Unlimited Fafnir:Volume 12 Chapter 3
Chapter 3 - Bahamut of Eternal Longevity
On the interior side of the hatch leading to the deck, I waited for the moment to begin the operation. Was it a design consideration for space use? There was a double-door airlock chamber in front of the hatch.
Waiting beside me was Iris, with a nervous look on her face, and Kili, who was stretching with sleepy countenance.
Lisa and the others had gone to the hatches on starboard and port side, leaving only the three of us here who were heading to the deck.
"S-So... Kili-chan, you didn't get enough sleep?"
"Not really. Too much happened, so I basically didn't get to sleep."
Kili gave an ambiguous answer with a weary look.
"Looks like keeping Vritra company is a tough job."
I sympathized but Kili stared at me in disbelief.
"Oh my, how did you know my mother was the reason?"
"Uh, I didn't, but Vritra is always out of control, you know?"
Noticing my slip of the tongue, I hastily explained myself. Earlier, I had accidentally peeped on various things when I was observing the situation in the cabins, which was how I knew the hidden story. Disliking shampoo, Vritra was running all over the place, making a lot of trouble for Kili.
Would she find this odd? A chill and sweat began to spread down my back. Fortunately, Kili did not seem bothered and she nodded vigorously.
"Yes, that's true. For the sake of my mother's puny dignity, I can't give any details, but it was very tiring."
"I see... It must be tough for you, Kili-chan. Oh, what about you, Mononobe? Will Marduk stay active if you're not at the bridge?"
After listening to Kili's response, Iris asked me.
"Yeah, no problem. Thanks to Jeanne taking over recon, I'm able to focus calmly on controlling the ship. Jeanne will share necessary external information with me, and I can control Marduk like an extension of my own body, so no matter where I am, it doesn't change the precision of my control."
Just by focusing my mind on Marduk, I could find out Bahamut's current location and the situation in the surroundings.
Marduk was currently flying north over a frozen ocean. We were going to encounter Bahamut and the NIFL fleet just by continuing forward.
"There should still be some time—We are currently following Bahamut's trail, flying behind it. Once NIFL engages Bahamut in battle, I'll accelerate all at once to close in. Once visual contact is made, we'll go out."
I switched on the communicator on my ear so that everyone else could hear me.
I heard "roger that" from everyone through the earpiece but next to me, Iris sounded the most nervous.
"R-Roger, but I'm so worried. The people at NIFL..."
Seeing Iris so ill at ease, I placed my hand on her head.
"According to reports from NIFL, other than the Naglfar, the only forces they are deploying are the unmanned battleships we saw during the Leviathan battle. If the line cannot be maintained, the flagship Naglfar will most likely withdraw, so don't worry."
"Really...? That's good to know."
Iris finally smiled but it was still very stiff. Next, Kili interjected in exasperation.
"Iris-chan—You've been worrying about others all the time, what about yourself? If you fail to use Catastrophe at the crucial moment, we're all in trouble, you know?"
"Eh... Oh, don't worry about that. I can generate Catastrophe, no problem. It's just that I'm a little worried since the method is not quite the same as before..."
Iris scratched her cheek and answered. I added:
"Iris used to be able to generate Catastrophe directly, but now she can't do without using dark matter as an intermediary. It's probably because I turned her back into a human I selected when she was transforming into Basilisk."
My explanation caused Kili to show overt displeasure.
"—Is this really okay? Since the generation process requires dark matter, shouldn't you make preparations like borrowing dark matter from others? In the worst-case scenario, we'll have to consider unsealing my mother..."
Kili pondered with a hand against the side of her face, but Iris hastily shook her head.
"Oh, you don't need to worry about that. I already found out during an examination when we returned to Midgard. Catastrophe has virtually no mass, so it's pretty much unrelated to the capacity to generate dark matter."
"Eh, that's something I didn't know. Then does that allow you to use it with greater power than before? If it's virtually massless, you can theoretically generate it without limit."
Very interested, Kili inquired of Iris.
"Hmm, how should I put it...? Rather than transmutation, to me it actually feels more like the dark matter is acting as a 'gate'... Although I don't know how much I can generate exactly, there should be a limit."
Kili shrugged at Iris who was answering with her head cocked.
"That's very wishy-washy, Iris-chan. You're the only one who can defeat Bahamut, so you've got to get your act together."
"Sob... Kili-chan, please don't put more pressure on me. Of course I'll give it my best shot."
Confronted with Iris' tearful gaze, Kili looked away in embarrassment.
"I know you're already trying your hardest. However, this isn't something that be taken care of through vigor or determination. Putting more thought into it is necessary."
Although Kili's words were a bit blunt, Iris showed a look of comprehension.
"Ah—Hey hey, Mononobe! Just now, did you hear that just now!?"
"Huh? What about... just now?"
Puzzled, I asked her in return, causing Iris to explain with slight displeasure.
"Seriously, don't you remember? Mononobe, didn't you give me the same advice before? Back when I couldn't do transmutation properly, didn't you say that just working hard wasn't enough? I had to confront my failures, something like that."
"...Now that you mention it, I think I did."
