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Chapter 4: Jailbreak and Escape
The basement was dark.
Stone bricks lined the floors and walls, and the ceiling stood at a rather tall at three meters. On each of the four walls was a window near the ceiling, shining white in the darkness. They were crossed with metal bars, and frosted panes of glass were inside the frames.
The basement was about the size of an average living room. But the only difference was the iron bars dividing it in a 4:6 ratio. There was a steep wooden staircase in the smaller section, leading upstairs. At the top of the steps was a locked wooden hatch.
There were two thick old mattresses inside the cell. Atop them were blankets, upon which Allison and Wil slept. Their coats and some thick blankets had been placed over them.
One of the two suddenly awoke. The blanket and the coat slid onto the mattress as the figure stood, stumbling across the floor.
With a loud noise, the figure hit their shoulder on the iron bars.
Wil woke up.
“Hey! Is anyone out there?! Hello?!”
Allison cried out at the hatch, shaking the locked cell door. It rattled loudly.
There was a moment of silence.
“It looks like there’s no one upstairs. Someone would have come by now if they’d heard all this noise.” Wil commented.
Wil was wearing his coat, and was sitting on the mattress with his feet in front of him. He ruffled his hair and shook his head to chase away his fatigue.
Allison, still wearing her overalls, returned to the mattresses and sat next to Wil. Her coat was next to the bed, and her bag was nowhere to be found.
“Why?! Why us?!”
She was clearly agitated.
“I don’t know.” Wil replied cooly. He asked Allison if her shoulder was all right. She nodded and thanked him for his concern.
Then, she turned to Wil.
“Hey… maybe, just maybe… I think I know why they locked us up.”
“Hm?” Wil looked up.
“Maybe this entire village specializes in crafting gold jewelry. They’re on to us, aren’t they?” She said grimly.
“…I’m not too sure about that.” Wil replied hesitantly.
“Or maybe they make a living off of caviar?”
“That sounds even less likely.”
Allison stood and went over to the bars again. She then cried,
“Then why in the world would you lock us up in this clammy place?! Hey! Open up already! I demand to speak to the manager! You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!”
“Whew…” Wil sighed.
Tiring herself out with her shouting, Allison returned to Wil’s side.
“Great. So they’re going to keep us here until we die.”
“I don’t think so, Allison.” Wil replied, “look over here.”
In a corner of the room was a water bottle sealed with a cork, two cups, and two long loaves of hard bread. There was even a small pile of blankets.
“I guess you’re right. But I’m still not going to let ‘em get away with knocking us out and putting us in a cell without even an explanation.”
Allison looked at Wil, then at the ceiling, and shouted at whoever was responsible for locking them in.
“If you’re going to lock us up, I’d have been satisfied with some clean sheets and a shower and some room service! You hear me?!”
Wil remained sitting on the mattress.
“There must have been a misunderstanding. I’m sure the villagers had their reasons, and ended up mistaking us for someone else. Maybe they just left to call the police in a nearby town. I’m sure we’ll clear things up soon.”
“Right. So that means we don’t necessarily have to stay here, right?”
Allison glanced at her watch and stood.
“Let’s get out of this cell. And the village, too. We can’t waste any more time.”
“You’re right, but… how?”
Allison walked up to the iron bars and shook the sliding door.
“See this lock on the outer side of the door? It’s pretty cheap. You could find it anywhere. In fact, I can pick it with my hairpin—I learned how to do it from someone. Apparently pilots shouldn’t sit around acting all meek even when they’re held prisoner.”
“But we can’t reach it from here.”
“That’s why I’ll have to go outside.”
Allison pointed at the top of one of the walls. Wil looked up.
“We just have to get rid of those bars. I know how to do it.”
“Let’s give it a go.”
They began preparations for escape, with Allison in the lead.
First, they tore the blankets. They widened a small hole in the mattress and extracted one of the springs, using the pointed end to make small incisions on the edges. Then they pulled the blanket in opposite directions and ripped it into lengths. Afterwards, they tightly knotted the ends. They soaked the knots in water, then pulled on either end of the knot with all their might until the water began to drip.
“Now it’s never going to get untied. It’s just like that trick you use to tie your shoelaces.”
