Translator: “Ashita” Editor: “Weasalopes”
At the Royal Capital, cold rain fell all the way since the morning.
The sky was covered in thick rain clouds and even though it was an afternoon, it was gloomy.
Under this weather which is sure to kill anybody’s mood, a single Knight is heading for the Royal Capital.
Although there is no mistaking that this Knight belonged to the Kingdoms’ Knight Order, something about it felt off. It was moving at a speed which was usually not allowed when Knights are in the vicinity of the Royal Capital.
The guard sensed that it was an emergency and signaled, the Knight which was guarding the main gate quietly blocked the gate. Visually, it is heavily armored and has a low center of gravity but it does not have much mobility.
The approaching B-rank Knight rapidly decelerated and crouched down in front of the Security Knight.
The chest armor immediately raised upward and the pilot inside it rolled out of the Knight. After exchanging a few words with the guard, he ran inside the gate.
The people lining up for entry turned their eyes toward the pilot who ran past them, wondering what was going on. They then started whispering amongst themselves, coming up with their own speculations.
The chest armor of the Knight remained raised. The occasional rain was blown toward the pilot seat.
「……What did you say?」
The Knight commander who heard the report could only say those words.
This is the Knight commander’s room at the headquarters of the Knight Order.
And the drenched and dirty man in front of him is one of the Low-rank pilots who headed out for the clean-up of the Heavy Lancers.
The news he brought along was shocking.
That would be the word to describe the result.
Though the details are not known, there was no mistaking that a lot of pilots and Knights were lost.
And the problem did not only lie there.
The said magic attack that was fired on the battlefield by someone unknown.
The group of Heavy Lancers which numbers have hardly dwindled disappeared to who knows where.
An enemy, whose identity is unknown, is accompanying the group of Heavy Lancers and when or where they will strike is not known.
「This is impossible」
The Knight commander thought nothing except that a messenger will bring good news to him. Naturally, he had not thought about the steps to take when faced with defeat.
His thoughts progressed no further, he only repeated the same words many times.
Turning back the time a little to the morning of that day.
The place: the plains at the Royal Capital’s North-West exit. It was the place where the Heavy Lancers overran the Kingdoms’ Knights the night before.
Unlike the cold rain at the Royal Capital, here lies cold air that could freeze a person’s very heart and the blue sky.
Under this clear blue sky, B-rank Knights were moving about amongst the large number of Knight remnants which laid strewn on the ground.
And there, a single beige-colored Knight approaches in a cautious manner.
(……Seems like it’s fine)
I am in Old Lady’s pilot seat calming myself by patting on my chest.
The surrounding B-rank Knights did turn their attention to me once but got back to their tasks at hand as if they lost interest. Looks like they do not recognize me as an enemy.
Seeing that a tent had been set up, I stopped Old Lady over at its side.
There were several faces who appeared from the tent but they went back in when they realized that it was Old Lady.
It seems like they did not care about my well-being. All of them except Corneal.
「Tauro-san! Thank god you are safe!」
Soon after I regrouped, Corneal ran over while raising his voice.
I was in the middle of descending the rope of Old Lady which was knelt down.
While smiling, I turned back to Corneal but he grabbed both of my hands at that moment.
「That’s a relief! A real relief!」
While saying this, he repeatedly shook my hand. From his overflowing tears, I could tell that he was extremely happy.
「Wa-wait a minute」
But he was putting in too much strength. Jokes aside, it felt like my shoulders were about to break.
After Corneal finally calmed down, we shared our happiness over the fact that we both survived.
Once I took a good look at him, I realized that Corneal was in a horrible state.
He probably was rescuing people all night in the cold. his drained face was covered in dirt.
That was very different from what I did – taking a nap in my pilot seat after having dinner which had corn beef, cracker, apple, and coffee.
(He probably had no heating)
His hands were also frozen.
Operating the Knight overnight probably consumed what little mana he had remaining.
「Tauro-san, have you taken your meal?」
He tried to hand over a bowl with what is likely his share.
It seems like it is oatmeal but it was already cold. It was probably kneaded in water.
I must not let him realize that I napped with the air conditioner at full blast and boiled hot water.
「It’s alright, I took my meal before coming here」
I hurriedly replied.
By the way, the breakfast I had was a fruit cereal bar and a chocolate bar. And my drink was a hot coffee with lots of milk.
(Meals cannot be provided to those who do not belong to the Knight Order. I felt dubious when I heard that but I am glad that I went back)
I do not know what the high-rank pilots’ meals were like but the low-rank pilots’ rations were plain. From what I could gather, it would probably be the same if not worse.
Corneal frowns as he uses a spoon to bring the food to his mouth.
I entered the tent and proceeded to report to the platoon leader of the low-rank pilots.
