Chapter 1: The Start of the Year 3306
The 14th day of the first month, the year 3306 of the World Calendar.
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 member states 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.
It was daytime, cloudy and cold with a high chance of snow.
Strauski Megmica was in a room on the fifth floor of one of the apartment buildings.
Because she was from Sou Be-Il, ‘Strauski’ was her family name and ‘Megmica’ her given name. Her nickname was ‘Meg’.
Meg was turning 17 next month. Her long black hair was tied into pigtails. She had fair skin and large dark eyes.
She wore the winter uniform of the 4th Capital Secondary School—a green jacket, a white dress shirt, a red ribbon, and a green checkered skirt.
“Say,” she began in Bezelese, sitting at the dining table across from another girl, “about that boy who came here before—Treize—he’s from Iks, right? did you meet him there?”
The girl across from Meg was also in the same uniform. Her name was Lillianne Schultz, also known as Lillia.
Lillia’s full name included the family names of her parents and grandparents and was very long, but she almost never used it. Because she was Roxchean, ‘Schultz’ was her family name.
Lillia had long brown hair and light brown eyes, and in contrast to Meg, looked very self-assured.
“Huh? Y-yeah, I did,” Lillia replied, taken aback.
“Lillia. Did you talk about anything important with him?” Meg asked, looking into Lillia’s eyes. Her eyes glinted with hunger for information.
“Huh?” Lillia raised an eyebrow. “No. I didn’t. Things were so hectic that I barely got to say hello,” she replied nonchalantly.
“Is that all?” Meg sounded unimpressed.
“Did you make plans to meet next time?”
“Actually, no, We just didn’t have time to plan that stuff,” Lillia said with a sip of tea, not sounding bothered in the least.
“That’s so sad,” Meg mumbled.
“Huh? For who?” Lillia asked.
“Both of you.”
“You almost never get to see him, right?” Meg said with a serious look.
“I guess, but…” Lillia began, but stopped. She met Meg’s gaze. “Meg, did something happen?”
Meg’s eyes widened for an instant, but determination quickly rose to them.
“Yeah. I wanted your advice on something.”
“Oh? On what? What happened?” Lillia urged, pouring herself more tea. She then put the teapot on the hot plate on the dresser by the table to warm up the rest.
Meg took out a crumpled envelope from the leather bag at her feet.
“It’s about this letter.”
“Oh, gimme a sec,” Lillia said, quickly clearing the newspaper off the table. Meg put the envelope on the tabletop.
The envelope was an extraordinarily normal one, sold at the campus store in the 4th Capital Secondary School. It was addressed to Strauski Megmica and postmarked about a month ago.
“Is this a love letter, Meg?”
“Kind of, but not really.”
“Can I read it?”
“Yeah, but don’t tell anyone, okay?”
“Of course! I, Lillianne Aikashia Corazòn Whittington Schultz, solemnly swear to speak to no one of what I am about to see!” Lillia vowed, and picked up the letter. Upside-down, she spotted the name of the sender with no return address.
“Huh? I’ve seen this name before…” She trailed off.
“That’s—” Meg began, but Lillia cut her off.
“I remember! This is the Raputoan exchange student who studied here in the autumn. I remember seeing the name on the newspaper.”
“That’s right. This is the club’s newbie. You have such a good memory, Lillia,” Meg exclaimed.
“Hah hah. It’s nothing that impressive. Someone told me at the beginning of the year that I wasn’t just a stupid girl after all, you know! …Anyway, can I read it?”
Meg nodded firmly. “Please. Tell me what you think about it.”
Lillia gingerly pulled the letter out of the open envelope.
Inside was a piece of stationery paper from the campus store. About half the page was filled with handwritten Roxchean.
Lillia’s eyes scanned the page quickly.
The letter began with greetings and an expression of gratitude before moving on to the issue at hand.
The issue was simply that Seron was in love with Meg and that she should know how he felt.
“This is…well, wow.” Lillia breathed. When she looked up, Meg was watching stone-faced from across the table.
Lillia reread the letter to make sure she understood its contents. Then she placed it on the table.
“Er…well…” Lillia cringed.
“I’ve been mulling over this letter for the past month,” Meg explained, “I didn’t tell anyone in the newspaper club about it.”
“Well, I guess I understand,” Lillia nodded, still cringing.
“I couldn’t confide in anyone from the club.”
“That makes sense…”
“To be honest, I wanted to tell you about it when I came over at the end of last term. But I didn’t, because we wouldn’t see each other again for a while. I had to visit home, too.”
“And I don’t even know if any of this is true. Our newbie isn’t the type to play stupid pranks—so maybe this is just a misunderstanding?”
