The penultimate chapter. Look out for some interesting differences between the novel and the anime in this update.
After the next update will be Part 1 of Allison III.
In related news, I'll start working on Gakuen Kino 5 after I've finished the fourth volume of Allison. After that will be Lillia and Treize.
Chapter 7: The Princess and the Hero
Two aeroplanes were flying in wide circles over the lake, a slight distance from Kunst. They continued to circle the air clockwise, a little less than two hundred meters above the ground.
The sky was a dark blue. Though it looked like the sun had set moments ago, the sun was still in the middle of the cloudless sky. But more than half of it had already disappeared.
<—must walk the path to independence. Thank you for listening.>
A round of applause. The newscaster repeated the name of the politician who just finished his speech. Then, the newscaster announced that the rally would take a short break due to the coming Night.
<After the break, we’ll have a speech from the representative of the pro-Confederation side, Mr. Owen Nichto—>
Benedict turned off the radio and looked at Fiona.
“The rally is going just according to plan. And there are many people there, as well.”
Fiona returned his gaze without a word.
“It is all right. There are two people who are looking down on you from above you, and here is someone who will protect you now.”
With that, Benedict called to Allison.
<Are you ready?>
<We’re good to go any time now. And it’s a good thing Night is here on time. I was just starting to worry it wouldn’t happen.>
<It looks like Night isn’t a sleepyhead, unlike a certain someone here.> Wil chuckled. He then looked out of the aeroplane, which was tilting to the right, and up at the weakening sun.
Night was coming to midday.
The snow covering the ground began to go grey, and the shadows of the aeroplanes on the lake grew a shade fainter. The world began to lose light.
Benedict glanced at his watch and called Allison.
<Are you ready?>
<Anytime!> Allison replied immediately. Benedict looked to his right at the woman sitting next to him. She nodded firmly.
<Then let us go. Commence the operation.>
Benedict’s plane returned to level position. The tilted world returned to normal. From a slight distance, Allison’s plane mimicked his perfectly. The two aeroplanes began to descend. Dropping to one hundred meters over the lake, they passed the shore and into the sky over the vast capital city.
The compass on the instrument panel was pointed due southeast. With the wind against them, the two aeroplanes continued, casting dim shadows over the blue roofs.
In an alleyway in Kunst.
A man walking down the alley looked up at the sudden roar of engines. Two aeroplanes quickly flew past the long, narrow sky between one house and the next.
“Honey, come back inside. It’s almost Night.”
A woman called him in. The man did as he was told, his brow furrowing.
The dark blue sky grew even darker. The sun continued to shrink to the size of a pea, as though staggering in the middle of the sky.
Benedict’s plane slowed as it cruised over the darkened city. Blue roofs covered in snow rushed past behind him.
Soon, the world fell into deep darkness. Relying on his instruments alone, Benedict continued cruising parallel to the ground.
* * *
There was a square stone building at the end of the street. It was a magnificent marble building that completely dwarfed the houses around it.
There was a large balcony on the third floor, on the side of the building that faced the street. The balcony jutted into the street in a graceful arc, its railings engraved with ornate designs.
Set up at the end of the balcony was a podium and a microphone. Behind it were about a dozen men sitting in a row of chairs. They were dressed in suits and coats, and ranged in age from their forties to early sixties. Among the men was the subject of the posters plastered all over the city. On either side of the men also were rows of seats—they were occupied not only by men, but women and children as well.
And standing in the area were police officers. They wore formal dark blue uniforms, and around their waists were belts form which hung truncheons and sheathed ceremonial daggers. They were not armed with guns. On their heads they wore long cylindrical hats.
In front of the spiral staircases stood two officers each. On the right side was a desk, and a large radio was set up on it. No one was sitting there. There were a pair of headphones hanging from the back of the chair.
In front of the desk stood an officer in his forties who had a stern look on his face. There was an extra horizontal strip on his hat, setting him apart from the others.
A younger officer came up to him and saluted.
“Did you call, Captain Warren?”
The middle-aged officer called Warren pointed at a little boy who sat on one of the side seats. The boy was swinging his feet excitedly.
“It’s almost Night. Keep an eye out on that boy and make sure he doesn’t fall off the balcony. I’ll take over this station.”
The young officer answered and saluted him, then went up and knelt beside the boy. They spoke for a moment, and the boy began to ask him for his hat. The young officer put his hat on the boy’s head. His little face slipped right inside. As the boy laughed, Warren smiled and mumbled to himself.
“That’s against regulations, but…”
He looked down at the street from the balcony. The crowds gathered there to listen to the speeches were standing idly, waiting for Night to end. There was an even mix of men and women in the group. Most were of voting age, but he also saw the occasional senior. The street was not completely packed. Grey clumps of snow were visible between the people. Their voices echoed in a low rumble.
Warren looked at his watch. Then he looked up. The sky was painted a dark blue, and the sun was the size of a pea. Two first-magnitude stars shone next to it.
As Warren watched, even the little speck of sunlight finally disappeared.
“It’s Nighttime.” He mumbled, enveloped in darkness so deep that he could no longer see the street.
The moon that circled the planet once every eight days often covered the sun on the first day of the month. The solar eclipse would give birth to Night.
The buzzing of an insect began humming in the dark.
The hum slowly grew louder, and eventually filled the entire street.
“What is that?” Someone on the street wondered, looking up at the darkened sky.
A second later, the moon passed by the sun. Faint light returned to the world as though a curtain was pulled back. A shard of sunlight began glowing brilliantly in the indigo sky.
And the people in the street noticed something overhead.
An aeroplane was flying above them.
It was cruising just above the two-story buildings, almost close enough to touch by hand. And it was moving like a slow bicycle—so sluggish that it almost looked like it was frozen in midair.
The people watched, wide-eyed and jaws dropping in shock, as the aeroplane followed the street and slowly approached the balcony.
“Wh, what is this…?”
Bewildered, Warren watched the plane from the balcony as it drew closer. Like a backdrop in a play appearing in a moment of darkness, the aeroplane materialized where there had been nothing before. An aeroplane in the middle of the road, its wings reaching to either side.
“It’s going to crash…?”
Once more he was taken aback. The aeroplane did not look much bigger now than when it had first appeared. Gripped by the fear that it might come charging at any moment, Warren gaped at the craft before him.
But his reaction was no different from those of the other people around him. The eyes of the many people on the balcony were fixed on the aeroplane.
Hundreds of sets of eyes were on Benedict as he sat in the cockpit. He stared directly at the balcony and grinned.
