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Time for more Lillia and Treize. Enjoy.
Time for more Lillia and Treize. 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.
Chapter 5: The Treasure of Ikstova
“What is the treasure of Ikstova?” Asked Laurie.
“Pardon?” Fiona asked, her eyes widening. Laurie snorted.
“So you’ve got the gall to play dumb, eh?”
Fiona looked at Benedict—first with just her eyes, then by turning. He sat about two meters away with his wrists taped. But when their eyes met, Benedict tilted his head.
Fiona turned back to Laurie.
“The treasure of Ikstova? Hm… there’s a lot in this country I could call a treasure—its beautiful landscape, its kind people, and its cutting-edge technology—so I’m not certain what precisely you mean.” Fiona replied, only half-joking.
“Heh. Not bad.”
Laurie laughed. Then she looked down at Fiona with a smile.
“You think I know nothing? Let me explain for you, Queen Francesca. I want to know about the treasure passed down the line of Ikstova’s kings and queens. The treasure that you’ve been keeping for the past four hundred years. It must be something incredible if the royal family adhered to the unnatural policy of producing only a single heir to the throne to prevent in-fighting for the treasure, even risking the end of the royal line.”
Fiona said nothing. Benedict’s eyes widened as he stared at his confused wife. Laurie continued.
“We will be taking the treasure.”
Fiona was silent.
“Cat got your tongue, Queen Francesca?”
“What? …Yes, that is alarming.”
“Of course.” Laurie grinned triumphantly. “Let’s make this quick. Tell me everything you know about the treasure.”
Laurie reached over and turned off the tape recorder. Then, she switched out the cassette—which wasn’t yet finished—for a new one. She started recording again.
“Year 3306 of the World Calendar. The royal family’s villa. The answer to the four hundred-year mystery, from the mouth of the queen. Everything about the treasure of Ikstova.”
Laurie condescendingly recorded the title.
“If you will, Your Majesty.”
Fiona still said nothing. For three seconds she wondered what to do. Laurie smirked as she watched.
Fiona finally managed to open her mouth, but she trailed off.
“We have come this far. Perhaps you should tell the truth about the treasure at least?” Said Benedict.
Fiona stared, surprised. He smiled and winked.
“I thought I told you to hold your tongue. But I suppose I could let it pass this time.” Laurie said in an amused tone.
“Thank you for finally giving in, Queen Francesca.”
“Then let me explain. The treasure that’s been passed down through generations of kings and queens in our royal family…”
Everyone held their breath. Laurie, sitting across the table. Benedict, sitting to the side. And the two men standing guard.
“I have no idea what it is. The royal family had a treasure?”
There was a moment of silence.
“AHAHAHAHAHA!” Laurie burst out laughing. “You do seem to enjoy your jokes, Queen Francesca.”
Fiona, however, was as solemn as ever.
“You said yourself that I returned from the dead. You know my past.”
“Of course. Injured in the attack on the palace as a girl, and raised as a village girl for ten years with no memories of the past. Then you remembered your identity and made a dramatic entrance at the political rally in Kunst, accompanied by the Hero of the Mural who happened to be at your side.”
“So you want to say you don’t know where the treasure is hidden? Funny. It seems to me like Her Majesty remembered many important things after her coronation. Any child could tell that you were using information exclusive to the royal family to rebuild the monarchy.”
Fiona stopped herself.
Fiona was not Francesca. The knowledge she received from Francesca actually amounted to nothing at all. All the information she needed to restore the monarchy had come from the people who had pretended to be villagers in the valley—the people who had worked in the old palace. They told her everything the late Princess Francesca would have known.
“It’s nothing.” Fiona shook her head, unable to bring herself to tell the truth.
“So you forgot only information on the treasure? Convenient, that.”
“I was only ten years old. Mother would never have told me something so important then.” Fiona retorted firmly. But—
“More excuses. Enough stalling, Queen Francesca.” Laurie replied with surprising confidence. “I’ve already confirmed that the heir to the throne is given the information on their tenth birthday.”
“What? Wh-what did you say?” Fiona cried.
