In this update: backstory and progress!
Chapter 4: Breakfast, then Sortie
Morning arrived. Songbirds’ calls began to ring across the woods and the plains.
The moon, no match for the sunlight, was pale in the western sky.
Wil woke with a shiver.
He looked up at the ceiling, and for a moment wondered where he was. But the moment he took in the room, with light filtering inside, he remembered everything.
He was lying on the rightmost edge of the bed. When he sat up, he saw a blond girl on the left side. She was still asleep, hogging most of the blanket for herself.
Wil briefly thought back to the previous night, wondering which side of the bed he had given her, but decided that there was no point continuing along this line of thought. He got up.
Noting that he was not dizzy from the sudden movement, Wil put on his shirt and jacket. He then put on his shoes and stepped out into the hall. With quiet footsteps he walked out the back door, washed his face and hands at the well, and returned to the living room.
“Good morning.” Ladia said. She was sitting at the table, upon which were several books and her glasses.
“Good morning, Ms. Travas.”
“Is your forehead a bit better now?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
“Here, take a seat. I’ll change your bandages for you.”
Wil did as he was told. Ladia unwrapped his bandages, stripped off the gauze, and switched it out for a smaller piece. She then wrapped a thinner layer of bandages around his head.
Afterwards, Ladia washed her hands and handed Wil a cup of water. He thanked her and drank it. Watching him, Ladia gathered up her books and set them aside by the stove. The books were titled, [Timeline of Recent Events], editions from the year 3253 to 3259.
“May I ask you something? Don’t force yourself to answer if this makes you uncomfortable.” Ladia said solemnly, sitting across from Wil.
She took a deep breath.
“Did you… the two of you… grow up in the Future House?”
Wil was taken aback. He thought for a moment, and replied sheepishly.
“Heh. I still talk about it in my sleep sometimes. My roommate won’t stop teasing me about it, asking me if I love my grandmother than much.”
“How clever. I suppose your friend Allison never brings up the subject herself.”
“No. She says she wants to hit people who give her pity for having been raised in the Future House. I’ve had to stop her personally a few times.”
There was a shadow cast over Ladia’s eyes.
“I suppose you know Grandma, then?” Wil asked. Ladia nodded slowly.
“I’ve never met her myself, but every Bezelese person of my generation knows of her. Madame Corazòn Mut.”
“Madame Corazòn…” Ladia trailed off, as Wil listened eagerly, “She was respected by the people of Sou Be-Il. That is, until she defected to Roxche after the Great War.”
Wil quietly waited for Ladia to continue.
“Do you know what we called her here in Sou Be-Il afterwards?”
“No, but I can guess.”
“Your guess would probably be correct. We called her a traitor, but with a much harsher word. To think that a dignified and noble aristocrat responsible for so many charitable works would defect Cross-River and set up a home for war orphans… No one could have seen such a thing coming. We naturally knew that she must have had her reasons, but we were all furious at her betrayal. It was big news at the time. People criticized her, saying, ‘What use is a Future House set up for the enemy?’, or ‘Is she planning to raise soldiers who will grow up to murder out countrymen?’. Some newspapers went even further.”
Wil, whose gaze had been fixed on the books by the stove,
“And I was no exception.”
Turned back to Ladia.
“I also agreed with them. After all, she was my total opposite.”
Wil finally spoke.
“Grandma Mut always used to say to us, ‘I’m doing my best with the future I’ve thought of and discovered for myself. No matter what anyone might say, it’s an admirable thing to walk down your own path’. And she also said something else. ‘Even if it means denying your own path ahead, you shouldn’t deem that someone else’s path is wrong’.”
“I see.” Ladia said quietly, her gaze drifting downward. “If… if it’s all right, then tell me. I’d like to know. Your parents… when did they pass away? That girl’s, too…”
Wil was surprised at Ladia’s question, but he answered her with neither hurt feelings nor enthusiasm.
“We’re both seventeen years old right now. Allison came to the Future House when she was eight.”
“The Green Island Conflict…”
“Yes, I think so.”
“What about her mother?”
“I’ve been told that she always lived alone with her father, who was a career soldier.”
“I still remember it like it was yesterday. The day Allison first came to the Future House.”
In contrast to Ladia’s grim expression, Wil spoke cheerfully.
