I had way too much fun working out the logistics behind a certain character's speech patterns. It's not perfect, but I'm hoping to improve as I go through more of the dialogue. Enjoy!
Chapter 2: Kidnapping
Afterwards, the bus drove all the way down a road so steep and winding that a man could probably fall and die before feeling pain. Once they entered the hollow, which looked very much like the base of a cauldron, a coniferous forest rose up around them and the road became a gentle downward slope.
Before their eyes unfolded the city of Mushke and its blue roofs. Further ahead they could see the snow-white Lake Ras. It was too far to make out anything across it, save for the mountains in the hazy distance.
There were black dots scattered on Lake Ras. Noticing this, Wil’s friend called him over to the other side of the bus. But they passed by so quickly that the dots disappeared from sight.
“Is that a gathering of some kind? Are those ice fishing tents?”
“They’re not the right size. Ah well.”
The bus pressed onward.
A little before they entered the city, the single road that had not branched since the pass suddenly forked to the right. The branch on the right was a straight road paved in a gentle incline. On a little road sign buried in snow were the words [To Slankalans Viewpoint].
The bus entered Mushke.
The road was still covered in a thin layer of snow. It was hard and slippery. The buildings in Mushke were built in a style rather different from those in the Roxche lowlands. They were two-story stone buildings, sturdy like castle walls. The round windows opened both ways, and had such thick frames that they had little room for glass. The blue-roofed houses were clustered together with very little room between the buildings. The roofs were all built in the same angle towards the alleyways so that snow would pile up only in one direction.
Next to the lakeside, at about the center of the city, was a large steeple. Atop the stone structure was a gas lamp. Under the lamp was a large clock.
The roads were very wide, with meter-long trenches on either side. Perhaps they were built that way to make it easier to clear the snow.
The bus lazily drove through the city. The main street was lined with little shops on either side. There were almost no other cars in the road, and very few people were out and about. Little horse-drawn carriages came and went at an unhurried pace.
“Whoa. What year is this, anyway?” Wil’s friend wondered, his face nearly touching the window. Wil advised him that it might be rude to act so curious.
There were very few completely straight sections of the road. They were intentionally set in zigzagging formations, making it difficult to get a good look at the city. At every fork the road intersected in strange directions. Each time, the driver had to stop the bus and look at a map. Then, he had to open his window and check to make sure there were no pedestrians or carriages in his way before starting the bus again.
“They made the city difficult to navigate for security purposes. But apparently they’ve never had enemies get this far.”
“Right. This is really confusing.”
The bus eventually escaped the labyrinthine streets and emerged into the lakeshore area. On the left side of the lone road heading south were tall, recently-built structures. Behind them at an angle were yet more forests. On the right side of the street was a narrow tree-lined footpath, a lakeshore dotted with boats tied to piers, and an endless field of ice.
The bus stopped at the front doors of one of the large buildings. It was a magnificent structure that stood at seven stories high—the most expensive hotel in the area, in the city that teemed with tourists during the summer.
The students disembarked with sighs of relief. The bellboy opened the back door of the bus and began to gingerly carry away the luggage.
Wil’s friend sounded quite satisfied with the hotel. Wil stepped off the bus after him, and was floored by the luxury.
His friend tapped on his shoulder.
“C’mon, Wil. Don’t look too uncomfortable. Who knows? Staying at a fancy place like this might help, one of these days. And y’know, enjoying the trip’s the least you could do for the person who paid for it.”
Wil smiled and nodded, and thanked his friend for being so considerate. His friend chuckled awkwardly.
“Well, I thought the apricots were a little cheap to pay you back with.”
They stepped inside.
A man was watching everything from a car in the distance through a pair of binoculars. He picked up a wireless communicator.
“This is Kernel. Blockhead, respond. The prince has entered the lodgings. I repeat. The target has entered the lodgings”
He soon heard an answer.
[This is Blockhead. Understood, Kernel. Will report to the princess. Now entering Phase 2.]
The moment the man put down the wireless, a woman spoke up from the back seat.
“That aside, we really have a lot of time on our hands, huh?”
“Don’t remind me.” The man replied.
* * *
The students and teachers from Lowe Sneum Memorial Secondary School first went into their rooms to unpack. They were beautifully-furnished twin rooms with individual bathrooms and toilets. Afterwards, everyone gathered at the lobby for lunch. The students had left their coats in their rooms, and were now wearing school sweaters. Most looked very tired.
