* * *
Chapter 3: The Country with a Wizard
-Potentials of Magic-
A lone road ran through the muggy marshland.
Pools of rank water dotted the flat landscape, and aquatic plants covered the surface of the ground. The road snaked to and fro around the marshes.
Built on mounds of reddish-brown earth, the road was wide but eroded, crumbling at the edges. Even the center line was barely dry. The path itself seemed to have melted in the heat and humidity.
Suddenly, the colorful waterfowl cawing throughout the marsh flapped into the air in unison. A lone motorrad emerged down the mud road.
Instead of a back seat, the motorrad had a luggage rack fully laden with travel gear. Its engine filled the marshlands with its roar.
The rider wore a black vest over a white shirt, the collar completely unbuttoned. She wore a thick belt around her waist, and a hat with a visor, and a pair of goggles. The rider was still young, likely in her mid-teens.
A holstered persuader was strapped to her right thigh. It was a single-action revolver, which meant that it had to be cocked each time it was fired.
The rider drove with great caution; at times the motorrad was caught in the mud and she lost her balance, or the rear wheel spun idly and splattered mud everywhere as rider and motorrad attempted to escape the marshland.
“I know I’ve said this before, but this road is awful,” the motorrad said to his rider.
“Yeah. It’s going to take longer than I expected. …There.”
The motorrad’s rear wheel had slipped. The rider hefted it up, beads of sweat forming on her face.
“By the way, Kino,” the motorrad said after they had covered more ground.
“What is it?” the rider called Kino asked.
“I’d hate it if we the country we’re going to all this trouble to reach turns out to be a boring one.”
“True, but someone once told me that every country has something interesting to offer.”
“You think so?”
From behind her goggles, the rider’s gaze rose up to the sky.
“But I guess that also implies that it doesn’t really matter what country we go to. …Should we change course, Hermes? It’s not too late to head somewhere else,” Kino said, stopping the motorrad called Hermes on a relatively dry patch of road. “What do you want to do? I don’t mind if we skip this one. There’s a road that heads south, towards another country we can visit.”
Hermes thought for some time before he responded. “I feel kind of bad for saying this since I’m the one who brought it up, but it’s up to you, Kino.”
“Right. Then I’ll keep going.”
“Okay. But why?”
“Just because. It’s not like anyone’s waiting for me or anyone needs me to be at a certain country. I just don’t feel like going all the way back. And there’s no guarantee that the road south will be better than this one.”
“What the heck.”
The motorrad once more began pushing down the muddy road, as slow as ever.
“I wish you could move on water, Hermes,” Kino joked. “Then we could cross the marshland in a straight line.”
“That’s impossible. Motorrads can’t travel over water,” Hermes replied without an ounce of humor.
“Have you tried?” Kino asked.
“I don’t need to. There’s lots of things out there that motorrads can’t do. Unlike humans.”
“I can’t travel on water, either,” Kino said.
Hermes was quick to retort. “You can build a ship. And you can take the ship across the water. That’s something humans can do.”
“I guess you’re right. But…”
Kino paused for a moment before responding.
“Nothing could beat traveling with you, Hermes.”
“Whoa! That’s so nice of you, Kino. Let’s go faster!”
With that, Hermes and Kino set off with renewed determination.
A second later, the rear wheel sank into mud and stopped completely.
“Good day, traveler! Welcome our country. It’s been much too long since our last visitor. We’re so pleased to have you with us! The journey here wasn’t too difficult, I hope?”
Standing before the towering walls and massive gates was a soldier, beaming at the motorrad and his rider.
“No,” Kino replied, having taken off her hat and goggles as though nothing was wrong. But her appearance suggested otherwise. Her pants were splattered with mud up to the knees, as were her gloves and sleeves. Some of it had dried on her face. As for Hermes, both his wheels were caked with mud, and chunks had hardened on his engine thanks to the heat.
“That’s good to hear,” the soldier said with a smile.
Kino and Hermes completed the necessary procedures and entered the country.
Just inside the gates was an elliptical plaza, with wooden buildings standing a short distance away. The homes were all single-story with elevated floors, supported by thick, sturdy pillars. The narrow stone-paved road was set a little higher than the rest of the ground.
