Just one more update to go before the end. Enjoy.
Chapter 10: The Worthless Treasure
The first day of the year 3306 of the World Calendar. Morning.
The sun rose into the blue sky, casting light on the city of Kunst.
Piles of snow slid in satisfying clumps from the steep roofs in the city, revealing the blue paint underneath.
After the night of festivities, partygoers exchanged new year’s greetings and parted ways, returning to their homes or hotels.
It was in that midst that several groups of people entered the Kunst police department building. Not through the main doors, crowded with civilians reporting lost belongings, but through the back door, which criminals were brought through. Members of the royal guard, wearing suits and sunglasses, were on alert as they kept watch at the doors.
In the basement of the building, in a section off-limits to most officers, was a waiting room. The group of people entered the large room, which was furnished with sofas. At the same time, the suit-clad men on standby stood up straight.
Stepping inside was the queen, her husband, and several members of their security detail.
The only people in the room who did not stand were Lillia and Treize.
Lillia was sitting on the sofa, holding a mug of tea. And she was glaring at Treize, who sat across from her with a very apologetic look.
“There was no other choice, Lillia. I explained why they attacked the villa, and if that treasure they’re looking for really exists…” Treize tried to explain, still wearing his white combat gear.
“But how could you try to kill someone who wasn’t even resisting?! And what was all that about revenge? I don’t get any of this! You’re both idiots, for all I care!”
“I don’t know what that treasure is. But…”
“If I’m the first one to find it, I am going to destroy it!” Lillia declared.
“Yes. I decided on the way here that that might be the best option.” Said a female voice.
“Yeah! Glad you agree!” Lillia cheered, turning around.
There stood a woman in a white blouse with a slightly swollen cheek.
“Er… who are you?”
Not realizing that the men behind the woman were all tense and looking particularly reverent, Lillia rudely remained seated.
Fiona smiled gently and let Treize answer.
He trailed off. Lillia shot him a fierce glare.
‘This is my mother’, Treize could have said to close off his avenues of escape—in fact, it was the perfect opportunity. But…
Cowed by Lillia’s rage, Treize answered,
“This is Queen Francesca!”
At that moment, the new year finally arrived in Sfrestus.
“It’s 3306! Happy new year, Elder Sister!”
“Happy new year, Meriel! And happy new year, ‘Treize the Numbskull’!”
Fireworks whistled in the distance.
“What?” Lillia gaped. Treize jumped to his feet as though he’d just realized the queen’s presence.
“Er… this is! This is Queen Francesca!”
Lillia looked up at Treize. Then she looked at Fiona.
“I-is that true?”
It was a foolish question. Lillia was the only person in the room still seated.
Fiona smiled and nodded. And she introduced herself.
“It’s nice to meet you, Miss Lillianne Schultz. I am Francesca of Ikstova.”
“So, the queen?”
Lillia leapt to her feet, standing stiff. Then she did a 90-degree bow.
“I-I-I-I-I’m sorry I’m very very sorry!”
“Please, don’t worry about it.”
“I-I-I’m Lillianne Aikashia Corazòn Whittington Schultz and I am a simple commoner and I don’t really know what to tell you about this and what I’m trying to say is—”
“Please, raise your head.” Fiona said kindly, and Lillia finally did so. But she kept her gaze low, unable to look the queen in the eye.
At that moment,
They heard a familiar, laid-back voice.
“Hey there, Lillia! Treize! I was going to go back to the cottage when I heard from the police. You had a rough night, didn’t you?”
Allison entered—coat in hand—and strode across the room, past Treize, and to Lillia’s side.
Lillia stared incredulously at her mother.
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
“D-do you have any idea who this is…?” Lillia gasped, trembling. Allison ignored her daughter’s fretting and turned to the queen. She waved lightly.
“Happy new year!”
“Thank you. Happy new year.” Fiona replied with a smile.
When Lillia pressed her head down multiple times in a forced apology, explaining her mother’s rudeness in tears, Allison finally understood.
“I’m very sorry ma’am please forgive my mother’s insolence we’re so very sorry!”
Allison glanced at her daughter. Then she glanced at Treize.
‘I’m sorry I am an idiot I’m sorry I haven’t told her yet’ Treize mouthed silently.
For a time, the children apologized to one another’s parents.
After a while, Lillia finally calmed down, and they were able to sit down and have a conversation.
Lillia and Allison sat side-by-side, as did Fiona and Benedict. Treize sat on a chair on the side.
Benedict introduced himself to Lillia. Lillia jumped to her feet again and greeted him, then forced her mother to her feet and made her greet Benedict as well.
And once Lillia was calm again,
“We heard about what happened from Treize.” Benedict said in Roxchean. “I am ashamed to say that this incident was due to our poor security. But thanks to the courageous actions of Treize and Lillianne, we were able to minimize our losses and put an end to the incident.”
“I would like to thank the two of you on behalf of Ikstova’s royal family and its people. Thank you so much.”
“Please we didn’t do anything at all.” Lillia said quickly.
“Expect no less from my daughter.” Allison grinned.
“Ack! MOM!” Lillia cried, about to explode again, so Benedict intervened.
“Anyway! Lillia, do you remember what you and Francesca agreed on earlier?”
“Hm? Pardon? Er… no, sir. I’m very sorry.”
“You said you’d destroy the treasure if you found it.” Treize said. Lillia, who misread Benedict’s intention, apologized profusely again.
