3 An Invitation Party in the Sky
In northwest Berun, the capital of the Principality of Wiltia, was the Royal Weapons Development Bureau, commonly known as Schnecke.
This snail moniker originated because the facilities radiated out like a spiral according to the importance of the research taking place. Just outside the innermost facility of the Bureau, which housed the most important research and development—research even more important than the King's life—was the office of Daian Fortuner.
"Oh come now, Hanussen, you're just as scathing as ever, aren't you... Well, I don't live because I want others to understand what I do, anyway."
Daian replied to the caustic words of his guest as if they didn't affect him at all.
As the director of the Weapons Development Bureau, he was also called a sorcerer, and was a scientist of extraordinary genius.
Usually, the highest army rank to which a civilian engineer could be promoted was major.
That was already exceptional treatment for a civilian engineer, but within the military, Daian was treated as a colonel, a full two ranks higher.
Consequently, even his trivial research was lauded and regarded as military tactics.
"This must be the first... no, the second step, The appearance of her ego, as well as the manifestation of her feelings, and her budding feelings of love... Her maturation into a woman has made me trembling with excitement!"
Daian had rewritten the course of history as the father of the Hunter Units, which played a pivotal role in Wiltia's victory in the Great European War, and gave his creation unprecedented attention.
Hanussen sighed as if his words were utterly worthless.
With her black hair and black eyes, she had a bewitching beauty, but it seemed somehow artificial, and a sinister feeling hung in the air around her.
"I thought you might be of help to my research but... I have no interest in playing with dolls."
"Oh my... You've said it now."
Daian's response to Hanussen's contempt suggested an awkward and clumsy clown. What does others thought or felt was no concern to him.
He fervently pursued what he wanted.
That alone was his purpose in life, and he didn't consider the feelings of others to be useful at all.
"Staying here any longer is pointless, I'm leaving."
As if she understood Daian's thoughts, Hanussen shook her head in resignation and stood up to leave.
"Oh leaving so soon? Won't you stay just a little longer? You see, I've managed to get my hands on some great tea leaves imported directly from Mughal."
Mughal was a subcontinental nation state in the east.
A colony of the Greyten Empire before the war, Mughal had produced high quality teas and spices, but as a result of Greyten's defeat. a majority of their territory had been ceded to Wiltia, and Mughal was denied trade access with the country.
This meant that Wiltia now has a monopoly on over seventy percent of the world's black tea market.
As such, the citizens of the Greyten Empire, who were said to love tea time more than their three meals a day, to their humiliation were not forced to buy their tea from Wiltia.
"Or maybe... Would you rather have some green tea, as enjoyed by the people of the East?"
"That will be unnecessary."
Answering as if the question itself was absurd, Hanussen continued to grip the doorknob when her hand suddenly stopped.
"Oh that's right, I almost forgot. This isn't a thanks for your worthless prattle, but I've heard that idiot, Genitz is planning something foolish again."
Genitz was one of the commanders of Wiltia's Military.
In the previous war he was called the "Great Conqueror" for carrying out the capture of Parise.
At least, that was his public persona...
"Something foolish? You can't be talking about the Defairedead can you?"
"So you know about it?"
"Well, I have good eyes and ears, you see..."
Daian cackled, suspiciously.
"Honestly, the brigadier general never gives up, does he?"
"Brigadier general... he is not, It seems he was promoted, and is now a lieutenant general."
"I'm not interested in things like that."
As someone who didn't even concern himself about his own rank, Daian had even less interest in the ranks of people who were insignificant to him.
"And, what are you going to do?"
Hanussen asked, the corners of her mouth bending slightly, as she looked interested in Daian's reply.
"What do you mean by that?"
Daian replied blankly.
Daian and Genitz did not get along.
To be exact, Genitz had an intense hatred for Daian.
Genitz, who was a mass of ambition and aspiration, unlike that of any ordinary person, was infuriated that Daian's genius gave him influence and power over, not just the military, but the government and even the royal family.
Daian thought it all absurd.
To him, the Principality of Wiltia and its military were nothing more than a means through which he could gain the personnel, money and facilities necessary for his research.
He only rose through the rank to get more out of them. It was nothing more than that.
"I can't stand that man. I don't want to get involved."
"I see, I suppose that will make the lieutenant general happy."
Hanussen smiled dryly, as if she was watching above as two badgers ate each other.
