Arriving at the dragons’ dwelling, the first thing Rudel’s party did was secure a place to spend the night. With thick forests, deep seas and tall mountains, it was a holy land that humans couldn’t inhabit, or at least that was the official stance. But as there were actual dragons living there, it was simply a dangerous place.
In that danger zone, you could call them lucky to be able to secure a campsite while protected by dragons.
But a problem came out at once.
“Why did you come along!? More importantly, how did you sneak in!?”
As Sakuya popped out of the luggage laden on her own red dragon, Cattleya held her head. She couldn’t’ forgive that it had hidden the fact from its contractor, but it was even less permissible that the red dragon, called the most dangerous variant, let itself be approached so carelessly.
“Hah, it looks like someone’ll have to send her back.”
Seeing Lilim breathe a sigh, Cattleya tried to personally escort her back to Arses Territory. But the red dragon refused. Lilim’s Wind Dragon also said it didn’t want to return, if possible. They didn’t want to send Sakuya home only to be stroked all over by Lena.
“You’re my dragon, so listen to what I have to say!”
To Cattleya’s scream, the red dragon offered an obstinate refusal.
‘No way, fool! I-I decided not to get involved with that one again! My pride is in tatters. If you’re my contractor, then you can at least notice that much!’
“Like I care! Just take her back!”
It seemed impossible for Cattleya, so Lilim directed a glance at the Wind Dragon. But the Wind Dragon averted its eyes to signal its refusal.
“… We’ll be quite troubled if neither of you wants to do it.”
In the end, they could only permit Sakuya’s company.
“Why did you do something like this? In the worst case, you’ll be punished, and you won’t be able to become a dragoon.”
Having secured a place to sleep, Rudel and the others warily made their way through the forest. They needed to pay respect to the dragon whose territory they set up camp in. A water dragon living in the lake was the ruler of this area. It was higher ranking than both Cattleya and Lilim’s dragons, and a dangerous one to make an enemy of, or so the two dragons had warned them.
On the move, Rudel felt irritated at Sakuya as he asked for her reasons. When she was aiming to be a dragoon just like him, he was irritated she would choose an option that might sacrifice her future. The air she gave off didn’t make it seem she was taking any particularly calculated actions, so Rudel wanted to confirm her reasons.
“I-I was just a bit interested, and it’s not like I’m irrelevant to this matter. I have a reason I need to meet with the black fog… right!”
As she put a hand on the sheath of Rudel’s sword, the boar and bird who had been sleeping within corroborated her story. It was the most they could do to match Sakuya’s absurdity.
‘That’s right. She needed to meet her quickly.’
The two who knew Sakuya’s plan made sure Rudel alone didn’t catch on as they frantically unraveled a reason off the top of their heads. There was a defect in the body the black fog produced, and they explained it required some tuning.
“Is that true? Why didn’t you tell me sooner? You’ve certainly been in poor shape lately, but…”
Even if he understood, Rudel couldn’t quite accept it, and as he was mulling, they reached the lake. In the thick forest, only the area of the lake received ample light from the sun. Reflecting that radiance, the lake gave a beautiful glimmer.
‘Rudel, make sure to leave no discourtesy. You are dealing with a dragon ranked higher than we, and this one is very hard to please.’
As the wind dragon explained, the two in Rudel’s sword let out their voices.
‘Isn’t that the dragon from before?’
‘That it is. When it’s supposed to be hard to please, that one was a reasonable dragon willing to hear us out, but…’
It was a water dragon they had previously met at the lake. It was here that Rudel encountered a legend…
The first semester was over, and once the academy went on vacation, Fritz was invited to the palace by Aileen. Having become a third year, Fritz had wanted to spend the break training himself in preparation for the individuals’ tournament, but as it was Aileen’s request, he left for the palace.
Raised in the countryside of Arses Land, Fritz had become an adventurer and left the sticks to work. Having been able to raise a name for himself in cities on the outskirts, Fritz was quite something himself. But always a big fish in a small pond, even after he went outside, he still failed to understand his own position.
The cause was Aileen.
When it came to Aileen, she publically interacted with him as a princess, but when they were alone, they would drop the honorifics. Aileen herself took a liking to it, but those around weren’t quite so pleased.
Having become a knight from a commoner, and always so upfront with her, Fritz was Aileen’s ideal in itself. That’s why she couldn’t permit it. By no means had she actually recognized Fritz’ power. The reason Fritz’ twisted recognition of himself grew to such a level was surely Aileen’s fault.
Let into a detached installment of the palace, Fritz entered the facility where the gray dragons were raised. There, Aileen waited with a number of high knights. Aileen greeted Fritz with a smile.
“Fritz-sama, I am glad you were able to make it.”
“Aileen-sama, what business have you called me for today?”
Fritz started the conversation still on his feet, but no one would call it disrespectful. This was because Aileen permitted it. Internally, the high knights wanted to knock him off his feet. No, they could cut him down too.
“I do feel greatly pained to invite you to such a place. But when I think of Courtois’ future, there is something I must accomplish by all means.”
