“So you were brought here too.”
The jail cell the royal guard led Izumi to was already occupied by Sophina. A clammy underground dungeon, she could barely make out her face by the unreliable light.
Izumi was a high knight, same as Sophina. But Sophina was her senior and the second princess Fina’s guard who headed a unit of her own. Why was she here? As Izumi puzzled over it, Sophina lifted herself off the bed and stretched.
“The princess was taken in too. We were bound and shoved in here. Our weapons were taken, but our clothes were left as is. They must be in quite a hurry.”
Perhaps there was no time to dress them in prison robes, as after taking their weapons and shoving them in the cell, the royal guard knights had already gone off somewhere.
The soldier keeping watch over them seemed restless as well.
“Just what could have… this is just too terrible.”
Sophina fully agreed with Izumi’s words. While she agreed, she was keeping somewhat collected.
“There’s been movement in the palace for quite a while now. It’s just, I never imagined they would take it this far.”
“You know something? I need to get out of here fast and save Rudel.”
“… Err, did something happen to Rudel-dono?”
Sophina seemed troubled. Izumi promptly explained he had been sent off to the battlefield as a lone rider. When she described Aleist’s predicament, Sophina seemed surprised.
“So the black knight’s the supreme commander. Not bad. I thought she’d force Fritz into the position, but… did someone stop her? She’s surprisingly brittle.”
“You sure are calm.”
At Izumi’s light sarcasm, Sophina gave a sardonic laugh. After checking her surroundings, she whispered.
“Hey, don’t be like that. I managed to learn this and that was going on thanks to the princess. Sorry, but my lord was taken in too… until the major players at the palace make their move, I doubt she will make hers. That’s the sort of person she is.”
“Then she has something planned? If she doesn’t hurry up with it, something terrible will–”
“It’s already plenty terrible. But see, she intends to use these developments as well. She really is… if she was just a bit more decent of a human being, you can’t imagine how easier my life would be.”
After saying that, Sophina instructed Izumi to lie down and get some rest.
The audience chamber.
The gathered nobles were informed not of medals to be bestowed.
The kingdom of Courtois’ audience chamber was a vast room, it’s make of an extravagance worthy of a major power. The knights and nobles gathered in such a place, Eunius and Luecke included, were mostly struck dumbfounded.
The king wasn’t taking part.
The queen nowhere to be seen.
Princess Aileen stood in front of the throne, giving an address.
“The Gaia Empire has yet to learn their lesson, they are once again preparing to invade Courtois soil! Their parch has already begun… the time has come to show your loyalty to Courtois!”
Within all the confusion, upon hearing of the Gaia Empire’s march, the nobles were quick to direct their eyes to the dragoons taking part.
While they feigned composure, the dragoon brigade members looked to be holding it in.
“We will prepare to depart at once. But first… we initially intended to request the role of supreme commander in this battle to the Black Knight. However, the black knight has fled like the coward he is. While he might not be a fitting replacement, I appoint the Captain of the Royal Guard, Fritz-dono as Supreme Commander.”
The audience chamber fell into chaos. It wasn’t because the Gaia Empire had invaded. They had invaded too many times to count, and just as many times, the dragoons had repelled them.
The nobles’ interests were drawn to the commoner Fritz appointed as supreme commander of the armed forces. Without any decent deeds of arms, and still young; the voices of dissatisfaction rose against him.
But Eunius didn’t let it elude him.
“There are some around who aren’t surprised.”
From nearby, Luecke nodded.
“Aleist isn’t here, but I don’t see Rudel either. That woman did something. To think she’d go this far.”
Neither Aleist nor Rudel were anywhere to be seen.
A confused gathering of knights and nobles. But among them were some not confused in the slightest, the royal guard, for one.
Eunius didn’t seem amused.
“I doubt they’re dead, but… I’m returning to my territory. I’ll be sending soldiers from my place.”
Luecke glanced at Aileen, giving her address before the throne.
“What a coincidence. Once this farce is over, I’ll be right on my way back—”
And Fritz walked out before Aileen. As he walked out in front of her, he was gifted the sword, the proof of his station by Aileen’s hand.
