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Chapter 8: Rail Tracer
Treize handed the latter to Allison to prove he was not lying—to prove that such an absurd message truly existed on that piece of paper. He checked the back of the page as he did so, but it was blank.
Allison read the letter. There was a frequency listed at the bottom, but otherwise it was exactly as Treize had read out loud.
“This was the only letter, right?” Allison said doubtfully, even though she was the one who had found it.
“Anyway, now we know Lillia’s been kidnapped! And that, for some reason, the culprit’s after me! That coward!” Treize spat, ignoring the letter.
Allison read the letter again.
“‘Prince’… I see. So that’s what’s happening…”
“What do you mean?”
“This mastermind of ours knows who you are, Treize. He’s definitely not a run-of-the-mill civilian.”
It was only then that Treize understood.
“First, calm down.” Allison said, handing back the letter. Prince Treize of Ikstova took it with a quiet “Yes”.
“So he’s after you… I get it now. That’s what it was all leading up to. The mastermind boarded your train and caused a commotion to separate you from the guards. Since the team’s going to cross the border soon, they can’t bring any Roxcheans along, right? They would obviously leave you behind. We’re dealing with a smart man here. And a Westerner, too.”
“That’s why he took Lillia hostage? He thought it out that far?”
“No, I think kidnapping Lillia must have been a spur-of-the-moment decision. He must have decided to use her when he saw that you two were friends. I think he might have originally been trying to carry out his plans after switching the train to this line. He could assassinate you alone, or he could destroy the train completely. That might be the best way to get rid of evidence. In other words, Lillia saved the lives of me and everyone else on the train.” Allison said matter-of-factly.
Treize made a face.
“Oh. Sorry, Treize. I’ve been thinking like a certain someone a lot these days.”
“I-it’s all right. …So what should I do? He said I should come after the train by car… but how? And where would I get a radio?” Treize asked.
Not even Allison could answer that question. There was nothing on the plains around them.
“This guy’s out of his mind! If he could plan things so far in advance, the least he could have done was prepare a car!” Treize cried angrily. A car honked in the distance.
A car and a truck crossed the northbound tracks, which the train was originally supposed to take.
“N-no way!” Treize gasped.
“Incredible.” Allison commented.
As the car and the truck drew near, the faces of the people inside became visible. It was Major Travas and his team. Even Hilda was there, sitting in the truck.
The men who had carried away the secretary had come outside again. The cars stopped in front of them. The team, armed with guns, stepped outside.
“Whoa, they’re back.” The passengers muttered, stepping away, but Treize ran over to them.
“I’m glad to see you’re safe, Your Highness.” Said Major Travas. “We’ve figured out that the culprit is after—”
“Me! And he took Lillia hostage!”
Major Travas received the letter and read through it with a grave expression.
“Hm. So he took off on the separated train. By any chance, do you know who the culprit is?”
“No. But once we do a head count of the passengers we’ll figure out who’s missing—”
“Wonder what they’re talking about.”
The passengers listened to the conversation from about 20 meters away.
Suddenly, Treize turned. So did Major Travas. Two sets of eyes were suddenly on the passengers.
Behind Treize and Major Travas stood the team in black, armed with guns. And beside them was a woman with golden hair, who seemed to have come from another world altogether.
“Who is that woman? Did you see her on the train?”
“No. Wonder who she is…”
Hearing the exchange between the suit-clad man and the soldier,
The long-haired man remembered something and took out the note he had received from Weasel. He hid it in the palm of his hand and read the ‘answer’.
His hand trembled. The note fell to the ground. A middle-aged man in a suit noticed and reached for it.
“Sir, you dropped—”
The long-haired man squeezed past the passengers and broke into a run.
Uno and Yzma reacted quickly to the sudden movement. Uno fired one round from his assault rifle, held at waist-level. Yzma stood protectively in front of Hilda.
Treize, who was about to point out how to find the culprit, flinched when he heard the gunshot and spotted the rushing man. Major Travas quickly stepped in front of him.
At the same time, the long-haired man stopped. With several meters between himself and Hilda, the man knelt and touched his forehead to the muddy ground respectfully.
“What the heck?”
“What’s he doing?”
The passengers were confused.
The long-haired man remained bowing on the ground, trembling in admiration as he declared loudly enough to beat even the gunfire—
“Princess Matilda! To think I would have the honor of gazing upon your beautiful countenance in a place like this! As a citizen of Bezel, it is truly an honor. Truly! I am humbled to be in your presence!”
The passengers didn’t understand a word, as the man was speaking Bezelese.
“What’s he saying?”
