Unlimited Fafnir:Volume 6 Chapter 3
Chapter 3 - Invading Tempest of Green
Due to the unexpected incident at the amusement park, we—the students of Brynhildr Class—returned straight to the research lab without taking any detours.
Then Shinomiya-sensei joined us and I told everyone what I had heard from Kili.
"The reason for Vritra's disappearance and the truth of Hekatonkheir—Although it is very interesting information, there is no proof. It would be dangerous to believe her completely."
After the sharing of information, Mitsuki proposed caution.
The venue was Mitsuki's room again. Like last time, I listened to her speak while leaning against the wall with the window.
"However, Kili's words cannot be ignored. I have asked NIFL, hoping they could verify the effectiveness of jamming... I received their response just now. The result is just as Kili said. Jamming's effects lasted only momentarily and was quickly neutralized."
Shinomiya-sensei replied gravely. She had stayed at the lab today, probably to contact NIFL.
"In that case... Approaching to attack is currently impossible. Furthermore, if what Kili-san said is true, then even if the plan succeeded, Yggdrasil still cannot be defeated."
Lisa spoke tensely.
"But we can't do nothing just because failure is possible!"
Iris protested urgently.
"...Iris is right. I believe we must do what we can at the moment."
Firill calmly supported Iris' stance.
"In that case, given the current situation, the only choice is still to strengthen Mononobe-kun's cooperation with Ren. You two have grown quite close today, so let's try making a fictional armament again right here."
Saying that, Ariella pushed Ren's back, bringing her before me.
Ren looked up at me slightly nervously.
"Then let's try it."
I said to her and Ren nodded.
I generated the fictional armament shaped as an ornamental gun. Ren placed her hand on the gun.
Dark matter instantly flowed in, causing Siegfried to expand and distort in shape.
If I lost control at this point, things would end up the same as last time. Hence, I focused my thoughts and transmitted my imagination to the fictional armament, correcting Siegfried's shape that was twisting unnaturally.
My thoughts were transmitting to Ren's dark matter more easily than before.
—So dark matter really consisted of fragments of the mind.
Growing closer meant understanding each other.
I knew how to transmit my thoughts to Ren and Ren knew how to receive my thoughts.
Naturally, this was only on the level of a "feeling," but it was the difference between heaven and earth compared to when I understood nothing. In that case—
However, I must have lowered my guard just as success came into sight.
Siegfried suddenly collapsed into bubbles just as it had expanded to roughly three times its size.
"Oh... What a shame. But I think this is a great leap in progress after merely a day."
Despite the failure, Ariella still applauded us.
"Indeed, all that remains is sustained practice, I suppose. Through repeated attempts, you should be able to master the key principles."
Lisa nodded in satisfaction. Since this was coming from Lisa who had trained similarly with Ren before, I could take this as: I'm finally at the starting line.
But amidst the slightly excited atmosphere, only Tia kept her head bowed silently.
Feeling concerned, I called to her. Tia shook in fright then looked up.
"Eh, Yuu... What's up?"
"Oh, nothing much, but I think you're acting a bit strange."
Hearing what I said, Lisa also looked at Tia and frowned.
"Speaking of which, Kili-san took those forceful measures in order to talk privately with Tia-san. What on earth did you talk about?"
Tia's gaze wandered in hesitation in response to the question.
Seeing her reaction, I hastily interrupted.
"No need to force yourself if it's hard to talk about. But if you encounter any trouble, you can talk to me any time."
Tia answered quietly and nodded.
Lisa sighed then reminded her, "It's a promise for sure, okay?"
"Well then, the night is getting late. Let us adjourn today."
Perhaps deciding there was nothing left to discuss at the current stage, Mitsuki announced the conclusion of the meeting.
Thus, we left Mitsuki's room and returned to our own rooms.
My assigned guest room was exactly opposite to Mitsuki's.
The furniture in the room consisted only of a bed, a desk and a closet. Then there was a bathroom with a toilet. A simple room. Compared to staying at the royal palace at the Principality of Erlia, this was quite cramped but to me, this type of room felt more reassuring instead.
Despite the temptation of lying on the bed, I held back my desire for sleep and returned to the corridor.
After making sure there was no one around, I went to Iris' room.
I knocked and she responded soon.
Iris opened the door and poked her head out.
"Can I have a moment with you?"
With blushing cheeks, Iris nervously invited me into her room.
Iris was identical in layout as Mitsuki and my rooms, but there were all kinds of belongings scattered messily already.
"Oh, I'll tidy up straight away!"
I avoided looking while waiting for Iris to frantically stuff underwear and other articles into her bag.
"T-Thanks for waiting. Sit here, Mononobe."
Iris pulled out the chair at the desk for me then sat down on the bed herself.
Seeing me sit on the chair, Iris spoke up.
"So, what's this about?"
Iris tilted her head and asked me. I answered:
"I wanted to explain what happened to you in more detail, Iris. In fact, I've confessed my secret to Ren."
In the beginning, only Iris knew my secret and now I was telling her that Ren was in on it as well.
"I see, hmm... I guess that's for the best. How did Ren-chan react?"
"Although angry, she was more worried about me. She said: 'Now isn't the time to be having fun in this kind of place. Hurry and go back to practice dark matter transfer.'"
"Ren-chan really is so kind."
Iris smiled gently and continued:
"So, how do you feel, Mononobe, now that you've gained such a kind little sister?"
Iris asked as though poking fun at me.
"Well... Umm, I'm really glad I can become better friends with her."
I chose my words carefully. Somehow, I got the feeling that things would be bad if I phrased things carelessly.
"Definitely. Your face looked so gentle when she called you Onii-chan."
"You can't hide it, because I'm always watching you closely, Mononobe, ah..."
Iris asserted confidently but went red as soon as she realized what her words meant. Feeling embarrassed too, I looked away.
"Don't suddenly say something so embarrassing..."
Despite apologizing, Iris looked quite happy.
"What's with you?"
"Uh, somehow it makes me very happy to know that you get embarrassed by what I say, Mononobe."
Iris answered with her face red. Hearing something like that from her made it even harder for me to face her directly.
The conversation halted, making me conscious of the silence in the room.
But instead of being suffocating, this type of silence felt like a time of sweet comfort.
However, we could not stay like this indefinitely because I came for a different purpose.
After the battle against Yggdrasil at Midgard, I had not had a chance to spend time alone with Iris and talk properly, so I must tell her about that now.
"—Iris, there's actually something important I need to tell you."
I intentionally tensed my relaxed expression and spoke in a serious tone of voice.
"Eh? What is it?"
Seeing me like that, Iris prepared herself and asked me stiffly.
"As long as Ren can supply me with dark matter stably, the Yggdrasil battle plan should be possible to put into action. We can't know whether or not what Kili said was correct until we try it."
"Yeah.. We can't do nothing."
Iris agreed while listening to me.
"Also, once the battle begins, your Catastrophe will be a major force in the battle. Mitsuki and Shinomiya-sensei's battle plan will probably take your power into consideration. When time comes for the decisive battle, the principal will probably permit you to use Catastrophe, then even if you didn't want to, Iris, you'll probably realize it too."
Iris widened her eyes and asked.
—I already knew she was not aware, which was why I had to tell her personally using this opportunity.
"Iris, you used Catastrophe without going through dark matter."
"Eh... What is this about not going through dark matter—"
Perhaps it was hard to imagine. Iris showed a troubled look.
"During the Yggdrasil battle at Midgard, Iris, you used that red beam—Catastrophe—directly, which is why you weren't affected by Yggdrasil's interference. If it's your Catastrophe, Iris, I think you'll probably be able to attack normally even if you approach Yggdrasil's main body."
"Eh! Isn't that wonderful!? It means I can fight Yggdrasil head on! Maybe I might be able to defeat it on my own!?"
With an expression of joy, Iris exclaimed excitedly.
"N-No, it's uncertain whether you can fight alone since we don't know the scale of your Catastrophe or how many times it can be used. And even if Yggdrasil's body could be destroyed, it'll just transfer its core consciousness somewhere else."
"Oh right... After destroying the body, you need to attack Yggdrasil's mind. But because dark matter will be stolen, you can't approach as the key person... Hmm, what should we do?"
Iris crossed her arms and started to rack her brain, but her reaction was completely different from what I expected.
"Mitsuki and Shinomiya-sensei are probably thinking about how to approach Yggdrasil, so leave it to them for now. Rather... Aren't you afraid, Iris?"
"You used Catastrophe directly without transmuting dark matter, you know? It's unprecedented. If Asgard learns of this, Iris, you might be seen as a dragon."
Perhaps she realized only after I mentioned it. Iris looked at herself in surprise.
"...But I'm not a monster like Basilisk or Leviathan, right? I won't destroy cities or do bad things, you know?"
