Chapter 2: The Girl Who Drifted to Me.
She looked around in a hurry, visibly confused.
“Don\'t push yourself too much,” I replied with a smile to put her at ease. “You still need to rest.”
I went to the fireplace and started another fire.
“What happened to me? Where am I?”
I turned to her while still contemplating how much I should tell her. I didn\'t know what to do from here on out, but I made sure to pretend like I did.
“This is the island Sunk Tierra… Well, not officially because it\'s not known to others— It was my father who found and named it. I don\'t really want other people to know about this island, but I can tell you that we\'re near the country Vessel from where I just came right now. If you wanted to know the closest place to here though, it\'d be the island Divel.”
“Sunk Tierra…” she said softly.
“Although I have some questions of my own. Who are you?”
The fire was burning quite healthily now, so I filled a tea kettle from the sink facet that was piped directly from the well and boiled it over the fire.
“Yesterday night, you washed up on sh.o.r.e. I did say the closest place to here was Divel, but it\'s not a distance you could swim. So how did you end up here?”
I didn\'t want to pry too hard into her because that just wasn\'t the right thing to do. Instead, I asked for her situation in the least intrusive way possible.
Plus, I needed to know at least where to bring her back to, if I could at all. If I had to accompany her back to where she came from, it was important to understand what I was getting myself into.
Above all, I was just curious. Who wouldn\'t be?
Yet she didn\'t speak a word, opting to avert my gaze and stare at the ground instead. It was clear she didn\'t want to talk about it no matter how long I waited.
After a few moments, she finally uttered something.
“Hey no big deal— there\'s no need to say sorry. I\'m someone you just met, after all,” I said, still trying to be as cheerful as possible. I also thought I came off too harsh when I asked her about it.
“Thanks… for saving me,” she said with a small bow.
“How you feeling? Once the water finishes boiling, I\'ll get some tea ready.”
“I\'m fine… but…” She sat up on the bed while making sure the blanket was still wrapped tightly around her. She looked around frantically until she spotted her clothes hanging above the fireplace.
Instantly, I thought of yesterday\'s events.
“S-Sorry! You were really wet and getting really cold, so I did what I could! I didn\'t do anything else, I promise!”
She blushed for a moment but said, “It\'s o-okay. Thanks,” and threw out a smile.
On the other hand, I quickly looked away from her and handed her clothes back to her.
“Umm… could you also look away for a bit?”
I turned to face the opposite wall. “O-Of course,” I said, before hearing her say, “Sorry,” again in the faintest whisper possible as she began changing.
I made sure to completely cover my own eyes after everything that happened yesterday. I didn\'t want to make things worse.
“Alright, I\'m good now.”
Even so, I turned around slowly. She was standing politely with her hands huddled together, almost like a timid white rabbit.
I pulled out a chair and motioned her to sit around my round table. Surprisingly, she walked up to it with an air of elegance that I couldn\'t describe, and she even sat down with a touch of dignity.
Now that the water was fully boiled, I took out some black tea leaves to throw in the teapot.
“What a beautiful aroma…” she suddenly said. “You didn\'t need to brew such a high quality tea for me…”
“Don\'t worry about it. I just felt like drinking it.”
The fact that she knew the quality of the tea just from the smell alone surprised me, but she wasn\'t wrong. I did indeed buy it from a special shop in Vessel at a high price.
In any case, I put the tea leaves inside the pot and stirred it around, then grabbed my tea set and made my way back to the table. Oddly enough, I enjoyed stirring the tea more than drinking it because I liked the way its aroma spread throughout the room.
“Once again, thanks so much for saving me,” she said after I sat down. “What could I possibly do to repay you?”
I shook my head. “No worries. Don\'t worry about it.”
“T-Thank you… I—” she paused for a brief second, so brief that it was borderline unnoticeable. “I\'m Stella.”
“Nice to meet you! I\'m Ciel Migrateur.”
She didn\'t tell me her last name, but I didn\'t mind at all. Whether someone had a last name or not was a delicate issue, and it was a road that I definitely should not cross.
“This is a bit sudden, but I do have a question for you Ciel…”
“Sure, if I could answer it. What is it?”
Stella got serious. “What month and day is it?”
“Uhhh…” Initially, I didn\'t know how to answer that. “You mean today\'s date?”
“Yes,” she replied, still with a serious tone.
“Which calendar do you use? I could tell you in Vessel\'s calendar.”
“Well then, today is the third day of the Grape month.”
I heard her whisper something about making it in time to herself, but that\'s when I noticed that the tea was ready, so I poured her a cup.
“Go ahead,” I urged.
The tea reminded me of the morning sky with its fresh aroma as I also poured myself one.
“Hey, you said earlier that this was an island, right?” Stella suddenly asked me. “Sunk Tierra?”
“How did you get here? You said it yourself, didn\'t you? It doesn\'t seem like a place where you can easily come to.”
“Well, I didn\'t wash up here like you did. I came here with my plane.”
“A plane as in a Seagull?”
Seagulls were a type of flying boat used regularly for transportation between countries and their respective islands. The crafts that we Swallows used had small engines (or rather, large perpetual engines were rarely found), but Seagulls were on a much larger scale. As a result, while a typical Seagull was equipped with two to four gasoline engines, they were unable to go very fast. They made up for that lack of speed with their ability to travel long distances and carry heavy loads without much of a problem. That\'s why countries opted to use Seagulls for transportation— it was just more economically viable.
But within all that lied a very serious problem. Seagulls were easy targets because of their slow speeds and sluggish maneuverability, which made them terrible fighters in the air. To abuse this, countries had a “Corsair” division solely dedicated to targeting and plundering helpless Seagulls.
Its ability to travel long distances was also one of its downfalls. It wasn\'t unusual for smaller gasoline powered escort aircraft to not have the fuel capacity to accompany the long journeys that only they could do. In that case, if the Seagulls happened to be spotted by enemy Corsairs, it was game over for them.
That\'s why countries still preferred Swallows to transport the more important deliveries.
“No, not a Seagull. They wouldn\'t come to such an island like this one. I came here with my own plane.”
“You have a private plane?!?!”
I forced out a smile. The only people who had planes of their own were the ultra wealthy and of course, Swallows like me. I probably didn\'t look like any of the two to her.
“It\'s parked right in an inlet outside, wanna see?”
Stella immediately nodded. “Yes please!”
Hearing that, I stood up and made my way outside, urging her to come along. The moment I opened the door, I was nearly blinded by the sunlight before my eyes had time to adjust.
“Wow, it\'s beautiful…” Stella whispered.
Instantly, we were surrounded by the luscious forest right under the bright overhead sun. In front of us was the beach, but unlike yesterday night when it was all dark, the sand glittered to an almost white color. The ocean beyond that quietly splashed waves onto the sh.o.r.e, and with the sky in the picture, I couldn\'t help but take in the vibrant colors of blue, white, and green all in one go.
Stella saw Polaris parked at the pier and ran up to it, with me following right behind her.
“Wow, it\'s so white… like snow.”
“You\'ve seen snow before, Stella?” I asked.
“No, but I have seen it in pictures… I\'m sure it\'s as beautiful as this in person.”
“The white makes it get dirty easily— You won\'t believe how hard I have to work to maintain it.”
Stella laughed. “It has an eternal perpetual engine?”
“It does… how did you know?”
“Because I love airplanes!” she replied cheerfully. “That means that it could fly anywhere without fuel, right?”
I nodded. “We don\'t know how it works because they\'re too well built to be disa.s.sembled and a.n.a.lyzed. No one knows… I mean, how could it fly forever? But it could. This one\'s been flying forever for sure.”
“The sky\'s so vast and welcoming. You could go anywhere you want to…” Stella said in wonder. She clearly had a great impression of the sky.
Not me, though.
“Hey,” she continued. “Ciel, are you by chance a Swallow?”
I nodded again and Stella immediately followed up with another question.
“Then… could this plane\'s name be Polaris?”
What? I was so in shock I couldn\'t answer.
My face must have given all away, because Stella looked as though I flat out confirmed her suspicions.
“As I thought. You\'re the White Wing Migrateur, aren\'t you?”
Ah, no wonder. She must have known my farther.
“I am, but not the same White Wing you know. That would be my father, Akasha Migrateur.”
I gave a vague smile without replying. She did seem like she had more to ask.
“Ciel, you also have your father\'s stream chart, then?”
“Yes. He pa.s.sed it down to me.”
Stella dropped her gaze down to her feet— she was taken aback and didn\'t know what to follow up with, but eventually regained her composure.
“Then, do you have Batoh\'s stream chart?”
Batoh was a country roughly the same size as Vessel. There was a part where both Vessel and Batoh\'s paths overlapped, and if I remembered correctly, it should be quite near to us right now.
I paused to think things through before replying.
“Yeah, I do… but what about it?”
“Then I have a request,” she replied loudly. Her gaze turned so intense I instinctively straightened my posture. “Do you think you can take me there?”
“To Batoh?” I asked, even though I knew full well that was it.
Stella nodded. She was dead serious, and now it was clear she had something urgent to do.
I thought about my options long and hard— She was a girl who had just washed up on sh.o.r.e and I still didn\'t know anything about her or her situation. The obvious logical answer was to not get involved with her.
“If I do that, then you can at least tell me why you washed up on sh.o.r.e?”
Stella bowed apologetically but replied with, “I can\'t tell you.”
I gulped nervously. “Then, why do you want to go there?”
“I can\'t tell you that, either. Sorry…”
For a brief moment after, there was nothing but the sounds of the wind and ocean in the air because I just didn\'t know what to say with all her secrecy. Eventually, I sighed. I couldn\'t take this any more.
“So essentially, you want me to take you to Batoh without knowing anything myself?”
“Yes, that\'s right.”
I shook my head. “Sorry, but I can\'t do that then. If you wanted to go to Divel or even Vessel then I could have taken you no questions asked. But anything beyond that is a no go for me, at least without more information.”
“Please! I know I\'m asking a lot, and I know I\'m being rude doing so, but please! I have to go to Batoh!”
Stella kept bowing her head apologetically and pa.s.sionately. She sounded desperate, but emitted a certain pressure that wasn\'t pleasant for the both of us. Everything in me was screaming not to get involved with her and that she was dangerous.
“Even if you say that…”
“D-Deliver me then!” she interrupted with a shout.
Her sudden shout just confused me— I didn\'t know what she was trying to get at.
“I\'ve heard Swallows maintained absolute discretion for their clients and whatever they wanted to deliver.”
Oh, so that\'s what she was trying to get at. If she wanted to play that game, I would be happy to go along with her.
“As I said, I would be happy to bring you to Divel or Vessel as a favor. But it\'s another story if you wanted to hire me as a Swallow. Then I would need a suitable amount of money, money that would probably be more than you would antic.i.p.ate.”
“If I had that, would you accept it then?”
I nodded. There weren\'t really any other way to transport people around, which made it incredibly expensive. In this case, a lump sum of 10 million gotes wouldn\'t even be out of the picture. I didn\'t know how much Stella thought it would cost, but certainly not this much.
The plan here was to refuse her offer and just take her to Divel or Vessel. That way I could avoid any trouble that would most certainly arise otherwise… or so I had antic.i.p.ated. Ever since I found her on the beach, things probably weren\'t ever going to go according to plan.
Stella reached behind her neck and unfastened the silver chain around her pendant and handed it to me.
“Is this enough?” she asked.
“What is it?”
I could only stare in awe at the large blue gem embedded in the pendant.
“This is about 100 carats… Plus it\'s in a six pointed shape… Is this a real star sapphire?”
Stella nodded. It was a frighteningly expensive gem. Even by conservative estimates, it was worth about 300 million gotes.
“If you take me to Batoh, I will give that to you.”
I couldn\'t believe what I was seeing. There was no way I could pull out the cost card with that, but if she was willing to use that as payment then something fishy must be going on.
“If I asked you who you are, you won\'t answer me, huh…” I asked initially.
She apologized, and I sighed once again.
“Why would you go that far?”
Stella frowned at my question. There was probably so much she wanted to get off her chest, but couldn\'t.