The observation craft continued to cruise close to the ground. At the rate it was flying, it would soon crash into the balcony. Benedict opened the triangular window and poked his head outside. And he shouted as loudly as he could,
“Move! I’m landing!”
Everyone was instantly jolted to their senses. People scattered quickly from the area—some to the side, and others in the opposite direction.
Benedict took advantage of the gap left behind and began landing. Like a scene in slow motion, or like a craft being lowered by a crane, the aeroplane slowly approached the snow-covered street. Just before the skis hit the ground, he stopped the engine and the propeller. And he landed.
The suspension contracted as the craft hit the ground. The sound of creaking metal assaulted the ears of everyone on the street. The aeroplane slid forward, digging through the piled snow. It then came to a stop.
There were ten meters to the balcony.
No one was run over or hit by the aeroplane.
Checking that things were all right, Benedict looked to his right. Fiona was hanging on to the instrument panel, looking down at the ground.
“We’ve landed safely. No one is injured.”
Fiona slowly rose, and in the darkness saw many people watching from all around.
“It is all right!” Benedict said loudly. Fiona looked at him. “No matter what some say, there is an historical hero beside you. You will succeed, Your Highness.”
Fiona clasped her hands over her chest.
“You’re right. I know we’ll succeed…”
She slowly closed her eyes. She clenched her fists.
Soon, Fiona opened her eyes again.
“Then let’s be off, Hero of the Mural.”
Benedict saluted her from his seat.
“Of course, Your Highness.”
The light music playing on the radio broadcast was suddenly interrupted by the newscaster’s frantic voice.
<An aeroplane! A small aeroplane has just landed in front of the balcony! I don’t believe this! There are two people on the craft!>
<All right!> Allison cheered, drowning out the broadcast. Her aeroplane was circling overhead, climbing to a higher altitude. The moon was slowly moving past the sun, returning light to the world.
<This broadcast will temporarily give live coverage of this unusual incident that is currently taking place. For listeners who are just tuning in, an aeroplane has just landed in front of the balcony. Oh! Someone is disembarking. A young woman. And a man, as well!>
<Things are going really well! This is really awesome!>
Wil piped up from behind.
<Allison. An aeroplane needs to move forward to stay in the air—so you would need a long runway to land or take off, right?>
<Then how did Benedict just land on such a short strip of road?> Wil asked. Allison explained.
<Here’s the gist of it—that aeroplane is specialized for landings and takeoffs like that. It might look a bit dinky, but it’s the latest in Sou Be-Il aircraft technology. In fact, if I wanted to steal an aeroplane and take it back to Roxche, that one Benedict is piloting will be more useful than this one. Everyone’d prefer it.>
<I see… But don’t do it, Allison.>
<I was just giving an example. Anyway, I wonder what Benedict is planning to do now?>
<Who knows? All we can do now is listen to the radio.>
The newscaster continued.
<The police have the aeroplane surrounded. Oh! The man from the craft is saying something. The man is wearing a black military uniform. He’s shouting at the crowd!>
The aeroplane stood like an ill-fitting sculpture in the middle of the road. And from its side emerged a man and a woman.
Around them were whispering crowds and several police officers. On the balcony, the newscaster clutching the microphone and everyone else who was seated there had run over to the railings to have a look at the commotion.
Night slowly came to an end, and light returned to the eyes of the people, who had only just adjusted to the darkness.
Benedict helped Fiona climb down from the aeroplane. Then, he escorted her at her side.
The moment two officers stepped forward carrying truncheons,
“Everyone! Everyone here!” Benedict cried in Roxchean, spreading his arms wide. The officers stopped, and the crowd began to stir.
“Everyone! Policemen! I am Major Carr Benedict of the Sou Be-Il Royal Air Force! Some call me the Hero of the Mural!”
That was enough to strike the crowd into awe. People whispered in excitement.
“It’s the hero.”
“Wow, he’s handsome.”
“Is he for real?”
“It’s the hero…”
The officers exchanged glances.
“I am very sorry for the loudness! But I wished to come to this place somehow! People of Ikstova! Good day!”
With that, Benedict took off his hat and waved it in the air. He was greeted by a round of applause.
<This is incredible! Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the hero! The Hero of the Mural, Major Carr Benedict! What could he possibly be thinking? I repeat, Major Carr has stepped off the aeroplane!> The newscaster babbled in excitement. In the background was the sound of applause.
Allison was still circling overhead.
<Talk about Mr. Popularity.>
<It’s not surprising. I just don’t think I could have survived all that attention.>
<Ladies and gentlemen, the Hero is currently speaking to the chief of security. The young woman is still next to him. From her clothing, she seems to be from Ikstova herself. She had black hair, and… Oh! She is being escorted onto the balcony by Major Carr. She’s coming this way!>
“Hey! Call the captain! Major Carr’s at the capital!” Someone called in Bezelese.
In the communications tent in the Sou Be-Il Royal Air Force encampment, a soldier listening to the radio was giving his subordinate orders. The subordinate rushed out of the tent.
“What is going on here?” The soldier in headphones wondered, setting aside his duty of receiving radio transmissions from the Roxchean military and turning his attention to the radio.
Soon, the captain ran inside. His glasses were sliding down his face.
“Shh. We must listen quietly to the end.”
In the snow-covered village in the valley, almost every villager was gathered in the hall with the wooden table, staring up at the radio.
The elder said quietly,
“This, too, is part of our duty.”
With the eyes of the crowd locked on them, Benedict and Fiona appeared on the balcony. Not only the crowd on the street, but also the politicians and women and children who were on the balcony greeted them with curious stares.
The officer who escorted them up saluted Warren.
“Good work. Take care of the aeroplane.”
With his orders, the officer returned to the street. Warren took off his hat, and with a curious look at the woman fiddling with her hair, first saluted Benedict.
“Captain Warren of the Kunst Police Force. I’m in charge of security detail today, Major Carr. We… weren’t expecting a visit, I’m afraid.”
“You must know that we Sou Be-Il Air Force were doing a joint training session on the lake. I have some words I wish to tell everyone. So I came.”
Leaving Fiona at Warren’s side, Benedict walked up to the middle of the balcony and spoke to the politicians who greeted him.
“It’s an honor to meet a hero like you, Major Carr.”
Though each person was different, the greeting was always the same, each time followed by self-introductions. Benedict courteously responded to each person and shook their hands one by one.
Among the people he greeted was a man in his forties with his black hair slicked back. When he introduced himself, Benedict reacted.
