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76: The Young Man and the White Dragon

 The academy's vacation ended and the second term began. But Rudel had yet to show himself at the academy. Even when they confirmed it with the Arses House, a reply came back that he had yet to return. The country also sent out an investigation, but it had yet to show any results.

A certain rumor was spreading through the campus it was...

'Rudel is dead.'

They would whisper. Even the two active dragoons didn't return, so the rumor was even spreading through the castle. In the end, it was no good. The voices that said he should've just given up had increased.



"Try saying that again! I'll split open that empty head of yours!"

As Eunius raised a serious yell, the cafeteria fell silent at once. He used one hand to lift up his opponent by the lapels, bringing his face close. His opponent was Fritz. Practically anyone would cower, but even if Fritz looked at Eunius, all he could see was a farce.

"About how Rudel died? It's true, isn't it? Ah, perhaps he got scared and ran away. Oh, he might come back for next week's selection test."

Having exchanged a contract with a dragon, it was already decided that Fritz would become the royal guard captain. Once he graduated, he would work at the palace. Convinced that he had triumphed over Rudel, his usual attitude had inflated even more. They held true even when dealing with a high ranking noble.

Even worse were Fritz' followers. By the fact that Fritz was strong, and that the first princess knew him well, the young nobles would always fall silent. Those around Fritz had gotten around to think that was only natural, and even if Eunius yelled, they wouldn't try to stop him. On the contrary, Eunius' followers stepped in to bring a ceasefire.

"Eunius-sama, you're picking a fight with the wrong guy."

"Let's just calm down here, alright?"

As his followers pulled him from Fritz, Eunius clicked his tongue. Before turning his back to Fritz, he gave a warning.

"That guy, you know. He never gives up, and he never runs away."

Seeing off Eunius' back as he walked off, Fritz made a dark smile. By Aileen, his state was completely on cloud nine. He was certain he had the power to change this country. Recognized by a dragon, he had gotten the idea he had triumphed over Rudel, and he misunderstood that he had the ability to back it.

Gray dragons were more docile than their wild variant, and as long as you had a certain level of skill, you could make a contract. But Fritz didn't know that.

In the cafeteria, Izumi who had been looking at the ruckus from afar, shifted her eyes to the outside of the window. She prayed he would come back, perhaps on a dragon or something, acting as if nothing had happened at all. But her heart felt strangely uneasy.

"Come back soon Rudel, Sakuya..."

The words Izumi muttered at the window sill, no one came to give a response.



The day of the selection test came to pass, but Rudel had still yet to appear at the academy.

Izumi grew worried, and she decided to participate in the event to wait for Rudel. Rudel was forcefully obligated to take part in the event. To speak to the contrary, it would be a problem if he wasn't there.

Izumi looked over the legions of knights filling the hall. For the same reason, they had come to the selection test, but Eunius and Luecke didn't have any interest in the royal guard position either.

Aleist alone was overly mindful of the imperial guard. He was worried about Rudel as well, but to those around, it looked as if he wanted to become captain himself. The real reason he was there was because royal guard captain was the protagonist's official post. As Aleist had been largely separated from the story, he had only taken part out of curiosity of who would be chosen.

The royal guard would fulfill a large role in the story's war arc. Aleist wanted to confirm who would bear the burden.

There were lots of acquaintances to be found in the hall, but they were far outnumbered by active knights. There were a few high knights taking part while the dragoons conducted security. The high knights protecting the royal family looked at their comrades with conflicted emotions. The dragoons alone were knights who had already been chosen by dragons, so they didn't hold the qualifications to participate.

Just by being chosen, you would become the captain of a new special unit that ranked up with the dragoons and high knights. The hall was wrapped in a peculiar excitement. But Izumi and the others would have none of it, simply looking around in worry.

'Henceforth, the selection test for royal guard captain shall be conducted! To you knights who think you have what it takes please approach the dragon on the stage!'

Watched over by the royal family, the gray dragon guided by the dragoons descended onto the stage. The knights lined up on stage paid their respects to the king before walking up to the dragon one by one. Even if it was a gray dragon, there was no doubt it was a dragon nonetheless. It held an intensity to it, and there were many knights who were frightened just by approaching it.

But the dragon accustomed to humans showed no interest in anything as it simply watched on.

There were many knights taking part, and there was still a long while to come. Izumi concluded so as she waited for Rudel.

(It'll probably take a while, but if Rudel doesn't make it back by then... the royal family's watching, and even if he came now, he'd be late. Even when he's never been late to class before.)

As the number of knights in the hall gradually diminished, those around her waited irritatingly while Izumi grew restless. But as someone she recognized made it up to the stage, the dragon showed interest.

Izumi thought this selection test was, in itself, a rigged race in order to make people recognize Rudel's position, so the sight surprised her. The dragon snuggled close to Fritz as it recognized him as its contractor.

