Friday, 26 December 2014

Lillia and Treize II(Part 1): The Longest Day in Ikstova - Chapter 1

(Download the updated version in PDF/epub format here.)

I messed up. The last two books in Allison were labeled 'Allison III(Part 1)' and 'Allison III(Part 2)' so I naturally assumed that was the case for the Lillia and Treize books, but this time each book gets a new number, instead of each arc. I'm really sorry. I'll stick with my current titling scheme because otherwise there's a lot of things I'd have to go back and change.

Anyway, here's the second arc of Lillia and Treize, which as the title suggests takes place back in Ikstova. And appropriately enough, it also happens to take place at the very end of the year. This book also brings Strauski Megmica into the main story(albeit in a minor role), so if you haven't yet read the extra chapter featuring her, you know what to do.

In this update you will find a simplified map on the same page as the table of contents, which you might want to come back to later for reference. The map is by no means necessary, but it's a great tool for visualizing the events that take place in this book and the next.

FYI, this arc does get very gory at times. Tread lightly if blood isn't your thing.

Enjoy.





Lillia Schultz: 15 years old. A third-year secondary school student who lives in the Capital District of the Roxcheanuk Confederation. Her mother is Allison, and her father is the late Wilhelm Schultz. Lillia’s specialties are Bezelese and piloting. Her full name is extremely long.


Treize: 16 years old. He is the son of Queen Francesca and Sir Benedict. Although Treize was supposed to be a prince of Iks, certain circumstances prevented him from claiming royal blood. He and his twin sister Meriel are constantly arguing over who is the older one. Treize and Lillia are childhood friends, though she doesn’t know his true identity.


Allison Schultz: 35 years old. She is a captain in the Roxcheanuk Confederation Air Force. Allison currently works as a test pilot, and lives with her daughter Lillia in an apartment in the Capital District. She is still a heavy sleeper.


Major Travas: 35 years old. He is part of the Royal Army of the Allied Kingdoms of Bezel-Iltoa. He is a military attaché who works in the embassy, and is part of the intelligence agency—in other words, he is a spy. Major Travas is currently Allison’s boyfriend, but in reality—


Queen Francesca(Fiona)&Benedict: 38 and 42 years old, respectively. Francesca(Fiona) is the current Queen of Ikstova, and Benedict her husband is the Hero of the Mural. They are currently living a relaxed life in Iks.


-----


The eighteen years were long.

But the nineteenth year will never come.

We have already resolved.

To do what we must.


-----


Chapter 1: Things That Led Up to That Day


-----


Dear Treize,


Are you well? I am. End.


That made for a very short letter, so I will write a little more. My relaxing summer vacation has finished, and a new term has begun. I am attending secondary school as usual. I sent Carlo a letter not long ago, but he has not replied. Did you by any chance say something to him before we parted ways?


Lillia Schultz


* * *


Dear Miss Lillianne Aikashia Corazòn Whittington Schultz,


It has been a while. This is Treize.

I am well, but I cannot say the same for my poor motorcycle—I drove it to death and the engine finally gave out. I wrote this in the previous letter, but I owe you so much for what happened this summer. Please convey my thanks to Allison as well.

About Carlo: he might not know how to read and write yet, so give him some time to send you a reply.

Autumn is almost over in Ikstova now. The photo on this postcard was taken by my mother and printed in the village photo studio.


Treize of Ikstova


* * *


Dear Treize,


Wow! That’s a great picture! Is your mother a professional? I asked Mom, but she wouldn’t tell me.

Here’s a Capital District postcard in return—a picture of the bustling city. Don’t you miss it?


Lillia (who has midterms coming up and shouldn’t actually have time for this stuff)


* * *


Dear Miss Lillia Schultz,


I love you! I love you very much!

I’m sorry for the sudden nature of this letter.

But I could not hold myself back any longer.

I’ve rewritten this message so many times that the letter is going nowhere; so I am being very brief.

Any response is fine by me, so please reply soon.

I am prepared to accept even a rejection.


Archer Bernardo, third-year.


P.S. We took history class together last year! Do you remember me?


* * *


“Meg? Miss Strauski?”

“Hm? What is it, Lillia?”

“Is there a guy named Bernardo in this class?”

“Er… he’s not here yet, but yeah.”

“Could you give this to him? I don’t know what he looks like.”

“Sure, but… is this a letter? A love letter?”

“A reply to a love letter.”

“Oh my goodness!”

“Obviously I’m turning him down. Now give it to him quick and don’t tell anyone.”

“So that’s why you were talking to me in Bezelese… All right. Just leave it to me.”

“Thanks, Meg. I’m counting on you…”

“You didn’t sleep well, Lillia?”

“I never thought I’d end up looking through a dictionary to write the thing without making any mistakes… man.”

“Oh my.”

“Stuff happened, and I just didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.”

“Good job, Lillia.”


* * *


To the Schultz family,


Hello, this is Treize. I am writing on behalf of my mother. Have the two of you made plans for the winter holidays yet? If you’d like, please come visit Ikstova for the end-of-year festivities. We will welcome you with open arms.


Lillia,

Mother was very pleased when I gave her your compliments. She says she would like to meet you if she has the chance. This is also one of her photos, of the Central Mountain Range as seen from Slankalans.


