Unlimited Fafnir:Volume 10 Chapter 1
Chapter 1 - Midgard in Turmoil
The sound of footsteps from multiple people echoed within a dark and enclosed space.
The meandering staircase seemed endless no matter how far we climbed, causing my feet to feel heavy—However, by the time I thought back to the time when I first descended these stairs, we were almost about to reach the bottom of the clock tower.
Hearing the slightly exhausted voice from behind, I paused at a landing in the staircase.
I looked back to see the panting silver-haired girl—Iris Freyja—looking up at me from the step below me. I could not see the others because the view was blocked by the twisting staircase, but I could hear their footsteps behind me.
Several hours earlier, we had felt a tremor originating from the ground surface... Next, Ariella's betrayal came to light. Since the underground cavern's secrecy might have been compromised, we decided our whole group would head up to the surface.
Our current goal was to confirm what had happened on ground level and find a new hiding place for Shion and Jeanne. Rescuing Ariella was also imperative.
"You're climbing too fast~ Let's take a short break..."
Iris reached out to me and pleaded. I sighed deeply.
"Didn't I say I'll head out first to make sure it's safe? There's no need to force yourself to keep up with my pace."
"B-But what if something happened to you while you're alone, Mononobe!?"
Climbing the stairs faster than she could handle, beads of perspiration kept appearing on Iris' forehead, but she stared at me seriously.
"Am I that untrusted?"
"Because lately... Mononobe, you keep taking action alone. That's not good, right?"
I fell silent for a moment because her comment struck a sore spot.
That time at the mountain villa, the plan to intercept NIFL had failed because I had separated from the others to act alone. Also during the battle against Kraken Zwei, it was Iris who had saved me from the hopeless situation. Hence, I had no words to refute her.
"That's why I want to follow you as much as possible. R-Right now, Mononobe... I-I am your mate."
Iris blushed red and spoke quietly in embarrassment.
I noticed my face heating up because of her words. However, there was something I had to consider carefully before fighting alongside her.
"—By the way, Iris, can you still use Catastrophe?"
Due to getting marked by me and turned into my kind, it was highly likely that her abilities were affected in addition to her body. During the battle against Kraken Zwei, Iris' staff had turned into a part of her body during the dragonification process, even allowing her to produce the "Third Eye."
"Oh, yes, in a way. We at least confirmed it when I was examined."
"In a way?"
The ambiguous answer made me frown.
"Umm, how should I put it...? Before, I knew how to use Catastrophe without needing to think at all... But I can't do it anymore, no matter what. Because of that, I can't use it unless I transmute dark matter."
"I see—So now it's the same for you like how it is for me and Mitsuki."
Like Iris, Mitsuki and I had inherited powers from dragons—antigravitational matter, Ether Wind, antimatter—And they could only be used by transmuting dark matter. In control of Yggdrasil, Tia also used electricity generated from the transmutation of dark matter in order to connect to the plant network.
However, Iris alone had been able to use Catastrophe directly. Hence, her body had transformed to accommodate power, according to Vritra's explanation.
Having lost this unique aspect of hers, Iris could no longer use Catastrophe beyond her capacity to generate dark matter. Neither would she dragonify like before, I suppose.
However—as the one who had marked her, I might be a dragon, which meant it was possible that Iris had simply turned into "my kind"—another type of dragon...
"That's why I can't attack at a moment's notice like before. And it might explode with a bang like when I generated dark matter in the past."
Iris waved her hands to gesture but I smiled wryly at the thought of her "special skill."
"No matter what you're transmuting, Iris, your dark matter always explodes. Also, Catastrophe's effect cannot be controlled. So don't use them on humans, okay?"
"Sheesh, of course I know that. Mononobe, it's you who should take more care, okay?"
Iris pouted slightly and stared at me.
"That's right. You might have to fight people from NIFL later, so don't go overboard, okay? Killing is wrong!"
Bam—These words caused my chest to tighten.
Iris was bringing up matter-of-fact common sense. A moral worldview shared by all humans. However, I had not used this kind of perspective to distinguish good from evil for a long time now.
During my training under Major Loki at NIFL, I had turned into someone "capable of killing at will."
In the past series of battles, I had gradually lost the luxury of choosing "not to kill." In the battles against Hreidmar, I had fought with clear intent to kill. Although the defeated armored soldiers were empty inside, if they were transformed humans as Major Loki had claimed... I might have committed murder already.
But before that...
"Very well, I got it... I'll remember. Killing people is not our goal. We are trying to rescue Ariella and protect Charl—the principal."
I answered, as though carving these words upon my heart. These were the reasons why we had left the underground hot spring and were currently climbing this long staircase.
Just as Iris had said, killing was definitely wrong. No matter what the reason, it was not an option that should be chosen.
"Then Mononobe, it's a promise!"
Iris nodded deeply and extended her little finger towards me.
After a moment of hesitation, I entwined my little finger with Iris'.
Optimistic thinking was beyond me. I generally had a tendency to imagine the worst-case scenario. If a situation arose where I had to take a life in order to protect Iris and the others, I did not have the confidence to keep this promise.
On the other hand, people surely exchanged promises with one another precisely because they lacked confidence.
Thinking that, I promised Iris while interlocking our little fingers together.
"Mononobe, let's give it our best together!"
Iris smiled cheerfully and released her little finger.
Her smiling face was the one thing I did not want to betray.
Next, I heard a voice expressing agreement. Having caught up during our break, the petite red-haired girl—Ren Miyazawa—looked up at us with her tiny fist clenched tightly.
"Onee-chan must be saved. Whatever it takes."
She declared strongly and ran up to us. Overtaking Iris and coming to my side, she held my hand tightly.
Next, the rest of the girls arrived one after another and looked at Ren and me.
"Yes, we must save Ariella... We haven't heard her story properly yet."
The girl who normally gave off a spaced-out impression, Firill Crest, concurred with Ren whose eyes were showing intense determination.
Lisa Highwalker tossed her long blonde hair and nodded at them.
"Indeed—There must be some sort of reason. Since Ariella-san is the kind of person who can do anything on their own, she must have reached a conclusion on her own to say nothing to anyone. Goodness gracious... My friends are full of these people who get stuck in their stubborn ways of thinking, how troublesome."
Lisa glanced sideways at my foster sister, Mitsuki.
"...Why are you looking towards me, Lisa-san?"
"Oh my? Would you like me to explain?"
Confronted with Lisa's mischievous expression, Mitsuki went red and averted her gaze.
"N-No, it is fine... I am aware of my similarities with Ariella-san."
Mitsuki replied with some embarrassment. She must be recalling how she had entered conflicts with Lisa many times due to her own obstinate views on the Shinomiya Miyako incident.
Next, Mitsuki held her hand against her chest with a somewhat weary expression. She was panting heavily, probably exhausted from climbing all these stairs in one go. Upon closer examination, I noticed that the redness of her face was not purely due to embarrassment.
