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Serena: [――Ultimately, subduing my person will keep the Dracroy domain from making a move. As I thought, you’ve got yourself a fine wife, haven’t you Roswaal?]
Roswaal: […It’s troublesome that I have had to correct you countless times already, but Ram is my atteeendant~.]
Met with Serena’s comment, who was unusually brave considering the circumstances placed upon her, Roswaal unpleasantly replied while feeling like he was at his wit’s end.
Visiting Serena’s territory, the Dracroy Domain, he was searching for someone in the Vollachian Empire―― In order to secure the missing persons of Subaru and Rem, he had requested assistance two days earlier.
Holding the position of High Countess, Serena was widely known throughout the Empire. It was hoped that she would be able to obtain highly accurate information, with the condition that it was about “A boy with black hair, black eyes, who would stand out whether he wanted to or not.”
No matter where he was whisked off to, it was hard to believe that Subaru would keep quiet, so the degree of their expectations were high in that sense as well.
Therefore, it was inevitable that this would happen, and at the same time it was unexpected.
Roswaal: [Ram, let me ask just in case, but the reason for this reckless action is…]
Ram: [――It is Natsumi Schwartz.]
Roswaal: [Isn’t thaaat right?]
The sound spun by Ram’s lips, it held the meaning of a name that was difficult for Roswaal to disregard.
Having been sent off to the Empire, Natsuki Subaru, isolated without support, directed a distress signal to those who understood the meaning of that name―― Roswaal and Ram also immediately picked up on its intent.
In indicating that he was here, Subaru’s judgment was unusually praiseworthy. Indeed, Subaru’s actions themselves were without fault.
If there was a problem, it was the “side” from which the beacon of that distress signal had been raised.
Therefore, Ram resorted to what could be called a surprise attack or reckless action.
The result yielded a scene of Ram holding her wand thrust forward, forcing Serena to keep seated on the sofa. However, this could not be blamed solely on Ram’s reckless behavior.
The reason was――,
Serena: [――The black-haired maiden leading the rebellion, Natsumi Schwartz, is the person you’re searching for?]
Ram: [To be precise, that person is an added bonus for Ram.]
Serena: [Though, that is not the case for Roswaal. Thus, what is not so for Roswaal, must be extraordinarily important to you.]
At the words of Serena, whose movements were being restrained by the wand pointed at her, Ram held her tongue.
Even while Ram prevented her from moving about, Serena’s thinking remained sharp. In these circumstances, she did not lose her composure, and had a general understanding of Roswaal and Ram’s situation.
――”Natsumi Schwartz” was something like a pseudonym that Natsuki Subaru had been using.
Although the exact meaning of the name was more complicated than that, if one considered the reasoning behind Subaru’s deliberate use of it in the Empire, his intention in using the pseudonym was clear.
Roswaal too, would like to respect that intention if possible, but――,
Roswaal: [Of all the things, to be on the side of the rebel army is…]
Even though he could pick up on the intention of using a pseudonym, the direction from which the beacon had been raised had been unexpected.
The rebellion that had occurred in the midst of them smuggling themselves into the Empire was already cause for concern. It was no exaggeration to say that not only had it sprouted, but had also blossomed into a poisonous flower.
For better or for worse, it was truly Subaru-like to not proceed as they had expected.
Roswaal: [Ram, have you also received any of Subaru-kun’s baaad~ influence?]
Ram: [That is unthinkable. There is not a single breath of Barusu’s influence on Ram’s behavior.]
Serena: [Even though you have been put into this situation as the result of his actions in the first place?]
Ram: [Roswaal-sama, the discussion with Serena-sama.]
As soon as the situation deteriorated, she changed the subject and pushed for the initiative.
Closing one eye at Ram’s boldness in speaking, Roswaal turned to face Serena once again.
Currently, Roswaal and Ram had been summoned to her office, and had just heard about the “black-haired maiden” from none other than Serena’s lips.
Having been told about the features of Subaru and Rem, the people being searched for, she probably had the impression that it was just to the extent of a conversation topic with the detail of “black hair”. However, it was something holding a meaning which Roswaal and Ram could not miss.
Serena: [Regarding the problems that have occurred in the Fortress City, as a High Countess, I must make some sort of declaration of my intentions.]
It happened directly after Serena had declared this. ――That Ram moved to suppress her.
The bold nature of Serena, and the fact that she did not have guards stationed in her office would be the ruin of her.
