Leviathan:Volume 2 Chapter 2
Chapter 2 - Shadow of the Uninvited Visitor
"But aren't the dragons flying from the Pacific Ocean towards the Miura Peninsula—approaching Kanagawa!? Is it really okay to land here!?"
Juujouji Orihime had to yell as hard as she could over the noise of the propeller blades.
The white helicopter transporting Orihime and Asya had just landed.
This was the Witch Mansion's former site at Shin-Kiba's redevelopment zone. The earlier battle had turned parts of the area into scorched earth.
"Even if we head straight to the scene, we are not going to make it in time!"
Asya opened the landed helicopter's cabin door fiercely while explaining.
After parting ways with Hal and Hazumi, the two of them had gone to a nearby elementary school. In order to rush to the scene in the shortest time possible, this helicopter had come specifically to "pick them up." Using the school yard as an impromptu helipad, the helicopter took off as soon as the two girls boarded—
However, inside the cabin, Asya requested a change of destination, hence, in the end, they landed here in Shin-Kiba.
"By the time we get there, it's likely the SDF and the TPDO's intercepting forces will have started engaging the Raptors in battle."
Asya walked briskly towards the seashore while declaring simply.
"It would be a pointless waste of military budget and human resources if they have to mobilize with us on the scene."
"But you just said we won't make it in time."
"Let me use this excellent opportunity to tell you about the most effective solution. I want you to use the magic I taught you recently and apply it in actual combat."
"Y-You want me to use that!?"
Following behind Asya, Orihime panicked. She had basic understanding on how to use magic and previous successes when testing things out, but whether she had confidence or not—
"Here's a question, just in case. Can I say that I am not confident?"
"Sure, but even without confidence in yourself, you must still present me with success."
"Understood. I guess this is the sink or swim approach. I never thought you'd turn out to be a coach from hell, Asya-san."
"It's all thanks to you being an obedient pupil, Orihime-san. Very good."
The two of them arrived at the seashore that had breakwaters for coastal defense.
Along the way, police officers in tactical unit uniforms could be seen from time to time. Reportedly, they belonged to the Metropolitan Police Department's urban rescue team. They seemed to be monitoring the cordoned area around the Mansion.
"I thought it was the SDF's job to assist witches?"
"It seems that witch support in Japanese urban areas is under police jurisdiction. My impression is that the military—no, the SDF—is more in charge of patrolling, fighting on the frontlines when 'serpents' are not dispatched, as well as handling aftermaths."
A young man in a well-worn suit spoke to them.
He was Kenjou Genya, a member of SAURU's Tokyo New Town branch. Were it not for his sloppy appearance, most prominently an unkempt beard, he would more than likely be considered a handsome man.
"And to think I specially prepared a helicopter in order to transport you two as quickly as possible."
Kenjou remarked with a completely carefree expression.
"By choosing to disembark halfway, are you trying to have Juujouji-san do that? Isn't that asking too much from a newcomer whose career started less than a month ago?"
"There is no problem in ability. She is supposed to be able to accomplish it for sure."
"I see. In other words, she has excellent talent that has been approved by Miss Asya, the seasoned veteran."
Asya answered without any change in expression. Only then did Kenjou nod.
They did not seem too worried about Juujouji Orihime's power. Feeling pressure from this, Orihime looked out across Tokyo Bay, which was extending before her eyes.
The Edomae Sea, a vast stretch of saltwater connecting to the Pacific Ocean afar.
Then there was the Miura shore where Raptors in flight were approaching—
"Well then, Orihime-san, please begin the Astral Link."
Asya spoke the name of the expected magic.
"Even when separated from your 'serpent' partner, both sides can still share senses as long as you maintain a link between each other's spiritual being. You can issue commands from over here and even receive what the 'serpent' sees and hears in real time."
"Meaning I can fight by sending just the 'serpent' into the distance, right...?"
Orihime pondered Asya's goal in teaching this technique earlier.
"Yes. Of course, there are weaknesses. A 'serpent' is unable to invoke pseudo-divinity without her witch nearby. However, long-distance combat is sufficient if the enemies are only Raptors."
"But that's only if I succeed in the magic..."
Orihime had heard that the SDF at the Yokosuka base would need to deploy their air force if she failed.
Orihime took a deep breath and braced herself.
"Most crucial of all is the subtle timing of whether you can arrive at the scene in concert with the enemy. Since you are not familiar yet, Orihime-san, that's why we came to the seaside where there are fewer obstructions to visibility."
"S-So things like that have an effect too."
"Yes. However, there are lazybones among master-class witches who can annihilate twenty Raptors while lying in bed at home, so ultimately, it's just a question of familiarity."
"That would be a bit too lazy..."
After criticizing senior witches whom she had never met, Orihime said candidly:
"Remember last time when you gave me a magic textbook for novices? Sorry, but to be honest, I can't understand it at all..."
The book was filled with circuitous and incomprehensible descriptions lacking in specifics.
"That's fine," Asya said in response to Orihime bringing up the matter.
"Ultimately, the world never deviates from the Bruce Lee principle."
"That one, right? Don't think, feel..."
Orihime embraced the teachings of the great martial artist and action movie star then began to imagine.
First, it was Akuro-Ou's figure. Then she imagined countless strands linking herself to the white fox-wolf—
The important factors were concentration, vividness of imagination, and unshakable pride in your own psyche being the world's strongest soul. This was the secret trick that Asya had taught Orihime before.
(To be honest, I'm not confident I'll succeed without issue!)
However, this situation with "failure not an option" was pushing her from behind.
Orihime conjured a mental image in her own distinctive style then opened her eyes wide. Finally, she pressed her left hand into her voluptuous bosom and focused her awareness on her heart.
A witch's heart—That was precisely the mysterious fountain that generated magical power.
"Akuro-Ou, come forth immediately to fight along my side!"
At the same time, Orihime released her voice and magical power towards the sky.
A pentagram of light manifested in the air then transformed into an infinity sign to materialize Akuro-Ou's body concretely. Then Orihime and her partner's souls were linked as imagined—
The instant she shouted, Orihime's consciousness was drawn out of her body, pulled by Akuro-Ou's spiritual body.
Thus, Orihime's consciousness flew into the sky, arriving "above" Akuro-Ou's position, resulting in a so-called "out-of-body" experience to watch over Akuro-Ou from the air.
When she tried to open her eyes, her consciousness instantly returned to her own body. Standing firmly on the reclaimed land, Orihime saw the image of Tokyo Bay extending before her eyes...
She closed her eyes again. Hence, her consciousness "separated" again and flew to the position above Akuro-Ou.
"Orihime-san, please have Akuro-Ou follow Rushalka!"
The instant she heard Asya's voice, the blue wyvern had already flown to Akuro-Ou's side.