They entered the large restaurant on the first floor and were led to their seats. Because it was the off-season, there were no other guests.
Expensive dishes were lined up before them on the long table one by one. The main dish was small fish from the lake, fried whole. Served next to it on the same plate were some boiled vegetables. There was also a large metal bowl filled with salad they could refill endlessly, aromatic, fresh-baked bread, an abundance of dairy products, a bowl full of fruits in spite of the season, a bottle of ice water with lemon juice, milk, a pot of tea, and honey.
With a quick prayer before their meal, Wil and his friend—who had purposely eaten small breakfasts—dug in. They chowed down with no end in sight.
“This is great! It’s amazing.”
“It’s really delicious. These little fish, especially. I’ve never eaten anything like this before.”
“Try the cheese and the butter, Wil.”
“Yeah. Are these fresh, I wonder?”
The other students slowly nibbled at their food and watched so very resentfully.
After lunch, the teacher discussed several points of note.
Because of the difficult trip to Iks, the group tour of Mushke was canceled. Students had free rein to do as they pleased until dinnertime. They were free to look around the city, but students had to be accompanied by at least one other person while outside the hotel. They were to tell a teacher who from what room was leaving, and leave their keys at the front desk. They were to call the hotel in case of an emergency. And last of all, they were to conduct themselves as secondary school students representing the future of Raputoa, refraining from any actions that might embarrass their homeland or cause trouble for the people of Iks.
Most students elected to return to their rooms for some rest.
“I can’t believe you two are completely fine… Well, I suppose I won’t have to worry about you, if Schultz is going along. You may leave the hotel.”
“What is that supposed to mean, sir?”
Wil and his friend were the only ones who went outside. They put on their coats, hats and jackets. They packed their guidebooks and goggles(for preventing snow-blindness) in their little bags and went outside to walk around the city.
“I can’t see those tents from here.” Wil’s friend commented, looking out towards the north from Lake Ras.
It was so bright that they were both wearing their goggles. In the distance they could make out the mountains, but the opposite side of the lake could not be seen. Ahead of them was nothing but a flat, white world.
“Say, Wil. What do you think we should call this? A water horizon or a land horizon?”
Wil tilted his head.
Pulling down their goggles around their necks, they began to walk back into the downtown area, through which the bus had driven. There was a large sign at the entrance—a detailed map of the maze-like streets. There were the southern and northern entrances to the city. Then there was the slope that led to the pier and the lake.
Wil stared carefully at the map. His friend waited patiently.
A moment later, Wil turned.
“I think we’ll be all right.”
“If you say so.”
They entered the downtown area. Wil looked around everywhere like a lost child, enjoying the walk through the city.
People in Mushke tended to have black hair. The men dressed similarly to men on the lowlands, but the women were wearing clothes of an interesting design. They wore long one-piece dresses in the pattern of quilted mosaics. On their feet they wore boots that were tied at the ankles to prevent snow from entering. They also wore shawls over their heads.
Their clothes, which were made up of many pieces of cloth, descended from traditional values where cloth was considered very precious. Wil explained that some dresses were made in the traditional way, quilted together from scraps of cloth, while others were only designed to resemble the traditional style.
It was just when they had turned a corner.
Wil’s friend wondered out loud, pointing at a poster on the wall. The same poster had been pasted at regular intervals starting from a certain point. It was impossible not to notice them.
They walked up to the poster and carefully examined it.
On it was a photograph of a man. The photograph was clearly expensive, as it was in full color. The man was in his forties, with his black hair slicked back. He wore a grey suit, and was sitting in a chair with one leg crossed over the other with his hands over his lap. He was smiling—with an optimistic evaluation, he looked rather elegant. Less optimistically, he looked irritating. Underneath were written the words:
“What’s this, now? ‘I, Owen Nichto, promise to transform our homeland of Ikstova into a treasure of the Confederation and a world leader in tourism. Separation from Roxche is like smashing a finely-crafted piece of clockwork’.”
Wil’s friend went up to the poster and read the text out loud.
“So it’s a political ad, huh. Man, I thought it was a poster for a film.” He said, clearly uninterested.
There was a small wooden box under the poster with the words ‘feel free to take’, containing a large pile of notebook-sized flyers. They were of the same design as the large poster. Under the photograph was the phone number and address of the campaign office, as well as a stamp with additional text: ‘Appearing in the debate and rally at the Kunst Main Street Balconies on the 20th and the 21st! Listen to the live radio broadcast’.
