Have an update.
Chapter 2: After Spring Break Began…
The 15th of the fourth month.
It was the third day of spring break, and the skies over the Capital District were clear.
Scenes from the city before Princess Matilda’s arrival, the moment of her arrival, and after her arrival were playing on television.
“Geez. It’s like they have nothing else to talk about. I wanna watch something else.” Lillia grumbled.
It was afternoon. Lillia was sitting alone in the living room, wearing her mother’s old sweats—labeled ‘Confederation Air Force’—in lieu of pajamas.
Though she complained, Lillia had nothing else to do. She stared at the screen until the TV played footage of Princess Matilda’s press conference.
Cameras flashed everywhere as the princess spoke.
As reporters showered her with questions, she responded with practiced calm—“I sincerely hope that East and West will maintain a relationship forged through friendship and camaraderie”, and “I am truly grateful for the Roxcheanuk Confederation’s generous hospitality”, she said in perfect standard Bezelese, before disappearing from the screen.
When the scene switched back to the newscaster, Lillia stretched and turned off the TV.
“Man…” She sighed, resting her chin on the table.
As if on cue, the telephone began to ring. Lillia lazily slid over and picked up the receiver.
She heard her mother’s cheerful voice.
<Oh. Hey Mom. I haven’t talked to you in two days, huh. So what’s decided?> Lillia asked. She did not even need to ask how Allison was doing.
<Our trip! I finally got my schedule set. You’re pretty free this spring break, right? You don’t even need to practice for the dance.> Allison said energetically.
Lillia hung her head. In the end, she had not found herself a date.
<Thanks for the reminder, Mom. …But going on a trip sounds good. Where? When? How?>
<We’re going to the North Sea! We’ll go see the Lutoni Delta area in Lor. Apparently we can see a tidal bore! And the seafood is really good, I hear.>
Lillia held the receiver between her face and her shoulder as she took out a map from under the end table with the phone. She opened up the large map of the world and set her sights on the mouth of the Lutoni, where the river flowed into the North Sea.
The massive delta where the Lutoni and several tributaries flowed into was part of Lor. The region was known for its spectacular tidal bores, where massive waves ran into the river from the sea. Lor’s vast coastline and forests, along with its plentiful seafood, was famous as well.
<That sounds great. I’ve never been to Lor, and I’ve never seen the mouth of the Lutoni. But isn’t it really far? It’s going to be expensive to get there. What are we taking?> Lillia asked, worried. Going to Lor from the Capital District was essentially crossing half the continent. It involved about as much travel time as going to Iks.
<No worries! We’re crossing the continent for free, at least on the way there.>
<I’ll tell you later, sweetheart. It’s going to be great! We’ll be gone from the 20th to the 30th. You’re free, right?>
<So we’re leaving in eight days? That’s fine with me.>
<Great! I’ll be back home in four days or so. Could you put the trunk in the shade to dry, please?>
<Sure.> Lillia said, and hung up. She glanced at the calendar on the wall, then at the board hanging in the kitchen.
[Allison: Stuck at the Air Force base for test flights for a while.
Lillia: Spring break. I’m bored, dammit.]
Lillia went over and wrote, ‘23rd to 30th: Trip to the North Sea! Yes!’.
“Awesome! I’ll get all my homework done before then!”
With a determined cry, Lillia headed to her room.
She realized then that she was waltzing.
With a soft groan, she stopped herself and strode down the hall.
* * *
The 19th of the third month.
Four days after the telephone call.
Just as Lillia rushed through the rest of her homework and packed her bags for the trip—
Just as Allison was returning home after being freed from nearly ten straight days of flying—
Just as footage of Princess Matilda leaving the Capital District by train was broadcast—
Major Travas was at a Confederation Air Force base on the outskirts of the Capital District.
The sky was as clear as could be. The wind was calm.
“It’s a perfect day for traveling. Don’t you agree, Miss?”
“It certainly is. The sky is so beautiful today. It reminds me of autumn in Sfrestus. Roxche’s Capital District is a wonderful place indeed if I can see the autumn sky in the middle of spring.”
Major Travas and a woman were speaking on a wide, flat space, with a long airstrip before them.
Major Travas was in a black suit with a black tie. The woman was in beige pants and a beige jacket over a white V-neck sweater with a modest cut. It was a simple outfit perfect for traveling.
