Chapter 3: Batoh
Inside my box, I tried my hardest not to make a sound as I slowly raised the lid above my head and peeked out.
The cargo area around me was pitch black with no windows or lights to help see with. Luckily, my eyes had already gotten used to the darkness.
There were nothing but other wooden boxes and jute bags stacked around me. Of course, there wasn’t another soul in sight… Except for the just one right next to me. She too peeked out of her lid.
“Seems like the coast is clear,” I said, standing up. I gave her a helping hand and helped her up as well.
“Wow, Seagulls can hold so much stuff,” she said. “This space is so big…”
“Yeah, what regular passengers see at the top is only a small part of the whole vessel.”
Specifically, the Pelican-owned Seagull we were in was large enough that it needed four engines to power it. It was used regularly for trade between Batoh and Divel, and could operate for months at a time.
“How much stuff is here anyway?” Stella asked.
“Hmm… Maybe in total around 10,0000 to 12,000 kilograms worth of cargo?”
With this much cargo on board, the risk of being attacked was extraordinarily high. In this case however, there wasn’t much concern because the area around Divel was relatively safe. Maybe that’s why they could get away delivering this much stuff.
We suddenly heard some thumping noises above us which caused Stella to look up instinctively.
“What’re those noises?” she asked.
“Probably some noble’s children running around,” I said.
Divel was one of the few places where the countries around it were able to have safe passage to. As a result, the top floors were usually occupied by Batoh nobles or other important people.
“I’ll make sure that this war does not happen.” Stella whispered with confidence, thinking about the future of the children above us.
There was a small, open space among the cargo piled high to the ceiling where Stella and I sat. When the Seagull was being loaded, the captain made sure that we were placed right next to that space.
“So, what are you gonna do when we arrive?”
“What am I gonna do?” Stella winced back.
“Have you not thought about it…”
I sighed. “Somehow, I’m not surprised.”
“Yeah, but what’s there to think about? I’ll will be with their King and tell him how I feel.”
“Okay, but how are you gonna meet with the King?”
“Uhh…” Stella stiffened up without knowing what to say. “How would I know, right?? I’ve been trying all this time just to get into Batoh!”
“Don’t be so loud. You’re gonna get us caught…”
I had to get her to calm down before she heated up too much. This was bad, though. We had no allies or resources to get us to the King. We weren’t even going to get into Batoh legally.
“Okay, lets assume that the corsairs that attacked us were from Batoh,” I said, trying to get a logical line of thought going. “Does that mean they knew what you were coming for?”
Stella thought about it for a moment.
“Maybe? They must have known at the very least there was royalty on board because the Seagull I was in was definitely marked for it, but they probably didn’t know who.”
I nodded. The more I thought about it, the more serious the situation seemed. After all, they did pretty much declare war by mercilessly killing Vessel’s royalty.
My main priority was to protect Stella. I had to get her home regardless of whether she managed to stop the war or not.
“If they somehow knew that you were in that Segaull, then they must think you’re dead right now,” I said.
“So right now I’m ‘dead’ to them?”
“You probably need some sort of physical proof that you’re a princess or they won’t even look in your direction.”
“That I have! My father did give me a letter… Wait.” Stella’s voice trailed off as her heart sank. “Oh no… It must have drifted away when I was in the water…”
“No worries. That star sapphire should be enough.”
Our conversation awkwardly came to a halt until Stella broke the silence.
“A-Anyways, okay then! We’ll bust through the castle and just go for it!” she exclaimed.
That’s the conclusion she came to?
“S-Sure…” I muttered.
Honestly speaking, I was hoping that we would try a little bit but ultimately be forced to turn back. I had a bad feeling about what would happen if we stepped foot into their castle, but I chose not to mention it to her.
There was no need for any additional concerns.
It took an hour of waiting after we arrived for all the luggage and passengers to be dropped off. Once we received the signal as instructed, we finally made our way out the Seagull and into Batoh.
“W-What is this!!?!” I said upon stepping off. We stepped into an open area right into a bunch of rifles pointed at us.
The soldiers, who had their formal uniforms stitched with a red and gold embroidery, had us surrounded on all sides. Some were carefully taking cover behind the cargo that had just been unloaded.
“Batoh’s military police!” I shouted.
Not just any military police, either. These were the ones that were directly responsible for guarding the royal palace, made up of Batoh’s most elite soldiers.
What have I done…
I cursed at my own foolishness. We were caught because of one reason and one reason alone—
Politis had sold us out to make a quick buck.
It was wrong of me to assume that I could simply walk Stella into Batoh like this. It was wrong of me to assume that people wouldn’t recognize her. Politis must have known who she was the moment he saw her face.
Why did I not realize this? Divel and Vessel had deep roots when it came to trading. Someone as deep into the trading business as Politis surely must have known her face.
Why did I trust him? Politis was always scheming to make profits. He’s not someone who we should have trusted and put our faith in. If there was a way for him to make more money off of us, he was going to go for it.
A man, presumably the squad captain, stepped up from the center. “You are the fourth princess, Stella Vessel Canal, correct?” he asked with an air of elegance. He didn’t sound rude or anything— In fact, he had quite a respectful tone.
I could only think about whether I should just book it with Stella right then and there. There were six people armed with rifles and knives that we had to evade to get escape.
But, no. That was just a naive thought of mine. Even if I knew how to fight a little bit, I was ultimately a novice compared to the professional soldiers in front of us. I was not going to run away from this situation with her no matter how hard I tried.
Unlike me, Stella was a different breed. Even now, she held her ground as a princess of Vessel.
“This saves us the trouble of trying to get in, doesn’t it?” Stella smiled at me. She was so nonchalant about the whole thing that I became speechless.
Stella adamantly walked forward seemingly not caring about the rifles pointed at her. This time, it was the soldiers who were shaken by us.
She walked towards the captain and calmly said, “Indeed, that would be me.”
“Please come with us to the castle.”
Stella nodded. “That’s exactly what I’m here for. As an ambassador of peace from Vessel, please grant me an audience with the King.”
Ultimately, I was taken away from Stella and shoved into a small room within the tenth floor of the castle. It wasn’t a jail cell, but it wasn’t anything fancy that one might expect here. I guess this was for people they didn’t consider important enough— including Swallows like me.
The door was locked from the outside, but the room at least had some nicely placed furniture I could use.
This whole ordeal was just so confusing to me. Why was I placed here and not locked up in a real cell? I wasn’t even chained up and could move freely around the room. In terms of guards, there was probably only one person outside as well. If I really wanted to, I could probably escape through the window.
For someone who was about to die, I was sure being treated quite laxly. What was going on?
Stella must be okay if I was getting this kind of treatment, but I was still worried to the point where I had to physically stop myself from pacing around the room. They probably thought I was Stella’s butler or something, so I had to really think things through before I acted to prevent making the situation worse for her.
I figured it was probably best to do what they say for the time being.
Yet the whole situation changed in an instance as the door swung open.
“Please come out,” someone called out from outside.
For some reason I was dragged into a dressing room and forced to change into a fancy blazer.
“Why do I have to change into this…” I muttered. The whole thing didn’t make sense.
The two attendants stationed in the room even went as far as to straighten up my hair.
Afterwards, I was taken to a steam elevator where to my surprise, we went up to the floors used by the more important people.
“Hey, I’m not being transferred to a jail am I?” I asked one of the guards.
“Just shut up and follow us.”
I sighed. Whatever.
