Unlimited Fafnir:Volume 6 Chapter 2
Chapter 2 - Heart to Heart at a Park
Japan was both the place where "Black" Vritra first appeared and also the country where the existence of Ds was first confirmed.
Hence, Japan was akin to a pilgrimage destination for dragon worshipers.
Conversely, to those who rejected dragons and Ds, viewing them with hostility, Japan was also the principal culprit for everything—A cursed land.
And in Japan's capital of Tokyo, people subscribing to both extremes of ideology were gathered, producing many organizations with elements of new age religions.
Conflicts between organizations of dragon worshipers and dragon haters were gradually becoming a significant social problem in Tokyo.
At a luxury hotel located in the heart of the capital, Kili Surtr Muspelheim was looking coldly across the land from a window of a suite on the top floor.
Inside a vast park near the hotel, two groups of demonstrators had been facing off since morning. This type of conflict between dragon cultists and dragon haters was commonplace recently.
"Whether worshiping dragons or hating dragons, you are clearly nothing more than humans..."
Kili spoke with disdain from the bottom of her heart.
Even though she was revered as a priestess by the Sons of Muspell, a radical cult of dragon worshipers, it did not mean that their beliefs were on the same wavelength.
Kili was simply using them for her own convenience.
All she needed to do was ask and they would prepare a cult-affiliated hotel like this one. Although such loyalty was valuable, it was also ludicrous at the same time.
From an outsider perspective, Kili shifted her gaze away from those squabbling fools and walked over to Jeanne Hortensia who was silently performing maintenance on her firearms in a corner of the room.
"Jeanne-chan, how long are you going to sulk for? Stop being angry."
Kili spoke gently to her but Jeanne replied with silence.
"If you're angry about me calling you Jeanne-chan in front of Yuu, didn't I apologize already? And even if Yuu finds out you're a girl, what problem will there be?"
Hearing Kili's question, Jeanne lowered her hand in the middle of maintenance.
Putting down the gun on the floor with slightly trembling hands, Jeanne glared angrily at Kili.
"The problem is huge! I established a relationship of trust with the captain as a man. If he found out I'm actually a girl, then all the trust I've accumulated will be gone."
"Will it? Wouldn't Yuu be happier if he found out you're an adorable girl?"
"T-The captain is not that type of weak man! He is stronger, more noble and kinder than anyone, an ideal—"
"Ahhh, stop! Stop! You don't need to say anymore. I've already had enough of your praises for your captain."
Kili interrupted Jeanne irritably.
"You better know it. Please don't insult the captain ever again."
"...Fine fine, Jeanne-chan, you've got such a troublesome personality."
Kili sighed in exasperation.
"You're in no position to criticize me for that."
Jeanne made a sulking look and turned her face away.
"Seriously, you're sulking again. I'll let you meet Yuu again in the near future, happy now?"
Kili appeased Jeanne as though talking to a child.
"Meet the captain...?"
"Yes. I've ordered the Sons of Muspell to monitor the facility where Yuu is staying. They will inform me instantly of any movements. We'll find an opportunity to make contact with Yuu and his gang."
"I am happy to meet the captain... But what exactly is your goal? We still haven't found out anything about Hreidmar's true identity. There's nothing to report to the captain, right?"
Jeanne looked at Kili with wary eyes.
"—I believe that Yuu's group probably came to Japan to take out Yggdrasil. If that's the case, I have something I must tell Yuu... and Tia."
"Yes, Jeanne-chan. You probably don't know about her, but she's a girl who's together with Yuu's group."
While Kili was explaining, Jeanne caught sight of her face and exclaimed in surprise:
"So you... can make this kind of face too."
"Huh? Was my expression unusual just now?"
Kili widened her eyes and asked. Jeanne nodded and answered.
"It was a very gentle expression. Totally unlike you."
Hearing Jeanne's reply, Kili slowly showed a wry smile.
"—Really? Indeed, that is very unlike me."
Then Kili spoke softly:
"Tia is... the child I raised painstakingly, intending for her to become a real dragon."
Twenty-five years ago, Tokyo was devastated by the arrival of Vritra. During reconstruction, rezoning on a large scale was undertaken.
Hence, the city's appearance was quite different from before twenty-five years ago.
Of course, there were some places where the past lingered on, but to me, everything's changed—The driver explained nostalgically.
"Uh... I see."
I concurred vaguely while looking through the window at the scenery outside the vehicle.
I saw rows of towering high-rise buildings, a giant broadcasting tower dwarfing them, as well as a monorail network in three-dimensional interlocking arrangement with the roads. Aeroplanes crossed the sky whose view was narrowed by the buildings obscuring it.
To build up my relationship with Ren, as the first stage in the battle plan, I was going out with everyone, traveling to a nearby amusement park by car.
The driver was a female Asgard member of staff working at the lab. Looking about fifty years of age or so, she was very talkative. In the thirty minutes since we got on the car, she had been talking nonstop the whole time.
She was driving a big van that carried all the students of Brynhildr Class, but Shinomiya-sensei was not among us. As Midgard's representative, Shinomiya-sensei seemed to be busy and had to stay at the research lab.
"Most shocking of all was the destruction of the Tokyo Tower, which disintegrated outright... Because to our generation, it was Tokyo's landmark."
The driver recounted the past with heartfelt emotion, but our feelings could not resonate with things so long ago that were completely unknown to us. Initially, Mitsuki and the others had responded and smiled courteously, but now, they all showed troubled looks.
Tia and Iris did not seem to be listening to her at all. Instead, they were playing around while watching the scenery outside.
Perhaps a bit nervous, Ren simply sat by Ariella with her head lowered silently, not talking.
"I hope things won't get as bad as that again... People who experienced what happened twenty-five years ago are all living in terror. Although the city looks peaceful, the current situation is actually quite grim, you know? Because that super huge tree appeared nearby, bullet trains on the Tokaido are suspended. The only remaining land route to the Kansai region is by detouring to the Hokuriku region. Currently, domestic flights are all overbooked."
The driver kept talking nonstop. Some questions occurred to me at this point, so I asked her proactively for once.
"Will the amusement park still open given what's happening?"
"Oh, you don't need to worry about that. I've already confirmed before we set off. Life sure is tough for amusement park workers. Something of this level isn't enough to give them a day off. But for better or worse, everyone's gotten used to dragon disasters over the past twenty-five years."
The driver smiled wryly and answered as though it did not concern her.
After ten minutes, the van arrived at the amusement park which was open for business as usual, just like she described.
Letting us off at the parking lot where countless cars were parked, she cheerfully saw us off.
"Please have a good time."
"Thank you. There are many places we want to visit on our way back, so we plan on taking public transportation."
"I see, then I'll be heading back now."
Mitsuki thanked her. Nodding slightly in return, she started the van and drove off.
Watching the car leave, Mitsuki sighed.
"Are we planning to visit other places?"
"...What does it matter? Given this rare chance to visit Japan, we should tour around."
