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Chapter 1: The Swallow, Ciel Migrateur.
Cruising at an alt.i.tude of 3,000 meters at a speed of 350 km/hr, Polaris cut through the blue skies accompanied by the sound of its own motors. Engine aside, the sounds of the open skies were incredibly unique.
While the ocean below was certainly vast, the skies seemed to extend forever in each direction, accompanied by the small patches of clouds that somehow glistened in the sun.
Both the sky and the ocean seemed to merge into each other with a spectacular gradient of blue. One could get a sense of the world's vastness all at once by just staring out the window.
This world, also known as “Noah” by its inhabitants, apparently once had a thriving population living on its lands. Legend has it that a mischievous G.o.d decided to sink everything in just one night. However, before such a thing was done, that G.o.d decided to tell one person, Noah, to build a boat (Noah was extremely handsome according to all the portraits of him around the world, so perhaps the G.o.d was a girl that liked him).
Noah didn't just build one of these ma.s.sive boats— he built tens of them. Each one of them could fit tens of thousands of people, making them more like artificial islands. Although Noah was a very rich man, the cost of doing such an endeavor exceeded what he had at the time, so he had no choice but to borrow exorbitant amounts of money to fund the whole thing.
Of course, he had his doubters. Some people thought he had gone crazy with all the money he was borrowing and mocked him endlessly. Despite that, he paid them no mind because he believed that he was doing the right thing.
And the right thing he did, as the world was soon swallowed whole. All of its land and most of its inhabitants perished under this great calamity. However, Noah, his believers, and his animals were saved by all the boats he had made. It was then that people started to sing his praises and ultimately named this new world “Noah” in his honor.
Even to this day, people lived happily ever after on his boats.
When I was young, my parents always said things like, “If you don't hurry and go to sleep, you'll also get sunk to the bottom of the ocean,” so I got the impression that there wasn't a person alive who didn't know that legend. Perhaps it was some grand storyteller that first told the tale thousands of years ago, and then the tale was embellished as people pa.s.sed it down from generation to generation to each other.
Personally, I thought it was a delightful story. The idea of being able to walk wherever you wanted—from land to land—was fantastic. That first storyteller must have had a wild imagination to think of such a thing in the first place.
Ultimately, tales were tales. Reality painted a much different picture. What surrounded me wasn't land, but rather the endless sky and ocean with their own respective shades of blue. Both were beautiful, yet extremely dangerous even if they felt so calm. One careless mistake from me meant death— Nature didn't take kindly to those who fell into the ocean.
I surveyed the area before reaching for the stream chart on my right, held in a shiny Almine silver case that never rusted no matter how old it was. My father's name, Akasha Migrateur, was carved in the top left while mine was carved right below. It was tradition to carve one's name like this whenever the chart was pa.s.sed down to one another, because it signified the chart's history, reliability, and worth. This particular chart was relatively young with just two names on it, as some had reached ten or twenty names. Despite that, this chart was priceless to me. There wasn't anything in the world I would trade for it.
Once I inserted a key in, the case folded out in all four directions, revealing a desk along with a pen and notepad. The pen, given to me by my father, was made from the long feather of an Albatore. There was also a really thick leather bounded book fastened to the whole desk. I flipped to the last page where it had all the maps of the area and opened up the right one.
It had been forty hours since I've left Vessel, and I had been looking at my instruments, the stream charts, and the view outside to plot out my course. That, combined with using my internal compa.s.s was enough for me to calculate my exact position. Next up was to make some slight adjustments to my destination, Nave.
It was essential to know your own position at all times and especially important to know how far you were from where you took off and your destination. It was far too easy to get lost in this world where everything was constantly shifting around.
Of course, the instruments on my Polaris could tell me my alt.i.tude and speed, but there was one crucial piece of data that it couldn't measure— my bearing. That had to be “felt” from within us, which we referred to as our internal compa.s.s.
According to ancient scientists, Noah was wrapped in a weak magnetic field that our internal compa.s.ses used to get our bearing. Scientists like Coulomb and Lorentz put out a bunch of theories explaining this phenomenon, but honestly I didn't understand any of it. I was sure no one alive understood it either.
The feeling of getting our bearings was hard to describe. The most common explanation was as to picture Noah's magnetic field as a stream of water that constantly washed over us. Since it always flowed the same way day and night, I would feel it if I ever changed directions.
There were rumors about having non-internal, material compa.s.ses in the very old days when Noah was still alive. These rumored compa.s.ses would be made of stone and could be used by anyone, but as convenient as they may be, to this day none of them have been found at all.
That's why those who had dull internal compa.s.ses were destined to die the moment they set out on their adventure. It was only those who had sharp senses that could travel long distances on Noah. While everyone did have their own internal compa.s.s, its effectiveness varied from person to person. Those that could only perceive up to 8 directions were labelled as D cla.s.s, while 16 directions were C cla.s.s, 32 were B, and 360 were A. In addition, S and SS cla.s.ses were reserved for those who could go even further than that, with the difference between S and SS separated into six separate cla.s.ses.
I was an S cla.s.s— the bare minimum for a Swallow.
In any case, according to my calculations, I should be arriving anytime soon.
“Should be,” I anxiously whispered to myself. “If I don't see it, that's it for me…”
After all, while things like our alt.i.tude and speed could be accurately measured, our internal compa.s.ses and the resulting calculations from it were p.r.o.ne to human error. A small margin of error was fine, but anything past that was game over.
I knew all too well how common for Swallows to set out and never make it back home. The real wonder was how long they survived for before making that crucial mistake.
My destination, Nave, was a floating country that floated around the northern currents. Right now there was a strong southern wind, so it was possible that Nave could have drifted a few hundred kilometers to the south. If that was the case, I had no choice but to follow the ocean currents and look for it. Hopefully that wasn't the case this time.