“I won\'t ask for any more details,” I continued. “But if you\'re willing to sell that star sapphire— then you could do anything you want, whenever you want. You could travel the world and live in a place that you like forever. So why? There\'s no way that\'s worth a trip to Batoh. It\'s not right.”
I really didn\'t mean to ask her any more questions or criticize her motives because I knew nothing would come of it, but what could possibly motivate her to go to such lengths?
Of course, I was fully aware that I wasn\'t getting the answer to my question anytime soon, but there weren\'t a lot of things that got me excited like this has. Perhaps that was why I became so invested in this.
“It\'s not about the money,” she said without an ounce of doubt in her eyes. “And again I\'m sorry I can\'t tell you anything. I will make it to Batoh no matter what it takes.”
As a Swallow, I literally couldn\'t find a reason to refuse her request… So I sighed and went for it.
“Alright. I\'ll accept your request on behalf of the Vessel\'s Guild of Swallow. It will be carried out by me, Ciel Migrateur and the Polaris.”
“Thank you so much!”
She smiled so cheerfully at me it could take anyone\'s worries away, yet it had the opposite effect on me. There was nothing that could make me feel at ease. Receiving 300 million in payment for taking someone to Batoh just sounded too good to be true.
If the whole thing wasn\'t a scam, I would be set for life in terms of money. In the back of my mind, however, I knew that things wouldn\'t go the way I wanted. She was hiding something big… I just didn\'t know what it was.
I sighed again to hide my concerns.
“So, when should we head out?” I asked.
“I don\'t have much time, so as soon as possible.”
“Just when I thought I\'d have time to rest…”
“Sorry about that.”
“There\'s no to apologize. You\'re my client now, and I agreed to take this job,” I said, going to my drawer and shuffling through it. “They should be in here somewhere…”
It would be troublesome for her to fly with the robe she was wearing, so I looked for some spare clothes she could wear.
“Ah nice! Found it.”
I pulled out a fat stack of brown clothes my father left behind before slamming the drawer shut. I could tell that the sizes weren\'t perfect once I straightened a part of it out and held it in front of her to see, but there wasn\'t anything I could really do about that.
“These are a little big, but please change into them. You can\'t really fly with those clothes on.”
“I\'ll be waiting outside, so come out when you\'re done,” I said.
There was a small table outside where I had laid out my stream chart and other instruments to quickly calculate my flight path. In other words, I had to calculate Batoh\'s current location and drift path so I could meet up with it— and fast. Batoh was currently about 3,000 kilometers away, so it would take about two days with an overnight stop. However, it was heading south towards me at a rate of about 200 kilometers a day, so in reality I would reach it much quicker.
At the same time, flying to a place moving towards you was a danger of its own because there was only one chance to spot it as a single miss could prove to be fatal. My plan here was to travel 1,500 kilometers in the first day, stop overnight, and search for it on the second day. There was no choice but to fly very slowly on that second day to ensure there was no room for error. As for food and water, I only had about five days worth for two people.
Stella came out of the hut while I continued processing all the information in my head.
“H-How is it?” she said, spinning herself around for me to see.
It was definitely too big for her from the sleeves to the waist, so much that she had to roll it up around her. She managed to get her arms and legs to stick out, but the neck portion was way too big.
“Yeah, it\'s definitely too big…” I replied.
“It\'s okay, at least I could still move.”
Although, it did seem to suit her in a strange way.
In any case, I began to load all the food and supplies back into Polaris. The perishable goods I bought like the vegetables had to be eaten for lunch today, and the water tank had to be filled as much as possible. Luckily, I didn\'t have to worry about fuel or any cargo weight due to my special engine, so I was good to load up as much as possible and not have to worry about how much of what to carry. Besides, I could discard items when necessary if I really wanted to lighten my load.
“You\'re loading up a lot of stuff, huh.”
“Swallows could stay up to a week without resupplying, so it\'s necessary,” I replied. I had done this kind of packing so many times before that I managed to squeeze everything without wasting any unnecessary s.p.a.ce.
After doing so, I gave a stern warning to Stella, who was still checking out all my cargo.
“It\'s pretty tiring to be sitting for so long if you\'re not used to it…”
“It\'s okay, I\'ll manage!” Stella said confidently.
I didn\'t buy into her confidence. At the very least, I hoped that she wouldn\'t complain during the ride…
“This trip will take two days,” I said. “That means we would have to spend the night together in Polaris…”
I didn\'t even realize that was the case until I said it myself. Why it took me so long to realize that was a mystery to me. Now that I realized I was spending the night with her, my face couldn\'t help but turn red, and Stella\'s as well to a certain extent.
“B-But!” I continued after an awkward silence. “It\'s okay, I won\'t do anything!”
Stella laughed and motioned that it was okay. It wasn\'t like me to get fl.u.s.tered and shout things out like that, but I quickly composed myself and nodded.
After loading all the cargo, I began my inspections. My father had regular inspections done for him because of a favor he incurred in the past, and that favor was pa.s.sed down to me. The girl who did my inspections wasn\'t the original mechanic working for my father, but rather had her profession pa.s.sed down to her like I had.
However, since she wasn\'t here, I had to do all the checks myself. Generally, an eternal perpetual engine was not p.r.o.ne to failure at all— it could be hit by a barrage of cannonb.a.l.l.s, set on fire, sunk and it would still trug along without breaking down.
That\'s why I was never too worried about it.
The exterior of Polaris seemed to be in good shape even after my little dogfight in Nave, and there weren\'t any areas that raised a red flag. My father and our mechanics always did great work on Polaris so it was always tough as nails.
On the same note, I checked and double checked that the instruments were calibrated properly. If they were even just a little off, my calculations would be affected and turn out to be wrong. In the worst case scenario, that meant death at the bottom of the ocean.
Equipment like the speedometer, altimeter, balances, turn and slip indicators, variometer, Hobb\'s meter, and of course my charts and their respective calculators had to be checked to make sure they were accurate.
Luckily, they were.
I opened a small door in the nose of the Polaris to check the final thing.
“What\'s in there?” Stella asked from behind me.
You never knew what could happen up in the sky, especially this time around. It made me think more on how Stella could possible end up here. She must have been on an airplane that crashed somewhere in the area, and while this place didn\'t have any large currents that could move whole countries around, it did have smaller waves that could have easily washed her up here.
It must have been quite a miracle that she was still alive, but I didn\'t think that was the whole story. For one, did she crash because of some engine troubles? Or did someone else shoot her down?
While I preferred not to use my weapons at all, I wouldn\'t hesitate to pull the trigger if push ever came to shove. These consisted of two 20 mm anti-aircraft machine guns on the wings and a separate .50 caliber machine gun mounted in the backseat.
“Hey, can I ask you something?” I said, turning back to her.
“What is it?”
“You\'ve never shot a gun before, haven\'t you?”
“… I haven\'t.”
“Ah, thought so.”
I wasn\'t sure if the back gunner mount was operational because I rarely used it, if ever. It would be better for me to fire some test rounds first to make sure it works.
With that being said, I moved into the back seat, aimed the machine gun at the ocean, and fired.
The thunderous roar of the gun was loud, but the recoil was even greater than I had antic.i.p.ated. The gun went tat tat tat as the empty sh.e.l.ls dropped into the ocean. It seemed like it was working properly, so I waved Stella over.
“Try shooting some rounds,” I said.
Stella shook her head in despair. “I-I can\'t! I\'ve never even touched something like this before…”
“If you don\'t, it could mean our doom…” I replied, putting the safety back on the gun. I continued on with a few choice words because I noticed Stella wasn\'t budging. “The sky isn\'t a safe place. When we\'re under attack by enemy fighters, we live or die by your hand. Since I have to pilot the s.h.i.+p, you\'re the only one who could use that machine gun. If you\'re still sure you can\'t, then tell it to me again with that in mind.”
I said all that with a bit of sa.s.s in my tone while Stella just stared silently back at both me and the gun.
A few moments later she finally said, “I\'ll do it.”
She said it softly, but surely. I nodded and got out of the seat.
“Go for it,” I urged.
She awkwardly climbed up and struggled to plop herself right in the seat.
“Wow, it\'s really narrow,” she said.
“You\'ll get used to it because you\'re really small, especially since you\'ll be in there all day.”
“I-I\'ll try my best.”
The back seat was back to back with the pilot seat, facing the other direction.
“I see it has all the same instruments as the pilot too,” said Stella.
“Originally it was for the navigator who would do all the calculations, but since I\'m used to flying alone I could mult.i.task and do that as well. Don\'t worry about any of that stuff, let\'s just try to get some shooting practice in.”
“Uhh… so what should I do first?”
“Shooting\'s actually not that hard. See that lever next to the trigger? Turn that around.”
Stella swung the horizontal lever just as I had instructed. “Like this?”
“Now pull it towards you.”
“Y-Yes!” Stella said, using a burst of strength to do so. The gun went kching and the safety was removed.
“Now it\'s safe to shoot since the safety is off. All that\'s left is for you to brace yourself, aim it, and pull the trigger. Try firing out there just like I just did.”
Stella looked very uncertain gripping the gun, which made her the least person in the world who should have been using it. I chose not to say anything about the recoil that she very clearly wasn\'t prepared for.
“Alright, here I g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-g-go!”
The recoil was so violent Stella shook back and forth with it as if she was experiencing an earthquake. The barrel swung up and down and back and forth and back again. There was no way she could hit anything like that.
She couldn\'t hold the trigger for long, anyway. When the ordeal was all over, she slumped down in her seat.
“So, how was it?”
“I\'m just… shocked…” she said with a defeated face.
I laughed a bit. It was fine even if she couldn\'t hit anything, because that meant she wouldn\'t kill anyone. Besides, it was the threat of the bullets that mattered.
Now that she could somewhat use the gun, I was ready to go.
“Let\'s eat first. The perishable food won\'t last long.”
I made mostly salads because the majority of the perishables were vegetables.For the most part I threw most of it in a large bowl, added a dash of a special balsamic vinegar specially made from Modina, some olive oil, and finally topped it off with a honey salad dressing. I combined the remaining vegetables with the meat and rye bread to make sandwiches. There was enough food for dinner as well.
Meanwhile, Stella was just watching me from the side. “Hey Ciel, you\'re pretty good at cooking,” she said with a hint of admiration.
“How about you?” I asked.
“N-Not really…” she answered and then giggled nervously.
I flipped the kitchen knife around so that the handle was facing towards her and said, “Why not try?”
“Uhh, okay… just for a bit!” she said, grasping the knife with both her hands. “L-Like this, right?”
“Yeah… wait, hold on a second.”
I took a step back away from her because she was gripping the knife too tightly with both her hands in the most shaky way possible. From an outsider\'s perspective, she looked like she was about to stab me in the stomach.
“S-Sorry… I\'ve never held a knife before…” she said softly.
Stella nodded— no wonder she still hasn\'t realized she was still pointing the knife at me.
“Well, you can start by not pointing it in my direction.”
“Huh?” she said. “Oh, right! That\'s dangerous!”
“Wait, don\'t point it at yourself, either…”
Stella swung the knife around in a desperate attempt to be safe, but that only caused more problems.
“You shouldn\'t swing it around like that…”
This farce went on for five long minutes.
“I guess we could say that there are some things that just weren\'t meant to be,” I concluded.
She was so apologetic that even I felt like I did something wrong.
“How did you get so good at cooking?”
“I wouldn\'t say I\'m good at cooking, but I did start when I was little I guess?”
“The exact moment I was born.”
“What?!? Right out the womb?”
“No, it\'s a joke…”
Or so I said, but there was some truth in it.
“I really don\'t know exactly when I started,” I continued.
“Your parents never did the cooking?”
“My father was rarely home because he was a Swallow, and my mother… Well, I just had no choice but to do everything myself. Besides, even my father is gone now.”
Even though I was nonchalant about the whole thing, I could feel Stella\'s heart drop the moment I said that.
“Aren\'t you lonely?” she asked.
I thought about what she asked— It was hard to think of a reply because I was never the emotional type. She must have thought I had it really rough emotionally from the way she was looking at me so uneasily, but that wasn\'t necessarily the case for me.