Mitsuki's reply to my question sounded like an excuse.
Perhaps touring around was simply a pretext. She merely did not want to chat with the driver on the return trip.
"This is the amusement park!? It's awesome! Such a huge wheel!"
Seeing the gigantic Ferris wheel visible from outside the park, Tia cried out in excitement.
"Wow! This is my first time to such a huge amusement park!"
Looking at the amusement park's appearance, inspired by fairy tales in theme, Iris felt emotional and excited.
But among the group, Firill showed unease on her face.
"I-It feels like... There are many dangerous looking rides."
I looked towards the park's boundary walls, made to resemble castle walls, only to see a meandering rollercoaster track and a vertical drop attraction. Intimidated by those rides, Firill went pale.
"Eh? Being afraid of thrill rides doesn't fit my image of you, Firill."
Firill's reaction surprised me, so I asked her.
I had almost never seen her act surprised or afraid.
"I'm not afraid of psychological fear, such as horror games or haunted houses... But I can't handle the thrill rides. Unlike flying in the sky by my own power, I feel very insecure about leaving all control to machines..."
"I get it now. Then you don't need to force yourself."
"—No, I have to try my best. I must experience everything at least once, even if it's something I can't handle well. If I'm together with you, Mononobe-kun, perhaps I might even come to love it."
Seeing Firill put on a brave face and smile, I felt quite awkward.
"By the way, Lisa happens to be my opposite. Although she's not afraid of thrill rides, she can't handle psychological fear at all."
"Hold on, Firill-san! Why are you suddenly bringing that up!?"
Hearing Firill, Lisa went red in the face and came near.
"Because I don't want to be the only one to have my weakness exposed."
Knowing Firill was completely unrepentant, Lisa slumped her shoulders helplessly.
"Goodness gracious... Please don't drag me down in your misery. Mononobe Yuu, let me be clear... I am not afraid of haunted houses at all!"
Lisa glared viciously at me and declared solemnly to me.
Pressured by her gaze, I nodded and concurred.
This time, Ariella pushed Ren from behind to approach me.
"Okay, Ren, today's goal is to improve your relations with Mononobe-kun, so no more hiding behind my back."
Ren struggled but once she arrived before me, she blushed and bowed her head.
"Sheesh... Ren really is so shy. Mononobe-kun, Ren doesn't hate you, so just guide her gently."
Seeing Ren so nervous, I felt uncomfortable too, but it would be impossible to get closer to each other like this.
Hence, I stooped down and extended my hand gently to her.
"Don't be so reserved. Anyway, let's have fun together. You really wanted to enjoy the amusement park, right?"
Ren stared at my hand then timidly reached out—and grabbed my sleeve.
"Is that the limit? Hey—don't grab my clothing too."
Ariella smiled wryly and correct Ren who had also grabbed her clothing.
However, Ren refused to let go of Ariella.
"—What am I going to do with you? Sorry, Mononobe-kun. Looks like I'll need to accompany Ren until she gets used to you."
"Don't apologize, you're helping me out a lot this way, because I don't have much experience talking to Ren. No wait, about not talking to Ren directly, isn't it the same for everyone?"
I scratched my head but Ariella widened her eyes, cocking her head in puzzlement.
"Huh? I've talked with Ren, you know?"
I asked Ariella in surprise. I thought Ren either went "mm" to everyone without exception or typed to communicate on her portable terminal.
"The same goes for me."
Hearing our conversation, Lisa and Mitsuki also raised their hands.
"For me, I guess I can count the occasions on one hand..."
"Actually, it's only a few times for me."
"Only twice for Tia!"
Although not many times, Firill, Iris and Tia still had experience talking with Ren.
"Mononobe-kun, Ren does know how to talk, it's just that... She's a bit timid. Once you build up your relationship with her, I'm sure you'll be able to talk with her."
Ariella stroked Ren's red hair while talking to me.
"Oh okay, I get it now. So talking with Ren will be my first goal."
I finally understood what Lisa meant by the issue before practicing.
Namely, I probably had not even reached the starting line.
I could feel Ren's faint tugging on my sleeve. Since Ren was working hard for us to get closer, I must do my best too.
"Everyone, let us head to the entrance."
Responding to Mitsuki's call to all of us, I walked side by side with Ren and Ariella.
Lively background music was playing inside the park. Visitors were surprisingly few.
Only then did I remember that today was a weekday. Rather than families on an outing, most visitors were couples or what seemed to be students on school trips.
Dressed in uniform, we were probably seen as students on a school trip too.
A penguin, probably a park mascot, was handing out balloons to children. However, due to that penguin's oppressive stare, abnormally slender appearance and sinister airs, the children fled as soon as they took their balloons.
That kind of design was probably going for the creepy-cute effect. Although disliked by children, it had a crowd of middle school girls as fans, competing to take photos with it.
"Oh Mononobe! That penguin is so cute!"
Iris' sensibilities also seemed to recognize that thing as cute. With an excited look on her face, she pointed at the penguin mascot.
I did not really want to approach it but could not bring myself to act as a killjoy, so I agreed in a stammer.
"Eh... Tia finds it scary."
However, Tia frowned and voiced her opinion.
Clutching my sleeve, Ren nodded in agreement. As expected, it was not quite accepted by the lower age bracket.
"Then let us try that ride first? I am very curious about that attraction where screams have been coming continuously for a while now."
Lisa pointed at the roller coaster excitedly. Just as Firill mentioned, she seemed to prefer thrill rides.
"I haven't prepared myself yet... I want to ride something more stable."
Firill objected with a stiff expression.
"Ren is nervous too, so let's go with that. Also, we should start with something that everyone can ride together as much as possible."
"Then how about we begin with that?"
After listening to everyone's opinion, Mitsuki pointed at the most fairy tale-like of attractions in this amusement park removed from daily life—A merry-go-round.
I felt reluctant to ride a merry-go-round at my age, but I did not voice my objections.
Because Ren was tugging my clothing hard with excitement on her face.
"—Then let's go for a ride."
I answered Mitsuki and Ren nodded in joy.
Thus, we headed to the first attraction.
"Wow, this is great! It keeps spinning round and round!"
Riding on a white horse, going up and down as the merry-go-round spun, Tia said happily.
"This brings back memories."
"Indeed, it reminds me of childhood."
Mitsuki agreed with Iris. Having lost my memories, I could not remember, but I had probably gone to amusement parks with Mitsuki and our family many times in the past.
It really did feel sad to lose what were supposed to be shared memories.
Firill seemed unwell already. Riding together, she was leaning against Lisa.
Ren, Ariella and I were sitting in carriage-style space, looking at the park scenery spinning around us.
Ren leaned out of the window to wave at everyone. It was hard to associate her excited appearance with her usual behavior.
"Ren, you seem quite happy."
I asked Ren and she immediately nodded in agreement.
"It seems you wanted to visit an amusement park in the first place. Is there a reason?"
However, when I continued to ask more, she fell silent with a hesitant look on her face.
