Unlimited Fafnir:Volume 8 Chapter 2
Chapter 2 - Transformed Awaker
Inside a forest on a mountain, there was an unnatural patch of desert.
This was the zone formed by Iris Freyja's Catastrophe. A huge hole had opened up in the center. The mouth of the opening had been blocked using rocks made of mithril.
Sealed under the rocks was the daughter of Shinomiya Miyako whom the "Purple" Kraken had chosen as its mate.
This daughter not only inherited the Kraken's powers but could also control dark matter. A hybrid dragon.
She was named Kraken Zwei.
That monster was supposed to be sealed at the bottom of the hole.
However, a crack appeared on the mithril, theoretically the hardest and most durable substance.
It was an unthinkable phenomenon.
Yet the mithril was definitely splitting apart.
Distributed in the vicinity of the hole, NIFL's unmanned weaponry was observing the scene too.
Furthermore, the unmanned weaponry's sensors also captured silver light and the sound of sharply slicing wind.
It was the trails of Kraken Zwei's hair, also made of mithril just like the rocks.
...As well as the sound of wires swung at frightening speeds.
The silver light and sound of slicing wind continued nonstop. With every instance, the cracks in the mithril increased.
Then cut up into smaller pieces, the mithril rocks collapsed, unable to sustain their shape.
Just as the mithril collapsed in a clatter, a silver ribbon extended broke out of the debris and extended outside.
The ribbon suddenly expanded, pushing aside the obstructing remains of mithril.
Underneath, an eerie purple glow leaked out.
A monster in the shape of a young girl slowly crawled out from the bottom of the deep hole.
Controlling her extended mithril hair like her own limbs, she had her eye focused on the sky—
Her pink lips quivered as though she were speaking, but her voice was overwhelmed by the sound of falling rocks. No one heard her.
What her eyes were seeking out, no one knew at this time.
As soon as Iris, Ariella, John and I returned to the mountain villa, we saw everyone talking to Shinomiya-sensei with stiff countenances.
"—According to reports, Kraken Zwei just escaped from the hole and started moving again."
Shinomiya-sensei informed us of the situation in a grave tone of voice.
"With that, we must take action. But before that, I wish to check the status of your dragon marks. This is because a D's dragon mark must change color completely in order to transform into a mate, as dictated by past precedent."
After hearing Shinomiya-sensei, the sound of whispering instantly spread among the girls. And for some reason, everyone was staring at John and me.
"Y-You would like us to reveal our marks here?"
With her hand on her bottom, Lisa confirmed with the teacher. Although I had no idea where her dragon mark was located, judging from her reaction—
"Ooh... I'm a bit embarrassed."
Blushing red, Ren held her chest.
"I don't want to do it here either..."
With her hand on her lower abdomen, Ariella also averted her gaze.
"I'm perfectly fine with any time and place if it's to show Yuu. That being said, my dragon mark is merely on my right hand."
Saying that, Kili raised her right hand. Her dragon mark had already turned purple completely.
"Tia too... If it's for husband, no problem. But Tia doesn't want another man to see."
Tia pressed on her thigh shyly, fidgeting in awkwardness.
"Captain, I shall excuse myself for a while."
Reading the mood, John temporarily retreated to the corridor.
"Oh, hey! John, me too—"
I hastily tried to leave with him, but became frozen on the spot because Firill started undressing in front of me.
"This is fine now. Although it's embarrassing... I can accept it if it's Mononobe-kun."
Firill opened up her shirt to show me the dragon mark on her shoulder. Her snow-white skin was visible from the gap in her shirt. Seeing this scene, Iris frantically covered my eyes.
"Wawa! Don't look, Mononobe! Go outside together with John!"
"I-I know, you don't need to push me!"
Thus pushing me into the corridor, Iris glared at me with her face red.
"Do not peek no matter what, got that? Oh—I-It's not like I hate being seen by you, Mononobe, okay?"
After saying something incomprehensible, Iris returned to the living room.
"She doesn't hate being seen but she asks me not to peek...?"
Finding an apparent contradiction in Iris' words, I tilted my head in puzzlement, only to see John, who had exited first, standing in the corridor sighing with a slightly appalled expression.
"...I suppose she means that she doesn't mind being seen by you but she doesn't want you to look at others."
I felt my face heat up when I heard what John pointed out.
"Captain, you are regarded with abundant affection from everyone. I can clearly tell this much."
John smiled wryly as he spoke. His tone sounded a bit sad.
I scratched my head, unsure how to answer.
"Captain... Umm, are you going out with anyone in particular?"
John asked me slightly nervously.
"What, why are you asking that so suddenly—"
"M-My apologies! I have overstepped my bounds in my curiosity."
Seeing my flustered reaction, John bowed his head and apologized.
"Oh, no... There's nothing you need to apologize for. It's a very normal question seeing as I'm the only guy in group of girls."
I smiled wryly and decided to answer honestly.
"I'm not going out with anyone, because right now...the situation is very complicated."
Iris and Mitsuki were keeping their distance from me, trying to yield to each other. On the other hand, troubled by my gradually recovering memories, I had trouble confirming my own feelings.
"I-I see. Indeed, the situation is definitely chaotic and we must decide how to handle that child..."
Exhaling lightly, John nodded with a solemn look on his face. John looked like he had misinterpreted what I meant but clearing up the misunderstanding might make things worse, so I simply followed his line of conversation.
"—John, you intend to persuade Kraken Zwei?"
"Yes, that child is surely... seeking me out."
John replied, full of certainty.
"I think that's the best way if we can resolve things without fighting. Shinomiya-sensei definitely feels the same way, so you don't need to look so troubled."
I placed my hand on John's head.
John went red as though in embarrassment.
At this moment, the living door opened with a click and Iris poked her head out.
"It's okay now. Only your dragon mark remains to be checked, Mononobe."
"Okay, got it."
I nodded in response and returned to the living room together with John then showed Shinomiya-sensei the dragon mark on my left hand.
"...No change in Mononobe Yuu's dragon mark. It's unclear whether it's because you are a man, or the change simply has yet to appear—Either way, it's a good thing."
"How is everyone's dragon mark?"
A bitter expression surfaced on Shinomiya-sensei's face when she heard my question.
"Kili Surtr Muspelheim's has changed color completely. Ariella Lu and Ren Miyazawa's are at roughly 30%. I have confirmed Mononobe Mitsuki's dragon mark beforehand, hers is in the same state. Lisa Highwalker, Firill Crest and Tia Lightning's dragon marks are also confirmed to have changed color slightly."
"Even Lisa and others..."
Things were happening as Vritra described. She had made the prediction that all Ds would get targeted sooner or later.
"Perhaps the rate of color change in the dragon mark is related to distance. Midgard's Ds have not shown any symptoms, but I fear that's only a matter of time."
"I see... Huh? Speaking of which, I didn't hear Iris mentioned just now?"
I turned my gaze to Iris and asked.
"Iris Freyja's situation is a bit special."
Shinomiya-sensei replied gravely.
"What... does that mean?"
I could feel my face going pale. I took a step towards Shinomiya-sensei and demanded an explanation.
"Calm down, Mononobe Yuu, I don't mean that in a bad way. When Iris Freyja's dragon mark initially showed a change in color, it was the same as Mononobe Mitsuki and the others, but for some reason, her dragon mark has shown almost no further change."