Eunius looked at that sword.
“Haven’t I seen that sword somewhere before—”
Aileen, after handing the sword to Fritz.
“This is a sword produced by gathering the best technology Courtois has to offer. Surely it’s worthy of the supreme commander. You have to make sure you bring it back.”
Fritz held the sword high.
“Without fail, I shall return here and report on our victory!”
Luecke, to Eunius’ comment.
“Looks like it’s only just been made. You must be seeing things. Forget that, she hasn’t said a word about Rudel.”
Luecke worried for his friend.
Aleist had come to the basement dungeon.
Showing himself from within the shadows of the dim cells, he restlessly checked his surroundings.
“Izumi-san, are you alright?”
Izumi sprung off the bed, looking at Aleist who had somehow entered her cell in surprise.
“I never knew you could do that.”
“Well you see, as I was chased around by night visits, I learned a thing or two on how to use it. Being the Black Knight sure is convenient… wait, no time to chit-chat. Here.”
Aleist pulled out Izumi’s katana from the shadow and handed it over. He tossed over the key alongside it.
“I’m in your debt. Aleist, what’s the situation right now?”
After accepting the katana and gripping the key tight, she tried to confirm the present situation from Aleist. But he hung his head.
“Sorry. I’ve just been running around. I want to inform Eunius and Luecke of the situation, but it’s not just the royal guard, it seems Princess Aileen’s got some allies in other places… It’s hopeless for me, I just stand out too much. I’ve come for your cooperation…”
Sophina in the cell lifted her body and turned to Aleist.
“… The defenders.”
“Seek help from the defenders. Use the princess’ name if you have to. If you just need to deliver a message, they can still move around the castle freely. Can you give me just a few more details on the state of affairs?”
Aleist reported everything he’d managed to learn.
The captain of the dragoon brigade Oldart faced the supreme commander Fritz.
With Princess Aileen stationed to his side, he couldn’t make any rash remarks.
“In short, you’re putting us under the commander’s control? It’s troubling that you’re saying something so blatantly obvious, and it’s also troubling that you arbitrarily sent my subordinate off to the battlefield. You said it was an area of low priority, but in the present state with the empire attacking on two fronts, one unit’s worth of war potential is clearly not up to par. I shall send additional reinforcements.”
Oldart’s discontentment came from Aileen superseding him, sending Rudel to a warzone unassisted. A dragon was certainly powerful. They were powerful, but a battle was also about numbers.
Sending only one rider was something he couldn’t overlook as the captain. And he couldn’t forgive that she ordered around one of his men.
Fritz boldly responded.
“As long as their main force lies elsewhere, it is only natural we concentrate our war potential there.”
Oldart gave a scornful laugh.
“You sound like you already know which one’s their main force… while we haven’t received a lick of information. What could that possibly mean?”
There, Aileen stuck in her mouth. Fritz had faltered ever so slightly, so she was surely to cover for him.
“Now’s not the time to speak of such matters. Under Fritz-sama’s command, the dragoon brigade will band together and drive back the empire. That is an order.”
If she called it an order, he had no choice but to obey.
“If it’s an order, I’ll obey. I want to get this over with already so I can save my subordinate. How about we have a good talk once I’m back?”
Under Oldart’s glare, Fritz.
“Then prepare to depart at once. The dragoon brigade will take the lead to beat down our foe. Based on the speed of their preparations, the main force will depart immediately.”
But Aileen added on.
“Dragoon captain… in the case the enemy crosses the border, I will permit an attack. But I won’t approve of anything else.”
Oldart spoke through a sign.
“I’m well aware. How long do you think we’ve been protecting the border?”
Aileen simply gave a fearless smile. It was more than enough to tip Oldart off that something was up.
(… Now then, what do I do about this? I guess I’ll have Keith move or something.)
It was the Arses House mansion.
Erselica made a desperate plea before her father’s room.
“Father, when Chlust-niisama is fighting, why won’t the Arses House send reinforcements!?”
