On a certain day, the residents of Känkänen turned their heads to the sky.
In the early hours of the morning, a massive object blots out the sliver of light, casting a long shadow on the ground below. It was a Levitate Ship, meandering slowly across the calm morning sky. Despite all the excitement not so long ago, the residents of Känkänen had all grown accustomed to the sight, in part due to the massive air fleet under the command of the Royal Life Guards.
However, on this occasion, their gaze remained locked on the Levitate Ship overhead, as the ship was significantly larger than the typical Transport Ship. While Transport Ships designed to carry a contingent of Silhouette Knights were already a sizable construct, the Levitate Ship before them was well over twice their size, making many doubt the sanity of its designer. Yet, regardless of their thoughts, the truth was before them, floating peacefully above the capital.
“How… majestic. I wonder which Knight Order commands such an impressive vessel…”
Onlookers asked, but it didn’t take long for them to arrive at an answer. On the countless sails that line its flank, they were able to see the magnificent crest of the Kingdom of Fremmevira, as well as a smaller silver crest in the shape of a phoenix.
“…So that is the Silver Phoenix Knights’ newest Wind Carrier. Although I had heard the rumors, seeing it in person is still quite a shock.”
On top of the balcony in Castle Schreiber, King Leotamus gazed at the distant silhouette with squinted eyes. He was fully expecting the arrival of the Wind Carrier at Känkänen, since its arrival was by his orders.
As part of the planned expedition into Bocuse, the Sea of Trees, the Silver Phoenix Knights’ Wind Carrier was to serve as the flagship. It was to be accompanied by the Violet Swallow Knights’ fleet of Transport Ships in an altogether massive fleet. Although being airborne afford them certain advantages, the planners understood fully not to underestimate the enigmatic Bocuse. By the time they had noticed, the vanguard fleet had grown to an unimaginable size.
Incidentally, considering that the majority of the western nations were still in the nascent stage of Levitate Ship development, the vanguard fleet was likely one of the few sizeable air fleets in existence on the continent, likely exceeding even the Žaloudekian Steel Wing Knights in its heyday.
“…Speaking of which, I did not expect it to be this massive. Perhaps I had made a mistake in summoning them to the capital for the departure ceremony?”
At the thoughts of the disturbance such a massive Levitate Ship would cause to the residents of Känkänen, Leotamus could not help but hold his head in despair.
“Ahaha!! How about it? Impressive, right? I bet everyone is completely shocked! After all, I had spent a whole lot of effort to get it ready! Feast your eyes on its magnificence!!”
“For the residents of Känkänen, this ship would certainly be a shocking sight. Still, I hope such an act will etch the new Wind Carrier ‘Izumo’ deep in their memories.”
Batson excitedly peered out the window on the bridge, while Ernesti stood behind with a mischievous smile.
Wind Carrier ‘Izumo’ was a Levitate Ship designed from the bottom up as a support vessel for the new Wind Knights. On top of its massive size, it boasts an impressive capacity for up to a whole company of Wind Knights.
With Batson leading the team, the knightsmiths had toiled countless hours to finish this massive ship on schedule.
Incidentally, the Aerial Assault Ship from their earlier excursion to the Kingdom of Kuscheperca was of little help to the team, as the ship itself could not fulfill the excessive demands of the Bocuse expedition. Long distance aerial expeditions naturally required extensive preparation and self-sufficiency, a facet clearly reflected in the ships extensive size. As such, the team was essentially forced to design the ship from scratch, making modifications as the development proceeded.
With everything that had happened, Batson was at the height of exhilaration. Even his fellow knightsmiths were likely tucked away in the bowels of the ship celebrating their success with alcohol.
‘Boss’ David sat in the captain’s chair behind the pair.
“Hey, I think that should be enough horseplay for now. Are you both satisfied? If so, it is time to use the Blow Engines to turn the ship around and head outside the city perimeter. At this rate, we will end up blocking out the whole capital.”
Boss seemed particularly careful about their actions. After indulging their mischievous trick for the fruits of their labor, it was finally time to get down to business.
“In that case, I’ll head down in the Ikaruga and give my greetings to His Majesty.”
As the crew busied themselves with the Wind Carrier operations, Eru descended to Känkänen in his Ikaruga.
◆ ◆ ◆
“Haa… I ended up getting scolded~”
“Obviously. I am surprised you were brave enough to play such a prank on His Majesty… Seriously, I am left completely speechless.”
Knight Commander Torstei Koskensalo of the Violet Swallow Knights let out a deep sigh at Eru’s innocent smile.
Although the sudden appearance of Izumo had caused quite the disturbance, the departure ceremony itself ended rather uneventfully. Overall, the people responded positively to Izumo’s reveal, with no shame brought upon the royal family that sponsored the event. However, it did not excuse Eru’s mischievous prank.
“It is quite the impressive ship, I will give you that…”
Torstei looked out at the adjacent ships through the glass of the bridge. Nearby, several Transport Ships flanked the Izumo in formation, accompanied by two companies of Wind Knight – the entire force of the Violet Swallow Knights.
Of the Wind Knights, a single company would be docked within the Wind Carrier, with the other company in charge of security and patrol. As such, the Wind Carrier would be wholly responsible for the deployment and maintenance of Wind Knights. Instead, the Violet Swallow Knights’ Transport Ships would focus on carrying the fleet’s provision, sufficient to sustain the expedition for over a year.