Treize of the Ikstova Tourism Association


* * *


“Hey, Mom. I’m hella sorry to drop this on you straight from school, but check this out.”

“What is it, Lillia? You’ve got a scary look on your face and you sound like you’ve been hanging out with the wrong crowd.”

“I got this letter from Treize. Look.”

“Hm? Let’s see… I see, I see. I don’t get sweaty at all in my flight suit when I walk over to the planes, so it must be about time to plan for the holidays.”

“That’s a funny sense of the seasons you’ve got, Mom. So what are we gonna do?”

“What would you like to do, Lillia?”

“…I’ll let you decide. You can get a long vacation from work, right?”

“If I sign up for one. If not, just the last few days of the year.”

“Do it! We’ll think about the rest later.”

“Yes, ma’am!”

“No saluting.”

“Got it! So Lillia, what’s for dinner tonight?”

“I haven’t decided yet. …Maybe meat, to get us pumped up?”

“Yeah! There’s nothing like a carnivore’s diet.”

“Okay! Meat it is.”

“Huzzah! You’re the best, Lillia!”

“Huzzah! All hail meat! …Mom?”

“Hm?”

“We sound like idiots.”

“Oh, it’s not like anyone’s watching.”

“True.”


* * *


Dear Treize,


Mom. Me. You. End of the year.


* * *


Dear Miss Lillianne Aikashia Corazòn Whittington Schultz,


This is Treize, wondering if you could have made that letter any shorter.

It actually looks very scary, the way you wrote. I almost thought it was a threat.

Allison sent my mother a telegram, so we have a schedule set. This time, we’ll meet at Kunst instead of the usual valley. As usual, leave the lodgings to me.

If I remember, this is the first time you and Allison are coming to Ikstova at the end of the year, yes? The last day of the twelfth month in Ikstova is a day of dazzling celebration, and feels like the longest yet shortest day of the year. ‘Revelry’ does not begin to describe the day. The streets of Kunst are bustling until dawn. There are open-air stalls and performances, and it will be an exciting time. We’ll be waiting for your arrival.

We just got our first snow here in Ikstova. Over thirty centimeters, in fact. And it’s only going to get snowier from here on out. The world will be blanketed in white for months to come.


Treize of Ikstova.


* * *


The 19th day of the final month of the year 3305 of the World Calendar.


The capital of the Roxcheanuk Confederation was famous for its warm winters relative to its latitude. That was thanks to the currents and seasonal winds blowing warm air into the area.

Its capital, situated in the northeastern area of the continent, was officially known as the Special Capital District—a self-governing region independent of other members of the confederation. The National Library next to the civic center was a massive building with five wings spreading out around it, and was affectionately called ‘The Starfish’.

It was in one wing of that library, between the shelves so high they could kill several people with ease if they fell, that Major Travas reclined on a sofa and read a book.

He was a man in his mid-thirties of average height and average build. He wore oval frameless glasses, and his hair was between short and slightly long. Travas was dressed in a plain navy suit with a tie. Next to him in a neat pile was his folded brown trench coat, a winter hat, and his gloves.

It was just before morning tea time. Snow was falling softly outside the windows, but the interior was warm. The library was almost completely empty, as it usually was on weekdays just after opening hours.

The sofas continued in a line for about fifty meters, occasionally interrupted by aisles, but the only ones seated were Major Travas and an old man about 20 meters away.

Major Travas was holding a book made of clearly cheap paper. The title read, ‘Mystery Creature’s Existence Confirmed! See the latest photos here!’ in Roxchean, the official language of the Confederation. Major Travas flipped quickly through its pages, his brown eyes rapidly scanning the words.

As time passed peacefully, a man stepped in.

He was in his late forties and had an athlete’s build, and wore a plain grey suit. The face under his short-cropped blond hair was a stern one. In his hand was a folded newspaper.

The man’s footsteps resounded as he passed the shelves, slowing as he neared Major Travas and finally coming to a stop just two meters from him.

“Mind if I sit here?” He asked stoically.

Major Travas, who was already looking up at the man’s approach, smiled and replied, “Yes”. The man walked over to the empty sofa on the major’s right and took a seat. He threw a glance at the cover of Major Travas’s book before turning to his own newspaper, seemingly uninterested in conversation.

Major Travas returned to his book as well. There was nothing there but the sounds of pages being turned.

It was about when the long hand of the clock on the wall had made a quarter revolution around the face that the old man slowly rose from his seat. He placed his finished book on the returns cart and left, never returning.

“…”

The man in grey said nothing as he folded up his newspaper irritably and tossed it to his right. For a moment, something seemed to bulge at his left side under his suit. He was wearing a shoulder holster with a large handgun.

“So.”

The man began, his eyes facing forward. Major Travas’s eyes stopped. The man continued.

“What are your people up to this time?”

Major Travas also did not look at the man, and replied matter-of-factly.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“Don’t play dumb. It looks like your taste in books isn’t the only joke around here.” The man growled. “Twelve of the newest submachine guns, along with so much ammo a man couldn’t carry it on his own, were sold over the past three months. Along with the latest in miniature radios and silencers for automatic handguns. The buyers were all individuals, but the orders, deposits, and receipts were fiddled with just right that we couldn’t track them. Clearly this is the work of a single group—a group of people who’re particularly good at these tricks. Yours.”

