“Sakuya ran away.”
His shoulders slumped, Rudel returned to the lodging house and muttered that truth to his peers.
Right after he woke up, he had made for the cave Sakuya lived, but it was already an empty husk. While Rudel was desperately searching for her, he found a message addressed to him, carved with claw at the cave’s entrance.
‘I’m going home. I’m sorry.’
They were extremely shoddy letters, but letters that brought back memories of a once-human Sakuya. The characteristics were similar, and that only made Rudel more depressed.
Saas didn’t know what he was supposed to say to a depressed Rudel. Everyone present was surprised at a situation where a dragon had run away.
“W-what am I supposed to say… cheer up.”
But Enora alone forsook him.
“Hmm, so your dragon ran away. In that case, you’re not a dragoon anymore. You don’t have any reason to stay here.”
On her cold words, those around stepped in to stop her.
“Quit it, Enora.”
But without seeming to pay it any mind, Rudel replied.
“Yeah, that’s why I’ve decided to search for her. I got permission from the instructors, so I’ll be operating separately for a while.”
“They gave permission? Well, with your status, I doubt they could refuse.”
Before being a dragoon, Rudel was the white knight. For a vital knight to the country of Courtois, having a dragon run away was nothing more than an embarrassment.
But more than his own evaluation, Rudel lamented the fact he hadn’t noticed Sakuya was pressured enough to want to run away.
He was depressed because he had made Sakuya sad, and not the fact she had run away.
“Then I’ll be off.”
With teetering steps, Rudel started into air movement and left the spot.
“… I’ve already gotten used to it, but that guy’s definitely flying, isn’t he? He’s not jumping, right?”
As the light-natured knight muttered, everyone apart from Enora nodded.
Arriving at the dragons’ dwellings a few days later, Rudel was in tatters.
He had given chase in a hurry, making the journey practically empty-handed. All he had with him was a knife and a flask.
But without paying it much mind, he filled the inside of his flask with water magic. While the taste was terrible, as long as it quenched his throat, it wasn’t a problem.
It was a spell with terrible efficiency and an action he would only come out with in an emergency.
But having once spent a long while camping in the dragons’ dwellings, as long as he could make it to the dwellings, it wouldn’t be a problem.
‘Kid, what did you do? Sakuya’s holed herself up in the cave, and she won’t come out.’
After arriving in the dragons’ dwellings, he brought his feet straight to the cave Sakuya used as a stronghold. When he did, he found Marty’s dragon Mystith, who had brought her hunted prey to the entrance.
What seemed to be pray was clearly not the sort of fish she could catch in the lake.
Even larger than Mystith, it was a lifeform with an atrocious visage.
“I’m ashamed. Our evaluation was a bit low, and Sakuya grew mindful of it…”
Rudel tried to convey this hard-to-explain situation in a way Mystith would also understand.
‘… What’s that? They go incessantly evaluating every single thing and sticking a rank onto it? How idiotic.’
“My thoughts exactly.”
‘Sakuya, I brought you dinner, so let’s eat together. I caught the fish you like most.’
“… This is a fish?”
Looking at the fearsome lifeform, it definitely did have a dorsal fin and tail. But on top of being larger than a dragon, it made the foulest of expressions.
Rather than fish, calling it a sea monster hit the mark better.
‘Something wrong? It’s quite tasty. The bloody bastards live in the sea, and when they got a bit stuck up and tried attacking my kinsmen, I decided to eat them. And you know what, they turned out to be delicious.’
“That’s definitely not a fish, is it.”
‘As long as it’s tasty, kid.’
In order to eat the fish that was at a level even Rudel had to put in a retort, Sakuya came out of the cave. But as soon as she spotted Rudel, she bit onto the fish and took it with her back into the cave depths.
‘Hey! Come out here and eat! That’s bad manners!!’
“Sakuya! I’m begging you, please come back!!”
Rudel continued desperately calling out to Sakuya holed up in the back of the cave, but it didn’t have an effect.
‘Hmm~, hovering, and breath accuracy, eh.’