With that, they had two long ropes that could reach all the way down from the ceiling. Then, they tied them together to create one long line.
Finally, they dragged the two mattresses under the window, but at a very slight distance from the wall. They put one on top of the other.
“Here I go.” Said Allison, tucking her hair into her clothes. She began to warm up.
“Are you sure about this, Allison?”
“Don’t tell me you forgot who taught you how to climb trees, Wil.” Allison said, standing in a corner of the room with her hands and feet firmly on the walls.
“Are you sure you’ll be all right? Should I push the mattresses under you?”
“No, just leave them there. Get the rope ready, okay? I’m going to start now.”
With her hands and feet in the little gaps between the bricks, Allison began to dexterously climb to the top. Wil watched from beside the mattress—his eyes were so trained on the sight that the pace of his blinking slowed. One of his feet was against the mattresses, so that he could instantly push them under Allison if she were to lose her grip.
But his worries proved unfounded, as Allison easily made it to the window. She grabbed the grooves of the frame, one hand after the other.
Hanging from the frame by her hands, Allison pulled herself up like she was doing pull-ups. Then, she shook the iron bars with her left hand.
“It’s pretty strong.”
Supporting herself by her hands and feet, Allison grabbed the bars with her right hand. She then looked down at Wil and held out her left hand.
“What is it?”
“The rope. Toss it over.”
Wil picked up the rope from the floor and threw it to Allison. She caught it immediately and looped it around the leftmost bar in the window. Then, she pulled it over to the rightmost side and pulled it out. All of this she did with one hand.
Soon, she had the rope looped around every bar, including the one at the center. The ends of the rope on either side of the window were touching the basement floor. Allison instructed Wil to hold the rope as she climbed it down.
“The frame of the bars is bolted to the window. We’ll have to pull it out whole.”
Wil and Allison each took one end of the rope.
“Ready? One, two, three!”
They pulled as hard as they could. At first, the bars only creaked. But two or three tries later, they began to bend. But they could not completely dislodge the bars.
Wil gasped, his brow dripping with sweat.
“This isn’t working…”
“We’ve weakened it a lot, so I’ll finish it off. One good impact should do.” Allison said, climbing the rope to the window once more. Hanging from the bars, she pulled up either end of the rope. She held one end in one hand and the other end in her other hand.
“Stand back, Wil. This might get dangerous.”
“Wh, what are you—”
As Wil backed away, Allison grinned mischievously.
With the wall against her back, Allison leapt forward. Each end of the rope was looped around her shoulder like a knapsack.
A second before Allison hit the mattress, the rope was pulled taut. The bars took the brunt of the impact.
Finally, the bent bars fell away from the window, screeching against the window frame. At the same time, Allison bent her knees to minimize the impact as she landed atop the mattress.
As Wil looked on in shock, Allison rolled forward in perfect landing position.
The bars fell behind her, landing exactly where she had been a moment ago. They hit the mattress and bounced onto the ground, rolling into the iron bars diving the room. The loud clanging of metal on metal filled the basement. Wil winced.
When the noise finally stopped, Wil breathed a sigh of relief. Allison stood with ease.
“See? It worked.”
Wil stared blankly for a while, before finally opening his mouth.
“Allison. You were this close to getting killed just now.”
“Yeah, but look.”
Allison looked back and forth between him and the heavy iron bars lying on the floor.
“It worked out, didn’t it?”
The hinges creaked as the basement hatch opened.
Allison’s upper body poked in upside-down from the hatch, her long blond hair cascading down. She quickly climbed down the stairs and met Wil from outside the bars. There was snow all over her clothes and hair—she had broken the frosted glass with the bars and squirmed out the small window.
“Well?” Wil whispered. Allison replied, though not any quieter than usual.
“There’s no one upstairs. I think we’re near the outskirts of the village—I didn’t have time to look around properly, but the steeple looked kind of far. I didn’t spot anyone in town, and it looks like it’s going to start snowing soon.”
With that, Allison challenged the lock with half of her hairpin. And just as Wil picked up his and her coat,
The lock came undone effortlessly. The little sliding door opened with a loud screech.
Wil stepped outside, handing Allison her coat.
“All right. We’ll leave the rest to those two.” Allison said. Wil turned as he came out of the cell. There was a blanket over the mattress, with two humanoid shapes underneath. They were made with blankets and the rope. It looked just like two people snuggled up together.
