| "I'm sorry, you even carried my luggage."
High in the sky, Izumi rode aboard Sakuya's back, calling out to Rudel's back.
They were on the way to Beretta, in the outer reaches of the kingdom, and Izumi was accompanying Rudel to his station as a special inspector.
"Don't worry about it. A weight increase of this extent is meaningless to Sakuya."
Izumi's heart ached, seeing Sakuya let out a considerably pained voice. As a subspecies of gaia dragon, Sakuya had a merit of being able to carry large loads of cargo. Even a normal gaia dragon's loading capacity was incomparable to the other dragons.
For that reason, when they flew from the capital, they were ordered to take a large load of supplies with them.
They were headed to a land that had only begun to be set up, and the town's present state was one where more goods were insufficient than not.
A blue sky spread far and wide to bless their departure, but Sakuya was pained by the luggage fastened onto her. They had to put in a number of breaks on the way, and Izumi wondered whether the load was simply too great.
(A number of custom tailored bags on her back, two shoulder bags per side... those bags look custom made as well...)
By the way, Izumi and Rudel's personal bags were strapped to her neck. It was pitiful to look at her, but Rudel was constantly calling out to Sakuya.
"Do you want to rest, Sakuya?"
"Don't force yourself. We still have time before I take up my post, so you can take it easy."
'Sakuya will do her best.'
Watching Sakuya desperately move her wings, Izumi stroked her back.
"...... I apologize for ruining the mood, but I'm here too."
Izumi and Rudel turned to find Millia sitting with an irritated look on her face. Right, Millia had been scouted into becoming Izumi's subordinate.
From the start, it was impossible for one person to fulfill the inspector role, and she had to choose someone. So Izumi had called out to all her acquaintances. But once they learned the job was keeping watch over Rudel, her friend and acquaintances all declined.
(No, I know the real reason, but...)
What's more, they were declining out of good will. In order to leave Izumi alone with Rudel, they had acted out of virtuous intent.
Only Aleist volunteered and pleaded to be her subordinate. That was probably because of Millia.
(We're really not like that.)
Breathing a sigh, Izumi felt a little worried that the subordinate she finally managed to obtain was Millia. She thought she would decline, but contrary to her expectations, Millia promptly accepted the position. While Izumi knew she hadn't given up on Rudel, it wasn't her place to caution her on that matter.
(I hope nothing goes wron... no, I guess that's not happening.)
Aleist already wanted to run away from the palace... she recalled his face when his subordinates, the female knights, forcefully dragged him back.
Whether he wanted to become a special inspector because he hated cleaning duty, or if he wanted to chase after Millia. Izumi noticed he was acting on both reasons.
(That Aleist is definitely causing a problem.)
"Do your best! Do your best, Sakuya!"
'Aaaah! My wing is cramping!!'
In contrast, this side was somewhat heartwarming, thought Izumi. Even when there was a woman behind them who followed through conflicted emotions, Rudel and Sakuya were the same as ever.
... Wing is cramping.
"Wait! That's bad, you should land at... nwaaaaaaaah!"
Izumi's cry resounded across the sky.
In the end, they arrived at port town Beretta the next day.
Arriving just barely in time, Rudel left the unloading of the luggage to Izumi, hurrying to the knight station alone.
Even if it was called a port town, it was originally a place without anything. Migrants who volunteered from the capital and major cities were working hard to establish a port.
In such a situation, it was impossible to prepare a station for each individual brigade. In that land where everything was held in insufficiency, defense was left to a platoon of knights from the outer reaches, and two dragoons.
Walking down the path lined with brick-lain houses, Rudel gazed at the mismatched townscape as he made for the station.
On top of the simple-made houses, the paths were exceedingly bad. The people he passed by were making somewhat enervated faces.
(Is the situation worse than I thought?)
Both the Kingdom of Courtois and the Gaia Empire were countries you could say were based around magic. That meant that if you used magic, the work that a single person could do grew immensely. The craftsmen all made use of some sort of magic, spreading its grace.
But at the same time, the cities that had existed for ages had their hands full with simply maintaining their side. Magic was convenient, cities would grow with ease. But thinking of maintaining them, each city had come to its limit.
It was for that purpose that new lands were being claimed, and a port town was set up to obtain marine products.
