Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Allison I - Chapter 7

(Download the updated version in PDF/epub format here.)

The second-to-last chapter of Allison I. I'll have a double update of Vamp! IV and the final chapter of Allison I up in the next couple of days.

Enjoy.

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Chapter 7: This is, in and of itself


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A black fighter plane was flying over the forest.

Allison, sitting in the front seat, spoke to Wil in the back.

<I did it, Wil! I did it! How do you feel?>

<Ugh… I…>

<Hm?>

Wil burst out without even taking a breath.

<Allison! You might not have noticed, but that private knew! He spoke Roxchean! I threatened him as best I could, but I was terrified! If he said anything to anyone, we’d have been finished! We could have been killed any second!>

<Oh. Really?>

<Yes! And that pilot just now!>

<Right… I was really surprised to see him here. I hope he’s not still angry that I turned him down.>

<Argh, that was too scary! I never want to do anything like this ever again…>

<Really? I actually enjoyed it. Playing dress-up and acting like an aristocrat.>

<…Yeah. Now that I think about it… you did a really convincing job. You were perfect.>

<Thanks!>

<That wasn’t a compliment.>

<…Anyway. Do you remember where to go?>

<The old man—the former Lieutenant Colonel McMillan—said, ‘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’.>

<I expected nothing less from you, Wil! Let’s go. We’ll find the treasure, and come back for Mr. McMillan. Okay, so we’re first heading for the Lutoni River. Once we get close, I’m going to descend a bit and head south.>

<All right. Let’s go.>

<There’s something I want to try before that, though.>

<What is it?>

<Hold on tight.>

Allison moved the control stick to the right and pulled it back.

“Whoa!”

Wil screamed as the fighter craft began to dive.

Then, the engine’s roar grew into a crescendo as the craft rose, then made a large turn perpendicular to the ground.

Once the plane was level again, Allison maneuvered it into a large left turn, then a right turn.

The plane finally returned to level position.

<Wil… This plane is amazing. I’ve never flown anything like this before.>

Wil replied feebly,

<Allison… this is no time for fooling around—>

<I’m not, Wil. I’m just trying to figure out the craft’s capabilities. We’d have trouble on our hands if we got into a dogfight, you know.>

<You’re right. So let’s get away as fast as we can.>

<Too bad. I’ve always wanted to fly a fighter plane. Then let me just try one more thing.>

The craft flew into a dive again, headed straight for a plain in the midst of the forest.

A second before raising the nose again, Allison fired off a series of shots into the ground. There was the noise of gunfire, accompanied by some light vibrations in the frame.

“…”

Allison brought the plane back to level position, flying over the woods.

<Wil… you’re right. If we do get into a dogfight, we should get away as fast as we can.>


Benedict was flying at maximum speed.

On occasion, he slid the craft sideways to search for Allison’s plane. Suddenly, his caught sight of something.

“There you are…”

He spotted an aircraft of the same design as his own, flying a little ahead and below from his position.

Benedict descended and loaded his machine gun. The ‘Ready to Fire’ lamp came on.


<Is that the Lutoni River?> Allison asked. Wil looked down.

<No. The Lutoni is much wider than that. This one must be a tributary running parallel to it.>

<I see. A little further, I guess.>

The moment Allison spoke, a black fighter craft appeared next to them. It had approached without warning from underneath, sliding in right next to Allison’s craft.

<Allison!>

<I see it.>

Allison angrily glared to her right. Benedict was in the pilot’s seat, looking her in the eye.

<The love letter man. He’s kinda persistent, huh?>

<Wh, what do we do?>

<He hasn’t opened fire on us, so that must mean…>

They could see Benedict gesturing with his left hand, making a turning motion with his fingers.

<What does that mean, Allison?>

<He’s telling us to go back.>

<And… what happens if we refuse?>

<I’ll ask.>

Allison raised her left fist and made a gesture like she was smashing something.

“…”

Wil looked on, bewildered. A moment later, bullets flew from the nose of Benedict’s plane. He had opened fire. Empty shell casings and clips fell to the distant earth.

<He’s saying he’ll shoot us down.>

<Right… okay.>

Benedict held up his left hand and began to hold up his fingers in a succession of symbols, and repeated the gesture several times.

<What’s that?>

<Maybe he’s telling us some numbers?>

<You’re right.>

Allison adjusted the radio at her seat to a certain frequency. She then spoke.

<Can you hear me, Second Lieutenant Love Letter?>

<Don’t call me that. My name is Carr Benedict. It’s been a while, Allison.>

Wil could hear Benedict’s voice as well.

<It’s been a while, Second Lieutenant Carr. You look like you’re doing well. I’m sorry, but we’re very busy right now, and we don’t have time to chat with you. Would you mind if we went on ahead?> Allison asked.

<Of course not. I want you to come back to the base with me.>

<Oh? Are you asking me out again?>

<Unfortunately, no. I’ve been ordered to either convince you to come back or shoot you down. You entered a Sou Be-Il army base in disguise and took of with one of the Royal Air Force’s fighter crafts. You two are criminals.>

<I see. But I’ll have you know that the crimes started with your people first. We only did this to rescue an old man who was kidnapped from Roxche.>

Benedict was silent for a moment.

<…What do you mean?>

<Allison. I think he’s—> Wil said.

<I think so. Let’s tell him.> Allison nodded.


Allison explained to Benedict that the old man had been kidnapped via seaplane from Roxche to Sou Be-Il. That the Bezelese army seemed to be searching for the general’s gold ingots, which did not actually exist. That the old man’s treasure was something far better, and that they were now on their way to find it. However, Allison followed Wil’s advice and left out the fact that the old man was Lieutenant Colonel McMillan, the man behind the poison gas attack.

<Is all this true?> Benedict asked, astonished.

<So you didn’t know anything after all.>

<So Colonel Nott wasn’t here to test out the new fighter crafts. He was—>

<You were helping him commit a crime. It looks like that colonel of yours is the ringleader.>

<…Damn it! So you were the ones on that craft I shot down before.>

<Yes, but you didn’t land a singe hit. We crash-landed, so don’t put that on your kill count.>

<Right… Thank you for telling me all this.>

<No need. So can we go now?>

<No. You can’t. You’re coming back to the base.>

<Why?>

<I have no proof that what you’ve told me is true. We’ll have to confirm all the details back at the base. And I can’t let you just use a Sou Be-Il craft however you want. As a soldier, I can’t let this slide.>

<You’re surprisingly uptight. Can’t you let us off, just this once?> Allison asked.

<Allison, are you really a soldier?>

<Allison, you’re just too flexible.>

Said Benedict and Wil.

<And if we go back to the base,> Allison said, <you’ll put us in the dungeons like you did to that old man. I’d prefer to avoid that.>

<Allison… the old man is dead.>

<What?>

<Did your men kill him, Second Lieutenant Carr?> Will asked.

<You’re the one in the back seat, right? Let me answer. No, we did not kill him. He shot himself right after you took off. I don’t know why he did what he did.>

<I see…>

Before their eyes, a vast body of water—so large it could have been a lake—began to emerge. It was the Lutoni River.

<Allison. That’s it. Let’s get going.>

<Right.>

Allison nodded and turned to Benedict.

