4 Military Town Reunion
Thirty kilometers east of Organbaelz is a town called Nazalenka.
There was nothing but a small village there before the war.
It was far from any major roads, and it had no unique specialty, nor any real industry.
All it had were sprawling, vacant fields that stretched in every direction.
But after the war started, this village suddenly changed.
To be precise, it underwent a drastic change after Wiltia marched in and made the territory its own.
The Wiltian military used the open pastures to build an airfield.
The large plaints around the village were developed to create a base ready for the expansion of the eastern front, and for their air force and air bases.
However, aircraft pilots weren't the only ones who arrived.
All of a sudden, a variety of specialists and their families settled in the village—mechanics to work on the machinery, base staff, and soldiers stationed to guard the base, and all the people who supported their daily lives.
Soon infrastructure was established, including roads, railroads, waterways, and electricity, and in order to sell goods and deliver them to the base, a number of stores popped up, leading to an even larger migration of people to the village.
There was not over one hundred times the earlier tax revenue, and a large hospital was built that provided cheap but high-quality treatment.
The original inhabitants of the village were given money for renting their land to Wiltia; an amount more than ten times what they earned by thrusting their hoes into the withered earth, and some of the villagers were now living in the metropolis of Ponapalas, the former capital of Pelfe.
Docked at the airfield in Nazalenka, was the airship, Defairedead—500 meters in length and 133 meters tall—the largest flying vehicle that the base had ever housed.
The pride of the Principality of Wiltia's Military, the Wyvern-class large aerial transports, weren't even a third of the size of the Defairedead.
Its immensity made it visible anywhere and everywhere throughout Nazalenka.
As if to escape the watchful eye of the Defairedead, now enshrined in the sky, two men met in a storage house in the back of town.
"At long last, tomorrow will be the day we carry out our plan, There haven't been any oversights in the preparations, have there?"
The tone of Dreadnought's voice made him sound like a knight.
"We've snuck in ten soldiers and twelve armaments... No issues to report, sir, We've provided them food, and they're raring to go, The camouflage is also flawless, sir."
Sutherland spoke calmly, lacking any nervousness."They aren't armaments."
Normally Dreadnought accepted Sutherland's character, understood that it was too late to change it, and didn't pay attention, but he admonished him with a heavy voice, as if his words were a steel sword.
"They aren't armaments. All of them are my subordinates and our allies."
"Captain... With all due respect, those are—"
"It doesn't matter if they have formal rank or not. Since they move under my command, they are my subordinates and my allies."
At Sutherland's protests, Dreadnought repeated his words as though they were an unwavering truth, like he was hammering a nail or shooting a rivet into a steel plate.
"Just like you."
As if these words had been Dreadnought's way to drive the point home, Sutherland was unable to respond, and bit the corners of his mouth.
"Take head, Sutherland. For our actions are sure to show the world our righteousness, and will become a beacon for tomorrow. No matter the risks, it is a battle we must see through to the end."
There was only one reason Sutherland wasn't able to oppose Dreadnought.
Dreadnought's higher rank alone was not a sufficient explanation.
On the battlefield, if one didn't set up a disagreeable superior officer to suffer a terrible "accident," one's own life would be in danger.
While it could be difficult, one just needed to kill that superior without hesitation.
However, Sutherland couldn't do that to Dreadnought because he held power that was in an entirely different dimension.
"We will erase the Defairdead, that hideous and repulsive demon, from this world!"
Even if right at this moment, as Dreadnought dangled his lofty views above Sutherland, if he approached Dreadnought from behind and gave him a fatal stab, he was sure that his corpse, not Dreadnought, would be the one found afterwards.
"By the grace of God and Her Majesty the Queen, I wish you the best of luck."
All that Sutherland could do was correct his posture and salute Dreadnought once his speech was over, to show his obedience.
The following day...
Sven and Lud were visiting the governor-general of Pelfe's branch office in Nazalenka to meet the person in charge of the party they would be attending.
"Well, well, well, hello, hello, hello, you've certainly come a long way. Mr... um... Vill Langart of Tockerbelt, correct?"
Greeting them was an excessively humble, slenderly-built man—the very picture of a petty, low-ranking official.
"Actually, my name is Lud Langart, of Tockerbrot... This is my waitress, Sven."
"Oh my, yes, my okay, of course, of course, please excuse me, my apologies. I'm in charge of branch public relations, my name is Wazkane, it's nice to meet you, I look forward to working with you, here—this is my business card."
