TL/N: Uhh… Yeap, its finally out… cleaning up the redundancy in phrasing took a lot longer than I expected. Did I ever mention that I hated how the battle sequences are written?
The fleet continued its slow advance high above Bocuse, Sea of Trees.
After the sudden attack by unknown Demon Beasts, the entire fleet remained on high alert.
They did not let the slightest anomaly out of their sights. Thanks to their vigilance, the few threats they had encountered were all perfectly avoided.
Even in combat, there were few Demon Beasts that could survive the onslaught of two full companies of Wind Knights, a full contingent of Wizards, and the powerful Ikaruga. As it happened, the hives of Demon Beasts they had previously encountered were nothing more than an outlier.
Since their initial entry into the Bocuse, two months have passed relatively uneventfully.
“The map has been expanded considerably…”
“Although we had a few scares along the way, our expedition has overall been quite successful. We now have enough details to design a few low-risk courses through the Bocuse.”
The two Knight Commanders stood over the cartography table. The ‘map’ had seen countless new additions, including the surrounding terrain and the course the expedition fleet had taken.
“The number of Demon Beasts encountered within the Bocuse seemed fewer than we’ve previously expected. While we are limited to aerial reconnaissance, we haven’t detected any powerful Demon Beasts.”
Division-class Demon Beasts were typically known for their massive size that could easily be seen from afar. As such, if they couldn’t spot any from the air, then it was not wrong to assume that division-class Demon Beasts were nowhere near.
“We still have ample supplies available. However, we should at least take the opportunity to decide on the extent of this expedition.”
“Yes. While distance may not be much for Levitate Ships, such a trip should be considerably more difficult for a terrestrial expedition. Even with the map, I doubt a second expedition could just follow the course without worry. As such, it is in my opinion that we should wrap up this expedition soon.”
After the exchange of thoughts, the two Knight Commanders set their course of action. As battles became few and far between, the initial anxiety of the crew gave way to calm. After months of staying airborne, the crew grew restless for the comfort of the land.
In the end, they had decided to return with the current progress. However, just as they were about to set their course for home, the unthinkable occurred.
◆ ◆ ◆
A flock of birds waded gently across the air, only to find a huge shadow approaching. They hastily evaded the object with a powerful flap of their wings.
The object cut its way through the clouds, passing by the birds as it advanced. The object was called a Levitate Ship, which could only be described as a ship that could fly in the sky. Specifically, it was the Bocuse Expedition Fleet led by the Izumo, the Wind Carrier under the command of the Kingdom of Fremmevira’s Silver Phoenix Knights. On top of the bridge of the Izumo, Ernesti looked out through the front window, as he absent-mindedly followed the flock of birds with his eyes.
“Full rudder to port! Look’s like the path ahead is ‘blocked’.”
Boss’s order echoed from the rear of the bridge as the crew hastily adjusted course. The frame of the ship groaned slightly as Batson turned the wheel, with the scene outside the window slowly turning. As the flock of birds moved out of sight, Eru let out a deep sigh as he turned his attention to the front.
Before the fleet was an imposing mountain range, stretching far into the clouds. Given the nature of the Etheric Levitator, the Levitate Ships would need to consume an exorbitant amount of fuel if it wished to fly over the peaks, enough to exhaust all the remaining fuel reserves.
As such, the fleet had to sail along the border of the mountain range for a navigable pass. Eru turned his gaze below, following up a small stream coursing down from the mountain.
“What a steep mountain range. I wonder how it compares with the Aubigne Mountains.”
“Likely more expansive than Aubigne Mountains, since I could not seem to make out the northern end.”
The mountains rose up like a natural barrier, reaching all the way to the horizon. Boss was likely correct in assuming this mountain range could rival the Aubigne Mountains.
“There is a small stream coming from the mountains, and the foothills seems relatively flat. If there weren’t any threats in the vicinity, the area could easily fit a second Kingdom of Fremmevira.”
“I think it is about time that we set our course for home. This would make for a great story to tell once we return.”
Having chanced upon a good site for future settlements, the cartographers carefully marked the site on their growing map.
The forward reconnaissance squad of Wind Knights was first to notice the anomaly. It started with a violent rustle of the woods below, as the monstrosity slowly ascended to meet Wind Knights.
“Is that a Demon Beast? It seems different from all the Demon Beasts that we’ve previously encountered!”
“Signal the Izumo, fast! It is at least a duel-class! Do not underestimate it!”
The Wind Knights immediately activated its signal lights while carefully observing the monstrosity. Seeing the lights, the fleet behind entered into a state of high alert.
“The shape… Is it an insect It is also quite large, enough to place it above a duel-class.”
The Demon Beast resembled a beetle, with a long protrusion on its face. It had its entire body covered by a shell, and thin membranous wings fluttered behind its thorax. Although it was only about the same size as a Wind Knight, the expedition conservatively assumed it to be at least above a duel-class Demon Beast. As the reconnaissance squad observed and made their report, the Demon Beast continue to ascend with a low hum.
“Note the horn. I doubt the Wind Knight could survive a thrust from that horn.”
“Got it. Also, is there only one? If so, we can simply take it out with our staff weapons.”
The Wind Knights remained vigilant of the surroundings. However, other than the approaching Demon Beast, they did not detect any other peculiarities. As such, the Wind Knights decided to use their staff weapons to launch a preventive strike, hoping to eliminate the threat in a single volley. They spread out from their tight formation and surrounded the insectoid Demon Beasts before unleashing a barrage from all directions.
As the shots approached the insectoid Demon Beast, its wings began to flutter with an even louder hum. Immediately, the insectoid Demon Beast displayed an almost uncharacteristic agility, easily dodging all the incoming shots.