The wyvern-shaped leviathan with a lone horn like a unicorn's. While Orihime was concentrating, Asya had summoned Rushalka without her noticing.
"Just follow her, Akuro-Ou. Do as Asya-san said!"
"Rushalka, continue moving towards the airspace I indicated!"
In response to her covenantee's calls, the blue wyvern started to fly away from the land.
Flying in a straight line, she was exceptionally fast. Akuro-Ou chased her desperately, barely keeping up. Pulled by the link to her partner's spiritual body, Orihime's consciousness automatically flew in pursuit.
Looking to the side, she saw that Asya's image had also shown up by the time she noticed.
Apparently, another person's "out-of-body" consciousness could be seen using magical sight.
"If it's simply flying in a straight line, a 'serpent' can even reach two-thirds the speed of sound," said Asya's consciousness.
She, too, was flying at an astounding sped.
"Let's head over to the interception point directly like this."
"But Asya-san, I'm surprised you know which direction to fly!"
"That's because I'm using Spatial Perception and Location Information magic. Like Enemy Detection, they are essential spells for long-distance combat. I'll teach them carefully to you later."
It looked like there was a mountain of things to learn in order to become a veteran witch.
Orihime sighed and had Akuro-Ou fly at full speed in this manner for a while. Involuntarily, her consciousness was pulled along.
After a duration enough to enjoy the pleasure of jogging...
The two leviathans kept flying over the sea during this time, but before long, steel-colored lesser dragons finally appeared up ahead. As though looking for where to attack, they were staring at the land's surface.
Lesser dragons, Raptors—A total of nine as reported earlier.
After seeing elites up close, Orihime found that Raptors felt more like lizards in comparison.
"I'll use Akuro-Ou to intercept them as discussed earlier. Rushalka should take a break!" Orihime said immediately after confirming the enemy.
Although not as severe as Minadzuki's case, Rushalka was not in peak condition either. Unless necessary, she should not be forced to enter the fray.
"Yes, I'm counting on you. This type of enemy should be easily handled as long as you don't get careless!"
Orihime nodded to acknowledge Asya's advice then transmitted thoughts to attack.
After flying behind Rushalka the whole time, Akuro-Ou changed direction and made a beeline for the nine Raptors at full speed.
Charging fiercely into the group of Raptors in this manner, she attacked simply with a body collision.
Raptors were less than half the size of "serpents" in physique. This impact alone was enough to send three Raptors flying like puppies in a car collision. Substantial damage was likely inflicted.
—In a way, this preemptive strike had decided the outcome of the battle.
A group of lizards thrown into disarray by the attack versus Akuro-Ou who had started the battle with unstoppable momentum from the beginning. With an overwhelming difference in power level on the outset, the ensuing battle was completely one-sided.
So-called horn counterparts were organs used by "serpents" for attack and intimidation.
Akuro-Ou's nine tails, thick and long, served as her horn counterpart. Twisting like lively serpents, they reached out to the enemy Raptors.
Stretching like rubber and bending, they struck the Raptors brutally like whips.
The nine tails repeated such attacks again and again. Unable to dodge or block after getting struck by the tails, the winged lizards were blown away.
Dying in basically two or three hits, the Raptors crashed into the sea one after another.
By the time Akuro-Ou discharged a heat beam through her breath to kill the final Raptor, Orihime and Asya were certain of victory.
The two witches released the materialization of their "serpents," allowing them to disappear from the world.
At the same time, the Astral Links lost effect. Orihime opened her tight shut eyes.
In the distance was Tokyo Bay's sea surface. Nearby was Shin-Kiba's reclaimed land. After confirming Asya, Kenjou and the helicopter with her own eyes, Orihime exhaled.
"Finally winning the battle, now I can relax... Uh, isn't this weird?"
Her knees suddenly lost strength and she collapsed to the ground.
Her body was so exhausted that it felt like mud. Realizing her condition, Orihime jumped in surprise.
"The farther we are from our 'serpents,' the greater the consumption. Reactions to our commands also become delayed. These are the drawbacks to long-distance combat, so please take note. I haven't done this for a long time and now I'm hungry..."
Asya seemed tired too, but she did not collapse to the ground.
What affected the level of fatigue was probably one's power as a witch rather than physical stamina.
Regardless, even though she had received full support from Asya, her senior, Orihime still managed to endure an entire battle on her own.
"Judging from the situation, the battle seems to have finished."
"Indeed... You are right. Nee-sama and Asya-san seem to be safe and sound. I am relieved."
After Hal remarked quietly, Hazumi breathed a sigh of relief next to him.
In the distance, Orihime could be seen sitting collapsed on the ground while Asya's countenance showed utter exhaustion. However, neither of them looked like they were cornered. In their surroundings, Kenjou and two helicopter pilots were starting preparations to withdraw.
"I'm glad I brought this over. That girl Asya is most likely complaining about being hungry again. Juujouji looks very tired too."
Hal was carrying a tote bag that belonged to Asya.
Inside it was the Chinese packed lunch. Bringing it along, Hal and Hazumi had taken a taxi to Shin-Kiba.
"Oh, that I can understand. Whenever I make Minadzuki do new things, I feel very exhausted too. Sometimes I even need an intravenous drip—"
Hal muttered in puzzlement in response to Hazumi's answer.
Indeed, summoning and controlling "serpents" took a heavy toll on the bodies and minds of witches.
But normally speaking, combat against Raptors should not go as far as to require IV drips. Speaking of which, Orihime mentioned before that her cousin had poor health...
It looked like Shirasaka Hazumi was a girl unsuited to heavy work after all. Hal sighed.
"W-What's wrong, Haruga-san?"
"No, it's nothing."
Hal finally began to discover the true nature of his fearful mindset towards Orihime and this docile girl with frail health.
It was guilt. As a member of SAURU, Hal had started helping witches establish covenants with "serpents" since long ago. However, not all of the girls chosen as candidates were outstandingly talented like Asya, who would develop into master-class witches to take the stage with vitality and magnificence.
Instead, girls unsuited to this job were more common—
Hence, Hal's guilt would involuntarily surge whenever he stayed by Hazumi or Orihime's side.
"So you two came too."
Hal interrupted his thoughts. Hiiragi Yukari was walking over to them.
She was dressed in a very soft looking woolen sweater with a skirt, still exceedingly feminine in attire.
"Looks like there's no need to dispatch Orihime-san and others."
Hiiragi-san raised the cellphone in her hand lightly and said.
"The situation with Raptors appearing at various islands across the country has essentially been confirmed. There are a total of six groups of lesser dragons attacking at the same time, flying towards the following locations respectively: Cape Nosappu at Hokkaido's Nemuro Peninsula, Hachinobe at Aomori Prefecture, near the largest of the Izu Islands, Omaezaki at Shizuoka Prefecture, Tosa Bay at Kochi Prefecture, as well as Nichinan at Miyazaki Prefecture..."