Several men standing in the plaza approached Kino and Hermes, as though they had been waiting for them.
“Good day, traveler! Welcome to our country. I am the chief of this land,” said a man in late-middle age. Kino took off her hat and gave a slight bow.
“Good day. My name is Kino. And this is my partner Hermes.”
“It’s so good of you to come to our country. You’re the first visitor in five years! We don’t have any hotels here, but we can accommodate you in our reception hall. Free of charge, of course. A national guest deserves no less,” the chief said with a courteous bow. The other men followed suit.
“Wow!” Hermes whistled. “This is amazing, Kino. I don’t remember the last time you got such a big welcome. It’s a good thing we decided to come here after all. We almost gave up so many times! The road was so rough we even wondered if we’d find people at all in the end—”
Kino punched Hermes before he could finish. Then she bowed to the chief.
“Thank you. We appreciate your hospitality.”
In spite of its name, the reception hall was nothing more than a slightly large house. According to the locals, it was usually used for events like the harvest festival, concerts, or elections. The country also had a separate residence for the chief and a courthouse, but Kino would not be able to recognize them unless they were specifically pointed out.
However, the street on which these official buildings stood was clearly more extravagant than the others. It was wider, and the paving stones almost formed a full pavement. Spectacular bronze statues were placed at regular intervals along the center line.
The chief explained that this was the country’s only main street, and that the statues depicted past chiefs who left behind great achievements. Moved by the history, he gave a dramatic speech about his life’s goal to be chosen to look down upon this street forever, and how he was always hard at work to make that dream a reality.
Kino borrowed a tap to wash herself and Hermes clean of the mud. By the time she was finished, the entire sky was ablaze with the color of dusk.
They were led into a luxurious room. Kino parked Hermes in a corner and unpacked her things.
The chief was brimming with excitement. He insisted on holding a welcoming party for Kino. But thankfully for Kino, someone else had the sense to suggest that the party should be held tomorrow to let the traveler rest.
Kino had dinner at the dining hall, took a shower for the first time in a very long time, and went to sleep.
As usual, Kino rose at the break of dawn.
She went through her morning routine in her large room. She also cleaned and practiced with Cannon, the persuader strapped to her right thigh.
When Kino was finished with the breakfast served to her free of charge, the chief came to escort her to his residence, where the people were preparing a welcoming tea party for her.
“This is going to be really boring, Kino,” Hermes said discreetly. Kino nodded, already aware.
“Hermes, remember. They’re letting me stay for free. This is the least I can do.”
Kino and Hermes went out into the street. It was clear that day, but the wind was strong and humid.
“This time of year, we get powerful gusts in the mornings,” said the chief. “But the wind calms down after that.”
Kino was served tea at the lobby of the chief’s residence. The chief’s wife and their supporters were also there.
At first, the conversation was mostly about Kino’s travels. But soon the chief began to take over, giving a lengthy lecture on the greatness of their country.
He described the founding of their country on what seemed to be unusable marshland. Their lofty ancestors had toiled away, and their efforts finally culminated in the development of efficient farming techniques that allowed their small country to produce a surplus of food. He raved about their safe and peaceful community, and repeated his speech from the previous day about great chiefs of the past being memorialized as statues that overlooked the main street.
“I still have a very long way to go,” the chief said with a laugh, making sure to note that grain harvests had increased by three percent since he had become chief.
Kino went through the motions of nodding and agreeing throughout the speech. She was fully aware that Hermes was actually dozing off behind them.
Afterwards, the chief invited Kino to lunch. The food served at his official residence was decadent and delicious.
After that, they returned to the lobby for more tea. The chief started on another lecture, saying, “And another great thing about our country—”
A woman in her late twenties burst through the doors with a piercing plea. She produced a letter from her pocket and held it out to the chief.
The chief reluctantly took the letter and read it. His face went rigid.
“How many times do I have to tell you? No means no!”
For some time, the woman and the chief were embroiled in an argument.
“Please, I only need two out of the way! And it’s only for a few minutes!”
“No! Have you no respect for our venerated ancestors?”
“But you want to leave behind a great legacy, don’t you, Chief? I can help put up a statue of you.”
