Unlimited Fafnir:Volume 4 Chapter 1
Chapter 1 - The Princess Who Fights Dragons
"Nii-san, hurry. We are going to be late."
While running along the path from dormitory to the school, my younger sister Mitsuki urged me. With every step, Mitsuki's long black hair would flutter lightly.
"There's still time. Even if we just walk briskly, we'll still make the first bell."
Holding my school bag which contained a laptop-style portable terminal, I answered in a carefree tone of voice.
"As the student council president, how could I serve as the role model for others students if I arrive at school in the nick of time? No matter how late, I must pass through the school gates five minutes early. Otherwise, it is no different from being late."
"In that case, Mitsuki, you'd better run first. I'm still digesting breakfast, so let me walk at my own pace."
Due to oversleeping, I had just finished breakfast in a hurry. Holding my stomach, I replied.
"Unacceptable! Because I am in charge of supervising you, Nii-san, it is my responsibility if you are late, that is why we must run together."
Mitsuki finished then held my hand matter-of-factly.
"We are almost there, Nii-san. Hang in there a little longer."
Holding my hand, Mitsuki quickened her pace.
The sensation of slender fingers, a size smaller than mine, made it hard for my emotions to remain calm.
After the Basilisk battle, only a couple days had passed since the transport ship took us back to Midgard.
Having learned that Mitsuki was not my blood-related sister and listened to her confession of her feelings—I could no longer not notice her.
After Mitsuki declared she would not give up on me, she started to act more proactively, no... More accurately, she had decreased the amount of unnecessary reservations.
Currently, Mitsuki looked very natural. As Midgard's student council president, as my family, she used to adhere rigidly to standards. That kind of life must have been stifling for Mitsuki.
Mitsuki now looked full of vitality. At her urging, I quickened my pace.
Arriving at the intersection between the road to school and the girls dormitories, Mitsuki instantly let go of my hand and switched to a moderate pace. She probably thought that it would be unseemly for the student council president to be rushing through the school gates in a hurry.
But having run all the way up to this point, there was plenty of time to spare now. On the towering clock tower which could be seen from anywhere on the island, the minute hand indicated that there were still fifteen minutes until class.
—The clock tower was already restored to normal. Its broken and tilted state earlier seemed like it had never happened.
Recalling how the top portion had been destroyed and the clock tower was in a state of ruin earlier, I could not help but feel impressed inside.
Roughly a month ago, Midgard had suffered severe damage from Kili and Hekatonkheir but while we were away to put down Basilisk, the clock tower had been repaired for the most part.
Precisely because Midgard was the castle of the Ds who fought dragons, they had finished construction as quickly as they could.
Both Mitsuki's room, originally damaged by Kili's blast, and the gym's roof, which had been wrecked by falling debris, were likewise repaired.
The only lingering signs of destruction were probably the trees trampled by Hekatonkheir.
We swiped our ID cards and passed through the school gates to head to our classroom—Brynhildr Class.
Along the way, after we entered the school building, I immediately heard someone call my name from behind.
I spun around and looked back to see a young girl with tiny horns on her head. Tia Lightning. Her light-colored hair swaying while she ran towards me, the strands of her hair looked pink under the light in a kind of optical illusion.
Tia used the momentum from running to jump and hang onto my neck.
"Oh—G-Good morning, Tia."
I caught her light body and greeted her.
"Ehehe, so happy to see Yuu today again."
Tia smiled and clung tightly to my body.
"Tia-san, please do not make excessive displays of intimacy in public."
Mitsuki put on her student council president face to correct Tia, but Tia pouted unhappily.
"Not excessive, this is within normal for Tia."
"In community life, you need to respect common standards more than personal values. Judged according to that, Tia-san, your actions are excessive."
"Hmph... Mitsuki is too strict."
Tia reluctantly let go of me and stared pitifully at me.
"Yuu, if just a little bit, did your heart flutter because of Tia?"
"Huh? Suddenly getting hugged... Of course a little."
Hearing my describe my feelings honestly, Tia happily closed her eyes partially.
"Great, Tia will continue to make Yuu's heart flutter, then Yuu will love Tia the most!"
Confronted with her pure and sincere feelings, I could not help but panic.
Ever since returning to Midgard, Tia had been acting this way. Compared to the previous phase when she pleaded like a child for us to get married, she was now courting me as a girl, making it even harder for me to know how to react.
"Nii-san, what are you losing composure for? Okay, let us get to class."
Mitsuki finished with slight displeasure in her tone, then grabbed my hand and dragged me off.
"Ah! So unfair that only Mitsuki gets to hold hands. So that's not excessive?"
"...Because Nii-san and I are family. This level of contact is very normal."
Mitsuki guiltily shifted her gaze away and answered.
"Then Tia will hold hands with Yuu too! Lisa said that comrades in the same class are no different from family."
"Compared to that, the kind of family I am referring to is... Fine, I suppose the two meanings are not entirely dissimilar."
Mitsuki replied ambiguously.
Thinking back now, I had spotted Mitsuki making similar expressions many times before. So actually, Mitsuki had always been conscious that we were not siblings by blood, it was just that I never noticed.
In the end, Mitsuki and Tia held my left and right hands respectively. The three of us made our way to the classroom.
"By the way, Tia, you came to school alone? What happened to Lisa?"
In the beginning when she first transferred here, Tia refused to leave my side, but now that she had opened her heart to her classmates, she was rooming with Lisa Highwalker.
I looked back along the corridor but could not see any signs of Lisa.
"Lisa says she has to talk to Firill, so Tia came to school alone today."
"Talk to Firill? Did something happen?"
What could have happened that required her to ask Tia to go to school first? Feeling curious, I asked.
"Dunno... But Firill seemed a bit strange."
"She seems distracted... Oh, and she didn't bring a book today."
"That really is quite strange..."
I frowned and nodded.
As a bibliophile, Firill always had a book in her hand. Something definitely seemed wrong... But right now, there was no way to confirm why.
All I could do was wait quietly for Firill to get to school.
Right before entering the classroom, Mitsuki released my hand and opened the door. Three students were already inside.
"Hi, good morning."
Greeting us in a casual tone was the tomboyish girl—Ariella Lu.
Then greeting us with just a wave of her hand was the redhead, Ren Miyazawa.
Mitsuki and Tia greeted while entering the classroom.
"Good morning, Ariella and Ren."
I greeted the two girls then turned my gaze to the remaining girl in the classroom.
Stammering her greeting was... Iris Freyja.
"Good morning, Iris."
I smiled and replied, but Iris shifted her gaze away from my face after giving Mitsuki a glance.
Even after I sat down next to her, Iris continued to stare out the window. Previously, Iris would always start talking to me frequently on her own, so this felt quite uncomfortable to me.
"...Nii-san, did you get into a fight with Iris-san?"
Seeing us like that, Mitsuki asked me.
"No, that's not it..."
Actually, Iris and I had grown even more intimate after I confessed my memory loss.
However, in direct contrast to Mitsuki who had started behaving more proactively, Iris no longer initiated intimacy with me like when fighting with Tia for my attention, especially when in front of Mitsuki.
She was probably worried about Mitsuki's feelings.
I think that after she heard my confession, having declared she would retrieve my memories, this was the only thing she could do.
Because of the path she had chosen, perhaps in the end, she must give up on "the current me."
Seeing Iris push herself like that, I felt very useless but I did not know what to do. But there was one thing I could be certain. Something seemed to be off about the current situation.
While I was thinking about the correct thing to do, the bell rang for class. Just before the ringing stopped, only then did Lisa and Firill enter the classroom.
Just as Tia said, Firill was not carrying a book in her hand. She looked very preoccupied with her thoughts.
"It will be fine, Firill-san. I shall help you find a solution."
"Speak no more. Leave it to me."
There was a heavy atmosphere hanging around Lisa and Firill while they talked and took their seats. Then because Shinomiya-sensei, our homeroom teacher, entered immediately, I did not get a chance to talk to them. Sitting in the center of the last row in this 3x3 arrangement of desks and chairs, I could only look at the backs of the the girls who sat on the left and right ends of the front row.
"Now let's begin with the register."
Including me, Brynhildr Class only had eight students. Although one could tell at a glance who was missing in this small class, Shinomiya-sensei still opened the register and took roll call one by one.
First to be called was Student No. 1, Lisa.
However, Lisa did not respond straight away. She was staring silently at Firill.
On the other hand, Firill was taking on Lisa's gaze with a lost and hesitant look on her face.
"Lisa Highwalker, are you listening?"
Shinomiya-sensei called her name again. Immediately, Lisa's expression looked like she had made some kind of decision. Turning her gaze away from Firill, she pushed her chair back and stood up.
"Shinomiya-sensei, I have a request for you."
"...You do know that this is homeroom time, right? Save it for later."
"I am terribly sorry but because the matter is of utmost urgency, it cannot be saved for later. Sensei, may I ask that you grant Firill-san permission to exit Midgard as soon as possible?"
Lisa asked Shinomiya-sensei solemnly.
—permission to exit Midgard?
Although I did not know why, this was truly an unreasonable request made all of a sudden. Midgard was both the self-governed organization of Ds—users of dark matter creation—but also an isolation facility at the same time.
Midgard existed both to isolate Ds from all sorts of malevolence as well as to protect ordinary people from getting harmed by Ds.
"What are you suddenly talking about...? You should know that prior to reaching the age of twenty, when powers naturally vanish, Ds are essentially forbidden from leaving Midgard."
Shinomiya-sensei brought up Midgard's rule. Indeed, once arriving in Midgard, Ds must live in this school until they reached adulthood. This decision was chosen to keep friction between them and ordinary people to a minimum, to avoid conflict with the world.
"Of course I know that, but could you make an exception?"
"Do not ask for the impossible. Besides, why on earth—Oh, I see now... Because he passed away."
Shinomiya-sensei turned her gaze to Firill and spoke.
"Yes, that is why I would like Firill-san to attend the funeral."
It looked like someone related to Firill had passed away. No wonder she was acting differently from normal, but—
"I understand how you feel... But I cannot allow her to enjoy special treatment as a lone exception."
Shinomiya-sensei's answer was just as I expected. There must be quite a few people who had encountered the same situation so far, but Midgard's rules were not lax enough to allow them to make brief outings for such reasons.
