Unlimited Fafnir:Volume 3 Chapter 3

From Baka-Tsuki
Jump to: navigation, search

Chapter 3 - Mistelteinn Falling from Heaven[edit]

Part 1[edit]

The red monster was moving across a whitened sea surface.

Roughly fifty meters in body length, its appearance would probably be best summed up as that of a giant lizard. However, this creature was not just a gigantic reptile.

A clearly harmful existence that humanity even feared to fight, while being the dragon that humanity had left alone for roughly two decades—"Red" Basilisk.

It was also the name of a legendary monster recorded in ancient myths.

It was extremely difficult for humans to approach Basilisk, but if they could witness this monster up close, anyone would probably hold their breath in response to its intimidating visage.

As humanity's foe, Basilisk was quite magnificent and resplendent in appearance.

After all, Basilisk's body was covered with red-tinted scales of diamond. Around its neck and on its back where giant crystals shaped like stone pillars, giving off dazzling brilliance.

Accordingly, its body weight seemed quite heavy. On every step, its feet sank into the ground of salt. The scene was almost like watching a small mountain move.

Despite moving slowly, Basilisk was undoubtedly moving steadily. Without hesitation, neither sleeping nor resting, it gradually approached its destination.

Finally, the world of white broke off, giving way to the navy-blue ocean. However, as soon as Basilisk shot out red beams from its eyes, the wavy sea surface instantly turned into a desert of salt.

This was precisely why Basilisk was feared. The power known as "petrification" in legends of the past.

However, such a description was inaccurate, because the true nature of Basilisk's power was something else.

While creating a road of salt on the sea, Basilisk moved forward, step by step.

Nothing was capable of halting its advance. At least, that was the way things were originally—

With a shudder of its body, Basilisk seemed to react to something and looked up into the sky.

The monster's eyes, the bane of all creation, clearly captured what had appeared high in the sky, even beyond the range of its red beams of petrification.

Then Basilisk instantly realized it was something dangerous to it—

Part 2[edit]

After Mitsuki and the girls left the hot spring in a hurry, I made my way to the changing room while staying vigilant of my surroundings. An emergency meeting was about to be held, so I had to hurry back. My terminal back in my cabin had probably received the same notification too.

Unable to find my clothes in the changing room, I felt nervous for a moment until I found them placed behind the shelves. Firill probably hid them for me to prevent others from seeing them.

Hence, I hastily put on my clothes, returned to the ship and went directly to the conference room. It looked like I made it in time. Everyone was still chatting in the room.

The flush on their faces from the bath had not subsided yet, making them look especially sexy. I also seemed to be smelling a fragrant scent.

"—Nii-san, you are late."

Just as I was experiencing their after-bath aura, Mitsuki spoke to me from the side.

"Oh, uh... I was a bit occupied."

"Judging from the way you look Nii-san, you just had a bath too?"

Mitsuki asked while staring at my face. Thinking closely, I was soaked in the hot spring even longer than everyone else. That combined with abundant stimulation, my face was probably even redder than the girls'.

"Y-Yeah, I happened to be showering, so I found out about the notification a bit later."

Concealing the wavering in my heart, I explained myself. Mitsuki glared at me suspiciously but after seeing Shinomiya-sensei enter the conference room, she sighed.

"Hoo—Very well, let us assume that was what happened. Shinomiya-sensei has arrived too. Nii-san, take your seat."

Hence, I sat down at Mitsuki's urging.

After confirming that everyone were seated, Shinomiya-sensei stood in front of the whiteboard and started to talk.

"—I was just notified by NIFL that they will carry out their long-planned operation at 0600 tomorrow. They believe that things will be settled with almost complete certainty with this. If their prediction proves to be correct, then there will be nothing left for us to do."

Hearing this, Lisa raised her hand and spoke.

"From our standpoint, if NIFL were to defeat Basilisk, that would be fine and all... But would things really go that smoothly?"

"Well, they seem to have substantial grounds backing their claim. Apart from detailed specifics of the operation, NIFL has provided us with all the latest data they have gathered and analyzed. Let's take a look together now."

Shinomiya-sensei operated something resembling a remote, then a screen was lowered from the ceiling. The lights switched off and the screen displayed what seemed to be the data provided by NIFL.

"According to this data, NIFL has not only identified Basilisk's power but also used various methods to corroborate. If their operation was devised based on this data, reliability ought to be quite high."

"...So they've identified Basilisk's power."

Hearing Firill's light whisper, Shinomiya-sensei nodded in confirmation while using a laser pointer on the data on the screen.

"It has already come to light that the true nature of the phenomenon caused by Basilisk's red light is—Weathering."

Hearing Shinomiya-sensei say that, a clamor started in the room. But sitting in front of me, Tia looked back and asked me quietly:

"Yuu, what is weathering?"

"Uh... Take a huge rock for example. If it's exposed to sun and rain constantly, it'll crack and break apart, becoming smaller and smaller, right? Weathering refers to changes like that, which are caused by time."

Listening to our conversation, Shinomiya-sensei nodded firmly in agreement then continued:

"—Indeed, the cause of weathering is time. In other words, Basilisk attacks by speeding up time."

Speeding up... time?

Although Shinomiya-sensei said it so nonchalantly, wasn't that actually quite outrageous?

"By experimenting with different radioactive substances of varying half-lives, NIFL observed the passage of hundreds to several tens of thousands of years in materials that were exposed to the Basilisk's red light. Although the range is quite wide, further analysis revealed that the effect depended on the duration of exposure. Taking this factor into account, it is now known that a single second of exposure results in fast forwarding two thousand years or so."

"T-Two thousand years huh..."

Even Mitsuki's voice went hoarse.

"Yes, a human would turn into bones or dust in an instant. This is the most terrible attack for living creatures. We have tentatively named this power 'Catastrophe.' Although scholars seem to be hypothesizing something about tachyons, the fundamental mechanism still eludes understanding. But now that the phenomenon has been identified as weathering, it is possible to devise countermeasures."

Shinomiya-sensei shifted her laser pointer then proceeded to explain the NIFL's intended plan.

"Time will affect all matter without exception. But even so, there exists materials that do not change easily. Materials of that sort should be able to endure Basilisk's light to some extent. The method they are using this time is to drop a mithril-covered bomb vertically from the sky above the target."

The laser pointed at a photograph depicting the bomb's appearance. Shaped like an upside-down cone, wide and flat, it resembled a top.