“They look close.” Allison mumbled to herself.
“N, never mind. Let’s go. It’s getting dark, so we should try and sneak out of the village somehow.”
* * *
“I’m running out of time.” Benedict muttered, glancing at his watch.
He was in the woods, knee-deep in snow. The forest was dense and difficult to see through, but it was getting late and the sky grew dark. The snowfall was worsening. It was easy to tell that sundown and bad weather were both approaching.
Having leapt into the woods to the left of the village entrance, Benedict began to head into the depths of the woods. He had stay out of sight of the road, not spotted by anyone—he slowly and cautiously made his way into the depths.
Snow falling from the trees piled up in waist-high mounds, and he was hindered by clumps of snow falling from overhead without warning. When he had to enter snow that reach up to his thighs, Benedict had to clear the snow ahead of him with the submachine gun case he brought along. On occasion he glanced at the valley to confirm his position. He had already long passed the ponds where he met the young woman.
Benedict pressed on. His forehead was covered in sweat.
After traversing a certain distance, Benedict began to move to the side of the forest. He lay on his stomach and observed the valley from next to a large tree.
The village was within sight. He could see the houses scattered around the main area, along with the steeple. But no one was outside. The little village in the snowy valley was eerily quiet, crouching in the darkness.
“It’s not uninhabited, is it?”
Benedict returned to the woods and began to walk again. Soon, something stopped him.
“There must be people living here. But are all the villages in this country like this?” Benedict muttered, astonished. Strung up in front of him was a barbed-wire fence as tall as he was. When he dug into the snow underneath, he found that the fence reach down to the ground. Each wire was hanging parallel to the ground at twenty-centimeter intervals, as though connecting one tree to the next. There was also barbed wire on the branches, as well.
“This is too thorough a job if they’re only trying to keep animals out. Is this some sort of secret base?”
Benedict followed the fence to the right. But no matter how far he walked, it continued without a single gap. It was surrounding the entire village. The wire was wrapped tightly around the trees, so it was impossible to cut and too taut to be tampered with.
“Damn it.” He swore.
At that very moment, he spotted a moving figure by the houses. The figure emerged from underneath the floor of a small building—a storehouse of some sort built with stone bricks—and poked their head out of the snow from a crouching position. The figure was quite small in build, but Benedict clearly saw a flash of long blond hair.
From next to the tree, he watched the figure go into the house.
“Allison… I came all this way to save you, but I suppose I won’t get the chance.”
He sighed, exhausted. Then,
He spotted other people near the cluster of houses by the steeple. Several villagers emerged form the house and onto the street, and were talking together. Afterwards, some of them returned inside. The others—three men—began walking deeper into the valley. Towards the house Allison had just entered.
Benedict glowered at the barbed wire wrapped around the tree. He then looked around. One of the trees serving as a fencepost was relatively young and thin. It was about thirty centimeters thick and four meters tall. Benedict took hold of the branches and shook and hung from them, but the branches would not break. Snow fell from the treetop and onto the ground.
Benedict took off the case from his shoulders and opened the zipper. Inside was a submachine gun and a small pouch that could carry up to three magazines. Taking the gun, he quickly loaded it and prepared to open fire.
He then dug out the snow piled at the foot of the tree until part of the roots were visible. Folding up the case, he placed it on the ground in the shape of a thick pillow. Benedict then pierced through the case with the gun, creating a makeshift silencer.
“If they spot me, I guess I’ll have to run.”
Benedict pulled the trigger.
There was a tiny noise as the gun fired the first shot. Benedict continued to pull the trigger.
He finished off all twenty-eight rounds in the magazine. White smoke wafted from the charred case. Benedict hurriedly covered it with snow to put out the smoke. The tree had been chiseled away by the bullets, now down to half its original thickness.
Benedict grabbed hold of the branches with both hands and put his weight onto them at once.
The trunk bent, then broke from the base where it had been chipped away. Benedict lost his grip on the branches and fell onto the snow. The snow falling from the branch covered his face.
Spitting out the snow and water, Benedict stood. The tree had fallen completely. The barbed wire had neither snapped nor gotten loose, but it was distorted by the fallen tree. There was enough of an opening for a person to pass through.