"I know that, but Asgard and NIFL will designate dangerous Ds as disasters and allow them to be executed. If those guys found out about you, they'll definitely see you as a threat, so under all circumstances, do not openly disclose the fact you can use Catastrophe directly."
I stared into Iris' eyes and warned her in a strong tone of voice.
"O-Okay, I got it. But... Then that means I can't use it in front of other people?"
"Although there's a risk, you can say that you instantly transmuted the dark matter, then it should be impossible to tell the difference."
Iris seemed quite unsettled. I pondered while replying to her.
Dark matter was almost unseen if it was transmuted at the same time as it was generated. Even when watching from the side, it should be impossible to tell.
If Iris used Catastrophe again while inside Yggdrasil's interference range, the secret might get exposed... But since Mitsuki was unaware of this, she probably would not devise a battle plan that would lead to such a situation.
"That's good to know... I thought I can't fight alongside everyone else anymore."
Iris breathed a sigh of relief. Compared to herself, she seemed more concerned about others.
Thud. Iris dropped her upper body onto the bed and raised her right arm towards the ceiling.
"However, a dragon huh... Mononobe, do you think I look like a dragon?"
"No, not at all. You're human, Iris."
I asserted and Iris smiled.
"Thank you, but I think I've lost a bit of confidence."
Iris seemed to gradually realize the gravity of the situation. Her voice sounded a bit melancholic.
"Don't worry, Iris, you haven't changed one bit."
"Really? Then... please look carefully to confirm."
Iris got up from the bed.
"You're asking me to confirm...?"
"I want you to help me confirm through your eyes, Mononobe, that there's nothing strange about me. Please."
Iris begged me seriously and I stood up from the chair.
I circled around Iris, who was dressed in school uniform, observing her from all directions.
Dazzling silver hair, lovely facial features, slender arms and legs, pale skin, a bulging chest that could be seen even with the uniform, a slender waist—
Taking a good look again, all of her was still so attractive. I felt my heart rate rise naturally. The color of skin exposed between her miniskirt and kneesocks attracted my gaze compellingly.
"How is it?"
After seeing me circle her once, Iris asked me.
"Even if you ask me..."
Too conscious of her, I could not even look her in the eye.
"What? Don't tell me there's something weird?"
Seeing me hesitant, Iris got frantic.
"No, not at all, my only comment is... umm, Iris, you're really so adorable..."
I endured my embarrassment and replied. Iris' face instantly went boiling red.
"A-Adorable... Sheesh, that's not what I want to hear about!"
"Oh, of course, there's nothing weird, okay?"
I frantically added but Iris glared at me with a blush.
"I'm not lying."
I nodded but Iris did not seem satisfied. She looked at her own body.
"On further thought... To confirm beyond a doubt, I have to undress... Right?"
Iris spoke as though in a trance and started untying the ribbon on her uniform.
"W-Wait! That will be bad no matter how you look at it!"
I frantically stopped Iris.
If I saw her naked body under these circumstances, I was not confident I could hold myself back.
"But... I'll be too worried to sleep unless we confirm beyond a doubt."
Iris' expression was a mixture of shyness and unease. She looked at me with pleading eyes.
I desperately racked my brain, thinking what to do and finally came up with a compromise.
"Then just show me your dragon mark. A D's change usually shows on the dragon mark. It's not just when chosen by a dragon. Scars appeared near my dragon mark when I gained the abilities to replicate Leviathan and Hraesvelgr's powers. So I think there's no need to look at other places if there's no change in the dragon mark."
I said all that to Iris in one breath.
While she was intimidated by my vigor, I nodded with a serious expression to make Iris accept my suggestion.
"...Got it, then you have to look carefully."
With slightly trembling hands, Iris grabbed her shirt and slowly opened the front.
Pale and smooth skin was exposed to the outside air. Iris' abdomen was presented before my eyes.
My gaze was drawn to the navel's depression and the lines of her waist. I could not speak for a moment.
"M-Mononobe, quit staring at my belly and look at my dragon mark."
Iris spoke with her face bright red. Perhaps due to shame, her skin was sweating slightly with a slight red flush.
I hastily took a kneeling posture, bringing my face near her dragon mark located on her flank.
"Kyah... Y-Your breath is touching me."
The sweet fragrance from her skin was shaking my sanity but I mustered all the self-control in my heart and observed her dragon mark closely.
"There's nothing unusual."
I reported as calmly as possible.
I had seen Iris' dragon mark multiple times. Meeting Iris for the first time when she emerged from the sea naked and during the time when Leviathan targeted her. Since those were shocking situations, the memories were very vivid.
Hence, I could assert clearly that its size and shape had not changed.
"Don't just look, touch it."
However, Iris still felt worried and said that.
"You want me to touch it... C-Can I?"
Iris answered in an almost inaudible voice.
Despite the hesitation in my heart, I still reached for Iris' dragon mark, touching her tender skin with my fingertips.
The sweet voice leaking from Iris' lips made my spine tremble.
I stroked my finger along the dragon mark. Iris seemed to squirm from the ticklish feeling.
Seductive moans were shaking my eardrums. Iris' pale skin was showing a faint red flush.
The texture of the dragon mark was no different from normal skin, hence, I did not notice anything unusual.
"I-It's okay. Nothing weird."
Despite feeling a numbness in the depths of my mind, I still managed to maintain my sanity and speak.
"I see... Thank you, Mononobe."
But just as I was about to withdraw my hand, Iris placed her hand on top of mine.
I looked up at her in surprise, meeting her passionate gaze.
Badump—My heart instantly jumped intensely. I could not take my eyes off Iris.
Thus, we gazed at each other. I stood up from my kneeling posture, reversing the height gap between our gazes. Iris looked at me with a feverish expression.
My heart sped up. Iris held my hand with our fingers interlocking and leaned herself against me.
Touching me with her scorching body, that soft sensation was gradually eroding my sanity.
My mind went blank, unable to think.
Our face drew close naturally, our breaths mixing together, lips—
But just at that moment, my portable terminal rang.
Iris and I came to our senses and separated in a panic.
"S-Sorry, I think it's a phone call."
"Oh... Umm, I'm done now, so you don't have to keep me company. That might be an important call, so pick it up, Mononobe."
Iris said to me in a fluster.
"Got it, then I'll go back to my room first."
Iris waved and I said goodnight to her before hurrying back to my room.
The portable terminal kept ringing. The caller ID read unknown.
—This pattern, Major Loki again?
While recalling the face of my former commanding officer who always called at annoying times, I pressed the button to pick up the call. But the voice I heard did not belong to the person I expected.
'Sorry for disturbing you this late. Are you free right now?'
"...This voice... Are you Director Miyazawa?"
I called out the name of Ren's father and the director of this lab. Although portable terminals were capable of video calls, there was only a voice with a dark screen this time, so I could not check the face.
'Yes, I've got something to ask you privately, which is why I called you.'
"How do you know my phone number...?"
'Something so trivial is easily found out given my status. Putting that aside, could you take the elevator now? Once you enter the elevator, it will automatically take you to my current floor. Let's leave the details until then.'
"How can you decide on your own—"
While the director spoke on his own, I could not help but frown.
'Then I will be waiting for you.'
Ignoring what I said, he hung up.
"What the heck is this...?"
I had no reason to humor him. Normally, one should ignore this kind of rude request, but—
I recalled Ren's past that Ariella had told me today.
She said that Ren had given up talking all because of Miyazawa Kenya.
Although I wanted to tell him off, I already knew that scolding him would have no effect.
However, through interacting with him, perhaps I might be able to do something for Ren.
Thinking that to myself, I left the room and made my way to the elevator.
I entered the elevator and it descended automatically, opening its doors at the fourth floor underground.
What appeared in front of me was not a corridor but a vast laboratory. I could see Miyazawa Kenya's figure in a lab coat in the center of the room.
"Thank you for coming, Mononobe-kun."
He smiled cordially, still with ruffled hair and stubble around his mouth.
"What exactly do you want, calling me out alone?"
I asked warily.
Kili's words flashed through my mind. This lab's security measures were unusually strict with a majority of areas apparently occupied solely by the director.
This was the fourth floor underground, which was quite deep considering the elevator displayed showed a lowest level of five floors underground. Since there were no other researchers in sight, perhaps this floor was one of the places where only he had access.
"Just as I mentioned earlier, I have a personal favor to ask. I'd like you to assist in my research... A formal request would necessitate reporting the research to Midgard, which would be a tad inconvenient."
"I don't want to assist in that kind of shady research."
I refused readily after hearing his request. As expected, it was nothing good.
"Don't jump to conclusions. This proposal is in your interests too. Before the showdown against Yggdrasil, wouldn't you like to confirm Ether Wind's effects properly?"
