Successfully driving everyone out, Emilio passed by the maid in service to Cleo as he walked down the hall.
Walking by her in that empty corridor, neither side took a glance at the other. When her back faced his, he quietly called over.
“You play well.”
“Oh my, and I’m sure I was changing my voice.”
As the maidservant giggled, Emilio’s mood took an unpleasant turn. The voice she replied in was the female voice that relayed information in the dark room.
“Right around now, all the hindrances are in the sky… the dragoon’s powerful partner is leaving the castle. The higherups will rejoice.”
Emilio didn’t know whose orders the contact was moving under. But he also knew the maid hadn’t the slightest intention of telling him.
“I wonder about that. You’ve already failed once before.”
“Those words had some thorns. Once noon has gone by, I’ll have them move according to plan.”
“I suppose I should tell you to do your best. It does seem those of the Gaia Empire obstructed you last time… and there were some skillful ones among them.”
Hearing that, Emilio narrowed his eyes. He warned himself not to let any emotion leak into his voice. Over his clothes, he touched the egg-shaped pendant in his breast pocket. It was a precious memento of his mother.
“Even so, it seems the princess has quite a longing for the lifestyle of the common folk. Is that your doing?”
“Yes. Ever since I began serving her, I spoke of things that would make her yearn for a common life. What she couldn’t experience in her limited life… I was told to give the princess a dream she would never reach no matter her yearnings. But I never thought that would prove useful here of all places. A princess whose face goes red from being hit on is…”
Emilio grasped the gist of what the maid was trying to say. Cleo was much too dense to the malice around her. In her eyes, there were places where the ill-natured surroundings were only natural.
(I doubt she will find anything off. How truly pitiful…)
The maid continued on, as if to take over from his thoughts.
“… She truly is a pitiful girl. Her life taken without being of the slightest use, her days ending with her unable to accomplish anything.”
The maid’s voice was laughing. What’s more, it was the sort of laughter that made it seem she was enjoying herself so much she couldn’t help it.
“Sure enough. Once everyone has returned, I will go out to meet up with them. The location is…”
“If you’ll have them come to the central square, we will handle the rest.”
The maidservant walked off. From the depths of the corridor, another person came walking. Emilio started off as if nothing had happened at all.
(That’s right, this time, I’ll make it succeed.)
Taking his hand from his pendant, he strongly walked down the corridor. A resolve was beginning to seep into his expression.
(No matter what happens, Cleo will…)
Having taken off from the palace courtyard, Sakuya housed Rudel and Izumi, and Millia, Cleo and the party of three on her back.
“B-boss! The sky’s scary!”
“Let’s fly a little closer to the ground!”
“We’re really high up! If we fall, we’re gonna die!”
“If I fly lower, there will be collateral damage. You’ll have to put up with it.”
The three fell to all fours on Sakuya’s back, their faces pale, their bodies shaking as they tried their hardest not to look down. Rudel instantly vetoed their request.
In contrast, Cleo was…
“Amazing. So this is the sky! The sky only a dragoon can obtain!”
“That’s right! The sky only a dragoon can see! In order to get it in my hands, I worked hard from a young age!”
Every time Cleo rejoiced, Rudel was delighted as well. Almost as if he had gained someone who understood him, he frolicked along with the girl.
From the point of view of Izumi and Millia, whose hearts were dancing as they kept a close eye to make sure Cleo didn’t fall, it was a bit of a peculiar sight.
“Rudel, can’t you fly a little safer? And Cleo-sama, please take a seat and hold onto the handrail.”
Like a horse, Sakuya’s back was furnished with equipment for humans to ride her. A large bag was stuck on for luggage, and her equipment included things like handrails and cushions. Things that might prove necessary when escorting people.
Dragons of the gaia variant were slow when it came to transporting, but as they were able to move a large quantity of goods, they were a priceless addition to the dragoon brigade’s rear logistic support.
In battle, their slow speed and large bodies had them hated as easy targets, but even so, with their skin and scales that kept away normal attacks, they were the dragons that boasted the greatest destructive power. As a subspecies of such a race, it didn’t matter to Sakuya if there were seven people on her back.
