The hiatus is over. Enjoy the update.
Chapter 6: Fakes
The blue roofs of the city and the frozen lake.
And the tents of the Sou Be-Il Royal Air Force, erected a hundred meters from the lakeshore.
The sun shone brilliantly over the city and its residences.
The little aerosan made its way across the lake and toward the city, scattering snow in its wake.
Benedict brought the aerosan to a stop in front of the guard station. He then turned off the engines.
Fiona opened the door and stepped outside first. The guard on standby was shocked. By the time Allison and Wil followed Fiona out, the guard was flabbergasted.
Benedict was the last to disembark. The guard finally saluted.
“Good work today. Take care of the aerosan—the gun is inside.”
Benedict saluted back and pointed at the aerosan.
“Yes, sir. Umm… about your pa-”
“My passengers? They’re important guests of mine. We’re going in.” Benedict said curtly, and gestured for the others to follow him.
They passed by the surprised guard and entered the encampment on the ice.
“What will you do, Allison and Wil?” Benedict asked. Allison, still wearing her sunglasses, responded.
“Hm? What do you mean?”
“The capital, I mean. They will soon prepare me an aeroplane. Will we go together? But Wil might be difficul- I mean, troubled. You do not need to try too hard. I will make contact with you later.”
“Well, we’re feeling pretty tired now. I guess we could—”
“I’ll go!” Wil cut in.
Allison turned, bewildered.
“I’ll go with you. Take me along.”
“Is that so? What will you do about school in that case?” Benedict asked, amused. Wil’s answer was simple.
Allison gaped at Wil as though he were a creature from outer space.
“I understand. And you, Allison?”
“Huh? Of course I’m coming along!”
Allison went up to Benedict and whispered to him—in Bezelese.
“You know, I really don’t like sitting in the passenger seat. And we really don’t want to play third and fourth wheel. So, uh… could you get another plane ready for us, Major?”
Benedict thought for a moment, and asked Fiona for her understanding—as he could not express such a complicated answer in Roxchean, he would speak in Bezelese for a moment. He then turned back to Allison.
“To be honest, that might be difficult. Even I can’t ask the men to prepare a craft for a pair of outside personnel. Asking for one craft is a challenge already.”
Allison sighed. But Benedict continued.
“I might be able to ask them to warm up two crafts so I can decide later which one I want to fly.”
“Oh, really? And?”
“Miss Fiona and I will take off on one of them, but make an emergency landing because of engine trouble. Once everyone rushes over in a panic, there might not be anyone left in the hangar area for a while. Then some sneaky outsider might end up commandeering the second aeroplane. That won’t be good.”
“It’d certainly be a disaster.”
“Yes. But once everything is finished and I explain the situation, I’m sure I’ll get off with just a pay cut and a demotion.”
“I see. You know, I’ve always wanted to try that two-seater you flew before. Will I ever get a chance, do you think?”
“I hope so. Nice weather today, don’t you agree?”
“It’s certainly nice today.”
As Wil watched the pair whispering excitedly, Fiona came over to him.
“What are they talking about?”
“I can’t hear them very well from here, but from the look on Allison’s face, I think… she must be…”
“Yes?” Fiona asked.
“…She must be up to no good.” Wil replied.
“Welcome back, Major.”
“Good work, Captain. Ah, these people are my guests.”
In front of Benedict’s tent, they ran into the bespectacled captain. Standing in a row behind Benedict were Fiona, Wil, and Allison.
“We received shelter at a nearby village last night. Apologies for not contacting the camp overnight. In any case, I’d like to take my friends out on a flight.” Benedict said.
“P, pardon?” The captain stuttered.
“I was thinking of going on a sightseeing flight. I’m not sure yet if I want to take everyone on the new observation model or my own craft, so I want you to prepare both. Right now.” Benedict said matter-of-factly. The captain was clearly flustered.
“P, please, sir. The crew spent all day yesterday doing maintenance on the crafts for departure tomorrow. If you take them out today, our schedule—”
“I understand that, Captain. You’ll just have to have the technicians work on them overnight today. Get the crafts ready.”
Benedict glared, holding up his pointer finger.
“Captain. This is an order from a superior officer. Bring both crafts out of the tents and warm up the engines. That is all. Be quick.”
Benedict did not even wait for an answer to his command. With a glance at the captain’s clearly uncomfortable expression, Allison went up to Benedict.
“Looks like your reputation’s going to take a hit, Mr. Hero.”
“I’m only a fake, anyway.”
“Not at all—you aren’t to me and Wil, at least. And maybe to her, too.”
Suddenly, he found himself meeting Fiona’s worried gaze. He walked over to her.
“Umm… Are you sure this is all right? Won’t you get in trouble if you do this?”
Benedict smiled in reply.
“Yes. I will be in big trouble for doing something which I am not supposed to do.”
Fiona could not come up with a response. Benedict continued.
“But Miss Fiona. If you have to choose from what you want to do, that is going to the capital, and getting me in trouble, which would you pick?”
“...Take me to the capital.”
