Unlimited Fafnir:Volume 13 Chapter 2
Chapter 2 - Ragnarok of True Obliteration
Approximately three hours prior to the arrival of the Naglfar—
In the center of the southern Atlantic, the unknown territory with a diameter of 300 kilometers, having swallowed a portion of the South American continent, was covered by thick mist.
Two girls were looking down at the scene from the air.
"It is impossible to see inside at all..."
Having arrived with the fake Shinomiya Miyako at the final unknown territory I—Mononobe Mitsuki—murmured as I looked at the mist blocking our path.
Calculating from the fact that its range was large enough to cover the unknown territory completely, the mist had probably surpassed a diameter of 400 kilometers. No matter how hard I focused my gaze, I still could not identify the black dome that was supposed to lie under that thick mist.
"You're right. It's too dangerous. Let's not enter, okay?"
Miyako-san asked me in jest.
"No, I have no intention of stopping at this point. I will only go forward. The question is you."
With slight anxiety, I voiced my doubt to Miyako-san who had cocked her head in puzzlement.
"After this mist is eliminated, I will be able to make contact with the final unknown territory... When that happens, will you still remain on my side?"
Facing the dome of mist, I glanced sideways at Miyako-san who was hovering beside me.
"Of course. Didn't I say I was going to help you, Mitsuki?"
She nodded without hesitation, the iridescent halo glowing over her head. This was the power of "Heavy Tremor" Nova—presumably an ability to interfere with gravity.
"But that only applies while our interests are aligned, right? Although I doubt you would answer honestly... Let me still pose the question. At which point in time will we no longer be on the same side?"
During the moment of becoming enemies, or the instant just before that, the side that made the first move would obtain victory. Hence, that point in time would be the most crucial question between us.
"Hmm... How should I put it...? Probably at the very last moment. Until you seal the unknown territory ahead of us into your own body—It would be a problem for me if you committed suicide while carrying the end matter."
Miyako-san answered with levity in her voice. Realizing she had seen through my intentions, my body tensed up violently.
"Then you will kill me before I commit suicide?"
I spoke with a heavy voice. Although the end result was death either way, the end matter would not be destroyed unless Code Lost was used. However, for some reason, she gave a look of incomprehension then suddenly laughed out loud.
"Ahaha‐Why do I have to kill you, Mitsuki? Clearly, all I want is to stop you from dying, which is why I plan on stopping you from committing suicide."
"Uh... Meaning that you will not be troubled by the destruction of end matter?"
Confused, I asked again. It felt like we were speaking past each other. Miyako-san practically sounded like she was here to help me.
"Hmm, of course that would trouble me... But you're the most important, Mitsuki. So after sealing the final unknown territory, gather everything together and hand it over to me. No—ultimately, it's still a question whether you can contain all that end matter, Mitsuki. If possible, you should hand it over now. With that, I can take care of all kinds of problems on your behalf. At this point in time, Mitsuki, you still have several options."
Miyako extended her arms towards me and smiled gently. Unable to see any dishonesty in her smile, I felt my heart wavering, but after warning myself, I glared at her.
"Who would believe that! Although I have no idea what you are planning, I will fulfill my objective at all costs."
After I declared assertively, Miyako-san lowered her hands with a slightly sad look.
"...Indeed, well, it can't be helped right now. However, I will definitely convince you, Mitsuki, whatever it takes."
"I will destroy you first if you try anything weird."
Feeling a sense of crisis, I raised my left hand and warned.
However, I was feeling worried inside, wondering if Neun's authority would be effective against her. Suppose she was not merely a shadow generated from end matter, but also the physical manifestation of Nova the "true dragon," there was no guarantee that Neun's light alone could seal her.
"I think that would be ill advised, you know? Without my help, this mist—'True Obliteration' Ragnarok is probably impossible for you to breach."
Miyako-san answered with a confident expression without showing any signs of fear.
I could not tell if it was because the truth matched my speculations or the reason she had given.
However, no matter what, I must listen to her suggestion.
Because several hours ago, when I sealed the unknown territory in North Africa, I could not even approach without her neutralizing the gravitational field. It was likely she might not be bluffing this time either.
"...Understood. Anyway, I shall reconsider after looking into the mist."
When I lowered my hand, Miyako-san took my hand and pulled me.
"Okay—Then let's hurry and charge in. Mitsuki, do not separate from me under any circumstance."
Holding hands, we charged into the pure white wall of mist.
I broke out in goosebumps from the icy mist touching my skin. Breathing in cold wind, I shivered uncontrollably.
I could not see anything. It was like being inside a cloud.
I wondered whether the view would persist until I reached the unknown territory, but the scenery broadened after that.
Apparently, only the surface layer of the mist was especially thick.
Inside, the mist was of variable consistency. In directions of relatively thin mist, I could even see a gold color in the distance. But precisely because of that—because I could see—I gasped in surprise.
"This... was supposed to be over the sea."
I murmured with disbelief.
Glimpses of streets were visible in the mist. There were many damaged buildings. Their designs were quite strange, never had I seen the likes of before, but this was definitely a city.
Furthermore, there were large creatures, unlikely to be birds, flying in the air over town. Upon closer examination, there seemed to be something moving in the streets too.
"What on earth..."
While I was puzzled by the unclear situation. One of the flying entities in the sky flew over.
Once it had approached, I was struck by its immenseness.
With the head of a bird and the body of a lion, massive wings on its back—This reminded me of the monster known as the griffin, which had appeared in the video games my brother used to play.
Letting go of Miyako-san's hand, I readied my fictional armament of a bow.
"First Arrow, Fork Wind!"
I fired countless forking arrows of wind at the approaching monster.
However, instead of being struck by the invisible arrows, the monster continued to move in our direction without any change.
At this time, I noticed. The griffin-like monster was a bit transparent.
—Incorporeal? Could it be that the attacks passed through—
Grabbing my hand while I was stunned, Miyako-san flew towards the ground.
The monster flew past over my head, the strong wind in its wake blowing my hair to disarray. Despite its transparency, it did not seem to be an illusion.
"What exactly is—"
"Probably an extinct astral lifeform that had been devoured by Ragnarok a long time ago. Since this place is something resembling Ragnarok's belly, it comes as no surprise even if you find astral lifeforms that had been sucked in."
Miayko-san motioned with her eyes at the wrecked city below.
"Yes, which is why you'd better assume normal attacks are useless. But don't worry, my power interferes with space itself—"
Saying that, Miyako-san circled to the back. Failing to catch its prey, the griffin flew in a circle to chase after us.
Miyako-san extended her hand towards the griffin. Next, a gigantic iridescent halo appeared. The instant this rippling object spread throughout space, the griffin was suddenly sent flying.
While Miyako-san was showing to me what seemed to be a smile intended to inspire me with courage, she descended, rushing towards a round building whose roof was partially broken.
Receiving assistance and encouragement from an inevitable enemy, what on earth was I doing? I was following her pace the whole time, was I not?
Unless I seized initiative, everything would go as she wanted.
Feeling a strong sense of crisis, I tightly reciprocated the grip of Miyako's warm hand.
"—Are you ready? I fear that wireless communications will be cut off once you enter the mist. If we do not hear back from your team after six hours, we will attempt to dispel the mist by attacking with the Naglfar's weaponry. This could very well provoke Ragnarok, but our decisions will prioritize the rescue of your team. As such, you must put survival above all else."
After listening to Shinomiya-sensei's voice from the communicator, I—Mononobe Yuu—gulped and replied.
Lisa, who was flying while holding my arm, as well as Kili and Ariella flying next to us, each responded on their respective communicators.
The Naglfar was moored five kilometers away from the dome of mist. Flying from there, we reached the boundary of the wall of mist.
Perhaps due to the mist, the air was very cold. This mist was apparently Ragnarok, but there were so signs of attacks mounting from within.
"Mononobe, be careful! Lisa-chan, Ariella-chan, I'm counting on you to take care of Mitsuki-chan. Kili-chan, I'm counting on you to take care of Mononobe."
Iris' voice was heard from the communicator.
"I will protect Yuu even without you telling me... But Iris-chan, why are you naming me in particular?"
Kili frowned and asked her communicator.
"Eh? Why...? It came out without thinking, I guess?"