Hiiragi-san's cellphone was displaying a map of Japan.
There were eight spots flashing red, all locations that Hiiragi-san had mentioned.
"All of them are on the Pacific side..."
"Then I sent 'serpents' to five locations and defeated the Raptors at the coasts. The only exception was Miyazaki but the people at the JASDF figured a way to handle it before the attack reached full-tilt."
Excluding Hazumi and Asya, there were currently seven witches in Japan.
Tokyo New Town in the Kantou region had Orihime. Apart from that, Hokkaido, Iwate, Gifu, Wakayama, Shimane, Kagawa had one witch each. Although the situation developed to the point that a majority of them had to be mobilized to intercept the dragons, in the end, there were no major repercussions apparently.
"Still, Orihime-san is doing so well that she doesn't seem like someone who had just become a witch."
Hiiragi-san suddenly changed the subject.
"This is off the record. Frankly speaking, I originally thought that her magical power would be limited even if she entered a covenant with a 'serpent.' I never expected to guess wrongly."
Confronted with sudden frankness, Hazumi did not know how to react.
Hal had held the same opinion previously. He did not know if it was due to Hinokagutsuchi's involvement, but Orihime was exhibiting extraordinarily premature development of her powers. It was only natural for this to raise suspicions.
However, since Hiiragi-san was currently observing Hal's reaction, he could not say this aloud...
As a coworker familiar with her fraudulent personality, Hal tried his best to answer with feigned helplessness:
"Well, there are times when astoundingly rare talent pops up suddenly in the world."
"That may be true, but Orihime-san shows none of the stubborn personality commonly found in girls of this sort, which is why it's so surprising."
"That makes Juujouji weird enough already, almost on the same level as Asya."
"That's one way of looking at it... I never thought of that. Maybe I should admit defeat."
"U-Umm, I feel that the comment just now was quite rude to Nee-sama and Asya-san..."
Hazumi politely advised her elders, causing Hiiragi-san to smile wryly.
"Sorry, I might have gone too far... Oh right. There's more work for Orihime-san."
"Ah, it must be that."
Hazumi apparently guessed it.
Hiiragi-san nodded and replied.
"Although it's very troublesome and unnecessary, it is part of her job. So, Haruomi-kun, I am leaving Hazumi-san in your hands. I still have to take Orihime-san to take care of some regular business."
Hiiragi-san took her leave. In front of them was the exhausted Orihime and the slightly recovered Asya. Hal's silver-haired childhood friend was approaching Kenjou, apparently asking for food. Bursting in laughter, Kenjou handed her a piece of chocolate...
"Yesterday was such a trying experience..." Orihime remarked in utter exhaustion the next day after her first long-distance battle.
Since today was a normal weekday sandwiched between consecutive holidays, everyone was at school. It was currently lunch time. After finishing lunch in the cafeteria, Hal, Asya and Orihime had gone to a corner in the school next to a flowerbed looked after by the Gardening Club.
"I'm totally fine with putting effort into the likes of fighting and magic. After all, that's what I originally envisioned as part of becoming a witch. But..."
Today, Orihime's face was showing fatigue that any bystander could see.
"I was never told that I had to visit sponsors to report my victories..."
"Nee-sama, it's thanks to those elderly men that Minadzuki and your Akuro-Ou can take action freely. We've got to thank them properly."
Smiling wryly, Hazumi corrected her cousin.
Studying in the third year of the middle school section, she had been brought here by Orihime as well.
"I'm sure you could create an amicable atmosphere by smiling like an angel while calling out 'Grampsy♪' even when faced with what seems like an army of old men with weird tempers. But for a newcomer like me, it's still quite a heavy burden..."
"Ah, so what Hiiragi-san meant by 'regular business' was going over to greet sponsors."
Hal understood. The sponsors funding Hazumi and Orihime's activities were businesses, capitalists, NGOs, religious leaders, local authorities, etc stationed in Tokyo New Town and the Kantou region.
To show up at a gathering of representatives and engage in lengthy dialogue—
This was indeed a heavy burden for a girl who was still a middle schooler until recently.
Nevertheless, Orihime was bolder than average, after all. Hal felt that she would rapidly get used to these duties.
"Don't worry, Orihime-san. If you find it a pain, just put on diva-like airs and they'll actively avoid contact with you."
"Because, witches are irreplaceable human resources, their positions are ultimately much stronger."
"Start with kicking tables. Then order people to buy drinks, complain about the taste and pour the drinks over them."
"If anyone raises objections, just hint that you'll apply to be 'reassigned' somewhere else."
"Stop tempting a newcomer with such immoral suggestions!"
After listening to Asya and Hal's chattering advice, Orihime could not help but scold them.
"Good grief. Haruga-kun and Asya-san, seriously you two... But it's not like I am totally opposed to the devil's temptation."
"In truth, I am supposed to pay my respects at a grave after school today, but Grandfather and the others suddenly announced a dinner party to celebrate yesterday's victory or something. As a result, I have to attend as the guest of honor."
Orihime sighed and explained in response to her cousin's protest.
"Is it someone's death anniversary if you're paying respects at a grave?"
"No, it's basically more of a formality. I was going to tell my father, mother and younger brother that I've become able to fight dragons."
Orihime's attitude was the same as usual, without suppressing or adding extra emphasis in her voice.
"On a certain Sunday when I happened to be free from kendo competitions, we went out as a family. While our car was passing under a highway, we unfortunately encountered a collapse accident. I was told that a few years ago, Raptors had rampaged in the area, causing the road itself to deteriorate... Oh dear, even though dragons were not fully responsible, I was thinking I should still report to my family."
Hal was informed that Orihime's family consisted only of herself and the grandfather.
Naturally, there must have been a reason for that. Hal, too, had been living alone for a long time now. Native to Georgia, Asya had no family apart from her mother who lived in Istanbul. Although this was not the reason, Hal still tried asking:
"Hiiragi-san probably owes me a favor or two. Want me to talk to her?"
"If you count me in, then that's a debt of three favors, okay?"
"Thank you both, but it's fine. I will tell her myself if I really feel opposed to going, so don't worry about it. However... If by any chance I need you to do something like that in the future, I'll be counting on you then."
After replying to Hal and Asya in a joking manner, Orihime nodded at her cousin.
As soon as this subject was brought up, Hazumi had immediately gone over to Orihime's side to silently cuddle against her.
"Oh, that reminds me. I need to talk about something completely unrelated," said Orihime very suddenly.
Hal and Asya shared a common aversion to depressing topics of conversation. Orihime apparently was the same.
"Actually, I thought about it after the battle ended yesterday. Haruga-san had Rushalka use the Rune of the Bow last time, right?"
"Oh, you mean that thing."
"Wouldn't it be very handy if Akuro-Ou could make use of that rune too?"
