Unlimited Fafnir:Volume 12 Chapter 1
Chapter 1 - Marduk of Mechanized Aviation
From my—Mononobe Yuu's—perspective, Mononobe Mitsuki was someone with greater fortitude than anyone else.
Back when she lost both parents in the car accident, my young self thought thus. Had I been in her place, what would I do?
The death of parents felt totally surreal and I could not imagine how life would continue after that. However, there was no way I would be able to hang in there—That was what I felt.
However, Mitsuki somehow recovered her past smile after becoming my little sister. After developing a fear of riding cars due to the accident, Mitsuki overcame her trauma through her own efforts.
Of course, I would protect Mitsuki as her older brother, and support her—But in the majority of cases, Mitsuki would always rely on her own strength to surmount adversity.
It was the same when "Blue" Hekatonkheir approached our town.
Mitsuki went alone to stand before the dragon. I followed only because I worried about her. To fight Hekatonkheir—Had Mitsuki not spelled it out, such a notion would never had occurred to me.
Watching that delicate silhouette of hers from behind... Challenging a dragon hundreds, no, thousands of times bigger than herself, I could never forget that image.
Even though Mitsuki was crying, even though she was trembling, but that image of her back was the brave silhouette that I still know.
I made a transaction with Yggdrasil to fight Hekatonkheir, only because I wanted to aid Mitsuki. I simply wanted to protect what she hoped to protect, that was all.
Three years after that, I was reunited in Midgard with a Mitsuki who had grown to become even more resolute and brave.
Despite going through the tragic ordeal of killing her best friend who had turned into a dragon, she still led the Ds in battle as the captain of the Dragon Subjugation Squad.
Despite her sorrow, despite her pain, she continued to stand strong stoicly.
"I am sorry... Nii-san, I am sorry—"
Lying on against my chest, Mitsuki kept apologizing. Sobbing and weeping, Mitsuki kept apologizing hoarsely—
I had never seen Mitsuki this "weak."
When Kraken Zwei, the orphaned child left behind by her best friend, showed up, Mitsuki had left the battlefield once.
But this time was different.
The pillar that had kept her going all this time had been totally demolished.
It was evident without needing to ask. Because, it was the same for me too.
—These feelings of mine, regarding Mitsuki as the one dearest to me.
They were what constituted my very being to this day.
But after Vritra informed me that these feelings stemmed from my instincts as a counterdragon, even I was plunged into confusion.
With wavering thoughts and emotions, I was unable to offer any consoling words to Mitsuki.
Acting like this... I must be an even "weaker" person than Mitsuki right now.
At the dormitory where all of us lived—inside my bedroom at the far end of the corridor—There was a currently a tense atmosphere.
"Mononobe... What on earth happened?"
"Yuu, you look like you're in so much pain..."
Dressed in yukatas, Iris and Tia inquired with puzzled voices.
Midgard's principal, Charlotte, had organized a fireworks party. The staff had opened stalls for everyone to enjoy, but something had just happened. It was only natural for the girls to be confused by the pained expression on my face.
"Mononobe-kun, you clearly said you were going to meet up with us after talking to Mitsuki... But you never came."
"We were so worried about you two."
Also dressed in yukatas, Firill and Lisa spoke. Then Ariella and Ren also stared at me seriously.
"What happened to your important conversation?"
"Mm... Onii-chan, tell us."
Jeanne and Shion also went "Captain" and "Papa..." respectively, nodding to urge me to explain.
"—Looks like my mother already knows what happened."
Kili narrowed her eyes and looked at Vritra, who was beside me.
In addition to the students of Brynhildr Class, Shinomiya-sensei and Mica-san were also in my room.
They were looking in surprise at Mitsuki who was sleeping on the bed and Vritra and me, who were standing on the side. Since I had suddenly called everyone over on my portable terminal, this was only to be expected. I still had not told them the situation.
Principal Charlotte was apparently occupied so she sent Mica-san to come on her behalf.
Currently, a heavy silence shrouded the room. There was no sound outside the dorm either.
After the fireworks, night at Midgard had returned to its usual serenity.
Having enjoyed the festivities, the students began to return to the girls dorms. The stalls on the sides of the coastal road also began to pack up.
Before replying to Iris' question, I first checked on Mitsuki's condition on the bed.
Apologizing nonstop, exhausted from crying, Mitsuki had fallen asleep only just earlier. If possible, I wanted to take her somewhere else without waking her up, but for the time being, I must not leave her side.
It was impossible to know when that darkness might begin to devour Mitsuki again—
That darkness, invading Mitsuki's body and manifesting the figures of the deceased... It was something Vritra called "end matter."
Recalling that darkness that was even blacker than night, I looked up at everyone present.
"Please stay calm and listen quietly to what I have to say, so that we avoid waking up Mitsuki. First of all, this is about 'true dragons' and the ninth calamity."
Saying that, I shifted my gaze, settling on Tia. This was something I had heard from Tia and Vritra but had not informed the others. To allow everyone to comprehend Mitsuki's condition, it was necessary to start from there.
Tia called my name uneasily, probably understanding the gravity of the situation. The others also waited quietly for me to continue.
To reassure Tia, I nodded and began to speak.
Leviathan, Basilisk, Hraesvelgr, Yggdrasil, Vritra—The dragons we had fought in the past were all counterdragons, born to fight "true dragons"—great calamities on a global scale. Charlotte's Code Acht and the Code Lost held by myself, Ariella, and the others, were abilities for keeping humanity, the eighth calamity, in check—
And the next great calamity... was perhaps already imminent.
Listening to these matters, everyone began to grow restless. However, I explained to them the fact that a new authority would arise to oppose this calamity.
And the being possessing this authority was "Neun." In other words, the ninth counterdragon.
Perhaps Neun was me—Mononobe Yuu.
"True dragons and counterdragons... Even if you suddenly tell us about all this, we will only end up even more confused."
Lisa sighed with her forehead against her hand. Firill nodded too with undisguised puzzlement.
"Hmm... It feels like the subject has suddenly grown somber. Oh well, we already knew you were no ordinary D, Mononobe-kun, back when you selected us, but..."
Next, Iris cried out in a realization.
"Oh—Then when you touched us, Mononobe... turning us into your kind, does that also mean we've turned into the ninth counterdragon species too?"
"Yes—Indeed 'tis so. Undoubtedly, ye could be considered Neun."
The one who answered Iris' question was not me but Vritra. Kili mocked her.