"Mitsuki, are you okay? Just take a break if you're tired, or..."
I stopped mid-sentence and looked at Jeanne Hortensia. Although she was dressed in Midgard's male school uniform like me, Jeanne was genuinely female. Back in NIFL, she belonged to the same unit as me, serving as the sniper due to her rare "eyes" of outstanding talent.
And right now, Jeanne was carrying a purple-haired girl on her back. The girl was named Shion Zwei Shinomiya. As the daughter of the Krakenified Shinomiya Miyako, she currently adored Jeanne as family.
Making eye contact with me, Jeanne and Shion tilted their heads in puzzlement. Worried that Shion would experience feelings as my mate, Jeanne had taught Shion that she and I were her family—Still, I had yet to get used to being called "Papa."
However, Shion would feel insecure if I were to look troubled, so I tried to smile back at the two of them as naturally as possible.
"C-C-C-Captain, if you stare at me like this... It would feel a bit..."
I ended up causing Shion to smile with delight while Jeanne lowered her head, slightly flustered.
Seeing them like that, Mitsuki realized what I was suggesting and her face turned even redder.
"No, there is no need for you to carry me! Also, I do not need a break. Our first priority is to make haste and intercept Ariella-san right now!"
Mitsuki refused in a fluster. Nevertheless, as her family and someone who had been living with her for a long time, I could definitely tell that her condition was not normal.
Ever since she transformed into my kind yesterday after making contact with me, Mitsuki had looked very lethargic. She had claimed it was probably dizziness due to soaking in the hot spring for too long, but I concluded it was necessary to consider the effects of being turned into my kind.
Furthermore, Lisa, Firill and the others had gone through their transformations without anything unusual, yet Mitsuki had quite an intense reaction during the process. Although the reason was unknown, it seemed like Mitsuki's body was enduring greater strain than the others.
"—No need to hurry so much. This route leads directly to the bottom of the clock tower. That girl apparently took route that emerges from ground level at the dorms. Since her target is this school's principal, it is all but assured that we will arrive ahead of her."
The one who interjected was the unmotivated Kili Surtr Muspelheim.
She was neither close with Ariella nor had any reason to protect Charlotte, which was why she felt no urgency.
"That being said, we cannot afford to dally while it is unknown how much time remains. Nii-san, let us proceed."
Saying that, Mitsuki began to ascend the stairs. Since she was giving this look of "I shall venture forth even if all of you stop here," I had no choice but to start moving forward again.
"Yuu! Since Mitsuki will walk on her own, Tia wants to be carried!"
But before long, I heard Tia Lightning's voice from behind. I looked back while climbing the stairs, only to see Tia staring at me with her glimmering ruby-like eyes.
It was fine since she was tired. Just as I nodded in consent, Vritra objected from beside Tia.
"Wait. If thou art going to carry someone, carry me. I am tired of walking."
Identical to Kili in appearance except two sizes smaller, Vritra was climbing the stairs with an expression of utter irritation. Even if one were to tell others that she was the cause of the first dragon disaster that had plunged mankind into panic—the Black Dragon—no one would probably believe it.
"Tia is tired!"
"I am more tired."
"Tia is more more tired!"
Tia and Vritra began a fruitless debate. Although I had no idea how to handle this, Lisa smiled benevolently and said, "Since you both have the strength to fight like this, it implies that you can still climb on your own, doesn't it?", prompting the two of them to shut up immediately.
"Oh, Mononobe! It's a door!"
Iris interjected at just the right moment and pointed up the stairs.
Ren gripped my hand tightly with nervousness in her demeanor.
"Let's advance as quietly as possible from here on."
I turned my head back, lowered my voice and said to the group. Iris and the girls nodded.
Leading the way, I ascended the stairs quietly and stood in front of the heavy door. There was neither a door knob nor a keyhole. Beside it was a circular handle, probably meant to be rotated in order to open and close the door.
I focused my mind to listen for sounds on the other side of the door. There were no human voices. Neither could I sense any killing intent.
After asking everyone to back away slightly, I turned the handle and the door opened automatically with heavy noise of vibration.
The other side of the door was much brighter than the staircase side. I squinted and observed the surrounding situation. Exposed pipes were running along the passage's ceiling and walls. No one seemed to be here. However, something was different compared to the last time I passed through on my way down.
"Follow me, everyone."
I said to the girls as they stepped into the passage.
"Onii-chan... What's wrong?"
The first to catch up was Ren, who asked in head-tilted puzzlement.
"The route Mica-san showed me has been blocked."
I pointed at the other end of the passage and explained. It looked like it had been blocked off by a very thick partition.
"Then we have to find a detour...?"
Firill murmured, but on the side, Lisa shook her head after giving it a moment's thought.
"Midgard is probably safeguarding against underground invasions. The other passage must surely be the same. In that case, wouldn't it be faster to contact Shinomiya-sensei to have her open the partition?"
Hearing that, Iris brightened up in demeanor.
"Oh right! Although we couldn't use our terminals in the cave, there's reception here!"
"Then allow me to contact Shinomiya-sensei..."
Mitsuki nodded and took out her portable terminal. However, Kili grabbed Mitsuki's shoulder from behind to stop her.
"Hold on. It's better not to underestimate NIFL. Don't you agree, Jeanne-chan?"
Kili looked suggestively at Jeanne, a former member of NIFL. Jeanne frowned slightly and nodded.
"...Yes. Now that NIFL has landed on the island, it would be best not to use communication devices lightly. They might be eavesdropping."
Curious about the term, Shion was innocently repeating it while piggybacking on Jeanne.
"It means listening secretly. But it's true that we don't want them to know about our position and situation."
While explaining to Shion, I acknowledged Kili's viewpoint. Then Mitsuki frowned.
"Be that as it may... Are we going to break the partition in order to move forward?"
In order to get there before Ariella, we could not afford to waste time. Although this might aid NIFL, there was no other choice. Just as I was thinking that, someone tugged the corner of my shirt from the side.
I looked there, only to see Tia looking up at me, smiling.
"No problem! Leave it to Tia!"
Walking briskly, Tia approached the partition and pressed her hand on the control panel next to it.
With a spark of electricity near the red horns on her head, followed by a heavy sound of turning, the partition opened.
Impressed, I exclaimed and Tia puffed out her little chest proudly.
"Compared to hacking Yggdrasil, this kind of machine is too easy! Tia will close it up properly once we all pass through. NIFL won't get easy pickings!"
Listening to her, Kili smiled with satisfaction.
"Fufu, as expected of my Tia. There is no computer in this world that can compare to her, having obtained Yggdrasil's processing power."
Kili probably thought of herself as the one who had raised Tia, but I noticed Lisa's brow twitching on the side.
"Tia-san, you are truly amazing. Recently, you have been helping out all the time."
Walking over to Tia, Lisa bent down and smiled.
