Toaru Hikuushi e no Tsuioku Volume 1 Chapter 4

Numerous clouds came from behind, flew by Fana's side, and vanished beyond her sight.

This wasn't Fana's first flight. She'd crossed the central ocean in aerial cruise ships three times before.

But this time she wasn't seated in a comfortable chair, looking down at the sea of clouds through elaborate windows with a cup of tea in her hand. Instead, she was stuffed into a cramped seat, traveling backwards, and had to keep vigil over every speck in the sky, without sleeping.How did things come to this?

Her brothers and caretakers had all explained, but she hadn't listened. After all, events would occur regardless of her will, so there was no need to listen. At the very least, she was escaping from Rio de Este and flying to the Levahm imperial capital Esmeralda on orders of the imperial prince Carlo. She knew that much, and that was enough for her.

Last night, the imperial prince had sent her another letter through the military radio telegraph. The abbreviated version of the five sweetly worded pages was that he was praying for her safety. According to the letter, he'd been against Fana being forced into cramped s.p.a.cing until the bitter end, and he felt for her, having to endure such conditions for five days. As always, she hoped the Imperial Amatsukami wouldn't break the codes.

The screeching of the wind was close. Every now and then, the windshield would rattle, making a loud noise. Beyond that thin pane of gla.s.s was the sky, and that scared her.

The pilot, controlling the plane with his back against hers, was a quiet person.

Other than some words of caution upon launching and take-off, he didn't say anything, focusing on flying.

Fana appreciated the distancing. Whether she reached the mainland safely or was shot down on the way, she wanted to be able to silently accept her fate. There was no point in trading meaningless words.

Fana kept focusing her silver-white eyes on the blue sky.

She'd undergone training for two weeks, learning how to keep watch. Below the plane, in the clouds' shadows, near the sun. She shifted her eyes over all the places planes could hide. Nothing abnormal. She didn't really want to be shot down, so she was concentrating as much as possible.

The Santa Cruz was flying heart and soul to the northwest.

In the early hours, the sun, in front of Fana, had caught and pa.s.sed the plane, and moved diagonally past Fana. Now the plane was chasing after the falling sun.

Then, the sun began to cloud over.

The sunset from 4,000 meters in the sky was breathtakingly clear.

Below them was just an ocean covered with red, and clouds like cotton candy of the same color. Further below ocean birds flew in formation, easily pa.s.sed by the plane.

Beyond the windshield were clouds she felt she could touch if she were to simply reach out, and countless numbers of ragged clouds, tinged bra.s.s and with complex shading, disappeared into the horizon of Fana's view.

It was an otherworldly sight. The colors, lighting, the movement of the earth, all of it was so masterful and perfect that even del Moral's best designers and craftsmen couldn't contend.

Every time the plane went through a cloud, the back-drafts from the propeller sliced up the silhouettes of clouds, spraying droplets behind it as it cut through the whitecaps.

"How beautiful," She whispered impulsively. The small words vanished behind the plane, aided by the speed of their movement, and never reached the front of the plane.

Then, she smelled a ticklish scent from the front seat. The pilot in the front seat had opened his lunchbox. The scent of scrambled eggs and mayonnaise and lettuce. Just as she thought that smelled tasty, she could hear the voice pipe.

"I'm going to grab a meal. Have you already eaten, Lady?"

Fana picked up her voice pipe. The servants had told her to only respond in "yes" or "no," so she did as told.

"No."

"Are you feeling motion sickness?"

"No."

"If you're not, you should eat. Otherwise you'll run out of power. Eat, even if you have to force yourself to."

"Okay."

That was the end of the conversation.

As told, Fana took the lunchbox and flask from under her seat.

Watching the sunset, she ate the sandwich.

She munched. It was delicious. When she finished one, her stomach felt even more empty, so she quickly ate the next.

She definitely had more of an appet.i.te than when she was on the ground. Normally she wasn't able to taste her food, as she was always watched by etiquette tutors, to make sure she was eating with knife and fork. They even complained about how the way she chewed, so she didn't have any time to enjoy the food.

