Here's a lighthearted chapter before things get inevitably bloody in the next volume. Enjoy.
Carlo’s Excellent Adventure - Prelude
This story took place in the summer of the year 3305 of the World Calendar.
It was around the time Lillia was plowing through her homework in her house at the Capital District, because she had nothing else to do after returning early from the crazy trip to Lartika.
It was also around the time Treize was half-meditating on the swimming manual he’d bought as he ate his food next to his mud-covered motorcycle, somewhere smack-dab in the middle of Roxche.
This story took place in Healer Village in Tolcasia.
Healer Village was a small town on the shores of the Kurz Sea, where Lillia and Treize were caught in a plot and ended up crashing a massive seaplane into the lake.
“A farewell ceremony?”
“Yeah. For the Master. It’s gonna be in the afternoon.”
A group of children were talking amongst themselves in the backyard of a small building on the edge of the village.
This was an orphanage set up by Ein Morseau—known as ‘Master’ to the locals—before his passing. It would be another month before the orphanage was renamed ‘Ein Morseau Children’s Home’ in the wake of his sudden death.
It was around dusk. The cloud-dotted sky was dyed red, and a gentle wind caressed the lake.
Among the children, who ranged in age from five to ten, was a redhead who stood with crossed arms, leaning against a tree. The child wore a brown shirt and long black pants.
This was the child who had just said, ‘Huh’.
“Once you’re dead, it’s over.”
This particular child was not like the others, who were all quite downcast. Though there was a shadow over her face, she did not show much sympathy. The others glared.
The redhead glared back, and the children looked away. She must have been quite high on the totem pole in the orphanage.
“So what’s a farewell ceremony? Is it different from a funeral?” Asked the redhead. Another child replied, reciting word-for-word what the adults had said.
That the Master had written a will, where he asked that no money be spent on his funeral. So to honor his wish, the orphanage had decided to hold a simple memorial service for him.
“Huh. That’s it? That’s kind of sad.”
“What else can you do? That was his last will. And we don’t have the money for a funeral.”
“Not even for flowers?”
The redhead looked up at the sky for a moment, before looking back down.
“Guys, huddle ‘round.”
Two adults were watching quietly from behind the curtains in a room on the second floor.
“That’s Carlo, Miss Angela. She’s actually a girl, but she gets angry if you call her ‘Carla’.” A middle-aged woman in an apron said to a woman in her thirties who stood on the other side of the window.
“The redhead?” Said Miss Angela. She was in a blue business suit. Miss Angela was tall and slender, with semi-long black hair. Her large eyes glinted amidst her sun-scorched skin, giving her an air of energy and confidence.
Miss Angela was not one of the orphanage staff. She was a teacher at the village primary school.
Carlo was the center of attention, confidently discussing something with the others.
“I see. She won’t be easy.” Miss Angela smiled half-belligerently.
The middle-aged woman, on the other hand, was fretting.
“She’s certainly quite the handful. But she was always sweet as a lamb with the Master. I don’t know how we’ll cope with her, now that the Master’s passed. And of all things, she became a leader of sorts among the children after the seaplane crash. I worry for how she’ll influence the others.”
“We’re most afraid that she might try to run away from the facility. The Master was the one who convinced her to stay, but now… We’re also afraid that if she leaves, the other children may follow.”
“But you’re not seeing any evidence of that yet?”
“Maybe you’re worrying too much?”
“No! We must do our best now in the Master’s absence—we couldn’t face him in heaven if we didn’t do right by him and the children! We couldn’t live with ourselves if Carlo were to run away. We need your help, Miss Angela!”
“Yes, yes. I’ll keep an eye on her specifically until the day after tomorrow.”
“Please do. I’m sure Carlo will change her mind if we all come together as a family at the farewell ceremony.”
“That would be wonderful.” Miss Angela replied with a wry smile. Then she changed the subject. “In any case, are you sure you wouldn’t like the school to send something for the ceremony? The headmaster wanted to at least send some flowers.”
“We appreciate the sentiment—we truly do. But the headmaster’s condolences are all we will accept. The orphanage should be preparing all these things—and we just don’t have the funds. Thank you. And we’re terribly sorry.” The middle-aged woman apologized.
“I see… I understand.” Miss Angela said. She did not bring up the flowers again.
On a side note, it was a little further down the line that rich people from the Capital District who retired in unusually quick succession began to donate frequently to the orphanage.
The dinner bell began ringing throughout the orphanage. The children rushed inside.
