A late update and a decently long chapter. Enjoy!
Chapter 3: Those Who Remained
Some time passed since Allison and Wil first began tailing the seaplane. The two planes’ positions remained the same.
Wil, who had been keeping his eyes trained on the seaplane for fear of losing sight of it, eventually turned his gaze downward.
He was shocked. The fields, forests, and plains that had been there until not too long ago had been replaced by something flat and grey. Wil could not tell what it was. He fell into thought.
The strange grey plain suddenly came to an end, and forests passed below them once more. Wil turned his head back as far as he could.
“What was that? Not a desert… a lake? Or… H, hey!”
The moment Wil realized what had happened, his eyes turned to dinner plates. He turned back and shouted into the transmitter.
<We just flew over a river. It was a big one. It must have been the Lutoni! We’re in the buffer zone right now. We’ve crossed the border!>
In contrast to Wil’s panic, Allison replied with utter nonchalance.
<Yeah. We just crossed the border.>
Wil said nothing, his finger still holding down the push-to-talk button. Allison went on to add:
<It’s pretty much what I expected.>
<Th, this is illegal entry…>
<Yeah. Oh, the technical term in this case is ‘violation of airspace’.>
The aeroplane continued west-northwest.
<We’re just following them for a little bit. All we have to do is figure out where exactly they’re headed. And besides, they’re violating enemy airspace, too. And they’re kidnappers. If we announce that we witnessed people from Sou Be-Il kidnapping an old Roxchean man, we’ll make headlines.>
There was a ten-second lull in the conversation. The roar of the engine continued.
<Allison, you said earlier that you’d never seen that plane before. I remember you wrote in a letter once: You know almost every Roxchean aeroplane model. You knew that the seaplane was from Cross-River the moment you saw it take off. You knew we’d fly over the Lutoni River if we chased after it. And you also figured out that this wasn’t just a simple kidnapping case taking place in Roxche. You knew this was something big. And you also figured that our stealing this aeroplane and entering Sou Be-Il airspace is probably going to be easy to cover up.>
<What is it?>
<You got it right. You’re really clever. This must be one of those emergency situations, right?>
<I wish I’d noticed sooner…>
This time, they paused for seven seconds.
<It’s okay. We’ll just see where they land and go back. We’ve still got enough fuel left, too. We’re fine for now.>
No matter how far back Wil turned his head, he could not see the Lutoni River. And just as he turned his gaze back to the seaplane, something happened.
Lights came on on the seaplane’s wings. A green light on the tip of its right wing, and a red light on the tip of its left wing. Underneath the tail was a white light, and at the tip of the tail was a red light.
The man-made lights stood out even more around the dark silhouette of the plane.
<Allison. The lights…>
<I see them. I wonder what they’re for.>
<Hold on tight, okay?>
Allison tilted the aeroplane left, right, forward, and backward, turning her head to survey all directions. On the moonlit land was nothing but a great plain dotted with aged trees.
“No villages nearby… and I don’t think they’re planning to land…” She mumbled to herself.
Wil spoke up.
<The seaplane’s getting further.>
The seaplane suddenly sped up, slowly ascending.
Allison didn’t even try to follow it with her eyes. She continued to turn her sights in all directions.
Her eyes stopped at some point diagonally ahead of them. There was a very, very small object at the end of her gaze.
“I knew it!”
The object grew bigger and bigger.
<Make sure you’re properly belted in, Wil. And make sure you hold tight onto that satchel.>
<Good. We’re in for a rough ride.>
Allison did not answer. She tightened her grip around the control stick and the throttle lever.
The object drew closer and closer with incredible speed.
“Not yet… Not yet…”
A second later, a pair of wings came into view. Another second later, the windshield glinting in the moonlight became visible.
Allison pushed the control stick far to the left, and kicked the lever near her left foot with all her might. The aeroplane suddenly swerved left and downwards as though it had hit something.
“Whoa!” Wil cried. Long, thin lines of light flew towards him and passed just to his right. Then, a dark shadow quickly entered and left his line of sight. Allison and Wil’s aeroplane broke out of its descent and swerved again, this time towards the right with the nose pointed upwards.
<What? What’s going on here?> Wil asked desperately, even though his head was spinning and his body was being pushed against his seatbelts.
<Cross-River fighter planes. They spotted us.> Allison said calmly, flying the plane in a circle. And she added,
<But how did they find us?>
<They noticed us? Wh, what do we do?>
The black aeroplane that flew past them tilted, leaning perpendicular to the ground, making a wide left turn. Its speed was on a different level from that of the seaplane. The black plane flew as though sliding across the boundary between the pale blue sky and the dark ground.
<We’re going to have to run this time. That black plane is a fighter craft.> Allison answered, glaring at the aeroplane that was turning towards them. The seaplane had already extinguished all its lights and was flying away as fast as it could.
Allison checked her altitude meter and looked down to check something else.
When she looked up to the right, she saw the black plane. It had flown out of its arc and was pointed straight at her and Wil. It began to draw closer.
<Hold on tight.> Allison said, and pulled the control stick parallel to the ground. The aeroplane spun with the fuselage as the axis, and stopped in place upside-down.
Wil, suspended in his seat, hurriedly grabbed the satchel before it could fall. Allison was looking to the left. She was staring at the black plane, waiting for something.
There was a flash of light near the black plane.
Two bursts of light, shining like camera flashes. The aeroplane spewed out machine gun fire. For every four shots there was one tracer shot, which emitted light and drew lines in the air.
The two streams of light cut through the air, thin smoke trailing behind them. But Allison and Wil’s aeroplane was not there.
With Wil’s silent scream, the aeroplane began to fall. Before the fighter opened fire, Allison had pulled back the control stick with all her might. The plane began to drop, still upside-down.
The black plane stopped firing. It then made a wide left turn and began to circle again, preparing to open fire once more.
