| Around the time Rudel was training in the dragons' dwellings, Aleist was also training to master his own powers.
"Aleist-sama's so cool!!"
... But by Aleist's popularity at the academy, female students would gather around him on a regular basis. Whether he swung his sword or used his magic, those shrill cheers would fly his way. But every time the man in question received those cheers, he would fall into a slump.
(This is wrong. This isn't how it was supposed to be.)
The scenery he had once longed for was now the norm. But Aleist had only just confessed his love to Millia. Truthfully, he would be satisfied if only Millia was there, and while he didn't want to be hated by those around him, he didn't want to be liked this much.
Before his final individuals' tournament at the academy, he needed to train and gain as much control of his powers as he could. This would be the last time Aleist would be able to fight against Rudel.
(Well, no one knows what the future holds. If possible, I do hope this is the last... I really would like to avoid any death matches in the future.)
The future he spoke of was what came after the war with the empire. While he had knowledge from his game, Aleist didn't know what would become of the future of the Courtois Kingdom. No, the way things were going, he couldn't even predict how things would turn out.
He had become the black knights, and the side character Rudel was the white knight.
(He proclaimed himself the White Dragoon or something, so is he still aiming to be a dragoon after all? In that case, what's going to happen during the war? I think the last boss will be easy picking for Rudel and Sakuya as they are now, but...)
Imagining Rudel riding Sakuya, Aleist recalled her magnificent fall. The impression they gave off during the selection test was strong, and he could vividly picture a scene of them dive-bombing straight into the last boss.
(Yep, it's starting to feel kinda hopeless.)
Around noon, Aleist visited the cafeteria with his friends.
With his daily morning training and his academy classes, he had a healthy hunger. Once he entered the cafeteria, he found the similarly hungry male students, and the female students chatting amiably with their friends as they filled the seats.
Lining up in the food line, Aleist's friend looked around to search out an empty seat. But from what he could see, they were all filled in, so he let out a complaint.
"We were late after all. If only we'd been a bit earlier."
Aleist looked around as well, fully agreeing with that sentiment. The class he had been in was held in the classroom furthest from the cafeteria. And as he had a chat while he walked, he ended up a little later than usual. This situation came forth from only a little extra time, so his friends continued to search out any seat that seemed open enough.
There, one of his friends spotted Aleist's exclusive seat.
"Ah, Aleist, there's an empty seat over there."
"Eh? ... Ah, no, I want to eat with you guys today.
Following his friend's gaze, he found the five female students those around recognized as his girlfriends eating at the same table. At that round table, there was only one seat left open.
It was a table of beauties, but no one even tried to sit down. From the start, they let off an air that made it hard to approach, but it was also clear that seat had been saved for a certain someone.
As Aleist averted his eyes, he felt a cold sweat break out. The harem lunch he had imagined time after time, always wishing to experience once in his life, after going through it once, he never wanted to taste it again. On top of not being able to tell the taste of what he was putting in his mouth, when everyone was smiling, there was this strange tension in the air...
Just remembering brought him pain.
"... No, it'll be terrible if you don't go, Aleist."
"That's right! We've followed through for you a few times, so those girls remember our faces. For the sake of our peace, go sacrifice your lunch time."
"Lay off me! I want to stand by Millia alone!"
Aleist put up resistance, but his friends shook their heads. That wasn't an envy against a man who built up a harem, they were sending him eyes of pity.
"Give it up. You have some fault in this."
"Because of that, we learned something. Harems are beautiful precisely because they're dreams."
"It's amazing they permit you to have five lovers. Though it seems they all think they're number one."
Aleist held his head. Building an urge to punch his past harem-dreaming self, he realized how exceedingly terrible this situation was. His confession to Millia hadn't gone down well. If they ever locked eyes, their faces would turn red and no words would come out. There wasn't much time left until they would graduate the academy.
In contrast, talks with the five who made up Aleist's harems were going more smoothly than he had ever imagined.