Memories surfaced from back when we first met and I was having special practice sessions in an underground training site together with Iris who had failed the test to get into the Dragon Subjugation Squad.
"But what about it?"
Although it was very nostalgic, I had no idea why Iris meant by bringing it up.
"So it's the same as what Kili-chan said, you know?"
"Oh, okay. Yeah, pretty much."
Overwhelmed by her vigor, I could not help but nod. Then I glanced at Kili. It seemed like the conversation had lost her, leaving her with a look of puzzlement.
Thus, Iris grabbed my hand and said with a happy smile:
"It's wonderful for the advice to be the same. Kili-chan and Mononobe are a bit alike."
"...Although I'm not offended by this comparison to Yuu, I don't get why you're so happy about this."
Unable to hide her confusion, Kili sighed.
"Eh? Oh... Why am I so happy?"
Even you don't know? Iris cocked her head in puzzlement.
"—Forget it. To be honest, no matter how much time I spend with you, I still can't say I understand you."
Exhausted in mind, Kili slumped her shoulders.
To me, Iris was also "a girl who effortlessly transcended expectation," beyond the realm of my understanding. Hence, I agreed completely with Kili on this point, but since Iris would get excited again, I kept this comment to myself.
"Captain, NIFL has engaged Bahamut."
At that moment, Jeanne's report came on the communicator. Linked to Marduk, she could speak to me mentally, but in order to share information with everyone, she would stick to using the communicator as much as possible.
"I copy that. Marduk, maximum atmospheric flight speed. We will exit the ship once Jeanne gives us the signal. Don't forget to deploy the air barrier."
While increasing Marduk's speed, I called out to Iris and Kili.
Close by, Iris and Kili nodded solemnly, then the others replied they were ready.
Feeling that the distance to the fifth calamity, the fifth dragon—"Eternal Life" Bahamut—was shrinking, I melded my consciousness into all of Marduk's armaments.
To delay Bahamut from noticing us for as long as possible, Marduk descended from maximum altitude to stay as close to the frozen sea surface as was feasible.
A roughly ten-kilometer-wide black line was carved on the plain of ice. This was Bahamut's flight trail. While Bahamut flew, its shadow formed an unknown territory that was eating away at the Earth's surface.
Even Marduk's radar was unable to read anything from the black line.
And flying at the limit of the extending the unknown territory was the giant dragon with outspread wings.
Standing on the deck, I stared at the target within visual range that must be destroyed.
Standing next to me, Iris and Kili were also looking at the giant dragon with bated breath.
The target was still dozens of kilometers away. However, the ten-thousand-meter-long monster, flying high in the sky, was exhibiting an even stronger presence than the moon in the noon sky right now.
The scene before my eyes was like a mirage—Completely unreal. However, that thing... Bahamut was undoubtedly there.
Given Marduk's speed, we were going to engage the enemy in a few minutes.
"Looking at it in the flesh... It seems like a small island floating in the sky."
Deploying a composite barrier of heat and air on the deck, Kili whispered poignantly. Were it not for her barrier, we would not only be blown away by the strong wind but also frozen by the extremely low temperature around us.
Lisa and the others should be standing ready on starboard and port side as ordered. Since Marduk far surpassed the speed of flying by transmutation of air, we had no alternative option for flying to the battlefield.
"Its wings are not moving at all. Discharging flames from within its body... Rather than a living organism, it's more like aircraft, right?"
Staring at Bahamut afar, Iris commented. She was holding her fictional armament, Caduceus.
"It's probably using flame jets for thrust. Like you say, Iris, it's more like an airplane. But... If it really came from outside of Earth, then it's a spaceship rather than a jet plane."
While aiming Marduk's weaponry at Bahamut, I answered Iris' question.
The target was now locked. There were weapons capable of sniping from this range. However, since Major Loki was already drawing Bahamut's attention, there was no need for us to attack before it noticed us. More importantly, we needed to allow Iris' Catastrophe to hit.
Listening to us, Kili seemed to notice a problem.
"Outside of Earth—I see, that's definitely the kind of creatures the 'true dragons' are. However, if Bahamut is a creature that feeds on heat, why would it visit Earth. Logically speaking, wouldn't it go to the Sun instead?"
"Now that you mention it, yeah. In other words, its objective isn't absorbing energy...?"
Kili's observation made me tilt my head in thought but I could not figure out what else Bahamut could be aiming for. However, Iris seemed to think of something and she said to me:
"Maybe Bahamut has preferences? For example, if you give me bunch of green peppers, which I don't like, I'd rather have Mitsuki-chan's tasty sweets."
"Quality over quantity? It's not impossible."
After I commented, Kili smiled wryly and nodded.
"Fufu, that's very Iris-chan. Perhaps on this planet, there is something particularly attractive to dragons."
These words stirred some kind of thought inside me, but an urgent voice on the communicator interrupted my thinking.
'—Engaged in battle with NIFL, Bahamut is exhibiting change. A massive amount of thermal energy is detected at its head. Currently increasing rapidly!'
The instant I looked in the direction of Marduk's course, intense light flashed through the sky.
An explosive scene occurred, almost as though the sun had risen from the north.
