Chapter 4: Hakuyoku no Polaris
There were so many aircraft around me they looked like flies buzzing around all the smoke and fire that filled up the sky. Every so often one of them would get shot down and another pilot’s life would be lost.
In total there were about 200 fighters. From the looks of it, there was indeed a total all out offensive by both sides.
With each passing second I began to realize the gravity of the situation, causing my heart to beat faster and faster and my hands to tremble. I took some deep breaths while gripping my controls tighter in an attempt to calm myself down.
There was still time.
It was standard practice to always just send out the fighters first to secure air superiority, which meant that the countries haven’t started bombing each other yet because the battle was fairy even. The civilians must still be safe for now. With that in mind, there was still a chance to stop this battle.
I need to hurry.
Suddenly, a voice came through from my communication line.
“Did you make it?”
“Klyce?!?!” I couldn’t believe my ears.
“You said you would stop this, right?” he said. “I’ll help you out!”
Klyce pulled up next to me, and I noticed that his aircraft was changed to a camouflaged color.
“That’s great to hear, but…” I replied. “I don’t know how to stop this, if there even is a way…”
“You told me you were going to do this even if you didn’t know what to do, remember?” he snapped back immediately. “That’s why you came all this way!”
This guy… He doesn’t know what’s going on…
I fought back my tears to sound as normal as possible when I replied with, “You’re right.”
“I know you don’t have much time, so just tell me what you’re planning to do. I’ll support you with it!”
“I’m going to fly straight through that battlefield into Batoh.”
The sky was busy with dogfights as far as the eye could see. Even worse, our aircrafts weren’t aligned with any particular country, so we were seen as enemies from both sides. This really was turning out to be a suicide mission.
“Also let’s try not to keep engagements as brief as possible. We shouldn’t be attacking anyone.”
I knew that was unfeasible and a bit of a pipe dream. We were much more likely to get shot at than they were.
“I’m asking a lot of you, but Stella insists to deal with this with no casualties. While that’s certainly not possible, it’s a good metric to aim for. Are you up for it?”
“With your skills, I’m sure you’re more than ready.”
We dived right into the midst of the battle as fast as we could. It felt like the whole situation was getting more and more out of control every second. Right now, it was already hard enough to tell which planes belonged to which country, even though the battle had essentially only just began.
“Let’s go with the formation—Element. I’ll follow your movements,” said Klyce.
Element was a particular formation comprised of just two aircraft. While the formation itself was easy for a military guy like Klyce, I hadn’t really done much of that stuff as a Swallow. There was no need to practice this if I only flew alone all the time. At least I knew what it was.
“It’s okay, it’s not that hard. Just fly as you usually do,” assured Klyce. “Remember, I’m supporting you.”
An aircraft from Vessel flew right by ahead just as Klyce said that, but it was chased by one from Batoh that immediately shot it down in a spectacular fashion. Soon after, the Batoh aircraft looped around and turned its sights on me.
Both Batoh’s and Vessel’s aircraft were type Focke-Wulf, which meant that they were no match for Nave’s Spitfire and would get absolutely demolished in a one on one fight.
We didn’t have the luxury of fighting back right now. If we got caught up here, there would just be a never ending stream on aircraft coming our way.
“Ciel, Thach Weave, Thach Weave it!” yelled Klyce. He pulled back to the left side and sped up.
The Thach Weave was invented by a legendary dogfighter from the country Acorasad in the western seas. This classic maneuver was simple enough: Both Klyce and I would cross each other, and whoever gets followed behind would be covered by the other.
I took the left side with Klyce taking the other as we crossed each other.
“It’s on me!” I yelled.
Kylce slowed down and turned to the aircraft following me, firing some warning shots to take it off my trail.
“That’s what I’m here for.”
“Is this really okay though? Technically, you are still do represent Nave…”
“It’s fine. My Arcturus here isn’t affiliated with Nave in any shape or form. I just have to keep things on the down low and no one will ever know… Wait, one’s coming for me!”
This time it was a Vessel aircraft that charged straight at Klyce, which meant it was my turn to cover him
I was able to get behind the aircraft and fire off some warning shots in hopes that would scare it off. However, my warning shots proved to be useless as it was shot into flames for real by a Batoh aircraft coming from above.
It was hard for me to stay calm after seeing the pilot die just like that.
“This battle is pointless!” I shouted into the open channel. “Everyone, please stop! I am Ciel Migrateur, the successor of the White Wing known as Akasha Migrateur from the Vessel’s Guild of Swallows! You were all set up and I have proof of that! Please, stop!”
I shouted a few more words to no avail. My words did nothing at all as I had expected. Besides, I understood where they were coming from— The moment they stopped fighting was the moment they died. There was nothing I could do about that.
I was only one person in all this without Stella by my side. I knew I had no other option other than to just make a mad dash for Batoh.
“Klyce, let’s do this.”