The content was simple, I waited till dawn and returned. As simple as that.
Just in case, I asked to help but he let out a troubled expression and requested that I patrol the surroundings.
(He probably does not want anyone except the members of the Knight Order to see)
All that was left on this battlefield was its view that has lost its majesty.
It was not like I did not understand that feeling.
I accepted it and began walking slowly around the perimeter of the battlefield.
What came into view was the figures of low-rank pilots carrying out their tasks at various places.
At one place, the Knights were prying open crushed chest armors that would not open.
From the gap which appeared up together with a creaking sound, a large amount of black blood flowed out.
Checking the inside, they decide whether to rescue or to retrieve the body. This task was probably the most grueling.
While I was having lunch together with Corneal, I heard a story that would support that.
「Man, sturdiness is a really subjective word」
He said while biting into multiple pieces of all-wheat crackers and washing them down with water.
His tone was easygoing unlike the matter he was talking about.
This man is always like this. No matter how dark the matter at hand was, he would address it lightly.
「It took more than twice the amount of time taken for other Knights before we could open it」
He was referring to the Vice-commander’s A-rank Knight.
Corneal’s B-rank Knight which is a cheap replica of the Vice-commander’s A-rank Knight only had one hatch. It only raised upwards.
However, this was different for the Vice-commander’s. After the chest armor raises upwards, the hatch beneath it opens both left and right. By having two layers, the pilot’s body is protected just as much.
「Even though the shell was fine」
The cause of the Vice-commander’s death was the magic attack. Owing to the sturdiness of the Knight, no damage or malformation could be seen around the Knight.
「He was grilled」
However, it looks like he was unable to endure the magic attack.
There was smoke coming out from the storage location of the Support Magic Circle which served as a Magical Barrier. It seems like he saw that and felt a bad omen.
When the hatch was forced open from the outside, the bad omen turned into reality.
「Imagine the moment when you open the bundle of foil you were grilling. That was how stinky it was」
Corneal grimaced but as expected, he was able to continue talking while biting his lip.
I only thought that the Vice-commander deserved this so I would have preferred to not have heard about his explanation.
「By the way, I wonder just what that magic attack was」
Corneal changed the topic.
The additional attacks made from the flank of the Knight Orders’ main force seems to have been the main reason for their loss.
That seems to be the reason for the strong flashes of light I saw from time to time.
「That wasn’t magic from the Heavy Lancers?」
As I said this, I came to realize that something was amiss.
I have been chasing after Heavy Lancers for a long time but I have not seen any signs of them using magic.
「Heavy Lancers don’t use magic」
Corneal had an expression
「Other magical beasts, if not a Knight from another kingdom. ……Both don’t click」
It seems like the piece did not fit the puzzle in his mind. There is no way for me to understand something that even Corneal did not understand.
In the end, Corneal wrapped up the conversation.
「They are not attacking at this point in time so let’s think of it as we’re saved for now」
He continued the conversation in the cold as he drank some water.
I would like to hand him a cup of warm coffee but I hesitated as I thought of the eyes around us.
The topic Corneal brought up was regarding how they will be treated after this.
「I think that Tauro-san will be fine but we might be in a very bad position」
His expression was dark and sort of cold.
「The result is as miserable as you can see but Tauro-san did follow the plan and fulfilled your role」
It was very helpful that he thought that way.
(In reality, anyone would arrive at the same conclusion if they only took a look at my movements)
My motive was something that did not matter.
「On the other hand, rather than lead the formation, we were dispersed to the West, away from them」
It seems like he was not convinced as his tone had some bitterness mixed in.
It was likely that he was dissatisfied with the timing of the magic attack. It seems to be instructions from the Vice-commander but he was no longer in this world.
(That attack was fired to corner us, no doubt about it. So Corneal and the rest do not know this)
This was about the time when Old Lady and I were West of the Heavy Lancers.
「The main force advanced in order to save Tauro-san and encountered an ambush along the way. In the first place, the cause for that was our lack of skill in magic attacks」
I was shocked when I heard those words.
It seems like this was the understanding reached amongst the low-rank pilots. It seems like the Vice-commander did not show his true colors in front of the low-rank pilots.
「But that was all due to the instructions right? And wasn’t the reason for the ambush due to the negligence of the main forces’ lookouts?」
I raised my voice as I asked.
There should be no reason for the low-rank pilots to take the blame.
However, Corneal had an expression like he has given up, smiling slightly, he shook his head from left to right.
「The top is all in shambles right? One of the living must take the blame」
Many of the high and middle-rank pilots have died in battle or have grave injuries. There is no one in the condition to report back to the headquarters let alone those who came out unscathed.
At this point, the one taking charge was the platoon leader of the low-rank pilots.