But here, where no one was watching, she finally learned that eating while watching a beautiful scene was this splendid.

She brought the flask to her mouth. That was when a question popped into Fana's mind.

Where do you do your business?

If it were an opera house you would simply stand up and go to a restroom, but in this case, there was nothing of the sort. Just the sky, ocean, clouds, and this plane.

Fana slowly turned her neck and glanced at the front seat. With no trace of awareness of her, the pilot was munching away. It felt embarra.s.sing to need to ask, so she turned back around without a word.

For now, she wouldn't think about anything, decided Fana.

Darkness was slowly appearing on the surface of the ocean. The radium on the dashboard was beginning to light up. With no navigator in Operation Black-tailed Gull, there would be no night flight, so regardless of remaining power, the setting of the sun signified the end of the day's journey.

Charles, as always, checked the front and back of the plane, glancing left, right, up and down while controlling the plane. Roughly 3,000 kilometers in one day's flight. During the whole thing he had to stay sharp, and by the time he landed on the ocean he'd be too tired to do anything else. After touching down and eating an evening meal, he'd immediately fall to sleep.

But, something abnormal popped into view of his tired eyes.

"— hmm?"

Down and right, there was something glimmering below the horizon. He focused his vision. His trained, experienced eyes could see planes in the sky even over 1,000 meters away.

He could barely make out something seemingly in flight. It was roughly 12,000 meters away in horizontal distance. And it was about 1,000 meters below the Santa Cruz, flying at 4,000 meters alt.i.tude in the opposite direction.

And it wasn't just one. Two, three new specks of light were on either side of the most visible source of light. Charles carefully controlled the rudder, shielding himself with the scatterings of clouds to get in position to better identify the specks of light.

"Enemy fleet."

Far ahead was an enemy mobile fleet centered around an Amatsukami aerial carrier. Focusing his sight even more to check everything, he saw the enemy was in a circular formation around the carrier. The shadows of the ships were visible thanks to the red ocean. Judging from the silhouettes, there were four heavy airships and eight destroyer airships. A true full fleet. And they were directed toward Rio de Este, where Charles had come from. Probably to start another bombardment.

They were big enough that it was easy for him to discover. They probably hadn't seen him yet. There was no need to get unnecessarily close. If he had a radio specialist behind him, he would have contacted Almeria airport, but unfortunately Fana didn't know how to code messages. So all Charles could do was get away from the fleet without being noticed.

Charles used the scattered clouds to hide himself from the enemy fleet's view. They were distant enough that it wasn't really that scary. Comfortably, he flew into clouds, popped out into the blue, then flew back into the clouds. The enemy fleet never noticed, and disappeared into the darkness behind him, toward the east.

He placed a hand over his heart. He was able to avoid combat. Not a bad start.

But as a pilot, Charles had a bad feeling. The enemy fleet was using the peace-time flight path. Would a fleet looking to bombard a city go straight through the open like that...?

That's when he imagined something sickening.

What if, for instance, the enemy knew about Operation Black-tailed Gull because they'd broken the transmission codes? The Amatsukami would send entire fleets on a mission to kill the empress-to-be. Perhaps the fleet they'd just pa.s.sed was covering the flight paths, looking for the Santa Cruz?

Charles shook away that dreadful thought. It's alright, it couldn't be. The military command claimed proudly that a thousand brilliant mathematicians wouldn't be able to break their code. And to add another layer of security, the numerical key was changed every week, so the brutish minds of the Amatsukami would never be able to break it.

However... this was the same military command that had underestimated the enemy from the start of the war. He knew there was no "never." Charles had taken them on himself; he knew how up-to-date the Amatsukami military organization was. It wasn't possible to be cautious enough.The sun was about to melt into the sea as he thought. Night would come soon, making it difficult for him to see the surface of the ocean. He had to land.

Lowering the floats tucked into the Santa Cruz, he opened all the flaps. Throttling the engine and glancing quickly over the dashboard, he began descending, lowering his speed and straightening their direction using the check helm as he pulled the control stick toward him.