I strained my eyes as hard as I could so I wouldn't miss it, praying that I was close from the bottom of my heart. The water reflecting the bright overhead sun along with the shadows from the clouds above didn't help at all.
“Ah! Found it!” I said after struggling to find any indication of it. Luckily, I was able to catch a glimpse of the ship in the southern west area.
I took out my binoculars to confirm that it was indeed the country of Nave, and to my relief it was.
Floating countries were just as their name implied, countries that were entirely on ships. They were essentially artificial islands built on top of the boats Noah had left behind, forever riding on ocean currents, or “streams” as we called it. There were also non-moving islands that were built on actual land, but those were exceedingly rare. For one, there weren't many plots of land that were big enough to support an entire country. More importantly, any bit of land was considered a valuable resource, so the countries were constantly fighting each other to control them. Obviously, this made them not an ideal place to live in.
Nave was known as “The Iron Blade” due to its interesting architecture. It's shape was that of two spindles both facing away from each other and smashed together at the base. That base itself was nothing to scoff at— it was built extremely wide and tall with the actual city around the whole thing. There were countless number of anti-aircraft turrets lined up along the sh.o.r.e, but the main three 80-cm guns were bundled together and stationed right in the middle of the northern area. These ma.s.sive cannons had a range of 30 km and were used to fire directly at other floating countries if need be. On the southern side was the port that was conveniently used for both airplanes and ships as a dock. Last but not least, a towering fortress stood right in the middle of the whole thing. While a fortress like that wasn't rare, the fact that it was painted jet-black made it seem very sinister.
Nave was always in constant battle over ten or so of the northern islands, so it's no wonder why it was this fortified. From their standpoint, intimidation and showing off their military prowess was just as important as fighting actual battles.
On the other hand, while they certainly succeeded in the intimidation aspect, it didn't seem like a pleasant place to live.
I reached for my transmitter, flipped to Nave's information page on my stream chart, and opened communications with them.
“This is Nave aircraft control,” they said to me after I successfully connected. “State your name, your aircraft's registration, and your affiliation.”
“My name is Ciel Migrateur. My aircraft's name is Polaris with registration number S006. I am a Swallow from the Vessel's Guild of Swallows. Requesting permission to land in the seaport.”
“Roger that. Sec.” they replied, before immediately cutting the transmission.
They were blunt and a bit rude, but nothing I wouldn't expect from a warring country. Besides, I didn't get a good feeling from the way they told me to wait.
I flew around Nave once to get a good look at everything it had, but I spotted an interceptor aircraft had taking from one of their airport hangars as I made my way back to around. Looks like my intuition was right.
My transmission line lit up again as I received a message from them.
“This is Nave aircraft control. We have finished processing Polaris's request to land. We recognize your family name Migrateur as a trusted Swallow, but we do not recognize your first name, Ciel.”
I thought they would say that.
“As such, we do not give you permission to land.”
“I have cargo on board,” I radioed back, this time doing my best to speak with more power and authority. “Can I proceed with that, then?”
Earning trust was just another one of the Swallow's necessary work, and it wasn't something we could take lightly.
“Of course. Let's see if you really live up to the Migrateur name.”
This time the aircraft controller sounded much more enthusiastic in his reply. Likewise, the aircraft that just took off sent me a message of his own.
“My name is Klyce Alouette,” he said, this time through a public channel. “I'm part of Nave's Special Operations Air Force Division.”
His voice was quite young compared to the aircraft controller's. However, the fact that he was in the spec ops meant that he was one of their top pilots of Nave, nonetheless. His skill was not to be underestimated.
No matter where I went, my father's name would always be brought up. Sometimes, I wish others would think about how hard it was to live up to his name.
I could see people gathering on the ground to watch the upcoming spectacle. The didn't seem all that worried about being close to the upcoming dogfight. Perhaps events like these were considered entertainment to country constantly at war.
“Ciel Migrateur of Vessel's Swallow Guild. As per our rules and regulations, you will eliminate all others trying to get at your cargo. Is this okay?”
And with that, the transmission was cut off once again, so I immediately got my throttles ready. Klyce's craft approached from the front, but the battle wouldn't begin until we flew by each other.
“Those wings are quite circular, and it's body is narrow,” I said to myself. “Hmm… it must be a Spitfire.”
Spitfire archetypes were widely used by the northern countries, presumably for their speed and ease in intercepting other aircraft. Unfortunately, people nowadays were completely clueless on what const.i.tuted good aircraft designs and other things like that. The technology that originated from Noah's generation was all but lost, so while we relied on their stuff to survive, we had very little idea on how they worked. What humanity was able to build now was no match for what they could do before.
Every now and then remnants of the past would be found in islands or in the ocean. We called those remnants “archetypes,” and many countries reverse engineered their design to create similar crafts of their own.
The Spitfire's most notable characteristic were their round, elliptical wings which gave them their stability. It was very easy to stay in control even in high speeds.
The fact that it had that probably meant that his aircraft was better objectively, but I didn't mind that at all. A pilot's skill must also be taken into account during battle.
I pulled my control wheel sideways and down while pushing on the throttle, causing my plane to pull up and around. In a dogfight, it was important to always have the alt.i.tude advantage. Firing downwards was easy, but the same couldn't be said upwards.
As my plane pulled around, I saw that Klyce was also doing the exact same thing, albeit his maneuver was much faster than I had antic.i.p.ated. He finished his turn first and came towards me.
“He must be going at least 600 km per hour, so that craft's around 2,000 horsepower, huh…”
I wondered if he had some sort of new model. Since the Polaris's perpetual engine only had 1,500 horsepower at a top speed of 550 km per hour, he could easily catch up to me even at my max output.
So this was what Noah had to offer. I went full throttle and continued to pull upwards even if Klyce was faster in that regard. My engine wheezed and whizzed, but I ultimately managed to position myself behind him.
