| The long break over, Rudel returned to the academy with heavy heart. The only thing occupying his mind was the active dragoon's words to give up... Rudel only grew darker. Not in the boys' dorm cafeteria, but the school building cafeteria that remained open during the break, Rudel sat and thought.
The ones worrying over him were Izumi and Basyle. Izumi was purely worried... Basyle heard the talks of engagement and wondered if she should just go get the mistress position to take a load off her future. She was full of impure motives...
"Aah, do you think Cattleya-sama and Lilim-sama hate me?"
The point of his worries was a little off. Right, Rudel... from Cattleya and Lilim's attitude and tone,
'Don't get near me!'
He was sure they were trying to say. From Rudel's point of view, it was as if every member of his favorite idol group had come to hate him...
"After I become a dragoon, how am I supposed to look them in the eye? What am I supposed to say to them!?"
The two of them looked over Rudel with worry...
Regardless of his worries, the second term started as a matter of course...
"We will now hold the countermeasure meeting for this time's excursion!"
A countermeasure meeting towards the goal set up last year of getting first place was energetically opened. Headed by Rudel in the classroom after school.
"Just as with last time, all groups share the same starting point, but the course differs by class. And the first years of the fundamental curriculum are taking part as well... this time, there are many talents among the first years! On top of that, the princess' class contains guards who have trained from a young age to protect her! I have no choice but to say first place will be difficult under these circumstances."
In the documents handed out to everyone, Rudel noted the comprehensive evaluation he had Basyle collect of each class. On top of that, the necessary tools for the forest, the unneeded goods... it was all written in great detail.
"And what we need to be wary of this time is Aleist's class. Despite being first years, they managed to eat into the top ranks last time... with that in mind, the average distance we have to traverse per day is..."
As the explanations ran on, everyone listened in all seriousness. The all wanted to clear the humiliation they suffered the year before... it united them. In that regard, Rudel gave thanks to Aleist's classes provocations. Having an opponent to beat made for a splendid goal.
Lowering their loads, gathering the tools they never assembled last year, and confirming over the course with everyone... Rudel's class steadily got its preparations in order.
Aleist's class had reached the goal with a high ranking last time, so they were filled with optimism. And if there weren't any upperclassmen, they even thought it natural they reach first place.
As Luecke Halbades and Eunius Diade's classes were solidified with nobles, they were at a disadvantage... Rudel's class withdrew last year, and they were out of the question! But Aleist's class could utilize Aleist's inexhaustible magic to conquer the forest without issue.
The result was clear before it even began.
"Hey, Aleist... looks like this'll be another easy victory!"
One of his classmates said it as he pat Aleist on the shoulder. He wanted to use something to strengthen his bond with Aleist, but Aleist himself saw him as no more than an acquaintance.
"Yeah, that's right. If there's anyone we have to worry about, it would be the princess' class, perhaps?"
"Why's that? The princess' class is also mainly nobles, so doesn't that put them at a disadvantage?"
"... The princess has guards posted among her classmates. What's more, they're incredibly skilled... do you think those folks would let the princess receive a rank that would embarrass her?"
After thinking a while, the classmate spoke simply,
"You think they'll move some hands in the background?"
Aleist sighed... if they did that, then some would grow discomfort towards the princess, so it probably wasn't going down... but that wasn't completely wrong. The academy definitely couldn't anger royalty, and in this event, the princess' safety was the first priority. Even if it was a little unfair, they'd secure her safety, if nothing else.
"Even if they don't do that, they'll get into the top ranks."
Aleist ended the conversation... but these days, Aleist had grown especially panicked. The events not going as he wanted was one thing, but Rudel was way too proficient to an abnormal level.
He thought it was because he had grown far stronger than the original protagonist, and it was creating an influence within Rudel. But that wouldn't explain his personality. The younger brother Chlust was supposed to be decent, but he received disciplinary action in his first term.
Originally, Rudel was scheduled to cause a problem...
Within his head, the fact the story wasn't moving in its set direction was making him anxious. Right around now, he was supposed to be busy with all the romance events! ... he thought.
Millia and Izumi and Princess Fina... Aleist thought over numerous characters...
It was the forest the academy used in last year's event... there, a few dozen specialists were conducting an investigation. Last year, an archduke's son faced an attack from an impossible monster.
The princess was to take part this time, so an investigation was conducted to give the final say. To conclude, there were no problems at all... the specialists didn't see anything wrong with their examination results.
"Even so... did that monster in the reports really exist? I get the feeling the monsters are a little restless, but... I can't really make heads or tails of it."
As one of the specialists pondered over it, a bad-mouthed specialist spoke.
"Perhaps it's the excuse of an archduke's idiot son... it's a right bother. There are plenty of guards who'll get their stories straight if you sent a bit of money around. The fact the monsters are restless is because a certain idiot noble made a mess of the forest!"
As they spoke, the investigation team left the forest. On the report, they wrote, 'No Issue,' even sarcastically noting the important points to remember in a forest.
With black body and a white crest, a large bird descended onto the forest. Its form was abnormal... it boasted a number of eyes, four wings and four feet... at this point, it couldn't even be called a bird. But if it flew, its silhouette was fowl enough. So seeing it from a distance, the specialists didn't think anything particularly strange of it.
In its beak, perhaps captured in the forest... it held a large, deer-like monster. That black, grotesque monster flung it straight up, and the deer danced through the air.
... And as it fell, the monster swallowed it whole. While it didn't bite it within its mouth, some part of it s body had to be chewing, as a crunching sound resounded through the woods.
Before their second attempt, their preparations all complete, Rudel and his classmates did a final check on the academy grounds. Bags, medicine, and weapons... they felt a slight difference in zeal from those around, but even so the class thought of nothing but fulfilling this time's objective.
"I hope this year ends without issue."
On Izumi's question, Rudel left a moment of silence before answering.
Perplexed over that vague answer, Izumi followed Rudel's eyes. On the meeting grounds, the classes of nobles sluggishly coming in... and there, she could see Aleist's class. But their attire was the same as last year, some may say their equipment had even declined.
Rudel felt just a little anger at the fact Aleist wasn't taking this seriously. But his class... he turned his attention off the fact he wasn't even being taken into consideration. For now, he just had to focus on his goal...
Izumi... and another watched Rudel suddenly turned serious. The one sending an expressionless look of admiration was the second princess Fina.
(Master looks kinda cool!! You think he'll capture some fluffies in the forest... those killer rabbits are simply the cutest!!! Those guards never read the mood, and kill them in an instant! ... Hah, I need to replenish my cuddle meter.)
As the princess looked around, she spotted Mii's commoner class. Seeing Mii reservedly wave her hand, the princess...
(My little kitten!!! Hah, hah... you're cute as ever today... once we get back to the academy, I won't let you get away!)
Expressionlessly waved back.