As Aileen began speaking of the country with an enigmatic face, Fritz’ heart skipped a beat. The country was in a critical condition, and he was happy to be relied on. To Fritz whose desire to be a hero far exceeded the average man, Aileen’s words were sweet on his ears.
“Can you give me the details?”
“Certainly. Have you heard the rumors of the white and black knights?”
Fritz nodded with a reluctant look on his face. Because Rudel and Aleist were existences Fritz couldn’t forgive. He couldn’t forgive that those two had been selected for knight positions you could equate to the heroes of yore. It was simply a child’s jealousy, and Fritz understood that.
“The black knight is an upstart of a noble, so the palace will be able to take the appropriate measures. But the white knight is Rudel of the notorious Arses House. The palace has devised some adequate means, and that is what the Royal Guard is to be. That would mean granting a powerful level of authority to Rudel.”
Simple as he was, Fritz easily believed Aileen’s words. To Fritz, the Arses House was evil. Some part of him was convinced they were seeking out greater authority.
“Rudel is of an archduke lineage, so if he was so minded, he would be able to take me or my sister as a wife. If that happens, then Courtois is over… Fritz-sama, won’t you come to our salvation?”
“Save? If there’s something I can do, I’ll help out, but…”
Hearing Fritz’ words, Aileen gave a bewitching smile.
“Fritz-sama, in these halls lies the dragon that will be used to select the royal guard captain… do you think you could tie a contract with that dragon?”
Aileen’s plan was steadily moving forward, but unlike her sister Fina, she was soft on the finish. She had ignored the fact Rudel had made for the dragon dwellings. It would be a godsend if he croaked out there, was all she thought of it. If Fina were in her position, she would definitely have sent in assassins.
And as reality would have it, Rudel’s guards turned out to be the ones closest to him, his former fiances. That had been a result of Fina’s schemes.
Meanwhile, Rudel was so surprised, his voice wouldn’t come out. As the water dragon appeared from the lake, its large size and beauty had stolen his eyes. What’s more, he recognized the traits of the dragon before him.
Lilim’s dragon gave a purr to call that dragon, and it showed respect to its superior. On top of that, it explained the situation. The dragon called out looked over Rudel and the others. Perhaps it wasn’t particularly interested as it started off back towards the lake.
While it permitted their stay, it indicated that it had no mind to let Rudel ride its back.
But looking at the back of that beautiful dragon, Rudel cried out in a loud voice.
“Are you the dragon of Marty Wolfgang-sama!?”
Everyone was surprised, but the reactions varied. The two dragons were surprised he committed such discourtesy against a high-ranking foe, while Cattleya and Lilim wondered who that was to begin with. Sakuya alone, after a moment of surprise, began sending the same dreamy eyes as Rudel.
“A-amazing! To be able to meet the dragon of the real Marty-sama!!”
But the most surprised of all was surely the water dragon. It was usually a hard to please one without the slightest mind to converse with humans, but to make sure everyone could hear, it sent its voice to everyone’s head. It reminisced as its tensions rose with Rudel’s words.
‘I’m shocked. To think there was a human who knew about Marty… what’s more, even adding a –sama, you sure know your stuff! Name yourself.’
“Rudel, I’m Rudel Arses!”
The water dragon approached him. The distance between them was a meter, but facing a dragon, the intensity was on another level. But the two active dragoons had no recollection of the name Marty.
“Senpai, who’s Marty?”
“No idea. Since he knows a dragon, could he be a former dragoon?”
But the two dragons did remember Marty. To be more precise, they knew the rumors.
‘Oy, they’re talking about that guy, right? That crazy old man, right?’
‘Fool! Don’t say anything to ruin this!’
The red dragon was still categorized as one of the younger dragons, and its mocking statement at Marty received a proper recompense.
‘Brat over there! What did you just saaay!!?’
A dragon larger and higher-ranking that it snapped at its neck and pulled it into the lake. Leaving aside the dazed surroundings, a number of pillars of water broke the surface. After a number of intense impacts, the area suddenly went silent. The water dragon came up once more, and a little later, the red dragon bobbed to the surface.
Seeing her own unconscious dragon, Cattleya couldn’t keep up with the situation.
“Eh? Huh!? Wait, what’s going on!?”
Lilim bound her arms behind her back and calmed her so talks could restart.
‘I never thought I’d hear Marty’s name from a human tongue. How truly nostalgic… urrrgh, Why’d you have to go off and die, stupid Marty!! You said we would be together forever! So why’d you have to go off on your own!!?’
Reminiscing and bursting into tears, it was quite a busy dragon, so Lilim thought as she covered her ears. For a dragon to weep, it would mean for a roar. The air shook to an extent she could feel with her body.
As they waited for the dragon to calm down, Rudel preciously produced a single book from his bag. How to Pet a Dragon… the book Marty left behind. Turning to the final page, he conferred Marty’s words for the dragon.
