6 The Festivities Begin
The Defairedead had been a military vessel.
The Principality had built it as an airborne fortress to seize air superiority in the Great Euporean War.
It had many different functions, but its primary responsibility was troop transportation.
The Defairedead was capable of sending close to one thousand soldiers several hundred miles, without effort of foot, train or land vehicle travel.
In addition, it could carry ammunition, provisions, medical supplies, as well as the Hunter Units and their pilots.
"Heeeeeeeeeereee we go!"
On the Defairedead, the top level held the party hall and the ship's core, the second level had the dining area and guest rooms, and the lowest level was used as a storehouse.
In a corner of that lowest level, Sven vigorously sent a locked door flying open with a kick.
While it was many times smaller than the spacious facilities on the upper floors, inside was a relatively well-equipped galley.
"That's right... The ship had this too, didn't it?!"
Finally remembering, Lud clapped his hands.
"These were the galley facilities back when the Defairedead was used by the military... I can't believe they're still intact!"
When the Defairedead was changed from a military to a commercial vessel, it underwent major remodeling.
It was disarmed, its night camouflage was repainted, and the inside was renovated to be a luxury passenger vessel, with a newly-equipped galley rivaling the kitchens in top-class restaurants and hotels.
But, it was still only partially a commercial vessel.
In order to be able to quickly return it to its original form in Wiltia's hour of need, the new facilities had all been created modularly so they could easily be swapped out for the military-use equipment. However—
"The gas and water lines are intricately entangled, so dismantling and putting it all back would have been difficult. That's why they stopped using it and just sealed it up!"
In front of her delighted master, Sven puffed out her chest with a proud smile.
Making use of its large payload, the Defairedead was equipped with exceptional food preparation facilities for a military vessel, and could provide hot food to it soldiers, rather than the plain, unappealing food served at the frontlines.
For example, since the soldiers ordinarily are nothing but stale, dried bread, the airship was equipped with a kiln to bake fresh bread.
"Yeah... I can definitely use this! We'll be able to do it with this!"
Lud had traveled on the ship before, but had forgotten about this second galley. He was embarrassed by his own carelessness.
"I get it, this is where you were trying to bring me."
"Hehehehe, that's right♪ It was a waste of time arguing those idiots when we can use this anyway. Time is money, after all."
Sven replied triumphantly.
"I forgot about this place. You've got a good memory, Sven."
It was only natural that Sven would know all about it since she had also been a passenger while it was in use by the military.
However, she was aboard as cargo and as a military weapon—the Hunter Unit, Avei.
Her smile stiffened, suddenly feeling there was something wrong with Lud's words.
"Alright! Now then, time to start the prep work!"
"Huh? Oh, yes! Understood!"
The party was broken up into day and night sessions, and even if they couldn't make the day session, the planned to deliver fresh bread during the evening.
"Now then, I'll go and procure some ingredients!"
The kiln he had been secured, and Lud had brought as many of his basic baking tools with him as he could, thinking he would rather use tools he was used for such an important event.
All that was left were ingredients, starting with the flour.
"There is a food storeroom on the bottom level, so I'm sure they have what we need there. I'll rush down and get it."
The storage vault and ice chest in the upper layer of the level galley stored the foodstuffs for each day, brought up from the giant storeroom on the lower level.
The storeroom on the lower level held all of the provisions.
"Is it okay for us to just take it?"
"I don't know what are you talking about, Master! Aren't we here because we were asked to bake bread? We are using the Defairedead's supplies to bake bread for the party's guests. Is there anything wrong with that?"
Sven responded with certainty, once again puffing her chest out with pride in response to Lud's doubtful look.
No matter what their true intentions were, the official document was a request for Tockerbrot to provide bread for the party.
As such, the ship had a duty to provide them with necessary ingredients.
"Well, if I come across anything rare or extraordinary in the storeroom, I'll grab it. Considering how rude they've been to use, we shouldn't be punished just for snagging some souvenirs."
Foodstuffs weren't the only things stored in the ship.
It was fully loaded with high quality liquor and treats for the upper-class guests.
"I was thinking we should bring back some souvenirs for Jacob, the sister, and that insolent brat, too."
"Take it easy, okay?"
"Ohohohoho, I'm going to give that brat something so luxurious, like nothing she's seen before."
