Unlimited Fafnir:Volume 4 Chapter 3
Chapter 3 - "Yellow" Hraesvelgr
From Firill Crest's perspective, her grandfather Albert Crest was a very distant figure.
Although she could see her grandfather every Sunday at the dinner party where the entire family gathered, he would finish his meal in an instant then leave the table due to busy matters to attend to. When she saw him occasionally in the palace, he was often scolding others. Firill inexplicably feared him. Furthermore, she thought that he was probably uninterested in her.
However, when Firill awakened as a D, he had roared in anger at the Asgard staff visiting the palace:
"What kind of joke is this!? How could I allow my granddaughter to be locked away in a some kind of detention facility!?"
After that, he changed the world in a few short years. While calling for the protection of the Ds' human rights and supporting Midgard's independence, he kept refusing the extradition of Firill.
Although he was still the same, always leaving the dinner party in a rush without speaking much to Firill, still giving her the same sense of distance as before—
Firill kept trying to find the chance to convey certain words to him. But she feared the grandfather who always seemed angry. Even when she found a chance, she did not dare to talk to him. Finally, time came for Firill to leave the country.
Since Midgard had gotten on track as a self-governed educational institute, he decided that the system was sufficiently perfected.
Due to illness, her grandfather was absent from the dinner party before her departure. Hence, in the end, Firill never got to tell him those words.
"...Grandfather is still so distant."
From the viewing balcony, looking out at the coffin and portrait in the hall inside Erlia Castle, Firill murmured quietly to herself.
The distance between them still felt the same as back then.
While praying silently, she kept repeating certain words she had been unable to voice all this time—but she could not feel that she had conveyed them to her grandfather.
Ariella had said that souls existed. Firill did not think it was a lie. However, Firill did not know where his soul was located.
"Souls—If only they were visible."
Then Firill would be able to convey those words directly to him.
But of course, that kind of wish was equivalent to daydreaming.
When Firill sighed gloomily, a noisy commotion suddenly started in the hall.
Entering the door, people pointed outside and seemed to be saying something.
She seemed to hear that word.
"No choice—I'll protect you!"
I grabbed Kili's arm and ran back to the hall. The calamity was probably known already. It was a bit noisy in the hall and the orchestra had stopped playing too.
I looked around and found Mitsuki then I brought Kili over to her.
"...N-Nii-san! What happened to your hand!?"
Seeing my blood spattered right hand, Mitsuki asked shrilly. Originally a bit farther away, Iris, Lisa, Ariella, Ren and Tia all gathered to see what was going on.
"Oh, my wound is fine, it's already healed. What's more important is this, look."
Saying that, I showed Kili's dragon mark, which had turned yellow, to Mitsuki and the girls.
They all stared at Kili's arm, too surprised to speak.
"Hraesvelgr is here."
Then I summed up the current situation. Mitsuki immediately showed comprehension on her face.
"I see—So this is the situation."
Swiftly figuring things out, Mitsuki glared at Kili.
"Indeed, this is the situation."
Kili nodded nonchalantly to concur.
"Although I have things to say... I will put them aside for now."
Mitsuki remarked bitterly then turned her gaze to the viewing balcony on the second floor where we were taken to earlier.
"Shinomiya-sensei, Level A alert! Type Yellow! We will intercept, Sensei, so please lead the ordinary people to evacuate!"
Perhaps to avoid the chaos to spread further, Mitsuki used Midgard's alert jargon to report the situation to Shinomiya-sensei.
From the balcony, Shinomiya-sensei nodded. Next to her, Firill also leaned out.
"I will head over immediately!"
"No, Firill-san, please remain in the hall! Someone needs to protect Kili-san and the people here."
After hearing Firill's response, Mitsuki called to us.
"Everyone, let us move out. First go outdoors to confirm the target visually."
We left Kili in the hall and ran outside.
"Eh? Eh? What's going on?"
Iris still seemed unsure of the situation. While running, she asked in puzzlement.
"Yuu, what does 'this is the situation' mean?"
Because things developed too suddenly, Tia had not caught up either.
"You just saw the dragon mark whose color had changed, right? Hraesvelgr's target is Kili. To prevent Kili from turning into a dragon, we must intercept Hraesvelgr."
"Ehhh!? We have to fight now? What if I get the dress dirty..."
Hearing what I said, Iris looked down at the white dress she was wearing. Although something was off with her worries, since she still had the luxury of worrying about something like that, there was no problem.
What concerned me more was Ariella who seemed occupied in her thoughts.
As though squeezing out her voice, Ariella murmured the name of the invading dragon, then gritted her teeth hard.
Passing through the door leading to the corridor, we then rushed into the courtyard. Immediately, we were greeted by strong wind blowing straight at us.
I looked up into the sky to see the giant golden bird that happened to fly past. Its body looked bigger than before.
Although it was difficult to get a sense of distance, it looked like Hraesvelgr was descending from quite a high altitude.
"That is Hraesvelgr. Although it frequently passes near Midgard's territorial waters, this is my first time seeing it from so near."
Lisa commented while looking up at the giant bird flying in the night sky.
"Hraesvelgr is infamous for rendering all kinds of attacks ineffective. However, we have no need to be pessimistic, because we possess what has never been tested before—Powerful means of attack."
Saying that, Mitsuki instantly issued orders to us.
"Lisa-san and Ren-san, cooperate to fire a positron cannon of maximum firepower. I will borrow Iris-san's dark matter to fire an extra large antimatter missile. Nii-san, please attack with anti-dragon armaments with Tia-san's assistance! Ariella-san, deploy barriers as necessary!"
We all answered in unison then taking positions some distance apart from one another, we looked up at the sky.
Lisa generated her fictional armament of a spear then Ren enlarged it.
Mitsuki borrowed Iris' dark matter to create a fictional armament of a bow, several times larger than usual.
"Tia, I'm counting on you."
The amount of dark matter I could generate at a time was extremely small. To create gigantic anti-dragon armaments, I needed to borrow dark matter from others.
"Great! Tia's power is all yours, Yuu."
Tia nodded and held my left hand.
I raised my right hand and materialized the weapon from an ancient civilization.
Borrowing the dark matter flowing from Tia, I constructed a giant cannon pointing at the sky.
Controlling the cannon that was linked to my consciousness, I aimed at Hraesvelgr in the air.
Ariella equipped her gauntlet-shaped fictional armament and stayed on guard against attacks from Hraesvelgr.
"It is still outside attack range. Please wait until it approaches before attacking! If Hraesvelgr's target is Kili-san, it will surely land in this castle."
Mitsuki shouted to us after we were all ready, then nocked an arrow of dark matter onto her fictional armament.
Hraesvelgr was gradually circling over a smaller area. It was probably searching for Kili's location while descending.
Due to its figure getting nearer, I figured out why it was so hard to pin down the sense of distance.
