Leviathan:Volume 1 Chapter 3
Chapter 3 - Revived Flames
"As an endless traveler hailing from dragonkind, I hereby offer my greetings to all of you."
The small bronze dragon landed lightly on a streetlight like a bird of prey.
This lighting equipment was never going to light up again. However, the moon was especially clear tonight and fully substituted for the streetlight's function.
The voice emitted by the dragon was both clear and intellectual.
"Using a pronunciation easier for your comprehension, my name is Raak Al Soth. Although my dealings with you shall conclude in an instant, I do hope that every one of you will remember my name firmly until the final moment."
"Rather than conclude, you are going to terminate..." muttered Hal quietly.
His heart felt like it was about to explode from terror.
Elite dragons were capable of cursing humans to death with nothing but a stare.
Nearby, Orihime and Asya who had interrupted the ritual were both staring up in wide-eyed shock at the dragon. However, Hal's childhood friend stiffened her expression further when she saw the dragon speak.
Since Asya was a witch who had survived countless battles, this reaction of hers most likely stemmed from personal experience regarding the threat posed by elite dragons.
"Next, race that is more closely related to apes than snakes..."
The dragon Soth was speaking in a calm voice that did not match his curled up body.
"May I mutter to myself for a little while? Until a few days ago, I was still in slumber. Does everyone here know that hibernation periods exist for my race? Well, using your calendar system, it means slumbering continuously for several years."
Unbelievably, there was a sense of humor in the dragon's tone of voice.
Humor was a sign of intelligence.
However—Hal frowned. No matter how much mental cogency and powerful magic they possessed, the true nature of dragons was ultimately that of terrifying creatures.
"We get a little excited when coming out of hibernation. Trivial things can turn into stimulus provoking me to attack the ground surface and revel in the joy of violence and destruction."
At this rate, the dragon was undoubtedly going to start a fight—
Hal signaled with his eyes to Asya who nodded lightly in response.
"But right now, another bad habit of mine is bothering me. Once provoked, I cannot suppress my vice of avarice no matter what. Excuse me, everyone, but I wish to rob you of that treasure there. Would you allow me to do so?"
Treasure. The dragon was probably referring to the white copper mirror Hal's group had brought.
Compared to Raptors, elite dragons experienced a much stronger desire to gather precious metals, rare metals and objects carrying magical power.
Previously, Hal had called Asya "a beast in human clothing"—
However, elites were "demonic beasts wearing guises of intellect." The real thing instead of a metaphor.
While Hal and his group were so shocked that they gasped, the dragon Soth spread his wings and hovered into the air.
Then he suddenly started to expand. Within the blink of an eye, the physique that was almost the size of Stellar's sea eagle extended itself to a giant body ten-odd meters in length.
Enlargement—No, this was the dispelling of Miniaturization magic.
The elite's gigantic body spread its pair of wings wide, blocking moonlight from reaching the ground.
"Hold on! There is no need for you to rob us. If you want this thing, just take it!" declared Orihime suddenly without warning while she stared sternly at the dragon.
"Although I've heard that it's very expensive... In the end, it's just an object."
Under Hal's surprised gaze, this was the answer Orihime gave. There was nothing worth agonizing over if the trio's lives could be saved in exchange for a single mirror. That was probably what went through Orihime's mind. Her beautiful face was filled with acuity.
"And aren't you an expert in finding objects like this one, Haruga-kun? I just need to hire you to find another one, so losing the mirror isn't regrettable at all."
At the end, her lips twisted stiffly in an effort to force a smile.
Even while resisting the pressure brought about by a giant elite dragon, she was still forcing herself to smile and trying not to let Hal and Asya worry too much.
Damn it. For some reason, Hal really wanted to click his tongue.
Why was this girl making a full display of her dazzling aspects so frequently?
And why must someone like her be sent to the front lines to fight dragons that were impossible to measure with common sense?
After all, this deal proposed to the dragon would ultimately—
"Do not get the wrong idea, girl. I said 'I wish to rob' and have no intention of profiting without labor."
As expected. Hal gnashed his teeth.
This was his first time encountering an elite dragon up close, but as an "expert," he was already familiar with the belligerent and sadistic nature of their race.
As though corroborating his knowledge, the elite dragon Raak Al Soth laughed.
"I wish to trample you viciously together with that shadow of an imitation you have created, thereby satiating my avarice! For us dragons, there is no greater joy than conflict, extermination and devastation! Hahahahaha!"
Soth laughed while flapping his wings.
Instantly, a raging gale swept forth, blowing the trio over backwards.
Then there was the shadow behind Hal's group.
The leviathan about to be born—the shadow of a quadrupedal beast—was blown and scattered by the wind, vanishing like a mirage!
"Dispel... He used a countermagic spell! Watch out, Juujouji—Urgh!?"
No sooner had he issued a warning, Hal knelt down. That was because his legs suddenly lost strength.
In the corner of his field of vision, Hal could catch a faint glimpse of red flames. The hallucination seemed to be acting up again.
Was he still unable to overcome it?
Like last time, Orihime rushed over to him. That girl never minded her own business nor feared for her own life.
Why did she choose the path of shared destruction instead of abandoning deadweight? Just like last time, Hal burned with fury at his own ineptitude.
However, the only difference in situation this time was Asya's presence.
"I pray to the ancient divine seal of purity!"
She was chanting a song of summoning, a hymn for calling forth her partner, Blue Rushalka.
"Send the transient blue dragon to the ground! Let the star of purification manifest over our heads!"
Responding to her call, a shining pentagram materialized in front of Raak Al Soth who was hovering leisurely in midair with wings spread out.
"Fufufufu, of course I noticed. Girl sacrificed to the accursed race deserving of death, the smell of an imitation is hanging over you—"
The belligerent giant bronze creature's voice was filled with joy.
"You lot are precisely the prey that I seek, the enemies who truly ought to be crushed! Very well, hurry and summon it!"
"I'll do that even without being told by you! Fight alongside me once more, Rushalka!"
Responding to Asya's call, the light constituting the pentagram transformed into a "∞" shape.
Immediately, the "∞" then turned into a blue magical beast.
A dragon without front limbs. Sprouting from the shoulders was a large pair of long wings. Spreading its wings ferociously and leaping into the night sky of Old Tokyo was precisely a "wyvern."
The surface of her body was light blue with a blue mane on her head.
Furthermore, a long horn protruded from her forehead.
A blue wyvern with a single horn like a unicorn—
Asya's partner, the "serpent" Rushalka, had materialized.
Rushalka's build was slightly smaller than Raak Al Soth's. Elites and "serpents" were almost perfectly matched in physical size and abilities.
Rushalka roared loudly and flew, hurtling straight towards Soth ahead.
Her massive body was very agile. There was even a sense of lightness to her movements. Despite clearly being a gigantic monster, Rushalka was moving around with great fluidity of motion and speed.
Closing in within an instant, Rushalka stabbed her forehead's lone horn at Soth's body.
This horn would be considered her "horn counterpart."
But speaking of agility, the elite dragon was in no way inferior at all. Relying on bestial reflexes, Raak Al Soth instantly reacted.
That being said, he was not taking any evasive measures—
"O secret runes of Ruruk Soun, turn into my mysterious shield!"
Accompanying the incantation, defensive magical power was spread out.