—The sound of military boots was heard from the other side of the door.
The same moment that Hanussen noticed the sound, the door was flung open.
"Major Sophia Von Rundstadt of the Principality Armed Forces!"
Sophia, the commander of the Weapons Development Bureau's security forces, appeared in the doorway.
She was not just an ordinary captain of the guard.
This Weapons Development Bureau housed facilities even more vital than the king's palace, and was a type of military fortress.
She was the commander of an army of soldiers, entrusted with defending that fortress.
She was also sent by headquarters to be the cat's bell—to watch over the extravagant Daian, and warn headquarters about his wild behavior.
Therefore, although he was the director of the Bureau she didn't treat him as a higher ranking officer, and made a point of being direct, and even abrupt, when speaking with him so that he couldn't gain advantage over her due to his position.
Sophia never waited for permission before entering her superior officer's room, and did so with enough force to kick the door down.
As it wasn't in Daian's nature to raise complaints about things like this, Sophia entered the office as she always did, but she froze in front of the woman already in the room.
Hanussen gave her a one-word reply, feeling Sophia's gaze.
Her voice held no emotion, neither anger nor happiness, as if she was listening to a fly buzzing around her.
"N-Nothing... Please excuse me!"
Straightening herself in a panic, Sophia saluted.
Looking annoyed, Hanussen left the room without even glancing at Sophia, let alone return her salute.
"Come now, Miss Sophia, we can't have you barging in like that! You should know that even I have guests from time to time."
Daian playfully admonished Sophia.
"T-That woman... Who was she?"
In the previous war, Sophia was a powerful Hunter Unit pilot, known and feared as the "Devil's Black Spear".
She was a war hero, and not a soldier who was dismissed as strong "for a woman".
Despite this, she was overwhelmed by the intense power Hanussen radiated.
"Oh, that was Miss Johannes Hanussen, I'm sure you've at least heard of her, haven't you?"
"Hanus——?! Hanussen, the Royal Sage?!"
Sophia raised her voice in alarm at the name.
Rarely exposing herself to the public eye, only a few high ranking nobles, including the King of the Principality, were allowed to meet the Royal Sage.
Her existence was shrouded in so much mystery that it was rumored that she didn't existed at all.
"That's... the first time I've seen her. I didn't even know the sage was a woman."
"How lovely you were able to catch a glimpse of her."
Daian said this as if he was speaking to a rare animal.
"...Wait! If I remember correctly, isn't Sage Hanussen supposed to be over one hundred years old?"
"Well, I wouldn't know anything about that. After all, it's rude to ask a woman her age."
Daian had judged Hanussen to be far older than what was known to the public, but rather than complicate the conversation further, he answered Sophia's questions evasively.
"More importantly, you have a reason for being here, correct? Could it be that you wanted to see me?! Oh, I'm so happy!"
"Rest assured, that isn't the case at all."
Sophia's reply was so sharp that it met the perfect textbook definition of the word "curt."
"I'm here to inform you that I will be taking a week's vacation starting tomorrow, and will be away from the facility."
"Oh, how unusual for Miss Sophia to be requesting time off."
As a commissioned officer, Sophia could take vacation more easily than privates and lower-ranking officers, as long as she met the necessary conditions and procedures.
The military had a system where individuals possessing exceptional ability—the irreplaceable pieces on the chessboard—were given moderate vacation time to make sure they could be used as long as possible.
There was no room in the military for humanism or false egalitarianism.
It was purely a system of pragmatism and utilitarianism.
"Well... It will be more like half work. It involves my family."
"Oh, I see... The young daughter of the Rundstadts has it tough, hasn't she?"
The aristocrat "Von" in her name wasn't only for show.
In addition to being a high-ranking military officer, she was also the daughter of a distinguished noble family, known throughout Wiltia.
As a noble, she had duties that she was required to perform.
"Precisely... There's a limit to just how dutiful one can be, honestly."Usually she replied to Daian's banter tersely, but this topic alone was different, and she openly expressed her frustration and her agreement with Daian's comment.
"Just the thought of having to breathe the same air as those idiots, who think that dancing and playing dress up makes the world turn, is sickening."
Given his social position, Daian had also been to events among the noble's high society.
He had nothing to say about their parties except that they were exceedingly dull.
Sprinkled with the smell of liquor and perfume, it was a battleground where, behind fake smiles, the privileged tried to gain advantage over one another, and calculated how long they could reap the benefits of currying someone's favor.