Sven was in high spirits, and Lud didn't try to stop her.
He was known to be an honest, kind-hearted person, but when he was on this ship during the war, he had pinched sweets, alcohol, tabacco and the like.
However, much of his stealing had been under orders, and the commander who had asked him the most often was none other than Sophia.
She had once called him in the middle of the night and ordered him to steal brandy for a nightcap.
The inability to disobey orders of a superior was a miserable part of military life, and when he stole the brandy and brought it to her, she ordered him to stay until she finished it. In the end she told Lud "I'm drunk. I won't be able to put up any resistance, no matter what happens," and he had replied "In that case, perhaps you should go to sleep, sir."
That's when she beat the snot out of me with the brandy bottle, wasn't it...
The commander had sometimes behaved unreasonably and irrationally like that, but Lud never understood why, at that moment, she had knocked the daylights out of him.
She normally wasn't an angry drunk, so it was all the more mysterious to him.
"I guess... The commander is up there right now, enjoying the party..."
She sniffled without the delicate modesty expected of a lady.
"Do you have a cold, Miss soldier-lady?"
Milly spoke up with a worried look on her face.
"No, I'm in extremely good health... maybe it's because of the air pressure."
Milly and Sophia were in the party hall on the top floor of the ship.
Capable of holding one hundred guests, the middle of the hall had enough space remaining to hold a grand ball.
In the back, it held a stage where a band was performing, with a high ceiling and a luxurious chandelier hanging from above.
Milly blinked wide-eyed, having never seen anything like it.
"Jeez, how unnecessary gaudy."
Sophia appeared entirely unimpressed with it all, and gave a light snort as she muttered how worthless it was.
"Oh my, if it isn't young Lady Rundstadt."
"It's such an honor to be able to see you here."
"You look as beautiful as always! I mistook you for an angel, fallen from heaven."
Discovering Sophia, a shuffling crowd of men crowded around her.
The sons of Wiltia's nobility, they were all neatly groomed, and wore silly, dainty smiles on their faces.
What's up with these guys?
The only Wiltian that Milly knew well was Lud.
Because of that, she thought all the Wiltian men were gruff and stone-like, but the men in front of her were weak and gutless, and Milly suspected they would faint if even their nose was grazed by a punch from one of the miners in Organbaelz.
"Miss Sophia, won't you let me have a dance?"
"No, please allow me!"
"No, no, first me!"
All the men held out their hands.
"My apologies, Today, I have a companion with me."
Milly's attention was struck by the change in Sophia from the soldier to the smiling young daughter of a noble.
"Oh, this young girl... Is she your attendant?"
Bombarded with questions, Sophia gave them a completely unexpected answer.
"No, she's my daughter."
It wasn't just the men who were shocked, Milly was too.
"Um... Miss Sophia? Uh, um..."
"Daughter? But, you're... still not..."
"That and... she's..."
The men were all flabbergasted.
What the hell is this woman saying?!
Sophia was older than both Lud and Marlene.
While it wasn't totally out of the question for her to have a child, for that child to be as old as Milly was completely unrealistic.
"Oh, does that seem strange? Our family's greatest ancestor took a twelve-year old wife, and had a child the following year—the successor to our name. There is nothing unusual at all about me being a mother.
This was the true story of the head of the Rundstadt family, which took place four hundred years ago.
Some events seem typical in the era when they occur, and Sophia's story would have been plausible back when the thinking about marriage was different, but her peculiar explanation only served to bewilder them further.
Or at least, that would be true for the common folk.
"Um, no, well... I didn't mean it like that..."
"Um, I meant that I think nothing of it."
The noble buffoons now wore expressions of embarrassment and awkwardness.
"Now then, if you'll excuse me."
As if everything had gone exactly as she had planned, Sophia took Milly's hand and they walked away.
"Sorry for using you like that... Those types can be a real pain in the ass."
Sophia's family, the Rundstadts, was a distinguished family with a four hundred year history, dating back to the time when the Principality of Wiltia was known as the Luftzand Domain.
Moreover, because of her beauty, men would flock to her whether she liked it or not.
Sophia found it unbearably irritating.
"Isn't it impossible, Miss? For me to be your daughter, I mean..."
"Not really. You saw, didn't you? Their stupid faces, with their mouths wide open?"