"Ehehe... Thanks. But Lisa helped Tia even more."
Hugged by Lisa, Tia smiled demurely. While caressing Tia's head tenderly, Lisa secretly glanced at Kili.
Seeing Lisa's actions and gaze that seemed to declare "Tia is not yours," Kili looked displeased.
"Another partition lies ahead. Could you take care of it again?"
Nodding energetically, Tia held Lisa's hand and walked over there.
While following them, I whispered to the displeased-looking Kili.
"—Although it's not my place to say this, I don't think you can win against Lisa on this front."
"I know that."
Frowning unhappily, Kili replied.
"The moment she decided to live on as a human, it was no longer possible for her to get close to me, the one who had killed her 'human parents.'"
Kili lowered her voice, speaking only loud enough for me to hear. This was the first time for her to broach the subject ever since she joined us.
I took a breath and voiced a concern that had been occupying my heart for a long time now.
"Why did you kill them...? It wasn't necessary to go that far, was it?"
"No, it was necessary. Even now, I still believe I did nothing wrong."
Kili instantly replied in an icy voice.
"Hmm... But Tia was living happily with her parents, right? You destroyed that life and did nothing wrong, are you serious—"
I could not help but find my voice getting louder, so I stopped mid-sentence. Kili responded to my anger with a wry smile.
"Happiness for Tia was not necessarily happiness for her parents."
"...What do you mean?"
After hearing Kili's profound statement, I suppressed my anger and asked. Next, she questioned me instead.
"An armed organization captured Tia before, right?"
"That's right—Those people took her parents hostage and forced her to create gemstones. I was the one who rescued her from there."
After I nodded, Kili smiled sardonically.
"Hostages... eh? Were it not so, they wouldn't have tried to sell their daughter off again."
Was it because I reacted with bated breath exactly as she had predicted? Kili continued with a look of satisfaction.
"The involvement of a large organization is required to efficiently convert gemstones and precious metals into cash. Hence, her parents began to search for a new buyer. However, the news spread too much because they were too unprincipled, finally reaching an anti-dragon organization..."
Anti-dragon organization was the umbrella term for groups of people who hated dragons and treated Ds with hostility, considering them to be on the side of dragons. Naturally, because killing a dragon was impossible for them no matter how much they wanted to, their activities were specifically limited to the likes of fighting dragon-worshiping organizations or antagonizing Ds through witch hunts. In the past, Ariella had belonged to a similar organization.
"Wait, since things ended up that way—"
"Indeed, an attack from those believing themselves to be 'justice,' of course."
Kili shrugged and nodded with a mocking expression.
"Arriving as the official buyer, but a step too late, I fought off those people.. But Tia's parents were mortally wounded by then. From Tia's perspective, it probably looked like I had brought men to attack her parents."
In that case, Kili was not the one who had murdered Tia's parents. However, she looked at me with a smile of self-deprecation and shook her head.
"Normally speaking, I could have used biogenic transmutation to save them even if the wounds were hopeless. However, I 'cremated' them instead of doing that."
Kili distanced herself from me, hinting for this whispered conversation to conclude.
After we passed through, the partition automatically closed, and Tia began to work on opening the next partition.
Halting my steps while watching all this, I said to Kili.
"What you told me just now—Does Tia know?"
"No, you're the first to know."
Kili turned her gaze to Tia and answered softly.
"Why didn't you tell her?"
"Even if I told her things that she did not witness personally, she would treat them as lies. It would also taint her memories. Nothing good would come out of it."
Kili replied in resignation.
At this moment, the second partition opened with a deep rumbling noise. While confirming there were no enemies on the other side, I looked at Kili.
"—Sure enough, I take back what I said earlier."
It was not something I could judge on my own—I did not know everything about Kili.
Kili was looking at me in puzzlement. I said to her with a smile:
"What I said about how you can't win against Lisa. If you're envious, just stop thinking too much and go hold Tia's hand."
Kili was being considerate for Tia in her own way. If this could be conveyed to Tia, surely—
"Wait, h-how did you reach this conclusion? Guh, s-stop pushing me!"
Pushing Kili's back while she was showing a rare unsettled look for once, I walked over to Tia and the others.
After opening countless partitions, we finally reached the elevator.
Was it due to the defense emergency? With doors shut, the elevator was not operational. However, this was also resolved by having Tia hack the system. We got into the cramped elevator car and made our way to the clock tower's top floor.
"Is the principal... still in her usual room?"
Iris murmured worriedly.
"It's possible that she went elsewhere... But anyway, let's check first."
Although I felt that she should be in her office or personal room, it was also possible for her to be at the command center or the underground shelter. Considering our objective of finding the principal before Ariella did, checking the principal's office first was the best option.
"We might suddenly encounter NIFL's forces and Ariella-san. Please prepare yourselves to fight, everyone."
After Mitsuki reminded in a sharp tone of voice, everyone generated their respective fictional armaments.
Considering this was going to be anti-personnel combat, I used transmutation to create a projectile-based electroshock gun instead of a fictional armament.
Holding the gun's solid grip with both hands, I waited for the moment for us to arrive at the top floor.
With a light electronic sound, the elevator stopped.
"I will generate an air barrier."
Firill took a step forward and placed her hand on her book-shaped fictional armament.
"Generating air in a narrow space will increase air pressure dramatically. Please construct the barrier concurrent with the door's opening."
"Yes, I understand."
Firill nodded to acknowledge Mitsuki's reminder. The moment the elevator doors opened, intense wind blew. This was probably the barrier Firill erected by generating a large volume of air.
At the same time, I raised Nergal in case enemies appeared. However, there were no signs of anyone on the other side of the elevator doors.
"We worried needlessly..."
After Lisa murmured while looking down the empty corridor, Firill lowered her hand in relief. Was it because the barrier was released? The wind suddenly stopped.
I took the lead and walked out of the elevator, then stopped in front of the principal's office at the end of the corridor
There were no signs of a prior battle nearby. Neither was there any killing intent coming from the room. Concluding that NIFL had yet to reach this place, I cautiously knocked the door.
"Charl, it's me."
I waited for the other side to respond.
Some kind of weak voice seemed to answer, but I could not hear it clearly. Furthermore, I could hear what appeared to be moaning sounds mixed in there, causing anxiety to sprout spontaneously in my heart.
"Hmm—I'm coming in."
Announcing one-sidedly, I opened the door and was met by a strong smell of blood. The red scene before my eyes stunned me.
Charlotte was sitting in her chair as usual in the back of her office. However, there was a knife stabbed in her chest. The blood pouring out was dyeing her lab coat red.
Blood was spreading on the floor, producing a massive pool of blood. It was hard to imagine that such a volume had bled from her slender body.
Mitsuki suddenly called out. On the other hand, Iris and Firill simply stood there without saying a word.
Lisa covered Tia and Ren's eyes. Jeanne also led Shion away to stand in the back of our group.