The three men continued down the street, not noticing Benedict’s presence. He quickly jammed the submachine gun back into the bag(which was partly charred and damaged) and crawled under the fence with it at his side.
Finally through the barbed wire, he crawled across the snow and approached the valley. The woods came to an abrupt stop at a particularly large tree. There was no cover from here to the building where Allison and Wil were. The men continued walking straight towards it.
“Am I too late? Damn it!” Benedict swore.
At that moment, it began to snow. A thick flurry descended upon the land, as though someone was letting down a curtain. Although it was nearly impossible to see, Benedict could make out the shapes of the men approaching the building. And if he left the woods, the men would be able to see him as well.
“Damn it… I am too late…” He swore again.
“It’s finally snowing.” Allison said, peeking out the door. Wil was behind her.
“Looks like it’s going to be heavy, too.”
Allison shut the door again. They were wearing their coats and hats, with gloves on their hands.
“It’ll make it easier for us to hide. We’ll carefully sneak out of the valley.”
“But what about the car? We won’t make it back on foot.”
“That’s true. How about we break into one of the houses on the way back and steal a horse or something?”
“That’s a crime, Allison.”
“It’s not as serious of a crime as locking people up against their will. Anyway, we’ll see how things go.”
With that, Allison slowly opened the door and waded out of the house. Wil followed after her hesitantly.
But when they turned the corner of the house to their left, Allison stopped without warning. Wil nearly walked right into her. There was an old wooden ledge along the wall, and empty flowerpots were stacked together atop it.
Before Wil could finish, Allison covered his mouth with a gloved hand. She shushed him and whispered into his ear.
“There’s someone here. I think he’s coming this way.”
Wil gaped in horror. It looked like he was on the verge of tears.
“You stay here, Wil. When the person comes over, just make up an excuse. Then I’ll do that thing I did with the awful police officer last summer.” Allison said quickly. Wil nodded, mouthing a ‘yes’.
Leaving Wil behind, Allison quickly disappeared around the corner.
Wil stood blankly between the wall and the snow fallen from the roof. Soon, he heard someone stepping through the snow by the door. Each footstep grew louder as Wil stiffened in fear.
The footsteps stopped. And a moment later, a man turned the corner and appeared before Wil.
“Ack! I’m sorry!”
“I do not understand why you are sorry, but I do forgive you.” The man said quietly. Wil gaped at Benedict’s appearance.
Benedict chuckled and replied in Bezelese.
“Right. Who’d you think I was?”
“Wh, what are you doing here?”
“I was so bored that I decided to interrupt your date. Although I suppose I just ended up coming to rescue you two.”
“Thank you…” Wil said, relaxing.
“You’re welcome. Now, I just saw three village men going into the house in front of us. We’ll sneak away while they’re inside. Where’s All- WHOA!”
Benedict’s upper body fell forward as he cried out. Allison had approached from behind and pulled him by his ankles.
Refusing to lose his balance, Benedict grabbed onto the ledge with his left hand. It quickly broke. The flowerpots fell. With the cacophonous cracking of the ledge and the pots, Benedict finally hit the ground.
“Allison! No! It’s Benedict!” Wil yelled. Allison was just about to kick the fallen Benedict in the side.
“That hurt…” Benedict said in Bezelese.
“No way!” Allison shouted. Benedict, covered in snow, looked back and greeted her. He slowly got to his feet.
At that moment, what little of the ledge that remained on the wall finally collapsed, along with the flowerpots that were atop it.
There was another loud noise. At the same time, a door slammed open nearby.
“See? I told you I heard something. There were voices, too!”
It was a man’s voice.
“Argh! Look what you did! They heard us!”
“I’m sorry about that. …Wait. Are you saying this is my fault?”
“R, r, ru-”
“Run! This way!”
Allison finished Wil’s sentence for him as she gave him a push in the opposite direction from the voices. They dashed across the knee-deep snow as Benedict followed after them.
“Why did I even come here in the first place?” He grumbled.
“Run faster!” Allison yelled, slapping Wil on the back. Benedict was behind them. Eventually, they reached the road in the middle of the valley. It had been flattened out by the villagers, which made it much easier to run along.