“Kids from many different countries come to the Future House. They’re all war orphans with no one to take care of them. At first, everyone is so scared and sad that they end up bursting into tears when they have to introduce themselves to the others. Then we’d try to console them, saying that we’re all friends. But Allison was different. She stepped in front of everyone, her hair fluttering. And as soon as she introduced herself, she pointed at me, who was standing nearby, and said, ‘All right! From today on, you’re going to be my underling!’.” Wil said with a chuckle.
“Everyone was shocked. Me, Grandma, and the other kids. One of the matrons scolded her, saying ‘isn’t “underling” a bit too harsh?’. That’s when Allison said, ‘Then you can be my faithful subordinate. I’ll be a colonel, and you’ll be a major’.”
“I can already imagine. She must have been quite the rambunctious child.” Ladia said, listening intently.
“Yes. Both at home and at school, she was braver and cooler than anyone. She really liked me for some reason, so we always stuck together. She dragged me into a lot of things. Although I guess things aren’t much different now.”
“What about yourself? When did you come into Madame Corazòn’s care?” Ladia asked once Wil finished with Allison’s story. Wil answered with surprising ease.
“When I was three years old. Of course, I don’t remember it.”
“Oh, but I’m not a war orphan.”
Ladia, in the midst of her sympathetic nods, looked up in shock.
“What do you mean?”
Wil continued as plainly as before.
“I was told that my parents left me on the doorstep.”
“...What…?” Ladia gasped.
“I was told that I was left on the doorstep when I was about three years old. The milkman found me there one morning and brought me inside. I was specially accepted into the Future House. Grandma and the matrons told me that, at the time, I couldn’t speak a word. No matter what they said to me, all I did was stare back. I was late to develop. That’s probably why my parents abandoned me.”
“But afterwards, I learned to speak from the other kids, Grandma, and the matrons. At least, as far as I can remember, I’ve never had any trouble with speaking.”
“Does your friend know all this?”
Wil nodded calmly.
“Yes. Everyone in the Future House knows. When Allison first heard, she got so angry that she stood on a desk and led the other kids in some a rousing speech, saying that if my parents ever changed their minds came back for me, they would drive them out by force. Thankfully, she never carried out the plan.”
Watching Wil fondly reminisce about his past, Ladia remembered the previous day.
She took a deep breath and asked,
“What about your name?”
“They didn’t know my original name, so Grandma made a new one for me. My given name and surname both belonged to her grandfather. I love my name very much. She said that I could change it if I wanted to, but I don’t intend to do so.”
“I understand now. That’s why you’re both fluent in Bezelese. You must have learned it from her.”
“Yes. Oh, but Allison’s different. She knew Bezelese even before coming to the Future House. Until we find work or go on to school, everyone in the Future House speaks Bezelese. Grandma and the matrons taught us, and we even had Bezelese-only days sometimes. But Grandma was floored when she heard how fluent Allison was. She said that her father was very good at Bezelese, and that they spoke in both languages at home. Although I don’t really know why that was the case.”
“I see… Tell me one more thing.” Ladia said. “Is Madame Corazòn… still well?”
“She left on a journey half a year ago. I’m sure she’s doing well where she is.”
“I understand… Thank you for telling me all this. I’m so glad we had a chance to talk.”
“Now,” Ladia said, getting to her feet and putting on the apron that was beside her. “Let’s have breakfast. Do you like Western-style cooking?”
“Yes. Grandma Mut cooked for us often.”
“We’ll have some bacon. How do you prefer your potatoes? Sliced and stir-fried, or roasted whole?”
“I prefer roasted, and Allison prefers stir-fried.”
“I see… Then I’ll make the stir-fry today. I’m sorry about that.”
Wil shook his head. “Not at all. I’m sure Allison will be happy. I’ll help.” He got up from his seat.
“Then could you start the fire? There’s some chopped firewood outside.”
“Is your friend still asleep?”
“Yes. Allison’s not a morning person. But I’m sure she’ll be up in time for breakfast.”
Ladia chuckled wryly.
“I’ll get the firewood.” Wil said, heading outside. Suddenly, Ladia called out,
“The gloves are next to the firewood shed, Levin.”
After Wil went outside, Ladia opened the cupboard and reached for the potatoes. It was only then that she realized what she had said.