Gnashing my teeth, I stepped into the room.
Did I... arrive a step too late!?
Filled with anxiety, I ran over to Charlotte's side, hoping there ought to be some way to save her. However—
"...Stay away. Don't worry."
With a knife stabbed in her chest, Charlotte stopped me with her hoarse voice. Possibly because talking had caused blood to enter her windpipe, she coughed repeatedly with red droplets of blood flowing out from the corner of her mouth.
"Charl... Are you okay?"
"This isn't enough to kill me. Didn't I tell you before that I'm immortal?"
Charlotte opened her eyes, which had been shut, and smiled.
"Well... That's true indeed..."
I answered in a stutter.
I knew about Charlotte's ability. She had used it to cure me of injuries that would have taken months to recover from. As someone who had entered a blood pact with Charlotte, Shinomiya-sensei had survived a fatal wound. Charlotte herself should be even more "immortal" than that.
However, during our fight, Ariella had clearly said she was going to kill Charlotte. Not only was her combat style was overwhelming but she also seemed to possess something similar in quality to Hreidmar and "Fafnir." In addition, this forcibly imposed inspection was definitely one of Major Loki's plots.
No matter how immortal Charlotte was, there was no guarantee that she would be fine for sure.
Major Loki had ordered me to kill Charlotte... Seeing as that was his objective, it was highly likely that he had prepared multiple backup plans.
"Hmm—It looks like you came to check on me because you were truly worried about me. Thank you, my friend."
After speaking happily, Charlotte pulled out the knife from her chest. Although blood spurted out, it stopped immediately as soon as she applied pressure to the wound.
Standing behind me, Mitsuki and the girls were all holding their breath, extremely worried. Although they had previously heard that Charlotte was a dragon, it was only natural to be shocked when personally witnessing her regenerative powers.
"This knife... You stabbed yourself with it?"
It was the only conclusion based on the scene. I asked in puzzlement.
"Indeed. I needed a bit of blood."
I looked at the pool of blood on the floor. Upon closer examination, I saw a hole in the floor. Flowing downwards, the blood was draining in that direction.
"My authority takes effect by using bodily fluids as a medium. Consequently, I need a large amount of fresh blood in order to use my ability on a massive scale."
"...I get the reason. But isn't there any other way? Even if it'll heal, it hurts like hell, right?"
Recalling how painful Charlotte looked earlier, I frowned.
"It definitely hurts, but this is the quickest method. My body will recover instantly even if wounded. Well, I guess it looks like I'm forcibly getting the blood out. Now, putting that aside—"
She placed the bloodstained knife on the table and looked at Mitsuki and the girls standing at the door.
"What's the matter? The fact that all of you have come out from underground implies that something must have happened."
Mitsuki and the girls looked at one another then walked into the principal's office.
"Hmm... No, not all of you. One person is missing."
Charlotte seemed to notice Ariella's absence. She questioned me with her gaze, so I explained.
"Ariella has probably met up with NIFL's forces by now and is heading this way."
"...What is going on here?"
Charlotte's expression turned grim as I told her about what had happened.
After learning the cause of Ariella's betrayal, Charlotte crossed her arms with a serious look on her face.
"I see... That person—"
"Yeah—But to the very end, Ariella still cared for Ren. There must be a reason why she's colluding with NIFL."
I touched Ariella's ribbon in my shirt pocket through my clothing.
This ribbon was apparently her first present from Ren, which was why she had given it to me before she soiled her hands.
Although she told me to return the ribbon to Ren, I had no intention of agreeing to her request. I believed that this ribbon should be handed back to Ariella rather than being given back to Ren.
"I don't think Ariella would spread information that will endanger Ren... But it's possible for NIFL to calculate our position based on communications. That's why we all came here."
After I explained, Charlotte passed her gaze back and forth over us.
"I now know what transpired. However—This place is probably the most dangerous, you know? Selected by my friend, you all have dragon marks whose color has changed. If NIFL soldiers, ignorant of the situation, were to discover you, how might they treat you to prevent you from getting targeted by a dragon..."
"No need to worry about that. The dragon marks of everyone here have stopped changing color because we have made contact with Nii-san. Ariella-san is the only one who has yet to touch Nii-san."
After Mitsuki answered on everyone's behalf, Charlotte looked at me in wide-eyed surprise.
"M-My friend... You're amazing. I never expected so many of them were willing to accept the risks and make contact with you..."
I was slightly frightened by her intent starting.
"Nothing. This development is a result of your masculine charm. Although I still haven't discerned anything yet—Hmm, what part exactly is tugging at the heartstrings of the maidens?"
Charlotte leaned forward and examined me up close.
Her blue eyes, as beautiful as a pure fairy's, glimmered with curiosity while her expression changed.
Her breath was blowing on my face, causing my cheeks to grow hot.
"Ch-Charl, you're too close."
"Oh—S-Sorry. Went on a tangent there."
Blushing slightly, Charlotte coughed deliberately.
"Ahem... I now know that you are no longer in danger due to dragon marks changing in color—Is it really okay for them to be here, those who must not be seen by NIFL?"
Charlotte looked at Shion, Jeanne and Vritra.
Although Shion had become human, she was originally a juvenile Kraken managed under an Asgard lab. It would be nothing surprising even if NIFL demanded the extradition of Jeanne, their former member, together with Shion.
Furthermore, it would be nothing surprising to regard the matter of harboring Vritra, currently in a captive state, as a massive act of betrayal against mankind.
I was fully aware of these risks. However—
"There'll be no way to respond in an emergency if we separate the targets requiring protection. It's still better for Shion and the others to be with you, Charl."
"You wish to protect me...?"
Charlotte asked in surprise.
"Since I know you're being targeted, that goes without saying, right?"
Wondering why she was so surprised, I nodded at the same time.
Next, Charlotte sighed deeply and looked at me questioningly.
"Are you—truly sure?"
I was puzzled by her solemn tone of voice.
"Ariella Lu decided to kill me even at the cost of betraying all of you. Did it occur to you that she might be fully justified?"
I could not answer immediately. Major Loki had warned me that Charlotte was about to commit a grave sin. She was apparently admitting to this herself.
Hence, I did not think that Charlotte was merely a victim. Even so—even if Charlotte was in the wrong, what I needed to do had not changed.
"They are separate matters."
Without responding directly to Charlotte's question, that was how I answered.
"Right now, Charl, your life is being targeted, so I have to protect you. However—once I know that you're up to something bad, of course I'll do everything I can to stop you. Both are matter-of-fact actions I'd take as a friend. There's no contradiction."
That was what I told Charlotte. I was simply making my own decision from the standpoint of a friend.
Charlotte stared at me blankly for a while before smiling at me.
"Hoo—Indeed, that's the kind of person you are, my friend. It looks like I've failed to recognize that clearly."
Shrugging, she slowly stood up from her seat and raised her hand casually.
