This is probably going to be the last update of the year, as the next chapter of Vamp! is a pretty lengthy one. It's a little early, but have a merry Christmas and a happy new year!
Chapter 5: The Roxchean Spy
The Teruto Royal Army Base was in the middle of a dense forest.
Tall coniferous trees stood in the woods, and built within was a castle from the Middle Ages. It was not a very tall structure, but at each corner of the stone fortification was a cylindrical tower used as a lookout point.
The castle was the command center of the Teruto Base, and just south of the castle were several barracks that could house hundreds of soldiers. Lined up beside them were military trucks and even armored vehicles equipped with towed cannons and machine guns.
North of the castle was a gymnasium-shaped hangar made of metal. The hangar roof was painted green, and there were even tree-shaped patterns to help camouflage the structure.
Inside the wide grounds were several paved roads running in straight lines. Between the roads was a field covered in grass and dirt. In the very corner was a shooting range with mounds of earth, used to hold targets in place for practice.
On the wide-open grounds in front of the hangar was a long canal, dug in a straight line. The water had been directed from a small river nearby for the canal, which was a runway for seaplanes. At the end was a ramp used to lower boats into the river.
Inside the castle, in a lavishly decorated room.
There were paintings and suits of armor adorning the walls. In the center of the room was a long table covered with a white tablecloth. Atop it were candlesticks, vases, and plates of steaming hot stew.
A group of middle-aged men were partaking in a meal. All of them were wearing military uniforms. Their pants and jackets were dark brown. They were the Sou Be-Il Royal Army uniforms.
On the chests and shoulders of the uniforms were the emblem of the curved dagger, shining medals and badges, as well as badges of rank that showed off their lofty positions. Behind them were young orderlies serving as messengers. This was the dining room of the high-ranking officers of the Teruto Royal Army Base.
The men were eating in silence. They ate without so much as a word, as though they had nothing else in particular to do.
“I’m finished. If you’ll excuse me.” One officer said, getting up from his seat. He wiped his mouth on a napkin and threw it to the floor without a second thought. He was about fifty years of age with thinning hair. It would be a lie to say that his physique was balanced in any way. On his uniform was a badge of rank showing that he was a colonel.
The rotund colonel snatched his hat from his orderly and left the room, the clacking of his boots echoing down the hall.
About twenty seconds passed after the door closed shut.
One of the officers sighed. As if of cue, the rigid air in the dining hall loosened.
There was another officer there with a colonel’s badge of rank. He was a man with a mustache. A major in his thirties, sitting across from the colonel, said,
“How long are those bastards planning to bum around on our base?”
“Watch what you’re saying, Major.” Said Colonel Elcub, the commander of the Teruto Royal Army Base. And before the major could apologize, he added, “can’t you see I’m doing my best to not punch him in the jaw?”
A roar of laughter filled the dining room. As the air lightened, the officers began to break out into conversation.
“What are the people who accompanied Colonel Nott doing now?” Asked a lieutenant colonel. The major from earlier answered.
“The same as always, sir. Lazing about by the aeroplanes. Who knows what they’re thinking? They act like we’re not even allowed to talk to them. Although they still do eat in the mess hall.”
“‘Aeroplane testing unit’ my ass. More like a group of thugs.” Said another lieutenant colonel. The other officers burst into laughter in agreement.
“What of the old man they brought in?” Asked Colonel Elcub. The major replied,
“Still locked up in the basement, sir. We have an orderly keeping watch, but we have no idea what Colonel Nott and his men are doing down there.”
At the colonel’s orders, the orderly who took away the finished plates returned with tea.
The major stood from his seat.
“I just don’t understand, Commander. Is the old man really a Roxchean spy, like Colonel Nott says? How likely is it that they’d happen across an old man crossing the river in the middle of testing the new planes? And even if the man is a spy, why are they interrogating him themselves, instead of handing him to the military police? There’s something-”
Colonel Elcub waved the major back into his seat.
“There’s something fishy about all this, no doubt. But a stink alone isn’t enough grounds to make accusations.” He said, “Major. I want you to keep a close eye on them. I’m counting on you.”
The major replied with an enthusiastic salute.
Just when the colonel had taken his first sip of tea, there was a knock. The solider next to the door opened it, and a young female soldier stepped inside with a salute.
“Apologies for intruding during your meal, sir!”
She handed Colonel Elcub a small note.
The colonel read the message. With a note of acknowledgement, he handed the paper to the lieutenant colonel sitting next to him.
“Two young warrant officers from the Royal Guard Youth Corps are asking for permission to tour the base.”
Hushed murmurs rose up in the dining room. The lieutenant colonel continued.
“We’re really getting all sorts out here in the countryside. And from the Royal Guard, of all places…”
“We can’t turn them down, then. Of course, they probably already knew that when they asked for permission. I’m putting you in charge of this, Reig. Make sure you treat them with respect. You know how difficult they can be.”
“Yes, sir. Aren’t you going to meet them, sir?” Asked the balding lieutenant colonel.
“I hate aristocrats. Don’t even want ‘em to remember my name or my face.”
Reig stood, wiping his mouth.
“Take care to be respectful. And I hope I don’t need to remind you, but—”
Lieutenant Colonel Reig nodded.
