TL/N: The good news and the bad news… Good news: The chapter is finally here, found some time during christmas to finish it up… So, merry Christmas! Now, the bad news. Due to year 3 chinicals owning my rear, I will be dropping K&M after I finish up volume 6, although I will still finish it up with a polished EPUB for archive. If anyone wants to pick it up, I can provide my standardized name/location translations to ease the transition.
Kingdom of Fremmevira, Eastern Frontiers.
Within the chain of forts that lined the Life Lanes, knight runners suddenly noticed a dark shadow cast down from above. As they looked up, they saw a massive object that blotted out the sun. It was a ‘ship’ that coursed across the air with full sails.
“Could that be a Levitate Ship that had returned from the Bocuse? That emblem… it’s the Silver Phoenix Knights! They have returned!!”
Seeing the emblem emblazoned on the sails, the knight runners waved their hands in the air and cheered.
With Transport Ships in formation around the Izumo, the fleet that had departed for Bocuse, the Sea of Trees, had finally returned after many months of voyage.
As the fleet crossed over the edge of the forest, those aboard could see the fortress and roads below bustling with activity. In contrast, the atmosphere was quite dark on the bridge of the ‘Izumo’. Despite having finally completed their extensive expedition and returning safely home, the crew lacked any signs of joy.
The center of the negative atmosphere was the one seated in the captain’s chair. He was of relatively short stature, but had a sturdy and well-built body. With his head hanging low, the man sat with his arms crossed across his chest. After a long period of torpor, David ‘the Boss’ Hepken finally raised his head.
“So, we have returned…” Boss groaned as he glared at the scrolling scenery outside the glass.
Reminiscent of a snuffed-out stove, Boss did not have even a speck of his usual domineering attitude.
“Yes, we have… Although much had changed from the time of our departure, we were still able to complete our mission.” Torstei, the Knight Commander of the Violet Swallow Knights, exclaimed.
After the ‘battle’, Torstei had assumed command of the fleet and moved his command aboard the Izumo.
Although lacking his usual enthusiasm and having yielded the fleet to Torstei, Boss strongly insisted on retaining his position as captain and remained in the captain’s chair. This stubbornness wasn’t limited to just Boss, even the rest of the Izumo’s Silver Phoenix Knights remained vigilant at their posts, first and foremost with Batson still behind the wheel.
“We will need to head for Känkänen and report to His Majesty. Although, you can just leave the matter to me.” Torstei proposed after seeing Boss’s fatigued expression.
After arriving in the skies above the Kingdom of Fremmevira, such was the reality that the fleet had to face. Contemplating Torstei’s proposal, Boss descended into a long silence.
“Very well. Let me be the one to break the news to… the boy’s family living near Fort Olvecius.” Boss answered with broiling frustration.
With their minds made up, the fleet continued its flight above the Kingdom of Fremmevira with a stagnant atmosphere within.
◆ ◆ ◆
Seeing the return of the expedition fleet, the entire city of Känkänen was burning with anticipation. With all the Levitate Ships returning visibly unscathed, everyone was confident that the fleet had completed its mission without issue. Considering that few dared to venture into Bocuse in the past, the people were convinced that the day had finally come to remove the veil of enigma that had shrouded Bocuse.
As such, few were prepared for the news that followed: the Knight Commander of the Silver Phoenix Knights, Ernesti Echevalier, as well as his adjutant, Adeltrud Olter, failed to return with the fleet.
When Torstei touched down with the Levitate Ship, he immediately headed for Chateau Schreiber.
“…That was, unexpected.” King Leotamus sighed upon hearing Torstei’s report, “In retrospect, we expected him, more than anyone else, to return safely with the expedition.”
King Leotamus slowly came to realize the magnitude of the report. Certainly, the expedition had many gains, but it all paled in comparison with what had been lost.
Amid King Leotamus’s frustration, Torstei provided additional details regarding the battle – from the Demon Beasts with corrosive fluids to Ikaruga’s fight with the Demon Beasts in order to cover for the retreat of the expedition fleet. As a result, while Ikaruga had successfully kept the fleet safe, it was lost alongside the Syrphrine.
“I still can’t believe it, especially considering his usual willfulness, that he would step up on such an occasion. Does he feel no fear? Or rather, did he simply seek the challenge?”
King Ambrosius was the one who bequeathed Ernesti with the Silver Phoenix Knights, to which the Silver Phoenix Knights had wonderfully lived up to his expectations. Since the day of their establishment, the Silver Phoenix Knights had forged one miracle after another. On top of developing the new Stranded Crystal Silhouette Knights, the Silver Phoenix Knights were seen as indefatigable champions in the fight against the Demon Beasts and Silhouette Knights alike.
Regardless of the situation, the Silver Phoenix Knights would step up to the challenge and triumph against all odds. Perhaps due to their overwhelming strength, everyone had simply neglected the possibility of them losing, with King Leotamus at the forefront.
“In any case, this has created a huge problem. We could not think of anyone capable enough to fill the void left by Ernesti…”
Even if they scoured the entire Zetterlund, King Leotamus had no confidence in finding someone able to replace Ernesti. King Leotamus had not foreseen Eru’s sudden disappearance and the unprecedented issues that it would cause. Even so, as the reigning monarch, King Leotamus was left to face with the problem.
◆ ◆ ◆
While Torstei gave his report in Känkänen, Izumo alone left for Fort Olvecius.
As Izumo appeared in the backdrop of the distant horizon, the members of the Silver Phoenix Knights who remained in the fortress began to stir in excitement.
Yet, their excitement was short-lived, as they had come to realize the absence of Ikaruga and Syrphrine in Izumo’s hangers. The celebration where they would congratulate and share their adventures came to an abrupt halt as their Knight Commander was nowhere to be found.
