Unlimited Fafnir:Volume 7 Chapter 2
Chapter 2 - Boy Meets Girl at Dusk
Two hours before "Black" Vritra appeared at Nanato City, a flash of blinding light at the mountains at the prefecture of Tochigi blasted away all darkness prior to dawn.
It was a huge explosion capable of blowing a mountain away and flattening a forest.
In search of Jeanne Hortensia's whereabouts, Kili witnessed the explosion while hovering in the air ten-odd kilometers away.
Kili had found John's clues while tracking down the trail of destruction originating from the Asgard lab. This explosion had also occurred along that trail if one extrapolated forwards.
"Although there's no telling whether it's related to Jeanne-chan... I guess I have to take a look. By the way... Why am I trying so hard to find her?"
Kili grumbled while flying towards the blast origin.
Using transmutation to create flames for propulsion, Kili easily arrived on scene.
Inside a hole resembling a gigantic crater that had been blasted out from the mountains and forest, a strange object was moving.
"What is that...?"
It resembled a wriggling mass of flowing silver.
It was difficult to articulate its appearance. Also, it seemed to be sliding on the ground instead of walking. Roughly the size of a human. Relatively elongated in shape, it was dragging its lower body on the ground like an evening gown.
In addition, what appeared to be silver threads were extending from the edge of the body. The silver body was probably composed from a mass of such silver threads.
Furthermore, the silver threads were suspending a restrained girl in midair.
"That girl, how did things turn out like this?"
Kili remarked sardonically.
The girl captured by the silver threads was precisely whom Kili was looking for—Jeanne Hortensia. Probably unconscious, she did not appear to be moving. It was also possible she had died. After exchanging glances with the unidentified monster, Kili sighed deeply.
She had no obligation to rescue Jeanne. They simply had aligned interests.
However, for some reason, there seemed to be an inseverable bond between them.
Deploying the invisible Muspelheim around herself, Kili descended.
Although she posed the question to herself, the answer was known long ago.
Because she had nothing.
Born out of nothingness, her life had been very hollow. Hence, she treasured her bonds with others even more. She seemed to recall this feeling in the past.
"Somehow it feels like... the time when I met Yuu three years ago."
Walking straight to Jeanne, Kili smiled wryly.
The instant the monster noticed Kili, it twisted its silver threads together to stab like in the form of a spear.
Kili transmuted her surrounding dark matter in an attempt to vaporize the monster's attack. Due to the high temperature, even her view of the scenery began to shimmer.
But instantly, Kili felt an impact on her abdomen accompanied by a wave of sharp pain.
The silver spear easily penetrated the flame barrier, grazing her flank. Had Kili not dodged, she would most likely have been skewered.
While enduring the dizziness caused by the pain, Kili healed the wound using transmutation.
Capable of surviving Muspelheim which could melt even bullets... Could it be mithril? Then this monster was...
The instant Kili realized the monster's identity, a purple light flashed from the gaps between the silver threads—
"Black" Vritra had appeared in the sky over Nanato City.
The screeching noise of cars braking to a halt tore through the tranquility of the early morning.
Frightened birds flew away from trees.
The screams of people witnessing Vitra could be heard all around.
"All units, deploy fictional armaments! Battle stations!!"
Just as we were standing in shock from Vritra suddenly blotting the sky, Mitsuki issued commands to us in a forceful tone of voice.
Lisa was the first to construct her fictional armament of a spear. The rest of us then sprang into action.
I aimed my fictional armament of a gun at Vritra in the air.
At this moment, my view of Vritra's figure in front of the muzzle suddenly turned hazy while the dragon's overall body gradually dissociated into black particles in the air.
Vritra's form began to disintegrate, turning into something like a black cloud.
While we were baffled by what was happening, the black particles—most likely Vritra's dark matter—began to fall from the sky.
In the middle of falling like torrential rain, the dark matter changed trajectory unnaturally.
"It's coming this way...!"
Firill yelled loudly then raised her book-shaped fictional armament. A gust of wind blew, isolating us from the surrounding noise. A barrier of wind had been formed.
The dark matter, about to flood us, descended in the center of the park—in the sandpit—and gathered at one point.
"Didn't Vritra become Yggdrasil's seedbed? Kili definitely said that..."
Ariella stepped forward to protect us, constructing her gauntlet-style fictional armament.
Kili had mentioned that Yggdrasil's rapid growth at Fuji's Sea of Trees required a large energy source, so it had stolen Vritra's dark matter. Was that speculation wrong?
"...We half-wrecked Yggdrasil's main body, so that could be the reason."
I looked at the current owner of Yggdrasil's core—Tia—but she shook her head.
"No, it's definitely because Tia cannot control Yggdrasil completely. Although Tia has become Yggdrasil's core, Tia is still maintaining sense of self... So the captured Vritra seized the chance to escape."
"Eh!? So Vritra is here for revenge?"
Iris asked frantically.
"Well... Dunno. But Tia will definitely protect Yuu and everyone."
An electrical current sparked between her pair of red horns.
Capable of using electricity to interfere with dark matter, Yggdrasil was essentially Vritra's natural predator.
However, just as she mentioned, Tia had not accepted Yggdrasil's power completely.
The outcome of a direct battle was completely impossible to predict.
Resembling a black cloud, Vritra gradually landed, contracting into a sphere in the middle of the park. It was most likely the dark matter forming Vritra's body.
We nervously clutched the fictional armaments in our hands.
Ripples appeared on the black sphere's surface, then a pale and slender arm extended out from inside.
Mitsuki exclaimed in surprise and watched the scene in shock.
A girl with gorgeous black hair had appeared from inside the dark matter. As she slowly stepped out, the dark matter also formed a black one-piece dress to envelop her.
We could not help but utter that name, because the girl's face resembled Kili too much. However, she looked younger than Kili, probably about the same age as Tia.
Vritra's figure in the sky had vanished completely. The dark matter in the sandpit also dissipated.
Hence, a girl greatly resembling Kili had shown up.
What exactly did this imply?
Smiling, the girl said something, but due to the wind barrier, we did not hear anything.
Then she impatiently waved her right hand to generate dark matter even bigger than herself. The instant the dark matter popped like a bubble, all the trees in the park shook violently.
A strong gust of wind blew. At the same time, we started hearing sounds from the surroundings.
"The wind... cancelled each other?"
Firill said quietly in surprise.
After getting rid of the annoying wind barrier, the girl smiled contentedly and said:
"I am Vritra. New core of Yggdrasil, I wish for a word with thee."
Ignoring us, she looked straight at Tia.
Sure enough—It was as expected.
Despite her human appearance, that was undoubtedly Vritra.
Calling Tia the core of Yggdrasil, she waited for Tia's answer.
Tia took a step forward and replied to the girl—Vritra.
"Indeed, I have no intention of fighting, because 'tis clear to me that the situation doth not favor me. Neither do I wish to repeat past mistakes. Hence, the only option is to talk. Thus, I have taken the same form as thee."
Vritra raised her slender arm and looked at it while speaking.
This body was most likely created from dark matter. A materialized body, although it was unclear whether it was similar in nature to fictional armament like creating Hekatonkheir... It looked like she had turned into a girl's form to talk with Tia.
"Tia doesn't wanna fight either..."
"A wise decision, new administrator of the Akashic Record. Since the previous core consciousness was driven by an overly aggressive survival strategy, there was no room for negotiations. 'Tis gratifying that thou art not so rigid."
Vritra breathed a sigh of relief.