“Yes, sir. I’ll make sure they don’t run into Colonel Nott and his men.”
Checking to make sure that his hat was on correctly, Lieutenant Colonel Reig took a small car towards the front gates of the Teruto Base.
On either side of the gate, which sat on a one-lane road, was a guard station. In front of one of the stations were two people dressed in vivid blue uniforms, both in their late teens. They sat with their legs crossed on chairs that the men on guard duty must have brought for them.
The lieutenant colonel stepped out of the car and approached the visitors. One was a girl with long blond hair. The other was a boy whose head was wrapped in bandages. On his belt was a large, holstered handgun. It was an expensive weapon (worth about two months of an average soldier’s pay) that was not issued by the military.
The visitors slowly stood. The lieutenant colonel saluted them.
“Welcome to the Teruto Royal Army Base. I’m Lieutenant Colonel Reig, here on Colonel Elcub’s orders to show you around.”
The visitors saluted him.
“It’s nice to meet you. Do we have to tell you our names, too?” The girl asked brusquely. The boy watched the conversation with a detached look.
“Not at all, Warrant Officers.” Said Lieutenant Colonel Reig, forcing a smile.
“Is that so? We’re just here for a short visit. We have no intention of getting in the way of you little people. We’ll have a quick look around and leave. Would that be too much of a bother?”
“Not at all, Warrant Officer. Please. Take your time. Have you eaten lunch yet?”
“We don’t need any food, thank you.”
“I see. Then please let me escort you around the base. If you’d like to come to the car-”
“No thank you.”
“We don’t need a lieutenant colonel to show us around the base. We have no intention of going around with a high-ranking officer while we’re here in the countryside. ...You there.”
The girl’s gaze was fixed on a guard with a rifle slung over his shoulder, standing stiff. He was a young man wearing a green combat uniform and a helmet, probably not yet twenty. He was still at the lowest rank of private.
“M, me, Warrant Officer?” He croaked.
“Yes, you. Could you show us around the base?”
Half in tears, the private looked to the lieutenant colonel for help.
“Hm. Your name, Private?”
“R, René Falkrott, sir!”
The lieutenant colonel’s response was pitiless.
“Hm. Private René. You are hereby relieved from guard duty. I order you to show the Royal Guard warrant officers around the base. Understand?”
“Your answer, Private.”
“Y, y, y, yes, sir! Private René, reporting for duty, sir!”
“Excellent. Watch your manners around our guests. Also…”
The lieutenant colonel went up to René and whispered something into his ear.
“That is all. You have permission to use the car.”
“No thanks. We’ll walk. Let’s go.” The girl said. Ignoring the lieutenant colonel, she began to walk away with her companion.
“Th, th, this way, please… F, follow me…” Said René. One of the guards called him back, reminding him to leave his rifle and helmet. René took them off and handed them to his friend, panicked, and put on the hat he had hung on his shoulder.
“P, p, p, p, p, please excuse me I’m on my way!”
He hurried after the visitors.
Watching the three soldiers depart, one of the guards remarked,
“Whew… Glad it’s not me out there. I hate aristocrats.”
“Me too.” Said the lieutenant colonel. Everyone stared.
Allison, Wil, and Private René walked down the road to the base.
Walking next to Wil, a little behind René, Allison whispered in Bezelese.
“It’s going well so far. We even got ourselves a nervous guide.”
“…You know… I think my heart’s just about to stop right now.”
“Get a hold of yourself. You just have to walk around in uniform like it’s the most normal thing in the world. That’s what every military base is like.”
“Don’t worry, Wil. Since you’re not used to stuff like this, you can just stay quiet like we agreed earlier. And besides, you said we’d rescue the old man no matter what, right?”
“Yeah… The problem is the location. They probably have him locked up in that castle they’re using as the command center. They usually have prison facilities in the basements.”
“Great. First we’ll ask for a tour of the castle. Then we’ll head for the dungeons. And after that, the hangar.”
“Don’t tell me you forgot already. If they have aeroplanes there…”
“...You’re going to steal one?”
“I’m going to borrow one.”
Unable to stand Allison and Wil’s hushed whispers, René looked back as he continued to walk.
“Uh, umm… If there’s a problem with me…”
Allison softened her expression slightly.
“No, we weren’t talking about you. We were just complaining about the bigwigs.”
“I see… My apologies, Warrant Officer.”
“Don’t worry too much. I picked you out because it’s easier to talk to someone our age.”
“Th, thank you.”
Feeling more at ease, René began to point out the structures around them.
“Uh, to our left, you’ll see the barracks. And over there is the depot where we store the weapons and vehicles. The castle over here is the command center, and over there is the hangar. We usually have liaison crafts on standby there.”
“I see. Actually, there’s something I wanted to ask you, Private.”
“Yes, ma’am?” René asked enthusiastically.
“What did that lieutenant colonel whisper to you back there?”
His face stiffened.
After a moment’s hesitation, René realized that he had no choice but to tell the truth.
“Actually… people from another unit flew in a few days ago…”
“Oh? From where?” Allison asked.
“I’m not sure, ma’am. Not from any base nearby, as far as I can tell.”
“Is that all?”