First was Yunia Luneice, and she was a girl of a Marquis House. Aleist's parents were also exceedingly on board their talks of engagement. The Luneice Marquis House had evaluated Aleist highly for being the black knight. The black knight tied to the founding of the nation, if their daughter were to be with him... honestly, they were fine if she was a mistress.
Aleist would eventually become a mainstay of the country, and they had no objections with the slightest increase in authority they could get.
Following on was Seli, and she was also being pushed for strongly by her house. As it was a former noble military house, once they learned of the existence of what could be called the strongest knight, they cheerfully brought up talks of marriage.
Recovering their own status was probably included in their field of vision, but Aleist's parents had given approval.
Juju said she had no problem if the head of the household- Aleist- told her to be a mistress. Apart from the fact her letters revealed she was a bit dissatisfied her partner wasn't Rudel, there wasn't anything particularly threatening about her. The fact there was nothing was the scariest part...
Lux and the blue haired girl Ciel were commoners, and their families were more delighted than he had expected. Aleist's parents scolded him for finding too many mistresses, but they didn't put up any particular opposition.
They simply smiled and informed him of their hopes a legal wife would soon come from out of his mistresses.
(That's definitely strange! What's with 'great men have a great fondness for women'! When I thought my parents were on edge from factional disputes these days, they were happily talking about how one of the princesses might marry me!!)
"You're the worst."
Seeing Aleist hand his head, the male students glared at him with jealousy. As he received those envy-tinged eyes, Aleist was warned by his friends.
"Yep, we know you so we can sympathize, but those around aren't quite so understanding... now resolve yourself and head to that table."
"You really should be careful walking home at night. There really are some folks aiming for your life."
"If anything happens, feel free to discuss it!"
"Then save me. Now."
On Aleist's words, his friends all took a glance at the table where those five were waiting before answering with smiles. At the table waiting for Aleist, they were all smiling too, but it was somehow terrifying.
At that time, Izumi was in the cafeteria watching Aleist from afar, when Luecke and Eunius sitting at her table called out.
They had finished their meals, and now they were sipping on drinks as they talked. About the future, and mostly about the individuals' tournament. Eunius was worried about Rudel's participation, and while Luecke wasn't taking part, he said he was busy with preparations. But as Izumi sent a glance in Aleist's direction, the conversation naturally flowed towards Aleist.
"He did it again? Aleist really never learns, does he. You're not usually supposed to date them all in public. Cheating is something you're supposed to do in secret."
On Eunius' fed-up face, Luecke was even more fed up.
"You're usually not supposed to cheat to begin with. But I am impressed with how he's going off to be surrounded by them now."
"... Hey, Izumi, does Rudel cheat? Or is it that? Does it depend on your definition of the word?"
Thinking up something, Eunius tried asking Izumi about Rudel. While Rudel had conducted much problematic behavior on a regular basis, he was earnest in the strangest of places. But they were dealing with Rudel. There was no way to be certain he wasn't getting women in the mood where they weren't looking.
In truth, Rudel had a repertoire of special anti-women skills.
Izumi shook her head and told Eunius she didn't have the answer he was looking for.
"Ever since he declined that confession from the princess, those around couldn't bring themselves to confess... no, but Ness-san did volunteer to be his slave."
"... That one really is terrifying."
On Eunius' murmur, Luecke thought for just a moment on whether he meant Rudel or Ness. He concluded that both sides were terrifying.
"There was a time the girls' dorm was a mess from all the victims. I really am glad I sealed his petting. We were almost too late."
Thinking back on it, it all seemed so shameful, but the girls' dorm really was in a terrible state. When there were some who purposely came out to be pet by Rudel, Izumi recalled how she wanted to cry. She wanted to believe it was her imagination when she saw so many familiar faces among those who petitioned for her to lift the petting ban.
But there, Luecke's joke became an unlaughable one.
"You sealed his petting, right? Perhaps you've made him polish some skill besides petting."
As Luecke laughed, Eunius wholeheartedly jumped onto the conversation.
"Right, it's him we're dealing with, so I'm sure he'll do something right out of the left field. Let's see... I'm sure he can get a woman to fall just by smiling at them."