Lillia read over the letter on the table for the third time.
“What do you think I should do, Lillia? Should I ask the newbie to clarify? But I don’t have an address or phone number or anything. Jenny might know, but if she asks me why I want that info I’ll have to lie to her. I don’t think I can lie convincingly.”
“You know, I’ve never seen you this serious, Meg,” Lillia said, “but you can’t just stand around worrying about this letter forever.”
“Yeah. To be honest…I’m so tired of it.”
Meg’s expression darkened. She picked up her teacup with both hands, drained it, and put it back down.
Lillia quickly folded up the letter, put it back in the envelope, and handed it to Meg.
“Seron’s that guy, right? The one from my Roxchean class last term. Not some other guy named Seron?” Lillia asked. Meg nodded slightly.
“So…has he ever come across as having a crush on you? Trying to ask you out, or something like that…”
Meg shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. I mean, I started hanging out more with him since we joined the newspaper club in the summer, but not particularly more than Larry or Nicholas.”
“No more than the other boys, huh.”
“I’ve never really gone somewhere alone with him, and he’s never asked me out. I talk to him about as much as I talk to the rest of the club.”
“Hm…” Lillia folded her arms.
“So I…I…” Meg gasped, on the verge of tears. Lillia tried to calm her down.
“Don’t cry, Meg. You have to get a hold of yourself.”
“Let me get this straight,” Lillia said, making a point of sounding cheerful, “you don’t know how to contact the newbie, and you have no way of getting any contact information. Which means there’s only one option left.”
“What is it?”
“You have to ask Seron yourself.”
“…Is that really the only way?”
“Yes! More tea?”
Meg held out her cup and found her eyes drifting to the envelope. She glared resentfully at it.
“Here,” Lillia said, filling the cup. “Look, it’s the new year; it’ll be better than just moping around. Club activities start after the break, right?”
“On the 19th, yeah. I’ll probably see Seron again then.”
“Then you have to ask him outright! It’ll take a bit of courage, but there’s no other option. You can’t stay depressed like this forever.”
“All right. So there’s no other way,” Meg said, looking more cheerful already. But this time, Lillia’s expression grew more serious.
“Be honest with me, Meg. What do you think of Seron?”
“Huh? Er… I don’t know.”
“You said at the end of last year that you weren’t interested in anyone.”
“Yeah. You really have a good memory, Lillia.”
“Well, yeah. Anyway, you don’t like him like him, right?”
Meg’s gaze rose to the Schultz family ceiling, then fell to the Schultz family’s only daughter.
“You know, I still don’t really know what it’s like to be in love with someone. Seron’s a club member and a friend, so I don’t not like him. And I don’t think I would mind dating him. But I don’t know how I would go about feeling like I want to date someone.”
“Mhm. Mhm.” Lillia nodded, putting her elbows on the table.
“And! Most importantly!” Meg raised her voice. Lillia flinched slightly.
“Seron is really cool!”
Seron Maxwell was the same age as Lillia, and a year younger than Meg, who had taken a year off school. He had shimmery black hair and grey eyes, and was known for being very handsome.
“Er…right. That’s true,” Lillia agreed as she remembered their meeting. “He was really popular with the girls in our class. I heard someone asked him out but he turned her down.”
“Right? He’s handsome, smart, and a real gentleman too—”
“You have a really high opinion of him, Meg,” Lillia said, grinning. Meg was taken aback.
“O-of course! He works so hard in the newspaper club too!”
“How am I supposed to believe it when someone says that a cool guy like Seron is in love with me?” Meg said.
“What? Er, well…” Lillia was stumped. She thought for several seconds. “That’s…well, sorry. I have to agree with you there,” she mumbled.
“You don’t have to apologize, Lillia. Obviously it’s not very likely!” Meg declared, fists clenched. “I’ve never dated anyone before! I’m not attractive! I’m average!”
“You don’t have to go that far…”
“So I don’t know what to do! For the past month I’ve been trying to figure out what to say at the newspaper club. Thankfully I was away a lot because of finals, but still!” Meg agonized, and rose to her feet. Lillia held up her hands.
“Calm down, Meg. You’ve been repeating yourself for a while now. And like I said…I think it’d be best if you asked Seron yourself.”
“Y-you’re right. You’re right,” Meg admitted, falling back into her chair. “I never thought I’d end up worrying about something like this. I didn’t think I’d even think about dating until I was a little older.”
“Yeah. I mean, the person you date kind of decides your future.”
“That’s a bit of an exaggeration, don’t you think? Or are things different in Sou Be-Il? Is it considered too early if you start dating in secondary school there?”