The man who picked up the note tried to read what was on it, but he gave up as soon as he saw it was in Bezelese.
Weasel’s final note said,
‘The men in black are members of the Royal Army’s Special Forces who are working at the embassy in Roxche’s Capital District. They are guarding Princess Matilda, who is heading incognito to Lor. They will come to the train by car if things go as planned. Should you have the chance to see the princess in person, make certain you do not offend her.’
Watching one man’s patriotism on full display,
“Simple. We can just ask him.” Major Travas said plainly.
Treize went up to the man and pulled back his head by his long hair.
When the long-haired man looked up, he saw Treize’s glare and a gun pointed at his face.
“Come with us.” Ed said quietly, looming like a mountain over him.
The long-haired man was taken behind the truck.
“It looks like he was in cahoots with the culprit. Those people are going to interrogate him now.” Allison said to the passengers, reading the note he had dropped.
“Is this even allowed? They’re not even police.”
“Isn’t this a violation of human rights?”
The passengers grumbled, dissatisfied.
“It sure is. Why don’t you go take it up with them?” Allison replied.
No one said a word.
The man was dragged behind the truck and sat next to the tires, his hands bound. For a time he looked up at the sky aglow with dusk, as though averting his gaze from the gun pointed at him.
But when Hilda stepped towards him, he broke into an almost foolish grin. Tears fell from his eyes.
“We would like to ask you some questions.”
“Ohh… I am not worthy, Your Highness! I am but a criminal—”
“Enough!” Treize growled. “Who is the mastermind? The one who kidnapped Lillia! Who is he?”
Major Travas lightly pulled the slide of his handgun to make sure it was loaded.
“Will you tell us everything you know?”
His tone alone was as gentle as ever.
Beads of sweat formed on the man’s forehead. Finally, Hilda smiled at him. The man was euphoric.
“Ahh… this must be paradise…”
“Please. Tell us.” Hilda said.
“Yes. Of course, Your Highness.” The man replied, bowing again.
“The mastermind is called ‘Prisoner 42’.” Said the man.
Major Travas grimaced. His subordinates began whispering amongst themselves.
“Of all people…”
“I guess he’s the right man for the job. In a really sick way.”
Uno, Ozette, Yzma, and Ann each commented on the revelation.
Treize and Hilda, meanwhile, were oblivious.
“Prisoner 42? Who is that?” Treize asked Major Travas.
“Prisoner 42…” Major Travas trailed off. But one look from the prince and the princess was enough to spur him to continue. “…Prisoner 42 is one of the most heinous criminals in the history of Sou Be-Il. He was arrested four years ago and was sentenced to 420 years in prison. ‘Prisoner 42’ has been his moniker since then.”
“What was his crime?” Treize asked the obvious question. Major Travas’s reply was mechanical and emotionless.
“Serial murder. In the span of ten years, he took the lives of more than sixty people and desecrated and disposed of their bodies.”
Treize was stunned.
“And also…” Major Travas trailed off again.
As the major hesitated, the long-haired man chimed in.
“Prisoner 42 is the perfect man for this job.”
Treize turned. He looked down to find the long-haired man smiling coldly.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I’d be happy to answer. But don’t say I didn’t warn you, boy.”
“I won’t have time for that. Spill everything you know about him.”
“You’ve got guts. But before that—Your Highness. This will only disgust you. If you could step away while I explain—”
The man remained considerate of Hilda, no matter the circumstance.
“Please say it now. There’s no time.” Hilda replied cooly.
The man looked downcast, but he soon met Treize’s glare.
“Listen up, boy. Prisoner 42 is a deviant. He prefers people like you.”
“What? What do you mean by that?” Treize frowned. The man smirked.
“Each and every one of his five-dozen victims was a pretty little boy.”
Treize cringed. The man continued, almost enjoying and taking pride in the telling.
“He doesn’t kill innocent women. And he has no interest in grown men. His targets have always been young, pretty boys—as young as one and as old as eighteen. Sometimes he lured them into his home with words. Sometimes he targeted hitchhikers. Other times, he resorted to kidnapping.”
“When he was arrested, they found detailed records of his crimes. He toyed with his victims until they died. He loved them in his own way—he was only ever aroused by young boys.”
Treize was disgusted. Hilda listened with a grave look on her face.
“Supposedly, the police couldn’t bring themselves to announce the state of the bodies they found. He stuffed them, experimented on them, chewed off their flesh, turned them inside-out… I heard stories in prison. Would you like me to tell you the rest? Once I’m done, you wouldn’t want to get within a thousand-kilometer radius of him.”
