Chapter 1 – Coming of Age
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Chapter 1

Coming of Age

-000-

My eyes slowly opened as light had seeped into my room from the outside world. The sound of hustle and bustle outside alerted me that I had woken up late. I threw off my blanket and quickly got ready for the long day of work ahead of me. As I put on my working clothes, I couldn’t help but reminisce about how far my family has gotten ever since the end of the war.

Years had passed since I reawakened as my younger self. Since those days, my determination to right my wrongs has only grown stronger.

It seemed like my intervention in the Battle of Yashin Bridge as a squire had more profound an impact than I expected. Unlike my previous life, Godfrey never withdrew from the battle. Instead, he madehis stand and kept fighting, even in the face of protests from his personal guard and retainers. Because he stayed, morale among the defenders remained high despite our losses since Godfrey’s presence guaranteed that Ramiel reinforcements would arrive to relieve them… not that they would be necessary.

As it turns out, I was right in my observation. The attacking Confederate force had spent themselves on an all-day assault. They were hoping that the Kingdom’s defenders would buckle under such immense pressure, but instead they faced an immovable object at the bridge. The Confederacy’s forces shattered themselves after repeated assaults, and when House Ramiel’s relief force lead by Duke Ramiel himself arrived the very next morning, all attempts to take the bridge ceased, and the enemy ran with their tails between their legs.

That’s right, in this life, the Battle of Yashin Bridge was a victory for the Kingdom. Not only that, this setback for the Confederacy gave the Kingdom the strategic initiative, which was exploited to its fullest extent.

Under the admittedly brilliant leadership of the Lord Marshall Olsyn dal Grunnder -who was the King’s younger brother- the Kingdom’s forces made a lightning quick incursion into Confederate territories as the Confederacy’s own armies settled down where they stood for the winter season. After burning down enough towns, farms, factories, and fortresses to satiate the Kingdom’s need for revenge, Marshall Olsyn quickly withdrew to friendly territory before the enemy could mount any meaningful resistance. The expedition arrived home just as the season turned to spring and the frozen soil turned to mud.

This happened differently in my previous life. Because Yashin Bridge fell, the Kingdom was forced on the defensive, and could only counterattack late in the following spring. After defeating the Confederacy’s expeditionary force in the Kingdom’s territory, Marshall Olsyn led his punitive expedition in the following summer, before forcing the enemy to surrender after capturing the fortress city of Kingsmark by late autumn. Thus the war ended a year after the defeat at Yashin Bridge.

However, because Marshall Olsyn could launch his punitive campaign much earlier this time around, the Confederacy was forced into the negotiation table by mid-spring. The Marshall had destroyed much of the enemy’s food and material reserves during his incursion, and this left the Confederate forces with hardly enough supplies to continue fighting. The Confederate Chancellor negotiated a peace with King Owyn, and handed over Kingsmark as compensation to the Kingdom without further bloodshed.

Basically put, the victory at Yashin Bridge snowballed into ending the war much sooner… and this was not a fact that went unnoticed.

Once again subverting what I thought I knew about House Ramiel, the Duke and his son personally petitioned the king to provide commendations and rewards to everyone that took part in the defense of Yashin Bridge, be they as warriors, maintenance workers, healers, or camp aides. These came in the form of either monetary rewards… or more relevant to my family, a promotion.

Father was raised from being a knight to a Manor-Lord. This was the highest rank within the lower nobility. Any higher, we’d be entering the ranks of the upper nobles… the likes of Barons, Viscounts, and all those other titles short of King. Because of our promotion, we were now free to own land without restrictions, as well as permitted to develop it any way we saw fit… so long as it was legal, of course. Knights and commoners were also allowed to own land, but the process of buying property or building anything on it as someone below the rank of Manor-Lord was more complicated and time consuming.

Certainly, you could try to buy your own land and build your own manor as a commoner, but you first need to gain permission from either the local Baron, Mayor, or bar that the village chief. To summarize, the lower you were on the nobility ladder, the more restrictions you had in what you were legally allowed to do in terms of land development.

Surprisingly enough, my father was elated at the prospect of developing his own land. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would see my father happily spending his time farming. He was always the stalwart warrior in my memories. Seeing him be so at ease in peacetime was a completely new experience which honestly elated me. I thanked the higher powers that gave me this second chance in life every day. I resolved to never give thought to wasting this impossible opportunity.

I got out of my room in the small manor our family owned, and quickly ate a breakfast of bread and eggs. Once done, I headed over to our barn and prepared the tractor for the day’s work. Several of the family’s employees had also started to work, and they rode their tractors out of the barn as I entered.

“Good morning, Master Morgan.” The head of the farmhands greeted me. “Back to work once more?

“Good morning, Killian.” I returned the greeting. “Of course, just because I’m heir to the estate, doesn’t mean I get to slack around.”

Killian was the most senior farmhand that father hired. In all things farming related, Killian’s words were treated like scripture. Since my father had the background of a warfighter, he needed someone to teach him the ways of farming. Killian proved to be so reliable, that father eventually hired him as second-in-command of the farm.

As I entered the barn, I saw one of the workers was running maintenance on a tractor.

“Mornin’, Preston.” I greeted.