"Just as all of you know, mithril is the hardest and most stable alloy, the best choice for making shields. Through rigorous calculations regarding the durability of mithril, a weapon capable of reaching Basilisk has been designed—the large-scale anti-Basilisk bomb, Mistilteinn."

Mistilteinn... I recalled that it was a spear featured in Norse mythology, made from a parasitic plant, but that was not important. If what was said so far were true, then this weapon could almost certainly kill Basilisk. No wonder NIFL was so confident.

I raised my hand and asked Shinomiya-sensei:

"What is the probability of success in your view, Shinomiya-sensei?"

"—50%, I guess. Dragons are unknown beings and the data obtained so far cannot be guaranteed to be correct. NIFL believes that there are no other options apart from this. They seem to think that their operation will succeed, but I cannot share such optimism."

Shinomiya-sensei shrugged and answered gravely.

"No other options...? Since its power has been analyzed so thoroughly, there should be other ways..."

"It can be said that there are no other methods precisely because its power has been analyzed. Dropping a bomb vertically was chosen because a ballistic missile flying on a parabolic trajectory would have its kinetic energy weathered away the instant it is exposed to the red light. In this regard, if gravity substitutes for propulsion, its effects will still persist despite the fast forwarding of time. And using projectile weaponry is also a crucial point, because NIFL's beam weaponry is useless due to scattering by the diamond scales."

After hearing this explanation, I definitely could not think of other methods. But perhaps Mitsuki could. She raised her hand and asked Shinomiya-sensei.

"What about land mines? According to precedent, the red light does not affect the ground surface very much, possibly because there is very little change to the land even after thousands of years. If that is the case, as long as bombs were installed underground before hand..."

"That has been tried already, but Basilisk will sweep everything in front of its direction of advance, which means that the land mines must be placed deep in the ground to be free from the effects. But with that, the explosion would be discovered before it reaches the ground surface and the explosion itself would end up getting fast forwarded by the light."

"The explosion itself will... Then our plan needs to thoroughly revised too."

Mitsuki fell into deep thought with a troubled expression.

On the Midgard side, our plan was to use the volcanic island as cover to launch our attacks, wiping out Basilisk together with the island. But that was almost no different from detonating landmines at Basilisk's feet. As the saying goes, offense is the best defense. Basilisk's power was precisely that.

"Fortunately, we still have time, so let's think of a new battle plan based on the data we have received this time. That being said, if NIFL were to defeat Basilisk for us, we won't need to worry."

Shinomiya spoke with a wry smile then switched on the light in the room and retracted the screen.

"Assemble at the bridge at 0530 tomorrow. NIFL will send a live feed of their operation to us. They seem quite eager to show off their power to us."

"0530..."

Firill expressed overt resentment in her tone. Perhaps she was not good at getting up early.

"Don't oversleep, okay? If anyone fails to show up at the appointed time, I will personally punch them awake."

After reminding us, Shinomiya-sensei left the conference room. Perhaps with things to discuss, Mitsuki also chased after Shinomiya-sensei rapidly. The other classmates chatted while leaving their seats.

Like everyone else, I was walking to the door when I noticed Tia still sitting in her seat.

"What's wrong, Tia? Meeting's over."

I went back and placed my hand on Tia's shoulder. I immediately felt minor trembling.

"...Are you scared?"

"Yeah... After hearing about Basilisk, Tia suddenly started shaking."

Tia showed uneasiness on her face while looking up at me, speaking in a feeble tone of voice.

"Well, its power is quite outrageous, after all. I can't believe it can fast forward time. It's totally out of this world."

"If someone gets hit by the beam... They'll turn into bones?"

Tia asked me with tears in her eyes.

"It'd be lucky to have bones remaining."

"Tia... absolutely don't want Yuu and everyone to die."

"Don't worry, we don't want to die either. We'll fight without turning into bones. Shinomiya-sensei and Mitsuki will think of a plan to achieve that."

To reassure Tia, I gently stroked her head.

Most likely, Tia finally became able to imagine concrete danger after hearing detail information about Basilisk.

"If only Tia could do something..."

"Tia, you're doing your job just by being here."

"Yeah... But if possible, Tia still wants to do more."

After listening to her, I thought for a while then suggested to her:

"In that case, it'll be very helpful to us if you cheer for us at critical moments. Just by doing that, chances of success will definitely rise for the operation."

"Really?"

"Yeah, because we will have better morale if someone cheers for us. With morale, we'll be able to bring out more power than normal."

Hearing me say that, Tia's face brightened up.

"Tia got it! Tia will cheer for everyone!"

"Good, but you'd better head back to your cabin and sleep earlier tonight. Otherwise, you won't be able to get up tomorrow, you know?"

"Yes! Goodnight, Yuu!"

Tia nodded vigorously and got up from her seat.

"Goodnight, Tia."

I smiled and answered while watching Tia racing off.

Part 3[edit]

The next morning, we the members of Brynhildr Class gathered at the bridge punctually.

Perhaps because the transport ship was moored, I did not see many crew. The sun still had yet to rise. From the bridge, the scenery consisted of a volcano's silhouette and a black sea surface with the starry sky as the background.

The bridge had a large monitor divided into several screens showing different videos. One of them showed a dark scene with noise in the signal. Another showed a group of fierce-looking men in military uniforms, standing in a row in a conference room.

'Colonel Shinomiya, watch carefully. Witness the moment when we of NIFL vanquishes Basilisk.'

"Yes, I look forward to it, Major-General Dylan."

Shinomiya-sensei was conversing with Major-General Dylan, a elderly man with a scar on his forehead. Judging from this, the people in the conference room shown on screen were the NIFL cadres involved in this operation.

'Naturally, I hold high regard for your abilities in vanquishing Kraken and Leviathan and driving off Hekatonkheir. Nevertheless, we cannot rely on Ds in every case. Now is the time when we need to defeat a dragon using mankind's power!'

Major-General Dylan shouted loudly. Simply stated, NIFL wanted the accomplishment of defeating a dragon. Surely, they wanted to erase their image as an agency for cleaning up after dragon disasters.

"Mm..."

Seeing the NIFL military officer speak with intimidating presence, Ren hid behind Ariella.

"Ren, what's the matter?"

Feeling strange, I asked her. Ariella smiled wryly and answered for her.

"Oh, Ren isn't very used to adult men."

"I see... Oh, then what about me?"