“I understand. Let us prepare.”
Benedict led the three to his tent.
In front of the rectangular tent.
Two aeroplanes were pulled onto the ice side-by-side.
One was the vibrant green craft that Benedict had flown the other day. There was a beacon drawn on the side of the fuselage, modeled after the mural.
The other craft was the new observation model Benedict chose. It was used for observing areas that had been accurately bombed, simple scouting missions, or transportation of personnel.
The observation craft was a little longer than the fighter craft, but in terms of design it lacked the sleek agility of the fighter.
The frame was a murky green, tinted with brown. There was cloth draped over it. The cockpit was narrow, and housed a small engine. On either side of the frame were flat windows. On top were the main wings, which looked rather like a pair of long plank. The landing gear sticking out from under the frame was installed, not with wheels, but skis. Multiple supports crisscrossed the gap between the landing gear and the main wings.
The repair technicians got to work on the two crafts, looking quite disgruntled. They checked the fuel and the securing devices, and one technician climbed into each of the cockpits to warm up the engines. The propellers began to spin.
“I can hear the engines. Let us wait the shot time and sortie.” Benedict said as they sat inside the tent.
Over his black uniform he wore a leather aviator jacket, which was thinner than his coat. He was holding his uniform hat. Allison was holding a leather aviator hat, a pair of goggles, and a white muffler.
“Thanks for letting me borrow these.”
“You are welcome. There are no windshields in that aeroplane. It will be very cold. Please be determined before you fly that aeroplane.”
Wil was wearing Benedict’s flying coveralls. He tied the ends that were a little long for him, and wore an aviator jacket that Benedict had borrowed for him. Wil was also carrying a Sou Be-Il Royal Air Force-issue aviator hat, goggles, and muffler.
“I understand. But Allison will be flying the second craft, right? ...Is this really okay?” Wil asked nervously.
“It’s going to be all right.” Allison said.
The four walked up to the two aeroplanes in front of the tent. The engines had been shut off, and the planes were ready to fly.
The soldiers glanced nervously at them as they passed by the other tents. The female soldiers whispered quite audibly amongst themselves, anxiously speculating about the woman walking next to Benedict.
“Well, please do not worry.” Benedict said to Fiona.
“This… this is all right.” She replied.
“I understand. Now, that will be the plane we ride on.”
Benedict made his way to the observation craft. Thanking the bemused soldier who reported the completion of preparations, he ordered the soldier to climb down to make room for him and Fiona.
Benedict opened the door on the right side of the cockpit, which was quite high up, and sent Fiona inside first. He followed after. He shut the door, and sat on her left. They put on their seatbelts.
Benedict opened the triangular window on the side of the cockpit and stuck out his head, checking his surroundings. Then, he started the engines. The two propellers broke out into a spin. The lightweight craft trembled as it began to taxi.
As forty or so soldiers watched, the observation craft headed for the communications tent. It moved slowly and smoothly between the red-and-white pylons on the ice.
“Hm? Weren’t you going to join the major?” Asked the bespectacled captain, noticing that Allison and Wil were watching from next to the repair technicians.
“The lady who came with us hasn’t been on an aeroplane before, so the major’s going to give her a gentle tour first. Once they come back, he’s going to take us on the fighter craft one at a time for some acrobatics.” Allison lied with a smile on her face.
“I see… May I ask a question? Who is that woman who came with you?”
“We can’t say yet. But you’ll know soon. I guarantee it.”
“Of course…” The captain mumbled. At that point, the observational craft passed by the communications tent and went into full throttle. It lifted off the ground after a very short taxi.
The craft ascended for a time. But suddenly, the engines cut out.
As the soldiers watching the flight broke out into anxious whispers, the craft’s main propeller stopped. The aeroplane broke out of its ascent and fell, making a landing on the ice. It continued forward for some time, before finally coming to a sideways stop.
“Are they okay?”
“No one’s coming out…”
“The engines cut out!”
“Did something happen?”
“Let’s go and help.” One person finally said, and with that as the signal, the soldiers scrambled towards the observation craft. About twenty people traversed the frozen lake to reach the aeroplane. Those who remained had their eyes locked on the craft in worry.
Allison looked around. Making sure that almost no one in the makeshift hangar was watching, and that the people near the second plane were all distracted by Benedict’s craft, she tugged on Wil’s sleeve.
“What is it?”
“Never mind. Let’s go.”
Allison and Wil went behind the frame of the aeroplane and crouched out of sight. Telling Wil to wait there, Allison climbed under the plane. She unfastened the craft and returned.
“Climb up and take a seat. Put on your seatbelts and fasten the radio mic. You remember the order, right? Once you have your seatbelts on, give me a signal. Okay?”
“Then go! Now!”
With that, Allison climbed up to the cockpit, using the wing and the foothold on the side of the frame. Wil followed after her and struggled into the back seat. Allison fastened her seatbelts in the blink of an eye and brought the microphone to her mouth. She put on the headphones and put her aviator hat and goggles atop them.