“Enough with your pipe dreams! This idea of yours is clearly impossible!”
“We won’t know until we try!”
Kino sipped her tea as she watched the argument.
“We know already!”
“No, we don’t!”
“Good grief. What is wrong with you?”
“I could ask you the same thing, Chief!”
“You can’t stop me— What the? Hey, let me go!”
The argument finally ended when the woman was dragged away. The chief breathed a heavy sigh and shook his head.
“I’m terribly sorry for that display, traveler. Unfortunately, the chief is mandated to lend an ear to the requests of all citizens.”
“I see. And what did this woman want?”
“Nothing for you to worry about, traveler. Something silly about moving the statues… Anyway, let’s get back to our discussion.”
“Oh, about that,” Kino said, slowly rising from her seat. “I’d like to thank you for the lesson on this country’s history, but would it be all right if Hermes and I went to see it for ourselves now?”
Finally released, Kino went out into the street.
“Were you asleep this whole time, Hermes?” she asked jealously.
“Yeah. I feel all rested. The argument woke me up, though.”
At that moment, Kino spotted the woman from earlier. She was zooming off on a bicycle, fast enough to outpace a motorrad.
“Oh, that’s her.”
Kino went after her on Hermes. The woman greeted Kino as they rode side-by-side.
“Hi there. You’re the traveler from earlier, right?”
“Yes,” Kino replied loudly.
“I’m sorry about interrupting you.”
“Not at all. You helped me get out of an uncomfortable situation,” Kino replied. The woman chuckled.
“Say, why are you asking for the statues to be moved?” asked Hermes. The woman simply looked at Kino and Hermes for a time before she finally spoke.
“Well… Do you have some time to spare?”
“Yes, but not for any more bragging about the country.”
“How honest of you. Follow me—I’ll show you something amazing.”
The woman made a sharp turn into an alley. Kino missed the alley and had to rush around to follow.
As they left the town center, the ramparts came into view and they saw fewer and fewer buildings and more and more fields and paddies, along with the people working them.
The woman turned into a narrow, winding path without slowing once. She finally came to a stop at a large warehouse surrounded by fields. Next to it was a magnificent mansion and a crane truck.
The woman pulled off the top of her overalls and tied the sleeves around her waist. Then she splashed water on her sweat-soaked face and looked back at Kino, haphazardly drying herself off with a towel.
“Welcome. My name is Nimya Tchuhachkova—it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you. My name is Kino, and this here is my partner Hermes.”
Nimya opened the warehouse door and gestured for Kino and Hermes to enter.
It was dark inside. The smell of oil filled the heavy air.
“Let me answer your question from earlier. I asked the chief to move the statues because I need to secure some open space on the street.”
“For what?” Kino asked.
“Well…for this,” Nimya replied, pressing a switch next to her. The lights slowly came to life and the fans started running.
A moving crane was affixed to the warehouse ceiling. The floor was littered with machinery, and scrap metal was piled in a corner. Several desks furnished the space, laden with a mess of documents. Multiple bicycles hung from the ceilings or lay on the floor.
And at the center of the warehouse was a silver contraption.
It was a machine with a streamlined design, about the size of a truck. It seemed to have fins and a tail like a fish. What seemed to be a three-bladed fan was stuck on one end, and a matching set of large panels that were wider than they were long were stuck to either side of the body. Legs with tires on the end protruded from under the panels.
“What is this?” Kino asked after a moment’s thought.
“I haven’t named it yet,” Nimya said, turning to Kino and Hermes. She put on a dubious but charming smile. “But this is a flying-machine.”
“This machine can let you fly? How?” asked Kino.
Nimya nodded and rattled off an explanation. “When the panels are parallel to the ground, they won’t do anything even if you blow a fan at them. But if you change the angle even slightly, the wind pushes the panels backwards and raises them into the air. It’s like when you’re biking with a hat on your head; if you look up, the hat flies away. So I applied that theory to my machine. If you raise the panels and secure them at an angle, then move the entire machine at a certain speed and maintain the speed, the panels will rise. Then the rest of the machine will rise too. That’s how I think I could fly on this contraption. The panels here are going to rise thanks to that big fan at the front.”