Rattling on without a break between words, Wazkane nearly thrust his business card into Lud's hands.
"How are you liking it here in Nazalenka? Hasn't it been built up into a wonderful town? This too is all thanks to the Wiltia military and their interest here. Did you come here by car? Train?"
"Y-yeah... We came by train and—"
"That's right, that's right, isn't it. You're from... Organbaelz, was it? Then that's really the best way, the railways were also built by the Wiltia military. Thanks to them, the flow of goods through the lake towns is up one thousand and five hundred percent from before, over fifteen times higher, you know."
Lud guessed from Wazkane's brown hair and eyes, and the way his name was pronounced, that he was from Pelfe.
Wazkane's prattling went far beyond just pride in his town, and sound as if he was showing consideration to Lud, who was more or less genuine citizen of Wiltia, by extolling all of Wiltia's great deeds.
"Have you caught a glimpse of the Defairedead yet? No, no, no that's a silly question isn't it? Its colossal size is visible from the station in the next town, after all. It's without doubt the supreme rules of the skies! An air fortress that charms with its stature and majesty! When I first saw it, I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I just couldn't hold back my tears!"
"I-I see, is that so... Yes, it is big, isn't it?"
It wasn't Lud's first time seeing the Defairedead.
He was well acquainted with it since its time as a military vessel, back when it still wasn't decided that Nazalenka would be turned into a military base, but Lud thought it better not to reveal his military career, and left all the talking to Wazkane.
"Its overall height is one hundred and thirty meters! It's floating as it stays moored so I would guess it's one hundred and fifty meters from its highest point down to the ground."
One hundred fifty meters meant that it was approximately as high as the twentieth floor of an average building.
"None of the buildings in Organbaelz are that tall, are they? After all, that's about the same height as the air control tower on the base here in Nazalenka."
A slight tinge of contempt appeared in Wazkane's grinning face.
Lud realized that it was the pretentious smile of a man from the big city looking down on the country bumpkins in front of him, but he decided to ignore it.
"No doubt, the Defairedead is the greatest and biggest airship in the world."
"Oh, now that's not true."
The waitress who obediently followed all of Lud's orders wasn't going to let that go.
Faced with Sven's unexpected statement, Wazkane gave a suspicious glance as though he wanted to ask what in the world this young girl from the sticks was saying, but Sven started to chatter away, returning the favor to Wazkane—or rather, getting back at him.
"Airships can be separated into rigid and non-rigid constructions, but fundamentally they have air sacs above that are filled with a gas lighter than air, and they float from that buoyancy. Those that don't have the ability to navigate themselves are balloons. The Defairedead is a Rezaniumcraft-type of hovering airship."
Rezaniumcraft was a system of flight created by Wiltia that was completely different from anything that had come before.
"By applying constant pressure to Rezanite, one can create enormous energy, But conversely, applying constant electricity generates a unique force field. Completely opposite from how a motor works."
There were still a number of mysteries surrounding the unique mineral, Rezanite, said to be formed crystallized hearts of the ancient dragons, and it held many special characteristics.
One could use the stone's power for destruction, as with the Zeihmbomber, or as a Rezanium reactor, one could make it the central core of a Hunter Unit.
The Rezaniumcraft was another way of using Rezanium; while normally Rezanium would create tremendous electrical energy, by applying a certain amount of voltage, one could create a unique repulsive force.
Rezaniumcraft used that ground repulsion to create a buoyancy for flight.
"The air sac on the Defairedead isn't filled with helium gas, It holds a large-scale Rezanium reactor and a generator to supply it with electricity."
"Y-You sure... know a lot..."
Faced with Sven's superior knowledge, Wazkane's forced smile stiffened.
"T-That's correct... Practical applications for the almighty mineral, Rezanite, are a result of Wiltia's knowledge of chemistry—"
"It's not that simple, For Rezaniumcraft, sufficient space is required to create a repulsion force field. An airplane's wings aren't enough, If it doesn't possess enough surface area, then it can't generate any buoyancy... It's surprisingly inconvenient you know."
Sven magnificently evaded Wazkane's attempts to regain control of the conversation.
"When trying to create something to surpass the airship, if you need the vehicle to be the same size as an airship, then an airship's structure is simpler and cheaper. An airship has both superior altitude and navigational distance, correct?"
Existing airships could already circle the whole world.
So, even if one wanted to create something to surpass the airship, it was hard to find a reason to use it.
