn to stare blankly into the air.
“But it’s a funny story, so I’ll tell you the rest. You won’t believe this—the letter was from a man from Cross-River.”
The term ‘Cross-River’ shocked Wil. His gaze returned to Allison. She looked at him, entertained by his reaction. Their eyes met.
“How did that happen?” Wil said without an ounce of humor.
“Did you hear about the joint rescue training the Roxchean Air Force did with Sou Be-Il about two weeks ago?”
“I heard about it on the radio. And I read about it in the papers, too. Apparently it was the first time both armies were involved in something where there weren’t any casualties. It was written in a really sarcastic tone.”
“Yeah. We were training to use seaplanes to rescue sailors from the water. It was on an island in a wide section of the Lutoni River buffer zone. Officially, it was supposed to be because of that recent fishing agreement they signed. Since more fishing ships are going to go out into the river now, we were supposed to be jointly deciding on methods of communication, emergency signals, and rules in case some of those fishermen end up in an accident. Trying to prevent battle from breaking out from misunderstandings, you know? But really, both sides were actually trying to figure out ways to save allied pilots who end up making an emergency landing in the river. But since both forces are in a honeymoon period, they went through with the joint training. Some people from our unit transported the aeroplanes, and I begged them to let me join in, too. That’s when this young second lieutenant from Sou Be-Il suddenly came up to me and started talking in broken Roxchean.”
“This is the first thing he said. ‘Good day. Are you the daughter of Colonel Rosemeitz?’. Oh, Colonel Rosemeitz is our commander. It’s like he thought this was some sort of a vacation. He brought his family to the village nearby! I got so mad, I ended up half-lying and told him, ‘No, I’m a pilot’.”
“Then he got all impressed and apologized, and then asked me out to tea. Although really, the closest thing to a cafe they had was a table and a couple of chairs set up under a tarp.”
“Then what happened?”
“I thought it might be interesting, so I followed him. The soldiers from Cross-River were all looking at me, and I had a lot of fun talking about aeroplanes with him. That was all. But four days after the training session, he sent me a letter addressed to our unit’s captain. Apparently he wanted to court me officially and exchange letters with me.”
“...They inspected that letter before you got it, right?”
“Definitely. But it got to me properly. My unit wouldn’t stop talking about it for a while. About how brave that officer from Cross-River was or something. But I ended up writing to him to politely decline. He was pretty cool, though.”
Wil said nothing.
“Surprised?” Allison asked, sounding a little proud.
“I am. I’m really shocked. And… I’m honestly amazed. It really is a surprise.” Wil replied, looking at Allison.
“Right?” Allison said, flicking her golden hair. But Wil’s thoughts lay someplace different.
“You’ve gone really far, huh…”
“Hm? What do you mean?”
“The relationship between the two forces. It’s surprising enough that they’re interacting at all, but I had no idea soldiers were free to talk, and even write to one another like that. Allison… you should have at least asked to keep exchanging letters with—Ouch.”
Allison punched him.
* * *
On the motorcycle, Wil and Allison were going down a path that cut straight through a farm. The path was a level higher than the field around it, but it was a dirt road that had not been paved.
Allison was sitting in the sidecar, lazily watching the scenery pass them by. The crops growing in the fields, the horizon, and the peaks of the Central Mountain Range in the distance.
Wil slowed down in the middle of the path. He kept his eyes forward as he mentioned to Allison,
“Oh, I went to Kaashi last month.”
“Last month? You went to the festival?”
Allison looked at Wil. He nodded.
“I’m jealous. Did you have fun?”
“Actually… I wasn’t there to play. I was part of the Shooting Competition.”
“You were? Really?!” Allison asked, surprised. Wil responded matter-of-factly as he continued to drive.
“Back in spring semester, one of my friends recommended the shooting experience class to me. It’s part of the military sciences officers’ program. I thought it might be fun, since I’d never used a gun before. Then they suddenly said that I have a knack for shooting, and dragged me into the shooting club. I didn’t really mind it, but then they told me to enter the Kaashi Competition as the school representative. Thanks to that, I ended up having to deal with an upset upperclassman who just graduated recently.”
“That’s not surprising. Every shooting club in Raputoa lives to fire a shot in front of everyone at that competition.” Allison said. Her tone then brightened. “So how’d you do? Did you win anything?”
“I was sixth place.” Wil said quietly.
“What?! Sixth place?!” Allison gasped, taking to her feet. Wil glanced up at her.