It was a very bold accusation, even considering the absence of eavesdroppers. Major Travas was a little surprised as he finally turned to the man. The man met his gaze.

“You’re accusing the wrong man.” Major Travas said firmly. The man was quick to retort.

“I heard you and your little gang got your hands on the magazines from those models this summer in the middle of that crazy show you put on at the lake.”

“And indeed we did. But we disposed of the magazines and filed an official report about our reasons.”

“I’m not here to listen to stuff I already know. But you people have always used Roxchean weapons when you pulled things in Roxche. Clever, I’ll give you that. Procuring supplies locally to act like locals.” The man said, and suddenly changed the subject. “When I was just born, this country and yours were at war. Before I started primary school I was taught to kill anyone from Cross-River on sight.”

“I see.” Major Travas replied tersely.

“When I see you bastards reading on a sofa in the National Library, my hands start tingling for a gun.”

“I see.”

“It bugs me that I can’t scratch that itch until I get evidence of your misconducts. Don’t you agree, Major Travas of the Sou Be-Il Royal Army?”

“Perhaps.” Major Travas replied with a sincere smile. The man’s glare did not soften.

“I despise you Westerners. Especially you ‘noble’ ones.”

“Of course.” Major Travas replied, nonchalant as ever. The man smirked.

“That was a compliment, Major. You could try looking a little happy. That’s all I came to tell you. I don’t know if you’re on vacation or what, but sorry to interrupt your reading. Feel free to contact me if you ever discover the Giant Dragon of Lake Baszen, the human-faced deep-sea fish in the Arctic Sea, or the snow monsters in the Central Mountain Range. And don’t forget to take your camera.”

“Of course.” Major Travas replied with another smile.

The man grabbed his newspaper and turned away. Just then, Major Travas suddenly spoke.

“About the self-immolation suicide case forty-five days ago with the Dezer Pharmaceuticals executive…”

“Yeah?”

The man stopped in his tracks. Major Travas’s gaze never left the shelves as he continued quietly.

“I just happened to hear that, between forty-six and fifty-one days ago, some among the day laborer recruiters in the northern district slums promised an unusually large sum of money to their recruits. All of them happened to recruit older but muscular men of small builds. I’m sure no one would bat an eye at one or two vagrants going missing from the slums. And it’s only recently that their blood trafficking has started to become an issue.”

“…And?”

“Dezer Pharmaceuticals was not floundering, and there was no unusually large life insurance policy on the dead executive. But back in the days when heroin was commonly used as a painkiller, he had been in charge of overseeing the manufacturing process—starting all the way from the acquisition of poppy. Which is why—”

“All right, all right, damn you!” The man burst out, turning. “Fine, I did not know that! Looks like you just love saddling us with more work. Bastard.”

With that, the man strode gruffly away.

Major Travas watched the grey suit disappear before returning to his book. On the page were the words ‘Footprints of Mysterious Snow Creature of the Central Mountain Range!’, dancing next to a blurry photograph.


The Sou Be-Il embassy was located a slight distance from the civic centers. It had been rebuilt in an empty plot of land after the armistice to provide jobs to more people.

At the rear intersection of the new five-story concrete embassy building stood a black car. Major Travas stepped out of the driver’s seat. It had stopped snowing now, but his breaths still puffed visibly into the grey sky.

The major handed his keys to the soldier who greeted him, saluted, and stepped inside. He took off his hat and coat then entered the elevator to head to the third floor.

It was a plain office setting inside, except for the sign ‘Royal Army’ hanging on the wall. Administrative clerks were busy at work under the even spread of fluorescent lights. The sound of paper and typewriter keys filled the room.

Major Travas walked into a hallway on the side and opened the door to a small room at the very end. It was a snug office with eight desks set up. The only person in the room stood when he arrived, surprised.

“Major? Don’t you have the day off today?”

She was a woman in her late twenties, wearing a navy suit with a skirt. She had short brown hair and sharp eyes. The words from her mouth were Bezelese, the official language of Sou Be-Il.

“Hello, Axe. Where is the colonel?” Major Travas asked, also in Bezelese. The woman named Axe replied tersely,

“He had to attend a party last night.”

“Hung over, I see. It may be part of his duties, but I feel for him.”

Major Travas crossed the room and to his personal office. He took out a key from his pocket and unlocked it.

“Tea, Major?” Axe asked from outside the wide-open door. Major Travas answered as he hung up his coat and jacket.

“Please. Thank you, Axe. I came in today to look into something. Where are the others?”

“The corner store, sir. To, er… to buy some crisps…” Axe said nervously.

“You mean the crisps I warned you to stay away from because they’re so greasy and have a strong smell and taste?”

“Y-yes, sir.”

“They can be a treat once in a while. Could I have some too?”

“Of course, sir! They’ll be back very soon.”

Just as Axe said, the moment Major Travas sat at his neatly-organized desk and received his lukewarm cup of tea—

“The Capital Crisp Retrieval Squad is back in one piece with a big haul! Let’s dig in.”

A group of men came crowding into the office. The bringer of good news was a man in his twenties, who was accompanied by a man in his thirties and two men in their forties. All of them were wearing suits and carrying large paper bags.

