Unlimited Fafnir:Volume 9 Chapter 3
Chapter 3 - Future Contract
My body was hurting all over. The taste of blood was hanging in my mouth.
The pungent odor of gasoline rushed at my nose.
I groaned and opened my eyes but could not see anything. Everything had plunged into darkness. I could not even make out the outline of my own arm.
Until just now, I had been riding a car.
At the time, I was chatting with Mitsuki next to me, about the camping we were doing next.
But suddenly, the surroundings turned dark and the world became upside down. I heard Mitsuki's scream—
I instantly called to her beside me. But no one answered.
I called ot Mitsuki's parents at the driver's and front passenger's seats, but there was no reply.
"Mitsuki, are you there!?"
I searched my surroundings by touch. I felt the seats and the sensation of broken glass on my fingertips.
My fingertip was cut, probably by the broken glass.
But I mustered my courage again and reached out.
This time, my fingertips touched something soft and warm. This was human skin—someone's arm.
Because it was quite slender, I was convinced it was Mitsuki's arm.
"Mitsuki! Are you okay!?"
I tried to move in the darkness to confirm her condition. Along the way, I heard an annoying creaking. I knew that we were currently tilting.
The car was in an unstable position right now. Sensing the danger, I stopped.
But while waiting for the noise to subside, my consciousness and senses were getting more and more hazy.
I had just touched Mitsuki earlier but now I did not know where she was. Due to stopping my movements, my own existence started to feel ambiguous.
Swallowed—by darkness. Everything was repainted black, disappearing.
Realizing these fears, I reached out again even at the risk of disrupting the car's balance.
However, my hand missed her because my posture had changed.
Calling her name, not caring even if my fingers got cut, I continued to search my surroundings with my hands.
I needed light. Just a little bit... A weak light to illuminate Mitsuki's position.
My left hand pulsated. Beginning from inside the skin, my hand felt hot like it was being scorched by fire.
The instant I cried out in pain, a flash of light filled the world—
"—Time to wake up, Yuu."
Feeling a sudden chill along my spine, I was jolted back to reality from my dream.
A flash of silver approached me in the darkness. I instantly raised my right arm. Transmuting a steel knife from dark matter instantly, I blocked the attack.
Clang, a sharp metallic impact sounded through the darkness.
"Good morning. Nothing less expected from my mate."
Smiling with satisfaction while maintaining the posture of her downward swinging knife, it was Kili in pajamas.
On top of me, she was gazing down at me.
Why was Kili here...?
While resisting Kili's weapon, I tried hard to assess the situation.
This was Charlotte's cottage in Midgard's underground. I was sleeping in this room with Iris, Mitsuki, Jeanne and Shion.
With only a night light, the room's interior was dim. I could hear the breathing sounds of the girls in their sleep.
"Yuu, don't move yet, okay? We still need to make physical contact."
Kili smiled seductively and stopped me from moving.
I took a closer look and saw that Kili had taken a posture over me while avoiding physical contact. The dragon mark on her right hand was still glowing with blue light.
"What are you planning... to do?"
"This is the easiest way to wake you up."
Kili withdrew the blade without any remorse at all.
"What would you do if I didn't react?"
"In that case, you'd wake from the pain? Wounds can be healed using biogenic transmutation, so there's no problem."
"...There's already a problem when it hurts."
I sighed with undisguised exasperation in response to Kili cheerfully speaking of the absurd.
"Really? Pain can sometimes turn into pleasure. When you stabbed me here in the past—I felt extremely thrilled, you know?"
Holding her abdomen, Kili waxed nostalgically.
"...That pain made me understand. The dragon who should become my mate is you."
Saying that, Kili slowly drew near my face.
"H-Hey, don't tell me you're going to, right here—"
I instantly looked at Iris and the others who were sleeping on the side.
"Don't worry... No one will get up. Before sneaking into the room, I transmuted a gas and released it into the room to make them sleep more soundly. That was also why a little stimulation was necessary to wake you up."
Kili smiled while describing her prank.
"Behave yourself... Didn't you girls decide the order using rock-paper-scissors?"
"Yes—But I couldn't wait any longer."
With our noses about to touch, Kili looked at me passionately.
"You might not be allowed out of Midgard ever again if you touch me, you know?"
Kili looked like she had decided to become my mate. However, I was worried whether she truly understood the risks involved.
"Given my position, my freedom of movement will be restricted no matter which I choose. If I want to leave, I'll just resort to force. I'm not obliged to follow rules set by other people."
Smiling fearlessly, Kili replied very much in her style, but I could not approve.
"Doing whatever you like..."
"You won't allow it? Then you'd better discipline me properly and never take your eyes off me. Use that power to make me utterly yours."
