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Miles: [――Treasure your life, Flop. Self-sacrifice’s for morons.]
That was the advice Miles, the benefactor who had taken Flop out of a squalid environment, had given him.
It appeared that the orphanage where Flop and Medium had spent their childhood was a much worse place than they could have even expected.
A habitual saying of the grownups at the orphanage was that it was a place for children who had no family, no place to go, and no one to rely on, which provided them with a roof over their heads.
Caretaker: [You’re blessed compared to so many other children who’ve got nothing to eat and no work to do.]
In fact, that was what he also thought.
For him and his younger sister Medium, having been abandoned by their family, it was a harsh life of going through hell and back. In regards to food, they would eat grass, insects, and the occasional rabbit, which would cause great furor upon being caught. Worst-case scenario, they would have to munch on soil and moss to stave off the hunger.
In comparison, life at the orphanage was much better.
They were given blankets, albeit thin and tattered ones, meals were provided, albeit consisting of tasteless soup with a piece of bread. They were assigned with menial jobs where numbers mattered, and although they were beaten up by adults on a whim, it was only on occasion.
There was some truth in the grownups’ words of admonishment, that the outside world was much more painful. And so, the idea of running away did not even pop up.
Be that as it may, he could not bear to expose Medium and the other children to the punches and kicks of the adults. Thus, Flop learned to act as cheerfully as possible to draw the grownups’ attention.
Flop made up his mind that, every day, he would be the one to get the most attention from the adults.
Flop’s conspicuousness would make the adults soften their attitude toward the other children. Even on days the adults were in a bad mood, it was Flop who, standing out as he did, would be the first target of the abuse.
Standing out, was a weapon in its own right.
Loud voices and gestures, exaggerated facial expressions and mannerisms. Luckily, it was not difficult to establish a habit of doing these things. It seemed that he had a natural talent for drawing attention.
Flop had shifted the focus of their anger from the younger children towards himself, and had gone through terrible hardships that had left him half dead. It was there, on that night in which Medium had comforted Flop’s wounds all throughout, that he became convinced.
This, was the role he had to play in that place.
Amidst the excruciating pain, that was what Flop told himself――,
???: [Of course not, you dimwit.]
???: [First time I’ve shown my face in goodness knows how many years, and looking at it, it’s still the same disgusting place, with the same stupid kids doing the same stupid things. When it comes to crazy kids, Lil’ Balle’s more than enough.]
Having identified the role he himself should take on, Flop was prepared to shoulder the worst aspects of the orphanage.
However, one night, Flop’s plans were shattered abruptly.
The person who had appeared mounted atop a flying dragon was not a person with a neat appearance, to say the least.
He did not hide his ill-bred and violent nature, and the way he was ruffling his gray hair with irritation made Flop, even as a child, believe that he was the kind of person he would rather not have anything to do with. His features, reminiscent of a subservient rat, also contributed to this impression. A being around whom one should normally keep one’s head down to avoid being punched.
That person―― Miles, languidly betrayed Flop’s unkind impression of him.
Miles: [I come from this institution like y’all. Well, it was a horrible place even back then. That’s why I got the hell outta here and survived by roughing it out.]
At night, the door to the children’s room would be secured with a heavy, metal lock to prevent the kids from sneaking out at a time they were supposed to be sleeping.
Having broken the heavy lock quite violently and peeking inside, upon seeing nearly two dozen children crammed into a small room, Miles clicked his tongue with great annoyance.
He then escorted the children, startled and frightened by the appearance of an unfamiliar adult, out of the room; leaving them with a single word, “Wait”, he headed for the adults’ room.
Miles: [I was straddling the line between life and death day-after-day, but eventually my fortunes started picking up. Then, years later, I remembered our house of abominations and found… this.]
Rolling the tied-up adults on the floor of the room around, and kicking them in the face while he insulted them as ingrates, Miles smiled vulgarly and spat, saying “Serves you right”.
These children must have had a very hard time with the adults. That said, Flop could not help but tilt his head and wonder if he should be going to such extremes.
Turning to Flop, Miles raised his thin eyebrows, and stated,
Miles: [What, you wanna join in as well? Then go ahead and get even. Get even, a hundred times over.]
Flop: [Oh, no, I’m not …]
Miles: [――Come on!!]
Miles’ fiendish whisper made Flop hesitate in his response.
Only for Medium to then jump out from behind Flop, and proceed to punch the head of a tied-up adult without hesitation, using a branch she had picked up. ――No, it was not merely Medium.
All the children, except for a stunned Flop, became enraged renegades.
???: [You were always hurting us!]
???: [I hate you!]
Medium: [This is for big bro!]
Stop stop, so went the screams of the adults, bound and unable to resist, drowned by the children’s screams of rage.
They clawed at the grownups’ faces, slapped them on the cheeks, and finally urinated on them, their pent-up anger exploding.
Miles: [Bwahahaha! Look at their faces! What a masterpiece!]
Flop, dumbfounded, watched the mutiny of his little sister and the other children, while Miles laughed hysterically at the vulgarity of it all.
Flop really could not bring himself to laugh at it. He just kept darting his eyes about as the others made the adults go through all this, wondering what would happen to them now.
Miles: [Well then, now do as you like… Or that’s what I’d like to say, but I dunno if Countess Dracroy’s gonna flip her shit at me if I abandon y’all.]
Looking around at the children after the conclusion of their emotional rebellion, Miles addressed his young juniors, now outside the facility. Continuing with “And so”,
Miles: [For now, I’m gonna take you to the Countess. You can do whatever you wanna after that. You don’t really need to follow me tho’.]
Receiving Miles’s crude invitation, the children looked at one another.
Anxiety and perplexity emerged in their faces. Miles had stated that they were free to follow him or not, but that was a “choice” that neither Flop, nor the other children, had ever had before.
Never had they possessed the right to choose anything, having followed the instructions of adults their entire lives. Therefore, upon suddenly being gifted that right, they were thrown into a state of confusion.
Towards the children’s hesitation, Miles shrugged his shoulders with an “Oioi”,
Miles: [It’s a lil’ too late now, how pitiful. ――You’ve already made them pay their dues. You guys can choose what you wanna do.]