“That must have taken a lot of thought,” Kino said.
“Yeah, but I’ve never had the chance to test it out. If I want to get this machine into the air, I need a street—one that’s level and straight, and long enough to boot. And the main street with all the official buildings is the only one that fits the bill. That’s why I was asking the chief to move the statues out of the way.”
“I see. And the chief doesn’t want to move the statues. I suppose he thinks this is impossible.”
“That’s right. And it’s not just him. Everyone else here thinks it’s impossible for a machine to fly through the sky. I tried explaining the theory so many times, but they just wouldn’t listen. So I want to let them see with their own eyes what my theories really mean.”
Kino looked up at the machine. Its metal parts were exposed to the air.
Nimya offered her tea. Kino took a cup. An engine with nine cylinders was affixed to the front of the body of the machine. “Interesting aroma. Is this a special tea?”
“Hm? No, it’s nothing special. At least, not in our country. I hope it’s to your liking,” Nimya said, taking a seat on her desk. Kino sat in the desk chair.
Suddenly, Nimya leapt to her feet. “Say, Hermes? You’re a motorrad; you should know whether my machine will work the way I think it will.”
Hermes’ answer was immediate. “Sure, I knew as soon as you explained. And I could tell you if it’ll work or not, but can I ask you something first? What do you think will happen?”
Nimya fell silent for a moment, but she soon replied with confidence, “It’ll fly! My theories are correct! They’re right, and this machine will fly!” Tea spilled from her cup as she tightened her grip on it. Kino took another sip.
“Yep. From what I can tell, this machine’s capable of flying. It’s even controllable. Now all you need is a long, flat street to help it take off,” said Hermes.
“Yes!” Nimya cheered.
“Hm,” Kino mumbled.
But Nimya’s joy quickly turned into a sigh. “A street. Now that’s the biggest problem.”
That was when they heard a car pulling up outside. Then a violent knock on the door.
“Nimya Tchuhachkova! Open up! It’s me.”
It was the chief. Nimya clicked her tongue in annoyance and pressed a button next to the desk.
The shutters opened and sunlight filled the warehouse. Over a dozen men entered, with the chief in the lead.
“Good afternoon, chief. If you’re here, does that mean you’re willing to hear out my request?”
“Of course not. …Hm? What are you doing here, Traveler?”
“I was just serving our guest some tea and giving my side of the story. Is there something wrong with being hospitable?” Nimya argued.
The chief was visibly displeased, but he attempted to maintain an air of calm. “Nimya. I’m here to talk about your…request.”
“In our country, people are free to do as they like so long as they do not transgress against the law or harm the public good. But as the one in charge of running this land, I cannot agree with you wasting your time and money on this worthless dream of flying on this contraption,” the chief declared, tone overflowing with dignity. Nimya shot him a glare.
“It is not worthless. Good day.”
Kino and Hermes could hear the chief grind his teeth.
“It’s no use, chief,” said a middle-aged man. “She’s completely out of her mind! Look at this ridiculous machine.”
“Don’t touch it!” Nimya hissed as the man approached.
The man snorted. “Why would I want to touch this thing?” He shot back, scrutinizing the machine. “Look at this beautiful engine. Wasted on a foolish contraption…on a…on a giant fan!”
“That’s right. In principle, it works just like a fan.”
“So how does a giant fan let you fly? Try explaining so a simpleton like me can understand,” the man said snidely. The others burst into laughter.
“You use this fan to pull the machine forward.”
“You pull it? With a fan?”
“Yes. If a fan produces wind, it means that there’s a force in the fan that’s going in the opposite direction. When the fan’s blades turn at high speeds and send wind to the machine, the machine will be moved by the force. It’ll run.”
Two seconds later, the man guffawed. “This is a riot!”
“What’s so funny?”
“Heh heh heh… Listen, Nimya. I’ve been using a fan for years, but the thing’s never budged from my desk. Hah hah hah… Ridiculous!” The man doubled over in laughter. Several of the others snickered.
“That’s just because your fan was fixed securely to the spot! There was too much friction between the fan and the desk! But try putting it on a big, flat piece of ice at full output! Then see what happens!”
