Volume 1 Chapter 5: Reunion
“The Master helped you two? That’s wonderful!”
Lillia and Treize had arrived at a tiny village in the woods, which consisted of a cluster of twenty houses and a single road.
Just as Morseau instructed, they had gone to the village hall on the outskirts of the community. A middle-aged woman heard the car and came outside, and seemed to be shocked to see the two. But once she read Morseau’s letter, all her doubts were cleared.
“This is delightful. I can’t believe I’m getting to help out the Master!” She said, beaming. “Come inside and sit for a while. I’ll have my husband get his truck.”
Then she quickly ran toward the houses.
As they watched her depart, Treize commented,
“It looks like Mr. Morseau gets a lot of respect.”
“Of course he does.” Lillia said, holding her head high.
“Why are you acting so proud?”
Soon, a middle-aged man arrived with an empty truck. He promised Lillia and Treize that he would take them to Healer Village. Treize handed Morseau’s car keys to the woman.
With Treize and Lillia in the passenger seats, the truck departed amidst the well-wishes of the villagers.
They traveled down a gravel road that was about twice the width of the forest path. The truck raced to the village, leaving a trail of dust in its wake.
Lillia clung to the leather handle on the side of the door for dear life, frozen in the midst of the roaring noise and the speeding surroundings.
“Please, slow down!” Treize pleaded with the driver. The paper bag at his feet danced.
“Heh. We’ll be just fine. My job’s to get you two to Healer Village as fast as possible for the Master.”
“That’s great and all, but what if something leaps out of the woods or something?”
“It’s all right. The local animals don’t get much bigger than deer—when one pops out, the rest usually just follow without even thinking.”
“So what if a deer—or a herd of deer—leap into the road?” Asked Treize.
The man met his gaze, staring for a long time.
“Please keep your eyes on the road.”
“If a deer runs into the road, that’s when I run it down like BAM! What else d’you think the grille guard is for?” The man replied, nodding at the front of the truck.
“If I hit the brakes and slow down, the deer might end up jumping into the truck. Then it’ll go wild before it dies, which is bad for us. But if I hit it properly, we could be having venison tonight.”
“I understand. But please slow down.”
The man lifted his foot slightly from the gas pedal. The truck was finally moving at a legal speed again.
“Man… I thought we were done for.” Lillia mumbled, letting go of the handle. “Say, Mister? Is Mr. Mo- I mean, the Master really such a great person?”
“Of course he is!” The man replied, stepping harder. The truck accelerated violently.
“Please! The gas pedal!” Treize said desperately.
“Oh, sorry. …Of course he’s a great man. I take it the two of you don’t know much about the Master?”
“We don’t know anything about him. He didn’t really give us a biography, and we couldn’t just pry.”
“True. He’s a humble man, too.”
“Could you tell us who the Master is?” Lillia asked, eyes on the driver’s seat.
“Of course. It’s been about thirty years since the Master came to Tolcasia. We were still at war with Sou Be-Il. Was it during the Lestki Island incident, or earlier…? It was a long time ago, at any rate.”
“Where did he come from?” Asked Lillia. The man shook his head.
“Who knows? The Master didn’t seem too keen on talking about his past. So we decided not to pry. He suddenly appeared in Tolcasia out of nowhere. He rented an empty house in Healer Village and started a facility to help poor children become independent. He looked after them, fed them, taught them, and found work for them—all for free. At first, everyone was suspicious. What kind of foreigner would just do all this for no profit, everyone wondered.”
“But what about now?”
“Well, time passed and everyone was moved by how the Master did all he could for the children. More and more people stepped up to volunteer help or support him. So our country’s poor children lived at the facility, then became independent and moved away. I’ve even heard that some children who found work at the Capital District started sending donations to the facility once they were adults.”
“That’s so sweet.”
“It’s certainly heartwarming. Nowadays, no one would badmouth the Master—at least, no one from Tolcasia. We’re such a backwater country that the rest of the Confederation knows almost nothing about the Master, though. … No offense to you Capital District folks.”
“Please don’t worry about us.”
“Anyway, that’s how the facility sends a few kids to the Capital District every year. Of course, a lot of kids forget the Master’s kindness and break off contact with the facility. Ungrateful lot.” Said the man. Lillia agreed.
