The instant I opened the hatch, I almost lost balance due to a gust of strong wind. I steadied myself with a hand against the wall.
Currently, Marduk had decreased its alt.i.tude and its speed was dropping rapidly too. Hence, I decided it was possible to go outside even without an air barrier. However, this wind pressure was capable of blowing an entire person away if one were careless.
Arriving on Marduk's deck, I gripped the railing while moving towards the prow. Someone was already there.
Her shoulder-length hair and skirt swaying in the wind, she was looking down from the edge of the deck.
"—Can you see it, Firill?"
I approached her—Firill Crest—while asking in a voice loud enough to overcome the wind.
Only then did she notice and turn towards me with slight surprise. She smiled.
"Yes, I can see it. Thank you, Monon.o.be-kun, for making a detour to fulfill my selfish request."
"No problem, there's plenty of time before the operation starts. Furthermore, this isn't really a detour. The Princ.i.p.ality of Erlia borders our charted course anyway."
I shook my head and asked the grateful Firill not to worry.
Indeed, Marduk was currently flying over Firill's homeland, the Princ.i.p.ality of Erlia. Looking down from the deck, the view of a country rich with natural beauty, ringed by mountains, entered my sight.
"...It's such a tiny nation when I look down from the sky like this. But to me, it is an extremely place that I don't want to lose. That's why I wanted to confirm. What I must protect at all costs."
Firill looked out to her homeland while gripping the railing.
"Yeah—It must be extremely important to you."
Expressing determination to protect her homeland, the side of Firill's face overlapped with my memory of Mitsuki, who had defended the town where we lived in the past.
"Oh, Monon.o.be-kun! Look at that castle! And over there, a lake and a waterfall! Do you still remember?"
Firill pointed at the royal castle and the lake beside it.
"I didn't forget. We even danced together at the castle, and the waterfall was so loud."
My memories surfaced. This was the country where my first encounter with Hraesvelgr took place. The memories of the battle were especially vivid.
"So nostalgic... It feels like it just happened in front of me. However, this messes up the promise a little."
Seeing Firill murmur in disappointment, I asked, and she smiled mischievously.
"My intention was to bring you back as my prince, Monon.o.be-kun, the next time I returned here."
Firill admitted this with a blush, causing my heart to pound nonstop.
"Well, I suppose I've achieved the goal, sort of... Monon.o.be-kun, you said you'd take responsibility... Hmm, but you haven't fulfilled your promise properly yet. Oh, why don't we—"
After contemplating for a moment, resting the side of her face against her hand, Firill puffed out her chest as though she had thought of something.
"Monon.o.be-kun, this airs.p.a.ce belongs to the Princ.i.p.ality of Erlia, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, that's right."
Shaken by her earlier words, I nodded stiffly.
"As such, I am the princess right now. Within this country, I am a super VIP."
"VIP—But isn't the Princ.i.p.ality a democracy even though they have royalty?"
"Even so, I'm still a VIP, you know? I have clout and authority. Any objections...?"
"None at all."
"Excellent. So, the VIP—this princess—hereby commands. Monon.o.be-kun, kneel down before me."
With royal dignity in her countenance, Firill declared solemnly.
"Stop talking and just do it now."
"...Fine, I got it."
I gave up and sighed, then knelt down on one knee in front of Firill. I hastily bowed my head because kneeling down had provided me a view of the underside of the skirt billowing in the wind.
Next, in front of me while I was crouched down, Firill extended her hand.
"Kiss the back of my hand."
I could not help but exclaim in hesitation. Then Firill spoke with some displeasure.
"I heard you did this with Lisa. Don't tell me... you won't do it with me? This is very important."
Her voice sounded extremely serious with mild insecurity in her expression.
Indeed, at Midgard's underground hot spring, after the comedic "transformation into my kind," I had kissed the disappointed Lisa on the back of her hand.
Being close friends with Lisa, Firill must have heard about what happened.
I mustered my determination and took Firill's hand.
Since this was what she hoped, I had to grant her wish. This was out of my own volition, not responsibility for selecting her.
Her pale and slender hand was trembling lightly. Even though she was the one who had requested it, she seemed to be nervous.
This was one of Firill's traits. Hence, if anything happened, I must protect her and guide her.
"Please excuse me, Princess Firill."
I had to afford her the proper respect since she was carrying herself as royalty here. I brought my lips to make contact with her hand.
In that instant, Firll's entire body shook. Just as I withdrew my lips, she started going limp starting from her hand.
I looked up slowly and made eye contact with the blushing Firill.
However, she deliberately came up with an ostentatious speech in order to prevent her dignity as princess from crumbling.
"—I, Firill Crest, Princess of the Princ.i.p.ality of Erlia, hereby swear upon the souls of my great ancestors, to accept this contract and take Monon.o.be Yuu as my lawfully wedded husband."
I stared at Firill in shock, then she repeated it again, blushing even more intensely.
"With this, Monon.o.be-kun, you're now my husband. My prince."
"Prince—J-Just wait a sec!"
"Of course I'm not going to wait. Even though it was simplified ceremony, what just took place was indeed a wedding. Within the Princ.i.p.ality, it is legally binding so long as it is witnessed by a member of royalty. On this occasion, since I myself am royalty, there's no problem at all."
Firill made a thumbs-up. I hastily stood up and asked:
"What, that's a huge problem! I was totally kept in the dark, so—"
"Objection overruled. This marriage was conducted and sworn in the name of royalty. Monon.o.be-kun, we are now husband and wife. This is a princess' decision, so no complaining."
Firill pressed her finger to my lips to stop me from speaking, then a smile appeared on her blushing face and she hugged me from the front.
"Fufu, mission accomplished!"
My brain's processing power could not keep up with the sudden development and the sensation of her bust.
I did not know what to do—However, Firill released the railing that she had been holding onto for support and wrapped her arms around my back, hugging me tightly, making my heart pound nonstop.
This had nothing to do with marriage or whatever. I became aware that the option of letting go of Firill never existed in my heart.
Feeling Firill's body warmth, I was thinking perhaps it really was time to take responsibility, but she left my embrace as though she had noticed something.
"—Oh, looks like my time as a princess has ended."
Looking at the ground, she said in disappointment.
"Uh, what do you mean?"
Unable to comprehend the situation, I asked.