The man was now in tears from laughing too hard. “So what kind of spell are you going to cast to get this giant fan to move, eh?”
Laughter filled the warehouse again.
“Numbskulls,” Nimya muttered.
Once the laughter had died down, another man spoke. “All right, let’s give you the benefit of the doubt and say this contraption really does move. It’s got tires, I mean. You’re saying it can fly, though, right?”
“Yes. If it can go fast enough, the wings will achieve lift,” Nimya replied, pointing at the machine.
“‘Wings’. You mean those flat panels sticking out of the sides?”
“Hm…I think there’s a bit of a design flaw here,” the man said gravely.
“What?” Nimya gasped.
The man paused, deliberately taking his time for dramatic effect.
“The wings are fixed so tightly…that they couldn’t possibly flap!”
The men burst into laughter again. Nimya was furious.
“These wings don’t need to flap! When wind—I mean, air—passes from the front to the back of the wings, the angle of the wings creates a difference in the amount of air that passes above and below, creating lift! Here, let me show you.”
She turned on the fan on her desk. Then she brought over a board and held it at an angle before the fan. It rose into the air.
“See? This is how it’ll work.”
The man was not particularly impressed. “I don’t see how hard it would be to make a flimsy panel like that fly into the air. But how much does your machine weigh? How much do you weigh?”
A third burst of laughter. Nimya went silent with outrage.
“This all sounds like hogwash, Nimya,” said the chief. “It’s ludicrous.”
“Listen. Everyone,” Nimya said. “Don’t any of you ever want to try aiming for something new? For innovation?”
“And take down our statues for your attempts? The answer is no. Would you tear down your own house just to see if you can communicate with ants?”
“I would do it in a heartbeat if I saw it was a possibility. I’ll be asking for your cooperation when that happens,” Nimya said, glaring. The chief sighed and shook his head.
“At first I thought you’d been working on a machine that would be helpful for agriculture. But all this time, you’d been wasting your parents’ inheritance on this…madness.”
“It’s not madness! This is a flying-machine!”
“Oh, it certainly would be one, if you were a wizard. But isn’t this contraption a little big to be a broomstick?” someone joked. Everyone burst out laughing. The chief looked Nimya in the eye.
“Nimya, we’ll be coming by tomorrow afternoon to dismantle this machine. I’m sorry to say this, but I see no other way to cure you of this insanity. It is the chief’s prerogative to take action in cases of emergency. We will take the engine into public custody and use it for a generator. Do you have anything you want to say before we leave?”
“What is it?”
“Please move the statues.”
Nimya was silent.
“All right, everyone, let’s get going now. We’ll be back tomorrow, Nimya.”
The chief and his men left the warehouse.
The sound of the fan filled the deserted space.
Nimya guzzled the rest of her cold tea and turned to Kino and Hermes, who had been watching quietly from the sidelines.
“So now you know what’s happening here. Never a dull moment, don’t you think?”
“Er…right. Actually, someone’s still here.”
Nimya looked up. A well-dressed young man remained. He looked at Nimya solemnly. She turned to Kino and Hermes. “Let me introduce you. This is my fiancé, although I haven’t seen him in a long time.”
Kino nodded lightly to the man. He slowly walked up to Nimya.
“Do you understand now, Nimya? Please stop this foolishness.”
“You’re calling this foolishness, too?”
“This whole…flying business. I don’t want to say this, but I know the fortune from your parents has almost dried up. I know you’re hardly eating properly. And that things are going to get even harder for you financially by next week.”
Nimya said nothing.
“So would you please sell this place and come with me? I’m ready for you to move in anytime.”
“It looks like he really cares for her. But that makes it even more—” Hermes whispered, but Kino put a finger over her lips to silence him.
Nimya still did not say a word.
Her fiancé continued. “Would you mind if I stayed the night here? Let’s take our time and talk things out.”
“No. I have work to do,” Nimya replied quietly.
“What kind of work? Can I help?”
Nimya shook her head. Then she grabbed him by the collar and gave him a soft kiss.
“It’s okay. Please leave for now. …I’ll contact you tomorrow.”
Once her fiancé was gone, Nimya closed the shutters completely. She strode to the silver flying-machine and slammed a hand against it.