"In short, this is a result of Wiltia racking its brain to create an alternative to the helium aircraft, because they were unable to procure helium gas during the war, They couldn't fill it with hydrogen, after all."
Wiltia couldn't get helium because the country that produced most of it was an enemy during the Great War.
If the Rezaniumcraft hadn't been developed in time, a hydrogen-type aircraft would have been used, based on the optimistic hope that as long as they were painstaking in preparing their pilots, an accident wouldn't happen.
"If a hydrogen-type aircraft exploded in flames over a city, it would be devastating. It would be an historic tragedy."
"And there was no way the military would use something filled with hydrogen gas."
Lud quietly mumbled to himself, having been silently listening up until now.
"It was originally built to attack the Greyten Empire, which separated by the ocean. Something this big would be hit with anti-aircraft guns, and they'd release interception fighters. Something that would explode at the drop of a hat like that is a bad joke."
Soldiers are prepared to lose their lives, but they aren't willing to die in vain.
Lud couldn't count the number of top-ranking officials who made irresponsible decision that endangered the lives of the soldiers who served them, no matter which side they were on.
"Since it's partially a commercial vessel, using this airship for events like this is probably to make it known to the world... That for the technological strength of Wiltia, such an embargo policy is nothing. On the contrary, they are saying 'Look, we've made something that can control the whole world's skies,' or something like that."
Thinking along these lines, the pure flying machine, Defairedead, looking almost like a magnificent flying castle was a terrifying symbol to behold.
"Well now, you're, uh, very knowledge... Miss—"
"My name is Sven, I am a waitress in the service of Lud Langart, owner of Tockerbrot. I'll ask you to remember our names properly."
With a smile dripping with sarcasm, Sven delivered the final blow to Wazkane, now embarrassed by his lack of knowledge.
"Well... Yes, um... Oh, that's right, that's right! I need to explain to you the upcoming schedule."
Wazkane changed the conversation, feeling uncomfortable with Sven and Lud, and unable to best them, despite the pride he took in his own knowledge.
"After this, Light—"
Sven corrected Wazkane with a scowl, as he got Lud's name wrong once again.
"Oh, my apologies! After this, Lud Langart will be interviewed."
"Interviewed?! What is this about? We were never informed about that."
"Oh, no one told you? That's strange... I guess there must have been some mistake along the way. That's what happens at events like this."
Characteristic of such government officials, Wazkane continued on, prioritizing the agenda over feelings of others, as though he was telling them that this was what decided, and that was how it was going to be done.
"The goal of this party is to deepen the friendship between Pelfe and Wiltia. A bakery that is beloved by a citizens of Pelfe, managed by a citizen of Wiltia... It's incredibly important for our public relations."
"That's... I uh, that is..."
Lud's face grew pale and greasy sweat streamed down his face.
"Beyond Wiltia, the eyes of other foreign countries are paying close attention as well. Before we take off, you will give interviews to the papers and radio stations. They're even bringing a cinematographer for newsreels."
Lud was already a poor speaker, and he was the most awkward of the awkward when it came to standing in front of an audience and answering interview questions.
In the military, he had stood in front of people for medal award ceremonies and the like.
On those occasions, he had endured it with a taciturn look on his face, without speaking a word.
For a soldier, reticence and gruffness were seen as merits, but that didn't extend to the service world.
If Lud was interview now, Wiltia and the entire Euporean continent would be subjected to his stern frightening expression.
"S-Sven... Um, I hate to ask, but could, uh, appear for me?"
Lud had reservations about forcing something he didn't want to do on someone else, but Sven had a sweetness that anyone could appreciate, and a tongue one million times more eloquent and smooth than Lud's.
She was far better-suited for this than he was.
"Um, actually, about that..."
Timidly, Sven apologetically raised her hand.
"If possible, I ask not to be part of any interviews."
Lud looked as if he had been pushed into the pits of hell.
Sven's hear ached seeing his expression.
It wouldn't be a problem if it were just an interview.
In fact with her eloquence and speaking skills, making the Tockerbrot name known throughout the world would be a walk in the park.
The problem was that the newspapers were bringing cameras with them, as well as cinematographers, which were rare even in Wiltia.
Sven was an experimental weapon that had escaped from the Wiltian military's Weapons Development Bureau.
Since her existence was a closely guarded secret, even in a remote military base like Nazalenka, the possibility of the government seeing pictures or videos of her meant that her whereabouts would be discovered.