Had I asked something I shouldn't? I looked at Ariella.
"...I don't know Ren's reason for wanting to visit an amusement park either. If there's any reason, it might date back to before I became family with Ren."
Ren nodded at what Ariella said.
"I see. Since it's difficult to talk about, no need to force yourself. I'm just curious, that's all."
It was rare enough for Ren to enjoy an amusement park. Not wanting to ruin her fun, I decided not to pry.
Ren smiled, somewhat relieved, then turned her gaze outside of the carriage again.
Although I felt a bit impatient to get to know Ren as quickly as possible, questioning forcibly did not seem to be the way.
—I should first tell her about myself.
Of course, one would not carelessly talk about themselves to someone they did not trust. I must get Ren to know me first.
I switched my mode of thinking and motivated myself.
If there was any problem, it was probably that the self I ought to present honestly was already lost for the most part.
Would Ren be willing to believe in such an ambiguous me...? I definitely had no confidence regarding this point.
After the merry-go-round, we rode the coffee cup and finally challenged the roller coaster.
With seats in pairs, this roller coaster was the most traditional type, but the track was apparently the longest in the entire country. Winding and meandering, the circular course definitely covered the entire premises of the amusement park.
Despite fearing the rapidly descending roller coaster, Iris and Tia still enjoyed themselves.
"This is rather fun."
"Since I normally fly faster than this, it is not thrilling enough."
Lisa enjoyed the thrill of the roller coaster with a collected expression, while Mitsuki offered her opinion calmly.
"Let me down—!!"
Among these girls, Firill was the only one screaming her heart out.
Sitting next to me, Ren had her eyes tightly closed, gripping the safety restraints desperately.
"Ren, you won't fall off, so open your eyes and look. The scenery is great."
When going on an uphill stretch and the speed was slowing down, I spoke to her.
Ren opened her eyes slightly but as soon as she saw that we were entering a rapid descent again soon, she hastily closed them again.
"Mononobe-kun, you don't seem fazed at all."
Sitting behind us, Ariella spoke to me.
"Ariella, the same goes for you."
Due to the restraints, I could not look back, but there was no tension in Ariella's voice.
"Well, that's because I'm already used to scary things."
I could sense heaviness in the meaning behind Ariella's reply, causing me to frown.
"We're about to make a rapid descent. You'll bite your tongue if you speak, you know?"
Mid-sentence, Ariella cut me off so I stopped talking.
Then the roller coaster descended, bringing acceleration that seemed to make our stomachs rise, as well as the ground rushing towards us fiercely in view.
Ariella yelled happily behind me to go with the flow of everyone's screaming.
"I can't take anymore of this!"
I heard Firill's crying too.
Ren kept her eyes shut to the very end, enduring the blowing wind—
After the roller coaster, we headed to a haunted house that was made to resemble a creepy western mansion.
Lisa looked like she wanted to try other thrill rides, but Firill and Ren seemed quite exhausted so we decided to have a break from those.
This time, it was Lisa and Tia's turn to lose composure.
"...Why are you all gathering by my side?"
Advancing along the creepy corridor that was lit by pale lighting, I asked the girls surrounding me.
"I-I simply fear that you would get lost because it's too dark."
Clutching my shoulder, Lisa answered in a trembling voice.
"Yuu... Tia is so scared."
Hugging my waist, Tia walked with her eyes closed.
"Nii-san, you must protect us like a man in times like these."
Mitsuki answered calmly while holding onto my clothing from behind.
"What are you asking me to protect you from...?"
It was not as if the monsters would attack us directly. I could not help but sigh.
Ren was expressionless so far, but she was gripping my sleeve quite forcefully. She seemed quite nervous inside.
"What will show up...?"
"This atmosphere suggests something like Dracula, right?"
Firill and Ariella were chatting in delight.
At this moment, dark silhouettes of monsters appeared at the window along with rumbling sound effects of thunder.
Iris hugged me from behind with Mitsuki in between.
"What... Wait, Iris-san!"
Someone wrapped their arms around my neck, choking me.
Lisa emitted a brief shriek and leaned against me.
Tia hugged me tightly. My entire body was rendered immobile.
The soft parts of girls were in contact with various spots on my body, forcing my heart rate to accelerate.
Ren was hugging my arm from fright but immediately realized in alarm and released me.
Seeing this, Firill's face seemed to be saying: Crap.
"Oh no... They got ahead of me. I've been looking for a chance the whole time."
"Well, I don't think they're doing this on purpose, are they?"
Firill remarked regretfully while Ariella retorted calmly.
"Fine, here I go!"
I was already stooping from all the girls clinging to me. Firill pounced from the front and hugged my head against her chest.
With my face buried in the soft and voluptuous bosom, a fragrant scent caressed my nasal cavity.
"Firill-san! What are you doing, taking advantage of the situation!?"
Mitsuki frantically scolded her.
"But Mitsuki, aren't you sticking together with Mononobe-kun?"
"T-This is because I am being squeezed from behind—Iris-san, could you please back away?"
Faced with Firill's rebuttal, Mitsuki advised Iris.
"No way! I'm so scared. I'll keep my eyes closed so please lead me to the exit like this!"
However, Iris kept Mitsuki sandwiched between me and her, refusing to move away.
"Mononobe Yuu, hurry and move forward! Because you stopped, we cannot leave."
Holding onto my shoulder, Lisa commanded.
"Yuu! Husband must protect wife!"
Hugging my waist, Tia yelled loudly. Ren kept tugging at my sleeve.
"No way? You're asking me to move forward in this posture...?"
I replied in disbelief. At this time, Ariella laughed at my misfortune, far away from us.
"Do your best, Mononobe-kun. This is the time to show your mettle as a man."
"......Sigh, got it."
I gave up resisting and sighed, then poured strength into my entire body.
Dragging all the girls clinging to my body, I finally reached the exit, exhausted and drenched in sweat.
"I'm dead tired..."
Having used up plenty of stamina at the haunted house, I sat on a bench and looked up at the sky.
Split by the roller coaster track, the blue sky showed white clouds moving slowly.
Right now, we were at a food court in the amusement park.
The sun had climbed up to the very middle of the sky. Since everyone looked like they needed a break, we decided to have lunch here.
I was sitting next to a large table on the edge of the food court, saving seats. Leaning my weight against the backrest, I focused on recovering my energy.
The others had gone to the shops surrounding the food court to buy food. Since I had asked them to buy my share, all I had to do now was wait.
While I was spacing out at the sky, Ariella's face suddenly appeared in my view.
"Oh... You're already back? I can't believe you suppressed the sound of your footsteps to approach me. That's a nasty hobby you've got."
Feeling shaken, I grumbled at her. Even though I was in a relaxed state, I could not believe I had failed to notice her approaching at all.
"Fufu, because I wanted to scare you. The others are arguing about what to buy you for lunch, so I decided to come back alone first."
Ariella smiled mischievously then sat down beside me. She was holding a hotdog.