“Shouldn’t they at least write back? Everyone would be so happy to hear from them.”
“Darn right. But the Master always says, no news is good news. And he always personally sees off the children who leave. He’s always hoping the children will have a bright future.”
“That’s wonderful. I’ll be sure to tell everyone I know once we get back to the Capital District.”
“I’m happy to hear that.”
“And I’ll tell everyone about the nice man who took us to Healer Village.”
“I’m happy to hear that, too.”
“We met someone really awful recently. But it turns out that everyone we met after that were really kind. It feels good knowing that the world’s not full of bad guys after all.”
“I’m very happy to hear that.”
The truck continued down the gravel road.
“We’re almost there.”
No sooner had he spoken than the surface of the Kurz Sea came into view between the trees to their right. The lake shone brilliantly under the blue sky and the midday sun.
“Thank you so much, Mister.”
Lillia and Treize stepped off the truck.
“Don’t mention it. I’m just honored I could do something for the Master. Have a good flight, you two.” The man replied, starting the truck. Soon, he gave a honk and drove back down the gravel road.
“We’re finally here.”
Treize and Lillia turned.”
They stood at the edge of the woods. About 200 meters ahead they could see Healer Village and the lake.
The village began at the lakeshore, and was crowded with roads and houses. There was a building with a spire in the distance past the red brick roofs.
Many docks were set up on the lake to the right, acting as the village’s harbor. There were several boats moored there.
And before the docks was a large seaplane. It had a shining metal fuselage with a ship-like underside. Its large, wide wings were above, with four engines and propellers. The seaplane was over 20 meters long, and the two fins were over 4 meters above the water’s surface. The boat in front of the plane looked tiny in comparison.
Several tents had been erected by the warehouse at the harbor. A crowd was gathered there.
Lillia and Treize headed for the tents. Because there was no road to the harbor, they had to diagonally cut across the square, which was still covered with dirt and had not been cleared of tree stumps.
“That’s a big seaplane. Have you ever flown on something like that?” Asked Lillia. Treize shook his head.
“Of course not. That one looks like an older passenger craft. I heard models like that were cut from service recently because aeroplanes are getting better and airstrips are being repaired.”
“You know a lot, don’t you?”
“I’d love to try flying something that big one day.”
“Not me. I’ll take the small, fast ones any day.”
The harbor was occupied with a large lunch gathering. Countless dishes were lined up on the tables, and the people chattered like they were at a festival as they enjoyed their meals. There were many children there as well. Over twenty of them sat on the concrete ground in front of a warehouse as they ate.
“Excuse me. Could we ask a question?” Treize asked a young woman sitting next to the children. Making sure that she was employed at the facility, he handed her Morseau’s letter.
“Please, I’m not worthy to read the Master’s letter!” She said, passing the letter to an older woman in an apron who was carrying dishes.
The older woman read the letter and nodded.
“I understand. We’ll do as the Master asks.”
The woman called over a man in a suit and explained the situation to him. The man introduced himself as being from the Capital District, and as the one who arranged for the seaplane. He promised to allow Lillia and Treize to board.
Lillia and Treize politely expressed their gratitude.
“Have you eaten yet? The whole village is eating together today. Join us for lunch.” The older woman suggested with a smile.
Lillia and Treize accepted her offer with gusto. They stuffed themselves with boiled meat and peas from massive pots and plates, tiny fried shrimp, fruit tarts, colorful breads, and apple juice with endless refills.
In the middle of their meal, Treize whispered to Lillia,
“This Master’s getting us everywhere and everything.”
“We’d be goners if not for him. …Imagine how much fun we’d be having by now if we’d never met that crazy pilot.” Lillia replied.
It was after the meal, when they sat on the concrete floor to rest, that someone spotted them.
“Huh? It’s big bro and big sis! What are you doing here?”
A boy walking by with an apple in hand suddenly spoke up. He was about ten years old, and wore a brown shirt and long black pants. He was the ‘guide’ they had hired at Lartika.
“Hm? Oh, Carlo!” Lillia cried. Treize also greeted the boy.
“We meet again.”