It appeared to be one's choice whether or not to participate, but not showing your face at a party often resulted in rumors and gossip.
It was fine if it was just talk, but there was always the risk that one's social position could be seriously damaged by not acting properly, and there was no way to prevent the consequences.
"It's a dreadful way to spend one's vacation."
"Exactly, I'd rather just handle my work here as usual."
"I wonder if I should consider than an honor or not."
In olden days, Wiltia was commended as a country of knights, and was controlled by the military elites.
The vestiges of that history disappeared from high society long ago, but as a member of a military family, Sophia believed that standing on the front lines was the true duty of officers and soldiers alike.
From her point of view, schmoozing with the nobility and protecting Daian and his Bureau were both loathsome.
"But even so, a whole week... That' quite a long engagement. Where is this happening?"
If it was a ball in Berun at a noble's large mansion, or in the palace itself, even allowing for the preparations, Daian was sure that a week's vacation would not be necessary.
"It's in Pelfe."
"Oh, I see... In that case, it would make sense... Huh?"
Hearing Sophia's reply. Daian's face become serious.
"Um... what did you say?"
"It's in Pelfe. The recently annexed region ... I was invited to a party there."
After remaining calm and unconcerned just a month earlier when the top secret and classified prototype Sven had escaped from the Bureau, the man in front of Sophia showed a genuine look of surprise for the first time.
"Y-you couldn't mean... the Defairdead?"
"Oh... You know about it?"
At sophia's reply Daian silently held his head in his hands and put his face flat on his desk.
"What is it with this timing?" he complained quietly.
"What is it? Is there some sort of problem?"
Normally, Sophia wouldn't be interested, whatever his reaction, but she couldn't help being curious about his unusual response.
"D-do you absolutely... have to go?"
Daian asked her as if the question was being squeezed out of him.
"Well, it does involve my family."
With sweat skirting his brow, Daian—purported to be the genius of the country—kicked his brain into overdrive and was absorbed in thinking about something.
"Oh, that's right! Miss Sophia, I was thinking, next week do you want to go have fun somewhere?"
"As I said, I will be on vacation next week, and won't be in Berun."
Sophia wondered what Daian was suggesting, and replied with a skeptical look on her face.
"Come on, don't say that! I've got my hands on two tickets to see the opera at the Royal Theatre! They're VIP seats, you know!"
"Well, in that case, you can just go twice by yourself. Even if it's the same program, you'll discover new things you missed the first time."
"Um, Sophia... That's quite an awful way to use a pair of tickets, you know."
Barely containing her growing irritation at Daian's desperate attempts to keep her from going away, Sophia's tone made it hard to believe that she was speaking to a superior officer.
"I don't have interest in the opera to begin with."
"Don't be like that! Didn't you just tell me that the mere thought of that party makes you feel sick?"
"Yes, I did say that but the fact is that I have personal things to attend to, and I must be going!"
Sophia brushed off Daian, who was almost clinging to her as he pleaded for her to say.
"Please excuse me! I've entrusted everything to my lieutenant, Dankel, so please speak to him!"
Sophia turned her back on Daian as if she hadn't anything further to say.
"Sophia... Do you really have to go?!"
Without waiting for a reply, she marched to the door, the soles of her steel-toed military boots echoing as she walked.
"Miss Sophia, please don't go! I love you!"
"Well, I don't love you, Goodbye!"
Thinking his confession would cause her to waver, the genius scientist gave a startled reply, during which Sophia quickly exited the room.
"That was mean, Sophia... I was pretty serious..."
Daian grumbled to himself, as the door closed once again.
"Ahhh... Oh well... Rebecca, are you here?"
Immediately after Daian spoke, a young girl appeared at his back.
The girl gave a robotic response. Her eyes were red, her hair was red, even her large coat that hid her mouth was red. The only thing that wasn't red was the black ribbon that tied her hair.
The girl's name was Rebecca Sharlahart. Just like Sven, she was previously a weapon. She was an automaton girl with a soul, a Humanoid Hunter Unit.
"Things have gotten complicated! Is there something we can do perhaps?"
Daian claimed that he didn't care about anything outside his own research, but Sophia was the rare exception.
"Talking with Miss Sophia is a great way to relax, you know, After our chats, I make a good progress on my research."
