| This is a story without much relation to the main plot. It is my hope you enjoy it as a side story where dragoon characters make an appearance.
Down a path buried up by droves of people passed the caravan of gorgeous carriages.
The sky was blue. The scenery colored by fluttering confetti was one to sing praise of a single princess in the largest carriage.
Inside that carriage rode only that single beautiful girl, alongside the young knight that served as her guard.
The cheers buried up the surrounding noises. From inside the carriage, the white dress-clad young girl waved her hand. Her skin was pale and her frail, slender body gave off the impression it might snap in two. And then was her curling blue hair, that could be called her most notable feature.
Her waving, gleaming blue hair grew to around her lower back. As she waved from the window, her hidden left hand gripped her pendant... the item that proved she was of the royal line, a small gold egg-shaped item engraved with the cursed seal of Celestia.
Everyone celebrated the birth of a new shrine maiden, rejoicing as they offered up Princess Cleo Celestia of the Celestia royal line.
With this they'd be safe. They'd be at peace for another few decades. Cleo understood what was on everyone's minds.
In the first place, these cheers and the smiles on the peoples' faces, all of it... was delight over her own sacrifice.
The green-eyed Cleo, under her smile, she wasn't able to think anything. She had been born to do so. Her role had finally come, nothing more, nothing left.
It would be too pitiful for her young little sister. Her brothers wouldn't be able to fulfill the role.
The clan raised as sacrifices would regularly offer up a woman every few decades. The people would think of them as maidens offered to their guardian god.
Cleo was royalty. But for the peace of the country, she would offer her very life to the protector... How tragic. From the eyes of the people who knew nothing, it looked as if the royal family was fulfilling their obligation.
In truth, royal blood did flow through Cleo's veins. But that blood had been carefully prepared outside the current royalty. Cleo's family was merely being kept alive, a clan of sacrifices royal in name alone. The energy supply of the ancient weapon, that demanded life every few tens of years.
In order to replenish it, Cleo was henceforth set to die.
She would continue on the carriage, making for a mountain on the edge of the continent. She would enter the ruins on that active volcano of a mountain, offer her life to the weapon, and that would be the end of it. Right, that's where it was supposed to end.
Cleo first thought it strange when the carriage stopped at a spot it wasn't planned to stop. When she thought they had run upon some trouble, in the next instant, the surrounding knights acting as guards started charging straight ahead.
And knights gathered around them as well. Wearing white, ceremonial armor, those elites of Celestia bragged that their training and devotion fell not short of the high knights of the large power of Courtois.
"Protect the princess!"
"No matter what, we have to protect her from these bandits."
"Dammit! They were hiding in the crowd!"
Things did not seem to be going very well outside.
"Why did it come to this..."
While Cleo was the surprised, the young knight hung over her.
"Princess, get down! It will be dangerous if an arrow flies our way!"
Even if they tried to run, they were unable to go out into the main street crowded with people. They could only trust in the carriage, built not only pomp, but sturdy as well.
So following the words of her guard... no, the knight keeping watch over her, Cleo had no choice but to meekly quiver.
The young knight's name was Emilio Balhart. His green hair grew long, and he was a fair knight of Celestia. Called the wonder child of Celestia, once in knight school, he easily changed that name to genius.
Even after enlisting in a brigade, his rumors would all extol him. His service only covered a few year, but it was said he was on the way to becoming knight captain and he was stipulated to be the country's strongest knight.
Many women would envy a position of being protected by him. But thinking to the contrary, that meant there was a need for strong enough surveillance to dispatch such an elite knight.
Cleo felt the sounds of battle outside gradually grow in intensity, too scared to help it. But while she had lived for nothing more than to be a sacrifice, she hated the thought of dying without fulfilling her role. Otherwise, her young little sister would be offered in her place.
(Just to the ruins... we just had to make it to the altar. Why won't they just let us be?)
To protect the girl on the verge of tears, Emilio, who'd been keeping watch of the outside, let out his voice. Cleo required just a bit of time before she realized that.