“He’s not just a crazed lunatic. He was hailed as a child prodigy. He mastered Roxchean at 12, entered university at 14, and earned his medical license at 18. When he was conscripted, he served as a medic. And until he was arrested, he worked as a physician at a famous hospital. No one suspected a thing, even when children around him were going missing one after another. When he was arrested, one patient even claimed it was a police conspiracy. Said someone like him could never do such a thing. If a demented old man hadn’t gotten into a traffic accident with the sick bastard with a body still in the trunk of his car, he would never have been caught.”
“Oh? For what? I’m curious to know.” The man said provocatively.
“Now I know he wouldn’t kill Lillia. I’m feeling a lot better now. Now I can go after him without worries. I’ll accept his challenge.” Treize said with a smile. Hilda and the man stared.
Treize ignored their gazes and turned to Major Travas.
“Major Travas of the Royal Army!”
“Yes, Your Highness!” Major Travas replied, standing up straight.
“I’ll be borrowing that car of yours. Along with a sniper rifle and one of your radios. Put it on Queen Francesca’s tab. I’ll go grab my jacket!” Treize said in Roxchean and ran back to the train, without even waiting for an answer.
Hilda watched Treize run toward the train. The long-haired man addressed her.
“Please, don’t look so upset, Princess Matilda! You look most beautiful when you smile like—mph!”
“Shut up.” Yzma growled, gagging him.
“Thank you for the information.” Hilda said.
The man began writhing, tears streaming down his face.
“Is that supposed to be a ‘you’re welcome’?” Yzma said snidely, gently pushing Hilda away from the long-haired man.
Major Travas’s team and Hilda gathered together. Uno spoke first.
“I find it hard to believe Prisoner 42 managed to escape by himself. He has no savings, and his parents already committed suicide.”
Major Travas nodded.
“Clearly there is someone pulling the strings behind the scenes. Someone arranged the escape, is financing this plot, and is feeding our culprit information.”
“But there’s only one person I can think of who could legally pull him out of prison—the minister of justice.” Said Ozette.
“Then he must be the one.” Yzma said energetically. Ozette stared at him in disbelief. But—
“I believe so.” Major Travas agreed. “The current minister of justice is Duke Besser. He’s certainly in a position to know about Prince Treize’s existence. Duke Besser has a son from his second wife. The boy is only ten, but everyone agrees that he will be a strong contender for Princess Matilda’s hand in marriage.”
Hilda gasped first. Then followed the rest, save for Yzma.
Yzma treated it as someone else’s problem—which it technically was—and nodded enthusiastically.
“I see. So that’s why he’s trying to eliminate Prince Treize. The duke wants his own son to marry the future queen. Simple and clear!”
“I see… I had an inkling that this might be the case, but to think that this truly was the answer…” Hilda trailed off, averting her gaze. Yzma spoke up brightly.
“Aww, no need to get down, Miss Hilda.”
“I’m just about ready to arrest you for lese-majesty…” Ozette remarked scathingly. Ann asked him what was wrong. Ozette brushed it off.
“May I?” Allison spoke up, as casual as though she were inviting herself to a dinner.
Major Travas allowed her to join the conversation. None of the subordinates said anything. When Hilda met her eyes, Allison greeted her with a smile. Hilda returned the greeting.
Major Travas briefly explained the situation to Allison.
“Oh dear. So the sweet-looking doctor was the culprit. He didn’t look it at all.”
“So it was the doctor. Sou Be-Il should really start publicizing photographs of criminals…” Major Travas sighed.
That was when Treize leapt out of the train. He was wearing a leather jacket over his sweater. Around his waist was his usual belt pack.
“I’ll be right back!” He cried, running straight for the car. Major Travas held out his arms to stop him, responding in Roxchean.
“It’s too dangerous, Your Highness. We won’t be able to protect you directly.”
“I know.” Treize replied immediately.
Major Travas lowered his arms and ordered his team to prepare the car, two radios, a sniper rifle, and extra magazines.
“Thank you.” Treize said. That was when Hilda came up to him.
“Please. Don’t try to stop me.” He said firmly.
“I won’t.” Hilda replied without missing a beat. “Go. Save Lillia. Rescue your princess. That is the duty of a prince. There’s no time to lose.”
Treize’s eyes widened. Hilda slowly walked up to him and put her hands on his shoulders.
“I wish you luck.”
She gave him a soft kiss on the forehead.
Treize turned his belt pack to the side and strapped a small radio to his stomach. He tuned the radio to the right frequency, wrapped the microphone around his neck, and put an earpiece into his right ear.