“Yes, Sakuya can’t help but be bad at them, and we can’t raise our rank,”
‘Are such things really necessary? I can’t understand it in the slightest. Well, once you grow big, you should be able to do it naturally, but in contrast to her body, that girl’s still a child.’
At the lake Mystith made her den, Rudel discussed with her how to deal with Sakuya’s troubles.
‘In the first place, she destroyed all the targets, and stopped in the air for a fixed period of time, right? Just what was so bad that she deserved to fail?’
“Who knows? I don’t get it either. They told me they weren’t looking for wit.”
‘That’s what they call moving the goalpost.’
Conversing with a dragon that held a completely different sense of value, Rudel agreed and nodded. Around them, small dragon children were biting onto the prey Mystith had brought back.
It was a situation that delighted Rudel, and he wanted to go around petting the nearby dragons at once. But with Sakuya’s matter, he held himself back.
Rudel couldn’t seem to think up any resolution, so he sought verification with Mystith over the other matter that had been troubling him.
“Ah, there’s another thing. Sakuya didn’t have any energy at the dragon stables. At first, she was in high spirits, but she grew more and more depressed by the day… do you have any idea what the reason might be?”
‘The dragon stables? How nostalgic. As long as she went about it normally, I don’t think there would be any problem. Did something happen?’
“Let’s see… when she’s talking with me, the other dragons often cry out. In these sort of um, short growling bursts, I guess.”
‘… Kid, they’re making light of her.’
‘I’m telling you they’re making fun of her! Mocking her! Those damn brutesss!!’
After hearing the general circumstances from Rudel, Mystith concluded Sakuya was being bullied at the dragon stables. While dragons all shared a race, they would usually keep a level of distance from one another.
But as gray dragons didn’t know life in the wild, they lived affected by one another more than necessary.
While their strength and intelligence didn’t reach the level of a wild dragon, when it came to coordination and ease of use, a gray dragon was the best. But for the gray dragons who couldn’t help but prioritize the group, if their foe showed any weakness, they would look down on them from an internalized pecking order.
“W-what should I do!?”
‘… Who knows?’
“Eh… Don’t you know any resolution!? Is there anything I can do for Sakuya!?”
‘Even if you ask me that, well… when it came to me, I made the other dragons obey from the start, and I only know one way to go about it.’
“So there is a way!”
Rudel saw a glimmer of hope in Mystith’s words.
But again, it was Mystith he was dealing with.
‘It’s simple. Duel the current boss of the dragon stable and beat them black and blue. If that’s the way we’re going, then it’s training time! Now bring Sakuya out here.’
As Rudel raced off towards the cave, Mystith saw off his back.
‘How nostalgic. It makes me recall Marty, back at the start when he was still naïve and innocent.’
Like that, in order to pull Sakuya out of the cave, Rudel made his way to it.
The deep and dark cave was the place the undead dragon originally slept. At this point, the cave’s depths were no longer filled with the scent of death, and it was just a hole that was a little deep.
Within such depths, Sakuya was rolled in a ball, asleep.
She looked somewhat sorrowful. But around, the bones of the food Mystith brought in rolled around, and to Rudel, it looked strangely Sakuya-esque.
“Sakuya, let’s go outside.”
Perhaps not wanting to lend an ear to Rudel’s voice, Sakuya hid her head with both hands. Despite her large build, her movements were those of a pet who had done a bad thing and was afraid of what was to come.
“… I’m sorry. I never noticed you were hurting.”
‘… Not hurting’
“I heart from Mystith-sama. That you were being bullied by the gray dragons… I’m sorry.”
‘I’m not being bullied!!’
As Sakuya raised her voice into a yell, her violent roar shook the cave interior.
On Rudel’s sorrowful voice, Sakuya stood and spread out her four large wings.
‘Sakuya isn’t being bullied! She’s a really strong dragon and Rudel’s partner! So… so Sakuya isn’t a no-good dragon!!’
After actually running away and holing herself up in a cave, perhaps Sakuya was a no-good dragon. But in front of Rudel, she tried to put on a bluff and appeal to him.
Not much time had passed since Sakuya’s birth, and unsuited to her giant build, her spirit was still young.