I laughed to lighten the mood.
“If I did feel lonely, it must have been way too long ago to remember.”
“You can just sit normally, you know.”
“Don\'t be so nervous. Just sit and relax. There\'s nothing you have to do… for now,” I said, glancing at the machine gun. “You might have to use that.”
“I\'ll do what I can…”
“You\'ll do fine. You shot it fine just now, didn\'t you?”
I laughed, well aware that she was still my customer.
“You don\'t have to hit anything,” I rea.s.sured. “You don\'t even have to aim. When I say shoot, just pull the trigger. Don\'t shoot otherwise though. It\'s too dangerous.”
“Alright, you ready for this two day trip?”
“I\'m ready,” she said with a bow.
The engine was warmed up enough since I fired it up a while ago. Now was the time to leave.
“Let\'s do this,” I said, doing one last check over all my instruments. The yoke and rudder felt solid as well, and the engine sounded healthy.
“Mic check, mic check, can you hear me?” I said, speaking into the mic this time.
“Is this my mic? Yes, you sound fine,” Stella replied.
This was the best shape I could hope Polaris to be in. I pulled my flying cap right over my ears so that I would still be able to hear her even with the winds.h.i.+eld open.
“Ready for takeoff,” I said.
I slowly engaged the throttle to push power into the engine. For an airplane with a perpetual engine like mine, the takeoff process was actually quite difficult. While a gasoline engine gained power gradually as the throttle was engaged, an eternal perpetual engine was much more sensitive. Even a slow push forward could cause the plane to fly at full power, while a slow push backward could cause a sudden stop in speed. In this case, there was simply no room for error. Inexperienced pilots might push the throttle too hard too fast and cause the plane to lose stability, and others might stall the plane when they pull it too slowly.
Even I, as an experienced pilot, had to be extra care when taking off and landing in the water.
Polaris slowly glided on top of the water with my precision controls on both the throttle and the rudder pedals below my feet.
As such, I made my way out of the inlet until the ocean was in plain sight. Once I began to feel Polaris picking up more speed, I pushed the throttle harder and harder.
I was accelerating fast enough that the reflections on the water seemed like glittering shooting stars zooming by on the surface.
At last, Polaris finally got enough lift to take off, and I got the all too familiar feeling of the sky welcoming me back home once I started maneuvering with the wind. I felt so at home it didn\'t even feel like I was piloting a plane, but rather flying through the atmosphere on my own.
The sky was calling out to me.
Once Polaris was near its peak alt.i.tude, the main flotation device folded back into the main body, while the secondary ones underneath both wings folded into itself.
“Are you okay?” I called out to Stella. We felt some G\'s from the takeoff.
“Y-Yes!” she replied. “Amazing… I didn\'t think the sky was this vast! It\'s so different seeing it out a window!”
At least she seemed okay. Her amazement and wonder reminded me of when my father first took me to the skies when I was two years old. I didn\'t remember anything from that time except for the beautiful evening glow that seemed to encompa.s.s everything before my very eyes. It was a sight I would never forget.
I was sitting on top of my mother\'s lap, but I couldn\'t remember my mother\'s face no matter how hard I tried. In fact, that was the only time I remembered being with my mother at all.
Once I climbed to 3,000 meters, I relaxed the throttle and stopped ascending. My plan today was to first make my way about 700 kilometers northwest to the island Divel, and from there go west for another 700 kilometers to be reach Batoh\'s expected route.
“I wonder how far this ocean goes?”
“I don\'t know. n.o.body\'s ever tried to find out.”
“Is there even an end to this?” she asked innocently, but her words stabbed straight to my heart.
“Only idiots would try and see the edge of the world,” I whispered to myself.
Only idiots like my father.
After about three hours of flying, I reached the island of Divel as I had antic.i.p.ated.
“Wow, even I could see from here that it\'s a bustling island,” said Stella.
“Yeah, its a city of trade. There\'s not a lot of countries on islands, much less prosperous ones like Divel.”
Divel spanned about 300 square kilometers with a population of 80,000, a population considered large even compared to other countries on the ma.s.sive s.h.i.+ps. In the past, the island was always at the center of conflict because it was in the path of five different countries. Islands who shared that unfortunate fate never ended well for the people living on them, since anything in the middle of that crossfire usually resulted in intense oppression and subjugation.
However, the current head of Divel came from a long line of ancestors who took back the island by force. When they did so, they declared that Divel remain a strictly neutral and independent country that was willing to engage in trade with the neighboring countries. As such, their policy resulted in a flouris.h.i.+ng economy that remains so to this day.
I wanted to fly in for a closer look, but right now there was no time to waste. I made a hard bank directly west and continued from there.
While on route I did take a quick break on top of the water before flying for another four hours, making it about 1,600 kilometers flown today. Ultimately, I landed in a peaceful and current-less part of the ocean just as the sun started to set.
“I\'m so tired even though I did nothing but sit all day,” Stella said after we landed on the water. The canopy had opened so she stood up and stretched. “Ah, sorry, I shouldn\'t be complaining when I did nothing…”
“No, it\'s perfectly normal to be tired if you aren\'t used to it. Let\'s eat.”
I brought out a lantern and an outdoor stove and placed them on top of the wing. The wing of a plane served as a crucial place to stretch and walk around when landing on the water. Using that s.p.a.ce, I started a fire and began to boil some water.
Stella climbed out as well. She was giggly for some reason seeing me set up shop.
“What\'s going on?” I asked her.
“Nothing, I\'m just excited.”
“I never thought I would ever have a meal on top of the wings of a plane,” she laughed.
Seeing her happy smile made me feel a bit more at ease.
“Excited, huh…” I said. “To me this is just another day, but…”
I paused and stared up at the sky. It was the night sky I was all too familiar with, but today I was in a slightly different situation.
“But it\'s been a while since I\'ve had company,” I said.
We finished the sandwiches and red tea we made earlier, though after that we had nothing to do but to lie down and wait for the morning. Lying down and looking at the stars was pretty much the only thing we could do.
“Wow…” said Stella. “I didn\'t realize there were so many stars in the sky…”
“Yeah, you can see more since there\'s no light pollution out here.”
The night sky here was a completely different sight compared to that of a city since there were no artificial lights blocking out the sky.
“Hey, Polaris is the name of a star, right?”
I nodded and pointed to it in the sky. “You see that? That\'s it right there,” I said.
Polaris was a star that was easy to spot if you knew where to look. Besides, with the compa.s.ses inside us, all we had to do was follow our instincts and look north for that bright white star.
“Swallows seem to like naming their planes after stars…” said Stella.
“Well everything is decided by the guild… but yeah.”
“Was there a reason for why that is?”
“There probably was…” I said, remembering about what it may be— My father had told me why once before when I was young. “Long ago, apparently there were people who researched ways to navigate by only looking at the stars without the use of any internal compa.s.ses.”
“Yeah. They move in very predictable ways, so theoretically it was possible to figure out your position by only looking at them…” I replied. “But the researchers stopped before they could find a way to do so.”
“Probably because it wasn\'t necessary. We all have our internal compa.s.ses to navigate, and besides, the majority of people in this world don\'t travel and would never need to know such things.”
I paused to take another look at the Polaris star up in the sky before continuing my explanation.
“Even so, I think those researchers had a dream they wanted to fulfill.”
“What kind of dream?”
“To travel the world regardless of if they could do so or not,” I said. “That kind of dream. That\'s probably why our planes are named after the stars. I mean, the Swallow Guild was created for the sake of all of humanity, you know.”
“Swallows consist of people who have the ability to traverse the ocean and are hired by people who don\'t possess those abilities. That\'s essentially what we do, right?”
“So perhaps the planes we use represent the dreams of all those who want to fly far and away…”
Stella took some time to process what I just said, which resulted in the two of us just sitting on the wings of Polaris and drinking our tea.
“Umm…” she finally said. “I\'ve been dying to do this… Can I take this off?”
Stella smiled nervously while I stared back blankly. She suddenly stood up and yanked off the coat she was wearing.
Her movement was so unexpected I could only watch in shock.
“I felt kinda constricted in that. It\'s so much more comfortable taking that off,” she said with another smile.
I instinctively looked the other way.
“Huh? Is something wrong?” she asked.
She was only wearing a blue top that barely covered her b.r.e.a.s.t.s and nothing else, so of course there was something wrong. It just felt wrong staring at her without that coat on.
“Umm… don\'t you wanna put something else on first…” I said, my eyes still focused away from her.
But she wasn\'t fazed. Instead, she walked up in front of me and crouched down.
“It\'s okay, I\'m not embarra.s.sed anymore,” she said in such a rea.s.suring but commanding voice that somehow drew me in. “It\'ll be a waste to be uncomfortable around such a wonderful sight.”
She stood back up and brushed her hair against the wind like a flag against the ocean breeze. She seemed to be seeing further than anyone could see, even though she didn\'t know much about the ocean. She was also shaking, but somehow she felt like she had the strength of a thousand men.
What a weird girl.
I took off my coat as well to see what the fuss was about, only to immediately get hit by the cold ocean breeze. Nothing I couldn\'t handle, though.
The wind seemed to just brush up against my skin like a paintbrush, which made me feel one step closer to the world without that heavy coat.
“You\'re right, it does feel so much more comfortable.”
“I know, right?”
We looked at each other right in the eyes and laughed. I couldn\'t remember the last time I laughed like this on the job, much less with the most dangerous cargo I ever had to transport. It was so ridiculous I took a second to ask myself what I was doing— I didn\'t feel like I was being myself, but everything just felt so right.
No matter how strange it felt to be sure of it, I knew from the bottom of my heart that Stella was different than the others.
We sat down on the edge of the wing so that our legs were dangling down and let the time pa.s.s as the stars did their own thing.
“Ciel, you really are amazing…”
“Why do you say that?”
“You know so many things I don\'t know, and you can do so many things I can\'t do.”
“Are you sure it\'s just you not knowing a lot and you not being able to do much?”
“Ouch, that\'s mean…”
“Sorry, sorry…” I said with a laugh.
I looked up at the sky again— there were so many stars I couldn\'t count them all even if I had all the time in the world.
“Stella, I think you\'re amazing as well.”
“You just seem so free, like for you the sky\'s the limit. It\'s something I\'m a bit jealous of.”
“Really? I seem that way?”
“Oh… but I don\'t think that\'s the case…” she said in an unusually cold manner that startled me. “But yeah, I guess right now I\'m pretty free. The fact that I can cross the ocean like this… even see the stars like we are right now is proof of that. It makes me want to travel with you forever.”
Her honestly caught me off guard, so I blurted out, “I don\'t think I can manage to bring you everywhere…”
“I-I know, right! Sorry for saying such a weird thing!” she said frantically. “To me, you\'re the one who seems so free. You can go anywhere with Polaris, right? I\'m sure there\'s so many things you\'ve seen that I never could, even with everything I\'ve experienced this trip.”
She was wrong about me being free, but I understood where she was coming from. I guess we had the wrong impressions of each other.
“I\'m a Swallow,” I said. “I\'m only allowed to fly these skies because of my work.”
If I ever quit being a Swallow, I would not be able to keep Polaris or my father\'s stream charts.
The world didn\'t give me the luxury of being able to fly freely no matter what I was willing to give up. Everyone must have a role in these skies.
“You may see me as free,” I said with a cold and snappy tone that surprised even me. “But I\'ve never felt that way my entire life.”
I saw Stella freeze up nervously which indicated that I came off too harshly. However, she then took a step towards me before I could apologize.
“Then why did you become a Swallow?” she asked.
I was taken aback— If I were in her shoes, I certainly wouldn\'t have prodded any further.
“You ask a lot for someone who wouldn\'t even tell me anything about yourself,” I said.
“Sorry, but I really want to know you,” she replied. Her eyes were determined as always without a hint of weakness in them.
I guess that had an effect on me since I asked, “Why?” back to her.
“Because right now I\'m with you. Isn\'t that a good enough reason?”
Normally it would, but the fact that this only applied to her and not me really didn\'t help her case.