"Izumi, have you seen Rudel?"

While the surrounding knights fell into a slump, Luecke walked over to Izumi's side. He was looking around, but he couldn't' see Rudel anywhere.

"... I haven't. But what's all this about? Wasn't Rudel supposed to be selected?"

"I don't know either. It was something decided from the start, but for things to be settled before Rudel even got here... more importantly, Izumi, look at the king's seat. Doesn't that look unnatural?"

Hearing that from Luecke, Izumi looked to where the royal family sat. The ministers who seemed to be responsible had drawn close to the king. They were making a ruckus over something, but all eyes in the hall had been gathered on Fritz. She saw the high knights frantically pull the curtain to cut off her line of sight.

From the king's bearing, she could tell this was an unexpected event. The queen was also receiving an explanation from the high knights. But before the curtain close, Aileen and Fina alone quietly watched over the event. Though the knights around Fina were in a frenzy.

"Princess Aileen did hate Rudel. And the one the dragon chose was Fritz... you think that's a coincidence?"

To Luecke's thoughts, Izumi didn't think they would actually go that far. She wanted to reply as such, but thinking back to all Rudel had done to that point, there were some parts she could nod to.

"It was a setup? In that case, right now, Rudel could be..."

A bad premonition entering her head, Izumi's face turned pale. Her heart had been restless as of late, and she could only think of the worst.

"I don't think they'll do him in so easily, but Rudel's already been recognized as the white knight. Taking his power into consideration, as long as they prepared some highly skilled knights, they could capture him and kill him with ease. But no matter how you look at it, that's a terrible hand to play. Killing him would be of no benefit to the country. They normally wouldn't do it, but Rudel obtained permission to enter the dragon dwellings."

While Izumi and Luecke thought, the hall hurriedly moved onto its next event. Fritz was officially appointed as captain of the royal guard.

"Rudel..."

Izumi muttered in worry as she believed in his return.



Where the royal family gathered, Fina looked around with a calm air. She knew it was a rigged election, and she was convinced Aileen had made a move. Calling out to Sophina, she confirmed the present situation.

"Sophina (Oh my~, so she made a move after all. Though I never actually thought she'd go this far. Looks like I've got a ways to go. That aside, are we really going forward like this?)"

"Yes, princess."

Gazing at her father Albach, she called Sophina close. Just like Fina, the queen was also seeking confirmation. But the area around Aileen alone was calm. A number of Aileen's guards headed to the king, and alongside the minister, they tried to persuade him to accept Fritz as captain and see how things went.

"What of ma... Rudel-sama? (More importantly, master. I don't care about some royal guard, and since it's come to this, I can just alter my plan and it won't be a problem! I'll use them for all they're worth, but first... Where are you maaassssttteeeeerrr!!)"

"That has yet to be verified. It seems he did not come to the hall."

"Is that so... (This is bad... if master isn't here, then that will produce a delay in my grand plan. I can use the royal guard so they're not a problem, but if master isn't here, then my dream of Courtois Fluffy Land is gonecasseee!!)"

"The whereabouts of the two dragoons is also unknown. Was it really the best option for us to have moved on our own?"

"Obviously. What sort of care-free things are you saying? You read the report they filed, didn't you? I've got a good idea on how things went, so look into the high knights trying to persuade my father, and that minister as well. (When she's so naïve, I'm genuinely surprised my sister actually succeeded... I was right to choose his guards.)"

She recalled the unnatural report. In spite of the requested search, the report was vague and untrustworthy. She got the impression they never planned to conduct the search from the start.

Fina had read that report at the start of the first term. From there, she had Sophina's subordinates move on their own.

Fina gazed at the confusion surrounding her. It was at that moment. One of Sophina's men raced in. His brow oozed with sweat as he screamed an emergency request. He pleaded for the royal family to evacuate from the spot.



It wasn't just the heads in confusion. The hall was also in a panic.

"Fall back! Quickly, run away!! If you're here, you'll be trampled down!"

"I'm telling you to get the hell away!!"

The ones who suddenly descended down were Lilim and Cattleya. As their dragons flew down, they evacuated the knights and other relevant parties that remained in the hall. Lilim and Cattleya's dragons positioned themselves to protect the royal family.

Izumi rushed over to the two and asked about Rudel. She had been told they were stationed as Rudel's guard, and she determined they might know something.

"Excuse me! Are Rudel... Are Rudel and Sakuya safe!?"

Izumi didn't overlook the moment of clouding that came over their faces. But the two of them soon looked up tot eh sky and cried out.

"Ah, oh no."

"Everyone get down!"

Everyone followed their line of sight. There, they could confirm the form of a large dragon led along by legions of smaller ones. But it was a scene everyone could only doubt. The small dragons, even looked on from afar, didn't give off an impression of being young.