“Well… The lieutenant colonel instructed me that I should not let you run into any of them during the tour.”
“Oh? I wonder why. Do we really look so ferocious?” Allison joked.
“N, not at all, ma’am. In fact, it’s the opposite. The lieutenant colonel is worried that you might get a bad impression from seeing them. I think.” René said gravely. Allison nodded.
“Private René!” Wil cried suddenly. Allison turned to Wil, shocked.
“Y, yes, sir!”
“When was it that the men from the other unit arrived?” Wil asked, stone-faced.
“Four days ago, sir.”
“Do you know what they are here for?”
“...Only a rumor going around among the soldiers, sir…”
“Yes, sir. I’ve heard they’re here to test out some new seaplane models in the nearby lakes and rivers.”
“Then they must be using that hangar. How many people? How many planes?”
“About six people, sir. And I’ve never seen all of the planes in flight at once, but I think there must be four or five.”
“I see. Is there, by any chance, a double-engine seaplane among them?”
Allison finally realized what Wil was trying getting at.
“Oh, yes, sir. I’ve seen that one.” René replied. Then, he asked hesitantly, “Um… How do you know about that, sir?”
“That doesn’t matter, now, does it?” Allison butted in. Wil continued.
“Was that seaplane flying in the middle of the night two days ago? Did you hear a loud noise before dawn?”
“Oh, yes! Yes, sir. I was on duty then, so I saw the lights go on in the canal and the seaplane touching down…”
Allison nodded at Wil, satisfied. She then turned to the confused private.
“There’s someplace I’d like you to show us.”
“Y, yes, ma’am?”
Allison looked up a the stone building ahead of them.
“I’m not interested in the barracks and the commoners there. Show us around the castle.”
* * *
“Second Lieutenant? Um… You’re in the air force, right?”
A man in his early twenties looked up from his seat.
He was neither fat nor skinny, and had short brown hair and a handsome face. He was wearing long black boots and well-cut navy pants. He also wore a thin blue jacket and a navy tie. Hanging over either of his shoulders were suspenders, and around his waist was a belt equipped with a holster.
Hanging from the back of his wooden chair was a black leather jacket. On the right arm was the emblem of the curved dagger. On either shoulder was a second lieutenant’s badge of rank, and over the left side of the chest was a pilot’s badge adorned with the emblem of a spread-winged eagle.
“As you can see.” Said the second lieutenant, twirling his hat around his finger. “The name’s Carr Benedict. It’s a pleasure.”
Speaking to the pilot was a repair technician around seventeen or eighteen years of age. She had short hair and was wearing green overalls. She also had the emblem of the curved dagger on her right shoulder.
“Oh! Pardon me. I’m Private First Class, Jyum Elaine!” The technician said, saluting. Benedict also gave her a light salute.
They were currently in the hangar. All around were long metal beams, and the ceiling curved over them in a gentle arc. The interior was large enough to host a ball game.
“Is this a new model? She’s amazing.” Elaine said, her eyes glinting with enthusiasm. Benedict slowly turned to his right.
Before them was a plane.
The fuselage was streamlined, painted pitch-black. At the front of the frame were a pair of openings for machine gun fire. The cockpit was open, but the front was covered with a windshield. The machine guns could be aimed using a round metal controller.
At the back of the eight-meter long fuselage was a thin water cooling engine. At the very end of the plane was a three-winged propeller. The plane had one main wing spreading over either side of the frame, and the perpendicular tailplanes stuck out above and below. Unlike with most other aircraft, the parallel tailplanes were sticking out from near the nose.
“This is a fighter seaplane, isn’t it?”
“Yes. It is.”
Underneath the frame were not wheels, but floats. The floats looked very much like the kind attached to canoes for balance, but they were incredibly large. Hanging from either side of the wings were secondary floats.
The main floats were atop a flatcar to allow the seaplane to move on land. The flatcar was a tangle of metal pipes in the shape of a box, and on either side were sturdy wheels. It was currently fastened in place.
“By the way, she’s completely made of metal. Not a single piece of lumber in this baby.” Said Benedict. The technician looked nothing short of delighted.
“It’s like an aeroplane from the future. I can’t believe we’re capable of building crafts like this now. You know, Second Lieutenant. I just came back from a six-day leave today. And when I stepped in here, the first things I saw were all these amazing new models. You have no idea how excited I am.”
Including the one they were looking up at now, there were a total of four planes in the hangar. Two of them were the same model, two-seaters with one seat in front of the other. They were neatly lined up next to each other. Next to them was an amphibious seaplane with two engines above its wings.
The four planes took up most of the hangar. The army’s two small liaison aircrafts that usually made home here had been parked outside and covered. They were three-seater biplanes, also equipped with floats.
“Do you like aeroplanes?” Asked Benedict.
“Very much! I’d like to become a pilot. I’m very happy that I became a repair technician and I love my work. But It’s my dream to fly these aeroplanes myself one day.”
“I used to be in the Royal Army as an infantryman.”
“Yeah. After high school, I didn’t want to study any more. So instead of going on to university, I joined the Royal Army. But one day, I spotted an aeroplane flying through the sky and fell in love. Just like you. So I began studying to enter the Royal Air Force Officer Academy.”