Shutting her eyes, she looked up at the ceiling.
When preparations for breakfast were just about finished, Allison opened her eyes automatically.
“...Must be this way.”
Cracking her eyelids open in the bright morning light, Allison unconsciously tied her hair, took her jacket, put on her shoes, and followed her nose at a stagger.
“You were right.”
Said Wil and a smiling Ladia, as soon as Allison arrived at the living room.
“Good morning, Allison. Did you sleep well? You should wash up so we can eat breakfast.”
“Here you go, Miss Sleepyhead.” Ladia handed her a towel and made a gesture to take her jacket. Allison gave it to her, and Ladia hung it on the back of a chair.
“This is your seat. Your potatoes are ready.”
Set on the table were Allison’s favorite foods, still steaming hot.
“Where am I?” Allison wondered, still half-asleep.
“Don’t be shy. Dig in.”
“Don’t worry, I will.”
Allison almost literally dug into the food she loved. And after eating, she said honestly that it was very delicious.
Wil and Ladia ate more slowly as they talked about Wil’s school. She seemed to be shocked that Wil was receiving a scholarship from the Republic of Raputoa. Allison chimed in, praising Wil’s intellect. She also complained that he received a set sum every year, and that if not for this outdated system that prevented Wil from extending or cutting short his academic career, he could have skipped several grades by now.
After the meal, Ladia served three cups of tea and began to discuss their next course of action.
“Both of you, listen carefully.”
She explained that a truck that delivered her groceries once every few days was scheduled to arrive before afternoon today. That Allison and Wil should get a lift to the village nearby, about twenty kilometers away. That they should go to the police and request official protection. That they should mention nothing about the Sou Be-Il kidnapping plot or the fighter plane, and that they should claim to have crash-landed in the middle of an ordinary sightseeing flight.
“Things will only become complicated if I go with you. I’ll tell the deliveryman that I found you just now by the house, so do play along as best you can.”
“We understand. We won’t bring you any trouble. We’ll also say that we treated my injury ourselves.”
“I don’t really understand, but I’ll just do whatever Wil wants.” Allison said, sipping her tea. Then she added, “for a few days, anyway.”
“Maybe I should have washed your shirt for you…”
“It’s all right, Ms. Travas.” Wil said, shaking his head. His shirt collar and front were dyed with blood, like patterns had been drawn on it.
“And your jacket, too. Do we have time for me to mend it, I wonder?” Ladia asked, glancing at the jacket hanging from the back of Allison’s chair.
Allison got up and examined it.
She picked it up, dismayed. There was a rather large tear along the shoulder and collar.
“I had no idea… How embarrassing.” She sighed, putting her fingers through the tear. The badge of rank on the left side of her collar was flipped over, dangling by a thread. The moment Allison stroked the badge, there was a clatter as something fell to the floor.
It was a small, thin, rectangular piece of metal, about the size of an eraser.
“You dropped something.” Wil said, picking up the object. “What is this thing?” He wondered, placing it on the table.
It was a thin piece of metal with a dull shine. The edges had been filed into curves, and engraved on one side was a bird with long tail feathers. The other side was flat and blank.
“Oh, wait…” Allison said, troubled. “That’s… technically supposed to be a military secret.”
“What?” Wil said in surprise, gently putting the object down.
“I’ll just tell you, so don’t tell anyone else. Promise?”
“You don’t have to go that far…”
“No, since you’ve already seen it, I’ll tell you. I’d feel bad about hiding things from you, and it’s actually a pretty interesting story.”
“I won’t tell a soul. In fact, I never even saw such a thing.” Ladia said to Wil, reassuring him.
“Then here goes. This piece of metal is used to prove your identity on the battlefield.” Allison said, picking up the object.
“Really? How?” Wil wondered, curious.
“The animal on this side of the tag is a way to tell if you’re actually Roxchean or an enemy in disguise—uh, sorry about that.” Allison said, turning to Ladia.
Wil returned his gaze from Ladia to Allison.
“Yeah. So these tags get sewn into soldiers’ badges of rank before every mission, and not even the people who wear them know what the animals are. They take them out only when they come back and get back into contact with allied forces. An officer from the military police then compares the soldier to the list of animals they have, and makes sure it’s the right person. It helps us discover enemy spies since no one could possibly prepare these tags in advance, especially since they get switched around every mission. I heard they started using this measure near the end of the Great War with the army and navy special forces, since they had a lot to do with covert operations.”