Sophia was volatile and had an intense disposition and for Daian, watching her was excellent entertainment, similar to a tobacco and coffee break.
Before giving her creator an answer, Rebecca had counsel to offer.
It wasn't just answering his question with a question.
Before responding, she had information that made it necessary to reestablish the premise of his question.
"What did you say?"
Listening to Rebecca's report, Daian seemed to exasperated, his shoulders drooping.
"Sheesh... When trouble rains, it really pours, doesn't it... What should we do now?"
Folding his arms, Daian pondered for a moment.
It wouldn't be so difficult to handle either of these problems alone.
But one more nuisance had been added to the mix.
Now he needed to hatch another plan from scratch.
"Well, we'll just have to deal with it, I suppose... Rebecca, can you do something for me?"
Daian asked, after thinking for a while.
"I don't really want to interfere with them, or it will weaken the purity of the experiment... Can you handle this as discreetly as possible?"
With mechanical movements, Rebecca took a bow and once again disappeared.
"Picking a fight with His Excellency Brigadier General will also be a nuisance, won't it..."
With Rebecca gone, Daian grumbled to himself.
He remembered that Genitz was now a lieutenant general, but since he was just talking to himself, and didn't care about military rank. Daian didn't bother correcting his error.
—At a slightly earlier date...
Sven was troubled, standing at the counter of Tockerbot.
"Now what are we going to do about this..."
In front of her was the register where the shops finances were recorded.
The financial records actually weren't something a regular employee was allowed to look at, but because Lud was bad with numbers, the bakery's accounting had come under Sven's purview.
Tockerbrot's sales were increasingly every day.
The number of customers was rising steadily. Lud and Sven had managed to get two large contracts with the mine's cafeteria and the elementary school, and were in the process of stabilizing their business.
However, that also caused problems.
With the current size of their store, there was a limit to how much bread they could sell.
"Either we need to make the store bigger... or we need to open up a second store."
Sven had already gone in Lud's place to deliver the school's bread order today, and since her grim-faced boss couldn't serve the customers, she had put a sign on the door saying the store was closed temporarily while she was out.
"But in order to do that... there are two problems. In the meantime, our most pressing concern is to make sure there are always people working in the store."
Jacob and Marlene would help sometimes, but that was only temporary.
Even if a new employee didn't live in the bakery, as Sven did, they still needed someone to work full-time.
"Then, we'd need to take out another loan from the bank..."
Whether they hired new people, or invested in upgrading the bakery itself, they would need money from the bank.
In order to do that, they had to put together sufficient documentation, to convince the loan manager and the branch manager.
"The quickest way would be to get an impressive recommendation, but..."
Perhaps Tockertbot could win an award of some sort, or receive the praise of a certain gourmet food critic.
Sven thought it was all nonsense, but it was the nature of the bank not to be persuaded by how delicious the bread might taste.
There had been a similar situation in the military, when it came time to test out a new weapon.
No matter how the weapon's specs were explained, the top official couldn't understand what the numbers meant.
So, they were forced to make it simple to understand.
It was difficult to secure the budget, time and labor necessary to accomplish this.
As a result, instead of the capable engineers, the petty officials, who were only good at wresting money from the higher-ups, threw their weight around to get it done.
"That's right... In order to secure the formal adoption of the Hunter Units into the military, it wasn't until they gave a demonstration of three Hunter Units crushing a full armored division that the officials finally acknowledged their power."
The armored division commander was disgraced by the demonstration, and even now bears a grudge against Hunter Units, but it was his superiors who agreed to the demonstration in the first place.
"It'd be so much easier if we could just settle this by crushing someone."
Sven said, letting out a long sigh.
For the sake of her beloved Lud's bakery, if she were told to annihilate a whole armored division, she would accept the order with a smile.
But, Sven was no longer in a world where things could be solved with violence.
For a former military weapon, these byzantine methods were very irritating.
The bell on the bakery door rang, and the mailman came in.
"Oh, Mr. Marks, thank you for all your hard work."
"My, you're looking lovely as always Sven."
The elderly deliveryman, with little hair left on his head, broke into a smile.
"Come now, flattering me like that won't get you anywhere... but I can at least bring you a cup of tea."
"Well now, that would be great."
In a corner of Tockerbot, there was a table with some chairs, almost like a tiny food court, where Sven treated customers to tea and coffee with their bread.If they were able to enlarge the area just a bit, they could increase profits by turning it into a tiny cafe, but currently even that was difficult.