“What the heck…?! Boss? What happened?”
As the demoralized crew unloaded the Izumo, Dietrich rushed over to Boss. Although he tried to get some clarification on the circumstances, Dietrich completely froze upon seeing the dark expression on Boss’s face.
Boss did not display the slightest of his usual enthusiasm, seemingly had the light snuffed out from his body. Despite knowing Boss for a long time, Dietrich had never seen him this depressed and enervated. As such, Dietrich hesitated to ask, as it was obvious to him that something terrible had happened.
In the end, Dietrich braved his fears and confronted Boss.
“Boss, tell me everything in detail. Exactly what had happened on the expedition? What in the world did you all encounter? And… why did Ernesti and Adeltrud not return?”
In an act completely contrary to his usual forthcoming attitude, Boss’s face dimmed at the question and turned his gaze off to the side as he hesitated for a response.
“…appeared. Unfamiliar Demon Beasts… Flyers… Shaped like beetles… We thought they were nothing but pushovers… However, they were able to spray body fluids that ‘dissolved’ Silhouette Knights!” Boss replied with broken words after a long moment of pause.
Dietrich furrowed his eyebrows upon hearing the report. As a career knight runner, he immediately envisioned himself fighting against such a Demon Beast and, given his personal abilities, soon realized the difficulty of such a scenario.
“…As such, the Wind Knights were essentially useless. After all, none of them could approach the Demon Beasts with the corrosive fluids. Only the boy’s Ikaruga had any chance against them. As usual, he charged headlong into battle.”
Boss’s expression had slightly relaxed and revealed a bitter smile. Dietrich could vividly imagine such a situation.
“Even facing a Demon Beast that could spray corrosive fluids, the boy’s performance was incredible. He had completely suppressed the Demon Beasts’ attack and created an opportunity for the fleet to withdraw. Yet, it was an incredibly poor match-up against Silhouette Knights. After we had fled… The boy was caught by a corrosive cloud. We… were unable to save him. At that moment, the lass went after the boy.”
Boss’s words were not only heard by Dietrich, but also by the surrounding members of the Silver Phoenix Knights. Chatter quickly sprang up as news of Ernesti’s disappearance spread.
“Was… there nothing that could be done?”
Everyone was at a loss for words. They certainly couldn’t pin the blame on Boss. Not to mention, it was an opponent that even the Ikaruga had difficulties with, so additional Silhouette Knights would just be a liability in the fight. Among the few that had the ability, Adeltrud had already gone to help and had suffered a similar fate to Eru.
At the same time, they could not blame the Violet Swallow Knights. Rather, they should be commended for their effort. Under such trying conditions, they had wonderfully brought the Izumo and rest of the fleet back from the Bocuse unharmed.
The current situation was upsetting for the Silver Phoenix Knights, and no valve existed for its release. Dietrich scratched his head in frustration, but with the ‘battle’ already over, there was little anyone could do to alter the outcome. As a wave of bitterness spread through the surrounding crowd, Edgar stepped forward.
“With the Knight Commander gone, what will now happen to… our Silver Phoenix Knights?” Edgar muttered after listening quietly to the earlier exchange.
At his question, everyone drew a deep breath.
“…Y-you! What do you mean? Of course, we will…”
Dietrich immediately jumped at the question, yet was at a loss for a realistic answer. In the end, he could only shirk back with drooped shoulders. Nearby, Boss let out a sigh.
“To be honest, with things as they are now… It is fortunate that you had accepted the commission.”
“Even Boss…?! You make it sound like… as if…” Dietrich uttered only a few words before tightly shutting his mouth, in fear that his words would jinx the situation.
“Without the boy, what else is there for us to do?”
Not even Boss knew how many times he asked himself that question. Perhaps ever since he had returned without Ernesti, Boss had already mentally prepared himself for the inevitable outcome.
“Either way, let us get some rest…”
Boss pushed Dietrich aside and departed from the crowd. His back seemed to appear uninviting from behind, making it difficult for others to follow. With the confrontation over, Dietrich also stepped away.
Edgar stood as he took a glance at the surrounding faces.
Boss wasn’t the only one who had suffered, Batson and the rest of the Levitate Ship crew all appeared listless. Despite Izumo’s safe return from its long maiden voyage, Fort Olvecius was eerily silent.
Edgar felt as if he could still see the lingering figure of the quirky youth with boundless imaginations and the lass that followed him around. He couldn’t have fathomed that the Silver Phoenix Knights would shed this much of its usual vigor when two youths were absent.
“Hey, don’t be so pessimistic. It is still not certain…”
Faced with the suffocating atmosphere as she glanced over at the crowd, Helvi was at a complete loss for words of encouragement.
“What will we do now? Or rather, what should we do now…?” Edgar muttered.
It was a difficult question, to which Helvi did not know the answer. The Silver Phoenix Knights were originally a Knight Order that existed for the sole purpose of supporting Ernesti, be it to carry out his whims that sometimes have far resounding effects on the kingdom or to step forward in fights against Demon Beasts. It was the existence known for its strength across the Kingdom of Fremmevira.
No one could replace Ernesti. Without him, the Silver Phoenix Knights would cease to exist. At that moment, everyone had finally understood.
“So, this is it then?”
Helvi stood silently in place as the bright future before her seemingly had been snuffed out.
◆ ◆ ◆
“Boss! Wait… There has to be a way!”
Hearing the sound coming from behind, the boss stopped and turned around. His expression was even dimmer than before, as if he was ready to face death.
“Di, I will be taking a trip to Academy City Laihiala.”
Dietrich immediately understood what the boss meant and let out a pained grunt.
“Someone has to tell their family… of their final bravery. This is my duty.”
“Bring Batson with you…”
“Bastard… How could I bring him on something like this? Especially when he was forced to leave his best friend behind!”
