Rudel fought the vile serpent through the sky. It could be called a one-sided battle, mostly consisting of his attempts to corner and land a final blow on the beast.
Sakuya opened her large mouth, and as she was about to fire a breath, the serpent laughed. It stopped running to turn towards Rudel and Sakuya.
Before Rudel and Sakuya—a dragoon of one man and one dragon, the tattered serpent. But now a look of triumph spread across its face.
'You did well making it this far. You have my praise… dragoon.'
While continuously calling Rudel an irregular, here it was, stopping to evaluate him. But Rudel—
"I see, then disappear. Sakuya!"
Rudel had Sakuya fired on it no questions asked.
Highly condensed mana swelled to a massive size, the light fired off from it drawing a spiral in its flow as it swallowed the dark dragon whole. With that output before her, Izumi narrowed her eyes.
"It'd be hell if that hit the ground."
It's output… Rudel was definitely right in his decision, parting from the ground to avoid dragging anyone else in.
All the clouds around them were blown away by the force of that breath, the thick clouds clearing to shine light onto the battlefield.
But the serpent that took the breath, while it had lost a majority of its body, remained floating in the air. Its disintegrating bones showing, it laughed through its ominous visage.
'You are strong. No, you 'two' are strong together. Very well… I shall admit that.'
Feeling a bad premonition, Rudel immediately readied Sakuya for a second shot.
'It's too late!'
The black smoke rising from the ground enveloped the serpent. Prince of the Empire Askewell looked at Rudel from his place in the air.
"You're a stubborn one. Did Aleist let you slip by?"
While it was a problem that couldn't be cleaned up with the word stubborn, Rudel was of the simple belief that he need only defeat him again. I essence, that was the only option.
Askewell opened his mouth.
Izumi stepped in to stop him but she didn't make it in time.
Before he could hear Askewell's words, Sakuya fired her second round.
Sakuya's breath assailed the black smoke and Askewell. Yet, Askewell brushed that blast aside with one hand.
Seeing that, Rudel immediately considered countermeasures.
(He redirected it? Luecke had a magic quite similar to that. Then should I beat him in close combat?)
Askewell showed no surprise, nor did he condemn Rudel for his actions. It was almost as if he had foreseen it happening. He plainly continued to speak.
"Aren't you irritated?"
"… Irritated? That I let your imperial invasion get so far? Or the fact I couldn't win on my own?"
They were both irritating to him. He couldn't fulfill his duty. He couldn't protect his country. That was why he had to take Askewell down and drive the imperial army out of kingdom territory.
That was Rudel's job.
Askewell lightly laughed.
"Aleist, was it? For the sake of such a good-for-nothing existence, both me and you were put through the wringer. You were to be nothing more than a stepping stool in his life… I was forced into the role of enemy. You'll overlook such unreasonability?"
Askewell's voice was the epitome of serious. These were the screams of his soul.
"No matter how I tried to save the empire's people, it was all futile! The reason I kept winning when I went out to the battlefield was all for this day. None of it was my own power! Not a single bit of my life's effort has had any impact on this world! For the sake of that man… for that sort of man, can you imagine how many humans have suffered!? Doesn't it irritate you!?"
Looking at the prince before his eyes, Rudel thought.
(What is he talking about?)
It was a simple, honest question. And he understood the answer.
"I see, so you made it Aleist's fault that things aren't going your way. Good for you, you found an excuse."
Askewell's eyes opened wide. A vein surfaced on his forehead. In rage and surprise towards Rudel's words. His face was one of all sorts of emotions swirling about.
"You want me to sympathize? I'll do plenty of that once this battle is over. So… die."
When Rudel directed his right arm at Aleist, the black smoke manifested a number of offensive shields around Askewell. Those spiked shields closed in from around as if to crush him whole.
"I see… when you made your dream come true, I…"
Those several hundred large shields crushed Askewell and exploded. His hair ruffled out of place by the blast wave, Rudel narrowed his eyes as he looked at Askewell.
"If you'll let me have my say, you're the unreasonable one here."
At the end of Rudel's slightly envious expression, was the form of Askewell riding the back of the dark dragon. And now the form it took on was terribly reminiscent of Sakuya's. A purple halo floating behind its back, six wings, and four large limbs.
The differences that stood out were its aggressive, barbed scales and the look in its eyes.
(… I want to ride it a bit.)
From the point of view of one who had desperately become a dragoon, he had a complaint or two for Askewell, who had mimicked one at the drop of a hat.
Even if he was barking up the wrong tree.
The dark dragon opened its mouth.
'Don't think this makes us equal. We surpass you on all fronts. In order to restore these glaring errors, the more your abnormality increases, the stronger we become.'
Rudel folded his arms.
'I see, so you don't start out almighty. Then there are ways to go about it.'
Izumi wondered if the calm and collected Rudel had some ingenious idea.
"You have a plan?"
But Rudel offered an immediate reply.
"None! But since it's come to this, there' no choice but to grow stronger than we are now. If we do that, we can surpass our enemy."
Izumi breathed a sigh.
