Chapter 2: Larry
The 6th day of the seventh month. Early morning.
The sky was covered completely by a layer of grey clouds. In only a day and a half, Seron was back at Capital West Station.
Though trains in Roxche were infamous for being late, Seron’s train had made it on time. There was still quite a bit of time until noon.
First, he decided to get breakfast at the station restaurant.
The restaurant next to the lobby at the station entrance was crowded with people rushing on their way to work.
Seron, the odd one out in the crowd of commuters, slowly nibbled on his toast. Meanwhile,
“Let’s see… Platform 4…”
A brown-haired girl in a light pink blouse, a pair of beige culottes, and a light beige jacket passed by him with two tickets for Bren Station in hand.
Neither Seron nor the girl noticed each other.
After finishing breakfast, Seron drank tea and read to pass the time.
When the department store opened afterwards, Seron went to the bookstore there and bought three or so more books, then sat in a coffee shop to read them.
When the wall clock rang to signal the time, he left the coffee shop and took a taxi to the 4th Capital Secondary School.
As students who attended secondary school in the Capital District tended to be from well-off families, entry to secondary school campuses was heavily restricted.
Even during summer break, there were always security guards at the gates. They were all armed with shotguns loaded with non-fatal—but likely very painful—rubber bullets.
Seron flashed his student ID at the gates and entered the campus.
The campus was just as deserted as it had been when he left the day before. He didn’t see anyone. Sports clubs usually held practice over the summer, but they had not yet begun.
Pulling his suitcase along, Seron walked along the tree-lined path to the dorms on the edge of the campus.
There were two hallways leading from the dormitory entrance hall. The one on the right led to the boys’ wing and the one on the left led to the girls’ wing. The building also housed a separate wing that was reserved for family and friends visiting the campus.
The dorms also included a separate cafeteria that remained open even when the main cafeteria was closed.
The cafeteria was large enough to seat hundreds of students at once. Long tables were lined up in orderly rows in the rectangular space, which was large enough to serve as a banquet hall in a hotel.
Seron stepped inside.
“That’s the last one!”
There, wiping the tables with the cafeteria ladies, was a boy with short-cropped blond hair. He was wearing an apron over his shorts and T-shirt.
“Nice timing, Seron! I was just finishing up!”
* * *
Later, the black-haired Seron and his blond friend—
—sat side-by-side wearing nothing but towels around their waists.
They were sitting on a wooden bench. The bench was in a very big room covered in tiles. In the room was a large bath full of piping-hot water.
They were sitting in the boys’ communal bath in the dormitory building.
The blond boy’s build struck quite the contrast to Seron’s slender frame.
Though he was short, there wasn’t an ounce of flab on him. He had a chiseled figure with well-defined muscles.
Beneath his military-style buzzcut shone a pair of blue eyes, which were quite common in Roxche’s Capital District area. And though he had fair skin, the boy’s arms and face were sunburnt and visibly darker than the rest of his body.
“Nothing beats a good bath after a workout. Eh, Seron?”
The blond boy’s energetic voice echoed throughout the room.
“You can say that again, Larry. Although it’s my first time coming to the bath at this time of day.”
Larry Hepburn was an upstanding young man.
The Hepburn family was famous in Roxche for its 400-year history in the military. They were practically nobility in the Capital District.
In the past, they had served as knights to kings. And after the founding of Roxche, the family produced soldiers. Larry’s grandfather and great-grandfather served as generals. And though many career soldiers in Roxche eventually entered the political stage, the Hepburn family was also known for steadfastly remaining with the military.
Larry’s father—a 44-year-old soldier—and his uncle two years below were already practically guaranteed positions as generals. And Larry’s brother, who was six years his senior, was currently studying at a military academy.
Larry was 15 years old, just like Seron.
Larry had been a boy scout since childhood. He was very much accustomed to and skilled in outdoor activities—he could go into the mountains for a week with nothing but a knife on hand and have the time of his life.
His motto was, ‘a healthy spirit dwells in a healthy body’. Accordingly, he trained almost every single day. He also swore by the phrase ‘an officer and a gentleman’, doing his best to greet everyone with a smile and an optimistic attitude.
The school offered military science classes, and Larry naturally took the course every year.
The week after finals, Larry had gone to a short-term training camp far from the Capital District as part of that class. The students had been scheduled to return on the morning of the end-of-classes ceremony, but their train was delayed and Larry did not make it in time.