Second Lieutenant Carr? We’re not going back to the base. But thanks for telling us everything.>

Several seconds later.

<Allison. Earlier, you said that the treasure was something so valuable it could end the war between Roxche and Sou Be-Il.>

<That’s right.>

<You, and the person in the back… do the two of you really think something like that could exist?>

Allison and Wil nodded firmly in unison.


<I am obligated to fulfill my mission. So I’m going to say once more: demonstrate your intent to return to the base at this instant. If not—>

<If not?> Allison asked, despite already knowing the answer.

<I will open fire.> Benedict replied.

<Look, Second Lieutenant Carr. I respect your attitude. I think I could really learn from your work ethic.>

“I think so too.” Wil nodded quietly to himself.

<But we’ve come this far; we can’t back out now.>

<…I see. Then you leave me with no choice.>

<I’ve got a fighter craft too. It’s also got a machine gun.>

<I know that.>

<Then if we win—>

<If you win?>

<Will you come with us to find the treasure?>

<…>

<What do you say?>

<All right. If I’m still alive at that point.>

<Then that’s it for negotiations. Oh, wait a second. I’m just going to discuss with my friend here about what to do. Could you give me a second?>

<All right. Finish up before we cross the river.> Benedict said.


<Wil. The plane’s going to shake a lot. Are you going to be okay?>

<Are you really going to shoot him down?>

<You’re such a nice person, Wil. And no, I’m not. I’m just going to win. That’ll solve everything, won’t it?>

<…>

<What should we do? If you tell me to stop… I’ll surrender. I don’t want to put you in danger.>

<What are our chances?>

<Decent, but not 100%.>

<…>

<What do you say?>

<Remember how when we were nine, we went sledding during the winter?>

<Yeah?>

<We were at the hills. You dragged me up the slope, saying we should slide down. I was scared and I didn’t want to go. But I couldn’t say no, and I ended up sledding down the hill. We went so fast that we ended up flipping over.>

<Oh, right. I remember that.>

<You know, I remember thinking: Before I slid down, I was just scared. Going down the hill was scary, but it was fun. And by the time we ended up landing in a snowdrift, all that fear was gone, and I felt great. If I was all alone, I would never have had the courage to go sledding, and I never would have had such fun. I thought you were amazing, Allison. So now… I’m expecting something even better. I won’t tell you to stop. Let’s win, and find the treasure. That’s all I have to tell you.>

<…Seriously! That’s so like you, Wil!>


“What’s going on over there?” Benedict wondered, watching Allison gesticulate excitedly.

She soon came back with an answer.

<Second Lieutenant Carr! We’ve made our choice.>

<And your answer is?>

<‘Shaddap and come help us find the treasure’! That is all.>

<…>

Benedict was lost for words.

“You’re giving him orders, Allison…” Wil sighed.

<Then let’s get started. We’ll swerve right and diverge to go face-to-face, then we’ll pass each other. What do you say? Let’s climb a little higher, too.>

<All right.>

The two planes swerved right together and began to climb southward.

Suddenly, Benedict’s plane began to grow distant to their right. It sped up and flew further away.

<What’s happening, Allison?>

<We’re going to go face-to-face now.>

The moment Allison began to turn right again, Benedict’s plane turned in their direction.

<What’s that?>

<It’s like a ceremony you do before a dogfight. You look one another in the eye, face-to-face, and pass by each other. Then the battle starts.>

The two planes began to fly towards each other.

<What if he opens fire while we’re getting closer?>

<Don’t worry about it. The second lieutenant wouldn’t do that. And I wouldn’t, either.>

<It sounds almost like a code of chivalry.>

<Maybe. Anyway, we’re going to start attacking as soon as we pass each other by. Hold on, Wil.>

<All right… I’m counting on you, Allison.>

<Yeah.>

The two planes advanced rapidly. Air pressure pressed down on them as they brushed past at arm’s length, both Allison and Benedict saluting with their left hands.

“Here goes!”

Allison pulled back the throttle with a cry. She then stepped on the left rudder pedal and pulled the control stick to the left. The plane made a sharp left turn.

As gravity pushed her into her seat, Allison turned and glared at Benedict’s plane. Wil could not even turn his head—he looked down at the forest to his left and whispered silently,

“Beautiful…”


Benedict also pushed his engines to full throttle, swerving left. The two fighter crafts each flew in half a circle.

Making a quick turn, Benedict made it behind Allison’s plane and put pressure on his right hand, clutching the control stick. His entire body creaked under the increased strain, but he continued to pull back the control.

Allison’s plane finally came out of its swerve. The frame slowly tilted to the right, flying parallel to the ground for a moment before tilting and swerving to the right.

Benedict slowed his swerve and flew behind Allison’s plane, within firing range. His right index finger reached the trigger.

Allison’s craft was within range. But Benedict did not open fire. Instead, he flew in even closer. The stolen plane came into the circle of his crosshairs. It came closer and closer, until the plane was too big to fit in the circle.

At that moment, Allison’s plane tilted even further and began to fly upside-down. At the same time, she tilted the nose downward and descended rapidly. The gigantic floats on the bottom of the plane faced the sky as the frame left the crosshairs.

Benedict followed, swerving to the right into a sharp descent. He could see the stolen plane cast in the green backdrop of the ground. The plane’s size remained the same, but the green woods below grew closer and closer.

“This time, it’s a 9.9mm machine gun. You’re not getting away without some damage, Allison. But…”

The nose of Allison’s descending craft pointed up again.

Benedict mirrored her move, but with more force. He approached her craft, climbing to the left and approaching the stolen plane as though bearing down from above.

But he had drawn too close; his target was too far from the crosshairs. To the lower right of the circle he could see Allison’s goggles, facing in his direction. If he opened fire now, he would hit something for certain.

“Shit!”

Benedict swore yet again as he held off on the machine gun and slowed his turn. Allison’s plane grew distant to his left.


“He’s really good!” Allison cried, watching Benedict’s plane grow distant after approaching their left side.

<Wil! We can win this now! Can you hear me?>

<…Yeah…> Wil said blankly.


“Damn it…”

Benedict groaned, chasing after Allison’s plane again. He mimicked her angle as she climbed at maximum speed.

Suddenly, she stopped her ascent. And at a lazy speed unthinkable for a dogfight, she began to turn left.

Benedict approached Allison’s plane. The tail of the plane entered his line of sight. It grew closer in the crosshairs.

“All right…”

The moment the engine moved into the middle of the crosshairs, Benedict put pressure on his index finger.

“!”

At that point, he flinched at the sight of the stolen plane, growing closer to his craft against his will. Allison had slowed down without warning. At this point, they were already near the point of colliding in midair.

“Argh!”

A second before the inevitable impact, Benedict made a hard left turn. Allison’s craft passed by to his right, flying behind him.


“All right!” Allison exclaimed, opening the throttle and pointing the nose of her plane to the lower left. There in her sights was Benedict’s plane, which had pulled out of a near-collision. The man in the cockpit looked at her.

“Damn—”

“Take this!”

Allison opened fire without a moment’s hesitation. Countless shots were fired at a rhythmic pace. The rounds hit the top of Benedict’s plane in a straight line, before hitting the cockpit.