The woman’s beautiful blond hair was tied up in a neat bun. She had fair skin and a soft countenance. Her emerald green eyes exuded a gentle aura.
Before them was a runway, and to their right was a small, streamlined aeroplane capable of high-speed cruising. A vehicle mounted with a power generator was parked alongside it. To their left were four men and a woman, all dressed in black suits, standing with their backs to the hangar and the control tower.
They were Major Travas’s subordinates. Each of the men was carrying two large trunks, which could fit a person inside. The trunks were stamped with the logo of a famous brand, and had four wheels on the bottom for ease of transport. The woman was carrying a brown, 2-meter-long leather golf bag with a cap. The golf bag also had wheels.
“It’s time to board, Miss. People are waiting for us on the snow.” Major Travas said to the woman, who was staring at the sky. She turned with a smile.
“Of course. Let’s be off.”
Major Travas led the group, followed by the woman. The subordinates trailed behind as they silently carried her luggage. The wheels on the trunks seemed to growl against the pavement.
Once all the trunks had been loaded and the passengers were inside, the aeroplane’s two engines roared to life. The propellers began to spin.
The aeroplane taxied into the runway in the otherwise silent airport. And with a loud hum, it took to the clear skies.
Almost immediately, four fighter crafts closed in. The fighters, branded with the emblem of the Roxchean Air Force, escorted the aeroplane.
Once the five crafts disappeared to the west-southwest, silence returned to the airport.
* * *
Four days later. The 23rd.
A spring storm swept the base.
A strong westerly wind was howling endlessly across the plains, and heavy clouds rushed past overhead.
Lillia stood in that midst, astonished.
She was wearing a grey Roxchean Air Force flight suit, an aviator hat, and a pair of goggles. She was even wearing a parachute on her back like a knapsack—the very image of a trainee pilot.
To her right stood six large men, dressed just like her. Behind the seven of then was a massive bomber.
The craft had four engines and four propellers. It had a wingspan of 31 meters and was 22 meters long from nose to tail. There was no larger aircraft, with the exception of some seaplanes.
The bomber had no coat of paint—its naked metal frame glinted in the light. The only identification on the body was a barely-visible serial number.
“Men! We are now commencing a trans-Roxche long-distance test flight! We will be covering an unprecedented distance, but I have faith in your abilities and mine!”
Making confident declarations before Lillia was the captain of the aeroplane. Her mother, 35-year-old Captain Allison Whittington Schultz, who was about a head shorter than the first officer next to her.
Allison was listing off all the details they needed to test out on the flight, but Lillia barely paid attention.
“Crossing the continent for free, huh.” She groaned quietly.
So Lillia had to fly for a very long time at the back of the bomber, sitting on a shelf that was originally used for stowing guns.
At times the craft ascended to and cruised at 5000 meters above sea level, which was the highest possible point they could go before needing oxygen masks. Temperatures there were about 30 degrees below zero, in celsius. As the aeroplane had no heating system, everyone onboard had to endure the cold in their heated suits.
Along the way, the other crew members were quite considerate of Lillia. Some expressed their shock or sympathy at her mother’s recklessness.
They suffered through bad weather and overheated engines while stopping to rest or sleep at bases on the way. And a day and a half later, the crew made it to the Roxchean Air Force base in the Republic of Niasham.
Niasham was a member state of the Roxcheanuk Confederation, and was situated directly north of the Republic of Raputoa, where Lillia’s father Wilhelm Schultz had attended secondary school. Niasham bordered the Lutoni river and was just south of Lor, a day’s train ride away.
Once they were free from the base, Allison and Lillia went to a hotel in the city of Karen by car.
Lillia changed into her pajamas the moment she entered the room and collapsed in her bed. Allison hung up her uniform.
“It’ll be a normal train trip from tomorrow on. We have to catch the morning train tomorrow, so I’ll be waking you up early, sweetheart.”
“Uh huh. Whatever. I’m beat…”
And Lillia fell right asleep.
It was the night of the 24th.
At the same time—
A tearjerking farewell was taking place in a darkened station hundreds of kilometers to the south.
This was Elitesa Station, in the city of Elitesa at the southern tip of the Republic of Raputoa. The Kingdom of Iks was not accessible by rail; this was the nearest station where long-distance trains stopped.
Snowflakes whipped into the platform from the side of the massive dome. A train was stopped amidst glowing orange lights.
At the front of the train was a yellow diesel engine locomotive. Behind it were seven passenger cars painted green with white lines, followed by two freight cars.
