| The sky the capital's residents looked up to was one of cloudless blue sky.
But a shadow stretched out over the many onlookers. The light was interrupted by the flight of dragon upon dragon, enough to cover up the sky. At times, the sun would peek out from behind the dragons, but the residents were left unable to say a single word.
The heroic forms of the beautiful dragons were led to fly across the sky in file.
It wasn't a flight formation, it looked like a single large flow. The movements of the dragons went alongside the plaza, causing many to imagine the sight of a large flowing river.
They didn't do any aerial maneuvers. The dragons that flew in line showed a flight without a string's breadth of disorder. And flying at the center was a dragon especially large, even among its peers, a large brilliant dragon of white.
Red, blue, yellow, green... Its form as it flew protected by a conspicuously large dragon of each species made it look like a king of dragons. Eventually, the dragons passed above the townsfolk, gathering over the palace and rotating around it as if to draw a circle.
Right above the palace stationed in the center of the royal capital, a crest imitating the form of a dragon was put on show for all to see. That crest was formed of the lines of dragons, and from within it, a single dragon descended.
A single knight in white armor, a blue mantle on his back, boldly descended to the palace alongside that dragon.
On the mutters of a girl on her father's shoulders, the father stared blankly. Once the small girl's cry brought the silence to an end, the residents directed their eyes at her.
"I saw it in a picture book. The demon lord will come, leading his army. His legions cover the sky as he attacks the palace."
On that day...
In the country of Courtois, a young man called the demon lord was born.
The palace was dark, a large hoard of dragons interrupting the sky above them.
The place Rudel descended to was the same place that had been decided on beforehand. As promised, he hadn't carried out any aerial maneuvers, so under normal circumstance, there wouldn't be and complaints.
"W-what is the meaning of this!?"
The first one to raise their voice was Aileen, protected by Fritz. The dragoons instantly took to the skies to protect the royal line and authorities. The difference in numbers was overwhelming, not a soul thought they would win.
Courtois had contracted with dragons from times of old, so long ago that many who feared the day the dragons would turn against them.
"We've invited in the rage of the dragons!"
"No way! They're not attacking."
"Who was it. Who did this!?"
In the chaotic palace plaza, King Albach raised his voice.
"Do not falter! Carry on the ceremony. White knight, black knight, come forward."
The unveiling was supposed to have the representatives come out before the king and kneel. There, the king called out to the knights. The whole goal was to show the residents of the capital the military might of Courtois. If the space devolved into chaos, then the country would grow chaotic as well.
"Let the orchestra play on. This is all per schedule."
Albach took lead of that chaotic place, having Aleist and Rudel- who had dismounted Sakuya- come out before him. The authorities and knights who could naught but look at the sky quieted their ruckus and faced the ceremony.
(... You've sure gone and done it.)
While he wanted to lodge a complaint or two, the king kept a tranquil expression as he called out to Rudel and Aleist.
"Splendid. I am pleased to be able to see the form of two such gallant knights this year."
"Sir! I take your words with the deepest gratitude."
"S-such words are wasted on..."
The two gave the responses decided on beforehand, but Aleist was confused. At times, he looked mindfully at the sky. He had taken off his helmet, holding it in his right hand, and it was his small fortune that had made him less conspicuous. If he wore it, then the twitching of his horns would alert the others of how mindful he was of the space above him.
(Even so, what terrible faces they've got. They're covered in wounds.)
As a result of their fights, there were marks remaining on their faces. While they had likely treated them, the treatment hadn't made it in time.
There were knights like this every year, but Albach never thought the two serving as representatives would be among them.
(Good grief, cleaning this up will be a headache.)
He was certain an urgent anti-Rudel countermeasures meeting would be called afterwards.
Once the ceremony ended, the knight brigades were supposed to disperse.
But after the wild dragons returned, Rudel was apprehended. Seeing Rudel taken off, Sakuya laid her rage bare.