“Then I’ll be staying at the facility tomorrow. I’ll keep my eyes locked on Carlo.” Miss Angela said, looking out the window. Shadows were growing long on the ground, and Carlo happened to look up.
Could she see Miss Angela? Or not? Their eyes seemed to meet for a moment.
“I accept your challenge.”
Carlo disappeared from her sight.
The children’s beds were lined up in the large room. A young female staff member walked around the room with a lantern in hand to check that all the children were there, and left.
The door opened soon after, and a small figure slipped inside.
The voice belonged to Carlo.
“We’ve been waiting.”
Some of the children responded. Carlo stood at the center of the children, who had slipped out of their beds and gathered around her.
“All right. Lemme go through the plan again. Tomorrow’s the big day.” Carlo said, taking something out of her pocket.
It was money. Two coins engraved with leaf designs. She had received the money from Lillia earlier, as proper payment for her service. It was not a small amount.
A small commotion erupted.
“It’s finally time to use these.” Carlo smirked. “I’m leaving town tomorrow. Don’t—”
The next day.
It was early in the morning, before the children were awake.
Miss Angela, decked out in sweats, rode her bicycle to the orphanage and joined the staff.
Carlo and the children woke up and had breakfast together. Miss Angela kept a keen lookout from outside the window.
After breakfast, everyone helped clean up and wash the dishes. There were no classes that day. So the thirty or so children at the orphanage spent the day playing to their heart’s content. Of course, the only playgrounds they had were the orphanage building, the yard, the nearby park, and the endlessly vast Kurz Sea.
Carlo was talking with the children in the yard.
“No suspicious activity yet.”
Miss Angela watched from beside a door, a little ways away. Next to her was her trusty bicycle. She was ready to ride at a moment’s notice.
“Not yet, Carlo? At this rate, the bus is gonna leave.” Said one of the children.
Carlo had climbed a large tree and was lazily watching the lake from atop a thick branch. The lake glittered as peacefully as it always did.
“Not yet.” Carlo said quietly.
“Why not? Yesterday you said we’d start early—”
“Someone’s on to us.” Carlo said.
She then told the others to take turns looking at the door.
The children did as they were told. One at a time, they glanced at the door, looking as natural as they could be.
There they spotted Miss Angela. And her menacing bicycle.
“She’s been looking at me all morning.”
“No way… you think she’s on to us?”
“I dunno. But she’s definitely keeping watch on me.”
“Wh-what do we do?”
“I’ll wait for the afternoon bus instead. All of you, make sure you’re ready to go at a moment’s notice.” Carlo said with a glint in her eye.
At that moment, the bus to the next village—one of two that stopped every day—passed by the door where Miss Angela was hiding.
The bus would wait at the stop, about a hundred meters away, and then head to the next village.
“How is she?” Asked the middle-aged woman. Miss Angela responded honestly.
“I don’t think she’s planning an escape.”
They were whispering from a distance as the children dug into their lunches in the cafeteria.
Carlo and her followers were dipping bread into bowls of stew, downing them voraciously.
“She was playing in the lake with the other children all morning.”
“I see…” The middle-aged woman said, and feared that perhaps she had worried too much.
The middle-aged woman looked at Miss Angela. Miss Angela crossed her arms.
“I could see it in her eyes. Carlo is up to something.”
“Oh my… could you really tell?”
“That’s incredible. I’m sure your long years of experience—”
Miss Angela cut off the middle-aged woman, smiling.
“No. I can tell because I was just like her when I was her age.”
Lunch and clean-up went smoothly. It was nap time for most of the children.
Carlo and her friends napped. Just like the others.
The middle-aged woman went around the room, making sure the children were covered properly in their blankets. Miss Angela followed, scrutinizing the children. In Carlo’s case, she took a very long look at her face. She was making sure that Carlo really was asleep.
Eventually, the children woke up one after another. Carlo and her friends did as well.
And as they made to leave the room,
“Wh-where are you going to play in the afternoon?” The middle-aged woman asked awkwardly.
“On the second floor.” Carlo replied. The middle-aged woman smiled, saying that was a great idea.
Though, as soon as she left the room, Carlo added quietly—
“We’re playing tag, though.”
Carlo and friends went up the stairs in the middle of the building, which were the only stairs in the orphanage.
Miss Angela watched with a smile from the doors. Her bicycle stood threateningly outside.
“She’s serious, huh. But she’s not gonna stop me.” Carlo mumbled.
“She’s serious, huh. But she’s not getting away.” Miss Angela mumbled.
There was a large playroom on the second floor.
In the room were toy blocks and rides straight out of a storybook. There were about twenty children in the room.
