Chapter 1: Seron
There was a blue planet with a very large moon.
90 percent of the planet was covered in water, and the poles were covered in ice.
There was an oval, potato-shaped continent in the northern hemisphere of that planet.
The southern part of the continent was a brown desert. But as the latitude increased, the land exploded in a splash of green.
There was a massive mountain range in the middle of the continent, beginning at the desert. The mountains, capped with snow even in the middle of summer, ended abruptly about halfway up the continent. The two rivers on either side of the mountain range converged there, creating the massive Lutoni River that flowed straight north and into the sea.
There were two nations on the continent, one on either side.
In the east was the Roxcheanuk Confederation, also known as Roxche. It was made up of 16 countries and territories.
In the west were the Allied Kingdoms of Bezel-Iltoa, also known as Sou Be-Il. It was made up of the kingdoms of Bezel and Iltoa, along with a handful of small subordinate countries.
For eons, the people of the East and West had warred against one another with the Lutoni River between them.
In more contemporary times, each side of the continent forged alliances, and Roxche and Sou Be-Il were formed almost simultaneously. What followed was a cold war, one massive war, and many smaller conflicts.
But about 20 years ago, the cold war was ended by a certain incident.
The threat of another Great War was beginning to fade.
The capital of Roxche was the Special Capital District, a region independent of any country within the confederation.
It was on the northeastern end of Roxche, very far from the East-West border but also a fair distance from the sea.
The Special Capital District was a circular area about 30 kilometers in diameter. It had been built when Roxche was first formed.
The city center was home to the presidential residence, the Confederation Assembly Hall, civic centers, and courthouses. Outside the center was a business district crowded with department stores and hotels. Further outside was a residential district full of apartment buildings.
And on the outskirts of the Capital District, in the 9:30 direction, was the 4th Capital Secondary School.
There had been a village there for over 300 years—since before the founding of Roxche—and when the Capital District began to expand, the village had become a part of it as well.
The campus was surrounded by apartment buildings. The 3600-square-meter property was home to the school itself, the grounds, a gymnasium, the dormitories, and other buildings.
* * *
The 28th day of the sixth month, the year 3305 of the World Calendar.
It was on the grounds of the 4th Capital Secondary School. Walking with one of the school buildings behind him—
—the boy felt his breath catch in his throat.
He wore green uniform pants and a white shirt embroidered with the school emblem, along with a purple tie.
He was neither tall nor short, and had a slender build. His long, thin arms and legs made him look even skinnier.
His hair was slightly long, and was a shimmery piano-black. His eyes were the same light grey as the clouds in the sky.
And before his eyes was an ordinary summer day.
To his right, the stone school building towered solemnly under the blue sky. To his left, members of athletic clubs were already sweating on the field.
Between them was a long, straight path to the school gates, down which walked students between the ages of 12 and 18.
Students dressed in white button-up shirts and green pants or checkered skirts.
Because there was a considerable number of students at the school, the only path leading to the gates was completely packed in the morning and after classes.
Among those students, just 3 meters from the boy, walked a girl with bouncing black pigtails. She walked alone in the crowd, carrying a leather school bag in her right hand.
The moment he spotted her, the boy swallowed and stopped in his tracks. The male student walking behind him almost crashed into him.
Once some of the students behind him had passed, the boy exhaled and began to walk again. A little faster than before, making sure the girl didn’t pass out of his sight.
By the time he had silently out-walked several people, he was almost side-by-side with her.
Several steps later, the boy—clearly nervous, clearly deep in thought—took a deep breath.
“Hey there, Meg! Were you on your way to the chorus club?”
The cheerful voice did not belong to the boy.
It had come from a female student behind them. The pigtailed girl named Meg turned with a smile.
The two girls walked side-by-side as they chattered excitedly. Meg mentioned that, though she had been busy with chorus club duties since the end of finals, she was having very much fun. The other girl praised her diligence.
The boy said nothing. His steps grew heavy. Eventually, the girls’ voices disappeared into the distance.
“Bye. See you later.”
By the time Meg and the girl named Lillia had said their goodbyes, the boy was sitting on a bench by the wide school field, very far away from them.
He was staring blankly into the blindingly blue sky.
He found himself mumbling.
The brisk seasonal winds from the north shook his black hair.
Girls who were not Meg or Lillia were watching the boy from a distance. They were among the younger students in the school, between the ages of 12 and 14.
“Look, it’s SC Seron!(1) He’s so handsome!”
“He’s so attractive and popular. I wonder why he doesn’t have a girlfriend?”