The Santa Cruz, losing speed over a smooth area of ocean, landed on its floats with hardly any impact, splashing some waves around it as it settled on the surface of the ocean. It floated on three points: the floats, and the tail.

Coming to a full stop, Charles opened the windshield. He stood up from the c.o.c.kpit and stretched. The sun had fallen past the horizon, and golden light could barely be seen at the edge of the sky.

Charles sat on a wing, took the five travel cases from the body, opened them along the wind, and opened the rear windshield.

Fana was still sitting silently and emotionlessly. Her eyes turned to Charles. Intimidated by her beauty up close, Charles forced out words.

"We're taking a rest here. Are you tired?"

"No."

"That's good. So, umm, about your luggage, there's too much for flight. I want to lighten the plane as much as possible, so could you pick out which ones you need and don't need?"

Fana stared at Charles, not responding. Getting a bit irritated at the aloof att.i.tude, Charles pressed onward.

"If the plane is heavy, it becomes more likely we'll get caught from behind and shot down. If we're shot down, it won't matter how much luggage you have, right? So we need to throw away as much as possible. If I were to say it on ground the captain wouldn't have listened, so I'm requesting this of you now. There's too much luggage. You should throw stuff away. No, you need to throw stuff away. I am willing to pick out stuff and bundle up in one case, but that would mean I, a mercenary, would be touching stuff a n.o.ble would end up wearing, and that's going to bring up a whole new set of problems. Do you understand me?"

"Yes."

"So I need the Lady to pick out which clothing and underwear is needed, and which clothing and underwear is not. Don't you think five suitcases is too much for a trip covering five days and four nights? One should be enough. No, maybe even one isn't needed. Because I haven't even brought a single case into the plane. Do you understand me?"

"Yes."

"Well, thank you. If you please?"

"Okay."

Fana slowly stood up from the rear seat. Charles held out his hand, and helped Fana to stand on the wing. He regretted using a harsh tone, but Fana didn't seem to mind. Feeling bad, Charles hopped back into the c.o.c.kpit to recharge the metal hydride battery.

Fiddling with the power-source device, Charles switched the metal hydride stack from "generate" to "recharge." The water suction device on the tail-end of the Santa Cruz opened, and ma.s.sive amounts of ocean water flowed into the metal hydride battery, where hydrogen was extracted, stored in the hydrogen tank, and the rest of the ocean water returned. After a full night of this, enough hydrogen to last the whole day's flight would be gathered.

He glanced back at the wing. Fana was sorting through her luggage with uncertain hands. Charles, who knew her as a kid, hardly recognized the current Fana. Was that head-strong, tomboy Fana completely gone?

Fana checked the contents of the five open wooden cases. There was countless clothing, accessories, cosmetics, bedding, underwear, sleeping gowns, and even a swimsuit.

She'd left packing to her servants, so this was her first time looking at the contents. As the pilot said, this was unnecessary. No one would see her in the sky, even if she didn't put on cosmetics.

Kneeling on the wing, she sorted what she needed into one case.

The thick scent of salt surrounded her.

The color of night was winning the battle in the sky, and there were many stars. The waves washing down the float melted into the ocean.

There was nothing obstructing her view. Just an endless ocean and sky, an infinite peace.

Then Fana felt an unfathomable fear and anxiety.

As it became darker, it became more difficult to discern between ocean and sky, and a night completely different from that of the ground approached. The smell of the air, the pressing wind, all of it was intimidating.

She was frightened by the ocean being under her. If she'd slipped off the wings, she might sink, never to rise again. The color of the ocean in front of her was such that she felt such baseless fear.

The ocean wind sounded like flutes, caressing her tied hair.

Fana felt like even that wind had dark intent.

Hiding her trembling, Fana slowly continued her work.

She could still hear the irritated words of the pilot ringing in her ears.

He's surprisingly talkative.

He seemed like the type to sit in the shadows of a tree, reading, once off a plane, so his earlier rant caught her by surprise. And because she wasn't often spoken to like that, it felt refreshing.

