| Among the fifth years awaiting graduation, there were many of them who had decided their future courses.
For this was an academy to nurture the Courtois Kingdom's future officials and officers. One would apply to the knight brigade they wanted to enter, and if they didn't get in, they would be sent around to wherever was thought to be lacking in personnel.
Those with top academics were chosen out every year and instated to the posts they desired. To the others, they would receive notices that they were accepted to their second or third choices.
The final extended break was the final chance for these students to spread out their wings. At the same time, there were many students who caused problems during that period and had their tentative offers revoked.
Around this season, the bureaus that managed the Courtois Kingdom's human resources prayed that the students didn't cause any problems as they decided their stations.
The positions for those with top grades were usually decided before the break. But this year, there was a bit of a problem.
... It was Rudel.
While he had obtained a dragon, he held a vital fixed position in Courtois called white knight. You could say it was only natural there were arguments to be had over his placement. The higher-ups could have decided, but the problem was Aileen. The early plan they set up was for him to be captain of the royal guard.
But now, Fritz had been selected as captain. Alongside his graduation in two years' time, he was to take his captain seat.
Aileen, who saw Rudel as her mortal enemy, gave an order through the minister to station him as a rank-and-file of the royal guard. But there was an even bigger problem... it was Fina.
Because Fina wanted to make him captain of the defenders she had established, she brought out the king and queen's name to order it so. There were signatures from a number of ministers, and it looked like their side held the advantage.
But the biggest problem of all was Rudel. The man himself had rejected his offers from both knight brigades, and selected dragoon.
Human resources was in tears.
In a conference room of the palace, representatives of all the knight brigades had gathered to discuss the placement of Rudel alone. Those charged with HR distributed the documents they prepared before promptly starting the meeting. They didn't have the time to spend on Rudel alone, and there were still students whose placements had yet to be decided.
"Well then, I'd like to start the conference. As you can see from the documents, the opinions of the higher-ups are divided, so this time, we wish to hear the opinions of each brigade..."
As the HR representative tried to continue on, the vice-captain of the royal guard raised his voice. His voice wasn't that intimidating, but he couldn't help but sound condescending.
"The assembly has already decided to move towards stationing him in the royal guard. Is there really any problem with that? I do think the other knights will be troubled to deal with him."
There, this time, the rep of the defenders stuck in his mouth.
"Making a captain of the white knight is one thing, but you'll register him as a simple knight among many? There's no helping the crown be against it. There were many opposing views at the assembly. Well, I personally want him to come over to the defenders, but the problem is the dragon. The defenders don't have the necessary facilities to make use of a dragon."
While it seemed Fina was fixated on Rudel, Aleist's instatement to the defenders was practically set in stone. It was plainly visible that those around would be opposed if they moved to obtain Rudel as well.
Like Fina had tried to collect a white and black cat, Aileen was trying to get the white and black knights under Fritz. The sisters may have been surprisingly similar, the country's face wouldn't accept that idea. Getting the queen on her side, Fina only had to whisper, 'A commoner knight is trying to get the two symbols of this country to his beck and call,' to make her greatly opposed.
While they felt sorry for Fina, the defenders had given up on acquiring Rudel. If the man applied, they would have accepted him, but even so, he had applied to the dragoons, and there was no changing that.
Once the topic of dragons came out, the dragoon captain offered his opinion. This year, the dragoon captain and vice-captain were retiring, and for a while, the unit would be dedicated to raising its new members.
"It was a gaia subspecies, was it? Sure enough, I can't think any of the others will be able to look after it. When it comes to handling dragons, it will be too much for any other brigade to handle. We'd quite appreciate if the royal guard returned the personnel they borrowed soon."
Fritz' dragon was being managed by the royal guard. But the ones actually looking after it had been borrowed from the dragoons.
"Hmm, the royal guard is the shield of the crown. Unlike you lot, it won't have to fight. As long as the dragon appears at ceremonies, it won't be a problem."
"Though it's a dragon far more splendid than your own captain's."
The high knight captain spat some cynicism at the royal guard's vice-captain. The two of them had the standings of former subordinate and superior, and the man had much to say of his former subordinates who had betrayed the high knights.