Next, ripples appeared on the surface of the pool of blood on the floor. Then the blood turned into spheres like bubbles and hovered in the air.
At the same time, as though getting washed out, the red color was being sucked away from her bloodstained lab coat.
The blood gathered on Charlotte's palm. Smaller red bubbles gathered together, expanding into a large ball of blood.
When all blood had disappeared from the floor and her clothing, a bowling ball-sized sphere of blood was formed in front of Charlotte.
Witnessing this scene, Mitsuki and the girls whispered among themselves behind me.
"This red blood is precisely my authority. Having prepared this, allow me to tell you all what I am about to do."
Following the ball of blood floating in the air, Charlotte opened a window in the office.
Outside was a sparkling starry night and Midgard in darkness.
Although I knew late night was approaching, it still felt subtly reassuring to actually see the scenery outside the window. Having spent some time underground with the sky out of sight, my sense of time had grown ambiguous
"Come to me and take a good look outside."
Charlotte reached out and called us to the window.
The Midgardsormr defense system, currently surfaced, was impossible to distinguish from the horizon due to the darkness. Apart from the illuminated campus, all other places were shrouded under the canopy of the night.
However, there were multiple weak light source in the darkness that kept flashing. Flashing light sources appeared intermittently around the school.
"Muzzle flashes from firearms... Is a battle going on?"
I gasped and asked. In response, Charlotte nodded.
"Currently, the Dragon Subjugation Squad is in charge of generating walls of air and electromagnetic barriers around various Midgard facilities to prevent NIFL's invasion. The fighting over there is taking place outside the barriers."
After Charlotte explained, Mitsuki spoke up frantically.
"The Dragon Subjugation Squad has entered the fray!? In that case, I must take charge of command as the captain—"
"Don't panic. Haruka is in command and the Dragon Subjugation Squad is only deploying barriers without fighting. These kind-hearted girls are unable to attack humans to begin with."
Charlotte smiled wryly while she spoke. However, a burning question began to spread among us.
"Then who is NIFL fighting, may I ask?"
Lisa asked on everyone's behalf. Charlotte stopped smiling and answered in a calm voice.
"The NIFL soldiers under my control."
The unexpected answer made Lisa at a loss for words. Meanwhile, Charlotte continued with a grave expression.
"NIFL broke Midgardsormr's final defense line using artillery bombardment. It was afternoon today when they executed a fully armed landing on Midgard. At the the time, I secured Midgard's right to legitimate self-defense by controlling a solider to open fire, thus refusing them entry into the school facilities. And right now, using those under my control to spread the 'infection' of my blood, roughly one third of NIFL's deployed soldiers are under my control. They're the ones currently fighting."
After listening to Charlotte, Kili remarked sarcastically with aloofness.
"Directing and acting out a script of your own to start a battle and even making them slaughter one another, how cruel of you. As expected of the dragon that rules humanity."
"—I know this not behavior befitting a human. Those who fall under my control can obtain temporary immortality, turning them into undefeatable monsters to assault their comrades. This is probably not a sight you guys can accept readily."
Charlotte spoke in self-loathing while peering at the reactions of Mitsuki and the others. Were they imagining the battles taking place in the darkness with flashes of gunfire? Everyone looked a bit timid in expression.
However, Mitsuki took a step forward as though encouraging herself and said:
"To be honest, I have no idea whether what you are doing is correct, Principal. However... We must stall for time until the inspection order is rescinded, just as we initially planned..."
Listening to Mitsuki, Charlotte shrugged slightly.
"Judging from the fact that NIFL damaged Midgardsormr to charge in, they intend to seize evidence of my being 'mankind's enemy' in order to eliminate me. Although, preparations are under way to rescind the order... Those guys are probably not going to pull back. Even if Asgard orders them to withdraw, they won't leave obediently."
"I-In that case, how do you intend to resolve this situation, Principal?"
Mitsuki asked in a panic.
Indeed, if rescinding the order was pointless, then we currently had no means of breaking out of the current predicament.
"This is war between NIFL and me. War will not end until either side has completely subjugated the other. Hence, I intend to put everyone from NIFL under my 'control,' including the fleet along the shore"
Charlotte motioned to the hovering ball of blood with her gaze and answered.
"That's why you need a large volume of blood...?"
Looking at the blood sphere and the hole in the floor where the blood had flowed, I uttered quietly in a hoarse voice.
"Yes. But this is still not enough. In other words, victory in this war depends on whether I can collect enough blood first or if NIFL arrives first. Hnece, it's time for me to start 'collecting blood' again."
Moving away from the window, Charlotte returned to her chair and picked up her knife.
"You're stabbing yourself again...?"
Seeing the knife's sharp glint, Tia asked in a trembling voice.
Shion cowered in fear behind Jeanne's back.
"Oh right—Sorry. This scene is a bit too hardcore for young girls. Those who don't want to watch should enter the inside room. Well.. That is, if you're still not afraid of me after hearing all that just now—"
Charlotte smiled in self-deprecation while looking at everyone to test our response.
Mitsuki and the girls exchanged glances in confusion before all looking in my direction.
"We will leave the decision to Nii-san's judgment. Among us, Nii-san is the one who knows you best, Principal."
Iris, Lisa and the others nodded in agreement. After deliberating in a dilemma for a while, I cautiously chose my words.
"My opinion remains the same. Charl, you just said this is a war between you and NIFL—But to us, it's a battle to save Ariella and protect you, Charl. That's why our best choice is to hide Shion and Jeanne here while the rest of us wait for Ariella."
Mitsuki smiled with satisfaction after I presented my viewpoint.
"—Our policy is thus decided. Well then, Jeanne-san and Shion-san, please enter the inner room first. Oh, Vritra-san, you too, please."
Carrying Shion on her back, Jeanne made her way to Charlotte's private room. Vritra looked at Charlotte as though she had something to say, but in the end, she followed Jeanne without uttering a word.
Having confirmed they had left, Mitsuki coughed and said to us.
"Now then, let us discuss our battle plan. Please do not mind us and feel free to begin your blood collection, Principal."
"W-Wait, you guys—"
Were developments unfolding unexpectedly? Charlotte stood up from her chair in puzzlement.
"Don't forget that I'm the monster that rules over mankind and uses humans as pawns. Disregarding my friend, who's a nice guy to a fault, don't any of you fear me?"
Listening to Charlotte's question, Iris and the others looked troubled. Then hesitating, they said:
"Because... You're the principal, after all."
Iris scratched her cheek and answered.
"It doesn't feel real even if I called you scary right now."
Firill replied with head tilted.
"Judging from the way you act normally, you are not someone who engages in abject villainy."
After Lisa shrugged wryly, Tia nodded in agreement.
"Tia doesn't think the principal is a bad person!"
Next, Ren concurred in a feeble voice:
"But... She apparently steals underwear."
"Well, that is as far as the worst goes."