We went up about ten floors near the top of the castle and walked through a long hallway decorated with a red carpet until we stopped right before a grand room guarded by two other elite guards.
One of the guards opened the door and said, “Please enter.”
Stella was inside, having changed into a white dress. She immediately saw me walk in and ran up.
“Ciel! Thank goodness, you’re safe!”
“That suit actually suits you quite well,” she said, but it was actually her that looked perfect in that dress. Just a glance at her was enough to remind me that she was a princess.
However, right now I was more focused on other things.
“What’s going on? Why are we dressed up like this…” I asked blankly.
“Right now we ‘re going to see the King.”
The King? I wondered why they would go so far if we were going to be at war soon.
“How did you convince them?”
“Uhh, I just asked them and they said yes,” Stella said nonchalantly.
“That worked? But why me too?”
“I requested that you be with me and they said yes to that too.”
It was nice to hear some good news in a while, I guess.
From the way we’ve been treated, it certainly didn’t feel like they were our enemies. There were so many other hidden ways to make us disappear if they really wanted to. If Stella was granted a public audience with the King, then they recognized her position as an ambassador and was willing to hear what she had to say. Perhaps she was right in saying those corsairs that attacked us were not from Batoh. Who could they possibly be, then?
In any case, it was imperative that we figure out what they wanted from us, whether it be money or even just information.
“But hey, it’s great that I can talk to them, right?” she said with a giggle.
She awkwardly fist bumped the air in front of her. It’s good to see she still had the energy at least.
I did appreciate her confidence— She seemed invincible.
“You’re right… Let’s go see what they’re all about.”
We were finally approached by two guards after thirty minutes.
“Thanks for your patience,” they said with a bow. “The King will meet with you now.”
“Thank you very much. Let’s go, Ciel.”
Unlike Stella who walked with dignity and elegance, I was much more hesitant in my steps. Stella was ready to take this head on while I was ready to flee at a moment’s notice.
The guards led us to a special elevator that only stopped at the highest floor.
The door opened to a huge banquet hall. The stained glass ceilings above scattered light from the sun like a kaleidoscope, lighting up the room with a host of vibrant colors. At the end of the hall were two symmetrical spiral staircases that both led to the same huge door on the second floor.
“The King is waiting past that door.”
“Got it, thanks,” replied Stella, and she was off.
I followed closely behind.
The door, twice my height, was made even more imposing by the two guards standing in front of it.
Slowly, they opened it to reveal a completely white room. The first thing I noticed was that the King was already seated on his throne inside.
“Follow my lead,” Stella whispered.
I nodded timidly.
She walked slowly inside. When she reached the steps leading up to the throne, she grabbed the sides of her dress and bowed deeply. I knelt alongside her.
“I, Stella Canal Vessel, fourth princess of the country Vessel, have come to represent my father, Sole Canal Vessel and my country. It is an extreme privilege to be granted an audience with your majesty. My partner here is Ciel Migrateur, a Swallow from the Vessel Guild of Swallows.”
“Please rise,” the King said.
We both stood back up and I saw how young he was— He was young enough to be in his twenties. He was also a handsome young man with his silver hair and his gently eyes.
“I am the King of Batoh, Arbour Batoh Griesh. Princess Stella, you have grown to become a fine young woman.”
“You knows me?”
“Yes, I do— when you were just a baby and I was around ten years old. That time it was me who was invited to Vessel.”
“I see… Forgive me for not knowing,” apologized Stella.
“No need to apologize. I’m just glad we could meet once again.”
“However,” Stella made her move, “it pains me that we must meet in this manner.”
“No worries. Why have you come?”
Did he really not know or was just pretending not to? I paid close attention to his expression… No, it seemed like he really didn’t know what was going on. Or was he just that good at maintaining a poker face?
“Your majesty, I wish to discuss some things in place of my father, the King of Vessel.”
“Of course, please come with me. Let’s talk in my room.”
“Your… room?” Stella couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“Your majesty!” said a nearby guard.
King Arbour shook his head. “I also have some things I need to discuss with her. I suspect we both wish to discuss these things in private.”
King Arbour’s room was surprisingly small and modest for a king. It was only about twice as large as my guest room.
“I do have my own office, but it’s too big and so I can’t concentrate in it,” he explained with a laugh. He seemed to be cut from the same cloth as Stella in that he didn’t act much like a King.
“Is it really okay for us to be in your room without any guards?” Stella asked.
King Arbour waved her off. “I can think of ten different ways that would be better than what you two did if you guys really wanted to kill me. Besides, killing me won’t help you with what you came here for, right Stella?”
“Y-You know why we’re here?”
“Maybe, maybe not— I’m just guessing. I won’t know until you tell me. But before that,” he motioned to us, “please— take a seat.”
We sat down before Stella made her point clear. “I’ll be straight and direct,” she said. “I came to declare our intention of peace for the future.”
King Arbour raised one of his eyebrow.
“That’s our wish as well… But weren’t you the one who broke our truce?”
We both made a blank face.
“I see…” he said, noticing our expressions. “I knew it. You know, we received information from within Vessel that they were preparing for war against us, ready to strike the moment our countries got close enough to.”
“That’s wrong!” Stella shouted back. “My father does not wish for war!! Besides, weren’t you the one who wanted it?”
“Stella… calm down!” I stopped her before she got too agitated.
King Arbour only stared on in silence. He was clearly watching our every move.
I shouldn’t have said that he didn’t act like a King. He seemed soft, but every move that did he did was intended to make us lower our guard. Behind that facade, he was determining whether we were lying or not and how much we knew about the whole situation.
“However,” he said. “We sent some ambassadors of our own for peace, but they still haven’t returned.”
He nodded. “Two weeks ago, I deployed about three Seagulls and two escort ships to deliver a letter and some offerings for peace. Yet in the middle of their journey they were attacked by corsairs, and only one of the escort ships managed to survive… Hearing about that situation, my first and only thought were that those corsairs were sent from Vessel.”
“Please wait a second! That exact same situation happened to me as well! All but one of my Seagulls were shot down, including the one I was in, but luckily I drifted onto an island where Ciel graciously rescued me.”
King Arbour’s eyes widened for just a fraction of a second. I knew it— He was great at hiding his emotions.
“I’m glad you got out safely,” he ultimately said.
“With the help from Ciel and his airplane, I departed for Batoh a second time, but once again I was attacked by those same corsairs. Ciel saved my life a second time from their attack… I thought they were Batoh’s corsairs, but from what you are saying they weren’t?”
He nodded. “I’ll say this very clearly— Those were not our corsairs.”
“Then whose were they…?” Stella whispered to herself. Everything we knew and believed were overturned in an instant.
If he was telling the truth, then we had to reevaluate what was going on. Batoh believed that Vessel was preparing for war, while Vessel believed the same for Batoh. It’s odd that both countries wanted peace, but somehow they were inching closer and closer to war.
“Perhaps there’s a third country somewhere orchestrating this whole thing?” I said.
“That must be it!” Stella replied.
King Arbour also seemed to agree. “Ciel, what you say makes the most sense in this situation. But…”
“There’s no evidence of such a country.”
The only countries close enough to send corsairs around here were only Batoh and Vessel, which begs the question: where did they come from?
“Ciel, could they have come from a place further than we are expecting?”
I had already thought about that. “If they were just corsairs, then they could be a new, long-range model that we’re unaware of. However, I also saw another single-seated interceptor that didn’t have any flotation gear. Without that gear, there’s no way anyone could pilot that day and night without a break.”