<Wil! Get ready!> Allison cried, and maneuvered the aeroplane back to upright position. The sudden increase in gravity pushed their backs against their seats.
<G, get ready? For what?> Wil asked, surprised.
<The smoke canisters. Hold the satchel outside the fuselage and get ready to pull on the string, okay?>
Wil did as he was told, hanging the satchel handle on the lever inside the cockpit. He hung the satchel itself off the left side of the fuselage. Reaching out with his left hand into the satchel, which was suspended sideways because of the wind pressure, he groped for the string.
<Got it! Now what?>
<Just hold still. Don’t move.> Allison replied, looking back. The aeroplane began to slowly ascend.
<When I give you the signal, pull on the string. I’ll take care of things somehow afterwards.>
The black plane finished its turn. With its incredible speed, it immediately opened fire on Allison and Wil from behind and above.
<Now!> Allison commanded.
Wil pulled on the string, not knowing what was about to happen. The moment he did so, the satchel expanded. Grey smoke escaping the bundle of canisters flowed out of the satchel and began to trail behind them.
Without warning, Allison swerved left and began to descend. The aeroplane spun with the smoke again and again, spiraling towards the ground.
The black plane slowed down and quickly swerved right, flying directly over the spiral-shaped smoke.
<We’re going to crash!> Wil said in a near-scream.
<We’re okay! I’m doing this on purpose! When I give you the signal, drop the satchel!>
Although his head was shaking and his body was being pushed into the seat, Wil followed Allison’s orders and reached for the satchel hanging from the lever.
They quickly lost altitude. The image of the ground spinning overhead grew larger and larger with each spin.
And without warning, the spinning stopped.
Wil pulled the satchel handle off the lever. The satchel flew off, falling with a trail of smoke. It soon hit the ground, bounced into the air, and fell once more as it scattered its contents on the ground.
Wil’s eyes widened in shock.
Just within arm’s reach were the kind of sights he normally saw out of two-story buildings. The plane was flying just above the ground, only several meters from the surface with its nose pointed upwards.
<What do you think? Success!> Allison said triumphantly.
At that moment,
They heard something breaking underneath them. The fuselage shook up and down.
They had hit a power line.
There was a narrow road in the middle of the plain, and wooden utility poles were lined up along it. The wheels and landing gear were caught in the two lines. Although the aeroplane ended up snapping the power lines, it also lost its wheels.
The aeroplane tilted forward and slammed towards the ground.
Allison pulled on the control stick. Just as the aeroplane began to ascend once more, the legs and the fuselage hit the ground.
The legs broke, and the propeller spun against the earth until it bent. The fuselage slid down the field, leaving a gash in the ground, and the lower wings snapped and broke.
The fuselage continued skidding down the plain. Once they lost speed, the engine slammed into a small mound of dirt and the fuselage made a half-turn, bringing them to a full stop.
Allison undid her belts and climbed on top of her seat, looking back. Then, she undid Wil’s belts as he sat there with shock clear under his goggles, and yelled,
“Get up! We have to run!”
Wil stood. Allison pulled him off the fuselage. The ground was right next to them.
Wil stumbled for a moment, but he ran with all his strength. Allison ran alongside him, hitting him on the back several times.
About five seconds later, the aeroplane exploded.
A red mass of flames blossomed from the crash site, and the impact demolished the front half of the fuselage. What remained began to burn, black smoke spewing into the air.
Wil and Allison ran for their lives, taking cover behind a tree that happened to be there. Tiny pieces of shrapnel hit the trunk. Allison and Wil sat, leaning against the tree. Wil was gasping for breath.
The aeroplane continued to burn, a ball of bright red in a world of pale blue.
“Are you okay, Wil? You look all right.”
“I, I’m fine… Wh, what about you, Allison?”
“I’m okay. But the aeroplane’s gone. And things were going so well back there, too.”
Allison knelt with a disappointed look, poking out her head partway from behind the tree.
“What were you trying to do?” Wil asked, looking up at her as he sat on the ground.
Allison leaned down and looked at Wil.
“I learned it from a first lieutenant in my unit. It’s called playing dead. A trick to use on your enemies. When the enemy’s shooting at you, or if you’re not armed, you use smoke canisters to make it look like you’ve been shot. Then, the enemy plane’s going to back off because they don’t want to get caught in the explosion. That’s when you get yourself into a controlled spin and dive down. You pretend to crash and escape the enemy’s line of sight. It’s hard to see from above when you’re flying really close to the ground like that. Afterwards, all you have to do is run. If we’d just crossed the Lutoni River, they wouldn’t have been able to follow us… I was so sure I could pull it off! Who the heck thought it was a good idea to put up power lines in a place like this?! What kind of backwater countryside needs electricity, anyway?!” Allison complained.
In contrast, Wil’s expression was solemn.
Allison suddenly stopped mid-sentence. There was an explosive roar as the black fighter plane flew by overhead at incredible speed. It swerved to the right and disappeared.
“You! Yeah, you! Come on down here, damn it!” Allison yelled to the sky and the moon, her fists clenched tight.
Wil hung his head, tired, and sighed loudly.
* * *
<This is Crow. Duck, do you copy? The Cross-River aeroplane is off your tail. Explosion confirmed. I repeat, enemy aircraft has been shot down. Explosion confirmed. Over.>
<This is Duck. Roger that. Escort this craft back to the base. That is all.>
<This is Crow. The Roxche aircraft clearly invaded our airspace. Requesting permission to contact headquarters to dispatch an investigation team. Over.>
<There’s no need. Return to base. You are not permitted to ask questions.>
<Second lieutenant. I’m only going to repeat myself once. You are not permitted to ask questions. All you have to do is follow orders. End communications.>
* * *
Sunlight began to drive away the moon. The pale blue sky started to burn red from the east.
Morning came and color returned to the world. The plants of the fields were green, the sky was blue, and the charred remnants were black.
The crashed aeroplane had been burnt to a crisp. About the only recognizable parts left were the tips of the upper wing and the back end of the fuselage.