"No further change... in the dragon mark's color?"
I asked Iris with my gaze if it was true.
"Yes, although I dunno why... I checked and discovered that there hasn't been much change."
Holding her left flank, the location of her dragon mark, Iris tilted her head, finding it quite unbelievable.
Immediately, I heard light laughter. I looked back to see Vritra's shoulders shaking in laughter as though she found things very funny.
"What are you laughing about?"
I frowned and asked her. She responded with a wry smile.
"Hoo—No, it simply crossed my mind that all such happenings hath exceeded mine estimations. I recall that she is the one who inherited Basilisk's authority, yes?"
"Authority...? It's true that Iris can use Basilisk's Catastrophe... But so what?"
I urged her to continue.
"Then what happened is perfectly possible too. Although exceeding mine estimations... No matter, from mine outlook, it mattereth not which outcome."
"What's going on? Vritra, do you know something?"
I glared at Vritra and questioned her, only to see the corners of her lips curl up.
"I do not know but 'tis possible for me to hazard a guess. Be that as it may, I have no obligation to tell thee."
Vritra simply gave a mysterious answer then kept silent from then on.
I did not know if she enjoyed sowing uncertainty or if she actually knew something... I could not tell.
"Mother, stop being so mean. Tell them, okay? If you don't speak... I'll be mean to you too, got that?"
Kili giggled and threatened the restrained Vritra.
"Hmph, do as thou wishest, it mattereth not no matter what sort of treatment—H-Hey! Stop stretching my mouth!"
Vritra's cheeks were being pulled left and right. Her body shook as she struggled.
"Oh my, it doesn't matter what kind of treatment, right? Fufu, what soft cheeks. I can't believe your cute little cheeks can stretch this much, Mother."
Nitpicking Vritra's words, Kili began to toy with her.
"I-I ordered thee to stop! Q-Quit pulling!"
Just as I was distracted by their interactions, Shinomiya-sensei coughed to bring my attention back.
"—Relying on Vritra's information would be a waste of time. I will continue."
Iris straightened her back and nodded in upright posture. Although Kili continued to horse around with Vritra, the others shifted their gaze back to Shinomiya-sensei.
"Regarding our approach against Kraken Zwei, I have decided to attempt persuasion first."
John gasped, his expression relaxing somewhat. Had Shinomiya-sensei announced extermination as a priority, John would probably have rushed out, even if alone by himself.
"John Hortensia, consequently, I will request your assistance. Is that okay?"
"Yes, certainly! Thank you!"
John nodded and agreed to the request for assistance.
"Kraken Zwei is currently moving towards our position. We will use this fact to lure her to a suitable battlefield and make contact with her there. John Hortensia and Mononobe Yuu will be responsible for making contact with her. With the addition of myself, that makes a total of three of us."
"You're going too, Shinomiya-sensei?"
Since my dragon mark had not changed in color, getting selected was within my expectations, but I had not anticipated Shinomiya-sensei, the commander, to accompany us.
"Yes, I am Miyako's elder sister. Perhaps Kraken Zwei might react to me, a blood relative."
She probably wanted to increase persuasion's chances of success, even if just a little bit. I could sense agonizing in Shinomiya-sensei's expression and voice.
"Understood. In other words, Shinomiya-sensei and John will persuade while I guard the two of you."
"Precisely. If necessary, your antigravitational matter will also help in securing time for retreating."
Shinomiya-sensei spoke stiffly. Using a repulsion bullet will definitely allow us to survive a direct attack from antimatter, but—
"By 'if necessary'... that means if persuasion fails and the situation develops into a battle... Then how should we handle Kraken Zwei?"
If possible, I did not want to consider this situation, but I had no choice but to confirm.
"By that juncture, we will have no choice but to defeat her. If she has lost her rationality to become a dragon in search of mates, then Kraken Zwei would be an enemy that must be defeated."
John's expression froze after listening to Shinomiya-sensei but he did not object, because if persuasion failed, that would mean "the child" mentioned by John no longer existed.
"The job of attacking Kraken Zwei shall be undertaken by Lisa Highwalker, Firill Crest, Tia Lightning and Iris Freyja, the four of you whose dragon marks still have some time before the color change is completed. But even so, the risk of dragonification still exists, so launch your attacks from as far away as possible. The rest of you will stay on standby at this base of operations and take action with your own safety as the top priority."
After listening to Shinomiya-sensei's battle plan, Lisa raised her hand with an expression of doubt.
"Shinomiya-sensei, I understand the stages of the operation, but do we have any actual means of taking down Kraken Zwei? Our choice to trap her earlier stemmed precisely from the fact that we had no way to defeat her without Mitsuki-san..."
"I know, but looking at battle records from earlier, I have concluded that there are openings to attack. I will explain the details later. Time to set off is one hour from now. All participants, please get ready as quickly as possible. I will inform Midgard of the detailed situation via a secret line, so come find me at the caretaker's room if any matters arise."
Lisa nodded with uncertainty remaining in her expression. The rest of us also nodded to obey Shinomiya-sensei's directions.
"I would've like to have a longer stay..."
Dismissed for now, Iris commented wistfully.
"Tia wanted to play tennis too!"
Having slept almost the entire time apart from lunch, Tia expressed her regret.
"We can come back soon if persuasion succeeds. But if it fails... Then it might turn into a difficult battle."
Lisa seemed to be worrying about the case of fighting Kraken Zwei. Her response to Iris and Tia was stiff in tone.
"Indeed... Not being able to rely on Mitsuki makes a huge difference."
Firill agreed with a worried look.
"If only we could take part too... Sorry."
Ordered to standby, Ariella apologized to us with regret. Next, Ren tugged my clothing from the side.
"...Because I can't go along, I will prepare packed meals for Onii-chan and the others."
Saying that, Ren ran to the kitchen.
Ren had practiced with the rest of the class during the school festival and was now able to do simple cooking. I felt really happy that Ren was offering to cook for us on her own initiative.
"Packed meals huh... It's true that there are leftovers from lunch and there should be enough time with an hour remaining. I'll help out too."
Ariella waved and left with Ren.
"—I won't be helping since I need to supervise Mother."
Kili sat down on the sofa in the living room, speaking while she rubbed Vritra's head.
"That's simply because you can't cook. I've never seen you cook even once when we were working together."
Kili smiled stiffly in response to John's accusation.
"That is quite rude of you. It's merely cooking. I can do it too, but I don't because there's simply no need."
"...Hmph, who knows if you're lying."
"Could you be a little more aware of your position? I almost died to save you."
"I don't remember asking you to save me."
Kili and John glared at each other viciously.
They did not seem to get along despite clearly working together previously. Seeing their interactions, Vritra sighed in exasperation.
"—Now that 'tis mentioned, I cannot believe ye would still engage in the troublesome likes of cooking. If these bonds of mine were to be released, I could effortlessly transmute food for the lot of ye."
Vritra shook her head in annoyance to escape Kili's hand then suggested.
However, I smiled wryly and shrugged.
"How can we possibly let you run free? Besides, even if you create food using transmutation, the food will surely be inferior to the real thing like last time. This is the obvious outcome."
When taking a stroll in town, the ice cream that Vritra replicated did not taste good. Even Vritra herself had admitted that.