Orange flames scorched the far shore on the horizon with the giant dragon's black silhouette overlaid on top.
'Bahamut seems to have released a heat beam. The NIFL fleet deployed in front of Bahamut has gone missing—Most likely vaporized.'
"Tsk... Major Loki—How is the Naglfar?"
'The flagship Naglfar evaded in the nick of time; it is still intact. Oh—They just contacted us. The operation will continue, just that the defense line has collapsed and it is no longer possible to halt Bahamut's advance. They will act as a diversion to confuse Bahamut.'
"Understood. Still... That firepower is quite unbelievable. This is the first time for Bahamut to execute a clear attack on its own, right?"
Watching the steam rising, I asked Jeanne.
'Indeed. The Atlantean weapons equipped on the Naglfar and the cooling projectiles used by the fleet must have been effective to some extent. Since Bahamut saw NIFL as an enemy, one could say that the operation is proceeding smoothly. We will be able to launch a heavy assault from behind with ease.'
"Yeah—But don't be careless, everyone. Tell me immediately if it shows signs of intercepting us. Iris, how much close do we need to approach for you to get into range?"
While I was issuing orders to Jeanne, I asked Iris.
"Umm... It's different from before, I no longer send out Catastrophe in a 'zap!' ...Since I'll be using dark matter to transmute from Bahamut's surroundings, distance won't matter much. Although we're still far away, I can aim as long as I can see clearly."
"Really? Then your range might be even longer than before. If that's the case, we can launch the attack first without worrying too much."
Her reply reassured me somewhat.
Iris' ability should be more restricted than before, but an advantage had arisen.
When Basilisk used Catastrophe, there was a range limit. This applied to Iris too when she fired Catastrophe directly.
But now, with the target was so gigantic and hovering in midair, it was possible to make visual confirmation from farther away and attack.
"Iris, get ready to attack. Give the signal when you feel you can attack."
Iris nodded with a tense expression then took a step forward, wielding her staff fictional armament.
"Iris-chan, don't get impatient, okay? If the first strike fails, Bahamut will surely see us as a threat and attack us. Anyway, take a deep breath and relax first."
Kili offered advice to Iris, whose entire body was tense, then patted her on the shoulder.
"Inhale... Exhale... Thanks, Kili-chan. I'm much more relaxed now."
"...Don't mention it. If you miss, we'll all be in trouble."
Kili avoided eye contact while making a harsh comment, but she frowned when her gaze met with mine.
"Yuu, do you have something to say?"
"Nope, or rather, what I wanted to say is no longer needed."
I shrugged and shook my head.
"...You're so bad."
Kili's face reddened slightly and she moved to stand a step forward. Smiling wryly, I watched the same direction as her.
After getting closer, I could see flashes of light around Bahamut intermittently. The battle continued to rage on.
Amid the tense atmosphere, we stayed wary of Bahamut while waiting for the signal.
Ten seconds, twenty seconds, thirty seconds—
Bahamut's silhouette gradually became large, bringing an increasing sense of mass. We could now recognize it as a three dimensional entity.
The heat beam discharged by the giant dragon vaporized the frozen ocean surface, causing a massive explosion. A brief moment later, the shockwave arrived, shaking Marduk slightly.
When the shaking stopped, Iris finally gave the signal.
"Mononobe, from here, I'll probably—no, I'll definitely hit it!"
"Got it! Marduk, begin deceleration. Lisa, you and the others will take care of Bahamut's attacks. Spread out from the sides of the ship."
I lowered the ship speed to stabilize its flight while issuing orders to everyone else. Since Iris was now able to attack, there was no need to continue approaching. After that, all we needed to do was use Marduk's equipment and the power of the Ds to keep Iris safe.
'—Affirmative. Off we go, everyone!'
At Lisa's signal, the girls took flight from the decelerated Marduk.
There were no changes in Bahamut's movements at the moment. It continued to attack the Naglfar and NIFL's remaining forces.
"Preparations are complete, Iris. Let us exterminate Bahamut!"
Facing forward, Iris nodded firmly then raised her staff fictional armament.
"—Come, come, fragments of the Far Beyond..."
She recited the incantation that I had heard many times before. These were words spoken for focusing one's mind.
Back when she used Catastrophe directly, her incantation was a little different. But this time, she was using the words for generating dark matter, because she needed to summon dark matter to transmute into Catastrophe.
"Come, come, fragments of the Far Beyond!"
Iris repeated the same words in a forceful tone of voice. Although unseen by the naked eye, dark matter should be generating in Bahamut's surroundings.
Next, for the sake of destroying Bahamut, Iris narrowed the infinite possibility possessed by the dark matter down to a single one.
With these words, Bahamut in the distance was enveloped in red light. This was the glow of Catastrophe.
The authority of weathering, stealing time from all creation—
Although I had worried whether it was possible to weather a ten-kilometer-long giant dragon all at once, such concerns turned out to be unnecessary.
A deep roar like thunder could be heard from afar. This was probably Bahamut screaming in pain.
Inside the light, Bahamut was struggling. Completely unfazed earlier during the intense battle against NIFL, the black dragon lost balance and fell from a great height.