Only once Miles stated so, did the children realize it for the first time.
Just as Miles had said, they had already chosen to rebel.
――When all was done and dusted, none of the children opted to stay in the orphanage.
Of course, although he had not been complicit, Flop could not say that he would stay in the orphanage that had wronged him as such. To begin with, Medium was quick to accept Miles’s invitation, saying, “I’ll go!”, urging Flop to join her as well, voicing out, “Let’s go!”.
There was no way Flop could refuse Medium’s wish, or choose to part ways with his sister. For these reasons, a tad more passive compared to those of the other kids, Flop left the facility.
He had done something outrageous.
Or, perhaps, he had gotten himself involved in something quite outrageous; regret tormented his heart.
Medium: [Good night, big bro.]
On their way to Miles’s master or whatever, the words hit him as he and his sister slept somewhere without a roof, wrapped in blankets brought from the facility.
The sight of his sister, who abandoned herself to her relief. The view outside, devoid of the prison called shelter.
He realized that no longer did he have to worry about being beaten or about his sister being brought to tears.
And on noticing that, Flop cried.
He cried and cried and cried, savoring the salty taste of his freedom.
――In the distance, wings flapping, flying dragons flew away, out into the gray cloud-covered sky.
Zikr remained watchful until the distant shadow was as small as a pea, lest it be a prelude to the next attack, and only then did he relax his body.
For reasons unknown, the flock of flying dragons had retreated. Since the City Hall had not completely fallen, there were two possible reasons for the retreat―― either they had achieved the objective of their operation, or they had found themselves unable to accomplish it.
From Zikr’s perspective, the former was preferable.
Taking the dramatic events that had taken place during the intense assault, lasting only an hour or so into account, objectively, it seemed that the former was more likely.
Zikr: [A sharp drop in temperature, and catastrophic damage to the southern part of the city…]
Running a hand through his own abundantly bushy hair, Zikr touched upon two anomalies that he could not put a finger on.
During the battle, the temperature within the Fortress City had dropped in the blink of an eye, and then, once white snow began floating down, he doubted his eyes. Apparently snow was sometimes seen atop high, very high mountains, but if one were to see snow in Vollachia, the occurrence would be expected to be accompanied by some sort of natural disaster.
In other words, the snowfall that had occurred during the battle was nothing short of a natural disaster.
But that in itself had worked out to be fortuitous, for Zikr and the others.
Sudden changes in temperature made flying dragons vulnerable, even more so when it became colder. Their troublesome ability to fly had been noticeably reduced. Without it, the damage would have been much greater and more profound.
Zikr: [What in the world was that white light…?]
Uncontrollable destruction had obliterated the southern part of the city flat.
It was something of an end-of-the-world spectacle, even the term “natural disaster” was insufficient to describe it. Even though no further damage had followed, the city had been dealt a painful blow by that single blast.
The chain of command had been thrown into disarray, causing the evaluation of the battle status to be delayed. Had the flying dragons pressed on as they were, it was possible that the city would have gradually fallen.
For that reason, it was fortuitous and strange that the flock of flying dragons had retreated.
Consequently, Zikr speculated it may have had something to do with their enemies.
Had someone struck a crushing blow to the enemy in place of Zikr and his men, who were forced to defend the city? In that case, the most likely candidates would be Mizelda, the leader of the Shudraqians, or Priscilla, who had a proven record of defeating Arakiya, a General First-Class.
Whichever one of them had performed this deed――,
Zikr: [After all, women are wonderful. However, I do not want to take entirely for granted the shame of being protected behind a woman’s back.]
The fact that women were superior, was no excuse for Zikr to be inferior.
While women’s splendor should be revered and loved, one’s own shortcomings should be admonished.
???: [I never thought I’d be exposed to such an onslaught, but I suppose the advance preparations have paid off.]
Zikr: […Flying dragons are standard practice for attempting to capture a fortified city. However, it should have been expected that the Flying Dragon General would be sent, rather than the Flying Dragon Squadron.]
Zikr shook his head at the words of his wounded Chief of Staff, the latter bleeding from his head.
The outlook was not good. The preparations for the flying dragons included placing most of the offensive weapons on the western wall, in anticipation of an attack originating from the Imperial Capital, yet the flying dragons had assaulted from all directions.
After the withdrawal of General First-Class Arakiya, they had assumed that it would take some time for the next General to be dispatched, but this had been a miscalculation―― and given the circumstances, it was not surprising.
This was not just a rebellion restricted to one city, but the harbinger of a much larger political upheaval.
From the perspective of those schemers in the Imperial Capital, aware of the situation, it was to be expected that they would put all their efforts into extinguishing the flames of rebellion while they still remained small. They should have considered the possibility of the deployment of another General First-Class right after.
Zikr: [No, let us reflect on that later. Now that the city walls have been damaged, it will be easier to capture the city, even without flying dragons. Assess the damage. See if the walls can be repaired…]
???: [――Put your weapons down right now! That’s an order!]
Swiftly identifying the aspects to reflect on, Zikr stored them in a corner of his mind.
Just as he was about to check on the damage and wrack his head over measures to be taken for the future, a sharp, tense voice shook the chilled air.
Looking over, a figure could be seen, surrounded by those who had repelled the flying dragons’ raid on the building used as the command post, that being the City Hall.
The weapons and attention that had been directed at the flying dragons until then, were now focused solely on the man glaring with a vicious attitude at those surrounding him. In both his hands were long swords, blood dripping from their tips.
However, that blood was not that of humans, but of flying dragons.
Zikr: [That is…]
Chief of Staff: [He’s one of the soldiers we sent out from the cellars to counter the flying dragons. Wielder of twin swords…]
Zikr: [Yeah, I was watching too. That was quite the mighty fight. ――Hey, hold it!]
Zikr, nodding to the Chief of Staff’s point and extending his arms, commanded his men such. At Zikr’s command, one of his men raised his voice, “General Second-Class!”,
Soldier: [It’s dangerous! I let him out of jail because of the situation, but…]
Zikr: [So you want to just throw him back in jail as soon as the threat of the flying dragons is over? As if he would just meekly accept that. The sacrifices we would have to make him go back are the bigger problem.]
