Chapter 16: To Ikstova
A large vehicle was crossing the plains of Raputoa.
It drove down the autobahn that connected Raputoa City to Elitesa, a 4-lane highway that ran parallel to the East-West border like a runway.
The vehicle was heading south on that warm spring day.
At the wheel was a man in a black suit. Next to him was another man. Both were stern, with sunglasses on their faces. A shotgun lay next to the man in the passenger seat.
The vehicle was an RV, with everything behind the driver’s seat a furnished room.
Sofas were placed on either side of the room to form a small living space. The sofas could be unfolded into beds.
The RV was also equipped with a kerosene stove that delivered hot air into the room and exhaust out of the vehicle.
At the back of the RV was a small bathroom and shower. It was even equipped with a water tank for hot showers. A sturdy rack was fixed to the roof.
All the windows were shutter-operated from the inside to prevent entry and keep the cold out. Not even light leaked out the glass panes.
The luxury RV was even capable of crossing all of Roxche. It was, incidentally, a Jones Motors product.
And inside sat—
“You saved my life, Silas!”
Wil, still in his hospital clothes,
“Don’t mention it, buddy!”
“You were like a magician back there.”
“Heh heh. Keep the compliments coming.”
As the detectives stood in shock, Silas held out a bundle of documents.
“What is this, Mr. Epstein?”
“Isn’t it obvious? This guy’s papers.”
One of the detectives received the bundle and began skimming through them. Doctor Marx peered over as well. The documents were Wilhelm Schultz’s official papers.
A birth certificate detailing the address of Corazòn Mut’s home for war orphans, the Future House.
A proof of admission and a graduation certificate from his primary school back home.
A proof of admission for Raputoa’s very own Lowe Sneum Memorial Secondary School, and a valedictorian graduation diploma complete with photograph.
A proof of admission into Confederation Capital University.
And proofs of payment for several years’ worth of part-time work for Epstein, the famous apparel company.
Wil had been legally declared dead after years of being missing. But papers identifying such disadvantageous facts were naturally not included in Silas’s bundle.
The older detective looked at Silas as he leafed through the documents.
“These certainly look genuine. But why bring them to the hospital now?”
“Obviously to make sure my good friend here doesn’t get accused of being a criminal because he came in under a handle, detective,” Silas replied, and spun a tale of lies.
He claimed that he and Wil were fellow travelers and adventurers.
That they usually journeyed around Roxche and came back to the Epstein headquarters in Raputoa City on occasion to earn travel money through part-time work.
That Wil had been badly injured while doing part-time work for the Epsteins.
That the accident could not be officially deemed an industrial accident or covered with insurance because Wil was not officially employed by the company. That the company wanted to cover up the incident and ended up paying for Wil’s treatment and hospitalization here.
That the company felt guilty after the fact and decided to bring in Wil’s documents to officially inform the police of the accident.
“You seem to be fully awake now, Mr. Schultz,” the detective said to Wil. “Let’s have a short chat.”
The detective asked Wil questions about the information on the documents. About Wil’s grades, the subjects he took in school, and even the names of his homeroom teachers.
Naturally, Wil could answer these questions with ease.
“Are we done playing 20 questions, detective?” Silas asked impatiently.
The detective handed Silas back the documents. “So Mr. Matthew Silas Epstein…you’re telling me that Mr. Wilhelm Schultz here is an honest, upstanding Roxchean citizen?”
“What? Gods, no.”
“You can’t exactly call a guy in his thirties still calling himself an adventurer an upstanding man, don’t you think?”
The detective was silent.
“Oh, but he is a Roxchean citizen.”
“I wish I’d snapped some photos of the detective back there!”
“Anyway,” Wil said, rubbing his left leg, which was outstretched in front of the sofa. “What happened? How in the world did you end up rescuing me?”
Silas took out two bottles of juice from the fridge. He handed one to Wil and opened the other for himself.
“Well, it’s a long story. And before that, I’ve got a load of questions for you!”
“I’m sure you do.”
“How’d you come back to life, Wil?! I mean, I guess you weren’t dead after all! And you’re a Westerner now? How did all this happen? Don’t worry about the bodyguards—they can’t hear from the front. C’mon now, we’re friends here. You can tell me!”