Their destination was not the boundless sea, but rather over vast expanses of land, where they always had the option to land and restock when their supplies ran low. However, considering the sheer consumption of Ethelite in such a maneuver and the danger Bocuse presented, it was set as a plan of last resort. Therefore, the expedition was expected to carry all their necessities on Transport Ships.
Torstei turned to Izumo’s bridge, gawking around like a kid in the candy shop.
“Speaking of which, Izumo is not only impressive from the outside, the internal design is also a marvel in and of itself. Although my Transport Ships’ accommodation certainly isn’t bad, the Izumo is on a whole different… level.”
The Transport Ships of the Violet Swallow Knights largely kept its initial configuration, with little accommodation for prolonged inhabitation and comfort. In contrast, the Izumo was built to greater capacity, allowing ample room for its crew. Furthermore, with the personal quirks of its designers, many quality-of-life improvements were made to allow Batson and others have smoother control. With the length of their expedition, Izumo’s superior accommodation was certain to impress.
“…Either way, I will be under your care for this voyage, Knight Commander Echevalier.”
“…And I as well, Knight Commander Koskensalo.”
The two shook each other’s hand in agreement. Yet, to the uninformed observer, it was a strange sight between an adult and a child. Few would have believed they stood as equals, if not with the child marginally superior.
“Still… I am surprised you didn’t end up in that seat.”
Torstei gestured toward the dwarf in the captain’s seat. Personally, Torstei doubled as the Knight Commander and the captain of the Transport Ship, which was a logical arrangement that emphasized the need for a clear command structure with two distinct positions. Incidentally, many Knight Orders followed the Violet Swallow Knights’ example. As such, the fact that the Knight Commander of the Silver Phoenix Knights was not the designated captain of Izumo came as a surprise.
“That’s right. This is done in consideration of the fact that when in battle, I am likely fighting in my Silhouette Knight. Therefore, it would be better to leave the command of the ship in his hands.” Eru replied with a smile.
“I s-see… The Silhouette Knight that you spoke of… was it called Ikaruga? I’ve heard rumors about it being a terrestrial Silhouette Knight that could freely fight in the sky like a Wind Knight?”
Torstei remembered the oddly shaped Silhouette Knight in the hanger of the Izumo, with its peculiar six-armed design. Before the advent of the Wind Knights, Ikaruga held the unique distinction as the world’s only aerial Silhouette Knight.
“Yes. In this long journey, I am certain you will have the opportunity to witness it firsthand.”
“Then I will eagerly await the opportunity. Once again, we can certainly expect success with your participation.”
Torstei once again turned to the youth. Although this was only a preliminary expedition, they nevertheless would venture into the enigmatic and dangerous Bocuse, with all the associated stress. As such, they gratefully welcome the power of the famed hero within the Kingdom of Fremmevira. While the two commanders exchange pleasantries, the fleet calmly advanced across the sky.
◆ ◆ ◆
With Izumo at its center, the expedition fleet slowly made its way across the Kingdom of Fremmevira, casting shadows upon villages it passed. Soon, they passed by Academy City Laihiala and Fort Olvecius.
“…I’ve heard Eru is on that large ship in the middle.”
Selestina ‘Tina’ Echevalier gazed upon the fleet to the backdrop of the azure sky as she pointed at the largest ship of the group. It was difficult for anyone to believe that such a massive artificial ship could freely soar in the sky. Nearby, her husband Mathias Echevalier looked to where Tina was pointing, with one hand blocking out the stinging sunlight, before turning to her.
“Really, Eru just can’t seem to slow down… What’s wrong? Do you have something on your mind?”
Beyond her calm exterior, Tina was an intelligent and independent woman with a tenacious will, bearing a close resemblance to her stubborn son. Reflective of her attitude, she was someone who could send Eru off to war in a neighboring kingdom with a smile. However, for some odd reason, she did not have her usual cheerful expression.
“Yes. I understand that our son is very strong, and he will certainly perform with distinction. Yet, I cannot shake this bad premonition about the expedition.”
“Well… It is the Bocuse after all. Even for someone as amazing as our Eru, the journey still leaves much for worry.”
Ever since the founding of the Kingdom of Fremmevira, Bocuse had been a source of constant dread for its residents. It could almost be described as a primal fear, which resisted any attempt to extinguish even with all the advantages afforded by recent advances in technology. Incidentally, it was also used as a common threat for disobedient children.
However, Tina could not easily put her worry in words. After all, Eru was someone who had previously bested even the division-class Behemoth, and the expedition should not meet difficulty any greater than it.
Seeing her gloomy visage, Mathias turned once more to the sky.
“Our son has the strength to overcome any challenge, and he always keeps his promise. Did he not give you his word before he departed? That he would definitely return?”
“…Yes, you are correct. Eru would never break his promise.”
Tina clasped her two hands before her breast. Even she did not perfectly understand the reason for her anxiety. However, no matter the cause, she could only wish for her son’s safe voyage as her eyes followed the departing Levitate Ships.
◆ ◆ ◆
As the fleet continued its journey east, it made Fort Olvecius. Within the fort, the remaining members of the Silver Phoenix Knights looked on.
“So… they have finally set sail. We did see Ernesti and Batson busy with their preparations.”
“Still, even considering all that had happened in the recent days, I still felt that it was somewhat unfair for them to ditch us.”
“They didn’t really ditch us. Rather, we still have our own duties in the base. Not to mention, the expedition was formed with the Wind Knights at its core, so I doubt we would be of much help, especially with Erledyradcumber and Guyalarinde ruled out.”