After half an hour of dodging attacks from all sides, I was finally able to catch a glimpse of Batoh. It was a relief not to have suffered any major damage.
The battle had not reached here yet, but the battlefield was inching closer by the second. It was only a matter of time before the bombers were able to reach them.
“I’ll go alone from here,” I said to Klyce and made my way to their castle.
However, there was no time to catch my breath here.
The anti-air personnel stationed along the coast must have thought I was an enemy because they started firing at me with their turrets. I immediately took evasive maneuvers and reached out to them.
“I am Ciel Migrateur from Vessel’s Guild of Swallows! Please stop your attacks— I am no enemy! I bring proof that this whole war is a sham created by a third country!”
The attacks did not stop, even after I yelled the same thing a second time.
“Ciel, come back! It’s too risky!” Klyce yelled back.
“I can’t do that!”
I couldn’t back out now. Even without King Arbour’s cooperation and Stella’s help, I was determined to see this through the end.
“You’re gonna get shot down any second!!!”
I was well aware of that. I was already getting dangerously close to getting shot down. One of their bullets was bound to blow my whole plane up.
Yet despite all that, I wasn’t backing down.
“I fled once and that was enough. I’m ready to risk my life for this, or else I wouldn’t be able to face Stella. I need to help her in any way I can! I’m pushing through even if it kills me!”
Coincidentally, he rain of bullets that relentless came at me all stopped at once just as I finished my outburst.
“What’s going on?”
“Ciel, Ciel!” I heard a voice through my communications line. “Can you hear me? Are you alright?”
I couldn’t believe my ears— There was no way she should be able to talk to me like this.
“Stella…?” I said in disbelief.
“How did you open a line? Where are you right now?”
“I’m in Batoh’s command center. I got permission to come here.”
The command center of all places?!? This was bad… The command center was usually the first target of any bombing.
“Why are you there? Get away from there, please!”
“I’m okay. I have to see this battle until the end,” she said solemnly. “But you Ciel, you should be the one evacuating. This place is turning dangerous… I’m sorry I couldn’t stop the battle.”
I couldn’t give up on her.
“Stella, it’s too early to give up now.”
“The battle’s begun though…”
“Please don’t give up until the very end. I was able to come this far thanks to you.”
The fact that Stella was in the command center meant that King Arbour was also in there with her. He must have been truly desperate to allow her in.
So, it was time for me to get to him.
“King Arbour! You know I’m not an enemy! If you can hear me, then think! I bring proof that this was all a ploy by a third country! With this we can achieve peace with both sides! I have a plan in mind!”
I heard Stella hold her breath from the other end.
“Please grant me permission to land! You have nothing to lose by listening to what I have to say! Just hear me this one time— You can lock me up, kill me, or whatever afterwards, please!”
This was one of the biggest gambles of my life. I honestly had no idea what would happen, but this was the play to do. If King Arbour was indeed listening in as I had anticipated, I knew he would not refuse my offer.
I waited for a response. What was probably a few seconds felt like a lifetime, until…
“Swallow, Ciel Migrateur. You are given permission to land,” another operator said from the command center. “We will guide you to your spot.”
I sighed, made my landing, and got off. There was already a car waiting for me.
“It’s been a while,” I heard a familiar voice said from inside the car. “But no time for formalities— get in!”
The jailer from before was back to meet me once again. However, no one else was left to be seen. The city this time around was deathly quiet, almost as if everyone suddenly disappeared. They probably evacuated indoors in anticipation of the upcoming attack.
“The knight has returned, hasn’t he?” he said with a chuckle.
I thought of Stella’s words she said to me in the jail cell before parting ways.
You’re my first and only knight, Ciel— my one and only.
“Huh?!? Wait, you heard that?!?”
“Hey she did come flying out from nowhere, you know, but sucks for you two— I was awake the whole time, even if barely. What an experience to be smacked by a princess… don’t you think?”
He laughed and I let out a huge sigh.
“Then why did you just lay there and not lock us back in?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe I’ve taken a liking to you both. Besides, I’ve never heard a princess talk like she did before.”
Wow, did he hear everything we said to each other?
I tried my hardest to stop my face from turning beet red to no avail.
Eventually, we arrived at the base of the castle.
“Off you go,” he said. “I may not know what you’re here for, but I can tell that you really like her, huh.”
“I do,” I said boldly, much to my surprise.
“Then go be a man and help her.”
“Of course. I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me!”
I was led up to the main elevator once again, but this time I was directed straight into their command center. The center was built well within the castle and surrounded by loads upon loads of fortified glass because it was literally their lifeline during emergency. Inside, the operators handled enough communication equipment to span throughout the entire country. It was also common for the King to be holed up in here as well, talking to his advisers on strategic battle tactics going forward.
Because this area was the prime target for any attack, there were multiple escape routes underground.