Seeing me fuming, she grinned happily and began to close the final distance.
Clearly capable of blocking the acute attack of her blade earlier, I did not react at all to her slowly approaching lips.
The reason was most likely because she was showing no killing intent. Conveyed through her gaze up close were strong feelings of desire for me. That was probably something one would call affection or love.
The light erupting from Kili's dragon mark enveloped her then dissipated as tiny particles.
Pressing her lips forcefully against me, Kili looked up when the light vanished.
"Oh my—That's all? It's less interesting than I expected."
Feeling slightly disappointed, Kili checked her own body. Compared to Mitsuki's transformation, her reaction was much milder... This was probably a difference in constitution.
"Okay, get off now."
Although unsettled by the sensation lingering on my lips, I still feigned calmness and spoke. I felt strongly against showing weakness in front of Kili.
However, Kili did not change her posture on top of me. This time, she simply pushed herself down as though trying to cover my entire body.
Making contact with her supple and warm body, I felt my heart racing rapidly.
"Seriously, what are you talking about? Here comes the main event as promised."
Unable to understand, I repeated her words in a question. Kili revealed a gorgeous smile.
"After becoming mates, there's only one thing left to do. Let's make a baby—Yuu."
"I'm not going to wait."
Ignoring me, Kili switched to a straddling posture and began to unbutton her pajamas.
Her exposed skin was almost halting my ability to think. But instantly recalling Iris and the other girls sleeping on the side, I reached out to stop Kili.
"Fufu, you're surprisingly aggressive."
However, Kili immediately grabbed my hand and pressed it against her chest.
Sinking into Kili's soft breast, the intense sensation transmitted through my hand was blanking out my mind.
"Mmm—Go ahead... You can do whatever you wish."
Exhaling hot breath, Kili stared at me with moistened eyes.
My thoughts, already blanked out, were swallowed by the impulse of basic instinct.
"Let's do it, Yuu, to safeguard our future."
Kili drew her face near again.
It was a kiss with a different meaning than before. Rather than contact for becoming mates, this was an act for exchanging love.
"I'm sorry but I can't allow you two to continue."
The instant before Kili could kiss with her lips and ignore me, a sharp voice sounded in the room.
Kili turned around in surprise. I gasped and looked in the same direction, only to see Ariella standing at the doorway.
"I could overlook the violation of sequence, but anything beyond that won't be allowed. Ren might cry."
Smiling wryly, Ariella glared sharply at Kili.
"When did you... No, forget that. Don't disturb us at the critical part."
Recovering from her surprise, Kili glared back reproachfully at Ariella.
"I said I won't allow anything more, didn't I? If you must continue no matter what, I will stop you by force."
Ariella spoke casually and naturally readied her stance. In my mind, I marveled in surprise at Ariella's intense killing intent.
Although I knew she was trained in combat skills, I never expected this level of—
Giving off "that type of aura," simply by standing there, Ariella was exerting pressure that would cause others to get goosebumps.
"...Looks like you're serious. But do you think you can defeat me?"
Kili seemed to notice Ariella was no ordinary person, but she still answered forcefully in full confidence.
"Indeed, but even if I lost, Tia will wake up in the ensuing commotion. If that happens, it's not your win either."
Ariella's response brought a frown to Kili's face. Once Tia with her ability to interfere with dark matter was involved, Kili's prided "Muspelheim" and biogenic transmutation would be sealed. She must have realized it.
"...Fine. That's it for today. I'll hold back for now."
Deciding that prolonging the dispute would be pointless, Kili shrugged and stood up.
"But I intend to do it properly with you later—Prepare yourself, Yuu."
Leaving these words behind, Kili leisurely left the room with the front of her pajamas still unfastened.
"That was close, Mononobe-kun."
After making sure Kili had left, Ariella smiled wryly at me.
"Y-Yeah... Thanks a lot, but when did you—"
"It was just now. Noticing Kili was missing, I wondered if she might be... So I came to have a look. Just as I said earlier, I don't care if she's simply violating the sequence... B-But she looked like she was going to go further... Unless I stopped her."
Explaining with a blush, Ariella coughed lightly and stared at me.
"But if you wish, Mononobe-kun, I'll keep quiet, okay? With Mitsuki and the others on the side, I hope you won't give in to momentary impulse."
"...What an embarrassment."
I sat on my blankets formally in seiza and hunched my shoulders. Ariella sighed with exasperation.
"You have to be more careful. You are Ren's 'Onii-chan' after all."
It sounded like scolding but there was pleading in her voice.
Ariella stared at me seriously for a while then continued hesitantly.
"I believe Ren will surely choose to have contact with you. I hope... You can become Ren's true family. Unlike Miyazawa Kenya, the most awful father—Okay?"