The green woods and the blue sky reflected in Benedict’s eyes instantly turned red. He felt an impact on the back of his head as his body shook several times.


<=>


Benedict’s plane was flying nearly level with the ground.

The red fluid covering his face dribbled into his mouth.

It was incredibly bitter.

Benedict reflexively spat out the liquid and reached up to his goggles. He wiped the lenses with his gloves, and the red world gave way to the blue sky. He quickly pulled up the goggles.

The cockpit was dotted with red liquid. But nothing had been damaged.

“…”

His blood-red arms and legs moved as well as they ever did.

“What is this…?”

At that moment, Allison’s voice suddenly entered his ears.

<That’s a plus one to my kill count!>

Benedict lightly shook his head. He then spotted Allison’s craft flying next to him on his left. She was holding up her left hand. Wil was sitting limply in the back seat.

<What is this?> Benedict asked. <You… you got me, didn’t you?>

<Yeah, but all we had here were paint bullets.>

From the center of the frame to the nose, Benedict’s plane was stained with red paint. It stood out like a sore thumb against the black frame.

<…And did you know that from the start?>

<Of course.>

<…It’s my loss. I repeat. It’s my loss.>

Benedict flashed Allison a grin.

<Then you’re coming with us, right? Follow me.> Allison said, taking the lead. From this position, Benedict could shoot her down with ease.

<Affirmative. I’ll comply with your intentions.>

Wiping his goggles, Benedict followed Allison as she turned south.

The two planes were flying in formation once more.

Finally back to a peaceful flight, Allison turned her attention to the back seat.

<Are you okay, Wil?>

<Yeah. I’m just glad I didn’t eat anything recently…>

<Take a look behind us. The second lieutenant’s coming to help us find the treasure.>

<That sounds great.>


The vast Lutoni River was sided by forests and plains.

Ahead stood the peaks of the Central Mountain Range.

Two planes were flying through the airspace. From the distance, they looked like little more than a pair of dots in the sky.

And two more dots were approaching them from behind.


<Allison.> Benedict said.

<What is it?> Allison asked, looking back. Benedict held up his left hand and held up two fingers. He then pointed behind him with his thumb.

<Once we finish this discussion, I want you to reset your radio frequency and keep quiet for a while. For about fifty seconds, just in case. And make sure to remain in the lead. I’ll take care of the rest. Do you understand?>

Allison nodded visibly.

<Wil. We might be in for more turbulence. We have two guests behind us.>

<All right. I trust you two.>

<What?>

<Our new friend, too.>

<Oh, right.>

The moment Allison changed the frequency,

<Benedict, you bastard! Answer me, now!>

A deep voice entered their ears.

“Man, that’s one heck of a voice.”

Allison turned left and looked behind her. Two fighter crafts of the same model as hers were in flight.

<I hear you. What’s the point of screaming into a radio, Second Lieutenant?> Benedict answered. One of the first lieutenants replied,

<Where are you going, Benedict? The base is in the opposite direction. Take the spies and return to Teruto.>

<I refuse.>

<…What did you say?>

<I said, I refuse. I fly for my own purposes now. Consider our affiliation void from this point on.>

<You son of a bitch! Thinking of monopolizing the treasure, are you?!> The second lieutenant in the one-seater plane cried.

“Idiot.”

“That nitwit.”

The two first lieutenants in the two-seater mumbled simultaneously.

<That’s my line. Thanks for keeping me in the dark all this time. Also, Second Lieutenant. Weren’t you supposed to keep quiet about the treasure in front of me? Looks like someone needs an intelligence check.>

<Second Lieutenant Benedict. We will shoot you down for failing to obey orders. And you spies there. I know you’re listening. If you intend to surrender, move your flaps immediately. If not, we will shoot you down at once.>

Allison’s and Benedict’s planes continued to fly as they did.

<All right.> Said the first lieutenant. <Second Lieutenant. Shoot down Second Lieutenant Carr Benedict. We’ll take the spies.>

<Roger that! Finally!>

The two planes lowered their noses and charged at Allison’s and Benedict’s planes. As if on cue, Allison’s plane and Benedict’s plane broke formation. The former swerved to the upper right, and the latter to the lower left.

The single-seater followed the single-seater, and the two-seater followed the two-seater.

<So what was your name again, Second Lieutenant? I have a lot of trouble with men’s names, you know.> Benedict said to his pursuer, swerving right.

<Asshole! As if I’d tell you at this point!>

The second lieutenant’s plane followed after Benedict’s, slowly closing the gap between the crafts.

<Huh. It might be a good idea to tell me, seeing as this is your only chance. I’m going to shoot you down. Run now if that doesn’t sound like a good idea. You don’t want to die yet, do you?>

<Don’t make me laugh! I see those paint splotches! You lost to those Roxcheans! Pathetic! You’re a disgrace to Sou Be-Il! I’ll kill you this instant!>

The second lieutenant pulled the trigger. Two rows of flashes emerged from the nose of his plane. The flashes missed Benedict’s swerving plane by a long shot.

<Damn you!>

<That was miserable, Second Lieutenant. A complete waste of taxpayer money.>

At that moment, Benedict’s plane disappeared overhead. The second lieutenant’s shots disappeared into the distance.

“What?”

He turned and looked up.

“Wha…?”

Benedict’s plane was there.

The frame descended as though sliding. Two flashes of light erupted from its nose as bullets pierced the air. The second lieutenant’s plane entered the line of fire as though jumping in voluntarily.

The machine gun fire blasted off the second lieutenant’s head and landed directly on the engines. The metal covering was blown away; the engine stopped; the fuel caught fire. The plane began to fall to the right, spouting flames and black smoke.

Benedict’s plane flew overhead. The smoking wreck exploded in midair, scattering everywhere.

“Goodbye, Second Lieutenant.”

With that, Benedict headed off to find his next prey. He could see two fighter planes ahead.


<Damn it!>

<Hey, I’ll take the controls! Hey!>

The two first lieutenants were beginning to argue over control of their craft.

Allison’s plane was continuously making quick right turns to avoid them. The first lieutenants’ plane opened fire, but they missed.

<I’ll take it!> The man in the second seat cried.

<Just a little more! Shit!>

Allison’s plane again evaded them, and swerved left without warning. From that point, the first lieutenants could see black smoke and signs of an explosion in the distance.

<He got Benedict. Perfect. Now we take care of these two.>

<Give me the controls!> The man in the second seat demanded again.

<All right. Take it.>

The man in the front pulled out of the turn and took his hands off the controls. The man in the second seat took hold of the control stick and smoothly turned the nose of their plane towards Allison, who was flying in a straight line. He rapidly gave chase.

<Almost!>

The gap between them was closing. The first lieutenant placed a finger over the trigger.

Allison’s plane turned, flying to the lower left. At that moment, another plane appeared before them.

The intruding plane suddenly pointed its nose in the first lieutenants’ direction and approached rapidly.

“Wha…?”

“Shit!”

The men cried out in unison.

“Take this!”

Benedict opened fire as he charged at the plane.

The machine gun rounds pummeled clear through the frame and the people sitting inside.

Benedict quickly swerved left, flying past his foes’ seaplane.

