Unlimited Fafnir:Volume 8 Chapter 3
Chapter 3 - "Purple" Kraken Zwei
"—I never imagined I'd ever fly in the sky while riding a vehicle."
Through the window of a large van, I looked at the distant ground beneath, commenting poignantly.
Outside the window, Lisa and the others could be seen flying while wielding their fictional armaments. A large-scale barrier of air maintained by six people, Lisa, Firill, Ren, Ariella, Tia and Kili, was keeping the vehicle levitated.
They had used wind before to control Mistleteinn in the past, which was much bigger than a car, so this was probably a piece of cake. However, it felt even more surreal precisely because we were traveling in a car, such an ordinary form of everyday transportation.
We were supposed to refrain from conspicuous actions of this sort, but to evade Major Loki's pursuit, we had to leave that mountain villa as quickly as possible.
"Yeah... It feels very unbelievable."
Sitting next to me, Iris smiled wryly in response. She was wearing the jacket I lent her to cover up the scales on her skin. I had yet to report her body's change to anyone, because Iris refused to let them know.
Although the secret could not be kept indefinitely, I decided to wait for Iris to settle her emotions first. After all, Iris' feelings were the most important—
"But with this, NIFL cannot pursue either. Once we find a location that is difficult to reach by land, we'll be able to prevent another attack like the one just now."
Sitting opposite to me, John joined the conversation.
The back seats in the large van were arranged in opposing rows. Sitting here were Iris, John and I who had no flying skills, the sleeping Mitsuki, as well as the restrained Vritra. Shinomiya-sensei was in the driver's seat, giving orders to the girls outside through her communicator.
"Yes... But before the Kraken Zwei problem is resolved, Major Loki probably won't cut us any slack. No matter where, we can't lower our guard."
I remarked bitterly. The only reason why we had no casualties this time was because of good luck and Ren's quick reaction. Before Major Loki launches his next wave of attacks, we must resolve the matter.
"That mountain villa was supposed to be a safe place too..."
Iris spoke in a feeble tone of voice.
According to the original plan, the members not participating in the operation would stay back and standby at the villa. But after such an attack, we could no longer leave them and Mitsuki behind.
Thus, all of us were moving to a place near the designated location for the operation, then set up a base of operations there.
"Always noisy all day long, thou art rather quiet today. What happened—to thee?"
Seeign Iris in low spirits, Vritra asked her.
"Eh? Oh, umm... Nothing!"
Iris made a guilty look then hugged herself tightly.
"Yes, very well."
Despite looking at her suggestively, Vritra stopped talking and did not ask anymore.
Speaking of which, when we were checking the color change in the dragon marks, Vritra had said something mysterious about Iris' condition.
Perhaps Vritra might actually know something about the change happening to Iris' body.
Although I doubted if she would tell me honestly... I decided to find an opportunity to ask anyway.
Watching Vritra's nonchalant face from the side, I pondered the matter. At this moment, Shinomiya-sensei looked back at us.
"—A suitable location has been found. We will land here."
Pressing the communicator to speak, Shinomiya-sensei announced to us.
Due to the air barrier surrounding us, we could not feel the pressure and temperature outside, but seeing the scenery of lush mountains gradually getting closer, I knew that we were descending.
This was a mountainous area covered in forests and peaks without any houses in sight. Contact with Kraken Zwei was set to take place in this area.
I saw Firill flying outside. She approached and knocked on the window then pointed at a lake below. We were apparently going to land near there.
It looked like a volcanic crater lake, surrounded by towering rocky mountains and quite difficult to approach from the ground.
The van slowly landed on the lake shore with slight shaking from the impact.
The van's door opened and a cool breeze caressed my face. Before my eyes was a lake with clear blue water.
Disembarking, I felt the sensation of soft grassland under the soles of my shoes.
I extended my hand towards Iris who was just about to get off after me.
Iris held my hand somewhat shyly and jumped nimbly from the van.
At this moment, the girls dispelled their fictional armaments and gathered around.
"Given this place, we can detect the invasion of enemies just by watching the sky above."
Sweeping her eyes across the mountain range encircling the lake, Lisa nodded with satisfaction.
"What a beautiful lake. If there's time, I really want to fish."
Ariella approached the shore and stared at the water surface.
"Tia wants to swim!"
"Hmm... The air temperature might be a bit low for swimming."
Firill smiled wryly when Tia raised her hand and made her suggestion. Ren also rubbed her exposed arms and nodded in agreement.
"Mm, it's a bit cold."
However, Kili shrugged in exasperation after listening to them.
"If you're Ds, why don't you just think slightly out of the box and use your powers? If you feel cold, then create a heat source."
Kili created a small fireball on her hand and smiled.
Ren placed her hands over the flames and closed her eyes partially in comfort.
"Using our powers for something mundane like warmth... It's true that I never thought that way before."
Firill remarked, somewhat impressed.
"Because we basically use our powers only for fighting dragons. However, that's fine the way it is, because it's not a good idea to rely on powers in everyday life."
Hearing Lisa say that, Kili frowned in puzzlement.
"Why? Isn't it a waste to have powers and not use them?"
"You look like you grew up in rather special circumstances... But don't forget that Ds lose their powers upon reaching adulthood, okay? You will be in trouble then if you rely on your powers excessively."
Lisa had pointed something matter-of-fact, but Kili reacted with a surprised look.
"Ds losing their powers upon adulthood—That's true, but I never paid attention to this problem. Mother, will that happen to me too?"
Kili asked Vritra, who was disembarking together with John.
"...Of course. Thou simply hast excellent abilities but art fundamentally no different from Ds."
Restrained by a vine, Vritra squirmed involuntarily while she answered.
"Really? So my powers will disappear. I don't really like that."
Kili stared at her hand and murmured. Most likely for Kili, the ability to generate dark matter had already become an integral part of her being.
"Become a true dragon if thou dost not wish to lose thy powers. Besides, the purpose of Ds' powers is to evolve their bodies into dragons. Hence, 'tis only natural for their powers to disappear once their bodies mature and can no longer synchronize with dragons."
While Kili was immersed in her thoughts, Vritra spoke in an authoritative tone to her.
Listening on the side, Lisa and the others gasped, because Vritra had nonchalantly revealed key information regarding the mystery of the existences known as Ds.
However, Kili apparently knew this already. Without showing surprise, she simply made a wry smile.
"Actually, Mother, I don't mind becoming a dragon. It's just that I want to select my partner. When will you approve of him, Mother?"
Kili approached me all of a sudden and locked arms with me.
I wanted to get away from her but Kili refused, sticking closely to me. Her bosom was pressing tightly against my arm. The soft sensation was halting my thoughts.
"Kili! How many times do I have to repeat myself? Stop sticking to the Captain!"
"T-That's right! Kili-chan! You're troubling Mononobe!"
John and Iris protested together, but Kili ignored them, staring at Vritra.
"...Hmph, never. Although he appeareth to be no ordinary irregular, given his caliber, he cannot surpass the second generation."
Vritra turned her face away.
"Oh...? Then it's fine once Yuu defeats Kraken Zwei? So there you go, Yuu... For our future's sake, you have to do your best."
Kili pressed herself harder against me, whispering gently to me extremely up close.
"No, we're not going to defeat Kraken Zwei, we're persuading her first—"
"Listen here, distance yourself from him right away!"
I was trying to argue when Lisa forcibly pulled me away from Kili.
"Kili sticks to Yuu too much!"
Tia rushed in between Kili and me.
"...Mm, Onii-chan, come over here."
Ren tugged my sleeve in a huff, taking me somewhere far away from Kili.
"Eh? Ren, are you jealous?"
As soon as Ariella commented, Ren immediately went bright red and released my arm.
Firill approached at this time and say to me with a mischievous expression:
"Mononobe-kun, if you're considering the future... You do have the choice of becoming a prince, you know?"
I scratched my head, unsure how to respond.
"—Idle chatter ends here, everyone. I will explain our plan from here on."
At this moment, a stern voice caused the relaxed atmosphere to tense up.
Shinomiya-sensei disembarked from the driver's seat and looked at us with a cellphone in her hand. Everyone's expression turned serious and we faced Shinomiya-senssei.
"According to the latest news just received, Kraken Zwei is moving towards us just as we predicted. Given her movement speed, reaching this location will require three hours approximately, but of course, we will not allow her to come into contact with those whose dragon marks have changed color."
