From where a destroyed castle town spread out, Cleo looked over her surroundings.
The earthen dolls ceased function, rattling as they began to crumble apart.
Once the sun had fully shown itself, their movements grew strange, and just like that, they stopped moving.
Near Cleo, Nate took off her mask and looked around.
With a whistle from her lips, a hippogryph descended from the sky.
Seeing that, Cleo spoke.
“Mn? Oh, that’s my partner, don’t worry about it. See, he can become a horse too.”
After landing, the hippogryph gave a shake of its eagle head and took on the form of a normal horse.
And breathing a sigh, Nate looked around.
“But this really will be a pain to report.”
When they saw the red pillar pierce through the sky, that moment they felt the tremor and gale, both Cleo and Nate were surprised. But they could understand it now.
“Do you think Rudel-dono won?”
“I’d quite hope so. Because that would also mean the destruction of Celestia’s ancient weapon, or rather guardian deity… who’s going to take responsibility for this, I wonder.”
“The guardian deity, is it. If I just…”
She had much to think about.
There, Nate cut in.
“… My ancestors, you see, they were once people of Celestia. This blue hair is something of a testament to that.”
As Cleo looked on blankly, Nate…
“Meaning, I’m a survivor of your clan that ran away. Though at present, I’ve got work in Courtois as you can see.”
She kept on talking on the matter, but Cleo worried whether that might bring problems to her position. There, Nate’s expression turned serious.
“Well, I’m just trying to say that humans can live anywhere. Don’t you think it’d be alright if you just became free? If the threat of Celestia is gone, Courtois should give a public apology and provide some support.”
As Cleo hesitated, Nate spelled out her options.
“You could run off somewhere and live, not as a princess but a single young girl. All that’s left of the Celestia royal line is you and a few children. It’s possible to push it onto someone else.”
Cleo gave a bitter smile and shook her head.
She wouldn’t choose that option.
“Thank you. But I have my responsibilities and obligations. I could not become a sacrifice, but I cannot abandon my people. Someone will have to take the leading role. Even if it’s someone as unreliable as me.”
Nate spoke disinterestedly.
“Is that so.”
And putting on her mask, she pat her partner’s neck a few times. Cleo understood that Nate wasn’t particularly angry.
It felt like she already knew which one she would choose.
“I’m just a little envious of you.”
At the end, Nate,
“That you could choose the option not to run, I’m just a little envious.”
A few days later.
In the ruins of Celestia, Sakuya moved around heavy loads as if playing with building blocks.
To help out in the reconstruction efforts, Rudel and Aleist worked dawn to dusk.
Izumi and Millia aided them.
Nate alone made for Courtois to report on the incident. Someone had to be told…
“To be totally honest, I think there’s something messed up about defeating a god and making an island of it.”
Holding a shovel, Aleist looked at Rudel.
“… Aleist, sure enough, I won’t deny I had some personal feelings involved. But there was no helping that one!”
Millia looked at the two of them tiredly.
“I understand it was a situation where it couldn’t be helped, but… who’s going to take responsibility for this?”
Neither Rudel nor Aleist could take responsibility.
Millia looked at Izumi…
“Isn’t this his surveillance inspector’s liability?”
A startled Izumi spoke.
“I do get the feeling there was nothing that could be done there.”
Izumi had hurriedly drafted up a report and handed it to Nate. But just how would the top brass evaluate it…
The four of them put some thought into it, but Rudel,
“Well, whatever will be will be. Once I return, I’m sure I’ll be put to work in the outer reaches again, so I don’t mind if I’m to aid reconstruction a while longer.”
Aleist as well.
“You’re right. This feels so much more worthwhile that returning to cleaning duty. Now then, let’s give it our best for another day.”
Millia looked at the two.
“Isn’t it strange to use Courtois’ white and black knights like this? Normally, they should have some post or something, and work in the royal palace, right?”
Rudel and Aleist’s standings were dubious even in Courtois. When normally it wouldn’t be strange if they had much higher ranks, one was sent to the middle of nowhere. The other was treated as a cleaner.
“Well, as long as the ones in question don’t raise a ruckus, isn’t it fine? If anyone’s got any complaints, they can voice them to the higherups.”
When he became a dragoon, Rudel knew he would be sent to the outer reached as he had no complaints; while Aleist might grumble here and there, he was earnest in his work.
Yet the two of them had saved the country called Celestia.
No, perhaps saved was a misunderstanding.
Of all else, the one they fought was the guardian deity of Celestia.
One wrong move and people might say Courtois took advantage of their request to eliminate their deity.
“But it’s a huge problem if a majority of their important ministers are gone.”
It was just as Rudel said.
Almost all of Celestia’s ministers and high officials had perished in the castle.
It was because of the mechanized unit, according to Nate.
There were various hands moving behind the scenes, and from Rudel’s group’s point of view, it was a peculiar mission that ended while they fought a battle they’d been roped into.
Sakuya looked up at the sky.
‘Hey, can I eat that?’
She sought confirmation with Rude, so she followed her eye line.
“The hippogryph? Someone’s riding it, so you can’t.”