“Don’t stand up, Allison. It’s dangerous. Anyway, I don’t know if it was just a coincidence or if I was just in really good condition that day. I was so nervous that it all went by before I knew it. But everyone congratulated me, and that upperclassman I told you about was back in high spirits… It was a lot of fun.”
Allison slowly sat back down.
“It really must have been. I’m really surprised, Wil. Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“Because it might have sounded like I was showing off.” Wil said quietly. Allison pointed accusingly at him.
“How many times do I have to tell you, Wil?! You should be more proud of yourself. A little bit of showing off is nothing to be ashamed of!”
She then spread her arms and raised them to the sky.
“But then again, I guess that’s just not you. It’s all right. From now on, I’ll show off for you. I’ll tell everyone, ‘Wil here placed sixth in the 3287 Kaashi Shooting Competition’! Okay?”
Wil smiled, his expression a cross between embarrassment and self-deprecation.
“Maybe you’ve really got a talent for shooting, Wil. They say that the calm ones are usually the best marksmen.”
“Including you, I’ve heard the same thing from twenty-seven people, Allison.”
“Were you counting?” Allison asked.
“No. I just remember.” Wil replied matter-of-factly.
“I’m so jealous, Wil. When we were learning to shoot handguns in the military, I couldn’t even hit a watermelon from five meters away. The captain said, ‘If we put you on a fighter plane, you’d only waste your bullets’ with this really astonished face. But you know, shooting with a gun in hand is completely different from shooting from an aeroplane! Isn’t it?”
“I couldn’t tell you, Allison…”
As the narrow path neared an irrigation canal, it gave way to a bridge.
An elderly man sat on the railings of the stone bridge, looking into the sky. Sticking up underneath the skies were the peaks of the Central Mountain Range.
The old man was probably well past seventy. He had gone mostly bald, and even the remaining hairs on his head were completely white. He wore a patched-up checkered shirt with a set of overalls commonly worn by farmers.
The old man looked at the motorcycle as it approached from a distance.
“Oh, it’s him.” Wil said, looking at the old man waving his hand on the path ahead. He lowered the gear and slowed down.
“Do you know him?”
“Sort of. Everyone in our school knows about him. He lives by himself at the edge of town, but nobody knows what he does. He’s always wandering the village or the plains, and sometimes he stops students on their way and talks about the strangest things.”
“All kinds of stuff. About how he was once a royal butler, how he owns a diamond mine, how he used to be the captain of a luxury cruise liner, how he’s a famous author, or how he’s a prolific inventor…”
“My upperclassman says… he probably escaped from some hospital. Everyone at school just calls him ‘The Lying Old Man’.”
“He’s probably going to ask for a ride home. He asked me once before, too.”
Wil stopped the motorcycle just before the old man, who stood waving in the middle of the path. The latter ran up to Allison and Wil with surprising speed for a man of his age.
“Hello there! You’re the clever young man from the secondary school. And what’s this? A beautiful young lady with golden hair. I’m sorry to bother you, but could you spare some time to take me back home? I was just out on walk, you see, but I suddenly felt very tired. My house is very close—just down there. I promise I won’t get in the way of your date. And if you’d like, you can stop by at my house for a short rest.”
Wil looked around. There was nothing but plains all around them. He turned to Allison for her opinion. She had already climbed out of the sidecar.
“Here you are.” She said, offering her seat to the old man.
“Ah, thank you.”
The old man sat in the sidecar, and Allison sat behind Wil.
“Is this all right?” Wil asked, looking back at her.
“You were going to give him a ride anyway, weren’t you? You’d never turn down someone’s request, Wil. And besides…” She smiled, “he even gave you a compliment.”
‘Just down there’ turned out to be a full ten kilometers from the bridge.
They diverged from the street where the buses ran and rode through a narrow road that no one seemed to have used. Soon, they spotted a house surrounded by several trees. It was a little red house made of brick. So small was the building that it probably contained only the bare essentials, and did not even receive electricity.
Propped up in front of the well was a little motorcycle that looked rather like a bicycle equipped with an engine. Wil parked the school motorcycle next to it and shut off the ignition.
“I’m very grateful. Thank you. And you drove so carefully, too. I’m impressed.” The old man said, climbing out of the sidecar. At that moment, a woman wearing a navy skirt and an apron ran out of the house towards them. She was the housekeeper, in her late forties.