No matter how she raised her voice, she never got a response. It wasn’t only her father, upon learning of Chlust’s predicament, her mother wouldn’t attempt any action either.
Having frequently exchanged letters with Chlust, Erselica knew the situation of the border fort in detail. She learned of the Empire’s movements from Chlust as well.
On that front, Erselica had supported him to the best of her abilities. But come so far, the notice came that the empire had finally initiated its full mobilization. The Rases House showed no signs of moving.
Around the room, the retainers had gathered.
(If I’d just moved faster.)
A vexed Erselica raised her voice at the door time and again.
“I’m begging you. The preparations are already in order. All that’s left is for you to give the order, father, and we will be on our way.”
She had already confirmed her father was in the room, and the Arses House had completed its preparations to sortie. Looking at them as an archduke house, they could only send a minuscule number, but that was all Erselica could prepare with all her might.
“There are other lords who have promised us their cooperation. Why must my own father, an archduke, remain stationary when his country is in a time of crisis!?”
Her desperate pleas wouldn’t reach her father in the room. Not only that, to Erselica and the retainers gathered before the room—
“What is the meaning of this, how irritatingly noisy!”
— From the other side of the corridor, her mother appeared leading along her servants.
“Mother! You throw in a word too! The fort Chlust-niisama is stationed at is under attack by the empire. I seek permission to send reinforcements!”
Her mother offered a cold rebuttal to her words.
“… That child is the failure of the Arses House. If he puts up a hard fight at the fort and dies in battle, it will at least somewhat recover the Arses House’s reputation. And even if we don’t move, the likes of the empire can be driven back by those dragons.”
Erselica listened on in terror. She shook her head to the side.
“… I’ve heard enough.”
“What’s with that attitude? Someone lock Erselica up. Good grief, causing such a ruckus…”
As her mother tried to leave, she was surrounded by armed knights and soldiers.
The butler by Erselica’s side didn’t find fault in that.
“What is the meaning of this!? Who do you think I am!”
Turning to her clamoring mother, Erselica shot back.
“If you are to take a watchful stance in this crisis, you have no qualifications to lead this house! Bind and imprison my father and mother! We will be sending reinforcements immediately. Tell the lords who’ve promised assistance to dispatch at once.”
While the knights and soldiers moved around, soldiers with axes appeared in front of the room. They destroyed the door and flooded in.
As the soldiers apprehended her, she looked at Erselica.
“Do you understand what you’re doing!? Such an act… no one will ever recognize it!”
The more Erselica watched her mother, the sadder her expression became.
“… There are no vassals here who will assist you. The only ones here are those discontent with your deeds. The others all ran away when I imparted precise information and asked for their cooperation.”
Erselica had put in a request to Lena to have Luecke look into the factional relations. What factions the surrounding feudal lords pledged allegiance to, and what houses had an invested interest.
There were plenty of lords and palace officials who didn’t think so kindly of the Arses House’s present state that would collapse if things were to go on.
By talking with those people, Erselica had made her own preparations.
One of the knights restrained her father and led him out of the room. While he wore a gown, he had nothing but undergarments on underneath.
There were a number of women and it was permeated with the scent of alcohol. Looking d own on her father muttering complaints, Erselica spoke.
“Take him away. We don’t have time to waste on him.”
While the manor was in a boisterous commotion, Lena climbed up to the roof and looked up at the sky.
“… Now then, I should get moving.”
Holding her spear, wearing clothing easy to move around in, Lena whistled. That whistle that resounded through the sky, it almost seemed as if it was calling for something.
Sitting right down on the roof, it seemed like Lena was going to stay there and wait until whatever she called for arrived.
“You think that broski of mine’s gonna win against fate?”
Curiously, Lena smiled.
From the start, Lena was a peculiar sister. She was Rudel’s peculiar sister. At the start, Rudel was able to become more human because Lena was there. When Rudel held no interest for other people, he showed interest towards Lena. At the important times, it was Lena who was involved with Rudel.
Not directly, she had always been indirectly tied in.