"Hmph... How arrogant."
Vritra spoke with displeasure and turned her head away.
"Jeez, Mononobe, don't make her sound so bad when she even offered to help. Vritra-chan, don't sulk. I'm very happy for your gesture!"
"I am assuredly not sulking!"
Iris defended her but caused Vritra to sulk even more and yell. Seeing their interactions, Kili could not help but laugh while covering her own mouth.
Leaving the displeased Vritra, we exited the living room, went up to the second floor and returned to our respective rooms.
Rooming with me, John still seemed a bit nervous. He sat down on his bed.
"Although it's time to get ready... There is nothing to do because I have no belongings. I think my weapons were lost during the fight against Sleipnir, so I am completely unarmed right now."
John made a wry smile and showed the empty holster under his jacket.
"Then I'll make one for you using transmutation. What kind of weapon do you want?"
I used to be the team's arsenal as well during my NIFL days. Due to my low capacity for dark matter generation, I could not transmute more than ten kilograms unaided. However, as long as I had stamina, I was able to transmute guns and ammunition below ten kilograms. Hence, there was no worry of exhausting ammunition or losing weapons as long as I was around.
"N-No thank you, umm... It will be fine, because I don't want to trouble you, Captain. Besides, I am not going there to fight."
What John meant was that he was purely going to persuade Kraken Zwei. His expression showed his determination to convince Kraken Zwei no matter what.
"I see, but you should still be minimally prepared since we don't know what'll happen. At least take this with you."
Anti-personnel weapon—AT Nergal.
Using data downloaded to my mind as a blueprint, I created an anti-personnel projectile-based electroshock gun.
"...Yes, understood. Thank you, Captain."
Despite showing slight hesitation, John still received Nergal from my hand and placed it into his holster.
I nodded then sat down in front of my luggage to begin my own preparations.
However, there was not much I needed to do. Unneeded belongings could be left at this base of operations, so there was nothing I needed to do after checking equipment such as my communicator and portable terminal.
"I'm going to check up on Mitsuki, John."
After equipping the necessary items on my person, I stood up and said to John.
"Y-Yes, that is... your sister, right?"
John was sitting on the bed, watching my movements. For some reason, he shifted his gaze away frantically then answered me.
"Yes—She is my precious little sister."
I nodded in response then went to the second room next door. This was Shinomiya-sensei and Mitsuki's room but right now, Mitsuki was alone, sleeping on the bed. Shinomiya-sensei was probably in the caretaker's room, holding a discussion with Midgard.
I entered the room quietly and approached Mitsuki who was lying on the bed under a blanket. Her breaths were long while her skin looked pale. I tried to touch her face lightly and found it even colder than I imagined.
I gently picked up Mitsuki's upper body in my arms and lifted her hair in the back. The dragon mark on her pale neck came into view. Roughly one third of it had turned purple.
It was evidence that a dragon desired Mitsuki.
Kraken Zwei—She was about to take Mitsuki away from me.
Instantly, my heart began to beat violently. Scorching and aggressive feelings surged in my chest.
—I won't hand Mitsuki over to you.
Just from looking at her face like this, my memories with Mitsuki were reawakened bit by bit.
Her smiling face, her angry face, her happy face... Mitsuki's many faces remained in my heart.
Most poignant of all was her crying face the day when Mitsuki became my sister.
The death of her parents, the manifestation of the power to generate dark matter, adoption by the Mononobe family—Faced with so many changes, Mitsuki had felt greatly troubled and was on the verge of a mental breakdown.
Back then, I had decided. From now on, I shall protect Mitsuki.
Hence, when confronting Hekatonkheir, I did not hesitate and accepted Yggdrasil's deal.
If it was for Mitsuki's sake, whatever it took, I would—
I suddenly came back to my senses and laid Mitsuki down gingerly.
"...I am getting too emotional. Persuasion should come first, not battle."
I muttered as though warning myself then covered Mitsuki with the blanket up to her shoulders.
If persuasion could resolve the incident, that would be for the best.
However... I somehow got the feeling that the gradual color change in the dragon marks was Kraken Zwei's expressed will.
"No matter what, I will end everything before you wake up, Mitsuki. Wait for me."
I expressed my determination to the sleeping Mitsuki then walked to the room's exit. However—
A loud bell suddenly sounded.
I halted and looked around. A bad premonition began to rise within me as though coming from underfoot.
'You are the one making the choice.'
The message Miyazawa Kenya had passed along from Major Loki now echoed in my ear.
Thinking something must have happened, I quickly left Mitsuki's room.
Immediately, John poked his head out of my room almost simultaneously.
"Captain, what on earth—"
John looked quite disturbed but before I could speak, the indoor announcement system was heard.
'Emergency situation, everyone is to gather at the caretaker's room on the ground floor at once. I repeat, everyone is to gather at the caretaker's room on the ground floor—'
Shinomiya-sensei's voice was calling for us to assemble.
John frowned and asked.
"We'll know once we get there. Anyway, let's hurry."
I hurried John and prepared to head to the caretaker's room, but as though trying to block our way, all the other room's doors happened to open at the same time.
Rushing out suddenly, Iris almost crashed into me, accidentally stumbling.
Seeing Iris about to fall over backwards, I grabbed her arm and pulled her back. She immediately blushed.
Iris thanked me then left. Our conversation next to the waterfall was probably still bothering her.
Originally in their rooms to prepare, Lisa, Firill and Tia also showed up after Iris.
"Emergency situation... What could it be?"
"Tia jumped in fright at the sudden announcement!"
Firill and Tia seemed quite unsettled, not knowing what was happening.
"Everyone, please do not stop moving. Let us go to Shinomiya-sensei."
At Lisa's urging, we started walking again and went down a floor. Kili and Vritra were no longer in the living room. The kitchen side also sounded very quiet.
We entered the caretaker's room on the first floor to see that Ariella, Ren, Kili and Vritra had already gathered inside.
The room also served as a security room with many surveillance monitors set up. Shinomiya-sensei was standing in front of the monitors with a solemn expression.
"—Everyone is assembled, right? I will immediately explain the situation. The surveillance devices installed in the mountain has detected multiple intruders. The bell earlier was an alarm to alert us of this fact."
Everyone gasped in response to Shinomiya-sensei's announcement, but rather than surprise, our expressions read more like feelings of "just as expected." They had probably considered this possibility when the bell rang.
"...Is it NIFL?"
Looking at the surveillance monitors, Lisa asked.
"Chances are likely if the information from Director Miyazawa is correct. Sensors at the foot of the mountain were triggered, which means they will take some time to reach here. Before that happens, we must decide how to respond."
Shinomiya-sensei nodded and swept her gaze across everyone's face.
"Meaning that... we either retreat or intercept them."
Ariella murmured with a troubled expression.
"There is an emergency escape passage because this place was designed as a hiding place for important people. Escaping itself is easy but in that event, we will need to carry out our operation while under attack from assailants."
After explaining the situation, Shinomiya-sensei looked at me questioningly. Perhaps she wanted my opinion as a former member of NIFL.
"I believe—we should intercept."
After some slight thought, I expressed my view.
"The risk is too great if we carry out our operation while being hunted as you said, Shinomiya-sensei. And the principal is currently restraining NIFL, so the amount of personnel they can field in secret should be limited. The probability of an endless stream of assassins is very low."