And that annoyed face was childish and cute. It looked like an expression she'd seen before, long in the past, but she couldn't remember.

As she was searching through her memories, they heard a distant thunder in the dark.

There were no thunder clouds when the sun was still up. But that rumbling was continuing. It was getting closer. No, this...wasn't thunder. It was the sound of an airship's lifting device.

Fana looked from the wing to the c.o.c.kpit. Charles had already stuck his head out of the windshield, and was staring in the direction of the sound.

Blue light reflected off of Charles' eyes.

It wasn't a star. He focused. A cl.u.s.ter of light, accompanied by the sound of traveling thunder, came their way with swiftness. Even more, a ray of golden light was pointed toward the ocean from the cl.u.s.ter of light, looking for something.

It was without question a large Amatsukami airship. It was difficult determining the distance, because of the darkness, but his experience told him it was a destroyer.

The blue light was for night-time flight, and the gold light was a search light. Probably out of confidence of their air superiority, it was blasting light at full power at night, flying without fear. Clearly looking for something.

They would be caught by the searchlight if they didn't move. Charles quickly shouted to Fana, who was sorting through luggage on the wing.

"My Lady, get in the back seat quickly, we have to go."

He barely saw Fana look at him, dubiously. Charles shouted. "Forget the luggage, quickly!"

"Y-yes."

As ordered, clutching only the swimsuit she was holding at the moment, Fana hurriedly slid into the rear seat. Charles glanced quickly over the dashboard, and the plane began sliding across the surface. The luggage left on the wing would all slide into the ocean. Looking at the swimsuit she was holding, Fana regretted not taking something more useful.

As he'd done on the runway, Charles held the counter-break downward, and slid to a waters.p.a.ce beyond the reach of the destroyer's searchlights. He couldn't take off, because it was night. He wasn't skilled enough to land with no visibility.

After some distance, Charles looked behind him. Judging by the sound of the lifting device and the searchlight at its underbelly, it was about 200 meters above surface, maybe 1,000 meters away from them. The thick ray of light was scouring the ocean, checking even underwater.

Charles barely breathed until the destroyer was gone. He could make out a line of fighter planes on either side of the destroyer, also searching. If Charles had stopped on the air path he usually used, they would have doubtlessly been caught. Taking advantage of his experience flying across the central ocean, his spontaneous decision to land off-course had saved them.

The creepy, blue light in the darkness finally turned away and left for the western sky, swallowed by the stars.

Phewwwwww. He exhaled as he wiped sweat from his brow. Resting against the seat, he stared upward and spoke to both himself and Fana.

"That was close, but we were able to avoid being found."

"Yes."

"That fleet may have been looking for us. It's very likely. Otherwise they wouldn't set up a line to scour the ocean surface."

"Yes," Fana absent-mindedly replied. But Charles was just organizing his thoughts aloud, and wasn't expecting any actual response.

"The enemy may know about this operation. If our coded messages have been broken, that's not surprising."

"Yes."

"It's not a situation I want to think about, but we'll have to keep that in mind. Even though I'm praying from the bottom of my heart that isn't the case."

"Yes. Umm..."

"Yes?"

"Thank you."

"What?"

"For... carefully explaining things to me..." Fana mumbled. Charles didn't know how to reply, and just stayed silent. He didn't know why the empress-to-be was thanking him. She could act more haughty.

The Knights had actually suspected the code had been broken, as he'd just surmised to Fana. Whenever they launched to raid an enemy, the enemy would be set up with a wall of Shinden, as if they knew of the attack beforehand. Each time, the pilots would demand an explanation, but command would simply reply, "the savage brains of the Amatsuvian yadda yadda".

But even if the code were broken, this operation was called Black-tailed Gull, and the letters that used those words would make no sense to anyone unrelated. However stupid command may be, they weren't going to just write down what they were doing.

Then...what was that fleet doing?

Fana spoke, as he thought.

"Umm, Mr. Pilot?"

"Yes?"