"Now that we have crossed the mountain range, this isn't the Princ.i.p.ality's airs.p.a.ce anymore. Since there isn't any contract of matrimony in writing, this marriage is only effective within the borders of the Princ.i.p.ality. We are no longer husband and wife this moment, just cla.s.smates who are very close—Monon.o.be-kun. Sorry for scaring you."
Firill explained with a faint smile.
"Oh I see... You really scared me to death."
I relaxed my shoulders and exhaled deeply. Was this actually relief or dashed hopes? Even I myself could not tell.
"I wanted to make my dream come true before the next battle against Bahamut. Having a wedding after the battle felt like it'd be a dangerous flag to raise."
Firill spoke with a wry smile, but at that moment, she switched to a solemn expression and held my hand.
"However, what I said earlier was no joke. The fact that we are married in the Princ.i.p.ality of Erlia, Monon.o.be-kun, is the truth, okay?"
Saying that, she raised my hand and slowly brought it close to her face.
She pressed her cherry lips against the back of my hand. Surprising me with the soft and slightly moist sensation, Firill looked up at me and smiled mischievously.
"Until the next time we visit the Princ.i.p.ality, this secret is between only me and you, Monon.o.be-kun."
Then she left me and walked to the hatch.
Frozen, I watched her walking away, but just before entering the ship, she turned around and pointed at me strictly with her finger.
"Divorce or similar words are forbidden—My prince."Part 2
NIFL's second defense line deployed across the waters of Norway was greater in scale than I imagined.
Around Marduk, which had landed on the sea, the fleet formed a line stretching from one end of the horizon to the other.
From the sky earlier, I had spotted aircraft carriers in the back too. It was probably from there that recon planes had been launched across the sky.
It would be no exaggeration to say that all of NIFL's remaining forces had gathered here. If the enemy broke past here, there would be no way to "protect humanity," hence this arrangement was only natural. My currently location was in fact the final defense line.
And right now, Marduk and the battleship Naglfar moored close by were in a discussion about the key points of this operation.
"—2nd Lieutenant Monon.o.be, can I trust in you?"
Standing on the deck of the Naglfar, Major Loki asked me in a deep voice. Side by side, the two battleships were separated by a distance of roughly ten meters. On the edge of each battleship's deck, it was possible to convey our voices to the other side.
"Yes. Just as mentioned in the previous report, Iris has figured out the location of her authority. This time, she should be able to unleash Catastrophe on a scale required to vanquish Bahamut in one go."
"Fine, but that is not the point I am doubting. What worries me is another matter. The third eye's range is ten thousand meters—Comparable to Bahamut's body length. In other words, it is necessary to launch the attack at point blank range. Delivering her to that position would be your responsibility. What I am asking is whether you have the resolve for that."
Major Loki shook his head and stared intently at me.
The strategy meeting had concluded already. Back when we were gathered at the bridge, Iris and Vritra had said the following through the monitor.
'—I've located my authority. If I close my eyes and focus my mind on my eyes, I can feel a red light in the eye on the right. Basilisk's power is in my right eye.'
'I too have confirmed that her right eye hath exhibited a faint red glow. Currently, she ought to be capable of drawing out the power consciously. Nevertheless, firing Catastrophe directly implieth she must approach the target. The trick of generating dark matter next to the enemy and trans.m.u.ting it into Catastrophe is no longer an option, understood?'
What Major Loki brought up was the issue that Vritra had raised.
In any case, we had devised the operation in spite of the risks because "there was no other way," but after the meeting, Major Loki had called me out to the deck.
It seemed like he wanted to confirm my resolve prior to the operation.
"Of course I'll be able to do it for sure. With Catastrophe, Marduk's weaponry and the Ds' powers—Getting close to Bahamut is very feasible."
I saluted Major Loki with military etiquette.
The operation that was about to start was very simple. Charge Bahamut head on and fire Catastrophe once we got close. Bahamut should have already deemed Iris and Marduk as high-priority enemies, so feints were pointless. Consequently, the approach with the highest chance of success was breaking through from the front with maximum force while conducting a saturation attack. The machine intellect Atla had also reached the same conclusion.
"I am counting on your side. In the previous engagement, our gravity cannon Babel was effective against Bahamut. The special ICBM Cocytus—Gáe Bolg with its payload replaced by cryogens—has also demonstrated effectiveness to some extent. We should be able to slow down Bahamut's movements."
Smiling confidently, Major Loki nodded and looked towards the prow—Bahamut was approaching from the northern sky.
"Probability of victory is definitely not low. No, considering the opponent is a dragon, this probability of victory might be too high. During this batttle, a means of victory was in our hands all along. This is very worth celebrating, but to me, it is a little offputting."
"...Major Loki, do you think this might be a trap?"
When I frowned and asked, he shrugged lightly.
"I didn't say that. Judging from Bahamut's actions, it doesn't have high intelligence. However, I am more wary of its actions and accompanying phenomena more than Bahamut itself. Why is it connecting the unknown territories? And why does its shadow turn into additional unknown territory? Right now, we still have no idea."
"Yeah... It bothers me a lot too."
Defeating Bahamut would not be the end of it, I told myself.
"Indeed, take care not to be caught unprepared. That being said, you have no cause to worry, 2nd Lieutenant Monon.o.be. All this time, you have been overturning the impossible. For us to be like this, or standing face to face, would've been impossible originally."
Turning his gaze back to me, Major Loki stared intently. I could not tell what he was thinking from his expression. Which side would die, or a case of mutual annihilation—The outcome of that battle was virtually preordained. It was definitely a miracle that we both survived. However...
"...It was not my own power. Kili was the one who healed you, Major Loki, and perhaps it was due to Atla that we both survived."
"Due to Atla?"
Showing complete surprise on his face, Major Loki repeated my words.
It was my first time seeing such a look on him, so I continued somewhat delightedly.
"Back then, when your plan failed, Major Loki, the Naglfar on the sea fired its main cannon at the break of dawn. However, now that I think about it, judging from the firepower, the intention was not to destroy Midgard."
While Ariella was using a gigantic shield to defend against the Naglfar's main cannon, Tia had hacked the ship to stop its attack.
The cannon was powerful, but I had doubts whether it could have destroy Midgard completely.
"From what I saw today, Atla seems to regard you with much affection, Major Loki. So back then, she might have hesitated in fear of getting you caught in the blast in case you were still alive."