“I know you. Your advertisements were sticking all around the city. Mr. Nichto, without your advertisements, I would never have known it and I would never have come here. Thank you.”
The man—Owen Nichto—smiled just as he did on the photographs.
“It is an honor, Major Carr. I can’t say I was expecting you to drop in, but would you perhaps care to join me for dinner after the rally?”
Benedict flashed a practiced smile.
“Of course, Mr. Nichto.”
Once he finished shaking hands with all of the politicians, Benedict grinned at the women sitting nearby. And with their excited screams at his back, he headed for the podium.
<Major Carr has just finished speaking to the Members of Parliament, and he is now going up to the podium. He seems to have something to say. Major Carr.>
<Say, you think maybe he’s planning to say something like, ‘I’m not a hero! Those two tricked me into this mess! Help me!’ or something like that? Maybe he was waiting for his chance, and he’ll prove his innocence and leave Fiona standing there! Wait, that’s it! He’ll seek asylum in Iks! So he can get all lovey-dovey with Fiona in that protected village! I’m kinda jealous.>
<How do you come up with these ideas, Allison…?> Wil sighed. Then,
“A protected village, huh…?” He wondered to himself.
<Everyone, good day. My name is Carr Benedict. I am a major in the Sou Be-Il Royal Air Force. I am called the Hero of the Mural.>
Allison continued to circle overhead.
The sun was almost back to its full size and intensity.
Benedict spoke into the microphone on the podium. His voice carried through the speakers and radios at the rally.
“For arriving rudely suddenly, I am very sorry. And my Roxchean is very weak—er, bad. I am very sorry. I am doing my best to speak.”
The crowd burst into laughter. One of the politicians whispered to his neighbor, “Look at that popularity. I hope he puts in a good word for the Independence Faction.”
“I came to this place because there is something I really wish to tell everyone! Everyone, will you listen to this intruder?” Benedict asked the crowd. The people cheered agreeably.
“Thank you! Then from now on, I will speak something very heavy. Here is someone I wish to introduce to you, but also the people listening to the radio!”
Benedict went over to Fiona, who was still standing next to Warren. He took her by the hand and slowly escorted her to the podium. The only people on the balcony who didn’t look confused were Benedict, Fiona, and the little boy who was swinging his feet.
Fiona and Benedict stood at the podium. The crowd went silent. Everyone looked at them curiously.
The newscaster narrated the events as they happened.
<Major Carr has just brought his companion up to the podium. What are they planning to announce?>
Benedict cleared his throat. Every last whisper was silenced.
“This lady is the person I wish to—I mean, the person I am very humbled to have a honor of announcing!”
There was a dramatic pause, before Benedict finally broke the news.
“Let me announce… the one daughter of Her Late Majesty the Queen; the first person in line to the throne of Ikstova, Princess Francesca!”
The silence at the rally was broken by the voice of the bewildered newscaster.
<D, did you hear that, everyone…? I… I don’t know what to say… Er…>
<He said it! Yeah!>
<What’s he going to do now, I wonder?>
“You all are surprised, right? That is not impossible. When I, too, heard the fact from Her Highness Princess Francesca, I was very surprised. Because I knew that she left this world in a fire ten years earlier!” Benedict continued. The politicians behind him exchanged glances. Some among them frowned visibly, while others could not bring themselves to pick up their jaws off the ground. Warren, standing off to the side, stared fixedly at the back of Fiona’s head.
“But! But Her Highness Princess Francesca ran away from the trouble and was safely alive. But because of the scary experience, she lost her memory, and lived as a normal village lady all this time!” Benedict explained energetically. A young officer hesitantly came up to Warren.
“Should we stop him, Captain? Shouldn’t we?”
“Not yet.” Warren replied.
“I’ll take full responsibility. But let them finish.”
<I met that Princess Francesca by chance and exchanged words together. And Princess Francesca said that she wants to show her face to you all as soon as she can. I also agree. That is the reason why I invaded a rally.>
Allison banked to the side, and along with Wil, looked down at the tiny streets.
“There should be many people among you all who think, ‘I cannot believe this’. But I can say for sure! This person here is Her Highness Francesca in the reality! I am finished. I will step back now.”
Most of the gazes directed at Fiona were dubious, yet tinged with the minute hope that Benedict was right.
Fiona looked around at the people and took the podium that Benedict offered her.
And just as she opened her mouth,
Someone cried from behind her. Fiona quietly turned, not surprised in the least.
<Oh! Mr. Nichto is walking up to Major Carr!> The newscaster announced.
Other politicians also stood at once, but Nichto gestured for them to stop. Then, stopping the other politicians who seemed to have wanted to say something, he approached the podium.
Nichto drew nearer to Fiona. Benedict stood in front of her, getting in his way. He pulled the microphone stand over from the podium and placed it between himself and Nichto.
“What is the matter? Mr. Nichto.”
Nichto answered into the microphone.
“I have no business with you, Major Carr. Nor do I have any business with the young lady.”
He took the microphone stand and went up to the podium.
Pausing for the crowd’s attention, Nichto continued in a commanding voice.
“Everyone! Though it pains me greatly to suggest, I believe we cannot allow Major Carr to continue. Some among you may wish to hear him out further; but we can no longer stand idly by as the people and the Royal Family of Ikstova are insulted. Do you not agree?”
Some expressed agreement at the proposal.
“Unfortunately, Her Majesty and the Royal Family of Ikstova left us ten years ago. It was a tragic incident, but a historical fact nonetheless. I’m sure I speak for everyone here when I say that it took us a great deal of time to finally part with the sorrow of their loss.”
Nichto shot Benedict and Fiona a glance. Benedict smiled and held out his hand, urging him to continue.
Nichto turned back to the crowd. Hundreds of people gave him their full attention.
“Unfortunately, our hero—Major Carr—doesn’t seem to have thought so far, being from another land. It is very unfortunate indeed.”
Then, he moved the microphone and said to Benedict,
“Did you know, Major Carr? That countless people have come forward in the past decade, claiming that Her Highness the Princess, or Her Majesty the Queen were still alive? Each and every case, however, was a lie and a fraud. They were trying to make a profit from the respect and patriotism our people have for the royal family. And for your information, everyone who came forward claiming to be one of them also claimed to have memory loss of some sort. Doesn’t that sound familiar to you, Major? I don’t know why you think that this country girl is Her Late Highness. Perhaps you were fooled by her into believing that you made another historic discovery here in our remote country. But let me say this: the people of Ikstova will not stand for any more trickery. Please leave us before our anger finally boils over.”
