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41: The Young Man and the Black Shadow

 In the act of jumping in-between the intense fight of two dragoons, Rudel and Eunius had achieved splendid success. They had succeeded, but therein lay the problem. The difference between an active dragoon and Rudel- who while strong, was still a student- remained too great. Lilim made sport of him with her dagger, at times pressing him back with magic attacks.

"The real deal really is different!"

In contrast to Rudel's slight delight, Lilim was seriousness itself. Within Lilim, a dark and squirming emotion welled and spoke to her.

'Kill him! The fiancée who betrayed you... kill Rudel!!!'

"I'll kill you! I'll definitely kill you!"

Thinking of their difference in physique, Rudel's larger male build held the advantage. But from body motions to experience, Rudel was lacking in too many fields. There was no excess in Lilim's movements, and her magic activation and accuracy had been polished to the limit.

A difference in experience irrelevant to power tormented Rudel. But even so, Rudel fought on to save Lilim. He was to save someone much stronger than him. Yet Rudel had the resolve to go through the pain to fulfill it.

In Rudel's heart, he heard the voice of Lilim's dragon.

'Child of man, what is your intent? Could it be you actually intend to save my contractor? I appreciate the thought, but if you seriously care for her, then slay her! If she lives on, all that remains is suffering.'

To that dragonic voice resounding through his heart, Rudel remained facing Lilim, the dragon to his back as he called out.

"Taken over and tormented so... convinced that no one will ever recognize her! That's not how it should end!"

As Rudel smashed his sword into Lilim, the blade was parried by her knife. With flowing movements, she skillfully redirected the force.

"So you're even trying to take my dragon this time... just like that, everyone always leaves. It's always like that, because I'm repulsive! If you hate my eyes, just say it! I'll gouge them out at once and become the sort of me you like! So... so please don't abandon me!!!"

Lilim's black eyes shed tears, and Rudel looked at her in sorrow. Right, Lilim's form resembled the original Rudel who never dreamed of dragons. A certain something he sensed made for another reason he couldn't abandon Lilim.

The original Rudel was a side character made to be hated, only to die a wretched death at the onset of the story's endgame. Unrecognized by all, everyone would leave him. Deserted by his fiancée Cattleya, he incurred casualties to the country as he fled and pleaded with the empire to let him defect.

As a result, an imperial general cut him down like trash, and he became the laughingstock of the imperial soldiers. To the very end, a wretched small-fry side character. But even Rudel had an important role to play. The event of him being cut down by the enemy general was the event that signaled the start of the final chapter.

Rudel's death commenced the story's finale. That was already set in stone, the will of the world.

While Rudel didn't know anything about that, something in his heart pulled at him. Perhaps that was precisely why he was so desperate to save Lilim.

"It's the end! I'll kill you and die myself!"

As Lilim rushed in with knife and magic, Rudel pulled off his pant's belt and held it in his left hand. Rudel's sword was approaching its limit; he had a bad feeling about it. He wouldn't be able to fight for much longer. He wouldn't be able to put up a fight empty handed... As Rudel thought that, he also took action to bring it to an end.



From a little ways away, Cattleya and Eunius watched over the two. But Eunius took just a little distance from Cattleya. Cattleya was sure he was still wary of her. But the man in question,

(Why does this woman smell so bad?)

He was unable to stand the smell of Mies' smokescreen.

"... It's going to end soon. I'd appreciate you didn't stop me this time. Otherwise, Rudel-sama will die..."

"Ah? That guy ain't dying. Up until he becomes a dragoon, that guy's got no intent to die."

As Eunius answered full of confidence, 'what sort of basis is that!' Cattleya's eyes seemed to say. To Cattleya, Dragoons were just another division of the country's knights. While their characteristics stood out, she was well aware the country only saw them as a convenient knight force at their disposal.

Ideals ran contrary to reality... rather than the dragoon the people yearned for, the high knight that protected the important personnel of the country was more blessed in his work. Away from the front lines, if you could gain the trust of royalty as a guard, then promotion wasn't a dream.

In contrast, the dragoons' workplace was much too dangerous. And even if you earn the crown's trust, that trust would only have you plunged into even more dangerous work.

"What's there to yearn for? What's there to dream? When you don't know a thing."

Hearing Cattleya's murmur, Eunius breathed a sigh as he watched over Rudel's fight.

"... Values vary from person to person. Rudel knows of the dragoons' duty, and he understands how they're used. And he still doesn't give up... that's why I'm able to root for him."

After a look at Eunius' profile, Cattleya returned her eyes to the battle.

"I'm jealous... maybe that's why I hated him so much."

Rudel who could continue pursuing his dreams. Cattleya felt herself envious of that part of him. Her dream had been to become a girly princess. But reality had her born to a mid-ranking noble, the talent she showed from a young age making a knight of her.

Those talents that were enough to make everyone around envious of her were ones she never wanted to begin with. If she was able to discard them, she would have done so at a moment's notice. Yet swords took over her gardens, and sturdy steel covered her dress... to Cattleya who was raised in such a way, Rudel was too bright.

She who lived just as she was told, and Rudel who pressed on towards his own dream. Cattleya's eyes watched the two of them square off.



The belt in Rudel's left hand wrapped around Lilim's right arm to seal it. With that, both sides could only use one arm, and forcefully brought into close combat, Lilim changed her knife to her left hand to cut at Rudel. Rudel caught the blow with his sword, but

"Aha! Doesn't look like you can use that sword any longer."