At that moment, a m.u.f.fled voice snarled from Major Loki's chest pocket.
"Wh__ nonsense ___ you ________!?"
"Atla denies it. Wishful thinking on your part, 2nd Lieutenant Monon.o.be."
Major Loki tapped his pocket which probably contained his portable terminal while replying in a surprised tone of voice.
"True, I don't have concrete evidence so I could be wrong. But don't you think the impossible might've been overturned by something so ordinary?"
While nodding, I looked back into his eyes forcefully.
"—Well, I cannot deny this possibility. The impossible for you and me could be something very simple for someone else, somewhere. It is true that Atla saved me. In that case, I should thank her."
Major Loki smiled with amus.e.m.e.nt and turned away. The noisy voice coming from his pocket suddenly stopped as though in shock.
"In any case, I now know the reason I lost last time. Sure enough, talking to you is very interesting."
I muttered with mixed feelings. On my end, chills were running down my spine and I was breaking out in cold sweat.
"Yes, though of course, us trying to kill each other fills me with greater elation."
Leaving behind a gaze and words that felt like they could freeze my back, Major Loki returned inside the Naglfar.
"I really... don't want another go at that."
Left alone, I grumbled with a sigh, but my voice was lost in the wind. Amid the noise of waves and airplanes, my words did not reach anyone.Part 3
'Bahamut approaching combat airs.p.a.ce. No change in flight speed. The operation will commence as planned.'
"Understood. Marduk, enter launch mode."
Hearing Jeanne's report over the communicator, I issued a command to the ship mentally.
—Main engine, ignite. Engage drive transmission. All systems normal. Deploy main wings. Activate gravitational control devices. Commence hovering.
As Marduk rumbled, the surrounding seawater gradually sank down.
Standing on the deck of the slowly rising Marduk, I looked port side. Roughly a hundred meters away on the sea, the Naglfar also deployed its main wings.
The other side apparently possessed flight capability too, which was presumably how it had the mobility to evade Bahamut's attacks. However, the Naglfar's main wings seemed to be flywheel-mounted and perhaps had not replicated the gravitational control devices.
"All units, the operation will begin five minutes from now. Are you ready?"
Standing on the deck, I asked the girls in front of me.
Although the distribution of roles was the same as in the previous battle, the outside combat team was a.s.sembled on the deck. Since Marduk was going to charge at maximum atmospheric flight speed later, they would be left behind the moment they separated from the ship. Hence, all of them were on the deck to partic.i.p.ate in offense and defense.
"Yeah, no problem. I've figured out my authority, so it'll work this time. And you're here too, Monon.o.be—I won't be afraid of turning into a dragon."
After Iris responded firmly, the others also nodded.
"We are fine too. However, something unrelated to the operation has been bothering me a while now."
Lisa looked at me suggestively, prompting Ariella and Ren to shift their gazes in surprise.
"I think I've got the same question on my mind too."
"Mm, me too."
Next, Kili looked at me with eyes of displeasure.
"Hey you, haven't you been staying too close to Yuu since earlier?"
She was referring to Firill, who was standing next to me.
Indeed, I was very conscious of it too. As soon as we a.s.sembled on the deck, Firill had been sticking close to me.
Her matter-of-fact expression made it impossible for me to say anything, but the others apparently reached the end of their patience.
"What's the problem? It's not like we're arm in arm or hugging, right?"
Firill c.o.c.ked her head in puzzlement. Seeing Firill's response, Lisa frowned in a dilemma.
"Even so, you are still standing too close to him. It is unnatural no matter how I look at it."
"There's nothing unnatural. This is a very natural distance for me and Monon.o.be-kun. Don't you agree...?"
After answering calmly, Firill looked up at me.
"No, well, even if you ask me, I suppose?"
Unable to understand her behavior, I gave a vague answer. This made Firill pout mildly as she grabbed my arm.
Just as I leaned over slightly, she drew her face near and whispered in my ear.
"...We are newlyweds, Monon.o.be-kun. This kind of distance is very normal."
Firill's breath and words were making my face heat up. Feeling the piercing stares from the rest of the girls, I answered quietly.
"B-But that's within the Princ.i.p.ality, and didn't you say keep it a secret from everyone?"
"Yes, that's right. But the newlywed aura between us is unstoppable. For me right now, this is the natural distance. So do your best, Monon.o.be-kun, and keep them in the dark."
Blushing, Firill replied with a serious expression.
While we were conversing in whispers, Iris tugged at my uniform from behind.
"What are you talking about, Monon.o.be and Firill-chan? Why do you have to whisper?"
"W-Well, it's because—"
Racking my brain furiously, I wondered how to deceive the rest of the girls.
"Just now when we were flying over the Princ.i.p.ality of Erlia, the subject of protecting this place came up in our conversation, so—It felt like cooperating with our hearts as one, we became closer, something like that..."
When I struggled to explain, Firill interjected after asking me to do my best earlier.
"That's right, Monon.o.be-kun and I are now in this together, thick and thin. We'll protect our country. Like this—Hip hip hurray!"
Grabbing my hand, Firill raised her hand with full vigor.
The subtle emphasis in her statement made me panic, but Iris imitated us, apparently accepting the explanation.
"That's right! Of course I'll do my best too. Hip, hip, hurray!"
She raised her fist high.
Doubt remained on the others' faces, but they tensed their expressions after hearing the latest update through their communicators.
'Three minutes until the operation. Cocytus has been fired from a distant base. Combat team outside the ship, please deploy barriers from the deck and standby to attack.'
Lisa began to construct her fictional armament and the others also readied themselves for combat.
Ariella erected an air barrier while Ren raised her hammer fictional armament.
After summoning her grimoire fictional armament, Firll smiled at me.
"...Necronomicon. Monon.o.be-kun, I absolutely refuse to lose anything."
The pages of the book flipped noisily, blowing a mild gust of wind in our surroundings. This was probably to strengthen the air barrier.
Without using a fictional armament, Kili walked to the center of the deck and said quietly.
"—Muspelheim. To prevent Bahamut from spotting Iris-chan, I will use refraction of light to make it impossible to see us from outside."
There was no visible change. However, tiny particles of dark matter, too small for the naked eye to discern, had generated in the surrounding s.p.a.ce to deploy optical camouflage.
'Do your best, everyone!'
