Have an update. Enjoy.
Chapter 6: The Bomb
The bomb exploded exactly on schedule.
Everything worked as Treize planned. The rag burned, the oil in the first bottle caught fire, the candle wax melted, the paper burned, the fuse burned, and the gunpowder exploded.
But the bomb was much more powerful than Treize expected.
The moment it went off, something terrifying happened in the deserted kitchen.
The brick stove in the corner of the kitchen shattered with a deafening noise. The bricks flew everywhere, into the living room and the ceiling and the opposite wall, as they rebounded and disintegrated.
A shockwave resounded through the building. All the utensils on the kitchen counter fell to the floor. The half-finished apple pie flew up, plate and all, and did four and a half spins before scattering in midair.
Oil that had not yet burned also splattered everywhere, scattering tiny sparks all over the kitchen. An apron someone had left behind caught fire. A cutting board and the window frames began to burn.
Most of the kitchen’s windows were shattered in the blast. Black smoke rose out the windows.
In the instant after the explosion.
The floor shook and the windows rattled in the interrogation room.
“What was that?” Laurie gasped.
“Under us. It’s the kitchen.” Elvar said calmly.
“Wh-what in the world…?”
Fiona and Benedict were both rattled by the explosion, the former freezing up in surprise. Elvar sat them both down in their chairs and opened the door. He hollered at the man in the hall and the guard they stationed in the lobby.
“Check the kitchen! If there’s a fire, put it out immediately!”
He did not forget to give orders to the two men who came out of the party hall.
“It’s the kitchen. One of you go. The others keep watching the hostages. Shoot anyone who resists.”
Elvar turned his attention back to the interrogation room.
“What’s going on, Elvar?”
“I think something exploded in the kitchen.” Elvar answered Laurie’s question, and turned to Benedict.
“Do you use gas in this building?”
“No. Gas tanks are too bothersome to carry, so we use firewood and coal still.”
“Then this explosion could not have happened.” Elvar declared.
“Well, yes, but…”
In the instant after the explosion.
Not much of the shockwave affected Treize and the person who tapped on his shoulder, who were on the opposite side of the building.
Once the sound subsided, Treize realized that Lillia was the one behind him and raised his voice.
“What are you doing here, Lillia?!”
“I couldn’t help it, okay?!” Lillia retorted with equal indignation.
Treize clicked his tongue. Then he made a decision.
“I’m climbing up! You get away!”
There was no one standing guard at the front doors. Treize leapt out from the corner and began to scramble up the gutter on the right side of the southern wall. The metal piping was secured in just the right places that he could find footholds and handholds on the way.
Even as he made a racket, Treize squeaked up the wall like an inchworm. Soon, he was beside the third floor balcony.
He threw himself toward the edge, about a meter away. And he landed safely.
Not a moment later,
Treize was crushed under Lillia, who leapt over afterwards.
She had climbed the gutter as well and landed atop him.
Treize landed chest-first on the balcony floor.
“Ow… Lillia? What are you doing here? Why’d you follow me? I told you to run!”
“Stupid Treize! They would have caught me for sure if I stayed down there! The searchlight! It’s looking for us! You have any idea how scary it was? I thought I was going to die!”
“This is hide-and-seek, and our lives are on the line! I remembered something—I’m scared of hide-and-seek! A long time ago, I was playing with Mom when I hid in the closet, and she opened up the door with a flashlight under her face and her hair all down and said, ‘Found you!’. I cried! I was scared of blond hair for ages after that!”
“Er… I don’t think your trauma there has anything to do with the situation.” Treize said calmly in spite of his awe.
“Shut up, stupid!” Lillia snapped, launching a physical attack. She smacked Treize with her hands as hard as she could.
“Ow! Hey! Stop that! Okay, okay! Please, stop…”
Treize surrendered. Lillia finally lowered her hands after a good beating.
“A-anyway, let’s hurry up and get inside!”
“Right. …What did I do to deserve this…?”
Treize stood and stepped forward, opening the door leading into the hallway. The door opened, beyond which was the dark third floor corridor.
“Take off your coat. We’ll leave all the wet stuff on the balcony.”
Treize and Lillia quickly pulled off their coats. Their hats, gloves, and boots as well. Then they rolled them up in a ball, placed them in a corner of the balcony, and entered the villa.
“What a mess.”