Her personal guards were standing by in the hallway outside the office, oblivious to the high tension in the room. Of course, as soon as Serena raised her voice, they would storm into the office.
Ram: [In that case, I will tear Serena-sama apart.]
Serena: [Oh, how frightening. I like it when I can tell you’re serious and not just making threats. Roswaal, you are…]
Roswaal: [She is not my spouse, but my servant… that discussion is already settled. I’d rather make an effort to return to a peaceful rapport between the three of us, without changing the nature of our relaaationship~.]
Serena: [“Us”, what a terribly laudable way of putting it. For you, who always deems everything as the matters of other people, to harbor the problem as your own is refreshing.]
At the chuckling Serena, Roswaal sighed with one eye closed.
It was certainly just as she said, as because of what Ram had done, it could not be the matters of other people. It was not about the master-servant relationship or responsibility, but it was also an emotional issue.
Besides, while Ram’s action was certainly hasty, it could simultaneously be said that the haste was the value of the reckless action.
After all, if Ram was not suppressing Serena――,
Roswaal: [Your pride, the Flying Dragon Squadron, will burn the rebels to nothing in the blink of an eye.]
At Roswaal’s words, Serena Dracroy slightly narrowed her eyes.
The Flying Dragon Squadron owned by Countess Dracroy―― That was, commanding the numerous flying dragons that inhabited the Vollachian Empire, the attack force that flew around the Empire’s tallest summits freely.
Originally, flying dragon riders, who possessed the technique of taming flying dragons, allowing them to command the flying dragons that bore no thought for people, would display overwhelming fighting strength on the battlefield. Because Roswaal could take flight, and thereby had the capability to completely defeat most opponents, he understood. ――He understood that mastery of the air was the ultimate move to dominate the battlefield.
Therefore, in the Vollachian Empire, it was easy for the houses with excellent flying dragon riders to elevate their military gains.
Surpassing the trend that has been going since before the previous generation Count Dracroy, Serena Dracroy’s era is considered to have the strongest Flying Dragon Squadron.
If she truly wanted to mobilize the Flying Dragon Squadron, an ordinary rebellion would be no problem whatsoever.
Serena: [Unexpectedly, the person you are looking for is now in the rebel army, and you are troubled that I will deploy my troops. But, you can’t just stand here and stare at me forever, can you? How will you proceed?]
Ram: [Serena-sama, what about your family?]
Serena: [It’s pointless if you’re looking for a relative. I haven’t found a good partner since Roswaal dumped me.]
Roswaal: [Don’t take jokes to be the truth. In general, such a thing as fellow aristocrats of the Kingdom and the Empire, the relationship between both countries makes it impooossible~. Serena, this is not the time to be making jokes.]
Even when disregarding Roswaal and Serena’s relationship, Ram could not be said to be very patient right now.
Although it was hard to tell from a quick glance, Ram strongly regretted the events at the Pleiades Watchtower. She blamed herself for losing Subaru and Rem and being separated from them.
There was no doubt that her impatience was behind her extreme actions this time as well.
Roswaal: [Let’s not provoke Ram unnecessarily, shall we not try to aim for a good landing together?]
Serena: [A good landing together, huh? If that’s the case, what exactly do you guys specifically want?]
Serena: [There are no fools who would fly on a flying dragon without a destination. In such a case, the mileage would be bad, and my riders are also precious. If you’re going to call anything here unnecessary, it would be just that. You should understand my concerns. Right?]
Resting her chin upon a single one of her hands, Serena gazed at Roswaal as if testing him.
Considering that Subaru had joined the rebel army, since it was highly likely that Rem was also there, it was not unreasonable for Ram to have made a quick decision. Blaming him for that in itself was meaningless as long as time could not be turned back.
If they wanted to, there was the means of harming Serena, then taking advantage of the chaos to flee from the territory.
However, that would be nothing more than a foolish act which abandons their original goal, and creates needless enemies. Even in an Empire where strength meant everything, soldiers were not so foolish as to gratefully accept when their masters were defeated by foul play.
To dampen the power of the Flying Dragon Squadron under Countess Dracroy’s possession, such a thing may have been welcomed by the rebel army, Roswaal held doubts about if that action was worth his old friend’s head.
Of course, if it was a necessary sacrifice for his dearest wish, Roswaal would not hesitate to take Serena’s life.
Though, if the sacrifice was not needed, then he did not think he would go out of his way to make it.
