An update. Enjoy.
“It’s dirty work. Only a gentleman can carry it out.”
That was what I learned, and that was what I believed.
I betrayed many people, and sometimes I threw them away.
I made many shed tears, and sometimes I killed them.
I loved my country, and my country loved me.
I gave my all for my country, and my country paid me back in full.
I love my country. Even if my country does not love me.
I give my all for my country. Even if my country does not pay me back in full.
How did it come to this?
did it come to this?
Oh, Goddess of Fortune.
You cruel and fickle mistress.
I will not lose.
I will use any means necessary.
What use is that head of yours?
To display hats?
To touch with your fingertips as you salute?
The whistle finally sounds.
Chapter 1: Radio and Telegrams
The 14th day of the second month of the year 3288 of the World Calendar.
<Good evening, Raputoa and neighbors. This is Republic Radio, bringing you the evening news.
The Confederation Department of Transport has officially announced today that citizens of the Roxcheanuk Confederation will now be permitted to travel to the Allied Kingdoms of Bezel-Iltoa.
Starting from the 2nd, even civilians will be able to use the transcontinental express bound for the capital of Sfrestus. The luxury passenger liner that crosses the North Sea Passage, scheduled to begin service this summer, will also be open to civilians. The curtains are finally rising on the age of transcontinental travel.
For a short period of time following the first journey of the transcontinental express train, the train’s schedule will be built around tours conducted near the stations and the nearby hotels. This travel package will be conducted once or twice every month, and travelers are encouraged to join the maiden journey that is set to begin next month.
The price has yet to be determined, but according to the Minister of Transport, it ‘will not be cheap’.
In other news, public security in Bael is worsening uncontrollably as a protest calling for national independence turned into a riot in the capital of Baelcia. Police fired rubber bullets at the rioters, leaving many injured. There are also reports that farms are being robbed of produce in the countryside. If the situation continues to worse, the Confederation Army may be dispatched—>
* * *
Evening. The first day of the third month of the year 3288 of the World Calendar.
In the town of Makkaniu, in the Republic of Raputoa.
“I don’t believe it…” Wilhelm Schultz gasped in the plain concrete lobby of the Lowe Sneum Memorial Secondary School student dormitories.
He was standing in front of a wall of student mailboxes, which were packed together like honeycombs. He had light brown hair and brown eyes. On his arm hung his jacket, and in his hand was an open envelope. There was a stamp on it, marking that it had passed inspections. It was international mail from Sou Be-Il. Inside were two pieces of paper.
Wil looked down at them and mumbled.
“I’d better write back… I wonder if it’ll arrive in time?”
At about the same time.
In a certain valley in the Kingdom of Iks in the Roxcheanuk Confederation.
“Fi—I mean, Your Highness! It’s a letter! You have a letter from the hero!” A middle-aged woman exclaimed, rushing into the village hall. She was plump to put nicely, and fat to be blunt. The front door led her straight into a rectangular room with stone walls, which was furnished with a large table made with a thick board. Several village women wearing aprons sat around it, enjoying a relaxing cup of afternoon tea.
All eyes were on the plump woman. The only young person among them—a woman about twenty years of age—put down her mug and stood. The woman, who had short black hair, took the envelope with a word of thinks and carefully opened it under everyone’s gaze. And for dozens of seconds, she read one of the two pieces of paper.
“Oh my. This is a surprise.” She chuckled.
“What does it say, Your Highness?!” The fat woman asked nervously. Then, something occurred to her. She began stuttering.
“C-c-c-c-could it be a… a p-p-p-p-proposal?!”
“Unfortunately, no.” The young woman replied with a smile. “But that might not be so far off.”
Everyone reacted at once.
Cried the fat woman.
At about the same time.
In a pilot’s lounge in a certain Confederation Air Force airfield in a certain country in the Roxcheanuk Confederation.
“It’s here!” Allison exclaimed triumphantly, grasping an envelope in her left hand. Inside the small lounge were rickety chairs and several tables. It was dark, with the only light coming from a dim lightbulb. There was no one else around.
Allison had her long blond hair tied at her neck and tucked into her grey coveralls. Her leather jacket, aviator hat, and goggles were lying on a chair. There was a dark stain on the bridge of her nose—the only part of her face not covered by her goggles and muffler.
“Pretty good, Mr. Hero!”
