| "S-so even the secret arts don't work..."
'It's all slimy and gross.'
Before Sakuya returned to the dragons' dwellings, Rudel tried applying the dragon petting skills he had devoted his being too. But if he pet her, she just said it was ticklish. The hidden technique was just gross.
Rudel looked at both his hands. He had polished his technique. On Lena's words, he had regained the love. But it didn't have the slightest effect on Sakuya. Before Rudel's eyes, he could see Sakuya calling the lotion disgusting as she played around.
Sakuya was an immature dragon born only recently. Marty's dragon said it would look after her a while, so it was decided she would temporarily return to the dwellings.
"W-what am... I supposed to do..."
"I've lost my motivation (What's with you, master... you'll happily be sent off to the outskirts? Are you an idiot?)."
As Rudel fell into a slump, Fina was on her room's bed, hugging her knees as she stared at the wall. As always, Mii and Sophina were loitering around. On that all-too-familiar scene, they no longer felt motivated to cheer her up.
"I even secured the funds. I haven't gotten formal permission, but I've already started things to motion... and yet, it's impossible for the captain to be absent, right!?"
Displaying her needless competence, Fina had built up an organization to oppose the royal guard, but here a miscalculation came out. As Rudel was thinking of heading off to the outskirts in the future, he easily denied Fina's request to appoint him captain.
"I'm supposed to be the princess of this country, right? Why do I get denied so easily? Are you telling me I fall short of that black hair!?"
Seeing Fina let off a black Aura, Mii finally came to console her.
"T-that isn't true, princess. You're beautiful and kind... there's no way you fall short of Izumi-san."
"Is it the breast? If there's one field I lose out to black hair in, it's got to be the breasts! I'm sure master likes them big! That's why he shows no interest in my transient chest!"
"No, I'm sure it's what's inside."
Fed up as she was, Sophina muttered at a level Fina couldn't hear. In all honesty, she did actually hear it, but to Fina, it was but a trivial detail so she left it be. Her first priority was Rudel. At this rate, she thought she might have to take black hair hostage to conquer Rudel.
"Black hair was aiming to be a high knight, was she not... if her clan is placing its expectations on her, I can use this. Sophina, call black hair here at once. I'll negotiate on the spot, and make sure she can't make light of me from now on!"
"That's not happening."
"Black hair, Izumi Shirasagi has already received a tentative offer to become a high knight. With the formation of the royal guard, our already-present shortage of hands only increased in severity. The paperwork has already gone through, and alongside her graduation, Izumi Shirasagi will become a high knight. Well, she has more than enough aptitude, and it was a decision made with her relations taken into account."
Due to the formation of the royal guard, Izumi's instatement as a high knight had been set in stone. The knights who served Aileen had been estranged from their ranks. All the while, a crevice was forming among the high knights. The high knights were displeased with the formation of the royal guard.
But speaking to results, a number none-too-small had found enlistment in that same royal guard. Greatly harmed by this result, the high knights' shortage of personnel only deepened the gap between them and the ones who had transferred to the royal guard.
With their shortage of personnel, it was only natural they would move to secure more. It was decided there were no problems with Izumi's abilities, and she was among the many new recruits they were going to enlist this year.
"Black haiiirrr!! (Dammit! If it's a tentative offer, I can't make any poor moves! If I push it and threaten black hair anyways, I'll have to erase her offer, and even master will grow suspicious. I-if master comes to hate me, my fluff utopia... my fluffadise will grow distant. Should I take the bet? Threaten black hair... but the risk is too high. For now, I should proceed with caution... right, I just have to offer a deal! With a deal that'll put me at as slight an advantage I can get, I'll threaten black hair! It'll be an official deal, so there won't be a problem!)"
There was another large reason Izumi was tentatively offered a high knight position. Her personal relations. The high knights had evaluated the fact she was a good friend with all of the Three Lords' eldest sons. She was seen highly as an individual capable of opposing the exorbitant Rudel
To the high knights who faced a drop in power, the ability to suppress the young ace of their rivals, the dragoons, was a large bonus.
"... You can't hide and threaten her either."
Sophina looked at Fina as she drove in the point. Her thoughts read, Fina panicked, but her face was expressionless.
"T-threaten? Your words do me ill, Sophina."
"Is that so? Until just a moment ago, you were all up to threatening. Well, I can see why you'd panic... but if you're worrying about Rudel, I think it'll work itself out."
Changing her posture to sit on her soles, Fina raised her voice as she looked at Sophina. Her expressionless face pressured her to go on, and Sophina ended up taking a step back.
"Y-you're too impatient. Try thinking about it. He's the eldest son of one of the three lords, and the white knight who contracted a giant dragon no one's ever seen before. There's no way the palace would ever send someone with such a degree and worth to the outskirts."
"You have a point. I had forgotten about that white knight and dragon bit. It seems no one's noticed. Master's true worth doesn't lie in such meaningless titles... hmm, no matter the era, you'll find great men who never receive the assessments they deserve."
Worn out, Sophina gave some vague yeahs in response to overcome the situation.
'I've realized my own ineptitude. I'm going on a journey. Don't look for me.'
Receiving the letter from Izumi, Eunius' hands were shaking. Not in fear, he was shaking in anger.
"T-that idiot!! Who does he think he is, going on a journey at such an important time!!?"
His rage wouldn't subside even after tearing the letter apart, so he let out a roar. At Eunius' rage-twisted form, there were some students who began to cower.
The location was the school cafeteria, and apart from Izumi who had brought the letter, Luecke was also there reading a book. After they'd finished their lunch, Izumi had shown Eunius the letter Rudel had entrusted to her.