Soth's gigantic bronze-colored body was surrounded by cuneiform script that was hard to tell if it consisted of characters or patterns—They also slightly resembled symbols from an alphabet. These symbols numbered almost twenty.
Moving her long and sharp horn, Rushalka stabbed.
However, the alphabet surrounding Soth blocked her direct flying charge.
Despite reaching merely meters from stabbing the target, the horn was unable to advance!
"That is rather strong for an imitation. Looks like I have to exert myself to handle this opponent using my sluggish body newly risen from slumber!"
Soth roared loudly. Despite complaining about exertion, he seemed quite happy.
Then he slowly and calmly spread his wings, gradually rising in altitude.
Whether dragons or leviathans, neither lowered themselves to flying via the inelegance of hastily flapping their wings. Spreading their wings wide as though they were the sovereigns of the sky, they soared through the air by expending magic. Such was the style of these creatures.
After reaching sufficient height, Raak Al Soth opened his mouth and breathed blue flames diagonally downwards!
This was the Fire Breath that had incinerated many of humanity's cities.
The mighty flames were descending on Rushalka from overhead. Using her own nimble agility, the blue wyvern should be able to evade the attack through flowing motions like a meandering river, but—
Asya shouted to relay her orders to her "partner."
Magi and "serpents" were connected by telepathy. Just by shouting loudly or thinking silently with concentration, the covenantees were able to transmit their will.
At this moment, Asya was probably thinking "Protect us!"
As a result, Rushalka held her position in the air, blocking Soth's fiery explosion directly.
Because she could not dodge.
Otherwise, the flames would end up reaching the ground, incinerating the trio of Hal, Orihime and Asya until nothing was left.
The one-horned "serpent" roared in pain but the surface of her blue body was unharmed.
Soth's flames were not powerful enough to defeat her—At least, not yet.
"Fufu, the flames inside me are still not hot enough, apparently. But this problem shall be solved soon enough. Imitation, give me a good fight until then!"
Soth's fully confident voice was heard from above.
Indeed. The power of the attack just now was clearly weak compared to the standards of flames discharged by elite dragons. Having just come out of hibernation, Soth probably needed warm-up exercise like a human athlete.
Once his body—the flames inside him—were sufficiently fired up, his attacks ought to become even stronger.
Furthermore, elites also had the option of using magic to raise the power of their flames.
Raak Al Soth still had yet to bring out his true power.
On the other hand, Asya and Rushalka...
"Don't worry... Your body should still hold for now. I will sustain you, so please endure a little longer, Rushalka..."
The use of "still" on both sides was diametrically opposite.
Despite being in the middle of an intense battle, Asya was calling to Rushalka in a gentle voice.
Upon closer examination, one could see what appeared to be small dust-like particles crumbling and falling away from Rushalka's massive body. The blue wyvern's physical body was gradually falling apart.
After persistently fighting battles all over Europe, the "serpent" had suffered incurable injuries.
Asya's partner, Blue Rushalka.
Hal last saw her a year ago, but Rushalka had evidently passed the peak power of her prime.
Flying in the air above Old Tokyo were Raak Al Soth and Rushalka.
Soth was flying even higher.
This relative positioning also happened to reflect their difference in combat strength.
Having trouble even standing steadily, Hal found his field of vision dominated by those flames.
Whether the university campus they had been using as the altar or the moonlit sky where the dragon and the snake were fighting, everything was shrouded in flames. In addition, his heart was beating rapidly and he could not muster any strength in his back and legs.
Perhaps this was the end for him.
Hal sighed then said to Orihime beside him, "...Juujouji, things look bad right now, so you'd better hurry and escape. That dragon is currently interested in Rushalka only, so you might be able to escape if it's just on your own."
"Haruga-kun, what do you mean by that?"
"Just solving a simple arithmetic problem. Since there is the option of one person surviving, of course that's better than all three of us getting killed," explained Hal indifferently to Orihime who was glaring harshly at him.
Meanwhile, he was sitting collapsed on the magic circle he had constructed earlier for the ritual.
High in the sky, Raak Al Soth was flying while shooting flames confidently at the ground. And Rushalka was blocking them with her body.
Soth probably intended to gradually increase the flames' heat by shooting them continually.
Whenever the flames seemed like they were about to end, he would start spewing them out again the next instant.
In order to protect Asya, Hal and Orihime on the ground, Rushalka could not dodge. Although she could still endure for now, time seemed to be running out. Hal said, "Getting back to New Town on foot is tough and very dangerous... But compared to getting killed by that elite, it's probably not much of a trial. Also, it's less likely you'll be spotted compared to moving in a vehicle."
"Don't be silly. If I'm going to escape, I'm taking you with me, Haruga-kun."
The rational suggestion was rejected by an impulsive declaration.
How stupid. Although Hal was quite skinny in physique, he was no baby.
A girl as slender as Orihime could not possibly carry him on her back.
"I don't know whether you've been afflicted with a mental disorder or Taira no Masakado's curse but I'm not shameless enough to run away and leave behind someone who's like a patient. Doing that would surely weigh unbearably on my conscience, causing me to acquire a mental disorder instead."
Despite understanding that this choice would lead to her own demise, she still adhered nobly and faithfully to kindness.
Hal sighed. In fact, he had already predicted this.
Considering the Princess here, this sort of answer was very possible.
Despite the hallucinations tormenting him, Hal still turned his gaze to the sky.
Rushalka was engaged in a desperate battle against the elite dragon's Fire Breath. However, seizing the instant of interruption in the opponent's flames, she finally counterattacked.
"Rushalka!" commanded Asya.
In that instant, Rushalka exhibited great fluidity in motion.
She suddenly flew as smoothly as water flowing down in accordance to elevation.
A rapid ascent with astounding calmness.
Nevertheless, the speed was as fast as lightning. Using just an instant, Rushalka closed in and arrived in front of Soth, then she stabbed her single horn at the elite dragon's neck.
If the neck's center could be pierced, perhaps a critical wound might be inflicted.
Relying on bestial reflexes again, Soth twisted his neck to one side and avoided the horn's attack. What a shame.
Still, the desire to seek victory was amazing in refusing to miss tiny openings so as to counterattack.
Within Hal's flame-enshrouded view—
Asya's elegant face was filled with acuity and solemnity, truly awe-inspiring.
Although the young maiden was as delicate as a fairy or an antique doll, only at times like these during battle did her image rise to her most beautiful, looking like a painting.
"...If she were like this all the time, perhaps I might even fall for her..." murmured Hal in mesmerization.
If his childhood friend emerged victorious just like that, there would be no problem.
But on further thought, it was just a hope of fantasy. Hal secretly prepared himself for the worst.
"Haruomi is really in bad shape..." murmured Asya, glancing at her childhood friend collapsed on the ground. Haruomi did not possess the power to fight dragons to begin with, but he was a boy who was used to such battlefields.
The witch candidate from the client's side and her childhood friend—Neither could be allowed to die.
Committing her resolve, Asya glared at Soth.
Meanwhile, her "serpent" Rushalka had just taken the opportunity to attack Soth with her horn. Now, Rushalka had flown back to above Asya, waiting in the air to prepare for the next exchange of attacks.
Asya nodded. Using guerrilla tactics would be best for now.
It was not yet time to instigate a close-range brawl.