“Yeah…I can, Silas. I guess it’ll be easier if I explained everything first.”
“Great. But first, cheers!”
* * *
The detectives left with sour looks on their faces.
Afterwards, Silas began waving his hands over Wil’s bandages.
“Hocus pocus… Alakazam! All right, I have healed your horrendous burns with magic! You can thank me later, so pack up! We’re getting out of here.”
And so, Wil bid a rushed farewell to the familiar hospital room, and Doctor Marx and the nurses, to whom he was deeply indebted.
“The cast will be enough for the time being, but remember that you will need proper rehabilitation training, Mr. Nyman. And take care to avoid any strong impacts to the head.”
“Thank you, doctor.”
All Wil took from the hospital room were the clothes on his back, a set of crutches, and Klee’s wristwatch.
Silas took him to the RV, leaving the bandages as they were and having him carried on a stretcher.
Then they departed immediately. Silas tried to drive them to the Epstein home in the suburbs, but Wil stopped him. He could not allow harm to come to the Epstein family. Instead, he asked to be taken to the one trustworthy place that was sure to protect him well.
“All right. Where’re we headed, then?” Silas asked.
Wil replied, “to Ikstova.”
And so Wil, Silas, and their two bodyguards-cum-drivers left for Kunst, the capital of Ikstova, in the RV.
The RV drove down the autobahn at a safe, legal speed. It would take them a full day and more to reach Kunst.
They rushed out of Raputoa City as though in escape and stopped at the first village on the road to buy Wil a change of clothes. Because Wil could not leave the RV, Silas picked out his new wardrobe.
And so, Wil was now wearing ankle-high boots, khaki pants, a white shirt, a green sweater, and a short brown coat.
Wil and Silas passed the time in conversation. The conversation went on for hours.
Wil went first.
He explained what happened in the summer of 3287, when Roxche and Sou Be-Il were still at war and Allison landed in the school grounds on a biplane.
“So you’re the one who found the Mural, eh? That crazy story you told me was real after all! You didn’t go camping! Hah hah! Ah hah hah hah…” Silas trailed off, laughing stiffly.
Then Wil explained what happened at the end of the same year. About the commotion that swept Ikstova while he and Silas were visiting the country on the school trip.
“You helped Carr Benedict escort the princess out of the village? And you were the one on that aeroplane speeding through the city? I don’t think anything is going to surprise me at this point…”
Then, Wil talked about the incident that happened in spring of the following year after he left the Epstein manor and boarded the transcontinental express.
“Damn! Why didn’t Mother tell me any of this?!”
Wil went on to explain how he became the adopted son of a Western noblewoman and gained Western citizenship. How he needed to throw away his identity as Wilhelm Schultz in order to work as a spy. How he feigned a train accident in Sou Be-Il to do so.
“I always knew something was off! You’re way too cautious to get into a stupid accident like that.”
Wil followed by explaining how he received spy training in the Sou Be-Il military and how he was commanded by the king to work at the Sou Be-Il embassy in the Capital District.
His goal was simple: to create and maintain stability between East and West.
“You know how I just said that nothing would surprise me? Er, I take that back. This is nuts! You’ve been going around saving the world while I enjoyed myself traveling!”
Finally, Wil explained how he narrowly avoided an assassination attempt while on his way back to Sou Be-Il after his retirement.
He told Silas everything he remembered, from taking off at Leonhart Airport to the crash and its aftermath.
“I see…so someone is trying to kill you, eh. That was really close. And who knew larvae could taste so good?”
Next, it was Silas’s turn.
First he explained that he was a self-proclaimed adventurer, traveling the world alone.
He would take on part-time jobs or receive funding from his family to travel all over Roxche and sometimes even Sou Be-Il.
“So I’m living a freewheeling life. But I am paying close attention to how Epstein clothes are selling in the places I visit, and to brand recognition and stuff,” he added.
Then he explained how he found Wil.
How a secondary school student on horseback found him collapsed in the buffer zone, and nursed him back to health.
How the student—for some unknown reason—did not contact the police immediately.
And how, by sheer coincidence, Silas happened to drop by the student’s home to avoid the rain and discovered a familiar face.