I heard Tia's voice over the communicator. Next, Mitsuki and Shion's voices also reached my ear.
'Nii-san, everyone, I will be watching over you all from the bridge. If a situation should arise, I will rush over instantly to support you.'
'mE toO, i'Ll hElp Papa aNd eVeryOne iF anYthiNg haPpEns. hiP HiP huRrAy!'
Shion's imitation of Iris and Firill earlier made me smile.
"Yeah—Thanks a lot. Iris, are you ready?"
"Yes, no problem. Look."
When I asked, Iris nodded and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, her right eye was already crimson like a ruby. A short while later, her left eye also started glowing red.
Iris cried out sharply and her staff fictional armament manifested. Up to this point, it was the same as usual.
However, the fictional armament began to materialize, covering its surface with a layer of red diamond scales. Next, an ominous red sphere appeared on the tip of the staff.
I had seen this once before. It was the "organ" for producing maximum firepower that Iris had used when she became infinitesimally close to being a dragon during the showdown against the rampaging Kraken Zwei."—Third Eye of Catastrophe!" As Iris called out, the red sphere split open to reveal a giant eyeball. Like Iris' own eyes, the eyeball was glowing with crimson light too.
This was the third eye that Iris had created. In order to maximize Catastrophe's beam, this was the trump card for eliminating Bahamut.
"Monon.o.be... It worked. I will fight."
Although Iris was smiling a.s.sertively, I could see scales slightly invading her hand that was holding the staff. It was possible to turn her back, but I still felt a bit worried. However, since she had demonstrated her resolve, I could not show weakness either.
"Yeah, Iris—I'm leaving you the job of delivering the fatal blow to Bahamut. We'll create the opportunity for you to launch this attack."
I nodded at Iris and looked at everyone in turn.
"When Basilisk used the third eye to fire Catastrophe, it required a recharge period before attacking again. a.s.suming it's the same for Iris, we can't have her firing arbitrarily. We will be the ones to handle Bahamut's attacks.
"Yes, of course. We shan't allow Iris-san to be troubled."
Lisa a.s.serted strongly and raised her spear fictional armament. Once everyone was ready, Shinomiya-sensei spoke through the communicator.
'—As discussed during the strategy meeting, we have now confirmed two of Bahamut's attack methods. There is the heat beam discharged from the mouth as well as the firing of missile-like projectiles. Since the Naglfar managed to neutralize the heat beam by using Babel, our ship should be able to do thte same. However, it is possible for Bahamut to have other aces up its sleeve. Do not be careless under any circ.u.mstances.'
After I replied, Shinomiya-sensei continued.
'Furthermore, optical weapons such as lasers will end up absorbed as energy before striking the target. Although point-blank explosions are able to inflict damage, the heat generated in the blasts will turn into Bahamut's nourishment, activating its metabolic functions. Please commit these two points to your memory and react flexibly. Well then—There are only thirty seconds left. The countdown will commence presently.'
The atmosphere grew tense. I stared at the northern sky.
Bahamut was not in sight yet, but we should be able to see it with a slight increase in alt.i.tude. That was how close our enemy was.
I increased the output of the main engine and waited for the moment to arrive. I could also hear the sound of the Naglfar revving up to high energy while hovering at the same height.
'Begin countdown—Nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one—'
An ICBM flew over in the sky. The instant it disappeared on the other side of the horizon, the start of the operation was declared.
"Main thrusters, ignite! Full speed ahead!"
With my acute shout, Marduk began to advance. The G-forces from acceleration pressed down all over my body, but the barrier of wind enveloping the deck was supporting all of us.
The missiles fired by the fleet at the second defense line were flying in front nearby.
The clouds flew back violently and the blue horizon was dyed white. Over the there, seawater was being frozen. And in the sky, a giant shadow was hovreing.
'Target confirmed through optical imaging devices. ICBM right on target.'
After Jeanne's report, the ten-thousand-meter-long giant figure was surrounded by white mist from the blast. These white clouds were probably produced from the dispersing cryogens. The Cocytus modified from Gáe Bolg must have smashed into Bahamut's body and exploded without fail.
'All missiles met their mark. Bahamut's surface temperature dropping, but core energy still very high.'
This was like trying to put out a fire with cups of water, but no matter how slight the effect, it was still working. Furthermore, the first strike's objective was to obscure Bahamut's line of sight using the mist from the blast, to delay its discovery of us for as long as possible.
Bahamut emerged again, breaking through the white clouds produced by the cryogens. Marduk used this opportunity to close in according to the plan. Only thirty kilometers remained between us.
Flying next to us, the Naglfar was slightly ahead and fired a missile. This was to divert Bahamut's attention, no matter how little. Resembling Marduk in appearance, perhaps the Naglfar flying side by side could confuse Bahamut as a decoy.
'Bahamut has shot out multiple projectiles from its back! All targeting Marduk!'
But after hearing Jeanne's report, I knew the idea was too optimistic. Although Kili's optical camouflage should have prevented it from discovering Iris, Bahamut correctly identified the location of its natural enemy.
'High-energy reaction detected from Bahamut's head! Please take precautions against its heat beam!'
Even though we were fairly far away, I still could sense the brightness from Bahamut's mouth. The flying projectiles numbered two hundred. If they were to split up in the air, the quant.i.ty would be multiplied.
"Too many—Even if Monon.o.be-kun reduced their number like last time, they still might be too much to handle. Should I deploy a physical barrier?"
Ariella asked anxiously. The approaching projectiles looked like black stars in the blue sky.
However, I shook my head and looked at Bahamut, which was about to fire its heat beam.
"No, we'll blow them all away from this distance. Leave it to me."
Last time, Bahamut was very close and the approaching projectiles were almost flying at us from above, so I could only intercept them using Abyss. But this time, they were along the main cannon's line of fire.
I infused the main cannon at the prow with energy. The lenses in the middle of the bifurcated barrel glowed with blinding light while a deep rumble resounded in the surroundings.
Until now, I had always used Marduk's weapons in independent isolation to defeat dragons, but using them that way was really overdoing it. The main cannon and the special artillery would self-destruct after a single shot, while the other weaponry also fared poorly in stability. In other words, I had not been able to draw out their full capabilities.
But this time was different.
"Energy critical. Target, the fifth dragon—'Eternal Longevity' Bahamut."
Plasma appeared between the lenses in the barrel and the noise of activation grew loud.