Saying that, Ariella left the room without hearing my reply.
She had always cared for Ren but something felt off in the way she phrased things as though excluding herself.
However, unable to chase Ariella for answers because she had gone back to her room where there were other girls, I could only frown on my own in the darkness of my room.
Early next morning. Since we were underground, there was no concrete feeling of morning's arrival. The time displayed on my terminal was 6am.
I got up earlier than everyone else and waited for Firill at the hot spring outside.
Soaking myself in the warm water, my eyelids naturally felt heavier and I yawned.
Totally sleep deprived. Due to Kili making me especially awake last night, it took me a long time to fall asleep again.
"Thanks for waiting, Mononobe-kun."
While I was spacing out, I heard Firill's voice from behind.
"Oh, Firill? Good morning."
I made myself sober while turning around, but then I froze.
Approaching me was Firill, dressed in an extremely skimpy white swimsuit. It was far more revealing than being wrapped in a bath towel. With every step she took, her massive bosom would wobble.
I suddenly stood up in the hot spring due to excessive surprise. Firill stopped by the water's edge, facing me.
"What's the matter? Does this... look good?"
In my current state, I would be almost fully exposing myself to Firill if I turned around. My chest went without saying, but with only a small cloth over my crotch, it was equivalent to being fully nude.
"I-It looks great on you—But why a swimsuit..."
It was the truth that Firill was very attractive in a swimsuit but why was she wearing one?
"I was expecting something like this as a possibility."
Firill puffed her chest out proudly and made a victory sign towards me with her hand.
"What kind of situation did you imagine...?"
Unsure where to look, I sighed, but seeing the glowing blue dragon mark on her left shoulder, I was reminded of our original purpose.
Although she was very cheerful, I would expect her, being a princess from the Principality of Erlia, to be quite troubled by the risks of transformation.
"Well... Let's talk first. Your position is the most complicated, Firill. No need to hurry, just think carefully first—"
"Mononobe-kun. Stand there with your arms spread out."
However, Firill interrupted my suggestion and made a request.
"...Spread my arms? Like this?"
I had no idea what was the purpose but I spread my arms as told.
"Yes, that's right, then... Don't move, okay?"
Firill continued to give instructions then back away slightly. It was almost like she was preparing a running start.
"H-Hey, don't tell me—"
I yelled frantically but Firill simply ran straight for me.
"Here I come... Mononobe-kun."
With her massive bosom bouncing while she ran, Firill took a giant leap into the hot spring.
Firill dove fiercely, straight into me with my outstretched arms.
Flying over, although her body was stopped by me, the impact was not absorbed completely. With a massive splash, I fell backwards into the hot spring.
Held in my arms, her supple body was heating up. Within the cloudy hot spring water, I could glimpse faint blue light.
Holding Firill, I finally managed to stick my head out of the water, but her transformation was already complete. The blue glow of her dragon mark had vanished.
"Fufu... Mononobe-kun, with this, you've now become my prince."
Hugging me with her arms around the back of my neck, Firill smiled with a blush. My heart was racing from the intimate physical contact with her body, but more than that, I felt anxious and troubled.
"F-Firill—Why did you do that...? Before making me your prince, it's possible you can no longer be a princess, you know?"
"You mean... the matter of risks? About not being able to leave Midgard?"
Hugging me tightly, Firill tilted her head slightly.
I felt uneasy that I had deprived Firill of her wish and position, but Firill nodded cheerfully.
"Indeed, according to the current rules... That might happen. However, if that really were to pass, I have no intention of giving up on being a princess either. Because without my position as royalty, I can't get legally married to all of you."
What on earth was she talking about? I was rendered speechless.
"Oh? Didn't I mention before? The Principality of Erlia allows same-sex marriage. And polygamy is permitted for royalty alone."
"No, that I remember but..."
Despite noticing that my issue was not with that, Firill still continued seriously.
"It's already decided that you'll become my prince, Mononobe-kun. But you've marked others too, haven't you? Hence, all of you will get married to me... thus becoming Mononobe-kun's family, a perfect solution."
"What an ingenious idea" was what Firill's tone of voice seemed to imply, but at this moment, she smiled slightly mischievously and added a whisper.
"Well... I will actually be the only one married to Mononobe-kun, but that counts as a perk, right?"
"No, it's not like you can settle things just by calling it a perk..."
I concurred ambiguously due to my doubts, but having noticed that the prior assumption was weird in the first place, I asked Firill in return.
"How should I say this? Although you won't give up on being a princess, what about reality? Are you going break out by force?"
Recalling what Kili had said, I was worried that Firill's outlook might be too naive.