Seron and Larry had happened to sit next to each other in the very first class of the first day of school in their first year, and they had been friends ever since. Though from vastly different backgrounds and upbringings, they somehow hit it off and could now call each other best friends.
“Why were you working with the cafeteria ladies, Larry?” Asked Seron.
“To work up a sweat!” Larry replied without hesitation. “I get jittery if I don’t work out at least once a day. So I came in early and helped out.”
“Is that contagious?” Asked Seron.
“Sure is! Now that we’re roommates, I’m gonna put you through the wringer, army-style! I guarantee that once you get home, Leena’s going to wonder, ‘Who are you and what have you done with my beanpole of a brother?’.”
“I’m going to have to pass on that. I don’t feel like buying bigger uniforms.”
“C’mon, Seron! We’re buddies!”
“I made myself clear. Did I mess up my Roxchean, or are your ears going?”
The communal bath was located in the basement of the dormitories. It was a whopping 30 meters wide, large enough to prevent dormitory students from having to wait too long to use the facility. The architecture incorporated sweeping curves and intricate designs, much like the communal baths of ancient times.
In the bath was a white porcelain sculpture of a chiseled mythical hero, naked and holding a turtle atop his shoulders. Water poured out of the turtle and into the large bathtub.
Supposedly the girls’ bath was decorated with an equally naked statue—but theirs depicted the Goddess of Beauty.
Some of the dormitory students joked about switching the two statues, but at the moment no one was seriously considering the swap.
The dorms and its communal baths received a steady supply of hot, clean water from the boiler room at the edge of campus, which also had pipes running into the school pool, the greenhouse, and the the faculty apartments.
There was no one else in the communal bath. Finally, Larry broke the silence.
“All right. Let’s get in.”
He stood from the bench. So did Seron.
Placing their towels at the edge of the tub, they slowly lowered themselves into the brimming bath. And they stretched their arms and legs.
In unison, they sighed.
Larry looked up at the tall ceiling and slowly spoke.
“Baths are nice… The Confederation Army base had everything you could ever need in a war, but it didn’t have any baths. Just lukewarm showers. I guess you couldn’t really warm up so much water in a state of war. You know what’d be the best? Outdoor-use baths. No army in the world could pull it off, but a guy can dream.”
“How was the training camp?”
“It was good. Learned a lot, as usual. Fell in love with tanks this time. The armored unit might not be so bad. —Though the usual stuff came up.”
“Shucks. Must be tough dealing with them.” Seron said.
Because the Hepburns were a well-respected military family, Larry was practically guaranteed a shining career in the military. This was why more than a few soldiers decided they wanted to get in his good graces while they could, which bothered Larry greatly.
It was a normal experience for a Hepburn son, but being so upstanding and straightforward, Larry had a hard time dealing with such people.
On the other hand, Larry had unwavering respect for the tough-as-nails drill instructor, a sergeant who showed him no preferential treatment.
“Camp was great, but this drama club stuff’s gonna be a blast! More than anything, this whole backstage business sounds really interesting, don’t you think?”
“Me too. We’ll have a lot of fun starting tomorrow.”
“Yeah! So in that spirit—”
With a spirited cry, Larry loudly stood and stepped out of the bath. He stepped onto the tiled floor and put his towel around his waist.
“—it’s time for pushups!”
“You too, Seron! A man’s nothing without his health! C’mon!”
Seron gave a wry grin as he stood from the bath. Slicking back his wet hair, he put his hands down next to Larry.
“Here goes! —One! Two! Three! Army!”
Two students doing push-ups in the communal bath with towels around their waists. It was a strange sight, but thankfully no one was there to see.
“Four! Five! Six! Army!”
Larry’s voice drilled them both as they continued.
“Seven! Eight! Nine! Army! —Seron! You too! Say something!”
“Anything! Anything you want to yell!”
“Got it! —One! Two! Three! Friendship!”
“Atta boy! Put some spirit into it!”
“Four! Five! Six! Forget about girls!”
“Yeah! Forget about girls!”
In the end, Seron kept up with Larry for 50 counts.
“Sorry, Larry… I’m done…” Seron sighed.
“I’m not finished yet! Here goes!”
Larry did 50 more.
They stayed in the bath until they started to feel dizzy, then went up to their assigned dorm room.
A cool northerly breeze wafted into the comfortable room. Seron and Larry snored away.
The rooms in the guest wing of the dorms were larger than those in the student wings.
The room was furnished with two dressers, two desks and chairs, and two beds with wooden frames. There was also a sofa that could be converted into yet another bed.