“Sir! Where have you been all this time?!” She cried, pulling off her apron. “You’re always wandering off and driving me up the wall! Try to be more considerate—don’t go out so far that you can’t come back alone! Now I won’t have time to go get the groceries!”
“I’m very sorry.” The old man said, not sounding apologetic in the least. “Ah, this young man and his friend gave me a ride back. Young man, young lady, this here is my fussy housekeeper.”
“You don’t have to call me fussy, sir. I’m going to go into town for a bit. If you’d like to serve the students some tea, everything should be in order inside. You can do that much on your own.” The housekeeper said, climbing onto the small motorcycle and starting the engine.
“Take care.” The old man said. The woman looked up at the man in shock.
With that quiet answer, the woman departed on the motorcycle. And the old man offered Wil and Allison some tea.
“Since we’re here, let’s take a load off and have a relaxing cup of tea. We don’t have anything to do, anyway.” Allison said, stepping inside first. Wil followed after her.
When they opened the door, they saw three chairs around a small table. Against the wall stood an old sofa. In the middle of the room was a fireplace, steam rising from above it. Prepared on the shelf was a teapot, some cups, and a container filled with tea leaves.
“Take a seat, both of you. I’ll have the tea ready soon.” The old man said, expertly brewing the tea and bringing it to the table. Allison and Wil thanked him and accepted the cups.
The old man poured himself some tea as well and took a seat.
“Ah, yes. There’s nothing like a cup of tea after a long, tiring day.” He said with a smile.
“This is great! I’ve never had such good tea before!” Allison said after a single sip.
“It’s delicious.” Wil agreed, nodding.
The old man clapped his hands together.
“I’m glad to hear that. This tea’s usually only served to members of the Royal Family of Staatz. Most commoners never even get to drink a sip, but they made a special exception for me because I worked at their summer palace as a gardener when I was young.”
“That sounds wonderful. By the way, is this another one of your lies?” Allison asked. Wil choked on his tea.
“Haha! You caught me, young lady. I’m sorry, but I have nothing to do with the royal family. And on that note, I’ve never worked as a gardener before.” The old man said jovially, not sounding sorry at all.
“I knew it.” Allison said, sounding just as cheerful. Wil turned to the old man.
“Last time I came here with my upperclassmen, you served us this same tea, saying it was the most popular brand in the capital. You said it was so popular that we couldn’t get any here in the countryside.”
“Ah, I’m surprised you remember that. It must have been more than a year ago.” The old man said, astonished.
“Yes. Were you telling the truth then?”
“I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t.”
Allison burst into laughter at the old man’s sincerity.
“Are you a student at the secondary school too, young lady?”
“No. I’m not that smart, so I went straight into the workforce. I’m just visiting Wil because I’m on vacation.”
The old man nodded.
“Oh, but Wil’s a student. He’s really smart, and he even placed sixth in the Kaashi Shooting Competition.” Allison said, lightly slapping Wil on the back.
“That’s impressive. It’s certainly worth bragging about.” The old man said, his eyes widening.
“But I’m afraid I’ll do you one better. When I was young, I won the competition four times, and placed second twice. Why, I swept the awards so often that, after a while, they told me to stop entering!”
“That’s amazing. Wil, I think he beat you, even if he’s lying.” Allison said, pointing at Wil.
“I guess I’ll just have to practice more.” Wil said with a wry grin. Allison and the old man laughed.
“You’re a funny young lady. I’d never be bored if all the students were more like you. More tea?”
The old man poured Allison another cup of tea and offered some to Wil as well. But Wil declined, showing his still-unfinished tea and saying he wasn’t very good with hot food and drinks.
“By the way, you two. Let me tell you one more story, to pass the time. Now, I haven’t told this one to very many people. What would you think of it, I wonder? Actually, the truth is…”
The old man paused dramatically, before continuing.
“...I know where you can find an amazing treasure.”
“A treasure?” Allison repeated, and turned to Wil. Wil shrugged, sipping his tea with an uncomfortable look.
“Yes. A treasure. Are you curious now?” The old man asked, leaning closer.
“Is this true?” Allison asked.
“Of course. I’ve been telling you all kinds of lies until now, but this story alone is completely true.” The old man replied. He didn’t sound any more trustworthy than he did before. “And if you find out that I’m lying, you can take my life. Not that there’s much left of it now.”
Allison stared at the man for several seconds. Then,
“I see. I’m interested. What kind of treasure is it?”
“How much is it worth?”
“It’s not something you can put a price on. It’s just too valuable. But…”
Wil watched the conversation as he lazily sipped his tea.