And in the middle of the platform,
“I will come to visit, I promise! I will let nothing stop me! Farewell, Elder Sister! Be well! I will send mother’s photographs to you as soon as they are developed!”
Meriel was choking back sobs. She was a seventeen-year-old girl with back-length hair, dressed in simple green winter clothes and a wool hat.
The woman standing before her comforted her in Bezelese.
“Of course. Come visit me anytime, Meriel. I am looking forward to the photographs. And I am truly grateful for Ikstova’s hospitality. Take care.”
She was a blond woman wearing an expensive-looking navy wool coat.
Around them were five people dressed in black suits and coats, all cautiously securing the area. There was no one else on the platform save for the conductor, who was glancing at his wristwatch. The blond woman’s group had bought all the tickets for this train and would be the only passengers onboard.
Yet the team of five never once let down their guard. With each gust of wind, the coats of the two tallest men billowed, revealing bulging masses under their arms. They were carrying assault rifles with folded stocks in lieu of handguns.
There were also several men dressed in winter clothes like Meriel’s standing by at the edge of the platform. They were members of Ikstova’s royal guard.
“It’s time, Miss.”
The door of the train opened, and Major Travas—also wearing a suit—came down the stairs. The woman embraced Meriel, who also wrapped her arms around her.
Once they broke away,
“You’d better do your job right!” Meriel ordered Treize, who wore a leather jacket with a hood. He had stepped outside after Major Travas. “You can’t be a numbskull anymore, okay?”
Treize nodded with a wry look.
“Here.” He said, holding out his hand as the woman went to the steps.
The woman replied in Roxchean, reaching over and placing her slender fingers on Treize’s hand. She allowed herself to be helped up the steps. When the woman turned, she saw Meriel waving lightly from the platform. The woman seemed sad to see Meriel, who gave a tearful smile, but stepped inside.
Once the woman and his subordinates were in the car, Major Travas lightly bowed to Meriel.
“Please take care of Elder Sister, Mr. Hero.”
“Of course, Your Highness. My team and I will protect her with our lives.” Travas replied, looking round at the royal guard walking over to escort Meriel.
“And also… give my foolish younger brother a good kick in the pants for me. Show him no mercy!” Meriel said viciously. Major Travas’s eyes narrowed.
“If I get the chance, Your Highness. But please remember—this is his decision to make.”
“Yes… you’re right.”
Meriel offered Travas a handshake. He took it.
“I respect you so much, Mr. Hero. I would follow in your footsteps, if only I could.”
“Thank you, Your Highness. But you have a nobler, heavier responsibility ahead of you.”
They withdrew their hands, smiling. Then, Major Travas stepped into the passenger car and closed the door.
Leaving Meriel on the platform, surrounded by the royal guard, the train whistled to a start. The locomotive slowly pulled the cars forward and the wheels began to creak over the rails.
The curtains on the cars were all closed. Like a large black mass the train left Elitesa Station.
An icy gust swept through the platform. Meriel watched the train depart, until the tiny red taillight was swallowed up by the darkness.
* * *
The 25th of the third month.
Morning came to Karen East Station.
Sunlight seeped through the clouds and into the arch-shaped station through its glass roofs, casting light on the patterned tiles on the floor.
From early in the morning, the station was packed with passengers commuting to school and work. The Schultz family was also among that throng.
Lillia wore a bright green sweater and a red tartan skirt, along with brown tights and short boots. She had her hair down.
Allison was in a dull brown turtleneck. It was a favorite of hers, actually supplied by the Air Force. She also wore cotton pants and comfortable leather pumps. As usual, Allison had her hair tied up in a bun. Mother and daughter both carried travel bags with their jackets hung over them.
“Feeling rested, honey?”
“Yeah. I got plenty of sleep. What about you, Mom?”
“All good here. It was just a day and a half of flying.”
“Just a day and a half? You’re tough.”
“The weather forecast says it’ll clear up over time today. It’s perfect for a train trip. Let me go get the tickets.”
Allison went to the ticket booth and purchased the long-distance train tickets she had reserved. The Schultz family was to take a train from Karen East Station to Lor Central Station in Lor, at the mouth of the Lutoni river. They had tickets to a first-class sleeper cabin. The train would leave that morning and travel north all day, finally arriving at Lor Central Station the next morning, on the 26th.