I swept my gaze throughout the food court and saw Mitsuki and the girls definitely in a dispute over something.
"I was definitely startled. You're no ordinary person, Ariella, whether the way you conceal your presence or the martial arts I saw last time. And you said you're Director Miyazawa's adopted daughter... Can you explain a bit of this to me?"
I asked nervously.
Since yesterday, I had been very curious, but because it was not the right moment, I gave up asking at the time. But given the current mood, I felt she probably would answer.
"—Very well. I guess I'd better tell you to help improve your relations with Ren, Mononobe-kun."
Ariella took a bite of the hotdog then nodded and began to recount the past.
"I mentioned before... I was born in a country where conflict was constant. My loved ones got caught up in human conflict and lost their lives. The yellow dragon—'Yellow' Hraesvelgr—ate their souls. Back then, I hated Hraesvelgr extremely so I joined a certain organization."
"A certain organization?"
Hearing this vaguely worrying term, I frowned.
"An organization embracing an ideology opposite to dragon worshiping cults like the Sons of Muspell, in other words, a dragon hating organization. They were quite a radical organization. That was where I learned combat arts."
"What... But I remember that those types of organizations hated Ds too, right?"
While feeling surprised and puzzled, I asked Ariella.
"Yes... That's why I could only stay in that organization until my dark matter powers awakened. Having become a D, I was that close to being killed, but due to the organization's mercy, I was sold to Miyazawa Kenya through black market trading."
"W-Wait, isn't that human trafficking!?"
Ariella spoke lightly but selling Ds was undoubtedly a crime.
"That's right. At the time, he was exiled from academia due to his Ether Wind paper. To conduct private research, he intended to obtain Ds as research samples through illegal means. I've heard that he amassed a large fortune through many patents but almost spent it all."
Ariella shrugged and spoke in a tone of resignation.
"Then the title of adopted daughter is..."
"Merely for appearances to the outside world. However, he did treat me with courtesy and never did anything I hated. Initially, I thought he was a good person, but after he introduced Ren to me as my 'little sister' and I saw his attitude towards her, I realized I was wrong."
Ariella's voice conveyed slight anger. She continued:
"The reason why he took care of me thoughtfully was because his research needed me... He was cold to Ren who was unrelated to research. The more I got closer to Ren, the more anger I felt towards him... I did not lack freedom in my life and I was quite contented about that, but—"
Then Ariella's expression turned gloomy.
After checking that Mitsuki and the others were not returning yet, I urged her to continue.
"...Ren's dark matter generating ability also awakened. After finding out, this was what he said: 'Now that there are two samples, I guess it's fine to up the intensity in the experiments.'"
"What...? He intended to use you or Ren until one of you broke?"
Hearing what Ariella said, I gasped. Anger gradually surged in my heart.
"Probably. That's why I took Ren and ran away, seeking police protection. As a result, he was arrested for human trafficking and concealing Ds, whereas we were sent to Midgard. However... In the end, he was not punished by the law and went on to climb to his current position."
Unable to accept it, I asked. Ariella replied without disguising her discontent at all:
"Probably because his research has value to Asgard. Maybe some sort of plea bargain using the content of his research. I don't know the details but he's someone who belongs in jail, that's for sure."
Ariella spat on him with a look of disdain.
"You hate him, Ariella?"
"He didn't do anything to me. If he hadn't taken me in from that organization, I might have been killed, so I shouldn't hate him. It's just that I'm furious about Ren. It's all his fault that Ren almost never speaks."
Ariella turned her gaze to Ren who was together with Mitsuki and the girls, then said clearly.
"What happened there?"
"Ren's mother passed away a long time ago, far earlier than when I was adopted. After that, he buried himself in research. Even when Ren tried to talk to him, he'd only go 'shut up' and ignore her. I think because those kinds of days lasted for too long that Ren gave up speaking."
"Gave up speaking..."
That was extremely sad. Heartrending words.
"But Ren actually wants to speak, because she's clearly talkative when she types."
I smiled wryly and agreed.
Ren's typed speech was always so overbearing, it even made me feel that she was very foul-mouthed. But this meant that her mind was filled with words she wanted to speak.
"Ren is scared of being scolded 'shut up,' so as long as you make her feel reassured, Mononobe-kun, it'll be fine once she knows you won't say anything like that. Don't worry, I'm sure you'll succeed."
Ariella smiled cheerfully and asserted.
"I'm happy to hear that from you... But it makes me uncomfortable all over. I thought you'd say harsher things to me, Ariella."
I scratched my head in embarrassment.
"We've lived together and fought side by side till now. This is my revised view of you after many observations. Although I said a lot of harsh things when you first came to Midgard, I trust you now."
Ariella looked away in embarrassment too and took another bite of her hotdog.
The conversation halted. We were plunged into an uncomfortable silence.
"Oh right, Mononobe-kun, wanna have a bite?"
As though trying to dispel that atmosphere, Ariella presented her half-eaten hotdog to me.
"Huh, I can?"
"Yeah, the others are taking so long, you must be hungry."
Without turning her head back after looking away, Ariella extended the hotdog closer.
"Okay... Thanks for the food."
I accepted Ariella's kind offer and took only one bite of the hotdog.
The hotdog's sweetness from fat and ketchup, spiciness from the mustard, and the soft texture of bread expanded in my mouth.
"Mmm, it's good."
"Glad you like it."
Ariella smiled after hearing my comment.
"But I thought you wouldn't want to do this, Ariella."
Eating the hotdog I had bitten, Ariella tilted her head in puzzlement.
"Uh, because this is an indirect kiss, right?"
The instant I said that, Ariella's entire person froze. Instantly, she went red in embarrassment.
"I-I didn't mean to—"
Seeing her reaction, I realized she simply had not realized.
Although Ariella was greatly flustered, since the hotdog was already in her mouth, she had no choice but to chew and swallow the mouthful with a reddened face before glaring coldly at me.
"...So you ate in despite clearly knowing that, Mononobe-kun?"
"Well... Because you didn't seem to mind, I thought I'd better not mind either."
I answered awkwardly.
"I-In that case, then keep it to yourself to the very end."
Licking off the ketchup on her fingers, Ariella muttered with her face red.
After lunch, everyone started enjoying the attractions again. Time went by in an instant when having fun.
By the time I realized, the sun was already setting in the west. The sky was starting to be dyed orange-red.
"Best not to return too late, so this will be the last ride."
Looking up at the mechanical clock in the park, Mitsuki suggested.
"If that's the case, I guess we have to ride that at the end."
Ariella pointed at the attraction whose presence surpassed even the roller coaster—The giant Ferris wheel.
Gripping my sleeve tightly, Ren nodded with excitement on her face. She looked like she had been looking forward to it for a long time.
Thus we made our way to the Ferris wheel. When we arrived right under it, I discovered that it was so huge that looking up at it hurt my neck.
Since a single car could not contain all of us, we split up into groups of four.
"Then I shall go with Mononobe Yuu, Ren-san and Ariella-san first."