Shinomiya-sensei finished in a strong tone of voice and swept her gaze across us.
"Right now, she is crossing the mountain range. As soon as she enters the plain, we will approach and attempt persuasion. The reason why we avoid high ground is to prevent her from firing antimatter over a broad area in the event that a battle breaks out."
"If she were to shower antimatter down from high ground, we really would not have anywhere to escape..."
Lisa concurred with Shinomiya-sensei.
"The operation will start forty minutes from now. Just as I explained earlier, the persuasion team will consist of myself, Mononobe Yuu and John Hortensia, the three of us. Iris Freyja, Lisa Highwalker, Firill Crest and Tia Lightning, you four will standby at your designated sniping locations. I will send the locations to your portable terminals later."
After explaining, Shinomiya-sensei turned her gaze to Ariella and the others who had not been called upon.
"The rest of you will wait here for us to return. However, please keep a close eye on Mononobe Mitsuki's condition and do not relax your surveillance on Vritra. To guard against NIFL's attacks, Ariella Lu and Ren Miyazawa, I hope you two will take turns to deploy an air barrier."
Ariella and Ren nodded firmly.
"Then the briefing is over. Until ten minutes before the operation, you have time to rest."
Leaving these instructions, Shinomiya-sensei returned to the van.
Left behind, we looked at one another, unsure what to do.
"—I got dirty during the earlier battle, so I'm taking a bath. Tia, come along if you want to swim, okay?"
Kili pointed at her arms and legs that had been blackened by smoke then invited Tia to go with her.
Due to the explosion at the mountain villa, we were all covered by a fair amount of soot.
"Great! Oh, but in that case, it's better if everyone went! Lisa, all of you come too!"
Pulling Lisa's hand, Tia called to everyone.
"...I wanted a bath in the first place, so I have no objections."
Concerned about the soot on her hair and skin, Lisa nodded.
"I'll go too. It won't be cold as long as we create a heat source, which can also serve as a hair dryer too."
Firill agreed excitedly.
"Let's go, given the chance."
Ariella and Ren also nodded in agreement, then looked at the remaining Iris.
"I-I'll pass, because I have some scratches from when the explosion caused the room to collapse... Getting water on my skin will sting."
Wearing my jacket, Iris shook her head and declined with a stiff expression.
The red scales appearing on her skin would be exposed if she undressed. Hence, bathing was definitely out of the question for her at the moment.
"I'll look after Mitsuki-chan! So don't mind me and enjoy yourselves, everyone."
As though fleeing, Iris entered the van where Mitsuki was sleeping.
"Iris-san... She has been acting strangely since the earlier battle. Do you know something about it?"
Lisa asked me.
I reflexively wanted to cover it up, but stopped myself halfway, because lying definitely did not work on Lisa.
"...I know, but I can't say it right now."
So I changed what I was planning to say.
"Is that so? Then please tell me when a suitable time comes."
Lisa made a helpless expression and did not question further.
"Then let us go over there to bathe... I won't forgive you if you dare peek, okay?"
Lisa poked me in the forehead with her index finger then went with the others to the other side of the bushes.
"I don't mind if you peek, okay? Rather, I should say that it doesn't bother me if you want to bathe together."
Kili smiled seductively and waved to call me over, but Lisa scolded "of course that is unacceptable!" and dragged Kili away.
"Then Captain, I will go wash my face a bit."
Watching that sort of scene, John smiled wryly at me with his soot-stained face, then walked in the opposite direction from Lisa and the girls.
This left only Vritra and me by the van. While Kili and Tia were bathing, it looked like I had to supervise her, however—This turned out to be perfect.
"Vritra, I need to have a word with you."
Vritra looked up and glared at me, asking with displeasure.
"This isn't a good place to talk, so let's go somewhere else."
I glanced sideways at the van then walked to some nearby shrubbery. This was because I did not know if Iris should hear this.
Vritra followed obediently. I pushed the bushes apart and stopped at a slightly open space. I looked back to see that the van was no longer in view.
"So—What business dost thou have? By any chance, art thou taking me to a deserted location, intending to make my body your plaything..."
"Of course not! I have a question for you."
I yelled at her then went straight to the point.
"About Iris, what do you know?"
"By 'what,' thou art referring to...?"
Vritra frowned, cocking her head in puzzlement.
"You said something suggestive when you found out that only Iris' dragon mark had slowed down its color change, right? Something about 'perfectly possible' or 'it doesn't matter which outcome'—Please tell me if you know something."
"The way thou art acting... As one would expect, she hath changed, yes?"
She must have noticed while we were talking in the van. Vritra narrowed her eyes and replied.
Despite hesitating, I still nodded and admitted it. Since I wanted to go deeper in the conversation, I could not hide things from Vritra.
"I see—But as said previously, I have no obligation to tell thee."
"I know, but even so, I still hope you can tell me—Please."
I bowed my head deeply to beg and immediately heard a tiny sigh.
"To think I expected thee to threaten or torture me... Bowing thy head to plead, how unexpected. Why wilt thou go this far?"
"Because Iris is in pain."
I answered with my face towards the ground but did not hear a reply. The wind blew and the grass rustled.
After a long silence, Vritra spoke.
"Very well—I shall tell thee, for her sake if not for thine. 'Tis merely defiance against thee when I declined to say previously. In truth, thou art powerless even if I were to tell thee. Moreover, 'tis no loss to me."
I looked up but Vritra's countenance staring at me was cold and merciless.
"Indeed, yet in mine opinion, 'twould only cause thee to despair."
After saying that, Vritra leaned her back against a nearby tree trunk.
"I said thou art powerless, yes? Because she shall merely become the next Basilisk, as a result of inheriting the authority."
It was the worst-case scenario that had existed in a corner of my mind, impossible to dispel. And Vritra's words confirmed my imagination. I could not help but gasp.
"Creatures turning into dragons after inheriting an authority, 'tis a phenomenon that hath happened multiple times. 'White' Leviathan's predecessor was 'Silver' Tiamat. On the other hand, 'Yellow' Hraesvelgr had inherited its authority from 'Gold' Phoenix before turning into a dragon. Just like her—"
"Wait! If inheriting power means turning into a dragon, why haven't changes appeared in Mitsuki or me?"
I interrupted Vritra and pointed out the contradiction. Calling me powerless—How could I possibly accept that?
"Thy sister most likely did not inherit the full authority. The Kraken's child using antimatter is proof of that. As for thee, the authorities thou usest are far too weak compared to the original dragons."
Indeed, I could not bring out power on the level of Leviathan or Hraesvelgr. At my level, all I could do was recreate a tiny part of the effects by using dark matter transmutation. Unlike Iris, I could not directly use the powers I had inherited from dragons.
"'Tis unclear whether due to incomplete inheritance or the inability to control beyond one's own capacity... Or some other reason. I know not the correct answer. However, among ye Ds, she—Iris Freyja—is the only one capable of using an authority equal to or surpassing the original dragon in scale. Only her."
Vritra spoke in a calm tone of voice.
Now that she mentioned it... The battle against Yggdrasil, the battle against Kraken Zwei, the battle against Vritra—With every battle, Iris' Catastrophe seemed to increase in power. Ariella had also pointed out that Iris had even surpassed Basilisk in power.
"...Suppose that's true, is there really nothing I can do?"
"Indeed, 'tis legitimate evolution that is occurring in her. Neither injury nor disease, 'tis only the vessel changing its shape to match the contents. Even if thou forcest the change to a halt, the end result will be the vessel's destruction."
I gasped and clenched my fist.
"The slowing in the dragon mark's change in color is because her nature as a dragon has increased in comparison to her nature as a D. She shall become the one who chooseth rather than one who is chosen. Even if thou defeatest the Kraken's child, next will be her turn to—"
"Don't say anymore!!"
Unable to bear it, I yelled. I did not want to hear more... because even without listening, I understood.
"—Hoo, in other words, this is the reason why I said it mattereth not which outcome. Very well... Hast thou anything more to say?"
Although there seemed to be something else I should ask, my mind was in chaos at the moment. How should I explain this to Iris? What should I do next... My thoughts were impossible to organize.
"Then as a reward for providing information, thou shouldst agree to a request of mine."
"...What is it? I'll say this first. I won't release your bonds."