For a short time Allison and Lillia waited in the dome, warm with the presence of people. But eventually, they put on their jackets and stepped out onto the platform. They gave their bags to an employee with a metal cart and handed him a tip. Then they left the dome and followed the cart across the tracks.
The platforms were all bustling with commuting students. Platform 6 was opposite Platform 1. Mother and daughter waited under a recently-built roof for their train.
The station was surrounded completely by a residential district. Beyond the roundabout in front of the station was a veritable jungle of apartment buildings. Patches of snow remained on the roofs.
“Things sure have changed. I came here once before—years ago—and there was absolutely nothing here then.” Allison said, her eyes relaxing.
Lillia nodded indifferently. She did not ask when her mother had come here, or with who.
“Things sure have changed.” Allison said again.
Soon, an announcement filled the platform.
The long-distance sleeper train from Elitesa Station bound for Lor Central Station, the announcement said, was due to arrive soon—exactly on schedule.
“Trains never used to come on time. Times have changed.” Allison noted.
There were three other people on the platform boarding the same train. Two middle-aged businessmen wearing suits, and a middle-aged woman carrying a large piece of luggage wrapped in cloth—perhaps she was a saleswoman.
The crosswalk alarm began to ring, and headlights drew near. Soon, the train approached. It was a ten-car train with a yellow diesel engine in the lead.
There was one VIP car in the train, just behind the locomotive. It consisted of two cabins.
Then there was one first-class sleeper car, with five 2-passenger rooms.
After that was a dining car with large windows, with a small kitchen in the back left corner.
Following that were two second-class cars, each with ten partitioned 4-passenger cabins where the seats could be converted into beds. All cars with cabins had the corridor on the left side of the car.
Then came two second-class cars, each with partitioned 4-passenger seats. That was all for the passenger cars. They were all colored green with the windows highlighted white.
The last two cars were covered freight cars. They were used to transport post and regular shipments of products, not passenger luggage.
The train slowly wound into the station platform, coming to a stop on the left side of the one where Lillia and Allison stood.
They could see passengers here and there through the open curtains. Some were having breakfast in the dining car.
“You know what to do, Lillia.”
Lillia stepped inside alone and went into their cabin. Then she opened the window.
“Over here, Mom.”
They pushed and pulled their luggage into the cabin through the window. It was a common practice in Roxche. Sometimes little children climbed in through the windows as well.
Once all their things were inside, Allison joined Lillia in the cabin.
The train whistled at almost exactly the scheduled time and began to move. It left the station, going past the apartment buildings, and headed north.
There was something Lillia never noticed.
“Just in time…”
The man muttered to himself, glancing at the ‘Karen East Station’ sign flowing past and the watch on his wrist.
He was sitting alone in the dining car filled with passengers.
As the car began to shake and rattle again, the man finished his plate and downed his glass of orange juice in one go.
He wiped his mouth with a napkin.
“Roxchean cuisine is incredible.”
The man who, across the Lutoni, had been called ‘Prisoner 42’ said with a smile under his breath, almost silently in his native tongue of Bezelese.
“Excuse me, more tea please?” He said to a passing waitress.
He spoke in perfect Roxchean.
The Raputoa City Confederation Rail Operations Office, in the Republic of Raputoa.
The room was the size of a chapel. Inside were chairs and desks lined with radios and telephones. There were about ten employees on duty.
The desks all faced a massive wall 10 meters high and 30 meters long. On the wall was a magnified map of the eastern bank of the Lutoni River—the western edge of Roxche—turned on its side, with the north side pointing to the right. As the region consisted of only a single timezone running in a vertical strip, this office was in charge of the entire area.
The map was labeled with simplified borders, major roads, and important routes. Each set of railway tracks was indicated by a line of lightbulbs and parallel tracks were indicated by two parallel lines of lights.
Stations were labeled by name and junctions were clearly labeled as well. Even sidings—short strips of rail where slower trains could wait for faster ones to pass ahead of them—were indicated in detail.
Blinking green lights on the lines indicated a moving train. The map was designed to show at a glance where each train was and where each was headed.
Junctions also showed which way the turnouts were set, and stretches with traffic signals showed what color the signals were displaying.
Suddenly, the blinking dot on Karen East Station disappeared and moved to the right—that is, further north.
One of the supervisors, wearing a navy Confederation Rail uniform, pointed at the light.
“On schedule. All clear.”