Seron and Larry woke up just in time for dinner. Wearing their school-issue T-shirts and shorts, they rushed to the cafeteria.
The drama club members were already present. They were a group about 30 strong with students ranging from second-years to fifth-years. The girls made up an overwhelming majority—there were about eight girls for every two boys. Seron did not recognize any of them.
Some of the girls, unable to hide their surprise, began whispering amongst themselves when they spotted Seron. One boy frowned visibly.
Larry and Seron got their food at the counter.
Students did not have a choice of menu today. Everyone was served beef stew with tender chunks of meat. Seron and Larry took their bowls and got bread, salad, and beverages for their trays.
Seron grabbed a pot of tea, and Larry grabbed two bottles of milk. After that, they signed their names on a student record sheet to indicate that they had eaten at the cafeteria.
“Hey Larry. Thanks for coming to help us out. Come sit with us.”
A boy with glasses, who seemed to be the oldest member of the drama club, waved Larry over.
“SC Arthur! Glad to be of service. Oh, this here’s my buddy Seron.”
“It’s nice to meet you. My name is Seron Maxwell.”
After exchanging greetings, Larry and Seron sat down with the bespectacled student, who gave them a short briefing over dinner.
Arthur also introduced himself. He was a fifth-year student at the school and the new president of the drama club, he said.
“And this here’s Sophia.” He added, introducing the fifth-year girl who had been sitting next to him. Arthur then went on to introduce several of the crew members in charge of the set pieces.
The play they were to perform this year was a classical piece that was famous all throughout Roxche. It chronicled the adventures of a certain king in his youth as he traveled incognito, rescuing oppressed peasants with the help of his friend. It was a classic tale of good versus evil.
Finally, Arthur explained the basics of Larry and Seron’s duties as helpers.
“—and that’s about it. This play we’re doing has a lot of characters, so we’re a little short on hands backstage. But the drama club will take care of the big jobs. You’re just here for support, so we won’t saddle you with anything too annoying. Also, we’re going to have an afterparty on the last day of the camp—we’d love to have you guys join us.”
The drama club had finished eating by that point. They began leaving for the dormitory conference room for a meeting. The girls who were silently appealing to be introduced to Seron departed, crestfallen.
Arthur told Larry and Seron to meet the club at breakfast time the next day, and stood from his seat.
“Whoops, almost forgot. We’re getting more helpers tomorrow—I’ll introduce you when they arrive.” He said before leaving.
Seron and Larry returned to their room.
“What do you say to dusting off the old scoresheet, Seron?”
“Sure. Try not to bore me too much this time.”
“I’m warning you, I’m a changed man now.”
They played multiple games of chess.
In most cases, Seron won an overwhelming victory. And in some cases, Seron won a narrow victory.
“What kinda military tactic is that supposed to be? It doesn’t make any sense, Seron!”
“And this is where bull-headed military types get stuck. You have to keep your cool, or you’ll lose even battles you could win.”
“Heh. …You’ve made me mad, buddy. Time for me to get serious.”
“This is the second time you’ve said that tonight.”
“Really? Anyway, this time I swear I’ll— Oh, shoot! It’s getting late. We’d better get to bed.”
“You’re right. I’ll remember the positions, so we’ll finish this next time. I’m not letting you get away.”
“Well, I say bring it on! —Night.”
The moon was shining high in the sky. Larry and Seron quickly climbed into their beds and fell asleep.
* * *
The 7th day of the seventh month.
Seron, Larry, and the drama club had breakfast at the dormitory cafeteria.
Everyone was in school-issue sweats. Some were simply wearing the T-shirts, others were wearing both the sweatshirt and the sweatpants, and yet others brought the sweats in their bags.
More than a few of the girls seemed to be intent on sitting next to Seron. So Seron and Larry sat down at a pointedly isolated part of the cafeteria to eat.
After breakfast, the entire group moved in a line from the dorms to gymnasium 1, where the rehearsals were to take place. The school had three gymnasiums, but this one was used most often and simply called ‘the gym’. It was all the way across the campus from the dorms.
The group left the dorms, crossed the grassy grounds, entered a deserted school building, came out into a courtyard where tables from the school cafeteria had been put away, entered the building yet again, and finally reached the gymnasium. They had traveled over 500 meters from the dorms.
There were several doors into the gymnasium; the group entered through the large sliding double doors students used most often.