“Morning already? That was quick. I guess that’s summer for you.”
Wil was sitting against a tree.
“I can’t believe no one’s coming. Somebody’s not taking their job seriously.” Allison complained, hiding behind a stump as she watched the wreckage.
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, Allison and Wil ran away from the flaming wreckage. Then, they took cover in the grass and behind the trees, where they could still see the burned-out remains of the aeroplane.
If the Sou Be-Il Air Force had shot them down after marking them as intruders, they would probably send in an investigation team. So Allison kept watch on the plane. When Wil asked her what she would do if they really did come for the wreckage, Allison answered,
“I’ll wing it.”
And in the end, all that came to them was morning.
“What do we do, Allison? We can’t just wait here forever.”
The sun rose up above the forest, and the birds were chirping. Wil looked at Allison with fatigue in his eyes. Allison replied as she wound her wristwatch.
“And where are we, anyway? Do you have any idea?”
“Well, we flew about this far after we crossed the Lutoni, then we tried to run away for a while, so I think we’re probably inside or just on the edge of the buffer zone.”
“Either way, this is illegal entry.”
“C’mon, there’s no use getting hung up on things like that. Let’s be more productive. Think about what we should do next.” Allison said cheerfully. Wil looked up at her.
Allison smiled. Wil continued.
“Realistically speaking, without that aeroplane, we’re stuck here.”
“That we are.”
“So let’s try and get to the closest village and explain ourselves somehow.”
“We’ll leave out the part about getting shot down. We can say we got lost during a flight and ended up crashing here. Or we could say we got into an accident and ask for official protection. If we go and turn ourselves in first, they won’t assume that we’re spies. All we can do after that is ask to be sent back to Roxche.”
“Sad, but I guess you’re right. Do you think there’s a village nearby?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve never seen a detailed map of Sou Be-Il… But in Roxche’s case, there aren’t any settlements near the buffer zone. Twenty kilometers away, at the closest.”
“I see. Then I guess we’ll have to walk it.”
“Walking it is.”
As the sun rose, so did the temperature.
Allison and Wil were walking across the plains, headed west. Knee-length grass was growing on the flat terrain. From time to time they saw groves of trees.
The road with the utility poles stretched from north to south, so following it was not an option.
The more they walked, the hotter it became. They took off their hats and jackets and draped them over their shoulders.
Allison had tied her bag around her waist. Wil was carrying a small package. It was an emergency kit that had been stored in the back of the aeroplane’s fuselage. Thankfully, it escaped the flames unharmed.
“If there is a village around here…” Allison began.
“Yeah?” Wil asked from behind.
“If we there is a village, maybe they’ll have aeroplanes and an airstrip.”
“Maybe. But what’s that got to do with us?”
“I was thinking we should borrow one for the ride home.” Allison said with a grin.
“Isn’t that a great idea?”
“I’m not sure about that, Allison. …I guess you’re still thinking of trying to solve things yourself, huh. Have you thought about how you’re going to return the aeroplane later?”
“Well, uh… I’d love to give it back if I could.”
“Say, Wil.” Allison said as they walked. No matter how far they went, the scenery around them would not change. All they saw was green. They did not see any roads anywhere.
“What is it?” Wil answered from behind her.
“What do you think the treasure is?”
“Hm? What did you say?” Wil asked. Allison turned back to him and repeated herself angrily.
“That treasure. The one the old man was talking about. Don’t tell me you forgot already.”
“Oh… right. Things were so hectic I wasn’t even thinking about it.”
“Do you think it’s gold and silver? Did you by any chance read anything about any ancient king who hid his stash in this area to help him get back to power?”
“I don’t think so. …There’s something else that’s bothering me right now.”
“What is it?”
“I was just thinking, ‘At what point should I have stopped Allison? When we were chasing down the car on the school motorcycle? When we were interrogating the officer? When we stole the aeroplane? Or when we crossed the border?’.”
“That’s a tough question. But…”
“It’s not like getting an answer to that’s gonna help us.”
“You’re right. Next time, I’ll do whatever it takes to stop you.”
“You answered so quickly… I said this earlier, but I bet you’re still planning to pull something big, right?”
“I really like how stubborn you are.”
There was a little creek on the plains, cutting a shallow trench through the surface of the earth.
The creek was small enough to cross in one bound. Wil was sitting on the slope, just away from the damp soil. The trees that happened to be standing nearby provided him decent shelter.
Allison finished filling their water canteen and took a seat beside him.
Wil opened their emergency kit. Inside was a small mirror, a note containing directions on what mindset to keep during a crisis, a tin of liver paté, and some crackers.
They ate in silence. The meal quickly came to an end. Allison bit off about half of their supply of chocolate and handed the rest to Wil. He finished it and took the water canteen.
After a gulp of water, Wil sighed.
“I’m feeling a lot better now. I’m full, too.”
Allison expressed relief and added,
“Sitting by a creek like this with you, Wil… it feels like we’re out on a picnic. Remember? We used to go on picnics all the time when we were younger. I mean, I guess we’re still young, but I’m talking about when we were ten or so.”
“When we were younger, huh?”
Wil lay down on the slope with his jacket underneath.
“Now that I think about it, you were always really rash back then, too.”
“Was I?” Allison said, playing dumb. Wil looked up. The sky shone between the branches and leaves overhead.
“Don’t try to say you forgot. Climbing up trees we weren’t supposed to climb, going out in the middle of heavy snow—even though we weren’t allowed to—and getting buried, climbing under the floorboards to catch all the rats in the kitchen and getting stuck, trying to climb down from the roof on a rope and ending up hanging upside-down…”
“I guess stuff like that happened.”