Biting the enemy's neck while wrestling with each other...
Such crude tactics were only applicable when the opponent revealed more openings. Right now, what she ought to do was—
"Rushalka, form an enclosure using pseudo-divinity!"
Asya threw out one of her trump cards. Namely, allowing Rushalka to use magic.
The wyvern-shaped blue serpent cried out shrilly.
As a result, the concrete below was split open as a violent torrent of water gushed out from within.
Rushalka had summoned a pillar of water. This water pillar divided itself into two along the way. The end of each water pillar took on the shape of a snake's head, wriggling restlessly like a slithering snake's.
Simply stated, the large amount of water bursting forth had transformed into a giant two-headed snake.
The two-headed snake of water extended its long necks to form a circle, surrounding Rushalka all three hundred and sixty degrees like a barrier.
With this, the continual attacks of fiery breath earlier would no longer be a problem.
The snake of water was constituted using the pseudo-divinity of water.
A water deity's power was capable of suppressing flames and sealing away evil powers. The water snake's heads were guarding on Rushalka's left and right respectively.
Leviathans were able to invoke magic rivaling that of elite dragons.
Namely, pseudo-divinity, the trump cards of witches like Asya.
"Don't attack yet, Rushalka. Right now, prioritize protecting yourself and us," whispered Asya softly.
In Rushalka's current state, she was unable to muster the kind of destructive power required to suddenly charge the elite dragon and rampage all the way to the end. In that case, persisting in thorough defense was the better choice.
Let Soth attack if that was what he wanted. She was going to wait like this until the opponent grew tired and presented a opening.
Once the opportunity arrived, she would aim for that bronze-colored throat—
"Fufu, I never knew an imitation could lead its own minions!"
Looking at Rushalka and the two-headed snake, Soth snickered.
"A tough fight indeed. But what a shame that you are injured. Originally, you could have amused me by using many more fancy tricks..."
He had seen through the fact that the enemy side was not at peak condition. Asya frowned.
The number of times that a "serpent" could invoke pseudo-divinity was dependent on the partner. Asya was a Level 5 witch.
This implied that she possessed the power to "order the use of divinity five times a day."
Originally, she should have chosen to use spells at an earlier opportunity.
But she only used it this late due to considerations for the burden it would impose on Rushalka.
Invoking divinity would greatly reduce the lifespan of the "serpent" whose days were already numbered. Restraint was necessary to use her partner's remaining life with effectiveness.
"This rare strength and resilience has been compromised by injury? Truly a shame and quite a mood killer. Know that this is my very first prey after coming out of hibernation!"
There were many among elite dragons who adhered rigidly to their own peculiar aesthetic sense.
Asya could not help but feel suspicious while recalling that fact. What exactly was he trying to say?
"O dim-witted Jabones, respond to the summons of the Zizou, seekers along the Road to Kingship."
Soth chanted an incantation. As a result, shooting stars suddenly appeared in the night sky.
A number of lights were descending on the earth from satellite orbits.
This was not a sudden meteor shower. Nowadays, dragonkind had built a number of colonies on satellite orbits and the moon's surface where large numbers of Raptors—lesser dragons—inhabited.
"Are you summoning minions too!?"
"Mmm-hmm. Didn't I say that my mood was killed? The winged lizards shall serve as your opponents."
Streaking across the sky, the meteors landed between Soth and Rushalka.
Roughly thirty in number, they were all dragons smaller than Rushalka. Descending from the sky were steel-colored lesser dragons, Raptor Draconis.
Indeed. Elites were able to magically summon groups of lessers, commanding them as they pleased!
Before their eyes were the non-sapient Raptors, pure beasts. Normally, they would attack Rushalka without any leadership or tactics but this time, things were different.
The Raptors surrounded Rushalka in an organized fashion, forming a net of encirclement.
Following Raak Al Soth's directions, they were taking combat action as an army.
"Then I shall excuse myself... Allow me to claim the treasure."
Leaving the battlefield to his minions, Soth slowly and calmly spread his wings.
The elite dragon's gaze was cast down onto the magic circle on the ground, the white copper mirror located at its very center—In other words, the divine artifact that had caught his eye.
Just as Asya clicked her tongue to engage the Raptor group in battle—
Haruomi suddenly took unexpected action.
Just as he had feared, numerous Raptors had flown in from the sky.
Hal sighed. It looked like he had no choice but to try out that plan. Because it was a very uncertain challenge, he really wanted to avoid using it unless necessary—
Hal strained to use his right hand, which was having trouble moving freely, to search the interior of his waist pouch.
Inside was a folding knife. Taking it out, Hal flicked out the knife edge.
—Hal had dispelled the state of paralysis and hallucination of flames before by pure vigor alone.
In that case, let's try it again. Hal gripped the blade hard with his left hand.
"Ow... It really hurts!"
"Hold on, Haruga-kun, what on earth are you doing!?"
Naturally, his left palm was cut open and dripping with blood.
Frightened by Hal's sudden act of self-mutilation, Orihime looked into his face with worry.
In that very instant, Hal's field of view became clear, no longer shrouded by flames. The pain had driven away the bizarre hallucination.
Orihime's pale face looked very clear and distinct. His legs... were now able to gather strength.
Hal said to the beauty who was up very close, "You seem to have forgotten this. If any accident occurs during the ritual, protecting you is part of the job we are undertaking. Not doing my job properly is unacceptable..."
Hal finally stood up with difficulty. Leaving the surprised Orihime behind, he stumbled his way to the pedestal set up at the center of the magic circle and grabbed the white copper mirror on top of it.
This was the Grave Good provided by the client to be used during the covenant ritual to become the Heartmetal.
Hal proceeded to drag himself unsteadily into the driver's seat of the light motor vehicle. Turning the key in the ignition, he started the engine.
"Sorry, I'll be taking away the thing you want!"
Hal opened the car window and yelled to the sky. A taunt directed at the elite dragon.
As a result, Soth went "Hmm?" in the air, a little surprised. He never expected to hear such a declaration from Haruomi whom he acknowledged as nothing more than a monkey.
Hal could feel Soth's gaze piercing him and the car.
By this point, his heart still felt inexplicably afraid. Rushalka was surrounded by over thirty Raptors. Judging from the current situation, he could not expect his childhood friend's assistance for now.
Hal made eye contact with Asya on the ground again.
The childhood friend nodded lightly. She understood Hal's intent.
However, it was nothing so amazing that one would call it intent. After all, Hal was just taking action in reckless abandon.
The current situation was almost hopeless.
By taking away the "treasure" that had caught the elite dragon's eye, it would be great if he managed to divert Soth's attention.
It would be even better if Soth sent several Raptors to chase him. It would not be much, but at least Rushalka's burden could be lessened somewhat.
Then after that, what awaited Hal was probably a tragic fate.
But at least it would be a thousand times better than getting crushed by those dragons. In addition, making a desperate struggle like this might perhaps lead to survival...
Rather than relying on magic, Hal and his childhood friend simply communicated their thoughts to each other through silent mutual understanding.
(I'm counting on you, Haruomi. But I don't intend to say a final farewell to you here!)
(The same goes for you. We must live on no matter what.)
Asya nodded as though saying "go" and blinked with determination, absolutely refusing to say goodbye, displaying a warrior's calm solemnity—
All this served to clearly express the childhood friend's thoughts.