However, I couldn't hold onto that advantage for long. Klyce attempted a quick somersault to loop around and swoop down behind me just as I got the angle on him. To counter that, I immediately stopped climbing up and instead did a half-circle turn downwards away from him to get some distance.
“d.a.m.n it, he really is fast…”
Even though my maneuver put us back to back with each other, he swerved around behind me without so much a drop in speed.
What frightening speed— though I expected nothing less. If there was anyone Nave would send out to meet me, it would be a skillful pilot with a top of the line aircraft.
“Man, I don't know if I can do this,” I said to myself.
My father could probably do some fancy maneuver to get behind him, but I wasn't a beast of a pilot like he was. While he could easy juke around thirty different planes without getting hit once, I was still learning how to fight with just the basics.
I turned my head around to get a quick glimpse of him now that he was behind me. Luckily, I knew that it wasn't long before he would pull the trigger, so I just had to predict when that would be.
I carefully kept tabs on the both of us and waited for the moment our planes lined up perfectly, because I knew that's the moment he would pull the trigger.
The moment our planes were perfectly aligned, I banked my plane down just above sea level right in time to see a burst of bullets go over me.
I continued to go lower and lower, even though crashing into the ocean was the equivalent of flying straight into a concrete wall at these speeds. The closer I got to the surface, the more I could make up for my lack of horsepower. He would have a much harder time chasing me near the water than at higher alt.i.tudes.
Now that we were right at sea level, I began some evasive maneuvers left and right by swinging my rudder back and forth in an attempt to throw him off my trail. That proved to be futile as he calmly stayed right on me, although waiting to shoot until he had the perfect opportunity.
He was playing it safe— too safe, and I knew how to handle these types of fighters. I had been on the defensive this whole fight, but now it was time for a change in pace. It was time to show him what I got.
We were quickly approaching the city with all its spectators on the streets. I wondered if they were enjoying this fight, because I surely was.
I pushed my throttle to the max once again and rose to fly above the north part of the city where there numerous lookout towers and gun turrets scattered around. Obviously, I had to avoid them if I didn't want to crash and die and to do that I had to be absolutely focused.
I gripped my control wheel tighter and concentrated on not hitting anything as I weaved and weaved, even around a wall that just happened to be in my way. However, the more I dodged the more I felt connected to my plane. Soon, Polaris's white wings started to feel like an extension of my own body, and its rudder seemed to be controlled by through my instincts.
In this life and death situation, I became one with Polaris.
My weaving left and right through all the towers and turrents must have made the spectators nervous, but Klyce was still hot on my tail.
“Well then, how about this!”
I flew past the city and accelerated towards the ma.s.sive black fortress in the middle as if I was going to ram straight into it, turning the fight into a game of fortress chicken. The first one to swerve out of the way would lose the advantage by giving the other an opportunity to get behind.
The wind howled, the sky tore apart, and the sights around me unraveled as if I was arriving on death's door. Yet I wasn't scared— everything just felt so natural to me. My father loved the skies, and this was his plane.
“I only know one thing in life, and that's how to fly this plane!” my father used to say. “Isn't that enough of a reason for doing what I do?”
I smiled at the thought of that. As his son, I was born ready for this.
At the very last moment, right before I was going to crash, I banked away from the black fortress. The resulting gust of wind from my maneuver bounced off of it and back to my ship, giving me a boost into the open sky.
Klyce had turned away before I did as I had antic.i.p.ated, so I was able to get the advantage of being behind him.
“Wow, you got me!” he radioed to me just before I was about to pull the trigger on him. “I surrender!”
I was impressed. Not only were his skills top notch, he also knew when to stop.
I guess I admired him a little too long because he took that moment to shake his plane sideways as if to give me a round of applause.
Not only did I receive permission to land, after doing so I was granted an audience with the King of Nave himself, Schwert Nave Falke.
“That was amazing!” he said, giving me a solid pat on the shoulder.. “You may have even caught up to your father!”
“N-No way…” I replied back.
“Your battle reminded me of the day your father first came to Nave.”
“I still have a long ways to go,” I reiterated humbly.
But after I said that, Schwert suddenly glared back at me .
“What did you say?”
“You bested us just now, and yet you say you still lots to go… So where does that leave my troops? Huh? Did you come here just to humiliate me?”
I frantically shook my head. “N-No, that's not what I meant!”
I guess I wasn't supposed to take him seriously because he just busted out laughing.
“It's a joke.”
“You looked so shy I just wanted to scare you a bit!” he said with a huge grin. “At least you aren't like your dad in that regard. You know, the world needs people like you! If there's only people like me it'll go way south!”
He let out another huge roar of laughter that echoed across the whole room.
“Ha, ha, ha…” I let out softly. I really wasn't good at dealing with boisterous people like him, but I made sure my face didn't show it. Instead, I just forced out a smile.
“Oh yeah, hey! I have something for you.”
He clapped his hands once and an attendant immediately popped in with two bars of gold.
“Gold!?!?” I couldn't believe my eyes. The two bars were 500 grams each with a total of one kilogram. They were worth about 4,000,000 gotes— a sum of money that could easily last me the whole year.
“Please take these as an apology for earlier,” said Schwert.
“W-Wait a second! I can't take these… I didn't work for any of them!”
Schwert frowned. “Aren't you the stubborn one,” he said. “It's okay, you don't have to hold back! It's a gift from me.”
“I still can't…”
“Fine, how about this?” he said. He grabbed one of the ingots with his right hand and held it in front of his face. “This one is for the brilliant battle you displayed for all of us, and this—”
He then used his left hand to grab the other ingot.
“This is for when you agree to continue your father's legacy as ‘The White Wing'. You won't have any problems with this then, right?”
I couldn't say no to that, especially after he gave out another hearty laugh.
“Then let's make this an official contract. Ciel, your stream chart please.”
With a nod, I opened my stream chart and handed him the chart book fastened inside. He turned to Nave's page, but suddenly stopped once he looked over it.