Twenty-five years ago, Vritra presumably vanished to hide from Yggdrasil. It looked like Vritra had suffered much at the hands of Yggdrasil.
Although I felt a bit of sympathy while looking at Vritra's form of a young girl, I instantly calmed myself.
Vritra was the evil dragon that had spread calamity all over the world. After disappearing, it had also used its fictional armament, Hekatonkheir, to spread calamity further.
The culprit who had trampled my hometown in the past was this Vritra right before my eyes.
Currently, it had its eyes on Tia the whole time. Surely, human existence did not register in its eyes. Stepping on humans would be like trampling ants.
Sirens could be heard from afar. The town was already in chaos.
"—Vritra, let's go somewhere else if you want to talk."
I mustered my determination and spoke to Vritra.
Probably witnessing the black particles gathering in this direction, townsfolk and the police were hurrying over here. We had to hurry and leave.
"...'Tis the third time encountering thee."
Those black eyes carried hostility while Vritra stared at me and spoke.
"Irregular existence, destroying my Hekatonkheir twice as Yggdrasil's puppet... I shan't forget the pain when thou usedst blue flames to wound me."
Yggdrasil's puppet... Indeed, that was true now that I thought about it. A proxy war had been fought between Vritra and Yggdrasil, with the former using Kili and Hekatonkheir while the latter was using me.
However, I did not know Vritra and Yggdrasil's motives.
"Didn't you cause humans a lot of suffering too? If there's a grudge, it goes both ways. Anyway, more people will be coming if we stay here. Let's get moving."
Looking at her, I urged. Vritra pouted unhappily.
"I care not about humans. I shall sweep them away if they bother me. Stop interfering, irregular. Although my daughter holdeth thee in high regard, thou art nothing more than the likes of an error or a bug to me. I shall eliminate thee if thou darest to obstruct my discussion with the core consciousness."
"Daughter? You mean Kili?"
Vritra ignored my question and exuded intense killing intent.
But Tia spread her arms and blocked in front of me.
"If you attack Yuu or hurt others, Tia will be angry! Then Tia won't talk to you!"
With Tia in heightened state of emotion, sparks flew all around.
Seeing Tia standing sternly, Vritra sighed deeply.
"—No helping it. I shall listen to thee. If there is an appropriate place to talk, please lead the way."
Vritra spoke to me reluctantly.
"Got it. Come this way."
Relieved, I walked to the park entrance.
"Hey Mononobe, where are we going?"
Beside me, Iris asked discreetly.
"Mitsuki's house. Then Father and Mother won't see us and we won't need to worry about getting disturbed."
Along the way from the park to Mitsuki's house, we saw many people looking up into the sky.
However, the gigantic dragon from earlier had disappeared, so many people remained skeptical. Most likely, direct witnesses of Vritra were still a minority.
While hoping for the commotion to die down like this, we brought Vritra the culprit to Mitsuki's house.
Looking like a younger Kili, Vritra looked at the town's scenery in boredom.
"Please have a seat."
Taking the cushion Mitsuki handed to her, Vritra sat down on the carpeted floor.
We were in the master bedroom at Mitsuki's house, in other words, the room where Tia, Lisa and Firill had spent the night.
This place was relatively spacious and tidy, suitable for us to talk.
"Nice to meet you."
Sitting on a cushion too, Tia bowed at Vritra.
Mitsuki and the rest of the girls sat on the bed while I leaned against the doorway.
Having recovered my memories, this place really felt a bit nostalgic when I look at it.
Especially the corridor and the stairs, I could already superimpose them with childhood memories. I had probably visited this house often in the past.
If I focused on recalling, I would probably remember more, but right now, I had to stay vigilant of Vritra's movements.
Hence, I changed my mindset and looked at the two girls sitting face to face, staring at each other seriously.
"Despite the extra people present... No matter, cut straight to the chase, shall we? I wish to reach an agreement of cooperation and understanding, to work with thee henceforth."
Tia cocked her head and repeated in puzzlement.
"Indeed. Despite some priority issues in resolving matters... Our objectives are fundamentally the same. Since there are flaws in both sides' plans, 'twould be wise for us to aid each other."
Vritra spoke fervently but Tia touched her own face in confusion.
"Umm... Sorry. Tia doesn't even know what the plan and objective are."
"What...? Art thou not Yggdrasil's core? Why wouldst thou not know?"
Vritra asked Tia in astonishment.
It looked like Vritra recognized Tia entirely as Yggdrasil but that was mistaken. So-called Yggdrasil was a global-scale network formed from plants
The current Tia had only acquired the power to control Yggradasil without merging her consciousness with all plants. To maintain her ego—to remain human—she had not chosen assimilation.
In other words, Tia did not share all of Yggdrasil's knowledge.
"Because Tia is not used to it and the strain is too much, Tia keeps connection to Akashic Record at a minimum. It looks like the sync rate with Yggdrasil needs to increase in order to understand what you're talking about."
After hearing Tia's reply, Vritra said impatiently:
"Then I demand that thou informest thyself of the situation right now."
"Right now... Not possible. Tia will stop being Tia unless adjustments are performed gradually over time."
"...How much time?"
"No matter how rushed, probably at least a day..."
Vritra made a bitter expression after listening to Tia. Although I did not want to interrupt the discussion, I could no longer stay silent.
"If you can't wait for Tia to become fully prepared, why don't you just explain your objective here and now?"
"Foolish. What I desire is to speak with Yggdrasil. Even if ye were told the objective, 'tis impossible to continue the discussion unless the core consciousness is connected to Yggdrasil."
Vritra glared at me then with a look of resignation, said:
"...Since time needst to be taken, I shall wait until then."
Tia breathed a sigh of relief and thanked her.
The discussion ended for now and the atmosphere eased up slightly. Then Iris timidly raised her hand to speak.
"Uh... Then there are no plans for today, right?"
"Well, I suppose so."
Lisa nodded with an expression that seemed to say: Then what?
"Then to jog Mononobe's memory, let's tour the town as originally planned? Vritra-chan should come along too!"
Vritra frowned with surprise surfacing on her face. It was most likely the first time someone called her that. It was the same for Kili, who felt troubled when called "Kili-chan." It felt like their reactions were very similar.
"You usually use that gigantic form, right? In that case, you've never had a good look at a human town before, right?"
"This is my first time to create a human stand-in and 'tis true that I have never observed human settlements in detail, because no such necessity existeth."
"Surely there are things you don't understand if all you do is look down from above. So come with us and tour the town where Mononobe lived."
Iris invited Vritra with a serious expression. This was not meddling on a whim. Iris probably wanted Vritra, who kept causing dragon disasters incessantly, to see what so-called "humans" were.
"Come on, Vritra-chan."
Iris took Vritra's hand without hesitation.
Her strong determination could be seen through her action.
Iris had lost her parents in a dragon disaster caused by Leviathan. Then in order to fight against that type of unreasonable tyranny, she had come to Midgard.
Hence, this was surely a kind of a fight for her.
More than anyone present, Iris believed that Vritra must not be left alone.
"...A human town mattereth not. Why must I look at that sort of—"
"Mononobe made the deal with Yggdrasil for the sake of protecting this town, did you know? Although I dunno what your plan was, Vritra-chan... Don't you wanna have a look at the town that stopped your plan?"
Although Vritra's response was not promising, Iris still asked with greater emphasis in tone.
"Thou sayst this town is the the cause of my plan's failure?"