As Allison finished preparations, Wil re-adjusted the bag on his shoulders and finally put on his seatbelts.
“I’m done with the seatbelts.” He said to the front seat, and put himself to work in setting up the radio. Just as he was putting the microphone next to his throat, the engine came to life, spewing fire.
With a deafening roar, the aeroplane slid forward. The soldiers turned in shock. For a moment, they watched the craft taxi right by their eyes.
“S, stop! Who’s on that craft?!” A large sergeant first class in his thirties cried. A young soldier replied that they were guests of the major.
“Well… I saw them climb on, but I thought that might be all right…”
“And you call yourself a soldier?! They’re taking a Royal Air Force aircraft! Shit! Someone give me their car keys!”
“We’ll be borrowing this.” Allison said to the confused soldiers on her left, though they obviously could not hear her. She turned to her right. Pylons were set up in a straight line leading to the side of the communications tent. In the distance, the propellers on Benedict’s observation craft were beginning to spin again.
<Allison, can you hear me?> Wil asked via the communication device connecting the two seats.
<I hear you. Are you ready?>
<I just need to put on my hat and goggles.>
<Put ‘em on tight, okay? We can’t have them flying off.>
<All right. Anyway… is it really all right to take the aeroplane like this?>
<Sure. The major gave us permission.>
Benedict’s craft began to taxi once more, taking to the air in the blink of an eye. The soldiers running toward the observation craft stopped, relieved at the sight of the plane taking off again. Then, they noticed the second plane rushing in their direction and leapt off the runway in panic. And in confusion at the identity of the pilot.
Allison raised her seat as much as she could for a good field of vision and continued to taxi down the runway.
But just as she made it halfway—
A truck cut in from the side, stopping in the middle of the runway, scattering snow in its wake. The large sergeant first class was sitting in the driver’s seat, shouting something. Obviously, Allison could not hear him. He was bellowing, “You’re not getting away!”.
Naturally, the truck sat steadfast in the middle of the runway.
“Wh, what is he up to?!” Allison complained, pushing her engine further.
The plane sped up. Angling the nose slightly to the right, Allison taxied the plane along the edge of the runway. Then, she made a hard left. The rear wheels of the plane slid as the craft did a 180.
<What’s going on, Allison?>
<The runway’s been blocked!>
Wil turned. The first thing he saw was a truck. There was a well-built man in front of it, saying something to the other soldiers. Everyone was rushing their way.
<What’s going on? It looks like the repair technicians are coming after us.>
<Because no one gave me permission to fly this craft! Me and the major just came up with this trick! Argh, we were so close, too!>
The aeroplane passed by the hangar and the soldiers, and crossed the encampment with a roar of the engine. The soldiers watched in shock.
<Wh, what do we do now?>
<The runway’s a no-go.>
<Then could we go off to the side and use the ice?>
<The problem is, they piled up snow on either side of the runway when they cleared it. We can’t get off the runway.>
Allison looked out at the vast field of snow and ice.
<That’s right! We’ve got all that space in front of us, but we can’t use an inch of it!>
<Then... could we head into town and find ourselves a makeshift runway?>
The aeroplane had left the encampment, and was on a path leading straight into Mushke. Snow was piled up on either side of the road. There was a soldier standing blankly next to the guard station.
<We don’t have enough distance.>
<Allison. There’s a truck coming after us.>
Allison turned. It was just as Wil said.
<Argh! We can’t turn back now! ...Even if we make it into the city, there aren’t any straight roads in there.>
<No. The roads are wide, but they zigzag through the city.>
<Why couldn’t they have been more considerate?!> Allison howled.
<They were.> Wil answered earnestly.
The observation craft was flying comfortably overhead.
“What? What’s going on?”
Benedict watched in shock as the aeroplane on the ground headed to the blue city. A truck was driving up behind them.
“Damn it…” He muttered.
“What’s wrong?” Fiona asked, finally breaking her silence after going quiet during takeoff. There was a very small gap between their seats, and they were sitting nearly shoulder-to-shoulder. The roar of the engines was loud, but not enough to make conversation impossible.
“It is nothing. ...But we might in the end go to Kunst in a pair.”
With that, Benedict put on his headphones.
<Allison, can you hear me? You’re heading toward the city right now.>
<I know that!>
The voice on the radio reached Wil as well. He cringed at Allison’s screeching.
<Could you do something about those people coming after us?> Allison asked. But Benedict’s answer was cold.
<No. Is there anywhere without snow piled up?>
<If there was, we’d be in the air by now!>
<That’s unfortunate. ...I’ll land somewhere and you two can come onboard. We have two passenger seats left.>
<Argh, dammit! We were so close! We even managed to taxi down the runway! My reputation’s going to take a nosedive!> Allison wailed. Wil chimed in.
<Your reputation hasn’t even taken off yet.>
Benedict heard Wil’s comment. He chuckled wryly.
The city on the lakeshore approached rapidly. Ahead of them was a ramp. The road led past the docks and into the downtown area.
“Nosedive… nosedive… That’s it!”