“Huh. That’s really interesting.”
“And ever since aeroplanes were invented, pilots began to use them too. In case we parachute out of an aeroplane and come back to base, I mean. Each unit changes tags twice a year or so. Actually, I’m not supposed to know what’s on my tag. But I didn’t really have a choice this time.” Allison said, her gaze fixed on her tag. “No one knows what kind of animal, and how many of them, are on the tags. And since there haven’t been any battles recently, not many people get to see them. This is actually the first time I saw a tag with my own eyes. This bird must be… a cuckoo? Yes?”
Allison showed Ladia the tag.
“Yes, it is. It’s quite well-engraved.”
“There’s rumors saying that the military commissions a famous metalworking company to make these tags. I wish they wouldn’t waste their budget on stupid things like this-”
As Allison muttered, shaking her head, she noticed Wil.
“Wil…? You’re making a scary face.”
There was a grim expression on Wil’s face. His eyes were narrowed, and he was glaring at the empty table.
Even Ladia was surprised by his expression. Her eyes met Allison’s astonished gaze.
As Wil remained silent, Allison tried to talk to him.
“What’s wrong? Does your stomach hurt or something?”
Wil lightly shook his head. He then slowly turned his gaze towards Allison.
“What is it?”
He enunciated clearly, intent on confirming his suspicions.
“During the Great War, did ordinary foot soldiers know about their tags? Could they know?”
“No. I told you, only the-”
“Only the special forces, right? Are you absolutely sure?”
“Probably.” Allison nodded. She was about to ask why Wil was asking this question, but he started first.
“Cuckoos are brood parasites.”
“It means they don’t make nests of their own; they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, and make the other birds raise their offspring.”
“Oh, right. So… uh… and?”
Allison was mystified. Wil answered her question.
“‘Ah, the bird that knows not its parent soars without limit’. That’s what the old man said when he realized you were a solider. He picked up your jacket and felt the collar, remember? Back then, I wondered what he could have been talking about. But now I finally understand. This was it. He figured out the animal on the tag just by touching it. He knew that it was a cuckoo, a bird that lays its eggs in other birds’ nests. That’s why he said what he said.”
Laughter drained from Allison’s face.
“The old man really was part of the special forces in the Great War. And he’s completely sane, even now. Allison, I want to meet that man. I want to see him and ask him where the treasure is. I want to go there and see for myself.”
Allison’s expression was the same as the one she had worn during the fire at the dormitory.
“All right. I get exactly what you’re talking about. So, in conclusion?”
“Let’s rescue the old man, no matter what it takes.”
“W, wait a second, you two!” Ladia cried in shock, but Wil cut her off.
“We’re very sorry, Ms. Travas. But we’d like to meet the old man again and speak to him. We want to know what this treasure he spoke of really is. Maybe he really was talking about the old rumors from this area. But I keep getting the feeling that that isn’t the case. I’d like to confirm my suspicions.”
“And like I said before, I’m going to do whatever Wil wants!”
Ladia was lost for words. Allison and Wil quickly started on forming a plan.
“So what do we do, Wil? I guess handing ourselves in to the police is gonna have to wait.”
“Probably. If only we knew where the old man was taken…”
“I guess busting in there ourselves is out of the question. How about we leak the kidnapping incident to the media?”
“If we do that, they might kill him to eliminate the evidence.”
“That’s no good. ...If we knew where he was, we could just go check out the place. I wish we could talk to him just for a bit. We could find the treasure first and then leak the news afterwards.”
“Figure out his location and sneak in to talk to him, huh. That’s going to be tough. Sneaking home after curfew is nothing compared to this.”
“True. But I’m sure we’ll find a way.”
“…I can see how the two of you ended up crossing the border now.” Ladia said quietly, as she blankly watched Allison and Wil. “But you’d best give up. If something should happen and you end up worse than just injuries… if you were to lose your lives, people are going to mourn for you.”
“...We know. But,” Wil said, “if the treasure the old man talked about really is somewhere… a treasure that could end the war between Roxche and Sou Be-Il…”
“Do you really believe something like that could exist?” Ladia repeated her question from the previous day.