Lisa should understand this very clearly, but still, she refused to give up.
"Shinomiya-sensei, that statement is already wrong on many assumptions. Firill-san is a special case. The Principality of Erlia has made huge contributions to Midgard acquiring the right to autonomy. Even now, they are still major sponsors of Midgard. All things considered, she is their—"
"No matter what position she held outside of Midgard, she is only an ordinary student here. Your line of reasoning does not work."
Shinomiya-sensei interrupted Lisa and told her clearly.
"...Lisa, forget it. Thank you... That's enough."
Lisa was about to argue back when Firill stopped her.
"Rules must be followed after all. Sorry, Sensei, I made a willful request."
Firill bowed her head and apologized to Shinomiya-sensei.
"No, wanting to attend a family funeral is a most natural request. I'm the one who feels sorry I cannot agree to your request."
Shinomiya-sensei apologized to Firill while Lisa sat down reluctantly.
Hence, homeroom began under a slightly grave atmosphere. Lisa and Firill had evidently given up on arguing, but there was still one thing I did not understand.
Right now, it was hard for me to speak to Iris, so I asked Mitsuki quietly:
"Mitsuki, what did she mean by Firill being a special case?"
"...Nii-san, do not tell me you still have no idea? Surely you must have heard the name of the Principality of Erlia mentioned in class?"
Mitsuki looked at me with an expression of surprise and lamentation.
"Huh? Oh, of course I know the Principality of Erlia... I remember it's the country that lobbied strongly for the restoration of the Ds' human rights, which led to Midgard's independence, right?"
This name was mentioned frequently in the Ds' modern history class. The Principality of Erlia was a small landlocked country in western Europe. Through the export of scarce resources, they had reportedly achieved astounding economic growth in recent years.
Apparently only Japan, where the birthrate of Ds was the highest, and the Principality of Erlia were the two sponsors of Midgard that far outstripped all other countries.
"Although the Principality of Erlia is a democracy, the royal family has been retained as national symbol. And the one who led the movement pushing for the restoration of the Ds' human rights was the current king. So, what is his name, may I ask?"
Mitsuki tilted her head slightly with a mischievous look and posed that question to me.
"N-Name? Well, I've forgotten."
"Seriously... How I worry for your next exam if you cannot even remember this. The correct answer is Albert Crest, but unfortunately—He passed away several days ago."
"Crest? I remember that's..."
I had some recollection of this family name. I looked at Firill sitting in the front row.
Following my gaze, Mitsuki nodded affirmatively.
"Yes, she—Firill-san—is the granddaughter of the late King Albert. She is veritably a true princess."
—A princess... huh.
During the lunch break, we members of Brynhildr Class went to the cafeteria together. Walking alongside Lisa in front, Firill was still empty-handed. She probably was in no mood for reading still.
The depressed Firill exuded a dreamy impression, making her seem harder to approach than usual. Looking at her now, I could feel an air of nobility in her posture and gait.
—After her grandfather passed away, if her father succeeded to the throne, that would make Firill the king’s daughter.
Princess, the king’s daughter—positions that only appeared in fiction were now presented before my eyes.
It was a strange feeling, lacking in a sense of reality.
"...You've been staring at me for a while now, why?"
She seemed to have noticed me staring at her. Firill slowed down and walked side by side with me.
"Huh? F-Forgive this unworthy peasant."
"Why are you suddenly speaking so deferentially?"
"Oh—I just learned that you're a princess, Firill, so I subconsciously..."
I smiled wryly and replied.
"I see, so you're staring at me because you find princesses very exotic."
Firill asked somewhat sharply.
"Well, I can't deny feeling a bit of that—But what worries me more is that you don't have a book in your hand. That proves that you're really sad, right?"
Firill stared at her own hands in surprise.
"You only noticed now?"
Firill nodded gloomily and answered. Now it looked really serious.
"Your grandfather—passed away, right?"
"......Yes, he died, before I could repay him at all."
Firill nodded and murmured quietly.
Apart from sorrow, her expression conveyed heavy regret as well.
"Grandfather took great pains on my behalf. When he found out I was a D, he said 'How could I allow my granddaughter to be locked away in a some kind of detention facility!?' and threw out the Asgard staff."
"What an amazing grandfather."
Asgard was the international organization commanding Midgard and NIFL. Its express purpose was to oppose dragons. Rejecting Agard's demands was equivalent to opposing the world.
"However, the rules could not be ignored completely... Hence, after that, Grandfather changed his approach and worked towards making Midgard an appropriate home for me. Hence, he got the entire world involved and started a movement to restore the Ds' human rights... Despite his poor health at the time."
"So, it's all thanks to your grandfather's painstaking efforts that we have the current Midgard..."
Through the export of resources, the Principality of Erlia was very well off financially. Over the years, the Principality had also provided great amounts of financial aid to the various European nations plagued by dragon disasters and economic recessions. Perhaps due to such interactions, the Principality was able to exert widespread influence.
"Right... But I have yet to repaid him at all. At least at the end—I really wish I could have said 'thank you' to Grandfather."
She wanted to say "thank you" rather than "goodbye."
I could feel intense feelings of gratitude in those words of "thank you."
If possible, I wanted to take her to the funeral, to allow her to say those words directly. But I had neither that sort of authority nor that kind of power.
Originally listening to our conversation on the side, Ariella suddenly joined in and asserted in a strong tone of voice.
Hearing me call her name, she smiled cheerfully and said:
"No matter where you are, Firill, your thoughts will definitely reach your grandfather's soul."
"...Do souls really exist?"
Firill murmured with a complicated look on her face. She was admittedly happy about Ariella's well wishes, but it was probably impossible for her to accept that notion readily.
"Yes, because I've see them myself."
However, Ariella confirmed without hesitation.
With no idea whether she was serious or not, Firill and I could only stare at each other with troubled looks on our faces.
As soon as we entered the cafeteria, I quickly noticed the unusual mood.
"Did something happen...?"
Mitsuki seemed to notice the same sense of dissonance and looked around.
The air was tense in the cafeteria and abnormally quiet.
"There's a lot of people gathered in the lounge."
Iris pointed at the lounge where a large television was installed.
A memory of watching a Basilisk news report in the lounge flashed across my mind. Did a dragon make a move again?
"Although it doesn't feel like anything good... Let us head over to have a look."
Lisa led the way while we followed.
As soon as we neared the crowd gathered around the lounge, I heard voices from the television.
'—What are your views on the incident?'
'Well... Fundamentally, it's certain that the situation resulted from NIFL doing things by force.'
Judging from the fact that NIFL was mentioned, this did not seem to be a topic irrelevant to us.
I tiptoed slightly to get the television into view. Since all the people in Midgard were girls, my view was not blocked in situations like these.
I could see the newscaster and commentators on the screen, discussion a certain topic.
"Yuu, Tia can't see, please let Tia ride on your shoulders!"
Tia tried to climb on my body from behind. Wrapping her arms around my neck, she choked me.
"C-Can't breathe. I got it, let go first."
To make it easier for Tia to get on my shoulders, I knelt down.
Tia thanked me and sat down on my shoulders, clamping my head between her thighs, hugging my head tightly. As for the sensation of fabric against my neck...
Discovering the absence of something that should be present, I could not help but exclaim in surprise.
Sitting on my shoulders, Tia peered at my face from above with an incredulous expression.
"Tia, I'd like to ask you a question..."
"What is it?"
"Don't tell me... you forgot to wear underwear?"
I asked Tia in trepidation.
"Muu, Yuu, you're so rude. Tia is not the kind of little kid who forgets to wear underwear, because Tia is already a mature lady."
"T-That's true... Sorry for asking you a weird question."
Although there was classmate who really would come to school occasionally without remembering to put on panties despite being the same age, normally speaking, that was impossible. She was an exception in many ways.
"Oh, but Tia's are different today."
Tia seemed to recall something and leaned in closer to whisper in my ear.
Seeing Tia wary of getting overheard by Lisa, I whispered back as well.
"Lisa was speaking with Firill the whole time today... and did not prepare a change of clothes for Tia. So Tia went to look for panties alone, but couldn't find any... So Tia borrowed Lisa's to wear."
"What... B-But the size won't match, right?"
"Yeah, so Tia chose the type that's string-tied. It won't fall off if tied tightly."
I raised my voice involuntarily.
"Wearing her panties without permission, it's bad, right?"
"N-No... It can't be helped in this case, I don't think Lisa will be mad."
Seeing Tia quite worried, I reassured her.
Tia breathed a sigh of relief but to me, this was a huge problem, because I had to carry Tia on my shoulders but she was wearing the type of underwear that others could mistaken for not wearing any.
—Stop thinking nonsense. I must keep my mind clear, keep my mind clear...
I warned myself not to let my thoughts stray while standing up and holding Tia's legs.
"Wow, so high up!"
Tia cheered but ignoring the sensations around my neck was already taking my full effort.
Just as I finally turned my attention and gaze to the television with much difficulty, the commentators' discussion came to a close.
'Then let us return to the situation at the press conference.'
It looked like they were going to play a news video clip. While talking to Tia just now, I had heard almost nothing of the discussion, but now, I could get a grasp on the situation.
Immediately, the screen switched to show a girl.
Tia's hoarse voice entered my ears. I gasped in surprise too. The worries about underwear earlier were instantly evicted from my mind.
'I sincerely thank this country for accepting me despite this time of mourning for them.'
Shown on the television was a girl with long black hair and a prim and proper face. Her intelligent eyes were looking into the camera. I knew clearly who she was.
Tia called her name in a trembling voice.
Indeed, she was Kili Surtr Muspelheim, the leader of the dragon worshiping cult, the Sons of Muspell. Deemed a disaster, she was also a D that NIFL had targeted for priority elimination.
Roughly a month ago, Kili had disguised herself, taking on the identity Tachikawa Honoka to infiltrate Midgard, intending to take Tia away.
Kili had disappeared without trace after that, so why did she openly make an appearance on television?
The fact that a D was the leader of a terrorist organization was not disclosed to the public, because such news would discredit all Ds if it spread throughout the world.