Allison’s eyes lit up as she looked out at the city from behind her goggles.
<Wh, what is it?>
<The map of Mushke! Do you remember it?>
Wil shut his eyes for a moment, then opened them.
<I think so.>
<Then could you give me directions?>
<That place you were supposed to go to today!>
<Y, yeah… I think so. But—>
<I’m counting on you!>
Allison gave the left throttle lever a gentle push. The propellers began to spin faster. The aeroplane rushed even faster toward Mushke.
“Sir! They’re not stopping!” The young soldier driving the truck said to the indignant sergeant first class.
“Follow them anyway!” The sergeant first class roared.
Benedict looked down from the observation craft.
<Allison? What are you planning?>
<We’re getting out of the city and taking off. That is all!>
Benedict surveyed the ground. White roads zigzagged through the blue roofs.
<Which way, Wil?>
Wil had unbuckled his seatbelts and was sitting on the frame to see. The wind from the propellers sent his muffler billowing behind him. Wil hooked his legs through the seatbelts so he wouldn’t fall, and hung onto the frame with one hand. His face was pale.
<T, take the first right!>
With its main wings spread wide, the fighter craft began climbing up the ramp. Allison pulled the throttle slightly. The plane went forward at walking speed, entering the city. Houses were on either side. The roar of the engine filled the streets. Soon, they came to an intersection. Allison veered to the right.
“Move! Out of the way! Coming through!” Allison cried loudly. An elderly woman sitting on the steps in front of a store looked up at the noise.
The aeroplane passed by the astonished woman. The shadow of the wing passed over her head.
<All right! Which way next, Wil?>
<Take a left at the second intersection. Then follow the road in a zigzag pattern for a while.>
“Sir! What do we do? They’re in the city!” Asked the soldier in the driver’s seat. The truck had ended up following the plane into the streets as well. The aeroplane sped ahead of them, making a turn with a spray of snow in its wake.
“Follow them! Just keep going after them! They’re bound to run into a dead end sooner or later!”
Next to the window of a house by the street.
A young boy was next to a round window in the stone wall. He was about five years old. The boy sat kneeling, looking down at the streets with his elbows on the frame.
From one side came the roaring fighter craft. Its engine filled the street with noise.
The boy’s gaze went from left to right.
“Talk about a loud car…” The boy’s mother said from further inside the house. The boy turned.
“Mommy! There’s an aeroplane on the road!”
His young mother appeared, wiping her hands on her apron. The boy leaned forward, staring at the disappearing fighter craft.
“No, no, sweetheart. Cars drive on the road. Aeroplanes fly through the sky.” His mother said with a smile. The boy moaned in confusion.
Then, he smiled.
“But it was just like an aeroplane!”
<Make a left at the big street ahead! It’s a tight corner—d’you think you can make it?>
<That’s not the issue here! We either make it, or we don’t!>
The aeroplane continued down the narrow streets. There was almost no gap between the tips of either wing and the houses on the roadside. Passersby gaped as they looked up at the fighter craft.
The road met the large street at an angle. To their right was a very tight corner. About thirty meters before the intersection, however, a bus emerged from the left.
“Hey! You there! Stop that bus! Aeroplanes have right of way!” Allison cried. The bus started, but quickly stopped. The driver looked on incredulously.
Allison gave the throttle a gentle push.
<Sit down, Wil! Make sure you don’t fall off!>
Just before the intersection, she pulled the throttle. Making sure that there was no one on the right side of the street as the tip of the wing passed by the corner of the house, she stepped firmly on the right pedal. The plane veered to the right.
Back in his seat, Wil held tightly onto the left side of the frame and resisted the centrifugal force. The left shock absorber was compressed, and the one on the right expanded. The frame, tilting to the left, resisted inertia and returned to level position with the rear wheel sliding sideways. The nose was pointed directly at the middle of the street.
“What the heck was that…? Whoever’s piloting that thing is good.”
Wil’s friend, sitting next to the driver of the bus, mumbled to himself.
A truck rushed after the fighter craft.
<Amazing… excellent work, Allison.> Said Benedict.
The craft barreled down the street. People turned at the sound and scrambled to get away.
“Sorry! Get out of the way!”
<What are you going to do now? All you’ve got ahead is a winding mountain road leading to the pass.>
<I’m making a left before that. Do you know anything about this country’s geography?>
<...I see. But...>
<Major, I have a question. D’you think we could pull it off with this craft? Will it be okay?>
<The craft will be fine. But that’s all I can guarantee.>
<Then that’s that!>
The aeroplane left the street, the truck chasing after it. On either side were snow-covered forests. The road led to the pass in a gently upward slope.
<You’re amazing, Wil! Now get back in your seat and buckle up!>
Wil did as he was told and fastened his seatbelts in the shaking aeroplane.
For some time, the road went on. Then, they encountered another road to their left. The road went diagonally in a gentle upward slope. On a little road sign buried in snow were the words [To Slankalans Viewpoint].
The aeroplane made a left. Allison pushed the throttle lever and taxied the plane up the cleared road.
