It is said that there is a prideful dragon that sits upon the high gate of Ketergia.
I shall never forget the first time that I went to visit that dread lizard.
I was still but a child when my parents took me to Central. My father, who was an administrator from Gear 6, always spoke of it proudly.
“You might be able to see the giant dragon on top of the gate. It has a clear view in all directions from up there, so it can see any threats coming from far away.”
I was still very little, so I assumed that it would be a statue, probably made up of many different colors. So, when we got there and I saw the live dragon, with its enormous neck, face, and shining eyes flying in the sky among the clouds, I couldn’t help but reach for my mother’s hand. I was overwhelmed by its beauty.
“Now, now, no need to be scared. Remember, the dragons only use their power against those who threaten the Heavenly Floating Islands of Ketergia,” my mother reassured.
“And there haven’t been any of those in a long time. We should be thankful for this period of peace.”
My father worked at the Bureau of Statistics, handling demographic data.
Looking back at it now, I think I was already starting to sense the disparity between the floating islands and the rest of the nation below, as well as the coming troubles both within our borders and further afield.
“Colthese, you’re here early.”
I passed by Alden, who always seemed to be well-groomed, no matter what hour it was. His iconic highly polished blue and silver armor and greatsword sheathed on his back glistened in the morning sun.
“And you are late, Grand Heavenly Sword.”
“No later than usual.”
Alden took out his pocket watch. I didn’t expect this young knight from the surface to engage in witty banter. I just chuckled and waved at him.
“Don’t worry, Alden. I’m sure you’re on time.”
He nodded and made as if to leave, but then turned back to me.
“What are you looking at now?”
“…The dragon from the tower.”
Alden approached my side and looked up to the tower that was the headquarters of the Cloud Knights.
“Soaring Dragon, Prideful Dragon. As unmoving as the mountains. No matter how many times I see him, I’m struck by how regal he looks.”
“When I was younger, I was scared of him. To be honest, I still am.”
“Hmm. I think it’s probably normal for humans to fear the dragons. They’re far more powerful than we are, wiser, and they live far longer lives than we do. They can be powerful allies, but terrible foes. The only thing that we have in common with them is that we desire to enforce the ‘laws of the heavens.’ Those same laws you swore to uphold when you joined.”
Alden folded his arms and looked back up to the tower.
Alden was known to be a stern man. It was even said that he never showed any emotion even when he arrested and imprisoned an old friend from the surface. I remember scolding the other knights for not being more sensitive to Alden’s feelings at the time, but in truth he rarely, if ever, showed any.
“You have that weapon on your back, and I have mine.”
I showed him my staff, which was decorated with a wing motif.
“Right, swords and magic. The weapons with which we protect Ketergia,” muttered Alden.
“My father worked for the government. He was serious, like you. But whenever he spoke of the dragon that protects our city, he would light up like a little boy.”
“I can see why.”
“No doubt. But I never understood it. I feel he’s too different from us, too aloof to really be considered a hero. But when it came time to choose a career…”
I was pleasantly surprised when I glanced over at Alden and found him listening to me attentively.
“I didn’t mean to say that. I chose to learn magic because I wanted to help others. That may have been because of my father.”
“No. Ambition is something that comes from deep within you. It belongs to you and you alone.”
A very convincing argument. Alden was in fine form this morning. It took me a moment to come up with a retort.
“I know what you went through to join our order. You must have overcome greater challenges than any of us born on Ketergia could ever know to fulfil your dream and become a Cloud Knight who upholds the heavenly law.”
Alden was as still as the great dragon who sat upon our tower.
“Yes, it was my dream to become a knight.”
This is the first time Alden ever told me anything about himself. But I couldn’t help but notice the word “was.”
“You regret joining our order?”
“Not at all. I can think of no greater vocation. I feel blessed to be here.”
He was getting agitated. Still, I felt that I was talking to someone who was like me, but also not like me.
“That’s good. I’m sure your parents and hometown must be proud of all you’ve achieved.”
That was supposed to be just an off-handed comment, but…
Alden’s face suddenly turned much more sullen. I didn’t know why, but I could tell it was because of something I said.
“W-Well anyway, you must be tired after such a long shift. Go home, get some rest.”
He was back to his old stiff self, if not even stiffer than usual. Had I pushed too hard? I felt bad, thinking that it was my fault.
Suddenly, an alarm rang out throughout the city of Ketergia.
“Unidentified objects approaching from Gear 4!”
Alden and I readied our weapons and looked at each other.
The tension was unbearable.
There were many troubles that the floating islands faced that the surface-dwellers would never consider.
Sudden wind bursts, thunderstorms, storm clouds (what the surface-dwellers would call “fog”), ice storms (blizzards with practically zero visibility), to name but a few.
However, city-wide alerts were rare.
On the rare occasion when one was called, we Cloud Knights were supposed to head back to our tower just beyond the gate.
We started heading to HQ as quickly as we could…
An inhumanly deep voice echoed in our heads. The low, bell-like tones shook us to our cores.
Alden and I looked at each other again. We both seemed to reach the same conclusion as we looked up fearfully.
“Colthese, Alden, the time to fly is upon us once again. Show me your will and courage.”
I felt an invisible hand grip around me tightly.
I now understood.
The dragon on the gate listened to all that went on in the city of Ketergia and was now the ultimate repository for the city’s history.
Most of our order would be terrified if they ever learned the truth. After all, none of us are truly free from sin.
And then there were the rumors that it could see into your very soul.
It was the true test for those of us upholding the law. We were never allowed to lie or allow our courage to waver.
“Grand Heavenly Sword Alden, attend me!”
Alden raised his greatsword high in the air.
The regret of having judged an old friend disappeared, but the pain would never leave me. I couldn’t allow it to. Alden, still in pain, took one more step.
“Heavenly Staff of Kind Intention, Colthese, attend me!”
I raised my staff.
My burden was not as heavy as Alden’s. Compared to him, my resolve was still immature, almost like a mixture of fear and longing. Just like when I looked up to that dragon with my parents.
At that moment I just wanted to show that my determination was equal to Alden’s.
We should have been thankful that it was Alden and I who had been called.
“Very well, follow me.”
As soon as we shouted “yes,” we were enveloped in a cloud and raised up.
What they were was unknown. How many? Also unknown. However, if the dragon had become involved, it must have been a serious threat.
My heart began to race as we flew through the skies.
We stood on the front with the dragon as Cloud Knights protecting the city. I can’t think of anything more honorable than that.
“The wind is blowing in from the west. Let us go, my young knights.”
It was said that a large dragon sat atop the gate at the entrance of Ketergia.
On that day, Alden and I fought side by side with that Soaring Dragon, Prideful Dragon.
<<Notes about Terminology>>
Cloud Knights Headquarters and Organization
The Cloud Knights were the first order of Royal Paladins in Keter Sanctuary.
Their mission was to protect the capital city of Ketergia, an archipelago of floating islands anchored above the rest of the country. They also maintained the city’s security. On occasion they would be dispatched into the rest of the country on important state matters.
Their headquarters were located on Central and is where they gathered all the information and from which they assigned missions to their members via the Cloud Net.
Since their inception there has been a giant dragon sitting atop the gates to the Cloud Knights Headquarters. It was said to come to life when the city was in danger. It was also said that the dragon’s appearance may differ depending on who was observing it. One of Ketergia’s oldest legends was that the figure of a dragon was merely an outer shell housing an incorporeal power that was originally used on the battlefield.
Supervising Editor: 中村聡