Yet, she couldn't talk about her reason with Lud.
"Well... um... look at me. My eyes and hair color are different."
The distinctive characteristics of the people of Wiltia were blonde hair and blue eyes.
There were plenty of people without these features, but what Wazkane's people were looking for was "a pureblooded Wiltian, working in Pelfe."
She decided to stick to her reasoning that it wouldn't make sense for a silver-haired, read-eyed girl like herself to appear in the interview.
"That's why I—oh!"
As she spoke, Sven came up with a good plan.
"I'm counting on you. The interview will be in an hour, at the special stage set up in front of the airfield."
"Please wait just a second!"
Sven grabbed Wazkane's arm and pulled him before he quickly left, as though he had finished his job.
"What is it? Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!"
"Oh, I beg your pardon."
She had pulled on him a little too hard.
"Do you have... where I can... around here at all?"
"Huh? Why are you asking? This is a military town, you know. It has whatever daily necessities one needs."
"Then can you tell me what shop would handle this for me?"
After forcing Wazkane to listen, Sven spun around and returned to Lud's side.
"Master, there is a small matter that I need to handle. Please wait here for me to return."
"What... are you going to do?"
"You'll just have to wait and see♪. And as for the interview, please just leave everything to me!"
Sven exited the governor-general's branch office in a blink of an eye and ran toward the city's shopping district.
"I wonder what she's up to..."
Left behind, Lud sat down in the branch office's entrance lobby and killed some time.
He had only been told he would be baking bread for the party, and he began to feel like things had become extremely complicated.
Hmmm... I have a bad feeling about this.
An ominous shiver can across Lud's skin.
It would be more accurate to say it had been running through him since they arrived in the city.
It was a feeling he knew well.
Whether it was called a sixth sense of a feeling in one's bones, it was a hunch or premonition that told Lud that danger was drawing near, a feeling he used to experience on the battlefield.
It was not based on facts, but it was often correct.
Since his time in the military, this sensation had saved Lud from the receiving end of an enemy bullet.
It might be because this is a military town... Maybe I'm just overthinking things...
Lud was perplexed by the feeling that there was an enemy lurking somewhere.
The city was fully equipped with many military installations, so he tried to brush it off by saying his senses must be malfunctioning.
"How many times are you going to make me say it?!"
A woman's angry voice echoed across the lobby from the reception desk behind him.
Hearing the voice, Lud realized that his ability to sense danger was still working accurately.
"Lud Langart, twenty-one years old, blonde-hair, blue-eyes, citizen of Wiltia. With a large scar on his left cheek! You mean to say that this public office doesn't have any information to give me even with such a conspicuous description?! Do you have any pride as a civil servant?!"
The woman was making unreasonable demands of the reception desk, insisting that this man had come in today and she wanted him brought to her immediately.
If she had been a regular citizen, she surely would been asked to leave, but this woman was wearing a military uniform and her insignia showed that she was a major.
A civil servant in a military city like Nazalenka could not casually brush such an officer aside.
Lud cowered in shock and surprise.
Sensing the other presence in the room, the woman turned around.
Before she was him, Lud exited the branch office, running with lightning speed, which was surprising given his large stout body.Why, why, why, why, why, why, why?!
His head was filled with questions.
However he didn't stop to think about them.
His body assessed the situation and moved on its own, before he could even process the fact that his life was in danger.
Anyway, I need to hide!
Concealing himself in the shadow of a garbage can in a back alley, Lud quitted his breathing.
"Stop! Where... Where are you?!"
The woman's voice grew closer.
She had definitely seen him.
Why?! Why in the world is she here?! Wait, she couldn't possibly have been following me this whole time, could she?!
When he had made the decision to retire from the military and become a baker, her reaction to the news had been the angriest.
There were no words to describe her tempestuous rage.
She used her body to persuade others—with fists ready to fight.
"You aren't gonna answer me, Lud langart?!"
Her angry shouts were drawing nearer to Lud.
He had already stopped breathing.
He didn't even blink.
If it was possible, he would have stopped his heartbeats, too.
Even now, he couldn't forget her demonic face when he asked to be discharged.
Demon... No! Sophia's piercing gaze had often been described as strong enough to kill a dragon.
When she once voiced her complaints to an incompetent general and directed her steel-sharp glare at him, the arrogant lieutenant colonel at his side was paralyzed with fear and trembled like a baby.
Her terrifying scowl and drawn fists had time and time again "persuaded" Lud to rethink and change course.