"If I may ask, is the transmission code broken?"

"It's very possible."

"Um."

"Yes?"

"Ummmm."

"What is it?"

"The imperial prince Carlo... often sends me letters, using the military radio telegraph."

"What are you two doing?"

"I'm sorry, but, umm... in the letter I received a few days ago, he wrote about how he was worried for me. Being cramped into a recon plane for five days, crossing the central ocean without any escort, how he thought it was unseemly. And he rambled for five pages about that."

A long, long silence followed inside the windshield, between the front and back seats. It was so quiet that all that was heard was the waves crashing against the floats. Fana broke it first.

"... was that bad?"

Wordlessly, Charles opened his windshield, stepped out of the c.o.c.kpit, and stepped onto the wing.

The impact of the confession was so enormous he couldn't stand anymore, and he crumbled down on the wing, groaning. If that transmission was read, operation black-tailed gull was pretty much explained to the enemy.

Mentally, Charles cursed, spit on, laughed at, and beat up the imperial prince Carlo for quite some time. Who did he think this whole operation was for? Why was he personally leading everything to failure? How stupid did he have to be? Maybe being pa.s.sionate was the specialty of the Levahm, and the imperial prince Carlo was simply trying to fulfill his role, but for G.o.d's sakes, please, stop being such an idiot.

The storm of his rage ending, Charles' soul was simply left with a wind of despair. Operation Black-tailed Gull was possible only because of its secrecy. The enemy, knowing that a recon plane was trying to go through central ocean with Fana in the back seat, would lie in wait with full armament, and upon discovery would follow with all its power. Now he had to prepare for the worst scenario, for a flock of Shinden giving chase.

His hands shook. His heart raced, and he began trembling all over.

The situation had, quickly, become unprecedentedly bad.

The operation was already a difficult wish, but imperial prince Carlo's letter made it even more difficult.

The enemy knew everything about the plan, and fleets centered around carriers would be waiting at every turn, ready to greet the empress with Shinden from its bosom.

Meanwhile all he had one was rear-seat machine gun, and worse still, the gunner wouldn't be a trained pilot, but a n.o.ble Lady who'd probably never even held a weapon before.

He could turn around and return to Armelia airport. It was still possible to turn around and cancel the mission.

But that would be unforgivable. The air force and the Knights had sacrificed so much for this mission. How many of them were unable to return? If he turned around, their deaths would have been completely in vain. They went gallantly to their deaths for the empress-to-be, nothing else. If he were to go back now, the air force would simply laugh at the del Moral Aerial Knights, dubbing them cowards. And he couldn't bring such a shameful name down upon the Knights, who'd happily become decoys for him.

And, he knew from the start this would be a difficult trip. Just because an unexpected problem popped up didn't mean he wanted to stop now. He wanted to see this proud mission to its end.

It's still okay, he told himself. The code hadn't necessarily been broken. The only thing that was sure, was that a fleet had scoured the ocean surface alone. That's all. They may have been looking for something other than the Santa Cruz.

Charles tried to regain his composure.

Pilots have to be composed at all times. Otherwise they'd panic during a fight, lose control of the plane, and die. They had to control themselves at all times, to survive, and they had to keep strengthening their self-control. Always, everywhere, no matter what.

Breathing deeply, he send fresh air into his lungs. Then he smacked his cheeks once, twice, thrice.

With a determined look, he turned to the west, for Cyon island.

All he could do was keep moving forward. There was no point in whining. He couldn't run away just because things became harder. A man needs to overcome everything.

He kept persuading himself with these thoughts, and stood up on his trembling knees.

I'll fly straight to Cyon island.

Determined, though trembling, he glanced across the dark horizon.

"Umm... are you okay?"

Fana poked her head out of the windshield and looked at Charles, worried.

Charles forced a smile, and held out his chest.

"I'm fine, no problem. I'll pull out the Lady's bed now, so please give me a moment."

He pulled out a rubber boat from the plane, tossed it into the ocean, and filled it with an air pump fixed to the top of the tail. The bundle of rubber, floating on the ocean, slowly began to puff up.