“Falling asleep in the sheep pens and making the entire village go on a wild goose chase, blocking an irrigation canal to make a pond and flooding the fields and the roads, challenging a bully who was older than you to a duel, climbing up the cliff by the river and getting stuck up there, passing through four villages by bicycle, building a secret base underground and nearly getting killed in a cave-in…”
“Walking behind you like this just made me feel nostalgic, so I started to wonder why. Then all these memories started popping up clearly like it was yesterday. You were always the one to dive in head-first. I always tried to stop you, but ended up following you. And in the end, both of us would get in trouble. Every time that happened, we had to clean all the windows in the house. It was the worst when we had to do it in winter.”
“Yeah, I remember that really well. But you know, Wil. I was always really grateful that you came with me every time.”
“Really?” Wil said in shock, turning to look at Allison. She was smiling.
“Yeah. Without you, it’d have taken twice as long to wipe down all the windows.”
Wil looked up at the sky dotted between branches once more and mumbled to himself.
“I’d give anything for this mishap to just end in us wiping some windows… I guess that’s not possible, huh?”
At some point, Wil had fallen asleep by the creek.
Allison, who had also been asleep, opened her eyes. Realizing that she had dozed off, she quickly sat up. Cautiously surveying her surroundings, she left the shade of the tree and looked up at the sun hanging in the middle of the sky.
She woke up Wil.
They continued walking on the plain. They walked on and on without a destination, until their shoes began to smell like grass. There was neither a village nor a house in sight.
When Wil asked Allison for the time, she replied that it was the same time as earlier.
“There must be a big commotion back at the dormitories right about now.” Wil said, dejected.
“Hm? Probably. But no one died in the fire, and the officer’s going to keep quiet. So maybe everyone’ll just think we left on a secret trip together.”
“I’m glad it’s summer break right now. If this was during the school year, I’d have been suspended for sure. Expelled, if I was unlucky.”
“That’s pretty strict. But having rules isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If rules didn’t exist, we’d never feel the thrill of breaking them.”
“…Wait! D’you think they called home? Wouldn’t everyone get worried?”
“I don’t think so. They probably wouldn’t know about me… if they don’t look into things too deep, anyway. I hope they don’t.”
“And Wil, this might end up sparking one of those oh-so-rare international incidents. Is this really the time to be worrying about school?”
“Don’t worry. It’ll work out somehow.”
“…Whenever you say that, I get scared things’ll actually happen that way.”
“Oh? Why would you get scared?”
“I think we’ll probably have to camp out again tonight.” Allison said as they walked.
“I expected as much. It’s a good thing it’s summer right now…”
“I took part in an outdoor camping exercise in the snow in the middle of winter before. It wasn’t too bad.”
“I’d prefer not to have that experience.”
No matter how far they walked, the scenery around them remained the same. A great plain acting as backdrop to the occasional grove of trees.
“From the looks of these trees, I’m guessing this area used to be a farmland.” Wil said quietly. The boundary of the little forest to their right was drawn in a perfectly straight line. It was proof of human intervention.
“Yeah. But now it’s nothing but nature.” Allison said, looking around.
“There might have been villages in the area until the Great War. Apparently this area was home to people who lived off fishing in the Lutoni River, and it was a vacation spot for kings and nobles. The villagers probably all fled during the war and returned afterwards. But now that the buffer zone is here…”
“…They must have been forcibly relocated, and the area’s totally empty. But that doesn’t mean this place is desolate. Look over there.” Allison replied, pointing to their right.
Wil looked at the spot she was indicating. There was a slender animal covered in light brown fur, looking at them from the edge of the woods. It was about the height of a child.
“A fawn… it looks just like the ones back in Raputoa.”
“It’s still small.” Allison said, approaching the animal. It did not try to run. The fawn only looked at Allison, who approached with her arms spread wide.
“Don’t worry. We’re not going to eat you.” She said softly.
“They’re actually pretty tasty. I tried some venison skewers at the festival.” Wil said from behind.
“How could you say that, Wil?” Allison replied, pouting. Wil shrugged.
The fawn took two steps backwards.
“C’mere. You don’t have to be scared. Are you all by yourself?”
Allison took another step forward.
Wil was jolted by her last question. He quickly shouted,
The moment Allison looked back, there was a loud noise. Something was crashing through the foliage.
It was the fawn’s mother. The doe charged towards Allison in the blink of an eye and reared back.
Wil pulled Allison back as he shouted.
There was a dull thud. The doe’s right hoof only grazed Allison and scratched her jacket. But her left hoof slammed down on Wil’s temple.
Wil pulled Allison back several steps and crumpled to the ground. Allison was dragged along and fell on her backside.
She turned to her right and looked at Wil, who was lying in the grass. Blood was flowing from his forehead, covering his closed eyes, the bridge of his nose, and his mouth.
There was no answer. Allison turned to face the snorting doe.
She thrust her left hand into the bag at her waist. She groped through its contents, grasping the heaviest object at the very back before pulling it out.
It was her handgun, this time loaded with a magazine. Allison pulled the slide and pushed it forward. The first round was loaded into the firing chamber. Still sitting on the ground, Allison thrust her right arm forward. She held the safety, which was on the back of the grip, and put her finger on the trigger.
“Even I won’t miss at this range!”
The doe stared at Allison. Allison stared at the doe.
“D, do you… really taste that great?”
She asked, slowly putting pressure on her trigger finger.
Her grip on the trigger weakened.
The fawn came up to its mother and began to rub its face against her. Ignoring Allison, who was still pointing her gun at them, the doe turned to look at the fawn.
Mother and child slowly turned away. They bounded off into the forest.
Allison lowered her left arm, re-armed the safety with her right hand, and turned back to Wil.
The handgun fell to the ground.
“Wil, can you hear me?”
She gingerly turned Wil over onto his back and pushed back his bangs. Her hand was sticky.
“Wil!” She cried. This time, he responded weakly with his eyes still shut.
“Yeah… Are you okay, Allison?”
“Yes! All thanks to you, Wil. But your head is bleeding…”
“Yeah. I feel kind of dizzy.”