Sakuya was downhearted.
What the returned Nate informed them of was everyone’s return.
At the same time, she told them, a squadron from Courtois had been dispatched with the intent to provide aid.
Rudel wanted to remain until they had built an extent of a basis. But he had to follow his orders.
He had asked Nate, but it seemed Celestia would officially be treated as Courtois’ vassal state. This owed to the fact it didn’t have any strengths worthy of forming an equal alliance.
And the new queen of Celestia, Cleo, was to have a discussion over it with the temporary ministers.
The damage was great, if they went against Courtois and could no longer receive aid, it was easy to imagine Celestia’s reconstruction taking decades.
There was no guarantee Courtois wouldn’t invade in that space.
“Did I do something unnecessary?”
Lying down in a room of the palace, Rudel muttered.
They would depart come the next day, so he took an early rest.
Once he returned, a report to Courtois’ palace awaited him.
(I’m sure I’m causing them trouble again.)
Thinking he’d brought even more trouble to his superiors, Rudel closed his eyes.
There, a knock at the door.
The ones who entered were Ben, Pono and Passan, the party of three. As they had been promoted to knights, they now wore clothing that half-looked the part.
Cleo had appointed them as part of her royal guard.
Their achievements in evacuating citizens all the way to the end, and Cleo’s trust for them brought it about.
Of course, that was the public reason.
Truthfully, there was a severe lack of personnel, so things had grown lax in various places, and the three of them were appointed.
“What’s wrong? You want to train again?”
“No, today it’s work.”
As the three of them stuck out their chests, a single woman came out from behind them.
It was Cleo.
“Princess… or no, it’s Queen now I see.”
As Rudel left the bed and stood, Cleo turned him her tired face curled into a smile.
“Can I have just a little bit of your time?”
“Yes, I don’t mind.”
The party of three kept watch outside, while Rudel and Cleo went out to the balcony.
The night breeze had a nice feel to it.
“So why have you called me for?”
Cleo was taking deep breaths. And resolving herself, she looked at Rudel, wrung out her voice…
“Rudel-dono, no, Rudel-sama, I’ve fallen in love with you!”
Rudel spoke with a smile.
… He refused.
Upon hearing that, Cleo burst into laughter. Perhaps she knew the answer from the start.
“Can I ask for your reasons?”
Rudel spelled it out clearly.
“To start with, I have no freedom in my marriage. And even if I look like this, I’ve got quite a few restraints placed on me. I doubt the country will recognize a marriage between the two of us. If that’s how it’s going to be, I concluded I should decline it from the start.”
Cleo gave a bitter smile.
“You won’t give an answer in regards to my feelings, I see.”
“… I already have someone I love. Of course, for the same reasons, I can’t tell her I love her.”
Rudel got the feeling Cleo had become stronger than before.
“… In this incident. Celestia will put up a strong protest to Courtois for destroying our guardian deity. Of course, the country’s circumstance and the feelings of our people are conflicting, so that is simply the public stance. I am personally quite thankful, Rudel-dono.”
“So it’s going that way after all.”
As Rudel said that, Cleo…
“I truly am thankful. Celestia has finally gained the opportunity to stand on its own power… I can think of it like that now.”
Cleo was surely troubled over many things, Rudel imagined.
And he surmised she had confessed to get her own feelings in order at the end.
“So have you gotten your feelings in order?”
“You noticed? Well let’s see… with this I can be not Cleo the princess, I can become the figurehead queen Cleo. I’ll leech as much aid from Courtois as possible.”
“It’s quite troublesome if you say such things to me. Even like this, I’m one of Courtois’–”
Cleo said it before he could.
“Dragoons, after all. Right? … You have my thanks. At the end, you even let me hear the words of my mother and aunt. That I was loved. I’ve been granted the opportunity to learn that, and I look on it with delight.”
Defeating the monster, Rudel had conveyed the words of the existence calling herself Cleo’s aunt to Cleo and the surviving royal children.
(Even so, she’s become quite strong in the past few days.)
She had lost her brother Emilio, she had lost many things, and Rudel mulled over what he should say to her.
“You’ll be off early tomorrow morning, right? I shall see you off from her. Well then, farewell… Rudel.”
She dropped the honorific at the end.
The next day.
Looking at Sakuya take to the sky from the balcony, Cleo stroked aside her blue hair.
Around were the party of three and her servants, likewise looking at the dragon soar through the air.
“They’ve gone, boss and his friends.”
The party of three were shedding tears, while the servants pulled back from the sight of them.
To Cleo, those three were idiots but honest, and kind from their hearts. Precious knights to have.
Looking at Sakuya, Cleo sung a song.
(At the very least, even if only in song… thank you, foreign knights. Thank you, dragoon.)
“The princess’ songs really are the best!”
“Fool, it’s queen now!”
“Quiet down and let me hear the song!”
As Cleo’s song voice resounded through Celestia, the white dragon took a leisure circle around the palace. And the knights on its back waved their hands.
The party of three grandly waved back, and Cleo also answered in a wave.
(Thank you, Rudel. .And goodbye.)
Her smile still on her face, Cleo shed tears.