“Hey, g’mornin’ sir.” Preston said, turning his attention away from the tractor to greet me before going back to working on it.

I decided to leave him to it, and get to my own machine. I walked over to a cabinet marked with the writing ‘crystal batteries’. These crystal batteries were what we used to power the tractors for our work. I picked up one of the tube shaped items and carried it over to the tractor. These tubes were pretty big. If I set the one I was carrying down and stood next to it, it would just about reach where my knees were. They weren’t very heavy though, so I had no trouble carrying them around.

I opened the hood on the tractor I was going to use, then slid the battery into its corresponding slot. When the tube clicked in, I closed the hood then climbed on to the machine’s seat before flipping a switch. The machinery that operated the tractor let off a light hum. That was a good sign, that means the battery was channeling magical energy into the machine and that the tractor was in working order. I smiled at the tractor as I revved its engine. Magic crystal technology had progressed leaps and bounds after the war ended. This was the case in my previous life as well, but back then I wasn’t in any position to truly feel the benefits of it.

These magic crystal batteries were a miniaturized version of the crystal reactors that powered the Magi-Armors, which inturn were miniaturized versions of the reactors that powered the airships that have come to dominate the skies for the past few decades. Some brilliant technicians had figured out a way to transplant the mechanical systems that operated the Magi-Armor into powering simpler machinery. First were the creation of horse-less wagons and carriages. These were originally to be used by the army to ferry supplies and troops to and from the front… but since the war ended early, the workshops building them quickly started selling their contraptions to the civilian market.

Everything exploded from there, as technicians who were experienced in working with the mechanics of Magi-Armors applied their knowledge in all sorts of fields. Soon enough, crystal powered machines became indispensable to daily life in the Kingdom.

I myself was enraptured by them. I had not taken the time to appreciate these machines in my previous life, so I made sure to fully appreciate them now. I thoroughly studied how these tractors worked, and thanks to the deep knowledge of Magi-Armors I had from my previous life I quickly understood how they functioned. I understood them well enough that my father had yet to hire a head mechanic for our estate. After all, I was competent enough in the subject that I could fill that role by myself… at least until the time for me to enroll in the Academy for Nobles would arrive.

As I drove the tractor out of the barn, Killian couldn’t help but tease me for my fondness for machines.

“You almost seem too happy to be driving these things.” He joked, climbing onto the tractor I drove and sitting on one of the rear fenders. “Staring at machines all day isn’t going to get you a pretty lady, don’t you know?

I laughed lightly at that.

“Hey, what can I say? Machines aren’t as naggy as women.” I jokingly replied.

Killian and I both laughed at the joke, but we quickly went back to business.

“Alright, Ollie and Trevor are covering the north patch today, so you’ll work with Preston on the south patch. He’ll join you whenever it is he finishes fixing his machine.” He told me. “Plow the soil so that we can start planting some wheat.”

“Righto.”

The older man then patted me on the back.

“Atta boy.” He said as he got off the tractor. “You know, it’s gonna be hard to find a replacement for you when you head off to the academy. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone so excited to work with tractors like you.”

“All the more reason for me to make the most of my time here then.” I replied with a smile.

Once I reached the southern patch, I lowered the plows on my machine and started working the land. I marveled at how efficient these machines were, and how fortunate my family was that we could afford several of these. These tractors could finish a day’s worth of work for a dozen strong men in a few hours. I proceeded with my tasks as usual, working diligently as was expected of me. However, as I worked, my thoughts started to wander. Since it was early spring, we’re planting our crops to be harvested in the summer. However, I wouldn’t be around for the harvest since I’d have shipped out to the academy by that point.

Damnit… right... I have to attend the academy.

I had very mixed feelings about going there. On one hand, I was not at all looking forward to dealing with the antics of the upper nobles, but at the same time I had to attend if I wanted even a chance at stopping the incoming catastrophe.

I delved into the memories of my previous life. I’m sure that the events in the Academy weren’t the catalyst to the Kingdom falling apart, but it sure as hell felt like when everything started to go downhill.

It was all because of the damned Crown Prince. I did not have any nice words to describe him. I’ve interacted with him a handful of times in my previous life, and every time that I did I came to the conclusion that he was a self-absorbed, spoiled prick. I was so sick of him and his rotten antics that I skipped out on the first year closing party. When Theo told me that the prince went and made a fool of himself again during the event, I felt vindicated in my choice… but now I’m not so sure. It’s probably impossible that the party alone was what started the snowball that led to the destruction of the kingdom… but it might have something to do with it.

I huffed to myself. I was going to have to keep a close eye on that bastard, wasn’t I? Just when I developed a taste for a simple, peaceful lifestyle, I was going to have to throw it away and get tangled in upper noble nonsense.

“Gah! Why do these upper nobles have to make things so God damned complicated?” I yelled to noone in particular.

The others may have heard me complaining into the void. I didn’t really care. This was my father’s estate… and as far as I’m concerned, the only place where I could wind down and enjoy myself. Sure, it might sound ridiculous that I find farm work to be enjoyable and relaxing. However, remember that in my previous life I have known nothing but endless conflict. To me, simple and peaceful farm work was paradise in comparison. Leaving it behind to jump back into a life of pain, struggle, and fighting was not something I was looking forward to by any metric available.