Hence, the news probably was not reporting on her as a criminal. Then what kind of position exactly was she standing before the cameras of the media?
'I—Kili—am a creator of dark matter. In other words, what everyone calls a D. My position would normally require me to head to the autonomous educational institute of the Ds, Midgard, but due to certain reasons right now, I cannot go to Midgard.'
After listening to Kili's statement, a reporter asked: 'By certain reasons, you mean...?'
Judging from the press conference, Kili was speaking as a D whose powers had awakened, rather than as a terrorist.
'Because NIFL might very well interfere during the process of transportation to Midgard. Until the very end, this NIFL organization opposed Midgard's independence. Even now, when the Ds' human rights have been restored, NIFL still regards us as monsters. I really cannot trust them. Rumor has it—They secretly filter the Ds sent to Midgard... Has anyone heard of this rumor?'
Gathered around Kili, the reporters clamored while cameras flashed nonstop.
'Of course, I don't know if it's true or not. But ever since I started investigating the veracity of this rumor, I've heard several times about the disappearance of Ds. I wouldn't hand myself over to that kind of organization for even a second.'
Gathered around the television, Midgard's students were whispering among themselves.
I heard someone say stuff like "I knew it..."
'But protected by the secure defenses of Midgardsormr, Midgard is in a state of isolation from the outside world without any direct way of reaching them. As a commoner, even trying to contact them is impossible. Hence, I can only rely on this country.'
Kili spoke gravely to the camera:
'Considering the Principality of Erlia that had rejected Asgard and NIFL's demands in the past, concealing their princess who had awakened as a D—I believe they will guarantee my safety if I make such a suggestion.'
"Principality of Erlia...?"
Hearing that name, I looked for Firill who should be nearby. She was completely still, staring intently at the image on the television.
'I hope to be transported directly from the Principality of Erlia to Midgard without going through Asgard or NIFL. If Ds come directly to pick me up, I will be able to hand myself over to them without worry. I hereby request—Please save me.'
Kili bowed deeply with her head down. Then the camera switched scenes.
Inside the recording studio, the commentators began another round of discussion. However, I almost did not register any of their opinions.
"What on earth is going on?"
Kili's goal was completely incomprehensible. For a long time now, Kili had persisted in evading NIFL's pursuit. If it was her, there was no need to seek any side's protection, right? Even if she had some goal requiring her to infiltrate Midgard again, doing it this way would attract way too much attention.
Considering her ability to perform biogenic transmutation, turning herself into a totally different person would be a more practical method.
"Apart from us, no one seems to notice she is Honoka-san..."
Lisa whispered after observing the nearby students.
Indeed, everyone was fervently discussing whether what they just saw was real or not, or whether Midgard would tak e any action. None of them seemed to have realized her identity. Although it was common knowledge by now that Honoka was a terrorist who had infiltrated Midgard, her name being Kili was not disclosed to ordinary students.
When infiltrating as Tachikawa Honoka, she had glasses and was wearing her hair in braids. Despite looking the same, she gave off a completely different impression, which was probably why people failed to associate Honoka with Kili.
Disguised as Honoka, she was timid, quiet and gentle, but in the video, she was completely unafraid and quite outgoing in tone.
"What is she doing... in my country? I must hurry and inform Father and the others of her true identity—"
Firill spoke with anxiety.
"I understand how you feel, but please calm down a bit. If you act recklessly, it could endanger your parents."
Mitsuki placed her hand on Firill's shoulder and cautioned her.
"Kili's strength is enough to oppose NIFL's army. Based on this fact, this is the same as taking Firill's country itself hostage..."
I remarked with deep worry.
If the truth was revealed, forcing the Principality of Erlia to make Kili an enemy, she would probably eliminate all threats mercilessly.
"No way... What should I do...?"
"—It seems that we will be deciding what to do straight away."
Taking out her portable terminal, Mitsuki showed us the screen. Shinomiya-sensei was calling for her.
"Then I shall head over to the conference. Nii-san, everyone, please have lunch first."
Saying that, Mitsuki swiftly left the catering building.
Sitting on my shoulders, Tia hugged my head tightly.
Tia had been subjected to Kili's brainwashing education before. The pair of horns on her head were also given to her by Kili through biogenic transmutation. And her parents' murderer was also—
"Don't worry, although it's unknown what Kili's goal is... I don't think she wants to take you away like before, because we already defeated Basilisk."
"Yeah. Even if you're her target, Tia, I'll still protect you, so don't worry."
I reached out and stroked Tia's head.
"Yeah... Then Tia is relieved."
Tia relaxed her body as though breathing a sigh of relief.
On the other hand, Firill showed a stiff expression on her face while staring at the next news report. With her grandfather's passing and her home country in danger, it was only natural for her to feel unsettled.
However, I could not offer comforting words irresponsibly without understanding the situation.
The problem was how Midgard would choose to react.
And the only student involved in that decision was Mitsuki as the student council president.
—Mitsuki, I'm counting on you.
Believing in my non-blood-related younger sister, I prayed that she could point out a better path.
Even after the bell rang for afternoon classes, Mitsuki still had not returned. Charlotte B. Lord showed up as the substitute teacher to cover Periods 5 and 6.
The principal's childish appearance meant that she did not look out of place standing among the students. She looked especially happy to be teaching. Although she did not look any older than us in appearance, rumor had it that she was already on this island since Midgard's inception, hence her age likely did not match her appearance.
"—When a D is targeted by a dragon and her dragon mark changes color, she will turn into the same type of dragon just by making contact with the dragon. All of you should know this already. But according to the latest research, a D's dragonification might be brought about by the dark matter generated from her own body."
It was supposed to be History class right now, but she was proudly talking about the latest D research while dressed in a loose-fitting lab coat. Every time she jumped to point out something projected on the blackboard, her blonde hair fluttered lightly behind her.
She mentioned she had a medical license when I received a health examination from her last time, so perhaps her main job was being a researcher.
"This hypothesis means that a D might be using her own dark matter to perform biogenic transmutation to take on a dragon's form. But here's the problem now. A human brain does not have sufficient specs to control and process biogenic transmutation—"
This was a very interesting topic, so I had no complaints.
However, I wondered: Was it really okay for Midgard's chief administrator to be spending time in this kind of place?
Essentially, I asked her in the beginning, doesn't the principal need to attend the meeting? But she said "since Haruaka is Midgard's commander, that's her job. I'm just the principal."
"Any deficit must be made up somewhere. Most likely during a D's dragonification, a powerful link is formed with the dragon's brain, thereby conferring massive processing power. There is also evidence that a D can feel the dragon's consciousness when her dragon mark changes color. Such testimonies also lend support to this hypothesis."
Saying that, the principal turned her gaze to Iris and Tia. They had been targeted by dragons separately and had sensed the thoughts of dragons.
Lisa raised her hand at this moment.
"Yes, what is it? Do you have a question?"
The principal asked Lisa in delight.
"Yes, although I find this hypothesis very compelling... It does raise the question, how is Kili Surtr Muspelheim able to use biogenic transmutation?"
Lisa's question was only natural, because we had witnessed with our own eyes how she used biogenic transmutation to heal her wounds instantly.
Lisa probably recalled that incident after seeing Kili just now.
"Well, there are two kinds of possibilities."
However, the principal raised two fingers and spoke.
"Yes. One is that she is also using some method to supplement her processing power. The other is that she is not human to begin with."
"Not human...? Are you saying that she might not even be a D?"
Lisa exclaimed in surprise but the principal nodded with a nonchalant expression.
"Assuming that without external aid, she is capable of things that are beyond you Ds—That implies she is a different lifeform. She supposedly claimed to be a dragon and I would not be surprised even if that were true."
The principal remarked calmly.
Thinking logically, this was the natural conclusion. But for us, who had thought of Kili as simply a D the whole time, we were instantly rendered speechless.
Inside the classroom where you could hear a pin drop, the bell rang to announce the end of the period.
"Oh, it's time. What a delightful lesson, with the gazes of beautiful maidens gathered upon me, time sure flies."
The principal spoke in a wistful tone of voice. That seemed to be the reason why she was in a good mood.
"—As much as I'd like to continue, that's it for today's lessons. Dismissed."
"Y-Yes. Please rise, everyone."
Since Mitsuki was not present, Lisa took on the role of issuing orders.
The principal started walking and was about to exit the classroom when she stopped before opening the door and looked back at me.
"Mononobe Yuu, come over here. I've got business with you."
"Okay, got it..."
I wondered what it was about while following the principal to the corridor.
"Show me your dragon mark."
Hearing that, I instantly understood the principal's intent.
"—There's nothing unusual."
I showed the back of my left hand where the dragon mark was located while I spoke.
The small wound that had appeared after Leviathan's defeat was now part of my dragon mark.
Since I had gained the ability to create antigravitational matter after the wound appeared, the principal was suspecting a causal relationship between the two.
"Hmm... That seems to be the case. Then has there been any changes in your powers? Are you able to perform new transmutations?"
Stroking my dragon mark with her fingertip, the principal asked.
"None so far..."
"I see. It'd be interesting if you became capable of emulating Basilisk. But since it hasn't been that long since the team defeated Basilisk, perhaps the change will occur later. Report to me instantly if you discover anything."
I nodded affirmatively and the principal instantly turned her gaze to the door of Brynhildr Class.
"Antimatter and mithril was obtained from Kraken while antigravitational matter was obtained from Leviathan. In each battle against the dragons, Ds would gain new powers after victory. This time should be no exception. Apart from you, there could be changes in the others, so you must pay extra attention."
"...Creating new matter unintentionally is very dangerous. I'll be careful."
A suddenly obtained power could go out of control or cause accidents. Hence, I must pay attention and not miss minute symptoms.
"Great, then finally—Could you crouch down slightly."
"Huh? Like this... Is that okay?"
I had no idea what the principal wanted but I still bent down and lowered my posture.
Immediately, the principal placed her hand on my head.
"Mononobe Yuu, you did excellent work. It's all thanks to your contributions that Basilisk could be taken out successfully without sacrificing a single person."
It felt quite embarrassing to have her tiny hand rubbing my head.
"P-Principal, what are you doing so suddenly—"
"Hmm? I'm praising you... You're unhappy with this level of praise?"