However, Firill sighed at my questions in exasperation.
"Mononobe-kun... Could you think more carefully? I can't be a princess anymore if I did something like that."
"Of course I know that—then what are you going to do...?"
Noticing that Firill was not saying things on whim, I asked about her methods.
"Rules are something thought up by people. Just change them if they don't suit you. That was apparently what my grandfather did."
Hearing an unexpected answer, I gasped and focused my mind.
Firill's grandfather, Albert Crest, was a person who had fought strongly for the human rights of Ds, changing Midgard's situation greatly.
I had treated rules as absolute, but from Firill's perspective, knowing her grandfather's great accomplishments well, rules and the world were not impossible to change.
"...I never thought of that solution."
"Mononobe-kun, you must broaden your horizons. You're already my prince."
Firill advised me gently then brought her lips gently against my cheek.
A natural movement with almost no hesitation. It took me a number of seconds before I realized I had been kissed.
"Fufu, Mononobe-kun... Your face is so red."
Firill giggled happily, relaxed her body and leaned against me.
"Ariella warned me, so that's all for today. However.. Before the others wake up, let's get lovey-dovey in a wholesome way. How about that, my prince?"
"I think this is already unwholesome..."
A giant bust pressed directly against me, combined with a girl's sweet fragrance coming from her pale skin...
My mind was getting dizzy, driven by an impulse to embrace her.
"Don't worry, Mononobe-kun. As long as you do nothing at all... It counts as wholesome. Pure and lawful interaction between genders."
Firill whispered to me in delight, stroking my chest with her fingers.
"For the sake of my creative works... Let me carefully research a man's body in great detail. Don't worry."
Her fingers slid from my chest towards my abdomen, then went farther down. I felt my spine gradually going numb.
It would be bad if this continued. I grabbed Firill's hand and pinned her down to seal her movements.
"Eh... Mononobe... -kun?"
She looked up at me in dumbfounded surprise.
"Firill, you can't go further if you really want to keep things wholesome. Men are not creatures with as much self-control as you might think, Firill."
I stared into Firill's eyes and told her. Slightly flustered, she dodged eye contact.
"B-But... If you want to be unwholesome, Mononobe-kun... I don't mind—"
"Even though you're saying that, do you realize you're shaking?"
I could feel minor trembling from the slender arm I was holding.
"This is... trembling with excitement."
Firill argued with a blush. Seeing her trying to act tough like this, I sighed.
"It's fine even if you don't force yourself. I feel—that just now's kiss was probably your limit, right?"
Having kissed me on the cheek, she seemed a bit subtly high-strung. Her bold behavior was perhaps to hide her embarrassment.
"...Mononobe-kun, you're so bad."
Firill's face went bright red and she looked down. I was evidently right.
"You're the one person I don't want to hear that from."
Sighing deeply again, I released Firill. Liberated, Firill went limp and sat down in the hot spring. Then she adjusted her swimsuit strap that had moved a little out of place.
"Then... I won't be bad anymore. Let's enjoy a dip in the hot spring normally."
I sat down next to Firill. Under the water, she held my hand.
"Is this within limits?"
"Well... Barely, I guess."
"Then barely will do."
Relaxing a bit, Firill smiled.
"Looks like it's very difficult... for a man to act like a gentleman."
"Yes, so that's why you need to be more careful, Firill."
I urged her to be careful again but Firill smiled profoundly.
"Yes... You're right, but—the way you acted just now, Mononobe-kun, that wasn't so unpleasant either, you know? A forceful prince who's a little scary... I might be okay with that too."
Rather than putting on a brave face, Firill's tone of voice sounded like she truly believed it from the bottom of her heart.
"—You really don't learn your lessons."
I remarked with a wry smile. Had I made Firill awaken a new side to her? My heart filled with trepidation.
"...Why are you in a swimsuit too, Lisa?"
After breakfast, wrapped in a towel, I headed to the hot spring for the third time. But waiting for me there, Lisa's attire surprised me.
She was wearing the black bikini I had seen before. Naturally, my eyes were drawn to the deep cleavage between her massive breasts.
"When leaving the dorm, Firill said it would be a good idea to bring swimwear. I never expected to use it this way."
Lisa tossed her long blonde hair and sighed lightly.
"Sure enough, Firill's involved again huh? But anyway, this swimsuit still looks so good on you."
Due to our "couples training" in the past, praise naturally flowed out from within me.
However, Lisa went red and glared at me unhappily.
"Excuse me—'still' would not count as praise when directed to a young woman. Here, you are supposed to say 'even more beautiful than before' even if you must lie."
Not good enough, Lisa shrugged.
"I-I see... But certainly, you're even more attractive than before."