Carlo and her friends were gathered in a circle by the window in the corner.
“This is cool!”
“Check this out!”
They chattered very loudly at times as they read storybooks.
But between the shrieks—
“We need to work together. Timing is key.”
—suspicious conversations were taking place.
It was afternoon.
The bus would be here soon.
Ever since Carlo disappeared upstairs, Miss Angela had been sitting at the doors.
At times, the children begged her to play with them. But—
“I’m sorry, kids. I’m waiting for a guest.” She would say, sending the children away.
Sometimes children would come downstairs and go outside, but Carlo naturally was not one of them.
Miss Angela asked a staff member who had gone upstairs what Carlo was doing.
“She’s reading with the other children. Oh, and she told me she wanted learn how to play cat’s cradle, and asked me if I could get her some string sometime. She’s surprisingly adorable sometimes.”
Afternoon was halfway over.
“I know she’s after the bus. And she must have the fare on hand. But I’m not letting her get through. Now… how will you respond?” Miss Angela muttered to herself.
“Eek! What do you think you’re doing?! Get down this instant!” Cried a female staff member upstairs.
“So you’ve started!”
Miss Angela rose from her seat. But she did not go.
“Please check the second floor.” She said to another woman who had rushed out of the staff room. Miss Angela remained at the doorway, checking outside. She did not see any children running for the door yet.
The woman rushed back down the stairs, her face pale.
“Two of the children tried to climb down the gutter!”
But Miss Angela replied instantly,
“But they didn’t go too far, did they? They stuck close to the window.”
“Y-yes! How did you…”
“That was a diversion. It’s a simple trick. Children aren’t brave enough to climb down a gutter. I was too, when I was their age.”
An angry woman came down the stairs, holding two children by the backs of their shirts. Neither of them were Carlo.
“Carlo is still upstairs, yes?” Miss Angela confirmed. The woman nodded. And she dragged the children into the staff room to lecture them as usual.
At that moment, they heard loud footsteps at the staircase.
A child rushed down, sprinting for the wide-open front doors. The child was not wearing the same clothes as Carlo, but wore a hat that hid their face.
Miss Angela had no choice. She went to stop the child. She stood boldly in the child’s way and raised her voice.
The child flinched and slowed down.
“No running in the halls!”
Miss Angela grabbed the child by the collar.
She took off the child’s hat. It wasn’t Carlo after all.
It was a boy about the same size as Carlo, who often hung out with her.
“Lecture this one, too.” Miss Angela said, turning to the woman standing at the staff room door with two children ready for a scolding.
At that moment—
A girl screamed from upstairs.
Miss Angela and the two women looked up.
“Carlo fell out the window!”
At the same time,
“Carlo! You said this was gonna work!”
The children were in an uproar.
Miss Angela ran. Not upstairs, but toward the front door.
“If Carlo comes down the stairs, stop her at all costs!” She commanded one of the staff as she sprinted.
Once she was out, Miss Angela scrambled around to the back of the building. The children in the yard had heard the screams, and were looking up at the playroom.
And lying in a heap in the backyard was—
“I knew it!”
There was no one there. When Miss Angela looked up, she saw the children staring curiously.
“I’m not falling for this one!”
Miss Angela doubled back as fast as her legs could carry her, rushing into the building through the front door. And she turned to the staff members, who were standing blankly.
“She didn’t pass this way. Didn’t she fall out the window?”
“That was a trick! And now we’ve got reason to give her a detention!”
With a fiendish grin, Miss Angela walked up the stairs. Her target: the playroom. She now had justification for keeping Carlo in detention until dinnertime.
She walked down the hall and opened the playroom door.
“Had enough yet, Carlo?!”
The moment she threw open the door—
She spotted Carlo, leaning nearly all the way out the window with a confident grin.
So shocked was Miss Angela that she could not finish her sentence.
“I’m surprised you made it this far. —Bye!”
Miss Angela rushed toward the window, almost fast enough to knock the other children to the ground.
By the time she opened the window and looked outside, Carlo had already climbed down the gutter and landed safely on the ground.
Carlo looked up and smiled.
She held out her arm toward Miss Angela and gave her a thumbs-up. And then she ran straight for the gates.
“…Why, you little—!”
Miss Angela spun around, sprinted past the children driven to tears by her terrifying determination, and ran down the stairs again.
When she thundered downstairs, she saw the staff standing around helplessly. Miss Angela sped past them and once again rushed out the door.
