An update. The next chapter should be up either tomorrow or the day after. Enjoy.
Chapter 8: A Train Named Conspiracy
The 300-meter-wide valley that lay between the stone mountains was filled with blue water.
There was no wind. The surface, a darker blue than the sky, was without a single ripple. It was as though a blue gemstone had been cut and fitted into the valley.
On either side of the lake, only a meter from the water’s edge, were train tracks.
On the northern track was a camouflaged armored railcar. On the opposite side was a transcontinental express train, moving at walking pace.
“It’s beautiful!” Allison cried, peering out at the lake through the dining car curtains.
Wil, who lay on his stomach next to the anti-tank rifle with protective headgear on his head, watched the same scenery through the hole in the wall and mumbled to himself,
At that moment, Major Stork excused himself and stepped into Wil’s line of sight. He fixed a magazine loaded with ten shells into the slot ahead of Wil.
“What is it?”
“I think about this every time I pass here, but this lake is really something.”
“You’re right. It’s one of Sou Be-Il’s greatest treasures.”
“Who was it that nagged us to not mess up this place again? Was it Major Stork?”
“Yes. He gets stubborn about the strangest things. Although I do agree with him on that one.”
“But you know, sir. When I look at beautiful scenery like this…”
“…I sometimes hate my job, just a little.”
“There’s no helping that. This is our mission.”
Wil pulled the dreadfully heavy lever to load the gun. He pulled it all the way toward himself and then pushed it back to original position.
<Are you ready?> Major Stork’s voice came through the headphones. Wil slowly peered into the scope.
There was a lone armored railcar slowly making its way over the blue lake. It was reflected upside-down in the water’s surface. As Major Stork instructed, Wil aimed the scope at the engine, which was at the back of the railcar. The chassis shook so much that he could not aim properly.
With the left hand that had been holding the scope, Wil pressed the call button.
<I’m ready. But it’s still too shaky for me to take aim.>
Major Stork nodded, then gave orders to Benedict, Fiona, and Allison.
“The three of you, get to the conductor’s cabin and keep your heads as close to the floor as possible.”
Allison retorted, annoyed.
“I want to watch from here.”
“It’s too dangerous. What if they happen to return fire?”
“Then what about Wil? And you?” Allison asked back immediately.
Major Stork did not reply. Instead he gave her a silent stare.
“What?” Allison asked. Major Stork finally shook his head.
“War is the dominion of men, Miss Allison.”
“Hey that’s not an answer what the hell I’m in the Roxche Air Force are you trying to make fun of—”
Benedict and Fiona dragged Allison away.
Once the three of them were gone, Major Stork, who had been sitting with his elbows on the window frame and his eyes on his binoculars, turned to Wil, who was peering through the scope.
<Both this train and the railcar will soon stop. If at all possible, try to make the shot in one try. Once they realize that we’re shooting, they will return fire.>
There was a moment of silence. The train continued slowly. Soon, Major Stork spoke up lightheartedly.
<It seems we still have a bit of time. Don’t pressure yourself.>
<I heard you made the rankings at a famous shooting competition. I suppose one should never judge a book by its cover. That was a compliment, for your information.>
<Thank you. And Thank you for sending Allison away, as well.>
<Ah… you’re welcome. What is your relationship with her? …Er, was that an awkward question?>
<Not at all. We’re childhood friends. We’ve grown up together since we were eight years old. Although we don’t see each other very much these days.>
<Ah. Madame Corazòn’s famous ‘Future House’.>
<Oh. Did Allison tell you?>
<Yes. She was so fluent in Bezelese that I asked her about it. She answered my question.>
<…Allison’s father died in battle at Green Island when she was eight years old. That’s why she came to the Future House. At first, she cried every day, just like the other kids. She had a hard time adjusting.>
<That’s unfortunate, but not surprising. I’m sure both you and Miss Allison, frankly, despise us Sou Be-Il soldiers. After all, no matter our current situation, we were once enemies. I cannot pretend otherwise.>
<Setting myself aside, I don’t think Allison feels that way.>
<Why is that?>
<Her father, Major Oscar Whittington, was murdered by an ally.>
<…What do you—>
<Major Whittington fled the battlefield alongside his subordinate, who ended up taking his life. The subordinate betrayed him to save himself. The notice of death said that the two men deserted, and that it was likely that the subordinate killed the major and surrendered himself to the Western forces. Major Whittington’s corpse was found several months later, but he had been shot in the head with a shotgun at very close range, and his skull was impossible to retrieve.>
<Yes. It really is. I’d just like to ask you one last thing, Major Stork. What is your true mission?> Wil asked, taking aim at the railcar.
<You wish to know?> Major Stork replied, his eyes still pressed to the binoculars.