Wil’s friend picked up a flyer. He looked at the photograph, printed very clearly and brightly on the piece of paper.
“This ring looks really pricey. And look at these ridiculous gold cufflinks. I see a lot of rich old upstarts dressed up fancy like this back in Raputoa and the lowlands, too. At parties and stuff...”
Wil’s friend trailed off. Ten seconds later, he handed the flyer to Wil.
“Bingo. Check this out, Wil. His bio.”
Written on the flyer was Owen Nichto's stunning biography.
Born in Kunst in 3242 to a shopkeeper’s family. Graduated at the top of the class from a local secondary school. Graduated at the top of the class from Confederation Capital University with a degree in economics. Started a successful lumber export business in Kunst. Elected as a Member of Parliament in 3269. Retired in 3279 after two terms. Selected as a management consultant to the Terreur foundation.
“Terreur… That Terreur, huh.” Wil mumbled. His friend chimed in.
“Yeah. The nouveau riche who hit it big during the Great War.”
“‘Returned to Iks, re-relected in 3286. Currently 45 years old’.” Wil read out the last line of the biography.
“I don’t get what goes through businessmen’s heads.” Wil’s friend sighed, and turned over the flyer. It was blank.
“The paper’s pretty nice. Maybe we should take ‘em to use to take notes?”
“That’s kind of—”
“Right. And who wants to look at a cheesy picture like that, anyway?”
Wil’s friend tossed the flyer back into the box.
They began to walk through the streets again. As they cautiously stepped away from the ditches by the roadside, a car drove up from behind and overtook them.
“Hey. It’s been a while since we’ve seen any cars around here.” Wil’s friend said.
At that moment, the car changed lanes and stopped at the roadside, next to a store. It was a small four-wheel drive vehicle. The car was painted a dark green, and was just big enough to hold four passengers. It was the sort of car widely used in the Roxche military and police force.
Three people disembarked. Two men in their thirties and a woman in her twenties. They were all wearing long, black coats, and had sunglasses over their eyes.
“They look pretty shady. Wonder if they’re muggers.” Wil’s friend whispered. The trio in black—did not head into the store.
They walked straight up to Wil and his friend.
“D, did I do something—” His friend began. However, the people stopped in front of Wil and looked him in the eye.
One of the men was the first to speak.
“You would be Mr. Schultz, correct? From the secondary school in Raputoa?”
Wil’s friend looked at him curiously. Wil glanced down at his name tag, with the name ‘Schultz’ printed on it in large letters. He then glanced at the crest on his left arm.
“As you can see, yes.”
The three people exchanged glances and nodded. Without warning, the two men walked past Wil.
One of the men said.
“What? Wh, whoa!”
As if on cue, the men suddenly lifted Wil into the air by the back and legs. They then began walking in the opposite direction from the car.
“Huh? W, wait a second!”
The woman walking next to the men looked up at Wil, who was hoisted in midair.
“Don’t worry, Wilhelm. We have no intention of harming you.”
“H, how did you know my name?” Wil asked, turning to the woman.
“Don’t worry. We’re not suspicious people.” One of the men said.
“That’s a little difficult to believe.” Wil replied.
The four people strode forward.
“Some strange friends you’ve got here, Wil. And this isn’t a mugging—it’s a kidnapping. It looks like my deductive skills have a long way to go.”
Wil’s friend criticized himself and followed the group without a care.
All of a sudden, a car drove up in front of them. It was only slightly bigger than the small cars used for racing, and was much smaller than the four-wheel drive vehicle from earlier. It was a two-seater convertible with the roof covered. This vehicle was usually reserved for officers transporting personnel or for communications purposes.
The car came screeching to a stop in front of the group, its chained tires digging into the snow. The woman opened the roof. The men gently tossed Wil into the passenger seat.
The moment Wil landed, one of the people in black quickly hooked the roof zipper.
“Hold on! What’s—”
The roof was zipped fully shut. At that moment,
Wil heard a familiar voice from behind him. He quickly turned and found himself face-to-face with a blond, blue-eyed girl.
The girl reached forward and gently pushed back his hat and bangs. There was a faint scar on Wil’s left temple.
Lowering her hand, the girl smiled and said in a cheerful voice:
“It’s been a long time, Wil. How are you?”
“The one and only.”
The girl—Allison Whittington—nodded with a grin.
“What, were you expecting someone else?”
She said, her smile refusing to leave her face.
“It looks like you’re doing just fine. For your information, I’ve been well enough that you didn’t have to worry about me.”