The charge of HR endured the urge to let out a sigh, putting together the opinions of each brigade. The dissatisfaction towards the royal guard, and the defenders' situations caused Rudel's wishes to be granted.
"Then by majority vote, Rudel-dono shall be stationed with the dragoons. We express our deepest gratitude for all of you taking time out of your busy days to..."
Once he finished talking, the HR charge hurriedly collected up the documents and left the conference room. Even seeing that, there weren't any knights who thought it disrespectful. They all knew that right around now, the HR department was frantically modifying placements under their demands.
While each knight brigade sought out proficient personnel, the students were fully enjoying their final vacation.
Spending her break at the academy, Izumi held the letter from the palace in her hands, a slightly sad look on her face. It was written that Izumi's qualifications to be a high knight were accepted, and her enlistment had been decided.
After graduation, while she wouldn't hold a territory, she would be given the noble rank of a Baron in Courtois. Even if she was to be called a Baron, she had no land to look after, and she was merely recognized as a noble. In exchange for receiving the country's pledge of nobility, she gained a large number of obligations.
Izumi had gotten what she wanted in her hands, but when it came to writing a letter to her family, she grew sad. It was what she wanted. But accepting it made her parting with Rudel feel all too real.
She had been able to investigate it to an extent while she was at the academy. Entering the Arses House's wing would be close to throwing away all the status she went to such lengths to obtain. With the Arses House that looked down on demi-humans and other races, the Shirasagi House had no future.
"I should just throw away my house, is what I should have said. But I think that's impossible for me."
The head of the Shirasagi House would be the high knight Izumi. In order to pass down her baron status, she would have to prove a certain level of loyalty to the country. Either some great achievement or over ten years of service to the high knights... she couldn't pass it on immediately.
In her room at the dorm, Izumi muttered to herself. To her house, she wrote a businesslike letter saying her instalment as a high knight had been decided, and another one about her feelings. She wrote one of each.
Recalling her family, she imagined what actions her father might take. Izumi was the only one recognized as a noble. Her family only had the rights to inherit it. If they were standard nobles, it wouldn't be a problem, but there were large problems when it came to houses that were only just set up.
In order to obtain connections between Houses, Izumi would have to marry into a noble house with a history in Courtois. Her other siblings couldn't do it. Izumi would be married, and one of her siblings would succeed her Baron name.
Izumi recalled the faces of her little brothers. Perhaps her relatives would have something to say too. Once she finished writing her letter, she opened the window to air out her room.
As the cold air surrounded her, she felt her train of thought clearing up. But even in her cleared head, Izumi couldn't find an answer.
"Hah, I want to see..."
It was the moment she was about to mutter Rudel's name. A shake as if an earthquake had broken out, and a strong wind caused Izumi to lean out the window to see what had happened.
A little distance from her window, a smoke cloud had risen. Once the fumes cleared away, a white dragon... Rudel on Sakuya's back approached the girls' dorm.
As Sakuya waved her large hand, approaching on two legs, Izumi felt some vestiges of her past self. But without any memories of when she was human, the current Sakuya was a dragon... the collateral damage was nothing to scoff at.
Leaping out of the window in her loungewear, Izumi made for Rudel and Sakuya.
"What are you doing, Rudel!?"
To make sure Sakuya didn't step on Izumi, who had come to her feet, Rudel issued an order for Sakuya to stop. He spread out the papers he held so carefully in his hands, turning to Izumi and crying out.
"Izumi! I did it! I'm finally, I'm finally a dragoon!! The notice came last night, but I couldn't wait until the end of the break. I called Sakuya over, and had her come all the way to the academy!"
'God, hear me out! He called me all of a sudden, and I've been flying nonstop since yesterday! I'm tired!!'
"Good work, Sakuya. As expected of my dragon! I love you."
'Oh, that's all you ever say.'
Before Izumi, Rudel's delight was exploding as he leapt from Sakuya and landed. Understanding the situation, Izumi sent the dismounted Rudel a warm smile.
"Good for you, Rudel. So now you're the dragoon you always wanted to be."