And the most important reason was—As long as the attackers were crushed here, then there would be less danger for Mitsuki and the others who were staying back on standby during the operation.
Since I was going along to persuade Kraken Zwei, that meant I could not stay by Mitsuki's side. Precisely because of that, we must not let the enemy go.
"—I understand your view. However, the enemy should number more than ten, judging from the quantity indicated by the detectors. Is interception actually feasible?"
Shinomiya-sensei asked me with a solemn expression on her face.
I suddenly remembered being asked a similar question in the past.
NIFL had sent a team to invade Midgard and execute Iris who had been marked by Leviathan. At the time, I repelled them single-handedly. Hence, this time too—
"Yes. As long as the enemy is human, I alone will be enough."
I spoke the simple truth.
That was how certain I felt.
I had defeated Hreidmar at the Principality of Erlia. Yesterday, I even came close to killing Vritra.
I definitely would not lose to anyone as long as I was not afraid to kill—And I had already resolved myself for that. Back when I found out that Mitsuki, whom I thought had died, was still alive, I already decided—
—I decided I will never allow anyone or anything precious of mine to be taken away.
"You will fight... alone?"
Shinomiya-sensei gulped and confirmed with me. Everyone stared at me, seemingly intimidated by my intensity.
"The rest of you only need to surround this mountain villa with a wind barrier to cut off enemy invasion. I'll handle the rest."
In a relaxed tone, I told everyone what they should do.
"Hold on, Captain! I wish to fight with you. I will not burden you!"
However, John pulled himself together and frantically begged me.
"...You have a point. Indeed, it should be fine if it's you, John. However, you should take on your original role as a sniper and focus on support in the back."
"Understood! I am honored to be able to fight alongside you again, Captain!"
John saluted me with joy in his eyes.
"I will participate if this is what we're doing, because I need to blow off some steam. Oh by the way, Tia, I leave Mother in your care while I'm gone."
Kili tossed her hair and stepped forward.
Tia nodded even though she felt surprised but I could not accept her suggestion so easily.
"No, considering the enemy's goal, since your dragon mark has changed color, Kili—"
"I'll make myself clear first. It's useless even if you object. I will act on my own."
Kili interrupted me and insisted strongly.
"—Fine. But can I ask you not to use attacks that'll get us caught up in them?"
I sighed and reluctantly agreed to let Kili join the battle. She was definitely sufficient in terms of combat power, but entrusting my back to her made me feel a bit uneasy.
"Of course, you don't have to worry, Yuu."
Kili smiled mischievously. Seeing this, Lisa spoke up.
"Unfortunately, I cannot relax. Hence, I shall accompany Kili-san to fulfill surveillance and bodyguard roles."
Hearing her suggestion, I panicked.
"W-Wait! Lisa, you can't go!"
"Why is that?"
"You don't have any experience in fighting humans, right? Once it turns into a war..."
—You might taint your hands.
I made myself vague because we were in front of everyone, but Lisa seemed to pick up what I wanted to say.
She nodded with an expression of comprehension then looked me squarely in both eyes.
"In truth—I have been secretly training in techniques against humans ever since my defeat at Kili-san's hands. I shan't approach the frontlines at all, so please allow me to assist."
Sensing her unrelenting determination, I swallowed what I was going to say.
"Ever since Mitsuki-san collapsed, you have been brooding the whole time. I really cannot leave you alone."
Lisa smiled wryly and touched my cheek. Only then did I realize my face had been tense all along.
"...You mustn't push yourself too far, okay?"
Through our "couples training" previously, I understood Lisa's personality very well. By this point, rather than push her away, it would be better to trust and rely on her.
"Exactly what I wanted to say to you."
Lisa nodded in agreement with a mixture of relief and joy in her expression.
But at this moment, Firill coughed deliberately, bringing Lisa to her senses. Frantically, she withdrew her hand from my cheek.
Listening to our conversation, Iris raised her hand, looking like she had something to say.
"Let me say this first. I absolutely won't allow you to fight, Iris. Whether mithril explosions or Catastrophe, your firepower is too high against humans."
"I haven't said anything yet..."
Iris' shoulders slumped in dejection.
"It's the same for the others. Firill and Ariella, please focus on deploying the barrier. Tia and Ren will monitor Vritra. Iris, I am counting on you to look after Mitsuki."
I looked at everyone in turn and told them their respective responsibilities.
Vritra looked displeased to be treated as a surveillance target, but everyone else nodded affirmatively with serious expressions.
Next, I shifted my gaze back to Shinomiya-sensei at last.
"Mononobe Yuu, I will believe in you and hand command over to you. Those heading out to intercept, please put on communicators and stay in frequent contact."
We answered Shinomiya-sensei and prepared to intercept the intruders.
"—Firill and Ariella will create a barrier of air, the standard type used in against dragons. Since infantry should not have enough combat strength to break through easily, my plan is to deliberately lure the intruders to the mountain villa's surroundings where visibility is favorable, then defeat them one after another."
In front of the villa, I told the battle plan to John, Kili and Lisa, the members of the interception team.
Firill and Ariella, in charge of deploying the barrier of air, were also listening to me behind John and the others.
"John, Kili and Lisa, please stay next to the barrier and cover me with long-range shots. Hitting not required, restraining shots are good enough. If the enemy approaches, you should retreat temporarily into the barrier, or Firill and Ariella could expand the barrier in response."
John instantly responded while Lisa and the rest nodded in agreement. Only Kili stared at me defiantly.
"Defense is not a problem once I deploy Muspelheim. I'd like to go on the frontlines too and let loose."
"Denied. I know how strong you are, Kili, but this time, please place your own safety as the number one priority."
I looked into her eyes and persuaded her forcefully. After making a slightly surprised look, Kili smiled.
"What a new feeling, to know that someone is caring for me. Still... I suppose fighting while I watch your back might not be bad after all."
Kili nodded and took a step back.
"Okay, everyone—The operation begins. We will talk via the communicators from this point onwards."
I pointed at the communicator on my ear and finished speaking, then moved out.
I made my way towards the position where Shinomiya-sensei had confirmed a reaction in the detectors. Instead of taking the road for vehicles like the one we traveled on, the enemy was approaching the villa through the mountain.
In that case, they should be arriving from the direction of the forest with the stream where Iris had taken us earlier.
Walking on a path sandwiched between flowerbeds featuring vivid colors, I stopped at the midpoint between the forest and the villa.
Straying too far from the villa would prevent me from responding if an emergency came up. I looked back to see the figures of Kili's group clearly.
Firill and Ariella were standing on the villa's roof with their fictional armaments wielded, deploying a wind barrier. Kili and Lisa's position was the same as just now. On the other hand, John was holding the anti-materiel rifle—AT Ishtar—which I had transmuted before the operation. Staying on the roof of the storehouse next to the villa, he had entered sniping posture.
'Captain, no approaching target sighted so far.'
I heard John's voice over the communicator. John's excellent eyes meant that his word was more reliable than any radar.
Deciding there was still time before the enemy attacked, I slowly awakened the "Fafnir" residing within me.
This was a certain existence rooted deeply in my heart, whose purpose was murder.