Seeing the Boss’s back, Dietrich held back his words for a moment to let his thoughts gather.
“Then… let me go with you. I will be worried if you are forced to make this trip alone.” Dietrich insisted.
Instead of stubborn denial, Boss simply nodded in silence.
Fort Olvecius was not far from Academy City Laihiala. It was sufficiently close that Ernesti and Adeltrud were able to commute from home every day.
After settling their horses in the stables near the gates of Laihiala, Dietrich and Boss made their ways to the Echevalier Residence, where Selestina ‘Tina’ Echevalier eagerly expected the return of their child. Incidentally, Ernesti’s father Mathias was still at the academy.
Selestina was joined by Adeltrud’s mother, Ilmatar ‘Ilma’ Olter. As it happened, Archid was away in the Kingdom of Kuscheperca at the time. With both of the Olter twins gone, Ilma stayed over at her good friend Tina’s place.
Instead of Ernesti and Adeltrud, they were greeted by Boss and Dietrich. Almost immediately, Tina and Ilma realized that there was an accident. Tina invited the pair inside and calmly prepared the tea.
“My boy… Eru had encountered some problems… right?” Tina asked after taking a deep breath.
Boss drained the entire cup in a single breath. After mentally preparing himself, Boss turned to Tina without evading her inquisitive gaze.
“The Knight Commander fought valiantly to ensure the survival of the Izumo and the rest of the expedition fleet, yet he was unable to return. As the captain of the Izumo, I personally witnessed part of the battle.”
To Tina and Ilma, Boss repeated the details that he gave to the Silver Phoenix Knights back at Fort Olvecius. He explained the unique characteristics of the enemies they had encountered, Ernesti’s departure to the battlefield and his subsequent failure to return.
As Tina listened, colors slowly drained from her face. With an ominous premonition creeping up from the depth of her heart, Tina forced herself to remain focused despite her receding consciousness.
After Boss finished, Tina was left unable to respond. Seated nearby, Ilma covered her mouth in sorrow as she tried to stifle her whimpers.
“Addy… at least she won’t be lonely with Eru by her side…” Ilma said with a quivering voice before turning to Tina, “Tina, our poor children…”
“Don’t worry, Ilma.” Tina firmly stated with a pale face, if only to convince herself of their survival.
“Mr. Hepken, my boy tends to follow his own convictions. I’m certain that he fought to protect everyone in order to live up to his own ideals. However…”
At this moment, Tina revealed her usual gentle smile. Although still clearly affected by the earlier shock, Tina steeled herself to finish her thought.
“Ernesti would never break a promise, and he had promised to me that he would definitely return. Therefore, I am certain he will be fine.”
Boss and Dietrich were unable to respond to Tina’s statement. They only dipped their heads in silence. After a few small exchanges, they departed from the Echevalier Residence.
◆ ◆ ◆
With their backs to the setting sun, Boss and Dietrich began their journey back to Fort Olvecius.
The scene of the visit remained in their minds. Even until the very end, Tina and Ilma remain convinced that Ernesti and Adeltrud, who lost their Silhouette Knights and fell into the depths of Bocuse, would eventually return. It was a conviction that defined the bond of a family.
Incidentally, as a member of the Silver Phoenix Knights, Dietrich instead thought about the part that he could play, given the circumstances.
“Alright, we should go!” Dietrich declared just as they approached the fort.
Boss did not turn his head to face Dietrich as he quietly listened.
“Given the circumstances, I doubt even someone like the Knight Commander could return by himself. In that case, I say we go and pick him up.”
“How many days did you think the return trip took? Even if we depart now, it will take that many days again to arrive!” Boss grumbled in reply.
“And? It’s the Knight Commander that we are talking about here! He won’t die that easily. If anything, he will find a way to survive, so it’s definitely worth making the trip.”
“Sending out an expedition requires an exorbitant amount of supplies. It’s nearly impossible for just the few of us to scrape it together, not to mention…” Boss immediately refuted.
Dietrich’s suggestion was not unfamiliar to the Boss, who had long since considered it in exquisite detail. As such, Boss had already known the problems of such an expedition.
“If returning would change anything, we would’ve decided on it a long time ago!” Boss spouted before ditching Dietrich for the hanger.
Dietrich simply watched Boss’s departing silhouette as he tightened his grip on the reins.
“…Even so, I could not accept it. How could they possibly expect me to just accept it?!” Dietrich cursed as he jerked the reins and turned the horse around.
◆ ◆ ◆
Not long after, a small commotion broke out in Chateau Schreiber, all because of a certain uninvited guest who barged through its gates.
“What’s all the commotion?” King Leotamus, who was dealing with governmental affairs, asked his attendant after hearing the noise outside.
However, before the attendant was able to give an answer, the source of the commotion burst forth before him. It was a single knight runner, forcing through dozens of royal bodyguards before reaching Leotamus.
“I am the Commander of the Silver Phoenix Knights’ Second Company, Dietrich Kunitz! I apologize for my rudeness, but I have a matter of utmost importance that I need to report to Your Majesty!”
“Hey! Unauthorized individuals are not allowed past this point! Cease and withdraw!”
“It’s not a problem. Release him.” Leotamus ordered, after inspecting Dietrich with narrowed eyes.
With the order given, the royal bodyguards reluctantly released Dietrich and stepped back. At that moment, Dietrich knelt before the king.
“We presume you are here on matters of Ernesti?” King Leotamus inquired at the breathless Dietrich.
King Leotamus did not rush Dietrich for an answer and gave Dietrich a few minutes to catch his breath. In a way, it was a somewhat pointless question, as there was no other reason why a member of the Silver Phoenix Knights would present himself before King Leotamus at this time.