“In the first place, why did they give permission? Letting the princess out like this shouldn’t be allowed… ah, come to think of it our second princess is casually attending the academy.”
When Millia spoke of the pink-haired expressionless princess, Cleo showed a degree of interest. But rather than the second princess Fina, she was interested in the academy.
“The academy, is it? A school that even royalty can attend sounds wonderful.”
“And wonderful it is! I especially enjoyed the fundamental curriculum’s interclass tourney, and the upper classmen’s’ individuals’ tournament.”
At Rudel’s statements that made it seem as if combat was the main activity, Izumi and Millia ended up sighing.
“No, you’re just a special case.”
Remembering the days of Rudel, Aleist, Eunius and Luecke fighting, Millia put a damper on his spirits.
“What makes you say that, Millia, you took part in a match in your fifth year as well! I think Aleist’s confession prevented you from exhibiting your full strength, not that I think about it, that was a legitimate tactic and…”
Millia turned red to her ears as she cried out.
“Don’t talk about that!!”
Not wanting to remember, she turned her face down.
But on the contrary, Cleo grew interested.
“It sounds amazing, Courtois’ academy… my country does not have such an educational institution, so I find myself envious.”
“I know, right!? When the tiger tribe men exchanged blows–”
“Rudel, don’t you think we’ve had enough of that topic. You’re giving the academy a strange image.”
Izumi stopped him.
Atop Sakuya’s back, they shared a laugh.
(I hope this takes her mind off it a bit.)
Rudel looked at the map he received from Emilio. And once Cleo and Izumi got into a girls’ conversation, he stared hard at the map in thought.
(… It’s a bit too far from the castle. If something happens and I have to call Sakuya, it will take too much time for her to return. This might have been a failure.)
Revoking it now would be a disservice to Emilio. But thinking of his duty to guard Cleo, Rudel knew that keeping Sakuya close would be the best deterrent. Right, just a deterrent.
(No, did they fear Sakuya conducting combat near the palace? When we’re doing the actual guard mission, we’ll need Sakuya to serve as transport.)
If Sakuya was caught up in a battle near the palace or castle town, the surrounding area was instantly be turned to a mountain of rubble. As he still had his worries about holding back, Rudel was cautious in that field. In the case that an enemy attacked, he would have Cleo board Sakuya to evacuate her into the sky.
That alone would prevent enemy hands from reaching her. That was how he saw it, and he wasn’t considering to have her take part in battle.
(It’s a bit worrisome they don’t seem to have any intent to protect her. Well, I’m the one who made the proposal, but… I should keep cautious.)
None too knowledgeable on the internal affairs of other countries, the fact his own country wasn’t monolithic became a stroke of good luck. He was beginning to notice there might be a separate force moving within Celestia.
It was strange from the start.
By relying on a foreign nation for guards, they invited in the dissatisfaction of the knights, what’s more, they didn’t send enough manpower around.
Rudel looked at the party of three making pale faces.
(Their loyalty aside, if they’re this unusable, I must presume they haven’t received basic training.)
They were spies from the other force… he tried to consider, but they were too unreliable for that. He thought they might be concealing their real skill, but at least from what he could tell by fighting them, that didn’t seem likely. And they had the mind to serve Cleo from the depths of their heart.
(They’re a sort… I’ve never had around me.)
As far as Rudel knew, that type of retainer didn’t exist on his home estate. He had seen enough of the opposite- those that mocked and tried to use him- to grow tired of them Because of that, he found himself just a little envious of Cleo.
(But whatever the case, we should be nearing the limit. Thinking of the princess’ stamina, we should descend and take a short break.)
It was nothing more than flying through the sky, but for those unaccustomed to it, the stamina expenditure was intense. Rudel decided to land and take some rest.
“Sakuya, it looks like the designated point is over there.”
‘Uwah, it’s a warm-looking place.’