Lisa suggested. Strangely enough, the remaining Mitsuki, Iris, Firill and Tia agreed obediently.
"Yes, take care!"
I felt especially strange to see Tia, who was potentially the most clingy, waving her hand without making a fuss.
When it was our turn to board the Ferris wheel, I finally understood the truth of that dissonance.
Originally supposed to follow us, Ariella and Lisa waved from outside the car.
"Eh? Why aren't you two coming?"
I asked in surprise but Ariella immediately smiled mischievously.
"You two should have fun alone at least in the end. It's about time that Ren no longer needs me by her side, right?"
Ren shook her head anxiously but the park staff closed the door and the car left the ground.
Without saying a word, Lisa's face seemed to convey "do your best" while she saw us off.
"...We got tricked. They must have agreed on this beforehand."
With the two of us alone in the car, I smiled wryly at Ren who was sitting opposite me.
Ren nodded with a slightly angry demeanor. As soon as she met my gaze, she hastily looked down.
The bright rays of the setting sun entered the rising Ferris wheel car.
"Are you still nervous?"
Squinting from the setting sun's brightness, I asked her. She nodded slightly in response.
"To be honest, me too."
Hearing me say that, Ren looked up slightly to show a surprised expression.
"Because I've never had the experience of riding a Ferris wheel alone with a girl. Suddenly thrust into this date-like situation, I can't stay calm after all."
Ren went red and stiffened, apparently even more nervous.
"Oh, sorry, I made you even more nervous. But I'm very grateful to Ariella who made this opportunity for me. Given this rare chance, while the Ferris wheel completes a revolution, will you listen to me?"
I cautioned myself to be as gentle in tone as possible then asked Ren.
After a brief silence, Ren nodded.
"Thank you. I think I need to say something first... I asked Ariella to tell me many things about the past, including about you, Ren."
Ariella's experiences as Miyazawa Kenya's adopted daughter, the passing of Ren's mother, the reason why Ren no longer spoke—I knew many things one-sidedly.
I thought that it would be unfair after all.
"So this time, I'll tell you about myself. Right now, I'll tell you everything I can think of."
Ren showed puzzlement at the way I spoke.
"Actually, I have a secret. Apart from these three—Iris, Lisa and Principal Charlotte—I've never told anyone."
Despite feeling hesitant, I still continued.
"I don't want Mitsuki to know of this no matter what... That's why I haven't told anyone else. But Ren, I'm trying to help you understand the 'current me' because I believe I need to come clean to you about everything. If I continue to hide myself, I don't think I can gain your trust no matter how much time I spend."
I gazed at Ren with a solemn expression. Perhaps feeling my determination, Ren sat up straight and looked into my eyes.
"Tell me"—Ren seemed to be urging me.
Then I began to recount. How I contracted with Yggdrasil three years ago to obtain pre-civilization weapons data in exchange for memories; how I was caught by NIFL after that and fought as part of the special forces team Sleipnir, how my commanding officer, Major Loki, intended to raise me as the strongest killer named "Fafnir"—
Ren focused her gaze on me while I talked nonstop.
"—Then because Mitsuki applied pressure on the higher-ups, I was reassigned to Midgard and everything after that happened as you know, Ren... The anti-dragon armaments I used during the battles against Leviathan and Hraesvelgr were downloaded from Yggdrasil using more of my memories as the price. The result is that I've lost virtually all my memories beyond three years ago."
Ren inhaled slightly, widening her eyes.
"And within the data downloaded from Yggdrasil, there's something like a computer virus. Controlled by Yggdrasil... I almost took Lisa's life. It's also my fault that Yggdrasil suddenly appeared at the school festival. You were in danger at the time too... I am truly sorry."
I bowed my head deeply to apologize to Ren. Actually not just Ren, I needed to apologize to Ariella and the other girls as well as Lisa's parents who were caught up in the incident.
However, if the outside world were to find out it was my fault, the position of Midgard and the Ds would be at risk. Since the principal covered up what happened with me, it must not be disclosed lightly.
"Currently, the principal has done a lot for me to prevent Yggdrasil from controlling me, but it's unknown how long it'd last. It's because of me that we are rushing to take down Yggdrasil. I'm very sorry for getting you and everyone else involved because of that."
The more I said, the more I became aware of how much I had deceived and kept things from others. I could not help but fall into emotions of self-loathing.
Mitsuki's face flashed in my mind. More than anyone, I had deceived her.
—I was truly a liar.
Despite owning up to everything, I did not think that Ren would trust someone like me. To be honest, even though I had revealed everything, my crimes would not disappear.
Unsure how to face Ren, I kept my head down. Then I felt an impact on the back of my head with a knock.
I looked up to see Ren glaring at me with her hand in a fist.
Ren made a scolding sound and took out her portable terminal, typing swiftly then showing me:
"—You should've said so earlier. Now isn't the time to be having fun in this kind of place. Hurry and go back to practice dark matter transfer..."
I read out the words displayed. Ren kept nodding.
"You're not angry?"
I asked in surprise. Ren typed again.
—I'm angry but now isn't the time for anger.
As I read the words on the screen, my shoulders instantly relaxed.
"Thank you, Ren. You're so kind."
I thanked her. Ren went red and looked away.
"I'd like to hurry and master dark matter transfer too, but I think just as Lisa said, right now what we need is communication. So I'd be grateful if we could talk here some more."
Our car was about to reach the highest point of the Ferris wheel, so there was still time to talk.
Ren took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. While thinking, she typed on her terminal.
—I know. Ask anything you want. I will answer everything honestly.
With a serious expression, Ren raised her terminal in front of me and made this suggestion.
"So, can you tell me why you wanted to come to an amusement park?"
She refused the first time I asked, so it was probably something difficult to talk about.
But I could feel that it might be the first step to understanding Ren if this was the reason that even Ariella did not know.
Ren's expression instantly froze. Then she nodded and began typing on the terminal.
The following words were displayed on the screen facing me—
—Because I visited an amusement park with Father and Mother before and had a great time.
"So that's why..."
Normally speaking, that would not be a difficult reason to bring up, but Ren's mother had passed away and Miyazawa Kenya had now buried himself in research, neglecting Ren coldly.
If she told others the reason, she would have to confront the gap between past and present. That would make Ren suffer, which was why she refused to answer.
"What kind of person was your mother like?"
—Cheerful and bold, she often led my wimpy father around by the nose.
Reading what she typed, I could only smile wryly.
"She must be quite a spirited woman."
Hearing my comment, Ren nodded in agreement and typed her answer.
—Yes, she's a bit similar to Onee-chan.
I asked in puzzlement and Ren hastily typed again.
—I mean Ariella.
"Oh, I see. So you usually call Ariella Onee-chan."
Ren immediately blushed and silently hammered my kneecap.
"No, there's nothing to be shy about. It means you think of Ariella as your real family, right?"
Hearing me ask that, Ren nodded slightly with a blush.
—Right, so Ariella is the only one I can talk to normally.