“Yes, Your Majesty! In order to rescue the Knight Commander currently stranded in Bocuse, I beseech Your Majesty to permit the Silver Phoenix Knights to depart on an expedition!”
Dietrich was left frozen in place with King Leotamus’s flat-out rejection.
“We understand that Ernesti’s Silhouette Knight is the strongest known to man. However, the reports indicated that these Demon Beasts were strong enough to not only fell the Ikaruga, but also directly threatened the fleet.” King Leotamus explained, “What could a few of you accomplish? You, of all people, should know best Ernesti’s strength. If it was an enemy that could match even against the Ikaruga, how big of a force do we need to send out on such an operation? How many sacrifices must we suffer?”
“I understand Your Majesty’s concerns, and I know perfectly well that it will be a daunting task. However, we, the Silver Phoenix Knights, were the ones who fought against the Behemoth alongside Ernesti! Therefore, an opponent of this magnitude should not be impossible!”
King Leotamus continued to shake his head in refusal.
“We know of the Silver Phoenix Knights’ strength, but the chance for defeat is not negligible. If even the Silver Phoenix Knights were to be lost, our kingdom will lose our only trump card against the Demon Beasts. We had already lost Ernesti, so we cannot afford any more risk. Therefore, I will have to deny your petition.”
Although the Knight Commander was lost, the Silver Phoenix Knights remained intact with the Izumo and all the knightsmiths. In other words, the technological advances made by Ernesti was not truly lost.
Ernesti’s achievements were certainly beyond compare. However, it was too much to ask King Leotamus to gamble the fate of the kingdom on the chance of his rescue, if there was even a chance. As the monarch of a kingdom, King Leotamus had made the responsible choice.
Dietrich gritted his teeth in frustration and descended into silence, as he was unable to refute King Leotamus’s sound reasoning.
“Again, we understand you are overwhelmed by grief. We will look past your discourtesy this time, but be mindful of your behavior in the future.” King Leotamus lectured Dietrich in a soft tone.
At this moment, the kneeling Dietrich suddenly stood up. He stared eye-to-eye with the King in an incredible sign of disrespect, such that no one could argue otherwise if he were to be put down on the spot.
Faced with the confidence reflected in Dietrich’s eyes, King Leotamus let out a deep sigh.
“I… had personally fought alongside the Knight Commander in the battle against the Behemoth. In the moment of despair, I had forsaken my chivalric duties. Yet, Ernesti was the one to have brought me back to my proper path.”
The surrounding royal bodyguards slowly crept toward Dietrich, such that they could respond to any sudden outbursts. However, they all paused at his words.
“…Such was the reason why I chose to follow him! It is something that will never change. No matter the obstacle, we, the Silver Phoenix Knights, shall simply overcome. If it is for him, I and my Guyalarinde will take on any danger with a smile.”
With that said, Dietrich gave a bow before turning to leave.
“Wait… what are you planning?”
King Leotamus’s tone was inquisitive at most, without the slightest hint of intimidation.
“Let me resign my commission.”
“What do you hope to achieve alone?”
Dietrich revealed a fearless smile while he kept his back to the king.
“No, Your Majesty. I am not alone.”
King Leotamus soon understood his answer. Dozens of Second Company’s knight runners arrived and pushed aside the royal bodyguards, each of them in the same breathless state as their company commander.
“Seriously, each and every one of you… We had hoped that attitude of your Knight Commander hasn’t rubbed off on you lot.”
“With much respect, I believe each and every one of us had found our reason through him… Now, Your Majesty, I shall excuse myself.”
No one stood in Dietrich’s way as he left.
“Wait…! I guess this outcome was unavoidable. Without Ernesti holding the reins, the Silver Phoenix Knights immediately spiraled out of control. What a pain!”
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“Sire. With your command, we will head out and stop them…” One of the royal bodyguards said at the sight of a troubled King Leotamus.
However, King Leotamus shook his head in response.
“Are you sure, Your Majesty? Aren’t we spoiling them too much?”
“If this results in Ernesti’s safe return, then all is well. Furthermore, with their attitude, we doubt there would be much point in detaining them by force.”
Despite the circumstances, King Leotamus could not simply leave them as they were. With a slight wave of his hand, King Leotamus saw a man silently step out from the shadows.
“We do not really want to rely on this method…”
The man vanished into the shadows after King Leotamus whispered a few words in his ears.
“As expected, the Silver Phoenix Knights has begun to stir. Order the Violet Swallow Knights to hasten their reorganization. Regardless of the outcome, we must prepare a backup plan.”
With the order given, the royal bodyguard stepped out from the room.
Now, alone in the room, King Leotamus reflected on the earlier scene. Dietrich’s brave words were not lost on him. Although King Leotamus did not have a martial upbringing, he could still somewhat empathize with the knight runners.
“What persistence and candor… almost made me a bit envious.”
Despite his personal frustration at the development, King Leotamus revealed a bright smile.
◆ ◆ ◆
After their adventure in the capital, Dietrich led the second company back to Fort Olvecius. Their destination was the workshop. Dietrich soon found his way to Boss, who was sitting listlessly in a daze, and gave him a solid punch to the face.
“Ugh! What the heck?!”
Boss was enraged by the sudden attack. For a staunch dwarf, the punch wasn’t able to cause any serious harm, but Boss had no reason to simply take the punch for no reason. As such, he immediately retorted with a punch of his own, right at Dietrich.
Boss and Dietrich have vastly different arm strength. Drawing a beautiful arc across the air, Dietrich fell to the ground and almost fainted from the pain, only to recover after a short while. With his training and experience as a company commander, Dietrich was able to endure the punch by the dwarven race.
“Ugh, as expected of… what a strong punch! Boss, now’s not the time to relax. We plan to head out to the Bocuse, so prep the Izumo for departure!”