The three men were lost for words.
It looked like it would be faster to rebuild the kitchen from the ground up than to repair everything. Bricks, tableware, and food were scattered everywhere, and oil was burning and splattering. A thick layer of smoke clouded the room.
One person went out to the lobby and called Elvar in the interrogation room. Elvar stuck out his head.
“What’s going on?”
“The kitchen’s a mess. Everything’s on fire. We should put it out it immediately. Where is the fire extinguisher?”
Elvar went back to the interrogation room and turned to Benedict.
“We need the fire extinguisher.”
“A fire extinguisher? For what? Has something happened?”
“No questions. Just tell me where it is.”
Benedict informed him that it was in the cabinet under the stairs in the lobby. Elvar conveyed the message to the men on the first floor.
The men took out the fire extinguisher, a large metal bottle atop a wheeled base. They brought it to the kitchen and quickly activated it.
Several minutes later came a man in combat gear, covered in splotches of white solution.
“We’ve extinguished the flames. It looks like something exploded in the stove and sent oil flying everywhere. We found bricks lodged on the other side of the kitchen.”
Elvar said nothing, silently falling into thought.
“Hm? Were you baking an explosive pie for us, Queen Francesca?” Laurie wondered. Fiona ignored the question and asked another.
“Is anyone hurt?”
“No.” Replied the man.
Fiona breathed a sigh of relief, to which Laurie hissed, “Hypocrite”.
“Leader.” Elvar said, turning to Laurie.
“What is it?”
“I think we should have one more look around the villa exterior.”
“Just in case, Leader. Please. Your permission.”
Laurie met Elvar’s grim gaze.
“All right. Go with them. We’ll halt the interrogation for now.”
“Understood.” Elvar replied, drawing a handgun.
And with his gun, he disarmed the safety on the cocked gun. There was the red dot that signaled the gun was ready to fire.
“I-I think we managed…”
“Although we didn’t need both of us here.”
“Hey! I was scared down there, okay?”
“All right, all right… Ow!”
“I hit my head on the doorknob. At least now I know where the door is. This way.”
Treize and Lillia crawled on all fours down the dark hallway and stopped at one of the doors.
Treize opened the door and entered. Lillia followed after him. Their footsteps were thankfully dampened by the thick carpet on the floor.
In the dark room, where the curtain was closed, Treize began to look for something.
Soon, he turned on a red light. He was holding a small flashlight with a red filter. Treize cast the light at his own feet, and Lillia came closer.
If things weren’t so dire, Lillia might have wondered how Treize managed to find the flashlight in the dark in what was supposed to be the queen’s husband’s room, but she had a more important question on mind.
“All right. Now what about the radio?”
The red light did not extend very far. Lillia had no way of seeing the room’s layout.
Treize turned the light to a closet in a corner of the room. And he slowly opened the door, which went all the way up to the ceiling. The right half of the closet was a dresser, large enough for a person to hide inside. Men’s coats and leather jackets were hung up there.
The rest of the closet was used as a bookshelf. That was where the radio was. A radio about 50 centimeters square sat on the shelf. There were rows upon rows of dials and frequency measures on the control panel, and a speaker was installed on top of it. Next to it hung a headset, and in front of it a microphone.
The radio looked rather eerie in the red light.
“Wow.” Lillia breathed, overjoyed.
Treize got on one knee before the radio. He pressed the power button. With a low, quiet hum, the little window on the radio began to glow a murky orange.
“Great! Now call for help. Those guys are finished.”
“Just a minute… we have to give this a bit of time.” Treize muttered bitterly.
They waited in silence.
“I knew it. The woman’s body is gone.”
Elvar stood with a gun in his right hand and a flashlight in his left. Beside him was a skinny man with a name card that read ‘Jake’, holding a submachine gun in his right hand.
They were both in combat gear and hats with ear flaps, standing by the north side of the foundation. At their feet was the body of the old man wrapped in the curtain, which they had dragged out of the snow. But the woman’s body was nowhere to be found.
“She did it on purpose. She provoked Leader so she would get shot near the window. Then she leaned over as she was hit, jumping out the window.”
Jake scanned the area, astonished.
“So she twisted herself in midair to use the body to break her fall? Unbelievable…”
“Expect nothing less from a former member of the royal guard.” Elvar said, the faintest hint of a smile rising to his lips.