“I see I signed this for your father, too. It's amazing that he was able to build up this chart to this extent… As a Swallow loved by the ocean, sky, and wind alike, he was truly worthy of the name ‘The White Wing.'”
I winced on the inside— I always did when people talked about my father. There was always so much pressure to carry on his legacy since people always expected me to be as great or even better a Swallow than he was.
“Yes, your majesty,” I said with a smile, again hiding what I really felt on the inside. “I'm sure my father would be happy to hear that.”
I always had to carry the impression of being eager to follow in my father's footsteps, because naturally that's what was expected of me. It's been a duty I had to fulfill ever since I became a Swallow.
Being a Swallow meant that I had to connect with other people and countries. That's why it was important for me to be liked and respected, and equally important for me to reciprocate those feelings. There was no room at all for my personal feelings. That luxury was lost the moment I set out on my adventure.
Schwert rose up from his throne and handed me back my chart book.
“I, King Schwert Nave Falke of Nave, Royally Decree that Ciel Migrateur, ‘The White Wing,' shall receive Nave's stream chart. Please accept it.”
“Thank you very much.”
On Nave's page, under the signature addressed to my father, the following was written:Nave has officially formed a contract with the Swallow, Ciel Migrateur. -The King of Nave, Schwert Nave Falke
“Now that all the official stuff has been done, come! Let's go drink!”
“Umm, but I'm a minor…”
“Minor in Vessel, maybe?”
“Probably a minor in Nave, too.”
“I've never heard of us having such a law!”
“Your majesty, Ciel here is too young to drink even in our country…” an attendant chipped in.
“What'd you say? What a useless law!!”
Yeah, I really didn't mesh well with him…
Travelling around as a Swallow was a troublesome yet delicate ordeal. Whether a journey went well or not depended completely on his or her stream chart.
Because all the floating countries around the world followed their own ocean current, most of their routes were different from one another. There were some that followed huge currents, some that followed smaller ones, and even some that hung around in the center. Each country defined a year as how long it took them to make one round, so a year differed in length from country to country. That's why stream charts were so crucial. They contained precious information on how these currents operated.
Although Noah had huge floating countries sailing around, no one could create any more new ones in the current day. While crops and produce could be grown on the ships, things like metal, oil, and coal could not. Countries always had a shortage of land and supplies, thus relying a great deal on islands where those things could be mined underground.
The problem occurred when the same island was in the paths of more than one country. In that case, each of those countries sent their own troops onto it and reinforced them once a year when they pa.s.sed by again. As a result, there was essentially a never ending battle for dominance.
It wouldn't be too bad if that was the only problem, but it wasn't. The real problem lied when two countries met face to face. The battles that resulted then led to huge casualties, and sometimes whole countries were even wiped out.
That's why a country's stream chart was considered highly cla.s.sified information because the whole country would be in danger if that got leaked.
Despite all that, there were times when countries still wanted to work with each other and form alliances. That's where we Swallows come in. We were the middleman between countries to act as some sort of cushion, due to our keen sense of direction and planes that could fly on forever with the help of perpetual motion engines pa.s.sed down from generation to generation. As a result, we were able to travel from country to country.
We only received a country's stream chart if we earned their trust and formed a contract with them. Because the stream chart was essentially the lifeline of tens of thousands of people living in that country, they had to take great care in handing them out. The stream chart my father left for me contained the paths of 15 of these countries and 176 island locations, so it really wasn't an exaggeration to say that it was more valuable than my life.
When a stream chart was pa.s.sed down to the next generation, the person on the receiving end must be approved through a recommendation letter or a will from the previous owner. In addition, the Swallow Guild had a series of tests to determine whether that person would be suitable to receive it. The more valuable the stream chart, the harder these tests would be.
But just receiving a stream chart also didn't mean the countries would suddenly start trusting the new successor. If I were to carry on my father's legacy, it meant that I had to take on the trust these countries had in him. In other words, I had to earn it myself.
I was forever grateful that the King of Nave was able to give me his trust. Thanks to that, I found a new purpose in traveling the skies.
Honestly, I wasn't that interested in the job itself or even the pay of being a Swallow. Right now, each letter I carried from Vessel was about 300,000 gotes, but to me that was way too much. I wouldn't even mind carrying them around for free.
The real reason I was doing all this was just because I loved flying, yet as the person inheriting the name “White Wing,” I had to fly with an obligation. To me, being a Swallow was nothing more than an excuse to go from place to place while satisfying my love for the skies.
After my visit with the King in the central fortress, I was finally able to go deliver a letter to someone in the city, the original thing I came here to do in the first place.
The streets of Nave were terribly complicated and way too easy to get lost in. Perhaps it was made this way to give them an better defender's advantage if they were ever invaded by a rival country.
That didn't mean the area was dangerous, though. The narrow streets were accompanied by the even narrower houses, and everything, including the people, just felt so close together. I couldn't count the amount of times I saw people walking on the pedestrian bridges above suddenly exchange greetings with someone they knew down on the streets.
What a cozy place to live in.
“Now, where am I…” I wondered after hitting yet another dead-end. As I had expected, navigating these streets were tough. There were only so many dead-ends I could come across before I lost it.
After wandering aimlessly for a while more, someone suddenly called out to me.
“Hey, you,” a young man said from behind me.
He was big and tall, but gave off a very amicable vibe due to his large blue eyes and his naturally flowing blonde hair. I knew he belonged to the military because his brown jacket had Nave's country flag sewed onto it.
“Umm, I'm not a suspicious person, since I'm here to—” I muttered. I began explain myself but was cut off by his chuckle.
“No no no,” he said as he shook his head. “I just noticed you walking back and forth between the same two places. You lost?”
“Uhh… No. Wait, huh?” I responded with a blank face.
“Ah, you aren't? Sorry about that, then. Have a nice day.”
He turned to leave, but I instinctively shouted out to him before he was able to do so.
“W-Wait! I am lost!”