I was thinking I should feel bad if I had scared her in the past, so I asked.

"Haha, Mononobe-kun, you're fine. Ren said before that you feel like an older brother to her."

"—!? Mm! Mm~!"

Ren went red in the face and hammered her fists on Ariella's back.

"Oh, it was a secret? Sorry sorry."

Ariella scratched her head and apologized. Then Firill, whose upper body had been swaying in drowsiness the whole time, shook, then leaned over and said:

UnlimitedFafnir v03 150.jpg

"...Yes, I feel the same way too. Is it because he's Mitsuki's older brother that this impression is reinforced?"

"Eh, but Mononobe is definitely the younger brother type!"

Iris objected at this point.

"That is something I agree with. Mononobe Yuu is not cut out to be an older brother."

"L-Lisa-san, you are being very rude! Nii-san is undoubtedly my older brother!"

Hearing Lisa say that, Mitsuki refute her.

Major-General Dylan could apparently see what was happening on our side. He exhaled with an exasperated look.

'...Your subordinates are quite carefree.'

"I am terribly sorry—Everyone, please be quiet."

Hearing Shinomiya-sensei's warning, we all shut up.

"Umm..."

Tia's tiny voice was heard. Timidly, she walked up to the monitor and stared at the men on the other side.

'That pair of horns... You are the one whose dragon mark changed color this time.'

Major-General Dylan seemed to know about Tia and he spoke in a stiff tone of voice. Tia's horns were reminiscent of a dragon's and were seen as inauspicious, perhaps.

"Umm, Tia will cheer for everyone!"

However, Tia ignored the men's reactions and spoke as loud as she could.

'C-Cheer?'

On the other side, slightly uneasiness was spreading.

"Yes—Thank you for protecting Tia, Uncles! Tia will cheer for you all, so do your best!!"

The fierce-looking men were clearly shaken.

'W-What a good girl.' 'My daughter went through that kind of phase once—' 'Don't those horns look cute on closer examination...?'

Whispering voices could be heard.

Major-General Dylan was speechless for a while, but he coughed then said to Tia:

'Thank you for your well wishes. Leave it to Uncle.'

...I can't believe he called himself "Uncle"...

I stood there in shock, watching them converse, but Major-General Dylan resumed a soldier's demeanor and glared at me, forcing me to gasp.

'You look like you have something to say, soldier.'

"...N-No, nothing of that sort."

Intimidated by a seasoned warrior's forceful aura, I frantically shook my head and denied.

"Jeez, don't bully Yuu!"

'M-My apologies. I will put my all into this operation. Pray forgive me.'

As soon as Tia got angry, the Major-General went into a fluster and his tone of voice changed. He was almost like a grandfather doting on a granddaughter.

Then Major-General Dylan's fierce voice could be heard from the other side: 'Hey—Patch me through to Mistilteinn's transport team immediately. I will speak directly to their spirit.'

Thus, we had a bit of interaction with NIFL and the operation was finally about to begin.

'—Mistilteinn's mithril barrier has been thickened to the maximum weight that can be carried by four large transport aircrafts. Since Basilisk's attack range is roughly 5000 m, we will drop from an altitude of 8000 m.'

Major-General Dylan explained the operation to us.

"Regarding the vertical drop, is it possible to hit the target from that height?"

'Before it enters Basilisk's range, we will use fuel-injected thrusters to make minor position adjustments. Once exposure to the red beam begins, wind will no longer have an effect because all excess energy will be "weathered" away. Pulled by gravity alone, Mistilteinn will fall straight down.'

Major-General Dylan calmly answered Shinomiya-sensei's question.

"What about the possibility of Basilisk focusing on evasive maneuvers instead of counterattacking Mistilteinn?"

'According to all data collected to date, Basilisk always halts and stops moving to intercept whenever any object approaches it. Chances of it committing to escape are very low. Even if it switches to evasive action at the last second, Mistilteinn is capable of homing to some extent. Given Basilisk's slow speed, fleeing is impossible.'

Although Major-General Dylan sounded very confident, I could only find many flaws in the plan based on what I had heard so far. If Basilisk took any unexpected action, the plan would very likely fail.

However, even if the chances of success were almost certainly exaggerated, this plan was definitely the most effective attack devised so far. I hated to admit it but my mind was unable to come up with a better one.

'Well then... It is almost time. We will observe Mistilteinn's outcome together.'

The conference room video feed shrank in size while the screen with signal noise enlarged. This screen had grown brighter than earlier. I realized it was an image of Basilisk, taken from high in the sky extremely far away.

A small black shadow appeared on the white horizon. Although it only looked the size the of a pea, it was most likely Basilisk's figure.

Shown on the top left of the screen, the clock indicated the operation start time.

There was no change in the image, but Mistilteinn should have been dropped from 8000 m already.

Everyone stared at the monitor with bated breaths.

Just as someone gulped audibly, a red light flashed past. The red flash extended from the ground all the way up to the sky. Mistilteinn had probably entered Basilisk's range, 5000 m in the sky.

However, the horrifying time-stealing glow stopped before reaching the top of the sky, then started to be pushed gradually towards the ground.

Most likely, the descending Mistilteinn was blocking the red light. Just as NIFL's data indicated, Mistilteinn could withstand "weathering" from the red light.

But then calamity struck.

The narrow beam of red light rapidly expanded, increasing several times in girth, tearing through the pre-dawn sky.

Then several seconds later, the glow that originally seemed to be pushed back shot straight through the sky all at once.

It was evidence that the obstacle blocking the light had vanished.

'—Hey! What the hell happened!?'

Major-General Dylan's furious shot could be heard from the other side. Then a subordinate appeared on screen.

'Mistilteinn confirmed to be destroyed at approximately 2000 m high in the air. Operation failed, sir.'

'What!? Didn't Mistilteinn use enough mithril to withstand the attack?'

'All we can say is that the weathering rate exceeded our predictions. The observation and analysis team reports that Basilisk's back opened up to reveal a giant eyeball.'

'A new eyeball? Is that the reason why "Catastrophe" powered up...'

Major-General Dylan muttered with a grave expression. He turned his gaze to us.

'—Just as you all saw and heard, our power is apparently still insufficient against dragons.'

"No... Absolutely not. Basilisk opening a previously unseen third eye is evidence that it was cornered."

Although Shinomiya-sensei said that, Major-General Dylan shook his head with a wry smile.