The plane without a pilot quietly dropped nose-down, and slowly fell into the forest in a trail of smoke. Then, there was an explosive noise, alongside fire and a plume of black smoke.

<Are you all right, Allison?>

<Yes. We didn’t take a single hit. Thank you.>

<Not a problem.>

Benedict’s plane quickly joined back up with Allison’s. The two planes once more resumed their journey south.

<Allison…> Wil said, looking down at the column of smoke. <Are those people… dead?>

<Yeah. They are.> Allison said, sounding no different from usual.

<…I see.>

<I’m not going to clap and cheer about it, Wil. But it’s better than being down there ourselves. It’s better than you dying.>

<I know…>


Wil looked at the plane flying next to theirs. It was a new black fighter craft of the same model as theirs.

<That aside, it all ended so fast.> He said.

Allison also glanced at Benedict’s plane.

<You’re right. He’s really good. I’d hate to say it, but he’s way better than me.>

<Then why couldn’t he shoot us down earlier?> Wil wondered. Allison answered immediately.

<Because he was aiming for our engine.>

<What does that mean?>

<He was only aiming for our engine, so we wouldn’t get hurt. He wanted to force us to make a landing on the Lutoni River. That’s why he didn’t randomly open fire at us. If this were a war, we’d have been shot down almost immediately.>

<…>

<I knew we only had practice ammunition, so I didn’t show him any mercy. It must have hurt.>

<You mean… you knew he didn’t mean to kill us?>

<That’s right. Would you kill someone who sent a love letter to you, even if you were caught in a dogfight?>

<I don’t think that’ll ever happen to me… But what if he wanted to shoot us down?>

<Then my first recorded kill would end up being my first time being killed.>

<…Looks like we owe him a proper word of thanks.>

<Yeah. Later. Look ahead, Wil.>

Wil looked up. A magnificent scene was opening up before them. The great river to their lower left was beginning to split into two even branches.

<The confluence of the East and West Lutoni Rivers. You don’t see a sight like that every day.> Allison said.

“The treasure, huh…” Wil mumbled.


<=>


In front of the Teruto Royal Army Base Hangar.


Two amphibious planes were being warmed up for takeoff.

Sitting in the cockpit was Captain Gratz, wearing his sunglasses. Next to him in the seat was a submachine gun.

Gathered a short distance from the plane were several officers.

“Leaving so soon, Colonel? That’s a terrible shame.” Said the mustached Colonel Elcub to Colonel Nott.

“I have no patience for sarcasm! If you’ll excuse us!” Colonel Nott roared, his voice almost a match for the engines.

“I see. I’d really love to charge you for your stay, as well as the repair costs for our gate.”

“Bah. Send the bills to the capital if it makes you happy.”

“What should we do with the old man’s corpse?” Asked a well-built major.

“We don’t need it.” Colonel Nott spat. “You take care of it! Throw it to the wolves or something.”

He then turned and climbed into the seaplane.

The repair technicians undid the fastening. The seaplane began moving towards the canal.

It entered the canal, taxied for a short distance, then took off. The seaplane disappeared into the distance.

The major mumbled,

“The bastard’s not gonna die a pretty death.”

“Watch your words, Major.” Said Colonel Elcub. He then added, “although I do agree with you.”

The roar of the engines grew dim, then faded altogether.

Colonel Elcub turned to a lieutenant colonel who was standing behind him.

“What of those two aristocrats?”

“I’ve been told that they left before the commotion, saying they were bored to death.” The lieutenant colonel answered.

“Is that so? Finally, some peace and quiet.”

“What were the colonel and his men doing, anyway? Stirring up some trouble to start a little war of their own?”

“Who knows?” Colonel Elcub replied. “War, eh? All we need to do—both here and Cross-River—is forget all that and keep up this quiet staring contest for all of time. There are too many fools on both sides who just don’t understand that.”


<=>


<I see. If those are the instructions, we’ll be better off going by river.> Benedict said, as Wil told him the directions. Allison agreed.

The two fighter crafts were flying low over the shores of the Lutoni River. Two shadows glided over the woods.

<I’ll land first. Follow my lead.>

Benedict slowly turned left. Allison followed him onto the air above the river.

Listing off speeds and angles to Allison, Benedict landed in the middle of the river. The floats on his plane drew white wakes on the peaceful surface.

<Don’t push yourself. Take your time and try as many times as necessary to land properly.>

But before Benedict could finish, Allison turned and lowered her speed and altitude.

<…Keep going. You’re doing well.>

She then landed next to Benedict, slowly closed the throttle, and stopped just ahead of Benedict’s plane.

<Excellent. Full points.>

<Thank you. This model is really easy to work with.>

The two fighter crafts continued upriver side by side, using their propellers. The Lutoni River flowed at a gentle pace.

<It’s almost like being on a boat, but higher.> Wil said, looking around to his left and right. Each side was in perfect symmetry with the other. On the right was a forest in Sou Be-Il, and on the left was a forest in Roxche.

When they reached the confluence of the Lutoni River, they headed left. It was the East Lutoni River, on the side of Roxche. Although the river was half its original width here, it was still hundreds of meters wide.

<Be careful.>

<I know. I’ve got my feet secured to the seatbelts.>

Wil had gotten up from his seat and sat down on the frame. His line of sight grew wider. He could feel the engine vibrating from the back of the plane. The propellers were still spinning, sucking in air.

<Is that it over there?>

<I think so.>

<I agree.>

They saw a tributary flowing in on their right. And beyond the woods, they saw the land rising up without end. They were at the foot of the Central Mountain Range.

<Come back down, Wil. We’re turning right.>

The two planes turned right. Unlike when they were in flight, centrifugal forces forced the planes into a leftward tilt. The supporting floats under the left wings tapped the surface of the water.

The river narrowed considerably, its width now at about fifty meters. Allison informed Benedict and closed the throttle even more. They slowed down.

The edges of the river grew crooked and began to zigzag. The two planes maneuvered towards the center of the river, trying to keep away from the shores.

“Urgh… C’mon…”

Allison grumbled as she carefully controlled her heading with the rudder alone. Cold sweat dribbled down her face.

“Amazing…”

When she looked around, Benedict’s plane was following her easily at an even distance.


“Agh… Damn it…”

Benedict grumbled as he carefully controlled his heading with the rudder alone. Cold sweat dribbled down his face.

“Amazing…”

Allison’s plane was leading easily at an even pace.


Wil observed their surroundings in awe and mumbled with a chuckle,

“It feels like I’m on a field trip.”


Eventually, the river began to run straight again. Its either shores rose up as though encasing it, turning into ten-meter-high cliffs just as Walter described.

The two seaplanes continued down the river. The roars of their engines echoed loudly.

<If someone happened to hear this, I bet they’d be completely confused.> Allison commented.

<Yes. But that’s not possible—we’re in the middle of the buffer zone. And to add, I’ve now illegally entered Roxche.> Benedict replied.

<Don’t worry about that. Congratulations on your illegal crossing, and welcome to Roxche.>

<Thank you. I’m looking forward to finding the treasure that’ll make up for all our misadventure.>


<A two-peaked mountain about four hundred meters high… I think that’s it.>

Allison and Benedict agreed with Wil. The cliffs on either side had given way to gentle slopes, and on their left they could see the mountain.