The other dragons didn't try to stop Sakuya, so a situation where the knights fearfully surrounded her persisted.
When Sakuya roared, the knights in their best clothing uneasily took their stances. IT was a formal ceremony and they hadn't brought any decent equipment with them.
"C-captain! It's no good!"
"Don't give up! We are before his majesty's eyes!"
When it took courage just to stand against a dragon, Sakuya boasted the biggest body of them all. There was no helping the knights fear her.
It was the fault of the royal guard for forcefully dragging Rudel off. Their treatment of him put Sakuya into a rage.
"What about the royal guard!?"
"What are the dragoons doing!?"
There were dragoons who would only watch from around, but that was because their own dragons couldn't move. Oldart and Alejandro came up front to try to calm her down.
"Oy, oy, Sakuya-chan. Get too angry, and you'll sprout wrinkles on that pretty mug of..."
"You're definitely not trying, are you!"
Alejandro cautioned Oldart for his lack of motivation. Perhaps displeased at the wrinkle part, Sakuya roared out again.
Normally, these two would have accompanied Rudel, but the royal guard had driven them off. The royal guard asserted it was their jurisdiction, from Oldart's eyes, it looked like they were desperate for achievements.
"No, even if you ask me to work for those bastards sake, you know..."
"Fool, this is a problem related to the honor of the dragoons."
Oldart looked at Sakuya, he could see she really was angry. Their own dragons recognized Sakuya as boss, so he couldn't carelessly get close. While the difference in power was clear, more than that, the finer laws of humanity held no meaning to dragons.
Her contractor was receiving unjust treatment.
If Sakuya thought so, that was the dragon truth. On top of that, still young, Sakuya had problems with regulating her emotions.
(No way I'm dealing with a child this big.)
As he was at his wit's end, there a single high knight appeared. The one who brought her was Aleist, who had removed his armor. Escorting her halfway, he dispatched that single female knight before Sakuya.
The female knight was Izumi.
As the high knight appeared, her ponytail swaying, the others wondered what was going on and made a path.
"Sorry, pardon me."
Still in her ceremonious knight garments, Izumi parted the crowd and came forward. While Oldart tried to have her step back from the danger, Sakuya's behavior blatantly changed.
"Oy, young lady, any closer is... oh."
Sakuya who- until just a moment before- had been spreading her wings and roaring time and again, suddenly groaned and folded up her wings. And Izumi looked at Sakuya.
While the roars had stopped, the surroundings maintained their tension. In contrast, Izumi approached without getting worked up.
"Rudel is alright. So it will be fine... right. Rudel's strong, isn't he?"
Seeing Izumi call out to Sakuya, the surroundings were surprised. While it looked like she was simply talking to herself, the dragoons knew that scene boasted a different meaning.
Alejandro made a face of surprise.
"Is she holding a conversation? A knight who isn't even a dragoon?"
"That's rare, but it's not unheard of. I'm just thankful our big girl's grown meek."
Oldart shrugged his shoulders sending orders around for everyone to stand down. Sakuya obeyed Izumi and sat on the spot.
The knights released from their tensions started looking at Izumi with eyes as if they were viewing their messiah. The new recruits who sat down had haggard looks on their faces.
That was just how mentally taxing it was to confront a dragon.
(Well, it really is harsh when you're not used to it.)
Oldart called his subordinates, giving orders for everyone who wasn't keeping watch over Sakuya to return. Sakuya was now lying down, and it seems Izumi was approaching her head to talk.
"... A hole? No, I really don't think you should do that here... no, I'm telling you it's a bad idea."
Sakuya was a gaia dragon with a liking for caves. She was bored waiting, so she was probably telling Izumi she wanted to dig a hole.
Hearing that, Oldart and Alejandro were flustered.
"Y-young lady! Stop her with all your might!"
The palace was in chaos from Rudel's actions.
The urgently-called meeting was held with everyone still in ceremonious clothing. At times, they would hear Sakuya's roars, the vibrations resounding, even through the distant meeting room.