"Sigh, fine. I accept, so don't worry. Very well, let's move out."
Kili sighed and replied to Iris then placed her hand on her left chest while staring at the wall of mist.
With the emission of golden particles, a faint glow surrounded her body.
The transfer of authority was completed like last time with Code Lost. By holding hands, using the connection from sameness of kind, Lisa, Kili and Ariella obtained the power taken from Hraesvelgr.
As a result, this was the glow of Ether Wind, the ability to materialize the spirit.
By consciously invoking the authority residing in the heart, we were able to use this power without needing dark matter as a medium.
The particle density was less than during that time in my fight against Major Loki, but this was probably due to dividing the authority to share out.
To be honest, myself included, none of us were confident about invoking this authority. When I used Ether Wind to turn myself into Hraesvelgr, I basically went along with survival instinct in a fatal situation, so I doubted that replicating the ability would be easy.
But unexpectedly, Kili found that it easier to use Hraesvelgr's authority than I had imagined.
Perhaps it was because the intended enemy of this authority—"True Obliteration" Ragnarok—was right before our eyes.
"Yes, ready any time."
Like Kili, Lisa easily enveloped herself in golden particles.
"......I feel reluctant using this power knowing it belonged to Hraesvelgr, but this is also the light that Mononobe-kun used to save me—So it's fine. I will use it too."
Ariella placed her right hand, clad in the gauntlet that was her fictional armament, on her chest and closed her eyes. Next, golden particles also appeared from her body and enveloped her slender body.
"Great, let's go."
I too focused my mind on the Ether Wind residing in my heart and released it.
Perhaps the nature of a counterdragon helped me. The golden particles naturally surged forth.
Using an authority caused one to become closer to being a dragon, for example, red scales appeared on Iris' skin when she used Basilisk's power, or how Shion was able to move her mithril hair due to inheriting the Kraken's power. And when using Ether Wind, the phenomenon of "dragonification" affected the spirit.
The spirit overflowed from the container, the physical body, then materialized by enveloping the body.
This was like the spirit coating around Hraesvelgr. Right now, the golden glow around us was our spirit, and this materialized spirit was moving the body it surrounded.
Prepared, we slowly entered the mist. Static appeared in our communicators and there was no response to our calls. As expected, electromagnetic waves were blocked and kept outside. I took off the communicator on my ear and placed it in a pocket.
Starting from when Ether Wind enveloped me, the cold sensation went away. Due to the mist's excessive thickness, visibility became extremely terrible very quickly.
To avoid getting separated, we flew closer together. While being transported, I focused my mind to observe if there was anything in the mist. Although there was a subtle feeling, it seemed to vary nearer and farther. This uncertain feeling made me break out with goosebumps all over.
The light of Ether Wind did not weaken in the mist, allowing us to see each other in this world of white.
"By the way—the way the body moves the instant I think it—this feeling is so weird."
Flying on the right, Kili moved her hand while murmuring with curiosity.
I knew the feeling she was talking about. Moving the body directly using the spirit as an external skeleton instead of relying on muscles, there was practically no lag between thought and action.
"I feel as though my strength has increased too."
Holding my hand while flying, Lisa moved her arm with amazement.
"There are repercussions if you act too reckless."
Because the physical body's specs had not increased, reckless action could cause muscle and bone damage, so I warned.
"Guys, the mist is getting thinner."
Ariella pointed ahead.
Just as she had said, the mist was decreasing in density—The field of view widened.
"This is truly... amazing."
Lisa sighed with bated breath.
Inside this space covered with light mist was a decrepit town. In the air above, creatures I had never seen before were flying back and forth.
Many of the buildings were built with curving outlines. Rather than modern, the architecture felt more like near futuristic. Were they in good condition, this would have made for spectacular scenery.
"I feel like I am lost, in another world..."
Looking around her surroundings, Ariella whispered.
"The strange creatures are probably the astral lifeforms Tia mentioned."
Looking at monsters flying in the distance, Kili commented in a stiff voice.
I thought back to what Tia had told us about Ragnarok.
'Ragnarok is a "world" that expands and maintains its existence by devouring other souls and spirits. Creatures that cannot survive independently as spirits end up dissociated into mist. However, high-level astral lifeforms are capable of maintaining their form inside Ragnarok. As a result, inside the mist, you will likely find creatures such as fairies or phantasmal beasts that went extinct long ago.'
Fairies, phantasmal beasts, demons, angels, elder gods—Supernatuarl existences from legends and fairy tales.
According to Tia, Ragnarok was the one that had annihilated all of these superior beings. Inside the mist, the "devoured" astral lifeforms would live on as part of Ragnarok.
In that case, the monsters far away—winged giant beasts and flying dragons—were astral lifeforms of this sort.
"Uwah, aren't they heading for us?"
Pointing at the monsters, Ariella cried out anxiously.
Indeed, the monsters circling in the air had changed trajectory to approach us.
"Although I would like to confirm if Ether Wind is effective against them... Fighting so many at the same time would definitely be a hassle."
Frowning, Lisa whispered. Kili looked at the wrecked town below and said:
"Let's hide in the ruins first and wait for the monsters to pass. It'd be bad if we carelessly started fighting and damaged Ragnarok's core, right?"
Ragnarok's core—This was also one of the major pieces of intelligence Tia had given us.
Before we set off, I had asked Tia how Hraesvelgr's predecessor, "Gold" Phoenix had used its authority to destroy Ragnarok.
'Phoenix flew into the mist, swallowing everything it caught, eating every astral lifeform inside. Losing its "inhabitants," the world could no longer sustain its form and the territory of mist gradually shrank. After Ragnarok's "supreme god"—the astral lifeform tasked with the responsibility of the core—was eaten, the world of mist collapsed... That was what is written in the Akashic Record. Therefore, destroying the core is enough to defeat Ragnarok. The most powerful astral lifeform should be the core.'
Tia had called the core the "supreme god." In other words, there were beings here that were so-called "gods." Once again, I was struck by what an unbelievable place I had entered.
However, according to Tia, destroying the core straight away would be too soon. We must bring back Mitsuki before defeating Ragnarok.
Unable to use Ether Wind, Mitsuki had no way of dealing with astral lifeforms and should end up stalled inside Ragnarok.
If they destroyed Ragnarok now, there would be nothing to hinder Mitsuki and she would arrive at the unknown territory first.
"Well, although I doubt the core is in this group of monsters, I agree with avoiding combat."
I looked at the approaching monsters and nodded.
The "supreme god" surely referred to something on a higher level, a god-like being. Although the approaching giant beasts and flying dragons looked very strong, they still felt somewhat different from gods.
"Well then, let us divert their attention then land immediately—Ash, screen out!"
Raising her fictional armament spear, Lisa declared sharply.
Immediately, projectiles of flame fired from her spear tip in all directions exploded in the air.
With thick smoke blocking the surroundings, the approaching monsters were engulfed in smoke.
During this time, I felt a tight grip on my hand. Then I descended together with Lisa. I looked up and saw Kili and Ariella following us.
Just then, I realized it would be bad in many ways to look up at girls so I frantically lowered my head. Of course, the smoke itself was quite dense, so I did not see anything I should not have—
"Over there should be fine."
Lisa found a building with a partially destroyed roof then entered it through the breach.
The instant we touched the ground, the floating sensation disappeared. Lisa and I had landed in a room inside the building. Soon after, Kili and Ariella arrived too. We looked around the dim room.
To be honest, it did not feel like a room at all.
There were the remains of dead corals and barnacles on the walls. Nothing remained of necessities one would imagine would be necessary for residents' daily lives.
"Looks like... It has been at the bottom of the sea for a very logn time. Ragnarok evidently blocks seawater in addition to electromagnetic waves."
Touching the uneven floor that was covered with shells, Lisa commented with rather deep curiosity.
"Rather than mist, it's more like a barrier isolated from the world. We've really come to a different world."
Carefully peering out of a window that no longer had glass, Ariella exhaled deeply.
"However, this city is not a part of Ragnarok, but existed at the bottom of the sea to begin with, right? If what 'she' said was true—"
Kili spoke with a hand over a corner of her mouth. Next, "the fifth member" entered the conversation.
'That is correct! This is the continent of Atlantis, sunken to the bottom of the sea!'
A shrill voice sounded from my chest.