“And you passed the examination, right? That’s so wonderful!”
“I guess so. I graduated last year, and now I’m piloting fighter crafts. In that sense, my dreams have come true.”
“You’re amazing, Second Lieutenant!”
“So that’s why you should do your best, too. I’m sure even I have the right to say something like that.” Benedict said, winking at the starstruck technician.
“Now, Miss Elaine…”
Still in his seat, he turned to the technician and said plainly,
“If you have some spare time later, would you like to take a walk with me? I’ve been told that there’s a stream in the area where the soldiers bathe and swim sometimes. Why don’t you show me how to get there?”
The technician went beet red.
“I, uh… umm…”
“Of course, I don’t mean that we should take a bath there or anything like that.”
“Um… If you don’t mind… I…”
As Elaine took a deep breath and prepared herself, the hangar door opened without warning and four men stepped inside. They ranged in age from twenty to thirty. Three of them were wearing Royal Air Force uniforms like Benedict. One was a second lieutenant, and the other two were first lieutenants. The last man, who was the tallest of the newcomers, was wearing a Royal Army uniform and sunglasses over his eyes. He was a captain.
Benedict stood with a Tch and placed a hand on the technician’s shoulder.
“Sorry, but we’ll have to talk later.”
With that, Benedict walked over to the door and greeted the men.
“That was quick.”
“Have fun watching house, Benedict?” One of the first lieutenants said in a mocking tone.
“Of course.” Benedict answered curtly.
“By that, you mean you were chatting up a woman again. Quick as ever.” Said the other first lieutenant, gesturing at the worried-looking technician with his chin.
“That’s practically tradition in the land I was born in.” Benedict snickered, the only hint of politeness in his answer being the words he used. The airmen glared daggers at him.
“Looks like you’ve got no intention of even trying to get along.” Said the youngest of the men, the second lieutenant. “Well?! Say something!”
Benedict’s answer was firm.
“In the land I was born in, we don’t make a tradition of chatting up men. Especially not the ugly ones.”
“Son of a bitch!”
The man grabbed Benedict by the collar. Benedict threw him a sharp stare.
“Stop this.” Said the army captain, who had been standing at the back of the commotion. The second lieutenant let Benedict go, frustrated. Benedict straightened out his collar as though nothing had happened.
“Second Lieutenant Carr, you may leave for lunch. Come back here straight afterwards to resume guard duty. Do not waste time trying to flirt with the women.”
“Yes, Captain Gratz.”
Saluting the captain, Benedict walked away. He put on his hat and left the hangar.
“Damned bastard. He’s all talk.” One of the second lieutenants spat as Benedict departed.
“This is no place for personal vendettas. We are all comrades-in-arms.” Said Captain Gratz.
“Why did the colonel bring someone like him into the team, I wonder?” Asked the first lieutenant.
“Because there are four fighter planes. Say what you will about his behavior—I’ve heard he’s quite skilled.” Gratz said.
“Really, sir? Better than us?” Said a second lieutenant. His two comrades grinned confidently.
“I’d like to take him on one of these days.”
“Could we? What if we asked the colonel to allow us to have a friendly match, if that’s what you want to call it? We’ve got all the ammunition in the world. What do you say, Captain?”
“We have no time for that now. First, we have to make that old bastard talk.”
With that, Captain Gratz pulled off his sunglasses.
He was the man who had come to Makkaniu two days ago, claiming to be from the tax office.
Benedict left the hangar, passing by the command center and entering the barracks, where the mess hall was.
Normally, two guards were stationed at the castle entrance, facing forward. But this time, the guards were twisting their necks as far as they could, trying to peek inside. Benedict spotted two people in blue uniforms walking through the entrance.
“Blue uniforms, huh. Which unit is that supposed to be again?”
He paused for a moment.
“Guess that’s none of my business.”
He resumed walking towards the mess hall.
“The first floor is being used as the offices. It’s currently lunch hour, so there shouldn’t be many people here.” Explained Private René. He, along with Allison and Wil, were walking down the empty hallway.
The floor of the halls were made of wood, and the walls were made of stone. There were slots in the walls at regular intervals for inserting torches, but they were rendered obsolete by the lamps hanging from the ceiling. Multiple pipes were stretching out along the ceiling, having been installed in more recent times.
“When was this castle built, and by whom? Are there any other castles of similar structures?” Wil asked. Allison shot him a glare and elbowed him in the side so René could not see. Wil waved his hand lightly to apologize.
René looked apologetic.
“I’m sorry, sir. I’m not really sure. Should I go ask someone?”
“Don’t bother. What’s above here?” Allison asked.
“This castle is made up of four floors. The second floor is the officers’ dining room and their quarters. On the third floor are the command room, the communications room, and the operations room. The fourth floor is not being used at the moment, but I’ve been told it will serve as the command center for the front lines in the event of a war.”
“I see. Is there anything underground?”
“Oh. Yes. It’s been preserved the way it was in the past.”
Allison narrowed her eyes.
“Oh? What is it used for?”
“The basement is used for storing food and wine. And the old dungeons are being used as a prison. The levels further underground used to be a catacomb; it’s been sealed off now.”
