| Once a conference on the country's future course was held in the chaotic grounds, Rudel called Izumi and the others to a tent that had been temporarily set up. Gathering Luecke, Eunius and Aleist, he started explaining everything in order. The black boar, the sinister bird, the black fog... and he told them about Sakuya. He told them slowly so his emotions wouldn't take over.
As Rudel calmly went on, he gave off a terribly cold impression.
He showed the will Sakuya had given Lena to everyone.
He told them how Sakuya, her life running out, had cast down that life for his sake. As he did, Aleist punched him. Growing emotional, he rained Rudel with jeers.
"To hell with that! If you had a grip on things, there wouldn't have been a problem, dammit! Why do you look so indifferent! She died for your sake, didn't she!?"
Eunius and Luecke held him back, and by their hands he was pulled out of the tent. In the end, Luecke and Eunius decided to leave the space to Izumi.
'Don't worry, we'll calm this guy down.'
"Hey! Wait! I still have something I want to say..."
Confirming they had left the provisional tent, Rudel stood and gave a bitter smile.
"Haha, that was something. To think I'd be punched by Aleist."
He did stand, but he averted his eyes from Izumi. Perhaps tired from the long trip, Sakuya was sound asleep in the tent. Izumi lay a hand on Sakuya's forehead as she called over to Rudel. Rudel was sure he was in for another put down.
He knew he had done enough to deserve it, and he intended to accept it all. But Izumi's words betrayed his expectations.
"Did you cry, Rudel?"
"? Yeah, I think I cried... I was crying the moment I opened my eyes. I can barely remember it, but I cried and walked out of the cave. There were lots of dragons flying through the sky. It seems they were celebrating Sakuya's birth."
Rudel tried to change the subject, but Izumi paid it no mind.
"I see... did you cry after that?"
"No, I don't think I did. I was too busy. We had to train Sakuya to fly, and there were quite a few things I needed to hear. I had lost my sense of time entirely, and until the messenger from the princess came, I hadn't even noticed. From there, I hurriedly prepared to return to the manor and made it just in time. No, I was late."
I learned a new technique, Rudel gave a laugh as he spoke. Izumi wondered if Rudel's business was him trying his best not to think about it.
As Rudel spoke with some jest mixed in, Izumi embraced Rudel, wrapping her body tightly around his. Rudel's face was buried in her chest. As the power left his body, Rudel crumbled at the knees, and Izumi sat down to match his level.
"I'm sorry. For letting you go through the pain alone... it's alright. You can cry if you want to, Rudel."
Izumi gently pat his head. Rudel shed tears as he spit out his own feelings. Rudel could never rely on anyone, but the truth was that he was terrible at relying on people. To Rudel who never had people he could depend on from his childhood, he was unable to comprehend the events around him.
He had only actually understood Sakuya's actions once everything was over.
"I-if only I'd been more level headed! It's just as Aleist said. If only I looked at Sakuya more, it never would have come to this! ... But some part in my heart was actually happy I obtained a dragon. I'm the worst. The worst piece of trash! And yet, and yet for someone like me, Sakuya...!"
In the letter Sakuya left behind as a will, there were lots of words for Rudel. Izumi had faintly recognized Sakuya's affection towards him. But her realization of it only made it more heartbreaking.
"She told me to be the strongest, she told me to protect someone! I have no choice but to do it! Even when I'm like this, it's my promise to her... I... I have to continue being Sakuya's ideal knight. I have to keep being the strongest or I'll never be able to look her in the face!"
Like the string holding him back had been cut, Rudel spewed his emotions. As what he was holding in came out, it came out with tear after tear.
"You don't have to endure it, Rudel. You can cry now."
Rudel wept loudly, and Izumi held him the whole time. Izumi was shedding tears as well.
Outside the tent, there were three eavesdropping on their conversation. It was Luecke, Eunius, and Aleist. Aleist alone was in a slump, regretting the fact he hit Rudel. The one who looked after Sakuya was Rudel, and he recalled how he didn't do anything in particular for her.
Eunius and Luecke thought back over all the unnatural occurrences, and as they thought, they looked at the sky.
"W-why am I always..."
"No, neither you nor Rudel ever reads the mood. It's not like this is a first."
Cutting down a depressed Aleist with a single stroke of the tongue, Luecke recalled the contents of Sakuya's letter. He had been in it as well, and she wrote it was fun. He was seeing Sakuya, who knew she was going to die, yet hid her feelings, in a new light.
Eunius reflected in a similar fashion. Saw her anew, and cast some words to the sky. Even if he knew they wouldn't reach, he couldn't stand by without saying them.
"Good grief, she really was a good woman. I should've called out to her."
The sky dyed with twilight; some part of it was suffocating.
With her shoddy, large lettering, Sakuya had left a letter. It was a sort of will, but the one in question hadn't written it with that intent. She simply wanted to write her feelings.
'I'm glad I came to the academy. I was happy.'
'I didn't have time, but even I was able to hold a dream.'
'My dream never came true, but I'm becoming one of the dragons so,'
'I'm becoming a dragoon with Rudel, so maybe it came true after all?'
'Thank you, everyone.'