This was surely Catastrophe taking effect. However—
"Jeanne, any change in Bahamut's size?"
I asked through the communicator.
Indeed—I could not see any signs of Catastrophe causing any change in Bahamut's size. Minor crumbling should happen if its body had been weathered, but even though tormented by the red light, Bahamut still maintained its original form.
'Although there was a momentary decrease, there is no change currently. This is just a guess, but Bahamut probably increased its rate of metabolism, growing new skin before the outer layer was weathered away.'
"Hmm... A draw between the rate of weathering and cell division. Did it develop resistance against Catastrophe—"
Hearing Jeanne's report, I could not help but gasp, but then I heard Lisa's voice.
'No, I believe the issue does not lie with Bahamut. Please examine Catastrophe's color carefully!'
Troubled, I looked at the red glow surrounding Bahamut. Speaking of which, something definitely felt off. It seemed different from the Catastrophe I had previously seen until now...
'—Mm. I get it. Compared to before... it's less concentrated.'
Ren's voice through the communicator made me realize it too.
"Yeah, the red hue should be more intense."
Just as I muttered, Kili cried out from close by.
"Hey, so this means Catastrophe isn't concentrated enough—In other words, the output is lacking!? Iris-chan, if this continues, you won't be able to weather Bahamut away, you know?"
Confronted with Kili's question, Iris kept her fictional armament raised at Bahamut and replied:
"Sorry... I know that... But surrounding all of Bahamut... is already putting me at my limit—"
Iris's voice sounded pained and her arm was trembling too. She was definitely doing her best already.
"Limit? Impossible. The authority you inherited from Basilisk came into existence to defeat Bahamut. In other words, you are the only one who can defeat that thing. I will cheer for you, so show me some backbone!"
"Kili-chan cheering for me... I'm so happy, but... No matter how much harder I try, I still, dunno... Also—"
At that moment, Iris stopped talking and turned to me. I could see fear in her eyes, so I rushed over to pat her on the shoulder.
Should I ask her to try harder or tell her not to strain herself? Neither was the right thing to say, so I remained silent.
Just as Iris was about to continue what she was saying, Jeanne's voice interrupted.
'Bahamut is about to shoot something from its back! Quantity is twenty. Aimed at us!'
I looked up to see multiple small shadows fly through the red light and rise into the sky.
'The projectiles show readings of high energy. Probably—bombs... No, missiles! Currently approaching, accelerating, too late to take evasive action!'
—Missiles? Created from inside the body?
But now was not the time to be shocked.
Jeanne shared with me what data had been captured through radar. Through my senses, I obtained the current coordinates of the incoming fast-moving missiles.
"I will intercept them! If I miss any, I'm counting on the rest of you, Lisa!"
Hearing the replies from Lisa and the others, I used my mind to lock onto every projectile. At the same time, I connected the depths of my mind to one of Marduk's armaments, and spoke sharply:
"Hyperspace reversion rocket-assisted artillery, Abyss—Fire!!"
The missile pods at the back of Marduk opened up, launching multiple warheads into the sky.
The white exhaust streaked across the blue sky, leaving trails. The warheads rushed at the enemy projectiles. Abyss was a weapon for ripping holes in space and would have no problem detonating projectiles.
However, just before the warheads reached the targets, there was a cataclysmic development.
'—The projectiles have split! There are now forty of them!'
The instant I heard Jeanne's report, I detonated the Abyss warheads.
Multiple black punctures appeared in the sky, sucking in the projectiles that had split apart. Hyperspace that was not supposed to exist was crushed together with real space, destroying it along with the projectiles. However, several shadows passed through the gaps to fly at Marduk.
Covered in black scales like Bahamut's surface, the projectiles approached the battleship with flarebacks.
Just as Jeanne had said, these were definitely missiles.
"Thirty-six destroyed. Four intact—"
'If only four remain, leave them to us.'
'Everyone, to stop them from exploding, use cryogens to freeze them!'
Ren and the others responded to Firill's call and took individual action to intercept the incoming flying objects.
'Freeze, ice fang!'
From the starboard, Lisa took the lead by unleashing a flash of blue-white light. The others followed and released cryogens at the projectiles.
Bathed under intense cold air and extremely low-temperature matter, the projectiles were frozen, losing their flarebacks. Losing speed, the projectiles fell towards the frozen ocean surface.
But without giving us any time to catch our breath, Jeanne called out urgently again.
'Bahamut is starting to turn, apparently intending to escape Catastrophe! If Bahamut faces us squarely, there is a high probability we will be exposed to a heat beam!'
I looked in the direction the ship was advancing. Indeed, Bahamut was slowly turning.
Although Iris was trying hard, the red light had become even fainter than before. In light of that, I made decision.
"Jeanne, retreat. Lisa, you and the others return to the ship at once. We will withdraw from the battle zone with maximum speed. Also inform Major Loki—NIFL—of our decision to retreat."
Jeanne answered with frustration, but Kili did not hide her dissatisfaction.
"Are you giving up, Yuu? It's too soon to decide that Iris-chan has failed."
"We are not giving up, but simply regrouping. I believe in Iris, but right now, we need more time."