Allison was wearing the Roxche Air Force uniform. Long boots with excellent grip, calf-high winter tights that prevented snow from spilling inside, and thick, dark grey overalls that doubled as a flight suit, with a green shirt peeking out from under the collar. She was wearing a warm brown coat that cut off just above the knees. It had a built-in belt and a hood. Her long blond hair was tied into a ponytail and tucked into her coat. On her lap was a small cotton bag.
Fixing her grip on the steering wheel, Allison leaned in close to Wil in the cramped car.
“Well, let’s go!”
Wil looked at her. Her bangs were nearly touching his face. With confusion clear in his face, he asked,
“What? But… what’s going on here, Allison? What’re you—”
“I’ll explain on the way!” Allison cried, waving at the two men and the woman on the other side of the windshield. The trio waved back. With her right hand Allison shifted gears and started the car.
The car began to move. It immediately swerved.
“Ah! Allison, we’re not allowed to act on our own—WHOA!”
The car accelerated.
“We are from the Roxche Air Force.” One of the men in black said to Wil’s friend, as the car departed quite haphazardly.
“Did you see the driver? She is our trusted comrade and the childhood friend of Wil, Staff Sergeant Allison Whittington. We intend to give them some uninterrupted time alone.”
Wil’s friend looked up at the man with a face both astonished and floored.
“We understand that you are not permitted to be out alone. Though we assume that a secondary school student like you must know right from wrong, in this case we must ask for your cooperation.”
“No way.” Wil’s friend replied.
“So you’ll play the good student and stick to the rules? We can provide you with some hush money if you’d like.” The man said, flashing his wallet.
“No way. I never said I’d tell on you. I’m glad to help!” The friend said, giving the trio a thumbs-up.
“Excellent choice.” The man nodded.
“Oh, and I don’t need any hush money. It’s kinda weird saying this, but I’m from the third richest family in Raputoa.”
“I see…” The man withdrew his wallet.
The woman looked at the name tag on Wil’s friend’s coat.
“...Hey, that name… By any chance, does your family run—”
Somewhat surprised, she identified a company so famous that any Roxchean would recognize the name.
Wil’s friend nodded.
The woman and one of the men exchanged glances and began to whisper amongst themselves.
“What do you want to do? We might make a fortune off of this one.”
“Right. We could hold him for ransom and get the money via aeroplane.”
“What if we tossed a rope over the side, had them tie up and hook the money bag to it, and pulled it up?”
The man who had flashed the wallet ignored his two companions and turned to Wil’s friend.
“We’ll make sure he’s back by evening. Until then, we’ll be counting on you. Make sure none of the teachers find out.”
Wil’s friend frowned.
“Wait, he’s coming back tonight? What kind of plan is that? If you got the target in your sights, you gotta shoot him down! Go all the way!”
The two men and the woman were silent for a moment.
“Well… that’s not for us to decide. This is as far as we go.” The woman said.
* * *
“THIS TIME! IT WAS HERE!”
The roar of the engine. The shaking of the car. The rattling of the roof. The interior of the car was filled with a cacophony of sounds, and Allison contributed with her voice.
“A JOINT SEARCH-AND-RESCUE MISSON! HERE IN IKS! I HEARD ABOUT IT NOT LONG AFTER I READ YOUR LETTER! AND WHEN I HEARD ABOUT YOUR STUDY TRIP! I THOUGHT THIS MUST BE FATE!”
“I understand that, Allison. Could you please slow down just a—”
Allison lifted her foot very slightly from the gas pedal. The car finally escaped the excitement of its driver and began to move at acceptable speeds.
“We’ve been in training for eight days, but we finished up yesterday. Today and tomorrow, we’re prepping for departure and getting some time off. So I decided I just had to go somewhere with you.”
“I see. So that’s why you were so insistent. ...I understand.”
“I thought about telling you ahead of time, but I wanted to make it a surprise. Oh, those people from before are from my unit.”
“It really was a surprise.” Wil chuckled. The car grew slightly faster.
“Since you were out without your teachers, I’m guessing you have a lot of free time today, right? Let’s go somewhere together, just the two of us!”
“That sounds great, but…” Wil said hesitantly, “I’m not supposed to be moving on my own.”
“I know. But your friend just has to keep his mouth shut, and you’ll be fine, right?”
“I guess. But…”
“Is your friend a tattletale?”
“No.” Wil answered, this time immediately.
“Just thank him properly later.”
“Then let’s go.”