Impossible to describe using words such as technique or mindset—An unknown monster.
My mind grew calm and undisturbed, gradually cooling down.
I sensed Fafnir awaken from the bottom of my consciousness, gradually melding with me.
I naturally switched over. This was an unprecedented feeling.
Until recently, I had avoided Fafnir's total control as much as possible, because it was as though I was gradually invaded by something unidentified—It was extremely terrifying.
However, during my battle against Hreidmar, Fafnir's prototype, at the Principality of Erlia, I had committed myself to kill without hesitation for the sake of protecting Firill.
Then during the battle against Vritra the previous day, I had probably crossed the line.
Thinking Mitsuki had been fatally wounded by Vritra, with anger, hatred and despair stirring in my heart, for the first time in my life, I embraced emotions wanting to kill. I embraced true killing intent.
Surely that was the kind of killing intent that had caused the boundary between Fafnir and me to become ambiguous.
Thanks to Iris stopping me, I did not kill Vritra... But I could not forget the murderous impulse that had sprung at one point.
Now was the same. As soon as I thought about someone wanting to harm Mitsuki, Iris and the others, a flood of dark emotions would surge from the bottom of my heart.
My own killing intent had sharpened Fafnir's fangs.
My sharpened senses captured minute presences.
There was an intense aura of bone-chilling killing intent.
'Captain—five enemies at 1 o'clock, six enemies at 11 o'clock, but...'
Almost at the same time, John's report came, but his voice was mixed with shock.
I instantly understood why.
Silver luster could be glimpsed faintly in the forest. Soldiers in full-body armor emerged, passing through the lush greenery.
They were dressed the same way as Hreidmar whom I had fought last time.
"—Don't panic, John. They're just wearing the same armored outfit, that's all."
Normally, I would feel a little disconcerted but with Fafnir mixed into me right now, the scene entering my eyes was nothing more than pure information.
They could not all be Hreidmar. Even if the real Hreidmar was among them, he was an opponent I had defeated once in the past and would not affect this upcoming "hunt."
Holding the fictional armament I had generated in the shape of an ornamental gun, I dashed towards the enemy. The eleven armored soldiers did not hide at all. Lining themselves side by side in straight line, they attacked me. Although I did not see any weapon resembling heavy firearms, as a team sent to kill Ds, they probably had weapons hidden in their armor.
Since it was unknown how they were going to attack, letting them approach Lisa's group in the back would be very dangerous.
I pointed Siegfried's muzzle ahead and concentrated—
I shot a bullet of dark matter, transmuting it into antigravitational matter. The armored soldiers took evasive action, fleeing from the line of fire, but the expanding white light enveloped them and caused their bodies to float up.
What caught them was a zero gravity zone generated from low-density antigravitational matter.
The floating armored soldiers struggled awkwardly in the air but three of them had escaped Gravity Zero's effective range and were charging at me.
The zero gravity zone could not be sustained for long. Before the eight captured enemies regained their freedom, I had to take care of these three first.
I showed no mercy, because these guys wanted to kill Iris and the others... They wanted to kill Mitsuki.
I used all the remaining dark matter in my fictional armament to generate a super high-pressure bullet of air. The plasmafied bullet glowed and ripped through the air.
—The armored soldier running in the lead had his arm blown off.
The plasma bullet had pierced the armored soldier's shoulder. Despite losing an arm, the soldier did not stop running, gradually closing in on me.
I felt a strong sense of dissonance. Not because the armored soldier failed to collapse, but because I could not sense any killing intent from them.
Just now in the forest, they had clearly exuded such intense killing intent—
Speaking of which, I had shot to kill in firing the plasma bullet. My aim could not possibly be off now that I was closer to Fafnir than ever before.
But that question was swiftly answered.
I heard a thunderous boom from behind.
While the soldier with the missing arm was running, his head exploded with scattering fragments with an acute sound.
—A sniper's shot from John.
However, what scattered was not blood and brains but silver mechanical parts. Having lost his head, the soldier fell to the ground, unable to maintain balance. From the neck's cross section pointed towards me, I could see thick wires and complicated machinery.
"These guys are not human. They're humanoid drones!"
I yelled to everyone over the communicator.
Since they were not human, it was no wonder that Fafnir's instincts were dulled.
'In other words—There is no need to show mercy!'
As I heard Lisa's voice, a yellow flash of light immediately flew past me.
An approaching armored soldier was penetrated and exploded. Then came Kili's warning.
'Move aside, Yuu. You'll get hit if you stand there.'
Just as I jumped right to evade, a red heat beam shot out, vaporizing the remaining armored soldier.
While escaping from the blistering heat, I looked ahead.
Gravity Zero's effects had ended. Falling on the ground, the eight armored soldiers were standing up again.
I could not sense anything human-like from them. However, suffocating killing intent was still coming from the forest.
"—It looks like all the enemies are unmanned drones, but... There is a person's presence in the forest, most likely the enemy's commander. I'll go defeat him, so please annihilate the drones."
I issued orders to everyone through my communicator.
Since the opponents were not human, it would be simpler and cleaner to leave them to Lisa and Kili with their greater firepower.
However, instinct and intuition warned me... I absolutely must not allow the one in the forest to approach the girls.
'Understood, leave them to us. Compared to dragons, opponents of this sort—are nothing at all.'
I heard Lisa's reliable answer. The others also responded to me.
Hence, I stepped over the broken armored soldiers and ran to the forest. Freed from the zero gravity space, some armored soldiers tried to intercept me but cover fire from Lisa and the others stopped them from approaching me.
The surroundings grew dim after I entered the forest. The killing intent felt even more intense.
Among the armored soldiers earlier—Hreidmar was not among them. But in that case, he might be up ahead.
I generated Siegfried again and cautiously advanced towards the stream.
'...Can you hear me, Captain? Please respond on a different channel.'
I heard John's voice over the communicator.
"What is it?"
I switched channels and asked. Hesitantly, John said:
'Since the enemy might be Hreidmar... There are things I have to tell you now.'
I heard him gulp over the communicator then a somber voice shook my eardrum.
'At the Principality of Erlia... I saw the contents inside Hreidmar.'
I recalled what had happened when I defeated Hreidmar.
It was a fight to protect Firill. Back then, I realized I could not win unless I was prepared to kill, so I fired a penetrating shot at Hreidmar's armored outfit from point blank range with an anti-materiel rifle. But in the next instant, white smoke obscured my vision... By the time the smoke dissipated, there was nothing left in the armor.
'No, more precisely, I should say I did not see it... Because no one had escaped from the armor at all...'
"What the heck?"
John's explanation was incoherent, causing me to frown. During this time, I stayed vigilant of my surroundings.
Walking towards where the killing intent was more concentrated, I heard the waterfall.
'White smoke—that was all the armored outfit contained. At least based on what I saw.'
How could that be? These words reached my throat, but I swallowed them. Because I knew very well how excellent John's vision was. At the very least, he could not have missed anything or made a mistake.
However, after fighting him directly, I could say with conviction: The Hreidmar that time was human. Lurking in my heart, Fafnir had regarded him as prey—regarded him as human.
'It's surely something shady... So to confirm Hreidmar's true identity, I deserted NIFL and worked with Kili.'
I arrived at the stream's bank. Blocked by obstacles, sunlight formed shadows at my feet. The waterfall sounded clearer.