“No…” Wil replied, shaking his head. “I don’t think so. But when I first heard the story from the old man, I thought, ‘I wish something like that existed’. And now, I’d like to find it.”
Ladia closed her eyes, shaking her head. She sighed.
“I suppose there’s no stopping you two. But you haven’t come up with a clear plan, have you? You don’t know where he is, or how you should meet him.”
“No. But we’ll find a way.”
Ladia sighed again and turned her gaze to the ceiling. She then turned back to Allison and Wil, placing her elbows on the table and her chin on her clasped hands.
“Listen carefully. About thirty kilometers north of here is the Teruto Royal Army Base. The man you’re looking for must be being held there.”
“Are… are you sure?”
Wil and Allison gaped.
“Yes. That’s the nearest military base from here. It’s in the direction the aeroplane flew away in.”
“Now we know where we’re headed.” Allison said with a grin “And you knew everything from the start.”
“Of course.” Ladia said, not sounding the least bit apologetic.
“That aside, an army base, huh?” Wil thought out loud. Allison quickly realized what he was implying, and said,
“Right. There’s no way we could get in there easily.”
“Actually, there is.” Ladia said with a cheerful smile. “You two, please don’t look at me like that. I suppose there really must be something wrong with me.”
* * *
Said Allison and Wil.
On the desk was a set of clothes. Vivid blue pants and a light jacket of the same color embroidered with gold threads. A silk shirt and a red tie. A thick leather belt and short, shiny black boots.
The vibrant blue beret was intricately embroidered with the picture of a dagger. A golden blade curving outwards at a gentle arc, with a red hilt. It was the crest of the Allied Kingdoms of Bezel-Iltoa, known as the Curved Dagger. Like the Spear of Seron in Roxche, it had been the symbol of the West from time immemorial. In the past, it was engraved onto the shields and armor of knights. Today, the crest could be found on military uniforms and weapons.
“This is the uniform of the Youth Corps of the Royal Guard of the Kingdom of Bezel.”
“The Royal Guard… That’s incredible.” Wil said, tense.
“It… is?” Allison wondered. Wil nodded.
“The Royal Guard is a group that exists to protect the Bezelese Royal Family. It’s a group composed of the most elite soldiers in the force, and only people from high-ranking noble families are allowed to join. The Youth Corps is where younger people who fit the requirements are assigned to receive special education.”
“That’s correct. You know quite a bit.”
“Yeah.” Allison added. “I see. So this uniform belongs to the best of the best. If we’re wearing these clothes…”
“...You’ll be able to enter any military base easily. Especially ones in the countryside. If you ask one of the guides, you’ll be shown around anywhere you ask. Even their holding cells.”
“That’s great!” Allison said, her eyes fixed on the uniform.
“I have one more set for you.”
“This is wonderful. What beautiful uniforms.” Allison said excitedly.
Wil stepped closer to Ladia and whispered,
“Did this uniform belong to Levin?”
Ladia was astonished. She nodded slowly.
“Yes… That’s right. The other uniform belonged to his older brother Tims.”
“...Is it really all right for us to borrow these uniforms?”
And as though to dispel the rigor from Wil’s expression, Ladia smiled.
“Of course. Please, do wear them.”
“Is this about right…?” Wil wondered to himself, stepping into the living room in the blue uniform.
“It’s… well…” Ladia smiled, cringing slightly.
The shirt was crumpled all over, the tie was crooked, and the sleeves were too short. It would be a lie to call him presentable.
“Here, let me fix that.”
Indicating for Wil to hang his jacket on the back of the chair, Ladia flattened out his shirt. She loosened his suspenders slightly and redid his tie.
“There. You look wonderful, Warrant Officer.”
After adjusting Wil’s tie and collar, Ladia gently put a finger under his chin with a practiced touch.
Wil raised his head up straight, slightly surprised. Their eyes met.
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
Wil looked at Ladia’s darkened expression. He thanked her.
“Thank you. I’m very grateful.”
The shadow left Ladia’s face.
“This should be about right.” Allison said, stepping into the living room in the blue uniform.
Wil was lost for words. Ladia was shocked.