I knew King Arbour wasn’t the type of guy to run away. He did not feel comfortable sitting back and letting his subjects take all the risk.
The guard nodded towards a door and said, “Here it is.”
I gave a slight bow and went through into a room with an expansive view of the outside sky. There were multiple desks and devices inside, with soldiers constantly heading in and out.
It was her.
She ran and jumped into my arms.
“Stella, I’m glad you’re okay…”
“You too, Ciel!”
I knew we had work to do, so I cut our reunion short.
“Where’s King Arbour?”
“He’s on top of those stairs,” said Stella, pointing at a set of stairs above the elevator I stepped out of. “He’s waiting for you.”
“Roger that. Let’s do this.”
I climbed up the stairs from the command center and ended up face to face with King Arbour, who stood up to greet me.
“Ciel, sorry about earlier,” he said monotonously.
I shook my head. “No worries. Anyways, you got to take a look at this— there’s not a lot of time.”
“I assume this is proof of that third country?”
“It is,” I replied. I brought out the photo I took earlier and laid it on a nearby table.
“I took this photo northeast from here behind a huge magnetic cloud. It was just there, sailing the current-less part of the ocean.
Even King Arbour must have been shocked to see the small, metallic “thing” in the picture.
“What is this?” he asked. “An island? No, a boat…?”
“Most likely. It’s about 500 meters long and covered in a metallic shell. I was too far away to take a picture of them, but there were also corsairs parked on top of it. Those corsairs were without a doubt the ones that attacked us previously.”
King Arbour’s eyes widened. “How is it there? There’s no currents in that area, right? How did it get there in the first place?”
“It propelled itself.”
This time, King Arbour leaned forward in his chair.
“Propelled itself? Without any help from the ocean at all?”
I nodded. “Obviously I’m not sure about what kind of tech they’re using, but I’m certain of it. This boat can move itself freely.”
“I can’t believe it…”
King Arbour was in disbelief. Even I, who saw it in person, had a hard time believing such a thing existed, so I could understand his reaction. The ship was literally breaking our perception of reality by propelling itself, something we had assumed to be impossible without the help of ocean currents.
Despite that, King Arbour was a smart man. He understood the implications of my photo and knew I had no reason to lie about such a thing.
After a pause, he focused his attention back to me.
“Hmm… I wonder which country they actually came from, then.”
“You’re going to be surprised, but hear me out.”
“What could possibly surprise me now?”
“From what I’ve gathered, they’re from Boreas.”
“Boreas? The country from the legends?”
“Again, this is only from what I’ve gathered so nothing’s for certain. After I fled this country, I went back to the area where Stella and I were attacked to get some additional intel, but the very same corsair attacked me again! From our encounter, I had a hunch of who that pilot was— he didn’t say it straight up, but I think he’s my father, Akasha Migrateur— The White Wing— .”
“The pilot identified himself as from Boreas, and my father was trying to go there when he disappeared. On top of that, he showed me the ship that had plenty of other corsairs like his on it. Everything makes sense if we assume my father is alive and made it to Boreas.”
“Then why would your father betray Boreas like that?”
“I don’t know. But he did tell me that I had everything I needed to know and the rest was up to me. Perhaps he needed me to stop them without putting himself at risk with them. I’m sure he has his reasons.”
King Arbour thought about the situation. “So in essence,” he said, “Your father needs to stay with Boreas but is trying to stop their operation from the inside. He’s a double agent or something? And has another mission to stop the whole thing?”
“I don’t know. I think maybe that’s a bit of a stretch,” I replied. “Besides, he didn’t need to go through all that trouble if that were the case.”
“That’s true… There may be other factors involved.”
“But one thing’s for sure.”
“We have no reason to be fighting?” said King Arbour.
“Do you believe me?”
King Arbour nodded. “I can’t think of anything that could refute your claims, and I see no reason why you would lie especially after coming all this way.”
I breathe a sigh of relief. Now we could finally work on stopping the war.
“Well then, Ciel. Do you have any way of telling Vessel the same thing? They may be harder to convince, you know.”
I turned to Stella and just happened to lock eyes with her. She gave me a nod of approval.
“I’m going to bring her to Vessel.”
“What? You can’t be serious!” King Arbour replied in a rare burst of emotion. “You want to dodge through over 200 aircraft flying all over? You could be the best pilot in the world and it would still be a suicide run. We can’t afford to lose Stella, too. I won’t let her go with that.”
Stella spoke up before I had a chance to tell King Arbour how I was going to bring her all the way there no matter what.
“King Arbour, please reconsider. Reconsider how we are going to win this.”
“At this rate, we’re both going to suffer heavy losses regardless of who wins and who loses. If Ciel is telling the truth as we believe, then Boreas will strike the moment we exhaust our forces fighting each other and we will both lose. The moment we fail to stop the battle is the moment our defeat is decided. If there was one way to get out of this, it’s for Ciel and I to take this leap and stop this battle.”