More than that, the single large dragon was abnormally large. That much was fine. That much was fine, but the large dragon was unsteadily teetering through the air. It looked almost as if it wasn't used to flight.

The selection test hall, with all the participants, it had been set up outside. IT was impossible to conduct it at the palace, so it was held on a plain. If it wanted to land, then anywhere was fine. Everyone around thought so. But the unsteadily flying dragon headed straight for the hall as if sucked into it.

The knights and staff started panicking again. Izumi could tell by instinct Rudel was riding that dragon.

The dragon that approached was larger than any of the dragons one could normally see. Its overall body was slim, but its overgrown forelimbs and its four large wings that held up its large build could be called its characteristics, or perhaps could be called characteristic of it. It was a white and pretty dragon.

On its forehead came the glimmer of a blue gemstone. And there was a person on its head. At the individual in armor, Izumi gave a loud cry and waved her hands. While she didn't know why, seeing the dragon caused her to think of Sakuya.

"Rudel, over here!"

Spotting Izumi waving her hands, the dragon started falling straight towards her. When its flight was so unsteady, only its nose-dive looked sharp and elegant. Right, it was falling.

"You fooolll!!"

"Why'd you have to call for it!!?"

"E-eeeh?"

Izumi couldn't understand why Lilim and Cattleya were closing in on her. Rudel was finally here, so she thought it was best to be close to him. Bht the two who knew the situation knew the intensity of the problem. Cattleya cried for those around to get out of there at once, while Lilim offered Izumi a simple explanation.

"That child is still terrible at flying!"

The idea had never occurred to Izumi and she looked up at the sky once more. The white dragon was falling straight towards her. At the same time, the legion of dragons started positioning themselves to protect the surroundings from that white meteor.



"S-so I made it in time!"

'Yeah, I tried hard... praise me.'

A number of dragons came to dig out and support up 'Sakuya', who had collided with the ground. Rudel looked around and searched Izumi out. The white subspecies that had become Rudel's dragon, 'Sakuya', had started a rapid descent upon starting her.

Still only able to use shoddy sentences, Sakuya had nothing in the ways of memory or knowledge. Naturally, she wasn't supposed to remember Izumi. But once she saw her, she happily swopped down. Not listening to Rudel's attempts to stop her... as a final measure, he pleaded for the dragons around to help.

"Yeah, you did your best. But everyone else also worked really hard, so you should thank them."

'Okay, thank you.'

Sakuya roared at the wild dragons around. Rudel jumped down from Sakuya and spotted Izumi. Sitting on the ground, Izumi was looking up at Sakuya.

"Izumi!"

As Rudel called out, Izumi stood and drew close. But perhaps in her confusion, she became emotional and threw words at him one after the next.

"You're late, Rudel! And why did it come to this? Couldn't you make for a safer landing? Is it my fault? Is it because I called out!?"

"... Don't worry. It's all my fault. And who's in charge around here?"

He looked around, but he could only see knights looking up at Sakuya, and knights cowering from the wild dragons. Izumi also looked around, but with everything that had gone on, she didn't remember where the staff had gone. In exchange, Luecke and Eunius rushed over.

Behind them, Aleist walked, looking over Sakuya. Eunius walked up to Rudel and made a mess of his hair. He yelled at him, but his face was smiling.

"Worrying us like that! What were you doing all this time, Rudel!?"

Luecke made a tired face, but looking up at Sakuya, he congratulated Rudel for fulfilling his dream.

"Your dream came true, Rudel. With this, you're a dragoon."

Looking at the two of them, Rudel smiled, but Izumi couldn't honestly rejoice. She got the feeling he was hiding something. Aleist also approached, standing bashfully before Rudel as he spoke.

"C-congratulations."

Rudel spoke with a smile. From Izumi's point of view, he was smiling, but it was a somewhat sorrowful smile.

"Yeah, thank you, everyone."



Once the confusion died down, the royal family and those involved looked at Rudel's dragon. A large and beautiful build that made large wild dragons look like children.

The king looked at Rudel with a smile, keeping his mouth shut as he hit his hands together in applause. Following on from the king, Fina also sent Rudel an applause. She looked at Sophina, and pressured her into clapping.

On, and then another, the number of people applauding increased. In the hall as well, many were wrapped into clapping praise of Rudel.

Aileen loathsomely looked on the scene in the hall. The knights around her weren't clapping.

Before his own dragon, Fritz was on his knees as he looked on from a distance. Rudel's form was the very form of the knight he dreamed to be as a child, and his dragon was beautiful. Watched over by the wild dragons, and the knights around were sending him applause.

All the commendation he was supposed to receive, he felt it had all been stolen away by Rudel.