"Well, that's definitely true."
Hal agreed with Orihime so he nodded. But unbelievably, somehow inexplicably, Hal had a feeling that things would not go so smoothly. Why?
"Indeed, Rushalka and Asya-san were really amazing last time."
"I know, right? If Minadzuki recovers, I would like her to try using it too."
"If you put it that way... I guess there's basically no problem."
The cousins nodded at each other and Hal expressed agreement. However.
"N-No! That's a bond belonging (exclusively) to me and Haruomi (grumble grumble)..."
For some unknown reason, Asya was the only one objecting. Although there were some mumbled parts that he could not quite catch, Orihime seemed to get the idea, showing an expression that read 'Speaking of which... oh no.'
Speculating what his childhood friend was saying between the lines, Hal then spoke:
"I understand Asya's feelings in wanting to proceed with caution. After all, this power's origins are unknown so relying on it excessively will definitely be dangerous. Or perhaps side effects caused by the rune might appear."
"Uwah. As expected, Haruga-san's line of thought went in that direction..."
"What are you referring to? Whatever, let's put this aside for now. Although there's a risk, I definitely want to find more opportunities to test it out in order to gather more information..."
After muttering that, Hal stared at Orihime intently.
The arrival of a collaborator possessing a "serpent" in excellent condition had stimulated his ulterior motives.
"Now that you've suggested it, let's go test it out."
"It's fine even if it doesn't work out. Let's see, how did it go last time?"
Ignoring Asya's protests, Hal began to search his memories.
If memory served him correctly, last time he had apparently thought to himself that he needed Asya and Rushalka no matter what, then extended his hand. In turn, his childhood friend had held his hand—
"Juujouji, hold my hand."
Hal extended his right hand.
Orihime nodded vigorously and slowly held Hal's hand.
The hand where a rune of Ruruk Soun resided, the location of the mysterious magic symbol—Then Hal thought intensely to himself that he needed Juujouji Orihime no matter what.
This continued for almost a minute. Hal quietly said:
"Seems like it's not working. I guess it looks like I can't entrust that rune to Juujouji."
Why was it not working? Hal began to contemplate.
Then when it was after school, Orihime departed in a hurry to attend that dinner party something or other.
Declaring "I've got something to do!", Asya stepped out of the classroom. As for Hal, instead of going home alone, he walked to a location in front of two concrete school buildings, namely, the library and the cultural clubs building.
Furthermore, he had brought Orihime's cousin, Hazumi, with him.
"But is this okay? Leaving a witch's equipment and books in school..."
"Although it's not ideal, it's still better than other random places," Hal answered Hazumi's worried whispers.
"Our school was built with funding from SAURU and was founded at the same time as another university in New Town. Both schools were apparently founded to serve a certain goal, reportedly to provide magic education to commoners..."
"Teaching magic to ordinary people!?"
"Of course that doesn't mean anyone either. If students with excellent aptitude and a love of learning appeared, SAURU would apparently recruit them for an elite education while they were young."
Why would a secret organization devoted to researching magic run schools?
Curious about this question, Hal had tried investigating. Similar schools seemed to exist all over the world.
"Becoming a witch depends purely on inborn aptitude, but working in research is different. This is perhaps a way of gathering talented people of this sort, which is why the school was designed to prevent the dangers and secrets of magic from leaking out. At the same time, it is also inside Juujouji and your circles."
Even relocating the Witch Mansion here as a temporary substitute facility would be no problem at all.
"I heard that the underground spaces here were built in consideration of such situations."
Hal began to examine the library anew. Just before he was about to leave the campus, Hiiragi-san had called him. She wanted Hal to check out the venue for the new Mansion.
Along the way, Hal happened to run into Hazumi. Then unintentionally, he revealed what had happened.
However, Hal did not expect Hazumi to make the following request politely:
"May... I come along with you? Please allow me to help out."
Was she quite concerned about the fact that she could not contribute on the battlefield despite being a witch?
Despite coming up with many excuses to reject her, in the end, Hal decided he might as well agree to let her accompany him—
Hal brought Hazumi to the first floor underground.
There was a door at the end of the hallway. He inserted the key that a member of school staff privy to SAURU-related matters had given him. After opening the door, he found a flight of stairs behind it.
Proceeding from this point, the second to sixth floors underground were to become the temporary Mansion.
Hal and Hazumi walked through each floor together.
Every room was empty. They checked whether the air conditioning, locks and lights were functioning normally. There were no problems with any of them.
"Looks like it's safe to move the materials at the previous Mansion over here. It's time to withdraw, I guess."
After the checking was complete, Hal told his impromptu partner.
"Fortunately, the checking task was relatively simple. If things always turn out like this, life would be much easier."
"Oh, I've heard. Your job involves traveling all over the world to unearth magic-infused mystical artifacts and magic textbooks... Isn't that right?"
"That's basically correct. But there are various other matters to handle too."
"Various matters, I see... For example?"
"Well, such as infiltrating concession territories in various lands for internal investigations or the like."
"So you even do that sort of thing."
"There are also ecological studies on dragons as living organisms. Like observing packs of Raptors from close range."
"That is truly dangerous..."
"Speaking of the most dangerous missions, that would probably be investigating the trail and whereabouts of elite dragons that had come to earth. Although I experienced it once with Soth last time, there's nothing worse than having those things target you."
"That's for certain. Please be careful!"
Hal felt intrigued. For a listener, Hazumi seemed too enthusiastic...
"You're interested in this kind of stuff?"
"Oh yes. I love listening to travel stories. Also, although not too many girls share the same interests, I also love adventure and exploration anecdotes."
"By adventure, do you mean conquering the tallest peaks on every continent or taking a sailboat across the Pacific?"
"Yes. Stuff like cycling across the European continent is also my favorite."
Hazumi smiled with a chuckle then added shyly:
"But I'm sure it's beyond me, that's all... Also, I have no choice but to stay in Tokyo, so in fact, I've almost never left the Kantou region..."
"You're in charge of protecting these lands after all. It can't be helped."
Hazumi was the witch tasked specifically with guarding Tokyo New Town and the surrounding region.
Although she was rewarded with handsome monetary compensation and VIP treatment, a witch shouldering duties as a "protector" could not even leave her assigned region to travel on a whim.
A "mercenary" like Asya who fought in various places was actually quite rare.
"It's not like you're Juujouji. Why not take this chance while your 'serpent' is recuperating to go on a trip?"
"Fufufu, what a lovely idea. However, that won't work."
Revealing her highly transparent smile, Hazumi shook her head.
"Yes, Minadzuki is weak, but not to the point of being impossible to summon. A situation could come up where I might be able to help despite her current condition."
"That's so so conscientious of you. But... your judgment is most likely correct."
Hal scratched his head while agreeing. He felt kind of defeated against her.