“Of course! And I went to an all-girls school, too! I couldn’t even think about dating until after graduation!”
“Hm. I suppose different places have different norms.” Lillia nodded, pouring herself more tea.
Meg finished her cup and glanced at the clock—
“Oh no! I’d better get going. Thanks for listening to me, Lillia. I feel a bit—I mean, a lot—better.” She stood. And she put the letter in her bag.
Lillia got up to see Meg to the door, leading the way.
“Not a problem! Happy new year, Meg.”
“Happy new year, Lillia.”
They walked down the hall. Meg pulled on the wool coat hanging from the wall hanger. “It’s cold outside, you don’t have to see me out,” she said, taking off her slippers and switching to her leather shoes.
“Take care, okay? I mean, not like it’s not gonna be safe,” Lillia said, recalling that Meg had an intimidating driver-slash-bodyguard waiting downstairs.
The luxury car that had brought them to Lillia’s house from the school, and that would take Meg home, was parked outside the apartment lobby.
“See you at school, okay?” Lillia said, making an effort to sound more cheerful. “You have to ask Seron how he feels about you, face-to-face! That’s the best way to settle this!”
“I will! I trust your judgement, Lillia,” Meg said with a smile. “Bye!”
She opened the door and stepped outside with a wave.
Lillia locked the door and headed for the living room, when she remembered something.
“Oh shoot! I should’ve told her to ask him when they were alone!”
She stopped and turned, staring at the door Meg had just stepped through.
“…Well, I guess that part’s kind of obvious,” she mumbled, going back to the living room.
* * *
A week earlier. The 9th day of the first month.
Seron Maxwell was sitting in a train.
He was in a first-class cabin on a sleeper train bound for the Capital District.
The cabin was built for two, with a door with a glass insert. There was a curtain over the insert for privacy’s sake.
Two sofas were arranged face-to-face in the long, narrow cabin. The sofas could be converted into large beds for use at night.
Seron sat on one of the sofas, wearing a navy jacket and reading a book.
He usually lived in the dorms on campus because his house was so far from the Capital District. Most of the year he spent in the capital, going back home by train for the long holidays.
There was no one else in the cabin.
Seron’s mother once had the displeasure of sharing a cabin with a drunk passenger, so she always made sure that her family traveled single—even if it meant buying an extra ticket.
Seron was on his way back to the Capital District for the new term, which would begin on the 14th.
His grey eyes left the pages for a moment, turning to the window. The world outside was completely still.
The window was foggy with heat and his breaths. All he could see was snow. The snow piled up on the desolate soil and the snow falling from the sky. It was impossible to tell where the ground ended and the sky began. Such snowfall was rare in these parts.
The train had left Weld the previous evening but met many delays along the way. And several hours ago, it finally came to a complete stop.
His wristwatch told him it was almost evening. Even if the train were to start moving immediately, it would be midnight by the time they reached the Capital District. And the snow showed no signs of stopping.
Seron put his book on hold and took out his agenda to check the date.
In most schools in Roxche, the new term began with the new year. Seron, who would be turning 16 in the third month, was now a fourth-year student.
The 4th Capital Secondary School’s opening ceremony was on the 13th. Hundreds of first-years would gather at the school, full of excitement and trepidation.
Those who lived too far to commute to school would move into the dorms two days ahead of time.
Seron had gone through the same thing three years earlier. The incoming first-years would move in their things with their parents, go through orientation, and enjoy dinner together.
The nervous first-years would spend their first night away from home, then attend a school orientation the next day.
Assisting the news students in that process were senior-classmen designated as Resident Assistants, or RAs.
RAs were selected from among high-achieving dormitory students. They would help guide first-years and assist the dormitory manager and the matrons.
There was one designated RA per floor, who each received their own room. The RA’s room was larger than the others and was furnished with a table and chairs so students could drop by for long conversations.
Being an RA had its perks—like pay—but more importantly, it was a coveted job because it looked great on university applications. Students had the option to turn down RA offers, but no one ever did.
And this year, Seron had been chosen to serve.
He had to return to the dorms by the morning of the 10th to help greet the incoming first-years, three days earlier than the rest of the dormitory students.
He would have reached the Capital District by now if the train had been on time, but he was only halfway there. And switching to another mode of transport was not an option.
Even if he got off at the next station and switched to an autobahn bus, it might take even longer than the train—and there was no guarantee that buses would be operational in this weather.
In the end, Seron had to remain in his cabin—where comfort, if nothing else, was guaranteed.
He turned his gaze from his agenda to his watch.