“Fanatics. The lot of them.” Jake hissed. “They would die and suffer for their queen.”
“The best soldiers in the world.”
“Do you think she went to the lakeshore to report this?” Jake asked nervously. Elvar was calm.
“Not in her condition, no.”
“Then what about the explosion?”
“Their purpose wasn’t destruction or fire. It was a distraction. From the timer mechanism on the bomb, it’s likely she’s still nearby.”
“Is she armed, do you think?”
“Potentially. But she’ll never rescue the queen alone.”
“True. Then did she infiltrate the villa when the bomb went off? The bus is still parked where they left it.”
“We had a guard posted at the doors. An injured woman isn’t likely to have snuck inside. But…”
Elvar trailed off, walking toward the northwestern corner of the villa. Lillia and Treize’s footprints had been erased completely by the snow and the bricks that had come flying during the explosion.
But Elvar’s keen eyes spotted something. The second bag Lillia had dropped when she fell was nearly buried in the snow, but the shoulder strap was slightly exposed.
Elvar gingerly cleared the snow and pulled out the bag. Checking to make sure it was not a trap, he opened the bag and looked inside. He knew what the bottle was the moment he laid eyes on it. When he showed it to Jake, the latter also understood what it was.
“She must have made this somewhere.” Said Elvar. Jake furrowed his brow.
“Where? I didn’t see any of these things in the villa when we looked around earlier. I even checked the basement, and it was mostly foodstuffs there.”
“Who knows? But the construction is simple. And the fuse is short. Only a few minutes at most.”
“Then she must still be nearby.”
“She might even be watching us now.”
Elvar did not respond. He handed the flashlight to Jake, armed the safety on his gun, and stuck it into his belt. Then, in less than ten seconds, he dismantled Treize’s bomb. He spilled the oil onto the snow and threw the bottle with the gunpowder into the snowy woods. The bottle flew off and hit a tree, shattering into pieces.
Elvar began to climb the stone steps on the west side of the building. Jake followed after him, alert. When they reached the landing with the blown-up metal gate and the disfigured foundation, Jake wondered out loud,
“We proceed as planned. We interrogate the queen and wait for the snow to stop. Then we depart.”
“We can’t have anyone get shot in the back before that. We’re doing one more thorough search of the villa. Especially the third floor.”
“All right! It’s working.” Treize cheered, putting on the headset. There weren’t any extras for Lillia to use. Treize picked up the microphone and pressed the call button.
<Kunst Airport air traffic control, do you copy?> He said, the microphone held up close to his mouth. Treize took his finger off the call button and waited for about three seconds for a response. If they sent an answer, he would hear it. But—
“Is it not working?” Asked Lillia. Treize tried again.
<Kunst Airport air traffic control, do you copy?>
<Kunst Airport air traffic control, do you copy?>
Treize’s voice crackled from the speaker.
On the winter-only airport on Lake Ras was a small but sturdy building. It was brought in by sled every winter to be used as an air traffic control center and a residence for whoever was manning the station.
Inside the building was a messy room with tables, chairs, and a large radio. It was a little dim, but the light was on. But there was no one there. The curtains were closed and the coal stove filled the lonely room with heat.
<Hey! Is anyone there?>
Treize’s voice once again filled the room. a second later, the door opened. A man in his forties wearing a thick suit came inside. In his hand was a steaming mug.
“Damn it, can’t a man get some tea in peace? Let the thing steep a bit…”
The air traffic controller grumbled as he crossed the room and sat himself down by the radio.
<Is anyone there?! Answer me!> Treize barked.
“Yes, yes. I’m listening. You couldn’t land anything in this snow anyway. If you don’t have the fuel to stand by, just give up on the party here and land yourself in Elitesa or something.” The air traffic controller mumbled at a crawl, assuming the transmission was from an aeroplane preparing to descend. He pulled the microphone toward his mouth and pressed the call button.
<Yes, this is Kunst airport. How can I help you?>
<Great! Hey, listen up. This is important, all right?> Treize said over the speaker.
“Talk about arrogant…” The air traffic controller groaned.
<The royal villa is un->
The voice stopped there. Communication had been cut off.
“What the?” The air traffic controller frowned, and spoke again.
<I’m not sure what you’re trying to say. Please try again.>
There was no answer.
<I repeat. Your previous communication was unclear. Please try again.>
The air traffic controller repeated himself three more times. But no one responded.