The reason Eunius was so angry was that the individuals' tournament was close at hand. It was their last large stage, and there was a possibility the enemy he swore to defeat wouldn't even show up It was something Eunius couldn't bear to be.
"He certainly is an idiot, but whether Rudel participates or not is up to him."
Luecke, who was uninterestedly reading his book, wouldn't be taking part in the individuals' tournament. No, he had a reason he couldn't.
"I'm not participating either. Well, this year, I have a reason, so I can't take part."
"What do you mean either!? Rudel is going to participate whether he likes it or not! I won't let him run off with a win under his belt!"
The reason the uninterested Lucke couldn't participate was deeply tied into the tournament itself. More so, it was Rudel and the others' fault Luecke couldn't take part. However, something like that was irrelevant to Eunius. With Rudel's disappearance, he thought the individuals' tournament would become boring.
Izumi looked at the two as she let out a sigh. Gathering up the torn scraps of the letter, she tucked them away in her uniform pocket.
"Rudel didn't write that he wasn't participating. I'm sure he'll be back in no time."
Even though she said it herself, Izumi recalled Rudel's late arrival to the selection test. To Rudel, if there was something of more value to him than the individuals' tournament, then would he really take part? More than that, she grew curious about what basis he had to declare his ineptitude.
She suddenly recalled Rudel's murmurs.
'The secret art didn't work.'
"... Ah, this might be bad."
Izumi's shoulders fell as she recalled Rudel's conduct and began putting the pieces together. She had never even considered he might disappear just because his dragon petting wasn't going well.
But with Rudel, wasn't it possible? Once she explained the surrounding events to the other two, Luecke put down his book, while Eunius started shaking in anger once more.
"Let's see. Looking at the result, it's sufficiently plausible. If you ask me, I'm more surprised there was a dragon Rudel's petting didn't work on. From what I've heard, it seems his sister Lena was able to win a red dragon over."
"T-the bastard... we've come all the way here, and he fixates on petting!? Now's not the time for that! What he needs to care about is the individuals' tournament!"
"I agree wholeheartedly."
While the three of them worried for Rudel, Rudel had submitted the official paperwork to the academy to go on a journey. Petting various animals and rereading How to Pet a Dragon, it was a training without a definite direction. He walked as he thought over what he was lacking.
"Just what am I missing. I have the technique. I do love Sakuya. Then just what could it be..."
As Rudel earnestly mulled over it, when looked upon from the side, surely he was a refreshing sight. But the man himself was serious to no ends. He honestly worried.
As Rudel walked, three individuals stood to block his path and called out. Wearing different clothing than usual, 'twas Fina, Sophina and Mii. The other guards simply didn't make themselves apparent, they were properly stationed.
"You seem troubled, master."
"I told you I'm not your master. What's more, I've only just been reminded of my own ineptitude. There's no way I could take a disciple."
"Hmph, do you think you can run away with that reason forever? I heard you've already been initiated into the secret arts. From my, no from anyone's eyes, it wouldn't be strange for a master like you to have an apprentice."
As Fina bit on, Rudel decided she had a point. He didn't plan on taking a disciple, but it was true he had learned the secret arts. In that case, he thought he would have to make Fina understand he simply wouldn't take a disciple.
"Sure enough. But I cannot accept my current self. I must climb to greater heights, so I am unable to take a disciple. Do you get where I'm coming from?"
Hearing Rudel's words, Fina was expressionlessly convinced of her victory.
"Master, you'll never reach any heights like that."
"I'll admit you're splendid, for being able to regain the techniques lost for a hundred years. But try thinking about it. The way things are going, they will only be lost again. Even if another aspired for greatness, whether or not they could reach your height is..."
"And what are you trying to say?"
"Let me be blunt. Master, you're mistaken! If you don't let your craft be passed down and polished, you'll never rise any higher. The techniques made to be handed hand after hand will rot away in no hands but your own. If he saw you right now, then surely Marty-sama would lament. When a successor finally came to inherit his art, for that successor not to take a disciple... learn some shame."
Rudel couldn't understand why she was angry, but Fina's words did leave a deep impression on him. He thought of the feelings Marty had gone so far as to leave as a book. He thought and misunderstood. Surely Marty wanted it passed on...
The truth was much simpler. Marty simply wished to immortalize his love for his own dragon as a book. He overdid things and wrote of the technical details as well, but he stressed the words to his dragon, and at the beginning and end, he wrote love was the most important of all. He hadn't the slightest thought for the world to come.
If he had such intent, he would surely have reported such high-level techniques to the country. Fina had noticed that, but she had lied in order to deceive Rudel.
"I-I see. You're right. I cannot let all that's been built up collapse. I have to answer up to Marty-sama's expectations!"
"That's right, master! (Yay, he fell for it. Master sure is easy.)"
Inside, Fina was drunk on her victory, but Rudel's words left her in a daze.
"Then from here on, as you're to be my disciple, I'll call you Fina on all non-formal occasions. And also, I planned to use this journey to train. You're coming with me."
"Eh? U-um, master, I came to bring you back..."
"No backtalk! The only answer you need is yes. Now follow me!"
Fina walked at Rudel's back, and seeing them off the other two were left dumbfounded. From the start, this was an outing to drag Rudel back. They weren't at all prepared for a journey.
"What are we going to do about this?"
At Mii's anxious look, Sophina wanted to cry. It wasn't as if she could just scream, 'How should I know!?' so Sophina decided to negotiate with Rudel... as a result, it was decided the four of them would travel together.