Reading the words on Ren's raised terminal, I smiled.
"I'm so jealous. If only I could be that close with you."
Hearing me say that, Ren showed a look as though she suddenly understood something. She stared at me silently.
Feeling intrigued, I inquired but Ren looked down at the terminal on her hand.
Then after a minute, she slowly typed in text.
She probably had some kind of message for me, so I waited quietly for her to finish typing.
Then shown on the terminal's screen was a very brief sentence that had taken her a long time to type.
—Can I call you Onii-chan?
I looked at Ren's face in surprise. Blushing to her ears, she lowered her head.
But Ren did not put down her terminal. She urged me to answer.
Perhaps this was Ren trying her hardest. In that case, I had no reason to refuse.
"—Yeah, you can."
Hearing my answer, Ren hugged the terminal to her chest and looked at me with her face red.
Opening her mouth, Ren looked like she wanted to say something but could not.
Seeing her like that, I noticed.
Ren had asked me "can I call you Onii-chan?" which meant that—
Ren's breath carried a faint voice.
Her trembling voice was gradually weaving words.
As though exhausting her strength, the tiny voice was gradually connecting together.
Feeling her struggle and nervousness, my heart also began to beat faster and faster.
Inside the Ferris wheel car touring the sky, the atmosphere was so tense that it pricked my skin—
I hear a voice so delicate it was almost covered up by the sound of wind.
In that instant, indescribable joy and embarrassment filled my heart.
Infected with her nervousness, I answered hoarsely.
Immediately, Ren's entire body relaxed with a look of relief on her face.
Then in a more natural tone of voice than before, Ren repeated the same words.
I answered again, slightly recovering in composure.
Ren happily relaxed her facial expression and showed a gentle smile.
"Yeah, I'm your older brother from now on, Ren."
Ren nodded, swaying her legs happily.
After that, Ren kept calling me "Onii-chan" and I answered every time in embarrassment.
"Onii-chan" were the only words Ren spoke so our interaction could not be called a conversation, but the more we repeated the exchange, the more I felt that we were growing closer.
Just as we were doing this kind of thing, the Ferris wheel finished a revolution and returned us to the ground.
I got off the car first and reached out to Ren.
Despite some hesitation, Ren held my hand instead of grabbing my sleeve this time.
Then using my hand for support, she got off the car and said with blushing cheeks:
"Onii-chan...... Thank you."
"Of course I'm happy that the plan went smoothly... But what on earth did you do to Ren-san? I feel that you have grown a bit too close."
After we got off the Ferris wheel and went to meet everyone, along the way to the park exit, Lisa looked at us in surprise.
Ren was gripping my right hand tightly, smiling with delight on her face.
The sun was about to disappear in the west. The western sky was red. Looking east, I could see the first star shining in the night sky.
"I'm curious too. Can I ask the reason, Ren?"
Looking quite curious, Ariella asked Ren.
Feeling gazes from Mitsuki, Iris, Firill, Tia and everyone else, Ren lowered her head shyly.
Ren called to me quietly and pulled my hand.
Hearing her say that, the girls broke into a commotion.
"Ah, I get it now. You often said you wanted an older brother, Ren, so your dream has come true now, right?"
Ariella seemed to understand completely from hearing one sentence from Ren. Smiling, she rubbed Ren's head.
Ren looked down and nodded mildly in confirmation.
"W-Wait, so that means Nii-san is willing to become Ren-san's 'Onii-chan'?"
Greatly shaken, Mitsuki asked immediately.
"Well, something like that."
I answered with embarrassed feelings. Mitsuki instantly looked offended.
"What do you mean, something like that...? Let me tell you, Nii-san, brother-sister relationships do not come about so lightly—"
"Eh? Don't tell me you're jealous, Mitsuki?"
Mid-sentence, Firill interrupted.
"What... I-I am most certainly not jealous!"
"Really? Then what's the problem? Even though she's calling him Onii-chan, it's just an intimate way of addressing someone slightly older."
"I know that, but..."
Mitsuki reluctantly stopped complaining but still looked at me with eyes of unease.
I had no blood relation to Mitsuki. As siblings in name only, she could not remain complacent. Perhaps she felt anxious as though her position was being stolen.
"Don't worry, Mitsuki, I won't stop being your brother."
I comforted her but the gloom on Mitsuki's face did not dissipate completely despite her smile.
Did I word it wrong? Sure enough, with my lost memories, I was unable to guess Mitsuki's feelings.
"Tia won't be jealous! Because Tia wants Yuu to be Tia's husband, not big brother, but... Tia wants to hold hands too."
Tia stared at my hand that Ren was holding. Because my left arm was in a cast, I could not hold hands with two people at the same time.
"Tia-chan, don't disturb them right now. It's not easy for Mononobe and Ren-chan to become closer."
Iris advised Tia with a wry smile.
"That's true, but... Aren't you jealous, Iris?"
"Eh? I-I'm also..."
Momentarily at a loss for words, Iris looked at me with a complicated expression. Her reaction made my heart rate accelerate.
"See, Iris is like Tia, so according to the order—"
Tia made an "I knew it" look and was just about to make some sort of suggestion when she stopped mid-sentence.
It really happened in an instant.
A figure dashed over, picked up Tia from behind and ran away just like that.
Since it was too suddenly, no one could instantly grasp what had happened, including me. Even so, I was still the first to come to my senses. Letting go of Ren's hand, I instantly gave chase.
"Hold it right there!!"
What the heck—Who on earth...?
Despite the questions filling my mind, I did not have the luxury to ponder. In any case, I had to rescue Tia.
"L-Let Tia go!"
Skillfully carrying the struggling Tia while escaping was a slender young man. His blond ponytail fluttered behind him in the wind.
Could... that be John?
Seeing a familiar looking back, I realized the perpetrator's identity.
As soon as I called his name, he instantly looked back. It really was John.
However, John did not slow down. Thus he ran into one of the nearby buildings.
This was an attraction named the "Castle of Mirrors." As suggested by its name, the castle's interior design consisted of mirrors covering the whole place. Entry seemed to be unrestricted with no staff at the entrance.
It was already close to nightfall. Since people were gathered at attractions designed for admiring the scenery, the Castle of Mirrors was empty without anyone in sight.
"Mononobe! Where's Tia-chan!?"
I stopped. Mitsuki, Iris and the others caught up.
"—Inside here. It's John who abducted Tia, which means that Kili might be here too, because yesterday, she mentioned about talking next time... I think she probably wants to talk to me here."
"Doing things coercively as usual... If she wants to talk, why can't she do it openly?"
Lisa commented in frustration.
"Mononobe-kun, we'd better chase quickly."
Although Firill urged me, I shook my head after thinking briefly.
"No, Firill, you and the others should guard the entrance and the surroundings. I'll go inside by myself. In case a fight against Kili breaks out, I'm the only one who can oppose her."
Saying that, I broke into a run without waiting for their response.
"Hold on, Mononobe-kun!"