Responding to his tense subordinate, Zikr walked over to the man who had become encircled.
The twin-sword wielder’s ability was considerably higher than that of the average Imperial Soldier. In fact, without his inspiring performance, there was no certainty that they could have repelled the hordes of flying dragons that had raided the City Hall.
If that sword were to be pointed at them, it would cause more unnecessary damage.
Zikr: [Obviously, if you continue with such an outburst, your life will be forfeit as well. Which is why…]
Man: [Which is why, what?!]
To a Zikr attempting to break the ice, the man responded with a sharp voice and demeanor. Instead, he pointed one of the two swords in his hands at Zikr, and let out a “Ha!” together with a fierce smile,
Man: [You want me to surrender so obediently? That’s no different from what the rest of those guys are saying, right, General Second-Class Womanizer.]
Soldier: [You! You dare taunt General Second-Class Zikr!]
Zikr was proud of his title, one which possibly sounded disgraceful; but there was a clear intent to ridicule it in the man’s statement from just now. This caused Zikr’s men to become irate and hostile as a result, but Zikr once again restrained them with one hand,
Zikr: [You are welcome to surrender, though that was not what I was attempting to suggest. Your work has been outstanding. Although we stand on different sides, the fact that you have contributed to the defense of the city is not diminished. Therefore, you will be released.]
Man: [――. You serious?]
Zikr: [Definite punishment or reward is a rule of Vollachia, and the wishes of His Excellency the Emperor.]
The Emperor of Vollachia, who evaluated people on the basis of their ability and achievements, was the foundation of the Empire’s meritocracy, a principle of loyalty that Zikr, too, respected.
However, as soon as the man heard Zikr’s answer, his attitude became blatantly prickly.
The ghastly aura overflowing from his entire body and his eye―― As the right eye of the man was covered by an eye patch, he glared at Zikr with his left; all of his emotions were conveyed through it.
Man: [How can a rebel General who betrayed His Excellency the Emperor and the Empire, joining forces with the enemy, be so shameless as to say that…!? If it were me, I’d be so ashamed of myself that I’d just cut my guts out.]
Staring fixedly at the man, Zikr only held his breath upon being faced with these words, the source of his intense hostility seemingly laying in his loyalty to the Empire.
This soldier, who had been put in the dungeon, was very likely one of the men who had resisted Vincent’s advice to surrender till the very end, as of the latter’s conquest of Guaral through his scheme. In other words, he was a man that adhered vehemently to the principles of the Empire.
Zikr: [If I were to inform you that I, like you, pledge unchanging loyalty to the Empire and to His Excellency the Emperor, would you be willing to listen to me?]
At Zikr’s question, the man opened his left eye wide and let out a boorish voice. He trained his eye on Zikr, seemingly unintimidated by the look in his eye, then after a brief pause, he tossed his swords to the floor.
The swords clattered upon the ground with a high-pitched sound, and the now-unarmed man raised both hands.
Zikr: [Can I take that to mean you are going to listen to me?]
Man: [For now, I’ll stop rampaging as I can die an honorable death. If I were to really try it tho’, I could at least chop the treacherous General’s head off…]
Looking around, the man gazed at Zikr’s subordinates in a provocative fashion. Their alarm was heightened by his gaze, but the man snickered,
Man: [But I won’t. Tho’, if this talk you wanna have’s a boring one…]
Zikr: [I intend for this to be a reasonably interesting conversation. What is your name…?]
Having lowered his weapon so he could step closer, Zikr inquired the man as to his name. For a moment, the man hesitated to answer the question, but as there was no point in deception, scratching his own head, he,
Man: [――Jamal Aurélie. Private First-Class.]
Stated his name and rank.
In response to this attitude, Zikr also gave deep assent with a nod.
Zikr: [Jamal, is it? As you may know, I am Zikr Osman. Having been conferred with the rank of Imperial General Second-Class, I am also known as the Womanizer. Although…]
Zikr: [I would feel much better if I were to be called the Coward now.]
That moniker, once considered a shame, now took on special prominence in Zikr.
Hearing Zikr’s answer, the man―― Jamal, grimaced with incomprehension. It was evident that Jamal was skilled at arms, but not good at thinking or reasoning.
With that as the case, he may lend an ear if one preached righteousness.
???: [――Excuse me, you are the representative of this city, correct?]
Jamal had surrendered, and the City Hall was released from the tension about to burst. Following which, a voice slipped in, as if it had been waiting for the right moment to interrupt.
The quiet, soft tone of that voice struck the eardrums in a way that evoked a sense of relief in those who heard it.
Nevertheless, the unfamiliar voice made Zikr turn around and furrow his curly eyebrows.
The owner of the voice had made their appearance on the stairs connecting the top floor of the command center to the lower floor. Raising his hands as to display they held no hostility, a gray-haired man turned to look at him,
Grey-Haired Man: [Are you General Zikr Osman-san?]
He had not faltered in identifying Zikr as the General, among those wearing the same red uniforms.
Of course, considering the cloak he was donning, and the rank insignia on his shoulders, to spot Zikr as the highest-ranking individual in the room was an easy affair. ――The problem was, the audacity to point that out.
The audacity, to show his face at a command post where there had been a battle just moments before, and name a commander they were unfamiliar with. Zikr wondered about the affiliation of this unassuming, yet unafraid man.
As they were not recognized as being part of the city’s inhabitants, it was likely that they had blended with them during the struggle.
The best answer, in that case, would be that they were――,
Zikr: [A messenger from the Imperial Capital… Perhaps a messenger for us?]
Grey-Haired Man: [Huh? Oh, no no, not at all! It is more complicated for us to explain any more at the moment, but we are not related to the Imperial Capital or anything like that.]
Waving his raised hands in denial, the young man hurriedly denied Zikr’s suspicions. If he were to take his word for it, the young man’s position would become all the more incomprehensible.
So, in Zikr’s stead, as he furrowed his brow, Jamal yelled out a “Bastard!”, gnashing his teeth,
Jamal: [First dibs on him! You come in here after me… I’m gonna kick your ass!]
Grey-Haired Man: [I am very sorry about that. I do not expect that we will be able to have a calm conversation at this point in time. So, if you could just give me permission.]
