Unlimited Fafnir:Volume 13 Chapter 1
Chapter 1 - The Naglfar in Pursuit
"Mitsuki, it's in sight."
With Miyako-san holding my hand, we flew at high altitude for approximately three hours.
I—Mononobe Mituski—arrived within visual confirmation of the unknown territory at North Africa.
The sun had set and countless stars were twinkling in the sky. However, a piece of the night sky had been gouged out by the top of the towering dome of "darkness" ahead.
"Already... I see, huh?"
Without assisting in flying, simply deploying an air barrier to stave off the wind, I murmured in disbelief.
The journey probably would have taken thrice as long if relying on the transmutation of air. Speaking of which, because the journey was too fast, I still had yet to prepare myself mentally.
"How about taking a break nearby?"
As though reading my mind, Miyako-san pointed at the ground. The iridescent halo over her head glowed faintly.
Even with only moonlight and starlight for illumination, it was still possible to discern the terrain to some extent.
Trees were growing sparsely on the undulating land. There was a lake further up ahead with a small vilage next to it.
Miyako-san lowered her flying speed and altitude, stopping over the village. Even though she was not pulling me, I remained floating gently in the sky.
It was like entering a zone of zero gravity. My hair and skirt were also floating on their own.
"...Good advice. Perhaps there is a 'true dragon' in that unknown territory too. Some preparation is in order."
Looking at the deserted village, I nodded. Since the unknown territory was visible from here, the villagers had presumably evacuated.
"Got it. Oh, but if you're worried about fighting, that's unnecessary."
While landing, Miyako-san smiled cheerfully. Her confidence intrigued me, so I asked:
"Why is that?"
As soon as my feet made contact with the ground, the floating feeling vanished. At the same time, the iridescent halo over Miyako-san's head disappeared too.
"This is a privilege for letting me be your ally, you know? I must have told you when we were 'negotiating,' right? There exist unknown territories you cannot reach without me."
Miyako-san spoke in a joking tone of voice and shrugged.
"Indeed you did—Although I did express my doubt."
While examining her carefully, I nodded.
This was the most important reason why I had allowed her to accompany me despite being a fake.
"Sheesh, you're so mean. I won't lie to you, Mitsuki. You'll know if you get close, but gravity around that unknown territory has multiplied several fold. The closer you get, the stronger. Near the boundary, it's a space of supergravity that'll instantly crush a human into paste."
She motioned towards the black dome in the distance and spoke seriously.
"In that case... Assuming what you say is true, then it is not the effect of end matter, since the same phenomenon did not occur at other unknown territories. Come to think of it... Could it be a 'true dragon'?"
"Yes, the power of the fourth dragon—'Heavy Tremor' Nova... Or rather, its original state."
"'Heavy Tremor' Nova..."
I repeated the name of the obstacle standing in my way. It was a being on the same level as Bahamut and Nyarlathotep, both of which had taken the whole team's combined effort to take down with difficulty. To take on such an opponent with only two people—
"Don't look so worried, Mitsuki. Didn't I say there's no need to worry about it turning into a fight? Relax, Nova won't be stopping you, Mitsuki, because I am the one who is allowing that 'frame' to return to this world."
Instantly, I looked back at her, my eyes saying "I cannot comprehend what you are talking about at all."
Seeing me puzzled, she smiled wryly and placed her hand on her chest.
"You've noticed, right? I am able to use incredible powers."
"......Yes. Without creating air through transmutation, you were flying at high speed through the sky."
I nodded stiffly and looked at her questioningly.
"Well—Rather than choosing not to create air, I cannot create it."
Seeing her smiling wryly, I was confused.
"That's right. Dark matter and end matter have very poor compatibility. A being that 'approached the end' at one point cannot use dark matter very well, seeing as dark matter is the solidification of possibility. Although I can generate it, performing transmutation is impossible. Watch—"
Giving this answer, she raised her hand and generated a baseball-sized sphere of dark matter. The dark matter's surface turned silver and started to materialize, then it started to crack—
Startled by the explosion during the process of transmutation, I fell backwards.
"See, this happens no matter what I try to make. It collapses in the middle of the process. I guess it's hindered by the contamination from my end matter."
The sight of her, waving away the fragments in her hand with a smile, filled me with a sense of deja vu.
—It was almost like the case with Iris-san...
Recalling the classmate who was worrying about me and offering encouragement to the very end, I felt my chest tighten. Of course, Iris-san had no relation to end matter at all, so she was simply bad at using dark matter, I suppose.
"Cough... Indeed, this definitely cannot be used to fly in the air..."
Choking from the smoke of the explosion, I commented softly.
"That's right, which is why I have to use this power to fly in the sky."
Miyako-san nodded firmly and gestured by moving her gaze upwards.
Next, an iridescent halo appeared over her head. Her slender body proceeded to slowly float into the air.
"This is the power of a "true dragon"—Nova."
"Why... are you capable of this—"
Although I had already guessed from our conversation, I still had trouble hiding my surprise. Looking at me with interest, she resumed her explanation with a carefree tone.
"Nova itself was originally something like a phenomenon. Anything can serve as its core as long as it is matter. Hence, this vessel was chosen with the added responsibility of negotiating with you, Mitsuki."
"Something like that, no way..."
I noticed my voice was trembling.
With her shoulder-length hair fluttering in the wind, the thing that had taken on Shinomiya Miyako's form told me the answer.
"Let's sum up, Mitsuki. I, Shinomiya Miyako, am currently the Fourth Dragon—'Heavy Tremor' Nova."
Slicing through the night sky, flying past stars and clouds, the battleship advanced through the air.
On the bridge of this ship, outfitted with lost technology, I—Mononobe Yuu—looked up at the external scenery shown on a monitor.
Between gaps in the clouds flowing past, one could see countless twinkling stars with occasional fleeting glimpses of the moon.
It was currently 22:00. Counting from the time when Mitsuki flew off from Marduk, roughly four hours had elapsed.
"How does it feel, 2nd Lieutenant Mononobe? To ride in my Naglfar."
Observing the bridge, sitting in the captain's seat was a man—Major Loki Jotunheim—who asked me in a smiling voice.