Benedict also glanced at Laurie, sitting confidently in her chair.
“I’m getting tired of your attempts at stalling.” Laurie spat, and repeated herself. “‘On their tenth birthday, the heir to the throne is taught about the existence of the treasure. And with the great weight of the secret in mind, the heir prepares with trepidation to rise to the throne’. I’ve done my research.”
Fiona caught herself before she could say the truth.
Taking slow, deep breaths, she calmed herself. Then she spoke again.
“How did you know?” She said, honestly curious to know.
“You think we did this on a whim? No… a couple of years wouldn’t have been enough to prepare for this moment.” Laurie replied, convinced that Fiona knew about the treasure.
Fiona was silent, not knowing what to say.
“Miss Laurie, let me ask you something. How much do you know?” Benedict said firmly, sounding incensed.
Laurie ignored Fiona and glared at Benedict.
“Looks like I’ll have to take back what I told you, Hero of the Mural. I’m glad you’re finally interested in what we have to say.”
“No prolonged introductions, please. Please just tell us how much you know.”
“‘Prolonged’, eh? Your Roxchean isn’t half bad. All right—let me explain.”
Laurie picked up a small bag that had been at her feet. It was a rough black bag used more by men than women. From it she took out a leather file and a pair of white gloves.
Putting on the gloves, Laurie unwrapped the string from the knob on the file and opened it.
Inside were several documents and an old piece of discolored paper folded several times over. Laurie put aside the documents and carefully spread out the paper on the desk. It was very large, being about fifty centimeters long.
“If you can’t see, stand up. But do not touch it.”
“Then if you’ll excuse me.”
Benedict slowly stood. Because his hands were wrapped in tape, he had to stand up close to the table and lean slightly down. The man behind him cautiously went up to his back.
Fiona thought for a moment before doing the same. Laurie, Benedict, and Fiona formed a triangle with the table in the center.
It was a map.
“This is a map of Ikstova.” Fiona muttered.
The eastern part was near Fiona and Benedict, and the western part near Laurie. On the rightmost edge of the map was the long, narrow Lake Ras, which stretched for a hundred kilometers from north to south.
Where Kunst should have been, at the southeastern tip of the lake, was a light green border outlining a smaller village. It was the same for Mushke in the northeast. But there were no words on the lake or the settlements indicating their names.
Around the lake on the map, mountain peaks were indicated by pointed symbols rather than contour lines. As the country was surrounded by mountains in every direction, most of the map was filled with the symbols. And dotted between them were unlabeled valleys.
The eastern tip of the map went up to the two mountain paths that led to what was currently the Republic of Raputoa, and the western tip went to the heart of the Central Mountain Range.
Fiona’s gaze fell on the long string of words on the bottom right part of the map. It was written in cursive, but was neither Roxchean nor Bezelese.
“Can you read it, Queen Francesca?” Laurie asked without warning. Fiona looked up.
Fiona leaned forward with her hands on the desk and read out the words.
“‘I look upon my beloved land of Ikstova from the sky’.”
“I cannot read it myself, but I understand that this is written in Ikstovan.” Said Benedict. Fiona nodded.
“As you can see,” said Laurie, “this is a map of Ikstova from before the founding of the Roxcheanuk Confederation, when Ikstovan was the official language of this country. We don’t have a specific date, but since Roxche was founded in 3122, we can say this map is at least a hundred and eighty years old—and judging from the state of the paper, likely over two hundred.”
“It is a valuable treasure.” Benedict said reverently. Fiona nodded.
“Yes. It is. We had nothing of this sort left after the fire at the palace.”
“Naturally. You could not put a price on things like this.”
Her eyes on the map, Fiona said quickly,
“And it’s almost frightening how accurate it is. The lakeshore is identical to those from modern maps, and all the nearby peaks are exactly where they should be. …And this map also records the depths of the mountain range we still can’t traverse with modern technology. How is this possible? An imagined landscape is one thing, but if someone actually went out to survey the land like this… I can’t believe it.”