Jamal: [Permission? Permission for what?]
Grey-Haired Man: [To assist in the treatment of the wounded and in the repair of the city afterwards… To assist with the aftermath of the battle, so to speak. I am certain my companions and I will be able to give a hand in some small way.]
In response to Jamal tensing his cheeks, the young man sighed, speaking “Although”. His own face, somewhat tired and somewhat exasperated, relaxed slightly, and,
Grey-Haired Man: [Since we have already started, approval would be retroactive, if only partially.]
Zikr: [――. I appreciate the offer itself, but it is…]
???: [It’s nothing so complicated, Zikr. There’s no lie in what the man said.]
Before Zikr could ask a litany of questions, a dignified voice that he could not help but listen to attentively interrupted him.
The sound of a cane on the floor echoed sharply, and a shadow approaching the stairs lined up with the young man. It was Mizelda, her valiant figure bathed in blood, which increased her ferocious beauty.
From the looks of it, the entirety of the blood that stained her beautiful body appeared to have been spilled by someone else, as there seemed to be no noticeable external injuries other than her leg, which had been injured previously. Zikr was relieved to see her back in one piece.
Having returned, Mizelda clapped the young man on his thin shoulder like she was familiar with him,
Mizelda: [This one’s companions have already started their work. I assure you.]
Zikr: [Miss Mizelda, I am so glad you are safe. And him?]
Mizelda: [I don’t know him. He’s not our enemy, he’s just a guy with a handsome face, so I let him through.]
Zikr: [Miss Mizelda…]
Mizelda’s aesthetic sense was somewhat different from Zikr’s, but she was certainly correct in saying that the young man’s features were pleasing, beautifully arranged.
The atmosphere he let off was somewhat neutral, but there was a strangely strong sense of purpose in his eyes.
That he was not a bad person, was what Zikr believed. But, he also had a gut feeling.
Zikr: [I do not believe that there would be anyone willing to help with this situation and not want something in return. Who are you?]
Grey-Haired Man: [As I said before, the situation is a complicated one to explain. However, I do not intend to be hostile towards you. ――There are people who we are looking for, just that.]
Zikr: [Looking for people…]
Towards Zikr, repeating his words, the young man nodded, followed with a “Yes”.
Then, he removed the green hat he was wearing and placed it on his chest as he bowed, a polite gesture that displayed respect, but not in the way someone from the Empire would do such deed.
Grey-Haired Man: [My name is Otto Suwen. ――I am looking for my friend, as well as my friend’s younger sister.]
Thus, with eyes like those of a cunning hyena, he stated his purpose.
――Miles’s mistress, Serena Dracroy, was a High Countess and a woman of fierce character.
As a young woman she had fought hard against the upper echelons of the Empire’s aristocracy, and, in accordance with the code of blood and iron that was the embodiment of the Empire, placed great emphasis on meritocracy, favoring the talented.
On the other hand, she also possessed integrity that did not allow the strong to humiliate the weak as they pleased. For that reason, the children brought home by Miles were not mistreated.
Serena: [I’ve heard about it. Miles, who avoids trouble, has even brought you to this house. He must’ve taken pity on your situation. You’re free to do as you please in my territory.]
Serena smiled broadly, as she welcomed Flop and the other children.
Flop was overwhelmed by the intimidating feeling of being in front of an entity more massive than him in height, which made him want to grovel in his childish heart; also, by the interior of the house, as he had never seen anything so ornate and spacious before.
Miles: [People such as the Countess ain’t got a reason to go out of their way to bully those below them, even if they’ve got the leeway. After all, the adults who beat children were beaten by adults when they were children as well.]
Miles responded as such with his usual coarseness to Flop and the children, who had been bathed in hot water, devoured a belly-filling meal, and changed into clean, good-smelling clothes.
Unlike Medium and the others, whose eyes were turned towards a world where everything they saw and touched was fresh and new, Flop was impressed by a world and way of thinking he was unfamiliar with.
In particular, he was greatly influenced by the philosophies that Miles spoke of so casually.
Without Miles, Flop would never have known that there were ways of seeing and understanding things that he had never known existed in the world.
???: [Oh, we’re the same, aren’t we? Did Big Bro Miles pick you up too?]
Flop, following the back of his sister who had been given freedom to run around the mansion, stopped at a beautiful garden in the vast grounds.
At a time in which he was overwhelmed by the sight of large flowers in full bloom, an oh-so-soft voice called out to his back.
Albeit he was startled, looking around for the source of the voice, he could not find the other person in the garden. As Flop tilted his head at this,
???: [Over here. Sorry about that, I’m down here.]
???: [Oof, what a fall.]
As a head suddenly appeared right in front of him, poking out from just beyond the fence against which he had been leaning to peek into the garden, Flop involuntarily fell backward.
Flop blinked as he was laughed at for falling on his rear.
The person who laughed at Flop’s fall was an older boy, though he still looked somewhat young. He was around twelve or thirteen years old, with a charming face and brown hair.
Flop: […You’re laughing quite a lot, aren’t you?]
Boy: [Oh, sorry sorry. But that just now was something worth seeing. I’d help you up, but I can’t move right now.]
Flop: [Can’t move, you say…]
Standing up, and then patting off his backside, Flop walked around the fence towards the youth. Doing so, he happened upon the boy, sitting cross-legged on the ground with a round mass in his lap.
Upon seeing that, Flop opened his eyes wider in wonder.
Flop: [Is that an egg?]
Boy: [Yes, yes, it’s a big egg, right? It’s actually the egg of a flying dragon.]
Flop: [What are you going to do with the egg of a flying dragon?]
Boy: [I’m going to hatch it, of course.]
The size of the white egg required the boy to hold it with both arms, and as such, he held it close to his body as he gave Flop a broad smile.
――That was the first encounter between the sibling pair of Flop and Medium O’Connell, and Balleroy Temeglyph, the man who would become their sworn brother for the rest of their lives.
――It could be said that they had gained more than just knowledge on the threat of the flying dragons.
The threat of their claws and fangs, the breadth of strategies they could employ with their wings, the ferociousness with which they did not hesitate to harm their enemies; all those were more than keenly felt by the sight of the destroyed city, and of those who had been attacked, respectively.