Indeed, instead of Marduk, my current location was inside the Naglfar, the anti-dragon battleship belonging to NIFL.
"It's much less stable than Marduk. Also, the engine noice is a bit of a bother."
I offered him my honest opinion.
Perhaps strongly affected by air currents, the ship was shaking frequently. The engine's piercing noise was also quite an ordeal for the ears. Not a pleasant ride.
"Hoho, oh well, that's only to be expected when compared to Marduk. That ship is most likely filled with technology that we of NIFL have yet to replicate. In spite of that, you still disposed of it—What a waste."
"I've said so many times already. Left alone, the engine was going to explode. The aftershock of the explosion could cause immense destruction."
Without any change in expression, I gave the superficial reason.
In reality, I did it to prevent NIFL from getting their hands on Marduk.
Although we needed "legs" to chase after Mitsuki, the Naglfar was the only surviving means of transport nearby. All other ships and aircraft had been destroyed by Bahamut's attacks.
As a result, we had requested aid from Major Loki, captain of the Naglfar, but had we left Marduk behind, NIFL would have taken it.
Were NIFL to obtain technology beyond their current level, it would probably lead to a crisis for us Ds. Consequently, I had Iris disintegrate Marduk completely using Catastrophe.
But ever since we moved to their ship, they had been showing displeasure regarding this matter. Not just Major Loki but also that machine intellect too—
"In that case, just eliminate the engine! Are you retarded?"
The bridge monitor flickered momentarily before a young girl with transparent wings appeared.
Although she looked similar to a fairy from folklore, Atla was actually the ultimate machine intellect that had been responsible for managing and running the civilization of Atlantis before it was lost. It would be no exaggeration to call her "Ultimate Wisdom" Atlantis.
Buried in the ruins of Atlantis, data for constructing her had been carved onto stone tablets. Using this as a foundation, NIFL had revived this machine intellect.
But apparently, only Atla's core was reconstructed due to losses in the saved data. As a result, both the virtual avatar shown on the screen and her behavior were quite childish.
"Just as a precaution. Marduk has weapons everywhere. Who knows if things could go wrong somehwere and cause explosions?"
I shrugged and brushed off Atla's accusation.
Pouting, Atla's kept glaring at me unhappily, but I did not pay her any attention. Instead, I turned my gaze to Major Loki.
"By the way, Major Loki, are you really going to assist us without any strings attached?"
When we first made the request, he had accepted without mentioning any terms or conditions... But I had my doubts the whole time.
"Indeed. Naturally, I hoped you could have provided me with Marduk if possible, but from the start, I never intended to make this a condition. After all, you guys are the trump card for saving the world and mankind."
Major Loki nodded after smiling faintly, then continued.
"There are unknown territories remaining at North Africa and the Southern Atlantic—as well as dragons possibly hidden within them. To oppose them, your power is essential. Although we have our differences, ultimately, what matters is saving the world. I have no intention of saying useless things. Do whatever you want."
"That's very... generous of you."
Although I was grateful for what he had said, it felt quite suspicious for developments to unfold so easily. Making a deal would put me more at ease.
"I believe this is for the best. Because you defeated me. Instead of me taking command, you will surely lead us to a better result."
It would be problem otherwise—Major Loki's eyes seemed to say as he gazed at me.
In other words, so long as I continued to meet his expectations, he would continue to offer assistance generously. Despite feeling extraordinary pressure, I still nodded without hesitation.
"Very well. Of course."
After I asserted myself, Major Loki smiled with satisfaction.
At that moment, a panicking voice was heard from the monitor.
"Master! Bad news! The unknown territory in North Africa disappeared! Confirmed through satellite surveillance, the swallowed cities and people seem to be unharmed."
Hearing this, Major Loki brought his hand to the corner of his lips. I too looked in surprise at the satellite image displayed on the monitor.
Indeed, the black dome of the unknown territory was no longer there.
"Did Mitsuki do that...? But that's way too fast—"
I groaned with disbelief. She had only flown off four hours ago. Even if traveling on a supersonic jet, this was not enough time to reach the African continent.
Hearing my whisper, Major Loki spoke with a stiff expression.
"However, there is no one else capable of doing this apart from her, right? Then we should accept reality. And what we must do is alter our course. Atla—head over to the Southern Atlantic unknown territory at maximum speed."
Atla bowed from the monitor.
Next, the Naglfar slowly changed course. Even from the bridge, it was possible to hear the engine noise increase.
Incidentally, the only member of NIFL on the Naglfar was Major Loki. The rest of the crew had apparently disembarked before the battle against Bahamut. Even so, controlling the ship was apparently not a problem as long as Atla was present.
"I will tell the others about this."
I turned around to head back to the cabins where my friends were resting.
"2nd Lieutenant Mononobe, it will take six hours no matter how much we hurry. You should get some rest too."
"—Yes. I understand."
Despite my impatience, I controlled my feelings and nodded. If I were to falter, everyone else would worry.
I took a deep breath to adjust my emotions. Next, I saluted Major Loki briefly then left the bridge.
Although Major Loki was the only one remaining on the ship, the Naglfar originally had a large crew. Hence, the ship contained far more cabins than Marduk.
The captain's cabin was the only single. The rest were basically all cabins designed for four.
My companions were taking a break, settling themselves into cramped cabins featuring two sets of bunk beds each. Of course, putting everyone into one cabin would be impossible so they were distributed among three cabins. Although there were more than enough cabins for everyone to each have their own, Shinomiya-sensei advised for us to stick together as much as possible. She probably decided that being alone in our current situation could have adverse effects on our psychological states.
Listening to the the deep noise coming from the ventilator, I advanced along the corridor where exposed wires and pipes could be seen. Then I arrived in front of the cabins my companions were occupying.
Although I believed my companions would open their doors if I were to call out, it was possible they were already sleeping. In that case, it would be better to talk to them later. Thinking that, I decided to knock each door one by one.
As things stood currently, we were hurrying to an unknown territory, which was not urgent news. Top priority right now was for us to alleviate the fatigue sustained during the battle against Bahamut.
Since I had no idea how the cabins were assigned, I gently knocked on the door of the first cabin.