"...What do you mean?"
Not hiding my suspicious attitude at all, I stared at his hollow smile.
"Whether the Ether Wind you create can actually cause souls to manifest, I'd like to confirm this. But the most effective verification experiment needs human cadavers. On the other hand, Midgard refuses to assist in or carry out that type of experiment due to concerns about the outside world's perceptions. Hence, my suggestion is: why not test it out secretly here?"
Miyazawa Kenya fluently explained his aim.
"What... Don't tell me—"
Speechless, I looked around the vast laboratory.
"Indeed, there is a cadaver here, but don't think too much about that. All you need to do is release Ether Wind at the specified location and observe the result."
Without any change in expression, he nodded nonchalantly in admission.
True, this was an Asgard lab. It would not be strange to have cadavers for research samples. I had heard that there was a system for transporting unidentified corpses for research use, so it might not be illegal... Probably.
"Risks are very high if you enter a battle without confirming effects first. In the event of failure, not only you but also your teammates will face danger. That isn't something you hope for, right?"
Seeing me in thought, he continued to persuade.
After some hesitation, I nodded in assent. Although I was reluctant to let him get his way, I did not want to give up on the chance to confirm Ether Wind's effects. On the battlefield, minor differences could mean the difference between life and death. I could not refuse any chance to lower chances of Iris and the girls getting into a crisis, no matter how small.
"Okay, thank you, then let's get started. Come to this side."
Miyazawa Kenya looked delighted and rapidly walked over to the inner side of the lab where there was a partition. He started operating a control panel next to it.
I caught up to him and asked. The partition began to open with a heavy sound.
White mist and cold air flowed towards us from the gap.
"You'll know when you see it."
He answered briefly and went inside without waiting for the partition to open completely. I had no choice but to follow. The inside of the partition was like a fridge. The cold air swirling underfoot was making me shiver.
It was quite dark with the only illumination being the lighting shining in from the lab. In the center of the floor, covered with cold white air, there was a metallic rectangular box.
Several tubes extended from the box, connected to devices of unknown purpose, installed on the wall.
"I'd like you to scatter Ether Wind around that coffin."
Miyazawa Kenya pointed at the box in the center of the room.
"Coffin...? So inside that box is—"
"Yes, a cadaver."
He answered simply then urged me with his gaze.
His attitude basically said "I've already said everything that needs explaining."
But the heavy security made me wary.
Was that coffin really containing an ordinary cadaver?
Clearly just a cadaver for experiments, but placed under such heavy security, it did not feel right. If this was a storage for research samples, then having just a single cadaver would be very unnatural.
However, even if I continued to question, he would not give me the answer.
Anyway, my only choice was to do it. Generating dark matter, I shaped it into an ornamental gun.
I heard him gulp beside me.
I glanced at him sideways to see him staring at the coffin.
Although I could sense an unusual impression from him, I still pulled the trigger of my fictional armament.
Pouring in all the dark matter in the fictional armament, I fired the bullet. Siegfried vanished while shooting. The fired bullet transmuted into Ether Wind on the coffin.
The golden particles exploded and covered the coffin's surroundings.
Immediately, a faint outline came into view.
Miyazawa Kenya cheered.
Seeing that phenomenon, I held my breath and observed the situation.
The originally ambiguous outline gradually became distinct, to the point of showing a figure.
It seemed like... a woman.
But just as details became discernible, the golden particles rapidly faded. Immediately, the surfacing image also vanished.
Was that... the soul of the person resting in the coffin?
But since I did not know who was lying in the coffin, I turned my gaze to Miyazawa Kenya.
He should know the identity of the one inside the coffin. Given who he was, he should be able to make some sort of judgment even from that kind of outline.
But I was surprised when I saw his face.
With eyes widened, he was in such rapture that his entire body was shaking.
"Ahhh... Rena, Rena... I knew our inferences were correct. Mononobe-kun, could you increase the density of Ether Wind? I'd like to see if it's possible to communicate with the manifested soul!"
"N-No, this is my maximum generating capacity, raising it requires..."
Feeling pressured by his forcefulness, I answered.
"I see... Then I need to enlist other's help—Oh, but that has its difficulties. No, it's fine, thank you. It is enough to confirm the existence of souls for now. I must hurry and finish my research... With that, surely..."
He muttered emphatically while staring at the coffin with fervent eyes.
"Umm, who was the woman just now? You mentioned the name Rena... Is that her name?"
But just as I asked, he suddenly stopped muttering to himself and stared at me darkly.
"—You have no need to know. You ought to be satisfied with verifying the practicality of Ether Wind, right? Things are done here. You may return."
Coldly refusing to answer, he drove me out of the cold room and closed the partition.
"Oh wait, before I head back, I'd like to ask one question. It's not about research."
While he was driving me away to the elevator, I asked a question I had decided a while ago that I must ask no matter what.
"Are you actually uninterested in Ren? If possible... Even for just a moment, could you act like a father to her? Ren is probably just afraid. She doesn't hate you. Even now, she still cherishes her memories of family... So—"
However, he pushed me into the elevator expressionlessly and told me in a calm voice:
"Regrettably, I am very busy and can't fulfill your demands. Thank you for assisting in my research. I might ask for your help again, so I look forward to your cooperation when the time comes."
Without listening to my answer, he pressed a button from outside and closed the elevator doors. Like how I arrived, the elevator moved automatically.
Although I expected this, it turned out to be a waste of effort after all. I did not feel like he was listening to me at all.
In the end, I did not manage to do anything for Ren. I sighed and looked up the gradually rising floor indicator.
All I could think of was the female figure appearing due to Ether Wind.
Who could that person be?
But no matter how much thought I put into it, I could not know right now. The dissonant unease in my heart did not go away. I pressed my right hand against my left arm's cast—
After breakfast the next day, Ren and I decided to formally start practicing the transmission of dark matter.
Our training location was the helipad on the roof.
Ren's dark matter generating capacity was quite massive. If the entirety of that dark matter was used, it would make a fictional armament dozens of meters in size. The lab did not have any spacious training site like in Midgard, so our only choice was outdoors.
The lab building was the tallest structure in the area, so there was no worry of getting seen by ordinary people from the ground.
"What fine weather we have today. It's very sunny and visibility gives us a view of distant scenery."
Serving as our coach, Lisa accompanied us and commented while looking out at the scenery.
Although the sea breeze blowing from Tokyo Bay was a bit strong, the sunlight was very comfortable.
Without nothing to block us, the view was quite magnificent. The scenery of dense buildings filling up the entire land seemed to pressure the viewer.
I turned my gaze. Mount Fuji's snow-covered peak entered my view and next to it was—
"So Yggdrasil is visible even from here."
The outline of the giant tree, even taller than Mount Fuji was vaguely visible.
Hearing me, Ren nodded with a stiff expression in response.
"Because it is 5000 meters tall. Now that I look at it again, it is truly an astounding size."
Staring at Yggdrasil afar, Lisa shrugged.
"So Tia and everyone will be fighting that kind of thing..."
Accompanying us to watch, Tia commented uneasily.
I thought she would cheer up after one day but her expression still seemed gloomy.
"But since the trunk is relatively narrow, it might feel less intimidating than Hekatonkheir."
Here to watch together with Tia, Iris remarked, bringing a wry smile to Lisa's face.
"You definitely won't be able to say that once you get near."
Ren, Lisa, Tia, Iris and I, the five of us were the only ones at the helipad on the roof.
Mitsuki, Firill, Ariella and Shinomiya-sensei were strategizing. Iris and Tia had nothing to do because they could not participate.
Their ways of thinking leaned more towards intuition and were unsuited to discussions based on theory and logic.
"Left alone, Yggdrasil might grow further. We have to train immediately to defeat it before that happens. Mononobe Yuu, Ren-san, are you ready?"
Facing us, Lisa confirmed.
Ren and I nodded and started to practice transferring dark matter.
The same as what we did yesterday.
Ren placed her hand on my summoned fictional armament and poured in dark matter.
To prevent the expanding Siegfried from collapsing, I controlled as much as I could, stabilizing it while gradually growing its size.
The fictional armament expanded like a balloon. Since this was before transmutation, it was almost weightless. Even after surpassing palm-size, as long as thoughts were transmitted successfully, holding it up was easy.
However, it collapsed even earlier than the attempt last night. I failed to control Ren's dark matter. Losing stability, the fictional armament turned into bubbles and disappeared.
"—Pull yourself together. Are you not concentrating enough?"
Watching from the side, Lisa scolded harshly.
Perhaps she was right. Seeing the female soul in Miyazawa Kenya's lab and Tia's gloominess was affecting my concentration. Also, I was distracted by Iris watching nearby.