<Yes. Very much. I’d like to at least know the reason behind what I’m about to do.>
<Then let me tell you, in exchange for believing in me. My mission is to arrest Mr. Terreur.>
<‘Arrest’? Did you just say that you would arrest Mr. Terreur?>
<That’s correct. I came undercover as a contact in order to prevent him from escaping the train, so that we could place him under arrest. That is my true mission.>
<On what charges?>
<There are two. One is weapons smuggling. Which is, frankly, a minor issue.>
<If smuggling the latest in military technology is considered a minor issue, what is the second charge?>
<Crimes against humanity. I suppose you could call it ‘fanning the flames of war’, if you will. Not only did he commit crimes for the sake of his individual well-being, he is also attempting to personally restart the war that finally came to an end. This is an unforgivable crime. Has he no fear of the heavens?>
<…So Mr. Terreur was planning to sell out Roxche. I’d heard rumors that the Roxchean government was about to place him under arrest. Mr. Terreur must be planning to defect—no, escape—to Sou Be-Il, bringing a gift of all the military and weapons information he has, correct? In that case, Sou Be-Il would naturally be at an advantage, and certain groups could use that as a stepping stone to stir up another war.>
Major Stork, still looking through the binoculars, smiled.
<Correct. You’re quite quick to grasp everything. But to be honest, this ‘gift’ of Mr. Terreur’s in the cargo hold is nothing. Terreur plans to hand over his entire nation. And, foolishly enough, some in the Sou Be-Il military pounced on the gift like starving dogs. For our convenience, why don’t we call these people ‘them’? ‘They’ do not welcome this era of peace. ‘Millions have died trying to destroy our hated enemy in the East, and what did their sacrifice amount to?’, they ask. They also likely fear losing their livelihoods in the inevitable downsizing of the military. The military exists to protect the people. The people finally have a chance at a life of peace and stability, but ‘they’ could not accept that. They are hounds that have forgotten their masters’ happiness—no, who their masters are.>
<…In other words, they refused to lie down and be killed alongside the rabbit.>
<Indeed. ‘They’ believe that, with the information from Roxche that Mr. Terreur can provide, that they can successfully launch an invasion on the East. And they are convinced that, once such a thing happens, the other soldiers will join their cause. Although I pray that such fools do not exist in our military, if the situation should come to pass, many innocent lives will be lost. We cannot allow the greed of masterless hounds to restart this war. It will take us some time to locate and arrest ‘them’. That is why, no matter what happens, we cannot hand Mr. Terreur over to them. We will place him and his bodyguard under arrest and wring a confession out of them. To find out who exactly ‘they’ are so we may root them out. We must.>
<But how in the world were they planning to sneak Mr. Terreur into Sou Be-Il? If he didn’t return on this train, it would be clear that he had fled. An investigation would be launched.>
<Correct. That is why, to get around that problem, ‘they’ hatched a terrifying plan. Here is a little riddle for you, Wilhelm. What is the best way to remove a man from existence, that no one may find him ever again?>
<Killing him.> Wil replied immediately. Major Stork nodded.
<Yes. They decided to fake Mr. Terreur’s death. If it seemed that he was murdered, it might cause some problems down the line—so they had to make it seem as though he simply died. Then what are their options? Mr. Terreur must die in an accident. A train accident, for instance.>
<It can’t be! You mean this entire train…?>
Wil glanced at Major Stork out of the corner of his eye. The older man spoke, his eyes never leaving the binoculars.
<Precisely. According to the intel we received, ‘they’ will deploy armed soldiers to the mountains to bring the train under their control. They will remove Mr. Terreur’s illegal cargo and Mr. Terreur himself, then push the train and all its passengers into the valley. It would be an unfortunate derailment that left none alive. No one would be suspicious about one or two missing corpses. And naturally, the list of deaths would include many rich and powerful people.>
<…They were planning to murder over forty people for just one man.>
<Yes. It is my mission to arrest Mr. Terreur and thwart that plot.>
<So is that why you murdered the conductors and the cabin crew, Major Stork?>
Several seconds passed in the wake of Wil’s question.
<The whistle hasn’t sounded yet… I admit I didn’t expect our conversation to go on so long.>
Wil could hear Major Stork’s voice in his ears. Out of the corner of his left eye, he could see the man still leaning against the window, observing the other side of the valley through his binoculars.
<You are correct. I killed them all. There was no murderer on the Roxchean side. In order to outrun ‘their’ assault, I had to speed up the train’s progress by any means necessary. We had to make it through the mountain range before their preparations were complete. But on the rails, the conductor holds absolute authority. No amount of groveling would convince him to listen to me.>
<Of course. And it wasn’t as though you could tell him the truth.>
<That is why, in order to make the passengers easily accept the splitting of the train, I created something. A killer who was after Mr. Terreur. I boarded this train with that intention. You may think me heartless if you wish. I am myself a hound of my nation.>
<I have no intention of making arguments at this point. All I want to do is keep us safe.>
<Even I had no idea that ‘they’ would attack earlier than expected. I am very glad that you and your friends are here.>
At that moment, there was a piercing whistle as the sound of the brakes screeched in their ears. The long train slowly decelerated.