In the end, Lud handed in his discharge request and left the base, as if he were escaping.
For two years, he relocated to a number of different places and tried to cover his tracks.
Half of his reasoning for opening his bakery in a remote town in Pelfe was to escape from her.
The sound of steel-soled military boots came right next to the garbage can where Lud was hiding.
"I guess I mistook him for someone else..."
The woman muttered to herself.
That's right... Now, keep going... keep going!
Lud's silent shouts were almost like prayers.
After a short time, he heard the sound of her boots hitting the ground.
The woman changed her direction and began to return the way she had come.
He had managed to stay hidden.
Lud relaxed slightly. But then....
With her back still turned, the woman suddenly shouted.
It was closer to a roar, so loud that one had to wonder where in her body such a sound could come from.
In an instant, before he could think, Lud reacted.
It was a movement he had repeated countless times in the military.
The condition reflex that had soaked into every cell of his body took over.
Slowly, terrifyingly, the woman turned around.
She was laughing.
She was laughing, but her eyes weren't laughing at all.
"Nice to see you again, Captain."
She spoke with a triumphant but sadistic tone.
Sophia Von Rundstatdt, commonly known as the Devil's Black Spear.
Even among the pride of Wiltia, the Hunter Unit pilots, she was a top-class ace fighter.
She was the only person to be granted the title of Panzer Cavalier directly from the King.
And—she was Lud's former superior officer.
"...Former Captain, Commander..."
It had been two years since he had been under the orders of a commanding officer.
Faced with her spiteful grin, even God himself would have had trouble understanding what emotions were in her heart.
—Then, as if there was no need to argue about, Sophia jabbed her clenched fist into Lud's face.
Lud was thrown by the hard force of the punch, far greater than what one might expect from a woman.
"You've gotten full of yourself, haven't you, Captain Langart? Desertion is a serious crime. That's a fine way to talk to me, isn't it, after I've come all this way to see you! I'm surprised I didn't find you in front of a firing squad."
"I-I finished all the proper procedures, and handed in my discharge request—!"
But before he could finish, a foot was driven into his chin.
Sophia's beloved military boots were specially made with steel in the sole. Although she had stayed her hand, or rather her foot, just enough not to break the bones in his chin, the intense pain left Lud unable to talk.
"I'm telling you to keep quiet! Even if supreme command allows it, even if His Excellency General of the Army allows it, even if His Highness the king himself allowed it, I'm your commanding officer! If I don't approve your discharge, you're nothing more than a deserter!"
Sophia was a mass of arrogant and self-righteous dominance.
Logic didn't get through to her, She convinced others by insisting that if she said the answer was no, then it was no.
"I was surprised to hear that you opened a bakery. It can't be very popular, can it? It makes sense. You're a wolf after all. It doesn't matter how gently you use your claws and fangs—they're only meant for tearing into their prey."
She hurled her words at Lud like daggers as he crouched and held his chin.
"That's not true... Little by little, customers have finally started coming in..."
"Finally? It's been two years since you left. Two years later, and it's still 'little by little' is it?"
Her retort again pierced Lud's chest.
It was thanks to Sven that Tockerbrot had come to life.
But that was evidence that Lud hadn't been able to do it on his own.
Lud couldn't defend himself against Sophia's words.
"On top of that... getting caught up in this party nonsense..."
A completely different emotion appeared in Sophia's eyes.
"W-What are you—?"
Lud tried to ask, but was brushed aside with a shout.
"The military is your life, you've got nothing else! Your play time is over; it's time to return to my command!"
With his life as a soldier deep in the marrow of his bones, Lud caught himself before unconsciously nodding in agreement to Sophia's words. At the last moment, the baker inside him prevailed.
"I can't do that... I'm a baker now. There's no reason to listen to a commander's orders anymore."
"What did you say?!"
In an instant, Sophia's dragon-slayer eyes seemed to turn crimson in rage.
But the fire quickly subsided.
"So it's true, you really didn't accept the Cavalier title, did you?"
Lud's silence seemed to answer her question.
With his outstanding performance on the battlefield in the Great War, Lud become known as the Silver Wolf, and was considered a hero throughout many countries.
The Royal Palace wanted to bestow the Cavalier title upon him.
Although it was the nobility's lowest rank, they had tried to welcome him as a member.
"I'm a murderer. That's what a 'Panzer Cavalier' is? What a joke!"