“I wonder what he’s doing by himself.”
“He’s probably thinking about something cool!”
The girls chirped and trilled in praise of Seron.
He did not hear them.
* * *
<Seron Maxwell! You let the chance of a lifetime get away and sulked off with your tail between your legs?>
Seron averted his eyes as the voice on the speaker chastised him.
The dormitory building at the 4th Capital Secondary School was across the field from the school building, at the very edge of the campus.
Unlike the drab grey concrete of the apartments over the wall from the school, the majestic stone design of the dormitory was a perfect match for the rest of the campus.
And on the first floor of that building, next to the lobby with arched ceilings, were rows upon rows of telephone booths.
It was a common sight at train stations. Phone booths made of glass, with a chair and a telephone in each box. Nearly 30 of them were lined up on the wall by the lobby.
Because many students at the secondary school were from well-off families, donations were poured into more and more telephone booths each year to prevent dormitory students—especially the first-years, who left home for the first time—from getting too homesick. Eventually, the phone booths came to take up an entire wall.
As dinnertime neared, the lobby began to fill with dormitory students finishing up their club activities. About half the booths were occupied by students contacting their family and friends.
And in one of those booths sat the black-haired boy—Seron Maxwell.
Hanging his head slightly, Seron replied feebly into the receiver.
“Yeah… I did.”
<Argh! Why? How? You just have to talk to her. ‘Hello, my name is Seron Maxwell. We were in art class together. Are you on your way home?’. Then you just say, ‘I’ve been interested in you ever since I first saw you. Will you go out with me?’. It’s simple.>
The voice from the phone belonged to an energetic boy around Seron’s age.
<You already know that a lot of girls think you’re cool.>
<And you get love letters all the time. You’re a good-looking guy, Seron. And as your friend, I guarantee you that you’re a pretty good guy, too! You’re not a muscle-headed idiot like me, and you’re capable of being really nice to people! You have to be confident.>
“Thanks, Larry. I feel a bit better. Friends really are the best.” Seron said lethargically. The friend named Larry was quick to continue.
<So don’t just end it with thanking me. That won’t do at all. Look. There are six days until summer break starts. If you don’t talk to her before then, you’re going to be sitting on your hands for almost two months. Does that make sense?>
<I’d play wingman for you if we were in the same class, but I didn’t take art this term… Man, if only I’d taken art class.>
“That might not have been much help, though.”
“On the first day of art class, we had an assignment where we had to draw our partner’s face. But the moment I first saw Megmica, I blanked out completely because she was so beautiful. I couldn’t talk to her, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even move.”
<Right. I guess that’s first love for you.>
“And after that, Megmica got partnered up with the girl who talked to her today… and they were speaking moontongue.”
<Moontongue? Oh, Bezelese? That’s definitely something else—how do they talk so fast? But I guess that doesn’t really matter.>
“Megmica spent the entire term with that girl. She almost never talked to anyone else, and she didn’t even need to.”
<I see… and is art class finished for the term?>
“It ended yesterday, yeah. We just have to go get our homework and our grades from the teacher.”
<And you don’t have any info on what classes she’s taking in the fall term?>
“Not yet. I don’t think Megmica has many female friends. I asked around quietly, but…”
<But nothing came up?>
“No. And the girl I asked asked me to go out with her, so I turned her down.”
<…I expected nothing less from you, Seron Maxwell. I almost want a cut of your popularity.>
“You can have it all. Just help me.”
<…I’d love to help, but… hmm… If you could at least meet Megmica while I’m around… If I at least knew her face… It’s not like we can take photos of her in secret.>
“Then we just have to rely on luck… Or is it hopeless after all? Do I give in?”
<No, Seron. Don’t feel down. Life has ups and downs! No cannon fires without recoil!>
“Thanks, Larry. I wonder when my life will start looking up.”
<…Look. Our military sciences training camp is gonna end soon and I’ll be back for the end-of-classes ceremony. Let’s meet up at the school gates that morning. After the ceremony, we’ll find Megmica and you’ll ask her out! Got it? Don’t forget—on the last day of classes, you and her will walk out the gates together!>
* * *
The 4th day of the seventh month.
Seron Maxwell walked out the gates alone.
At his feet was a large leather suitcase.
He was not wearing his uniform, but brown pants with suspenders and a white shirt, along with a light black jacket. Though neither his clothes nor his luggage made a big impression, people of certain backgrounds might recognize how expensive they were.
The weather was lovely. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and Roxche’s characteristic seasonal winds swept cool, dry air into the city.
It was just between afternoon and evening.