“Medieval dungeons and catacombs? Sounds interesting.”
“It sure does.”
Wil sounded honestly enthusiastic. Allison agreed with feigned enthusiasm.
“We’d like to have a look ourselves, Private.”
“Th, the catacombs, sir? I, I don’t think we’re permitted…” René stuttered.
“Then the dungeons will do. Take us there.”
“Th, the cells are being guarded by soldiers from the military police. I don’t have the authority to-”
Allison shot him a glare. René went silent.
“Just take us there, then. I’ll get us permission myself. Which way to the stairs?”
“Th, this way, ma’am…”
Just as Allison, Wil, and Private René arrived at the top of the stairs.
“Give me a big helping of the pickled vegetables.” Benedict said to the soldier in charge of handing out the food.
‘Just what the hell are you doing here,’ said the look in the soldier’s eye. Benedict replied with a look of his own.
‘Shaddap. None of your business.’
Having received his extra serving of pickled vegetables, Benedict took some bread and fruit and put them on his tray.
‘I heard he’s from the Royal Air Force.’
‘Lounging around in the hangar with those new models, I hear.’
‘What’s he doing out here in the countryside?’
‘Bunch of thugs, that’s what they are.’
‘Wish they’d go eat someplace else.’
Benedict looked around the mess hall—at the soldiers who glanced at him occasionally but never tried to talk to him. He found himself an empty seat.
“No female officers around here, huh.”
When they descended the steps, they emerged into a space bathed in yellow incandescent light. The underground was much cooler than the outside because the walls, floor, and ceiling were all made of stone. But it was humid, and there was a stench in the air.
There was a small room furnished with a bookshelf and a ledge. Several bundles of keys hung from the ledge.
There was a hallway stretching out next to the room. Past a set of bars just several meters ahead, the walls to the right were lined with prison cells.
“P, please wait a moment, Warrant Officers.” Said a forty-something sergeant as he stood from his seat at the desk. He had short hair and round glasses, exuding an air of diligence.
“Oh? Explain why I have to wait, Sergeant.” Allison said without missing a beat. Private René stiffened.
“Scary…” Wil muttered under his breath. The sergeant was lost for words.
“Uh, umm… We have one prisoner in our custody at the moment, Warrant Officer. And our facilities are old and worn, so all we have in there are iron bars. If you’d-”
“Who’s inside?” Allison cut in.
“Wh, why do you want to know—”
Allison slammed her fist on the desk.
“Maybe the same reason you want to know why I want to know. I hate it when people ask me stupid questions. Answer me, now!” She cried.
“It’s best not to get her too angry, Sergeant. She’s scary when she gets mad.” Wil confessed.
“W, we have an old man in our custody there.” The sergeant said wearily. Wil swallowed.
“An old man? What’s he in here for?” Allison asked. The sergeant’s reply was mechanical.
“I’ve been told that he’s a spy from Cross-River. He was arrested a few days ago and brought here.”
“A Roxchean spy? Hm. When is the execution? I’d like to see one of those in person.” Allison said, her eyes narrowing. René, standing behind her, began trembling visibly. The sergeant answered her quickly so as to not draw out the difficult situation.
“We don’t know a thing yet, ma’am. No specific charges or anything. We don’t even know if he’s really a spy. Ever since he was brought here, he’s been doing nothing but babble in Roxchean and go around acting like a senile old man. I didn’t think we should show someone like that to officers from the Royal Guard. Until you asked, that is.”
“I see. Thank you for your concern.”
“So please, is that enough for—”
“I don’t mind. Let’s have a look inside.”
With a defeated sigh, the sergeant grabbed a bundle of keys and the truncheon hanging from the back of his chair.
“You stay here, Private. That string over there triggers the emergency alarm. Don’t touch it unless I give the order.” The sergeant said to René, and led Allison and Wil down the corridor.
“Come with me, please.”
The thick steel bars were lodged firmly in the stone walls, ceiling, and floor. The sergeant unlocked the door. It slowly swung open with a loud noise.
As the sergeant led the way inside, Wil wiped a droplet of cold sweat on his face.
Telling Allison and Wil that he would check on the prisoner first, the sergeant asked them to wait for a moment. Tightly grasping his truncheon, he slowly walked up to the cell at the very back.
“You’re being pretty quiet today, old man.” Said the sergeant.
A reply came from inside the cell.
“It looks like I’ve got some amazing guests today. I’ll accept them with gratitude. It’s such a shame I couldn’t serve them any tea—my housekeeper’s family sells tea leaves, you know. They gave me some of the best leaves they had in stock. I’m telling the truth this time.”
The man was speaking standard Roxchean. Allison was smiling. Wil clenched his sweaty fists.
“I told you, old man. I don’t understand what you’re saying. But thanks for staying a little calmer today. We’ve got some really important guests here today.” Said the sergeant. The old man replied in Roxchean.
“Ah, yes. I know.”
“You see? We can’t communicate a thing, and you don’t know if he’s going to leap out to try and grab you from behind the bars. So please stay back. This way, please.” The sergeant advised.
Allison and Wil slowly walked up to the small cell. It was furnished with nothing but a bed.
Under the dim light, the old man sat on the bed in the same clothes he had been wearing when he was kidnapped. He looked at Allison and Wil brazenly.