Gripped by these gloomy thoughts, Sven made tea and brought it over to the table where Mr. Marks was seated.
"Without realizing it, coming here has become part of my daily routine, you know. My feet lead me here even when I don't have anything to deliver."
"My, my, we can't be having that now, can we? Neglecting your duties will have you in front of a firing squad!"
Sven's sales smile sparkled as she bantered with Mr. Marks.
The Humanoid Hunter Unit Svelgen, formerly known as Avei, was officially developed as a weapon specialized in espionage.
She was created to infiltrate hostile places where rogue elements gathered, under the guise of a lovely young girl, and was capable of making even the most hardened of military veterans drop his guard so that she could obtain as much information as possible.
Accordingly, she was friendly with every person she met, and had an interface installed to arouse feelings of strong affection in those around her.
"You gotta let me off easy. Please? Look, I actually have something to deliver to you today."
"Oh, well in that case, I suppose I can cancel your execution just this once."
Sven smiled as she took the letters Mr. Marks handed her.
One was related to official business at the bank, another was a purchase order from the mine, but Sven's expression changed the moment she laid her eyes on the final later.
Mr. Marks spit tea from his mouth at the violent sudden howl that erupted from the beautiful young girl.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!"
"U-Um... Sven? What's wrong?"
Mr. Mark's voice didn't reach Sven's ears.
Sven had a perfect interface installed to make people like her, but this didn't apply when Tockerbot was concerned, or more precisely, when it involved any matter that was important to Lud.
"Master! This is big news!!"
Sven said, running off to find Lud in the kiln area.
Meanwhile Lud was also worried.
But, the problems on his mind were different from Sven's.
In the end... This can't keep going like this, after all...
Lud thought, while he waited for the bread in the kiln to finish baking.
He had two problems on his mind.
The first was finding a way so that children wouldn't be afraid of him.
He had a few ideas, but he couldn't quite pin down a good solution.
His second problem was Sven.
What am I going to do about her? She's an incredibly serious person, so I guess I should try to deal with this one way or another...
The people of Wiltia were known for diligence and sincerity.
That was naturally a broad generalization, and not true for everyone, but when it came to Lud, this characterization was right on the nose.
But even still... I can't help but be confused about what to do...
If their relationship was just that of a baker and his employee, it wouldn't be a big problem.
But that was not the case.
Sven assumed that Lud had some experience with the opposite sex, but Lud essentially had none.
This wasn't just because he had lived his teenage years in the military, where there was no time for such activities.
There was another ace pilot, perhaps even better than Lud, and he was said to have broken more hearts than he had brought down enemy aircraft.
The issue with Lud, was more a kind of self-loathing.
He would ask himself, "Am I really worthy of loving someone? Am I really worthy of someone's love?"
Lud Langart was a devoted and big-hearted man.
He wouldn't hesitate to put his life on the line for the sake of someone else.
This was thought to be a good impulse, but from another point of view, it could be said that he belittled the importance of his own life.
"Sheesh... Please be more careful, I'm begging you...
Sven had told Lud this before.
Shortly after ignoring these words, he had almost died.
Fortunately, he was narrowly able to escape death, but being held in Sven's arms as she cried only made him profoundly confused.
I have a life that's valuable enough to make someone cry tears of joy?
This raised doubts in Lud's mind.
What should I do?
But, that wasn't the only problem.
As long as their relationship bordered on something deeper than the collegial, he couldn't ignore it.
Even if he pretended not to notice, he had to be able to look her in the eye.
Sven's... No, I need to properly acknowledge and accept her feelings.
Lud agonized intently over the situation.
"Master! I have important news!"
Sven appeared at the kiln.
He had been consumed with thoughts of her until that moment, and Lud was startled as he answered her.
Dashing at full speed through the cramped bakery, she seemed ready to pounce on Lud, but she forcibly held herself back at the door of the kiln area.
In the kiln were bread dough and yeast, ready to be baked.
Lud was extremely careful to prevent strands of hair or any debris from getting into the yeast and dough, and had forbidden anyone from entering the room without his permission.
Sven would ignore everything else around her when something involved Lud, but she would strictly follow all of his orders.
That was the essence of Sven's character.
"W-What happened Sven?"
Lud asked, his voice still somewhat stilted and clumsy.