Last night, if Miyazawa Kenya had not called, what would have happened? Somewhere in a corner of my mind, I was thinking weird stuff like that.
"Sorry, I've got too many random thoughts. Please let me try again."
I apologized to Lisa and Ren.
Ren looked at me with worried eyes.
"Don't worry, I'll focus this time and only look at you, Ren."
I drove away all useless thoughts from my mind and stared straight at Ren's face.
Ren looked away slightly embarrassed and nodded.
Since her father refused to listen to her speak, Ren had given up talking.
Then I must not miss any of her voice.
—If Ren's mother were still alive, Ren would probably love to talk more.
Although I believed that, such a hypothetical future was meaningless, so I prepared to switch mindsets.
But at this moment, a certain idea flashed across my mind.
Back when his wife was still alive, Miyazawa Kenya used to be a father who took his daughter to an amusement park.
Did he end up like this because his wife was too precious to him?
I looked at Ren's face carefully from up close.
Ren tilted her head, somewhat troubled.
"—No, it's nothing. One more time, let's begin."
Since it was a spur-of-the-moment idea, I temporarily hid my doubts in the depths of my heart.
Lisa, Iris and Tia were nearby. Even if I wanted to discuss with Ren, it was not something to talk about in front of others.
Deciding to find a chance later, I formed my fictional armament in my right hand—
Practicing repeatedly with Ren, I gradually got the hang of it.
Initially, expanding my fictional armament to triple its size was the limit, but by the time noon came around, I could already create a fictional armament on the scale of several meters.
Even so, the success rate was still below 30% and I was still unable to control all of Ren's dark matter. Currently, the amount of Ren's dark matter I could use in my fictional armament was probably one-tenth of her maximum capacity, quite far from the goal.
Although we needed to continue training, a task demanding focus would sap mental strength, accumulating fatigue. Seeing my stamina quite depleted, Lisa asked us to stop.
"—Take a break for now and have lunch. You both seem exhausted, so let me go buy something for you."
Seeing Ren and I sitting on the floor in exhaustion, Lisa smiled wryly and offered.
As the provider, Ren had tried many different things to make her dark matter easier for me to control, which was why she had tired herself out significantly.
"Thanks Lisa, I'm counting on you."
There was a vendor corner in the lab's dining hall, which should sell stuff like onigiri and bread.
Ren lowered her head and bowed to thank Lisa.
"The weather is nice, so I'll go invite Mitsuki-san and the others to eat on the roof. Iris-san, Tia-san, let us be on our way."
Lisa called to the two observers but did not get a response.
The two girls were sitting in a warm spot under the sun, leaning against each other, sleeping comfortably.
"...Looks like they are enjoying an afternoon nap. No helping it, I shall buy lunch for everyone."
Lisa shrugged in exasperation and head to the stairwell.
The wind blew across this roof that had become quiet. Staring into the cloudless sky, I saw a vast stretch of blue.
Phew—Feeling as though I was expelling fatigue from my body, I exhaled deeply.
Ren immediately spoke to me.
"What is it?"
I asked and Ren took a deep breath before asking me with her voice:
"......A-Are you okay?"
Surprised that Ren did not communicate by typing on her terminal, I reacted a bit slowly.
"Y-Yeah, I'm okay. Although I'm a bit tired, I'll recover my energy after eating lunch."
I answered this way to reassure Ren but she shook her head.
She took a deep breath then asked a moment later:
"Not talking about that...... Left arm."
Ren turned her gaze to my left arm in its cast and showed an uneasy look.
"I see, you're worried about the time limit. Relax, currently, there are no signs of Yggdrasil's control."
"But...... Must hurry. I-I'll try my best."
This time, Ren told me immediately with a serious expression. Whether practicing the transmission of dark matter or getting closer to me, Ren was giving her all for my sake.
Feeling a sense of warmth spreading from my heart, I stroked Ren's head.
"—Thank you, I'll try my best too."
Ren nodded in response.
Although the conversation ended, this tranquility was refreshing for the body and mind.
Since Iris and Tia were napping, Ren and I were virtually alone. Perhaps now was the chance to confirm the idea that had occurred to me just now.
"Ren, I want to ask you, do you have anything like a family photo from before?"
Ren stared in surprise at me in response to my abrupt question.
"Oh no, I was thinking you probably resemble your mother. For example, this beautiful red hair doesn't seem like Director Miyazawa..."
After I frantically explained my reason, Ren took out her portable terminal and showed a picture on the screen.
A tall redhaired woman was in the photo, together with a younger and more tidily dressed Miyazawa Kenya—along with a young Ren.
A Ferris wheel could be seen in the background. The photo was most likely taken when they visited an amusement park as a family.
"This is your mother, Ren?"
I confirmed with her and Ren nodded.
"Mm, Miyazawa, Rena."
Miyazawa Rena—That seemed to be Ren's mother's name.
I could not help but gasp. When Miyazawa Kenya saw the manifested spirit last night, he had mentioned the same name.
A human dead body kept under heavy security by Miyazawa Kenya. If it was someone special to him, was there a possibility it might be his deceased wife?
What surfaced in my mind earlier was this kind of unfounded speculation. But after hearing her name, my suspicions instantly increased.
I looked at the photo while recalling the female soul I saw last night, but I could not determine if it was the same person.
However, Rena-san in the photo really resembled Ren. Facing the camera were two similar cheerful smiles.
The young Ren, showing no signs of her current timid personality, was holding Rena-san's hand tightly.
"Ren must love Rena-san very much."
With nostalgia and a bit of sadness, Ren nodded.
What should I do? Should I tell her my suspicions?
I felt hesitant but I had no evidence. And judging from the situation last night, I would not get an answer even if I questioned him. Besides, if my hunched turned out to be right, it might only end up hurting Ren.
But... If I did nothing, it would only maintain the status quo. If that really was Rena-san's soul, it might be the key to repairing Ren and Miyazawa Kenya's relationship. I could not give up on that possibility.
"Ren, I'll take you somewhere later. I'll pick you up tonight, so please wait for me."
I made my decision and spoke.
Let's take Ren directly to Miyazawa Kenya's lab to confirm.
Even using the current state of silent understanding, I should be able to produce more Ether Wind compared to yesterday.
If I told Miyazawa Kenya this, he would not say no, right?
However, if that really were Rena-san's coffin, then he might avoid letting Ren see it... But even if he refused, it would serve as a basis for judgment.
Despite showing doubt, Ren still stared at me and nodded lightly.
After dinner that night I called Miyazawa Kenya on an internal line and got permission to visit.
Then I went to pick up Ren at her room and took the elevator again like last time.
The elevator descended to the fourth floor underground again. When the doors opened, I could see Miyazawa Kenya waiting in the lab already.
"I am very happy that you approached me to assist in my research, and today, Ren came along."
Looking at me and Ren, he smiled.
Ren hid behind my back and looked at me uneasily.
"Please let us repeat yesterday's experiment together. I should be able to produce more Ether Wind than yesterday."
I stroked Ren's head to reassure her and said to Miyazawa Kenya.
"Of course, no problem. Come, over this way."
He agreed readily and led us to the partition inside the laboratory.
It looked like he did not mind showing Ren that coffin and the woman's soul.
Perhaps I guessed wrongly? Although I felt worried, it was too late to turn back.
With a heavy sound, I stepped into the inner side of the partition and saw the white coffin again.
Ren was shivering from the cold air inside the room.
"Ren, I think you must have many questions... But I hope you'll lend me dark matter like we practiced today."
I spoke to Ren after generating Siegfried in my right hand.
Perhaps you might be able to see Rena-san's soul—I could not bring myself to say that. Because if things did not happen as predicted, Ren might be very hurt to have her expectations betrayed.
"Mm, I trust you."
Ren nodded and replied, putting her tiny hand on my fictional armament.
Instantly, Siegfried expanded rapidly, reaching a size of five meters.
"—Ren, stop. If it expands more, it won't fit in the room."
I barely managed to maintain the fictional armament's shape while telling Ren to stop. Although the room size was an issue, during today's practice, this was also the limit in weapon size. A moment of carelessness and the fictional armament would collapse, so it was impossible to sustain for a long duration.
Before it collapsed, I converted all of the dark matter contained in the fictional armament into Ether Wind.
A giant bullet of dark matter shot out, turning into golden particles.
Not limited to the coffin's surroundings, the entire room was shrouded by shining particles.
Since the particles filled the space densely, my body could not move and I could not make a sound.
This was the same phenomenon as when Hraesvelgr sealed our movements.
As soon as living humans were enveloped by these particles, they entered a state with their spirit sealed inside the physical body, preventing the body from moving.
Perhaps I had slightly misjudged the required amount. Ren and Miyazawa Kenya were frozen with surprised expressions on their faces.
Amidst such a high density of Ether Wind, a woman's silhouette appeared over the coffin.