<I’m ready. But there’s just one more thing I have to ask. Did Mr. Terreur… always have connections to Sou Be-Il? Were there always people in Roxche who sided with the West? Have they always been smuggling weapons in secret, betraying Roxche in the process?>
<No. When threats of a second Great War disappeared thanks to the Hero on this very train, Mr. Terreur must have done everything in his power to protect himself. But Roxche abandoned him. That was why he decided to find a new base. Through certain methods, he got in contact with ‘them’. And so came about this incident.>
<I see. He’s rotten to the core.>
<But that doesn’t mean you can shoot him. We still have a lot of confessions to get.> Major Stork said jokingly, and finally took his eyes off his binoculars and looked at Wil. Wil also pulled his face away from the scope and met Major Stork’s blue eyes.
<This crisis is all due to my incompetent planning. I am truly sorry. So let us make sure that this shot lands. Our lives are in your hands now. I do not wish for you and the others to die.>
Wil did not answer, but nodded and looked into the scope again. Beyond the crosshairs, the movement and the vibrations slowly stopped.
<Once I give the order, fire. But first, load the gun.>
Wil tightened his hold on the grip and pulled the lever. The gigantic bolt moved forward. There was a loud, metallic noise as the gun swallowed the enormous round. The anti-tank rifle was ready to fire at any time.
Wil took a deep breath and muttered,
“Just one shot.”
“We’ll soon be stopping.”
In the hallway by the conductor’s cabin, Benedict, who was sitting against the wall with his head ducked and his feet stretched out, suddenly spoke. Next to him were Fiona and Allison, also in similar positions.
“What can I say. As the inviter for this trip, I feel responsibility. To think a case like this could happen.” Benedict said.
“Don’t worry about it. As long as I can share a room with Wil tonight, I won’t have any complaints.” Allison replied.
“First lieutenant Klein, the train should be coming to a stop soon. We’ll follow suit.”
“Mm. Good. The reflection of the train in the lake is something to look at.”
“It certainly is. It would have been really amazing if the train were longer. Huh?”
“Sir. That train… they said they left five cars behind at the supply base, so they should have eight left, right?”
“Yes. What is the problem?”
“This is strange…”
“I only count seven there…”
“I’m sure of it.”
“Five, six, seven… It’s missing a car. …Shit! Get the railcar moving! Squad 1 didn’t run into technical difficulties—they were attacked!”
“You heard me! Move it! We must outrun their locomotive! Move, move, move!”
The moment the train came to a full stop.
Major Stork said quietly. Wil pulled the trigger.
The massive gun spewed fire.
Gas escaped the muzzle and rattled every window in the car. The pieces of wood left around the hole in the wall loudly rose into the air. The barrel was thrown upward and the stand tore through the carpet and lodged itself into the floor. Wil was pushed back by the impact. For a single second, his expression shook. The shell casing fell to the floor.
The projectile, which was two centimeters in diameter and weighed 152 grams, spun furiously as it zoomed across the blue lake. It took a mere 0.4 seconds for it to cover over three hundred meters of distance.
The projectile passed the space where the armored railcar had been a moment ago, and landed directly on the rocky cliff beyond it. A large boulder fell to pieces, leaving a cloud of dust.
“What? What was that sound?”
“It sounds like a hit… are they sniping at us?”
“Shit! That’s why he told us to stop! He got us! Speed up. We will cut them off.”
<You missed! They’ve begun to move.> Major Stork’s voice filled Wil’s ears. Wil replied immediately.
Major Stork pulled out the cable connecting his radio to Wil’s and ran from the dining car and into the hallway. Along the way, he nearly kicked Benedict before quickly leaping over and into the conductor’s cabin. He grabbed the radio set and hollered at the engineers.
<Start this train now, or we all die!>
The transcontinental express began grinding to life at a maddeningly slow pace.
“What’s going on?” Asked Benedict.
“They noticed our attack at the last second. That’s why we’ve started moving as well.”
“You mean we’ll snipe them while we’re moving? That’s too rash!”
“Then do you have any other suggestions? The three of you, stay here! And Allison!” Major Stork cried sharply. Allison glared at his omission of a title.
“You must stay put, do you understand? All we can do now is trust in Wilhelm.” Said Major Stork, his eyes fixed on her. Allison grinned and shrugged.
“There’s no need to worry about that. I always trust Wil.”
After Major Stork opened the door and disappeared into the dining car again, Benedict suddenly took up the shotgun and stood.
“Where are you going?” Asked Fiona.
“I do not know if I can do it or if I cannot, but I will attempt to do a distraction strategy.”
“What do you mean?”
Benedict pointed at his shotgun.
“With this, I will shoot the armored railcar. If I control the angles well, I will hit him—er, it. After all, they are slugs.”
Allison cut in.
“Yeah, but it’ll do about as much good as a peashooter.”
“Yes. But their nerves will lean, not to Wil, but to this side.”
Benedict turned to Fiona.
“Then, I will shortly do dramatics. Please wait here.”
“All right. Come back soon.” Fiona replied with a smile. Benedict slowly leaned forward and tilted his face toward hers.
Watching their quiet kiss, Allison silently grumbled to herself.
“Can you take aim?” Major Stork asked Wil as he returned to the dining car, re-connecting the radio.