“And yet it’s something I’ve gotta do…” I mused to myself. “Life never is simple, is it?”

-000-

It was late in the afternoon now, and I was back in my room. I was neck deep in my studies, working as hard as I could so that I can properly enroll in the academy. While I did have memories and skills from my previous life that put me ahead of my peers, I felt it was better to be safe than sorry. After all, enough things have changed since I awoke as my younger self, I couldn’t get complacent and rely entirely on my memories which I begrudgingly admit may or may not be unreliable.

I had a book right in front of me that I had only bought recently. It was published a year ago and it concerned the potential applications of crystal battery technologies. The book was a joint collaboration between one of the ship designers working for House Ramiel’s famous shipyards, and a handful of Magi-Armor craftsmen that gained prominence during the war. The book shed a lot of interesting ideas for the usage of crystal batteries, such as armored wagons, miniaturized warship Magi-Canons, and supercharged enchantments to name a few suggestions. That last one was of particular interest to me. I had first hand experience on the kind of difference good enchantments could make in a fight.

For example, in my previous life, I ordered for magical engravings of strength to be applied to my giant glaive. What this did is it significantly increased the amount of wear and tear it would take before my glaive would have to be sharpened once more. Because of this, its edge could be used to cut through armor more effectively than an unengraved blade made out of the average magic hardened metal.

However, only now am I discovering how much more I could try and eke out from the engravings, despite my lack of magical aptitude.

You see, warriors with strong magical abilities could channel magical energy from their own bodies into their Magi-Armor. In essence, the pilot becomes like a secondary power source for the machine, providing more energy which in turn supercharges enchantments and engravings beyond what it can normally do. So even if two warriors pilot the same exact machine, the warrior with a higher aptitude for magic could push the machine far more in terms of raw performance.

Well, power-boosting your enchanted equipment with your own magical energy isn’t actually all that unique of a skill. Just about everyone has the potential to do it. The difference is that with Magi-Armors, the raw amount of energy needed to meaningfully enhance your equipment is magnitudes more than what someone with low-magic aptitude like me could possibly pull off. If I so much as tried, best case scenario I have to be bedridden for an entire month… worst case scenario, I literally burn myself out.

“So how can a low-magic guy like myself power-boost my Magi-Armor’s without getting myself killed?” I voiced my thoughts out loud.

I begrudgingly shelve this idea for now. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some help in figuring this one out when I get to the Academy.

Another aspect that I was looking into were self-loading firearms to be used by Magi-Armors.

For this, I looked to two other books, this one on the art of gunsmithing and another for metallurgy.

Prototypes for self-loading infantry firearms already existed today. I expect that within the decade it would become standard issue equipment among the Kingdom's footmen. This was how it was in my previous life, after all. However, self-loading weapons for Magi-Armor were significantly more complicated. The size of the shells being fired meant that pressure from ignited powder would be significantly more intense than those fired by infantry sized firearms. The recoil would also be significantly more powerful. As of right now, bolt-action rifles for Magi-Armor were the most advanced kinds of giant firearms that our current technology allowed us to craft. Relatively speaking, a bolt-action rifle was mechanically simple. A craftsman with the right tools and direction could probably make a basic one from scratch in his own home.

A self-loading rifle would be leagues more complex, as it would require more moving parts to make it function properly. A mechanism to automatically eject and chamber shells would be required for it to function, but it would be quite complicated to do at a size that fits a Magi-Armor. Common metallurgy had not yet advanced to the point we could do so easily, necessitating each metal part to be hardened with magic as they are being cast. That would be prohibitively expensive.

“It’d cost a fortune to arm a squadron of twelve with these… let alone an entire army.” I muttered to myself.

My challenge then, is to find an economically viable solution to the metallurgy problem. However, once more I didn’t have access to the resources to conduct such research. Again, I was forced to shelve my ideas and schematics for when I enrolled in the Academy. I distinctly remembered that one of the teachers was also actively working to advance Magi-Armor technology. I think I will get along with him quite well in the future.

A knock on my door pulled me out of my deep thoughts.

“Master Morgan, there are letters for you!” One of the manor’s maids said.

“Ah yes, give me a moment.”

I got up from my desk and made my way towards the door. I opened it and politely took the letters from the maid’s hands. After thanking her, I excused myself and returned to my room.

“Alright, let’s see who sent these…”

I looked through the letters in my hands as I plopped back down on my desk.

The first was a weekly newsletter I subscribed to. It was about all things machinery and industry. I would save reading this one for later.

The next were a couple of letters that tried to solicit funds from me. They were written under the guise of charity, but I knew from personal experience that they were scams… after all, I fell for one of them in my previous life. I scowled and tossed these over to the side. I would have to hand these over to the police station whenever I visited town.

The last one was from the Bardford household, specifically from Theo. I felt giddy as I opened the envelope and read the letter from my best friend.

You see, father wasn’t the only knight to be promoted to Manor-Lord status. Many other knights that distinguished themselves over the course of the war were promoted as well, and Sir Glenn was one of them. Because of this, the Bardfords were able to buy land further south of our own. It would take about two day’s ride by powered carriage, or half a day’s flight if you owned a fast air-ship. The distance between Theo and I dismayed the both of us, but we still kept in touch through letters and we often visited each other.