“…”

When they discovered Major Travas, who should have been on vacation that day, they put down their bags in surprise and embarrassment. And they turned to Axe for answers as she welcomed them back.

“He says he wants to look into something today.” She said, reaching into one of the bags and taking out a crisp. She bit into it and grabbed a bag to take to the major. The man in his thirties let her take it, confused.

The man in his twenties put down his paper bag on a desk.

“You’ve got got no real work to do and a long vacation, Major. You could leave all the paperwork to us and take a breather. Never seen a finer workaholic.”

The others turned to Major Travas in agreement.

“Let us help you.”

They nodded in unison.


* * *


The 12th day of the final month.


“All right. Cheers to a year well done!”

“Cheers!”

The two secondary school students raised a toast with grape juice.

They were in the kitchen of a typical apartment building in the Capital District. Outside the fifth-story window, it was snowing hard enough to almost block out the building across the street.

The students were sitting across the table. One of them was Lillia Schultz. She had a very long full name—Lillianne Aikashia Corazòn Whittington Schultz—and was almost sixteen years old. She had long, straight brown hair and big brown eyes. If she didn’t say anything, she looked like a demure girl—but at the moment, she was chugging her grape juice.

“Yeah! That hits the spot! Nothing like a glass to wash down the stress of studying!”

She sounded more like a middle-aged man at a bar after work than a teenaged girl. But she was dressed in her school uniform nonetheless—a green checkered skirt, a white blouse, and a red tie, along with a grey jacket.

The other student was Strauski Megmica—Meg. Because she was from Sou Be-Il, ‘Strauski’ was her family name. She had moved to the Capital District in Roxche two years ago with her family for her father’s work. She became friends with Lillia, who spoke Bezelese, after they took the same class together.

She had beautiful black hair tied into pigtails, and fair skin and dark eyes. At Lillia’s side, she looked even more mature than she already was(she had entered secondary school a year late). Just like Lillia, Meg was in her winter uniform. She had taken off her jacket and hung it on the back of her chair, and over her shirt she wore a cream-colored cardigan embroidered with the school crest.

Meg slowly sipped half her glass and placed it back on the table.

“It’s already been a year since we met, Lillia. Time sure flies.” She remarked.

“It sure does. Here. Have some more.”

Lillia replied, and filled Meg’s glass. Then she poured more juice for herself. At school they spoke Roxchean together, but now they were using Bezelese.

“It just went by so quickly. Next year, we’ll be fourth-years. They’ll start pestering us about university, too. But today’s a day for celebration, so let’s set aside all the serious stuff.” Lillia said.

It was earlier that very day that the end-of-classes ceremony had taken place. They had gone out for lunch together at a nearby restaurant and were now relaxing at Lillia’s house.

“When did you say you were coming back, Meg?”

“The thirteenth of next year.”

“So the day before class starts. I’ll pray that your plane doesn’t get delayed.”

“Thank you, Lillia. …Actually, I’d prefer if you prayed we wouldn’t crash, but I’m scared to just say the word.”

“You’re the one who mentioned it, Meg. You’ve never been on a plane before?” Asked Lillia.

Meg nodded nervously.

“Don’t worry! Aeroplanes these days don’t crash.”

“But… what if the engines give out halfway?”

“In midair? There’s nothing to worry about. Even if the engines die, an aeroplane can keep flying for a while. You can even control it! It’s called ‘gliding’. And Mom says that engines these days don’t stop like that. So she’s complaining about how they don’t train young pilots to get out of fixes like that anymore.”

“…”

Meg went silent, unsure whether Lillia was trying to comfort her or scare her.

“Oh! Sorry, Meg. I’m sorry. Don’t worry about it! Just go to sleep in your seat, and you’ll be there before you know it!”


Meg changed the subject to avoid discussing aeroplanes further.

“You said you’re going to Iks this winter, right? I’m jealous. I’d love to visit someday.”

“It is a nice place. Unlike the city here, there’s mountains in every direction and the snow is beautiful. And if they get a lot of snowfall, you can see fun stuff like avalanches now and then.” Lillia said, not considerate in the least for potential avalanche victims or their families. She stood and picked out a book from the shelf by the kitchen. It was travel guide for the Kingdom of Iks. Lillia took out a map from the pages and spread it on the table.

The Central Mountain Range vertically bisected the only continent on the planet. The Kingdom of Iks was situated on the Roxchean side of that mountain range. In the middle of the country was the long, narrow Lake Ras. And dotted around the massive lake—100 meters from north to south and 40 kilometers from east to west—were cities and villages.

The Kingdom of Iks was colored green on the map. And in small letters were written the words, ‘Western border and size of Kingdom of Iks unknown’. Because the Central Mountain Range, over 10,000 meters tall in some places, were inaccessible to humans, it was impossible to draw a border.

“Iks is the only country in Roxche that’s in the mountains, right?” Asked Meg.

Lillia nodded and gesticulated wildly as she continued to explain.

“It’s really amazing. On clear days, you can see mountains everywhere. It’s completely surrounded—and the peaks are really sharp, too. They’re covered in snow even in summer. And in summer, the valleys turn green and when you climb up any of the mountains you can see the big blue lake. And when you look down toward Roxche you can just faintly make out the plains.”