“I’m so sorry sir I did say that didn’t I I’m very sorry how could I even think about destroying something so valuable?”
“Please, don’t worry about it. I agreed with your idea. Raise your head.”
Suddenly, Benedict raised an odd question.
“Are the two of you feeling sleepy?”
Treize shook his head, saying he was fine. Lillia also shook her head.
“I’m fine. I… actually woke up just last night.”
“Excellent!” Benedict clapped his hands together. “Would you like to go see the treasure together?”
“Pardon?” Lillia gasped.
“What…? What did you just say?”
In a basement holding cell, Claire looked up from her seat with her hands cuffed behind her back. She was still in her combat uniform, its sleeves stained with blood, and was surrounded by police officers.
Standing before Claire was Benedict.
“We will now go to the valley.”
“Ha! And how would you do that?” Claire spat incredulously.
“We will go by aeroplane. We will only survey the area from above, but if possible we will land and walk around. It is not impossible, is it?” Said Benedict.
Claire groaned and said nothing.
“Don’t you want to see, too? The treasure your father never got to find?” Fiona said, stepping into the cell. And as her bodyguards watched worriedly, she stood before Claire. Claire smiled.
“Hello, Queen. Don’t think I’ve given up. Now I need to avenge my men, as well.”
“I’ve heard about that plan of yours. And you can go ahead and try. But—”
“Don’t you think it’s a better idea to solidify your plans after you’ve seen the treasure?”
* * *
“Oho. So you were a pilot as well. One must never judge a book by its cover. We are very fortunate.”
“Not at all. I should be thanking you for letting me take part in such a fun expedition. I hope my daughter will make some friends in the royal family through this opportunity.”
Inside a moving van, Benedict in the driver’s seat and Allison next to him were lying through their teeth.
“Er… my mother is a little strange, isn’t she? I’m terribly sorry, ma’am.”
“Not at all. She’s very funny.”
Lillia sat rigidly in the second row, next to Fiona.
And in the very back was Treize the Numbskull, sitting all alone. He had taken off his white combat gear and was in his usual clothes and a coat.
Guarded by a black security vehicle both ahead and behind, the van traveled down the road by the palace. Soon, the palace building came into view. The road sloped down toward the lake. And ahead, past the road cleared of snow, was a hangar. It was a large, semicircular building covered in snow. Several snowmobiles were crisscrossing the lake and preparing the runway.
The van drove onto the frozen lake and stopped in front of the hangar shutters. The occupants of the van put on coats and sunglasses, then disembarked onto the blinding snow.
Lillia scurried from Fiona’s side to Allison’s.
From the car following them emerged Claire, still in handcuffs. She was in a coat and sunglasses as well. The royal guards were keeping a watchful eye on her, never for a second letting her out of sight.
“This is the aeroplane you will be on.”
Benedict waved his hand and ordered for the shutters to be opened. Loudly, the shutters slid to either side. The bright morning sun shone on the aeroplanes inside.
They were small green crafts. The sturdy wheels on the fixed landing gear were equipped with skis that seemed to cover the tires. At the nose were the engine and the propellers. The seats were arranged in a row, and a third seat was situated at the very back, surrounded by glass like a birdcage.
The wing atop the fuselage was very long and thin. The aeroplane was about 15 meters wide altogether. Although it was a biplane, the lower wing was attacked to the back of the relatively short 8-meter fuselage.
“Huh. Funny design.” Lillia remarked. Allison nodded.
“It really is an unusual design. People sometimes call this a tandem wing aircraft because one wing is at the front and the other is at the back. Though I’ve never actually seen one in person before. …Excuse me, where did you get this aeroplane?” Allison asked Benedict, who was to her left.
“Mom! He’s royalty!” Lillia hissed under her breath. Not offended in the least, Benedict replied in Bezelese.
“This is a modified craft prototyped at an aeroplane company in Sou Be-Il. They added an extra wing to a pre-existing design. The specs aren’t too shabby, but supposedly the design was so unusual they were forced to halt production. I received two of these crafts from a certain someone. I think the gunner’s seat at the back might be perfect for tourism and observation.”
“Ah. I see.” Allison replied, also in Bezelese. Benedict lowered his voice.
“I’ll explain properly later, but… that certain someone was here until not long ago.”
“That’s the amazing thing about him. He sniffed out something while tracking weapon smuggling in the Capital District and made it here. He was a great help. Unfortunately, he had to leave a short while ago.”
“He didn’t say anything?”
“Ah. ‘It’s a shame I came all the way to Iks and still didn’t get to catch a snow monster’, he said.”
“I’ll give you the details later.”
Lillia tilted her head quizzically.
The royal guard brought Claire forward and had her stand before the group. Fiona went up to her.
“Unfortunately, I won’t be joining you.”
“Are you making fun of me?” Claire glowered. Fiona shook her head.
“No. So you’ll have to find the treasure in my stead.”
“I have no intention of honoring your request.” Claire said immediately, then added, “but… I will find what my father had longed to see.”
* * *
The roar of engines resounded over the lake.
Two unusually-shaped crafts spun their propellers under the clear blue sky and the morning sun. Snow blew everywhere like a blizzard on the lake, about 5 meters from the hangar.