Frankly, it was difficult to understand how anyone could think that such a dangerous creature could be tamed and used so effectively. It seemed like an irreconcilable adversary―― one that was just as dangerous as the giant serpent they had encountered in the Jungle.
Rem quietly squinted at the sight outside her window, watching the assortment present in the landscape.
In the garden of the mansion, a flying dragon was resting its wings, and a soldier was feeding it. The flying dragon, counter to the idea of it being supposedly terrifying and ferocious, had a soft look in its eyes and emanated a sweet tone, as it was fed by said soldier.
From Rem’s perspective, having been told that flying dragons were ferocious and vicious, on top of having witnessed their danger firsthand, the appearance of a flying dragon being so friendly towards people was surprising.
She had been told by a girl who was apparently very familiar with dragons that they, proud as they were, were not fond of people. One would not blame them for thinking otherwise.
???: [You seem to be quite gloomy.]
Suddenly, as Rem gazed at the garden, she heard a voice behind her.
However, Rem was not surprised; she was aware that someone was making their way, as the other party made footsteps in their approach.
However, hearing the voice of a stranger, and feeling somewhat tensed given the place she was in,
Rem: [I don’t know if I’m being gloomy, but I do have some thoughts. It’s not a place I wanted to go to, but I was brought here anyway.]
???: [Hm, you are more straightforward than I expected. What a pleasant person.]
Rem: […You would be…]
In the room to which she had been assigned, in a building where even the rooms given to prisoners of war were opulent, Rem asked the identity of the old man who had made his appearance, all while the chair she was on, too luxurious to be comfortable, creaked.
He was an old man with white hair, a white mustache, and eyes as thin as a thread.
His attire was far from that of a warrior, and one could only assume that he was a person of high ranking.
His behavior and age, as well as the fact that the soldiers guarding Rem straightened their postures and bowed their heads, all suggested that he was in a particularly high position.
At Rem’s unreserved stare, the old man gave a light wave of his hand, gesturing for the soldiers on guard to leave the room. The soldiers immediately obeyed, and bowing, they left the room.
And so, once the old man was alone with Rem in the room, with his hand he indicated the seat opposite the one in which Rem was sitting, and,
Old Man: [May I sit down?]
Rem: […Go ahead.]
The old man took his seat right in front of Rem in a lax manner, the latter having assented with a nod.
Facing Rem directly, he stroked his chin with his finger, and spoke,
Old Man: [Have you heard anything from her about me?]
Rem: [No, nothing. I’ve heard nothing but “heal him” and “rest”, and “if you try anything funny, I’ll kill you”.]
Ruminating on the instructions of the master of the house―― Madelyn, who would not listen to her, Rem shook her head.
Rem was under house arrest, guards posted on her. She had been given strict orders to not attempt an escape; while she had no intention of running away, it was true that it was not a very pleasant situation.
The old man then nodded his head, responding with “I understand”,
Old Man: [I possess a few issues regarding her attitude towards a guest. I shall give General First-Class Madelyn a word of caution.]
Rem: […You can caution her?]
Rem was taken aback by the words of the unfamiliar old man.
Having spent neither a long nor a short time with Madelyn between the events at the Fortress City and being brought to this mansion, Rem was annoyed at her lack of communication.
Madelyn was obstinate and headstrong, although her having a persuadable candor had been her saving grace.
Rem: [I believed she was someone who didn’t like to be told what to do by others. That if someone were to tell her something, she would become angry and violent immediately…]
And having conveyed her own feelings to such an extent, Rem put a hand of hers on top of the other.
Now that she mulled over it calmly, she felt ashamed of herself, wondering what kind of face she was making as she declared that, as a person who had once broken another person’s finger because she had not harkened to what they had to say.
However, the old man broke a slight smile at Rem’s self-reflection with a “Hmm”,
Old Man: [Contrary to your expectations, you are not mistaken in that. Even if it pains me to hear it. In fact, she failed to follow my instructions correctly this time as well. However――]
Old Man: [This time, though, another factor was seemingly more important than the whims of General First-Class Madelyn.]
The old man maintained his lips relaxed, but the hint of a smile had disappeared from the tone of his voice.
Rem held her breath for a moment as she was shot by his gaze, something beyond those narrow, penetrating eyes seemingly assessing her. The gaze had eloquently regarded Rem as “another factor”.
And that factor, had brought undesirable consequences for the old man before her.
Rem: […Who, are you?]
Old Man: [I apologize for the late introduction. I am the Prime Minister of the Sacred Vollachian Empire, Berstetz Fondalfon.]
Rem: [Prime Minister, Berstetz…]
The old man―― Berstetz, reverently bent at the waist in response to the question.
As soon as Rem heard his name and position, her cheeks became even stiffer, and she tensed her shoulders even more.
She remembered hearing both the name and the position.
Rem: [So, you are…]
Berstetz: [Yes. ――I am the enemy of His Excellency the Emperor Vincent Abellux.]
He asserted such without hesitation, and once again Rem was left unable to carry on speaking.
It was an affirmation of what she already knew, but she had not expected it to be spoken in such a straight-forward fashion. Additionally, at the same time, this was a major problem which she had gotten roped up in, regardless of whether she liked it or not. The fact that she had ended up being brought to the place closest to this maelstrom was something she could not help but conceive as being terribly out-of-place and ironic.
It should be Abel, Priscilla, and Subaru here, and not herself, to begin with.
With that point in mind, Rem was glad that Subaru was not at this place.
Rem: [Had he been here by himself, he would’ve been reckless, definitely…]
There was no room for doubt about the black-haired boy’s quick thinking and his ability to stretch the boundaries of one’s imagination. Even in this situation, he would cause outlandish events beyond Rem’s imagination.
In that sense, it was a good thing he had not been in the city at the time of the flying dragons’ raid. It was unlikely that he would have been able to do anything about it, and would only obtain even more injuries.
However, I wonder, when he learns that I was taken away by Madelyn, how he will feel.
So terrible was it, that Rem’s chest was tormented by the pain of the sharp blade that was her imagination.
Rem: [――. So you know that Abel-san is the real Emperor, correct?]