'Even so, it means nothing unless we defeat Basilisk. This new eye—let's call it the third eye from now on—We will send the data over later. Please use it to ensure the success of your operation.'

"Thank you."

Shinomiya-sensei bowed in gratitude. Major-General Dylan nodded in acknowledgement then looked at Tia.

"Uncle..."

'Apologies, our strength was not enough even though you cheered for us.'

"No, it's okay, Uncle, thank you!"

Hearing Tia thank him, Major-General Dylan smiled.

'...Good luck.'

Communications were cut off after these words. The screen turned black. In contrast, the world outside the window gradually brightened, because the sun was rising.

I looked at everyone's face. Although we were a little disappointed, more or less, I could see the light of resolve in the girls' eyes.

They all understood that it was our turn to enter the battlefield.

I clenched my fist and faced forward. Squinting from the rising sun's bright rays, I turned my thoughts to the imminent day of the decisive battle—

Part 4[edit]

Ever since NIFL's failed operation on that day, all semblance of a vacation vanished completely.

The battle to protect Tia, laying our lives on the line, was approaching second by second.

Using the data sent by Major-General Dylan, we devised a new plan. Spending every day on pre-operation drills, we stopped having regular lessons.

The new data regarding Basilisk was quite despairing.

When the eye on its back opened, the range was roughly 10000 m. Exposure to the light caused time to fast forward on the order of hundreds of millions of years.

In light of that, Shinomiya-sensei and Mitsuki thought of an exceedingly simple plan.

Launching attacks capable of piercing diamond scales, with speed faster than it could react, from a blind spot outside Basilisk's attack range—This was what the new plan was about.

NIFL's beam weaponry did not have enough firepower, but Midgard had Ds who met requirements.

On a flat piece of unused land roughly a ten-minute walk from the pier, they were practicing nonstop today as well.

"Well then, Ren-san, let us begin!"

"Mm."

Lisa summoned her fictional armament while Ren placed her hand on Gungnir.

Immediately, Lisa's fictional armament grew in size with astounding speed, turning into a giant spear dozens of meters long. It was so large that one could not even wrap their arms around it, but Lisa and Ren were able to hold the fictional armament up simply through touch.

Fictional armaments were formed by altering the shape of dark matter, hence they could be manipulated through imagination alone. Furthermore, there was one fact, namely, dark matter had the property that it could be passed onto other Ds.

Right now, Lisa was borrowing Ren's dark matter to enlarge her own fictional armament.

However—

"Ah!?"

Lisa cried out in panic.

The spear's outline suddenly distorted then as though melting into the air, the fictional armament disappeared.

Borrowed dark matter ultimately belonged to someone else, hence controlling it was difficult and it would collapse like this immediately if one were to lower their guard for a moment. Hence, it was believed that using dark matter from more than two people was impossible.

When creating anti-dragon weaponry, I had borrowed dark matter from Mitsuki and Iris in the past, but in the actual process of transmutation, what I used was not my own imagination but blueprints downloaded onto my brain. Hence, I did not need to worry about such matters despite using other people's dark matter.

But delicate control was required in the case of Lisa and Ren.

"One more time!"

"Mm!"

Ren nodded in response to Lisa and they formed the giant fictional weapon of a spear again.

The school curriculum also included training on the transmission of dark matter. However, this technique was definitely unstable even with daily practice. Unless for exceptions like me, it would not be used in actual combat.

Nevertheless, there was no alternative but to rely on this technique to perform the attack needed for this operation.

—I had to work hard myself too.

I stopped watching them and returned to my own training.

In this operation, I was not assigned a clear task. Even if I wanted to attack using anti-dragon armaments from the island, the projectile firing Megiddo would get intercepted before the hit connected whereas Babel's supergravitational discontinuity probably could not be fired from outside Basilisk's range.

If there was something I could do, that was providing more options when everyone ran into an emergency. For this purpose, I kept training my control of antigravitational matter.

I raised my fictional armament—Siegfried—which had the appearance of an ornamental gun, then shot three bullets of antigravitational matter that had been adjusted to three different levels.

"Half Gravity."

The bullet fired upwards turned into brightly glittering white particles, falling on me. Then my body instantly felt lighter.

By covering myself with low-density antigravitational matter, I could reduce my weight by half. This technique lasted a long duration and its effects could be adjusted by increasing or decreasing the transmutation mass. In actual combat, this might be the most convenient transmutation to use.

"Gravity Zero."

The next bullet was shot into the ground ten-odd meters away. A sphere of antigravitational matter appeared with a bright white glow. All the pebbles in its surroundings also floated upwards. Then the sphere gradually shrank and when it disappeared, the floating pebbles fell down as well. Although this technique could create a temporary space of weightlessness, it would affect everything in a specific range, hence there were difficulties in using it.

"Antigravity."

The final bullet was transmuted into high-density antigravitational matter. Giving off blindingly bright light like a camera's flash, it caused nearby objects to fly away radially.

I had pretty much mastered the key principles, but I could probably control the Antigravity bullet better. During the battle against Kili, while under Fafnir's control, I was using antigravitational matter with greater skill than right now.

Using the Antigravity bullet with directionality to repel gunfire, distorting space to block attacks—If possible, I wished to reach that level.

The Fafnir that Major Loki had implanted into me and cultivated was a monster existing for murder. Hence, its responses were sluggish when fighting dragons instead. In the battle against Hekatonkheir last time, even when I was in a crisis, Fafnir still did not heed my calls. The same would probably happen in the case of Basilisk.

Precisely because of that, I must become adept in using antigravitational matter even my normal state, otherwise it would be pointless.

Since Siegfried disappeared after firing three shots' worth, I exhaled for now and looked around my surroundings. The others were keeping sufficient distance away, engaged in their own training.

Mitsuki, Firill and Ariella were part of the support team to take action if the first attack wave failed. They were practicing nonstop their task of protecting Lisa and Ren while switching to launch the second attack.

Meanwhile, Iris was standing alone at a cliff on the edge of the clearing, raising her Caduceus towards the sea.

Several buoys with red flags were floating on the sea, extending on a cord tied to large rock protruding out of the sea surface.

"—O holy silver, explode!"

Iris caused silver explosions, destroying the buoys one by one. She was carrying out sniping training. Point blank explosions of mithril might possibly be effective against Basilisk.

It was highly likely that lethal damage could be inflicted if she could aim from outside Basilisk's range.