The end-of-classes ceremony had finished in the morning. The students were quick to rush outside to finally enjoy their summer break. But eventually the intersection in front of the gates, packed with cars there to pick them up, had gone quiet.
The other dormitory students had also grabbed their things as soon as they returned to their rooms, and immediately rushed off on school-hired buses or taxis to train stations.
Only Seron, who was scheduled to take a night train, remained at the dormitories. It was practically tradition at this point, one he had observed at the beginning of every long school break. Some of the dormitory students even joked that the term did not officially end until Seron departed.
All alone, silent, Seron dragged his suitcase out the gates.
He passed the security office and crossed the empty parking lot—created for parents dropping off and picking up the students—and went out to the street.
Seron flagged down a black taxi.
“Capital West Station.” He said tersely and quietly, and took the back seat.
The driver stowed Seron’s suitcase in the trunk and returned to his seat, then started the car.
Seron’s grey eyes reflected the deserted school.
The image disappeared into the distance.
Traffic was not particularly remarkable. Seron arrived at Capital West Station without incident.
He paid and tipped the driver, then called a station porter. When the porter saw the generous tip Seron handed him, he bowed and led Seron into the crowded station.
Capital West Station was the biggest train station in the Capital District. There were over ten platforms lined side-by-side under its glass dome.
First, Seron went to the station shop and picked up a box of crisps that were only sold in the Capital District. He put the box in his suitcase, then boarded the long-distance sleeper train that was pulled by a steam locomotive.
Seron was in a sleeper cabin in first class—and was using a two-passenger cabin alone to boot, having paid double the fare. The sky was still bright when the train slowly departed the capital.
Watching the world pass by outside the window,
Seron mumbled blankly.
Night soon came. The shining half-moon tinted the world a faint blue.
Without even having dinner, Seron lay down in his empty cabin.
Though he was on a bed, he lay awake—on and on.
* * *
The next day. The 5th.
Under the blinding sunlight, Seron disembarked at Weld, his hometown.
Getting in the car that had been waiting for him in front of the station, Seron arrived home before it was time for breakfast.
In the suburb of the rapidly-developing countryside city of Weld was a luxury residential district located on a plateau that overlooked the station and the old city center. The Maxwell family’s mansion was situated on the highest and most magnificent part of that suburb.
The extravagant three-story mansion was made of white marble, and stood head and shoulders above the other homes in the area. The car passed through the gates, which were opened by a guard, and traveled up the main slope before quietly coming to a stop at the front door.
“Welcome home, Young Master.”
The butler and the maids greeted him, and Seron greeted them back. And he stepped in through the imposing doors.
“Where’s my souvenir? Welcome back, Seron.”
When he entered the mansion, a skinny 12-year-old girl held out her hand.
She had slightly curly hair that went down to her back, and had large grey eyes just like Seron. She was wearing a light yellow dress.
“It’s in the suitcase. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? I’m back, Leena. Where’s Mother?”
“She says she’ll be back in the afternoon. She missed you a lot. I’m taking my souvenir, okay?”
Leaving his sister to rummage through his suitcase at the door, Seron headed for his own room at the end of the third-floor hallway.
The room was large, but only furnished with bare essentials like a bed and a dresser. It was a little lonely.
Still dressed in the same clothes, Seron collapsed onto his neatly-made bed. And he fell asleep.
The Maxwell family was rich.
There were only three people in the family. Seron, his younger sister Leena, and their mother Karen.
Karen Maxwell was born and raised in Weld, but she lost her parents as a teenager and had to drop out of school.
She headed to the Capital District afterwards and began to work as a waitress at a large restaurant.
The man who fell in love with her at first sight and married her—Seron and Leena’s father—was from a very rich family.
For a time, Karen was the star of a Cinderella story. But that happiness did not last long. Just after Leena was born, Karen’s husband began having an affair with a woman from another rich family, which ended in their elopement.
Though the two rich families were outraged, they panicked and feared for their reputations. Disgusted, Karen took her two children and boldly filed for divorce. She switched back to her maiden name of Maxwell and returned to Weld.
And she began a business in her hometown with the massive alimony she had mercilessly squeezed out of the divorce.
She took note of how, at the restaurant she had waitressed at, they had stored ingredients and foodstuffs in a freezer. With that idea, she began to manufacture and distribute meal-sized packages of frozen food for domestic consumption.
That happened to be around the time when refrigerators and freezers became popularized. Frozen food exploded in popularity as well, advertised as the food of the future. The frozen food business was a massive success—as were the restaurant and fast food businesses built upon it.