Directly connected to Marduk's engine, the main cannon was able to exhibit 100% firepower. Using the main cannon in isolation could not compare to this at all.
The same time as Bahamut released its heat beam, I yelled:
The beam of black light shot from the bifurcated barrel devoured all approaching projectiles, neutralized the heat beam, and directly struck Bahamut in the distance.
Due to the spatial discontinuity created by supergravity, a pitch-black band distorted the path of light rays. From the ship's perspective, there were unnatural cracks in the surrounding scenery. Seawater swirled up against the Earth's gravity, sucked into the black light together with clouds.
It looked as though the world itself had shattered.
Bahamut's entire body discharged blue flames, trying to escape the gravitational discontinuity, but enveloped by the black beam, the right side of its body was caught, folded, and gouged out.
Next to me, Iris sighed in awe.
"Nothing less expected of Atlantis' trump card."
Kili whispered poignantly too.
Indeed, Deus Dragon Marduk was the power of the the second dragon—"Ultimate Wisdom" Atlantis itself. In other words, it was a "true dragon" on the same level as Bahamut. Even in a direct confrontation, it would give its opponent a good run for its money.
After the black light vanished, Bahamut began to fall towards the frozen sea surface, having lost one third of its body size.
"Monon.o.be, don't tell me we already defeated it?"
Standing at the prow, Iris looked back and asked, but I smiled wryly in return.
"That would be great, but Bahamut is too big. Unless we annihilate it in one shot, it'll immediately—"
Before I could finish, Bahamut's body began to regenerate at an unbelievable rate. In mere seconds, Bahamut had already restored its original shape.
Although I knew Bahamut's rate of metabolism was enough to oppose the incomplete Catastrophe, after witnessing it with my very own eyes, a chill and cold sweat still spread across my back. Even if Marduk held the upper hand for now, winning was definitely out of the question. That was the kind of opponent we were facing.
—The only way to destroy Bahamut was to rely on Iris' authority. It would be wishful fantasy to think I could win.
Reaffirming my role, I maintained Marduk's top atmospheric flight speed.
This attack from the main cannon had bought us plenty of time. Closing in further on Bahamut, we still had roughly twenty kilometers to go.
Finished regenerating, Bahamut discharged flames from all over its body, looking like it had renewed its stance.
At that moment, flying next to us, the Naglfar released a black beam. It was the Babel Replica—a weapon that was a copy of Marduk's main cannon. Its firepower was somewhat lower than the original, but the attack damaged Bahamut's wings, causing it to fall again.
Just as Bahamut finished regenerating again, it was bathed under the second wave of attacks from the NIFL fleet behind us. The white mist from the explosion surrounded Bahamut, obscuring it from sight.
Depriving Bahamut of heat would at least slow down its regeneration rate. We could not stand idle either.
"—The main cannon cannot be fired again until the barrel cools down and the energy is recharged. I will attack with other weapons. Everyone, support me using cryogens!"
"Mm, got it. Aiming from this distance is quite hard, so spread it over a large area."
Ren was the first to nod and raise her hammer fictional armament.
Next, dark matter appeared over her head, trans.m.u.ting into a white sphere. It was probably a ma.s.s of cryogenic substance.
When Ren swung her fictional armament, the sphere shot out at high speed, exploding over Bahamut. The cryogenic substance rained down, further increasing the density of the white mist enveloping Bahamut.
"We're on it too!"
Ariella and the others followed up with more cryogens after Ren. While watching them, I transmitted my thoughts to Marduk's eight psionic multi-barreled cannons.
Using the coordinates shared by Jeanne to aim, Bahamut was accurately located amid the white mist—Locked on.
On top of the deck, the turrets installed at the front of Marduk swiveled and took aim at the target.
"Psionic multi-barreled cannons, Noah—Fire!"
Manifestations of mental energy, sh.e.l.ls were shot simultaneously from all turrets. Through Marduk's system, my mental energy was greatly amplified. The rapid depletion of mental energy in the past was no longer a worry.
Leaving brightly glowing trails, the sh.e.l.ls of light hurtled into the white mist, resulting in heavy sounds of impact.
—Confirmed hit on target. Reload.
According to information from Jeanne, the psionic multi-barreled cannons had definitely inflicted damage upon Bahamut. Then all I needed to do was follow up the attacks.
Accompanying ma.s.sive explosions caused by firing special artillery, the sh.e.l.ls formed from my mental energy were shot into the air again.
The warheads of Abyss were limited, hence they had to be saved for the right moment.
"Crash down, ice blade!"
Lisa and the others continued to spread cryogenic substances. Ten more kilometers left. Soon enough—
'Bahamut's surface temperature rising rapidly! Perhaps it is releasing energy from within! Beware!'
Before we could brace ourselves after hearing Jeanne's urgent voice, the white mist surrounding Bahamut was blown away completely.
The frozen sea surface instantly melted while a wave of shock and heat rushed towards us.
The battleship shook while the temperature on the deck began to rise in spite of the barrier protecting us. While sweating, I gasped at the sight of Bahamut's change in appearance.
Red lines resembling veins had appeared on its black surface while the flames spewing out from its body were even more intense. The missiles from NIFL and attacks from Ren and the girls were getting vaporized before they could reach the target.
However, the sea instantly froze again when Bahamut opened its jaws wide and inhaled. Glittering diamond dust also appeared in the atmosphere.
'The air temperature around the hovering Bahamut is dropping again—Yet Bahamut's surface temperature continues to rise. The outer surface is expanding... No, transforming—'
Already right in front of us, Bahamut's cataclysmic change was clear for us to see.
Bahamut's body expanded with several bizarre protrusions appearing.
"Are those... horns?"
Firill murmured but a different answer came over the communicator.
'No—Bahamut is showing a high-energy reaction inside! Those are probably turrets! Warning signs of projectiles about to be fired from Bahamut's back!'
Hearing Jeanne's report, Kili's expression turned grim.
"Turrets and missiles... Weapons similar to what we have?"
After she whispered, Bahamut shot out numerous projectiles.
'Fired projectiles confirmed! Quant.i.ty... Twenty or so! In addition to our ship, the Naglfar and the NILF forces behind us are also targeted. Also confirmed, Bahamut's oral cavaty and the turrets are rising in temperature! The heat beam and artillery are coming!'