Just as Sophia had said, the Rundstadt founder's wife had been far too young.If the young nobles had called out Sophia's story as ridiculous, they would be slighting her ancestors.
It wasn't something they could say because they valued lineage and power above all else.
"But that isn't it... our hair and eye colors are different... heck, our faces don't look the same at all."
Milly wondered just how much better things would be for her if she was beautiful like Sophia, and starting feeling slightly sad.
Men continued to appear, one after another, and all were shot down by Sophia. At first Milly shrank at Sophia's lies, but as the party progressed, she started to find it amusing as well.
"What the hell was with that geezer? He was old enough to be your father!"
"There are always some like that... They're under the illusion that all women want to be their lovers."
Sophia laughed delightedly as she listened to Milly insult the men at the party.
"So you've finally stopped being so polite with me."
Because she had been speaking with a soldier and member of the nobility, Milly had nervously tried to use formal language, which felt awkward and clumsy, but somewhere along the line she had returned to her usual way of speaking.
"T-that's, well... um..."
"Don't worry about it, I like you this way."
Sophia cheerfully reassured her.
Sheesh, this is hard...
Milly was supposed to hate soldiers, but before she knew it, she had relaxed around Sophia—a fact that made her feel like she had been tricked.
"Alright then, should we eat something? You must be starving. There should be something here to fix that hunger of yours."
Sophia pointed with nod.
Milly saw a tremendous feast, with foods she would never have dreamed of, made with ingredients she didn't know existed.
It was an extraordinary sight that seemed to lack any sense of reality.
"Is there.. any bread?"
Milly asked without thinking.
"Hm... Bread? There should be plenty at the edge of the table."
At a party like this, a staple like bread wasn't usually offered as a main dish.
Instead the served bread for people who might not be very hungry.
Common products were set out, such as croissants and sliced bread.
Milly picked out a piece of bread and brought it to her mouth.
It didn't taste bad, but it wasn't delicious enough to praise.
This is wrong, this ain't this...
She knew from just one bite.
It was totally different from Lud Langart's bread.
His bread was more delicious... and happier flavor to it.
Despite the baker's surly and frightening face, the bread from Tockerbrot was filled with kindness.
It had the power to put a smile on the faces of the people who ate it.
It was as though Lud was kneading his own smile into every batch of bread dough.
"So, I guess you really like bread?"
Sophia asked, looking at Milly as she concentrated on the flavor of the bread in her hands.
"My dad... He was a baker."
"I see! I guess that makes sense then... Hm? Was? Did he close down his bakery?"
"He died, in the war..."
The smile disappeared from Sophia's face at Milly's reply.
"Sorry... I didn't mean to make you talk about that..."
With a solemn expression, Sophia apologized sympathetically, with genuine remorse. She didn't shrug off Milly's feelings just because she was a child.
"It's fine, really."
However, Milly gave a slightly curt reply, as though was telling Sophia. "You're a Wiltian soldier, where do you get off?!".
But Sophia apparently didn't pick up on the meaning behind Milly's reply.
This woman... She's kind of similar to Lud...
A serious good-hearted person, and while Sophia wasn't as brusque as he was, she was still awkward and naive to the world.
"Now then, should we leaving?"
Collecting herself, Sophia took Milly's hand, and they returned to the same corridor where they had entered.
"Huh, isn't this the wrong way?"
Or so Milly thought, as Sophia was walking in the opposite direction from the stairs that led back to their room on the second floor.
"No, this is the right way. I asked the right person in charge, and he said the choir's waiting room is this way."
Without thinking, Milly almost shouted in surprise.
She had completely forgotten about the story she told to Sophia.
Milly had planned to sneak away in the crowd at the party, but she had been so captivated by the whole experience with Sophia, she hadn't thought about escaping.
Sweat seeped from her body, and her mind was consumed with intense panic.
"Uh, um... I, at least... should change... I have to give back this dress."
"Don't worry, you can have that dress. That should give your friends quite a shock, right?" Sophia was beaming.
It was a lovely piece and expensive piece of clothing, but under the circumstances, Milly resented her generosity.
"M-My bags... I need to grab them..."
"Hahaha, I'll send them along to whoever's in charge. Don't worry about that. Don't you need to hurry? Aren't you performing soon?"