“I don’t have much time left! I swear, I’m going to fly on this thing tomorrow morning and show those numbskulls that I was right!”
“The problem now is securing the street,” said Hermes.
“Yes! If only I could use the street, I could take off! And once I’m in the air, things will work themselves out. I could ram the chief’s residence if I had to.”
“Really?” Hermes asked, excited. Nimya finally calmed down.
“Well, in any case…I guess I should think about the logistics.”
Nimya returned to her desk and sat in the chair Kino offered her with a word of thanks. Kino stood, leaning against Hermes.
“I just don’t have enough space to go before takeoff. I’ve done the calculations over and over again, but even in the morning, when the winds are at their strongest, one of the statues is going to be in the way. Even if I manage to lift off, the machine will get caught in that statue,” Nimya sighed, looking down at scraps of paper filled with calculations and formulas.
“It won’t work even with the engine at full throttle?” asked Hermes.
“It won’t be enough.”
Nimya and Hermes fell into thought. But Kino spoke up without much thought.
“What if you built a ramp in front of the statue? A motorrad can jump over obstacles that way, so I’m sure your flying-machine could do the same.”
Nimya stared. Kino was taken aback.
“It’s just a suggestion…”
But some moments later, Nimya spoke. “You’re right. If I can build a ramp, I might not have to move the statue!”
“Good one, Kino!” Hermes cheered. Kino scratched her head, embarrassed.
“You think so? Thanks.”
“Hold on a second. Let me run the numbers.”
Nimya leaned over her desk and performed multiple calculations. But soon a bitter look rose to her face.
“No, it’s not going to work. Even with the ramp, I won’t have enough speed. The machine will fall straight back even after the jump.”
“But the reasoning is sound. The problem now is speed. If we can just figure out how to give it that extra boost…”
Hermes and Nimya went silent again. And once more, Kino spoke up without much thought.
“It’d be nice if you could launch it all in one go with gunfluid, like how a persuader shoots bullets.”
Nimya turned and shook her head. “That won’t work. I understand what you’re getting at, but you’d need a big, sturdy cylinder to launch the machine from. And a launch like that will damage the machine, too.”
“A dud. Too bad, Kino,” said Hermes. Kino pointed her finger at him and pretended to shoot her persuader. Her right hand rose after the mimed shot. Nimya looked up.
“…Kino, you were pretending to shoot a persuader just now, right?”
“And your right hand went up at the end.”
“Yes.The recoil on my persuader’s quite strong,” Kino replied, tapping Cannon with her finger.
For a time, Nimya’s gaze froze blankly. But she soon broke her silence. “That’s it!”
“I don’t need to launch it like a bullet! I just need to use the recoil! It’ll work just like a persuader; just add gunfluid into the pipe and induce ignition in stages, instantly producing gas! Adding a few of those pipes to the machine will give it the speed boost it needs!” Nimya cried, and pointed inside the warehouse. “I have pipes, and I have gunfluid! I can do this!”
“That’s perfect! You really are pretty smart, Kino!” Hermes cried.
“I don’t get any of this,” Kino mumbled in confusion.
The next morning. It was Kino’s third day in the country.
The chief did not rise even after dawn.
He lay comfortably asleep in bed, caressed by the cool morning winds.
The sun soon began to filter in through the window and the winds picked up, when he opened his eyes to a commotion coming from the main street. He heard the rumble of a truck and the sound of something being installed.
That was when he heard loud knocking, and a subordinate rushed into his bedroom.
“Chief! C-come quickly!”
The chief threw on whatever clothes he could find and hurried into the street. His jaw dropped.
The shortest, most stout statue standing in front of the residence had been transformed into a ramp. It looked as if the former chief was hugging scaffolding made of pipes and metal plates.
“Good morning, Chief,” Kino said with a smile, passing by. She pulled on a rope as she headed to the border between the sidewalk and the road. The rope was wrapped in yellow cloth with the words ‘DANGER: DO NOT ENTER’ printed in black letters.
The chief looked to the next statue over. There stood a silver machine glinting in the morning sun. The flying-machine he had seen the previous day in the warehouse. Unlike the previous day, however, there were several thick pipes affixed to the bottom of the machine. Next to the machine was the crane truck owned by the Tchuhachkova family.