Allison was dressed perfectly. She had the jacket on with a belt clasped neatly around her waist, her uniform without so much as a wrinkle. Her long blond hair was tied back above her neckline and fastened with a hairclip. Atop her head sat the perfectly-angled beret.
“It looks even more convincing on you than a Bezelese person… They say the uniform was made to match those with blond hair, since many residents of Sfrestus are also blond.”
“What about you, Wil? Tell me what you think.”
“Oh. Um… It looks better on you than anything I’ve ever seen you wear. I wonder why…?”
“Thanks. I like this uniform, too. I’d almost like to trade it for the boring uniforms we have to wear in Roxche.”
“That’s enough talking about the uniforms. There are some things you should know.” Ladia said. “The Royal Guard are the cream of the crop, acknowledged by all. And they’re aristocrats. In other words… They behave a little differently from ordinary soldiers. That is to say-”
“They act all high-and-mighty, right?” Allison said without even trying to be tactful.
“Well… yes. That also goes for the Youth Corps. So if you want to avoid suspicion—”
“We have to act that way ourselves.” Wil finished.
“Yes. Have you heard of ‘The Princess of Greyruse’? It’s a fairy tale here in Sou Be-Il.”
“It’s the story about the selfish princess who wants to own everything and gives everyone trouble, right?” Wil said. Allison also joined in, realizing that she knew the story as well.
“Oh! I remember that one! The selfish princess lives in a kingdom high in the mountains, but she asks for things like dresses, jewels, and even forests, mountains, and lakes. And in the end, she demands to have the clouds and the sun, so she goes up to the sky and asks the sky god to give them to her because she’s the princess. Right?”
“Yes. That’s the story, I’m glad you know about it already.”
“But that fairy tale-” Wil said, but Allison cut him off.
“In the end, the sky god got so sick of the princess’s selfishness that he ran away. And so, the kingdom was left without a sky. I don’t really get what the moral of the story is supposed to be, but I always liked this fairy tale.”
“Allison… Who told you this story? Was it Grandma?”
“No, it was my dad. I heard it from him when I was little. I loved it so much that I still remember it like it was yesterday.”
Wil went silent. Allison blinked.
“No, nothing.” Wil said, shaking his head.
Ladia asked if she could continue, and returned to her explanation.
“You must act like the princess and behave differently towards other people—as though you’re above them. Don’t salute people, even if they’re of a higher rank. If they ask you something, laugh and act like they should be grateful that you’re visiting the base. I don’t have much of a right to say this, but… The nobles of Sfrestus have always been that way.”
“We understand. We’ll show ‘em what stuck-up really looks like.”
“I bet you’ll do that really well.”
“You’ll do just fine.”
Wil and Ladia answered her at once.
“Take this.” Ladia said, bringing a suitcase with a handle on the top. It was made of thick leather and looked very sturdy.
“This looks expensive.” Allison noted.
“Carry your clothes in here. If the soldier on security duty asks to search the suitcase—”
“We’ll just get angry and blow him off, right?”
“Precisely. Bluff and intimidate them.”
As Wil listened to Allison and Ladia’s surprisingly well-matched conversation, the latter suddenly said to him,
“Wil, have you ever shot a gun before?”
Wil was a little taken aback at the sudden question, but answered,
“Well, yes. I took a class on it at school.”
“How confident of a marksman are you?”
Allison answered proudly,
“Wil here placed sixth in the 3287 Kaashi Shooting Competition, you know. There’s no way he’d miss.”
Ladia stared, confused.
“You’re not making things really clear for her, Allison…”
“Oh, right. Let me explain. There’s a city called Kaashi in the Republic of Raputoa in Roxche. A festival takes place there every year, and Wil got sixth place in their shooting competition. I guess this doesn’t say much, but I promise he’s a better shot than I am.”
“I see. Then that’s enough.” Ladia said. She reached into a drawer next to the fireplace and took out a large object covered in cloth. Carrying the heavy object with both hands, she place it on the table and gingerly unfolded the cloth. Inside was a leather holster housing a handgun.
With her thin fingers Ladia pulled out the gun with its muted glint. It was an extremely large handgun, about twice as long and thick as the one issued to Allison. It had a narrow wooden grip with a magazine sticking out in front of it. The chassis was rough and the barrel was thin.
“That’s one heck of a gun.” Allison said.