Caught in her lie, Milly didn't care at all about the choir, but in fact, they were to go on stage in thirty minutes.
Sophia regretted selfishly dragging Milly around with her for so long, and was trying to make up for it now, which only served to back Milly further into a corner.
She couldn't stay any longer.
There was no chance for her to run away.
I guess I should just be upfront and apologize...
Milly understood now that Sophia wasn't the type who easily took another's life.
Sophia would possibly hit her, but Milly knew she wouldn't die.
What to do...
She didn't want to see the smiling Sophia, who had completely trusted Milly and showed her kindness, now be disappointed by Milly's lie.
As she struggled with her thoughts, they had arrived in front of a door at the end of the corridor.
The plaque on the door read. "Band and Choir Preparation Room," and below it was written, "Authorized Personnel Only."
Milly wasn't authorized personnel.
Her lie would be discovered as soon as they opened the door.
"Major Sophia Von Rundstadt of the Principal Military!"
Sophia said, banging loudly on the door.
"Oh, crap... I accidentally knocked like I always do..."
Milly didn't even hear Sophia's words.
What should I do, what should I do, what should I do?!
Milly's entire body trembled.
Unable to stand it any longer, Milly was about to confess everything to Sophia.
Her voice and an echoing gunshot rang out at the same time.
Breaking bread took time.
One had to mix the flour and the yeast, knead the dough, and let it ferment.
Yeast was a microbe, a fungus used in food processing.
Since it was a living organism, it took time to mature.
"Man, what a great kiln, With both gas and electric power, it heats up in an instant... It even has temperature control, so I don't need to worry about the strength of the fire.
Lud voiced his admiration as he examined the bread kiln, far more convenient than the conventional log-fed kiln he had back at Tockerbrot.
"No, no, this proofing cabinet is even better."
But, as he stood in front of the machine next to the kiln, his opinion quickly changed.
A proofing cabinet matured the bread dough at high temperatures.
By setting it to a temperature that was best suited for the yeast to grow, it greatly shortened the maturation time of the bread.
"If I had this, I could cut down the production time, and really increase out output."
For a long time it has been said that, "the baker is the first in town to wake."
There are stories about the croissant, which was said to have been created in celebration of a baker from a certain country. One morning, before dawn, the baker discovered a pagan militia preparing a surprise attack on the town, and warned the villagers and allowed everyone to escape.
The dough had to ferment early in the morning in order to make bread that day, but with a proofing cabinet, the amount of time needed decreased drastically.
"If only we had one... But... It's probably expensive, isn't it? I can't imagine how expensive it must be."
It was so expensive that there were probably only ten of them in all of Wiltia.
The war was governed by absurdity.
During the war, there were investments in new technology, because there was the money, time and personnel that would be unheard of during times of peace.
The proofing cabinet might not have been invented without the war.
Nothing is born from battle—but that's not true of war.
This was an unfortunate fact for all the pacifists in the world, but it was the truth.
The technologies were later sold to civilian interests, further refined and made available to the public, and eventually became an indispensable part of everyday life.
But, Lud wondered how many decades it would take for this progress to reach Tockerbrot...
"I'm back, Master!"
At that moment, Sven returned, carrying a large bag on her shoulders.
She had found flour, butter, salt and other ingredients necessary to make the bread, and she then went back to look for anything else they might need.
"Oh, Sven, welcome back. That's quite the bag you've got there..."
Putting the large bag down, she rustled through the contents and lined up the spoils.
"Well, first we have this Dom Perignon champagne and Hennessy cognac."
They were very expensive brands of alcohol, the pride of Filbarneu, a country rich in fertile soil.
"Then we have dry-cured ham and canned caviar..."
She took out a chunk of high quality Sparia dry-cured ham, said to be a delicacy withou parallel, and then she produced cans of rare, salted fish eggs that could only be gathered from the eastern inland sea."This whole bag is nothing but super luxury foods. We can have our own party right here."
Looking at all the gourmet food, the likes of which he had never seen before, Lud couldn't help feeling excited.
"There's just one more thing."
"Wait, there's more?"
Sven pulled a final object from the bag.
"A time bomb."
"Wow, so they even had a time bomb....Wait, what!?