'But the result was I still have not been able to find out his true identity. Nevertheless, after searching NIFL's bases, I have obtained two pieces of information that should be quite important. First of all, Captain, the man you fought at the Erlia had an official designation as Hreidmar 05. This number has already been erased.'
I stopped but not as a reaction to what John had said.
Standing next to the waterfall whose modest flow fell down a protruding cliff was an soldier in silver armor.
His appearance was like the other enemies but the inside was clearly different. Almost suffocating... Viscous killing intent was giving me goosebumps.
'Then the other piece of information—which you could probably guess from the numbering of 05... I have discovered that there are multiple beings bearing the code name of Hreidmar.'
The armored soldier gave off killing intent that could not possibly come from machinery. He kicked the ground.
The fierce step caused sand on the bank to fly. He was holding two knives of different lengths and shapes, one in each hand.
Fast—But this speed was known to me.
Using the dark matter in my fictional armament, I transmuted a blade of air. Compressed to high density, the blade glowed red-hot at its tip, instantly tracing out a red trajectory in the air.
The armored soldier charged with astounding momentum, swinging the two knives.
This was precisely the way Hreidmar moved. The strongest killer—whom my past self used to admire.
The speeding flash of silver was approaching to extinguish my life. I tilted my body slightly, dodging the right hand's knife by a hair's breadth.
The arm, covered in silver armor, brushed past my cheek, knocking away the communicator on my ear.
Cast out of my awareness for the time being, John's talking was interrupted as a result. The sound of slicing wind shook my eardrum.
The other knife went for my throat without a moment's delay. I used the scorching blade of air to engage the approaching flash of silver.
Clang—A dull impact sounded while the high-temperature blade sank into the knife.
I roared and pushed the blade, swinging it horizontally.
Immediately, the blade severed the knife, carving a red slash on the enemy's chest armor.
With this—It was over.
I took a step forward and made a fatal thrust with the red blade. Although the armored soldier swung his other knife, he was too slow.
Merely a tiny gap—but it was a decisive gap. Regardless of whether this guy was the true Hreidmar or someone else, they were no longer a match for me.
So long as I fought while prepared to kill, they would be nothing more than Fafnir's prey.
I targeted the cracked part of the chest armor and stabbed the red blade, receiving a clear sensation as feedback, the feeling of penetrating a vital.
The crack began to spread from where the blade was embedded.
Feeling a bad premonition, I instantly took a leap back. Immediately, the chest armor blew apart from inside with an intense gust of white smoke.
I covered my mouth and nose, keeping my distance to avoid breathing in the smoke. This situation was the same as when I defeated Hreidmar in Erlia last time.
'White smoke—that was all the armored outfit contained.'
John's earlier words flashed in my mind.
A light breeze dispersed the smoke... The armored soldier remained lying face up on the ground with a large hole blown out of the chest from within, exposing the hollow interior.
Empty—Truly nothing inside. There were no signs of someone escaping either.
Due to the lack of human prey, Fafnir gradually sank into the depths of my consciousness. The more I recovered my normal senses, the more troubled I felt.
"What is going on...?"
I frowned and cautiously approached the broken armor.
'Hreidmar is no longer a match for you, huh? Your growth truly fills me with joy.'
I suddenly heard a familiar voice from the armor.
'Can you hear my voice, 2nd Lieutenant Mononobe? I hope the speaker isn't damaged.'
Troubled, I voiced that name. It seemed like he was talking to me through a speaker somewhere installed in the armor.
'Oh...? Why are you looking so dazed? You've defeated Hreidmar again to prove that you're the strongest. You could show more pride, you know?'
Major Loki seemed to be able to view the situation here as well. I had no idea where the camera was installed, but I shifted my gaze to the armored outfit's head.
"This armored soldier... Did you remote control it, Major Loki?"
I could not think any other reason why there was nobody inside so I asked Major Loki, but was greeted with laughter as though he found it funny.
'Haha... No way. What you fought was a human named Hreidmar. I'm sure you know that better than anyone.'
I could not say anything. Just as Major Loki pointed out, I—Fafnir—was certain that the armored soldier was human, but why was there nobody inside?
'That being said, this is a different Hreidmar from last time.'
I instantly realized in alarm when he added this sentence.
"Last time—You mean Hreidmar 05... Right?"
To approach the heart of the matter, I raised a further question.
'Oh...? To think you already know that, you truly surprise me. Although I don't know where you got that information from, that is correct. By the way, you just killed 04.'
Killed—This word made me tremble.
Indeed, I had stabbed a vital with a red-hot blade, because it was not an opponent I could show mercy to, because I could not defeat him without resolving to kill, because I hated enemies who endangered Mitsuki and the girls. However—
"If I killed him... There should be a corpse remaining."
I clenched my fist and objected.
'Yes... Normally speaking, that's correct, but they are not normal.'
I gulped and repeated his words like a parrot.
'They wield great power. A great power for killing people. And power sometimes causes a being's appearance to change in nature. What you saw is the result of a deviating power.'
"Deviating... Don't tell me that NIFL is performing human modification—"
'—You fail to understand the fundamental point. It's the opposite, 2nd Lieutenant Mononobe. Rather than modifying people to obtain power, they were modified as a result of obtaining power.'
Interrupted by the deep and powerful voice, I halted mid-sentence. Major Loki's tone of voice sounded chillingly terrifying.
'Take dragons for instance. There are almost no living creatures like them. But being living creatures, they must have transformed dramatically from some kind of species to begin with, that would be the natural way of thinking about it. In that case, what was it that turned them into monsters?'
After a brief pause, Major Loki said solemnly:
'I believe it was due to power. What they possessed were abilities on the level of divine authority. Dragons acquired power and as a result, they gradually transformed into bodies suitable for using that power... Many things can be explained if you deduce logically from that. Wouldn't you agree?'
"Indeed, each dragon does possess characteristics close to organisms on Earth..."
Leviathan was aquatic mammalian, Basilisk was reptilian, Hraesvelgr was avian—The dragons we had confronted so far all featured characteristics similar to other creatures.
'In the same vein, after humans obtain a deviating power, there is nothing unbelievable about them changing in nature, is there?'
However, I could not immediately answer Major Loki's next question. His voice, coming from Hreidmar's remains, sounded like a voice from a bottomless abyss, sinister and eerie.
"Major Loki, what are you talking about...? What the heck is Hreidmar?"
'I believe I've mentioned it before. A failed creation, nothing more.'
I felt as though a blade was pressed against my neck. Major Loki's words were too cold, too sharp.
'The reason of changing, the reason why change could not be avoided... Ultimately, the vessel's capacity was too low. Hence, if one remained unchanged even after obtaining power, now that would be truly valuable.'
The optical lenses located on the armored soldier's head made me feel as though Major Loki was staring at me from the lenses.
'...Don't you get it? I'm talking about you, 2nd Lieutenant Mononbe.'
Hearing something so unexpected, I could not help but gasp.
'This battle has firmed my belief that you are almost complete now, to the point that I don't even need to finish up. Although I don't know why, you seem to have grasped the concept of "killing intent" at last.'
As though seeing through me, Major Loki made my heart rate rise. The dark and scorching feelings I embraced when I thought Mitsuki had been killed—The remains of those feelings burned the inside of my chest.
