Once the long break came upon the academy, Rudel took Sakuya along and returned to his house. Sakuya insisted that she had to go along no matter what, but as she parted with Izumi, it felt like she was pushing herself. With a continence as if she would burst into tears, Sakuya had forced a smile. It weighted on Izumi’s mind as well, and she cautioned Rudel to look out for the girl.
Once she boarded the carriage bound for Arses territory, a scenery different from the academy delighted Sakuya. She made merry as if she were on a road trip. Seeing Sakuya having so much fun, Rudel felt relieved.
“I’m glad you’re enjoying the road to my home, but the Arses Territory we’re headed to isn’t the best place to be.”
The road to Arses Territory was brimming with vigor. But once they entered the territory, it would be almost like a different world. He wanted to warn Sakuya before she was disappointed, but her reaction was the opposite.
“Even if it’s run down, it’s all new to me! The scenery may all look the same to you, but just as it’s similar, it’s a completely new scene. Why don’t you look around a bit more?”
Told off by Sakuya, Rudel gave a bitter smile as he read a book in the carriage. A tranquil time passed between the two.
Once they arrived at the Arses House estate, it’s castle-like scale surprised Sakuya. The world she had seen as a goddess, now she was seeing it through the eyes of a single human. There wasn’t much of her life left to live, and Sakuya’s heart was brimming with curiosity as she looked around the gorgeous manor. In that space, Rudel carried out his final preparations and awaited the arrival of the two dragoons.
Sakuya would sleep in the guest room prepared for her, but she wanted to have a look at Rudel’s room. She sought out Lena who she’d met before, and asked her for a tour around the mansion.
“You want me to show you around? Sure. I’ll teach you my special route.”
While younger than her in both body and soul, Lena dragged Sakuya by the hand as she led her around. Proceeding hidden through the courtyard, they made for the kitchen and pilfered some food.
They moved along the mansion’s roof, peering into Erselica’s room along the way.
“Hey, wait a second! Why are you peeping into your sister’s room? Is that what you’re into?”
Sakuya desperately clung to the roof in protest, so Lena approached with light movements to lend her a hand up. Looking into Erselica’s room, they found the girl in low spirits.
“It’s got nothing to do with tastes… ever since my other big brother was sent off to borderland, she’s been considerably depressed. She cries when no one’s watching, and if my brother was sent off to a dangerous place, I’d also… no, I think he’ll be fine? He’s stronger than me, and he’s going to be the strongest man in the world someday.”
“I heard it was a complicated family, but I really don’t get it. Rudel and the other one, aren’t they your brothers all the same?”
“You may be right, but they don’t think of it that way. Until recently, everyone around was doing terrible things to my brother, and in essence, he was treated like a hindrance in the manor. On the contrary, I never even thought he would be evaluated as he is now.”
Without making a particularly dark face, Lena recalled Rudel’s reception at the estate that had continued until recently. She didn’t bear a grudge. Lena herself, upon coming to the manor, she had obtained a secure lifestyle, and an environment that allowed her to learn. Just like Rudel, she was thankful.
“… Could you tell me more?”
Keep this a secret from my brother, Lena said as she sat on the spot, and told her everything that had happened.
Having heard the tale from Lena. Sakuya had Lena lead her to Rudel’s room. Because of Lena’s guidance that had clearly taken too many side-stops, they took quite a detour before they arrived.
“Hey, it wasn’t that far off from the guest room, was it? And wait, isn’t it strange for Rudel’s room to be in such a secluded space of the mansion?”
Rudel’s room was positioned as if to keep it as far from the mansion as possible. Lena herself lived in the storehouse like room below Rudel. They had already been there for many years, and the ones in question didn’t seem to care.
“Now that you mention it, I guess it’s strange. Well, don’t sweat the small stuff. Let’s go search under the brozen one’s bed.”
“As a little sister, what do you think of that statement? Didn’t you say you respect him?”
“Hah? It’s because I respect him that I want to know what sort of women he likes, right? When he rarely gets distracted, I want to know his weakness.”
Luckily, the master of the room was out, and Lena investigated the underside of his bed. Of course, when Rudel was living his life at the academy, there was no way there were any suspicious books in his room. But as she never had any friends in the mansion, the presence of Sakuya made her frolic even more merrily than usual.
Sakuya didn’t look under the bed, but she did look around the room. It was even narrower than the room at the dorm, and far less luxurious than the guest room. Among the goals stuck up over the walls, a training regimen to become a dragoon was written up. The wooden sword leaned against the corner looked like it had gotten some good use.
Perhaps he had put in nothing but single-minded diligence, as it was a room with barely any unnecessary things in it. It was precisely the room of a young boy who had dreamed of dragoons from his youth. All that differed was an earnesty close to madness. He declared he would become a dragoon, and no matter who mocked him, he would put in the effort. The room told the tale.