Sven's tone was so indifferent, it took Lud a few seconds to realize what this was, and he shouted the second he recognized what was in front of him.
"This has already been deactivated, right, Sven?"
His military training immediately took over.
Having spent years sleeping on a blanket-covered bomb case instead of a bed, Lud now examined the bomb with an extremely cool head.
"Yes, its mechanism was quite simple, so I easily disarmed it."
A number of cords extending from the bomb had been detached, and the timer's clock display had stopped.
"So terrorists are targeting this ship, is that it?"
"That seems to be the case."
Despite the danger, both Sven and Lud were extremely calm.
Soldiers are constantly required to make difficult decisions under pressure, and this taught many of them to be thorough realists.
They could change nothing by talking in circles about the lunacy soldiers were presented with.
Instead, they waste no time before devising plans and countermeasures to deal with the situation.
The former soldier and his former weapon acted as they had been trained.
"It's because Wiltia's pissing everyone off."
"With so many potential reasons, it's almost impossible to identify anything specific."
It could be the result of political or cultural conflicts, it might be religiously motivated, or it might even have been sparked by a personal grudge.
Narrowing it down would be difficult, but Lud could speculate, based on the terrorists' approach.
"This bomb was placed in the food storeroom?"
"Yes, it was placed to be difficult to discover, but it was not hidden in a particularly clever way."
There were various ways to cause destruction, depending on the bomb.
If many small, high-powered explosives are camouflaged to look like something else, there is a risk that the planted bombs will be exposed.
So, one bomb that is capable of delivering fatal explosions is hidden carefully.
In contrast, this bomb was hidden so sloppily that Sven discovered it by chance while prowling around for food.
Most likely, a number of cheaply made bombs had been planted in different places.
"There's only one thing we can do. We have to let the Commander know about this bomb, and force the Defairedead to make an emergency landing. I'm sure the guests will object...Wait!"
He had been thinking like a soldier, but then Lud remembered something.
"Dammit! Now the party will be canceled! Even if we bake bread, no one will have the time to eat it! What are we going to do?!"
"P-P-P-Please calm down, Master!"
The two of them were used to scenes of chaos during wartime, but the conversation now turned to their bakery.
The pair both held their heads in their hands.
"It's unfortunate but human life can't be replaced..."
"What's going to happen to the challenge..."
Sven spoke with a worried look on her face as Lud's shoulder drooped in disappointment.
The Sophia that Lud knew was a violent and unforgiving superior officer.
She wouldn't accept any excuses for the failure to complete the mission, even if there was a good reason behind that failure.
She imposed the same strict regulations on herself.
His military training couldn't come up with a way of dealing with the problem this time.
As he sat feeling gloomy and downtrodden, he heard a noise.
He realized that someone was inside the air vent in front of him.
"Sven... Get behind me..."
Lud was careful as he removed the grate fitted over the air vent.
"... A child?!"
In the air vent was a young girl.
Her dress was in a terrible state, torn and covered in dust.
"... Milly?! What the heck are you doing here?!"
Expecting the young girl to be back in Organbaelz, Lud was shocked to see Milly crawl out of the vent, dressed completely different from usual.
"H-help... quick... it's terrible..."
Lud didn't know what had happened to Milly, but after finding the bomb planted in the storeroom, there was clearly something dangerous going on inside the ship.
Milly was kidnapped by terrorists once before, and it had been deeply frightening experience for her.
With those psychological scars not yet healed, she was panicked facing a similar situation.
"Calm down, breathe in, breathe out..."
Lud didn't rush her, and tried to calm her down and make her breathe slowly and deeply.
"What happened? Tell me calmly."
"Haa... Haa... T-they had weapons... a lot of them... the person... talked about a 'special forces soldier'..."
Special forces were soldiers assigned to specific missions, which were different from regular military operations.
So this time... it's their handiwork... if that's the case, this is pretty serious.
This was going to be much more difficult than the previous incident, when most of the terrorists had been amateurs.
Only someone with experience in such matters would be able to quickly distinguish between professional and amateurs.
"You gotta help, quick... she's going to die... Sophia's going to die!"
Lud understood that somehow Milly and Sophia had met and come across the Special Forces soldiers, who had planted bombs on the Defairedead.
Then, Milly had escaped to look for someone to save the ship.