Now that I thought about it, maybe that\'s why she seemed mysterious to me… She wasn\'t afraid of doing anything.
“I\'ve always wanted to fly no matter what, probably because I loved being in the sky,” I said. I was explaining myself before I even knew it. “Well, the reason I became a Swallow, or rather, the reason I could become a Swallow, was because my father had pa.s.sed away.”
I had never spoken to anyone about this until now.
“I\'m sure you know this already, but my father, Akasha Migrateur, was a pretty famous Swallow. He flew tens of thousands of kilometers around the world with Polaris, earning him the nickname—The White Wing—. He\'s the type of person to knowingly accept dangerous jobs with a smile as if he didn\'t care about dying.”
“Yeah. When I was nine years old, I went with him for a week long job he had, sitting in the pa.s.senger seat where you sat today. At that time, he was attacked by another country\'s corsair fleet en route to his destination. Because Polaris stood out too much, they knew instantly who it was and probably thought he had some valuable cargo on board. There were some thirty enemy units around us when we were attacked.”
“One versus thirty?!?!”
“Yeah. I was scared out of my mind and on the verge of tears. I thought my father would retreat, but instead he told me we were busting through this.”
I could laugh about it now, but back then it really was frightening for me.
“Once he said that, I really thought I was going to die, and I ended up burst out crying. I cried and cried until my father had to stop me.”
“How\'d he do that?”
“He simply yelled, Shut up! Stop distracting me!”
My sudden shout from impersonating my father startled Stella a little bit. I guess I did get too into it.
“He said we\'d never make it if we gave up now, and said that if I was a real man then I needed to show it. Dumb, right? But my father did it in the end, without even damaging his or the thirty other enemy corsairs along the way. In the midst of all that, I stopped crying or feeling scared— after a certain moment, all I could see was the beautiful sky around me.”
I still remembered what I saw to this very day. Our plane cut through the clouds like paper, and we were going so fast that every second was a different sight for me to see. The enemy bullets lit up the sky around me like red, glittering stars. It would then that I saw the beauty of dogfights.
“He was an amazing pilot, wasn\'t he,” Stella added on.
“Of course. n.o.body could deny his skill as a pilot.”
“What was he even transporting if he was willing to go that far? If you could tell me, of course.”
“A love letter.”
“A what??” Stella blurted out.
“His client wasn\'t some high ranking n.o.ble or government official. It was just an ordinary girl who spent what little she had to deliver a single letter to her lover fighting in another island. That\'s all we had to deliver.”
“Wow…” Stella whispered as she looked up into the sky to process everything she had just heard. “Ciel, your father was a great man…”
“But now he\'s gone,” I said back.
Stella heart dropped the moment she heard me say that.
“My father\'s last flight wasn\'t because of his job, but because of his own selfishness.”
“He said he wanted to see the edge of the sea and took off to Boreas, never coming back.”
Boreas was said to be the northernmost place in this world. Although no one had ever seen it before, legend has it that it was a huge plot of land covered in snow.
I stood up and grabbed the chart book out of my seat, pulling out a folded up map of the ocean on the back of it. This particular map basically contained a miniature version of all the gathered maps organized into one. Whenever a Swallow received a stream chart from a country, he or she receive two copies of it. The first copy was a more detailed version for the chart book, while the second—smaller—copy was to be added to the map on the map.
“Wow… that\'s a big map…”
“Yeah. There aren\'t a lot of maps this comprehensive in the world.”
“This has everything your father saw then, huh.”
The map, compiled by my father, was over two meters in width and height. Even so, there weren\'t a lot of uses for it because everything on it was scaled down. It basically just served as proof of the places gone and the hards.h.i.+ps that overcome. When pa.s.sed down to a successor, it also showed the burden he or she must bear.
“Here, look at this line,” I said, pointing to a red line on the map. It started from Vessel three years ago on the third month and the twenty-fifth day.
“Could that line be the last route he took?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
The line went all the way past the top of the map to another section that was folded up. I unfolded that to show a weird portion of the ocean without any islands.
“Is that a map within a map…”
“My father flew to a place further than anyone had ever gone before. But beyond that was just the same old ocean, in my opinion. A year ago, the only thing that returned to Vessel was Polaris and this stream chart. Polaris itself wasn\'t damaged, but there was no one in it. After that, I took them both and inherited his White Wing nickname after I became a Swallow.”
I stood up abruptly as I finished my story— I needed to do something to shake off those memories.
“Alright, that\'s it for me. Let\'s go to sleep. We got an early day tomorrow,” I said.
There always needed to be a good reason to be flying. In my case, I was working as “The White Wing“.
I vowed to never fly just for the sake of flying, since I didn\'t want to do it for my own selfish reasons. Even if flying was all I ever wanted to do, I always flew with a purpose.
After all, becoming like my father was the last thing I wanted to do.
The sun was on full blast on us the next day without a single cloud in sight, making it a good day to be flying.
The weather in this area was volatile enough to change for the worse in the snap of a finger. Rain was a common occurrence, so seeing something like this was certainly a welcome sight.
We had just eaten breakfast and were making our final inspections before taking off.
“Umm, Ciel?” Stella said out of the blue.
“Let me help too.”
“Help… with what?”
“Let me help you fly the plane,” she said with a serious face.
I didn\'t know how to respond to that. She spoke with a tone that made her sound like she meant it. Unfortunately, that only made it even harder for me to respond.
I tried to think of the best way to explain why she couldn\'t.
“Umm,” I said. “Only one person can pilot Polaris. To pilot it, you also need to have special training and at least some practice hours, and…”
“Let me be the navigator!” she interrupted.
I couldn\'t believe what I was hearing. A navigator was someone who had to have a precise enough internal compa.s.s and the ability to calculate the flight path from the readings retrieved from all sorts of different equipment. It wasn\'t a position to be taken lightly. Even a slight miscalculation could result in dire consequences.
There was no way I was going to trust her to do it.
“That\'s impossible!” I said, shaking my head furiously. “That definitely cannot happen. It\'s going to be real bad if you miscalculate, not to mention your internal compa.s.s has to be at a high enough rating…”
“Chart number 32, X55 66\'21”, Y43 50\'25”,” she said abruptly.
It took me a split second to realize what she was referring to. I opened my chart book to frantically check for myself.
Those numbers referred to our current coordinates down to the second. On top of that, Stella hadn\'t even seen the stream chart ever since we departed from Sunk Tierra, which meant that she calculated our position just from the instruments in the back seat and her own internal compa.s.s.
“I\'m on the mark… right?” she asked.
I nodded in confusion. “Probably, at least down to the minute. I\'m not sure about the seconds.”
I didn\'t know because my internal compa.s.s wasn\'t good enough. Since it was rated S, I was only able to discern directions down to the minute.
“Stella, what rating is your compa.s.s?”
“Double S?!?” I shouted in surprised.
Rumor had it that only 1 in 100,000 to 200,000 people had a SS rated compa.s.s. In other words, there was usually only one lucky person per country who possessed such a gift.
An SS rated compa.s.s was essentially limitless. Those who had it were also able to discern their speed and distance traveled to a superhuman degree. The higher rated the compa.s.s, the better the precision.
If I were to come back to my water a.n.a.logy where the flow of water represented the magnetic field around us, every movement that we did ever so slightly affected the flow of that water. In other words, the field around us also changed depending on how we moved within it. Normally, this change would be too minute to perceive, but those with highly rated internal compa.s.ses were able to pick up on it unconsciously. That, adjusted with the visual perception of the world around us, allowed us to sense things that normal people couldn\'t, and was one reason why Swallows were skilled at dogfighting.
However, internal compa.s.ses that were rated SS were on a completely different scale. While I could perceive things for maybe a kilometer or so, SS rated compa.s.ses could do so even further than what our eyes were capable of seeing. Apparently there was no limit on the size of the objects they could feel moving around them. For example, even something as big as a country could be felt tens of kilometers away. That\'s why those who possessed them often worked as navigators for the countries themselves.
She was the last person I would have expected to have a SS rated compa.s.s.
Who are you really…
I really wanted to say that, but I couldn\'t.
Instead, Stella was the one who spoke up. “Even though we\'re flying together, the fact that I\'m not doing anything is frustrating… That\'s why you can at least leave this to me? I won\'t let you down!”
I mean, piloting the plane and navigating at the same time was tough work. There was a small part of me that was excited at the fact that Stella could handle navigating for me. After all, she did prove her worth just now, and everything should be fine if I just double checked the main calculations so that there weren\'t any blatant errors.
“Alright, I\'ll leave it up to you,” I said.
“Thank you so much!” she replied with a bow and a smile.
We were going to hit Batoh around noontime today if everything went according to plan. I kept our alt.i.tude close to the sea level and slowly scoured the area looking for it.
“Adjust your course: 3.5, right,” said Stella.
“Roger. 3.5, right.”
Stella was already killing it as a navigator. Honestly, I felt more and more at ease with her doing it, but the sky was not looking good. Some clouds were beginning to move in.
It soon got to a point where I had to be careful not to fly above the clouds with it being only a matter of time being it started raining.
It was at that moment when everything went downhill.
“Something\'s coming…” Stella said through the radio. “W-Wait, above you! There are shadows in the cloud!”
I instinctively banked a hard right upon hearing her shout that out. Had I not done that, we would have been face to face with the plane thundering down from the clouds above.
“Oh my G.o.d!!” Stella screamed.
“Must be an attack!”
I did a 180 upwards and in doing so, caught a glimpse of the plane. By having 2 engines on each respective wing, it was very clear what kind of plane it was— a combat focused plane meant to intercept Seagulls, or in other words, a corsair.
“d.a.m.n it! Hang on tight!” I shouted back.
I yanked on the throttle to bring Polaris up to an acceptable speed for combat. As I did, the corsair looped behind me at a fixed, but threatening distance which I was okay with for the time being. The one who took the rear usually came out ahead in this situation, and I was fully confident that Polaris could outmaneuver that corsair to my advantage.
I made a sharp perpendicular turn upwards to gain alt.i.tude far past the clouds, but Stella stopped me right before I was able to fully break through them.
“You can\'t! There\'s another one hiding above the clouds!” she shouted.
Immediately, I stopped rising and instead dove back down away from the clouds, just in time to see another corsair burst through the clouds above me.
“Wow, she\'s right…”
That corsair was probably waiting to ambush me. It would have worked if Stella hadn\'t given me that crucial warning.
The two corsairs tactically split left and right in an attempt to pincer me, covering more of my escape options the closer they got. Even if I had the upper hand in control and maneuverability, they had the definite advantage in speed. If they were to fight me by covering each other\'s backs, I wouldn\'t be able to abuse my maneuverability to my fullest extent.
Even so, I couldn\'t help thinking about one thing.
“How did you know?!?” I shouted to Stella. That corsair was very clearly hidden in the clouds out of both our sights.
“I felt it!”
It was then that I finally understood— Of course, it was so obvious. She could feel the small change in the surrounding magnetic field when the corsairs moved even if they were out of our sight.
“Sick! Thanks for that!”
“No proble— Ahhhhh!!!!”
Before she could even finish her reply, I accelerated and banked into another direction, but that proved futile as the enemy corsairs were still hot on my trail.
For them to read my turns like that and predict where I was going to end up required an incredible amount of experience. Furthermore, for them to cut straight at me mid-turn without a drop in speed with their heavy aircraft showed an incredible display of skill.
“D-Do I shoot?!?”
“No, don\'t shoot!” I yelled back into the mic. I had to do something to get them off my tail. “They\'re probably Batoh\'s corsairs!”
a.s.suming they were actually from Batoh, I needed to let them know I was a Swallow delivering something before we ended up in an all out brawl. Yet there was always the possibility that they already knew that and still came at me anyway…
The two corsairs started firing, but luckily none of their shots. .h.i.t me. It seemed they really intended to shoot me down as they sped up to get a more accurate shot.
“They\'re coming!” Stella yelled.
Now that they showed they were serious, I zigzagged back and forth as an initial defense measure to get away from the ma.s.sive hail of bullets they were sending my way.