Although the majority of my thoughts were occupied with Iris' matter, I still asked out of obligation.
However, Vritra shook her head and explained her demand.
"Take me to the water and wash my face. My face itcheth."
Hearing her say that, I noticed that Vritra's face was a bit dirty. However, since her upper body was all tied up, she could not wipe with her hands.
"No problem, if it's just something like that."
Feeling a little surprised, I nodded and accepted her request.
"Very well, sally forth."
Perhaps it itched quite badly, Vritra hurried me with her movements.
I sighed and took her to the water's edge.
At the same time, I searched my mind desperately, trying to find the right words for the next time I saw Iris—
"Control thy force, too strenuous."
"You're so demanding..."
I washed Vritra's face while sighing.
We were at the lake shore where there was a large patch of gravel. Since we had gone to a place opposite in direction to where Lisa and the girls were bathing, there was no worry of running into them.
I dipped my handkerchief into the transparent lake water, wetting it, then gently wiped Vritra's face.
"Bear with it when it's just this much."
Her cheeks were soft yet elastic. While wiping off the soot from her face, I really felt as though I was looking after a little girl.
"—Okay, this should be good enough. Done?"
After confirming that her face was clean, I asked Vritra.
"If possible, I wish to wash my hair and body too... Forget it. I shall endure for now."
"You're quite complacent despite clearly being a captive..."
I looked in exasperation at Vritra whose attitude was inexplicably haughty. Although I wanted to mock her a bit, I did not have the energy because my thoughts were all occupied with Iris.
"—Then let's head back."
I urged Vritra and walked towards the van's direction along the lake side. To come here just now, we had passed through the forest surrounding the lake, which was quite difficult due to the dense foliage. However, there was no such problem when walking along the rocky lake shore and no danger of tripping either.
"Thou walkest too fast. Accommodate my pace."
Perhaps because of the easy walk, my pace quickened naturally. Vritra grumbled at me.
After apologizing, I paced myself to accommodate Vritra's little strides but for some reason, she looked surprised.
"...Wherefore art thou apologizing? Art thou not going to tell me to bear with it this time?"
"Well, I'm currently at fault, right?"
"Forsooth—Hmm... I understand too little of thee."
Vritra cocked her head, walking side by side with me.
In this manner, we advanced along the lake shore, only to encounter a giant rock blocking our way. Or maybe it was volcanic cinder. Either way, we had to make a detour around it by going through the forest.
However, when I circled around the rock, pushed aside the bushes and arrived at the lake's edge again—I was confronted with an unexpected sight.
Looking back over her shoulder in surprise, frozen to the spot, was John with his upper body naked.
Perhaps he was in the middle of wiping his body. John was sitting at the water's edge with a wet towel in his hand. His removed jacket was hanging on a nearby rock.
However, that was not the problem.
Pale skin as tender as milk, a narrow waist, as well as a bulging chest that did not belong to a man—
John screamed and covered his chest with both arms.
Was he—she—really John Hortensia? Uncertain, I called his name hesitantly.
"W-W-W-W-Why is the Captain here when the van was clearly on that side—"
Gone as white as a ghost, she cried out. Since Vritra and I had arrived from the opposite direction, it looked like she had been caught by surprise. Wait, by the way, since she called me 'Captain'—So she was John after all?
"I, uh, I was just helping Vritra wash her face..."
I motioned with my eyes to Vritra who was walking out from the bushes, then turned to face John.
"Putting that aside..."
John gulped and waited for me to speak.
"John... So you're actually... a girl?"
I asked her in confirmation, unable to hide my confoundment.
"I am a man."
However, John asserted firmly, hiding her chest.
"I am a man."
I frowned but John repeated himself with stronger emphasis.
"...Isn't that a bit unconvincing given the circumstances?"
"I am a man!"
With tears appearing in her eyes, John yelled with some resignation.
I scratched my head, unsure what to make of the situation.
"......Whatever, anyway, put your clothes on first. I'll look away for now."
Unsure where to look, I turned around.
Her bare skin was so beautiful that I could not help but stare in a trance. Even though she had covered the important parts, I still found it difficult to calm myself.
John replied stiffly then I heard the sound of clothing rustling.
"Thou tellst me, what on earth is the situation?"
Vritra frowned, apparently baffled and inquired of me.
"...I haven't grasped the situation either."
Hearing my answer, Vritra showed even greater puzzlement on her face.
"—Captain, I am ready now."
I looked back to see the familiar John dressed in military uniform.
Her feminine curves were cleverly disguised. Neither could the bulging of her chest be seen.
"That's amazing... Now you look totally like a man."
"Of course, because I am a man."
Seeing John say that with a nonchalant expression, I looked at her in utter exasperation.
"No, I'm not going to be fooled no matter what, you know? But if you don't want to talk about it, I won't pry..."
I sighed. After hearing that, John trembled and collapsed on her knees as though it was too much to bear.
"Oooh... So it won't work after all?"
Seeing her moist eyes staring at me, I felt my heart pounding like mad. Now that I was aware that she was female, her prim and proper face seemed to look even more beautiful than before.
"Sorry, but—If you really don't want the others to know, I'll definitely keep your secret."
Rather than surprise, I felt sorry for her so I apologized.
"No, Captain, you were the only one I wanted to keep the secret from... It's fine even if you tell the others. Or rather, some of them already now."
Supporting herself with her hands on the ground, John shook her head in dejection.
"You mean Kili?"
Since they had been working together for a while, it would not be strange for her to know.
"Yes... There is also Ariella Lu who fought me at Erlia..."
"Oh right, that reminds me. Ariella and you were exchanging mysterious words earlier."
I recalled what had happened at the stream, so I muttered.
Ever since the encounter at the Principality of Erlia, Ariella already knew John's real gender huh...?
I remembered back then, Ariella had told me to ask for his real name the next time we met.
"Can you tell me your real name?"
"—Jeanne. Jeanne Hortensia."
John—no, Jeanne—replied softly.
"What? That's pretty much the same. Should I call you John or Jeanne from now one—Which do you prefer?"
Hearing me ask that, Jeanne looked up at me with a surprised look.
"From now on...? Captain, you're not angry?"
Jeanne asked me in a tone of trepidation.
"Huh? Why should I be angry?"
Despite my surprise, I could not think of any reason to be angry.
"Because I have deceived you the whole time... All that trust built up till now... Bonds between men, everything is now moot, right?"
Jeanne answered in a feeble voice, her eyes watching me uneasily.
"Everyone has secrets—Me too. And in your case, your gender was your secret, that's all. Our experiences as teammates doesn't get written off just like that."
Her pallid face starting to regain color.
"And you must have some kind of reason, right?"
"Yes, but it's nothing special. Because posing as a man is more convenient in the military... People are less likely to belittle you and I can avoid unnecessary trouble. It's just that..."
"—After I was assigned to Sleipnir, I wanted to win your approval, Captain... I didn't want to show my weakness, so I tried even harder than before to play the part of a strong man. That is why I was thinking, if you were to find out I am female, surely your impression of me will be ruined..."
Clenching her fist, she confessed the reason to me in a hoarse voice.
"Of course I won't do that. Whether you are male or female, you're still the best sniper."
I smiled wryly and told her that my opinion of her remained unchanged.
Jeanne's shoulders shook as she bit her lip, her golden eyes growing moist from tears.
"C-Captaaaaaaain!! I will follow you for the rest of my life!!"
Crying tears of emotion, Jeanne hugged me.
If it were before, I would not falter, but after knowing she was female, it did bother me a bit.
Even hidden under clothing, the touch of her body remained soft. I could also smell a faint fragrance from her neck.
"Ooh... Captain... Captain!"
However, if I pushed her away by force now, I would be betraying what I had said about not changing my opinion of her, so I endured my embarrassment and patted her lightly on the back.
At this time, with Jeanne in between, I met Vritra's gaze.
Completely ignored on the side, Vritra was watching with an impatient look on her face.
"—Humans are truly creatures that agonize over inane matters. To think one would alter one's appearance over concerns of other people's opinion... What folly."
Vritra shook her head as though it was impossible to comprehend. Jeanne simply cried in my bosom, not listening to her at all.
"Really? But you changed yourself to this form in order to talk to Tia, right?"
"Hmm... 'Tis only to accommodate Yggdrasil's core."