"What do we do!? There's no way to shoot them all down, right?"
Staring at the trajectory of the projectiles in the air, Kili asked.
—Just as Kili had pointed out, intercepting them would be very difficult. The main cannon was not recharged yet. Catastrophe should be capable of eliminating everything in one go, but firing it would be too soon right now.
'Captain, message from the Naglfar. "Never mind us," apparently!'
Without time to think deeply, I confirmed the situation and made my decision.
"Hmm—Charge ahead using defensive armaments. Girls, fortify the air barrier."
As I said that, Marduk shot out small units from beneath, deploying them in its surroundings.
Marduk still had other armaments I could use independently, this was one of them. Since there were restrictions on number of uses and active duration, and the fact that there was no data indicating it could defend against Bahamut's attacks, I had kept it in reserve until now. However, with only a few kilometers left, it was probably fine to take a gamble.
"Light sh.e.l.l barrier—Eden!"
I confirmed the placement of the units and shouted out the name.
Next, the units linked up using beams of light, forming a polyhedron that surrounded Marduk. With light beams as the framework, a glowing barrier enveloped the battleship.
Lisa and the others generated several layers of air barriers inside. Although we could no longer attack in this state, the barriers would allow us to ignore the enemy's attacks.
'Incoming heat beam and the artillery sh.e.l.ls!'
Bahamut released flaming orbs from all over its obdy while discharging a ma.s.sive heat beam from its mouth. The line-of-sight attack arrived faster than the parabolic trajectory of the projectile, striking Marduk.
The barrier instantly turned pure white. However, the heat was completely blocked and I did not feel any rise in temperature.
Due to the bright light, the naked eye could not see anything, but the barrier was stopping all attacks.
Using Marduk's recon functionality, Jeanne did not lose Bahamut's location.
While the barrier was deployed, Marduk was also charging into the heat beam at maximum speed.
Flames continued to explode outside the barrier. One of the axis units was emitting a mild amount of sparks, probably struck directly by the hail of projectiles. Slightly later, a series of explosions occurred directly above the battleship, presumably due to the detonation of projectiles. I did not know how powerful it was exactly, but the increased burden caused one of the barrier units to explode internally. I instantly rea.s.signed another unit to cover the gap, but minor cracks appeared in the light sh.e.l.l.
Bahamut had most likely gone all-out in this attack. There was no reason to hold back against its natural enemy.
—Hang in there a while longer!
'We are about to close in on Bahamut!'
Hearing Jeanne's voice, I yelled:
"Iris, attack as soon as you get the signal!"
Answering loudly, Iris pointed her staff to the front. Merged with the staff, the third eye glowed red.
"Come, come, fragments of termination—"
While Iris was chanting, our distance to Bahamut was shrinking fast. Through my senses, I kept up-to-date the location of the giant approaching ent.i.ty.
—Less than a thousand meters. Seven hundred meters—Five hundred meters—Three hundred meters—
The instant we broke a hundred meters, I shouted to Iris:
"O Catastrophe, actualize!!"
Accompanied by Iris' shrill voice, the third eye shot out a torrent of red light.
Stealing time from all creation, the shining light of destruction pa.s.sed through the barrier in front of the ship and erased the incoming heat beam.
The instantly I saw the Bahamut approaching the red light so extremely closely, I was convinced of victory. However, the instant before Catastrophe reached its target, something blocked in front of Bahamut.
Inconceivable. A silver discus had suddenly appeared before Bahamut to block Catastrophe.
"Monon.o.be... Oh no—That discus isn't showing signs of weathering at all! At this rate, I won't be able to hit Bahamut!"
Iris' urgent voice cleared my mind. At this rate, this was turning into a direct confrontation against the discus!
"Gah—Emergency turn! Hard right!"
Firing the auxiliary thruster on port side, I forcibly altered Marduk's course. The discus also moved as though it was the shield to protect Bahamut and continued to defend against Iris' Catastrophe.
In that case, steering Marduk to Bahamut's right flank was not going to help.
At that moment, Iris reached her limit. The instant the third eye's beam ended, the outer edge of the discus suddenly dispersed to reveal ribbon-like tentacles to attack Marduk.
Accompanied by a heavy crash and impact, Marduk shook violently.
'Barrier penetrated! But no direct hit! Damage minimal!'
Although the attack breached the already damaged light sh.e.l.l on port side, thanks to the air barrier maintained by the girls, we had avoided a direct hit. However, next time was not going to be so lucky.
Losing balance, Iris and the girls fell over. At the same time, I fired the two special artillery without aiming.
The explosion would turn into Bahamut's energy source, but there was no time to worry about that right now. In any case, it was imperative to restrain the unidentified discus.
The two sh.e.l.ls of blue light shot out from the turrets produced a ma.s.sive explosion in the air. The blast wind and the shockwave blew away the discus that was about to follow up on its attack.
Seizing this opportunity, Marduk secured distance against the enemy and took a wide turn. Aiming the psionic multi-barreled cannons at Bahamut and the discus, I fired sh.e.l.ls of mental energy from the eight turrets.
The sh.e.l.ls failed to hit the rapidly moving discus, but a few continued to pare down Bahamut's body that was damaged from the earlier explosion.
The only way to restrain Bahamut and its extremely rapid regeneration was to continue inflicting damage to it. If we could stall for long enough, the main cannon could be fired too. But—
"What the heck is that discus!? It suddenly showed up and blocked Catastrophe..."
Fallen over and crouching, Kili cried out unhappily.
The same question was on everyone's mind, but the answer was instantly revealed to us.
'Tia knows! It's in the Akashic Record. The sixth dragon—'Anomalous Dawn' Nyarlathotep!'
While continuing to fire sh.e.l.ls of mental energy, I gasped because of Tia's revelation. Following the Bahamut the fifty dragon, the sixth dragon had appeared too, why on earth...?
At that moment, a low and sharp voice entered my ear.
'From Bahamut's shadow, inside the unknown territory.'
I exclaimed the name of the voice's owner in surprise.
'Apologies, due to the urgency of the situation, I had Atla patch me directly into your communications channel. The Naglfar captured the instant of the discus' appearance. It definitely flew out of the unknown territory. Just like Bahamut.'
I looked around and found the Naglfar on the other side of Bahamut. The Naglfar must have steered in the opposite direction from us. It had struck the discus with missiles while surrounding Bahamut with a cloud of cryogenic substance. This was probably done to buy time for us to regroup.