Its outline was unsteady without a specific size.
Despite being bird-shaped overall, Hraesvelgr did not have a fixed form. It was almost like it was enveloped in a layer of golden steam.
Flying in the night sky, Hraesvelgr looked very noble and sacred, almost making me forget it was a dragon, the enemy of mankind. The wind gradually grew stronger and started to carry glittering golden particles.
"Its movements are changing. Everyone, get ready!"
Perhaps certain that Kili was in Erlia Castle, the circling Hraesvelgr started to descend. The giant golden bird made a rapid descent straight towards our direction.
"To confirm whether the various attacks are effective, we will attack in waves. Lisa-san, please fire your first shot!"
Gungnir's tip glowed brightly. The flash of positrons, magnified using Ren's dark matter, instantly reached Hraesvelgr's location.
Lisa exclaimed in shock.
Despite getting struck by positron blast, Hraesvelgr tore through the flash of light and continued to descend. Instead of slowing down, it sped up.
Seeing what happened, Mitsuki drew Brionac's bowstring.
"My turn! Terminating Arrow—Last Quark!"
Mitsuki shot an arrow of antimatter. This was Midgard's trump card.
Hraesvelgr made a beeline for us without choosing evasive action, taking Mitsuki's antimatter projectile head on.
The explosion—did not happen
Bouncing off the surface of Hraesvelgr's body, Mitsuki's arrow disappeared without trace.
"No way... Why—"
Mitsuki was at a loss but quickly came to her senses and turned to face me.
"Nii-san, please fire!"
I nodded then gripped Tia's hand tightly.
Using the dark matter flowing from her I transmuted it into the ammunition's energy to fire Megiddo's boundary-incinerating blue flames.
The projectile, a sphere of blue light, rose in the night sky. Aimed accurately, it struck Hraesvelgr right on the mark. The exploding light engulfed Hraesvelgr's body.
Due to the blinding light, the stars and the moon in the sky vanished.
The sound of wings flapping could be heard amidst the light.
Breaking through the blue sun in the night sky, the giant golden bird flew towards us.
Exactly like Lisa's attack, it did not work.
"Gah... I'm not done yet!"
Holding Tia's hand I left Megiddo, which was gradually melting from the heat of firing, then constructed another anti-dragon weapon.
I felt a sharp pain in my head and my consciousness grew hazy. Consecutive construction of anti-dragon armaments caused massive strain but I had no choice but to take the gamble.
"Marduk, main cannon—Babel!"
A giant barrel, split into two, gradually appeared. Tia closed her eyes and transmitted all her dark matter to me.
Hraesvelgr had descended to a height where details of its body could be seen clearly.
With golden feathers, Hraesvelgr's entire body was enveloped in dazzling particles of light. The reason why its size and outline fluctuated unsteadily seemed to be due to the particles' oscillation. The actual body was roughly ten meters or so. Compared to other dragons, Hraesvelgr seemed rather petite in size.
We were out of options if this failed.
"This must succeed—Fire!!"
The lens-shaped device inside the barrel glowed while pitch-black light extended towards Hraesvelgr.
This was a supergravitational spatial discontinuity which devoured and crushed all creation. Apart from neutralizing it with a repulsive field of antigravity like Leviathan's, there was no method to resist this attack.
At least, it should halt Hraesvelgr's movements.
However, the supergravity's beam of light stopped unnaturally just before making contact with Hraesvelgr.
As though the space occupied by Hraesvelgr rejected all interference, the supergravitational field could not reach it. Thus, only swallowing the night wind, it vanished.
This was not an issue of effectiveness. Instead, it was an issue on a completely different dimension.
Most likely, our attacks could not interfere with Hraesvelgr at all.
Understanding this was already too late. Descending with fierce speed, Hraesvelgr charged into Erlia Castle.
"—Pressure barrier, deploy!"
After Ariella's shout, I heard a giant noise and the ground shook intensely.
Dust flew up and the ancient and beautiful castle collapsed.
Debris of various sizes scattered, falling like rain.
Tia screamed and hugged me.
The flood of dust and flying debris was blocked entirely by Ariella's barrier of wind and did not reach us.
"—Thank you, we're saved."
I thanked Ariella but she was showing a grim expression while glaring at the place where Hraesvelgr had charged into. There was intense hostility that her eyes normally did not show.
Due to the cloud of dust in the surroundings, it was almost impossible to see anything, but there was no doubt that Hraesvelgr had charged into the vicinity of the hall.
"...Anyway, let us hurry to Kili-san! We fight while protecting her!"
Mitsuki issued orders and took flight, taking Iris with her. The door to the hall had already collapsed, so she probably intended to enter the castle from the place where Hraesvelgr had crashed through.
"Tia will fly with Yuu!"
Using dark matter, Tia created her fictional armament of red wings, then transmuted air to hover. Wrapped in her wind, I flew and pointed to the large hole appearing in the dust cloud.
"Enter from there!"
Taking me with her, Tia rushed into the castle that was shrouded in dust. The rest followed us in.
Inside the great hall whose ceiling opened up to the third floor, screams and sounds of chaos could be heard.
Hraesvelgr's figure could be seen vaguely in the center of the hall which was filled with dust and golden particles. Perhaps because the golden particles covering its body had dispersed when it charged inside, Hraesvelgr seemed smaller than when it was landing earlier.
For some unknown reason, Hraesvelgr had stopped moving.
In such poor visibility conditions, I focused and looked, searching for Kili and Firill who was supposed to guard her.
Only after looking did I realize that the damage to the hall was unexpectedly small. Perhaps Firill had deployed a barrier to protect people from getting harmed by the debris.
"Yuu, over there!"
Kili discovered Kili and Firill faster than me. They were on the deep end of the hall—where King Albert's coffin was kept.
Firill was holding her book-shaped fictional armament. Just as I thought, she was the one suppressing damage to the hall.
"Over here, everyone!"
I called Mitsuki and the others then we all headed over to Firill.
We landed nearby and Kili smiled with resignation.
"From the way you look, the battle seems to be going badly."
I answered bitterly then looked at Firill.
"Are you okay, Firill?"
After hearing me, she seemed to relax her expression. Her shoulders also became less tense.
"I'm okay, it's good that you guys came back... I really wouldn't know what to do on my own..."
"After entering the castle, Hraesvelgr just stayed there without moving the whole time?"
The using her fictional armament's spear tip, Lisa pointed at the giant golden bird in the middle of the hall and asked Firill.
"...Yes, it turned its head to look this way and that, like searching for something, but didn't discover us yet, apparently."
"Could it be that it cannot find Kili-san due to the poor visibility...?"
Lisa murmured with a troubled expression but I could not agree.
From Hraesvelgr's behavior, I could sense hesitation that the previous dragons lacked.