Carlo sheepishly came up to them.
Carlo sheepishly came up to them.
“How’d you know my name? …I guess the old guy must’ve told you, huh. Damn it.”
“The old guy? Oh, you mean Mr. Morseau. Yes, we met him.” Lillia replied with a smile.
“So you at least told him your name. Good.”
“Well… he gave me food and stuff, so yeah. But I’m stickin’ by my personal policy, big bro. Big sis.”
Lillia chuckled. “I’m fine with that. …We were a little worried about you, Carlo. I’m so glad we met again. How’s the facility?”
Carlo looked at the air and thought.
“Well… it’s not as bad as I thought. For now. They give me all my meals, too. Well, the police officer was annoying.”
“That’s good to hear. You clothes look a little cleaner, too.”
“What happened to you two, anyway? What are you doing out here in the countryside? Did they kick you out of that fancy hotel because you made a racket at night or something?”
“No, Carlo. We just… had a rough day. But then Mr. Morseau helped us out. Now we’re getting a ride on that seaplane so we can go back to Lartika.”
“Huh. So even rich people like you get in trouble sometimes?” Carlo replied. It was hard to tell if he was shocked, astonished, or mocking.
Then, he suddenly raised his voice.
“Anyway, aren’t you excited? This is amazing!”
“What is?” Treize asked.
“What else? The aeroplane! They said we get to ride it! It’s even better than this feast! I saw the plane flying here last night!” Carlo raved, holding his apple in one hand and pointing at the seaplane with the other. Lillia, who had been on aeroplane rides since she was younger than Carlo, made a complicated face.
“I… I see. It must be exciting?”
“Of course it is! Poor kids like me would never get to ride on an aeroplane, you know. I don’t believe it! It must be a miracle! If I got here a day late, I wouldn’t have gotten to ride it. We’re all so lucky.”
“True.” Said Treize.
After lunch, people began to take away the dishes and silverware from the table.
Lillia and Treize stood to help, but were turned away and left with nothing to do. They sat at the stairs by the warehouse and blankly stared at the scene. The sun shone brightly overhead, and a gentle breeze from the lake caressed them.
“I’m getting tired. I think I might fall asleep on the plane…”
“We went through too much yesterday and today.”
“But we’re going to avenge Mr. Mateo no matter what.”
That was when Carlo came up to them.
“They said we’re leaving soon, so anyone who has to go to the bathroom should go now and meet in front of the plane.”
“Okay. Let’s go.”
Treize stood and held out a hand to Lillia.
She refused his hand and got to her feet with all the gravity of a soldier bound for battle.
“Let’s go. I swear, the first thing I do when we land is run straight to the police station.”
Treize lightly waved his empty hand and shrugged.
Watching Lillia quietly walk away to the plane, Carlo asked Treize,
“Say, is big sis actually scared of flying or something?”
The lunch was attended by about forty adults, about twenty children, and several people with armbands labeled ‘press’, including cameramen. The reporters snapped photograph after photograph and asked the adults and children all kinds of questions with notebooks in hand.
Of the reporters, one group saw the children lining up to board and turned to his group.
“All right. Let’s head out.”
The men returned to their vehicle near the warehouse entrance. It was a perfectly common black van, difficult to distinguish from others. There was a spare tire affixed behind it, and there was a wooden crate in the back covered by cloth.
The men got in and started the van. Noticed by no one, the van left the village and merged onto a main road outside the settlement. The road was wide and paved with dirt, and there were no other vehicles in sight. The road continued endlessly to the horizon. Utility poles stood in a line under the shoulder.
When the village was completely out of sight, the van stopped at a stretch of the road sandwiched between a field and a forest. One of the men stepped off and pulled a thin antenna out the window.
Another man, who sat in the back, operated the machine in the crate in the back. The machine was a radio. The man who had until not too long ago been wearing a ‘press’ armband held the microphone and spoke.
“This is Treefrog 4. Come in, Thunderstorm.”
For a second, there was static. Then, a response.
<This is Thunderstorm. Treefrog 4, respond.>
<This is Thunderstorm. Treefrog 4, respond.>
“Treefrog 4 reporting. The seaplane is departing as scheduled. We confirmed two additional passengers who were not on the original list. I repeat. Two additional passengers. Requesting instruction.”