Therefore, the words that Roswaal offered here to Serena were――,
Roswaal: [――In this situation, would you like to join the rebellion together with us?]
Roswaal: [If you do that, then the discord between you and us will be buried. If our goals become the same, Ram will lose her reason to point her wand at you. Essentially, we’ll be able to settle things between us peacefully.]
Serena’s eyes widened at Roswaal, who said this bluntly with his hands folded in front of his chest.
Shock and astonishment flashed in those eyes of hers, and so did a little bit of inquisitiveness. With the meaning of her interest being piqued, she did not give a remark that was completely off base.
Relying on that, Roswaal began to work on his relationship with her.
Serena: [Settle things peacefully you say, but it seems that would only be about here. What awaits at the end of your invitation is an insurrection. My territory has received relief from His Excellency the Emperor, what gain would there be unnecessarily aggravating the situation――]
Roswaal: [――You have no dissatisfaction with His Excellency the Emperor. Is that truly the case?]
Serena spoke logically about the security of her foothold. However, interrupting her mid-sentence, Roswaal looked her straight in the eye.
As a High Countess of the Empire, she was a talented person who appeared to be broadminded and good at actualizing her intentions. For this reason, he had to look her firmly in the eye when he told her this.
???: [When somebody is speaking with you, you should look at their face!]
Suddenly, those words flashed through Roswaal’s mind.
Unexpectedly, he felt like he had received a push from those words, and――,
Roswaal: [It’s not like I spent the last two days passing the time quieeeetly~. While you were busy, I’ve been pricking up my ears as much as I could.]
Serena: [So instead of keeping my alcohol company until morning, you’ve been hard at work eavesdropping?]
Roswaal: [With the workload you have, I recommend you change your lifestyle of drinking until morning every day.]
It would naturally be different with the conditions that guests were being welcomed at a time of peace, but even then, his earnest wish as her old friend was for her to curb the amount she drinks.
In any case, putting his concerns over Serena’s liver aside, Roswaal would present the fruits of his attentive listening. The secret circumstances that this Dracroy Domain held, that was――,
Roswaal:[――I heard a rumor that the incident from the year before last, in which a Divine General conspired in an attempted assassination, has had quite the lasting impact.]
Roswaal: [I heard that the perpetrator of that incident, the Divine General who lost his life, was a flying dragon rider… and in addition, that person was also one of your subordinates. His name was…]
Serena: [――Balleroy Temeglyph.]
Saying that in a low, quiet voice, Serena interrupted Roswaal.
She was still resting her chin against her hand, however the heat housed within eyes had changed from before. In some way, the hue of enjoying this situation had disappeared into a silence resembling the surface of a lake bereft of wind.
With those quiet eyes, she looked over to Ram, who was behind and to the side of Roswaal, and,
Serena: [Lower your wand, Ram. I’ll talk even if you don’t point it at me.]
Roswaal: [Ram, do as she says. Serena doesn’t go back on her word.]
Roswaal held her back through those means, and Ram reluctantly lowered her wand.
Of course, she immediately repaired her readiness, but Serena could not find fault with that vigilance either. Only, she turned her face towards the window, to the scenery extending out there―― No, she looked up to the sky.
To the sky where flying dragons flapped their wings, and flew about freely.
Serena: [Do you think it has freedom? This sky?]
Roswaal: […From your way of speaking, that doesn’t seem soooo~.]
Serena: [In the Empire, the water, the soil, the air, even the flesh and blood of its people, all of it belongs to His Excellency the Emperor. Even the sky is no exception to this. ――Who spoke about this?]
Roswaal: [I wondeeeeer~, isn’t it hard to limit it to “who”? After all, it’s something that everybody thinks.]
At Roswaal, who shrugged, Serena gave a short reply of “Is that so?”.
The name she mentioned―― Balleroy Temeglyph, was a former member of the Nine Divine Generals, and the perpetrator of the assassination attempt on the Emperor that took place in the Imperial Capital the year before last.
Originally, he was a capable person appointed to an important position in the Dracroy Domain by Serena, and because of his remarkable strength and excellence as a flying dragon rider, there seemed to be good prospects that he would work his way up and advance to the rank of General First-Class.
As a matter of course, Balleroy turning his blade on the Emperor had also put Serena, who had recommended him, in a bad position.
Although the position of High Countess was not even taken away, the Imperial Capital’s feelings were poor, the expectations they held in her Flying Dragon Squadron were lost, and she was also never given an opportunity to recover.