The tale of the Bardford’s success was actually quite popular among the lower nobility. Since Sir Glenn’s wife was a foreign merchant before marrying into the Bardford family, she helped mastermind the creation of a trading outpost, and personally selected land that she knew would be traveled through frequently by trading caravans. Through her business acumen, the Bardfords became ridiculously rich by Manor-Lord standards, and their income rivaled even some of the more fortunate Barons. This amazing rise to power meant that Sir Glenn was invited regularly to talk at the Round Table, which was an informal council consisting of the most influential lower nobles.

I had to admit that I was slightly jealous of their success, but at the same time I was glad that the Bardfords had found such fortune.

After my father died in my previous life, Sir Glenn and his wife graciously took me in as their foster-son. They raised me as though I was one of their own, and I do not believe I will ever be able to repay them for their kindness. Even now, after awakening as my younger self, I could not help but feel indebted to them. The Bardfords were yet another group of people I resolved to protect.

I took my knife and cut the envelope’s lid open. I took the letter inside and saw that Theo was the one who had written to me. I carefully read through the contents of the letter, and found that it was an invitation to his birthday party which was in a couple of weeks.

Drat, was that day so close already? How could I have forgotten my own best friend’s birthday? I took a piece of paper from the stack on my desk and hastily wrote down my reply, sealed it in my own envelope, then rushed outside to have it delivered. However, before I did, I stopped by father’s office, where he was looking over the estate’s finances. I knocked on the door and entered.

“Father… I received a letter from Theo.” I told him.

“Ah, I was expecting him to send one around this time. I suppose it’s about his birthday celebration, right? You’re free to go.” Father quickly granted my request, even before I asked for it.

I gave him a bit of a look, but father only laughed and shook his head.

“You need to keep track of time better, Morgan.” Father replied with a smile and a laugh. “Glenn hosts a party for his son every year, and you are also invited each and every time.”

Ah, so that’s how it is.

I quickly thanked father and sheepishly bowed my head before excusing myself.

I had one of the farmhands bring my reply letter to the post office in town for me, and also instructed him to deliver the fraudulent letters to the town’s police station. Once that was done, I decided that I wasn’t going to go anywhere further with my research today, so I headed over to the estate’s training grounds to keep myself fit.

-000-

The party started sometime before sundown. I had arrived much earlier and ingratiated myself with the Bardfords beforehand. It was always pleasant to speak with them. Sir Glenn and Madame Halu had always acted as though I was an extension of their family, in my previous life and in my current one. It came to no surprise that I was treated as a guest of honor in these kinds of events. However, I wasn’t so full of myself to take up so much of their time. After I felt like I had spoken enough to them, I excused myself and went to wander around the manor. The other guests would need to be entertained as well, after all. It would be unseemly if I was the only person the Bardfords tended to during this party.

The Bardford estate was lavish. Compared to what my own family had, ours looked positively plain. The main building of the Bardford estate was constructed with the finest lumber, and the furnishings were custom made by some of the most talented craftsmen in the region. I wandered around the halls, appreciating the manor’s little details and decor. I’ve been here multiple times, but I’m still blown away by how different the Bardford estate was compared to the Redborn estate.

“Hey, buddy! Wait up!” I heard a familiar voice call out to me.

I looked behind me and saw the man of the hour, Theo. He had grown a lot since our days traveling with the warcamp. My friend was much larger than myself, having access to both high quality foods as well as excellent trainers let him grow up to be the very image of a knight. I couldn’t help but think how differently he turned out now compared to my previous life. Back then, since Sir Glenn didn’t get promoted after the war, we remained in a relatively modest lifestyle. Both Theo and I grew up practically the same. Now though, since the Bardfords ranked among the richest Manor-Lords, and Theo outgrew me by a sizable margin.

“Hey hey, big guy!” I greeted him. “How’s it going?”

We did our handshake, bumping fists at a pattern only we knew, before going in for a brotherly hug.

“Aw man, you have no clue how exhausting it is having to shake hands and talk with so many of my parent’s business partners.” Theo complained to me as he pulled away from our hug, and I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Hey, can’t be all that bad if you’re living the life like this.” I teased.

“You haven’t a clue.” Theo replied, loosening the collar and tie to his formal outfit. “I feel like a clown doing that kind of work. I have no idea how Ma can do it so well.”

My friend shook his head.

“Anyways, all the stupid formalities are over. The servants should have prepared the food in the courtyard by now.”

“Hmm, we should grab some food and find somewhere more private.” I suggested, after quickly considering Theo’s previous complaint. “It’s gonna be a bit stuffy over there, I bet.”

“Now that sounds like a plan I can get behind.” Theo said, appreciating my little bit of forward thinking.

-000-

Despite drawing the manor staff’s ire, Theo and I managed to get away with stuffing several plates to the brim with food and fleeing to a secluded balcony somewhere in the manor, away from all the guests. I sat on the balcony’s stone railings, while Theo opted to lean on one of the pillars. In between us, we had laid out the plates we had taken with us so that we could share our loot. Our behavior looks more fitting for a pair of war camp rascals, than the sons of rich Manor-Lords.