“In that case, wouldn’t the third company satisfy that requirement?”
“Well, forcing a single company would be just as awkward.”
Among the onlookers were the three company commanders, for whom all subordinates were excluded from the expedition. Curiously, the entire fort seemed oddly placid with Eru’s departure.
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“Now, although we were left to look after the fort, I don’t think there is any pressing matter for us to address. In that case, let us enjoy this well-deserved vacation.”
Ostensibly, while the three companies were tasked with overseeing Fort Olvecius in Eru’s absence, the fort itself was not expected to see combat. Therefore, it was effectively a long vacation for those who remained. Hearing the discussion, Edgar turned his attention back to his fellow knight runners.
“As for that, I have to settle some personal matter and will be away from the fort. Therefore, Di and Helvi, I would like to ask you to watch over the fort while I am away… There is someone that I need to meet urgently…”
Dietrich raised his eyebrow at Edgar’s announcement, while Helvi simply nodded in understanding. After all, there was only a single person that Edgar would consider meeting given the circumstances.
“Is it related to that previous matter?”
“Yes. Honestly speaking, I am still somewhat hesitant about my decision. However, if I do not talk it out with him, I doubt my uncertainty will ever resolve.”
“I see… It is certainly better than simply ignoring.”
Despite Edgar’s hesitation, the very fact that he was willing to meet with the interviewer showed that he was partial to the opportunity. At the very least, the interviewer would certainly not let such an opportunity slip by.
“I guess it can’t be helped. Either way, I doubt we will get any more unwanted visitor at Fort Olvecius during your absence, so be at ease on your vacation.” Dietrich said as he shrugged in response, “Speaking of vacations, wasn’t this the first real vacation we had since the formation of the Silver Phoenix Knights? Seriously, it makes me shudder just to think about. I guess we should all enjoy this vacation to its fullest!”
Edgar did not care to realize the reluctance in Dietrich’s words. On the other hand, Dietrich was overcome with a wave of melancholy as he turned once more to the fleet, sailing to the east with the Izumo.
It was an expedition to the enigmatic Bocuse, one that would undoubtedly impact the future of the Kingdom of Fremmevira. At its helm stood Ernesti, the youth that had time and time again led everyone toward a new era.
“We cannot chase after him forever. Now is as good a time as any for us to take that difficult step.”
Under the gaze of many, the fleet continued its journey, eventually finding themselves at the border walls. Beyond, they could see the home of the Demon Beasts – the great Bocuse, Sea of Trees. Without the slightest pause, the fleet sailed into their destination.
◆ ◆ ◆
“…So, this is the air of Bocuse. Ugh… It certainly lives up to its rumors.”
Eru took a deep breath on the top deck of Izumo.
While the breeze blown over from the approaching Bocuse felt no different than when they were in the Kingdom of Fremmevira, the air contained a certain indescribable smell that churned the stomach.
The land was blanketed by green for as far as the eyes could see, with lush foliage stretching all the way to the ends of the horizon. The terrain was also difficult and rugged, where distant silhouettes of mountain ranges stood to the backdrop of the blue sky.
As Eru stared intently at the scenery, two arms reached around and gently pulled him in. At that moment, Eru annoyingly turned his head to meet the culprit in the form of a lass named Addy.
“Addy, didn’t I tell you to not hug me like this with the members of the Violet Swallow Knights nearby?”
“Yeah, I know! However, it should be fine right now, since no one is around~” Addy teased with her head resting on Eru’s shoulder.
Eru was the Knight Commander of the Silver Phoenix Knights, and, by extension, the highest-ranking officer on the Izumo and the expedition fleet as a whole. As such, there were certain considerations for the dignity of a commanding officer that forced him to instruct Addy not to hug him in public. However, it seemed his words fell on deaf ears, to which Eru could only let out a deep sigh.
Originally, the only participants of the Bocuse Expedition were to be Eru and the knightsmiths experienced with the Izumo. Yet, Addy willfully declared ‘to go with Eru’ and ended up boarding the Izumo herself. As a direct consequence of Addy’s decision, the Izumo had to load the Syrphrine alongside the Ikaruga. On the other hand, as the combat instructor for the Violet Swallow Knights and an excellent knight runner in Wind Knights, Addy was more than qualified to join the expedition.
“Fine, just for a little bit. Keep in mind that there are plenty of folks not from the Silver Phoenix Knights on this voyage.”
“But~ I think it would be fine even if people see us! Not to mention, I doubt you need something like dignity when you are this cute~”
“It’s not that simple…”
With that said, Eru walked with Addy back into the ship. Just before he entered the door, Eru took one last look at the surroundings. The Transport Ships kept themselves close to the Izumo, with Wind Knights swimming in and out of the fleet formation. The two companies of Wind Knights were tasked with security and patrol in alternating shifts. After all, despite the lack of any obvious obstructions, the fleet could not afford to be lax in its vigilance.
Once the pair returned to the bridge, they were met with Torstei, who was carefully analyzing the course on the map table. Nearby, Boss sat slovenly in the captain’s seat. Boss cared little about the expedition beyond the operation and maintenance of Izumo, an opinion shared by Batson, who was at the helm.
“We will soon enter Bocuse, so I wish to confirm our operation protocol.”
As soon as Torstei finished, a cloud of dust could be seen in the distant forest, accompanied by the crunch of falling trees. Likely, Demon Beasts were the behind the turmoil. After a few tense struggles obscured by clouds of dust, the forest finally regained its initial calm. On reflection, everyone lightly nodded to one another.