"A letter! We've got a letter!"
"A letter? Oh no, another bill?!"
Lud worried that there might be some unexpected debt they still owed to their former shady loan shark.
"That's not it! We got a job! A work order came in! It's an unbelievably big one, too!"
Sven showed Lud the letter in her hands.
The sender was the governor-general of Pelfe.
"""A business trip to a party in the sky?!"""
It was now after dusk.
With business largely done for the day and the closed sign in the window, Jacob, Marlene and Milly shouted in disbelief.
"That's exactly right! So... What are the two of you doing here?"
"Lud gave us that 'pain de seigle noix', and I came to thank him."
In response to Sven's cold glare, Marlene smiled as if Sven's gaze hadn't slightest effect on her.
"And I came with her. Is there a problem with that?"
Milly suddenly added her own blunt response.
"No, no problem at all..."
Marlene and Milly had been growing closer to Sven's dearest Lud, and now warranted Sven's utmost caution and careful observation.
Previously, Marlene had hidden her true identity as a part of a terrorist group, but she had since fallen in love with Lud, who know her secret and tried to save her from her dangerous past.
As for Milly, although she had continued to spit impertinent words at Lud, that made Sven furious, after a certain event, she had a change of heart and now seemed to have fallen a little in love with Lud herself.
What is truly irritating is that they think they can hide it from Lud.
Now even Jacob noticed and he teased them about it.
Lud was the only person who didn't realize it.
Lud considered Milly as nothing more than a child, and was delighted that she was finally warming up to him, but Sven was very worried.
If she could, she'd like to chase both of them away.
However Lud considered Milly and Marlene to be his friends.
Sven couldn't drive them out of Lud's life.
This ambivalence toward these two is so frustrating!
Tightly holding back the urge to scratch her head in frustration, a forced, twitching smile appeared on her face.
"Hey, Sven... This is amazing isn't it?!"
Watching the silent struggle between the three women from the corner of his eye, Jacob raised his voice in surprise reading the letter Lud had received from the governor-general's office.
"A party in the sky, onboard the Defairedead... I heard rumors about it on the radio but what an incredible honor that they want Tockerbrot to participate!"
Two years had passed since Wiltia had made Pelfe a part of its domain.
But there was still discord between the people of Wiltia and the original residents of Pelfe.
In order to ease the tension, the governor-general of Pelfe planned a party in the sky aboard the Defairedead, a Wiltian airship and the largest of its kind in the world.
"They want you to bake the bread for that party... Does that mean that if all goes well, you'll be known as purveyor to the Wiltian royal family?"
"I think it might be hard for us to get that far, but we'll be praised even in Pelfe as prominent bakery."
"Well, how did this happen?"
"It sounds like a public relations official for the governor-general happened to visit and ate some bread from our shop."
"That's quite a few convenient coincidences, isn't it?"
"What are you saying?! Coincidences are nothing more than coincidences! It was inevitable that Master's devotion to his craft and the deliciousness of his bread would bring this good fortune!"
With words that could turn the faces of the Berun Royal Theatre pale, Sven poetically sang her Master's praises.
"What's important is the opportunity itself! To know what is right—no, to see an opportunity and not take advantage of it is the worst cowardice, after all!"
Sven excitedly emphasized her words by tightly clenching her first.
With a worried expression, Lud sounded troubled as he spoke.
"What's wrong Lud? Does something not sit right with you about this?"
As Lud's friend, Jacob was able to pick up on Lud's concern.
"I think... I'm going to turn them down."
Lud said, as if the words had spilled out of his mouth unintentionally.
"W-What the heck are you talking about?!"
Together, Sven and Jacob raised cries of surprise.
"Lud! Do you have a clue how important this is?!"
Shouting over Sven, Jacob snapped at Lud.
"Listen up. This Defairdead pleasure cruise isn't just about Pelfe. Even the daily papers and radio in Wiltia are saying it's a huge event! For this bakery to be asked to participate—do you know how significant that is?!""I know... I know, but..."
"I'm not sure you really get it at all!"
Jacob barked at Lud, who was recoiling under his friend's pressure.
"Listen. This party will probably be jam-packed with members of high society—nobility, well-known figures, the whole lot! Just being asked to prepare the bread at an event like that is a symbol of status! It's prestige! It'll give the bakery authority and influence! Who do you think that'll have an effect on? It won't be just the bank. Some fabulously rich and wealthy family could also decide to finance this store! You'll be able to make Tockerbrot so much bigger than it is now!"