Seeing one another for the first time in two days, the man and the duo stared at one another for some time.
“Um… Warrant Officers?” The sergeant squeaked hesitantly.
“Is this prisoner supposed to be the spy? He’s just a senile old man!”
“But he was found right next to the buffer zone, ma’am. Apparently he was crossing over on a small boat. I think those clothes he’s wearing right now must be from Cross-River.”
Allison made a point of looking into the prison cell. She called to the old man in a mocking voice.
“What are you doing here, anyway? Looking for some fairy-tale treasure?”
And she discreetly tossed the old man a wink.
“I see… You believed what I told you. I can’t imagine how you managed to get a hold of uniforms like that. But it was an excellent idea to use uniforms from the Royal Guard.” The old man mumbled in Roxchean. Allison turned to the sergeant.
“What did this man just say? Was he complimenting us?”
The sergeant shrugged apologetically.
The old man suddenly turned to face the wall, mumbling as though sleep-talking.
“From what I can tell, the only one who spoke Roxchean was the man who claimed to be from the tax office. I spotted a gun in his pocket, so I went along with him because I thought he might shoot you if I refused to go. I think he must be from the special forces here. He probably remembers your faces. Make sure you do not run into him.”
The old man glanced at Allison and Wil. Wil nodded discreetly.
The old man turned back to the wall and began to mutter to himself again.
“They asked me all kinds of strange questions. Where was the general’s stash of gold, they asked. They must have gotten the wrong idea. The treasure I know of can’t be compared with gold. I didn’t tell them a thing. And I don’t intend to let slip anything to those mannerless bastards. Anyway, where is this place? They had me drugged when they kidnapped me.”
“Is he always like this? Talking to the walls, I mean.” Allison asked the sergeant. He replied that the old man was being relatively calm today.
“That’s a bore.” Allison said, turning to Wil. “I’m sick of this tour. What do you want to do?”
“We’ve come all this way into the countryside, so let’s have a look around for some entertainment. The closest settlement to the Teruto Base should be Gerrue, twenty kilometers to the west. The next settlement is Coil, fourteen kilometers south of Gerrue… Is there anywhere else, Sergeant?”
“I’m… afraid those are the only towns in the area, sir. This is the countryside, after all.”
Wil nodded. At that moment, the old man in the cell began to bellow at the top of his lungs.
Shouting gibberish for a moment, the old man suddenly leapt onto his bed and lay there. He flailed his arms and legs, then went still. He soon began to mutter as though to himself.
“I know where you must go. It’s not far from the river or the mountain range. I know that you’re determined to leave. You’ll make it if you take a seaplane. You’ll be able to find the treasure, too. Can you memorize this?”
Wil suddenly sneezed. Allison turned to him.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah… I’m good.” Wil replied. He turned to the old man, who began muttering into his bed.
“Fly south from here until you hit the confluence of the Lutoni River. There, go east. At the first fork, turn right. Enter the woods and follow the winding river until you reach a point where you’re surrounded by ten-meter-high cliffs on either side. Keep going along the river. When you see a two-peaked mountain about four hundred meters high on your left, find the river that circles around it. There’s a plain just west of those peaks; you’ll find the caverns there. Make sure to take a very strong light with you. Look for an opening with an army rifle sticking out of the ground in front of it. Go inside, and you’ll find yourself in a large cavern. Go into the twelfth hole on your right, and in about twenty paces you’ll come out into a large cavern again. You’ll find the treasure in the spot where the rifle is sticking out of the ground. That is all. Did you get all that?”
“What is this man saying? Is he trying to cast a spell?”
“I’m not sure, ma’am.”
As Allison made small talk with the sergeant, Wil nodded firmly at the old man.
Suddenly, the old man leapt up and jumped at the bars. The sergeant brandished his truncheon at the old man, who cried out at Allison and Wil.
“Stop that! Get back!”
The sergeant hit the bars several times, but the old man continued to scream as though mad. He was speaking in Roxchean still.
“If! If you like what you find! Report it! Reveal it to the world! That amazing treasure! If you can accept it! Show it to everyone! Do what I couldn’t do! That is why I returned alone! Just like your teachers taught you! I leave everything to you now! Forget me and go!”
“I told you to stop, old man! Get back!” The sergeant warned, striking the bars again. From behind him, Allison quickly saluted the former lieutenant colonel. Wil nodded once more.
Soon, the old man went silent like a spent clockwork toy. He took his hands off the bars and fell seated onto his bed with a vacuous look. Taking off the shoe from his right foot, he began to giggle at it and mutter to himself.
“There’s no need for three people to go. I wish I had a hairpin. I’ll stay behind, and in fifteen minutes, I’ll make a large commotion. Use that to your advantage. Keep up your act and get a hold of a seaplane. And find the treasure.”
The old man tossed the shoe against the wall. It landed on the floor. The old man took off his left shoe and began muttering at it. Allison glanced at her wristwatch.
“Ah… Such interesting children, the two of you. And still so young. I’m sure you have no idea where you should head from this point on. Let me give you a piece of advice. Go where you want to go. I pray that the god of fortune will be with you.”