The two aeroplanes were labeled with numbers on the fins. In the pilot’s seat of craft #1 was Benedict, behind whom sat the handcuffed Claire. And in the gunner’s seat at the very back was a member of the royal guard—a man still in his twenties who had a muscular frame and a stern face.
Allison sat in the pilot’s seat of craft #2. Behind her was Lillia, and in the back was Treize. All six bound to fly were decked out in heated clothes, one-piece flying suits, leather jackets, aviator hats, goggles, and parachutes.
Both aeroplanes were fueled. They were also stocked with rations, water, and tents in case of an emergency landing.
<This is Benedict. My aeroplane will be #1. #2, are you ready?> Benedict asked in Bezelese. His voice was audible to all six people, but Claire alone did not understand the language.
Allison fiddled with the controls in her seat as she pressed the call button and spoke into the microphone.
<This is #2, all clear to go. If there’s anything else you need, ask me anytime during the flight.>
<I’m glad we have a competent pilot flying with us today.>
On Benedict’s lap was a copy of the map Claire had brought. He skimmed it and switched to Roxchean.
<Now, everyone. I will confirm our schedule once more. It will be approximately one hour from takeoff to arrival at our destination airspace. This will not be a safe flight, as we must fly through narrow valleys. The weather is clear now but we will abort the mission should it worsen. Then let’s be off.>
No sooner had he finished than #1 roared and began to taxi down the runway. It quickly gained lift and rose into the air. Slower than a car on a highway, it flew with ease toward the sky.
Allison said to Lillia and Treize over the internal radio and accelerated. The aeroplane scattered snow in its wake as it took off. Fiona watched silently as they departed.
In the hollow surrounded by snow-capped mountains, two tiny specks began to move.
The specks banked and passed over the palace, heading into the mountains. Then they slowly ascended as they turned into a valley on the southwestern part of royal property.
<Wow. It really is beautiful.> Lillia gasped as they flew over the still-wide valley. Allison and Treize heard her over the internal radio.
<It definitely is. But flying through the mountains is always dangerous. I should be careful.>
<I trust you, Mom.>
<Thank you, honey. And I trust our lead.> Allison said with a glance at Benedict’s craft ahead. The two aeroplanes continued as though rushing at the massive slopes of the Central Mountain Range.
<You’re being awfully quiet, Treize. Are you sure you’re with us?>
Treize was slower to react that usual.
<I wonder what the treasure could be?> He wondered.
Mother and daughter thought for a moment before arriving at the same conclusion. Treize continued as though to himself.
<I’m sure the previous queen must have known. But she didn’t reveal the treasure even when her own daughter was taken hostage. It must mean the treasure is something very important, right? Even more than the life of her own child… what could it be?>
<We might find out if we get there, and that’d make me happy. But I don’t want to end up thinking, ‘this wasn’t worth it after all!’.> Treize said sadly. And no one spoke after that. Only the sound of the engine filled the plane.
<We are almost at the valley. Take care.> Benedict said over the radio.
* * *
The two aeroplanes maintained a reasonable distance as they flew through the vast valley.
The valley was hundreds of meters wide, and it continued at length at a gentle slope and curve. Trees dotted the valley with green on the layer of white. On either side were stone mountains capped with snow. Their peaks were far above the aeroplanes. Wispy clouds floated in the sky overhead.
They were about an hour into the flight. Because they were slow, they had only covered a hundred and several dozen kilometers. There were still 30 kilometers to go.
<Hm. This is strange.> Said Benedict.
<It certainly is.>
Allison and Treize agreed.
Confused, Lillia asked for an explanation. Allison spoke for herself, Benedict, and Treize.
<We’ve been flying for quite a while now, haven’t we?>
<Now, we should be at the heart of the Central Mountain Range. But this valley isn’t getting any higher. I’d guess we’re at about 3500 meters above sea level. The valley floor is at about 3200. The Central Mountain Range should be much higher than that. There shouldn’t be any flat valleys so far in.>
Lillia finally understood.
<This is uncharted territory, so nothing would surprise me here… but this is strange indeed.> Benedict said. Afterwards, he and Allison checked their fuel supply and double-checked the amount of flying time they had left.
Leaving out the fuel they needed to return, they could still fly for over an hour.
The two aeroplanes continued without incident. They maintained about the same altitude and distance from the valley walls. But the mountains on either side grew higher and higher. The valley was already sandwiched between a pair of sheer cliffs hundreds of meters high.
<This is incredible. What was it called again? That big cliff?>
Slankalans, Benedict answered Allison.
<Yes. That. I think this place just might be a match for it.>
<You’re right… you could even walk here if you wanted to.> Benedict agreed.
At the same time, the valley suddenly veered sharply to the left. It was the first sharp turn in the valley—so sharp that they could not see behind the corner until they banked. Benedict cautioned Allison.
<As you can see, the valley curves to the left.>
<We will stick as far to the right as possible before banking toward the middle of the valley. If by chance there happens to be a wall behind the corner, quickly bank right and turn back.>
<Yes. This craft could make a turn like that.>
<According to the map, we are not far from the treasure… but this is only a vague mark, so we cannot know the specifics. We are now making the turn.>
The two planes had been flying side-by-side, but they switched to a linear formation. Benedict took the lead as he slowly stuck close to the right side of the valley. A wall of stone and snow flowed past, only 30 meters from the tip of the wing.
The craft banked to the left again. The world behind the corner slowly came into view. The valley continued on into the distance. Benedict continued to bank.