"...Hmph, it's too late to say that now."
Despite saying that, Lisa's voice was trembling slightly.
"But I'm not lying. You're different from before, Lisa—Oh, no way... Did your bust grow?"
I spoke while looking at the voluptuous breasts that were spilling out slightly from the black swimsuit. Her face instantly went bright red.
"W-Where do you think you are looking at!? This isn't praise, it's just sexual harassment!"
Lisa covered her chest and suddenly yelled loudly.
"Goodness gracious... I must say something important next, you need to relax. Regardless, take a seat here first. With just your feet soaked in the water, this would be a foot bath, wouldn't it?"
Sitting on the hot spring's edge and submerging her feet, Lisa asked.
"That's right, but I've only done it once before."
It was on a family trip with Mitsuki and my parents. There was a foot bath at the inn where we were staying, but my memories were quite fuzzy. It probably had not been very interesting for my childhood self.
Keeping a meter's distance from Lisa, I sat down on the hot spring's edge.
"Is that so? I thought it would surely be quite commonplace in Japan."
Saying that, Lisa kicked her feet in the hot spring, causing water to splash and fly around.
"Well, it depends on the region, I guess. But—this is surprisingly comfortable."
While soaking in the hot spring with Mitsuki and Firill, my body soon heated up, but like this, we could talk in leisure.
"Yes, the hot spring is a bit hot and it is fairly stuffy in the surroundings... Very warm."
Lisa agreed with me and exhaled comfortably.
Our conversation paused temporarily at this point, leaving only water sounds in the cavern. Noticing that Lisa was in the process of organizing her words, I wait for her to speak and kept quiet.
Knowing what the other person thought just by reading the mood, this was attained through the efforts of trying to become more couple-like.
She called my name and I responded calmly.
"Do... you regret the fact that you marked us?"
Looking at me, Lisa asked as a test.
"Regret huh? I am very sorry for imposing risks on all of you without asking. However... I would've done the same thing to bring back Iris even if I knew things would unfold into the present situation. So rather than regretting or not regretting, it's better to say that I feel that I don't have that right."
Lies could not deceive her. I answered seriously.
"Fufu—That's a response very much in your style. Very well, next question... Would you have done the same if the one in peril had been me rather than Iris-san?"
I was able to answer this question immediately. Even though I could not guarantee that I would be able to do the same thing, if that was the only way, I would have risked everything to do it.
"—Wonderful to hear that from you. In that case, my decision is made."
Lisa smiled with satisfaction and gradually decreased the distance between us.
"Are you sure...?"
Even without hearing a clear answer from her, I knew. Right now, Lisa had made her decision to make physical contact with me.
"Yes, regarding the matter of risk, a conclusion was already reached when I was conversing with Firill-san yesterday. You have heard about it, haven't you?"
Lisa nodded without hesitation.
"Since people are the ones who decide rules, just change them if they don't suit you—That?"
"Indeed, Firill-san and I are in consensus. When illegitimate rules bind us, just oppose them head on. Also..."
Lisa paused and smiled wryly.
"You are not the sole reason why our dragon marks have become colored."
"...What do you mean?"
Believing that all responsibility lay with me, I asked in doubt.
"It would still be plausible to think that Shion-san got caught in the wake next to Iris-san. However, it is somewhat odd that the dragon marks changed color for those of us who were not present at the scene, but none of the Ds at Midgard were affected at all."
"Well, I think it's because of distance..."
Japan and Midgard were quite far away. I believed this was the reason why I had not marked the other Ds, but Lisa disagreed.
"However, it is possible that there are small numbers of undiscovered Ds in Japan with its highest incidence of Ds. Were it simply a factor of distance, the dragon marks of these Ds would also change color and not go unnoticed in their surroundings."
"Now that you mention it... That's definitely possible."
Even if people could live while hiding their powers, concealing the glow of a dragon mark was very difficult. There would also be people who disclosed their identity out of fear for the anomaly.
"In that case, another necessary condition should exist in order for someone's dragon mark to change color. After much thought, I discovered another point of commonality."
"Point of commonality?"
I urged her to continue, but for some reason, Lisa blushed and coughed.
"Ahem—T-That is... to hold affectionate feelings... for you."
Totally not expecting something in that area, I cried out in confusion.
"Mitsuki-san, Iris-san, Firill-san and Kili-san are obvious... Ren-san also opened up to you during the trip to Japan. It is also apparent at a glance that Ariella-san is quite curious about you. As for me... towards you, umm... I-I hold no feelings of dislike."
Lisa spoke quite rapidly, glaring at me with her face red.
"Although it is merely a casual guess... I am certain that I accepted your color by my own volition. Hence... I am responsible too. And regarding the fact that you selected me—I feel sincere joy."