“Not yet.” Wil replied quickly.
The anti-tank rifle was pointing as far to the left as possible, almost touching the left edge of the hole.
The more the train accelerated, the worse the noise and vibrations became. The image through the scope shook violently.
Wil finally spoke.
<At this point, we have no choice but to shoot in motion. Have you ever fired a gun while moving?> Asked Major Stork.
<Just once.> Wil replied.
“The train’s begun to move, sir.”
“I see as well. Load the machine gun with ten armor-piercing shells. All personnel, prepare to open fire.”
“Are we really going to shoot the train, sir?”
“We’re just going to figure out where that shot came from, and drive about ten shells into that area. Make sure you do not disable any critical parts of the—what was that noise? There! Again!”
“They seem to be firing at us, sir. There’s no doubt. Is that a rifle? I hear bullets ricocheting off the railcar. They might as well be knocking with their fists.”
“But as long as we’re being attacked, we must retaliate. Where are the shots coming from?”
At the very first window of the first dining car.
Of all the windows, there was only one where the curtains were wide open.
Benedict had lowered the window and was shooting in a half-squat position. Across the valley he could see the armored railcar, moving just ahead of the train.
“That should do it.”
He slightly raised the muzzle and pulled the trigger. There was the sound of gunfire, and the accompanying recoil. Benedict quickly pulled the fore grip to load the next round.
“Please let this one hit.”
He pulled the trigger again.
<Was that gunfire?>
<Ah, Major Carr is drawing fire for us.> Replied Major Stork, who had peered out of the window for a moment. Then, he turned his gaze to the armored railcar that was racing quite far ahead.
<Can you take aim?>
“Again! Damn it! Where are the shots coming from?”
“First Lieutenant! I’ve found it. The second car from the back, near the front.”
“Let’s see… I see it. The muzzle’s sticking out of the window.”
“It must be a rifle after all.”
“Hah. It looks like someone’s playing the hero. Is the machine gun ready?”
“Good. We switch seats. I’ll shoot. I’ll blow him away, window and all. Slow down so we’re running at even pace.”
The turret of the railcar slowly began to turn left. The thin barrel, which had been bowing toward the lake, rose parallel to the ground. Then came the projectile.
A blast of smoke and flame escaped the muzzle.
The ten shells made direct contact with the barrel and the stock of the shotgun that was sticking out of the window, the window frame, and everything within a two-meter radius. Shards of glass sparkled in the sunlight, and the broken shotgun was blasted into the other side of the car. It ricocheted violently off the wall.
The shotgun fell to the thick carpet with a dull sound in the deserted dining car.
“Excellent. A direct hit.”
“Sir. We’ve found a good pace. We’ll be slowing down slightly.”
“I’m back.” Benedict said, sitting down next to Fiona.
“Welcome back. I heard some loud noises just now. What happened?” Fiona asked. Benedict looked unfazed as he answered.
“I tied the shotgun with a curtain beside the window, and put it outside a little. It must have been shot. Poor shotgun.”
<Now’s your chance. Fire.>
For the second time, Wil pulled the trigger.
Flames spouted from next to the turret of the railcar.
“Whoa! What was that?”
“We’ve been hit! It’s a large-caliber weapon, sir. They’re still alive!”
“Speed up. Figure out where they’re shooting from!”
<That’s a hit. Right next to their turret. Target is still moving.>
Wil closed his left eye and stared at the railcar with his right eye on the scope. On the floor between the stands of the anti-tank rifle were two enormous shell casings.
<The train’s shaking too much.>
<You must remain calm. You can succeed. Wait for the vibration to abate, immediately after the moment when the wheel passes over the grooves in the rail.>
<And they keep speeding up. I keep messing up my aim…> Wil said anxiously. Major Stork replied, his voice calm.
<One of the events in the Kaashi shooting competition involves predicting the movements of a target, correct? Game 3, ‘The Rabbit Hunt’. It’s essentially the same thing. Remember the rabbit-shaped target moving along the rails. This time, your target is much larger.>
<…Yes. I think I could hit something like a rabbit.>
“Where… where are you hiding…?”
“Sir, I’ve found it! The last car!”
“…I see! Heh. They’ve even blown a hole through the wall… Shit. That’s practically a cannon. Load every round we have.”
“Ready to fire, sir.”
“Good. Open fire. Kill them.”
Before Wil could pull the trigger, the railcar’s machine gun roared once more. The tracer shells, of which there were one in five, drew thin lines over the blue waters.
The rain of shells passed clear over the train’s white roofs and hit the rocky mountains, whipping up clouds of dust.
“What? Damn it! That shot earlier killed the sights!”
Wil pulled the trigger.
The windows near the rifle, unable to take a third impact, simultaneously split.
The round flew over the water, surpassing the speed of sound. The multiple waves of impact created in its wake left intricate lines on the mirror-clean surface of the lake.
The round pierced, not a rabbit-shaped target, but the back of the armored railcar.