“Huh? You… bastard. It has already been decided. So, just let it go!”
Despite Dietrich usual brashness, he was not particularly reckless. Seeing Dietrich’s unwavering attitude, Boss could not help but took a step back.
“Hmph! Just think, Boss. Those Demon Beasts are the natural enemy to all Silhouette Knights. Do you honestly believe that Knight Commander of ours would simply leave them alone?”
“Of course not. Just like you said, he did rush over in a fit of rage…”
Boss did not hesitate in his answer. From Eru’s usual attitude, everyone knew of his obsession with Silhouette Knights. As such, Eru’s actions were not a particular mystery to anyone.
“Not to say, we are talking about Ernesti here. You know, the one who cheated death time and time again. Even if he has to crawl back from the brink of hell, he would wipe those Demon Beasts off the face of the world. In that case, as a member of the Silver Phoenix Knights, should it not be our duty to advance to the battlefield?”
“You and your nonsense…”
Boss could not figure out how much of Dietrich’s words were serious. Yet, he did not doubt their validity, despite his own personal feelings.
“Boss, was the Ikaruga destroyed?”
“…Probably. Considering its opponent, the Ikaruga has likely been disintegrated. Even if it somehow miraculously survived, the Ikaruga definitely suffered debilitating damage.” Boss muttered as he reminisced about the scene outside the Izumo.
At the time, the battlefield was completely obscured by corrosive clouds, so Boss was unable to obtain any visual confirmation, with only the occasional explosion and falling carcasses of Demon Beasts to indicate the progress of the engagement. Considering that they were unable to locate the Ikaruga after the battle, Boss did not doubt that the Ikaruga had been crippled.
“I doubt even Ernesti could repair the damage done to the Ikaruga out in the fields. Although, he could always surprise us.”
“Then again, Ernesti would likely be stricken with grief at Ikaruga’s tattered appearance, so it would not be simply a matter of having the means.”
Boss gazed down at his own hands. Although he had taken up the unfamiliar position of captain during the expedition, Boss was still a knightsmith at his core. As such, Boss thought of only what he could do with his own two hands.
“Do you really trust the boy that much?”
“It’s not a matter of trust, but intuition.”
Boss slowly reached for his waist. As a knightsmith, Boss would have many of his tools attached to his utility belt. This time, he held up his trusty hammer, the quintessential tool of a knightsmith, and one that gave him courage.
“Fine. I never thought that there would a day where you managed to convince me like this.”
Boss had found his mission. Even if it may be a fool’s errand, Boss was still willing to give it a shot.
“Until we arrive, the second company will serve as escort. Boss, it is knight runners’ job to fight, so leave fighting the Demon Beasts to us.”
“How will you fight? Those Demon Beasts are able to spray corrosive clouds everywhere. Even the Wind Knights were helpless against them.”
Faced with the difficult problem, Dietrich did not shirk back the slightest.
“I understand. In that case, I will use the Javelineers. Hopefully, the javelins would last long enough in the corrosive cloud to pierce the Demon Beasts. We shall bring all the javelins in our arsenal.”
Boss let out an impressed sigh. As far as combat was concerned, Dietrich, who had led the second company through many victories, were able to offer crucial insights.
The Insectoid Demon Beasts were nimble enough to dodge all the shots from afar. As such, a pursuit battle with Javelin-armed Wind Knights might be more preferred. After all, Ikaruga had demonstrated that the Demon Beasts were fragile enough for any hit to sink them.
Incidentally, with the development of the shortened Javelins, the usual magic javelins were now called ‘Long Javelins’.
“…So the mission is really happening.”
The mission was set, and the plan was set. Although it would be a challenge, Boss definitely wanted to give the rescue a shot. With a clenched fist, Boss met Dietrich’s fist midway in a pound.
“Hmph! In that case, just leave Ikaruga’s repair to the knightsmiths… Hey!”
Boss suddenly sprang into action as he met the stares of stunned knightsmiths with a beast-like sneer.
“You lot, start loading Ikaruga’s spare parts onto the Izumo, as many as possible! Be mentally prepared for the Ikaruga to be completely trashed, with all components shy of the core destroyed!”
At that moment, Boss was a man who had rediscovered his purpose. He had regained the usual brash and confident demeanor of the Silver Phoenix Knights’ Chief Knightsmith, David ‘Boss’ Hepken.
With their old Boss back, the other knightsmiths did not slack around. With a single purpose that guided them, all the knightsmiths sprang into action.
“Although, there’s still a huge problem we have yet to solve… Reaching the site would require a massive amount of time and supply. What are your plans for that?” Boss asked with crossed arms as he looked upon the busy hanger.
“Yeah, we may need to resort to force. In other words…”
“Sorry to interject on your conversation, but we feel that it is wrong for you to cut us out of the fun.”
“Yeah, to think the two of you are plotting all this by yourselves!”
Just as Dietrich and Boss mulled over their plans, new voices came from behind. At first, Dietrich was startled, but as he turned around to look, he couldn’t help but stare in surprise.
“Edgar, Helvi?! Why are you here? I don’t think that I had told you anything.”
“With all the commotion, how could you expect us not to notice?”
“It’s not as if I purposely wanted to exclude you two. After all, our current actions are no different from treason. Since there could only be a future for the Silver Phoenix Knights if we bring back Ernesti, this mission is something that I must do as someone who plans to remain with the Silver Phoenix Knights.” Dietrich said as he shook his head in disbelief, “However, Edgar, you had already received a new commission. There is no reason for you to get involved in this operation.”
“Hey, are you saying that it was perfectly fine to rope me in for treason?”
“Hahaha… How could I possibly let you go? After all, we need you to get Ikaruga repaired!”