On the desk before him was a timetable crisscrossed by countless lines.
About ten lights were flashing along the map on the wall, with large gaps between them. This meant that ten trains were traveling down the tracks.
One of the lights on the same set of tracks was heading for Karen East Station. It followed Lillia and Allison’s train from about 40 kilometers behind.
Treize and the blond woman sat facing one another in the train following Lillia and Allison’s.
They were in the VIP car, in a room equal to the size of the bedroom further in the cabin. There was a large sofa in the room, wide enough to comfortably seat four, and an exquisitely-crafted folding table.
The interior was lavishly decorated. The polished wooden moldings, the silk lace curtains, and the pearl lights lent the room the air of a luxury hotel.
Treize and the woman both sat by the window. She sat facing the front of the train, and Treize the back. To Treize’s left the clearing sky and the still-bare trees dotted with snow passed quickly by.
The woman was wearing a white blouse and a navy skirt. Treize was in brown cotton pants and a black sweater. His ever-present belt pack was left unclasped by the sofa.
They sat in silence as they watched the world pass by outside. Treize was a little bored. The woman was positively tranquil.
The wheels of the train clattered in triple-time, resounding throughout the room.
Outside the cabin.
In the corridor stood two men in black suits. Yzma the man in his twenties, and Ozette the slight man in his forties.
Neither of them wore their jackets, but they still wore ties with their button-up shirts. They both had holsters and small pouches on their belts. They were armed with 9mm automatic handguns and spare magazines.
“Relief’s here. You two go have breakfast.”
Ed the large man in his forties, and Uno the man in his thirties stepped into the corridor. They were there to take over for Yzma and Ozette and guard the cabin.
Walking down the empty corridor, Yzma whispered to the coworker moving ahead of him.
“The prince has been acting like that this whole time. Is this really all right, do you think? Princess Meriel tells me those two barely spoke at all back in Ikstova, too.”
“Huh.” Ozette grunted. Then—unusually for him—he continued. “If the lady isn’t uncomfortable even when they’re alone in silence, it probably means they’re a good match. That’s the most important thing when you’re living together.”
“So you think they’ll really…”
“Hm. Who knows?”
“Aren’t you curious? Those two might become the couple of the century.”
“In thirty years I might look back on this mission with pride. But that’s then. For now, we simply focus on the job.”
“Right. Then we’ll have to survive another thirty years. That means it’s time for a hearty meal in case something breaks out.”
They opened the coupling door and stepped into the dining car.
As the two men enjoyed a late breakfast—
40 kilometers to the north, Lillia and Allison were placing their things on the shelves above and hanging up their jackets.
Two armchairs stood facing one another in the first class cabin. At night, the chairs were pushed aside and passengers could unfold beds installed on the walls. The car was heated and very cozy.
“We’ve got a long trip ahead, Lillia. Should we get some tea and relax?”
“Sure. Can we get some sweets, too?”
Allison and Lillia left the room, bringing their wallets in their purses.
They walked down the shaking train and stepped into the dining car. The seats were nearly all taken. Most passengers had been onboard since the previous day—many had finished breakfast, enjoying tea with white ceramic teapots on their tables.
The passengers included—
A slight, skinny man in his forties who seemed to be a businessman of some sort. He wore a navy suit and silver-rimmed glasses. His brown hair was cut short. The man was adding generous amounts of sugar to his tea.
At another table was a black-haired man in a black suit, who seemed to be in his twenties. He was reading a newspaper published in Raputoa.
Then there was a couple in their thirties, dressed comfortably for travel. The husband had short brown hair and the wife short black hair. In the wicker basket beside the woman slept a baby, who could not have been more than two or three months old.
There was an old man with a shock of white hair, well past his seventies. He looked unsociable and fastidious, but he sat perfectly upright. He was wearing a silk shirt and jacket, both of which looked very expensive. With him was a red-haired woman in her thirties, likely a secretary. She wore a blue business suit with a skirt.
A well-built soldier about twenty years of age, wearing the Roxchean Army uniform with a badge of rank indicating he was a private first class. Perhaps he was on leave or returning home. His blond hair was cropped short.
A man in his thirties, wearing a grey suit. By his feet was a leather medical bag. Then there was a faint-looking man with a delicate build, who wore small glasses with farsighted lenses. His hair was short and curly.