“And that’s why you’re telling us to bet everything on you two?” King Arbour asked sternly.
Stella remained unfazed.
“Yes, that’s what I’m telling you.”
“Do you realize what you’re saying?” King Arbour continued. “You could even be shot down by the Vessel ships you’re trying so hard to protect.”
“It’s okay. We won’t die,” she replied with a smile.
“Do you trust Ciel that much?”
I had a feeling that King Arbour would have a much stronger reaction if Stella had simply said, “yes” this time around. He would have chastised her for being so naive and delusional.
But Stella shook her head. “No. It’s me who will protect Ciel and Polaris.”
“Yes. I am Polaris’s navigator and gunner, you know,” she replied smugly.
I smiled at her.
“It’ll be okay,” she continued. “We can do it, King Arbour. Please bet on us, please!”
We both bowed our heads.
“Are you two serious?” King Arbour asked. “Can you really stop this war?”
“We can,” we replied.
King Arbour took a moment and just looked at me, then Stella, then back to me.
After an awkward pause, he finally broke out a small smile. “Alright. Princess Stella is right that sitting here and waiting will only lead to our demise. Fine, I’ll take up your bet. Go, and reach Vessel in one piece so this war can be stopped once and for all.”
“Don’t thank me just yet. You still have to get through this. Besides—” King Arbour smiled. “You’re an interesting person, Princess Stella.”
“Yes you. For some reason, I feel like anything is possible after talking with you.”
King Arbour was right. After listening to her naivety and her conviction, you felt like she could help you accomplish anything you were struggling with.
“In any case,” he continued. “They’re bound to reach here by now. I’ll get your Polaris ready, so just head to the port.”
We bowed, gave our thanks, and quickly made our way out.
Good luck, fellows.
“Over here! We’ve warmed up your engine already!”
I frantically did my equipment check before climbing in.
“Let’s do this, Stella!” I said the moment I finished.
We put on our aviation caps and did a quick mic check as well.
“Stella, can you hear me?”
“I can hear you perfectly…” she replied. “Hey, doesn’t this feel nostalgic?”
“But it’s different this time around. I’m no longer your luggage.”
“Sure. Time to go,” I said.
I revved up the engine and took off. The sky before me was filled with the flames of war. The wind was even strong enough that I could hear it inside.
“You know, I’ve been thinking about what you said,” I said through the wind. “Why do I fly?”
“For the longest time I flew just because my father did. Other than that, other than the fact that somehow I thought it was my one true purpose in life, I didn’t care about anything else. But the reality was much different. I was always alone when I flew and that was always rough, made worse by the fact that I was scared of meeting other people. That’s why I always believed to keep to myself and never get involved with other people.”
“That wasn’t you, though!!” Stella shouted back into the mic. “Ciel, you’re smart, strong, good at cooking, calm, and the kindest person in the world. You always supported me. Don’t say you can’t do anything else but fly!”
That’s so you to say that…
“Did you forget the time I abandoned you at such a crucial time?”
“You didn’t abandon me. Remember, you’re the one who saved my life on that island. You even brought me to Batoh after that. You protected me from that white corsair and trusted me to fly straight into that magnetic cloud. You even chased my foolishness down and saved me on that rainy day.”
Of course I wouldn’t abandon a person on the verge of death… I brought you to Batoh for a price. I saved you from that white corsair because I was going to die to. And that magnetic cloud thing… I had no other choice. And if something bad happened to you on that rainy day, I wouldn’t be able to live with my conscience.”
My head couldn’t help but make up excuses for every little thing she said.
“You did all that to help me despite my stupidity.”
“I did abandon you halfway…”
“No, stop saying that…” Stella said calmly and clearly. “You came back for me, didn’t you?”
However, she suddenly broke down a bit and her eyes watered.
“I’m so tempted to slap you again!”
“You took on your father—that monster of a pilot and plane, suicide charged through a battlefield teeming with other battles, and even wound up getting attacked by Batoh’s anti air defenses without doing anything! It’s too dangerous! Why can’t you see how close you were to dying? If you were dead, I—”
Her voice trailed off.
“I’ll forgive you,” she ended softly. “We’re able to meet again because you did all that… Still want to slap you though.”
“Stella…” I wiped the tears from her face. “I wanted to—no, I felt like I had to apologize to you. But there’s something else I want to say…”
I took a deep breath and continued.
“Thank me? I didn’t even do anything for you… what could you possibly thank me for?”
“You gave me a reason to fly,” I replied. “I’ve changed so much thanks to you… You know how I always questioned myself?”
I took a pause for another deep breath.
“Well, I want to fly with you too, Stella! As pilot and navigator! How about it?”
It felt good to finally get that off my chest, and all that was left was to wait for her reply.
But it didn’t come.
“Uhh… I’ll take that as a no?” I said soon after.