“As expected of Bocuse. I could barely fathom the troubles we would encounter if we were a terrestrial expedition.”
“Even with the Silver Phoenix Knights… I am certain we would incur casualties. Glad we are on Levitate Ships.”
“Yeah! Good thing we finished Izumo in time.”
No matter the intensity of the conflict in the forest below, the Levitate Ship fleet could remain high above harm’s way. The entire crew once more recognized the value of Levitate Ships.
“Considering the few informative expeditions of the Bocuse in the past, we should be safe to increase our speed for now and leave heightened caution to later.” Eru commented with the navigation map open.
“Yes. Regardless of the danger within Bocuse, there had always been few aerial Demon Beasts. Although we should not be careless, we also don’t need to be on highest alert at this point in time.”
The map laid out in front of them only shows a tiny sliver of land on the eastern border of the Kingdom of Fremmevira. Incidentally, one of their primary objectives in this expedition was to expand the details of the map.
Afterward, they plotted the course for the fleet and the patrols, before transmitting those orders to the rest of the fleet. With the plan settled, Izumo slowly expanded its sails as the air current carried the ship swiftly into the Bocuse with the rest of the fleet following closely behind.
“So, we have finally entered Bocuse…” Knight runners of the Violet Swallow Knights muttered silently within the hanger of Izumo as they experienced the jolt of acceleration.
“I had never thought we would be entrusted with such an important mission.”
The knight runners all held deep emotions as they looked over their Wind Knights. Certainly, few within the Kingdom of Fremmevira were isolated from thoughts on the Bocuse.
“It is not just us…”
They gazed past their Wind Knights and at the massive but oddly shaped Silhouette Knight at the other end of the hanger.
“…The Silver Phoenix Knights? Although it seemed our instructors are absent.”
“I had seen Instructor Olver earlier, alongside the young Knight Commander.”
“However, they are not the main actors for the expedition,” Lafal interjected, after silently listening to their exchange. “This is a perfect opportunity for us. While this ship belongs to the Silver Phoenix Knights, the core combat power of the fleet remains with us. Therefore, this is our mission.”
His face revealed the deprecative and anxious feelings of a company commander. After all, this mission was vital to the Kingdom of Fremmevira.
“I’ve heard that, while Wind Knights had been issued to numerous fiefs within the kingdom, we remain the premier order of Wind Knights. However, we must not rest on our laurels.”
The knight runners all nodded in acknowledgment. While they remain the most veteran knight runners for Wind Knights, the competition remained too close for comfort, especially with the kingdom’s emphasis on air power.
“We must perfectly complete this important mission and attain honor for our Knight Order.”
“Yes, let them know our strength! Glory to the Violet Swallow Knights…!!”
The entire company raised their fist in agreement. No matter how difficult the task ahead, they remained confident in their abilities.
With the dreams and aspirations of countless Fremmevirans, the fleet made its way into the Bocuse.
◆ ◆ ◆
The Sea of Trees did not betray its namesake, where trees covered the landscape for as long as they had traveled. The view remained good, with unobstructed sight in all directions. However, no one could deny that dangerous Demon Beasts lurked in the Bocuse, and their unmolested sailing could not continue forever.
“Object sighted on course! Instruct the fleet to be vigilant!”
The Wind Knights scouting ahead had noticed suspicious activity and immediately signaled the fleet with light flashes. On the Izumo, the lookout received and immediately relayed the message to the bridge.
“Captain’s order! Forward patrols have detected suspicious activity ahead. All knight runners are to head to the hanger and be prepared for launch!” Eru shouted into the voice pipes before turning to the captain’s seat, “I’ll head down to the hanger myself and be on standby in the Ikaruga. Can I leave the command of the bridge to you?”
“Yes, rest assured.”
“I’ll also head down to Syr-chan. Eru, let’s go together!”
After watching the two depart from the bridge, Boss turned his attention to the front. At the helm, Batson also steeled himself for the upcoming battle.
At the same moment, the patrol approached the wobbling mass floating in the path of the fleet.
“Is that a… Demon Beast? Rather, is that even alive?!”
“Not sure. While it looks like a rock, it is oddly floating in midair. For all we know, it could be some sort of shelled Demon Beast.”
The object before them took on the shape of an uneven boulder, bearing little resemblance to a characteristic shell. Furthermore, it was not alone, with numerous other boulders in its vicinity.
The Wind Knights slowed their flight and remained guarded against the unknown structure.
“What size! A single boulder is larger than several Silhouette Knights put together. How exactly are they floating?”
“Who knows… Perhaps they also make use of the properties of Ether? I hope they are harmless and doesn’t interfere with our fleet.”
Toward the suspiciously benign structures, the Violet Swallow Knights were uncertain about their next course of action. Understandably, if an object of such a large size were to lash out at the fleet, they would certainly suffer inconceivable losses.
Just as they were hesitant, the structure suddenly began to stir. The sound of crunching was accompanied by a small hole opening on its surface. From within, a single shelled Demon Beast crawled out and leapt into the air, spreading out wings that were something akin to fins or membranes. Following the first that took to flight, more poured out from the opening, and new openings appeared elsewhere. At the sight, the knight runners finally understood the nature of the structures floating before them.
“I see… The boulders are not the shell of Demon Beasts, but rather a Demon Beast ‘lair’!”
“Darn it, those Demon Beasts could fly, and so many of them to boot! All units, withdraw! We need to meet up with the main force!”