"I can't believe it... The commander's..."
"Haa... Haa... Haa... ungh....."
After having told them all she could, Milly fainted.
The upper level of the Defairedead was in chaos.
The armed insurgents moved quickly, even faster than the Wiltian military's praised blitz tactics.
All hell broke loose on the stage when the children's choir began their performance with the band.
The guests at the party watched the performers as though they were looking at odd, if amusing, animals.
The Pelfish entertainers on stage were supposed to sing songs praising Wiltia, referring to them as masters, to stoke the audience's sense of superiority.
But the band dashed those expectations as soon as the curtain rose.
Instead of instruments, the band held firearms.
There was no warning before the gunshots rang out.
It was so sudden that many in the audience didn't understand the reality of the situation, and were shot through the head as they wondered if it was part of the entertainment.
The armed attackers had disguised themselves as the band.
The large instruments such as harps, basses and tubas had large cases to hold them, and the armed group had hidden firearms in the instrument cases.
As guests were killed mercilessly and their blood-soaked bodies were strewn on the floor, the rest of the guests finally understood what was happening.
A terrible panic broke out.
Some fainted from the shock, other scrambled over one another to escape, while a few tried to save themselves by hiding behind others. They all lost their heads, and ran around in chaos like a herd of small, spooked animals.
The armed group wasn't large.
There were only ten of them, at most.
In comparison, there were over one hundred guests in the party hall.
Even though they were defenseless, if all the guests jumped at the attackers at once, while there would have been some casualties, they could have dealt with the attackers and brought things under control.
To prevent this, the armed group purposely created situation where the guests would be unable to make such calm, cool-headed decisions.
From the beginning, they didn't plan to restrain the guests in the hall.
They were thousands of meters in the air. There was nowhere for the guests to run.
From the moment they picked up their guns, and made their revolt—No, from the instant they boarded the ship, the guests were already abducted and imprisoned.
The panic they stirred up laid the ground-work for their next move.
The Defairedead's control room, unlike the two-seated cockpit of an airplane, sometimes derived as nothing more than a chicken coop, was a sizable room for steering an immense ship like the Defairedead, and was filled with operations staff, comparable to the size of the bridge on a large battleship.
"Hello gentlemen. I am very sorry for interrupting while you are busy working, but we will be taking command from here on out."
A giant man, Commander Dreadnought, the leader of the Special Forces, suddenly appeared in the control room, clad in the armor of a long-forgotten era.
The security force stationed on the ship was preoccupied with the disturbance in the party hall, seeing to the safety and protection of the confused guests, so the control room was utterly defenseless.
"W-What the hell... Who are you!?"
Although it was now used as a commercial vessel, the control room staff on the Defairedead was mostly made up of soldiers, transferees from the Wiltian military.
"Under your command... you said?! What do you plan to do with this ship?!"
The captain fearlessly replied to the strangely-outfitted man who appeared in front of him.
"Do not worry, we have no plans to plunder the ship, or to change its destination. Please keep to your present course to the former Pelfish capital of Ponapalas. There—"
With his helmet visor lowered, neither the captain nor the other staff could discern Dreadnought's expression, but his voice was surprisingly mild and gentlemanly.
"—I'll have you sink this craft, I'd like it to be as horrible as catastrophe as possible, one that will become the stuff of legends, and make people curse the existence of such an airship.
There wasn't a shred of compassion in the words he spoke.
The captain pulled out his gun.
There were very strict regulations against bringing a firearm into the cockpit of a ship, with the lives of so many people on board at stake.
However, because the captain was responsible for everyone's safety, as a precaution, he was allowed to carry a gun in order to prevent any catastrophic injury or damage to the ship.
In the next instant, without warning, the captain fell over dead.
Dreadnought had closed in on the captain quickly and before he could pull the gun from his holster and take aim, Dreadnought struck the captain with his powerful, metal arm.
With that, the captain's head was gone.
"It's a crude expression, but... cease all resistance. It's futile and disgraceful."
Dreadnought wiped the blood dripping from his fist with a handkerchief as he spoke, his stone still mild and polite.
Thus, the Defairedead—called the supreme ruler of the Principality of Wiltia skies—was now under the control of Dreadnought's special force team."What the hell?!"