Wil fell silent again.
Allison’s eyes widened in panic. But she quickly regained her composure and began mumbling to herself.
“Calm down, Staff Sergeant Allison Whittington. When treating an injured soldier, first check his pulse and breathing…”
Allison put her index and middle finger on Wil’s neck. There was still a pulse. Next, she put her fingers in front of his mouth and nose. He was still breathing.
With a sigh of relief, Allison took out a white handkerchief and a water canteen from her bag. Wil’s injury was on his left temple, near his hairline. Blood was slowly dripping from the thumb-length gash.
Glaring at the wound, Allison poured water over it. As the blood washed away, the injury became visible. It was not very deep. It began to bleed again, concealing the gash once more.
Allison poured water on the gash again, and placed the handkerchief against it. She pressed down on it and turned around. She placed Wil’s head on her knees, elevating his head.
She sat, breathing heavily, for some time. Blood began to stain the handkerchief, which was folded into four layers.
The stain stopped growing.
With her left hand, Allison pulled over Wil’s jacket from the ground. She took out the muffler from the pocket, and with one end in her mouth, folded it in half. She wrapped it around Wil’s head. Once she was finished, she pressed down on the handkerchief and tied the muffler.
At the end of the first-aid session, Allison’s shoulders were sagging with fatigue. Wil was still lying in her lap, unconscious but his breathing steady.
Embracing Wil’s head, she shut her blue eyes tightly. Blood stained her golden hair.
Not even hugging his head, slapping him lightly, or smacking him a little more violently, would wake him.
Allison thought of pouring out the contents of the water canteen over him, but held herself back. She wiped the blood from Wil’s face with her damp sleeve.
Afterwards, she looked around, checked the position of the sun, and decided to walk carrying Wil on her back.
She put his jacket on him and tied her own around her waist. She laid down over Wil, who was lying on the ground, and held him by the shoulders to flip both him and herself over at once.
With a spirited cry, she got to her feet with Wil on her back and began walking west.
Sweat trickled down Allison’s brow, then down her cheeks. She was walking. Her breathing was slightly ragged, but her eyes were focused straight ahead.
Occasionally she stopped and addressed the boy on her back, but she received no answer. Allison steadied herself and made sure of his breaths on her neck.
Fixing her hold on Wil, Allison began to walk again.
As thought in an attempt to hinder her, the grassy plains gave way to a rolling meadow. She was going uphill.
“I don’t believe this.”
Allison climbed the hill, complaining all the way.
At the top of the mound, her line of sight was expanded.
She saw a deserted plain and another hill up ahead.
With an outpouring of obscenities, Allison began to walk once more towards the sun.
Three hills later.
There was a forest in front of her. Due west was a dense, uncultivated wood with nothing in the way of visibility.
“Which way, Wil?”
There was no answer.
“Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter.”
Checking Wil’s breathing once more, Allison mumbled to herself and looked left and right. And she began to walk along the edge of the forest in the direction she had looked in last.
* * *
“Or… maybe it did matter?” Allison mumbled to herself. She tried talking to Wil, but all she got in response was his steady breathing.
Allison stared at the house standing before them. She had walked a long way along the forest, turning west along with the boundary of the plains.
And standing at the edge of the plain, which was dotted with forests and covered with weeds, was a lone house.
It was a wooden structure with a red brick chimney standing in the middle. The windows were all intact, and the greenery around the house was neatly in order.
The house stood lonely in the lush background.
“I wonder if someone’s inside. Probably. A Westerner.”
Allison put a hand to the pouch at her waist. She checked for her handgun.
With her eyes on the house, she began to walk. She and Wil would be clearly visible to anyone looking outside from the building.
There was a little hut next to the house, used for storing firewood. Beside it was an axe. In the well was a container filled with clean water.
The curtains were drawn over the windows, so it was impossible to look inside. Allison slowly made her way towards the southern side of the house.
On the other side was a small vegetable patch. From the look of the colorful summer vegetables growing there, it was clear that someone was maintaining it.
Allison stood before the door. The floorboards creaked loudly under her weight.
She waited for several seconds, but no one came outside. She heard nothing from behind the door.
Taking a deep breath, Allison knocked on the door several times. Ten seconds passed.
“…Is no one home?”
Allison raised her hand to knock again, but stopped.
She took hold of the doorknob and pushed. The door opened without resistance. Beyond it she could see the interior of the house.
Beside the door was a large room with a dining table. Next to it was an iron stove which ran on firewood, used for heating and cooking. Some tableware had been neatly placed on the cupboard in the corner. Next to it was a water tank and a sink. In the middle was a brick fireplace, the chimney extending all the way up to the ceiling. Beside it was a small cupboard.
The hall that extended from the wall was connected to the rooms further inside. It was too dark to see clearly, but the hallway was quite long.
“Not bad for a house in the boonies.” Allison said, looking inside. Suddenly, she heard a groan.
She flinched, but quickly realized that the sound was coming from near her ear.
She shook him, but there was no response.
Allison stepped inside, shut the door, and laid Wil against the cabinet next to the fireplace.
Stretching her back and shoulders, now free from their heavy burden, Allison swung her arms around to shake off the numbness. She wiped off the sweat on her forehead and neck with her shirt and reached out to touch Wil’s face as he lay weakly against the cupboard.
“Wil, can you hear me?”
She hit him lightly.
“Wake up, Wil. It’s morning. The matrons are calling. It’s almost time for class.”
Wil would not open his eyes.
Allison slowly unfurled the muffler she had used in place of a bandage. She tried to peel off the handkerchief, but she left it alone when she saw that it was stuck to the wound.
Taking off Wil’s jacket, Allison rolled it up into a ball. She slowly laid Wil on the floor, using the jacket as a pillow. Then, she untied her own jacket from around her waist and covered him with it.
Allison looked at the cupboard next to the fireplace. After a moment’s hesitation, she began to thoroughly search it, starting from the bottom.