Mitsuki added a comment that sounded quite mean.
Leaving her opinion to the end, Kili shrugged with indifference.
"Having become Yuu's mate, I am now Neun, right? There's no reason for me to fear Acht."
Neun was a reference to the ninth counterdragon that had come into existence to resist a monumental calamity. I had heard that from Tia and Vritra. The "Gray" Vampire was the counterdragon born to handle the eighth calamity, "humanity," which was why Kili was calling her Acht, or the eighth.
However, there was still no concrete evidence to prove that I was Neun—
"So this is the result of my everyday behavior huh..."
Listening to everyone, Charlotte sighed in disappointment.
"Indeed. No need to worry, we'll protect you."
Smiling wryly, I patted Charlotte on the shoulder.
"—Understood. Since you've said this much already, I will count on all of you."
Apparently freed from many mental impasses, Charlotte smiled cheerfully at us.
"Currently, NIFL has dispatched unmanned weaponry, which I cannot control. It's possible they may include units equipped with the power to break through the Dragon Subjugation Squad's barriers. Top priority must be given to preventing underground invasions, but surface defenses also need to be bolstered."
Hearing her request, Tia immediately raised her hand energetically.
"If it's machines, Tia will hack them all!"
Having seen how Tia had handled the partitions earlier, we nodded. Left to Tia, the unmanned weaponry would probably all become neutralized in a moment's time.
At this moment, Mitsuki suddenly posed a question to Tia as though it had suddenly occurred to her.
"Perhaps—in addition to the unmanned weaponry, are you able to hack the fleet surrounding Midgard?"
If that were possible, NIFL could be controlled even without Charlotte exercising her authority.
However, Tia shook her head sadly.
"Tia can only affect nearby objects using electrical interference. There is a method to increase the interference range, but..."
Tia explained in a quandary.
Speaking of which, Yggdrasil's interference range was also limited. It had expanded its interference range by extending the branches from its trunk—
"And the method is...?"
Head tilted, Firill urged Tia to continue.
"Moving Yggdrasil's CPU into a tree on Midgard and letting it grow big. That'll enable long-distance interference. But it's very time consuming and will surely cause a large commotion."
Tia frowned and explained the reason.
"That's true... If the same kind of absurd tree appeared here as in Japan, it'll undoubtedly cause misunderstandings."
Even if it could suppress NIFL for now, the world would seal away Midgard because of Yggdrasil's revival.
"Also, it'll definitely block off sunlight. I like my hair to dry naturally without using blow dryers, so it'll be a bit of a nuisance."
Iris' worries were quite off the mark.
"I could help you out if the shade causes temperatures to drop—No wait, Iris-san, now is not the appropriate time to discuss this matter, is it?"
Lisa shrugged in exasperation.
"Wow... A tsukkomi retort. Your studying of Japanese culture for Mononobe-kun's sake is bearing fruit."
Firill praised Lisa with a thumbs-up. Blushing, Lisa waved her hands.
"No... That was just unintentional—Listen here, Mononobe Yuu! Firill-san was just joking, so do not take her seriously!"
Overwhelmed by Lisa's forceful stares, I nodded.
Ren reminded quietly, prompting Lisa to cough in embarrassment.
"...Goodness gracious. My apologies for being in a bit of fluster. Summing up, expanding Tia-san's interference range would be very difficult. In that case, we will have to allow the unmanned weaponry to come close."
Forcibly returning to the subject, Lisa looked at Tia in worry. Understanding Lisa's concerns, Mitsuki nodded.
"In terms of safety considerations, Tia-san must exit the barriers in order to approach the unmanned weaponry. In that case, she will be vulnerable and we will need an extra bodyguard"
"Leave this task to me then."
Lisa volunteered to be Tia's bodyguard without any hesitation at all
"Tia is very reassured to have Lisa coming!"
Tia bounced up and down happily, but suddenly, her expression changed. I stared at her in doubt.
"Oh, but... Since you have to fight Ariella, it's better for Tia to stay with Yuu."
"Oh right—If you're there, Tia, you can obstruct Ariella's use of transmutation."
Holding my hand against the corner of my mouth, I pondered.
Tia was able to hack more than machines. Since human thoughts were transmitted using electrical signals too, she was capable of interfering in dark matter, whose generation was a product of mental resonance.
Naturally, as with machinery, there was a limit to interference range., but in an unavoidable battle against Ariella, having Tia on my side would be very advantageous.
While I was deliberating over what to do, Charlotte spoke up.
"It will take more time until NIFL reaches here from underground. Why not take as much control of the unmanned weaponry on the ground as possible first then go underground to intercept them?"
Hearing Charlotte's suggestion, Mitsuki nodded firmly.
"Indeed, that would be better. However, defenses on the ground surface must not weaken during underground transit. Who will fill the gap in defenses on the ground to take Tia's place after she departs?"
Mitsuki asked while looking at us. Next, Firill raised her dainty hand.
"Leave it to me. After all, Ariella and I were always in charge of defense."
While saying Ariella's name, Firill looked at me.
"...Mononobe-kun, I leave Ariella in your hands."
"Yes, don't worry."
I nodded solemnly at Firill.
"In that case, there will no issue on the surface... I shall take take command as the captain of the Dragon Subjugation Squad as well..."
Mitsuki murmured while glancing at me sideways with blinking eyes. Seeing her like that, Lisa sighed lightly.
"Mitsuki-san, if you are worried about Mononobe Yuu, why not go along with him? The principal has handed command of the Dragon Subjugation Squad to Shinomiya-sensei, so our side will be fine."
"I, umm, well..."
Mitsuki frantically shifted her gaze back and forth between Lisa and me, then lowered her head shyly.
"...Very well, it is decided. Thank you, Lisa-san."
Mitsuki answered in a feeble voice.
"Yes. Do your best too. Well then, Tia-san and Firill-san, let us depart."
Calling the two girls, Lisa opened the window in the principal's office and walked into the balcony.
"Good luck, everyone!"
Iris waved to them. After nodding back at her, Lisa's group flew into the night sky.
After they disappeared into the darkness, Charlotte turned to look at us.
"The situation underground is under close monitoring in the command center. They will contact us as soon as NIFL trespasses into dangerous territory. Until then, you should rest in that room there and not move around for no reason."
Charlotte pointed at the room where Jeanne and the others had entered
Just as Charlotte pointed out, there was no way to decide where we should wait on standby until NIFL's invasion route was confirmed. Ariella would probably be the first to reach the clock tower. Thinking that, I replied affirmatively to Charlotte.
"—Got it. However, I've something to talk with you about, Charl."
"Something to talk about?"
Looking straight at Charlotte, who was tilting her head in surprise, I nodded firmly.
The sound of dripping blood returned to the quiet principal's office again.
With a knife stabbed in her belly, Charlotte looked up at the ceiling with a pale demeanor.