He had planned to leave the military after the war anyway, but that incident was the final deciding factor.
"Your words desecrate all the soldiers who fought and died on those battlefields!"
Whether they were career military or conscripted soldiers there were many reasons for a soldier to go to war.
Nevertheless, they all fought equally on the battlefield covered in dirt and blood.
One was free to condemn the act of war itself, but no one had the right to trample on the dignity of those who fought.
"That's not it... That's not what I meant..."
That wasn't what Lud was talking about.
"Are you still letting Lapchuricka get to you?"
Lud's eyes widened in surprise, and he felt a stab in his heart from Sophia's words.
Labchuricka—the name of the city where the most horrifying and catastrophic tragedy occured during the Great European War.
"That heinous disaster was entirely the fault of that rotten lieutenant general! Mourning over if forever like a fool won't change a damn thing! You're like a witless mutt, chasing its tail forever!"
Caught between Wiltia and their enemy, Filbarneu, was the small Kingdom of Haugen.
Haugen had declared itself neutral during the Great European War, but Wiltia tried to pass through the country to invade Filbarneu.
Naturally, Huagen denied their passage, but Wiltia ignored their decision.
Trampling over the resistant Haugen army with overwhelming military might, Wiltia's actions were so atrocious that the international community might have denounced them, had they not ended the war victorious.
Lapchuricka was a city on the border between Filbarneu and Haugen.
There was nothing left there now but ash and ruin.
Wiltia had erased the city from the map.
"That... That was just war! It wasn't your fault!"
"But, I'm the one who killed them."
"So then blame the military! No, it's something the nation should atone for! But you're saying it's a burden for a lowly officer like you to carry? Don't carried away with yourself!"
"I killed them, didn't I?!"
Before they knew it, Lud and Sophia were yelling in each other's face.
"They didn't have the strength to fight back, they were just ordinary, hardworking citizens and I slaughtered them! And that makes me a 'Cavalier?!' Hell, no!"
Shouting, Sophia grabbed Lud by his collar and pulled him closer to her. Their faces were close enough to feel each other's breath.
"You were just following orders! If someone condemns you for that, if they insult you for that..."
Not anger, but a different kind of emotion appeared in Sophia's eyes.
There was remorse, but another, barely perceptible emotion as well.
The two silently stared at one another.
Her voice didn't have the same intimidation that it had earlier.
It sounded like a jumble of emotions—sadness, frustration and gentleness, all mixed together.
Sophia seemed ready to spill out words she had buried deep in her heart, when—
"That will be enough."
Someone stood behind Sophia and was pressing something hard and cylindrical into her back.
Sophia had an explosive personality, but as a soldier, she was calm, almost naturally so.
Even when she appeared enraged in order to threaten someone, she would pay careful attention to everything around her. She could fend off an attack even if her attention seemed to be elsewhere.
Yet now, someone had crept up behind her and she hadn't noticed at all.
"I'll ask you to remove your hands from my master."
The voice was polite, but with an ice-cold edge.
Sending a shiver up the spine of the battle-hardened Sophia was the beautiful waitress, Sven.
"... Who the hell are you?"
"I don't remember saying that you could ask any questions."
As Sven spoke, Sophia felt the cylinder at her back press into her with more force.
Slightly twitching her eye, Sophia did exactly as instructed and let go of Lud.
Sven's attention turned toward Lud, which Sophia didn't overlook.
"Who do you think I am?!"
Turning quickly, Sophia drove her elbow into Sven.
Sven stepped back and dodged the attack, but the cylinder she had been holding flew out of her hands.
What Sophia had assumed was a gun barrel was in fact a metallic pen that Sven always carried with her for customer signatures and sales receipts.
"How dare you underestimate a professional soldier?! I'll teach you some manners!"
With the lightning reflexes of a tiger, Sophia took her gun from her breast pocket, but this time Sven's hands were faster.
She swiftly jammed the gun barrel and prevented the hammer from moving.
What is this... She isn't just a normal girl...
For a second Sophia was frightened, as Sven seemed ready to crush not only the gun barrel, but her finger on the trigger as well.
In contrast, Sven spoke to her tauntingly, ridiculing her.
"It appears the 'Devil's Black Spear' is quite an uncivilized weapon, wouldn't you say?"
The sound of Sophia grating her teeth in anger was loud enough that those nearby could hear it clearly. Her anger was now a murderous rage.
It was an agonized rage, completely different from the frustration she had shown toward Lud.
"You damn bitch!"
