| "Royal guard? I've decided to decline that one."
Hearing the rumors of the palace's movements, Eunius had come over to Rudel. He had heard they had prepared a gray dragon and entire organization called the royal guard for him. Before class began, he sat to Rudel's side, and hearing Rudel's reply, Eunius was surprised. Your dreams are coming true, is what he was about to say.
But Rudel's response was quick and easy.
"D-dude! When you'll get your hands on a dragon, why are you rejecting it!? You're not going to tell me you prefer natural ones, are you?"
"Natural? I do like wild dragons, but I like gray dragons as well. Perhaps I phrased it wrong... I did receive an order to participate in the selection of the royal guard captain. So I said I didn't want to unless they examined my qualifications to be a dragoon. When I did that, I passed their examinations in a flash. They're probably misunderstanding things over there, but my goal is to obtain a dragon before I participate in that event!"
In Rudel's mind, he had to obtain a dragon in the time space before the selection test took place, so he couldn't become the guard captain. Eunius couldn't forgive how those idiots at the palace who didn't know Rudel had probably just passed him through the examinations to soothe the tantrums of a selfish child.
"I understand well that those folks at the palace don't know a thing about you. That aside, are you going off to search for a dragon at once?"
Rudel thought a bit before shaking his head.
"No, I've only just learned of my own inadequacies at the tournament. I do want to hurry here, but preparations are important... I think I'll try for the extended break in the first term of our fifth year."
As he spoke with Eunius, Rudel thought over the time it would take him to get in control of his power. At the start of the second term was the royal guard captain selection test. Thinking of it like that, his time limit was cut off at a year.
Whether to think time was scarce or to be thankful he had so much time to begin with... Rudel was of the later. More than anything, Rudel was happy he had passed the examination to become a dragoon. He was overflowing with motivation.
"Ah, come to think of it, I have a promise with the tiger tribe after class. Want to come too, Eunius?"
As Rudel recalled something, Eunius felt somewhat dissatisfied. But over his worries, he decided to prioritize his intrigue. If his guesses were right, then this would be something quite interesting for Eunius.
"Sounds interesting. I'll be there."
"The royal guard's selection exam..."
(Is there really any point in making such an organization? Their duties overlap with the high knights' jurisdiction, and I'm sure their resentment will explode if the protection of the royal line is snatched up from them. Well, master's the white knight, so they'll probably step down.)
Fina heard out Sophina's report of what had been decided at the palace. Sophina didn't seem overly resentful, but she didn't seem happy about the foundation of an organization that appeared to exist only to say her own kind wasn't trusted. Fina could sense it.
"In the second term of next year, the selection exam will be carried out, this academy's students included. As long as you have knight qualifications, you'll be able to take part, so the number of applicants has grown considerably."
"Are you going to have a go, Sophina?"
(She lives for her work, so it's not a bad idea for her to try it. More than that, it would be funny if she appealed the fact that any more work would mean she'd have to give up on marriage. And I'll get a fluffier high knight to be my... oy, oyoyoy!!! This is my chance! What am I sitting back here for!? Master can be royal guard captain, and the members will all be fluf... yeah, not happening.)
Fina thought to create the fluff unit of her dreams, but she gave up as soon as she recalled her sister was at the royal palace. Between Aileen and Fina, if one had to say who was treasured more, Aileen's name would rise. Beautiful as she was with her flaw(?)/special skill(?) of expressionlessness, Fina couldn't help but be mismatched.
"... High knights cannot participate. This is an order from our captain as well."
Sophina informed Fina that none of the high knights would take part. This was also a form of protest, but with the birth of the white and black knights, it was also a form of resignation. That was just how much attention the existences of Rudel and Aleist were collecting at the palace.
"Participation is free. And abstaining is also free... so your organizations will never be able to cooperate."
(This is going to be a pain. Well, at this rate, the royal guard will be guarding the royal line on the surface, and behind the scenes, it'll all be the same as before, perhaps? Father's involved, so I doubt I'll have to do anything.)
"We will cooperate, but we do have our pride."
(No matter where he goes, master has his troubles... ah!)
"That master will become royal guard captain is already set in stone, right Sophina? But isn't the seat of vice-captain still open? Master is too inexperienced to ensure the prosperity of the royal guard, Sophina."
(Now what will you do. How will you respond? Will you spring at the chance to be alone with master, or will you give up... what sort of choice will you make?)
Just as Fina thought, Sophina reacted. She thought a bit, and her face began turning red. Laughing with, Fina expressionlessly enjoyed her form.
"T-that is one thing, but high knights c-cannot participate, so..."
"I see, how unfortunate, Sophina."
(Ooh, it's working, it's working! Are you irritated? You're irritated, aren't you, Sophina!)
"Don't lose boss!"
"Win for our, no, for the tiger tribe's future!"
"Dammit, Rudel-san's way too strong."
In the academy's training grounds, starting with the men and woman of the tiger tribe, an outstanding number had gathered to watch the match. A fifth year boy, representative of the tiger tribe, fought Rudel one on one. Both sides had requested a bare-handed brawl, and by that, both sides had removed their coats and met in an intense exchange of blows.
The tiger tribe representative, from his intimidating difference in height, everyone thought the battle would proceed with his advantage. But Rudel evaded into the bosom of the man's over-two-meter stature, challenging him without fear.
"Rudel has the advantage in speed and power. To a beastmen unskilled in the manipulation of mana, he's a mismatched foe against the current Rudel."
Looking at the fight, Luecke spoke, but Eunius offered a rebuttal.