My words caused Iris' shoulder to shake. She barely squeezed out some words:
"Mononobe... Everyone... I'm sorry."
"No need to apologize. Iris, you already did everything you could. You didn't fail."
After I patted her silver-haired head, Iris nodded lightly and looked down.
Given our current combat strength, we could not defeat Bahamut. Learning of this was in itself valuable intel. All we needed to do next was to figure out how to make up for what we lacked.
Standing on Marduk's deck while the ship altered its course, I stared at Bahamut afar.
Was it going to chase us? Or would it continue towards its target, the unknown territory at the Arctic?
It was anyone's guess until it happened. While urging Iris and Kili back into the ship, I continued to ponder how to defeat the giant dragon.
"—Bahamut has returned to its course towards the north. No missiles are chasing us."
After everyone returned to the bridge, Jeanne's report allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief.
We managed to avoid a decisive battle. However, this meant that we could no longer prevent Bahamut from making contact with the Arctic unknown territory.
Major Loki looked grave on the Naglfar, his face displayed on a monitor.
'We have no idea what will happened when Bahamut links up two unknown territories. But it should be heading to the next territory in the northern part of the African continent. We will intercept it along its route at the second defense line set up in the waters of Norway.'
Without blaming us for the failure earlier, Major Loki simply related the next plan indifferently. On the other hand, the machine intellect Atla, appearing onscreen in the form of a fairy, subjected us to verbal abuse. "You useless trash! Work harder, fools!" However, Major Loki tapped his fingers on her head on the screen to make her settle down. Perhaps it was a touchscreen on his end.
'If the second defense line were to be breached, the unknown territory would most likely devour the mainland while continuing its invasion. In that event, losses will be incalculable. No matter what, we must stop it there.'
A predicted route of Bahamut's course was shown on the monitor. One of the names there was the Principality of Erlia, Firill's homeland.
"......Of course. We will for sure."
While looking at the map, Firill whispered with determination.
'I would like you all to participate in the second defense line. Although Catastrophe cannot be used to destroy Bahamut in one strike, it is still undoubtedly the most effective means of attack. Based on the current situation, we are considering the option of using maximum firepower to pare down Bahamut's body in conjunction to exposure to Catastrophe to see if it will be effective—However, please tell us if you have a better suggestion.'
After I nodded, Major Loki finally showed one of his usual smiles.
'I am expecting great things from you, 2nd Lieutenant Mononobe. The operation will commence six hours from now, so given Marduk's speed, there is no problem. Asgard has deemed Bahamut a new dragon, so we are able to use countermeasures for dragon disasters as appropriate. Even passing over various signatory nations of the treaty will not be considered invasion of their airspace. Well then, let us meet again at the battlefield.'
"And you, rubbish tree and company! I won't forgive any of you if you fail again!"
Communications with the Naglfar terminated with Atla's voice. The bridge returned to silence for now.
I could feel everyone's gaze gathered on me, so I took a deep breath. After sweeping my gaze across the bridge once, I noticed Mitsuki and Shion's absence. They were probably on standby in a cabin, but I felt ashamed that I did not even maintain enough composure to keep track of my teammates.
—Major Loki was very calm. If I don't think about what needed to be done now... If I don't think about what could be done...
"Set course for the second defense line at Norway."
After I declared briefly, Jeanne instantly responded from her seat in front of a monitor.
"Affirmative. Destination set. If we take the shortest route at cruise speed, we will be able to converge with NIFL ten minutes before the operation. Shinomiya-sensei, may I trouble you to contact the various nations along the route?"
"Very well, leave it to me."
Seeing Shinomiya-sensei nod and prepare for communications, I issued orders to the rest.
"Everyone else, please rest until we reach the destination. Iris, could you come with me?"
My words made Iris froze. She replied in a trembling voice.
"Um... I knew it, you're... mad at me, right?"
"No, I'm not. Iris, I said you didn't fail, right? I just want you to accompany me to visit Mitsuki. Tell her what it felt like when you were trying your hardest and see if the two of you can think together to come up with a better method."
I smiled wryly and shook my head.
"Together with Mitsuki-chan...?"
Surprised, Iris repeated my words.
"Yeah, in terms of using dark matter to invoke authorities, both Mitsuki and I are the same. So perhaps you might find unexpected inspiration by chatting with Mitsuki."
At that moment, Vritra interjected.
"In that case, I shall join the discussion. After observing ye battle from here, I have many thoughts."
"—Sure. Vritra, your knowledge seems quite reliable."
"Fufu, as expected of my comrade. Thou knowest the truth."
When I answered, Vritra smiled with satisfaction.
"Looks like Yuu has gradually figured out how to deal with my mother."
Watching our interactions, Kili shrugged slightly.
After the team was dismissed for the time being, I went to visit Mitsuki's cabin together with Iris and Vritra.
But then, I was plunged into an unexpected situation.
"Nii-san, you truly know how to enjoy yourself."
Mitsuki was glaring down at me coldly while I was sitting on the bed.
"This isn't enjoyable for me at all..."
Feeling the weight on top of me, I replied to Mituski.