“Are you suggesting there’s an unknown country nearby?” Stella asked.
“I don’t think so,” I replied, shaking my head. “Countries move very strictly with their stream charts. There isn’t another stream that could move an entire country near us.”
I paused a moment to think of another possibility, but nothing came to mind.
“But hey!” Stella interrupted my train of thought. “Isn’t this great? Now that everything’s settled between us, we can avoid fighting each other!”
Stella grinned… yet King Arbour wasn’t convinced.
“Unfortunately, that’ll be difficult.”
“Huh? How come?”
“Earlier you mentioned about one Seagull escaping alive when you all were attacked, right?”
“I did. What about it?”
“That Seagull returned back to Vessel and told them that Batoh was behind the attack and that you were dead,” he said.
Stella was speechless.
“And with your incident, I’m sure your father has already started taking action.”
“B-But I’m here!” Stella shouted. “I’m alive! If I could just clear up this misunderstanding…”
“Your being here actually poses a problem for us. Vessel will accuse us of going out and kidnapping you. To avoid any potential war, I would have to bow down to them personally.”
“I can return and convince my father…”
King Arbour sighed and shook his head. “You have to remember that our ships were shot down too. Vessel would have to bow down to us just as we need to for them. That realistically just isn’t going to happen with the way things are now. We’re both expecting each other to throw down our honor and apologize without wanting to do it ourselves. No one’s going to admit that their wrong. If there really was someone orchestrating this behind the scenes, that person must have left your ship escape on purpose to set this whole thing into motion.”
“There’s going to be a war just for that…?” said Stella. Hearing King Arbour’s explanation brought her to the verge of tears. She covered her eyes, but continued. “You know… people are going to die, right? Who cares about this honor! I didn’t come here for that!”
“Stella…” King Arbour stared back with a calm demeanor. “I’m sorry, but I can’t have you return to Vessel just yet. If this war ever happens, you’ll be our lifeline.”
Stella couldn’t hold back her tears anymore. She cried and cried and cried. As for me, I gave him the stare down.
He noticed my glaring eyes and spoke to me.
“Ciel, have you ever killed another man?” he asked, again with his unchanging demeanor. His eyes were not that of ill will towards us, but rather on the soft and silent side.
I shot back with a bit of attitude. “No, so what?”
“Nor have I… directly, anyway,” he said.
He suddenly stood up, walked to the window near his desk, and just stared outside.
“There is peace for as far as I can see here. To protect that peace, we have to fight in places far, far away. Both my people and the people we fight against will inevitable die in these battles. Ciel, do you know why countries fight each other in the first place?”
With a suspicious eye, I answered to the best of my knowledge from elementary school. “Because they run on essentially ships, countries don’t have the ability to mine mineral, coal, and other resources, making it incredibly difficult to live on. Even food is hard to grow. That’s why they fight each other for control over islands where they can do all that to survive.”
“Yes, that’s exactly right,” said King Abour with a depressing laugh. “But that’s only part of the reason. There’s one other reason you won’t find in the textbooks— War allows country to thin their own population.”
I realized that this conversation wasn’t meant to be between him and I, but rather between him and Stella.
“That’s just the reality of it. Countries just aren’t sustainable for their population, so they’re often forced to make a choice for their own sake— to choose who lives and who dies. In this case, it’s the soldiers who I send to battle that see their end. I know it’s ugly, but we won’t survive just on morals alone. As King of Batoh, my hands are already drenched in the blood of my people. But that doesn’t apply to just me— I’m sure Vessel is the same. The moment we give each other an inch is the moment we take a mile. Any weakness we show to each other will be exploited until there’s nothing left for us to take.”
It looked like he wanted to wrap up this meeting as the guards started coming to us, but Stella made one last desperate plea.
“Please…” she said, her eyes swelling from all her crying. “Please reconsider this…”
“Stella, I have a responsibility for the well being of my people. We must make our stand against Vessel,” he replied, waving towards the guards. “Now, please take them to their rooms.”
“King Arbour! Please!”
She called him out over and over again even as she was being dragged away to no avail. King Abour didn’t even bat an eye.
“Are you sure about this?”
“Yes. I rather you be with me,” Stella replied. She had asked to be housed in the same room as me. Normally she would obviously be told no because of she could escape much easier with my help, but King Arbour allowed it.
Stella laid down on the bed the moment we got in and just buried her head into her knees. It was kind of awkward being with her in that state.
I sat down next to a tea table in the corner and just stared out the window. Since it was already nighttime, night sky was already filled with brightly shining stars while the city lights lit up the area below.
Stella and I hadn’t had a proper conversation ever since we met with the King. Even though we were in the same room as each other, she felt further away than I had ever felt before.
I didn’t know what to say to her. Any words that tried to boost her morale or make her feel better just felt wrong. However, not doing anything also felt wrong… I couldn’t make a choice so I ended up just trying not to mess things up even further by keeping to myself
“I’ll… manage to do something. I can stop this from happening.”
Stella finally managed to get some words out, but she was squirming around in frustration.
“I know it’s impossible.,, I’m serious about this whole thing, but to the actual adults around I’m probably just playing around. There’s still so much I need to learn…”
“That’s not true,” I said. I didn’t say that to make her feel better— I genuinely thought that.
Stella sighed without replying.
“It’s true that maybe you know too little about the world, but you are true to your word. You have a plan, and you’ll see through that plan to the very end.”
She giggled. “I can’t tell if you’re making fun or me or trying to make me feel better.”
“I’m trying to do none of those,” I replied.
“I’m just saying you’re amazing. Seriously,” I said so nonchalantly it surprised even me. “You went against me—no, the whole world saying what you were doing was too dangerous and too impossible to pull off, yet ended up here at the cost of risking your life. I’m saying you’re amazing not to make you feel better, but as a matter of fact.”
“Thanks, Ciel,” she said, wiping both her eyes. “It feels great to hear you say that… But you need to take some credit too. I couldn’t have gone here on my own, since it was mainly you that helped me get here. Thank you for that.”
“No worries, I didn’t expect a girl who couldn’t even hold a kitchen knife properly to do anything on her own anyway.”
“Don’t say that…”
“Only the truth, Stella.”
Stella laughed. “I’m glad you’re with me.”
I was strangely happy hearing her say that.
Two days had passed by quietly since then. While we weren’t allowed outside the fortress walls, I didn’t feel trapped in at all. We were still treated as guests, and above that we were allowed to roam the castle freely under their supervision.
Perhaps the peaceful nature of these past two days made us forget the situation we were in, but the reality was that we probably forced ourselves to not think about what was going to happen, especially since we haven’t been able to speak with King Arbour again.
Batoh and Vessel were on track to be fighting distance of one another in three days. Stella had tried her hardest to be cheerful, but even then she was showing signs of weariness.
We were in an outside garden near the middle floors of the fortress. Being in the rooms felt way too cramped for long periods of time, so it was imperative that we get some fresh air during the day. Besides, nobles and other high ranking people also enjoyed strolling through the same area.
We had just walked through a tunnel entangled with neatly trimmed vines and beautiful, vibrant flowers into an open area where we could see the city below.
Suddenly, a man none of us knew knelt right in front of Stella in an exaggerated manner. “Excuse me,” he said. “Are you by chance Princess Stella Vessel Canal?”
His navy clothes were woven with the finest golden threads and stitched with the most expensive jewelry obtainable, which went hand in hand with his immaculately combed blonde hair. His whole outfit and initial demeanor screamed out, “I’m rich!” to everyone around him.