Corsairs usually targeted the slow but st.u.r.dy Seagull. In order to do any sort of meaningful damage, they were equipped with at least 30 mm cannons. Unfortunately, that meant it just took one of their bullets to send us flying to the bottom of the ocean.
I checked on the corsair above me while simultaneously keeping a close eye on the one behind me. They were in an ideal pincer formation. If I were to carelessly ascend, the one on top could easily fly up and take us down. Even worse, I was too low to descend any further.
That being said, there was a way out of this.
I was getting used to their firing rhythm and in doing so, was able to sidestep their shots. Since we were so low that we were practically gliding on top of the water, the bullets. .h.i.t the water with a crackling sound while splas.h.i.+ng water all over the place.
It was only when they were aiming for their next round that I made my next move.
I did a sharp barrel roll starting with my right side which ultimately put me behind the corsair following me when it flew on past me. However…
“Above you!” Stella yelled. The other corsair was waiting for this opportunity and dove in for the kill.
This time, instead of running away, I flew up to meet it. Right when we were about face to face with each other, I entered a stall that turned my airplane over vertically to barely dodge the bullets coming my way. After recovering with a roll, I took the higher elevation and created more distance for myself once the corsair zoomed past me.
It was only when I was at a safe distance away that I opened my communications line.
“I am a Swallow from the Vessel\'s Guild of Swallows, Ciel Migrateur!” I yelled into the mic. “If you two are from Batoh, please disengage! I am carrying some cargo for your country!”
There was no response, so I frustratingly yelled it again.
“I repeat! I am carrying some cargo for Batoh! Cease your attacks! Any continued acts of aggression will force me to act as well!”
Once again there was no response.
It\'s no use, huh…
I sighed. The enemy s.h.i.+ps got back into formation and prepared to come at me again. Now that it had come to this, I had no choice but to take them down.
“W-What is that…?” Stella suddenly whispered softly.
“It\'s towards the sun!” she shouted again before I even had any time to ask her what she was talking about.
Once again, I instinctively slowed down right as a loud howl filled the skies around us. A bright flash of light came barreling at us, splitting the sky apart with a blue streak.
I could somehow feel the gaze of whoever was piloting that aircraft painted solely in white. In fact, it looked so white it was as if the metal that made up its body was forged from the sun itself. However, unlike Polaris, it didn\'t have the gear to land on water, so I a.s.sumed its sole purpose was to intercept other aircraft.
From a momentary glance, I could tell that its speed and maneuverability clearly surpa.s.sed what Polaris could do. It was even a step up compared to the Spitfire I fought at Nave.
“Release the safety!” I shouted to Stella in a panic.
It performed an Immelmann turn to gain the alt.i.tude advantage, a turn coined by Max Immelmann, an ace from the country Steereboard. This turn, essentially a vertical off the top turn, was based off of one of his widely used maneuvers. It was actually quite simple to do— the plane went straight up in a loop until it\'s facing the opposite direction, then spun around to right itself horizontally.
“Wow, it\'s doing it at such a high speed….”
Compared to the Chandelle turn that ascended less rapidly with a smoother turn, the vertical upwards maneuver of the Immelmann sacrificed a lot of speed. Well, it should have anyway. But, depending on the pilot\'s skill and of course the engine, that loss of speed could be minimized, albeit incredibly difficult. The delicate adjustments in the angle and speed when executing the turn had to be perfect or else everything would fall apart.
I had gotten away from those two corsairs, but now a more troublesome enemy stood in my way. If I moved too carelessly, there was no doubt it would take me from behind and shoot me down. Even worse, it didn\'t seem like I could escape from it because it was just so much better compared to the slow corsairs I had been flying circles around a while ago.
There was no other choice but to settle this with a dogfight. I turned to it and just accelerated, though it seemed largely unaffected by my actions. As a result, while we pa.s.sed each other at a frightening speed, neither of us pulled the trigger. I guess we both understood that firing at our speeds would just be a waste of bullets.
Once we pa.s.sed each other, we both banked horizontally in an attempt to get behind the other.
Stella\'s kept screaming into her mic the whole time, but I couldn\'t stop now. The enemy was frightening enough that I knew I was dead the moment I let down my guard.
The opponent was just out of my league and I knew that it was only a matter of time before I would be shot down. It wouldn\'t be pretty, but I had to settle this once and for all in one strike.
“Stella, I apologize in advance if we get shot down. Please forgive me.”
‘Let\'s do this!” I shouted.
I suddenly braked hard with a slight turn before accelerating upwards, but even that was still futile.
“He read that too?!?”
I was in disbelief. He was right behind me the whole way throughout my maneuver, almost as if he knew what I was going to do before I did it.
This person wasn\'t human. He continued to stick behind me no matter what I did. I may as well not have been moving.
I had to try one last thing before I died, though.
“How about this!!”
I purposefully tilted Polaris\'s nose straight up and cut its speed to enter a stall, causing it to shake and turn around violently against the heavy wind. Stella was clearly uncomfortable with her continued screams, but at the very least this caused the enemy fighter to zoom past me. Once it did, I quickly regained control and accelerated as fast as I could to stay on its trail. It was a risky thing to do overall— At least it turned out to be a good use of the stall turn.
This was the perfect opportunity to shoot. I had to shoot now while I had the chance. I had to…
Don\'t even think about it.
My radio suddenly came to life with those words and my concentration broke for just an instant, but that was enough time for me to notice that things were going downhill.
“It\'s not there?!?!?”
I should have been behind him, but he just vanished.
“Ciel, behind you!”
Now it made sense— it performed a stall turn of its own. Now that I was on the receiving end of it, I could see just how effective it was. It looked even more impressive, almost like a magic trick because this was the first time anyone\'s ever done that to me.
I desperately returned to my zigzagging, desperate to not die then and there. It wouldn\'t have been an exaggeration to say that my survival instincts went into overdrive and took over my whole body. If I couldn\'t fight in a fight or flight response, my only option was to run away from that grim reaper…
I had to survive.
My breathing got tighter and more panicked. The air around me somehow felt colder, making it harder and harder to breathe. My hands were trembling so hard on the steering wheel that they were going numb, and my vision was going blank.
For the first time in my life, I saw how frightening the sky could be. This was it for me.
“H-Hey, look in front…”
Stella\'s strained voice suddenly came through the mic which took me out of my trance.
“A magnetic rain cloud!”
Have I lost it? How could I not notice what was around me?
Right in front of me stood the biggest black clump of cloud I have ever seen. Being magnetic, the fortress sized cloud had a special property— Other than the usual thunder and lightning storm within it, anyone who went flew in would not be able to use their internal compa.s.s.
I guess this was what they meant by getting stuck between a rock and a hard place. It was game over if I went in there because I would lose my sense of direction, but at least I wouldn\'t get shot down.
This really was it for me. I had no viable options to get me out of this, so I threw down my arms in defeat.
“T-The cloud… please enter that cloud!”
“That cloud\'s magnetic! If we go into that there\'s no knowing where we\'ll end up, much less where we want to go!”
“It\'s okay, leave the navigating to me!” shouted Stella, with even more confidence this time. “Please, it\'ll be okay!”
I had no idea how well Stella\'s SS rated compa.s.s would fare inside that cloud, but that didn\'t matter because that wasn\'t what I was thinking about anyway.
The only question I had in my mind was whether I could trust her or not.
“Alright, lead me!”
“On it!” she replied back.
Everything went black the instant I went full throttle and slammed Polaris into the cloud. The enemy could have very well been right next to me and I would have no way of knowing.
Despite being in the cloud, the wind didn\'t let up. It almost felt like Polaris was struggling hard to keep everything from ripping apart. I had no idea which way I was facing and whether I was ascending or descending in this pit of darkness. My compa.s.s was rendered useless the moment I entered.
“It\'s okay, you\'re flying straight! Just keep going!” said Stella. She was like the voice of hope. The fact she sounded completely confident in herself made me more at ease.
The lightning within the cloud made their presence known by constantly flas.h.i.+ng around us menacingly. It was instant death if even one of them hit us, but there wasn\'t a whole lot we could do about that other than to just pray hard.
What felt like eternity flying through this dangerous cloud of electricity was probably just a very short time in reality. It was just with all the things going on around me, my emotions were so high to the point where I lost my sense of time as well. We could have been flying for 5 hours or 5 minutes and I wouldn\'t be able to tell.
The only thing I was focused on during this whole ordeal were Stella\'s instructions.
However, as fast as how things went downhill for us earlier, a magician waved its magic wand and suddenly all became clear around us again. I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders as I could experience the beauty of this world at least one more time.
It wasn\'t until my eyes took in the endless blue sky around me that I realized we had somehow miraculously gone through that cloud unscathed.
“I\'m alive…” I said, still in a state of shock.
“Yes, you are.”
There were so many things I needed to think about. The worst might have been over, but that didn\'t mean we had a free pa.s.s to our next destination, wherever that might have been. Still, it was nice to catch a break from all that madness.
“Please tell me everything.” I said.
As expected, Stella didn\'t say anything back.
We were sitting across from each other around a quirky round table, supposedly drinking some coffee even though none of us had taken a sip yet. Since it was dinner time, there were other people sitting around us with their own little tables enjoying their food.
I had always liked this shop ever since my father brought me here when I was younger. It was a place of warmth and happiness, which currently made Stella and me feel out of place. We weren\'t exactly feeling well after what had just happened to us and besides, our aviation clothes stood out too much.
There was a high chance that those corsairs and the white interceptor were from Batoh, so we decided to turn around and hurry back to the island Divel. It was a long flight back, especially because we had to be much more careful this time around. Luckily we were able to safely reach Divel, albeit during nighttime.
I opted not to touch my coffee and just think. There were so many questions in my head, like whether or not Stella was even allowed into Batoh or if it had all been just a huge misunderstanding. Maybe we just got caught up in something that\'s going on over there? There wasn\'t even a confirmation of whether or not those were really Batoh\'s corsairs.
I felt so clueless with all these questions in my head. There wasn\'t any information for me to work with.
The same could not be said for Stella. Although she may not know everything, she sure knew a whole lot more than I did. Yet right now she refused to tell me anything, much less even move. If there was ever a time to pretend to be a piece of luggage, this was it for her.
We had been face to face in this shop for long enough that our hot coffee had turned cold, but all she had done so far was apologize.
“You know they tried to kill us?” I said.
Stella nodded shyly. “I\'m sorry,” she said, on the verge of crying.
I sighed. How many times has she apologized?
“I\'m not looking for an apology. Besides, it\'s not like I won\'t fulfill your request.”
“But if you don\'t tell me what you\'re hiding, then you can\'t fly with me anymore,” I said sternly. “That\'s final. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes…” Stella once again gave a slight nod, but I had a feeling she still wouldn\'t tell me anything.
I could feel myself running out of patience.
“I\'ll ask one more time. What\'s going on?”
Stella looked like she really wanted to say something, but ultimately averted her eyes away as she grasped her star sapphire still wrapped around her neck. I could tell she was struggling. As horrid as it may sound, a small part of me wanted her to stay quiet and keep on struggling. Her refusal to tell me anything got me a bit irritated, and together that dampened the mood around us.
As I had expected, she wouldn\'t budge, but this time her reply really brought out my bad side. I was just tired of her games.
“You won\'t tell me anything, which mean I won\'t know what\'s going on around me. And yet even with all that you still want me to fly you to Batoh? Is that what you want? Are you serious?”
I snapped at her intentionally with all my frustration to the point where she was on the verge of years. The people around us must have thought I was a piece of human garbage seeing what I just did to her, but maybe they weren\'t far from the truth.
“Do you think you can just use me if you just wave money around?”
“No, that\'s not it!”
“You sure about that?!?!” I shouted back in frustration.
Stella instinctively coward back in her chair, making a jarring noise as she scooted her chair back a little.
“I\'m sorry,” she said again for the millionth time. “But no matter what happens I need to go to Batoh.”
With her soft voice she whispered another apology right after.
I shook my head. “Your apology doesn\'t do anything for me. That\'s just you making yourself feel better.”