“There’s someplace I’d like to visit. What about you? Did you want to take a look at that cliff?”
“We’re scheduled to go see it tomorrow.”
“I already went to see it yesterday. Then can we go where I want today?”
“All right. But just out of curiosity, Allison…”
“What is it?”
“Do you have a driver’s license?”
“...That is a military secret, Mr. Schultz.”
“What tipped you off?”
“Just drive safely…”
Allison drove the car out of the downtown area, this time with more caution. They reached the hotel, when Allison suddenly swerved to the right. The car drove over the snow and gravel on the lakeside, down the ramp used for lowering boats. It then drove straight onto the frozen lake.
On the lake, with no obstacles in sight, Allison hit the gas with no reservations. The roar of the engine, the screeching of the chains, and the shaking of the car worsened. But the car was not very fast to begin with; it felt quite slow on the field of ice.
Wil put on his goggles. Allison put on a pair of sunglasses she produced from her bag. She looked at Wil.
“How do I look?”
“Great. Did you buy those?”
“They’re actually Air Force-issue shades. I’ll get in a lot of trouble if I lose it.” Allison said, tilting her head and glancing at the rear-view mirror. She smiled.
The car drove through the snow on the lake and headed north along the lakeshore. Mushke passed by to their left.
“Where are we headed?” Wil asked.
“I see it. Look over there.” Allison said, pointing forward with the same hand that was on the steering wheel.
There was a black mass ahead, on the white field. It grew closer and closer.
“Stop. There’s an inspection point.”
Allison stopped the car.
The inspection point was little more than two small windproof tents used for ice fishing, and two soldiers manning it. A road leading here from Mushke had been plowed in a straight line, and the tents were erected on either side.
Allison’s car approached one of the tents from the side. One of the soldiers was holding a circular sign mounted on a pole. On the sign was a red ‘X’, which meant ‘Stop’.
The soldiers were wearing dark grey winter coats tied at the waist with decorative belts. On their heads they wore fur-lined winter hats, and they had slightly tinted goggles over their eyes. They had submachine guns slung over their shoulders by leather straps. The submachine guns were equipped with wooden butt plates with holes drilled through them, and looked like rifles with the front ends sawed off. The long, curved magazines were currently equipped, so the soldiers could open fire at any time.
“Ah. This is what my friend must’ve spotted. It really is an encampment.”
Wil looked at the cluster of tents ahead of them. There was a veritable village of them, a hundred meters from the shore.
A large portion of the lake had been cleared of snow, and the tents covered the icy surface. The tents were a mix of camouflage colors—black and dark green. The larger tents were rectangular; thirty meters long and ten meters wide(1). Their frames were made of thick pipes, and the corners were securely fastened with rope. About eight such tents were lined up in formation, like blocks of houses. The smaller tents were dome-shaped, about ten meters in diameter, and they dotted the vicinity. Other than the tents, there were trucks equipped with snowplows, several small cars, and oil drums containing fuel, stacked together.
Written in discreet lettering on the sides of the tent were three characters, which were neither Roxchean nor Ikstovan. They were initials that meant ‘Royal Air Force’.
Wil took off his goggles and read the letters in shock. He looked up at the soldier approaching their car. On his left arm was the emblem of the Curved Dagger, an ancient symbol of the West.
“That’s the Curved Dagger. Allison… is this a Sou Be-Il military base?”
“That’s right.” Allison replied cheerfully. Wil realized something.
“I see. You mentioned a joint training operation just now—you meant that Roxche and Sou Be-Il were cooperating on a session together, right?.”
“Yeah. There’s someone I wanted you to meet.”
“What? Don’t tell me…”
Allison unzipped the roof of their car. The perplexed soldier with the submachine gun greeted them in polite Roxchean.
“Good day. I’m terribly sorry, but this area is being used as a temporary base of operations for the Allied Forces of the Kingdoms of Bezel-Iltoa. Because of special negotiations between Roxche and Sou Be-Il, civilians are not permitted to—”
“I know.” Allison replied in fluent Bezelese—the official language of the West. The soldier was floored. Allison continued.
“We’re here to meet Major Carr Benedict, the hero who discovered the mural. Here. We even have an official invitation.”
Allison produced a letter from her bag and handed it to the soldier. The man took off his gloves and goggles, read over its contents, and was floored for the second time. His eyes turned to dinner plates as he looked at Allison and Wil, astonished.
Allison slowly took off her sunglasses.
“May we come in?”
* * *
An aeroplane was flying over the hollow.