The chief blinked and shook his head.
Kino was busy setting up a rope boundary on the other side of the street. Several people watched in curiosity. Kino responded to their questions with a smile. “Please stay behind the yellow line. It’s dangerous past here.”
Hermes stood before the flying-machine. Nimya, dressed in overalls, tied a rope to his luggage rack. The other end of the rope was secured to the flying-machine’s tire mechanism.
Nimya climbed up the flying-machine and took a seat in the flyer-seat. Then she put on her work goggles and gloves, and strapped herself in.
She waved to Kino, who had straddled Hermes, and gave her a thumbs-up.
Kino started Hermes’ engine. The engine roared. The chief scurried to her side.
“Traveler! What is the meaning of this?”
“Please get back, Chief. It’s dangerous here.”
At that very instant, the street was overwhelmed by a roar about three times louder than that of Hermes’ engine. The flying-machine was coming to life, and its fan was rotating.
The chief tried to say something, but Kino could not hear him.
The sidewalk was crowded with bystanders drawn by the noise. Some people were watching from their windows.
Kino pushed the chief out of the way and looked up at Nimya.
The flying-machine’s roar grew even louder.
Nimya punched the air with both hands and crossed her arms over her head. Then she opened them. Kino started Hermes. The mechanisms holding the flying-machine’s tires in place came undone in unison.
The flying-machine began to move as though sliding. A second later, the town was assaulted by a roar three times louder than that of the engine. White smoke gushed from the pipes under the machine.
“It’s exploded!” cried the chief.
“No, it’s going as planned,” Hermes muttered to himself. As though kicked by an invisible giant, the flying-machine accelerated and climbed up the ramp in the blink of an eye. The force of the launch shook nearby buildings, and every bystander’s eye was drawn to one direction.
The flying-machine launched itself off the ramp in an instant and flew straight into the sky, smoke trailing behind it.
The smoke clouded Kino’s vision. And by the time the morning wind cleared the smoke, the flying-machine was growing smaller against the clear blue sky. The pipes came loose from the machine and fell, no longer smoking. They landed in the marshlands outside the country and drove themselves into the ground.
The flying-machine was almost out of sight when it turned back. It began growing larger in the distance.
Then, it flew clear over the heads of the people with a boom. Everyone but Kino stared with mouths open, mesmerized. Then their mouths began to move in unison.
“It’s flying…that metal contraption is flying.”
“This is unreal. It’s got to be impossible, right?”
Kino, who had been smiling all the way since Nimya took flight, turned to Hermes. “What do you think?”
“I’m kind of envious. That’s all,” Hermes replied quietly.
Nimya shouted from the flyer-seat. “See? It’s flying! I knew it would work! My calculations, my experiments, they were all correct!”
She maneuvered the machine in midair, circling over the country or flying upside-down or turning from side to side.
Eventually, the machine was flying level with the ground again.
“Ugh…I feel sick…” Nimya muttered.
“Everyone!” Kino suddenly cried to the people standing in awe. “That flying-machine needs a long, straight road to land safely on the ground. If you’d like to help this woman and her great achievement become living history, please move three of the statues aside. Four, preferably.”
“O-of course. Right away,” the chief said, nodding. “Everyone! Let’s get those statues out of the way! Quickly!”
The people moved quickly at the chief’s urging. They used Nimya’s truck to pull the statues clear out of the ground. They covered the holes left behind with the panels that had been used for the ramp. Their desperate efforts moved a whopping seven statues off the street.
In the blink of an eye, Nimya had the long street she needed. Countless people lined either side of it.
Soon, the flying-machine slowly descended and slid towards the street. Its three tires hit the ground simultaneously and the engine shut down.
The flying-machine stopped right in front of Kino.
The people of the country cautiously crowded the machine. When Nimya took off her goggles and got up from her seat, the crowd stirred. Kino and Hermes watched it all from the back.
Her fiancé was the first to speak.
“See? I was right!” she cried, tapping the flying-machine. “We can fly somewhere on this machine for our honeymoon. Let’s get married tomorrow!”
Her fiancé looked up at her. “I…I had no idea, Nimya—I mean, my lady…”
Nimya gave a confused look.