"Just like Bahamut..."
'Indeed—But in that case, it should have appeared during the previous battle. According to Atla, it is very likely that the discus had been lurking in the Arctic unknown territory.'
"Hmm... Could it be that inside the four unknown territories—"
Hit by an ominous hunch, I spoke hoa.r.s.ely.
'Indeed. Perhaps different dragons are lurking in them. However, we must first take care of the enemy before us. According to Atla's a.n.a.lysis, the discus is made of a material similar to mithril. No, since we detected virtually no degradation caused by Catastrophe, its durability must exceed mithril's. So long as that thing remains in the way, Catastrophe will not never hit Bahamut.'
After Major Loki spoke gravely, Ariella whispered from the side:
"Mithril... Speaking of which, that discus has similarities with the Kraken. It's able to extend tentacles."
Possibly hearing this, Tia spoke through the communicator.
"The Kraken was the counterdragon that evolved to defeat Nyarlathotep. It was probably during that process that it developed a similar appearance."
"Wait—Then the Kraken's authority... We should be able to defeat Nyarlathotep with antimatter, right?"
I asked Tia solemnly.
'Yes, probably. Or rather... Apart from antimatter, there is definitely no other way of defeating it. Nyarlathotep is a metallic lifeform with no concept of lifespan—'
'Then Nii-san, allow me to fight.'
A voice filled with determination interrupted Tia on the communicator.
Indeed, Mitsuki's power to generate antimatter was needed here. Although I was worried about bringing her outside the ship, there was no other way. Just as I was about to consent—A young voice interjected, speaking awkwardly.
'Papa, wAit. i caN uSe anTiMatTer tOo. nO... i Am thE onLy One wHo caN uSe iT riGht.'
"What—Shion, you're going to fight too?"
I asked in confusion. Through the communicator, I heard Jeanne go "Zwei—What are you suddenly talking about!?" in a panic.
'yEs. mY auThOrity iS strOngEr. i KnOw.'
'H-Hold on! It would be too dangerous to let Shion-san fight!'
Mitsuki cried out anxiously.
'Time is running out, 2nd Lieutenant Monon.o.be. Due to the attack just now, Bahamut must have used up a great deal of its internal energy, slowing its rate of regeneration, but... Soon enough, its will finish its recovery and counterattack us.'
Major Loki urged me sharply to make a decision.
I gnashed my teeth and racked my brain momentarily before speaking.
"Shion, come to the deck."
'yEs! Papa, riGht awAy!'
Shion replied happily, but Mitsuki called my name in protest.
"Sorry. Now that an unexpected situation has come up, I can't recklessly allow you to go out, Mitsuki."
Thinking that Neun's instinct must be driving me to prioritize Mitsuki's protection, I apologized.
'—Understood. I shall comply with your decision, Nii-san.'
The sad voice caused agony to grip my heart, but for the sake of handling the crisis at hand, I could only suppress my own feelings while asking Iris who was sitting at the prow.
"Iris, you can't use the third eye immediately, right?"
"...S-Sorry. But... I've rested a bit while everyone was talking. Just a bit longer and... Once we get near Bahamut again, I should be able to... No, I'll definitely be able to."
Holding the staff with the glowing red eyeball, she stood up unsteadily.
"I got it."
I nodded without hesitation and changed Marduk's course, putting Bahamut and Nyarlathotep directly before the ship—along the main cannon's line of fire.
Although the Naglfar continued to attack using its main cannon and cryogenic projectiles, Bahamut's regeneration was probably nearing completion. Hence, I must do it before then.
"Main cannon, Babel—Psionic multi-barreled cannons, Noah—Hypers.p.a.ce reversion rocket-a.s.sisted artillery, Abyss—"
I linked my mind to these three sets of armaments and locked onto the targets. The main cannon rumbled while the lenses in the middle of the barrel glowed. The other weapons also produced deep noises of operation while waiting for the moment to unleash their power.
This was the decisive strike. There was no need to hold back.
A black torrent shot out from the main cannon at the prow while the eight multi-barreled cannons fired sh.e.l.ls of light. All remaining missiles were launched simultaneously from the pods at the back of Marduk, leaving white trails in the sky.
The silver discus—Nyarlathotep&mdah;immediately reacted, blocking the main cannon head on. Caught in the gravitational discontinuity, the discus' outline became twisted. But unbelievably, its silver body returned to its original round shape afterwards.
Impenetrable even by the main cannon... What outrageous resilience.
Nyarlathotep's durability was sickening, but my attacks were certainly not limited to just one.
While Nyarlathotep was blocking the main cannon, Noah's sh.e.l.ls and Abyss' warheads had struck Bahamut directly.
Gouged by holes of hypers.p.a.ce all over its body, the giant dragon's size was dramatically reduced.
"Now is the time—Another charge! Double deployment of Edin at the prow!"
Almost all of the barrier-generating units were overloaded, leaving only six functional. Covering the entire ship was impossible, so I erected a double layer of triangular surfaces of light in front of the ship.
"Lisa and Firill, fortify the air barrier! Ariella and Ren, you're in charge of trans.m.u.ting physical barriers in response to enemy actions! Kili, defend the surface of the deck with everything you've got."
After the girls replied, Shion opened the hatch and rushed outside.
"Papa! i wiLl taKe oUt thaT roUnd tHiNg."
"—Great, Shion. I'm counting on you. Let's fight side by side."
Picking up the running Shion in my arms, I ordered Marduk to enter maximum acceleration.
At maximum output, the thrusters propelled the ship at full speed.
Resisting the gravity cannon, Nyarlathotep noticed our actions and extended ribbon-like tentacles.
"i wOn'T loSe tO yoU..."
Shion lifted her hair to reveal the hidden left eye. Her eye was glowing purple just as it had done so back when she was Kraken Zwei. She had apparently spoken the truth when talking about being able to use the authority earlier.
"...Come, come, fragments of termination—Come, come, fragments of termination..."
Holding the red staff with both hands, Iris repeated the same same chant as though praying. The third eye at the tip of the staff glowed crimson again.
Nyarlathotep attacked at high speed almost simultaneously with Jeanne's warning. The instant the light barrier cracked, the units sustaining the first barrier overloaded and exploded.