Her expression would twist in pain from time to time. Watching this, I felt very worried.
"There must be a better way to take out blood than this, right..?"
"...No, this is the most suitable."
Widening her eyes slightly, she showed a grin surfacing on the corners of her lips.
Only Charlotte and I were present in the principal's office. Everyone else had gone to the other room for a nap.
"But... when you stab that spot, it's very painful yet the bleeding is not that much, right?"
"If I bleed out too much, I'll still lose consciousness even though I won't die. Controlling multiple targets means I have to maintain concentration. The pain is also a necessary means towards staying conscious."
Charlotte answered with weariness on her face.
At this time, I finally noticed that she had already pushed herself too far. Her painful expressions reflected not only pain but also the accumulated fatigue she was enduring.
"What happens if you lose consciousness? Will the controlled targets be released?"
"No, so you don't need to worry about that. However, they might very well get killed by their opponents. If I don't give detailed commands, cases of death on my side might result."
Charlotte answered me indifferently.
"Killed? But didn't you say the people under your control are immortal...?"
"That's only a limited form. If they lose their head or a large part of their body, it's impossible to regenerate."
Listening to this, I understood why Charlotte was bearing all this pain.
"...You don't want anyone to die, Charl."
"I'll make myself clear. This is not out of mercy. I just find it's a pain to handle the aftermath of deaths. My friend—Is this really okay? You definitely won't approve of my actions."
Charlotte emphasized her point. Rather than putting on a front, it was a serious question.
Hearing her, bathed in her gaze, I sighed lightly.
"You don't want to be approved... In other words, what you're doing now, Charl—what you're going to do—isn't something you wish to do."
Charlotte seemed inclined to argue back, but halfway through, she avoided eye contact and stopped.
Seeing her like that, I mustered my determination and brought up the main topic.
"My former superior officer—Major Loki at NIFL—said that you intend to commit a grave sin and deprive many people of their lives. Ariella also said she had a reason to kill you Charl... What on earth are you planning to do?"
After I inquired, Charlotte clenched her fist as though trying to endure something.
While she remained silent, I continued to ask from a different approach.
"An old dressing table in the underground cottage—It's yours, right? I saw the photo in the drawer."
"......Oh. It was taken with me and my father in the past."
After a while, Charlotte nodded lightly.
"So it really was your father, huh? To be frank, he looks very similar to the Major Loki I just mentioned."
I cautiously chose my words. Charlotte smiled wryly.
"...I know. I also jumped in surprise when I saw him visiting during the school festival. Although I've known of his existence long ago, I never expected such an uncanny resemblance. Seriously... Bloodlines are such unbelievable things."
"Bloodlines? In other words, Charl, you and Major Loki are—"
While thinking just as suspected, I gazed at Charl.
"That's right, we're blood relatives. That being said, it's the level of blood tie where one could consider each other strangers."
"...Can you explain in detail?"
Now was the only opportunity to step into her world. I insisted strongly.
Charlotte's gaze wandered a bit in hesitation but in the end, she gave up and said:
"A couple centuries ago, there lived a pair of twin brothers. They both obtained power simultaneously. At the same time, they also understood that this was an authority that had manifested to protect the world from humanity's hands."
After I muttered quietly, Charlotte made a slight nod.
"Indeed. The younger of the twins was my father—Leonardo B. Lord. To prevent humans from destroying the world, he had received the power to control and manage humanity. As for the elder brother, he had apparently obtained the power to eliminate humanity off the face of the earth."
Having developed civilization, humanity was regarded as the eighth calamity—the eighth dragon. Tia and Vritra had already informed me of this.
The eighth counterdragon born to oppose the calamity was the gray dragon—the "Gray" Vampire.
However, according to Charlotte, the world apparently gave birth to two counterdragons at the same time.
Vritra had said that after so much time had passed, humanity was already regarded as a part of the world and hence did not get eliminated. But perhaps... The part of the world recognizing mankind as an external threat still remained.
Due to a division in the world's will, were two authorities, identical in ends yet diametrically opposed in means, produced...?
Charlotte looked at me in my puzzlement and continued.
"However, the older brother left the responsibility of protecting the world to Leonardo—my father—and apparently did not use his authority even once in his life. My father named this unchosen power the scrapped authority, Code Lost."
—The scrapped authority. The unused power of the eighth.
Words I had heard during the previous battle against Vritra suddenly flashed through my mind.
'Mayhap 'tis the scrapped eighth—'
She had definitely said something similar. And when telling me about the eighth authority, she had been holding back.
Vritra probably knew about the duality of the eighth authority.
"When the eighth authority awakened, my father stopped aging and became immune to disease. In this manner, he lived for centuries. Undoubtedly, this was for the purpose of continued control over humans. Rather than the true nature of the power, immortality and eternal youth were likely the effects of the body adjusting itself to the ability."
Charlotte placed her hand on me as she spoke.
Transformation of the body as a result of obtaining power—this had happened to Iris recently. To accommodate power, the body of flesh evolved to become a different lifeform. Surely, Leviathan and Hraesvelgr must have gained their powerful appearances due to that.
"Due to eternal life and youth, my father always lived in solitude. However, perhaps his mind grew weary? ...He finally got married ten years before the first dragon disaster and had a child. And I am the child who was born. This was his first child in his long life spanning centuries—Hence, I grew up showered with love and doting. But on the day of my thirteenth birthday, a certain incident happened."
Charlotte gritted her teeth while holding back pain. However, it looked even more painful than stabbing a knife into her own body. Such was the torment she felt from recalling the past in her memory.
"My father had been traveling all over the place in his efforts to establish Asgard, but he came home to celebrate my birthday. However, due to one man showing up, dozens of guards... my mother... and father were all murdered."
Charlotte's father, supposed to be immortal and eternally young, murdered—Despite noticing this inherent contradiction, I refrained from raising this question in front of her sorrowful demeanor.
I took Charlotte's hand, clenched tightly in a fist, and held it, waiting for her to calm down. Her hand felt exceptionally cold because of her current bleeding.
"Hoo... You're so kind. Back when the tragedy struck, Mica was also holding my hand like this in the underground shelter."
Charlotte recounted nostalgically and placed her other hand on top of my hand.
"Yes, Mica-san was originally my father's vassal. From the day I was born, she has always stayed by my side, in charge of my education and protection. On that day, Mica and I were the only two survivors. Locked in a posture of mutual stabbing, that man and my father drew their last breath... I did not witness what had actually happened."
Charlotte took a deep breath to calm herself before continuing with a solemn expression.
"Although I had no idea back then, all the guards were semi-immortals who had entered into blood pacts with my father. And my father was genuinely immortal in every sense of the word. Yet despite that, everyone died. Unable to understand what had happened, all I could do was cry and wail."
Charlotte spoke in self-deprecation. However, that was only to be expected for a thirteen-year-old girl to be confronted with that kind of situation.