'Using that power to decide who lives and who dies... You are the one making that choice.'
It was Major Loki's message that I had heard from Miyazawa Kenya as well, the same words. Without getting drowned out by the waterfall noise, they reached my ear.
Intense noise of combat could be heard in the villa's direction. Lisa's group was probably engaging the armored soldiers.
'However, I am also bound by duty to protect mankind. By any means necessary, I will prevent the worst-case scenario of "an increase in dragons"—through this method of "eliminating disasters before they germinate."'
His words made my spine shudder. Conveyed in Major Loki's voice was palpable killing intent.
The target of that killing intent were those whose dragon marks were changing in color—Mitsuki, Iris and the others.
Getting a bad feeling, I looked for my communicator that had gotten knocked off during the battle. Although I did not think that Kili's group would lose to those drones, if Major Loki really wanted to execute those whose dragon marks had changed in color—he would not limit himself to attacks of this level.
I found the communicator that had fallen on the bank, immediately put it on and yelled.
"This is Mononobe Yuu! What is the battle status?"
'Captain—Are you alright!? We are fine here.'
John's voice immediately responded, then I heard Kili and Lisa.
'We just defeated the last one.'
'How effortless. What about you, no problem, right?'
"Yeah, I'm done here too. No injuries."
I looked at the empty armor lying on the bank then replied. Perhaps because I had left, Major Loki's voice stopped too.
'This is Ariella. The enemy doesn't seem to have reinforcements.'
I also heard Ariella, who was deploying the air barrier. Based on reports alone, we had secured total victory.
—Was I overthinking things? No, I must have overlooked something...
Just as I racked my brain, Firill's voice came over the communicator.
'Phew... Finally settled, it seems. Even though it was mentioned that we have an escape passage in case of emergency... I was still so nervous.'
Escape passage—This term stimulated a corner of my mind.
Hold on... If the enemy took control of the villa's escape passage, then it could also serve as an invasion route—
"! —Shinomiya-sensei, can you hear me?"
'I hear you. What's the matter?'
I called out and immediately got a response. It seemed like nothing had happened yet.
"Please come outside the villa immediately! The enemy might exploit the escape passage, so outdoors should be safer than indoors at the moment."
'—Understood. Right away...'
However, Shinomiya-sensei's voice was drowned out by noise in abundance.
Amidst noise and intense collisions, I heard what sounded like someone's scream.
"What's wrong? Did something happen—"
I heard an intense and abnormal noise that seemed as it would rupture my eardrum.
Then almost at the same time, there was a louder explosion coming from the direction of the villa.
I left the armored soldier's remains by the stream and ran as fast as I could. No sooner had I received reports that the fighting had ended than the current explosion—
After passing through the forest path, the view broadened instantly broadened in front of me. The first thing I saw was the black smoke rising from various parts of the villa premises. A portion of the villa's roof had been blown away with thick smoke billowing out from within.
"Is everyone okay!? Hurry and report your status!!"
I ran at full speed while yelling into the communicator.
I looked towards the explosion's location, only to see fragments of armor falling on the ground. Probably self-destruction for elimination of evidence. Since an explosion had occurred inside the villa, it meant that the enemy had invaded the interior successfully.
—So it was the escape passage after all...!
I gnashed my teeth, regretting that I had not realized sooner. Major Loki had talked to me for so long, presumably to stall for time.
'—Lisa Highwalker reporting. I am fine.'
'I'm fine too, Yuu.'
First to answer were Lisa and Kili.
'Ariella Lu and Firill Crest. We're safe and sound.'
'I jumped in fright...'
Next, I heard Ariella and Firill's voices.
'...This is John Hortensia. Although the blast blew me away slightly—I am fine.'
I heard John's report shortly after, but no one inside the villa answered.
Iris, Mitsuki, Tia, Ren, Shinomiya-sensei and Vritra—That black dragon probably would not die just like that, but the rest of them were human and could not have remained unharmed if caught in the explosion.
I cursed my error in judgment and ran desperately. Thinking there was no problem as long as I won—I had neglected to think further. Even if I defeated the enemy in front of me, it was pointless if I failed to protect everyone—
'What about everyone in the house...? We have to hurry and save them.'
Firill said anxiously.
'Entering might not be possible due to the fire and thick smoke! We must extinguish the fire first!'
Lisa rallied the group outside the villa to start putting out the fire.
Even at a distance from the villa, I could see water pouring down to extinguish the fire.
Presumably, they had transmuted a huge volume of water to rain down. With four Ds, the amount of water must be staggering. By the time I arrived in front of the villa, the smoke had dissipated a lot while the fire was no longer visible.
Firill and Ariella continued to pour water from the air while Kili and Lisa worked from the ground. John anxiously watched the fire fighting effort and noticed me running there.
"—I will check the interior, so please continue with the firefighting!"
Without stopping, I rushed into a smoking entrance.
"W-Wait! The smoke is still—"
I could hear Lisa's voice behind me but did not slow down. Holding my breath and lowering my posture, I advanced. Visibility was compromised due to the smoke but I remembered the layout of the rooms so there was no problem. If necessary, I could transmute air to safeguard my breathing.
Everyone was probably gathered in the caretaker's room with the surveillance monitors. I entered the living room from the entrance then walked towards caretaker's room on the inner end of the corridor. The smoke was coming from that direction.
While I was walking along the corridor, something cold struck my face. I looked up to see water falling through the smoke.
I could catch glimpses of the sky through gaps in the smoke. The second floor and the roof were probably destroyed by the explosion. Judging from the scene, the explosion apparently detonated near the caretaker's room.
—Please be safe, all of you.
I prayed while searching for signs of them. Immediately, there was a thud. I had collided with something resembling an invisible wall.
That strange feeling was neither hard nor soft. A barrier of air—
Then the wind blew, dispersing the surrounding smoke. With an improvement in visibility, the half-wrecked caretaker's room came into view. The ceiling was gone, monitors were shattered, the floor had sunk down, but in front of me—Only the center of the room was unnaturally intact. Over there were precisely the companions I was searching for.
With Ren in the center, holding her gigantic hammer of a fictional armament, Shinomiya-sensei, Tia and Vritra were standing there. Due to the fire persisting until just earlier, they were probably pinned down.
Tia instantly pounced into my bosom as I ran near.
"...Thank goodness, you all seem to be safe."
"Yes, Ren protected us. Tia wanted to fight but Ren said no."
Tia hugged me and answered.
"...Mm, I had a bad feeling because the enemy was not holding a weapon. So I chose defense over offense... But it was a close shave."
Ren nodded and answered, breathing a small sigh of relief. She must have deployed an air barrier in time to protect everyone.
"Thank you, Ren."
I thanked her from the bottom of my heart but Ren looked away shyly.
"An armored soldier suddenly showed up when we spoke again. Were it not for Ren Miyazawa's air barrier, we would've been wiped out."
Shinomiya-sensei stood forward and summarized the situation concisely.
"Hmph... Were it not for such restraints, I could have suppressed the explosion for ye."
Vritra looked at the restraining vine in displeasure and remarked unhappily. Seeing her say that, Tia was perhaps reminded of her job and separated from me to grab the other end of the vine.
"No, because you'll surely do something bad again. Tia won't release you!"