“This bastard…! Its movements are faster than we had assumed! We can’t hit it like this! Everyone, close the encirclement!”
The crew of the Izumo could see the shots fired from afar as the voice pipes transmitted updates to the bridge.
“Report, one Demon Beast! The reconnaissance squad shall attempt to eliminate it!”
“Just in case, have all knight runners be on standby in the Wind Knights and ready for immediate launch. Since we are not familiar with this Demon Beast, have the remaining Wind Knights on picket duty stay vigilant of the surroundings.”
As Eru issued orders on the bridge, he wondered whether he should head out in the Ikaruga. The number of threats was few, so Eru believed the reconnaissance squad alone should be able to handle it. Not to mention, if Eru launched in the Ikaruga, the current command structure would undoubtedly be affected.
At that moment, the observers let out a dejected gasp.
“W-what…! H-how could it be?!”
“What is it? Let me see.”
Eru took over the telescope and turned to the battlefield ahead. Simply put, it was the worst possible scenario.
Although the reconnaissance squad had successfully encircled the insectoid Demon Beast, they still weren’t able to defeat it. The insectoid Demon Beast was simply too nimble and strafed in all directions, making it nearly impossible for the Wind Knights to land a solid hit. Soon, one of the knight runners became completely fed up with the fruitless chase.
“We won’t be able to hit it with shots! I will head in for a lance charge, cover me!”
“Don’t approach! That bastard has a horn! You can’t assume that it’s a pushover in melee!” The squad commander warned, but the knight runner had already begun its acceleration.
“Still better than having all our shots miss. If the situation takes a turn for the worse, I will simply withdraw!”
“Ugh, fine. All units, suppressive fire! Seal its movements!”
The lone Wind Knight charged ahead, rapidly closing in for a strike, while other Wind Knights laid down a hail of shots. Although the Demon Beast easily dodged the shots, they still served to restrict its movements. Predicting the Demon Beast’s most likely dodge, the lone Wind Knight readied its lance.
Unexpectedly, the insectoid Demon Beast did not attempt to dodge. Rather, it unfurled its legs and pointed them at the approaching Wind Knight as a suspicious fluid began to ooze out. As it formed the fluid into a compact sphere, the insectoid Demon Beast started to prepare a wind spell, proving that it had abilities beyond mere flight.
Once the wind magic fully enveloped the sphere, it was launched toward the Wind Knight. While the Wind Knight planned to dodge, the sphere ‘detonated’ just as it was about to make contact. The fluid within the sphere vaporized into a white gas and, rapidly expanding in all direction, enveloped the Wind Knight completely.
“What is this? Can it be a smoke… b-bomb… Ugh? cough…”
The gas was taken in by the Wind Knights air intake and soon filled the entire interior. The Wind Knights had many modifications to ensure flight, one of which was the air intake that maintained breathable air for the pilots. At that moment, the pilot of the lone Wind Knight was sitting in a chamber awash with white.
Before long, the pilot began to vomit large volumes of blood onto the controls. His eyes became upturned as his whole body shook violently. The gas was a powerful ‘poison’ made from the bodily fluid of the insectoid Demon Beast. Given its habitat, the poison certainly wasn’t designed for the weak constitution of a human. As such, after just a few more shakes, the knight runner took his last breath.
Without its knight runner, the Wind Knight ceased all function and floated helplessly to the wind.
Yet, the effects were not limited to only the knight runner.
Nearby survivors of the reconnaissance squad saw the Wind Knight’s external armor began to bubble and twist. The gas rapidly ate into the entire frame – first the external armor, and then the strand crystals. Eventually, what remained of the Wind Knight disintegrated as pieces fell toward the ground.
Eru stood on the Izumo’s bridge and observed the entire process before lowering the telescope with his trembling hands. Between the Demon Beast’s shot and the demise of the Wind Knight, Eru could easily hypothesize the nature of the attack.
“That Demon Beast… its ability is to shoot out a highly volatile and corrosive bomb…!”
Eru’s words brought a wave of silence on the bridge.
In the air, there was simply no natural defense against an attack that could turn the surrounding space into a deadly corrosive cloud. If the insectoid Demon Beast turned to attack, even a single hit would spell doom.
Witnessing their own squadmate’s death had also greatly affected the surviving members of the reconnaissance squad. Although they were unsure if the knight runner died from the gas, they were certain that the knight runner had certainly perished when the entire Wind Knight crumbled to pieces. The death has spurred the reconnaissance squad forward.
“We must not let a single one approach the fleet! If it is that Demon Beast… even a single one may sink our entire expedition! We shall make our last stand here!”
“S-squad leader! L-look over there…!!”
The squad leader had already steeled himself for death. However, hearing his squadmate’s quivering voice, he turned toward the indicated direction. At that moment, he saw a scene that overwhelmed him with despair.
Behind the insectoid Demon Beast that they were chasing, more shadows appeared rising from the forest.
One, two, three… five… ten… and even more…
Countless insectoid Demon Beasts poured out from the foliage.
“T-this bastard… he is just a scout like us. Darn it! When we already have problems dealing with one of them… There’s no way this is just a duel-class threat anymore! This is a company-… no, a battalion-class threat!”
When a single insectoid Demon Beast could already outperform the entire reconnaissance squad, the squad leader could easily imagine how a fight against so many would end.
In the rear, the fleet was also shaken by the sudden appearance of the Demon Beast swarm. Faced with inaction, Eru took command and immediately proceeded to dissipate the chaos.
“All ships, turn around now! Withdraw from this area immediately!”
“We’re trying! But those Demon Beasts are fast… Think we can escape unscathed?”
“We won’t… if we leave it like this!” Eru responded with a voice tinged with anxiety before turning to the voice pipes, “All Wind Knights, launch immediately! We will be marooned if we lose our ships! Fight with everything you have!”