Indeed, those entering Ragnorok was not just the four of us, me, Lisa, Ariella and Kili.
I took out a palm-sized portable terminal from my chest pocket. Instead of the ones distributed by Midgard, this was a Atlantean miniature computer created using data downloaded from the Akashic Record. Despite its small size, its processing power was comparable to NIFL's supercomputer.
Running "her" required a computer with this level of specs.
"Atla, so this city really is where the Atlanteans lived?"
I asked the fairy appearing on the screen of the portable terminal—Atla, the machine intellect.
'Yes, this is the capital of Atlantis. Many humans lived here in peace. Until Kiskanu destroyed civilization...'
With intense rage, Atla replied.
After looking at the wrecked city for real, I began to understand a little why she called Tia, who had inherited the Akashic Record, the "rubbish tree."
Many humans had lived in this city, then virtually all of them perished. Because it happened so long ago, it did not feel real. Even so, I could imagine the kind of grudge Atla bore as the guardian of the city.
However, Kiskanu had met destruction and its successor, Yggdrasil, was under Tia's control. As such, Atla no longer had any target to vent her anger against except for Tia.
"But in hindsight, humans did not go extinct. And you came back to life too. So in away, I don't think you actually lost."
Patting Atla's head on the screen, I spoke to her.
'Hey... Don't touch me without permission! Even though I am a copy, I don't belong to you!'
Did she feel it because it was a touchscreen? Atla glared at me with her face red.
Just as she had said, this Atla was a clone of the machine intellect running the Naglfar. Because wireless communications was impossible inside Ragnarok, accompanying us was just a clone with all data copied to a terminal.
The original Atla remained in NIFL's supercomputer, operating the Naglfar.
"Okay, I get it. This is the historical site of the Atlantis civilization, so you made a special exception and agreed to come along with us. I'll be honest, the mist has made us lose our way, so it's really helpful to have someone who can provide a map."
When I thanked her, Atla on the screen puffed out her chest proudly.
'That's right, you can show more gratitude. I have already identified the current location. Let me display the map.'
The screen changed to show a map. On it, a red marker indicated our current location. The boundary with the outside world—the location of the wall of mist&mash;and the unknown territory's possible location were also displayed. Kili and the girls drew in closer and stared at the terminal from behind me.
"Heh... Let me see, with this, we won't get lost even if we use small alleys and paths."
While Kili murmured, Lisa pointed to an arrow indicating the direction of the unknown territory and said:
"We entered the mist at the point where Mitsuki-san's GPS signal ended. In that case, if we travel to the unknown territory from here, it should be highly likely for us to locate her trail."
Hearing this idea, Ariella chimed in as well.
"Then our next action is set. We will head for the unknown territory while staying vigilant against the monsters."
Although our discussion proceeded smoothly, I was stuck devoting all my effort to ignore the sensations on my back.
Everyone was looking at the terminal from behind me, which meant that certain soft and bouncy objects were pressing on my back.
However, now was not the time for pointing this out. In order to catch up to Mitsuki, we had no time for unnecessary things.
"We will move along the ground in places where there are more monsters. In safer areas, we will catch up by flying close to the ground. Unable to use Ether Wind, Mitsuki-san ought to be moving while avoiding combat as much as possible. We should manage to reach her if we hurry."
After saying that, Lisa moved away from me. Evidently, she had not noticed her chest pressing against me. Ariella was equally clueless. I could not help but mentally sigh.
"Fufu, how was it? Did it feel good?"
However, Kili spoke to me when getting off my back. She did it on purpose, apparently.
Although I hoped she would consider the situation when doing such things, I could clearly see the confidence in the way she spoke. Hence...
"—I don't know what you're talking about. Let's hurry and move out."
After saying that with a stern expression, I led everyone downstairs while holding the portable terminal in my hand.
Since monsters were probably still in the air, it would be best if we went into the street from the ground floor and advanced along the surface for a while. After all, there was no telling what kinds of astral lifeforms would show up.
No matter how many precautions taken, one could never be too careful.
'Turn right at the next intersection.'
Listening to Atla's voice from the terminal, we followed minor roads to advance. Each of us was glowing faintly from the light of Ether Wind.
Like the interior of the building we were at earlier, the road surface was uneven, covered with calcified shells and coral.
Added to the fact that the buildings had curved designs, the roads were necessarily winding too. It was difficult staying oriented on roads that were not rectilinear. Without Atla, we would have gotten lost immediately.
I felt awed by the Atlanteans who were able to live well in such a city.
"Something huge is flying in the sky again."
Ariella advanced swiftly while paying attention to the sky.
Blocked by buildings, the narrow sky had multiple monsters flying past. Since flyers overhead produced shadows, we quickly noticed them.
"Don't worry, as long as we stick to small roads, we won't run into big monsters."
In charge of holding the rear, Kili spoke calmly.
Indeed, we had yet to encounter large astral lifeforms along the way. However—
"Kyah!? Another one!"
Lisa screamed and grabbed my left arm. Her heavy bosom pressed tightly against me. I could feel the shampoo fragrance of her blonde hair tickling my nose.
"C-Calm down. Don't worry."
Losing composure for a different reason, I comforted Lisa.
What she was scared to look at was the mist hanging around the road side. When the wind blew, they would take on human appearances from time to time.
"Sheesh... You should get used to it by now. How many times have you already seen this? There are no signs of them attack anyway. Just relax."
Kili looked exasperated.
"Those are probably something like human souls. Unlike the monsters flying about in the sky, they have difficulty maintaining form."
Repeating what Tia had said, I looked at the mist that had become human figures.
Because humans were unable to maintain their existence without their physical body, they became mixed with the mist, wandering the streets in ambiguous forms.
We had brushed past them several times already, but they did not react to us, having probably their sense of self.
"I-In other words, they are like the souls of dead humans... Ghosts, essentially! Asking me not to be afraid is impossible!"
Avoiding the ghosts, Lisa pressed her forehead against my shoulder.
I remember there was one time when we visited a theme park in Japan. Lisa had also been super afraid in the haunted house. Back then, she hugged me tightly and I was totally drained from dragging her while I walked.
Seeing Lisa unwilling to relax her grip on me, Ariella sighed too.
"I understand how you feel, but you're going too far. The monsters in the sky are more dangerous, so it's risky if we let the ghosts draw our attention."
"Ariella-san... Aren't you staying close to Mononobe Yuu despite what you are saying?"
Lisa spoke with a look of disdain towards Ariella, who was sandwiching me from the other side.
Although she was not hugging me tightly, Ariella was clutching my right sleeve. Every time she saw a ghost, she shuddered.
"U-Umm—Umm, even though they're not dangerous, scary is still scary..."
Gritting her teeth to offer a contrived excuse, Ariella showed no signs of letting go of me.
"Sheesh... What is so scary about dead people? Their living counterparts are more troublesome and more dangerous."
With a look of incomprehension, Kili shrugged.
"I actually agree on this point, but considering the ghosts' true identity, I guess it's only natural to be afraid."
Passing by a ghost, I commented with poignancy.
When Kili asked what I meant, I replied with a wry smile.
"If they're wandering this city, then it's highly likely they were Atlanteans, right? I totally cannot imagine what people living from so long ago were thinking or how they lived. It's only natural to fear things you don't know."
"If you don't know, why not ask her? The one in your hand."
Kili replied, pointing at the portable terminal in my hand. Loaded on this terminal was Atla, the AI that had managed Atlantis.
"Well, you're right... But maybe she doesn't want to recall these things."
While I was hesitating, the terminal vibrated then emitted a synthesized voice.
'I don't need you to overthink! I am not that fragile. Ask me anything you like!'
I looked at the screen to see Atla staring at me.
Apparently, my excess consideration had hurt her pride.
"Really? Then I'll try asking. There's a lot I'm curious about. First of all... Can I ask what the Atlanteans were like?"
"Almost the same as you people. But compared to modern humans, they had almost no vitality..."
Arms crossed, Atla spoke with nostalgia.
What did she mean? I frowned. Atla then spoke with an expression of mixed feelings.
"The people back then easily got sick. The birth rate was also extremely low. Despite advancing medical technology, the life expectancy kept shortening and the population shrank. Honestly, humans were facing a crisis of extinction. Trying to stop this was my biggest mission."