"Yes, it's because Hekatonkheir attacked this town that Mononobe needed power. Vritra-chan, you were controlling Hekatonkheir, right?"
"Indeed, 'twas the stand-in I created to take action without Yggdrasil's interference."
Vritra confirmed Iris' question.
"Then if you had ordered Hekatonkheir to go somewhere else back then, Mitsuki-chan wouldn't have gone to Midgard... Then the Kraken might not have been defeated. I think this town isn't so insignificant that you can describe it as something that matters not."
Iris was talking about possibilities. Indeed, she was right.
Thinking back, it was for Mitsuki's sake that I wanted to save this town.
That was why I still chose to fight even after she told me to escape.
Eh—Who actually told me to escape...?
Feeling a contradiction in my memories, I tilted my head in puzzlement. On that day, before the news and the sirens alerted the populace to evacuate, I apparently knew that Hekatonkheir was coming to attack. Existing at the bottom of my memories was that knowledge.
Were my memories a little confused...?
Holding my forehead, I shook my head.
"—Amusing, that seemeth to be more interesting than sitting around to wait. I shall come along as a means to kill time."
Vritra accepted Iris' suggestion and agreed to come sightseeing with us.
"Thank you, Vritra-chan."
Iris thanked her happily.
"T-There won't be a problem, right...?"
Watching developments quietly, Firill remarked in worry.
"Since Tia is present, she probably won't do anything rash, but... Iris really acts boldly sometimes."
Impressed, Ariella commented and Ren agreed.
"Suddenly told about Nii-san's memories... Then no sooner had Tia-san recovered Nii-san's memories, Vritra appeared... And now, we are going for a stroll in town next. Seriously, my mind is in total chaos."
Mitsuki sighed with an exhausted expression.
One could hardly blame her for feeling overwhelmed by the situation coming to this without giving her any time to settle her emotions.
"Mitsuki, sorry for making trouble. Let's have a good talk afterwards."
Mitsuki showed surprise then nodded in response to what I said. Then she blushed.
"Nothing. It is because your tone of voice when speaking to me just now, Nii-san... was just like how you were in the past."
Despite looking happy, Mitsuki continued to stare at Iris with guilt.
Thus, under this slightly tense atmosphere, we decided to go out to town with Vritra.
"Although there was a dragon disaster alert, the dragon has apparently left?"
"It was more like it disappeared rather than left. Although the alert is still in effect, it should be fine. The office is still opening as usual. I confirmed with the office and they said I'm expected at work."
Mother and Father were chatting while watching the morning news. Shown on the screen were images of Vritra taken by ordinary townsfolk.
Vritra arriving in the sky over Nanato City had become big news, but since there was no actual damage and the brevity of the appearance, rumors were beginning to circulate that it might have been a prank.
Already accustomed to dragon disasters, people did not panic. Life continued as usual in the town. Three years ago, the approaching Hekatonkheir had suddenly vanished. Perhaps due to that kind of precedent, my parents could react in such a laid back manner.
And the Vritra in question was currently eating at our dining table.
Since it would be worrying to leave her alone in Mitsuki's home, we brought her along, saying she was a classmate who arrived late.
"How does it taste? Is it good?"
Seeing Vritra, unused to chopsticks, eating fried eggs and wieners, Iris inquired.
"...This taste doth allow pleasure to be derived from food indeed."
Vritra answered without stopping. Meaning it tasted good, probably.
Things would probably calm down as long as she stayed like this without making a scene.
After breakfast, Father left for work. We departed shortly after that.
"Take care. You're not coming back for lunch, are you?"
"No, I think we will be returning in the evening. See you later."
Following Mitsuki's response, the rest of us said "see you later" to my mother. At the entrance, Ohagi the black cat also went "meow" as though seeing us off.
—Speaking of which, Mitsuki said that Ohagi was picked up by me.
Although this part of my memories was still very hazy, I was probably going to recall it soon.
Led by Mitsuki, we walked along the road with Vritra. There were several helicopters flying around in the sky, possibly belonging to NIFL and the news media.
"Then where are you going next?"
Amidst the propeller noise, Lisa asked. Mitsuki looked back and replied:
"One by one in order, I would like to visit locations with shared memories between Nii-san and me. First, I will take everyone to the shopping street."
Passing by the earlier park, we arrived at the entrance to the shopping street. During my date with Iris, none of the shops were open but by now, many had raised their metal shutters and opened for business. There were also a lot of pedestrians. After the disturbance this morning, schools were probably suspended. I did not see any students on their way to school.
"We mostly shopped at this shopping street. Nii-san, do you recall how we used to help Mother buy things here?"
Pointing at the grocery store and the supermarket, Mitsuki asked me.
"...Yeah. Mother even told us we could buy whatever we wanted with the change. We agonized over what to buy and got scolded for coming home late."
As though floating to the surface from the bottom of my memories, another memory awakened.
"Fufu, something like that did happen. I remember then... I think we bought an ice cream and shared it between us... Now that I think back about it, I cannot believe we did something so embarrassing."
Perhaps remembering what happened at the time, Mitsuki blushed. After listening to her, Iris seemed to have gotten a good idea, so she raised her hand and suggested:
"Mitsuki-chan, let's try doing the same thing. Perhaps that might help Mononobe to remember more."
"Ehhh!? T-That kind of thing now—"
Mitsuki frantically refused but Iris kept encouraging her.
"Don't be like that. Try harder because this is for Mononobe! And I'd like Vritra-chan to try ice cream too."
Iris looked back and waved to Vritra who was trailing at the end in boredom.
Vritra walked over to Iris while frowning.
"Yeah, it's cold and sweet!"
"I am one who resideth in a higher dimension. I was given no choice but to partake in thy meal earlier. Fundamentally, I need not ingest the same food that ye humans eat."
"Rather than for nutrition, ice cream is something you eat because it's yummy. We just had breakfast too, so we're not hungry, but desserts go in a separate stomach!"
Saying that, Iris held Vritra's hand without reservation.
Vritra frowned but did not resist in particular.
"Come, Mitsuki-chan, take us to where they sell the ice cream."
Iris pushed Mitsuki on the back to hurry her.
"—I understand. This way please."
Mitsuki sighed in apparent resignation then started to walk.
"Iris seems especially lively today. She looks even happier than Yuu about the recovery of his memories."
Looking at Iris, Tia commented.
I concurred but in my view, Iris seemed to be putting on a brave smile.
"—We have arrived."
Mitsuki stopped somewhere soon after entering the shopping street.
"Eh... This place sells ice cream?"
Making a surprised look, Ariella checked with Mitsuki. It was only normal for her to feel doubt, because the sign read takoyaki shop.
"Yes, this takoyaki shop sold ice cream as well since a long time ago. See, it is on the menu."
Saying that, Mitsuki pointed at the menu in front of the shop. Indeed, it included items such as ice cream, shaved ice and drinks.
"Now that you mention it... We used to buy snacks at this shop once in a while."
The memories naturally flashed through my mind. On the way home from elementary school, Mitsuki and I would pool our pocket money together to buy ice cream or takoyaki while being careful of the gazes of friends and other students.
"Every time we were found out, Father and Mother scolded us."
Mitsuki answered happily in excitement, but in contrast, Firill and Lisa showed stiff expressions.
"...This so-called tako... Wouldn't happen to be the octopus, would it?"
"I fear that... it refers to the devil fish. Takoyaki... I really don't feel that it's edible."
The culture of their homelands probably did not have the custom of eating octopus. With gazes of revulsion, Lisa and Firill stared at the takoyaki sign.