“A Swallow, huh? Wait, you were the pilot of Polaris? You're Ciel Migrateur?!” he said with an incredulous expression.
“I thought you were good, not great, if that makes sense,” he continued.
Even though this guy really didn't hold back on his words, I didn't mind. His words were harsh, but he had good intentions.
“I get that a lot…” I replied. “Were you watching the whole thing from below?”
“Ah, sorry, I haven't introduced myself, haven't I? I'm a member of the Nave's Air Force First Fighter Division, Klyce Alouette.”
“Klyce… wait, so you're—”
“Yup! I was the pilot of the Spitfire you bested.”
What a coincidence. At this point, all we could do was to just exchange awkward smiles.
“But still, at your age that is quite an accomplishment. In theory I had the better craft, better engine, and I knew the area better, so I should have had every advantage… but I still lost.”
Klyce laughed bitterly. He was professional enough not to show it, but I could tell he was still frustrated by his loss.
I didn't know to to respond to that. There had to be something I could say that would be good for both him and I. If I responded by saying that wasn't true it might cause some more bitterness from him. On the other hand, it might make me seem too arrogant if I said he fought well or just simply agreed with him.
What should I respond with? I still didn't know. It's times like this when I wished I was an adult who could calmly talk his way out of this situation on a good note, but alas I was just a child who didn't know what to do.
Our conversation halted because I didn't respond with anything at all. Instead, I continued to follow Klyce as he led me to my destination address. I just wish I knew how to talk to people better— my social skills were never that good.
After climbing a small hill, Klyce suddenly asked me a question out of the blue.
“Hey, why couldn't I win against you?”
I thought about that for a bit before answering with, “Instead of playing your own game, you were in mine. If you hadn't entered the city behind me, who knows what could have happened.”
“Well, I couldn't turn down a challenge like that under my own skies.”
“No, that's not it,” I said, nodding my head. “Your Spitfire completely outcla.s.ses mine in the speed department, but in terms of maneuvering I had the slight edge with my smaller turns. In that case, since I brought you into the city, I had the advantage. Plus, my perpetual engine is better at these precise speeds than your gasoline one. If you had chosen your battles better, maybe like in more open skies where you could abuse your speed in a more dynamic way—”
I stopped in my tracks the moment I noticed Klyce not saying anything.
“Ah sorry, I sound really c.o.c.ky, don't I…”
“Not at all. I finally feel like I understand why I didn't win…” he said with a genuine smile this time. He seemed happier, but I couldn't tell for sure. “Hey, did you think that fight was fun?”
“Yeah, a little bit.”
“I knew it…” he whispered. “You know, I was really scared. When we were in that city and I was behind you, it was truly frightening.”
He paused for a moment to look up at the sky. “You still got that calculating mind in you when you're in the air. You understood what your strengths and weaknesses are and put me in a position where you could abuse your advantages. On the other hand, I was so caught up in my pride and arrogance that I didn't see the path to victory. That's why I lost.”
I was so taken aback by his words that I didn't say anything back. I must have made a weird face too because Klyce just stared at me.
“Ah, nothing… I just never thought of that before.”
Klyce heard me say that and burst out laughing in a manner similar to the King's. Unfortunately, I felt a little nervous because I didn't understand why he was laughing.
“Then, what do you think about when you fly?”
“What I think about?”
“Yeah, what goes on in your mind?”
I took a moment to think about it to no avail.
“I don't know…” I finally answered.
“You don't know what you think about?”
“Maybe I just don't think about anything?”
“Could be,” he replied.
“What about you, Klyce?” I asked. I was surprised that this time it was me who furthered the conversation. “What do you think about in the sky?”
“My own death, and soon my opponent's,” he promptly replied.
I gulped. What a strong response.
“I was born to fight,” he continued. “That's why my duty is to take my enemies down so I don't get taken down instead.”
For me, I had never killed another pilot in my life. Even though I've partic.i.p.ated in numerous battles so far, I made sure to either deal some light damage to make them retreat or retreat myself. As a Swallow, my job was to protect the cargo I have on board. I didn't need to use my machine gun to do that even in a fight.
On the other hand, Klyce did not hesitate to use his machine gun. His only purpose was to fight, fight, and fight. It was such an obvious fact with him being in the military and all, but I still couldn't wrap my head around it.
“It's depressing… isn't it,” I said softly.
Klyce shook his head. “I don't think so.”
“If I fight, someone else won't have to.”
I finally understood a bit of what he was trying to say, but I couldn't tell if those were just empty words or his actual logical reasoning. Whatever the case, I maintained my belief that it wasn't a good thing.
“So you're sacrificing yourself to save other people?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“So it is depressing…”
“I don't think it's a bad thing, though. I want to protect people and keep them safe,” he said, speaking more to himself than to me.
I didn't say anything more and just opted to walk in silence. But after a while, he asked me another question out of the blue.
“Hey, why did you become a Swallow?”
“I needed a reason to fly,” I replied without hesitation.
“Yeah. I took my father's—Akasha Migrateur's—Polaris and nickname, The White Wing, in order to fly. With that on the line, I needed to become a Swallow.”
“Oh…” he replied, seemingly deep in thought. He stayed quiet for a few more moments before blurting one last thing out.
“That's kinda depressing…” he said, ironically in the same way I did before.
“You became a Swallow so you could fly, right?”
I nodded, and Klyce smiled.
“I would think that people wanted to fly so they could eventually become Swallows, and not the other way around.”
I thought carefully about what he said, yet I couldn't fully grasp it. His words were like a rainbow—so close that I felt like I understood, but so far that I felt like I had no clue what he meant.
“Is it so bad to take the skies just because you wanted to? For your own satisfaction?” I asked softly.
“Of course not. I think it's great… but it's just not for me,” he replied before stopping. “Alright, we've arrived. This is the place.”
We arrived at our destination before I even realized it. I was so focused on our conversation that I couldn't tell how long we talked for.