"This is why you thickheads are... he's stronger, but when it comes to fists, that tiger has the advantage. Apart from reach, his sturdy body's a thread in itself, and when it comes to the martial arts themselves, Rudel's losing. When it comes to the gap in technique, the tiger tribe has the advantage."
Eunius explained how the tiger tribe man enduring Rudel's offense had the offensive. In truth, all of Rudel's blows had been blocked. Nearby the two spectators, Aleist also watched the battle in fear.
"No! That guy's got exceptional strength even within the tiger tribe! I wasn't a match for him. More importantly, you know... doesn't anyone here think we should stop this fight?"
"Why? This was a promise, right?"
You just don't get it, Aleist. This is a promise between men.
Neither Luecke nor Eunius would lend Aleist an ear. As his final home, Aleist turned to Izumi beside them. But the one who noticed his glance was the extra.
"What're you looking at?"
The former goddess to Izumi's side glared at Aleist.
"Not you! Just keep quiet a second, pudding for brains! ... Shirasagi-san, is it really alright to let them fight like this? Wouldn't it be better that they stopped?"
Watching over the serious exchange, Izumi answered without taking her eyes off of Rudel.
"It's alright. He has a secret move in store."
"... H-huh? I'm the strange one!? Am I the strange one!?"
Aleist mulled as he usually did, and to his side stood the girl who headed the tiger tribe. A hundred-and-eighty-centimeter body on the short side of the tiger tribe, and hair that could neither be called long or short. Her strong-willed eyes and tan skin characterized the girl Juju.
"You're not strange. You're not strange at all, Aleist!"
Being consoled did make Aleist happy, but he couldn't take his mind of Millia, who was similarly watching the fight. Millia was still staring at Rudel, and that she wasn't looking his way was a relief. Though it's true he was slightly dissatisfied with that as well.
"How uncivilized. Aleist-sama, what do you think of Rudel-dono?"
And standing to his other side was Seli. Her blond hair growing to her waist, the standing figure of the skilled swordswoman was a sight to be seen. Her skills were such that Eunius wished she was a man. And for some reason, she held affection towards Aleist.
"How? No, his style's savage or rather violent. More importantly, why are the tiger tribe women cheering Rudel on!? That's the thing that's mystifying me now, and even the other beast tribe girls are... Rudel sure is popular."
"That's not true. You're also highly popular, Aleist-sama."
"Yeah, Aleist is cool."
On those responses, Aleist mulled over how to respond. He was happy, but right now his heart was set on Millia. He ran away with a vague answer. And it was at that moment. The battle was about to reach its conclusion.
As the tiger man swung at him, Rudel stepped into his chest, grabbed his arm, and took a stance to shoulder him on his back. It was a shoulder throw. Normally, the tiger tribe man would never let him slip in, but his stamina was reaching its end from his prolonged fight with Rudel. He had made a moment's gap.
Flying through the air, the tiger man was slammed into the ground.
The battle ended as Rudel's win. Before the lines of tiger tribe men bursting into tears, Rudel and Izumi felt some pity. So there, they decided to teach with some conditions attached.
That dragon had wormed its way deep into the earth. It had taken an existing cave and tunneled in even further to make sure it would never meet another. Even bigger than dragons of the same species, it was a dragon who boasted magnificent power. At this point, it was nothing but bones with not a vestige of its former glory.
That dragon that had been born as a Gaia Dragon was different from the others, a dragon called a sub-species. Bigger than all the other dragons, its greatest characteristic was its arms. Its two arms were exceptionally large. Both were several times larger than its fellow Gaia Dragons.
And once that brought about difficulty to its flight, its wings had grown bigger as well. If one had to say, Gaia Dragons were largest from left to right, but when that dragon was put against its fellow compatriots, its body looked slender. Its horizontal width was the same, but as all its limbs were embellished, the body between them looked slim.
The remains of such a dragon, after hundreds of years had gone by, it had finally been unearthed by the three.
"... Oy, isn't this bad?"
Positioning itself as if the hide in the shadows, the boar looked into the depths of the dead dragon's cave. The bird also hid as it confirmed the situation.
'Is it miasma? There's hatred and envy swirling around here. Why did you come to such a place? Normally, this is what we would avoid.'
The black fog had mixed in with the darkness and could now only be known as a voice.
'I wanted a normal dragon too! But since all the dragons refused, we have no choice but to turn to our final means.'
'It's already over. Give up.'
'After putting on such a show, like hell we can pull back at this point!'
'You just said 'we', did you not!? Do not casually tossed us joint liability!'
'If we can no longer become one, then we must be individual existences. The responsibility is yours alone!'
While it may have sounded heartless, the boar and bird hadn't promised anything to Rudel. It was the black fog's arbitrary decision. The black fog ignored them as it continued its talk.
'Using the husk of this dragon, I shall become the dragon myself. If I do, then that means I honored the promise.'
'That's fine and all, but wouldn't that make you a sham?'
'He has a point. You're not as strong as a dragon. You'll just be a fake.'
'We won't know unless we try! Here I go...'
Saying that, the black fog approached the dragon. When it came to dragons, both their bones and flesh were valuable materials, so it was rare to find one's remains. While dragons themselves would occasionally show respect to dead dragons, they didn't show any interest towards their corpses. So there were those who made a living coming to the forest to retrieve them.
In such a situation, it was rare to find a corpse in such a complete state. However...
'I have a bad feeling about this.'
'There were negative emotions swirling around here from the start, and there's even more gathering. This is dangerous.'
The two of them thought the black fog would turn back. Unfortunately, their expectations were off the mark. From the depths of the cave, they could hear the black fog cry out.
'Wait, no, this is a bit... impossibbbbleee!!!'