Unlike Leviathan and Basilisk that had pursued in a straight line as soon as they picked their targets, Hraesvelgr circled many times in the air as though scouting before charging into the castle.
And right now, at the center of the hall, its gaze was wandering as though indecisively.
During this time, all the people in the hall had escaped outside.
We should escape too but the nearby entrances had collapsed and were blocked. Even if we could evacuate to somewhere else, the chances of escaping the winged Hraesvelgr were very low.
After the hall settled down, Hraesvelgr's gaze shifted towards us. Most of the smoke and dust had dispersed. With golden particles hanging around it, Hraesvelgr's figure was clear to see.
Kili frowned in pain and held her hand against the dragon mark. Bright light escaped from gaps between her fingers.
Hraesvelgr finally recognized Kili as its mate.
"We have no choice but to do everything we can to stop it. In any case, we must try all possible ways of attacking, to find a solution to this predicament!"
Under Mitsuki's orders, we readied our fictional armaments and stood in front of Kili.
Before we could attack, Hraesvelgr spread its wings with an acute cry. Golden particles were released from Hraesvelgr as the center, drifting towards us.
Firill instantly deployed a barrier of wind but the particles engulfed us, ignoring the wall of air.
The instant the particles surrounded me, my body became unable to move. Despite a very clear consciousness, my body did not follow orders. That feeling was like having spirit sealed inside the body.
—What is this? What the heck is happening—
Surrounded by golden particles, all of us stopped moving. Since Kili was in my blindspot, I could not see her situation.
Damn it! Was there no solution?
The dark matter generated using my mind alone were destroyed by the particles as soon as they appeared.
Hraesvelgr approached us leisurely.
However, I was powerless, unable to lift even a finger.
"I thought perhaps you might be able to defeat Hraesvelgr—But in the end, it's still too hard."
I heard a voice of despair.
Kili went past my immobile body and walked over to in front of Hraesvelgr. Perhaps because we were acting as shields, she was the only one who was not covered by the particles.
Smiling sadly, Kili looked back and asked me:
"Or perhaps the reason 'to protect me' is not enough to make you go all-out?"
Since my mouth could not move, I was unable to answer.
But I was serious and I was prepared to fight to my last strength.
However, there was something in my power. I had not tested out all possibilities.
To avoid thinking of that option, I had placed it last. But by this point, I could not even choose that option—Because it was too late.
"Never mind, but I still want to express my gratitude to you. Thank you for protecting me. Also, I had a lot of fun today. This was probably the second time in my life to experience such a fun day."
Saying that, Kili turned to face the front and walked towards Hraesvelgr on her own.
"If this is destiny... then it can't be helped. Perhaps I should feel thankful that I could become a true dragon, being nothing at the moment."
Kili spoke in self-deprecation, halting her steps in front of Hraesvelgr.
Hraesvelgr stopped as well and looked at Kili below.
"Come—Do as you please."
She lifted her right arm with the glowing dragon mark, waiting for the moment to arrive.
Hraesvelgr slowly bent down, bringing its beak towards Kili's hand.
I could not make a sound even though I wanted to yell.
But just as it was about to touch Kili's fingertips, Hraesvelgr stopped moving.
Clad in a coating of inviolable light, the dragon quietly stared at Kili's shining dragon mark then left her as though losing interest.
Kili's voice was hoarse.
Immediately, her dragon mark lost its brightness.
The change in color reverted?
Walking past the shocked Kili, Hraesvelgr approached our immobile group.
The giant golden bird looked at each of us in turn then settled its gaze on Firill.
What was it going to do—?
A bad premonition surged.
Its interest piqued by something, Hraesvelgr bent its body and approached Firill's face.
Then the golden particles filling this vicinity became even more concentrated.
But just as the particles covered King Albert's coffin, I witnessed an unbelievable scene.
Amidst the particles, a human silhouette appeared ambiguously.
Like a dot drawing, the tiny golden particles traced outlines.
I recalled what Ariella had said about Hraesvelgr possessing the ability to materialize souls. Reportedly, a scholar had also proposed that Hraesvelgr's ability was generating ether particles that caused souls to materialize.
Then the figure gradually taking form in front of King Albert's coffin, could it be—
The ambiguous golden human silhouette moved as though gliding, arriving in front of Hraesvelgr that was staring at Firill up close, then swung its arm that was made of particles.
Hraesvelgr's beak shook slightly while the the particles of the human silhouette's arm scattered from the reaction force.
That action was like the figure wanted to protect Firill.
Due to a higher concentration of particles near Hraesvelgr, the figure's face gradually became possible to discern.
In other words, these particles were ether particles... And that over there was King Albert's soul?
If that was the case, covered by golden particles, Hraesvelgr's body was also—
I was just about to discover Hraesvelgr's true form, but my thoughts were interrupted by acute cries.
Hraesvelgr opened its beak towards the particles that seemed to be King Albert's soul.
Instantly, there was a strong gust of wind. The golden particles filling up the hall stirred, restrained by the wind, they were sucked into Hraesvelgr's mouth.
Even the particles making up King Albert were no exception.
Rustle—Like a sand castle collapsing, King Albert, manifested through particles, lost his outline.
The magical bird that devoured souls.
Just as in legends, Hraesvelgr devoured souls.
Before Firill's eyes, it devoured the soul of the gradually disintegrating King Albert.
But in this state where even using our voices was impossible, no one could stop things from happening.
Just before vanishing, King Albert seemed to turn his head towards Firill. However, even his expression could not be read—All of him vanished.
Perhaps satisfied from eating a soul or for some other reason, Hraesvelgr left Firill and turned its back to us.
Spreading its golden wings, Hraesvelgr took flight.
Then exiting the large hole it had opened in the wall, Hraesvelgr departed by flying through the sky.
Immediately, the golden particles filling the surroundings thinned out and my body became able to move again.
Inside the quiet castle, the sound of debris collapsing emptily could be heard.
"Really? I guess an imitation like me cannot become a dragon either."
Staring at the giant hole where Hraesvelgr had departed, Kili laughed dryly.
"Fufu... Ahahahaha! What a shame, mother, looks like I'm even more useless than you imagined!"
Then—Having regained her freedom, Firill collapsed on the floor and cried.
"...Sob... Sob... Ahhh... Ahhhhhhhhhhh!"
Kneeling at the spot where King Albert's soul had stood, she cried with sorrow.
None of us were able to say anything.
The crisis was over for now and we had avoided the worst-case scenario. However, the trauma left behind by Hraesvelgr was far too deep.
Before long, the Principality's police gathered and the surroundings became slightly noisy.
Shinomiya-sensei and Prince Alfred explained what happened on our behalf. Exhausted from battle, we were driven back to the castle by Helen-san.
In the car, Firill was still crying nonstop. Lisa was hugging her against her chest, caressing her head gently.
Ariella was sitting in the opposite seat, staring at Firill with a pained expression. Kili was looking out the window blankly.