“You know Ciel, I'm glad I was able to talk to you.”
I nodded. “Thanks for leading the way,” I said.
Klyce started to walk away, but turned back once to say one last thing.
“I hope one day you'll find an actual reason for being a Swallow.”
I gave him a small bow and went to go knock on the door. This was a letter that had to be delivered.
A young girl wearing an ap.r.o.n and a headband answered, so I a.s.sumed she was probably one of the maids.
“I'm Ciel Migrateur from Vessel's Swallow Guild. I have a letter to deliver.”
“A Swallow?!?” she said, quickly leading me to a small reception room. “Please wait here for a moment! I'll go bring the boss here.”
She frantically hurried off. They must have not been expecting me.
After a while, an older gentlemen came into the room. His hair had long turned white and was cleanly swept back, but even in his old age he seemed very strong. He was also wearing a shiny navy-colored authentic wool jacket. Because a good amount of land and gra.s.s was required to raise the sheep for their wool, his jacket alone certainly fetched a high price.
“I was surprised to hear I had something from Vessel,” he said. “Who's it from?”
“An old war buddy,” I replied, “in the sender's own words.”
I reached into my peach-colored leather bag and took out a single letter that was sealed by a dash of red wax.
He examined the letter carefully before taking a knife and neatly cutting it open.
“Now, who could it be…” he said as he read the contents. “Yes… yes… indeed it is from an old war buddy. This brings back memories.”
He smiled, then looked back up at me.
“Did you know the person who sent this letter?”
“Huh? Oh, no I didn't. I was only the messenger.”
It was an unspoken understanding among all Swallows not to mess with the delivery content and not to pry into the lives of the senders and receivers. On a similar note, Swallows weren't responsible for what the senders chose to send. As long as the Swallows got paid, they were down to deliver anything. They just weren't responsible for the content.
Perhaps this tradition gradually manifested because of the necessity to transport questionable goods that would cause diplomatic problems between the countries. That's why I never tried to pry deeper than the absolute minimum. It would only open a whole new can of worms.
“I'm sure he was happy to talk to a young Swallow like yourself. The sender was once a Swallow too, you know,” he said. Although he was looking straight at me, his mind seemed to have wandered off into his own past. ” And me, even though you can't see it in me now, I was once in the Nave Air Force.”
I nodded. No wonder he looked strong for his age.
“It's been a long time…” he continued. “He was on his way to Nave to deliver something when he was attacked by another country's corsair. We got out of that together… I'm surprised I still remember it.”
He took his time thinking of his past before continuing.
“Do you still have some time?”
“I do. I'm just here to deliver that letter,” I replied with a smile.
“Could you wait a bit, then? I'd like to send a reply.”
“It'd be my pleasure.”
“I'll go tell the maids to prepare the fee. Go ahead and make yourself at home. If there's anything you need, please don't hesitate to ask any of us.”
“Thank you very much.”
“I'm really happy you came today. Now, excuse me for a bit.”
He gave me a bow and joyfully left the room.
Most recipients usually wrote back when they received a letter. In general, letters usually costed around 200,000 to 400,000 gotes to deliver, more if the distance was greater, making it a considerable amount of money to spend. Most people didn't even spend that amount in a month. Of course, while many of the clients were wealthy, the reason to use these services went beyond money.
In a world where countries were closed off to each other, people were willing to spend any amount of money just to have any semblance of communication with their friends across the ocean. When I was young, my father used to tell me it was a huge luxury to meet people from around the world. That's why he believed that being a Swallow who could do such things was a blessing.
Although I understood his words perfectly, I couldn't see why for myself. Everyone was always so happy when I made a delivery which made me put on a happy face, but what I felt couldn't be further from my facade. Sometimes I felt stressed to the point where I had some trouble breathing, and sometimes life just felt too difficult.
I wondered why meeting other people was even considered a good thing in the first place.
Was what I was doing really that important?
I received his reply later that day and departed from Nave. Luckily, the two countries drifted closer to each other during the time I was here, so the trip back would be faster. By flying for about six hours and then stopping overnight at a place not affected by any ocean currents, I should be able to reach Vessel by noon tomorrow.
And just as I had calculated, I reached Vessel as the sun rose up the next day.
A country's appearance told a lot about its history. Vessel, for example, looked completely different than Nave. Unlike Nave with its heavily fortified artillery-filled exterior, Vessel had a more scenic view among its towns. In the center of those towns stood a glittering, almost fairy-tale like castle that reflected the sun back like a mirror.
Vessel was also known as the “Princess the of Ocean” due to its abundance of resources with its everlasting peace. Countries like it were few and far between, because it required them to have an ocean current that pa.s.sed by many islands without any other countries getting in the way. As a result, it was able to produce resources efficiently from its absolute monopoly over the islands.
Even from afar, Vessel looked like it was just oozing with wealth.
As I approached, I tuned to the right frequency and opened communication lines with their control tower.
“This is Ciel Migrateur of Vessel's Swallow Guild.”
“Oh hey, Ciel, welcome back. You're good to land.”
I couldn't count how many times I made that same exact call to them, so they must have been really familiar with me by now. The could probably even recognize my craft just by looking at it after having seen it numerous times.
“Please land in your usual port 16.”
“Will do— It's good to be back.”
I always felt a little nervous every time I replied with, “It's good to be back.” Somehow, I just couldn't get used to saying it.
In any case, I cut communications and looped around to the south side to land.
After I landed, I immediately headed to the fortress. I've seen it so many times, but I always felt overwhelmed seeing it. It was ma.s.sive, as people had to really strain their necks to see the top, yet so clean and pristine that it felt like the stairway to heaven. I've seen so many fortresses since I had become a Swallow and none of them were as magnificent and grandiose and this one.
After arriving, I was led by some imperial guards up the elevator and into the throne room..