Rudel had grown to be more of an adult than when they had first met five years back. He had grown in height, and no youth remained in his features. But his eyes alone were the same as ever.
The eyes and smile of a child hadn't changed one bit.
"Yeah, finally... that aside, what about you, Izumi?"
"Me? Ah, I got an offer from the high knights. I took the interview and exam, but maybe I never thought I'd actually pass..."
As Izumi made a bit of a lonely face, Rudel grabbed her shoulders. As she opened her eyes wide, Rudel directed her a smile.
"So your dreams came true too, Izumi! With this, we've both accomplished our dreams at the academy... then, let's go!"
"We'll ride Sakuya there. Your house is fine too. I'll take you wherever you want! Ah! But if possible, make due with someplace inside Courtois..."
Around the end, Rudel's words grew weak, and Izumi ended up laughing. Sure enough, it would be a huge problem if Rudel rode his dragon off to a foreign land.
Perhaps only just remembering Izumi's hometown was in the Orient, he scratched his head apologetically. Izumi definitely did want to return home, but for now, she just wanted to be with Rudel.
"You're right... but is Sakuya alright?"
There were dragons who would refuse anyone apart from their contractors from riding their backs. Recalling that information she had heard from Rudel, Izumi looked up at Sakuya for confirmation.
'Izumi is okay. But Aleist is no good!!'
Sakuya assented to Izumi riding her back, but for some reason, she screamed out that Aleist was no good. Rudel tried asking the reason, but Sakuya would only say it was psychologically impossible.
"Is it that? Perhaps she really did just hate being called Flan that much. She doesn't have the memories, but perhaps the hatred alone remains. I also tried naming her Flan Alamode and Mogamon. I should be careful from now on."
While Rudel calmly thought over it, Izumi muttered in her heart that Flan Alamode was going too far.
"Well, there's no changing the past. Then shall we be off?"
Embracing Izumi tight, Rudel leapt right onto Sakuya's back. Couldn't he just use his wind magic to fly through the sky? To Rudel who boasted enough technique to make one misapprehend so, it was an easy task to lift and move a single person.
"Eh? H-hey, wait a moment, Rudel!"
'Here we go~!'
By the dragoon and dragon who wouldn't listen to what she had to say, Izumi was dragged off in her dressing gown for a walk through the sky.
In the Gaia Empire, Askewell and Mies' preparations to invade Courtois were gradually underway.
"At soonest, around a year?"
"Yes. But rearing the wyvern squad will still take some time."
In his office, Askewell looked over Mies' report as he thought over his trump cards in the Courtois invasion. He couldn't help but be lacking in hands when it came to ogres alone.
And the trump card he had urgently prepared to stand against the dragoons... were wyverns. They were wyverns brought forth in the same way as the ogres, and truly faithful steeds.
For any military man with a level of talent, it was possible to ride one.
But Askewell wasn't satisfied yet. The revival of the two great knights in Courtois made it only natural, and there were some within Courtois who had noticed his movements.
While it couldn't be called sufficient, Courtois was laying out countermeasures. And more than anything, Askewell's instincts were telling him that things would be dangerous like this.
"Mies, how many 'Gora' will you be able to prepare?"
"Gora!? But didn't you say those ones were dangerous..."
Boasting four arms, they were called the strongest monsters on land. Those were the gora. Their heads and torsos were close to humans, so they were also called giants. Not found in Courtois, they were the gaia empire's greatest enemy.
Their form, rather than an enlarged human, was closer to a giant monkey. When their heads and torsos had no hair, for some reason, their arms and legs had a thick coat.
Their close-to-humans heads were warped in sinister expressions. But the biggest problem was their size. Those large builds that surpassed twenty meters... there were individuals out there equal to, or even greater than dragons in power.
On top of that, their ferocious temperament made coexistence impossible.
A large reason they didn't exist in Courtois was the dragoons. In the past, the dragoons had subjugated every gora in the country to protect the peace of the land. But there were still gora in the empire.
Gora boasted a certain level of intellect, and they wouldn't approach Courtois where the dragoons still lived. Askewell had tasted the dread of a gora hunt a number of times.