“U-Umm, yes… I’m Stella,” Stella replied hesitantly.
He looked up in joy. “Nice to meet you. I am Idio Galena, a noble in one of Batoh’s seven royal houses. Pleased to be your acquaintance.”
Idio abruptly jumped up and took Stella’s hand.
“You’re just as pretty as the rumors say you are!” he said. “So beautiful like a flower!”
“Uhh…” Stella didn’t know how to react.
I wondered what was wrong with this guy and passive aggressively gave him the stink-eye, but he was so infatuated with Stella that he probably didn’t even notice me.
“Please, please come to me if you need any help. I will come from the ends of this world for your aid. How about some tea right now?”
He gripped harder and harder on Stella’s hand and then forcibly tried to lead her away. Stella was having none of it.
“Ciel!” she called out to me.
On instinct, I grabbed his wrist and twisted it away.
“Can’t you see that you’re making her uncomfortable?” I said, immediately letting go of him.
This time he gave me the stink eye, but not before exaggerating the minuscule amount of discomfort I caused him.
“You insolent… You’re the Swallow, Ciel Migrateur aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am.”
“You talk big for just being a pack mule. You think you can act like that just because you’re with Princess Stella? I’m going to have you killed for touching me— me! I’m going to be the head of one of Batoh’s seven houses one day! Which means that I can slay you right here and no one will bat an eye!”
“Don’t call him a pack mule, that’s—” Stella’s voice cut off when she saw that Idio drew a long sword from his hip and started waving it at me recklessly.
The people around us gasped in surprise and formed a crowd around us. I took a step towards him to put Stella out of harms way.
“Step back a bit.”
“It’s okay, don’t worry.”
I wasn’t worried one bit because his stance was all for show. His sword was neither high nor low as he awkwardly held it somewhere in the middle. He couldn’t even hurt a fly with that form.
“Let’s not do this okay? We’re causing quite a commotion,” I said.
“Heh,” he chuckled like he had the upper hand. “Are you scared now just because I drew this out?”
It was important not to get caught up in his taunts— There had to be better ways to settle this that wouldn’t result in a big fallout. Yet in the spur of the moment I lost track of my position.
“Hey, this might not end that well for you though,” I said. I couldn’t forgive him for the way he acted towards both of us, even if this was going too far.
“You—!!!” He recklessly lunged towards me with his sword.
Stella screamed in the background.
I could tell he was serious about his swing— His killer intent was no joke. The same, however, couldn’t be said for his swing.
He swung too wide and too hard, making it incredibly easy to sidestep. I was also able to slap his hand away after dodging his slow swing because he skimped out on his own defense.
This time, he raised his sword up high and swung it straight down, but it was even easier to dodge than his last swing. It was like he was telling me where to dodge with the way he was using his sword.
I stepped into his space and grabbed his hand before giving it a slight twist. He shouted in pain and dropped his sword, which I then finished by judo throwing him face up into the ground. His somersault was quite the spectacle— It almost seemed choreographed, and ended with him crying out on the ground.
“What did I say?” I said, looking down at him.
I gave him time to compose himself and to sit up, but boy was he angry. His teeth were grinding incessantly against each other and his voice had turned into a shriek.
“You lowly delivery boy… You’ll regret what you did!! Guards, kill him!”
The murmurs around us got progressively louder and louder.
“You will not!” shouted Stella. She sounded incredibly imposing with her loud voice, so much so that the crowd around us got quiet in an instant.
Idio and I just stared up at Stella in shock.
“Who cares what his status is?” she shouted. “Ciel is my knight! I will take responsibility for his actions!”
She spoke like a script straight out of a fairy tale, and surprisingly enough the people around us started to be inspired by her words just as those tales usually went. It started with a single clap, but that clap soon turned into a boisterous applause with the crowd cheering her on. Needless to say, Idio didn’t like that one bit.
“I won’t forget this!”
He got out as quick as he could, but the crowd continued to sing their praises to Stella. Meanwhile, she collapsed on her knees.
She smiled. “A-Ah, Ciel. Thank goodness you’re okay.”
For someone as timid as her she sure was way more reckless than I was, even though this time it was I who laid hands on a noble. I could see some guards making their way towards me— This was not going to end well.
“Ciel Migrateur, huh…” they said.
Yup, I was thrown in jail.
I was already prepared to be thrown in jail the moment we got caught upon landing, but it wasn’t a good feeling now that I actually was in one. My stone bed didn’t help either.
“Hey, you. I heard you caused a real ruckus out there.”
“I hope I’m just as cool in here as I was out there.”
“Yeah, no. You’re funny, though.”
My prison guard was a talkative old man. Luckily enough, his chattiness kept me from getting bored. The fact that there was only stone walls around us really sapped the life out of my body.
“It felt so satisfying hearing what happened, you know,” he said cheerfully. “That guy—the next head of Garena—is a real piece of shit. I could see why everyone was applauding.”
He paused before ultimately saying, “But! You messed up.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said with a bitter laugh.
“They may be terrible people but they’re still heirs of the seven families here. Your laying a hand on him—even though you just essentially gave him a slap on the wrist—in front of all those people is your fault, and you will pay the ultimate price. He’ll never responsible for his own actions, even though everyone knows it was he who was in the wrong.”
“When you say ultimate price, what do you mean exactly?”
The jailer paused. “Hopefully not with your life, I guess.”
I half expected as much. I didn’t know why I was still calm and rational even in this situation. It was like I was emotionally paralyzed.
What was Stella up to? I couldn’t help but wonder. Did she fall into another bout of depression? I was sure she did while thinking of what was going to happen to me. As much as I didn’t want her to blame herself, I knew that she was going to.
Hopefully she keeps herself safe.
“Thinking about your princess?” the jailer said out of the blue.
His question caught me off guard.
He chuckled loudly. “I’m right, aren’t I?”
I laughed as well— Stella taught me it’s best to have a sense of humor even in difficult times.
“I’ve heard she was quite the looker.”
I nodded. “But don’t get fooled!”
“From the outside she certainly looks elegant, pretty— everything. There’s no doubt about that. On the inside, however…”
“On the inside?”
“She’s the biggest idiot on the planet.”
An awkward silence quickly ensued until he just burst out laughing.
“An idiot?!? I didn’t expect that!” He couldn’t stop laughing.
“There’s no helping her. Idiots will be idiots, but she does things so selfishly without thinking about anyone else… she’s always so reckless!”
I thought about all the expressions she made throughout our adventure so far. I saw her smiling, surprised, angry, serious, depressed, and embarrassed in my head over and over again. What was she thinking right now? What was she feeling? Did I already think about that? Was she sad and regretting the events that transpired today? Or maybe I was overthinking things about her and I?
I just hope she’s not crying.
I just hope she’s not doing anything reckless for me.
There was no point thinking about it. She wouldn’t do that for a mere Swallow, especially since I didn’t want her to do anything for me at all. I hoped all my thoughts right now were just me worrying unnecessarily about her.
“Anyways, since she’s an idiot, she’s always making me worry about her. She does what she wants, when she wants, including things like crying and laughing. Seriously.”
“You really like her, huh?”
I looked up in surprised. “Not true,” I said, shaking my head.
The jailer laughed, but not like the hearty laugh he was doing early. It was more of a warm, gently smile.
“Oh really? It seems that way to me.”