<The valley seems to continue. We will keep flying for now.>
<We can continue until—hm?>
Benedict interrupted himself in shock.
Curiously, Allison and Lillia looked forward. The valley continued ahead, past Benedict’s craft. Mother and daughter spotted it at the same time.
Behind the corner, the valley continued. But it was now brown.
The valley, covered in snow just behind them, was suddenly covered with soil like on the plains of Roxche, stretching on for kilometers.
<My word… do you see that?> Benedict gasped. Claire also seemed surprised.
<I see it… It’s incredible.>
Neither Allison nor Lillia could hide their shock, either.
“C’mon… what are you looking at?” Treize mumbled. He knew that something was going on, but all he could see from his birdcage was the world behind the aeroplane.
The others oohed and ahhed, raising Treize’s expectations. And after what seemed to be a long wait, it finally came into his view.
“Whoa! What is this? Wh-what in the world?” He finally gasped, the last one in the party to see.
<This is Treize. What’s going on here?>
Benedict replied over the radio.
<I am not certain why, but the snow is gone… which is impossible for this area in winter.>
The two aeroplanes slowed and descended further as they flew over the earth-covered valley. Their altitude was at under 50 meters, and they were traveling at about the same speed as an express train. The world passed lazily by them.
“I don’t believe it…” Treize whispered.
Below the window he could see the soil on the ground. The cliffs on either side of the valley were covered in snow, but there wasn’t a spot of white to be seen on the ground. He spotted small streams at points along the way.
From his open vantage point, Treize looked around and enjoyed the view. But—
When he spotted the incongruity, he was struck dumb. He stopped blinking.
The two aeroplanes covered about 3 kilometers as they flew close to the ground. Then,
<This is the end. There is more snow overhead. We will accelerate and climb.> Said Benedict.
The brown of the valley came to an end, giving way to snow again. Benedict pushed the throttle with his left hand and pulled the control stick with his right. The aeroplane buzzed as it sped up and climbed. Allison followed behind him.
<That was fun. It looks like we’ll have something to report once we return.>
Allison and Benedict chatted in Bezelese. Suddenly—
<Hey! Did you see that?! Over there!> Treize cried in Roxchean.
Benedict, Allison, and Lillia furrowed their brows.
<Did no one else see that? Anyone?> Treize asked anxiously. Only Claire, sitting beside Benedict, reached for her call button.
<Boy. Did you see, too?>
<Yes. Then you noticed?>
<I don’t believe it, but…>
<So I’m not going crazy, right?>
<Not to worry. I thought I was losing my mind, too.>
<What are you two talking about?> Benedict asked in Roxchean.
<I don’t believe it, but just now… on the side of the valley…> Treize trailed off. Lillia spoke.
<What? Come out and say it already.>
Treize finally answered.
<A person… with his arms in the air.>
Exclamations of disbelief filled the aeroplanes.
<No… that is not possible. This is the middle of the Central Mountain Range. You must have seen a bear.> Benedict said, incredulous.
<No! I know what I saw. He was dressed in black—it was a person, I just know it!>
<I saw him as well. But who am I to say anything? Hmph.>
The two witnesses did not back down.
<Maybe we should check it out.> Allison said. <The ground looks firm, so these crafts could stick the landing. I’ll try first and contact you if it works out. If not, get us help.>
Benedict thought for a moment.
<I understand. Even if we continued to fly, the valley would soon rise and we will not be able to maintain this altitude. It is indeed strange that there was no snow there, so we will investigate it.>
Then he signaled for a turn. The two aeroplanes slowly banked in the valley, changing directions.
Soon, they were back to facing the brown valley. Benedict’s craft climbed, and Allison’s slowed and descended to prepare for landing. Benedict, flying ahead, checked the state of the ground and informed Allison that it seemed to be all right to land on.
Allison warned Lillia and Treize of the imminent landing and touched down near the center of the valley. Very slowly, the aeroplane made contact with the ground. The sturdy tires dug into the soil. The aeroplane shook along for dozens of kilometers before finally coming to a stop.
Then, Allison started the engine again. The aeroplane taxied forward. Over the radio Allison informed Benedict that landing was possible.
The engine stopped, and a sudden silence fell over the aeroplane.
“Can we get off, Mom?”
“Sure. But make sure to stick with Treize.”
“It could be dangerous. We have no idea what’s out there.”
Pouting, Lillia pushed the windshield open and stood. She felt the valley air on her skin.
“Hm. It’s not that cold.”
“Maybe there’s no wind because it’s a valley?”
Allison stepped out of the pilot’s seat. Treize also left the birdcage. Soon, there was a deafening roar as Benedict’s craft landed. It taxied across the ground before stopping about 30 meters behind Allison’s craft.
Allison and Lillia, Treize, Benedict, Claire, and the young royal guard.
The six people were gathered together. They took off their parachutes and put them down in a pile. They took off Claire’s handcuffs, but tied a cord around her waist and had the guard hold it.
“This place is marvelous. There is no snow here at all.” Benedict said, scanning their surroundings. There was no wind or sound in the valley. Though it was hundreds of meters wide, the cliffs on either side—also hundreds of meters tall—gave the place a claustrophobic air.
They saw no moving objects. Everyone took off their goggles and sunglasses, as there was no glare here.