"No, I'm not unhappy at all..."
"Then accept it with gratitude. It's extremely rare for me to personally reward a man."
After ruffling my hair for a while, the principal smiled and left.
I returned to the classroom. In the middle of packing their belongings, my classmates all stared speechlessly.
"...Mononobe-kun, your hair is such a mess, fufu... It's so weird."
Having worn a gloomy expression all day, Firill chuckled.
Seeing her smile, I felt somewhat thankful for the principal's reward.
Perhaps getting stroked on the head was not a bad thing once in a while.
Located some distance from the girls dormitories was a dorm belonging to Mitsuki alone. My accommodations consisted of a room in that building.
Normally, we would have our meals together in the dining hall at seven in the morning and the evening, but today, Mitsuki still had not returned when dinner time came.
Alone, I ate the meal prepared by the housework robots—the auto-maids—then returned to my own room.
After finishing my daily muscle training in my room, I took a shower and just as I was getting sleepy, I received a message. My portable terminal showed an icon for incoming mail and rang.
'Please come to conference room number one on the first floor of the clock tower immediately.'
The sender was Mitsuki. The email only contained the brief instructions above.
—Head over to school at this hour?
This was surely about handling Kili, right? But why ask me to come over?
Despite not knowing the reason, I still followed instructions and made my way to school.
Although everything was shrouded under the canopy of the night sky, the stars were bright and it was not difficult to find my way.
The school's clock tower, visible from everywhere on the island, was still brightly lit.
I used my portable terminal for identification to get past the gates, then entered the silent campus. Since the usual entrance to the clock tower from the corridor was closed, I entered through the back door
"Conference room number one... That's here, right?"
I looked at the room signs and walked. After finding my destination, I opened the door.
"—You arrived at last. How slow, Mononobe Yuu."
I felt troubled to be suddenly greeted by Lisa's glare, only to see that all of Brynhildr Class had already gathered.
"Nii-san, hurry and take a seat."
Standing in front of the whiteboard, Mitsuki urged me to sit down. Next to her was Shinomiya-sensei while the others were already seated.
"Yuu! Over here!"
Hearing Tia called me, I took the seat next to her.
"Tia, all of you were called here?"
"Yes, we've been waiting for Yuu the whole time."
Since Mitsuki's dorm was farther away than the girls dorms, it looked like everyone ended up waiting for just me.
I looked around the room and met gazes with Iris, who was sitting diagonally in front of me on the right.
"Good evening, Mononobe."
"O-Oh... Good evening."
Iris greeted me shyly in a quiet voice and I replied nervously.
Lisa and Firill were sitting in the front row. Ren was sprawled on the table napping while Ariella shook her shoulder.
"—Looks like everyone is here. Then I will start the announcements. Ren Miyazawa, time to wake up."
Shinomiya-sensei took a step forward whereas Mitsuki retreated to the side.
Ren rubbed her eyes and looked up.
"Sorry for summoning you at this hour. Although it is very sudden, I would like you all to set off for the Principality of Erlia at 0600 tomorrow."
I was not the only one exclaiming in surprise. Everyone was staring speechlessly at Shinomiya-sensei.
"Currently staying in the Principality of Erlia, Kili Surtr Muspelheim is seeking Midgard's protection and demands to be picked up by Ds. Hence, I have selected you as the pickup team."
After saying that, Shinomiya-sensei looked at each of us in turn.
"Mononobe Yuu and Lisa Highwalker have combat experience against her. Tia Lightning has a long and involved history with her. Mononobe Mitsuki is the captain of the Dragon Subjugation Squad whereas Firill Crest is a princess from the Principality of Erlia. Given such a talented group, I believe that Brynhildr Class is the most suited to carrying out this mission."
"H-Hold on! Shinomiya-sensei, are you implying she will be admitted into Midgard again!?"
Lisa asked loudly with disbelief.
It was only natural for her to be worried. Kili had caused serious destruction in Midgard. Welcoming someone like her would be suicidal behavior.
"I know what you are trying to say. However, since her message has been broadcast widely across the entire world, Midgard has no choice but to respond humanely."
"But she's a terrorist, right!?"
"All Ds will be discredited if she were to be exposed as a terrorist. Having covered up their crimes so far, NIFL probably won't disclose the identity of a deemed disaster either. In other words—We cannot treat her as a criminal."
"E-Even so... I still don't agree that this is the correct response."
Lisa argued desperately. Precisely because Lisa cherished her friends more than anyone—cherishing them as family—she could not allow a dangerous person to enter Midgard.
"Yes, it is definitely not the correct response. But to the outside world, we can only act in this manner, then adjust afterwards."
"Yes, meaning after we take her out of the Principality of Erlia. You will tell her that we will put many restrictions on her freedom if she is to live in Midgard. If she does not accept, you will let her go on the condition that her being a deemed disaster will not be disclosed."
"Restrictions on freedom is an appropriate measure... But is it really okay to let her go if negotiations break down?"
Lisa frowned and asked.
"Midgard is an organization that protects Ds. Even if she is deemed a disaster, we have neither reason nor obligation to kill her. More importantly, I cannot allow any of you to commit murder."
Hearing Shinomiya-sensei's answer, Lisa could not help but fall silent.
To commit murder—Such was the weight behind those words.
"I will continue if there are no other questions. Although Ds are forbidden from stepping out of Midgard's territorial waters, for this special exception, you are granted a five-day exemption. We will use this period to travel to the Principality of Erlia and make contact with Kili Surtr Muspelheim."
"Shinomiya-sensei, I think that kind of duration seems too long for simply transporting Kili."
The five-day exemption bothered me so I raised my hand and asked.
"Indeed, there are grounds for that. Starting the day after tomorrow, the Principality of Erlia will hold a grand funeral for King Albert for three days. And she has openly told the media that she would participate in a flower offering ceremony on the last day, so we will transport her only after the funeral. Before that, I want your team to serve as her bodyguards."
"NIFL will likely target her life, but while she is staying in the Principality of Erlia, she is purely a D trying to seek help. At least until we negotiate with her, we must not allow her to be killed."
If Kili was treated as a D, Midgard was duty-bound to protect her. I understood this principle quite well, but—
"That Kili... I don't think she needs bodyguards."
Recalling her powerful abilities, I remarked. If killing her was the objective, that would be a separate matter, but in normal combat, she was definitely stronger than me.
"Even so, unexpected things will always come up. Hence, I am counting on you, Mononobe Yuu."
Judging from the way Shinomiya-sensei worded things, the one actually performing bodyguard duties was probably me. I understood this too, because what we needed to guard against were humans. As a former soldier of NIFL, there was no better candidate than me, but... I still felt quite worried.
Still, giving anyone else this task would be too dangerous. Hence, I sighed and gave up on resisting. Reluctantly, unwillingly, I accepted the job.
After detailed explanations on the itinerary, we were dismissed roughly an hour later.
"We are setting off early tomorrow, so we must hurry and get ready... Nii-san, may I trouble you to pack my luggage for me?"
"No problem, leave it to me."
I nodded to Mitsuki and left the conference room together.
I never expected we would leave Midgard again so soon after defeating Basilisk.
Although it was a journey to foreign lands—I could not feel excitement stirring in my heart.
Feeling that what awaited us was a future impossible to imagine, I wiped my sweaty palms on my clothing.
At 6am the next morning, led by Shinomiya-sensei, all members of Brynhildr Class departed from Midgard.
First, we took a large high-speed helicopter for several hours to reach an airport somewhere. Then from there, we transferred to a private jet that we had hired.
I slept on the plane. By the time I woke up from an inflight announcement, the sunlight streaming through the window was already the setting sun's glow.
'All travelers—Our plane is set to arrive at the destination in roughly ten minutes.'
Despite having spent almost twenty-hours traveling, the time was still only dusk. This place most likely had a seven to eight hour time difference with Midgard.
I felt weight on my shoulder. Sitting in the neighboring seat, Mitsuki was sleeping with her head resting on my shoulder. Judging from the fact that the announcement had no woken her up, she must have accumulated quite a lot of fatigue.
Thinking I should let her sleep longer as much as possible, I looked outside the window without rousing her.
The plane still seemed to be high in the sky. I could see layers of clouds, dyed orange-red by dusk, covering the distant ground in patches. Protruding from the clouds was a towering mountain range with snow-capped peaks.
"It's all mountains."
"...Because that's the characteristic of the Principality of Erlia."
Firill suddenly poked her head out from the seat in front.
Her explanation came unexpectedly, making me exclaim quietly in surprise. She had apparently heard my mutterings.
"Let me tell you, because the Principality of Erlia is surrounded by tall mountains, it's known as the "Landlocked Island" and methods of transportation to the outside world are very limited."
"I had heard that they relied on planes as the chief mode of transportation... But to such an extent?"
"Yes, all land routes basically have to cross mountains. Although there are rivers passing through the mountain range, the rapids only allow one-way traffic exiting the country. Until the airport's construction, it was totally an isolated country."
Firill pointed at the land visible outside the window and explained.
"Actually... Before gaining independence during the chaos after World War II, it was not even a country—simply a part of a large nation's territory. Prior to my great-grandfather, my ancestors were dukes, not kings."
"Ah, so that's why it's called a principality rather than a kingdom."
I remarked in comprehension.
"Indeed. The Crest family has ruled this region for centuries but only started the royal administration not too long ago."
Firill seemed especially excited and talkative, perhaps due to getting close to her homeland.
"I see. So it's currently a democracy?"
I remember Mitsuki mentioning that.
"When Grandfather succeeded the throne, he voluntarily gave up power and opened up state-owned land to the people to extract rare resources... This made the country extremely rich. Grandfather really was an amazing person."
"Apart from that, he was also involved in restoring the Ds' human rights as well as Midgard gaining independence, right? How should I put it...? He is a man who changed countries and the world."
I sincerely admired the accomplishments of Firill's grandfather.
Simply as a single human, he had revolutionized so much. This fact was astounding enough already.
"Yes, everyone respects Grandfather."
"Then I'm sure the Principality's citizens must be very sad..."
I imagined the entire country to be shrouded in sorrow, but for some reason, Firill laughed as though she found it funny.
"I think the citizens will be sad... But definitely, it won't be like what you're imagining, Mononobe-kun."