And to top it all off, the person who had been installed as Balleroy’s replacement in the Nine Divine Generals was――,
Roswaal: [――The Flying Dragon General, Madelyn Eschart, is a selection akin to a snide remaaaark~, isn’t it.]
Serena: [With no military experience, a being that suddenly rose to the position of General First-Class on the Prime Minister’s recommendation, it seems her lineage is surprisingly that of a dragonkin. With a dragonkin who can control flying dragons without the secret technique of taming flying dragons, taking the time and effort to train flying dragon riders would be useless, wouldn’t it?]
Ram: [That’s not the position of Serena-sama, who has a Flying Dragon Squadron.]
Serena: [Woah, don’t look down on my Flying Dragon Squadron. Not needing riders has both advantages and disadvantages. It’s true that the time needed for training is eliminated, but a flying dragon without a rider can only rely on its instincts for tactics. On that point, a flying dragon rider can understand and apply tactics.]
Roswaal: [Most importantly, the dragonkin in question seems to crush them with force in numbers.]
Vollachia’s secret of taming flying dragons―― even Roswaal did not know the details of the technique to employ the ferocious flying dragons that bore no though for people. However, he had heard even though a talented flying dragon rider could discipline a single flying dragon, they would need to stay with them at all times.
In other words, flying dragon riding had to consist of one flying dragon and one person.
In contrast, the existence of the Flying Dragon General, who could command countless flying dragons without putting in all that time, was the natural enemy of Serena, whose strength lay in the Flying Dragon Squadron, as well as a thorn in her side.
Serena: [Balleroy was a trusted friend who was at my place for a long time. If he went against His Excellency, and even pointed a spear at him, it could be said to be inevitable that the fault would turn towards me. But――]
Ram: [Whether you are willing to resign yourself to that disgrace is a different story, isn’t it?]
Serena: [――. Each and every thing you say appeals to the depths of my heart.]
Ram: [Ram is obliged.]
Responding to Ram’s bland expression of gratitude, Serena sighed deeply.
Serena did not deny what Roswaal and Ram had pointed out when being pressed by their respective voices. By the time she had Ram lower her wand, she had already resolved herself.
That was a sign of her willingness to talk on an equal footing, rather than divulge the circumstances under threat.
In other words――,
Serena: [――Even with all this, you guys didn’t mean to cause trouble while you were here, did you?]
With those words, Serena Dracroy touched the white scar on her face and smiled fiercely.
Her strikingly ferocious smile was the same one Roswaal had seen in his younger days when he met her; the ambitious one she had shown before she stole the position of head of the family from her father.
However, now her smile was directed not at her father, whose eyes had clouded when his daughter began to steal the trust of his retainers from him, but at the fearsome being who ruled this vast Empire――.
Roswaal: [――I see, Serena, you]
Seeing that smile, Roswaal belatedly realized his misunderstanding.
In an attempt to prevent the situation caused by Ram’s snap decision from getting worse, he had tried to guide Serena’s thinking by clarifying the position the Dracroy territory had been placed in, but that was a mistake.
There was no need to steer her in the direction of supporting the rebellion.
Even the rise of the rebel army with the “Black-Haired Maiden” was nothing more than a chance for her. Serena had already decided where she would stand, and in her own way, had shown consideration for Roswaal and the others.
She showed consideration in her own way by not dragging in an old friend that had come to find a missing person and did not know anything.
However, Roswaal and the others had thoughtlessly stepped into the opposing camp. Without realizing the Magic Stones had already ignited, they had poured additional mana in.
In other words――,
Serena: [I was as careful as I could be. Only this once, would it be alright to regret meeting a clever wife. Or maybe, that you went out of your way and turned down my marriage proposal.]
Serena: [Don’t worry. If I were to reveal your identity, I’d be suspected of having colluded with the Kingdom. In that case, a war on two fronts would be pure insanity. If I’m going to do it, I’ll fight a battle where there’s a chance of winning.]
Control of the discussion was stolen, and the situation with Serena had reversed.
Since their positions overlapped, there was no reason for Roswaal and the others to harm Serena. On the other hand, Serena had the leeway to make full use of Roswaal and the others’s circumstances.
Ram: [Roswaal-sama, could it be…]
Roswaal: [Aah, we’ve stepped straight into the hunting grounds of a beaaast~. ――Serena, if we hadn’t broached the subject?]
Serena: [In that case, I would have given you the appropriate hospitality for a few days, and then let you escape before the civil war was in full swing. But if I’m invited to fight together by an old friend, then there’s no helping it, right?]