A man in his forties, wearing a checkered red-and-brown outdoor jacket. His long brown hair was tied back. He was reading a pamphlet in his hand entitled ‘A Tourist’s Guide to Roxche’ in Bezelese.
There was a man in his twenties—likely a university student—with a pair of crutches leaning beside his table. He wore a cream-colored sweater and a pair of jeans. A white cast was wrapped around his right leg. In his hands was a formidable physics textbook.
Lillia and Allison briefly greeted the other passengers as they walked down the aisle, finally grabbing the corner table—the only one left. Once the waiter came, they ordered two cups of tea along with scones with jam and whipped cream.
Their order soon arrived. As Lillia and Allison ate, the other passengers finished their tea and left the dining car for their cabins. The injured man did not so much as stagger as he expertly wielded his crutches.
The man once called ‘Prisoner 42’ cast a glance at Allison and Lillia as he left the dining car. They were enjoying their scones, completely oblivious to his frightening gaze.
“Will they be useful? Or not?” He wondered under his breath, disappearing behind the door.
And as Lillia and Allison finished their scones and enjoyed the dining car, where no one else was around—
The train carrying Treize and the others arrived at Karen East Station.
Major Travas’s subordinates stepped onto the platform with their jackets back on. They did not let their guard down. They checked the foods and materials being loaded onto the train, and one of the men was constantly keeping an eye on the security guard who checked the cars.
The clouds had cleared quite a bit. Major Travas stood alone on the platform, the spring sun spilling onto him.
Silently, he stood before the sign labeled ‘Karen East Station’ as he stared at the apartment buildings crowded in the distance. The blue sky was reflected on his glasses and narrowed eyes.
Treize went to the car door alone to get some air. He had his belt pack around his waist.
The door was open. And outside stood Major Travas. He turned when he noticed Treize.
Treize, who had only seen the photograph once, noticed it—what Lillia had never noticed.
Treize was standing precisely where his mother had been eighteen years ago, when she pointed a camera at the very subject he was looking at now.
From the relative darkness of the train, the subject was brilliant as he stood in the light.
“Ah. You’ve noticed.” Major Travas said. He sounded happy.
Treize nodded and reached for his belt pack. Inside was his favorite handgun and something else—a heavy metallic object.
He drew from the pack a camera.
In the middle of the frame was a small lens, and a pair of dials stuck out from the top like a pair of antennae. On the upper right was the viewfinder. And on the top of the camera was a fan-shaped protrusion equipped with a rotating shutter. It was a rather unusual design for a camera.
The camera was a belated birthday gift, his mother had claimed. But—
“You have to lend it to me once you come back. So don’t lose it, Treize. And do not break it. This is a royal order.”
—she had practically forced the camera onto him.
Treize made to bring the camera to his eye.
But he stopped it over his chest. And he looked the smiling Major Travas in the eye.
“Sorry. No photographs, right?”
Treize put his camera back in his belt pack. Then he stepped down onto the platform and stood next to the major in the sun.
Noting that no one else was around, Treize lowered his voice.
“I heard about what happened eighteen years ago from Father. What happened on the train that left this station. He said it was quite the ordeal.”
“Has it been that long already? I suppose I’m getting old.”
“I heard Lillia’s grandfather was an incredible man.”
“Indeed. Without his efforts, the conflict on Lestki Island may not have ended where it did. We would have faced an all-out war. Who knows what would have happened then? He made a very big decision.”
“So you did the same?”
“…I suppose you could say that.”
“Even by throwing away your own happiness? Is that the responsibility of those ‘in the know’?”
“No one can make your decisions for you. And you still have time; there’s no rush.”
At that moment, there was a loud whistle.
Major Travas lightly bowed his head and passed by Treize, walking up the steps. At the darkened doorway he turned and gestured.
Treize was smiling. Major Travas smiled as well.
Treize jumped over three steps in one bound and leapt into the car.
The folding door closed from the inside. No one stood on the sunlit Karen East Station platform now.
The train started quietly, soon accelerating and leaving the station.
“Your Highness. I’ve put your change of clothes on the bed.”
Inside the room without Treize was the blond woman and the only woman in her service, Ann.
“Thank you. But please, there’s no need to be so formal with me. ‘Miss’ will do as long as we are on this journey.” The blond woman replied in Roxchean, smiling. But Ann remained as cool as ever.
“I understand the Major’s orders, but I ask that I be allowed to maintain formality at times like this, at the very least.”