However, aiming required the target to be within view, which meant she must enter Basilisk's line of sight as well. Even if she could be positioned outside Basilisk's range, such a high-risk plan could not possibly be approved.

Hence, Iris was in the same position as me, without any assigned task for now. Even so, because this was the only thing in her ability, she was honing her skills like this.

Currently, she had perfect aim as long as it was within 200 m, but her accuracy would decrease in stages the farther she got. Hence, aiming from outside Basilisk's attack range was probably impossible no matter what.

"O holy silver, explode!"

Just as I was thinking that, a buoy near the rock exploded. Its location was probably close to 1000 m away.

—No, if it's Iris, perhaps it might be possible after all.

I corrected my thought.

Iris always created explosions no matter what she made, hence, by applying that special trait to offense, she had acquired a strong advantage unique to her and no one else.

But what I wondered recently was whether the true nature of Iris' power might be something else?

For example, machines normally broke down when used incorrectly. Hence, perhaps Iris' ability was malfunctioning and causing explosions because her method of usage was incorrect?

If she used it correctly, perhaps something extremely amazing might result.

But this was just baseless fantasy.

Still, watching Iris working hard, I could not help but get this feeling.

—Perhaps Iris might turn out to be an amazing person far surpassing my imagination?

Maybe she noticed my gaze, Iris turned around and waved to me.

"Mononobe! Did you see that just now?"

"Yeah, I saw it!"

Iris asked me loudly and I shouted back.

—It's time I kept my promise to visit her room.

No one could predict what might happen on the battlefield. Anyone could easily lose their life, myself and the others included.

That was how things went on so-called battlefields. One would surely regret not doing things when the chance was available.

"Everyone! It's almost time for lunch!"

At this moment, Tia arrived, flying with her fictional armament, a pair of wings. Skillfully controlling the transmutation of air, she landed on the ground then ran towards me.

"Yuu, Tia helped with lunch today!"

"Then I definitely have to try it. I'm looking forward to it."

"Yeah!"

Tia nodded happily.

While we were training, Tia attended classroom lessons according to a separate timetable and sometimes helped the crew.

Since Tia was Basilisk's target and could not go on the frontline, she was working hard to do what she could do.

No one in Brynhildr Class was wasting their time.

Although under heavy surveillance, I must pay Iris' room a visit before the operation.

I committed this determination of mine firmly in my heart.

Part 5[edit]

When Basilisk reached the location two kilometers away from the volcanic island, my chance finally arrived. Since enemy contact would happen within three days at the quickest, everyone participating in the operation were summoned after dinner.

However, since Iris, Tia and I did not have particular tasks, we were excluded from the meeting.

I could not miss this excellent chance, so I left my cabin and made my way to Iris' cabin near the prow end of the ship.

Apart from cabin numbers, the girls' cabins also had their student numbers marked on the doors. B7—Seeing the plate that seemed to read No.7 of Brynhildr Class, I concluded it was probably Iris' cabin.

I tried my best to knock quietly. Then the door opened from the inside. Dressed in school uniform, Iris poked her head out.

"...Eh? Mononobe, what's up?"

"Well—Umm, didn't you invite me to your room last time?"

I scratched my cheek and replied.

"Oh, you still remember! I thought you already forgot!"

Smiling happily, Iris invited me into her cabin. Having lived on this ship for almost a month, Iris had left ample signs of someone living in this cabin. More specifically—It was very messy.

"Oh..."

Noticing pink underwear among the random mess of articles, I could not help but freeze.

"What's wrong—Eh? Ohhh! H-Hold on a sec, I'll tidy things up straight away!"

Blushing to her ears, Iris frantically ran about the cabin, gathering everything on the floor in a pile to create space. Only after making sure her underwear was out of sight, Iris let me into the room.

"S-Sorry about that. Come, sit down."

Iris scratched her head shyly and asked me to sit on the bed.

"It's okay, I've learned a bit more about you as a result, Iris."

"W-What did you learn?"

Sitting down next to me, Iris asked, shaken.

"You're not good at keeping your room tidy, right?"

"Ooh, d-don't say it out, please... Lisa-chan gets mad at me about this often too."

Iris slumped her shoulders dejectedly. I could immediately imagine Lisa lecturing at her to clean up her room.

"Speaking of which, back when I first transferred, you seem to have become closer friends with Lisa better."

"...Yeah, ever since the Leviathan incident, Lisa-chan has been caring for me often, but sometimes I'm scared of her, that's all."

Iris smiled wryly while she replied. Then suddenly thinking of something, she asked me:

"Oh right... I totally didn't notice, but Lisa-chan and Mitsuki-chan got into an argument, right? I heard Firill-chan say that you're working hard to resolve it."

"No really, what I did doesn't count as working hard..."

"It's not resolved yet?"

Seeing Iris with a worried face, I hastily said:

"Yeah, but don't worry. Right now, there's no spare time because of the Basilisk crisis, but I believe things will get settled soon."

Lisa was at the heart of the current operation. She definitely had no time to contemplate her "terms of forgiveness" to demand from Mitsuki.

"I see... That's a relief."

Iris breathed a sigh of relief then reached out to touch my left shoulder.

"...Iris?"

My heart skipped a beat. I called her name quietly.

"Mononobe, you seem to have taken the bandage off... Has the wound stopped hurting?"

"It's okay, the wound is almost fully healed. I can move freely now."

Saying that, I placed my left hand on top of Iris' hand that was touching my shoulder.

"Ah—"

Iris blushed. Seeing her react like that, I felt my heart rate skyrocketing.

Our gazes became entangled. There was a sweet yet anxiety-inducing silence, but we did not speak for a while.

"Uh, Iris, what did you intend to tell me originally?"

"U-Umm... Anything at all. What do you wanna know, Mononobe?"

"E-Even if you ask me what I wanna know, I..."

I did not know what to say in response to her question.

"Since it's so rare for us to be alone in a room... You should ask something that you can only confirm only now, right?"

Iris looked up at me and made this suggestion.

"Something that I can only ask now..."

"Yeah..."

Iris nodded. As soon as I met her gaze, I felt as though I was going to be sucked into her eyes, unable to avert my gaze. But her entire being felt so attractive, no matter whether her face, her body, arms or legs. My heartbeat could not calm down at all.

"...Iris, your hair is so pretty."

I finally turned my gaze to her hair then voiced exactly what I thought.

"Thank you... Then go ahead and touch it."

At Iris' urging, I lightly touched her beautiful silver hair.