Forcing herself to ignore the pain of the deep cut remaining in her heart, Rem asked Berstetz a question. To that, he responded with a curt “Yes”,
Berstetz: [Of course. Allowing him to escape was a blunder, but after that, things have been proceeding according to plan. Or should I say, they were. As, in fact, the destruction of Guaral was left unfinished.]
Rem: [Why did you do that to Abel-san? I can’t imagine what it must be like to come up with the resolution to do something like rebel… Is it because of Abel-san’s personality?]
Berstetz: [We do not seek individual personality in the Emperor, the pinnacle of the nation. Personal feelings and attachments are trivial, from the perspective of running a nation. If there is anything to look for, that would only be competence, and the trust and performance of a person able to fulfill their responsibilities.]
Shaking his head leisurely, Berstetz responded with an emotionless voice and expression.
The tone of his voice never wavered, the expression on his face never changed in the slightest. Rem’s lack of life experience, coupled with Berstetz’s superior communication skills, made it impossible for her to read his inner thoughts.
He was emotionless and therefore lying, or he was being truthful; which was it?
However, it was her opinion that she wanted to believe what she was told, that Abel’s character had not been the reason for raising a rebellion.
Rem had witnessed the blood and death of so many in the Fortress City. Not only those who had died, but also Rem herself, would not be convinced that Abel’s bad character was the reason for it.
Rem: [Are you saying that you ousted Abel-san because he’s unfit to be Emperor?]
Berstetz: [Ousting, was not my intention. That is merely hindsight.]
Rem: [What about Abel-san was lacking? I don’t know the burden that the position of Emperor carries, nor the abilities required, but I believe… he’s an excellent person.]
Rem wondered to herself why she felt compelled to defend Abel, but Rem chose her words to convince the nagging feeling inside of her.
In fact, his capability to fight aside, Abel stood out for his wit and his stores of wisdom.
The fact that Mizelda, Zikr, and even Subaru were willing to follow his reasoning, was evidence that he also possessed the leadership skills to convince others of such opinions.
Although she did not understand the particulars, Rem believed that was a quality of those standing at the pinnacle, as well.
And that would be something necessary for the one at the highest seat in the nation.
Berstetz: [I have yet to hear your name, Healer-dono.]
Rem: […Rem, it seems.]
Partly because of animosity toward Berstetz, she informed it as some sort of hearsay.
Rem had already accepted that her name was “Rem”, understandably so. Ever since she had identified herself to Priscilla with poise―― or from the time she allowed Subaru to call her that.
Anyhow, familiarizing his tongue with Rem’s name, Berstetz let out a small exhale, and then,
Berstetz: [Rem-dono, how many successors do you believe His Excellency the Emperor has at present?]
Rem: [Succe… ssors… Uhh, you mean children, is that it?]
As Berstetz nodded serenely, Rem pictured Abel in her mind.
Rem had no memories, but that did not signify she had lost all the knowledge acquired before she lost them. Rem had also kept the knowledge of how human beings reproduced.
However, it was doubtful that Abel would be able to establish a relationship as proper as that with another person. In the first place, Rem could not imagine a woman who would be able to stand on the same level as Abel.
Rem: [I can’t imagine it. I guess there aren’t any?]
Berstetz: [――. You understand very well. You are correct, none exist.]
Rem: [Oh, of course it’s like that. Though I guess that’s doing Abel-san――]
A discourtesy, Rem was about to continue, only for her to interrupt her words there.
Not that Berstetz had stated anything towards Rem, nor that she had been told to be silent; it was, however, that the narrowed eyes of the silent old man opened slightly. His expression, eyes visible behind it, came right up close to Rem’s face. Rem’s voice was silenced by an aura so ghastly that it was unfathomable.
Quietly, Berstetz placed his hand on the table between them. Silently overflowing from his entire body, was unimaginable, intense rage.
Berstetz: [There are no successors, you see. ――Therein lies the problem.]
Berstetz: [The Empire must be strong. Otherwise, this nation will…]
As Rem before him let out a hoarse breath, Berstetz cut off her speech, opened his fist placed atop the table, and exhaled.
Then, once again hiding his eyes behind his eyelids, the old man looked at Rem.
Berstetz: [I beg your pardon. This is the first time I have been a rebel, and I must say that I have become slightly agitated.]
Rem: […Why, are you saying this now, to me?]
Rem: [Telling me all this wasn’t necessary.]
Berstetz’s words were loaded not with emotion, but with something much weightier and clearer.
Rem did not feel that it had been a lie, but that was exactly why she was questioning him. Why had he allowed Rem to hear such things?
Rem did not consider herself to be in such an important position, and in fact, she certainly was not in one.
There were times when Rem happened to be in a position close to Abel and Priscilla, but that was merely because of how things had come to pass, not because Rem was special.
Rem: [So why?]
Berstetz: […You are a healer, and belong to the oni race. I would like to bring you in if possible. You are a precious existence.]
Albeit not a lie, that answer was not entirely true.
However, Berstetz seemed to have resolved not to dedicate any more time to Rem, who was in search of further answers. Slowly, the old man rose from the chair in which he had been sitting.
Berstetz: [I would like to converse with you a little longer, but a man like me has things he must do. Excuse me for inconveniencing you for a while now, but I will offer to make things as accommodating as possible for those in the mansion, so please, be at ease.]
Rem: […Berstetz-san, what are you, in regards to Madelyn-san?]
Berstetz: [Calling me a collaborator would be most appropriate. Of course, there is the impression that, in her point of view, she is utilizing a wise human being. This mansion is also my mansion.]
Unexpectedly shrugging his burly shoulders, Berstetz answered that, which prompted Rem to look around the room and towards the garden.
Since Madelyn spent her time there as if she owned the place, one would assume that it was her mansion, but it seemed that even that turned out to be wrong. However, the elegance of the building and its interiors convinced Rem.
Rem: [But I don’t think I can spend my time lounging around, nor do I want to.]
Berstetz: [A candid manner of speech, quite delightful. So, once again, good health to you, Rem-dono.]
Donning a minute smile, Berstetz once again bent at the waist and left the room.