Passing between the loop of the caterpillar tracks, it easily shot through the metal plating and punctured the internal fuel tank. A tulip-shaped hole was left in the thin metal tank. The round bounced all throughout the interior like a rogue firework. The sparks created in the impact leapt into the murky depths of fuel.
The back of the railcar exploded. The railcar leaned forward for a moment, propelled by the red-hot flames.
The explosion created ripples on the water’s surface, and by the time they crossed the lake and reached the train, the back of the railcar finally hit the ground, its wheels derailed from the tracks.
Black smoke spewed from the railcar as it left the tracks and began moving diagonally.
“Please don’t let it fall into the water. Don’t pollute the lake.”
Perhaps Major Stork’s plea had been heard—the railcar suddenly tilted to the right. The caterpillar tracks skidded over the ground to the right, and the horn-shaped buffers were caught in the crossties. With that as a fulcrum, the railcar tilted left again and began sliding down in a trail of sparks.
Eventually, it came to a stop on the tracks. In the windless valley, black smoke rose directly into the air.
The white roofs of the transcontinental express slowly made their way through to the other side of the valley.
“Wh-what’s happening here? The railcar exploded.”
“They must have shot it with the anti-tank rifle. It’s unbelievable.”
Terreur’s greasy face was pressed against the window. Ien’s face was as chilly as ever.
“Hah! So that’s the power of my rifle! Once it’s been supplied to the infantry, their potential will increase exponentially! The military police can go shoot themselves—I have no business with them!”
As Terreur triumphantly punched the air, Ien silently picked up his handgun from his chair.
Terreur turned and flinched at the sight of Ien’s gun.
With the gun in hand, Ien shook his head several times.
“There’s something wrong… something is not right.”
“What do you mean? Speak up.”
“According to the plan, the train should have stopped next to the lake so that we could hand over the cargo.”
“But the military police was on our trail—”
“All we know about our contacts is that they were a group within the Sou Be-Il military. But if those MPs were members of that group…”
“Then what about the contact who joined us?”
“If he’s not the man we believed he was… then it all makes sense.”
Terreur flushed red with rage.
“You mean he deceived us?”
“I cannot say for certain yet, but it’s quite likely. I will investigate further. Master, you must remain inside with the door locked. Do not open the door for anyone. After all, now that the conductors are dead, I’m the only one with the key to this cabin.”
“I… I see. Then be off. But—”
“Do not die. I want you by my side when I recover my fortunes.”
With a courteous bow, Ien took his handgun, equipped with a stock, and left the room.
The door closed shut. The sound of the clicking lock filled the cabin.
<Excellent work. That was truly magnificent.> Said Major Stork, holding out a hand to Wil. Wil was lying on the carpet, having pushed himself away from the rifle. <How is your shoulder? Not dislocated, I hope?>
<It’s fine, thank you. But… When I was pushed back by the recoil, my stomach got pulled over my belt buckle. That was very painful.>
<Hah hah. In any case, that was marvelous. You can take off the headgear now.>
By the time they both stood and took off their headgear, Benedict and the others had opened the dining car door and entered.
“You’re all well, I see. I think Wilhelm here deserves a word of praise from each person. Ah, let’s not forget Major Carr’s excellent diversion.”
Allison immediately approached Wil and stroked his sweaty face.
“You’re soaked. You might end up with a rash if you don’t wipe this soon.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not a kid, Allison.” Wil chuckled, taking out a handkerchief from his pocket. He handed it to her. “Here. Wipe your hand.”
Allison stared at the handkerchief in silence, before grabbing it and mercilessly wiping Wil’s face.
“Don’t move—you might hurt yourself. Can’t you at least let me do this much for you?”
As Major Stork watched them in silence, Benedict spoke from behind him.
“What will happen to them?”
“We’ll have to take care of them somehow, eventually. But before that, I’m going to contact the engineers and go butter up the VIP. Please wait here, everyone.” Major Stork said over his shoulder, opening the door and leaving the dining car.
* * *
“To stop Mr. Terreur’s running and arrest him… that was Major Stork’s true mission, you say?”
“That’s what he told me.”
“I understand. That man is from the capital Sfrestus, he said. Probably he is in the military’s secret information department. Certainly he is not a normal soldier.”
The four of them were sitting in pairs next to the dining car entrance. Benedict turned to Wil.
“When the military arrests Mr. Terreur and receives confessions, ‘they’ will be beaten in one shot. I’m sure that a large amount of people will be arrested from our military. This will be an incredible scandal that earthquakes the entire military. But that cannot be helped. Whatever, the military shrink cannot be avoided, and I am thinking to leave the military too.”
“But how could he kill all those innocent crew members for something like that…?” Fiona trailed off, heartbroken.
“It is not an action that I can celebrate… but if he did not do that, over forty people would sacrifice—”
At that point, Benedict stopped himself.
“—No. I wil stop there. It is a terrible habit for soldiers to do maths with people’s lives. Likely, Major Stork was worried that we would not help him if he told us that story, so he made it a secret.”
Wil, who was drinking out of a water bottle Allison had handed him, suddenly spoke.
“But… there’s something I don’t really get.”