Man, I was the worst. My cold, non-apologetic tone didn\'t help the situation either.
“Alright then,” I continued. I shook my head and then stood up. “I\'m sorry, but I can\'t have you as my client anymore. This is it for us.”
“U-Umm…” Stella bolted right up, so fast that she accidentally knocked over her own chair. As one might have imagined, that caused quite a commotion around us.
“As a Swallow, I feel bad I can\'t fulfill your request. In any case, I don\'t need any money, since I was going to bring you here for free anyway.”
“But what about all that I put you through? And—”
“Don\'t worry about it,” I interrupted coldly. It was like I just didn\'t care anymore. “We\'ll just consider it a slight detour.”
I then called the waiter over and paid for both our bills before saying, “I wish you good luck in the times to come. I can\'t help you, but I pray you\'ll make it somehow.”
And with just that, I took my leave.
Even though I was well within the island, I could still hear what sounded like the constant swelling of waves against the sh.o.r.e.
No, that wasn\'t it.
Once I gazed out of my inn, I soon realized that this was actually the sound of rain outside. Despite currently being nighttime, I could see rain falling down onto the stone pathway to the entrance from the dim lights that illuminated it. The puddles that resulted reflected the lights of the night sky, making them look like little white waves scattered around the area.
There wasn\'t really anything around me aside from the nightlight next to my bed where I was sitting.
I couldn\'t help but just think about things— Specifically, her.
What was she up to right now?
Was she still sitting alone at that shop? Maybe she finally took a sip of her coffee? Or could she have been kicked out of that shop? If she was, she must have taken refuge against the rain somewhere even if just outside the shop.
She could also be walking somewhere drenched in rain.
It didn\'t matter anymore… It really didn\'t. I already backed out of her request. I had nothing to do with her anymore, so I was just worrying needlessly.
I repeated that thought in an attempt to drill that mentality into my head, but I just started thinking about her again after doing so. My head went in circles as I tried to not think about her.
Stella didn\'t matter to me anymore.
Yet telling myself that she had nothing to do with me anymore was still technically a thought about her which made me think more about her once my mind wandered off.
Stella wasn\'t a kid. She could handle herself just fine… was what I tried to tell myself this time around to mix it up.L-Like this, right?
She looked real uneasy when she tried to use that kitchen knife....Can I take this off?
She looked so majestic even when taking off those heavy aviation clothes.It makes me want to travel with you forever.
She smiled so innocently sitting on top of the wings of Polaris.
I hadn\'t been with her long, so why? Why were only the times I spent with her flooding my memories?
“d.a.m.n it, what\'s wrong with me…”
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and exhaled slowly before running outside into the pouring rain— I couldn\'t take it anymore.
I immediately made my way to that shop we were just in. There weren\'t even that many people in the shop, presumably because of the rain.
I couldn\'t see her anywhere.
Where was she? Where could she have gone? I was getting more and more drenched the longer I stood out there, making it harder to move by the second.
d.a.m.n it. The rain was too loud and too annoying. I desperately closed my eyes and tried my hardest to think things through. If I were Stella, a naive girl thrown into a city I had never been to before, where would I go?
“She wouldn\'t— no, she couldn\'t go anywhere.”
She didn\'t have a place to go and didn\'t have anyone to rely on which meant that she was probably wandering aimlessly around the area. Without being able to work, she could only search for something or someone around the area that could help her.
Please be safe….
I slammed the door open to the shop and lunged in, getting the attention of the shopkeeper inside.
“U-Umm, I need to know something!” I interrupted. I didn\'t have any time to waste.
The shopkeeper winced back in surprised. “Yes… what is it?”
“Have you seen a girl around here?”
“A girl you say?” The shopkeeper laughed nervously.
“Please!” I shouted back. This was no time for dilly-dally.
“I understand, but in this shop I see so many girls come and go. Does this girl have any special characteristics?”
“Ah, right… U-Umm… Yeah! Aviation clothes! She was wearing some really baggy aviation clothes!”
“I see— now that I remember clearly. She was sitting right there for a while until she gave me a very polite bow and headed out. She looked so sad that I felt sorry for her, even if she wasn\'t saying anything.”
“Okay, but which way did she go?”
“Right… she turned right onto that main street. Actually, it hadn\'t been too long since she left.”
“Thanks!” I bowed and headed out, but the shopkeeper called back to me before I left.
“Hey, by the way!”
I turned around without thinking.
“Were you the guy who was sitting across from her?” asked the shopkeeper.
“You see, I\'ve gotten pretty good at reading body language between a guy and a girl. So I can at least tell you this—”
“Huh?” I eyed the shopkeeper suspiciously.
The shopkeeper chuckled. “She was waiting for you to come back. I\'m certain of it.”
The shopkeeper then took out two umbrellas from a nearby stand and handed them over to me.
“These umbrellas are on me. Please go find her.”
I gave another bow and made my way out for real this time. She couldn\'t have been far if the shopkeeper was telling the truth. Besides, she stuck out like a sore thumb.
I ran around asking random people on the street for her whereabouts and began a wild goose chase for her. The more I searched, the worse of a feeling I got. I just had a really bad feeling about the whole thing.
At last, with a feeling of dread hovering over me, I ran into an narrow alley to get a lead from some shadier sources. What I heard was harrowing.
“Ah, she went behind that alleyway with some guys.”
“Yeah, I think about three of them just now.”
This was bad… Real bad. It\'d be okay if they were just hitting on her, but if they were trying to s.n.a.t.c.h her away…
I sprinted full speed even past the point where my lungs felt like they exploded. Unfortunately the area only got more complicated to navigate around as I dashed between alleyways.
d.a.m.n it, where was she?
It was then I heard a high pitch scream that ripped my heart into two.
My legs started moving automatically, so I was off. I ran and I ran until I reached a dead-end street.
Found her. She was trapped with three guys blocking her way out.
Stop it, stop it, stop it… I whispered to myself while I made my way to her. As I did, the guy in the middle finally noticed me and turned around. He had a face that almost made me vomit— a real sleazebag.
“You guys, get the f.u.c.k away from her,” I shouted angrily to them.
“Huh? What you saying?” one of them replied back. He took a closer look at me and laughed. “The h.e.l.l you want? This got nothing to do with you, so get lost if you don\'t wanna get f.u.c.ked up.”
“Did you not hear me?” I said. “I said get away from her!”
“You really wanna do this then?” he replied condescendingly. The two other guys just smiled creepily.
“Ciel!” Stella called out in the midst of all that.
The thugs scowled when they heard her call my name. I guess that did wipe the smile off their faces.
“Wow, you two know each other? f.u.c.k you.”
“Get away from here!” shouted Stella.
“Yeah, get away from here!” mocked one of the guys.
They started smiling again nefariously, but I didn\'t care— I was getting way too angry. My blood began to boil with every word they spat out.
“I\'ll say this one more time. Step away from Stella.”
“Shut up…” he continued. “Fine, maybe it\'s time to teach this little s.h.i.+t a lesson. Do it.”
“Alright then, just warning you all I\'m not gonna hold back.” I said, throwing one of the umbrellas I was holding off to the side.
The two of them at each side came at me with a haymaker.
Man, they were slow. Way too slow. What were they trying to accomplish with that?
They were so focused on trying to throw out a punch that they dropped all defenses. I was able to easily step right into the guy of the left by taking a lower stance.
His eyes widened. “W-What the?” Now that I was right in his personal s.p.a.ce, he tried to slam his fist down onto me.
Again, it was slow enough that I was able to sidestep that, which put me in the perfect position to use his own momentum against him and slam him onto the ground. He screamed the moment his head and the ground made contact.
But I was having none of it. “Shut up,” I said coldly.
He tried to get up now that he was on the ground, but I used my whole body to stomp right on his stomach— Not just once, either. I stomped him over and over again until he was throwing up his dinner right into his own face. Of course, at that point he was done for.
“f.u.c.k…!” the other guy must have known he couldn\'t go in bare-handed anymore, so he took out his b.u.t.terfly knife. Holding onto that must have given him a boost in confidence, at least enough to bust out a dim smile.
I wasn\'t worried. “Okay…?” I just stared daggers into him.
To my surprise, he pointed his knife at me and charged. It caught me off guard for a few seconds, but luckily I was able to raise my umbrella in time right into his throat.
“OOoooghhuughh…” he winced back in pain.
I pulled my umbrella back and swung at his right hand where the knife was, knocking it a safe distance away. I then swung again, this time hard at his head.
“Ugh…” he collapsed onto the ground in even more pain, but I didn\'t even give him any time to recover as I shoved my umbrella right into him.
“You know you were trying to kill me just now? You won\'t mind this then, right?”
“S-Stop… Please…” he pleaded.
I ignored him and turned my attention to the last guy.
“What the h.e.l.l… What\'s going on…” he said.
“Get away from her…” I said coldly. “She\'s my luggage.”
“L-Luggage? The f.u.c.k does that mean?”
“Stella\'s my luggage and it\'s up to me to deliver her all the way to the end!”
“G.o.d you\'re f.u.c.king mad. What the h.e.l.l you saying?” he shouted. This time, he reached into his jacket and pulled out a black revolver at me. “I-I\'m really gonna kill you man! Go away!”
“Ciel, please just go! Please!!” Stella shouted after seeing the gun.
However, I ignored her and started to walk forward slowly.
“Stop it! I\'m gonna shoot!”
“If you\'re gonna shoot, shoot already.”
“W-What\'s wrong with you?!?!?”
“Yeah, yeah yeah… if you shoot, you\'ll hit me— simple as that?”
“This gun\'s for real, you know! Just stop man!!”
“I\'m telling you to f.u.c.king shoot it!!!” I shouted back at him.
“Argghhhhh!” he shouted now that I was getting closer and pulled the trigger.
BAM! That piercing sound went right through our ears followed by the clink of the ammunition hitting the ground.
“Uhh, where are you aiming?”
“F-f.u.c.k! Then at least with her…”
He went to grab Stella, but I was one step ahead of him.
“One of us is gonna die today, and if it\'s not me it\'s gonna be you,” I said, getting in and slamming my umbrella onto his neck.
The knockback of my swing pushed him back far enough for him to run away with a barbaric scream.
It was finally over, and my umbrella was a mess. There might have been only half of the umbrella actually left. I threw it aside since it was useless now and made my way to Stella.
Before I could, I felt a hard slap right across my face.
“You idiot!” she yelled. “Why would you do that?! You could have died!”
I stopped, but not before slapping her back in the face.
“That\'s my line! What were you thinking? Even a child would know not to go around with strangers! Can\'t you act a little smarter?!?”
Stella was flabbergasted.
“Why…” I continued. “Why did I have to follow you… Why am I so worried about you…”
I wondered why it was her who was apologizing. Sorry was the last thing I wanted to hear from her.
“All you do is apologize without telling me anything meaningful. Not one bit. Why do you only just care about yourself?”
And why can\'t I just let you go?
“Just give up already,” I continued. “You don\'t know anything and you can\'t do anything.”
Her reply must have been washed away by the rain that had been drenching us all this time.
“… Thank you,” she said after a long pause, completely out of the blue.
“You did come here to save me, right?”
“You don\'t have to thank me.”
Stella laughed. “No, but I want to anyways.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. I\'m only thinking about myself like an idiot. I got tricked to go with some shady people, which made me realize just how weak and powerless I really am. I was frightened… but you did come for me.”
“There\'s no guarantee that I would have came for you or even, to find you at all.”
“Well, I won\'t say that I knew you would come because then I would never hear the end of it,” she said, picking up the non-battered umbrella that I had dropped earlier. “But I can say that I wanted you to come for me.”
That\'s the same thing…
“I made up my mind,” she continued. She popped open the umbrella and held it over my head. “I\'ll tell you everything if you agree to deliver me one more time. I won\'t be holding anything back.”
I took the umbrella from her and this time held it for her.
“Honestly, how selfish can you be…”
“Very, but I really wish you could give me a second chance.”
What a turn of events. I was surprised she even asked for it.
I sighed. “I guess I\'m used to troublesome requests. I did take on the t.i.tle of The White Wing, after all.”