“If this is center of that patch of brown, we should head a little further.” Said Treize.
“I see. Then we will head that way.” Said Benedict as he led the way.
Dirt got on everyone’s shoes, but it was not difficult to walk. Benedict was at the head of the party, armed with a handgun in case of a bear attack. Following him was Allison, then Lillia and Treize. Bringing up the rear was Claire and the royal guard.
The party walked in single file along the valley. They walked down a slope. The ground was covered almost entirely in dirt. There were no large rocks or boulders, which were characteristic markers of valleys formed by glaciers.
“It almost looks like a farmer’s field. Perhaps the person you saw made it.” Said Benedict.
At that point, he suddenly froze. Allison, who was looking to the side, quickly stopped before she walked into his back.
Lillia bumped into her mother. Treize stopped behind them, and Claire and the royal guard came to a stop at a slight distance.
“What’s going on?” Allison asked, looking up at Benedict. She walked to his right side and followed his gaze.
Her blue eyes turned to dinner plates as she also froze.
“What?” Lillia asked, peering out from behind her. “AAHHH!”
And with a shout, she took cover behind her mother again.
Treize and Claire slowly peered out from behind Benedict. And—
“See? I told you.”
“I knew it…”
They nodded simultaneously. The guard behind Claire gaped.
People were walking toward the party from the base of the valley.
There were about a dozen of them walking side-by-side. They were all dressed in black. At first sighting they were about 300 meters away, but they soon closed that distance.
All the people were well-built men, and what seemed to be black clothing from a distance turned out to be bear pelts. The men were heavily bearded and had long hair, making it seem like they were covered in black. They were not carrying anything.
“Impossible… how could there be people here…?” Benedict mumbled in Bezelese, finally breaking his silence.
“Wh-wh-wh-wh-what’s going on here? How? Why?”
“I’m not sure…”
Lillia and Allison stared, clinging tightly to each other.
Treize silently walked up to Benedict. Benedict whispered to his son.
“Sorry for doubting you earlier, Treize. But who do you think these people are? What’s going on here?”
“How should I know?”
“You think we can communicate with ‘em?”
Claire walked up to the rest of the party and looked at the men, mumbling under her breath.
“Would that be the treasure?”
Treize and Benedict replied almost in unison.
The men were getting closer and closer.
Then, about 20 meters from the group, they stopped. They were a line of black fur clothes and bearded faces. The men were all at least middle-aged, ranging from their forties to their sixties. Some were grimacing.
Dozens of tense seconds passed by the time the oldest of the men finally stepped forward. He stopped about 5 meters from the party.
And with a deep breath, he said something in a flat but pleasant tone. Everyone in the party could hear him. But—
“Wh-what’s he saying?”
“I’m not sure. Did you understand, Lillia?”
Benedict, Allison, and Lillia did not get a word. The man was speaking neither Bezelese nor Roxchean.
But Treize raised his voice.
“—————! —————————. ———————.”
Everyone but Claire turned to Treize, dumbfounded. The man responded to Treize.
“———————. ————. ——————————————. ——.”
Treize then replied.
Lillia watched everything in horror.
“No way… Treize is speaking moontongue…”
The conversation continued. Treize easily went up to the older man. With just a few meters between them, they spoke in what Lillia called moontongue. The man was stoic, and Treize excited.
“What do you think they’re saying?”
“I’m not sure.” Benedict replied to Lillia’s question. Claire sighed.
“So you don’t know, then. I suppose it’s not surprising.”
“Hm? Miss Nichto, you mean to say that you understand that language?” Benedict asked, surprised. Allison and Lillia simultaneously looked at Claire.
“Not completely, but I can understand most of it. They just exchanged greetings. The boy’s apologizing for frightening them and explaining that we intend to do no harm.”
“Incredible. If you do not mind me asking, what is that language?” Asked Benedict. Claire was incredulous.
“The language of this country.”
“Our old mother tongue. Ikstovan.”
Lillia remembered something.
“Oh! Treize said before that he knew Ikstovan!”
Treize was engaged in discussion with the older man. The man stood as still as a statue as he mechanically responded to Treize’s questions. About three minutes later, Treize paused the conversation and returned to the party.
All eyes were on Treize as he explained in Roxchean.
“Hmm… Well… where do I start?”
“You don’t have to explain. We’ll just ask you questions. Who are those people?” Asked Lillia.
“Er… apparently they’re the guardians of the valley. The old man told me over and over again, ‘we are the guardians of the valley’.”
“So why are they living in a place like this? How? Since when? Where exactly? And why?” Benedict asked all at once.
“H-hold on!” Treize said, “I haven’t heard that much yet.”
“What? Then what were you talking about all that time?” Lillia sighed.
“About aeroplanes, actually. He asked me how they could fly. And what those spinning things at the front were. The phrase ‘dynamic lift’ doesn’t exist in Ikstovan, so I had a hard time trying to explain.”
“Idiot! So you just spent all that time answering their questions? Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?!” Lillia snapped.
“Er… sorry. I’ll go ask them again. I’ll interpret as best I can, so don’t worry.” Treize apologized.
The men watched Lillia and Treize without a word.
The party went up to the old man who spoke with Treize and greeted him in Roxchean, lightly bowing their heads.
Benedict explained that all six people were part of their group, and that Claire had been arrested for her misdeeds.
Treize ignored Claire and interpreted Benedict’s words into Ikstovan. The older man responded.