Like drawing a picture, tiny particles gradually traced out an outline.
Gradually, the details of the face and her hairstyle could be discerned, but—
She was not the Miyazawa Rena I saw in the photo Ren had shown me.
I could not tell the color of her hair, neatly cropped at shoulder length. Due to being made of Ether Wind, she was golden from head to foot. But judging from her Japanese facial features, her hair color was probably black.
She looked very young, similar to my age.
And somehow, there was a familiar feeling, she seemed to resemble a certain someone... That was the impression I got from the young woman in front of me.
The manifested soul of the girl stood expressionlessly without moving. Perhaps lacking consciousness, she simply stared blankly into space.
Even if we wanted to talk to her, our bodies were unable to move due to the excessive density of the particles.
Thus, time simply flowed by. As the particles gradually faded away, the girl's figure became fuzzy. By the time we could make a sound, the girl had already disappeared. I sighed.
"...So it's not Rena-san."
Due to excessive disappointment, I accidentally blurted my thoughts out.
Hearing me say that, Miyazawa Kenya went "ahh, I see now" in realization.
"Mononobe-kun, you originally thought that was Rena's coffin, didn't you?"
Ren looked at me in surprise.
"...Yes, because when seeing that soul yesterday... You mentioned the name of Rena."
It was useless to hide it at this point, so I nodded in admission.
"Very regrettably, the coffin only contains an ordinary research sample. The reason I mentioned Rena's name was because we had researched Ether Wind together to confirm its properties. You've shown me an interesting phenomenon this time, and for that, I thank you."
Miyazawa Kenya thanked me dutifully. I looked away.
Thinking back, I recalled he had said "our inferences were correct." He was simply happy because his and Rena-san's research were proven to be correct.
Ren tugged my clothing as though demanding an explanation.
"Sorry, Ren. I was originally wondering if I might be able to let you meet Rena-san's soul, that's why I brought you here, but my hunch was wrong."
I apologized to Ren, feeling sorry for her.
Immediately, Miyazawa Kenya smiled wryly and said to us:
"You are truly... considerate for Ren. By this point, rather than feeling annoyed, I have to respect you instead."
His words were filled with mockery, but I felt that rather than directed towards me, he was targeting himself.
"You probably hope for Ren and I to become an ordinary father-daughter pair, but that's already impossible. This might affect my research if I keep ignoring this problem, so let me make things clear right now."
Putting away his fake smile, he spoke with a serious expression.
"By saying impossible... Have you considered Ren's feelings?"
He sighed after hearing my question.
"I am a man unfit to be a father, having chosen research instead of my daughter. At the same time, I'm a terrible human being who has no scruples when it comes to research. Please don't harbor any expectations for someone like me."
Ren gasped and gripped my clothing tightly.
Then Miyazawa Kenya spoke the decisive words to the tearful Ren.
"Listen carefully, Ren. I—cannot love you."
Ren looked up at him, dumbstruck.
I desperately suppressed the urge to punch him.
I regretted bringing Ren here so recklessly. I did not want her to hear something like that.
Head down, Ren seemed to be saying something quietly.
Shoulders shaking, Ren kept repeating the same words in her mouth.
"If you have something to say, could you speak clearly?"
Miyazawa Kenya quietly urged her. Ren looked up and—yelled loudly.
"I hate you! I hate you the most, Father!!"
I heard Ren's angry voice for the first time, echoing inside the room. I stared in shock at her angry appearance.
Ren was glaring at her father directly. Feeling the gaze of those intense eyes, Miyazawa Kenya smiled.
For some reason, I could sense relief in his smile.
"Very well. Hate me. Go find love away from me. That way, Ren, you'll surely obtain happiness."
"I'm already have a lot of happiness! Because I have Onee-chan and Onii-chan, I don't want Father at all!"
It was an irrevocable falling out.
But in my eyes, this also seemed to be the first time these two people were speaking from the heart to each other.
"Then there's no problem. I will focus on research without anything to worry about."
"Suit yourself. I'll get close to Onii-chan as much as possible."
Saying that, Ren hugged my right arm tightly.
Troubled, I called her name. Ren showed uneasiness on her face.
"Onii-chan... You don't want to be close with me?"
"Of course I want to."
I hastily reassured her. A smile instantly bloomed on Ren's face.
"...I'm so glad. You'll continue to be my Onii-chan from now on?"
Ren happily rubbed her cheek against my arm, asking me to dote on her.
"Do this kind of thing back in your rooms? You'll get in the way of research. Please leave."
Miyazawa Kenya spoke impatiently.
"...I don't need you to tell us to leave."
Pulling my hand, Ren walked towards the elevator.
Despite hearing cold words, Ren's expression no longer wavered.
Not only that, she seemed to have let go of certain hang-ups, showing a cheerful and refreshing expression.
I looked in Miyazawa Kenya's direction. He had already turned around.
"Onii-chan, thank you."
Ren thanked me while she walked.
"Huh? No, I didn't do anything deserving of thanks, right?"
Not only that, I accomplished nothing at all. It was a huge failure.
"Of course not, Onii-chan. I'm so happy you tried to let me meet Mother. And I got to argue with Father... This is good."
Ren shook her head and told me that.
Because of me, because I had brought Ren here, their relationship was destroyed beyond repair.
Ren could not possibly feel no sadness. But even so, Ren did not cry. She still continued to move forward bravely. In that case, I should encourage her instead of apologizing.
"Okay, let's report back to Ariella that you gave that damn father a good tongue lashing."
Ren answered me with a smile.
Then just as we were about to take the elevator, a shrill alarm sounded in the lab.
"What's going on?"
Ren and I stopped and looked around.
Miyazawa Kenya ran over to the desk and picked up the internal phone.
I heard him inquire the other side. I observed his situation for now, only to see him put down the phone and say to us:
"—Both of you, we have an emergency."
"Did something happen?"
Ren and I walked over to him.
Ren looked a bit embarrassed but now was not the time to be concerned about that kind of thing.
"Yggdrasil is apparently extending branches rapidly, expanding its interference range. In a few hours, this research lab and its surroundings will be subjected to electrical malfunctions."
"What... Why so suddenly—"
"Who knows. Perhaps it is making a preemptive strike before you can prepare yourselves fully. In any case, please head over to the main entrance on the ground floor. I will contact the other Ds and arrange a vehicle. You will get away from Yggdrasil as quickly as possible, because you will be unable to generate dark matter once you enter its interference range."
Even in such a situation, he calmly issued orders without any signs of anxiety.
"Can't you prepare a helicopter?"
"It's not that I can't but I wouldn't recommend it. Since all it takes is a tiny bit of interference to bring down a flight. The same goes for using transmutation to fly in the sky."
"...That's true. I understand. Then we'll be on our way."
I nodded in agreement. Then he said in a carefree tone of voice:
"Great, please do your best so that I can keep carrying out my research here."
Hearing that, Ren frowned and made a face at him then pulled me by the hand.
"...Onii-chan, let's go."
I smiled wryly while following Ren into the elevator.
"I'll drive fast so please secure your seat belts, okay?"
Starting up the van was the same middle-aged woman who had looked after us as the driver taking us to the amusement park.
Ren and I had met up with Iris, Mitsuki, Lisa, Firill, Ariella, Tia and Shinomiya-sensei at the entrance. The nine of us put on our seat belts as instructed and looked at one another with tense expressions.
Perhaps because it was just before bedtime, Lisa and Firill had wet hair. They probably happened to be in the bath and had to get ready in a rush.
"Shinomiya-sensei, developments have gone beyond prediction. What do we do next?"
Amidst the tense atmosphere, Mitsuki asked Shinomiya-sensei.
"Until we gather detailed information, we will escape east to distance ourselves from Yggdrasil. Once we ascertain the range of interference and rate of expansion with an accurate warning perimeter, we will switch to offense."
Shinomiya-sensei answered while operating the laptop on her lap. Perhaps she was in the middle of collecting information sent by Asgard and NIFL.
"True... We would be out of options if the tree branches extended without limit. Consequently, we must destroy Yggdrasil's extended branches from out of range, to push back the interference zone."
Lisa nodded and looked out the window.
It was currently 10pm and all dark outside. Amidst the dark scenery, outdoor lighting and the lights from windows flashed past instantly.
The electrical interference had evidently not reached this area but as soon as we entered the highway that ran along the shore, a massive congestion could be seen in the westbound lanes. Most likely, cars became stalled as soon as they entered the interference zone."
Although the eastbound lanes were busy too, the flow of traffic was moving at least.
"Pushing back the interference range... Then what? Maintain the status quo? Or... execute the attack plan?"
Firill asked about our future direction. Ariella responded:
"By this point, we have to go through with the plan, right? I think we need to destroy the enlarged Yggdrasil even if we cannot defeat it completely."