Feeling responsible, Mitsuki had her head down without saying a word. Iris, Tia and Ren were looking at everyone worriedly.
I found myself unable to think of any comforting words and could only listen to Firill sobbing.
After reaching the palace, Firill told Lisa "...I'm fine now, thank you" and went back to her own room.
"Impossible... How could she be fine?"
Lisa murmured with a regretful look, but perhaps she decided it would be best to let Firill have some quiet time to herself, Lisa did not chase after her.
"Then I'm returning to my room..."
Kili's room was located separately from ours. After saying that in a feeble voice, she left too.
Staring at Kili while she left, Mitsuki looked like she wanted to say something, but in the end, she entered her own room silently.
Iris smiled weakly at me and greeted me goodnight, then opened her room door.
I said goodnight to her and returned to my room, laying myself on the bed directly.
Firill's sobbing and Kili's dry laughter kept circling in my mind.
—Not enough to make you go all-out?
Kili's words still lingered in my ear.
Tormented by regret and a bit of guilt, I fell asleep as though fainting.
Perhaps because my body was still in combat mode, even though I was exhausted, my consciousness rapidly awakened after I heard quiet knocking at the door.
I checked the time on my portable terminal. It was just after midnight. We had returned to the palace at 8pm, so that meant roughly four hours of sleep.
"...Who is it?"
I sat my heavy body up and projected my voice at the door. Despite lingering fatigue, at least the headache from transmutation was gone now.
"—It's me, Ariella. Can I... take a bit of your time?"
"Ariella? Sure... I'm opening the door now."
Despite feeling troubled by the unexpected visitor, I got off the bed and walked to the entrance. Since Midgard's dorms were usually unlocked, I actually forgot to lock my door last night and tonight.
"Good evening—Thanks for having me."
As soon as I opened the door, Ariella swiftly entered without waiting for my response.
"Mononobe-kun, come this way."
Ariella pulled my hand and took me to the window. Opening the window, one could reach the balcony outside and view the courtyard scenery.
"What the heck is going on?"
"Look over there."
Ignoring my troubled feelings, Ariella pointed outside the window.
I looked in the direction indicated and found a figure kneeling near the courtyard fountain.
"Is that... Firill?"
I looked closely to discover it was Firill in her formal dress.
"Yes, I was looking out the window by chance and saw—That's why I came to let you know."
"Let me know... Why me?"
"I want you to go over to her."
Hearing Ariella say that as though it were so easy, I frowned.
"In that case—Isn't Lisa a better choice than me?"
In the end, I had accomplished nothing. I could neither protect King Albert nor think of any words to comfort the crying Firill. All I did was watch.
"Firill was putting on a brave face in front of Lisa when we returned to the palace. To her, Lisa is probably her best friend but not someone to seek help and rely on."
"Even if that's true, why me—"
"Intuition, I guess. After seeing what happened in this country, I feel that you're the best choice."
Ariella replied with a cheerful smile. However, I could sense from her expression that she seemed to be forcing herself.
"Did you think of going yourself?"
"If I go, we'll just be licking each other's wounds. Even though I can empathize, I can't shoulder her pain and sorrow."
Ariella answered bitterly, looking at me with eyes glinting from tears.
"—Me too, my loved ones' souls were eaten by Hraesvelgr."
"I mentioned a bit to you during the daytime. I grew up in an unstable Middle Eastern country. Many people died whenever large-scale conflicts occurred. And every time, Hraesvelgr would arrive to gorge itself on souls to its heart's content."
Looking up at the night sky through the window, Ariella continued:
"Although some call it a messenger to transport souls to heaven, I think it's simply feeding, that's all."
Ariella touched the window frame and moved her fingers along it. In a voice of suppressed emotions, she said:
"But Hraesvelgr doesn't kill people directly. My loved ones lost their lives because they got caught in a terrorist attack. But even so... I still can't forgive Hraesvelgr for taking their souls away in the end."
Saying that, Ariella scratched the window glass with her nails, looking like she was about to burst into tears, she stared at Firill who was kneeling in the courtyard.
"Because if we're forced to confront the fact that the souls are no longer, what exactly are we supposed to pray to? It's extremely despairing to know that talking to the dead is meaningless."
"That's why you should go to Firill. Words that cannot be conveyed to the dead can only be confided to the living."
Ariella smiled sorrowfully then took my hand and led me out of the room.
"Then I'm counting on you, Mononobe-kun."
Ariella gave my shoulder a pat then was about to return to her room.
"Ariella, are you okay?"
But I was worried about her too, so I asked her from behind just as she was leaving.
"Oh. Yeah, don't worry about me. Because it happened long ago. It's way in the past. To me, the hardship after that was much worse."
"Basically the time after losing everyone I could rely on, but before coming to Midgard. I'll be very happy if you care about me and you're willing to listen to my story when we have time in the future."
Ariella showed a bit of vulnerability in her eyes while she spoke.
"Yes, I promise you."
"—Thank you, Mononobe-kun, you're so nice."
Ariella blushed happily and thanked me. Her expression moved me.
The path she had trodden in life so far seemed full of hardship I could not imagine.
If only I could help her somehow...
With such thoughts, I made my way to Firill.
Walking down the stairs, I found a door leading to the courtyard and opened it.
Instantly, cold wind of the night blew, forcing me to shiver. Staying here for extended periods would catch a cold.
Anyway, I went for the fountain in order to bring Firill back indoors.
The center of the fountain was decorated with a bronze statue of a girl playing with birds. Perhaps because it was late at night, the fountain's water was not flowing.
I saw Firill kneeling next to the fountain, her shoulders trembling.
Since she did not react even when my footsteps approached, I took off my suit jacket, the one I had worn at the banquet, and draped it over Firill's shoulders.
"It's very cold here, let's go inside."
Firill looked up to stare at me with eyes red from crying.
"I know you are very sad, but you're going to catch a cold at this rate."
I placed my hand on her shoulder and spoke but she shook her head.
"I don't care."
Just as I hesitated, wondering what I should do, Firill asked me quietly.
"This fountain's statue, what does it look like to you?"
"Huh? It looks like a girl playing with birds..."
Despite feeling perplexed, I answered with what I saw.
"Let me tell you... This is me. Apparently after I went to Midgard, Grandfather ordered it made. Fufu, not much of a resemblance, right?"
Firill spoke in a hoarse voice and smiled stiffly.
"No—now that you mention it, there is a resemblance. Although it's much younger than your current look, I can still tell vaguely."
"Really? I still think it looks like someone else. However, what I'm curious about is... Is this how I look in Grandfather's eyes?"
Firill silently stared at the image of herself in her grandfather's eyes.
"But... There's no way to confirm now. Whether questions, farewells or thanks—Nothing is possible now. Until the very end, I did nothing more than enjoy Grandfather's protection."