“What?” Allison asked. Wil replied immediately.
“Why didn’t he kill us? Allison and I witnessed him killing Mr. Welch, and thanks to that, the murders were discovered much earlier than they would have been if we hadn’t. If he’d killed and silenced us, Mr. Terreur wouldn’t have had to play along a fake story. Major Stork could have just pretended to discover the bodies and led the train to the supply base.”
“Come to think of it… you’re right.” Allison mumbled, then suddenly nodded. “Wait. I’ve got it.”
Wil, Benedict, and Fiona turned to Allison in unison.
“The major must have fallen for me.”
There was another moment of silence. The rhythmic sound of the wheels suddenly sounded much louder.
Wil stared at Allison, at a loss for words.
“C-come on, I was just joking.”
At that moment, they heard a knock from the door connecting the hallway and the dining car.
Allison, who was sitting nearest the door, approached it and peered outside through the glass pane, but there was no one there.
What she saw the moment she opened the door was Ien, charging toward her.
Wil pulled her back from behind and pushed her aside. Immediately,
Ien’s left shoulder drove itself into Wil’s gut. It was a powerful blow. Wil struggled to remain on his feet, but he was thrown into the dining car as he landed on his back on the carpet.
“Wil!” Allison cried, twisting around. Ien’s foot swung at her. Allison bowed to avoid the kick and ran to Wil, who was squirming in pain on the carpet.
“Shit!” Ien swore, pulling out his handgun. At that moment, a chair struck him hard in the chest. Benedict, who was across from him, had swung the chair with both hands.
The chair fell to pieces, and at the same time, Ien staggered and dropped his gun. The bullet fired in midair shot out the window. The shell casing, however, had not been properly ejected—the gun fell to the floor.
“Move away.” Benedict grabbed Fiona by the hem of her clothes and leapt toward the wall.
Ien, having recovered from the blow to the chest, curled his hands into fists and swore. At that moment, Benedict lunged with a fist. It landed square on Ien’s left cheek. There was a glint of fury in Ien’s face, crooked toward the right.
With a battle cry, Ien shoved Benedict with his left hand. The attack, driven by all of Ien’s weight, connected with Benedict’s chest.
With a nauseating noise, Benedict was flung past Fiona and into a window frame about three meters away. The curtain he grabbed by reflex tore, and he helplessly slid down the wall.
Benedict groaned in agony as he shot a furious glare at Ien. Ien glared back, blood spilling from his mouth.
“Those skills will get you nowhere on the battlefield, Hero of the Mural.”
“I could beat those words right out of your mouth if we were in the air… you’re pretty good for an old man.”
“We are on land, Hero of the Mural. And here is a little payback.”
With that, Ien grabbed a chair with one hand and lobbed it at Benedict. It hit Benedict’s arms as he quickly braced himself, and fell to pieces. Benedict flinched visibly.
Finally, he grasped the right side of his chest—the place Ien had hit earlier—and collapsed.
Ien took a look around the dining car. In the center of the car, Wil lay on his stomach. Next to him was Allison, desperately trying to shake him awake.
Ahead of Ien, to his left, lay Benedict. And in front of the left wall—
There was the terrified Fiona.
“Hello there, your future Majesty.” Ien said, eerily calm. Fiona fell to her knees and tried to back away. But her head quickly hit the wall behind her.
“It’s not in me to kill a woman, but since you’re past your prime, I’m sure you won’t feel as upset about dying. Unfortunately, you will have to die. I can’t allow a single person to survive.”
He slowly began to walk toward Fiona.
“Fi… run…” Benedict gasped.
Fiona silently looked up at Ien as he drew near.
“Farewell, your future Majesty.” Ien said, slowly crouching to the floor. His hands reached out toward Fiona’s neck. But suddenly, a smile rose to her lips.
Ien’s hands stopped.
“I think I’m more cut out for this than being a queen—” Fiona said with a grin. Her right hand, which had been at her side, passed under Ien’s left arm and in front of her face. In her fingers was a long, thin, metal apparatus.
Fiona pressed the shutter.
There was a noise, followed by a blinding flash of light. A white flash overwhelmed Ien’s face as he reflexively shut his eyes. For a single second, his face was illuminated to the point that his features were impossible to distinguish. His shadow was cast on the opposite wall.
Fiona quickly held up her camera and brought it down on Ien’s forehead as he gasped with his eyes closed. She slipped away as he staggered, half-crawling to Benedict.
Meanwhile, Allison was still shaking Wil.
“You’re hurting me even more, Allison… please, stop…” Wil managed to whisper. “…Check… check my left side… quickly…”
Allison flipped up Wil’s jacket.
“Shit!” Ien cried, pushing himself against the wall and taking to his feet. His breathing was ragged as he shook his head several times.
“I let my guard down.”
Ien blinked rapidly as he turned to Fiona, who was helping Benedict up. Though Benedict’s face was racked with pain, he managed to sit up and lean against the wall.
“I’ll kill you all!” Ien roared, but at that moment,
“Hands in the air!”
It was Allison.