Mitsuki nodded in agreement with Ariella. Sweeping her gaze across everyone, she said:
"I agree. We will approach as much as possible to attack Yggdrasil's main body. Then after that, Nii-san will scatter Ether Wind if possible then attempt to destroy Yggdrasil's mind using the anti-dragon armament."
Undeniably, we lacked preparation but our only choice was to do everything in our power.
Just as I made this decision, I felt a slight feeling of numbness across my left arm.
Yggdrasil's emotionless voice sounded in my mind. Surprised, I looked out the window immediately. The van had reached a gentle curving part of the highway which offered a clear view of Tokyo's night scenery.
Those countless electrical lights were gradually disappearing.
As though sliced off, the lights started to disappear gradually from the west side.
"Yggdrasil's territory seems to be approaching the heart of Tokyo. It feels as if... the city is gradually dying."
Lisa stared at the city that was slowly losing its lights and commented.
But I did not have the luxury of wallowing in sadness. To prevent my left arm from moving on its own as before, I held down my left arm firmly with my right hand.
I had a feeling that the principal's power of dominance was starting to be balanced out by Yggdrasil's interference.
"Onii-chan, are you okay?"
Ren asked quietly.
"Yeah, I'm currently fine."
I replied quietly not to let others hear.
Perhaps "currently" made her realize my situation. Ren made a serious face and touched my left arm.
"If possible... No, we absolutely must defeat Yggdrasil."
"Yeah, but I don't know if the transfer of dark matter will go smoothly..."
Since I still could not control all of Ren's dark matter, it was unconfirmed whether I was able to scatter enough Ether Wind.
"Don't worry about that."
However, Ren asserted in a voice filled with conviction.
"I already hate Father. Given now, I'll be able to think of you more strongly. My dark matter will definitely not reject you, Onii-chan."
"...Got it. I trust you."
Ren nodded at me.
I suddenly felt an intense gaze. Tracing it, I met eyes with Tia.
Tia moved her lips and seemed to have something to say, but ended up saying nothing, bowing her head.
"Tia-chan, do you have something to tell Mononobe?"
Iris noticed Tia's situation and asked her gently.
Tia shook her head and denied, but her voice was filled with heavy worry.
"Tia, I hope you'll tell me if you're worried about anything. It's very dangerous to enter a battlefield with doubts."
Worried about Tia, I said that to her but she silently shook her head.
Just as I was thinking I was finally friends with Ren, it became Tia's turn to become like Ren's former state. What should I do? I could not help but scratch my head.
In the end, without finding out what was troubling Tia, we made preparations to begin the operation.
Shinomiya-sensei made a call somewhere while operating her laptop. She ended the call and announced to us:
"I have asked NIFL to transmit their spy satellite's data to us, allowing us to monitor the electromagnetic wave anomaly zone surrounding Yggdrasil in real time—in other words, the range of its electrical interference. According to surveillance, the interference zone's expansion has greatly decelerated, currently moving at 30 km/h. Having pulled away sufficiently, this is the end of our escape."
After saying that, Shinomiya-sensei asked the driver to park the van somewhere nearby.
The driver replied affirmatively and steered into a parking area that happened to be within sight.
"Asgard and the Japanese government have reached an emergency agreement to obtain a permit for special measures against a dragon disaster. Thus, the paperwork is done for Ds to engage in combat. However, attacks causing casualties in residents or damage to cities are strictly forbidden."
While Shinomiya-sensei continued to speak, the van stopped in the parking area.
We got off the van and looked up at the night sky where Yggdrasil's branches were probably approaching.
"Since the sky is very dark, the branches can't be seen..."
Iris spoke uneasily. Lisa also looked out at the scenery visible from the highway and nodded.
"Perhaps that's part of its calculations. We've completely lost our bearing on where Yggdrasil's main body is, which was visible faintly during the daytime."
"...It's quite far from here to Yggdrasil. Or rather, I should say that simply approaching it will take a lot of time."
Firill spoke gloomily.
"Sniping distances will decrease during nighttime. Should we wait until dawn before attacking the main body?"
Mitsuki nodded in agreement with Ariella's suggestion.
"Yes. We will attack the branches from a safe distance while advancing towards Yggdrasil at the same time. Then we attack the main body in full force when dawn breaks. How about this for a plan?"
Mitsuki sought Shinomiya-sensei's opinion.
"It would be a wise course of action, but that would result in quite a protracted battle. We will rotate in teams to rest while advancing. Mononobe Mitsuki and Firill Crest will be Team 1. Ariella Lu and Ren Miyazawa will be Team 2. Lisa Highwalker and Tia Lightning will be Team 3. Without flying skills, Mononobe Yuu and Iris Freyja will stay on standby. Since your roles will be key during the assault on the main body, get fully rested while you have the chance now."
Iris and I nodded in response to Shinomiya-sensei.
"Yes, I got it."
Then Shinomiya-sensei continued to issue orders.
"Each team should follow this division of roles. One person will generate lighting while the other attacks the branches by targeting visually. To prevent debris from falling on urban areas, I hope you will avoid using crushing and slashing attacks. Incineration or annihilation techniques will be the safest bet. If any debris falls, the one in charge of lighting should immediately provide cover."
Mitsuki and the girls answered in unison.
"Then the operation will immediately begin with Team 1. Put on your communicators and fly directly above the van. Eliminate all branches within visible range. From here, I will stay current on Yggdrasil's interference range in relation to your positions. Do not act on your own under any circumstances."
Mitsuki and Firill nodded affirmatively and put on their communicators.
Showing slight nervousness, they generated their fictional armaments. Even though this was a safe zone, it was impossible not to feel worried.
Having confirmed there were no anomalies with the generated fictional armaments, they exhaled in relief.
Then the two girls enveloped themselves in wind and flew to the sky.
Before long, bright light appeared in the air. It was the illuminating flare produced by either Mitsuki or Firill.
The light temporarily swept away the darkness of the night, causing Yggdrasil's branches approaching from the western sky to appear. Branching shadows resembling capillaries covered the entire sky.
However, a large part of the branches was blown away in an explosion exceeding the brightness of the flare. This was most likely an attack from Mitsuki's antimatter.
"Excellent, there is a minor change in the electromagnetic wave anomaly zone. The attack is effective. Stay where you are and continue attacking. I will contact you if there is a need to move. You two, stay directly above the vehicle at all times and don't lose us."
Staring at her computer screen, Shinomiya-sensei issued commands to Mitsuki and Firill through the communicator.
Then she turned her gaze to us.
"We will move the van while they push back Yggdrasil's interference range. Teams will rotate once every hour. This is an overnight operation, so please nap as much as possible in the van during breaks."
After receiving these orders, we boarded the large van again. Shinomiya-sensei sat down on the front passenger seat and gave detailed instructions to the driver.
"Let's sleep first as instructed."
Ariella nodded in agreement with Lisa and closed her eyes.
Leaning against the seats, Iris and Ren started to nap.
I closed my eyes like everyone else but I did not think I could sleep.
Ever since the unusual feeling in my left arm just now, I kept hearing Yggdrasil's voice faintly.
Why was Yggdrasil so obsessed with me?
Also, what did Neun, this word meaning nine or ninth, refer to? Come to think of it, I did not know either why it chose me to make a deal.
If it was providing weapons data to exterminate the other dragons, then rather than choosing me, it would be better to pick one of the many girls with far higher dark matter generating capacities.
If possible, I wanted to ask Yggdrasil directly but calling to it on my own would be very risky. Perhaps it might seize the opening to invade my consciousness all at once.
I must not lower my guard tonight. Just wait for my chance to enter the stage.
I had experience with overnight operations back in NIFL and could maintain efficiency if it was just two whole days without sleeping. Hence, I set my approach and decided to rest only my body.
Opening my eyes, I met Tia's gaze again.
Tia frantically looked away and closed her eyes.
What on earth had Kili told Tia at the amusement park yesterday? That was still a mystery.
With many worries remaining, our long battle against Yggdrasil began.
While gradually pushing back Yggdrasil's interference range, we began to move.
Driving off the congested highway, we moved westward along ordinary roads.
During this time, flares kept the night sky brightly illuminated while sounds of explosions shook the air intermittently.
So far, there were no accidents caused by destroyed remains falling down.
After an hour, Shinomiya-sensei ordered Mitsuki and Firill to return, then Ariella and Ren took their place to attack. Attacking the branches continually seemed to consume a lot of stamina. Leaning against their seats, Mitsuki and Firill quickly fell asleep.
If possible, I wanted NIFL's military to help out but faced against Yggdrasil's interference against machinery, even firing a missile was impossible.