Then she saw Carlo. Carlo turned into the road, to the right. In the direction of the bus stop. As if on cue, the bus appeared.
“Not bad! But you’re not beating a bicycle for speed!”
There were still a hundred meters to the bus stop. She could catch up by bike.
Miss Angela reached for her bicycle by the door. She grabbed it and turned—
The bicycle wouldn’t move.
It was only then that she realized the wheels were tightly secured to the tree in the yard by countless strings.
The strings were the kind the children used to play cat’s cradle. The children who had come out earlier must have done this.
“Damn it! Don’t underestimate me!”
Miss Angela didn’t bother trying to untie the strings. She forcibly heaved the bicycle forward.
With a spirited cry, she broke the strings and freed her trusty steed. Miss Angela climbed on and began pedaling furiously.
The bicycle squeaked out the gates and turned toward the bus stop.
The bus was ahead. It was just coming to a stop. The brake lights came on.
But she did not see Carlo.
There was no one at the stop. There were no other roads in the area. Curious, Miss Angela scanned the road and her surroundings, but Carlo was nowhere to be found. On the right were the formidable orphanage walls that Carlo could not possibly climb, and the vacant lot on the left was completely empty.
Miss Angela continued to look around as she pedaled. And she braked hard at the bus stop.
The door of the bus was still open. Miss Angela turned to the middle-aged driver.
“Did someone board here? A little girl?”
“No.” The driver said. “I didn’t get any passengers today.”
“Let me take a look inside!”
“Sure, but I’m telling you…”
Miss Angela abandoned her bicycle and stepped onto the bus. The bus had only one door.
All she saw inside were empty seats.
No one could answer her question.
Panting, Miss Angela stood in a daze.
“Is everything all right?” Asked the driver.
“Yes. I’m terribly sorry… One of the children ran off from the orphanage…”
Miss Angela apologized to the driver as she stepped off the bus. The driver landed a decisive blow.
“Look here, ma’am. Even if a child had money, I wouldn’t let her on the bus alone.”
“I see… I’m terribly sorry.”
Miss Angela stepped outside with a sigh.
The driver closed the door and slowly started the empty bus.
Miss Angela stood blankly by her fallen bicycle, watching the bus leave.
The bus seemed to flash by her. The rear windshield, the spare tire, the taillights, the bumper—
—and Carlo, hanging onto the bus.
Miss Angela squawked.
“Not bad, lady!” Carlo grinned, waving. Her feet were on the bumper, and her left hand was clinging to the pipe from which the spare tire hung. She was getting a free ride.
Miss Angela finally understood.
That when Carlo arrived at the stop, she hadn’t boarded the bus—she had quickly crossed the front of the bus to hide herself.
Miss Angela had asked the driver if anyone had boarded, not if he had seen anyone. Carlo must have ducked and gone around the bus while Miss Angela was busy looking inside, and jumped onto the bus the moment it started.
“Don’t worry!” Carlo said as the bus sped away.
The driver could not possibly see Carlo. The bus grew smaller and smaller in the distance.
The next village over, which was a little bigger than this one, was about 30 kilometers away. Miss Angela could not chase down the bus. And even if she got in touch with the other village, they would not find Carlo if she decided to jump off earlier and disappear into the crowd.
“…She got me…”
Enveloped in exhaust, Miss Angela fell to her knees at the empty bus stop.
The bus grew smaller and smaller, until it disappeared completely beyond the fields and plains.
Carlo’s Excellent Adventure
Actually, that wasn’t the end of Carlo’s story.
There was an uproar at the orphanage in the wake of Carlo’s escape.
Miss Angela was completely burnt out. The staff were in a frenzy.
“She’s just gone out for a bit.”
No amount of questioning would pry the answers out of Carlo’s friends.
The staff contacted the police at the next village, but they received no news about her.
Eventually, the summer sun finally set and dinner without Carlo had ended—
—when Carlo returned.
The staff frantically sat Carlo in a chair in the staff room. They surrounded her and showered her with questions and lectures.
Carlo replied matter-of-factly.
“I just wanted to drop by the village.”
Miss Angela sobbed like a ghoul as she stood before Carlo.
“Sorry, Miss Angela.”
“Hic… never mind that now. …How did you get back? There shouldn’t be any more buses today…”
“I hitched a ride with a truck. I heard the driver say before that he was going to drop by the next village over today. So I met him on the way back and asked for a ride.”
“I see… so you thought that far. …I lose, Carlo. You win this round.”
“C’mon, don’t feel too bad. You were pretty good.”
“Heh. Not bad… I must be getting old.”