"How now? Dost thou have objections as my chair?"
Sitting on my lap, Vritra looked up at me with a scowl.
"Papa, iS It heAvY?"
Hugging my back, resting her head against my shoulder, Shion leaned in and asked.
"Mononobe... It must be tough for you."
Sitting to my left, Iris was very worried but because we were seated tightly against each other, my elbow was touching her bust. While taking care not to let that soft sensation produce a flustered expression on my face, I shook my head.
"Don't worry, well—She's not that heavy. No problem."
Left without a choice, I could only sigh in resignation.
Squeezing two people in a cabin meant for a single occupant was cramped enough already, and right now, there was a total of five of us. All kinds of outrageous behavior were only inevitable.
The only places that could be sat on were the chair and the bed. Hence, other than Mitsuki, everyone else had gathered on the bed.
"Nii-san, you are spoiling her too much. Shion-san can be overlooked, but is it really necessary to have Vritra on your lap? If it is cramped, then simply have her sit on the edge."
Mitsuki pointed to my right and spoke, but Vritra shrugged.
"What art thou speaking about? Know that 'tis intentional that I conceded the space. 'Tis imperative at the moment to ensure thy mental stability. Even one such as I am considerate of such matters."
"...S-Since there is a chair, anyway, I have no need to sit on the bed..."
Looking flustered, Mitsuki declined with a blush.
"Thou wilt not sit hither? 'Tis jealousy I see in you... So be it, 'tis apparent that reading human emotions from their faces is no easy task."
Vritra crossed her arms and sighed in disappointment. Shion also inclined her little head sadly and asked, "mItSukI, yoU'Re nOt gOnnA siT?"
Seeing Shion's reaction, Mitsuki sat down on my right with a reluctant expression.
"Then I shall graciously take my seat here, or else that would be waste of your care and consideration. Furthermore... Perhaps, now is the only time when I could do this sort of thing."
Showing a lonely expression for just an instant, Mitsuki entwined her arm around my right arm and leaned against me. The warmth and fragrance of her body, as well as the softness of her skin, were making my heart pound nonstop.
"Nii-san, I would like to be even closer... Would you be alright with that?"
Mitsuki looked up and asked. I instantly nodded.
"Sure, no problem. It's totally alright with me."
"—Is that so? I see. Since you say that now, Nii-san... Then the matter of not being a lie would also..."
Despite smiling, Mitsuki's expression was full of gloom. I did not completely understand her meaning either.
However, before I could ask for clarification, Mitsuki pushed the discussion forward.
"Well then, let us begin to discuss the matter of Iris-san's Catastrophe lacking sufficient firepower. I did not witness the battle against Bahamut first hand, so please explain the situation at the time to me."
Mitsuki leaned forward and spoke past me to Iris who was sandwiching me from the other side.
Iris proceeded to explain what happened when she invoked Catastrophe against Bahamut and I supplemented details from the side.
While we were talking, Shion yawned in boredom whereas Vritra sat quietly on my lap, swaying her legs.
After listening, Mitsuki pondered for a moment.
"...You summoned dark matter at coordinates over a wider range in order to cover Bahamut's entire body, but Catastrophe's intensity was weakened—Is that correct? Allow me to confirm, this was not due to a shortage of dark matter, was it?"
Mitsuki asked Iris solemnly.
"No, I feel that there was enough dark matter, but there's a limit to the amount that can be transmuted... Umm, like pouring furikake seasoning from a bottle, only a bit comes out with each shake, right? Like this."
Iris simulated the act of shaking furikake out of its bottle while answering.
"Although your analogy is a little odd... In any case, I understand. In other words, it is a limit unrelated to the generating capacity of dark matter. Perhaps my antimatter has the same restriction, but since I never attempted using it to the limit, I did not become aware of it. After all, even a tiny amount of antimatter would already be very dangerous... What about you, Nii-san?"
Faced with Mitsuki's question, I thought while answering.
"That's true... Whether Leviathan's antigravitational matter or Hraesvelgr's Ether Wind, I can summon them beyond my dark matter generating capacity, so I don't know if I have a limit either. However—"
Sitting on my lap, Vritra looked up and urged me to continue.
"...There was one time when I generated Ether Wind directly. Back then, the Ether Wind enveloping me had very high density. Now that I think about it, how should I put this? I guess the only way to bring out an authority's original power is to use it without going through dark matter as an intermediary."
Recalling my battle against Major Loki, I expressed the above opinion. After finding out that Hraesvelgr's authority was residing in my heart, I was able to turn into Hraesvelgr temporarily to defeat Major Loki.
"All things considered, it means employing the same method as the real Hraesvelgr and Basilisk did... Excuse me, Nii-san. After listening to all this—I have noticed something."
Gazing squarely at my face, Mitsuki spoke.
"You noticed something?"
"Indeed. Bahamut's body length is ten kilometers—ten thousand meters, correct?"
"Yeah, what about it?"
I nodded. Mitsuki glanced at Iris and continued.
"In that case... Nii-san, do you remember the range of Basilisk's Catastrophe?"
"Well—it's been a while..."