The two of us talked casually, like we always did. I have a feeling Theo wanted to let loose after having to be so formal all evening.

“And I shit you not, the guy’s wig was crooked the entire time!” My friend regaled me with one of his encounters with the guests.

“No way.” I laughed. “How bald was that idiot?”

“I’m pretty sure his head was smooth like sandstone.”

“Damn, I guess the guy’s not as bright as his scalp then.”

The two of us laughed some more as we continued eating. We had stacked a lot of food on those plates, and it took us a while to go through them. Between that and being engrossed in our conversation, we almost didn’t notice someone approaching us.

“U-uhm… E-excuse me?” A girl’s voice nervously called for our attention.

The both of us immediately turned to look at who intruded on our talks, but only one of us reacted.

I knew who she was.

“I-I’m sorry, I’m kind of lost… t-this manor is pretty big… A-and I don’t know how to find my way to the private guest lodges.” She stuttered as she continued.

My eyes widened for a split second and my posture stiffened a bit before I forced myself to loosen up.

Yes, there was no mistaking it. With her pale green eyes, dark red hair, slightly tanned complexion, and modest figure… This was Allanah Rylet.

In my previous life she was the shy daughter of a prominent Manor-Lord, and she was a close friend to both myself and Theo… at least, until her affair with the Crown Prince got exposed sometime after the first year closing party.

Yes, this timid and socially awkward woman was going to throw a massive wrench into the entire Kingdom’s royal politics because she and the prince fell for each other.

When the Kingdom devolved into civil war, Allanah and a cadre of lower noble families would side with the royal family… which meant she sided against me. While I never did face off against her personally, it still soured my impression of her quite a bit. I never did find out what happened to her after the civil war ended. The war had been so chaotic with very little moments of rest in between battles, so as a knight and captain of a squadron I had to focus on what was in front of me. When the civil war ended with the Royal Family defeated, both Theo and I tried to investigate Allanah’s fate… but the Confederacy soon invaded, and we were ultimately forced to abandon our search for her.

Even though we’ve never met each other in this current life, it was still quite awkward for me. I still haven’t quite sorted out my feelings and figured out what I’m supposed to think about her. In fact, I’ve been hoping to avoid her as much as I possibly could. I winced internally at the prospect that the Heavens had already tied all our fates together, since depending on what happened in the future, things could get quite messy.

Not wanting to interact with her all too much, I quickly cleared my throat and answered her question.

“It should be down the hall and to the right.” I answered her question. “Look for the door with the big grandfather clock on its left. That should be where the guest rooms are.”

“A-ah, t-thank you!” Allanah thanked us, bowing her head lightly. “I-i’m so sorry for bothering you two. I-I’ll be on my way now.”

She was going to leave. Good. Now I don’t have to deal with…

“Woah there miss, now just wait a minute.” Theo suddenly interjected.

The big guy got off the stone railings and approached her. I sneered internally, but suppressed the expression on my face. Damnit Theo, of all the times for you to be chasing tail, did you really have to choose now? She was just about to leave! I wouldn’t have to deal with her if she just turned and left! Now I’m in a predicament!

“It’s a bit rude to interrupt a conversation without introducing yourself, now is it?” My friend said to her, “I’m Theo Bardford, over here is my friend Morgan Redborn. What’s your name?”

“Ah, ah… I-I’m… I’m Allanah Rylet.” She sheepishly answered. “I-It’s nice to meet you!”

I resisted the urge to stare daggers at Theo. I couldn’t exactly blame him for this. He didn’t know I was reborn from my previous life and had a strained history with her. Getting mad at him for doing something like this was not only pointless, but also unfair.

I gave her a quick wave as a greeting, to try and show I had taken no offense to her interrupting our conversation.

“W-wait… if you’re Theo Bardford… then that means you’re…” Allanah said, putting the pieces together a solid moment after Theo had introduced the both of us to her.

“Yep, I’m the man of the hour.” Theo said, giving her a shit eating grin.

The two went on for a bit, with my friend trying to establish a rapport with Allanah. I on the other hand tried to avoid getting caught in the conversation any further by stuffing more food down my mouth. However, I did take the opportunity to observe the woman in question.

It had been so long since I’ve seen her like this. Last I ever saw of Allanah, she had grown to become a strong and determined woman. It was a drastic change from the timid and shy attitude she currently had. It was almost a night and day difference.

I quietly wondered if the Crown Prince’s influence on her had something to do with her growth, but decided not to pursue that line of thinking any further. I was still determined to try and avoid interacting with her as much as I could. Thinking and wondering about her would be counterproductive to those ends.

“You know, I heard that the Crown Prince and his fiance will be attending the academy with us.” Theo then brought up.

How those two got to this subject, I have no clue. I wasn’t exactly paying attention.

“O-oh? Is that true?” Allanah said.

“Yeah.” Theo answered. “I overheard it from my parents from one of their conversations… Now who was it they were talking to when I heard that?”

I decided to drink from the cup of water I had taken with me when Theo and I spirited away our loot to this balcony.

Turns out that was a bad idea.

“Oh shit! Right! They were talking to the fiance’s older brother, Godfrey!”