But from what Rudel could see, it didn't look like it was going so well. This wasn't simply due to the difficulty of land cultivation. While they could use magic, in the end, that was naught but the power of man. And this was a land that had been uninhabited to that point.
There were monsters that saw it as their home, and the mana reserves of the people would be chipped down in combat. Unlike the tempered knights, even if a layman could use magic, that had its limits. Despite that, if an enemy came out, they had no choice but to fight for their lives, and looking at the result, their plans weren't going through.
After arriving at the station, Rudel presented his identification papers to the soldier on watch.
It seems he was someone recruited on site, his service was sloppy.
"U-umm... You're a knight, are you? What business have you come for today?"
"I'm supposed to be stationed here, starting today. For now, could you let me meet the person in charge of the area's dragoons?"
Rudel grew anxious over whether this nervous soldier would be alright, but from the back of the station, the soldier's superior came out. He was probably the leader of the knight platoon.
His body was on the plump side, but his eyes were considerably sharp.
"You didn't hear!? My apologies. Bennet is off overseeing construction at the harbor, so if you want to see her, you better head down there. Ah, and I'll take your paperwork."
"... Is that alright?"
Rudel had some resistance to handing his forms to a knight of a different jurisdiction.
But the other side laughed.
"Those sorts of regulations don't pass through over here. We're in charge of all paperwork."
Handing his forms to the knight giving a dry laugh, Rudel made for the harbor. Even without a guide, he decided he'd be able to speak as long as he went towards the spots under construction.
The town itself wasn't too big, and he wanted to get a good look over it.
"Master should have arrived around now."
Now a fifth year, Fina looked out the corridor as she muttered.
Her guard Sophina sought confirmation on the dragoon matter.
"This is just as you've planned, isn't it? Did you station those water dragons beforehand in preparation for this?"
Before it was decided Rudel would go to Beretta, Fina had shuffled around the jobs of two water dragons. Officially, it was for the sake of the settlement that wasn't growing as planned.
"Perish the thought. Even I can't read that far ahead. If I could, my Fluff-fluff Land would already be under construction... master, if only master would move according to my plans."
Only Sophina could understand she was truly vexed.
(If only she wasn't like this.)
"Well, I did change their positions, but if you ask how much meaning that action held..."
Fina had prepared numerous anti-empire measures, and the dragoon dispatchment changes was only one of them. She stationed the proficient ones close to the empire's border.
With no authority of her own, Fina could only use her father Albach. But even Sophina could keenly sense the weakening of Albach's political power.
When she wanted to prepare for the empire as soon as possible, Albach was unable to move. If Fina didn't move herself, it seems they wouldn't even get any decent information. The kingdom was done for, the fact she occasionally thought so was Sophina's secret.
"I was sure you simply intended to send a female knight of the wolf tribe over to Rudel."
The individual Sophina brought up in jest was a woman of the wolf tribe contracted to a water dragon, 'Bennet'. While there were numerous feline demi-humans around Fina, there weren't any of the dog or wolf tribes. That's why Sophina said it as a joke.
Honestly, she never thought such a thing. It was certain that woman was a proficient dragoon... however.
"O-of course not. There's no way that could be true. Now let us hurry to my next class."
"What is it? Do you intend to make me late, Sophina?"
"Your next class is that way."
As Fina turned right at the T-shaped hallway, Sophina pointed towards the left passage. Expressionlessly and silently, Fina walked down the path Sophina instructed.
Confirming her surroundings, and seeing there was no one around, Sophina ordered her subordinates to fortify the area. Those female knights surrounded their guard target Fina.
And... Sophina grasped both Fina's shoulders to ask.
"So how is it really?"
"... Hmm, looks like I can't lie to you."
Giving up, Fina began reciting the truth. It was just as Sophina had considered as a joke.
"Female knights of the wolf tribe are exceedingly valuable. There are few to be found among all the knights of Courtois... without getting her in his hands, do you think master could ever become the king of fluff? No, that's impossible. In order to make my master the fluffmeister, Iiaaaaiaa!"
Around the end, Sophina started shaking Fina back and forth, her subordinates didn't stop her. What irritated her was largely Fina's use of the term fluffmeister.
(This girl definitely thought it was clever the moment it came out of her mouth.)
Her glasses misaligned, her breaths short, Sophina shook Fina. It was a scene to make one's blood curdle.