The middle-aged staff member sent Miss Angela away and stood before Carlo, fuming.
“Carlo! I mean, Carla! We won’t let you off the hook this time!”
“You are grounded for the next twenty days! No playtime for you. Other than mealtimes, bedtimes, and study hours, you will help out at the staff room or study. Someone will have their eye on you at all times. And if you try to play hooky or run, your sentence will get even longer.”
“That’s it? I expected worse.”
Carlo remained as nonchalant as ever.
“But—” She suddenly said, sounding serious. “—I can still go to the Master’s farewell ceremony tomorrow, right?”
The middle-aged woman was silent for a moment. But—
“All right. You may attend the ceremony, Carla. But you must not leave our supervision at any time.”
The next day.
After breakfast, Carlo and the others gathered in the classroom, which was the biggest room in the orphanage.
Chairs were lined up in the room. Before the blackboard at the front of the room was a long table. On the table was a framed picture.
It was a picture of Master Ein Morseau, scribbled in crayon on the back of a calendar.
The Master hated getting his photo taken, and had died without leaving a single photograph behind. So the orphanage had to use a picture drawn by a girl who had lived there fifteen years ago.
The girl, who had been five years old at the time, was adopted by someone from the Capital District not long after she drew the picture.
She had said goodbye to the Master with a kiss and a smile. She never contacted the orphanage again.
The children were gathered in the room.
So were the staff. Along with Miss Angela, who looked quite tired. The villagers were also there. The classroom was full of people.
“Let’s begin.” The middle-aged woman said loudly to the people. Behind her was the humble picture of the Master.
“It is painful for us as well to send off the Master without even a single flower. But—”
Carlo interrupted the ceremony.
The adults stood, surprised, and glared at her.
“Hey, can we pause the ceremony for a bit?”
“Wh-what?!” The middle-aged woman said, aghast.
“Just a little bit. Let’s just put it on hold for a little while.”
“Carlo! Haven’t you learned your lesson from yesterday?!” The middle-aged woman snapped. But—
“Just for a bit!”
“Can we please wait?”
The other children spoke in Carlo’s defense. They stood from their seats, asking to put the ceremony on hold.
“Wh-what is going on here…?” The middle-aged woman gasped.
The staff and the villagers looked around in confusion. But at that moment—
“Good morning! Sorry we’re late. We’re at the right place, yes?”
A young man suddenly broke the silence.
“Hm?” The staff furrowed their brows.
“You’re at the right place!”
The children cheered.
“Sorry we’re late. It was such a big load.”
The young man was wearing an apron. And his hands were full.
“Just in time! Could you decorate the table at the front of the room?” Carlo grinned, instructing the young man—
“…You win, kid.” Miss Angela nodded, instantly recovering from her daze as something fragrant passed by her—
—a large bouquet.
“Got it! Can’t have a memorial service without some flowers.”
The young man was a florist, completely oblivious to the situation. He simply did as he was told and placed colorful bouquets around the Master’s picture.
“There’s more in the truck outside. Could I get a hand?” He asked.
“All right! I’ll—”
Carlo stopped mid-sentence. She met Miss Angela’s gaze.
“Oh, right. I was grounded…” She mumbled awkwardly.
“Never mind that and go help the man, you little rascal. I’ll help too.” Miss Angela snickered.
And they ran outside, laughing.
“Can we help too? We wanted to give flowers to the Master. Carlo spent all the money she had to do this for us. She placed an order at the next village over since we don’t have a florist here.” Asked a little girl, looking up at the middle-aged woman.
The middle-aged woman squatted, hanging her head. And—
“Of course… let’s all… get those flowers—”
After that, it was hard to make out what she said between her sobs. The woman picked up the girl in her arms and followed Carlo out of the room.
“Let’s go! The guests, too!” The boy who had acted as Carlo’s diversion cried. The entire room cheered.
And so began an endless parade of flowers.
Carlo carried a flowerpot almost as big as she was.
“See? Not bad at all, huh.” She said to the woman walking next to her.
“Heh. You win this round, but don’t think for a second you’ll take the next one.” Miss Angela said to the girl walking next to her. She was carrying an armful of flowers.
The flower-filled farewell ceremony went off without a hitch.
The staff used some of the flowers to decorate the orphanage, planted some in the yard, and gave some out to the guests.
“Huh. So that’s how it’s gonna be?”
“Of course. Rules are rules. You should be glad we shortened your punishment to five days.”
And Carlo spent a very long time in the staff room, surrounded by flowers.
-Carlo’s Excellent Adventure: End-