I spat out my drink at that revelation. Thankfully I was facing away from the too and looking out the balcony. I just hope nobody was below us right now, because that would be quite unfortunate.

“You have the Ramiel heir as a guest?!” I half asked, half exclaimed.

Since when did the Bardfords get so close to the Ramiel family? This was unbelievable! The thought that the heir to a prominent household would even bother to visit a lowly Manor-Lord’s party sent my head spinning for a moment.

Theo raised his hands as if to defend himself from my outburst.

“Well, yeah… Apart from being one of our trading partners, the Ramiels are major benefactors to the Bardford family.” He explained. “Plus, Lord Godfrey personally vouched for father’s promotion, so it would be a bit rude if we didn’t send a party invite to them every now and again.”

“Godfrey of the Ramiel family? I-isn’t that the noble t-that single handedly won the Battle at Yashin Bridge?” Allanah now asked.

Allanah wasn’t with us for Yashin Bridge, so she generally didn’t know about the details of what went down… nor did anyone not involved in the battle, really, but that's besides the point. Allanah’s father led a squadron under some frontier Baron’s division, who was active around the southern regions like this one. Meanwhile, Yashin Bridge was further north, closer to the border with the Confederacy. I suppose it shouldn’t come off as a surprise that she wasn’t well informed about the event.

However, that didn’t stop my mood from souring when I heard people were giving Godfrey the entire credit for the victory.

“Tch, is that what they’re saying about the battle?” I scoffed.

I was genuinely offended at that. To think that all the contributions and hard work from just about everyone who participated would be overlooked in favor of buttering up the Ramiel heir.

“I-is it not what happened?”

“Eh, I guess it depends on what you mean.” Theo said. “What exactly did you hear about the Battle of Yashin Bridge?”

“W-well… It depends on who you talk to. Most of them start the same, with Lord Godfrey defying his father’s orders to withdraw, a-and instead went to personally defend the bridge at the risk of his own life.” Allanah said, explaining what she had heard from others.

Well, so far it seems like it wasn’t too far off from what happened.

She then continued.

“The story goes that after the battle dragged on, a young squire stole a suit of Magi-Armor so that he could fight, which inspired Lord Godfrey to continue fighting instead of retreating. H-however, when the squire’s Magi-Armor was destroyed, no body was found inside its cockpit compartment.”

“That’s quite strange.” I tonelessly commented in a deadpan manner, suppressing the urge to let any expression form in my face.

“Y-yes, I thought so too!” Allanah seemed to agree. “Which is why, a-after this point, there’s a lot of speculation about what happened. A-a lot of people say different things about what happened. Some say that the young squire is actually a d-divine spirit sent by God to inspire Lord Godfrey to continue fighting. Others say that the squire was a delusion caused by Lord Godfrey’s exhaustion.”

Now it was Theo’s turn to comment.

“A delusion, really?” the big guy said.

“T-that’s what some people say.” She explained. “They say t-that it’s not possible for a squire to steal a suit of Magi-Armor, a-and to fight as ferociously as the stories say he did. P-personally speaking, I t-think it’s the most plausible theory.”

“Is that so?” My friend asked.

He then turned to me with a mischievous look. Just what was he planning?

“Well, buddy, what do you think?” He purposely put me on the spot.

Damn it… I suppose I should have seen this one coming. I let out a deep sigh and rubbed my temples for a bit.

“Well, for one, that idiot squire was no spirit or delusion.” I said.

“O-oh?” Allanah now looked at me curiously. She was obviously waiting for me to explain.

“Yeah. That idiot’s as real as you and me… caused quite the commotion he did.” I told her. “Some kid stole my father's Magi-Armor suit and ran off to the front, then wrecked it in the fighting.”

“Did they ever figure out who it was?” Theo grilled me further, a smirk having formed on his face.

I scowled at him for a split second before continuing.

“No, I don’t think they ever did find out who it was… though some people were pointing their fingers at me since it was my father's machine that got stolen.”

Theo looked at me smugly, having succeeded in pushing me into talkin about the whole debacle and watching me dance around the fact that I was the mysterious squire of Yashin Bridge. I didn’t exactly want to advertise the fact that I stole a suit of Magi-Armor and took it to battle as a squire. The information about how skilled I was at warfare was something I’d like to keep on the downlow for now. Because of this, I felt my eyes twitch with annoyance and I had to restrain my urge to throw one of the plates of food at Theo.

“Y-you two were there?” She then quickly asked, but her expression had changed.

Her attitude had seemingly taken a turn. She went from a young woman doing her best to appear prim and proper as per noble etiquette, to looking like a child with starry eyes begging to hear stories of adventure and heroism.

Ah right, seeing her still being shy and nervous like this almost made me forget why the three of us became such close friends in my previous life.

She would become a squadron leader too, after all.

The war with the Confederacy was quite disastrous. The original king -who from what I’ve heard is actually quite competent- was assassinated right before the conflict kicked off. Because of that, the Kingdom’s war strategy became messy as the different upper noble factions started acting selfishly. Unfortunately for us lower nobles, the disastrous strategies lead to a lot of us dying. It wasn’t until a Moot was held and House Grunnder was raised to become the new Royal Family. Duke Owyn dal Grunnder became King Owyn, and his brother became the Lord Marshall of the Kingdom.