“He says he understands. And he says he can’t permit us to live here.”
“Please tell him that we do not intend to.” Benedict said, and asked Treize to ask the men who they were.
Treize did as Benedict asked. When the older man replied, Treize said something again. They had a brief exchange.
“What? What’s going on?” Lillia whispered. Treize responded.
“No luck. He says it’s a secret and he can’t say a thing. And that they’re not going to harm us, so we should leave. They’re willing to see us off.”
“What the heck…” Lillia said, crestfallen, but quickly recalled something. “Say, maybe these people are the treasure?”
“I’m not sure.” Allison frowned. Benedict shook his head as well.
“These men? The treasure? Not a chance.” Claire was the only one to outright deny the possibility. “No one would sacrifice so much to protect these scruffy hermits.”
“You have a point…” Lillia nodded.
“But there’s a good chance they know where the treasure is.”
“Yeah…” Lillia nodded again. Claire grinned viciously.
“If only I had the means, I would torture them all to get information on the treasure.”
That was when Treize wrapped up the conversation.
“No good. He won’t tell me. And he says we have to leave this valley immediately.”
Claire snorted again. Benedict and Lillia did not try to hide their disappointment.
“Psst. Treize.” Allison hissed, gesturing Treize over. He went up to her curiously, when she whispered something into his ear.
Treize was dumbfounded.
“What? …I suppose…”
“Just give it a shot. Discreetly.” Allison said with a wink. Treize went back to the older man.
“What did you tell him, Mom?” Asked Lillia.
“It’s a secret. Let’s just watch.” Allison replied.
Walking up to the man, Treize reached inside his shirt. And he stood face-to-face with the man, leaning in and whispering something so Claire couldn’t hear.
For the first time, the man’s expression changed. His eyes widened in shock as he held out his hands toward Treize. Treize silently took them in his.
For a time, they stared at one another. Eventually Treize slipped his pendant back under his shirt.
The man brought Treize to the others. The ten or so men stood around him, holding out their hands. Treize took them all in turn.
Surrounded, Treize spoke quietly with the men. And at times during the conversation, shock spread over his face.
Left with nothing to do, Benedict and the others waited for the exchange to end.
About ten minutes later, Treize returned to the others.
“Now you can explain to us, right?” Asked Lillia. Treize nodded.
“It’s incredible. Really.”
“Get on with it.”
Treize explained everything the men told him.
As their choice of language made clear, the men were of the traditional Ikstovan ways. They had walked to this valley from Ikstova to live here.
“They live in these conditions? How?” Asked Benedict.
“Well… apparently it’s not impossible.” Treize replied.
Because the valley was not too high above sea level, plants grew in the area from spring to summer. And wild sheep would come to the valley to feed on the plants. The men could butcher the sheep for meat or raise them for milk, making survival possible.
“But what about winter? Isn’t it going to get colder from now on?” Asked Lillia.
Treize explained that the lack of snow underfoot explained everything. There was supposedly a great deal of heat in the earth around the valley. Not only that, the men lived in the caverns in the cliffs. Deep inside were groundwater streams that provided them with hot water all year round.
“Hot springs… I see! They beat the cold with the hot water, and subsist on the food they stored during the year.” Allison nodded. “But are there no women around here? I don’t know how long they’ve been living this way, but they can’t have any children like this. Why are these people living here, anyway?”
“Yeah. It’s just one question after another.” Lillia agreed.
“I heard the reason as well,” said Treize, “I can hardly believe it, but it doesn’t seem like they’re lying.”
“Right. Apparently they’ve been living this way for four hundred years.”
“Four hundred years?” Lillia squawked. Allison chimed in.
“So when the current royal dynasty began.”
“Yes. Apparently that was when this strange valley was discovered. Afterwards, the royal family recruited people to protect the valley at all costs. …And about the progeny issue…”
“They said that they live here for years before walking all the way back to Ikstova in secret. They would only go in the winter to avoid being witnessed. They would have children in Ikstova, and if they had a son, the son would take on the role from his father… They say that several families have been carrying on the tradition.”
“I see. That makes sense.” Said Benedict.
“Oh! I just realized something!” Allison clapped her hands together. “Those snow monster sightings in Ikstova must have been—”
“—Yes. People must have glimpsed these men and assumed they were monsters.”
“Aww,” Allison sighed, “I feel bad for people who were excited to find out about a mysterious new species in the mountains.” She said, not revealing which person she had in mind.
“And these men received support behind the scenes from—”
“The royal family.” Claire finished Treize’s sentence.
Lillia turned in shock. Treize nodded. Claire continued.
“That explains everything. When the royal family found the treasure here, they gathered these men to live here and protect it. Then the royal family designated the lakeshore that leads into this valley their own personal property, making it off-limits and burying everything in secrecy. They didn’t even inform the royal guard. And for generations, they passed on the secret to their one offspring. The map my father found must have been left in the home of one of these ‘guardians’.”
“I see. Hmm.” Benedict nodded again and again. Claire gestured at the men.
“Look at them. They’re all old. When the previous queen died, they must have been left without a sponsor and lost whatever they had established in Ikstova. So they must have remained here for nearly thirty years. Or perhaps they simply couldn’t petition ‘Francesca’, even if they returned. Am I wrong?”
Treize looked Claire in the eye.
“No. You’re correct.”