"That was my intention from the very start. I've always believed Yuu to be Neun and understood what it meant to be his mate. Mother, you were the one who refused to believe."
"...Hmm. I had my own reasons... Nevertheless, I confess that I have erred on this matter. Daughter, thy view was correct. Now, there is no longer any reason to doubt this person of being Neun."
Vritra replied to Kili in a slight sulk, then lightly tapped my arm. I was standing beside her.
Seeing this, Kili frowned.
"Since you are asserting so strongly, Mother, it means that there is 'reason' strong enough to prove this, right?"
Saying that, she looked at Mitsuki on the bed.
Judging from the situation, it was quite easy to associate this "reason" with the matter of Mitsuki.
"Mononobe-kun, you've been together with Mitsuki all this time?"
"Onii-chan... Where were you two during the fireworks?"
Looking at Mitsuki, Ariella and Ren asked me.
"I was talking to Mitsuki on the beach. At the time, a strange change suddenly occurred to Mitsuki."
I clenched my fist and answered.
Next, Shion, who was originally staying next to Jeanne, ran over to and looked up at me in worry.
"...Papa, aRe yOU oKaY?"
"Yeah, I'm okay."
I unclenched my fist an patted Shion on the head.
Now was not the time to be wallowing in regret. Mitsuki was the one in true pain. What I should be doing now was to tell everyone the whole story and ask for their help so that Mitsuki could be saved.
Perhaps, these thoughts and actions came from a counterdragon's instincts... But whatever, forget it for now.
Stroking Shion's hair, I looked up and saw Shinomiya-sensei standing behind Iris and the girls.
Starting from there, I swept my gaze across Mica-san and everyone else—slowly composing my words.
"In hindsight, the ninth calamity—that "darkness"—has been lurking inside Mitsuki the whole time. And just a while ago, that darkness seeped out and almost devoured Mitsuki. Vritra called it 'end matter.'"
In sequence, I told the speechless girls what had happened on the beach.
Suddenly in horrendous pain, Mitsuki's hand had turned ambiguous in outline and corrupted by pitch blackness. Just as the darkness was devouring Mitsuki, I touched her, causing my dragon mark to glow blue, blowing the darkness away...
"—The blue light caused Mitsuki's body to return to normal. However, the end matter scattered outside turned into pitch-black human forms, which I then killed using the power of Code Lost."
I omitted the detail that the shadows looked like Mitsuki's parents. Although I had no intention of keeping secrets... Even though Mitsuki was currently asleep, this was not something I could talk about without her presence.
And right now, what agonized Mitsuki and me the most was whether my wish to protect Mitsuki came sincerely from the heart. In other words, it was a personal issue between the two of us. Discussing this with anyone would have to be left until later.
"I definitely encountered the ninth calamity in my childhood. During that car accident which killed Mitsuki's parents—I encountered the darkness of end matter at the time. Most likely, I saved Mitsuki back then using Neun's authority, but from that point on, the darkness began to lurk inside Mitsuki."
I paused at this point. Next to me, Vritra took a step forward and said:
"According to the prophesy I received from Kiskanu—in other words, a prediction of the future—There ought to be more time before the ninth dragon's arrival. However, Mononobe Mitsuki's transformation into Neun hath ended the ninth calamity's dormancy. Judging from the effects Neun's authority was capable of producing, 'tis still possible to suppress it... Be that as it may, I cannot say for sure what will happen next. Hence, I wish to enlist assistance from all of ye, Neun's mates, and Yggdrasil's successor."
Looking at everyone in turn, Vritra finally settled her gaze firmly on Tia.
As the new core of Yggdrasil that had turned into Neun too, Tia nodded solemnly.
"Tia understands the basic situation now. But what should Tia do?"
"I hope thou couldst search the Akashic Record for as much information about the seventh dragon—'Disasterification' Apocalypse—as possible, then taking the current situation into account to produce a new prediction of the future."
After listening to Vritra's request, Tia tilted her head in puzzlement.
"...The seventh calamity? Isn't it the ninth right now?"
"Kiskanu said that the seventh calamity was a prelude to an even greater calamity. And this greater calamity is precisely the ninth dragon—Hence, 'twould be highly valuable to comprehend the seventh calamity. At the time... I evaded the seventh calamity by hiding in a higher dimension, thus surviving in my complete state, and used dark matter to restore the world after the fact. Consequently, I did not have a chance to obtain a clear view of the seventh calamity."
Saying this with a depressed expression, Vritra continued.
"However, Kiskanu was destroyed by the seventh calamity. Although my restoration of plant life gave rise to a new plant network, Yggdrasil... Its core consciousness was exceedingly obsessed with prioritizing its own survival, completely unwilling to listen to mine advice. Ostensibly, it was conquered by fear."
Tia gulped and Vritra nodded solemnly.
"Indeed—Hence, I wish to know that which Kiskanu witnessed at the moment of its destruction, the true nature of the seventh calamity. If this were known, 'twould be possible to find a way to counter the ninth calamity, mayhap."
"Got it. Tia will try to contact the Akashic Record."
Tia answered with a voice of determination but next to her, Lisa showed an expression of worry.
"Tia-san, are you sure? Wouldn't there be possible danger unless you approach this cautiously?"
"Yes, so Tia wants to concentrate inside the bedroom. Also, with you accompanying Tia, if possible..."
Slightly hesitant, Tia looked up at Lisa.
"—Certainly, if I can be of assistance. I wanted to accompany you in the first place. Rest assured."
Lisa gently stroked Tia's head then looked at me.
"Mononobe Yuu, Tia-san an I shall excuse ourselves for now. Although I have yet to come to terms with the whole affair... I entrust Mitsuki-san to your care."
"Yes—I got it."
Enduring the severe pain in my heart, I agreed with Lisa.
"However, you are not allowed to be reckless."
Did Lisa feel concerned about my behavior? After giving a final reminder, she left the room with Tia.
With the shutting sound of the door, the room instantly fell silent again. Next, Iris spoke up hesitantly.
"U-Umm, is there anything we can do? How can we save Mitsuki-chan?"
Unable to suggest any concrete action, I could only grit my teeth. How to save Mitsuki, what to do from this point onwards, I still had not come up with anything yet.
However, Vritra tugged at my clothing during my silence.
"My comrade Neun and his mates, what ye ought to do is to keep Mononobe Mitsuki company. According to what transpired earlier, including Mononobe Mitsuki herself—End matter can be suppressed so long as two possessors of Neun's authority are present. Hence, 'twould be wise if ye were to take shifts to remain by her side."