Vritra looked at her body and her lips became bent in a frown. However, it was undeniably true that she had altered her own appearance for the sake of negotiations, so she did not argue any further.
To build up good relationships with others, sometimes it was necessary to change yourself.
—Was it really right for us to go ahead like this to persuade Kraken Zwei?
Suddenly, that thought occurred to me.
But of course, I did not know we should do either. Since we could not change our appearances like Vritra, our only choice was to face Kraken Zwei as humans.
Iris' face flashed in my mind. I shook my head.
Kraken Zwei was born between a dragon and a human—a D. Then there was Iris, who was gradually transforming into a dragon as a result of acquiring immense power.
Right now, the one closest to Kraken Zwei—might possibly be Iris.
I could not help but feel furious at myself for thinking such thoughts.
Once Jeanne's emotions had calmed, we returned to the van's location. Kili and the girls were already back from their bath.
"Hey Yuu, where did you go? We were waiting the whole time for you to peek, you know?"
With her hand on her hip, Kili complained to me.
"Hold on, Kili-san! I was certainly not waiting for him!"
However, Lisa corrected her.
"My, oh really? While we were bathing, you seemed quite unsettled the whole time."
"I-I was purely being vigilant against voyeurs."
Just as Kili was about to joke with Lisa again, she seemed to realize something and stopped mid-sentence.
"Oh dear, John, your eyes are red. Don't tell me something happened?"
Kili cocked her head, seemingly intrigued, and asked Jeanne.
Jeanne avoided eye contact with a complicated expression. Seeing her like that, Kili said quietly:
"No way... Did you get found out?"
In response to Kili's query, Jeanne nodded lightly to admit.
"However... The Captain's magnanimity was greater than I imagined. He still acknowledged me even after knowing my secret, he accepted everything about me!"
Jeanne clenched her fist and spoke with fervor.
Unclear what the situation was, Firill came over and asked.
"Oh, basically the fact that she's actually a girl. Although it's a shame that I've lost material to make fun of her—But now I can call her Jeanne-chan regardless of who's around."
Kili shrugged and answered, instantly causing a commotion among the girls.
"Jeanne-chan? So that's her real name?"
Tia asked with surprise all over her face.
"Yes, it's a nice name that suits her well, right?"
Kili replied, smiling happily.
"To be honest, I knew from the start."
"Mm... Ariella, no fair."
Ariella smiled wryly while Ren looked out from behind her back, protesting quietly.
"John-san—no, I suppose I should call you Jeanne-san now? I initially thought you were quite delicate... But never did I suspect you were a girl—"
Lisa scrutinized Jeanne from head to foot and back a number of times, then remarked in an impressed tone of voice.
"...By the way, I'm personally more curious about Mononobe-kun accepting everything about her."
Saying that, Firill looked at me coldly.
"Mononobe-kun, what did you do to her? Don't tell me... The instant you found out her gender, you couldn't repress your desire—"
"How is that even possible!?"
I yelled at Firill and Jeanne nodded vigorously too.
"Indeed. The Captain won't do that sort of thing. Instead he was gentle—he simply hugged me."
In that instant, my skin could feel the girls' gazes on me turning icy cold.
"Mononobe-kun... You're so unfaithful."
Firill pouted and glared at me.
"I can't really support such behavior..."
Ariella looked exasperated while Ren agreed with her.
I felt an extra sharp and stinging gaze, only to see Iris narrowing her eyes at me from the van's window.
"No, I wasn't thinking anything dirty!"
I protested, mainly to explain to Iris.
"Oh? But in such a situation... Mitsuki-chan would surely say 'Nii-san is such a jerk,' wouldn't she?"
"—Mononobe is such a jerk."
Iris pouted and withdrew into the van.
I hastily tried to enter the van, but just at that moment, Shinomiya-sensei looked out from the driver's seat.
"Please assemble, everyone! The situation has changed."
We looked at one another then gathered around Shinomiya-sensei who had gotten out of the driver's seat. Despite feeling bothered by my affairs and withdrawing herself into the van, Iris still came outside.
"Shinomiya-sensei, did something happen?"
Lisa asked on everyone's behalf and Shinomiya-sensei nodded bitterly.
"Yes. Kraken Zwei is moving faster than predicted."
"Meaning she suddenly accelerated...? But why—"
Firill tilted her head in puzzlement.
"The reason is this."
Shinomiya-sensei declared stiffly then showed us the screen on her portable terminal.
Shown there was Kraken Zwei, entirely wrapped in silver hair. Although her appearance was the same as before, there seemed to be—something not quite right.
"She grew bigger..."
Only after hearing Ariella's murmur did I realize what was wrong. Because a transmission tower in the background looked especially tiny.
"Ariella Lu is correct. Kraken Zwei is moving faster because she has grown in size. Currently, the body length is roughly fifteen meters."
Kili examined the screen carefully and brought her hand to the side of her mouth.
"Rather than her body itself growing in size, it's more like the mithril hair, which serves as her limbs, has extended in length. If dark matter was used for biogenic transmutation, then such a change occurring in this short amount of time is also—!"
However, she held her right hand mid-sentence. The dragon mark was glowing intensely with purple light.
Tia and the others, whose dragon marks were still changing in color, all pressed their hands on the locations of their respective dragon marks.
"W-What's wrong, everyone? Ah, Ren, are you okay?"
Iris panicked and showed concern for Ren, who had crouched down.
Judging from what I could see, the dragon mark symptoms did not affect Iris.
'The slowing in the dragon mark's change in color is because her nature as a dragon has increased in comparison to her nature as a D.'
Without warning, Vritra's earlier words placed reality before my eyes.
I spontaneously looked towards the van, only to see a faint purple glow leaking from the inside.
I ran to the van and peered inside. As expected, the light source was the neck of Mitsuki who was lying down on the seats.
Stuck in deep slumber all this time, Mitsuki moaned in pain.
I approached and held Mitsuki's hand, calling her name.
From Mitsuki's mouth, moaning as though yearning for air, I heard a faint sound.
What she said was the name of the best friend whom she had personally executed.
Was Mitsuki having a nightmare of that time? Or did she superimpose Miyako with the Kraken Zwei that was seeking her? I could not tell.
But the dragon mark's increased glow also conveyed clearly to me Kraken Zwei's determination to take Mitsuki and the other girls.
"I will protect you."
I swore to my precious and beloved little sister then exited the vehicle. Everyone's gaze was focused on me.
"The glow of Mitsuki's dragon mark has also increased. That's probably because Kraken Zwei is approaching."
"—'Tis not all."
Originally silent, Vritra swept her strong gaze across everyone in turn.
"Ye should realize by now, what the Kraken's child seeks is not family but mates. Persuasion is meaningless behavior."
"It's not meaningless! As long as I go, that child will surely—"
Jeanne immediately objected but she stopped talking once she saw that the girls with changing dragon marks did not voice their support.
Just as the tense silence was reaching breaking point, Shinomiya-sensei took a step forward.
"No matter what, we are out of time. The risk in approaching her to persuade her has increased. Hence, we will change tactics."
Jeanne bit her lip with chagrin surfacing on her face.
"However, please do not misunderstand. I have not abandoned the possibility of persuasion. It's just that we will observe her while minimizing risk as much as possible."
Jeanne reacted with surprise at what Shinomiya-sensei said.
"I will inform everyone of the plan's details while on the move. All participants in the operation, move out with me immediately!"
Shinomiya-sensei issued orders sternly.
Lisa and Firill head their heads high and puffed out their chests, answering loudly.
About to head to the scene, Shinomiya-sensei's figure exuded "strength" that I could feel from her days as the captain of the Dragon Subjugation Squad which I had never witnessed—
"...Onii-chan, everyone, do your best."
"Don't worry about Mitsuki, we'll protect her for sure."
Ren and Ariella saw us off as we departed. Likewise waiting at the lake side, Kili waved to us while her other hand held the vine that was binding Vritra.
"Even if NIFL attacks from the air, we will strike them all down. So Yuu, you have to protect me well."
As usual, Vritra turned her face away in displeasure.
"Then we're off."
Including me, the participants in the operation waved then took to the sky. Tia with her fictional armament of red wings was in charge of transporting Jeanne and me, who did not have flying skills.
For transportation, Lisa was in charge of Iris while Firill had Shinomiya-sensei—Enveloping themselves in wind transmuted from their respective dark matter, they ascended in the air.