I heard Ren and Ariella's voices behind me but did not look back.
Entering the Castle of Mirrors through the entrance that was styled like a gate, I suddenly found myself about to collide with my mirror image.
I reflexively guarded myself then exhaled.
The interior was just as expected, a corridor covered with mirrors. Oppositely facing mirrors produced countless virtual images.
As a result, it was impossible to judge the length and width of this corridor accurately. Running recklessly would probably collide into a wall.
Left without a choice, I could only advance by walking briskly.
"Tia! Where are you? John! Answer me!"
I called out but did not get any response.
But after turning for who knew how many times, I saw John.
In the passage there, even the floor and ceiling was covered with mirrors in addition to the walls.
In that space where the feeling of up and down would become unstable, John was standing there quietly.
"—Thank goodness, I'm so glad that you came alone, Captain. If others came along, I'd have to stall you all here."
"John... Why are you doing this? Where's Tia?"
I slowed my pace and entered a combat stance while asking him. I could not see Tia anywhere within my field of vision.
"She is talking inside with Kili."
"Then I'm going over."
I planned to advance but John raised a hand to stop me.
"Sorry, please wait a while longer. Kili seems to have something important to tell her."
"...John, when did you become Kili's underling?"
I glared at John without hiding my irritation.
"I told you yesterday, I didn't become Kili's friend. I'm only joining forces with her due to certain reasons."
I asked her with my gaze.
"Well... I can't tell you. While key facts remain unknown... Even if I told you incomplete information, it would do nothing but cause you trouble, Captain."
Seeing John's apologetic look when replying to me, I exhaled.
"I understand you have your reasons for doing this, but I can't accept it unless you explain to me. Sorry, I'm heading over because I'm worried about Tia."
I took a step forward and John instantly turned to enter a stance.
"—My apologies, Captain, then I'll have to delay you for a while."
"If you want to fight, I won't show any mercy."
Anti-personnel weapon—AT Nergal.
I generated dark matter in my right hand, transmuting into a projectile-based electroshock gun. My palm instantly felt the gun's familiar weight.
"Be my guest. Your left arm seems unusable right now, so I have a chance in this environment."
As soon as he said that, John instantly kicked the ground and closed in on his own initiative.
I was momentarily confused by this unexpected move. John was a sniper. Although he had gone through martial arts training, it was much cruder compared to what other Sleipnir members and I went through. In addition, John was not carrying any weapons right now.
Starting a close quarters fight against me while unarmed would be a foolish act of overconfidence.
While approaching me, John swung an acute punch at me.
With minimum motion, I dodged while moving forward, executing a sweeping kick the instant I passed by him.
However, I did not feel the kick connect.
Jumping to dodge my sweep, John turned in the air to perform a spinning kick.
Unable to use my left arm, I could not block this attack coming from the left. Without a choice, I could only duck to evade. John's leg brushed past the back of my head.
Maintaining this posture, I aimed Nergal's muzzle at John.
His movements were more nimble than I predicted. Although I was a little surprised, this was the end. Since he was in midair, there was no way he could dodge my attack.
But just as I was about to pull the trigger, my instincts sounded the alarm.
John's extended arm was aimed at me. A metallic glint could be seen inside his clenched fist—
I made a split-second decision and swung Nergal.
Clang—a hard sound rang out and I felt a strong impact transmitted through Nergal.
A coin flew up in the air, spinning as it fell.
Most likely, he was holding the coin in his hand from the start, then he flicked the coin fiercely with his finger.
Although no match for handguns, the firepower of flicked projectiles at close range must not be underestimated. A single clean hit on the center of the forehead could result in unconsciousness.
Seizing the chance when I switched to defense, John instantly launched flicked projectiles consecutively with both hands as soon as he landed.
However, flicked projectiles were a type of ambush technique. There was nothing to fear once they were known in advance.
Precipitating my ego, I slightly awakened the "Fafnir" dormant in the bottom of my subconscious.
My sharpened senses captured John's killing intent and transmitted the trajectories of his flicked projectiles to me. Evading all projectiles simply through dodging, I aimed my gun at John.
I pulled the trigger. A single hit from this projectile-based electroshock gun would instantly render the target unconscious.
However, John evaded my attack as though he had predicted my bullet trajectory.
Seeing me surprised, John showed a happy smile on the corner of his lips.
"Indeed, that shot would have ended things if I were still the one you knew."
"I can't believe you dodged that... You've become stronger."
I praised him and John scratched his face uncomfortably.
"No... It's not because I got stronger, but thanks to this location."
He pointed at the corridor covered with mirrors and continued:
"I was scouted for my eyes that are superior to others, thus becoming a member of Sleipnir. In this space filled with mirrors, Captain, I can observe your movements from all directions. Simply through vision, I can gather several times more information than usual, which improves the accuracy of predictions."
"So that's why my attacks all missed."
Hearing John's explanation, I sighed.
"Even you will take a fair amount of effort to defeat me currently. But if you intend to kill me—Things might be different."
John gazed at my eyes in a probing manner and spoke.
I faced off against John, thinking what to do. But before I reached that conclusion, I heard a cellphone ringtone in the surroundings.
"—This is a call from Kili. Looks like there's no need to stall longer."
John took out his cellphone from a pocket and spoke with relief.
I breathed a sigh of relief too.
"Then can I go over?"
"Yes. But rather, I will lead the way because it's a maze inside."
John released his combat stance completely and walked deeper into the corridor.
The originally tense atmosphere eased up. I placed Nergal into an inside pocket of my uniform.
In the end, I had simply increased my fatigue for nothing. I sighed while following John.
The castle's mirror-filled interior was truly full of complicated intersecting paths. Even if I had defeated John, it would have been impossible to find Tia quickly. Kili must have chosen the Castle of Mirrors with this in consideration.
Tia and Kili were in a great hall that seemed to be in the center of the maze.
Seeing me, Tia ran over in joy.
Tia pounced at my chest. I caught her and looked at Kili standing in the center of the hall.
"Kili... What is your goal in doing this?"
"Because I needed to talk to Tia in private without being disturbed by anyone, that's why I invited her to this Castle of Mirrors. This happens to be a great place to help her scrutinize her own existence anew."
Kili answered nonchalantly without any conscience at all.
I gently asked Tia, who was clinging to my waist.
"Tia, did she do anything to you?"
"...Don't worry, we were just talking."
Tia looked up and answered. However, her voice lacked vitality. I felt concerned by Kili's mention of "existence."
"What did you talk about?"
Tia stammered in response to my question. I looked at Kili again to seek an explanation.
"—Unfortunately, the explanation cannot come from my lips. Including whether to tell you or not, everything will be decided by Tia on her own, so I will talk to you about something else."
Kili narrowed her eyes and responded in monotone.
"That's right. Since your group has come to Japan to defeat Yggdrasil, there's much I want to tell you. That's why I came here specially."
Kili shrugged then continued in a sharper tone of voice.
"Your side plans to destroy Yggdrasil's mind, right? I heard the gist from Tia just now."