"I can recall clearly what happened after that. I shut myself indoors and left everything for Mica to handle. But one day, I witnessed my own wound healing instantly. It was when Mica explained this that I learned about my father's power for the first time."
Looking at our overlapping hands, Charlotte recounted nostalgically.
"I knew I had inherited my father's authority... Starting then, I finally resolved myself to stand on the stage. The day I found out the truth was when I succeeded my father's legacy genuinely and founded Asgard."
I repeated the word, prompting Charlotte to nod lightly.
"My father's killer belonged to the older brother's bloodline. He was apparently a soldier who had extraordinarily distinguished himself in battle due to United Nations forces intervening in civil war zones. Perhaps he had inherited the power for killing humans... The supposedly scrapped authority of Code Lost."
Was it due to a lack of concrete evidence? Charlotte spoke ambiguously.
However, since the man had killed people who were supposed to be immortal, this possibility was quite likely.
"And that man had been sent by a faction composed of people who felt that my father's control was a bad thing. These people established an independent military organization—NIFL—before my rule could touch them. I had already exhausted myself in taking control of Asgard. When I found out those people were revering my father's killer as a hero, I was so angry that I wanted to cook them alive."
Charlotte gritted her teeth hard with eyes burning in rage.
"So Charl, NIFL was hostile against you from the start huh..."
"Indeed. One could say that the current situation was inevitable."
Charlotte looked out the window, narrowing her eyes at the light of battle, then continued.
"Your former boss—Loki Jotunheim... is known as the 'son of the hero.'"
Although I was able to guess that from the assassin's bloodline, the weight from the revelation of Charlotte and Major Loki's relationship still forced my body to tremble.
"Although he had changed his family records, there can be no doubt. NIFL probably hopes for him to become the second-generation hero."
Naturally, this was referring to the murder of Charlotte—
"—My friend, are you angry?"
Charlotte looked troubled as she looked at me gritting my teeth and asked.
"Of course I am."
"Although your feelings fill me with gratitude... Please note that what you just heard was the story from my perspective. The people who had my father murdered believe they are the side of justice. If you listen to their version... You'd think their actions were legitimate too. My father and I are enemies of humanity."
Charlotte made the same expression as when she had said "You definitely won't approve of my actions" earlier. But to be frank, I could not accept her words.
"You and your father are described as enemies of humanity, Charl?"
"—What my father and I used our authority to maintain was world stability. In order to stop this weapon from causing a dramatic change to the planet's environment, I've kept intervention to a minimum level."
I frowned after listening to Charlotte's answer.
"I don't think that's a bad thing..."
My words brought a wry smile on Charlotte's face. She shook her head.
"There's no one who wouldn't find excessive meddling annoying. Previously, it was fine for me to limit my interference to countries armed with nuclear weapons, but with the current state of affairs, dangerous weapons developed in the name of fighting dragons have even spread to smaller nations. Consequently, large-scale control needs to be imposed in order to bring stability back to the world that has lost balance due to the disappearance of dragons, even to the point of suppressing civil wars in minor nations."
"But... maintaining world peace is the proper thing to do, right?"
I continued to argue, prompting Charlotte to speak in annoyance. Before she answered, she pursed her lips tightly.
"...Think on your own what part of my actions is evil. Or perhaps, you could ask Ariella Lu and the son of the hero directly."
Charlotte suddenly released my hand and replied.
I did not know why she refused to answer, so I called her name. Then she looked up at the ceiling with a smile of self-deprecation.
"I am a coward. I don't want to say words, which might cause my friend to leave me, directly with my own mouth. Although I said you definitely won't approve of what I'm doing, I actually do hope for you to be my ally. That's why... although I find this very unfair, I won't continue to give you information that could make you hate me."
Charlotte cut me off forcefully and guiltily avoided eye contact.
For sure, she had said everything she could. Understanding that, I bowed me head at her.
"—Got it. I'll figure out the rest on my own. Thank you for telling me all this."
I thanked her then leaned on the table and looked out the window.
After watching the starry sky for a while, Charlotte said in surprise.
"We're done chatting, you know? You should take a nap for a while like the girls."
"No, I'll stay here. You need someone to talk to you and distract you from the pain."
I looked out the window and replied calmly.
Charlotte inhaled and said in exasperation.
"—What a meddlesome fellow."
"That's what they often say about me."
"In that case—Could you meddle a bit more... Umm, pat me on the head, please."
After some hesitation, Charlotte said with a blush.
"Pat you on the head?"
"...That would probably help me forget the pain."
"Sure, I'm on it."
I nodded and placed my hand on Charlotte's head.
"Your hand is so big."
"Really? I find it very normal—"
I inclined my head while patting her sleek blonde hair.
"Your patting feels great. My father doted on me too much. His way was more stiff."
Hearing that, I realized why she had made such a request.
While Charlotte closed her eyes partially in pleasure, the side of her face looked even younger than usual. She was probably remembering her father.
Then what I ought to say to her now was—
"You are so admirable, Charlotte."
"...Huh, why so suddenly?"
Charlotte looked up at me in surprise.
"Nothing much, I just think you need more praise, Charl. Although you're always making Mica-san mad all the time, you're actually working really hard."
Good work. Just as I finished patting Charlotte on the head, she pouted shyly.
"...I-It is only natural as the principal. There's no need for special praise."
"Well, that might be true for adults—But right now, Charl, you're like a child."
"Wha... H-How rude. E-Enough with this patting."
Going red in the face, Charlotte tried to get my hand off but I continued to pat her head.
"Sorry, I won't say unnecessary things anymore."
I used my fingers to gently comb through her hair. Charlotte's resistance slowly weakened and she sighed.
"Seriously... Aren't you making me more and more fearful of getting hated by you?"
She whispered in distraught but with a smile hanging on her face.
However, this peaceful atmosphere in the room was suddenly broken by a shrill alert.
The phone on the work desk rang.
"...Faster than expected."
Charlotte's expression tensed as she picked up the receiver stiffly.
After responding to the caller, she looked at me.
"We have company."
"Understood. I'll go call everyone."
I nodded and walked to the door leading to Charlotte's private room.
"—By the way, I've something else to tell you."
Just as I gripped the handle and was about to open the door, I heard Charlotte's voice from behind.
It must be something important if she was bringing it up in this situation. I turned towards her.
Looking at me seriously, she said:
"Recorded in the materials my father left behind is the name of a dragon unknown to me."
"The name of an unknown dragon?"
I repeated what she said as a question. Charlotte nodded firmly and said:
"I fear it probably refers to my father's older brother who possessed the scrapped authority of Code Lost..."
A chill suddenly ran along my back. Before I heard her, my hairs were already standing on end due to certainty in a premonition of what she would say.
"The clear dragon—'Colorless' Fafnir. This is the name of the dragon born for the sake of killing mankind."
|Back to Prologue||Return to Main Page||Forward to Chapter 2|