"Although Juujouji and Akuro-Ou are so strong that they don't resemble newcomers, they're inexperienced after all. There's definitely the risk of 'unexpected' dangers."
"About what Nee-sama brought up earlier about her family, it occasionally gets me thinking. If only I could've become able to summon Minadzuki earlier, to eliminate all the dragons in the area back then, perhaps Nee-sama might still have a complete family—That's almost like dreaming, right?"
"I think this type of 'cautiousness' probably isn't futile. Fufu."
Seeing this girl, younger than him, smile cheerfully, Hal thought to himself.
Although she was a bit reserved and less striking in appearance, this girl might actually be even more reliable than himself or Orihime.
She had persisted in fighting dragons over the years even though her magic was not particular strong.
Having experienced all kinds of hardship, many considerations must have crossed her mind. Hal felt himself revise his opinion of Hazumi a little.
When Hal and Hazumi were underground beneath the library, Asya was actually nearby too.
She was inside the room of a cultural club on the third floor of the adjacent cultural clubs building. At this moment, she was dressed in neither the school uniform nor a tracksuit.
Instead—she was wearing an apron dress.
In other words, what one would call a monochrome maid outfit. However, it was not the standard style.
The skirt was exceedingly short. Additionally, the stockings underneath were even attached to a garter belt.
Someone knocked on the clubroom's door. After Asya answered "please enter," the peerless eccentric, President M walked in.
"You have already changed. Well done."
"But why must I wear this kind of outfit?"
"Because it is the attire most suited to today's special lecture. Are you ready?"
"Of course, President."
Inside the clubroom that was dim from the drawn curtains, Asya and President M stood face to face.
The president was not in school uniform today either. She was still dressed in that black female garment resembling a maternity dress. The gravitas stemming from both her personality and physique made her seem like some kind of bar matron.
"Bluntly stated, the theme of today's lecture is the 'cafe'!"
"Dare I ask the purpose!?"
"A venue for couples on dates where they can lean in mutually and whisper sweet nothings to each other. 'Did you wait for long?' 'No, I just arrived.' A venue frequently used no matter how shallow or deep the relationship, that is the cafe. Unless you overcome this, you won't become a girl with a romance standard score above 70! Let the lesson begin!"
"Sir, yes sir!"
Asya could not help but salute in response to President M's command.
During her training in the Russian army, an instructor known as "Volk," featuring intimidating upturned eyes, had subjected her to a special course in unarmed combat arts. Her memories of that time were completely reawakened.
However, President M sighed and said:
"What's the problem?"
"Lots of problems. What's with that salute?"
"Did I do something wrong? Since this is Japan, considering local customs, I translated the Russian into English on the top of my head. I thought my pronunciation was spot on?"
"It's irrelevant whether that was Russian or English. That's precisely why people secretly call you stuff like 'the female mercenary of steel who returned from the battlefield' or 'bandit-style female hunter.'"
"WHAAAT!? I spent no more than six months in the army!"
Asya objected in full force.
"That's baseless slander since I only accepted occasional jobs to provide assistance after that. Besides, I've never participated in any bandit-like guerrilla activities."
"So you have real experience in the army..."
"I wouldn't call it experience, just a hobby at most."
While the president was showing an impressed look, Asya said:
"If I do say so myself, I believe I've perfectly hidden my slightly special experiences, fully integrating myself into life in a Japanese school."
"Nonsense. Indeed, you have adjusted very well, but those experiences are completely impossible to hide."
"Never mind, let us shelf that issue for now and cut to the chase."
As though focusing her mind, President M cleared her voice and said:
"Today's theme is the cafe. Now the lesson shall begin in earnest!"
"I'm all ears!"
"Here is a question for you. What is your opinion of girls who order a sandwich and cake at a cafe but exclaim 'oh no~ That's too much for me to finish~'?"
"That's so annoying. If you order something, you should finish it all without leaving any scraps behind," Asya answered without a moment's hesitation.
"The iron rule of hunting is to only catch as much as you can eat. At least be smart enough to process unfinished food into nonperishable rations."
"Excellent, minus twenty points to feminine charm!"
"Personally, I share the same opinion on not wasting food. However, you just missed out on an excellent opportunity for intimate contact!"
"'Oh no~ That's too much for me to finish~~ Help me out here. Say ah and open your mouth~~ How's that, does it taste good?' I'm talking about this!"
Asya was stunned after watching President M's solo performance, accompanied by exaggerated gestures.
"S-Such a high-level technique... By doing that, wouldn't it naturally reenact a scene of 'couples pressing their faces together, leaning against one another, lovingly sharing the same plate of food'...?"
"Indeed. You are quick on the uptake. Excellent."
"B-But using this card means offering the food in front of you as a sacrifice... I-I'm capable of eating tons of dessert and cake is my favorite. I can even eat one whole cake at times."
"For the sake of achieving the strategic goal, isn't this where you should be applying restraint?"
Ordering a chiffon cake specially for herself then sharing half of it with someone...
Imagining such a scene, Asya took a devastating blow and collapsed in depression on the clubroom's floor. With eyes like a strict teacher's, President M looked down at Asya's current state and said to her:
"Looks like you have encountered another stumbling block. Teaching you how to overcome this obstacle is exceedingly easy... But that won't help you grow."
"Go on and agonize as much as you can. Ponder thoroughly. The answer you reach in the end shall determine whether your feminine charm rises or falls."
"Falling is not an option!"
"Indeed. By that time, you will go through a job change from a 'girl with low feminine charm' to a veritable 'girl who has abandoned love despite her youth.' You must take care."
"Ooh. So there's no chance for growth unless I take a bit of risk..."
"Yes, that's the spirit. However... You are not sexy at all."
Looking downwards at Asya who was sitting helplessly on the floor.
Her miniskirt was a mess, almost exposing the view beneath. Wrapped tightly in stockings, her legs were laid out on the floor. Her posture looked a bit indecent.
Furthermore, she was bearing a tearful countenance coupled with a maid outfit.
Gazing at Asya, President M's eyes showed pity.
"Normally speaking, any boy in middle school or older would feel his heart racing at the sight of someone with your face and attire, displaying the current expression and posture. But right now, you are not erotic in the slightest. There is no charm to speak of."
"Not erotic in the slightest!?"
Asya was crushed by shock again.
"D-Don't judge me by appearance. I'm actually a very generous girl. Although boys in the surroundings are thinking about weird stuff, I deliberately pretend not to notice in consideration of the taxes they pay towards the adorable me!"
"You probably lack awareness towards scrutiny."
President M crossed her arms and began to ponder deeply.
"You are still very mediocre despite dressing up as a maid. You can't even say things such as 'Look at my getup☆' or 'So embarrassing, quit staring!'"
"After all, it's my personal philosophy to act my natural self at all times."