Wil put a hand on Allison’s shoulder.
“Right… Now what?”
“Remember what the lieutenant colonel said to us before?” Wil said, “let’s follow his advice.”
Allison turned to the sergeant.
“Thank you, Sergeant. It was interesting, seeing a madman in person. We’ll be going now. Take us to the stairs, please.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The sergeant said, beginning to leave. Wil followed after him and glanced at the old man.
“Who knows, old man? Maybe we’ll get to meet again one day.”
“Of course. If you get back before I do, give my regards to Norma for me.”
“I had no idea what you’re talking about, but goodbye.” Allison said, reaching for the back of her neck and then waving at the prison cell.
The hairpin she tossed fell between the small gaps in the bars and landed without a sound in the hands of the former Lieutenant Colonel Walter McMillan.
“Thanks for that, Sergeant.” Allison said at the desk, as they returned to the room where Private René waited.
“N, not at all, Warrant Officer.” Said the sergeant, saluting Allison and Wil.
“Let’s go.” Allison said turning to Private René. He was standing stiff.
Without answering Allison, the private glanced at Wil’s holstered gun.
Wil slowly reached for the holster and undid the leather cover. He drew the gun.
“Did you want to have a look at this gun, Private? Should I give you a demonstration?” He asked.
“Y, no, sir… No…” René stuttered, nodding, and then shaking his head.
“Yes, or no?” Allison chuckled. “It doesn’t matter. Let’s go upstairs. You put that gun away.”
“Right.” Wil replied, holstering the gun. René briefly saluted the sergeant and began walking up the steps.
“Damned aristocrats…” The sergeant muttered to himself, hanging the bundle of keys back on the ledge. He hung his truncheon on the back of his chair and took a seat, sighing.
“Finally, some peace and quiet.”
At that moment.
“————————! ——————, —————————!”
A series of incomprehensible words and the sound of the iron bars being battered came from the furthest cell in the hall.
“Give me a break…”
The sergeant sighed.
“Th, the hangar, Warrant Officers? U, understood…”
Private René led Allison and Wil out of the castle. They ran into a female repair technician along the way, and René asked her where the people from the other unit were now. The technician told him that they were in the hangar until just earlier, but that they had gone to nap as they usually did; even before one of their members had even come back from his lunch break, she added. She then flushed an angry shade of red.
“Those people are really awful!”
“Excellent timing. Let’s have a look inside the hangar.” Wil said, glaring at René.
“Y, yes, sir.”
“Argh… Shut up, old man! Stop it!” The sergeant cried, as the old man’s racked continued with no end in sight.
But instead of stopping, the old man began to make an even bigger commotion.
“This is insane…”
The sergeant took up his truncheon and a bundle of keys, and again opened the bars and entered the corridor. He walked up to the old man’s cell.
The old man was shaking the bars furiously as he screamed.
“Look, old man. Your door’s not going to open that easily.”
“But it’s already open.” The old men replied in Bezelese, looking the sergeant in the eye. The sergeant’s thoughts came to a screeching halt.
Suddenly, the door of the cell swung open. It hit the sergeant and knocked him back against the wall.
The old man leapt out in the blink of an eye and struck the sergeant in the gut, knocking him unconscious.
“I’m sorry about this, Sergeant.” Walter said, helping the limp man onto the floor. He then glanced at the sergeant’s wristwatch.
“Are you from the capital, Second Lieutenant? I’m from the countryside myself, so I always had so many dreams for the big city.”
Carr Benedict was standing in front of one of the barracks, holding his jacket on one arm. Standing in front of him was a starry-eyed young secretary.
Two army warrant officers, having just eaten lunch, passed by them with daggers in their eyes.
‘Gimme a break! Not again!’
‘Hope that womanizer goes to hell.’
Benedict continued chatting with the woman, not even batting an eye at the warrant officers’ glares.
“Really? But the countryside has its own charms, don’t you think? Actually, why don’t you come help me go shopping for gifts nearby after work?”
“Gifts… for your wife, you mean?”
“No, no. I’m not married. I’m thinking of getting a gift for my nephew. The sweetest little kid. Every time I see him, he begs me to let him ride an aeroplane. I always tell him he’s gotta grow up a bit. He’s only three years old right now, you know.”
“Oh my goodness!” The woman chuckled.
“Ugh! You’re awful! You just chat up every girl you meet, don’t you?! You’re no different from the rest of your unit!” Cried the repair technician, who had caught up to him without even eating lunch.
As the two women departed in a huff, Benedict mumbled to himself grimly.
“This better be the first and last time I work with those bastards.”
An infantryman who had been watching from the beginning shot him a look.
‘Just what the heck are you doing here?’
‘Shaddap. None of your business.’ Benedict replied with a look of his own.
“Well… I guess I’d better be off, too. They’re all probably asleep by now. And I’m in charge of watching the planes. Great.”
Benedict headed for the hangar. Cutting through the castle, he made it to the entrance when a female soldier happened to step out. They nearly bumped into each other.
“Oh! Excuse me. I’m so sorry.” She apologized.
“Not at all.” Benedict said gently. “Actually, are you busy right now, Miss? There’s something I’d like to ask you…”
The weather was still clear that afternoon. There was nothing in the blue sky but the shining sun. The temperature was rising slowly but surely.