She was probably reading Hal's inner thoughts in a similar manner.
Hence, Hal floored the car's gas pedal without giving Asya another look.
"Haruga-kun! Using yourself as bait is way too reckless!"
He could hear Orihime's voice. The Princess had apparently realized Hal's intentions.
Hal remained convinced that she was not cut out for great accomplishments as a witch. But perhaps just as she claimed, she might turn out to be unexpectedly talented in fighting. Such were the rude thoughts crossing Hal's mind.
Heeding Orihime no more, Hal drove the car to leave the scene on his own.
Departing from the university campus that had turned into an altar then a battlefield, the car sped along the sloped Hongou Street.
First, Hal drove south to the former districts of Ōtemachi and Marunouchi. He decided he would abandon the car after pulling ahead some distance, then escape into the wasteland...
Fortunately, Hal was very familiar with the geographic environment.
Although he did not visit very often, this was his hometown after all.
Hal and his father were both members of SAURU who made a living relying on magic. There were several occasions in the past when he had to hand in research reports to headquarters, thus requiring him to infiltrate the Tokyo Concession where magical power exceeded normal parameters.
Even without looking at a map, Hal could still remember major roads and shortcuts.
If things went smoothly, he ought to have ample chance to escape with his life—
Just as Hal was persuading himself with optimistic speculation, he jumped in fright.
Reflected in the rear-view mirror was a flying object that was closing in at a leisurely rate.
The bronze dragon was flying with confidence, his wings spread out in leisure while he chased after Hal.
Without rising in altitude, he was flying courteously above the traffic lanes.
Soth was most likely doing this to make Hal realize the fact that he was being chased. It was possible that Soth wanted to go on a hunt.
Hal had not expected Soth to come chasing after him as the leader—
If it were a single Raptor, he might have been able to use magic to escape by the skin of his teeth!
Soth was evidently serious when he declared himself weary of Rushalka and Asya. Then opening his jaws wide, he was undoubtedly planning to breathe out fire.
Hal's light motor vehicle was passing by Ogawamachi and speeding along Hongou Street.
This was an unrestricted race without any need to heed legal speed limits or concurrent traffic. Hal floored the gas pedal without hesitation, racing at full speed.
However, this was quite dangerous behavior.
After all, no one could predict what kinds of obstacles had fallen on the abandoned vehicle lanes. He should not let his speed exceed a certain threshold.
In fact, during the trip here, Hal had driven sluggishly at an average of less than forty kilometers per hour.
But now, he was going at full speed—
Entirely because he was afraid of the magic beast in the sky behind, chasing him.
Hence, Hal had accelerated to top speed to escape. Soth ascended slightly and was now flying at an altitude just above the clusters of high-rise buildings.
"But for a dragon, it's not like it matters whether I'm going at fifty kilometers per hour or two hundred..." muttered Hal to himself.
Gripping the steering wheel, his hands were sweating slightly. Just by using magic for high-speed flight, elite dragons were able to break the sound barrier.
Hal was keeping the white copper mirror targeted by the dragon in his shirt pocket.
Sacred treasures used in religious rites since time immemorial sometimes became vessels of magical power.
Among such vessels, some of them even carried spiritual energy transcending simple magical power—divinity—thereby elevating them to become substitutes for gods.
This type of "sacred divine artifact" was what Hal and others called Grave Goods.
Even if Grave Goods underwent changes in form, the divinity and magical power they had acquired would still remain essentially intact.
Whether processed to make a mirror or melted into a viscous fluid to pour into a mold, divinity would not be lost immediately. Precisely due to these reasons, this white copper mirror was usable in a covenant ritual to Heartmetallize into the leviathan's heart.
What was Raak Al Soth thinking about?
Hal drove while pondering desperately. Had Soth refrained from using flames and magic to avoid damaging the mirror inside the car? Or did he think it was okay to melt the mirror using heat then remold using alchemy?
The former would be good news. At least it would guarantee his life for the time being and offer a chance to escape successfully.
But if Soth's sadistic interest in abusing Hal and his friends prevailed over his desire to seize the mirror, wouldn't he breathe fire boldly and directly?
Don't breathe fire, don't breathe fire, don't breathe fire—Hal prayed desperately.
At least, not until he abandoned the car to hide inside this wasteland of a city. With that, Hal would be able to concentrate fully on erasing his own presence or even use magic to barely make his way out alive.
Although failing to escape was possible, Hal was going to struggle and exhaust all avenues available to him as a human being—
However, Hal's hopes and prayers were in vain.
By the time he realized, the dragon was already discharging blue-white flames from his jaws, engulfing the light motor vehicle.
Naturally, Hal was plunged into the predicament of bracing his entire body against the heat and the impact.
'You're asking why is it that only girls can establish covenants with serpents?'
When was it that he had asked his father this question?
According to Hal's recollections, it should have been five years ago. Soon after his childhood friend Asya had entered a covenant with her partner Rushalka, this conversation had taken place between Hal and his father.
'Well, it'd be very long and boring to give an explanation based on the theory.'
Confronted with his son's question, the father had pondered for a while before answering.
'But it becomes very simple if I put it this way: because of differences in talent.'
'Yes. Jobs and duties related to supernatural phenomena such as gods, magic, monsters, etc have been dominated by women since ancient times. Examples include priestesses, witches and sacrificial maidens... Of course, there are also examples of men taking on the same duties. But in terms of proportion, women still occupy the majority of cases. Talent in this domain is influenced by gender to such an extent.'
'I see. So girls are naturally born with greater suitability to become magic users.'
For a parent-child conversation, one would find the usage of technical jargon a bit too abundant.
But this was commonplace for them, hence Hal was not concerned and simply nodded in agreement.
'You should already know that we humans have cut ties with magic for a number of centuries now. Especially after the Industrial Revolution, those with facetious proclivities who pursue studies in such strange fields of knowledge have mostly been con artists or members of cult organizations.'
What a father. It never occurred to him to consider whether his explanations were appropriate for a child's level.
Speaking of which, Hal seemed to recall someone saying "like father, like son" in exasperation...
'Unused abilities will naturally become atrophied, right? Compared to the age of myths in the past and the ambition-filled ancient times, modern humans' disposition to magic has grown rather dismal.'
An artificial dragonoid race and massive alchemical undertakings—
These were reportedly part of grand magic dating back to the ancient past.
Hal's father belonged to a SAURU research team that uncovered information from ancient, medieval and early modern times to interpret and decipher in detail. After careful research discovered prospects of new applications for this ancient knowledge, the field finally revived after overcoming numerous hardships and trials.
'The result was that the rare talent required to communicate telepathically with serpents, thereby performing high-level magic, only appears in girls with outstanding inborn gifts in the first place.'
'So in ancient times, it's possible that males might have been able to form covenants with serpents?'
'Possibly, but that said, living in contemporary times, we have no choice but to shove the danger onto young girls, in order to actualize the magic to oppose dragonkind...'
While dreaming of a nostalgic conversation with his late father—
Hal's consciousness gradually woke up.
He was quite impressed at his young self who had not disliked such a father at the time, feeling fond nostalgia for his father's efforts at fulfilling a father's duty to spend time with his child...
The evening breeze was blowing across the cold surface of the road. Hal screamed and jumped up.