“Even in Sou Be-Il, it was only about a hundred years ago that we created detailed maps of the land. The Royal Army undertook the survey after modernization.”
“So you’ve never seen the map, then? I’m glad you like it, then. Looks like this mission wasn’t for naught after all.” Laurie mocked.
“I understand now!” Benedict played along. “Miss Laurie, you caused all this violence in order to give this map as a gift to the queen. You have my gratitude. We are very happy with this map. We will make this a national treasure. Let us give you a gift in return and show you out the door.”
“You’ll do well to know when to shut up.” Laurie threatened. Benedict shrugged lightly.
Fiona was still staring at the map in wonder when Laurie turned back to her.
“Now let’s hear it. Give me all the information you have.”
Both Fiona and Benedict grew solemn again.
While Fiona remained silent, Benedict spoke. He made a point of putting on a dubious face as he shot Laurie a glare.
“If you have even brought this map, you must have done a great deal of research already.” He lied without missing a beat. Fiona cast him a glance and decided to say nothing, entrusting everything to her husband.
With her gloved hand Laurie pointed at a place on the map, right in front of Fiona. Benedict had to lean in to see properly.
Laurie’s finger was on a spot in the mountain range, deep down a valley that began from royal property on the southern shore of Lake Ras. It was about two hundred kilometers away, past a sea of mountains. The spot was at about the halfway point of the Central Mountain Range, which was about three to four hundred kilometers wide.
The valleys around Lake Ras were generally used for cattle farming. In the summer, people could enter areas up to 3000 meters above sea level. But that was only in places a few kilometers from the lake—or a few dozen kilometers at most.
The place Laurie pointed at was a hinterland at least 8000 meters above sea level. Even if there was a valley running through the area, it was an untraversed land unsuitable for habitation.
“The strip of lakeshore that leads to this valley is property of the royal family. Civilian access is strictly restricted. The area could be easily stripped and used for cattle farming, but apparently it hasn’t been touched in the last four hundred years. Now why would you need to go so far for a run-of-the-mill valley? There’s something here. That’s the only explanation for why the royal family restricted access to the area.”
“My goodness. You’ve done your research.” Benedict said dramatically.
“But we still don’t know the most important part—the identity of the treasure. We couldn’t just rush in with vague notions of greatness. In fact, the treasure might not even be an object and it might only be accessible to those with the knowledge.”
“If you knew, you would have looked for it there before you came here.” Noted Benedict.
Laurie drew her revolver.
And with her right hand she took aim, not at Fiona, but Benedict. Elvar behind him moved without a sound. With the help of Kirk, who had been standing behind Fiona, he grabbed her by the elbows and pulled her several meters to the side.
Benedict faced the muzzle with a dubious face and took several steps away from the table.
“What are you doing?”
“Isn’t it obvious, Queen Francesca? Tell us everything you know about the treasure.”
“And if I refuse?”
“I will shoot your husband where he stands.”
Click. Laurie cocked the gun.
“You don’t have much time, Queen. Either you tell us what the treasure is, or you watch your husband die.”
Yet again Fiona hesitated, and Benedict spoke on her behalf. He stared down the gun aimed at his face.
Fiona knew Benedict would never call her by that nickname in the presence of those ignorant to her secret. She looked right at him. He met her gaze.
“Fi. I might be shot to death here. But there is nothing to be sad about—there’s nothing we can do about this. But you must never tell these people about the treasure.”
Fiona was silent.
“Do you understand? The treasure is worth much more than the life of one person. If it falls into the hands of these villains, the world will fall to ruin. You know that well because you are the queen, yes?”
“Y-yes… Yes. I understand.” Fiona nodded firmly.
“Hm.” Laurie grunted.
Gunfire echoed throughout the small room. Fiona flinched.
The bullet instantly passed over the desk—
—and drove itself into the wooden wall.
“That was dangerous.” Benedict remarked. There was a long cut on his cheek and blood began to spill. The bullet had just grazed the side of his face.
Raising his bound arms, Benedict wiped the blood with his left hand. He stared at the red blood on his fingertips and turned to the hole in the wall behind him.
Laurie smirked, revolver at the ready.