Within the blink of an eye, Ren and the others were no longer visible while the van on the side had become a small dot.
'—Well then, I will now explain the key points of the operation.'
The communicator transmitted Shinomiya-sensei's voice. I took my gaze off the lake that was growing distant.
'First of all, we will approach Kraken Zwei until visible range, to let her know of Jeanne Hortensia's presence. Judging from the battles against unmanned weaponry, the target's sensing range is quite broad and will surely detect her.'
—So Shinomiya-sensei had heard the earlier conversation.
We had not gone out of our way to explain to her, but she had switched to using "Jeanne" and "her" to refer to John, this showed that she had overheard our dialogue.
'Then we will first retreat temporarily and pulled back. After that, put down the three of us, Mononobe Yuu, Jeanne Hortensia and me, by the river on the west. The remaining members will standby at their combat positions as originally assigned.'
Flying while holding my hand, Tia answered with full vigor.
Since Tia, Lisa and Firill were using combat goggles, their goggles should display the destination's necessary information.
'Hold on, Shinomiya-sensei. Going to the river on the west would greatly deviate from Kraken Zwei's direction of advance.'
Perhaps having confirmed the map, Lisa raised a question for Shinomiya-sensei.
'—I know, but if what Kraken Zwei seeks is family, she should change direction and come towards us. If she advances in search of mates instead of changing direction—Then we will exterminate her at the combat location.'
Shinomiya-sensei asserted gravely.
Jeanne and I were both being transported by Tia. I could hear Jeanne make a small gasp.
'In other words... We will persuade if it looks like there's hope for success. Perhaps that might be safer than suddenly appearing in front of Kraken Zwei.'
Firill agreed with Shinomiya-sensei's plan. Iris, transported by her, kept looking down at the view below the entire time. To cover up the scales appearing on her skin, she was still wearing my jacket.
'Yes, if she changes course, chances of successful persuasion will be much higher. However, I have considered the worst-case scenario, of course, and asked the members standing by at their assigned locations, distributed in our surroundings, to get ready to snipe. If the need arises, please attack from long range.'
Shinomiya-sensei explained the process to us but Iris raised a question.
'—If we follow that plan, will we be able to protect Mononobe and the rest of you in an emergency...? My Catastrophe doesn't work...'
'It's not that it doesn't work, but it gets blocked. Since Kraken Zwei is half D, then there should be a limit as to how much dark matter she can generate at a time. Mithril shields created through transmutation are not limitless.'
—Indeed. Kraken Zwei handled Catastrophe by generating a mithril shield to buy time before taking evasive action. That was probably evidence that her mithril generation was insufficient.
'Consequently, the other three apart from Iris Freyja will attack first. Once the target takes defensive action, Iris Freyja will then fire at weaknesses in her defense. Since Mononobe Mitsuki's antimatter is not available, there are no other effective measures. If the target doesn't change course, we will use this same attack sequence too.'
Shinomiya-sensei explained a battle plan that should have chances of succeeding, but Iris spoke pessimistically again:
'Then... If that plan fails too...'
'Then run away. No matter what our situation, none of you may approach Kraken Zwei. Keep your distance away from her to absolutely avoid turning into a dragon.'
Shinomiya-sensei asserted strictly.
Iris fell silent with mixed emotions. Surely, she was not only worrying about the worst-case scenario outlined, because the words 'turning into a dragon' had additional significance to Iris right now.
I wanted to tell her things but in front of others, I could not bring up Iris' change.
Lisa and Firill responded on the silent Iris' behalf.
"...If you are in danger... Tia doesn't want to run away alone."
However, Tia shook her head while transporting me.
"Don't worry, Tia. It's actually safer for us, the ones who are not marked. If anything happens, you must prioritize your own safety. I will find a solution using that time."
"Find a solution...?"
Tia showed surprise at what I said.
"Even if all plans fails, I will still put an end to things. Since Kraken Zwei is also a D—So long as the opponent is human, I won't lose for sure."
Not for Tia alone, I was also declaring clearly for Iris to hear on the channel as well.
Transported by Firill, Iris cast her gaze towards me.
As for Jeanne, who did not wish for battle, she looked down with a sad expression.
"However, our first important task is to succeed in persuasion. Let's pray right now that it won't turn into a battle."
To cheer Jeanne up, I deliberately added in a cheerful tone of voice.
'—Mononobe Yuu is right. Right now, the first important task of the plan is to persuade and win over the target. If we display an intention to fight from the very start, she will be wary too. Once we pass the next hill, the target should enter our view. Please prepare yourselves.'
Pointing to a slightly higher hill ahead, Shinomiya-sensei urged everyone to prepare themselves mentally.
To avoid getting ambushed by Kraken Zwei, we were flying at low altitude, following the hill's slope to gradually rise in elevation.
Soon after—The target came into view.
The scenery broadened all at once after we passed the hill. One object in the scenery was an exceptionally large silver mass, dominating the ground with overwhelming presence.
The extent of its massive size made one gasp. Perhaps because she was still expanding during our journey here, her length had clearly exceeded fifteen meters.
Covered by a silver curtain woven by multiple layers of mithril threads, her real body was not visible. The slowly quivering exterior was reminiscent of a jellyfish drifting in the ocean. The tiny silver threads fluttering at the edge of her body glimmered from the rays of the sun that was starting to set.
At this moment, I felt all the hairs on my body stand on end.
—We were seen.
Feeling this signal through my skin, I instantly yelled.
"That's enough! Everybody pull back quickly!"
'Stop advancing! Turn around and retreat!'
Almost at the same time, Shinomiya-sensei issued orders.
Kraken Zwei's appearance had stunned Tia. She came back to her senses and answered.
Jeanne stared intently at Kraken Zwei, gradually receding away, then took a deep breath.
"I am here! You don't have to be afraid on your own anymore! Come with me!"
Jeanne yelled with all her strength.
After crossing the hill and Kraken Zwei went out of sight, she closed her eyes as though in prayer.
"Please... You must remember me."
Immediately, an explosion occurred at the hill serving as cover.
No, more accurately, the hill was leveled. A thick length of silver ribbon had uprooted the entire hill, scattering trees and soil.
'Accelerate! The target is gaining on us!'
Shinomiya-sensei called out urgently.
On the other side of the cloud of rising dust and sand, countless glimmering silver strands could be glimpsed.
Was she chasing after Jeanne? Or seeking mates? At the current stage, it was still unclear.
Confirming this question was next.
'I am about to fly at full speed. Are you okay, Tia-san?'
Lisa asked Tia who was transporting Jeanne and me.
"Yes, no problem!"
'Well then, time to accelerate!'
Our flying speed increased all at once, the scenery was left behind in the blink of an eye.
Then according to the plan as discussed earlier, we first landed at the bank of the river out west.
The river itself was quite narrow but the shore was quite wide with excellent visibility.
"—According to the plan, we will wait here for Kraken Zwei. If she does not come this way... We will deem the target as a dragon, as mentioned just now, and exterminate it."
Shinomiya-sensei issued strict orders to the four girls in the attack team.
Lisa, Firill and Tia answered with tense expressions.
Iris nodded silently in response then turned her gaze at me.
"Don't worry, no matter what happens, I—"
I smiled, trying to comfort Iris who seemed quite worried—but she shook her head.
"No, Mononobe, it's the opposite this time."
With eyes filled with strong determination, Iris stared at me in my surprise.
"No matter what happens, I will protect you. I won't let you die no matter what, Mononobe."
I sensed some kind of dangerous signal from Iris' expression and reached towards her.
"So, Mononobe, don't be reckless, okay?"
Then Iris smiled sweetly—and as though evading my hand—and went towards Lisa and the others with a turn of of her body.
Together, Shinomiya-sensei, Jeanne and I watched them fly towards the sky.
"The only thing left is to wait."
Shinomiya-sensei watched the screen of her portable terminal while speaking nervously. She was probably looking at transmitted information to ascertain Kraken Zwei's location.
We were at the wide open riverside, so visibility was excellent, but Kraken Zwei had yet to appear.
However, faint rumbling of the ground could be heard from afar. Perhaps sensing a calamity, flocks of birds were flying out of the forest, calling sharply while circling nonstop in the air above.
"Please... Come over."
Jeanne stared at the direction of the rumbling and clenched her fist tightly.