With intense chagrin in her voice, Firill lowered her head again.
"Being protected isn't a bad thing, right?"
Saying that, I put more force in my hand on her shoulder.
"I'm sure in deciding to protect his granddaughter, he didn't need any reasons or calculations. He protected just because he wanted to protect. Until the very end, even as a soul, he still acted according to these feelings. Were I in his shoes, I'd definitely have no regrets."
Firill glanced sideways at my face then exhaled lightly. The white breath scattered in the wind.
"I think putting it that way... has nothing to do with my wish."
"Yeah, you're right if you take the extreme view. But so-called protection, in a certain sense, is a one-sided action to begin with. It's there regardless of the receiver's wishes."
"That's way too sad, never considering... the feelings of the one who is protected."
"Maybe, but there are people who only know how to protect in that way."
While saying this, I felt a stabbing pain in the depths of my heart.
I was probably like that. To protect Mitsuki and Iris, I had paid a terrible price.
That was self-satisfaction without caring about the other side. The result of that was I had deceived Mitsuki and hurt Iris.
"Mononobe-kun, you're terrible. If Grandfather is satisfied... Then my crying becomes selfish crying only for myself, leaving me no choice but to stop crying."
"No, crying for yourself is nothing bad. It's just that—You should do it somewhere warmer."
In as gentle a tone as possible, I urged her to go indoors.
"...Got it, then I'll cry somewhere slightly warmer."
Firill nodded but she hugged me directly.
"If it's in your embrace, Mononobe-kun, with this kind of warmth... I guess I'm allowed to cry?"
Firill had her arms wrapped around my waist, her forehead against my chest.
Things happened too suddenly, surprising me. The sensation of a soft bulge shook my mind. But the sight of her trembling shoulders restored calmness in my heart.
I gave her an affirmative answer and placed my hand on her head.
While I was combing her sleek hair with my fingers, she wept silently.
Earlier, when the principal was stroking my head, I felt embarrassment and pleasure—The feelings back then were like I was being acknowledged, being accepted.
Hence, I wanted to reassure Firill too, so I gently stroked her head continuously.
My shoulders felt cold because I had lent my jacket to Firill but due to hugging her, my front side was very warm.
Feeling the night wind against me like this, I listened to her quiet sobs.
After a while, the sobbing stopped. Rubbing her eyes, Firill looked up.
"Mononobe-kun... The tip of your nose is red."
"Yeah, because it's quite chilly. On the other hand, your eyes are very red."
"Then that makes us a pair, right?"
Firill smiled and separated from me.
"Thank you, I've calmed down a bit. It'd be bad if you caught a cold, Mononobe-kun, so let's return."
Firill held my hand with her cold fingers and walked towards the palace.
She suddenly made a pained expression and held her hand against the vicinity of her left shoulder.
"I don't know, it suddenly feels scorching—"
Firill pulled her dress away from her shoulder to check out the location of the symptom. I panicked at the faint glimpse of her chest but I stopped shifting my gaze away when I heard her go "eh..."
Firill's dragon mark was on her left shoulder. Its edges had turned slightly yellow.
"Don't tell me..."
Unable to believe the sight before my eyes, I groaned hoarsely.
Just at that moment, a sinister voice arrived, carried by the night wind.
"I guessed this would happen."
Kili emerged from the shadows under neatly trimmed trees.
"How long have you been there..."
"I just arrived. I saw you two flirting from the window. Curious, I came over to have a look."
"We weren't flirting."
"Now isn't the time to get hung up on that part, right? I believe the color change of her dragon mark is the most important right now."
I knew without needing her to point that out, but I just needed a bit of time to calm down.
"This phenomenon means that Firill has caught the dragon's eye?"
Looking at the partial color change of Firill's dragon mark, I asked Kili.
"Yes, that's exactly it. And since it's the same color as mine, Hraesvelgr is the one targeting her. Hraesvelgr probably found its suitable mate, the real one, not an imitation like me, and it happened earlier at that place."
Kili answered with a heavy tone of self-deprecation.
"What do mean by an imitation, Kili? Weren't you targeted by Hraesvelgr too?"
"My dragon mark was forcibly modified to match Hraesvelgr's wavelength."
"Modified? Don't tell me—"
That was something possible only for Kili's creator, Vritra. But I could not bring that up in front of Firill, so I stopped mid-sentence.
"Yes, it's basically what you imagine. Hence, I'm an imitation, in all sorts of ways."
Kili spoke mockingly.
"Don't look at me with those eyes. The one you should pity currently should be her, whom Hraesvelgr has chosen as a mate, right?"
Kili keenly noticed the shred of pity in my heart and pointed impatiently at Firill.
"Mate... huh? Then Hraesvelgr will still—"
"Once her dragon mark changes color completely, it should come again. In Tia's case, the dragon mark took around ten hours to change color completely. Then after that, Basilisk began to move. I'm guessing that she cannot be made a mate unless the dragon mark finishes changing in color."
The color change was already in progress so the time limit might be even shorter.
If it started from the encounter earlier, there was only six hours or so remaining in the worst case.
Hraesvelgr flew away despite getting interested in Firill, probably because the preparations for Firill to become its mate had not finished.
Speaking of which, it was the same for Iris too. Between her initial report of symptoms and when Leviathan started to invade, there was a time gap.
"I've been chosen by Hraesvelgr—"
Firill was staring at her dragon mark in shock.
"Okay, what will you do? Have a rematch against an opponent that you lost helplessly against? Or..."
Kili stared coldly at me.
"...Anyway, I have to report this to Shinomiya-sensei and Mitsuki first. Then we'll talk about what's next."
Without thinking about the worst option, I accompanied the two of them back into the palace.
We first went to find Shinomiya-sensei but it looked like she was not back yet, so I knocked on Mitsuki's door.
"—Coming. Eh? Nii-san? With Firill-san and Kili-san? It seems like something happened?"
Seeing our unusual vibes, Mitsuki showed a solemn expression and invited us into her room. She was probably in the middle of work. I could see various documents in progress on her tablet's screen on a table in the room.
Mitsuki was dressed in her usual uniform. I guess wearing these clothes probably felt more calming.
"Firill's dragon mark has changed color."
After this opening line, I explained the current situation including what I had heard from Kili.
Firill returned my jacket and showed Mitsuki her dragon mark whose edges had started to change color.
"...I see now. That explains why—"
Mitsuki spoke with a grim expression.
"Shinomiya-sensei informed me that Hraesvelgr was still flying in the Principality's outskirts. Due to that, air traffic has been blocked off completely."
"In other words, escaping is impossible right from the start... And reinforcements cannot come either."
In any case, I did not think Midgard or NIFL could make it in time even if they started mobilizing now.
"Right, so we have to handle it here."
Mitsuki answered gravely but Kili spoke up in response.