<Wil! You know what I’m going to do, right?>
<I’ve got an idea… a terrifying one.>
<Then I’m going to tell you something, in case we fail.>
<What is it?>
<‘Sorry I messed up’! Okay! I apologized in advance!>
Wil looked up at the sky. Benedict’s observation craft was cruising comfortably through the air. He mumbled to himself.
“I never wanted to get into a mess like this… whether it was this month or this time next month. …Why didn’t I just volunteer for that other plane?”
There was a parking lot at the top of the slope.
At the edges of the rather wide lot were signs bearing messages like [Reconsider! There are people who love you.], [Come to us for counseling -The church], [Don’t throw away the lives your parents gave you!].
Beyond the signs were chest-high wooden walls that surrounded the perimeter.
And beyond that was nothing.
“Sir! They’re heading straight for… uh… the cliff! Slan-something or other. They’re cornered!” The young soldier said, driving as fast as he could. The sergeant first class roared in triumph.
“Excellent! We’ll catch them for sure!”
<The parking lot is empty. You’re free to go.> Benedict said to Allison as he watched from overhead.
<All right. I’ll be off now.>
The fighter craft made one last turn. Ahead was a straight path leading directly to the parking lot.
<Are you ready, Wil? Buckled in?>
<Yes. I have my goggles and muffler on tight, too.>
<Then here we go.>
Allison gave the throttle lever a hard push.
The propellers began to spin furiously. The aeroplane sped up as though being pushed, climbing up the slope in one go and sliding into the parking lot. It then got faster.
Allison pulled back the control stick, which she had pushed forward. The plane left the ground for a moment, but it did not have enough thrust to stay afloat. Just as the wheels skidded over the fence, the craft broke into a rapid descent.
There was nothing there for eight hundred meters.
A great white valley by the nearly perpendicular cliff. A tiny object fell from a corner of the valley. It looked like a grain of dust falling off a table, but that particular piece was carrying two people.
“I’d lose my job if I tried this with my unit!”
The aeroplane fell at a dive, headed straight for the ground, as Wil screamed for his life and Allison cried out excitedly.
They were not far from the cliff. From the side, it looked almost like they were on a plane preparing to land. But in this case, the plane was pointed at the ground and the surface passing rapidly underneath was a rugged rock face.
As they gained speed with gravity, Allison pulled on the control stick. The surface of the cliff began to grow further.
The truck barreled into the parking lot and came to a screeching stop.
There was nothing there. There was no one there.
“Wh, what…? What just happened…?!” The sergeant first class cried.
Allison cried out in delight, pulling back the control stick. She broke out of the dive, returned to level position, then ascended rapidly. They could see the blue sky and the cliff from which they had fallen.
Allison pulled the control stick to the side. The plane flew in a loop, and the sky and the ground did a 180 back into their rightful positions. The earth appeared just below the frame. The white viewpoint and the truck passed by underneath.
The sergeant first class looked up blankly at the aeroplane flying overhead.
* * *
Two aeroplanes flew side-by-side over the city of blue roofs. They were headed south along the lake.
<Sorry to keep you waiting.> Allison said through the radio, glancing to the side. Benedict returned the glance, looking at their aeroplane.
<That was incredible. I’ll try proposing that as an emergency takeoff maneuver one day.>
<Thank you. Now, shall we go to the capital?>
<Before that, let me contact the encampment.>
Benedict changed frequencies and called the communications tent in the Sou Be-Il encampment. The soldier in charge of the radio was lost for words. Soon, the captain answered the call.
<Major! What in the world is going on here?>
<Captain. I decided that we needed two crafts after all. Do not come after us. I’m not going to explain anything. Over.>
After cutting the conversation, Benedict whispered to himself.
“...Wonder if I’ll at least make first lieutenant now.”
<Are you still alive, Wil?>
<Look! Look at that frozen lake, and the Central Mountain Range! You really get the best views with seats lined up like this.>
<Yeah. They’re beautiful. They are, but… ugh…>
<If nothing else… please promise me the landing will be normal.>
<Got it. Hyah! Inverted flight!>
“Are you all right? Is this aeroplane your first aeroplane flight?” Benedict asked Fiona, who was sitting to his right. She nodded stiffly. The aeroplane to their left, which had been flying upside-down, turned right-side-up again.
“Are you not cold?”
This time, she shook her head.
“I see. If there is anything uncomfortable, please tell me. Saying that, we will go to the capital.”
Allison’s fighter craft was flying on the left side of the observation model.
They maintained course over the lake so that they could make an emergency landing if the engines gave out, and continued south. They could clearly see streets and power lines. Beyond was a snowbank with coniferous trees dotting the slope. And to the side, rocky, snow-covered peaks that reached even higher than the aeroplanes’ current altitude.
<Hey, Wil.> Allison called.
<Yeah? What is it?> Wil answered, enjoying the view. Allison glanced over at the woman sitting in the observation craft to their right.
<Do you really think Fiona is a princess?>
Wil answered that he wasn’t sure.