"No way. It's much more realistic to think he'll make them fall with a conversation without even realizing it. I'm sure before he notices, the situation around him will become like Aleist's."
"Not noticing when someone's fallen for him! How Rudel!"
While the two of them laughed, Izumi tried to return the derailing conversation to its tracks. She suddenly got a bad feeling their words would become a reality. Rudel could make someone feel good just by petting them. It wouldn't be strange if he could make a woman fall with just a smile.
And it was also plausible he wouldn't notice their affection. He definitely did have some dense parts, and romance matters weren't Rudel's area of expertise.
(Not that I'm an expert either, but I should be careful...)
While Izumi thought, this time the topic of conversation, Rudel, called over. It was good that he had returned from the dragons' dwellings, but the headmaster cautioned him for dragging the princess off, and he was finally freed when lunch came around.
Surprisingly, Fina's sage mode persisted for a while, and she made it clear to the headmaster that he hadn't done anything that would warrant such worry so he was released early. If there was any scandal with royalty, then this wasn't just a problem for Rudel or the Arses House.
"Can I eat with you three?"
Ignoring their surprise, Rudel took a seat and began eating his special of the day set.
"Just where did you go, Rudel!?"
"I really was worried you wouldn't make it to the tournament."
"You look quite refreshed. Did you gain something from your trip?"
Izumi's loud voice, Eunius' true relief, and seeing Rudel's expression, Luecke began to predict what he could have gained.
"Yeah, the truth is I went to the dragons' dwellings. Under Marty-sama's water dragon, I polished some new techniques. I learned the necessary things to be a dragoon."
As Rudel answered with a smile, the three of them nodded. Of course, they were sure he had trained himself for the individuals' tournament. Eunius was curious what Rudel had learned, and with practically the excitement of a child, he tried to find it out.
"So what exactly did you gain this time?"
Rudel put a temporary hold on his meal, thinking back through what he had picked up as he explained.
"First, about dragoons. Their fighting style fundamentally changes based on the size of their dragons, but I was told what a dragoon needs is the ability to direct a dragon."
Those that directed dragons were dragoons. While it was important for a dragoon to protect a dragon's blind spot on its back, their original role was to manipulate a powerful dragon to their will. Their powerful firepower, movement distance and speed, when put under precise instruction, their results would swell up several times over.
From a dragon's point of view, even if you told it to defeat the enemy, it only saw humans all the same. In that case, a dragoon capable of conveying thoughts would have to give orders. There were also cases where the dragon was used to move loads and numerous fields where their powers could be put to use. He was taught that a dragoon's role was to make the best use of his dragon.
"I see, is something we wouldn't understand. I'm sure it's a trouble only dragoons will get."
Eunius looked at Rudel's serious expression and was sure he had seriously studied. But the next words from Rudel's mouth left the three in a daze.
"Oh, I also learned some applications. A dragoon's special way of movement, and also... hugging and massages, I guess?"
Luecke let out an idiotic voice, but Rudel explained on without paying it any mind.
"Yeah, that really was a surprise. When I told her my petting was sealed, she taught me all sorts of applications. It hasn't been named yet, but there's this technique where you hug and use your mana to apply a shock, and I got a high effect by changing the petting to pressure-based massages."
Eunius looked at Luecke's face, comparing the contents of their talk to what Rudel had just said.
"Oy, that wasn't even the left field, he just swung straight and hit. Straight down the center."
"Yeah, I never thought we'd get a frontal attack from him. I'll have to ask about it later."
The two of them were certain he would pick something up apart from petting, but the problem was Izumi. Izumi had sealed Rudel's petting with just a word. When it came to other techniques, the two of them were curious to see what sort of measures Izumi would take.
Her dumbfounded expression turning to a smile, Izumi called over to Rudel.
"You can't hug or massage either."
"Why!!? Neither of them have anything to do with petting! Just listen to me, Izumi, these new techniques are at a level capable of satisfying a princess and high knight! I thought you'd accept it this time. So let me try it on you, just once."
On the appearance of an indivual that should never come out, Luecke and Eunius pretended they hadn't heard anything. They had heard rumors that no one had seen the princess lately, but they never thought she had been out with Rudel.