Overwhelming the giant Lud with his energy, Jacob ranted and raved.
"I-Incredible, Jacob... You just said everything that I wanted to say..."
Sven was struck with admiration for Jacob's eloquence, which did not seem to be something a ten-year old boy would be capable of.
"Yeah... But, even so..."
Lud's face remained clouded.
"What could possibly still bother you about this?"
Jacob asked Lud, the annoyance in his voice clear.
"I've been on it before, that airship."
"Huh, really? When? Aren't the tickets super expensive?"
Because of the flood of people trying to buy a boarding pass for the Defairedead, it was difficult just to get on the waiting list, and the tickets were already expensive to begin with.
Lud and the others didn't know for sure how much it cost, but it was certainly enough money to feed an average person for a couple of months.
I wasn't an amount that someone running a corner bakery could get his hands on.
"That's not it—it was during my time in the military."
When she heard Lud's reply, Sven realized the cause of his trepidation.
"Master... Are you perhaps talking about Lordlant?"
Lud nodded soberly.
Sven's hunch had been correct.
"Lordlant... That's the capital of the Greyten Empire, right? What does that have to do with it?"
Lud hesitated to answer Jacob's question.
"I heard that the Defairedead was used by the military during the Great War, but... Is that what you're hung up on, Lud?"
Marlene responded with an answer that was close to what Lud was trying to say.
"When I think about what that ship did... Even now, it's still a little too fresh..."
Lud didn't want to associate his past as a soldier with his current life as a baker.
That was how painful and grim the battles he had experienced were.
"Um... Master, forgive me for being rude, but may I say something?"
Sven understood Lud's feelings so well that it hurt to think about them.
As the pilot-support AI, Avei, she had stormed many battlefields alongside him.
Nevertheless, Sven had to say something.
"Master, the Defairedead now has been stripped of all its weaponry, and while the ship's registration is under military jurisdiction, it is only for consumer use. Eventually, it seems it will play a part in connecting all the colonies brought into Wiltia through air travel."
"That might be so, but..."
"Please listen to me."
Sven believed that she existed in order to make Lud's dreams a reality.
She would carry out his wishes, and never do anything he didn't want.
That girl now refused to back down.
"Are you saying that those who step on the battlefield can never choose a new life for themselves even after the war is over?"
Sven wasn't just talking about the Defairedead.
Her words included Lud, once feared as the Silver Wolf, and she herself, who had formerly been a Hunter Unit.
"If that's the case, it's far too sad... I completely understand where Master is coming from. But doesn't that mean it's even more necessary for you to accept and acknowledge the Defairedead as it is now?"
This might actually have been Sven's own wish.
Even though she was created as a tool of war, she had rejected the meaning behind her own existence and wanted him to accept her now as Sven.
"... You're right."
Although quiet, Lud replied as though he had made up his mind.
"Now I am just a baker. Similarly the Defairedead is nothing more than an airship... Just because I'm on board, doesn't mean that anything bad is going to happen..."
"That's right! You're now the baker, Lud Langart, It's thanks to that baker I was able to start over..."
The former terrorist, Marlene, spoke to Lud trying to appeal to his emotions.
"It's because of you that I... muhgugh?!"As she tried to continue, Marlene was suddenly interrupted by a piece of bread shoved into her mouth.
"Hey, what are you doing?!"
Sven was glaring at Marlene, her eyes filled with scorn.
"Oh nothing, it's just we have some 'kouign-amann' leftover today. It would be a shame for the bread Master baked to go waste, so I thought I'd give some to everyone."
Sven's diversionary tactic stopped Marlene, who had tried to shorten the distance between herself and Lud when Sven's guard was relaxed.
"Y-You black-hearted waitress..."
"When it comes to the blackness of one's heart, I don't believe I can hold a candle to yours!"
It was as if invisible sparks were flying between fierce glares the two gave each other.
"Well, in any case, what are you gonna do?"
Ignoring the other, Jacob posed the same question to Lud.
Lud confirmed the decision he made earlier.
"Yeah, I'll go... They went to all the trouble to invite me up into the clouds to bake bread, after all. Not going would sully the name of the bakery."
Seeing his friend's resolve, his stern mouth clenched tight into a single line, Jacob gave a satisfied smile.