"Don't be so biased if you've never eaten it. I've had takoyaki before and it's quite tasty."
Having lived with Ren in Japan before, Ariella advised the two girls.
"Even if it's tasty, asking me to eat something like that is a bit..."
"I honestly cannot stand an octopus' appearance. Those squirming tentacles... I don't even dare imagine the sight."
Ariella laughed after listening to Firill and Lisa.
"Don't worry, the appearance is totally non-threatening. So, Mononobe-kun, you guys get the ice cream and the rest of us will have takoyaki."
"Tia wanna have takoyaki too."
Ren nodded and Tia raised her hand in agreement.
Ignoring Lisa and Firill's wail, Ariella ordered takoyaki and ice cream.
Thus, Mitsuki and I shared one ice cream while Iris and Vritra shared the other one. Ariella bought a box of takoyaki for herself and the rest of the girls, the five of them. Sitting down on the bench in front of the shop, we began to eat.
"Nii-san... Are you sure about eating this with me?"
Holding the ice cream cone, Mitsuki confirmed with a blush.
"If you're uncomfortable with eating it together, Mitsuki, you can have it all."
"N-No, it is not that I dislike it. As long as you are willing, I am fine with sharing it."
"It does feel a bit embarrassing... But to us, sharing one serving of food happened all the time."
I scratched my head and answered. Mitsuki went "ah" quietly.
"...Nothing. Then please go first, Nii-san."
Blushing, Mitsuki extended the ice cream to me.
I licked the front of the ice cream with my tongue. A cold and sweet taste. Ice cream should taste the same no matter where you eat it, but perhaps because of the location and the mood, this felt a bit nostalgic to me.
"Then I shall start too."
Mitsuki licked the opposite side, restoring balance to the tilting ice cream.
Seeing us like that, Iris smiled contentedly.
"Is it good, Mononobe and Mitsuki-chan?"
We nodded stiffly. Having confirmed that, Iris presented her ice cream to Vritra.
"I'm so glad. Come, Vritra-chan, please enjoy!"
Despite much hesitation, Vritra extended her tiny tongue and licked the white ice cream.
Vritra widened her eyes in surprise. Iris asked her encouragingly:
"How is it? It's really yummy, right!?"
"...A human's gustatory perception is more sensitive than imagined. 'Tis a different experience compared to breakfast. I can understand why ye humans are so concerned with flavor."
"Uh... So basically, you mean it tastes good, right?"
Iris confirmed with Vritra, who had used difficult words in her answer. The black dragon in human form avoided eye contact.
"I affirm that pleasure is derived from flavor and texture. However, 'tis without value to me."
Looking like she disagreed, Iris asked. Hence, Vritra generated dark matter on her palm without saying a word. The dark matter's outline twisted and transformed into an ice cream.
"Wow... Amazing, I can't believe you made food..."
Iris exclaimed in surprise. Since cooking in most cases involved multiple ingredients of plant and animal matter, using dark matter to make this kind of food would be the same as entering the realm of biogenic transmutation. Even though they were capable of creating salt or sugar on their own, ordinary Ds could not accomplish this feat of transmuting food. Kili was probably the only D who could. Nothing less expected from Vritra, but—
"I can create anything by myself. Hence, thy favorite food is completely worthless to me."
Vritra spoke with apparent disinterest then licked the ice cream she had made. However, she frowned.
"...What's wrong? The taste is different from what you thought, right?"
This possibility occurred to me, so I asked.
"Apparently a mistake in proportions. Minute differences, probably... I never expected such a dramatic change in flavor."
Vritra stared at the ice cream in astonishment. Hearing her say that, I smiled wryly. Evidently, Vritra was not omnipotent.
"Given this example, you'd better not brag you can create anything. No, I should say that even you can't perform perfect biogenic transmutation either."
I tried to bait her to answer. Recalling what Vritra had done so far, this possibility was quite likely.
Vritra frowned. I shrugged at her.
"You tried to offer Tia to Basilisk before and tampered with Kili's dragon mark to make her Hraesvelgr's mate. But if you've got complete control over biogenic transmutation, you would've created Ds as mates directly in the first place."
Thinking back to Hekatonkheir attacking Midgard and Kili's dragon mark changing color, I continued:
"You didn't because such precise tuning is very difficult, right? Just like this ice cream here."
Vritra remained silent unhappily, proving the correctness of my hunch.
"Even the matter of creating life is quite suspicious too. Is Kili really a human you created out of dark matter?"
If life could be created, there should be others the same as Kili, right? Following this line of thinking, I asked Vritra.
"—She is my daughter."
Vritra replied curtly as though avoiding a direct answer. Perhaps I had touched a sore spot. Vritra glared at me with eyes of fury.
"Mononobe, Vritra-chan, let's save such a hard subject for later. Look, the ice cream's gonna melt if you don't finish it quick."
Just as the smell of gunpowder had crept into the mood, Iris hastily intervened. Just as she had pointed out, the ice cream was melting.
Suddenly snapping out of it, Vritra licked the original ice cream. Indeed, she liked the taste very much.
"So Mitsuki, we'd better hurry before the ice cream melts completely."
Mitsuki nodded and we licked the ice cream alternatively. But the more we ate, the more necessary it became for us to lick the same spots.
My heart naturally began to pound as I saw Mitsuki licking the trails left on the ice cream by my tongue. Probably aware of the indirect kissing, Mitsuki had blushing cheeks and moved quite stiffly.
My emotions were about to go out of control. To calm myself down, I shifted my gaze to Lisa and the other girls.
"—Look, it doesn't look like octopus at all. It's very good, so try it."
Using a toothpick to eat the freshly made takoyaki, Ariella encouraged the indecisive Lisa and Firill.
"It's really yummy! Not a lie!"
Tia and Ren were also eating takoyaki and concurred with Ariella.
"...Fine. By this point, I cannot escape anymore."
Perhaps having readied her resolve, Lisa stabbed a takoyaki with a toothpick and brought it to her lips in trepidation. Firill gulped and quietly watched her.
Lisa took a bite of the takoyaki. Although it seemed quite hot, she still chewed.
"H-How is it?"
"The outside is grilled to perfection, the inside is fluffy and sticky... The filling is chewy with quite a novel texture, the flavor is... not bad too."
After listening to Lisa's comments, Firill also brought a takoyaki to her mouth.
"Ah... It's true, it's unexpectedly delicious and the filling's texture is definitely interesting."
"And that's precisely the octopus. See, wouldn't it be a shame if you missed out because of prejudice?"
Ariella spoke proudly. Lisa and Firill nodded in agreement with complicated expressions.
"Yes, you make a fair point... But even so, I have no wish to eat any other octopus cuisine."
Firill concurred with Lisa but after noticing my gaze, she turned to face me.
"Oh... Mononobe-kun, do you like octopus?"
"Hmm? I don't hate it."
"I see... Then I have to work hard to stop finding octopus disgusting."
Overturning her earlier decision, Firill clenched her fist and declared.
"Hold on, Firill-san, you are selling out too easily."
Lisa sighed in exasperation. Watching the scene, I could not help but smile wryly. Mitsuki patted me on the shoulder.
"Nii-san, it will melt if you do not hurry. You can finish the rest."
Since melted ice cream had begun to flow onto my hand, I popped the ice cream into my mouth together with the cone.
"The one called Iris, thou shalt have this."