Seeing that room, Sakuya hardened her resolve. If that’s how it is, then Rudel would surely be delighted…
Rudel’s training spot in the estate went without saying.
He wouldn’t use the training ground; away from the mansion, a nook of the all-too-vast yard had been his favorite spot ever since he was a child. If he used the training field in times apart from when the firmer mercenary soldier taught him, those around would jeer or get in his way and he couldn’t’ concentrate.
After finishing his basic training, in order to polish his control on his magic, he constantly maintained a set level of mana on the palm of his hand. It was plain, but it was quite a difficult task, and he could continue it without tiring.
But last year included, the surrounding reactions were clearly creepy. The tutor who instructed him and the former mercenary soldier had been dismissed. No, to be more precise, the ones in question had fled. The servants who mocked him, and all who’d been terrible to him had fled in fear of Rudel.
And now, called from all over the territory, young female servants were stuck to Rudel’s side. Even if he told them not to come, they would say it was the butler’s orders, and fearfully follow along. According to them, they were told their houses would be secure if they could catch Rudel’s eyes.
If he sent them away, they would only be scolded. Knowing he had to put a word in with the butler later, Rudel continued his training. But the girl who looked the youngest among them posed him a question. It was a disrespectful thing and her education had likely yet to go far. The face of the servant who seemed to be in charge went pale.
“Rudel-sama, you’re going to become the feudal lord, right? Why are you aiming to be a dragoon?”
To that simple question from he girl, Rudel gave a curt response.
“Because it’s my dream. I don’t have an interest in anything else.”
“Y-you can’t! If you become head, the territory will get back its energy! My parents and brothers won’t have to be hungry anymore!”
“Stop it there!”
The girl who couldn’t control her emotions was scolded by an older servant. Rudel didn’t seem to pay it any particular mind. It wasn’t something that interested him, but for Rudel who never had the slightest bit of expectations placed on him, the number of commoners counting on him had increased. The servants of the manor were also originally people of the territory.
Having misplaced expectations is just as troublesome as having no expectations at all, thought Rudel. Pardoning the emotional servant, he returned to his training.
Rudel thought that no one would ever endorse his dream, but giving up was the only thing he didn’t want to do. He didn’t want to cause anyone any trouble. He decided to give the butler a letter stating that no matter what happened to him, no one else need take responsibility.
As Rudel thought to himself, he felt that his own dream was built upon too many sacrifices. His people, his family… at this point, he had a position called white knight, and he was causing all sorts of trouble for the country. That’s why Rudel didn’t want to trouble anyone with the undead dragon.
Holding it all and cornered by the burdens he took onto himself, Rudel had lost sight of his surroundings.
The day he would set out for the dragon dwellings, his Rudel’s former fiancé candidates Cattleya and Lilim came to the Arses House manor. They had been ordered to guard and keep watch over him, and when they arrived at the manor, Rudel was waiting.
Doing a final check on his preparations, Rudel saw there was some time until the promised hour, and invited them into the mansion.
Rudel had refused to let Sakuya go to the dragon dwellings, so she decided to negotiate with the two dragoons. Before the two of them, she carried a bag over her back as she lowered her head.
“I’m begging you! I have to go no matter what! Please take me with you.”
At Sakuya’s sudden appearance while they were supping tea, Cattleya and Lilim were surprised. But the contents requested of them wasn’t something they could accept. While it was a dangerous place, it was also a place that required the country’s permission. Lilim tried to give her a gentle refusal.
“I apologize for saying this on our first meeting, but I can’t take up that request. Even if you’re related to the Arses House, I can’t let you into a place concerned with national security. I’m sorry.”
As Sakuya still kept the look of youth, Lilim tried to deal with her gently, but Cattleya took the opposite approach.
“If you think we’re on a picnic, then you’d better give up. The place we’re headed is dangerous. Even with us guards here, if it comes to fighting a dragon, we might not be able to raise a hand. You’ll just be in the way.”
She had been rejected by both of them, but Sakuya wouldn’t back down here. It was something only she could do, she told herself, as she actualized the ‘dogeza’, a special technique she had heard of from Izumi. Even the two dragoons were taken aback by her actions and will.
“I’m begging you! It is absolutely necessary that I go!”
As the room turned noisy, Lena happened to pass by.
“Oh, when I thought I heard a ruckus… you bullying her?”
Seeing Sakuya execute a dogeza, and the other two trying to stop her, Lena laughed in jest. But the two of them gave loud, immature rebuttals.
“That’s not it!”
In the end, Sakuya was denied, so she went outside with Lena.
“What should I do… I really do have to go…”
Seeing Sakuya so down, Lena- who had become her friend- decided to lend some power. Having witnessed her serious face and the resolve in her eyes, she would cooperate without asking what Sakuya was trying to do. The two of them sat at the base of a tree in the yard as they spoke.