As such, Dietrich did not have any qualms about convincing Boss. From his estimates, having the knightsmiths alongside the Second Company was the only way to have any reasonable chance of success.
“Aren’t I part of the Silver Phoenix Knights as well? Why would you cut me out of the mission?”
“If I had told you, won’t you immediately reveal the plans to Ed-…?”
Dietrich cringed as he was cut short by Helvi’s stare.
“Yes. Although my new commission had already been determined, and they are probably willing to give me some time before I take up my post, it would be a different story if I were suddenly away for an extended absence in Bocuse. In all likelihood, such an action would enrage my new employers and see my new commission go up in a puff of smoke.” Edgar explained without denying Dietrich’s words.
At Edgar’s blunt explanation, Dietrich was left completely speechless.
“In that case, why would you come here? Are you an idiot?!”
“I can’t believe there would ever be a day where I would be called an idiot by Dietrich… I am welling up in tears.” Edgar joked with a shrug of his shoulders before turning serious once more, “If it weren’t for Erledyradcumber… if it weren’t for Ernesti, I would have never garnered such prestige. At its core, my new commission was not entirely due to my own abilities.”
Edgar had always been an excellent knight runner. Even without Ernesti, he would’ve definitely been a capable and successful leader one day. Still, their fated meeting had no doubt accelerated Edgar’s rise to glory.
“In other words, I owe him for my success. I’m not someone who could simply ignore what happened to him and proceed to my new post.”
“What? I doubt that Ernesti would care about this sort of thing.”
“Perhaps… Well, I’m also doing this for myself, regardless of what Ernesti thinks. I would be greatly troubled if he were to disappear before I’m able to properly return his favor.”
“If it is your own decision… After all, I’m in no place to judge.”
Dietrich was also someone who would involve himself on matters other than his own, so he was in no place to criticize Edgar. Incidentally, the entire Silver Phoenix Knights could be said as a gathering of problem children, with little care for the consequences as they rush toward their goals.
“The ones we will be facing are flying Demon Beasts, correct? Isn’t this the perfect match for the Third Company?”
“We are all idiots! I guess it can’t be helped… Let us go on our rampage!”
Dietrich looked around at the Silver Phoenix Knights gathered around him. Everyone from the First, Second, and Third Company were present alongside the knightsmiths as they prepared themselves for the operation – to save Ernesti and Adeltrud.
Not a single person uttered the possibility of their death. Even if it could be too late, the Silver Phoenix Knights refused to stop. Yet, the huge logistical problem remained.
“Now, back to the issue at hand. Our journey would take close to two months. The food and fuel we need alone will be staggering, not to mention the replacement parts, weapons, and other expendables along the way. Do you have any good ideas?”
“As for this… I think our best option is to pilfer… I mean, ‘borrow’ what we need.” Dietrich answered with a nefarious smile.
At Dietrich’s plan, Boss could only reluctantly nod. Even Edgar and Helvi, who usually would step in at a time like this, remained silent. With the situation as is, they might as well do what they can.
“…What a bunch of brats. Cool your heads! What silliness are you planning?” A familiar voice interrupted.
Everyone was startled by the sudden interjection and turned to the source of the voice. They saw a few Silhouette Knights making their way into the hanger with heavy steps, with the one in the lead on its speakers.
It was a silver-plated Silhouette Knight with black accents, one that was not unfamiliar to the members of the Silver Phoenix Knights. The name of the unit was ‘Gilbatiga’, and the one to pilot it was…
“What mischief are you brats up to this time? Seriously, stop making me worry all the time.”
“Ah! L-Lord Regnant!”
…None other than the retired regnant of Fremmevira, Ambrosius Tahvo Fremmevira. As he stepped down from his unit, Ambrosius waved his hand to stop the hastily kneeling crowd.
“Silver Phoenix Knights! You not only went against His Majesty’s explicit orders, but also seek to commit an even more heinous crime! We are greatly disappointed in you all! Have you all learned nothing through your battles?!” Ambrosius declared with an overwhelming air of seriousness.
The roar of the retired regnant echoed through the hanger.
The Kingdom of Fremmevira’s tenth king, Ambrosius Tahvo Fremmevira, was not only famed as a renowned warrior in a society that valued martial prowess, but also was known as a capable scholar. No one could deny that Ambrosius was an enlightened monarch who had forged the foundation on which the current Kingdom of Fremmevira stood. Although he had since passed the throne onto his son, King Leotamus, and retired from public activity, Ambrosius still appeared to be in perfect health.
Incidentally, Ambrosius was the one who, against the advice of his ministers, decided to gamble on Ernesti and endorse the formation of the Silver Phoenix Knights. As such, the Silver Phoenix Knights owed much of its current success to Ambrosius.
At Ambrosius’s stinging words, the Silver Phoenix Knights cooled its previously burgeoning fervor. The entire hanger descended into an awkward silence as everyone hanged their heads and kept their mouths shut.
“When we first commissioned the Silver Phoenix Knights, we did not envision for you to become this sort of impulsive rabble.” Ambrosius admonished the crowd as he walked closer.
While most took the reprimand in silence, Dietrich strengthened his resolve and boldly stepped forward. After all, Dietrich was the heart behind the entire operation.
“I do not deny the legality of our actions. However, for the sake of our entrapped Knight Commander, we cannot abide by the orders!” Dietrich insisted.
“Is that why you came up with the plan to seize the supplies? In that case, let me ask you… With such a haphazardly planned operation, how do you envision your success?”
Dietrich was left speechless by Ambrosius’s inquiry. After all, Dietrich knew best the sheer folly of such an operation.
At Dietrich’s silence, Ambrosius simply let out a disappointed scoff before turning to the rest of the crowd.