“Well, he’s my broster, he should be fine.”
Lena said and looked at the sky.
The scene shifts to a fort continuing its resistance.
The army led by Askewell of the Gaia Empire had continued minor attacks as if to torment it.
There were a number of reasons, but while they managed to infiltrate foreign soil well enough, they had advanced without receiving anything that could be classified as resistance.
Dispatching units to the towns and villages in the area, they were scraping together supplies.
Keeping a low profile to Askewell’s side, Mies looked bitterly at the supplies they had gathered.
In the tent, she reported the present situation to Askewell as he sat in his chair.
“Askewell-sama, the enemy has mostly pulled out. While a small portion of villages have ignored the evacuation order and remained, I believe the enemy commander ordered the civilians in this parts to find refuge as soon as our side started moving.”
Askewell quietly muttered.
“I see. Then the monsters must be hungry.”
From the start, the black monsters of his army were disposable pieces. And those pieces had their own role in his forces.
The empire was teeming with people. The plan was to migrate to Courtois’ plentiful soil, and with that goal in mind, the people living on that land were in the way. Taking care of that disposal was the monsters’ job.
“I thought this was a country that could only rely on its dragons, but it looks like it has some staunch men of its own. To let the people flee, and try to hold out at but a small fort.”
Mies confirmed their future course with Askewell.
“What should we do? It would be simple to crush them, but we intended to set up a base of operations there, so that would greatly affect the—”
After Mies had said that much, a messenger soldier entered the tent.
“Your Highness! Enemy dragoons are approaching! Gray in color! Two riders!”
Askewell grinned at that report.
“… Perfect timing. Send out the wyvern unit.”
The moment the messenger left the tent, the surroundings were filled with the voices of monsters.
Askewell stood to his feet; Mies followed him outside. Around them, wyverns took to the sky one after the next, with knights in black armor straddling their backs.
They were up against two knights, yet their charge consisted of a few dozens.
Dragons domesticated by Courtois, they were said to be the weakest, but even so, they had been a threat to the empire as it was. While the soldier seemed anxious, they looked like they had some hope in the wyvern unit’s dispatch.
No, one might say they were sending their prayers. To the empire, the dragons were they symbol of fear. In the past, a single blue dragon had been enough to put them through countless terrifying experiences.
That fear was passed from father to child, succeeded by their grandchildren.
In regards to the two dragoons, the dozens of wyverns surrounded them to carry out their attack. Perhaps as expected of a dragon, they put up a good fight against the wyverns, but in the end, before the difference in numbers, one eventually fell to the ground.
Askewell looked over the scene.
“Looks like three on one will be enough to fight. Their aerial maneuvers are rough, but they should be able to fight well enough.”
The surrounding black monsters and human soldiers gathered to attack the fallen dragoon.
Raising a cheer, the dragon’s head was lopped off and hoisted high into the sky.
“The era of the dragoons is over!”
“Glory to the Empire! Glory to Prince Askewell!”
“Have a look, the other one’s running away!”
Overhead, the dragoon surrounded on all sides received attacks as if it were being made a game of. Even so, four allied wyverns took a fall.
“… If they get in some combat experience, the wyvern unit could become a mainstay of the empire’s forces.”
Askewell sent a sorrowful look at his dead subordinates. They were his precious troops and his comrades. Watching Askewell mourn his fallen comrades, Mies was moved.
“Askewell-sama, you’re too kind.”
The final dragoon fell to the ground. Was it the bond between knight and dragon? The dragon followed his rider to the ground as if to protect him. On land, the knights and soldiers raised cried, and the monsters flocked around knight and dragon.
To the empire, this was the scene they had waited so long for. The once-rulers of the sky, the dragoons falling to their earth, the scene of their own wyvern unit becoming the sky’s new sovereigns.
It meant the era of cowering from Courtois was over.
“Show the heads of knight and dragon to the fort! After we chip their fighting spirit, advise them to surrender!”
The surrounding knights raising cheers, they held up their weapons and thrust their fists towards the heavens.