Nichto finished. Benedict turned to the crowd. Many were clearly disappointed. Some were even getting angry.
“We don’t need any outlanders trying to fool us!”
Though a vocal minority hissed at him, most of the crowd listened in silence.
Nichto moved the microphone stand back to Benedict.
“Do you have anything to say, Major Carr? If not, I humbly ask that you leave us today. We are in the middle of a political rally. It is a serious affair that will decide the future of our country. Would you like to say something?”
Benedict shook his head.
“I see. Then if you would—”
“I said before, ‘I am finished. I will step back now’.”
Nichto scowled at Benedict’s interruption. The latter gave Fiona a gentle push on the back and had her take the microphone.
“Mr. Owen Nichto.”
Her voice carried from the speakers and the radios, as did Nichto’s.
“Yes, young lady? If it is not too much trouble, would you give us your name?”
Fiona glared and answered curtly,
Nichto sighed loudly.
“You still insist on keeping up this charade. No citizen of Ikstova would be ignorant of how impudent it is to claim to be a member of the royal family, even if they have already passed away.”
“Of course. I know that very well.”
“If you truly are Her Highness, then answer me this. How did you survive the fire, and how did an orphan survive alone all this time? And where? We will not be satisfied with anything less than a complete explanation—but I suppose your unfortunate memory loss prevents you from telling us. Although, strangely enough, it seems that you still remember that you are a princess, Your Highness.”
Fiona remained silent in the face of Nichto’s sarcasm.
“This is a shame. It seems—”
But just as Nichto turned to the crowd,
Fiona suddenly spoke. Nichto stopped and turned.
“My memories begin at about nine years ago, after the fire at the royal palace.”
“Ah, yes. Your convenient memory loss.”
“Yes. But I can answer your question, Mr. Nichto. Someone rescued me from the palace, you see. And he raised me. His name was Treze Bain.”
Warren’s eyes, locked on Fiona for some time, turned to dinner plates. He mumbled,
“Very few people would know. Treze Bain was a doctor who visited the palace once every few days to assist the royal physician. When the fire broke out at the palace, I was rescued by the doctor, who happened to have hurried in that day. He took me to his home in the countryside. I heard from him later that I was on the verge of death for days. There were rumors back then… rumors that the fire was no accident. And the doctor also felt sympathy for me, left without memories or a family. He kept me safe in his home, telling the other villagers that I was his granddaughter who used to live in the capital. For ten peaceful years, I grew up as a normal village girl—as Dr. Bain’s granddaughter. But this past summer, he passed away of an illness. And just before he passed, he told me everything.”
Fiona’s voice rang across the dumbstruck streets.
“I thought about it for a long time. Was there any meaning to coming forward as the princess now, even though I’d lost my memories? Should I reveal the truth? That was when, yesterday, I met Major Carr Benedict, the Hero of the Mural. I asked him how he felt when he decided to make the announcement that would change the world. And this is what he said to me: ‘No matter what may happen, the truth must be told. I am certain of my belief’. So I decided to do the same, and received his help.”
As she continued circling the air, Allison asked Wil,
<What’s happening, do you think?>
<I’m not sure. Let’s just listen for now.>
“Interesting.” Said Nichto. “The circumstances seem plausible. But so were the stories of everyone else who attempted to defraud Ikstova. And I hesitate to say this, but it is also an excellent strategy for a potential liar to bring forward a celebrity like Major Carr to make themselves seem more believable—”
“So you want proof, Mr. Nichto?”
“Yes. By all means, if you can produce any. If not, I ask that you stop insulting the royal family further and leave our presence immediately.”
Fiona glanced at Benedict. He nodded slowly.
Reaching into her clothes, Fiona pulled out a gold necklace. Hanging on the golden chain was a small coin.
Holding out the pendant over her chest, Fiona used Nichto’s own words:
“No citizen of Ikstova would be ignorant of what this means, don’t you agree?”
<Oh… A pendant. The woman claiming to be Princess Francesca has pulled out a pendant… yes. It’s a necklace with a small coin on it. It’s difficult to see from here, but… It can’t be…>
The newscaster suddenly went silent.
<C’mon, do your job! We can’t see a thing from here!> Allison complained.
Instead of the newscaster, however, Fiona’s voice came from the speakers.
<Let me repeat myself. No citizen of Ikstova would be ignorant of what this means.>
“Yes. This is proof of my royal descent. My own crest. Dr. Bain returned this to me before he passed away. Is this good enough for you?”
Nichto shook his head and replied peremptorily.
“If you don’t mind, please show me the pendant. You might be bluffing with a piece of metal you found at a souvenir stand.”
“You’re a funny man, Mr. Nichto. Only in death does a member of the Royal Family allow the pendant to leave their possession. I’m sure you know that well. Not only that, how would you be able to judge my legitimacy?” Fiona asked, taking her fingers off the coin. Nichto pulled back his hand, unable to hide his irritation.
“Of course. You’re right. But unless someone comes forward who can verify your claim, you are still a liar and a fraud. Don’t you agree?”
“Of course. For once, we’re in agreement.”
“Then let’s not waste any more time here. We’ll search for someone who can prove the legitimacy of your pendant and make an official announcement at a later date. Although, obviously, it will be determined a detailed fake.” Nichto said, his tone speeding up.
“Why are you that anxious?” Benedict asked calmly, taking the microphone. Nichto shot him a glare. But Benedict spoke to the crowd nonetheless.
“Everyone. The big reason I carried Her Highness Princess Francesca here today is this pendant. If someone can proof that this pendant is real, please come over here to this place.”
There was a moment of silence. Some among the crowd exchanged glances, but no one stepped forward.
“Please.” Benedict whispered in Bezelese. Then, he spoke into the microphone in Roxchean.
“Is there no one?”
“Did you really expect to so easily find someone qualified to make that decision? Frankly, this performance of yours is incredibly upsetting, Major. If you’ll excuse me, please do as you like.” Nichto spat.
“Do you have no curiosity? This person may be Her Highness, Mr. Nichto.” Benedict asked.
“This is a waste of time, Major Carr. You are being deceived.”
“We do not know yet. Maybe someone will run to this place because they hear the radio.”
“Then please feel free to wait here as long as it takes. Until night really comes, if necessary.”
“There is no need!” Someone—not Benedict, and not Fiona—cried.
<I don’t know…>
It was Captain Warren.
Before anyone realized, he had come up to the middle of the balcony. As the crowd and the three people watched, Warren quietly bowed to Fiona, far enough from her that his hat would not brush against her.