The meeting pertained to how they would treat Rudel henceforth.
He had done no more than appear taking some dragons along, but the fact he led so many wild dragons was the problem. According to the man in question, it was a one-time thing.
But it was unclear whether or not that was true. If he was up to it, couldn't he bring ruin to Courtois? That was what they feared. But they couldn't treat him poorly. Rudel's own status was one thing, but now he was the white knight and famed through the land.
In the worst case, there was no guarantee killing Rudel wouldn't invite in the retribution of the dragons. No, from Sakuya's state, it was thought that the possibility was high.
Once Rudel was shoved in a cell, the royal guard requested his transfer.
"Rudel-dono is dangerous. We cannot leave him in the charge of the dragoons. I beseech you to let the royal guard take charge of him."
Without any conspicuous military gains and with Fritz as their captain, the seeds of panic had been born. They didn't think they would have the princess backing them forever.
Albach looked at the executive who spoke in Fritz' stead, sensing his impatience.
"On top of his numerous outbursts of problematic behavior since becoming a dragoon, I think you have come to understand through today's expo. Rudel-dono is not properly being handled."
(So you'll handle him properly...? You'll pin down the white knight to obtain influence for yourselves? I think that's more trouble than it's worth.)
Seeing through the royal guard's impatience, Albach recalled Fina's warning to be wary of them. Even if you called him captain, Fritz held the authority of the head of a single brigade. If Rudel was placed under him, there would definitely be disputes.
They likely couldn't permit the fact the black knight was with the defenders. Even if he was on cleaning duty for now, it was certain he would work his way up.
Rudel was also a single knight, but at the same time, he was a future archduke. Staring ten, twenty years into the future, the royal guard were nothing but anxious. There was nothing to assure them Aileen would continue being their supporter in times to come.
Yet at the same time, they were rapidly holding power within the palace. They planned to make Rudel a part of that. To maintain that power, they needed a shrine greater than Fritz in value.
(This is getting troublesome. But...)
"I also endorse his transfer to the royal guard."
One of the ministers signaled his approval, he said they should just entrust and quarantine him to the royal guard. While it was an indirect statement, it was a proposal to keep him as little more than a pet for life.
(These guys are even more trouble.)
Among his ministers, there would many who would stay Albach's hand. While they were preparing for the Gaia Empire, it was a situation where he would have to do something about them.
(But right now, Rudel takes precedence.)
He feared punishing him too harshly, inviting the rage of the dragons. Everyone felt the same. As there were many who signaled their approval, Albach looked at Fritz.
"And how thinks the captain of the royal guard?"
Fritz stood from his seat and gave a bold declaration. It felt almost as if he was just speaking lines written for him beforehand. When looking at him as a single knight, he was competent, and the king couldn't wait to see how he would grow.
But from his ideals and standing, he couldn't' help but look unreliable. No, from Albach's point of view, Fritz was a hindrance.
"I will be able to contain Rudel. It is my belief it is much too dangerous to let him roam free forever. The problem lies in the individual's lack of self-awareness."
"Hmm. Then the royal guard can contain Rudel?"
By Albach's personal opinion, if Fritz actually had that much power, then he would be fine with leaving the matter to him. But when compared to Oldart, he seemed to fall short, and on top of that, he knew that Fritz was doing nothing but drink tea with Aileen.
Even if he was entrusting work to his subordinates, there should be a limit to that. While it seemed the royal guard wanted to take Rudel in, he got the feeling opinions were clashing within.
(The defenders have the black knight. But the royal guard can't contain Rudel. In that case, it's best to keep the status quo, but...)
Albach looked at Fritz and the other royal guard executives.
"Then will you be able to cope if wild dragons come as they have today?"
Fritz answered full of confidence. But there, the roars they could hear from outside ceased. Alback sent a nearby knight outside to confirm the situation.
He considered that Rudel might have slipped out, but he got quite an interesting report instead.