It was vibrant green in color, like the color of spring, and was about eight meters long. The water cooling engine at the sharp nose of the aeroplane powered the propellers. The aeroplane had a single wing underneath the frame. Sticking out from under the middle of the frame was an angular radiator, and on either side of the radiator was the fixed landing gear and wheels, currently pointing upwards.
The aeroplane suddenly flew into an abrupt descent.
The cockpit was open to the air. A white muffler whipped in the wind, wrapped around the head of a pilot wearing a thick hat. There were two seats, one behind the other, but the back seat was occupied only by a heavy sack.
Painted proudly on the left side of the frame was a certain emblem.
It was a picture of a wooden beacon, with an upright shaft in the middle and a pair of curved arms arching upwards from either side. Red flames were drawn at the tips of the shaft and the arms.
The aeroplane descended sharply, spun three times, suddenly stopped, and headed upwards. Then, it returned to level position before making a sharp turn at a 90-degree tilt, after which it returned to level position once more.
As the nose of the aeroplane pointed due west, the great peaks of the Central Mountain Range—still dozens of kilometers away—rose up in the aeroplane’s path. The plane was but a speck of dust before the wall of white.
“It feels like this entire country is inside an aquarium. It’s beautiful.”
The pilot mumbled to himself as he looked to his lower left, and swerved. He descended and shook the plane left and right as he glided over the frozen lake.
<This is the command center. Respond, Major Carr.>
A radio signal. The pilot responded.
<This is Carr.>
<Sir. You have visitors from the Roxcheanuk Confederation. They’re waiting for you right now.>
<Roger. I’ll be landing shortly. They are important guests of mine—make sure you don’t bother them unnecessarily. Over.>
The pilot’s eyes narrowed as he pulled the control stick. The aeroplane climbed sharply as it spun, the frame glinting in the sunlight. At the end of the climb, the plane did a 180-degree spin and descended, speeding up as it returned to base.
“The major is currently out on a flight. He will be back shortly, so please come this way.”
Allison and Wil were led across the ice by a bespectacled, amicable captain around thirty years of age. They could see aeroplanes inside the larger tents. The soldiers of the Sou Be-Il Royal Air Force stopped what they were doing in the tents and stared curiously at the two visitors.
On the east side of the camp was an endless field of ice.
Standing there alone was a dome-shaped tent used for communications. A generator was humming next to it, and there was a large antenna sticking out of the tent. A short distance away was a pole, from which hung a flag that displayed wind direction and a spinning anemometer.
An area about 30 meters by 10 meters between the main camp and the communications tent had been cleared of snow. Placed at regular intervals along the wide taxiway were red-and-white cones. On the other side of the communications tent was a strip of ice hundreds of meters in length, completely clear of snow. It was the runway. Circular canisters were on top of the snow piled up on the side at regular intervals.
When the three arrived at the communications tent,
Allison was looking at the southern sky. Wil looked at the direction she was pointing at, but saw nothing. But eventually, he spotted a little dot in the distance.
“Your eyesight is as good as ever, Allison.”
The captain who led them there was shocked. He gaped at Wil, who had spoken in fluent Bezelese.
As the dot drew nearer, it quickly took on the shape of an aeroplane.
Flying at a low altitude, the aeroplane screamed right past Allison and the others.
Then, it ascended rapidly, almost at a right angle from the ground. It flew high into the clear sky, the top of its frame clear in sight.
As Wil watched in awe, the aeroplane slowed, eventually being stopped by gravity. And before he could cry out in horror, the frame leaned to the left like an upright pencil falling sideways. The aeroplane descended, doing an about-face.
“Mm. He’s really good.” Allison commented. The aeroplane and the blue sky were reflected on her sunglasses.
The aeroplane began to descend rapidly. But its nose was slowly pulled up, finally bringing the frame level with the ground.
The plane first passed by Allison and the others, flew into the distance, then swerved back towards them and made a smooth landing on the runway. It began to taxi towards the tent, sending snow flying everywhere.
As he waited for the aeroplane to stop, Wil happened to turn around. And to his shock, he found about twenty or so young Sou Be-Il repair technicians gathered behind him. They were praising the hero who discovered the mural—the gazes of the few female soldiers there were particularly intense.
Eventually, the aeroplane approached the group, still roaring loudly (though softer than before). Eventually, the engine and the propellers stopped. The plane itself came to a halt.