She was almost whispering towards the end, but her words reached my ears without fail.
This was undoubtedly a confession. I felt my heart race and my face burn up.
"Oh... I h-have said something bizarre. Regardless, I choose to have contact with you—And that's that! S-So... Although it is very embarrassing... Please do what you have to do."
Lisa was blushing to her ears. Standing up, she faced me with her back.
Then bending over her body that was trembling from nervousness, she lifted her well-shaped bottom towards me.
"Uh... W-What on earth are you doing...?"
Lisa's posture was very erotic, blanking out my mind.
"W-What am I doing... Isn't it obvious from sight? My dragon mark... is on my bottom."
Speaking of which, there was indeed a glow coming from under the black swimsuit. Lisa pushed the swimsuit aside slightly with her fingers, exposing the blue-glowing dragon mark to me.
However, my gaze was more drawn to Lisa's bottom that had become less covered by fabric.
A hot flow surged from the depths of my body. To suppress it, I gulped.
"N-No, I know where you dragon mark is—What I want to know is why you're putting on that pose..."
"...Why? Isn't it necessary for your mouth to make contact with the dragon mark? That was what Mitsuki-san said you did."
With her bottom facing me, Lisa looked at me in surprise.
"W-Wait, that was just what Mitsuki insisted... Her wish, that's all. Kissing the dragon mark isn't required, you know? Direct contact with any part of the body is fine."
Lisa stared at me in astonishment.
She must have gotten the wrong idea after listening to Mitsuki.
Already thoroughly red, Lisa's face turned even redder. Facing me, her bottom began to shake.
I hesitated, unsure what to say. In any case, I tried to follow her suggestion first.
"Umm... If that's your plan, Lisa, I'll do it, even the bottom—"
However, these words seemed to be the last straw to break her. With her face burning red, Lisa yelled:
Then she suddenly dove into the hot spring, submerging herself.
She was probably hiding herself out of embarrassment.
I scratched my cheek, staring at the bubbles rising from the hot water.
But after a very long time, Lisa still did not surface. I began to grow worried.
The rising bubbles stopped. I frantically reached out to search the water where she had submerged.
The instant my fingers touched something soft, blue light glowed from within the cloudy hot spring water. Making use of this light, I pulled Lisa up.
"Pwah... Huff... Huff..."
Lisa was almost suffocating. She panted nonstop as soon as she surfaced, face fully red, tears seeping out from the corners of her eyes, but this was probably not solely due to holding her breath for too long.
"Ooh... To think I did something so shameless. I cannot bring myself to face you anymore."
Covering her face with both hands, she slumped her shoulders powerlessly.
"Everyone has misunderstandings some time. Don't be so depressed."
I tried to cheer her up but she shook her head with her face covered.
"Unacceptable! When I made contact with you, that most important moment ended in confusion... Terrible."
The blue light enveloping her had vanished. Compared to Mitsuki's case, the change was much more mild.
"What would you have preferred, Lisa?"
"...A special act sure enough, preferably a kiss. Oh, b-but not confined to the bottom!"
Still red, Lisa added a clarification. Thinking what a "boyfriend" would do at a time like this, I held her hand.
Even if responsibility rested with both sides, I was the one who changed her. Hence, I wanted to fulfill her wish at least.
"Then—Is this okay?"
Enduring feelings of embarrassment, I gently kissed the back of Lisa's hand.
Lisa looked rather shocked, staring at me with her mouth gaping open.
"I guess it's futile to make up for it after the fact."
Wondering if I did the wrong thing, I smiled wryly and released her hand. However, Lisa shook her head forcefully with a slightly dazed expression.
"N-No... I am extremely... happy. S-So you can do it after all."
Blushing, Lisa turned her face away in a huff.
"Thank goodness, did I finally earn some marks?"
Seeing Lisa slightly cheered up, I exhaled in relief.
"Make no mistake, that was definitely not full marks, got that!?"
Saying that, Lisa held the back of her hand where I had kissed, smiling happily.
I could not help but feel my heart racing at the sight of her face making such an expression. "I'll work on improving," I replied.
"The water is nice."
"Mm... Very nice."
After lunch, Ren and I were soaking in the hot spring side by side, having this sort of brief conversation.
Taking consecutive baths in a hot spring was ultimately a strain. With my mind going dizzy, I could not talk to Ren properly.
However, Ren did not mind. Releasing air into her wet bath towel, she made it expand like a jellyfish.
"What are your thoughts on risk, Ren?"
Although this silent period did not feel uncomfortable, I was afraid no progress would be made if I fainted from soaking for too long, so I brought up the main point.