“No, you’re reading it wrong. It’s just that… right now I’m responsible for now as her Swallow. I have the obligation to help her until the end whether she fails or succeeds.”
“So you do like her…” he murmured to himself.
“You know what, you’re not such a bad guy,” I replied with something Stella would say.
“I could say the same to you.”
Suddenly, another soldier rushed into the room and he left with him in a panic. Since they were whispering among themselves just around the corner, I pushed my ear against the iron bars and tried my hardest to hear what they were saying. Luckily, I was able to pick up on what they were saying thanks to the jailer who was purposefully talking in a loud voice.
“What?!? Stella escaped?” I heard him shout out loud.
After he was done giving his report, the soldier left while the jailer nervously made his way back to his seat.
“Stella escaped?” I asked him after he sat down.
His eyes widened. “How did you know that?!?”
“Uhh, you literally just shouted it around that corner.”
He replied with the most animated, “Oops!” I have ever heard in my life. I had thought he shouted it for my sake, but I guess not…
“Okay, well we don’t know her whereabouts,” he replied.
I sighed. “I told you. She’s an idiot.”
“What’s she going to do? I don’t think she can do much by herself.”
The jailer was exactly right. Her recklessness only made the whole situation worse. What was she thinking?
Thirty minutes later, I could still hear footsteps above accompanied by the occasional shout.
“They still haven’t found her?” I asked.
“Looks to be that way. She’s working hard,” the jailer replied with even a bit of cheerfulness in his voice.
I sighed again. I couldn’t fathom why she was working so hard. Wasn’t her original goal just to stop the war? I didn’t want her to come for me as I couldn’t do anything for her.
Please, please don’t.
I was practically praying at this point.
Suddenly, I heard a shout from outside.
“Hey, we found her! Come!”
The voice was somewhat high and sounded shockingly familiar, but the jailer replied with, “Okay!” and ran around the corner before I could think of who it was.
I heard the sound of a huge hit and saw the jailer collapse before my very eyes. Someone had hit him right around the corner.
“Nice! That went well!” said the voice.
It was Stella.
“S-Stella!??!” I couldn’t believe my eyes.
She shushed me. “Not so loud! The people chasing me are still around here somewhere… Here, I’ll unlock the door for you.”
She took the keys hanging from the jailer’s belt and ran up to my cell, unlocking it with a satisfying ka-ching sound.
My first thought upon walking out of the cell was to scold her on her recklessness, but I couldn’t be angry at her no matter how hard I tried.
It didn’t help that she immediately gave me a big hug and never let go.
“You’re really here, right?” she hugged me tighter on the verge of tears.
For a moment we just held still until she regained her composure.
“I’m glad you’re safe, Ciel. I heard you were gonna be executed, and, and…”
She wiped the tears away with her sleeve.
“Ciel, please run away,” she said. “They’re only looking for me, so it should be possible for you to escape from here.”
“What are you saying!?” I couldn’t believe my ears. “If I do that, what will happen to you??! And if something happens to you, then…”
She was the key to stopping the fight between Vessel and Batoh. If I did as she instructed, her whole purpose for coming here would be for naught. I couldn’t let that happen.
“Don’t worry about me. Stella, go back, and—”
“No.” Stella refused before I even finished my sentence.
“I’m no good and I don’t want you to die, Ciel. Absolutely not,” she continued with a laugh. “Thanks for everything. Please fly for yourself and not for me anymore.”
Stella unfastened the star sapphire necklace from her neck and tied it around mine.
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I can’t take that.”
“Please take it— I did promise it, right? I don’t even think this is enough for what you’ve done and the opportunities you’ve given me,” said Stella with a smile. “I haven’t lived long, but the short time I spent with you were the best days of my life. I’ll never forget the scenery at Sunk Tierra, the blueness of the open sky, the pureness of the clouds floating around, the heavy darkness of the night, and even just eating and sitting around in the ocean and waking up to it… even the battles where we went through that magnetic cloud… and of course, that rainy day in Divel when you came for me… everything, everything that happened with us, I’ll treasure those moments forever. That’s why you should be the one to take that. I have our memories, and you’ll have that as proof of our short adventure where we ultimately ended up here.”
“I’ll go up to get the attention off of you, but I can’t keep them busy for long. Please take care of yourself.”
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop her even though I wanted to. We were a team, so we had to do this together, not separately. Yet I knew that she wouldn’t accept that.
Even so, I knew that doing what she asked would only cause her more trouble, and I couldn’t let that happen.
Stella saw me fidgeting and troubled by what to do next, so she slowly walked up to me and gave me a kiss on my left cheek out of nowhere.
“That time when I called you my knight,” she said with a grin, “I had a burst of courage didn’t I? You’re my first and only knight, Ciel— my one and only. Please don’t make my actions go to waste.”
Stella headed out, but stopped and turned back halfway.
“Thank you for everything, Ciel. I’m glad I met you,” she said with her signature smile, and disappeared.
My… My mind just told me to run— I ran and ran without thinking. In the end, I left Stella without being able to do anything for her and ran away.
I really couldn’t do anything for her.
Politis, being the shrewd man that he was, anticipated that we would try to escape and prepared a Seagull for us to get back with. I had to suppress my anger and calm myself just to get on it, and ultimately waited the two days of shame before arriving back at Divel.
The instant I got back onto the island, I stormed into Pelican’s front doors.
“Wait… Ciel, wait!”
“I have some business with Politis,” I snapped back to the receptionist. I barged into his office without even so much a knock on his door, only to be greeted by him sitting with his usual smile.
“You got here earlier than I expected. And just you too… Hmm, I see,” he said. He was clearly not surprised at the outcome. In fact, one could say he had anticipateded it.
“Sir, what should I do with him?” asked one of his attendants.
No, leave him. Please get us some tea.”
I wanted to shoot this guy already. “I don’t have time for your tea,” I said, clenching my fists in rage.
“I get that you’re angry,” Politis replied. “But your feelings don’t matter to me. I want some tea, so let me be selfish and have it.”
He paid me no mind and even chuckled to himself, which only pissed me off even more. I already knew he wasn’t a man to get caught up in emotions, but still… this was frustrating.
“You knew this whole time that she was a princess, didn’t you.”
“Of course,” he nodded nonchalantly. “Vessel is one of our biggest customers. Even if she didn’t show her face much, there’s no way I wouldn’t know her.”
“So you set us up!”
“Yes, I did.” he stated very clearly. He stared back at me with such intensity that I stopped in my tracks. “You’re misplacing your anger, you know. First of all, I didn’t break our contract. I very specifically said that you two were on your own after I dropped you two off. From a contractual obligation standpoint, I fulfilled my duty exactly as I said.”
“Secondly, you say I set you guys up, but I merely moved the winds in your favor. You two were seemingly taken in by Batoh’s imperial police without cause, but the treatment you received was quite favorable and you two were even able to meet the King. Am I wrong?”
I couldn’t refute him at all. Everything he said was correct, but even so, I couldn’t suppress my frustration and anger. I stubbornly bit down on my lip and silently stared at the ground.
“That’s why you’re still a child,” Politis continued.
“A child?” I whispered back.
“You wanted to run away from your responsibility, right? You couldn’t protect her and opted to run away instead.”
No, that’s not it.
“You probably think it’s not your fault. That you tried your best. And if only that pesky Politis didn’t ruin everything, you wouldn’t have ended up in this situation.”
No, no, no, you’re wrong.
“I bet you’re relieved to be able to play the victim card. She’s doing her best right now, but you ran from her, and you wanted something to justify your actions.”