“I was aiming for your eye, actually.”
“And an excellent sense of humor, too.”
“Don’t worry, I don’t intend to miss next time. You have five seconds, Queen Francesca. This is an order. Tell us everything you know about the treasure.” Laurie demanded.
Fiona answered, still restrained by the two men.
“Didn’t you hear me? Shoot him.”
“You’re ordering me to shoot your husband?”
“Yes. So hurry up and do it. And shoot me after him.”
Laurie was dumbstruck.
“We’ll die together here. Along with all the knowledge you’re so desperate for. I’d rather bury the secret for good than let it fall into your hands.”
“…As you wish, Queen!” Laurie hissed, taking aim at Fiona’s forehead. “I’ll wipe that calm look off your face!”
“Miss.” Elvar said quietly. Laurie reacted at once.
“Call me ‘Leader’!”
“Excuse me, Leader. Please, put the gun down. If you fall to her provocation now, all our planning will have been for nothing.”
“I know that!”
Laurie lowered her revolver and motioned for the men to sit the hostages down. Elvar sat Benedict in his seat, and Kirk did the same for Fiona.
Laurie also sat and holstered her revolver. Then,
“Elvar, contact the party hall.”
“Of course. What shall I tell them?”
“Pick out three or so of the hostages and drag them into the middle of the room, one by one. Shoot one in the head and put a few bullets in the other two’s stomachs so they die writhing in pain. Make sure to inform them that we want to send the queen a message.”
Elvar relayed Laurie’s orders over the radio.
Laurie met Fiona’s fierce glare.
“What’s wrong, Queen Francesca?”
“I don’t care what you do; I’m not going to tell you the secret. I’ve had more than enough of your foolishness.”
“I’m not sure I care for your cheek, Queen Francesca. You’ve got a talent for making people angry, don’t you?”
“I could say the same for you. Although it’s telling that one of us isn’t armed.”
“Does it really bother you more for me to kill your servants than you or your husband? I’ll never understand you.”
After the volley of vitriol,
Elvar suddenly spoke.
“What is it?”
“Well…” Elvar trailed off uncharacteristically. “We just got word from the party hall. When the men tried to pick three hostages, all of them stood up to volunteer.”
“It seemed they’d rather die than hinder the queen as hostages. Every last one of them asked to die. It seems we may have some difficulty carrying out your orders.”
“Then kill them all!” Laurie demanded. But Elvar shook his head.
“That would be meaningless, Leader. It would only give the queen an advantage. I believe you should retract your orders for the time being.” Elvar said cooly.
“Fine. You’re right… Tell the men that I take back my order.” Laurie said.
Elvar nodded and gave orders on the radio to hold off the execution.
“Those fanatics!” Laurie swore, slamming a fist on the table. The edge of the map fluttered upwards.
Fiona watched silently, breathing a long sigh of relief.
“We still have plenty of time, Leader. We can think of another way.”
“Right.” Laurie nodded, and glanced at her watch.
It was 2:30 in the morning.
The building shook with a deafening noise.
* * *
A little earlier.
“You’re sure about this, right? The building’s not going to explode? We’re not going to get caught in the blast?”
Lillia watched anxiously as Treize focused on his work. He was cutting a ragged piece of cloth with a knife.
Treize sat on the basement floor. All kinds of things were strewn on the blanket in front of him. Junk from the basement, a tin of gunpowder for rifles, candles, matches, metal wire, bottles of different sizes, and lamp oil.
“It’s going to be fine.”
“You sound confident.”
Treize was making bombs.
First, he got an empty liquor bottle 20 centimeters long and 8 centimeters wide and filled it with gunpowder. Then he stuck several fuses inside. And instead of a cork, he stuffed a thin, rolled-up piece of paper into the opening, and sealed it with candle wax.
Afterwards, he prepared an empty fruit wine bottle about 15 centimeters wide. Rather than glue, he used candle wax to stick the gunpowder bottle to the center of this one. He poured oil into it and stopped the mouth with a rag soaked with oil.