"What do you mean?"
"You'll know when you see it."
Firill smiled mischievously.
'—Our flight is about to land, please secure your seat belts.'
Another announcement was heard in the plane.
"Once we arrive, I'll take you all to go sightseeing. Mitsuki, time to wake up."
Firill reached out and poked Mitsuki's cheek. Then she retracted her head and sat properly on her own seat.
Mitsuki rubbed her eyes sleepily. I told her we were about to arrive while pondering what Firill meant by "You'll know when you see it."
As soon as we exited the plane, I felt cold wind against my face instantly.
"Woah... S-So cold..."
Ariella and Ren hunched up and rubbed their exposed arms.
"I would have worn thicker clothing had I known earlier..."
Carrying Tia on her back, Lisa exited the plane, speaking with a frown.
On Lisa's back, Tia was soundly asleep, refusing to wake up no matter how much we called to her.
I descended the gangway while looking at the scenery afar. Just as Firill had mentioned, there was a mountain range faintly visible in the distance, enclosing the entire region. The altitude felt quite high too for the air was cold and rarefied.
This was quite a harsh environment for us, coming from a tropical island.
"Wow, so cool and refreshing!"
Iris was taking deep breaths comfortably despite exhaling white mist. Speaking of which, I had never asked where she was from. Perhaps Iris had grown up in a cold country.
As soon as I descended the gangway, I saw an extra long luxury vehicle—probably a stretch limousine—parked before us. It looked like the car had driven directly on the runway to welcome us. Standing next to the car was a woman in a heavy coat.
Firill instantly rushed down the gangway the instant she saw the woman.
"P-Princess Firill—That is very dangerous!"
Ignoring the voice telling her to stop, Firill rushed over and hugged the woman.
As soon as we descended the gangway, Firill instantly turned around to face us and introduce her to us.
"—She is Helen, my lady-in-waiting. She used to be my wet nurse during my infancy too."
"My name is Helen Brown. Dressed like that, you must all be cold. Please hurry and get in the car. I will prepare warm clothing for all of you once we reach the palace."
"Thank you. It is a pleasure to meet you."
Mitsuki walked up and bowed to her.
We boarded the vehicle at Helen-san's urging. The heat was on inside the and it was very warm. The interior of the limousine was very spacious with two rows of seats facing each other. After we had settled into our seats, the limo immediately started moving smoothly. Helen-san was the driver.
"—Well then, let's briefly confirm our schedule from here on. Ah, before that, synchronize your timepieces. The time is currently 1823 in this country."
Shinomiya-sensei revealed her radio-controlled watch. After making sure we had all checked our watches or portable terminals with it, she continued:
"Next, we will be welcomed at the palace as state guests. The palace will prepare individual rooms for us. You will get ready in your rooms to attend the dinner party at 2000. During the party, you will probably meet Firill Crest's parents—the next king and queen—as well as Kili Surtr Muspelheim, of course."
Meeting that Kili again—The thought of that instantly dispelled any uplifting feeling of trip abroad.
Since there was no telling what Kili's goal was, nothing could be predicted. If Kili intended to harm someone, we would need to fight her. And in order to stop her, my only choice was to fight her with the intention of killing her.
"The schedule for tomorrow and beyond will be adjusted after we talk to her. Any questions?"
Shinomiya-sensei asked and swept her gaze across our faces.
With the Tia sound asleep, using her lap as a pillow, Lisa raised her hand and spoke hesitantly.
"What is it?"
"How should we face Honoka-san—rather, how should we face Kili?"
"I won't ask you to be friends with her, but for the sake of finding out her goal, please try to talk to her as much as possible. Naturally, I am referring to peaceful and cordial communication. However, do not lower your guard the slightest. In a dangerous situation, please prioritize your own safety when taking action."
Despite a worried look, Lisa still nodded affirmatively.
The conversation ended there. I turned my gaze outside the window, only to see the limo leaving the airport runway. Passing through the terminal at the front of the airport, the limo drove along a street lined with many large hotels.
Perhaps because it was next to the airport, the street scenery looked unexpectedly modernized. Because I was told that this country was remote and isolated by mountains, I thought the scenery would be more agricultural and countryside.
But before long, brick buildings with distinctive styles became abundant. This seemed to be an area consisting mostly of historic buildings.
Vendor stalls were lined along the sides of the road with huge crowds moving about. I looked out the window during a red light and saw people decorating buildings and the street with electric illumination and colored fabric.
Seeing the situation inside of town, I muttered in puzzlement. Clearly the king had died but I could not sense any mourning.
"Yes, because the festivities start tomorrow."
Seeing my reaction, Firill smiled while she spoke, sitting opposite me.
"Eh? Isn't it the king's funeral starting tomorrow?"
"In this country, funerals are the same as festivals. Our custom is to send the deceased off to heaven in a lively celebration."
After the sun set in the western mountains, the city's neon lights were lit. Staring out at the dazzling lights, Firill explained.
"I get it now... So that's why you said earlier I'll know when I see it."
"It will definitely be more fun-filled starting tomorrow, but I fear that person might do something nefarious."
Gloom flashed across Firill's expression. She likely meant Kili by "that person." Firill was probably the most worried person here. After all, her parents had unknowingly taken in a dangerous terrorist.
"Don't worry. As long as I'm here, I absolutely won't allow Kili to do whatever she wants."
I was very worried too but I still had to assert this, because rather than being a question of whether I could do it or not, it was something I must do. Even if Kili had any ulterior motives, I was not going to let sadness or harm come to Firill.
"Mononobe-kun, you're quite reliable sometimes."
"'Sometimes' is redundant."
Hearing my reply, Firill laughed happily.
Then feeling strong gazes at this moment, I followed them to their source.
For some reason, Mitsuki and Iris were staring coldly at me.
"Nothing, none at all."
Mitsuki answered, her words inexplicably prickly.
"Mononobe... Somehow without me knowing it, you've become such good friends with Firill-chan."
Iris remarked with a slight sulk.
"N-No, that's not—"
Looking at my face, Firill's question put me at a loss for words.
"Perhaps... I guess it's not entirely..."
In the process of resolving the conundrum between Mitsuki and Iris, I had many opportunities to interact with Firill. It was true that we had become much better friends than before.
"...It must be true, becaue we did this and that together."
Firill leaned forward, drew near my face and whispered in my ear.
My ears began to feel hot while memories flashed across my mind of how she was touching my body randomly while straddling me on a bed or pressing her bosom against my back in the hot spring.
"Nii-san, do you know that your face is very red?"
"Mononobe... Did something happen between you and Firill-chan?"
Mitsuki and Iris' stares turned even sharper.
"N-Nothing at all! Putting that aside, look, that store's decorations are so pretty—"
I was trying to change the subject forcibly when I stopped mid-sentence.
From among the thick crowds in the street, I sensed an intense stare directed at us.
"What is the matter...? Nii-san?"
I was brought back to reality by Mitsuki calling to me.
However, the scenery rapidly receded into the distance. Trying to find the person staring at us was no longer possible.
"—No, I was just mesmerized by the lovely scenery."
It was probably hard not to be the subject of envy while traveling in this luxury vehicle. Or perhaps, Ds out of Midgard were under surveillance...
Although I could think of many possibilities, since no conclusion could be reached, I vaguely covered things up.
The limo passed through ancient streets then started crossing a large bridge. The surface of a vast lake was reflecting the setting sun's lingering glow. Looking ahead where the car was going, I saw a brightly lit castle come into view.
Surrounded by tall walls of stone. Countless spires towered.
"...How spectacular. Is that castle the royal palace?"
I asked Firill but she shook her head.
"No, that's Erlia Castle, a World Heritage tourist site. Nowadays, it's only used for special ceremonies."
"I see, so where's the palace?"
"Over on the side, we'll be there soon."
After the limo crossed the bridge, it continued on a road along the castle walls then accelerated. There were no cars coming in the opposite direction and no pedestrians visible either.
Just as Firill had said, a building resembling a palace quickly came into view.
A towering and magnificent palace was adjacent to the castle. Without castle walls and watch towers for defending against invaders, it was less intimidating than the castle, but it still exuded an air of history and grandeur. Its gothic architectural style indicated that the palace was built more recently than the castle.
After passing through the heavily secured main gate where many guards were stationed, crossing a spacious garden, the limo stopped at a side door instead of the front of the palace.
"—It feels like we're sneaking in even though the princess is clearly returning in triumph. We didn't go through official immigrations at the airport either..."
Ariella muttered after she got off the car, looking at the unassuming side door.
"I asked them beforehand not to publicize our visit, because it might cause unnecessary troubles if people found out that several Ds were outside of Midgard."
Shinomiya-sensei answered Ariella's question while waiting for everyone to exit the vehicle.
Carrying Tia, Lisa was the last to alight. Helen-san then led us into the palace.
"Well then, I shall first take you to your rooms."
After stepping into the palace through the side door, I instantly felt myself surrounded by warm air.
The interior had been modernized. The air conditioning was warm and gentle. Perhaps this was supposed to be a corridor used by servants, there were no extravagant furniture or interior decorations.
But as soon as we reached the third floor by the stairs, the impression was much different. The lights on the ceiling had complicated carvings while the floor was covered by a soft velvet carpet.
Helen-san led us to where there were many rooms spaced at regular intervals. Reaching into her pocket, she took out a notebook.
"Shinomiya Haruka-sama, please use this room."
Reading her notebook, Helen-san pointed at the room beside her and opened the door. The rooms were apparently all allocated already.
"Clothes have already been prepared inside the rooms, please use them as you please. The sizes are based on what you provided in advance, but we will prepare alternatives if none prove to be to your liking."
After explaining fluently, Helen-san took us to our respective rooms in order.
The rooms seemed to be assigned according to Student No. essentially.
The only exceptions were Tia rooming with Lisa and Firill getting skipped over.
"Now then, please come with me, Princess Firill."
Called last, she most likely had her own room.
Hence, Firill and Helen-san walked towards the other end of the corridor together.
—A princess' room must be very grand.
Although I felt a bit curious, it was not like I could head over for a peek, so my only choice was to enter my room obediently.