Vritra shoved the poor tasting self-made ice cream to Iris and silently resumed eating the original ice cream—
After finishing the ice cream and the takoyaki, we began to visit places with memories one after another.
There was the old shrine where we went for the New Year's first shrine visit and summer festival, the hobby store where Mitsuki and I would pool our New Year's money together to buy games, the bookstore we frequented in the past, the elementary school where we studied at the time—
Although the commotion caused by Vritra's appearance had caused schools to shut down temporarily, the shopping street was in business as usual.
After having lunch at a family restaurant offering set menu items, we took a bus to the observation platform on the mountain.
"—How are you, Yuu? Are you recalling more things?"
While feeling the rocking of the bus, I looked at the scenery outside the window. Sitting in the back, Tia asked me.
"Yeah... I recall many memories at every place Mitsuki brings us to. But—"
Despite nodding, my voice showed reservation.
Sitting next to me, Mitsuki urged me to finish what I was going to say.
I felt a bit hesitant, unsure whether I should say it, but after deciding hiding things from Mitsuki again would be bad, I spoke up:
"What revived are almost all memories between me and Mitsuki. In the beginning, I didn't find anything strange about that, but when we visited the elementary school, I still could not recall much except things related to Mitsuki. I clearly should have close friends but I can't recall the names and faces of them."
"That's... surely because memories with stronger impressions get recovered first. Don't be so impatient. Tia doesn't think there's a problem."
Tia encouraged me cheerfully but I felt unable to nod in agreement, because this was not my first time experiencing the anxiety of being unable to recall anything apart from memories related to Mitsuki.
"...I hope so. It somehow feels more like the time after my first deal with Yggdrasil."
"The first deal—You mean the fight against Hekatonkheir at this town?"
Mitsuki asked in confirmation. Perhaps reacting to the mention of Hekatonkheir, Vritra glanced in our direction from her seat farther away.
"Yeah. I made a total of three deals. The first time, all memories unrelated to Mitsuki became fuzzy. The second time, I forgot about Mitsuki before she became part of the family. The third time, I lost all memories earlier than three years ago. Right now, my condition is the closest to the way I was after the first deal. Maybe recovering this much is already the limit—"
"It's not like that!"
Sitting in front, Iris immediately leaned forward in my direction and said.
"Mononobe, aren't your memories just starting to recover? You should be able to remember everything if you try hard enough! The observation platform we're visiting next is a very special place, right?"
Iris confirmed with Mitsuki, because before taking the bus, Mitsuki had already explained to the whole group the reason for going out of our way to visit the observation platform so far away.
"Yes, that observation platform is an extremely important place to Nii-san and me. It is also the place where we faced off against Hekatonkheir three years ago."
Mitsuki spoke nostalgically. Listening to her, Iris clenched her fist.
"Since it's a place like that, you'll definitely remember more of the past! You mustn't give up, Mononobe!"
Overwhelmed by Iris' vigor, I nodded. After listening to her, I felt more optimistic for some reason.
Thus, the bus took fifteen minutes to reach the station near the observation platform. Fresher air filled my lungs as soon as I got off the bus. A small stream ran beside the bus stop sign, most likely the source of the river running through the center of town.
"There is an observation platform after a short walk from here. Let us go, everyone."
Mitsuki began along the path to the observation platform.
The sloped path was quite gentle. Even a child would not find the journey too hard.
Before Mitsuki became my sister, we apparently ascended this sloped path together with each other's family. Although fragments of memories were surfacing, I could not recall what Mitsuki's parents looked like.
Just as I thought, what flashed through my mind were memories related to Mitsuki.
'Yuu-kun, wait up!'
'You're too slow, Mitsuki!'
I heard voices from our younger selves.
—Leaving our parents behind, Mitsuki and I had run up this sloped path.
'Yuu-kun, don't leave me behind!'
I originally expected Mitsuki to run out of breath halfway, but she desperately followed me to the very end.
I remembered that time—
While I was reminiscing, we arrived at the observation platform. Although the journey felt like it should have been longer, that was probably because I was still a child back then.
"The view becomes wide open all at once."
Looking at the view of Nanato City in the distance, Lisa remarked.
"...Although I sweated a lot, the breeze is very comfortable here."
Fanning the front of her uniform, Firill was enjoying the mountain breeze.
"There's no one else apart from us. After that kind of commotion this morning, I guess that's only natural."
Looking at the deserted observation platform, Ariella murmured.
"No, this place was rarely visited to begin with. It feels pretty much like this all the time."
While feeling the surfacing memories, I replied to Ariella. Listening to me on the side, Mitsuki agreed.
"—That is because there is nothing else to see. I heard that this observation platform was remodeled from the remains of a past castle. Remnants of the castle walls remain over there too."
"Huh!? Castle walls?"
However, Lisa reacted with sensitive hearing.
"...I'd like a look too. I'm interested in Japanese castles."
Firill also expressed interest and Tia concurred.
Scant remnants of the castle walls were located on the edges of the observation platform with a sign board erected on the side to introduce the historical ruins. After Lisa and Firill went over, Ariella also invited Ren to go.
"Ren, let's go have a look."
Once they departed, only Mitsuki, Iris and Vritra were left by my side.
"Oh, Vritra-chan, there's a telescope over there. Let's have a look."
Iris suddenly showed an expression as though she realized something. Speaking loudly on purpose, she took Vritra's hand.
"I have no interest in that sort of—"
Iris forcibly dragged Vritra away. She probably wanted Mitsuki and I to spend time alone together.
With a complicated expression, Mitsuki watched Iris leave, but as soon as she noticed my gaze, she smiled, somewhat troubled.
"Nii-san, given this rare chance, let us look for our houses like we did in the past."
"—Yeah, I remember there's the shopping street's arcade for a landmark."
I accepted Mitsuki's suggestion. Leaning with my hands on the railing, I looked at the scenery afar. Compared to Tokyo, this place was a countryside town without neither towering buildings nor special characteristics. But if I shifted my gaze to areas even farther away, I did not even see any towns.
"...There hasn't been much progress in the reconstruction of neighboring towns."
Three years ago, Hekatonkheir had already wrought plenty of destruction before arriving at our town. Mitsuki and I had witnessed the neighboring town getting trampled by its gigantic feet. The signs of destruction from that time were still clear to see even now.
"Since damage was not limited to just the neighboring towns, I suppose they could not spare the limited manpower."
Mitsuki held down her hair that was billowing in the wind, answering in calm tone of voice.
The one who controlled Hekatonkheir was "Black" Vritra. Using her own word, it was her stand-in.
Stand-in—Normally speaking, this Shinto term referred to "a substitute for a god or spirit to possess."
In other words, whether that blue giant or the current human appearance, both were essentially the same to Vritra.
A vessel created for the main body's consciousness to reside, a materialized physical body.
The girl looking through the telescope with Iris some distance away was the perpetrator responsible for this scenery of carnage.
However, she did not feel responsible. Asking her to atone was probably impossible. Confronted with something whose value system was incompatible with ours, what kind of relationship should we build with her?
Besides, what kind of existence was Vritra's main body? And where was it?
"Nii-san, your brow is all knitted together. Have you forgotten we are trying to find our houses?"
Perhaps noticing my thoughts had gone on a tangent, Mitsuki looked up at my face and asked.
"Oh right, uh..."
I referenced my memories while looking for the arcade serving as the landmark, but unable to orient myself, I failed to find it. Seeing me like that, Mitsuki pointed with her finger and said:
"Look, the shopping street is over there. You can see the reflecting sunlight."