“Must’ve been destiny, now that I think about it. It’s a special power of mine. I have to go back there at some point and get my motorcycle back.”
“I’ll have to go with you, then. I have to thank the people who saved my life.”
“Yeah. Although that’ll have to wait until after your problem’s been solved.”
Silas’s explanation continued.
He had recognized Wil at first sight.
Having recalled that Wil had gone missing in Sou Be-Il, he quickly judged that Wil must have started a new life in the West as a Westerner.
“It was pretty obvious that you’d gotten yourself into something big.”
And so, he had Wil hospitalized in complete secrecy.
“Then I started thinking, if somebody’s after you the Westerner, maybe you’ll be safe if you came back to being Wil.”
With that idea in mind, Silas had traveled everywhere from the Republic of Raputoa to the Capital District to get his hands on as many of Wil’s papers as he could.
Because the different jurisdictions did not compile their respective pools of information, Wil’s papers were still accessible even though some jurisdictions had him declared dead in absentia. Silas collected them to prove his identity.
After even forging records of his work for Epstein, Silas waited near the hospital. He originally intended to wait until Wil was fully healed before picking him up.
“But then the police showed up, just as expected. And it was time for those papers to work their magic! Pretty dramatic, eh?”
Afternoon had gone, giving way to early evening.
The RV left the autobahn and entered a rather sizable town.
The drivers refueled and went shopping for a large amount of food. Wil and Silas dug into burgers, sandwiches, snacks, juice, and tea in the RV.
And their serious conversation resumed.
“You have no idea who’s after you yet?”
“No. If I had to be honest, I’ve ruined so many lives over the years that any number of them could be trying to kill me. To them, I was a villain.”
“I guess that’s understandable. Good and evil are subjective things.”
“I have potential enemies in both Roxche and Sou Be-Il. And until I know for sure, everyone looks like an enemy to me. It might even be someone I’d been working with the day before.”
“Sounds rough, buddy. I’d say it’s time to call it quits.”
“That was the plan, actually.”
“Sorry to suggest this, but maybe the intelligence agency cross-river is trying to kill you because you know too much?” Silas wondered, genuinely concerned. Wil shook his head.
“No. Allison’s father is still an active major general and the head of intelligence. It’s not impossible, I admit, but unlikely. Not only that, it wouldn’t be easy for someone in Sfrestus to plan so much to take place in Roxche. Maybe if they had someone working here in the East to take care of the logistics…”
“I see. Then I guess it’ll be best if Major Travas stays dead now.”
“I think so too. But—”
“I have to let my mother know. As soon as possible.”
“True. She’ll be worried sick.”
“And whoever’s after me might suspect that Major Travas is still alive. Then they’ll go after me. Or even Mother and Allison, or the people around me.”
“I have to find the mastermind. I just have to figure out who it is…”
“And you’ll kill him and be done with it?” Silas asked sadly. Wil smiled.
“No. I just have to apply a bit of pressure to prevent him from taking further action. It’ll be easier for me to control the situation if I leave the mastermind alive.”
“You make it sound so casual, buddy. Scary world you live in. I get what you’re trying to say, but don’t push yourself too hard.”
“So who could it be? …Guess we should focus on getting to Iks all right before we try and figure out that stuff,” Silas said, putting a firm end to the conversation. Wil changed the subject.
“Speaking of family, I owe Euphemia a lot for this, too. She’s covering all the major expenses, right?”
“You got it. Barely lifts a finger to help out her own brother, but when you’re involved, she just forks it all over. Tch.”
“I’m very grateful. I’d like to thank her in person someday. Is she doing well? Your parents, too?”
“Yeah. They’re all great. My folks’re retired now, relaxing away at the vacation home. Eumie took over after Mother—scarier president than she ever was. Too bad she had to hop over to the Capital District for a few days. She said on the telephone earlier that she really missed you.”
The RV continued down the road even after dark.
“Get some sleep, Wil. Too much thinking and you’ll go bald.”
“Yeah. You’re not looking so fresh yourself, Silas.”
“We’re not gonna be teenagers forever. Night.”
“Good night. And thanks.”
“It’s too early to be thanking me. But you’re welcome.”