"Special inspection officer?"
As Izumi accepted the papers from her superior, she felt the urge to tilt her head at the contents they detailed.
A few days had gone by since the ruckus at the expo, and when she dropped by her workplace, she was called out by her superior officer. Her superior who no longer had any hopes for the future... the captain of the high knight brigade smiled as she sipped tea.
"Yeah, your special talents have been recognized."
"Special? But I don't have any special talents..."
Izumi didn't' think she had any talent distinguishing her from the others.
"You should be proud of the fact you were able to converse with a dragon you aren't contracted to and even sooth it at that. Even more so if the one you can converse with is that white one. I've heard you've held a friendship with her from your school days."
The papers listed Rudel as her target of inspection. Continuing on, she was to observe Sakuya as well.
"Well, your work will be taking you to the outer reaches of the kingdom, but your promotion has been decided."
A station on the outskirts was surely a strange promotion, but Izumi confirmed the contents in surprise. She was being treated favorably. While being enlisted in the high knight brigade, she was granted a level of authority.
On top of that, she was even granted the right to choose her own subordinates.
Even if her duty was in the outer reaches, it wasn't as if she was being sent off to some desolate place.
"... But what exactly am I supposed to do? I don't understand the point of just watching him."
"That's more than enough. You've seen it at the expo, you just have to stop a knight and dragon before they run wild. This is a job only you can do. No, to think a connection from your school days would help out so, this is fate."
Some part of the captain who had been doing nothing but paperwork lately gave off a sense of resignation. Izumi had no right to refuse, so she took the papers and exited the captain's office.
As she walked down the corridor, she was surprised she had suddenly been granted the authority of a major.
In the dungeon, by the light of a lamp, Rudel was writing a letter.
"Who's it to? Izumi-san?"
In front of the grid bars, Aleist had been stationed to watch over the white knight. He also had his regular duties to attend to, so he was wearing an apron. It fit him much too well; Rudel didn't have anything particular to say in regards to his attire.
"To my disciple. I feel bad for Luecke, after all. I'm writing to tell her not to trouble him too much."
"... I can't think of those as the words of the culprit who caused today's ruckus. Should I put in something as well?"
Shoved in a cell, Rudel seriously thought over what he had done wrong. He had been banned from aerial maneuvers, so he had restrained the others from doing them. Was it bad to fly in formation over the palace? As he mulled over that, he put the letter in an envelope and handed it to Aleist.
"I thought it was a success."
"No matter how you look at it, that was no good. There are complaints coming in from the residents of the capital, or rather, it's been considerably troubling with all the people coming in to confirm the truth of the matter. And right around now, his majesty included, the authorities and Fritz are holding a meeting."
Rudel wondered if he's caused them trouble again, but he found it strange the dragoons weren't participating in that meeting.
"Why is Fritz participating when our captain cannot? Come to think of it, it's strange for the royal guard to be there at all."
"I guess that's their authority in the palace? Princess Aileen is publically backing them, and a number of ministers are all for the royal guard, see. You've got to wonder what the world's coming to when tea duty and cleaning duty are holding office."
As Aleist derided himself, Rudel gave thanks about the matter with Izumi.
"You think? Well, whatever. More importantly, you were a big help back there. Thank you."
"... Hahaha, Sakuya was glaring daggers at me, though."
Aleist was giving a bitter smile, but when Rudel asked, he had instantly taken Izumi to Sakuya. It seems he had gone quite a bit past his station, and Rudel was thankful.
"I didn't have the slightest intent to resist. And yet those guys from the royal guard..."
Rudel made a displeased face. He hadn't the mind to resist. But the royal guard were much too eager as they pinned him down. From there, Sakuya flew into a rage, and he was in a state where he couldn't even hold a proper conversation.
Right now, Izumi was at her side, and it seemed she'd calmed down.
"Was Flan von Brains no good after all?"