In her right hand was a newly-read letter and a piece of paper of about the same size. The piece of paper was thick and expensive, and was a light cream color.
At the top of the letter were written Roxchean words in fancy, official letters:
[The holder of this ticket, Allison Whittington, is hereby recognized as an official passenger of the transcontinental express train.]
“Allison, are you here?” A female pilot in her twenties asked, stepping inside. Allison was practically dancing in glee.
“What’s this? Another letter from your boyfriend?”
“Nope!” Allison replied giddily, ending her dance. Her friend frowned.
“Oh? Cheating on him already? Kids these days…”
At about the same time.
A certain countryside village in the Allied Kingdoms of Bezel-Iltoa.
The gentle slopes were lit by the morning sun, dotted with citrus trees and identical white buildings with red roofs.
In the yard of one of those buildings, Carr Benedict lay on a hammock hanging from pipes as he stared up at the sky through his sunglasses. He wore a simple long-sleeved shirt and slightly messy cotton pants. Next to the hammock were a pair of comfortable-looking sandals.
“They must have arrived by now. I’m sure they’re happy. I guess I’ve kept my promise.”
Mumbling to the sky, Benedict held up a paper aeroplane between his fingers and raised his right hand.
The aeroplane slowly took to the sky and crossed the radiant sun.
A shrill, female voice interrupted the flight.
“Benedict! Just because you’re a historic hero doesn’t mean you get to put off cleaning your room! You’ve been gone so long; why won’t you be more considerate of your poor mother? Clean up your mess, now! Also, we’re out of vinegar and eggs, so go pick some up before you start! And don’t get distracted hitting on girls!”
The paper aeroplane spun, unable to take the barrage of attacks, and landed on his stomach.
At about the same time.
A room inside a certain building in the city of Sfrestus, capital of the Allied Kingdoms of Bezel-Iltoa.
“Let me get to the point, Colonel. Your proposed plans has just been approved.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I haven’t done anything to deserve your gratitude. Now, do you really intend to personally take part—”
“I must finish this myself, Brigadier General.”
“I understand. Then let me wish you luck. Fortune be with you, ‘Major’.”
* * *
The 22nd day of the fourth month of the year 3288 of the World Calendar.
“Marry me, Wilhelm Schultz! We’re close, aren’t we? I’m outgoing and you’re calm, so we’ll make a great couple, won’t we? Just like my mom and dad! And we’ll have a wonderful family together that everyone’ll be jealous of. We’ll have four kids! A daughter, a son, a daughter, and a daughter. We can start coming up with names tomorrow. Isn’t that a great idea?”
Wil was lost for words.
He was sitting at a white table, wearing a winter school uniform. He was not wearing a tie. Wil was in a vast garden that belonged to a grand mansion—carpeted underneath him was neatly-trimmed grass, and around him were flower bed that had recently been planted with bulbs. From his vantage point he could see perfectly-cut hedges, sculptures, and a fountain. And standing proudly at an almost-annoying distance was a great white mansion. The spring sky was clear and bright. It was past afternoon, and the sun was disappearing over the Central Mountain Range in the west.
On the table was a teapot, saucers, and steaming hot-teacups—and beyond them, across from Wil, sat a girl. Her elbows were on the table, and she was leaning far forward with her eyes glittering in anticipation.
“Er… well, I…” Wil stuttered. The girl cut in excitedly.
“You will? You will! I mean, there’s no reason for you to—”
Wil’s friend ran up from behind and smacked the girl on the head.
“Ouch!” The girl cried, turning around. She was about twelve years of age. She had long, curly brown hair, wore a long dress, and had a pair of knee-high boots on her feet.
“I didn’t hit you that hard.” Wil’s friend said nonchalantly, pulling up a chair between Wil and the girl. He advised Wil to ignore her.
The girl took a seat again and retorted.
“That’s not the problem here! What kind of barbarian hits a lady on the head?!”
Wil’s friend took a laid-back sip of tea.
“If there’s a lady in this house, then please enlighten me. And for your information, Wil is not a lady.”
“I’ll kick your butt!”
“Wil’s watching, you know.”
“I’ll do it in secret later. That’s right! You’d better watch your back!”
“Thanks for taking the time to warn me in advance.”
Wil finally cut in on the argument.
Two sets of eyes turned to him.
“Let’s stop this argument before it gets nasty. And Eumie?”