“What is this, Captain?” Asked Nichto. Warren turned to Fiona and the crowd, ignoring him.
“Until that day ten years ago, I, Rein Warren, was posted at the palace as a member of the royal guard. And just once, not long after I joined the guard, I played with five-year-old Princess Francesca when she was out in the gardens.”
<Awesome, Captain! We have a witness!> Allison cheered, punching the air.
“But… if this doesn’t work…” Wil muttered without holding down the call button.
“I felt something strangely familiar when I first saw you today. I didn’t know what it was at the time. But now I realize—that old memory of mine was coming back to me. There is so much of the Princess’s face in yours.”
“I still can’t say for certain who you are. And I suppose you wouldn’t remember me, either. But please. Give me a chance to see for myself. Give me a chance to confirm the legitimacy of your pendant. The crest that belongs solely to Her Highness Princess Francesca—the crest that she showed me as she played that day. I believe my two eyes are still good enough to judge.”
“Wait!” Nichto cried. “Wait, Captain Warren. I’ve known you for several years now, but this is the first you’ve said anything about having been part of the royal guard. I’ve never even heard rumors of such things. It pains me to suspect an honest officer like you, but could you perhaps be in cahoots with this woman?”
Warren turned. He replied quietly, not a hint of emotion rising to his face.
“Of course you wouldn’t know, Mr. Nichto. After all, I never told a soul. Me, and the other members of the royal guard who survived that day… none of us revealed ourselves after the incident. How could we, having failed to protect the Royal Family? But I assure you that I am telling the truth. If you’ll visit the National Library later—though the documents are restricted—you’ll find all the employment records of the royal guard and its members up to ten years ago. You’ll find my name there are well. If not, I will gladly ask you to take my life.”
Nichto looked like he had swallowed a bug. Benedict spoke up.
“Thank you for the brave action. Then, we are asking you, Captain Warren.”
Warren nodded and pulled off his hat. His short, clean-cut hair emerged in the light.
Fiona took out her pendant and raised it to eye-level.
With his hat under his left arm, Warren put his right hand over his chest and slowly knelt. And he carefully examined the little gold coin before him.
There was an intricate crest on the coin.
Beyond the coin, Warren could see Fiona’s eyes—and Fiona also could see Warren’s wide eyes beyond the coin.
Then, Fiona gently flipped over the coin.
The intricate image carved there was a flower with long petals, bowing to the lower left.
“Don’t worry, Captain. I assure you, that’s the real deal.” Benedict mumbled under his breath.
<Well… a police officer, Captain Warren, has stepped up to examine the crest. Oh! He’s looking at it now.> The newscaster said quietly.
<We know that already! Well, Captain? What’s the diagnosis?> Allison pleaded from the cockpit.
The captain’s voice finally emerged from the radio.
<The royal crest, and the flower bowing to the lower left—the crest of Her Highness Princess Francesca—I can say for certain. This is the very pendant I saw that day, all those years ago. This pendant is legitimate. It is no replica.>
It was followed by the cheers of the crowd.
<Yeah!> Allison joined in the triumph. She did a barrel roll. So did Wil’s head.
Looking straight ahead as though that never happened, Wil’s eyes widened.
“How…?” He mumbled to himself.
As hurrahs filled the rally, Warren said no more and gracefully stepped away from Fiona. He carefully fixed his hat and bowed deeply.
“Thank you, Captain Warren.”
Warren raised his head; and without meeting Fiona’s eyes, he quietly stepped aside. He turned to his right and returned to the back of the balcony.
Fiona took the microphone and spoke to the crowds.
“And to the citizens of Ikstova—I, Francesca, am deeply grateful to you all.”
There was an ear-splitting cheer, accompanied by the occasional shouts of ‘Princess Francesca!’.
Fiona passed the microphone to Benedict.
“What do you think, everyone? Now you understand why I, Carr Benedict came to this place today?” He asked, gesticulating dramatically. The crowd cheered once more.
Then, Benedict turned to Nichto, who was standing blankly.
“I understand why you said that Her Highness is a fraud, Mr. Nichto. Certainly, until before, it can’t be helped that you did not believe in us. But what do you think now?”
All eyes were on Nichto. He smiled. With a shake of the head, Nichto went up to the microphone and spoke so everyone could hear.
“You win, Major Carr.” He grinned. “It is incredibly likely that this woman is Her Highness Princess Francesca. And I understand that you’re not a fraud with a flair for the dramatic. I made some awfully discourteous accusations against you. I take them all back. And I sincerely apologize.”
“Just like a Member of Parliament, Mr. Nichto. But I was not tricked, but I like dramatics very much. Please correct that.”
“Hah hah. I surrender, Major.” Nichto chuckled. With an optimistic evaluation, he looked rather elegant. Less optimistically, he looked irritating. He offered Benedict a handshake. Benedict took it. The crowd finally broke the silence with a round of applause.
Nichto took the podium and spoke.
“I will take my leave now and hand over the podium before I’m embarrassed any further. Apologies to anyone who’s come to listen to me speak, but I’ve spoken more than my share today.”
As the crowd burst into laughter, Nichto waved his hand to the cheers of his supporters. Then, he gave Fiona a deferential bow, gave the politicians a friendly nod, and walked over to the side of the balcony.
Benedict took his eyes off Nichto. He turned to Fiona and nodded, satisfied.
“Mr. Nichto.” Benedict said suddenly. Nichto turned.
“You forgot this.” Benedict said, holding out his right hand. There was a small golden object in his fingers.
It was a golden cufflink shaped like a rhombus. There was a beautiful crest engraved intricately upon it.
Nichto looked down at his left sleeve. There was an identical cufflink. Then, he looked down at his right.
Realizing that both cufflinks were still there, Nichto frowned.
Fiona stared silently.
“This is your cufflinks, yes? Mr. Nichto. This is a precious thing that has your family crest drawing on it. It would be troublesome if you lose it.” Benedict said.
“Yes, that is mine… but where did you find it?” Nichto asked, reaching for the cufflink.
But just as his fingers drew near, Benedict quickly pulled his hand away. Nichto caught nothing but thin air.
“I am kidding.” Benedict said jovially. Nichto struggled to hide his irritation.
Benedict turned and handed the cufflink to Fiona. Nichto turned to her.
Her gaze on him was icy.
Clasping her right hand over the cufflink, she closed her eyes. She brought her hand up to her chest, over the pendant.
Soon, she opened her eyes and spoke.