After giving his orders, Eru dashed out from the bridge and headed straight to the hanger. The moment he arrived in the hanger, he boarded the Ikaruga.
At the rear cargo bay door of the Izumo, the Wind Knights launched one after another. Eru himself seemed impatient as he headed out from the aft door.
“Other than those on picketing duty, all Wind Knights should attach themselves to the exterior of the Levitate Ships!” Eru ordered, using Ikaruga’s speakers on the maximum setting.
“Knight Commander Echevalier! What are you planning?!”
“We will replicate the trick used by the hive Demon Beasts! Have the Wind Knights assist the Levitate Ships’ acceleration! If we rely only on the blow engines, we won’t escape in time!”
“However, won’t that impede our defense? Who will be able to guard against those insectoid Demon Beasts?!”
“Don’t worry, leave that to me and Ikaruga!”
With that said, a loud rumbling came from the Ikaruga as its twin Ether Reactors began to churn, spitting out a massive amount of mana to feed its plumes of flame. With all six of its arms holding Sword Cannons, the Demon King launched into combat.
Syrphrine caught the Ikaruga right before its final acceleration.
“Eru! Let me go with you!”
“Addy, as the expedition’s final line of defense, I’ll leave you to clean up any Demon Beasts that sneaks past me.”
“Wait! Eru, why…”
Without waiting for Addy’s response, Ikaruga shot out toward the Demon Beasts. With its superior thrusters and twin Ether Reactors, Ikaruga immediately opened a large gap between it and Syrphrine. Far behind, Addy could only helplessly watch as Ikaruga pulled away.
“Seriously! Why must you be this selfish every single time?! Hmph! Wind Knights, start pushing the Levitate Ships! If any Demon Beasts approach, use your Staff Weapon to screen them away!”
Incidentally, Eru’s decision to not bring Addy wasn’t all due to selfishness. Rather, from what he had observed earlier, Eru has realized that the Wind Knights suffered from an important design flaw when fighting against the insectoid Demon Beasts.
“With an attack that could corrode a Silhouette Knight, the Wind Knight’s lack of a powerful ranged attack would easily prove fatal.”
Between the rumbling of the Ether Reactors and the bellowing of the Flame Propulsion System, Ikaruga approached the insectoid Demon Beasts at a speed close to a Staff Weapon shot.
“These Demon Beasts… I’ll bury them with Ikaruga!”
Ikaruga readied its six Sword Cannons as it brushed by the withdrawing reconnaissance group. Eru focused the Sword Cannons on the leading insectoid Demon Beast.
The Demon Beast was hovering in a cloud of its own corrosive juice while being completely immune to its effects. At the right moment, Ikaruga fired it powerful shots at the center of the cloud, piercing the Demon Beast’s carapace and blowing away the surrounding gas. However, as the Demon Beast disintegrated, a huge amount of corrosive gas poured out from its flesh, instantly saturating the entire region.
“Even in death, it remains a pain…!”
Ikaruga swiftly changed its thrusters and circled around the massive amount of corrosive gas in front of it, all the while firing at the remaining Demon Beasts.
The remaining insectoid Demon Beasts, seeing their brethren blown to pieces, instinctively sensed the danger posed by Ikaruga’s Sword Cannons. They hastily attempted to circumvent the Ikaruga, but let out an anxious flutter as they realized that they were cut off from their prey.
“You shall not pass…”
Ikaruga stood firm before the swarm. Its thrusters bellowed out flames in all direction as it stared intensively at the Demon Beasts.
From the scene captured by the crystal eyes, Eru had carefully observed the insectoid Demon Beast in detail and soon chanced upon a curious finding. Behind the vibrating wings, the Demon Beasts seemed to have another wing that glowed brilliantly in changing colors.
“That light… So these insectoid Demon Beasts also rely on Ether to fly. Would that explain its flight? If so, then I am certain my Ikaruga is superior.”
Without using an Etheric Levitator, Ikaruga relied completely on its magius thrusters to fly. Although it did cost an incredible amount of mana, the magius thrusters provided Ikaruga with freedom of movement unrivaled by mere Etheric Levitator. As such, compared to the two-dimensional movement of the insectoid Demon Beasts, Ikaruga should easily outclass it in terms of agility.
At that moment, the insectoid Demon Beasts began to launch fluid bombs. As before, the spheres exploded midair, creating a wall of white gas between the Ikaruga and the Demon Beasts.
“Trying to prevent my approach? Useless! My Sword Cannons could easily shoot through the clouds!”
Ikaruga raised its Sword Cannons and turned them toward the shadows tucked away in the white clouds. However, relying on its naturally high agility, the insectoid Demon Beasts simply dodged the shots.
“They are more agile than a Wind Knights and very dangerous in close quarters… How problematic.”
Although Eru had already made quite a few shots, the insectoid Demon Beasts had easily dodged all of them. The cloud also had little intention of dissipating, forcing Eru to remain at a distance. Without much alternatives available, Eru was forced into a problematic stalemate. Soon, a nagging question arose in Eru’s mind.
“Weird, why haven’t they approached? While I am only here to delay their approach, they should not need to do the same, especially with those effective attacks of theirs.”
While the corrosive clouds prevented Ikaruga from approaching, the Demon Beasts had no reason to remain within the clouds themselves. Eru certainly wouldn’t simply approach the could haphazardly. Just as Eru was confounded by the insectoid Demon Beasts’ action, a terrible premonition flashed across his mind.
“Could they be… Impossible, how?!”
With his eyes opened wide in surprise, Eru had the Ikaruga quickly turn around. Its crystal eyes soon caught sight of his worst nightmare.