“No, no… I’m just really happy….” Stella had trouble speaking.
She sounded like she was about to cry, but I promised I wouldn’t do the same. My vision had to be clear if I were to get through this.
“Please take care of me to Batoh,” I ended up saying.
I noticed that the fighting had turned much more intense upon arriving at the battlefield yet again.
“How’d it go?” asked Klyce. He had been on standby until I met up with him again.
“I somehow managed,” I replied.
“Who is this guy?” asked Stella.
“He’s Klyce Alouette, a special forces pilot, also known as the ace in Nave’s Airforce… but this time he’s helping me just on his own.”
“Hey, Ciel,” Klyce said. “That person sitting in your backseat… could it be?”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Stella Vessel Canal. Thanks for lending us your help,” Stella said nonchalantly.
Klyce was speechless.
He sighed. “You couldn’t possibly be thinking about bring a princess into this mess, aren’t you?”
“There’s no other way…”
“What do you mean? Are you trying to break through here to Vessel?”
“Yes we are,” I replied. “Klyce, thanks for your help, but I couldn’t possibly drag you into this anymore.”
“What are you talking about? I would never live it down if you died now,” he said, moving his plane into formation. “Ciel, the battlefield has gotten much worse. Batoh and Vessel are about the same in terms of military might, which means that they’ll be both wiped out before anyone wins.”
When two armies are similarly matched, the battlefield becomes an all out slug that wears out everyone involved. At this rate, everything will proceed as Boreas had planned. I had to do something.
“Ciel!” Stella suddenly shouted. “A message incoming from the open channel!”
I am King Arbour Batoh Griesh of Batoh with a message to all my fighters. Please forget about this battle for even just a second and hear me out.
Was he going to say everything through this channel?
This whole battle is orchestrated by a third country meant to not only disrupt the goodwill between my country and Vessel’s, but also to wear down our respective military. I received this intel from none other than the fourth Princess of Vessel, Stella Vessel Canal, and her Swallow, The White Wing Ciel Migrateur, who both risked their lives to find this out. Please, if there’s one thing to take from my message— Just know that there’s no reason for a battle right now. Princess Stella has incredible compassion for both our countries and citizens, so she risked her own life to seek peace with me directly in person. I’ll make this order very clear… All Batoh troops have hereby been ordered to stand down! Do not engage unless it is a clear act of self defense!”
I was surprised. I didn’t expect King Arbour to go this far for me. He was putting his full trust into Stella, a princess of the country he was at war with. Even just entertaining her offer was a step up from what I expected.
This time, King Arbour talked to me in a private line.
“I hope your job became just a bit easier with this,” he said.
“Yes— of course! Thank you so much!! Was it okay, though? Leaving it to Stella?”
“You two don’t seem like bad people,” he replied nonchalantly.
“Of course not! We can do this!” Stella shouted.
“Good luck. I expect good things to come,” King Arbour replied.
He then cut the transmission.
King Arbour’s speech had an instant effect. Even though the battle was crazy with gunfire, explosions, and smoke just now, the intensity of it immediately died down. Everyone was in a state of hesitation trying to figure out whether or not to fight on.
I figured this was the perfect time for Stella to make her debut.
“Stella, this mic’s all yours.”
She took a deep breath and gave a speech of her own.
“I am the fourth Princess of Vessel, Stella Vessel Canal. I will say this straight up: This battle was neither started by Batoh nor Vessel! It has been influenced by a third party without our knowledge. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Batoh did not start this war, nor did they try to take my life! In fact, Batoh’s been framed by them to make them seem like the perpetrators! So who is this third party? You may not believe it, but it’s the country of Boreas, the same country known to us from the legends. They came here from the northernmost part of this world and used a self-propelled boat as a base to send their own corsairs to attack us!”
Stella paused to gather her strength once more.
“I won’t ask you all to believe me!” she said with a stronger tone. “But… Please just believe this one thing. I don’t want to see any more bloodshed. I don’t want anyone else dying before my very eyes. This is what I truly want… I’ve been thinking about what my purpose was inside that castle this whole time, and whether being a princess was really worth the effort. But, I took on this trip, met so many different people, and did a whole host of things to finally understand one thing: The world has its miserable parts, but it’s also beautiful! There’s so much happiness, beauty, and other great things waiting on the horizon. Just that enough is worth living for! Not only for me, but for all of you! That’s why I’m begging you all to stay alive. Don’t throw away your life for this worthless battle!”
Her speech had a bigger effect than King Arbour’s. There was an immediate ceasefire, and it was almost creepy how calm the sky turned.
We reached them. We actually reached them.
“Don’t be fooled! Stella was killed by them! We can’t forgive Batoh!”
“E-Exactly! Why would Batoh even listen to her? This is nothing more than one of their many tricks to get us off guard!”
And just like that, the battle started up again. Even Batoh’s forces must have been convinced that the whole thing was a lie and they too started fighting back stronger than ever.