Just as Lilim said, a crack spread across sword Rudel had used to learn every trick in the book. Rudel could see it as well. Lilim didn't let that moment's distraction go to waste. This time, she pushed him down and started shaking the magic wings on her back. As she did, the vibrations and a detestable sound assailed Rudel.

"Kuh."

Rudel tried to escape from that position. But to make matters worse, even her knife began to vibrate.

"It's a technique I rarely get to use in battle, but... how about that? I can cut through iron like butter. I'm going to slowly slice through your sword and into your heart."

As Lilim said, her vibrating knife was slowly eating its way into Rudel's sword. And the moment just before the blade would've been completely cut through, unable to stand the oscillations any further, the sword let off a shrill sound as it snapped. Letting of sparks against the knife, it violently broke.

But at the end of the end, as if to protect its master Rudel, the point of the blade flew towards Lilim's eyes. What's more, at point blank range. It was something she wouldn't be able to move, and Lilim was forced to move from the spot. In that gap, Rudel recovered his stance and pinned her to the ground.

The force of being pushed down caused the knife to part from her hand, and thinking she would be killed by Rudel mounting her, she quietly closed her eyes.

(That's enough. At this point, dying here would be...)

"Open your eyes! You're there, aren't you?"

At Rudels' words, Lilim opened her eyes. As she did, she found Rudel staring deep onto her black eyeballs. And she let words flow from her mouth. Irrelevant to her own will...

'How far will you do hinder me? If only you kept quiet... if you did, the story should have gone on without a hitch! And this time the world will protect you? Going as far as to push me aside, the world will choose you!?'

Within Lilim's confusion, Rudel went on with labored breath.

"I don't know who you are, and I don't know your goal. But you see... if you're going to cause any more trouble around me, then I can't just stay silent!"

"Ha HAHAHA!!! You make me laugh. To think you'd care about your surroundings. But just remember this. The world may have recognized you, but that is only to guide you to your end. No matter how far you go, you shall never find reward. Just like me, you'll be abandoned by the world."

Rudel faced the culprit borrowing Lilim's mouth through her eyes.

"And what of it?"

'... What?'

"Who cares if some world abandons me! Even so, I'm not alone. It's always been like that... someone's always been by my side. There are people who support someone as selfish as me. Who'll recognize me! So I'll recognize Lilim and I'll recognize 'you'. I'll say you can exist, you can be here. Now what?"

Saying that, Rudel gently kissed Lilim's forehead. Perhaps it was the sort a parent gave a child. But to Lilim who wanted to be recognized by others, it was more than enough to calm her heart.

"Thank you... Rudel."

'Even so, for me, recognizing you is...'

Two voices escaped Lilim's lips before she fell unconscious. As she drifted off, a black mist exuded from her body. Once the fog cleared, her blackened skin and silver hair returned to white and blond.

And lifting her up in his arms, Rudel started carrying her. That form was the very essence of a pretty woman in the princess' cradle of a young knight. Seeing that scene, Cattleya felt just a little envious of Lilim.

The wind dragon freed from the red dragon's grasp approached him. The ground shook under the stride of its large build.

'Child of man... you did not honor your promise to me.'

"I'll save her. I'll give a report on this incident as well, and I'll make an earnest plea to my house to borrow their power. So could you give me just a bit of time?"

Rudel still wouldn't give up, and as he had even saved its contractor, the wind dragon couldn't say anything. It looked up at the sky.

'Looks like my comrades are close...'



From Cattleya's report and the investigations of his subordinates he'd brought along, the dragoon vice-captain thought he had to give up on Lilim. In the few hours since he landed... his first impression that this was the worst still remained largely the same.

Intended harm against the three eldest sons of the Three Lord houses, and with various other charges, heads would surely fly. Physically. Yet to the vice-captain who thought that, Rudel reported with sparkling eyes.

As Rudel reported nothing but the truth, he didn't even try to advocate for Lilim in regards to what she had done. But he lowered his head to the vice-captain as he spoke.

"Can't you do something to save her!? She's my fiancée."

As Rudel lowered his head, the vice-captain was troubled to no ends. He also wanted to save Lilim, who still had a future ahead of her, but that didn't change the fact she caused a problem. And it wasn't just Rudel. Even if Rudel's house tolerated her, he couldn't think the other high nobles would stay silent.

"I appreciate the sentiment, but... when the scale's grown so large..."

As the vice-captain struggled for words, Eunius who'd watched over him and Luecke called over.

"I don't mind at all. If I told my old man I got to fight a dragoon, he'd just boast about it."

"I don't care either. I'll write an appropriate letter to my house."

On the words from the two, Rudel's eyes sparkled. But those three weren't the only injured. Basyle and Vargas were hurt as well. Sensing Rudel's feeling, Vargas who borrowed Basyle's shoulder nodded.

"I'm fine, let's just say I hurt myself fighting an ogre."

"Vargas, are you sure?"

"This is just a favor, Rudel. You're going to return it someday."

As the vice-captain looked around, the five of them lowered their heads.

"I can't promise anything, but I'll do all I can to obtain clemency for her. We'll transport you to the town so... hey, Cattleya, you get over here too! ... No, nevermind."

Cattleya awkwardly approached the vice-captain. She also intended to take these five to the nearby town, but... the smell she gave off stopped all in their tracks. Heartlessly, even her dragon took some distance from her.

"This isn't my fault I tell you! That woman, damn you, imperial scum!!!"