“It was written in the book. ‘To the one I love, I’ll surely be the first to go, but do not grieve. And do not let yourself be caught. I didn’t want to place shackles on your freedom after my death. Because I loved you’.”
Rudel let the dragon hear the words that made those gathered want to vomit up sugar. Lilim writhed in embarrassment, while Cattleya was visibly bashful. Inside, her girly side wanted to be told something like that.
Once Rudel finished reading, the dragon began to sob. Seeing that scene, both Lilim and Cattleya teared up too. They were surely separated by death. They concluded from the dragon’s manner of speech. Even if he rode a dragon, he was human at the base. When the time came, he would be killed in action.
“What a beautiful relationship. But for him to die early…”
“I’d like a certain idiot dragon to learn a thing or two from them. Well, he was a dragoon, so he must have fallen in battle…”
‘What are you talking about? Marty didn’t die in battle. He stayed in active duty to the age of eighty.’
‘Around the end of it, these important looking guys would come every day to complain on and on, and he would ignore them. But when they made fun of me in front of Marty, Marty would get angry… they would fight quite a bit. Even after he passed sixty, he received numerous cases of disciplinary action. At the end, they sent us off to a place called the borderland(?) but we were happy nonetheless.’
That’s gone way passed the level of a problem child, right? The two dragoons thought as they looked at the dragon. After that, the two boyfriend-less souls reluctantly listened in as the dragon spoke fondly of him. Opposing seemed dangerous, so they listened with obedient looks on their faces, but their expressions were stiff.
‘I was with Marty since he was twenty, so I was only able to be with him for a mere sixty years! What do you mean, eternal happiness!? Show a bit of willpower! Don’t you think he could’ve held on a bit more? The presents and memories he gave me every year were…’
The two of them reaffirmed the difference in sense between human and dragon, but Rudel and Sakuya were deeply moved as they heard out her story.
The first night since they came to the dragons’ dwelling. Rudel carried out a final check on his weapon. Once he checked everything from start to finished, he recalled the sleeping drug he had mixed in their dinner. He had made sure to prepare something that wasn’t dangerous. The three of them would likely sleep until noon, he thought as he lay himself down.
He did have some resistance to putting medicine into a woman’s drink, but Rudel had a goal he couldn’t concede. There was no way his two guards would permit the sheer danger of his actions. And it would be too dangerous for Sakuya. He decided to put the three of them to sleep.
But there, he felt a presence outside of his tent.
“Hehe, can I come in?”
As Sakuya entered the tent, she held a picture book dearly in both her hands. It was one of the dragoon picture books Rudel would read to her.
“You can’t sleep?”
Rudel had his misgivings the drug didn’t work, but Sakuya’s answer was a simple one.
“I’m sleepy, but before I slept, I wanted you to read this.”
Thinking it might be the final night, Rudel agreed to read her the book. And Sakuya fell asleep before he could read it to the end. She slept with an extreme look of relief.
The morning of the next day, equipped with a sword and full-body armor, Rudel made for the undead dragon’s cave under the guidance of the two beasts. For the two dragoons sleeping soundly, he left a letter detailing the circumstance.
And he made a plea to the two dragons.
‘Let you go alone? I can’t say it’s a bright idea for you to move around on your own.’
‘Yesterday’s granny was kind to humans, so it wasn’t a problem, but the next one you meet might come at you without question.’
“No problem. And when you face a dragon, you have to be alone… I’m leaving those three to you.”
The two of them saw Rudel off. Right, if you tried to obtain a dragon, there would always be dangers. If you had strong guards with you, a dragon would never recognize your merit.
Once Rudel walked off, it was Sakuya’s turn to wake. She had heard about the drink from the boar and bird, so she was able to avoid it. Leaving her bags behind, she traveled lightly as she tailed Rudel. But in the path Rudel walked, the two dragons stood in her way.
“What are you doing!? Step down already!”
‘I made a promise with him. To look after you three.’
Sakuya wanted to hurry, but she couldn’t’ do anything against two dragons. Having come so far, there was no meaning if she couldn’t do anything. She prayed to the heavens as she wondered if there was anything she could do. But under the heartless sky, only time would pass by.
It was there that a single large dragon approached. It was Marty’s dragon.
‘Looks like you’re doing something interesting, you guys.’
As the two dragons got the jitters, Sakuya alone clung onto the water dragon. With a serious look on her face, she tried persuading it to take her to Rudel who had made for the undead dragon.
“Please help me! I absolutely have to go beyond this point! I’m begging you…”
The water dragon’s large eyes glared at Sakuya. As Sakuya didn’t take a single step back, the water dragon was reminded of Marty in his youth. Straightforward and desperate eyes. Resolved for something, the eyes of one who would risk their life.
‘I like those eyes. I won’t let you on my back, but you may follow behind me.’
‘T-that would be troubling…’
‘Well now, I guess I didn’t see anything after all.’
Sakuya hurriedly chased Rudel as he made for the undead dragon. Time-wise, she was a few hours late. If she didn’t hurry, she would never make it in time.