He had apparently lost consciousness. His last memory was a scene of getting incinerated by the dragon's flames together with the car.
But for some reason, he was now lying in a business district in the city center filled with high-rise buildings.
"Not even.. a single burn."
Hal muttered to himself.
Unbelievably, he was completely unharmed. Even his clothing showed no traces of having been singed.
Checking his shirt pocket, he found the white copper mirror safe and intact.
Burned by a dragon's fire, the car must have been incinerated and vaporized early on without leaving a single screw behind. And naturally, the driver would have gotten caught up in it, but why!?
To confirm his current location, Hal surveyed his surroundings.
He was in front of a train station. In addition, this was quite a large terminal. As soon as he saw the station's architecture with antique bricks, Hal immediately realized.
This was the place people called Tokyo Station in the past.
Hal had collapsed somewhere near the Marunouchi entrance.
In this especially conspicuous spot amidst clusters of modern high-rise buildings, the train station's romantic atmosphere served as an especially grand display.
Clearly Hal was still racing in the car just earlier, but why was he here now?
Hal found it strange. Unintentionally looking at the road, he jumped in fright.
The silver pocket watch—his father's memento—had fallen to the ground, shattered. Among the pocket watch's fragments was a small black stone.
A stone covered with sharp edges, virtually without any roundness. It looked similar to quartz.
Picking up this stone, Hal was surprised.
For some reason, the stone was hot. It felt like he would suffer a low-temperature burn if he held it for long durations.
In any case, Hal threw it into his waist pouch first. Why had his father placed such an object inside the watch?
Just as Hal was feeling puzzled, Raak Al Soth's laughter resounded throughout the sky.
"Fu... Fufufu. Despite being a close relative of monkeys, you turn out to be quite promising!"
Very near. Hal jumped in fright.
Frantically, he rushed into Tokyo Station's entrance, then taking care not to let the enemy see him from outside, he discreetly checked out the situation in the sky.
The bronze dragon was flying above Hibiya Street, two blocks away.
Gazing down on the ground surface, he flew through the air slowly.
"I see, you dared to embark on this foolhardy quest precisely because you possess means to deceive dragons. Fufufufu, not a bad trick. O nameless youngster, I swear upon my name, Raak Al Soth, to hunt you down and tear you apart!"
"Th-That's overestimating me way too much..."
Hearing Soth's declaration which seemed to convey his enjoyment of the game, Hal could not help but feel the urge to clutch his head.
He was simply running around like a cornered rat. But since Soth had come here, it meant that Asya and Orihime were probably fine.
This was a fortunate result born from Hal's course of action. A truly great accomplishment.
Rushalka was very weakened.
It was probably very difficult for her to muster full strength to defeat Raptors in bulk like she did in her prime. Even so, as long as Soth was absent, Rushalka should be able to win.
Given it was Asya, she should manage to find a way to victory.
"If only cellphones worked, then I could ask about the situation on that side."
In Old Tokyo where antennas were not functioning, ordinary calls could not connect.
Hal shrugged and peeked outside again.
Soth was flying leisurely, swirling in the air above this area. He was using a dragon's sharp eyesight to scan the ground surface.
Soon enough, he would probably start using search magic in addition to eyesight.
In that case, trying to disappear into hiding without a trace would become very difficult...
Hal dumped the entire contents of his waist pouch onto the ground. Then from these various tools of the trade, he picked out those he felt might come in handy. The pocket watch aside—the backup Clockwork Mage—his folding knife was probably worthless here.
There was also the .220 revolver kept in a leather holster.
Hal had gotten his hands on this handgun via channels similar to those for obtaining the forged driver's license. Although Hal was untrained in unarmed combat, he occasionally used this gun for self-defense. Against enemies on the level of a grizzly bear, even this type of small caliber firearm could easily shoot them to death when used in conjunction with attack magic—
Hal sighed. A dragon's threat level was several hundred million times a grizzly's, right?
I guess I'm gonna die here? Just as the gloomy future prediction rushed into his mind, Hal suddenly felt a gaze and jumped in fright. It was not far ahead, from that expanse of darkness occupying the interior of the large abandoned station.
A pair of golden eyes shining with mysterious light.
These eyes belonged to someone he had seen before, the girl dressed in the scarlet kimono.
"On further thought, out of all the people I know, I guess you're the only one who brings forth miracles. I wouldn't be too surprised even if you suddenly appeared..."
The helper who had "taken him out" of the vehicle consumed by flames...
...was most likely this spirit who took the form of a kimono-clad girl, Hal deduced while he spoke. At the same time, he secretly guessed that she must have used something akin to Teleportation magic.
"If you're responsible for why I was acting weird the last two times, maybe I don't need to thank you. So what exactly is the truth?"
"Well, I do admit that I employed some petty tricks to test you."
Like last time, the girl was speaking in an arrogant tone of voice.
The station did not even have any electrical lighting but moonlight illuminated the area near the entrance where the two of them were at. Thanks to that, Hal was able to observe carefully.
Very child-like indeed. However, there was a kind of bewitching quality to that adorable face.
"The first time we met, I toyed slightly with your eyes and your mind. Fufu, not a bad trick, was it not?"
"What are you testing by putting me in a state of panic in front of a dragon..."
Although she was confessing with a proud smile, her true nature was that of a mysterious spirit.
Too exasperated to get angry, Hal spoke a little helplessly, "If it's just something like haunting or a curse, I'd actually be able to accept it readily. After all, I've had experience with that before."
"Had I the intention to haunt you, I would have killed you in one breath. After all, I do still possess that level of power. What I wish to see is your 'limit.' Confronted with a life or death situation against a monster impossible to defeat, do you still have the capacity to struggle in search of survival until the very moment of death..."
Saying that lightly, the girl pointed to Hal's feet.
"Were this bit of minimum capacity absent in you, then even having that thing would be futile."
Hal looked down at his feet.
Located there were the possessions he had dumped out of his pouch just now.
The girl was pointing at the small black stone. The mysterious stone hidden in his father's pocket watch—
"You mean this?"
"Yes, the flint."
That odd-sounding term was apparently referring to this small black stone.
"Fufu, the fragment of the flint star pouring flames into the conqueror's secret runes... All sapient dragons would surely be outraged were they to find out it had fallen into the hands of a human, jealous to the point of insanity. Truly ludicrous."
Watching the girl's smile, Hal revisited his memories.
The conqueror's secret runes, fragment of the star—She had mentioned these before.
"By the way, brat, that dragon seems serious in wanting to hunt you down."
The girl turned her gaze outside the station.
Hal peered again at the sky from a dark spot at the Tokyo Station's entrance. Folding his wings, Soth was landing on the roof of a high-rise building.
But he was clearly not just taking a simple break.
There were spheres of white light hovering over his head.
Not just one or two but hundreds at least. Countless spheres of light were decorating the night sky like a radiant galaxy of stars.
"I command all 'eyes' to report back after seeking my prey far and wide!"
In response to Soth's incantation, the white lights scattered in all directions.
They even descended slowly to the ground like snowflakes.
"Those are all spies for locating you. To think he would go so far as to search every corner for a mere human, he must be mad."
Facing the girl who was commenting in amusement, Hal suddenly noticed something.