“Make sure to have this on you. I’ll teach you how to use it. You can practice before you go.”
Wil slowly shook his head.
“I don’t think I could make a snap-decision and shoot someone. Even if I had it, I don’t think I’d ever use it.”
“If that’s what you’ve decided, it’s all right. But please keep it with you.”
“...By any chance, did this—” Wil began. Ladia nodded.
“Yes. It originally belonged to my husband. I passed it down to our children, but they both left this gun at home when they left. So I had it prepared to use for myself. But… take it. Please. Think of it as a lucky charm.”
“I understand. I’ll do as you ask.” Wil said. Ladia breathed a sigh of relief.
A truck approached from across the plains. Each time it hit a curve in the road it disappeared from sight and appeared again. Soon, neared Ladia’s house.
Allison and Wil stood at the front door in full uniform. Next to them was Ladia, wearing an apron. Wil was wearing the large holster at his side. The leather suitcase was at their feet.
“I’m just going to ask one more thing of the two of you.” Ladia said. Allison and Wil turned round towards her.
“I’m only lending you those uniforms. So please come back to return them to me. I don’t care when. Even if they get worn and you lose the hats, I’d like the two of you to bring them back to me together. Even if you can’t find the treasure, come back here laughing that you never found it.”
“We understand. You have our word.” Wil said. Allison nodded over and over again.
“Yeah. We definitely will. We’ll bring them back to you ourselves, even if it means crossing the border illegally again. I have this location memorized, too.”
“Thank you. The rest is up to you. This is as much as I can do.” Ladia said.
The truck was coming over to them. It was grey and of an older design, and there was a tarp over the bed like a tent.
“Thank you very much, Ms. Travas. I don’t know how to thank you for everything you’ve done for us.”
“Me too. I mean, I’m not really good at this stuff, but, uh…”
The sound of the engine drew near. Ladia smiled.
“You don’t have to thank me. But… would you give me a salute?”
Allison was shocked. She looked at Wil. Then, she winked and said,
On cue, Allison and Wil saluted Ladia.
Raising her hand so her fingertips were barely touching her beret, Allison gracefully demonstrated a textbook salute. Wil followed shortly after, a little awkwardly.
Ladia took hold of either side of her skirt. Sweeping back her right foot, she slowly bent her left knee and gently bowed her head.
“May the gods of war and fate be with you. Good luck.”
“We’ll be back.” Allison and Wil replied.
As afternoon approached, the moon began to hover over the western woods. A thin layer of clouds covered the blue sky.
There was a road that crossed the dense forests like a valley. It was lined on the side by utility poles and several electric lines.
A lone vehicle was driving north along that path. It was an old grey truck with a tarp spread over the bed like a tent.
In the driver’s seat on the right side of the truck was a large, middle-aged man. Nest to him sat a boy and a girl in blue uniforms.
“Uh, if I may, uh…” The man stuttered awkwardly.
“What is it?” Asked the blonde girl. The boy’s gaze anxiously wandered left and right.
“Well, I’m just a commoner, but could I ask you something?” The man asked.
“Oh, of course.” The blonde girl—Allison—replied. Having received permission to speak, the man spoke in a more relaxed tone.
“Uh, are you two her relatives?”
“Yes. We came to see her for the first time in a very long time.”
“I see. Family really is great. I’ve been making deliveries for that woman for ten years now, and I’ve never seen her smile like that before.” The man said with a grin.
“Really? I’m glad to hear that.” Allison said with a smile of her own, elbowing Wil in the side.
“Do you know why she’s living all alone in a place like that? I once asked her offhand myself, and, well… Got the shock of my life.”
“Yes.” Said Wil. Allison looked at him, surprised.
With his gaze set forward, Wil slowly answered.
“I once heard that… the next time war breaks out and the enemy comes to attack, she would take up a gun and fight where she lived. That she would fight alone against the despicable enemies who took away her family.”
“That’s the story.” The man nodded solemnly.
Allison was still staring at Wil. Wil was still looking ahead.
“But that won’t be necessary anymore.”
“That so?” The man wondered.
“Yes. After all, we’re the ones who’ll do the fighting from this point on.” Wil said, smiling.
“That’s real brave of you.” The man said cheerfully, driving towards the Teruto Royal Army Base.