Rudel couldn’t understand how the ground could look warm. But there was a mountain nearby with smoke rising from it.
“Is this area alright? It’ll be hell if an eruption occurs.”
The villages he spotted around made Rudel anxious. If the volcano erupted, the casualty figures would be severe. But near the volcano was a forest that had seen a good number of years.
“Ah, we’re perfectly fine. The sort of eruptions I hear about from other lands never happen in Celestia.”
Rudel inclined an ear to Cleo’s explanation as he had Sakuya lower altitude.
“The guardian deity is in a different one… a shrine in the volcano you can see over there, but because of his protection, eruptions never occur. Not since the founding of Celestia… so at the very least, there hasn’t been one in two hundred years.”
On her words, Izumi was mildly surprised.
“Not a single major eruption in a few hundred years?”
Cleo shook her head.
“They can’t happen. As I said it’s because of the guardian deity.”
Making a little… no, a sorrowful face, Cleo turned her head down. Unable to see her state given their position, the party of three regained their vigor as the ground approached, getting excited over the princess’ explanation.
“Our god is amazing! The princess is amazing too!”
“He’s a god after all! And as expected of the princess!”
“The god is amazing, but the princess is smart!”
On their three reactions, Cleo giggled a bit.
“That’s right. Even like this, I’ve studied, for what it’s worth. But it’s the first time anyone’s called me smart.”
Saying she was happy even if it was just flattery, Cleo smiled at the three. They seemed happy as well.
As Rudel looked at them, a scene of his own youth suddenly revived in his head.
(… That doesn’t matter right now.)
Issuing orders to Sakuya, he told everyone to prepare to land.
“Grab onto the handrails. We’re touching down.”
‘Building a house for Sakuya~.’
Sakuya sang a song as her large arms began digging a hole. Little ways away, Rudel watched as the mountain was shaved away.
Sakuya had her own criterion for which place was best, so she was apparently investigating. And with this serving as their break, Rudel and the others looked over the scene.
“… The rocks and dirt are flying through the sky.”
Ben looked at the parabola the soil drew in the air as he muttered.
“No matter how many times I see it, Sakuya’s digging is a magnificent sight.”
Rudel looked and nodded a few times.
“It’s amazing. If she has that much power, can the dragons do other jobs as well?”
Cleo’s question was answered by Izumi.
“They’re used for transport and land development. A skillful dragon can fulfill a number of roles.”
The princess took a keen interest to that response. Rudel recalled the port town of Beretta where he was stationed. While it was built at a harbor, it wasn’t as if there weren’t any fields. Preparing those fields was left up to Keith… when the Lieutenant Keith didn’t have any subordinates, his water dragon Spinnith could fulfill the role alone.
He didn’t have the same level of power as Bennet’s dragon, but if put to skilled labor, he could pull it off well. He made quite an undragon-like statement, saying he liked work that had to be built up one step at a time.
“Well, each dragon has its own quirks.”
Don’t just write off our problems as quirks, the upper echelons of Courtois would claw at Rudel if they heard the statement.
Sakuya was comfortably singing her song. There, going along with what should only sound like a dragon’s growl to other humans, Cleo began to hum. She was gradually picking up the rhythm.
The party of three looked at Cleo with faces as if they were to be moved to tears.
Ben explained to Rudel.
“What’s wrong… ah, you didn’t know? The princess is really good at singing. I don’t know how long ago, but back when we was still jobless, unsteadily topplin’ around, she was singing a song in the square. When we heard her singing, it moved us, got us inspired.”
Ben began to shed tears.
When Rudel asked the reason, he found the three had left their village unable to find work, and once they came to the castle town of Celestia, they lived by rummaging through the trash. Troubled for food, they were honestly about to stick their hands into ill deeds.
But hearing the song in the square, they popped their heads out the alley, and saw it was Cleo who was singing.
That clear voice held a certain something that resounded in a person’s heart. The fact these three hadn’t turned to crime was thanks to Cleo, apparently.
The voice had caused them to reflect on themselves.