"You heard it, if you get stronger, they'll also—"
"Then I'll surpass what comes next. You worry too much… I'm quite used to fighting guys stronger than me."
As Rudel made a smile, Izumi shut her mouth. She looked in the direction of the dark dragon and Askewell. Gripping the hilt of her katana.
"Got it. I'll try to help out. I have to make myself at least a little useful."
Rudel laughed aloud.
"That makes it three against two! It's our win."
On the ground, the Kingdom of Courtois fought the imperial army under Chlust's command. With Aleist fighting on the frontmost lines, they barely managed to hold out without crumbling.
That was the most they could do. A gathering of odds and ends, the Courtois army had no coordination. Even if some was established, before the empire's trained troops, it was a last-second veneer.
"Keep everything down to the basics. That's all we can do!"
Chlust issued simple orders. With the quality of the gathered soldiers all over the place, they had to keep their objectives to the absolute basics.
The army moving especially poorly belonged to the Arses House.
Having not done any decent training, they had become a deadweight.
(If the black knight and his elites weren't here, we'd be screwed.)
Looking up in the sky, two water dragons intercepted the wyverns raining down on them.
They were fighting so they couldn't bring casualties to the ground troops, and none were to die to stray shots from above. However, because of that, their forces had mixed into a muddled mess with the imperial. This prevented them from receiving dragoon support.
Chlust had been driven off to the outskirts, and there he had learned how to command. Yet when an army far too large was placed under his command, his panic began to show.
"The dragoons will protect the sky! We're going to do our part!"
At the same time, he thought.
(To think the empire's training would be on this level.)
In one on one, the imperial army surpassed Courtois. They could only fight because they had the black knight. Additionally, the soldiers of the imperial army fought almost as if they were walking death row.
As the fight devolved into a chaotic melee, the dragons couldn't attack. With that in mind, compared to fighting the dragons up high, the Courtoan soldiers before their eyes weren't scary in the slightest.
And they couldn't pull back.
They really were dead men walking.
"… Brother, we won't hold out much longer."
Regardless of the grudge he held towards his brother who shoved command onto him, Chlust could only do what he was capable of.
Swinging two swords from his horse, cutting down streams of imperial knights and soldiers, Aleist was terribly stained with the blood spurt.
The gora disappeared into black smoke, while Askewell had fled into the sky.
He had no means to give chase, and so he fought on the ground. But these crazed soldiers were cornering him into a close fight. While his harem members were strong, they were flinching before the enemy's death-driven insanity.
"Should they usually withdraw after incurring casualties this high!?"
More than twenty percent of the whole. The imperial army's casualty figures had long since exceeded that, but he couldn't discern any signs of retreat.
More so, these were soldiers who'd lost anywhere to run to.
While the tides were already in Courtois' favor, even so, the rate things were going would leave tremendous casualties on both sides.
As Aleist helped out his allies while gathering enemies towards himself, a giant white mass approached from the sky.
It was Sakuya.
"… Wait a tic."
Falling towards the battlefield, there were traces of burns on her surface. A heavy gray cloud swirled a spiral, and from it, a black dragon resembling Sakuya slowly showed itself.
Racing his trusty steed Heath, Aleist tried to part from the course of Sakuya's fall when he caught a glimpse of a flash of light.
The one who fell from the sky was Izumi, holding her Katana.
Izumi looked at the ground, prepared to draw her blade, and in one flash—
Slashing up the imperial soldiers around Aleist, she landed out of breath before looking at the sky.
Aleist got down from his horse to hear out the situation.
"What the hell happened up there!?"
Izumi responded at once. Wiping off the grime on her face, she explained the fight in the air.
"… Rudel and Sakuya, and myself managed to corner that black dragon seven times. But every time, that thing just revives stronger than before. It's getting beyond our ability to cope."
Both armies took distance from where Sakuya fell. While that brought a temporary ceasefire, a look at the sky revealed the black malign dragon looking down over them. On its head, Askewell was also visible.
He wore sinister armor, equipped with a lance, his arms folded.
As Sakuya fell, in order to support her from below, Rudel made a great many shields of life, killing her momentum before she landed.
While Aleist called out, Rudel seemed considerably vexed.
He heard a voice from on high.
"You did splendid to hold out so long. But this is the end. Once I defeat you, the world will finally be free of your influence."
Askewell's bitter expression was directed at Aleist.
Renewing his grip on both his swords, Aleist grimaced. Come so far, would they really fall short?
(It's my fault… then I should be the one to settle it…)
He would protect his comrades, even if it cost him his life. It happened the moment he thought that.
Slowly standing Sakuya's massive body, Rudel came over to him. His expression was straightforward to no end—
"As you can see, there's nothing I can do to take that thing down on my own. Aleist, you're coming with me. The two of us and Sakuya will kill it."
Aleist flew into a confusion.
"… Eh? Say what you want, but I have no idea what to do."
"No worries, no problem. For now, just lend a hand. It's a bothersome one that immediately revives when you've almost got it. I'd love to blow it away before it restores itself, but I'm lacking in firepower."