They found the river that encircled the mountain. It did not branch out into smaller streams, and instead flowed straight into a field at the foot of the mountains.

<Let’s stop here.> Wil said.

<I’ll go first. We’ll stay on course, going as slowly a possible. If I’m successful, follow my lead.> Benedict said, opening the throttle and taking the lead.

Benedict chose a shore on the inner side of a leftward curve in the river. It was a gentle slope where the current was slow. Keeping up an awkward pace, he pointed the nose of his plane at the shore, and shut off the engines a second before making contact with land. The plane stopped when the floats were about halfway on the sand.

Benedict took out a rope ladder from under his seat and climbed it down onto the shore. He grabbed a rope that was stowed under the frame and secured it onto a pair of hooks on the floats, and tied either end of the rope on two trees nearby.

He then guided Allison as her plane came to a stop beside his, and expertly secured it with another rope.

Allison stepped onto the shore, taking off her jacket.

“Thank you, Second Lieutenant. Would you like a tip?”

Benedict was bewildered to see her in a Royal Guard uniform, but managed to shoot back.

“Not at all, Warrant Officer. Where in the world did you get a hold of that uniform?”

“That’s a secret.”

Wil disembarked, carrying their suitcase.

“Let me introduce you, Second Lieutenant Carr. This is Wil—Wilhelm Schultz. He’s an old friend of mine. Wil, this is Second Lieutenant Carr.”

“Carr Benedict. As you can see, I’m from the Sou Be-Il Royal Air Force.”

Benedict offered Wil a handshake. Wil accepted it.

“Th, thank you.” Wil said.

“Hm? What for?”

“For making sure Allison wasn’t shot during that dogfight.”

Benedict was a little surprised.

“Oh… You’re an interesting person. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Wil.”

“The pleasure’s all mine.”

“What happened with your head? Are you injured?” Benedict asked, looking at Wil’s bandages.

“No, I just got into some trouble trying to play hero.”

“I see.”

“As someone who saw you playing hero, I’ve gotta say you looked pretty cool.” Allison said. Wil grinned.

“Let’s be off, then. We’re going on a treasure hunt.”

They looked up at the mountain. Before them was a vast forest.

Wil suggested that, at the very least, they should change their shirts. He and Allison put their Royal Guard jackets and hats into their suitcase, and changed into their own shoes.

Allison tied her own jacket and bag around her waist. Wil put on his bloodstained shirt and slung the suitcase over his back like a knapsack. The gun, however, would not fit inside. He kept it on a holster at his side.

Benedict put on a black jacket, and clipped a survival pack from the seaplane onto his belt.

Allison wondered if he wouldn’t get hot, to which Benedict replied,

“Patience is an officer’s virtue. …Or I should say, a man’s virtue.”


<=>


They walked through the woods. All kinds of trees were growing on the gentle, grassy slope. Although the way was by no means overgrown, it was still difficult to see where they were going.

“Stay close. We’ll have a lot of trouble on our hands if we get separated.” Benedict said, taking the lead and clearing a path through tall grass and branches. He also kept an eye out for caves to his left.

“I get it.” Wil mumbled. Allison asked him what he was talking about.

“He kept his jacket on because he was going to take the lead and clear out a path for us.”

“That makes sense. You’re really good at this, aren’t you, Second Lieutenant?”

“Well, yeah.” Benedict replied. “I did this a lot back in the army.”

“It really was a good idea to bring him along.”

“…You don’t have to put it that way, Allison…”

“You think so? But I’ll make sure the three of us split the treasure fairly once we find it.”

“No, I mean…”

Benedict chuckled bitterly as he made a way through the foliage.

Eventually, they spotted a cavern. It was overgrown on top, but the opening was large enough for a person to enter without crouching.

They scanned the interior with a flashlight. The dank cavern continued, but they spotted no rifle.

“Not here.”

“Let’s make a note of this place and search for the next cavern.”


They discovered several more similar caverns along the way. Some were too small to enter, and others suddenly dropped off into a deeper level. They did not find a rifle anywhere.

“It might have fallen, or it might have been buried. It has been thirty years since then.”

“Maybe.”

They took a short rest for Wil’s sake and quickly wolfed down some rations. Then, they set off once more. The sun began to set between the trees.

“This is the tenth one.” Allison said, pushing aside the foliage and peering inside with a flashlight.

“Hey, guys… I don’t think we’re going to have to look for cavern #11.”

Benedict and Wil looked inside.

The cavern opening was large enough to enter upright. The light from their flashlights were focused on an old rifle. The metal was rusted red with age, and the wood was on the verge of rotting completely. But the rifle was still firmly stuck in the floor of the cavern.


Just as Walter had told them, when they stepped inside they found themselves in a large cavern. It was about the size of a classroom, and was located partly underground. Underfoot was damp stone, and stalactites were hanging from the ceiling. The light from the entrance dimly illuminated the interior.

“This must be it.”

Allison’s voice echoed loudly against the walls of the cavern.

“This must be a limestone cave. There must be a lot of these in the area.”

“Okay. Where to next?”

“Wil.”

“The twelfth hole on the right.”

Benedict pointed his flashlight at the right side of the cavern. The three began to walk, counting the openings.

“Twelve…”

“Here.”

“This must be it.”

The three flashlights stopped over one large opening. It was large enough to pass though upright, and the path led down in a gentle slope.

Benedict hung his handkerchief in front of the opening.

“I’m putting this here just in case. Now we take twenty steps, correct? Would you mind if I took the lead?”

“Not at all. Go ahead.”

“It’s an honor.”

Before Benedict could finish his sentence, Allison added,

“You’re the tallest one here. Please tell us if you hit your head on something along the way.”

“…”

Wil was astonished. Benedict chuckled wryly.

“Aren’t you nervous at all, Allison?”

“In my own way, yes.” Allison replied.


“Nineteen… twenty… there.”

Benedict took several more steps forward, then moved aside and led his companions into the large area.

“Wow. This is amazing.”

“It’s just like the old man said…”

The path quickly gave way to a wide space with high ceilings. The floor was nearly level, and it was impossible to see where the cavern ended even with the flashlights.

The beams of light moved from one place to another in the pitch-black darkness.

“This must be it. Look over there.” Wil said. His flashlight was pointing at a rifle stuck in the ground about twenty meters away.

“Wait, Allison.” Benedict said as Allison moved. He took out a mirror from his bag and propped it up near the path from which they had come.

“Once we go all the way inside, we won’t know how to get back out.”

“Oh. Thank you. Can we go in now?”

“Don’t rush.”

Keeping their flashlights trained on the damp ground, the three carefully approached the rifle.

“I can’t be sure, but this gun doesn’t look Bezelese.” Benedict said. Allison spoke up.

“The treasure must be here somewhere. Congratulations, everyone.”

“But…” Wil trailed off.

“It might be a lot of work to try and search this entire cavern.” Benedict said, surveying their surroundings.

“But we have to. We’re going to comb every inch of this place.”

“It’ll be trouble if we get separated in here.” Wil said. Benedict agreed.