And so, in the span of several years Karen amassed an astounding fortune. ‘Maxwell Frozen Foods’ was a household name in Roxche now.
Karen was 40 years old this year.
She was a gorgeous woman with long, curly black hair and sharp features. Always in her bright red suit, she confidently issued orders to her subordinates—the very image of a competent female president. But—
“Seron! Welcome home, sweetie-pie! Look who’s still as handsome as ever. You’re nothing like your father at all! I love you so much, baby. Are you doing all right? How was school?”
As soon as she came home (slightly late), she hugged her son from behind mid-meal. For the moment, she was just another doting mother.
“I’m home, Mother.”
“Welcome back. Welcome back, sweetheart! Give your mother a welcome-home kiss?” She cooed, sticking her face at her son. Seron gave her a light kiss on the cheek.
Karen finally disentangled herself from Seron and went over to kiss Leena on the other side of the table. Then she took her seat at the head of the table.
The family chatted as they ate the meals cooked by a chef and served by maids. It was not often that the three of them had the chance to eat together.
Seron handed his report card to Karen. He had top marks in almost every subject. Karen beamed, the report card shaking in her hands.
“That’s my boy! You’re incredible, honey. Nothing like your father at all—”
Stopping his mother there, Seron got out of his chair and quietly bowed his head.
“Mother. Thanks to your support, I made it through the spring term of my third year of secondary school. I will do my best to achieve good grades in the fall term as well. Thank you.”
“Oh, sweetie! I told you, you don’t have to say this stuff every time you come back! It’s all right if your marks drop a little, as long as you can make it to university. You have to enjoy your youth! I’ll make the money, so spend it on things you like!”
Leena watched as Seron stood with his head bowed and Karen looked at him tearfully.
“You’re so diligent, Seron.” She said, continuing her meal.
Their first family conversation in months continued into topics like school, grades, friends, and the state of the Capital District.
After the meal, they moved on to tea. As Seron answered his family’s questions, Leena suddenly spoke up.
“Come to think of it… don’t you have a girlfriend yet, Seron? I thought you’d be really popular.”
At that point,
“Huh? Er… well…”
Seron hesitated. Leena continued, oblivious to her brother’s plight.
“Lots of my friends think you’re really cool, too.”
She stared into her dumbstruck brother’s face and grinned.
“You don’t like anyone right now, right?”
“No, no, Leena! That’s not it. Seron’s just the type to love only the one person he falls for. He would never go out with anyone unless he was serious about her.”
“Huh. You know what I think, Seron? You’re not really the dependable type, so you’ll be better off with an older girl. Do you want me to find someone pretty to introduce to you?”
“Let’s calm down and be patient, Leena. I’m sure your brother will bring home a wonderful girl one of these days! There’s just no one in Roxche who catches his eye yet.” Karen said.
Seron fell into complete silence.
Soon, Karen left to return to work and Leena left in a car with a bodyguard to play with her friends from primary school.
Seron spent time alone in the central gardens, where summer flowers were in spectacular bloom.
Sitting in a white wooden chair under a lacy parasol, he enjoyed the summer breeze and read.
Of the students at the 4th Capital Secondary School, Seron lived the farthest from campus.
His mother had suggested that he attend school in the Capital District, where there were more children like Seron—children of rich and famous people—and Seron had agreed. That left him with a total of zero friends to meet over the breaks.
His friends from primary school either did not have the grades to continue studying, or had gone to four-year vocational schools for financial reasons. Summer break had not yet started at vocational schools, as they had shorter breaks to help students learn and find work as soon as possible.
For the past two years, summer break had bored Seron.
All he could do was read or study. And as a result, he was able to maintain good grades throughout his secondary school career.
Quietly, Seron read.
The books on the table were—
‘Murders on the Luxury Transcontinental Express’
‘The Story of the Roxchean Navy: Tracing the History of the Canal’
‘Crossing the Desert -34 Days in Hell-’
He was so engrossed in his books that, each time the maid came to refill his tea, she found the cup still full.
Eventually, the sun sank so low that the parasol could no longer shield him.
“Young Master. You have a phone call from your school friend, Mr. Larry Hepburn. Will you take the call?” One of the maids said, instead of bringing more tea.
“From Larry? I’ll take it.”
Seron put a bookmark on his page, put the book on the table, and hurried to the telephone in the mansion’s living room.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Larry.” Seron said as he took the receiver from another maid.