Benedict praised Claire.
“Shut up. It doesn’t matter anymore.” Claire turned down his compliments. Then she asked very loudly, “so what did they say? What is the treasure in this valley? The treasure that my father sought, and drained the blood of countless people?”
Treize shook his head.
“When I asked about the treasure, they told me that they had no idea what I was talking about.”
“What? Why would they go so far to protect the valley, then?! Are these cliffs that important? Or perhaps the hot springs that run even in the dead of winter?!” Claire demanded, approaching Treize. The royal guard pulled on her cord. Treize snapped back.
“Don’t you think I asked?! But they wouldn’t say anything else! They’re just protecting the valley!”
“Maybe they’ve forgotten about the treasure over all the generations?” Lillia wondered.
“I thought it might be a little offensive, but I asked anyway. I asked if there was any sort of treasure ever hidden in the valley. They said, ‘no. We simply lived here to protect the valley’.”
“Then what is the treasure?”
No one could answer Lillia’s question.
Everyone was silent. Dozens of seconds passed more slowly than usual.
“What shall we do?” Benedict broke the silence, “we could inform these people about the new queen and have them return to Ikstova for the time being… and perhaps we should postpone the treasure hunt?”
“Maybe. I think it’s about time we went back. But this is a great discovery in and of itself.” Allison said.
Lillia and Treize had no particular objections, so they said nothing.
Claire alone seemed unsatisfied.
“Don’t joke around! The treasure exists! I will ask them myself!”
“They will not tell you simply because you speak their language.” Said Benedict.
Claire, unwilling to acknowledge that, tried to walk over to the men as they stared from a distance. But the royal guard pulled on her cord and left her struggling in place.
“Yeah… maybe we should just go back for now.” Treize mumbled, “this valley is interesting, but we can save the exploring for later…”
“Yeah. I think I might fall asleep soon.” Lillia agreed.
Treize yawned loudly. “Yeah. I’m really getting tired. The men said we can fly all the way to Sou Be-Il through here, but I guess we can test that out later.”
Allison and Benedict reacted at once. Their expressions changed dramatically.
“Wait! What did you just say?”
“Treize, say that again?”
Flabbergasted, they demanded the exact same answer from Treize at once.
“Huh?” Treize frowned. “I’m getting tired?”
“No! The next part!” Allison cried. Lillia had rarely seen her mother so agitated.
“You can get to Sou Be-Il through here, you said?” Said Benedict, “that’s what you said, right?”
“Yeah. Apparently they sometimes pack a lot of food and walk all the way to Sou Be-Il. To Iltoa. But you know how people in Iltoa don’t live in the mountains like we do? These men can go over and come back unseen as long as they don’t go all the way to the foot of the mountains.” He explained nonchalantly. Benedict nearly fainted.
Allison’s eyes were wide with shock.
“No way… I don’t believe it…”
Treize, Lillia, Claire, and the young royal guard stared in confusion.
Finally, Treize broke the silence.
“Could you tell us what you’re so surprised—”
“It’s the treasure!” Benedict cried.
“Huh?” Lillia raised an eyebrow. Claire frowned.
“This really is a treasure!”
“Yes! This valley was the treasure!”
Lillia tugged on her excited mother’s sleeve.
“I don’t get what you’re saying, Mom. Could you please explain?”
“Oh, right… You wouldn’t know, since you all grew up after the war…”
“Nope.” Lillia shook her head.
“Let me explain. I will explain.” Benedict stammered, finally regaining some semblance of calm. “From the valley’s discovery four hundred years ago to approximately twenty years ago, East and West—Roxche and Sou Be-Il—were at war. You must remember that. Because of the Lutoni River, it was not easy for one side to attack the other. So no real progress was ever made in the war. And—”
Treize and Claire understood simultaneously. As did the royal guard.
Benedict turned to Lillia, who was still lost, and continued to explain.
“And the other obstacle between the sides is the Central Mountain Range here. The peaks are over ten thousand meters high, and you can never cross it on foot.”
“But you can.” Lillia said absently. “Treize said these people can cross over on foot through the valley, right?”
“Precisely! That is why this valley is a treasure! You can walk to Sou Be-Il through this valley. And in a way that the other side will never notice. Do you understand what this means?”
Still dumbfounded, Treize continued where Benedict left off.
“If Roxchean forces were assembled in Ikstova… they could lead the forces through the valley and take the Iltoa region completely by surprise. And even a baby could tell you that Roxche would have the upper hand then…”
“Ah! I see now!” Lillia cried, finally understanding. “That’s why this is a treasure!”
“Yeah! That’s why the royal family was so desperate to hide this valley—to prevent it from being used in a war. Four hundred years ago, before Roxche was founded, knights were fighting over the Lutoni with spears and bows and swords. And if the valley were to be discovered then—or even later, when the Confederation was founded—the hostilities would have worsened dramatically. The royal family had to keep this route a secret!”
“So back then, the valley was important enough to completely change the course of history.” Lillia said, and tilted her head. “Hm? Wait a sec. What about now?”
“Yeah.” Treize said.
Next to him stood Claire, white as a sheet, already knowing the answer. Treize continued.
“During the war, this valley was definitely a valuable treasure. It was worth the lives of many people. I understand completely why the royal family decided to hide it at all costs.”
“Yeah. But what about now?” Lillia asked again.