"Vritra-chan... Yes, I got it! Then let's take turns to watch over Mitsuki-chan!"
Saying that, Iris approached me.
"Let me have the first shift. Mononobe, you should take a bit of a break. You seem so tired."
Iris urged seriously but I could not bring myself to nod and agree.
"No, since I'm the only one who has actually used Neun's authority. I can't leave Mitsuki's side—"
However, the others began to speak as though to drown out my words.
"This is your room, Mononobe-kun. I think it's best if you rest on the sofa over there, since you'll be able to know immediately if anything happened."
Firill pointed to the sofa in the room. Ariella and Ren agreed.
"We'll take turns to watch Mitsuki, don't worry."
"Mm. We will first take a nap and arrange shifts to keep watch over the night."
Listening to them, Kili sighed lightly.
"No helping it... I will help out too since there's nothing for me to do until Tia finishes her task. It seems like a nice chance to chat with Yuu. Well then, Iris-chan, I'm leaving the first shift to you."
"Yes, leave it to me!"
Iris clenched her fist hard and nodded.
Thus, after Firill and the other girls left the room, Shinomiya-sensei and Mica-san also walked to the door.
"Mononobe Yuu, we shall go report the situation to the principal. Mononobe Mitsuki is supposed to be sent underground for isolation and detailed examination... However, after analyzing what was said just now, we conclude that it is not the time to separate you two. For the purpose of isolation, this dormitory is already capable of serving the same function. Please do not go out until we contact you and watch over her well."
Holding the doorknob, Shinomiya-sensei finished. Mica-san also spoke:
"Mononobe-san, we entrust her care to you. However, just as Iris-san and the others have suggested, you should rest for a while."
"Yes, I understand."
I nodded and saw the two of them off.
"Umm, Captain, Zwei is already..."
At that moment, Jeanne, who had been silent all this time, spoke timidly. Next to her, Shion was already rubbing her eyes, about to fall asleep.
"She's already sleepy, right? I'm sorry for making you two stay with us for so long. Take Shion back to your room, Jeanne."
The conversation just now was probably a bit too hard for Shion to understand. I smiled wryly.
"Roger that. Sorry... I am just an ordinary person without special powers... I cannot aid you in this matter, Captain."
"Don't worry about this kind of stuff. Jeanne, you're working hard as Shion's surrogate mother. This is an important job that no one can do but you. Everyone, including me, of course, are very grateful for that."
I thanked Jeanne apologetically. Staying in the room for the first shift, Iris also nodded vigorously.
"That's right! Jeanne-chan, you don't need to push yourself. Just think of Shion-chan."
"—Thank you. Then let's go, Zwei."
Smiling with a reassured look, Jeanne took Shion's hand.
"Yawn... Papa... gOoD niGHt."
Waving to me, Shion yawned lightly and I bade her goodnight.
After she left the room, the only ones remaining were the four of us—me, Iris, Vritra, and Mitsuki sleeping on the bed.
"An ordinary person without special powers?"
Looking at the doorway through where Jeanne had left, Vritra murmured in thought.
"You seem to be implying something."
Vritra smiled faintly when I cast a questioning look at her.
"No, what one might beg to differ would be the implication that humanity is not a special existence. A species regarded with hostility by Gaia twice, as the second and the eighth calamities, could not possibly be ordinary, could it?"
It looked like Jeanne's comment had prompted Vritra to make her point. She shrugged lightly and continued.
"—Furthermore, she definitely possesseth a pair of extraordinary eyes, yes?"
"Yeah, that's true. Jeanne's eyes are definitely not ordinary."
Vritra's question made me nod stiffly.
Capable of capturing all objects within her field of view and discerning them, it would be no exaggeration to describe Jeanne as gifted. Sleipnir was a team assembled from people like her.
"The same applieth to the authorities of counterdragons—Exceptional abilities do not exist without reason. Perhaps her abilities were inherited from Atlantis or some other origin...? 'Tis this that I am curious."
Saying that, Vritra shrugged and turned her back to me.
"You're going back to your room too, Vritra?"
"Nay, I intend to have a look at Tia Lightning's condition. Though I have informed her in detail of the type of information she needeth, one would presume that the extraction of data from the Akashic Record must be difficult indeed."
Shaking her head, Vritra left my room.
Thud. After the door closed, the room suddenly became very quiet. Mitsuki was sleeping soundly, hence, it was as though Iris and I were alone together.
"Oh, umm, Iris."
Noticing I was obliged to say something to Iris, I composed my words.
"W-What is it?"
The cowardly aura emanating from me was making Iris nervous in turn. Tensing herself, she asked in response.
However, I failed to continue. My thoughts could not come together at all. Looking at Mitsuki on the bed, I sighed.
"Nothing, really. I guess I'm a bit tired."
Resting my forehead against my hand, I shook my head. Iris frowned in worry.
"Are you okay, Mononobe? I'll watch over Mitsuki-chan properly, so get some rest, Mononobe."
Saying that, she pushed me from behind, forcing me to the sofa.
I reacted with a confused voice, but Iris ignored me. After sitting me on the sofa, she moved a chair to the side of the bed and sat down.
"Until Firill-chan comes for the next shift, I'll stay awake on watch for sure! So don't you worry."
Iris asserted forcefully and turned her face towards Mitsuki on the bed. Seeing Iris stare unblinkingly at Mitsuki, I smiled wryly.
"Got it, I'm counting on you, Iris. However, you might fall ill too if you push yourself too hard, so relax a bit."
Seeing Iris start taking deep breaths, I lay down on the sofa. Only then did I notice I was still wearing a yukata. However, deciding I could change later, I switched to a more comfortable posture on the sofa.
After I reclined sideways to the right, the bed entered my view. Also dressed in a yukata, Iris was watching the sleeping Mitsuki with a serious look on her face.
Watching the side of her face, the words that I had been unable to compose earlier naturally surfaced in my mind.
Yes—This matter must be conveyed to Iris.
"What is it?"
After I called her name, Iris took her eyes off Mitsuki, but asked while still keeping the same posture.
"Mitsuki asked me. She wanted me to tell her the answer to the question as to who was the dearest to me. She only hoped for me to make a decision rather than a choice—That was the idea."
Without touching upon explanations about the ninth dragon, I talked about "my personal issue."