This military-use boat, made of thick rubber, was created so that pilots could spend the night sleeping on it, and was big enough to fit three adults. It had good floating power, and you could even bring a fishing rod to do some fishing.

Once enough air had been pumped, he called to the rear seat.

"This is for the Lady's use, so feel free to do whatever you want. Oh, right, are you hungry? Shall I make an evening meal?"

The moonlight helped him see Fana climb out of the rear seat. Her voice trembled as she opened her beautiful lips.

"Thank you. And, umm, if I may ask."

"Yes?"

"What's wrong? Motion sickness?"

Fana wobbled across the top of the plane, stepped onto the wing, and looked up at Charles.

"Umm."

"Yes?"

Fana stayed silent, just looking up at Charles.

He felt like he would be sucked into the pure eyes.

The deep, quiet pair of eyes, with lighting that was comparable to the starry sky above them, was of bottomless beauty, such that he felt his soul about to be sucked away. They sucked away his strength, and he felt in danger of slipping off the wings if he wasn't being careful.

Clinging to his fragile state of mind, Charles tried to figure out what Fana was trying to say.

"If you have complaints about the path I'm taking..."

"No, I have no complaints. Mr. Pilot, please, just take a guess."

He couldn't even guess, so many things had happened, and maybe his brain was tired.

Fana was usually emotionless, but her shadow showed traces of pain. Like she was holding something back. Like she was holding back tears — that's when Charles realized it.

"Oh, bathroom!"

He clapped his hands together. He hadn't even thought of that.

Pilots generally don't care about that at all during flight. During long flights, many of them just do their business in their flight suits. Charles wasn't that extreme, but because he couldn't stand up during flights, he would do his business in bags designed for the purpose, then toss it out the plane. But he couldn't have Fana do that.

Charles scratched the back of his head and burst out laughing.

"I'm so sorry, I hadn't even thought about that! Yes, umm, I guess the ocean is your bathroom. I'll sit in the front seat, so just call for me when you're done."

"Tomorrow is a long flight, too, so please just kick out everything inside of you. Ah, but please keep away from the water suction. If a big one were to get sucked in, gas other than just hydrogen would be spit out, ahahahah."

When he said the joke used by many pilots, a loud sound - smack! -along with a stinging pain on his face ran through him, and his head twisted sideways.

"How rude!"

Chased away by Fana, who he could tell was blushing even with just moonlight, Charles quickly ran across the plane and buried himself in the c.o.c.kpit.

Resting against the seat, he held a hand to his cheek and looked up.

"I just got slapped by the empress-to-be."

Beneath those words was a smile.

Fana hadn't changed that much from before, after all.

When he first saw Fana that morning, he thought she'd changed completely from their childhood. She was like a puppet doll, with no trace of liveliness.

But after a bit of interaction, he knew that inside Fana was still that head-strong, tomboy girl. The girl who scolded him for picking on a pig and shot him with an awe-inspiring look wasn't dead. And that made him happy.

Charles closed his eyes, and waited for Fana to call to him.

The silence above the ocean deepened.

But time ticked by, and he wasn't called.

He thought about poking his head out of the c.o.c.kpit to check on things, but because she might still be in the middle of doing her business, he couldn't just casually look.

He was worried. He had a sinking feeling inside him. But if jumped ran out without being called and she was still doing her business...

As he was repeating that cycle of thought, he barely heard a distant voice.

"Help... me..."

In a flash, Charles leapt out of the c.o.c.kpit and stood on the wing.

Fana wasn't there.

"My Lady!?"

He called out to the ocean. The reply came from beneath him.

"Mr... Pilot!"

Sticking her head out of the ocean, Fana shouted, before being sucked under again.

Fana was drowning.

Charles dove into the ocean without hesitation, and embraced Fana in the water. Her foot was stuck in the water suction hole. Sliding his arms under Fana's armpits, he kicked the plane with both legs, forcing her foot out.

Breathless, swallowing water, he threw Fana's body onto the boat, and then climbed in after her.