“Wow. Iks is the only kingdom in Roxche, right?”

“Yeah. And it’s ruled by a queen, too. Queen Francesca. She’s really beautiful, and still young. Although I’ve only ever seen a tiny picture of her on the papers.”

“And her husband is the Hero of the Mural. The one who ended the war.”

“Yeah. Something Benedict from Sou Be-Il, right?”

“‘Carr’. He must be from the south. They’re such a perfect couple. It’s amazing.”

“This is the first time I’m spending the new year in Iks. But I heard it’s gonna be a real party on the last day of the year. Everyone has fun all night celebrating the new year and watches the sun rise together.” Lillia said, folding up the map and placing it back in the book.

“Really? It’s similar in Sou Be-Il.” Meg said, surprised.

She explained that the last day of the year was very important in Sou Be-Il. Families would eat together before going to a chapel for evening service. People would go out into the streets to loudly count down toward the new year. And on the first day of the new year, the people of Sou Be-Il could visit the palace and see the royal family beyond a glass window.

“Kings and queens, huh. I wonder what kind of lives they have.”

“Who knows? But I’ve heard that the Royal Family of Bezel is having some problems right now.”

“Why?”

“The princess is twenty years old now. Normally, a princess her age would have already been married. But…”

“She doesn’t have anyone?”

“No. They say there’s almost no men her age in the Royal Family of Iltoa, or among the high-ranking aristocrats. I don’t mean to be rude, but since she’s going to rule as queen someday… she needs a husband worthy of her status.”

“So she can’t just bring any guy home and say, ‘This is my boyfriend’.”

“Exactly.”

“She doesn’t have any decent classmates to marry?”

“The princess doesn’t go to school.”

“Huh. The tragedy of the upper classes, I guess. Come to think of it, I think the heir to the throne in Iks is sixteen or seventeen this year, too. They’re almost the same age… but then again, the heir to Iks a princess too, and she has to take over after her mother.”

“We can worry about them all we like, but…” Meg began.

“It’s not like we can help them.” Lillia finished her sentence. Meg narrowed her eyes.

“I think we should be thankful, you know. After all, we can choose the people we like—the people we might end up marrying someday.”

“Yeah.”

Lillia said half-heartedly, chugging her grape juice again. Then she froze, as though something occurred to her.

“Do you have one?”

“Huh?” Meg replied, her eyes wide. Lillia stared up at her face.

“Strauski Megmica, do you have someone in mind?”

“Huh? Er… what?”

“I’m the one asking questions here.”

“I… I don’t… think so. No.” Meg replied, frozen. Lillia backed down.

“I see. So no.”

“What about you, Lillia?”

“Huh? N-no!”

“I… I see.”

“Yeah. …Let’s not talk about this.”

“Yeah. All this talk about marriage is still so far away.”

Almost in unison, they sighed. Lillia reached for the juice bottle when Meg spoke again.

“I think it might be okay to take our time.”

“That’s right! We’re not at the ‘have to get married now’ age yet—we’re not even pushing it.” Lillia replied, shaking the bottle.

“Then you know what we do? We drink one more glass!”

“Yes! That’s the spirit! Cheers!”


Just as they finished raising a toast,

“I’m home!”

The owner of the house returned.

“Oh, Mom! You’re early today.” Lillia said, surprised. “Welcome home.”

“Thank you. Oh! Hello, Meg.”

Stepping into the kitchen was a woman so beautiful and youthful that she did not look like she was in her mid-thirties. She had blue eyes like the sky on a clear day, and long, shimmering blond hair tied up in a bun. She wore a dark red uniform, complete with a jacket with a badge of rank, a pilot’s badge, and a nametag, and a long skirt. It was Allison Whittington Schultz, Lillia’s mother. She was a captain and a test pilot in the Roxchean Air Force.

“I am here to visit. It has been a long time, Allison.” Meg said in Roxchean, getting to her feet. Meg and Lillia’s other friends called Allison by given name instead of ‘Ms. Schultz’.

“Meg says her family’s going back home for the first time in two years the day after tomorrow.”

“That sounds wonderful.”

“Yeah. Anyway, you’re home early, Mom. What’s going on?” Lillia asked, turning from her seat. Allison put down a packed file in the living room.

“The end-of-term ceremony at the Air Force Academy was today. Just like at your school. And an old superior of mine came to say hi. It’s been so long since we met I decided to take half the day off to go to the get-together. I’ll be out real soon.”

“I see. Oh, we’re out of tea, Mom. I was panicking for a second today.”

“Sorry, honey. Wasn’t there any juice left in the storage room?”

“We are drinking them now.” Meg replied.

“You want some too, Mom?”

“No thank you. I’ll be going now. I’m coming home late, so make sure to lock up before you go to bed.”

“Okay. Have fun.”

Allison walked into the kitchen and planted a kiss on Lillia’s cheek. Then she winked at Meg and walked out the hallway. The door opened, then shut.

Lillia turned back to the girl in front of herself.

“Ohh!”

Meg’s eyes were shut tight, and her hands were balled into trembling fists.

“What’s wrong?” Asked Lillia.