"...........To make a decision rather than a choice... I see..."
After a moment's silence, Iris repeated my words then smiled.
"Oh, okay, sorry—I think I understand something. I'm sure Mitsuki-chan wanted you to be certain about not making a mistake."
Gazing at Mitsuki on the bed with gentle eyes, Iris replied.
"The current situation, our relationships, your inner self, Mononobe, she simply wanted to know how you feel without changing any of these—That's what I think. I'm the same too. I want to understand you better, Mononobe."
Iris answered with a blush, but she continued to speak while staying in her posture without making eye contact with me.
"However, I already know what Mitsuki-chan wanted to find out. Mononobe, you replied that Mitsuki-chan is the dearest to you, right?"
"......How do you know that?"
When I asked in surprise, Iris scratched her face.
"I know this much at least, because you are the one I love."
The straightforward confession caused my face to heat up.
"Mononobe, you said you loved me, right? That feeling is not a lie. I already knew when you selected me—However, if the question was who is the most important to you, Mitsuki-chan will definitely come to your mind. I feel that this is on a different level than simply liking someone."
"Iris—Looks like you know me better than myself."
Smiling wryly, I made fun of myself.
On a different level than simply liking someone. That was definitely true.
"That's right, it's just as you said, Iris. My reply to Mitsuki was that she was the dearest to me. But that apparently stems from my instincts as Neun, the ninth counterdragon."
Covering my face with my hands, I spoke stiffly.
"That darkness—The ninth calamity is sealed inside Mitsuki. That's why I've been instinctively protecting Mitsuki, according to Vritra. Mitsuki also heard this already."
My voice trembled slightly. I recalled how Mitsuki had apologized to me endlessly.
"To be honest, I haven't put my feelings in order yet. I can't tell which emotions come from myself and which ones are out of Neun's instincts. It's precisely because I'm currently in this state that I wasn't able to say anything to Mitsuki."
I bit my lip hard as chagrin gripped my heart.
"Sorry, I'm not asking for you to comfort or trying to discuss this with you. I'll find the answer on my own, but it's just that I feel that I must tell you about this. That's why—"
Unable to think of words to continue, I stopped there.
The room plunged into silence. After who knew how long, I heard Iris' whisper.
"Yes—I believe in you. If it's you, Mononobe, things will surely work out."
Somehow, I fell asleep.
I opened my eyes, realizing after my nap.
So sleepy—I really wanted to remain in the land of dreams.
However... Strangely, my body felt heavy.
As for where this weight came from, I found out as soon as I opened my eyes, greeted by the sight before me.
A petite red-haired girl—Ren Miyazawa—was sleeping on top of me. She was curled up like a cat, soundly asleep...
Having changed, she was wearing her usual uniform instead of a yukata.
What on earth was happening? I looked waround then noticed Ariella sitting on the chair next to the bed.
Having taken over Iris' seat, Ariella had been watching the sleeping Mitsuki the whole time.
I shifted my body slightly and the sofa sank down. This sound prompted Ariella to look over.
"Oh, Mononobe-kun—You woke up. Hmm... Are you okay like that?"
Smiling wryly, Ariella rose up from her chair and came over to me. Since Ren was sleeping on me, I could not get up. Lying there on the sofa, I looked at Ariella.
"It'd be great if you could explain the current situation."
When I asked, Ariella scratched her cheek awkwardly.
"Umm... It's my turn to watch over Mitsuki and Ren came along."
Unable to comprehend, I asked.
"Well, Ren and I are roommates—Since I came over here, it means that Ren'd be left alone in the room, right?"
"Yeah, but what's the problem there?"
I frowned and looked up at Ariella. Then glancing at Ren, she knelt down next to me and whispered in my ear.
"I hope you'll keep this a secret... But Ren is scared of sleeping alone... She can't sleep like that."
Ariella spoke with an expression as though revealing an important secret. But for Ren, perhaps this really was strictly confidential.
"—I see, I get it now. I'll pretend I never heard the previous exchange. But I can't believe she chose to sleep on top of me out of all places."
Sighing, I looked at the soundly sleeping Ren. Inside my room, the only places to sleep comfortably were the bed and the sofa. Sleeping on me should not be very comfy.
"Ren is able to sleep anywhere as long as she's by the side of someone she finds reassuring. Your heartbeat allows her to relax and fall asleep straight away. As expected of Ren's 'Onii-chan'."
Now that she pointed it out, indeed, Ren's ear was pressed against the left side of my chest. After stroking her red hair softly, I looked at Ariella again.
"I'm glad that Ren trusts me so much, but I can no longer sleep in this posture. I'm going to yield the sofa to her, so could you pick her up gently without waking her up?"
"Got it. Leave it to me."
Ariella nodded and used her arms to pick up Ren securely. Taking the opportunity, I got off the sofa and stood up to stretch. Despite her petite size, having a person's entire weight on me still made me stiff and uncomfortable. It felt like sleep paralysis. Thinking that, I looked at Mitsuki sleeping on the bed.
"How is Mitsuki doing?"
I whispered to Ariella, who was poking Ren's cheeks while she was sleeping on the sofa.
"She woke up once when Firill was on watch, but she immediately went back to sleep without making a scene."
"She woke up once, huh—Uh, what's the time now?"
Since it was dark outside the window, I had no sense of the passage of time. I glanced at the clock, only to see the hands indicating 4am. This hour could be considered morning.
"Mononobe-kun, you slept for almost five hours. Well, I'm really glad you woke up before Kili's shift. If you were still sleeping, I'm sure she'll... Umm, do weird things."
Ariella spoke with mild blush. Perhaps she was recalling last time when Kili visited me during the night.
"No, you probably don't need to worry about that. If it's Kili, I'll definitely wake up the moment she tries to do anything."
I smiled wryly and shook my head. Ren was able to climb on top of me without waking me up because she was not someone I needed to keep my guard up against. Against anyone dangerous, I had full confidence in my ability to wake up immediately to handle the situation.
"Very well... But I get the feeling you might get swayed by the situation even if you're careful, Mononobe-kun—"
Unable to deny her words, I could not say anything.
"I said it before, Mononobe-kun, but you need to pull yourself together. Especially against Kili, you have to be more assertive."
Arms akimbo, Ariella cautioned me.
"But she's not someone who'll comply obediently, right?"
"That's where you're wrong. I think she'd go along with your demands, Mononobe-kun, if you're forceful. Rather, she'd be happy about it."