Thinking of how such a young girl had been forced to endure the jeers from her own kin for his sake, Rudel felt ashamed.
“… I’m a no-good partner.”
‘Why? Rudel didn’t do anything wrong.’
Approaching Sakuya, Rudel held out his hand.
Sakuya drew closer with her head and Rudel gently stroked her. Comfortably flapping her spread wings, Sakuya sat on the spot in delight.
“Sakuya, you and me together make a dragoon. When we’re evaluated low as a dragoon, that’s my responsibility as well.”
‘… The others say it. You fall behind your partner, you’re a useless dragon. So Sakuya isn’t needed… is it alright for Sakuya to be here?’
“Fall behind? That’s got nothing to do with anything. I’m your contractor, and you’re my dragon. If you weren’t there, I wouldn’t have become a dragoon in the first place. You can be here. No, please be my dragon!”
Saying it boldly, Rudel directed a gentle smile; Sakuya closed her eyes once as her response.
“Then let’s go outside. Mystith-sama is worried. And it seems she’s got some special training in store for you.”
“Yeah, a training that will stop you from being bullied!!”
And like that, in order to train up Sakuya, Rudel holed himself up in the dragons’ dwelling again. It went without saying that by that point, he had completely forgotten about the unveiling that would take place in three months’ time.
Meanwhile, in the palace, Sakuya’s disappearance had become a huge problem.
The dragoon captain and vice-captain had been called out before the king and his authorities. While Rudel had gotten permission to search for his own dragon, he didn’t seem to be coming back.
In the palace, a simple runaway case had become a problem of national security.
“For the white knight’s dragon to run away, it’s so shameful there’s no way we can publicize it.”
“Good grief, what was management doing!?”
“More importantly, what are we going to do about the ceremony? If the white knight remains absent, we won’t be able to set an example.”
The news of the white and black knights had spread far and wide throughout Courtois.
In this ceremony called an unveiling, the level of attention to be poured on Rudel and Aleist was exceptionally high. In such a situation, there was no way they could announce that the white knight’s dragon had run away, and he wasn’t taking part.
“I have no excuses.”
Oldart who laughed as he confronted the authorities was also a seasoned warrior. Something of this level was nothing to be flustered about.
But the other matters he had to handle made his head hurt.
(This is bad. The training ground is destroyed, and a dragon ran away… our budget’s going to be cut, isn’t it. Hah, can’t our high and mighty archduke do something with his pocket money.)
Before the authorities, he troubled his head over his future expenses. In contrast, Alejandro had broken into a cold sweat. While Alejandro had a proficient dragon and ample achievement under his belt, this was the reason he was vice-captain.
He was terrible when it came to these things. Or rather, he didn’t have the leisure.
Without the emotional leisure, Alejandro couldn’t help but want to smack Rudel.
(To think he can’t even manage his own dragon. At this rate, he won’t make it in time for the unveiling! If that’s all we’d get off with, it’d be fine, but Rudel has a low evaluation. At this rate, the dragoon brigade itself will be made light of!)
His flaw, his lack of leisure was what left him stuck at vice-captain.
Strength-wise, he didn’t fall short of his fellow dragoon Oldart. But mindful of his personality, the former captain and vice-captain said farewell to his inauguration as captain.
“I will bring them back at once!”
While Oldart evasively dealt with the authorities, Alejandro gave a forceful answer.He was also a single man, and it wasn’t as if he had no interest in promotion.
What’s more, even if he recognized Oldart’s abilities, he was dealing with a man who had a gray dragon as his partner. He had conceit that he was the better of the two.
He wanted to get his hands on an opportunity to surpass Oldart no matter what.
“I see. But do you know where they are?”
“With the white knight who went searching of unknown whereabouts as well, it brings to doubt the quality of the dragoons.”
“I truly have no excuse (Alejandro, read the mood a bit. He’s not a brat anymore, if we keep quiet, I’m sure he’ll return sooner or later).”
Oldart sent a pleading glance, but Alejandro didn’t notice.
A few days later, a dragoon search party for Rudel and Sakuya was formed. As there was a limit to their numbers, even some of the new recruits were enlisted on rotation.