"Isn't that the problem? Try imagining for a second. Rather than me, the one currently observing you is that Haruga with his wizened eyes."
"You need to present yourself to him differently from before."
"'I screwed up slightly, so embarrassing... Please don't look. Oh no. I'm going red...' Roughly something like that. Apart from that—Oh right, you have to nonchalantly maintain your posture to offer vague glimpses under your skirt. It'd be even better if you could show a 'teasing' expression as appropriate."
"A-Aren't these demands too severe!?"
"Quit complaining and just do it! At this rate, that blockhead will get snatched away by other girls, you know!?"
Asya desperately mustered her passion after suffering this harsh reprimand.
She imagined Haruomi looking at her, thereby increasing her sense of shame.
Speaking of which, the length of this outfit's skirt was definitely too short—She originally did not pay much attention to such matters, but now she started worrying whether the underside of her skirt was visible. Her face finally began to heat up...
Suddenly aware of her indecent posture, Asya forcefully curled up.
"Excellent, that's exactly it. You are showing femininity in your airs and movements!"
"Yes. Since you happen to be sitting, try doing the cougar pose. Even with a lack of breasts, you still have to emphasize them strongly so as to increase your sexiness!"
"I-I don't lack breasts, okay!? See, there's cleavage if I squeeze like this...!"
"I like this perseverance of yours in taking on challenges..."
Although this was the room of the Literature Club—
Asya and President M were immersed in activities completely unrelated to literature. Moreover, it was the club president who had made such suggestions herself, after all.
"Next, practice your movements while paying attention to other people's gazes. I will be watching from the side, so go and prepare a cup of tea."
"But the black tea and coffee supplies are out."
"Fine, I'll go buy some. In the meantime, practice on your own."
"W-What should I do on my own?"
"Relax, I've prepared a script for you. It might be a good idea if you went to work at a real maid cafe to get some practice under male gaze in a few days..."
After accomplishing the task of checking the underground levels of the library, Hal and Hazumi returned to the ground floor.
"U-Umm, if it is convenient, may I chat with you again next time? Actually... There are some matters I would like to discuss with you, Haruga-san."
"Chat with me? I don't think I can help much but sure, as long as you don't mind."
While talking, they exited the library.
At this moment, an acquaintance entered the adjacent cultural clubs building. It was President M, the eccentric whose mass was speculated to be 140kg. She was holding a convenience store bag in her hand.
"Oh my, you came today?"
"To take care of sundry chores, but I'm about to leave. I also have someone with me."
Hal glanced at Hazumi while he spoke.
The girl in his company bowed dutifully, not at all flustered. Even confronted with the clearly suspicious President M, she presented her highly transparent smile as usual.
Perhaps her tolerance for eccentrics was very high—
Hal could not help but feel impressed. Meanwhile, President M said:
"Delay your departure by half an hour and come with me for a visit to the Literature Club. Your friend is there too."
"You mean Asya?"
Hal muttered while looking at Hazumi beside him.
"If it is convenient... May I come along? I wish to learn about the building next door. I'm also interested in the high school division's club activities..."
Hearing her ask timidly, Hal nodded. It was definitely the right choice to scout out the place that was going to be the next Mansion.
Hence, the three of them ascended the stairs in the order of President M, Hal then Hazumi.
The president's physique was massive yet her footsteps were light and fast. Following in the rear, Hazumi said:
"Actually, I've always wanted to try joining a cultural club since long ago. After all, I am not good at sports. But the notion always remained as just a thought because I don't have much free time..."
"My club is perfect for your case."
"But I would feel bad if I miss activities often."
"Don't worry. Whether ghost members, part-time members who only show up once a month, or even members like Haruga here, I will shower them with love equally!"
Hazumi was obedient in nature while President M was powerful, but the rhythm of conversation was surprisingly fluid.
Just as Hal witnessed the birth of an unexpected combo, the trio reached the Literature Club's door. The instant the president opened the door...
"W-Welcome back, master and mistress. Umm, a warm welcome to you all today. I shall prepare tea immediately, so please wait a moment—"
Hal looked at his childhood friend who was cosplaying as a maid.
Not only that, she was also performing the motions of brewing black tea. However, there was no tea ware of any sort in her hands. Was she practicing a skit? Or was she playing a maid cafe game?
"...Huh? Haruomi, why are you here? And even Hazumi-san as well!?"
"I brought them along because I happened to run into them. I wanted to have you serve them tea."
After hearing the president's explanation, Asya screamed.
In any case, Hal and company were invited into the Literature Club, taking their seats around the long table.
"Asya, can I ask what's the meaning of your cosplay and solo performance just now?"
"I-I invoke my right to silence and decline further questioning. If anything... Right, it's that. This is a training uniform!"
"...What are you training?"
"This question is banned. Putting that aside, please take a good look at my glamorous appearance!"
"Oh, it really suits you. Fufu, I really admire you, Asya-san, for looking so good in this type of outfit. It's marvelous."
"Hazumi-san, you are such a good girl!"
"By the way, Haruga, seeing as you brought a new girl, could it be that you've reached a phase of popularity?"
Just as everyone was savoring the black tea prepared by Asya, the president suddenly asked. At the same time, she stared tactlessly straight at Shirasaka Hazumi and Haruga Haruomi.
"Shirasaka is simply accompanying me. This has nothing to do with my luck in romance."
"Is that so? Though that may be the case currently, the future could be different."
President M spoke quietly then slowly nodded.
"Taking advantage of this excellent opportunity, I shall use my Feeling Love skill to predict your luck in romance."
"Stay still. Hah!"
Under the gaze of the president's round eyes, Hal felt uneasy.
This lasted ten-odd seconds before the president quietly cocked her head.
"How odd, I cannot read your romance situation at all."
"Of course something like that can't be read."
"Nay. A massive and burdensome destiny is gradually devouring you, causing something as insignificant as luck in romance to be swept away to who knows where... That is how I see it."
Hal could not speak. He was extremely surprised.
Asya and Hazumi also stared in wide-eyed astonishment at President M. It was as though she knew about the Rune of the Bow.
In that instant, for the first time, Hal was awed by how unfathomable this person was.
An icy plain of white as far as the eye could see—
However, the season was spring rather than winter in this land.
Princess Yukikaze's location was at the most northwestern point of the North American continent, at North Slope in Alaska.
A tundra zone next to the Arctic Ocean. Even though it was spring, the snow was melting rather late this year. Currently, the land was still covered in ice. However, this chilly air was quite ideal for Princess Yukikaze.
Well, a mild climate would not be bad either.
However, the sense of fulfillment could not compare to standing inside a vortex of extreme heat and cold.
A land of extremes where ordinary people had difficulty inhabiting. Standing there sternly to present a conqueror's majesty, she admired the view of raging wind, the sun and dark clouds—
This moment was when Princess Yukikaze's enjoyment peaked.