Everyone hastily pressed down on the pedal. At that moment, the magius thrusters churned as it spat out jets of flames and the Wind Knights quickly accelerated. With the positioning of the fins, the patrol made a swift U-turn and raced back toward the fleet.
In that time, more and more Demon Beasts poured out from the lair, following behind the patrol and rapidly closing the distance.
“Those Demon Beasts are fast… Is it because of their miniature size?”
The flying Demon Beasts had a teardrop shaped body that was just slightly larger than a human. Its fin-like wings did not flutter as it flew, therefore likely relying on some sort of magic for flight.
“Ugh! One after another, how many of these critters are there?! This won’t do, we need to trim their numbers down before we return to the fleet.”
The patrol peppered their rear with staff weapon shots as they flew, where the sheer number of Demon Beasts removed the need to accurately aim. One after another, the critters exploded into flame. However, the remaining Demon Beasts simply shrugged off the casualties, perhaps knowing their advantage in overwhelming numbers.
“What are those?! Darn it, certainly a grand welcome from the Bocuse!”
On the bridge, Boss could see the distant mass of Demon Beasts rapidly approaching.
“Captain’s order! Immediately change our bearings and avoid the approaching Demon Beasts! All Wizards, be ready to fire upon the Demon Beasts from the flanks!”
“We will experience turbulence on the turn! Boss, return to your seat!”
Reminded by Batson, Boss scurried back into the captain’s seat and braced for acceleration. At that moment, the Izumo creaked as it began to turn, and the other vessels followed suit after receiving Boss’s order. However, given their cumbersome size, none of the ships could make a nimble turn.
In tandem with the turn, the Wizards stationed on the vessels stood up and trailed their staff weapons on the imminent threat. Incidentally, the Wizards on the Izumo were covered by the Bulwark Robe, integrated directly into Izumo’s armor. It was a design that replicated the Flying Dragon Battleship’s increased mana capacity and output. As such, the Wizards on the Izumo were able to fire for a longer period than similar Wizards without the design.
Just as the Wizards prepared to unleash their shots on the swarm, Izumo’s deck opened up and revealed a massive six-armed Silhouette Knight within.
“I see… The Demon Beasts that we have encountered this time seemed particularly problematic. I doubt we could resolve this with just the Wind Knights… Firing flare to signal for shots and whittle down the approaching critters!”
The flare flashed brightly in the sky. At the same moment, the hangers of the Izumo descended into a state of chaos as knight runners hurriedly boarded their Touedianes.
“Initiating the Etheric Levitator! Remember to not activate the magius thrusters until you clear the hangers!”
As Izumo kept a sizeable store of Ethelite, the initial ether for the Etheric Levitator could be directly provided from the ship’s internal stores.
The air intake of the Touedianes started to hum as the Ether Reactors were activated.
“Ready for takeoff! Everyone, push…!”
The maintenance crew in Silhouette Gears drove the Wind Knights toward the hanger door at the rear. Within the hanger, the Wind Knights had to be moved manually to avoid damaging the internal structure with their magius thrusters. Although the Wind Knights benefited from the Etheric Levitator, its actual mass did not change, and the maintenance crew had to perform the task with the assistance of Silhouette Gears.
“Now, it is my turn! Just leave everything to me!”
One of the crew stood by the hanger door and reached into a device with his arm. It was a sizeable mechanical arm, almost as if someone grafted a Silhouette Knight’s arm onto the wall of the ship.
The crew member channeled magic into the device. It essentially functioned under the same principle as a Silhouette Gear. While a single person could not move a Silhouette Knight without the assistance of an Ether Reactor, it was a different matter for just a part of one, or rather, a slightly miniature and simplified copy of one.
The purpose of the arm was incredibly simple. With its strand crystal fingers, it grabs the Wind Knight and ‘throws’ it out the ship. The device, aptly named ‘Crane Arm’, was able to solve the difficulty of launching the Wind Knights from the ship while giving them an initial acceleration. Effectively, it was a variation of the catapult system.
Afterward, another Wind Knight was moved onto the launch pad. The operator of the arm was visibly fatigued.
“Hey, you are at your limit. Let’s switch!”
Although the Crane Arm was simplistic in design, the amount of mana expenditure was not insignificant, and a lone operator could not continuously operate it for long. However, the current operator was reluctant to switch.
“No! I’m still good!”
“Hey, don’t be stubborn. It’s my turn! Switch already!”
“N-no! I can still go on!”
Incidentally, the task of operating the Crane Arm was oddly popular among the maintenance crew, where everyone always squabbled over the role.
The Wind Knights evicted from the bowels of Izumo soon entered into flight formation, with Addy’s Syrphrine at the front.
“Wow, there really are quite a number of them, but each and every one of them is so small! It seems to be a problematic battle ahead!”
Addy signaled her students from the Syrphrine, and the company soon separated into two columns as they circled toward the Demon Beasts from the left and the right, with one of the two led personally by the Syrphrine.
“We shall whittle them down from the periphery and force them to clump together. Once they are herded together, we shall have the Wizards annihilate them by staff weapons!”
With flames pouring out from the magius thrusters, the Wind Knights entered into a swift acceleration toward the Demon Beasts. Some poured shots onto the Demon Beasts, while others skewered the demon with the lance. The Wind Knights swam freely in the sky, slowly trimming down the Demon Beasts on the periphery as the rest clumped into the center.
However, the Demon Beasts did not take the attacks one-sidedly, and a portion of the Demon beasts attempted to encircle the Wind Knights. At their maneuver, the Wind Knights immediately changed their direction and evaded the encirclement.