Cringing at the thought that he might not make it to the Capital District by morning, Seron pursed his lips as his friend Larry was wont to do.
Suddenly, there was a knock.
“Mr. Maxwell? This is the conductor. May have your permission to enter?”
Seron closed his pocketbook and got up to unlock the door.
The conductor, a man in his fifties wearing a Confederation Rail uniform, took off his hat with a courteous bow.
“My apologies, sir, but we’re experiencing a shortage of snowplows. It may take quite some time before we can resume service.”
“I suppose there’s not much we can do about that,” Seron replied, wondering if the conductor was simply there to apologize.
“And I’m afraid I must make another request,” the conductor said, very politely asking if another passenger could be allowed to share Seron’s cabin.
The conductor explained that the passenger was in a first-class seat, but asked to get a ticket upgrade for a sleeper cabin because the train might not arrive until morning.
Seron thought for a moment before concluding, “as long as they’re not drunk.” The conductor smiled.
“That won’t be a problem at all, sir. One moment, please,” he said, heading off to get the passenger.
As Seron waited, he wondered why the conductor asked him to share the cabin when there was another cabin on the train used by a lone businessman.
But because the information he had was not enough for him to come up with a conclusion, he stopped worrying about it.
Several minutes later, the conductor escorted Seron’s new cabin-mate over.
A beautiful woman in her mid-twenties. She wore beige pants and a moss green jacket, her impeccable makeup giving her an air of maturity.
Seron recalled the Whitfield catalogue he had read several months ago and understood to some degree why the conductor had selected him.
“My name is Lisa. Lisa Velvet. It’s nice to meet you,” the woman introduced herself cheerfully. Seron stood with a courteous bow and introduced himself.
A middle-aged man appeared behind Lisa with her luggage and put it down in the cabin.
The man seemed to be a butler or a bodyguard of some sort. He cast Seron a sharp look and disappeared, though it was hard to tell if he was relieved or put on guard.
“This snow is terrible,” Lisa said, taking a seat across from Seron, “I’m not in any hurry myself, but what about you?”
“I’m afraid I’m in a bit of a bind. I have to make it to the dorms by tomorrow.”
“Oh, where do you go to school? Do classes start tomorrow?”
And so, Seron and Lisa chatted away to pass the time.
Seron did not go out of his way to talk, but whenever Lisa asked him about his school or his family, he responded politely. Her eyes widened when he explained that his mother ran Maxwell Frozen Foods.
Lisa, meanwhile, spoke about herself at length without even being asked.
She was the daughter of a rich family that dealt in crude in the Republic of Niasham on the western edge of Roxche. Her hobby was traveling. She visited places alone (though her butler accompanied her), and at her parents’ urging, was looking for a potential husband.
“I’ve been all over Roxche, but I haven’t found the right man. Maybe I’ll just go to Sou Be-Il.”
“I’m surprised you’re having a hard time. You’re very beautiful,” Seron admitted.
“Thank you,” Lisa replied with a wink. “Oh, if only you were 10 years older…”
The train had not gone a single meter forward by the time the sun began to set.
Lisa asked Seron to eat in the dining car with her. And because he had no reason to refuse, they had dinner together. Many curious gazes fell on the odd couple, but Seron paid them no mind as he ate.
The train must have had extra food supplies ready, because they were served a full-course meal—appetizer, meat, fish, and even dessert.
During the meal, the train finally began to move. The passengers cheered.
The train soon stopped at the nearest station.
Some passengers disembarked and headed to hotels, but because the conductor assured them that the train would be at the Capital District by morning, Seron and Lisa elected to remain in their cabin.
The train continued slowly down the tracks, and eventually it was time for lights-out. Seron stepped out of the cabin to give Lisa time to change.
When Seron stepped back into the dark cabin, he saw Lisa sitting on the side of her bed, wearing a set of childlike checkered pajamas.
“You could come sit with me, if you’d like,” Lisa said with a seductive smile, “no one’s ever going to know.”
“No thank you,” Seron replied firmly, taking a seat on his own bed across the cabin—which was still only a meter away from Lisa’s.
“Oh? You’re shyer than I thought. Or are you just not interested in girls?” Lisa asked from her window-side bed, crossing her legs.
“That’s not it,” Seron replied with a shake of the head, “there’s a girl I’m interested in. And someone I respect once told me, ‘a real gentleman behaves as though the woman he loves is always watching him’.”
Lisa blinked several times, before breaking out into a smile.
“That is so sweet of you. You’ve got a really great look on your face. Your crush is going to work out well, I guarantee it.”
Then, they each lay in their own beds and fell asleep.
The train continued towards the Capital District in the dark of night.