“This cufflink will not be returned to you until you’ve left prison, Owen Nichto, dead or alive.”
Her frigid voice carried to the ears of those nearby, and to those far away through the microphone.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about…”
Nichto’s voice as well.
“I accuse you of murder and assault. You’re going to prison, Owen Nichto.”
The crowd fell silent in a moment of terrible calm.
“Ten years ago, you committed murder. My mother, my father, and countless servants… do you understand what I’m saying? Of course you do. Yes. After all, you’re one of the people who stormed the palace that night.”
Like a swarm of insects squirming as one, the crowd gasped. The eyes of all gathered there—the politicians and delegates on the balcony, the police officers, and the crowd—all were on Fiona and Nichto. Only the little boy from before was still swinging his legs, completely uninterested in the unfolding conspiracy.
“Wh, what do you—”
“You’re going to ask me for proof again? It’s right here in my hand. This cufflink is yours. It’s also the only thing I managed to take from the palace that night, other than my pendant.”
“Dr. Bain gave me this cufflink when he returned my pendant. He told me that I was clutching onto this desperately in spite of my injuries. He must not have known what it was. But the moment I received it, some of my memories came back to me. I remembered that I got a hold of this cufflink in the past, when something horrible happened to me. And when I saw this poster from your election campaign, I saw this cufflink—the same one you’re wearing now. This is proof that you were on the scene, and proof that the fire was no accident. You must have assumed that the cufflink you lost melted in the fire.”
Nichto gaped on the silent balcony, lost for words. He could not manage to speak.
Benedict spoke up.
“Mr. Nichto. Now do you understand the reason why we picked this place for Her Highness’s presentation? I told you before. I like dramatics.”
“What is the matter? What do you wish to say?”
Nichto answered quietly, calmly.
“Many things. But I suppose anything will sound like an excuse if I say it here and now.”
“I suppose so.”
“So I have nothing to say. But your companion has just made an accusation against me, correct?”
“Yes. You are correct.” Benedict replied.
“In other words, I will stand trial. I will hire a lawyer to speak on my behalf and answer you properly, with legitimate evidence. I will prove that I had nothing to do with that tragic incident. Which will the people trust, I wonder? A cufflink someone might have picked up anywhere? Or the testimony of trustworthy witnesses who will prove that I was not at the scene of the crime?”
“Please do as you wish. But do not forget that the real Highness and me, the Hero of the Mural, are going to fight with you until the end. Our evidences are this pendant, and the cufflink with a drawing of your family crest. The cufflink that only you can own. I hope you have many friends who can continue lying with a story that will be revealed to be fake one day.”
Nichto snorted and turned, heading to the right side of the balcony.
“Please take care of him, Captain Warren. We will go soon also.”
Captain Warren nodded and stood before Nichto as he approached.
“This way, Mr. Nichto. I’m afraid you’ll have to come with us immediately.”
“Captain. Do you honestly believe that woman and her impossible claims?”
“I believe that she is Princess Francesca. And I believe in what she says.”
Nichto looked disgusted.
“Of course. You really were telling the truth about having been part of the royal guard. Honest and stubborn to a fault.”
“I told you earlier. If I’ve lied, you may take my life.”
Nichto stood next to Warren. Warren stepped forward to arrest him.
“Yes. You did. But even if you’re telling the truth—”
At that moment, Nichto tackled Warren with his shoulder.
Warren fell forward at the sudden attack. Nichto reached for the ceremonial dagger sheathed at Warren’s side. He pulled it out, and a twenty-centimeter blade came unknotted into Nichto’s hand.
“—I’ll be taking you life anyway!”
As Warren lay on the floor, Nichto pierced his gut without a moment’s hesitation.
“Shit!” Benedict swore in Bezelese.
Warren had quickly covered his stomach with his arm, but the dagger went straight through his arm and into his side. Blood spilled a crimson red on the balcony.
“Impressive, Captain!” Said Nichto, pulling out the dagger. Blood spilled from Warren’s side as well, staining his uniform. Nichto stepped down on his face and kicked him in the head, knocking him out. Then he began running.
He was not headed for the side exit—the spiral staircase leading down—instead, he charged at the guest seats in front of it. Nichto ran toward the people sitting there, who were mostly watching in horror without any idea what to do. He quickly tackled a young woman in one of the chairs. She fell to the floor, chair and all, and did not move.
Right before Nichto’s eyes was a young boy, looking up at him absently.
For some time, all that came out of the radio were screams and angry howls.
<Hey! Newscaster! What’s going on here?!> Allison demanded.
And as if on cue, the newscaster’s voice returned to the foreground of the screams.
<E, everyone! Mr. Nichto has just stabbed Captain Warren!>
<He’s grabbed a young boy who—no! He’s choking him from behind with his left hand! The boy seems to be in pain! How could this happen?>
Women shrieked as they fled the balcony. The one who was knocked to the ground was pulled away by a nearby officer. Most of the politicians also ran.
“N, Nichto—” One of the politicians said, trying to talk him down, but Nichto shot him an icy glare. The politician backed away silently, before finally turning tail.
The boy was frozen, still not understanding what was happening. Nichto pulled him up by the underarm with his left hand. In his right hand was the bloodstained dagger.
He kicked a chair aside. The chair flew through the air and hit the balcony, breaking loudly for the microphone.
The newscaster alone remained on the side of the balcony, continuing the broadcast.
“Mr. Nichto is holding the boy hostage as he approaches Major Carr and Princess Francesca! It seems like… he’s saying something to them! I’ll raise the microphone’s sensitivity.”
With the child still under his arm, Nichto shook off the blood from his right hand and stepped closer to Benedict and Fiona, who were at the center of the balcony. His calm facade was nowhere to be seen now; his slicked-back hair was a mess, and hostility was clear in his eyes.
“I suppose I should have known.” Fiona said, glaring.
Benedict glanced at Captain Warren, who was fallen on the floor. A younger officer went over to give him first aid treatment, and Warren slowly raised his head.
“Mr. Nichto, you are the worst human. Not only the crime you did ten years ago, but the crime you are doing now will pay for certain.” Benedict warned, turning his gaze to the side of the balcony. Several police officers holding truncheons were glaring at Nichto.
“I’ll have to decline. You officers over there. Don’t take a single step. Or do you not care what happens to this innocent child?” Nichto threatened, sliding the tip of the knife against the boy’s cheek. His face was smeared with Warren’s blood.
Fiona took a step forward. Benedict tried to stop her, but she calmly pushed his arm aside.