<I don’t really know, but… even if she isn’t, there must be a reason she’s so desperate to go to the capital. I have no idea what that might be, though. And now that we’ve come this far, I want to know.>
Allison nodded, satisfied, and pressed the call button.
<Yeah. We’ve come this far—might as well go to the capital and see things through to the end.>
<Yeah. But what are we going to do once we get there? How will we find the rally?>
<I don’t know. Maybe we’ll have to land on the lake again? There’s a Roxchean encampment a little ways away. We’ll ask the major later.>
Flying the observation craft, Benedict glanced at his watch. Them, he checked the fuel gauge and was about to look ahead.
He noticed Fiona’s left leg trembling to his right. Her right leg, as well. He looked up and saw Fiona, her hands closed over her chest. Her hands were also shaking. Her face was frozen stiff in trepidation and fear, and her eyes were locked on the instrument panel.
“You have something very important hiding on your chest, do you not?” Benedict said.
“What?” Fiona looked up, surprised. Benedict smiled.
“You put your hand on your chest often. When you saw the advertisement and when you said you are a princess to us.”
“Yes… you’re right. I’m surprised you noticed.” Fiona said, her face still set.
“There is no need to worry like you do now.”
“I’m sorry for getting you involved in something like this.”
“What do you mean by ‘something like this’? I have the honor of carrying Her Highness of this country.” Benedict replied in good humor.
Fiona’s expression loosened instantly. Her eyes narrowed and she smiled.
For a moment, Benedict lost himself in her smile. Then, he joined her in a grin. Fiona looked at him and finally spoke, the smile never leaving her lips.
“I’m a fake.”
* * *
The observation craft flew over the lake with a pleasant roar, carrying Benedict and Fiona.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean exactly what I said. I’m not the real princess. Princess Francesca died ten years ago.”
“Er… but you are still going to the capital, yes? And in front of many people, you—”
“Yes. I’m going to lie to them. I’m going to tell them, ‘I am Princess Francesca!’.”
“…Knowing that well, you still want to do it?”
“Yes. I do.”
“...But why did you tell to me that you are fake?”
“Because… whether my plan works or not, I want at least one person to know the truth.”
“If it’s all right, could you hear out the rest of my story?”
“There is still much time before we arrive in the capital.”
<Major, I wanted to ask you something. What are we going to do once we get to the capital?>
He received a message from Allison.
<Sorry, I’m a bit busy right now. I’ll get back to you later.> He replied, cutting the conversation short.
Allison frowned and looked over at the observation craft.
Benedict looked flabbergasted. He said something to Fiona, who nodded firmly.
“What are they talking about?” Allison grumbled.
“Incredible… how could it be?”
Inside the observation craft. Benedict looked up at the sky with his back against his seat, mumbling in Bezelese. He unconsciously pulled back the control stick, and the aeroplane ascended slightly.
He quickly realized his mistake and returned the plane to level position.
Then, Benedict turned to Fiona and said in Roxchean,
“Surprising… I was very surprised. Yesterday and today, many things happened, but this was the most surprising. I have not been surprised this way since I saw first the mural.”
“So you believe me…? Thank you.” Fiona said, smiling. Benedict responded in a loud voice.
“Of course I believe you! Now I know everything. Who you are, and why you say you are the Her Highness, and the reason why you want to go to the capital. I understand everything completely. I was surprised.”
Then, his voice dropped to a whisper.
“I was surprised…”
Fiona spoke up.
“Carr Benedict. You’re a historic hero that everyone admires and trusts. I’m glad that you’re the one who shares my secret. I’m so glad I told you. I feel so much better now.”
Fiona was wearing a smile full of calm serenity. But Benedict grinned wryly and looked her in the eye.
“Wh, what’s wrong?”
“Miss Fiona. I want to tell you one truth also. It is about the heroic action of discovering the mural.”
“Just like you are not the real Her Highness… I am not the real hero.”
His gaze turned to the aeroplane flying to their left.
“What do you mean…?”
“Will you endlessly listen to my awful Roxchean?”
“You said that we still have a lot of time before we reach the capital, right?”
<They look cozy in there. What are they whispering about?> Allison wondered, glancing over at Benedict’s craft.
<Who knows?> Wil answered without a hint of sarcasm.
“I… I see…”
“Yes. The real heroes are the two people Allison Whittington and Wilhelm Schultz, who are flying over there. Another hero is the old man, and after him the noblewoman that helped the two people. I am only the hero after them.”
“I can’t believe it…”
“Are you disappointed that I am not the real hero?”
“No… I’m not. I was surprised about those two over there, but you’ve done so much, too. But why are you telling me all this?”
“Miss Fiona. The people in the world believe I am a historical hero. They treat me like that. That is reality. I… I sometimes hate being a fake hero. I rather want to go back and be a normal person. But I heard your story and changed my mind. Even if I am a fake hero, I am glad I am a hero. Do you know why?”
“Because I have a honor of carrying this country’s Her Highness to the capital to present her to every person. Because I know your secret, it will not be enough to only carry you there. While we are at it, let us make this the show to remember. I have a good idea.”