Fana coughed without stopping once she was on the boat.

Charles spat out ocean water as he rested his back against the boat's sides, and gasped for breath.

"What... what were you doing?"

"I'm sorry, but, umm..."

Fana just made a face. But Charles could imagine. She probably wasn't able to do her business on the wing, so she tried to do it in the water, but got her foot stuck.

One act of clumsiness after another, and this was just the first day.

Phew, he sighed, and after looking at the starry sky in relief, Charles looked at Fana again.

"Anyways, it'll get cold at night, so let's change. Were you able to gather your belongings in one case?"

"Ah..."

"I... left everything behind."

"What?"

"Because, you flew away immediately..."

"Oh... no belongings?"

"... Just a swimsuit."

"Swimsuit?"

"... Yes."

A cold ocean breeze. Charles shivered, and looked at the drenched Fana.

Using a portable gas cylinder, he made a small fire in the cooking stove. The blue flame blazed well, and warmed the two of them on the rubber boat. To prevent discovery from above, they covered the fire with a four-legged steel plate, and placed a coffee pot over the plate.

Charles covered himself in a blanket, warming both hands with the fire. The flight suit he'd taken off was drying on the propeller, along with Fana's clothing.

Fana was on the other side of the stove, also covered in a blanket. Both of them shivered in the cold air.

"Well, a lot of problems on the first day." Charles jokingly remarked.

Fana, embarra.s.sed, mumbled, "I'm sorry for troubling Mr. Pilot so much."

"Oh, no, don't even worry about it. My lack of preparation made the Lady have to go through extreme lengths... ahahahah." He laughed, fixing his blanket.

Fana's wet hair, skin, and her thin collarbone were bluish-white, illuminated in the darkness only by the stove fire. If you were to take off her blanket, she would be naked... or close to it, with her swimsuit. Likewise, Charles was only wearing his wood-fiber underwear.

The appearance of Fana was mesmerizing. Droplets slid down her bare, white neck, down into her hidden breastline.

He could still remember the feeling of embracing her in the water. So fragile that it felt just a bit of force would snap her, so soft, so comfortable—

Realizing the direction of his mind, he shook his head, warding away vulgar thoughts.

But no matter how hard he tried, his eyes kept wandering to Fana. Her figure was acting like gravity, sucking your soul away the moment she entered your vision. All that was left was to bask in the divinity of it all.

She was already fortunate enough to have been born into the special status of House del Moral, but on top of that she had beauty "like getting lost in the face of pure light." Just how much love did G.o.d have for her? To Charles, stuck at the bottom of society from childhood, Fana was someone from a distant, distant world.

She was not someone he should be able to converse over a fire with. He had to remember his position.

So remembering, he forced his eyes away from Fana.

"After my body warms up, I'll sleep in the c.o.c.kpit. The Lady can use the boat."

"In such a small s.p.a.ce?"

"I'm used to it. I'll sleep better there than in a makeshift bed."

"Is... that so."

"Please turn off the fire when you sleep."

"Yes, umm."

"Yes?"

"No... nevermind."

Swallowing her words, Fana returned her gaze to the fire.

For some reason, Charles' heart raced, and he could feel his blood heat up.

Feeling himself beginning to lose control, he stood up and jumped onto the tail of the plane.

"Well then, Lady, have a good night. We'll set out before dawn tomorrow, too."

"Okay. Good night, Mr. Pilot."

"Good night."

After saying it once more, Charles escaped into the c.o.c.kpit, and closed the windshield.

Using the parachute as a cushion for his seat, he pulled the blanket up to his chin, and stared at the summer stars of the night sky.

Lots of things happened today. Yet despite being drained both physically and mentally, Charles couldn't sleep. If he let down his guard, the feeling of embracing Fana in the water would return, and he'd think of Fana's white body.

"I'm an idiot."

Exasperated at his thought-process despite being in the middle of such an important mission, he grew angry.

Forcing his eyes shut, and sketching out flight paths that he would take tomorrow, Charles awaited sleep.

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