"So soft, it feels very nice to touch."

"Fufu, I'm so glad that you're touching my head, Mononobe. You're always patting Tia-chan and Ren-chan's heads, I'm so jealous."

Iris remarked a little unhappily.

"Well, it's because Tia and Ren feel like little sisters to me, so I subconsciously... But Iris, your hair isn't something I can touch casually."

"Why?"

"If you ask me why... It's because I'll get nervous."

Hearing my answer, Iris tilted her head and made a surprised look.

"In that case, you're nervous right now?"

"That goes without saying..."

I combed Iris' hair with my fingers and nodded in admission.

Then Mitsuki's face flashed in my mind. I recalled back when I was hospitalized, what she had said to me when we were alone in the sickroom.

—Please handle Iris-san's kiss with upfront honesty, okay?

If I was going to bring that up, now was the only time.

"...Iris, is it really okay for me to accept that kind of thank you reward from you?"

"That kind of thank you reward? What are you talking about?"

"...I-I don't need to spell it out, right? O-Of course I mean the kiss that time."

I listened to my own hoarse voice while explaining to her.

"Eh? Oh—"

Iris' face went red.

"Iris, your reaction implies that you thought of that kiss as special, right?"

Initially, I thought all she wanted to express was gratitude, nothing more, because she had acted too normal. But after knowing she felt conscious about that kiss too, I could not calm my feelings.

"...Right. Although we greet one another with kisses between family, that's on the cheek... A-A kiss on the lips, Mononobe, you're my first..."

Iris replied. She was blushing all the way to her ears.

"For me to be your first... Is that really okay?"

Hearing me ask that, Iris lowered her head and nodded in affirmation.

"If it's you, Mononobe, my second time... can be yours too."

Hearing that, my heart jumped intensely. I could not tear my gaze away from those gorgeous pink lips.

So this really was the case? I was not imagining her favorable impressions of me, Iris actually felt—

My heart rate quickened and my palms grew sweaty.

Then I had no choice but to reply to her seriously. Since Iris had confessed to such an extent, I had to voice my feelings too.

I gulped to moisten my throat that had become parched by the time I noticed.

I inhaled then exhaled.

Then I took a deep breath again and spoke while breathing out:

"Iris, I—"

I made my decision to put my thoughts into words, but Iris looked up in alarm and covered my mouth with her hands.

"N-No! Don't say it out yet!"

"...?"

I asked her with questioning eyes then Iris took her hands off my lips, a wry smile on her face.

"Because... If it's a saddening reply, I will be very depressed. The operation is about to start, if I'm in that kind of state... I won't be able to keep up with the operation in an emergency."

"No, but—"

"Even if it's a gladdening reply, now's not the time either. Because you must fight for Tia-chan's sake next!"

Iris looked at me with serious eyes and persuaded me.

To be honest, I really did not want to drag this on longer, but pressured by Iris' vigor, I could only nod in agreement.

"...Got it. Then let's talk again once Basilisk is taken care of."

"Thank you, Mononobe."

Iris breathed a sigh of relief then thanked me.

"It's just that this kind of dialogue is kind of unlucky on the battlefield..."

"Oh, I know that one! I'm going to get married after the war... That kind of dialogue, right?"

I had no idea where she heard it from, but Iris followed up on the subject I raised.

"Yeah, but I've seen many people on battlefields. In my view, it's not simply a matter of luck."

"What do you mean?"

"The more serious a person's personality or the more reason they have to return, the less they want to use that kind of thing as an excuse. As a result, they will force themselves harder than the others, desperate to survive, which makes them die early, of course."

Hearing my explanation, Iris instantly began to panic.

"D-Don't die, Mononobe! I-If it might make you die, I don't mind canceling our promise from just now!"

"No need to be that worried. Compared to the others, we're safest on standby on the ship."

Indeed, Iris and I were simply watching from the sidelines. If something unexpected happened, perhaps we might come in handy, but the plan's success hinged on that not happening, right?

"R-Right... Okay, in that case, I'll wait for your reply, Mononobe."

"Great."

I nodded clearly as a promise.

There was an increasing number of reasons not to lose, but that was not going to slow me down.

Part 6[edit]

Then the time for the decisive battle arrived at last.

It was 11:20am, the sun had risen to its highest point in the sky. Sunlight was shining mercilessly all around.

Everyone was in position. The transport ship had retreated to a position where the volcanic island could be barely seen on the horizon. Iris, Tia and I were at the bridge, watching Shinomiya-sensei issue orders.

Tia staying on the ship was different from the initial plan, but Tia had suggested that if she were on the ship, Basilisk might hesitate against attacking the ship. Based on this reason, the plan was modified.

In other words, Tia was our hostage against Basilisk. We had no idea whether it would work as intended. There was no way of testing it after all, since it would be pointless if Tia lost her life in the experiment.

Even so, Tia's request was accepted, because if she unfortunately got caught up in the attack, at least the worst-case scenario of "a new Basilisk's birth" would be averted.

Lisa and Ren were on the volcanic island, preparing for the attack. Mitsuki, Firill and Ariella were between the volcanic island and the transport ship, on standby while keeping a certain distance from one another. This formation allowed Mitsuki's instantly support Lisa and Ren if anything happened to them.

The backup sent by Midgard had also arrived. They were on standby dozens of kilometers away from the volcanic island. Due to the nature of the operation, sending a large force to the frontline would only add unnecessary risk. That was what Shinomiya-sensei and others apparently decided.

Basilisk was currently twelve kilometers away from the volcanic island. One could probably see its figure from a position over the volcanic island.

As universally known, the Earth is round. Hence, simply by keeping a certain distance, things on the surface would be naturally blocked out of view by the horizon. A person standing on a coast would see no farther than five kilometers. Based on the Basilisk's body size, its visual range was probably ten kilometers or so. If looking out from the volcano's peak, it was probably possible to observe nearby waters within twenty or thirty kilometers.

In other words, we were using natural cover consisting of two things, the volcanic island and the horizon.

A large number of surveillance devices was distributed in the nearby waters. Images from them were displayed on the screen in the bridge. Although seawater along Basilisk's route of advance had turned into salt, surveillance devices would function normally and continued to send data as long as they were not exposed to the red light directly.

"The dragon mark feels so hot..."

Seeing the Basilisk on the monitor, Tia said softly. I could see her pressing her hand against her thigh near the top of her skirt. That was where her dragon mark was located.