Finally, he capped it off with a lid with a hole punched through the top, and pulled out the rag that would become the fuse. And then he made another one.
The moment Treize’s hands came to a stop, Lillia butted in.
“So explain what you want me to do.”
Still sitting on the floor, Treize looked up at Lillia.
“All right. These are handmade bombs. If you set this rag here on fire, it’ll burn slowly until the oil inside the bottle catches fire. That’s just burning oil, though. Afterwards, once the candle wax on the inner bottle melts and the piece of paper inside burns, the heat is going to send the fuse flying and the gunpowder inside will explode. Then it’ll bounce against the outer bottle and send burning oil scattering everywhere.”
“That sounds so dangerous.” Lillia gasped, grimacing.
“I want you to put one in the kitchen, Lillia.”
“How? Don’t tell me I have to toss it through the window.”
“No. There’s a grate inside the stove used for cooking things over a fire. And there’s an ash pit underneath that. Outside, by the foundation, you’ll find a metal tray that opens from the outside. It’s for shoveling out the ash and dumping it on the garden. It’s been a long time since the kitchen was cleared, so the stove shouldn’t be on right now. I want you to put one of the bombs in through the tray and set it on fire. Then run away as fast as you can and hide in the snow.”
“I think I could manage that much. What happens after that?”
“If we’re lucky, the bomb’ll go off a few minutes later.”
“Is this… really okay?”
“It’s not that strong of a bomb.”
“Are you sure?”
“Probably. Although I’ve never made one before.”
“You’re not giving me a lot of confidence here.”
“Don’t worry. All the force from the blast will travel upward, so it won’t affect you below. And the kitchen’s going to be fine, too. The bricks around the stove might not survive, but the kitchen itself was built with brick to prevent a big fire from spreading. The blast will lure the intruders to the kitchen. I’ll use that moment to climb the gutters on the entrance side and get up to the third floor balcony.”
“I see. So the bomb’s a distraction. But won’t they notice that someone infiltrated the place?” Asked Lillia. Treize’s expression darkened.
“We’ll have to trust our luck. They might just assume something was wrong with the stove, even if it does spew a bit of fire. We’ll have to bank on that.”
“But even if you make it in… what about me? What do I do afterwards?”
Treize shook his head.
“That’s all you have to do, Lillia. Nothing after that.”
“I want you to get back here, using the snow as cover. On the off-chance someone does come after you, set the other bomb on fire and drop it on the snow. Hopefully he gets caught in the blast… if not, I’ll at least hear the explosion and know someone’s after you.”
“Then you’ll come save me?”
“No… I’ll just know that the infiltrators are being dispersed…”
“If nothing happens, just wait in here. I’ll do what I can to call for help on the radio and get back here. You know how to operate the railcar in case someone chases you here, right? Just hold the lever and pull the trigger. You go back to the other side and wait until morning. Once the snowplow gets to the cottage, explain what happened to them and contact the police outside.”
“…I wanted to keep an eye on you to make sure you didn’t do anything stupid.”
“I’m sorry, Lillia. But I can’t take you after all. It’s too dangerous.”
“…Fine. We’ll go with your plan.”
With a nod, Treize wrapped up the two bombs in ragged pieces of cloth and put them into separate bags. Then he placed a box of matches in Lillia’s hands, and put on his hat and gloves.
“Leave the rifle.”
“I know. It’ll just get in the way.”
Leaving the rifle, and without even shouldering his knapsack, Treize stood. And he slung the two bags with the bombs across either shoulder.
“Let’s go. We’re going to have to wade through the snow in the dark until we reach the villa.”
“Yeah, yeah. I think I’m just about ready to take on anything at this point.”
They climbed up the stairs.
Inside the woods, it was snowing just as hard as before.
The silence only broken by snow slipping off branches in clumps, Treize was practically swimming through the snow.
Wading through waist-high snow, he trod down a path for Lillia behind him as he moved forward. He could have walked over the snow with his snowshoes, but Lillia did not have a pair of her own and it was safer to have the snow as a cover anyway.
It was pitch-black, and they were moving uphill. Treize pressed on toward the faint lights from the villa in the distance.