“Ohh! Lillia’s mother is still as ever cool! She is magnificent!” Meg raved in Roxchean. Lillia was unconvinced.

“You think so?”

“Yes, I do think so! You just don’t know it because you see Allison every day.”

“Well… I do see her a lot with messy hair, looking for her bra when it’s on her head…”

“Oh my. I think Allison is not a morning woman.”

“Hm? Oh, a morning person, you mean?”

“Yes, those words. They are my new Roxchean vocabulary today.”

Then, Meg switched to Bezelese.

“Lillia, since your mother’s a soldier, does she teach you how to fight and stuff?”

“Hmm… I’d stake an omelet and a bottle of milk from the cafeteria that you don’t know any real soldiers.”

“You’re good, Lillia.”

“How to fight, huh? …She did teach me one thing.”

“What is it? Can girls pull it off, too?”

“Let’s see… when you’re fighting hand-to-hand and you need to put some extra oomph into an attack…”

“Yes?”

“Say your name before the technique for maximum power!”

“…”

“That’s what Mom told me!”

“…Hah. Meg Punch.”

Meg tapped Lillia’s shoulder with a fist.

“Counter. Lillia Chop.”

Very slowly, Lillia slammed her left hand under Meg’s shoulder.

“I don’t know if this is working.”

“No. Would you still trust my mother?”

“…”

“What do you say?”

“I think she’s got a wonderful figure! What’s her secret? Is it a really strict diet?”

“I don’t know how to say this, but… Well, Mom is a meat-eater. She might as well be a carnivore. Although she almost never drinks ‘cause she says it’s not good for when you go up to really high altitudes. But she does a hundred sit-ups for her abs every morning right before she showers for that sculpted stomach. Does that help?”

“Thank you for destroying my hopes and dreams. Waahh…” Meg complained, feigning sobs.

“‘Weep not, Milady. Life and suffering are one and the same; you must overcome this pain’.”

“…Where did you get that line?”

“It’s what the main character in ‘What is your Name?’ says to the love interest at the end. Y’know, the radio drama from the Capital District station.”

“Oh, I remember! It’s a really popular drama, isn’t it?”

“I hear the sequel’s starting in the beginning of the new year.”

“Oh no! I’ll miss the first broadcast!” Meg cried. Lillia put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“Weep not, Milady. Life and suffering are one and the same; you must overcome this pain.”


* * *


The 26th day of the final month.


“Highness? Your Highness? Has anyone seen Prince Treize? Has he left for the capital already?”

“No, he went to the mountains at the crack of dawn. He was raring to take care of the wandering wolf that’s been bothering us all week.”

“I see. All alone?”

“Yes. I’m sure he’ll be back for afternoon tea, whether he nabs the wolf or not.”

“Hmm… With his skills, I’m sure His Highness will be successful in his hunt.”

“Then I wager a hundred Roxes than he ends up losing the beast.”

“I as well.”

“Hm. I don’t think this wager will work out.”

“You’re right.”


“Achoo!”

In the snowy valley, Treize stifled a sneeze.

He was sixteen years old, with an androgynous face that mirrored his mother’s, and a lean and muscular build like his father. He was not unattractive at all, but he was currently dressed like a snowman.

He was wearing a shirt and pants made of thick knitted wool, over which were a sweater and a winter coat, over which were a white parka and snow pants. There was a pair of black goggles over his eyes and a white cloth wrapped around the rest of his face.

The wool hat on his head had ear flaps that tied together under the chin, and a corner of a white sheet was tied over his hat. His boots and his gloves were also white. So from head to toe he was round and white.

Treize was at the base of a large, rolling valley blanketed in snow, a world of nothing but white. Large coniferous trees dotted the landscape, and in the middle was a 30-meter-wide plain. A small stream flowed down the very center. The end of the valley connected to a steep incline and disappeared into the cloudy sky. The back of the valley led to a gentle downward slope, veiled by the fog. There were no manmade things like houses or utility poles in sight.

Treize leaned on his left side against a boulder topped with snow and sat with his legs stretched before him.

In his hands he held a long, thin rifle with a wooden stock. It was a bolt-action rifle that had to be reloaded after each shot, and was equipped with a short scope. Loaded inside were five rounds measuring at 7.62mm wide and 54mm long.

Behind him was a backpack, also white, and a pair of snowshoes made of bent branches.

“Phew…”

Though his eyes were concealed beneath his goggles, Treize kept his eyes trained ahead into the valley, slowly exhaling.

On a rolling slope about 5 meters from him was a plump, round chicken shivering in the snow, curling into its own wings. Tied to its leg was a string, which was tied to a nearby rock.

Treize was almost completely still as he shivered in the freezing air and stared ahead. Gusts of wind sometimes cut past the valley.

“It’s here…”

Slowly, carefully, Treize raised his rifle. He placed the stock against his cheek, his left elbow against the inside of his left knee, and his right elbow against the inside of his right knee as he peered into the scope.

In the crosshairs stood the shivering chicken, appearing 3.5 times its size. When Treize raised the rifle slightly, he saw the approaching beast.

It was a mountain wolf, common in the Central Mountain Range. It was a light grey in color, almost completely white. The wolf was about as big as mid-sized dogs raised by rich families. But its maw and the glimpses of its teeth were sharper than any pet dog could ever have. The wolf halted at times before nearing, step by step.