Looking like she was somewhat concerned about the ghosts we had just encountered, Atla sighed and continued.
"In fact, I believed humans could no longer survive when the Atlantis civilization was destroyed. Although data was left behind on stone slabs, I had no expectations. But when I revived, I discovered that humans were everywhere on Earth... It made me question what I had been doing. I felt a bit disappointed."
Although I wanted to comfort Atla, who was hugging her knees with a sad look on her face, I refrained because touching her would make her angry again.
"Anyway, humans lost their civilization but somehow recovered their vitality as a result of this—Something like that. Quite ironic."
When Kili concurred, not caring about the mood, Atla's expression became even more gloomy and she lowered her head.
"But well, even so, I don't think what you did was useless, Atla. Ultimately, without you, the humans wouldn't have arrived on Earth and we wouldn't be born. You're our savior—You could even say that we have to thank you for the fact that we can be here today."
I frantically added my opinion. Then Atla wiped her tearful eyes and looked up at me.
"I won't fall in love with you even if you come up with pretty words! What you say is beyond obvious!"
Finally recovered, Atla puffed out her chest on the small screen and replied.
"Excuse me... May I ask a question too?"
Just then, Lisa opened her mouth hesitantly. It looked like she had regained some composure now that we could not see any ghosts nearby. But even so, she still continued to hug my arm tightly...
"Fine, I allow it."
Atla spoke with an air of superiority, but Lisa was not offended. She asked:
"This city... This continent of Atlantis, why did it sink? One would expect the reason to be because of the fight against Yggdrasil—no, Kiskanu?"
Lisa looked down at the road surface that had merged with the remains of shells and corals. Frowning, Atla said gently:
"Hmm, I don't know either. The remnants of recovered memory only go back to the time shortly before Kiskanu wrought destruction... However, I can speculate. Underground of Atlantis are devices for supporting the entire city's functions. After I stopped operating, the unattended devices would have gone out of control and exploded."
Lisa asked in astonishment.
"Yes. The underground structure would have been torn apart, resulting in the ground collapsing. From the fact that the buildings remained relatively undamaged, this must have happened gradually over a long period of time instead of suddenly."
Atla calmly offered her hypothesis without stopping.
After that, Kili interjected, having been silent until now.
"In other words, after Atlantis was destroyed, this city still existed on land for some amount of time. In that case, it answers one question."
I motioned with my gaze for Kili to explain herself.
"I've been wondering why the unknown territory and Ragnarok appeared here. After listening to what you guys said, I finally get it."
Touching a building's wall, Kili spoke.
Although there was damage to the houses lining the narrow and winding road, when taking into account the long amount of time spent sunk under the sea, this damage was quite minor. The wall's material seemed similar to porcelain, but it was probably a substance created using advanced technology.
"You think there is a definite link, Kili?"
I still did not understand. So what if this city had existed on land for a while?
"Yes. Having lost their science and civilization—I'm guessing not only physically but including memory interference like what happened to Yuu—the humans might have treated this city as a 'religious holy land' after they went back to primitive life. I don't know how astral lifeforms are produced, but if there really existed an era when gods were around, this place, akin to a sacred sanctuary, would've been their residence, right?"
Digesting Kili's words in my mind took some time.
Not just the possibility she had pointed out, but the viewpoint that Kiskanu might have interfered with human memory also shocked me.
Indeed, as Kiskanu's successor, Yggdrasil had taken my memories as the price of our deal, allowing me to use authority. It would be possible to do the same to the Atlanteans, wiping knowledge of science and technology from their minds.
Following this idea, my thoughts went on a tangent. Next to me, Ariella asked directly.
"Umm, basically, after humans stopped living in the city, it might have become the place where things like gods or spirits lived... Is that what you mean?"
"That's right. If this became the most populous place on Earth for astral lifeforms, then it's only logical that Ragnarok descended upon here for food, right?"
"Well... I guess. Now that I think about it, this city and its inhabitants experienced a second extinction event."
Ariella looked around her with sorrow in her eyes.
Having experienced two tragic calamities and lost its inhabitants, this city was definitely deserving of pity.
But just then, humanoid mist appeared before them again. Lisa shuddered in fear, but she released me with determination then stared intently at the ghost.
"Lisa, are you okay?"
"...Yes. After listening to the earlier conversation, I feel more pity than fear. It would be too sad for them if we overreacted."
Saying that, Lisa lowered her eyes.
Next, another white shadow appeared ahead. Lisa's shoulder trembled slightly.
"I-I am fine if it is just one or two."
Although Lisa declared with resilience, humanoid mist appeared one after another on the curving road.
"Five, seven—no, more than ten!? Is... isn't this bad?"
Ariella entered a combat stance with a stiff expression. Lisa, Kili and I also stopped walking.
"This many is truly too much!"
Did she reach her limit? Lisa screamed and hid behind me.
Kili probably sensed a crisis too. Raising her hand in front of her, she entered an offensive stance.
"Although being formless, they can't attack... I have a bad feeling about this. They look like they're running away from something."
Just as she said, the shimmering ghosts approached us—then passed by us.
It was like something further down the road was chasing them.
Since the road was curved, we could only see ten-odd meters ahead of us. But there was a sound—
I felt a chill down my back. Instinct was warning me and my body naturally entered a combat stance.
While protecting Lisa behind me, I bent forward, clenching my fists that were enveloped in faint golden light.
When the sound of footsteps and intense breathing reached my ears, a wolf-like creature rushed out from the far end of the road.
It was no ordinary wolf. That much was proven by the fact that it had two heads and the body was translucent. And there was more than one of them. One after another, the ferocious beasts arrived, looking at us with their glowing eyes.
"The two-headed wolf is called the Orthrus, I think. Oh well, who cares... I'll just send it flying!"
At the very front, Kili shouted harshly then caused a huge explosion in front of the two-headed wolves. Orthus was a name that I too had seen in books and games before.
This explosion was achieved by spread tiny amounts of dark matter in the surroundings then transmuting them into heat. Kili's prided technique, Muspelheim.
However, the pack of Orthruses pushed the flames completely unscathed and charged us. No injuries. Neither did the blast blow them away. Rather than physical resilience, it seemed like the attack had gone through them completely.
"It failed!? Damn it!"
Kili greeted a lunging Orthrus with a roundhouse kick. Probably thanks to the Ether Wind enveloping her taking effect, the tip of her foot plunged deeply into the Orthrus' belly.
The Orthus wailed and collapsed on the ground. The pack behind it also stopped warily. Seeing them like that, Ariella stepped forward.
"Looks like attacks without Ether Wind won't work. But... If ordinary physical attacks don't work, then they can't damage our physical bodies, right?"
Keeping the Orthruses at bay with her glare, Ariella raised a question.
"Wanna try? Oh well, even if your body is fine, your spirit might get eaten, you know?"
Hearing Kili, Ariella frowned and shook her head.
"No thanks. These things were chasing the ghosts just now, which means they probably prey on human spirit for food."
Next, Lisa, who had been hiding behind me, stepped forward to stand by my side.
"In that case, we must defeat these monsters. Desiring food even after they are dead, they deserve no pity at all."
"Are we gonna fight?"
I asked worriedly. Lisa proceeded to nod with a determined look.
"Yes. There is nothing to be afraid of when they are simply monsters, not ghosts. Monsters that devour humans—obstacles hindering us from reaching Mitsuki-san—are unforgivable. I shall eliminate them."
Voicing her twisted logic matter-of-factly, Lisa glared at the Orthruses.
"—Don't overdo it."
We exchanged a glance then kicked the ground. Kili and Ariella sprang into action at the same time.
With a roar from the leading Orthrus, the pack rushed over together.
—First one first. We must thin out enemy numbers before they surrounded us.
Capitalizing on an opening between the two heads, I pierced its throat with my hand. Wrapped in Ether Wind, my arms were unusually solid. I felt practically no resistance.
However, this thing had two heads. Killing one of them was not enough to stop it. The Orthrus attacked, aiming at my throat.
—What a pain.
I decapitated the other head with a karate chop, but taking care of one Orthrus had taken more time than I had planned.
The others looked like they were exerting too.
Kili aimed for a vital, but because the enemy had two heads, she could not kill it in one strike.