Unable to take part in attacking, they seemed to be focusing their power on providing us with information and securing our route. Thanks to NIFL's vehicles performing skillful traffic management, we were able to move smoothly so far.
But nothing could be done about areas that had been devoured by the interference zone, or the city center with heavy traffic. Our van could only avoid those places and take slight detours to advance.
After another hour, the next day rolled in.
Returning, Ariella and Ren were thoroughly exhausted as one would expect.
"Tia-san, our turn to go."
Next to mobilize were Lisa and Tia.
Feeling bad that I was unable to take part in the shifts, I watched them depart.
Ariella and Ren also fell asleep quickly. I heard their breathing sounds with the rocking of the van.
Yggdrasil's voice was gradually getting louder. The numb feeling in my left arm was also getting more frequent.
I felt poignantly that we were definitely approaching it.
Even though its influence increased the more we approached, I could not turn back. If I did not go, it would be impossible to defeat Yggdrasil. Sooner or later, my body would be taken anyway. Since what needed to be done remained the same, I would only cause unnecessary worry and alarm if I told Lisa and the others about the current situation.
The feeling of the principal's dominance over my left arm was gradually vanishing. Hence, I could judge the rate of invasion by the degree my senses recovered.
If in any event the final limit approached, I will end my own life before my entire body could be taken. I did not want to almost take another's life like last time.
Having committed my resolve, I kept my consciousness tense while keeping up my pretense of sleeping.
When the next hour-long shift was approaching again, the van stopped on the roadside.
"The road we originally planned to use seems to be congested. I will search for a new route. Standby here for now."
Shinomiya-sensei looked back from the front passenger seat and explained the situation to us.
At this moment, Lisa and Tia happened to return.
I greeted them, only to see surprise on Lisa's face. She probably expected everyone to be asleep. Tia went "Yeah... So tired" and smiled without energy.
"Mitsuki-san, Firill-san, rise and shine. It's your shift now."
Lisa shook Mitsuki and Firill's shoulders to wake them from their slumber.
The two girls rubbed their sleepy eyes and got off the vehicle. Putting on their communicators, they flew into the sky.
Lisa and Tia sat down and prepared to rest.
But after a while, Lisa still kept her eyes open.
I was not planning to watch them that much but met Lisa's gaze at this moment.
"You—Don't tell me you have remained awake the whole time?"
Lisa leaned over and asked me quietly.
"No... I only just woke up."
I did not want her to worry so I denied it, but Lisa replied in exasperation:
"H-How do you know I'm lying?"
"Of course I can see through my boyfriend's lies at a glance."
Lisa smiled mischievously then her expression turned serious.
"—Let us talk outside. Shinomiya-sensei, may we leave the van?"
"We are scheduled to remain here on standby for a while, so it's fine if you return before we move again, but don't stray too far."
Shinomiya-sensei answered without looking back from the front passenger seat.
Hence, Lisa and I got off the van and looked up at the night sky where the battle was taking place.
The flares were very bright. The moon and stars could not be seen. Explosions were annihilating Yggdrasil's branches. Warm wind brushed against our cheeks.
The area consisted of rural roads without pedestrians. No cars passed by either. Selecting open roads had apparently brought us quite far from urban areas. A giant mountain silhouette resembling Mount Fuji could be seen in the distance, but Yggdrasil's appearance was still indiscernible.
From the roof of the research lab, Yggdrasil could be seen on the other side of Mount Fuji—west of it. Shinomiya-sensei was most likely taking a detour around Mount Fuji on the north side in an attempt to approach Yggdrasil.
"There is a bench over there."
"A bus stop. Let's sit there."
A bus stop happened to be nearby so we sat down side by side.
"The operation is going smoothly for the time being. Yggdrasil is simply extending branches without doing anything else. Although this is admittedly advantageous to us, to be honest... The situation is very bizarre."
Looking at the bright explosions out in the night sky, Lisa spoke with unease.
"Maybe it's luring us over."
"The closer we approach, the greater the risk its main body would be destroyed. Yet it is still willing to face that risk...? You must have some basis for that idea, right?"
Lisa stared at me from extremely up close, demanding a certain answer.
"......Yeah, I'm probably the one it wants to lure. Starting a while ago, I've been hearing Yggdrasil's voice. Its interference affecting me is increasing, so to avoid giving it an opening to seize, I decided against sleeping."
I gave up resisting and confessed my condition honestly.
"What, why did you hide something so important!? In that case, wouldn't it be very risky to continue approaching Yggdrasil? We should at least have you retreat for now, right?"
"Maybe... But Lisa, the problem still can't be resolved even if Yggdrasil's main body is destroyed by you and the other girls' power, right? If Director Miyazawa is correct, it would only cause the core to transfer somewhere else. If things drag on longer, it will probably go beyond the point of no return."
I looked at my left arm's cast and replied.
"In other words, unless Yggdrasil is neutralized here, you will soon be taken over by it..."
"Probably. If I get the principal to help, total control might be avoided but in that case, my whole body will surely end up in a state like my left arm right now."
I pointed at my left arm that was currently deprived of feeling.
"That is truly a horrifying thought. I understand, then I shan't ask you to retreat, but... At this rate, even if Yggdrasil's branches could be eliminated, the interference from the main body still remains. Since jamming does not work, we will have to attack from afar... Will that be a problem?"
Lisa looked at me uneasily. She was worrying about my previous claim that Noah was unsuitable for sniping.
"I don't dare say there's no problem, but even so, I've no choice but to try."
I smiled wryly.
"...Indeed, then please succeed."
Lisa smiled and nodded as well.
"Yeah, I'll succeed."
I tried my best to answer assertively then turned my gaze to the sky.
Yggdrasil's branches were steadily removed. The way things were going, we should be able to approach within the distance before the branches started spreading—roughly fifteen kilometers away from it, but...
"But if Yggdrasil hopes to lure us over, it will very likely make another move before we attack the main body."
"In other words, we cannot even enter the showdown stage unless we counter its next move. Although Yggdrasil's plans are unknown yet, I will foil its ploy."
Lisa puffed out her magnificent chest and declared. Seeing her bosom wobbling, I scratched my face, embarrassed in various ways.
"Then I'm counting on you. It's about time we return."
Thus, we made our way to the van, but just as we were about to get on, I noticed the door was slightly ajar.
Huh... I thought I had closed it properly.
I checked the interior to see if anyone had gone out but the girls were all sleeping.
"Is something the matter?"
"Oh, no, nothing."
I shook my head at Lisa's question and entered the van.
The time had already passed 1am.
Dawn was still quite far away—
It was 4am when the situation changed.
Mitsuki and Firill were making their third sortie as Team 1 when...
Hearing Shinomiya-sensei's voice from the front passenger seat, I looked up.
Intending to rest, Lisa and Tia also widened their eyes.
'The branches' growth rate has suddenly sped up! We cannot keep up!'
'They are coming from the side in addition to the front!'
Through the communicator, I heard Mitsuki and Firill's voices.
"Continue the attack. Lower your altitude as a precaution. I will send reinforcements."
Shinomiya-sensei swiftly issued orders then looked back at us.
"Everyone wake up! Emergency situation. Yggdrasil has suddenly started to extend branches fiercely to expand its interference range. Team 2 and Team 3 go assist."
Hearing Shinomiya-sensei's voice, Ariella, Ren and Iris woke up. Apart from the driver, all of us got out after the van made an emergency stop.
The illumination from flares created through transmutation showed shadows of branches approaching with astounding speed.
Holding her laptop, Shinomiya-sensei looked at the screen and continued speaking:
"The electromagnetic wave anomaly zone is also expanding from the left and right sides, intending to surround us. Team 2, handle the right side. Team 3 will take care of the left."
Hearing Shinomiya-sensei's orders, Lisa, Tia and Ariella enveloped themselves in wind and flew into the sky.
Rubbing her sleepy eyes, Ren summoned her hammer shaped fictional armament and followed the other girls.
Shinomiya-sensei turned her gaze to me and Iris who were left.
"You will standby until the situation becomes clear. If our advance becomes impeded, we may need to use your powers to open a path."
I nodded. With a solemn expression, Iris voiced her opinion to Shinomiya-sensei.
"I think we should attack Yggdrasil's main body directly instead of running away! If it's my Catastrophe, surely the branches can be erased from the root."
"That would be great if it were possible, but this location is roughly thirty kilometers away from Yggdrasil, too far away to snipe the main body. The Catastrophe used by Basilisk had a maximum range of ten kilometers. Even if you could do the same, you won't be able to hit Yggdrasil from here."
Shinomiya-sensei calmly rejected Iris' proposal.
"No way... In that case, let's focus our attacks ahead of us to break through all at once—"
"I am reviewing that plan too... But the branches are growing abnormally fast. Even if we focus firepower ahead of us, we might end up surrounded by branches from the flanks before we get near to Yggdrasil."