“This really is delicious.” He mumbled to himself.
“But…” The old man continued, with a sharp look at Allison. She returned the stare.
“This treasure I’m telling you about is something that can end the war between Roxche and Sou Be-Il. That’s how valuable it is.” The old man said. Wil looked up at him.
“Isn’t it the most unbelievable story?” The old man said proudly.
“It’s really amazing, if you’re telling the truth. But how did you find that treasure?” Allison asked. Wil put down his cup and began to listen in earnest.
“By pure chance. Do you know about the poison gas attack on Sou Be-Il forces that took place during the war in this area?”
“Something about a lieutenant colonel and his special unit. Dad told me about it a long time ago.”
“Ah. You see, I was a member of that very unit. We stumbled upon this treasure on our way back from the mission. We were all shocked. But it was impossible for us to just bring that treasure back. So we vowed to keep its existence a secret and left it where it was.”
“But they told us in history class that Lieutenant Colonel McMillan was the only survivor from that unit.” Wil pointed out.
“That was a lie spread by the army to protect the members of the unit from retaliation by enemy spies. And to add to that, there was never anyone called Lieutenant Colonel McMillan. He’s a fictional character who was made to avert responsibility for the poison gas attack from the people involved. Surprised?”
“If you’re right, then we’ve been learning lies from the teachers all this time.” Wil replied. The old man laughed.
“That’s what history is. The most important thing isn’t ‘how to convey the truth’, but ‘how we convey only certain facts for the most advantageous conclusion’.”
“Why didn’t you announce that you found the treasure?” Allison asked.
“Hm… The treasure was so stunning that everyone must be too scared to say. And no one would have believed us if all we did was announce the discovery. Not without proof, anyway.”
The old man’s words began to grow vague.
“Then why didn’t you go back for it?”
“Well… There was so much happening during the war and right afterwards. And the treasure was in Sou Be-Il territory.”
“What about now?”
“Inside the buffer zone, where no one lives. I’m quite relieved. After all, no one is going to stumble on it now. Of course, I wouldn’t particularly mind if someone did find it. It doesn’t matter now. There’s nothing I want anymore. What would I do with a fortune at my age? Just knowing where I can find that treasure is enough for me. I’m just waiting for the day that someone discovers it. What do you think? Wasn’t that an interesting story?”
“It was! But is it really there? If I go there, will I really find this amazing treasure?”
“Of course.” The old man nodded.
“And will whoever finds it become a hero?”
“Without a doubt.”
“Hm…” Allison muttered, falling into thought.
“Do you believe me?” The old man asked. Wil said nothing, only looking at Allison.
“Ah, I’m happy to hear that. More tea?” The old man asked, holding up the teapot. Allison waved her left hand.
“No thank you. Now, about that treasure…”
“I’ll believe you, so please tell me where it is. I’ll take you there, sir. And I’ll make the announcement under my name and Wil’s.”
The old man froze.
“...Y, you can’t get there on a motorcycle…”
“That’s not a problem.” Allison replied, taking out her jacket from her bag. “Look at this.”
She spread out the jacket and held it up to the old man. On the collar was her badge of rank, identifying her as a staff sergeant. Emblazoned over the right and left breasts were the name and emblem of the Roxchean Air Force. On the left shoulder was the Spear of Seron.
The old man’s wrinkled eyes turned to dinner plates.
“Unbelievable… So you’re a soldier, young lady?”
“I’m from the air force, to be exact. My unit transports aeroplanes from place to place. If we ever have to fly in the area, I’ll sneak you and Wil along and take you to the treasure.”
“Allison… Is that even allowed?” Wil asked. Allison shot him a look.
“I’d definitely get jail time, no two ways about it. But if we manage to find something that valuable, they’ll let me off easy, and things will turn out for the better. What do you think, sir?” Allison asked, turning to the old man. He was still looking at her jacket.
“Incredible… to think that there were soldiers like you, young lady… Times truly have changed. May I touch this jacket?”
The old man reached for the jacket. Allison handed it to him. The man looked at the Spear of Seron emblazoned on the shoulder, and placed a hand on the collar, where the badge of rank was.
“‘Ah, the bird that knows not its parent soars without limit’.” He mumbled to himself, stroking the badge with his fingers.
“So, what do you say?” Allison asked, leaning forward.
The old man returned her jacket and nodded slightly.
“You really are a curious pair. It might be interesting to tell you more.”
He cleared his throat.