“What the heck… don’t tell me they crashed?”
Still under the wrong impression, the man frowned.
“Not like I can do anything about it, but still…”
He mumbled, taking a sip of tea. He looked into the cup.
‘The royal villa is under attack. Armed intruders are holding the queen hostage. Contact the police and the royal guard immediately and head to the villa’, Treize had tried to say. But—
<The royal villa is un->
At that moment,
He turned off the microphone and stopped.
“Eek!” Lillia screamed softly, also realizing what was happening.
A light came on in the hallway. It shone faintly through the glass in the door, but it was blinding to Lillia and Treize because they had been in the dark. The light made clear that the room was small and humble, furnished with a bed, a desk, and a closet.
“S-s-s-s-s-s-someone’s coming…” Lillia stammered. Treize turned off the radio’s main power. It hummed briefly and trembled before going silent. The light on it also went off.
Thump. Thump. Thump. They could hear multiple sets of footsteps walking up the stairs. Then—
They heard a low male voice.
“Don’t let your guard down.”
The voices became clearer and clearer.
“Not good…” Treize clicked his tongue. The first room to the left was the one they were in.
“H-h-h-here? They’re going to—”
Treize turned to Lillia, who was pale as a sheet.
And with a whispered apology, he picked her up and rushed into the closet.
The door opened with a powerful kick.
The door loudly slammed against the other side of the wall as it swung open.
With guns at the ready, Elvar and Jake searched every corner of the room with the flashlights they carried in their left hands.
Powerful beams of light scanned the room. There was a bed, a desk, and a large closet with the doors firmly shut. There was no one in the room.
“Turn on the light.” Elvar ordered. Jake pressed the switch on the wall by the door.
A fluorescent light lit up the rectangular room. The layout was clear for the men to see. The bed was ahead of the door, about 3 meters away, and the closet beyond it. By the window to the left about 5 meters away was the desk. There were no other doors in the room.
The men fixed their flashlights to their belts and stepped inside, holding up their guns.
The bed was made to perfection, almost like at a hotel. There was no sign that anyone had lain there. On the desk were several books and a small watch, along with a few writing utensils.
Elvar’s sharp gaze moved up and down the room along with the gun he held in his hands.
And his eyes fell on the closet.
Jake, who checked that there was no one under the bed, also turned to the closet.
“Did you check inside?”
“No.” Jake replied.
Elvar placed his right arm against his body. Keeping the gun close, he slowly reached for the closet door with his left hand. Jake pointed his submachine gun at the center of the closet.
Elvar pulled at the door.
It did not open. The door rattled quietly.
Elvar took his hand off the door and took a step back. Then he held the gun with both hands and took aim at the closet.
“If you’re in there, come on out.”
There was no answer. Five seconds later, Elvar spoke again.
There was still no answer. A second later, Elvar pulled the trigger.
Three shots in succession. The gunshots seemed to blend into one noise.
Then three more. The three rounds were fired before even the first of the shell casings could reach the floor.
And the third set of three. Even more holes were blown in the closet. Elvar fired off the last five shots in succession. In less than three seconds since the first bullet was fired, fourteen holes were left in the closet.
Elvar left one shot in the magazine and let it drop. Then he took out another magazine from the pouch at his waist and pushed it into the gun.
With his left foot Elvar kicked the door. It slowly opened.
There was no one there.
Inside were bullet-riddled coats, jackets, books removed from their covers, and a radio that had short-circuited from the inside.
“Phew…” Jake breathed.
“We’ll check the next room. Clear out every hiding place there could possibly be.”
“No one should be on this floor. Pull the trigger as soon as you find something.”
The men left the room with the light still on.
In the empty room, books riddled with holes fell in a heap.
At the top of the closet, in the area previously occupied by the books, was a slightly skewed piece of plywood. Peering out from behind it was a pair of eyes.
“Damn it… can’t believe they put holes in my jackets…” Treize grumbled. “Bastards. They’re gonna pay for this. We’ll see who’s laughing at the end.”
He was on top of the closet, in a dark crawlspace between the ceiling and the roof, surveying the room beyond.
“Are you all right, Lillia?” Treize asked as he turned on the red-tinted flashlight and looked back.
“Please… not the blond ghost… not the blond one…” Lillia muttered blankly, her hands over her ears.