"Do you think this is a fluffing joke!? The one who said we're in an important period was you, princess. Get a grip already!"
Once the shaking stopped, Fina remained expressionless, but to Sophina, it looked like her face was more prim than usual. When she thought she was going to make an excuse...
"You must change that way of thought, Sophina. It isn't that I am handing a fluffy to the fluffmeister, the fluffies are leaping into my master's hands. I never really thought he would be going to the wolf tribe's place, but this must be fate. Fluffadise is telling my master to become the fluffmeisteeeeeEEer!"
Sophina shook her back and forth once more, she continued shaking her until just before class was to begin.
Meanwhile, the teachers who surrounded the headmaster in the staffroom held bouquets of flowers in their hands as they directed smiles.
"Put a stop to it, people! What you are trying to do is a violation of school regulation!"
But only for the headmaster putting up resistance, his face was pale as he refused their proposal. Of course he would, the banner draped over the staffroom read:
'Congratulations on Your Third Term as Headmaster'
Normally, headmasters would swap out after two terms, at longest. And yet, his surroundings were informing him his third one was set in stone. The headmaster couldn't understand.
(Why? They were normal up to yesterday, were they not! I was already preparing to pass it on!)
He recalled his preparations to hand over the role, the preparations he had carried out thinking these would be his final days. By the graduation of the generation of super problem children, he had returned to those nostalgic school days of times passed.
A minor problem was the fact Fina was a surprising problem child herself. In the dead of the night, she would let out strange sounds as she did paperwork, and she would skip class to wander outside the academy. Apart from that, it was the same as before... no, thinking of how there were fewer intruders in the girls' dorm, it could even be said it was more decent than before.
"Hahaha, what might you be talking about, headmaster! There is no such regulation in the academy."
"All our staff have been deeply moved, working under such a wonderful headmaster."
"It was a unanimous decision."
While everyone was laughing, their eyes were not.
"There's such a thing as a tacit agreement! And I told you I was ready to retire! (These guys are lying. Why. What exactly happened to them!?)"
The headmaster looked at his aid, the deputy headmaster. The man was at an age where, if he didn't become the next headmaster, he wouldn't have another chance. The headmaster knew, when his own second term was decided, the man had been quite vexed. But now, "I'll do my best to support you," he muttered with a smile.
"... Did something happen?"
The headmaster looked at a weak-willed teacher. That teacher had caused a problem before, and he had stuck up for her. So he knew she wouldn't lie to him.
As the surroundings returned to silence, the truth the headmaster's stare drew from that teacher was a dreadful one indeed.
"T-the list of next year's freshmen has come in."
"I'm sure it has. For young nobles, they get their enrollment forms done nice and early. It shouldn't be a problem for it to finish up around this...! It couldn't be."
"My deepest apologies! I... I saw it. Rudel-dono's sister of another mother, I saw the devil... I saw the Rudel-dono in her!"
The staff members spoke of their memories from when Lena once came to the academy. The form of a brother doting on his sister was heartwarming, but the problem lay in her statements.
'I want to fight Eunius-san.'
'The academy is a place to pick fights.'
'Do you think I'll be able to destroy a facility too?'
The teachers' dramatized memories spread along with her finalized enrolment. The appearance of Rudel-female-version had brought a complete change to the peaceful staff room.
As a result of the urgent discussion that followed, talks came to the idea the headmaster would do something about it. It was a result of the headmaster's ability to handle things needlessly well.
"Ah, it's impossible for me," The deputy headmaster went as far as to say, refusing the headmaster seat in its early stages.
"D-don't mess around with me, people. No matter how you look at it, you shouldn't put your guard up before you even meet her. She might actually be an honest and good kid."
"Even if she's an honest and good kid, I don't want another problem child. And I could tell! That child gave off the same feeling as Rudel-dono and the others."
Driven to the brink, the headmaster looked at the papers spread across his desk. There was a document permitting his continued service; it had already received the palace's seal, and all he had to do was sign.
"Calm down! First, let's sit down and talk!"
"We've received the palace's approval. All that's left is your decision. Our will is unchanging!"
A few hours later, an exhausted headmaster signed the forms. In that staff room where his was the only dark face, the other staff members rejoiced and blessed him.
In the academy, Fina's graduation and Lena's enrollment were drawing near.