Despite having a dragon so near, right before his eyes, he was not having any issues at all. He did not see any fiery hallucinations. Neither did his body become paralyzed. Evidently, the girl's "petty tricks" had already been dispelled.
But the fact that he was in a hopeless situation still remained the same.
Sighing deeply, Hal turned to face the girl again.
"What is your aim in testing me on purpose? But then again, even though I have a ton of complaints about this matter, it is also thanks to you that I didn't get burned to death, so I guess I still have to thank you—"
"You need not express your gratitude. I only did it out of ulterior motives."
Staring at Hal, the girl interrupted Hal's thanks.
Unlike her child-like appearance, the girl's eyes could be described as mysterious and seductive.
Those eyes were golden and felt reptilian. Then Hal suddenly realized.
The girl's eyes greatly resembled those of dragons—
"Realized finally? Brat. You have now met the devil indeed."
"Yes, the devil who will tempt you into the path of carnage. The devil who deliberately rescued you from an instantaneous death of incineration, so as to watch you perish in a more unsightly manner."
The girl smiled. A malevolent smile.
"Let us make a deal."
Then the devil who led people to hell proposed without holding back.
"I shall confer to you the power of dragonbane—the conqueror's runes that dragonkind unquestionably reveres and seeks out. The special privilege of the dragonslayer shall be bestowed upon you."
Dragonbane. Dragonslayer. Hal could not help but doubt his hearing. In other words, killing dragons.
Didn't all such terms mean the slaughtering of dragons?
"It is a power that can exterminate even that dragon with ease. Hence, you shall now submit that stone and give up on dying respectably."
"...What did you say?"
"Abandon living and dying as a mortal. Instead—"
The girl's lips twisted from her smile. For some reason, the shape was slightly reminiscent of a crack.
A smile that not only seemed non-human but even felt a bit reptilian. Hal could not help but stare in mesmerization.
"You shall become a war god... Or perhaps the devil who will destroy the world. But should you lack the corresponding capacity, then you shall simply die pitifully."
"Y-Your proposal is way too shady..."
"Form a covenant with me, brat. You shall become king—the one to rule over all 'serpents' in this world and bear the brunt of dragonkind's fear and hatred."
Hal felt troubled. This was way too sinister.
He understood that her invitation was too unusual. Besides, no one could guarantee that things would proceed as smoothly as described by this girl—no, this monster.
Be that as it may...
Hal could not completely reject the proposal's value in taking the gamble.
Right now, he was indeed cornered. He was backed into a critical situation where death only lay ahead.
In that case, he could only follow the whims of fate... However—
"Ah yes, by the way. About the dragon rampaging outside, suppose he proceeded to kill you directly but if that were not enough to sate him, what would then result?"
"If memory serves me correctly, you apparently brought two little ladies with you. Will a bloodthirsty and violent member of the deplorable dragon race let them go free? Hmm, now that would be a gamble."
Hearing the girl's pretentious murmurings, Hal really wanted to click his tongue.
As expected of a self-styled devil would be his sarcastic response. However, Hal's mind was greatly shaken by the possibility she pointed out that he had overlooked.
Hal sighed again and took a deep breath. After ten seconds or so of deep thought, Hal let go of his hesitation.
Mustering his emotions of reckless self-abandonment, he chanted the magical incantation of "whatever, even if it fails."
"You, self-styled devil or whatever, although there's a mountain of problems I'd like to point out..."
Hal glared at the girl and said, "Since a dragon is hunting me anyway, I might as well go all-in and take a gamble. I accept your invitation."
This decision was enterprising yet passive.
In a certain sense, it was very much in Haruga Haruomi's style. Picking up the small black stone again, Hal gripped it tightly. The heat gradually spread in his palm.
"Very well, brat! In that case, you shall continue to advance!"
The girl in the scarlet garment nodded emphatically then suddenly vanished like a puff of smoke.
There was no lighting inside the devastated interior of Tokyo Station. Vast darkness stretched out in front of Hal, making him feel like he was located before the underworld's entrance that was sealed by darkness.
But at the same time as the girl's departure, a light source illuminating this darkness was born.
A blazing crimson flame appeared in the dark. Thanks to that, the interior of Tokyo Station's Marunouchi entrance became clearly visible.
Overhead was a tall dome-shaped ceiling. An old relic made of duralumin.
The entrance portion was very wide, rather fitting for a terminal that reputedly handled the daily throughput of a million passengers in the past.
And in the center, an intense flame was burning.
Hal approached the source of heat and light.
As a result, the blazing flame burned even more intensely, instantly expanding to a height that almost touched the ceiling.
Exposed to the powerful gust of hot air, Hal was sweating while he muttered, "So what should I do next...?"
In that instant, a change occurred.
The blazing flame suddenly split apart and scattered. Then out of the fire appeared a giant "beast." It was as sudden as the summoning of a "serpent" by a witch.
Feeling surprised, Hal gave a brief yell.
Beautiful, fierce, courageous, a "beast" full of solemnity and divinity.
It was the widely recognized creature known as the dragon.
Its physique was as strong and massive as an elite dragon's. From Hal's perspective, the nine sharp horns growing out of its head looked almost like a crown.
The body's surface was a brilliant red aptly called "crimson."
The dragon happened to be sitting in a posture that would be called cross-legged for humans, completely motionless.
Then in the instant Hal faced this dragon head on—
Held in his hand, the stone exploded and released a flash of light, crumbling!
Then suddenly, Hal's entire body even started to burn.
Enveloped by blazing fire, Hal's whole body turned into a mass of flame, suffering the onslaught of super-high heat that almost drove him insane.
Hot. Hot hot hot hot hot hot hot.
Turned into a burning effigy, Hal collapsed and rolled all over the ground!
Just as Hal was struggling in pain, the girl's voice could be heard overhead.
(Come, brat. Let those brand-new flames pour into the sacred seal. But remember to hurry before you incinerate to death. In the event of failure, you will simply burn here until nothing is left.)
"Uh, I never heard anything about that!"
Confronted with the sudden ultimatum, Hal roared and complained, rolling randomly all over the place.
At the same time, Hal saw it. Blue-white light was appearing in front of the red dragon, tracing out a symbol in the air—
A pictograph resembling a "bow with a nocked arrow" or a "tilted half moon."
That was the kind of symbol Hal saw.
"R-Ruruk Soun's magical symbol...?"
Despite suffering from the intense heat and pain that almost rendered him unconscious, Hal still muttered.
The runic symbol felt like it belonged to the same system as the cuneiform gathering the wisdom of dragonkind, but Hal had never seen it before.
(This is a dragonslaying seal among the secret runes that only conquerors are capable of wielding... I am bestowing upon you my favorite and most trustworthy rune, that of the Bow.)
It was the girl's voice again. This time, it came from the dragon's mouth.
At the same time, the pictogram of the "bow with a nocked arrow" began to shrink, becoming roughly palm-sized before descending in front of Hal who was rolling around in pain.
The rune, traced out by light, flashed blue-white as it hovered in the air.
(With my dying breath, this Rune of the Bow also incinerated to oblivion at one point in time. However, if the flint star's fragment lights up a flame, the dragonslaying authority should be able to manifest in this world once more—)
Simply stated, all I need to do is grab hold of this weird symbol?
Hal screamed while rolling nonstop. Enduring the heat and pain that would drive a person mad, he almost fainted.