Wil’s friend’s sister—Euphemia, Eumie for short—answered excitedly.
“Well… I’ve never really thought about marriage before, so I’m afraid I can’t give you an answer.”
“Really? That’s too bad, then. We can talk more later.” Eumie mumbled with a shrug, and slapped her brother on the back as he put down his cup of tea.
“See? Wil is a gentleman, unlike a certain brother whose name I won’t mention.”
“There you go. I’m not a gentleman to you because I’m your brother.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?!” Eumie demanded.
As Wil watched with a smile, he blew on his tea to cool it down and muttered slowly.
“It must be nice, having siblings.”
“It depends on the person.”
“Depends on the person.”
The siblings replied in unison.
Wil and his friend sat facing each other at the table with a chessboard between them. Eumie was sitting in her chair, asleep with her mouth hanging open. Her brother’s cotton jacket, which he had been wearing, was covering her like a blanket.
As Wil’s friend scrutinized his losing forces with his arms crossed, a butler came running from the mansion. The butler, who was old enough to officially be a senior citizen, bowed deeply and handed a telegram to Wil’s friend. He took the telegram with a word of thanks, read the first line—‘To Mr. Wilhelm Schultz’—and said,
“Wil. It’s that wire you were waiting for.”
Wil took the telegram and read over its contents. When he finished, he breathed a sigh of relief.
“Not worried anymore?”
“Yeah. It’s all right now. Looks like I made it in time. Thank goodness… now I just have to set off. I’ll be able to take the night train, just like I planned. I’ll have some time to spare, just in case.”
“That’s good to hear. I’ll have the driver take you down to the station. And don’t sweat it—we had to take the car to town for maintenance anyway.”
“Thanks. I’ll get ready to go.”
Wil stood and headed for the mansion. His friend smacked Eumie awake.
Wil waved through the rear window of the car. His friend and Eumie waved back. The car headed for the gates, about a hundred meters ahead. It was nearly evening—the sky was growing darker.
When the car was the size of a pea in the distance, Eumie—still in her brother’s jacket, long enough to be a coat for her—slowly lowered her hand.
“First Mom, then Wil. Everyone’s going off on trips without telling us where. This is stupid.”
“Well, breaks like this aren’t too bad once in a while.” her brother said cooly.
“Okay, so Mom might’ve had to go meet people for business meetings. But Wil’s going to be gone all spring break, and he hasn’t even told you where he’s going. For being your friend, he doesn’t trust you a lot, huh?” Eumie commented, looking up at her brother. He looked down at her and answered without missing a beat.
“Sorry to completely negate that cutting remark you worked so hard on, but you’re wrong.”
“If he says he can’t tell me right now, then he must have his reasons. A real friend would believe that and not ask questions.”
“And it’s not like we’ll never see each other again. I’m sure he’ll tell me one day.”
“Anyway, I’ve got nothing to do now. I’ll follow you fishing or something. You’ve got to put something on the dinner table, after all.”
“Alas! Woe is my boring spring break!” Eumie sighed, turning to the mansion.
“Good luck with the pilot.” Wil’s friend whispered, giving a thumbs-up in the direction Wil disappeared to. The evening breeze wrapped up the siblings.
* * *
The next day. The morning of the 23rd.
Wil was sitting alone on a bench.
The station lobby was large enough to be a gymnasium. Metal arches supported the high ceiling, and about thirty five-seater benches were standing at regular intervals over the tiled floor.
On the left side of the lobby was a window. The lower part was made of regular glass, but the upper part was stained glass. Lined up on the opposite wall were ticket windows, which were still shuttered. Above it was a sign that read, ‘Karen East Station - Republic of Niasham’, a map of nearby routes, and a train schedule.
Night had finally come to an end, and white light was returning to the sky. But the clock on the wall indicated that there was still an hour or so until sunrise. Naturally, the only occupant of the half-lit lobby was Wil. Only the sound of chirping birds echoed from the distance.
Like the previous day, Wil was wearing his winter uniform(this time with a tie), and a long dark blue school-issue coat for winter weather. There was a wool hat on his head. Because the heaters set up in the four corners of the room were all turned off, each time Wil exhaled, he breathed out a puff of white. Lying next to him was his old favorite—or, rather, his only—leather suitcase.
“Am I too early?” He mumbled in the empty lobby.
The previous day.