The pilot stood from his seat, climbed down onto the wing, and stepped down onto the ice. He pulled off his aviator hat and ran a hand through his messy hair. Spotting Allison and Wil in the distance, he smiled and waved.
Wil was assaulted from behind by the screams of the women, who had fallen under a terribly mistaken impression indeed.
“It’s been a long time, Major Carr.”
“It certainly has, Wil. And please, call me Benedict.” Major Carr Benedict replied to Wil’s greeting.
Carr Benedict, twenty-four years old. He was the hero who discovered the mural that ended the hostilities between East and West. At the time, he was a second lieutenant. But he was rewarded for his actions with an unprecedented triple promotion, and made a major at the record-breaking age of twenty-three. He had handsome features, with short and neat brown hair. He had just taken off his overalls, and was wearing his Royal Air Force officer’s uniform. It consisted of a pair of well-cut black pants, a button-up shirt with a tie, and a long jacket. There was a belt around his waist, but no pouches or holsters.
“Sorry. We’d get a lot of curious stares if we’d stayed outside.”
Allison, Wil, and Benedict were currently inside one of the dome-shaped tents. They were sitting around a round table by the pole in the middle of the tent. This was Benedict’s personal quarters, furnished with a thick mat, a camp bed, a lamp, and a wooden coat rack from which three people’s worth of jackets were hanging. Light gently seeped in from the outside.
“Please excuse me, sir! I’ve brought the tea!”
The door of the tent opened with a resounding voice. A young female soldier entered, holding a tray. She nervously placed three metal mugs onto the table and saluted.
“Thank you.” Benedict said kindly. The woman responded immediately, as though having waited for this moment.
“M, Major! I, umm… I admire you greatly as a soldier of Sou Be-Il, sir! I, if you could one day take me out on an a, a, aero—…”
Tongue-twisted and desperate, the soldier could not finish her sentence. She ran from the tent, her face beet red.
“P, p, p, please excuse me!”
“Just another day on the base.” Benedict sighed, picking up his mug.
“Well, you are the most eligible bachelor in Sou Be-Il right now. Thanks for the tea.” Allison said, raising her mug. Benedict chuckled wryly. He turned to Wil.
“Drink up. Allison explained everything when I went to visit the Roxchean camp. She didn’t tell you a thing until you arrived, huh?”
“Yes. I was surprised, to say the least. Oh, and thank you for the tea.” Wil said, picking up the last mug.
“Anyway, I’m very happy to see you again. It brings back memories, being here with you two. What we saw then… was truly a beautiful sight. I’d like to go back and see it again. The three of us, together.”
Allison and Wil replied in unison. They said nothing afterwards.
Several seconds later, Benedict broke the silence.
Outside, the Sou Be-Il soldiers were surrounding the tent from the distance, engaged in a heated debate about the two visitors—especially the identity of the blond-haired girl.
One young corporal theorized that the girl was the daughter of a spy dispatched to the Roxchean military by orders of the king, and that the feeble-looking boy was her subordinate. He conjectured that they were here to divulge secret information concerning the Roxchean military to Major Carr, the hero who had met the king in person, and that this was the reason the major had so suddenly joined the joint training session.
“You’re an idiot.” Said a friend.
Inside the tent, Benedict took a sip of his tea.
“That’s how I forced my way into this joint training session. I’m glad we got to spend some time together like this. And since we’ll have more opportunities to work together now, I hope I’ll be able to see the two of you as often as I can.”
“We’re both struggling desperately to survive, aren’t we?”
“We certainly are.”
Wil, who had been listening to Allison and Benedict quietly, spoke up.
“Have they started to downsize the military in Sou Be-Il, too?”
“That’s right. Although I can’t say just how much we’ll be downsizing. The air force is the biggest strain on military resources, so it’ll be first up on the chopping block. Soldiers and airline industry officials who’re against the cuts are saying that there’s a lot of untapped potential in aeroplanes. And these air rescue training sessions are perfect for showcasing the possibilities, especially since they’re about saving lives. That’s why we’re cooperating with the Roxche Air Force, who’re on the same boat as we are, and doing whatever we can to show that, yes, we can search for and rescue people even in these cold and frozen conditions. The units that participated in the training session are made up of the best of the best. Soldiers in excellent standing and the best pilots in the force. It’s like a demonstration crew. Just like how dogs desperately do tricks so that their masters won’t abandon them. ‘Look at what we can do!’.”
“When the quick rabbit is hunted, the hound joins the stew.” Wil said. Benedict nodded.
“What does that mean?” Allison asked.