The snowfall had grown heavier since sundown. It was difficult to see anything in front of them. Even the nearest house was concealed by the snow. They could hear voices behind them.
“You! Identify yourselves! Stop! Stop right there!”
“As if we would!” Allison replied. Benedict caught up to her.
“We’re going in the opposite direction from the lake.”
“Well, what are we supposed to do?!”
There was a gunshot behind them. One, then another.
Benedict glanced backwards.
“It’s all right. They’re just signaling each other.”
“Don’t you have any weapons, Major?! The villagers took my bag with my gun still inside!”
Benedict immediately became aware of the weight of the submachine gun on his back.
“Then run! We just keep running for our lives!”
They continued down the road as snow blanketed their heads and shoulders.
As they passed by one of the houses, the door suddenly opened and a middle-aged woman stepped outside. The moment her eyes met those of the shocked trio, she let out a shrill scream and scrambled back into the house.
“What did we do to deserve this?” Allison complained as they ran. Wil could not respond, too busy exerting himself sprinting.
“Who knows?” Benedict replied calmly.
They continued to flee.
Wil was the first to start gasping for breath. His steps began to slow.
“C’mon, Wil! We can make it!” Allison cried, giving him a push on the back. They headed further and further into the valley. And soon, they spotted another house to the left.
“Why don’t we just go inside and take the person in the house hostage?” Allison wondered, getting desperate. But at that moment, the door opened. The villager stepped outside and looked at the trio, shocked. She froze. Then,
“This way! Quickly!” She cried. She was a young woman with short black hair.
“Wait, I know that woman! Do as she says, and make sure you don’t leave any footprints!” Benedict said as Allison and Wil hesitated.
They doubled back and began to walk along the footprints leading into the house. Still covered in snow, Allison, Wil, and Benedict arrived at the doorstep. Benedict smiled.
“Don’t act all friendly with me. Get inside.”
The woman, Benedict, the confused Allison, and the heavily panting Wil entered the house. The woman quickly shut the door and bolted it.
The interior of the house was dim.
In the middle of the room was a cold stove, a cupboard, and a table and chairs for about six people. By the wall was a sofa, and there was a hallway leading into a room.
Wil bent forward, gasping for breath. Allison put a hand on his shoulder.
“This way.” Said the woman, heading to the hallway. She lifted up a hatch.
“Go inside. Watch your head and your feet.”
Allison made a face. Benedict took the lead and stepped inside, followed by Wil. Allison shot the woman a look and entered as well.
Her feet finally reached the stone floor of the basement, and her hand touched Wil’s back. At that moment, the hatch closed behind them. The basement was pitch-black.
“Hey!” Allison cried. But Benedict quickly cut her off.
They could hear loud knocking upstairs, followed by the voice of a middle-aged man.
“Fi! Are you inside? Open up!”
For several seconds, the only sound in the basement was that of Wil’s ragged breathing. Soon, they heard voices again.
“I’ll be right there!”
Allison whispered to Benedict.
“Did she just trick us too?”
“We can’t say for sure yet.” Benedict answered.
“Anyway, who is that woman?” She asked.
“Actually, I don’t even know her real name yet.”
“Well, things happened.”
“Is this really all right?”
Benedict ended the conversation and focused on the sounds outside.
There was the sound of the door being unbolted and opened. Several people entered the house. Their footsteps rang through the floor.
“Fi! Thank goodness you’re safe!”
“Did something happen? I was clearing the snow outside when I heard gunshots. I ran straight inside.”
“We found suspicious people in the village. Three of them. They must have come this way—have you seen anything?”
There was a brief silence.
“No. What’s going—”
“Never you mind, Fi. It’s dangerous to stay alone—I want you to go to the village hall.”
“…I don’t want to. I can’t leave Grandfather’s house empty. I’ll be fine. I’ve always been fine.”
“All right. Do you have a gun with you?”
“Yes. I have Grandfather’s.”
“And you know how to use it?”
“He taught me, just in case.”
“All right. Then I want you to sleep in your basement tonight with the gun next to you and the doors bolted shut. We’ll be keeping watch overnight, so you should be safe—but if you find anyone suspicious, shoot them on sight.”
Several male voices warned the woman to be careful. Then, the door closed. There was the sound of the woman bolting it shut.