Within that, his golden hair fluttering behind him, his body clad in black armor, Askewell was a picturesque sight to behold.
In the first, Chlust was woken from his rest by his subordinate.
He hadn’t slept in days, and while he attempted to get in just a few hours, the situation had vehemently changed.
Rising from the bed, Chlust slapped his cheeks to wake up as he received the report.
“The empire… the empire took out a dragoon!’
Hearing the words, Chlust made off without the chance to grab any proper armor. Once he arrived where there was a good view he saw the heads of two dragons, and the terrible state of two knights lined up in the plaza in front of the fort.
Two imperial knights ordering around black ogres loudly demanded their surrender.
“Bear witness to what Prince Askewell’s new unit has made of the dragoons you relied upon! Cowards of Courtois! You have been given the option. Fight for this fort to your deaths or surrender and submit to the empire!”
The imperial knight’s words threw the local civilians who remained at the fort into a panic. They had never even imagined that a dragoon could lose.
It had never occurred to Chlust that the dragoons who came to their aid would lose so easily.
“How in the… there’s something in the sky.”
In the air above them, a dragon-like shadow… no, Chlust was a man born of Courtois. He knew that shadow was different from the dragons of Courtois.
From his knowledge, he could make out what sort of monster it was.
“Why are wyverns… they’re supposed to have even harsher temperaments than dragons. No human has ever been able to make a contract with them before!”
Chlust’s subordinates were gathered around him, cautiously glancing around.
“Captain, the civilians who didn’t flee are demanding an explanation. At this rate, this fortress will become a battle royal!”
The people who fled into the fort and said they wouldn’t move until the war was over were beginning to raise a ruckus. They had been certain there was no way they would lose, but hearing of the dragoons’ defeat, they were beginning to stir.
“That’s why I told them to run… dammit!”
Chlust was cornered into a situation with enemies both inside and out.
It was a small fort.
If the citizens taking refuge inside ran amok, the knights and soldiers would have to fight to save their own skin. When that happened, the fortress insides would turn to hell.
The troops that remained were fighting to protect Courtois. If they had to kill their own citizens, it would lead to a large loss of morale. If it came to that, protecting this fort would be impossible.
Before the fort, the imperial knight yelled.
“If you bring out the fort commander’s head, we wouldn’t mind setting you up as nobles. Unlike Courtois, the empire pays its dues!”
Loudly, the knight laughed.
Chlust and those around him heard it out in despair. The civilians were beginning to gather around them.
“Stand down! Don’t try to go out.”
They readied their weapons to threaten the evacuated civilians, but those civilians had gripped farm implements, and whatever weapons they could find around the fort.
“I-it’s your fault for losing, bastards!”
“If I can become a noble in the empire…”
“We just want to live in peace!”
Chlust regretted leaving his armaments in his room.
(To think I would be killed by those I was to protect… sorry, brother. This is as far as I go.)
Chlust had begun considering surrendering himself to the enemy. If that would save his men and the people here.
But something passed over the skies of such a fort.
To the skies where those of both Courtois and Gaia raised their heads, a dragon with four, large white wings was falling towards the ground. Once its large build slammed into the soil, the surrounding imperial knights, soldiers, and a great many black monsters were blown off of their feet.
From above, a wyvern opened its mouth to hammer in its breaths, but that mouth pierced through by a large sword of light, the magic storing in its mouth reacted, exploded, and blew off its head.
While a cloud of dust covered everything, a glimmering something let off an explosion of light.
The sounds of screams chimed out in turn, and at the end, the white dragon’s large wings blew away the dust.
What appeared was a single knight clad in white armor, his blue mantle fluttering in the wind. Imperial knights and monsters gathering around him. That knight in white armor was soon surrounded.
Landing on the ground alongside Sakuya, Rudel leaned the sword in his right hand against his shoulders.
Looking around, there was nothing but enemies.
Two gray dragon heads presented before the fort, the husks of knights were stuck up in unsightly states.
One among them was Rudel’s contemporary.
Saas Venia—a dragoon, while he had a bad look in his eyes, he had a knack for looking after people.