I called her original name but she looked at me in surprise.
"Oh, you prefer John instead?"
"N-No, either is fine..."
Jeanne blushed slightly and waved her hands frantically in denial.
"Okay—Jeanne, why are you so biased in favor of Kraken Zwei?"
I asked about what had intrigued me the whole time.
"I mentioned earlier... because I know she is human—"
"—I get a sense that you've grown fond of her more or less, but considering you sacrificed yourself to block Sleipnir's attack for her and seeing you look so anxious right now... I really don't think that's the only reason."
Risking one's life to protect someone, that was easier said than done. Were it not for someone more precious than oneself, one would definitely falter at a critical moment.
The reason why I was not afraid to pay any price in my battles so far was because I did it for those I held dear.
"...Indeed, I might be a bit too biased, but no matter what, I can't leave her alone."
Jeanne paused here and stared straight into my eyes.
"My wish is for me to become her good fortune."
Not knowing what she was talking about, I frowned and asked.
"—I started out as a war orphan and only survived to this day thanks to many fortunate encounters. I am truly grateful from the bottom of my heart to every instance of that good fortune. That is why when I myself becomes someone's good fortune.. I don't want to betray this fortune."
Hearing Jeanne's words, filled with determination, I nodded in agreement.
"I see—I get it now."
Having obtained the answer to my question, I could now pray with the same feelings as Jeanne, praying that Kraken Zwei would come towards us to seek her own good fortune.
Shinomiya-sensei took her gaze off the portable terminal and looked in Jeanne's direction.
Jeanne looked at her questioningly. Immediately, Shinomiya-sensei bowed her head deeply.
She was most likely speaking as Shinomiya Miyako's elder sister. Shinomiya-sensei wanted to thank Jeanne for wanting to provide her sister's child with good fortune.
If Mitsuki were here, she would probably have done the same thing.
Then at this moment, I heard faint static from the communicator on my ear—followed by Lisa's voice.
'This is Lisa Highwalker. Visual confirmation of Kraken Zwei from the air above my standby position. She has changed course towards you!'
Jeanne and Shinomiya-sensei looked at each other with optimism.
However, Shinomiya-sensei soon tensed her expression and issued orders to Lisa and the others.
"After waiting for Kraken Zwei to move, the attack team will spread out in four directions from us, to standby at suitable sniping positions. If the target does not yield to our persuasion, commence the attack immediately."
After Lisa answered, Tia, Firill and Iris also responded, then the exchange was over.
The persistent rumbling of the ground grew louder and louder.
Hearing Shinomiya-sensei say that, Jeanne and I nodded in response.
In addition to the ground's rumbling, I could also hear the sound of trees snapping.
Boom—Accompanying this thunderous crash, trees and soil flew up into the air. The silver ribbon moved at high speed, reflecting sunlight to shine.
Dust was blown by a strong wind. After merely a moment's blinking, the scenery had changed completely.
The vast forest following the river had been swept clear, turning into an empty plain. Towering there was a gigantic silver-white body.
Covered by a multi-layered silver curtain, the body kept shaking as countless silver strands fluttered in the air.
The pressure exerted by her presence was causing my body to stiffen. I almost created my fictional armament on reflex, but suppressed the urge through rationality.
Our current undertaking was persuasion. It was imperative to avoid movements that would cause her to take hostile action.
"Stop! I am here!"
Jeanne took a step forward and called loudly to her. Perhaps understanding her speech, Kraken Zwei stopped advancing, halting her movements completely.
—Judging from the situation, will it work?
'Firill Crest reporting. Everyone is in position now.'
From the communicator, I heard that all members prepared to snipe in the event of failure had reached their positions.
"Acknowledged. Remain on standby until the situation changes."
Shinomiya-sensei answered quietly and focused her attention on Jeanne and Kraken Zwei who were facing each other across the river.
The whole time, I could feel a gaze that gave me goosebumps. Kraken Zwei was undoubtedly looking in this direction.
"—You must be lonely all by yourself. But you can rest assured now. Don't hide in that big shell. Come out and let me see you."
Jeanne spread her arms and persuaded gently.
Vibrations resembling a ripple appeared on Kraken Zwei's silver curtain, then opened smoothly in front of her body.
Due to a decrease in obstructions, I could feel Kraken Zwei's gaze stabbing my skin more strongly. A chill ran along my spine.
—What was this?
Jeanne's call seemed to be having an effect. Things were going according to plan, but I still felt an indescribable sense of unease.
From the interior of the obstruction woven from silver strands came a presence that pricked my skin.
—Did Jeanne and Shinomiya-sensei feel nothing?
I was the only one whose body was frozen.
Then this must be something targeting only me.
After unraveling multiple layers of obstruction, the true body of the young girl emerged. Half of her face was hidden by long hair, the single exposed eye glowed purple.
The instant I made eye contact with the girl, my premonition turned into certainty.
She was not looking at Jeanne!
The girl roared, staring straight at me.
I instantly felt pain on the back of my left hand where my dragon mark was located.
As though responding to this pain, purple light erupted from Kraken Zwei's forehead. Blowing by the swirling wind, the hair over the girl's forehead floated up, revealing the pattern beneath.
—That was a dragon mark!
"H-Hey, what is with you!?"
Jeanne frantically called the girl but Kraken Zwei ignored her, only staring at me.
The more the light given off from the girl's glowing dragon mark intensified, the more my dragon mark hurt.
In addition, something resembling emotions flowed in.
The intent to steal. A pulsation of emotions wanting to force submission and plunder.
This girl—wanted to mark me as hers!?
Invaded by an intense foreign body sensation and disgust, I figured out the girl's goal.
Kraken Zwei was chasing me, not Jeanne. Most likely, she had approached here to engrave proof of her mark on me, whose dragon mark had not changed color at all.
Simultaneous with certainty, my anger erupted in a torrent.
In addition to Kili, Mitsuki and the others, you intend to take me too?
The pain of loss, the suffering of the plundered, I had experienced it countless times already. I had hurt others as a result of losing precious things.
Hence, I shall not allow anyone to take anything from me ever again!
"—How could I let myself be taken by you!!"
I swung my arm with furious emotions. In that very instant, the pain in my dragon mark vanished.
It felt as though something had been severed. Kraken Zwei's body trembled slightly—The nature of her feelings towards me changed.
Obvious hostility surged in the girl's gaze as she growled.
A sharp and ear-splitting metallic noise resounded all around.
It was the sound of friction between silver threads fluttering in the air and getting entangled together.
"I beg you! Please calm down!"
Jeanne desperately tried to soothe her but the girl remained unmoved.
"Jeanne, it's no good! She's already—"
I understood instinctively that the moment I refused to be her mate, Kraken Zwei had recognized me as an enemy that must be eliminated.
As vexing as it was, what Vritra had said now seemed to be the truth. Right now, Kraken Zwei sought mates rather than family.
"Nothing of that sort! If I call to her more, surely she will—"
However, Jeanne shook her head in disagreement.
"Please! Listen to us!"
Shinomiya-sensei stepped forward and joined in to call her. Confronted with the girl whose face resembled her younger sister's, Shinomiya-sensei had apparently lost her usual calm.
I concluded that they were going to get caught up in the attack, so I broke into a sprint.
I did not know if it was fortunate or unfortunate, but Kraken Zwei did not register Jeanne and Shinomiya-sensei in her vision at all. The hostility she exuded was entirely directed at me.
I ran along the river, distancing myself from Jeanne and Shinomiya-sensei.
—Fictional armament, Siegfried.
When I formed my fictional armament of an ornamental gun, Kraken Zwei also got ready to attack.
Countless spears woven from silver threads were aiming straight at me. The reason why she did not use antimatter was probably because the distance was too close, so there was a risk of getting caught in it herself.
In that case, getting too far away would be to my disadvantage too. Since running away had problems too, my only choice was to approach and kill her.
—Sorry, Jeanne and Shinomiya-sensei.
Deeming Kraken Zwei an enemy, I apologized to the two of them who had not lost hope yet.
Countless silver spears fired together.
I shot a bullet of compressed air underfoot and used the reaction force to swiftly get away from my position. Seeing my original location pierced by silver spears, I began to take precautions against the next attack.
Shining silver trails appeared in the surroundings.
Kraken Zwei was spreading her hair, trying to surround me.