“That’s right. And we can’t go too far from the entrance. Both of you, turn off your flashlights for a second.”

The three turned out their lights, one by one. The cavern was filled with darkness. They could see nothing, even with their eyes wide open.

“See? I can’t even tell where the two of you are from here. If we run out of batteries while we’re inside, we won’t make it out alive.”

Benedict turned on his flashlight once more and pointed it at the mirror by the entrance.

“We’ll need a lot of rope, some stronger lights, and some more people.”

“I wish he’d have at least left us a clue.” Allison pouted.

“…”

Wil brought his light to the rifle again. The wooden stock was not as badly decayed as the one outside.

“Here!”

“What?”

Wil crouched by the rifle and leaned in close to the stock.

“This must be a hint. I see letters carved into the wood. It’s in both Roxchean and Bezelese.”

“Read it.”

“Read it.”

Wil nodded and read out the message.

“‘A beautiful sight’.”


Several seconds passed by in silence.

“What?”

“Is that all?”

Allison and Benedict asked.

“…That’s all. It’s the same thing in both languages. ‘A beautiful sight’.”

Wil examined the flip side of the stock.

“Nothing. That’s it.”

“Seriously… that old man…” Allison grumbled.

“A beautiful sight…?”

Wil stood.

“A beautiful sight…”

Mumbling quietly to himself, he looked up, holding up the rifle in his hand.

Wil looked up at the rocky walls.

“There… Both of you. Look up at the wall behind us.”

Allison and Benedict pointed their flashlights at the walls in unison.

Three lights illuminated the smooth stone walls. There they saw pictures. Pictures on the grey surfaces.

Humans drawn in black, leading along a brown bull. Next to them was a small, four-legged creature, likely a dog or a monkey.

“Murals…” Benedict said, following the images with his flashlight.

There were other pictures on the walls. People surrounding a red fire. Men carrying what looked to be bows. Although the people’s faces were not drawn in, everything else was surprisingly realistic. The images were even shaded.

“These murals… they’re from a time when written script didn’t exist.” Wil said.

“Is this what we were looking for? That treasure the old man was so excited to find?” Allison wondered. There was a moment of silence.

“I don’t think so.” Wil said tentatively.

“I agree.” Benedict said.

“Why?” Allison asked.

“This definitely is a rare find. It’s a valuable academic resource. But murals like this have been found in several other places.” Benedict replied.

“Is that true, Wil?”

“Yeah… There’s a place called Ban’na Valley in the Principality of Touls on the southeastern tip of Roxche. They found murals like this there. The geology is similar—lots of limestone caverns. They found tools and bones of ancient people. The people who lived there are called the Ban’na people. And I heard about this on the news, but they found archeological evidence just like that in Sou Be-Il, near the capital. And there are a few other places, too. Although none of the discoveries were near the Lutoni River.”

“Huh. So there were a lot of them, huh. Then even if we report this—”

“It won’t be earth-shattering news by any stretch of the imagination.” Benedict said firmly. “But there will be conflict.”

“What?” Allison gasped. Wil chimed in.

“I agree. I think this might cause strife between Roxche and Sou Be-Il. Let’s say both sides dispatch archaeologists to the cavern. The Roxcheans will just say, ‘these murals were drawn by the Ban’na people. This is evidence that their civilization expanded to this area, and even to the West’.”

“I think so too. The scholars from the Royal Academy of Science will claim that these are similar to the murals they found in Sfrestus, and claim this as evidence that humanity originated in the West, and that the Roxchean people and their culture were an offshoot of ours.”

“Oh. That argument again. This is stupid.” Allison groaned.

Wil surveyed the mural, moving his flashlight.

A scene of many people lined up to listen to one person’s speech. A person sleeping in the midst of splotches of particularly vibrant colors. It was probably a funeral scene.

“Still, this is fascinating. I’m happy I got a chance to see this, if nothing else.” Wil said.

Allison sounded a little angry.

“But Wil. The old man said that the treasure could bring peace between Roxche and Sou Be-Il. If this is the treasure he was talking about… he was really blowing things out of proportion.”

“Maybe. But this is still something very important.”

“…”

“Wil. Can you tell me when the murals in Roxche were found?” Benedict asked.

“Twenty-four years ago.”

“Of course… That’s about the same time as the ones on our side, if I remember correctly. In that case, it’s understandable.” Benedict said, crestfallen.

“You’re right. That’s probably what happened.” Wil agreed. Allison demanded that she be told what they were talking about.

“The old man found this mural during the Great War. In other words, over thirty years ago. At the time, no one knew that ancient people left such intricate drawings on the walls that still survived, almost completely intact.” Wil explained.

“Oh. I get it.”

“It’s not surprising that he was ecstatic to see something like this. I’m sure I would have reacted the same way if I were in his shoes. And if he never paid attention to the news afterwards and continued to remind himself that he found something great, he might have ended up inflating the value of these murals in his head.”

“Right… you’re right. You’re probably right.”

Allison turned off her flashlight.

Wil turned his flashlight towards her hand.

“Can I borrow that?”

“Why?”

“I just want to take a closer look at the murals. These people lived here over ten thousand years ago and left such amazing works of art. And the colors haven’t been distorted or changed at all, just like frescoes. This is a really valuable sight. Even if, in the worst-case scenario, the old man was mistaken, I still think this is a treasure in and of itself.”

“A treasure in and of itself, huh. …Here.”

Wil examined the murals, holding Allison’s flashlight in his left hand. There was a person riding a horse. People putting on some sort of clothing. A woman who looked to be pregnant. A pair of animals—mother and child—most likely sheep.

“But if you’re right… this is a pretty big disappointment.” Allison said.

“Agreed. It’s… a little disheartening.”

Benedict also turned out his light.

Wil was still taking in the murals, turning and shifting the flashlights. There were images just above the entrance as well. People lined up in orderly rows, and men doing something at the front of the people.

When Wil shifted his flashlight once more, he caught sight of something.


<=>


“…”

At first, he was not sure if he had found it. Wil fell into thought.

“Oh…”

Once he understood what he had seen, he exclaimed softly.

“Oh… ah… ah… it’s… ah…”

Then, he found himself unable to parse together coherent words altogether. He froze with his eyes as wide as dinner plates. His hands and feet would not move.

“…”

He desperately tried to move his mouth, at least. But he could not bring himself to do much more than gape like a fish begging for food.

Wil managed to shut his eyes. He then counted to five in his head, opened his eyes again, and looked upon the discovery once more.

“Ah…”

It was right there.

“The treasure…” Wil gasped.


“Whoa.”

“Ow.”

Benedict and Allison suddenly found light shining directly into their eyes. They covered their faces. Wil was pointing his flashlight at the two of them.

“Cut that out, Wil.” Allison said. The light slid down to her shoulder. Allison and Benedict were standing side-by-side. From Wil’s perspective, Allison was on the left, and Benedict was on the right. Allison’s left shoulder and Benedict’s right shoulder came into view at once. As did the Spear of Seron and the Curved Dagger on their arms.

Wil said nothing. He would not even move.

“What’s wrong, Wil?” Asked Allison.

Benedict turned on his own flashlight and pointed it at Wil.

In the light, they could see that he was smiling.