Using agile martial arts, Ariella sent Orthrus after Orthrus flying, but was pinned down by their superior numbers.
Lisa, the one whom I worried the most about, was using momentum from the charging Orthruses to throw them, then following up with attacks when they were off balance. Although she mentioned before she had been training in spear techniques, I could see that she had also taken part in aikido or something similar too.
However, it looked like she was still unable to deliver decisive blows to the Orthruses.
"Ah, Yuu—Look over here!"
While I was thinking we must find suitable tactics, Kili called to me.
I looked over to see Kili slicing through an Orthrus with a golden glowing sword in her hand.
She smiled at my surprise.
"I tried shaping Ether Wind into a weapon. Fighting this way is easier. Why don't you guys try it, using the same principle as constructing a fictional armament?"
Turning a part of our manifested spirit into a weapon—This had never occurred to me. Since Hraesvelgr had never attacked in such a manner, perhaps I gathered a preconceived notion that it could not be done.
However, since Kili tried it out for real, I gave it a try too. I focused my mind the same way as when I created my fictional armament gun, concentrating Ether Wind in my palm.
Next, the particles took on a gun's shape just as I had imagined. I aimed the muzzle at one of the Orthruses and pulled the trigger twice.
No sooner were shots heard than the released golden bullets pierced two separate heads squarely between their eyebrows. The Orthrus collapsed on the ground.
"Definitely, this is much easier."
This was probably a technique only actualizable by humans who would use weapons. I'm pretty sure it never occurred to Hraesvelgr to use weapons.
"Yes. I shan't lose now that I have a weapon!"
Lisa made a spear using Ether Wind, sweeping away multiple attacking Orthruses.
"Let's end this in one go, everyone!"
Holding a golden dagger, Ariella jumped into the middle of the pack of wolves and sliced apart the Orthruses surrounding her.
Since her fictional armament was a gauntlet, I seldom saw her wielding a weapon. This was probably the first time after our serious fight.
Strong as expected—Jumping and leaping, she chopped off monsters' heads.
Ariella could probably handle them all alone, but I continued to shoot and reduce enemy numbers. Wielding weapons, Kili and Lisa were also wiping them out.
"It feels so good to be able to keep chopping without needing to worry—But it's a bit boring without blood spurting."
Brandishing her sword with joy on her face, Kili commented excitedly.
"What is there to enjoy when taking lives!? Such complacency will make you careless!"
Lisa stabbed the neck of a leaping Orthrus behind Kili's back and brought it to the ground.
"...That being said, I was aware of that one, you know?"
"I had no intention of protecting you. I am simply defeating the foes in front of me."
While having this conversation, Kiil and Lisa exchanged a glance momentarily. However, due to many lunging Orthruses, they immediately stood back to back to face the enemies. From a bystander's perspective, the two of them seemed quite in sync. Despite many aspects of their personalities clashing, their fighting styles might be a good fit after all.
With the initial struggle seeming like a lie, we swiftly cut down the monsters.
In less than a minute, the pack of Orthruses were almost wiped out, leaving just one.
"You are the last one!"
Lisa stepped forward and stabbed.
Like a flash of light, the golden spear tip pierced the Orthrus from the front. Skewered right between the two heads, the monster struggled for a moment before turning into white mist and vanishing.
The carcasses lying on the ground also turned into white mist one after another, melding into the air.
"It appears that none are left."
After observing the surroundings warily, Lisa breathed out in relief.
"Although they aren't strong... It'd be a total pain if we keep encountering packs and packs of these things even when traveling on the ground."
Kili dispelled the Ether Wind sword in her hand and remarked with irritation. My decision to choose companions capable of close quarters combat turned out to be correct. However, recklessly getting drawn into battles again and again would tired us out.
"It looks like we can use the same way to take out the monsters in the sky. Let's switch to flying from now on. Well, there's an especially big one up above, but I'm sure we can find a way now that we are armed."
Ariella pointed up and suggested.
Just as she had pointed out, we could catch a glimpse of a monster through the gap between buildings. It was a giant winged dragon.
"Fine. Let me do it."
I nodded and raised the gun I had constructed from Ether Wind towards the sky.
"You plan on sniping from here?"
Lisa frowned and asked, prompting me to nod.
"That's right. It'll work as long as the bullet flies where I aim."
I narrowed my eyes and concentrated, waiting for the winged dragon to fly overhead.
Next, the prey appeared accompanied by the sound of wings flapping. The shadow fell upon the narrow road—Waiting for this instant, I pulled the trigger.
The golden bullet turned into a flash of light, piercing the winged dragon's head.
Without even a death cry, the winged dragon lost balance just like that and crashed down at us—But before it collided with a building, it turned into white mist.
"That's one point for me first."
I looked back at the girls. Lisa was looking at me shyly.
"...How amazing. You would probably win if you entered a marksmanship contest."
"Nah, I'd have no chance if Jeanne was there."
I replied with a wry smile. In marksmanship alone, Jeanne was unparalleled. There was an undeniable gap in accuracy between Jeanne and me.
"My eyes are opened... Then I shall find Jeanne-san when I learn marksmanship—Wait, now is not the time for idle chatter. Very well, let us continue on our way."
Apparently taking an interest in marksmanship, Lisa created her fictional armament then held out her hand to me.
Now that the winged dragon was eliminated, there should be nothing to attack us mid-flight for the time being. I nodded and was about to take Lisa's hand when Kili grabbed my hand from the side and took flight.
"You were the one flying with Yuu just now. It's my turn this time."
Kili told Lisa while ascending slowly.
"Hmm... Very well, so be it."
Lisa looked a bit displeased, but she did not object, following after us.
"Then after Kili, it'll be my turn. Holding Mononobe-kun's hand... I'm so nervous."
Enveloped in wind, following us, Ariella stared at her hand and smiled wryly.
Thus, we carefully flew out, above the roofs of the buildings. The unique view of the streets, filled with round buildings, leaped into our eyes. However, we could not see very far due to the mist.
"The unknown territory is in that direction!"
Atla pointed from the screen. When I showed Kili the terminal, she smiled and nodded.
"Understood. Let us move quickly before the monsters gather. Yuu—Hold my hand firmly."
Saying that, Kili weakened her grip on my hand for some reason.
To avoid falling, I gripped her hand tightly. With a satisfied smile, Kili started moving.
"Good, that's the feeling. I always get so excited when you're forceful."
"...I really don't know what to say about your personality."
Holding on tightly, I sighed and replied.
Previously, Ariella had described Kili as masochistic, but I really had no idea how to classify this kind of behavior. Oh well, people can't be sorted into neat categories, I guess.
Unable to help with mobility in the air, I committed my attention towards monitoring our surroundings.
There were signs of winged dragons and giant winged beasts in the distance but they did not look like they were planning to fly towards us.
Of course, I did not forget about Mitsuki, the most important of all, so I paid attention to the situation on the ground too.
Signs of beasts appeared on the curving little paths from time to time. There were enemies both on the ground and in the air, but Mitsuki was probably fine. Although it would be a problem if she reached the unknown territory first, I felt my anxiety surging at the thought of her being stuck in a desperate situation.
"Kili, please move as fast as possible."
I looked up at Kili in mid-flight and asked.
"Are you sure? You might miss her if we go too fast, you know?"
"Finding Mitsuki in such a big city will be very hard no matter whether we go fast or slow. It's better if we look for signs of combat. With so many monsters, I'm sure Mitsuki and the fake Miyako will end up stuck in a battle somewhere they cannot avoid."
Looking at the ruins of the Atlantis civilization, I answered.
Nearby, Lisa agreed.
"Even if we fail to locate her, so long as we reach the unknown territory first, we will be able to spread up and set up a perimeter. As such, I agree with moving faster."
While watching the sky for threats, Ariella nodded too.
"Even if monsters approach, we can rely on Mononobe-kun to shoot them down as long as they're not too many. Atla, how far away is the unknown territory?"
Looking at the terminal in my hand, Ariella asked.
"The mist covering the unknown territory extends roughly 50 kilometers. We have 39 kilometers to go. On foot, the complicated route will be quite long, but flying straight, you can reach it in less than fifteen minutes."
"Well, there probably will be things in our way, so it's not going to be that easy... But the fact that the unknown territory hasn't disappeared means that Mitsuki might be forced to travel on land. We should be able to beat her by ten minutes."