But Izumi couldn't stand without confirming it.
"I-it couldn't be that you laid hands on the princess, right?"
"No, I just embraced her. She was serious about it too. As a master, I thought it was unacceptable for me to hold back. Don't' worry, I held her gently. Though I cast her into the lake after that."
As a result of being freed from the petting, Fina had fallen into the lake, but Rudel was terrible at explanations, and at his words, the three of them lost their ability to speak.
(No way! That's no good, Rudel!! And you threw her away after that!!?)
(What'll become of this. Will he be able to take part in the individuals' tournament?)
(So he threw her away at the end? If you just listened to that, it would be a terrible story. Well, it's Rudel here, so unless I hear the details, I won't be able to make any decision...)
It was the moment a new legend was born at the academy.
A few days later, Fina was depressed in her room, having recovered from sage mode.
"I went and did it. It was my big chance... (What am I going to do about this!? Stupid, stupid, stupid me!! For me to discard my big chance on a temporary wavering of spirit... my master is a scary man)."
Her guard Sophina looked at her depressed state and spat some toxicity.
"So marriage isn't a sacred rite?
On those words, Fina raised her face and gazed expressionlessly at Sophina.
"What are you talking about, Sophina? Marriage is a microcosm of war. If you lose, your rights within the family are taken, and you walk a life like that of a slave. The relations in marriage are the same as an alliance. A relation of equivalence is impossible. It's because you hold such maiden-esque delusions that you're forever alone. Look at reality a bit. At this rate, you'll only find regret once you're married... ah, not that you have anyone to marry anyways."
"... This might be forward of me, but that's completely different from what you said before."
"Is that so? Well, that doesn't really matter. More importantly, I have to do something about that black knight idiot... there are talks going forward about an engagement to my sister, but it does seem sister is stubbornly shaking her head."
Her own talks of marriage written off just like that, Sophina desperately calmed herself as she thought only of the next topic of conversation.
"Aileen-sama will marry the black knight? In that case, in the end, the black knight shall also..."
Sophina swallowed the words before they came out. She determined the reason Fina was trying to put Aileen and the black knight together was because Fina herself wanted to marry Rudel. Sophina wondered if that meant Fina was casting away the black knight.
"What are you on about? This is just a bit of harassment against that sister of mine. You should at least notice that much, good grief..."
Against that expressionless princess, Sophina was driven by an impulse to lower a fist on her head. But Fina steadily explained.
"If they press her on the reason for her rejection, it's my sister we're talking about here, so I'm sure she'll spill the beans on that matter with Flit."
"It's Fritz, princess."
"Right, once she opens her mouth about Fritz, it will make it easier to move for father and the others. And while my sister is having her little feud, I'll fill in the outer moat. Well, the formation of the royal guard's already been decided, so I doubt there'll be any assassins after Fritz at this point. If my sister stops being stubborn and gives up on Fritz, that'll be the end of it."
Fina didn't particularly feel like going at her sister's throat. But seeing her sister's mayhem, she wouldn't stand around without setting up countermeasures. From the emotional trauma of a past incident, Aileen was doted on by her parents much more than was necessary.
Her parents were soft on her, so even if Fina cautioned them, they would simply take it that she was reading too deeply.
If they were male, they would undergo strict education after which their marriage partners would be those most profitable to the country. But the male heir the land wanted was never born, and as a result, there were only two princesses. If these doted-on two were suddenly put under strict instruction, there would be a backlash.
The king was immediately forced into taking mistresses, but it came to light that the problem lay with the king himself. He couldn't have a son. So Courtois would be welcoming a son in from elsewhere.
It was something necessary within the scenario, but the game's characters were never told the reason. In order to make a king of the hero who saved the country, a situation was made where the king's seat was purposely left open, yet those characters on their stage would never give it a second thought.
"If my sister gives up, it won't be a problem for me. But, I really doubt she will... when you think of it like that, perhaps my sister is similar to master."
Fina's face was expressionless, but to Sophina, it looked as if she was just a bit sorrowful.