Since Tia already told her, it was pointless for me to hide it, so I nodded in admission.
"I will offer you honest advice. As things currently stand, your plan will still fail no matter how hard your side tries."
"What—Why would you know...?"
"I know. Because even earlier than you guys, starting long ago, I've been searching for a way to defeat Yggdrasil."
Kili interrupted me and replied.
"Yggdrasil can interfere with dark matter. You should know this since you fought it at Midgard, right? In other words, Yggdrasil is the natural predator of 'Black' Vritra—Mother."
Kili had confessed to me in the past that she was a being created from Vritra's dark matter. Hence, what she said just now was meant literally.
To Tia and John who did not know the truth, it probably sounded like Vritra was something like a mother for giving Ds the power to generate dark matter, but Kili was actually Vritra's daughter in a real sense.
"Twenty-five years ago, Mother went missing in order to escape from Yggdrasil. This is the truth of Vritra's disappearance."
"What... Are you for real?"
I could not believe that she had told me the answer to this mystery, still debated all over the world, so easily. I asked her hoarsely.
"Yes, I'm not going to lie. Honestly, I originally wanted to pique your interest with this fact, to serve as a bargaining chip... But if I keep my cards hidden, you won't be able to understand the current situation correctly, so today, that's why I'm telling you many other things you want to know."
"The things I want to know..."
There were too many. I did not know which of them she was referring to.
"You are very curious about my relationship to Hekatonkheir, right?"
"Y-Yeah... Because you also addressed Hekatonkheir as mother, Kili."
"I'll answer this question of yours. In the past, while hiding from Yggdrasil, Mother also controlled an avatar created from dark matter to take action, and that avatar is precisely 'Blue' Hekatonkheir. Although half of it is materialized, it's probably quite similar in nature to the fictional armaments of you Ds."
"Hekatonkheir is Vritra's avatar... fictional armament."
I muttered blankly, but my mind agreed with it partially.
The reason why Kili had addressed Hekatonkheir as mother in the past and why Hekatonkheir had exhibited astounding regenerative powers—If it was Vritra's avatar made from dark matter, all these questions were easily explained.
"Yes, by the way, I served as something like a relay to link Mother to Hekatonkheir. Through the dragon mark on my body that's linked to Mother, Hekatonkheir could materialize on the spot or replenish its dark matter."
"Relay...? Don't tell me that when Hekatonkheir appeared at Midgard, it was also—"
That time, Hekatonkheir had appeared in Midgard without any warning at all. Even the alarm was sounded after Hekatonkheir showed up. I finally understood why.
"Just as you think, Hekatonkheir appeared through me. But Mother used biogenic transmutation to change my dragon mark in order to make me into Hraesvelgr's mate, so I can no longer serve as a relay."
And the chosen one ended up not being me, how silly of Mother—Kili shrugged.
At the Principality of Erlia, Hraesvelgr chose Firill instead of Kili. Calling herself an "imitation," Kili looked quite heartbroken when she was not chosen... Right now, I could see her "in pain" slightly.
"Because my link to Mother has been severed, altering my dragon mark again is impossible. Thus, I'm free. Prior to that, I've always acted according to Mother's orders. Finding a way to eliminate her natural predator, Yggdrasil, was also one of my assigned missions, so regarding strategies against Yggdrasil, I have an edge held by no other person."
Kili spoke in fierce tone of voice and looked at me solemnly.
"Yuu, listen carefully. First of all, based on the current situation, approaching Yggdrasil is already difficult enough. Something on the level of jamming won't be able to stop Yggdrasil's interference. It will get rapidly analyzed and neutralized. Even if you the plan succeeds in destroying Yggdrasil's mind, a new core consciousness will end up getting built. That's inevitable because the physical body is not destroyed."
Kili eloquently dashed our hopes to pieces.
"Gah... If what you say is true, what should I do—"
Even if someone said it was impossible, in my situation, all I could do was fight. Yggdrasil's power to control was increasing. Once I got controlled, even trying to fight would be impossible.
"There does exist a solution to problems in the plan. But whether you'll be able to obtain that solution—I don't know."
Kili shrugged and remarked coldly. She seemed to glance at Tia for just an instant.
"By this point, are you still trying to act dumb?"
"You've got it wrong. I can only say this at the moment. In any case, please don't insist of fighting despite knowing there is no chance of victory. That's all I want to say."
Kili looked away from me and faced John.
"The job is done, let's retreat."
John seemed unable to hide his shock at what Kili had said, but he pulled himself together and nodded.
"G-Got it. Then Captain—I will take my leave now."
After bowing respectfully, John chased after Kili. They seemed to be moving towards the exit of the Castle of Mirrors.
"—Oh, one more thing."
Just as they were about to exit the hall, Kili stopped and looked back at me.
"What is it?"
I stayed on maximum alert but Kili spoke seriously:
"The lab where you're staying... is a bit unusual. Compared to other facilities, the level of security measures is quite extraordinary. There are many areas locked by administrator access."
"What do you mean...?"
I asked, not really understanding. Kili narrowed her eyes and said:
"In other words, the facility's highest authority, the director, keeps quite a large research area to himself alone. I sense a dangerous presence, so please be careful."
Leaving that warning behind, Kili disappeared with John on the other side of the passage, leaving for real this time.
Areas occupied solely by the lab's director, Miyazawa Kenya.
Indeed, I felt inexplicable uneasiness in my heart. In addition, the many secrets revealed by Kili kept circling in my mind.
Of course, there was no guarantee that everything Kili said was the truth. She might have told lies for the sake of misleading me.
The more I thought, the more questions popped up nonstop. If Hekatonkheir was Vritra's fictional armament, then Vritra's intent was the reason why Hekatonkheir went for a suicide explosion with Yggdrasil at the Germany-Denmark border.
Kili had not mentioned this incident at all. Speaking of which, her reason for infiltrating the lab was still a mystery.
While I was lost in thought, Tia tugged my clothing and called to me.
I came to my senses, patted Tia's head and smiled at her.
"—Anyway, let's get back to the girls. They must be worried."
Scrutinizing what Kili had said should wait until I had discussed with everyone. Agonizing over it alone would not help. This was the lesson I had learned from past experience.
Tia's reply lacked energy. I sensed that she was also troubling over something.
What exactly did Kili say to her in my absence...? Although I felt extremely curious, it looked like I should not force the issue for now.
I'll try asking her after she calmed down.
"If you're tired, do you want to sit on my shoulders?"
I made this suggestion, hoping to cheer her up slightly, but Tia looked up with a smile.
"No need, Tia is fine! This is better, let's go, Yuu!"
Holding my right hand, Tia started to walk.
Choosing to hold hands instead of sitting on my shoulders, she pulled me forward.
Thus, we walked in the opposite direction from Kili and John, back to the entrance of the Castle of Mirrors.
The mirrors facing one another showed reflections of Tia and me, looking almost like travelers lost in alternate dimensions—
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