“As knight runners, if you are going to strike, aim only for victory! Remember, amat victoria curam! How disappointing it was to see you all lacking an understanding of proper logistics…”
“Yes, Your Majesty is absolutely correct-… Huh? Y-Your Majesty?”
Expecting a stern refusal, Dietrich looked up at Ambrosius in surprise. Before him, Ambrosius revealed a mischievous smile reminiscent of his grandson Emrys, or rather, it should be more appropriate to say that his grandson resembled him instead.
“Listen up, our knight runners! You will soon go on the offensive in the Bocuse infested with Demon Beasts, against an unprecedented foe. We had only done a preliminary survey of the Bocuse and therefore still blind to many of its dangers. However, what we do know is that there exist Demon Beasts who could bring even the Ikaruga down, so don’t expect an easy win without adequate preparation!” Ambrosius declared before turning to the shocked faces of Boss, Edgar, Helvi, and Dietrich, “We presume you four are the mastermind behind this operation?”
Ambrosius slowly made his way to the four before sitting down on the ground. The appearance of the monarch himself sitting on the ground was a surprise to all. Ambrosius, however, did not seem to mind the attention.
“Everyone, sit down as you will. It’s time for us to give you lot a proper lesson… As long as you plan to commit to this operation, then, irrespective of your numbers, you are all warriors. Aren’t you all planning to bring back that silly boy?” Ambrosius ranted to the dazed crowd.
“No matter what happens, no matter the difficulty, those who does not take the first step will never succeed. Although such may be the case, you are all still too naive. Let this old man teach you all a thing or two.”
With that said, Dietrich exchanged a glance with Edgar before the two of them knelt down before Ambrosius.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Hahaha… The battle against the Demon Beasts of Bocuse will be a magnificent one. We’re jealous! If only we’re a decade younger, then we would definitely sign up as the vanguard of the offensive.”
“Your Majesty does not intend to stop us?” Dietrich and Edgar inquired almost simultaneously.
“Hahaha! Hot-headedness is the privilege of the young. Not to mention, we have no desire to overrule the authority of His Majesty. As for you lot… To charge into Chateau Schreiber and openly challenge His Majesty… A bunch of idiots, we say! Do you all know how much of a headache your actions have caused for His Majesty and harmed the stability of the kingdom?!”
“Yes, we are deeply remorseful for our actions. It’s just that…”
Both Dietrich and Edgar were at a loss for words. Ambrosius simply waved them off before pulling out a document from his coat.
“We understand your intentions. However, we hope that you could also understand the dilemma that His Majesty faced. For the monarch of a whole kingdom, every decision has to be carefully scrutinized lest it has far resounding consequences. As such, a monarch simply could not act on impulse nor permit whimsical behavior. Moreover, do you honestly think His Majesty has no plans of his own?”
After signaling for permission, the two picked up the documents. At first glance, Dietrich and Edgar were completely amazed by the details.
“This is the outline for a second Bocuse Expedition?”
“Only a few are privy to this information. While His Majesty could not simply abandon Ernesti, the disappointing results of the First Bocuse Expedition have dampened the enthusiasm of many supporters. However, you should also not underestimate the kingdom’s zeal toward Bocuse. It’s not something that would simply dissipate with a single failed expedition.”
“It is my fault for not sensing His Majesty’s true intentions.” Dietrich confessed to Ambrosius while the latter stroked his beard, “Although, with the urgency of the situation, I doubt we have the patience to wait for the enthusiasm to recover naturally.”
Ambrosius sensed an unrelenting stubbornness in Dietrich’s words before revealing a wry smile.
“Did we not tell you to cool your heads? Much time had already passed since the time the Violet Swallow Knights returned to Fremmevira, so this sense of urgency is inappropriate.”
Two months had already passed since the day Ernesti fell into the Bocuse. As such, a day or two would not make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. Rather than haphazardly set off on the expedition, it would be more prudent to take the extra moment to plan everything out.
“Both humans and Silhouette Knights alike take a huge amount of supply to feed and maintain. Once again, amat victoria curam. If you hope for victory, you must not skimp on the logistics! We sincerely hope that you will adequately prepare for the long journey ahead.” Ambrosius preached as a smile floated upon his face.
It was the same face that was once said to contain the ferociousness of a lion.
“Needless to say, no one could deny Ernesti’s importance for the future of the kingdom, and we must do everything we can to ensure his safe return. However, all of you are also indispensable talents for the Kingdom of Fremmevira – talents that our kingdom cannot afford to lose. Not to mention, the obstacles this time are not something that could be simply overcome with a haphazard expedition.”
With that said, Ambrosius’s expression softened slightly.
“To attain our objectives, no amount of preparation is excessive. As for supplies, we recommend you to seek out those with resources and humbly ask for their assistance. Ernesti may be whimsical and egoistical, but even we cannot deny his ability as a dealmaker.”
Ernesti was a visionary, but also highly peculiar. Beyond topics that pertain to his personal interests, he would rarely care for anything else. Incidentally, to achieve his ends, he would spare no effort at convincing the opposing party, frequently overwhelming them with his sheer passion. Sadly, other than Ernesti, no one else within the Silver Phoenix Knights would remain undaunted at the prospect of negotiating with the high aristocracy.
“Y-yes… We have now realized a new facet of our Knight Commander.”
“We had originally planned to set aside some time for a proper lesson… However, time is of the essence, right?” Ambrosius joked as he turned to an old man behind him.
The old man emerged from a Silhouette Knight that accompanied Gilbatiga. He slowly made his way in front of Ambrosius before kneeling. At that moment, mixed chatter started among the Silver Phoenix Knights, as many had recognized the new arrival.
The now-retired Duke Knut Dixgard rose up again and turned to the restless crowd.
“When His Majesty retired, I had also passed the Duchy onto my son and heir. As of now, I am just a simple old man.”