"Clearly nothing works no matter what you do. May I ask how exactly do you intend to handle it?"
"Indeed, our attacks cannot even harm Hraesvelgr, but that battle was not completely fruitless for us. I happen to be in the middle of organizing the report and I have also added my own analysis to the content."
Mitsuki moved over to the tablet at the table then continued:
"There are two noteworthy phenomena. My antimatter projectile did not react with Hraesvelgr at all... And the fact that what appeared to be the manifestation of King Albert's soul was able to touch Hraesvelgr."
Mitsuki raised two fingers and displayed a photo of Hraesvelgr on the screen. Since this was inside the castle hall, it was probably taken by Shinomiya-sensei.
I thought back and agreed. Shielding Firill behind him, King Albert had interfered with Hraesvelgr. Before that, all our attacks were futile no matter how powerful, yet he succeeded in smacking away Hraesvelgr's beak, attracting its attention and stopping the monster's attack.
"Antimatter did not cause an annihilation reaction, which means that... The composition of Hraesvelgr's body is something that cannot be defined as matter. And the so-called soul is precisely a concept that does not exist in physical laws. While searching for a hypothesis capable of explaining these phenomena, I found one that matched."
Saying that, Mitsuki switched the information shown on the screen.
It was a paper titled "Unidentified Mediating Particle for Causing the Manifestation of Souls" with the author's name being... Miyazawa Kenya.
"According to this hypothesis, Hraesvelgr's ability is to produce mediating particles to manifest the spirit—defined as 'ether wind.' Since spirit bodies, which use mediating particles to obtain tangible form, do not follow the rules of this world, all kinds of interference will not work."
Mitsuki turned the pages and continued to explain. It sounded like the same hypothesis as the one I heard from Ariella.
"It looks like Hraesvelgr, whose appearance is a golden bird, is the manifestation of a spirit body. That is why our attacks do not work yet King Albert is able to touch it, seeing as both are spirit bodies."
At this point, Mitsuki turned her gaze away from the screen and looked at her hands.
"Back when we were engulfed by golden particles, the reason why we were unable to move was probably because we possess material bodies."
"What do you mean?"
Unable to link those phenomena together, I tilted my head in puzzlement.
"Because our spirit is inside the flesh, one could speculate that even if the spirit manifests, it is still in a state sealed inside the body."
"In other words... There's no way to interfere with Hraesvelgr unless the spirit leaves the body to become a purely spiritual existence?"
"Indeed, according to this theory. However, you can also say that we are protected by our bodies. If we fought as spirits, we would surely have ended up like King Albert—"
Perhaps in consideration of Firill, Mitsuki stopped mid-sentence.
Indeed, a human with only a soul would just be food for Hraesvelgr. Predator and prey—the gap was too large between them.
"What is this? So the result is still no solution."
Kili sighed in exasperation.
"Well... Indeed, there is no concrete plan at the moment. But as long as there is a hypothesis, it should be possible to take countermeasures."
Mitsuki glared at Kili and retorted.
But at this moment, Firill, who had been silent all along, spoke up.
"That hypothesis—Ariella mentioned... It was not recognized because there's no way to apply it."
Mitsuki was at a loss for words but still wanted to argue. However, Firill cut her off.
"I am prepared."
Clenching her fist, despite trembling shoulders, she was about to voice the worst option.
"If there's no solution, I'll—"
I yelled acutely and grabbed Firill's shoulders.
"At least I still have a method I haven't tried yet and Mitsuki might come up with an effective battle plan next, so don't jump to conclusions so hastily."
I persuade her in a strong tone of voice. Firill answered with trembling lips.
"This verbal reassurance—"
"It's not verbal reassurance. I'm speaking the truth. There are other possibilities, so I won't give up."
After declaring that clearly, I turned to face Mitsuki.
"This is similar to the Leviathan situation. The same goes for you, Mitsuki, don't give up until the very end. Even if you can't think of a single plan, I'll still find a solution."
Mitsuki's eyes wavered, showing uneasiness.
Meanwhile, Kili watched us as though she had something to say.
Since the plans had to be made depending on the dragon mark's color change, Mitsuki kept Firill in her room and ordered us to rest until further instructions.
In order for everyone else to fight at full strength when Hraesvelgr attacked, Mitsuki looked like she did not intend to wake them up until battle plans were decided.
Kili and I went to the corridor. I started walking back to my room and Kili followed me.
"—Since you still have an ace up your sleeve, why didn't you use it when I was in a crisis?"
I heard Kili's voice by my ear when I stopped in front of my room.
The bitter sense of guilt in my heart was awakened once more.
"To me, it's a last resort that I'd avoid as much as possible. But I was immobilized before I realized there was no other way... Even if I wanted to use it, I couldn't."
I felt like I was looking for excuses, answering while avoiding eye contact with Kili.
"I see, and what's the reason for avoiding it?"
"Because I'll probably become even less like myself than now."
Hearing my brief answer, Kili fell silent.
"Sorry, I'm not trying to deceive you. It's just that I can't give any details."
"...Very well, I believe you. It's just that if that's the case—You don't have to force yourself, right?"
Kili's suggestion was unexpected.
"I'm not saying this just because it no longer matters to me. If your final resort is of that nature, then it's only natural you won't use it to protect me, because what everyone should protect most is themselves."
"You people seem to think that the only two options are to either defeat Hraesvelgr or kill the girl, but I believe there is also the path of living as a dragon. At least, I don't think it's a bad option."
"Unlike you, rather than become a dragon, we—"
"You prefer to die? Really? Is there anything in this world more tragic than dying?"
Kili's words stabbed me in the chest.
"...Perhaps not, but we're the ones to decide what's important to us."
"I suppose that's a kind of truth too. Sorry for saying something malicious. I guess I'm still a bit miffed. That 'I'll still find a solution' from you—If possible, I really wished I'd heard it from you during my crisis."
Kili smiled wryly then her tone turned gentle.
"Move forward in the manner of your liking. Because no matter what path you take, no matter what you lose... In the end, I believe you'll surely turn into the existence I hope for."
Kili smiled seductively then left, leaving what sounded like a riddle to me.
"What are you expecting from my existence?"
Watching her as she left, I muttered quietly to myself.
If she was using us to protect her from Hraesvelgr's attack, then there was no point for her to stay here anymore. Or was this her intention, to go to Midgard despite knowing her freedom would be taken away?
Her true intentions were unreadable. I pondered while waiting for her to disappear from the far end of the corridor. Then instead of returning to my room, I went to Iris' room next door.
If the battle against Hraesvelgr required using the last resort, then there were things I must first tell Iris and no one else.
I knocked while calling her name but no one answered. Left without a choice, I tried opening the door but it was locked from inside. She was probably sleeping soundly from exhaustion.
But if I made too much noise, others would notice.
I thought for a while then went back to my room in the end.