Wolves were pack animals by nature, but there was only one here now. It must have been cast out of the pack or separated—a literal lone wolf. There was a nice ring to the phrase, but real lone wolves had trouble procuring food and often starved. And out of desperation such wolves came down to human settlements, which a pack would normally avoid, and hunt livestock.

The wolf that drew near beyond the scope was, unsurprisingly, very thin. Its skin was taut around its ribcage.

“Looks like you’re having a tough time, too.” Treize whispered. “But that chicken is ours. Once Lillia gets here, I’m going to roast it whole. I can’t let you take it—you’re not getting anything.”

For a moment, he took his eye off the scope. Treize checked the mechanism to see the rifle was properly loaded. He had not armed the safety to begin with. He wiggled his gloved right hand—his index finger stuck out of the glove. The second glove he was wearing underneath was also white.

The wolf stopped about 20 meters from the chicken and cautiously scanned the area. For a split second, its eyes met Treize’s through the scope.

“Just one shot is all I need…”

The wolf leapt. It charged straight for its prey. The chicken noticed the approach and spread its wings in an attempt to flee, but the string around its leg quickly went taut and it fell face-first to the ground. The chicken flailed as it stirred up snow. The wolf slowed, convinced of its victory, and came closer.

“Sorry.”

Soon, the wolf’s entire body fit into the center of the scope. Treize held his breath and slowly put pressure on his trigger finger.

Then, he pulled. The spring-loaded firing pin inside the bolt sprang forward and hit the detonator at the center of the bottom of the round, which was inside the firing chamber at the back of the barrel. A small spark erupted, lighting the dormant detonator inside the cartridge and forcing it to instantly combust. The sudden expansion of gas forced the ammunition clear out of the barrel.

The bullet spun furiously along the grooves in the barrel, and escaped the muzzle with an explosive burst of noise and gas—traveling at over 800 meters per second, and 2800 kilometers an hour.

In less than a tenth of a second, the 20-gram bullet would pierce the wolf’s forehead, breaking through skin and skull with pressure alone, scattering its brain across the snow. At least, that was the intention.

He was not far enough to miss. But just as Treize willed his trigger finger to move, the wolf tripped on a rock and fell forward. The bullet flew over its head, hit a boulder, and flew off with a spark.

The recoil instantly forced the world through the scope upwards.

“What?!”

By the time Treize pulled the rifle back down, he saw the wolf—having quickly regained footing—lunge at the chicken. Its grey jaws tore apart the chicken’s skinny neck.

“Damn it!”

Taking his right hand off the grip, Treize raised the bolt lever to undo the lock. Then he pulled down the lever and loaded the next round from the magazine, and pushed the lever forward to lock it again.

There was no hesitation in his movements, and it all took place in less than a second. But in that short time the wolf had already turned away.

The scope followed the wolf. It fled as fast as it could, deeper into the valley. With the chicken in its mouth the wolf’s paws drummed against the white ground. The string had already snapped.

“Damn it… that’s Lillia’s chicken.”

Treize took aim and pulled the trigger. Snow scattered upward from just next to the running wolf.

Treize operated the lever again and took aim, but the wolf grew smaller in his sights by the second. The third round missed, to the upper left. He loaded again and opened fire. He aimed the fourth round just a little ahead of the wolf, but it narrowly missed its target.

“C’mon, just hit the thing!”

His agitated fifth shot flew off wildly in a spray of snow.

Treize pulled back the bolt again. But—

“…”

He did not push it back. When he glanced at the rifle, he could tell instantly that he was out of ammo. A faint wisp of smoke rose from the gun, accompanied by the stinging smell of gunpowder.

“Aw, man.”

Treize looked up. The grey beast was moving, deeper inside the valley. He could still recognize its shape, but even that grew smaller and smaller.

“You win.” He mumbled. He was not wearing his earmuffs because he had intended to finish with one shot; his ears were ringing.

Eventually, the wolf became a speck in the distance and disappeared into the valley.

“I lose…”

Sitting on the ground, Treize slowly reached over to the backpack behind him.

Then he took out a small wooden box from one of the pockets and opened the lid. Extra rounds neatly filled it.

Treize began to load them into the magazine one by one for protection on his way back. He inserted one, then took out another from the box and put it into the magazine. And once five rounds were finally loaded, he pushed the bolt forward. This time, he armed the safety.

Leaning the rifle against the boulder, Treize searched for his spent cartridges. Brass cartridges could be reused several times if they were loaded with gunpowder and a bullet.

Treize picked up all the cartridges melting through the snow and stuffed them into his pockets.

“Guess I should get going soon.”

He tied his snowshoes to his boots and slung his backpack on his back. Then, he took out a leather strap from his pocket and fixed it to the rifle, before slinging it over his right shoulder.

“…”

Suddenly, he stopped. Treize put down his rifle and backpack and took off his parka, coat, and sweater. He rolled them up in a ball, stuffed them into his backpack, then put on his jacket and prepared to leave again.

“Looks like I’ll have to think up another menu.”

He began to stride down the snowy valley.


* * *


“What sort of a person is Treize, you ask? I would have to say, in a word…”

“In a word…?”