"...Oh, so it's over there. Considering the river's position, our home is—That side."
I finally found the shopping street then deduced my home's location from the relative position.
"Fufu, Nii-san, you used to be the one who told me the shopping street's location, you know? Now the situation has reversed."
Her words caused my memories from that time to revive vividly.
"Do you recall—our promise?"
Mitsuki asked me slightly nervously. Without needing me to focus, the memories at the time replayed in my mind.
'What a surprise... The buildings became so small.'
My younger self looked at the scenery over the railing and exclaimed in joy.
'Can you see our homes?'
Showing excitement in her eyes, the young Mitsuki searched for our home.
'Should be around there, right? See, that's the arcade in the shopping street.'
'Eh... Where? I can't see it!'
Leaning against her shoulder, I pointed into the distance. Mitsuki and I carved the sight of our town into our hearts and retinas.
Mitsuki looked like she was in a good mood. The young me asked her if something good happened.
"Yeah, because I kept up with Yuu-kun today! You usually leave me behind all the time, don't you know that hurts my feelings?"
'That's because you're too slow.'
'I'm not slow. I finally caught up today. From now on, we'll stay together forever and ever!'
Saying that, Mitsuki hugged my arm.
'D-Don't do that, it's very stuffy. What do you mean, stay together forever and ever? That's impossible!'
'Why is it impossible? As long as we get married, even if we turn into old people, we'll still be together forever!'
Mitsuki replied with an innocent smile.
'What are you talking about? Don't you know kids can't get married?'
'I know, that's why I'll settle for being a fiancee until we become adults.'
Hearing her declare so openly, I was stunned with surprise. At this time, Mitsuki silently drew her face near.
'This is the kiss of engagement, Yuu-kun.'
Recalling the soft sensation of her lips, I felt blood rushing to my face.
"Oh, Nii-san... You are going red. Looks like you remember. That is a relief to me."
Mitsuki blushed shyly and smiled.
"It was before we became siblings..."
"Yes. Back then, I had already decided to marry you, Nii-san. To prevent you from getting stolen by someone else, I did everything I could despite being a child."
Mitsuki spoke in what sounded like a joking tone of voice, but her face was shrouded in gloom.
"Neighbors since birth, going to the same kindergarten and elementary school, with strong ties between our families—Back then, I believed that if we grew up together like that, we would eventually get married. Until that accident happened..."
Mitsuki's words drew out more of my memories. Memories I had instinctively avoided recalling. Memories tinged with pain and sorrow.
The screeching sound of brakes could be heard from the past, then an impact that seemed to turn the world over.
In that very instant, Mitsuki and my future was twisted dramatically.
Back then, I even did not understand what had happened.
While I was on a camping trip with Mitsuki's family, the car was driving along a mountain path with excellent visibility. Mitsuki and I were chatting excitedly in the back seats. We never expected to be deprived of our happy times henceforth.
It was apparently an accident.
An accident where two died and two survived with light injuries.
The deceased were Mitsuki's parents whereas Mitsuki and I were the lightly injured ones.
We survived thanks to awakening our power to generate dark matter. Indeed—Mitsuki and I had become Ds after that accident.
"After my parents passed away, the future envisaged in my dream was destroyed as a result, my D powers also awakened... I was uncertain what lay in store for the future... Just then, Nii-san, your parents offered to adopt me as their daughter, but—"
Looking out at Nanato City's scenery, Mitsuki gripped the railing hard.
Right now, I could definitely remember what happened back then.
'Listen carefully, Yuu. Now that Mitsuki-chan is alone, we have to become her family. I hope you'll be Mitsuki-chan's older brother, Yuu.'
—On the day of the funeral, Father said that to me in our backyard.
To be honest, I had no idea how much of what Father said I understood at the time. I think I would feel confused—Whether becoming family or an older brother, were such things that simple?
However, I could not leave Mitsuki all alone. That one point was extremely clear.
Hence, I nodded and promised Father.
Nevertheless, Mitsuki reacted in surprising manner at the time.
Evidently recalling what happened then, Mitsuki smiled wryly.
"To me, those words robbed me of my last hope, robbing me of the future where I could be married to you. Unable to control my feelings, I burst out crying and ran away from home... I think I must have said many mean things to you when you came chasing after me."
Mitsuki asked me if I still remembered.
"...Yeah, I remember now."
Reviving in my mind was the sound of Mitsuki screaming as hard as she could.
'Yuu-kun, you understand nothing! Nothing at all... because—'
The young Mitsuki was voicing her feelings while crying. Quietly, I hugged her. I could clearly remember the sensation of her small and trembling shoulders, as well as the cold feeling from clothing wet from her tears.
"Nii-san, you took on all of my uncertainty and emotions. You said that no one knows about us becoming Ds so things were fine as long as we kept the secret. Because we are not blood-related, we could marry even after becoming siblings... Every word you said reassured me."
"That's right... It was there that we made a promise."
I felt furious that I had forgotten something so important. Even if Yggdrasil was responsible, this was clearly the one memory I absolutely must defend—
'Don't worry, Mitsuki. Even after becoming siblings, I will also always love you more than anyone else. Let's get married when we grow up.'
My younger self definitely made this vow.
"Please do not look so troubled. It was indeed a very precious promise to me, but even so—It was nothing more than a verbal agreement between children."
Pressing her hand against my cheek, Mitsuki smiled faintly at me.
"Love? Marriage? You probably did not fully understand at the time, Nii-san, so... Just as I mentioned before, I have no intention of binding you to this promise, Nii-san."
"But Mitsuki, you were serious, right? Starting then, you already..."
"...Because I was a precocious girl."
Mitsuki smiled wryly and withdrew her hand. Then she looked at Vritra who was together with Iris.
"Nii-san, you made three deals with Yggdrasil, losing memories every time, is that correct?"
It troubled me to hear her suddenly change the subject.
"On which occasion did you forget about the marriage promise?"
Looking at Iris, Mitsuki asked solemnly.
"I think it's either the first or the second..."
"Please state clearly which time it was. This is extremely important."
"Probably... the second. When I downloaded weapons data in order to defeat Leviathan, I think."
After the first deal, I still remembered everything so long as it was related to Mitsuki. Forgetting the important promise with Mitsuki probably happened after the Leviathan battle.
But why was she asking about this? I looked at Mitsuki, only to see her gazing at Iris afar while she spoke:
"Then Nii-san, allow me to ask you: When did you fall in love with Iris-san? After the Leviathan battle? Or... before?"
Then Mitsuki turned her gaze back and looked squarely at me while she posed her question.
My heart was pounding harder and harder.
Mitsuki was asking whether I started falling for Iris before I forget the promise. I always believed that I fell in love with Iris because I had forgotten my promise with Mitsuki... But now that I think back about it, the timing seemed ambiguous.
After the Leviathan battle, Iris kissed me with gratitude as the stated reason. It was starting then that I became intensely aware of Iris, but if one were to ask whether I had started falling for her before that? I could not answer immediately.
Seeing me at a loss for words, Mitsuki smiled wryly.
"—Since you are unable to answer, Nii-san, allow me to change the question. Right now, Nii-san... Do you love me?"
The instant she asked that question, all the accumulated memories and emotions surged from the depths of my heart.
"That goes without saying."
This time, I could answer immediately, but Mitsuki gave a deep sigh.
"However... That is surely love as family... Right?"
"Nii-san, you probably experienced romantic love for the first time... only after encountering Iris-san. I know that you hold me very dear, Nii-san, but please do not use our promise as a reason to cover up your true feelings."