<Let the boy go, Owen Nichto.>
<Don’t make me laugh, you half-dead witch.>
<You took me hostage all those years ago… in that very same way.>
Allison was indignant.
They watched from the aeroplane circling overhead. The balcony was a tiny dot below.
“So you do remember. Yes. The queen and her husband both crawled out of their hiding-holes to save you, and I shot them both. They were perfect targets. But I seem to recall putting two bullets into your skull right afterwards.” Nichto laughed. Fiona shot him a furious glare.
“Both of you, get out of my way. Or this boy loses his ear.”
Benedict pulled Fiona away by the shoulders to the side of the balcony. Nichto walked up to the center of the balcony, which jutted out over the street. Over the railings he could see the crowd watching in transfixed silence. And in the midst of the crowd, an aeroplane.
With the railing behind him, Nichto held the boy at knifepoint.
“I’m going to take my leave. Conveniently enough, there happens to be an aeroplane right here in front of me. I’ll be taking it. And I’ll be asking the Hero of the Mural to pilot it for me. I’m sure that craft can seat three.”
“And what if I refuse you?” Benedict asked. Nichto answered immediately.
“Then this nameless boy goes down in history as a martyr. His life being on the princess’s head, of course.”
“I understand.” Benedict replied coldly. And he laughed. “I understand, Mr. Nichto. I will be your hostage and your pilot. I do not wish to fly an aeroplane beside a man, but, well, this is not the time to be saying things like it.”
There was an incredulous look on Fiona’s face. Benedict met her gaze.
“This cannot be helped. The life of the hostage is the most important thing.”
Then, he turned to Nichto.
“If I wish to fly the aeroplane, I must prepare the aeroplane. Will you wait here? Or will you wait with the other people on the street there?”
“I’ll stay here. Work quickly now, Major.”
Benedict turned to Fiona.
“Keep your eyes on him from this place.”
Benedict began walking away. He looked back at Fiona, winked at her, and went off to the right side of the balcony.
“I’m glad the man knows to listen to reason. But what a fool. Is he really a hero?” Nichto sneered. Fiona shot him another glare.
“If he heard you, he would be wondering by now if he should be happy or sad.”
There were several officers remaining on the right side of the balcony. One of them was Warren, who vehemently refused to be moved as he was treated where he lay.
Suddenly, he glimpsed Benedict walking in his direction. Warren weakly sat up.
“Major… you can’t let that bastard get away…”
“Please do not try too much.” Benedict replied. One of the officers came up to him stubbornly.
“Are you really going to let him get away with this, Major?”
“No.” Benedict replied sharply. He turned to the young officer at the radio who was desperately calling for backup from the distant police station.
“Please move beside.”
Benedict took the officer’s headset, pushed his chair aside, and took the microphone. Then, he reached over to the transmitter and changed frequencies.
<This is Benedict. Allison, do you copy? I’m on the ground, using the police force’s radio.>
Allison replied immediately in Bezelese.
<Yes, I hear you. Things must be getting dicey down there.>
With the microphone in hand Benedict looked out at the middle of the balcony. Nichto stood leaning against the railing, and the boy was limp at his side. And a little ahead of Nichto, Fiona, who was probably still staring a hole through him.
<I need your help. Both of you. We have to stop this guy.>
<All right. Wil?>
<R, right. What do we do?>
Both Allison and Wil answered. Benedict pressed the call button.
<He’s standing at the edge of the balcony now, holding a little boy hostage. Shoot him in the back from midair. The two of you will snipe him together.>
Wil gaped incredulously from his seat. Allison sounded enthusiastic.
<All right! Just leave it to me. I’m no good at aiming by hand, but I can do it from an aeroplane. I just have to shoot him down with this craft, right?>
<No. That craft is equipped with a 20mm machine gun. You want to turn the balcony into a beehive?>
Allison’s pout carried over Benedict’s astonished voice.
<It’s up to you, Wil.>
<Just like before. You have to shoot him from midair.>
<I’ll distract him starting now, so Allison—you descend just low enough to reach the balcony, and bank to the side as you cross the street. That’s when Wil will shoot him.>
<But that’s too dangerous! What if I shoot the hostage, or you?>
<Don’t worry about the hostage. The bastard’s own body will be enough of a shield. Those rounds you have won’t penetrate that far. And I’m ready to lose an arm and a leg if necessary.>
<You can do it. Sixth place at Kaashi, you said. You and Allison are the only ones I can count on now. And just one more thing—we’ve got a lot of questions for this guy, so try to keep him alive if possible.>
Three seconds passed before Allison finally broke the silence.
<I’ll do it. We’ve come all this way, so we might as well.>
<Good. And you, Wil? Could you lend us your strength, just like you did when you saved us and the mural?>
<...Yes. I’ll do it.>
<Thank you. Open fire in exactly sixty seconds. Are both of you ready?>
Soon, he received their answers. As the officers watched, Benedict nodded, satisfied.
<Then we’ll synchronize our watches. 3, 2, 1, now.>
Benedict pressed the knob on his wristwatch. The stopwatch hand on the 12 began ticking.
<Easy, Wil. We still have 55 seconds.>
As Allison calmed him down, Wil quickly got to work. The aeroplane was turning rapidly like a hunter having located its prey, and was descending. He could feel the pressure on his body. First, Wil took off his gloves.
Taking out the handgun from the bag between his feet, he attached the stock without getting it confused this time. Then, he tried to take out the box of ammunition from the inside of the bag, but fumbled.
<We still have time.> Allison said lazily, as though having read his mind. This time, Wil succeeded. He opened the lid.
“Is everything set?” Nichto asked as Benedict returned to the balcony. The dazed child was under Nichto’s left arm, his feet above the floor.
Fiona came up to Benedict. Benedict spoke to her.
“You must go beside. It’s dangerous.”
“Captain Warren is calling you. Leave this problem to me from now on.”
Giving Fiona a gentle push, Benedict looked down at the watch on his left wrist.
<We’re getting into position, Wil.> Allison said, her tone still laid-back. The aeroplane was cruising just over the houses. Blue and white roofs passed by them, close enough to touch. Their destination was the large building ahead.
The handgun on Wil’s lap was empty, the slide fully lowered.
<He’s going to be on our left. I’ll tilt over and slow down as much as I can.> Allison said, looking at the built-in clock. She returned the throttle lever to starting position, and the engine grew significantly quieter.
