Haru is actually a pretty fucking good knight, no matter what snide remarks Hoshino makes.
(“But Katou-san, didn’t Takei-san forbid you from taking quests after that time with the—
Hoshino’s self-preservation instincts, sub-par at the best of times, wisely chose to make themselves known at this moment. He shut his mouth.)
Hoshino and Araki and all the other assholes of the First Division of the Metropolitan Knights aside, today Haru was energised, fresh, rejuvenated; ready to save the princess and slay the dragon. There was just one tiny, annoying, hooved problem.
“Kamei, how did you get even lazier since our last quest?” Haru’s horse pawed at the ground disdainfully; as much as a horse could look disdainful.
Haru took a deep breath, gathered up his pride as a knight (whatever tatters of it are left anyways), grabbed at the reins and shouted, “Giddy-up!”
Kamei placidly chewed at the grass and turned his head to stare up at Haru on the saddle. If horses could talk, he would probably have said something like, “It’s cute how you’re always so surprised when I don’t exert any effort.”
Haru squared his shoulders. “Alright, Kamei, I didn’t want to do this, but if you don’t giddy-the-fuck-up right now , I’m telling Horse Master Saeki to stop giving you sugar cub— argh !”
Kamei wisely decided to giddy-the-fuck-up.
As always, the townsfolk were reticent at best and outright unfriendly at worst. Haru used up the last of his gold bribing the innkeeper into giving him directions to the tower.
“You go left there and then there’s the cliff, and you head straight up, and then bam, there’s the tower. You can’t miss it.”
“Thanks,” said Haru, grabbing his satchel.
The innkeeper winked. “Godspeed, sir knight. And pardon me for saying so, but you don’t really look like—”
“Look like a knight, I know.” Unlike Hoshino and the other knights of the First Division, Haru hadn’t been born to nobility and sent off to squire and get ‘life experience’ as a knight. He’d scraped his way up from stable boy to Takei’s squire and through a fluke series of circumstances, actually managed to get knighted.
Not that his knightly career was going pretty well at the moment. Haru winced internally at the thought of his last three quests. The witch had carried away the princess, the thief had gotten off with the gold and the troll had knocked him out and vanished into the mountains.
But all that changed now. This quest was gonna be different. Haru needed it to be different. If he could just show Takei that he was an actual, competent knight, he wouldn’t demote him to the Third Division of the Metropolitan Knights; the hedge knights that got sent out to deal with lost cattle and petty thieves. Haru could do the slaying-dragons-and-saving-princesses schtick as well as anyone and he was gonna prove it.
Lost in thought, Haru finally noticed that he was lost in the more literal state. Every rocky crag seemed to look exactly the same. He was straining his memory to recall exactly what the innkeeper had said when a shadow blotted out the overhead sun.
Haru looked up and promptly wished he hadn’t.
The dragon was jet-black and very large and it had jagged teeth and it was heading straight for him.
Kamei reared up in fear. If a sorcerer were nearby to read his equine thoughts, they would have found that his mind was engaged in a battle of morality. To suffer the vagries of fate with his master—or to live to eat sugar cubes another day?
The choice was simple.
With a flick of his blond mane, Kamei flung Haru off his back and raced back towards town. Haru bit back a curse as he rolled into the bushes but he had more pressing matters to deal with than Kamei’s characteristic betrayal; namely: the giant fucking dragon heading straight for him. Oh God, thought Haru, and then he snapped out of it and unsheathed his sword.
He wasn’t gonna give anyone the chance to snicker about dead ol’ Haru Katou, who froze in fear at the sight of a dragon and couldn’t even get his sword out. If he was gonna die, he was gonna die—
Except, it didn’t seem like the dragon was aiming to crush him with its teeth or immolate him. And then, he’d been plucked off the ground by surprisingly blunt claws and was being dangled at least a hundred feet up in the sky.
Haru screamed. And screamed. And screamed.
He would have still been screaming if he wasn’t interrupted by a smooth, feminine voice. “I’m terribly sorry about this, I assure you I’m not in the habit of bringing strange men to my abode.”
The dragon was talking.
The dragon was talking .
In the face of this new challenge to reason and logic, Haru’s painfully tight grip on his sword loosened and it careened down into the forest that spread beneath. There went seven months of wages.
Haru stares up at the dragon, which was gazing down at him with something approximating concern—as much as a giant reptilian creature capable of mass destruction could look concerned, of course.
“May I have you good name, sir?” inquired the dragon daintily.
Haru was flying in the sky cradled in the claws of a talking dragon. It wasn’t as if he had anything to lose.
“Well, Sir Katou, I hope you’ll excuse this forwardness of mine due to the urgency of the situation.”
“Wait, what situation? And what’s your name?”
“I am Suzue. Ah, we’ve arrived. You shall soon understand everything.”
The innkeeper had lied to him. That was all Haru could think as he stared at the— contraption— in front of him. Calling the structure a tower would be an insult. Towers were made of stone, maybe with stained glass windows if you were rich. Towers could be built by human tools and climbed by human hands. Towers did not look as if a gigantic crystal shard had fallen onto the earth and decided to stay there.
Suzue flew him to the apex of the tower and then said apologetically, “I’m afraid you’ll need to jump in, Sir Haru.”
The window was deep-set and the ledge outside it was made of the same clear crystal as the rest of the tower. There was a curtain of some thick velvety material blocking Haru’s eyes from looking further in.
“Sir Haru?” asked Suzue again, a note of reproach in her voice.
Haru considered his options. He was about a hundred feet up in the sky. There was no escape, nowhere to go except for the ominous window of the unnatural tower.
“I guess this is what they call a leap of faith,” he muttered half-hysterically. He clung onto Suzue’s scales and balanced himself on her spine, bending his knees for the literal leap.
Three things happened very quickly in succession.
First; Haru leaped off Suzue’s back, eyes fixed on the crystal window ledge.
Second; the almost-velvet curtains were drawn back haughtily and a figure emerged from within the tower chamber.
Third; Haru’s feet barely missed the ledge and he grabbed onto the edge with only his fingertips and a the raw fear that came with dangling a hundred feet in the sky.
Haru stared at the stranger, hoping his eyes were sufficiently communicating help me the fuck up before I fall to my death!
The stranger smirked. If Haru had been in a different position, perhaps the smirk would have engendered markedly different emotions in him.
As it was, Haru’s fingertips finally reached their adrenaline-fuelled limit and uncurled, leaving him to hurtle at an inconveniently fast rate to the rather sharp rocks that the crystal tower sat on.
His last thought was— sharp rocks sharp rocks sharp —and then nothing.