Currently, she was still maintaining her human appearance that was as beautiful as a snow fairy. A smile was displayed on the corners of her lips while clad in a white one-piece dress, she regarded the icy plain's silent beauty with affection.
After a while, she turned her gaze towards the man who was tainting this land of pure white like a blot of black ink.
Watching over her silently from behind, the man waited for her to speak first.
"I've been having trouble remembering lately... What is your name again?"
"O Lord, please call me Sophocles."
The man was dressed in a black suit with only a flimsy gray coat draped over it.
He was definitely too lightly dressed for this plain of ice. However, that refined voice of his remained steady without any hint of suffering from the cold.
"Ah yes, indeed. I heard you mention it a long time ago, but I forgot. By the way—"
"Are you inquiring about the silver dragon who had inherited the Sword?"
"Indeed. The island nation that you wanted the silver dragon to annex—It's part of the Crimson Queen's former territories. So the Bow is there after all?"
"I am afraid so. I intend to head over to search later."
The man in black, Sophocles, spoke in a sincere tone.
"However, regardless of whether a seal of dragonslaying is present in those lands, the trial I demanded will not change. The 'wedge' driven into that island nation is about to mature. Sniffing out the signs, the Jabones and the Zizou are evidently circling around that area."
"Wedge... Ah, is that the one that the Lightning Emperor and King Hannibal drove into the ground together?"
Princess Yukikaze looked south across the plain of ice.
An upright triangular prism of pure black was towering in the distance. A super tall structure exceeding a thousand meters in height. A tower the humans called a Monolith.
This tundra region was a dragon concession established in Alaska.
"I never expected this sort of thing to be built during my absence from earth."
"I originally intended to find a dragon king to advise taking over those lands. But simply because I chanced upon that silver dragon, I entrusted the task to him."
"Hmph... To establish one's kingdom as a show of caliber, sallying forth in valor along the Road to Kingship."
Princess Yukikaze laughed lightly.
"Haha, the earth has become slightly interesting. With that, the issue becomes the Bow's controller who might be present in that nation. Like me, Yukikaze, he holds the one half of the bow and arrow pair..."
She crossed her arms while her beautiful face, pale as snow, grew pensive.
"If the one who stands as Yukikaze's peer turns out to be an incompetent buffoon, there is no helping it: He will need to be decapitated and taken care of before anything goes wrong. However..."
The girl's delicate body naturally heated up.
It was the burgeoning fighting spirit and curiosity responding to her, the white dragon king.
"If his caliber is sufficient to defeat the silver dragon, then I might be inclined to rampage across the earth again after so long. Sophocles, report the results to me afterwards!"
Then night finally fell.
The SDF's air force and navy had respective bases on Miyaka Island of the Izu Islands.
Stationed here was also a large aircraft carrier fleet belonging to the Trans-Pacific Defense Organization along with patrol units, etc—
A shining giant beast broke past the defensive line woven by these military forces.
First, the magic of High-Speed Flight tore through the reconnaissance net. This was extraordinary magic allowing the gigantic body, ten-odd meters long, to break the sound barrier.
Shining with the luster of metallic silver, the dragon spread his supersonic wings, racing across the sky above the Pacific Ocean.
With his destination already decided, the trajectory was a straight line. While producing sonic booms, he charged forward with ferocity.
Naturally, the human side had guards in charge of interception.
Those were the SDF and TPDO's air force and interception fleet.
But having seen that the enemy's true identity was an elite dragon—scientific name: Eques Draconis—an officer silently shook his head.
This was because he knew that interception would be futile.
In fact, the flying silver dragon only took one combat action.
He simply kept roaring. However, a magic beast's roar carried overwhelming magical power, drowning out the noise from all artillery and engines to reverberate across the sky. Then the sound turned into a pulse, instantly sweeping across the entire airspace.
All humans present within this pulse had their hearts ruptured, instantly dying on the spot. Death arrived swiftly and assuredly, whether inside fighter jet cockpits, escort vessels, cruisers or aircraft carriers, no exceptions.
Then after an extremely brief period of time...
The elite dragon with metallic silver luster arrived over Yokohama.
Having shifted to supersonic flight suddenly, the dragon had not given 'serpent'-related personnel in the Kantou region any time or chance to react.
However, he did not do this for the purpose of avoiding conflict.
Instead, he was impatient for the imminent battle. He wanted to declare war as early as possible.
"I hereby decree to the humans of these lands. It is my wish that you record the entirety of my next words to pass onto your friends and neighbors. This announcement concerns your future greatly."
The words uttered by the silver dragon consisted of easily understood English.
Then his voice, filled with masculinity and sense of honor, resounded clearly across the night sky of the Yokohama metropolis.
The silver dragon scales glittered amidst light from the night scenery. Towering next to the dragon hovering motionlessly in the air was the symbol of Yokohama city, the Yokohama Landmark Tower.
"I shall bear the shame of admitting to my ignorance. Regarding these islands, the system governing your country and the political rulers in charge, I know very little. Perhaps even nothing at all."
Despite his true nature as a magic beast known as the dragon, he possessed a pleasant voice.
His voice, dignified and awe-inspiring, had the oratorical qualities capable of moving the audience's emotions. Filled with masculinity, that voice sounded even cheerful.
"Nevertheless, I hereby swear. I shall annex these lands, known as the islands of Japan, to place under my rule, to become territory pledging allegiance to me as the one and only monarch."
The giant silver dragon had declared his intention to make Japan his territory—
However, the audience was thrown into extreme panic and chaos.
After receiving news that a dragon had invaded Tokyo Bay's airspace, relevant ministries issued an emergency evacuation order.
However, the silver dragon had arrived faster than ordinary lesser dragons. Right now, many citizens in urban Yokohama were still making their way towards shelters.
A swirling vortex of shouts, laments, screams, despair, weeping, turmoil, chaos...
The people inside and around the Yokohama Landmark Tower who had yet to escape either ran, stumbled, stood motionless or huddled into a ball, staring blankly at the giant dragon in the sky—
Most people at the scene were plunged into severe confusion.
"I swear that I shall not permit any dragons apart from my minions to approach this country after it becomes my territory. The privilege to trample the nation of Japan is reserved solely under the banner of I, Pavel Galad."
The dragon finally revealed his own name.
However, almost no one in the audience noticed that.
"Starting tomorrow, I will wait for a total of five days. O king or ruler unknown to me, if you wish for my invasion to conclude peacefully, come to me during this time and swear fealty to me."
Satisfied, Pavel Galad looked down upon the chaos on the ground.
"I shall take to the field at sundown on the fifth day. When that time comes, I will rid this country of all swords and fires, engaging repeatedly in destruction, a thorough show of force until you all submit."
Galad extended his right hand. Manifested on his palm was a seal consisting of three Vs in a row.