<The passengers. A boy and a girl in their mid-to-late teens?>
“Yes. How did you know?”
<Treefrog 1 and 2 witnessed them heading west by car from ‘his’ house. Their presence on the plane changes nothing. Confirm takeoff and proceed as planned.>
<Understood. We will return to the harbor to confirm takeoff.>
“We have contact from Treefrog 4. The boy and the girl are boarding the seaplane. Departure as scheduled.”
“Then we’re clear. We won’t even need to step in.”
“But we should report to ‘Aristocrat’ just in case.”
“Huh? It’s just a little detail.”
“He wants detailed reports. Nothing is to be left out. He’s a meticulous man. Connect me.”
“Ahem. Thanks to the kindness of anonymous donors from the Capital District—”
When the village elder’s lengthy speech finally came to an end, the children lined up to board the plane.
They were five or six years old at the youngest, and the older ones were about twelve. In total, there were twenty-three children, about ten of them girls. They were all wearing similar shirts and shorts.
“They’re all from the facility. They all have stories like mine. I made friends with a few of them yesterday, but some of them I’ve never talked to.” Said Carlo.
“You two? I know the children might be a handful, but I hope you have a good trip. I’ll tell the Master that we sent you off.” The older woman said as she came over to Lillia and Treize. Lillia thanked her again. Treize bowed.
Carlo stood at the back of the line. Lillia and Treize lined up after him. A man in his forties, who wore a button-up shirt and tie like a commercial aeroplane pilot, counted the passengers. Twenty-five people, up to Treize at the very end.
“So you two are the last-minute passengers? Since you’re the oldest of the bunch, I’d like you to watch over the children during the flight.” Said the pilot. Lillia nodded.
“Of course. But we’ll be getting off partway.”
“But please take care of them while you’re onboard. Just make sure they don’t do anything dangerous. I agreed to the flight knowing only children were going to board, but to be honest it’s a little unnerving if they’re not supervised.”
“I’m counting on you.” The man said, and left the line. He went over to shake hands with the adults, and led the children at the front to the dock.
Seen off by the villagers, the facility employees, and the reporters and their cameras, the children walked in single file down the dock. The 40-meter dock was the longest in the village, and was connected to a 20-meter floating bridge made of drum canisters and plywood. The edge of the bridge was the ramp into the seaplane. The door into the plane was in the middle of the passenger cabin; the cockpit was on the right side of the fuselage, and round windows dotted the sides in perfect symmetry.
From up close, the seaplane looked even more massive. The two fins stuck proudly into the air, and the 35-meter wings covered the sky like a shade.
“Wow, it’s huge!”
“It’s so big.”
“Does this thing really fly?”
“This is so cool!”
The children chirped and chattered as they stepped onto the plane.
Lillia, Treize, and Carlo entered as well. On the right side of the plane was a very steep staircase—which was almost a ladder—that led into the cockpit higher up. On the left was a corridor leading into the freight hold and the passenger cabin.
They passed through a long, narrow oval-shaped door and entered the cabin. There was a carpet running down the middle of the cabin, with two-person seats facing one another on either side of the aisle.
Because the children who boarded earlier took up most of the seats, Lillia and the others headed for the empty seats at the very end. Behind the seats were a door leading into the bathroom and the emergency hatch on the right side.
Carlo and Lillia sat on the right sides. Treize sat alone on the left, putting the paper bag in the empty seat.
Not only were the seats as good as couches, they were also large and soft and comfortable. There were patches of visible repair and some discoloration, but it was another world compared to the cramped, uncomfortable cockpit seats in smaller planes. The interior was finished with a polished veneer, just like a fancy hotel.
“I’ve never flown in such a nice seat before.” Lillia mumbled.
“Same. I feel like I might fall asleep.” Treize agreed.
“This is so cool! It’s just like a luxury cruise ship or a luxury train! Not that I’ve even ridden on them before.” Carlo cheered, ignorant of Lillia’s comment.
“Children, do not get out of your seats during the flight, and do not make a commotion. Sit quietly and look out the windows. Put on your seatbelts tightly when we take off and land, and the bathroom is in the back but try not to go unless you absolutely must.”