<If I don’t make the first shot, how much time do I have for another?>
<You won’t. It’s all-or-nothing. 25 seconds left.>
In Wil’s right hand was a single bullet. He loaded it into the magazine and inserted it into the gun. There was a dull shine to the round as it glinted through the hole in the slide.
Wil held the gun against the left side of the fuselage. He lowered the slide stop with his thumb. The slide swallowed the bullet with a metallic noise.
<All right! Take it easy, now.>
Wil put the stock against his shoulder.
“Just one shot.”
“Well, Major. If you’ll lead the way.” Said Nichto, raising the dagger in his hand.
“Saying that.” Benedict said, crossing his arms. The second hand on his left wrist passed the 40-second mark.
Benedict slowly approached Nichto, his expression inscrutable. Surprised by his actions, Nichto pulled the boy in front of him. 50 seconds.
“I am saying that I will not leave a villain like you, you garbage.”
55 seconds. Benedict took another step.
Nichto stopped short of pointing the dagger at the boy’s neck, and instead held it out toward Benedict, who had walked right up to him without a hint of fear. He then raised his arm to attack.
Allison was counting down.
The scenery was flowing from right to left. Formless roofs suddenly gave way to a gigantic theater. Soon, the world turned as though they were riding on a rotating plate. And the balcony came into view.
<3… 2… 1…>
From behind the tilted wing, Wil saw the two men. The back of the man standing before the railings, and just beyond him in a near-match of silhouettes, the confident Benedict.
The gun was pointed at both men.
Wil pulled the trigger.
Out of nowhere came the roar of an engine.
Over the head of the man lunging to stab him, Benedict glimpsed the fighter craft carrying Allison and Wil. On the side of the fuselage was the crest of the beacon. The gun at the back seat was pointed in his direction.
Benedict did not try to move.
“I’m counting on you.”
A golden shell casing shot up from the gun.
Nichto gasped in pain. At the same time, the fighter craft rushed by like a gust of wind, disappearing into the sky. Blood spouted from Nichto’s left shoulder. He writhed in pain and wildly swung the dagger. The blade cut thin air.
“Excellent!” Benedict cried, and tackled Nichto with his left shoulder. Then, he quickly pulled over the child with his right arm.
Immediately, he pushed the child to the ground. The boy fell on his back.
“You bastard!” Nichto roared. His face contorted as he swung the dagger at Benedict’s neck.
With a glare, Benedict raised his left hand as though covering his neck. He held his right hand behind it like a support.
There was a dull sound as the dagger came to a stop. The tip of the blade was lodged in Benedict’s wrist by a scant few millimeters.
“What… is this…?” Nichto hissed.
“It is very expensive.” Benedict replied in Roxchean.
The dagger had shattered the glass pane of the wristwatch on Benedict’s left hand, destroying the face of the watch and coming to a stop inside the clockwork.
Benedict swung his left arm. The dagger flew into the air and fell to the floor with a loud noise.
Nichto stood in a daze. Benedict clenched his right fist.
“I made a promise!”
And he ‘ouched’ Nichto in the face.
<Oh! Major Carr has taken the hostage and—the dagger! Look out! No! It’s flying off… This this is incredible!> The newscaster cried.
<What’s going on down there?! Straighten up, news guy!> Allison complained as she ascended and sped up.
<He’s punched him! Mr. Nichto has just hit the railing and is on the floor! The boy is also safe! Major Carr’s done it!>
<Yes! He did it, Wil! Isn’t the major amazing?> Allison cheered. <And you, too, Wil!>
She turned. Beneath his goggles, Wil was smiling a little. In his right hand was the gun, the slide lowered all the way.
At the same time, a voice interpreting the broadcast into Bezelese filled the communications tent.
“Go, Major Carr!”
The Sou Be-Il soldiers cheered in excitement, not caring that military equipment was being damaged as they hugged and jumped around in the tiny tent.
The bespectacled captain gasped,
“That’s it! If it’s a boy, I’ll name him ‘Benedict’!”
* * *
With his hair in a mess, Nichto stood weakly against the railing with blood dripping from his mouth.
He looked up. Before him were Benedict and Fiona. Behind them, police officers glaring with truncheons at the ready. Behind them, Captain Warren, sitting in a chair with bandages around his stomach.
Fiona spoke. Benedict pulled the microphone over to her.
“I accuse you of the crime of raiding the palace that night.”
“But before, you will be arrested for this crime. Please be careful that he does not run away. We will listen to his story after. I’m sorry, but I think our dinner will have to be eaten with bars between us two.” Benedict said, waving the right hand that had punched Nichto.
Nichto spat saliva and blood onto the floor. Blood flowed from his limp left hand, dying his suit a deep red.
He slowly got up. The officers moved quickly. Nichto leaned against the railing and looked out at the streets.
No one was moving. The crowd watched as though frozen. Hundreds of sets of icy eyes.
“Hmph… you have no idea how easy you have it…”
His wavering voice carried through the microphone and out of the speakers. The crowd watched silently.
“I’m just going to say one last thing: don’t even think about separating from Roxche.”
“But you say the things you wish to say until the end. Incredible.” Benedict said, honestly impressed.
Nichto looked at him, also smiling.
“This… this is all your fault. If you hadn’t made this discovery… if only you’d left it to rot…”
“This discovery was too large to hide.”
“Heh… And you, the immortal Princess Francesca…”
Fiona met Nichto’s gaze. This time, not with a glare, but with pity.
“I… I have two requests.”
“For now, I’ll listen to what you have to say.”
Nichto’s weak voice rode the airwaves and reached Allison and Wil.
<One… do not hold my family accountable. My wife, my daughter… they had nothing to do with my actions. They don’t know what I did.>
Fiona’s voice replied.
<That’s a rather tall order coming from the man who shot my family. But I will promise you as the princess of this country, Owen Nichto. Everyone here will serve as witness.>
The green aeroplane continued to circle the city overhead.
“And the second request?”
Nichto smiled. With an optimistic evaluation, he looked rather irritating. Less optimistically, he looked elegant.
“Go to hell… Princess Francesca.”
“I’m afraid I’ll have to decline. Is there anything else?”
Nichto put his right hand on top of the railing. He pulled himself onto the ledge.
His smile twisted into a smirk.
“Shit!” Benedict swore in Bezelese, lunging forward.
Nichto’s body leaned back. Fiona gasped. Benedict reached his right arm to Nichto, not with a fist, but with an open hand. He caught nothing but thin air.
There was the sound of the gasping crowd.
Nichto’s body disappeared from the balcony.
Then came the sound of a person falling head-first onto a stone-paved street from a third-story building.