Three insectoid Demon Beasts had long ignored Ikaruga and headed straight toward the fleet. To prevent their attack on the fleet, the Wind Knights and Wizards had long entered into a precarious situation.
Eru shuddered as he turned to the corrosive gas surrounding him.
“…It is neither an attack nor a defense, but a mere distraction! The insectoid Demon Beasts here are all mere bait! To think Demon Beasts would know tactics!”
In all the battles between humans and Demon Beasts, the Demon Beasts were known for their lack of tactical maneuvers. Although there were some Demon Beasts with leadership qualities, they had never demonstrated the intelligence to perform complex tactics like ‘Deploying smoke, leave bait, then circle around the threat’. As such, Eru had never imagined the possibility revealed before his eyes, or rather, it was a possibility no veteran knight runner could ever imagine.
“I was had!”
Neither the Wind Knight nor the Wizards had any real means to counter the corrosive cloud. However, even though they knew they had fallen into the Demon Beasts’ ploy, they were left with few alternatives but to fight with their lives on the line.
◆ ◆ ◆
The fleet launched a blanket of shots in an attempt to screen away the insectoid Demon Beasts. The Wind Knights were unable to enter into melee in fear of the corrosive bombs. Yet, allowing them to approach would spell doom for the Levitate Ships. As such, without any real counter to the Demon Beasts, the Wind Knights were forced to take the unfavorable fight.
“Darn it, can’t we move any faster?! At this rate, they will definitely catch up!”
“Don’t give up, just keep firing at them! Let them know with our shots that approaching is suicide!”
The fleet’s overwhelming firepower had some positive effects. For the three insectoid Demon Beasts, a stray shot could still inflict considerable damage. Therefore, they remained largely outside of the effective range of their own corrosive bombs.
However, the Demon Beasts suddenly altered their tactics. Instead of a straightforward approach, they pulled back slightly before accelerating to the side of the fleet.
“Not good, they are planning to circle around to the front!”
A few Wind Knights immediately detached from the Levitate Ship to intercept. Due to the risk of the corrosive bomb, they could not risk too brazen an approach and were soon thrown off the Demon Beasts’ tail. At that moment, the Demon Beasts launched a few corrosive bombs ahead of the escaping fleet.
“They have cut off our retreat! Change course! We can’t risk running into the cloud!”
“Take out those Demon Beasts now! We can’t risk another intercepting shot!” Batson shouted in panic as he turned the wheel.
The fleet scrambled to avoid the bursts of clouds. The fleet’s survival seemed incredibly slim now that the initiative was lost.
The insectoid Demon Beasts seemed to be smirking at the scrambling Levitate Ships and their fruitless struggle. Despite the Wind Knights’ best efforts, the massive Levitate Ships were not exceptionally nimble, and it took everything they had just to avoid the clouds.
Hoping to secure their escape, the Wind Knights continued to blanket the sky with shots. However, their efforts failed to translate into results, and, as the corrosive cloud continued to expand, the remaining routes were soon blocked off.
“Darn it! We will end up running into clouds no matter what direction we sail!”
With the blockade complete, the atmosphere aboard was incredibly heavy as a wave of despair washed over the crew.
Piloting the Syrphrine, Addy carefully observed the motion of the corrosive clouds. Interestingly, far from stationary, the clouds were actually slowly shifting.
“Don’t give up! Look closely, the corrosive cloud is descending. Since the cloud is heavier than air, we could definitely escape from above! Levitate Ships, maximize the Etheric Levitator’s output and run the blockade!” Addy declared after noticing the motion of the clouds.
Every Levitate Ship grasped for the single strand of hope as their Etheric Levitator hummed with activity, increasing the Ether concentration.
Sadly, before they managed to ascend, the insectoid Demon Beasts had already pierced through the clouds. As they had used the corrosive clouds to entrap their prey, they certainly wouldn’t let their prey escape without a fight.
“Fire Staff Weapons! Ascend, come on! If this keeps on…”
As before, the Levitate Ships attempted to screen away the Demon Beast with shots. However, the panicking Wind Knights’ disorganized shots were ineffective at limiting the movement of the nimble Demon Beasts.
Faced with certain doom, Lafal called for action.
“Wind Knights, let us delay the Demon Beasts! We can’t let them touch the ships!” Lafal announced as he sent a signal to charge the Demon Beasts.
The squad under his direct command took up the call to arms as they lunged toward the Demon Beasts with their lance. Although the numbers were equal, the unique characteristic of the Demon Beasts’ attack meant that approach was essentially suicidal. Even then, Lafal’s squad remained resolute.
“He is… not the only defender of the fleet!”
Lafal gave a quick glance to a distant place, to which his mind conjured up its heroic visage. In a split second, the magius thrusters shot out flames to close the distance as the squad laid down a continuous fire.
The insectoid Demon Beast beat its wings as it dodged the shots. At the same time, it prepared its corrosive bombs to greet the incoming attackers.
“Everyone, disperse! Evade the shots!”
The Wind Knights forcibly changed their flight while feeling the corrosive cloud on their backs. Surviving the bomb, the squad then turned to engage the Demon Beasts once more. On the other hand, the Demon Beasts seemed to have laughed at their pointless efforts and simply flew straight through the corrosive cloud as they continued their way toward the fleet.
“You won’t get away! I still have one more trick up my sleeves!”
Lafal discarded his lance and Staff Weapons, to the surprise of all his squadmates, and accelerated toward the insectoid Demon Beast with the now unencumbered Wind KNight. As he rapidly closed the distance between the two, Lafal released his controls.
“…Instructor, I shall leave the rest to you!”
Below Lafal’s Touediane, the Multiple Javelin Launcher System turned toward the Demon Beast and fired one after another. Lafal focused all his concentration on the guidance of the Javelins, without any hesitation or evasion, all in order to score a hit.