“We will do whatever we can to support you so long as we can continue to communicate.” Said Major Travas. “If the train is still moving, activate the emergency brake at the coupling. And once you’re finished, head to the driver’s seat—there should be a more powerful radio there.”
“Right. Thank you.” Treize replied.
Finally, Treize received a long automatic sniper rifle. He checked that it was loaded before arming the safety. Then he slipped two extra magazines into his jacket.
Treize stepped into the car. He placed the rifle in the passenger seat, secured it, and started the car.
He stepped on the clutch with his left foot and changed gears with his right hand. The moment he stepped onto the gas pedal, he violently let go of the clutch.
The car began to race across the plain, scattering mud in its wake.
It climbed onto the gravel under the tracks, with the left side of the car between the rails.
“Here I go!”
Treize began to chase the train.
A pair of emerald-green eyes watched the car until it was too far to see.
Meanwhile, the woman with blue eyes—
“Let’s head out, too. We can take the truck. The lady should come along—there’s going to be sufficient protection there. And I’m sure we can just leave the passengers here.” She said out of nowhere. Major Travas furrowed his brow.
“Where are you suggesting we go?”
“Someplace nearby.” Allison replied.
* * *
Slowly, Lillia opened her eyes. The first thing she saw was the ceiling of the corridor.
The sunlight filtered through the window on her right, casting a yellow light on the walls and ceiling.
The train was moving slowly.
She could feel the dampened roar and the rhythm of the wheels against the tracks on her back.
“Ah, you’re awake.” Said a gentle voice, in Bezelese.
Lillia quickly looked up at the corridor. There stood a black-haired man in his thirties—the man who, on the train, had been carrying a medical bag.
He was still in the same grey suit, but his glasses were gone. There was a radio strapped to his waist and a microphone was wrapped around his neck.
‘It’s you!’ Lillia tried to say, but—
That was all she could manage.
It was only then that Lillia realized she was gagged and that her hands were bound.
‘‘Hey! Let me go!’, right?” The man guessed, amused.
Then he did as Lillia demanded and released her. He pulled away the gag and gently sat her up by her shoulders.
Lillia tried to rise to her feet, but she realized that her ankles were also bound. She squirmed around and looked the man in the eye.
The man looked down at her and introduced himself.
“Just call me ‘Weasel’. I am the one behind today’s commotion.”
“You are my hostage.”
“Wha— you’d better not be mistaking me for a princess!” Lillia cried, the events of new year’s day still fresh in her mind.
“No, nothing like that. But I must say I’m surprised to see how much you know, Lillia.” Weasel replied, assuming that Lillia was talking about Hilda.
“You’re the one who knocked me, out, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am. But don’t worry—I took care to use drugs that wouldn’t leave any side effects. Doesn’t that make you feel a lot better?”
“Ugh! What are you planning?”
“Right now, this train is slowly cruising northwest along a barely-used military line. Other than the bodies, the two of us are the only people onboard.”
“Answer my question.”
“Calm down. I’m only just beginning. I left Treize a message telling him to follow us if he wants to rescue you. I don’t see him yet, but I’m sure he’ll be coming sooner or later.”
“Treize? You took me hostage to get Treize? Why? Why are you after Treize?”
“Hmm… Yes. Yes. That’s a secret. And that’s a secret too.”
“I just answered your questions. I am trying to kill Treize, but I can’t tell you why. Call it professionalism. Although I will tell you once it’s too late. I may enjoy dramatic pauses, but I’m not really one to keep secrets.”
Lillia said nothing. So Weasel went silent.
Three seconds later.
Unable to stand the silence, Lillia burst out,
“Say something?” Weasel repeated, falling into thought. “Then let me tell you about myself.”
“You know, I wasn’t abused as a child or left brain-damaged by an illness or accident.” Weasel said, as though delivering a soliloquy.
Lillia didn’t know what to say. She listened quietly.
“When I was arrested, countless psychiatrists came to me, day after day. They wanted to write papers about me—asked me all kinds of trivial questions. ‘What did you listen to on the radio as a child?’, ‘Did you ever collect insects as a hobby?’, ‘What kind of food did you eat every day?’. But I didn’t have a very remarkable upbringing. I was just an ordinary boy who loved to study, though a little more clever than most.”
“I know that murder is bad. I know that it is illegal. But I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it so much. It made me feel alive. I didn’t understand—why didn’t other people try to break free from the chains of the law? Why didn’t they do everything in their power to commit murder while avoiding discovery? Even now, I wonder why.”