No response even after I waited for a while. Asleep as suspected, I suppose. Thinking that, I moved to the door of the next cabin, but there was no response either.
However, just as I was about to leave that door, I heard a tiny sound. The door opened from inside.
Then nothing happened. Wondering what was going on, I went nearer. Suddenly, a pale arm reached out from the gap in the door, grabbing my hand and pulling me forcefully into the cabin.
It was dark in the cabin. Not yet accustomed to the darkness, my eyes could see nothing.
"Quiet. Don't wake up Iris-chan or Tia."
However, I realized the identity of the perpetrator from her voice, interrupting my protests. Soon after, an outline appeared in my surroundings and I gradually became able to see the pretty face of the girl before my eyes.
"Kili, what are you trying to do?"
I lowered my voice and asked her—Kili Surtr Muspelheim.
"Very well, come over a bit."
Instead of answering my question, she pushed me from behind, directing me to the bunk bed.
There was fabric hanging on the side of the bed, preventing me from seeing past inside. When I was forced into the bed, a faint light appeared in my view.
"Oh, 'tis my comrade, yes? Perfect timing."
The light source was a light from a personal terminal. On the bed, a young girl two sizes smaller than Kili was sitting all alone. For some reason, she was holding playing cards in her hands. Cards were also scattered on the blanket.
"Vritra too... What on earth are you two doing?"
I directed my confused gaze at the one who would be considered Kili's mother—her creator, the black dragon, "Black" Vritra.
"You can tell just by looking. We're playing cards. Ever since Iris-chan and Tia went to bed, it's been us two playing, but Mother sucks, so it's not fun at all. However, she insists on playing until she wins..."
The one who answered was Kili who followed me onto the bed.
There was practically no place to move once three people were packed onto a bed meant for a single adult to lie down.
"I don't plan on playing—"
Preoccupied with Mitsuki's situation, I intended to refuse.
"Iris-chan said the same thing. That's why I want you to join."
However, Kili replied forcefully and pushed me over to Vritra's side.
"Yuu, team up with Mother. Then there will finally be some competition."
"Hmph, then I shall borrow thy lap for a while."
Vritra nimbly sat her petite body on my lap. As a result, there was slightly more space on the bed, but it also made it more difficult for me to move.
"...Are you worried?"
Resigned to my situation, I asked, causing Kili to turn her gaze away with displeasure.
"When the always overly cheerful Iris-chan is this depressed, even other people get affected. Tia is all gloomy too, so I'm just taking over some what Iris-chan normally does."
Kili started with a very firm tone of voice, but she stared me straight in the eye mid-sentence and spoke even more assertively.
"As my mate, Yuu, having a bit of time for recreation with me wouldn't be too much, right? You're going to woo your sister next, aren't you? Then you need to do your absolute best. You must make a display of what you're capable of."
"Uh, calling it wooing would be a bit..."
Although I wanted to object, I realized she was not wrong and my voice faltered.
"Well, personally, I'd prefer to have one fewer rival and I won't have to write a mountain of repentance essays anymore... But you wouldn't be the Yuu I love if you gave up on her. So I'll be generous here."
With an assertive smile, Kili picked up her cards that were on the blanket and stared at me. With her having said this much, there was no way I could run away.
"—Got it. Then let me be your opponent. We have to win, Vritra."
I placed my hand on Vritra's black-haired head and spoke. Even though we had opposing views on the matter of Mitsuki, right now I was going to help her out as partners.
"Counting on thee, my comrade. Guide me to the path of victory after twelve losses in a row."
Sitting on my lap, Vritra clenched her fist.
Based on what Kili had said just now, Vritra was not going to call it quits until she won. Then I must help her seriously.
"Now that's really losing badly. What exactly are you two playing?"
There were many ways to play cards. To lose this badly, it should be some kind of strategic game, but—
Kili answered and slumped her shoulders. This was basically a game of luck, so for Vritra to lose this badly, her face must be as easy to read as an open book.
"...Vritra, there is no sure-win strategy. However, there is a way for you to counter Kili."
"What!? Thou art truly reliable as one would expect. Use it, this method."
"It's like this."
From behind, I pinched Vritra's cheeks with my fingers and pulled my hands in opposite directions sideways.
Stretching Vritra's soft face wide caused Kili, sitting opposite from us, to burst out laughing.
"H-Hoho... M-Mother, that face—"
Although she was keeping her voice down to avoid waking up Iris and Tia, Kili's shoulder heaved up and down greatly.
"C-Comwade, waat ees the meeeening of dis?"
Vritra hammered against my arms in protest, but I replied directly without loosening my grip.
"Okay, try playing in this state. You'll have a shot at victory now."
Despite her partial skepticism, Vritra still began her game of old maid.
This was nothing more than stretching Vritra's face to prevent Kili from reading her expression, while disrupting Kili's composure at the same time. In the end—Vritra won handily afterwards.
After leaving Kili and Vritra's room, I knocked at the next door.
Immediately, I heard a soft reply and the door opened quietly. A face poked out from the dim cabin. It was Shinomiya Haruka, commander-in-chief of Midgard and homeroom teacher of my Class Brynhildr. Still dressed in her suit, she had untied her ponytail. Was it because she had relaxed part of her adult image? Under her black hair, her beautiful face seemed younger than usual.
"—So it's you, Mononobe Yuu, what is the matter?"
Rubbing her eyes, she exited her cabin and closed the door. She had asked in a lowered voice, probably to avoid waking those who were sleeping in their cabins.
"Shinomiya-sensei, I'm sorry for disturbing you this late. I wanted to report to you about the unknown territory in Northern Africa disappearing..."
I replied apologetically because Shinomiya-sensei still looked a little sleepy-eyed.
Perhaps I had woken her up. On further thought, ever since the battle against Bahamut began—no, ever since the night of the fireworks festival—Shinomiya-sensei must have been busy without a moment's rest. On board Marduk, she was the communications officer and point person for coordinating various parties. After we boarded the Naglfar, she had to handle all kinds of procedures too
"Is that so...? Mononobe Mitsuki's doing, presumably."