“Er… well…” Treize trailed off.
“It has practically no value anymore.” Allison said firmly.
Benedict nodded. Allison continued.
“We’re not going to have an all-out war between East and West anymore. There are bridges over the Lutoni now, and we can cross over freely. And in five or so years, aeroplanes are going to have pressurization devices that let them just fly clear over the Central Mountain Range. This valley’s going to end up like Slankalans. An interesting but peaceful and quiet sight that draws in tourists and geologists from around the world.”
Silently, Lillia’s gaze slowly went from Allison’s blue eyes to the black-haired woman standing a few meters off to the side.
Claire was sobbing quietly. Tears ran down her pale cheeks.
“No… no… this can’t be…” She gasped between sobs, “this is the treasure Father sought all those years? This… the treasure he wanted to find for Roxche and Ikstova…? The treasure he gave his life to pass on to me…? So by the time he lost his life, it was already worthless…?”
Treize, Benedict, Allison, and the royal guard said nothing as they watched the weeping Claire.
Lillia as well.
“Elvar… Mores… Jake… Mike… Wayne… Palmer… Kirk… Burress… they all died… for this?”
Feebly, she fell to her knees and hung her head.
Claire’s tears fell to the ground and soaked the earth.
As everyone stood silently, Lillia walked up to her.
Standing beside the sobbing Claire, she placed a hand on her shoulder and said,
“‘Weep not, Milady. Life and suffering are one and the same; you must overcome this pain’.”
* * *
The two aeroplanes took off in the narrow valley.
With a deafening roar, the strangely-designed crafts flew side-by-side overhead. They moved their flaps as they descended the valley, toward Iks.
The men watched until the aeroplanes were out of sight.
“A prince, eh? Such honest and clear eyes. And gentle, too.”
The oldest of the men who spoke to Treize remarked in perfect Roxchean. The others nodded.
From under the fur, the man drew a knife he had hidden on his back. It was a terrifying weapon with a wide, 30-centimeter-long blade. He glanced down at the knife.
“It’s a good thing he told us quickly. Almost ended up killing a member of the royal family.”
The 14th day of the first month of the year 3306 of the World Calendar.
The Schultz family kitchen.
“So you really went through all that, Lillia? …That’s incredible.”
“It was a real once-in-a-lifetime experience…”
And Lillianne Aikashia Corazòn Whittington Schultz were talking over the table, several newspapers open before them.
It was afternoon, and the weather was cloudy. Both had returned from the start-of-classes ceremony and come straight to Lillia’s house, and were still in their uniforms.
On the newspapers from the 3rd of the month were headlines like ‘Treasure of Ikstova—Found’, ‘Never-Before-Seen East-West Corridor Discovered’, accompanied by articles on the rediscovery of the valley.
The articles summarized the following. That the current queen of Iks made the decision to announce the discovery of the valley, which had been kept a secret in the royal family for centuries. It explained that the royal family had desperately kept the valley’s existence hidden for fear of further conflict.
But the militaristic value of the valley had dropped when the queen’s husband, Carr Benedict, discovered the mural and ended the war. And when Benedict learned of the treasure twenty years hence, he convinced the queen to announce it and made yet another mark in the pages of history.
The reactions from around the world, printed the next day, were generally positive. The royal family of Iltoa officially announced, ‘The royal family of Iks saved the world from war by concealing the valley’s existence’. The Presidential Office in Roxche released a statement saying, ‘the royal family of Iks prevented bloodshed by hiding the valley from the public eye’.
Some in Roxche argued that the East could have been victorious had the valley been used, and that Iks had betrayed them, but they were very few in number and were soon buried in the voice of the majority.
“There must have been such a big commotion.” Said Meg.
Lillia nodded. She quickly glanced through the paper, and found a tiny news article about a documentary crew from the Capital District shooting a film in Iks being killed in an avalanche.
For a time, Lillia stared silently at the article. She and Allison had been asked by the queen to abide by a gag order. Lillia could not tell Meg the truth, either.
She sighed. Meg gave her a quizzical look.
“What’s wrong, Lillia?”
“Hm? N-nothing. I’m fine.”
“Did something happen? Is something bothering you?”
“Huh? Er… it was just a lot of confusion.” Lillia said vaguely.
“Mhm.” Meg nodded, “say, about that boy who came here before—Treize—he’s from Iks, right? Did you meet him there?”
“Huh? Y-yeah. I did.”
“Lillia. Did you talk about anything important with him?” Meg asked, looking into Lillia’s eyes.
“No. I didn’t. Things were so hectic that I barely got to say hello.”
“Is that all?”
“Did you make plans to meet next time?”
“Actually, no. We just didn’t have the time to plan that stuff.”
“That’s so sad.”
“Huh? For who?”
“Both of you.”
* * *
“Thank you for everything, Elder Sister. It was so kind of you to grant Meriel of Ikstova such a marvelous holiday.”
“Not at all. Please send my greetings to Queen Francesca and Sir Benedict when you return.”
“To tell you the truth, Meriel, I hope dearly to soon become your real sister.”
“My real sister?”
“Yes. I have already sent word to Treize, with permission from Queen Francesca and Sir Benedict.”
“What… might you be saying, Elder Sister?”
“When Treize is twenty years old, I…”
“…I want to bring him into the royal family of Bezel, as my husband.”
-The Longest Day in Ikstova: End-