At that moment, one of the Demon Beasts started to balloon in size. The knight runners noticed the sudden change in size, but merely deemed it as a target and poured shots onto it. Only when the shots came in contact with the ballooned Demon Beast did the knight runners realized the cause.
The Demon Beasts burst into a large inferno, sending shockwaves far beyond the effect of a staff weapon shot. It was the result of the Demon Beast’s own device.
“Those Demon Beasts can’t be…!”
Although momentarily stunned, the knight runners were immediately awash with fear. The ballooning of the Demon Beast followed by a sizeable explosion could only be explained by a single hypothesis.
“Their method of attack is self-immolation?!”
“Wind Knights, cease the lance charges! We cannot be certain which one will explode next, so keep your distance and rely on your staff weapons to attack!”
The sudden realization about the Demon Beasts immediately cut down the venues of attack available to the Wind Knights. As a melee-focused unit, the Wind Knights were essentially crippled by the handicap.
Although the Demon Beasts were relatively fragile, with little means to resist the powerful Wind Knights, its explosive capacity still posed a serious threat to the Wind Knights. If they were to swarm, the sluggish Levitate Ships would be made the most vulnerable. Without the Levitate Ships, the Wind Knights would lose their base in an altogether hostile land. The high stakes fostered an atmosphere of anxiety.
The Wind Knights tried their best to cut down the Demon Beasts, but the countless fliers continued their relentless push toward the fleet.
“…They are now in range. Wizards, fire upon the Demon Beasts, do not let them approach the fleet!”
Standing on deck, Ikaruga waved its sword cannon in command. Up top, Wizards began to unleash their shots upon the swarm.
The barrage of shots flew over and immediately made contact with the swarm, causing bursts of flame all over the sky. In-between the smaller bursts of flame were occasional explosions, presumably from the Demon Beasts’ own destruction. With Izumo’s mana output, the Wizards were free to fire without pause.
“Ahh, there are too many of them! We can’t stop them all!”
“Darn it, there are a few that evaded encirclement! Stop them!”
However, it didn’t take long for the Wizards to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of Demon Beasts. Even the powerful barrage could not counter the incredible advantage in numbers as the Demon Beasts inched ever closer to the fleet.
“If that many Demon Beasts were to attack the fleet, we won’t escape this unharmed!”
The Wind Knights continued their incessant barrage, yet the anxiety was quickly rising among the knight runners. The company commander, Lafal, came around to the Syrphrine in a panic.
“Instructor Olver, the fleet will be in danger! Perhaps we should assist…”
“Wizards will bring down the closest Demon Beasts. We won’t be of much help to the specialized Silhouette Knights even if we rotated over to assist. Therefore, remain focused on the enemy in front of us!”
Far from the fleet, the Wind Knights did their utmost to attack the Demon Beasts, but the Demon Beasts continued to surge forth from the floating lairs. To any observer, the fleet was slowly being overwhelmed by the Demon Beasts.
“We are almost at our breaking point! We must find a way to cut them off at the source… Let us launch a direct attack at their lair!”
Addy was hesitant to abandon combat with the never-ending stream of reinforcements and instead attack the lair itself. Although it was a sound plan, doing so would leave the Levitate Ships vulnerable.
At that moment, a loud howl was heard on the battlefield.
“…Emperor’s Heart, Empress’s Coronet to maximum output!”
On top of the Izumo, the Demon God unleashed its killing intent.
Eru had Ikaruga turn the sword cannons in its six arms on the Demon Beast swarm, steadied itself on the deck, and poured in large amounts of mana into them.
“The Demon Beasts are self-destructing. Yet, one must ask why they chose to suicide? Isn’t it quite unnatural for a Demon Beast to not strife for their own survival? If so, what is their purpose?”
Eru’s eyes soon turned to the floating structure behind them.
“I could be wrong. However, if we assume those Demon Beasts are mere biological missiles, the body of the Demon Beast should be located…”
The monitor focused on a certain point in space, where a dark shadow could be seen in the distance.
“Let me show you the power of Ikaruga… Not a barrage, but a single overwhelming shot of destruction!!”
In a flash, a blinding shot drew an arc across the sky. The target was the Demon Beasts’ lair. Before long, the incredibly powerful shot made contact with the lair.
Its intense heat pierced through the surface and sunk deep into the lair. At that moment, the scripts within the shot activated as flame burst out through the openings seemingly in tandem.
Following the first shot, Ikaruga shot a few more. One after another, the shots pierced the lair and exploded, until the entire lair disintegrated. Among the chunks of boulders, pieces of wrangled meat and fluid could be seen falling down to the earth below.
“I see, the actual body or the hive mind of the Demon Beast remained within the lair. In that case, I think we found the ideal target. Yet, how should I go about doing this…?”
Ikaruga did not mind the approaching Demon Beasts and continued firing at the distant lairs. Under the shelling, more and more lairs crumbled to the earth.
“Huh…? The Demon Beasts are reversing course?”
The reversal had finally arrived.
The swarm of Demon Beasts had turned away from their suicidal attack and retreated toward the lairs regardless of the constant barrage.
They soon departed from the firing range of the Wizards and made contact with the lairs. However, instead of entering the lair, they remained stuck on the exterior. At the same time, the entire lair began to slowly move.
“They are using the small Demon Beasts as a mean of propulsion?”