"Yes, most probably. The Naglfar is currently heading straight for the unknown territory in the southern Atlantic. ETA is six hours at least. Well then—I'm very sorry for disturbing your rest."
Deciding I must not talk for too long, reducing Shinomiya-sensei's time for sleep, I was going to leave immediately.
"Wait, Mononobe Yuu. Are you... holding up alright?"
However, hearing her call me back from behind, I turned around
"Although I'm a bit tired, since I'll be taking a break next, you don't need to worry."
Despite my answer, Shinomiya-sensei shook her head.
"No, I was asking about your mental state, not your physical condition."
Her sharp gaze shot at me, despite her fatigue. I understood what she was truly inquiring about.
"......About Mitsuki flying off, I am definitely quite shocked. Why hadn't I realized earlier—realized what was going through Mitsuki's mind—I feel very regretful about that. However, I don't feel lost. I've already decided what I must do."
Thanks to Iris, the words I must say to Mitsuki had surfaced in my mind. Hence, all I had to do now was focus my attention on hurrying over to Mitsuki's side.
When I voiced my current thoughts, Shinomiya-sensei smiled wryly.
"You... are very strong. Looks like I do not need to worry about you. You and I... are very different."
Saying this with self-deprecation, Shinomiya-sensei's face showed not only weariness but anguish. Seeing her expression, I noticed the pain that Shinomiya-sensei was suffering, different from mine.
"Is it about your sister—the fake Shinomiya Miyako?"
When I asked after some hesitation, she nodded weakly.
"Indeed... I gathered Marduk's external video and voice recordings. Although her complexion is darker, she is identical to Miyako in all other respects. Face, movements, voice, tone... Nothing about her seems fake to me."
"I know. She is a being created by end matter, that I do know. However, even though my logical mind knows this, I cannot accept it emotionally. Furthermore, there is Shion. If Shion were to meet her face to face... I have been thinking plenty about matters of this sort, which is why I could not sleep at all."
Interrupting me, Shinomiya-sensei slumped her shoulders and rubbed her eyelids with her fingers.
Instead of talking about Shinomiya Miyako, I asked about Shion.
Shion could be considered Miyako's daughter. From Shion's standpoint, her position might be even more difficult than either Mitsuki's or Shinomiya-sensei's.
Hearing my question, Shinomiya-sensei glanced at the door.
"Though Jeanne Hortensia has been accompanying her the whole time, Shion has not waken up once, possibly due to extreme exhaustion from the battle. I am worried... but I also hope she could remain asleep the whole time until the current situation is resolved. Shion and that Miyako... I do not want them to meet."
"That's something I understand."
Nodding deeply, I tried to imagine.
If Shion treated that Shinomiya Miyako as her real mother, it would probably turn into quite a difficult battle. How to avoid such a situation? While I was thinking about this, Shinomiya-sensei apparently regained composure and spoke.
"...My apologies. I accidentally offloaded my worries onto you. My intention was to encourage you but this has reversed our positions. I am so useless as a teacher."
Sighing, Shinomiya-sensei smiled stiffly.
Seeing her put on a brave face, I acted reflexively.
Shinomiya-sensei stared at me with a puzzled look then her gaze shifted up. My hand was on top of her head.
"Oh, I-I wasn't thinking—"
Since I had been patting Shion and Tia on the head a lot lately, I almost did it unconsciously. The fact that Shinomiya-sensei looked younger than usual with her hair untied probably contributed too.
"A child doing this to an adult... That is not allowed."
Blushing slightly, Shinomiya-sensei reminded me. Flustered, I explained without changing posture.
"S-Sorry, but, how should I say this? Shinomiya-sensei, our ages are similar... In fact, it feels more like you're an upperclassman, so—"
"Even against upperclassman, the rudeness of this act remains unchanged. Now hurry and get your hand off."
I finally took my hand off Shinomiya-sensei's head. She coughed.
"However, I am grateful to you for worrying about me. Your hand... It is bigger than I thought."
Shinomiya-sensei gazed at my hand with interest.
"Well, I guess it's a bit bigger than a girl's..."
Thinking that my hand was not actually big, I nodded ambiguously. However, she smiled profoundly with acceptance for some reason.
"Really? I suppose that is only natural for a boy's hand. Although you surprised me, it did help to provide a change of pace. I should be able to sleep now, thank you."
The smile Shinomiya-sensei showed this time did not felt forced to me.
With her face closer to mine than usual, along with a more intimate expression, I felt my heart speed up. At the same time, I took a step back.
"That's great. Then—I'll be on my way."
"Very well. You sweated a lot today too, it would be best if you got some proper rest. If you are looking for the bathroom, it is at the end of the hallway."
After saying that, Shinomiya-sensei returned to her cabin.
I was originally planning to head directly to my own cabin—designed to fit four, but allocated solely to me, of course, because of my gender—but after hearing what Shinomiya-sensei said, I decided to take a shower first.
There had been one cabin where no one answered me, but I suppose I could tell them tomorrow morning.
The previous room apparently contained Shion and Jeanne in addition to Shinomiya-sensei, which left the quartet of Lisa, Firill, Ren and Ariella. They must be the ones occupying the first cabin.
While advancing through the corridor, I set an alarm on my portable terminal.
Since ETA was at least six hours, I set the alarm for five hours from now. All I had to do was confirm the situation after getting up then talk to Lisa's group.
—However, diverting my attention to my terminal turned out to be a mistake.
Arriving at the bathroom, I opened the door without knocking—An unexpected scene appeared before my eyes.
Four girls were inside. They were the classmates I knew so well.
—Oh right. Instead of sleeping, they had gone to shower instead.
I realized the reason why the first cabin had no answer.
Lisa Highwalker, with her brilliant blonde hair and perfect bodily proportions, was frozen on the spot, still with her hands holding her bra's clasp.
Next to her, in the middle of putting on a skirt, Firill Crest had halted her movements with her pale thighs exposed.
Ariella Lu was using a towel to dry short little Ren Miyazawa's wet red hair. The two of them stared speechlessly at me. Since they were wrapped in towels, my guess was they were not wearing underwear.
Although I prepared myself for screams and punishment, the girls' reaction was not what I expected.