The unexpected word left me confused. I looked at Ariella questioningly.
"She is similar to me in some ways, so I know. Kili probably likes a partner who's better and stronger than her. So on a basic level, she's a passive person, or rather, she wants to be led."
"A passive person... In other words, she's a masochist?"
I shared my view to concur with Ariella's opinion, but she instantly went red in the face.
"M-Masochist—What are you suddenly talking about!? If Kili's like that, then aren't I also... Th-That's so obscene..."
Seeing Ariella totally flustered, I hastily waved my hands.
"No, what I mean is personality tendencies—I didn't mean to say anything obscene. Ariella, haven't you ever chatted with others about whether someone looks like an S or an M?"
"...Looks like? Oh, you mean in that sense. I thought you were being serious..."
Puzzled, I asked Ariella who was wiping sweat from her brow in relief, then she immediately went red and denied it.
"Nothing, nothing at all! It's true that I've discussed this with Lisa and the others in detail! Firill even brought a book with a personality quiz."
"Eh, then which one came out as the analysis result for Kili?"
Interested, I tried asking but Ariella shook her head.
"It happened before we met Kili."
"Then what about you, Ariella?"
Looking away from me, Ariella answered in a barely audible voice.
"M-Mononobe-kun, let me be clear, it wasn't just me! Lisa and Mitsuki were M too! Also, that book itself was quite weird, its credibility—"
Ariella furiously explained herself with an intense blush, causing me to relax my expression.
"—W-What are you laughing at!?"
"Sorry, but you're just so cute, Ariella."
I apologized with a wry smile, causing Ariella to hold her breath, frozen on the spot.
"C... C-C-C-Cute—Could you not... say this sort of thing... so suddenly..."
Her voice became softer and softer while she lowered her head awkwardly.
I apologized again. Since I said it unintentionally, Ariella's reaction caused me to blush instead.
"Then who tested as S, Ariella?"
At this rate, the mood was going to become very awkward, so I hastily changed the subject.
"Ah, well—It might be quite surprising, but Iris was an S."
"That's definitely surprising... But on further thought, Iris gave Kili a '-chan' honorific and completely forced Kili to go along with her pace. Perhaps, that's—"
I crossed my arms and imagined Iris as a sadist...
Picturing Iris holding a whip, laughing madly, I hastily shook my head to dispel the image.
I smiled wryly at Ariella who had reacted to my muttering.
"Don't worry about it. Oh well, anyway, I'll remember your advice to be more assertive towards Kili."
"Y-Yeah, I hope you'll achieve it for sure... Also, umm, now that you're awake, go take a bath and get changed. With you looking like that, I don't know where to look anymore... Oh, I'll keep watch over Mitsuki, so don't worry."
Saying that, Ariella pointed at me. I looked down, only to see my yukata's collar wide open.
"—Got it, I'll do that."
While fixing up my clothes, I nodded at Ariella.
However, just as I was carrying a change of clothes into the bathroom's changing area, a ringtone was suddenly heard in the room.
"S-Sorry, that's mine—"
Ariella hastily took out her portable terminal from her pocket, but this sound was coming from more than one place. From the bed where Mitsuki was sleeping, Ren's sofa, and from my breast pocket—In any case, everyone's portable terminal was ringing.
Ren rubbed her eyes drowsily and sat up.
Before I pressed the button to pick up the call, the screen turned on automatically on the terminal. Then Midgard's chief administrator, Charlotte B. Lord, appeared.
"Members of Brynhildr Class, an emergency situation has arisen."
The principal who looked like a young child was fidgeting with her blonde hair nervously, speaking in a somber voice.
'Just now, a certain someone from NIFL—a name that probably none of us wish to hear for the time being—that Loki Jotunheim has contacted us.'
Charlotte nodded gravely when I spoke his name quietly. Images of everyone in the conversation were displayed on the monitors in the command center.
'Indeed... In any case, all of you need to look at this.'
After she said that, the screen changed. A towering black dome under a blue sky was shown on my terminal. Since there were no objects in view for reference, I could not estimate its size, but I already knew that this was a gigantic object.
This was because it was completely unreflective and lacked three dimensionality in appearance. It seemed like a hole floating amid the surrounding scenery, completely a deep abyss of darkness... This reminded me of the "darkness" attempting to devour Mitsuki and a chill ran through my body.
"Several hours ago, this type of dome had appeared at four locations across the world. With a diameter of three hundred kilometers or so and a height of roughly fifty kilometers, these domes are exceptionally large and impossible to observe their interiors. Hence, these spaces are currently called unknown territories."
—Could this be related to the "darkness" inside Mitsuki?
It was impossible to consider them coincidences with such timing.
'Although many towns have been swallowed, no one has come out of these domes. What emerged... was only this.'
Accompanying Charlotte's narration, the screen changed to show a strange entity hovering next to a dome.
It was gigantic heart covered by a spherical network of blood vessels. This surreal scene made Ariella exclaim in a confused voice.
"What is this..."
'That was the image when the entity first emerged. Now, it has transformed to this.'
Next, the screen changed to show a gigantic black "creature." A pitch-black dragon with wings outspread, hovering in the air—
"Isn't this Vritra? No, it's probably not—"
It was quite similar to the stand-in that the black dragon had created previously.
However, Vritra was currently with us in the form of a young girl. Furthermore, the dragon in the image was far too humongous.
During class, I had seen images of Vritra's first appearance twenty-five years ago, but it should not have been this big.
'Hmm—Please wait a moment. Tia Lightning apparently has something to inform all of us.'
As Charlotte spoke, an image of Tia appeared on the bottom right corner of the screen. With Lisa and Vritra behind her, it was probably Tia's bedroom.
'Umm, Tia has something to say.'
Tia spoke solemnly, but Vritra went over her shoulder and leaned forward to interrupt.
'Make no mistake, that is not I. 'Tis the model I referenced to create the dragon stand-in of mine, although I merely read the data provided by Kiskanu, this could very well be—'
'Stop! This is Tia's turn to speak! Don't get in Tia's way!'
Shoving away the interrupting Vritra, out of the screen, Tia spoke again.
'Through the connection to the Akashic Record, Tia knows what it is. It is from long long ago... The fifth calamity that visited Earth—the fifth dragon, "Eternal Longevity" Bahamut.'
—Not the ninth but the fifth?
The urgent and imminent calamity was the ninth while the fifth should be in the past. It was a crisis that the world was supposed to have overcome.