The countless Demon Beasts pushed the lair away from the fleet. Although the lairs were a sizeable mass to them, the Demon Beasts took advantage of their incredible numbers. Before long, the lair slowly accelerated and disappeared on the horizon.
“No need to give chase as long as our fleet is safe from harm. After all, our task is not to eliminate Demon Beasts.”
Izumo and the Wind Knights could not afford to underestimate the Demon Beasts and remained on high alert until the lair was no longer visible. Fortunately, not many Demon Beasts made contact with the Levitate Ships, so the fleet itself suffered only minimal damage. Furthermore, all the Wind Knights survived with minimal injury. Considering the threat posed by the Demon Beast, it was effectively a perfect end.
“For a moment there, I wasn’t sure if we would survive. Glad we were able to get through that in one piece.”
On the Violet Swallow Knights’ flagship, Torstei let out a deep sigh of relief. He did not expect to meet a Demon Beast that, instead of the colossal power of a single division-class ‘Bahamut’, relied on incredible numbers to overwhelm its foes. If they did not threaten the Demon Beast at its lair and force them to withdraw, it would be no surprise if they lost one or two Levitate Ship in the encounter. At that moment, Torstei turned his gaze to the Silhouette Knight standing atop the Izumo.
“…So, that is the Ikaruga, the customized Silhouette Knight for the Knight Commander of the Silver Phoenix Knights. I can’t deny its overwhelming presence on the battlefield.”
The strength of the Silver Phoenix Knights was known to many. However, the achievements of the Silver Phoenix Knights in the development of new Silhouette Knights was even more well known.
Just the inventions alone would net Eru incredible fame, and that was not even considering the sheer power of the Ikaruga. For the first time, Torstei was able to observe firsthand the sheer absurdity that surrounds the existence known as the Silver Phoenix Knights.
“I see now why His Majesty praised him. Certainly, I feel that it could not get any safer than him guarding this fleet.”
At that moment, Torstei felt an indescribable confidence that the expedition would turn out to be a successful one.
The Wind Knights remained vigilant for a time after the departure of the Demon Beasts before slowly returning to the hanger. Lafal gazed longingly at the distant sky as he bit down on his lips in frustration.
“In the end, we alone could not defend the Levitate Ships with our own power. If then, for what purpose do the Wind Knights exist?”
Before long, it was Lafal’s turn to dock. The Wind Knight entered the hanger with a slight shudder as the Crane Arm pulled it in, followed by Silhouette Gears pushing it to its respective hanger positions. After the Wind Knight attached its tethers, the knight runner descended from the cockpit. For a while, Lafal remained motionless as he observed the bustling interior of the hanger.
Soon, Lafal’s gaze fell upon the Ikaruga deep within the hanger.
“As expected of the customized Silhouette Knight for the Knight Commander of the Silver Phoenix Knights. However, we will not yield so easily…”
With renewed determination, Lafal once more sprang into action.
◆ ◆ ◆
A month had passed since the expedition had first entered Bocuse.
Within the Kingdom of Fremmevira, Dietrich continued to spend his lethargic days in Fort Olvecius.
“I wonder what they are doing right now…”
“…Probably bashing a few Demon Beasts?” Helvi responded with a similar sluggishness.
“Certainly, there must be quite a few Demon Beasts in Bocuse…”
The relaxed atmosphere wasn’t limited to just the two company commanders. The entire fort was enveloped by an unusual tranquility, likely stemming from the overall lack of direction. Certainly, for the majority of the Silver Phoenix Knights, Eru’s absence had spelled for a lull in activity and, by extension, a de facto vacation. At the moment, Dietrich was enjoying his days off napping in the hanger.
“Yeah. Compared to the Wind Knights, I find my Guyalarinde a much better fit.” Dietrich muttered as he gazed upon his customized Silhouette Knight while pumping out his fist.
“Hmm… My company has rather become used to the Wind Knight, so I don’t mind either one.” Helvi responded as she reached her hand into the sky.
“As expected of the third company. In that case, will the Tzendrinbles be put into disuse?”
“Not now, at least. For the mobility of the first and second company, don’t we still need the cart-drawing Tzendrinbles?”
Although such was the case, Helvi and the rest of her company had spent most of their time with the Wind Knight. As such, they cannot deny that they were slightly rusty with the Tzendrinble.
“If you continue to slack off, won’t all future aerial combat fall squarely on the third company alone?”
“Ah… That reminded me, there were a few new equipments designed for close combat. Although I prefer not to use them in aerial combat, as I consider the equipment more specialized for support.” Dietrich sighed as he recalled the new equipment furnished on the Izumo, “Then again, nearly all the knightsmiths went with the Izumo. Without Boss and Eru around, I’d rather not experiment with the new equipment.”
Certainly, even if the trial did turn up with some problems or deficits, there would be no one to address the issues. Until the knightsmiths returned, the new equipment was probably better left to gather dust in some remote corner of the fort.
“Since there is nothing to be done, we might as well just rest up!” Helvi exclaimed.
“While you say that, weren’t you the one who had repeatedly snuck into the Wind Knight practice?”
“What’s wrong with that? I find it enjoyable to test out new Silhouette Knights.”
“Just like our dear Knight Commander~”
Without a comeback, Helvi turned her gaze afar.
“So, you refused the offer?” Dietrich asked, seeing Helvi’s melancholy.
“Huh? Ah, not yet.” Helvi answered tersely.
“Is it because of Edgar? If Edgar were to accept the offer, do you planning on following him?”