We both returned to my room at the inn and sat around a small table across from each other.
“First, hmm… I need to tell you my real name,” she whispered.
“Stella\'s not it?”
Stella shook her head. “Stella is my real name. But I never told you my last name, right?” she said. “My full name is Stella Vessel Ca.n.a.l.
Wow! Stella Vessel Ca.n.a.l… I couldn\'t believe my ears. If I was remembering things right, the Ca.n.a.l family basically ruled Vessel. Which means that…
“Vessel Ca.n.a.l… You\'re one of Vessel\'s princesses?”
Stella nodded nonchalantly. “Yes… to be more specific, I\'m the fourth one.”
I was at a loss for words. She really threw a curveball at me.
“Umm… so you\'re a real princess?” I asked again. I didn\'t know what to do but confirm I wasn\'t misunderstanding anything.
“And you aren\'t just messing with me?”
“No, I\'m not. I did say I\'d tell you everything, so I\'m not gonna lie.”
Her eyes indicated to me that she was serious and she didn\'t seem to be lying. Besides, she had no reason to lie in this situation.
But still, I had a princess in my back seat? Man I had a lot of questions.
“I don\'t believe you…” I ultimately said. I guess I didn\'t move on past that part. Or did I? I shook my head and continued, “No, it\'s alright. I\'ll trust that you\'re not lying. Please continue.”
I forced myself to believe her for the moment to keep her going.
“Okay then… as you might know already, Batoh will come dangerously close to Vessel due to its route.”
“Yeah, I\'m aware of that.”
“At this rate, within a week, it\'ll actually be within 50 kilometers of Vessel.”
She was right. It was a recipe for disaster when two countries got that close to each other. Luckily we didn\'t have to worry about Batoh, but there have been instances where one country got completely destroyed by the other
“And when that happens, I\'ve received word that they\'ll launch an offensive on us.”
“That\'s odd…” I said with a bit of concern. “Batoh and Vessel should have an alliance with each other. Besides, they\'re about the same level in terms of military strength… right?”
Stella giggled. “Getting nervous huh…? But yes, you\'re right. Batoh and Vessel do have an alliance in place because we\'re pretty even in power. If we did go to war with each other, there would be heavy casualties on both sides. Normally, we wouldn\'t consider such a thing… but what if?”
“What if there was another country supporting them? What if they managed to get a weapon that could break our balance?”
I nodded with a blank look. As bleak as that prediction was, it was certainly a possibility.
“That\'s why before they come near, I must secure peace with them.”
“As a princess of Vessel?”
“That doesn\'t make sense…”
“It\'s too dangerous. If what you are saying is true, then—”
“I may be a royalty but I\'m ultimately only the fourth princess. There are also others in Vessel who have SS rated compa.s.ses, so even if I die it wouldn\'t cause any trouble for them. It\'s my duty to do this even in the face of death.”
I was shocked to hear her say that so nonchalantly. This was too much even as a devoted member of the royal family.
“Why go so far? You\'re a princess…” I asked softly.
Stella smiled bitterly. “If you can, please don\'t get hung up on the fact that I\'m a princess.”
“Just pretend like I\'m not one. Honestly, it feels weird to hear people call me a princess.”
I nodded— Calling her a princess felt weird to me as well, especially since it was so sudden. To me she didn\'t even feel like one.
“Your father, King Sole, sent you on this mission?”
“No, he was completely against it.”
“So what\'s going on?”
“This whole thing is my idea. My father didn\'t even give me permission.”
Now I was really confused. She knew the dangers, and even then she still went for it?
“Why though? Is it because you feel like you have to for the sake of the country?”
“Not for them, but for me,” Stella said as she stood up and walked to the window. “I just wanted to see the outside world since I\'ve never been outside Vessel\'s imperial walls in my life. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to do so.”
She paused and looked back at me before continuing. “I\'ve always wondered about my purpose in life. As the fourth princess, I didn\'t feel comfortable representing and leading the country like all my other brothers and sisters. But even so, to spend day after day just living comfortably in our castle and watching everyone live their life below… I really questioned why I was there, or even why I was alive.”
I remembered she told me she wasn\'t free when we were sitting together on the wings of Polaris. Now I finally understood why she said that with such a solemn face.
“I just want something… something that could give me a purpose.”
“So you went on your adventure?”
“Yeah. It had always been my one and only selfish desire.”
Stella frowned. Now that I knew the details, I could only imagine what she had to go through after she set out.
“I set out with a group of three Seagulls for Batoh, and each were marked with our royal colors, but…”
“You were attacked by those mysterious corsairs.”
Stella nodded. “I remember up to the point where my unit was shot down. One unit managed to escape from what I saw,” she said with anguish, “but the other one sacrificed itself to protect me.”
It was hard for her to say that all out loud, but she managed.
“So that\'s how you washed up in Sunk Tierra.”
Everything made sense, and she didn\'t seem like she was lying.
“Oh also, that star sapphire is with your name?”
“Yeah. It\'s something my mother gave to me to celebrating my coming into this world.”
For many countries, it was customary that when a child was born, he or she was a.s.signed not only a name, but also a corresponding charm to go along with it. In my case, my father gave me a pen made from the long feather of an Albatore, symbolizing the sky as defined by my name, Ciel. In Stella\'s case, the six sided sapphire represented the star as it always had from long ago. Thus, Stella\'s name meant “star.”
Her sapphire was another part of her name— it may have been worth a lot monetarily, but was certainly worth far more in sentimental value.
“You know, if I could, I would trade it for the safety of my country in an instant…” she said, reading my mind with a smile.
I couldn\'t help but just stare back at her. Even that was a rude thing to do against royalty and could have gotten me thrown in jail or even killed, though I guess I was no stranger to danger at this point.
“What\'s wrong?” asked Stella.
I shook my head so she couldn\'t read anymore of my thoughts. “Nothing… I guess you really are a princess, huh…”
Stella giggled. “I don\'t seem like one, right?”
I didn\'t have a good answer to that.
“It\'s okay. I never really did want to try and act like one.”
“Do you wish you were never one?” I asked.
“No, I don\'t think that\'s it. I just hate the fact that there are some things I can only do only because I\'m a princess, but at the same time, there\'s plenty of things I can\'t do for the same reason.”
It was difficult for me to emphasize with her— after all, I wasn\'t royalty. I have met with many kings, queens, princes, and princesses over the years, but I never once understood their feelings. The only people I could really understand were other pilots like me.
However, I did kind of understand what she meant when she hated how she could only do things because she was born privileged. I did inherit “The White Wing” t.i.tle from my father, and while he was the one who actually earned that t.i.tle, I was only able to do things by leeching off his name.
“I think it\'s fine. You\'re Stella before any princess.”
I was able to nicely convey what was in my mind, and that caused me to resonate more with her.
“Thanks. I\'ve also thought that my whole life. I always believed that it\'s not about who you are, but what you do that defines you.”
She smiled so purely without a care in the world.
“But,” she continued. “I realized something while flying with you, Ciel. If I wanna truly be myself, I can\'t keep pretending to be someone I\'m not. I can\'t keep running away from the fact that I\'m Stella Vessel Ca.n.a.l, a princess of Vessel. It\'s part of who I am.”
A light bulb lit up in my mind as I begun to understand her more.
“So in other words, that\'s why you\'re so adamant on securing peace with Batoh by yourself?”
“Exactly,” she said confidently.
I guess I could say I understood her a bit, but I still couldn\'t approve of her actions.
“Do you think that the corsairs that attacked your Seagulls were the same ones that attacked us?” I asked.
“It\'s highly likely, so probably.”
“If that\'s the case, then we can\'t ignore the high chance that they were sent from Batoh. Actually, geographically speaking it only makes sense if they were Batoh\'s corsairs.”
The only countries close enough to be able to deploy corsairs were Batoh and Vessel. Obviously, if they weren\'t from Vessel, they were from Batoh.
“Besides, today they tried to shoot us down without warning. Which means that—”
“Batoh has no intentions of peace with Vessel. They\'re preparing for war,” Stella said, finis.h.i.+ng my thoughts.
“If you understand your situation to that extent, then the best course of action is to return to Vessel and prepare for war.”
It seemed like this inevitable war was going to be a slugfest, and the sooner Vessel prepared for it the higher their chances of winning it.
Stella shook her head. “But it\'s not completely confirmed that Batoh wants war. Besides, this is all speculation anyway.”
“Yes it\'s speculation, but it\'s always good to be prepared for what\'s most likely going to happen.”
“It\'s not like we went there and confirmed for ourselves…” Stella replied back.
I was beginning to get annoyed. “You\'re just grasping at straws now…”
“Even so, there\'s always the possibility of being able to talk them out of war if that\'s what they were going for.”
No there isn\'t, Stella.
Even if she was royalty, there\'s no way the words of a single girl could change the will of an entire nation. I wanted to make that point very clear to her.
“Okay first of all, it\'s unlikely we even reach Batoh alive. You almost died twice trying to get there— period. Not to mention that white corsair, which as much as I hate to admit it, outcla.s.ses me in both piloting skills and aircraft capability. We will die. And even if we do somehow miraculously reach Batoh, whose to say they won\'t throw you in a jail or execute you?”
Stella calmly nodded. “But if there\'s a way, I\'m going for it. That\'s why I came here all this way,” she replied adamantly, sounding just as confident as ever.
It was precisely her confidence that made the whole thing so messed up. How could she say all this with a straight face? I didn\'t want to die of course, but above that, I didn\'t want her to as well.
“I have been tricked by you once before, which almost got me killed!” I snapped at her at an attempt to discourage her. “And you didn\'t even say anything before now!”
I didn\'t mind if she grew to hate and resent me from this, as long as she gave up.
“I\'m sorry,” she said after a pause. She gave a me a bow, which was unheard of from royalty, even though she didn\'t seem to be bothered by it.
I pushed on.
“I have no obligation to help you from here on out.”
“I\'m well aware of that.”
For reasons unbeknownst to me, I kept getting more and more irritated to the point where I started shouting at her.
“You\'re royalty aren\'t you?!?! You don\'t need a reason, just order me to take you to Batoh! That\'s what princesses do right?!”
These were the most horrible words I could think of, and I was well aware she wouldn\'t do it.
Stella looked incredibly sad, but she did not avert her gaze. “I can\'t do that,” she said softly, but adamantly.
“Why?” I snapped. “Because you feel sorry for me? Or because you don\'t want to be one of those princesses?”
My words should have made her angry, though she showed no signed of doing so.
“If we\'re going, I want to fly as a unit,” she said calmly.
“What does that mean?”
“I want to fly not as a princess or employer, but as your equal in the backseat. I know I have no right to ask for this after hiding things from you and putting you in so much danger, but that\'s what I truly want.”
Why was she like this?
“I\'ll ask you one more time, Ciel. Can you please take me to Batoh?”
How could she say that with such a straight face?
“Are you asking me to die with you?”
There had to be a limit to how selfish she could be.
“n.o.body\'s going to die.”
You know nothing, Stella…
“You don\'t get to decide that.”
But why… why?
“I\'m going to stop this war. Ciel, you and I are going to return alive.”
“And how do you know that?”
“Although we could really use some prep time…”
Why did I feel compelled to help her?
I sighed at my own hypocrisy. Perhaps I was an even bigger idiot than she was.
“You know, you and I probably won\'t get along very well.”
“And I\'ve said this before, but having you as a pa.s.senger is really troublesome.”
I didn\'t know how to follow up, but I think I had my answer from the very beginning. My hesitation was probably from me not wanting to admit I was actually doing this.
“But,” I said reluctantly, “You\'re a luggage I have to deliver to Batoh. As a Swallow, I have my responsibilities, just like you have as a princess. But my work ends the moment we reach there. Anything up to that is on you.”
“Wait, so you mean—”
“Yeah, exactly. We got a contract to fulfill, so let\'s do it.”
We couldn\'t simply walk into Batoh because they were waiting for us and a head to head engagement was the last thing we wanted. That\'s why I spent the entire morning preparing a way to sneak in. Even though there wasn\'t much time, I had to make sure everything was perfect.