Allison and Benedict exchanged glances. They were both confused.

“What’s wrong?” Allison repeated.

“It’s beautiful… so beautiful.” Wil said, awestruck.

“What?”

“I saw something beautiful. I really did.”

“I, is your head all right?” Allison asked. Although she was obviously joking, Wil nodded.

“Yeah. Although I almost thought it wasn’t. I held on. I don’t think I’m going to react quite as badly much as the old man did, though.”

“Say, Wil?”

Allison and Benedict exchanged glances again.

“Both of you. Take a deep breath before you look.”

“Wil?”

Without another word, Wil moved his flashlight away from Allison and Benedict.

He then turned, illuminating the treasure.

They could see the mural on the wall.

Several people standing in a row, and men doing something just above them.

Perhaps they were taking part in some sort of a ritual. The men were dressed in different colors and reaching out their hands towards something in the center.

It was an intricate beacon. It was made of wood, and was about the height of a person. In the middle of the structure was a black rod. Its pointed end was lodged in the ground, the tip shaped like an arrowhead to secure it in the ground.

At the top of the rod was a crescent-shaped object, its either ends pointed upwards. In the middle of the gentle arc of the crescent, and at either of its tips, were drawn red zigzag patterns. Warm colors were drawn around it. The zigzags must have symbolized fire.

“It’s a picture of a beacon? So what?” Allison asked.

“There’s more to the mural.” Wil replied, moving the light upwards.

The next image was there. Two men stood side-by-side, each holding something in their hands.

On the right stood a man holding the rod of the beacon in his right hand. The lower tip was in the shape of an arrowhead, and the part near the top which crossed the crescent in the previous picture was a little thicker than everything below. The man was holding the beacon by this part. At the very top of the rod was a flame.

On the right stood a man holding the crescent in his left hand. The fire had gone out from one of the sides, which was the part by which the man was holding the crescent. On the other end of the crescent, the flame continued to burn.

“Does this mean that they shared the beacon and the fire with one another?” Allison asked.

“Yeah.” Wil replied. At that moment,

“Ah! …AAAAAAAHHHHH!” Benedict yelled without warning. Allison flinched at the sudden sound.

“What’s wrong? Hey? Wil, what’s going on here?”

Wil once more pointed his flashlight at the two soldiers’ shoulders.

Allison looked down at the two emblems in the light.

“What…?

She then looked back up at the mural.

“Hey… Are those… the emblems on our uniforms?”

Wil nodded.

“That’s it, Allison. This is the origin of both. Roxche’s Spear of Seron and Sou Be-Il’s Curved Dagger. These designs have been around since ancient times.”

“And that’s… the treasure?”

Wil nodded firmly.

“This mural can clear up the dispute between the two sides. We can clarify which side humanity originated from. The old man was right.”

Benedict chimed in excitedly.

“He certainly was! This is an incredible discovery, Allison! I don’t believe this! Incredible!”

Allison looked up at the mural again and mumbled to herself.

“It’s a little—I mean, a lot different from what I imaged a treasure would be.”

She then smiled and turned to Wil.

“So, was it worth it?”

Wil smiled back and nodded profusely.

“Yeah. It really was, Allison. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. As long as you’re happy, I am too.”

Allison looked up at the treasure.

“It’s really nothing like what I imagined, but…”

She smiled, her eyes narrowing.

“Well, I guess this is a treasure in and of itself.”


Wil slowly approached Allison and Benedict, and returned their flashlights. This time, the three looked up at the murals with their own lights.

For some time, they examined the drawings without saying a word.

Benedict eventually broke the silence.

“Heh… I remember what they taught me in school. That the curved dagger was a dangerous weapon made by proud warriors of the past. That the blade was meant to slit the throats of the loathsome enemies in the East.”

Wil smiled.

“I was always taught that the Spear of Seron was made to pierce the barbarians of the land of dusk.”

Allison chuckled.

“That was a total lie, wasn’t it? They weren’t even weapons in the first place.”

“That’s right. Today, history changes. It’s a wonderful day.” Benedict said.”

“The most important thing isn’t ‘how to convey the truth’, but ‘how we convey only certain facts for the most advantageous conclusion’…” Wil mumbled.

“But why didn’t that old man announce this discovery when he first stumbled on these murals?” Benedict wondered, “if he did, he would have gone down in history. At this point, I don’t think any amount of thanks will be enough.”

“You probably know his name already, Second Lieutenant.” Wil said.

“Hm?”

“There’s something we’ve been hiding about him until now.”

Wil looked at Allison. She nodded.

“We’re sorry for keeping this secret from you. But I’m sure you’ll understand once we explain. The old man’s name was Walter McMillan. He was a lieutenant colonel during the Great War, and a member of the Roxchean Army’s special forces.”

“…”

Benedict thought for a moment, then spoke up.

“Aha! I’ve heard the name before. There’s no one in the Sou Be-Il military who doesn’t know his name. How could I forget? Especially since I was an infantryman. They wouldn’t stop lecturing us about the dangers and inhumanity of poison gas… But you mean… Ah! That’s when he found—”

“Yes. He was hiding in this cavern just before the poison gas attack, when he happened to come across these murals. Of all the times, it had to be just before he launched an attack that would kill thousands of people. Even though this discovery could have ended the war there and then. I’m sure he must have been torn apart.”

Benedict closed his eyes.

“…Of course. I understand. And it was likely that neither side would accept evidence like this in the middle of, or just after a war. And if a majority of the people felt that way… then these murals might have ended up being destroyed. And then nothing would ever have been fixed. This treasure would have been forever.”

“Yeah.”

“Is it okay to announce it now?” Allison wondered.

“I think it will be, now.”

Because it’s now.”

Benedict and Wil replied.

They pointed their lights to the murals again. They stared in silence once more.

“It looks better and better the more I look at it. I have to thank Mr. McMillan.” Allison said.

“Hey, sorry… I need to get some air.” Wil said suddenly, and walked off towards the mirror alone.

“Is something wrong?” Allison wondered. “Anyway, it looks like all our hard work finally paid off.

“It did. This is—really, it’s incredible.” Benedict nodded.

He then turned, taking a deep breath. Then he exhaled.

“Allison.”

“Yes?”

“Marry me.”

“What?”

Allison looked at him. He was looking at her intently.

“Um… what did you just say?”

“I asked you to marry me. In other words, this is a proposal.”

“Uh… what…? What does…? Um…”

“I think you’re incredibly charming, Allison. I know you shot me down once before, but we ended up meeting again, discovering a world-changing treasure in the process. I think ours was a serendipitous reunion.”

“Uh… I… guess… it might be…? Um…”

“You and I are soldiers from the East and West. In other words, we were technically at each other’s throats. But if we announce this discovery and our marriage to the world together… there would be nothing more romantic, wouldn’t you agree? I’m sure countless people will give us their blessings. I’m not joking around with you. I’m being completely serious. I’m asking you now because I think this might be the best time.”

Allison’s arm swung through the air. Her light moved in all directions, but eventually stopped at the ground. Allison’s eyes, however, were still wandering.

“Uh… well… you see…”

“Allison. Staff Sergeant Allison Whittington. Will you marry me?”