Ariella spoke in bright voice. I felt hopeful too.
But five minutes later, before we reached the unknown territory, some kind of anomalous scene entered our view.
The first to notice was Kili.
"What... is that?"
Continuing to fly at high speed, she pointed ahead.
On the ground was the strange urban landscape of Atlantis, but slightly further ahead, the streets changed completely.
There was a huge bowl-like hole on the ground, surrounded by collapsed buildings. It looked like something gigantic had stepped on it.
"Let us go down and investigate the situation."
We nodded to acknowledge Lisa's suggestion and landed on the ground depression that was filled with debris from buildings.
Walking over rubble and checking out the ground situation, we discovered a deep fissure. The shells and calcified coral covering the roads were also in disarray.
"No signs of erosion on the sides of the rubble. This... damage is recent."
Picking up a piece of debris, I spoke. Similarly inspecting the rubble, Ariella lifted her head and looked back and forth at the deeply sunken wasteland.
"Then could this be the result of a battle? Was Mitsuki fighting here...? But what could have caused this—"
"Let us discuss this later. It is possible for Mitsuki-san to be buried in the rubble. Let us first examine the depression and the surrounding area."
Interrupting Ariella, Lisa urged. However, Kili did not look motivated.
"Now that you've finally encountered a clue, I don't really mind if you want to investigate... But shouldn't we avoid separating?"
I asked Kili. Hearing that Mitsuki might be buried alive, I was about to rush out in a hurry.
"Yuu, calm down. Normally, you'd figure it out quickly. Unable to use Ether Wind, your sister has no means of killing the monsters here. If we're talking about her, rather than getting buried under rubble, wouldn't the inability to fight monsters be much more likely?"
"I-I guess you're right."
Noticing that I was losing composure from haste, I reflected on myself.
"Well, with Ether Wind at our disposal, there shouldn't be any enemy we can't fight. But just in case, let's stay in pairs. So Yuu and I will—"
"Going by sequence, it's my turn, right?"
Ariella cut in between Kili and me, then smiled.
"Wait a sec, that's just the order for taking Yuu flying—"
"Really? But I suspect you'll do something weird if we let you spend time alone with Mononobe-kun... If Mitsuki witnessed it, that'd cause unnecessary trouble."
Ariella responded to Kili with a look of distrust.
"A fair point indeed. Kili-san, you and I shall work together this time. Ariella-san and Mononobe Yuu will be responsible for investigating the interior of the depression. We shall circle the vicinity in the air. Do not spend too much time. Let us converge here again fifteen minutes later."
"D-Don't just decide on your own!"
Lisa grabbed Kili's hand from the side, dragging the complaining Kili, and flew into the sky. With both of them capable of flight taking responsibility for a wider area, this was a good judgment call.
Watching them leave, Ariella and I exchanged a wry smile before starting our search of the depression.
"—Mitsuki is nowhere to be found."
I nodded at Ariella who was murmuring with a tense expression.
"Yeah, but we can't lower guard even if we find her safe and sound. That fake Shinomiya Miyako is definitely by Mitsuki's side."
I replied while looking at the mounds of debris in the surroundings. Ariella gazed at her hand.
"Something born from end matter, right? Although it feels scary, if the enemy takes on human form, then Code Lost can be used. You and I, Mononobe-kun... can surely kill her."
"The enemy is not human, so don't take it for granted. Speaking of which, Ariella, you don't have to force yourself."
Ariella had always feared the power of Code Lost, capable of killing humans easily. Although her authority had transferred to me when I defeated her, during the redistribution afterwards, it returned almost unaltered to her again.
If Ariella saw defeating the fake Shinomiya Miyako as "murder," she would probably fail to go through with it.
"Thank you, Mononobe-kun, but you don't have to worry about me. I know. She is the devil who's been tempting Mitsuki the whole time. I haven't met her before, so I rationalize this. If it were my friend... I probably wouldn't be able to do it."
Saying that, Ariella smiled wryly.
Mitsuki, Lisa and Firill were the ones who entered Midgard at the same time as Shinomiya Miyako. Ariella and Ren had joined Brynhildr Class after Shinomiya Miyako's death.
As for me, I had only seen the manifestation of her "soul" through Ether Wind at the laboratory where the Kraken's remains were kept.
"If possible, I don't want to fight in front of Mitsuki and Lisa."
I prayed quietly.
Mitsuki seemed to know that Shinomiya Miyako was a fake, but probably had difficulty completely convincing herself.
Incidentally, I had a feeling that things wouldn't go that smoothly. After all, we still didn't even know if we could catch up to Mitsuki.
While walking on the rubble, I looked for clues everywhere. If there was something, it must be at the center of the crater, right? Ariella and I slowly went down the slope.
"Hmm, if possible, I hope we can be the ones to end things."
Ariella agreed with a determined voice while staying alert of the surroundings.
'Who will be the one to kill... Humans concerned about means are such a pain in so many ways.'
In my chest pocket, Atla's voice sounded from the terminal.
That reminded me, she was here too. Thinking this, I took out the terminal from my pocket and placed it on my hand.
"Well, but for us, it's not that easy to distinguish between means and ends until finally death is reached."
Even if ends were everything, there was more to come after achieving an end. The means arising from a certain end would be waiting. Hence, in order not to have regrets, one had to put in more thought, to accumulate decisions that were deemed the best possible at the time.
'The ability to continue calculating in spite of unsolvable equations, human processing power is quite impressive to me in some ways. If I were in your place, my brain would probably reach an error and explode.'
"Humans are surprisingly tough. So tough that they'd survive even if they must kill someone."
Smiling wryly at Atla's surprise and praise, I continued my search.
Although buildings were destroyed, there were large pieces of debris in the surroundings, indicating the presence of a large building in the past. Stout columns were piled up, fallen over on the ground, producing many dead ends.
To avoid sudden attacks, I focused my mind and sensed the surroundings.
However—Even though I was on maximum alert, this voice instantly sounded from next to me.
"And here I was, wondering what you're chatting about. A discussion about killing me? Hello, dangerous people."
I gasped and jumped back. Ariella reacted at almost the same time.
Appearing from behind a column was a girl with a face very similar to Shinomiya-sensei and Shion. Shoulder-length black hair, fluttering in the wind. She was smiling. I did not know if it was the effect of end matter, but her skin color was different from Shinomiya-sensei and Shion's, darkened like having a sun tan.
"The fake... Shinomiya Miyako, huh?"
I turned my sharp gaze at the thing with Shinomiyako's form. Perhaps because she was not alive, that was why I couldn't sense her presence.
"I can't believe you choose to appear before us. What are you planning by coming here?"
Instantly creating a knife from dark matter, Ariella lowered her stance and asked. The tip of that knife would instantly pierce where Shinomiya Miyako was standing, any time she wished to do so.
I too synthesized my fictional armament, the gun Siegfried, and prepared to take action any moment.
Although her goal was unknown, this was an opportunity.
Since we were surrounded by a coating of our spirit, manifested through Ether Wind, physical attacks were ineffective against us. Also, it was two against one, without needing to worry about Mitsuki and Lisa.
Now would be the time if we were to kill—
However, we did not take action. Shinomiya Miyako's calm expression made us wary.
"What am I planning, huh?"
Despite clearly sensing our intent to kill, Shinomiya Miyako leisurely pondered with arms crossed.
Then apparently coming up with the answer, she lowered her arms and smiled at us.
"Hmm—broadly speaking, I have had only one goal all along."
Looking for a chance to strike, I asked.
"Yes. Me... All I want is to save Mitsuki. From the moment I met her, ever since—That is what I live for."
The instant she confessed, calamity struck.
My body suddenly felt heavy. It was like being pushed down by an invisible hand.
I heard Ariella's surprised voice.
Unable to stand, I fell on my knees. Looking up, I saw a rainbow-colored halo above Shinomiya Miyako's head. In her hand was a fictional armament in the shape of a pure-black naginata—No, since there wasn't a faint glow on the blade, that was probably a mass of end matter.
However, more than the sudden change, it was her expression that drew my attention.
Until just now, she had looked so calm and confident, but currently, Shinomiya Miyako was glaring at me with anger on her face.
"Please do not resist. It is too late to resist by now."