"M-Mononobe Yuu! Entering without knocking is such a lapse in common sense! Goodness gracious... We will be dressed in a second. Turn around now."
Recovering her composure, Lisa blushed and reminded me, but her tone was more surprised than harsh.
"Mononobe-kun... It's too embarrassing if you keep staring. I'm not wearing my victory underwear right now, so..."
Firill did not really scold me. Instead, she continued dressing awkwardly. Drying Ren's hair, Ariella stared at me with her face red, but I could not feel any anger from her.
"S-So careless, Mononobe-kun! E-Even if we've bathed together before, there is still a lot of mental preparation needed... Oh, Ren, what's wrong?"
Her slender body trembling shyly, Ren extended the towel in her hand for some reason, the one she had been using to dry her hair, presenting it to me.
"...Onii-chan, dry my hair."
Saying that, Ren handed my a towel. With a pair of endearing eyes staring intently at me, I nodded.
Although my mind had yet to catch up to the situation, I accepted the towel for now. With my back to Lisa and the others, I started to rub Ren's hair.
"Mm... Feels so good."
Ren commented with satisfaction.
"Then—you girls aren't angry?"
I asked them with hesitation.
Ren looked up at me with confusion.
From amid the sound of fabric friction, I heard Firill's puzzled voice.
"Didn't Ariella say so just now? We've already bathed with you before. With our naked selves exposed to you, you selected us to become your mates... Our relationship with you is already unseverable. Although it's embarrassing when we're seen in the middle of changing... We won't get angry if it's you, Mononobe-kun. Don't you agree, Lisa?"
"D-Do not rope me into the conversation! It is true that we are not angry—But even so, that does not imply we permit you to watch us change any time you want! Moderation is essential even when our relationships have grown in intimacy."
After Lisa's flustered response, Ariella agreed.
"Me too. I'd have a heart attack if this happened all the time. Mononobe-kun, I hope you could pay proper attention to picking the time and place."
Although Ariella gave me a reminder, Firill laughed in amusement on the side.
"Wonderful, Mononobe-kun. It's okay as long as you pay attention to the time and place."
"Eh!? No, that's not what I meant—"
Ariella's panicked voice was accompanied by laughter from Firill and Lisa. Ren, whose hair I was drying, also shook her shoulders lightly.
However, silence immediately filled the entire space when their laughter ended.
The reason was obvious.
No one was laughing from the bottom of their heart. With one of our longtime companions missing, it felt like we had a hole in our heart even during times of joy.
Although Kili had been speaking calmly, this hole was not that easy to fill. It was probably impossible to fill unless we retrieved what was missing.
"Okay okay—No more joking around. We won't get angry at you this time, Mononobe-kun, okay?"
Finally, Ariella broke the silence, then Firill agreed.
"Yes... You've done everything you can for Mitsuki's sake. We know that."
Next, Lisa spoke with resolve.
"Our anger is all directed at Mitsuki-san currently, so we do not have any spare anger for you, Mononobe Yuu. A lesson must be taught to that child... who acted on her own again while keeping all kinds of thoughts to herself."
Ren also looked up at me and said:
"Me too... I have things to say to Mitsuki. I don't know if I can express myself well... But the message will never get across unless you speak the words."
Listening to everyone, I understood that they were being considerate for me and Mitsuki in their own ways.
The sound of clothing rustling had ended. I looked back to see that the girls were all dressed, staring at me seriously.
"Thank you, everyone—With all of you here, I'm sure Mitsuki and I will be fine. That's what I believe right now."
I spoke the words that had surfaced in my mind.
I was not the only one with words that must be conveyed to her. Noticing this, I felt my emotions relax somewhat.
That night, I probably had a dream about Mitsuki.
Although I could not quite remember the contents, the heart wrenching pain still lingered when I woke up.
Checking the portable terminal by my pillow, I saw that it was fifteen minutes before my alarm. The rays of the morning sun were streaming into the round window of my personal cabin.
—Although it was a bit early, I guess I should head to the bridge to confirm the situation.
Thinking that, I got up. Inside the dim cabin, I heard knocking at the door.
"Yuu, are you there? Hmm, maybe this isn't the cabin..."
Then I heard a voice calling my name.
It seemed like she had called out several times already. Perhaps the knocking at the door was the reason why I had woken up before my alarm.
"No, this is the right place. I'm going to open the door now."
I got off the bunk bed and opened the room to the cabin.
At the door was a young girl with a pair of horns on her head. She looked relieved to see me.
"Oh, Yuu! Good morning!"
The girl with pink fluttering twintails on the sides of her head—Tia Lightning—greeted me.
"Yeah, good morning, Tia. What's up?"
My original plan was to get up early to check out the situation. Waking up Kili, who was rooming with Tia, to relay the situation to them was supposed to be later.
"You know, even while sleeping, Tia has been using Yggdrasil's processing power to think, and using the Akashic Record to gather data from NIFL's networks. Tia came up with lots of ideas and wants to share with Yuu..."
"...You're really working hard. Thank you, Tia."
When I thanked Tia and patted her head, she partially closed her eyes in pleasure.
"Mm... This is all Tia can do. Tia hopes to help Mitsuki too."
Speaking with intense feelings, Tia walked into the room and sat down on the bunk bed.
Since there were two bunk beds in the cabin, I sat down on the bed opposite to Tia and listened to what she had to say.
"Help huh—So Tia, you've guessed to some degree... what Mitsuki is intending to do."
I sighed heavily.
I had already told my companions about what had happened before and after Mitsuki flew away. Of course, that also included what Vritra told me about "saving the world."
"Hmm... Vritra suggested using the power of Code Lost to kill Mitsuki after she absorbs all of the dark matter, right? Since Mitsuki left immediately after that, she must have heard Vritra's conversation with you. Mitsuki probably... she definitely thinks she is capable of carrying it out herself."
Tia voiced what I was thinking.
Indeed. This was the most important reason why we must hurry to Mitsuki's side immediately.
"That's right. I've passed a part of Code Lost to Mitsuki too, but her share is much less than mine or Ariella's... Even so, although she can't use it to interfere in other people's destinies... She might be able to use it to kill herself."