“Uuu… It is quite the difficult decision for me. However, I think my reasons are similar to yours.” Helvi muttered as she turned her gaze to the Wind Knight, “For both the Centaur Knight and Wind Knight, I found joy in testing new Silhouette Knights and piloting them in combat.”
From the time of the Tellestarle, Helvi had always volunteered to test new Silhouette Knights. Initially, it was probably meant as a way for her to recoup from her defeat. Soon, she found herself enjoying the process, and accompanied one new model after another from its initial design all the way to battle. Participating in the day to day development of the Centaur Knight and Wind Knight had made Helvi especially attached to both.
“As such, I do not feel particularly qualified for the position of Knight Commander. In a way, I sometimes feel even the position of company commander was beyond my abilities.” Helvi sighed as she revealed a complicated smile.
“Certainly, only someone like you could command the third company, known for their attraction to new Silhouette Knights.”
“If you put it that way, I guess the same could apply to you as the leader of the second company.”
Considering Dietrich role in leading the aggressive ‘Assault Company’, Helvi could not help but snicker. Now on the receiving end of a verbal jab, Dietrich gave a complicated smile in response.
Just as the pair jousted verbally, a single Silhouette Knight appeared before them. It was a unit of pure white and was instantly identified as Edgar’s Erledyradcumber.
Dietrich waved lethargically at the approaching Erledyradcumber.
“Oh? Isn’t this our newly-minted Knight Commander? Long time no see, how have you been?” Dietrich quipped.
Edgar was away on personal business and had only recently returned. He gently draped his overcoat on the back of the chair and sat down.
“It sounds weird coming from you. Either way, the trip had proved quite successful.”
Not long ago, the intermediaries for the various nobles had visited Fort Olvecius with the intention of recruiting the company commanders. After the meeting, Edgar had contacted them and went to discuss the details.
“I was actually introduced to a certain aristocrat, who was quite impressed by the Erledyradcumber. While the initial discussion revolved around the charge of a garrison Knight Order for a medium-sized city, I think I can expect an even higher position from him given his overall attitude.”
Dietrich let out a whistle.
“Not bad. The Knight Commander of a garrison Knight Order is already quite the esteemed and trusted position, yet you were still able to make him feel lacking in offer. You have my full respect, Lord Knight Commander~”
“Stop that, didn’t I tell you already that it sounds weird?”
“What is so weird about that?”
“Well, it makes me sound like a second Eru.”
“…If you put it that way, it certainly does sounds weird.”
No one could deny that they had a very eccentric Knight Commander. While his achievements were beyond compare, Eru was prone to bouts of ‘insanity’ in his pursuit of Silhouette Knight. The trio all let out a profound laugh as they came to the same thought.
As they slowly regained their calm, Dietrich once again turned to Edgar.
“Serving as a Knight Commander is the aspiration for all knight runners. Everyone should feel happy when they see their dream soon turned into reality. If so, why do you have such a long face?”
Edgar was taken aback with surprise and reflexively turned to Helvi.
“Yeah, I have to agree with Dietrich. You seemed to have doubled your usual dose of melancholy.”
Dietrich aside, Edgar was not expecting Helvi to corroborate the observation. While Edgar was known for his control of his emotions, it was impossible to hide them from his old friends. Having been seen through, Edgar let out a deep sigh as he dropped the act, finally letting his fatigue show.
“Although the negotiation was smooth, I still feel reluctant to leave the first company.”
“Huh? Won’t the first company be in good hands?” Helvi inquired.
“I know about the replacement. However, they are all comrades who have shared countless battles with me, so I couldn’t help but worry about their future. Not to mention, I am leaving them for purely selfish reasons.”
Edgar turned his gaze toward the tidily lined up Karrdatolles in the hanger, each decorated with the white cross of the first company.
“Haa… You are being too absorbed in the details. Don’t concern yourself with what comes later. No matter who takes over, I doubt they would act out of hand with the overwhelming prestige of Knight Commander. Rather, I am more worried about your replacement when it comes to Eru.”
The most difficult task faced by the Silver Phoenix Knights was to meet the incessant demands of its quirky Knight Commander, such as suddenly declaring one day to ‘challenge the strongest possible Demon Beast’. As such, not many could survive their pace.
“…Now that I think about it, it shouldn’t be much of a problem. If the replacement is found lacking, I can always train him personally. I will not permit the successor to squander the wonderful order we’ve established~”
“No way… Did you become addicted to the position of an instructor?”
Edgar turned to find Dietrich’s almost maniacal laughter. It seemed that the earlier training of the Violet Swallow Knights had flipped a certain switch in Dietrich. As such, it was decided that before the replacement could take over command of the first company, the individual would have to survive a series of intense training regimen designed by the veterans of the Great Western Storm.
“Regardless, you need not worry about us, Edgar. Just follow your heart.”
Edgar looked at his friends with startled eyes. All his worries and hesitation were seen through, to which Edgar could only laugh in response. At that moment, the wrinkles on Edgar’s forehead slowly unraveled.
“…Fine, consider it a personal debt. I will certainly return the favor one day.”
“We shall look forward to it.”
Helvi revealed a smile as she looked at the exchange. She then turned her head up and gazed at the plethora of stars. While the days were calm, the Silver Phoenix Knights were certain to return to their usual bustling one day.
“Mmn~ Then, until the time when the Knight Commander returns, let us fully enjoy our long-awaited vacation!” Helvi declared as she stretched her stiff body.
At that moment, the trio’s gaze subconsciously fell upon the eastern horizon.