“No! You’re wrong! That’s not it!” I shouted with all my heart. “You’re absolutely wrong!”
I shouted and shouted desperately to get anything and everything out of me almost to the point where I was vomiting words out of my mouth.
“See? I’m not wrong, am I?”
I couldn’t say anything more.
“I made way for you two to meet the King. Originally, I had planned to make you owe me one more favor for that, but the information you got from there would have made us even. Despite your youth and inexperience, I was prepared to make that trade.”
I was too caught up in his flow to be able to respond.
“Maybe you should just go back to flying for enjoyment and forget about this whole thing. Of course, many tragic deaths will occur in the event of a war, but it won’t be either of you two’s faults. You should just shut yourself off from the world and wait for the worst to pass. That way you can fly like the Swallow you’ve always strove to be.”
I couldn’t remember exactly what I did afterwards. I know I wandered the streets around, but somehow I ended up at the cafe where Stella and I went to earlier. I even ordered the same coffee that had long turned cold, just like it did on that day.
Yet the one difference was that Stella wasn’t here. I was sitting alone in the table as I should have been. After all, I was the worst.
Politis was absolutely right. I threw away all the responsibility Stella had entrusted me with. I’ve said a lot of things about Stella, but it turns out I was more selfish, more pathetic, more stupid.
I thought about what exactly I did, and what I should have done instead. We were just two people trying to stop a war that was way out of our pay grade. Politis did say we were way too ambitious and that we shouldn’t have even attempted to do this at all. If we just gave up halfway, at least Stella and I could live our own lives, away from the outside world and just wait for the storm to blow over.
Perhaps he was right. We had a right to our own safety, even if doing so took away that right from many, many other people. It’s not like we were responsible for stopping the war, anyway.
I thought and thought about that, convinced that should have been our plan from the beginning. But then I quickly thought about Stella and her ambition and was immediately disgusted by myself for even going down that path.
Yet in the end, I couldn’t do anything. It didn’t matter what I thought or what I felt— that fact wouldn’t change.
“Ciel… Ciel, is that you?” I suddenly heard from around me.
I looked up to see a blond haired man and blue eyes, a face which I definitely have seen before.
“Klyce…?” I said in a daze.
“It sure is,” he replied. “Fancy meeting you here. Mind if I take a seat?”
He sat down with a smile, all while calling a waitress over to order some coffee.
“Why are you here?” I asked.
“Work, but not for the army,” he replied. “As you might have noticed I’m not in my uniform.”
He showed off his very own aviation clothes. There wasn’t a speck of anything military related sewn onto it as he had mentioned.
“I guess you could call it Swallow work, and a little extra,” he added with another smile.
Klyce opted to say nothing more and just slowly sipped his coffee.
I did the same as well, but my coffee tasted terrible because it was neither chilled nor hot. Room temperature coffee was never good.
The silence was making me want to spill everything out to him and just let it all out. It was hard enough to just sit here without saying anything.
“You aren’t going to ask me…?” I blurted out, unable to contain my frustration any longer.
“If it’s okay with you. I am dying to know,” he answered.
“I knew it,” I whispered to myself.
“Why do we all wanna get involved with others,” I said, half thinking to myself. It all came out so naturally I was taken aback that I actually said it.
Klyce smiled bitterly while I tried to hide my embarrassment.
I wasn’t even thinking about Klyce at the moment, but rather, thinking about Stella. Even though I rejected her, she was still insistent on getting me involved. Why was that? Getting other people involved was surely troublesome and not worth the effort.
“Well, you’re a special case,” replied Klyce.
“Yeah, I do want to know more about you.”
He nonchalantly took another sip of his coffee.
“When we talked briefly that one time, even though we didn’t see eye to eye on certain things, I still took a liking to you. That’s why I was happy to be able to meet you again here at Divel. Plus, I noticed you were kind of down, so I thought perhaps I could be of assistance to whatever you need. There’s nothing wrong with that, right?”
Was it weird? To want to know more about someone just from talking with them a bit? I recalled Stella saying something similar a while back, though I forgot how long ago that was.
“Ciel, you take interest in other people too, right?”
Then it hit me— I was no different than them. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I wanted to be involved with Stella just as much as she wanted to me no matter how much trouble she caused me. All I could think about was her smile.
I was too late to realize this which made it all the worse to me.
“Anyways, I fucked up.”
“On an important job?”
“Yes. It was a very, very important job.”
“Can I ask what kind of job?”
I hesitated because I didn’t know how much to tell him, but ultimately decided to tell him everything because it would all be for naught if war broke out. I also trusted him.
“I was transporting my client, a girl my age.” I said with a sigh. “Her name is Stella Vessel Canal, the fourth princess of Vessel.”
I started to tell everything that’s happened to us so far, including the possibility of a third shadow country guiding Batoh and Vessel to war. I explained that Stella was determined as an ambassador to stop this war, but even though we made it to Batoh through attacks on us, we failed to do anything meaningful.
“I left Stella in Batoh and ran away by myself.”
He listened to my whole story without saying a word. It was only when I finished and he took a sip of his coffee that he started speaking.
“I see, I get the gist of it.”
I was surprised to hear that. “You believe me?”
“Of course I do.”
“You actually paid attention?”
Klyce looked disgusted. “Of course I did.”
“And you still believed it?”
“I can’t think of one reason why you would lie about that, and I know you’re not a liar either,” he said with a chuckle. “So why would I doubt you?”
I couldn’t help but cry a bit upon hearing that. The more I thought about it, the more I cried. For the first time since my father had passed away, I was in tears.
“I… couldn’t do anything,” I blurted out. “I truly wanted to help her… I was ready to do anything for her… but none of that mattered in the end. All I did was just get in her way, and worst of all I just left her there fending for herself and ran away. Now I’m questioning myself why I even got involved in the first place. Sometimes I think about all the effort it’ll take to help the people she wanted to help and realize it might not be worth it after all… Yeah, I’m the worst— I know.”
“That’s not true,” Klyce replied. “If you were really as you say, then you wouldn’t be feeling any regret right now. Besides—”
He paused and gave me a big, yet serious smile.
“You weren’t planning on ending it like this, were you?”
I nodded. He was right— This isn’t the end.
“I need to go,” I said, taking my leave. I couldn’t let it end like this. “I don’t know exactly what I’m gonna do, but I’m going to do something.”
3,000 meters in the air and two hours later, I was back to where we were initially attacked near the big magnetic cloud. There was no time to waste— Batoh and Vessel would be within fighting distance of each other in another five hours.
The only thing I could think of that would stop the fighting was to get proof that the corsairs weren’t from Vessel or Batoh. I didn’t know how I was going to get that proof, much less if it would even show up here at all.
Despite that, I had to do it. I had to pursue any leads that at least had a chance no matter how low of a possibility they were.
Come at me.
Just as I was praying to be attacked, I felt a huge sensation above me and instinctively took evasive maneuvers. The white corsair suddenly dropped down as if to answer my prayers like a blade swinging down on me at incredible speeds.
“There you are, you white bastard,” I said to myself. I opened a communication line to it and yelled into my microphone. “You! Where are you from? I know you’re not Batoh!”
I didn’t even care that it didn’t respond because that just meant I had to shoot it down and talk to its pilot face to face.
“If I told you, what are you gonna do?”
Surprisingly, a response did come. It was the exact same voice as last time when I heard, “Don’t even think about it” come in from my transmission line during our intense dogfight.