“H-How\'s this?” Stella said, showing me a whirl with all the new clothes she bought from a shop.
Stella was wearing a white blouse with a brown outer jacket. She had on an indigo colored skirt that nearly reached the ground and wore a casket hat that hid most of her face.
Everything was chosen to make her look like a regular girl.
“I\'ve never worn these type of clothes before and it feels kinda weird… but is it cute?” she asked, blus.h.i.+ng.
I didn\'t expect her to ask that so I was at a loss of words, which only made her more nervous.
“Ah, sorry! You took the trouble of picking it out for me… and I guess I don\'t look good in it…?”
“No, you do!” I said. “It\'s… cute.”
“Really? Glad to hear that!” Stella replied, grinning from ear to ear that even made me embarra.s.sed.
Objectively speaking, she was definitely cute enough to draw the attention of people around her. Subjectively speaking, I couldn\'t stop looking at her.
“You look good too, Ciel.”
“Yeah but I always wear these types of clothes, so…”
I wore a plain s.h.i.+rt and jacket to go along with her cute outfit.
“The fact that we\'re both getting a change of clothes and going on a journey makes us feel like we\'re eloping, doesn\'t it…”
“I mean that would be better than what we\'re doing… but this is serious time. Let\'s hold off on the jokes.”
“I know.” Stella faced scrunched up.
No one should have been able to recognize Stella as the fourth princess other than the people who lived in the castle and the exclusive n.o.bles that had visited her. However, we had to change outfits because the aviation clothes naturally drew too much unwarranted attention.
After all, we weren\'t trying to fly into Batoh with Polaris. We were going to enter just by ourselves this time.
“We\'ll get another way of getting into Batoh. Using the Polaris is far too risky.”
“Do you have something in mind?”
I nodded. “We\'ll ride the Seagull.”
Divel was the center point of a lot of imports and exports for the countries around it. As a result, it acted as a middleman and allowed trade between countries who would normally not be allowed in each other\'s territories. That\'s why there was generally a no-touch policy on Divel Seagulls, which even Batoh followed.
“If we could sneak onto one of Divel\'s Seagulls heading to Batoh, we wouldn\'t need to worry about being attacked.”
“Is that even possible though?”
“I got my connections,” I replied. I wasn\'t lying, but that person was unreliable and troublesome.
“Yeah. If we were on a s.h.i.+p, this area would definitely be where the castle would be built.”
We were in the island\'s business district right in the middle of all their huge skyrises. This was where people of different cultures mingled together, making for quite a unique atmosphere.
Divel\'s first overseer claimed that buildings just for the sake of showing off were nothing more than a waste of s.p.a.ce, so there were no fortresses on the island. Only the bare minimum of governmental offices were built to deal with state affairs.
Right outside the business district was a three-story terminal station.
“This is it,” I said.
Pa.s.sengers could be dropped off for free anywhere they\'d like on the buses that ran through this terminal. The bus time schedule was a pain to remember, but it became very easy to get around after getting used to it.
Eventually, a red double-decker bus arrived at the terminal. In Divel, the policy was to jump on and off these buses as they never came to a complete stop. Luckily, they did slow down when reaching the designated drop off points.
“That\'s it,” I said. “Make sure you get the timing right. I\'ll jump on first. Make sure you follow right after me.”
The bus made a turn up to the terminal, and the people who had done this countless times before nonchalantly hopped onto it. We planned to get on when the bus reached its slowest speed right near the stop.
We started at a pace that matched the bus\'s speed until I jumped onto the it\'s back exit. I pulled myself in using the railing with my left hand, and with my right I reached out to Stella.
“Grab on!” I said.
Once Stella grabbed onto my hand, I used all my energy to pull her on board.
“Don\'t worry about it.”
If anything, this was expected of me because she was a princess.
We were heading to the north Seagull port, and had to ride the bus through the city and down a long hill to reach the ocean to get there. Once there, I noticed that there were plenty of storage brick-houses lined up and dozens of Seagulls anch.o.r.ed around the port.
There were multiple independent companies within Divel that had their own Seagulls. When these Seagulls weren\'t used for facilitating trade between countries, they were often used for other, usually illegal purposes.
“Alright, we\'re going to go to a company called “Pelican.” I\'ll see if I can get them to help us,” I said.
“Do you think they will?”
It should be okay given that I had the right compensation prepared.
The company Pelican wasn\'t big, but it had a long history. My father had been a regular customer back in his day, and I had done countless jobs for them as well. In fact, I had even occurred some favors from them.
The company building was built from bricks like the others around it, though certainly some time had pa.s.sed given the amount of ivy crawling on its walls. There was also a marble name tag hung on its thick entrance gate.
Stella went to go in, but I stopped her,
“Let me do the talking,” I said. “Stay quiet to not attract any attention even if they ask you something. Try to keep anything you say to a minimum. Their president, Mr. Pelican, is a shrewd man, especially at negotiations. Let\'s keep our mess ups to a minimum.”
“Okay… Is their president really that hard to deal with?”
“No, not really actually. Everything will be find as long as they get their profits. If they don\'t though… that\'s a different story.”
“Anyways, just leave it to me. I\'ll get us through this.”
I opened the door only to be greeted by a familiar looking receptionist. She looked very tidy as a receptionist usually looked in this district, and her long, beautiful hair was a light shade of brown.
“Oh welcome, Ciel.”
“It\'s been a while, hasn\'t it?”
She gave me a warm smile with a bow.
“What brings you in here today?”
“Is Mr. Pelican in?”
“Did you have an appointment with him?”
“Ah, sorry I don\'t. This is quite sudden…”
“I understand, please wait a moment,” replied the receptionist as she stood up. She took a look around me and zoned in on Stella. “Your companion is quite cute, you know,” she said giggling.
Stella gave a bow back. There was no way anyone would think she\'s royalty from a glance like that.
After a while, we were led directly into the president\'s office where he was already inside sitting in his desk.
“Ah, Ciel. It\'s rare of you to come looking for me.”
“Good to see you again, Mr. Pelican.”
“It\'s been what… six months? Last time you did some did some design work for us, huh… That was quite the pinch for me. If you weren\'t there, I probably would have hung myself right on that beam,” he said with a chuckle.
His name was Politis Pelican… It was well known that in the ten years he had been president, the Pelican Company was more stable than ever, despite him only being in his thirties. The Pelican company chose a successor not from a Pelican family (there wasn\'t one in the first place), but from a worthy employee. When that employee got chosen, he or she took on the Pelican name.
It was a tradition I completely agreed with.
“Were you in the middle of something?” I asked. “Sorry for barging into you like this.”
“No, certainly not. When guests like yourself come, it gives me time to take a break. Perhaps that\'s the only thing keeping my sanity in check these days… Anyways, I\'ll get us some tea,” he said, waving at his attendant. “You came at the right time too— We just got some Kiman leaves from up north.”
He removed his monocle from his left eye and got a good look at me. Politis was a reliable man, but at the same time it was absolutely scary going to him. Because he was a businessman at heart, he had no tolerance for any emotions in his decision making. Every move he did was backed by numbers and ultimately profit.
Behind his smile lied a man who was already deciding how much I was worth by planning the different ways he could use me for his gain. I guess that was one of the reasons why his company was able to keep on surviving.
Things could get real hairy for me if he decided that I was a bad investment, yet there couldn\'t be a better man I could rely on if he thought he could profit off of me. He was just that type of man.
Politis led us to a tea table near the corner of his office just as the tea was brought in.
“This is the first time I\'ve seen you with a female companion… a cute one, nonetheless,” he said with another chuckle.
Just as instructed, Stella didn\'t say a word but bowed politely.
“Well, some things happened.”
“Things, huh? Then can I a.s.sume that she has something to do with why you came in today?” he said.
I nodded just as he took a sip of his tea. It would be a waste of time if I beat around the bush. I wanted to get down to bra.s.s tax as soon as possible.
“I want you to get us into Batoh.”
“Batoh…” his eyes sharpened. His mind was already churning.
I took a sip of tea as well to calm myself down. This was now the most crucial part of the negotiation.
“That\'s a trivial thing to ask for, and couldn\'t you just fly there on your Polaris?”
“Unfortunately, this time I can\'t.”
“She can\'t enter, huh?”
Normally, countries didn\'t care what Swallows brought in as their delivery items. There was one exception to that— if a Swallow had another person on board, that person would be subject to all sorts of immigration checks and verifications.
“That\'s why I want her to enter not as a person, but as another item for delivery.”
“Why don\'t you tell me who she is first.”
“She\'s a n.o.ble.”
Politis nodded and turned to Stella, but she averted her gaze to avoid any eye contact.
“As for the payment, anything I can offer, I will do.”
I could feel his surprised gaze almost staring right through me, so it took everything in my power to not look away from him.
“It\'s not like you to let me name my own price, Ciel.” Politis said with a sly, yet very ambiguous smile. “Is it that big a job to warrant such a thing?”
I thought about it— it was certainly a big job. The reward for it was a star sapphire worth over 300 million gotes. Needless to say, that was an amount a majority of people needed many lifetimes to earn.
However, something in the back of my mind kept reminding me that wasn\'t the reason why I accepted her job.
“It\'s a big job, but that\'s not the only reason.”
“I don\'t even know myself,” I said. “Maybe it\'s my pride as a Swallow, maybe not.”
Politis slanted his head towards me before slanting it back. He would often do this during negotiations when he didn\'t understand the reasoning.
“Pride, huh?” he said with a bit of att.i.tude. “If that\'s your main reason, then you just sound desperate. Besides, it really isn\'t like you to spout out nonsense like that.”
“Is it wrong to be desperate?” I asked back.
His eyes widened.
I didn\'t know what compelled me to ask such a thing, because asking that didn\'t do him and me any favors.
Luckily, that somehow turned out to be the right thing to ask.
“Not necessarily, I guess,” he said. “It\'s just a little reckless. But if you don\'t have a solid reason, it might not be such a bad thing. Obviously I can\'t do such a thing given my position as the president of this company, so I\'m a little jealous of you. Hmm, yeah. It could be a good thing actually.”
Politis rambled on and on with a smile. “Alright, I\'ll allow you to ride on one of our Seagulls tomorrow.”
I bowed. “Thank you very much,” I said calmly, but secretly inside I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
“But that\'s it. After I drop you two off, you\'re on your own. I won\'t risk my company any more than that.”
“Now then, what\'s the price? You did say I could name my own.”
“I did indeed.”
He paused to think things through. “Hmm… Settling this with money seems like kind of a waste… With your expertise, how about you just owe me a favor? Does that sound good?”
I nodded. A favor owed to him wasn\'t a good thing, but this time I had no choice.
“Alright, sounds good.” He suddenly leaned towards Stella. “And…”
“I-Is something wrong?” she said shakily.
“Have we ever met before?” he asked out of the blue.
Stella flashed a smile. “Sorry, but perhaps you\'re mistaking me for someone else?”
“Ah, perhaps so. Forgive me.”
“No, no, it\'s quite alright.”
He leaned back and turned his attention back to me. “Tomorrow I will prepare seats for you two aboard a Seagull— I say seats, but they\'re probably just going to be some extra s.p.a.ces among the cargo.”
“That\'d be plenty. Thanks again.”
We seemed to be done with the negotiations when he called over an attendant to lead us out. However, before we left his office, he called out to me one more time.
“Ciel,” he said as I turned around, “take care of her.”
He chuckled like he always had.
“Of course,” I replied. “I\'m a Swallow, and she\'s my client.”
“No, I mean beyond that.”
I shot him a weird look. What was he talking about?
“Protect her not from a client-customer point of view, but as a gentleman. It is a gentleman\'s duty to protect the lady, is it not?\'”
“Uhh… yeah…” I nodded unsurely.
“When you protect her as a gentleman, there\'s no getting out of it no matter the situation.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know for example, people can be traders for their everyday job, but if they aren\'t committed to it and things start going south, they drop all notions of being a trader and bail? Not me. I strive to always finish what I started, and you should do the same. Are you really up for it?”124188