Since the doors were spaced quite far apart, I already expected it to some extent. However, the luxurious room before my eyes turned out to be even more spacious than I had imagined.
The ceiling had a chandelier as one would expect. The bed in the room was also especially huge. I opened the closet standing on the side of the wall and saw a large amount of menswear made with top-quality fabric and designs.
The windows seemed to open up to a balcony. I tried to open the windows gently and cold wind immediately blew into the room. Although it felt a bit cold since I had not changed yet, I still tried walking in the balcony.
The sun had completely set by now. The stars were twinkling in the sky. Perhaps due to the altitude, the stars looked nearer than usual.
I turned my gaze to the ground and could see a vast garden, meticulously maintained. It did not look like the front garden we saw when the car came in. It was the courtyard that was not visible from outside the palace. There was a fountain in the center. I could hear the sound of flowing water.
I heard someone open a window. Since Tia and Lisa were rooming together, the room on my right was empty while the left one was Iris', which meant that—
I spun left to have a look and instantly met eyes with Iris on the adjacent balcony. Our balconies were not connected. Although there was a gap separating them, there was no partition to block our view.
Iris showed a slightly surprised look then smiled.
"We think alike, Mononobe."
Iris smiled happily. Leaning out from her balcony, Iris extended her hand towards me.
"H-Hey, that's dangerous, you know?"
"Come—Extend your hand too, Mononobe."
Although I had no idea what was the point of doing that, I did as told.
Our fingertips touched slightly.
"Ah, we're touching."
Iris smiled with a happy voice.
"...Yeah, just barely. Then what do you want to do?"
"Hmm? Nothing, it just occurred to me how glad I'd feel if we were able to touch."
Iris widened her eyes and answered.
"For our hands to be able to touch when we're clearly in different rooms, doesn't that set your heart racing?"
"Hmm... Not really."
It was hard for me to imagine because such romantic notions did not occur to me.
"Eh, but I already feel my heart racing..."
Iris glared at me unhappily. Hearing her upfront confession, I felt my heart rate accelerate. Perhaps as a backlash to keeping her distance when Mitsuki was around, Iris was now expressing her feelings without any hesitation.
"...Heart racing huh."
Hearing me repeat those words, Iris blushed.
Iris scratched her cheek shyly.
Silently, we gazed at each other for a while. Then a strong gust of cold wind blew.
Iris' skirt was lifted up by the blowing wind.
My heartbeat accelerated. For an instant, my gaze was drawn to the exposed white fabric.
"......Did you see it?"
Iris frantically held down her skirt and asked me.
Covering up was impossible after all, so I apologized honestly.
Then Iris seemed to breathe a sigh of relief for some reason and touched her chest gently.
"Ah... Luckily, I'm wearing panties today."
"That's what you're concerned about?"
I could not help but ask her that. Iris smiled embarrassedly.
"Because... Mononobe, you mentioned before that seeing panties is like feeling you profited. It's embarrassing for me, but if it makes you happy, Mononobe, then it's not a failure to me, oh... Or are you unhappy to see panties?"
"Uh, nothing of that sort..."
"Then there's no problem!"
Seeing Iris smile sweetly, I could not help but nod in agreement.
Another strong gust of wind blew, forcing me to shiver. Iris held down her skirt as well. It looked like she felt really cold.
"—It's time we get back into our rooms to change. Staying outside in these clothes is uncomfortable."
Shivering, Iris nodded and walked back to the window.
"Mononobe, see you later! Since there are lots of wonderful clothes, you should look forward to it!"
Saying that, Iris closed her window and drew the curtains.
With embarrassed feelings, I returned to my room too. Speaking of which, I had yet to turn on the light.
Hence, I pressed the switch near the entrance. Immediately, the chandelier lit up and the room became bright.
The time was just after 7pm. I walked to the closet to pick out my clothing for the dinner party.
But at that moment, my portable terminal rang.
It was an incoming call but there was no caller ID, which gave me a bad feeling. No, I was certain already.
The same had happened before. Capable of concealing his caller ID, making calls to my Midgard-issued portable terminal, there was only one person I could think of.
To be honest, I did not want to pick up, but not knowing what might happen afterwards, I reluctantly pressed the call button. An image with static appeared on the terminal's LCD screen.
'Hi, 2nd Lieutenant Mononobe.'
Shown on screen was a man dressed in NIFL's military uniform, staring at me with his slender eyes.
"As expected... It's Major Loki."
I sighed. The caller was just as I suspected, my commanding officer back in my NIFL days, also the man who wanted to cultivate me into the strongest "killer."
'It's been a while—That's not a greeting I need to use given the last time we spoke. First of all, let me commend you for successfully taking out Basilisk. Congratulations. Excellent job. Was Mistilteinn of use?'
"...Yes, thanks to you. But I could not have defeated Basilisk on my own. Getting through the crisis was the result of cooperation."
I had asked Major Loki during the Basilisk battle for a NIFL-developed bomb—Mistilteinn—to be handed over for us to use. That request was made according to Major Loki's verbal promise of a favor no matter what, which he made after the Leviathan battle. This meant that we were even now, but I felt slightly apologetic because my demand much have been too much.
'No no, you were amazing. Now, the defeated dragons number three: "Purple" Kraken, "White" Levithan and "Red" Basilisk. "Black" Vritra has gone missing and "Blue" Hekatonkheir has not surfaced ever since it was driven off from Midgard. The only dragons currently confirmed as active are "Yellow" Hraesvelgr and "Green" Yggdrasil.'
Major Loki talked up a storm but I replied briefly.
'You are very fortunate—2nd Lieutenant Mononobe. You are truly fortunate that "Yellow" Hraesvelgr wasn't among the dragons you were forced to defeat earlier.'
Unable to understand what Major Loki was getting at, I made a questioning sound.
'Oh my, you're not aware? Hraesvelgr is currently regarded as the dragon that is impossible to fight.'
"No... I've heard that it's the most troublesome opponent, but not to the point that it's impossible to fight..."
'True, that's a position that cannot be approved from Midgard's standpoint. But we of NIFL has come to that conclusion from the standpoint reality."
I had often heard that Hraesvelgr was a formidable foe but this was my first time being told explicitly the dragon was impossible to fight. In charge of handling dragon disasters across the entire world, NIFL possessed vast quantities of data. Perhaps as a result of that, their assessment was far harsher than Midgard's.
"Why can you say with such certainty... it's impossible to fight?"
'The reason is simple, because we have attempted all kinds of attacks to no effect at all.'
"But the same applies to all the other dragons, right? Because they can't be defeated no matter what, that's why humans have suffered from dragon disasters for over twenty years."
'Indeed, apart from Hraesvelgr, NIFL cannot defeat any of the other dragons either, but that stems purely from weapon specs. Even if the opponent was that Leviathan, we could still inflict scratches by using laser weaponry in saturation attacks, but Hraesvelgr is on a completely different level.'
"...What do you mean by that?"
I frowned and asked.
'I said it already, no effect at all. Currently, there is absolutely no method capable of interfering against Hraesvelgr. Had it been Hraesvelgr attacking recently instead of Basilisk... You'd probably be forced to choose a different solution.'
"A different solution—Really?"
I remarked bitterly after realizing what Major Loki implied.
'Your face betrays your skepticism. You don't mean to say... that even if Hraesvelgr were to attack, you'd still fight it?'
I could answer this question without any hesitation at all. However, Major Loki made a look of disappointment and sighed.
'—2nd Lieutenant Mononobe, that is called a futile struggle, not a fight. Because I've mentioned that fighting is impossible, I wish you could come up with the best solution while taking this as a precondition.'
I knew what Major Loki's 'best solution' was referring to. Namely, to kill the D targeted by the dragon, but I could not approve of that kind of method at all.
'Your face betrays your wish to differ. Although your contributions to Leviathan and Basilisk's defeats were amazing accomplishments... You seem to have forgotten your real job. Your power exists purely for murder—'
"Major Loki, what business do you have this time?"
I interrupted him and demanded for him to get to the main point.
Because I did not want to listen any further to a conversation that pissed me off.
'Hoo—Are you that unwilling to confront who you are? Fine, let's get to the main point. Your current position should be the Principality of Erlia, right?'
Having applied for permission to leave Midgard's borders, our actions were naturally known to NIFL. There was no point in hiding things.
'Your objective is to guard Kili Surtr Muspelheim and transport her to Midgard, right? Seriously... Midgard's decision really calls their sanity into question.'
Major Loki sighed deeply then turned his sharp gaze at me.
'—However, it's convenient that the team includes you. I have only one item of business with you, namely, I want to ask you to eliminate Kili.'
I had pretty much guessed what Major Loki was going to say, but I could not agree to his request.
"Your request goes against Midgard's policy."
'Of course I know that, but Kili is a terrorist. Whether to humans, to Ds, or to yourself, she is only a disaster, right?'
Major Loki asserted in a strong tone of voice. I had also predicted what he was going to say, but—
"At least at this point in time, Kili is under our protection. I cannot take hostile action on my own."
'Mm-hmm—So you insist on obeying Midgard's decision. As a member of an organization, that's the correct decision. You're not declining out of a concern for getting your hands dirty... Hence, I can't force you.'
Major Loki spoke suggestively while shrugging.
"I am terribly sorry I cannot agree to your request."
I apologized to him somewhat sarcastically.
'No, it's fine, I was simply looking for an easy solution. However, I guess I have to do my own work after all.'
Seeing a smile surface on Major Loki's lips, I could only feel a sense of chill.
'My side will take care of Kili. I hope you won't interfere, if possible... But if you insist on fulfilling your duties loyally, that'll be interesting too. It's not a bad idea to use this chance to make you the complete "Fafnir"—'
Leaving ominous words behind, Major Loki hung up on his own.
I stood there frozen in the room that had returned to silence.
Major Loki was going to take action. In other words, he was going to send his team.
This time, I really was going to fight the special forces team I used to belong to—Sleipnir.
The figure of a certain man flashed in my mind. He was Major Loki's personal bodyguard and the one with the deepest history with "Fafnir."
Recalling things about him, I could not help but clench my fist.
From the closet in my room, I picked out a suit that looked the most respectable. After changing swiftly, I exited the room and came to the corridor.