I knew it.
I wasn’t sure back then, but now I was sure of it.
“Father…?” I asked slowly.
The line fell silent.
“Your voice… I’m sure of it. I know I’m not mishearing things… That time you told me not to even think about it— that wasn’t sent from an open channel, but on a channel defaulted on Polaris, which meant that you at least knew the ins and outs of this aircraft.”
The white corsair showed no signs of attacking. It seemed to slowly think about what to do from a distance.
“I’ll ask you one more time,” I repeated. “Are you ‘The White Wing,’ Akasha Migrateur?”
Once again there was no reply as I had anticipated, but his silence was telling enough. If he truly was my father, then it all made sense. I could understand how his piloting skills were superhuman-like as well as his ability to essentially read my mind in combat. After all, my father’s internal compass was rated SS—like Stella’s—and he did literally teach me how to fly.
I didn’t need any more confirmation. My father, who I had long thought to be dead, was right in front of me as an enemy to both me and Stella,
But why? How? All these questions were piling up in my head and almost caused me to snap.
“What’s going on?” I lashed out. “Why are you here? Why are you trying to kill me? Answer me!!”
My questions were just met with another question of his own.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
What was I doing here? For a split second I froze without a sold answer. I came here to get evidence that the white corsair was neither part of Batoh’s nor Vessel’s airforce, but in the end I came here to fight my father?
He shot me another question. “Did you come here to fight me?”
It would be a futile fight— I was no match for him. My father was the best pilot I had ever seen in my life so far, and his corsair was far superior than Polaris. This isn’t the time for me to be taking him on. Not even the wildest of miracles would propel me to victory.
Last time, my father was very clearly trying to kill me. Out of all the bullets he shot at me, the fact that I wasn’t hit was a miracle in itself. That, and Stella’s internal compass guiding us through the magnetic cloud made us live another day.
But this time I was alone. There was no hope of running away this time.
The air was frozen cold against my skin, and I could feel each chilled breath enter my lungs. The controls rattled in my hand almost as a warning of what’s to come.
I was going to die. He was going to outmaneuver me and fire a volley of bullets that would end my life. My instincts were screaming at me to run while my whole body trembled at the thought of dying. I wanted to run so badly my breathing got more and more labored the longer I sat there.
“What did you come here for?” he asked again.
I trembled once again at the thought of my impending doom, but this time I gripped my pilot wheel even harder.
Hold yourself together. You know why you’re here.
I needed a miracle to win? That’s not what I needed to focus on. The odds for me could be 1000 to 1, 10,000 to 1 or even 1 million to 1 and it wouldn’t matter. This wasn’t about whether I could do this or not.
No, this was about just doing it. Surely Stella would have just gone for it in the face of defeat. If her small shoulders could carry the weight of the nation behind her, then I could at least face my fears like she had.
I was scared? I didn’t want to die? I wanted to run?
Didn’t I come here to avoid regretting more of my actions? Didn’t I come here to correct my wrongs, to win…?
My hands were trembling, but I began to open and close them to relax a bit, starting with my left hand. Once they were loosened up, I took the wheel one more time.
I was going to defeat my father. It’s time to take on The White Wing.
“My name is Ciel Migrateur from the Vessel’s Guild of Swallows! With Polaris, I hereby challenge you to a duel!”
“I’m from Boreas’ armed forces. My aircraft is called Sirius. I will not tell you my name. Let’s get started,” he replied.
Boreas? Wasn’t that the northernmost country told in legends?
It didn’t matter— I had no time to think about anything else. All my effort must be put into the fight if I didn’t want to die.
Sirius immediately cranked up its speed and made a mad dash towards me. It’s speed was frightening… It must have had over 2,000… no, over 2,200 horsepower.
I accelerated on my own and did the usual loop in an attempt to get around it. Yet instantly I was reminded again that aircraft capabilities aside, his piloting skills were on a whole new level. He cut through my turn in a zigzag pattern with a speed too fast to be real and instead aimed right behind me.
What was this movement? I needed to see it move in slow motion to even see what was going on.
I couldn’t let this go on. Clearly, he wasn’t someone I could beat by conventional methods.
I gave up on the dogfight and sped upwards in a straight line. Right ahead of me was none other than that very magnetic cloud Stella and I entered previously.
In reality, even though it may not look like it from the outside due to its massive size, the cloud was actually incredibly active. Due to the effects of the lightning storms inside, it would create waves similar to that of the ocean that swirled around it. As a result, this cloud had similar obstacles to the obstacles I had to fly around in Nave.
There’s no way anyone could fly full speed around it, so I figured I’d stay around here to make up for that difference in speed.
I pushed on the throttle as I inched closer and closer…
I pulled up right as I was about hit the cloud. Instantly, half my surroundings turned pitch dark like I was flying above a blackened ocean. The waves on this cloud were so violent it felt alive and trying to take me in.
A loud crack of thunder struck around me as I started zigzagging around the cloud. It was a losing battle to do this fight in a regular setting, so with this I at least had more of a chance.
Relax. Take in your surroundings and go with the flow of this cloud.
I barely dodged a wave of the cloud coming my way by slipping sideways around it, but that caused me to slightly poke into it.
Ahead of me was a dense pocket of cloud that I knew I couldn’t pass through— I needed to go above it. I pulled so high up my plane almost entered a stall, but I was able to recover due to my absolute concentration on my surroundings.
That was way too close for comfort… though now I saw that Sirius was right on my tail like deja vu.
I looped downwards with a hard angle and dropped right to ocean level, with Sirius doing the same until we were basically crawling along the water.
He’s gonna shoot!
Something within me was begging me to take evasive measures. Immediately after I did, I saw that the bullets from his gun were shot all around me, hitting the water below with a big splash.
I got my millionth confirmation that he certainly was trying to kill me.
I need to do something, fast.
Right when he was going to shoot a second time, I banked my plane upwards as I usually did and attempted a Chandelle maneuver to get behind him. However, he was already one step ahead of me and did a bank of his own to come at me from above.
With a SS rated compass and a deep understanding of how I thought as a pilot and the capabilities of Polaris, there’s no telling how much he could read into my moves.
“I knew it… I can’t do this… Damn it!”
Please don't make my actions go to waste.
Before I completely gave up, Stella’s parting words rang by me one more time and gave me a real wake up call. What was I thinking? Did I forget why I came here in the first place…?
“I’m here to win!” I shouted to pump myself up. “I’m going to win against my father and stop this war. Stella’s not going to fighting alone on my watch!”
I knew my chances of winning were low, if not zero. And even if I did miraculously get out of this situation, I didn’t know how I was going to stop a damn war. It could very well be just a waste of time no matter what I did.
But even so…
If we’re going, I want to fly as a unit.
I want to fly not as a princess or employer, but as your equal in the backseat.
Even so, you already made that choice! Let’s go, Ciel!
I didn’t have to look behind me to know that he was ready to fire another barrage. Just as how he was familiar with how I flew my plane, I was familiar with how he was as well.
I dodged upwards just in time to see his bullets fly under me.
That was it. There’s no doubt about it— for a second, I had read his movements.
“Keep yourself together!” I shouted to myself. Now was not the time to celebrate.
I had to think about what to do next. A Chandelle turn didn’t net me enough altitude to outmaneuver him, so I had to go with an Immelmann turn. It had to be the most immaculate turn I ever performed, including keeping my speed loss to an absolute minimum.
Time seemed to slow down as the world around me seemed to question if I could do this.