Facing the bow-like magical symbol that hovered just above the floor, Hal reached out with all his strength, almost betting with his life.
What motivated him to do so was his fighting spirit and the unyielding fiber of his being, as well as the terror of absolutely not wanting to die.
The usual Hal would probably have given up halfway.
But when death was lurking around the corner with the tragic situation of his entire body on fire, his willpower would naturally rise to its maximum.
(Put forth all your strength, brat. So-called power is something that one must seize by their own hand.)
The crimson dragon incited Hal irresponsibly with the girl's voice.
Like I need you to tell me. Hal gritted his teeth and reached out with his right hand.
At last, he finally reached it—
In that instant, the Rune of the Bow became enveloped in flame as well and started to burn intensely.
Having succeeded at the task, Hal immediately felt his consciousness grow hazy. But in the end, his right palm was definitely experiencing astounding heat.
(Fufu—Whether or not a new Solomon will be born to usher in a new era... As temporary amusement, this is not bad.)
The girl's voice was whispering something but by this point, Hal had almost lost consciousness completely.
Hal probably fainted for several minutes.
Suddenly coming back to his senses, he discovered that the flames burning his entire body had vanished spontaneously.
Furthermore, there was not a single burn on his body. His clothing was intact as well. The scene of him turned into a burning human torch almost seemed as though it had been just a nightmare...
But after getting to his feet and looking up, he saw the crimson dragon sitting upright before his eyes.
"I never expected I'd encounter two elites in a single night..."
Just as Hal was muttering to himself, the dragon remained motionless, almost like a statue—
"It's already dead!?"
Realizing that, Hal tried using his finger to touch what would be the dragon's ankle.
This resulted in that part of the dragon's body crumbling to pieces. This was a petrified dragon corpse.
Hal looked up again at the dragon's remains. There was a large and deep hole in the chest as though it had been gouged by something sharp. Probably the fatal wound.
"In other words, you're not only a ghost—but also a dragon's ghost..."
The girl in the scarlet kimono, the mysterious spirit.
Hal tried to superimpose that child-like visage with the crimson dragon in his mind. Although the two were totally dissimilar, there was unbelievably no sense of dissonance.
Fufu... Hal heard the girl's giggling. His guess was apparently correct.
However, where had that Rune of the Bow disappeared off to?
Just as Hal was feeling perplexed, the palm of his right hand suddenly heated up. He opened up his hand and looked, only to find the Bow illustrated on his palm.
This magical symbol was what the dragon had spoken in the girl's voice about "bestowing upon you"—
The unidentified rune was carved on Haruga Haruomi's palm like a tattoo!
Hal gasped out of surprise.
In that instant, the wall of Tokyo Station's Marunouchi entrance suddenly collapsed, producing a large cloud of debris.
Then a giant super lifeform intruded from the large hole produced from the destruction.
"The fleeing game ends here, human child."
Obviously, that was Raak Al Soth's staid voice.
Moonlight was streaming into Tokyo Station's entrance through the collapsed wall.
The bronze dragon's massive body was bathed in moonlight—
Facing off one-on-one against the most ferocious magic beast, Hal became a fatalist in a rare moment.
Looking up at the heavens, he cursed fate's cruelty with a "Goddamnit." But he also noticed something strange at this time. Soth's eyes and entire body were filled with an intensely emotional quality.
It was surprise and excitement—
"Fu... Fufu, never in my wildest dreams would I have expected you to be privy to such a massive secret. Thank you, human. I never thought I would find the queen's remains in such a place!"
Laughing with joy, Soth gazed fervently at his petrified kin.
"Fufufufu, since the queen's remains are here, it naturally implies the possibility of finding that. O human child, hurry and answer me."
Without warning, Soth extended his right front limb.
There were many differences between the body shapes of elite dragons. But for the most part, every one of them had very long front limbs with five fingers, greatly resembling human "hands."
In other words, Soth had extended his "right arm."
Hal was grasped inside what corresponded to the super lifeform's palm.
"Speaking of the conqueror's runes held by the Crimson Queen, naturally there is the mighty bow of dragonslaying, renowned far and wide... Was there a seal in her surroundings? Speak now if you know. If you do not know—"
Hal was raised up to Soth's eye level.
He made eye contact with the savage dragon at close range.
Such an oppressive presence. Simply getting stared at made his body stiff. His throat also became greatly parched and thirsty.
Furthermore, the dense rows of teeth in the dragon's jaws were as long and sharp as swords. A mere human would probably get torn to pieces in a single bite.
In addition, although he was gripping Hal relatively gently, had he the intention—
Excessive terror turned Hal into a silent puppet.
"Hmm, you choose to say nothing, is that so? Then it cannot be helped."
Soth's tone of voice was very calm.
But at the same time, he suddenly applied more force in his hand that was gripping Hal.
Shattering every bone in his body, crushing his flesh, rupturing every internal organ, the instant of exploding with a pop was imminent. Hal screamed shrilly.
This time, it really was a death cry. At least, Hal thought so.
Suffering. Pain. Aching. Crushed. Compressed. Pressure. Force. Force. Force.
As a giant dragon whose body length measured dozens of meters, Soth's grip strength ought to be capable of crushing concrete with ease.
Suffering under this force was Hal as a human. He could not possibly endure.
Hal was experiencing this intensity of compression and pain for the very first time in his life. He never thought he would pass away normally but did not expect to die in this manner—
While enduring the dragon's grip with his entire body screaming in pain, Hal noticed something.
He survived. His body was resisting the strength of Soth's tightly clenched fist without getting crushed. It was as though his entire body was forged from the world's hardest material.
Hal was shocked by his body's abnormality.
Soth cast a gaze of curiosity at him.
Despite reptilian appearances and modes of life, elite dragons were quite rich in emotions. During this brief duration, Hal already fully understood this fact.
Right now, Raak Al Soth was feeling intrigued by the existence known as Hal.
However, the dragon's eyes immediately showed comprehension.
"I see now... To think a human child has stepped upon the ladder of the dragon kings. Fufu, I heard there was a similar case back in ancient Greece... but never expected a reenactment in the modern world."
After speaking quietly, Soth tossed Hal away.
His entire body smashing into the tiled floor of the station's interior, Hal groaned "Oww."
It really did hurt. However, his body did not suffer an injury. Despite feeling pain, Haruga Haruomi's physical body was extremely resilient, completely unharmed.
Clearly he was thrown at the ground from a height of over ten meters!
In fact, Hal was able to stand up immediately.
But looking up at Soth's massive body, Hal was greatly surprised. The elite dragon was looking down at him with slightly ajar jaws, blue-white flames flickering in the depths of his mouth.
The dragon was about to exhale a conflagration!
"O false king, allow me to address you as Tyrannos again after two millennia... Although temporary, you are the conqueror who has inherited the Bow after all. Allow me to offer you a fiery death after I fulfill etiquette."
After addressing Hal with a strange title, Soth opened his jaws wide.
However, his voice did not pause. Unlike humans, dragons did not shape their lips to pronounce words. Instead, they allegedly produced their voice from a mysterious organ located in the depths of their throat.
"Fortunately, the temperature inside my body has warmed up substantially. Given now, the earlier ineptitude should persist no longer—O secret runes of Ruruk Soun!"
Soth concluded with a magic incantation.