"Hold on, I—"
I wanted to stop Mitsuki from drawing conclusions on her own, but she ignored me and continued:
"Memories are simply a record of the past. I believe you should follow your feelings and pursue a future shared with Iris-san, Nii-san. That would be the right thing to do instead."
Saying that, Mitsuki grabbed my hand and walked over to Iris and Vritra.
Dragged forcibly, I protested but Mitsuki did not stop.
Originally talking to Vritra, Iris noticed us approaching.
"Iris-san. We have finished talking. I am returning Nii-san to you now."
Mitsuki released my hand and pushed me towards Iris.
"Eh? Returning Mononobe to me... What do you mean by that?"
Iris asked Mitsuki in surprise.
"—The one Nii-san loves is you, Iris-san, so do not worry about me. Please find happiness together with Nii-san."
"Eh...? W-Why is this happening!? The one Mononobe loves the most is you, Mitsuki-chan! That's why I—"
Iris answered frantically. Unable to understand their dialogue, Vritra stared at me incredulously.
"You are mistaken. Nii-san's heart... belongs to you, Iris-san. I know this very well."
"No! Mononobe cherishes you more than anyone. I've been watching Mononobe the whole time, so I know!"
While listening to Iris, Mitsuki turned slightly stiff.
"...I have watched Nii-san far longer, much longer than you have, Iris-san. On matters regarding Nii-san, my correctness is absolute."
"It's true that my time with Mononobe is shorter than yours, Mitsuki-chan... But I watched him agonize over his memories from the closest position possible. You don't know the current Mononobe as well as I do, Mitsuki-chan!"
In response to Mitsuki, Iris argued without backing down.
"What... Nothing of that sort! I know Nii-san's matters best! That is why I know that Nii-san ought to be with you, Iris-san!"
"Wrong, you don't know Mononobe. Mitsuki-chan, you totally don't understand how much Mononobe loves you!"
Mitsuki and Iris glared at each other.
Although I knew I should stop them, doing that meant I must first come to a conclusion. After the recovery of my memories, my feelings for Mitsuki became very strong, but at the same time, my feelings for Iris still remained in my heart. There was nowhere enough time for me to weigh these feelings against each other.
"Nii-san, stop spacing out. Please kiss Iris-san right now. That way, I can give up."
Saying that, Mitsuki pushed me towards Iris. With our bodies pressed together, Iris blushed.
"Wawa!? Mononobe, no! If you want to kiss, you should kiss Mitsuki-chan!"
Despite her panic, Iris still pushed me towards Mitsuki. This time, I was put in pose as though embracing Mitsuki. Her cheeks went red.
"N-Nii-san, what are you doing!? You are embracing the wrong person!"
I was pushed towards Iris again, but of course, Iris pushed back.
"What exactly are ye doing...?"
Vritra looked at me in exasperation while I was being pushed on both sides by the two girls.
It was then when Lisa and the others returned from checking out the castle walls.
"What is the situation here?"
Lisa asked with a troubled expression.
"Tia knows! This is definitely the game of 'Oshikura Manjuu'! Tia wants to play too!"
For some reason, Tia joined in with the pushing. Perhaps it was something she picked up from a book.
"Ah, so it's that exercise... Let me play too."
Firill expressed interest but Ariella stopped her.
"No, I don't think so. Right, Ren?"
"Mm... It's not. Oshikura Manjuu is an exercise you do in cold weather."
Ren nodded and agreed with Ariella.
Seeing everyone's eyes on them, Mitsuki and Iris stopped pushing and looked each other in the face.
"...Iris-san, let us have a good talk about this later."
"Yeah... I know."
Despite glaring at each other, the two girls separated from me.
"Eh? It's over already?"
Pushing my abdomen nonstop, Tia cocked her head in puzzlement.
I stroked her head with the horns while observing the situation between Mitsuki and Iris.
The two girls kept their distance and were talking to separate people. Lisa seemed to notice the tension floating between them but she did not look like she was going to say anything.
I turned my gaze to the view of Nanato City's streets and this time, I soon found the arcade at the shopping street.
My memories had definitely recovered.
However, the problems arising from my recovered memories were not that easy to resolve.
"Really... So Yuu is at that town..."
Enveloped in flame, Kili Surtr Muspelheim was flying in the sky, murmuring after receiving a report from the Sons of Muspell.
She was carrying an unconscious crossdressing girl in her arms—Jeanne Hortensia.
Jeanne did not have any visible wounds on her, but the one carrying her, Kili, was all covered with injuries.
Her clothing was tattered while blood dripped from her unhealed wounds.
Losing strength in her fingers, Kili accidentally dropped the cellphone with the call in progress.
Falling down to the vast land beneath the thin clouds, the cellphone gradually vanished as a tiny dot.
She did not have the spare energy to chase after the fallen phone.
While using dark matter to perform biogenic transmutation for healing her own wounds, Kili exerted herself to prevent Jeanne from falling.
Both her consciousness and vision were gradually getting blurry.
A moment's carelessness and they were going to crash to the ground.
Biogenic transmutation was definitely not almighty. It required substantial concentration to use and the mind would gradually accumulate strain.
Continual usage would hit a limit sooner or later.
But this was Kili's first time experiencing that limit.
"I can't believe I picked a fight with such a crazy monster..."
Kili laughed in self-mockery and changed her direction.
She headed towards the town where he... Mononobe Yuu was right now.
—It's a bit silly to go see him right after parting ways earlier, but it can't be helped.
While she was engaging that thing in a fight, NIFL might have started targeting her.
NIFL had eyes in the sky in the form of satellites.
No matter where she hid herself to rest, she could not rule out the possibility of getting attacked in her sleep.
In that case, finding the most trustworthy party would be the wisest choice.
This most trustworthy party was not the Sons of Muspell but him and Midgard. Recalling this fact made Kili smile with self-deprecation.
"Actually... I clearly shouldn't trust them."
Him aside, Kili had no reason to believe in Midgard.
Nevertheless, she inexplicably felt that it was probably fine. Why?
While thinking over these matters, Kili increased her flying speed.
She was having a massive headache.
She had prioritized the transmutation of blood to replace the loss from bleeding, but that further burdened the mind.
Her thoughts were turning sluggish. A strong sense of drowsiness was making her eyelids heavy.
Even so, Kili still flew across the sky, barely managing to reach the town where he was.
Within her half-awake consciousness, a past scene surfaced.
It was the memory of her first encounter with him'.
Hence, as though drawn by an attractive force—She landed at that place.
While we were returning to the shopping street's neighborhood from the observation platform, the sky's color was already turning from blue to red.
The bus was very infrequent, so the journey took longer than planned.
We were on the way back home, walking along a road on the shore of the river running through the center of town.
"—Yggdrasil, hath thy sharing of information with the Akashic Record not completed yet?"
I was looking out at the river's shimmering surface reflecting the setting sun's rays when Vritra's voice entered my ears. I looked back at the two girls walking at the back.
"Yes, it looks like it'll have to wait till tomorrow."
Tia answered apologetically and Vritra sighed deeply.
"Is waiting very boring?
I slowed down my pace to walk alongside those two, then asked Vritra.
"Yes, today's outing was also very uninteresting."
"...But I saw you enjoying the ice cream quite a lot."
Despite calling it worthless, Vritra still finished the ice cream.
"Well—That was not bad, but the town itself is very uninteresting. With nothing particularly striking, 'tis all too plain."