Without turning on the light, I went straight to the large window on the far end and entered the balcony from there.
Standing on the balcony's edge, I confirmed the distance to the adjacent balcony. As expected, it was not far. Just as we tested out yesterday, the gap was small enough for our fingertips to touch by stretching our hands out.
Hence, I backed away, took a running start then stepped on the balcony's railing.
I jumped to the adjacent balcony without any difficulty. Checking that the window was not locked, I entered the room. Even if I called to her from outside, Iris was probably not going to wake up.
A dim lightbulb was lit in the room. Iris was sound asleep in her bed.
I approached and peered at her face. She seemed to be having a good dream. Her face looked especially relaxed. Placed on the sideboard next to the bed was the hairpin I had given her.
I felt bad about waking her up because she really looked like she was enjoying her sleep. But time was limited, so I resolved myself and shook Iris by the shoulder.
"Iris, please wake up. Iris—"
Iris opened her eyes slightly and made a sleepy noise.
"Sorry for forcing you to wake up."
Gazing into her eyes, I apologized to her.
"...Mononobe? Eh? W-Why... Isn't this my room? No way, is this a... n-night visit?"
Iris frantically looked around the room, her face going bright red.
"Wawa, what should I do? I-I'm not ready yet—"
Seeing Iris' reaction, I could not help but feel my heart race. But of course, I was not here for a night visit.
"N-No, that's not it. Calm down, will you?"
"Oh—Right, I promised... The kiss, right? A-Are you that impatient?"
Iris spoke with a look of realization but that guess was wrong too. However, Iris was watching me with endearing eyes and blushing cheeks. Mesmerized by her appearance, I could not answer immediately.
"Sorry for making you wait, Mononobe. Come—you can kiss me now."
Sitting up in bed, Iris closed her eyes and pointed her lips upward.
I gulped and almost subconsciously drew near Iris' face, then I suddenly came to my senses.
"N-No, like I said, that's not it. I came here to tell you something important, Iris."
I spoke in a serious voice. Iris opened her eyes with a dumbfounded expression.
I told her about Firill's dragon mark changing color and how Mitsuki was racking her brain for a plan. Iris' face, originally red, instantly turned pale.
"No way... Firill-chan—"
"Hraesvelgr will surely come when the dragon mark finishes changing in color. Mitsuki is definitely trying hard, but I think it's very difficult to come with countermeasures before time's up."
"T-Then what do we do? Will it turn out like with me last time? I don't want to see you and Mitsuki-chan fight again."
"Don't worry, I told her I still have a solution. As long as there are other ways, Mitsuki won't choose the worst option."
In response to my answer, Iris showed uneasiness on her face.
"Mononobe... What are you planning to do?"
Iris asked me in a trembling voice. Most likely, she already had some idea.
Because there was no other option under these circumstances.
"I'll borrow Yggdrasil's power one more time."
"N-No! If you do that, Mononobe, you'll again—"
Iris grabbed my arm in extreme panic.
"I know, but that's the only thing left that I can do. I don't want to give up on Firill."
"I-I feel the same way about this... But even if you go that far, there's no guarantee you'll defeat Hraesvelgr."
However, I shook my head. Yggdrasil's words, from when we contracted, flashed through my mind.
'Offer is, power. Demand is, extermination.'
Then when I asked the extermination of what, Yggdrasil's answer was:
—All dragon species, apart from myself.
"Yggdrasil asked me to exterminate all other dragons. Then it's very likely that the data it intended to send to my brain contains a weapon that works on Hraesvelgr."
The knowledge of power that Yggdrasil transmitted to me—data on weapons from a lost civilization—was too vast in volume. I halted the transmission halfway. The materialization of the anti-dragon armament Marduk was also in a pitiful state with incomplete equipment. Hence, if I downloaded again to supplement Marduk's data, I might be able to find a breakthrough.
Iris' eyes were overflowing with tears.
Seeing her tears fall like rain, I could not help but get flustered.
"You're clearly in pain from forgetting memories shared with Mitsuki-chan, but now... You can't forget more. Mononobe, what you clearly need to do is remember... not forget..."
She was crying purely for my sake.
The fact that I might break her heart if I lose my memories was only secondary to her—
Unable to watch Iris' crying face any longer, I hugged her tightly. Smelling Iris' sweet scent, my heart raced. Through the flimsy pajamas, I could feel her warmth. Strong feelings of love surged from my heart.
I stroked her head and apologized to her.
For telling her about my memories, adding to her burden; for making her feel apologetic to Mitsuki; for being unable to respond to her feelings directly; for being unable to stop, despite her worrying so much about me—
I entrusted all of my feelings of apology to this one word.
"Mononobe, you've already decided, right?"
Iris asked while crying.
"You'll... forget many things, and won't be the same Mononobe, right?"
"Probably—That will happen."
I had no way of predicting what I was going to lose this time. Perhaps like earlier, I might not even notice what I had forgotten.
However—I won't be my current self, that was for sure.
"Then...... Tell me."
Iris clutched my clothing tightly and barely managed to squeeze out a hoarse voice.
I felt my clothing gradually getting wet from tears.
"Tell me the precious memories you don't want to forget, Mononobe. Then it's fine if you forget, because I will remember them carefully!"
Iris looked up with tears flowing, crying out while her slender shoulders shook. Her firm gaze stared into my eyes, expressing her determination.
"You'll remember them, Iris?"
I felt my heart pound hard. The long suppressed feelings in the bottom of my heart were shaken.
"Yes, I... absolutely won't forget the current Mononobe."
Iris' words moved my heart strongly.
"I also won't forget what you don't want to forget."
I felt fiery emotions surge in my heart. Her words made me both happy and incredibly conflicted. My heart struggled nonstop.
"Because—Those are the memories of the one I love!"
My heart felt like it was about to stop. My chest was hurting badly. Feelings of love were overflowing. I hugged Iris even more tightly.
"......Thank you, Iris."
Apart from that, I could not find any other words to reply.
"Yeah—So, can you tell them to me?"
Iris stroked my back gently and asked me.
Then as much as time permitted, I recounted my memories to Iris.
Sitting side by side with her on the bed's edge, I conveyed to her the precious memories I did not want to forget.
There was no need to mention in particular what had happened after arriving in Midgard. As for the NIFL days, there were no memories I wanted to keep. Hence, what I told her was necessarily things from three years ago or earlier.
But within that range, what I definitely remembered were all things related to Mitsuki. No, more precisely, they were memories with Mitsuki after we became family.
For example, what games we played together, what places we often went to play, trivial reasons leading to arguments—I recounted all of these insignificant yet incomparably precious memories that I could remember.
Even I felt surprised that I could still remember such things.
There was a summer festival that we went together every year. One year, we won a cat plushie from shooting a target. Another year, we scooped up lots of goldfish and had to buy an aquarium.