She considered attempting to stop him, but unable to find the right words to say, and judging herself to perhaps be unable to stop him, Rem went without saying anything.
Replacing Berstetz who had left the room, the guards who had been sent outside returned.
Their stern stares directed at her, Rem once again looked out.
The flying dragon had just finished its meal, and was now slowly flapping its wings to take to the skies, on its back the man who had fed it.
Though it was a ferocious, fearsome flying dragon, to be carried atop its back in flight was exhilarating.
She had not had the leisure to enjoy it given the circumstances, of course; they had been transported from Guaral to their destination in less than a day, making her wonder just what had their journey so far been.
While Rem treated the wounded Flop, Madelyn had brought them here――,
Rem: [――The Imperial Capital, Lupugana.]
The city where Abel aspired to reclaim his throne, after having been ousted from it.
With the Crystal Palace at the heart of the city in the distance, Rem was being held captive. Touching the unopenable window, and ascertaining the feel of the glass on her fingertips, she had a sudden thought.
Would pain run through his heart when he learned Rem was gone?
A pain in his heart, just like Rem’s own, which felt like a blade piercing deep into her heart.
From where these sort of thoughts in her mind originated, Rem did not know.
――Flop slowly opened his eyes, and gazed upon the ceiling of an unfamiliar room.
He spent a moment organizing his thoughts, quickly observing his surroundings to assess the situation.
It was his habit as a peddler who often camped out in the wild. Of course, his sister, who possessed a sense of intuition sharper than his, would be in charge of staying vigilant, but that was no reason for him to slacken.
It was possible that his poor reactions could make the difference between life and death. So, getting out of bed as quickly as possible was a skill that he had learned as a matter-of-course in order to survive――,
Flop: [This place… Ugh!]
The moment he tried to look around while being careful, he raised a scream as his chest spasmed from a terrible pain.
If this were outside in the middle of the night, he would have been very foolish to let beasts know of his whereabouts. Nevertheless, what had already been done, had been done.
So that he would recover, with labored breaths, Flop attempted to upright himself, and,
Flop: [W-what the… I can’t move at all…!]
Not only was he unable to put strength into his arms, but the soft bed sucked his weight in. His whole body sank softly, yet if he were told that it was acting as more of a cage than a bed, he would have believed it.
Nevertheless, he squirmed and struggled in a desperate attempt to somehow make it out,
Flop: [This, this…! This is really tough!]
???: [――. You’re quite the strange person.]
Flop: [Wha!? Who’s there!?]
Behind Flop as he struggled with the bed, a high-pitched voice was heard, hence he tried to turn around. But his efforts were in vain, his impaired body would not even turn around properly.
As Flop struggled like a fish on land, a deep sigh was heard,
???: [It is I, the dragon. Your wounds are in the process of healing, so stop getting worked up for nothing.]
The other party stepping towards the bedside as they spoke, Flop exhaled faintly.
A girl with sky-blue hair, golden eyes, and two black horns on her head―― Madelyn. An Imperial General First-Class who had attacked the Fortress City, the existence known as the Flying Dragon General.
And, from what Flop last remembered――,
Flop: [If I remember correctly, your claws ripped into me and it hurt quite a lot…]
Madelyn: [Correct. This dragon’s claws tore the life out of you… That girl friggin’ healed you.]
Flop: [That girl… Oh right.]
Averting her gaze, Madelyn muttered that with an uncomfortable expression on her face. Her words brought a visage to Flop’s mind, causing him to comprehend the event that had befallen him.
At the same time he remembered that, in his fading consciousness, he had asked her―― he had asked Rem to do something horrible.
Flop: [Miss Madelyn, is that correct? I’ve got to ask, what happened to Guaral? That city went through an awfully large explosion, plus an attack by your friends.]
Flop: [So, seeing as I barely escaped with my life, I think Wife-san and I survived. But that result’s the second worst one in my opinion. Of course, the worst outcome would’ve been the one in which Wife-san and I both died.]
Holding up a finger, Flop kept talking and directed this question at Madelyn.
Madelyn maintained her uncomfortable expression as she looked sideways at his finger. Thinking this was a sign this was leading down a reluctant topic for her, Flop pressed on.
Flop: [I don’t know, Miss Madelyn. Your face makes it look like you’re unhappy or sulking. My little sister used to fidget like that too when sulking. The fact that she doesn’t look low-key at all when doing so, given her body’s so big, is cute; but I guess you’re like that as well?]
Flop: [Yes? What is it?]
Madelyn: [The city’s friggin’ safe! I wasn’t able to friggin’ destroy it completely! Is that what you friggin’ want!?]
Displaying her sharp fangs, Madelyn roared back at Flop’s words. Flop breathed a long sigh of relief, feeling the illusion of a furious breath of air run over his body.
“Safe”, was not a very appropriate answer considering what Flop remembered of Guaral’s state, but Madelyn did state she was unable to destroy the city.
If that was the case, then――,
Flop: [Wife-san used my life well, didn’t she…]
Flop thought back on his deed right before he lost consciousness, when his awareness was vague, his ears filled with a ringing sound.
Madelyn had been so greatly upset by the sight of Flop bleeding and on the verge of losing his life, that he had caught sight of it in the corner of his eye. She seemed to have been questioning Flop about something, as if clinging onto it.
So the thought that his life could be made useful had come to him. An agreement could be made, where, in exchange for saving Flop’s life, Madelyn could be granted the answer that she desired, meaning that the possibility of Guaral escaping its predicament did exist.
That the pacifist Rem would be capable of making such a cold-hearted decision was unthinkable to him. It must have put a tremendous burden on her, even though, considering the current situation, it appeared she had been successful.
Flop: [Where’s Wife-san, the one who healed my wounds?]
Madelyn: […She was friggin’ brought along as well. That was the condition I, the dragon, proposed, and she accepted it. This dragon keeps her promises. I’ll make sure she friggin’ keeps her promise to this dragon, too.]
Flop was relieved to hear that Rem was safe. But then an ornament bearing the fang of a beast―― or rather, the fang of a dragon painted red, was pushed into his view.
A precious item that Flop usually wore around his neck, and carried with him without letting it part from his skin.