Allison cruised slowly as she kept a keen eye on the two on the observation craft. Benedict said something to Fiona; Fiona flinched in surprise, and replied; then she nodded, satisfied.
Wil sat behind Allison, looking down with unending wonder at the arc of the lake, enjoying the flight. To his right he could see two shadows moving side-by-side down the surface of the lake.
He then glanced up at the sun, and pressed the call button.
<What time is it now?>
Allison looked at her watch and the clock at her seat.
<There’s a bit of time left until lunch. But I’m starting to get a bit hungry.>
<Me too. But that’s not what I’m talking about—it’s going to be Night soon. Is it okay for us to keep flying? It might be dangerous if it starts when we arrive.>
<Huh? Ohh… That was today. Right. But I can’t exactly ask right now—the major’s not picking up.> Allison grumbled.
“That is all of my plan. How is it? The choice is up to you. Do you want to try it?”
“Yes! I’ll do it.” Fiona answered immediately. Benedict nodded.
“All right. Let us succeed for certain. For Her Highness Princess Francesca, who is not in this world anymore.”
“That is that, and… I am happy even if this is after everything is done, but… I have a request.”
“What is it?”
“Will you go out with me?”
“Let us go out together. A fake hero and a fake princess. Does it not go well together? Before, when I wooed women, I often asked them, ‘Would you like to go on an aeroplane ride?’… But I cannot say that anymore. I think I must think of other lines.”
“What…? Yes. Let’s. But are you really all right with someone like me?”
“I do not want anyone but you. You are very beautiful.”
“That’s… the first time anyone’s said that to me.”
“The people of your village must have bad eyes. Or perhaps they worried that if you knew you are beautiful, you could tell them, ‘I will go to the capital and become an actress’.”
“Really? I always assumed they didn’t want a country girl like me to embarrass them by leaving the village on my own.” Fiona said abashedly.
Benedict responded, his face the picture of gravity.
“You are very beautiful. May I kiss you?”
One person watched as two people kissed inside the small observation craft.
“This is not fair…!” Allison cried, forcing her gaze back to the front. There were the beautiful white mountaintops and the lake, and the clear blue sky. Her craft’s engine roared and its propellers spun loudly.
“This is not fair!” Allison repeated herself. She glared to her right again. The two people were facing one another. The woman smiled, embarrassed.
Allison looked back. Wil was behind her, absently looking down at the ground.
<Why?! Why are our seats lined up like this?!> Allison cried, accidentally pressing down on the call button as she grabbed the throttle lever.
Wil looked up and met Allison’s stare.
<What? You just said this was the best configuration for enjoying the view...>
<You were right, Allison. It’s cold, but the view from here is really—>
<Hold on to your seat!>
Benedict looked forward again. The fighter craft was pulling into an acrobatic maneuver.
It broke into a sudden reverse dive, then shot back up again in a corkscrew before falling sideways at the peak.
Then, a vertical descent followed by two consecutive loops. Fiona’s head turned twice as she followed the sight.
The fighter craft returned to level position and sped up.
Each time Allison’s arm, holding the control stick, smashed to the right, the craft rotated 90˚ to the right and returned to level position after four turns.
The craft ascended and descended several times, before finally joining the observation craft again.
<This is Benedict. Allison, do you copy? Is everything all right?>
<Oh, Major! I’m just fine.>
<I was more concerned about Wil, actually. He’s still alive, right? Answer me if you’re still there, Wil.>
<J…just barely…> Wil answered in a dying voice. Benedict shrugged and passed a headset hanging from the instrument panel to Fiona.
“Put this on.”
Fiona paused, then put on the headset.
<Allison. Fi is also hearing, so I will speak Roxchean. I will tell you how to do once we enter the capital.>
<All right.> Allison answered quickly. Then,
She and Wil wondered aloud simultaneously.
<Anyway, what do you have in mind, Major? If we’re going to make a landing on the lake, should I borrow a car from my unit somehow?>
Benedict answered immediately.
<No, you have no need to borrow it. The rally takes place on a balcony in a major street. It is at the end of the rather long and wide path, yes?>
<Umm… yes. I’ve been there before, when I went to sm- uh, I mean, go shopping.>
<Of course. Then we are decided. We would like to make a landing there.>
<What? ...Say that again, Major?>
<We would like to make a landing there. It is too much time to go from the lake to the downtown, and most of all, we would like to attract much attention. Then it is the best to go there with this aeroplane.>
<Are you serious?>
<Yes. I am serious. I decided this with Fi before, when we talked. The princess comes down from the heaven. Isn’t it wonderful?>
Allison turned to Wil. This time, Wil shrugged. Allison pressed the call button.