Although there was still plenty of time before the dinner party, I wanted to inform either Shinomiya-sensei or Mitsuki about my conversation with Major Loki.
After hesitating slightly regarding which of them I should report to, I knocked on Mitsuki's door. If I told Mitsuki, Shinomiya-sensei would automatically know, right?
"—Yes, what is it?"
A slightly muffled voice came from the other side of the door.
"Mitsuki, it's me. I need to talk to you."
"N-Nii-san? Hold on, I am currently—Ah... No, on further thought, you came at the perfect time, Nii-san. C-Could you let yourself in?"
Noticing that she sounded a little flustered, but since she allowed me to enter the room, I opened the door.
Mitsuki seemed to be somewhere out of sight from the entrance, so I closed the door and entered.
"U-Umm... I am over here."
I found Mitsuki standing in front of a large mirror next to the closet. However, the sight of her attire took my breath away.
Mitsuki was dressed in a magnificent purple formal dress. Undoubtedly, it was an outfit for attending a dinner party, but this was my first time seeing Mitsuki all dressed up, so—For a moment, I could not help but stare at her in mesmerization.
"Nii-san... Umm, may I trouble you to do the back for me?"
Awkwardly, apparently quite shyly, Mitsuki turned her back to me. It looked like she had been struggling to pull the zipper on her back. From the gap in her dress, I could see her underwear and pale skin.
Frantically, I approached Mitsuki. Perhaps due to nervousness, I accidentally touched Mitsuki's skin when reaching for the zipper.
"Hyah... H-Hold on, Nii-san, where do you think you are touching?"
Mitsuki glared at me in surprise.
I apologized to her. This time, I cautiously pulled the zipper up, covering up her pale skin with the purple dress.
In the past, I probably would not be this nervous. But having learned of Mitsuki's feelings—knowing we were not siblings by blood—It was impossible for me not to be conscious now.
"Thank you, Nii-san, what is your opinion...? Does it look weird anywhere?"
Mitsuki spun around once then sought my opinion.
"Hmm... No, not weird at all. This dress looks great on you."
"Wonderful, ah—Nii-san, your suit too... Umm, it looks great."
With blushing cheeks, Mitsuki praised my attire. However, she narrowed her eyes as though noticing something and drew closer.
"Still, it could be better, you tie is crooked."
Mitsuki reached for my collar and adjusted my tie's position for me.
Mitsuki was dressed in a lovely outfit and standing within a breath's distance. It was a very surreal scene—yet Mitsuki was undoubtedly right here at my side—This discrepancy between feeling and cognition was making me dizzy.
"Much better... Well then, Nii-san, what did you want to talk about?"
I came back to my senses and told Mitsuki about how Major Loki had called me and sent a team to kill Kili.
"...I see. It is expected that NIFL would make a move, but there is one fact that bothers me—Come to think of it, does NIFL even have the power to threaten Kili-san?"
While taking care not to wrinkle her dress, Mitsuki sat down on the chair in front of the dressing table while offering her view.
I understood what she was saying. Because prior to this, NIFL had been trying to take Kili's life but never succeeded. However—
"Major Loki mentioned before that his team—Sleipnir—was fighting Kili in an intense battle while NIFL took in Tia from the Sons of Muspell facility. Consequently, I don't think they're easy enemies for Kili."
"...Understood. I will inform Shinomiya-sensei and discuss the upcoming plans and bodyguard arrangements."
Mitsuki nodded with her Dragon Subjugation Squad captain's expression.
Most unpredictable of all was what action Kili would take. Unless her intent and purpose was known, we would most likely end up being manipulated and used by her.
—Kili was probably somewhere in the palace right now.
I involuntarily looked at the ceiling while pondering.
It was almost time for the dinner party. The sensation of burying a sharp object into her abdomen that time was reawakening in the palm of my hand. Even though it was for protecting my friends, at the time, I was fighting her with the intent to kill her.
Although I had deliberately avoided her vitals at the critical moment and Kili had used dark matter for biogenic transmutation to instantly heal her wound—It was also true that I had crossed my line of not killing, one that I had always insisted prior to that.
That fact could not be erased at all.
Meeting her again, would another change come to me? Unable to calm my emotions, I waited for that moment to arrive.
Just before the dinner party started, Helen-san came to welcome us.
The girls were coming out of their rooms one after another, dressed in different styles of dresses that suited them.
"Ooh, this feels kinda weird."
Ariella tugged at her yellow-green dress and touched the skirt's frilly fabric while commenting.
Ren could not settle down either. She kept inspecting the crimson dress that matched her red hair.
"Worry not, your attire suits both of you very well."
Wearing an elegant pale-yellow dress, Lisa praised the two of them.
However, speaking of suitability, Lisa's dress suited her the best. I got the feeling that she was very used to wearing formal dresses, or rather, she looked more natural in one than the usual uniform.
"What are you staring at, Mononobe Yuu?"
Noticing my gaze, Lisa asked with displeasure in her voice.
"Huh? Oh—I just find your attire extremely natural. A dress looks really good on you. It feels very cool."
"No—Sorry, let me pick my words better. What I mean is it's splendid, Lisa, you look very splendid in a dress."
Thinking cool was not the right word for praising a lady, I corrected myself.
Lisa instantly blushed and glared at me.
"I-I will not be happy even if you flatter me! You won't gain anything no matter how much you flatter me!"
"I'm not looking to gain anything. Seeing you in a dress is good enough for me."
"...!? Y-You're mocking me, aren't you!?"
Seeing Lisa anger inexplicably, I panicked. Did I say something wrong again?
"I-I'm not mocking you! By the way, what happened to Tia?"
I explained myself while changing the subject. Tia, who was supposed to be Lisa's roommate, had not come out to the corridor.
"...Regarding Tia-san, she is fast asleep in the room. Since I am worried about letting her meet Kili suddenly, I've decided not to force her to wake up."
An expression of displeasure surfaced on Lisa's face while she answered me.
"I see, that does seem to be better."
Tia and Kili had a long history going back. We should first check out Kili's attitude before letting them meet.
This meant that Iris was the only one who had yet to leave her room.
Shinomiya-sensei was wearing a mature and attractive blue dress whereas Mitsuki's was purple. The two of them were checking out Iris' room, calling to her inside.
"Iris Freyja, are you not ready?"
"Iris-san, everyone is waiting for you!"
"—Wah, s-sorry! I'll be over right away!"
Iris exited the room frantically in a panic.
The hem of her dress, as pure-white as fresh snow, fluttered lightly while she walked.
All dressed up, Iris really seemed like a fairy who had escaped from the land of fairy tales. My gaze was strongly attracted to that otherworldly beauty of hers.
I was staring at her silently when our gazes met.
"M-Mononobe... What's the matter?"
I could not think of any other comment apart from that.
Iris exhaled and relaxed as though relieved of her worries.
"I'm so glad..."
Watching our interactions, Lisa glared at me with apparent displeasure.
"Compared to the one offered to me, your comment seems rather upfront in comparison."
Mitsuki also glared at me with eyes of discontent.
"Nii-san, you only said the dress looks great on me... Were you just being polite?"
"N-No, that's not what I meant!"
I frantically explained.
Seeing our situation, Shinomiya-sensei smiled with slight wryness then turned to look at Helen-san.
"—Sorry for adding to your troubles. Please lead the way."
"Understood. Everyone, this way please."
Helen-san nodded then walked in front to guide us.
Using a different staircase from when we got here, we went down one floor, passed through a spacious hall then arrived before a pair of doors. A fragrant aroma instantly greeted us.
Helen-san opened the door and we entered.
Appearing before my eyes was a long and spacious dining table laden with dishes. Four people were seated already. I originally expected a party resembling a continental buffet, but it looked like we were going to sit down to dine normally.
Sitting on the far end at the head of the table was man, most likely Firill's father—the next king. A woman, probably the next queen, and Firill were seated respectively on his left and right.
Firill's formal dress was primarily blue in color. Worn around her neck was a necklace with a large blue gemstone. This attire truly befitted her identity as a princess.
Then sitting next to the next queen was a girl in a black dress, Kili Surtr Muspelheim.
Kili looked straight at us—rather, straight at me—and smiled.
It was impossible to tell what she was thinking from her expression.
The man got up from his seat on the far end and nodded to greet us.
"Welcome, I am Alfred Crest, Firill's father. Since the coronation ceremony will take place after my father's funeral, I am still the Crown Prince—nevertheless, I represent my country in extending a welcome to you all. Please sit wherever you wish."
Prince Alfred invited us to take our seats.
Before anyone else could make a move, I sat down first at what might be the most dangerous spot, the one next to Kili. I could not allow Mitsuki or the others to sit somewhere like this.
"—I knew you'd come. I'm so happy to see you again, Yuu."
Whispering quietly at a volume only audible to me, Kili gazed at me with passionate eyes.
"Frankly speaking... I don't want to see you."
I lowered my voice as well and answered at a volume too quiet for Prince Alfred and the others to hear.
"Oh my, how cold of you. I never forgot you for even an instant."
Kili touched her abdomen and smiled.
That was where I had stabbed her with a metal fragment. Just as I could not forget the sensation of that act, she also remembered the pain of the stab wound very clearly.
Not knowing how to answer, I turned my gaze away from Kili with bitter feelings.
After confirming that everyone was seated, Prince Alfred sat down again. As though waiting for the moment, this time, it was the next queen who spoke:
"You must all be tired after your long journey. I am Fariel Crest, Alfred's wife as well as Firill's mother. Firill's elders sisters were supposed to join us, but they need to prepare for the festival..."
"No, please don't let that weigh on your mind. We are the ones who feel sorry for making unreasonable demands. I thank you sincerely for permitting our sudden visit to your country."
Shinomiya-sensei expressed gratitude and bowed her head deeply. Seeing Lisa and Mitsuki get up to bow, I hastily followed suit.
After sweeping a glance across each of us, Kili took her turn to speak.
"I, Kili, am truly grateful for all of you to come today at my request. I am deeply moved to have fellow Ds from Midgard come all the way here to welcome me."
Hearing her empty words, Lisa and Mitsuki showed overt distaste on their faces but could not expose Kili's true identity here.
Hence, we all took turns and introduced ourselves, pretending to meet her for the first time. Since the sequence started with Lisa, who was sitting next to Firill, I was the last one.