“I hope they at least have disinfectant.”
Each time she rifled through a drawer, she closed it as soon as she noted that there was nothing she needed inside. Then, she moved on to the next one.
It was when she had just opened the fourth drawer.
The door opened with a crash.
Allison turned around in surprise.
“Tims! Levin!” A woman cried, rushing inside.
She was a relatively skinny woman, looking to be over fifty years of age. Her black hair, streaked with grey, was tied up in a bun. Over her dark green dress was an apron, messy from garden work.
The woman stepped inside with a smile. But the moment she saw Allison, looking back at her, the smile disappeared.
The woman took a deep breath and composed herself.
“Who are you?”
She was speaking standard Bezelese—the official language of Sou Be-Il.
“Who are you? What are you doing in my house?”
Allison glared back at the woman and slowly reached towards the bag at her waist. She reached inside.
“I’m going to ask you again. Who are you? Don’t you understand what I’m saying to you? Or are you…?”
Allison pointed the gun at the woman. She did not place her finger on the trigger. The safety was still armed.
In spite of this, the woman did not so much as flinch. She continued to speak, her eyes trained on Allison.
“Are you from Cross-River? I suppose you must be. You’re a Roxchean. Did you cross the Lutoni River?”
“This is my house. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Allison clenched her teeth, slowly putting her thumb on the safety.
“Yes. You’re right. We’re very sorry.” Wil said. He was speaking Bezelese.
Allison turned around in shock. The woman, also surprised, watched as Wil got up in front of the fireplace. She was again surprised by his bloodied handkerchief and shirt.
Slowly getting to his feet, Wil leaned against the fireplace. Allison’s jacket fell to the floor.
Allison turned towards him. Wil weakly opened his eyes and spoke in standard Bezelese.
“Put down the gun, Allison. We’re the ones who’re trespassing… This house belongs to the lady.”
With the bloodied handkerchief pressed against his forehead, Wil turned to the woman.
“We’re very sorry. Our aeroplane crash-landed, so we walked all the way here. We’re very sorry for barging into your house…”
The woman looked at Wil without a word. He closed his eyes again.
Allison rushed over to him and caught him before he could fall.
“Your friend is injured… Did he hurt his forehead?”
Supporting Wil, Allison glared at the woman and spoke in fluent standard Bezelese.
“Yes. We need medicine, food, and a place to rest.”
“So you speak Bezelese, too. I have medicine. I have food and extra beds, as well. But this is my house. What if I were to refuse you?” The woman replied.
“I’d shoot you.” Allison answered immediately, clutching her gun.
The woman smiled.
“Are all people Cross-River as barbaric as you?”
“No. But right now…”
At Allison’s immediate answer, the woman responded quietly.
“Bring your friend. I’ll let you use a bed.”
There were a total of three rooms in the house.
The woman led Allison and the unconscious Wil(who was on Allison’s back) to one of the rooms. When she opened the door, light flooded inside.
In the room was a simple single bed, an empty dresser, and a desk. The room showed no signs of use, but on the beautiful wood-framed bed was a clean mattress, sheets, and summer blankets.
Allison slowly laid Wil on the bed.
The woman stepped outside for a moment, and brought back a basin filled with water, a clean piece of cloth, and a small wooden box. She sat on a round chair by the bed and gingerly peeled the handkerchief from Wil’s forehead. Then, she disinfected the gash, put gauze over it, and wrapped a bandage around his head. The woman finally checked Wil’s temperature and his pulse. She did all this with expert ease.
“His gash will heal. It’s not a very deep wound, so he won’t need stitches, either, although it might leave a scar. And I don’t think he has a fever.” The woman said, washing her hands.
“What happened to him?” The woman asked, just as Allison was about to speak.
“Was he injured in the aeroplane crash? No internal injuries, I hope?”
Understanding the implication behind the woman’s line of questioning, Allison replied,
“Um… no. We didn’t get hurt in the crash. We walked a long way afterwards, and we had water and some food. We didn’t throw up, either.”
“I see. So how did this happen?”
Allison averted her gaze.
“He got attacked by a deer.”
The woman was astonished.
“I suppose he must have tried to get close to a fawn.”
The woman looked at Wil, lying on the bed.
“He should have been more careful.”
“A, actually… I was the one who should have been more careful. I tried to get near the fawn. Wil was just trying to protect me.”
This time, the woman turned to Allison.
“Didn’t you know that, in this season, does with their fawns will lash out at anyone who approaches them?”
Allison shook her head sullenly.
“Then I suppose your friend here was hurt because of you.”
“Yes.” Allison said with a nod.
“So what did you do afterwards?”
“After Wil collapsed, I took out my gun just like before. And…”
“Did you shoot the doe?”
“No. If I killed her, the fawn wouldn’t have been able to survive. And then they left.”
“I see. That was a wise choice.” The woman said, closing the first-aid kit.
Finishing her word of thanks from earlier, Allison saluted the woman with her right hand.
The woman frowned, her wrinkled eyes glaring at Allison.
“Are you a soldier?”
“Yes. I’m from the Roxcheanuk Confederation Air Force. Wil here isn’t, though.” Allison replied, still saluting the woman.
“I don’t like salutes. Nor do I like soldiers or the military.”
“I see. But I’m grateful to you all the same. Thank you so much for helping Wil.”
As Allison lowered her hand, the woman replied with a stiff expression.
“If I’d known earlier that you were a solider, and if you were the one injured instead of this boy… I wouldn’t have helped you.”
She then turned to the bed.
“You said this boy’s name was Wil?”
“Yes. His name is Wilhelm Schultz. I’m Allison Whittington.”
The woman smiled.
“Wilhelm and Allison. From your names alone I’d have wagered you were Bezelese.”
But her expression became stern once more.
“My name is Travas Ladia. Don’t feel obligated to memorize it.”
“Oh, no. I’ve already memorized it.”