No place to run—
I used up the remaining dark matter that sustained the fictional armament's shape, converting it entirely into antigravitational matter. Accompanied by a white glow, the repulsive field pushed away the silver cage that was approaching from all sides.
Seizing a gap that opened up between the silver threads, I escaped the encirclement.
"Shinomiya-sensei! Please give Lisa and the others the order to attack!"
I regrouped while yelling.
Kraken Zwei no longer treated Jeanne as family. Since she was attacking like this, she was an opponent that must be treated as a dragon.
Shinomiya-sensei could not possibly not know this, but she did not issue orders over the communicator. Instead, she took unexpected action.
Shinomiya-sensei ran towards me.
Gritting her teeth, she looked like she was holding back her tears.
Kraken Zwei aimed at me again with her silver spears. I created my fictional armament again but just before I was about to take evasive action—
Shinomiya-sensei inserted herself between us and spread her arms.
"If you can understand human speech—if you can hear my voice—even if just a little bit, please listen to me!"
With her back to me, Shinomiya-sensei faced Kraken Zwei and yelled loudly.
She was trying so desperately, it was like a plea or a prayer.
"I hope you will live as a human! As Miyako's—as my little sister's daughter!"
As Shinomiya Miyako's older sister rather than Midgard's commander, she was trying her hardest to persuade the girl.
But the answer turned out to be a rain of silver.
Woven from silver threads, sharp spears rained down on us.
My original plan was to use wind pressure to escape at high speed as before, but at the last moment, I switched to defending with a repulsive field.
Engulfed by white light, the silver spears slowed down and stopped in the air.
However, a strange sound rang out. Stopped in the air, the silver spears unraveled and melded together to form a spiral spearhead resembling a drill.
The spearhead resisted the repulsive field, spinning to push forward by force.
"Shinomiya-sensei! It's no good, so please hurry and give orders to attack!"
Seeing that this would not hold for long, I called to Shinomiya-sensei.
"Please... Mononobe Yuu, one last time."
However, Shinomiya-sensei said strongly without looking back.
Approaching the spearhead fearlessly, she only looked at Kraken Zwei—
With her back to the desperately anxious me, Shinomiya-sensei continued to plead to her.
"Kraken Zwei... Please remember! Remember Jeanne Hortensia whom you desired as family! She hopes for your happiness from the bottom of her heart!"
Facing the silver-haired girl who controlled mithril, Shinomiya-sensei delivered words filled with intense thoughts and feelings.
"And I too—wish for your happiness more than anyone!!"
However, Kraken Zwei answered with an angry roar.
The mithril hair pulsed, concentrating its power at a point—The silver drill penetrated the white repulsive field in one go.
"You are not an unwanted disaster. You are Shinomiya Miyako's daughter—A human!!"
But even so, Shinomiya-sensei refused to back down.
"Everyone hurry and attack!"
I believed the limit was reached so I called to everyone over the communicator.
'B-But Shinomiya-sensei has not given the order—'
Lisa's troubled voice responded.
Deciding there was no time to answer, I rushed out from behind Shinomiya-sensei.
Kraken Zwei's target was me. So long as Shinomiya-sensei remained in front, she would be caught in the crossfire.
At this moment, the spiral spearhead finally broke through the repulsive field by force.
Slightly faster than I expected. No—I had judged too late.
Seeing the spearhead extend with frightening speed, I realized it was too late to evade.
However, impending death was blocked by a silhouette that had moved in from the side.
I was pushed back with a thud.
What I heard was a muffled cry of pain.
I looked up to see Shinomiya-sensei's face, coughing blood.
"Sorry for asking you to go along... with my willfulness..."
Shinomiya-sensei coughed while apologizing to me.
I shifted my gaze lower, only to see the thick silver spear skewering her body—
Realizing Shinomiya-sensei had protected me, I gasped. And under those circumstances, she still turned around to face Kraken Zwei.
"Even if these words cannot reach you right now... It is fine. However... at least please remember... that someone once wished for your happiness here..."
Spitting a large mouthful of blood, Shinomiya-sensei collapsed.
"—Please, Lisa! Shoooooooot!!"
My mind went blank and I cried out with all my strength.
A yellow flash ripped through the sky. At the same time, the approaching mithril hair was pulled back to the body.
The flash of light clashed with the shield woven from silver threads, giving off blinding light.
'Tia, we are joining in.'
Slightly later, Firill and Tia joined in the attack. Projectiles of fire approached from the right while lightning attacked Kraken Zwei from the left. Since her mithril hair was being used to block Lisa's attack, she could not use her hair. However, black particles of dark matter appeared in Kraken Zwei's surroundings to create silver walls.
Fire and lightning was deflected, shaking the air with thunderous noise.
Despite the giant explosion—That sort of attack did not reach the main body.
Still, that was within expectations. Iris should now be looking for a chance to attack. But before everything else, the most important thing was—
I picked up the collapsed Shinomiya-sensei in my arms and called her name. While switching to defense, Kraken Zwei had already pulled out the silver spear that had skewered her body.
However, the wound was too large. With such a massive hole opened in the center of the body, surely many important organs must have been gouged out. The warm blood flowing from her body dyed my hands red all over.
Having seen countless casualties on battlefields in the past, I understood... She was beyond saving.
"C-Cough... C-Cough... Sor, ry—"
Shinomiya-sensei looked at me with hazy eyes, her voice apologizing to me in fragments.
Why did you do that—I stopped myself from finishing this question. Because there was no need to ask. She was simply doing everything she could as Shinomiya Miyako's elder sister. And her apology just now was her apologizing for not fulfilling her role as the commander—
"Looks like I... am not, strong enough—to, kill my little sister twice."
Shinomiya-sensei's voice continued hoarsely, her gaze directed towards Kraken Zwei.
Attacked from three directions, the girl hid herself between her mithril hair and shields.
"No—I think that as a human, Shinomiya-sensei, you are stronger than anyone."
I held back from sobbing and turned my head to the side, because I believed that in refusing to give up hope, persisting in persuasion, Shinomiya-sensei's actions were definitely not weak.
"—Ho, Mononobe Yuu... You are—so nice."
With a slight smile on her lips, she closed her eyes then forgot to breathe, sinking into deep slumber.
I bit my lip hard then placed Shinomiya-sensei's gradually cooling body on the river shore.
I saw Jeanne fall down, sitting on the ground after standing in the distance in shock.
'Mononobe! Did something happen to Shinomiya-sensei!?'
I heard Iris over the communicator.
"—She was hit by Kraken Zwei."
I managed to force out these words in reply.
'H-Hit? Is she injured somewhere—'
"A fatal wound, she's already... stopped breathing."
Not just Iris, but everyone else was speechless. I could sense it over the communicator.
Firill murmured hoarsely.
'Right now... We must focus our attacks! Do not let up our offense!'
However, Lisa yelled resolutely, supporting everyone's hearts nearing collapse.
Despite showing wavering in her heart, Tia still responded. The attacks from three directions did not halt, persisting nonstop.
I heard Iris sobbing faintly but her crying gradually grew louder, finally turning into mournful wailing.
Her sorrowful crying felt like knife in my heart.
"Sorry, I failed to protect Sensei."
The only way I could respond was apologize.
"Oooooh... Ahhh... Ahhhhhhhhh!!"
Anger was building up amidst sorrow.
Laments spontaneously turned into a howl of intense emotion.
The screaming ended, following by the sound of inhalation.
Then accompanied by blinding crimson light—
Iris released her burning feelings.
Red light shone from afar.
It was a flash of light that stole time, bringing destruction to all creation.
Due to Lisa, Firill and Tia's attacks, Kraken Zwei's defense had become thin at one location. Aiming at that spot, Iris' Catastrophe pierced the atmosphere to attack.
However, Kraken Zwei noticed a moment earlier and generated a shield in that direction.
Whether Iris could break through would depend on the amount of dark matter Kraken Zwei could generate each time.
A gigantic flood of red light smashed against the mithril shield.
Iris' Catastrophe looked even more powerful than before. The pillar of light, which seemed like it was about to devour the gigantic Kraken Zwei, rivaled even Basilisk's trump card, the "Third Eye."
This was the power of Iris, who was now becoming close to a dragon—
With screaming mixed with crying, Iris continued to fire the flash of red light.
The thick shield of mithril between them was gradually weathered away before our eyes.