Rudel had heard he’d been stationed on the border, and after rushing to help, he had died in battle.
“… You’re disrespecting a warrior.”
As he sent around a look, the imperial knights and soldiers behind the black monsters raised their voice. Surely they were giving orders for his death. Rudel closed his eyes.
The blue eyes he slowly opened turned red, precisely taking in the movements of his surroundings. Within a sensation as if time was slowly passing by, Rudel spoke.
“I’m sure you all came here knowing you might now return to your fatherland alive.”
Matching Rudel’s wrath, Sakuya roared into the sky. As surrounding soldiers covered their ears at that ear-shaking din, Rudel rushed forward and cut down the black ogre that had rushed out before him.
It was the sort of black ogre he encountered in his school days, its body covered in the white insignia of one who had once tried to get in his way.
Rudel took a swipe at the net ogre.
“… I take it you’re serious. But you won’t advance a step further!”
Turning his left hand forward, Rudel manifested a number of swords of light around. The point of each made off towards its own destination, impaling monster and enemy soldier alike.
While one of the knights parried the sword with his blade, it exploded and crumbled his stance. Not letting the opportunity slip by, Rudel closed in and let his sword run from his left shoulder to right hip.
Armor was cut through, blood spouted as a terrible scene spread around.
Sakuya brushed away ogres with her giant arms; she fired off her breath towards the sky. As the airborne wyverns came into contact with her breath, their wings tore, sending them falling to the ground.
In contrast, even if the wyverns’ breath hit Sakuya directly, it didn’t exhibit any particular effect.
The knight taking command in the back.
The order cemented the knight in Rudel’s mind as the commanding officer, and closing the distance in an instant, he smacked his foe with the shield in his left hand.
The knight commanding from horseback tolled across the ground, while his horse acted up and ran off elsewhere.
The knights around tried to surround Rudel with their spears and swords. Taking a lance thrust at him from a mounted knight in his left hand, he snatched it away, and stuck it into the torso of a knight with a sword.
Returning his own sword to its scabbard, he used a stolen sword to cut at the nearest soldier. Another swift movement, as he cut down monster and human in succession, his form, his movements were truly close to a beast’s.
Blown away by Sakuya, and rapidly sunk into a sea of blood by Rudel, the unit of the empire.
It didn’t even take an hour for everything to be over.
The scene was witnessed by the soldiers and knights of the fort, and the evacuated residents in gross fascination.
When it had ended, Rudel apprehended an unconscious enemy leader. With a wave of his hand, he ordered those watching from the fort to collect the commander from him.
Tossing aside the sword he was holding, Rudel walked over to the husk of a comrade.
“… I’ll get you down. Sakuya, you take care of the dragons.”
Sakuya recovered the dragon’s heads, and as she gently placed them on the ground, Rudel released his comrade and contemporary from their gruesome fastenings.
To his friend Saas’ husk, Rudel made an address.
“I didn’t make it in time. I’m sorry… but I’ll fight for your share. I shall definitely spread word of your heroism.”
Once soldiers raced in from the fort, Rudel looked around. The monsters and soldiers he had killed were littered around, but strangely, the monster dissolved into black smoke and disappeared.
The black fumes ignored the pull of the wind, making off somewhere.
Rudel’s expression was harsh as he looked at the sky, but there he heard a nostalgic voice.
When he turned, there was Chlust, not in a decent piece of armor. He must have hurried, his breathing was considerably rough.
“… You did well to hold out, Chlust.”
Chlust didn’t know what he was supposed to say. But looking at Rudel, he made a serious face.
“Brother, that was only a small portion of the empire’s army. Their main force is still ahead, scraping together supplies from the area. I have to ask, how many reinforcements can we expect?”
Seeing Chlust make the face of a commander, Rudel mood lightened just a bit. But the thought couldn’t remain.
“Unfortunately, I was sent as the vanguard. I don’t have any definite information on reinforcements.”
Chlust hung his head a bit.
“Understood. And thank you… you saved us.”
He gave his thanks.