Even when the lights went out, the RV continued down the road.
* * *
The next day. The morning of the 18th.
The RV reached the city of Elitesa on the southern tip of the Republic of Raputoa.
At that point, the imposing Central Mountain Range began looming to the right side of the road. Its snow-capped peaks emerged through the morning mist.
After refueling and stopping for supplies, the RV was back on the autobahn.
Silas soon directed the drivers to leave the autobahn, however. They passed a small village and stopped at a deserted field.
At Wil’s urging, Silas ordered the drivers to take the beds and get some sleep. The drivers tried to protest, but Silas was insistent.
“This is an order from your employer!”
So the drivers were given four hours of rest before they resumed their drive, this time up the harrowing mountain road to Iks.
Wil and Silas took over guard duty for the bodyguards, setting up folding chairs on the roof of the RV and scanning the horizon. But not a single vehicle passed by.
Silas put down his shotgun. A set of binoculars hung from his neck. He handed Wil a rifle with a scope.
“Still got those skills from Kaashi, Wil?” he joked.
“Unfortunately, yes. I’ve been shooting people quite a bit over the years,” Wil replied sadly.
They brewed tea on a small stove on the rooftop, chatting the hours away about their youth. About their student days.
* * *
“We’re finally here!” Silas cried, sticking his head out the RV window.
Once the drivers had gotten some rest, the RV went up the rugged mountain roads all the way through one of the two gates into Ikstova, the southern pass.
It was three in the afternoon. The sun began tilting West as it shone over the land.
The pass offered a full view of the majestic Lake Ras and the little boxed garden of Kunst, all surrounded by snowy mountains. The lake had already melted and was glittering blue.
“I can’t believe it’s already been five months,” Wil sighed, astonished by the view. Last time, he had entered the country by aeroplane with his trusted subordinates, with a veritable armory in their possession.
“So you come here a lot, eh? …It’s pretty cold today,” Silas complained, shutting the window. Raputoa and Ikstova were practically one season apart in terms of climate. “We’ll have to get us some jackets.”
The RV drove down the winding road into the hollow. It was well-maintained and clear of snow, as it was one of only two roads that allowed access to and from the country.
Avalanche-proofing fences had been installed on either side of the widened road, and shelters and watch-houses dotted the landscape.
“Iks really has been modernizing. Expected no less from Roxche’s top tourist destination. Raputoa’s basically just a bridge into Iks these days,” Silas commented, having not visited the country in a long time.
The RV went all the way down the slope and entered Kunst in the light of dusk.
“Where to now, Wil?”
“The police. Follow this street all the way and you’ll see the headquarters on the right side of the thoroughfare.”
“Right. But what’re you planning to do? Turn yourself in?”
Wil and Silas reached their destination just as the sun set. Their long journey had reached an end, for the time being.
Silas ordered the drivers to wait in the parking lot, and to find accommodations for themselves at a nearby hotel if necessary.
Then, he and Wil walked into the police station dotted with decorative stones.
Wil spoke first to a young policeman who happened to be on duty. He was in a navy-colored uniform, wore a badge of rank identifying him as a constable, and had a name tag embroidered with the name ‘Piazza’.
“May I speak to Mr. Rein Warren? This is an emergency.”
Constable Piazza gave Wil a suspicious look. “The chief is still on duty, I’m afraid. What is your business? And your name?”
“I can’t disclose either at the moment. Could you please pass on a message to him?”
“This is an emergency. Please, just pass this message to him. He’ll understand once he hears what I have to say.”
“Well…all right. I suppose I could.”
Constable Piazza was ready to take notes, pen and paper at the ready. Wil spoke.
“I am looking for the right-facing Linnea blooming in the valley.”
With a dubious look, Piazza went to Warren’s office. He knocked and identified himself.
Inside was a policeman over 60 years of age, his hair a splash of white. The name ‘Warren’ was embroidered on his breast.
He was wearing a pair of reading glasses and wrestling with a veritable mountain of documents on his imposing desk.
“Ah, Constable Piazza. What is it?” he asked, taking off his glasses.
“Er, there’s someone who wants to see you.”
“Hm? I don’t think I had any meetings scheduled today.”