"C-Cease this, quit tugging! Thou art strangling my neck!"
Seeing them like that, I looked around with a wry smile.
"Eh? What about Iris—"
Seeing no signs of her, I could not help but frown.
"Oh, she said she wanted to stay by Mononobe Mitsuki's side—"
Shinomiya-sensei's expression and voice suddenly stiffened mid-sentence as she look upwards.
Oh right—Mitsuki was lying down in a room on the second floor. Wasn't it pretty much above here?
I turned around and made my way to the second floor of the villa. Fortunately, the stairs were not broken but the second floor corridor was broken off in the middle.
Due to the explosion on the ground floor, the corridor and part of the room was blown away, leaving a hole in the ceiling.
"C-Cough, c-cough... Mitsuki, Iris..."
Due to panting, I accidentally inhaled smoke and coughed a few times.
The disaster had carved a frightening trail of destruction. Mitsuki's room was located at the tail end of the trail.
Pushing open the door that was about to fall off, I entered the room. The room was a mess due to the remains of the wall and roof damaged by the explosion, however, the bed where Mitsuki was sleeping was the one place where debris had been pushed away.
Mitsuki was lying on the bed while Iris sitting collapsed on the side. The two of them looked alive, but Iris' uniform was tattered all over with holes everywhere.
I yelled out. Iris' shoulders shook and she suddenly looked back.
"Mononobe—D-Don't come over!"
She hugged herself and cried out, trying to cover up her tattered clothing. Rather than shame, what surfaced in her eyes were emotions of fear.
"...What's wrong? Are you hurt somewhere?"
"I-I'm fine! Neither Mitsuki nor I were injured, so... So—"
Iris shook her head in denial but her condition was clearly not normal.
I stepped over rubble to approach Iris.
"Don't come over!"
Iris pulled the blanket off the bed to cover her body.
"...I can't leave you alone as you are now, Iris. Tell me what happened. Don't worry, no matter what happens, I will always stand on your side, Iris."
Iris was trembling when I stopped next to the bed and placed my hand on her head.
Iris timidly looked up at me, gripping the blanket tightly, bt the fearful look on her face still remained.
"You protected Mitsuki, right...? Thank you, Iris."
I looked at Mitsuki who was unconscious on the bed and expressed my gratitude to Iris. She must have responded to what I said to her about leaving Mitsuki in her care.
"...Yes, when the big noise happened... The ceiling and the wall collapsed... I—instantly pounced on top of Mitsuki, but so much debris struck me, it was painful and heavy... I thought I was going to be crushed to death."
Iris stammered with a tone of unease as she recounted what had happened.
"You must've been scared... I'm sorry I wasn't by your side."
I apologized to her but Iris shook her head lightly.
"No, it's not your fault, Mononobe. But I was definitely scared. I was scared of what if I failed to protect Mitsuki... Then while I was desperately enduring... The pain suddenly went away and power surged from within."
Iris stopped here and looked at me with eyes as though she was seeking someone to rely on.
"Mononobe, you won't hate me no matter what I become, right?"
Iris asked me with an anxious expression. Although I had no idea what it was about, I was able to answer this question without hesitation.
"That goes without saying."
After I asserted firmly, Iris looked relieved and released the blanket. What came into view as the blanket slid down was the tattered uniform underneath.
"—I easily pushed away the rubble that was supposed to be very heavy. Then after that, I looked at where I should've been injured—And it had become like this."
Iris rolled up her sleeve to show me. Her skin had turned red at exactly the part where her clothing was torn.
My first thought was a bruise—But that was wrong. Lit by sunlight streaming through the porous ceiling, the reddened portion glinted with the luster of hard texture.
I gasped and stammered blankly.
"Yes... Although I can't see it myself, probably my back too—"
Iris nodded and turned her back to me. Perhaps due to getting hit directly by debris, there was a large hole in her uniform, exposing her skin.
Red and hard scales also appeared there.
Iris probably sensed my reaction. Looking like she was about to burst into tears, she forced a stiff smile and said:
"What's with... me? This is almost like—Basilisk's scales."
That was what I thought of too but intentionally kept quiet about. Basilisk's body was covered in red diamond scales.
'Dragons acquired power and as a result, they gradually transformed into bodies suitable for using that power... Many things can be explained if you deduce logically from that. Wouldn't you agree?'
Major Loki's words resurfaced in my mind.
No, that was impossible. Iris was not the only person to inherit a dragon's power. Mitsuki, Tia and I had all obtained powers from dragons.
However, why was Iris the only one—
"Hey Mononobe... Will I turn into a real dragon?"
Iris held my hand with her trembling hand.
Her hand did not have the hard texture of scales. It was both soft and very warm—
Jeanne Hortensia was outdoors, looking at the smoking villa from afar.
What flashed in her mind was Mononobe Yuu's face as he entered the house with reckless abandon.
His countenance had been so desperate and worried.
Back when he was serving as Sleipnir's captain, he would never show such a look.
However, this did not disillusion her. Apart from respect towards him for showing more of a human touch than before, she found him more endearing.
What changed him was surely those girls.
Jeanne looked around at the Ds who continued with their firefighting and sighed lightly.
"I suppose they are Captain's 'good fortune'..."
She whispered words that probably no one would understand except herself.
Good fortune—To Jeanne, that was a special term.
Her life had been influenced by luck far too much.
The misfortune of her family dying in civil war and the good fortune of surviving alone. The misfortune of losing her country to war and the good fortune of getting taken in by an army, thus finding a place to live and survive. The misfortune of only going to battlefields and the good fortune of having a talent useful for being a soldier—
Coincidence unrelated to her own decisions and actions—Finding herself swept away by gigantic tides beyond her control time and again, she even directed her resentment towards god in the past.
But for the sake of surviving, ultimately, she could only rely on luck.
Plucking out those rare instances of good fortune out of countless coincidences—Never letting good fortune slip out of her hand, that was how she kept herself alive.
It had occurred to her that sticking to such a lifestyle, she would probably get killed by misfortune eventually.
What she had faced was her first battle after getting assigned to the special operations team, Sleipnir—
An enemy detachment had discovered Jeanne's hiding place while she was standing by at her sniping position, thus putting her in a crisis.
Her tightrope of a life was about to end there.
Just as she was about to give up, he showed up.
'It's fortunate that I was nearby—You have such good luck.'
After dispatching enemy forces single-handedly, Mononobe Yuu had said to her calmly while extending his hand to Jeanne, who was collapsed on the ground.
'Thank you... Captain.'
Holding his hand made her feel like she had grasped the greatest good fortune of her life so far.
And at the same time, she could not help but think to herself—I don't want to let go.
Respect for strength and gratitude for saving her life, these feelings were mixed together. By the time she realized, he had already become someone special to her.
The reason why she was able to abandon Sleipnir, her shelter, was because she was convinced that he was the greatest good fortune.
When Mononobe Yuu was facing the unidentified threat known as Hreidmar, Jeanne had worked with Kili, wanting to become the good fortune that would rescue him.
But to support him now, she alone was probably not enough.
Hence, Jeanne looked up at the mountain villa and prayed silently.
—I hope he and his good fortune will be safe and sound.
|Back to Chapter 1||Return to Main Page||Forward to Chapter 3|