With one direct hit, Kraken Zwei would probably turn into dust and vanish.
But... was this ending really appropriate?
Until the very end, Shinomiya-sensei had prayed for Kraken Zwei's happiness. Recalling the plea she had risked her life to deliver, I could not help but feel lost.
My heart could not make a decision. A tide of emotions was whispering in my ear—Should I carry on Shinomiya-sensei's last wish?
Kraken Zwei roared amidst the light.
With a thunderous crash, the gigantic silver body flew rapidly into the air.
I heard Lisa's surprised voice over the communicator.
—Did she judge that the shield was not going to hold and thus took evasive action?
However, this was no ordinary leap. The enormous silver body was wrapped in a ball shape with a large amount of leaves and twigs that had been swept up.
She had probably transmuted dark matter into air, thereby controlling wind. It was the same way as how Ds flew. Perhaps she had learned it by watching us.
Kraken Zwei ascended while rotating sideways, firing purple light in four directions.
"!? That's antimatter! Hurry and run, everyone!!"
I came back to my senses from my daze and yelled.
The antimatter flying at Iris was erased by Catastrophe, but the remaining three shots exploded in three separate directions.
Accompanied by flashes of blinding light, thunderous noise shook the atmosphere.
"Lisa, Firill, Tia!"
I called out over the communicator but only got static as a response.
They were capable of flying into the air and should have had enough time to react. It was possible that they were simply unable to answer due to interference from the explosion, or—
The worst-case scenario, which I did not want to touch upon, flashed in my mind.
Iris' voice hammered my ear drum.
Chasing after the humongous body that had escaped to the air, the red light from the ground ripped through the air towards the top of the sky.
Right now, the only things protecting Kraken Zwei was a barrier of air and a silver curtain woven from mithril hair.
The air barrier was blown away in an instant as blinding red light engulfed the gigantic silver body.
While her vector turned downwards, Kraken Zwei's body gradually shrunk.
But at the same time, the red light suddenly began to grow faint as well.
'...No way—I was clearly so close...'
I heard Iris' pained voice. Catastrophe's output had apparently reached a limit.
'C-Clearly... I must do this—'
Iris cried loudly but the red light continued to diminish mercilessly.
Witnessing this scene, my hesitation vanished.
—Shinomiya-sensei, I'm sorry. I... have to protect Iris and the others.
I was unable to carry on her last wish because murder was the only thing I could do.
"Don't worry, Iris."
I said to the lamenting Iris.
Swallowed by feelings of anger, sorrow and regret, I sank into the depths of my consciousness.
In order to hunt the Kraken Zwei hiding behind a silver curtain—to hunt a human—I once again became one with "Fafnir."
"Leave the rest to me."
Announcing strongly, I ran towards where Kraken Zwei was expected to land.
When the red light stopped completely, a small mass wrapped in silver threads was exposed. Sure enough, Iris' firepower was slightly insufficient, but Kraken Zwei had shrunk to around three meters, similar to during our first confrontation.
Thus, the silver mass fell in the forest some distance from the river side. With a massive crash, the ground shook slightly with dust and soil flying up.
After crossing the shallow river, I rushed into the forest where Kraken Zwei had crashed.
"—Captain! Please wait!"
I heard Jeanne's voice faintly from afar. She definitely not given up.
Precisely because of that, I must not stop. I could not allow Jeanne to repeat Shinomiya-sensei's tragedy.
Dim conditions in the forest combined with the dust cloud compromised visibility. However, Fafnir's sense of smell in search of prey would not be dulled by this level of interference.
I definitely caught it, the presence of the girl slowly getting up where she had crashed. Then there was the sharp killing intent approaching me.
Accompanied by the sound of slicing wind, silver strands attacked.
Anti-materiel armor—Damascus 09P!
I deployed multiple palm-sized shields along the silver strands' trajectories.
Although they could not completely block the threads that were made of mithril, they could deflect trajectories slightly and reduce their speed.
What this produced was a tiny window of opportunity. I lowered my stance and rushed through that opening.
Passing through the cloud of dust, my field of view instantly opened up.
In front of me was—A young girl with swaying silver hair.
Standing in a depression in the ground, her purple eye shot straight at me. Death's chilling presence crept up my spine as I saw the girl's eye release the glow of antimatter.
I extended my hand to block as though in response.
Kraken Zwei roared and released antimatter, not afraid of getting caught up in it.
I generated dark matter at the same time, transmuting antigravitational matter without using a fictional armament!
The strong repulsive field, capable of warping space itself, was deployed with a white glow—The antimatter projectile was deflected upwards. Completing its job, the antigravitational matter shattered and dissipated, leaving white light.
I closed in even further.
Approaching—A distance within the reach of Fafnir's fangs.
The girl widened her eyes slightly, looking up at me from close range.
Her young, adorable and slender face was quite similar to Shinomiya-sensei—But I did not hesitate.
She was seeking mates, not Jeanne. She had let slip of happiness on her own accord despite how hard it was to come by.
And most important of all... She had killed Shinomiya-sensei!
The reverse flow of anger and sorrow sinking in my heart was ejected as a yell from my mouth.
Kraken Zwei's body was wrapped in mithril hair to shield her vitals. Naturally, her head was protected by hair too. Landing a single lethal strike would be extremely difficult.
However—methods to kill her naturally surfaced in my mind.
Fafnir told me the ways.
I generated dark matter in both hands at the same time, transmuting them into high-density antigravitational matter, using the two repulsive fields to create a spatial discontinuity!
In the past, "White" Leviathan had used multiple repulsive fields to produce spatial discontinuities to amputate parts of its body.
I should be able to accomplish something similar, even if just on a small scale.
In the gap between the repulsive fields shining with pure white light—a pitch-black crack arose.
A gap of warped space.
I fired the black blade born out of white light!
The girl's body was devoured by the white radiance and black discontinuity.
No matter how sturdy the outer shell providing protection, the spatial discontinuity could twist everything caught inside.
A living body could not possibly withstand that level of distortion.
Screaming a death cry, Kraken Zwei was blown away backwards.
The trees ahead were also caught in the spatial distortion phenomenon, twisting and breaking like paper.
Kraken Zwei was thrown into the depths of the forest, out of sight.
I only remembered to breathe again after the girl vanished from my view.
I probably... killed her. The hit definitely felt concrete.
Bitter emotions were spreading in my heart. The feeling after the conclusion—It was awful. Although I had avenged Shinomiya-sensei, there was no sense of accomplishment at all.
It approached the worst-case scenario closely.
Not only losing Shinomiya-sensei but also failing to save Shinomiya Miyako's daughter.
I clenched my fist and cursed in regret.
However, at this moment, there was a silver flash from the depths of the forest.
A strong impact struck my body. While my view was spinning, silver threads came into view.
Then a wave of intense pain came from my body's left half.
Just as I was in so much pain that I was about to scream, more impacts attacked.
This time it was my back and the back of my head. The pain and impact turned my view black. Without knowing what was happening, I screamed for real this time.
Why did it hurt so much? Most likely, my ribs were broken. My back and the back of my head might be bleeding. I felt a warm and viscous flow running down my skin.
Then I had an unusual feeling.
How odd, if Fafnir was awakened, I was supposed to be able to sever the sensation of pain through willpower.
But no matter how I tried, the pain did not go away.
I heard faint footsteps.
Using my blurred vision, I looked ahead.
I had most likely crashed into a tree, putting my body in a sitting posture right now. The height of my gaze was quite low.
Passing through the dim forest—The girl, whom I should have killed already, emerged.
With her hair woven into silver ribbons in spiral form, the Kraken's child directed her purple gaze at me.
Surfacing on her face was a bestial expression—savage anger and killing intent.
Seeing that kind of expression, I understood.
Not choosing the good fortune that was Jeanne, abandoning the closest kin that was Shinomiya-sensei, the girl had forsaken her human identity.
That appearance and way of living made her far more suitable to the title of dragon than the current Vritra.
No wonder... I had failed to kill her.
Leaning against the tree, I muttered bitterly in my heart.
—Major Loki, how rare for your judgment to be mistaken. It doesn't seem like... I am entitled to make the choice anymore.
Looking up at the tiny monster that was approaching, I realized I had lost.
I was only capable of killing humans.
The fangs of Fafnir could not reach a being that was not human.
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