Right now, Basilisk had not opened the third eye on its back. It was probably a trump card it used only when cornered. In other words, its attack range was still 5000 m at the moment.

"Don't worry, Tia. The way the situation looks, we'll be able to lure Basilisk to a sufficient distance before attacking. Since it's Lisa we're talking about, she's definitely not going to miss."

I placed my hand on Tia's head and spoke.

What Lisa and Ren were planning to execute was a super long-range sniping attack using the volcano as cover.

With Ren's assistance, she was going to attack Basilisk using a high-powered positron cannon.

Lisa was wearing a pair of goggles, allowing her to perform aiming calculations using data sent by the surveillance devices and therefore snipe through the mountain. Basilisk should not be able to see the attack until it arrived, hence in theory, it should not have time to counterattack.

But even so, just in case, the sniping was to be done from beyond Basilisk's attack range, which was over 10 km with the third eye open and 5 km when shut. Of course, the farther the distance, the harder it was to snipe, hence it was advantageous to us that the third eye was closed.

"B1, B6, execute Plan A. Begin attacking when the target reaches six klicks away."

Shinomiya-sensei issued orders to Lisa and Ren through the communicator.

'Affirmative.'

'Mm.'

Their voices answered.

"I hope they'll succeed..."

Iris closed her eyes and prayed.

Thus, the moment arrived.

"Target at six klicks!"

The crew member serving as the communications officer reported.

"Begin the operation!"

Shinomiya-sensei instantly commanded.

I looked at the screen showing Lisa and Ren's situation. Just as they had practiced many times, they created a giant fictional armament in the shape of a spear.

The spear's tip began to glow brightly. A positron ray gun surpassing modern weaponry was about to appear.

But just before that, the communications officer yelled:

"Basilisk stopped moving! Its back opened up! Third eye gradually popping out!"

No way—It noticed?

I was greatly surprised. Lisa and Ren should not have entered Basilisk's view. Did it sense the massive amount of energy? As soon as the third eye appeared, even the volcanic island had come within its attack range.

A giant eyeball had appeared on Basilisk's back. Supported by muscle fibers, it was thrust outside of its body. Next, that red eyeball aimed forward.

"This is bad—Halt the attack!"

Shinomiya-sensei shouted urgently.

But about to fire, Lisa and Ren were unable to stop the attack immediately. A positronic beam was emitted from the tip of the gigantic fictional weapon of a spear.

Brilliant golden light stabbed into the volcano.

But at the same time, Basilisk's third eye also released red light.

Through the volcano, the gold and red beams were about to collide. But at this rate, the instant, the mountain was punctured, the positronic beam would get erased and the red light would devour Lisa and Ren.

"You two take evasive action immediately! Change to Plan B!"

Shinomiya-sensei rapidly issued orders.

After that—The top of the volcano was turned into dust. Red light streaked across the sky. Even a mountain could not oppose the torrential flow of time, apparently.

The red glow could be seen from the ship's bridge by the naked eye. Shooting out the other end of the volcanic island, the beam traveled straight to the far end of the sky, sweeping away cloud layers along the way.

Several seconds later, the light stopped. What remained were clouds with unnaturally gouged shapes and a volcano with its top half vanished.

The volcano showed a clear-cut cross-section, but after a while, lava flowed out while dense smoke rose into the sky.

"What happened to Lisa and Ren!?"

I shouted. Perhaps hearing my voice, an answer came from the communicator.

'Worry not, we dodged in the nick of time. We will converge with Mitsuki-san immediatly.'

It was Lisa's voice. Hearing her answer, Iris and Tia also showed relieved expressions.

However, Shinomiya-sensei immediately issued orders without relaxing.

"All units return to the ship quickly. Fly at as low an altitude as possible!"

The method of flying using air transmutation could be sped up by flying in formation. After meeting up with Firill and the others, Lisa and Ren should be able to return even faster.

Having blown away the volcano's top half, Basilisk resumed its advance towards Tia behind the volcano. Captured from quite far away, a long-range video showed the Basilisk advancing.

Perhaps finding the lava and smoke ahead of it a hassle, Basilisk shot out two red beams from its eyes. Immediately, the smoke screen vanished while the lava solidified into rock while maintaining its flowing shape.

Solidified unnaturally, the lava was shaped as strangely as avant garde artwork. I was once again confronted with the astounding powers of "Catastrophe." However, something also bugged me.

—It didn't use its third eye just now?

The third eye remained open. If Basilisk found the lava a nuisance, it could have fired a beam from its third eye again. But Basilisk chose to approach the lava first without using its third eye. I felt that there seemed to be some kind of purpose in that.

"...Yuu, the operation failed?"

Tia tugged my clothing worriedly.

"Basilisk noticed the sniping attack and took countermeasures first but we still have the next plan. That's using the initial idea of destroying Basilisk together with the island."

"Then it'll be victory?"

"—Who knows? But there's no other way right now, so all we can do is try our best."

After I answered, I heard Iris, who had been listening on the side, say quietly:

"...We won't be able to enjoy that hot spring again."

"It's a shame but that can't be helped. Okay, Lisa and the others should be back soon. Let's head over to the deck. Starting now, this ship is the frontline."

I grabbed Iris' arm and said. As much as I hated to think this, once this operation failed, everyone, including us, would have no choice but to adapt accordingly.

"Yuu, Tia too—"

"No. When entering Basilisk's attack range, the first to become vulnerable is here, the ship's highest point. As Basilisk's hostage, Tia, you have to stay here to protect the bridge."

I stopped Tia from following.

"...Tia got it. Yuu, do your best!"

Despite showing a look of regret, Tia still cheered for me as she saw me off.

"Okay, I'm off!"

Iris and I left the bridge together, went down the stairs and rapidly made our way to the deck.

The ship had started moving to get away from the island. We went to the deck on the aft.

After waiting there for a while, we saw everyone flying back at low altitude.

"Welcome back!"

Iris waved to welcome everyone. Seeing all of them back safe and sound, she seemed quite happy.

"...I really wished I could reply 'I'm back' cheerfully, but sorry, we failed."

Lisa spoke with chagrin. Ren also went "mm..." and lowered her head.

"That was only because Basilisk's sensory powers seem to be stronger than expected. It is not your fault, Lisa-san and Ren-san. Next—It is my turn."

Mitsuki encourage the disheartened pair then gazed sharply in the volcanic island's direction.