Perhaps Aleist recalled Sakuya's resentment before she lost her memories as he fell into a slump. From Rudel's point of view, he understood she didn't particularly hate him. But he knew Sakuya did think of him as a rival.
At the academy, the two of them would fight over any and everything. Perhaps this was the vestiges of it. Even when she had been reborn without memories, Rudel felt that Sakuya was still there.
"The way I see it, it's closer to rivals. I don't think she hates you."
"I really must decline a rival relationship with a dragon."
Aleist's face was stiff.
Fina was slumped over the desk of her room at the academy.
She had been normal up until she returned from the palace, but from the moment she got back, she had been in this state.
The reason lay in the documents on the desk. One was torn up, another crumpled. But for the last one alone, she was carefully writing a reply without damaging it.
"Goddammit... that black hair."
Her guard Sophina looked at her master, cheering her up with a smile. Inside, she was delighted to see her master grow depressed when her schemes went amiss.
"It cannot be helped, princess. This is also Rudel-dono's request."
The torn paper was one Aleist submitted. Hearing Luecke's tale, he had put in his opinion as Lieutenant.
"That ornament, thinking he can complain to me..."
She was irritated, so she devised a plan to shove some more female knight in his platoon next year. The crumpled document was a report detailing Izumi's action.
"Even so, appointing that black hair as a special inspections officer... my plans are..."
She didn't know what was on their minds, but they had officially recognized Izumi as an anti-Rudel trump card. Sophina felt relieved. And she was also relieved Izumi had been ascended to a status where it was hard for Fina to lay a hand on her.
The last one was a report from Rudel, but it was more accurate to call that one a letter. It was a warning that cautioned her on unreasonably securing funding.
"Uuuurrgh, my fluff fluff land..."
"... That wasn't a joke?"
"No, once I got permission, I planned to actualize it. But if master's opposed..."
Pledging Rudel her heartfelt gratitude, Sophina took hold of Fina's response letter to Rudel. There, she informed Fina of the rumor she heard around the palace. For these sorts of things, Fina would listen to it as a single source of information.
"Come to think of it, have you heard the rumors surrounding Rudel-dono? It seems that ever since that display at the castle, he's being called demon lord more than white knight."
As Sophina gave a bitter smile, Fina expressionlessly cleaned up her desktop before getting back to work. She was listening, but she didn't stop her hands from moving.
Sophina swallowed down her true desires for her master to use her needlessly high processing power a bit more for the country's sake.
"Demon lord, eh."
"I was surprised at the display, and the palace is still busy with it. It seems they're going to leave him with the dragoon brigade as before, but the royal guard aren't staying silent about that."
"It would be crazier to leave him with a captain whose job it is to drink tea. Well, I'm sure my sister is making a ruckus, but... are there any movements?"
Sophina's eyes turned serious. She pushed up her glasses with the index finger of her right hand, letting them catch the light.
"This isn't confirmed, but it seems there's a faction approaching Aileen-sama. The bats from around the border."
"... Do you mean to say the traitors? Well, they're in a painful position out there, after all. I don't think it's strange for them to want to have personal connections with the empire."
"Aileen-sama's zeal for the royal guard captain's become a rumor around the palace as of late. Perhaps they think she'll be easy to use."
Sophina gathered information from her colleagues in the palace. The high knights were losing their power, but that wasn't the full extent of Sophina's connection. She also had her fellow marriage interview comrades.
While it didn't make her happy at all, Sophina's continued failures made everyone look at her with gentle eyes.
The faction she called bats were the nobles who held territory around the border. Neighboring an enemy country, the skirmishes were unbearable. But among them were some who would form personal connections with the empire to contain their casualties. To Sophina, they looked like traitors.
"There are sparks smoldering all over the place, and it won't be strange if the whole thing is set alight at any second."
"Should we move as well?"
"... No, let's wait for now. When the time comes, I'll put them to work whether they like it or not. Right, when the time comes."
Sophina turned to her master cleaning up the paperwork and after giving a tidy bow, she left the room.