“Is that so? I’d like to talk to you about something. Let’s leave your friend here and talk outside.”
Ladia got out of her seat and led Allison into the hall. When Allison looked at Wil, Ladia said plainly,
“He’ll be all right.”
Allison and Ladia sat across from one another at the parlor table.
The setting sun lit the room.
As Ladia poured herself a cup of water, Allison quietly waited for her to speak.
“It’s already getting dark today, and no one will be coming. I plan to turn the two of you in to the military police in a nearby village tomorrow. But there are some things I’d like to ask. Tell me the truth, please. What are you two doing in enemy territory? What is your purpose?”
Allison answered honestly.
“We’re here to find someone who was kidnapped. And to find a treasure.”
Ladia was struck dumb for a moment.
Allison explained everything. How they had met the old man the day before, and how he had spoken of an amazing treasure. How he was called away by a suspicious man in a way almost eerily like a kidnapping. How he was taken across the river in the middle of night on a Sou Be-Il aeroplane that had illegally entered Roxche.
She then explained how they had given chase on an aeroplane of their own. How they crossed the border but were somehow found by a Sou Be-Il fighter and forced to crash-land. How they walked on and on in order to leave the buffer zone.
“But those people are the ones who kidnapped the old man. So we’re going to tell the military police about it once they arrest us.” Allison finished.
“Unbelievable…” Ladia said, finally breaking her silence. “The two of you, and the ones who kidnapped that gentleman. A treasure hidden in the buffer zone? It’s been a very long time since I last heard that ridiculous story.” She said with a laugh.
“What do you mean?” Allison asked earnestly.
“Let me tell you exactly what kind of foolishness you’ve just gotten yourselves into.”
Ladia paused for a moment, and continued.
“The area around the confluence of the Lutoni River—where the river splits along the Central Mountain Range—was used by General Kuwashia during the Great War as a foothold as he marched into your nation. Did you know this?”
“Yes. The old man told us.”
“That’s where Lieutenant Colonel Walter McMillan launched his brutal poison gas attack. Afterwards, rumors started spreading about ingots of gold that were supposedly in the general’s custody at the time. They say the ingots were lost in the confusion of the battle, and still remain somewhere on the battlefield. But that is a lie.”
“Then…” Allison leaned forward. Ladia nodded.
“Yes. This story about a treasure on the Lutoni is a baseless rumor that’s been flying around the area for over thirty years. Anyone who’s lived here knows about it. Some people believed in the rumors and set out to find the ingots, but no one found a thing. Even the army denied the rumors, saying that none of their units transport gold anymore. We all forgot the rumors afterwards, but they came round again when the buffer zone was created after the Green Island War. Some people tried to find the treasure before the area was cut off, but they only ended up laughingstocks.”
Ladia continued, driving in the final nail in the coffin.
“So telling the military police about this treasure of yours won’t do you any good. I have no idea how this gentleman you told me about knows the rumors—maybe he was caught as a prisoner during the war. Those Bezelese people who kidnapped him from across the border must have fooled by his ridiculous story. And…”
“The two of you are the same. People like you commit crimes for such worthless reasons, and always end up empty-handed. And you even hurt people along the way. Without even considering just how dangerous it can be.”
Allison bit her lip, looking at Ladia.
“From what you’re telling me, you dragged your friend along with you. You said he’s only a high school student. You’re a soldier; whatever happens to you won’t matter as much as what happens to your friend. What would you tell his parents if something were to happen to him?”
“Wil’s parents…? I.. I don’t know… I can’t even imagine…” Allison said sullenly. A look of irritation passed over Ladia’s face.
With a quiet sigh, Ladia picked up her cup and stood from her seat. She poured water into it, and returned with a second cup of water.
“Here.” She said, putting the second cup in front of Allison.
With a word of appreciation, Allison happily took several gulps of water.
The moment she put her cup down on the table,
“I hate you people. I despise you.” Ladia said quietly. “You and that boy are both very fluent in Bezelese. You spoke without even a hint of another dialect, and your pronunciation was perfect. Speaking with you felt like I was conversing with my countrymen back in the capital. So it feels quite strange to say this.”
Allison quietly waited for her to continue.
“I lost my family in battle. My father and my husband were both killed during the Great War, and my children won’t return from Green Island. They were all killed by your countrymen. That’s why I despise the East and its people. I loathe you all.”
“I can’t say I don’t understand.”
“Of course. I know there’s no point in telling you things like this.”
“But I wanted to get it off my chest. To say to someone from the East how I felt. I feel a little refreshed.”
“Let me tell you something interesting.”
“That treasure we’re looking for. According to the old man, it’s something so valuable that it could end the conflict between Roxche and Sou Be-Il.”
Ladia’s eyes widened for a moment. She laughed.
“That is quite an interesting claim. Do you really believe something like that could exist?”
“No.” Allison replied, shaking her head.
* * *
The sun slowly began to set.
Wil opened his eyes in the room lit by the glow of dusk. He turned to the two people beside him to apologize for causing worry and express his gratitude for the treatment, respectively.
One apologized in return, saying, “Don’t worry about it. I was being rash. I’m sorry. It’s all my fault”, leaning in close to his face.
The other quietly asked him how he was doing, and said that he should get some rest tonight before she took them down to the village tomorrow. She also said that she would bring up some light refreshments for him later.
One person asked if there was anything she could do. Wil asked where the bathroom was. The other person replied that it was outside. The first person said,
“Do you want me to go with you?”
Wil declined and slowly got up out of the bed.
And with a light shake of the head, he stepped into the hallway and carefully walked in the direction he was pointed to.
“Thank goodness…” One person said. She saluted to the other. “Thank you so much.”
“I lent this bed to your friend. You can sleep outside.” Said the other person. The first person answered with a laugh,
It was night. The world was pitch-black, not yet illuminated by the moon.
A lamp hanging by the window let off a dim glow as Wil, who was in his undershirt, lay in bed.