Although the second barrier layer held, but the time we verified the situation, the tentacles were already retracted. Just now was probably a purely physical attack performed by that super durable metallic ent.i.ty at hyper speed. But this single strike was already extraordinary in power.
"It's going to break through next time! We need to construct a physical barrier capable of blocking that thing's attacks!"
Holding Ren's hand, Ariella took a step forward. She was planning to borrow dark matter from Ren to erect an even stronger barrier.
While Jeanne issued the warning, Ariella shouted:
"Barrier, deploy—Seras Athena!"
Dark matter was generated on the interior face of the light barrier. Blooming like a flower, a silver-white shield was spreading out radially.
Immediately, a thunderous rumble was heard. The impact shook the ship, making us unsteady on our feet.
The remaining units were broken as the final light barrier was destroyed. Cracks also appeared on Ariella's barrier with tiny fragments crumbling off.
However, the barrier was not penetrated. On the opposite side of the collapsing barrier, Nyarlathotep and Bahamut were right in front of us—
"Yeah, I'm on it—Monon.o.be!"
When I gave the signal, Iris replied resolutely.
"Great... Shion, I'm counting on you!"
Under the current circ.u.mstances, Nyarlathotep could not move. As soon as it dodged, Bahamut would lose protection and suffer a direct hit.
"Papa, i gOt iT!"
Shion's hair suddenly flew up while blinding light erupted from her left eye.
This was the authority inherited from the Kraken, the power known as the "Absolute."
Regardless of the level of hardness or resilience, nothing could defend against this attack as long as it was matter.
Capable of annihilating all matter, glowing antimatter surged from Shion's left eye.
Her young voice was filled with fighting spirit.
The purple glowing projectile exploded silently in the air.
A flash of light imprinted on my retinas.
The released beam struck the rotating Nyarlathotep dead center.
Immediately, the discus-like ent.i.ty began to expand from within. A crack formed, leaking out light, then instantly—A violent explosion engulfed the discus.
It was disappearing. Thrashing its tentacles, the sixth calmity which had threatend the world in the past was gradually devoured by the purple light.
The ma.s.sive explosion at point-blank range caused Bahamut to roar in pain. The light of annihilation was also approaching us.
However—No need to fear. She was going to erase everything next.
"O Catastrophe, actualiiiiiiiiize!!"
Iris' stern voice resounded all around while the third eye's glow brightened from the tip of her raised staff.
Red light flooded out. The time-stealing torrent rushed at the matter-annihilating explosion and Bahamut that was on the other side.
The distant future—The termination of all creation.
Iris screamed with all her might.
Bathed in the red light, Bahamut also began to widen its jaws and roar. Blue-white light appeared from inside its mouth that was even bigger than Marduk.
It was trying to use its last strength to fire a heat beam.
However, even when putting eternal longevity on the line, it was futile in the face of termination brought by Catastrophe.
The flames of ma.s.sive heat were erased by the red beam of destruction.
The ten-thousand-meter-long body collapsed, crumbled, and the roaring ended.
The giant silhouette hovering in the reddened sky grew smaller and smaller.
With the karma of time catching up to it, the fifth dragon met its demise just like that.
This was probably a reenactment of the ancient past, when Basilisk had exterminated it—
"——Huff... Huff... Huff... We did... it?"
After Catastrophe's light vanished, Iris collapsed in exhaustion and sat down on the deck.
There was nothing left in front of Marduk.
Nyarlathotep, Bahamut, and even the clouds in the sky were all gone, leaving only a clear blue sky.
'Signals lost for Bahamut and Nyarlathotep. Mission... accomplished.'
Jeanne's voice through the communicator brought me back from s.p.a.cing out.
"We did it!"
Close by, Firill jumped in delight.
Just as I was feeling fl.u.s.tered by the two soft bulges pressing against me, Shion imitated her and hugged me.
"Papa, i... woRkeD haRd, riGht?"
"Yeah, you worked really hard."
Patting her purple-haired head, I praised Shion and she happily closed her eyes partially. Her glowing left eye had returned to normal too.
"Monon.o.be... What about me...?"
Sitting utterly exhausted, Iris looked longingly at me. She had let go of her staff and the scales on her hand were starting to disappear. The red color in her eyes was also fading away gradually.
"Yeah, Iris, you certainly worked hard too!"
"...Was I amazing?"
I nodded hastily but Iris did not seem satisfied.
"Yeah, very amazing."
"Fufu... Monon.o.be praised me."
Then Iris finally relaxed completely and laid down with her back on the deck.
"Iris-chan, you'll catch a cold if you sleep here, you know?"
Kili sighed in exasperation and the others smiled wryly. The atmosphere was very harmonious—But a sharp voice suddenly spoke through the communicator.
'2nd Lieutenant Monon.o.be, get away from there immediately!'
Major Loki spoke rapidly, surprising me.
'Look down—Something is very unusual about the shadow! You are directly over the unknown territory!'
I rushed over to looked down from the deck. The trail left behind by Bahamut on the frozen sea surface had remained even after Bahamut's destruction. And continuing forward after defeating Bahamut, Marduk had entered the sky over the shadow.
Was it due to losing its original source, Bahamut? The unknown territory's surface expanded in a terrifying manner.
"!? Thrusters, maximum output! Withdraw ASAP!"
Feeling an intense chill, I tried to escape the unknown territory but it was too late. Surging out of the shadow, the darkness spurted up like a geyser, swallowing Marduk.
The sky and the sea turned black completely. The turbulent flow of darkness swallowed the deck. Everyone's figure—including my own outline—became indiscernible. Not only vision but all other senses became dulled too. Shion and Firill, who should be next to me, could not be located either.
I reached out in the darkness, trying to invoke Neun's authority.
The back of my left hand warmed up and the tiny dragon mark surfaced. I could finally see my left hand clearly.
However, the light did not spread further. When I looked around, there was blue light shining from various locations, probably the dragon marks of my companions. Like me, they were using Neun's power to resist the darkness.
However, the light was fading away. The excess abundance of darkness was about to overwhelm the authority's light.
Yesterday and during the car accident that killed Mitsuki's parents—I had confronted the darkness on two occa.s.sions and succeeded in suppressing it. But the volume was completely different this time.
The darkness was overwhelming and our light was too weak.
"Firill, Shion, are you there?"
I called out to the two girls who were supposed to be hugging me, but there was no answer.