This was a deep voice filled with emotions surging from the heart.
Far too human—A gaze with mix of hatred, pain and sorrow.
Seeing this, a certain idea popped up in my mind.
No logic. No grounds. Purely instinct.
Even so, I could not reject the idea that my own mind had produced. My voice continued to echo in my mind.
—This Shinomiya Miyako could very well be the real Shinomiya Miyako.
An hour prior to Mononobe Yuu and Areilla Lu encountering Shinomiya Miyako. In a wasteland inside Ragnarok—
"Huff... Huff... Huff..."
I—Mononobe Mitsuki—was panting, sitting inside a building I had sneaked into.
My legs were shaking, unable to even stand. My entire body was breaking out in cold sweat. My drenched clothing felt very uncomfortable.
"Hoo boy, that was so close. That thing was completely different from the other astral lifeform gods. Oh well, I did send it underground as much as I could, so it won't be chasing after us for a while."
Entering the building together with me, Miyako-san spoke in a cheerful tone of voice.
Despite saying it was "close," she had not sweated at all. Despite having run quite a distance, she did not seem tired in the slightest.
—Not human, as expected.
Although it was something I already knew about, after witnessing that immense power of hers, I began to fear her. Yet she looked so much like Miyako.
When looking at her, my heart would get all jumbled up, making it impossible for me to think, so I lowered my head.
"...Thank you for saving me."
In spite of everything, gratitude was warranted after all.
The astral lifeform we had encountered just now as clearly different from phantasmal beasts and monsters. Only through Miyako-san crushing everything in the area were we able to halt the enemy, allowing us to escape to here.
Perhaps that was a god from a bygone age.
"No need to thank me. All I want is to help you, Mitsuki, that's why I'm traveling with you. Well, however, if you feel grateful to me, I wish you'd listen to me more."
Miyako-san sat down right in front of me, speaking in a slightly sad voice. I looked up to see her staring at me with a serious gaze.
"Hey Mitsuki, could you stop trying to save the world by doing something ridiculous like killing yourself? If you do that, you're not going to gain anything, right?"
"......To me, living would be more painful. I am the happiest now as Nii-san's number one, hence, things ought to end here. Nii-san will never kill me to save the world, so this is what you call two birds one stone."
I voiced the conclusion I had reached when I learned "the method to save the world."
ALthough I had no need to find companions, perhaps because she resembled my dear friend so much in appearance, I could not help but talk freer.
"Then if you want to save the world, just pass all of the end matter to me. I will die in your place, if that's what you want, Mitsuki."
"Do you really think I will believe that?"
I answered with my eyes narrowed. She smiled wryly.
"Well, I am aware that I'm not that persuasive. But you could try trusting me. Suppose you lost the reason of 'saving the world,' then you won't want to suicide, right?"
"Well...... No, even without that, I will still—"
I thought briefly, then shook my head at this meaningless hypothetical.
Miyako-san sighed with surprise at my response.
"Man you are in deep. Do you really like your brother that much? From what I can see, he's just a shameful guy who has neither the ability to choose the one girl he likes nor the courage to reject girls."
I could not help but smile at the merciless criticism. Indeed, someone who did not understand Nii-san would might reach such a conclusion. But—
"Nii-san does not lack the courage to reject girls. No matter how strong her affection, if accepting a girl's feelings would lead to her misfortune, Nii-san would give her a clear rejection, even if the girl had yet to confess. I have personally witnessed similar incidents many times."
Recalling the past during elementary school, I spoke. Nii-san might describe himself as unpopular, but he definitely acted with initiative back then.
Back in those days, Nii-san was taking seriously his promise to marry me in the future. But after that, he lost memories due to his deal with Yggdrasil and took on many burdens. But without courage, he never would have abandoned what he already possessed.
"For sure, Nii-san hopes that everyone dear to him can be happy. He is seriously thinking of bringing happiness to me, Iris-san and the others. To achieve this, the only way is to take responsibility for everyone who had turned into his mate."
I replied with confidence. I did not find Nii-san's choice to be shameful at all.
However, Miyako-san asked me with an unconvinced look.
"But with this, aren't you faced with misfortune then, Mitsuki!?"
Seeing her looking like she was about to cry, I felt my heart rend.
"...No, I am happy. Even if Nii-san had chosen me alone and distanced himself from the others, I would have done the same."
Once the Ninth Calamity was destroyed, the Nii-san who regarded me as number one would no longer exist. This was immutable. Even without any rivals, I probably could not come to accept this.
"Mitsuki, you're so stubborn. If you won't change your mind, I'll stop helping you, got that?"
I did not back down. We stared each other in the eye.
I had already made my decision and had no intention to stop. Neither had I any intention to listen to her sweet lies.
"Are you sure? Without me, you have no way of handling astral lifeforms. You know that, right? No matter what path you take, you'll eventually run into them, so going it alone is not possible for you."
"Hmm.. Indeed, I have no means of opposing beast-like astral lifeforms. However, the one just now was an exception. So long as I choose my enemies, I will be able to break through."
After I answered in a firm tone of voice, Miyako slowly stood up expressionlessly.
"Is that so? Fine."
Seeing her about to leave the building, I reflexively reached out—But halfway, I noticed it and stopped myself.
Yet even though my hand had not touched her, she stopped at the exit and looked back.
"If you've made up your mind to die, Mitsuki, I have my considerations too. I am going off to make preparations, don't strain yourself."
Looking at her eyes whose emotions I could not read, a bad feeling rose up in my heart.
However, before I could respond, she left the building. By the time I raced out frantically to chase her, she was already out of sight.
I hesitated whether I should go find her, but decided that the risk of encountering enemies on my own was too big.
There was no time for anything unnecessary. In any case, I must move forward—To achieve my objective.
Steeling my determination, I set off in what I believed was the direction of the unknown territory. Although the paths were winding, perhaps due to the end matter within me, I felt as though I was being guided.
Though I had no idea what Miyako-san was planning, all I needed to do was end everything before that.
The destination was near.
Flying off from Mitsuki's side, Shinomiya Miyako deployed a gigantic rainbow-colored halo around herself, speeding through the hazy mist.
Approaching astral lifeforms were sent flying before they could touch her.
Were she serious, getting to the unknown territory would be very easy too. She had lent a minimum level of assistance to Mitsuki, hoping to buy time to persuade her.
However, no matter how she pleaded, Miyako still failed to change Mitsuki's mind. Hence, she must take a different approach.
With many things weighing on her mind, Shinomiya Miyako increased her flying speed.
However, she was not flying towards the unknown territory. She was going back the way they had come from.
Ahead of her was the boundary between Ragnarok and the external world.
A heavy wall of mist isolating a world.
White mist covered the unknown territory.
On the sea near the white mist, the NIFL battleship, the Naglfar, was moored.
"I wonder... if Mononobe has found Mitsuki-chan."
On the deck of the Naglfar, Iris Freya murmured, looking at the wall of pure white mist.
"Lisa is with him. Don't worry."
Leaning against the railing on the deck, Tia spoke up. Close by, Ren nodded too.
"Yes, Onee-chan is there too."
However, sitting on the deck, reading a book, Firill sighed lightly.
"It worries me that Kili is there too. I feel that she might say something unnecessary and rub Mitsuki the wrong way. I'm so worried that I can't even read anymore..."
Hearing that, Iris hurried over to Firill's side, clenched her fist and insisted:
"Kili-chan will definitely help Mononobe! She won't get in the way!"
"Why are you so certain?"
Firill asked in surprise, causing Iris to reply with a stunned look on her face.
"Eh? Why...? I don't think Kili-chan will want Mononobe to really hate her, right..."
Hearing this answer, Firill giggled.
"Fufu, now that you mention it—That's true. That mischievousness of hers, the tendency to bully those she likes... Perhaps that reminds me of a stray cat. But now, the impression is more of a dog now."
This time, it was Iris' turn to tilt her head in puzzlement.
"Kili is not a dog!"
Tia interjected with doubt on her face. However, Ren seriously made a correction.
"...Tia, that's a metaphor. I get it. The current Kili get overjoyed when Onii-chan asks her for help. She's a dog but in a different way than Jeanne."
Firill nodded contentedly after hearing Ren agree with her.