“I, Swallow Ciel Migrateur, have just returned,” I said, kneeling.
“Good on you for coming back safe. Come, get up,” the King replied.
His name was Sole Vessel Ca.n.a.l. While he was around fifty years old, he had an aura of intensity within him that made him seem much younger. Because of his outstanding ability to maintain and even expand the nation's wealth and resources, he was known as, “The Wise King.”
“This was your first trip to Nave, wasn't it? Especially now that you've taken the mantle ‘The White Wing' after Akasha. How was it?”
“When I arrived I was challenged to a dogfight. After that, I was granted an audience with the king, where he told me…” I paused with a bitter laugh. “I was as good as my father and where I made a promise with him.”
Sole's eyes lit up. “I see! Who was your opponent?”
“Someone called Klyce Alouette from Nave's Special Air Force Division. He was an excellent fighter.”
“For someone to make you of all people to say that… he must have been pretty good.”
I nodded. I could talk for days about Klyce's skills, but I figured Sole was probably interested in his aircraft as well.
“His aircraft was ridiculous too,” I added. “It was just a Spitfire archetype, but it probably was a new model beyond what we could develop. From my estimates he was going about 600 km/hr, and could probably push it to around 650.”
“I see… If that's the case we're completely outcla.s.sed in that department, aren't we.”
“We are. It could very well still be a prototype, but that aircraft had at least 2,000 horsepower.”
Sole frowned and stayed quiet for a while, thinking.
“In any case, I appreciate the info,” he finally said. “You have my thanks. I hope you'll continue to support our country from now on.”
“Thank you very much,” I said with a bow, and promptly took my leave.
“This is completely unrelated, but have you been to any other nearby countries recently other than Nave?”
“I haven't. My last job spanned from the island Divel to the country Barco.”
“Barco, huh? That's quite the distance from here.”
“Yeah. I spent all my time there, so I haven't done anything around here,” I replied. “Was there a country you were interested in?”
“Ah, no. Sorry for the random question.”
Because people rarely traveled to different countries, it was hard for countries to get intel on each other. In fact, the main source of that was from us Swallows. When we returned from our mission, we usually brought back information like new royalty, alliances, or wars regarding the countries, and even things like new technological developments or expansions within their military. Sometimes we even took intel like that as payment.
I was sure my observations on Nave's gasoline engines were valuable and would even prove useful to me in the future.
After my meeting with the King, I delivered the reply letter back to the original requester, and went for a stroll downtown around the shops packed up and down the gentle brick slopes.
It was quite a lively sight. There were waves upon waves of people on the street, and the sparkling clean buildings seemed to span from the bottom of the hills up to the top reaches of the sky. At this point, this energy and liveliness might as well be a trademark of Vessel at this point.
I aimed to buy around two weeks worth of food and supplies for every trip downtown. For me, these food consisted mainly of salted pork and smoked beef along with other things like vegetables, eggs, and bread.
The amazing thing was that Vessel rarely had any shortages, unlike other countries where sometimes there just wasn't enough food and supplies to sell. To them, Vessel had incredible purchasing options.
Luckily, I had planned some time for myself beforehand, so I was able to take my time in buying everything. Right now, Vessel was about 1,000 km from a small island in the northeast called Sunk Tierra. My father was the one who found this island and I had been sneaking to and from it ever since then.
I planned to spend a week on this island to relax from work. After all, I did get a year's worth of money from my work in Nave, so why not?
I loaded my back seat with all the food and supplies I bought during the day and left Vessel around evening time. The wind was nice and peaceful, but above that, the sunset was beautiful. The red glow of the sun danced with the sky and ocean around it, producing an almost painting-like image of the horizon.
With a deep breath, I flew right into that painting. I loved to see the sky change colors like this up close because I truly believed it was the most beautiful sight in the world.
After flying for about three hours, I finally reached the little pesized island, Sunk Tierra. It would have been great if we had discovered it earlier, but it was in an area where no ocean currents went through and was really hard to spot in the air. In fact, the only people who knew of this island were my father and a few of his close Swallow a.s.sociates.
My father had built a huge pier to land in and a hut inside a small crescent shaped inlet.
As I descended down, I couldn't help but notice the scenery around me again. The sky was now a fainter red from the setting sun, but it was enough to make the sand on the beach glitter. The water itself was as clear as could be, and beyond that the hut and its surrounding luscious forest stood in plain view.
This truly was heaven on earth. Even calling Sunk Tierra “A Sacred Place” wouldn't have been much of an exaggeration. There's no telling how much money and resources people were willing to spend for this island.
I guess the fact that I was thinking about how much this island was worth upon seeing its beauty meant I was either getting more mature or just thinking degenerate thoughts.
I carefully landed my plane on the pier, causing it to sink a little with a creaking sound. The pier itself mostly floated on top of the water, so it kind of wobbled around when I walked on top of it.
“What a nostalgic sight…” I couldn't help but whisper to myself.
The last time I came here was when I was seven years old. At that time, my father brought me here, but quickly returned to Vessel without saying a word. Once he did, I was stuck on this island alone for four days.
Back then I really thought I was going to die, even though I could laugh about it now. I cried and cried until my eyes were swollen red as I laid on the beach looking up at the night sky.
The sight before my eyes was overwhelming that night. The sky itself looked as if someone threw a bunch of jewels into a black void, and it was breathtaking enough to make me forget about my situation for a brief moment. It was such a spectacular array of brightly lit colors.
I hadn't been able to see a sight like that ever before. The sights from the cities I'd visited or even from Polaris couldn't even come close to it.
That night, I realized that even this world could have its beautiful moments.
The next day, I lazed around for half a day before spending the other half trying to start a fire from the little knowledge I could remember. Luckily, I was able to do it and even caught some fish along the way. On the third day, I created some traps and had them catch my fish for me. I tried eating the gra.s.s for more food, but of course I had to eat a little first and wait an hour to see if it was really okay or not. While it didn't cause any problems for me leaving me no choice but to eat it, it was excruciatingly bitter.