Looking back in retrospect, the war would have been lost if they hadn’t stepped in. However, I was young and too blinded by anger after losing my father. Because of this, I took the easy way out and blamed the ruling faction for my father’s death.

Anyways, back on track. The war was disastrous for the lower nobles and knights, so the Royal Family enacted an edict that changed the rules in the Noble Academy. Women were no longer restricted to only choosing support specializations, and were allowed to specialize in administrative and combat related specializations. The King made some bullshit flowery speech to soothe a lot of the reactionaries in the noble court… but really it was because the Kingdom desperately needed more manpower for war. Noblewomen who could clear the physical requirements could apply to join the military, and those who had the magical affinity could apply to become battlemages.

Such was the cold calculus of war and politics.

The timid and shy Allanah, grew to idolize her father’s bravery and heroism. This led to her desire to become just as brave and stalwart as her father. Honestly? I sympathized with her. I too looked up to my father greatly. It’s why we became close friends in my previous life, after all.

Now my opinion of her is just one big mess.

“Yeah, our fathers were knights at Yashin Bridge.” Theo explained. “Both me and my buddy stuck around as squires. That’s why we know so much about what happened.”

“And also why I’m not too keen on letting one some prissy upper noble hog all the glory!” I interjected loudly, and perhaps somewhat angrily. “Sir Glenn and my father damn well nearly died fighting there, and yet the heir is the one that gets all the praise!”

“Well, buddy… our families did get promoted after the whole thing was done.” Theo then said, trying to calm me down.

“It still doesn’t sit right with me.”

Allanah was looking at us like we were popular celebrities or something in that vein.

“I… I’m quite jealous of you two.” She said, a little downcast. “I had to stay at home while my father was out campaigning. I was so worried about him, I kept begging my mother to let me follow him in his camp, but she never would.”

I’ve heard this story before. She’s going to talk about why she wanted to become a knight. I decided to tune out and go back to eating up the food. I occasionally nodded at her remarks, to feign interest and to seem polite, but really I was busy thinking about other things… namely how I was going to try and keep the Kingdom from falling apart.

Now, I wasn’t one to make long and detailed plans for the future. As far as I was concerned, the flow of time is fluid and flexible. There’s no guarantee that events happening in the future would be the same as the events in my previous life. Additionally, I was the son of a Manor-Lord. I’m not in any meaningful position to make influential decisions for the Kingdom. I decided to simply set things up for myself so that I could respond to situations with as much flexibility as I could. This is why I’m so invested in studying crystal battery technology and industry. As far as I’m concerned, most of my interventions would have to be through armed conflict anyways, so I’m going to have to make sure I have the best gear I could possibly get.

As my train of thoughts continued, the both of them suddenly pulled me back into their conversation.

“You’re really dead set on following your father’s footsteps, huh?” Theo asked her, somewhat impressed. "It's a bit far-fetched don't you think?"

“Y-yeah… I know it's not going to be easy for me. Even though the king said it'll be alright for someone like me to become a knight, I-I get worried that others…. Others won’t accept me even if I do make it."

Theo shook his head.

“Hey, don’t be like that, everyone has to work hard if they want to achieve their dreams.” The big guy tried to reassure her. “Come on buddy, say something to her.”

“If she doesn’t cause any trouble for me, I don’t really care what she does.” I answered with a shrug, trying to come off as apathetic.

Theo frowned at that, but I wasn't budging.

I still didn’t want to interact with Allanah… at all if it could be helped. I gave my response hoping that she wouldn’t come to bother me in the future.

“R-right!” Allanah responded enthusiastically to my words.

Wait, what? Why the hell are you so happy with my answer? What the heck!

“I-if I don’t cause trouble for others, a-and if I don’t drag my team down… It means it’s not a problem if I follow my dreams!”

I gave her a bit of a quizzical look. Did she mistake me trying to distance myself from her, to me saying it’s fine for her to chase her dreams?

Damn it! Maybe Killian was right that I should spend less time working with machines, and more time interacting with people. If I did, I could have said something that got my point across properly!

“I… I’ll make sure I work extra hard, so that I won’t be a burden to anyone! So that I can help everyone as a knight!” She declared.

I was at a loss for words. I simply held my head in my hands as Allanah positively beamed after her declaration. Theo's response to her wasn't helping either.

"Hey Morgan, looks like we've got someone riding on the same road as us!"

I looked at him with an exasperated face. I can already tell where he was going to go with this.

"Well Allanah, way back when, me and sourface here made a promise that we'd be the greatest knights the Kingdom will ever see." Theo said to her. "It might get lonely at the top with just the two of us though. So how about the three of us go at it together?"

My friend reached his hands outward towards Allanah, who was more than happy to put her hands over his for a hand-stack. The both of them looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to join them.

I looked at the both of them, so eager to take on life… and something within my heart moved. I’m suddenly reminded of why I’m even here in the first place.

I was given a second chance in life. I have a chance to start things over… to learn from my mistakes and do get it right this time around.

What would be the point of having this second chance, if I was going to get too caught up in my feelings?

After rolling my eyes at their antics, I couldn’t help but crack a small smile. I got down from the balcony’s stone railing, then walked over to the two of them and stacked my hand on top of theirs.