"Perhaps you're right. And it's not just you. Many humans probably share the same view as you."
I smiled wryly and agreed with her. Vritra looked up at me with a surprised expression.
"Thou admitest 'tis an uninteresting town too?"
"No, people are free to say what they think, but to Mitsuki and me, this is a special place."
I asserted clearly. Listening beside me, Tia nodded in agreement.
"That goes without saying, because there are many important memories!"
Vritra repeated the word Tia had said. I gasped too, because that was precisely the root issue.
"—That's right. It's special precisely because of intangible memories and human relationships. After getting back a bit of my memories, I can now understand this."
I expressed agreement with Tia then looked at Vritra.
"Dark matter cannot create intangible things, right? In that case, you can't call them worthless from your perspective either, right?"
"Intangible things equate to nothingness, nonexistent things. I cannot see what value they have."
I originally thought Vritra would understand but she refuted me flatly.
"You're so stubborn. Then what about Kili?"
"This was brought up before. You did not make copies of Kili. I think something tangible and irreplaceable can be considered special."
Vritra fell silent after hearing what I said. After a moment's thought, she replied:
"...I concede that she is very useful and replication is difficult, but to me, she is nothing more than something disposable."
Vritra was probably referring to tampering with Kili's dragon mark to turn her into Hraesvelgr's mate. However—
"But it was your failure. It wasn't Kili's fault that Hraesvelgr did not choose her as its mate—I think it was because the modification of the dragon mark was imperfect. This is evidence that you don't have perfect control over biogenic transmutation... Otherwise, there was hesitation in your heart... The reason has to be one of these two."
Vritra frowned. Regardless which one, neither was amusing to Vritra. One could hardly blame her for feeling displeased.
"Thou art infuriating. Were it not for Yggdrasil's special warning, I would have obliterated thee."
"Resorting to violence when you're beaten in an argument, that's no good."
Vritra glared at me unhappily but because of her face, she looked very cute. I could not help but smile wryly.
I stroked her head and tried to soothe her, but she pouted with more apparent displeasure.
When her expression and the view of the river at dusk entered my view, another new memory suddenly surfaced.
'—Please, stop following me.'
Troubled and agitated, a girl's voice sounded in my mind.
It was not Mitsuki's voice. In terms of timber, it resembled Vritra's voice closely.
In the past, at this river, I seemed to have met a girl very similar to her...
The memory of a girl jumping off the bridge flashed in my mind.
That was... Right, the bridge over there.
Ahead of us was a large bridge crossing to the opposite shore. It was where she and I had met.
Seeing me staring at her face, Vritra asked in surprise.
Vritra's face overlapped with the girl in my memory
Indeed, they were very alike.
But I could not possibly have seen Vritra with this appearance in the past.
Speaking of possibilities—
Kili's face came to mind. Although younger in age, Vritra had obviously used Kili's face as a reference.
"Here's a question... Kili was originally your relay for controlling and restoring Hekatonkheir, right?"
I carefully confirmed with her, only to find Vritra show a look of increased incomprehension.
"Indeed that is true... So what?"
"Then Kili and Hekatonkheir visited this town together, right?"
"Yes, that is correct..."
Hearing Vritra's answer, my hunch turned into certainty.
"—Girls, I'm going to make a slight detour."
I called to Mitsuki and the others, then walked to the riverside without waiting for their answer. I would surely remember more clearly if I visited the place where I had met her.
"Mononobe, where are you going!?"
Iris' frantic voice and chasing footsteps could be heard from behind.
I was heading to the spot under the bridge. Walking briskly, I went to the part shaded from the setting sun's bright rays.
—Three years ago, I definitely met Kili.
To obtain definitive proof, I stepped under the bridge. However, what I found there was tangible instead of being memories.
In the spot shaded from the setting sun, two people were collapsed.
One was a young man in military uniform with platinum blond hair—John Hortensia.
The other was the girl whom I was just thinking about, Kili Surtr Muspelheim.
John was unconscious while Kili's clothing was tattered and stained with fresh blood. Due to chest movements indicating breathing, I could tell they were not dead. But I could not understand why they were here and in such a state.
Iris and the rest of the girls caught up and exclaimed in surprise like me.
"Why is Kili-chan..."
Perhaps noticing our presence, Kili opened her eyes slightly.
"...Yuu? Ah... I didn't expect to run into you here, now it saves me the effort... of finding you."
Hearing Kili's hoarse voice, I came back to my senses, ran to her side and held her in my arms.
"Hey, are you okay!? What the hell happened—"
"...Don't worry about me. Despite the blood all over me, the wounds are all healed, I am just... a little exhausted."
Kili smiled feebly and tried to sit up but went limp halfway, losing consciousness.
I called her name but she did not open her eyes this time.
It was troubling to see Kili so weakened for the first time. She said she was exhausted, which implied that she had performed transmutation to her limit. What kind of situation would have made Kili exhaust her powers to such an extent?
"Nii-san, look at Kili-san's right hand!"
Mitsuki cried out, almost screaming.
I followed where Mitsuki was pointing at and gasped.
Kili's dragon mark was on the back of her right hand.
The edges of the dragon mark were turning slightly into an ominous purple.
"It was originally possible, but the chance slipped away."
Loki Jotunheim commented in a bitter tone of voice while watching the young men carried on stretchers out of a large transport helicopter.
They all belonged to the team under Loki's direct command—Sleipnir.
Although all members had managed to withdraw from the battlefield, they were injured to varying levels without exception.
A call on the cellphone in his chest pocket. Loki took his gaze away from his subordinates who were being transported to NIFL's medical facility and took out the cellphone.
"Hello—Ah, Major-General Dylan. The situation is exactly as indicated by the data I just transmitted, that thing not only defeated Sleipnir but also drove off Kili who had suddenly intervened. Given the ground forces at NIFL's disposal, I believe it is impossible to vanquish by this point."
Loki calmly offered his viewpoint.
"—I understand what you mean. If you insist on attacking using NIFL's power no matter what, how about the anti-dragon ICBM, Gáe Bolg? As long as enough quantity is fired simultaneously to overwhelm interception by antimatter, it might be effective."
Loki grinned slightly as he made this suggestion.
Angry roaring could be heard from the other side of the call.
"...Naturally, I understand this very well too. Due to alleged sightings of Vritra, this country is currently in a state of heightened tension. Putting such an operation into action would mean that we cannot avoid providing information to the Japanese government. Furthermore, though chances of success are merely not zero, one could not call this an effective plan. Suppose you wish to pursue other avenues and keep things discreet, then the only choice is to seek Midgard's assistance."
The other side's answer was a heavy silence. Feeling Major-General Dylan's hesitation, Loki continued:
"Midgard would be equally troubled if Asgard's credibility were to be compromised. Although we will owe them a favor, there won't be any worry about leaks. More importantly, Midgard holds several trump cards capable of defeating it."
After listening to Major-General Dylan, Loki nodded in agreement.
"—Yes, the parents two years ago were defeated by Mononobe Mitsuki's antimatter projectiles. So... Yes, I'm counting on you to negotiate with them."
After the call, Loki exhaled slightly.
Sleipnir's transfer was done. The helicopter prepared to take off.
"—She's not the trump card I had in mind."
Looking up at the aircraft rising in the air with rotating propellers, he muttered to himself:
"If the target were a dragon, just leave it to her. But otherwise..."
At this point, Loki stopped and smiled.
As though looking forward to something, his eyes were glinting with faint light.
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