Roswaal: [So barefaced…]
It was unclear whether she had intended to act in concert with this rebellion, or take action independently. Nevertheless, Serena had already decided to rebel.
They did not know whether that was anger at the Emperor’s cruel behavior, or connected to the fact that her confidant lost his life.
If only one thing was certain――,
Serena: [His Excellency the Emperor Vincent Vollachia, there is an exceedingly great amount of people who have accumulated discontent with his peaceful reign. If great flames of war rise once, those flames will spread in one swoop.]
Roswaal: […Those flames of war, might you have any idea aboooout~ them?]
Serena: [I wonder what it could be. You’re the one with an idea, aren’t you?]
Chuckling, Serena seemed to have an ace up her sleeve that Roswaal did not know about.
Roswaal, on the other hand, also had an idea of a singularity that would be no matter to be trifled with if left unchecked, although he was unsure how it would affect this unfamiliar land.
If it was him, no matter what predicament he fell into, he would get through it one way or the other. All that remained was who he met in that predicament, how much he wished to save them, and how his influence would spread.
Roswaal: [――Have you also gone and set the whole Empire ablaze, Subaru-kun?]
If that were to happen, how should Roswaal act?
Of course, for his long-cherished wish that must be fulfilled, it was necessary to return to the Kingdom with his reputation intact. Even if that was not the case, there were the promises he exchanged with Subaru.
It was unilaterally imposed on him, but unlike Subaru, he could not revoke it. The future that someone else lacks was something that was difficult for him to accept, as he had decided to pick up the pieces.
Even without his promise to Roswaal, he would probably struggle as much as he reached out.
At the very least, Roswaal would only act to reduce the number of his attempts.
Then it becomes just a matter of not letting Subaru realize things had turned out in an undesirable way.
Serena: [Well, thanks to Ram endangering my life, my ill wills have ended up vanishing. I’ll forget about my duties for today and open a celebratory drink.]
Ram: [Having pointed the wand, it might not be Ram’s place to say this, but are you sure about that?]
Serena: [We both needed to cultivate stronger unity toward the same goal. That’s why we should drink and get to know each other. Considering who we’re going to challenge, it’s a very natural activity.]
Serena nonchalantly invited Ram to have a drink with her, with a face that blithely forgot her previous outburst.
Ram was unusually perplexed by Serena’s big-heartedness, as she seemed to be relieved that she no longer had to hide things from Roswaal and Ram.
That said, it was unthinkable that Serena would eloquently trick Roswaal and the others and catch them off guard with a shallow move like that.
In doing so, Serena would risk her own strength, and even her own life, in exchange for Roswaal’s freedom in the Empire.
Roswaal: [So, are you going to wait for the flames of war to rise? Or will you become them yourself?]
Serena: [I at least know where I stand. No need to rush, it’s not far off. ――Or is it your idea to stay put quietly?]
Roswaal: […That’s not it.]
Serena: [Right? It’s the same for me.]
Although both parties may have had different ideas of these “Flames of War”, they seemed to have had a similar perception of what they had in mind.
Roswaal crossed his arms thoughtfully as he noted that fact. Serena, meanwhile, had nonchalantly gone to her display cabinet and started looking for a drink to loosen their tongues.
Ram: [Roswaal-sama, in the Fortress City of Guaral.]
Roswaal: [In terms of position, Emilia-sama and the others are closer to us, attacking from the East. The same rumors will be heard over there, so if they can join us, they will. Of course, it would be frustrating for you.]
Shaking her head, Ram replied with a bottled frustration.
She would like to be reunited with Rem as soon as possible. With rumors of Subaru all over the Fortress City of Guaral, Rem was most likely to be there.
On the other hand, even with Roswaal’s flight magic, a vain attempt would be a heavy setback.
Finding people in a wide Empire required a certain mind-numbing rationality.
Roswaal: [For that reason, let’s wait and see. As she says, the flames of war that will rise..]
With some hesitation and her wavering voice, Ram nodded her head in a healthy manner.
――A few days later, the “Flames of War” that Serena Dracroy had spoken of, rose.
The momentum of the rebellion, led by the son of Emperor Vincent Vollachia, spread throughout the Empire and also to rebel groups in various regions.
Among them, it was said that the first to declare their intention to join the rebel army was the High Countess Dracroy, and it was said that the brave lady had a handsome stranger and a lovely servant at her side.