“It’s an old saying in Sou Be-Il,” Wil explained. “When the rabbit’s been hunted, the hound becomes useless, so the hunter cooks it too. It means that when there’s no longer an enemy to fight, the military is no longer necessary.”
“I see. I’m smack-dab in the middle of that. If I get fired, I might never get to fly an aeroplane again, let alone a fighter craft. I won’t have anywhere to go.”
“You never know, Allison. The main mode of long-distance transportation might shift from trains to aeroplanes. And one day, we might have passenger aeroplanes flying between Roxche and Sou Be-Il, not just freight planes. Then there’ll be more jobs for pilots… probably.”
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s impossible to have an unfailingly optimistic outlook on the future. And you know who has it worse than we do? People making money in the weapons industry.” Benedict said.
“The war’s finally over, but things are still looking pretty grim.” Allison said.
“You’re right. Reality is cruel.” Benedict said, but continued. “But—I think the two of you are very special cases, even in Roxche. And I’m very glad that I don’t have to be pointing a gun at you anymore.”
“Saying that, I want to ask you to my country Sou Be-Il someday.” Benedict said suddenly in Roxchean.
Allison and Wil looked up. Benedict continued.
“I want—er, I hope you will come to capital of the West, Sfrestus someday. The sun falling to a sea is very beautiful.”
Benedict sighed with a bitter chuckle. He then added in Bezelese.
“The mandatory education we pilots receive just didn’t feel like enough, so I’m diligently taking Roxchean lessons from a private tutor. But it’s not working so well, it seems. I still have a long way to go until I’m as fluent as the two of you.”
“You’ve gotten so much better than when you first came up to talk to me.” Allison said. Benedict waved his hands, embarrassed.
“It’s a lot easier to listen than to speak. I can get the gist of most everything people say now. And I could communicate somewhat with the Roxchean officers I met, too.”
“Your Roxchean is very good. Please come over sometime. We’ll show you the sun and the moon rising over the sea.” Allison said in Roxchean. Wil nodded.
“Please come visit us.”
“I understand. I will go visit you.” Benedict replied in Roxchean, smiling.
“Drop by again on the way back. I’d like to go for dinner in town, the three of us, if we can. There’s a party with the Roxchean officers tonight, and all the high-ranking officers are out already. It’ll be a lot better than eating alone.”
Allison’s car was parked in front of the gate, at the far end of the camp. Allison and Benedict were standing next to the driver’s seat.
Benedict was wearing a dark grey coat, and an air force hat. Wil was sitting in the passenger seat.
A thin cloud cover dampened the light and shaded them from the blindingly bright sun.
“You’re not going to the party?” Allison asked, surprised.
“I forced myself out of it. I hate hanging with the bigwigs.” Benedict said easily. Allison chuckled.
“That’s pretty cool. Okay—I promise we’ll come by on the way back.”
“The meteorological team says it’ll be perfectly clear today and tomorrow. You won’t have to worry about whiteout conditions.” Benedict said.
“I see. So we’re good for tomorrow, too…” Allison said quietly, so only Benedict could hear.
Though confused at first, Benedict quickly nodded, having understood what she meant.
“Yes, tomorrow will be fine, too. Probably. Feel free to visit anytime.”
Benedict put his right index and middle fingers together and saluted her casually. It was a Sou Be-Il gesture for wishing someone luck.
“Thank you, Benedict. And you know, you’re not—” Allison said, looking him in the eye.
“It’s all right, Allison. I was the underhanded one.” Benedict said with a smile, cutting her off. He laughed softly—with a hint of self-deprecation.
“But that’s not the reason, okay?” Allison said firmly, and raised her voice. “See you later!”
She opened the roof and stepped into the car. Benedict leaned in towards the window.
“Take care. Have fun, you two.”
“Thank you.” Allison replied, putting on her sunglasses.
Wil said goodbye to Benedict from the passenger seat. Benedict waved at him as well. Allison zipped the roof shut and started the car. Benedict watched as it raced off into the distance. When a gust of wind scattered the cloud cover, the field of ice regained its brilliant shine. Benedict had to narrow his eyes.
As he watched, the car drove towards the northwest, where the peaks around the hollow were the largest. The car grew smaller and smaller, until it eventually disappeared in the snow kicked up in its wake.
“The first to shoot takes the kill. A loss is a loss.” Benedict whispered to himself.
(1) In the original text, the tents are described to be 30 meters in height, not length. ...That didn’t sound very plausible.