“It was a man in his thirties. He refused to identify himself, so I tried to turn him away, but he asked me to pass on a message to you.”
Piazza took out a scrawled note from his pocket.
“What did he say?” asked Warren, as dubious as the younger man.
The moment Piazza read out the contents of the note, Warren rose violently enough to send documents flying.
“B-bring him here at once!”
* * *
“Wil! Oh, Wil! I’m so glad I can call you by your real name again!”
The queen embraced Wil with tears in her eyes.
“Good to see you here, my man! How’re those injuries? You’ve brought enough medication with you?”
And her husband, a man with a rugged beard, welcomed him with open arms.
“This is surreal.”
Meanwhile, Silas was left to quietly mutter to himself.
It was late at night in Ikstova’s royal palace.
The palace was humble enough to pass for a slightly large mountain lodge, but it was indeed the home of the nation’s monarch—and this was the office of the queen herself.
At the police station, Wil and his companion Silas had quickly been led to Warren’s office.
Warren asked no questions of Wil, instead preparing a police car to transport him. And so Wil and Silas went to the palace.
There awaited the queen and her husband.
Wil introduced Silas to his royal friends.
“Oh! Er, it’s an honor!”
Silas bowed awkwardly.
The queen, wearing a humble outfit composed of a white blouse and a navy skirt, gave him a beautiful smile. “Welcome to Ikstova.”
Silas trembled. “Er, may I take my leave now?” he asked, trying to escape the pressure of the royal couple’s presence.
“I’d appreciate it if you could stay and help me explain,” Wil said, and put an end to his escape attempt.
Though it was late at night, they continued their discussion in the sitting room.
The servants prepared tea and a light meal for them.
Irrelevant to the conversation at hand, Silas learned for the first time that the queen stirred jam into her tea. And that, for some reason, Queen Francesca was also called ‘Fiona’ or ‘Fi’.
And by the time Wil’s long story was over, Silas was finally used to the atmosphere. He proudly took the baton and finished the story with a few embellishments.
“Incredible, Wil! I almost wish for some of your amazing luck,” Benedict exclaimed.
“Wil, I want you to stay here with us for the time being,” said Fiona, “we can guarantee your safety here. And I’ll make sure to contact Allison and your mother tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Fi. But I can’t stay in hiding forever. I have to at least figure out the identity of the mastermind behind my assassination attempt.”
“But is it not too dangerous for you to go back to the capital, whether it is in Sou Be-Il or Roxche?” asked Benedict.
“…It is,” Wil replied with a reluctant nod. Benedict continued.
“And this mastermind will not so easily show his tail from now on. You know best that catching one or two people who carried out the plan is useless.”
“…Of course. But…”
“But three people lost their lives without cause.”
“Captain Barnett, Master Sergeant Lod, and…” Wil ran a finger over the watch on his left wrist. “Second Lieutenant Klee. They were innocents dragged into the attempt on my life. I as good as killed—I mean, they lost their lives because of me. I will never forget that. But I want to make sure that the one who ordered their deaths will be brought to justice. I know that I have no right to say such a thing, having done the same thing to many people in the past. But I do not wish to retire until I have at least put this case to rest.”
“C’mon, Wil. Revenge isn’t like you,” said Silas. “Right, Your Majesty? Sir Benedict? Nothing good ever comes out of revenge.”
But Silas’s pleas to the queen and her husband were met by looks of grim determination.
“If you’ve made up your mind, let us help you.”
“I am of the same opinion.”
“Huh?” Silas intoned in confusion.
Major Travas bowed his head. “Thank you.”
Major Travas left the room to consult with a doctor who had been called to the palace.
“Hm,” Silas sighed. “I can’t believe you offered to help Wil with his revenge. It honestly took me by surprise.”
Fiona looked him straight in the eye. She smiled.
“We offered because it wasn’t like the Major to say such a thing.”
“What? What do you mean, Your Majesty?” asked Silas.
“Major Travas is a man with a will of steel. For better or for worse, he would never let himself become obsessed with petty revenge.”
“He might not realize it himself, but right now, that man is something of a mix between Wilhelm Schultz and Major Travas.”
Silas looked at the smiling queen.
“Ah. I see.”