A small part would be enough for her to gain a slight upper hand in combat against humans.
However... It was much easier for individuals to alter their own fate. For example, people could destroy themselves just by taking a step from a great height.
Hence, I was very worried whether Mitsuki was going to commit suicide.
Seeing my feelings for her change would be worse than death—Mitsuki apparently told Iris something like that. In that case... Chances were high that she had chosen the worst possible move.
When I clenched my fist, Tia leaned forward to hold my hand.
"Relax, Yuu. The last unknown territory remains. Maybe Mitsuki might get there faster than us, but she'll probably get blocked by the mist."
I frowned in puzzlement. Next, Tia took out her portable terminal and showed me the screen.
Displayed there was a swathe of white mist on top of the dome-shaped unknown territory.
"This photo was taken yesterday... Now it's like this."
Tia swiped her finger on the screen to reveal the next photo.
It should be the same place, but the unknown territory's black dome was no longer visible. It was completely covered by the white mist. No, it was more like a cloud than mist.
"This... What the heck is this? It doesn't look like normal clouds or mist."
I gulped and asked.
If I remembered correctly, the unknown territories reached a height of 150 kilometers. It would be quite weird for mist to form at that altitude, while covering the huge dome did not seem coincidental.
"Yes, this must be a 'true dragon'."
With a stiff expression, Tia nodded.
"Like Bahamut and Nyarlathotep, it came out from the unknown territory...?"
Major Loki had already pointed out the fact that each of the unknown territories contained a different "true dragon." However, this was a prediction that I had hoped to be wrong.
"Probably. Although it can't be confirmed just from images, this should be the third dragon, 'True Obliteration' Ragnarok. The Akashic Record has an entry on Ragnarok being a mist-like 'territory' that devours Earth's astral lifeforms."
"Ragnarok... Another pain in the ass, huh?"
I frowned, lowered my head and commented under my breath, but Tia shook her head hard.
"Don't worry. 'Gold' Phoenix was the counterdragon that defeated Ragnarok. Its successor was 'Yellow' Hraesvelgr, whose authority—Ether Wind—is currently held by Yuu."
"Really...? So having Ether Wind is enough to fight Ragnorak, huh?"
I exhaled in relief.
Just as we had defeated Bahamut using Iris' Catastrophe and Nyarlathotep using Shion's antimatter, there were authorities for countering respective past dragons. Conversely, it seemed impossible to defeat them without the corresponding authorities.
"Yes, Yuu will be able to break through that heavy mist, but unable to use Ether Wind, Mitsuki will be impeded. However..."
Nodding, Tia showed unease on her face.
"Does something worry you?"
"...A bit. Gravitational anomalies were detected in the vicinity of the third unknown territory that had disappeared. It must be 'Heavy Tremor' Nova, the fourth dragon. Mitsuki shouldn't have an authority able to oppose Nova... But she still managed it. So maybe this time..."
Unsure of herself, Tia brought up a potential problem.
It looked like we could not relax too much.
"Then I guess we'd better hurry after all. Also, what's the authority for countering Nova?"
I checked with Tia just in case. If it really came to that, the more information I had the better.
"Nova was defeated by 'Silver' Tiamat—the counterdragon which Kili named Tia after. Tiamat was succeeded by 'White' Leviathan, whose authority was antigravity. This too is held only by Yuu."
Indeed, I had not passed antigravity and Ether Wind to my companions. In other words, Mitsuki had gotten past Nova without using an authority. In that case, chances were not zero for her to conquer Ragnarok too.
"Assuming Mitsuki did not deliver a decisive blow, it's possible she found a way to bypass Nova to take care of the unknown territory directly. In that case, it's possible that Nova is still intact. We need to take precautions. Also... About the 'true dragons' appearing one after another..."
With some surprise in my voice, I sighed and spoke.
The third, the fourth, the fifth and the sixth. Four dragons had apparently emerged from the unknown territories already. In addition, operating the Naglfar was the machine intellect that used to manage Atlantis. Like a fairy in appearance, Atla could be considered the second dragon itself, "Ultimate Wisdom" Atlantis.
The eighth dragon was us, mankind, so that ruled out another dragon that had yet to appear.
"That just leaves the seventh, huh..."
Hearing my muttering, Tia said:
"Number one, the first dragon—'Hell' Gehenna—is an umbrella term for external foes that had arrived to this world, so its meaning is different from the rest. Hence, what needs special attention is the seventh—"
At this moment, Tia made a serious expression and went silent.
"What's the matter?"
"Tia... thought long and hard. But Tia still can't understand. Only during the seventh calamity that had attacked the world, the seventh dragon—'Disasterification' Apocalypse—were things a bit strange."
Seeing Tia tilt her head with a troubled look on her face, I encouraged her to continue.
"Strange in what way?"
"Because Neun's authority, capable of sealing away end matter, should be effective against Apocalypse too. But why the decision to let the world get destroyed, then restore everything using dark matter? ...Tia can't understand at all."
Looking straight up at me, Tia posed her question.
Now that she mentioned it—It definitely did not feel right.
"Although the reason is unknown, perhaps it had to be done... Or there was no other choice..."
I replied while I thought. Tia nodded vigorously.
"Yes. Tia is very intrigued too, unable to tell which case it is. Although the Akashic Record has a lot of data... It doesn't show how the 'world' thinks. But... If the seventh is the reason... for why Neun's authority must be the ninth—"
Holding her head, Tia thought for a while, but then she plopped down on the bed, apparently at her limit.
"No more... Too much thinking will make my head explode."
On closer examination, I saw electricity flashing around Tia's horns. Her face was quite red too. Perhaps she had been using Yggdrasil's power to model all kinds of possibilities.
"Are you okay?"
I frantically moved to Tia's side and placed my hand on her forehead.
"—It's hot. You pushed yourself too far. If you ruin your health, we'd have an even bigger problem."
I sighed and reminded her.
"Yes... Sorry. But Tia will be fine after a bit of rest... Don't worry."
"I hope so—But if your temperature doesn't go down, you need to tell the others."
I was planning to go to the bridge to get updated, but thanks to Tia, I now had a grasp of the situation.