Yet, Knut spoke with an intimidating air, without the slightest dullness of old age. If anything, his words had a certain sharpness that easily cut through the crowd.
“Just as His Majesty had said, the loss of Ernesti had greatly set back our ambitions for Bocuse. Personally, I believe the expedition was done with good intent, just executed a tad to prematurely.” Duke Dixgard stipulated, with little difference from Ambrosius’s own thoughts, “Now, onto the matter at hand… Ernesti is indispensable for the future ambitions of the kingdom, so you must bring him back. As for the supplies, just leave them to me. After all, I still have an agreement with him since ‘that day’.”
Dietrich, Edgar, Helvi, and to a lesser extent, Boss, all revealed a dumbfounded expression at Knut’s statement. Only after a long time did the four return a passive nod.
“…Do Your Grace also believe Ernesti to be alive?”
“I simply do not think he would die from something like this. Trashed his Silhouette Knight? Fell into the Bocuse? So what? He is someone who will find a way to live even if he has to consume the blood of Demon Beasts.”
Although the words were a tad blunt, it was not a scene too absurd for the Silver Phoenix Knights to imagine, and many nodded in agreement.
Ikaruga was the projection of Ernesti’s strength and was undeniably a powerful weapon. However, it was not Ernesti’s only weapon. Ernesti’s true strength came from the dauntless will that drives his petite body. Everyone understood what would happen if such a force of nature was channeled toward a goal.
At that moment, another man appeared from behind Duke Knut.
“Although my strength is meager, let me offer you my assistance as well.”
“Even Marquis Serrati is here.”
Marquis Joachim Serrati ruled a large and fertile march bordering the Bocuse that supplied the kingdom with much of its grains, for which he was known as the ‘breadbasket of Fremmevira’. Due to its proximity to the Bocuse, the House of Serrati had always leaned heavily toward the conservative faction.
“I owe him some favors, so it is always nice to repay him a bit. Not to mention… there is someone that I must rescue.”
Incidentally, Marquis Serrati also had another, more personal reason, for supporting the second Bocuse expedition.
As it happened, Adeltrud was lost alongside Ernesti during the initial expedition. Within the Knight Order, few knew of the relationship between her and the House of Serrati. As such, most were left scratching their heads at Marquis Serrati’s statement. Regardless of the reason, no one would think to refuse help at such a moment.
With the endorsement of wealthy patrons, the Silver Phoenix Knights were left in jubilation.
“Silver Phoenix Knights.” Ambrosius stated, “We understand your reasons for war, but never forget that you are facing against Bocuse. Before you are knight runners, remember that you are all warriors. Value your lives and do your utmost to survive. Before you clinch your final victory and bring him back from Bocuse, you must not let yourself fall. Consider this our final advice.”
Dietrich and the rest of the Silver Phoenix Knights all nodded in unison.
With the logistics settled, the Silver Phoenix Knights once again returned to the preparation for the expedition into Bocuse.
◆ ◆ ◆
Not long since that day, a large fleet had emerged around Fort Olvecius.
With the backing of the Duke Dixgard and the Marquis Serrati, the second Bocuse expedition was able to amass supplies rivaling that of the first expedition. Almost the entire stockpile within Fort Olvecius had been emptied onto the Izumo, filling the flagship to its maximum capacity. Furthermore, the expedition was able to garner an impressive military contingent, comprised of three Silver Phoenix Knights companies and two additional Wind Knight companies on loan from the two aristocratic houses. Effectively, the second Bocuse expeditionary fleet could be described as an aerial Silver Phoenix Knight stronghold.
“…I didn’t expect that you guys are also coming along the expedition.”
Dietrich was astonished by the familiar face within the newly arrived contingent of knight runners. As it happened, Ambrosius had brought the Blue Hawk Knights with him.
“We have received ample training with the Wind Knights, and we definitely won’t be a burden to the expedition.” Nora Frykberg asserted on behalf of the Blue Hawk Knights.
The Blue Hawk Knights served as the eyes and ears of the reigning monarch. Given the very nature of their covert operations, the Blue Hawk Knights deemed the new Wind Knights indispensable to their future success at a very early stage of development. As such, they were afforded the first opportunity to familiarize themselves with the Wind Knights.
“Don’t act so unfamiliar. We are comrades who fought alongside one another in Kuscheperca. How could I possibly doubt your ability?”
During the Kuscheperca campaign, Dietrich had infiltrated the Tetraspides Fortresses alongside the Blue Hawk Knights. While they were far from the quintessential ‘knight runners’, Dietrich happened to be familiar with their strengths. With the arrival of reliable allies, Dietrich gladly shook Nora’s hand.
As such, a new expeditionary fleet centered around the Silver Phoenix Knights had finally finished its formation.
With all preparations set, Ambrosius stood before the gathered knight runners in full battle attire.
The knight runners that stood before Ambrosius had all benefited from his ‘education’. On top of the confidence gained through countless battles, the knight runners’ faces all shone with a tenacious determination.
“Silver Phoenix Knights, depart! Bring that willful brat back!” Ambrosius ordered with a satisfactory nod.
At that moment, the Silver Phoenix Knights finally took to the skies, with countless more supporting their back. Their destination was Bocuse, the Sea of Trees.
Within their hearts, the Silver Phoenix Knights all believed that Ernesti and Adeltrud were safe, and they departed with the expressed purpose of bringing the two of them back.
Despite the dangers and obstacles that stood in their way, the Silver Phoenix Knights showed not the slightest fear. With the Izumo at the vanguard, the second Bocuse expeditionary fleet steadily sailed forward.
TL/N: Just for the record, no one cared enough about the poor guy who got melted by the insectoid Demon Beasts to inform his parents…
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