Shinomiya-sensei stared at the computer screen while answering.
—Growing abnormally fast?
Hearing those words, I frowned.
"Right... Come to think of it, that's very strange. The Yggdrasil we fought at Midgard did not have this power of supernatural growth."
Speaking of which, the fact that Yggdrasil suddenly appeared in Japan was quite unusual to begin with. Yggdrasil's initial main body to appear took twenty years to grow up to 500 meters, yet this Yggdrasil was 5000 meters tall from the start.
The Yggdrasil showing up at Midgard could expand in size by stealing dark matter from the Ds, turning it into its physical body. It was definitely not growing by its own power.
"The current Yggdrasil... might have some kind of massive energy source."
I looked up at the sky and muttered. With the other girls deployed on the offensive, there were many more explosive flashes of light in the sky.
"Massive energy source?"
Iris looked at me with puzzled eyes.
"—I don't know what it is either. It's just that this situation can't be explained otherwise."
Since I did not know the answer, my reply became vague.
Hearing our conversation, Shinomiya-sensei immediately spoke up:
"Your deduction is intriguing. But if that's the case, one solution is for us to hold out until that energy source is depleted..."
Shinomiya-sensei murmured but after looking at the screen, she showed alarm on her face.
"Hmm—The electromagnetic wave anomaly zone has not stopped expanding. At this rate, communications will be obstructed and hinder monitoring of the interference range. All units return at once! Make a landing and focus on eliminating branches within visual range!"
Shinomiya-sensei anxiously issued orders.
Soon after, the girls descended from the sky with their fictional armaments.
Without given even a chance to catch their breaths, they started to attack the branches approaching from the sky.
"Slash, flare blade!"
Lisa swung her fictional armament, the spear Gungnir, and swept all the branches in front at once with a bright laser.
"Third Arrow—Lunar Eater!"
Mitsuki fired an arrow, pulverizing the branches on the right.
"Flare Burst Octet!"
Firill unleashed eight flaming projectiles, incinerating branches approaching from the left.
Tia, Ariella and Ren continued to attack. Since the consecutive explosions served as illumination, everyone could focus on offense.
Everyone's attacks were very powerful. Every strike would eliminate a large number of Yggdrasil's branches but very quickly, new branches would arrive, blotting the sky.
Tia unleashed explosive flames at the sky and moaned in resignation.
"Although we are holding out, we won't be able to move at this rate."
Ariella showed an expression of hardship. Ren nodded in agreement.
"—I hope you will sustain the current situation a while longer. If the branches' growth rate show no signs of subsiding in fifteen minutes, we will retreat and regroup."
After some consideration, Shinomiya-sensei made the above decision.
She had decided on a fifteen minute waiting period before retreating possibly in consideration of the energy source I mentioned. Even if Yggdrasil was using some sort of power to grow, there should be a limit.
With bated breaths, Iris and I watched our friends in battle. Once the decision to withdraw was made, my anti-dragon armaments and Iris' Catastrophe would be used to cut open the path for retreat.
But if possible, I wanted to press the advance to settle things.
'Neun—Authority—Must have... Self-preservation... Antibody, counter, desired—'
I could already hear Yggdrasil's voice clearly in my mind.
For some reason, it pursued me, and quite desperately too—
It was almost like... It was afraid of something.
"Mononobe, are you okay?"
Iris asked me worriedly.
"...To be honest, not really. We're clearly outside Yggdrasil's interference range, but I keep hearing its voice. If we get in range of its interference, my consciousness might get invaded all at once."
I analyzed my condition and replied to Iris.
"Then we must find a way to get rid of those branches."
"Basically. Once we know what Yggdrasil is using as an energy source, we'll know how to counter..."
I looked up at Yggdrasil's branches that showed no signs of slowing down and prayed for them to have a limit.
But the branches showed no slowing in growth and regeneration. Fifteen minutes were about to end.
At this moment, a red beam of scorching heat swept across the sky from the east.
The air temperature increased all at once. As far as the eye could see, all branches were incinerated to ash.
Lisa exclaimed in surprise and everyone looked at the eastern sky.
A dot of light was approaching. Instantly, the dot became bigger and I noticed it was a girl enveloped in flames.
Dispelling the flames used for propulsion, the black-haired girl landed lightly. Kili Surtr Muspelheim. However, John, who was supposed to be working with her, was not in sight.
"Kili, why did you come?"
I asked and Kili replied in exasperation:
"I'm here to complain because you're ignoring my warning and acting recklessly. At this rate, you'll be overwhelmed. Hurry and retreat. A battle of attrition against the current Yggdrasil is futile."
"Futile... Why are you so sure?"
Unable to agree, I asked her in return.
With a gaze of pity, Kili looked at the western sky in Yggdrasil's direction.
Despite feeling concerned about Kili, Mitsuki and Lisa continued to attack the relentlessly approaching branches.
"I told you already, Hekatonkheir was created by Vritra—Mother—Do you still remember?"
I still nodded even though I felt troubled by Kili's sudden question.
"Due to forsaking me, Mother lost her relay with Hekatonkheir. What follows is only my speculation. Forced into a corner, Mother created a new Hekatonkheir in an attempt to eliminate her natural predator, Yggdrasil."
"You're talking about Hekatonkheir attacking Yggdrasil in a suicide bombing?"
I recalled the shocking news during the preparations for the school festival.
"Yes, but that operation ended in failure. Then I think Yggdrasil probably deduced Mother's hiding place based on the location where Hekatonkheir appeared."
"The location where Hekatonkheir appeared, don't tell me—"
I remembered that the resurrected Hekatonkheir had appeared in Japan. Although the detailed location escaped me, according to what Kili just said...
"Indeed, it is nearby."
Kili confirmed my imagination.
Hearing our conversation, Shinomiya-sensei said in surprise:
"So what you mean is: 'Black' Vritra... has been hiding in Aokigahara all along?"
"Most likely so. Although I knew Mother was in Japan, she did not tell me the precise location. In any case, it shouldn't be a hiding method as ordinary as lurking underground."
Kili nodded in confirmation while adding to her explanation. Indeed, if it was that kind of hiding method, let alone Yggdrasil, even humans would discover Vritra quickly.
"Mother is the dragon possessing the original power to generate dark matter whereas Yggdrasil has the ability to interfere with dark matter—Need I say more? Why Yggdrasil appeared here in such a gigantic state... Why a battle of attrition is useless—You should understand the reason now."
Kili looked at me as though testing me and asked.
Just as she said, I already guessed the answer.
"The energy source being used by Yggdrasil is... Vritra's dark matter, right?"
Just as it had stolen dark matter from Ds to grow at Midgard, the current Yggdrasil was also using Vritra's dark matter to enlarge itself.
"Correct. Yggdrasil has probably made Mother into its seedbed by now."
Kili confirmed my guess calmly.
Like last time, there was evidence proving the truth of Kili's words.
But the fifteen-minute time limit set by Shinomiya-sensei was about to pass and the branches were still growing with astounding speed. We were already out of options.
"Let's retreat, everyone."
I prepared myself and called to everyone.
However, a voice of objection instantly ripped through the night's quiet atmosphere.
Tia stopped attacking and looked at me with eyes filled with determination.
"Yggdrasil must be defeated now! Tia will protect Yuu!"
Tia stared at me silently. Seeing her like that, I suddenly recalled—
"Don't tell me you overheard my conversation with Lisa—"
I remembered how I returned from the discussion with Lisa outside the van to find the door slightly ajar. Most likely, Tia had hid in the car's shadows to listen on our conversation.
Tia nodded in admission with tears overflowing from the corners of her eyes.
Scattered around the van, continuing to attack the branches, the rest of the girls looked at Tia, wanting to know what happened.
It was too late for me to stop her.
"At this rate, Yuu's body will be taken over by Yggdrasil, right!?"
Tia's voice trembled, yelling out what I had kept a secret from everyone.
The ones who gasped after hearing those words were Mitsuki, Firill and Ariella. They paused in attacking.
Already privy to the secret, Iris, Lisa and Ren looked at me with worried eyes.
Shinomiya-sensei, who was not supposed to know, showed no signs of wavering. Perhaps the principal might have said something to her.
Despite showing surprise, Kili immediately switched to an expression of comprehension.
"Really? So you're being targeted by Yggdrasil too. No wonder... Fufu, now it's certain. As expected, I didn't make the wrong choice."
Seeing Kili smile happily for some reason, I felt a chill down my spine.
But that fear was swept away by the words I heard next.
"Nii-san... What is going on?"
The instant Mitsuki's voice shook my eardrums, my mind went blank.
I turned my head back in trepidation, only to see Mitsuki staring at me with a quivering gaze.
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