「But Tauro-san. I am really glad that you are alright. I thought that you were a goner when I saw that formation」
Corneal’s expression brightened a little as he said this.
But my expression was sullen.
「……People were quite envious of me though」
「Our positions are different. When the Knight Order is given a dangerous mission, they will not abandon even the lowest of low-rank pilots」
There was a hidden meaning behind that expression. As expected, Corneal seems to know.
「The pilot of the Merchant Guild is excluded from this?」
He nodded when hearing my words.
「I said it like so earlier but the advance to rescue Tauro-san came too late」
After the conversation stopped for a moment, he continued, struggling to say his next sentence.
「I don’t know how far they were thinking. But they should have at least thought that they did not mind you dying」
And both of his eyebrows stood on their ends so much so that vertical wrinkles formed between his forehead.
「Probably because the top think of Tauro-san as an eyesore」
As we looked at each other, we both let out a deep sigh.
After lunch, I proceeded to the tent as the platoon leader of the low-rank pilots called for me.
There, I was told that I can go back.
(Well, there is nothing else to do)
I could not find any enemies resembling magical beasts in the surroundings.
If rescue and clean-up were handled by the Knight Order, then I have nothing in particular to do.
「I think you know but do not disclose anything」
The platoon leader ordered.
There is a heavy punishment waiting if one disobeys. Seems like a gag order was imposed.
I bowed once and left the tent.
I took a look around as I headed for Old Lady but I do not see Corneal. It seems like he had no time to send me off.
By the way, the other people were supposed to continue their tasks until the substitutes arrive to take over.
(It’s time to return!)
Old Lady and I headed off for the Royal Capital.
After the Knight Order wet out of view, I hovered at full speed. I continued this until I could see people on the main road.
The rain midway probably played a part in why there was little human traffic. I clocked the distance at several times the speed than I had when I was heading towards the knight Order.
And so, Old Lady and I have just safely returned a little while ago to the Royal Capital which was fast approaching dusk.
「I am back」
In the town which has gotten dark quickly after night has fallen, I was carried by a golem carriage taxi and arrived at the Merchant Guild.
「How good of you to have returned, it is good that you are safe」
The Guild master and the Vice-commander were present in the Guild master’s room.
This is usually the time when they went back home but they probably came back being informed that Old Lady had returned.
「A lot happened」
Though a gag order has been imposed on me, I have no intention of keeping this a secret from the Guild masters.
I talked about matters such as how I fell into their trap, escaping from the Heavy Lancers and how the Knight Orders’ main force was obliterated.
I randomly and ambiguously mentioned about how I lined them up in a train and attacked.
「You have done well to be unharmed」
The Guild master nodded repeatedly, overjoyed, once again, at my safe return.
Upon hearing that I was almost killed, he let out a complex expression.
「We will not ask for them to take criminal responsibility for their actions during the mission」
If punishments were to be meted out, it would become an internal affair for the Knight Order. And the Knight Order will most likely not act on this matter.
「It was not like they opened fire on an ally by mistake. They were only trying to wipe out the magical beasts after all」
I had expected this. As I had no evidence, I could not counterargue.
We should do well to protect ourselves from similar events that might occur in the future. He was trying to say that.
「But I sure didn’t expect that we would lose」
He then changed his tone to that of a murmur and sighed.
「Let’s see. I saw the line when they were departing and they had more A-rank Knights than usual. So much so that I thought they might have been excessive」
Santa, also known as the vice-guild master, had the same opinion.
「Either way, the Kingdom has lost a significant amount of military might. I don’t think the neighboring countries will stay silent when they learn of this」
「Are you talking about the Imperial Empire?」
As Santa asked this, the Guild master’s gaze moved from me to Santa.
「They are the ones who have the highest probability of making a move」
The Guild master answered and contemplated for a while. He then started to speak.
「In anticipation of a war, we will start stocking up on goods. Use different transportation routes and storage locations from what we use during peacetime」
With these words, Santa started making preparations.
「We should also take into consideration that our opponents may not be the Imperial Empire and prepare various plans」
The Merchant Guild began to move based on the information they received from me.
I became restless as I see this.
「Tauro-kun, I know about the gag order so you do not have to worry.」
He probably noticed the change in my demeanor. Santa smiled mischievously.
「This is also one of the ways of business. We will neither act publicly which garners attention nor spread information to lose the edge we have」
And, he continued.
「Stocking up goods from the citizens and securing our own transport action route. This also benefits everyone in the event something happens」
Making profits no matter the situation, regardless of whether it is the warring period or peaceful period.
Furthermore, they are not the only ones benefiting from this. They also support the livelihood of the people and Guilds in charge of production like the Crafting Guild.
As a result, that also benefits the Kingdom.
I felt overwhelmed after seeing how hearty and robust merchants were.