Showing off the presents by our pillows during Christmas. Putting our New Year's money from our parents together and discussing seriously what game to buy. Sometimes, we had arguments.
I still remember these things. I still had this many—memories that I had not lost yet.
The more I talked, the happier I got. The memories kept pouring out.
Scolded by parents, I got Mitsuki caught up and we ran away from home together. Wanting to see a meteor shower, I sneaked out in the middle of the night and forced Mitsuki to come along.
There was far more than I could possibly talk about.
Iris only nodded from time to time then listened silently.
But compared to the memories that had accumulated for so long, there was too little time remaining.
Before I could finish, our time was up.
"—Iris-san, please get up."
There was knocking at the door. Mitsuki's voice came from the other side.
Most likely, the color change in Firill's dragon mark was nearing completion. Mitsuki was going to tell everyone the situation.
"Then I'll get back to my room through the balcony."
Although I had more memories to tell, I still got up from the bed.
"...Okay, I've remembered all of it. Mononobe, don't worry."
Iris smiled gently and nodded.
"Great, that reassures me a lot. Thank you."
After thanking her, I walked to the balcony.
But just before I opened the window, Iris grabbed my right hand from behind.
"Wait—One last thing."
I turned my head back, only to find a gentle sensation pressed on my lips. Iris' face was right before my eyes.
What made contact was—Iris' lips.
Although things happened suddenly, the emotions surging in my heart as a result were neither surprise nor confusion. Instead, they were intense love and feelings of warmth and tranquility.
After a kiss that lasted much longer than last time, Iris blushed and smiled with melancholy.
"...I'll be very happy if you could remember this kiss, Mononobe."
Only then did Iris finally speak her wish.
It was just a tiny willful request.
"I promise you—No matter what happens, this kiss is the one thing I absolutely won't forget."
Thus I vowed for the sake of the girl I loved.
I engraved my vow deeply into my heart.
After Shinomiya-sensei returned to the palace, Mitsuki summoned all of us including Kili to gather inside Shinomiya-sensei's room. In a stiff tone of voice, she reported the current situation.
Firill's dragon mark had turned 80% yellow. Based on the current rate so far, there were roughly two hours until the color change finished.
Then Mitsuki apologized to us for failing to come up with a battle plan.
"—My humble apologies. Although I tried to contact the one who proposed the 'ether wind' hypothesis, but my efforts were futile."
Saying that, Mitsuki glanced in Ren's direction.
Speaking of which, it was someone named "Miyazawa Kenya" who had proposed that hypothesis. Miyazawa was the same as Ren's family name. Was this person related to her?
But Mitsuki continued to explain without bringing this up at all. Judging from Mitsuki's expression, I could tell that she was slightly worried about Ren. This was apparently a matter that must not be broached lightly, so I cautiously avoided saying something unnecessary.
"At the current stage, I cannot propose an effective plan against Hraesvelgr, however..."
Mitsuki looked at me as though seeking help.
I know—I nodded in response to her then walked in front of everyone.
"I still have a trump card I didn't use, so I'd like everyone to not give up. The chances of saving Firill is not zero yet."
"A trump card? What exactly is it?"
Lisa asked a most natural question, but I could not answer her.
I still had not connected to Yggdrasil yet. Since the download of data would strain the mind so much that memories and emotions would be overwritten, even if I could barely hang on to consciousness after the connection, I might faint afterwards. Hence, despite the risk of not knowing the contents of the data in advance, my only choice was still to perform the download just before the battle.
"Sorry, at this point in time—I can't say."
"What... Are you joking here?"
"I'm serious. I'm not joking, so please believe me. I will definitely find a breakthrough—Just like the time when I saved Iris."
Hearing what I said, Lisa gasped.
I bowed my head and pleaded to the group. For a moment, the room became silent.
It was probably possible to increase credibility slightly by mentioning the contract with Yggdrasil, but I could not mention that in front of Mitsuki.
There was also the fact that Shinomiya-sensei was present. If it came to light that I made a deal with a dragon, I could not predict what Shinomiya-sensei would decide as Midgard's commander. In the worst case, I might be arrested.
In order to fight Hraesvelgr, I could not afford to have my actions restricted. Hence, the only thing I could do now was ask for everyone to believe in me.
Finally, someone sighed.
"...Sigh, no helping it. Since you mentioned that, I cannot refute you. Were it not for your power, we would have failed to defeat Leviathan. That is the truth, after all. Even if there is no proof, I will believe in your past achievements."
I looked up to see Lisa show a helpless expression.
No one raised any objections.
"Well then—The second battle against Hraesvelgr will proceed, centered around Nii-san. Nii-san, please issue orders regarding the details of your plan."
Compared to Iris who knew the whole story, Mitsuki was showing an inexplicably worried expression. However, she still spoke as the captain of the Dragon Subjugation Squad.
Perhaps Mitsuki already felt some kind of premonition.
Although I had warned myself all along not to let her notice, every time I fought with my memories as the price, surely something must have changed.
"First of all, I'd like to take the battle to a place where we can minimize damage to the surroundings. Is there somewhere suitable?"
"...I believe the area near the waterfall should be the most suited to that. There are no civilian homes near there. Since dawn has not arrived yet, there should be no people there."
Firill raised her hand slightly and offered her opinion. Unlike when she first discovered the color change in her dragon mark, she looked quite calm on the surface.
Mitsuki nodded in agreement.
"Then the waterfall area will be chosen as the interception site. Shinomiya-sensei, may I trouble you with the procedures of sealing off the battle zone?"
"Understood, leave it to me."
Shinomiya-sensei nodded and accepted Mitsuki's request, then immediately started to make calls.
Watching this scene, I told everyone something else they must pay attention to.
"Also, NIFL's movements are also concerning. If they make a move on Firill during the battle, then all will be lost. Since there is still time before the dragon mark changes color completely, I'd like to deal with them now."
"I do not think we need to worry about that. Apart from us and Kili-san, no one should know about Firill-san's situation. Considering the possibility of eavesdropping, even Shinomiya-sensei was informed just now right here."
Mitsuki thought I was worrying too much but I shook my head.
"No... Sleipnir is currently under orders to monitor Kili. When Firill showed me her dragon mark that had started changing in color, Kili, who's under surveillance, was also present. Even if we were in the heart of the palace's premises, it was still outdoors. It's very likely that NIFL saw us."
Hearing what I had said, Kili also responded "Yeah, they are definitely not opponents to be underestimated."
"Then what should be done?"
Mitsuki asked me with a stiff face.
"Before we begin the operation, I'll eliminate the threat from NIFL."
I answered concisely then turned to face Firil..
"Because of that, Firill, will you go on a date with me right now?"
She was dumbstruck by this sudden invitation.
On further thought, this was perhaps the first time in my life that I asked a girl out on a date.
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