"Yes, that's it. If Jeanne is a loyal dog, then Kili would be a big dog that likes to seek your attention. Those two apparently worked together for a while, so they might be similar in nature."
"Firill... You mustn't repeat this before any of them."
Ren warned in exasperation. Firill suddenly looked back and forth across the deck then exhaled with relief.
"Great... We weren't overheard. Jeanne is with Shion, right?"
"Yes, Shion has not woken up at all, so she's very worried about her."
Ren replied. Iris also looked all over the deck.
"Eh? Vritra's gone too? We clearly came here together..."
"She got bored and returned to her cabin to sleep!"
Tia answered Iris' question.
"Well... There hasn't been any new developments after all. I can understand how she feels."
Smiling wryly, Firill looked at the wall of mist.
A sudden change—happened right then and there.
Suddenly, the mist expanded from inside. With a strange buzzing sound, a circular opening was gouged out from the wall of mist. After a while, a gust of strong wind blew towards the Naglfar.
The book in Firill's hand was blown all the way to the door of the entrance.
"T-Tia is going to be blown away!?"
Desperately holding onto the railing, Tia screamed.
"Mm... What is going on?"
Lowering her posture to resist the strong wind, Ren looked at someting flying out from the hole in the mist and gasped.
What came out first was a rainbow-colored halo with a diameter of a few dozen meters. Shimmering like aurora lights, the halo had many layers. In the center, a girl was floating.
"Ah—That person is..."
Iris cried out and looked in Firill's direction.
Indeed, among them, Firill was the only one who knew "her."
Firill quietly spoke the girl's name. Iris and the others looked into the air with an "I knew it" kind of expression. Soon after Shinomiya Miyako and the multi-layered halo exited the mist, the hole was quickly filled in.
The bridge had probably identified Shinomiya Miyako too. The sound of engine rumbling was heard from under the deck, accompanied by vibrations. The Naglfar started to turn around.
Loki Jotunheim's voice was broadcast outside the ship.
"—We will strike using the main cannon Babel Replica. To avoid the aftershock, everyone on deck must evacuate immediately."
"S-Suddenly attacking? Shouldn't we listen to her if she has something to say—"
Iris questioned, but Firill frowned and grabbed her hand.
"That isn't the real Miyako. It's something unidentified, created from end matter. Attacking is the right call. We too must fight."
Saying that, Firill generated her grimoire fictional armament, summoning wind to pull away from the Naglfar.
With the prow pointed at Shinomiya Miyako, the Naglfar began to hover. At the prow was a cannon whose tip was bifurcated. It glowed with blinding light from within.
"It's identical to Mononobe's anti-dragon armament..."
Looking at the Naglfar's main cannon, Iris murmured.
"Well, it is a replica of Babel after all."
From the air looking down at the main cannon that was about to fire, Firill concurred.
More than just the main cannon, the entire ship was an anti-dragon armament created using Atla's data as the foundation and actualized using modern technology. It was only natural for the Naglfar's Babel to be similar to Marduk's original.
"Count down initiated. Three, two, one—"
Loki's voice sounded, conveying the timing of the shot.
Despite being in the main cannon's line of fire, Shinomiya Miyako made no effort to evade.
However, just before the main cannon fired, the rainbow-colored halo disintegrated, fluttered in the air, then recombined in front of Shinomiya Miyako to form a shield.
A black flash was fired. This flash was a supergravitational discontinuity that devoured everything including light.
This destructive power, distorting space and putting cracks on the surrounding scenery, clashed violently with the rainbow-colored halo deployed by Shinomiya Miyako.
A ripple appeared in the world. The ripple spread through the air, causing the ocean surface to drop greatly.
The shockwave also reached Firill and Iris immediately. Their reinforced air barrier was blown away.
"She blocked it...!"
Watching the two powers clash, Iris exclaimed in surprise.
The supergravitational discontinuity had not struck Shinomiya Miyako. The rainbow-colored halo had stopped it.
However, it was not a balanced stalemate. Layer after layer of the multi-layered rainbow-colored halo became distorted, shattered then fell apart.
"No, the attack should be able to break through if it continued—But..."
Firill disagreed with Iris but made a pained look.
It was obvious from a glance. The halo barrier was quite thick.
Sure enough, before the entire halo was penetrated, the black light weakened and disappeared. It was either insufficient energy or the barrel had reached its limit.
"Hey, should Tia attack?"
"I am ready. Any time."
Tia and Ren approached, waiting for Firill's instructions. Realizing she was the oldest among her teammates here, Firill spoke with a stiff expression.
"Wait. Ordinary attacks probably won't work. We will scatter and from three different directions—"
But before she could finish, Firill noticed. Shinomiya Miyako was looking at them.
The rainbow-colored halo gathered over Shinomiya Miyako and contracted. Looking almost like an angel with a halo, Shinomiya Miyako raised her hand.
Instantly, Firill and company experienced heavy weight.
It felt like gravity had multiplied, causing their bodies to become heavy. Unable to remain in the air, Firill and the others descended bit by bit, desperately using wind to slow down.
However, they were over the ocean. The only place to land was the deck of the Naglfar.
"S-So heavy, it hurts..."
Tia managed to land on the deck, but collapsed, unable to support herself.
Landing with Firill, Iris tried to get to Tia's side, but walking was difficult. Halfway, she had to crawl.
"The Naglfar is also... falling."
Landed on the edge of the deck, Ren looked down at the ocean and gasped. The hovering Naglfar was being pushed down towards the ocean by an invisible force.
"What... is this? Miyako's power?"
Looking up at Shinomiya Miyako who had raised a hand, Firill wondered.
Next, she met gazes with Shinomiya Miyako.
Shinomiya Miyako smiled faintly then slowly descended to where Firill and the others were.
"Firill, it's been a long time. How are you doing?"
Smiling cheefully, Shinomiya Miyako greeted cordially.
"...Amazing. Really... Identical. But I know you are an impostor. Impostor... Stop acting familiar with me."
Despite her surprise, Firill glared at the Shinomiya Miyako who had landed within speaking distance.
"Indeed, I am an impostor. I am your enemy, born from end matter—remains that had met demise eons ago. However... In spite of that, I am still me."
With a mixture of laughter and sorrow on her face, Shinomiya Miyako raised her hand at the sky.
Next, a black sphere appeared parallel to her hand.
The sphere gradually grew big, forming a dark mass that did not seem three dimensional at all.
"Dark matter...? No, it's normally impossible to generate so much at once. Then could it be—"
Looking down at Firill, who was mustering all her strength just to look up, Shinomiya Miyako nodded.
"Indeed, this is end matter. This is the darkness when all life and matter reach their end. The 'Black Egg of Angolmois'—the realm of death thirsting for new life. This is the 'ninth calamity' seeking to destroy this planet. Unable to use your authority to its full potential, you lot have no way of countering it."
Firill repeated the name with a frown. Shinomiya Miyako spoke with pity.
"That is the name of the world that will soon be born. However, that is irrelevant to you. Forget it."
"...You intend to kill us?"
Feeling the despair brought by the expanding dark mass, Firill asked hoarsely. But her question only caused Shinomiya Miyako to snort coldly.
"Kill you? Don't make me laugh. For us—end matter—what else could be more valuable than the living? As such... Absorbing you alive should be obvious."
The pitch black sphere arrived over the heads of Firill and the others. The darkness was descending like an avalanche.
Iris suddenly released a red flash of Catastrophe towards the air.
It was a powerful authority, capable of penetrating time to weather away all creation.
However, the red destruction vanished, swallowed by the darkness.
"How could weathering be effective against that which has met demise?"
Shinomiya Miyako mocked.
Leaving these words, Iris was sucked into the descending darkness.
Helpless, Tia and Ren disappeared into the torrent of darkness. Firill called out to the enemy who had taken her precious companions.
However, her voice too was swallowed by the darkness. The deck of the Naglfar was smeared with a vast swathe of pure black.
Although faint blue lights flashed in the darkness, they were gradually weakening.
"Weak lights—All you can do is illuminate yourself. Sorry, Firill... You are my dear friend, but Mitsuki is my number one."
Shinomiya Miyako spoke to the sea of end matter.
At the same time, she already knew there would be no reply—
|Back to Chapter 1||Return to Main Page||Forward to Chapter 3|