"...I don't mind. Father's place is no longer somewhere I want to return to."
Ren gripped the bath towel jellyfish tightly and answered resolutely.
Ren nodded and inflated the shrinking bath towel again.
Ren's father—Miyazawa Kenya—was such a failure as a father that even I hated him too. Ren had directly confronted him in an argument and lost all expectations of her father, declaring all she needed was having me, Ariella and the rest of the girls at her side.
"So... Anyway, let's recover the color of your dragon mark first?"
To reduce the risk during NIFL's coercive inspection, I suggested.
However, Ren looked hesitation without nodding.
"S-Sorry. This isn't something to decide in a hurry. It must be scary to know you're going to change into something else."
Did I rush her conclusion too much? I hastily added a comment.
However, Ren shook her head.
"I'm... not afraid. Becoming the same as Onii-chan... will surely be reassuring. However—"
She stopped and stared motionlessly at the bath towel jellyfish by her hand.
I waited for her to continue without hurrying her.
"...But if it's just me alone, no. It'd be better together with Onee-chan."
Before long, Ren said softly.
I knew that Ariella was the only one whom Ren called "Onee-chan," so I asked in return.
Ren nodded clearly and pleaded with me seriously.
"...Well, Ariella is up next. I can't ignore her own will and touch her by force."
I wanted to accept Ren's requests as much as possible, but this alone was was something I could not promise lightly.
"Mm. What I'm saying is, if Onee-chan refuses... I want you to convince her, Onii-chan."
Seeing Ren look at me extremely seriously, I
"Convince her... But since this is Ariella's own decision, I don't have the right to say anything—"
Ren disagreed in an even stronger voice.
"No, not question of rights. Onii-chan... do you wish for me and Onee-chan to be happy or what?"
Ren's words made me realize my way of thinking was wrong. Leaving a choice to someone else was giving up responsibility in a way.
Firill and Lisa had searched for solutions on their own regarding the matter of risk and obtained an answer, thus I spontaneously stopped thinking about it. What I was supposed to do afterwards—how to bring happiness to Ren and the others who were facing risks—This was clearly the most important.
"—You're right. Sorry. Can you give me a bit of time to think?"
I apologized and Ren nodded.
Feeling her gaze, I pondered Ren and Ariella's current situation.
Ren would not find happiness by her father's side. She sincerly hoped for me and Ariella to stay by her side. Then for the sake of Ren's happiness, Ariella was essential. But what about Ariella?
As Miyazawa Kenya's adopted daughter, Ariella had him as her only kin. If she did not touch me, Ariella could return to his side after losing her powers at the onset of adulthood.
However, I did not think that Ariella would choose to live with him. Most likely, Miyazawa Kenya would also lose interest in her after losing her powers.
What would Ariella do after that? She had the fortitude to seek her own happiness, but—
'I hope... You can become Ren's true family.'
Ariella's words from last night—the expression on her face at the time—flashed in my mind.
I felt that I must not take my attention off her right now. I must not hand her over to anyone or anything apart from myself, that was what instinct told me.
Slight anxiety was hanging over the depths of my heart. This was a warning sign of intense impulse, what I had felt when Iris was being taken from me.
I realized unintentionally.
Lisa had said that it was possibly her own wish that caused her dragon mark to change color. However, I too must have prayed somewhere inside my heart.
To prevent them from being taken away by something else, I wished for their dragon marks to be dyed with my own color.
"Ren, I think I've made a mistake."
Ren tilted her head slightly at what I said.
"I probably selected all of you through my own will. I want to protect everyone with these hands—I don't want you to be taken away. That's why I made all of you my mates."
I raised my left hand with its glowing dragon mark and stared into Ren's eyes.
"That's surely because I want to bring happiness to you and Ariella... I don't want to hand this task over to anyone—That's why I must tell this to everyone."
While putting my words together, I had already steeled my determination. I reached out to Ren with my left hand.
"I will support you no matter what happens from here on. I absolutely won't allow misfortune to befall you. So, allow me to protect you, Ren."
This was my actual wish. And they were the ones who had made the choice. I should have noticed this sooner.
Ren's eyes widened in surprise. Then blushing, she held her hands against her chest. That was the location of her dragon mark.
"Will you say... the same words to Onee-chan?"
Looking up at me, Ren asked in a whisper.
"Yeah. Also, I won't give up even if she refuses me. For your sake and mine, I will convince her."
Ren's stiff demeanor softened and she nodded slightly.
Then her tiny hands held my left hand tightly.
"I trust you, Onii-chan."
Our dragon marks glowed as blue light enveloped Ren's body.
The dazzling light made me close my eyes for a moment. By the time I opened them again, the blue light had already vanished.