It was held against the tip of Flop’s nose, as he laid prone on the bed.
Flop: [Oh, you picked that up for me? Thank you so much for that. It’s a very, very precious thing. I’d be incapable of living on just fine and make myself look happy. That’s why…]
Reaching out, Flop attempted to retrieve the fang. But Madelyn easily dodged Flop’s hand and, instead of returning the object, she uttered a name.
The name caused Flop to hold his breath, and Madelyn continued.
Madelyn: [This is Carillon’s fang. Why the frig’ do you have it?]
Twice Madelyn voiced Carillon, he had unmistakably heard that name.
It would be impossible for him to mishear it. Because that name was――,
Madelyn: [Friggin’ answer! Why do you have Carillon’s…]
Flop: [I was there when Carillon was born. I thought up its name together with them. With Big Bro Miles and Balleroy.]
Flop: [When its fangs were replaced by new ones, we received one as a commemoration. It was proof of the bond with my sworn brother… my family. That’s why my sister and I have Carillon’s fangs.]
Quietly, Flop replied, as if lifting the lid on a precious treasure chest deep inside his heart.
He responded to the questions about the origin of the flying dragon fang swinging in Madelyn’s hand. Their precious family members―― their benefactor and their sworn brother, a memento of two people no longer in the world.
Upon hearing the answer, Madelyn was rendered speechless, her lips quivering, her eyes widened.
Based on her reaction, and on the fact that she was familiar with Carillon’s name, Flop also made some assumptions, and, prefacing with “May I?”,
Flop: [Where did you get Carillon’s name? You even recognized its fangs at a single glance. I don’t think that the relationship you had was a fleeting one. Besides, you…]
Flop: [You’re the girl who took Balleroy’s place as Ninth. Perhaps you’d known Balleroy and Carillon for some time?]
Her reaction expressed her pain; hounding the young-looking Madelyn like this made his chest hurt
However, Flop’s chest had once suffered a pain more intense compared to that of seeing Madelyn in pain, and because of that very same topic. Nothing in the world was more devastating than the face of his sobbing sister, for him.
So he did not hesitate in cornering Madelyn, to get to the bottom of what laid within her heart.
One of the Nine Divine Generals of the Vollachian Empire, a sworn brother to Flop and Medium, a rebel who had lost his life in a revolt against the Emperor. A kind and beloved man, who deeply loved his dear dragon Carillon and his benefactor Miles.
What was the relationship between him and Madelyn?
Flop: [Why did you become a Divine General?]
Madelyn: [――For revenge.]
There was a beat of hesitation before she gave her answer, but the words that came out were transparent.
Madelyn’s lips quivered, her eyes widened; slowly, her expression changed as her golden eyes were filled by the fury that had wrought the distortion of her face―― a radiant rage.
The violent rage of the little girl accompanied by dragons, scorched Flop’s entire body as he lay down on the bed.
Madelyn’s rage was of such violence as to make him hallucinate that.
Madelyn revealed that she had taken up the position of Divine General to seek revenge.
The word “revenge” was something Flop also had thoughts about. ――For Flop, it was his life’s goal. However, his target for revenge was not a single person, but rather the world.
Revenge against the world itself, a world in which people were forced to make decisions against their will.
The anger in Madelyn’s eyes, however, was wholly different.
As for the violent emotion that burned in her golden eyes, he knew who it should be directed at.
Flop: [For whose sake do you want to exact revenge?]
Madelyn: […For Balleroy, revenge for the man who was to be this dragon’s mate.]
Madelyn: [I, the dragon, will never forgive the one who killed this dragon’s darling. For that reason――]
She would exact revenge for Balleroy’s death; Madelyn’s small frame overflowed with rage as she replied.
Flop did not know how Balleroy and Madelyn had met, what experiences they had gone through, or what form their bond had taken.
However, he did understand that Madelyn lamented and mourned his death from the bottom of her heart.
And so, therefore, that was why――,
Flop: [――Who is Balleroy’s killer? How can your revenge be fulfilled?]
If Medium were the one present here, she would certainly have embraced Madelyn out-right.
If it were Medium, who had shed a waterfall of tears and wailed loudly at the deaths of Balleroy and Miles, she would certainly have taught Madelyn how to cry.
Someone dear to her had been killed. And at that fact, Madelyn was furious.
She did not know how to grieve. As a being of tremendous power with black horns, a being to whom flying dragons obeyed, she could only think of a single way to grieve. Rage.
And it was the same with Flop, who had forgotten how to cry.
Madelyn: [The one who caused Balleroy’s death was――]
Flop’s question was answered by Madelyn, as she squeezed her small hands.
Her darling stolen from her, and having been dispossessed of a place to pour her love in, keeping it within her petite body, Madelyn allowed the embers of her anger to burn in place of shedding tears, resolving to exact vengeance.
And Flop, upon hearing that name woven by Madelyn’s mouth, closed his eyes.
He closed his eyes, kept his silence. For once, he forgot the ache of the still-healing wound which Madelyn had torn into his chest, and surrendered himself to the darkness behind his eyelids.
On closing his eyes, he could still recall the faces of those dear to him.
Miles: [You and Medium ain’t thinking straight. Those who should stay at the Countess’s place, I won’t be able to take care of y’all, good grief.]
Balleroy: [This is Big Bro Miles’s way of showing his concern. Though, if you were to stay here, he’d end up takin’ care of you forever. He ain’t very up-front, now is he?]
Miles: [Shut your trap, Lil’ Balle! Those who get ahead in life shouldn’t come back so often!!]
Balleroy: [Nah, that wouldn’t be like me. Spending time here with Big Bro Miles, Flop, Medi and the others, that’s far more suited to me. Ain’t that right?]
This brought back fond memories of Balleroy, who had gone out of his way to come from afar and stop by on the day of departure, and Miles, as well as those two’s late-night exchange.
With a big wave of his hand, he and Medium both left the place that had taken care of them for so long, and then――,
And then, having finally arrived at the Imperial Capital, Flop O’Connell’s blue eyes were alight.
With those eyes of his lit up, his lips weaved words.
Flop: [――Ah, so you were Balleroy’s killer. Village Chief-kun… No, Emperor Vincent Vollachia.]