The Demon Beasts had sensed the approaching Javelins and attempted to evade. However, the Silver Nerve-guided Javelins could not be easily thrown off their scent. Faced with imminent impact, the Demon Beasts sprayed the corrosive fluid from his legs and created a defensive cloud.
As the Magic Javelins entered the cloud, the Javelin itself was able to resist some of the initial corrosion, but the Silver Nerve quickly dissolved. With the magic supply and navigation cut off, the Javelins fell harmlessly from the sky.
“H-how… Even the Javelins won’t work? What the hell are we to do with these Demon Beasts?!”
The Demon Beasts simply disregarded the helpless Lafal and continued their approach on the fleet as their leg’s prepared their corrosive bomb. If they had the chance to fire on the fleet and spread more corrosive clouds, then both the Levitate Ships and the surrounding Wind Knights would all meet a pitiful end.
“How… Why! Someone, stop them!!”
Just as the Demon Beast was ready to fire, a single flaming shot from behind Lafal pierced its carapace and caused Demon Beast to explode, leaving only a massive corrosive cloud in its place.
Lafal reflexively turned to look at the source of the shot. From the monitor, what he saw was a Silhouette Knight bellowing flames.
“One down! Now, the next one!”
It was the Ikaruga. The surprise attack succeeded largely because Lafal had kept their focus. Without pause, Ikaruga fell a second Demon Beast with another shot.
“Next… Darn it, it’s too close!”
As Ikaruga raised its Sword Cannons toward the last Demon Beast, Eru could no longer afford to fire. In the time Eru had brought down two of the Demon Beasts, the last one had already flown too close to the fleet. If Ikaruga were to fire now, Eru could not imagine the damage wrought upon the Levitate Ships and the Wind Knights by the corrosive cloud.
Faced with imminent danger, Eru pushed Ikaruga’s thrusters to the max as he slammed into the side of the remaining insectoid Demon Beast. While the force of impact had caused a crack in the carapace, no corrosive gas sprayed out. Eru knew that a Demon Beast this size were generally quite resistant to physical impact, and thus would not easily receive damage without the use of shots or weapon.
At that moment, Eru had taken advantage of the Demon Beast’s sturdiness and rammed it away from the fleet with its four powerful thrusters. After the Demon Beast was a fair distance away from the rest of the fleet, Eru shot at it with Sword Cannons. In a violent explosion, the final insectoid Demon Beast was destroyed.
“So that is Ikaruga, the Silver Phoenix Knights’ Knight Commander Silhouette Knight,” Lafal muttered after witnessing the Demon God’s overwhelming power against the threats he couldn’t even scratch.
Before the Kingdom of Fremmevira’s strongest Silhouette Knight, Lafal could not help but feel an intimidating chill.
With the three insectoid Demon Beasts eliminated, the fleet finished ascending to its desired altitude and continued its retreat. As Eru finally let out a sigh of relief, Syrphrine pulled up next to Ikaruga.
“Eru, it’s time to leave. Let’s make a run for it!”
“Can’t do that, Addy. Look, the insectoid Demon Beasts still haven’t given up its chase. I doubt they would easily let us off…”
Since the moment Ikaruga had escaped from the insectoid Demon Beasts’ trap, the remaining Demon Beasts continued to follow Ikaruga. With its bright wing glittering in the back, the remaining Demon Beasts accelerated toward the fleet.
“Addy, I will leave the command of the Wind Knights to you. In the meantime, I will take care of the Demon Beasts myself!”
“Eru! Must you really ditch me again…?!”
Ikaruga accelerated once more toward the Demon Beasts before Addy could finish her sentence.
◆ ◆ ◆
“How dare you trick me!”
Ikaruga fired upon the approaching insectoid Demon Beasts with a barrage of shots in order to stop their advance. Surprisingly, the Demon Beasts took the battle against Ikaruga rather than advancing on the fleet.
“Hahaha~ Now this is better. Come and let us have a wonderful dance!”
The insectoid Demon Beast seemed to have also realized the threat posed by the powerful and agile Ikaruga. As such, they had deemed the defeat of Ikaruga as their main priority.
“Sadly, I doubt I will be able to return to the fleet after this battle. Well, whatever…”
Eru used his flame shots to disrupt the Demon Beasts’ attempted encirclement and their corrosive clouds. Regardless of Ikaruga’s strength, it was still susceptible to the Demon Beasts’ powerful corrosive clouds. Yet, despite slowly being forced into a corner, Ikaruga did not display the slightest fear or despair.
“Don’t be mistaken, you are the one who is trapped here.”
Instead, Eru’s eyes revealed an incredible rage, a rage that had even surpassed the intensity of its flaming shots.
“Demon Beasts who uses corrosive fluids… You are the greatest enemy of my beloved Silhouette Knights…”
The Silhouette Knight otaku, Ernesti, could not bear with the existence of such Demon Beasts.
“…And by extension, you are my greatest enemy! How could I possibly let any of you live in my ideal world?!”
Both the Emperor’s Heart and Empress’s Coronet began to run at maximum capacity as Ikaruga let out a blood-curdling roar. The battle for survival commenced.
◆ ◆ ◆
Ikaruga stood in the sky with the expedition fleet to his back. Nearby, the insectoid Demon Beasts surrounded the Ikaruga, as their wings beat at a numbing frequency. Neither seemed to act in this calm before the storm.
“Very well, let us do this Ikaruga! Let us annihilate these enemies!”
The magius thrusters hummed in anticipation as the insectoid Demon Beasts started their attack. It was a coordinated strike from two directions, a classic pincer maneuver.
As they approached, all the Demon Beasts launched their corrosive bombs at the Ikaruga. The fluid could be vaporized into a gaseous form that acted as a poison and ate away at a Silhouette Knight. Even the Ikaruga would not easily survive for long in such a caustic environment.