They heard footsteps walking towards them. The sound grew fainter as it headed for the room, then returned. Then, the basement hatch opened.
Allison, Wil, and Benedict looked up at the dim light coming from the hatch.
The woman slowly poked her head inside. The light was behind her, making it difficult to see her face. But the contours of the large automatic handgun in her possession was clear even in the dark.
“Take me to the capital. If you refuse, I’ll hand you over to the villagers. Do you understand me?” She asked icily.
Several seconds of silence.
“I understand. I want to hear your story more.” Benedict finally replied.
Allison and Wil exchanged glances.
“Give me a minute.”
The woman turned and closed the hatch again. Allison, Wil, and Benedict took off their hats and coats and waited for her in the dark. The hatch opened again. The gun in the woman’s hand had been replaced by an old oil lamp.
With each step she took downstairs, the basement grew brighter. This room also was lined with stone bricks, but it was much larger than the one where Allison and Wil were imprisoned. There were all sorts of things on the shelves lining the walls—old plates with pictures, little picture frames covered with cloth, a wooden box sealed with a lock, and a human skull.
Wil and Allison screamed simultaneously at the sight of the skull. The light of the lamp hit its large, hollow eyes, creating a stark contrast between the surface and the shadows.
“There are so many…” Benedict said. About seven human skulls of varying sizes were lined up on the shelves.
“Hey! What in the world is—” Allison began, but Wil put a hand on her shoulder and stopped her. He turned to the woman.
“These people are your family, right?”
“Yes.” The woman replied, surprised. Benedict looked at Wil. Allison poked him with her elbow.
“I read about it in a book. It’s a custom here in Iks—you see, there isn’t much land in this country to bury the dead. So when someone dies, he or she is buried in a large stone coffin, only to be dug up again after some time to retrieve the body. The family of the deceased then cleans and polishes the body with their own hands and keeps the remains in their home.”
“Thank you for sparing me the trouble of explaining. Yes. The people here are my ancestors. They’ve given us the bed of earth so that we could also return to it in the future.”
“I understand. We must politely behave as the guests.” Benedict said.
“…Um, hello. Sorry for screaming just now.” Allison said, greeting the small skull nearest to her.
The woman’s gaze softened very slightly.
“Take a seat.”
The woman carried the lamp into the middle of the room and asked Allison, Wil, and Benedict to sit at the round table in the middle. They all did so, with the lamp on the table.
The woman went back upstairs and returned with a bottle of water. Allison, Wil, and Benedict poured some into the cups stacked upside-down on the bottle and drank.
Once everyone had calmed down, the woman turned to Allison and Wil.
“First of all, who are you? Why did you come to our village?”
Allison did not even try to hide her indignation.
“We were just here as tourists when the old woman at the building by the steeple knocked us out! Then we were locked up in a cell! We just barely managed to escape. We’re the ones who want to ask questions!”
Wil placed a hand on Allison’s shoulder as she complained furiously.
“We don’t know why they tried to lock us up. But all we want to do is leave this village as soon as possible and head back to Mushke.”
“I see. I’m afraid I don’t have any answers for you.” The woman said cooly, and turned to Benedict.
“You know one another, right? Could we all talk together, then?”
“Yes. This is Wilhelm Schultz and Allison Whittington. I was looking for them in order to play together. I told you my name before. My name is Benedict.”
Benedict turned to Allison and Wil.
“Allison, Wil, this lady is a person I met at the village entrance before. After, I knew that you were at this village. So I hid my way into the village and saw you exiting from a house.”
He turned to the woman.
“Saying that, I do not know your real name. Please tell me your name.”
The woman thought for a moment, then replied,
“Fiona. Please call me Fiona.”
“Miss Fiona. Your name is not in Sou Be-Il, but it is very beau-”
“Can we get to the point?”
“I understand. But I want to ask you one question before. Are there any other people in your home—er, house?”
“No. I’ve lived with my grandfather all my life, but he passed away earlier this year.”
“Back to the point.”
“Yes. Let us go back to the point. Do you want to go to the capital? You said you want to go to the capital before, when you and I met at the village entrance.”
The woman named Fiona nodded firmly and resolutely.