When the sun went down, I trembled in fear from the sounds of the surround wild animals, so I stayed by the fireplace with a blanket in the hut and waited for daybreak.
I learned so much from the island in just four days. Things like the difficulty of getting something to eat, the horrifying nights, the beautiful sky, the whims of the ocean, the life of the forest, and most importantly, the sheer size of the world compared to me.
To me, this island had been a learning experience.
I creaked open the door to the hut and brushed off the resulting dust that got on my clothes. Inside, nothing had changed at all— everything was how I remembered it to be.
There were certainly some cleaning to be done, but I didn't have to clean everything immediately. Right now, just the bed was enough. Since the wood wasn't rotting or anything vile like that, I thought to just make the bed first tonight. I wasn't in a hurry to do anything from having all the time in the world.
It was already dark after I carried all my luggage and supplies into the hut. After doing so, I lit up a lantern and headed to the beach like I used to do when I was younger.
I had my whole next week planned… or not planned, depending on how I looked at it. I would do whatever I wanted all day and night, and sleep and wake up whenever I wanted. I would cook all the delicious food I wanted to cook, and see the beautiful sights Noah had to offer.
That would be how I spent the following week… or so I believed. Somehow I got the feeling that this island wasn't as cut off from the rest of the world as I thought. The moment I stepped out of the hut, I instantly noticed that something was odd.
“What… is that?”
There was something on the beach that looked like some driftwood. This piqued my interest enough for me to walk up and confirm, and when I did, I realized that I was completely wrong. It's faint outline indicated that it was something more like a lump of cloth. It wasn't until I was shining a light right next to it that I knew exactly what it was.
“A person!??!” I fell over in shock. The cloth I spotted turned out to be her white clothes, and now I was close enough to see her hands, face, feet… everything.
I regained my composure and slowly crept up to her small frame while shining a light on her face. I had initially thought that she was dead because her skin was as white as snow, but I was able to hear her faint breathing when I brought my ear up to her face.
She was breathing, which meant she was still alive for the time being. I felt her hand— it was shockingly cold, probably from being out in the ocean for a while. I needed to get her warmed up.
I picked her up after a bit of hesitation. She was small, but her clothes had absorbed enough water that she was heavier than I had antic.i.p.ated. I was extra careful not to drop her as I brought her back to the hut.
With her in my arms, I could tell from her face that she was in distress, so I hurried back to the hut and laid her down onto my bed. I was at a loss of what to do— it didn't help that my arms were dead tired, too.
Right now she was soaked to the bone in seawater. It wouldn't take long at this rate for her to fall into hypothermia, but to warm her up efficiently I would have to take off her wet clothes first. Of course, taking her clothes off when she was unconscious didn't exactly seem like the right choice to make. What if she suddenly woke up?
I hesitated and looked over her face. She was pretty, but her struggling expression told me that she was barely holding onto her life— I had to do something fast.
What could I do? Even taking off her clothes didn't seem straightforward. From what I could see, she was wearing a white one piece with a short white coat on the outside which was connected to a series of strings that wrapped around her back and right into her choker. She was also wearing some sort of pendant, but I couldn't get see it completely because it was tucked away in her clothes.
“I-It's impossible,” I said, trying to keep a respectable distance but also figuring out a way to take off her jacket.
Everything seemed connected to her choker, so I had to unfasten that first. That being said, there wasn't an obvious place where I could do that.
“It has to be in the inside of the choker,” I concluded. I carefully slid my fingers through her silky blue hair and right into her choker. The b.u.t.ton was indeed inside.
Unfastening the b.u.t.ton with one hand proved to be difficult.
Sorry, just hold on for a bit longer.
She looked like she was having a nightmare, and her breathing was getting more erratic by the second.
I gently lifted the b.u.t.ton against her neck, climbed onto the bed right next to her, and wrapped my other hand around her head to get a better grip. My hand was just barely touching her face, but I looked away and focused on the task at hand.
Luckily, I was able to unfasten it without putting too much pressure on her. Her face even seemed to relax a bit after I took off her choker. With that, I was able to take off her outer coat, and everything seemed straightforward from there. Her long navy-colored gloves came off easily too.
I had to constantly tell myself there was no other choice because I felt I was touching her way too much.
In the end, I was able to take off everything but her one piece, her pendant, and her long socks. Yup, there was no way I was going any further.
I then somehow wrapped two layers of blankets around her with even more trouble than before and hung her wet clothes up to dry near my fireplace. Yes, I was certainly dead tired, but I couldn't rest now since I had to warm up the room first. Too much cold air had entered in beforehand, making the temperature unsuitable for her.
If I recalled correctly, there were firewood in the back storage room. After carrying them back, I laid them onto the fireplace and used a match to light a fire onto some tinder. Only when the fire was strong enough did I lay the thicker wood onto it.
The room warmed up enough to where I was getting hot. I stripped down to a single shirt and went back to check up on her.
Her face was slowly but surely becoming more relaxed, and more importantly, she wasn't as pale as before.
It seemed like things were stabilizing which finally gave me time to think about the whole situation. The closest place to here was the island Divel in the northwest, but even that was about 700 kilometers away. It wasn't a distance she could float through in the ocean.
I was happy that I made it in time to help her, but I wondered what to do after she woke up. Hopefully there wouldn't be much trouble for the both of us.
“Ugh…” I woke up to the sound of some blankets ruffling around.
I must have been more tired than I thought to fall asleep so suddenly, or maybe it was her soft breathing that somehow rocked me to sleep. It had been long enough that the fire had gone out and left a pile of ash and coal.
“Ummm…” I heard, still half asleep. Her voice sounded so pure and pleasing that I rubbed my eyes and turned around.
She had finally woken up and was holding the blanket I put over her, but the look in her big, blue eyes indicated that she was feeling uneasy.