“Uhh… Oh, right. Maybe we should get a second opinion…”

Allison waved her flashlight. There was no one else in the cavern.

“Maybe Wil stepped out to give us some privacy.” Benedict said, hooking his flashlight onto his belt.

“Allison.”

“Whoa!”

In the dim light, Benedict placed his hands on Allison’s shoulders. He then stated solemnly,

“In Sou Be-Il, it’s said that marriages between pilots are blessed.”

“Uh, well… I..”

Benedict gently bent forward. His face drew near to Allison’s.

“May the blessings of the god of love be with us for all eternity—”

“Uh… wait. Wha…?”

As Allison stammered in confusion, Benedict leaned in close.


“…Wil…”

One name escaped Allison’s lips. Benedict froze for a moment.

He frowned slightly and mumbled,

“…Sorry. But the first to shoot takes the kill.”

He slowly brought his lips to hers.


A slight distance away, Wilhelm Schultz froze as he watched two figures in the dim light. The echo in the caverns was loud enough that he could hear every detail of their conversation, and he could understand exactly what they were talking about.

“…”

Wil slowly reached for his holster.

“…”

He opened the cover slowly, so as to not make a sound, and pulled out the gun—the gun Ladia gave him as a good-luck charm—with his right hand. It was already loaded.

“I can’t let this happen…”

The weight of the gun heavy in his hand, Wil mumbled in silence as though in prayer.

“I can’t let this happen now…”

Wil glared at the figures.

“This is murder…”

Listening to the conversation, Wil slowly raised the hammer.

There was a click, but the figures did not notice. Wil then disarmed the safety.

“But…”

Placing his left hand over his right, Wil slowly raised his gun. He then got into shooting position, as he had done so many times in the past in practice and at the competition.

“I don’t know which is the right answer. I just don’t know. But…”

Of the two figures, he took aim at the taller silhouette. The barrel of his gun was pointed squarely at the man’s head, not trembling in the least.

Wil’s index finger reached the trigger.

“I…”

He opened fire.


An ear-shattering noise rang throughout the cavern.

“Whoa!”

Allison was jolted back to her sense by the noise.

“Huh?”

When she looked up, she saw Benedict’s profiled face.

“What…?”

“What was that noise?” Benedict wondered, his hands still on Allison’s shoulders.

“That… That was gunfire!”

Benedict looked up at the direction of the sound.

“From the entrance…”

“Oh no! Wil!”

At that moment, a second gunshot rang out through the cavern. It was a lighter sound than the first one.

“Damn it!”

“What’s going on?”

“He must have opened fire.” Benedict said, pointing his flashlight at his holster and checking for his gun.

“Then… Wil!”

Allison rushed over to the entrance. Benedict caught up quickly. He pulled a revolver from his holster and ran ahed of her.

“Turn out your light! I’ll take the lead!”

They turned out their lights and groped through the darkness. Along the way, they heard three more shots. They were all on the lighter side.

They could see faint light coming from the cavern entrance. There was another gunshot. And once they were just a few steps from the main cavern—

“Freeze!”

They heard Wil’s voice.

“Wil!”

Allison ran from Benedict’s side and turned on her flashlight.

The light of dusk was filtering into the main cavern. Wil was sitting behind a boulder with his knees in front of him, taking aim with both hands.

“Wil! Are you okay?”

“Yeah! But that’s not the problem right now!”

Wil’s aim was locked on a rotund man in uniform, who was standing at the entryway. The man was holding a smoking revolver.

“Colonel Nott…” Benedict growled. There was a man lying still at the colonel’s feet. Next to him on the ground was a submachine gun equipped with a flashlight.

“Captain Gratz… you came after us…”

“Damn you, Second Lieutenant Carr!” Colonel Nott roared, glaring at Benedict.

“Don’t move! I know you’re out of ammunition!” Wil threatened.

“Shit!”

Colonel Nott threw away his revolver. Once the sound of his gun rolling on the ground came to a stop, everything went silent.

“Wil… you’re not hurt, are you? You’re okay, right?”

Allison slowly approached Wil, who kept his sights trained on the colonel. Wil got up. He was covered with dirt.

“I’m fine. I just bumped into a lot of things when I fell.”

“Thank goodness…”

“You can put your gun down now, Wil.” Benedict said. He picked up the submachine gun and slung it over his shoulder. Then he looked at the colonel.

Wil armed the safety on his gun and lowered his hand. He and Allison walked over to Benedict.

“Oh… the fake official…” Allison said, looking down at the fallen man. He was dead, his head covered in blood.

“I shot him. I… I saw them coming inside… and I heard them talking… The fat man over there told the fake official to kill us on sight. So… I did it. I shot him. I… killed him.” Wil whispered, nearly in tears. He looked directly at Allison.

“Allison. I don’t know what the answer is.”

“Oh, Wil…”

Allison reached out her hand towards his back.

“I’m covered in mud, Allison.”

“It’s okay.”

She gently stroked his back.


“Damn you!” Spat Colonel Nott.

“I’ve also shot down two or so crafts. To defend our own lives and the treasure.” Benedict said. Nott scowled.

“So you’ve found it! And now you’re planning to keep it for yourself!”

“Yes and no. That treasure is not something anyone can claim for themselves.” Benedict said, shaking his head.

“Enough of your nonsense, Second Lieutenant Carr! This is an order! Shoot those Roxchean spies this instant! They are criminals!”

“…”

Benedict looked at the colonel.

Allison reached for Wil’s gun.

“I refuse, sir.” Benedict replied.

Wil made a point of holstering his gun.

“What is the meaning of this this, Second Lieutenant?! Fine! …Shoot one, and take the other back to do what you wish with them!”

Benedict’s eyes widened in surprise.

“I see, Colonel. Shoot one, eh?”

“Glad to see you’re finally on board.” The colonel grinned.

“Yes. This might sound strange to you, sir, but you’ve just made me feel a lot better.” Benedict said, drawing his handgun.

“That’s right, Second Lieutenant Carr. Shoot!”

“Yes, sir.”

Benedict pulled the trigger.

With the crisp sound of gunfire, a hole was blown through Colonel Nott’s chest.

“Wha…”

Colonel Nott fell limply to the ground, his mouth wide open. His uniform grew damp in the red mist.

“Apologies, Colonel.”

Benedict holstered his gun and looked at Allison and Wil.

“I’m also an accomplice now. I will do anything to protect the treasure.”

“Thank you, Second Lieutenant Carr. And about what you said before… I’m sorry.” Allison said, her arm still on Wil’s back.

“…”

“Never mind, then… It’s all right.” Benedict said, closing his eyes and shaking his head.

He then looked back at Allison and Wil.

“Now, what to do with you two? We’re going to have to announce this to both sides at once. Should I send up an emergency flare from the planes? We’ll get help immediately if we do.”

“That sounds like a plan.” Allison nodded.

“Second Lieutenant Carr…” Wil said. “You just said that you’d do anything to protect the treasure, right? Then… I have a favor I want to ask you.”

Benedict nodded.

“That’s right. I did. And I also owe you a debt. What do you need me to do?”


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Chapter 8.


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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for another great chapter! I still don't understand how you are able to work this quickly. Very excited for the double update already!

    ReplyDelete