It wasn't just their power, their knowledge was the problem. With their large builds, the fact they could use tools troubled the empire to no ends. That they were few in numbers was the empire's salvation. But even so, they would put out many casualties each year.
"If we use the gora, there's no telling what will happen to Courtois' soil."
"Even so, Mies. At this rate, we're going to lose. Our wyvern units might be raising their polish, but we're up against the long history of the dragoons... numbers alone won't be enough."
The empire was betting on this time's invasion of Courtois. The strengthened ogres they pushed themselves to obtain, and their enhanced wyverns... the maintenance fees alone were considerable.
"... Five, no, perhaps seven might be possible. Any more, and just maintaining them will no longer be possible."
"I see. There's no problem with the number of ogres and wyverns. As long as we can get our hands on some gora, we should be able to manage."
"Is that alright? The gora are... vicious. If we take one wrong step, and err in our control...!"
"Don't worry. At worst, we'll just use them out. It would feel sickening for me to keep one too close."
They were an existence all knights and soldiers of the empire detested. That was the monster called gora.
Adding power to the empire was an important thing for Mies. But it was almost as if Courtois was getting stronger, and the empire was adding onto itself as a postscript. She couldn't help but get that feeling.
There was no deliberateness to it. Let alone that, the research that had been carried over several decades was reaching its end in only a few years. Could it be that the heavens had allied with them to attack Courtois?
Among the researchers Mies led, there were some who had honestly come to believe it.
It was simply that unnatural, how the empire augmented its forces.
The plot of the world went on, as if to heat up its final battle. An ending no one wanted was approaching for all eyes to see.
It was all to make a hero of the protagonist... and the start of the final chapter, the birth of the hero, would open its curtains alongside Rudel's death.
The empire would lose, and the kingdom would face massive casualties. The setting was showing its last struggle to lead the world to the way it should be.
Elsewhere, one who had noticed the movements of the empire... Fina was losing her temper in her room at the palace.
As one who had noticed their movements, she had unknowingly put Askewell on guard, but right now, her head was full of Aleist.
Of course, it wasn't love.
After Millia was successfully obtained by the defenders, Aleist volunteered to join himself. That much was just as Fina planned. But it was here that Fina had gone too far.
Obtaining Aleist and putting checks on the royal guard had made her go lax.
She knew that her real objective, Rudel, would apply to the dragoons without any hesitation. Even so, she thought he would come to the defenders. In truth, she planned to use her mother, the queen's, power to twist the defenders up.
But obtaining Aleist called all her plans to go awry.
After obtained Aleist, the commanders on site grew wary of the antipathy they faced from other knight brigades.
"Goddammit. They calculated my personality and had Ness write the report... damn, I can't even get angry like this."
The report had been put together by Ness, who had been stationed in the defenders under Sophina's orders.
'We failed, meow. Forgive us, meow.'
"I can't get angry at a fluffy!! Shit! I went and got too greedy, but obtaining Aleist is now rearing its head... that plague!! I'll be working him to the bone once he comes to the defenders."
To Fina, Aleist was a plague, but from Rudel's point of view, he was the messiah. Rudel's standing was even higher than Aleist's.
On top of hailing from an archduke house with ties to the king, his strength was said to be strongest in the academy. The queen knew him well, and considering the palace's face, they wanted to have him as captain of the defenders. Rudel's instatement into the defenders itself brought with it talks of raising it to an official brigade.
When the palace was preparing itself to accept him, Fina's greed caused the site commanders to regulate her. That Rudel was able to become a dragoon was because of Aleist's instatement to the defenders.
Aleist himself didn't realize a thing.
But to Fina who knew the surrounding situation, what crushed her plan to make Rudel captain of the defenders was undoubtedly her own conceit and Aleist.
"Don't screw with me, dammitttt!! Having come so far, master is to leave my hands...! Just how much do you think I had to prepare for this!!?"
Fina was losing her mind, but she was able to understand the decisions the commanders had made. If she hadn't grown greedy, the plan would have succeeded. So she was even more troubled over where to smash her feelings into.
In a place he didn't know, Aleist had saved Rudel. And because of that, he got Fina's eyes on him...
Like that, because of Aleist, Rudel's path to be a dragoon had been opened.