“Between the three of us, there’s nothing that can stand in our way!” Theo declared.

“R-right!” Allanah confirmed.

I sighed and laughed lightly.

“God help whoever tries to pick a fight with us, ‘cause we’re sure as hell not going to make it easy for them!” I said, smiling at my two friends

It won’t be easy, getting over my prejudices and feelings from my previous life…

But if I can manage it… and if I can get things right…

Things are might just work out.

-000-

I departed from the Bardford estate the following day. Sir Glenn and Madame Halu graciously offered to loan me his family's personal airship so that I could reach home quickly, but I declined the offer.

Traveling and seeing the country was nice. It'd be a shame if I missed out on it for the sake of expediency. Besides, I had no pressing matters to attend to. I could afford to take a detour, so I ordered my powered carriage driver to take us through a more scenic route… through one of the Shattered Lands.

The Shattered Lands are regions which are overflowing with magical energy… So much so that entire chunks of the region are cut off from the rest of the continent and float like islands in the sky. Naturally, this meant that the land was abundant with Magic Crystal deposits.

Magic Crystal mines dotted the lands, and the Kingdom's forces guarded the region zealously. In the distance, I watched as a squadron of gray and green painted Grenzer type Magi-Armors marched in formation. They were the second generation of mass production Magi-Armors, and first rolled out of the workshops a few months after Yashin Bridge. In my previous life, the Grenzers would first face battle in the siege of Kingsmark, but in this current life they stood untested.

However, assuming that their performance now was the same as their performance in my previous life, they should be formidable machines.

The Grenzers strode slowly as it patrolled the land, making sure that no rogue party would come and disrupt the important magic crystal trade that fueled the Kingdom's economy. They were equipped with bolt-action rifles that had bayonets attached, but I also noticed two of the machines had giant cavalry sabers and early model revolvers instead. Those two must be the leading machines of the squadron, with one of them being the captain while other being second-in-command. I took note that the squadron’s loadout was geared heavily towards long ranged combat.

Wanting to take a better look at the machine, I opened one of the containers under my seat and pulled out some binoculars. This would let me inspect the machines from a distance.

Raising the binoculars to my eyes, I saw that for the most part, Grenzers of this current life were much the same as in my previous life. The exterior of the machines were much improved over the first generation Jager model. The Grenzer's armor was thicker around the torso, shoulder, and legs. The armor plating on the head was modeled after a sallet helmet, with the plating flaring out to the rear. From the distance, I could vaguely see the glowing eyes of the machine through the gaps in the armor's faceplate.

I remembered from memory that those types of faceplates had a tendency to block the pilot's upper and lower field of vision. I mentally made a note that I'd have to commission for a custom faceplate for whenever it is I got my own Grenzer unit.

Moving down from the head, the armor plating on the torso and shoulders were significantly thickened compared to the Jager model. It seems that designers saw that many Knights chose to mount extra protection around the cockpit in the chest and the reactor section in the abdomen. The Grenzer seems to have been engineered with that extra protection in mind. In my previous life, the added bulk around the torso and shoulders didn’t slow down the machine one bit. In fact, the Grenzer could even outperform the Jager when it comes to raw strength and speed. It impressed me quite a lot that Crystal Reactor technology had advanced so much in such a short time.

Now looking down to the lower torso, I saw that the waist hardpoints were also expanded. Instead of two waist hardpoints -one on each side of the machine- I noticed that there were a total of nine situated all around the belt. This was in addition to the two hardpoints in the back of the armor, which gave a significant boost in carrying capacity. Whether these were the result of personal customization, or if there was a deviation in the timeline, I didn’t yet know. I’d have to figure it out later, when I entered the Academy and started Magi-Armor drills in the second term.

Regardless of whether or not the waist hardpoints were customized, in effect these Grenzers could carry more ammo and equipment than the Jager my father used in the war. I saw that some of the machines had a giant collapsible shovel attached to the rear most waist hardpoint, while others carried what looked like deployable tents, supplies, and ammo crates.

Ah, they were a long range patrol squadron and not the normal trade route patrol team. After realizing this, I leaned heavily towards the theory that the extra hardpoints were customized parts.

Well, I was going to modify my squadron’s machines anyways. I suppose that paying a little extra for more hardpoints was a minor quibble in comparison.

Finally, I observed the Grenzer’s legs. Where the thigh section of the machine seemed relatively unchanged from the Jager, the lower legs have been enhanced. The armor plating flared outwards, allowing a greater degree of mobility for the feet.

“Those new Grenzer types certainly are impressive.” I thought out loud.

My driver must have heard me, since he responded.

“Yeah, I heard from a couple a drinkin’ buddies that they’re leagues better than the old Jagers.” The driver said. “Want me to hook ya up for a test drive?”

“No, I don’t think that would be necessary.” I said, laughing lightly.

“Ya sure?” My driver insisted. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, I’m tellin’ ya!”

“Nah, I’m good.” I reassured him. “Wouldn’t want to cause any more trouble for father than I have to.”

Besides, if things are going to go the way I think they will, there’s plenty enough trouble for me to cause for father. I just hope he won’t stress out too much over it.

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