“No… not like this!” Stella whispered. All her hard work had been destroyed in a moment.
Was this inevitable?
We felt so powerless and unable to do anything to stop the fighting.
“Don’t use Stella’s name to trick us!!”
One of Vessel’s aircraft came flying at me before I knew it. I tried to shake it off, but it was already too close to do so. Even Klyce wouldn’t be able to help at this distance.
I thought I would be able to fire some shots just to throw him off, but I knew immediately that I wouldn’t make it in time. The aircraft had already taken my rear and was about to finish me off.
No matter how skilled I was, there was no getting out of that situation. I was trapped— The only option was to hunker down and pray I survive the incoming volley.
But then, a flash of light came from behind me. It seemed someone was firing at the aircraft on me, which caused it to dodge out of the way and put me into safety.
I couldn’t believe my luck. “Who would help us…?”
“Behind us 8 o’ clock!” Stella shouted. “It’s that white corsair from last time!”
Yes, it was my father’s white corsair—Sirius—that barrel rolled right in front of me.
“Is this your answer?” he said through my private channel.
“Father??? Why are you here?”
He didn’t answer me. Instead, he flew straight up and looped over me.
“Here he comes!!!!”
The loop he took landed him right behind me, so with a quick drop in altitude he was in a prime position to come at me. I instinctively rolled to the right to dodge him.
“What’s he doing?!?!”
No answer once again.
I wondered what he was trying to do. He showed me proof that would help stop this war, but now he was getting in my way.
“What’s your problem?!?!” I shouted angrily. If he was going to this again, I had no choice.
“Stella, release the safeties!”
“He’s gonna kill us!”
I shoved the throttle forward and made my turns erratic to throw him off my tail. I knew I was no match to him in speed, so I kept my zigzags as tight as possible.
“Oh my goddd!!!!” Stella had trouble handling the g-forces from my turns.
“You’re gonna bite your tongue if you keep shouting like that!” I shouted back.
I was able to maneuver into a dense group of other aircraft. With my top speed, I grazed just between them, narrowing dodging as we flew far too close for comfort to the others. I figured I could evade him just as I did in that big black magnetic cloud.
However, this time my father was unfazed. He not only stayed on my tail, but also seemed to take the hardest and most daring routes behind me. He almost seemed to be showing off and playing around with me.
“Damn it!” I desperately took on even more daring turns. I had to go faster and sharper.
Luckily, my desperate attempt gave me some distance to work with even for a second. I used that moment to do an Immelmann turn to loop around back to my father because it seemed like the best option to take.
But it wasn’t.
“What!!?! He twisted back??”
He did some sort of screw maneuver back and prevented me from switching up my position, rendering me defenseless right in front of him.
“I won’t let you!!” shouted Stella. Right before we were going to be shot at, Stella lined up Sirius in her sights and let the machine gun loose.
My father somehow sensed this and retreated back temporarily.
“I’ll fight too! Let’s do this together!”
“Alright, I’m counting on you!” I replied.
It’s hard for me to remember what exactly happened after that. The only thing I could say for certain was that both Stella and I gave it our best. We fought so hard just to surpass my father, if only for a moment.
I couldn’t afford to lose concentration. Was that a voice, though? Who was it?”
“Ciel! Look around you!”
I was concentrating so hard it took Klyce a few times just to get to me.
“Ciel, look!” Stella said, fully snapping me back to reality. “The battle’s… stopped!”
Everything was moving so fast it took a few seconds for me to notice, but the sudden freeze hit me like a truck. All the gun noises, explosions, and even the wind died down immediately.
“Change your channel to the open one and see,” Klyce said.
What a battle... This isn't something you guys will ever see again. Those two aren't human! I'm not going near them; I'll die. How do you even move a plane like that?
I had been desperate— In a 1 on 1 fight without any external interference, I never would have stood a chance. That’s why no matter how much I wanted to deny it, I used the other planes around me to put a buffer between me and my father. In fact, we flew so close to the others that I was far more worried about hitting another plane than getting shot. The other pilots around us must have braced themselves for death when they saw us fly straight at them.
Even though they were right in the middle of fighting each other to the death, the pilots around us must have stopped and marveled at our battle. At that very moment they weren’t soldiers anymore, but rather fellow pilots sharing a spectacular view that unfolded before their very eyes.
Such a sight reminded me of when I sat in my father’s back seat as he took on thirty enemies to deliver a single love letter. I also considered the whole thing to be beautiful back then, despite us still being in a battle.
Yes, the sky was truly beautiful.
I wondered if I really fought like my father had back then.
Even though I couldn’t remember much, I was sure it must have been a fantastic sight to behold from my point of view. It must have been very hard for me to see anything with my father chasing me that desperately from behind.
Well, maybe calling him desperate was a bit too much. He had his own tense moments from our fight, but he was far from desperate.