The unexpected words made me gasp, but Charlotte did not seem surprised on the screen, only troubled.
'How odd, this name of Bahamut is the same as the codename assigned by NIFL. Do they actually have information on the fifth calamity...?'
Charlotte voiced her doubts but no one was able to give an answer.
'Why NIFL knows about Bahamut, Tia has no idea either. However... Bahamut appearing is in itself very strange! Because Bahamut was clearly defeated by Basilisk, the holder of Code Fünf...'
The confused Tia explained the abnormality of the situation.
"By Basilisk? Then Iris, having inherited that authority—"Catastrophe"—would be able to take out that crazy huge dragon?"
Was it due to my whispered comment? Iris appeared on the bottom left of the screen. It looked like she had been sleeping until earlier since she was dressed in a flimsy negligee.
Iris pointed to her own face in panic. However, Charlotte crossed her arms with a grave expression.
'—It would be too soon to assert that. However, it is impossible to say for certain until we see the outcome of the attempt.'
When I spoke out, Charlotte nodded.
'Yes, NIFL has requested our cooperation. While Bahamut continues to move, the unknown territory is expanding at the same time. This is no time to be staying uninvolved and watching from the sidelines. Furthermore...'
She paused for a moment, then spoke again as though she had dispelled her hesitation.
'Bahamut's expected route includes many countries—including the Principality of Erlia, the homeland of one of our Ds, Firill Crest. If Bahamut were to deviate slightly from predictions, even Lisa Highwalker's homeland of England would not be spared.'
This information brought alarm to the face of Lisa, who was behind Tia. Although not shown on the screen, Firill was probably starting to worry too.
'In order to protect the homelands for these maidens, the Ds, to return to, I have accepted NIFL's request as Midgard's top command. Considering the links between this and the ninth calamity reported earlier, as well as "Catastrophe," you are the only ones capable of taking on this mission. Although it pains my heart to send you to a dangerous battlefield again... I hope all of you will aid in this endeavor.'
"Of course—Then what exactly do we have to do?"
I replied instantly and asked Charlotte for our mission. In the same room as me, Ariella and Ren also nodded without hesitation.
'...Thank you, my friend and the young maidens. You will join NIFL's defense line to intercept Bahamut together. However... There is a serious problem here.'
Charlotte thanked us but for some reason, her expression turned very grim.
'We have no means of transport. Originally, we could meet up with NIFL by ship transport on the sea, which would then allow you to head to the scene by plane or helicopter. However, there is not a single NIFL ship in Midgard's surroundings at the moment. It was my demand after the battle that NIFL withdraw its forces completely... I never thought it would come to bite us in return.'
Charlotte sighed with her hand against her forehead. However, I asked:
"All we need to do is fly to where NIFL is, right? That'll greatly shorten the time until rendezvous."
'The NIFL force sent to pick you up is extremely distant. It would be too far to fly using transmutation, exhausting you greatly before the battle. However... Perhaps we have no other options.'
Charlotte was very troubled, but Tia raised her hand vigorously from the small window on the screen.
'Wait! In that case, Tia has a better idea!'
I responded in surprise and Tia brought her fist to her chest and said seriously.
'Well, Tia thinks that we just need to complete Marduk together!'
"Complete Marduk, what do you mean—"
Unable to understand Tia's words, I was baffled.
Marduk was a weapon system used by Atlantis, the ancestors of mankind. In order to defeat dragons such as Leviathan and Hraesvelgr, I had used transmuted dark matter to recreate parts of Marduk.
It was true that every weapon of Marduk was very powerful, but currently, the problem was meeting up with NIFL. I could not see how these two matters were connected.
However, Tia continued to speak to Charlotte.
'Principal, please. Order all Ds to assemble at the harbor right now.'
'Sure, I can do that, but...'
Charlotte seemed worried but still nodded.
'Okay, let's all go to the harbor!'
Having obtained permission, Tia hung up without explaining in detail. On the screen with one less small window, Charlotte sighed.
'It fills me with guilt to disturb the sweet dreams of young maidens when the sun has yet to rise—But there is no other way. Let us listen to her explanation at the harbor.'
Then the portable terminal's screen went dark and my room returned to peace and quiet.
"Nii-san, stop standing there, spacing out. Hurry and get changed. Ariella-san and Ren-san, please get prepared to set off."
Surprised by the voice that broke the silence, I turned to face the bed.
Had she woken up without my noticing? Sitting up on the bed, Mitsuki was holding her portable terminal, looking at me.
I called out her name hoarsely.
"You woke up. Are... you fine now?"
"Mm, do you feel unwell anywhere?"
Ariella and Ren also noticed and asked Mitsuki with worry.
"Yes—I am fine. I am fully informed too. I shall... make a trip to my room first."
Saying that, Mitsuki got off the bed. Like me, she was still wearing her yukata. She was probably planning to change into her uniform in her room.
"Wait, even if you're fine right now, Mitsuki, it's best you avoid being alone."
I frantically tried to stop Mitsuki who was making her way to the door.
"...Yes, good point. Because of the ninth calamity, right...? When I woke up previously, Firill-san already told me about taking shifts to watch over me. In that case... Ariella-san and Ren-san should come with me, so no need to worry, Nii-san."
Pausing in her steps, Mitsuki spoke in an exceedingly calm voice.
This was probably the calmness she tried her hardest to feign while enduring the pain that was tearing her heart apart.
"Nii-san, are you actually trying to watch me change? If you say yes, you will have to write a repentance essay, you know?"
Smiling weakly, Mitsuki cautioned me.
"......Understood. Okay, Ariella and Ren, I'm leaving Mitsuki in your hands."
Despite my hesitation, I nodded and entrusted Mitsuki to them.
"Got it. I'll contact you straight away if anything happens. No need to worry."
"Mm, don't worry."
Next, Mitsuki left my room, accompanied by Ariella and Ren.
I knew I ought to say something else—I knew I ought to do something. However, what exactly was it? No matter how I racked my brain, I did not know.
At the break of dawn, Midgard's entire student body was gathered at the harbor. Unsure of the situation, the girls were showing apprehensive expressions towards the tense atmosphere around them.
Currently, there were no ships moored at the harbor, so the view was expansive. The orange sun was emerging from the eastern horizon, its golden glow reflecting off the clouds in the sky.
Prepared to sortie, we members of the Brynhildr Class were together with Charlotte and Shinomiya-sensei, listening to Tia while standing on the pier some distance from the other students.