Yet, Ikaruga would not take the attack standing still. With a powerful burst of its thrusters, Ikaruga shot up and avoided the exploding bombs, before unleashing a barrage of shots at the insectoid Demon Beasts below.
The burning shots cut through the white clouds, but the insectoid Demon Beasts had long moved away. The insectoid Demon Beasts were blessed with a naturally strong agility that rivaled even the Wind Knights.
As Ikaruga exchanged fire with the closer Demon Beasts, the ones further away also crept nearer. On top of the advantage in numbers, the Demon Beasts had a second unique advantage.
“As I had expected, these Demon Beasts really are working together. Their movement demonstrated strong teamwork. Yet, to think even the simplest of group tactics would prove this difficult for me to overcome…”
Eru could not let himself be surrounded. Using a combination of thrusters and shots, Eru sought to contain the Demon Beasts’ movements.
Given the distance, Eru could not hope to land a hit. Yet, if this were to keep up, the surrounding area would end up saturated with corrosive clouds.
“Their extinction is certain… but if I don’t find a way to disrupt their teamwork, I won’t have an easy time making it happen… Ugh!”
One of the Demon Beasts fired a corrosive bomb straight up at Ikaruga. Yet, the bomb did not explode until it had reached high above Ikaruga.
“Trying to limit my upward mobility?”
The corrosive cloud spread out like an umbrella before slowly drifting downward. To avoid the corrosive cloud, Ikaruga rapidly turned its thrusters downward, directly into the insectoid Demon Beasts laying in wait below with their corrosive bombs.
Faced with incoming bombs, Eru pushed the thrusters in a sudden burst of acceleration. With Sword Cannons in hand, Ikaruga flew ahead of the exploding bombs and passed by the Demon Beasts.
At that moment, a few flaming shots pierced through the head of the Demon Beast, followed by a large explosion. As chunks of Demon Beast flesh fell from the sky, the remains reacted with the air and created a large cloud of corrosive gas, yet not before the Ikaruga successfully flew out from the encirclement.
“Since the Demon Beasts have some semblance of tactics, it would be better if I took the initiative… Hmm?”
At that moment, Eru had noticed a suspicious shadow on his monitor. Due to Ikaruga’s acceleration, all Demon Beasts should’ve been behind him. Yet, the Demon Beast appeared right in front of him, meaning that it did not join the attack at all.
Eru was not surprised at the presence of the Demon Beast, but rather at its appearance that did not resemble the others he had fought. This Demon Beast was slightly larger, with a light red carapace. It had many more wings on its back and a large protruding thorax that glowed in a mysterious golden hue.
Its pair of compound eyes glared at Ikaruga as it let out a screeching sounds that cut across the air.
Immediately, the insectoid Demon Beasts behind Ikaruga changed formation. Rather than coming at him in a single group, the Demon Beasts split in two and launched bombs on the sides of Ikaruga.
Seeing his sides cut off by corrosive clouds, Eru immediately realized their intentions.
“…I see. Trying to cut me off? Here I thought I had finally seen Demon Beasts with a semblance of tactics, to think they were just operating through a single mind…”
Eru had understood that the larger insectoid Demon Beast before him was the ‘Mind’ of the group.
“In that case, your very existence is a weakness!”
Eru pushed the Ikaruga to advance, believing that if he could eliminate the brain of the Demon Beasts, the rest of the Demon Beasts would lose their coordination, leaving them to be easy pickings. Although the corrosive clouds still proved to be an issue, the Demon Beasts would not be a problem for the powerful Ikaruga.
The red Demon Beast uncurled its legs at the approaching Ikaruga and secreted its corrosive fluids. It then opened its jaws and let out a slight screech. Accompanied by the faint glow of magic, the surrounding air began to gather and swirl.
The red Demon Beast’s magic appeared not to be preparing for flight, but rather to set the corrosive gas into a twister. Soon, a corrosive tornado formed before Ikaruga, threatening to dissolve all matter it touches. At the center of the tornado, the Demon Beast glared intentively at its prey.
“Impressive! So the leader of the swarm also happens to be the strongest!”
Surrounded by corrosive clouds on all sides and an approaching tornado to the front, Ikaruga had no obvious path of escape. Yet, with a single burst of thrusters, Ikaruga went into action.
As the flames shot up into the air, Ikaruga sped his way downward by the pull of gravity. While the corrosive clouds were heavier than air, its descent wasn’t particularly fast. As such, Ikaruga was able to take advantage of its higher speed and drew an arc between the bottom edge of the clouds and the approaching tornado.
However, the Demon Beasts would not let him escape so easily. With a loud buzz, the Demon Beasts returned to the chase.
“Although I wanted to knock out the leader first, I doubt I could ignore these Demon Beasts for long…”
Ikaruga and the Demon Beasts continued to exchange shots as they flew. Soon, the entire sky was blanketed by patches of corrosive clouds and fire.
In the meantime, the red Demon Beast made some distance from Ikaruga to command its swarm from afar. With a piercing gaze that did not let past the slightest detail, the red Demon Beast would change its sound and the insectoid Demon Beasts would adjust accordingly. As Eru had expected, a Demon Beast with the intelligence for ‘tactics’ proved to be a difficult challenge even for the battle-hardened Ikaruga.
Eru shot down another Demon Beast that flew through the cloud, yet his face did not show any signs of relief. Even with all the might of the Ikaruga, Eru still could not reliably eliminate the Demon Beasts. After all, despite their limited and ever-decreasing number, the Demon Beasts would always adopt the best possible formation for the situation.
“Ugh, so my only option is to slowly whittle down the numbers… Hiya!”