"—I am Mononobe Yuu, nice to meet you."
I stated my name while seated and bowed. Immediately, Prince Alfred looked at me with eyes filled with interest.
"I have heard rumors due to our relationship with Midgard as sponsors... But to think a male D really existed."
"My dear, it is quite impertinent for you to stare like this. Let us end the pleasantries here and begin the meal. The food will get cold if we don't start."
"—Right, well said."
Persuaded by Princess Fariel, Prince Alfred nodded in agreement.
Hence, the superficially harmonious dinner party began. Of course, none of us was in the mood to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. While eating, we kept paying attention to Kili's movements.
"Are you and Firill close friends?"
"Since we're classmates... I guess we're okay."
Under such circumstances, Prince Alfred kept talking to me for some reason.
"Is tough for you, being the only man among girls?"
"A lot of things were definitely troubling in the beginning... But I'm living quite happily nowadays."
"Oh, but that kind of environment could be problematic, right? How should I put this? Well—Won't there be romantic disputes?"
"Eh...? No, that's—"
Suddenly asked this kind of in-depth question, I could not help but feel troubled.
"My dear, please do not pose such crude and vulgar questions."
"...Father, if you put Mononobe-kun on the spot, please know that I will be mad."
Glared at by Princess Fariel and Firill, Prince Alfred shrank away.
"...Oh, I suppose you're right. My apologies for asking you an impertinent question."
Prince Alfred apologized to me in contrition.
He probably felt worried that a man like me had been added to the place where Firill was living.
"No, umm, it's okay. Nothing happened between us, Prince Alfred, for you to worry about that sort of thing."
I added but Firill smiled mischievously and asked with her head tilted:
"...Eh? Is that really the case?"
Hearing what Firill said, I panicked.
"What? Something really did happen?"
Prince Alfred shot his sharp gaze at me.
"Father, please don't worry, when the necessary time arrives... I will make him take responsibility and become my prince."
Firill made a shocking statement with a nonchalant expression.
"What... I don't suppose you and Firill have already reached that kind of relationship!?"
"O-Of course not!"
I desperately tried to calm down Prince Alfred.
"Mononobe, something must have happened between you and Firill-chan, right?"
"Nii-san, could you explain in greater detail?"
Even Iris and Mitsuki were glaring at me, interrogating me in a low voice.
"I'm begging you all, please calm down!"
In this manner, which was uncertain whether it could be described as harmonious, the dinner party proceeded relatively peacefully and Kili showed no signs of malevolence.
When Ren, the slowest eater, finished her plate and everyone's conversations had winded down, the dinner party came to a close.
"—We would like to discuss with her about the itinerary henceforth. Could you lend this room to us for a while longer?"
Shinomiya-sensei spoke to Prince Alfred who had gotten up from his seat.
"Sure, no problem. I will order someone to bring drinks slightly later."
Prince Alfred nodded in assent then left the room with Princess Fariel. The cheerful interior of the room was instantly plunged into silence.
More talkative than usual when in front of her parents, Firill now showed a tense expression while she stared at Kili. Despite being the target of everyone's gazes, Kili showed a smile of composure on her face.
Soon after, Helen-san came with a tray of drinks. Just as she exited the room, Shinomiya-sensei finally spoke to Kili.
"So, what is your objective?"
"...How rude to ask that right off the bat. Didn't you guys come to pick me up because I sought Midgard's protection?"
Kili's tone of voice made her sound like a completely different person compared to when Prince Alfred was present.
"Indeed, but pray enlighten me as to the reason."
"I thought I already mentioned the reason on television? Namely, my life is under threat."
"That's not something new in recent days, is it?"
Kili had been active until now as the leader of the Sons of Muspell. It would be far too unnatural for her to seek Midgard's protection at this juncture.
"Definitely, but I'm currently cornered to an unprecedented extent, hence—I hope you will save me."
Instead of looking at Shinomiya-sensei, Kili directed her last sentence to me.
"...Is the enemy so powerful that you feel your life is in danger?"
I took on her gaze and asked.
"What kind of enemy will make you this wary? Sleipnir?"
Kili frowned as though she was hearing the term for the first time.
"It's the NIFL team that barred your way when they were taking action to get a hold of Tia. Don't you remember?"
"Ah, you mean that inexplicably troublesome team. Yes, they are a threat too."
"Then you mean there are other enemies?"
"Yes, of course. However, it'd take forever if I had to list them all out, because I have too many enemies. That is why I have no choice apart from seeking your assistance in order to escape their pursuit and find safety."
Kili looked at each of us then turned her gaze back to Shinomiya-sensei.
"So, first of all, I would like you to tell us everything you know. In particular, unless we verify your relationship with Hekatonkheir, we will not allow you into Midgard."
Shinomiya-sensei spoke in a forceful tone of voice.
Roughly a month earlier, Kili had infiltrated Midgard in an attempt to retrieve Tia. Then as though summoned by her, Hekatonkheir had also made a sudden appearance at Midgard.
Kili had called Hekatonkheir "mother" upon seeing it. Although I did not think the literal meaning applied, some sort of deep relationship definitely existed between them.
"Regarding this matter—I will tell you as soon as we leave this country."
"Then I hope to depart immediately. According to information just received, NIFL's team has apparently mobilized to eliminate you. If you wish for safety, leaving this country ASAP is the wise choice."
"Yes, I'd like to do that too but I already promised to attend King Albert's funeral. I also have a speech scheduled on the last day."
Kili shrugged and replied.
"For someone who claims to be cornered... You seem rather laid back."
"I am indebted to this country for taking me in. Wouldn't it be too fickle to leave as soon as someone came to pick me up? And if I backed out of attending the funeral this late, wouldn't that worsen the outside world's view of the Ds?"
"...So you insist on refusing to disclose your true goal."
Shinomiya-sensei sighed deeply.
"You are too suspicious. What I said was clearly all true."
Kili smiled faintly and sighed as well.
"No helping it—Then we will follow the original plan and guard you until the funeral ends. Let us find a chance to talk again after we leave the country. I hope you will adhere to your promise and tell us everything, including your relationship with Hekatonkheir."
"Yes, I promise you."
Kili made an unreadable smile and nodded.
"—I look forward to you keeping your promise. Then about tomorrow's schedule..."
"I've been confined in this palace for a while now, so I'd like to go outside. Could you take me sightseeing to some of this country's attractions?"
Kili interrupted Shinomiya-sensei and spoke to Firill.
"...Are you even listening? Someone is targeting your life, right?"
Firill asked with a troubled expression.
"It's precisely because someone is targeting my life. They have already mobilized a team. No matter where, I will be attacked sooner or later. In that case, it's preferable to choose a location more suited to battle, right? My combat style is not suited to indoors."
"If damage to the surroundings need not be considered while fighting in the palace—I don't mind staying here obediently. But when that happens, your loved ones might get caught in the crossfire."
Firill could only stay silent in response to Kili's counterarguments.
"Looks like we've reached a conclusion. Let's set off after breakfast tomorrow."
Deciding on the schedule on her own, Kili got up from her seat.
Watching her leave the room with relaxed footsteps, no one stopped her. Then the door slammed shut.
"—I feel like we are being totally used by her."
Lisa remarked unhappily and stood up from her seat.
"Yeah, she's clearly hiding something."
Ariella and Ren concurred. Everyone else nodded in agreement.
Then everyone left together. When going up the stairs, we parted ways with Firill on the third floor. Her room was apparently on the fourth.
"You may experience difficulties in adjusting to the time difference, but please do not oversleep tomorrow."
Mitsuki reminded us loudly. Everyone showed fatigue on their face.
"O-Okay... I'll try my best but I'm not confident."
Iris answered with a wry smile.
Thus, we all entered our respective rooms.
Thinking I'd take a shower first, I loosened my tie while walking to the bathroom. Then I heard a knock at my door.
Did Mitsuki forget to announce something? Guessing that, I opened the door—
Standing in front of my room was Kili in her black dress.
"Why are you here...?"
"I secretly followed you because I need to talk to you alone."
Kili smiled seductively then swiftly entered the room, closing the door behind her. With pleading eyes, she looked up at me.
"...You need to talk to me?"
"That NIFL team that you mentioned—Sleipnir—has probably arrived in this country already. Actually, I was attacked when going out recently. I think they were probably responsible."
I was shocked to hear what Kili said. Major Loki sounded like he was about to mobilize his troops, but now it seemed like things were in motion already. He probably thought of testing the waters to see if I could be used only because I happened to have arrived in the country.
"But the problem came later. I don't know if it was one of them... Or sent by another faction. A tall man with his face obscured by a helmet entered the fight—I almost got killed by him."
"You almost got killed... Really?"
I could not believe instantly so I asked her again.
"It's true. I got a sense that he was very similar to you, that you when you stabbed the piece of steel into my body—"
My heart was beating intensely and my limbs trembled involuntarily.
So Major Loki really deployed him into battle after all—
"Judging by your reaction, you know who he is?"
Since this was not something to be disclosed lightly, I answered vaguely.
"Never mind, after all... You are the only one I trust."
Kili smiled and touched my cheek with her right hand. I was a bit surprised by the unexpectedly cold sensation. At the same time, I noticed the fabric wrapped around Kili's right hand.
From the back of her hand to slightly above her wrist, everything was wrapped under a white bandage. Since her fingers were not wrapped and she was wearing a long-sleeved dress, I did not notice earlier.
"Your right hand... It's injured?"
I felt curious while asking her. Since it was Kili, she should be able to heal wounds instantly using biogenic transmutation.
"Oh—This isn't an injury."
Kili smiled wryly and separated from me, hiding her right hand behind herself.
"Then goodnight, Yuu. Surely, you will be able to protect me, no matter who the enemy is."
Leaving such words behind, Kili exited my room.
I still could not fathom what her goals were but judging from the way her eyes gazed at me, I could tell that she was struggling desperately. I suppose her seeking of help was probably real.
"You overestimate me."
I muttered quietly.
The tall man who had almost killed Kili, if he turned out to be the one I predicted—Then he was the only exception whom I absolutely could not defeat.
No, more accurately—It was impossible for me to defeat him.
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