It was the runic symbol that the dragon king Hannibal had called the Rune of the Sword.
"Frankly speaking, I don't want you to submit easily. Rather than accept humbly offered land, winning territory personally would serve as better proof of one's worth as a warrior—"
In the next instant, a gigantic longsword appeared suddenly in his palm.
"And I am a warrior!"
The sword's double-edged blade was long and thick. The hilt portion was also very long, enough for Galad to hold with both hands with room to spare.
The symbol of the Rune of the Sword was engraved near the base of the blade like an inscription.
Swinging this sword lightly, Galad produced fierce cutting wind.
"Well then, I, Pavel Galad, shall depart from your view for now. We shall meet again!"
Carrying the rune-inscribed longsword, the silver dragon flew away from the Yokohama sky.
However, he did not leave Japan. Instead, he made his way to the wasteland at the Old Tokyo Concession—Its Monolith, the triangular prism of pure black, towering in the center of that area.
It was the super tall structure that the man in black at Alaska had called the "wedge."
Pavel Galad hovered motionlessly in front of its pinnacle then raised his longsword high towards the sky.
"O wedge driven here, I invoke the dragonslaying sword as my seal to serve as the harbinger of my dominance. Acknowledge Pavel Galad as your lord!"
This was precisely the dragonslaying sword. Also his trump card, the "magic wand" in the shape of a sword.
Then that night, at a different location—
Within the Haruga residence located in a quiet corner of the Sumida Ward, Hal and Asya were facing a tower-style PC and monitor in the study.
"Flint, dragonbane, dragonslaying rune... There's no information related to these terms after all."
"But what allowed that rune to revive was the stone in Uncle's effects..."
"Yeah. Hinokagutsuchi said something about 'pouring flames' into the rune."
The two childhood friends were murmuring at each other.
They had completed a basic search of the computer's hard drive and external storage devices. Right now, they had moved on to investigate sources such as digitized books and research notes left behind by Hal's father.
Flint. This word meant a "fire-starting stone."
Where on earth had Hal's father obtained the magical stone bearing this kind of name?
Due to heading over to Old Tokyo to handle "sundry chores" whenever he had time, Hal had not made progress in his research on this side recently. It was time that he applied himself to the nitty-gritty work with gusto—
"Maybe to prevent people from getting information easily, he didn't leave behind any digital resources... That's quite common."
"True. Then we'll have to search the book collection that Pops did not move to this room."
Hal sighed, because the matter was extremely troublesome.
The books and handwritten research notes that his father had not brought here were currently outside of Japan. Furthermore, they were stored in multiple separate locations. Gathering everything together to investigate one by one would be a monumental project, and one that could potentially yield nothing in the end.
"Then there's asking SAURU researchers and witches familiar with Uncle."
"If only there was someone who did research together with Pops."
While the two of them were immersed in their discussion, a voice suddenly sounded from outside the window.
"Enough with this nonsensical search. It seems that you no longer have the luxury of wasting effort on such endeavors."
Hinokagutsuchi's voice. She had apparently gone to the garden.
Speaking of which, Asya should not have met this harsh-tongued girl who styled herself as the devil before. Hal motioned to his childhood friend with his eyes. Having a fairly good idea what was going on, she nodded briefly in response.
The two of them immediately left the study to go to the garden—As expected she was there.
In the guise of a young girl dressed in a scarlet kimono, Hinokagutsuchi was standing motionlessly under the illumination of moonlight.
"Am I supposed to say 'hello, nice to meet you'...?"
Asya tried asking but Hinokagutsuchi's reply was very sloppy.
"A greeting of nice to meet you will suffice. As I have mentioned before, also—Mutual introductions are too much of a hassle. Moving on, look over there."
The self-styled devil's gaze was directed towards the triangular prism of pure black, towering ahead.
The Monolith. Although the structure was located at Marunouchi in Old Tokyo, it was visible from Tokyo New Town because its height exceeded a thousand meters. Asya jumped in surprise.
"Haruomi, please use magical sight."
Hal involuntarily reached for his monocle for appraising magical power.
But immediately, he stopped his hand in a hurry, focusing his eyes to stare instead. As before, magical sight activated again without the use of tools. Using his naked eyes, Hal looked out to the tower of pure black—Then reacted in surprise.
This was due to the rune glowing with platinum radiance in the sky above the Monolith.
A magic symbol composed of three Vs stacked together. Hal suddenly understood its meaning.
"Sword...? That word carries the meaning of 'Sword'?"
"Yes. Like your 'Bow,' it is also a dragonslaying rune infused with the power of dragonbane," Hinokagutsuchi remarked casually.
"Since the seal can be seen there, it implies that someone who inherited the power of dragonbane has occupied that 'wedge'—in other words, what you people call a Monolith."
"Occupied, you say?"
"In other words, laying claim to complete authority. A declaration that the 'wedge' driven into this land belongs to him and that the enchanted realm nurtured by this land shall become his territory eventually."
"Don't you contemporary magi already know this? Magical power will gradually strengthen in the land where that black column towers, causing earth, water, fire and wind to deviate from the laws of nature."
"In other words, the magical power in the Monolith's vicinity will activate..."
After listening to Hinokagutsuchi, Asya spoke softly.
Akuro-Ou's birthing ritual was chosen to take place in the Old Tokyo Concession precisely because of that.
"Hmm, this city's 'wedge' has matured to an ideal extent. Although a number of dragons have apparently noticed this, I never expected even the Rune of the Sword to make an appearance."
Hinokagutsuchi's turned her arrogant gaze from the Monolith back to Hal and said:
"Judging from the brightness emitted by the rune, the user is not a true king yet. Like you, brat, he is a false king, having acquired nothing more than the eligibility to become king."
"An imposter ruler... Tyrannos—"
Hal recalled what Raak Al Soth had said.
That dragon had mentioned the term "Tyrannos" a number of times. It was an ancient word referring to usurpers, supplanters and tyrants.
"Fufufu. Make no mistake, this nation shall be ruined if an usurper comes to rule it. After all, sapient dragons hate nothing more than false kings—usurpers aspiring to the position of dragon king. Even in the face of impossible odds, they will still attempt to invade a Tyrannos' domain to exterminate him."
"In other words, elite dragons will be attacking Japan one after another...?" Asya asked skeptically.
This sort of thing was definitely hard to believe.
However, Hinokagutsuchi nodded lightly without denial. Meanwhile, Hal spoke up to confirm something else:
"Last time's elite dragon addressed me with that weird title."
Hal glared at Hinokagutsuchi in a taunting manner.
"In other words, the dragon will treat me the same as that 'Tyrannos' something or other, right? Because I hold a dragonslaying rune."
The scarlet-attired girl revealed a diabolical smile instead of answering.
Hal understood that his guess was correct.
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