Both Treize and Lillia, who was 3 meters behind him, and their hats and coats were completely covered with snow.
“Damn you, snow…” Lillia grumbled.
“Welcome to Ikstova.” Treize said sarcastically. “But the snowflakes look lighter now. It’s bound to stop pretty soon. That’s how it’s like here.”
A clump of snow fell loudly from a nearby tree. That sound no longer scared Lillia and Treize, but they were oblivious to the fact that the sound had also masked the sound of a gunshot from the villa.
They continued to wade for about 80 meters. By the time they reached the tall tree only 2 meters to the west side of the villa, they were both breathing heavily.
“Phew… Let’s take a break.”
Treize and Lillia whispered.
Lillia stuck out her head from behind the tree and scanned the area. Light spilled between the villa’s curtains as the building loomed like a crouching mountain.
Treize checked the rooms where the light was still on. He also made absolutely sure that the light in the kitchen was off.
“All right, Lillia. When you go back, just follow the tracks we made on the way. They won’t disappear for a while yet.”
“The kitchen’s this way. We’ll go together for now. I’ll give you the instructions once we get to the other side. And once I get away, count to a hundred and put the bomb inside, then light it. And then go back. Can you do that?”
“So I just count to a hundred? Okay.”
“Yeah. Let’s go.”
Treize bent down and moved forward, clearing the snow piled to his chin. Lillia stuck close to him this time as she followed.
The snow dampened the noise they made, but they were still cautious to remain as quiet as possible as they moved forward. The snow piled on their hats and shoulders helped to camouflage them in the landscape. Two masses of white seemed to squirm in the snow.
Snow fallen from the west-side roof was piled on the ground. Lillia and Treize went around it and headed lower down the slope—the north side. Slowly and carefully, they climbed the steep stone steps that lined the base of the foundation under the eaves. The stairs were wet, but there was no snow on them. Eventually, they reached the kitchen wall.
“Here.” Treize whispered into Lillia’s ear.
There was a narrow landing on the stairs by the foundation. Treize stood there, pointing at something. There was a metal gate in the wall at about chest-level. He had Lillia stand in front of the wall and began to pull the gate to the right.
The gate opened smoothly without a sound. At about 120 degrees, it was completely open. A thin puff of ash rose into the air.
“Put the bomb in here, light it, and shut the gate. And run back as fast as you can. Okay?” Treize whispered, handing Lillia one of the bags he had slung over his shoulders. Lillia received it and slung it over her own shoulder as Treize had. Treize took the other bag and placed it at her feet.
“Okay. I just count to a hundred now, right?”
“Yeah. Now.” Treize said, giving Lillia a light pat on the shoulder. Then he passed beside her and descended the stone steps.
Before Lillia could finish, Treize had already walked off. Quickly, he disappeared round the foundation corner.
“…One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight.”
Lillia quietly began to count down.
Treize was moving with his back pressed to the foundation wall. Quietly and smoothly, so as to not make a sound.
“—us all—at once—”
“—just—if you can!”
He could hear raised voices from the party hall upstairs, but not clearly. Treize decided to quickly make his way while the second floor was preoccupied, and hurried. Soon he passed by the body of an old man buried in the snow.
First, he looked up.
He could see the jutting third-floor balcony and the light seeping from between the curtains of the second floor window. The yelling stopped and silence once again came over the villa.
Treize looked ahead once more and continued. He passed the north side of the foundation and arrived at the opposite side of the building from Lillia.
There was another mountain of snow on the east side of the building from the slanted roof, but none of it was piled on the steep stone steps under the eaves. Still bending forward, he made his way with muffled steps.
When he reached the corner, Treize moved with heightened caution. He crouched there and quietly peered around the foundation.
On the south side of the villa, on the opposite side from the lake, was a plaza about 20 meters square. One of the villa’s double doors was wide open. The light from the lobby passed by the square and lit the party hall. Though the lights on the walls were off, it was not difficult to tell what was happening inside.
In a corner of the plaza was a mid-sized bus half-buried in the snow, up to the base of the frame.