It was now fine for me to keep Tia company until the others got up.
"Yuu... Sleep and stay with Tia for a while. If you do this, Tia will recover very quickly."
Tia placed her hand on top of mine and firmly made her request.
Normally, she would be more direct, I guess. Although there was an element of demanding me to indulge her, she was currently shadowed by doubt too.
Perhaps she felt guilty for being selfish when Mitsuki was in a very bad situation.
However, Tia had made an unreasonable request only because she had done all that for Mitsuki's sake.
"Got it. Only thirty minutes, okay?"
Tia was delighted. Then I lied down next to her. Although the bed was quite narrow, it did not feel cramped because Tia was quite small.
"...Yuu, thank you."
Blushing, Tia hugged my arm. Warmer than my own temperature, Tia's body felt very soft with a mild sweet fragrance in the air.
At extremely close distance, her innocent face was making my heart race. Because she definitely looked tired, I calmed down my heart while resetting my alarm.
I was a little sleepy too. I'd probably fall asleep immediately if I allowed myself.
"I'll wake you up when it's time. Get some good rest."
When I patted Tia on the head and said this, she smiled happily and nodded, then closed her eyes.
Feeling Tia's body warmth and faint heartbeat, I consciously allowed my body to slip into a state of sleep.
However, well—I should have been more determined back then.
Going back to sleep would often lead to unexpected developments. There was also the possibility that Tia might cancel the alarm—
I probably did not dream this time. Due to the reassuring body warmth beside me, I simply slept soundly.
But later on, I felt heat. Breathing also became very difficult.
Was this what people called sleep paralysis? Lying there, I thought that then opened my heavy eyelids.
Next, pale skin—A massive bust was spread across my field of view. I could not help but hold my breath.
I moved my head. Tia was still asleep on my right. However, someone also seemed to be sleeping on my left, her pale and soft chest pressed to my face, her legs entangling me tightly.
Her collar was wide open. I inhaled and a milk-like fragrance expanded in my nose.
Figuring out the situation, my heart began to race while blood rushed up to my face.
Who on earth was this? I forcefully changed my posture to secure my field of view.
—Well, I had a hunch alright.
Sleeping with her bust pressed tightly against my head was a silver-haired girl—Iris Freya.
"Nnuu...... I'm...... sorry...... also...... Mitsuki-chan...... sorry......"
What kind of dream was she having? Iris was talking in her sleep with a pained look on her face.
She must be blaming herself for failing to convince Mitsuki to stay.
However, a more pressing concern was figuring out why on earth Iris was here.
Well—I guess she came over to wake me up. Then she joined us in sleeping in. However, the problem was that it was time for Iris to get up.
I used my only free hand, my left, to reach out and find my portable terminal to check the time. Then I discovered it was long past the time I had set for the alarm.
It was nearly time for when the ship was expected to arrive at the Atlantic unknown territory. Almost time when I must head to the bridge for a strategy meeting.
"Iris, Tia, time to get up."
I called out to the sleeping girls.
The two of them moved but for some reason, hugged me even tighter. Feeling the soft and warm sensations even more clearly, my heart race even faster.
"Hey, it'll be bad if we don't get up! Wake up now!"
Unable to move, I frantically shouted at them.
In this kind of situation, I heard knocking at the door to my cabin.
"Mononobe Yuu, how much longer do you intend to sleep?"
Lisa's voice. She came at such a bad time—My mind blanked out and forgot to answer her.
"Goodness gracious... I am opening the door now."
I wanted to stop her but it was too late.
Entering the room, Lisa looked at the lower bunk, staring at me, Iris and Tia, crowded on the narrow bed.
"......Enjoying yourself early in the morning, Mononobe Yuu, I see."
Lisa greeted me sarcastically when our gazes met.
"Y-Yeah... I suppose. But there are many reasons or should I say a lot happened—"
"Spare me your explanation, listening to it will just give me a headache. More importantly, you had better get up and make yourself presentable. The strategy meeting will begin at the bridge in ten minutes."
Lisa raised a slim and beautiful finger to poke me in the forehead, then sighed in exasperation.
"—I-I understand. I'll be ready right away."
Nodding at me, who was definitely in the wrong, Lisa left the bedside and turned her back to me.
"If being alone makes you uneasy... I-It is fine for you to come find me too, you know?"
"What did you say?"
Surprised by what she said to me without facing me, I could not help but exclaim.
I was expecting to be scolded, so it took me a while to understand what she meant.
"N-Nothing at all!"
However, Lisa quickly left the cabin without explaining.
I only realized the kindness and meaning in her words later when Tia and Iris were rubbing their eyes, getting up.
"...In other words, the mist covering the unknown territory is the third dragon—'True Obliteration' Ragnarok—and 2nd Lieutenant Mononobe possesses the means to counter it?"
At the bridge where everyone had gathered, Major Loki spoke softly with his hand against the corner of his mouth.
Displayed on a monitor was the dome of mist that Tia had shown me earlier. On one end of the screen, the fairy-like Atla was imitating Major Loki's pose.
"Then you should hurry. The signal from the portable terminal carried by Mononobe Mitsuki had stopped three hours ago at the location of the mist. She presumably went in."
Pointing at me, Atla spoke assertively.
She was very right. After listening to Tia, I had planned to do the same.
But I was not the only one here.
By sharing information Tia had obtained from the Akashic Record and data that NIFL had collected, everyone in Brynhildr Class were racking their brains to think of solutions.
"Please wait. Even though Mononobe Yuu, with his ability to use Ether Wind, is the most suitable candidate to send out, having him go alone would be too risky."
The first to speak out was Lisa, but a troubled look appeared on Shinomiya-sensei's face.
"No, those without the ability to oppose Ragnarok would only end up as unnecessary sacrifices if they accompanied him. As Midgard's commander, I cannot authorize anyone apart from Mononobe Yuu to enter. The others will provide full support from outside the mist."
These words were irrefutable, but Ren spoke up then.
"Then... It's fine as long as we can use Ether Wind."
On the side, Ariella was surprised by Ren's suggestion.
"As long as we can use it—Oh, don't tell me..."