“I can’t believe it! You were a wizard all along!”
“I apologize, my lady! In our ignorance, we treated you like a fool and insulted you! Please forgive us powerless people!”
“What?” Nimya uttered in shock. Her fiancé knelt. As if on cue, so did the rest of the people.
“Forgive us!” “Forgive us!” “Your forgiveness, my lady!” “Please forgive us!” “Forgive us!” “Forgive us!” “Forgive us!” “Forgive us!” “Forgive us!”
It was like watching ripples spread across water, with Nimya and the flying-machine at the center.
“What’s happening? Why are you all acting this way?” Nimya wondered.
“Lady Nimya. O great wizard. We apologize for our impudence,” the chief said, rising to his feet. “We ask that you guide us hopeless people with your great power. You are now the leader of our land. As chief, I hereby hand all authority over this country to you. Please, Lady Nimya.”
Nimya was stunned into silence. Meanwhile, Kino was rushing to take her things off the truck and load them onto Hermes. Someone stopped her, just as enraptured as the rest of the citizens.
“Traveler, are you a wizard too? Then please stay with us and guide—”
“No, I’m not! And I think it’s about time for me to leave this country!” Kino declared, securing her luggage and putting on her hat and goggles. Nimya climbed off her flying-machine and came up to her. The crowds parted to make way.
“We’re leaving right away,” said Kino.
“What? Why not stay a little longer?” Nimya asked, surprised.
“I’m sorry. I think things might get a little complicated if I stay. But in any case, congratulations.”
“Congrats. That was really moving,” said Hermes.
Nimya looked around and sighed. Then she turned back to Kino and Hermes. “Thank you. I couldn’t have done it without you.” She smiled. “You might have come to this country on a whim or by coincidence, but to me…it was like destiny. If not for you, my flying-machine would have been dismantled and I would have lived the rest of my life in despair. Really. I can’t express how grateful I am.”
Nimya offered Kino a handshake. Kino took it.
“Congratulations, Nimya. It was fun to watch all this happen.”
“Me too. Goodbye.”
Nimya watched until the motorrad disappeared around a corner. Then she turned to the people kneeling before her and wondered, “Now what do I do?”
Kino and Hermes left the country through the deserted gates.
The swamps were as numerous as ever, but the road was not as muddy as before. It made for a much easier ride. They continued with the country’s walls behind them.
“That was amazing, Kino! I really liked everyone’s surprised faces at the end. They were scared stuff!”
“Scared stiff, you mean.”
“Yeah, that,” Hermes said, and went silent.
The motorrad continued down the road cutting across the marshlands.
“…But you know, I was really surprised,” Kino muttered quietly.
“Yeah. From the way those people reacted, it looks like Nimya’s going to live with a big misunderstanding for a while. I bet she’ll get her own statue soon.”
Kino paused before responding.
“That wasn’t what I meant, actually.”
“Huh? Then what?” Hermes asked.
“I didn’t think that her machine would actually manage to fly,” Kino finally said.
“Kino. What did you just say?”
“I didn’t think it would actually fly. I kind of understood the gist of her explanation, about how the machine gets lift and flies, and about the panel in front of the fan. But I was still skeptical to the end. …It was really incredible.”
For some time, the motorrad continued down the road, silent save for the rumbling of its engine. The colorful waterfowl cawing throughout the marsh flapped into the air in unison.
“Then why’d you help her, Kino?!” Hermes asked in shock. Kino’s response was calm.
“Because I thought it would make for a cool sight if she succeeded. And if she failed, I assumed she’d understand and give up. And…”
“I was bored.”
There was a moment of silence.
“So…” Hermes said slowly. “So if…if this country wasn’t a boring one, you wouldn’t have helped her?”
“Maybe. I mean, who’d believe that a machine like that could actually fly?”
Hermes was lost for words. Kino continued.
“But it really flew. It was just like magic. I was really surprised, and I realized it really was worth trekking through all that mud to see something like that. …Is something wrong, Hermes?”
“Nothing. I’m just considering the boundless potential that humans have,” Hermes replied gravely.
The motorrad continued its leisurely ride down the road by the marshland.