“You have to go no matter what, Sacky?”
Called Sacky, Sakuya silently nodded. It seems her resolve hadn’t wavered.
“Then there’s no helping it… my brother will get angry at me later, but it’s Saccky’s request, so I’ll try to help out. Can you tell me what you want to do?”
“… I’m sorry, I can’t say it. I’m sorry.”
Lena stood, and pulling Sakuya’s hand, she headed for the dragons awaiting Cattleya and Lilim’s return. Lena’s actions startled her, and without a grasp on what was going on, Sakuya let herself be dragged alone.
“Y-you won’t ask anything?”
“As long as you’re not trying to get in the broster’s way, then I’ll help you out. But you better be prepared for his anger when he finds you. Once you’re found, you have to move wisely.”
Pulled by the hand, Sakuya noticed a sort of charm she couldn’t put to words in Lena. Her bold air that seemed to force everything to go her way… just having her there was reassuring.
They arrived at the dragons, and while they couldn’t speak words, Lena made a plea to them in a loud voice.
“Hey, hey, let my friend here hide herself in your luggage.”
She declared it to Cattleya’s fearsome red dragon without a moment’s hesitation. Sakuya was the one who ended up the surprise. At the red dragon averted its face to signal its refusal, Lena suddenly started petting it.
“Don’t be so angry. I’ll throw in a freebie… how about something like this?”
As she gently pet it, the red dragon squirmed. It didn’t seem to be in pain, but its body wrenched. If the large body of a dragon thrashed around, then there was sure to be damage around. Not paying any mind to that, Lena continued to gently pet it.
“So this is your weak point.”
As if she was petting a dog, she stroked the dragon without any fear. As a result, the powerless red dragon silently turned its back towards Lena. Lilim’s Wind Dragon opened its eyes wide as it stared at her.
The Red Dragon kept glaring at her, but Lena didn’t seem to mind. It was nothing more than a shamefully shaking dragon staring at her.
“Sacky, hurry and hide.”
As Lena gave her a push on the back, Sakuya took out a letter from her bags. As Lena received that bulky letter, Sakuya made a request.
As Rudel prepared to set out with Cattleya and Lilim, Lena alone had come to the dragons to see them off.
“Just you, Lena? What about Sakuya?”
“Sacky was depressed, so she might not come. More importantly, broster, before you go, you have to pet me! It’s been so long since you pet me. I haven’t been getting pet at all lately, so…”
Before his sister who requested the petting Izumi banned, Rudel thought this might be the last time, and decided to pet her. Seeing Rudel pet Lena’s head- as she acted depressed- Lilim’s ears turned red. Cattleya didn’t know the situation, so she sent a fed-up eye to Lilim’s panic.
“What are you so flustered about over some skinship between siblings? Don’t get your knickers in a twist over something like that.”
“Cattleya! You can only say that because you don’t know! T-that isn’t something so soft! Ah, now that you’ve made me recall, my ears are…”
Seeing her senior fidget, Cattleya thought she was exaggerating as she failed to grasp why Lilim looked so happy.
“What are you talking about? Just look at his little sister.”
As Cattleya directed her eyes towards Rudel and Lena, Lilim also shifted her gaze from Cattleya to Rudel. There was the form of Rudel on his knees.
“… You’ve drowned in your craft. It definitely felt good, but right now, you fall short of how you once were. If you forget what’s important. There’s no meaning to it!”
With a sorrowful look on her face, Lena looked down over Rudel. His shoulders dropped, Rudel stared at his hands. His sister had made him realize.
“S-so I forgot the most important thing. You mean to say I’ve drowned myself in pointless technique…”
Seeing Rudel seriously depressed, what about that? Cattleya thought as she watched. But Lilim alone felt true fear. At Lena who could take pets as if it were normal, and at Rudel who had raised his skills even further, but even now was called immature.
“Brother, what’s important is to accept… and that means love! You’re lacking the love! Too fixated on the technique, you’ve lost the most important thing. As I am now, I don’t even reach your ankles, but that alone I can tell.”
Unsteadily standing to his feet, Rudel looked into Lena’s eyes. He was making a cheery face as if he had accepted his defeat.
“To think the day would come for me to be told off by my sister. I’ve still got a long way to go. Thank you, Lena.”
“Don’t mind it. For you’re my prided brother! Let’s reach the summit together!”
Seeing the siblings exchange a smile, Lilim and the two dragons were shocked.
“I-it can’t be, you mean to say that still has a long way to go!? There’s no way such a thing could be permitted!”
‘For real!? It’s against the rules for someone to be better than that girly, dammit!!’
‘W-what a fearsome child of man…’
As the only one unable to keep up, Cattleya saw everyone heated up and thought.
(Huh? Am I the strange one?)