The man they met earlier was explaining all the safety guidelines from the aisle, but almost none of the children were paying attention.
“—That is all. Was anyone even listening?”
Soon, the man shut the door and left.
Lillia looked out the window. Through the glass, only a meter above the surface, she could see the bridge, the harbor, the village by the lake, and the people there.
“I wonder how long it’ll take?” She wondered.
“140 kilometers in a straight line. A seaplane like this could probably get 200 to 250 kilometers per hour if the weather’s good. Add in takeoff and landing, and it’ll probably take about an hour. Unless we stop by other places or something to sightsee.”
“I see. I should have asked. I might fall asleep, so wake me up when we get there.”
The moment Treize replied, the engines began to rumble overhead and the noise filled the cabin.
“It’s the engines! We’re flying!”
“Wow! We’re flying!”
Listening to the children cheer, Lillia leaned against the comfy seat and closed her eyes.
<A boy and a girl have boarded the seaplane. I am reporting because their presence was not part of the original plan.>
<Sir, are you listening?>
<What of the seaplane?>
<The engines just started—ah, it’s taken off now. We can see from here with binoculars. It’s just about on time.>
<…I see. Understood. Thank you for the notice.>
<Shall we proceed as planned?>
<Yes. You may.>
<Then if you’ll excuse me, Major.>
“What’s going on here?” Said the suit-clad man, putting down the receiver. He was in a small hotel in the village. In the room was a single bed, a desk, and a haphazardly-arranged radio system.
The seaplane outside was circling the village as it gained altitude.
“What is going on here?” Said another man, putting down the receiver.
He was in his mid-thirties, and had black hair and scholarly silver-rimmed glasses. He wore a green and brown checkered shirt and light pants, along with a vest with many pockets. He looked like he was ready to go fishing.
“Is there a problem, Major Travas?” Asked the young woman next to him.
She was in her late twenties. Although she was not wearing a vest, she also wore a similar shirt and pants. She had short brown hair and sharp, stern eyes.
The man and the woman were in a bus. A perfectly common 20-seater bus with an aisle between the seats. The bus was stopped by the roadside, idling with the engine still on. Outside the bus was a forest and a field.
Other than the two, there was a man dressed like a driver in the driver’s seat, and five men in their twenties to thirties near the back. They were all wearing vests like fishermen. Their belongings consisted of simple backpacks and bags, and long fishing pole holders. From the outside they merely looked like a group out on a fishing trip.
The woman and the men all looked at Major Travas. He did not look like a man on a fishing trip, his expression betraying incredible unease.
“Hm. We have a problem, Axe.” He said to the woman.
“Attention, everyone.” He said loudly, so everyone on the bus could hear. “This is an emergency. My friend’s daughter and her companion, who went missing last night, have boarded the seaplane in question.”
The men grimaced in unison. The driver found himself turning, but caught himself and turned back. The woman called ‘Axe’ swallowed.
“As such, there will be a change of plans. I will inform you of the changes in due time.” Major Travas said, picking up the receiver he had just put down. The phone had been hidden so it could only be seen when the seat was lifted.
“It’s too dangerous to change our plans now, Major. You’re the one who taught me to never wing things.” Axe cut in disapprovingly. Major Travas smiled.
“I’m not winging everything.”
“I’ll tell you the details later.”
Major Travas replied, and turned the dial. The thin cable stretching from the roof of the bus was connected to the phone line on the utility pole by the road.
Someone soon picked up. Major Travas spoke into the receiver.
“I know that the factory has ceased operations. I’m just calling to get the local weather forecast—”
<Yes, sir. As I informed you yesterday, I’m available to leave at any time.>
<Then come immediately. This is Code Rhubarb. I repeat, Code Rhubarb. Both are aboard.>
<…How’d that happen? Why?>
<I can’t say for sure yet, but maybe she’s just as fond of getting involved in things as a certain someone I know. I’ll ask about the details later.>
<All right. I’ll be right there. But where are they? That lake is huge.>
<We have no way of knowing from here. It’s all on you.>
<You’re giving me a pretty big job, you know.>