The gymnasium was usually reserved for indoor sports clubs such as the basketball team, the volleyball team, and the badminton team. It was large enough to hold four games of basketball at once.
But instead of a sports club, three adults were gathered there waiting for the students.
One was a woman in her thirties who wore her long black hair in a ponytail. She wore a sweatshirt and a pair of sweatpants, and was skinny but overflowing with energy. This was Leni Krantz, the advisor of the drama club.
As Arthur had explained the night before, Ms. Krantz taught home economics. So she was a complete stranger to Seron and Larry.
Another one of the adults was a portly man in his fifties, who wore a brown suit. This was Mark Murdoch, who taught Roxchean. He was a veteran who had been teaching at this school for over two decades now. His black hair was balding and going gray.
Both Seron and Larry had taken his classes before. His lessons were known for being relaxed enough to sometimes invite sleep, and for Mr. Murdoch’s ever-amicable personality. No one had ever seen him get angry.
The last of the adults was not a teacher.
He was relatively young—only a little older than the students, likely in his mid-to-late twenties. He had short black hair slicked upwards and was wearing light blue coveralls. He glared uncomfortably at the students.
“Who’s that? You know him, Seron?” Larry whispered.
“No.” Seron replied, following at the very back of the group.
The drama club spread out before the teachers. Arthur, the club president, led the others in a greeting.
“Good morning, Ms. Krantz! We look forward to learning from you today!”
Everyone bowed at the teachers.
“It’s just like a sports club.” Seron whispered as he and Larry followed suit.
“Good morning, everyone! Did you sleep well?” Ms. Krantz replied loudly and cheerfully. “This is a bit sudden, but let me introduce you. Over here is Mr. Mark Murdoch from the Roxchean department. He’s the teacher on duty this week, so he’ll be on campus all week long. If anything happens while I’m not around, go straight to the faculty office and look for Mr. Murdoch. And over here—”
Naturally, every eye in the gymnasium was on the man in blue coveralls. He cut off Ms. Krantz, his frown refusing to waver.
“Heinz Hartnett. I’m from a construction company.” He said curtly.
Though no one said a word, everyone seemed underwhelmed by the revelation.
“We’ll be doing repair work on some of the buildings on campus over the summer. Keep away from the construction sites while you’re on campus. We don’t want anyone to get hurt. Anyone who decides they want to flaunt the rules will get a scolding.”
It was a very blunt warning. Some of the girls made a point of grimacing. Hartnett chuckled at the reaction and finished.
“Ahem.” Mr. Murdoch cleared his throat. “If you’ll excuse me, Ms. Krantz. I’ll be in the faculty office if you need me. Good luck, everyone! I’m looking forward to the performance.”
With that, Mr. Murdoch and Hartnett left the gymnasium. And before the doors could even close—
“Let’s get started, everyone!”
—Ms. Krantz gave the signal. The drama club sprang into action.
It seemed that the members had gotten their respective duties sorted out at the previous night’s meeting. Everyone scattered immediately to do their own work.
About half the club headed for the clubroom to grab equipment and materials, getting a key from Ms. Krantz. The rest began measuring the gymnasium floor with tape measures to mark out places for the performance, or went over to Arthur for another meeting.
As Seron and Larry stood blankly, Ms. Krantz marched over.
“Thanks for coming out to help, you two.”
Seron and Larry introduced themselves and asked if there was anything they should do.
“There’s not much to do right now.” Said Ms. Krantz. “But there’ll be a bit of work for you in an hour or so.”
“Really? What kind of work, Ms. Krantz?” Asked Larry.
“I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we’re getting help from some other clubs for this year’s performance.” Said Ms. Krantz. “They’ll be gathering at the gates. I want you to bring them over when they arrive. Help them with anything that needs carrying. The others will bring the carts from the clubroom soon, so you can use the carts to bring their things.”
* * *
Just as Ms. Krantz had said, until that point Seron and Larry had nothing to do.
They watched the drama club members enjoying themselves unloading things from the carts and sticking pieces of tape on the floor to mark positions.
“Everyone’s really psyched, huh. Probably ‘cause it’s for their annual performance. And apparently this year’s is the 50th annual performance to boot. Have you ever gone to one of their shows, Seron?”
“No. Actually, I didn’t even know we had an annual drama club performance.”
Seron and Larry were chatting, passing the time.
And about one hour after practice began—
“I think it’s about time, you two!” Said Ms. Krantz. Seron and Larry stood.
“All right! Larry Hepburn and Seron Maxwell are off!”