Four repair technicians were standing around the seaplane parked outside the hangar. One of them was a middle-aged man, and the other three were men in their twenties. The repair technicians lifted the covers off the plane and began to do maintenance work.
But as Allison, Wil, and the scared-stiff René briskly approached them, the technicians stopped what they were doing. The young technicians’ gazes were all on Allison.
“Back to work, men. Except you. Come here for a minute.” Allison said, pointing at the oldest technician. The man came down, not knowing what was going on, and saluted Allison and Wil. The other technicians looked on in shock.
“G, good day. Th, the warrant officers here are, are from the Royal Guard. Th, they’re here t, to take a tour of the base.” René stammered. Wil was standing behind him.
“Is this the plane you use on this base?” Allison asked.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m the foreman of the repair crew.”
“This is a seaplane, correct? Where does it take off from?”
“Over there, Warrant Officer.”
The foreman pointed to a small hut in the field. Next to the hut was a flagpole and a flag used to determine wind conditions—the flag hung limp, as there was no breeze—and next to the flagpole was a small vehicle.
“You can’t see very clearly from here, but there’s a canal we use as a runway over there. We take the planes there on the flatcars.”
“Can they taxi with the flatcars under them?”
“Yes, ma’am. We have vehicles for towing the flatcars, but normally we just take the planes, flatcar and all, to the canal. The flatcar comes loose once it gets into the canal. Then we use that tow over there to pull it up.”
“I see. That’s an interesting mechanism. This might come in handy.” Allison said, resuming her walk. René, Wil, and the foreman followed after her. They stood where they could see the hangar clearly, its wide-open doors and all. Allison looked up at the black planes lined up together and grinned.
“What are those planes?”
“Those… belong to another unit that’s currently training here.” The foreman said, trying to skirt the issue. Allison laughed.
“I see. You see, I really love aeroplanes. One of my relatives own several planes, so I’ve gotten to fly along with him many times. I’ve even taken the controls myself once.”
“Are all these aeroplanes ready to fly?”
“Yes, ma’am. They’ve been fully fueled and loaded with ammo. ‘Always be prepared’ is our motto.”
“That’s wonderful. I’d expect nothing less.” Allison said, honestly impressed.
“Thank you, Warrant Officer.” The foreman replied abashedly.
“I’d like to try sitting in one of those. Bring me that one. Right now.”
The foreman’s expression went rigid.
A small towing truck with caterpillar tracks soon pulled one of the fighter planes outside. The jet-black frame of the plane made it look rather like a gigantic crow.
The plane Allison had chosen was a two-seater, with one seat in front of the other. The seats were up very high because of the floats underneath, so the technicians placed ladders next to them.
Allison climbed into the pilot’s seat and began firing off one question after another to the foreman, who was in the second seat. Things about the engine’s capabilities; how to start the ignition; the maximum speed; cruising speed; the speeds and angles for takeoff and landing; how to work the machine guns; how to adjust the seats; how to use the radio; and small details about the devices in the pilot’s seat.
“I’m surprised, ma’am. I didn’t think you’d know so much about aeroplanes.”
“You don’t need to compliment me every other minute, so just answer my questions, please. What does this lever do?”
The technicians watched in awe at Allison and the foreman’s conversation. René’s face was covered in cold sweat. And Wil was standing behind him.
“I see. That’s enough.” Allison said, glancing at her wristwatch. As the foreman climbed out of his seat, she asked him if there was a camera around; saying that she and Wil would sit in the aeroplane for a commemorative picture, she demanded that they photograph them, develop the film, and send it to the capital.
The foreman was hesitant; the camera was not for personal use. But Allison would not take ‘no’ for an answer.
“So what? Just bring it.”
She added that she would compensate him as much as necessary.
The foreman had no choice but to obey. The younger technicians excitably asked if they could join Allison in the photograph as well, standing in the back. Allison smiled and agreed.
“But just get the two of us first. Get rid of these ladders and the towing truck; I want it to look like we’re about to take off.”
Allison pointed at Wil and tapped on her wristwatch.
“Get on. Quickly.”
“All right. Be right there.” Wil answered loudly. He then whispered under his breath, so only René could hear.
“Thank you for everything, Mr. René. We really appreciate it.”
René flinched, unable to say a word. Wil had spoken to him in Roxchean.
“We’re going to escape on that seaplane. Please don’t get in our way. If you do, I’m really going to shoot you, even if I have to fire from the seaplane. You understand what I’m saying, don’t you? Thank you for not saying a word back there in the dungeons.”
“Ah… Uh… Ahhhhhh…”
René’s teeth were clattering. Wil gave him a tap on the shoulder and said in Bezelese.
“If you’ll excuse me.”
René fell limply to his knees.
Wil climbed the ladder, carrying his suitcase. Once he was in his seat, the technicians removed the ladders from both of the seats.
Wil opened the suitcase. He took out his and Allison’s jackets, aviator hats, and goggles.
“I’m taking the picture now. Please look this way.” The technician behind the tripod said, not suspecting a thing.
The moment the foreman noticed René, who was sitting in a heap on the floor, alarm bells went off all across the base.