"It's dangerous here, princess! We need to withdraw."
"... Eh? We can't, Emilio. The ceremony can't start without me. What's more, if we return come so far, the palace's standing will..."
"Right now, your life is more important, princess! We'll withdraw and reorganize our formation. The carriage ahead's been attacked, so we can't go further in this. We have to go outside."
The carriage in front carried the ceremonial tools. It took quite some time to prepare them. While she didn't want to cast them aside, she saw there was some sense in Emilio's words and jumped down from the carriage.
Emilio pulled her by the hand, and as they left the carriage, the street buried in cheers had changed to the intense sounds of battle. Outside, she could hear even more noises that rung through her ears. Alongside the din of clashing metal, the sensation of magic being fired off.
Cleo wanted to hurry from the spot. She didn't feel sorry for the surrounding knights, for this was their job. And her own job meant for her to offer her life.
She told herself so as she fled with Emilio who pulled her down the way. In their way, a man who had likely slipped into the crowd held a weapon in hand as he came at them. Emilio pulled his sword to knock it from his hand.
"Stand down, ruffian!"
For now, perhaps prioritizing their escape, Emilio sprinted into the gap between buildings on the main road without landing the finishing blow. Cleo had never been somewhere like that before. Unlike the main streets, an unpleasant smell wafted about.
At the same time, there was trash littered around the place making it difficult to run.
"Princess, just a little further."
"I'm sorry, Emilio. I've caused you nothing but trouble..."
As Emilio continued running through the small spaces between buildings, he looked to Cleo like a reliable knight. When she had no idea where she was and she had even started to forget which way they'd gone, Emilio continued proceeding on.
He turned a right, and next a left. He ran down the stairs.
Once the left the narrow path, a small river was flowing. A different terrible smell came from there. It was the smell of a drain.
"This might be harsh on you, princess, but this is all to get away."
"I know. I don't intend to fixate on these trivial matters."
Thinking Leo's hand would let her get away, as the sounds of battle grew distance, Cleo found a little of her composure. If an ally appeared here, she would have more peace of mind. But it seemed the ones who appeared were no allies.
"It's a dead end this way."
Just as they tried to cross the bridge, they were pincered in the front and back. Unlike the ones who had slipped in with the people, the men this time wore robes with swords hung at their waists. From the leisure with which they held themselves, they likely thought they would win if they pressed through with numbers.
Three in the front, and two in the back.
Cleo gave Emilio's hand one strong squeeze before letting go. Emilio shifted the sword he held in one hand to a two-handed grip.
"Princess, leave this to me."
"I'm counting on you, Emilio."
If it was Emilio, even called Celestia's strongest knight, then he would be able to break through this dilemma. Cleo believed so.
The robed men drew their swords. Emilio took a stance as well. Protecting Cleo in the center of the bridge, he kept wary of foes on both sides.
... It was at that moment.
It wasn't elite knights but soldiers who rushed to their aid. The robed men clicked their tongues before running away.
"We're saved, Emilio."
Relieved, Cleo called over to Emilio. But Emilio didn't look so optimistic. His grip on his sword remained firm as he glared at the soldiers rushing over.
(Has the enemy donned a disguise?)
She felt awkward, doubting the soldiers who rushed to their aid, but if Emilia didn't let his guard down, she thought she would imitate.
The soldiers noticed they were being suspected and hurriedly stowed their weapons.
"We're, um... we've been assigned to guard the small gate beyond this point. We're on break right now, and we'd gone to the main road. Wanted to catch a glimpse of the princess off to the ritual. So anyway, we saw the princess and companion running and hurriedly rushed to your aid. My apologies."
The city was surrounded by walls, and apart from the main gate for standard use, there were other gates one could pass through. The sluice gate to let in the river water fit that description. There were a number of small gates, and in order to protect them, there were usually soldiers permanently stationed.
But it wasn't the sort place knights were deployed. If anything happened, they could seal the gates at a moment's notice, so such places were occupied by hired soldiers.