She wrote down lots of names- the people who looked after her. Starting with Rudel, she even wrote the names of the cafeteria lunch ladies. Aleist and Fina alone were addressed dubiously. Stupid Aleist and Weird Fina. She thanked them both as well.
She wrote thank you a lot of times. Once it came to the latter half, she wrote her memories to that point, and the feelings she held towards Rudel. As the letter shifted into that portion, there were many places where the text would blur. It was clear she had written it while crying. She wrote she was happy he would read picture books to her.
She wrote she was happy she got to eat so many sweets. She was able to make so many friends... the last part was so blurred it was difficult to read. There were traces she had rewritten it a number of times. She left words as if to dote on Izumi.
'Do you think someone will remember me? Do you think Izumi will cry?'
'If she reads this, that means I'm already gone, right?'
'Was I useful? Was I of any use to Rudel?'
'I found my reason to live. Thank you, Rudel.'
'I've lived a long life, but these few years were the most fun I ever had.'
'Parting is sad, but thank you for everything.'
And there, the letter of shoddy letters came to a close.
Once he had finished crying, Rudel stood and wiped his tears. Seeing Sakuya asleep, his face turned refresh. Deciding he wouldn't cry anymore, Rudel touched his hand to Sakuya's forehead. Izumi stood as well, similarly placing her hand on Sakuya.
The blue gemstone on her forehead reflected the two of them like a mirror.
"Thank you, Sakuya, it's because of you I was able to become a dragoon. I'll never forget."
"Sakuya, you saved Rudel. You were more than useful... I'll never forget you, Sakuya."
Rudel and Izumi linked hands. The large gemstone on Sakuya's forehead let off light giving a feel as if Sakuya had replied.
As the two of them smiled, Rudel swore an oath to himself.
"I'm not alone anymore. My dream was a dream everyone made true... now it's my turn to grant everyone's dreams. I'll be the knight everyone wishes for. I'll be the strongest of knights. I'll become the strongest dragoon!"
Rudel took a deep breath before muttering the rest.
"I won't let this dream end as my own selfishness."
As if to give a response to Sakuya's final words, Rudel swore an oath to the sleeping dragon.
Outside the tent, Aleist wept as he muttered he would never forget Sakuya. Luecke closed his eyes as he prayed for her to rest in peace.
Eunius looked up at the sky, swearing he would never forget.
Within the next few months, word of Rudel spread all throughout the Kingdom of Courtois. It came in the form of an article, giving praise to the white knight who became a dragoon. The one reading the article was Chlust, the boy sent off to the outer reaches of the kingdom.
After having spent a year of his life in the borderland, he read the article on his brother Rudel draped over his desk, a smile on his face. The brother who trained him had become a dragoon. As his younger brother, it was something to be proud of.
"Oy, captain, did they write anything interesting?"
Calling Chlust captain and approaching was a large man of unshaven face. He was a commoner-turned-knight from the outskirts, and he served as Chlust's adjutant. In this far-off fortress where noble knights rarely proved any use, he was a man who had made light of Chlust at first.
But within the span of a year, Chlust had gained the man's recognition.
"Yeah, my brother became a dragoon. I was just rejoicing."
As he showed the article, the unshaven large man's read through with his eyes open wide.
"Now this is amazing. So the captain's big bro is an elite! Well, he's still a youngster without any real combat experience, so maybe you're the stronger one."
Gahaha, the large man gave a large laugh. As Chlust recalled Rudel, he was sure his brother had grown even stronger than before, so he probably wouldn't be able to win. Recalling Rudel's strictness, Chlust gave a bitter smile.
"More importantly, did something happen?"
"Oh, that's right. You remember the unnatural monster corpses and village attacks that have been going on in these parts? It seems the area's finally calmed down, but they've started breaking out around another fort. I did order the men not to let down their guard, but... hah."
As the large men breathed a sigh, Chlust breathed one as well. Starting with the fort's higher ups, the knights of noble birth slept from the morning, and they wouldn't wake until noon came alone. Even if they were awake, they would often drink ale and head off to the nearby villages. They even laid hands on the fort's funds.
Ever since Chlust got around to manage the assets, even they knew they couldn't go against the Arses name. But their attitudes hadn't changed in the slightest.
"Got it, I'll do something about the report. I'll have to reorganize the platoon's composition later."
"All yours, captain. We've got confidence in our strength, but reports are a no go. They'll be so bad you'll be crying for pity. With the other guys, they'll accept it if I tell them the captain's handling it."
In a harsh environment, Chlust had grown as well. Tucking the article on his brother into his desk, Chlust thought of the report and troop composition as he gathered up some of the documents under his charge. Some of the latest documents were collected on the bookshelf.
From there, he pulled out the necessary files.
They had been increasing as of late, the reports of a black ogre. It was still on the level of a rumor, but they said a black ogre was rampaging through Courtois. On the appearance of a black ogre no one had ever even heard of before, Chlust also felt a sense of crisis.
In certain villages, it would attack only humans, and in others, it would only harm livestock. By the villagers' testimony, they had heard human voices as well.
But in Chlust's fort, the matter had been processed as a mistake on the villagers' part. It was unthinkable that humans would act alongside an ogre. And the fact it would only harm livestock was concluded as it wanting to fill its stomach.
Gathering up the documents, Chlust began investigating into the black ogre.