Ren nodded deeply at Ariella, who seem to have figured out something.
"Mm. Correct—like before, pass on the authority."
Ren glanced at Major Loki before speaking.
Oh right—I had definitely passed on an authority before.
Using the connection between those of the same kind, I had divided Code Lost, which was impossible for me to hold alone, and shared it with Iris and the others.
By doing the same thing, perhaps all of us would be able to use Ether Wind.
"Passing on an authority, huh... How convenient, when gathering and inheriting Code Lost had essentially required people to die..."
Listening intently to our conversation, Major Loki muttered in surprise.
Shinomiya-sensei also spoke with interest.
"If you are able to do that among yourselves, that would be an effective solution indeed. Give it a try—"
"Wait. Even though this isn't a bad solution, I think it's very dangerous to split an authority without further thought."
Asking us to wait, Kili looked at Iris.
"Do you remember the battle against Bahamut? In the beginning, firing normal Catastrophe did not work. Only when Iris-chan seriously used the original Catastrophe was Bahamut destroyed completely. If recklessly splitting an authority weakens it too much, we'll be in trouble if things don't go our way. So—"
Sweeping her gaze across all of us with a critical eye, Kili then continued:
"Passing on the authority should be restricted to a small number of us with excellent combat skills. Assuming everything apart from Ether Wind is ineffective, it would be best to pick those who don't rely on dark matter or other authorities. In light of this condition—me and her would be enough."
Saying that, Kili pointed at Ariella, whose combat skills were highly adept even against human opponents.
For the vast majority, the combat power of Ds primarily relied on dark matter generation, but Ariella was very strong even without using transmutation. Purely in terms of anti-human skills, she was at least my equal. Fighting while enveloped in Ether Wind, Ariella's combat skills would definitely get to shine.
"Giving me Ether Wind..."
However, Ariella murmured with a conflicted expression.
Seeing her not particularly enthusiastic, I remembered.
Her family's souls had been eaten by Hraesvelgr. Perhaps she would feel reluctant to accept this authority.
"No need to force yourself, okay?"
But when Kili asked in a taunting manner, Ariella gritted her teeth hard and shook her head.
"No—since we're going with Mononobe-kun, I will go."
Hearing that, Ren held Ariella's hand from the side.
"Onee-chan... Onii-chan will be in your hands. I don't know how to fight without using dark matter—So I'm counting on you, Onee-chan."
"Yeah, leave it to me."
Smiling confidently, Ariella nodded at Ren.
"I wish I could come along, but this time, I can only hold the fort here..."
Firill slumped her shoulders in disappointment. Iris and Tia also nodded helplessly.
"I don't want to get in Mononobe's way... So I'll wait outside. But if there's anything I can do, please tell me! If it's for Mitsuki-chan, I'll do whatever it takes!"
Iris clenched her fist and declared.
"Do your best... Yuu. Although Mitsuki is so scary when she's angry, she makes yummy snacks sometimes... She also gives praise when Tia studies hard. Also, she's husband's little sister... For Tia, she's a precious little sister too!"
Tia gave encouragement with her own sentiments. Even though Mitsuki would surely object to certain parts of what she said, I simply patted Tia's head without correctly her.
"Yeah, I'll bring her back for sure."
I promised. Next to me, dressed in a male uniform, a platinum blonde—Jeanne Hortensia—looked agitated.
"...I am not a D, so I cannot accept your authority even though I have combat skills. It truly frustrates me that I cannot be your main support, Captain."
"Don't dwell on that, Jeanne, stay by Shion's side. Is she still sleeping?"
I looked around the bridge then spoke to Jeanne. Shion was not present.
Shion had been sleeping ever since the Bahamut battle ended. Perhaps it was not simply due to exhaustion. It would be best for someone to watch over her.
"Very well... Understood."
"I have to stay back too. 'Tis such a bore."
Hanging around by the wall, Vritra whispered in irritation.
Everyone apart from Kili and Ariella accepted their assigned post to stay back. However, Lisa objected with strong determination.
"Please wait. I must go along with Mononobe Yuu. There is a mountain of words that I must say to Mitsuki-san. Recently, I have been training in martial arts and spear skills in order to handle every kind of situation. I shall not allow any of you to stop me."
Hearing this, Kili stared at Lisa with a frown.
"Honestly, this worries me a bit. The authority shouldn't split any further... Oh well, Yuu can make the call."
She shot a gaze of "what are you gonna do?" at me. I spoke:
"The goal of this operation is to bring Mitsuki back. I think Lisa is essential to achieving this. Lisa is probably the only one who can scold Mitsuki and make her come to her senses."
Saying that, I smiled at Lisa. With a stern expression, she nodded.
"That is indeed the case. Mononobe Yuu—Thank you."
"Hmph, is that so? Oh well, I have no complaints if Yuu says it's fine. Anyway, this conversation is over."
Kili looked dissatisfied, but she still accepted Lisa joining the operation.
However, an unexpected voice was heard.
"Who says you can decide to end the conversation whenever!? You people forgot the most important thing! If you are going to that place, you should be bowing down to beg me for help!"
The one speaking was in the bridge monitor, staring at us with a pout.
Seeing Atla like that, Major Loki smiled wryly and said to us:
"—2nd Lieutenant Mononobe. Whether or not you bow down, I leave that for you to negotiate on your own. However, there is no downside to bringing Atla to the battlefield."
"...Why should I take you, Atla?"
I shot a gaze of surprise at the machine intellect whose virtual avatar resembled a fairy. Appalled, she replied:
"Uh... Are you saying you failed to notice!? Hey, you! As the rubbish tree's successor, you should know what place the final unknown territory sits on!"
Saying that, Atla stared at Tia. However, Tia cocked her head in puzzlement.
"What place... What do you mean? Tia has no idea at all. Even if the Akashic Record has information, Tia doesn't know without a proper search."
In response, Atla shouted in fury:
"Arrgggh, I have had enough, this is why I hate the rubbish tree! The region of the mist and the unknown territory is where the Atlantis continent used to be! Without any intel on how things have changed inside the mist, it would be best to bring me, the one who managed and operated Atlantean civilization!"
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