Now aware of the commotion above him, Lud left the unconscious Milly with Sven, and headed to the upper level. He set off toward the top level at once, but on his way, he found the guests on the second level in an uproar.
"What's going on, what happened?!"
"Help! The upper floor is a mountain of bodies!"
"What's going to happen?! I paid a high price for these tickets, you know!"
In the confusion, the distraught guests who had escaped the hell in the party hall were spreading word about the disaster on the upper level, generating further panic, with everyone on the verge of rioting in the corridor.
It would be impossible worse, although Lud wasn't aware yet of the captain's murder, the crew members could no longer contact the bridge.
"So that's how it is... They're clever."
Looking at the scene before him, Lud understood the motives of the people who had taken over the ship.
Normally, in order to occupy a facility, personnel would act as guards to prevent an uprising by the hostages.
However, it was impossible to bring in the number of troops necessary to cover the ship this immense.
So they've only secured important locations... The control room has probably already taken over.
The soldiers had attacked out in the open, panicking the guests and leaving them to struggle chaotically.
This was more like the 'storming of a castle' than the 'hijacking an airplane'.
So the enemy is aiming for the control room... and they've dealt with the security personnel, taking a minimum number of hostages. They've focused on occupying only the top floor to do so... so that's it, then?
Even if Lud pushed through the crowd, the stairs had been blocked, and he worried that the elevator had been destroyed as well.
"If that's the case then... Right!"
Coming up with an ingenious plan, Lud stormed through the crowd and headed toward the area near the bow of the ship on the second level—the galley from where he had been ejected just a few hours earlier.
"What in all of heaven and earth is going on!?"
"I don't know!"
In the galley dining room, the host having an argument with Olfen, who had recovered from Sven's punch.
They were aware of the uproar on the upper floor, but had no idea what to do.
They yelled at each other to disguise their own panic.
"W-What do you want, agghhh!"
Lud entered, pushing his way past the cook's apprentice guarding the door.
"Y-You're that baker from before... W-What are you doing?!"
Lud stood before Olfen, carrying a hatchet used in case of emergency.
"It can't be... Revenge from before? Wait, we can talk about this!"
Olfen's face grew pale as he begged for his life, fully aware that Lud had good reason to take revenge.
The large, muscular man with the scar on his cheek was coming toward him with an ax in his hand.
Panicking. Olfen was on the verge of wetting himself from sheer terror.
But, that was not Lud's objective, of course.
"So there is one after all!"
In the back of the galley was a tiny elevator used for carrying dishes to the upper level.
It was too small to hold a person, but the shaft itself had enough space that even someone Lud's size could squeeze in and climb to the top.
"Heeeere we go!"
Raising the axe high, he smashed the door to the elevator with all his might, and crushed the clasp on the food carriage inside.
It was a violent way to do it, but since this was an emergency, Lud hoped Olfen would ignore it.
I really don't want them to ask for damage compensation after all this...
In a few minutes, Lud had made an opening.
"There we go... S-sorry for the disturbance."
Lud now noticed Olfen trembling behind him, and after giving a slight bow, he slipped into the elevator shaft and headed for the top floor.
At that moment, on the lowest floor in the old galley—
Having been ordered by Lud to keep watch while he was gone, Sven groaned.
I've lost again.
Lud was her top priority.
Being unable to protect him was her greatest anguish.
But, Lud had given her the order to stay with Milly, and she couldn't disobey him.
"Honestly, this one just loves making work for others, doesn't she!"
Sven muttered to herself as she sat next to the still unconscious Milly.
If she was honest with herself, the reason she stayed behind wasn't just because Lud had ordered it.
She couldn't leave Milly while she was still unconscious.
She place significantly less priority on Milly than Lud, but Sven no longer felt the deep hostility toward the girl that she had.
She still considered Milly to be completely lacking in charm, but she cared enough about her to grip Milly's hand while the young girl writhed in anxiety as though she was drowning.
"Sheesh, this is so annoying!"
Sven grew irritated by these feelings that she couldn't understand, and grumbling and complaining, she tried to distract herself by reassessing the current situation.
The upper level of the ship was now occupied by an armed group, who appeared to be special forces, belonging to a formal military organization.
Most likely, Sven thought, there were only a few of them.
What was the security doing, allowing them to take over the ship so easily?