“An imbecile. He is an imbecile, Elder Sister.”

“A-an ‘imbecile’…?”

“Although it pains me as his older sister to say so, yes.”

“Oh? I was informed that you were the younger twin, Meriel.”

“I’m afraid that is untrue, Elder Sister. Treize goes on about being the older brother—Father also agrees with him, yes, but it has been long known that the second twin to be born is always considered the elder.”

“Is… is that so? My sincerest apologies, Meriel. I don’t know much about your customs…”

“Please don’t let it bother you, Elder Sister. None of that should concern you! I just wanted to let you know that Treize is the younger twin.”

“I see. I will remember that well. So, er… speaking of Treize…”

“Although it pains me as his older sister to say this, to be frank, Treize can be quite emotionally frail. To be specific… let’s see… hmm… I must admit that he is very handsome, being the very image of our mother.”

“Yes, I’ve seen a photograph of him. He looks just like Her Majesty.”

“But he is emotionally frail. When we were children, he was always hiding behind Mother. Even when we quarreled, one volley of arguments sent him running to Mother or a grandmother in the valley.”

“Oh my. That sounds adorable.”

“But now, he is nothing but impudent. And because he is a man, I can no longer beat him in a battle of strength.”

“But surely he’s not so barbaric as to try and solve everything with force?”

“No, I suppose not. But they say that old habits die hard—Treize still fails to be decisive at the opportune moments. And I doubt he will change. …Elder Sister, are you interested in my brother?”

“Oh! Actually, yes. You know that I do not have a single friend my own age. I was always very lonely, to be honest. But now that I’ve become friends with you, Meriel, I think I would like to get to know Treize as well.”

“I understand! I will bring him with me next time, even if I must drag him on a leash!”

“Thank you, Meriel. Personally, I would love to visit Iks myself, if not for my circumstances.”

“I’m certain Treize will understand. I’ll bring him along next time, I promise!”

“Thank you, Meriel. I’m looking forward to it already. …Truly.”


* * *


The 27th day of the final month.


A group of people were wrestling a mountain of paperwork in the Sou Be-Il Embassy in the Capital District.

Major Travas, Axe, and the four men working for the major. They were in the midst of exhausting work, quietly checking each and every word in the stack of documents piled on their desks.

The man in his thirties finished one stack and sighed loudly.

“Clear. Nothing fishy with this bank.”

He tossed the documents into a cardboard box near his feet.

“Good work. Everyone, take a breather and have some tea. Feel free to get some air if you’d like.”

Said Major Travas as he continued to scan through a document, dressed again in a suit instead of his uniform. His subordinates could see him through his open office door. The men exchanged glances and shrugged, knowing they couldn’t rest now.

“Hm…?”

Axe, whose eyes were also focused on a document, frowned.

“Major, may I have a moment?”

She stood from her seat and went over to Travas with the document in hand. The men stopped and turned their attention to her.

“I’ve found something unusual. Someone’s been making irregular purchases of the same products for the past year through an anonymous account at this bank.”

“Not weapons?”

Axe shook her head and held out the document. Travas received it and scanned the many words on the paper. And ten seconds later, he furrowed his brow.

“Film stock?”

“Yes. .35mm color stock from Baker&Don. It’s the latest version in Roxche. And as you can see, it’s a rather expensive brand of film.”

“Mass quantities… and all film stock.”

“I’ve yet to find any other transactions of unusual commonality. This might be the work of a corporation or a powerful millionaire, or perhaps a drug dealer’s attempts at money laundering.”

“Perhaps, if the buyer is always the same person or organization. …Why does our anonymous buyer here want to buy film stock in secret, I wonder?” Major Travas asked.

“Strange, isn’t it? Unlike weapons or ammunition, no one would be suspicious about buying film stock in bulk.” Axe noted.

“A film crew. Hmm… this might be worth looking into. Everyone, I’d like your attention here.”

“W-would you have us launch an investigation, Major?” Asked Axe. Major Travas shook his head.

“No. We’ll be getting help from the police.”

He reached for the phone on his desk and picked up the receiver. Axe’s gaze turned chilly.

Him, Major? I can’t agree with this decision.”

“He may hate us Westerners, but he is passionate about his work as a police officer.” Major Travas replied. Axe shot back.

“I’ve never seen him in anything but the same grey suit. Please ask him to change sometimes.”


As Major Travas began his phone call, the men left the office.

“That’s the major for you. Wanna go get lunch?”

“That sounds good. …Y’know, where’s the major supposed to be from, anyway? There’s a fine line between taking on a job because you’re bored and taking an active part in fighting crime for a different country.”

“As if we didn’t know that already. And it’s not a bad idea to put Roxche in a bit of debt to us.”

“I guess you’re right. But you know, when I work with the major, I sometimes think…”

“Hm?”

“…It’s like he’s not just working for our homeland. Like he’s working for Roxche, too.”

“‘Working for the world’, eh? Not bad. It’s just like him.”

“Is this really all right? Not for the major, I mean. For us.”

“It’s fine. We’ve been ordered to follow him, so that’s what we do. If we’re ordered to kill him, that’s what we do. And have we been ordered to kill him?”

“No.”

“Exactly.”


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Chapter 2.


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