“It was a real pretty song, see. Ended up pepping us right up. What we was doing started to look stupid. We stopped caring how cheap the pay was, searched out a place to work, and ended up guarding a gate that no one ever used. People made fun of us, but we didn’t give a damn. Working earnest, earning money… she made us notice there was nothing more rewarding.”
Cen listened to Cleo sing as he told Rudel a tale. Pono continued on after him.
“When we begged and started out as trainees, it was nothin but cleaning and chores. But man, if we put the work in, even we could do it, boss.”
As Cleo’s mood gradually rose with her humming, she began lightly singing to herself. Passan closed his eyes to hear. Rudel also inclined his ear.
(I see, so these three feel indebted to the princess. But if a song’s all it took to get them back on their feet, perhaps they were good people to start with. Whatever the case…)
The three were troubled for food, fished through trash, and in the end, were about to commit crime. There were surely opportunities for ill deeds before it came to that, so Rudel concluded to himself they were good at heart. And that the song was only the trigger they needed.
(Yep, it’s a nice voice. I’m no good with those things, but it feels pleasant on my ears. Perhaps this is talent.)
In Cleo’s singing voice, Rudel could also feel something echoing in his heart. As a noble, he had received a general education. Music was included. But when it came to fine arts, especially music, Rudel didn’t exhibit any particular knack or talent.
Rather, Eunius and Luecke achieved excellent grades in music and art.
… Aleist was out of the question.
But according to Luecke, perhaps he was just born in the wrong era. Apparently. In various ways, Aleist was too advanced.
As Rudel and the others lent an ear to Cleo’s song, Sakuya cried out.
Responding to the scream, Rudel leapt out to find the hole Sakuya was haughtily excavating welling up with water and steam.
Rudel rushed over to Sakuya’s side, surprised by the heat rush of the vapor, and the temperature of the water.
“Is this a hot spring?”
As Sakuya finally managed to bob her head out of the water, Rudel jumped at it and latched on, calling out.
“Are you alright, Sakuya!? Any burns?”
While he was worried, there, Izumi called over.
“No, Rudel… Sakuya is a dragon, you know.”
Right. Sakuya was undoubtedly a dragon. And the dragon in question floated in the hot water as she remarked.
‘Haaah, it feels niicccee.’
She was quite satisfied by the hot spring she had dug up herself. Perhaps she had struck the source, as the water wasn’t at a temperature a human could enter. To a dragon, such matters were irrelevant.
(Kuh, Sakuya in a bath… she’s too cute.)
From atop Sakuya’s head, Rudel gazed at his own dragon with great satisfaction.
Returning to the castle, Rudel reported to Emilio.
Before a soaked Rudel who had removed his coat, Emilio spoked.
“… So you’re telling me you fell in when your dragon changed posture? You haven’t been burned, have you?”
“I am alright. My apologies.”
Rudel and the others had safely returned, but Rudel had fallen into the spring. The reason was just as Emilio had detailed. Fed up, Emilio looked at Rudel as he ordered the servant in the room to bring him some clothes.
“Bring a change of clothing for Rudel-dono, if you please.”
Cleo’s maid nodded and left the room.
“Once Rudel-dono’s finished changing, we shall depart. Time is limited, after all.”
Feeling an urge to hold his head, Emilio looked at Rudel.
(Give me a break, Dragoon. I need you to do your job.)
It was a large strain on the plan.
But he continued thinking of how he would reconnect the ends of the deviating plan, and bring it towards a result he desired.
Cleo presented a towel to the soaked Rudel. The towel in Rudel’s hands was already sopping wet.
Rudel, Izumi, and everyone else felt ashamed.
(No, you’re not supposed to be doing that sort of thing.)
Emilio was troubled by Cleo’s correspondence.
“Princess, once the maid returns, leave Rudel-dono to her. Now let’s prepare to head o…”
After saying that much, Emilio noticed his own failure.
(Ah, wait a second. Cleo only has one maid. Then no one’s actually preparing for the plan?)
With everything in such a shapeless state, Rudel’s party were about to set out into the castle town.