There was no one there. However—
Treize looked at the area before the wide-open door. Fresh footprints were pressed on the thin layer of snow. Someone must have been walking there to keep watch on the area.
Treize pulled himself back around the corner and sighed softly.
Then he mumbled,
“I wonder if she’s counted to a hundred yet?”
Finishing her countdown, Lillia slowly squatted and opened the bag on the landing.
The bomb was wrapped up in ragged cloth. She pulled off the rag and wrapped her gloved hand around it. Though it was dark, she could feel the liquid and the second bottle inside the larger one.
Lillia took out the bottle and placed it on the stone steps.
Clatter. The bottle made a clear noise the moment she put it down.
Lillia froze. Not allowing herself to even breathe, she stood still for about three seconds before scanning her surroundings. She saw no one. She heard nothing.
Lillia wrapped up the empty bag in the rag and stuffed it into her other bag, then stood on the landing with the bomb cradled in both hands.
Then, she placed it inside the gate Treize had opened, on a thick layer of ash. Perhaps she was more carful this time, or perhaps the ash was cushioning the impact—this time, the bottle was silent.
Lillia took out the box of matches from her coat pocket. She held the box in her left hand and pulled off her right glove with her teeth, letting it drop to the ground.
And with her right hand, she took out two matches and lit them simultaneously.
Hesitantly, Lillia reached out toward the rag sticking out of the bottle.
The rag caught fire easily and began to burn—weakly, but brightly.
Lillia dropped the matches in the ash and looked inside the gate. The fire lit up the grey bricks. Soon, the flame grew larger. It looked much brighter because Lillia’s eyes were used to the dark.
“All right. Time to make my getaway…” She mumbled, sliding the box of matches into her pocket. But it slipped out of her hand and fell on the ground. Matches scattered all over the stone steps.
“Argh, why now?!”
Lillia ignored the matches and shut the gate with her gloved left hand. She was very careful at the end to make sure it made no sound.
She picked up the glove from the ground. Pulling it over her right hand, she hurried down the steps—
But she slipped and landed on her rear.
“Agh! Urk! Gah! Whoa!”
With a rather loud scream.
After sliding down about five stone steps, Lillia landed feet-first in a pile of snow at the northwestern corner of the building. The bag on her shoulder went flying and landed in the snow.
Lying spread-eagle on her back, she found herself looking up at the sky. The north wall of the villa was at the edge of her vision. Suddenly, the world grew brighter. The curtains opened at the second floor party hall and light spilled on the falling snow.
Lillia hurried to her feet. And rather than head for the woods as she originally planned, she clung to the foundation. Just as Treize had done before, she pressed her back to the wall and stretched her hands out to the side.
“What was that?”
She could hear a man’s voice from upstairs. It was clearly not Treize. She could hear someone raise the window and lock it open.
A flashlight from the window shone on the spot Lillia had been lying in until three seconds earlier. The powerful beams illuminated the falling snow.
“What’s going on?”
She heard another male voice. It was calm and solemn.
Lillia crept sideways like a crab, eager to get even a little further from the light.
“I thought I heard something.”
Silently, Lillia carried on. Holding back the urge to break into a run, she moved as slowly and as quietly as possible. She was almost in tears.
“Maybe it was snow falling from the roof?”
“Yeah! That’s it!” Lillia cried in a whisper.
“Check where you can. It came from near the wall.”
The beam of light flew toward Lillia.
Lillia crept sideways like she had never done before. Soon, her hand on the wall touched thin air. She had reached the corner of the building. Quickly, Lillia turned and headed to the east side of the wall.
The second she crouched on the stone steps, the light from the flashlight hit the building corner. It stopped just a few centimeters short of Lillia’s feet, right before her eyes.
And it soon disappeared.
Almost crying, Lillia took several deep breaths. And she slowly looked behind her. She rose to her feet and silently crept forward, eventually spotting a familiar figure.
“Soon… It’s just about time…”
As Treize waited for the bomb to go off, someone tapped him on the sounder.
His scream was swallowed by the explosion.