Seven letters, from the magic alphabet that only dragons knew how to use, manifested above the gigantic body, arranging themselves in a row. These letters were apparently the secret runes of Fire, being surrounded by blazing flames.
Hal knew that this was magic for increasing the power of flames.
Although his body had evidently become extremely resilient, Hal was not confident he could withstand Soth's fire. What should he do!?
"Allow me to incinerate your hallowed body, thereby toppling the hegemony of the new Tyrannos. Farewell."
Soth even went as far as to declare an execution.
In that instant, all hesitation and thoughts were purged from Hal's mind completely.
How can I let you kill me like this!?—This notion was spreading throughout his entire body like fire. Suddenly looking down, he saw the Secret Rune of the Bow appearing on his right palm.
Instantly, he heard the scarlet girl's laughing voice in his mind.
(Fufufufu, are you okay with this, brat? Know that once you shoot him, you can never turn back again.)
(I don't care! By this point, stop feeding me that crap!)
Yelling in the bottom of his heart, Hal faintly understood how to use this weapon.
Most likely because he was determined to "shoot," the secret rune had transmitted the required image into the wielder's mind.
Hal instantly uttered orders to the secret rune in his palm, "Create the Bow—the dragonslaying bow—At once!"
At the same time, Soth spewed out blue-white flames.
Hal took a great jump to the side then rolled on the ground, escaping in an unsightly manner from his location in front of Soth. This was not to evade the flames because doing so would not prevent the dragon's conflagration from spreading widely to both sides.
Instead, he was moving to create a clear passage.
So as to allow the Bow behind to advance successfully—
While breathing fire, Soth was surprised by the other dragon roaring loudly.
Indeed. The petrified crimson dragon, the dragon that had died and turned into a corpse, the true identity of the scarlet girl—She was roaring loudly.
The crimson dragon stood up with swift motions.
However, stone fragments were crumbling and falling off from various parts of her body.
At this rate, the whole body would probably collapse in short time. Nevertheless, she still advanced bravely without regret, using her body to block Soth's flames.
Then in the next instant, the already deceased crimson dragon was enveloped in white flames.
Her entire body was burning with platinum-colored flames, giving off great heat at the same time. Seeing that massive incandescent body, Hal instantly pushed his right hand forward—extending it in Soth's direction.
A subconscious action. He felt that it was possible to "shoot" by doing so.
As expected, the secret rune depicted on his palm quickly heated up. Then the Secret Rune of Ruruk Soun suddenly appeared in front of the incandescent red dragon.
It was the Secret Rune of the Bow, almost as large as the dragon's upper torso.
In addition, it was also proof that what remained of this deceased dragon was Hal's Bow.
"Ku—!? You have already mastered the power of dragonbane!?"
Greatly shocked, Soth instantly spread his wings and flew.
Retreating through the giant hole in Tokyo Station's outer wall that he had made earlier, Soth flew into Old Tokyo's night sky once again.
However, it was too late. Hal issued the intent to attack.
Instantly, the deceased crimson dragon spread her wings wide as though threatening.
Then the shining Secret Rune of the Bow in front of her released a torrent of flame. The vivid crimson fire was astounding in its raging intensity.
The fire shot from the secret rune flew into the night sky in a straight line.
Instead of incinerating human cities to oblivion, it aimed to slaughter a kindred dragon.
Soth was greatly shocked, devoured completely by the torrent of flame.
Scorching the bronze dragon, the crimson flames spread upwards, thereby turning into an enormous pillar of fire rushing straight into Old Tokyo's night sky.
Amidst the burning flames, Soth's body gradually vanished.
He was apparently attempting to escape using the magic of Teleportation.
Then the crimson dragon expelling this pillar of fire—that girl's true body—rapidly collapsed, dissolving inside the platinum flames, gradually disappearing in the form of ash and dust.
The giant crimson body collapsed completely with astounding speed within a minute or two.
Just as Hal was staring wide-eyed in surprise, the sky resounded with Soth's voice.
"Allow me to say goodbye for now, human! But I swear I shall revisit again, to have you drawn and quartered. I shall undoubtedly kill you, to seize that Bow by force!"
The voice issued a somber declaration to Haruga Haruomi.
Hearing that, Hal sighed. Regardless, giving way to fatigue, he bent down and sat cross-legged in a sloppy manner.
Meanwhile, Asya had remained at Ochanomizu to battle the group of Raptors—
Together with her injured partner Rushalka, she patiently endured the persistent and ferocious attacks. At the same time, she was surely and steadily killing the Raptors one by one. Then finally, just as she finished off the last enemy...
At the former university that had been used as the altar for the covenant ritual...
Its campus and the surrounding streets were littered with Raptor corpses everywhere.
The dead dragons had all turned into stone as usual. As for the mage candidate Orihime who had witnessed the intense battle's process and end result—
Seeing Asya swaying as though feeling dizzy, she frantically rushed over.
"Asya-san, are you okay!?"
Supporting the veteran witch's delicate body, she inquired.
With great finesse, Rushalka had steadily taken care of all the Raptors.
Although it took a while, there was virtually no risk throughout the entire process. Rather than a fight, it felt more like "homework."
"Did you get hurt somewhere!? But I don't think you got hit—"
"Don't worry... I'm just a bit low in blood sugar."
Leaning on Orihime, Asya looked up into the sky.
The victorious "serpent" Rushalka had landed on the roof of the university building, resting her wings for now.
With a nod from Asya, the partner's blue and heroic figure gradually grew faint and suddenly disappeared soon after. Whether the process of summoning or disappearing, both were equally swift.
"Summoning a 'serpent' and maintaining her physical form causes a great deal of strain. Hence, it's only natural to consume a corresponding amount of energy."
"Blood sugar...? So you mean you're hungry?"
"P-Please don't say it so bluntly."
Because the other person was not Haruomi as well as being a girl of the same age, Asya would feel slightly concerned about matters of face.
However, these thoughts reminded her of the childhood friend with whom she could spend time together without feeling fettered by such details.
"Never mind me... We have to hurry and find Haruomi. I can't believe he's playing hide-and-seek with an elite. That's totally absurd no matter what."
During the battle with the Raptors, Soth had not returned even once.
Hence, Asya wanted to believe that he was still chasing Haruomi.
Hoping for her childhood friend's safety, she had to go help him right now.
"Yes, 'it's already too late' is not something I will believe. Isn't it the same for you, Asya-san?"
Just as Orihime nodded as well, the dark night sky was suddenly illuminated by red light.
Jumping in fright, the two girls simultaneously turned their gazes towards that direction in the sky.
"Eh... What is that!?"
"Looks quite near here. Perhaps that elite dragon did something!"
Buildings of various heights could be seen there.
Standing out was also the towering spire of black—the Monolith.
The imposing image of the super-tall structure built by dragonkind in the Concession was visible from here.
And right now—
A suddenly generated pillar of crimson flame had rushed into the sky.
The pillar of fire was a bit slanted. From Asya and Orihime's location, it looked almost as gigantic as the Monolith.
Its eerie glow rendered the two girls stunned and speechless.
Their faces looked as though they were in prayer.
Although they had no concrete reasons, both girls felt that the towering pillar of fire was related to the boy they should locate.
Perhaps he was present at the site of the flame pillar—
This unfounded speculation turned out to match the truth perfectly.
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