There should have been at least a few crew members equipped with guns in case of emergency like this.
Moreover, Sophia was on the ship.
Sven judged from what Milly had said that Sophia had been beaten, but Sven couldn't believe that a powerful war veteran like Sophia Von Rundstadt would have been done in so easily.
There's someone one the ship who even Major Rundstadt couldn't defeat? Or... was there someone she couldn't fight?
Sven's thoughts continued to pile on top of each other when Milly awoke with a small groan.
"Nh, hnh... Oh... Where am I?!"
"Don't worry, you're still floating high in the sky."
Sven replied with slight sarcasm, immediately letting go of Milly's hand.
"Where did... where did he go?"
Turning her head and looking around, Milly saw that Lud wasn't there.
"Master headed to the upper level after hearing from you."
Hearing Sven's response, Milly gave a heartrending cry.
"W-What in the world is wrong?!"
"He can't... He'll... He'll get killed..."
"Killed? What are you talking about, you silly little girl?"
Lud was strong.
He was a kind-hearted man, and was often considered as big oaf, but as a Hunter Unit pilot, and an expert in hand-to-hand combat, he was in a league of his own.
The armed group storming about the ship might be soldiers more skilled than amateur Pelfe Liberation League that caused a disturbance back in Organbaelz, but that didn't mean they could defeat Lud.
As Sven was thinking that Milly had no idea how strong Lud was, she was suddenly taken aback.
Lud was strong.
But, he was very kind and softhearted person.
Even when a terrorist was about to kill him, because it was sister from the orphanage who knew and had trusted, he gave her an opening to get the better of him.
On top of that—
"What have I done?!"
The most important aspect of military strategy is to find the right man for the right job.
It meant stationing soldiers where they could make the best of use of their particular skills.
And it also meant placing a soldier in a location where his weakness was least likely to be exploited.
Sven felt furious with herself for sending her beloved master to a place where his weakness would be very apparent.
The Defairedead control room—
With the captain's death as an ominous warning, all resistance from the other crew members evaporated.
The crew obeyed Dreadnought's demands, and waited for a chance to act.
With communications halted, the ground must have realized that there had been an accident or emergency on board. The security crew currently fighting the terrorists in the party hall would hopefully soon check the control room.
It was hopeful conjecture, but they did know for certain that if they disobey, they'd be killed.
"Well done, Captain."
Speaking flippantly, an uninvited guest entered the control room.
He was a gentle-looking man, wrapped in a loose-fitting clerical dress—Dreadnought's subordinate, Sutherland.
"We've taken control of the upper level. The people are restrained in the party hall... It seems many fled to the lower levels, but we've blocked the stairs and elevator so that shouldn't be a problem."
Sutherland's assignment had been to disguise himself as the leader of the band, and command the other soldiers pretending to be band members.
"There were some who put up in a fight. We killed them all... Goodness gracious, those little ones of yours were actually quite effective. Those Wiltian soldiers, they're so chivalrous, you see... Too easy."
"Please leave the control room to us, Captain"
Sutherland beckoned to his men and ordered them into the control room.
"Wait, Warrant Officer Sutherland... Did you leave the party hall to them?"
Dreadnought asked, coming to a halts.
"How sharp of you to notice..."
Sutherland's smile twisted disagreeably.
Dreadnought hated to lose any of his subordinates, and always confirmed the number of soldiers around him.
The Ten Special forces soldiers disguised as band members had all come to the control room.
"Yes, but that shouldn't be a problem. In fact, they were happy. Now they can kill those Wiltians they loathe so much any way they want.
"What? Is there a problem? We have to defend this position with our lives in order for the mission to succeed, correct?"
Dreadnought glared through his visor, but Sutherland just shrugged, as if he was teasing Dreadnought.
"No, that's fine."
Without any sort of reprimand, Dreadnought left the control room.
"Phew... That old man is such a pain in the ass."
The minute he was gone, Sutherland spat abuse at Dreadnought, his superior officer and the commander.
"He's not in any position to criticize, and if he'd just admit that he wants to kill them too, that would be enough... Sheesh, these monsters are such a pain. You guys think so too, don't you?"
Unsure how to answer Sutherland's questions, the soldiers were silent as he kicked the corpse of the beheaded captain, still lying in the corner.