Cleo looked over their equipment and saw the plating the gatekeepers wore around their waists.
The large leaderish man boasted an unshaven face and looked especially wild. The slender man with the spear looked to be in ill health and somewhat unreliable. For the small fat man, a portion of his stomach even stuck out of the provided equipment.
The men looked suspicious by all accounts, but they were looking at them apologetically. As Emilio stepped out front, knights and soldiers began to appear behind them.
"It's true. They really survived!"
One of the knights who raced over was one of Cleo's guards. Seeing his face, she felt truly relieved. The small, fat man spoke with just a bit of pride.
"Hmhmhm, I thought this would happen, so I called out to the soldiers. I drew arrows on the wall along the way, making sure they could get here no problem. I mean, we got lost the hell of it."
"Not bad, soldier!"
"It's true. You did good, kid!"
The unshaven man and the tall man praised the small one. Seeing that, Cleo was at a loss for words. But it was certain they were allies. Holding up his sword, Emilio spoke.
"Looks like it's alright."
"Yes. It does seem they're on our side. I was one step away from cutting them."
Sheathing away his sword, Emilio looked at the three-man soldier party.
"Yes, I'm truly glad it never came to that."
A relieved Cleo was led right off towards the palace, protected by knights and soldiers. When she returned to the main road that had been suppressed, the knights had walked following the arrows the plump man drew. Looking back at the path she had rushed down too fast, the maze-like back alleys and the smells made her head spin. All the tensions she had never felt before had been put off until that moment.
There, the man in charge muttered apologetically.
"My apologies, princess. It's about the ceremonial tools, but they were destroyed in the attack. A bolt of magic struck the carriage directly, and they've all been rendered impossible to use."
Which meant the ceremony couldn't be held. The tools prepared specifically for that day were lost, and Cleo lamented she would be unable to fulfill her duty. When she had been born to fulfill her role, that was no longer possible.
"There can be no helping it. I'm sure father will prepare a replacement at once. We must exercise patience."
On Cleo's words, the knights made vexed faces as well. They couldn't fulfill their role. You could call it natural. Within all of that, Emilio along made a disgruntled expression.
In the royal palace of the Kingdom of Courtois, three knights temporarily recalled from the outer reaches showed their faces at the office of the knight brigade they were affiliated with.
Self-proclaimed charmer in his prime Captain Oldart gave a smile before those three. His gaze was mainly directed at the good Major Bennet. A female knight of the wolf tribe, and tamer of a water dragon, she was the highest-ranking officer of the three.
"Yeah, good work on your mission in the outer reaches, Major Bennet."
"Sir! It is an honor."
Enthusiastic about her work, Bennet boasted a short status and cute appearance, but sticking her chest out, she gave a splendid salute. The captain shifted his eyes to the side to look at the remaining two.
The first was Lieutenant Keith. Similar to Bennet, he was a dragoon who rode a water dragon, but the captain didn't want to get too involved with him, so he gave a vague compliment.
"Ah, Keith, you did alri-"
"Your words are too much for me! To convey my greatest delight, today let the two of us-"
"And finally Rudel."
Cutting Keith off early, Oldart finally looked at the real target, Rudel. The knight who rode a white dragon... a future archduke, a young man with both status and fame. Even within the elite dragoon brigade, he was considerably conspicuous.
From the moment of his enlistment, he kept creating legends, and he was a troublesome young man some called the new legacy. Of silver hair and blue eyes, he looked at the captain as a child would.
"Rudel... it's that. You need to work a little harder."
"Why is that!?"
From Oldart's personal reasons, his evaluation of Rudel was low. As Rudel fell into a slump, Bennet called over to him.
"Rudel, you're before the captain. Stick out your chest. If you're displeased with your evaluation, then put in the effort to change it. You've no time to be down. What matters is results."
On Bennet's words, Rudel nodded and straightened his back. There, Bennet nodded as well.