"So—Marduk is actually a giant ship!"
Tia spread her slender arms forcefully to express the ship's great size.
"A ship... Speaking of which, back when we first saw NIFL's battleship, Tia-san did mention before that it felt similar to Marduk somehow."
Hearing Lisa whispering with a hand to the corner of her mouth, I remembered too.
It was during the final moments of NIFL's invasion—when we had clearly defeated Major Loki—the NIFL battleship moored at sea had switched to attack mode.
'That ship... Somehow, it feels similar.'
Tia had said so at the time. When we asked for an explanation, she had continued.
'A weapon from Atlantis... Marduk...'
Furthermore, Tia had warned that the main cannon, prepared to fire, might be Babel, a weapon from a lost civilization.
In fact, the main cannon's firepower was exceptional—While Ariella deployed a barrier, Tia hacked the ship, thus enabling us to survive the crisis.
However, it was still unknown why NIFL possessed such a battleship. During my time at NIFL, I had passed along Atlantean weapons data to my friend in the technological development department, thus allowing practical deployment of Nergal and Gáe Bolg... However, back then, I did not have data on Babel.
The anti-dragon weapons created through the transmutation of dark matter would self-destruct after use, so it would be impossible to obtain data from them.
After the battle, I wanted to inquire about this if there had been a chance to talk to Major Loki... But since no such chance came up, it remained an unanswered question in the end.
"Tia—I know that the anti-dragon armament named Marduk is part of a gigantic weapon. During my second transaction with Yggdrasil, I sensed it."
Seeking to defeat the Leviathan that was trying to turn Iris into its mate, I desired new power. Responding to my wish, Yggdrasil transmitted the data of Marduk's main cannon to me. Back then, I found out that Marduk was a weapon armed with various modes of attack.
Afterwards, Marduk's data was supplemented by two additional downloads, but still incomplete.
"—In other words, Marduk's complete form is similar to NIFL's battleship?"
I recalled the various Atlantean weapons I had made so far and asked Tia.
Psionic multi-barreled cannon—"Noah."
Hyperspace reversion rocket-assisted artillery—"Abyss."
I still could not imagine Marduk's complete form, equipped with all these weapons.
"More amazing that that, it's a ship that can fly into space."
The sudden word shocked me, but Tia's face was serious.
"Indeed. The counterweapon mobilized to eliminate external threats to the Atlanteans regardless of any environment, that is the 'Deus Dragon,' Marduk."
"Deus Dragon... the second calamity's trump card."
Kili whispered with interest.
The Atlanteans were the ancestors of mankind and possessed superb levels of science and technology. Arriving at Earth from space, their civilization was regarded by Gaia as a threat to the planet—as the second dragon, "Ultimate Wisdom" Atlantis. "Deus Dragon" was probably a term to express the true nature of this threat.
"Yes, which is why it should be able to fly over to Bahamut immediately. But since it's so huge, it requires a great amount of dark matter. Tia doesn't know if borrowing everyone's help is enough..."
Seeing all the students gathered at the harbor, Tia said with worry.
"—Release these bonds of mine and no such problem would exist."
Vritra interrupted next. Indeed, in her case, she should be able to generate dark matter on a level far beyond us. But currently, she was unable to perform transmutation due to the vine choker Tia had made.
"Right! Let's have Vritra-chan help out too!"
Iris' face brightened up but Ariella shook her head with a reluctant expression.
"Let's not... We don't know what Vritra'd do with full ability to generate dark matter. Even if she cooperates with us now, we might end up as enemies like before if the situation changed."
Ren and Firill agreed with her.
"Mm, too big of a risk."
"I agree. We don't know if our dark matter is really insufficient either..."
Vritra shrugged in response.
"...Presently, I must fight alongside my comrade Neun—Fine, 'tis futile to demand ye to trust me."
Despite speaking as though she had not placed any hopes in the first place, Vritra acted a little like she was sulking. I patted her on the head.
"Thanks for offering to help. When we're really out of options, we'll borrow your power."
"Hmph, then ye ought not miss your chance. 'Twould be too late if ye dally."
Vritra turned her face away, speaking with slight displeasure.
"Yeah, I got it. Then we'll start constructing Marduk."
I nodded and looked at everyone.
"I can only watch this time. Zwei—please help Papa... in my place."
Not a D, Jeanne gritted her teeth and patted Shion on the arm.
"i Got iT. Papa, i'LL hElp yOu."
Shion nodded firmly and walked over to hold my hand.
I gripped Shion's hand in return then looked at my silent little sister—Mitsuki.
Unable to make eye contact with her, I could only speak while looking at her chest.
"Rest assured, I shall assist in constructing Marduk too. Also, I have not mentioned it yet, but I shall be coming along as well. Given how I must not leave your side currently, Nii-san, I have no other choice."
Just as I was struggling to find words, Mitsuki gave her reply first.
Indeed, after waking up, Mitsuki had neither said she was unwell nor did she cause any commotion.
However, she was definitely not herself.
She was forcing herself. She was putting on a brave face. Even without looking at her face, without listening to her voice, I could tell instantly.
However, I did not point this out to deprive her of the "fortitude" she had been desperately trying to maintain.
"Got it. Then I'm counting on you too, Mitsuki."
I nodded decisively and Mitsuki answered "yes" in relief. Next, she instantly tensed her expression and turned to the noisy students.
"Please listen to me, everyone."
All the noise instantly vanished as soon as Mituski spoke as the student council president and captain of the Dragon Subjugation Squad.
Although there were girls watching her with worried gazes, there was definite trust in Mitsuki conveyed through their eyes.
"Currently, catastrophic changes have occurred all over the world. Our homelands in various countries are under threat. The giant creature known as Bahamut is the one expanding the affected areas. Brynhildr Class will be heading out to defeat this creature."
Mitsuki was facing the students and her back view was filled with intense vigor as always. However, this vigor was probably squeezed out through her desperate efforts.
"The remainder of the Dragon Subjugation Squad, please guard Midgard as best as you can. Furthermore, I have a request to make of all of you. In order to construct the ship necessary for hastening to the battlefield, we need a huge quantity of dark matter. Those willing to lend us your aid, could you kindly hold hands with people beside you to form a circle?"
Despite the sudden request, the students began to hold hands with one another without questioning.
All the hesitation on everyone's face disappeared. This was proof that each student believed that Mitsuki was pointing out the correct path.