“I see… so that’s what it must have been…” Wil said, looking up at the ceiling. Allison, sitting in the chair beside the bed, nodded. Her long blond hair shook under the light.
“It was just a rumor, huh. The old man really must have gone senile and ended up believing them.”
“I’m so sorry, Wil.”
Wil looked at Allison. Allison was quietly looking at Wil.
“For believing in that stupid story and dragging you all the way to Sou Be-Il. I thought everything would be okay, but I messed up and got you hurt. Things could have ended really badly. I don’t know what’s going to happen to us now, and I don’t know when we’re going to get to go home to Roxche. I’m sorry.”
“…I don’t believe it…” Wil said, sitting up.
“I’m surprised, Allison… You dragged me into something… and apologized afterwards. It’s incredible…”
“It’s okay once in a while, right?” Allison said with a grin. “I’m really sorry. Wil. I’ll try to listen to you a bit more from now on.”
“It’s all right. And you know, there’s something I’m really thankful to you for, Allison. I’ve always had this dream… and you’ve fulfilled it just like that.”
“…? What kind of dream?” Allison said, after a moment of thought.
“I’ve always wanted to see the West.” Wil said, smiling.
“We Roxcheans always call Sou Be-Il an enemy, and an ‘Evil Empire’, but I wanted to see it with my own two eyes. It must have been because of Grandma. I’ve dreamed about it for so long, ever since I was little, but I never told anyone because I thought it was impossible. After I moved to Raputoa to study, I was so close to the border that I started feeling a little more hopeful about my dream. And now, you made my dream come true, if only for a little while. It’s all thanks to you, Allison. Thank you.”
“I’m really surprised. And I’m a little amazed. But you know…”
“You don’t have to thank me. And… You’re welcome.”
Wil lay on the bed again and yawned loudly.
“Are you feeling sleepy?”
“Yeah. And my head doesn’t hurt at all anymore. I guess the medicine’s working.”
“That’s a relief. I’ll see you tomorrow, then. I’m going to get some sleep now. Two all-nighters in a row is pretty tough.” Allison said, pulling Wil’s blanket over him. She then took her jacket and the lamp and stood from her seat. Wil was surprised.
“Wait, Allison! Where are you going to sleep? Don’t tell me you have to stay outside…”
“That’s what the lady told me to do. She says she lent this bed to you, not me.”
“I’m really thankful to her. She helped you, and even gave us food and medicine. So I’m going to do what she says. This time, I’ll get in trouble alone for what I did. It’s okay—it’s still summertime, you know.”
Wil sat up, bewildered, and moved over to the left side of the rather small bed.
“I’ll give you half.”
“It’s okay. She said I’m free to use this bed tonight, so I’m free to use it however I want.”
Allison returned Wil’s determined look with a bemused expression. And she added, embarrassed,
“I have really bad sleeping habits, you know.”
Wil nodded with a strange expression.
“Yeah. I know too well.”
“I might end up kicking you.”
“Uh… As long as you don’t kick my head.”
Allison put her jacket on the back of the chair and placed the lamp on the seat. She then blew on the flame to extinguish it. In the darkness, Allison giddily took a seat on the bed.
She laid down on it and pulled the blanket over herself and Wil.
“Sorry, Wil. I prefer this to sleeping outside.” She said, looking to her right. “Sure,” Wil answered quietly.
With the faint smell of disinfectant in the air, Allison looked at Wil’s face next to her in the pitch-black darkness. She was listening to his quiet breathing.
She said his name, but received no answer. All she heard was the sound of his steady breathing.
“Dreams, huh? I guess mine’s come true, too.” Allison mumbled, and closed her eyes. She fell asleep in bed next to Wil.
* * *
It was past midnight. The moon rose into the air.
The plains and the forests were lit by pale light. Even in the house standing lonely on the plains, moonlight shone and cast the area in a bright glow. Ladia, lying in her own bed, opened her eyes. The bookshelves that took up one entire wall were filled with thick books. Other than that, the room was sparsely furnished—only a desk and a dresser were there.
Ladia tried to shut her eyes again in the bright light, but changed her mind and rose from bed.
Putting on a light cardigan over her nightgown, she put on her slippers and walked out into the hall. It was so bright that she did not need to use a lamp.
Ladia slowly passed by Wil’s room and entered the parlor. There was no one there.
She poured herself a cup of water, drank it, and opened the door outside. There were fields, forests, and plains, all illuminated by the light of the moon. There were no people in sight.
She even looked at the walls next to the doorway. But there was no one there. Ladia slowly shut the door.
She then walked back down the hall to her room.
She heard the sound of a sneeze. Ladia stopped. She opened the hallway window and looked outside and by the walls, but there was no one there. At the same time, she heard another sneeze. It was coming from within the room. Ladia opened the door a crack and peeked inside.
She was at a loss for words.
Wil was curled up on the bed, shivering in his sleep. Next to him was Allison, wrapped up in the blanket she had mercilessly pulled away and lying at an odd angle with her blond hair splayed in all directions.
Before she knew it, a smile was creeping up on Ladia’s face. She slowly opened the door and went inside.
Kneeling beside the bed, she pulled the blanket away from Allison without pity. Allison resisted in her sleep, but Ladia fought her off and covered Wil with more than half of the blanket. His shivering stopped, and he stretched out his body.
As for Allison, she reacted almost as though on reflex, squirming over and sticking right next to Wil. She curled up and crawled under the blanket.
Ladia pushed back several strands of blond hair that had fallen into Allison’s face. She then re-adjusted the blanket over them.
“Thank you, Grandma Muto.” Wil muttered suddenly. Ladia was stunned. He was talking in his sleep.
“Thank you, Grandma Muto. Good night.” Allison said from next to Wil. It was as though she was responding to him. Both were speaking standard Bezelese.
Then, they fell into quiet sleep as though nothing had happened.
Ladia looked down at Allison and Wil, sleep completely chased from her.