“All right. I understand, Ann. But please, there’s no need to be so stiff. I’m delighted that everyone speaks to me in casual Roxchean.” The blond woman smiled.
“I understand, Your Highness. …If I may be so emboldened by your words, this mission is truly an honor. The Gratz family once had the privilege of presenting a gift of ice to the royal family.”
“Oh my! From Grandmother’s father’s generation, then?”
“Yes, Your Highness. Times have changed, and our family took the way of the military starting in my grandfather’s generation. My grandfather, my father, my mother, and myself as well.”
“That’s very noble of you. The royal family is always grateful for the loyalty of our soldiers. I thank you for your devotion to king and country, in my father’s stead.”
“You honor me, Your Highness. …After this mission, I plan to go on leave, back to the West. I will report to Father—he sleeps in the Cemetery of Heroes—that I had the privilege of acting as your guard, Your Highness.”
“I see. So your father—”
“Please, not to worry. It was a very long time ago, when I was still young. It feels as though I’ve simply been chasing his footsteps all this time. And now I am here, carrying out the most honorable of missions. ‘True to your mission to the very end’, my father used to say. I have never so keenly felt these words weighing on my shoulders as I do now.”
“How admirable.” Said the blond woman. Then,
“And the major has a very admirable subordinate in his command.”
* * *
The train carrying Lillia and Allison was traveling under the blue sky.
All around them were forests devoid of green, and fields that had yet to be worked. The green train cut across the barely-green land.
Lillia lounged on her chair, blankly gazing out the window to her right.
Allison glanced through a thick pile of documents in a folder, on occasion marking things out with a fountain pen.
It was a little before noon.
There was a short chime, and the conductor made an announcement over the speakers. The train was soon to reach Norn Station, and the dining car had begun to serve lunch, he said.
“Mm… I’m not really hungry yet. Before that—”
She yawned. The warmth of the cabin and the gentle shaking of the car was putting her to sleep.
“I’m getting sleepy. Can we go after lunchtime, since there won’t be as many people around?”
“Sure. I’m not that hungry right now, either.”
“Wake me up then.”
“All right, sweetheart.”
Lillia lowered her head, closing her eyes—
The train shook violently.
It felt like someone had hit the brakes. Not only that, the train was even shaking side-to-side.
“Whoa! Wh-what? Earthquake?” Lillia cried, looking up. The shaking stopped in an instant. Then—
The train shook again. Allison closed her folder and placed it on the table.
The train was still moving. But the shaking continued at intervals of two or three seconds. And eventually, the train seemed to brake to a slow.
Allison held down her folder before it fell off the table. Lillia, completely awake, tightly gripped her armrests.
“Are we falling? Oh. Wait.”
With dull creaks the train quickly slowed and finally came to a rocky stop in the middle of the woods.
Silence came over the cabin.
“Was it a signal error? That first round of shaking bugs me, though.” Allison wondered.
“This had better not be a breakdown!” Lillia hissed, her imagination running wild.
The Raputoa City Confederation Rail Operations Office.
The light that was soon due at Norn Station stopped. The middle-aged supervisor quickly took notice and ordered his subordinates to take care of the signals and establish communications with the train.
The conductor responded to the radio, and reported that the engineer reported engine trouble and strange vibrations, which led him to stop the train.
The supervisor ordered him to head for Norn Station—which had an available siding—if possible. The conductor said he would.
Even as the supervisor waited nervously, the following train was approaching. Naturally at a certain point a signal would go out and prevent the trains from crashing, but each time the light moved one more point the supervisor’s lip twitched.
Eventually, they received word from the stopped train. The engineer managed to get the locomotive going, said the conductor, and they would probably make it to Norn Station. One light moved forward. Sighs of relief flooded the office.
“We’re finally moving.”
“But I don’t think we’ll make it past the next station.”
Lillia and Allison were chatting in their cabin. After several minutes stopped on the tracks, the train had finally begin to move and the scenery finally changed.
“Who knows? Maybe we’ll have to take the next train.”
Slowly, the train continued. Eventually they saw several houses and narrow streets outside. Soon, the train made its way into a small station in a small town surrounded by small fields.
The tracks split into two, one on either side of the platform. The train moved into the right set of tracks and stopped with the platform to its left.
It was just before noon. The train was about fifteen minutes behind schedule.
The man once called ‘Prisoner 42’ glanced at the station sign and his wristwatch.
“Right on schedule. Perfect!”