Feel the world around you, Ciel. Feel the air, the sea, and the wind, and react to them accordingly. All you need is just that one split second decision.
“Let’s do this, Polaris!!!”
I saw the sky blur from my sudden burst of speed that allowed me to fly up above my father for the first time in my life. I used this opportunity to yell at him through our communication line.
“Listen up! I bet you feel like you know everything about me and Polaris! You probably think there’s no way you’ll lose… But!”
He gave me no response, and instead opted to chase me down as usual. However, this time would be different.
“I took up Polaris after you were gone, flew to areas even you haven’t gone before, and met people that you wouldn’t know! I’ve grown to a different person!”
I looped around to get behind him as he was trying to do the same to me.
“I don’t know who you are, and I don’t care! Neither do I care about what happened to you!”
I knew from our last battle that I couldn’t win in a dogfight.
“You’ll do well to remember my name! I am ‘The White Wing,’ Ciel Migrateur! I’m no longer the kid who flew with Akasha Migrateur, and I’m about to prove it to you!”
We were both on each other’s tails like a revolving circle, but at that moment when it seemed like the cycle would be broken…
I said all that, but I didn’t know how much he had changed after leaving me as well.
I’ve always wanted to fly the skies, so that’s why life had always been rough for me. I had to interact, get along, and pretend to be friendly to people I wanted no business with.
Flying was all that I was left with, and I wish I could tell my father how hard I worked no matter how much I wasn’t suited to become a Swallow. I was terrible at lying, easily duped, and could only negotiate with one person at a time, if at all. But I really did try hard to protect Polaris and the sky it flew in.
Yet I still couldn’t find a reason to fly. Flying just because wasn’t it, no matter how hard I tried to convince myself of it.
It had been tough and lonely, so much so that perhaps I had been lying not only to other people but myself all this time. Perhaps I never wanted to fly and was only desperately clinging on to the one thing I had in my life. With both my father and mother gone, I would have been nothing if the sky didn’t take me in.
That being said, I found a person I was willing to fly for for the first time ever.
She was the biggest, clumsiest, selfish, naive idiot, but her cheerfulness and will to never ever give up showed who she really was. She was also someone who wanted to fly with me, and was willing to give everything to protect me, all while saying she was so grateful to have met me.
I was sure my father would be surprised to hear how much I had changed with a big smile. Of course, he would be proud that such a person existed for me.
“I can’t lose this! I’m going to surpass you!!”
You talked your talk, Ciel. Now let’s show him what you’ve got.
I accelerated to my heart’s content and twisted upwards to gain altitude after cruising just above the water. As usual, my father tailed right behind.
More… speed. I needed to rethink what I was capable of, and go even further than that.
I was going to end this with my father’s special maneuver, a stall turn. It was the same turn I did last time, but this time I was going to give it my all and more.
The moment I reached the highest point I could possibly go, I stalled and banked Polaris leftwards, which obviously pushed it to the limit indicated by its intense creaking and shaking. The force from that maneuver hit me so hard it felt like my control stick was trying to throw me out the window.
Endure it. Let’s get through this in one piece.
From the very peak of my ascent I twisted downwards, destroying my balance as I spiraled at frightening speeds.
I’d grown since he taught me this himself. Back then, I couldn’t even do it in practice.
“I did it!!”
I could see the back of Sirius now that I was within firing range of him. Time came to a standstill, and I felt like I was in a snapshot of a frozen world. All that was left was for me to pull the trigger.
Don’t even think about it.
The same voice came back, but I wasn’t worried. I could pull the trigger, and if it ever came to it he could always eject and land in the water. That way I could actually talk to him properly.
I reminded myself that Stella would never run away, so I shouldn’t either.
With a shout and an emptied mind, I pulled the trigger. I was desperate— I wasn’t even making sure not to shoot the cockpit for him to eject.
The sounds of my heavy machine guns almost burst my eardrums.
I did it. I shot.
However, before I knew it, I heard something through my speakers.
“Well, I guess you pass.”
Sirius in front of me disappeared and reappeared right beside me so fast that I couldn’t even figure out what kind of maneuver it used to do so.
I had no idea what was going on, and he said it so nonchalantly as if we didn’t have a battle to the death just now.
“Come with me,” he said calmly. “I’ll tell you everything you want to know. You have a camera on board, right?”
I did as he instructed and followed him. He was going around the magnetic cloud we just fought around until he arrived in a place with a perfectly still ocean below. It seemed we weren’t heading to any country or islands if we were in this area because they would have no way to move.
“From here we’ll fly between the clouds above you,” he said.
We ascended towards the horizon into the clouds.
“Use those clouds to hide yourself.”
“Hide myself from what?”
“You’ll see. Use your internal compass and keep going Northeast,” he replied. Once he said that, he immediately turned and changed directions.
“Where are you going?”
“I’ve told you everything you need to know. Now it’s up to you and your judgement.”
With that, he disappeared.
What was going on? What could possible be in this area without an ocean current? I didn’t really have a choice, however. All I could do was continue hiding between the clouds and keep heading northeast.
I managed to catch a few glimpses of the ocean jumping in between the clouds until I saw something that really shouldn’t be there.
It was a ridiculously small one— The length of it was probably under 500 meters. The whole ship was made out of metal as well, and there were some things lined up on its deck. I took out my binoculars to get a closer look.
“Airplanes… on it?”
There weren’t only airplanes with one motor on it, but also two motor ones as well. I rubbed my eyes and got a clearer look.
Yup, the paint job matched the corsair that attacked us. There was no doubt about it. This was where it took off from.
“How could this boat move, though?” I asked myself, unable to wrap my head around it. There were no currents or winds to push it around…
“No way, it’s propelling itself?”
It could have a massive engine that was miles ahead of what we know exist today. Assuming that was true, that explained how airplanes could reach us when they really shouldn’t have been able to.
I thought about what such an engine could be and where it could be from. Sirius’s pilot, my father, stated that he was from Boreas’s air force, and seeing that I could see the same corsairs on that ship, I could safely assume that ship was probably from Boreas.
So it was Boreas who attacked both the messengers from Batoh and Vessel.
“Boreas is the culprit behind everything?”
The situation was bigger than I could ever imagine, and it sounded even more ridiculous when I went over it in my head. A country that people believed only existed in legends sent a self propelling ship to start a war between two countries. It was ridiculous, but it did explain everything that happened so far.
Uh oh. That was not good, then. If Boreas really wanted to invade both countries, they would wait for them to run out of resources and then swoop in for the kill.
Then what was my father’s goal in all this? If my father was part of that navy, why would he show me this?
If Boreas wanted war between Batoh and Vessel, my father’s actions completely contradicted that.
“My father’s trying to prevent this war from the inside…?”
If that was the case, I wondered why he would go such a roundabout way with multiple points of failure.
In any case, I didn’t have enough info to go on. My father did say he showed me all that I would need to see, which I assumed to be Boreas and its army. Was just a photo of this and my word really enough to stop this whole thing? I could only guess. Yet there was one thing for certain— I was the only one who could do something about this right now.
My first thought was to immediately warn the two countries if I could make it in time. I quickly snapped a few photos and rushed back to them.
The ever so quiet sky was unchanging in its blue color. I prayed that the sky would still be blue when I returned.
If only I could return before the fighting began…
But it was too late. When I got back, the sky had turned a dull red with all the gunfire around me, accompanied by a bunch of smoke coming from below.
I screamed in frustration. The fire was already lit.
It was war.