After departing with his friend and Eumie’s goodbyes behind him, Wil left the suburbs and entered the city. He arrived at Raputoa City Central Station in Raputoa City, the capital of the country. He thanked the driver for taking him to the station and waiting with him for his telegram, then said goodbye to him as well. Wil bought his ticket and boarded the northbound night train that departed that evening.
The Republic of Niasham was a member of the Roxcheanuk Confederation of the East. It was located north of the Republic of Raputoa, and was also along the Lutoni River that divided the continent in two. The train headed north, the rails lined only by forests or fields. At night, there was nothing but darkness all around.
Wil spent a long time in his seat in the nearly-deserted second class car. For dinner, he bought a packaged sandwich through the window at one of the stations.
Afterwards, Wil took off his shoes and fell asleep with his feet on the seats opposite his. The train arrived at Karen East station. It was still closer to midnight than morning. Unusually for a Roxchean train, his trip had not run into any delays. He had asked a conductor to wake him at the stop—and when he opened his eyes, he stepped outside to a much colder climate than what he was used to in Raputoa. His fatigue was instantly chased from him.
As the disembarking passengers left on cars to their hotels or homes, Wil remained alone in the lobby. An employee who led passengers to the taxis in front of the station came up to Wil, but walked away confused at Wil’s response. After that came a concerned station employee. Wil thought for a moment before answering,
“I wanted to see the transcontinental express that’s coming in tomorrow morning.”
He was not necessarily lying.
“That’s perfectly fine. But take care not to catch a cold.” The employee said, leaving.
“Am I too early? ...Though I suppose it’s better than being late.” Wil mumbled to himself. He looked around, and making sure that no one was there, took out an envelope from inside his uniform coat. Along with the letter inside, he pulled out another folded piece of paper.
The letter came into view first. The first sentence was scrawled expertly in Bezelese cursive:
[How’re you doing? I’m keeping my promise! Let’s all board together!]
With a smile on his face, Wil shuffled over to the next piece of paper.
The piece of paper was thick and expensive, and was a light cream color.
At the top of the letter were written Roxchean words in fancy, official letters:
[The holder of this ticket, Wilhelm Schultz, is hereby recognized as an official passenger of the transcontinental express train.]
Underneath in smaller font was recorded Wil’s age, height, hair color, and eye color.
Underneath that was a schedule of the transcontinental express tour. This was the train’s fourth trip since the tours began—in other words, Wil was on the fourth tour.
The schedule listed the meeting and departure times from the station in the Capital District, as well as stations along the way in Roxche. It was noted there that passengers were free to board at any of the listed stops. The last stop in Roxche was Karen East Station. The train would arrive at 9AM on the 23rd, and depart at 10AM.
The train would cross the new bridge erected over Lestki Island—which was, ten years ago, a battlefield—and the Lutoni River, which divided East from West. The schedule also had a brief listing of Sou Be-Il stations they were to stop at, short descriptions of tourist destinations, and the dates for the return trip.
At the very bottom was a certificate of authenticity and a confirmation number. Finally, there was a space for the signature of the purchaser. ‘Carr Benedict’ was written there.
Wil read the letter to the end, and flipped it over.
On the back were notices for the tour.
Listed first was the weight restrictions for the cargo they were allowed to bring. The limit was a weight too heavy for Wil to lift—in fact, it looked almost like the amount of cargo a family would take to move houses. The guidelines also specified that, though cargo that did not leave the train would not be searched, plants and animals could not be taken across the Lutoni River.
Other points of note followed.
That the cost of all meals(on par with five-star restaurants, also including vegetarian options), drinks, and liquor was covered by the cost of the tour, and passengers would not have to pay separately for them or pay tip. That during the tour, passengers could send telegrams at any time while in Roxche, and at all stops while in Sou Be-Il. That the conductor and the train crew had a great deal of experience in Roxche, so language and service would not be an issue. That one doctor accompanied them on the tour. That he should send a telegram with the confirmation number to the following address to receive a comprehensive guidebook which detailed the specifics of their itinerary in Sou Be-Il.
Wil carefully folded up the ticket and the letter, put it back in his coat, and buttoned up.
He looked around the station lobby. There was still no one there. Glancing at his watch, Wil closed his coat tightly around himself and closed his eyes.
Three seconds later.
Wil opened his eyes and mumbled, wide-awake.