Part of the solidified lava was the only thing barely in view. The island itself was hidden on the other side of the horizon.

"I will use the horizon to hide myself while shooting an extra large missile of antimatter. Since my arrow with fly in a parabolic trajectory, I will be able to shoot at a lower altitude than everyone else. Ren-san... Please lend me your assistance this time."

"Mm!"

Ren agreed and walked over to Mitsuki's side.

"Brionac."

Mitsuki generated her fictional armament of a bow then used air transmutation to hover into the air along with Ren.

She looked like she was going to take aim after rising to a certain height. Very likely, she was going to attack Basilisk while it was barely sunken on the other side of the horizon.

Although I was clearly receiving essential information on a communicator, I still watched in trepidation.

"Mm."

Ren touched Brionac. Immediately, as for Lisa, the fictional armament enlarged all at once.

Mitsuki raised the iridescent and shining bow, ten-odd times her own height, then nocked an arrow of dark matter, long and thick, commensurate with the bow's size.

Looking up at the scene, Lisa could not help but offer praise.

"—Nothing less expected from Mitsuki-san. She is skillfully controlling the dark matter that Ren-san is handing over to her. Given the scale, Basilisk should disappear together with the island."

Mitsuki pulled the arrow back then yelled:

"Terminating Arrow—Last Quark!"

The arrow of antimatter was shot out, flying like a shooting star streaking across the celestial sphere.

However, the shooting star was devoured by a torrent of red light, flowing in the reverse direction.

"What..."

I could not find any words.

Judging from the light's range and scale, Basilisk had undoubtedly used its third eye to counterattack.

Our attack had been discovered again.

The Basilisk was on the other side of the volcanic island. Although its top half was blown away, the mountain should still restrict Basilisk's field of vision. It could not possibly have captured the antimatter projectile visually.

—To be able to react so swiftly, what on earth was the reason?

The red light passed over us, flying to the far side, but we had no time to space out.

Because the beam was descending.

Piercing clouds, the beam was approaching overhead this time.

It was light a giant red sword swinging down from the sky to the ground.

The instant I witnessed that scene, I reflexively took action.

"Siegfried!"

I created my fictional armament of an ornamental gun in my right hand.

A red beam in the sky descended. After touching the horizon, it was blocked for a while.

This was a natural barrier formed from the Earth's curvature. On the Earth's round surface, there was a limit to distances that could be aimed with straight-line attacks. Exploiting this fact, Mitsuki and Ren had stayed at a height where they would be safe from Basilisk's counterattack in an emergency.

Through the passage of vast amounts of time, the navy-blue sea instantly turned into white salt.

However, the "weathering" did not stop there. The time-stealing produced by the third eye continued, turning the plain of salt into smaller particles, gradually paring it down.

The Earth's curvature was gradually corrected, forcibly expanding Basilisk's attack range. The horizon that we were originally using as our shield was shaved off within the blink of an eye.

—How could such a bastard exist!? Basilisk's power could even alter the Earth's shape?

The sword of red light chopped down while gouging the horizon.

Below it was Mitsuki and Ren. The two of them were descending, but the red beam was faster than them.

—I have to make it in time!

"Antigravity!"

I poured the entirety of my generating capacity into a dark matter bullet, firing it into the air.

The bullet turned into high-density antigravitational matter in front of the red light. Accompanied by a glow of pure white, a powerful repulsive field was generated.

Next to the repulsive field, Mitsuki and Ren were deflected downwards. The spatial distortion bent the trajectory of the red beam.

Thus, the red beam extending upwards ended just like that. Descending, Mitsuki and Ren used the wind around them to land safely.

"—Nii-san, than you. I almost... made Ren-san die together with me."

Mitsuki gnashed her teeth with an expression of chagrin.

"Save your regrets for later! What do we do next!? If that attack just now continued, we will not be able to escape even if we wanted to!"

Lisa urgently asked for Mitsuki's decision.

"...Iris-san, I have a favor to ask of you."

After thinking quietly for several seconds, Mitsuki called out Iris' name.

"W-What is it? Just tell me!"

"Please detonate explosions in the air above the island to rain down mithril. No need to aim precisely. Though they will most likely be intercepted, at least it should buy us some time."

"I-I got it—Caduceus!"

Iris held the fictional armament in her hand and stood on the edge of the aft.

"O holy silver, descend!!"

Iris raised the silver-white staff and yelled. Immediately, silver explosions occurred in the distant sky while countless fragments of mithril fell upon the land.

Basilisk seemed to be within that range. Small flashes of red light could be seen darting around in the sky in complicated movements. Just as Mitsuki said, the mithril would probably be struck down completely. If such a saturation attack worked, NIFL would have chosen this tactic a long time ago.

Iris caused explosions repeatedly while the ship used the opportunity to get away from Basilisk. The distorted horizon of white salt gradually went out of sight.

This was—A retreat in defeat.

Our entire operation ended in failure. We could only flee with our backs to the enemy.

"Ooh..."

Mitsuki bit her lip, her fists clenched tightly, her shoulders trembling slightly.

She was surely full of regret. I suspect that she could not forgive herself for lacking power and for endangering her partner.

Seeing Mitsuki like that, Lisa showed a look of anxiety.

After causing large-scale explosions repeatedly, Iris sat down on the deck, utterly exhausted.

In this heavy atmosphere, no one said a word.

As for me, I quietly left the scene without making a sound.

This was not because I found the mood stifling. Rather, it had occurred to me that there was something I should do—Something only I could do, which was why I was putting it into action.

How could I watch Mitsuki make that kind of look again?

I had sworn to never abandon Mitsuki's happiness, to defeat dragons for this purpose, hence—I could not have any qualms about methods.

Returning to the bridge alone, I sensed a gloomy atmosphere there too.

"Oh, Yuu..."

Tia noticed me and called my name, but I made a beeline for Shinomiya-sensei.

"Shinomiya-sensei."

"Yes... Mononobe Yuu? You reacted smartly there just now. Well done."

It was rare for Shinomiya-sensei to praise me, but her voice lacked her usual vitality. She was probably preoccupied with thinking about their next plan.

"Thanks for the praise, but putting that aside, I've got a request to make, Shinomiya-sensei."

"A request?"

Shinomiya-sensei frowned while I told her my request:

"Yes—Could you let me make a call to NIFL's Major Loki?"


Back to Chapter 2 Return to Main Page Forward to Chapter 4