Ien quickly turned round. Allison was in the center of the car, with one knee on the ground next to the fallen Wil. She had a gun—the revolver Benedict had lent to Wil—trained on Ien.
“If you so much as twitch, I’ll shoot!”
Allison’s hands were firmly wrapped around the gun, and her arms were stretched forward. There were about seven meters between her and Ien.
Benedict, who was leaning on the wall, and Fiona, who was supporting him, looked at Allison and Ien.
“Don’t make me laugh…” Ien growled.
“Fine. Then I’ll shoot. I want to shoot.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Allison pulled the trigger. The magazine rotated and the hammer plunked down.
There was a clear gunshot as the revolver leapt up with the recoil.
For some time, Ien stood in confusion.
He looked down and examined his own body. He was unharmed. When he turned, he saw something shaped like a spiderweb on the little glass window on the entrance of the dining car.
“Young lady… your shooting skills are atrocious.” Ien remarked.
“Shut up! I’m just not used to this gun, that’s all! If I had mine, things would’ve ended two seconds ago!” Allison retorted. Then, her index finger—still hooked on the trigger—pressed down in the heat of the moment.
The second shot uselessly left a hole in the floor between Allison and Ien. Allison herself was taken aback, but she quickly took aim again.
“Anyway, you’d better surrender!”
“Is this your idea of a joke? Am I supposed to be laughing?” Ien replied.
Benedict, who was watching from the side, struggled to speak.
“Not the head… go for the stomach…”
Allison pulled the trigger.
Two shots in a row. Ien quickly covered his face. The first shot broke a decorative plate hanging on the wall behind him. The second shot landed square on the right side of his chest.
“Urgh.” Ien gasped. He was pushed back for a second, but he quickly recovered.
“I got him! …Huh?”
Ien only staggered; he refused to fall.
Benedict’s eyes widened.
“That hurt…” Ien growled. He put a hand to his chest and went over the spot where the bullet hit. There wasn’t a drop of blood on his hand.
“That wasn’t too bad, young lady. It was quite painful.”
“What happened?” Allison gasped, still holding the gun. Ien tapped his own chest.
“Really, an excellent product. We’ll have to supply these to soldiers in the future.”
“Shit! He had a bulletproof vest!” Benedict swore. He ground his teeth. “Go for the head after all.”
The fifth shot. Ien once more covered his face. The bullet missed his side by forty centimeters.
“Do people never tell you that you really have no talent for shooting, young lady?”
“You have only one shot left.”
“I’m doing this on purpose!”
“Really, now? If you miss again, you’d best be prepared. I’ll slaughter you all and throw you into the lake.”
Allison shot Ien a furious glare. The tip of the muzzle trembled. It was aimed squarely at his covered head, then it shook away and came back. The occasional shaking of the train only worsened her trembling.
“What’s wrong?” Ien taunted, taking a threatening step forward.
“You… damn it…”
A droplet of sweat fell down Allison’s forehead. At that moment,
With that, someone came up to Allison and embraced her from behind. A head of brown hair leaned right up to Allison’s blonde.
As soon as she turned, Wil’s profile filled Allison’s vision. There was a thin stream of blood flowing down the left side of his forehead.
“Let me help. Stretch out your arm a little more. Put your right arm forward, and pull your left arm a little toward your body.” Wil advised, slowly placing his own hands over hers. He took hold of the gun with her. His placed his index finger over hers.
“It’s all right. One shot is more than enough.”
“This is a joke. Are you trying to make fun of me?” Ien spat, slightly opening his arms as Allison and Wil took aim together. Benedict spoke up.
“Lastly, there is one thing I want to tell. He is sixth place at the Kaashi shooting competition.”
Ien silently turned his gaze back to Allison and Wil.
“Good. A little to the left… pull the trigger slowly, like you’re pulling on the string of a kite. Don’t be tense… wait for the moment when the wheels pass over a groove in the rails. Okay?”
“Yeah!” Allison replied, her face pressed up to Wil’s.
A second later.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaargh!” Ien cried, charging at the two. Wil finally added,
“A little to the right. Yeah… shoot.”
There was a clean gunshot as the man’s howl and charge were both forcibly stopped. After a moment of silence, he fell powerlessly to his knees.
He twisted around as he collapsed to the floor. On his forehead was a small hole. Crimson blood ran down his head and pooled on the carpet. The ceiling was all that was reflected in his wide-open eyes.
“Shit… you… got… me…” Ien gasped. “If… I… die… what… of… the… master…?”
“Your master will be arrested for the sin of trying to smuggle weapons. Sou Be-Il does not execute people. He will be comfortable in jail all his life.” Benedict answered, getting to his feet with Fiona’s help as he kept a hand pressed over his chest.
“I… see… Ha!”
With that, the man’s lips finally stopped moving. Benedict placed his fingers on his neck and looked down at his eyes.
“You were an excellent bodyguard.”
Fiona gently reached out and closed Ien’s eyes. And quietly, she whispered to the smiling corpse.
“May your soul find salvation in heaven.”
“Wil, Allison, are you all right?”