Holding my hand, Ren looked at her dragon mark whose color had dissipated.
"I think so."
Hearing me reply affirmatively, Ren smiled in relief.
"Then Onii-chan has become... even more of an Onii-chan."
Ren happily pulled my hand and came closer.
Did her shyness decrease because my "Onii-chan" presence had increased? Ren rubbed her face against my hand like a cat.
I smiled wryly and stroked Ren's head.
Seeing her close her eyes partially in pleasure, I decided in my heart that I was going to tell what I had just said to Ariella and Tia, the ones remaining.
But just at that moment, the cavern shook slightly with a low rumbling.
"Not... an earthquake. It's coming from above?"
Leaning against me, Ren looked up in surprise. Due to the shaking, rock fragments were breaking off and falling from the roof.
"Something might have happened on the ground. Anyway, let's get back to the group."
Tensing her expression, Ren nodded.
It was definitely unusual for vibrations to reach this deep underground.
Praying for Charlotte's safety, I looked upwards.
"—Main Cannon Babel Replica, right on target. Midgardsormr's final defensive line—barriers number thirty-six to forty—Confirmed."
"Hmm... This firepower is pretty mediocre. It's a bit lacking considering it's a legacy from a lost civilization, Atlantis. It's quite doubtful whether it will reach the level of dragons even after completion."
Listening to his subordinate's report, Loki Jotunheim whispered in disinterest.
He was on the bridge of the battleship Naglfar. Staring intently at the small island on the other side of the broken barriers, Loki ordered.
"This fleet will remain on standby here. Transport a landing party using small boats. Hold the paratroopers for now. The island's automated air defense system could still be operational."
Listening to his subordinates pass on his orders to various locations, Loki quietly increased his killing intent.
This was to allow his blade to reach the head of the accursed "Gray"—
"They... have finally made a move."
Charlotte B. Lord was standing in the balcony of her private bedroom on the clock tower's top floor, murmuring with displeasure.
The damaged portions of Midgardsormr were too extensive and could no longer stop the fleet from invading.
"We clearly replied, saying we accept the inspection. Yet they still act with such brutality..."
"Our ploy to stall for time was too overt. The excuse that Midgardsormr is out of control and the barriers could not be lowered... It was a bit too contrived."
Standing a step behind Charlotte, Mica Stuart remarked in resignation.
"It couldn't be helped. There was no other way to delay the inspection. But... with this, we now know their stance."
With her hand on the balcony railing, Charlotte glared at the fleet sharply.
"This incident is fundamentally a war between Midgard and NIFL, conducted under the pretext of inspection. Their target is most likely me. However, students might get caught in the crossfire."
Saying that, Charlotte brought her thumb into her mouth and bit into it with her sharp canines.
Red droplets of blood flowed out from the wound, falling on the ground.
"Charlotte-sama, are you by any chance going to—"
Witnessing this scene. Mica's expression stiffened.
"Take out the blade, Mica."
Ordered by Charlotte, Mica took out a knife hidden in her sleeve. Drawn from its sheath, the knife was deeply engraved with grooves resembling a leaf's veins.
"I entrust my blood to you. Become the Blood Lord's fang and carve my testament into their bodies."
Kneeling on the floor, Mica offered up the knife reverently. Charlotte placed her hand on the knife, allowing the droplets of blood flowing from her finger to drip onto the blade.
Falling on the blade, the blood droplets entered the grooves, producing a red pattern on the knife. Once Charlotte withdrew her hand, Mica immediately returned the knife to its sheath.
"Hand all remaining 'Blood Bullets' to Haruka."
"You wish to have her attack people?"
Mica stood up, her face subtly clouding up.
"She is also a vassal who has exchanged a pact with me. It'd be a problem if she didn't pull her weight. Besides, they won't die unless they're shot in the head."
Charlotte declared coldly and licked the wound on her thumb. Immediately, the bleeding stopped and the wound itself disappeared completely.
"Understood. I shall inform her."
"Oh, make it quick. It'll be too late once students are captured as hostages. Initiative will fall into their hands."
Mica nodded and was about to leave the room when she paused with the door handle in her hand. Without turning around to face Charlotte, she asked:
"Are you really—certain? Using your authority in this manner... Living in the same manner as Leonardo-sama... This was not what you wished for."
Questioned, Charlotte continued to stare outside. With her back to Mica, she replied quietly.
"—I am certain. Before long, I will use this authority to dominate the world. I have already resolved myself to be human no longer."
"...Charl! This obligation, you..."
Charlotte's sharp call stopped Mica who was turning around with a vehement voice.
Hearing Charlotte say these two words in a tiny voice, Mica clenched her fist instantly. Without continuing her sentence, she quickly departed.
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