Larry saluted and Seron nodded, leaving the gymnasium with the metal carts. They pushed one cart each along paved pathways and headed for the gates.
Rather than cutting across the building as they had earlier, they went around it and followed the concrete path.
Seron and Larry passed the building and pushed their carts along the tree-lined path until they could finally see the wide school gates.
“There. I see them.”
Over a dozen students were gathered there.
Though it was summer break, everyone was in uniform. Most of the students were girls; Seron only counted three boys among them. At the students’ feet were backpacks, messenger bags, and wooden cases. The smallest of the cases were at least 50 centimeters in length, and the larger ones were over a meter long.
“Wonder what those are?” Larry mused. Seron thought for a moment before answering.
“Instruments. They’re probably going to provide live accompaniment for the performance. They’re either from the orchestra or the concert band.”
“Makes sense. Fancy, huh.”
They proceeded loudly along and finally reached the waiting students.
“Good morning! I’m Larry Hepburn—I’m one of the drama club gofers here to take your luggage! This here’s my fellow workaholic, Seron Maxwell. We have orders from Ms. Krantz to take you to the gymnasium!”
Larry loudly introduced himself. Seron stopped at a slight bow. Some of the girls managed to notice him and put on very meaningful smiles.
The girl who seemed to be the oldest of the group stepped forward.
She was an elegant and ladylike student with long, curly blond hair. She was better suited to a party dress than a uniform, and more to a ballroom than a school.
“Good morning. I’m Portman, fifth-year student and the president of the orchestra club. Thank you for coming all this way to help. We’ll carry our instruments ourselves, so if you would please take our bags instead. We don’t mind if you pile them up in the carts, but try not to drop them and get them dirty.”
“Of course, ma’am! Understood!”
Larry stood up straight on reflex. Then he began to load the bags onto his cart. Seron followed suit. The orchestra club members carried their own precious instruments.
“Gymnasium 1, right? We’ll be going ahead.”
“Yes, that’s the place! We’ll bring your things over in a flash!”
“Let’s go, everyone.”
Larry and Seron carefully loaded the bags onto the carts as the orchestra’s footsteps faded. They did not raise their heads until they were done.
Then, just as they were about to head off—
“Er… gymnasium 1, right? Should the four of us go with you?”
A female student spoke from behind them. Larry flinched, but he quickly put on a smile and turned.
“Yes, of course!”
Seron also turned. He came face-to-face with several female students who, for some reason, had not gone with the rest of the orchestra.
The first girl had referred to four people, but Seron only saw three nervous students. Two tall girls and one chubby girl.
Then he spotted the fourth girl. She was standing behind the others as though hiding.
“The other orchestra members already left. Is that all right?” Larry asked. One of the tall girls replied.
“Oh, we’re not from the orchestra.”
“We’re from the chorus club. We’ll be singing at the performance. We’re supposed to be working together with the orchestra, but we only just met and we’re not very close yet.” The girl explained awkwardly.
“Ah. I see. SC Portman’s kinda intimidating. I understand completely! You should come with us—don’t worry, this is part of our job description.”
Larry’s friendly attitude quickly dissolved any reservations the girls had. Seron internally marveled at Larry’s natural talent with people and decided to do what he could for the time being.
“Do you have any bags that need carrying? There’s some room left on my cart.” He said to the four girls—or specifically, to the three girls and the fourth hidden behind them.
That was when the fourth girl—
“Then may I ask for you to please take my bag?”
She emerged from behind the others. Her intonation was notably stilted.
Seron felt his breath catch in his throat.
He forgot even to exhale. His entire body went rigid.
Before his eyes was a girl with black hair tied into pigtails.
Larry noticed Seron’s bewildered state.
“What’s up, Seron?” He asked. Then he understood. “Ah—”
The three girls waited for Seron to respond, confused.
“I am sorry. Is my Roxchean speaking difficult to understand? I am not a Roxchean person.”
“No, it’s all right.”
Seron finally let out the breath he was holding and pulled himself together. He received the bag with both hands and gingerly placed it at the very top of his cart.
Having recovered from his shock, Seron looked directly at the girl before him.
“You’re from Sou Be-Il, correct? I’m not sure if you remember me, but we were in art class together last term.”
“Oh my goodness. I am very sorry. But I do not think that I remember your name. I am very sorry.”
“It’s Seron. Seron Maxwell. Please, don’t worry about it.”
The girl smiled—
“My name is Meg. Strauski Megmica.”