<Seron! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I’m really sorry!> Larry apologized three times in a row. <I just got home right now! There was a train accident on the way back, so we got delayed. I couldn’t even contact you! I’m really sorry.>
“I heard from the teachers. Don’t worry about it. It’s not your fault.” Seron replied with a smile.
<I’m sorry, man. And… about what we discussed last time…>
Seron’s expression quickly darkened.
“…I couldn’t do it. I wanted to give you good news, so I tried my best. I mean, it couldn’t get worse, right? But…”
<Right… Our school just has too many students. …So I guess you’ll be free all summer?>
“Like every year. I was just reading.”
<You wanna come back to school?>
<Let me put this in order. Okay. We came back to school from the camp today, and I met a senior-classman who became the drama club’s president this year. The drama club’s having a 7-day practice camp at school to prepare for their annual fall performance, but they were in a hurry to find helpers. He asked me if I could lend a hand.>
“What do you have to do?”
<Help take care of set pieces, do heavy lifting, hand out lunches, go shopping for them, stuff like that. Odd jobs, basically. They need gofers. He says it’ll go on our report cards, though. Volunteer work as drama performance assistants.>
<It’s going to go into nights, so the drama club’s gonna crash at the dorms and stay up having fun all the time. I had nothing to do and it sounded cool, so I said I’d do it. So here’s why I called you. Do you want to join? We can hang out when there’s nothing to do.>
“Hm… sounds interesting.”
<Right? They’re gonna use the double dorms, and it’s kinda lonely for me alone and kinda awkward if I room with someone I don’t know. I’ll ask them to let me stay with you if you want to come. To be honest, I really want you to join.>
“When does it start?”
<Well… pretty soon. It starts on the morning of the 7th, so in two days. It was pretty short notice for the drama club too, ‘cause they couldn’t book any other dates. I’m going to the dorms tomorrow night with the drama club. If I’d known yesterday, I’d have told you before you went back home.>
“All right. Sign me up. For the same room, too.”
<Whoa! You mean it? Awesome! Thanks, buddy! …I know this is kinda stupid of me to ask since I invited you, but your mom and Leena won’t miss you too much, will they?>
“It’s all right. We met today. Mother’s a busy woman, and Leena… I’m not sure about Leena, but I got her a souvenir so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
<All right. Then it’s decided! You can come in street clothes or uniform if you like, but they want you to bring at least one set of school sweats for when you’re on campus. You don’t need to pay for using the dorms ‘cause it’s part of a school event. And as for food, you can just total up your bill at the end and pay for it at once. Anything else…? I don’t think I’ve forgotten anything. What’re you going to do? When are you coming, and by what?>
“I’ll leave tonight on the usual sleeper train. I’m sure there’ll be seats left. I’ll be at school tomorrow afternoon at the latest. And… let’s meet up at the dormitory cafeteria at lunchtime. What do you say?”
<Great. We’ll meet up and sign up with the drama club together. …Also, just making sure. Is Megmica part of the drama club, by any chance?>
<I see. Too bad.>
“Don’t worry, Larry. I thought about this yesterday, but I think Megmica might have gone back to Sou Be-Il with her parents for the break. Summer’s long enough. Anyway, thanks for calling. I’ll see you tomorrow. If the train gets delayed I’ll call you from the nearest station.”
<All right. See you tomorrow.>
After hanging up, Seron picked up the phone again.
The call was for his mother, who was still at work.
Luckily, she did not seem to have been in a meeting. She picked up quickly. Seron relayed to her what he had heard from Larry.
Although he apologized for leaving as soon as he had returned,
<That’s wonderful, sweetie-pie! Go on and enjoy yourself!>
Karen happily gave him permission and ordered a subordinate to buy a ticket for the sleeper train bound for the Capital District.
Seron had unpacked everything in his room earlier, but he now had to re-pack his suitcase. Making sure to bring one set of school-issue sweats with the name ‘Maxwell’ embroidered on it, along with a T-shirt and shorts, he packed some plain summer clothes and his half-read book.
Around evening, he asked the butler to say goodbye to Leena on his behalf and returned to the station. He met Karen’s subordinate and received the first class sleeper cabin ticket with a word of thanks.
It was the very train that he had taken home from the Capital District that morning. Once again he boarded the train as it headed back after a break in Weld.
The train traveled down the tracks to the Capital District.
Seron had a full-course dinner in the dining car.
Then he went to bed and fell into a deep sleep.
(1) SC: The abbreviated form of 'senior-classman'. I am using this term in this series in lieu of the very Japanese senpai.
(1) SC: The abbreviated form of 'senior-classman'. I am using this term in this series in lieu of the very Japanese senpai.