“Yes. I don’t care how—if you agree to take me to Kunst, I’ll help you escape the valley. I can’t just up and leave on my own, so I’ll sneak out with you.”
“Then I’ll get ready now.”
“Please wait. Today is too hard. We should sortie tomorrow. So please hide us three people in here tonight.”
Wil hung his head, defeated. Allison shrugged. Fiona did not understand.
“Why can’t we go today? The capital is far away—we should leave as soon as possible.”
Allison and Wil listened in silence. Benedict replied,
“Because I am now sleepy.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“I am kidding you. Was it not funny? Then I will not kid you. It is snowing. It is nighttime. If we cross a wide and iced lake in this condition, we are killing ourselves. A strong army soldier cannot do it. Do you want to see someone die?”
Fiona shot Benedict a look, but she slowly shook her head.
“Saying that, we will sortie tomorrow. We must pray that the snowing stops in the morning. After we leave the valley, we will find my aerosan. We will ride it to the Kunst and, if we are hurried, we should change to an aeroplane on the way to the capital. It is amazing, no? We will arrive very fast on an aeroplane.”
Fiona looked dubious.
“Can we really? Could we really leave in the morning and arrive by tomorrow afternoon? Aeroplanes are flying machines, right? Where would you find something like that? And do you know anyone who can drive one?” She asked one question after another. Allison glanced at Benedict next to her, and replied,
“You don’t know Benedict, do you?”
“Amazingly enough, no.” Benedict replied with a delighted grin.
As Allison, Wil, and Benedict looked at her curiously, Fiona stuttered.
“I see. So you’re the hero who discovered the mural. I apologize if I offended you.”
“No problem. It is not something I should brag with my own mouth. Saying that, these two people—ouch.”
Allison stomped on Benedict’s toes.
“—Please do not worry about an aeroplane. Can we sortie at dawn tomorrow? Can we sleep in this house tonight? If we sleep outside, we can freeze and die.”
“All right. You can stay here until morning. I’ll bring you some blankets, and some food and water—although it won’t be hotel-class. Is that enough?”
This time, Benedict nodded.
“Negotiation successful. Thank you very much.”
“Um… Fiona, could I ask you a favor?” Wil said.
“What is it?”
“Do you have a telephone, by any chance? I came to this country on a school trip, and I’m sure the others are worrying about me at the hotel in Mushke. I’d like to contact them if at all possible…”
Fiona shook her head.
“There aren’t any telephones in this village. We have an emergency radio, but that’s over in the village hall.”
“It’ll be easier if you just give up, Wil.” Allison said mercilessly. Benedict raised his hand.
“I have one question as well.”
“Why do you want to go to the capital?”
“I would like to know why. I have two reasons. One reason is because if you teach me, I might be able to help you. I could take you to where you want, or help you to do what you want.”
Fiona stared silently. Then she spoke.
“And the other reason?”
Benedict laughed sheepishly.
“The second reason is curiosity. I want to know because of curiosity. I want to know what you are doing. Allison and Wil will want to know, also.”
Allison spoke up.
“I don’t really care myself.” She sounded sincerely uninterested. Wil quickly cut in.
“We won’t really mind if you decide not to tell us.” He said, covering for Allison.
Several seconds of silence later,
“I see… But you’ll find out anyway once we get to the capital, so I suppose I could tell you now.” Fiona said cooly. “Although I don’t know if you’ll believe me.”
She took out a piece of paper from her pocket. She put the lamp aside and opened up the crumpled paper on the table.
“Ah. You saw this paper and cried—er… surprised. Is this paper the reason?”
Allison glanced, and Wil stared at the piece of paper.
“It’s an advertisement for the rally in the capital.” Wil said.
“Yes. I want to go to that rally. I want to show myself to everyone there.”
Benedict and Wil exchanged glances. Wil let Benedict ask the question on both their minds.
“May I ask you in detail? What will you do when you show yourself?”
“I am going to let them know that I exist. That I’m still alive.”
Both Wil and Allison looked at Fiona. Her face was set.
“Who are you?” Benedict asked.
Fiona closed her eyes, clutching her right hand in a fist over her chest.
Several seconds of silence later, Fiona looked up and spoke, sensing the weight behind each and every syllable.
“I… I am the princess of Ikstova.”