I had hoped this outcome was one no one had intended, because if it wasn’t… if it was one that my father had anticipated and led to by taking into account my dogfighting skills, then—
“As I expected, my father is the true ‘White Wing.’ I can’t help but think that even a lifetime of practice wouldn’t be enough to catch up to him.”
What a shame.
At that point, my father seemed to call it a draw and headed out, but not before I had a few choice words for him.
“I… We’re definitely going to stop this war!” I shouted into the mic. I didn’t know if he heard it or not even if I switched to his frequency, but I didn’t care.
“We’re only able to reach this far because there’s so many people who don’t wish for war that support us. Stella had made me realize that only as a Swallow am I able to help those people fulfill their wishes. She helped me realize why I fly and gave me a sense of pride by believing in me.”
I gripped my controls tighter— I began to feel the sky and ocean pass through me.
“As the ‘White Wing’ that had been passed down onto me, there’s one thing I need to show you…”
I saw him gain altitude away from me.
“And that’s the answer I found for myself…”
I heard nothing in return but those two words. At this point, he had gone so high he was hidden in the clouds.
“Ciel, lets hurry to Vessel!”
We raced to get out of there as fast as possible. It didn’t take long with our max speed, so soon we could see the glittering white castle.
“The escorts are coming, look!”
Four aircraft were heading our way. Unlike other countries, Vessel didn’t have much anti-air firepower on the ground. Instead, aircraft convoys like these were meant to fulfill that purpose.
“Stella, call out to them through the open channel!”
“Got it!” she said, talking louder into her mic. “I am the fourth Princess of Vessel, Stella Vessel Canal. I have just returned from Batoh to stop this meaningless war after receiving King Arbour’s blessing for peace! Please let us through!”
Once they got close enough, I pulled to the right and slowed down.
They weren’t following… Did they know what was going on?
Stella called out to them once again to no avail.
Eventually, they finally responded after an uncomfortable moment of silence.
“This is a warning. You will be treated as a hostile if you continue further. Please turn back now.”
While they didn’t engage us right off the bat, they didn’t let us in either.
“Stella, what do we do?”
“Alright,” I said with a nod. I switched to an open channel and said the usual. “This is Ciel Migrateur from the Vessel Guild of Swallows. I am on the aircraft Polaris with a registration number of S006. Currently I am delivering some cargo—cargo that is the fourth Princess of Vessel, Stella Vessel Canal—on route to Vessel. She, along with all the people who wish to put an end to this war, entrusted me with this request. As per the Guild’s guidelines, I will eliminate anyone and anything who puts my cargo at risk.”
“Is what you’re saying true?” one of the aircraft asked me. Since he was the aircraft out in front, I assumed he was the convoy leader.
“We are but military men and must follow our orders to stop you. But right now, it’s hard for us to tell if that’s the right thing to do rather than letting you through.”
“Please listen to me! That—” Stella shouted.
“I how kind you are Princess Stella—if you really are her and not dead—and I don’t wish to fight anyone.” he interrupted, speaking in a much softer voice. “Can you please just turn back?”
“I cannot turn back. I must and will go to Vessel.”
“That’s a shame.”
They fanned out to prevent us from moving on.
“We’re gonna push through this!” I shouted.
“Ciel, be careful of the blue and white ones. Those are the elite ones that serve the crown directly. They aren’t the usual Focke-Wulfs we have in our airforce, either. Those have been modded so extensively they might as well be a different class of planes.”
“It’s okay. There will be no more causalities on either side anymore, anyway.”
Only their squad leader was going after me. The other three were waiting in case I ever broke through their formation.
Time to go full throttle.
I felt confident. I could see everything around me from their movements to even the direction of the wind. It was as if the sky was speaking out to me loud and clear. There wasn’t a single thing we couldn’t do right now.
I led their squad leader right into the other three waiting for me to break through. He was behind me, but I had a good read on when he was about to fire.
Right when he was about to, I braked to the right and quickly gained altitude. His attacks missed because of that, but he and another aircraft followed after me. Even if I wasn’t a great of a pilot as my father, I was at least able to maneuver Polaris at a level to get me through this.
I did a tight roll right when I needed to. Polaris screeched and clanked from the g-forces, but I had confidence that it would hold itself together. This was my father’s plane, after all.
I was able to glide through some clouds with the right angles, and because of my maneuver, they weren’t in a position to chase after me.
“Ciel, let’s go!”
I dropped all the way down to sea level until we were gliding on top of the water. It was hard to see through all the sunlight reflecting on the water, hard to hear through the screech of the wind, but I managed to charge straight at the castle— That white, glistening castle.
The first place we reached was right above the town, so we circled a few times around the castle itself.
That in itself was still quite dangerous, however, as the anti-aircraft guns on the ground started firing in our direction. While I maneuvered around them, Stella was frantically trying to reach them.