Unable to recall it instantly, I scratched my head. Mitsuki proceeded to reveal the correct answer on my behalf.
"Normally, the Catastrophe shot out from the pair of eyes in Basilisk's head has a range of five thousand meters. The third eye on its back had a range of approximately ten thousand meters."
"Ten thousand meters..."
I gasped and repeated the words that Mitsuki had given emphasis to.
"Indeed, it is identical to Bahamut's body length. If this is not coincidence—if Basilisk is the counterdragon born to vanquish Bahamut—then this third eye would be the organ that existed specifically for defeating Bahamut, would it not?"
The cabin returned to silence. Messing around behind me, Shion settled down due to the mood.
"Impossible—would be a rash assertion. But if that's the case..."
Nodding stiffly, I broke the silence and looked at Iris on my left. When our gazes met, Iris shuddered and looked down.
Vritra, who had been silent so far, followed up on my comment and announced:
"Bahamut can only be defeated by Basilisk. That is to say, Iris Freyja—the one who hath inherited the authority—Thou must transform into Basilisk."
With her head low, Iris clutched my hand firmly. Vritra spoke to her:
"'Twas mine intention to share this idea with ye all, but 'tis convenient that ye reached this conclusion on your own. Nay... Thou already realized since the beginning, yes?"
When asked, Iris exhaled deeply.
"—Yeah. You're right. If I can't do it as I am now... Then it might be possible to defeat Bahamut if I transform into Basilisk."
At that moment, Iris looked up and made eye contact with me.
"But I don't know how to turn into Basilisk either... And I'm so scared of breaking out in scales all over my body like last time, becoming non-human. That's why I didn't bring it up... I'm sorry."
"It's only natural to be scared. No need to apologize. I understand very well... how you feel."
I hugged Iris around her shoulders and whispered in her ear gently.
Kraken Zwei—Back when we were fighting the one who was now Shion, I personally witnessed Iris' transformation into Basilisk. Hence, I should not blame her for cowardice.
However, Vritra broke the heavy atmosphere in apparent nonchalance.
"What, this is what thou fearest? Worry not. Even if thou transformed into Basilisk for a moment, 'tis ought to be possible to turn back."
Iris was shocked. Thumping my chest, Vritra continued:
"Verily, this man turned back to human after transforming into Hraesvelgr. Neun's authority hath the effect of maintaining one's outer form and existence, presumably. Mononobe Mitsuki, who was supposed to be progressively devoured by darkness, still maintained her existence too, hence 'twould be logical to come to propose such a conjecture."
Glancing at Mitsuki, Vitra shrugged lightly.
"Naturally, I cannot assert with absolute certainly. Unexpected results could not be ruled out. Be that as it may, so long as this man exists, 'tis possibly for him to select thee again. So long as the slightest element of a D persists, transformation into the same kind ought to be effective."
Hearing this, Iris' face finally brightened up.
"Really—I see! So it'll be definitely be fine if Mononobe's with me... Why didn't something so simple occur to me?"
Iris scratched the back of her head shyly then hugged my arm with a smile.
Buried in Iris' soft cleavage, I was at a loss how to react, but she tightened her grip on me.
"Hmm.. I won't be scared anymore. No matter what happens... I have faith that Mononobe will save me."
Then imitating Iris, Shion hugged my neck.
"mE tOo, aS loNg as Papa iS hEre, i'M noT scAreD."
Seeing me pat Shion's hand to tell her to be more gentle, Mitsuki smiled too.
"...How true. It is all because of Nii-san that I could be who I am."
Mitsuki rested her head on my shoulder and the atmosphere in the room relaxed subtly However, one murmured comment from Iris made me realize that the problem was not completely solved yet.
"But how do I use Catastrophe like before...?"
"'Tis not something I would know."
Vritra distanced herself from the issue directly, so Iris asked me:
"So, Mononobe, how did you turn into Hraesvelgr last time?"
"I remember back then, I was just about to lose consciousness when I found myself stuck in the boundary between dreams and reality. Then I saw the Ether Wind... and noticed where Hraesvelgr's authority resides."
"Where the authority resides?"
Lost and confused, Iris tilted her head.
"Yeah, Ether Wind resides in my heart. When I realized this and used the ability consciously, I entered the same state as Hraesvelgr once did."
When living things were enveloped in Ether Wind, due to the spirit materializing inside the body, they would become immobilized. However, if the spirit could surround the body at the moment it was enveloped by Ether Wind, the body would be able to move freely.
That incredible feeling was something quite hard for me to articulate in words.
"I see... Then my power—Basilisk's—must reside somewhere."
Iris murmured then she instantly placed her hand over her eyes.
"—It's the eyes. Basilisk shot out Catastrophe from its eyes, right? Then if that's the case..."
Mitsuki nodded deeply in response.
"That sounds very likely. Since the same applies to the third eye too, the connection between Catastrophe and the eyes must be very deep."
"I know, right? But we need to confirm it in addition to speculating... Do I need to take a nap and dream like Mononobe?"
Seeing Iris say that with her arms crossed, I was a bit worried.
"No, definitely not. Falling asleep completely won't work. Close your eyes and shift your consciousness from within—Try that?"