Sven glared back in response to the towering fire in Sophia's eyes.
Just when it seemed a fight between the two of them was inescapable, Lud yelled out.
"Stop it, Commander! Sven!"
His cry wasn't in anger, but rather entreaty.
With his shout, the two stopped in their tracks.
Lud couldn't watch the person he had respected and relied on kill the young girl who was now helping him in his bakery.
Sven removed her hands from the barrel.
Quietly spitting out a curse, Sophia returned the gun to her breast pocket.
"So, no matter what... You have no intention of coming back, is that right?"
Sophia asked, with an almost pleading tone to her voice.
"I won't go back to the military again... No matter how many times you ask me, the answer will be the same."
"If I felt like it, you know I could ruin that bakery of yours, don't you?"
Sophia's words weren't just an idle threat.
The military could trump up some sort of charge on any innocent person and arrest them.
It would be difficult to actually sentence him to prison, but easy to hold him in custody for one to two months.
With his business closed, even temporarily, Tockerbrot would surely go bankrupt.
"Do you... actually mean that?"
At these cruel words from his former commanding officer, a despair-like anger sprouted in Lud.
"Mean it? That's what I should be asking you."
Sophia wasn't blind.
She could see Lud's weakness, even from his brief exchange.
"I'll agree that you are trying to become a good baker. But can you truly say that you didn't choose this path because you are a former soldier, trying to escape his past?"
Sophia was no longer as overpowering as she had been moments before, and she wasn't preventing Lud from getting a word in.
Instead she was trying to make clear to Lud the facts that he wasn't properly acknowledging.
"As atonement for those you killed, and to make amends for your former self? No, you don't actually want to acknowledge how poisoned you are, so you're just playing the role of the pitiful baker, and comforting yourself with your own misery, is that it?"
"That's not it, I..."
Lud tried to deny Sophia's words, but his fist was trembling.
"If I'm wrong, why can't you look me in the eyes?"
Without realizing it, Lud had shied away from Sophia's penetrating stare.
"You haven't changed a bit... You always do that when you're lying."
Lud was unable to refute her words.
"That's it then, isn't it... I don't know if baking with that sense of shame and lukewarm effort can produce anything decent edible, but eventually it will all be exposed."
Lud was no longer able to argue, and seemed to accept the truth in what Sophia was saying.
"I'll have you to stop right there!"
Sven spoke up to defend her master.
"No matter who you are, I will now allow you to deny the thoughts and feelings of my master!"
Lud atoned for his past, and felt deep regret about the crimes he had committed.
No matter how much abuse he might face, Sven was sure he had feelings that beyond his past regrets.
"Master is happy from the bottom of his heart that many people come and eat his bread. Shame? Lukewarm? His bread isn't something as mediocre and shoddy as that!"
Even if he has regrets, Sven didn't believe that was the only reason Lud kept on living.
"Well then, can you prove that to me?"
Sophia demanded, her tone suggesting that she wouldn't take no for an answer.
"You'll have to show me that you are genuinely prepared to live a life as a baker."
"How exactly would I do that?"
Was she saying she'd taste his bread and make a decision based on that?
Sophia was a first-class soldier, but she wasn't skilled as a baker, or a food critic.
Her answer to Lud's question was unexpected.
"What? It's simple... You will be attending that party on Defairedead, right? As a baker for the party?"
"Yeah, how do you know about it?"
"This party has been talked all over, I found your name among the reports."
At first, Sophia intended to give some excuses to turn down her invitation to the party in the sky, but when she discovered a newspaper article that said, "Charming even the people of Pelfe, the Wiltian baker, Mr. Lud Langart, has been invited—" she changed her mind.
"It was only a small article... Lucky you to find it...."
"Honestly, I thanked God for it."
Sophia gave a triumphant snort at Lud exasperated reply.
"I've also invited. So... That's right, someone at the party, anyone is fine... Try and make someone say that your bread is delicious. That's my condition."
Lud couldn't help but be puzzled by the simplicity of Sophia's demand.
It was so simple, Lud thought Sophia was just teasing him.
"What are you talking about? You do realize that we were called all the way here specifically to bake bread?"
Sharing Lud's feelings, Sven spoke crossly.
"You'll understand in due time. You'll soon know exactly how foolish your frockling about has been."
Sophia wasn't joking and she wasn't teasing Lud.
With those words, she was ready to leave them, as she quietly muttered to herself.
"I even wanted to stop you before it got to this..."