Seeing that relation of superior and subordinate, Oldart spoke to Rudel.
"This is why I hate you!"
The scene of the dragoon's idol-esque existence Bennet being kind on her subordinate Rudel was one Oldart couldn't bring himself to accept. From her... from Bennet's lovable appearance, she was a valuable existence doted on by subordinate and superior alike.
(And I'll tell you, the form of Bennet-chan fidgeting nervously after a subordinate calls her cute is the cutest!)
He was that sort of terrible captain, but he cut the jokes there. In order to talk about work, he pulled an envelope from his desk drawer. In it detailed a mission that wasn't thought to be particularily important.
"Now then, that's all for the jokes. I'm changing the subject, but Rudel, a separate mission has been prepared for you."
"Why is that!?"
"That's terrible, captain!"
This time Bennet and Keith raised their voices. Oldart breathed out a sigh as he continued on. Bennet didn't want her ideal subordinate Rudel to leave. Keith... after thinking that far, Oldart shifted his thoughts.
"I told you, I'm not joking. This isn't a long term mission. You know of the country of Celestia we've tied an alliance with? We were told to prepare a dragoon guard for them."
Placing the envelope on the table, Oldart produced a paper from it. On it, the details of the incident in Celestia were written out. Rudel accepted the paper and made a conflicted face.
"Based on what's written, isn't it bad for them to use a knight from another country?"
Oldart waved his left hand dismissively as he answered.
"With the attack, there's the civilians' feelings, you see. They want to give the image that they've pulled in a dragoon and they're working him to the bone. This is getting political, but it would be troublesome for Courtois if a small country dragged on past matters forever. Since it's come to that, they're sending in the flashy you and Sakuya to show them how much better we are! Or so the higher ups are thinking. Also, this and that happened, concerning the result, it would be better if we dispatched someone."
When it came to politics, Rudel had too little information to work with to make a decision, so he stuck the papers under his arm and gave a salute. Oldart was relieved Rudel hadn't declined the mission. If he did, with that dubious title of future archduke, it would spell trouble.
In that regards, it was a real help he was diligent in his work. While he joke about lowering Rudel's evaluation, he was rightly evaluating Rudel's work in itself. Even when flown off to borderland, he knew he was working hard in his duties and the region's development.
From Oldart's point of view, if only his status was removed, he'd be a proficient subordinate.
"But captain, Rudel has designated overseers."
Bennet brought up Rudel's overseers... the ones who followed him under the name of special inspectors, causing Oldart to recall those two female knights.
"Ah, those girls. Take them along, why don't you. No, definitely take them along. I'm anxious with Rudel alone."
"... If you're worried, should I go too? Even if I look like this, I'm more knowledgeable on etiquette than some foreign woman and elf woman."
When Oldart said he was worried, Keith stepped into the conversation. He got the feeling there was some wrath included in the 'woman' portion, and that was likely not his imagination.
"Rejected. I can't send you into an important allied country. Good grief."
To Oldart's exasperation, Keith was moved. Just how do you misinterpret that in a way so convenient to you, Oldart looked at Keith's expression and thought.
"Captain, you want me by your side so b-"
"Wrong! Don't get any closer!"
Oldart grew angry for real, and standing from his chair, he put his back against the window as he cried out. Both Rudel and Bennet looked over the two in wonder. But it was a mission, so Rudel looked over the contents of the documents once more. Perhaps Bennet thought the conversation was done as well, as she strayed over Rudel's side and confirmed the contents.
"If they're sending my subordinate, they'll need my signature."
"You're right. There's a line for your signature, Major. It's all yours."
"Quite right. Because I'm your commanding officer!"
Seeing Bennet rejoice over the words commanding officer, Oldart felt healed as he tried to do something about this situation with a dangerous individual closing in.
"Oy, Keith, don't cross that line!"
"Isn't it fine, captain? Just look over there, this is all part of superior, subordinate communication!"
"You fool, stay back!"
Oldart's office was quite chaotic.