“Yeah. Though Wil’s a bit heavy…”
“Sorry. I just lost all my strength…”
When Benedict turned, he saw a powerless Wil barely being supported by Allison. Eventually, Wil slowly sat up with his own strength and plunked down next to her, sighing loudly.
“Wil, is your health all right?”
“Yes, more of less. Although I think I got the wind knocked out of me for a while… Ah! But what about you, Benedict?”
“Oh, about me? Whatever the case, I think I have a crack on my rib. It hurts. Well, I will not die.” Benedict replied. Fiona gave him a worried look, but Benedict smiled. “And you were excellent. Thank you for rescuing us.”
Allison pressed a wet handkerchief to Wil’s forehead and looked at his face again and again. And she never once forgot to ask him if he really was all right.
“Don’t worry. It’s just a scratch.” Wil replied.
“It seems that, earlier, he heard our talks. We were too rash.” Benedict said. A second later.
Wil suddenly raised his head. The handkerchief on his forehead fell to the floor. His bleeding had stopped.
“It can’t be…”
Wil stood and picked up the handgun Ien had dropped.
“What is wrong?”
“Where is Major Stork? Did Ien—”
Wil pulled the slide and ejected the stuck shell casing, loading the next round.
“I’ll go have a look.”
“You stay here, Allison.” Wil cut her off, disappearing out the door.
In the long hallway of the galley. Major Stork, who was standing at the door leading into the next coupling, noticed Wil running down the hallway.
Wil, who had been looking around, quickly spotted Major Stork and breathed a sigh of relief. He soon approached Major Stork, who noticed his bloodied forehead and the gun in his hand.
“Did something happen?!”
“Mr. Terreur’s bodyguard overheard us talking… he tried to kill us all.”
“And?!” Major Stork cried, sounding almost anxious. Wil replied calmly.
“I’m all right.”
“Yes, I can see that! What of the others?”
“Allison…” Wil trailed off. Major Stork closed his eyes.
“…Allison shot him and saved us all. The others are injured, but we’re all safe. But now you won’t be able to get a confession out of him.”
“That’s… in any event, I am glad to hear that everyone is all right. And really, we can get all the confessions out of Mr. Terreur.”
“Where were you, Major?”
“The radio in the conductor’s cabin suddenly stopped working, so I had to walk all the way to the locomotive and back. I ordered them to continue to the foot of the mountains.”
“I see. I was afraid that the bodyguard had killed you.”
“Thank you for your concern. Now, all that’s left is to settle things with Mr. Terreur himself. I could theoretically arrest him now, but it will do just as well to merely keep an eye on him until we reach the village. The VIP cabin’s walls and doors are bulletproof—while on one hand, it is as safe as a bunker, it is also as secure as a prison.”
Major Stork crossed the coupling and headed to the VIP car. Wil followed after him.
The door to the bodyguard lounge was unlocked. Major Stork entered and knocked on the VIP cabin door. There was no response.
“Mr. Terreur! It’s me! Open up!”
Several times he loudly rapped on the heavy bulletproof door, but there was no response to be heard.
“It can’t be…”
He pulled on the doorknob, but it would not budge.
“Ien must have the key. Could you go retrieve it for me?” Asked Major Stork. Wil nodded.
“Of course. Be careful.”
Watching Wil quickly leave, Major Stork whispered to himself.
“Just naive enough. Don’t ever become a villain like me.”
“Here you are.”
Not long afterwards, Wil returned from the dining car and handed him the key. Allison, Fiona, and Benedict followed soon after. Benedict was supported by Fiona. Major Stork gave them a lighthearted smile.
“I’m glad to see everyone’s safe.”
“Thank you.” Replied Benedict, who looked the most weary of the group.
Allison looked up at Major Stork. Her long blond hair was stained with blood.
“We owe you one really eventful trip, Major. Remind me to never go traveling with you again.”
Major Stork gave a wry grin and knocked on the VIP cabin once more. He warned Terreur that he would be entering, and put the key into the lock.
There was a click as the door opened.
“How… how could this have happened?” Major Stork’s quiet voice filled the room.
The five people in the cabin were looking down on the corpse sitting on the sofa. There was blood flowing from its head. Under its limp right hand, a small gun had fallen.
“He must have determined and killed himself…” Benedict mumbled.
“Ien, your master is dead. Ask him yourself why that is so.”
Major Stork picked up the gun, removed the magazine and bullets, and placed them on the table. On the tabletop was the exquisitely-detailed key to the VIP cabin.
After entering the VIP cabin, Wil had done nothing but silently stare at Terreur’s corpse.
“There is no death penalty in Sou Be-Il. Even if he were to stand trial, he would have escaped with his life. It looks like all that hard work was for nothing. My mission is a failure.” Major Stork sighed bitterly, a hollow laugh escaping his lips. “How irritating. I thought I had deceived Mr. Terreur to the end, but he had the last laugh after all. If there was such a thing as a goddess of fortune…”
“If there was?” Allison asked. Major Stork replied,
“She must be a cruel and fickle mistress indeed.”