“We’re all right, right…?”
Treize decided to breathe a sigh of relief.
Several minutes passed by that way. As Lillia and Treize silently sat frozen in the crawlspace, the men continued their violent search. At times they heard furniture toppling and gunfire.
“That’s enough. Let’s go. Leave the lights on.”
The men finally went down the stairs.
“Reporting in, Leader.”
When Elvar returned to the interrogation room on the second floor, he gave Laurie a brief rundown of what he had found. About the bomb, about the missing woman, and about how the third floor seemed to be empty.
“That witch…” Laurie seethed. Fiona, though her wrists were bound, placed her fists on her own forehead and exhaled.
“The remaining bomb, however, may simply be a plant. She may have intentionally left behind a bomb with a shorter fuse while she set up one with a longer fuse before making her getaway. To force us to waste time searching the house.”
“What a nuisance. I’ll put a bullet in her forehead next time I see her.”
“We should continue as planned, Leader. Resume the interrogation and make preparations.”
“Of course.” Laurie nodded, and turned to Fiona and Benedict once more.
“Preparations? What for?” Asked Benedict.
“Isn’t it obvious? Preparations to leave this place.”
“Before dawn. We can’t stay here forever. We’re going as soon as the snow stops.”
“Please, feel free to move in. We have room for one more here. Would you like to file for an address change?” Benedict joked.
“No.” Laurie replied, unamused. Fiona spoke up.
“So you’re finally leaving us? I’m glad to hear that.”
Laurie looked Fiona in the eye.
“Don’t relax just yet. We’ll be taking you and your husband as hostages. We still don’t have the answers we want.”
“And if we refuse?”
“We’d prefer if you’d follow us, but if you insist, we’ll drug the both of you and drag you along the snow.”
“What will you do after taking us two? The snowplow from the palace will come in the morning. They will find out about you immediately and you’ll be wanted by every police force on the continent.” Said Benedict.
Laurie grinned as though she’d been waiting for this question. She turned to Elvar.
“Can I answer, Elvar? I want to say this myself.”
“Yes.” Elvar said.
Laurie met Fiona’s gaze. And she smiled almost as though she were making a love confession.
“Let me tell you what we’ll do, Queen Francesca. First we’ll drug your servants and put them to sleep, then we’ll take you and your husband as we leave. We’ll go down the hill and onto the lake, and go to the airport without passing through Kunst. It won’t take us more than two hours. By the time we watch the sunrise on the aeroplane we rented under a fake name and land on the Roxchean plains…” Laurie trailed off dramatically, awaiting Fiona’s reaction. “…this place will be in ashes. We’re leaving a timed device here to start a fire. Blackened corpses in a burnt-out building are nigh-impossible to identify and count. People will believe the queen, her husband, and even us visitors lost our lives to an unfortunate accident.”
Laurie was finished. But Fiona barely paled. She simply stared at the younger woman across the table with a calm look, rooted in an indecipherable mix of sympathy or pity.
Several seconds of silence followed.
“I was expecting a better reaction. Or have you already given up? That would be a surprise.” Laurie said before Fiona spoke.
Fiona finally opened her mouth.
It was a simple call.
“Yes. Miss.” Fiona said with a smile. Laurie smirked belligerently.
“I must have made you quite cross if you’re going to the trouble of calling me that. I’m flattered.”
“No, not at all. It just occurred to me how pitiful you were.”
“Ha!” Laurie snorted. “Please, my men and I don’t need any hypocritical sympathy—”
“That’s not it.” Fiona cut her off. As Laurie narrowed her eyes dubiously, Fiona declared, “I’m not talking about you and your men. I’m talking about you and your father.”
“Wh-what…?” Laurie stammered. Elvar sighed quietly from behind Benedict.
“You and your father have the same eyes.”
Laurie stared at Fiona, stunned.
“The eyes of a pitiful person who’s convinced that they can do anything. That everything will go as they planned.”
Meeting Laurie’s chilling glare, Fiona continued calmly. Benedict watched both her and Laurie, on either side of his line of sight.
“You will not insult my father!” Laurie cried as she stood, slamming the table.
Fiona also got to her feet, her hands still tied.
With the map of Ikstova between them, they met eyes at the very same height.
“Enough of your foolishness, Miss.”
“…No. Let me call you by name, Claire. Claire Nichto.”