<We understand you’re being serious, Major. And we’re not going to object. But the street’s going to be full of people.>
<Of course, we will ask the people to move from the street. If it is this craft, there is plenty of time to escape while it cruises over their heads before it lands. I will ask them loudly to give me twenty meters of space, and it will work somehow.>
<But when I went there two days ago, I noticed police officers on security detail on the street. They’re on high alert, seeing as there’s so many people around. We’re flying Sou Be-Il aeroplanes—what if we get shot before we even land? Isn’t this really risky?>
<Police officers… I understand. It is not very sweet news. I do not care about me, but I cannot allow Fi to be shot with guns. Damn!>
<Do we really have to go straight into the rally?>
<Then… how about I go in first and lure the police away?>
<You may still be shot with guns. Er… Hmm. Fi says that we must not be so dangerous. Whether we go on land or sky, we must not kill anyone, she says.>
<I know that, but—>
Wil spoke over Allison. He addressed the others via radio.
<It’s going to be Night soon. Couldn’t we use the darkness to fly in covertly?>
“Oh!” Allison exclaimed. <That’s right! We could do that! Wil and I were talking about it just a little while ago. It’s almost time for Night.>
“Night?” Benedict wondered, frowning. <Did you just say ‘night’? It is only lunch hour. I do not understand—>
Benedict’s voice cut off suddenly. Allison turned, and saw that Fiona was telling him something. She saw Benedict nodding in understanding. Soon, he called back.
<I understand. I know now. That is what you call it in Roxchean. I did not learn that word yet. A ‘Midday Night’. Wil, do you know the precise time?>
<Yes. Our class was supposed to observe it from Slankalans, actually.> Wil replied, and repeated the time. Benedict glanced at his watch.
<That is good. We will proceed with the operation.>
Allison told Benedict everything she knew about the street. It stretched from east-southeast to west-northwest, and was about twenty meters wide. The straight stretch of the road was about a hundred meters in length, and lining the sides were two-story buildings and one large theater at the very end of the street, which had a wide balcony on the third floor.
She also explained that, in the capital, the wind blew in a nearly straight line from east to west. Then she informed him of landing procedures used by the Roxchean Air Force.
<That’s about it. I’ll keep an eye out while you land, so contact me if anything happens. Is that all?>
<Yes. You were very helpful, Allison. Now, please break this craft’s wing lights.>
Benedict turned on the lights on the observation craft. The two lights on the tips of the wings and the tail light flashed on.
<Like this, they will see even in the dark. It is good to be seen from behind, but I cannot allow people to see from the front. But because I cannot turn on the tail light alone, please break the wing lights.>
<How? You want me to fly in and clip them?> Allison asked, closing their distance. Benedict evaded to the right.
<That is somehow scary, so I will decline it. Wil. You have the handgun I gave you? Could you shoot the gun from there?>
Wil, surprised to be called on, quickly looked into the bag he had in front of him.
<I, I think so, but...>
<Then I ask you to shoot, Wil. Attach the stock to the gun, load the rounds into the magazine, and shoot the gun from below my aeroplane. There is no fuel in the wings. But I would be happy if you only shoot once each time. Can you do it?>
<Do you take me for a fool? I could complete such a task with my hands tied behind my back.> Allison said. Wil scolded her from behind.
After a moment’s thought, Wil agreed to shoot the lights. Taking off his gloves, he loaded the magazine and attached it to the gun. He mixed up the direction once, but he managed to attach the stock to the grip as well.
<I’m ready.> He finally said. Benedict asked Allison to fly under the observation craft.
<Please do not crash your aeroplane into our aeroplane.>
Allison slowly maneuvered under Benedict’s plane. First, she approached the left wing from behind. Wil held the gun in his right hand and put the stock on his shoulder. The gun trembled in the wind, so he placed his left hand on it and took a deep breath.
<Easy, Wil. Relax. You don’t need to answer me.>
Allison cautiously and expertly operated the controls. The distance between the two planes narrowed.
If one of the aeroplanes were to make any sudden movements, the two would crash in midair. But the gap closed without any unnecessary turbulence. Allison and Benedict concentrated solely on each other’s crafts, piloting with vigilance.
Wil aimed up and undid the safety.
The crisp sound of gunfire melded into the roar of the engines. An empty shell casing flew into the air. At the same time, pieces of the broken wing light scattered toward the lake.
Allison slowly pushed the control stick forward. The fighter craft and the observation craft grew apart.
<Now the right side, please.>
Allison flew under the right wing, just like before. Wil took out the light in one shot again.
<Incredible. You are an amazing sniper!> Benedict exclaimed. Allison held her head high.
<Of course! He may not look it, but Wil took sixth place in the Kaashi Competition!>
<The… Kaathi?> Benedict repeated. Wil called Allison.
<He couldn’t possibly know about it, Allison…>
Wil breathed a sigh of relief, the muffler still wrapped around his face. The slide on the gun was down fully—there were no more bullets left.
Benedict turned to Fiona.
“We are ready now. Now we must commence the operation.”
With her right hand clenched over her chest, Fiona looked at Benedict and nodded.
<I see it over there.> Allison said. Benedict and Fiona looked out at the scene unfolding before them, past the propellers. The snow-white lake was coming to an end, and a large blue mass emerged to its left.
It was Kunst, the capital of Iks.