The insectoid demon beasts launched another wave of corrosive bombs, intending to saturate the area with corrosive clouds. Responding to their attack, Ikaruga had to immediately pull into a pirouette and use its magius thrusters to push away the approaching white clouds.
“I doubt I could solve this by dodging. It’s quite the troublesome attack, but I believe they should have a limit to their body fluids…”
Eru’s words slowly faded out as he had realized another anomaly that appeared on his monitor. The originally swiftly receding scenery was slowing down.
It didn’t take long for Eru to figure out the cause: The thrust provided by the magius thrusters were rapidly decreasing. Despite Eru’s best effort at avoiding the corrosive clouds, small particles still ended up inside the air intakes and ate away at the mithril plates within, eventually damaging the scripts.
The powerful thrusters that had kept the Ikaruga in the air were slowly being snuffed out. While the thrusters on the waist still supported minor adjustments, they could not compensate for the entire weight.
“Corrosive cloud… To think they would have such an effect without even coming in close contact. Although I did not underestimate the danger, I do have to say that I may have messed up.”
While Ikaruga had exceptional performance, it was also incredibly heavy with its immense repertoire of weapons and armor. A large number of thrusters proved to be the bare necessity to keep such a behemoth afloat.
With the slightest disturbance of the thruster’s outputs, the insectoid Demon Beasts soon caught up.
“Haa… I was wondering why they had attacked in waves, were they waiting for this opportunity? You think that you could win against me just because I am a bit slow? Don’t underestimate me!!”
Ikaruga raised its Sword Cannons and launched a barrage at the incoming Demon Beasts. As always, the insectoid Demon Beasts easily evaded the burning shots without the slightest decrease in speed. Perhaps sensing weakness in their opponent, the insectoid Demon Beast moved to deliver the finishing blow.
The Demon Beasts prepared their corrosive bombs for the final bombardment. Yet, at that moment, a single silver thread entered into the insectoid Demon Beast’s vision as a certain object pierced through its head. It was Rahu’s Fist, a guided attack that used the Silver Nerves.
Still reeling from the attack, the Demon Beast was then struck by a flame shot and exploded. Sadly, the attack had left Rahu’s Fist out of commission. The fragile Silver Nerves aside, the entire fist fell apart after coming into direct contact with the corrosive fluid. While the loss of Rahu’s Fist was an undeniable loss for Ikaruga, its sacrifice was not in vain.
“Perfect, you have another major weakness for me to exploit… The time delay between commands!”
Seeing their kin being struck down, the insectoid Demon Beasts were left in a momentary disarray. Eru did not let the opportunity slip and launched a massive barrage, blasting the remaining insectoid Demon Beast out from the sky.
With that, the skies regained its usual calm. The numbing sounds of the Demon Beasts’ beating wings were no more as the battered Ikaruga floated in the air.
“The fleet had already made some distance. Looks like… you are the only one left.”
Ikaruga turned to the large shadow behind the corrosive clouds. Although it had lost its swarm, the red Demon Beasts remained unshaken.
“My Rahu’s Fists gone, and I am left with just two Sword Cannons and two magius thrusters. I won’t be able to go all out like always, but…”
Ikaruga was littered with damage. Weapons aside, Ikaruga had already lost over half of its mobility. As such, Ikaruga could not remotely hope to reach its usual performance. Furthermore, the surroundings were still saturated with corrosive clouds, worsened by the recent deaths of Demon Beasts. With the vast spread of corrosive clouds between the Ikaruga and the red Demon Beast, even reaching the Demon Beast would prove to be an incredible challenge. Eru and Ikaruga had to fight the red Demon Beast under such unfavorable conditions.
At that moment, the red Demon Beast unleashed a sharp cry that pierced the air, seemingly laughing at the terrible state Ikaruga was in. After all, the red Demon Beast had some evidence of intelligence, so it probably understood the advantage it held.
Despite the unforgiving circumstances, Eru still charged ahead with its waist magius thrusters on maximum output, toward the slowly descending layer of corrosive clouds.
“Corrosive cloud is dangerous due to its gaseous nature, but it could also be exploited…”
Ikaruga raised both of its Sword Cannons and shot in tandem on a slight intercept angle. The two shot soon collided with one another and caused a massive explosion midair. Given that corrosive cloud was relatively light and that Ikaruga could channel more of its output toward the two weapons now that most of its thrusters were disabled, the force of the blast was strong enough to scatter away the surrounding corrosive cloud and create an opening.
After a few more shots, Ikaruga managed to carve a path through the corrosive clouds, straight to the red Demon Beast. Without stopping, Ikaruga pushed through the tunnel.
The red Demon Beast began to emit more of its corrosive fluids at the sight of the approaching Ikaruga and prepared to unleash a repeat of the earlier tornado.
“Too slow! Closing air intake, let this be the final strike!”
Yet, the red Demon Beast was just a step behind Ikaruga, and Ikaruga swung its Sword Cannon to sever the Demon Beast in two halves.
At that moment, a large shadow appeared off to Ikaruga’s side and let out a terrible cry. It was an insectoid Demon Beast that survived the earlier carnage, hiding inside the corrosive clouds. The surviving Demon Beast flew over and, without the slightest hesitation, placed itself between the sword and the red Demon Beast. Without any chance for recourse, Ikaruga’s Sword Cannon cut into the surviving Demon Beast, body and all.
“How… it took the blow? To think a Demon Beast sacrificed itself?!”
For any intelligent creatures, suicide should be the furthest from its mind. If the red Demon Beast could even command them to lay down their own lives, then its combat potential was clearly abnormal.
The insectoid Demon Beast did not die in vain. With its body crushed, the internal fluids quickly leaked out and vaporized into a massive corrosive cloud. As such, it didn’t just serve as a meat shield for the red Demon Beast, it also unleashed a corrosive cloud on Ikaruga.