"Yeah, I got it! Then I'll try it inside an empty cabin!"
Iris stood up from the bed and Vritra jumped down swiftly from my lap.
"In that case, I shall come along too. I shall watch to ensure thou dost not fall into slumber. 'Tis a grave matter indeed. Should thou fail to vanquish Bahamut, this planet shall meet its end before the ninth dragon's true form is elucidated."
"Thank you so much, Vritra-chan!"
Just as Iris thanked happily, an announcement was heard in the cabin.
'—Report from NIFL. Bahamut has reached the Arctic's unknown territory. No special changes at the moment. Just as predicted, Bahamut has changed its course towards the third unknown territory.'
Halfway through the announcement, Shion cried out happily, "iT's Mama's vOiCe!"
Iris tensed her expression and clenched her fist tightly before her chest.
"Along the way... is Firill-chan's homeland, right? I must succeed next time!"
"Yeah, you can do it, Iris. I'll support you with all my power."
Rather than merely consoling her, I spoke with sincere belief.
"Yes—If it is Iris-san, the outcome will surely be fine."
Perhaps in chagrin because she could not stand on the front line? Mitsuki encouraged Iris as though looking at something dazzling.
"iRiS, Do yOur bEst."
Despite not understanding the situation, Shion also cheered for Iris.
"Yes, leave it to me!"
Iris made a thumbs-up and accepted our support, then left the cabin together with Vritra.
Numerous human lives, many countries, and the Earth itself, was at stake in this battle—And it was fast approaching.
After Nii-san returned to the bridge, leaving Shion and I, just the two of us, in the cabin, I—Mononobe Mitsuki—contemplated.
—The location of an authority, huh?
So far, this had never occurred to me. My authority to generate antimatter ought to be from the Kraken—no, received from Miyako, who had passed it along to me.
Indeed... Not inherited, but passed along.
After all, I was able to use antimatter before taking out the Kraken.
Just like how Nii-san had divided Code Lost and passed it along to us, Miyako must have transferred a portion of her power to me.
However, this raised a question. The ability to transfer authorities was due to our status as "mates"—because all of us shared strong bonds with Nii-san. Was there such a powerful bond between Miyako and me back then? If so, then surely it was...
Pressing my hand against the dragon mark on the back of my neck, I shook my head.
I did not know if this was the correct answer. Hence, I could only contemplate. If I did not ponder the matter at hand...
I switched mindsets and restarted my thinking.
The authorities I held numbered a total of four.
First was my ability to generate dark matter as a D. Although it felt like my own power, in reality, it was an ability arising from Vritra going around and spreading genes. I must own up to the fact that this was the authority of Vritra as a counterdragon.
Second was what I had received from Miyako, the Kraken's power. Antimatter. Like Catastrophe and dark matter, this was also an authority that had arisen to oppose a past calamity.
Third was Code Lost, which Nii-san had transferred to me. What I had received was only one part of it, so diluted that I could not even sense it myself. However, were it in its complete form, Code Lost would be a fearsome power that could twist human fates and kill humanity just through one's thoughts alone.
As for the fourth, the blue light that was sealing away the ninth calamity—
"In addition to dark matter, antimatter, and Code Lost... It is only logical that I possess an authority as Neun. If I could figure out where it is located and how to use it, I would be able to help Nii-san—"
Just as I uttered these words, organizing my thoughts as to what needed to be done at the moment, Shion-san looked up from the picture book she was reading on the bed.
"i kNow wHerE anTiMattEr is. hERe—leFt eYe."
Shion-san lifted her hair and exposed the left eye that she usually kept covered.
"Eh... Sh-Shion-san, you know this?"
"yEah, i jUsT dO."
Seeing Shion-san nod calmly, I held my breath.
—Speaking of which, Shion-san was able to use antimatter too. Well, born as Kraken Zwei, perhaps Shion-san understood her authority from the very beginning.
I covered my left eye with my hand and began to think.
—My authority ought to be here, assuming my case is the same as Shion-san's. Although Iris-san said that Basilisk's authority might be in the eyes... Perhaps it was the right eye.
"Shion-san, are you able to generate antimatter directly when you want to?
"...dUnNo. wItH Papa and Mama—and eVerYone—bY My siDe now, nO neEd to usE iT."
Seeing Shion-san a little troubled, I realized how foolish a question I had asked.
"My apologies, I asked you a weird question."
Walking over to Shion-san, I caressed her head, causing her to close her eyes partially in pleasure.
Her expression made me smile too. At the same time, I asked myself honestly.
The Kraken had released antimatter from its purple eyeball. It was related to the eye.
During the car accident in which my parents passed away, I could not see anything amid the darkness... To the point that I could not even distinguish my own being. However, upon hearing Nii-san's voice—I was able to recall myself.
In that instant, what had I seen? What had I felt?
I tried my hardest to dig up my memories, to awaken the sensations that had been carved upon my body.
A sudden shock flashed through my entire body, causing me to groan lightly.
"Oh, I see now..."
I understood everything. The location of the authority, as well as its true nature.
And I understood too, that I had become a genuine Neun sooner than anyone else.
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