“Sou Be-Il… Sfrestus… This is incredible. The best spring break of my life.”
Giving up on trying to fall asleep, Wil took out a key from his pocket and opened his suitcase. Inside were shirts, underwear, sweaters, several books, and a large paper envelope.
The envelope took up a third of the suitcase. A thin length of string was wrapped around it—fitting, but not tight. On it was a piece of paper which said, ‘Don’t forget to pack this!’. Wil had written it himself, afraid that he might not remember it.
He looked at the envelope, relieved, took out a book, and shut the suitcase. He spent the rest of his time reading.
As dawn neared, the square by the station began to grow brighter. Another day at the station began. Wil closed his book and observed morning at the station from his bench.
First, a station employee did the rounds and opened the shutters at the ticket windows. Then, a janitor carrying a mop and a bucket expertly cleaned the large lobby. He greeted Wil. Wil greeted him back, and got out of the way for a moment.
Workmen began unloading freight from trucks that stopped at the square. The cargo was taken on rickety metal carts, through the lobby and onto the platforms. They were cargo, parcel, and mail to be transported via rail.
The first bus of the day stopped at the square. People in suits and fatigues spilled into the lobby. The first train of the day arrived with a loud noise, then departed with a whistle.
The store next to the lobby opened, selling magazines, newspapers, and breakfast foods like bottled milk, hot tea, bread, and bagels. Counting his change, Wil waited for a lull in the crowds and bought milk and a bagel. He nodded as he realized that food was more expensive there than Raputoa, where agriculture was a major industry.
The lobby was bustling. Though Wil was still sitting at the same bench, it felt as though he had been transported somewhere else. As he watched people busily head out to work, Wil took his time eating his bagel with sour cream.
He threw out his finished bottle of milk at the box by the store, contemplated buying today’s newspaper, and returned to his seat upon realizing that he could probably get it for free on the train later.
Once the adults had gone to work, the students followed. Teenagers his own age, wearing unfamiliar uniforms, passed him by. Some glanced at Wil, whose uniform did not belong to any schools in the area. Some of the girls gossiped loudly.
“He must be a lost transfer student.”
Wil soon remembered that spring break was on different dates in Raputoa and Niasham.
Wil waited on his bench. He waited and waited. The lobby was warm with the presence of people. He took off his hat and coat and placed them on his suitcase.
The morning rush hour finally came to an end, and the women who ran the stores were just beginning to have breakfast on wooden crates. A squad of police officers entered the station. Wil watched quietly.
About two dozen officers had disembarked from a truck. They were each armed with a rifle. The officers were led onto the platform by a station employee.
Wil checked the time, made sure that he hadn’t left anything behind while he went to the bathroom, and said goodbye to the bench he had sat on overnight. He passed by the wide hallway by the ticket windows and opened the large glass door that had been closed to keep the station warm after rush hour. The sky was still cloudy; everything was grey. There was an occasional gust of cold air. Wil put on his coat and hat.
Karen East was neither a very large station nor a terminal. The platform was not encased in a dome like Raputoa City Central Station, and the lines were on either side of the station. There were four roofed platforms which were slightly higher than the ground. They were parallel to one another, stretching from north to south.
The lobby exit located at the southern end of the platform was connected directly to a crossing. Passengers were only allowed to cross when the signal was silent, and like most stations in Roxche, there was no crossing gate.
On platform 1 at the very front was a short passenger car bound for a nearby village. Smoke billowed quietly from the small steam locomotive at the head. There were no other trains, and there were no other passengers. The wide platform was empty.
However, platform 4, at the very back of the station, was full of people who were not passengers.
The policemen who had entered earlier were there. They stood in pairs at regular intervals, alert and ready. There were bottles of liquor and vegetable crates in the middle of the platform. About five or so men were next to them, speaking with a station employee who was holding some documents as they waited to load the cargo onto a train.
Giving up on stepping onto the heavily guarded platform, Wil took a seat on a bench by the exit. He kept his eyes on platform 4 as he once more began to wait. The train at platform 1 departed northward with a sound of the whistle.
The hands on the clock had just passed the scheduled arrival time, when a police officer blew on his whistle. Soon, a bell went off all throughout the station.
Wil stood and looked southward.
The rails converged into one, leading into a forest outside the city. Ahead, he could see smoke from a steam locomotive.
The signal began to sound.