Thankfully, Ikaruga had closed its air intake for the melee. As such, Eru was able to avoid inhaling the poison. However, the two waist thrusters were not as fortunate. When the corrosive air entered into the magius thrusters, the flames sputtered out as Ikaruga slowly descended by the force of its own weight.
“Ugh… C-come on! Ikaruga! Just a little bit more!”
Ikaruga’s fall allowed itself to pull away from the corrosive cloud. With the remnants of its magic scripts, Ikaruga ignited a faint ember. With the final glow of its thrusters, Ikaruga was able to slow its descent and allow for a safe landing on the ground below.
However, Ikaruga’s respite was short-lived, for a certain shadow fell atop of the Ikaruga. It was half of the severed Demon Beast, which soon splattered itself onto the ground next to Ikaruga. The corrosive fluid rapidly vaporized and consumed the now immobile Ikaruga.
◆ ◆ ◆
“Darn it! Hey, any news on the fight?!” Boss bellowed in anger while sitting in the captain’s seat on the Izumo.
Ikaruga’s fight with the insectoid Demon Beasts had provided the fleet time to escape. At this time, the battlefield was already far beyond the horizon, and the anxiety among the crew had slowly died down.
“No idea. We couldn’t exactly afford to remain in the vicinity and spectate.” Batson retorted with a serious face.
“I know…! Ugh! Darn it all!” Boss shouted in reply as he stood up and began to pace around the bridge, “Very well, inform the other ships! The Izumo shall turn around to pick up silver boy!”
“Belay that order.”
A calm voice immediately followed Boss’s words.
Turning around, Boss found the voice to be from the Knight Commander of the Violet Swallow Knights, Torstei Koskensalo, who had moved to the Izumo at the outbreak of hostilities.
“Without the Izumo, the defense of the fleet will be compromised. As the highest ranking officer currently in the fleet, I cannot let you go.”
“I will leave all the Wind Knights to the fleet. Surely that would suffice for defense?”
Boss was obstinate in his decision, one that was shared by all who were on the bridge, including Batson. Accurately speaking, everyone was supportive of Boss’s plan, as all of them were members of the SIlver Phoenix Knight.
“Our Knight Commander is still out there. So it is only natural for us to go to him.”
Yet, Torstei refused to budge.
“However, Captain Hepken, that Knight Commander had also given you the order to leave him behind. Not to mention, even if do you return, you would only serve as a hindrance to Ernesti. After all, you should be well aware that there is no role for the Izumo on that battlefield.”
Boss was left speechless at Torstei’s sound argument. Certainly, if a Levitate Ship were caught in a corrosive cloud, it would certainly sink within a matter of minutes. The Izumo was no exception.
Eru ordering them to leave him behind was for the same reason. If Izumo were to return, it would only end up handicapping the Ikaruga. Torstei’s words were the objective truth, while Boss’s words were just an emotional outburst. Torn between the two opposing standpoints, the crews were left at a loss.
“…Who cares, we cannot abandon the silver boy!”
“Yes. Let’s go! Everyone, get ready!”
Even so, Boss remained obstinate. Even Batson stood in support of Boss, likely because of the childhood friendship between him and Eru.
“The battlefield is currently saturated with corrosive clouds. Returning to that battlefield now is simply asking everyone aboard to die with you. Do you even understand why he stayed on that battlefield? Who do you think is disrespecting Knight Commander Echevalier’s will?!” Torstei growled.
With Torstei’s strong words, Batson’s hands paused on the steering wheel as his strong grip chafed the hapless wood.
“If you are just going to hesitate, let me take over. Move aside!”
Boss pushed away the hesitant Batson and grabbed the steering wheel himself, only to have his hands pressed down by Torstei’s.
Boss turned angrily to Torstei, both glared with absolute conviction into each other’s eyes.
“If the Izumo sinks, Eru’s efforts would be for naught.”
Hearing Torstei’s low whisper, Boss finally relented as he reluctantly released his grip on the steering wheel.
At the same moment, a knight runner of the Violet Swallow Knights ran over, dissipating the earlier tense atmosphere on the bridge. Seeing the complicated stare between Torstei and Boss, the knight runner hesitated for a moment, before being overwhelmed by his sense of duty and began his report.
“Sir! We have confirmed that, other than a single Wind Knight, all units are present and accounted for! However…”
The knight runner revealed a tinge of worry, but was prodded on by Torstei to continue.
“The Violet Swallow Knights aside, we could not locate Instructor Olver!”
Everyone on the bridge was shocked by the news. Boss contemplated as he closed his bloodshot eyes for a moment.
“Ahh… it’s the girl. I see… This is pretty much expected. If silver boy was no longer here, why would she remain? Darn it… It isn’t fair that you get to head out by yourself,” Boss muttered with a sigh as he sat down where he stood.
Despite knowing that it would be a one-way trip, Adeltrud would not hesitate to follow after Eru. At that moment, Boss felt a tinge of jealousy toward Addy. After calming himself down, Boss stood up once more.
“Let the fleet hold position for a bit. If silver boy still doesn’t return…”
“Yes. I do not want to abandon him. If he doesn’t return soon, we should send out some Wind Knights to search the area.”
With that said, Boss returned to the captain’s seat with heavy steps.
After a few days, the expedition fleet waited for Eru and Addy to return. Yet, no matter how long they waited, Ikaruga and Syrphrine did not ever return. No matter how many enthusiastic Wind Knights went out to search the area, they caught no sight of Ikaruga and Syrphrine, nor any of the insectoid Demon Beasts.
“…Let us return. All ships, to the west.”
After a week, the expedition fleet begrudgingly decided to return to the Kingdom of Fremmevira.