Without explaining what she meant, Sophia walked away.
"What... did she mean by that, I wonder?"
"I'm not sure..."
Even though Wiltians were known as a diligent and trustworthy people, they also could joke and tell lies.
But, Sophia had clearly been serious.
She was convinced that no one attending the party would tell Lud that his bread was delicious.
"What in the world is the Commander..."
Lud known her for a long time, and this was the first time he was unable to read her intentions.
"Don't worry, Master! Once they take a bite of your bread, they'll all tell you with great big smiles how delicious it is! Honestly what in the world is Major Rundstadt thinking?!"
Sven said this as cheerfully as possible, in an attempt to erase the clouds of anxiety on Lud's face.
"That's right... no use worrying about it. So, what's up with your hair... and those glasses?"
Sven flowing silver hair was now pitch black, and polarized glasses concealed the sparkle in her bright red eyes.
"I thought that this city was so big that it would take a while to find hair dye and a few different pairs of glasses, but I was able to find them sooner than expected."
Hair dye was an everyday necessity, and in a large city like Nazalenka, with so many airships pilots, there were plenty of shops that sold polarized glasses.
High in the sky, the direct sunlight can be harsh enough to burn the eyes, so sunglasses were essential.
"D-do they look good on me?"
Sven asked Lud so bashfully that it was hard to believe the same person had just been boldly squaring off with a professional soldier.
"Um... Well, you won't stand out like that, so that's good, right?"
Lud replied to her with an extremely ordinary, polite response.
"Is that... all?"
Looking at Sven's head drooping with a slight tinge of disappointment, Lud thought for a moment before the light bulb went off in his head.
"Oh, um... It suits you really well! The black hair, and the glasses!"
Even though it was a disguise to make herself inconspicuous, it was a different look for her, and Sven wanted Lud to tell her what he thought about it.
"Yeah, um, your silver hair is pretty, and your red eyes are lovely, but I think you look good like this too!"
Including hand and body gestures as he spoke, Lud desperately tried to praise Sven's new look.
"I'm so happy to hear you say that, Master♪."
Sven replied with a great big smile.
Lud's movement looked like an obvious attempt to smooth over his mistake, but Sven was perfectly satisfied with that.
On the other hand, after parting ways with Lud...
"Dammit! Why'd it end up like this!?"
Sophia immediately strode down the street.
This wasn't supposed to happen.
Happy with their reunion, she was supposed to generously forgive an apologizing Lud for casting her off and leaving her behind, and then after telling him the truth about the party that was to occur, he would rethink his own participation in the event. Moreover, she was supposed to persuade him to return to the Military.
That was what she intended when she challenged his baking skills.
"I haven't seen you for a while, Captain Langart... No, you're not a captain anymore, are you, Lud?"
This was how Sophia had intended to start the conversation...
Why did it end up like this?!
It's that idiot fault in the first place! Why did he run when he saw me?! Am I really that scary?!
She hadn't expected to come across him suddenly in a place like that.
Her lack of foresight was the reason her preparations didn't match the situation.
Sophia thought seriously that it was about time she stopped shouting and threatening people when she got angry.
That reminds me, what the hell was up with that girl?
Sophia could overpower anyone, be they men or superior officers, yet Sven had argued with her on even footing.
But she was even more surprised that a girl from the streets of the city directly served Lud—who even among the stern and aggressive military men had an exceptionally overwhelming presence.
And there was an intimacy between them, too.
Sven had looked at Lud with deep, wholehearted affection and concern.
Sophia's frustration was becoming unbearable.
She wanted to slam back a strong drink, but she didn't have time before the Defairedead's departure.She didn't have enough time before the curtain would be raised on the party.
She was still burdened with the reputation of the distinguished Rundstadt family name, and couldn't arrive at the party drunk.
She kicked a nearby trash can.
A young girl's cry rang out with her kick.
Sophia had put a dent in the trash can, sent it flying, and straight into a girl turning the corner at that moment.
"Crap! Hey, are you okay?"
Sophia seemed arrogant and overbearing, but usually she lived her life with restraint, common sense, and even kindness.
She certainly did not take pleasure in injuring other people, like many soldiers she knew.
After being hit by the trash can, the young girl had fallen and lost consciousness.
"I give up already... For God's sake..."
In bad times, bad things pile on top of one another.
Cursing her lot and unable to leave the girl lying in the street, Sophia took the unconscious young girl with two long braids in her arms.