Weasel seemed to be seriously considering the conundrum. Lillia was stunned.
“All I know is that you’re a killer from Sou Be-Il. But why do you want me to know all this? What are you trying to tell me?”
“Right! It’s almost time for my fight with Treize! The whole point of this trip! This is why I’ve been working toward! Yes!”
Weasel’s musing turned to sudden enthusiasm. Lillia frowned.
“…Are you listening to me?”
“Hm? Did you say something?”
As Lillia stared incredulously,
“Wait for me, Lillia!”
Treize was shouting in the driver’s seat.
The gravel and railroad ties underneath resulted in quite a bumpy ride.
The tracks stretched into the horizon. The train was still out of sight. The sun was tilting west, slowly growing dim. It would be sunset soon—then would come a spring evening.
Treize put even more weight into the gas pedal. He sped up to the limit and held down the steering wheel as it threatened to spin. His black hair shook in the wind.
A small speck appeared in the distance. It was just on the horizon.
Treize slowed down slightly and took one hand off the steering wheel. He pressed the call button on his neck.
<Prisoner 42! Can you hear me?! I’ve come alone, just as you demanded!>
“Ah! Such passion! Such drive! I’m not sure I can take much more of this!”
Out of nowhere, the man began to squirm and raise his voice.
Lillia desperately looked away, having never felt so disturbed in all her life.
Weasel squirmed for a short time, but soon his expression became serious and he pressed the call button.
<Yes! I hear you, Treize! I hear your lovely voice!>
<Enough! I’ve almost caught up to you!> Treize quickly replied. But Lillia didn’t hear him. All she heard was—
“Ahh! Come faster! Quickly! Let me see your face!” Weasel cried ecstatically.
<You got it! So stop the train!> Treize cried, one hand on the steering wheel.
The train was about 200 meters ahead, traveling at about 30 kilometers per hour. Treize could clearly see the last car of the separated train.
<I can’t do that.>
<What?! What’s your game?>
<It’s not a game. The driver’s dead. I bribed him with a large sum, but he could have panicked if things had gone wrong. So I killed him before he could. His body’s weighing down the lever right now. It was tough to position it just right to maintain this speed, but I managed with some wisdom and effort. Isn’t that incredible of me?>
Though astounded, Treize continued to close the distance. There were 40 meters left.
<So hurry and come over to the train. I’ll be waiting. End transmission.>
Weasel did not even ask for Treize’s opinion before cutting off communications.
“Shit! All right, fine!”
Treize slammed the gas pedal. The car shook even more and sped up, and the train was closer than ever.
A second before the car could hit the train, Treize operated the gas pedal just right to match the train’s speed.
Treize lightly bumped into the shock absorbers at the back of the last car. At the same time, he took his foot off the gas pedal to stand—
The engine brake kicked in, instantly slowing the car and widening the gap. If he had climbed onto the hood and tried to jump, he would have fallen.
“Right… calm down…”
Treize stepped down on the gas pedal again and glared at the train for a few seconds. The gaping door seemed to beckon to him.
“I have to do this…”
Face set in grim determination, Treize took his foot slightly off the gas pedal. The train quickly moved further away.
Then he sped up again. The car began to close the gap. This time, fast enough to crash.
There were several meters to go.
Stepping down on the clutch, Treize shifted gears to neutral. The car moved towards the train with inertia alone.
Treize stood from his seat. He gave up the sniper rifle in the passenger seat and jumped over the windshield, landing on the hood of the car.
With a spirited cry, he leapt off the hood and into the door of the train.
Treize was still in midair when the car crashed into the train. Behind him he heard the crunch of metal against metal.
Slowly, he was sucked into the door. His feet hit the doorway floor. And he landed. But he had jumped with such force that he lost his balance.
Treize crashed straight into the door, squealing like a crushed frog.
He hit his head, nose, stomach, and hands and feet on the door as he fell into the doorway.
That was when he heard something behind him. Treize turned slightly.
The driverless car had left the tracks and was flipping onto its side. The sniper rifle in the passenger seat slipped out of the seatbelt and flew into the air. Both the car and the rifle disappeared at 30 kilometers an hour.
“No turning back…” Treize said, spitting out the contents of his mouth. Blood scattered on the floor. “Just you wait…”
Slowly, he stood. He checked to see that his limbs and neck were still functional.
His only injury was a torn lip. Once he had confirmed his own well-being, Treize took a deep breath.
Then he used the radio.
When Weasel heard Treize’s voice, he cast a euphoric gaze into the air.
When Lillia heard Treize’s voice, she urged him under her breath to hurry.