Their barrage was endless. It was only a matter of time before we were hit.
“Ciel, please head to the command center!”
“The command center? That’s impossible!”
The command center had the most amount of anti aircraft guns stationed next to it. Going near that was a death sentence— No exceptions. Besides, it was likely they would continue to ignore Stella’s calls even if we got there.
Stella’s confidence was something else. I held my breath and just went for it.
“Alright, hang on tight!”
I stopped circling around and dived towards the castle. I had to get as close as I could to ground level because being higher up meant that I was targeted by more guns.
There was nothing else I needed to think about other than just getting there in one piece. Stella deserved this chance, and I was going to give it to her.
Their bullets grazed Polaris, but luckily it didn’t do enough damage to bring us down. They fired at such a close concentration that the whole area around us turned red.
But at the speed we were going, that red around us disappeared in an instant as we sped through.
“We broke though!”
Finally, I was able to get a good look at that white tower up close, but right now I was still at ground level. I had to circle around the tower upwards to reach the top, again to avoid any incoming fire.
“Ciel, slow down right when we reach it!”
“I can’t do that! If I brake here we’re done for!”
Damn it! She always does her own thing!
She didn’t have to tell me to trust her. I was never going to doubt her.
“I’m going for it!” I shouted.
I deployed my flaps right in front of the command center to slow down, but…
“W-What?” I couldn’t believe my eyes. I suddenly felt the wind blow right inside my cockpit.
Stella had taken her helmet off and incredulously opened the roof above her.
What was she doing? She looked like she was being swept away by the sea.
She held the microphone from her helmet and glared inside the command center.
“Father, look here! Can you see me right here and still say that I am dead? Do you really believe me to be an imposter? If you still can’t believe me with all that, then may god help your poor soul! If you still can’t accept it, then I refuse to be your daughter! I wouldn’t lose a wink of sleep flying away with Ciel Migrateur and leaving you for good!”
“Stella, what are you saying? Those words could get me killed!”
Wow, this girl…
Stella stayed true to herself and refused to budge. Because she was just hanging out of the aircraft, I could neither accelerate nor do any evasive maneuvers. Now was the perfect time for them to shoot us down.
But they didn’t.
“They stopped firing…” I said.
After a few tense seconds, a voice came through the radio.
“To all Vessel units— cease your operations! I repeat! Cease your operations!”
“Did we do it…?” Stella couldn’t believe her ears.
“We did it, Stella.”
It wasn’t long before we received a transmission from the command center itself.
“I am the King of Vessel, Sole Vessel Canal.”
I expected to hear from someone, but not from the King himself. I was too stunned to speak back.
“You did well to come back. You fulfilled your mission wonderfully.”
“…Yes, thank you.”
I turned around to the back seat. Stella was trying her hardest not to make any noise as she started crying.
“The you I know from growing up in the castle would never do such a thing,” he continued. “You’ve certainly changed in such a short time.”
“A lot of things happened,” replied Stella. “Scary, fun— all sorts of things.”
“I see. Once you return, I’d like to hear your stories.”
“I will be delighted to tell you them. There’s so many things I want to tell you that it’d be an eternity before I’m done.”
“I look forward to it,” he said with what I can only imagine with a smile. This time, he spoke to me. “Swallow Ciel Migrateur.”
“You did all you could to help my daughter. I thank you, not as the King of this country, but as a father.”
“You’re very welcome, but a thanks was not at all necessary. I only did what I was obliged to do as a Swallow with a client. Besides…” I took a pause in responding. “Stella had taught me a lot of things as well. If there’s one person that needs to give thanks, it would be me.”
“I see. By the way—” he replied.
“Yes, what is it?”
“You two seem really close to each other.”
I froze up. “Huh? Well, not really… You see…”
“Father! This… I told him not to treat me like a Princess!”
“You too seem fairly comfortable around him, Stella.”
“No…! We’re just two people on a journey!”
“Stella, that doesn’t help!” I interrupted.
“Two people on a journey, huh? Ciel, let’s also discuss in detail what Stella meant when she would fly away with you when we have time, shall we?”
What was going on?
“In any case,” he continued. “I have some things to do to stop this war. Please excuse me.”
Before I could explain myself, he cut the transmission.
“I’m done for, Stella…” I said in despair.
Stella smiled through her tears of joy. “It’s okay… I’ll protect you against the world, even against my father. Nobody’s going to lay their hand on you.”
“What kind of knight gets protected by his princess?”
“Not a knight,” she said. “That part is over.”
“You being a knight implies that we’re not on equal ground. Weren’t we supposed to be partners?”
So that’s what she meant.
“I mean, these are your words,” she said. “Did you forget already?”
I laughed. I couldn’t really find the words to describe this moment, but I know it’s something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.
“We’re heading back,” I said.
“Let’s do it.”
With the battle halted behind us, we made our way in.