Seeing this, Shinomiya-sensei asked Charlotte.
"Principal, how is the condition of Midgardsormr?"
"Mica is on standby in the command center. As soon as I give the order, the naval route will be secured. You will be able to set off immediately once the ship is built. If possible, I would like to accompany all of you... But I cannot break my agreement with the United Nations to remain on this island. Furthermore—since my authority is only effective against humans, I am no help to my friend."
Holding a portable terminal, Charlotte answered then looked at me.
"You must return safe and sound. This is my only request for you all."
"Yeah, it's a promise."
While we were talking, the students had already formed a circle.
"Then everyone, let us join in too."
Mitsuki urged us and I entered the circle, holding Shion by the hand.
"Tia will transmit the missing data to Yuu, so this position is essential."
Saying that, Tia took my other hand, opposite to Shion.
"Do your best, Mononobe."
Next to Tia, Iris encouraged me.
"Nii-san, please give the signal once you are ready. After that, we will start transmitting dark matter to you."
Mitsuki spoke to me from next to Shion.
I nodded at them then took a deep breath.
Jeanne, Vritra, Charlotte, and Shinomiya-sensei were watching us slightly further away.
"So, Tia—Send me Marduk's data."
"Yes, got it."
Tia's little hand began to tighten her grip while electricity sparked in the vicinity of the small red horns on her head.
In that instant, a numbing sensation moved to my brain from my hand that Tia was holding. A flash of light filled my mind, turning my view pure white. Due to the blinding feeling, I closed my eyes.
Like torrent, the surging information gradually melded together into several lines. The lines slowly came together as data of the anti-dragon armament, supplementing it to completion, illustrating a gigantic outline.
—This was Marduk.
I could not help but shudder all over.
Possessing the power to defeat hostile species for the Atlanteans on multiple occasions, its existence filled me with fear.
In order to project the form in my mind to reality, I opened my tightly shut eyes.
What appeared before me was the blue ocean under the morning sun. Watching the splashing waves on the water surface, I gave the order.
"Lend me your strength, everyone!"
"Please concentrate dark matter in Nii-san, everyone!"
Mitsuki instantly shouted to all the students.
Instantly, a flood of dark matter flowed into me, then manifested into a gigantic black sphere before my eyes.
Dark matter consisted of fragments of emotions. Everyone's feelings were flooding my mind, causing me to start losing myself.
Normally, performing transmutation in such a state would be impossible, but there was no need for me to impose control over these emotions—this dark matter.
All I needed to do was pour the blueprints in my mind into the flow, thereby giving form to the dark matter.
I conferred a name upon the burgeoning dark matter, bestowing a rightful path for the matter that held endless possibility.
"Anti-dragon armament, Full Revive!!"
The pitch-black mist of dark matter, expanding over the sea, gradually increased in density and started turning from a gas into a solid.
"...Still not enough. Everyone, please muster more!"
I performed transmutation while calling out.
If the dark matter was insufficient, then an incomplete Marduk with missing parts would be materialized. Since this was a weapon harboring massive power, incompleteness could result in a gigantic explosion.
The one with the greatest generating capacity, Ren, desperately squeezed out her final strength.
Gritting their teeth, everyone else transmitted dark matter to me.
The mist of dark matter grew dense all at once.
It was here—
Feeling a concrete sensation, I accelerated the rate of transmutation, displaying the majestic appearance of the Atlantean weapon on the sea.
Solidified from mist, the entity shone with hard silver luster. Accompanied by the loud noise of waves, a gigantic battleship appeared.
The surging waves hit the breakwater, producing a splash of white spray. However, no one dodged.
Everyone was fixated on the object that had appeared before them.
Only told that they were going to build a ship, the students could not hide their surprise at all. Even having seen the construction of anti-dragon weapons up close before, Iris and the girls could only gasp, rooted to the spot.
"—What an amazing ship."
Charlotte's exclamation reached my ear.
Ship, battleship—Sure enough, such descriptions were probably the closest.
Roughly two hundred meters in length, the ship's body was covered with silver-white armor with grooves, tracing out a network of geometric patterns reminiscent of pulsating blood vessels, brightening and dimming in periodic cycles.
Protruding sharply in the front, the prow was merged with the main cannon of Babel. Split into two, its barrel featured a lens in the middle that was reflecting the morning sunlight with dazzling radiance.
Weapons were concentrated on the front of the ship's surface. Megiddo's giant barrel was installed at two locations, a total of eight of Noah's multi-barreled turrets—Aimed at the glowing morning sky, they looked especially impressive.
Behind the bridge were the missile pods of Abyss. On the two sides of the ship were variable-sweep wings, gravitational control devices used for flight.
In addition to the data stored in my mind, my senses were naturally extended, providing me with a full grasp of the entire ship's capabilities.
Just as the anti-dragon weapons created through transmutation previously were always linked to my consciousness, this ship was synchronized with me.
"So this is... Marduk."
While confounded by my suddenly expanded senses, I looked up at the Atlantean weapon that had materialized.
This was a power that did not belong to this era. Once used, it would surely become a disaster equal to the dragons.
But right now, to oppose an even greater calamity, I must control this power—
After warning myself, I felt a bone-piercing pain through my head, causing me to frown.
Sure enough, being connected to such a massive and complicated weapon was burdening my mind with even greater strain.
Noticing my symptoms, Tia looked up at me, tilting her head in worry.
"—I'm fine. Come, let's go."
I released Tia's hand and walked over to Marduk, moored against the harbor.
Although the headache persisted, I optimistically believed that I would get used to it with time. Even if the headache did not go away, what I needed to do remained the same. This was no time to show weakness.
Although the enemy before us was Bahamut, the black domes appearing all over the world were reminiscent of the ninth calamity's "darkness."
If the ninth calamity was the true culprit, losing this battle was not an option. In order to protect Mitsuki, this too was essential.
Whether instinct or otherwise, what drove my actions were these feelings.
I stopped in front of the ship and raised my hand.
The newborn Deus Dragon growled and awakened.
After the geometric patterns carved on the ship's body glowed brightly, one part of its external walls opened up from inside, producing a gangway leading into the ship.
I placed one foot onto the first step and turned around.
"Are we all ready?"
"Y-Yes, all okay!"
Iris replied with a nervous expression and the others nodded with resolve on their faces.
"Very well—Let's depart."
Turning forward again, I started up the gangway.
As though welcoming its passengers, Marduk's body rumbled thunderously while it started up.
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