For the Rudel-Sakuya combo to have insufficient firepower? From Aleist's point of view, that was a nightmare. Even with his help, he started to think when.
"Hey, let's get going. Izumi, I'm sorry, but could you go help out Chlust? I'm going to push my limits a bit, so I wouldn't recommend riding with me any further."
Izumi shrugged her shoulders.
"That so? That's a shame."
Looking up, Sakuya's palms were approaching the two of them. With a skillful grip, Sakuya boarded Rudel and Aleist on her back.
Once Rudel was on Sakuya's back once more, he looked up at the dark dragon alongside Aleist.
"Just a little more to go. When there was just a little left, it restored itself seven times."
Seeing an irritated Rudel, Aleist shook his head to the side.
"I get that, but it would be troublesome for you to rely on me here. All I can do is control shadows, that sort of thing. To clear things up, I don't have unlimited mana reserves anymore!"
Rudel directed Aleist a smile.
"Yeah, no problem. When I was dead, Sakuya told me. You won't lose what you've cultivated yourself. And if it's mana you're looking for, Sakuya's got it."
Rudel looked down at Sakuya and smiled.
"By Sakuya, you mean the goddess, don't you? To think she'd be waiting at death's door for you, well how should I put it… no, doesn't really matter."
As he slowly raised his head, the dark dragon emitted a stream of wyverns out of his body. That scene was a nightmare in itself.
"Is it not landing a finishing blow because it's got the leisure?"
Aleist thought the enemy was trying to belittle them, though Rudel begged to differ.
"I wonder. If it had leisure, it would have come to finish us off by now. Perhaps its been weakened so far it's unable to."
Sakuya slowly spread her wings and roared, while Rudel felt out the flow of mana in her body.
"Aleist, try manipulating Sakuya's mana. If you just change it up a bit and form the shape, Sakuya will go and do something."
Despite his confusion, Aleist leaned over and stroked Sakuya's back.
"Now that's arbitrary. Whatever happens, don't blame me."
As Rudel and Aleist touched Sakuya's back, white and black symbols surfaced over her body as mana raced across its surface. The two of them stood, and Rudel's right hand. Aleist's left hand. After the two formed fists to lightly tap hit against one another, Sakuya flapped her large wings and rose into the sky.
The halo appeared behind her back again.
While the golden armor manifested to protect her, this time that wasn't all. Her third pair of wings formed, and from both shoulders, a new set of arms emerged.
Black, and protected in golden armor, those arms gripped weapons of gold.
And as the wyverns approached Sakuya, hundreds of snake heads emerged from the exposed skin of those arms to bite into them and tear them apart.
"That's new. Looks like you get an autonomous intercept."
Ignoring Rudel's delight, Aleist looked around somewhat perplexed.
"Isn't that a bit creepy? No, I get I'm the one who made it, but how to put it…"
As Sakuya rose to the same height as the dark dragon, the two sides exchanged a glare. Askewell looked at Rudel and Aleist, pointing the tip of his spear.
"It's the same no matter how many times you stand. There is no victory for you."
More than a hundred wyverns had already manifested around the dragon once more, and the battles on the ground had already resumed.
Within that, Rudel.
"Pretty much everyone's told me it's impossible too many times to count, but here I am. And how many times have you said those words? I'm starting to lose trust in them."
Rudel's words put Aleist into a panic.
"Could you please stop riling up your opponents just this once?"
The thick clouds drew a spiral, the lightning letting off light and sound. On the battlefield where the rain was about to fall, Rudel looked to the sky.
"… And also. You've wasted too much time."
Turning to Askewell, as if proclaiming his own victory, Rudel pointed at the sky.
Wild dragons shot out from the clouds one after the next, having finished exterminating wyverns, and come over to help.
Askewell's brow twitched.
"If that's all the help you've rallied, then—"
"No, that's not all. That's not all, prince of the empire!"
In addition to the wild dragons, gray dragons with dragoons on their backs entered the stage. Even the dragoons had arrived.
Aleist looked at the ground.
"There are allies below as well…even father."
Starting with Aleist's home, the Hardie house, the armies of various regions were gathering.
Rudel urged Askewell to surrender.
"… It's over. The fact our allies have arrived means we have reigned triumphant on the other battlefield. There is no victory for you. Surrender."
At the point the dragoons came as relief. Rudel could see their victory was secured on the other field. As a matter of fact, that was precisely the case.
However, Askewell wrung out his voice.
"Not yet. It's not over yet. I'm right here. Victory to the empire… for the empire's future, I shall hold victory in these hands!"
Rudel turned to Askewell with a slight mutter.
"I see, that's unfortunate."
On Sakuya's roar, Rudel and Aleist lowered their hips. Sakuya and the dark dragon smashed into one another, the shock wave raising a wind around.
With the two closing in the distance, Askewell jumped over to Sakuya's back, making his way towards her riders.
Rudel with his sword and shield.
Aleist readied his twin blades, and on Sakuya's back, their weapons met.
"— I'll make this the end."
As Rudel said so, Askewell grit his teeth.
"I'll be the one ending it. This bad joke of a destiny—and my fate with you two!"